Reporters Without Borders Rates Press Freedom In Cuba Very Low

The island is two places below its position in last year’s Press Freedom Index. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 27 April 2017 — Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has placed Cuba in position 173 on its 2017 World Press Freedom Index published on Wednesday, two places lower than last year, and in the lowest category (shown in black), along with “the worst dictatorships and totalitarian regimes in Asia and the Middle East,” according to the NGO.

Cuba is the only country on the American continent and the Caribbean that is in this section of the index and is almost at the end of the list.

According to a note published by the NGO, the Cuban government “is the most hostile on the American continent to the freedom of the press,” emphasizing that the state maintains a monopoly on the press and that the situation “has not changed after the death of Fidel Castro.” continue reading

In addition, RSF has described the former Cuban leader, who died in November 2016, “as one of the greatest offenders again press freedom on the planet.”

This classification contrasts with the report of attacks on the press published Tuesday by the Committee for the Protection of Journalists (CPJ), according to which “Cuba’s media landscape has begun opening up in recent years,” thanks to a timid increase in Internet connectivity and a generation of journalists who are “who are critical of, yet still support, socialist ideas.”

The RSF publication shows how the Caribbean country shares positions at the bottom of ​​the list with Egypt, Libya, Iran, Yemen, Syria, China and North Korea, countries in which, according to the note, the deterioration of press freedom is “very serious.”

In Latin American countries such as Venezuela, Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala and Colombia, the organization believes that the press is in “a difficult situation.”

North Korea ranks lowest on the list in terms of freedom of the press, according to the NGO, a country “which continues to be a Cold War dictatorship,” in which “listening to a radio station from outside the country may lead to a concentration camp.”

However, RSF notes that the quality of press freedom has declined globally, where the western democracies are no exception even though they occupy the top of the list

Since 2002 an international group of journalists has produced this list, where 180 countries have been listed, following a series of criteria such as the independence of the media in each nation, the legislation under which journalists work, and the pluralism and security of journalists in the performance of their profession.

Two Cuban Activists From #Otro18 Arrested

Lawyers Amado Calixto, Wilfredo Vallín and Rolando Ferrer during the press conference of the # Otro18 campaign. (14ymediate)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 26 April 2017 — Activists Arturo Rojas Rodríguez and Aida Valdés Santana were arrested at noon on Tuesday as they tried to reach the Justice Ministry in Havana. The dissidents planned to enter into the associations register the Citizens Observers of Electoral Processes (Cope) initiative, one of the branches of the #Otro18 (Another 2018) platform, which pushes for multi-party and democratic elections in Cuba in 2018.

Rojas, 51, was taken to the Santiago de las Vegas police station and Valdés, 78, was taken to the Zapata and C Station and then to Aguilera, where police threatened to prosecute her legally.

The woman was released on Tuesday at about 10 at night, but there is still no information on the whereabouts of Rojas Rodriguez whose telephone continues to be out of service. continue reading

Manuel Cuesta Morúa, speaking on behalf of #Otro 18, told 14ymedio that “actions of this nature make clear the government’s intention to prevent the free participation of citizens in the next electoral process, thus opening the way to delegitimizing it.”

“The narrative of the government consists in classifying what we do as counterrevolutionary activities, but we have to assume that the law is not only for revolutionaries, but for all citizens and precisely because of this we are within the law,” he added.

The #Other18 initiative collects citizen proposals for new electoral laws, associations and political parties. In addition, at the moment it is focused on obtaining the nomination of independent candidates for the next elections for the People’s Power.

Police Raid Rafters’ Homes Looking for a Boat Stolen From the Army

Solainy Salazar with her husband José Yans Pérez Jomarrón and their two children. (Courtesy)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miami, 26 April 2017 — Cuban police are searching for a boat stolen from the Revolutionary Armed Forces (FAR) and to find it they are raiding houses of former rafters, according to Solainy Salazar, whose husband tried to leave the island several times. That was the justification given by the authorities, including several State Security agents, who searched her home on Monday.

“I was resting next to my four-year-old boy when the neighbors called me and I discovered the officers who were searching my yard,” says Salazar by phone from San Miguel del Padrón in Havana.

“They came into the house and told me they were going to search everything because they were looking for an inflatable boat and that I and my husband were accomplices to the theft,” she adds. continue reading

José Yans Pérez Jomarrón, Salazar’s husband, has tried unsuccessfully to escape from Cuba six times, but has been intercepted by the Cuban Coast Guard or returned to the authorities of the island by its American counterparts. On his last voyage he took refuge, with some twenty Cubans, in a lighthouse 30 kilometers northeast of Key West.

José Yans Pérez Jomarrón, Salazar’s husband, has tried unsuccessfully to escape from Cuba six times, but has been intercepted by the Cuban or American Coast Guard and returned to the island

Although most of the rafters managed to be admitted a special program that gives them the opportunity to be relocated in a third country, because they were able to demonstrate “credible fear” of being persecuted in Cuba, for Pérez Jomarrón the outcome was different.

“When I finished my military service they offered me a job with the Ministry of the Interior (MININT). As an inexperienced boy I agreed and when the immigration agents in the United States learned that I had once belonged to that repressive organ, they returned me to Cuba,” explains the rafter-turned-entrepreneur who at the moment is in Guyana looking at the possibility of some business linked to his commercial activity.

Police and State Security agents accused Solayni Salazar of being an accomplice in the theft of the boat and described all the members of her family as antisocial and counterrevolutionary. “They offended me with their words as much as they wanted and when I threatened them with filing a complaint they were indifferent, because they know nothing is going to happen to them,” says the wife, age 31.

“They threatened to arrest me. But they never brought the witnesses (required by law) when they did the search and they never showed me a court order to enter my home. And they did all this in front of my little boy,” she says.

