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Translator: mlk

Cuban Apartheid, suffered by families who abandoned their homes and went to Havana in search of a new life, Reinaldo Emilio Cosano Alen, Havana, 15 May 2015 – Rodolfo Castro, from Santiago de Cuba, met with three other young … Continue reading Continue reading
14ymedio, Victor Ariel Gonzalez, Havana, 1 May 2015 – They appear silently, without anyone taking notice, a little after dawn.  They will not hide again until nightfall, when they return home or camp out in some corner of the city … Continue reading Continue reading
“If water and electricity have the same owner, why do they turn off my power when I need it most?”, Gladys Linares, Havana, 28 April 2015 – The word “blackout” was eliminated by the Electric Company.  Nevertheless, blackouts continue, … Continue reading Continue reading
We have to wonder how much the Cuban government invests in restricting this essential information tool in our time, blocking it and even minimizing the “harmful effects” of its free and generalized use, Ernesto Perez Chang, Havana, 24 April … Continue reading Continue reading
14ymedio, Carlos Alberto Montaner, 25 April 2015 – Mexico and corruption are two words that always go hand in glove, or as the Columbians mischievously say, “grab each other’s peepees.” Corruption in Venezuela is greater, and that of Argentina is … Continue reading Continue reading
The government is trying, among other measures, to curb hiring of its professionals by foreign clinics Cubanet, Roberto Jesus Quinones Haces, Guantanamo, 20 April 2015 — The exodus of Cuban health professional does not stop, and the Ministry of Public … Continue reading Continue reading
My neighbor Nelly, when she learned that I did not go vote and I again clarified that I did not want to leave Cuba, told me: “You independent journalists and dissidents are going to be alone with the hard-liners and … Continue reading Continue reading
In a passage about today’s elections, the Communist Party newspaper "Granma" says that “every citizen has the right to a single vote […] regardless of [his] political position.” DiariodeCuba, Hildebrando Chaviano Montes [1]*, Havana, 19 April 2015 -- The daily Granma, in its Wednesday, April 15 edition, brings a timid message of opening hidden in an article about the Cuban electoral system.  The mention that “in the process of electing delegates to the Municipal Assemblies the vote is characterized as being:  free, equal, secret, direct, nominal and preferential (Prieto Valdes and Perez Hernandez)” may not call the attention of many readers. However, the mentioned authors make a contribution to the Constitution of the Republic itself when they explain that “every citizen has the right to a single vote and of equal value, without regard to race, religious belief, skin color, political position.” The passage, although incomplete in my opinion, obviously is supported and inspired by Article 42 of the Cuban Constitution which says:  “Discrimination on the basis of race, skin color, sex, national origin, religious belief, and any other offense against human dignity is proscribed and prohibited by law.” The substitution, however, of the phrase “any other offense against human dignity” by the more specific “political position” is noteworthy for being the first time that there appears in the official organ of the Communist Party an admission that different political positions exist in Cuba and above all, that they have equal value. The express recognition by the mentioned jurists that Cuban political thought is not a single one but is rich in its diversity, as in any other country on the globe, is the first public gesture that could lead to a lifting of the strict blockade on ideas imposed since 1959.  Some may think that the Government is manipulating a sensitive topic in order to ingratiate itself with old and new friends, but at this point speculating with pretty words does not seem smart. Moreover, and at the risk of being accused of being a dreamer, naïve and even a collaborationist, this could well be the antecedent of future changes announced in an obsolete Constitution whose roots date to 1917 and which stopped being justifiable many years ago, above all in Latin America, a natural environment in which Cuba seeks to insert itself but where the left is not entirely red but more pink, generally respecting the market economy and democratic institutions. “Chavista” Venezuela constitutes the exception to the political pragmatism of the Latin American left; taken by the hand of Castro I, it jumped into the abyss into which apparently Castro II does not wish to accompany it; he increasingly distances himself from his predecessor, undoing as he can the inherited absolutist framework. Triana Cordovi in Economics and Prieto Valdes and Perez Hernandez in Law, are for the moment isolated authorized voices whose academic discourse has nothing to do with the Real Socialism defended with shouts and blows in Panama a few days ago. All of Cuban society is obligated to force the necessary changes.  In the same way that according to those illustrious professors the votes of those who have a different political position are equally valid, so is the candidacy of anyone who does not profess the Communist faith. Discrimination on the basis of political ideas is as offensive to human dignity as racial discrimination; a change with respect to the official discourse tempered with the current times would go a long the way to replace the absurd ideological hatreds with tolerance and civilized dialog among all Cubans, for the good of all Cuba. *Translator's note: Hildebrando Chaviano Montes [1] is an opposition candidate for the local People's Power; the regime allowed his candidacy but his "biography" (the only campaigning allowed) identifies him as a "counterrevolutionary... funded by foreign groups." Translated by MLK [1] [2] Continue reading
[caption id="attachment_39884" align="aligncenter" width="584"] [1] On the Calipso farm they cannot give interviews to uncertified journalists. Nor are photos permitted. (Photos Isis Marquez)[/caption] Any farmer caught selling to the general population the strawberries that he cultivates will be fined 1000 CUP* (national currency) and have his land confiscated [2], Isis Marquez, Havana, 17 April 2015 – The strawberry is the forbidden fruit for Cubans. Its limited national production is for tourists and for the olive green hierarchy. The State limits the production because it sells for 2.4 euros per kilogram on the international market. Some say that it was introduced onto the island in 1965. Fifty years have passed and still the Cuban people cannot consume this exquisite strawberry. Maybe the Cuban government pretends that its people do not eat these fruits, which are anti-oxidant and anti-carcinogen? Caption: Benefits of the strawberry The strawberry is a short cycle fruit rich in vitamin C. Its compounds have a high anti-oxidant power, as well as increased anti-cancer activity, and it prevents aging of the brain. In February Cubanet had the opportunity to speak with vendors Kolia Morejon and Jorge Aspen, who said: “We are here because our client left us loaded. We have to sell the product to passersby before they go bad. We sell the small tin for 1 CUC*, the big one for 3 CUC. Cubanet decided to investigate where the strawberry is cultivated for the purpose of investigating how and why the people do not have access to buying the “forbidden fruit” for their tables. The odyssey of the strawberry First you arrive at “Las Canas” community located on the border between Alquizar and Artemisa. Then you have to travel along La Roncha highway. From there on is where the communities called Maravilla, Calipso, Neptuno and La Pluma begin. In these inaccessible places is where strawberries are cultivated. These particular farms belong to the “Rigoberto Corcho” Cooperative of Artemisa. [caption id="attachment_39885" align="aligncenter" width="584"] [3] Kolia Morejón and Jorge Aspen[/caption] On the Calipso farm as soon as I spoke with the producer Nadir Jimenez, he said: “I am sorry, we cannot give interviews to foreign journalists who don’t come certified with a letter from the Municipal Delegation of the ANAP (National Association of Small Farmers) in Artemisa or with a letter from the Ministry of Agriculture. Nor is it permitted to take photos of the crops. I am very sorry, but I cannot help you.” Later, on the La Pluma farm, I was able to speak with a vendor identified as Julio Cesar Frias: “The strawberry is an exclusive product for the tables and the pastry shops of the 5-star hotels, and for some special contracts established with private bars and restaurants.” And he assured: “We cannot market the strawberry to the population. Inspectors impose a fine of 1000 pesos in national currency and confiscate the farms. To go out to Havana to sell one can (5 kg) means dodging the control points, the police, the inspectors and the devil himself.” Frias concludes: “When we manage to overcome the controls, in Havana, we sell the frozen pints for 1 CUC and the big ones for 3 CUC.” On La Roncha highway I found a couple who preferred not to be identified, and they had recently acquired a 3 CUC pot. They said: “The strawberry that is produced is for the trusted people of the area. If you have friends, good contacts with the “bigwigs” of business and the municipal ANAP, you can have the luxury of coming and buying. We recommend that no outsider approach anything here if he does not come well ‘endorsed.’” Later a passerby identified as Norberto Joel Batista added: “The strawberry is only for the rulers of this country, the tourists, the military and the new bourgeoisie. For us there is no opportunity to buy the strawberry. Strawberries definitely are the Cuban’s ‘forbidden fruit.’” [caption id="attachment_39886" align="aligncenter" width="584"] [4] Strawberry buyers who were not identified[/caption] Fruit for the privileged Later, back in the city, I entered the “Betty Boom” snack bar, with very American style and design, which is on 3rd Avenue and 60th Street. There I consumed a strawberry frappe that cost 2.8 CUC for the large cup. The customers obviously were foreigners and privileged Cubans. Translator’s note: Cuba has two currencies, the “Cuban peso” or CUP, also known as “national money,” and the “Cuban Convertible Peso, or CUC.” The CUC is pegged to the US dollar but with exchange fees costs roughly $1.10. The Cuban peso is worth about 4¢ U.S. Most wages are paid in Cuban pesos, and the average wage is generally the equivalent of about $20 U.S. monthly. Pensions are much lower. Translated by MLK [1] [2] [3] [4] Continue reading
[1] In order to "elect" there must be different political parties to choose from, and only one is legal on the Island: The Communist Party [2], Roberto Jesus Quinones Haces, Guantanamo, 17 April 2015 – Coming up on April 19 there will be “elections.” Many countrymen ask about the changes that the Electoral Law will introduce. The most democratic electoral law in the world? In Cuba there are no elections, just votes. There are no elections because in order to elect there must be different platforms, and here only one is legal. Absolutely all the delegates and deputies respond to this; that’s why it does not matter for whom you vote. Every time one of the People’s Party (which is the “people’s” in name only) elections approaches, the official media overwhelm us citing the supposed blessings of our electoral law, according to them the most democratic in the world. It is an illusion. The only supposedly democratic thing in our electoral system is the election of candidates as district delegates. It’s true that the residents of each of the zones into which the district is divided elect a candidate through a direct and public vote, but that is the visible tip of the iceberg. The hidden part is comprised of the multiple meetings of “the community revolutionary elements” – i.e., Party members, “combatants” (former soldiers), leaders of the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution (CDR), the Cuban Women’s Federation (FMC), etc – where those attending are directed how to block any candidacy unwanted by the regime and who to vote for. The people that staff the polling stations are subordinate to the government. They count the votes and give the results to the stakeholders who are present at each polling station, but there exists no access by the people to the vote count in the Municipal Electoral Commission, which receives the results from each polling station in the district and reports who was elected. The delegate as well as his voters lack any real power to make decisions and transform his neighborhood, and it is for that reason that the former has turned into a mere complaint clerk. Finally, 50% of the delegates to the Provincial Assemblies from the People’s Power and the same percentage of the deputies that make up the National Assembly are not elected by the people but “handpicked” by the official Candidates Commission. In these assemblies there will never be a decent, hard-working and patriotic Cuban who disagrees with Communist ideology. So what is the democracy of this law? A Cuba “with all and for the good of all” The Constitution of 1976 in its preamble declares that it is the will of the government that the law of laws be presided over by the profoundly Martí desire to make the first law of our Republic be the worship by Cubans of the full dignity of man. Article 1 states: “Cuba is a socialist state of workers, independent and sovereign, organized with all and for the good of all, as a united and democratic republic for the enjoyment of political liberty, social justice, individual and collective well-being and human solidarity.” The drafters of the socialist magna carta deemed that such desire was fulfilled. But reality, more stubborn than any triumphalist sentence, proves that the Cuban state is not organized “with all and for the good of all,” as José Martí dreamed, but for the “Revolutionaries.” The other citizens are excluded, jailed and discriminated against. Reality demonstrates that a single political party supplanted the State and controls everything, prohibiting the existence of any other organization of that kind. In such conditions there is neither democracy nor political liberty. There is no social justice because in order to access certain jobs and higher education, loyalty to the Communist Party and the Revolution is demanded and because increasingly the State abandons the elderly, the disabled and low income people. There is no individual well-being because workers receive miserable wages and have to buy basic products in a currency other than that in which they are not paid and that is worth 25 times more. There is no collective well-being because public services degrade further every day, and health and education are in a precarious state. There is no human solidarity because there is physical assault and intolerance in the face of diversity, as was demonstrated once again at the recent Summit of the Americas. Of what full dignity of man do the Communists speak? What many Cubans do want What many Cubans do want is to enjoy the same civil and political rights that the citizens of 34 other countries in the continent have. They want to decentralize the State’s absolute power and to build democracy from the neighborhood up because sovereignty lies with the people, and they have to have the means to express it. For that reason it is spurious for a leader who has not been elected by ordinary people to make a decision or to believe that he expresses the interests of an entire people without consulting the opinion of the citizens. Cubans want to elect people who really represent them at the different levels of government and are not merely uncritically consenting. They want all the delegates to the provincial assemblies of the People’s Power and the deputies to the National Assembly of the People’s Power to be elected in their districts through direct and secret vote, publicly verified, and that the same occur with those who lead those government organs and other important offices like prosecutors, tribunals and police units. They want to choose the political program that most satisfies them and to elect their president in multi-party elections supervised by international agencies. That is the desire of the majority of Cubans, and as long as it is not fulfilled, the Communists should have the decency not to talk about elections or democracy. About the Author [3]Roberto Jesús Quiñones Haces was born in the city of Cienfuegos September 20, 1957. He is a law graduate. In 1999 he was unjustly and illegally sentenced to eight years incarceration and since then has been prohibited from practicing as a lawyer. He has published poetry collections “The Flight of the Deer” (1995, Editorial Oriente), “Written from Jail” (2001, Ediciones Vitral), “The Folds of Dawn,” (2008, Editorial Oriente), and “The Water of Life” (2008, Editorial El Mar y La Montana). He received the Vitral Grand Prize in Poetry in 2001 with his book “Written from Jail” as well as Mention and Special Recognition from the Nosside International Juried Competition in Poetry in 2006 and 2008, respectively. His poems appear in the 1994 UNEAC Anthology, in the 2006 Nosside Competition Anthology and in the selection of ten-line stanzas “This Jail of Pure Air” published by Waldo Gonzalez in 2009. Translated by MLK [1] [2] [3] Continue reading
[caption id="attachment_39860" align="aligncenter" width="550"] [1] Hildebrando Chaviano (photo by the author)[/caption] “Some do not know me well, some are prisoners of fear.” Interview with opposition member Hildebrando Chaviano, candidate for delegate to the People’s Power. [2], Orlando Freire Santana, Havana, 15 April 2015 – Independent journalist Hildebrando Chaviano is one of the opposition candidates nominated by districts in the capital with a view towards the midterm elections to be held this coming April 19. In order to learn of the most recent events surrounding his nomination, we visited him in his apartment on the 28th floor of the Focsa building in the El Vedado neighborhood. Q: Have you noticed any change recently in your neighbors’ treatment of you? A: “I can tell you yes, indeed. But a change for the better. Neighbors approach me and greet me cordially. Even those who have never had a close relationship with me, now I notice they are friendlier. “However, the neighbors from the building are one thing, and another is the workers of the State establishments located here in Focsa. Many of them, due to the extent of their working hours -- especially those in the food business – will vote at this polling station on the 19th.   And certainly, I am aware that they have distanced themselves from me. I am convinced that they have been told categorically that they may not vote for me. “Even recently there occurred a telling event. Some reporters from the German television station Deutsche Welle visited me. When they were leaving we came to the building’s reception area where they wanted to take some pictures of me. The receptionist, very startled, left the place, because according to her own words, ‘Not for anything in the world could I appear in those photographs.’” Q: What has been the popular reaction to the exposure of your biographical data, full of insults for being a “counter-revolutionary?” A: “My perception, basically through conversations with my neighbors, is that this time the biographies have been more widely read than in prior elections. They have even told me that they have seen passersby, who have nothing to do with this polling station, stopped in front of the photos and biographies. “Most of the neighbors are convinced that the insults placed in my biography [3] are revenge by the authorities for a nomination that they did not expect.” Q: Do you believe that voters are ready to support an opposition candidate? “It is undeniable that there are many voters who are not going to vote for me. I am not referring to neighbors from my building but to people in the rest of the district. Some because they do not know me well, and others are prisoners of fear. Among the latter ideas are entertained like ‘what if there is a hidden camera that films the voting,’ ‘what if each ballot has a password that identifies the voter’… Nevertheless, it is no less certain that people want something different, and many see me as a brave person who has decided to confront the machinery of power.” Q: Do you believe that an opposition delegate can adequately carry out his work in the midst of the bureaucratic structures of the People’s Power? A: “I think so, as long as you have a program of action. Because, look, here almost all the delegates that enter office do it without a defined program, and therefore they become simple ‘errand boys’ between their voters and the municipal governments. Under those conditions, obviously, they end up swallowed by the governmental bureaucracy, and they also lose the trust of the voters. “I appreciate that my trips abroad have given me insights about initiatives that could be implemented at the community level.” [caption id="attachment_39861" align="aligncenter" width="602"] [4] Biography written by the official electoral commission. Among other things it says that Chaviano is a counterrevolutionary and that his activities are funded by foreign groups (photo courtesy of the author)[/caption] Q: What message do you send to Cuban voters a few days before the election? A: “The voters must lose the fear of voting for an opposition candidate. They should be convinced that it is possible to vote for a candidate who does not represent the interests of the government. Because even in the hypothetical – and almost impossible – case of finding out the identity of the voters, it would not be possible to repress so many people simultaneously.” Translated by MLK [1] [2] [3] [4] Continue reading
