The Camera Says More than "Cuba Says" / Regina Coyula

For several months now the Tuesday evening television news has featured a series called “Cuba Says.” The reporter, Thalia Gonzalez, and her team seem to have been given the go-ahead to bring up — only to bring up — the actual problems of average citizens. Yesterday’s subject was employment. What struck me more than the shallow discussion of this topic were the opinions expressed by the respondents.

Notable was the widespread acceptance that anything coming out of Ministry of Labor offices is of interest to no one, the aspirations these people had to work for a private firm or to own a personal business, the ease with which the they spoke about money and the repeated use of the verb “to resolve,” along with all that implies for us Cubans.

The camera revealed what neither the interviewers’ questions nor the interviewees’ answers could: the indifference with which the young respondents on the street looked into the camera. Having a job is not enough to get by. Salaries are not enough to live on.

22 October 2014

I’ll Stick With "America" / Fernando Damaso

The official government Cuban press sometimes surprises us with some “profound” article that causes us to think. Last Tuesday one such article appeared in Juventud Rebelde with the title, “Abya Yala, the aboriginal name of America.”

This kind of gesture aimed at erasing the 522 years since Christopher Columbus’ discovery of America, marked on Oct. 12, has now become a mental trauma for some people. Just to be critical, they have even criticized the concept, “Meeting of Two Cultures,” which seems right to me.

It turns out that, according to the so-called “original peoples” (who in reality are not so “original” being that before them came many others, even going back to the first being considered human) and their defenders, Earth is not called that, but rather, “Pachamama,” and America is “Ixachilan,” “Runa Pacha,” or “Abya Yala.” That is, according to these “originalists,” gathered in multiple workshops, conferences, campaigns, congresses and summits, it was decided that, as of 2007, instead of “Americans” we are “abyayalesians.” If we follow this logic, then instead of “earthlings” we should be called “pachamamians.” Really, I do not like these little names. I’ll stick with the current ones.

Every country names the “Earth” and “America” in its own language, but for all, they are “Earth” and “America.” This is what allows that, although we speak different languages, we can still understand each other. This business of everyone pretending to give his local name to those things that involve us all, aside from being a ridiculous pursuit, is just nonsense. Besides, America, when it had contact with Europeans, was no great nation or even close to being one. There resided in America various tribes, some more developed than others, that warred amongst themselves, had their own dialects, and lacked a common language. The Spanish language, as the poet Pablo Neruda pointed out, allowed us to understand each other, just as did Portuguese and English.

This snobbery of wanting to change historical names constitutes a true waste of time and resources. Respecting and admiring what our ancestors – from the Greeks to the Aztecs, without forgetting other civilizations – contributed to the development of humanity, those peoples known as “original” should devote their efforts to making up for the hundreds of years of backwardness they suffer in relation to those who are not “original” but who, nonetheless, by virtue of talent and hard work, have given humanity the majority of goods of all kinds that we enjoy – and that many “originals” also enjoy, starting with their leaders.

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

19 October 2014

Cuba and Ebola: Business or Solidarity? / 14ymedio

THE NEW YORK TIMES: “Only Cuba and a few NGOs are offering what this major emergency needs: professionals prepared to treat patients.”

VS

THE WASHINGTON POST: “The export of medical services will net Cuba 8.2 billion dollars in 2014, according to a recent report in the [Cuban] newspaper Granma.”

14ymedio, 23 October 2014 — Days after publishing an article entitled “Cuba stands at the forefront of the fight against Ebola,” the Spanish daily El País goes a bit further with a discussion of the issue. “The landing of white coats in countries decimated by scarcities allows Cuba to generate prestige with its international presence, to reset its conceptual discourse about fundamental human rights, and to promote government alliances in a good part of Africa, Asia and Latin America… where its vaccines and bandages are appreciated more than the Western powers’ exhortations for democracy,” writes Juan Jesus Aznarez. In addition, the newspaper echoes the news that doctors who travel to West Africa and contract the virus will not be repatriated.

“Although the United Station and other countries have expressed willingness to contribute money, only Cuba and a few NGOs are offering what this major emergency needs: professionals prepared to treat patients,” says an editorial in the New York Times praising Cuba’s involvement in sending human resources.

In August, the World Health Organization (WHO) developed a roadmap to address the crisis caused by the epidemic. Since then the needs of all types required by such an outbreak have been specified. So far 4,877 people of the 9,936 reported cases (almost all in West Africa) have died. Among the affected, there are 443 health workers, of whom 244 died.