In addition, she says, she was told that her husband was in Guyana escaping from the law, an argument that Salazar considers “completely false.”

Salazar believes that the authorities are persecuting her family due to her husband’s multiple attempts to illegally exit the country and because of his opposition to the government

“I fear for what will happen to my husband when he returns from the trip. Surely they will try to arrest him or persecute him for a crime he has not committed,” she says.

Salazar believes that the authorities are persecuting her family due to her husband’s multiple attempts to illegally exit the country and because of his opposition to the government.

“They do not want to give me jobs in state institutions. It’s a way to persecute those who disagree with official politics,” says José Yans from Georgetown via telephone.

The situation is increasingly complex for the Cuban authorities. “Now not only do we have to pay for a ‘crime’ we didn’t commit but we are suspected of everything else that happens in the country.”

Alfredo Mena, a rafter who tried four times to leave the island, was also searched last Wednesday.

Alfredo Mena, a rafter who tried four times to leave the island, was also searched last Wednesday

“They came to my house and broke down the door without a search warrant. They took me to the police unit and accused me of having stolen a boat belonging to the FAR (National Revolutionary Police),” says Mena, nicknamed El Pelú, by the locals.

“The officers who were dealing with me asked me why we wanted to go to the United States, because there they killed people like us and another series of lies,” he adds.

Mena, 50, a native of Granma province, says he was threatened with being “deported” to the East, because he resides in Havana without having an address officially registered in the capital.

Mena was fined 2,000 pesos for the crime of “receiving” for buying supplies for his work as a welder. Although he swears he is innocent, those metal parts are an indispensable component in the manufacture of the makeshift boats used to emigrate.

“Nothing they took had anything to do with the supposed theft of the boat. The only thing they do with these things is to reaffirm one’s desire to escape from such garbage,” he adds.

3G Has Arrived In Havana

The arrival of 3G in Cuba fuels hopes for internet service on mobile phones. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Marcelo Hernandez, Havana, 26 April 2017 — The third generation (3G) of voice and data transmission via mobile phones reached all municipalities in Havana on Monday after it was launched earlier this month in several areas of Matanzas, Villa Clara, Ciego de Avila, Pinar del Río, Santiago de Cuba and Camagüey, according to the Telecommunications Company of Cuba (ETECSA).

Prepaid users in the capital are now experiencing a substantial improvement in Nauta’s e-mail service on their mobile phone, a relief after three years since the creation of this product, which has been a frequent target of criticism and complaints about its instability and slowness.

“I opened my mailbox and: abracadabra! I got all the messages at once,” a young high school student tells 14ymedio in amazement while standing in line on Tuesday to buy recharge cards at the ETECSA office on the lower level of the Focsa building. continue reading

The days are long gone when only resident foreigners and tourists could contract for mobile phone service in Cuba. One of the first measures implemented by Raul Castro when he assumed the presidency in 2008 was to allow nationals to contract for prepaid cellphone service.

Having the internet on your cellphone is normal for most people in the world, but here it seems like a dream

Since then, more than four million customers of the state monopoly have been looking forward to connecting to the internet through their mobiles. Enabling 3G coverage has set off speculation about the imminent arrival of that service to cellphones.

“They can’t wait any longer, because having the internet on your cellphone is normal for most people in the world, but here it seems like a dream,” complains Rodobaldo, an industrial engineer, 42, who travels frequently to Panama. “As soon as I get there and install my Panamanian SIM card I can surf and receive emails, but when I return to Cuba my phone doesn’t have that capability.”

In Latin America, 3G has given way to 4G, which has been available for years. Uruguay has this network in 84% of its territory, Bolivia in 67%, Peru in 61% and Mexico in 60%, according to data from the International Telecommunication Union (ITU). However, in Cuba having this functionality on the mobile network still seems like a science fiction movie.

Rodobaldo is hopeful that ETECSA will soon offer packages to connect to the web from cell phones. Recently there was the first pilot project to bring internet to some 700 families (of the 2,000 initially planned) through in-home ADSL in Old Havana, but the users complain about the high prices: according to the bandwidth chosen it cost between 30 and 70 pesos for 30 hours.

“Every day there are more foreign companies offering packages so that tourists who come to the island can surf the internet from their own cellphone accounts,” an official of the state company, who preferred to remain anonymous,told this newspaper. “We have roaming agreements in more than 150 countries,” he says.

Following the beginning of the diplomatic thaw between Washington and Havana, announced on 17 December 2014, Barack Obama’s administration authorized US telecommunications companies to operate in Cuba.

Verizon took the first step and offered services to its users visiting the Island, and was later joined by Sprint, T-Mobile and AT&T. However, the prices of browsing from one of these phones during a stay in Cuba are still very high, averaging about $2.05 per megabyte.

Surfing the web from a US cellphone is possible in Cuba, but it runs about $2.05 per Megabyte

Until the implementation of 3G, roaming services sent and received emails via Nauta and text messages using the General Packet Radio Service (GPRS) connection, an enriched Global System for Mobile (GMS) communications.

Now, to be able to take advantage of 3G in Cuba, “the customer must have 3G coverage on their cellphone with the WCDMA standard on the 900 MHz frequency, which is the international standard in several European and Latin American countries,” Luis Manuel Díaz, ETECSA’s Director of Institutional Communications told the official press.

Phones that technically do not have the ability to access the new network will continue to use the 2G that “coexists without difficulty,” the company’s representative told the official newspaper Granma.

A marketing specialist for the state monopoly, Óscar López Díaz, goes further and in addition to highlighting the improvement in the connection speed for the use of the Nauta mail brought by 3G service, he believes that its arrival will enable ” future access to other services such as the Internet on phones.”