[caption id="attachment_39694" align="alignleft" width="600"] [1] Guillermo Fariñas, coordinator of the "Juan Soto García Guilfredo" United Anti-totalitarian Forum (FANTU), winner of the 2010 European Parliament "Andrei Sakharov" Prize[/caption] “If the Cuban government aspires to be included among the democracies it must accept and respect the opposition.” Interview with Guillermo Farinas. [2], Jose Luis Leon Perez, Santa Clara, 7 April 2015 -- Before leaving for Panama for the Civil Society Forum, Guillermo Farinas, Coordinator of the United Anti-totalitarian Forum (FANTU), who holds a critical view of the negotiations between Cuba and the United States, agreed to an interview with Cubanet. What is your opinion about the Seventh Summit of the Americas, about the presidents of Cuba and the United States sitting for the first time at the same table? Dialog is better than war. Personally, I think that Barack Obama erred by not taking into account Cuban civil society, the internal, non-violent opposition, when he took that step. But we must not concentrate on criticizing Obama, but the Raul Castro regime, his character and that of the top leaders, our true adversaries. When Raul Castro returns from the Summit, will there be more tolerance toward the opponents? The Cuban government wants the United States to buy Cuba with the dictatorship included. So far, the US administration says that it will invest in Cuba without dictatorship. I believe that depends on what happens in Venezuela. Fidel Castro and his brother have shown themselves to be opportunists. They are searching for another lifesaver, and they see it in the United States. But President Castro needs to understand that in order to be able to advance in this world he must comply with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. What do you hope for from the Summit for Cuba and Latin America? That they engage in dialog and understand the different political trends and be able to come to agreements and forget historical strife, to strengthen Latin America as a zone of peace. With respect to Cuba, not just the government is represented at this Summit. There the world will be able to appreciate the presence of the opposition by Cuban civil society. It will be shown that in Cuba there is not that unanimity that the Cuban government has peddled for 56 years. In your recent letter to Raul Castro, you sought to include in the new Electoral Law the Transparent Ballot Box project. What is your objective? The Cuban government aspires to insert itself into the world but without fulfilling democracy, and with democracy there is no exceptionality: either there is democracy or there is not. That’s why we must fight. It is necessary, in order to avoid spilling blood, to take into account the different opinions. I raised it in my letter to Raul, as president of all Cubans, and not just the Cubans who follow his political ideals. If the Cuban government aspires to join democracies, it must accept and respect the opposition that exists in any democratic country. How did the Transparent Ballot Box project come about? We agreed on it at a meeting of the United Anti-totalitarian Forum. Now we are raising awareness about other political projects in order to form part of the Steering Committee. “Transparent Ballot Box” proposes that all political trends that exist in Cuba be represented and permitted to participate in the next general elections that are going to take place in the year 2018. Also that all public offices, including the President of the State Council and Ministers, be by direct vote. And that all citizens born in Cuba, although they may reside abroad, have the right to vote and to participate in the elections We also think that all candidates for eligible public offices must have the material resources to be able to bring the messages of their respective plans in equality of conditions. And it is important there be international observers to supervise the election processes. These points that we ask to be included in the new Electoral Law are based on Article 88, subsection G of the Constitution of the Republic of Cuba. Do the members of the Steering Committee represent all the opposition political trends? This committee is not finished. On return from the Summit we will continue this labor. I can tell you about this committee that there are people from all over the country. We have not been able to speak with some but we are sure that they are going to accept this plan. [caption id="attachment_39697" align="alignleft" width="300"] [3] Members of the United Anti-totalitarian Forum[/caption] Do you plan to involve all citizens? The most important thing is not that the opposition signs; we must add all the citizens who are discontented, hopeless, angered by the deceptions that they have suffered through for more than 56 years of Revolution, so that in a civilized way they ask the government to change. When ten thousand citizens or more present an initiative, their opinions have to be taken into account. Do you think the government will permit you to gather the necessary signatures? I think they are going to try to discredit Transparent Ballot Box, they will try to add false signatures, they will use blackmail in order to prevent people joining the project, they will try to create unfavorable states of mind, they will cultivate discouragement. Against all that there are countermeasures. We must do something so that they regard us as people, as the non-violent opposition, as civil society independent of the government. We have to seek power in the number of signatures, which is the most important thing. When that happens, the governments of Cuba as well as the rest of the world cannot be indifferent. According to 14ymedio, opponents like Hildebrand Chaviano, of Plaza of the Revolution and Yuniel Lopez O’Farrill of Orange Creek, could become pioneers of a nascent opposition within the government. What is your assessment? [caption id="attachment_39696" align="alignleft" width="300"] [4] Hildebrando Chaviano and Yuniel Lopez OFarrill[/caption] In 1996, in the Santiago de Las Vegas township, the residents voted for an opponent who put himself forward, and the government committed him to a psychiatric hospital for three months. That they now permit several opponents to be nominated is a step forward. But it is too little, too late. They are doing it now because they want a democracy to appear where there is none, because there exists no law of association and parties, and without that, there will be no democracy. Do you want to add anything for the readers of Cubanet? I am sure that during the Summit, some members of independent civil society and the opposition will be the subject of attacks on the part of the intolerant followers of the government of Raul and Fidel Castro. We are prepared to refute the provocations with non-violent methods. In Panama it will be seen who the terrorists are, who imposes violence. About the author [5] José Luis León Pérez He graduated as a doctor and Comprehensive General Professor in the “Felix Varela” Higher Education Institute of Villa Clara in 2007. He worked in several ESBUs (Basic Urban Secondary Schools) in Santa Clara. He served as a Methodological Consultant and teacher in the “Lazaro Cardenas del Rio” Computer Science Polytechnic Institute located in the same city. He holds a Masters of Science in Education. He serves as a citizen-journalist and independent blogger. He is also a proofreader for the weekly El Cartero Nacan and Nacan magazine, both alternative independent publications. He was born in Santa Clara, Villa Clara, where he currently resides. Translated by MLK [1]ñas-cover-OK.jpg [2] [3] [4] [5] Continue reading
[1] The opponents were putting flowers at a bust of Jose Marti. Cuban diplomats took part in the beating. The Castro-ites also interrupted the Civil Society Forum. See the video. [2], 9 April 2015 – A pro-Castro group today attacked Cuban dissidents in the heart of Panama City, where on Friday the Seventh Summit of the Americas will begin -- in which Cuba will have a starring role due to the rapprochement with the United States; President Raul Castro as well as representatives of the opposition have been invited. The dissidents claimed that on leaving a tribute at the bust of the Cuban national hero Jose Marti in Porras Park, located some yards from the Cuban embassy in Panama, they were surprised by the Castro followers. “We went to the Jose Marti bust to leave a wreath. There were several people there who began to scream obscenities at us and tell us to leave. A moment later several people from the Cuban embassy came out and physically attacked us,” said Leticia Ramos, a member of the Ladies in White. As she reported on the America Teve channel, a man identified as a diplomatic officer struck her. Orlando Gutierrez, Jorge Luis Garcia Perez, known as Antunez, and other opposition leaders were there also and were attacked. These incidents are in addition to another confrontation that occurred in the opening session of the Civil Society Forum, which is being held parallel to the Americas Summit, when the governmental delegation decided to withdraw. “We as a civil society are defending our own, we cannot be in the same space” as the dissidents, Luis Morlote, a representative of the Cuban Artists and Writers Association (UNEAC), told reporters. Morlote and several dozen Cubans with Cuban flags and pro-government banners, left the venue and expressed their indignation at the presence of opponents like Guillermo Farinas, Manuel Cuesta and Leonardo Calvo. The Cuban delegation said it was leaving the initial session but would return to the roundtable discussions that would take place Friday. Cuba’s presence for the first time at the hemispheric event and its collateral activities was marked by the polarization of Cubans supportive of the revolution – the majority group – and the opposition attendees. “And no, we don’t feel like being a US colony” and “Out, out,” the pro-government Cubans shouted for more than an hour and a half; they also handed out a tabloid in which they accused the dissidents of being “mercenaries.” The demonstration heated up the room and delayed the arrival of many of the forum’s invitees from other countries. “We expect reciprocity and understanding by all who come to our country,” said the annoyed Ruben Castillo, coordinator of the forum. “Civil society is going to participate in an elevated dialog,” he added. The forum, opened by the Panamanian president Juan Carlos Varela and the secretary to the OEA (Organization of American States), Jose Miguel Insulza, takes place from April 8 to 10 and seeks to make recommendations to the presidents attending the seventh summit. [embed][/embed] Translated by MLK [1] [2] Continue reading
[caption id="attachment_39680" align="aligncenter" width="623"] [1] Arian Gonzalez Perez (personal photo)[/caption] [2]14ymedio, Madrid, 8 April 2015 -- “How is it possible that I cannot enter my country?” Arian Gonzalez Perez asks himself time and again. This 26-year old Cuban, originally from Santa Clara, has lived in Barcelona for five years, and for that reason he was recently denied permission to travel to the Island and visit his sick grandmother. “I feel like an outcast, very depressed,” he explains in a telephone conversation from the Catalan city. In his native country, he devoted himself to chess, but, like all players who remain living outside of Cuba, he was expelled from the ELO list (a chess player’s ranking) two years ago. In order to obtain the title of master of this discipline he will have to search for another national federation to cover him. “They have taken everything from me, even my family. It is very frustrating not to have rights,” he says. Gonzalez was 21 years old when he decided to leave his country in search of a better future. “Desperate to leave the country, I left only at the first opportunity I had, but not before the Cuban authorities had denied me three trips. I came directly to Spain and did not even intend to stay, but I had to because of the poverty on the Island. I borrowed money and came, but the tournaments went badly for me and I could not pay the debt, so I stayed,” he says. This law student thought that, when he had residence in Spain, he would get permission to travel to Cuba, but that was not the case. “It is inconceivable. Cuba is my country, it is my right and my family. This situation violates human rights,” he insists. Gonzalez visited the Cuban consulate in Barcelona a year ago where they assured him that within a month they would have answered his request to travel to the Island, but the answer never came. “When I found out that my 81-year-old grandmother had fallen and broken her hip, I panicked and returned to the consulate. They told me they had no answer, and the civil servant that assisted me told me that I had defected,” he says sorrowfully. As a result of these events, he decided to approach the human rights defense organization Amnesty International. “I believe that I should tell the truth and not be afraid of the injustices that are committed in my country; we Cubans cannot continue to permit this outrage,” he stresses. “It is time to add my two cents worth and fight for change.” Gonzalez left Cuba before the reforms promoted in recent years by President Raul Castro, which he branded as “lies.” With the changes in the migratory law, the time limit for a citizen abroad to be classified as a defector and prohibited for eight years from returning has been extended from 11 months to two years. The young man charges that the rule violates Article 13.2 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, according to which “all people have the right to leave any country, including their own, and to return to their country.” Arian Gonzalez, also stripped of his livelihood, was involved in a controversy in 2013 while participating in competitions under the Cuban flag. The chess player was subject to disqualification by the Spanish Grand Master Victor Moskalenko, who accused him of attending a tournament in Mollet del Valles (Barcelona) while drunk and cheating. Moskalenko extended his accusations to another Cuban federated chess player in Spain, Orlevis Perez Mitjans and asserted: “When you play against Cuban players, the other fellow countrymen are behind your back, bothering you… You are confronted not only with a player but with a team of gangsters.” [caption id="attachment_39681" align="alignleft" width="306"] [3] Arian Gonzalez Perez plays against Yuniesky Quesada Perez (personal photo)[/caption] Gonzalez, who defended himself then by writing a letter to the Competition Committee of the Catalan Chess Federation to seek measures against Moskalenko for libel and slander, denounces the governmental policy on chess. “Chess in Cuba is part of the Cuban government’s political monopoly. As in many other fields, this is a means for young people to be able to have the aspiration of leaving the Island and search for a better future. But many do not do it because chess at the world level is a poor sport while the Cuban government gives the Grand Masters a salary of 100 CUC which is high in comparison with the rest of the population.” Arian Gonzalez now hopes that Amnesty International will press for authorization for his return to Cuba. The organization promised him an answer after Easter. “It would be an eternal frustration in my life if my grandmother were to die without me being able to see her 5 years after I said goodbye to her when I left Cuba.” Translated by MLK [1] [2] [3] Continue reading
[caption id="attachment_39537" align="aligncenter" width="550"] [1] Archive photo An elderly man selling Granma. Headline: “Raul will speak tomorrow”[/caption] Montonous, grey, controlled, censored, demagogic, jingoistic, for more than half a century as spokesperson for phantom successes [2], Victor Manuel Dominguez, Havana, 31 March 2015 (Cuba Sindical) – The “Revolutionary” Cuban press, characterized as demagogic, monotonous, manipulative, with a grey design, poor quality paper, without stylistic and conceptual diversity, born of the mortal remains of a free press that was censored and later banned from the inception of the Revolution. Always under state control, the role of spokesperson of governmental policy and ideology, the lack of objectivity is required, and the omission or disguising of what really is happening in the country. Faced with its pathetic role, several Cubans talked about censorship, rumors and secrecy in the national press. The Tagline “Still, we are lucky that we are not sentenced to jail for wiping our backsides with the image of Marx, Mao, Stalin, or the victorious face of a leader of the country on a first page, like the followers of Kim Il Sung used to be in Pyongyang,” Ernesto Penalver said ironically. The former graphics worker for the newspaper Avance, the first media outlet closed by the revolution (1-19-1960), Penalver, at 75 years of age, resells newspapers in order to live. “Occupational hazard, sir. I cannot help but make the rounds. Although now I do it clandestinely and through the back door,” he said. According to the septuagenarian typesetter, since the imposition by the Cuban authorities of “The Tagline” (12-27-59), a kind of opinion by the graphics workers who refuted, under each article, the supposed attacks against the Revolution, the end of press freedom that was seen coming. “We did not write anything. The old communist agitators dictated and imposed it. After Avance, El Pais, El Mundo and the radio and television states CMQ were grouped together on March 31, 1960, into the Independent Front of Free Broadcasters (FIEL). The unfortunate FIEL was the beginning of the end. Later would fall Diario de la Marina and the magazines Bohemia, Carteles and Vanidades, all with quality, without ideological restrictions, with diverse information, added Penalver. “In that year there was not a monkey with a brain in the press who would oppose Fidel. It was over.” [caption id="attachment_39539" align="alignleft" width="294"] [3] Newspaper and magazine vendor on Monte Street (photo by Victor Dominguez)[/caption] After getting up between five and six in the morning, Penalver says, he takes a swallow of coffee (if there is any), a bowl of Cerelac, if there is any left, and washes with stored water and unscented soap. Then he joins dozens of old people who stand in lines in order to buy and resell today’s national press. Governmental Secrecy “In Cuba we have good journalists, said a young woman who said she is named Isel. The only thing is that they are tied hand and foot, and above all, they are castrated of their opinion. Whoever steps out of the official line will never write a line in Cuba. At least in the national press. And examples abound to illustrate this point. According to the young woman, the role of journalist hero and villain from the daily Granma in Santiago de Cuba, Jose Antonio Torres, first praised by Raul Castro in the newspaper itself and then accused as a spy and sentenced to 14 years in prison, is more than sufficient to discourage any kind of objectivity that questions the interests of the Communist Party and the revolution. A worker from Water and Sewer Works who is tearing up Escobar Street from San Rafael to Malecon, asked if he likes the Cuban press, said, “I read between the lines. The truth is the opposite of what is said here. But, friend, what will I carry bread in or what are the kids at home going to use for whatever?" Likewise, a lady who was buying the Cartelera supplement, with information about the month’s artistic events, said: “This is among the little that can be believed. Although sometimes you get to an exhibit or a theater, and the program is completely different. But at least it can be read.” Later, regarding a question about the objectivity of the national press, she added, “Can print, television or radio press be believable when it talks about over fulfillments, advances, achievements, when the reality is inversely proportional to the report they give, as happens every day in this country?” Also, she added, that hidden, almost non-existent, are the data about rates of violence in the country, the levels of drug use and prostitution, the alcoholism, thefts, some diseases, government corruption, other reports that could serve as a warning about the population’s behavior. Another lady, who came from a battle royal to buy some potatoes at a Belascoain farmers market, said, “They don’t even blush when they talk about the victorious deployment of the potato harvest, knowing that people and they themselves have to fight and it’s not enough or to buy it from outside, from the scalpers, at two dollars a kilo. They are wholesale liars.” [caption id="attachment_39538" align="alignleft" width="297"] [4] Line of old people to buy and resell newspapers (Photo by Victor Dominguez)[/caption] In accord with many of those who spoke about the topic, the most read parts of the national press are the daily Juventud Rebelde’s complaints and suggestions section, Acuse de Recibo, and Granma’s letters to the editor, for being a kind of wall of lamentations where the people complain although nothing is resolved. In these sections – a typical reservoir of calamities – are read complaints about mistreatment, dumps, collapses, blockages, withholding of wages, evictions, unfair penalties, illegal expulsion, lack of medicine, rallies, negligence, lack of control, corruption and fraud, among thousands of other acts that afflict the country’s citizens and are endemic within the Revolution. Beyond publishing these bouts of complaint, only without solving them although the respective entities should respond to the people’s demands, Cuban journalists devote themselves to praising the phantom successes of the Revolution, and to pointing out the speck in the foreign eye of other nations at an international level, all the better if they are not members of ALBA (Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America), CELAC (Community of Latin American and Caribbean States) or CARICOM (Caribbean Community). Thus the press in Cuba, according to popular opinion, only serves for wrapping trash, plugging holes, stuffing mattresses, and, above all, as toilet paper in hospitals, recreation centers, work places, sports centers, schools, bus stations and homes. And maybe someone can read it from time to time. About the Author Victor Manuel Dominguez. Independent journalist. He resides in Havana, Cuba. [5] Translated by MLK [1] [2] [3]ódicos-y-revistas-en-la-calle-Monte.jpg [4]ódicos-en.jpg [5] Continue reading
