Cuba’s Labor Justice Agency Nullifies Dismissal of Actress Lynn Cruz

Lynn Cruz (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 21 May 2018 — Cuba’s Labor Justice Agency has ruled in favor of Lynn Cruz with regards to the claim presented by the actress after the Performing Arts Artistic Agency (Actuar) put an end to her contract last April without complying with the mandatory 30-day notice period. The artist was informed of the decision on Friday, 11 days after the five members of the court agreed with her.

The document issued by the Labor Justice Agency specifies that there was a violation of Resolution 44 that regulates labor relations in organizations overseen by the Ministry of Culture.

For Lynn Cruz, this ruling makes clear that Jorge Luis Frías Armenteros, director of Actuar, violated article 297 of the penal code with the “unwarranted imposition of a disciplinary measure.” continue reading

The president of the Labor Justice Agency, Iván Rodríguez, told Cruz that after this ruling, “it did not make sense to go to the municipal court” because Actuar was going to continue to “represent her without problems.”

As of now, the actress could be hired again but after what happened she does not trust that she will be able to return to her work, because she believes that the agency can work behind her back to prevent her name from being chosen by a director who is interested in her work.

For Cruz, there is no way to repair the “psychological and moral damage” this measure has caused her, in addition to the “loss of work” she suffered in this case.

The actress also wonders if this step was taken to protect Frías, that is to avoid a criminal complaint. This Friday, when asking Ivan Rodriguez if the director of Actuar would be sanctioned for his error, the president of the Labor Justice entity replied that the agency “could not sanction its own director.”

“Evidently they are protecting Frías, the procedure he used in my case was clumsy since the contract was violated, but there is an intention to protect him after that blunder he committed,” Cruz believes. Cruz is of the opinion what was decisive in her case — unlike the cases of Ariel Ruiz Urquiola, Oscar Casanella or Yanelis Nuñez — was that she recorded the public hearing and “made the recording public,” a hearing in which the director acknowledged his error in not notifying her 30 days in advance before canceling the contract.

At the public hearing Frías said that Actuar’s decision to terminate her contract had been taken due to the actress’s “demonstrations on the internet” against “the main leaders” of the Party and the government and acknowledged that they had made a mistake” in the procedure.”

Lynn Cruz (born 1977) has developed her career between theater and cinema, although she has also participated in some television shows. She has worked on several Cuban films including Larga Distancia and La Pared.

Cruz has a special performance in the documentary Nadie, directed by Miguel Coyula, which includes testimonies of the poet Rafael Alcides, an intellectual censored on the island. This film was presented at the independent El Círculo gallery with the presence of Alcides himself, without major incidents. However, another presentation was repressed by State Security, which blocked public access.

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Activist Iliana Hernandez Detained for 24 Hours for Celebrating Anniversary of Cuban Republic on Facebook

The activist Iliana Hernández during an event in Miami. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 21 May 2018 — The activist Iliana Hernández, director of the independent television program Lente Cubano (Cuban Lens), was released Monday after being arrested at noon on May 20 outside her home in Cojímar, east of Havana, the dissident told 14ymedio.

“I wrote a message on Facebook calling to celebrate the date on which the Republic of Cuba was founded,” explains Hernández, and State Security “thought I was going to organize something for that day.”

“Early in the the morning the whole house woke up surrounded by patrol cars and State Security officers,” Mariseli Cardoso, Hernández’s mother, told this newspaper. “At noon she left to go to her hairdresser’s house and right there they stopped her with quite a lot of violence.” continue reading

During the arrest, the police tried to take Hernández’s mobile phone but her mother managed to grab it and put it inside the house. “They took one from her once and never returned it,” explains Cardoso.

The activist confirms that she has photos of the police deployment around her home that she will publish shortly on social networks.

This is the second time this month that Hernandez has been arrested. Previously the police stopped her when she tried to enter the El Círculo gallery, where she had an exhibition as a part of the independent #00Bienal.

In March, Iliana Hernández was declared a “person of priority police interest” after an interrogation at the Cojímar station, east of Havana. The police issued a warning document and, in addition, she was prevented from traveling to Miami a few days later, as she had planned.

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

Pro Free Press Association Condemns Arrest of Two Independent Journalists in Cuba

Cuban journalists Rudy Cabrera and Augusto César San Martín (Cubanet)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 21 May 2018 — The Pro Free Press Association (APLP) condemned, on Sunday, the arrest of two independent journalists when they tried to cover the crash of the Boeing 737 leased by the Cuban airline Cubana de Aviacion, which killed 110 people.

Augusto César San Martín and Rudy Cabrera, reporters for the digital site Cubanet, “were trying to obtain information about the plane crash” on Friday, when they were arrested and taken to the Santiago de las Vegas police station in the Rancho Boyeros district, APLP said in a statement.

The journalists were “kept in jail until Saturday at around 8:30 at night and their mobile phones, a camera and other tools of their profession were confiscated.” continue reading

Both San Martin and Cabrera were fined 100 Cuban pesos for the alleged crime of “transgressing security limits,” said the APLP, which invoked the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states that no one may be arbitrarily detained and that everyone has the right to investigate and receive information.

The independent organization “asks for the solidarity of all the organizations in the world that defend freedom of expression for independent Cuban journalists.”

The Island’s independent journalists suffer continuous arbitrary arrests, confiscations of personal belongings, raids on their homes and judicial charges, to which is also added, more and more frequently, a prohibition on travel under any pretext.

Last April the organization Reporters Without Borders placed Cuba 173rd out of 180 nations in terms of press freedom. The country was the worst rated on the continent.

