Cuba And The Parable Of The Elephant / 14ymedio, Pedro Armando Junco

The US president, Barack Obama, and his Cuban counterpart, Raul Castro, last March at the Palace of the Revolution in Havana. (White House)
The US president, Barack Obama, and his Cuban counterpart, Raul Castro, last March at the Palace of the Revolution in Havana. (White House)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Pedro Armando Junco, Havana, 17 September 2016 — The vagaries of fate are unpredictable. Who would have thought ,15 years ago, when food containers and all types of first world goods and gushing oil came from Venezuela to Cuba, that today the Cuban collaborators in that country would have to bring their own groceries?

The invested positions of both governments denote the great differences between the small concessions of the general president and the impenetrability

in which Nicolas Maduro wants to lock away Venezuela. Even Cuba’s relations with the United States are developing greater diplomacy today than the bitter vituperations of the Venezuelan executive. Is there a certain presumption from a friend in the early years of the current century? “Is communism starting in Venezuela now, but ending in Cuba?” Continue reading “Cuba And The Parable Of The Elephant / 14ymedio, Pedro Armando Junco”

Cuba, at least, without renouncing its ideology, is taking steps to move forward. The importance of an aperture implied by the bilateral accords coming to fruition with the United States is huge, despite the silence of the official press; nor it is adequate to exclude the circumstantial coincidence in an era with a US president who is sufficiently tractable and is a facilitator of suitable arrangements. But are the limitations that still persist and hinder the emergence of civil society on the island objective and condemnable?

Given the recent pronouncement by the Minister of Culture, Abel Prieto, calling the economic empowerment of Cubans on the island a plot by the US government to destroy the Revolution, and another wisecracking friend who said, laughing, “Imagine a caricature of Raul, up to his waist in the economic swamp, with his left hand caressing the sorrowful faces of those clinging to the old centralized system and his right hand making signs to Uncle Sam behind his back to come to his aid.”

We have to keep in mind, above all, the limitations of freedoms and rights that Cubans have experienced since the sixties, their privations still exceeding those of the other socialist governments on the continent, no matter how tyrannical they seem. In the island there is no opposition party and no legitimate elections, The last two generations know nothing of freedom of the press, free labor unions, the right to strike, the ability to generate their own wealth, etc. Only in this way is it comprehensible that one nation has become accustomed for more than half a century of meekness, disinformation and the lack of its fundamental rights.

It is the parable of the circus elephant that from childhood was subject to having his foot tied to a stake in the circus. From the time he was young, no matter how much he pulled on the stake, he failed to pull it out and learned to live in chains. The years passed, the elephant became an adult, but he never tried to remove the small stake that would have been easy to pull out.

This is also the story of the Cuban people in the Revolution: they planted the state of fear and with it limited or eliminated their fundamental rights. They were prohibited from feeding themselves at their pleasure, leaving the island, acquiring wealth, saying what they thought, dissenting from what they considered unfair… And over time, like the chained elephant, they became accustomed to living subject to certain unjust laws and mandates, without answers, without reason, because one word and one man monopolized all power.

The man above any citizen, including his closest collaborators, above the law, above reason, above God. The word revolutionary, an absolute and obligatory qualifier, the golden key to open any kind of lock, and its lack, the most aberrant and degrading blemish on a human being. In that word was contained all the virtues of man, its absence contained the vices of the world.

But the descendants of the old elephant of the parable have discovered that the stake has deteriorated. The passage of time has eaten away its old wood, and by nature itself, it has been pulled out. The grandchildren of the elephant have looked up and discovered that beyond the circus enclosure there is a horizon to walk to, to feed themselves better, to create a herd. And the stake their grandfathers were subject to is fragile, anachronistic, useless. The wheel attached to the foot, but incapable of serving as a snare under any credible concept.

Times have changed. Everyone knows that the economic salvation of the country lies with the United States. Some resist as much as they can, juxtaposing conditions – elimination of the embargo, the Cuban Adjustment Act, the “enemy” broadcasts and the return of the Guantanamo Naval base.

This constantly echoes to the nation, although its well known that these grants are dependent on a greater opening on the Cuban side, are only discussed behind closed doors in the bilateral conversations between the two governments.

It is similar to the game of the stingy trader who until the last minute attempts to get one more crumb from the transaction. Ultimately, the only correct path is a major opening to investment and American tourism, for which they have to concede important political changes, necessarily.

But, when and how will they handle the recognition of the opposition, respect for the dissenting demonstrations, for the mass media and the economic empowerment of the people? This task belongs to the grandchildren of the decrepit elephant.

Cuban Police Seize Legal Center’s Work Equipment / 14ymedio

Cubalex's office (Source: Laritza Diversent)
Cubalex’s office (Source: Laritza Diversent)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 24 September 2016 – Friday’s police assault against the headquarters of Cubalex, Center of Legal Information, located in the Havana municipality of Arroyo Naranjo, resulted in the seizure of six computers, several hard drives, USB drives and cell phones. The officers informed the lawyer Laritza Diversent that she could be accused of the crime of “illicit economic activity,” according to a report from the activist Kirenia Yalit to this newspaper.

The headquarters of the independent group was searched on Friday, by members of the National Revolutionary Police (PNR) and members of State Security, who stormed the place breaking down the doors.

The thorough search of the building lasted until after eleven p.m. and “when it seemed that everything was going to end and they had concluded their interrogations” of the activists, they forced them to strip naked “and squat to verify that there was nothing hidden in their bodies,” said Yalit.

The independent lawyers denounce the fact that they never showed a warrant that met the requirements for a search.

“They took everything, they just left some chairs and tables,” says Yalit, which 14ymedio was able to confirm through sources near the site. The prosecutor who led the operation informed the attorneys that the case “is of interest to the Attorney General of the Republic” and that they would undertake all relevant investigations to determine whether to proceed with an indictment against them.

