Voices From Cuba: Obama Yes And Trump Too / 14ymedio, Zunilda Mata

President Obama has lost popularity in recent days on the island, following his change in immigration policy. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Zunilda Mata, Havana, 20 January 2017 – There were two Donalds that Cubans associated with the United States: the cartoon duck and the famous hamburger chain. Starting Friday, added to the list will be Donald Trump, the new president of our neighboring country. Not as nice as the Disney character nor as addictive as fast food, the magnate also incites passions on this island.

After two years of a thaw between the governments of Washington and Havana, the process of normalization has come across as a obstacle in its path. The election of the controversial businessman to rule the fate of the United States threatens to alter the plans of the Plaza of the Revolution and shake up daily life on the island. Continue reading “Voices From Cuba: Obama Yes And Trump Too / 14ymedio, Zunilda Mata”

“If he manages to fix the economy of the United States, that will help us as well because there will be more money and tourism from there,” said Victor Manuel, a 28-year-old pedicab driver in the Fraternity Park area of Havana. The young man thinks that “Trump campaigning is one thing and it is something very different when he is in the White House.”

Not as nice as the Disney character with the same first name nor as addictive as the similarly named fast food chain, the magnate-become-president also incites passions on this island

In 2015, remittances to Cuba reached a record $3.35 billion, according to The Havana Consulting Group. The new relationship between the two countries has mainly favored this type of transfer. Limiting them would be a very unpopular measure among nationals.

Trumpmanía has come to the island and has many ways to express itself: if two months ago carrying an American flag could be read as a nod to Uncle Sam, today it can be a much more personal message and addressed to one man.

“That’s the guy that we needed, so he can put things in their place,” said Eduardo Mesa, who on Thursday connected on the wifi of the Latin American Stadium to inquire about the fate of two friends stranded in Colombia on their way to the United States.

Obama contributed to Trump’s popularity on the island in recent days. A few days after the White House tenant eliminated the wet foot/dry foot policy that benefits Cuban migrants reaching US territory, the popularity of the outgoing president has fallen to its lowest in eight years.

“He deceived us, he came and behaved like one of us to end up hurting us,” says Román, 27, a resident of Guanajay, who had his raft ready to launch into the sea to try to reach the American shores.

“I had the hydration salts, the engine, the canned food and a GPS bought clandestinely” to start the trip, but the departure date was scheduled for January 14, two days after the immigration benefits were suspended.

Lucia Pereira, a retired teacher and resident of Havana’s Lawton neighborhood, believes that Cubans will always remember Obama as “the American president who helped both countries reconnect and leave behind so many useless hatreds.” After the thaw, her son living in Miami has visited twice.

Norma is among those disappointed with the outgoing president. The 76-year-old woman has come to the parish of Calle Reina to buy a new bible because she gave the previous one to her daughter, who is on a medical mission in Venezuela. “She did not want to benefit from the [American] Parole program for doctors, but a very close friend yes,” they should do it, she says. The elimination of the program that benefited Cuban doctors who applied for residency in the United States was, in her opinion, “an Obama prank before saying goodbye.”

The elimination of the program that benefited Cuban doctors who applied for residency in the United States was, in her opinion, “an Obama prank before saying goodbye.”

Outside a church, Manolo, who asks for alms with a small image of San Lazaro, doubts that his luck will change with the new tenant of the White House. “Here poor people will remain poor, because it has nothing to do with what the US president does,” he told 14ymedio.

Dressed in a gray uniform and attentive to all who climb the steps of the University of Havana, a custodian, who prefers not to give his name for fear of reprisals, seems uninterested in the details of the government of the northern neighbor. “It does not matter, Obama or Trump is the same,” he says reluctantly. Nevertheless, he thinks that that difficult times are coming for Cuba because he doesn’t see any progress. “Trump can be good or bad, but what we need most is for the ones here to loosen their hands and take a breather, because we are drowning,” he concludes.

“Here poor people will remain poor, because it has nothing to do with what the US president does”

The island’s businessmen and merchants are feeling concern about the decisions of the new White House tenant.

At the market at Infanta and Manglar Streets the new president generates some expectations. “Last year we had many problems with the supply of products,” says an employee, “but if this man is as entrepreneurial as they say, he will improve business with Cuba and more products will arrive.” Among the “made in the USA” goods customers there prefer are “the frozen chicken, corn, beans, vegetables, tomato sauces and oats,” she details.

At the exit of El Presidente private restaurant, in the centrally located G street in the Vedado district, Christian was waiting on Thursday afternoon for a friend to eat together. “Havana is full of tourists thanks to Obama, but with Trump that can come to an end,” the German traveler visiting the island for the first time fears.

But there are those who cannot avoid looking at the internal key and turning their eyes into the Island. Yunior, 41 and unemployed, reflects: “The only thing I know is that since I was born I have seen eight American presidents and only two Cubans. Why is that?”

Cuba Expects To Receive 4.2 Million Tourists In 2017 / 14ymedio

Tourists ride in a horse carriage in Havana. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, 19 January 2017 — Cuba is preparing to receive 4.2 million foreign tourists in 2017, with priority for investments in new and higher quality facilities for tourists, according to projections announced Wednesday by management of the island’s Ministry of Tourism (Mintur).

Cuba’s Deputy Minister for Tourism, Mayda Álvarez, speaking on a state TV program dedicated to the sector, said that the record of 4 million international visitors to the island in 2016 represented a growth of 14.5 percent compared to 2015, in a state television program dedicated to the prospects from the sector. Continue reading “Cuba Expects To Receive 4.2 Million Tourists In 2017 / 14ymedio”

But she noted that there “dissatisfactions” remain and there are “challenges” to improving the quality of services, the effectiveness of investments to ensure the vitality and image of tourist facilities, improve marketing and achieve greater diversification of tourism products.

José Reinaldo Alonso, investment and development director of Mintur, explained that among the plans this year is to promote activities linked to nature, heritage and cultural tourism.

With regards to this, he mentioned that Cuba ended last year with 66,547 rooms, and expects to have an increase in capacity of another four thousand in 2017.

Cuba closed last year with 66,547 rooms, and expects to have another four thousand ready in 2017

The official said that by the year 2020 the country expects is expected to add 20,000 new rooms to reach a total of 104,000 by 2030, in order to meet the high demand in the main tourist centers of the Caribbean country such as Havana, Varadero, Holguin, Cayería Norte and Trinidad.

He indicated that tourism is currently the sector with the largest foreign investment, with 110 new projects approved. However he is determined to streamline the bidding process and for this purpose has introduced management contracts with financing.

Officials said that in the previous year’s growth the North American region remained the largest supplier of travelers to Cuba, with Canada as the leader, followed by the United States; with the latter not having eased travel restrictions and authorized direct commercial flights to the island, although traveling to the island solely as a tourist is still formally prohibited.

Donald Trump’s Diatribes Hit Latin America / 14ymedio, Andres Oppenheimer

President-elect Donald Trump of the United States. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14medio, Andres Oppenheimer, 19 January 2017 — When people ask me if Donald Trump will be good or bad for Latin America, I usually respond that so far he has been bad, because his aggressive speech against Mexico and his harangues against free trade are driving away investments in the region. This week, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) partly confirmed my fears.