[caption id="attachment_39500" align="alignleft" width="600"] [1] Posters from acts of repudiation during the Mariel Boatlift (1980)[/caption] Against the “scum,” acts of repudiation, beatings and humiliations. Against Florida, an invasion of the unemployed, Roberto Jesus Quinones Haces, Guantanamo, 1 April 2015 – On the first of April 1980 a bus was driven through the entrance to the Peruvian embassy in Havana; its occupants entered and sought political asylum. Unfortunately, the non-commissioned officer of the PNR (National Revolutionary Police), Pedro Ortiz Cabrera, lost his life in the event. The event was followed by others extremely traumatic for many Cubans due to their violence. All would be indelibly recorded in the nation’s collective memory and would reveal the terrorist nature of the Cuban regime. Fidel Castro demanded that the Peruvian government immediately hand over the people who had forcibly entered the diplomatic headquarters. To have pleased him, long jail sentences and execution by firing squad undoubtedly would have been the sanctions applied. But the government of Peru did not agree, and the Cuban regime adopted a measure that, like the others taken in those days, made it seem to their proxies that the ball had been placed in the opponent’s court. The Measures Taken by Fidel Fidel Castro ordered the withdrawal of protection and monitoring from around the diplomatic headquarters, inciting all Cubans who wanted to emigrate to enter it. Very soon, thousands of people from all the cities and towns of the country crammed into the place turning it into a tangible reservoir of the discontent that now was sapping society. [caption id="attachment_39501" align="aligncenter" width="500"] [2] Mariel Boatlift act of Repudiation. "Cuba for the workers. Those who live on our sweat, let them go." (Left side: "Let the scum go")[/caption] The increase in the number of countrymen who wanted to emigrate was made evident, and the government, with the objective of discouraging the exits that it had sponsored, made terror its deterrent method par excellence. It was the first time that acts of repudiation were applied on the Cuban public stage. The beatings and humiliations abounded everywhere. The masses, encouraged by powerful groups and directed by individuals of doubtful social behavior, violated the most basic norms of respect for human dignity, and the country lived through several weeks of fascist practices that kept it on edge until the international community strongly protested. The government demanded the refugees in the embassy and all those who desired to emigrate to present themselves at their places of employment or study in order to be given leave. The unemployed had to seek the document from the CDRs (Committees in Defense of the Revolution). That was the indispensable requisite in order to obtain the exit permit, and it would allow the mobs to intercept the petitioners in order to attack them. Another Shameless Political Action Some years had to pass to have access to other reports and above all to read and listen to the irrefutable testimonies on Radio Marti and right here, in order to understand the magnitude of the events and the perversity of the government in those demeaning days of our history. With the single purpose of getting the advantage in a confrontation where he would always be seen as the victim due to the political, military, economic and moral grandeur of the opponent, Fidel Castro took dangerous offenders from the jails and put them in the embassy in order to create chaos, and then he demanded that the boats that came in search of relatives take these people as well. Together with them travelled not a few mentally ill, it was later learned. It was a clever move, but of ephemeral value and revealing of the unethical essence of the regime whose immediate objective was to discredit the new emigrants, whom the government elite called “scum.” But also it tried to clean out the Cuban jails and export to the US potential disruptive social elements that Hollywood would portray in popular films like Scarface. Time Relentlessly Passed Thirty-five years after these events -- which came to be known in the United States as the Mariel Boatlift -- many of the Cubans who were catalogued as “scum,” thanks to their honest work and a society that is not perfect but that does guarantee all human liberties, enjoy a life in the US where maybe nostalgia for the home country occupies an important place, but one in which they live according to their way of thinking, with dignity. [caption id="attachment_39502" align="aligncenter" width="640"] [3] Act of repudiation against the Ladies in White in recent times.[/caption] The Mariel Boatlift was not a success of the Castro regime; to the contrary. One highly placed leader from that time, Carlos Rafael Rodriguez, admitted to a Mexican magazine that the Revolution had nothing to be proud of with respect to what happened. It is rumored that it was the catalyst for the suicide of Haydee Santamaria [4] and the object of analysis in the farewell letter that Osvaldo Dorticos [5] wrote to Fidel Catro before dying from another gunshot. It was a Pyrrhic victory that very soon lost the artificial shine of the trappings that the Castro regime figureheads dished out in order to praise the supposed genius of the leader. His abuses, still unpunished crimes and inequities were unmasked to reveal the fascist essence of the methods used by the mobs encouraged and supported by the police and political leaders. Since then the acts of repudiation against officially disfavored diplomatic headquarters and the peaceful opposition, especially the extraordinary Ladies in White and the brave members of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU), are still practiced in the streets and before the homes of those harassed. This, together with repression and constant vigilance by the state security forces as well as the government’s refusal to respect political and fundamental civil rights, shows that state terrorism is a practice entrenched in the Castro regime. The Americans should not forget it, especially now when, behind the abundant dividends, they try to remove Cuba from the list of state sponsors of terrorism. About the author [6]Roberto Jesus Quinones Haces was born in the city of Cienfuegos September 20, 1957. Law graduate. He was sentenced in 1999 in an unfair and illegal way to eight years incarceration and since then has been prohibited from practicing as a lawyer. He has published the books of poetry “The Flight of the Deer” (1995 Editorial Oriente), “Written from jail” (2001, Ediciones Vitral), “The Folds of Dawn” (2008, Editorial Oriente) and “The Water of Life” (2008 Editorial El Mar y La Montana). He got the Vitral Grand Prize for Poetry in 2001 for his book “Written from Jail” as well as Mention and Special Recognition by the Nosside Juried International Poetry Competition in 2006 and 2008, respectively. His poems appear in the UNEAC Anthology of 1994, in the Nosside Competition Anthology of 2006 and in the selected ten-line stanzas “This Jail of Pure Air” produced by Waldo Gonzalez in 2009. Translated by MLK [1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6] Continue reading
[1]14ymedio, Victor Ariel Gonzalez, Havana, 30 March 2015 -- The Surprised Pupil is a program whose first mistake is the name. With quite mediocre staging, presentation and content, really this television program has nothing surprising to see. But to hear, maybe some viewer or another was hoping that its most recent on-air output would tackle seriously a very thorny topic: censorship. However, that viewer with high expectations was soon disappointed. Censorship is a problem that affects every Cuban producer today, but The Pupil did not worry about that. It was foreign censorship, that which nations supposedly suffer “under the dominion of big corporations,” that occupied the program. There was even a segment dedicated to McCarthyism, that period of “repressive delirium” in the United States in which “great artists lived through times of accusations, interrogations, trials and torture,” said the program’s host. Not even hinted at were the anti-intellectual raids undertaken by the Cuban government, those whose spirit was defined by Fidel Castro in his phrase reminiscent of Mussolini: “Within the Revolution everything, outside the Revolution nothing.” It would be too much to ask that they openly address chapters as regrettable as the Military Units to Aid Production [2] (UMAP), the university purification processes, or the repudiation rallies [3]. Or to remember how less than 40 years ago listening to The Beatles could lead to suspicion. Those pages of the national history have been forgotten by the official media. If, after all, few know who Cabrera Infante [4], Reinaldo Arenas [5] or Heberto Padilla [6] were; and if the ghosts of Pinero [7]or Lezama Lima [8] have suffered exorcisms of posthumous atonement, then what sense does it make to speak of censorship in Cuba? Maybe none for those guests who lent their words to The Surprised Pupil. They used, for example, statements by the actor Enrique Molina to a Spanish speaking chain for a digression about the financing of projects. As “there exists no state budget for filmmaking, [Cuban] directors have to seek financing abroad,” said he who played Silvestre Canizo on the popular soap opera Tierra Brava. Molina, who obviously does not have any intention of demanding anything from the Ministry of Culture, blamed the lack of money on the lack of foreign producers “with good intentions and honesty” who seek something different than reflecting “the ugly things of Havana” or “everything challenging the politics of the country.” That, together with the difficulties that the “blockade” involves in bringing Cuban cinema abroad, constitutes censorship for this artist. For the musician Fidel Diaz Castro, “the censors of the contemporary world have turned into diplomats” because they say: “My fellow, I would like to place your work, but that doesn’t sell.” Here he referred to the censorship imposed by marketplace preferences, although it could well be an attempt to justify his own incompetence. Another of the guests was Iroel Sanchez, a key figure in the official blogosphere in a country without the Internet. The blogger spoke of a documentary that criticizes the media groups owned by financial conglomerates. “In the United States one can speak ill of a Democratic or a Republican president,” said Sanchez, “but (…) you cannot speak badly of the owners of those big finance groups that control the means of communication.” Iroel Sanchez did not cite the example in which the governing party and the owner of the means of communication are the same. This is precisely the Cuban case where the Communist Party is the exclusive owner of the country’s media. The common denominator throughout The Pupil was the American topic. Judging by the final message, there persists in that country a fierce repression of transnational reach. And as Cuban television said it, doubting it is strictly prohibited. There was no time to mention those on the Island who seek to issue a critical judgment outside of the given guidelines. Is that also the fault of an external enemy? The Surprised Pupil is indeed very badly named. The greater error is having conceived as a surprise, and not as an insult, that the official discourse goes unpunished yet again. That is what happens when censors have no one to censor them. Translated by MLK [1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6] [7] [8] Continue reading
[caption id="attachment_39474" align="aligncenter" width="600"] [1] Self-employed watch repairer. “We change every kind of battery” Cuba_archivo[/caption] A letter published in the official Granma by one its readers asks the State to limit the prices charged by the self-employed in order to protect “the working people from abusive prices” [2], Orlando Freire Santana, Havana, 27 March 2015 – Notwithstanding the image that the Castro regime strives to present about small, private enterprise, in the sense of having expanded this activity as part of the economic transformations that are taking place on the island, the truth is that the non-state sector of the economy faces more than a few obstacles. High taxes, lack of a wholesale market where supplies and raw materials can be acquired, the lack of recognition by the authorities of the total costs that private businesses incur, as well as the excess of audits of Sworn Personal Income Statements, among others, are some of the daily hurdles that stand in the way of the self-employed. Last Friday, March 20, the newspaper Granma published two works that contain “recommendations” that could obstruct or kill self-employment. The first of these, “Money Well Paid?” is a report about the payments by state entities to self-employed workers in the Holguin province. The very title of the report – with that question mark included – already allows a glimpse of the distrust of those kinds of transactions, that in the past year reached 36 million pesos. The Holguin authorities insist that state entities must exhaust all options that the providers from the government sector offer when acquiring goods or services. And only lastly to approach the self-employed workers. The state payments to the self-employed in the referenced territory, with a view to exhaustive control, must pass through a bureaucratic structure that includes the Government Central Auditor Unit, the Commission of Charges and Payments, and the Provincial Administration Council. And by the way, what becomes of the highly vaunted “entrepreneurial autonomy” if the entrepreneurs can barely decide from whom to buy what they need? The other material featured in Granma is the letter from a reader, “For the excessive desire to obtain greater riches,” in which he complains of the prices charged by the self-employed who entertain children in the Palmira township in Cienfuegos. In addition to that specific situation, the writer of the missive extends his criticism to all the self-employed and says in one paragraph: “I think that the Administration Councils, municipal as well as provincial, must control the prices of the offerings by the self-employed, protecting the working people from abusive prices and giving those people a legal foundation on which to demand their rights.” It should be emphasized that an opinion of this kind, appearing in an official organ of the Communist Party, cannot be underestimated in any way. So began the attacks against the self-employed who sold home products, to those who were called “retailers.” In the end, that activity was prohibited, and many self-employed who used to hold those licenses lost them and were left unemployed. When I commented to a café owner in my neighborhood about the Granma reader’s letter, the man reacted indignantly: “Don’t tell me…self-employed prices are abusive…Listen to me, abusive is the tax that I pay, which they have raised on me three times; abusive is that I spend more than 50% of my revenues on buying everything that I need to work, and the people from ONAT [the State tax collector] only recognize 25% as expense; and abusive was the fine that they imposed on me last year, of several thousand pesos, when they deemed that I had under-reported personal income. You have to hear every silly thing in this country!” About the Author [3]Orlando Freire. Matanzas, 1959. Graduate in Economics. He has published the book of essays, The Evidence of Our Time, Vitral Prize 2005, and the novel The Blood of Liberty, Franz Kafka Novels From the Drawer Prize, 2008. He also earned Essay and Story prizes from the magazine The Universal Dissident, and the Essay Prize from the magazine New Word. Translated by MLK [1] [2] [3] Continue reading
[caption id="attachment_39453" align="aligncenter" width="623"] [1] Danilo’s (El Sexto’s) works displayed on the walls of La Paja Recold studio (Luz Escobar)[/caption] [2]14ymedio, Luz Escobar, 29 March 2015 – As part of the campaign to demand freedom for the artist Danilo Maldonado, known as “El Sexto,” several artistic activities took place this Saturday at la Paja Recold, the studio of the band Porno para Ricardo. On the walls of the place were works by the graffiti artist who has been incarcerated since last December 25. El Sexto was arrested shortly before carrying out a performance that consisted of releasing in a public square two pigs with the names of “Fidel and Raul.” The crime that has been charged against him is contempt. Several friends from all over the world and human rights organizations have demanded his immediate release. Yesterday’s activities joined those demands for his freedom. Among the most important moments of the afternoon was the performance by Tania Bruguera of The Whisper of Tatlin which opened the studio’s microphones to the fifty attendees of the encounter to ask for – in a minute each – Danilo Maldonado’s liberty. The host band Porno para Ricardo, played the lead musical part with several songs from their repertoire. Subsequently rappers including El Opuesto, Maikel Extremo, Rapper Isaac and Lazaro Farise Noise appeared on stage. All demanded the release of the artist and demonstrated solidarity with his cause. Also a book was opened in order to gather signatures of support for the #FreeElSexto campaign. An option paralleling that already implemented on the digital platform and that is intended for those who do not have access to the Internet. The artist Tania Bruguera told 14ymedio she had attended the event, “Because I think this is a case of the violation of the artist’s rights.” “It is not right that an artist who did not even carry out the work should be made a prisoner,” she stressed. Bruguera is precluded from leaving Cuba and is in the midst of legal proceedings because of events arising from her attempt to organize a performance last December 30 in the Plaza of the Revolution. In spite of her delicate legal situation, the artist attended the event in order to offer her support to El Sexto’s cause. Because she says that “An artist that is in jail just for imagining a work and trying to make it, it is an injustice.” About the performance that the graffiti artist would have carried out, Bruguera points out that, “Public figures, whether politicians or celebrities, are likely to be criticized (…) they have to assume that people who do not have that power, they are able to make them aware of their discontent through humor and satire.” Bruguera quipped that, “If they made prisoners of everyone who makes jokes about Fidel and Raul Castro, half the people would be incarcerated.” And she concluded, “The artist’s freedom lies in having the right to say symbolically whatever he wants.” Gorki Aguila, meanwhile, explained that, “It is important that artists join together among themselves (…) art has an incredible power to summon.” El Sexto’s grandmother, attending the event, said that, “The right of a man to live as he wants to live must be respected, Danilo does not harm anyone, he respects everyone, but he also asks for respect for himself, that they let him do what he wants.” With respect to the prison conditions in which this artist has lived, the grandmother says that, “He was sleeping on the floor for two months because for him, as for many other prisoners, there was no bed. They don’t let even an aspirin in. Danilo is chronically asthmatic, he had pneumonia, and they denied him antibiotics.” The lady also told of the continuing threats by State Security to many of the invitees so that they would not go this Saturday to the tribute to El Sexto. The pressure included the visit of two officers to the home of Gorki Aguila in order to deliver to him a police citation that required him to appear at the police station that same afternoon. The musician refused to go on grounds that a citizen must be given at least 24 hours notice of such an action. Lia Villares said that during the next Havana Biennial, which will get underway at the end of May, “We are going to do something.” The blogger anticipates that it will be, “A work by El Sexto that was not displayed here today.” Translated by MLK   [1] [2] Continue reading