Dayan Pérez Noriega, who was taken to a police station when he tried to send Twitter messages about what was happening, was released at around ten at night. The attorney Julio Ferrer, a member of Cubalex, remains missing after having been intercepted by the police on Friday.

After the operation at the property was completed, the lawyers received no  immediate injunction, fines or written summons.

Attorney Laritza Diversent intends to denounce “the outrage committed,” as she has done on previous occasions when she demanded the return of her belongings seized by Cuban Customs at the airport.

The Legal Information Center, Cubalex, is an independent agency that has provided free legal advice since 2010. The lawyers’ group also focuses on human rights issues. In July of this year Cuba’s Ministry of Justice rejected the application filed by the group’s members for legal status for the organization.

Cuban State Security Prevents a Meeting of Pinar del Rio’s Coexistence Studies Center / 14ymedio, Mario Penton

Members of the Coexistence Studies Center at a meeting in Pinar del Rio. (Coexistence)
Members of the Coexistence Studies Center at a meeting in Pinar del Rio. (Coexistence)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miami, 23 September 2016 — Tania de la Caridad Reyes and her husbandYosvany Alfonso were intercepted by police in Pinar del Río when they tried to reach the Coexistence Studies Center (CEC) to attend the course “My Neighborhood a Community.” Two police patrols forced them to return to Cienfuegos, where they reside. On Friday the organizers denounced the intervention by State Security, which prevented the realization of the planned activity with various groups of civil society to share ideas on “civic learning.”

“This last month we have had nine interrogations of team members. Finally we had to suspend the ‘My Neighborhood a Community’ program, which is part of the ethical and civic project for the safety of the participants,” Dagoerto Valdes, director of the CEC, explains to 14ymedio.

“Where in the world are people prevented from attending a course that the only thing it does is make them better and more responsible citizens in their community?” asks Valdes. Continue reading “Cuban State Security Prevents a Meeting of Pinar del Rio’s Coexistence Studies Center / 14ymedio, Mario Penton”

Reyes and Alfonso are the ones responsible for “Project New Hope,” which operates in the South Caunao neighborhood, a recently completed residential area on the outskirts of the city of Cienfuegos. According to the couple, under the auspices of the Czech NGO People in Need they do training work with children and youth in the area, organize walks and create networks to promote work in the neighborhood.

“We chose this course because ours is community work and this meeting would allow us to obtain tools to improve our work in the neighborhood,” Reyes told 14ymedio.

According to the activist, when they arrived at the bus station in Pinar del Río Thursday night, three police officers in plainclothes stopped them and made them turn off their cellphones. After allowing them to make a call from a landline provided by the officers themselves, they were driven to the outskirts of the city to send them to Havana.

“They stopped two tractors that make the trip to Havana and sent us separately. They took down the license plates of the vehicles and told the drivers they were responsible for what happened to us,” says Reyes.

When they got to the capital they were left at a gas station from where they had to get to the bus station and get “overpriced” tickets to return to Cienfuegos. (The regular tickets are subsidized and cost about two CUC (about $2 US), but the huge waiting list forced them to buy the tickets under the table).

“When we learned what had happened with the group from Cienfuegos, we decided to suspend the meeting. We advised the ecological group Eco-Social Movement for the Protection of Nation and the Environment (PRONATON), which sent several delegates from Sancti Spiritus, and the Pinar del Rio group Independent and Democratic Cuba, which would also participate in the event,” explained Yoandy Izquierdo, member of the editorial board of the magazine Convivencia (Coexistence).

Izquierdo also denounced the presence of several people who were monitoring the place where the course would be held from early in the morning, and making it difficult for the organizers to communicate by phone and text message.

The Coexistence Studies Center organizes training courses for citizenship and civil society in Cuba. It has four main lines of action, ranging from the publication of the magazine Convivencia to the debate of ideas through reflection and study groups. It also has a comprehensive training program and so-called micro-projects. It is a project of the nascent Cuban civil society and its members are totally independent of the State, the Church and any political group.

Police Burst into Cubalex Headquarters / 14ymedio

Attorney Laritza Diversent (left) with the activist Yalit Kirenia during a presentation at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. (Youtube)
Attorney Laritza Diversent (left) with the activist Yalit Kirenia during a presentation at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. (Youtube)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 23 September 2016 — The headquarters of Cubalex, The Center of Legal Information, located in the Havana municipality of Arroyo Naranjo, was searched by National Revolutionary Police (PNR) officers and State Security agents on Friday, as confirmed to this newspaper by the independent journalist Osniel Carmona.

After two in the afternoon, the police burst into the site which is also the home of independent attorney Laritza Diversent. Until after five in the afternoon all the phones of Cubalex members remained out of service and access to the house was restricted by the security forces, according to what this newspaper was able to confirm. Continue reading “Police Burst into Cubalex Headquarters / 14ymedio”

Seven people were inside the home at the time the search started, among whom were Ariadna Romero, Yamara Curbelo Rodríguez, María Bonet, Teresa Perdomo, Amado Iglesias, Diego Ricardo and Laritza Diversent herself.

During the morning Laritza Diversent had informed 14ymedio that there was a operation “organized by State Security agents and the police” around the house. She explained that several neighbors advised her of the presence of “buses and patrol cars,” so she feared they would eventually get inside the house.

T”a report on the status of freedom of expression in Cuba” that she presented “to the special rapporteur for freedom of expression” in the city of Geneva “in mid-August.”

“We feel that we are now at risk and are calling all our contacts asking for help so that the world knows that right now our office and our organization are at risk,” the attorney warned by phone.

The activist Kirenia Yalit Núñez, a member of Cubalex who is just a few blocks away, explained that the agency “had a judicial order but Laritza rejected it because it wasn’t valid.” However, a little later “they broke into the house with a crowbar and broke several locks.”

