The Arrogance of Cuba’s Political Police

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Generation Y, Havana, 17 January 2020 — In the last decade there have been several recordings of police interrogations that Cuban activists have managed to make and bring to light. In many of them, State Security officers are heard intimidating, threatening and behaving themselves like the owners and lords of the whole country, above the law, above human life and above citizens’ rights. But the audio achieved by the photographer Javier Caso during an “interview” with the political police is invaluable as a testimony and as an X-ray of an entire era.

The Cuban, who lives in the United States and is the brother of the renowned actress Ana de Armas, recently visited the island and repeatedly contacted actress Lynn Cruz and film director Miguel Coyula. It was enough for him to meet with his friends of a lifetime to receive a summons from the Department of Immigration and Foreigners. Once there, a script was developed that was well known to dissidents, opponents and any independent journalist who has ever been summoned to this type of police trap.

The audio recorded by Caso, who by the mere fact of recording the voices on a device shows great courage, manages to convey the absurdity of the situation, the arrogance of the interrogators and that atmosphere where the individual is at the mercy of a surveillance device and control capable of ignoring the Constitution, the Criminal Code and whatever legal resolution there is on this Island. The young photographer met two men who personify the true power that controls Cuba, above deputies, ministers and presidents. continue reading

It is a grotesque and cruel face that springs from the impunity of a repressive institution that has been running freely for decades

The officials are ridiculous, they mouth barbarities such as that the Cuban police are the fifth best in the world or dare to decide who can be called an artist or not, although they themselves may not know one iota about creative expressions or contemporary art.

The great triumph of Caso is to take, with apparent naivety but with much intelligence, the conversation to a point where the seguros have to take off their masks and show the true face hidden under bureaucratic formalities and an apparent respect for order. It is a grotesque and cruel face that is born from the impunity of a repressive institution that has been running freely for decades and whose arrogance ends up opening it to ridicule in this conversation.

Since new technologies broke into the Island, there have been many testimonies (photos, audios, videos) that attest to the lack of a framework of rights in which we Cubans live, but this recording has a special merit. In addition to the quality with which one listens and the equanimity of the person being questioned to get the officials to expose themselves, this testimony causes an outrage that is not easily placated. The more we hear of it, the greater is a rage that grows and becomes a decision and a conviction: we cannot allow the political police to continue ruling Cuba.

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

Clandestinos: Heroes or Collateral Damage? / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya

(Facebook/Clandestinos)

Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana resident currently visiting the US, 15 January 2020 — A new year has just begun and “its Cuban peculiarity” is already being revealed to us in all its glory — that wicked vice of losing ourselves in sterile digressions around minutiae that characterizes us so much — elevating to the category of “event” what hardly deserves the nickname of scam. Thus, while there are events in the world whose deep political implications occupy and concern citizens, institutions and governments, we Cubans remain tied to what seems to be our irreversible village destiny.

Not merely satisfied with the fractures and polarizations harvested after 61 miserable Januarys, the natives of the captive Island have found a new reason these days for vernacular discord. And what is worse, in the absence of anything more substantial, the dispute this time revolves around what until today remains a cybernetic fable: the group so-called Clandestinos.

Among the apologists and the detractors of these new social media stars, insults have rained and passions have been exacerbated. But what really is Clandestinos beyond the uncertain images of red stained busts and other quite questionable presentations in terms of authenticity? Who can provide evidence that it is a “group” and not a manipulation by the media of uncertain origin or a colossal tease? What bases of reality hold so much hectic patriotism and so much confidence of its cyber-followers? So far, none of these questions has any convincing answer. continue reading

That is why the foolish enthusiasm unleashed in the networks is so much more unfathomable, where simply inquiring over the existence or not of these imaginary (and imaginative, we must admit) rebels, whose righteous and audacious actions have filled so many hearts with hope, is sufficient reason to be mistreated and even accused of being an agent of the Castro regime: the explosion of Cuban idiosyncrasy in its purest state.

Because Clandestinos, in addition, has that charm of a soap opera and of theatrical drama heroes that hypnotize the masses: masked men who act secretly against the villain under cover of night, video messages with a mysterious central character wearing a ski mask, daredevils in paint-splattered  busts of Martí and apparently also in communist screens, and above all, a profusion of labels in social networks with libertarian cyber-concepts. And according to the most enthusiastic fans, these are “actions that have the dictatorship in check.”

In summary, it turns out that, after decades of resistance and the efforts of several generations of opponents who have suffered repression, harassment and banishment as a result of their direct confrontation without masks against the Castro gang, the final solution for Cubans has magically appeared with an intangible prodigy that nobody knows either its form or its content, but one which has, nevertheless, managed to conceive an extraordinary capital of faith, especially among certain groups of exiles.

Who could have told us that a few disguises and a bit of red paint would be enough to make the Cuban autocracy tremble? In fact, the heroes of the moment feel so imbued with their leadership that they have even disseminated an Instruction Manual on the internet that summarizes the key to success in their “fight”, the cornerstone that will boost the Cubans to end six decades of the Castro regime in a short time. All that is needed is to follow the elaborate tactics step by step: study the area of operations, carry on the usual ration of crimson dye, don’t step on the paint and act in pairs.  Thus, each oppressed Cuban can make his own heroic graffiti. There is no doubt that we will bring down the dictatorship in 2020!