[caption id="attachment_39438" align="aligncenter" width="623"] [1] Woman with a mattress (Yosmany Mayeta)[/caption] [2]14ymedio, Yosmany Mayeta Labrada, Santiago de Cuba, 28 March 2015 -- The Gonzalez family baby slept her first weeks in a plastic tub lined with sheets and blankets. She could not use the crib because her parents did not manage to buy the mattress that is assigned by the Santiago de Cuba ration market to expectant mothers. Shortages of the product and delays in its arrival to those in need create discomfort and situations like that of this baby in homes all over the country but with greater severity in the eastern region. Outside of some stores intended for that purpose there are long lines of pregnant women and their families to buy the so-called “module basket” that is given at a subsidized price to each mother. The prices in the free market are unaffordable for a good many families. They need at least 50 convertible pesos (CUC) in order to get a mattress in the hard currency market, while the average monthly salary does not exceed 20 CUC. Many of these mothers will celebrate the first birthdays of their children without the children having been able to enjoy a crib with a mattress. Such is the case of one young woman who preferred to remain anonymous and who was waiting this Wednesday in the line of the El Atardecer industrial products store. Her daughter is about to turn a year old, but she still has to sleep in a crib with an old mat repaired many times and that was loaned to her by a relative. Yamile Fonseca, resident of the Nuevo Van Van area, had a little more luck and says that “almost when the ration book was expiring I could buy the mattress, but that was a pure pain and a line that no one could stand.” Others simply give up and resort to the illicit market or inherit part of the “basket” items from a sister or a cousin. Beatriz Mena, clerk at an Industrial store, says that “they have only brought the product twice” to the store where she works. In those cases “they have sold to those mothers whose basket ration book is expiring and whose babies are turning a year old,” the others have had to wait until they are resupplied, she said. When the product arrives at one of the commercial units devoted to that purpose, then the drama becomes the line. Jose Bonne, father of a 10-month old girl, staked out the front of the Industrial this Tuesday from four in the morning in order to be able to be one of the first. “When I arrived there were already more than ten people who, since earlier hours, were marking their place in line in order not to be left without the mattress.” The manager of the store in the Altamira suburb said that “it has come to the unit on several occasions but the ones who have not bought are still more than those who have left with the product.” The lady says that “the mattresses that they leave are very few, and we have a great number of pregnant and newly post-partum women and the demand outstrips the quantities supplied. Another person, who preferred not to give his name, says that “when the mattresses arrive at the industrial products stores, now the clerks in cahoots with the management get most of them, which are sold to those whose turn has not come up, but who pay extra money and so acquire them ahead of time.” For her part, Yelaine Suarez said that when the mattresses arrive in the commission stores there are people who dedicate themselves to the sale of places in line for the amount of ten convertible pesos. “It is unfair to see how they take advantage of the opportunity in order to do things like that. Cuban women point to economic problems and difficulties in materially supporting a baby as among the main causes for the low birth rate that the country is now experiencing; the Total Fertility Rate fell in 2012 to the worrying figure of 1.69 children per woman. David Fernandez, resident of Alturas de Versalles, says that in the Altamira store they got crib mattresses at 300 pesos national currency, sold off the ration book. The resident of the place asks how it is possible that there are stocks for that but not for those women who have the “basket” ration book. The complaints come and go and many babies keep waiting to sleep in a crib with a mattress. Meanwhile, their parents improvise a little bed and take turns standing in line in front of the store. Translated by MLK [1] [2] Continue reading
[1]Cubanet, Pablo Gonzalez, Havana, 20 March 2015 – Each state enterprise has to deliver a quantity of blood donations each month in order to comply with the rule established by the Ministry of Public Health (MINSAP). Each clinic has to make one hundred donations per month. [caption id="attachment_39393" align="alignright" width="300"] [2] Donor in Cuba, where the sanitary conditions leave much to be desired (photo PG)[/caption] The pressure that MINSAP and the Committees in Defense of the Revolution (CDRs) put on the clinics makes their workers go out into the streets desperately searching for donors. Without doing any prior testing they carry out the blood extractions with poor medical instrumentation. Voluntary blood donation in Cuba, begun in 1962, has grown to reach and exceed the target set by the World Health Organization for one donation for each 20 inhabitants. According to the Granma newspaper, blood donations exceeded what was planned in the last two years. Donor Yasmany Machado, 27 years of age from Sancti Spiritus in the Fomento Province, commented on this report in Granma on the web page of the daily itself: “Since 2005 I have been a blood donor more than 20 times for the benefit of others. Now I ask myself the following question: Are donors encouraged by MINSAP and the CDRs? Is it perhaps resolved with a role for the district? Why does MINSAP not worry about the health of the donors?” And Yasmany’s commentary continues: “Why is modest help with food not offered to those who donate blood? Saying that the blood bank is poorly supplied (she refers to the bread with ham and cheese and the soda that they give to the donors). It is insufficient most of the time what is given to the donor … When the CDR wants your help and you are due, they visit you so that you go to donate. But no one is able, not the director of health nor the coordinator responsible for the CDRs, to see how you are. Well, to donate and comply yes, but to see what the bank gives to the donor, no… Why don’t they give two pieces of bread in the blood donor’s snack? Because all the protein, most of it, you donate it at that moment… I don’t understand, I will not understand… Signed: A blood donor, totally disappointed with the country’s policy. I am not satisfied…” [caption id="attachment_39394" align="alignleft" width="238"] [3] Blood bank in Havana[/caption] Most donors, like almost all Cubans, are people who have nothing in their homes for breakfast or they eat a poor breakfast. Sadly, they donate their blood simply in order to eat the bread with ham and cheese, and the soda that they give after each donation. This phenomenon is understandable. In stores this same bread costs a dollar sixty-five and the can of soda 50 cents. The average Cuban salary being around 20 dollars a month, there are few who can give themselves the luxury of buying bread with ham and cheese for breakfast. Doctor Luis Enrique Perez Ulloa, chief of the National Blood Program for MINSAP, said that the Cuban blood program is multi-faceted and that in Cuba 340,000 people routinely donate blood. But a nurse from the “Leonor Perez” clinic-hospital in Boyeros, who preferred anonymity, says: “We have to do wonders to meet the established standard. We go out to the streets looking for donors. Any person will do to count one more. We tell the workers at the clinics that they have to donate. If they do it we give them the day off as a reward. Always looking for ways to turn them into donors or at least get them to donate once. Many are vagrants, hopeless ones from the streets who easily give their blood without much prodding because of the snack that we give them afterwards, when there is a snack, because often it is lacking.” There are others who come because they paid them – concludes the nurse – or because they bribed them at some work center. [caption id="attachment_39395" align="alignleft" width="300"] [4] Soda's and bread and ham for the donors[/caption] Not only do the clinics have to meet a monthly standard for donations. Each state enterprise also must deliver a quantity of donations per month to the local clinic. In order to comply with the standard set, the administrators search for people outside of the workplace. They bribe them with goods gotten from the workplace itself: food, money and even drink. These bought donors present themselves at the clinic posing as employees of the state entity that bribed them. Enrique Gonzalez, a donor at the same hospital clinic, commented: “I have been a donor for many years, and I am here because my work center sent me. The doctors have told me that I have to continue doing it because if I don’t, my hemoglobin will go up. They give me the day off every time I do it, at work they give me two pounds of chicken per donation, and also I eat the snack that they give after the donation.” A doctor of the hospital clinic who asked that his name not be revealed said: “We do not worry much about who the donors are, where they come from or the reasons for which they donate; what is important is that the most people donate to be able to meet the established standard. It is not always met, but we do everything possible.” There is a black market in blood. For a curettage or any kind of operation, they do not use the blood from the bank; on the contrary, they demand that the patient’s family bring a donation of blood. Donations cost about 20 dollars. And donors always appear for that money. Voluntary and good faith donations are well-received, but in Cuba most people donate blood for money, for a piece of bread with ham for breakfast. Translated by MLK [1] [2] [3] [4] Continue reading
14ymedio, Yosmany Mayeta Labrada, Santiago de Cuba, 21 March 2015 -- Since early this Saturday, a heavy police operation had as its objective self-employed workers, street vendors and private carriers in Santiago de Cuba. The forces of the National Revolutionary Police (PNR) reported that the raid was aimed against high meat prices in the farmer’s markets and the sale of potatoes in illegal distribution networks. Most of the arrests and fines occurred in the Venceremos and Altamira suburbs of Santiago de Cuba. The uniformed agents arrived in the first hours of the morning and demanded the vendors show their licenses for engaging in commercial activity. Until midday, the toll of the operation was the seizure of dozens of kilograms of pork meat and thousands of pesos in fines. Romilio Jardines, vendor of meat and agricultural products, was fined 700 Cuban pesos, although he said that his merchandise was not removed. Nevertheless, he affirmed that “they came prepared in case one refused.” The operation included special forces known as “black berets” who surrounded the area’s markets and the main streets of both suburbs. Alexander Benitez was among merchants who suffered the seizure of his products. “The found me selling pork meat at 27 pesos a pound in the doorway of my house and they came and demanded the license,” recounts this Santiago native. “When they saw that I had no license they confiscated the meat, the scales and also fined me 1,500 pesos.” Benitez says that he approached the police to get the scales back “because they were borrowed” but “they handcuffed me and put me in the police car.” One of the covert sellers, who preferred to remain anonymous, confirmed that it was true that “many self-employed workers have very expensive meat and a pound of potatoes for seven pesos, but the government in the state markets has none at any price.” The residents of the province complain that the tuber has still not been distributed to the people through the network of state markets, although in other cities its sale has already begun. Not only sellers of meat and agricultural products were the objective of the police operation, but also drivers of cars and motorcycles were investigated. Among them the driver of a private transportation truck who was fined 2,500 pesos and had his license plate taken away. One motorcyclist for a state enterprise also was sanctioned 30 pesos for not having changed the license plate to the new system that has been implemented in the country. By the beginning of the afternoon, many merchants and carriers in the Venceremos and Altamira suburbs were fined, but once the police began to withdraw their forces, the areas around the farmer’s markets started slowly to fill again with vendors and drivers.  Translated by MLK Continue reading
[caption id="attachment_39274" align="aligncenter" width="623"] [1] Plastic footwear stall at the market of La Cuevita (14ymedio)[/caption] Markets all over the Island are supplied with objects made on the illegal circuit of a material mostly derived from industrial waste or leftovers from the dump [2]14ymedio, Lilianne Ruiz, Havana, 20 March 2015 – At the market of La Cuevita in San Miguel del Padron, some thousand people from all over the Island daily buy household goods, flip-flops and toys, all made of plastic. The purchasers come especially from rural areas where the economic situation is more precarious and the only thing that abounds is scarcity. In order to sell in the market it is necessary to have a state license and a letter signed by the producers, also authorized, from whom the articles must be bought. The inspectors who pass through the sales stalls may require this letter, but in practice they pass with hand extended seeking money in exchange for not imposing a fine of 1,500 pesos on whoever has skipped the State’s rules of the game. There are many manufacturers who have no license. In the Cotorro township flip-flops are manufactured and in La Guinera, a settlement located in San Miguel del Padron, there are producers of household goods. The toys, with twisted forms and faded colors, are brought from the eastern part of the country. The first step is gathering the recyclable plastic among the wastes of industrial smelting and rummaging through the garbage in search of plastic items that can be exploited, without discarding the possibility of melting the trash cans themselves. In order to improve the quality of the final product, the manufacturers add virgin plastic. This granulated raw material is bought under the table, gotten directly from state warehouses. The mishmash is heated. When the material is quite melted it is injected under pressure into various molds. The injecting machines as well as the molds are produced by hand. When it liquefies, the homogenized paste takes on an earthy color, but artisans save the day using different colored dyes. According to one of these artisans, who allows no photos on his patio, in many neighborhoods of the capital the police would have to search patio by patio and house by house because “reality is stubborn,” as he learned many years ago in a Communist Party school. “Even beer can be canned clandestinely,” he says. “Such machines are all over Havana. Where you least imagine it, there is one. The problem is to make the product and get it immediately out so that the chain is not discovered.” The bowls and plates, funnels or any other object resulting from this mix of materials are not completely safe for storage of food intended for human consumption. “I don’t use any of the bowls that I buy in the candonga for keeping food from one day to the other. But they are cheaper than those made in China which are sold in the hard currency stores and cost a third of a worker’s salary,” says Morena, a housewife who frequents the market. The vendors place themselves at the entrance to the market. Some offer strings of onion and garlic, others little nylon bags. An old lady sells a bag of potatoes that she has just bought after a long line, and a teen carries a box of ice where he keeps popsicles that sell for 15 Cuban pesos. They often have to go running. A patrol passes every twenty minutes. [caption id="attachment_39275" align="aligncenter" width="623"] [3] The police pass by often while overseeing legal sales in the market (14ymedio)[/caption] “If you resist arrest, they beat you. Then they take you to the 11th Police Station, and railroad you and you don’t know if you’ll come out with a fine of 1,500 Cuban pesos or go directly to the Valle Grande prison,” says the popsicle salesman. A man in his forties recounts how the police detained him once, accusing him of retailing without any proof, and they asked him for his identity card just because he was carrying a briefcase full of plastic plates that he had just bought. “It would be of no use to say it is my hobby to throw them in the air to practice my slingshot aim. Just like if they want to they seize everything and give you a fine. The police do not act for the benefit of the people,” he laments. Mireya, almost seventy years of age, is the last link in the productive chain of plastic products. While others work in little brigades for a particular producer, authorized or not, she does it alone. She has put together brooms and brushes manually, with production wastes from state industry, for more than 20 years. “If they catch me doing this I can have serious problems with the authorities. I don’t do it to get rich. I have to assemble 100 brushes to earn 400 Cuban pesos [about $16 U.S.], and from that I have to invest part in order to buy the materials,” she explains. Mireya does not want to get a license because she thinks the taxes are too high. Besides, she could not justify the materials that she uses to fabricate her brooms because, in spite of dealing with industrial waste, there exists no legal way of acquiring them. The bases and the bristles she buys from someone who, like her, has no license either and sells them more cheaply. “What I would have left after paying for the license and the taxes would be more or less the same as the wage of a state worker. With that, added to my pension of 270 pesos, I can’t even live ten days. If you don’t believe what I am saying, take the rice and beans from the store, divide it into 30 piles to see how you eat and how you live. Then necessarily you have to live wheeling and dealing,” she concludes without ceasing to close the plastic threads with wire pincers. Translated by MLK [1] [2] [3] Continue reading
[caption id="attachment_39109" align="aligncenter" width="623"] [1] Cartoon bubble: "Forget about the Gringos; don’t worry, boy, I have the control!" Cartoon by Manuel Guillen (La Prensa, Nicaragua)[/caption] [2] 14ymedio, 17 March 2015 – Coinciding with this Tuesday’s meeting in Caracas of the Summit for the Bolivarian Alliance for America (ALBA) to analyze the latest confrontation between the United States and Venezuela, Fidel Castro has written a letter published by the newspaper Granma in which he praises the attitude of the “heroic people of Bolivar and Chavez” and reminds us that “Venezuela has the best equipped soldiers and officers of Latin America. The Cuban ex-president stresses the “exemplary discipline and the spirit of the National Bolivarian Armed Forces,” and concludes that “whatever the imperialism of the United States does, it can never count on doing what it did during so many years,” referring to the military coups that occurred in Latin America in the 20th Century. “When you met with those officers in recent days, you could tell they are ready to give their last drop of blood for the Homeland,” says Castro. The historic leader of the Revolution remembers that Hugo Chavez was the one who took the initiative to found ALBA in order to “share with his Caribbean brothers” Venezuela’s natural resources that were, according to the ex-leader, going to American businesses and Venezuelan millionaires. “Simon Bolivar dedicated himself fully to the colossal work of freeing the continent,” points out Castro going epic. “With less than 1% of the planet’s surface, [Venezuela] possesses the greatest oil reserves in the world. For a whole century it was obliged to produce all the fuel that the European and United States powers needed. Even though today the hydrocarbons formed over millions of years would be consumed in no more than a century, and we human beings who today number 7.2 billion, in ten more years that will double and in two hundred will exceed 21 billion, only the wonders of the most advanced technology may permit the survival of the human species a little longer. Why is the fabulous mass media not used to inform and educate about these realities that each person in his sound judgment must know, instead of promoting deception?” Fidel Castro says goodbye to Maduro, as is customary, with a “brotherly hug” that he extends this time to all Venezuelans and the peoples of ALBA. Translated by MLK [1] [2] Continue reading
