Polarization and civil society / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

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14ymedio bigger 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 26 March 2015 – The family of Yamila, age 41, is a sample of Cuban society. The father is a member of the Communist Party, the mother a Catholic who never embraced the Revolutionary Process, there is a brother in Miami and she herself is working for a joint venture where she earns convertible pesos. When they sit down to eat, they discuss the high price of food, the low salaries, how boring the telenovela is, or how late the remittances from the emigrants are this month.

For decades the ideological fire has stirred no passions in Yamila’s living room. The father is increasingly tempered in his political views; the mother prays, while buying in the illegal market; the relative who lives on the other shore and comes every now and then on vacation is an obliging forty-something who saves every cent to bring them a flat screen TV. These are the daily problems that concern them and hold them together. The struggle to survive makes them set aside any differences.

This microcosm of the Cuban family today has a lot to teach those who, from polarized positions, try to say what civil society is and isn’t, try to put limits and Manichean labels on the diversity of phenomena that make up our reality. Any definition of the framework of this complex tapestry that makes up a society should be constructed with the objective of recognizing all of its parts and the right of each to exist.

Branding some as regime supporters and others as traitors only deepens the social distances and delays the necessary transformation that this country needs to experience.  

Branding some as regime supporters and others as traitors only deepens the social distances and delays the necessary transformation that this country needs to experience. In the current social fabric there are identifiable strands that have to be considered and that no snip of intolerance should exclude. If we are aware of our responsibility in this process of inclusion, then we will try not to arbitrarily cut off any part of the fabric.

The issue heats up as we approach the Americas Summit in Panama, where both the Government and the opposition are ready to present their own versions of Cuban civil society. All indications are that, despite conciliatory longings on the part of the Panamanian organizers, this platform is only going to hear a skewed version from each side, not the so necessary discourse of respect for the other and for plurality that the Cuban nation needs at this moment.

While it is true that the so-called mass organizations such as the Federation of Cuban Women (FMC), the National Association of Small Farmers (ANAP) and the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution (CDR) behave in the ideological arena like transmission poles from the powers-that-be, it also needs to be borne in mind that each of them encompasses a large number of Cubans – whether as an automatic response, the inability to choose other options, fear, or true complacency – and every one of our families is made up, for the most part, by members of these organizations. To ignore them is to amputate a part of our reality.

To disqualify, per se, a person because they are a part of the FMC, the CDR or the ANAP, for example, becomes an act of sectarianism and eliminates from the national discussion an essential area of the citizenry. Among them are some very capable people from the professional point of view, who will be part of those supporting the economic, social and legal reconstruction of Cuba. Many of them will be at the Panama Summit – subsidized by the Cuban Government and chosen for ideological reasons – with proposals that should be heard.

Panama could be the moment when Cuban civil society meets and understands that no child of this land should be excluded from the national debate. 

Sociologists, economists, intellectuals and Cuban academics will bring solidly supported studies that address the core theme of the meeting: Prosperity with Equity: The challenge of cooperation in the Americas. Instead of rejecting them because they come with directives to convert the event into trench warfare, it would be very healthy to interact with them and their proposals with respect. Panama could be the moment when Cuban civil society meets and understands that no child of this land should be excluded from the national debate.

On the other hand, the Cuban government official campaign has already begun to vent its venom on dissident figures and groups, the opposition and independent journalism which will also attend the event in April. Those attacks are not directed at damaging the self-esteem of the activists, already used to the verbal violence constantly directed at them, but rather to avoid any possible dialogue between this part of our civil society with that part recognized as closest to the Government, the one that defends the current state of affairs on the island.

Non-government attendees will travel, for the most part, with tickets and accommodation paid for by foreign institutions and entities, given the material poverty they experience from their situation of illegality. However, the selection process for those who will attend, incarnated that part of Cuba that has lacked internal democracy and a necessary transparency. Driven by improvisation and material precariousness, these representative should know that they will also be evaluated for the ideas and proposals they bring, not just for anecdotes about the pain and repression they have experienced.