The Inter-American Press Association (IAPA) also denounced in its most recent report, presented in Colombia last April, that the Cuban government seeks to have “a mute, deaf, and blind country” in terms of communication, journalism, and the Internet.

It is “an increasingly difficult goal,” the IAPA said, for “the perseverance of journalists and independent media that do not cease their work despite restrictions.”

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Building Collapses in Old Havana

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Ignacio Gonzalez, Havana, 21 May 2018 – On Friday, 18 May, a the rear part of building in the Jesus Maria neighborhood of Old Havana collapsed, trapping three families who live in the building, a total of six people. The emergency services were able to rescue those trapped, bringing them out through the side, eliminating the need to mourn dead or injured victims. However, when 14ymedio spoke to them on Saturday, the residents of the damaged building said the authorities had not provided them any place to stay, despite the rains that were falling on the capital at that time.

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We Ask For Transparency in Investigation of Tragic Plane Crash

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Generation Y, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 19 May 2018 – The tragic images are hypnotic. Across a swath of agricultural land near Havana’s José Martí International Airport are scattered the remains of what, a few minutes earlier, was an airplane filled with 110 people traveling from the Cuban capital to the eastern province of Holguin. Only three passengers have been rescued and Cuba is facing the worst air crash in recent years.

The plunge of this Boeing 737-200 comes at the worst moment for the island. The diplomatic thaw with Washington has been halted for months and the 7% drop in the number of tourists over the first quarter of this year complicates the economic situation. A disaster of this magnitude can seriously affect an economic sector that enables the government to deposit hard currency in the dwindling national treasury. continue reading

The serious economic situation that affects Cuba’s ally Venezuela also intensifies this picture. Hopefully, in the coming weeks the Cuban authorities will open our territory to an international investigation because the victims include citizens of Mexico and Argentina. The secrecy that traditionally surrounds these types of investigations within our borders will be put to the test before the demands for information that will come from abroad.

To further complicate the moment, the official media just announced that Raul Castro, who remains at the head of the Communist Party, has undergone surgery and his successor in the position of president, engineer Miguel Diaz-Canel, is facing the most delicate moment of his mandate. This Friday he was seen arriving at the crash site, visibly alarmed, perhaps calculating the political costs the accident will have for his management.

However, the fundamental blow goes to the heart of the Cuban people and especially the family members of the hundred Cubans aboard that fateful flight that crashed at 12:08 pm on May 18. For them, there is the long pain of loss, the rigors of the identification of the bodies and the intense political campaign with which the ruling party will surround every step taken by medical and police institutions in the search for answers.

In their minds, the last moments with their loved ones will surface again and again, along with the sequence of coincidences that brought them to the aircraft leased by the state airline to the Mexican company Global Air. The stories of those who at the last minute could not obtain a ticket to travel and those who, on the contrary, were not planning to take that flight but by chance ended up on the list of fatal victims will emerge.

Doubts and questions will also arise, with demands for clear explanations in a country where the authorities have decades of training in doling out each piece of information. But not even this ability to remain silent will prevent people from relating the news of recent months and feeling that this Friday’s news has all the traces of a predictable tragedy.

The state airline, Cubana de Aviación, has been plunged for years into a profound crisis of constant flight cancellations due to the poor state of its fleet, consisting mainly of Russian airplanes with long years in service. The deterioration of their planes has forced the island’s main airline to continuously lease aircraft from other companies, and reduced their stature to almost nothing among their Cuban passengers.

The next few days are crucial. The reaction of the families will depend to a large extent on how the authorities and the airline manage the information about what happened. Transparency is now the most recommended approach but it remains to be seen if the Cuban government is going to choose it.

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Note: This column was originally published in the Latin American edition of the Deutsche Welle chain.

The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

Cuban Government Demands Payment of Ghana’s Debt for Medical Services

Medical students from Ghana in Cuba. (Minrex)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, 14 May 2018 — Cuban Deputy Minister of Health Marcia Cobas, in charge of medical cooperation in third countries, is upset because the Government of Ghana has not paid for the one hundred Cuban doctors assigned to that African nation as of September.

“It’s not fair,” Cobas said in a visit to Ghana, according to local media, which said she deplored the government’s attitude and said that even poorer countries, such as Chad, pay Cuban doctors on a regular basis. The island’s official press has not echoed the statements of the official.

Ghana’s debt for the services of the Cuban medical brigade amounts to 4.7 million dollars, according to the Ghanaweb site. This represents eight years of Cuban healthcare workers in Ghana. To date, only the doctors who are in Accra, the capital, continue to receive a salary from the government. continue reading

Last week the Cuban Ambassador in Ghana, Pedro L. Despaigne González, visited the headquarters of the Ghanaian Ministry of Health, where he was received by Deputy Minister of Health, Kingsley Aboagye-Gyedu. At the meeting, they discussed issues related to the Cuban medical mission, according to a brief official note from the Cuban Foreign Ministry.

Ghana, a country of 21 million located on the Gulf of Guinea, has been classified as one of the 40 poorest and most indebted nations on the planet. Although the poverty rate has been reduced to 28.5% of the population, life expectancy is only 55.4 years for men and 59.6 years for women, according to the World Health Organization.

The main causes of infant mortality include malaria, diarrhea and upper respiratory infection, as well as HIV infection, hypertension, diabetes mellitus and traffic crashes. The UN points out that the country has a high level of illiteracy and malnutrition and has high mortality rates.

Cuban specialists have been in the country since 1983. In 2016, Cuba signed a new health agreement with Ghana to send more doctors, while more than a thousand Ghanaians have graduated from Cuban universities, most of them in medicine.

Cuba has medical personnel deployed in 62 countries but does not provide data on the number of health professionals that are outside its borders, although in 2015 the number exceeded 50,000, according to the official press.

