Cubans in Trinidad And Tobago, Caught Between Illegality and Hope

Kenya Montes de Oca traveled from the Cuban community of Placetas, in Villa Clara, to Trinidad and Tobago where she has lived since September 2016. (Courtesy)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 19 November 2017 – She He came to Trinidad and Tobago more than a year ago with “one pair of pants and two blouses.” Kenya Montes de Oca traveled from Placetas, in Villa Clara, with the idea of ​​becoming a mule and living off the import business, but life pushed her towards seeking political asylum.

The villaclareña explains to 14ymedio that she still trembles when she sees a policeman in the streets of Port of Spain. During her first month in that small nation she lived illegally until she managed to get the so-called “supervisory order,” a step prior to the request for refugee status.

Trinidad and Tobago does not require a visa for Cubans, but at the airport immigration officials can deport anyone whom they suspect of wanting to stay illegally. Montes de Oca passed that first test without great difficulties in September 2016.

The initial idea was to buy merchandise to resell in Cuba. However, a casual conversation at the Havana airport with a dissident and State Security’s subsequent visit to her family in Placetas led her to her current situation.

“I was forced to leave absolutely everything, my house, my family, my habits,” she emphasizes, although she feels that the questions she had been accumulating about the Cuban system would have led her, sooner or later, to get into trouble on the Island.

A union leader for a decade, Montes de Oca worked at the People’s Power polling stations and served as a lay judge. “I was responsible for the security of a poultry farm until I discovered a network of embezzlement.” Reporting these irregularities brought her countless pressures.

“It was never my goal to leave everything behind,” but “circumstances decided for me,” says this woman, speaking to the press for the first time.

There are no official figures on the number of migrants from the island who remain irregularly in the neighboring country, but Montes de Oca says that “they range from deserters from the FAR (Revolutionary Armed Forces) and MININT (Ministry of the Interior), to political cadres, medical personnel, marginalized Jehovah’s Witnesses and opponents: we are a mosaic.”

Some have been luckier than others. The worst case she ever encountered is that of a young woman from Ciego de Ávila who was working to send aid to her family in Cuba. “She suffered a horrible rape by the owner of the rental where she lived, but could not report the fact because she had no papers.”

The arrival of Cubans has been on the rise since the Government of Raúl Castro implemented its Travel and Immigration Reform in January 2013 that made it easier to travel abroad from Cuba. Last August the situation escalated to a point that the two governments began to negotiate a Memorandum of Understanding on Immigration Matters to regulate the flow of migrants.

Samuel, 32, has been living for 11 months in the Trinidadian community of San Fernando. Originally from the slum area of ​​Guanabacoa in Havana, the young man graduated a decade ago in mechanical engineering but now works as a bricklayer.

“I do not have papers but I have developed a clientele and I have friends who are helping me,” he tells this newspaper. With the nearly $600 he earns monthly, he has rented a room with a friend and sends money to his family in Cuba.

“I’m illegal, I do the worst jobs you can have here and yet I earn 50 times more than the salary I received in my country as a professional,” he argues. With the money that he sends every two weeks to his parents they have been able to “fix the roof of the house and repair the kitchen.”

His initial idea was to “earn a small capital” in Trinidad and Tobago to continue on to the United States, but last January he was surprised by the end of the wet foot/dry foot policy. “I thought I was going to die, but now I think this country can be a good place to stay,” he says.

Samuel is still far from being able to claim political asylum. “I have not done the paperwork but I plan to start it in the coming months.” His greatest fear is ending, like a friend of his childhood, locked up for months in the Aripo detention center for foreigners.

Both Kenya Montes de Oca and Samuel have received help from the Living Water Community Center. “I did not go hungry thanks to that NGO and my first clothes I also received them from them,” confirms the villaclareña.

Last June, the United Nations (UN) granted refugee status to a group of Cubans who protested for a week in front of the offices of that international organization in Trinidad and Tobago.

The majority of those who demonstrated had been waiting months for an answer to their request for political asylum. The favorable ruling assured them the protection of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and opened a door of hope for other Cubans in a similar situation.

On November 24, Montes de Oca has her appointment with the UNHCR from which she could leave as a political refugee. If she succeeds, a new stage will begin for her and she plans to remain in the Caribbean country for the time being.

She dreams of reuniting the family but her only son has been called to compulsory military service so the final reunion will be delayed. The young man wants to study to be a journalist, but she is sure that “because he has a refugee mother he will not be able to access that career” in Cuba.

From her new homeland, the villaclareña admires “the cultural mix” and the fact that people of “different religions or political positions live in harmony.” She does not hesitate to say that she will only return to Cuba “when people are not discriminated against or mistreated because of their way of thinking”.

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

Cuba: Without Medicines and Without “Kindness”

Lines outside a pharmacy in Havana, October 2017 (archive photo)

The severe shortness of medications in Cuba, far from getting fixed, threatens to become an “irreversible” malignancy.

cubanet square logoCubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 15 November 2017 — The pharmacy, in the middle of Avenida de Carlos III in the Cuban capital, was crowded with people. The line extended outside the premises and formed a human conglomerate in the front, obstructing the entrance to the adjoining apartment building. “I have not been able to sleep for a week for lack of my medicine!” screams a frustrated patient when she finds out that, after waiting for her turn for more than an hour, they have run out of the medication alprazolam (Xanax), prescribed by her psychiatrist to treat her anxiety and her sleep disorder.

“I have been going from pharmacy to pharmacy in the 15 municipalities for days and nothing! Nobody cares, nobody knows when there will be medicine, nobody solves the problem! Here, for the person who does not have lots of money, or a relative abroad who sends him the medicine, all is left for him to do is to die. And then turn on the news and hear how good the Cuban health system is. It’s a mockery and a lack of respect!”

The impassive clerks behind the counter continue to dispatch the few products there are, and the woman emerges from the pharmacy like a furious whirlwind. As she moves away, she continues to unload her impotence loudly on the sidewalk, carrying on against “this damn shitty country” and waving the useless prescription in the air. The people in line are mumbling their own particular misfortunes. A hypertensive man complains that two months ago he could not buy enalapril or chlorthalidone, a cardiologist attests they are missing antiarrhythmics such as atenolol and nitrosorbide. Everyone comments on the shortage of duralgin, aspirin and meprobamate.

This is an everyday scene. The severe shortage of medicines which has continued to intensify in Cuba in recent months, far from being solved, has become a trend that threatens to become as much of an “irreversible” disease as the sociopolitical system that generates it. Even the official press has acknowledged the lack of medicines, which includes at least 160 drugs, but it has not pointed to a solution to the problem or a probable date for the normalization of supplies to pharmacies.

This shortage, however, is neither an isolated nor a recent phenomenon. Since the anguishing 1990’s, after the collapse of Soviet communism, there was not only a dramatic fall in the national production of drugs, but the importation of medicines that were not generated within the Island also decreased significantly. In fact, most of the medicines that were sold freely through the pharmacy network, without the need for an optional prescription, became “controlled,” which meant that they started to be sold only against a properly generated doctor’s prescription.

Since then and until today, the list of rationed drugs also includes some of the most basic analgesics, healing supplies, ointments, thermometers and other items, all of which have significantly declined as a part of the family medical kit of the common Cuban.

It was precisely in the midst of the crisis of the 1990’s when the “super ration card” was implemented; a personal file containing names, identity number, and private addresses designed to guarantee in the corresponding pharmacies the necessary medications for patients with chronic diseases – those with diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, neuroses, etc. – upon presentation of the medical certificate that accredited their disease.

It is fair to acknowledge that the measure achieved its purpose, at least while the pharmacies’ regular supply of medicine remained stable. However, the current drug crisis affects even this growing sector of chronic patients, for many of whom it is vital to have access to the drugs indicated for the treatment of their diseases.

The issue becomes all the more serious because the Cuban population presents an unstoppable tendency to aging, and a significant increase continues in high-risk diseases for life, such as hypertension, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes and hypercholesterolemia.

