Deciding to Change / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

Brochure with the content of the Cuban Constitution of 1940. (Manuel Diaz Mons)
Brochure with the content of the Cuban Constitution of 1940. (Manuel Diaz Mons)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 25 September 2016 – If there is something it is difficult to disagree with the Cuban government about, it is the permanent defense of the people’s right to decide the economic, political and social system that suits them. This principle is put forward in every international forum attended by official representatives from the island, and is shared by the majority of civilized nations.

In parallel, above all within Cuba, there is an intense campaign to fight any intention to change the existing regime in the country. Clearly, if the intentions to change “the existing regime” come from another nation and are contrary to the legitimate interests of the people, resistance to change is absolutely valid. Continue reading “Deciding to Change / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar”

The question is whether that sacred right of the people “to decide” includes the option to “change” the system, regardless of whether the proposed changes coincide partly or completely, with some external proposal.

The first historical example in the case of Cuba was the change that occurred in the early twentieth century when we replaced the colonial regime, which subjected the people’s will to the will of the Spanish metropolis, to a new system in which the island became a Nation, established as a Republic. That change, imperfect, incomplete, truncated, responded on the one had to the popular will and on the other hand to the interests of a foreign nation, the United States of America.

The second example was the regime change proclaimed in April of 1961 when Cuba became “the first socialist country in the Western Hemisphere.” That substantial modification, which had not appeared clearly indicated on the revolutionary program that overthrew the brief dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista, was only submitted to citizen consultation, through a vote, 15 years later, when there was no private property left in Cuba, no entity of civil society, no independent press media and only one permitted political party.

The millions of Cubans who, with their secret and direct vote, approved the 1976 Constitution, where the new social regime was enshrined, which also coincided with the interests of a foreign nation, the Soviet Union, to support the presence of socialism “under the noses of imperialism.” The USSR did not hesitate to offer everything: food, arms, troops, oil, credits and whatever diplomatic and political support needed.

At the turn of the years to socialism in Cuba, the Republic passed away. Although no one had baptized it pseudo-socialism or mediated socialism, it has been necessary to add an “our,” at the risk of committing the revisionists’ sin.

That system approved by popular vote 40 years ago does not greatly resemble what is described today in successive guidelines issued by the only legally permitted party, but the changes introduced have only been discussed with the party membership and other representatives of certain previously chosen institutions.

Among the possible commonalities between the Party Guidelines and the interests of foreign nations, say China or the countries of the ALBA bloc, could be a sterile exercise of political speculation, especially in a globalized world where almost no country enjoys total freedom to dictate laws while turning its back on the interests of the rest of the planet.

The right of Cubans to maintain the regime is only legitimate if their right to change it is also recognized. The desire for uniqueness, the obsessive vocation of not resembling the other, of not coinciding with the interests of anyone, would be a difficult caprice to satisfy and an impossible one to pay.

Addressing regime change now, introducing changes to the regime or leaving everything as it is, requires a prior exchange of opinions and a subsequent approval. Only if there is freedom to debate and guarantees of a free vote, would it respect the sacrosanct right of the Cuban people to decide which system they wants to live under.

Internet in Cuban Homes? More Heat Than Light / Juan Juan Almeida

Juan Juan Almeida, 26 September 2016 — Although the Cuban press confirms and reiterates that the country will expand access to the internet as a public service, an untimely meeting — they call it a broad council — held on the 6th of this month, attended by the vice-ministers of the central organs of the state, put an unexpected brake on the process of computerizing Cuban society.

As a part of a strategy that pursues gimmicks rather than effectiveness, the Cuban government emphasizes that it is investing invaluable resources and unlimited efforts to bring the internet to more Cuban citizens. But an email sent by the engineer Jorge Luis Legrá, director of ETECSA (the state-run telecommunications company) Strategic Programs, addressed to Mr. Alfredo Rodriguez Diaz, a specialist in artificial intelligence and national director of Informatics and Communications of the Ministry of Public Health in Cuba, shows the opposite. Continue reading “Internet in Cuban Homes? More Heat Than Light / Juan Juan Almeida”

Official media say that in the project of computerizing society, the priority of the country is to extend connectivity to residential areas, and that the number of users in the Health and Education sectors with access to the internet in their homes will significantly expand.

The will may exist, although in reality I doubt it, because in this electronic missive that with ingenuity and great effort landed in my laptop, one can clearly read that at the important meeting held at the beginning of the month, where the majority of Cuban vice-ministers attended, Wilfredo Gonzalez Vidal, Vice-Minister of Communications of Cuba, reported that his entity will continue working on broadening access to the internet in navigation rooms, in the incorporation of new public sites for wifi service, in the joint development of a telecommunications law that suits the new technologies and puts an end to the current regulations and legal framework.

He also said that work was underway on internet access through cellphones and in the expansion of connectivity to national entities such as MINSAP, MININT, MINFAR, MINJUS, MES, MINED, MINCULT, MFP, MINTUR, MINAG, MITRANS, ICRT, MINREX, etc.  But he also made clear that as of this last July, an “all-powerful” decision red-lighted the much publicized plan to install ADSL to bring internet to Cuban homes, including those of health and education professionals for whom it has already been authorized.

Faced with such inexactitud, I can’t fail to mention my illustrious grandmother and her wise sayings… “lots of heat, little light,” or even better, “You can catch a lie faster than you can catch a cold.”

