General Raul Castro’s Plastic Bag at the Papal Mass / Juan Juan Almeida

At the bottom right of the photo the general-president’s plastic bag can be seen.

Juan Juan Almeida, 22 September 015 — When, before a crowd gathered in the Plaza of the Revolution in Havana, Pope Francis celebrated the first of three Masses on his visit to Cuba, in the first row was the elegant Lorena Castillo de Varela, first lady of Panama, and next to her General Raul Castro, and on his other side the president of Argentina Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner. And, in the row behind, between the legs of the famous bodyguard and grandson Raul Guillermo Rodriguez Castro, almost hidden in a corner, the inseparable representation of Cuban culture, la jaba — the plastic bag.

Perhaps no foreigner noticed this detail. Reasonable, for the Royal Academy of the Spanish Language defines la jaba as: a dark stain on the lumbar region with which some children are born; a box specially made for carrying bottles, china or other fragile objects; a kind of basket made of woven reeds or palm leaves; and/or a bag of cloth, plastic, etc. to be carried in the hand. Of course, the scholars cannot imagine that the word jaba, in Cuban, has a special dimension, almost solemn, representing much more than any of its forms. Continue reading

El Sexto: He Who Laughs First, Laughs Twice / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

Danilo Maldonado, "El Sexto," painting the balcony wall of Yoani's apartment

Danilo Maldonado, “El Sexto,” painting the balcony wall of Yoani’s apartment

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 3 October 2015 — There was no mistaking it. It was the same face that smiles defiantly from some paintings in which it resembles an unrepentant Christ. I had seen the signature of El Sexto at bus stops, followed his ironies on Havana’s walls, and wondered if this young man really existed, putting so many dreams, so many screams into his midnight strokes . But there he was, standing in front of me, in a T-shirt with a spray can.

“You cross out my stuff, I cross out yours,” said some of the artist Danilo Maldonado’s first paintings. It was when the police were using pink paint to hide his graffiti. Walking down Linea Street you could guess that behind those colorful patches in the middle of a wall that had gone decades without maintenance, the irreverent artist had left a drawing.

So when I stumbled upon El Sexto, thin, rebellious, talented, it seemed I had rediscovered a well-known face from my family photos, someone I had shared colorful nocturnal moments with, insolent and clandestine. With time I discovered that I was also facing a man who would not give in to fear and who would use his own body as a canvas for disobedience. Continue reading

Diversity Visa Lottery for Emigrating to the United States Begins / 14ymedio

US Embassy in Havana. (14ymedio)

US Embassy in Havana. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 2 October 2015 — The anguish is over. After months of speculation, it has been confirmed that the recently begun United States Diversity Visa program for 2017 maintains a quota for Cubans, according to a statement from a consular official from the US Embassy in Havana at a press conference Friday.

Rumors in recent months pointed to a reduction or cancellation of the program for natives of the island due to the reestablishment of relations between Washington and Havana. However, the official – who did not give her name – told the national press that “as in prior years, Cuba is included in the program to support a safe, legal and orderly migration.” Continue reading

The IAPA Does Not See Progress In Press Freedom In Cuba / 14ymedio

Lazaro Yuri Valle Roca has been threatened and detained for documenting repression. (14ymedio)

Lazaro Yuri Valle Roca has been threatened and detained for documenting repression. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, 2 October 2015 — Within a few hours of the opening of the 71st General Assembly of the Inter American Press Association (IAPA), scheduled between 2 and 6 October in Charleston (South Carolina), regional reports from the Commission for Freedom of the Press and Information were made public. According to the organization, ten months after the beginning of reestablishment of diplomatic relations between Cuba and the United States, journalism on the island continues to be “dogged by censorship in the Cuban Communist Party monopoly over the national media.”

The report details that in Cuba there are still no signs of “economic improvement,” nor an increase in the respect for “human rights, greater freedom of expression, association and the press,” derived from the process of diplomatic rapprochement that both countries are experiencing.

With special alarm, the text includes the threats and arrests made this summer by State Security against the reporter Lazaro Yuri Valle Roca, when he tried to document in videos and photos the repression suffered by the Ladies in White. The independent journalist denounced the repressive methods against the exercise of the unofficial press, including detentions for “several days without records of arrest nor of the seizure of our belongings” and the “confiscation of the tools of our work.” Continue reading

An Unconvincing Achievement / Fernando Damaso

Fernando Damaso, 30 September 2015 — In the face of failure of many countries to achieve the 2015 economic and social objectives established by the UN in 2000, the Cuban government has unleashed its current campaign, presenting itself as an example of a success, “despite the criminal blockade.”

First things first: it is not the same to achieve the objectives in a country of ten million people, that it is in the one of forty, a hundred, three hundred million and more, because in those the needs and costs to resolve them are vastly superior. In addition, and something that is not said, is that at the end of the decade of the fifties of the previous century, Cuba presented indicators in the economy, healthcare, education, social security and many others much higher than those of countries in Latin American, Asia and Africa, and in some areas higher than some European countries. Just check the statistics. Continue reading

Raul Castro in His Worldwide Debut / Cubanet, Miriam Leiva

raul-castro-ONUCubanet, Miriam Leiva, Havana, 30 September 2015 – The organization United Nations organization is celebrating the 70th anniversary of its creation in a big way. The most important players in world politics and the dignitaries from the majority of its member countries met in New York. The 2030 Sustainable Development Summit, where Pope Francis gave his first speech before the UN, took place from 25-27 September, and the Conference on Gender Equality was held on the 27th. The high-level meetings of the UN’s 70th session began on the 28th.