WHO needs financial aid of some one billion dollars to pay for the salaries of professionals, materials, courses and information campaigns. The collection so far has reached only one-third of that and, if the outbreak behaves according to the agency’s predictions, financial needs could soar to 20 billion.

But WHO has run into a serious funding problem: the shortage of human resources. “Money and materials are important, but those two things alone can not stop the transmission of the Ebola virus. Human resources are clearly our most important need,” said its director, Dr. Margaret Chan.

Cuba is an economically failed country, with a per capita income of just $ 6,011 (2011 data), but it has one of the highest rates of physicians per 10,000 people: 59. Havana has turned its medical power into a huge business, according to the official newspaper Granma, receiving more than eight billion dollars a year for services provided abroad. The government sells the labor of health workers at a high price and pays them low wages (e.g., Brazil pays $4,300 for each Cuban doctor; the doctor actually receives only $1,000).

Who will pay the expenses and salaries of the 461 doctors and nurses Raul Castro’s government has committed to fight Ebola in Africa? This information was not revealed, and the WHO director, normally very talkative about the exploits of the Cuban regime with regards to public health, has not said a word about it.

“Critics have complained that Cuba has begun to sacrifice the health of its citizens at home to make money sending medical workers abroad, and the conditions for these medical workers themselves have been criticized,” said an editorial in The Washington Post. The text, entitled “In the medical response to Ebola, Cuba is punching far above its weight,” was complimentary overall, and so was reproduced in Cubadebate.cu, a government run website, but with a few corrections added, including: “The country has undertaken a comprehensive plan to repair its health facilities and perfect its patient care system, based on the recognized dissatisfactions with the services.” It remains to be seen if these will materialize.

Embargo 2014 / Rafael Leon Rodriguez / Rafael León Rodríguez

Image downloaded from http://www.cmhw.icrt.cu

The present year, 2014, started and in the last trimester Cuba began to pack its bags. And it is something that has been repeated since the last century to the point of exhaustion; as if year after year at the end, it sneaks out the window to return, stealthily, by the back door. Plans, promises, programs, guidelines; anyone would say: “More of the same with the same people.”

But it seems that finally something has started to move, mainly in the economic and social sectors. Self-employment, taxes, workers contracted to private domestic companies; use of the land by farmers leasing it under usufruct; recovery of some rights to buy and sell, to travel abroad and return. Political prisoners freed between deportation and parole. New laws addressing foreign investment and work.

All a package of reforms from the authoritarian government, to maintain the governments authoritarian power, with the intention of consolidating state capitalism and guaranteeing a peaceful dynastic succession.

Logically, national and international observers have different viewpoints on these matters. From those who claim they are only cosmetic changes, to those who argue the opposite. It’s clear that the authorities still haven’t addressed what they owe the peaceful political opposition and the world community with regards to the ratification and implementation of the United Nations’ International Covenants on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and Civil and Political Rights.

Eityher way, there is a new synergy, with its actions, contradictions and surprises. Who would have thought, for example, that the newspaper Granma, the organ of the Communist Party, would publish an article from the New York Times almost entirely for domestic readers, as happened on 14 October of this year.

It is as if suddenly the maximum historical leadership of the country would turn to independent journalism. And the topic of the American embargo on Cuba is news again this month at the United Nations.

In addition, the next Summit of the Americas in Panama, to which Cuba is invited for the first time, brings an unique opportunity for the Cuban government to face that of the United States in a framework propitious for the initiation of conversations.

The current instability in Venezuela, the electoral swings in Brazil, the systemic Cuban economic crisis and the phenomena of international terrorism, seem to have forced the Island’s authorities top take seriously the need for a constructive dialogue with our closest neighbors.

One of the significant aspects of these possible meetings and perhaps an element that has conspired against their prior realization is that, over the past 55 years, eleven eleven presidents and their respective administrations have passed through the White House and Cuba the leaders have remained the same, each with their respective histories.

However, only through negotiations can conflicts be peacefully resolved. The embargo on Cuba, which has served to victimize the regime, is senseless and has fallen on the most vulnerable sectors of the people and should be negotiated.

It is, without a doubt, another violation of Cubans’ human rights and an obstacle to our just aspirations for freedom, justice and peace in democracy.