Scholarships, Fears And Attractions / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

World Learning's scholarships are targeted to 16-18 year old students in Cuba.
World Learning’s scholarships are targeted to 16-18 year old students in Cuba.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Generation Y, Yoani Sanchez, 27 September 2016 – The woman approaches without fear or hesitation. “How can my son apply for one of the scholarships mentioned on television?” she asks me abruptly. It takes me a few seconds to realize what she’s talking about, for the images to come to mind of young Cuban students engaged in demonstrations called by the government to reject the programs of the World Learning organization.

She waits a few minutes, standing next to me, eager to have an email address she can write to, a bridge for her child to learn another reality. The slogans against the US NGO launched by officialdom don’t seem to have swayed her. When I ask her if she is aware of the government campaign attacking this program, which is targeted to Cuban youth between 16 and 18, she responds with a very popular phrase: “In this case, it’s all the same to me to me to be the pedestrian, or the driver who runs over him.” Continue reading “Scholarships, Fears And Attractions / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez”

Fear no longer works as it once did. A few decades ago, it was enough for any phenomenon or person to be demonized on television for the circle of silence and fear to close around them. Now, the volume at which the extremists shout is inversely proportional to the interest in the object of their animosity. Without realizing it, the Party propaganda of recent days is helping to advertise the existence of some scholarships that were known to only a tiny part of the island’s population.

The woman is not afraid. She sticks close to me for help in some details that will allow her son “to breathe other air.” Like her, thousands of parents throughout the island watch their children leave for school, where in morning assemblies they shout their rejection of the new “manipulations of imperialism.” At home, the adults move heaven and earth to inscribe their children’s names on the list for the next round of scholarships.

Cuban Government Lashes Out At Scholarships For Young Cubans In The United States / 14ymedio, Zunilda Mata

Logo of the advertising campaign for World Learning’s program for Cuban youth. (14ymedio)
Logo of the advertising campaign for World Learning’s program for Cuban youth. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Zunilda Mata, Havana, 25 September 2016 — The ideological battle of officialdom has a new enemy: the scholarships offered by the American organization World Learning to young Cubans between 16 and 18 years of age. In Cuban secondary schools and universities in recent days, the morning assemblies have “condemned and protested strongly” against what the state media describe as an “imperial maneuver.”

National television has provided extensive coverage of acts of “revolutionary reaffirmation” in which it criticizes the summer program offered by the US non-profit organization for citizens living on the island. An ideological onslaught of a kind that hasn’t been seen since the campaign for the release of the five Cuban spies who were imprisoned in the United States. Continue reading “Cuban Government Lashes Out At Scholarships For Young Cubans In The United States / 14ymedio, Zunilda Mata”

For two years, World Learning has offered four-week scholarships, between July and August, for Cuban secondary and university students. The organization aims to develop young people’s “skills in areas that include public speaking, teamwork, business, developing consensus, conflict resolution, defending their own rights, and problem solving.”

An agenda that Cuba’s officialdom has called “hostile and interventionist.” The president of the Federation of Students in Intermediate Education (FEEM), Suzanne Santiesteban, called for acts of repudiation against the program in secondary and higher education schools across the country. In the coming days 460 of these rallies will be held.

During its two years of existence, the scholarship program has become very popular among Cuban teenagers and the call for applications for the 2016 session was widely distributed by alternative information networks. “Everyone talked about it in the hallways and between classes,” says Fabian, a 17-year-old high school student in the city of Pinar del Rio.

“People were very excited, because it was a chance to travel with all expenses paid and to learn about another reality,” the young man commented to this newspaper. Although he explained that he decided not to apply for a scholarship because his father is a member of the Communist Party and in meetings of the party base “they are warned them that they could lose their membership card” if they allowed their children to travel to the United States through World Learning.

Now, the official condemnation has emerged from the Party circles and extended to the classrooms, where potential applicants for the scholarships are studying. In an effort to cut short the enthusiasm about the program, Suzanne Santiesteban charges that the organization receives financing from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), which she classifies as a “known tool of subversion.”

“We can sense their annoyance in the air,” said Yadira Machado, mother of a 16-year-old who wants to take advantage of the scholarship next summer. “I told my son to turn a deaf ear to all that, because it is the opportunity of his life,” said the woman, who lives in Havana’s 10 de Octubre district.

However, not everyone in Machado’s house shares her opinion. The young man’s grandfather believes that the US NGO is “pulling in kids to turn them into counterrevolutionaries.” An opinion consistent with the warnings from the authorities, which calls the World Learning initiative a “new strategy” by the White House focused on the younger generation.

The rejection of scholarships for young people has come with several articles in the official press that also attack Cuba’s new independent media. The “new counterrevolution needs a new press,” a well-known State Security agent declares. The ideological onslaught appears to just be getting underway.

They Married Us to a Lie… / Rebeca Monzo

Rebeca Monzo, 26 September 2016 —  It is a sign of lack of civility and decorum on the part of the Cuban regime to blame to the so-called US blockade for the shortages and difficulties, whose real cause is the inability and mismanagement of the economy, wealth and and riches of our country, by the leadership of the island. It is extremely well-known that they have “thrown everyone overboard,” dedicating their efforts and money to propaganda and proselytizing abroad, to present a completely untrue image of the internal situation. Continue reading “They Married Us to a Lie… / Rebeca Monzo”

When the Soviet “pipelines” were open to Cuba, in the media here, especially on television, there was an abundance of caricatures and ads where a popular character mocked the blockade, throwing all kinds of taunts at it.

Why now this exhausting campaign against the blockade, that exceeds all limits of popular assimilation and acceptance? Why not have the civility and honesty to recognize the inability to lead and the squandering of the income obtained from the government’s share of the family remittances from the United States and the huge business established by the government to “rent out” doctors and professionals to other countries, which bring juicy dividends to the regime and from which our doctors and specialists receive only a pittance?