El Templete Has A New Ceiba, The Second In A Year

Havana’s El Templete has a new ceiba tree that replaces another that was planted a little over a year ago but did not thrive. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Marcelo Hernandez, Havana, 24 April 2017 — The place where the town of San Cristóbal was founded in Havana has a new ceiba tree, the second planted there in a little more than a year. The specimen comes from the road between Managua and Boyeros, south of the Cuban capital, and comes to fill the void left at El Templete by its predecessor, planted a few days before President Barack Obama’s arrival in Cuba.

On this occasion, the arrival of the ceiba was not surrounded by the excitement that marked the planting of the previous specimen. The 8-year-old, twenty-foot tree reached its final site at midnight last Friday, an hour that specialists recommended because it is cooler, and therefore less damaging to the newly transplanted tree. It rained while the neighbors watched a crane lift the imposing tree and plant it in the historical site of the city.

Now, the waiting period for this Havana symbol begins. Will this tree be able to adapt to its new habitat? Will it survive the salt air, the compaction of the soils of the area and the rigors of urban life? No one wants to risk predicting its future, but next November, which will mark 498 years after the founding of the Villa, Havanans will need a tree to perform the ritual of walking around its trunk and making a wish.

Independent Journalist Arrested For Investigating The Case Of Karla Pérez González

Maykel González Vivero was also arrested while working to cover the damages caused by Hurricane Matthew in Baracoa. (El Estornudo)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 25 Havana, 25 April 2017 — The independent magazine El Estornudo (The Sneeze) has denounced Monday’s detention of its collaborator Maykel González Vivero. The young journalist was detained at Marta Abreu de las Villas Central University, while reporting on the expulsion of journalism student Karla Pérez González.

The digital site asserts that the reporter “did not at any time hide” that he was investigating on the case. “He managed to interview Karla’s classmates who voted in favor of her definitive exclusion from Higher Education, including as Miguel Ángel Castiñeira and Ney Cruz,” the article said.

However, in the course of the investigation “a number of teachers tried to confiscate Maykel’s belongings and his tools of the trade.” He was subsequently “held in a university department until police took him to the State Security Santa Clara Operations Unit.” continue reading

At the Unit, the reporter was subjected to five hours of interrogation and his equipment was confiscated: a laptop, tape recorder and cell phone. El Estornudo clarified that the reporter “is not facing any legal charges, but his devices will be returned to have after the police penetrate (sic) them and check their contents.”

In October of last year, González Vivero was jailed for three days in Baracoa, Guantánamo, “for covering as an independent journalist the passage of Hurricane Matthew through the East of the country,” the article notes.

The reporter “is not facing any legal charges, but his devices will be returned to have after the police penetrate (sic) them and check their contents.”

El Estornudo said that the expulsion of the journalism student was arbitrary, as was the arrest of Maykel Gonzalez Vivero: “two unjustifiable abuses that the Cuban government commits, in a manner as shameful as it is ironic, through one of its centers of higher education.”

On Monday, Karla María Pérez González received the official ratification of her expulsion from the University and has ten working days to appeal the decision. The young woman was accused of belonging to the Somos+ (We Are More) Movement and “having a strategy from the beginning of the course to subvert the young.”

The case has aroused a wave of outrage and in her favor official voices have weighed in, such as the singer-songwriter Silvio Rodríguez, who wrote in his blog, “What brutes we are, for fuck’s sake, it’s been decades and we don’t learn.

“It is so clumsy and obtuse what has been done to this girl that inevitably this will draw attention to the group to which she belongs and the ideas it defends. I know that they will come out with lists of links of some of these groups calling them terrorists, etc. But the damage is already done, because such injustice can only arouse solidarity,” he said.

Lady In White Sentenced To Almost Three Years In Prison For Alleged Crime Of ‘Attack’

Lady in White Micaela Roll Gibert, 53 years old. (Martinoticias)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 25 April 2017 — On Tuesday morning the Court in Havana’s municipality of Diez de Octubre, confirmed the prosecutor’s request of two years and eight months in jail for Micaela Roll Gibert, 53.

The woman, a member of the opposition group Ladies in White, is charged with the crime of attack, alleging that she knocked down Luanda Mas Valdés, an official from the Ministry of the Interior (MININT), during an arrest. continue reading

According to Berta Soler, the leader of the women’s group who spoke with 14ymedio, the incident took place on May 1, 2016, when Roll Gibert left the headquarters of the Ladies in White.

“Roll was beaten by two cops. When they put her inside the bus to take her to the police station, one of the officers twisted her arm and knocked her down. As she fell, Roll took with her another police officer who was trying to repress her,” explained Soler.

Soler says that Micaella Roll Gibert’s 16-year-old daughter was expelled from the School of Nursing because of her mother’s activism and another of her children, a son, was fired from his job in retaliation against his mother

The officer who fell, Mas Valdés, did not appear in this Tuesday’s trial and according to Soler, they explained to those present that she was “nine month’s pregnant” and “has high blood pressure.”

“The trial was finally held without the presence of the officer making the accusation and instead the court accepted an affidavit, taken at the house of Mas Valdés moments before the trial,” adds Soler.

According to the opposition leader the trial was rigged, prepared by State Security.

“It’s one more woman they are going to send to prison,” says the activist, who notes that some time ago a State Security official proposed to Roll Gibert that she “collaborate with them.”

“When she refused him, they warned her that her life would become a nightmare,” Soler adds.

Soler says that Micaella Roll Gibert’s 16-year-old daughter was expelled from the School of Nursing because of her mother’s activism and another of her children, a son, was fired from his job in retaliation against his mother.

The Lady in White also denounced that other women from the movement are “still missing since early this morning.”

“We do not know where the Ladies Yolanda Ayala, María Josefa Acón and Gladys Capote are,” says Soler.

