The Second Shipwreck of the Granma / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

It has a woman’s name and the fatality of a widow. The Carolina center, in Matanzas province, not only ground sugar cane for decades, but gave sustenance and prosperity to an entire village. On dismantling the mill, the former workers and the neighbors had to learn to live in a ghost town.

Carolina was one more among the 161 sugar mills that ground through the middle of the last century. In total, national production approached five million tons of sugar per harvest. The owners of the center, the Mirando Blanco brothers, never suspected that in October 1960 the industry that rose on their own efforts—theirs and others’—would pass into the hands of the State.

Imbued with revolutionary enthusiasm, many believed that the nationalization of the sugar industry would bring higher production and better working conditions. In an assembly where a new name would be selected for the Carolina, worker Piro Martinez suggested that the plant should be called Granma*. The reason was that one of the expeditionaries, Luis Crespo, had been born and spent his childhood in the batey (the sugarcane workers’ village). And so the name of that femme fatal was replaced by the English nickname for grandmother.

In the distance the dismantled sugar mill (14ymedio)

In the distance, the dismantled sugar mill (14ymedio)

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Gerardo Machado: Was He Really an Ass with Claws? / David Canela Pina / HemosOido

MIAMI, Florida. — In the North Cemetery of Woodlawn Park, in Miami, lie the remains of the former Cuban president Gerardo Machado y Morales (1871-1939), who was the politician who constructed the most works during the Republic, and also was the first who opposed the international influence of communism.

To Machado, the new writing of history is simplified by a caricature: the ass without paws, and as all that is not convenient to them, they leave his image, alone and deformed, surrounded by a sea of silence, in which the only thing heard is the murmurings of the communists.

Was he a dictator? Yes. One that induced a reform in the Constitution in 1901, to govern for ten years? Yes, but he was highly adored, in an epoch quite convulsive. Did he close the University of La Habana (Havana), in 1930? Yes, but he had constructed  its staircase, and the then new buildings of the Colina — including the School of Engineers and Architects,which today is in ruins.

Did he suspend constitutional guarantees? Yes, but terrorism had seized control of the streets, and there did not exist negotiations with opposing groups. Did he engage in political assassinations and torture? Yes, but not so much as since 1959. Continue reading

New Measures by Cuban Customs Service Coming in September / Ivan Garcia

Cuban customs warns against carrying items for third parties.

On September 1, 2014 the Customs Service of the Republic of Cuba will begin enforcing new regulations intended to combat illegal trafficking of merchandise by relatives, friends and “mules”* through airports and port facilities.

It’s one more turn of the screw. Every year since 2011 new regulations have been put in place designed to halt the illegal importation of goods destined for families and private businesses on the island.

In Spring 2012 the customs service began charging ten dollars for every kilo above the twenty-kilo limit for personal baggage. For parcel post the charge was ten dollars per kilo above the five-kilo limit.

According to Onelia, a customs official, “The new measures are intended to halt the trade in goods brought in by mules.” Continue reading

To the Rhythm of the Chinese Horn / 14YMedio, Reinaldo Escobar

Chinese Horn

Chinese Horn

14YMEDIO, Havana, Reinaldo Escobar, 22 July 2014 – On an unspecified date at the beginning of the twentieth century Havanans heard for the first time the sharp and contagious sound of an as yet unknown instrument, brought by Asian immigrants. It happened in the middle of a carnival parade and was played by members of a troupe called “The Good Chinese.” Soon after, the horn was brought to Santiago de Cuba where it became a main part of Santiago’s conga and was dubbed the Chinese horn.

In remarks to the press on the eve of his visit to Cuba, President Xi Jinping said, “China has sounded the trumpet for the comprehensive deepening of the reform, while Cuba is promoting the updating of its economic model.”

More than a century has passed since that memorable cultural event and another Asian wind instrument arrived in Havana today calling for a change in the rhythm. Perhaps less leisurely than that pushed by Raul Castro, characterized by the gradual introduction of slow and short movements in our society. It would be better if this were another troupe of good Chinese and not the messengers of a new authoritarianism.

The Political Legacy of Oswaldo Paya / 14ymedio

Oswaldo Payá's Funeral (Luz Escobar)

Oswaldo Payá’s Funeral (Luz Escobar)

14YMEDIO, 22 July 2014 – On 22 July 2014, the opposition leader Oswaldo Payá and the activist Harld Cepero died. Payá led the Christian Liberation Movement and promoted the Varela Project, which managed to collect some 25,000 signatures to demand a national referendum. Freedom of expression, of association, freedom of the press and of business, as well as free elections, were some of the demands of that document signed by thousands of Cubans.

Nominated five times for the Nobel Peace Prize, Payá was one of the most visible and respected figures of the Cuban opposition. In 2002  the European Parliament awarded him the Sakharov Prize for Human Rights by and he was able to tour several countries to offer information about the situation on the island. He was also an official candidate for the Prince of Asturias Award and received honorary degrees from Columbia University and the University of Miami.