In the face of this so-called “solidarity” it is the people who suffer the consequences of the lack of medically qualified professionals and specialists remaining in Cuba, in schools and hospitals. “Candle in the street, darkness in the house,” as the popular saying goes. That is, we put on a big show for the outside, while we lack everything at home.

They married us to a lie… and forced us to live with it all these years.

 Translated by Jim

Laritza Diversent: “We Have The Right To Participate In The Social And Political Life Of The Country” / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

Video: Police search of Cubalex: breaking open the gate.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 26 September 2016 – The headquarters of the independent legal group Cubalex, this weekend, lacked the hectic bustle of the many users who normally flock to the site for legal advice, especially the families of inmates who come with thick folders of documents, appeals and demands.

When the attorney Laritza Diversent received us for this interview, the furniture had not been put back in place after an intense search that left everything “upside down” and, on the table, lay the shattered remains of a door latch, as physical proof of forced entry.

See also: Police Burst Into Cubalex Headquarters and Cuban Police Seize Legal Center’s Work Equipment

The psychological scars are fresh among team members of this organization, threatened with a legal process and forced to strip naked during the search. However, on Sunday the legal work resumed its course, thanks to the solidarity of other members of civil society who provided two computers. A few papers comprise the first evidence of a case that will demand time and expertise from Cubalex: their own complaint against the authorities who seized their belongings but could not stop their work.

14ymedio. What was the point of the raid against Cubalex?

Diversent. There were parallel purposes. On the one hand there were the architectural changes made on this house, where they were looking for the slightest violation of planning regulations. For example, they fixated on a bathroom that we put under the stairs as a service to the public. At the same time they wanted to monitor our work as an organization that provides legal services to the population. Continue reading “Laritza Diversent: “We Have The Right To Participate In The Social And Political Life Of The Country” / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar”

14ymedio. Who participated in the police search?

Diversent. The prosecutor Beatriz Peña of Oz, the Attorney General of the Republic, at the head of about 20 people. Among them, a doctor, an employee of the prosecutor, Lt. Col. Juan Carlos, who led the operation from his status as an officer of the Ministry of the Interior (MININT), another prosecutor of the province and an instructor called Doralis, who made the list of the equipment that was seized.

They also brought experts who took photos, a videographer who was filming everything, and other computer experts. They had several officials from State Security, two uniformed police officers and other MININT officials wearing the uniform typical of prison guards; a representative from the National Tax Administration Office (ONAT), another of the Institute of Physical Planning and another from the Ministry of Justice.

Laritza Diversent (Source: Cubalex)
Laritza Diversent (Source: Cubalex)

14ymedio. Why was there a representative of the ONAT present?

Diversent. It was justified with the assumption that we are undertaking an activity defined as ‘self-employment’, that we are providing a service for which we are supposedly charging people, without having the necessary permit. We explained to them in every possible way that we are a non-governmental organization (NGO) that provides a free social service, but they acted as if we hadn’t made that clear.

14ymedio. Why a repressive act of this nature at this time and against a peaceful group?

Diversent. It is very difficult to find the reasons for this action, which can be described as unconscionable. But it can be attributed to what we have done. First, our attempts to achieve the legalization of our organization, Cubalex. We have also filed complaints against official institutions such as the General Customs of the Republic, saying that books and other belongings have been seized from us at the airport without justification. That complaint we have taken to court. We have also made a policy proposal to the Communist Party of Cuba to change the electoral law.

14ymedio. So you think that is a response to these actions?

Diversent. You would have to ask them. As citizens we believe we have the right to make proposals and we have the right to participate in the social and political life of the country in which we live.

14ymedio. Did you resist the police officers who were entering the premises?

Diversent. The “resolution to enter the home” – the warrant – to undertake the search said that they were looking for “objects of illicit origin,” but it didn’t specify which ones. The law establishes that this detail must be clarified, so I denied them entrance and invoked the right to inviolability of one’s home. However, they broke the lock on the outer gate and also the one on the main door to the house.

The doorknob and lock to Cubalex headquarters which was destroyed by the police to enter the premises.(14ymedio)
The doorknob and lock to Cubalex headquarters which was destroyed by the police to enter the premises. (14ymedio)

14ymedio. The law also specifies that the search must be made with at least two members of the Committee for the Defense of the Revolution [local watchdogs] as witnesses. Was that requirement met?

Diversent. The witnesses were two members of the party nucleus in the zone, who did not behave as impartial witnesses, but as partners in the operation. To the extent that they sometimes suggested to MINIT officials where they needed to search, and they constantly used the term “we” with the sense of being a part of the operation, far from their supposed function as impartial witnesses. One of them was more than 85-years-old and boasted of being an unblemished revolutionary.

14ymedio. What was the final outcome of the search?

Diversent. They seized four laptops and five desktop PCs, including a server, and three multifunctional printers. In addition they took hard drives, memory sticks, cameras and all the cell phones were taken.

14ymedio. What has been the reaction of other independent groups to this search?

Diversent. Almost all the entities of civil society have expressed their solidarity.

14ymedio. Could the information seized pose a risk to you?

Diversent. More than 200 case files that we are working were taken, many of them regarding inmates anxious to see some improvement in their status as prisoners. There is a risk that these people, in exchange for any advantage in their prison regimen, might declare something that hurts us, such as that we charge for our services. But that is in the realm of speculation.

14ymedio. What is the worst thing that could happen?

Diversent. We are very concerned because they have made specific threats against us, such as that so far this is an administrative matter but that it could become another type of process.