The King, The President and The Dictator

Cuban President Raúl Castro receives the Spanish Foreign Minister, José Manuel García-Margallo. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 23 April 2017 — In the palace of the Captains General in Havana there is a throne awaiting its king. It was prepared when Cuba was still a Spanish colony and a monarch has never sat in its imposing structure. The visit of Spain’s King Felipe VI visit may end such a long wait, but the Island needs more than gestures of symbolism and protocol.

The king and the Spanish president, Mariano Rajoy, will arrive in the country a few months before Raul Castro leaves power. The official visit, long prepared for, has all the traces of a farewell. It will be like the farewell of the Mother Country to one of its descendants across the sea. Someone who began as leftist revolutionary and ended up being a part of a rigid dynasty.

The visitors will arrive in the middle of “the cooling off of the thaw” between Washington and Havana. The expectations that led to the diplomatic normalization announced on 17 December 2014 have been diluted with the passage of months in the absence of tangible results. More than two years have tone by and the island is no more free nor has it imagined to merge from its economic quagmire. continue reading

It will be like the farewell of the Mother Country to one of its descendants across the sea. Someone who began as leftist revolutionary and ended up being a part of a rigid dynasty

US airlines have begun to reduce the frequency of their flights to Cuba, discouraged by low demand and the limitations that remain on Americans traveling to Cuba as tourists. Castro has not withdrawn the ten percent tax he keeps on the exchange of dollars, and connecting to the internet from the island is still an obstacle course. All this and more discourages travelers from the country to the north of us.

The photos of building collapses and old cars fill the Instagram accounts of the Yumas (Americans) who tour the streets, but even the most naïve get tired of this dilapidated theme park. Cuba has gone out of style. All the attention it captured after the day Cubans refer to in shorthand as “17-D,” has given way to boredom and apathy, because life is not accompanied by a comfortable armchair to support this incredibly long move where almost nothing happens.

Last year tourism reached a historic record of 4 million visitors but the hotels have to engage in a juggling act to maintain a stable supply of fruit, beer and even water. Between the shortages and the drought, scenes of long lines of customers waiting for a Cristal beer, or carrying buckets from the swimming pool to use in their bathrooms are not uncommon.

Foreign investors also do not seem very enthusiastic about putting their money into the economy of a country where it is still highly centralized and nationalized. The port of Mariel, tainted with the scandals of the Brazilian company Odebrecht, and with activity levels far below initial projections, seems doomed to become the Castro regime’s last pharaonic and useless project.

But Donald Trump’s arrival in the White House hasn’t meant an iron fist against the Plaza of the Revolution as some had prophesied. The new US president has simply avoided looking toward the island and right now seems more focused on the distant and dangerous Kim Jong-un than the anodyne and close at hand Raul Castro.

The new US president has simply avoided looking toward the island and right now seems more focuses on the distant and dangerous Kim Jong-un than the anodyne and close at hand Raul Castro.

The Havana government lost its most important opportunity by not taking advantage of the opening offered by Barack Obama, who hardly asked for anything in return. Right now there hasn’t even been start on the drafting of the new Electoral Law announced in February of 2015. Was that news perhaps a maneuver so that the European Union would finally decide to repeal the Common Position? Fake news that sought to convince the unwary and fire up the headlines in the foreign press with talk of openings?

To top it off, they have increased the level of repression against opponents, and just a few days ago a journalism student was expelled from the university for belonging to a dissident movement. A process in the purest Stalinist style cut off her path to getting a degree in this profession that, decades ago, officialdom condemned to serve as a spokesperson for its achievements while remaining mute in the face of its disasters.

Take care. The visit of King Felipe and Queen Letizia is inscribed in times of fiascos. Failures that include the economic recession that plagues a country with a Gross Domestic Product that closed out last year in negative numbers, despite the usual make-up the government applies to all such figures. And the Venezuelan ally unable to shake off Nicolas Maduro, increasingly less presidential and more autocratic. The convulsions in that South American country have left Cuba almost without premium gas and with several fuel cuts in the state sector.

These are not the moments to proudly show off the house to visitors, but rather a magnificent occasion for the highest Spanish authorities to understand that totalitarianism never softens nor democratizes, it just changes its skin.

The Spaniard will have to spin a very fine thread not to turn the visit of the head of state into an accolade for the dying system. The royals will be surrounded by the attentions of officials who are trying to avoid, fundamentally, their stepping a single decorated millimeter beyond the careful preparations that have been underway for months. As was once attempted during the 1999 visit of Juan Carlos de Borbón to participate in an Ibero-American Summit.

The Spaniard will have to spin a very fine thread not to turn the visit of the head of state into an accolade for the dying system

On that occasion, and during a stroll with Queen Sofia through the streets of Old Havana, officialdom blocked access to the neighbors, emptied the sidewalks of the curious and worked the magic of converting one of the most densely inhabited areas of the city, with the most residents per acre in all of Cuba, into a depopulated stage where the royal couple walked.

Their successors, who will travel to the island “as soon as possible,” could do worse than to study the ways in which Barack Obama managed to shake off the suffocating embrace in March of 2016. The American president handled himself gracefully, even when Raul Castro – with the gesture of a conquering guerrilla, fists raised – tried to trap him in a snapshot. But the White House tenant relaxed his hand and looked away. A defeat for the Revolution’s visual epic.

Nor does Spanish Prime Minister Rajoy have an easy time. The official press does not like him and surrounds him always with criticism and negative news about his Party

Nor does Spanish Prime Minister Rajoy have an easy time. The official press does not like him and surrounds him always with criticism and negative news about his Party. He does not enjoy sympathies among the circles of power in Havana despite having reduced the degrees of tension that reached a peak during the term of Jose Maria Aznar. But on the island there are more than 100,000 Cubans who are nationalized Spanish citizens, also represented by that nation’s leader and who are, in the end, his most important interlocutors.