After six in the evening the activist Teresa Perdoma was released and she said that they had threatened Diversent with an accusation of “illicit economic activity.” The police also warned that they would take “all the equipment, like computers, flash memories and hard drives.”

She was arrested in the operation and taken to the Dayan Perez Noriega police station, where she tried to send Twitter messages reporting what happened. The other activists remained in the building until eight o’clock on Friday night. Two police patrol cars guarded the entrance.

The Legal Information Center, Cubalex, is an independent entity that has provided free legal advice since 2011. The lawyers’ group also focuses on Human Rights issues. In July of this year Cuba’s Ministry of Justice rejected the application for legal status presented by its members.

The European Union Includes The Detention Of Cuban Dissidents In Its Annual Report / 14ymedio

The European Union member states have participated in "monitoring and have reported the short-term detentions and violations of freedoms of association and assembly." (EFE)
The European Union member states have participated in “monitoring and have reported the short-term detentions and violations of freedoms of association and assembly.” (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 22 September 2016 — A report from the European Union details that in 2015 Cuba continued “arbitrary and short-term arrests of opposition members, activists and human rights defenders.” This situation that has led the bloc to communicate “on several occasions” its concern to the authorities of the island.

The document, released Tuesday, collects details of the situation faced by human rights and democracy activists around the world. In the chapter dedicated to Cuba, the EU reports that last year it urged the Cuban government to ratify “the United Nations Covenants on Civil and Political Rights and on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.”

In particular, it underscores the EU’s concern about “discrimination and violence against women, freedom of expression and association” and calls on the Cuban government to give “more space to the activities of civil society” and to respect “freedom of movement” inside and outside the country. Continue reading “The European Union Includes The Detention Of Cuban Dissidents In Its Annual Report / 14ymedio”

EU member states have participated in “monitoring and have reported on the use of short-term detentions and violations of freedoms of association and assembly,” says the text.

The document refers to the first EU-Cuba talks on human rights that took place in Brussels on 25 June 2015, in which representatives of the island pledged “to conduct future talks with the EU based on universally recognized human rights.”

The EU and Cuba held negotiations for a Political Dialogue and Cooperation Agreement. On Thursday the European Commission has proposed to the countries of the European Union to support the Agreement and has requested that the EU’s Common Position on Cuba – which “encourages a process of transition to a pluralist democracy and respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms” – in force since 1996, be repealed.

The report explains that the EU representatives in Havana have continued to interact with “various representatives of Cuban civil society” and those contacts have contributed to the analysis and monitoring of the situation of “freedom of expression and association, freedom of belief and labor rights.”

However, the text acknowledges that “holding open meetings with leading government critics remained impossible, particularly for ministers and senior officials from the EU and the Member States on an official visit.”

The EU has maintained close contact with former prisoners of the 2003 Black Spring still residing on the island and has spoken with the Cuban authorities on the right of the activists to leave the country. Currently these former political prisoners are allowed to make only one trip out of the country.

The work of the European Union in Cuba also focuses on “strengthening the capacity of women entrepreneurs, preventing violence against women, [and] strengthening the capacity of organizations representing people with disabilities.”

Topics such as “sex education, support for private initiative and the entrepreneurial spirit in urban development, agriculture and energy” are also on bloc’s agenda with Cuba.

“The EU is undertaking an ongoing effort to expand the participation of independent civil society organizations in its political and cooperative work,” the report concludes.

Cuba’s ‘Informal Market’ is Transformed with La Chopi / 14ymedio, Zunilda Mata

Browsing categories or using the search engine, one can find a wide range of products on La Chopi. (La Chopi)
Browsing categories or using the search engine, one can find a wide range of products on La Chopi. (La Chopi)

14ymedio, Zunilda Mata, Havana, 21 September 2016 — On the shelves of the markets that sell goods in Cuban convertible pesos (CUC) prices have skyrocketed and shortages have become chronic. The problem in the state owned stores – which Cubans call “shopping,” using the English word – is aggravated by the lack of liquidity. In this situation the informal sales networks have found an ally in technology. An application for cellphones created by Cuban developers, facilitates access to the informal market. Its creators have called it, with a certain irony, La Chopi – a Cuban spelling of the word “shopping.”

Conceived for iOS and Android devices, the tool combines practical utility with an attractive and well-maintained design from the young computer expert Pedro Govea. The menu displays the classified ads by category, which range from home appliances to job openings in private businesses. Continue reading “Cuba’s ‘Informal Market’ is Transformed with La Chopi / 14ymedio, Zunilda Mata”

La Chopi, which is currently distributed free of charge through the Weekly Packet and can also be downloaded from its own website, has built on the experience of other classified sites such as Revolico, which help Cubans in the difficult task of acquiring scarce merchandise, goods that are banned or that aren’t sold in its retail network.

La Chopi’s offerings are some of the most diverse. Unlocked iPhones, masseuses who promise to “relieve stress and recharge your batteries for a hard day’s work,” and from wholesale acrylic nails, to products that have never been marketed in state networks, such as satellite dishes, visas to several Central American countries and Dalmatian puppies.

The application is like a show that goes from the sublime to the ridiculous, covering incunabula two centuries old or drugs to “strengthen muscles,” one more display of the consumer appetite that runs through Cuban society and their desire for the free market.

Most of the information contained in this unique online store comes from the digital site BacheCubano.com, but it also supports ads that come from users via email or text-only messages (SMS). The objective of its lead programmer, Ernesto Redonet has been “facilitating sales and the promotion of services in Cuba.”

In version 1.9, La Chopi also offers the ability for users to pay for placing advertising for their business or product, whether on the start screen of the application, in one of the categories of offerings, or as a featured ad. This is a trend followed, with fewer and fewer limitations, by classified sites and apps developed on the island.