14ymedio. Are you thinking of not continuing the work you have been doing?

Diversent. No. Rather, what happened encourages us to keep doing what we do.

Vicente Botín, the Spanish Journalist Who Can’t Get Cuba Out of His Mind / Mario Lleonart

At either edge of this photo, Mario Félix Lleonart and Yoaxis Marcheco; in the center, María Werlau, between Vicente Botín and his wife.

Mario Lleonart, 24 September 2016 — During this past July 28-30, I had the opportunity to participate in the 2016 meeting of the Association for the Study of the Cuban Economy, held in Miami, as part of the panel discussion,”Transitional Justice and the Longed-For Cuban National Reconciliation.” My paper was on “The Longed-For National Reconciliation: Challenges, Realities and Hopes.” However, it is not my paper to which I will refer here.

During this timeframe, on Friday, July 29, a special luncheon took place that provided a pause in the midst of the 18 interesting panels and their debates. For this occasion, the Spanish journalist Vicente Botín, who also served as the special guest commentator on the panel in which I took part, gave a talk that was thought-provoking for all present. Continue reading “Vicente Botín, the Spanish Journalist Who Can’t Get Cuba Out of His Mind / Mario Lleonart”

Botín is a journalist and writer who specializes in international politics, particularly in Latin America. He has produced numerous documentaries in many countries as the managing editor of a well-known television program, including one in Cuba for which he interviewed Fidel Castro. He served as a correspondent for Televisión Española from 2005-2008, and later published two books about Cuba: “Castro’s Funeral,” followed by, “Raúl Castro: The Flea That Rode the Tiger.” Today he is a columnist for El País, El Mundo, and other Spanish newspapers, and resides in Madrid.

His words made so much sense to me regarding the Cuban reality that, upon the conclusion of his remarks, I congratulated him and sought his permission to post them on my blog–receiving from him a most cordial assent–but which unfortunately I have been unable to do until now because of technical problems on my blog which I have only recently been able to resolve.

But, because Botín’s voice still resounds so vibrantly in my mind, with words that have not lost one iota of their relevance–quite the opposite–I share them now with great pleasure so as to place in cyberspace these thoughts which are so sympathetic to the catastrophe of the Cuban people, by someone who also has been directly immersed in our reality, and who cannot get us off of his mind, nor out of his heart.

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

Latin America, Land of the ‘Millennials’ / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

A group of young people connect to the internet in a Wi-Fi zone in Havana (EFE)
A group of young people connect to the internet in a Wi-Fi zone in Havana (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 25 September 2016 – They were born at the time when Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose was published, when thousands of Cubans were escaping the island through the Port of Mariel, and when a fan murdered John Lennon in New York. They are the millennials, who became adults with the turn of the century and they are one-third of the current population of Latin America.

The market wants to capture this Generation Y, while companies seek to exploit its close links with technology. However, it is on the political scene where it could yield the continent’s greatest fruits. Unlike their parents, who grew up amidst armed conflict, dictators and economic instability, it is the lot of the millennials to clash with imperfections. Continue reading “Latin America, Land of the ‘Millennials’ / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez”

Heirs to the “end of history,” these young people, who are today between 20 and 35, are confronted with the challenge of changing the face of a region urged to reinvent itself. They bring with them pragmatism and a certain dose of cynicism… which never hurts. Nonconformists, they want to fight against the system they know, but without the epic outbursts of their grandparents, nor the elevated expectations of their progenitors. They reject heroics and acts of immolation.

To transform our societies, these “millennia” count on newly released tools. They have come of age in the most extensive period of technological innovation ever known and their way of appreciating the world passes, for most of them, across the screen of a cellphone. These creatures, hinges between the 20th and the 21st centuries, stamp their imprint on today’s digital communication. Politicians place in their hands the management of social networks, online campaigns and crowdfunding. In these labors they are accumulating the experience that one day will allow them to exercise governance through the web.

Despite the inequalities that continue to characterizer Latin America, with regards to the quality of educational systems and the purchasing power of households, digital communication has been a frequent companion in the lives of these young people. Internet, cellphones and social networks have been their companions since they reached the age of reason. In the alphabet mastered by these offspring of the baby boomers, G represents Google and a bluebird with a T is Twitter. Thus, it is difficult to convince them that phones were once hard-wired and that in the past, if you wanted to buy something, you had to pay with cash. They have never smoked on an airplane, nor made coffee through a cloth strainer.

Environmentalists, vegans, pansexuals, multilinguals and irreverents, millennials increasingly choose distance learning and electronic commerce. They resist paying for the music they consume and have drawn from videogames the idea that life is expressed in a simple and hard formula: “Action versus time.”

They were small children when the darkness provoked by successive military coups in the Southern Cone was left behind. In many cases they have inhabited weak democracies, marked by corruption, limitations on freedom of expression and concentration of power in the hands of a few. Forbes magazine has predicted that in 2025 they will represent 75% of the world’s labor force, but few have ventured to calculate their political participation and their positioning in the mechanism of power. They are already in the offices of Government palaces, still as assistants, interning or listening. Crouched in preparation for taking power.

Among the pending issues they will face in Latin America, the delayed democratization of the armed forces will be up to them. Circumscribing those uniformed actors who have been unwanted protagonists in the political system, and shoring up the fragile civil power, will be a difficult task in a region where epaulettes have ruled for centuries. Skeptical, the millennials have seen the images of the fall of the Berlin Wall a thousand and one times, but they know that the hammers that destroyed that concrete were wielded by hands that now carry a cane or wave to their grandchildren from the window.