We are definitely not a serious people.

However, if there really is a group called Clandestinos, if they truly were this sort of new age urban guerrillas who define themselves as “non-opponents” but who say they fight against the dictatorship – which makes their discourse even more incoherent – and if it were true that this group arose in an autonomous and spontaneous way (and not a fabrication that has emerged from twisted minds with no one knows what clumsy intentions), we would have to admit that, in addition, we are facing a genuine consequence of six decades of deterioration of a bogged down and failed nation.

Clandestinos would be, in a good skirmish, more than the ridiculous staging shown on the networks, the reflection of our own inability to find possible and sensible solutions to the serious Cuban crisis. More than heroes, they seem like collateral damage. But they would also be a good reason to reconsider the levels of absurdity we have achieved and to win in common sense. The latter is the only truly positive thing that should be recognized so far to this entire saga.

For my part, I refuse straight up to applaud or endorse ghosts. Which is what Clandestinos amounts to until proven otherwise. By nature, I am suspicious of masked faces that evoke the Tupamaros (Uruguayan Urban Guerillas), the ETA (Basque Country and Freedom members) and other denominations of ominous remembrance and equivocal causes. In any case, I prefer the frontal and open-ended resistance against the Castro regime because I have the stubborn conviction that the right to have a free, democratic, plural and inclusive Cuba is not, and should not be, a clandestine matter, but quite the opposite.

The aspirations of millions of Cubans have been hidden for too long, for the benefit of the dictatorship. It is time to banish all the masks.

Translated by Norma Whiting

How Does The Cuban Government Keep An Eye On You? / Cubalex

Cubalex, 6 January 2020 — After the publication of Decree-Law No. 389/2019, special techniques of investigation were introduced, including undercover operations, successful collaboration, the use of electronic or other types of surveillance and controlled deliveries.

The same Decree-Law establishes that these techniques are appropriate or necessary for the investigation of criminal acts, which, by their gravity, connotation or organization require them, including operations whose origin or destination are outside the country.

Although the use of these measures is not new in the Cuban context, in the particular case of electronic surveillance there has been a surge in their application now that more people have access to cell phones and Internet accounts, and it’s the first time it has been legalized. The benefit of this new reality is that at least the general guidelines for their application are now published. continue reading

Another positive element is that, at least formally, the Ministry of the Interior is required to guarantee confidentiality of the information obtained through electronic surveillance if it has no relation to the crime. The information will not be divulged and will be destroyed. In addition, conversations between the accused and defense counsel cannot be recorded.

However, there is a big drawback to the regulation, because it can even call into question the constitutional recognition of due process (Article 95), the right to privacy (Article 48) and the inviolability of correspondence (Article 50).

The use of the above-mentioned techniques will not be authorized by the court but by the prosecutor. According to Article 110, paragraphs 2 and 3 of the Law of Criminal Procedure, whatever is drafted after the new modifications will allow prosecutors to authorize the application of the special investigation techniques.

Translated by Regina Anavy

Yasel Porto and Cuban Baseball: The Messenger Must Always Die

Porto already had to defend himself against the accusations of Víctor Mesa, to whom he said he expressed his opinions “as long as possible, there, in the places where the decision makers will see them.”

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Ernesto Santana, Chicago, 11 December 2019 — The  “reappearance” of Yasel Porto on Cuban television, in what turned out to be just program re-broadcast, is revealed as a crude and typical trick of disinformation, but it is also a sample of the nature of the expulsion of the popular sports reporter and commentator, which is not just the result of a clash between a journalist and a senior sports executive.

Yasel Porto was removed after asking that the Cuban baseball manager Higinio Vélez be replaced, which made him suspect this was the cause for which he was punished. But it has not been essentially because of it, nor because he has expressed only an individual opinion. Maybe not even because he stepped over the red line. Simply, he was already classified as a target to demolish. His elimination had already been planned, and then the right time came along.

Among the notable aspects of this scandalous injustice is, above all, the fact that the suggestion the presidency of the Cuban Baseball Federation (FCB) should replace Vélez was made by Porto, in passing, and he immediately emphasizied that the determining factor was not to substitute one manager for another, but to make “radical changes” in Cuban baseball “because, if not, whoever comes will be in the same situation.” continue reading

It is well known that, although the depth of the changes requested by observers and specialists varies, the vast majority agree that the role of Higinio Vélez has been disastrous with regards to the results obtained in the national sport in recent years. So we have a message addressed to that majority: the only opinion that matters is that of those who control both the FCB and Cuban television.

It is noteworthy that, in the post-production of Bola Viva (Live Ball), Porto’s proposal will be preserved even if it did not coincide with the opinion of the sports newsroom that scripts the program. And the difference between a Rodolfo García, a former presenter, and the sanctioned journalist is abysmal — thanks to a decision that goes far beyond the administrative.

Only a few weeks ago we could see on the internet a brief interview by Porto of Camilo Rodríguez, the catcher ejected from a game in Havana’s Latin American Stadium, which seems an international record. The expulsion of the uncomfortable is a norm at all levels of the country, although here it is an extremely annoying case for the upper hierarchy.

For several years, Porto has been dedicated to advocating for a unified team with the best of Cuban baseball from outside and inside the country, for demanding honesty and transparency from sports officials and for broadcasting Major League games on television.