In its first economic forecast for 2017, the IMF said that the world economy will increase its growth rate to 3.4 percent this year and 3.6 percent in 2018. But the exception will be Latin America, it said. Continue reading “Donald Trump’s Diatribes Hit Latin America / 14ymedio, Andres Oppenheimer”

The IMF revised downward its previous economic projections for Latin America, saying that the region will grow 1.2 percent this year and 2.1 percent in 2018. In addition to slower-than-expected growth in Brazil and Argentina, the IMF cited what it diplomatically described as “an increase of the winds of uncertainty related to US policies in Mexico”

About 80 percent of Mexican exports go to the United States, and Central America depends to a large extent on family remittances from its migrants in the United States

Curious to know more, I called Alejandro Werner, head of the IMF’s Western Hemisphere Department, and asked about the economic impact of Trump’s promises to build a wall on the Mexican border, revise the free trade agreement with Mexico, and Canada and annihilate the TransPacific Partnership Agreement among 12 countries that include Japan, Mexico, Peru and Chile.

Werner told me that it is premature to speak of a negative psychological impact throughout the region, because several countries like Brazil have not grown more for internal reasons. But he added that Trump’s proposals have already affected investments of Mexico, the second largest economy in the region, and could affect Central America.

About 80 percent of Mexican exports go to the United States, and Central America depends to a large extent on family remittances from its migrants in the United States

“The mere fact that there is uncertainty about future US trade policies leads many companies to postpone their investments in Mexico,” Werner told me. “It is holding back the investments”

Trump’s economic plans are also putting pressure on US interest rates, Werner said.

Trump’s economic plans are also putting pressure on US interest rates, Werner said. That may affect investments in Latin American countries and make it more expensive to get foreign loans.

When I asked him what would be the best scenario for Latin America under Trump, Werner said that if the US economy grows, whether through healthy economic policies or short-lived populist measures, Latin American commodity exporters will benefit. “If there is more infrastructure construction in the United States, that will help Latin American exporters of steel, copper and other products,” Werner said.

Other economists see another potential advantage for the region: they say that if Trump decided to focus its protectionist policies on China rather than Mexico, and place higher import tariffs on Chinese products than on Mexican, many manufacturers might decide to move out of China to Mexico and other Latin American countries.

My opinion: Trump’s diatribes against free trade – “They’re killing us” – and his threats to dramatically increase undocumented deportations have already had a negative economic impact on Latin America.

It is time for Trump to try to strengthen, rather than weaken, Latin American economies

It is time for Trump to try to strengthen, rather than weaken, Latin American economies. He needs to move from tweetocracy to diplomacy. On the contrary, his populist demagoguery will be counterproductive: it will provoke an economic crisis in Mexico and in other countries, which will result in more illegal migration to the United States, more drug trafficking and a new outbreak of anti-American sentiment.

Postscript: The decision of about 60 US legislators to boycott Trump’s inauguration is a mistake. It is true that Trump won partly with the help of Russia and the director of the FBI, and that for five years Trump himself led a disgusting campaign to delegitimize President Obama claiming – falsely – that he was born in Kenya, but so far no branch of the US government has declared Trump illegitimate. As long as that does not happen, we have to accept that, whether we like it or not, Trump won the election.

_______________

Editor’s Note: This article has been previously published El Nuevo Herald. We reproduce it with the authorization of the author.

First Laptops Arrive in the Hands of Artemisa’s Doctors / 14ymedio, Bertha Guillen

Doctors wait outside the store to buy their Asus laptops at a subsidized price. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Bertha Guillen, Candelaria, 19 January 2017 – “After a long wait I have my laptop,” affirms Amaury Rodriguez, a doctor who is a general practitioner in Guanajay, Artemisa, with satisfaction. The laptops are being distributed at subsidized prices to the public health sector in Artemisa, an initiative that is not without its critics.

At a cost of 668 Cuban pesos, about 25 dollars, and without the ability to pay in installments, the computers are allocated to any doctor who obtained a diploma before the end of 2015. The list of beneficiaries also includes those who have served on a medical mission abroad. Continue reading “First Laptops Arrive in the Hands of Artemisa’s Doctors / 14ymedio, Bertha Guillen”

“My salary is 1,295 CUP from which they deduct 5% for the payment of social security and any other invention that arises, which leaves me approximately 1,240 CUP,” Rodriguez told this newspaper. The health professional estimates the cost of the laptop to be “more than half” of his monthly salary.

The approximate take-home pay of doctors is around 1,240 Cuban pesos, meaning the subsidized the laptop costs more than half a month’s salary

Nevertheless, in spite of the juggling he has to do to make ends meet with the new expense, Rodriguez is content. “It’s about time they remembered us,” he says, referring to the medical profession.

Cuban Public Health employs a total of 262,764 people, of whom 87,982 are doctors, according to data from the 2015 Statistical Yearbook.

The doctors earn the highest wages in the country, equivalent to a total of between 50 and 70 dollars per month, but also have to deal daily with a working day marked by very long hours, the material deficiencies that affect the hospitals, and the dissatisfaction of their patients.

In Artemis, the physicians can acquire a laptop at a store that caters to public health workers, located in the provincial capital, a situation that has led to long lines outside the premises, where impatience mixes with the desire to obtain the desired piece of technology as soon as possible.

The store’s administrator, Roberto Gallardo, told the provincial newspaper, El Artemiseño, that “once the sale of the laptops is concluded,” there will be offerings for “uniformed nurses, lifeguards, anti-mosquito campaigners and physiotherapists.”

Gallardo, who works for the Provincial Logistics Company (Epola), said they are trying to pay more attention to health care workers and so among the things that might be offered are, “home appliances, and supplies for personal grooming and the home.”

In Artemisa, the doctors can buy laptops in the store for public health workers located in the provincial capital. (14ymedio)

One of the workers from the store told 14ymedio that the sale of computers will continue throughout January, although they initially planned to end it in the first half of the month. “So far we have sold, in Artemisa, San Cristóbal, Candelaria and Guanajay, but we still have towns to cover,” explains the employee.

“We started with the hospitals and then the doctors in the clinics, which is a large number,” said the employee, who preferred to remain anonymous.

The computers distributed are mostly ASUS brand, from Taiwan, and have a two-year warranty, but only on condition that the user does not change the version of the Microsoft Windows operating system that comes with the computer.

The price of one of those notebooks in the informal market is between 200 and 300 Cuban convertible pesos (equivalent to about the same in dollars), so some doctors are not waiting to resell them to get cash, and others to buy a machine with better features.

Rubén, a computer engineer in the area, points out that other little-known brands are also being sold. In his opinion, “the computers are only a token,” because the quality is not good and he considers the integrated battery a limitation, since it makes it difficult to replace it in case of damages.

The price of one of these laptops in the informal market oscillates between 200 and 300 CUC, so some doctors aren’t waiting to resell them for cash

Ana, a doctor in the provincial hospital is not satisfied. “We Cuban doctors are accustomed to surviving from the charity and gratitude of our patients,” she complains. “The bad conditions under which we work are a secret to no one.”