In recent weeks South Africa announced that it would reduce thethe number of medical students sent to Cuba, while other African countries signed cooperation agreements to bring specialists from the island despite the dissatisfaction of their local medical unions with that program.

The most recent statistics, published on the Cubadebate site, reported that the export of services is the largest source of income in the national economy, and contributed “an estimated 11.5 billion dollars as an annual average between 2011 and 2015,” according to the former minister of the Cuban Economy, José Luis Rodríguez, although that figure has fallen around 20% in the last two years because of the crisis in Venezuela.

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Carnival Lines Announces New Cruise from South Carolina to Cuba in 2019

A cruise ship docked in Havana. (14ymedio)

14ymedio biggerEFE via 14ymedio, Miami, 16 May 2018 — Carnival Cruise Lines announced on Tuesday the expansion of its cruise itineraries to Cuba with sailings from the port of Charleston, South Carolina, starting in 2019, while the airlines JetBlue and United Airlines also plan to increase their flights to the Island.

Carnival said in a statement that it will expand its trips to Cuba by 2019 with the first itinerary from Charleston and the addition of between 23 and 25 cruise days on five different ships departing from Miami and Fort Lauderdale, both on the east coast of Florida, and from Tampa, on the west coast of the state.

The ship that will sail from the port of Charleston is the Carnival Sunshine, with a capacity of 3,002 passengers and 102,853 tons, which will be the largest cruise ship that will dock in the port of Havana, said Carnival. continue reading

The Carnival Triumph will leave the port of Fort Lauderdale, the Carnival Paradise will depart from the Port of Tampa, and the Carnival Victory and Carnival Sensation cruises will sail from the Port of Miami, in southeastern Florida.

“Cuba has been a very popular destination among our cruisers and we are delighted to offer more opportunities to experience and explore this fascinating destination,” Christine Duffy, president of Carnival, told EFE.

With regards to air service, United Airlines recently indicated that as of 20 July it will increase direct daily services between the city of Houston (Texas) and Havana.

“This expansion to Havana will provide significant public benefits to our city — where many speak Spanish — as well as to the region and the state,” Houston Mayor Houston Sylvester Turner said in a statement.

United Airlines, which opened its first ticket sales office in Havana in 2017, operates the “only service to the Cuban capital from the entire center and west of the United States” and also offers daily direct flights from New York, the airline said.

Meanwhile, JetBlue announced last week that as of 10 November it will operate direct flights on Saturdays from Logan International Airport in Boston to Jose Martí Airport in Havana.

JetBlue will also expand its flights to Cuba with up to three daily flights to Havana from the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, north of Miami, also starting in November.

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"Mariela Castro Is Our Friend But That Does Not Make Our Church Communist"

Mariela Castro (left) and her husband, Italian Paolo Titolo (right), at a ceremony of the Metropolitan Christian Church in Cuba. (Courtesy)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario J. Penton, Miami, 17 May 2018 — The presence of Mariela Castro blessing LGBT couples on Saturday draped in a Christian stole, on the day against homophobia and transphobia in Cuba, has generated scorn among some Cuban believers. In recent days the press has focused on a new church established on the island with an inclusive agenda and the help of the National Center of Sex Education (Cenesex), led by the daughter of former president Raul Castro.

“Seeing the image of Fidel Castro presiding over a celebration of the rights of the LGBTI community and the believers of a Christian Church supporting him is a bit strong,” says the missionary pastor of the Lutheran Church, Ignacio Estrada, from Miami.

“Is it a mockery or a usurpation? The stole is a symbol of Christ’s authority, Mariela Castro should not wear it,” he says. The church the sexologist is pledged to is the Metropolitan Community Church  (MCC). For Estrada it is a mistake to mix politics with religion. continue reading

The MCC defines itself as a Church with a positive and inclusive message towards the LGBTI community. It also favors ecumenism (the unity of Christians) and is liberal in nature.

Since it was established on the Island in 2016, the MCC has been linked to Cenesex and it is common to see Mariela Castro participate in its ceremonies, impart blessings and encourage LGBTI couples.

A representative of the MCC board of directors in Cuba, who agreed to speak with this newspaper on condition of anonymity, denied that his congregation is trying to mix politics and religion.

“We understand our mission in Cuba and for Cuba, we work alongside those institutions that share our same vision, Cenesex is one of them, and is the one that has most supported us in our work, especially in the person of Mariela Castro, who is a faithful sympathizer of our church,” he said.

The pastor recognizes that they are sending a political message when they participate in governmental activities, but emphasizes that his main intention is to signal that a church “whose voice is dissident to the rest of the churches” is present in the country.

“There is a church in Cuba where the LGBTI community is accepted completely without limitations or conditions, because God loves us radically. Mariela is a deputy [in parliament], Raul’s daughter, our friend and obviously revolutionary but that does not make our church communist,” he added.

The pastor justified Castro’s use of liturgical ornament: “Many see her as a pastor for the LGBTI community, she uses that symbol not from a religious point of view, but as a symbol of a pastor, a companion, a protector,” he said.

The MCC, founded in 1968 in the United States, has more than 400 communities around the world. In Cuba it has around 100 faithful, but in just two years it already has three communities, in Matanzas, Santa Clara and Havana.

In 2016, the Institute of Global Justice of the Metropolitan Community Church awarded Mariela Castro the Be Justice award and the following year Castro responded by giving MCC founder Troy Perry the highest award granted by Cenesex.

Both Perry and the Rev. Héctor Gutiérrez, a Mexican bishop responsible for MCC in Cuba, have been in Havana. Mariela Castro and her husband, the Italian Paolo Titolo, witnessed the renewal of Gutiérrez’s marriage vows.