He has also promoted the meeting of Industriales players on both shores, has conducted interviews with our stars in the Grand Tent — only published on social networks — and, on top of everything, has related to important major league figures and has produced important audiovisuals with economic independence from the country’s authorities.

Everything, of course, in favor of the glory of national sport, as evidenced by the usual and always awarded Baseball program, where he has dedicated himself to rescuing forgotten facts and figures from our ball with the support of such outstanding and endearing connoisseurs as Ismael Sené.

Just over a year ago, before the accusations from Victor Mesa in Miami, Porto published a reply on his Facebook profile where he detailed the principles of his work and declared that he was “living for baseball and not from baseball.” In addition, he said he expressed his views “as long as possible, there, in the places where the decision makers will see them.”

“For some I am a communist, for others a gusano [’worm’], but luckily, for most, a Cuban who tries to contribute to his country’s baseball,” he continued, claiming to defend his truth over personal relationships and ideological differences. In fact, he described his friends as “very diverse because of their political positions.”

As we see, there are no lack of reasons for him to become a target of the powerful. And not only because he is the opposite of a Vélez who lives at the expense of the players and watches out more for the interests of the Government than for those of baseball, or the opposite of a sports journalist like Rodolfo García himself, so reverent with the political hierarchy.

Yasel Porto became, for that hierarchy, a terrible example for all of official journalism. His colleagues have perfectly understood the lesson. Only one of his colleagues in the sports newsroom of television, Renier González, has supported him through his social networks. “Cuba needs people like Yasel Porto, who are not interested in positions or welfare, people who do things for the good of society,” he wrote. The rest are silent.

Although none of the sessions of the popular consultation on baseball throughout the country has been disclosed, it has been leaked that there is a broad rejection of the permanence of Higinio Vélez at the head of the FCB. But not even if this repudiation was paid attention to would it mean that popular opinion had been taken seriously.

Porto would hardly be vindicated if Vélez were replaced, because one of the journalist’s sins has been precisely to become a spokesperson for a majority. That, in the logic of social control in Cuba, requires severe punishment so that others learn and journalism does not become what it should be, a vigilant and critical entity with power.

Some believe that the messenger has been killed by mistake, despair or injustice, and they do not understand the real point. No message is wanted and this is the premise: the messenger must always die.

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

Cuban Regime Has Changed its Repressive Tactics

Since 2018, the strategy of informing activists about their “regulated” status — that is they are not allowed to travel outside the country — at the time of passing through the Immigration window has become more common. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 17 December 2019 — The methods of the Cuban Government to repress the opposition have grown in subtlety in recent times, as has been denounced on multiple occasions. The most recent organization to call attention to this fact is the Foundation for Human Rights in Cuba (FHRC), which released a statement on Monday that warns of this change and launches a battery of recommendations to address it.

For the FHRC, the new formulas consist of blocking the exits or trips abroad of people critical of the Government (the government defines them as “regulated”), the increase of administrative measures against non-militant critics, the immobilization of activists in their homes to cancel their meetings and activities, and the fabrication of common criminal cases to justify prison sentences. On the upper end of the scale is the ultimatum to leave the country with the threat of more serious measures if they decide to stay.

To address this new strategy, the FNRC is asking the international community and NGOs to readjust the methodology used to collect repression data in order to include these cases that could be omitted: recording house arrests, “regulated” status, accusations of “pre-criminal dangerousness,” and administrative sanctions, in addition to providing a complaints channel for the injured. continue reading

Other suggested measures are the establishment of databases of the individual repressors that include all types of personal and professional data, as well as the accusations they make against citizens; the application of international sanctions on them and their families, which may consist of denying them visas or prohibiting the sending of remittances to them from abroad; and facilitating telecommunications for citizens who show their interest in reporting.

The Foundation for Human Rights in Cuba admits that the arrests have clearly dropped, from 9,942 in 2016 to 2,873 in 2018, according to data from the Cuban Commission on Human Rights and National Reconciliation, whose activity has ceased but whose data gathering been assumed by the Cuban Center for Human Rights.

However, this decrease in arrests is not due, the organization said in its statement, “to the fact that the authorities have become more benevolent, but to the greater effectiveness of the complaints of more and more citizens with access to digital technologies joined with the creation of customized databases abroad with information on repressors, which has already led to international convictions and sanctions.”

According to the FHRC, since the international rejection sparked by the Cuban government’s actions in the Black Spring of 2003, repressive methods have been blurred to lessen criticism while maintaining levels of coercion.

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Challenging Her Dismissal from the Historians Office to Denounce "Arbitrariness"

Genlui is prohibited from entering the office if she is not accompanied by the administrator or a specialist. (Cubanet)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 10 January 2020 — Claudia Genlui Hidalgo, a worker at the Office of the Historian, was fired at the end of December after giving a talk on independent art at the Embassy of the Czech Republic. Genlui filed an appeal with the Attorney General’s Office this week despite her distrust of the usefulness of the process.

“I do not believe I will get my job back and much less the position that I had within the Office of the Historian. They were very clear and it goes beyond whether or not I committed an infraction. It has long annoyed them that I was in that position. When, in April, I commented on the arrest during the Biennial of Luis Manuel Otero, who was arrested supporting Daniel Llorente, there was already pressure placed on my to step down, but I decided I would not,” she tells 14ymedio.