[caption id="attachment_39079" align="aligncenter" width="623"] [1] 9th Congress of the UJC (EFE)[/caption] [2] 14ymedio, Victor Ariel Gonzalez, Havana, 24 February 2015 -- The only thing Damian shares with Karl Marx may be the thick beard. In everything else, the Havana engineering student is quite different from the German philosopher who wrote Das Kapital. And the main contrast between them is found in their ways of thinking because for this young man who enjoys sporting the lumberjack style – the “lumberjack” fashion is spreading through the capital – the last thing he wants to talk about is class struggle, historical demands or communism. “Who is for that?” he asks. To judge by his tone, it seems few. Instead, youngsters like Damian and his girlfriend, or the friends with whom they usually meet in places like the Bertold Brecht café theater or the Cuban Art Factory, prefer to talk about European football leagues while drinking beer paid for in hard currency. Things like the 10th Congress of the Union of Young Communists (UJC) appear nowhere in their conversations, despite the official propaganda that has been unleashed in an intense campaign about the event. According to the press permitted in Cuba, this “will be a congress that looks like Cuban youth.” Adhering strictly to that maxim, for starters, a good part of the delegates to the Congress must come from abroad, given the number of people who are leaving Cuba. Of the almost half million who have emigrated in the last ten years, a high percentage are young people seeking opportunities that their country is incapable of offering them. Damian talks about that also, his desire to leave, and about something curious: the majority of his friends who have managed to do it used to belong to the UJC. “It’s a double standard,” he says. The most radical and exclusive leftist militants went on to live under “cruel” capitalism. Nevertheless, the increasing emigration is a taboo subject in the current municipal assemblies preceding the big meeting of the young communists. According to a leader of the organization interviewed Monday on national television, such assemblies are in their final stage and from them must emerge a document with “the major problems raised” by their members then to be discussed in the “grass-roots committees.” Only then would topics be chosen for taking to the final Congress, and this via mechanisms perhaps too arbitrary, as usually happens in a country governed by an elite that stopped being young a long time ago. Among those pre-Congress “proposals,” the leader said, “the transformations themselves of the organization” have prominence. Although there are also “recreation as a necessity,” and the ever greater challenges that globalized cultural consumption poses for “proper” values; or the search for fun spaces whose availability in Cuba now depends only on how much money – that beast that communism tried to eradicate with time – the customers are able to offer. It is also said that other subjects from the official list will be youth employment and opportunities for study. This Congress will be carried out in a context in which the private sector is gaining appeal in the face of the previously omnipresent State and where university courses are of little use in earning a decent wage. The “updating of the economic model” has not prevented the phenomenon of labor migration from skilled positions to others of lower skill but greater remuneration. One could not miss, among the “proposals made” that the communist leader mentioned, the “responsibility of the youth with respect to the continuity of the Revolution.” Something logical coming from one who defines himself as the “vanguard” of young Cubans and whose main function is indoctrination. “The UJC not only has the responsibility for the revolutionary and communist formation of new generations, but also (…) that the organization that represents them, directs them, guides them, and leads them towards each one of the transformations of our society,” said the interviewee in the morning report. Accused of being elitist for assuming the right to speak on behalf of the broad spectrum of young society, the Union is demonstrating a lack of a monolithic nature that contrasts with the discourse of assured historical continuity. Rarely do ordinary Cubans hear on official television an expression of lack of trust in an institution that used to be sacred. This is the reason that the organization’s directors themselves are considering working more closely with the “youth universe,” a classification with which they usually refer to non-members. The most novel feature about this Congress is the new landscape that emerged after December 17 and the consequent view of rapprochement with the United States, the preferred geographic destination of youth who, like the unbeliever Damian, pursue the dream of prospering outside of Cuba. Belonging to the UJC is no longer a guarantee to access the state meritocracy. Even the most popular singers, even if they keep a prudent distance from the open political opposition, have never carried communist youth membership cards. What icons or deals does the UJC have to offer? Traditionally, to be part of the organization meant an advantage for those who aspired to good recommendations in their records, obligatory for a university career or a job, the guarantee of belonging to a more favored caste. Today, with young Cubans competing to see who has the best cell phone, it is no longer like that. Without having been officially recognized, the principal enemies today of the Union of Young Communists are political apathy, the loss of its significance and its function as a social placeholder. The tie to the UJC has turned into a stigma and even a cause of ridicule among youth. Young people often call its members “militontos” (member-idiots) in their private conversations. In a society where intransigence stopped being a virtue and everyone resorts to illegality in order to live, the role of the “correct” has lost too much impact and is even satirized by official media. “Who is for that?” Damian, who definitely “is not for that,” repeats over and over. Translated by MLK [1] [2] Continue reading
[caption id="attachment_39025" align="aligncenter" width="623"] [1] The ration book (14ymedio)[/caption] [2]14ymedio, Havana, Miriam Celaya, 11 March 2015 -- Commissar Nicolas Maduro, president of Venezuela to the misfortune of its people and – let’s admit it – also for the prolongation of our own misfortune, has just announced recently the installation of 20,000 digital fingerprint readers in state food markets and in several private sector retail chains that, according to him, adopted the initiative “voluntarily” after meetings held with the government. Let’s draw a merciful veil over the aforementioned secret meetings and imagine the atmosphere that must have reigned there in the midst of the “permanent economic war” that Venezuela suffers, the successive “soft coups” that have been provoked almost bi-weekly in that South American nation – according to the president’s denunciations – and the growing repression of opposition factions and civil society that demonstrate publicly and openly against the government. It is not very hard to guess what caused the “voluntariness” of these businessmen, who are definitively representatives of the “oligarchies” constantly defamed in official speeches and press. But returning to the topic of Comrade-President Maduro’s above-mentioned fingerprint readers, his lofty purpose is, while guaranteeing the feeding of the people, to counter smuggling, or more exactly, “the smugglers” since smuggling can exist without socialism but socialism has never existed without smuggling. This way, the fingerprint readers – which will limit the purchase of foods and other products in high demand whose supply has been greatly depressed causing lines, hoarding and disturbances in the stores – now are added to the prior rationing through magnetic cards established in 2014. It is clear that the Bolshevik Nicolas has not the least ability to overcome his country’s economic crisis, but at least in contemporary times the new technologies permit digital management of the misery. It is without doubt a real contribution of Socialism in the 21st Century which the late Hugo predicted in his glory days, before being planted in the Mountain Barracks and turned into a tiny little bird dispensing bad advice [3]*. Decades later, the Venezuelan government model – if it is possible to call it that – is dragging the country in a sort of reverse race through experiences similar to those that we Cubans have gone through under Castro-ism. Those of us born before or in the years immediately following the catastrophic accident of January 1959 remember clearly some of the bureaucratic variants created to manage poverty, an ill that the older ones among us believed had been almost overcome with the economic boom experienced in the 50’s. This administrative strategy, typical of war and famine economies, was first established for food products, and a little later, with the decline of Cuban industries due to the extreme nationalization of the economy, it was rapidly extended to other consumer products, such as clothing, footwear and other goods. Then came the industrial products book, popularly known as the store booklet, which currently functions only for the acquisition of school uniforms. This version of control not only indicated the limits of access to the said articles, but it also reached the point of establishing shopping schedules for groups, with subsections inspired in the strongly sexist standards of the Revolution, which assigned two days a week – Monday and Thursday – on which only women workers could shop; an enviable privilege in the widespread poverty that, moreover, took for granted in a Revolutionary way that trifles like shopping were not worthy of men. Decades of shortages, manipulated in detail by those in power, sowed in ordinary Cubans an extreme dependence on the State – an always insufficient provider but the only one possible – and a whole culture of systematized poverty that includes a peculiar glossary with phrases that we drag around even today in popular speech: “what they are offering” in this or that establishment, “what’s assigned to you,” “what’s expiring,” “plan jaba**,” “chicken diet***” and many similar ones that reflect the national acceptance of misery as the common destiny, something that one day – hopefully not too distant – should embarrass us. Rationing in Cuba has been quite an institution that has played a role in the socio-economic realm and also in the political, functioning more as an instrument of subjection of the people by the Government than as a true guarantor of a just distribution of consumer goods, established with a vulgar egalitarianism that annulled individual initiative and turned the citizen into dough. The ration book has constituted a mechanism of social control, even to the point that currently the Government has not been able to eliminate it, on pain of absolutely abandoning the most disadvantaged social sectors, especially the elderly without filial protection and the many humble homes which receive no remittances from abroad nor have any other hard currency income. In spite of that, the food products rationed and subsidized through the book – that artifact that constitutes a complete leftover of the Cold War – are today fewer than a dozen, and they barely cover precariously some of the most pressing food needs while the rate of inflation keeps increasing and wages hardly have even symbolic value. [caption id="attachment_39026" align="alignleft" width="306"] [4] Bread lines (14ymedio)[/caption] That is why, when I now witness the Venezuelan rationing process, when I hear the openness with which Comrade-President Nicolas Maduro disguises in modernity the cataclysm of misery that looms for his people, I cannot escape a kind of jolt, like déjà vu. We Cubans already traveled that path, we walked half a century over its thorns and we are convinced that it only leads to disaster. We have painfully and abundantly proven that misery is the only thing that, divided among many, touches more. Personally, I hope that the poor Venezuelans, who lately pursue their food anxiously and stand in long lines at stores with empty shelves, manage in time to avoid that serious confusion that sometimes leads people to interpret as justice that which is the manipulation and burial of freedoms. Translator’s notes: * Nicolas Maduro says that Hugo Chavez appears to him as a tiny little bird, and dispenses advice. In this video, otherwise in Spanish [5], he imitates the sounds the bird makes flying around his head and then imitates the bird whistling a message.  ** “Plan jaba” is literally “sack plan” and can mean one of two things: (A) you leave your bag and come back and pick it up at a convenient time so you don’t have to wait in line all day, which is allowed for some working people; or (B) you get a “special bag of extras” because of age, illness or pregnancy, and again, you just pick it up. *** “Chicken diet” means that you get extra protein because of age, illness or pregnancy. Translated by MLK [1] [2] [3] [4] [5] Continue reading
[caption id="attachment_38861" align="aligncenter" width="623"] [1] Urban organic garden in Miramar, Havana (flickr)[/caption] [2]14ymedio, Rosa Lopez, Havana, 1 March 2015 – The raised bed exhibits its curly lettuces a few meters from the rough concrete building. There is an hour to go before the urban organic garden near Hidalgo Street in the Plaza township begins its sale, but already customers are thronging to get fresh vegetables and lower prices. None of them knows that the products they will buy here are neither organic nor very safe for their health. Urban agriculture is a phenomenon that dawned in the nineties with the rigors of the Special Period [3]. In the words of a humorist, “We Havanans turned ourselves into peasants and planted leeks even on balconies.” The economic crisis and the inefficiency of state farms required taking advantage of empty lots in order to cultivate greens and vegetables. The initiative helped all these years to alleviate shortages and has many defenders who emphasize their community character, so different from the mechanization of modern agriculture. Nevertheless, together with the undeniable merits are hidden serious problems that point to the contamination of the crops with wastes characteristic of urban areas. Hidden, serious problems point to the contamination of the crops with wastes characteristic of urban areas Nationwide, about 40,000 people work in urban agriculture projects on some 83,000 acres (130 square miles) that are divided into 145,000 parcels, 385,000 patios*, 6,400 intensive gardens and 4,000 urban organic gardens. These last under the leadership of the Ministry of Agriculture, although with some autonomy for crop management. With these lands planted in populated areas, it has been the goal to reduce food insecurity, offer greater access to fresh produce and to expand green spaces in urban zones. Havana has 97 high yield urban organic gardens. One of the best known is located in the Alamar neighborhood and is currently managed by a cooperative of 180 members. The capital also has 318 intensive gardens, with crops sown directly in the ground, in addition to 38 crops that are semi-protected and in enriched soil. The soil enrichment uses a technique known as vermicomposting, which consists of transforming solid wastes by the action of earthworms and micro-organisms. The problem is that many of the urban wastes that serve as a basis for the process are gotten from residential trash and carry a big load of heavy metals that with time accumulate in greens and vegetables. The compost comes from household trash containing cadmium and lead above the maximum permissible levels A study carried out in 2012 by several researchers from the Institute of Soils and that included samples from urban organic gardens in Havana and Guantanamo brought to light that “the compost obtained from the urban solid wastes originating in household trash extracted from landfills without prior sorting, and the subsoils prepared from them, contain heavy metals, especially cadmium and lead, above the maximum permissible levels.” The lack of an effective system of trash sorting and processing works against us, because much of the waste used for compost in the urban organic gardens has had previous contact with materials like cans, paints, and batteries, thrown indiscriminately into landfills all over the country. [caption id="attachment_38862" align="aligncenter" width="623"] [4] Urban agriculture in Havana (flickr)[/caption] Furthermore, the process to achieve compost often is not carried out properly, so that the pathogens contained in the wastes are not destroyed. Although part of the material used in this process comes from the garden itself, trash from nearby settlements, market wastes and agro-industrial refuse are also added. Family gardens account for close to 90% of the greens consumed by the population, so ingestion of high doses of heavy metals could be affecting a great number of Cubans. Irrigation adds a high content of chlorine and other water purifiers  Irrigation of the urban organic gardens aggravates the problem because the water comes from the population’s supply network and affects the amount of water available for human consumption, besides also being unsuitable for crops because of the high content of chlorine and other purifying products. The proximity of streets and avenues to the crops worsens the pollution because heavy metals also arrive through the ground and the air. Add to that the use of pesticides and fungicides for control of pests in the urban organic gardens. An un-confessed but widespread practice. Most alarming is that the Ministry of Agriculture keeps silent about this matter and does not promote research into the presence of chemical agents harmful to health in produce that consumers imagine fresh and organic. Complicity or apathy? No one knows, but there are many reasons to distrust that bunch of lettuce with its attractive green leaves. *Translator’s note: “Patios” in this context refers to home gardens producing food primarily for family consumption. Translated by MLK [1] [2] [3] [4] Continue reading
[caption id="attachment_38788" align="aligncenter" width="623"] [1] A man talks on a pay phone in Havana (photo Alejandro Ernesto/EFE)[/caption] [2] 14ymedio, Eliecer Avila, 28 February 2015 -- A topic that is raised for discussion these days is the obsolete argument that some official voices never stop repeating at every opportunity they have to strain relations between Cuba and the United States or rather between Cuba and the Outside World. I am referring to the supposed “need” of implementing “appropriate measures designed to avoid the penetration that the enemy hopes to make into Cuban society.” Just a few days ago, in the context of the first National Workshop on Computing and Cyber-Security held in Havana, with the physical or virtual presence of thousands of computer engineers, really absurd speeches were heard that, far from inviting the use of emerging opportunities to propel development, called for “being on guard” in the face of new “maneuvers” by the enemy to “penetrate” Cuban society. I would like for some of these birds of ill omen really to explain, with what does the United States want to penetrate us? Or at least, with what negative thing? Maybe a virus? For that there are anti-viruses. With information about our own reality? We, the people, are screaming for that on our own. Our youth (...) already think about the world and conceive their aspirations in the same way as do the youth of New York  With capitalist propaganda? Our youth do not need it, they already think about the world and conceive their aspirations in the same way as do the youth of New York, sometimes even a little more capitalistic than those. With TV series, soap operas, shows? That is what the Cuban family watches every night, just a week behind. With vice and prostitution? Please, those are fields of enormous potential for replacing imports. The more I think about it, I do not really find the harmful impact about which these things of which gentlemen speak. Could it be rather that they are preparing the terrain in order to justify the excessive and paranoid control that is planned for the future Cuban web surfer? I believe that the old scheme of being able to try to survive at all costs, defending its privilege of being the only one that can “penetrate” the minds, every day, 24 hours a day, of all Cubans and many others out there. . . The reality is that we do not need the Cuban government to “protect” us from any external influence. We are millions of Cuba adults responsible enough to make own decisions in the physical world as well as in the virtual one, who want for our country the same access to the Internet that is widespread on the planet. With all its risks and infinite possibilities. Do not defend us anymore; no one has asked you to. Translated by MLK [1] [2] Continue reading