19 October 2014

The Misery That Unites Us / Rebeca Monzo

Patchwork portraits by the author

When the ill-named Special Period began in 1989, three years had passed since I had quit my job with the Cuban National Commission of UNESCO (with all that that implies), where I worked as a secretary. I was making 148 Cuban pesos (CUP) a month at a time when a pound of ham that tasted artificial and weighed half that amount once you removed the excess water cost 6.00 CUP. I was earning only 6.20 CUP a day.

Around this time, thanks to my very good and late friend Poncito, I had found out about the Cuban Association of Artisan Artists (ACAA) and how much it was growing. So, after submitting three samples of my work and letters of recommendation from two of its member artists, I was admitted to the organization, which allowed me to be my own “immediate supervisor,” improve my quality of life and work from home, which had become a veritable artist’s studio. Continue reading

Users Bothered By Increase in Internet Prices at Presidente Hotel /14ymedio

14YMEDIO, Havana, 24 October 2014 — Jorge Suarez has been connecting to the Internet for six months at the Presidente Hotel. In recent weeks he has seen an increase in the number of clients who use the wireless connection of the central Havana lodging. Nevertheless, some days ago he got a bitter surprise when the employees informed him of an increase in the price of the service. The measure was not due to a regulation by the Cuban Telecommunications Enterprise (ETECSA) but due to a decision by the management of the place.

The management of the Presidente Hotel has decided to increase the service to 8.50 convertible pesos since it has required a minimum purchase of 4 CUC in the cafeteria of the place, to which is added the price of an hour of Internet connection which is 4.50 CUC. The decision is aimed at decreasing the number of people who show up daily to their facility to navigate the web or check their email. “These people were filling us up, and that is not good for tourists,” says a cleaning lady who prefers to remain anonymous.

While most places that offer the navigation service keep the cost at 4.50 convertible pesos per hour, the Presidente Hotel has invoked the “discretionary” rate. Clients confirm that before the increase in connection costs, the service had been deteriorating, and most of the time at the desk they said that “there were no internet cards to sell.”

Jorge Suarez tells how he was losing confidence in being able to access the network from the well-known hotel establishment. “I knew that they were going to do something to hinder the connection, because every day the workers in this place looked with harsher faces at those of us who came and sat on the terrace or in the lobby with a laptop or a tablet,” he explains. “They told us that we had to make a purchase to be able to be here, but the prices of everything in this place are through the roof.”

The young man, a civil engineering graduate, has no other means of viewing digital sites or answering his email. “I would prefer internet in my home, I only come here because I cannot access a home connection.” The measure implemented in the Presidente Hotel leaves him without any options. “The price before already seemed expensive to me, but the new one is simply beyond reach,” he says with frustration.

According to official statistics in Cuba – with a population of more than 11 million inhabitants – there are 1,014,000 computers and more than 2.9 million internet users. The figure, nevertheless, has been questioned by those who assert that as “internet users” the government includes people who only have access to a national intranet with health or cultural content.

Cuba is the least connected country in Latin America, in spite of the fact that in February 2011 a fiber optic cable was installed between Venezuela and the east side of the island, which at first was announced as the best option for guaranteeing the highest connectivity in the country. Three years later, the government has only opened something more than a hundred public navigation places and offered an email service via mobile phones.

Cubans like Jorge Suarez keep waiting to become web surfers.

Translated by MLK      

Fear Has Seized the Artistic Community of Pinar del Rio / 14ymedio, Juan Carlos Fernandez

The strange ramblings of Utopito, Pedro Pablo Oliva. (Source: Web Utopias and Dissent)

The strange ramblings of Utopito, Pedro Pablo Oliva. (Source: Web Utopias and Dissent)

14ymedio, Juan Carlos Fernandez,Pinar del Río, 25 September 2014 — The artists’ guild in Pinar del Rio is living in distressing times because of the cancellation of the exposition by Pedro Pablo Oliva, “Utopias and Dissidences.” Talking about the most famous of the Pinareno painters has turned into a sad argument by Tyrians and Trojans, some in favor, almost in whispers, and others not so much, also in a quite low tone. But what the whisperers have in common is that they are living a fear that is corroding them and brings up the miseries and limitations that we humans all suffer, but that situations like this multiply.

The way in which the machinery of creating enemies can be efficient and dissuasive then becomes the model, the perception of real danger has been the offering of a local artistic community that shows its solidarity by emulating Nicodemus: they do not want to be seen or heard. They have given to the victim their absence and silence. They have been simple spectators, once again, of the crime of exclusion and disqualification. Listeners at a trial in which they themselves have been condemned although they may only have attended as the public.