Felipe VI and Rajoy have in their favor that they will no longer be bound by the protocol to be photographed with Fidel Castro in his convalescent retirement. The king declined his father’s participation in death tributes for the former president last November in the Plaza of the Revolution. Thus, the young monarch managed that his name and that of the Commander in Chief do not appear together in the history books.

However, he still has to overcome the most difficult test. That moment in which his visit can go from being a necessary approach to a country very culturally familiar, to become a concession of legitimacy to a decadent regime.

Meanwhile, in the Palace of the Captains General, a throne awaits its king, and in the Plaza of the Revolution a chair awaits the departure of its dictator.

Editorial Note: This article was published in the original Spanish Saturday 22 April in the Spanish newspaper El País

Tell Us, General, What’s Plan B?

Venezuela’s president, Nicolás Maduro and Cuba’s president, Raúl Castro. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 20 April 2017 — The Venezuela of “XXI Century Socialism” is wavering and threatening to collapse. It’s only a matter of time, soon, perhaps, as to when it will tumble. And since the economic and political crisis of the country has slipped from the government’s grasp, President Nicolás Maduro, in another irrefutable demonstration of his proverbial sagacity, under the advice of his mentors of Havana, has opted for the most coherent path with the nature of the regime: increase repression and “arm the people.”

Such a strategy cannot end well, especially when thousands of street protesters are not only motivated by the defense of democracy, but also by the reluctance to accept the imposition of forced present and future poverty for a nation that should be one of the richest on the planet. Decent Venezuelans will not accept the imposition of the Castro-style dictatorship that is trying to slip in their country. continue reading

Thus, “Maduro-phobia” has become viral, people have taken to the streets and will make sure that they will stand in protest until their demands are met, which involve the return of the country to the constitutional thread, to legality, to the rule of law, that is to say, without Maduro.

Maduro, allegedly elected by the popular vote, continues to accelerate his presidential metamorphosis into a person of the purest traditional Latin American style, capable of launching the army and hundreds of thousands of armed criminals against their (un)governed compatriots

As the Venezuelan crisis increases in its polarization, Nicolás Maduro, allegedly elected by the popular vote, continues to accelerate his presidential metamorphosis into a person of the purest traditional Latin American style, capable of launching the army and hundreds of thousands of armed criminals against their (un)governed compatriots who have decided to exercise their right to peaceful demonstration.

So if it is true that the terrible decisions of the Venezuelan government are guided by and directed from the Havana’s Palace of the Revolution, the intentions of the Cuban leadership are, at least, very suspicious. Such recommendations from the Cuba’s high command would drag the Chávez-Maduro regime directly down an abyss, and Venezuela toward the greatest chaos.

That is to say, if the Castro clan really ordered Maduro to radicalize a dictatorship and to cling to power against the will of the majority of Venezuelans, by applying repression and force to achieve it, even though this would mean the end of the “socialist” regime in Venezuela -with the consequent total loss of petroleum subsidies for the olive green cupula, as well as the income capital sources from health professionals services- would be a challenge to logic.

Such a strange move, in addition to Raúl Castro’s significant absence at the recent ALBA political meeting held in Havana as a show of support for the Venezuelan government, the official reluctance to directly accuse the US government of the popular expressions of rejection against the regime of Nicolás Maduro inside and outside Venezuela, the suspicious silence or minimization of the facts on the part of the Cuban official press about what happens in Venezuela, and the unusually circumscribed condemnation pronouncements “to the regional rightist coup” – which, in any case, have stemmed from the Cuban government’s political and mass organizations and other non-governmental organizations, and not directly from it –we can only speculate about the possible existence of secret second intentions on Cuba’s part.

It would be childish to assume that the Cuban government does not know the magnitude of the crisis of its South American ally, since it is known that it is widely infiltrated by Castros’ agents.

It would be childish to assume that the Cuban government does not know the magnitude of the crisis of its South American ally, given that – as it has been transcended by testimonies from authorized sources in various media over the years – both the army and the repressive and intelligence Venezuelan bodies are widely infiltrated by Castro’s agents, so it may be assumed that the regime’s political strategists have some idea of a solution, at least in what concerns Cuba.

One example is the case of Cuba’s aid workers, which are in Venezuela in the tens of thousands. We cannot ignore the serious danger faced by Cuban professionals in the health sector and in other services, who work in Venezuela as “collaborators” in ALBA programs, in the very probable case of a violent chaos in that country. How, then, would one explain the folly of advising, or at least supporting, the violent actions of the Venezuelan regime? Why don’t the official media offer more accurate information, specifically about the safety of our countrymen in Venezuela? What is the contingency plan to safeguard the lives of these Cuban civilians in case the Venezuelan humanitarian crisis is aggravated by the violence incited from power?

Cuba’s past history is disastrous. It is not wise to forget that the same person who occupies the power throne in Cuba today is the same subject that commanded the Armed Forces when thousands of Cubans were sent to fight (and to die) in Angola, Ethiopia, Nicaragua, Bolivia and other remote points of the world’s geography. Fidel Castro, who was never in a real war, was the one who had – at least de jure, not de facto –  the actions of the Cuban army when, in 1983, civilian workers were ordered to participate in the construction of an airport on the Island of Grenada who fought back the US Marines during the invasion of that small Caribbean country.

When one speaks of the profits of the Castro regime, one usually thinks in terms of money. However, the harvests of innocent martyrs have always brought the Cuban regime valuable political returns and allowed for a temporary respite. Now, when the glory years of the “revolution” have passed, when just a few naive ones believe in the discourse of the olive green big shots, and the predominant feelings of Cubans are disappointment, apathy and uncertainty, and when the very “socialist model “is only a sad compendium of failures and promises of infinite poverty, it would not be surprising that the Castrocracy is considering the possibility of nourishing its moral capital at the expense of the sacrifice of the helpless professionals who lend their services in Venezuela.