If the dissidence wants to show its adulthood, it must communicate in Panama that it has a plan for the future and not only that it knows who to survive under the heroic status of being a persecuted group

If the dissidence wants to show its adulthood, it must communicate in Panama that it has a plan for the future and not only that it knows who to survive under the heroic status of being a persecuted group, but also that it knows how to engage in politics in an intelligent, measured and thoughtful way for the wellbeing of all Cubans. Its agenda should include not only calls for respect for human rights and a framework for individual and collective freedoms, but must also address the most pressing everyday problems of the citizens they want to represent.

It is also important for this other share of Cuban civil society that does not feel recognized in the mass organizations, nor in the opposition parties, understand that their role is to be a bridge, not an island. Pointing fingers at both sides from the moral stature of those who are neither “subsidized by the Cuban Government” nor “employees of the empire,” only adds more fuel to the fire of distrust.

The small private sector that is trying to prosper on the island, the sectors tied to the Catholic Church and other denominations, the academics who have tried at all costs to maintain an independent view in their analysis, and those groups who defend the rights of minorities, working for female emancipation, independence for artists and filmmakers, or an end to racial discrimination, all should know that it is not helpful to sit on the fence watching the confrontation between the two poles. They have a responsibility to modulate and form a part of the tapestry, not snip away at it or remain outside the conflict.

At Yamila’s dinner table everyone wants to live his or her life, have his or her own autonomy. They have managed it, in the shelter of their home and the understanding that comes from family ties. Can we reach it as a nation?

And where did that glass of milk go? / 14ymedio, Orlando Palma

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14ymedio bigger 14ymedio, Orlando Palmo, Havana, 25 March 2015 — The newspaper Granma published Wednesday a comprehensive report on milk production in the province of Camagüey. This scenario is grim and confirms the downward trend in terms of delivery of this precious food. Since 2012, Camagüey’s milk production and sales to the industry have declined, both in the cooperative and private sectors.

Although in the last five paragraphs it outlined with moderate optimism the possibilities of the sector recovery program, a reading of the article, signed by journalist Miguel Febles, reveals a problem that extends across many sectors of the economy, which can be summed up in the affirmation that the bureaucracy continues to be the heaviest weight dragging down food production in Cuba.

In short, the problem is that farmers must deliver the milk they produce to a pre-determined collection center. There samples are taken to assess the quality of each delivery, which is tied to the price of the product. However, instead of paying everyone according to the quality of food they bring to the center, the quality is averaged across all deliveries and the price paid to the farmer is derived from that average. The result is to demotivate improvements in quality.

Milk production in Cuba only covers 50% of domestic demand, so the country needs to import half of the milk consumed 

One of those interviewed, Alexis Gil Perez, director general of the Provincial Dairy Company, explains that the contracts are not with individual farmers but with “the productive base.” Gil Perez argues that this does not violate any procedure. “If there are opinions or dissatisfactions, we would have to revise the documents that govern the activity, and this decision can only be taken at the national level,” he adds. “Meanwhile, we must comply with the established provisions. It is not within my powers to vary the range of what we pay for milk.”

In a ceremony held in Camagüey on 26 July 2007 {commemorating the rebel attack on the Moncada Baracks), General Raul Castro said that every Cuban would be able to drink a glass of milk. Nearly eight years after that desire failed, the immediate proposal is not even to improve the distribution of what is collected, but to stop the decline in milk production observed in that province since 2012.

Milk production in Cuba only covers 50% of domestic demand, so the country needs to import half of the milk consumed. Its distribution is controlled by the government and private companies are forbidden from trading in milk products, even in the farmer’s markets.

 

Kuwait invests $ 21 million in hydraulic networks Havana / 14ymedio

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 26 March 2015 — The Kuwait Fund for Arab Economic Development awarded $21 million for the rehabilitation of water supply and sewer networks in Havana, as reported Thursday in the official media. With the signing of three agreements Wednesday, the second phase of the project gets underway; the project began in 2012 when the Fund awarded a credit to work on water resources in the capital.