For Yadiel Hernández, a member of the First Baptist Church of Matanzas, relations between the Cenesex and the Metropolitan Community Church are “a business.”

“The MCC needs Cenesex and Mariela Castro because under the auspices of that institution they have grown in the country and at the same time Mariela Castro and Cenesex use the Church to promote their agenda,” he says and believes that if the MCC were to criticize the Government it would lose “its official favor.”

The MCC is not recognized by the Council of Churches of Cuba or by the office of the Communist Party charged with regulating the presence of religious organizations on the island. However, unlike other religious organizations born in recent years, it has not been persecuted, something that Hernandez attributes to its relationship with the daughter of the former president.

According to the World Christian Solidarity organization, the violations of religious and worship rights in Cuba increased in 2017 and there are churches that have been asking for official recognition for more than two decades, which forces them to meet clandestinely and be subject to searches by the authorities.

“The Church [i.e. the Christian churches] in Cuba is in a moment of expansion, many congregations from different parts of the world are arriving and some of them have a lot of money and seek support from institutions in the country,” says Hernandez.

Victor M. Dueñas, one of the activists who launched the We Also Love campaign in 2015 in favor of gay marriage in Cuba, does not believe in Mariela Castro’s “good intentions” in support of the LGBTI community nor in her adherence to the MCC.

“It is a betrayal of the Christian communities,” says the Presbyterian, who supports “an inclusive Church” but is outraged to see “the political agendas that can eclipse the Christian message.”

Dueñas, who along with a hundred Cubans asked for asylum at a Dutch airport last January, says Mariela Castro could do much more for the LGBTI community.

“We have been waiting ten years for the constitutional reform in which Mariela Castro has promised to try to include homosexual marriage, and in 2015, when other activists launched a campaign to promote it, she refused to support us,” he says.

The former president’s daughter has rejected that the objective of the Cuban Government should be the enactment of equal marriage and has indicated that socialism can not seek the “the simplest solution that appears nor repeat what others do.”

“In Cuba, laws are needed to protect LGBTI people so that they are not discriminated against, it is necessary to recognize police violence and take measures to prevent it, and projects that are independent of the State that defend LGBT rights, that they don’t hijack their discourse.”

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

Cuban Government Tells UN Those Fighting For Regime Change Are Not Defending Defend Human Rights

Presentation on Cuba at the Universal Periodic Review on Human Rights before the UN. (@RosaMariaPaya)

14ymedio biggerEFE, via 14ymedio, 16 May 2018 — Cuba declared on Wednesday at the United Nations Human Rights Council that those who act internally in favor of regime change cannot be considered as defenders of human rights, since in reality they are “agents of a foreign power.”

The Cuban Minister of Foreign Affairs, Bruno Rodríguez Parrilla, attended the forum to present his government’s report on the human rights situation on the island, as part of a Universal Periodic Review process carried out for all UN member states.

“In Cuba, the law cannot be violated (…) in the service of an external agenda of regime change, of the constitutional order and of the political system that Cubans have freely chosen,” said the minister, who said that those who act that way “do not deserve the noble qualification of defenders of human rights.” continue reading

On the other hand, Rodríguez affirmed that civil society is gaining increasing importance at the national level and that there are currently 2,200 such organizations of this type in the country.

He insisted that civil organizations participate extensively in the design, execution and evaluation of programs with social impact.

During his presentation before the UN Council, Minister Rodríguez defended Cuba’s “democracy model,” which he considered “participatory and popular” and which, according to him, is not limited to electoral processes, but includes effective citizen participation in public matters.

“Our electoral processes are not media contests between elitist political parties, in which candidates make promises that fail, and promote division, hatred, lies and corruption.”

“There is no single model of democracy, nor a pre-established or agreed formula for this concept,” stressed the Foreign Minister.

In another area, Rodriguez denounced that the “worsening” of the United States ‘blockade’ in the economic, financial and commercial realms is the “main obstacle” to the economic and social development of the island.

After the minister’s presentation, the delegations of the Human Rights Council member countries commented on Cuba’s report and made recommendations to the Government; one of the most repeated of these was that there be guarantees for freedom of expression, association, the press and peaceful gatherings.

Several countries asked Rodriguez to extend a permanent and unrestricted invitation to come to Cuba to the United Nations rapporteurs who monitor the progress and setbacks in specific human rights, and to allow them to visit the places they wish, including prisons.

Another suggestion that was mentioned by different delegations was related to the relevance of creating an independent national institution for human rights.

On the other hand, many countries congratulated the Cuban Government on the rights to health, education and culture that are guaranteed to its population.

Hours earlier, Cuban activist Rosa María Payá said that the Cuban government “mocks” the Human Rights Council and that the report presented to this body in the name of an NGO is “fictitious.”

“We are here to denounce the efforts of the Cuban regime to mock us, the Cuban citizens and the Universal Periodic Review process,” said the activist in a meeting with the press hours before that scrutiny.

“The report that the alleged entities of Cuban civil society have sent is totally fictitious, and not only that, they have invented 400 NGOs.”

Payá said that among these NGOs are “the Cuban Federation of Canine Sports, and the Cuban Association of Otolaryngology, which have nothing to do with human rights” and added that, normally, states present a report referencing some 30 NGOs.

The activist denounced that in neither the government report nor in that of the NGOs did they denounce “the reality of what is happening in the country.”

“There is no talk of cases of torture, disappearances, arbitrary detentions, which are still common, or express kidnappings*, which is a pattern that continues, and that the Ladies in White suffer every week,” Payá said, and she added “330 express kidnappings have been documented in the last month.”