[caption id="attachment_38758" align="aligncenter" width="623"] [1] Members of State Security arrest women from the Ladies in White organization (Ernesto Mastruscusa/EFE)[/caption] [2]14ymedio, Havana, 24 February 2015 -- Short-duration detentions increased considerably in Cuba in 2014, according to the annual report published today by Amnesty International. The human rights organization, with headquarters in London, emphasizes that the situation with respect to freedom of expression, association and assembly, infringed on by criminal prosecutions for political reasons, did not improve. Amnesty International expects, nevertheless, that the announcement of the re-establishment of diplomatic relations between the Island and the United States may help produce a significant change in the matter of human rights. The report highlights the 27% increase in short-duration detentions last year, according to data from the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation, which counted almost 9,000 brief arrests. The Ladies in White organization suffers the most from this type of repression, although Amnesty International also mentions the arrests produced at the end of 2014 on the occasion of the Community Summit of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC). The annual report, which offers an overview of the human rights situation in 160 countries and forecasts trends in this arena for the next year, addresses the issue of the control that Raul Castro’s government exercises over all means of communication and the difficulties of accessing information on the Internet. Among the harassments that independent journalists have suffered, the organization cites the case of 14ymedio, which, on the day of its launch last May 21, suffered an attack on its web page. Since then this digital daily has been blocked on the Island. The report dedicates a special section to prisoners of conscience and notes that laws that classify “dangerousness” and the likelihood of future offense as crimes have been used frequently to incarcerate citizens critical of the Government. Also, they point to the restriction on travel outside of Cuba imposed on the 12 prisoners of the Black Spring who were released without a clarification of their legal status. Amnesty International appreciates the immigration reform of 2013 which has permitted Cubans to travel abroad but points out that the government has confiscated materials and documents from opponents and critics on their return to the Island. The international organization complains that Cuba has not yet ratified the International Treaty of Civil and Human Rights or the International Treaty of Economic, Social, and Cultural rights, both signed in February 2008. Also, the Government has not responded to the petition made in October by the special rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhumane or degrading treatments and punishments. Cuban authorities have denied Amnesty International access to the country since 1990. A “cruel” year on a regional scale Amnesty International stresses that 2014 was a “cruel” year in all of the Americas, characterized by outbreaks of protests and impunity for criminal networks. “Last year, insecurity and conflicts grew on the American continent. Protests exploded in several countries, among them Venezuela, Brazil, Mexico and the United States, often violently repressed by state forces. We also were witness to the tragic increase in violence by criminal networks that acted with total impunity,” Erika Guevara Rosas, director of the organization’s program for the Americas, asserts. “From the disappeared students in Mexico through the revelations about torture at the hands of CIA agents in the United States and the shooting of protesters by Brazilian police, 2014 was a shameful year in the whole region,” she adds. Amnesty International warns that, if significant structural changes are not put in place, the region will see an increase of protests and demonstrations, while organized crime and violence will continue devastating countries like Mexico, El Salvador and the English-speaking Caribbean. The organization notes as positive the peace talks between the Colombian government and the Armed Revolutionary Forces of Colombia (FARC) for the purpose of putting a definitive end to the continent’s oldest armed internal conflict. Nevertheless, the report stresses that at the end of last year both parties continued abuses and violations of human rights. As for Venezuela, the report insists that security organizations employed excessive force to disperse protests and emphasizes that dozens of people were detained arbitrarily and denied access to doctors and lawyers. Amnesty International nevertheless harbors a certain hope that movements in defense of human rights in the Americas may improve their form of organization thanks to the help of new technologies and social networks. Translated by MLK [1] [2] Continue reading
[caption id="attachment_38743" align="aligncenter" width="623"] [1] Lines at Cuban ATMs grow on weekends (14ymedio)[/caption] [2]14ymedio, Rosa Lopez, Havana, 23 February 2015 – The line reached the corner and was moving with agonizing slowness. They were not selling eggs or potatoes. It wasn’t even a line for seeking a visa. Those who waited just wanted access to the automatic teller, the only one working last Saturday afternoon near Havana’s Central Park. A few days before MasterCard can be used in Cuba, many are asking how the Cuban bank network will deal with the increased demand for money if it can barely keep its service afloat for domestic users and tourists. The congestion in front of the machines grows even though only 1.3 million magnetic cards have been issued in the country, and for the moment only retirees, customers with accounts in convertible pesos, businesses that have contracts with the bank, self-employed workers and international collaborators can get them. The rest of society continues to depend exclusively on paper currency. “When the subject is money, people fume,” says a young man whose Saturday night hangs by a thread because of the congested ATM. Even though this weekend the temperature dropped in the city, no one seemed ready to leave before getting their cash. The scene is repeated at most of the 550 ATMs (Automated Teller Machines or automatic tellers) of Chinese manufacture, of which 398 are in Havana. In 2013 200 new units were purchased in China, but the majority were to replace defective terminals and did not solve the serious deficit of tellers. Cash payment is still the most common method in Cuba for acquiring products and services. The scarcity of terminals combines with the deficient functioning of the system, affected by electrical outages, frequent connection failures between the ATM and the bank and lack of cash The terminals are only available in private businesses with great resources and obvious official backing  Almost all the self-employed workers offer their services for cash payment. The use of point of sale terminals (TPVs) for card scanning and payment, also known as POS, is only available in private businesses with great resources and obvious official backing. In state business networks, the landscape is different but not very promising either. Although there exist POS terminals in most big department stores and hard currency shops, their service is unstable and slow. “When a client comes to pay with a card, the line stops for minutes because sometimes the communication with the bank is down and you have to try it several times,” explains a cashier from the busy market at 70th Street and 3rd in Miramar. In the provincial cities and above all in the townships, where they are practically non-existent, the ATM and POS situation is even worse. Tourists who travel deep into Cuba must carry cash with them, increasing the risk of theft and loss in addition to the demand for liquidity. The problem hits natives and foreigners. “Why do they pay me on the card if in the end I have to go get the money at the bank because I can make purchases almost nowhere with this?” complains Marilin Ruiz, a former elementary school teacher who also was waiting in line on Saturday for the ATM near Central Park. The delay was so long that she wound sharing recipes for making flan without milk and knitting suggestions with another woman.  “I have a pension of less than 200 pesos (about $8 US) and I spend up to two hours in line at the teller to collect it,” an old woman complained Between the 4th and 6th of each month, Cuban retirees go to ATMs to collect their pensions. “I have a pension of less than 200 pesos (about $8 US) and I spend up to two hours in line at the teller to collect it,” explained Asuncion, an old woman of close to eighty years of age. Meanwhile, some kids scamper from one side to the other. They are the children of a couple waiting at the end of the line without much hope of getting money before nightfall. “We are late for everything; when the world has spent decades using plastic, now it is that we are trying it,” laments Asuncion. The first ATMs, of French manufacture, were installed in Cuba in 1997, but after 2004 only Chinese terminals arrived. Asuncion keeps in her wallet a Visa card that her son sent her from Madrid. “I use this only every three months when he puts a little on it for my expenses.” There are no public statistics about how many of the country’s residents might be making frequent use of debit or credit cards associated with a foreign bank account of an emigrated relative, but the phenomenon has grown in the last decade. In the line several Chinese student also put their Asian patience to the test with the red and blue cards in hand from the Chinese banking conglomerate UnionPay. More than 3000 citizens of that country study or work on the Island, and they receive their family remittances through that channel. Also, in 2013 alone some 22,000 Chinese tourists visited Cuba. “We Cubans and Chinese are good at waiting, but let the gringos arrive in great numbers, they are more desperate, they want everything fast,” “We Cubans and Chinese are good at waiting, but let the gringos arrive in great numbers, they are more desperate, they want everything fast,” says Lazaro, a teen with tight clothes, to a friend with whom he waits in the line. The alternative to the ATM, which might be the window of the bank branch, is not recommended. In Havana there are 90 branches of the Banco Metropolitano, but at the end of 2014 at least twelve offices were partially or completely closed because of problems ranging from leaks, sewer network blockages, danger of building collapse or other infrastructure issues. Insufficient attention and lack of trust in the banking system make many continue to prefer hiding money “under the mattress.” The limited work schedule of banks and the scarcity of offices open on weekends cause long lines on weekends in front of ATMs. The more optimistic, however, manage to profit from the wait. Marilin managed to achieve everything by renting a room in her house to the Chinese students who must, of course, pay in cash. Asuncion could not stand the pain in her legs and left without her money, while the couple at the end of the line had to buy some ice cream to pacify their restless children. Lazaro was luckier, and in addition to exchanging phone numbers with a French woman whom he met in the crowd, he managed to extract twenty convertible pesos from the ATM to spend that same night. At least this time the blue screen did not appear with the “out of service” announcement, nor was there a power outage and, yes, the machine had cash. Translated by MLK [1] [2] Continue reading
[caption id="attachment_38705" align="aligncenter" width="623"] [1] Treaty of Paris 1898 (CC)[/caption] [2]14ymedio, Ferrán Nuñez, Paris, 21 February 2015 -- With the signing of the Treaty of Paris of 1898, Spain ceded or sold the last pieces of its former empire where, in the time of Carlos V, “the sun never set.” This treaty, as has already been proven by Pedro Albizu Campos, had several legal defects that made it invalid. Curiously, no Spanish politician has used these arguments to challenge it outright. This is due to two main factors: The first, ignorance, and the second, of equal weight, reality. Spain today, as it has been for the last 115 years, is not in any shape to oppose the “Pax Americana.” However, today this legal fissure acquires an unexpected dimension. Spain, through various laws, decrees and circulars, has decided to re-establish the rights of nationality for many of its former citizens who lost their nationality for different reasons in the last century (and even earlier, as is the case of the Sephardic Jews). Over time this worthwhile path is going to turn out partial and incomplete because unfathomable depths of injustice are appearing. We are going to neither allude to the notorious inequality of conceding nationality only to descendants of male immigrants or detail the numerous legal ploys that officials abroad use in order to retard or delay the petitions of the interested parties, who could not always access to the documents necessary for validating their rights. The Treaty of Paris completely dispossessed Cubans and Puerto Ricans born overseas of their status as Spaniards, leaving them to the disposition of the new authorities as if it were dealing with material property of the Crown ceded or sold by virtue of that agreement. Something that was in frank contradiction of the rights of peoples and is one of the reasons that the said treaty was never ratified by The Cortes – the Spanish Parliament – until today. Few rose then to denounce such injustice, carried to The Cortes by Admiral Cevera, among others. Later a royal decree was published in the Manual of Military and Civil Classes, which declared them foreigners. Nevertheless, according to the current Constitution, the Civil Registry of the Kingdom was the only agency authorized legally to recognize (once registration had proceeded) the loss of nationality of those Spaniards, and this never occurred. By not duly settling in the Kingdom of Spain’s civil registry the new administrative status of the natives of the island of Cuba, they continued to maintain de facto Spanish nationality. The creation of the Republic of Cuba did not resolve this legal problem either, given that the Cuban Constitution established that those people had to “opt” for the new Cuban nationality, something that in practice – and from all the evidence – also turned out difficult to put into practice. Those who did not do it, as well as their descendants, kept their de facto status as Spaniards at least until 1940. As a result, their descendants continue to be Spanish and could demand that status currently in Spain’s civil registries. In 1940, the new Constitution decreed by ius solis (birthright through parentage) Cuban status to those born in Cuba so that Spaniards who did not “opt” at that moment to keep their Spanish nationality ended up losing it as did their descendants. However, Spanish nationality does not depend on Cuban nationality or vice versa. Each sovereign state decides for itself who are its citizens. Spain cannot impugn the Treaty of Paris but it can do justice to the descendants of those Spaniards, recognizing their right to nationality. Nothing prevents it and it would be an act of basic justice. The recent decisions by the Supreme Court denying Spanish status to those born in overseas territories are a disgrace and a legal aberration. Given the current international political environment, offering nationality to all those descendants of Spaniards who seek it opens unusual prospects – transcendental – for the cause of Hispanic heritage. Only a blind man would not know how to see them. Translated by MLK [1] [2] Continue reading
[caption id="attachment_38686" align="aligncenter" width="623"] [1] Image of the Cayo Hueso-Havana ferry taken 1951 (History Miami Archives and Research Center)[/caption] [2]14ymedio, Orlando Palma, Havana, 21 February 2015 -- Jose Manuel is 70 years old and has spent more than half his life fishing from Havana’s Malecon. For this retiree with leathery skin and eyes that have seen almost everything, it is a dream to catch sight again of that ferry that used to go to Florida and that he so liked when he was a child. “We kids used to pretend to say goodbye, and although I could never travel on it, my grandmother did every now and then.” Now, while the evening falls, the septuagenarian hopes that some fish will take the bait, and before him a sea without boats extends to infinity. Maritime transport between Havana and Cayo Hueso came to be very common in the first half of the 20th century until it was suspended in August of 1961 as a consequence of the restrictions from the American embargo of the Island. Now, the ghost of a ferry that links the two shores has resurfaced as a result of talks between the governments of Cuba and the United States. This week, the entrepreneur Brian Hall, who leads the company KonaCat with headquarters in Fort Lauderdale, made public his interest in operating ferry trips to Cuba from Marathon’s yachting marina on 11th Street. Hall told the daily digital KeysInfoNet that he was confident of getting available space for his 200-passenger capacity catamaran with which he plans to travel between the Florida Keys and Cuba twice daily. The news has barely reached the Island, but since last December 17 when Raul Castro and Barack Obama announced the process for reestablishment of relations between the two countries, the return of the ferry has become a matter of importance for many nostalgic people. In addition to the economic concessions and the political détente that this reconciliation would bring between the two governments, connecting both countries with a maritime route would have, besides its practical effects, a strong symbolism, many assert. All great human endeavors have something to do with madness, say the elders. The ferry service that connected Florida with the Cuban capital started with the efforts of a man. Henry M. Flagler, an oil magnate who in 1886 founded the Florida Faster East Coast Railway for railway construction and exploitation of Florida’s east coast. In spite of the great obstacles imposed by the geography of the keys and the constant danger of hurricanes, Flagler’s madness led him to trace the rail lines to Cayo Hueso, where the service was inaugurated in January 1912. That work would be considered by many as the eighth wonder of the world, besides being the boldest infrastructure built exclusively with private funds. Once the railway was in Cayo Hueso, some way was needed to overcome the distance to Cuba. So was born “the train moving over the waters” as the ferry was also called and whose Havana-Cayo Hueso service was inaugurated January 5, 1915. The first shipment consisted of a batch of refrigerated cars, and the boat received the name of Henry M. Flagler, in homage to the visionary entrepreneur who had died two years earlier. “We kids used to pretend to say goodbye, and although I could never travel on it, my grandmother did every now and then.” The dispatch of products between both shores grew like wildfire after that moment. In 1957 it came to more than half a million tons of merchandise in both directions, to which was added the transport of passengers and cars. The sea connection between the two shores lasted 46 years, and some remember it as if it were yesterday that the last boat had sailed. “My grandmother frequently travelled to Florida on the ferry,” explains Jose Manuel, who has had a bad day for fishing. “We were poor, but part of my family went there to work and sometimes would return the same day,” he says wistfully. Near the fishing pole, seated on the wall of the Malecon, a teenager listens to the conversation and smiles with incredulity. He is of the generation that cannot conceive that at some point the Malecon was not a barrier that separated Cuba from the world but a point of connection with the neighbor to the north. The line tightens, and it seems that something has bit. Jose Manuel concentrates on recovering from the water what is going to be his supper tonight, but in spite of his concentration he manages to say, “The day that I see that ferry arriving here again I will be able to die in peace.” Translated by MLK [1] [2] Continue reading