The total amount of Kuwaiti aid for rehabilitation of networks amounts to $52 million in the last three years. It is expected that the works will be completed in all of the capital’s municipalities within 14 years.

The Cuban side at the time of the signing of the agreements was headed by Minister of Foreign Trade and Foreign Investment, Rodrigo Malmierca, while the general director of fund development, Abdulwahab Al-Bader, represented Kuwait.

“This is the fourth time we concluded agreements with the island and we are committed to continuing to provide credit to support works of such magnitude,” said Al-Bader. He added that his institution is ready to support the third stage of the capital rehabilitation and also evaluate the potential to contribute financially to other projects related to renewable energies.

The situation of hydraulic networks in Havana is a source of constant complaints from the population and heavy loss of water due to leaks and breaks. It is estimated that over 50% of the water pumped in the country is lost due to poor distribution infrastructure.

EU Diplomat Federica Mogherini: ‘There is no distancing from civil society’ / 14ymedio

Federica Mogherini, just outside the press conference where a reporter from 14ymedio was not allowed to enter

Federica Mogherini, just outside the press conference where a reporter from 14ymedio was not allowed to enter

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 24 March 2015 – On Tuesday afternoon the European Union’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Federica Mogherini, held a press conference for Cuban official media and foreign correspondents in Havana. According to the representative, Cuba and the European Union aspire to reach an agreement on political dialog and cooperation before the end of the year.

At the press conference, held in the Taganana Room at the Hotel Nacional, independent Cuban media were not allowed to enter. However, despite the restrictions, a 14ymedio reporter managed to get some statements from the official as she left the location.

Thanks to the collaboration of Herman Portocarero, European Union Ambassador to Cuba, this newspaper was able to have brief contact with Mogherini at the end of the press conference. Continue reading

‘CubaSí’ accuses ’14ymedio’ of “contaminating” the new platform of Cuban blogs / 14ymedio

"Mercenaries in service to the US blog on Cuban platform"

“Mercenaries in service to the US blog on Cuban platform”

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 23 March 2015 — The government information portal “CubaSí” regrets, this Monday, the presence of “mercenaries in the service of the United States” on the new blogging platform “Reflections”launched last week by the Cuban government. The author of the article, M.H. Lagarde, angrily cites the blog opened on this platform by 14ymedio, which has found a way to reach Cuban readers on the Island’s servers with the contents of the independent digital newspaper since its creation in May of 2014.

In his article, Lagarde accuses 14ymedio of having “contaminated” the platform with “counterrevolutionary propaganda,” although, at the time of its release, the government portal explained that it had no “restrictions with regards to themes addressed in the blogs and users interested in the service.”

“The fact undoubtedly ranks as the first provocation realized by Cuban mercenaries in the face of the Summit of the Americas to be held in April in Panama, Continue reading

Who is behind the mirror? / 14ymedio, Luz Escobar

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14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 19 March 2015 – On Wednesday, with great fanfare, the digital site “Reflections” was launched as part of the Cuban Youth Computer and Electronics Club’s Cuba Va (Cuba Goes) project. On its homepage you can read that this is the first Cuban blogging platform, although DesdeCuba.com, a blog portal, was launched eight years ago and, despite being blocked on the Cuban server, offers content generated in Cuba, where the majority of its authors live.

According to Kirenia Fagundo Garcia, who serves as senior specialist on Reflections, “there are no restrictions on the topics discussed on the blogs and users interested in the service,” on this platform. Each blog has only 250 megabytes allocated to post texts, photos, videos and sound, although Fagundo has made clear that it is planned to increase the initial capacity.

Despite the commitment to freedom announced by the portal, “the only condition is that the bloggers divulge the truth about Cuba, without offenses, disrespect or denigration.” Continue reading

A Mutilated Civil Society / 14ymedio, Regina Coyula

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Regina Coyula, Havana, 23 March 2015 — Just try it. On the street, randomly ask: What is civil society? You’ll be lucky if you find any satisfactory answer and will have better luck if, unlike for me, more than one person even deigns to answer you. To speak of civil society in Cuba is like teaching new material in school.