Meanwhile, and as invariably happens in every hardship situation, a robust and intricate network of illegal markets in medicines has developed over the years, in whose broad current flow both certain administrators and pharmacy clerks – given their direct access to product – as small occasional merchants, like those who thrive in neighborhoods by trafficking in anything reasonably marketable, even some unscrupulous doctors and “cadres,” bureaucrats of the national health system, who have access to blank prescription pads at their discretion. Because, as it is generally known, corruption and poverty are directly proportional: they grow at par.

Of course, the law of supply and demand works perfectly on the black market, so that, as the shortages have increased, the price of medicines has skyrocketed. Some products double, if not triple, their previous price in the illegal market itself. For example, a blister of 10 tablets of the highly demanded duralgin (dipyrone), an analgesic with a price tag of 40 cents in national currency in the pharmacy network and 5 (CUP) until recently on the black market, now is often quoted as 10 (CUP).

The same happens with psychotropic drugs, also in high demand in a country where stress and depression are part of everyday life. Chlorodiazepoxide, diazepam, and alprazolam, among others, have become so expensive as to be out of the reach of those of those who need them most: the poorest.

So far, the authorities have avoided going deeply into the subject, which they have barely mentioned tangentially. A few days ago, the announcement in the official media about dedicating a transmission of the TV program “Roundtable” to analyze this delicate issue created expectations in the population. However, for unexplained reasons, this program has been postponed.

For the time being, the crisis continues, and according to the testimonies of some doctors, who have opted to remain anonymous, in hospitals like the very renowned Hermanos Ameijeiras, located in the Centro Habana municipality, talks and lectures will soon be given to doctors about the benefits and advantages of homeopathic medicine, which indicates that the shortages of truly effective medicines are here to stay.

Several shelves remain empty in this pharmacy. The situation is repeated throughout the capital (archive photo)

But the crisis is as irritating as the “solution” that is provided in the Letters to the Editor column of the publication Juventud Rebelde. Under the title of “Medications, Anguish and Strategies,” the reporter Jesús Arencibia Lorenzo reproduces a letter in which a reader complains that he never gets to buy his hypertension medications – that is, drugs controlled by “the super ration card” and supposedly guaranteed by the network of pharmacies – because, while he’s working at his job, there are people who do not work and lineup and “hoard” the medications, so that “the same people” get the medicines every month.

The reader in question comments that “each minute, hour, day and month that goes by” without the medications he suffers “deterioration of the organism and propensity to suffer cerebrovascular or myocardial accident,” all of which is strictly true and reasonable, but not so his proposal for a solution. The aforementioned reader assumes that, given the insufficient distribution of the medicine, the right thing to do is “at least to divide it in half: one month for you, one for me.”

That is, his proposal does not consist in demanding that a way be found to solve the shortage of medicines, but to be able to access the drugs at least in alternate months: the month in which “it’s his turn to get the medicine” he would be safe from a heart attack, next month (when “it’s someone else’s turn”) he would be at risk of dying. That is, this subject does not even hope to have medicine every month, like “the hoarders,” but for him, the maximum expression of justice would be for them to get as screwed as him.

An assumption supported by the journalist Jesus Arencibia, when he harangues: “In the midst of deficiencies whose solution is often not immediately at hand, what should not be lost, at least in a social process like ours, is the meaning of justice and kindness, so that bonuses and penalties get distributed with the greatest fairness, in each case.”

And in closing, he adds: “Perhaps when we advance to the maximum transparency scenario,” in which the access to drugs at the pharmacies and the registries of patient records become accessible and public documents for the citizenship – as he calls it, the “popular control scenario” – “maybe we can prevent a few from benefiting while others continue to wait in the danger zone.”

All of which suggests that, at the end of the day, medications that keep us painfully alive in this absurd Island could continue to go missing, but what cannot be missing is “the kindness” that allows us to multiply the miseries. And there are still those who wonder how it is that the Castro regime has managed to survive for more than 60 years!

Cubans Are Traveling Abroad More and On The Island Less

The growth of domestic tourism was unstoppable until last year. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miami, 17 November 2017 – Cuba’s northern keys are a tropical paradise that were forbidden to Cubans for decades. In 2008, in the midst of a severe liquidity crisis, the reforms of Raul Castro’s regime allowed, for the first time since the opening to international tourism in the ’90s, Cubans to stay in domestic hotels on equal terms with foreigners. Since then, the growth of national tourism has been unstoppable. Until last year.

“National tourism decreased by more than 90,000 vacationers in 2016, according to data from the National Statistics Office this autumn,” explains Emilio Morales, group director of The Havana Consulting Group (THCG), based in Miami.

The factors Morales blames for the fall are basically the rise in hotel prices that occurred the previous year as a result of the increase in international tourism and the increase in the number of trips abroad by Cubans.

“Cuba recently experienced a boom in American tourism, a market with much more purchasing power than the rest of the markets that send tourists to Cuba. According to official figures, 281,706 Americans traveled to the island in 2016,” Morales explains.

Sources of tourists to Cuba: ranges by country.

The response of the Cuban tourist market, 40% of which is controlled by the Business Administration Group which is controlled by Cuba’s armed forces, was to raise the price of rooms.

“My husband and I went to Varadero, Viñales or Trinidad at least once a month but since last August we have not been able to because all the prices have skyrocketed,” says Maria Eugenia, 61, who lives in Havana. “What we used to pay for the whole trip now is not enough for one night, not to mention transportation,” she laments.

“The hotels where prices have increased the most are those in the keys, those in Varadero and anything else along the coastline of beaches,” says María Eugenia. “Also, it’s not worth going as a Cuban because there is a lot of mistreatment towards the national client.”

One of the main attractions of the all-inclusive vacation is the formerly all-you-can-eat buffets, but now there are restrictions imposed, according to the retiree. “There is not as much variety of products and nor are they so free, because now they control the amount of main dishes (meat or fish) that each guest can eat and they give you a ticket for a certain number of drinks.”

THCG carried out a study on the lodging network in the Cuban tourist sector in 230 hotels and verified the price escalation since the US thaw. “The study showed a rise in prices in all categories, with the highest growth in five-star hotels, which went from an average of $186 a night in 2014 to $362 in 2016,” the report detailed. As these establishments are filled, foreign tourists who occupied them begin to demand rooms in lower category hotels, which also increases the prices of those tourist facilities.

The most surprising figures are seen in the four-star hotels, which went from an average of $111 per night in 2014 to $247. “The Saratoga hotel, one of the favorites of celebrities and politicians, came to be priced in 2016 at between $700 and $1,000 dollars a night, compared to $375 as a minimum a year before,” adds Morales.

This escalation of prices also affected domestic tourism, a sector that had grown exponentially after the thaw initiated by former President Barack Obama, which unlocked the sending of remittances to the island and helped develop the country’s incipient private sector.

“In a study conducted by THCG in 2014, it was found that 37% of Cuban-Americans who traveled to Cuba stayed at least one weekend with their relatives living on the island at a hotel, mainly in the tourist centers of Varadero, the Keys to the north of Villa Clara and in Guardalavaca, Holguín. This trend has increased in recent years, and it is currently estimated that around 45% of Cuban-Americans traveling to the island stay in a hotel with their relatives in Cuba for two or three days,” explains Morales.

An employee of one of the most prestigious agencies based in the United States that arranges travel to Cuba told 14ymedio, on the condition of anonymity, that the situation of national and international tourism “is critical.”

Number of Cubans traveling as tourists within Cuba.

“I was in Cuba this November for the International Fair of Havana and the Cubans are asking for the return of tourism. But, the Meliá Cohiba was at less than 30% of its capacity, when last year it was full,” she says.

“With the increase in the prices of hotels in Cuba an excellent market opportunity is lost because once the tourists go to another place they do not return,” she says.