In addition, Payá said that the number of political prisoners “currently equals 120 people with sentences handed down.”

The daughter of Oswaldo Payá stressed that, in recent weeks, five sentences have been handed down against human rights defenders, “and even defenders of environmental rights. Ariel Ruiz Urquiola, an environmental activist has been sentenced to one year in prison, for denouncing threats to biodiversity.”

She also pointed out that there are “absurd cases like that of three activists who were sentenced to two and a half years in prison for demonstrating silently in the Plaza Cespedes who were accused and convicted of the crime of pre-criminal dangerousness, a ‘crime’ that exists only in Cuba and that ensures that you do not have to commit a crime to be arrested.”

With respect to Miguel Díaz-Canel’s assumption of the presidency on April 19, Payá said that the Cuban regime “is selling a process of political change when the appointee was hand-picked. In the last elections there were 605 candidates for 605 seats. The ability of Cubans to choose was zero.”

In addition, the activist denounced that the authorities have not allowed “hundreds of activists” to leave the island in the last months, and specifically related to the Universal Periodic Review “at least five” were blocked from leaving Cuba to prevent them from speaking out.

“We have no freedom to enter and leave as citizens, my own mother was not allowed to enter Cuba to visit the grave of my father,” she said.

*Translator’s note: Elsewhere in Latin America “express kidnappings” are abductions where an immediate ransom is demanded, for example the victim is forced to withdraw money from an ATM. In Cuba, the police and State Security frequently detain people for hours or days to prevent their participating in some political or artistic protest or activity, or to cause them to miss a flight to activities abroad.

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

Cuban Biologist Ariel Ruiz Urquiola Sentenced To One Year In Prison For Contempt

Ariel Ruiz Urquiola and his family maintain that the authorities’ aim is to seize their farm in Viñales, Pinar del Río, and punish him for his opposition to the government. (Facebook)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 9 May 2018 — Cuban biologist Ariel Ruiz Urquiola was condemned on Tuesday by the court of Viñales, in Pinar del Río, to one year in prison for the alleged offense of contempt, a sentence that has affected his closest relatives because it is the maximum penalty for this type of fault.

According to El Nuevo Herald, Ruiz Urquiola communicated through the activist Ailer González that, before being arrested last Thursday, “more than five men, officials of the Forest Rangers who did not identify themselves with first and last names, forcibly entered the farm.”  These individuals accused the biologist of cutting down trees to fence his land without permission even though he had an authorization to erect a barrier.

Urquiola was arrested at the farm in Viñales that he leases from the government when he refused to hand over his work tools to the officials. Apparently, Ruiz Urquiola accused them of operating as “the rural guard” (an allusion to Cuba in the republican era), a term that earned him detention for contempt. continue reading

The biologist started a hunger strike on Saturday to protest against irregularities in his case. His family claims that the Prosecutor’s Office, which requested four years in prison, had fabricated the case against him.

Boris González Arenas, a friend of the scientist, told 14ymedio that Ruiz Urquiola was held incommunicado for four days. “The process has been almost summary, giving very little time to find a lawyer and prepare the case,” he denounced.

“It is a horror what has happened, a crime of state with the clear intention of sending the message that under the government of Miguel Diaz-Canel the government remains the same repressor and that nothing has changed,” says González Arenas.

Ariel’s sister, Omara Ruiz Urquiola, told Diario de Cuba that the objective of the charges against her brother is to take the farm from her and said they will appeal the sentence, for which they have three days.

The house, located on the plot, and the land, is managed by the Urquiolas under a form of leasing known as usufruct, and they have developed it into a agro-ecological farm. In 2008 the Government of Raúl Castro authorized the leasing of idle state lands in usufruct to try to revive the agricultural sector. Urquiola has repeatedly denounced the raising of wild pigs in the area where his farm is located, a situation that has produced a negative environmental impact in a World Heritage Site with high natural and tourist value. His complaints have been directed to the Ministry of Agriculture, the Ministry of the Interior and the authorities of the People’s Power of the zone.

The biologist and doctor of Sciences has participated in several research projects on Cuban biodiversity. He also directed an international research effort conducted between the University of Havana, the Natural History Museum of Berlin and Humboldt University on the origin and settlement of the Sierra de los Órganos, in Pinar del Río.

In 2016, the scientist was expelled from the Marine Research Center under the official charge of unjustified absences, but, in his opinion, it was a plot against him because the authorities do not consider him “reliable” due to his political leanings .

At the end of that same year, the biologist was arrested three times for demanding the medicines needed for his seriously ill sister. After a hunger strike and a vigil outside the Havana Cancer Hospital, Ruiz Urquiola managed to get the delivery of the drug to his sister restarted.

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

Venezuela Buys Oil From Other Countries To Supply Cuba

The Venezuelan state oil company PDVSA paid a surcharge of up to US $12 per barrel for crude oil purchased in the international market that it then sent to Cuba. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 15 May 2018 – Last year, Nicolás Maduro’s government spent almost 440 million dollars to purchase of foreign oil to send it to Cuba under conditions that are advantageous to the island, while representing a loss for Venezuela, according to an investigation carried out by Reuters, which has obtained documents about the matter.

The shipments made by PDVSA, the state oil company, are the first documented confirmation that the South American nation is buying crude to supply its regional allies, especially the members of the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA), because it is currently not extracting enough oil to support exports. continue reading

Venezuela delivered foreign oil at preferential discounts for these nations, even though the country is going through a liquidity crisis and has a critical need for foreign currency. The shipments were made in the midst of a serious social situation, due to the lack of food and medicines, together with galloping inflation, which exceeded 2,600% in 2017.