As she recalls, at that time the pressure also came from her boss, who sent her a message saying she should ask to leave the workplace because she came out in defense of the artist, who is also her partner. “It didn’t seem fair and I didn’t ask to leave. I stayed there, but it generated a lot of tension,” she adds. continue reading

Although Genlui does not have good expectations fpr the outcomes of the process she has started now, she argues that she has decided to carry it out “to give visibility to the process” and to expose “all those cracks and arbitrariness that they have committed and are committing.”

For the curator there are many intellectuals and people who “were once linked to a position within the institutions as workers and, for thinking differently or relating to people who think differently, were subjected being fired from their workplace or other sanctions, as is the case with Oscar Casanella.”

Now the Prosecutor’s Office has a maximum period of 60 days to respond to the art historian, who handed them a copy of the legal document sent by her lawyers on December 30. “In that appeal the facts are narrated as they happened,” she claims.

The workers of Factoría Habana, the art gallery from which she was expelled, reject the measure imposed on her, according to her version. “One of them protested because in the meeting that was held to talk about my expulsion he was not allowed to be present while he was on vacation and only found out about it through the networks. Upon returning he made his position clear, as did my other two colleagues. Even the administrator has supported me at all times,” she says.

Despite this, Genlui is prohibited from going to the office if she is not accompanied by the administrator or a specialist. “The other day I wanted to go up to pick up some things that I had left. The fact that they wouldn’t let me pass was shocking to me, but it’s the order they have been given,” she explained. “Concha Fontenla, my director, neither defended me nor condemned me, just simply sent me a message to tell me that she wished me luck and, more recently, another to wish me a Happy New Year.”

The historian says that the fair thing would be for there to be a trial in which she can state all the reasons why she considers the measure unfair and where she can learn the true reason that she has been permanently fired from her job.

Before being fired Genlui held the position of principal specialist of Factoría Habana, which, in practice, made her director of the institution. In addition, she is part of the San Isidro Manifesto and has carried out several works related to independent art and curatorships such as the Luis Manuel Otero Alcantara project, The Flag Belongs to Everyone.

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

Causes and Effects of the Embargo / Fernando Damaso

Fernando Damaso, Havana — On the 4th of January, 1959, the Constitution of 1940 was modified without the knowledge of the Cuban people. On the 10th of January, the death penalty and seizure of property was established for “political misdemeanors,” leaving the interpretation of which open to the executors.

On the 7th of February the Basic Law was published, abolishing in actuality the Constitution of 1940, articulated in a completely vengeful and repressive manner. On the 5th of April the CTC (Workers Central Union of Cuba) declared the right to strike “unnecessary,” even though the workers had not been consulted.

On the 19th of April, with Cuban participation, military intervention was undertaken in Panama. On the 13th of June and the 14th of August the same occurred in Santo Domingo and Haiti, respectively. All were failures. On the 23rd of December “post-scripts” began to appear in newspapers, the first limits on the freedom of press. continue reading

Between the 4th and the 13th of February of 1960 Anastas Mikoyan, the Prime Minister of the USSR, visited Havana and signed the first Cuba-USSR agreement. On the 17th of February BANFIAC (Bank of Agricultural and Industrial Promotion), BANDES (Bank of Economic and Social Development), and the FNC (National Financier of Cuba), institutions of the Bank System created under the Constitution of 1940 by the government of Dr. Carlos Prio Socarras and developed under the government of Fulgencio Batista, disappeared. In that same month of February, newspapers, journals, the radio and the television were “nationalized,” totally eliminating the freedom of press.

On the 1st of May “Elections for what?” was set up, approved by the population present during the act of the Civil Square. Between June and the 6th of August, 36 central sugar companies, the Electricity Company, the Telephone Company and 17 banks, all North American property, were nationalized without compensation or with unacceptable offers of compensation (not to be paid before a period of 30 years, through bonuses, with a fund created by 25% of the value of sugar that the United States would buy at a fixed annual quota of over 3 million tons, at a price not lower than 5.75 American cents per English pound).

On the 13th of September the government of the United States announced that, if the program of “nationalization” were to continue, they would place an embargo on Cuba. On the 13th of October, by Law 890, 105 central sugar companies, important industrial businesses (Crusellas, Sabates, Hatuey, La Tropical, La Polar, Sarra, Taquechel, Johnson, large department stores, the railroads, 18 distilleries, among them Bacardi and Arechabala) as well as 376 other Cuban companies and industries, were expropriated.

By Law 891 the Cuban and foreign bank systems and, by another law, 273 more companies, were nationalized, and the Urban Reform Law was passed, lowering rents and, in continuation, eliminating private property beyond housing. On the 19th of October the government of the United States established the embargo, with exception of certain medicines and foodstuffs.

On the 24th of October the Cuban government expropriated the remaining 166 North American businesses. On the 16th of December, the USA cancelled the Cuban sugar quota. On the 31st of December a Cuban military insurgence began in Algeria in relation with its border war with Morocco.

On the 8th of January 1961, relations between Cuba and the USA broke off. Between the 15th and the 19th of April the military action at the Bay of Pigs occurred, ending in failure for the government of the United States of America. On the 25th of April, a total embargo on Cuba was established.

On the 1st of May private education was nationalized, later carried out on the 6th of June. On the 5th of August national monetary reform was undertaken, freezing bank accounts and reducing them to a maximum of 10 000 pesos, handing over only 200 pesos per person. On the 17th of September the priests were deported and placed on the ship “Covadonga.”