From 14 January 2013 to 24 October 2016, more than 779,000 Cubans residing on the Island traveled abroad, 79% of them for the first time. The official figures are misleading, however, because they count as still resident in the country any Cubans who have been abroad for less than two years. Even so, an increase in the number of Cubans traveling abroad is clear to see.

“So far this year, a 28% growth has been achieved relative to the same time period for the previous year,” Ernesto Soberón, director of Affairs of Cuban Residents Abroad, recently told Cuban television.

Morales believes that there are a variety of reasons for these trips abroad. “It is estimated that in the 2013-2016 period around 130,000 Cubans traveled for emigration reasons, while the remaining 541,000 did so for work, tourism and business reasons,” he explains. The researcher gives as an example the more than 100,000 Cubans who traveled to Mexico in 2016, “becoming the fastest-growing tourist segment in Latin America that visits Mexico by air, with a growth of 58% over the previous year.”

“The most popular destinations for Cubans are the United States, Mexico and the Dominican Republic,” explains Morales, who believes that the situation requires a serious analysis by those who develop strategies for the tourism sector on the island.

“It is evident that not having a balanced offer both with regards to price and recreational options means that the growing national tourism will satisfy its leisure needs in other markets. Without a doubt, Cuban tourists are discovering better options outside of Cuba’s borders,” he adds.

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

Cuba Belongs to All Cubans / Iván García

Taken from Cartas desde Cuba

Ivan Garcia, 7 November 2017 — A fat man with a tenor voice and a bag hanging across his chest, as he passes through the inner streets of the Lawton neighborhood, announcing that he buys empty perfume jars and plastic soft drink bottles.

Two santiagueros fleeing poverty and lack of opportunities in their province, announce that they repair mattresses. And a lady shouts from her balcony to a neighbor that ground meat just arrived at the butcher’s shop.

Before noon, Lawton, in the south of Havana, is a combination of soot, broken streets, people selling anything, while reggaeton blasts in the background. Small gatherings assemble on the corners or anywhere.

In the doorway of a warehouse five people talk about the performance of Yuli Gurriel and Yasiel Puig in the World Series. Then, they discuss the new travel and immigration measures announced in Washington by Cuba’s grizzly Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez Parrilla that will begin to be implemented on 1 January 2018.

It is rare that in Cuba a family does not have relatives on the other side of the pond. Mildred, a mother of three children with brothers living in Miami, thinks about the new migratory reforms: “Personally, these changes do not benefit me, because my brothers were doctors and when they were on a mission in Venezuela, they abandoned their posts. They have to comply with a punishment of eight years during which they cannot enter Cuba. The government should understand that Cuba belongs to all Cubans and not only to those that suit them.”

Julio is the father of a young baseball talent who jumped the fence in pursuit of his dream of playing in the big leagues and who now earns a seven figure salary and helps his family out of perpetual poverty. Julio thinks along the same lines.

“With the players who leave the team during international events, it’s the same. They can not enter Cuba until the government pleases. Now they make concessions to counteract the harsh economic situation of the country. Trump is a half crazy guy and nothing can be expected from him. Venezuela can no longer send the same amount of oil and the state urgently needs the dollars from those it once called worms,” says Julio.

When you talk to ordinary citizens, the general opinion is that the government has to completely tear down the wall that has been dividing Cubans for so long.

“Cuba needs them more, than it does us. The current system is drifting. We must renew the public infrastructure and rebuild many things. We need capital, people prepared in the latest in science, technology, productive management, business and banking. The most talented in different spheres of knowledge, sports, art and culture flew from the green caiman. What’s left is small change, the bottom of the closet. We are an aging nation,” says Onelio, an economist.

But Castro’s autocracy continues with its Cold War command strategy and the mentality of the Cold War. It is their natural state. Selling themselves as a victim harassed by the United States government.

And contradictorily, the solution is to negotiate with the supposed enemy. The regime has been engaged in a battle, sometimes real, almost always exaggerated, with the different administrations in the White House, from 1959 to the present.

In his eagerness to make a mark for himself in the international scene, at the stroke of exporting guerrilla wars, armies of white coats and legions of soldiers to the African continent, Fidel Castro hijacked the aspirations of the Cuban people.

The diaspora and the people who survive in Cuba were, and are, hostages of typical policies of imperial nations and centers of world power, not of a small and backward country.

Twenty-six years have passed since the fall of communism in the USSR and even the Caribbean dictatorship does not decide to take the only foreseeable and reasonable step: to compromise with Cubans inside and outside the country.

It is the only way out in view of the national conflict. All that’s needed is a public apology and sitting down to negotiate. But the dialogue must be with everyone, not only with those who accept their ideology.

We must leave behind the old grudges. The future of Cuba involves engaging the entire diaspora (and not only those living in the United States) and Cubans on the island in the reconstruction of a modern, tolerant and functional society.

Of course, the regime will have to make concessions. Freedom of expression, democracy and free elections. The black list of compatriots, who by phallic or despotic decree, cannot travel to their homeland, should be annulled.

Carlos Alberto Montaner has every right in the world to present his books in Havana or to hold a conference in Guanabacoa. As long as they pay fair wages, not the poverty wages they give to Haitian sugarcane growers in La Romana, Dominican Republic, the Fanjul brothers could build sugar mills in the land where they were born.

Diario de Las Américas and El Nuevo Herald should have the option of placing correspondents in Havana: a good part of their readers are Cubans settled in Florida.

It is enough to milk the emigrants making them pay for their Cuban passports and to renew them at a golden price. No Cuban should have to ask permission to enter his home.

I did not understand the cheers and applause of a sector of exile when Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez launched the new travel and immigration proposal. The government is not doing anyone any favors. It is an internationally accepted right that citizens of a country can travel and return to the place where they were born, whenever they wish.

There is no better example of nationalism and sovereignty than to involve each and every  Cuban in the future of their country. We can still do this.

The Private Sector, the Most Powerful in Cuba / Iván García

Private snack bar. Taken from On Cuba Magazine.

Ivan Garcia, 17 November 2017 — While several business owners from the island connected to the internet in the lobby of the EB Miami hotel a stone’s throw from the international airport, and others drank beer at nine dollars at the bar, a Cuban dissident lawyer who spent more than a decade in Puerto Rico and a former political prisoner of Fidel Castro’s regime were trying to understand the new social dynamic that exists in Cuba.

The diverse group of participants in the Cuba Internet Freedom event, organized by the Office of Cuba Broadcasting (OCB) that took place over three days at the Miami Ad School in the picturesque Wynwood neighborhood, included software and app developers, independent economic analysts, owners of small food service businesses and the gay director of a digital magazine for Cuban gamers. continue reading

Of course there were also political activists such as Eliecer Ávila, Rosa Maria Payá, Rolando Rodríguez Lobaina and Ailer González, along with audiovisual producers and independent journalists who are openly anti-Castro. But it was the group of Cuban entrepreneurs, young people very well prepared, unprejudiced and with an approach focused more on economics than politics, who generated mixed feelings not only among a segment of the historical exile that suffered severe repression first hand — shootings of relatives or friends and many years in prison — but also among some of today’s opponents from the island, convinced that the formula to overthrow the regime of the Castro brothers is street marches or writing the word “Plebiscite” on the ballots for the election of delegates to the People’s Power Assemblies.

Passionate debates, sometimes risqué, or with the usual accusations of calling any person who criticizes the opposition or thinks differently an agent of State Security, rather than promoting dialogue, raised the wall of intransigence. Yaima Pardo, a talented independent documentary maker left a bad taste in the mouths of the exile sector that labeled him as ‘apolitical’ although it did not accuse him to his face of being part of the olive-green autocracy.

“The mere fact of coming and participating in forums considered counterrevolutionary by the government is an important step. We do not have to think like the dissidence. I recognize the pain of a segment of exile, but those were other times. My goal is to live in a society where freedom of expression is not a crime. We all want the same thing, a better homeland, but they are always attacking those of us with different opinions,” said the documentary maker.