PDVSA went to the international market to compensate for a drop in its own oil production, unprecedented in the last 33 years. The country’s main industry has suffered a 28% drop in 12 months and its refineries are operating at a third of capacity. At the same time, there has been a massive resignation of workers due to low wages.

The Venezuelan state company paid a surcharge of up to $12 per barrel for the oil purchased in the international market that it then sent to Cuba, according to internal documents reviewed by Reuters detailing imports and exports from January 2017 to May of this year.

The oil that PDVSA acquired for Cuba came mainly from Russia and is of a type that is suitable for Cuban refineries, which operate mostly with machinery from era of Soviet involvement on the island.

Most likely, Havana pays for these supplies with services, in accordance with the agreement signed in 2000 by then presidents Hugo Chávez and Fidel Castro.

In accord with that agreement, the Cuban Government provides the Miraflores Palace with advice and support in areas such as public health, sports training and cultural and educational matters.

Previously, the Venezuelan government only imported oil to mix with its own crude before exporting it or using it to feed its refinery in Curaçao.

However, the documents analyzed by Reuters reveal that in the last 17 months the company bought crude at market prices to deliver to its allies, and that the shipments never even passed through Venezuela.

The subsidized deliveries indicate that Maduro is seeking to maintain diplomatic and political support from Cuba, a key ally at a time when many governments in Latin America are distancing themselves from Caracas and the United States has put in place numerous sanctions against Venezuelan government leaders.

“Maduro is giving away everything he can because the support of these countries, especially Cuba, is all the political support he has left,” said a senior Venezuelan government official who declined to be identified.

Expenditure on foreign oil contrasts with the fall in the amount of non-oil imports. The bill for purchases abroad fell from 46 billion dollars in 2011 to 6 billion in 2017, according to data from the Central Bank of Venezuela and Ecoanalítica, an economic research organization based in Caracas.

However, PDVSA did not pay in cash for the crude oil it bought from foreign companies, but promised to return it, later, in oil shipments. With this decision the Government of Nicolás Maduro has mortgaged the oil reserves of his country since they will serve to pay an increasingly large debt, which already totals more than 60 billion dollars owed to China and Russia alone.

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

Cuba’s Independent #00Bienal Resists Government Pressures and Carries Off Event

A talk with the artists Jenifer Acuña and Alejandro Barreras in Instar. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 15 May 2018 — The #00Bienal has withstood the pressures of the Cuban Government and concluded its first edition on Tuesday, having completed its program despite them. The authorities, who marked the event from the beginning with accusations of it being financed by the “counterrevolution,” have made every effort to prevent the participation of a large number of national and foreign artists, in addition to sending the police to close the exhibition spaces.

Last Friday the gallery-house El Círculo was the site of the greatest physical repression against the independent Biennial which, until that moment, had been carried out without large police deployments. State Security surrounded the property and prevented public access to the Co-Cina exhibition. An agent who identified himself as Efren even blocked the gallery door. “They did not let anyone in but we have everything filmed,” activist Lia Villares told 14ymedio. continue reading

Most of the events of the #00Bienal have been held in artist Tania Brughera’s Instar space in Old Havana, but there have also been events in other Havana municipalities including Marianao, El Vedado, Habana del Este and Santa Cruz del Norte.

In the neighborhood of Alamar, artists Iris Ruiz and Amaury Pacheco have also suffered reprisals for participating in the event. Authorities of the Housing Institute and local government authorities pressured them to stop the painting of several graffiti by the artist Yasser Castellanos, inside and outside their home.

“If we did not stop the work they told us they were going to bring a shock brigade to erase it,” Ruiz tells this newspaper.

However, the employees who arrived to undertake the erasure could not enter the house because the neighbors and friends of the artists supported them “to avoid the outrage.  After a while security agents arrived and said that Physical Planning would give us permission to paint,” Ruiz concluded.

“Three months ago everyone thought it would be impossible to stage the #00Bienal,” recalls Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara, one of its main organizers. Among other reasons because “in the Cuban intelligentsia there is a lot of commitment to the system that gives them perks, but also many artists find themselves in a comfort zone that they do not want to leave.”

Despite the wide variety of exhibitions and artistic actions that took place, Otero Alcántara recognizes that “some of the artists announced in the catalog reconsidered a little and have not appeared” due to the harsh accusations that the official institutions launched at the event.

“I’m not a superhero or anything like that,” says the artist, who in recent years has become known for performances like those he held around the luxury hotel Manzana Kempinski, in Old Havana. His artistic actions have aimed to point out the economic gap between nationals and tourists.

“Being an artist is a life position,” confesses the artist, whose greatest current fear is that “the #00Bienal will be shelved within the historical passages” of recent years. “We would like the young filmmakers who recently published a statement to also do an independent film event.”

Threats and interrogations by State Security have been another technique in the attempts made to restrain the participants. Among those affected was the painter Luis Trápaga, removed from the National Artists Registry in retaliation for his involvement in the independent artistic event. The authorities of the National Council of the Plastic Arts, which manage the registry, informed him that the measure was taken because of his position “contrary to the cultural policy of the country.”

The artist José Ernesto Alonso participated in the #00Bienal with a survey that he drew from surveys conducted by international institutions that measure elements such as happiness, satisfaction and well-being in different parts of the world. “I created a guide that allows us to quantify the level of satisfaction that each Cuban has with respect to the current situation of the country.”

Alonso clarifies that “the greatest fear that an artist can have about being part of the #00Bienal is that it all ends up black and white,” and later “they come from the institution and they tell you: if you supported the independent biennial you can not participate in any more of the events we organize.”