On the 25th of January, 1962 Cuba was expelled from the OAS. From the 22nd to the 28th of October the so-called “Missle Crisis” occured, ending with an agreement between the USA and the USSR that excluded Cuba.

On the 13th of August 1968 the so-called “Revolutionary Offensive” was declared, “nationalizing” more than 50,000 micro-businesses, totally eliminating private property.

Between the 2nd of January, 1969 and the 20th of May, 1970, the “Ten Million Ton Sugar Harvest” failed, dealing a mortal blow to the sugar industry.

On the 23rd of April 1971, cultural repression and intolerance was instigated by the First Congress of Education and Culture. On the 30th of July they restricted access to universities to “revolutionaries” only.

In August 1972 “parametración” was established, resulting in the expulsion of around 300 actors and directors for theater, radio, and television from their posts. On the 22nd of November the State reorganized itself along Soviet lines (instead of Ministries there were Committees).

On July 29th, 1975, the OAS revoked the sanctions against Cuba and, in August, President Gerald Ford realized a partial lift of the embargo. Cuba’s military intervention in Angola began on the 12th of October, putting an end to the brief thaw between Cuba and the United States.

On the 18th of March 1977, President James Carter authorized travel to Cuba and established the US Interest Section, giving way to a new opening in relations. In November Cuba sent troops to Ethiopia to participate in the Ogaden War against Somalia, further frustrating this opening.

On the 14th of December 1984, the United States and Cuba signed an agreement awarding 20,000 American visas annually to Cubans.

On the 9th of November 1989 the Berlin Wall fell.

On the 7th of May Cuba announced its withdrawal from Angola and Ethiopia. With the disappearance of the Eastern European Socialist Camp, and the ending of huge subsidies to the Island, a Special Period in Times of Peace was declared, establishing 14 restrictive measures making life even more difficult for Cubans.

On the 8th of December, 1991, the USSR collapsed and on the 9th of December Soviet troops withdrew from Cuba.

On the 12th of March, 1996, the Helms-Burton act was enacted in response to the demolition of planes belonging to “Brothers to the Rescue,” ending the brief thaw in relations during the Clinton administration.

On the 18th of October 2001 the retiring of the spy base “Lourdes” is announced.

On the 12th of January 2002 the liquidation of the sugar industry began, by means of work ironically named “Alvaro Reynoso,” who was defender of the same industry.

On the 18th of December 2014 relations between Cuba and the US are reestablished. During the Obama administration a number of cooperative agreements are reached, despite “Cuban immobility.”

On the first of January, 2016, with the advent of the Trump administration, relations chilled, a process that continues to this day.

 Translated by Geoffrey Ballinger

The UN Expresses Concern for Working Conditions of Cuban Doctors on Missions

Cuba negotiates with third countries for payments for its doctors and then gives the doctors themselves a small portion of that pay. (United Nations)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, January 6, 2010 — The United Nations expressed concern for the working conditions of Cuban doctors sent on medical missions, according to a document made public and sent to the Island last November. The Cuban Government did not respond.

Urmila Bhoola, Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, and Maria Grazia Giammarinaro, Special Rapporteur on human trafficking, sent a letter to the Cuban Government expressing concern after the complaint by Cuban Prisoners Defenders, a European NGO, that accuses the authorities of human trafficking and slavery through its medical missions.

“The working conditions reported could be considered involuntary servitude, according to the indicators established by the International Organization of Labor. Involuntary servitude constitutes a contemporary form of slavery,” the reporters wrote to the Cuban Government, which still has not responded to the missive. continue reading

Cuban Prisoners Defenders, in its denunciation, gives details about the conditions in which thousands of Cuban doctors and professionals work in the rest of the world. More than 75% of their salaries goes into the hands of the Cuban Government.

The exportation of services is the principal source of income for the Cuban economy and has averaged more than 11 billion dollars a year in the last decade, according to official sources.

The Cuban medical missions in the region are controversial. The New York Times reported that medical attention in Venezuela was used to get votes for the Government. Bolivia and Ecuador ended their contracts with Cuba after turbulent incidents, and the government of Jair Bolsonaro, in Brazil, pushed for the removal of the doctors, considering the agreement with Cuba a form of “modern slavery”.

The Cuban Government contracts directly with third countries for payment for its doctors but gives the doctors themselves a small fraction of the pay. The pay goes into their accounts in Cuba, and the funds are frozen to ensure that the doctors will fulfill their three-year contracts. In case of defection from the mission, their pay passes to the Government.

There are no legal work agreements, and Cuban Prisoners Defenders has documented working shifts of 62 hours per week, restriction of movement and surveillance by the supervisors of the program.

“Many professionals reported receiving threats regularly from Cuban State officials in the countries where they are sent, and women doctors have suffered rape while participating in international missions,” says the document published by the United Nations.

The U.N. is also concerned about the punishment for doctors who decide to abandon the missions outside Cuba.

“Doctors considered deserters will not be able to return to Cuba for eight years, and the families who remain in Cuba will be subject to stigmatization and repercussions from government entities,” explains the text.

In the letter, Cuban Prisoners Defenders says that other professionals—teachers, engineers or artists—will also be submitted to similar work conditions and lives.