Nor is she satisfied with the quality of the computer compared to “the millions of dollars the Government earns through the sale of medical services abroad.” The official Granma newspaper itself has revealed that each year Cuba collects more than 8.2 billion CUC (roughly equivalent to the same in dollars) through “exporting health services.”

Roberto, another doctor in Artemisa, does not share the opinion of his colleague. “I’m happy with mine, and I can connect via Wi-Fi,” he tells this newspaper. “Maybe the machine is not the best, but it’s cheaper than you can buy on the street, and anyway, I didn’t have one,” he enthused.

However, the physician is more cautious about the other possible benefits announced for the sector. “The story that they are going to give us access to the internet is a trap.” He also distrusts being the idea that he will be able to obtain an affordable car and sees it as something unattainable “for those who have to go to work every day on a bicycle.”

The Mummified Corpse Of A Rafter, Witness Of The Migratory Drama / 14ymedio, Mario Penton

Video of the disappeared rafters building the raft

14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miami, 19 January 2017 — A picture of the Virgin of Regla, the identity cards of two brothers and a mummified corpse of a Cuban moored alongside the remains of a raft is the only evidence that remained of the six men who escaped from Cuba’s Isle of Youth to Central America This summer looking to reach the United States.

Missing for six months, the discovery of the remains of a man on the beaches of Corpus Christi last fall shocked his relatives, most of them humble fishermen on the Isle of Youth.

In early October a shrimp boatman from Port Aransas informed the US Coast Guard that he had found a raft with a body, as reported to Entravisión a local television channel. Continue reading “The Mummified Corpse Of A Rafter, Witness Of The Migratory Drama / 14ymedio, Mario Penton”

Authorities attempted to contact the Pupo Pupo family in Cuba for sample comparison, but the Cuban embassy in Washington did not facilitate communication

The authorities were able to confirm that it was a man in an advanced state of decomposition. In the pockets of the victim they found the identity cards of Juan Antonio Pupo Pupo and Amauris Pupo Pupo, next to a picture of the Virgin of Regla.

Heraldo Peña, a forensic investigator in Nueces County, explained via telephone to this newspaper that, because of the condition of the body, it was not possible to identify the victim, but DNA samples were kept for comparison to relatives who might appear later.

“We could see that it was a man and we determined that he died because of the lack of food and water,” said Peña, who also added that because of the saltpetre the remains were mummified.

“It was not possible to conclude if the corpse corresponds to any of the identifications that he carried,” he says.

An official related the case, who did not want to be identified, said that since the first clues were known about the possible Cuban origin of the deceased, the authorities tried to contact the Pupo Pupo family in Cuba to make the comparison of the DNA samples, but the Cuban embassy in Washington did not facilitate communication.

“It is not allowed to speak about the role of the Cuban Consulate in the investigation because now we want to have better relations with Cuba,” said the official, adding that everything possible was done before burial of the body in a graveyard for the indigent.

“It is not allowed to speak about the role of the Cuban Consulate in the investigation because now we want to have better relations with Cuba”

This version does not agree with the statements of Hugo Vega, officer in charge of the US Border Patrol’s Missing Migrant Initiative.

Vega maintains that the Cuban consular section promised to provide fingerprints and information that would enable identification of the alleged Cuban.

“We try to get the deceased migrants identified by their relatives,” says the official from the state of Texas. Since the case was heard, the Border Patrol agent contacted Noyri Muñoz, the sister of one of the rafters residing in Spain.

14ymedio contacted the press office of the Cuban Embassy in Washington via email in order to confirm this information but received no reply.

Approximate route of the rafters who disappeared after leaving Cuba

The identity cards carried by the body found south of Corpus Christi correspond to two brothers of the Pupo Pupo family, who along with four other rafters have been missing since last July.

The group, initially composed of 13 men, left the Isle of Youth on a precarious boat to try to reach Mexico or Central America and from there to continue their journey to the United States.

After about 15 days of navigation and the breakdown of the engine, they decided to separate. The boat was made of boards and truck tires, so according to the testimony of Guillermo Ramirez, the only survivor of the crossing who is in the United States, they divided the raft in hopes of being found more easily.

According to Ramírez, at least four boats passed by and did not help them

Ramirez, like the rest of the survivors who were repatriated to Cuba from Mexico, does not want to respond to questions from the press. The only testimony about what happened he told a family member this summer.

A group of seven men stayed in half the boat and six others headed off in the other half to increase the chances of a boat finding them.

According to Ramírez, at least four boats passed by and did not help them. The group of seven drifting rafters were rescued by the supply vessel MV Fugro Vasilis, 130 miles from Arrecife Alacranes, north of the Yucatan peninsula. Of the other six nothing is known at the moment.

The names of the disappeared are José Armando Muñoz López, Luis Velásquez Osorio, Rafael Rives Rives, Yoendry Rives del Campo, Amauri Pupo Pupo and Juan Antonio Pupo Pupo.

“We don’t know anything of my husband,” the wife of Amauris Pupo Pupo said by telephone from the Isle of Youth. “We all consider him dead, it is better not to continue with this tragedy,” she adds.

According to the woman’s statements, they have not received any official communication about the finding of the corpse, but through other relatives they are kept informed of the case..

“Their mother is the one who has suffered most through all this. She will end up in a hospital with so much suffering,” she adds.

“We know nothing of my husband,” said the wife of Amauris Pupo Pupo. “We all consider him dead, it is better not to continue with this tragedy”

For Noyri Muñoz, sister of José Armando Muñoz López, hope is the last thing that is lost.

“I have brought my nephew to live with me in Spain. He did not have the opportunity to see videos about the rafters and the migratory drama in Cuba, and every time he does he gets very ill,” says Muñoz, 48.

Muñoz’s mother remains on the Isle of Youth with her sister-in-law.

“At least I have the consolation that wherever he is, my brother will be happy to see that his son was able to leave Cuba, which was why he launched himself into the sea: to have freedom and prosperity,” she says.

And Now What? / Somos+, Jose Presol

Somos+, Jose Presol, 18 January 2017 — We expected it for a long time and it happened, but when we weren’t in the line for the ration book. I am referring to the end of the “wet foot, dry foot” policy. We all knew that it would end, but what we least imagined was that it would be now and done by the current president, Barack Obama.

It had to be sooner or later. The American people are leaning toward a policy of protectionism and focusing on their own problems and stumbles, and there are many Cubans in exile who affirm, “I am not politically persecuted, I came to resolve my economic problems.”

At the same time, there are constant complaints that old and current repressors and collaborators with the Cuban political regime are also in the United States, and whether or not they are still collaborating with the tyranny is not clear. This had to come. Continue reading “And Now What? / Somos+, Jose Presol”

Obama, who not so long ago seemed wonderful to so many people, now has thousands of defects. No friends, his message was clear, “Cuba’s problems must be solved by Cubans.” One more thing we have heard and interpreted according to our own convenience.

That was a way of saying, among other things: Gentlemen, the American taxpayers have no obligation to indefinitely finance the immigration of citizens of other nationalities, especially when we are not sure of their ideology and when these funds are needed, for example, to improve the conditions of our own veterans.