Yodalys Sánchez, co-owner with her uncle of the paladar (private restaurant) Doña Carmela, next to the San Carlos fortress of La Cabaña, prefers to talk about how complex it is to succeed in business matters in Cuba.

“I have thirty workers and our sales are going very well. We have grown based on creativity despite the harassment of state institutions. In Cuba everything is difficult: from getting the food and condiments, to preparing the daily menu, to having to pay unsustainable taxes. Of course I am interested in a better future for my country, but what I do not like is that there are Cubans both from Miami and from the island, who believe that to demonstrate something, we have to make public statements against the government. That’s not my job,” Yodalys said.

Probably the frustration of the historical exile, compatriots who arrived in Miami with a suitcase and an empty wallet who thought, after having their properties or businesses confiscated, that their time in exile would be brief, find their discernment clouded. Emotion can overcome good sense. But they did not emigrate because of economic problems. They were practically ordered to leave their homeland, in many cases after having been political prisoners and having their lives in danger.

But Cuba today differs a lot from that of the first years of the Castro revolution. Yes, it is true, it is still governed by a regime that curtails the essential rights of any modern democracy. But the fall of Soviet communism, combined with international pressure from Western countries, an increase in internal dissidence and the existence of an incipient free press, has forced them to yield in the economic arena.

It is still too little. There are too many controls and restrictions on small private businesses making a lot of money, something aberrant: like asking the fourth batter to just tap the ball.

Even in the political terrain there is a retreat. They beat the Ladies in White and barricade opponents of the UNPACU in the eastern region or illegally prohibit dissidents from running as candidates for district delegates, but the firing squads have been replaced by brief arrests and ordinary people are losing their fear and, even in the open street, freely criticize the state of affairs in Cuba.

In this complex panorama, more than two hundred Cuban journalists without gags write for media and websites based in Florida, Madrid or Havana. And on the island there are so many dissident groups and independent initiatives of all kinds that no one can keep track of them all. Twenty years ago, none of that was possible without going to prison.

In a dictatorship, its weakness or retreat is measured by those small victories achieved in the midst of intense repression. And yes, today Castroism is more fragile than two decades ago. It has less social control and thanks to the internet it can no longer control information at its own whim. Everywhere, Caribbean totalitarianism is taking on water.

In my opinion, it is not the dissidence that is going to lead the regime to come to an agreement with its people and open the gates. It will be private entrepreneurs and their demands which will lead to the desired change.

It is hard to believe that within the ranks of the opposition and exile, who always brandished the weapon of private enterprise, they now judge with reservations the most thriving sector. Along with the invasive marabú weed, it is one of the few things that thrives on the Island.

Threat of Giant African Snail Reappears in Cuba’s Official Press

On the Santa Ana farm, in the municipality of Arroyo Naranjo, residents are desperate to find a solution to the plague of African snails. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 14 November 2017 — “Have you come about the Giant African snails?” the residents of the Santa Amalia neighborhood ask any stranger who walks through their streets and seems to be looking for something.

People have become increasingly alarmed after the publication, this Sunday, of a reader’s letter sent to the Juventud Rebelde (Rebel Youth) newspaper, warning about the proliferation of the mollusk on the Santa Ana farm in the Arroyo Naranjo municipality. It is the same area where, three years ago, this newspaper uncovered, for the first time, the presence of this dangerous animal in Cuba. Shortly afterwards the official media reported that a citizen of Nigeria had introduced several of these animals to the island, presumably for religious reasons. continue reading

Over the months, the plague has been spreading across the area south of the Cuban capital, and has now reached as far as San Antonio de los Baños, Artemisa, according to several contributors to this newspaper.

This Monday, José Antonio Cruz, the author of the Letter to the Editor published in Juventud Rebelde and owner of the Santa Ana farm, spoke with 14ymedio about the alarming situation on his land, located near Grant Street, due to the invasion of the huge snails.

Dozens of these animals, with their narrow  conical reddish brown shells with vertical yellow stripes, can be seen on the trees in the courtyard, climbing up the pipes, and moving across the dry leaves of the patio.

The Achatina fulica, the scientific name of the species, is mainly herbivorous, but can also feed on the remains of dead animals, excrement and even some construction materials such as plaster. It can grow to be 8 inches long and it is one of the most harmful invasive exotic species in the world.

Cruz, an engineer with the Public Health services and a member of the Communist Party, tells this newspaper about his odyssey. His “despair, indignation and impotence as a citizen” led him to write the letter and send it “to every place where they may have in their hands the technical and material resources to stop this epidemic.”

Cruz has been living on the farm that belonged to his parents for more than 27 years. “In this place we grow flowers, fruits, root crops and vegetables, and we have to suffer seeing how the snails eat everything, avocados, guavas, mangoes and even the leaves of the malangas,” he tells this newspaper.

José Antonio Cruz’s house is in the same area where, three years ago, ’14ymedio’ uncovered the presence of the dangerous animal for the first time in Cuba. (14ymedio)

However, what worries him most is the imminent danger of an irreversible spread of the plague throughout the country.

“You have to find a solution to this problem, someone has to answer for this,” he protests. The snail, it is known, “has not yet caused any deaths, but it could happen at any time,” he warns.

This species harbors roundworms that transmit diseases such as meningoencephalitis. Children are especially in jeopardy because of their greater tendency to approach the striking animal and to ignore the risks of touching it.

In addition to transmitting parasites and bacteria, the enormous snail causes irreparable damage to the ecosystems it colonizes. It also has a great ability to adapt to varied climates and terrains. In Cuba it does not have natural predators that can curb its devouring cravings.

In the absence of official information speculation springs up, and fear spreads through ignorance. “They say it’s already in the metropolitan park of Havana, in Sancti Spíritus and in San Antonio de los Baños,” says the owner of the farm.

With the exception of Cruz’s letter, the official press has not published any update on the situation of the snail in recent months. As a rule, national newspapers only confirm the presence of a plague or an epidemic after independent media have disseminated the information.

While state guidelines and aid arrive, the inhabitants of Santa Ana farm have not remained idle. All around the house there is an true cemetery of African snails that members of the family have been killing with their own resources.

Rainold Facundo Plascencia, a resident of the area, complains that it is common for farmers to have a wounds on their hands, so they run the risk of getting poisoned if they run their fingers over a place where the snail has left its slime.

Cruz repeats that he has complained to the municipal section of the Party, Public Health, Plant Health, Epidemiology and the Ministry of Agriculture. “When I saw that there was so much apathy, I decided to write to the newspaper,” he explains.

The alternative solution that they have found to liquidate these hermaphroditic mollusks, capable of putting out up to 1,200 eggs in a year, is to sprinkle them with common salt, but it cannot be applied intensively because there is a risk of salinizing the soil.

In addition, salt is a rationed product and there are frequently shortages of it. “Finding a pound of salt is sometimes more difficult than spending a day smacking those snails,” adds a resident of Grant Street.

José Antonio Cruz believes that state institutions should be involved in the problem. “It is not possible for a person, or for a small group of farmers, to eradicate this plague, it would be necessary to fumigate the land or to apply a radical variant that is not in our hands.”

Several of those affected insist that they do not want to “turn this issue into a political problem,” because when these irregularities are pointed out there is always the risk of being misinterpreted.

Cruz shares this concern, but adds that you can’t be afraid to tell the truth. While speaking, he keeps his brow furrowed and his eyes fixed on a snail that is climbing up the trunk of a nearby tree. “A man who does not say what he thinks is not an honest man,” he says, paraphrasing José Martí.