The U.N. asked Cuba for an explanation about the conditions related by the NGO, but the government of Miguel Díaz-Canel didn’t respond. Cuba has denounced what it considers a U.S. “campaign to discredit” the work that its doctors are doing in the Exterior. Cuba says it uses the doctors’ earnings to sustain the national health system.

Translated by Regina Anavy

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

Police Search Home of Reporter Iliana Hernandez

Activist Iliana Hernández has spent several years confronting authorities, who submit her to strict control with frequent brief detentions. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, January 8, 2020 — The police began a search of the home of reporter and activist Iliana Hernández in the early hours this morning in the town of Cojimar, east of Havana, according to a report from CiberCuba.

“A group of people appeared suddenly at the home of the activist, and the spokesman was an official who identified himself as ’captain Lázaro Zamora,’ police investigator,” reported the website to which the activist also contributes.

“Good morning, first of all turn off the phone,” the police official told Hernández when the reporter inquired about the reasons for the search. “The police proceeded to snatch away her phone and cut off communication,” adds the note. continue reading

The activist has spent several years confronting authorities, who submit her to strict control with frequent brief detentions. On May 11 she was arrested during the march organized by the LGBTI community in the central Paseo del Prado in the direction of the Malecon.

On that day, several activists, among them Hernández, were intercepted and violently arrested by police and State Security agents.

A month later she was detained again when she was heading to celebrate her 46th birthday, and a week after that, again, for organizing protests demanding a reduction in the prices charged by Etecsa, the state telecommunications company.

The activist has been one of the people most involved in these campaigns that in summer kept the authorities in suspense about the number of people joining them by getting the topic trending with the hashtag #BajenLosPreciosDeInternet (Lower Internet prices).

Police searches and raids on the homes of opposition figures, activists, and independent journalists have been a frequent repressive tactic in the past half century in Cuba. As a general rule, officials seize literature, work materials, electronic devices, and mobile phones.

Translated by: Sheilagh Herrera

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14ymedio’s Faces of 2019: Alexander Otaola, "Youtuber"

Lately through his YouTube program, ¡Hola! Ota-ola, Alexander Otaola has led the initiative known as the “January halt”.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, December 26, 2019 — The Cuban presenter and influencer Alexander Otaola Casal had a meteoric rise in 2019 through his program, ¡Hola! Ota-ola, where he mixes humor, interviews, political activism and entertainment. Born in Camagüey in 1979, Otaola took his first steps as an actor at age 10 in school performances and soon after joined a group of theater aficionados in the Casa de la Cultura in the city.

As a teenager, Otaola hosted a provincial television program, Mundo de Fantasía (Fantasy World), and he also was on Radio Cadena Agramonte. For three years he was part of a group of radio actors and interpreted several childike characters. At the age of 15 he wrote two screenplays.

In 1992 he was chosen to be part of the cast of ¡No!, an adventure series, and after a year of recording in Havana, he returned to Camagüey to finish his media studies with a specialty in acting. In 1997 he joined the Conjunto Dramático de Camagüey, where he interpreted several classical characters, and two years later he decided to live permanently in Havana, where he worked at Radio Progreso and Radio Arte. continue reading

Otaola performed in several series and telenovelas, and in 1998 he requested a visa from the U.S. lottery and arrived in Miami in 2003. He worked as a waiter for five years, then a baker and had other jobs until he resumed his career in 2008, acting in soap operas and shows on Spanish television. In 2010, Otaola received an award for Best Theater Monologue of the Year, and in 2011 he obtained recognition as Best Monologue Actor in the International Festival of Short Works.

Lately, and through his program ¡Hola! Ota-ola on YouTube, he has led the movement known as the “January Halt”,  which promotes cutting off remittances, telephone recharges and trips from the exile community to the Island. His audience in Cuba grows every day, and the official press avoids mentioning his work, since he is a harsh critic of the Regime in his show.

In April 2019, the program ¡Hola! Ota-ola had been on the air for two years, and according to data, more than 9,000 people were watching it every day.

Translated by Regina Anavy 

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Researcher and Essayist Tato Quinones Dies in Havana

Throughout his life, Serafín ’Tato’ Quiñones dedicated himself to defending the values of Afro-Cuban culture. (Facebook)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, January 12, 2020 — The researcher and essayist Serafín ’Tato’ Quiñones passed away in Havana this Sunday afternoon at age 77. Considered an expert in Afro-Cuban matters, the also-historian published several studies on racism in Cuban society and the Abakuá fraternity.

Born in Havana in 1942, Quiñones worked as a history professor and journalist, and was also the founder of and a contributor to numerous publications, carried out several socio-cultural investigations, and worked as a screenwriter for television programs.

Self-educated, controversial, having a deep knowledge of diverse religions and practices of African origin, Quiñones leaves a hole that is difficult to fill in the national culture. continue reading

Several of his stories, compiled under the title Al final del terraplén, el sol (At the end of the embankment, the sun) won the David Prize in 1970 and his volume A pie de obra (1990) showed his maturity as a narrator. One of his most recognized books is Ecorie Abakuá: Cuatro ensayos sobre los ñáñigos cubanos (1994), which consists of four essays of short length.