Developers believe that suspicion of advertising is declining. (La Chopi)
Developers believe that suspicion of advertising is declining. (La Chopi)

“We’ve gone from being afraid of advertising, to everyone wanting to advertise,” says Yusiel Ruiz, a self-taught apps developer for Android who has worked on several projects in the Cuban market. “Cellphones are the technology of the moment, so we focus more on products for phones than for computers,” he says.

In the private audiovisual content market Copy Pack, in Central Havana, users acquire the popular collection of movies, telenovelas, shows and documentaries known as the Weekly Packet. In the packet there is a file that also contains the latest cellphone apps appearing in the market. “La Chopi is really popular,” one of the employees tells 14ymedio.

“Competition is strong because there are a lot of apps with classified ads and promotions for services, but the only ones that will survive will be those offering the most information and the most attractive design,” speculates Yasiel Ruiz, who is working on an app right now for blind dates that will use text messaging to connect possible partners.

With the advent of new technologies, the black market has gone from being a network where trust between buyer and seller was essential to one that is more public and easygoing, like Craigslist. The state has also wanted to participate in this battle for advertising, staring with the publication of a tabloid called “Offerings,” but independent digital sites are still preferred.

La Chopi also reinforces the trend of apps developed by residents of the island, particularly focusing on ones that work off-line, given the difficulty in connecting to the internet. It’s enough to copy the new database every week, also distributed in the Weekly Packet, for the user to get the latest ads.

“The future belongs entirely to the apps,” says Ruiz convinced that the advent of tools like La Chopi “make life easier for everyone.”

ETECSA: Havana’s Malecon To Become a Wifi Zone By Year End

If the forecast is met, connecting to the network from the Malecón – greatly visited by tourists – will be possible before the end of the year. (14ymedio)
If the forecast is met, connecting to the network from the Malecón – greatly visited by tourists – will be possible before the end of the year. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, 21 September 2016 – Havana’s Malecon will become a Wifi zone before the end of 2016, according to an announcement from the Cuban Telecommunications Company (ETECSA). The coverage will be available, the company says, from the Prado to the entrance of the 5th Avenue tunnel, a distance of almost 5 miles.

Eudes Monier Núñez, ETECSA’s head of the Department of Marketing and Communication for the Territorial Division, told the Cuban News Agency (ACN) that there is still no date for the start of the service, which will depend on “the progress of the installation, which will be complex due to the length of the most famous maritime promenade in Cuba.” However, the access points for mounting the new connection points have been identified, as has the technical equipment. Continue reading “ETECSA: Havana’s Malecon To Become a Wifi Zone By Year End”

Monier Núñez said that the influx of people, especially young people who frequent the area, is one of the most important factors in making the decision to install this new internet access point.

Of the 30 Wifi zones planned for 2016, 17 have been installed. ETECSA says the rest will become available when the necessary equipment is available.

Iris Duran, company spokeswoman, said that all municipalities in Havana have at least one Wifi zone, and some of them, depending on their size and demographics, have up to five areas.

The most recent opened on 17 September with six new Wifi points in Marianao, Guanabo, Guanabacoa, Arroyo Naranjo, San Miguel del Padrón and El Cerro.

According to data from ETECSA, some 250,000 connections have been recorded at the 1,006 public Wifi access point in Cuba. Although the number of wireless access zones installed in parks and on centrally located avenues in some cities has tripled in 2016, the density of service remains very low for a population of about 11.1 million, with about one Wifi zone for every 11,000 people.

Brazil to Cut Cuban Doctors Program by 35% / 14ymedio

Currently, more than 11,000 Cuban doctors are part of the Brazilian government program 'Mais médicos
Currently, more than 11,000 Cuban doctors are part of the Brazilian government program ‘Mais médicos

14ymedio bigger[CORRECTED] 14ymedio, 21 September 2016 – Brazil is seeking to be self-sufficient in healthcare services. The program Mais Médicos (More Doctors), recently renewed between the governments of Cuba and Brazil, which supplies doctors for Brazil’s most disadvantaged and remote areas, will be progressively reduced, according to Brazil’s Minister of Health Ricardo Barros in an interview this Tuesday.

“We appreciate the availability of the Cubans who help us, but our objective is not to permanently maintain this cooperation,” he said.

The goal is to reduce the participation of Cuban doctors in the program by 35%. Thus, the 11,400 Cuban personnel currently working in Brazil would be reduced to 7,400. In 2017 the ministry intends to offer 2,000 positions to Brazilian professionals, although if the slots are not filled they would continue to contract for Cubans.

Barros said that the program was responding to a transitional policy that intends to meet the needs of the population, but the objective would be to not do this with external contracts. Currently, it is estimated that 62.5% of the professionals in the program are Cubans.

The minister said that from now on wages will be adjusted in line with inflation and in 2017 will rise by 8.9%. The cost to Brazil for each Cuban health care provider is $4,385 US, of which the Cuban government keeps $3,070 and the medical professional is paid $1,315, for a year’s work. The “profit” to the Cuban government, therefore, is just short of 35 million dollars a year. The total cost to Brazil is 49.6 million dollars.

The Cuban government has never made public the figures for the income it earns through the export of doctors in this program, but “defectors” from the program have confirmed that the island’s governments keeps some 70% of the salaries that Brazil pays through the mediation of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO).

“Cubans Like Everything Forbidden” / 14ymedio, Luz Escobar

Rolando Lorenzo León, Q Mania TV producer. (14ymedio)
Rolando Lorenzo León, Q Mania TV producer. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 22 September 2016 – He is a self-confessed “son of television,” but he also admits that Cuba “is a bit behind” in the last decades with regards to innovation and quality in this medium. To catch up, Rolando Lorenzo León has created an entertainment program focused on the lives of artists and private sector businesses that circulates on the “alternative” network known as the “Weekly Packet.”

This week he spoke with 14ymedio about Q Mania TV, the production that absorbs all his energies and dreams.

Luz Escobar. How did you get the idea for this alternative TV show?