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

Another Ally Falls: The Siege Against Robert Mugabe

Every time Mugabe was condemned by international organizations for tainting elections and eliminating critical voices, Havana was always on his side. (EFE / File)

A year ago, Mugabe attended the funeral of Fidel Castro, his comrade in authoritarianism, perhaps like one who participates in his own funeral.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 16 November 2017 – No one who has been in power for four decades is innocent and Robert Mugabe will not be the exception. This week the 93-year-old African caudillo is being called to account for his outrages as the longest serving dictator in the world. The man who has held Zimbabwe in his fist since 1980, when he became head of the government, has been confined to his home by the army and his departure from his post as head of state, which he has occupied since 1987, seems imminent.

Sick, weakened and having become a nuisance even to his own party, the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF), Mugabe has been at the head of the country for 37 years and his record of human rights violations is as extensive as his days spent sitting in the presidential chair. continue reading

Like most revolutionaries who come to power, Mugabe was responsible for destroying his own prestige. The first president of Zimbabwe, after the country shook off the colonial yoke, has, by his actions, negated that aura of freedom and emancipation that once clung to him.

Like a horse alone on the race track, he won one after another presidential elections, elections that he orchestrated to validate himself before international public opinion and that he won by using fraud and repression against dissent. He insisted he be venerated as a God and recently announced his obstinate candidacy for the 2018 elections.

In recent years, Mugabe has led the country into one of the greatest economic crises in its history, with an increasingly severe shortage of food, skyrocketing inflation and 80% unemployment, some of which he attributed to an international conspiracy, as is common practice in these kinds of regimes.

Mugabe has controlled every detail of the life of a nation, a nation that was once known as “Africa’s granary” ​​for its fertile lands and high agricultural production, now burdened by plunder and the social abyss. Where each citizen resides, what they eat, who they meet with, their sexual orientation, are not options to choose from in the Zimbabwe of the old patriarch.

His regime fits the word “totalitarianism” with the exactitude of a dictionary. A political system that he tried to cloak in the garb of social justice and opportunities for all, but that in practice only provided opportunities to the circle closest to the president, to his ideological allies.

His policy of privileging locals by offering them the action of foreign companies, did not result in a better life for the common man but ended up fattening the pockets of his fellow politicians, family members and loyal officials. The Mugabe clan put down deep and devastating roots in the national economy, just like colonialism once did.

An outstanding disciple of the school of dictators, as a ruler he has also been vengeful and intolerant of discordant voices. The political leader, born in the British colony of Southern Rhodesia, initially presented himself as a “savior” of peoples but became a source of hatred and polarization for the society he promised to represent.

Last year the thousands of people who protested peacefully for human rights violations and the deterioration of the economic situation faced his repression and were met with blows, arrests and threats. The one-time revolutionary covered his ears at the complaints of international organizations, after all Zimbabwe was his kingdom.

However, from that moment his days were numbered though he did not yet know it, or chose the arrogance of not wanting to see it. The straw that broke the camel’s back was last week’s dismissal of his vice president Emmerson Mnangagwa, and the evidence – ever stronger – that the satrap was planning to transfer power to his wife, Grace Mugabe, age 53.

As the president’s health has plummeted, power struggles have broken out and each party, those who support Grace and those who bet on Mnangagwa, seek only an end: to take control of Zimbabwe, an appetizing piece of the African cake.

Fear of the other makes these caudillos take refuge in their nuclear families, placing their confidence in their narrowest circle to pass the baton. Successors that guarantee continuity, protection and impunity forever.

Like the end of all authoritarian regimes, Mugabe’s is full of contradictions. While some media reports that the president was preparing his resignation and negotiating the departure of his wife, others say that the situation is controlled in order to save national sovereignty and the nation itself.

“We want to make it very clear that this is not a military takeover of the government, what Zimbabwe’s defense forces are doing is intended to pacify a degenerative political, social and economic situation in our country, which if not addressed could result in a violent conflict,” said a statement from the military.

A document made public this Thursday and signed by 115 civil society organizations in Zimbabwe asks Mugabe to resign and the military to restore the constitutional order to finally achieve the long-awaited democratic transition. It is part of the desperate cry of a nation exhausted by the excessive prominence of one man.

A year ago, Mugabe attended the funeral of Fidel Castro, his comrade in authoritarianism, perhaps like one who participates in his own funeral. A dinosaur saying goodbye to another fossil of the twentieth century.

Every time Mugabe was condemned by international organizations for tainting elections and eliminating critical voices, Havana was always on his side. For decades, the African satrap has maintained an exchange of favors with the Island that now begins to falter.

The Plaza of the Revolution is cautious today in statements about what is happening in Zimbabwe. The island’s news programs have not yet condemned the perpetrators of Robert Mugabe’s house arrest. They are on the lookout for a new caudillo to emerge, someone to whom they can extend a willing and complicit hand.

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

Twitter is No Longer the CIA’s, it is “Our Bay of Pigs of the 21st Century”

The book was presented on Tuesday at the Capitolio in Havana. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 15 November 2017 — Twitter is “our Bay of Pigs of the 21st Century” according to the journalist Enrique Moreno Gimeranez, who presented his book Manual for the Exercise of Digital Journalism on Twitter on Tuesday at Havana’s Capitolio.

In the volume, the author criticizes “the malpractice of Cuban journalism on Twitter” which “has inefficiently used this resource on several occasions through slogans difficult to understand, retain and reproduce by foreign recipients.” continue reading

The text, the thesis of the author’s degree, was presented in the Sala Baraguá of the National Assembly of Popular Power by Franco-Spanish journalist Ignacio Ramonet, Tubal Páez, honorary president of the Union of Journalists of Cuba (UPEC) and Rosa Miriam Elizalde, director of the official website Cubadebate.

Moreno studied journalism Marta Abreu Central University in Villa Clara and after graduating he started at the CMHW station La Reina Radial in Villa Clara, where he is currently working.

In Moreno Gimeranez’s thesis, available on the internet and now published by the Pablo de la Torriente Brau press, the use of Twitter by Cuban journalists is addressed, but without mentioning the independent press which has a strong presence on that social network.

All users, labels and moments mentioned in Manual For The Exercise Of Digital Journalism On Twitter, which has a print run of 2,000 copies, are exclusively linked to official media.

The idea of ​​investigating the use of this social network on the Island came to Moreno Gimeranez when he was a third year journalism student and participated in the coverage of the Summit of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) held in Havana in January of 2014.

The author collected interviews with nine experts from Spain, Argentina, the United States, Colombia, Peru and Cuba, among other countries.

During the presentation, journalist Rosa Miriam Elizalde pointed out that the book “is an example of the alliances that can be created to make communication practical.” While Ramonet urged “spreading to the new generations” the use of Twitter “not only technically, but in the more general area of ​​social, political and cultural life.”

The call contrasts with the first years when Twitter began to be used by activists within the Island. The first accounts appeared between the end of 2007 and mid-2008, when the authorities lashed out harshly against the social network and the official newspaper Granma called Twitter “a tool created by the CIA.”

Over the years, state institutions and entities opened their own accounts on the social network of the little blue bird, which are frequently used to call for an end to the US embargo, repeat political slogans and distribute news from the official press.

In 2016, Cuba registered more than 4.5 million internet users, according to official data published by the country’s National Office of Statistics and Information (ONEI).

However, in a report by Freedom House that analyzed the situation in 65 countries, the Island remained among the five worst nations in the world in terms of Internet freedom, with 79 negative points, only better than China (87), Ethiopia (86), Syria (86) and Iran (85).

In Latin America Cuba occupied the last position, w

The Fear of ’14ymedio’

The author of the review of ‘Departure’ regrets “that the exclusionary bias maintained in cultural affairs has impacted the career and life of the three officials.”

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Regina Coyula, Havana, 15 November 2017 — A more inclusive air can be breathed in the corridors of Performing Arts of the Ministry of Culture. Or at least I thought that was the case when they told me that an article written by me about Departures, a work by the company El Ciervo Encantado (The Enchanted Deer), was in the catalog of the Theater Festival of Havana this year. But after the initial optimism, the logic of how events occur in authoritarian regimes caused me to doubt.