Now, they are listening as the last echoes of the longest conflicts in the hemisphere fade out in Colombia, but all around them are the shouts of populism and the skirmishes of political intolerance. The strict limits of right and left, that have defined the region for half a century, ring in their ears like the squeaks from an inexperienced DJ who doesn’t know how to mix tunes.

These millennials exhibit a high degree of political discontent, and are especially critical of the quality of the education systems. Without being a homogenous population, they resemble each other in the struggle for space for innovation and entrepreneurship. In the social networks, they have managed to bring together all the pieces of a territory whose principal diplomatic challenge continues to be integration. Tired of the acronyms of so many useless regional mechanisms, they have dissolved borders through the effectiveness of a Like on Facebook, and have bought products on Amazon. They embody globalization.

Even in Cuba, “the island of the disconnected,” with the lowest rate of Internet penetration in the hemisphere, they are seen filling the parks where the government has opened wifi zones. They can be recognized because they stare constantly at the screens on their phones, even in bed, in the bathroom or behind the wheel. They have an intense need to share information, so they are censorship’s natural enemies. On a continent where television has shaped the leaderships and dictators have behaved more like soap opera stars than statesmen, millennials prefer to consume audio and visual media online and a la carte, rather than be tied to programming directed by others.

From the images of themselves receiving their diplomas to their most intimate moments, a good share of them want to post it all online. They feel that the times of privacy have come to an end and life now is public. On the social networks we have seen them conquer their acne, get the braces off their teeth, and show off a new beard or hair extensions. They are willing to exchange personal information for a more intense social experience. Their children are a part of the experiment and appear on the web, smiling, naïve, devoid of filters. They are born, love, protest and die in front of a webcam. They create relationships based on horizontality, in part because the networks have inculcated them with the conviction that they are interacting with their peers, without hierarchies.

To Latin American millennials all that is left is optimism, and in most cases they believe their nation’s best time is still ahead. They don’t dare to say out loud that the future of the continent rests entirely on their decisions, but they will shape it according to their will. They are the survivors of that tumultuous 20th century in which they were born, but which they do not feel a part of. With such antecedents, could they have turned out any better?

Editor’s note: This text was published on Sunday 25 September 2016 in the Spanish newspaper El País. 

Havana: Tourism Boom Leads to Increase in Prostitution / Iván García

 Photo source: The blog "De otros mundos"
Photo source: The blog “De otros mundos”

Ivan Garcia, 22 September 2016 — Empty bottles of rum and Domincan beer lie scattered around the courtyard as five people drink and talk about sports and business. A Reggaeton tune, “Until the Malecon Runs Dry” by Jacob Forever, plays in the background.

Meanwhile, four girls take turns inhaling a mixture of cocaine and tobacco, known locally as cambolo, from a discarded soda can.

The party could well cost the equivalent of two hundred dollars. Eduardo, a mid-level bureaucrat in the Foreign Trade office, adds up the costs: “Forty-eight convertible pesos (CUC) for two cases of beer, forty CUC for five bottles of rum, twenty five for five kilos of chicken and two cans of tuna, and a hundred CUC for drugs and whores.” Continue reading “Havana: Tourism Boom Leads to Increase in Prostitution / Iván García”

And what are they celebrating? “Nothing in particular. A success or a failure. We’re not going to solve the economic crisis by getting all worked up. If a little money comes your way, you throw a party. That’s all there is to it,” says Armando, the owner of an auto repair business.

This is now routine, at least in Havana, where a group of friends might rent a pool or a house, buy some food, hire some prostitutes and have a good time. In summer, hookers like Elisa often take advantage of this period of prosperity to pad their wallets.

In privately owned bars, discotheques and downtown areas of Havana, the hookers roam freely. Their extremely short, tight fitting skirts and overpowering perfumes make them instantly recognizable.

“The customers are like flies to honey. I’ve made as much as 250 CUC a night. An Italian in the morning, a Spaniard in the afternoon and a Cuban who thinks he is a bigshot at night,” says Elisa.

And the economic crisis? Or the period of austerity? “That’s for state workers. Those who own businesses, work in tourism or make money under the table are still enjoying the high life. Just kick a can and the hookers come out of the woodwork. There are always more of us,” adds Elisa.

And predictions are that their numbers will continue to grow. At least that is what Carlos, a sociologist who lives in southern Havana, thinks. “In periods of economic difficulty, people choose the easiest paths to making money. During the Special Period from 1993 to 2000 the number of Cuban prostitutes soared. They didn’t work only in the tourism sector. They began operating among Cubans who owned businesses and now can be seen in poor neighborhoods where the main source of recreation is drinking alcohol and hiring cheap hookers.”

The exact number of prostitutes is unknown. Carlos, the sociologist, believes the figure “exceeds twenty thousand women in the entire island. If we add the number of men who prostitute themselves, the number could rise to thirty thousand. We must also add to this those who profit from the trade, which include pimps, corrupt police, tourist industry workers, people who rent out their homes, taxi drivers and photographers. We are talking about a big business.”

The boom in tourism on the island is too tempting a lure for many girls living in truly hellish family situations. “Although most prostitutes come from dysfunctional families, there has been in an increase in cases of prostitution involving adolescents from decent families without economic problems who are dazzled by the good life, easy money or the chance to obtain a visa,” says Laura, a former social worker.

It is likely that the number of foreign visitors in 2017 will exceed four million. And if the United States Congress lifts the ban on tourism to Cuba, the figure could be in the neighborhood of five million.

American tourists are highly sought after in Cuba. They have a reputation for being generous with tips and other payments when taking a woman or man to bed.