Raúl Castro traveled for the first time to the United States as President of Cuba on 24 September. The General-President wore the halo of the reestablishment of diplomatic relations with the United States, the reopening of the respective embassies, conversations with President Obama, the constant flow of dignitaries from other countries and American visitors to Cuba, the mediation between Venezuela and the US, and participation in the meeting of Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and the chief of the FARC-EP for the signing in Havana of their first peace accord. Continue reading

That First Central Committee / Reinaldo Escobar

Fidel Castro during the formation of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Cuba, on October 3, 1965.

Fidel Castro during the formation of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Cuba, on October 3, 1965.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 2 October 2015 – Fifty years ago the first Central Committee of the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC) made its appearance. It was composed of one hundred people, among whom there were 57 commanders of the Revolution, nine captains, one lieutenant and 33 civilians. Of that constellation only eight remain alive and in office, not including Fidel Castro. The average age of these “survivors” who made it to today is approximately 83 years.

The last time there was a formal election to the Central Committee was in 1997 during the Fifth Congress of the PCC. On that occasion, 14 members from the initial list remained, but that was 18 years ago and, after the deaths of Vilma Espín, Juan Almeida, and more recently of Jorge Risquet, plus the retirements due to dismissal or illness of Roger Acevedo, Osmany Cienfuegos and Pedro Miret, the so-called “historic generation of the Revolution” has been considerably narrowed in its number. Continue reading

What Does Alejandro Castro Espin Do? / Juan Juan Almeida


Juan Juan Almeida, 30 September 2015 — Alejandro Castro Espín’s intrusion into Cuba’s political scene has led to a whirlwind of Homeric fantasies in which his biography emerges as a genuine epic poem. This is quite normal; it is how myths are created. But be careful. To either demonize or idealize someone is to make the same mistake: It mythologizes a figure who will later end up embarrassing us.

Alejandro is not, nor will he be, the person who succeeds his father. There is a popular joke that goes like this: Eight out of ten Cubans complain about the government; the two who do not are Raul Castro’s grandson-bodyguard, Raul Guillermo, and his son-advisor, Alejandro.

Popular wisdom. Vilma and Raul’s son was born on July 29, 1965. I do not want to rehash the past — there has already been a ton written on the subject — but it is worth recalling that he began his university education at IPSJAE (José Antonio Echevarría Polytechnic University), only to abandon his studies in refrigeration engineering barely two years later to focus on a less demanding and more promising military career. Perhaps this earned more gold seals for his resume than the appellation on a bottle of cheap wine. Continue reading

Twelve Ladies in White Arrested Outside Combinado del Este prison / 14ymedio

Ladies in White in Havana.

Ladies in White in Havana.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, 1 October 2015 – The regime opponent Martha Beatriz Roque denounced the arrest Thursday of 12 Ladies in White protesting outside the Combinado del Este prison in Havana. The activists presented themselves at the place to complain about the prisoners Ricardo and Ariel Gonzalez Sendiña, sons of the Lady in White Lazara Barbara Sendiña, who are on hunger strike.

The two prisoners, convicted of the alleged crime of theft and slaughter of cattle, maintain their innocence. Since they began fasting, both are in punishment cells. The women demanded answers about their state of health, but the prison authorities did not give details.

The organization’s leader, Berta Soler, at the site, reported by telephone to the reporter Lazaro Yuri Valle Rica on the imminent arrest of the activists. Minutes later, in her Twitter account, Soler describe the arrests as “brutal.” To date, the whereabouts of the protesters is unknown and their phones are shut off.

The leader of the Youth Front of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU) Carlos Amel Oliva Torres, was also arrested on his return from a trip to Spain. The activist is right now in the Third Police Unit in Santiago de Cuba.

A Queen Without Competition / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

Queen electric cooking pot. (Luz Escobar)

Queen electric cooking pot. (Luz Escobar)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, 1 October 2015 — The “Energy Revolution”, one of the last initiatives promoted by Fidel Castro before his public retirement, made some peculiar appliances appear in Cuban homes. Perhaps the most popular was the electric cooking pot was popularly called Queen, manufactured in China and which serves equally to make a red bean stew or meat and potatoes.

Those appliances which were distributed in bulk throughout the island, as if it were a military operation, were sold on credit and at a price that did not exceed 400 Cuban pesos (about $16 US). One day, coinciding with the departure of the Commander-in-Chief from his post, those pots also disappeared.

Since the middle of this year the Queen began to be assembled in Cuba in the ProHogar plant in the city of Santa Clara, as a part of the Household Production Industry (INPUD), a project founded in 1964 by the then Minister of Industry, Ernesto Guevara.