Throughout his life, Serafín ’Tato’ Quiñones dedicated himself to defending the values of Afro-Cuban culture and the participation of ñañigos and abakuá in the wars of independence. He made several documentaries that highlight the syncretic particulars of Cuban santeria, among them La magia del tambor in reference to the Batá drums.

In his book Afrodescendencias, he mixed genres like chronicle, interview, storytelling, legend, and essay to tackle the link between blackness and race, oral tradition and slavery, racism and society. A volume with a relaxed but critical tone which includes testimonies from Cubans whose activism or participation in secret societies, like abakuá, put them face to face with social and political prejudices.

After learning of his death on Sunday, on his Facebook wall, the professor and essayist Julio César Guanche published a message in homage to Quiñones. “The most learned babalawo of Cuba has died, the most complete historian of the Abakuá fraternity, a champion of the popular world.”

For his part, the professor Esteban Morales lamented the death of this “man of pure heart and commitment to the homeland… We lose him when we need him most for the decisive battle that we must fight against racism.”

One of his last public presentations happened in September when he gave the conference Addodis and Alakuata: A brief attempt to broach homosexuality seen from the Cuban popular religion of the Orishas.

His wake will be held at the funeral home at Calle 70 and 29th in the Havana municipality of Playa.

Translated by: Sheilagh Herrera

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

14ymedio’s Faces of 2019: Beatriz Batista, Protecting Animals

Beatriz Batista studies social communication.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, December 25, 2019 — Beatriz Batista, a young woman of 21 years, is a student of social communication, and she gained popularity in 2019 as the principal organizer of the first demonstration for animal rights in Cuba, held in April. The demonstration took place on calle 25 in Vedado, Havana, and went from Quixote Park up to the Colón Cemetery. It was the first independent demonstration in the last half-century where signs were allowed to be carried.

Unexpectedly, the demonstration brought together more people than expected, and Batista appeared hopeful. She said this would mark a before and after in the struggle to end violence against animals.

Months later, in November, the young woman again mobilized in favor of a law to defend the rights of animals, motivated by the visit of the Spanish Royals for the 500th year of the founding of Havana. The authorities carried out massive sweeps of street dogs and killed them in order to keep the streets “clean”. Batista, together with other animal rights supporters, organized a protest in front of Animal Control and was able to get a meeting with the authorities to discuss the subject. Both parties were satisfied with the advances achieved, and in spite of slow results, already some significant commitments have been made by the Government.

Translated by Regina Anavy

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

I Have No Confidence in the Cuban Constitution / Cubalex, Julio Alfredo Ferrer Tamayo

Cubalex, Lic. Julio Alfredo Ferrer Tamayo, 13 November 2019  — Unfortunately, in the Cuban legal context, there is no Constitutional Tribunal, or, to put it another way, there are no constitutional guarantees. Along with many lawyers, non-lawyers, and legislators as well, I was hoping for a change. Along with other colleagues, I had confidence in the national constitutional tradition, and especially in the milestone represented by the Constitution of 1940, recognised as the most advanced in Latin America, for its time;  nevertheless, it didn´t work out like that. Everybody, whether they voted yes or no, continues with no constitutional guarantees.

In order to be implemented, the new text, in force since April 10th, 2019, needs legislation, which hasn’t yet been prepared, and requires various time periods in which to do it. This gap has given rise to what many have called the “legislative gap”, or “legal limbo”, which is simply a period of legal system paralysis, while waiting for the legislation to be passed. At the moment, the Constitution remains an undelivered message.

To sum up, we Cubans have to wait six months for the new Electoral Law regulating election of representatives to the National Assembly, its President, Vice President, and Secretary; as well as the Council of State, and the President and Vice President of the Republic. And this is going to be delayed even further by other processes. For example, the regulations for the National Assembly will be delayed a year, and two years for the Council of Ministers, the provincial and municipal governments, and their administrative councillors. continue reading

The enactment of the law on Popular Tribunals is eighteen months away, as are also the modifications to the Laws on Penal, Civil, Administrative, Employment and Economic Procedures, and also the legislative modifications needed to effect Art. 99 of the new constitution.

As far as the Family Code is concerned, which is the window which still holds out the prospect of a marriage of equals, there are still 24 months before the start of the popular consultation process and the relevant referendum.

“The most completed and advanced of the Cuban constitutional texts”, which is what Homer Acosta Alvarez, the Secretary of the Council of State, has termed the new Constitution, will be applied bit by bit, because it needs, according to Homer himself, no fewer than 50 items of legislation. And, really, it is difficult to be optimistic about it.

The legislation which backed up the 1976 Constitution was not a happy memory. We can recall the Law on Migration (it dealt with the right to leave the country with an exit permit, a carte blanche, authorised by the Ministry of the Interior), or the Law on Association, and its Regulations (it conditioned the right of association upon prior permission of the Ministry of Justice).

We can think of other equally disastrous legislation, such as Order 149 (which violated the right oto personal property enshrined in Art. 21 of the said Constitution. And also Decree 217 of 1997 (imposed innumerable legal requirements on Cuban citizens of other provinces wanting to reside permanently in Havana).

What we can learn from such legislation is that they are a double-edged sword, holding back and restricting rights proclaimed in the text of the constitution, preventing citizens from exercising them.

Will it be the same this time around? I think so. We Cubans need to be very watchful over this legislation, because they will have been enacted without prior popular consultation, and therefore people will not be able to influence the contents, in spite of the democratic process they have been boasting about.