Yaité, a former prostitute now married to a German, believes “that prices could have a rebound. In the the 1980s the rate was $100. Then, because of the number of prostitutes and because tourists traveling to Cuba did not have a lot of purchasing power, the rate dropped to forty and even to thirty CUC a night. Now it could go up. An American might pay up to 200 CUC for a young, attractive prostitute with a good body.”

Elisa, a hooker, prays to her orishas* for that prediction to come true.

*Translator’s note: Deities in the Yoruba religion, whose practice is widespread in Cuba. 

A Not Very Smart Rejection / Fernando Dámaso

Fernando Damaso, 24 September 2016 — At the end of World War II, and after the capitualtion of imperial Japan, thousands of young Japanese of both sexes went to the United States to study, supported by scholarships granted by the US. This allowed them, once they graduated, to support the accelerated development of their nation, and to leave behind the secular backwardness in which they had lived.

The young Japanese of the time, who had suffered the horrors of the war, were able to forget about the indoctrination against the United States, “the enemy,” that they’d been subjected to for years. And they demonstrated that they could be modern without renouncing their roots or their national identity. Continue reading “A Not Very Smart Rejection / Fernando Dámaso”

Today Cuban young people, indoctrinated in the “socialist idiotology,” through their “governmental student organizations — Young Communist League, Federation of University Students, Federation of Secondary Students, and others — and “counseled” by “retired agents” and “official spokespeople” well known for their histories of submission and political opportunism, reject “massively” — in public demonstrations — the scholarships offered to them by the United States, alleging that the only objective of this program is to convert them into “counterrevolutionary leaders.”

In reality, the ruling system in Cuba is, itself, the best school available for teaching students to be against it.

The young people of today who thoughtlessly reject the scholarships will regret this missed opportunity once this absurd era of failed “Messiahs” and even worse “disciples” passes, and they will lament the lost opportunity to support the development of their country in a healthy and normal situation, when civic responsibility takes precedence over politicking slogans.

The current backwardness of Cuba is not the fault of the embargo, but of the lack of ability among its leaders and of the “socialist idiotology” inculcated in its citizens.

The "Savage Entrepreneurs" / Fernando Dámaso

Fernando Damaso, 21 September 2016 — The few state restaurants that offer varied and quality menus, along with good service, have high prices that are totally inaccessible for the average citizen. Entrees costing 10, 12 or more Cuban Convertible Pesos (CUC: worth roughly $1 each, in a country with an average monthly wage of around $20-$24). Sandwiches are 5 CUC, side dishes 2 CUC and desserts 3-5 CUC. Domestic beers are 1.50 and 2.50 CUC and soft drinks, also domestic, are 1 and 1.20 CUC.

The phenomenon is the same in private establishments. Many of them started off as more or less affordable, with prices more or less accessible, good quality menus and also good service. Gradually they have raised prices 50% and even 100%. So plates that used to cost 3 CUC now cost 5, and those that used to cost 5 now cost 7 or 8 or even more. Continue reading “The "Savage Entrepreneurs" / Fernando Dámaso”

With the drinks it’s even worse. A domestic beer that used to cost no more than 1 CUC is now 1.50, 2 and 2.50. Domestic soft drinks that were 0.55 CUC are now 1 and 1.20.

Wines and spirits, it’s better not to talk about them, the prices have skyrocketed. The same is true for desserts, which are never less than 1.50 CUC and even as much as 3 and 5 CUC, for just a wedge of cake.

These new businesspeople forgot the classic Cuban inn, where you could eat well at affordable prices, and they only want to get rich overnight, at the cost of emptying their customers’ pockets.

It is true that Cuba today is a difficult market, depreciated and debased, where many new entrepreneurs, “knife in hand,” are ready to flay anyone in front of them, but this, necessarily, will change and some honest and responsible restauranteurs will prevail, earning reasonable profits and offering quality food and good service, and gaining the esteem and fidelity of their customers. This, no doubt, will earn their establishments a name and prestige, as well as profits.

El Floridita, Monseñor, El Castillo de Farnés, La Zaragozana, La Bodeguita del Medio, El Emperador, Europa, El Centro Vasco, Rancho Luna, El Polinesio, Mandarín, Hong Kong, Wakamba, La Cibeles, América and many other restaurants and cafes were not famous for their high prices, but for the quality of their offerings and their magnificent service, where there were respectful relationships between owners and customers. This must also be present among the new “savage entrepreneurs.”

Cuba And The Parable Of The Elephant / 14ymedio, Pedro Armando Junco

The US president, Barack Obama, and his Cuban counterpart, Raul Castro, last March at the Palace of the Revolution in Havana. (White House)
The US president, Barack Obama, and his Cuban counterpart, Raul Castro, last March at the Palace of the Revolution in Havana. (White House)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Pedro Armando Junco, Havana, 17 September 2016 — The vagaries of fate are unpredictable. Who would have thought ,15 years ago, when food containers and all types of first world goods and gushing oil came from Venezuela to Cuba, that today the Cuban collaborators in that country would have to bring their own groceries?

The invested positions of both governments denote the great differences between the small concessions of the general president and the impenetrability

in which Nicolas Maduro wants to lock away Venezuela. Even Cuba’s relations with the United States are developing greater diplomacy today than the bitter vituperations of the Venezuelan executive. Is there a certain presumption from a friend in the early years of the current century? “Is communism starting in Venezuela now, but ending in Cuba?” Continue reading “Cuba And The Parable Of The Elephant / 14ymedio, Pedro Armando Junco”

Cuba, at least, without renouncing its ideology, is taking steps to move forward. The importance of an aperture implied by the bilateral accords coming to fruition with the United States is huge, despite the silence of the official press; nor it is adequate to exclude the circumstantial coincidence in an era with a US president who is sufficiently tractable and is a facilitator of suitable arrangements. But are the limitations that still persist and hinder the emergence of civil society on the island objective and condemnable?