Few governments in the world are not aware that these resources are not unlimited and that this problem is not solved by “minting money.”

The fault belongs to us, Cubans. We all know, we are not fools, that the problem is not that there is no food, the problem is those who have made it so that there is no food. We have found it more convenient to confuse the symptoms with the disease. We have found it more convenient to deny reality. We have found it more convenient to say, with clenched teeth “over there,” that it is an economic problem.

But yes, it is an economic problem, but please, haven’t we been under a constant bombardment of Marxist doctrine for 58 years? Have we not listened to a single word? Hey guys, they say it themselves, “The economic problems are political problems.”

I am not a fortune-teller and I don’t know what the evolution of the problem in Cuba will be, but I am sure that there have already been two things: 1) a bucket of cold water for those who hoped to “escape” the situation, and 2) the disappearance of the escape valve from the current situation in Cuba, which does not please the regime, despite their saying otherwise.

As I said, I do not know how the subject will evolve, but I have hope that it will end up radicalizing the postures inside Cuba and clarifying them outside Cuba, and vice versa.

I hope that we Cubans, once and for all, will face our problem, trying to provoke quantitative changes (so they will understand me, I use Marxist terms) that, in accumulation, end up producing qualitative changes.

And those quantitative and qualitative changes begin with ourselves.

First, we have to think about who our real rival is and face it, without palliatives; finding all the cracks in the system and enlarging them, analyzing their contradictions and denouncing them.

Second, recognize that the problem of Cuba belongs to Cubans, all of us without exception, and that Cubans must solve it, and forget about remedies, collective or individual, that come from outside.

Third, we need to focus on programs and lines of action to conquer our rival; focus on weakening everything that benefits it; focus on highlighting the weaknesses and errors of the system.

Fourth, these programs and lines of action should focus on Cuba’s real needs. We must not return to situations that we often yearn for and fail to recognize that they were the reasons for what we have now. We must build a New Republic, with the ideals of freedom and democracy from our early founders.

Fifth, around these programs and lines of action, we have to create the necessary unity (and, why not, organization) to gather forces instead of dispersing them, not looking for some leader to solve it for us.

Sixth, these programs and lines of action must be peaceful, we are children of a nation that has not known peace and tranquility since October 10, 1868, it is high time that we also address that.

Seventh: Cubans, think. You are the children of the people who fought for 30 years for independence, who suffered 4 years of American occupation, people who have had 57 years of a false republic and more occupations (material or mediated) and another 58 of tyranny. We have fallen many times and many times we have risen, even mistaking and getting it wrong again. So get up at once and contribute with your effort and imagination. This is your opportunity. Do not let it pass.

Translated by Jim

Thousands Of Cubans Stranded Along The Continent Put Their Hope In Trump / 14ymedio, Mario Penton

Elisabet Casero (right) defected one day before the United States eliminated the Cuban Medical Professional Parole program. (Courtesy)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miami, 18 January 2017 — Abandoned to their fate on islands, in jungles and at borders, thousands of Cubans have not recovered from the surprise measure of Barack Obama’s administration that frustrated the trip for which they sold their few belongings in Cuba to venture to reach American soil.

With a soft voice, sometimes broken by emotion and sadness, Elisabet Casero Fernández, a Cuban dentist who fled Venezuela a week ago, laments the situation in which her compatriots have been left.

Casero escaped one day before the United States eliminated its Cuban Medical Professional Parole (CMPP) program – through which doctors who deserted their missions abroad were allowed to settle in the United States – and the policy of wet foot/dry foot, by which Cubans who touched land in the United States were allowed to stay and become legal residents. Continue reading “Thousands Of Cubans Stranded Along The Continent Put Their Hope In Trump / 14ymedio, Mario Penton”

Cuban doctors go abroad with an official passport, which is why on the border between Colombia and Venezuela they are easily identified and handed over to the Cuban authorities

“We believed in American legality, in the opportunity to rebuild our lives away from a government that does not allow us to be free and that clings to not changing,” she says from Bogota.

Cuban doctors go abroad with an official passport, which is why on the border between Colombia and Venezuela they are easily identified and handed over to the Cuban authorities, who will forcibly repatriate them and retaliate.

“I had to cross the jungle on a motorcycle. It was the only way to circumvent the surveillance that doctors are subjected to,” she explains.

Leaving is expensive. Dr. Casero earned barely 27,000 bolivars a month (less than 10 dollars when exchanged on the street) while working in the state of Carabobo. In order to flee, she had to save as much as she could from her meager salary.

“The Cuban medical mission also did not give us money for water and gas, we had to rely on the ‘solidarity of friends’,” she told us.

In practice, the Cuban authorities asked their doctors to have Venezuelan patients pay for the cost of these basic services.

The decision to travel to Venezuela was also made under pressure, according to the doctor. “They told us that we should go on a mission. If you refuse, you can lose even your career because they call you a counterrevolutionary,” she says.

According to Casero, once in Venezuela she understood the urgency of the Cuban Ministry of Health.

“You are a mainstay of the medical mission,” they were told. The reality, according to this young woman of 24 years, is that Venezuela “pays more” for dentists than for other doctors, so they had to work more hours and were carefully monitored to enforce the statistics of consultations in exchange for which the Venezuela Government pays Cuba in oil.

“I did not even have the opportunity to finish my residency,” she adds.

The doctors are carefully monitored to enforce the statistics of consultations in exchange for which the Venezuelan Government pays Cuba in oil

With the recent changes, even Cuban doctors who have already applied for the CMPP program will be treated like any other migrant, so the dentist’s hopes of resolving her case are increasingly distant.

“When I arrived at the US embassy in Bogotá, they told me that I could no longer ask for asylum. Now that I have deserted I cannot enter Cuba for eight years and if they catch me, I will end up being retaliated against,” he says.

Her money that, as a stimulus, the Cuban Government deposited in an account in a bank in Cuba, has already been expropriated, she learned directly from her mother, whom she had lived with.

In Colombia hundreds of doctors are waiting for a favorable decision from the US embassy. An indeterminate number are in Brazil where, in 2016, 1,439 doctors benefited from the CMPP.

But doctors are not the only ones affected. There are also dozens of emigrants who are transiting Central America after their departure from Ecuador and Guyana. They seek to reach Panama by going through the Darien Gap, one of the most dangerous jungles in the world.

In Trinidad and Tobago, of a group of 15 Cubans detained by the immigration authorities, there are only six left. All the others have been forcibly repatriated to Cuba.

“The Cuban embassy is involved in this and we are desperate. There were political refugees among us, but they did not care,” explains Baldomero Despaigne speaking from that Caribbean country.

“They are preparing everything to return all of us who are still here. We need help,” he says.

In Suriname, another group of Cubans, including women members of the Ladies in White with their children, are asking for clemency to reach the United States.

In the Caritas hostel in Panama, in less than a week more than 230 refugees have arrived, waiting for the American administration to grant a grace period

In the Caritas hostel in Panama the presence of Cuban migrants has increased significantly. In less than a week more than 230 refugees have arrived for the US administration to grant a grace period that allows them to reach their destination.

“They are calling by phone to indicate that they will continue to arrive from the jungle. At least 70 migrants are announced for the next few hours,” said Deacon Victor Berrío, who is in charge of the institution.