The group made up of 32 skilled workers assembles some 700 appliances a day that then go for the commercial network of hard currency stores and are sold at prices exceeding 30 convertible pesos (over $30 US). The items for sale can no longer be paid for on the installment plan, that characterized their distribution during the “Energy Revolution.”

Also lost in time are the memories of those refrigerators in INPUD fabricated that were distributed based on “merits” in one’s workplace. Instead, the entity now seeks to impose its products on the market through the harsh law of quality and competition with other similar products. The Queens are no longer for commoners.

‘El Sexto’ Abandons Hunger Strike After 24 Days / 14ymedio

Danilo Maldonado, ‘El Sexto.’ (Artist’s File)

Danilo Maldonado, ‘El Sexto.’ (Artist’s File)

Danilo Maldonado (El Sexto) ends 24-day hunger strike with promise from prison authorities that he will be released in 15 days.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 1 October 2015 — The artist Danilo Maldonado, El Sexto, abandoned the hunger strike he had maintained for 24 days this Thursday. His mother, Maria Victoria Machado, confirmed the news after a visit to the Valle Grande prison, where the graffiti artist has been since last December.

This Thursday, Machado went to the prison to demand the release of her son and met there with a lieutenant colonel who was identified as a “mediator.” The official informed her that “Danilo lifted the hunger strike” and that “from today he will begin to eat.”

Machado was able to meet personally with El Sexto, whom she said was “in high spirits,” although his face “reflects that he has been on hunger strike, his lips are completely cracked,” his mother said. Tomorrow, Friday, the lady will be able to visit him again and bring him food to alleviate his days of fasting.

The artist told his mother that the hardest part of the hunger strike was “the psychological part.”

After asking for personal information, including her address and contact phone number, the lieutenant colonel said that the artist would be “released in fifteen days.” To a question from 14ymedio, the mother of graffiti artist said she believes that “now that there are international agencies involved in his case, it is possible they will do what they said.”

El Sexto, classified as a prisoner of conscience by the human rights organization Amnesty International, was arrested for organizing a performance with two pigs painted with the names Raul and Fidel.

Bergoglio’s Havana Tango / Jeovany Jimenez Vega

Jeovany Jimenez Vega, 27 September 2015 — The recently concluded visit of Pope Francis left Cuba awash in a wave of controversy. To the amazement of some and the disappointment of others, a pope known for being direct, almost penetrating, in his incendiary statements to the centers of world power, and who has shown courage in opening a Pandora’s box inside his own institution, to the delight of many enjoying the show, was nevertheless too cautious in facing the Cuban dictators.

From someone who has taken steps considered truly reckless in contrast to the millennial conservatism of his Church, who arrived in Havana preceded by his reputation as a radical reformer, and whose statements on behalf of the dispossessed have even earned him the absurd accusation of being communist, many expected a bolder more direct speech against those responsible for the well-known disregard of human rights on the island.

But such disappointment may have originated from an incorrect assessment of the exact coordinates of his passage through Havana, the uncharted context in which his visit occurs: it happens that the country visited today by the Argentine Pope is not the same one visited by Wojtyla in 1998; nor even the same one visited by Ratzinger in 2012. Continue reading

It’s Not the “Blockade”: It’s Fear 14ymedio, Pedro Campos

Raul Castro gives his speech at the UN. (UN)

Raul Castro gives his speech at the UN. (UN)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Pedro Campos, Havana, 30 September 2015 – The Cuban leaders insist that the “blockade” is the main obstacle to economic development in Cuba. This was confirmed by general-president Raul Castro at the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday.

Up until today, after the fall of the socialist bloc and the USSR, the United States blockade-embargo* remains the Cuban government’s main justification for the whole economic and social disaster caused by the Statist wage model imposed in Cuba in the name of socialism, in truth a kind of State monopoly capitalism.

The Cuban economy declined to the extent that the State concentrated ownership of land, which came to be 90%, as well as of industry and services, which reached 100%, and state monopolies controlled foreign and domestic trade.

All this was spiced with price controls, voluntarist* policies and plans, total control by the economic elite of the country of state investments and expenditures (“central planning”), the elimination the relationship between goods and money, elimination of individual and collective initiative, a war on private capitalism and cooperatives, now skewed with a thousand obstacles. Simply stated: it was increasingly constraining the initiative of society. Continue reading

Freedom of Expression: A Change That Has Been Just Another Strategy / Hablemos Press, Weiner Alexander Martínez

Weiner Alexander Martínez Estepe/ HABLEMOS PRESS.

Weiner Alexander Martínez Estepe/ HABLEMOS PRESS.

27 September 2015, Havana – The flexibilities described by the Cuban government in recent years regarding freedom of expression constitute only a change in its political strategy, the objective being to improve its image before international public opinion and organizations that defend human rights.

Testimonies of various government opponents and independent journalists indicate that repression of their activities has not ceased, but rather that the methods used have evolved, becoming more subtle and imperceptible.

They differ from those in the now distant 1970s and 80s, when the dissidence (and even any person who would dare to express divergent ideas) was dealt a “strong hand.” Continue reading