Given the recent pronouncement by the Minister of Culture, Abel Prieto, calling the economic empowerment of Cubans on the island a plot by the US government to destroy the Revolution, and another wisecracking friend who said, laughing, “Imagine a caricature of Raul, up to his waist in the economic swamp, with his left hand caressing the sorrowful faces of those clinging to the old centralized system and his right hand making signs to Uncle Sam behind his back to come to his aid.”

We have to keep in mind, above all, the limitations of freedoms and rights that Cubans have experienced since the sixties, their privations still exceeding those of the other socialist governments on the continent, no matter how tyrannical they seem. In the island there is no opposition party and no legitimate elections, The last two generations know nothing of freedom of the press, free labor unions, the right to strike, the ability to generate their own wealth, etc. Only in this way is it comprehensible that one nation has become accustomed for more than half a century of meekness, disinformation and the lack of its fundamental rights.

It is the parable of the circus elephant that from childhood was subject to having his foot tied to a stake in the circus. From the time he was young, no matter how much he pulled on the stake, he failed to pull it out and learned to live in chains. The years passed, the elephant became an adult, but he never tried to remove the small stake that would have been easy to pull out.

This is also the story of the Cuban people in the Revolution: they planted the state of fear and with it limited or eliminated their fundamental rights. They were prohibited from feeding themselves at their pleasure, leaving the island, acquiring wealth, saying what they thought, dissenting from what they considered unfair… And over time, like the chained elephant, they became accustomed to living subject to certain unjust laws and mandates, without answers, without reason, because one word and one man monopolized all power.

The man above any citizen, including his closest collaborators, above the law, above reason, above God. The word revolutionary, an absolute and obligatory qualifier, the golden key to open any kind of lock, and its lack, the most aberrant and degrading blemish on a human being. In that word was contained all the virtues of man, its absence contained the vices of the world.

But the descendants of the old elephant of the parable have discovered that the stake has deteriorated. The passage of time has eaten away its old wood, and by nature itself, it has been pulled out. The grandchildren of the elephant have looked up and discovered that beyond the circus enclosure there is a horizon to walk to, to feed themselves better, to create a herd. And the stake their grandfathers were subject to is fragile, anachronistic, useless. The wheel attached to the foot, but incapable of serving as a snare under any credible concept.

Times have changed. Everyone knows that the economic salvation of the country lies with the United States. Some resist as much as they can, juxtaposing conditions – elimination of the embargo, the Cuban Adjustment Act, the “enemy” broadcasts and the return of the Guantanamo Naval base.

This constantly echoes to the nation, although its well known that these grants are dependent on a greater opening on the Cuban side, are only discussed behind closed doors in the bilateral conversations between the two governments.

It is similar to the game of the stingy trader who until the last minute attempts to get one more crumb from the transaction. Ultimately, the only correct path is a major opening to investment and American tourism, for which they have to concede important political changes, necessarily.

But, when and how will they handle the recognition of the opposition, respect for the dissenting demonstrations, for the mass media and the economic empowerment of the people? This task belongs to the grandchildren of the decrepit elephant.

Cuban Police Seize Legal Center’s Work Equipment / 14ymedio

Cubalex's office (Source: Laritza Diversent)
Cubalex’s office (Source: Laritza Diversent)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 24 September 2016 – Friday’s police assault against the headquarters of Cubalex, Center of Legal Information, located in the Havana municipality of Arroyo Naranjo, resulted in the seizure of six computers, several hard drives, USB drives and cell phones. The officers informed the lawyer Laritza Diversent that she could be accused of the crime of “illicit economic activity,” according to a report from the activist Kirenia Yalit to this newspaper.

The headquarters of the independent group was searched on Friday, by members of the National Revolutionary Police (PNR) and members of State Security, who stormed the place breaking down the doors.

The thorough search of the building lasted until after eleven p.m. and “when it seemed that everything was going to end and they had concluded their interrogations” of the activists, they forced them to strip naked “and squat to verify that there was nothing hidden in their bodies,” said Yalit. Continue reading “Cuban Police Seize Legal Center’s Work Equipment / 14ymedio”

The independent lawyers denounce the fact that they never showed a warrant that met the requirements for a search.

“They took everything, they just left some chairs and tables,” says Yalit, which 14ymedio was able to confirm through sources near the site. The prosecutor who led the operation informed the attorneys that the case “is of interest to the Attorney General of the Republic” and that they would undertake all relevant investigations to determine whether to proceed with an indictment against them.

Dayan Pérez Noriega, who was taken to a police station when he tried to send Twitter messages about what was happening, was released at around ten at night. The attorney Julio Ferrer, a member of Cubalex, remains missing after having been intercepted by the police on Friday.

After the operation at the property was completed, the lawyers received no  immediate injunction, fines or written summons.

Attorney Laritza Diversent intends to denounce “the outrage committed,” as she has done on previous occasions when she demanded the return of her belongings seized by Cuban Customs at the airport.

The Legal Information Center, Cubalex, is an independent agency that has provided free legal advice since 2010. The lawyers’ group also focuses on human rights issues. In July of this year Cuba’s Ministry of Justice rejected the application filed by the group’s members for legal status for the organization.