We remember that Art. 26 of the old Constitution recognised the right of every individual who suffers loss or is prejudiced by inappropriate action by officials or agents. Later, this right was restricted by Section 2 of Art. 96 of the Civil Code, which subordinated its exercise and implementation to declarations of illegality on the part of the superior state authorities. That is to say, if the superior state authority thinks it is not in the state’s interests, there will be no compensation, or indemnification, or any constitutional rights worth a bean.

This right, with identical wording, is anticipated in Art. 98 of the new Law of Laws. It remains to be seen if the regulations which are to enact this constitutional precept, let’s call it Civil Code, will set up a legal mandate of subordinate status, constraining the right to compensation and indemnification for damages improperly caused by state authorities.

If the new Constitution had conceived of a Tribunal of Constitutional Guarantees or other similar entity with the authority and structure necessary to protect the constitution, then those persons who had seen their rights infringed would have had an organisation to go to in order to defend the constitutional position. That organ would be a defensive wall against arbitrary action.

Translated by GH

Mexico Wants to End the Lines to Apply for Visas in Havana

The Mexican embassy has not yet shut down the previous appointment website, although it has already explained its future mechanism.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 10 January 2020 — The Mexican Embassy in Cuba is preparing a new system to apply for visas that will come into force soon, although it has already detailed how it will be done. Online appointments will put an end to the lines, as well as the ’business’ that some make out of the current system, hence the announcement boldly highlights the phrase “Remember that obtaining times and appointments are free.”

The new formula, Citas Cuba (Cuba Appointments), will require entering a page not yet available and the link to which will be provided to a registered user with passport data. The holder must select the procedure that he wishes to perform once he has accessed his space and there he will be assigned a turn from the list that has been digitally created.

The user will receive their turn by email and must appear on the day and time assigned with the documentation required for the procedure and the printed appointment. If they have not received it, they can enter the system and find out when the last appointment was.

In Cuba, the slowness and lack of digitalization of most procedures generates long waiting times and lines. Many people who do not have the time available to lose it in these procedures are willing to pay to save their time, which has resulted in an informal business usually covered by retirees who supplement their low pension selling places in line.

The previous mechanism to obtain a consular appointment at the Mexican embassy was harshly criticized and accused of mishandling. The applicants complained that the online registration did not work and the appointments were sold out a few minutes after each month’s places for interviews were announced.

This created another informal appointment buying system, which cost between 300 and 500 CUC (roughly the same in dollars). The digital classified sites offered the possibility of obtaining “an appointment at the Mexican consulate, without lining up and with guaranteed success.”

Outside consular headquarters, located on 12th at the corner of 7th in Miramar, west of Havana, it was also common to find people who were loitering and offering “a quick appointment for next week,” a phenomenon that was further enhanced when Mexico introduced 10-year visas and multiple entries, much requested by the mules, who travel especially to the Cancun area, with short and cheap flights.

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Cubans Must Wait Days To Take Cash Out Of Their Dollar Accounts

The authorities warn that because dollars aren’t being released by the Central Bank of Cuba, their availability in branch offices may vary. (Flickr/Maxence)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, December 26, 2019 — Clients who have dollar accounts, which were announced with great fanfare this past October, have to wait several days to withdraw their dollars from the banks “in accordance with existing availability,” according to an announcement by the Central Bank of Cuba in the official press.

“The bank is not establishing limits for the withdrawal of cash; the amount will depend on the balance that exists in the account,” says the notice. It states that “it is not possible for the banks to pre-establish an exact date when the requested U.S. dollars can be delivered.” These limitations are also applied to other forms of hard currency associated with debit cards, like the euro, the Canadian dollar or the Mexican peso.

“Because no money is being released by the Central Bank of Cuba, availability in bank branches may vary.” However, “the bank will always try to respond to requests in the least amount of time possible,” the information says, which comes in the middle of an increase in complaints about how hard it is to withdraw cash. continue reading

For months, this problem has affected the bank accounts in hard currency that existed in the country before the opening of the new chain of shops in foreign money. Many Cubans deposited this money, fundamentally, to meet the conditions of the the consulates of several countries, which require Cubans to be able to show a bank account with hard currency in order to apply for a visa, with the amounts required varying from country to country.

But since the middle of October, and with the opening of dollar accounts associated with debit cards to use in the new hard currency shops, the difficulty of withdrawing the money, known as fulas in popular slang, has increased. This has been accompanied by an increase in the informal market of U.S. dollars due to the uncertainty that surrounds the convertible peso (CUC).

On the black market, where transactions between individuals take place, a dollar can buy 1.20 CUC, much more than the 0.95 rate that it had at the beginning of the year. The rise has motivated many clients to take their dollars out of the bank and resell them on the informal networks where they can get CUCs to resell to tourists from countries like Panama or the U.S.

Hard-currency accounts can be opened without making an initial deposit and don’t have a minimum balance requirement. They don’t earn interest nor charge a commission, explain the employees of the Central Bank. “It’s a method of payment issued by the Cuban banks, which gives them access to purchases in the authrorized stores for the sale of merchandise in U.S. dollars.”

In addition to being used in the hard currency shops, the debit cards associated with these accounts can also be used in the convertible peso shops or to take money out of the ATMs in convertible pesos or Cuban pesos.

Translated by Regina Anavy

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.