Was it an accident or a consequence of ignorance, mistake or intention on the part of three officials involved in the catalog? In any case, there was an institutional response: all of them have been removed from their positions. continue reading

My text, as has been described in the article about the punishment, is not conflictive. So that is not what the problem is. Nor should my signature be a problem because, to put it in the manner of my dear Manuel Díaz Martínez, I am an unimportant person. What is important is Departures, which twists the broken fibers of a country that for many years converted those physical partings into emotional ruptures that were intended to be final.

The work was exhibited before and during the Theater Festival, so nor is it because of the work itself. The lack, crime, transgression or whatever it is called by those imposing the punishment, has been to use a text from 14ymedio, a digital newspaper that for the authorities does not exist, inaccessible from the servers of the state telecommunications monopoly. The fact may seem ridiculous and even false to anyone who does not know the mechanisms of censorship in Cuba.

With regards to this, just a week ago I was at a presentation in Miami of the anthology The Compañero Who Watches Me, a compilation prepared by Enrique del Risco, literary and always political, of almost sixty writers about their experience with censorship, Big Brother, State Security. Sixty writers is not a small number for this little island, but at the same time their contributions fall short by the number of testimonies that do not appear because the protagonists opted for the healthy silence of voluntary oblivion, or because they were unaware of the existence of this project.

The current events surrounding Performing Arts do nothing more than provide an update to the stories in the book, not at all in the key of the past. I could not avoid the analogy.

Sincerely, I regret that the exclusionary bias maintained in cultural affairs has impacted the professional careers and lives of the three officials involved. It is an unequivocal signal for many of those who declare that politics does not interest them, whom I invite to look at the facts that have led to this “administrative” measure.

After the initial stupor, the three officials can look with new eyes at information and events all around them that previously they did not see (or did not want to see, it must be said). It is said that it is a capacity that many deploy only after being dethroned.

Without becoming Socratic, knowledge is a good path to individual freedom.

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The 14ymedio team is committed to making a serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

Three Cuban Cultural Promoters Fired For Publishing a Review From ’14ymedio’ in an Official Catalog

The excerpt from Regina Coyula’s theater review that appeared in an official catalog with a reference to 14ymedio. (Luz Escobar)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 14 November 2017 — A scandal is shaking up the National Council of Performing Arts (CNAE) a few days after the end of the 17th edition of the Havana Theater Festival. The publication in the festival catalog of an excerpt from a review of the event that appeared in 14ymedio has caused three employees of the state entity to be reprimanded and dismissed from their positions.

The head of the CNAE’s Directorate of Artistic Development, Noel Bonilla, his assistant Marielvis Calzada and CNAE vice president Marlén Gutiérrez are the three workers punished by the publication, who now find themselves in the midst of a process of administrative sanctions. continue reading

The inclusion of a paragraph from a theater review published in this newspaper last February and signed by Regina Coyula unleashed the wrath of the authorities of the Ministry of Culture (Mincult) because the text came from the independent press, a part of Cuban journalism censored and hidden by officialdom.

The excerpt chosen for the catalog addresses the performance of Mariela Brito in the piece Departures, by the company El Ciervo Encantado (The Enchanted Deer), which deals with Cuban emigration. “But beyond the stories told, others float like empty rafts, those who didn’t live to tell,” says the author of the article.

Although the excerpt from the review, included on page 69 of the catalog, does not contain direct political allusions or ideological messages, Mincult officials blamed the three employees for having allowed the name of this newspaper to appear in an official publication.

“The first thing that happened was that they brought us together and asked: ‘What is14ymedio doing in a Council publication? Why is it in the catalog, instead of promoting other authors who are within our institutional system and the recognized press in Cuba?’ ” explained Noel Bonilla on Monday by telephone to this newspaper.

Bonilla adds, “it is true that it was published in the wrong way, without consultation, not verified” and especially “in the haste with which the catalog was put together” and because of “the delays that occurred in the printing process.”

The Festival, which took place between October 20 and 29, had the support of the French Embassy in Cuba, the Goethe Institute, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Norway among other foreign entities.

Bonilla said in his Facebook account days ago that “after almost fifteen years” he ended his responsibility as head of CNAE, after committing an alleged error. He informed readers that “he will remain attentive” to the world of theater because he considers himself “a cultural agent committed to the poetic obsessions” of artists.

In this message on social networks, the promoter told “those artists or aspirants” who were waiting for their evaluations, not to worry because “I’m sure someone will ensure continuity very soon.”

“Who sows walls collects nothing and that dreadful nothing will lead them to failure, to oblivion, to the abyss,” he says.

In a telephone conversation with 14ymedio the promoter was more cautious and avoided confirming that he had been removed from his position. Bonilla said that “until this minute” he has not been told “any official information about being fired from my job,” but confirmed that it was required because of several errors of content in the festival catalog.

With a degree as a Professor and Instructor of Dance, Bonilla has worked as a dancer, choreographer and professor at the Higher Institute of Art (ISA) of Havana. Before the incident, he was in charge of overseeing the artists in their qualifying evaluations and overseeing the progress of their projects.

“He is very capable and has managed for several years to survive in a position that carries a lot of responsibility but where one can very quickly make a misstep,” says a young actress who has worked with Bonilla and who prefers anonymity. “Right now everyone is talking about the injustice they have done to him,” she adds.

In February of this year, Bonilla was awarded the French Republic’s Chevalier Medal of Arts and Letters for his “exceptional trajectory” in the universe of Cuban and French dance.

Coyula, a regular collaborator to 14ymedio, cannot get over her astonishment at what happened. When she learned that her article appeared in the catalog she believed that “the cultural authorities had become more inclusive or that maybe it was due to someone’s ignorance of someone.”

“What I never thought was that by including that excerpt they might fire these people from their positions,” laments Coyula, who for eight years has run the blog La Mala Letra (Bad Handwriting) with topics ranging from social stories to computer news.

This independent newspaper has been blocked from servers in Cuba since its foundation. To access the site, Cuban internet users frequently use anonymous proxies or read the articles through an emailed news service or in the PDF with a selection of the best of the week, which is distributed hand-to-hand.

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

“My Attackers Act As If Nothing Happened”

José Enrique Morales Besada feels deceived and refuses to let the perpetrators go unpunished. (Courtesy)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, 13 November 2017 – It was a warm night in June and José Enrique Morales Besada was connected to the internet at a Wi-Fi hotspot in Morón, Ciego de Ávila. On returning home, his life took a dramatic turn when he was a victim of a homophobic attack that left him with serious physical consequences and a desire for justice that current Cuban legislation has failed to satisfy.

Last Friday, the Prosecutor’s Office decided to close the criminal process for his case and settle it with the imposition of a fine on his attackers. The interest in the attack on the part of the National Center for Sex Education (Cenesex), led by Raul Castro’s daughter Mariela Castro, has not been enough to bring his assailants to trial, although it did speed up the police investigation. continue reading

At just 21, this young man has spent the last months shuttling between medical consultations and police appointments after two men insulted him and hit him on the side of his face with a bottle. José Enrique only remembers lying on the floor, with a friend by his side who was screaming for help, he tells 14ymedio by phone.

Morales Besada dreamed of becoming a professional singer. He performed at parties and tourist facilities, offering pop themes, ballads, classics in English and popular dance music, but now he can barely finish a sentence without speech problems that stop him in the middle of his words.

“Every time I speak I have a very strange feeling, so I can’t sing because I can’t modulate my voice well,” he laments. The blow caused him to lose several teeth, destroyed part of his gums and caused a serious fracture of the jaw for which he had to undergo surgery.

Four years before the attack, the streets of Morón were filled with colorful displays when the province became the site for the Day Against Homophobia. The annual vindication has not succeeded in banishing the prejudices that remain deeply rooted in that region and in the rest of the country.

For Morales Besada, the Ciego de Ávila LGBTI community faces a “dark panorama” and its members suffer constant aggravations in the streets as well as “degrading treatment.”