Rolando Lorenzo León. Q Mania TV emerged in May of this year from Bola8 TV, a previous project I was working on as general producer and that was distributed in the Weekly Packet. The project only lasted a little more than a month, but it achieved a tremendous rating and then differences arose among the team and I left. After the split I decided to start my own project. I wanted to show that I could make a great program, a good product, with a few people who know what they’re doing and are professionals. Continue reading ““Cubans Like Everything Forbidden” / 14ymedio, Luz Escobar”

Escobar. What it is the focus of Q Mania TV and how often does it appear?

León. It took off from the idea of the “mania” Cubans have for knowing about what’s going on with artists. My mania, or the mania of my team, is to learn where our artists are going and about the international artists who choose to come to Cuba. The result is a product with a national identity, a good profit potential, and targeted to the Cuban customer, to the Cuban family.

It began as a fifteen-minute weekly project. So far it has had 10 episodes, and will have 12 this season. There are still two to be produced, which are already recorded, but I have had to spread my time among other projects… because I have to live.

Escobar. You chose the Weekly Packet as the main method of distribution.

León. Yes, to appear on that alternative channel that many fear, others hate and others enjoy. If Cuban TV paid me and there wasn’t censorship, I would have my program right now in front of 11 million Cubans on the national channel. It’s not about being reactionary or going against the current, but about profit, because television can’t be made on a few pesos.

Escobar. In addition to the artists you have a special emphasis on entrepreneurship.

León. I thought from the beginning about private businesses, also because the program needs to be produced and I’m not a millionaire. I wanted the program to show where to go to eat, get your hair done, starting from a limited production. Although Cuban entrepreneurs and cooperatives are not ready for stable advertising. People see the Weekly Packet as one source of advertising but advertising is everywhere.

Escobar. How much does the production cost?

León. An ideal program of 27 minutes needs to be able to raise about 1,000 CUC (roughly $1000 US) a week for production costs. Cuban television costs more than that for each episode of a regular program. We brought four months of shows to the air and spent a quarter of the cost of a program on Cuban television, which has no audience and is broadcasting into the void.

Escobar. Do you have an idea of your audience numbers?

León. We are seeing many people. Although I have pieces I did working on national television, I never had much of an audience. Cubans like the forbidden.

Escobar. What problems have you had during filming in state premises?

León. When we started there was a lot of conflict with the issue of the concerts in places like La Casa de la Música, where managers were afraid of us because we are a program on the Weekly Packet. What we did was to establish direct communication with artists and they recorded the concert for us and then passed us the images. Other managers understood that there was no harm in the project and that a noncommercial space doesn’t generate any dividends, so they facilitate things for us.

Escobar. Do you aspire to put this product in international markets?

León. We would like to, and I think that is part of the natural development of the historical moment we are living in right now. If you are opening the doors for music and human potential and it is one of the most important sectors of the Cuban economy, television should not leave this behind. I see a talent flourishing in this country that wants to say things and that doesn’t have to lose its identity and its roots.

However, if in order to appear on an international channel I have to adapt to what I do not think or believe, I will not be in any international media.

Escobar. Will you bring this program to national programming someday?

León. My horizon has no limits. I’m not against being on Cuban TV if it suits my way of doing and saying things. But it is more likely they would take my program and plagiarize me than that they would pay me, because there are people who are afraid to make room for a young person.

“It’s On The Penultimate Page” / 14ymedio

A person reading the official daily Granma. (EFE / File)
A man reading the official daily Granma. (EFE / File)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 22 September 2016 – “It’s on the penultimate page,” the employee of the newspaper kiosk in Havana’s Cerro district tells a young woman who is buying two copies of the newspaper Granma this Wednesday. The terse note from the Cuban Volleyball Federation about the five- year prison sentences for rape handed down in Finland to visiting Cuban athletes sparked particular interest among Cubans, when it appeared in the official organ of the Communist Party, although citizens had to look hard to find the information.

“If it had been a group of athletes from the United States who had raped a Finnish woman, the news would have been on the front page,” said one of the buyers of the official newspaper on hearing the vendor say where to find the article.

At the “sports rock” in Havana’s Central Park – a site of informal, but loud and vigorous, daily debates about everything sports, popularly known as “The Hot Corner” – baseball still stars as the most discussed topic. But today the poor showing of the local team, the Industriales, in the National Series has to share time with a lively discussion of the trial of the Cuban volleyball players in Tampere, Finland. Continue reading ““It’s On The Penultimate Page” / 14ymedio”

The sports fans complain about the lack of coverage in the official press about what happened and the lack of details about the judicial process.

“They don’t say hardly anything and you have to hear about it from the antenna (the illegal satellite dishes hidden around the city) or on the street,” explains Samuel, a follower of the sport who was sharing his opinions on Wednesday with the other regulars of the “rock.” “I found out because my aunt gets the signal in her house with the news from Miami, because here they have just given us drabs and drabs,” complained the young man.

Some of those assembled lacked confidence in the conclusion of the Finnish court. “This is a bed (a conspiracy) that they set up for these boys in order to harm Cuban sports,” insists Victor Zuñiga, a retired welder who remembers having seen “a lot of humbug like this against our people.”

No women participated in the “Hot Corner” debates this Wednesday, where the sports talk is traditionally engaged in by men. “It if were my daughter that had happened to, it wouldn’t matter whether they were top-flight athletes, I would want justice and would want to see them behind bars,” says Gretel, 49, who was nearby.

The Cuban Volleyball Federation merely communicated in an official note, in which it made no assessment of the facts. 14ymedio tried to contact the body, but in all calls made as of this writing it was only possible to communicate with an answering machine.

Mika Ruotsalainen, Minister-Counselor of the Finnish Embassy in Mexico, which handles consular affairs for all the Caribbean countries, told this newspaper that there are no extradition treaties between the Republic of Finland and the Republic of Cuba.

The diplomat said the Cuban athletes will have to serve their sentences in a Finnish prison.