However, the director of Panama’s National Service of Migratio, Javier Carrillo, announced that undocumented Cubans must leave the country. “The law is clear, they must leave the national territory,” Carrillo told this newspaper.

Some of these migrants have not stopped at the announcement of the end of the policy of wet foot-feet and continue their way towards the American border. On Tuesday, the presidential adviser Ben Rhodes said the US does not host the Cubans who were on the border of that country and Mexico.

“We are not going to stop, we will continue to the border, we have spent a lot of time to escape from Cuba and we have no desire to go back, we have no house or money or anything,” says Yuniel Ramos, a migrant who left everything and crossed Central America from Ecuador. Now he is about to cross Mexico.

“The Siglo XXI Migrant Station in Tapachula is full of Cubans, people do not want to go there because they leave you in jail,” says Miguel Antunez, another Cuban who is in the Mexican state of Chiapas.

This situation of defenselessness makes migrants the victims of scammers and corrupt officials

“The lines are long to get the safe passage and cross Mexico. They gave me an appointment for the second week of February,” he adds. This situation of defenselessness makes migrants the victims of scammers and corrupt officials.

“An attorney with connections inside Migration is giving Cubans papers for $500. Even the Migration officials themselves tell you that if you give them money they will move your turn up to the next day,” adds Antunez.

Meanwhile, hundreds of Cubans continue to arrive from Central America. Next to the US border dozens of Cubans wait to see what the new White House tenant will do.

“Trump is the only hope we have left,” says Antunez. “Obama has betrayed us, and he went to Cuban to become the friend of Cubans. Trump is the only hope left to us,” says Antunez.

____________________

This article is part of an arrangement between 14ymedio and El Nuevo Herald.

Dry or Wet? Thinking with our Feet / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya

AFP

cubanet square logoCubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 17 January 2017 — The announcement of the end of the “wet foot, dry foot” policy, which gave Cuban immigrants the special privilege of remaining in the US without being deported, just by touching American soil, ended Thursday, 12 January 2017, like a cold drizzle on the citizens of this island who had hoped for a better life in that country, using any illegal way to attain it.

As is often the case among Cubans, this decision by President Barack Obama just eight days before his departure from the White House has uncovered emotions. The issue, without a doubt, has dramatic implications, not only for those who are stranded on the migratory route from the most dissimilar geographical points of the planet or the Florida Straits, but also for those who have gone, leaving behind a family that would join them “afterwards,” or for those who have sold all their properties in Cuba with the fixed goal of reaching their American dream, facing the risks of an unpredictable journey at the mercy of human trafficking networks that have become a lucrative business for not a few gangs of delinquents of the region. Continue reading “Dry or Wet? Thinking with our Feet / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya”

The cold rain of the sudden news was followed by the acid rain of those who release their resentment and frustration against the outgoing American president and accuse him of being a great service to the Castro regime. Of course, the main critics of Obama’s new stance are the same ones who have been opposed from the outset to the policy of rapprochement and the reestablishment of relations between both governments. “Castro won,” “the regime got away with it,” “another gift for the dictatorship” are some of the diatribes directed at the president less than a year after he stole Cubans’ esteem during his visit to Havana.

Could it be that in the no less cruel dilemma of “wet” or “dry” that has prevailed for more than 20 years, Cubans have ended up thinking “with their feet”?

It is appalling that the children of this land feel gifted with some divine grace that makes them deserve exceptional gifts and prerogatives just because they were blessed by being born in this miserable fiefdom. It is obvious that we need a good dose of humility and common sense.

However, putting aside the undeniable human impact surrounding the fact, it is necessary to assess it rationally. As much as we pity the broken dreams of so many fellow citizens, the truth is that the existence of a privileged policy for Cuban immigrants above those of other countries in the world – including people fleeing from nations at war or wherever there are living situations of extreme violence – is not justified in any way.

The pretense that Cubans, unlike other Latin Americans, deserve differential treatment because they are living under the boot of a dictatorship, collapses before the unquestionable evidence that only a very small portion of those fleeing may be classified as being under true political persecution. That is an irrefutable truth.

The huge expenditures by the public treasury of that country for assistance in food and other benefits to Cuban immigrants has an effect on the pockets of the American taxpayer, including Cubans already residing in the United States. Add to that the Coast Guard’s expense for patrolling the Florida Straits, the rescue of rickety vessels at risk of shipwreck and other expenses associated with the constant Cuban migration with its extraordinary franchises.

It is illogical that those who criticize – with reason – the preposterous costs of the Cuban dictatorship in marches, mobilizations and war games, as well as in gifts to its followers, at the expense of the depressed national coffers, assume that a foreign government has to squander its wealth on us.

As if this were not enough, those thousands of Cubans who, upon their U.S. arrival declare that they are under political persecution or at risk of being repressed if they are sent back, return to visit Cuba [one year + one day] as soon as they obtain their residence (green card), in what constitutes a real mockery to the American authorities, the institutions of the country that offered them asylum and support, and the taxpayers who have covered those expenses.

That’s why the winners across this Obama ball toss are Americans, ultimately the most legitimate beneficiaries of their government’s policies.

Furthermore, what other gift has Obama made to Castro? It remains to be determined what the previous gifts have been and how much they have favored the regime. None of the measures approved by the US administration in the last two years has resulted in the exuberant and swift benefits expected to be obtained by the Castro regime.

In any case, we are the ones who have given almost sixty years of our lives to the longest dictatorship in the Western world.

In practice, far from gaining any profit from the elimination of the “wet foot, dry foot” policy, the Cuban regime initially lost an important outlet to relieve domestic pressure and increase family remittances. It also loses the mockery and ridiculous argument that this policy was the main stimulus for emigration from the island. Because, without a doubt, Cubans’ incessant fleeing will continue until the socioeconomic and political reality in Cuba has changed.

Another consequence of Castro’s alleged “victory” is that, when the “stimulus” of the US government’s special immigration policy toward Cuban illegal immigrants ceases, the regime will be forced to respond to the region’s governments for the crisis created by thousands of immigrants stuck in several countries in their journey to the U.S. Cuba has not yet rendered them any assistance, leaving that responsibility and its costs to the other countries’ governments. It’s time to finally reveal who the real villain of this story is.

Thus, once again, the emperor is standing on the roof wearing no clothes. There is no longer any excuse to place the blame on the United States. The regional political cost for the immigration stampede through our neighboring countries, or for the latter to guarantee the care and security of the Cuban émigrés while they blast the evil neighbor to the north with accusations.

But before the new reality that is beginning, the proverbial self-pity of Cubans continues betting on the political and material solution of our national evils outside our geographical limits. Thus, they believe that it is the obligation of other governments to resolve what is our problem. The embarrassment of others is felt by the eternal cadre of the “poor little Cubans,” who are so brave that they face the dangers of the sea and the jungles – sometimes irresponsibly dragging their young children through such an uncertain adventure – but so cowardly in reality, when the time comes to demand their rights from the regime that is the original cause of the problem.

If they were not so busy contemplating their navels, perhaps some political analysts would discover the possibilities that will open up a push for our rights inside Cuba.