“It is very difficult to sit in a park without someone passing by and throwing an insult or a can of beer,” he complains.

Homophobia in Cuba also enjoys police complicity. “When somebody goes to file a complaint about something like that they treat them like they’re crazy,” declares the young man, who, in spite of appearing with witnesses before the authorities, barely managed that his attackers spent 24 hours in custody. “They left after paying a bond of 1,000 Cuban pesos (roughly $40 US) each.”

The Cuban Penal Code does not include the concept of “hate crimes” regarding attacks against people based on ethnic origin, religion, race, gender, sexual orientation and identity. The latter, specifically, are not included in the current legislation and attacks against them are treated by the police and the courts like any other crime.

A few days after the attack, the singer wrote in his Facebook account an initial message saying what happened, demanding justice and asking Mariela Castro directly for help.

The report that was prepared in the hospital, and that recorded the facial and mouth injuries, was “conveniently” lost. (Courtesy)

In 2015, Mariela Castro had assured in a public event that the institution she directs was working in collaboration with the Ministry of the Interior to closely monitor these aggressions. “A thorough and specialized analysis is needed to determine the type of crime because all situations where LGBTI people are victims do not have hatred as a motive,” said the sexologist.

Cenesex began to investigate what happened in Morón and sent a letter to the municipality’s National Revolutionary Police (PNR). Morales Besada admits that when the officers heard the name of the daughter of the Cuban leader “they started running around and wanted to do in a day what they should have done from the beginning.”

The 10th was when Morales Besada knew that there would never be a trial for his attackers. The Prosecutor’s Office dismissed the opening of the trial and has settled the case with a fine against both perpetrators. After hearing the conclusion from the investigator, the young man came out crying. He did not even want to sign the official communication.

Morales Besada denounces multiple irregularities in the process. “Nobody from the investigation visited my maxillofacial doctor to ask what my current state of health is,” he complains. In addition, the report that was prepared in the hospital recording the facial and mouth injuries he suffered was “conveniently” lost and only appeared, after much searching, detailing cervical injuries.

“No trial was held and they deceived me because until that moment they had told me that they would be taken to court.”

Members of the Cuban LGBTI community have collected more and more records of assaults and hate crimes. Although official institutions do not publish statistics on murders or violent acts against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people, the news now is made known thanks to social networks.

In May 2015, this newspaper published an article about the stoning death of a 24-year-old transsexual in the city of Pinar del Río. The official media never published the news.

Morales Besada, who feels deceived and refuses to let the perpetrators go unpunished “as if nothing happened,” published a Facebook message last Friday that has made his case known to thousands of internet users.

The young man claims that both attackers have a history of homophobic violence. “They beat another boy who works in the Cayo but he did not accuse them because he is afraid.”

“This attack has left me without a life,” says José Enrique. The physical damage can leave permanent affects, but what adds to the pain now is the impotence he feels in the absence of justice.

‘14ymedio’ Invites Readers to Join

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 14 November 2017 — Two fundamental premises have guided the work of 14ymedio since its birth more than three years ago: making journalism of higher quality every day and maintaining editorial independence. To achieve this we have opted for a strict financial autonomy that allows us to pronounce freely on any subject.

So far, our financing comes from the contributions of a small group of friends in a personal capacity, from alliances with private foundations and academic institutions, and from sponsorships, events, content sales and advertising.

Today we take an important step by launching a collaborative membership model that will allow readers to contribute to the financing of 14ymedio. Thus, we can devote more resources to journalistic investigations and maintain universal and free access to the content of our media, in addition to solidifying our editorial freedom.

Our readers can become members of 14ymedio by visiting our membership portal, where you can support us with a small financial contribution. In return, you will receive invitations to events and the opportunity to collaborate with ideas regarding the editorial content.

On this site there is all the information about the different levels of membership, about our work and the editorial team, as well as a detailed breakdown of our finances.

We are the first medium in Cuba to take a step of this nature and we intend to make this privileged relationship with readers the main source of income for 14ymedio, in a participatory and transparent manner.

This Tuesday begins a new stage for 14ymedio. We hope you will join us, just as you have done since the beginning.

Become a member of 14ymedio.

In Cuba, the Cold War Returns

While the political class bares its teeth and boasts of the holster on its belt, around the United States Embassy in there is nothing but long faces. (EFE)

Raúl Castro has not taken advantage of the steps taken by Barack Obama and has chosen to opt for caution rather than reform

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 13 November 2017 — It was too quiet to last. The diplomatic thaw between Cuba and the United States has failed and both nations are resetting their watches to the times of the Cold War. In recent weeks new causes of tension have arisen and political discourse returns to that customary belligerence so yearned for.

The link between the Plaza of the Revolution and the White House has taken several steps back from where it was on 17 December 2014, a date coined in Cuba as 17-D, when Barack Obama and Raúl Castro announced the normalization of relations. This leap into the past is motivated by the alleged acoustic attacks – sounds that resemble the singing of dozens of crickets – that caused nausea, dizziness and headaches in United States diplomats stationed in Cuba.

The official propaganda machine had slowed down during the reconciliation period and now tries to resume the rhythm that characterized it in the days of Ronald Reagan or George W. Bush. However, we can see the fatigue and in particular the apathy of a national audience more attuned to daily survival than to diplomatic squabbles. continue reading

Cartoons lambasting the US president have also returned to the pages of government newspapers, while the concept of anti-imperialism takes center stage in the agendas of government institutions, unable to articulate a less ideological discourse. These are good times for recalcitrants, opportunists and radicals.

Lacking their favorite target, the regime’s spokespeople had found themselves lost among so many hugs, conciliatory photos and delegations of American businessmen who came to the Island. Unable to deal with the calm, now they can fill their lungs with the air of storm. Only confrontation makes them important, only combat seems alive to them.

While the political class bares its teeth and boasts of the holster on its belt, outside the United States Embassy in Havana long faces abound. Every morning dozens of Cubans arrive in the neighborhood, distressed by being stranded in the middle of an immigration process due to the suspension of consular work at the embassy. Small businesses in the area that thrived on selling coffee, renting rooms to visa applicants traveling from elsewhere in Cuba, or helping people to fill out immigration forms, have descended into sudden bankruptcy. Uncle Sam stimulated the economy of thousands of families near the perimeter of the imposing building and now everything is on hold, impregnated with uncertainty.

The neighbors can only remind themselves of the image of August 2015 when US Secretary of State John Kerry participated in raising the American flag in the recently inaugurated US Embassy in Havana. It was “the best time in this area and the country,” says Paquito, a neighbor who made a living offering a consignment service for bags and cell phones to visa applicants. Today his room is empty and his greatest wish is that “the yumas,” the Americans, “will return as soon as possible”.

Throughout the country many fear that Donald Trump’s measures will go further and end up affecting the flow of regular flights between the Island and its northern neighbor, flights restored during the past administration. A cutback in the sending of remittances also populates the nightmares of countless families who survive thanks to the help that comes every month from el Norte.

Those who predict a worsening of relationships are right. The withdrawal of non-essential personnel after the acoustic attacks is just one more episode in a soap opera punctuated with hatreds and passions, bickering and wrangling that have dominated both countries for more than half a century.

The new episode has only added a new measure of mystery, spy stories and sophisticated aggressions to what was already the typical script of this “avoidance/approach” conflict, where the object of desire is both rejected and hazily desired.

The terrain for belligerency is fertile, and on such a fecund base sprout the most varied speculations about the perpetrators of the attacks allegedly suffered by the diplomats.

Supporters of the thaw point to an orthodox group within the Cuban government who saw the pact with the United States as a betrayal. A “Taliban” brotherhood well enough placed in the spheres of power to be able to undertake an action of such complexity.

Others speculate that a third country, such as Russia, Iran or North Korea, used Cuban territory to perpetrate an attack on its old rival. In that case, the island would have been merely the scene of a struggle of external powers with national intelligence not even aware of it. The latter is very unlikely in a country where surveillance has escalated to degrees of oppressive sophistication and intensity.