First the concepts, then, explain which is considered more successful according to the teacher’s vision. A meticulous educator looks for good examples. It is essential to mention the thesis of Alexis de Tocqueville of civil society as an intermediary between the individual and the State. Also interesting is Habermas’s approximation about individual rights that guarantee and foster free association. Continue reading

Cubalex states that its work is in ‘danger’ / 14ymedio

The lawyers of Cubalex Laritza Diversent and Barbara Estrabao day the report on the Commission.(14ymedio)

The Cubalex lawyers Barbara Estrabao (L.) and Laritza Diversent (R.) on the day the report to the Human Rights Commission.(14ymedio)

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14ymedio, 22 March 2015 – Last Friday the Cubalex Center for Legal Information circulated a statement in which they report that their work is in “danger.” The independent entity said that after their presentation of “a report about Cuban prisons, the campaigns of defamation and harassment increased” toward their members.

In the text there is reference to a robbery that occurred in Cubalex’s offices on March 12, when “unidentified people broke in and (…) stole a laptop, a tablet, an iPod, a modem, an external hard disk, several flash memories and computer parts.”

The statement goes on to say that “the fact that no other objects of value were stolen, only those that could contain information about the work of the organization, leads one to assume (…) that the aggressors came on the part of the state authorities.”

In recent months Cubalex has reported being a “target of a smear campaign that includes libelous notes accusing the organization of corruption.” The texts are published on the Internet, most of the time anonymously or without specifying the source of the complaint.

Laritza Diversent, attorney and member of Cubalex, reports that since 2013 there has been “increased surveillance, harassment and threats against members of the team.” The lawyer explained that the pressure on the group increased after the presentation of the report on the detainees in Cuba, before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

The harassment includes “threats to prosecute the family members of the Cubalex team and to confiscate the building where the office is located.”

Given this context, in its statement Cubalex demands that the Cuban government “guarantee and protect the work of organizations and leaders engaged civil society of in defense of human rights.” In addition, it asks “the international community to rule in favor of the guarantees of our work.”

The Cubalex Center for Legal Information is headquartered in Havana and is considered a non-profit organization not recognized by the Cuban state. It has offered free legal advice since 2010, concerning the legalization of housing, immigration procedures, inheritance, labor, criminal review processes, constitutional procedures and the defense of civil and political rights of Cuban or foreign citizens who ask them.

Berta Soler believes that conflicts in the group are due to ‘infiltrators’

Berta Soler in a file photo

Berta Soler in a file photo

(EFE) 21 March 2015 — The leader of the Cuban dissident movement Ladies in White,BertaSoler, is “convinced” that“Cuban State Security is hiding” behind the conflicts within the group and which led to the separation of some of its members.

Soler pointed to a History student, Alejandro Yañez, as the person who leaked a video that shows an angry internal conflict and stated that the one responsible for the leak is “someone sent by [Cuban] State Security” since 2007, to gather information and “promote misunderstandings in the group,” as affirmed by the newspaper El Nuevo Herald.

The incident earned the dissident criticisms, especially within the Cuban exile community in the United States, after which Soler decided to submit her leadership to a referendum held this month in Havana in which she was ratified as the movement’s leader.

“I think it doesn’t end because the Government has stuck its hands and body into this,” said Soler, who nevertheless affirmed that the experience taught her to rectify.

In the video in question, several members of the group, Soler among them, demonstrate with shouts against Alejandrina Garcia de la Riva, an activist who was “suspended” and who appeared at the group’s site as a “provocation.”

The leader of the movement also said that on her return to Havana she would personally deliver the keys to the group’s site to Laura María Labrada Pollán, daughter of Ladies in White founder, the deceased Laura Pollán, whose home has been the movement’s headquarters since its founding.

Last Thursday, Laura Labrada announced in Havana that she would create a foundation in honor of her mother and would not authorize Soler to use the name Laura Pollán, after criticizing the “unfortunate events that have raised questions” about the prestige of the organization.