In its official statement, that metaphysical entity that calls itself “the revolutionary government” has announced that it will “gradually adopt other measures to update the current emigration policy.” It would be good if, at least once, Cubans inside the Island and those abroad would join their forces and their willpower to make use of these “measures.”

That is to say, if it’s OK for Cubans to get equal treatment vis-a-vis other citizens of the world, if it’s believed that there are no special reasons to offer differential treatment to Cubans who emigrate illegally in the future, going forward there is no justification for the differentiation that the regime makes between Cubans who reside in Cuba and those who reside outside the country.

Because, since the dictatorship is patting itself on the back that “going forward, the same procedures will be applied to Cuban citizens who are detected in this situation” they will apply “the same procedures and immigration rules as the rest of émigrés from other countries,” then the moment has also come for the exceptionality in the treatment of the Cuban émigrés on the part of the regime to end, and their rights to be recognized.

More directly, this is an opportunity that requires the olive green gerontocracy to recognize, without further delay, equal rights for all Cubans, regardless of their country of residence, to enter and leave Cuba whenever, without a timeframe, with complete freedom – which implies eliminating the absurd and unjustified two-year “permit” – respecting the right to maintain their property in Cuba, setting the same cost for Cuban passports for Cuban residents as for those who live abroad, for emigrants to have the ability to invest in their country of origin preferentially over foreign investors, to be able to choose and take part in all matters that have to do with national life, and so on.

There is nothing to lose, on the contrary. It may still be a long stretch to recover our rights as Cubans; but if we decide to demand them instead of whining or begging third parties for them, at least we will have regained our dignity.

Translated by Norma Whiting

Karina Gálvez: “I Knew a Lot of People Were Watching Over Me” / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

Karina Gálvez, editor of the magazine Coexistence in Pinar del Río (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 18 January 2017 — When she got home, she kissed her mother and took a long, intense shower, like the one she dreamed during the six days she was detained. Karina Galvez let the water run to take away her weariness and the hopelessness that the imprisonment had caused her. Outside her home, neighbors welcomed her with hugs on Tuesday, after she was released on a 2,000 Cuban peso bond, still facing charges of alleged tax evasion, linked to the purchase of a home.

During his first hours out of the cell, Galvez knew that the Cuba he had left a week before had changed. She learned, only then, of the end of the United States’ Wet Foot/Dry Foot policy and she knew that the international solidarity around him had been much greater than she could have imagined. Surrounded by her friends and trying to recover every missing minute, the economist answered some questions for 14ymedio via telephone.

Yoani Sanchez: What is your current legal situation? Is there a date for a hearing?

Karina Gálvez: They haven’t told me a date for the trial. The only thing I have is the document known as the “auto” that describes the case, so I can name a lawyer. Continue reading “Karina Gálvez: “I Knew a Lot of People Were Watching Over Me” / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez”

Yoani Sanchez: What were the main emotional supports you had in your days of confinement?

Karina Gálvez: I confess I had moments when I felt emotionally broken. I had never slept in a cell before. The anguish of being unaware of what was happening outside, of being cut off, was quite strong.

At one point I asked God to give me a sign that he was there with me and a few minutes later Major Odalys came in and brought me a bible that my sister had brought me. I was very shocked by that moment.

It has been one of the most difficult things I have ever experienced, although I felt sure of solidarity

It was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever experienced, although I felt sure of solidarity. I knew a lot of people were watching over me and that my family was not alone.

Yoani Sanchez: And on leaving did you confirm that impression?

Karina Gálvez: I fell a little short in my calculations… last night when I left I found out that the solidarity had been immense. Support has gone beyond friends. I have to thank all those who supported me and tell them that all the energy of knowing that people were with me helped me a lot in there.

Yoani Sanchez: What were the conditions of the place where you were detained?

Karina Gálvez: I can not complain about my treatment, because it was – within the injustice that I was there – respectful and without offense. But the material conditions were difficult. Especially the bathrooms, water and food, which are difficult anywhere in Cuba. On the other hand, in an situation of anguish I found it difficult to eat. Although I was willing to so as not to get sick and to preserve my health.

Yoani Sanchez: The arrest took place a few days before the second part of a meeting of the Coexistence Studies Center, this time in Miami. Will you be able to participate?

Karina Gálvez: No, because I have a pending case I cannot leave the country.

Yoani Sanchez: Have you been unable to access your home from where you were arrested?

Karina Gálvez: The house is still “occupied,” with a seal placed on the door and almost all things that are inside are also “occupied.”

A Complicated Year / Fernando Dámaso

Fernando Damaso, 15 January 2017 — The year 2017 begins. A year that promises to be complicated and definitive for Cubans. The country, with a 0.9% drop in GDP, is stuck in a prolonged economic, political, social crisis, and the general-president, if he complies with his word to leave the presidency on 24 February 2018, has barely thirteen months and a few days to undertake reforms, that will pull the country out of the same stagnation, accentuated by the 7th Congress of the Cuban Communist Party, and the appearance of the “historic leader.” That one, deceased on 25 November 2016, has left him as an inheritance a nation full of accumulated problems. Continue reading “A Complicated Year / Fernando Dámaso”

His actions, since his brother’s illness and under his shadow, have consisted principally of eliminating absurd prohibitions and applying some shallow reforms, without any depth, that will not assure the survival of the country nor its citizens, who have been failed.

The problems accumulated under the rug have abounded. In the economy: there is a need to authorize professionals to work for themselves, to raise salaries to increase production, to resolve the entanglement of the two currencies, and to draft a new investment law that will really act as a stimulus.

In the social sphere: tackle the problem of lack of housing and the deterioration of the existing housing stock, improve public transportation and other services, and eradicate the unhealthy conditions, the galloping social indiscipline and the generalized corruption.

In the political: listen to other opinions in the analysis and solution and existing problems, and intelligently manage the relations with the new government of the United States.

Daunting tasks, no doubt, that need hours of work, of cold and objective evaluation and brave decisions. 2017 cannot be a year of more of the same.

Belkis Cantillo Launches A New Fight From Santiago De Cuba / 14ymedio, Luz Escobar

Belkis Cantillo (center) in a march of Citizens for Democracy in the celebration of the Charity of Cobre. (UNPACU)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 17 January 2017 — Talking with Belkis Cantillo these days can be an impossible mission. With her home raided on several occasions, a daughter about to give her her first granddaughter and the foundation of the new Dignity Movement, the life of this woman is a whirlwind. A resident of Palmarito del Cauto, Santiago de Cuba, the activist is looking forward to better days for Cuba, but she is not ready to fold her arms to wait for them.

With her voice breaking up, Cantillo speaks through the telephone line about her projects and the new organization she has created to support the prisoners who populate the prisons of the Island. She clarifies, to anyone who asks about the origins of the new group, that many of the women who comprise it were part of the Ladies in White. “We were also the group Citizens for Democracy (CXD) and most of us have a great deal of knowledge about this struggle.” Continue reading “Belkis Cantillo Launches A New Fight From Santiago De Cuba / 14ymedio, Luz Escobar”

The activist is looking forward to better days for Cuba, but she is not ready to fold her arms to wait for them

For Cantillo, life is a perennial battle. Last Friday at dawn she crossed the mountain to avoid the police siege and shorten the distance that separates her house from the Sanctuary of the Virgin of the Charity of Cobre, patroness of Cuba, whom Cubans affectionately call Cachita. Although she considers herself a devotee of Cachita, this time it was not only her faith that moved her. Some 16 women gathered there to announce the birth of the Dignity Movement.