Paya’s death occurred in the vicinity of the city of Bayamo, while he was traveling accompanied by the Spaniard Angel Carromero, the Swede Aron Modig, and his colleague Harold Cepero. The Cuban government explained the death as the result of a car accident, but his family and many Cuban activists have maintained their doubts about that version. An independent investigation into the events of that tragic July 22 has been requested in various international forums, but Cuban authorities have not responded to those requests.

On the second anniversary of the death of Oswaldo Payá, we asked activists who shared his democratic ideals, “What is the greatest legacy of the leader of the Christian Liberation Movement?”

Guillermo Fariñas, a psychologist and the winner of the European Parliament’s Sakharov Prize

The main legacy left by Oswaldo Payá Sardinas for the Cuban nation, beyond its geographical boundaries, was that he showed his people and the world that the Cuban government breaks its own laws. When the Varela Project submitted almost 25,000 signatures to the People’s Assembly on a citizens’ petition for a plebiscite, the Cuban government refused to hold one and in a crude way changed the Constitution. That in my opinion was his main contribution: demonstrating that the Cuban government is beyond anything that could be construed as the Rule of Law and that it does not even respect its own draconian laws that support Castro’s totalitarian state. Continue reading

Frida Kahlo / Rebeca Monzo

The daughter of a Mexican mother and German father, Frida Kahlo was born in Coyoacán, Mexico on July 7, 1910.

She attended the Escuela Normal de Maestros and graduated from the Escuela Nacional Preparatoria. She dreamed of becoming a doctor until a terrible accident destroyed her body, forcing her to lay in bed for many months and receive painful treatments, causing her to stop studying medicine.

In the midst of her dramatic convalescence, her iron will and attachment to life led her to become extensively self-taught in the arts and the mysteries of painting. She became an artist and took advantage of her knowledge to teach classes at the Escuela de Artes Plásticas in spite of her physical limitations.

Her first exhibitions demonstrated her talent, which she continued to develop and which culminated in a magnificent work, turning her into one of the most famous painters of her type worldwide.

She impressed upon her work all the pain, feeling, and sensitivity that characterized her life. The memory of Frida is inextricably linked to the great muralist Diego Rivera, who was her husband, lover, confidant, and greatest critic and admirer. In spite of a tempestuous marital relationship, art united them until the end of her life, on July 13, 1954.

This month, Mexico pays homage to those who hold a seat of honor in the plastic arts of the 20th century. I am also joining in this commemoration since Frida was a source of inspiration and presence in my patchwork art.

Frida Kahlo narrated her life through painted images. The painting of this great artist is like no one else’s. As Diego Rivera, her husband, pointed out one day, she “is the only example of the history of art, of someone who tore open her breast and heart to tell the biological truth of what she feels in them.”

Most of her work is unknown; it is held in private collections and by friends. The value of it grows each day.

Translated by: M. Ouellette

21 July 2014

The Battered Press / 14ymedio, Fernando Damaso

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Two papers, same owner, same front page. (YS)

14YMEDIO, Fernando Damáso, Havana, 21 July 2014 – It is no secret that the editorial policy of a newspaper responds to the interests of its owners. In countries where freedom of the press exists and is respected, newspapers abound, reflecting many different interests. In countries where freedom of the press is clearly absent, one, two or three newspapers are sufficient, more than enough to cover the form, because they all say the same thing and defend the same principles.

The case of Cuba is a good “bad example”; Granma, Juventud Rebelde (Rebel Youth), and Trabajadores (Workers), each in its area of influence, serve a single objective: to defend at all cost the established political economic system.

In Republican-era Cuba, with a population half as large as today, there were 14 national newspapers: Diario de la Marina, El Mundo, Información, El País, Excelsior, Prensa Libre, Mañana, Alerta, El Crisol, Ataja, Tiempo en Cuba, La Calle, Diario Nacional and Noticias de Hoy. There were also two newspapers in English and three in Chinese, as well as newspapers in each one of the six provinces.

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Streets Without Protests / Yoani Sanchez

Protestors in the streets of Vienna (Luz Escobar) Protestors in the streets of Vienna (Luz Escobar)

A friend sent me photos of a demonstration in the streets of Vienna in support of the Palestinians. I also received—from all over the world—images with signs of solidarity or rejection of one or the other of the parties implicated in the conflict in Gaza. Many take sides and demonstrate it, be it a tweet, a way of dressing, a shout or a public protest. In Cuba, however, only the official press and institutions may speak in headlines and statements. In the 14 days of the latest bloody confrontation between Israel and Hamas, no spontaneous demonstration on the subject has taken place in our public spaces.