[caption id="attachment_38610" align="aligncenter" width="550"] [1] Leinier Cruz Salfran (photo by the author)[/caption] [2], Roberto Jesus Quinones Haces, Havana, 13 February 2015 -- Raul Castro’s government, in spite of rapprochement between Cuba and the United States, continues the work of keeping people from freely accessing the internet. On Monday, January 19 Cubanet published a report about the detention of the young Guantanemero Leinier Cruz Salfran on Saturday, January 17 by State Security agents. The reason? Leinier was gathering together a group of young people outside of the Hotel Marti, connecting through his laptop to the building’s WiFi and sharing the Internet with the others present who had also brought their portable computers to the location. We contacted the young man who agreed to grant us this interview: Q: Leinier, why did State Security detain you? Because according to them I was committing a crime of Illicit Economic Activity. Q: What did you do? I shared the use of the Internet with other people through Hotel Marti’s wifi connection. Q: How many users came to connect to the Internet at the same time because of your initiative? There was no fixed number, there were days when more than fifty people connected on the ground floor of the Hotel Marti which was generally where I was connected. Q: What was the typical connection speed when everyone was connected at the same time? The Hotel Marti has a bandwidth of 6 mbps (megabits per second) which equates to a download speed of 600 kb per second. The speed was sufficient for chatting, participating in a video conference or carrying out an audio session on Facebook. The speed was acceptable. Later the hotel managers applied a speed limit of 2 mbps for each direct client. Only three people could connect directly to the hotel without interference. If another person connected the speed was divided among the four. In the end, I had to tell the users that they could not do video conferences because now the bandwidth was insufficient for everyone. Everything was limited to opening pages, downloading email and voice sessions. Q: How would you rate the internet connection opportunities that exist today in the city of Guantanamo? There are very few internet access points, just two Internet rooms with 10 computers for a city of more than 150,000 residents. Furthermore, now the Hotel Marti denies Internet access to Cubans, who now cannot even pay a dollar to go up to the terrace which is where they have placed the wifi access. Also, in the Hotel Guantanamo, the equipment for the point of access used to be in the lobby and now they put it on the second floor and even removed the antennas, which they only put up between 4 and 8 pm. Whoever wants to access the internet has to pay one dollar per hour. This part a decision by the government itself. Q: The police accuse you of supposed illicit economic activity. Did you charge for sharing Internet access or did you share the cost of the connection with your friends? I never charged because I knew they were following me. After I started sharing the connection I knew that I had become a dangerous enemy for the authorities and I knew that at some point I was going to confront them face to face, obviously on their terms, so I just shared the cost of the connection. Q: Is there a law in Cuba that prohibits sharing the connection cost among several users? I don’t know. During the interrogations they spoke to me of a crime called Violation of Contractual Services, something like that, in which the crime of violating a contract incurs a penalty of up to three years incarceration. Apparently they were convinced there was no evidence of any illicit economic activity, however, they emphasized that I violated the contract with ETECSA (Telecommunications Enterprise of Cuba) by using the Nauta (Internet) service, but in my opinion they did not want to go to the extreme of sentencing me. Q: Did they return your laptop, flash drives and camera that they took during the search of your home? No, they still have not told me what they will do with them. They took them from me and have left me disarmed because I am a programmer. Q: Do you plan to do it again? No, no I cannot trip on the same rock, it would be stupid if I did that. I think I have to focus my efforts on other artists, other projects that I have in mind until I find a person with strength and the chance of helping me carry them out. Q: Why do you think they authorities hinder cheap Internet access for young Cubans? I believe that it is the policy of the State to maintain massive disinformation for the Cuban population, and that is demonstrated by the fact that this government has never permitted free access to information. Here we have no chance of getting computers, mobile devices, access to satellite TV, the Internet, there are no satellite phone connections or access to information technology. What they have done to me proves it. Q: What is your current legal situation? Apparently I am not going to have a trial. They told the mother of my daughter who communicates with me to go to the Operations Unit to process the application of a fine, God knows for how many pesos, but I have decided not to go until such time as they communicate it to me as the law provides, through a document. The same way that they came with a search warrant the very day that they arrested me in front of my neighbors as if I were a delinquent and arrested me, that’s how they must do it for me to go there. (We went to the Hotel Marti, the place where Leinier carried out his supposed derelict activity for which he was arrested. This reporter tried on three occasions to speak with the hotel manager, leaving his address and telephone number with a note in which we expressed that our intention was to bring to her attention what Cubanet published so that she could offer her viewpoint. In spite of our efforts, the lady did not agree to an interview.) About the author Roberto Jesus Quinones Haces Born in the city of Cienfuegos September 20, 1957. He is a law graduate. In 1999 he was sentenced unfairly and illegally to eight years incarceration and since then has been prohibited from practicing as a lawyer. He has published poetry collections “The Flight of the Deer” (1995, Editorial Oriente), “Written from Jail” (2001, Ediciones Vitral), “The Sheepfolds of Dawn” (2008, Editorial Oriente), and “The Water of Life” (2008, Editorial El Mar y La Montana). He won the Stained Glass Grand Prize for Poetry in 2001 with his book “Written from Jail” as well as Special Mention and Special Recognition from the Nosside International Poetry Competition in 2006 and 2008, respectively. His poems appear in the 1994 UNEAC Anthology, in the 2006 Nosside Competition Anthology, and in décimas [3] selections “This Jail of Pure Air” by Waldo Gonzalez in 2009. Translated by MLK [1] [2] [3] Continue reading
[caption id="attachment_38584" align="aligncenter" width="575"] [1] Where to find in Cuba that medicine that cured our grandparents? (Internet photos)[/caption] [2], Reinaldo Emilio Cosano Alen, Havana, 6 February 2015 – Bee venom is considered 500 thousand times superior to any antibiotic. But where to find that medicine and food, previously so abundant, older than mankind? The sick man came to the clinic with a bad cough. The doctor diagnosed bronchopneumonia. She prescribed antibiotics. And issued the challenge: “If you find honey, don’t stop taking it.” [3]After many inquiries he found a farmer who empties his hives, puts the honey into discarded rum bottles and sells them on the black market for 50 Cuban pesos (two dollars; a fifth of the average monthly salary) each. It is not worth questioning the hygiene of the package or the quality of the honey, issues that are for the European Union and other importing countries. The Apicultural Research Center in Havana analyzes and certifies nine physical-chemical parameters for all honey for exportation. “Here we check aspects like moisture, diastase and hydroxymethylfurfural – which describes the freshness of honey – acidity, electrical conductivity, non-soluble solids, reducing sugars and apparent sucrose,” explains Maidelys Pena Garcia, technician in Food Technology in that laboratory. (…) For the export of honey to the European Union there exist rigorous regulations, among them limits on residues of prohibited substances like pesticides and antibiotics. Some years ago they stopped selling honey in the pretty pitcher-shaped glass jars in the CUC (hard currency) stores. There was no explanation why the State, which controls honey from the agricultural phase to the retail, gave up the lucrative business in the so-called border market (in foreign currency). It was also sold at reasonable prices in state farmers markets. What happened to the honey? Even the popular honey-filled candies disappeared from the marketplace some unknown time ago. “The state buys all the honey from the farmers but the lack of honey in the domestic market incites traffic on the black market, theft of hives. The hives are mistreated because the thieves always are in a hurry,” says Diosdado Ferrer, an old beekeeper from the Mayabeque province. [4]Deforestation and frequent periods of drought are other causes that reduce the production of honey, royal jelly, propolis and wax. The bees can die of hunger. A temporary solution is the transfer of the hives to sites with better blooming, among them the coastal flowering mangroves.   Each worker bee visits some 7,200 flowers during his fifty days of life in some two hundred thousand flights in order to make barely five grams of honey! Bees and other useful insects effectively contribute to the pollination of flowers and the production of fruit, another cause of the reduction of agricultural production in the country. “Bees form part of the food production chain, hence the great concern about their deaths. In temperate climate countries 30 percent of foods that are produced are thanks to bee pollination,” says Doctor Adolfo Lopez Pinero, director of the Apiculture Research Center. Our grandparents cured themselves with honey from bees, which was sold in all the stores of the country. But that was also when we were the world’s sugar bowl. The bees are not at fault. Translated by MLK About the Author: [5]Reinaldo Emilio Cosano, Havana, May 1943, graduate in Philology from the University of Havana. He worked as a professor the last twenty years of his professional life. He was fired from teaching for lack of “political suitability,” as recorded in the minutes of the final separation. He was a member of the Cuban Committee for Human Rights and participated in the Democratic Cuban Coalition. He has been writing for more than ten years for CubaNet, through the Sindical Press agency, of which he is manager. E-mail: [6] [1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6] Continue reading
[caption id="attachment_38565" align="aligncenter" width="550"] [1] Photo by author[/caption] [2]Cubanet, Ernesto Perez Chang, Havana, 7 February 2015 -- More than a decade has passed since the first big purchase of busses from China and Russia was made in order to ameliorate the transportation problem in Cuba, and no improvement is in sight. Contrary to what was promised then, moving from one point to another becomes each day a greater agony for low-income citizens. Although officials from the Ministry of Transportation continue blaming the economic embargo and the world crisis for all the difficulties they face, it is well known that there are other phenomena, many of them related to corruption. In that sense, it is not surprising to encounter silence in the official media and in the statements by some officials in which they try to hide the million-dollar embezzlements that the importing and transportation companies must confront every year such that what is invested on one side passes to the pockets of a few on the other. Besides the negative figures supplied by Ricardo Chacon, Director of International Relations for the Ministry of Transportation (MITRANS), in the press conference held in 2014 in order to “denounce the embargo,” there were other data missing about the damages caused to the Cuban economy by the frauds and thefts committed by some of the senior leaders of strategic enterprises related to transportation. According to what we could learn through an official from Havana’s Provincial Transportation Department, who for obvious reasons has asked our discretion as far as his identity, a great part of the economic losses that were suffered last year, as in years before, is due to the chaos and the embezzlement of great sums of money by senior leaders of enterprises like Transimport, whose director, Jesus Jose de Hombre, was arrested some months ago and is under investigation for an act of corruption that also involves the director of the company Autopartes, tied to the illicit sale of thousands of engines that were intended for public transportation. [caption id="attachment_38567" align="alignleft" width="300"] [3] Alternative transportation in Lido, Marianao -- The people ride in the backs of trucks[/caption] On the streets of Cuba it is common knowledge that the black market for parts and vehicles, as well as for all services related to the field, is supplied by a network of corruption that reaches the highest levels in government institutions. The inability to honestly administer all these enterprises that function as true mafias is obvious when the constant resignations by officials are taken into account, the frequent changes of high managers as well as of the ministers and vice-ministers related directly or indirectly to transportation but, also, when it is revealed to us the exaggerated price of a vacant position in any of the warehouses or offices related to the sale or import of automobiles and auto parts. [caption id="attachment_38569" align="alignright" width="300"] [4] The lines for the bus[/caption] A worker – whom we do not identify for his safety – for one of the warehouses of the Gaviota enterprise group, in the capital, tells us about this particular: “The job as assistant to the Warehouse Chief goes for a thousand dollars and those that have to do with marketing also are “nibbling close.” There are people here who have entered on the bus and left in a Hyundai. They enter without a peso in their pockets because of what they had they spent on buying the job but later they get twenty times what they invested. Here I have seen new cars being removed, just arrived through the port. Later old cars are put out to rent, as if they were the new ones.” All of the old trucks and cars that circulate through the city, above all those dedicated to the particular business of transportation, are known to get their spare parts in mechanisms of the dark market due to the absence of legal providers. It might seem like a miracle that cars in use for more than half a century still continue rolling on the country’s highways but a glance inside of any of them would dispel such amazement. The driver of an almendron (a 1950s American car for hire) says about the expenses that keeping those vehicles functioning implies that necessity has become part of the urban profile. “You have to go out and look for all the parts. As there are none, they stab you with the prices. If you want to have it running at least eight hours, so that the business pays you, you know that in a year or two you are going to have to "re-motorize yourself." Every week you have to give it maintenance so that it doesn’t die and adapt all kinds of parts. And none of it is legal, they all require papers and you pay this and that and the other so that everything comes out okay. Everyone who has a car rolling on the street has to make an arrangement if you don’t want to forget about the car. The State requires you to go to the black market because it doesn’t give you anything. They know what they are doing and they have seen a windfall in that. He who makes the law makes the trap.” [caption id="attachment_38568" align="alignleft" width="300"] [5] Alternatives in the transportation crisis (photo by author)[/caption] Even though for the foreign visitor it could all work wonderfully – given that they travel the best routes of the country in comfortable panoramic buses and not in horse drawn carriages or unsafe trucks like those at the Lido terminal in Mariano – the transportation outlook on the island is quite grim. There is no way to break that cycle of corruption that the government itself has created and not because of inability or innocence. So many years committing the same mistakes only points to something quite high, at the head of the State, someone knows how to finish that infallible refrain that seems the slogan of every social project: There’s good fishing in troubled waters. About the author: [6]Ernesto Pérez Chang (El Cerro, Havana, June 15, 1971) Writer. Graduate of Philology from the University of Havana. He studied Galician Language and Culture at the University of Santiago de Compostela. He has published these novels: Your Eyes Face Nothing (2006) and Alicia Under Her Own Shadow (2012). At the end of this year the outlet Silueta in Miami will publish his most recent novel, Food. He is also the author of books of stories: Last Pictures of Mama Nude (2000); The Ghosts of Sade (2002); Stories From Headquarters (2003); Variations on the Illiterate (2007), The Art Of Dying Alone (2011) and One Hundred Lethal Stories (2014). His narrative work has been recognized with the prizes: David de Cuento, the Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba (UNEAC), in 1999; Gazette Story Prize of Cuba on two occasions, 1998 and 2008; Julio Cortazar Latin American Story Prize in its first call in 2002; National Critic’s Prize in 2007, Alejo Carpentier Story Prize in 2011, among others. He has worked as editor for numerous Cuban cultural institutions such as the House of the Americas (1997-2008), Art and Literature Editorial, the Center for Research and Development of Cuban Music. He was Editor in Chief of the magazine Union (2008-2011). Translated by MLK [1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6] Continue reading
[caption id="attachment_38402" align="aligncenter" width="623"] [1] Eduardo Diaz Fleitas on his farm. (14ymedio)[/caption] 14ymedio, Juan Carlos Fernandez, Entronque de Herradura, 31 January 2015 – Entronque de Herradura is a little village in the Pinar municipality of Consolacion del Sur. I go there in search of Eduardo Diaz Fleitas, a Cuban with rapid speech, skill with the ten-line stanza and proven courage. He was among the 75 dissidents sentenced during the Black Spring of 2003 [2], but not even a long prison stay made him lose his smile or wit. Fleitas asserts that he is “just a meddlesome peasant.” In this interview he speaks of his life, his early activism and of that other passion, which is the land where he has worked as long as he can remember. Question: In other interviews your work as an opponent always comes up, but I would like to speak of your personal history. What did you do before that fateful March of 2003? Answer: As a child I worked in the fields. I had to grow up fast, and I studied auto mechanics. Later I became a driver and even drove a bus. In 1989 I started driving a taxi and later became a transport inspector. However, in 1993 I stopped working for the State, demanding that they pay me with dollars to be able to buy in the hard currency stores because the national currency had no value. Since then I have worked on the plantation with my father. Q: Where did the ethical and moral values that guide your life come from? A: My father taught me respect, kindness, honesty and love of work, spirit of service and help to others. From my mother, a farmer and housewife, I learned effort and integrity as well as loyalty and also love, which I have seen in them, because they have been married since 1950. Q: What was the process that led you to be disappointed in the political and social process which, from its beginnings, said it was defending the peasantry? A: With the triumph of the Revolution we thought, like many, that it was something good. But after three or four months things began to get bad; the executions, the land was no longer ours. The discourse ran one way and reality the other. All that was waking me up. Q: But it’s a long way from discontent to activism. When did you begin to be a dissident publicly? A: In the year1988. Since then and until now I have been active in several opposition organizations and held different responsibilities. Q: During the Black Spring of 2003 you were arrested along with other dissidents, journalists, librarians and independent trade unionists. They sentenced you to 21 years imprisonment and you were behind bars almost nine years. How hard was jail? A: What most struck me about the Cuban penitentiary system is the great cruelty with which the inmate is treated, whether political or not. There you are not a person, you are at the mercy of your jailers. I saw extremely sick prisoners ask for medical attention, and the guards laughed in their faces. We must humanize Cuban prisons! I also have to say that prison offered me the chance to see, to my surprise, how many people support, in one way or another, the peaceful opposition movement in Cuba. I never felt alone inside. Prison also gave me the opportunity to harbor not even a drop of hatred against my victimizers. In my heart there exists neither hatred nor rancor towards them. Q: You have participated in several unity initiatives among opposition forces, the latest of them the Open Space of Civil Cuban Society. Do you believe consensus can be achieved in spite of differences? A: All proposals of this type are excellent. What I do consider unjustifiable is the dismissive insult and personal attack among ourselves. That is the method the Cuban government uses against us, it is anti-democratic and not at all ethical. No activist should fall for something like that. We must have consensus on basic points, and that is what Open Space has achieved and what we have sought for years. I am happy to be able to participate in that initiative. Q: What do you think about the intention of the governments of Cuba and the United States to re-establish diplomatic relations after more than half a century of confrontation? A: As of last December 17 a new era for Cuba began. The government of the United States has realized that the prior policy was a dead end with no way out, and now a host of opportunities is opening for our people. I have asked people about the measures announced by the American government, and they look favorably on them, because they mean prosperity for the people. But when I have asked them what they think of the Cuban government in the face of this challenge, they answer that they do not trust it. Nevertheless, I am optimistic. We must create awareness that dialog is best. I believe that the United States is committed to us and has intelligently confronted the regime. We have to have the courage to reclaim democracy and to respect our rights. The era of change may be coming for all Cubans, and it falls to everyone to do it in harmony. Cuba has to flourish again for everyone and for the good of all! Unanimity is not good. We must live in diversity. But it is good for us to be unanimous when dealing with differences. Well…better I say it in verse: Cuban, Why is it that it doesn’t matter to you To ruin your dignity? Because so much calamity Will never produce heroism. Bury that pessimism That daily assaults you. Raise your voice, you are able To be the example of the titan Awaken those who are Prisoners of their own webs. Translated by MLK [1] [2] Continue reading