The Pinkanmaa court imposed sentences of five years in prison for Rolando Cepeda Abreu, Abraham Alfonso Gavilán, Ricardo Norberto Calvo Manzano and Osmany Santiago Uriarte Mestre, and three and a half years for Luis Tomás Sosa Sierra.

Ultimatum To American Airlines For Alleged Discrimination Against Cuban Americans / 14ymedio, Mario Penton

Ramon Saul Sanchez, president of the Democracy Movement. (14ymedio)
Ramon Saul Sanchez, president of the Democracy Movement. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario Penton, 20 September 2016 — Ramon Saul Sanchez, president of the Democracy Movement, said on Tuesday at a press conference in Miami that if American Airlines does not change, within 24 hours, its “policy of apartheid” against its Cuban-American employees, the organization would take action against it ranging from protests in the street to possible lawsuits.

“The Democracy Movement rejects apartheid on the part of AA by virtue of nationality against Cuban-American workers whom the regime will not allow to enter Cuba, and and other nationalities with American citizenship,” said Sanchez. Continue reading “Ultimatum To American Airlines For Alleged Discrimination Against Cuban Americans / 14ymedio, Mario Penton”

A Cuban exile himself, the president stressed that his organization has nothing against flights to the island. “This is not a campaign against the flights to Cuba, which we support and we believe are useful for family reunification,” he said, but he argued that the Cuban law preventing Cuban-Americans from entering the island on their United States passports is the real problem.

“We believe AA as a prestigious company, which should not discriminate against people simply because the government of Cuba does,” noted Sanchez.

With flights to Cienfuegos and Holguin on 7 September, the company began direct service to the island. These were the first of 12 daily flights to Cuba. The problem arose when, on a flight to Varadero, the crew needed to stay overnight in Cuba and the Cuban authorities refused Cuban-American flight members permission to do so because they did not have Cuban passports, according to the Miami Herald.

The company’s response was to withdraw the Cuban-American employees from the flight, although they were paid for the day. Ramon Saul Sanchez made clear that although AA decided to bear the cost of the paperwork required for Cuban-Americans to enter Cuba, so as not to upset the Cuban government, the campaign would continue.

Cuban law does not recognize the dual nationality of Cubans living abroad, and requires those who want to travel to the island to first obtain an expensive passport (about $450) that must be renewed every two years at a cost of $200. In addition, the Cuban Government reserves the right whether to admit its nationals to the island, which is enforced through an entry permit called a habilitación, which also must be paid for.

For the Democracy Movement, maintaining this law is a way to maintain its excessive charges to penalize the Cuban exile. “We are asking American Airlines to open a constructive and friendly dialog among everyone working to overcome this discriminatory practice,” said the movement’s president.

A Democracy Movement activist prepares posters for the protest against American Airlines. (14ymedio)
A Democracy Movement activist prepares posters for the protest against American Airlines. (14ymedio)

As a part of the actions the organization has already begun it sent a letter to Doug Parker, CEO of the company, in which it expresses its dissatisfaction with the measure. Sanchez said his movement has already planned a protest for Saturday in front of the AA Arena in Miami and will continue the pressure until the policy is changed.

“We know that the main discriminator is the Cuban government. To associate itself with the policies of apartheid by virtue of nationality that the Government of Cuba practices against its own citizens puts a shameful stain on the image of the company,” said Sanchez.

Last April, Democracy Movement organized a demonstration outside the headquarters of the shipping company Carnival for a similar reason. The cruise company did not allow Cuban-Americans to book passage to Cuba because of a ban by the Cuban government on their entering the country by sea.

“At the time Carnival Cruises said they would not continue service to Cuba if Cubans were not allowed to enter. We urge American Airlines to cancel their trips to the island if the Cuban government does not change its policy,” Sanchez added.

“My song seeks to pick up the pieces” / 14ymedio, Luz Escobar

The troubadour is passing through Havana to record a disc in the EGREM studios in Miramar, along with several songwriters.(Courtesy)
The troubadour is passing through Havana to record a disc in the EGREM studios in Miramar, along with several songwriters.(Courtesy)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 31 August 2016 — Passing through Havana to record a CD in the EGREM studios in Miramar, along with several singers, the troubadour Roland (Roly) Berrio spoke with 14ymedio about the beginnings of his career and health of Trova in Cuba.

Luz Escobar. Together with other troubadours you are currently working on an album that pays tribute to La Trovuntivitis project. How did that project arise?

Roly Berrio. The city of Santa Clara was left quite bereft in terms of music in the hard years of the Special Period, so it all began with the desires of students to do something on a stage with many shortcomings. So at that time there was a flourishing of projects, peñas – weekly shows – and the troubadours.

We started singing in several places in the city until one night El Mejunje opened its doors for us alone, we were five or six troubadours: Diego Gutiérrez, Alain Garrido and the Enserie trio. We are all included in La Trovuntivitis, which is a generic space for our own music, for music that has certain pretensions, social, aesthetic, risky. We have been singing there for 20 years now. Continue reading ““My song seeks to pick up the pieces” / 14ymedio, Luz Escobar”

Escobar. In other provinces troubadours do not have their own spaces.

Berrio. Santa Clara has had the good fortune to have leaders, both political and cultural, who have given a lot of freedom and support to the projects of young people. Without much hesitation, without fear. This has helped this movement to exist, but also in fine arts, in literature and in almost all its manifestations. Unlike in other provinces, where there are musicians and artists with talent, but when it comes to joining together and having institutional support it has been difficult to create a movement.

Of course, we also had a very bad stage in terms of political and cultural leadership. That led to a falling-out and artists rebelling. It was a moment of rupture.

Escobar. What role did Ramón Silverio play in the birth of La Trovuntivitis?

Berrio. Everything. Like our Bartolome de las Casas. He has been the doer, an example of freedom and inclusion. A project he presents, he understood the project as his own.