There are also those who point to Fidel Castro as the evil genius behind the acoustic attack plot. The only man with more power than Raúl Castro who would have been capable of organizing something of that nature emerges amid the speculations of those who remember his incalculable capacity to annoy Washington.

Those who hold the hypothesis of the “poisoned will” of the Comandante say that the mysterious noises began before his death last November and also remember how he distanced himself from the diplomatic thaw. The eternal anti-imperialist must have liked nothing about his brother’s flirtations with the tenant of the White House, say those who support this conjecture.

The official press points out that the acoustic attacks have been just the pretext for Trump to implement a policy towards Cuba more aligned with those segments of the diaspora discontented with the thaw, as it downplays what happened and sows doubt that such aggressions even existed. However, it reiterates that the Government is willing to cooperate with the investigation.

The big loser in all these events is Raúl Castro. The main legacy of his mandate rested precisely on having achieved a rapprochement between both nations. Through the thaw, the youngest of the brothers made his own mark and stepped away from the shadow of the Comandante en Jefe, a contumacious agitator of the conflict between the Island’s David and the American Goliath.

The general, who until now has been unable to fulfill many of the promises of his mandate – such as monetary reunification, in a country fractured by the duality between the convertible peso and the Cuban peso – or returning to wages their lost dignity, sees how his government’s legacy is vanishing.

Diplomatic normalization is, without a doubt, a story of the failure of the second Castro, who did not take advantage of the steps taken by Barack Obama, preferring to opt for caution instead of reform. If he is not directly responsible for the acoustic attacks, then he is responsible for the negligence that allowed others to carry them out and for not having been able to prevent this incident from resulting in the current diplomatic confrontation.

In the end, the era of extended hands is over and the island is in the midst of an economic recession, suffering the effects of a powerful hurricane, facing diminished support from Venezuela, while the so-called”historic generation” is on the verge of biological obsolescence. The Cold War has returned, but the Cuba of those years no longer exists.

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Editor’s Note: This text has been previously published by the Spanish newspaper El País in its edition of Sunday, November 12.

Shortages and Shady Dealings / Eduardo Martínez Rodríguez

Housing in Havana.

Primavera Digital, Eduardo Martínez Rodríguez, 1 November 2017, El Cerro, Havana. Some new phenomena are taking place, products of the state’s poor management and shortsightedness.

Dwellings are being repossessed by people who are buying them legally or illegally.

I occupy an apartment with three bedrooms, one bath, a living/dining room, a balcony, and a rear terrace. It should now be the property of my brother, now that my mother, the original owner–thinking of her very advanced age–transferred the title to her youngest son. continue reading

In this apartment live three people. Not long ago there were five of us. But my aunt and my father died when they were well into their 90s. Presumably, the next in line would be my mother, who is now past 80, and after her my brother, and then I, who am 60.

During the process of changing the deed and drawing up the new and complicated property contract now required by the government, we decided to assign ownership to the youngest son.

We were left speechless and disconcerted when the notary asked us who would be the next heir after we were all gone. My mother chose to name a granddaughter who does not live with us and is four years of age.

In the apartment next door lives an octogenarian lady who was recently widowed.

She is diabetic. Already there is a distant relative who has arrived on the scene and started to occasionally look after the little old lady–and who will surely inherit the property when she dies, for I have seen notaries coming and going over there.

Residential units are ending up in younger hands–legally or through many semi-legal tricks.

There are houses in good condition that remain empty and closed up because their inhabitants are away in other countries, probably trying to get settled somewhere. If it doesn’t work out, they’ll return. If it does, well, one or another of the owners will return to sell the house at a good price.

No longer does the government take over houses left behind by those who leave the country, as was the case until some years ago. Cubans may now continue to hold the title to their properties if they return for at least a few days within the first two years of living abroad.

Those who do not sell their houses leave them in the care of relatives who rent them out to foreign tourists and forward the fees to the owners residing in other countries.

In the upcoming 2020 census, or likely before then, the ration book will lose half of its consumer base for reasons of non-residency in Cuba.

The housing shortage is not lessening, however, despite the high emigration rate and many deaths, due to the government’s chronic apathy towards seriously investing in this sector, and not allowing others to do so.

The scarcity of medicines is worsening: even aspirin is hard to find. Many medicines end up on the black market.

Last week my brother found himself having to stand in line–in the sun, from 9 in the morning to almost 4 in the afternoon–at a drugstore just to obtain the medications, such as insulin, that my mother needs for her diabetes and blood pressure, as well as cotton, alcohol and syringes.

The aged neighbor lady cannot even think of going to the drugstore that is one km away, let alone stand in line. There are no couriers. She will simply die one day soon and the family doctor will come and declare her dead of old age, and that will be that. Her case will never be studied nor will be of interest to the authorities to determine whether she might have survived a few more years with better care and medications.

ETECSA, the state-owned telecommunications monopoly, with its painfully slow and inefficient processes, is facilitating another lucrative and illegal business opportunity: it has to do with sales of the new “Nauta Hogar” [Home Nauta] contracts. Following more than a year of providing these newfangled internet connections–initially in Old Havana only–ETECSA has approved a little more than 2,000 agreements for a population of nearly 12 million. The service is excessively slow and exorbitantly expensive for local income levels, but ownership can be transferred with no questions asked. Those blessed with these benefits are simply selling them right now at 1000 Cuban convertible pesos (roughly 1,000 USD). They’re on sale now on Revolico (Cuba’s “Craiglist”).

Similarly, the ownership of landlines are priced at that level on the informal market, for this system is maintained very cheaply, but for years now there has been no increase in the number of telephones distributed among the urban population, being that no new contracts are offered anymore.

Fidel Castro used to argue that mobile phones were a bourgeois luxury. Raul Castro authorized their generalized sale in 2008. Less than ten years later, more than half of the population utilizes this service, despite how extremely expensive it is.

How will the ancient rulers ever develop this country if a primary requirement of modern enterprise, be it state- or privately-owned, is efficient communication and data gathering–which Cuba is slow to adopt as official policy? An open Internet would be very harmful to what remains of Castroism. Imagine that this article could appear on the first page of the official Communist Party newspaper Granma, and that everyone, without censorship, could read works like it.

eduardom57@nauta.cu

Translated by Alicia Barraqué Ellison

Canned Guarapo

The drink known in Cuba as guarapo, made with the juice of crushed sugar cane and a lot of ice, should be drunk immediately, because otherwise it “gets dark and smells bad.” (Gpparker)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Marcelo Hernandez, Havana, 10 November 2017 — “Whomever figures out how to sell guarapo in a can will get rich,” says Overti, a Villa Clara resident in Havana who is trying to open his own café in the capital. “I started by setting up the trapiche – the sugarcane crusher – but I never managed to maintain a supply of cane, so I wasn’t able to sell even the first glass,” he tells 14ymedio.

The refreshing beverage, made with sugarcane juice and a lot of ice, has to be drunk immediately because otherwise “it gets dark and smells bad,” says the merchant, referring to the tendency of the juice to almost immediately begin to ferment. In other Latin American countries, as well as in south Florida, guarapo is sold in glass bottles and even in cans, as Overti yearns to do, but these options haven’t yet arrived on the island.

Right now and until some local entrepreneur manages to squeeze the sugarcane juice into a container and preserve it to keep it fresh for the palate, the consumers of this beverage are going to have to satisfy themselves with the so called guaraperas – the stands where the juice is sold fresh – which are increasingly scarce in the Cuban capital.

The inability to solve the transportation problems to ensure the cane arrives on time every morning has forced many guaraperas to close, leading to a scarcity of the drink that is so popular and refreshing for pedestrians. “If it were up to me, I’d set up a guarapo factory and the people here would never drink water again,” Overti dreams, although right now he can’t offer for sale even a single glass.