Cuban artists such as Hamlet Lavastida and Sandra Ceballos are participate in the event. Ceballos’s independent gallery, Aglutinador, which opened in 1994, is one of the most important venues of the event. The curator Gerardo Mosquera, founder of the Havana Biennial in 1984, has also joined the independent event.

“Some foreign artists, such as the Spaniard Diego Gil, have been summoned by Immigration and they have been told that they can not appear in the Biennial,” says Cuban-American curator and artist Coco Fusco.

Fusco was also prevented on May 3 from entering the country after arriving at the Havana airport. A day later, the artist Gean Moreno, linked to the Institute of Contemporary Art of Miami (ICA), was held for 10 hours in Cuban Customs. Although he was finally able to enter the country, the authorities confiscated the piece with which he intended to participate in the #00Bienal.

The Brazilian artist Thiago Morandi was one of those summoned by the Identification, Migration and Immigration Directorate (DIIE), which demanded that he leave the event, but the photographer and audiovisual producer ignored the threats and continued to appear in the activities of the alternative event.

Ulises Valdés, a Mexican, was also summoned by immigration officials and told to cancel his presence at #00Biennial, but he told the uniformed officers to communicate directly with the consul of his country if there was any irregularity with regards to his presence in Cuba. The officers told him that to be eligible to participate in the event, he would have had to enter the country with a cultural visa.

State Security officials and DIIE members warned foreign participants that they were part of an “unofficial” event that is “financed by the Miami mafia.”

That assertion conflicts with the information provided by the organizers of #00Biennial, who say that all the funding that sustains the event “comes from crowdfunding, which is very transparent” through digital platforms, according to the independent biennial’s curator and organizer, Yanelis Nuñez.

Nuñez and Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara, the main organizers of the event, received important help from the artist Reynier Leyva ‘El Chino’ Novo, who contributed 3,800 CUC from the sale of one of his works to the National Council of the Arts.

The alternative event, which arose after the Ministry of Culture’s announcement that it would postpone the XIII Havana Biennial until 2019, has achieved its initial objective of granting visibility to younger artists, as well as creating a space that promotes debate in an environment of freedom.

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

Fall in Tourism Impacts Cuba’s Private Sector

A cruise ship at the Port of Havana.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Zunilda Mata, 14 May 2018 — The arrival of the enormous cruise ship, which shimmers under the May sun in Havana bay, does not ease the worries of the self-employed of the port, who are increasingly nervous about the decrease in the number of foreign visitors.

“A boat arrives with hundreds of travelers only a few fall to earth,” laments Clotilde Clo Rodríguez, a self-employed tour guide specializing in visitors from Canada and the United States. “Many Americans avoid leaving the ship because of the travel warning put in place by the US government,” she says.

Last January the authorities of the United States issued a change in their Travel Alert for Cuba, recommending their citizens to reconsider traveling to the Island because of the risk of suffering ’acoustic attacks’ such as those that affected 24 diplomats from that country. Although the warning was softened from a category 4 to 3, it makes many people decide not to step on Cuban soil. continue reading

The continuous statements by Cuban officials about the security of the “Cuba destination” have not managed to dispel the vistors’ doubts and fears.

“A year ago, by this same date, I had work almost every day with large groups but now I spend most of my time without customers,” laments Clo, who leads trips to places such as the Finca Vigía museum, the house where the writer Ernest Hemingway lived on the outskirts of the city.

US citizens are prohibited from traveling as tourists to the Island and there are 180 hotels, travel companies and stores managed by the Revolutionary Armed Forces that Washington has banned Americans from patronizing. However, some categories of travel are still allowed, such as trips to “support the people” or family visits.

Tourists in Cuba. (14ymedio)

“Cuba’s moment is over, because that enthusiasm that was here during Barack Obama’s term is gone,” says Clo. “Now, many of the clients I had at that time write to tell me that they prefer to go to the Dominican Republic, Cancun or Bermuda.”

The tourist guide attributes that decision to several factors, including “tourism prices in Cuba are still very high and the quality of service they receive is not up to that of other countries,” she says. “The mere fact that they can not access the internet from their mobile phones is already a limitation for business people.”

American tourists are very popular on the island because they give big tips. “In their country they are used to leaving between 10 and 20% of the bill for the waiters or those who attend them in some service,” says Clo. “That’s why people from the United States are fought over here.”

The damage left by Hurricane Irma also created a negative image among many who planned a vacation on the island. “People do not want to go to a country that requires work and although the hotels have been rebuilt, the hurricane has left damages that they feel, for example in the supply of fruits and food,” adds Clo.

A few weeks ago the authorities of the Ministry of Tourism restated the number of tourists arriving in Cuba in the first quarter of the year; they had initially reported an increase of 7%, but instead the number fell by 7%.

However, the Government maintains its commitment to welcome five million visitors in 2018, according to the commercial director of the Ministry of Tourism, Michel Bernal. An assertion that several entrepreneurs working in the sector told 14ymedio they doubted.

A few yards from the Capitanía del Puerto, a private cafe offers typical tapas and a variety of cocktails. “We are looking at hard times because not much tourism is coming to the area and those who come are traveling on all-inclusive packages,” explains Gustavo, a 28-year-old man who works as a waiter at the cafe.

“We had a very good run at the end of 2016 and the beginning of last year when it seemed that tourism was going to increase, but right now many people are facing losses around here,” he says. “Those who are the worst off are the owners of rentals that made investments to serve more customers and have not been able to make back that money.”

On O’Reilly Street, very close to the well-known Bodeguita del Medio, Dinorah is among the most affected by the decrease in visitors. “I’ve had less than 20% occupancy,” laments the owner of a spacious hostel with five rooms that include private bathrooms and air conditioning.