It no longer seems possible to mobilize the Cubans as in the days of the gigantic marches for “the boy Elian,” to cite the most conspicuous example, but neither should we underestimate the regime’s histrionic capacity and social control.

It would be particularly easy for the government to take advantage of several dozen Cuban doctors and technicians – the numbers are not important for the government leadership, as long as the people provide the corpses – that turn out victims of the violence of “the stateless ones who sold out to the empire” in Venezuela, to try to ignite some spark of the quasi withered Cuban nationalist and patriotic feeling and to gain some time, which has been the main goal of the power summit in Cuba in recent years.

It would not be unreasonable to consider this possibility, especially in a population that mostly suffers from a lack of information, which makes it susceptible to all sensory manipulation. It’s true that times have changed, and that, to some extent the penetration of a few information spaces -spread by the precarious access to technology – makes the consecration of the deception on a massive scale difficult. It no longer seems possible to mobilize the Cubans as in the days of the gigantic marches for “the boy Elian,” to cite the most conspicuous example, but neither should we underestimate the regime’s histrionic capacity and social control. Suffice it to recall the tearful and blaring spectacle displayed during Fidel Castro’s funeral novena.

In any case, and since the strategy of harvesting victims has often been applied successfully, perhaps the caciques are considering the possibility of taking advantage of the wreck of the Castro-Chavez ship. That’s how warped they are. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the narco-elite from Miraflores and their cohorts have made a pact with the Cuban honchos to escape to Havana in case they find it impossible to keep the scepter.

For now, it is a fact that the Cuban-Venezuelan soap opera is experiencing a truly dramatic escalation these days and nobody knows what the outcome will be. But in the midst of so much uncertainty, one thing seems irrefutable: what is currently being played out in Venezuela is not only the future of that nation, beyond the adversities of Nicolás Maduro and his cronies, buy the course of the next steps of the Cuban regime, which continues to be the absolute owner of the Island’s destinies. So, tell us, General Castro, what is Plan B?

Translated by Norma Whiting

Police Forces Raid Headquarters of ‘Captain Tondique’ Project in Matanzas

Members of the Captain Tondique Project prepare food for homeless people. (Courtesy)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 21 April 2017 — The headquarters of the Captain Tondique project in the municipality Matancero de Colón, was raided Friday by combined Police and State Security forces, according to a report received by this newspaper from Yelena Marrero Burunate, daughter of Caridad Burunate, the activist who owns the property.

The house, located at #163 Mesa Street, was raided from the early hours of dawn until one o’clock in the afternoon, Marrero explained. continue reading

“From seven in the morning they undertook a search, they came for the Tondique equipment and supplies, they took everything. The cauldrons, our food, everything. They did not explain anything to us, they took the benches we used. There were more than twenty people in here,” said the activist via telephone.

“We told them that without a search warrant they couldn’t come in and they were looking for it,” the woman explained.

Caridad Burunate and Francisco Rangel, the mother and uncle of Marrero are in custody. “Everything happened in the presence of my grandmother Raquel Gomez, an 88-year-old woman,” she added.

“The search lasted until one o’clock in the afternoon and they took away our cell phones.”

The community initiative Captain Tondique has working since April 2013 to help those who live on the streets and homeless people, offering them a plate of food every Thursday

The Captain Tondique community initiative has been working since April 2013 to help those who live on the streets and people who are homeless, offering them a plate of food every Thursday.

Felix Navarro denounced to 14ymedio that the search warrant alleged the crime of “illicit enrichment and abetting” and that Francisco Rangel’s home, a few yards from the project headquarters, at #125 Calle Pedro Betancourt, was also raided “at the same time.”

Navarro explains that the operation was carried out at a provincial level and included his home in Perico, which in the afternoon hours was still “surrounded by members of the State Security.”

According to the government opponent, when he tried to leave his house he was told by Officer Darío Torres Barrios that if he “went out” he would be arrested.

“Other activists of the province remain in their homes in the same situation of being under surveillance,” denounced Navarro.

The organization reported that on other occasions the political police have placed loudspeakers in the vicinity of the headquarters or closed the surrounding streets to prevent their work and intimidate the activists.

Pedicab Drivers Can Only Work Where They Live

The traditionally complicated transport situation in the capital has become chaotic recently due to fuel restrictions and other bureaucratic measures that have affected private taxi drivers. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Marcelo Hernandez, Havana, 20 April 2017 — The transport ministry (MITRANS) has issued a new provision that obligates Havana’s pedicab drivers to have visible identification that specifies the municipality where they can operate.

The sticker carries the driver’s license number and the name of the municipality. An official calling herself Tamara explained to 14ymedio that MITRANS inspectors in the Central Havana district will ensure that “if you do not live in this municipality you can’t put the sticker on your vehicle that authorizes you to operate here.” continue reading

The office is located in a half-wrecked building on Zanja Street with a poorly painted façade and tree growing out of it, from a seed that fell into a crack in the building.

Sheathed in her blue MITRANS inspector’s uniform, Tamara barely looks up from the papers she has in front of her on her desk, to clarify that if you don’t have a license, don’t come. “In addition, they have to bring the acrylic.”

The sticker carries the driver’s license number and the name of the municipality where they are authorized to operate. (14ymedio)

The situation of transport in the capital, traditionally complicated, has become chaotic in recent times due to fuel restrictions and other bureaucratic measures that have affected private taxi drivers. Driving a pedicab is not very profitable, since drivers usually charge 1 Cuban convertible peso (roughly $1 US) for relatively short stretches, but unlike the so-called almendrones– the shared fixed route taxis whose name comes from the “almond-shape” of the classic American cars used in that service – they do not run on a fixed route and take the customers “to the door of their house.” Most of them are young people without a defined profession who work for an invisible boss who owns the equipment, and whom they have to pay more than half of what they collect daily.