Escobar. What was the effect on you of your time with the Enserie trio?

Berrio. The trio was part of my beginning, my musical and intellectual training. I continue to compose songs in three parts. I bring three ways of addressing the theme that I’m dealing with, three ways of looking at it, three ways of presenting the song.

Enserie was unusual because the composition was made among three people, the lyrics and music. It was a kind of workshop, we didn’t know the rules, it was entirely empirical. We wanted to give strength to a song that experienced the most critical years, in the nineties the media in the country – and therefore much of the public – completely dismissed the singer-songwriter.

Escobar. Are you planning a concert in the coming months?

Berrio. On September 10 I will appear at the Museum of Fine Arts with themes from an upcoming album of single songs. It still has no name and I am going to record it France.

Roland (Roly) Berrio. (Courtesy)
Roland (Roly) Berrio. (Courtesy)

Escobar. Do you feel that you are a chronicler of reality?

Berrio. Art can achieve awareness without having to dictate a sentence that says what you have to do. Some of the rejections to the music of the Nueva Trova movement were, in my opinion, very judgmental. There was a lot of “thou shalt do this” or “you have to be the New Man.”

My song seeks pick up the pieces that were broken and that are still somewhat scattered in the society, in the country.

Escobar. How do you assess the health of Trova?

Berrio.  Trova has not had, beyond the moments it had in the eighties, much impact on the broader plane. What happened is that people like an individual of some genre, and not the genre as a whole. In the eighties, whether or not you knew the person who was going to sing, if Trova was announced the venues were full and people came to know there was a curiosity that then began to disappear.

Democracy Movement Calls Protest of American Airlines ‘Apartheid’ Against Cuban-American Employees

American Airlines launched its scheduled flights to Cuba on Wednesday 7 September. (AA)
American Airlines launched its scheduled flights to Cuba on Wednesday 7 September. (AA)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, 20 September 2016 — The Democracy Movement called a protest against American Airlines (AA) for Saturday 24, in response to the company’s apartheid towards its Cuban-American employees

The airline, according to information published in recent days, does not allow its workers who emigrated from Cuba after 1970 to serve on the crews of its flights to Cuba, because the Cuban government is requiring that they present, along with an American passport showing that they are US citizens, the Cuban government’s own paperwork that authorizes them to enter the country.

Ramon Saul Sanchez, president of the Democracy Movement, in statements to Diario Las Americas, said that this exclusion is applied to Cuban-Americans “with the deliberate intention [by the Cuban government] of receiving an additional income of 400 or 500 dollars [the cost of the paperwork] for each person traveling to Cuba.” Continue reading “Democracy Movement Calls Protest of American Airlines ‘Apartheid’ Against Cuban-American Employees”

The leader of the organization said it has requested permission for the protest, to be held in front of the American Airlines Arena in Miami, since the airline “is allowing the Cuban government to practice a kind of apartheid against its own employees who are Cubans nationalized as Americans.”

Last April, the Democracy Movement organized a demonstration outside the headquarters of Carnival Cruises for a similar reason. The cruise company did not allow Cubans to travel on its ships because of a ban from the Cuban government on their entering the country by sea.

“Many voices joined the campaign, and Carnival changed its position. In the end, the company said that if it could not carry Cubans it would not sail to Cuba. That led the regime to overturning the old policy,” said Sanchez.

The exile told the media that their lobbying strategy includes dialog with the airline’s management in the coming week, the protest scheduled during a Disney event at the American Airlines Arena, and possible legal actions being studied by the organization’s attorneys.

“We are also asking AA to adopt the Sullivan Global Principals [whose aim is that companies and organizations of every size, and a broad spectrum of industries and cultural entities, work to achieve common objectives in human rights, social justice and economic opportunity] which worked in South Africa, and that they not associate themselves with the apartheid practiced by the Cuban government,” he added.

The Democracy Movement is not opposed to commercial flights to Cuba, “because they have brought a drop in prices and tariffs and now the Cuban regime earns less because of the competition.”

“We bought the death of my brother” / 14ymedio, Mario Penton

 Dunieski Eliades Lastre (left) and Edelvis Martínez Aguilar (right), Cuban migrants killed in Urabá, Colombia. (Courtesy)
Dunieski Eliades Lastre (left) and Edelvis Martínez Aguilar (right), Cuban migrants killed in Urabá, Colombia. (Courtesy)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miami, 18 September 2016 — “With the money from the sale of my mother’s house, we bought the death of my brother.”

Spoken with indescribable bitterness, these were the words of Edgardo Nordelo Sedeño, brother of Dunieski Eliades Lastre, age 25, murdered in Colombia on 8 September along with the young woman Edelvis Martínez. Both were Cubans and were trying to sneak through the jungles and borders that separated them from their goal: the United States and their dream of a free life.

Although Forensic Medicine has ruled out for the moment the alleged rape of Edelvis Martínez, the prosecutor has revealed gruesome details in the tragic ends of these young migrants trying to reach the United States. Continue reading ““We bought the death of my brother” / 14ymedio, Mario Penton”

Edelvis Martinez Aguilar was an accountant for a paladar, a private restaurant in Havana. She left with her boyfriend Liover Santos Corria, 35, heading to Guyana. After crossing Venezuela and Colombia they met up with Eliades Dunieski who apparently traveled to Capurgana to get to the Darien jungle. That day, two of them were killed in a Colombian swamp.

“We can not say that Martinez had been raped, at least there is no macroscopic evidence of that. Forensic Medicine did the research, collected samples from the body and are undertaking a conclusive analysis of the issue,” an official with the Columbian Attorney General’s office told 14ymedio, who asked to remain anonymous.

“We have found clear signs of torture in both victims before the murder,” he added.