Freedom can be simulated, replaced by false statistics of well-being and justice, but someone always puts it to the test. That public protests on national and international issues don’t happen in our territory is evidence of the lack of rights and social autonomy we endure. It is this same gagging of public speech that prevents organizations like those of the LGBT community from protesting the arrival on the island of Vladimir Putin, considered one of the most homophobic presidents on the planet today. It is also a bad sign that today, during the arrival of Xi Jinping, no one is seen outside the airport demanding the release of Chinese dissidents or asking for greater environmental protections in that country.

I repeat, freedom can be simulated, but its lack is obvious in a minute, its immense absence. So among my friends—one of whom has prepared his keffiyeh, while the other has a Star of David tattooed on his arm—cannot march through the streets of Havana showing their preferences or outrage. No one is allowed, of their own initiative, to denounce the deaths, the blood, the pain. Thus, we will not see pictures from Havana with the streets filled with people outraged by the events in Gaza.

About the Downed Plane / Fernando Damaso

The case of the Malaysian plane downed over Ukraine is lamentable and condemnable because it involves innocent people–now called collateral victims–divorced from the conflict. Surely appropriate investigations will be undertaken to identify those responsible for this barbaric act. However, it is striking how, in the first moments of this tragedy, certain characters, who appear to have a crystal ball, have come forward to hand out accusations without any evidence, their preferred target being the Ukraine authorities, exempting the Russians and pro-Russian separatist from any responsibility.

The problems of the Ukrainians with the Russians, exacerbated now with the separation of Kiev from Moscow, are long-standing and existed in the Soviet era, only then they were brutally repressed to maintain the former Soviet Union at all cost, and to present it as a joining of united brothers. This is well-known and the evidence for it is overwhelming.

The aspirations of the Russian president to restore his lost Empire are also well-known. The annexation of Crimea, in reality of Tatar origin, is a good example. Thus, there is a geopolitical confrontation between Russia and Ukraine: the Ukrainians are trying to maintain the integrity of their country, and the Russians are trying to dismember it, taking advantage of the ethnic Russian population who colonized areas of this country, a method also used with other republics during the Soviet era. Examples: Estonia Lithuania and Latvia.

The question to ask is, who benefits from the downing of the plane? The Ukrainian authorities did not benefit; confirming their responsibility would put them on the spot in the public eye. Does it serve the Russians and the pro-Russian separatists in their campaign against the government of Kiev? The answer is in the wind.

19 July 2014

The Wasted Bolivian Summit and the Words of Raul Castro / Juan Juan Almeida

Bolivian President Evo Morales and Raul Castro

With much of the world caught up in the unharmonious rivalry of football’s World Cup, which ended last Sunday in Brazil, few people were paying attention to the conclusion of the funereal G77+China summit.

It was attended by a couple of serious figures, a group of spermatzoon zombies and a broad spectrum of political antiques who, given their actions, did not seem to be living in an era in which theoretical debates, respect for inequality and discord dominate.

This event — a theatrical fantasy based on an esoteric work of fiction — ended on June 15 in the city of Santa Cruz, Bolivia. It was yet another portrayal of lunacy, one in which uncreative delegates gave insipid speeches full of florid mumbo-jumbo. Continue reading

“I do not know if it makes much sense to try to legalize the Hispano-Cuban Foundation on the Island” / 14ymedio, Marta Beatriz Roque

Martha Beatriz Roque, the new president of the Cuban Hispano Foundation. (14ymedio)

Martha Beatriz Roque, the new president of the Hispano-Cuban Foundation. (14ymedio)

14YMEDIO, Havana, 18 July 2013 — The Cuban economist Martha Beatriz Roque has just been named president of the Hispano-Cuban Foundation (FHC). The institution has tried to “promote the presence and relevance of the FHC in the island.” 14ymedio was able to speak with the prominent dissident to get her impressions about the new appointment and her immediate plans.

QUESTION: How do you feel to have been chosen for this position?

ANSWER: It is a tremendous responsibility, because when the board members of the FHC decided to choose me for this position they based it on some expectations that I must now meet. A challenge of this nature, one always takes it as a challenge, with a bit of fear too, because I know it will not be easy.

Q. What are the first steps that you will take starting now?

A. First I must organize the Cuban side. The patronage in Madrid is very well defined, but here there are some steps that need to be taken in that regard. The first is to legalize the situation at the Embassy of Spain in Cuba and then there will be many other steps and concrete actions. But contrary to how Raul Castro thinks things must be done in Cuba, when he advised doing everything slowly and gradually, we will try to make our plans a reality as quickly and swiftly as possible.

Q. Do you intend to try to legally register this entity in the Register of Associations of Cuba?

A. In Spain this foundation is legalized, it is based in Madrid and is well known in the European Union. Legalize it in Cuba? …? I don’t know if it makes much sense even to try.

Q. Will you continue as usual with his work as head of the Community Communicators Network and the Institute of Independent Economists?

A. Yes, of course, one has nothing to do with the others. All tasks that come starting now with this new responsibility will be in addition to what we do every day. I hope I have the time and energy.