A tour of the pedicab stands where the drivers usually find their customers, found that only a few drivers were displaying the identification. Very close to Chinatown a young man barely 20, who identifies himself as Yuslo, gives the impression of not feeling threatened by the new measure.

“I am a Palestinian* from Mayarí Arriba, I rent in a room in the Cerro district and I circulate around Old Havana. I don’t have an address in the capital on my identity card or license, I am a pirate who fights to survive. If things get ugly I make the sticker my own way and put it on the front of the bike,” he explains resolutely.

Most pedicab drivers are young people without a defined profession who work for an invisible boss. (14ymedio)

A little more measured and optimistic is Alberto Ramirez, who despite being in quarantine still has the energy to live from his physical effort. “We are accustomed to occasionally ‘inventing’ something of this type. A few days later the fever passes and no one remembers anything. I have my sticker to work in Old Havana because I have been living there for more than 20 years in a state shelter, but if a client asks me to take him to Coppelia (outside his district), I’ll charge him what the trip is worth and take him.”

While Alberto talks, a colleague at the pedicab stand keeps making gestures of disagreement. Finally he intervenes to say, “They are the ones who call the shots and do what they want. You don’t have to be an engineer to realize that this measure is a barbarity. It’s fine to have control but if no one cares where a minister or a chief of something lives in order to work here or there, why do they have to worry about where the unfortunates who survive from our work live? There’s no one who understands it,” protests the pedicab driver.

Without taking the time to answer another question he gets on his bike and in the worst possible mood concludes the conversation. “I’m going home. I don’t feel like working.”

*Translator’s note: Havanans call Cubans from the provinces who settle in their city “Palestinians” – a reference to the fact that without a resident permit, they are “illegals” in the city.

Residents Thank The Rain That Put Out The Year’s Biggest Fire

The provinces at greatest risk for fire are Guantanamo, Pinar del Rio, Matanzas, Camaguey, Las Tunas, Holguin, and Isla de la Juventud. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 19 April 2017 – When the wind blows, the odor of burning overwhelms the town of El Guay, in the municipality of Mella (Santiago de Cuba). It is an odor that sticks to clothes, hair and food. Last Sunday a downpour put out the forest fire that burned 5,000 hectares in the eastern part of Cuba, but the worst could be yet to come.

The columns of smoke warned the community’s residents that something was happening. In the neighboring province of Holguin, the flames began April 9 and devoured everything in their path. “Nothing was said on radio or television,” Ruberlandy Avila, 35 years of age and resident of El Guay, tells 14ymedio. continue reading

Surrounded by cane fields and vegetation, the neighbors saw the tongues of fire on the horizon as they approached. When night fell, they looked daunting and ever closer to the houses. “The entire town was affected by the smoke, many parents fled with their children without knowing what to do,” recalls the young man.

News of the fire was broadcast on national media only after a timely rain put out the last flame. The official statement blamed the disaster on the August 6th Cattle Company from the town of Biran. But the later disorganization among the forces charged with controlling it did the rest.

The fire spread through the Sierra Cristal range until arriving at the Pinares de Mayari area. According to Avila, Civil Defense authorities later reported that several local administrators had not authorized delivery of the fuel necessary for getting the tanker trucks underway to the affected zone to put out the flames.

In El Guay the residents saw the fire approaching which also fed on the branches and trees that fell after Hurricane Sandy in 2012. The combination of the dry wood and the disorganization produced conditions favorable to the fire’s spread. “We thought nothing could put out such a strong fire,” recalls the resident of Santiago.

Engineer Raul Gonzalez, head of the Fire Management Department for the Forest Rangers, warned last February that this year the Island could suffer between 400 and 450 forest fires, damaging some 4,000 hectares. The figure was easily exceeded by the 5,000 hectares of pastures, forests and oak that just finished burning in Holguin.

The fire destroyed more than 5,000 hectares of fields and forests in Holguin. (Archive/Telesur)

Not only dried branches and fallen trees were lost. Environmental specialists from the area classify as “sensitive” the damage caused to flora and fauna of the municipalities of Cueto and Mella. “There are no bird nests or butterflies left, and even lizards are damaged,” commented one resident of the Cueto municipality to 14ymedio.

Leonel Sanchez, Agriculture subdelegate in the Santiago de Cuba province, reiterated in the local press that most of these fires occur “in crop rows, livestock areas, areas where the elimination of the invasive marabou weed is underway, uncontrolled burning and non-use of spark arrestors in cars.”

Between January and May the conditions are most favorable for fires to start and for the flames to spread. Between the beginning of the year and the beginning of February, some 40 fires were reported, more than one per day.

The provinces at greatest risk are Guantanamo, Pinar del Rio, Matanzas, Camaguey, Las Tunas, Holguin, Granma and Isla de la Juventud. The human factor is the trigger in 90% of the cases.

Far from El Guay, at the other end of the Island, tobacco planter Nestor Perez also watches his cultivated fields with worry. “In this time of year forest fires are more likely,” and in Vueltabajo the farmers try to “have clean surroundings for tobacco curing houses in order to prevent those accidents.”

The Pinareno farmer recognizes that many do not complete these tasks and “that is why sometimes fires occur” because “the grass itself at this time is very dangerous.”

For Avila and his family, the drama they experienced is still very real. The days passed, the air became almost unbreathable, and in the middle of last week helicopters and small planes began to arrive to control the flames, but the situation seemed to be out of control.

A “huge downpour” came to the aid of the residents. The day that the first drops fell many watched the sky gratefully. This Monday it kept raining in Mella, a municipality that, like the rest of the Island, is suffering the worst drought since the middle of the last half century. For the moment, the residents of El Guay breathe with relief, but they know that many hard months lie ahead.