“It is difficult to pay [the taxes] for the licenses and to assume all the expenses that it takes to maintain this house if not enough tourists come,” Dinorah complains. “To make matters worse, I can’t cancel my license for the low season and then get a new one later, because right now they’ve frozen the issuing of licenses for this activity.” Proprietors of rental accommodations pay monthly taxes for each room, even if it is not occupied.

Last August, the Cuban government halted the granting of licenses for self-employment, a decision that has many entrepreneurs in the food service and private accommodation sectors in limbo.

“Between the restrictions that the Government places on us and the fall of tourism, it is becoming a headache to sustain these small businesses,” says the owner of the hostel. The decline has brought a drop in room prices. “Where I used to ask for $30 (USD) or $25 for one night, now I have to settle for $20 or $15 because if I get too demanding I’m empty.”

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

Lack of Liquidity Affects Cuba’s Ability to Import Iodine for Salt

The instability in the supplies of raw material at the end of 2017 has had an impact on the supply of salt. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Marcelo Hernandez, 9 May 2-18 — After months of instability in the supply of salt, this week Cuba’s official media have finally addressed the shortage caused by the lack of raw materials and the damages left by Hurricane Irma. Granma attributes the worsening situation to the interruption in the importation of iodine, a problem that, in spite of being currently solved according to sources speaking to 14ymedio, has had effects that are still noticeable on the island’s dinner tables.

“When the hurricane hit the country, in September of last year, the country’s six existing saltworks suffered great damage,” said a note published Tuesday in the newspaper Granma, the official organ of the Communist Party, responding to complaints from customers that have seen salt disappear from the markets in recent months. continue reading

The national media and a manager of the state-owned Salt Company (Ensal) both point to the lack of iodine, which is imported from other countries, as the reason for the crisis and the forced halt in salt production in October and November of 2017.

Officials with the Ministry of Foreign Trade and Foreign Investment (Mincex) in Havana confirmed the information to 14ymedio. “The lack of liquidity is affecting many areas because we do not have the resources available to buy raw materials,” said an employee of the ministry, on condition of anonymity.

“The last months of 2017 and the first months of this year have been especially critical in the availability of funds to buy things ranging from products for the pharmaceutical industry to vital ingredients for the production of food,” the Mincex worker said.

“We are jumping through hoops trying to buy things, but there is no money and we have to prioritize one sector over another,” a high ranking official of Mincex told this newspaper. “We have temporarily resolved the issue of iodine, but we do not know if we can make the next purchase because our room to maneuver is very limited.”

Salt production decreased in recent years, when the extraction of unrefined salt went from just over 280,000 tons in 2011 to 248,000 tons in 2016. The authorities blamed this reduction on weather problems and the “technical obsolescence” of the industry.

The production of refined, iodized salt for ordinary consumption through the rationed market and the network of stores that sell in hard currency, has also been reduced from 93,700 tons in 2012 to 76,100 tons in 2016, according to the Statistical Yearbook.

Cuba is going through a crisis in the availability of money to import supplies, which has been aggravated by cuts in aid from Venezuela. “There is no liquidity because foreign currencies are not coming into the country, and the State deficit consumes everything in circulation,” says Elias Amor, a Cuban economist based in Spain.

In 2017, the National Statistics Office (ONE) revealed a drop in trade between Cuba and Venezuela of 70% in just two years. A collapse that was felt especially in the daily life of Cubans with the worsening of the food supply and greater difficulties in transportation.

Salt, however, seemed a product that could survive the ups and downs of the economy and be produced on the Island, a country with more than 5,000 kilometers of coastline. But the regulations established at the beginning of this century requiring adding iodine to the product have complicated the task.

At the beginning of the century, the rule to iodize salt for human consumption on the island began as a strategy to combat health problems associated with iodine deficiency.

“Without iodine, salt cannot be produced for sale to the population,” emphasizes Alberto Fuentes, a chemical engineer who dedicated three decades of his life to the salt industry in the central zone of the country. “That’s why when there is instability in the supply of iodine everything is paralyzed, because we can’t get salt out to the stores.”

“In this case, a ‘perfect storm’ of problems has occurred,” says the engineer. “The result is that there is no salt and people are starting to get upset because something so simple is missing.”

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

Victor Mesa’s Sons Leave Cuba for the Big Leagues

Víctor Víctor Mesa and Víctor Mesa Jr. left the island to try their luck abroad, especially in the US Major Leagues. (The New Herald)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, 12 May 2018 — The sons of Victor Mesa — coach of the Industriales team and among the most recognized Cuban baseball players of all time — escaped from Cuba to pursue careers as professionals in the United States.

An article published on the sports website MLB.com reports that Víctor Víctor Mesa and Víctor Mesa Jr. left the island to try their luck abroad, especially in the US Major Leagues.

The young athletes signed a representation contract with the Magnus agency, which manages the careers of several Cubans, including the well-known Aroldis Chapman. continue reading

First, and due to their young ages, the brothers must become free agents with restrictions, a condition that prevents them from enjoying a more substantial contract in case they sign with a major league team.

The rumors about the departure from Cuba of Victor Mesa’s sons departure from Cuba have been growing for months. Victor Víctor, the oldest of the brothers, was seen on several occasions training in the city of Miami, but he had always returned to the island.

Víctor Víctor has played on the island for the Matanzas and Industriales teams, he has also played on the national team where he was valued as one of the young promises of Cuban baseball with the greatest potential.

The departure of the Mesa brothers is a hard blow for Cuban baseball that in recent years has experienced numerable desertions of athletes. The most famous of these was the February 2016 escape of the Yulieski brothers and Lourdes Gourriel Jr., during the Caribbean Series in the Dominican Republic.

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.