The inquisitors of Pedro Pablo Oliva have known how to stimulate in the neurological systems of many Pinareno creators the amygdala situated in the temporal lobe which fires that feeling that we call fear. Although a scant minority has risked and has stood out in spite of also admitting its fears. These last have revived the artistic brotherhood in Pinar; some few carry the decorum of many; someone said one day, those few have meant a breath of hope in the middle of so much impoverishing hate against someone who only has sown love and has been consistent with himself. That is the price of honesty.

The others, the majority, are captivated by reforms that award airplane trips and trips for compensation that rot the soul and ruin the brush.

On the other hand, the common people possess an intuitive intelligence, flavorful and uninhibited and tell you to your face what they think. Overall, they do not plan to fly or exhibit in halls of the elite. Without any ambiguity that take sides with Pedro Pablo, both as a person and an artist, and lament the fear of his fellow painters, according to rumors.

That’s why I think that, although what has happened has been a sovereign injustice, it has served to put on the table who is company for cocktails, galleries and inaugurations and who accompanies you on the road overcoming their fears and discarding the complicity of silence and pretense.

It has been painful for Pedro Pablo, his family, work team and all of us who love him as a friend and national treasure, but instructive. Although it may seem utopian, I think that the night we are living today will not have the last word. It only serves as the anteroom for the light of day.

Translated by MLK

Burma is closer than we think … / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

The Burmese activists Nay Phone Latt (left) and Soe Aung (right). (14ymedio)

The Burmese activists Nay Phone Latt (left) and Soe Aung (right). (14ymedio)

14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Prague, 15 October 2014 – A few years ago, when I was overcome with despair about the situation of my country, I thought about those who were in worse shape with regards to the lack of freedoms. Two nations invariably came to mind: North Korea and Burma. The first of these still tops the list of places where few want to live, while Myanmar (Burma) has undertaken a slow and imperfect process of opening.
In Prague I just met two Burmese who are contributing to these small changes, the blogger Nay Phone Latt and activist Soe Aung.

Question: Nay, you are just 34-years-old and you were arrested for spreading information about the 2007 protests in your country on the Internet, and then convinced of the alleged crime of violating the electronic law. Do you think that now the access to information is more free?

Nay Phone Latt: Right now there is less censorship in the media, it is not as strong as before. I’m speaking not only of digital media, but also of the written press that is subject to fewer controls on the part of the government. The problem we still have is that some of these media are in the hands of the ruling party and the others, which are private, belong to people who have very good relations with the military, so many are corrupt. However, there are always some who try to be independent.

There are still very clear limits on what you can write and what you can’t. For example if someone posts an article criticizing the Government and uncovering a corruption scandal, they can get into serious trouble and even end up in jail.

“There are still very clear limits on what you can write and what you can’t”

Q. How has the situation changed since the election in 2012?

Soe Aung: Currently in Burma we have a Parliament whose majority is still made up by the military. The Constitution reserves a quarter of the seats in parliament and 56 of the 24 Senate seats to the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party. Meanwhile, the opposition National League for Democracy (LND) has barely 43 seats. Thus, it is every difficult to promote changes, becaue this isn’t a real democratic process.

Q. The Nobel Peace Prize winner, Aung San Suu Kyi is the most visible face of dissent in Burma What other opposition groups are calling for changes?

Soe Aung: There is the movement known as Generation 88, because there was a popular protest in 1988 against the military junta. These demonstrations, composed mostly of students, were brutally repressed. Currently the group is still very strong in Burmese society and demands a democratic and open society.

Q. What are the main problems for the Burmese people now?

Nay Phone Latt: First, the lack of trust in institutions, in the police, the judiciary and the government. People have a lot of disbelief, they are very skeptical. The whole society has lost trust in the military regime. We have lost the ability to believe.

Aung Soe R.: In my opinion, our biggest problem is still poverty. We still have very poor people in our country who do not even have a piece of land to grow their own food. We have experienced an economic opening but the big winners are the military and the people close to them who have become very rich.

Artist El Sexto Will Face Trial in a Few Hours / 14ymedio

Daniel Maldonado, "El Sexto"

Danilo Maldonado, “El Sexto”

The trail of the independent artist Danilo Maldonado, known as El Sexto – “The Sixth” – has been set for tomorrow at 8:30 AM in the Plaza of the Revolution municipal court.