Translated by Mary Lou Keel

Gargoyles Recover Their Fierceness

The Palacio de Guasch, in the city of Pinar del Rio, has been under intense repair for months. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Pinar del Rio, 19 April 2017 — At the beginning of the last century many parents did not let their children approach the mysterious construction that was erected at the corner of Martí and Cabada streets in the city of Pinar del Río. Its builder, Francisco Guasch, was considered a madman for building the most whimsical palace of Cuban architecture.

Along its almost 300 feet, the façade exhibits a diverse collection of flowers, plants, animals and mythological beings. On its nine columns the images hardly repeat, accompanied by towers of Gothic reminiscences with unclassifiable capitals and cornices. continue reading

Witnesses say that this architectural “phenomenon” only required two skilled masons and the creativity of its inspirer who, after studying medicine in Europe, returned to live on the Island. With his own hands he kneaded the stone and cement to give his monsters the beautiful ugliness of chimeras.

Now, those children’s grandchildren visit the wifi zone to connect to the internet a few yards from the property. Over time, the inclemency of weather and apathy chipped away at the structure of Guasch’s work, while in its interior, years ago, the Museum of Natural History took up residence.

The repair of the building, which will probably end in late July, has revived the residents’ hopes of seeing the terrible gestures of its gargoyles reborn. They are a testimony to the madness of a man who was considered a lunatic and who has ended up being seen as an outstanding son of the city of Pinar del Río.

Gargoyles everywhere. (www.dcubanos.com)

Several Residents Refuse To Leave A Building In Ruins In Central Havana

Mariagne Durán resides in the seventh floor of the Central Havana building affected by the collapse and refuses to evacuate. (14ymedio)

14ymedio biggerYosmany Mayeta Labrada, Havana, 18 April 2017 — Mariagne Durán, a mother of two children who lives in the Serrá Building in Central Havana where the stairs collapsed on Tuesday, refuses to leave the property because she has nowhere else to go. An employee of the Telecommunications Company of Cuba (ETECSA), Duran and her mother are part of the group of residents on the corner of Amistad and San Miguel Streets who are resisting being evacuated.

A temporary elevator placed outside the building has allowed residents to come and go from the building and run their daily errands. In the most urgent cases of people trapped it was necessary to use cranes for their rescue, but some families refuse to leave without their belongings. They do not want to leave behind their refrigerators, stoves, washing machines and household goods for fear of looting. continue reading

Durán resides on the seventh floor of the building and commented to 14ymedio that on Tuesday evening the residents had a meeting with leaders of the Provincial Housing Directorate, but the meeting did not specify what will happen next with the affected families after the evacuation. “I will not accept a cubicle in a shelter,” concludes the woman.

Neighbors trapped in the building after the stairs fell in watch through their windows as the police deploy. (14ymedio)

This Tuesday, about 120 people were trapped in the building after the stairs that gave access to the apartments collapsed, as reported here.

Over 100 People Trapped in Collapsed Building in Havana

Neighbors approaching the area of the collapse guarded by the police (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yosmany Mayeta Labrada, Havana, 18 April 2017 — About 120 people are trapped in a Central Havana building after the interior stairs to the apartments collapsed this morning.

The property, located on Amistad and San Miguel Streets has been in danger of collapse for years due to lack of maintenance. A loud noise alerted neighbors to the collapse of the old stairs. Police forces and firefighters were mobilized to help the residents and to evacuate their few belongings. continue reading

In the evening hours, the authorities installed an external elevator through which paramedics and health personnel have accessed the building. So far no injuries have been reported, but according to one police officer at midday, “there are elderly among the trapped,” some with blood pressure problems.

“My cousins ​​live there. They have been complaining about the bad condition of the stairs for five months and although the authorities visited the place nothing was fixed,” says a neighbor, indignant at the lack of government action.

Right here in San Rafael there are several buildings that are falling apart, the government repairs the stores on the ground floors but the apartments on are the upper floors and they fall in and no one cares

For Manuel, a man who lives on the corner of Neptune and Amistad Street, this morning’s collapse is only “the tip of the iceberg.”

“Right here in San Rafael there are several buildings that are falling apart, the government repairs the stores on the ground floors but the apartments on are the upper floors and they fall in and no one cares,” he added.

According to Rescue and Salvation personnel in the area, the stairs on the third floor collapsed.

Neighbors trapped in the building after the stairs fell in watch through their windows as the police deploy. (14ymedio)

“We are waiting for the scaffolding to arrive so we can begin to remove the people who are at risk, bit by bit to empty out the structure,” said one of the rescue workers.

A specialist from the Municipal Housing Department of Central Havana said that they had received complaints from the residents “for years.”

The building itself is a danger. They wanted to put the people in shelters but we don’t have the capacity in the district to shelter so many people

“The elevator doesn’t work. The stairs are on the verge of collapse. The building itself is a danger. They wanted to put the people in shelters but we don’t have the capacity in the district to shelter so many people,” she explained.

After the collapse of the stairs the electricity company cut off the electricity and also suspended the gas service. After a “thorough checkup,” the specialists of both institutions decided to re-connect the services.

The Cuban authorities recognize that the housing problem is the first social necessity in Cuba.

According to official figures 33,889 families (132,699 people) need a roof. Most of them have spent decades in “temporary” shelters for victims of building collapses or cyclones.

In 2012, the Census of Population and Housing showed that 60% of the 3.9 million homes on the island are in poor condition.

“There are dozens of people and even pets trapped in that building and everything is as if nothing happened. Will we wait for Havana to collapse to realize the serious problem we have with housing?” Yanelis, a resident of Old Havana, said indignantly, having come to look at the building.