Soler said she “respects” Labrada’s decision, and although the movement could continue to use its current name, Laura Pollán Ladies in White Movement, she would not “get into this family problem.”

Soler said that “respect” the decision of Labrada, and although the movement could continue using its current name, Laura Pollán Ladies in White Laura Movement, she will not “get involved in this family problem.”

“We are against the Cuban government, not against anyone of the people. Laura will always be present in us,” said Soler.

In the interview, the dissident preferred not to give details about the use of the 50,000 euros that the movement received from the European Parliament when, in 2013, it received the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, among other reasons because she doesn’t want to “reveal information to the Cuban government nor to State Security.”

The people who have placed their trust and monetary incentives in the movement, “know how the money is used,” she added.

The “Ladies in White” movement was created by women members of the families of the 75 dissidents condemned to prison during the “Black Spring” of 2003 (now released), among whom are Angel Moya, Soler’s husband, and Hector Maseda, Pollán’s widower.

In Cuba Drought Wreaks Havoc on World Water Day / 14ymedio, Rosa Lopez

Artesian well (14ymedio)

Artesian well (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Rosa Lopez, Havana, 22 March 2015 — Spring has officially arrived, but without the rain. Every day the drama worsens in the Cuban countryside, especially in the East. Throughout the length and breadth of the country, the private agricultural sector is experiencing a very difficult situation, because of the precariousness of resources and the lack of methods to transport water.

While the world celebrates International Water Day many farmers look to the sky to try to predict when the rains will come. The year has begun with negative omens. Between November 2014 and the end of January an accumulated shortage of rain has affected 52% of the country. Among the provinces most affected are Pinar del Río, Artemisa, Cienfuegos, Villa Clara, Camagüey, Las Tunas, Granma, Santiago de Cuba and Guantánamo.

Camagüey, which provides a quarter of the country’s production of milk and meat, is in a state of emergency because of the rainfall deficit and the low level of its reservoirs. Keeping the livestock fed and the crops irrigated has become an almost impossible task. The problems do not stop there. Continue reading

Heavy Police Operation against Merchants and Carriers / 14ymedio, Yosmany Mayeta Labrada

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yosmany Mayeta Labrada, Santiago de Cuba, 21 March 2015 — Since early this Saturday, a heavy police operation had as its objective self-employed workers, street vendors and private carriers in Santiago de Cuba. The forces of the National Revolutionary Police (PNR) reported that the raid was aimed against high meat prices in the farmer’s markets and the sale of potatoes in illegal distribution networks.

Most of the arrests and fines occurred in the Venceremos and Altamira suburbs of Santiago de Cuba. The uniformed agents arrived in the first hours of the morning and demanded the vendors show their licenses for engaging in commercial activity. Until midday, the toll of the operation was the seizure of dozens of kilograms of pork meat and thousands of pesos in fines.

Romilio Jardines, vendor of meat and agricultural products, was fined 700 Cuban pesos, although he said that his merchandise was not removed. Nevertheless, he affirmed that “they came prepared in case one refused.” The operation included special forces known as “black berets” who surrounded the area’s markets and the main streets of both suburbs. Continue reading

Wheeling and Dealing with Plastic / 14ymedio, Lilianne Ruiz

Plastic footwear stall at the market of La Cuevita (14ymedio)

Plastic footwear stall at the market of La Cuevita (14ymedio)

Markets all over the Island are supplied with objects made on the illegal circuit of a material mostly derived from industrial waste or leftovers from the dump

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Lilianne Ruiz, Havana, 20 March 2015 – At the market of La Cuevita in San Miguel del Padron, some thousand people from all over the Island daily buy household goods, flip-flops and toys, all made of plastic. The purchasers come especially from rural areas where the economic situation is more precarious and the only thing that abounds is scarcity.

In order to sell in the market it is necessary to have a state license and a letter signed by the producers, also authorized, from whom the articles must be bought. The inspectors who pass through the sales stalls may require this letter, but in practice they pass with hand extended seeking money in exchange for not imposing a fine of 1,500 pesos on whomever Continue reading