[caption id="attachment_38384" align="aligncenter" width="623"] [1] Presentation about the book ‘From Confrontation to Efforts at “Normalization.” The Policy of the United States towards Cuba.’ (14ymedio)[/caption] 14ymedio, Victor Ariel Gonzalez, Havana, 29 January 2015 -- “In Vietnam, Yoani Sanchez would be in prison,” says Rafael Hernandez, editor of the magazine Temas (Topics), comparing the Cuban regime with the Vietnamese one. And he adds: “Check out how free this country is!” According to the official researcher, Cuban bloggers “are arrested and released, but they are not put in prison,” as occurs in the southeast Asian country, where these cyberspace activists receive “nothing but” jail for being “anti-government.” The political scientist and essayist offered these observations last Wednesday at the Juan Marinello Center during the presentation about the book “From Confrontation to Efforts at ‘Normalization.’ The Policy of the United States towards Cuba,” by the publisher Social Sciences. One of the authors, Elier Ramirez, participated in the panel discussion held by the magazine. Just reading its name, one deduces that the essay by Elier Ramirez and Esteban Morales – co-author – reflects the offical Cuban position about the rapprochement between the Island and its “historical enemy.” The word “normalization” in its title appears in quotation marks because, among other reasons, “the United States has always understood normalization from the position of domination,” says Ramirez. “There is no change in its strategic objectives [basically, regime change in Cuba, but] a profound tactical adjustment” behind the negotiations between Washington and Havana, according to the author. This work had already been released, at least once, during the presentation of the volume “Back Channel to Cuba: The Hidden History of Negotiations Between Washington and Havana,” written by U.S. researchers Peter Kornbluh and William LeoGrande. But then, last October, the political situation was very different from the current one. During Wednesday’s presentation about the book, the comparison between Vietnam and Cuba emerged in the context of what Rafael Hernandez considers a double standard in U.S. foreign relations which criticizes Cuba on questions like freedom of expression while not doing the same to other countries. “How do you [the American government] demand from me [the Cuban government] what you do not demand of the Vietnamese who put bloggers in prison?” asked the researcher who is also a moderator of the space Ultimo Jueves (Last Thursday). Rafael Hernandez also referred to the case of the performance by Tania Bruguera last December 30. In order to justify the attitude of Cuban authorities, he gave as an example a hypothetical megaphone protest in front of the home of the British prime minister. “Before taking out the loudspeaker, they already told him off and got him out of there,” he said, referring to the imaginary protester. “What does that have to do with freedom of expression? What are we talking about?” he added, insisting on the supposed “double standard” of the western discourse with respect to that basic right. Entering into a process of negotiations that both parties have deemed “historic,” one can no longer speak only of “a relationship between two governments” because now there is also “a relationship between two societies” declared Hernandez, who called for a realization that “there is a new game.” The official analysts define this “game” as a “form of battle” for preserving the regime, different from all previous battles. This war, certainly is already taking place also in the symbolic realm where the most rancid nationalists have been contaminated by a certain foreign banality, especially American. It is not strange that an official intellectual like Hernandez expresses himself thus about the rapprochement between the two countries. As far as his comparisons in matters of human rights, it is legitimate to ask what exactly the editor of Temas meant to say. There are three possible interpretations: Vietnam is a dictatorship. Cuban bloggers should be prisoners. We bloggers should feel grateful for the few handouts of freedom that the regime grants us and that it also can take from us at any time, imitating its “sister nation” from southeast Asia. Translated by MLK [1] Continue reading
[caption id="attachment_38336" align="aligncenter" width="623"] [1] Map of the 4H Company in prison hand drawn by Danilo Maldonado, ‘El Sexto’[/caption] El Sexto tells of his incarceration in the Valle Grande prison 14YMEDIO, Havana, 28 January 2015 -- Danilo Maldonado, the graffiti artist known as El Sexto, finished a month in prison this January 25. He was arrested while riding in a taxi whose trunk was carrying two live pigs. The animals were painted green and each bore a name written on his side. On one could be read Fidel and on the other, Raul. The artist’s intention was to release them in Central Park in order to recreate a rural tradition in which one tries to catch pigs with the added difficulty that their bodies are smeared with grease. His frustrated performance art was entitled Animal Farm, in Memoriam. The light blue Lada that was transporting him was intercepted by three Revolutionary National Police patrol cars. The agents took away the identity cards of Danilo and the vehicle’s driver and took them to the Infanta and Manglar Station. Two days later, they transferred the artist to the Zapata and C unit where a prosecutor told him that he would be taken to trial. He stayed in those dungeons seven days until he was transferred to the central police station of Vivac de Calabazar, where he spent another seven days. It happened that Vivac was the destination for dozens of arrestees accused of trying to participate in the performance announced by performance artist Tania Bruguera in the Plaza of the Revolution last December 30, which was interpreted by authorities as a counter-revolutionary provocation. Some of those arrested, who learned of his presence at the place, shouted, among other slogans, “Freedom for El Sexto.” From the Valle Grande prison, where he is now, Danilo has sent us some jail anecdotes and a couple of drawings. The Tank When I arrived at Valle Grande they took blood samples for the lab, shaved my head and beard. They also photographed me. During my stay in Vivac, they had diagnosed me with pneumonia, for which reason I was carrying antibiotics with me, but they took them from me and have not seen fit to return them to me so far, nor has a doctor listened to my chest to find out if I am the same, better or worse than when I arrived here. To make matters worse, I am surrounded by smokers who do not care at all that I am sick and asthmatic. I am in Company Four. They call this place “the tank,” and there are all kinds of people. I met four dissidents from Alturas de la Lisa. Yorlay Perez, Yusel Perez, Santiago Perez and Hanoy. Fidelito One day a boy came into the tank who said he knew me from the park and that he followed my work on the streets. This swarthy young man of small stature surprised me when he took off his pullover revealing on his back a tattoo of the face of Fidel Castro. I explained to him that I am an opponent of the Castro regime and that the gentleman he wore engraved on his skin was the one responsible for me being a prisoner. He responded that he had no family and that he was a “son of the fatherland,” for which reason Fidel had given him a home, and that was not happening anywhere else in the world. I told him that was true, that if he had been born in another country no one would have given him a home, but maybe he could have sought it for himself and that really he owed nothing to Fidel. I told him of the case of Amaury Pacheco, who with a family of six children was harassed into an eviction from an abandoned house in the Alamar suburb, where they had gone so far as to refuse him water and electric service. Later I found out through another boy, whom I met in Vedado, that it was said that he was with State Security and that he always had a pistol under his shirt. His acquaintances nicknamed him the Hoarse One, but I called him Fidelito. This son of the fatherland was prisoner for falsification of documents, something he had done in order to leave the country. In a single night he tried to hang himself twice. Yusel, the Opponent In one of the constant inspections that they carry out here, a major and a second lieutenant thought that the fingernails of one prisoner were too long and that he had to cut them. He explained that he had no nail clippers, much less scissors. The major took a knife from his belt and threatened to cut his nails by force. The boy resisted and then the major told him that he had to bite them off. [caption id="attachment_38338" align="aligncenter" width="623"] [2] Bunks. (El Sexto)[/caption] When they passed by the place where the opponent Yusel was, they noticed that he wore a white bracelet with the word Change on one of his wrists. As he did not obey the order to take it off, they forcibly snatched it from him. Then Yusel started yelling, “Down with the Castros, down with the dictatorship.” The second lieutenant cornered him against a bed to beat him but the rest of the prisoners got in the middle and prevented it. Things got hot but did not go further because the major started screaming that they were not going to beat him. Only then did the prisoners relax. Yusel was in a punishment cell for four days, but they did not beat him. ‘The Cigar’ that urinates The Cigar arrived without a noise. Strong, tall, he must be between 60 and 70 years old, and he does not sleep. He said that he was a prisoner because he had threatened with a screwdriver some teens who were throwing a ball against the wall of his house. No one got close to him because he did not bathe. One day he urinated in the middle of the hallway, which was understood as “blackmail” for the other prisoners who would have to clean his filth. When they demanded that he wipe up that puddle, he said that he would do it with his clothes but they did not let him because that would mean enduring an even greater stench from him. We understood that he was going crazy the day that they read out loud the cards where our names and crimes appear. Then we learned his case: child sexual abuse. To my Facebook friends and blog readers I want to tell you that I really miss finding out about your trips and other events that are reflected in your accounts. I would also like to thank everyone who supported my cause and confess that none of my crazy things would have been possible if I had not known that I was not alone and that I count on the support of many of you. It is possible to fill hearts with hope. Evil will never overpower good. Retrograde minds will never overcome free minds. Violence will never overcome art and reason. Death will never overcome life and love. I am going through an ordeal that has only been the legitimization of a good work and the confirmation of an iron dictatorship, which must be combatted with wit and cunning. Believe me, sometimes I laugh alone in this dark place of 18 by 100 feet with 37 triple bunks, that is to say between 118 and 190 people plus those who sleep on the floor. I laugh even though the toilets are stuck next to each other without any privacy. I live happy because I live without fear and, although they persecute and harass my family, they will never manage to make a dent in my creativity. This time I believe they have been ridiculed like never before by anyone. Although they kept the pigs from getting to Central Park, all of us who have an imagination can see them running with their names engraved and people behind them like a true Animal Farm. Ha, ha, ha. Hugs to all, and I wait to be able to read you. Danilo Maldonado Machado Translated by MLK [1] [2] Continue reading
[caption id="attachment_38260" align="aligncenter" width="623"] [1] Meeting of the National Assembly (Neo Club Press)[/caption] 14ymedio, FERNANDO DAMASO, Havana, 22 January 2015 -- Among so many crises that affect us, little is said about that related to institutions. In the Republican era, there existed institutions that, without being perfect, worked. If it had not been so, the country would not have developed in the way that it did. When the new regime was put in place in 1959, instead of being perfected, most of the existing institutions were liquidated or their spheres of influence were reduced for the purpose of initiating other new ones on bare ground. Even the family, considered a principal and primary institution, did not escape, being dismembered and atomized to respond to political and ideological interests. An institution can be many things. There exist formal and informal institutions and, in both cases, they are always social constructions. They must be efficient, that is to say, capable of functioning well, having legitimacy, being able to adapt to changes in the environment and anticipate changes besides demonstrating stability. These components must act together if they want to get results. In the Cuban case, stability has turned into a kind of brake that impedes the necessary changes, giving rise to ossified institutions. The majority of institutions established in the last fifty years suffer this infirmity, mainly the economic, legal and political ones. The companies nationalized or seized – financial, production, trade and others – that had functioned independently in accord with the policies of their owners, were subordinated to already existing institutions or ones created for that purpose that had never performed these functions of management and administration, instituting a rigid vertical system that totally eliminated their independence and chances of reacting to changing situations; everything was decided centrally, and they were reduced to mere implementers of orders. Economic institutions not only have been incapable of developing the country but have destroyed what was achieved during the preceding years thanks to the talent and effort of several generations of Cubans. Legal power stopped being independent and, like the legislative, was subordinated to the executive, represented by a single authority. Judicial institutions respond only to the interests of the State, to the detriment of the citizens without there existing true rule of law. In the provincial and municipal governments changes were introduced, stripping them of their names and functions, also creating a vertical system that left them financially destitute for having to deliver most of their income to the central authority which later would dole out resources for their needs. These changes reduced the chance of solving local problems, since they no longer had the resources that their own commercial and productive activities previously generated. In the case of political institutions, the example of the National Assembly of Popular Power is depressing. Being the only constituent entity existing in Cuba, which also is the only legislative body and which retains the important authority to declare the unconstitutionality of laws, decrees, ordinances and other regulations, it has never exercised this authority in its 38 years of existence as the supreme agency of the State. Can anyone believe that everything legislated by the State has been just and correct? Other negative aspects of its functioning are that almost all the votes in its legislative history have been unanimous and that the deputies have not exercised their right to present legislative proposals as individual members of the Assembly. As if that were not enough, the legal decrees of the State Council and the decrees by the Council of Ministers triple the laws by the National Assembly. The main problem that affects all Cuban institutions – whether political, economic, legal, cultural, educational, military, medical, athletic or others – is their unconditional submission to a sole political-ideological approach, putting these interests ahead of those that relate to their reason for existing. The only exceptions perhaps are some religious institutions. Until now the topic of institutions has been treated superficially, more with regards to their form than their content. Life demonstrates that some institutions must disappear, others must be changed, some new ones should be created and a few others can continue functioning. If this does not happen, the economic changes implemented so far and others that should come, as much economic as political and social, will lack the effectiveness, legitimacy, adaptability and stability necessary for producing beneficial results for all Cubans. It is not logical to hope that all this will be achieved with the existing historical leaders, but they could, at least, start. Translated by MLK [1] Continue reading
[caption id="attachment_38203" align="aligncenter" width="615"] [1] The Buddy Bears in San Francisco Plaza. (Luz Escobar)[/caption] 14ymedio, LUZ ESCOBAR, Havana, 17 January 2015 -- “Where is the end of the line for a picture with the Cuban bear?” yesterday asked a youngster during the opening of the United Buddy Bears show in Havana’s San Francisco Plaza. The project, created in 2001 by Eva and Klaus Herlitz with the collaboration of Austrian sculptor Roman Strobl, promotes a message of tolerance and understanding among all peoples, cultures and religions of the world. The exposition has travelled across five continents with life-sized sculptures of bears that evoke the member countries of the United Nations. With the participation of artists from each of the represented countries, these bears have visited cities such as Vienna, Cairo, Jerusalem, Buenos Aires, Montevideo, Paris, Hong King, Istanbul, Tokyo, Sydney, Warsaw and Rio de Janeiro. Since its first exhibition in Berlin in 2002 they have been appreciated by more than 30 million people. Now, they are in Havana, which highlights the signature sculpture of our country, made by Cuban artist Nancy Torres. [2]With a cigar in his mouth, a cigar band around his waist and a mischievous wink of his eye, the Cuban Buddy Bear is part of this diverse and plural group. His creator explained during the opening that she named him Siboney in homage to the first Cuban Indians and that she crafted him to include the colors of the flag. “He has traveled through many countries since 2002 which was when I created him,” added the artist. She also emphasized that, “I have lived in Berlin for more than 50 years. In this bear are rejoined symbolically the two heritages that I have: Berlin and Havana.” Also participating in the ceremony was the German ambassador to Cuba, Peter Scholz, who said that he hoped that “the bears are capable of sharing much pleasure and happiness during the next six weeks and attracting visitors from all over. Because I hope that the bears give us much zest for life.” The show will be in San Francisco Plaza until the beginning of March of this year and during this time it is expected that a three-foot high replica bear that represents Cuba will be auctioned off. For his part, City Historian Eusebio Leal Spengler noted the importance of the moment in which the bears have arrived on the Island. “I am happy to imagine that now revived with the colors with which each artist sees the world they are here in the heart of the Historic Center, a World Heritage Site, giving meaning to that vision of opening, and, as has been said, tolerance.” Leal Spengler’s words alluded metaphorically to the re-establishment of relations between Cuba and the United States when he thanked “the embassy personnel who came to ask if it could be and my answer was, immediately, let the bears come. May they be announcements of a better time, now that the salmon that so please the bears are jumping in the river’s currents.” [3]Havanans have already chosen their preferred bears and stand in line to get their pictures taken in front of the one that represents the Statue of Liberty of the United States. Among the most appreciated also are those of Spain, France and Germany. Meanwhile, the Cuban bear has received several critiques from those who see the inclusion of the cigar as a promotion of the harmful habit of smoking in an exhibit that is aimed mainly at children. The United Buddy Bears exhibit has been associated with projects by UNICEF and with help for needy children. From donations from local organizations and the auction of some pieces so far about two million euros have been raised for the children. The project promoters Eva and Klaus will accompany the bears during their Havana stay. Translated by MLK [1] [2] [3] Continue reading
14ymedio, Mario Felix Lleonart Barroso, 16 January 2015 – Cuban peasants have a tradition that they carry out at the beginning of year. They observe the first twelve days of January and complete the observation – in a countdown – … Continue reading Continue reading
14ymedio, Yosmany Mayeta Labrada, Santiago de Cuba, 16 January 2015 — “Happiness in the home of the poor is brief,” said a young man a few days ago who had been excited about connecting to the Internet through the WiFi … Continue reading Continue reading
(April 2104) In Cuba, smoke doesn’t always mean fire. Often it is a stragegy to confuse. This time the smoke comes to us from the Republic’s Customs Office, when last week, on its official website, it published an “updated” list … Continue reading Continue reading
As ancient buildings are crumbling, the vacant lots are transformed into parks that are always closed 14ymedio, Victor Ariel Gonzales, Havana, 9 January 2015 — A group of tourists stops at the entrance of the “ecological park” on Mercaderes Street, … Continue reading Continue reading
The Island’s dissidence has insisted it has record of only 39 releases 14YMEDIO, Havana, 12 January 2015 — Cuba has released the 53 prisoners that it had promised to free in talks with the US according to an announcement Monday … Continue reading Continue reading