“The repression was so great that only some of us made it here,” she tells 14ymedio. The fright from what she experienced has not yet passed, but Cantillo is a “battle-hardened” woman. Under her leadership are now grouped around 60 companions of the struggle, three-quarters with a history of activism and experience in opposition from eastern Cuba, the area of ​​the country most tightly controlled by State Security.

“We entered, 14 of us, and later, at ten at night, two more,” Cantillo explains. The surveillance agents also arrived and they threatened them, telling them to withdraw without waiting for Sunday Mass. The women insisted in remaining in a nearby shelter, managed by the church, but in the end they had to return to their homes.

“They didn’t let us eat, nor even drink water. They’d never seen anything like that there, they even called the police to get us out,” she remembered. But the people who were pressuring them didn’t know they had given birth to a new group.

The leader of the Ladies in White, Berta Soler, has words of encouragement for the movement that has just been born. “I see as good every person who fights against the regime,” she emphasizes. “Any movement that is willing to fight the regime, for me, is valid and effective in this fight,” she says. However, she disagrees with what happened on Saturday: “We have to respect the churches, that’s their discipline.”

At the center of her critique is the crime of “pre-criminal dangerousness” – a “crime” for which it is possible to imprison a citizen on the mere suspicion that they may commit a crime in the future.

Cantillo is now focused on the future. Her effort and that of the rest of her colleagues is focused on the common prisoners, a sector that few speak about and whom many avoid representing. “We chose these prisoners to help them and their families with the social and legal attention they need and do not have,” the woman said. At the center of her critique is the crime of “pre-criminal dangerousness” – a “crime” for which it is possible to imprison a citizen on the mere suspicion that they may commit a crime in the future.

In the middle of last year, the United Nations Development Program estimated that Cuba had 510 people in prison for every 100,000 inhabitants, a figure that places it at the head of the region. In 1959 the island had 14 prisons, the figure now exceeds 200, according to estimates by Elizardo Sánchez, president of the Cuban Commission on Human Rights and National Reconciliation (CCDHRN).

For its part, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has denounced that, after El Salvador, Cuba is the country in Central America and the Caribbean with the highest rate of overcrowding in prisons. Between common and political prisoners, the prisons are estimated to house more than 80,000 Cubans, 80% of them black or mixed-race.

The activists are seeking to extend their actions to all provinces but, for the moment, feel comforted to have been able to get this far. “We have succeeded, now we will continue,” says Cantillo, with that direct and brief way of speaking of women accustomed to the rigors of rural life.

“All those who initiated the movement have been threatened by the political police, house by house,” she reports. However, “my family has always been very supportive of me and has had to be strong not to become divided.”

“All those who initiated the movement have been threatened by the political police, house by house”

The leader of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (Unpacu), her husband, knows Cantillo’s determination well. José Daniel Ferrer looks positively on the formation of the new entity of the civil society. “It seems to us positive that women and men, in this case women, are concerned about the problems that most affect our nation, our society.”

“The only thing we had not recommended was to change the name, they already existed as Citizens for Democracy and had been known for two years,” he reflects.

Cantillo also leaves a space for premonition when she says in a firm tone of voice: “Soon my first granddaughter will come into the world and she will be very strong because she has experienced the repression since she was in the womb of her mother.”

Economist Karina Gálvez Released On Bail, After Six Days Of Arrest / 14ymedio

The independent economist Karina Gálvez, editor of the magazine Coexistence. (Courtesy)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 17 January 2017 — On Tuesday night, economist Karina Gálvez was released after her family paid a bond of 2,000 Cuban pesos. The editor of the magazine Convivencia (Coexistence) thanked the solidarity of all those who denounced her arrest on 11 January, according to her statements to 14ymedio.

The activist met with her family and friends outside the place where she was detained, at kilometer four and a half pn the road to San Juan, in Pinar del Rio. The authorities did not inform her of an upcoming date for questioning or trial.

Gálvez’s release took place a few hours before Dagoberto Valdés, director of the independent publication, was subjected to an interrogation about the accusations against Galvez. Continue reading “Economist Karina Gálvez Released On Bail, After Six Days Of Arrest / 14ymedio”

“Major Odalys led me to an interrogation room with a video camera,” Valdés said at midday. “There she told me that if I lied I could be charged with perjury.” The official told him that he had been summoned to State Security headquarters – at four and a half kilometers on the road to San Juan, Pinar del Río- for being “a witness to an economic crime that has nothing to do with the project of the Coexistence Study Center.”

However, Attorney Wilfredo Vallín, president of the Cuban Legal Association, says that “it is the court that must have the last word about whether or not a statement is true and whether it is a perjury offense.” So “the law gives the person the opportunity to change his statement as often as he understands, but the final statement will be the one he makes before the court.”

The major repeated questions similar to those asked of Karina’s sister, Livia Gálvez, on Monday, and another member of the publication’s team, Idael Márquez, summoned last Saturday. The interrogation happened in the same place where the economist is being held and where Valdes was interviewed by the police last October and, warned that his life was going to be made “very difficult.

“Are you aware of the legal procedures around the sale of Karina’s property? Did you accompany her to the notary’s office to do the paperwork? How much money was given to complete the payment for the house?” These were among the questions asked by the director of the magazine Convivencia, who answered that he knew “absolutely nothing.”

The official blamed Valdés for being behind the transaction to acquire the property, an accusation that the layman rejected, urging the official to define whether the case was an “economic crime” or a charge with “political connotations,” related to the peaceful activism that the members of the Convivencia team maintain from the city of Pinar del Río.

“You have to participate as a witness in the trial,” Odalys told him, an assertion that has raised alarms over a possible cancellation of the right to leave the country for Valdés and other members of the team. Something that could negatively influence the presence of the members of the Coexistence Study Center during the upcoming meeting about education in Cuba scheduled for 28 and 29 in Miami, Florida.

Cuba 2016: The Visit of Barack Obama and Death of Fidel Castro / Iván García

Watching Obama on TV in Havana. Getty Images, taken from the BBC.

Ivan Garcia, 2 January 2017 — A spring rainstorm with light gusts of wind fell over metropolitan Havana on Sunday, March 20th, when at 4:30 PM Air Force One landed at the first terminal of the José Martí International Airport carrying President Barack Obama to one of the final redoubts of communism in the world.

While a Secret Service agent opened Obama’s umbrella at the foot of the airplane stairs as he greeted Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez, two hours earlier in Miramar, west of Havana, State security agents had fiercely repressed a group of forty women and two dozen men who were demanding democracy and freedom for political prisoners.