The cartoonist and creator of numerous graffiti is accused of the alleged crime of threatening his wife, which could mask political retaliation. The complaint was made by Danilo’s wife’s father, who was also present as the main prosecution witness.

Friends and colleagues fear that the court hearing is a way of settling accounts with this uncomfortable “king of the spray can.” In statements to 14ymedio, El Sexto has demonstration his dissatisfaction with the legal process and has confirmed that his wife was present during the session to “state what occurred.” Right now the couple is living under the same roof together with their small daughter and hope that “the charges won’t go forward.”

With regards to tomorrow’s trial, Maldonaldo believes, “There won’t be any problems, although there is always the pressure. Just for the simple fact of thinking differently, I feel exposed in front of them.”

In recent decades it has become a frequent practice to bring common crime charges against activists and artists who undertake work critical of the government. In a similar situation right now is the writer Angel Santiesteban, condemned and sentenced to prison on alleged charges of violation of domicile and injury.

Gorki Aguila, the famous singer and leader of the punk rock band Porno para Ricardo is also on the list of those awaiting trial, accused of alleged “drug abuse.”

As a general rule, people critical of the government are not judged on political reasons but for “common crimes” with the aim of limiting solidarity and international pressure.

Official citation of Danilo Maldonado

Official citation of Danilo Maldonado

My October Crisis / Reinaldo Escobar

"The Nation On the Brink of War" -- The Missile Crisis referred to in the official Cuban press.

“The Nation On the Brink of War” — The Missile Crisis referred to in the official Cuban press.

By Reinaldo Escobar — One of my recurring journalistic fantasies consists of managing to reveal some hidden secret. Among my darkest objects of research are two in the month of October: The Missile Crisis and the death of Camilo Cienfuegos. On this occasion I will speak of the first, but as I have no access to the archives I will tell when I myself experienced in that critical episode in our recent history.

I was 15 and was working in the coffee plantations of Guisa, in the Sierra Maestra. That was the first great mobilization of Cuban students for volunteer work, according to agreements reached at the First Confgress of the Secondary Students Union (UES), held on 6 August of that same year, 1962. Thousands of us students participated in this harvest which yielded – according to published data – the highest output in history, over 27 million pounds of coffee.

On Monday, 22 October, more or less at the time that president John F. Kennedy imposed the naval blockage on our island, our backpacks were stuffed with coffee beans, without anyone noticing any alteration in the routine. And so the week ended. Without telephones, electricity or portable radios.

(…) I saw a photo of Fidel displaying the five fingers of his right hand with a headline (…) “The Five Points of Cuba”

The first of November I had to “go down to the town” to visit a doctor because I was suffering from uncontrollable diarrhea. On throwing myself off the cart that left me in Guisa, I ran into a bar where I found rustic facilities to relieve my cramps. At eye height, there were a few sheets of the newspaper “Revolution” – the newspaper Granma didn’t exist yet – stuck on a nail. On looking over the first page, I saw a photo of Fidel displaying the five fingers of his right hand with a headline that said, as I remember, “The five points of Cuba.”

Stunned as I was, I was pulling off the sheets – which someone had had the delicacy to put in reverse chronological order – one by one. My feelings at this moment, apart from the physical, were many. On the one hand I felt guilty for not being behind one of the “cuatro bocas” – the “four mouths” as we called the Czech-made machine guns – at the supreme moment when “the maximum leader” proclaimed “we are all one in this hour of danger.”

(…) While our world was about to burst, our brave little brigade was gathering the coffee beans, abandoned to its fate

At times I had the insane idea that while our world was about to burst, our brave little brigade was gathering the coffee beans, abandoned to its fate, without even knowing the risks, with no one coming to rescue us, to protect us. But every time I this worry came to me, I rejected it because this should be the anguish of my overprotective mother, and not of a “soldier of the Revolution” always ready to give “the last drop of his blood.”

Fifty-two years have passed and there are few things still unrevealed about that crisis. If there is any revelation left to me after telling this personal story it is the detail of what our little group was called, twelve beardless boys answering to the name “Lenin Peace Prize Brigade.” We had been baptized thus because this was the name of the award Fidel Castro had received seven months earlier, from the hands of the Soviet scientist Dmitri Skobeltsyn.

I must confess that at that time I could not hear the contradiction that a leader decorated for his peaceful vocation had been about to trigger the last war in human history.

Shortly afterwards I realized the horror encapsulated in that situation, but it was already over.