The alleged perpetrators were identified as Johan Estiven Carreazo Asprilla, alias ‘Play Boy’, age 20, and Carlos Emilio Ibargüen Palacio, age 26. According to Santos, the only survivor, the Cuban migrants paid $1,500 to be taken to Panama, but once they arrived at the Gulf of Uraba the smugglers demanded more money. When the Cubans explained that they had no cash, the boaters murdered them with knives and hid their bodies tied to a tree trunk at the bottom of the Matuntugo Swamp. Santos saw his girlfriend beheaded after she was raped, he says, but he was able break loose and escape from the crime scene.

“The young man is under protection on a Navy ship because we fear for his safety,” said the source in the Colombian Attorney General’s office. According to the investigator, it is very likely that there are more people involved in the murder of the Cubans so it is necessary to protect the main witness.

“The boatmen pleaded not guilty, but the prosecution has sufficient evidence to incriminate them,” the source explained.

Following the arrest of suspects involved in the crime, a search of the travel backpacks of those killed found cell phones, cash and clothes. Also seized were a firearm, a smoke grenade, several pieces of clothing related to the crime scene and a wooden boat in which was one of the shoes of the murdered woman.

The alleged murderers of the two Cuban migrants in Colombia. (Colombian authorities)
The alleged murderers of the two Cuban migrants in Colombia. (Colombian authorities)

The identity of those murdered was corroborated by Cuban authorities. According to what this newspaper has been able to confirm, the United States embassy in Colombia has taken up the issue and expressed interest in granting asylum to the survivor.

Although the Cuban consulate in Bogota declined to comment on the matter, the Colombian Foreign Ministry said they have been in contact with the relatives of those killed through diplomatic representatives in Miami to advise them on the procedure to claim the bodies.

“Colombia will provide all the help needed for repatriation, but this is a matter for the family or the Cuban Embassy. Family members can delegate power to the embassy or manage the process independently,” said the Foreign Ministry.

14ymedio spoke with the relatives of the victims in Cuba and in the United States. For Maria Isabel Aguilar, the mother of Edelvis Martinez, her main concern is that so far she doesn’t know what the process is for repatriating the body of his daughter.

“We went to MINREX (Ministry of Foreign Affairs) but there they told us to wait for the authorization of the Colombian government to bring the bodies. We don’t know how to bring my daughter. I only want her here with me,” she said.

Dunieski Eliades Lastre’s brother, Edgardo Nordelo Sedeño, said that the cost to repatriate the bodies is around $3,000 each. The family members who had to privately arrange the trip to MINREX explained via a telephone call that although the Cuban government authorized the entry of the bodies, they will not pay for the costs of bringing them home.

“Dunieski was my younger brother, my mother’s delight. So much so she wanted to sell her house to be able to pay for the ticket so he could have a better life,” explained Nordelo, who arrived in the United States last February by way of Ecuador.

“I don’t understand the motive for the murder. The other boy … told me that my brother told them, ‘Don’t kill me, I’ll give you the number of my brother in the United States so he can send you money. It wasn’t for money. I don’t understand why they did it,” he said.

Eliades Lastre managed to make the crossing from Guyana to Turbo in one week. According to his relatives he had a good trip until he reached the Colombian coast.

“Because of the bad weather they couldn’t take them to where the other coyote was. They returned to the home of a guide and a few minutes before leaving the house where they were hiding, he wrote me to tell me. That was the last time we communicated,” recalls Edgardo Nordelo.

“The blame for the death of our family members belongs to those who pushed them to the jungle and made them seek out coyotes to achieve their dream of freedom,” he said.

Non-Aligned Summit Avoids Condemning North Korean Nuclear Test / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

Moment of approval of the Declaration of Margarita, at the conclusion of the Non-Aligned Summit in Venezuela. (@MNOAL_Venezuela)
Moment of approval of the Declaration of Margarita, at the conclusion of the Non-Aligned Summit in Venezuela. (@MNOAL_Venezuela)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 19 September 2016 – The summit of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) ended this Sunday on the Venezuelan island of Margarita with commitments to the sovereignty of each country and a call for unilateral corrective measures. The work of the meeting urged the elimination of “weapons of mass destruction” but avoided admonishing North Korea for its recent nuclear tests.

With little political influence in the international arena, the NAM has crossed the threshold of six decades of existence with its importance in check. Born at a time of strong geopolitical and ideological conflicts, in the midst of the Cold War, the bloc has failed to maintain its intended neutrality and several of its nation members have ended up developing economic and political alliances with more than one “superpower.” Continue reading “Non-Aligned Summit Avoids Condemning North Korean Nuclear Test / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar”

However, the biggest setback for the organization, which includes half the world’s population, is having turned a blind eye at several transcendent moments in its history. The most notable of these was not strongly condemning the Soviet Union’s armed intervention in Afghanistan, which joined NAM in 1961, early in its existence.

This oversight was most striking during the 6th Summit, held in Havana in 1979, when Fidel Castro was named president of the movement. The presence of occupation troops from the Kremlin continued to 1989, but the leader of the organization never made any gesture of disapproval.

This September the silence has been repeated, in complicity with one of NAM’s most fractious members. At the summit, held in the Venezuelan Caribbean to which 120 member countries were invited, no pronouncement was made on the nuclear test recently conducted by the Pyongyang regime.

The Non-Aligned Movement has not only looked the other way as famine and lack of rights has affected the North Korean people, but has also been silent about the danger posed by the more than 20 nuclear bombs and almost a thousand ballistic missiles of different types that have reached the hands of Kim Jong-Un. The Movement did not make a forceful statement against the only country that has tested weapons of mass destruction in this millennium, though it dedicated considerable time demanding “peaceful settlement of disputes and refraining from the threat or use of force.”

NAM now proposes a “refounding” of the United Nations that seeks to expand the Security Council and to transform of the workings of the international organization. But with such oversights and its history of double standards it is difficult to promote a more democratic global and effective entity.

Instead, it could bring to the United Nations the same convenient blindness that it has been practiced for decades.