The dissident movement Ladies in White was instrumental in the olive-green autocracy’s calculated political reforms before the international gallery. Continue reading “Cuba 2016: The Visit of Barack Obama and Death of Fidel Castro / Iván García”

Raúl Castro, hand-picked for the presidency in the summer of 2006 by his brother Fidel, took the brunt of the escalating violence, and in three way negotiations with Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Ángel Moratinos and the National Catholic Church in 2010, he freed 75 dissidents and sent the majority into exile.

Castro II changed the rules of the game. The repressive modus operandi of the regime began using brief detentions and returned, in a worrisome way, to beatings, death threats, and verbal attacks on its opposition.

The afternoon that The Beast rolled into Old Havana, where Obama ate dinner with his family in a private restaurant, the regime sent a message back to Washington: the reforms — if they can be called reforms — would be made at the convenience of the Palace of the Revolution, not the White House.

On December 17, 2014, Raúl Castro and Barack Obama decided to reestablish diplomatic relations and to turn around the anachronistic policies of the Cold War.

The strategy of Obama proved indecipherable to the Taliban of Castroism. He did not threaten to deploy gunboats nor subvert the state of affairs.

In his memorable speech at the Grand Theater of Havana on the 22nd of March, he simply offered things that the majority of Cubans desire, and of course did not renounce the doctrines that sustain American democracy, of supporting private businesses and political rights.

Obama said what he thought looking into the eyes of Raúl Castro, squatted in an armchair on the second balcony of the theater and surrounded by the military junta that has administered Cuba for almost 60 years.

The 48 hours of his visit shook Havana. Neither the strong security measures nor the Communist Party’s strategy for minimizing the impact of Obama’s speech prevented the spontaneous reception of the people of Havana that greeted the president wherever Cadillac One passed.

But official reactions to the visit were not long in coming. Fidel Castro, retired from power, sick and waiting for death in his residential complex of Punto Cero, opined that Obama’s outstretched hand was poisoned candy.

The propaganda machinery of the regime began to corrode, and some signs of economic backlash against intermediaries and private sellers of agriculture products, which began in early January, were reinforced in the following months.

Obama’s visit entrenched the hard-core of the island’s totalitarianism. The gang closed ranks, they returned to the spent Soviet language, and began to render to Castro I a cult of personality modeled on a North Korean manual.

It was assumed that the arrival of the president to Havana would be the event of 2016 in Cuba, but at 10 PM on the night of November 25th, according to the government, Fidel Castro died.

His death was no surprise. With 90 years and various ailments, the death of the ex-guerilla was imminent. For better or for worse, he placed Cuba on the world political map, confronting it with strategies of subversion against the United States.

His revolution was more political than economic. He could never erect a robust economy, and the architecture and textile factories during his extensive rule, only produced things of shoddy and bad taste. Any reasonable person should analyze the benefits and prejudices of the regime of Fidel Castro. Sovereignty powered by cheap nationalism. Division of families. Polarization of society. Relentless with its enemies and local opposition.

Agriculture declined, he buried the sugar industry and it is difficult to find any economic, sports or social sector that has not gone downhill. There was no political honesty in recognizing his failures. On the contrary, the regime entrenched itself in what it knows best: odes, panegyrics and trying to enshrine its absurdities in gothic lettering.

And then, 2016 was the year of Raul Castro’s diplomatic apparatus, the most outstanding in his decade as president of the republic. In the last five years he has reaped success. The secret negotiations for the reestablishment of relations between the United States and Cuba. The intermediation of peace in Colombia, with the Roman Catholic Church and the Russian Orthodox Church. The cancellation of financial debts and negotiation of a new deal with the Paris Club. And he even managed to blow up the Common Position of the European Union. Unobjectionable triumphs of Castro’s advisers in international relations.

But those same advisers misjudged their strategy against the United States. Like the American media and pollsters, they failed to discern the Donald Trump phenomenon. They may now regret that they have not made enough progress during Obama’s term.

Trump is unpredictable. He repeals the agreements reached with the United States saying he will make a better one. But something is clear to the regime. To negotiate benefits you have to make concessions. No more gifts.

In 2016 there was much more. Mick Jagger unfolded his unusual physical energy in a mega-concert, scenes of the movie Fast and Furious were filmed in Cuba, and almost every day a celebrity landed in Havana.

In May, Chanel offered a haute couture show in the Paseo del Prado in a country where the majority of inhabitants earn $25 a month and not everyone can see Chanel models in fashion magazines.

Cruises began arriving from Miami as did regular flights from the United States. There were more than 1,200 cultural and academic exchanges, and the visits by weighty figures of both governments have been numerous.

The meetings and negotiations have been constant; as constant as the repression. According to the National Commission of Human Rights and Reconciliation, in the month of November there were 359 arbitrary detentions of dissidents, activists, and independent journalists.

The détente is not about to land on the Cuban table. Markets continue to be out of stock, two meals a day is still a luxury, and one hour of surfing the internet is equivalent to the wages of a day and a half of work by a professional.

The year 2017 will be a key year. Barack Obama, the conciliator, will not be in the White House, and in Cuba the old leader Fidel Castro will not be there either.

U.S Deports 71 Cubans Detained Before Reversal of Wet Foot-Dry Foot Policy / EFE, 14ymedio

Cuban immigrants being repatriated by the U.S. Coast Guard.

14ymedio biggerEFE (via 14ymedio) Miami , 16 January 2017 – A total of 71 Cubans were deported this Sunday after being detained in ­­­­­the Florida Straits seeking to enter the country days before the U.S government announced the change in immigration policy toward Cubans, the Coast Guard announced on Monday.

The immigrants were transferred to Bahía Cabañas, in Cuba, after being intercepted on five different operations between January 4th and 6th, dates prior to the White House announcing the end of the “wet foot/dry foot” policy. Continue reading “U.S Deports 71 Cubans Detained Before Reversal of Wet Foot-Dry Foot Policy / EFE, 14ymedio”

A statement by the Coast Guard said they carried out these operations in their function to protect the American border and to “prevent these trips by sea from ending up in tragedy.”

“We discourage anyone from going out to sea and attempting to reach U.S soil illegally. You are risking your lives with little chances of success,” said Captain Mark Gordon, of the Coast Guard Seventh District, who emphasized that navigating the Florida Straits could be “extremely dangerous,” especially with the bad weather currently in the area.

Gordon was categorical in saying the Coast Guard would continue these operations to “detain those who initiate the illegal, foolish and unsafe journey through the Florida Straits.”

He explained that once aboard the Coast Guard boat, the immigrants received basic medical attention, food and water.

Since October 1, 2016, when the current fiscal year began, at least 1,893 Cubans have attempted to enter the United States by sea.

On 12 January, the U.S. government announced the repeal of the “wet foot/ dry foot” policy,” which for 20 years granted preferential immigration status to Cubans able to reach U.S. soil, and granted them residency status after one year.

On the contrary, those intercepted at sea, even if only a few yards from shore, were returned to Cuba.

Due to fear of this policy ending there has been a notable increase of Cubans entering the U.S. in recent months, by land across U.S.-Mexico border, as well as by sea.

Last fiscal year, between October 1,, 2015 and September 30, 2016, 7,411 Cubans attempted to reach the U.S coast by sea, a significant increase from the 4, 473 that attempted the same in the 2015 fiscal year.

Translated by Chavely Garcia