Cuban State Security Prevents a Meeting of Pinar del Rio’s Coexistence Studies Center / 14ymedio, Mario Penton

Members of the Coexistence Studies Center at a meeting in Pinar del Rio. (Coexistence)
Members of the Coexistence Studies Center at a meeting in Pinar del Rio. (Coexistence)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miami, 23 September 2016 — Tania de la Caridad Reyes and her husbandYosvany Alfonso were intercepted by police in Pinar del Río when they tried to reach the Coexistence Studies Center (CEC) to attend the course “My Neighborhood a Community.” Two police patrols forced them to return to Cienfuegos, where they reside. On Friday the organizers denounced the intervention by State Security, which prevented the realization of the planned activity with various groups of civil society to share ideas on “civic learning.”

“This last month we have had nine interrogations of team members. Finally we had to suspend the ‘My Neighborhood a Community’ program, which is part of the ethical and civic project for the safety of the participants,” Dagoerto Valdes, director of the CEC, explains to 14ymedio.

“Where in the world are people prevented from attending a course that the only thing it does is make them better and more responsible citizens in their community?” asks Valdes. Continue reading “Cuban State Security Prevents a Meeting of Pinar del Rio’s Coexistence Studies Center / 14ymedio, Mario Penton”

Reyes and Alfonso are the ones responsible for “Project New Hope,” which operates in the South Caunao neighborhood, a recently completed residential area on the outskirts of the city of Cienfuegos. According to the couple, under the auspices of the Czech NGO People in Need they do training work with children and youth in the area, organize walks and create networks to promote work in the neighborhood.

“We chose this course because ours is community work and this meeting would allow us to obtain tools to improve our work in the neighborhood,” Reyes told 14ymedio.

According to the activist, when they arrived at the bus station in Pinar del Río Thursday night, three police officers in plainclothes stopped them and made them turn off their cellphones. After allowing them to make a call from a landline provided by the officers themselves, they were driven to the outskirts of the city to send them to Havana.

“They stopped two tractors that make the trip to Havana and sent us separately. They took down the license plates of the vehicles and told the drivers they were responsible for what happened to us,” says Reyes.

When they got to the capital they were left at a gas station from where they had to get to the bus station and get “overpriced” tickets to return to Cienfuegos. (The regular tickets are subsidized and cost about two CUC (about $2 US), but the huge waiting list forced them to buy the tickets under the table).

“When we learned what had happened with the group from Cienfuegos, we decided to suspend the meeting. We advised the ecological group Eco-Social Movement for the Protection of Nation and the Environment (PRONATON), which sent several delegates from Sancti Spiritus, and the Pinar del Rio group Independent and Democratic Cuba, which would also participate in the event,” explained Yoandy Izquierdo, member of the editorial board of the magazine Convivencia (Coexistence).

Izquierdo also denounced the presence of several people who were monitoring the place where the course would be held from early in the morning, and making it difficult for the organizers to communicate by phone and text message.

The Coexistence Studies Center organizes training courses for citizenship and civil society in Cuba. It has four main lines of action, ranging from the publication of the magazine Convivencia to the debate of ideas through reflection and study groups. It also has a comprehensive training program and so-called micro-projects. It is a project of the nascent Cuban civil society and its members are totally independent of the State, the Church and any political group.

Police Burst into Cubalex Headquarters / 14ymedio

Attorney Laritza Diversent (left) with the activist Yalit Kirenia during a presentation at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. (Youtube)
Attorney Laritza Diversent (left) with the activist Yalit Kirenia during a presentation at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. (Youtube)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 23 September 2016 — The headquarters of Cubalex, The Center of Legal Information, located in the Havana municipality of Arroyo Naranjo, was searched by National Revolutionary Police (PNR) officers and State Security agents on Friday, as confirmed to this newspaper by the independent journalist Osniel Carmona.

After two in the afternoon, the police burst into the site which is also the home of independent attorney Laritza Diversent. Until after five in the afternoon all the phones of Cubalex members remained out of service and access to the house was restricted by the security forces, according to what this newspaper was able to confirm. Continue reading “Police Burst into Cubalex Headquarters / 14ymedio”

Seven people were inside the home at the time the search started, among whom were Ariadna Romero, Yamara Curbelo Rodríguez, María Bonet, Teresa Perdomo, Amado Iglesias, Diego Ricardo and Laritza Diversent herself.

During the morning Laritza Diversent had informed 14ymedio that there was a operation “organized by State Security agents and the police” around the house. She explained that several neighbors advised her of the presence of “buses and patrol cars,” so she feared they would eventually get inside the house.

T”a report on the status of freedom of expression in Cuba” that she presented “to the special rapporteur for freedom of expression” in the city of Geneva “in mid-August.”

“We feel that we are now at risk and are calling all our contacts asking for help so that the world knows that right now our office and our organization are at risk,” the attorney warned by phone.

The activist Kirenia Yalit Núñez, a member of Cubalex who is just a few blocks away, explained that the agency “had a judicial order but Laritza rejected it because it wasn’t valid.” However, a little later “they broke into the house with a crowbar and broke several locks.”

After six in the evening the activist Teresa Perdoma was released and she said that they had threatened Diversent with an accusation of “illicit economic activity.” The police also warned that they would take “all the equipment, like computers, flash memories and hard drives.”

She was arrested in the operation and taken to the Dayan Perez Noriega police station, where she tried to send Twitter messages reporting what happened. The other activists remained in the building until eight o’clock on Friday night. Two police patrol cars guarded the entrance.

The Legal Information Center, Cubalex, is an independent entity that has provided free legal advice since 2011. The lawyers’ group also focuses on Human Rights issues. In July of this year Cuba’s Ministry of Justice rejected the application for legal status presented by its members.