Graffiti Artist ‘El Sexto’ Declares Hunger Strike After Six Days In Custody / 14ymedio, Mario Penton & Abel Fernandez

El Sexto’s graffit after the death of Fidel Castro. (14ymedio)
El Sexto’s graffit after the death of Fidel Castro. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario Penton & Abel Fernandez, Miami, 2 December 2016 – The Cuban artist Danilo Maldonado, known as ‘El Sexto’ (the Sixth), declared a hunger strike this Thursday, according to reports to this newspaper from his mother Maria Victoria Machado. The artist’s decision comes six days after his arrest for having painted on a  centrally located wall in Havana, the words “Se fue” – He’s gone – in reference to Fidel Castro.

El Sexto’s fast comes amid worsening repression against the dissidence and independent journalists on the island, during the period of national mourning for the death of the former president.

“I had the first interview with the investigator who is handling Danilo’s case today. He told me that as of yesterday my son does not want to eat to demand his release,” Machado told this newspaper by phone.

Maldonado was arrested on 26 November after painting graffiti on the exterior wall of the Habana Libre Hotel, at the centrally located corner of 23rd and L in the Vedado neighborhood, and publishing a video on his Facebook page celebrating Castro’s death.

On Tuesday, family members of the artist denounced that he had been severely beaten and said he was holding firm against what he considers an injustice.

“Mamá, I have had a lot of aché (luck/blessing) to be a Cuban artist the day that bloody tyrant died and to be able to express myself. I’ll get out of here,” Machado said her son told her at the Guanabacoa detention center to the east of the capital.

According to Machado, her son is accused of damaging state property.

“When I asked the official what my son’s sentence would be for this crime, he told me just a fine, but then he started to talk about ‘historic conditions’ the country is going through and right there I told him that for me the state property demagoguery wouldn’t work,” she explained.

According to his mother, Maldonado has been beaten on several occasions since his arrest.

“He told me himself. In Guanabacoa two officers beat him up,” she explained. The police told her that El Sexto’s phone was given up for lost, but had finally been found in police custody.

Alexandra Martinez, Maldonado’s girlfriend who lives in Miami, said that El Sexto’s detention “shows the cruelty of the Castro regime that continues to violate its people.

“The regime must release Danilo immediately. His life, his health and his safety are in play and we need him,” she said.

Family and friends of the artist are working with three human rights organizations, an international attorney and several local attorneys on the release of the artist, Martinez said.

“This shows how fearful and insecure the Cuban regime is,” she added.

This Saturday the prosecution is expected to rule on El Sexto’s case.

Cubans Directed To Be Sad / 14ymedio, Luz Escobar and Mario Penton

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar/Mario Penton, Havana/Miami, 29 November 2016 — Women crying on camera, Facebook profiles turned into portraits of Comandante Fidel, long lines to bid farewell to his absent ashes. No reggaeton in the streets, no “good morning” from the announcers on national television. For a tourist, the people, Cuban and devoted to Fidel, transfixed by pain, have not lost any opportunity to say goodbye to their leader. But the reality is very different from the slogans.

“The Student Federation sent me this picture by email,” says a computer science student in Santa Clara, while looking at an image of a young Fidel Castro in his inbox. “The directions are for us to put it on our social networks and dedicate a dignified farewell to the old man,” says the teenager. “All of it, it doesn’t matter to me, but if I don’t do it, it could affect my career,” he adds. Continue reading “Cubans Directed To Be Sad / 14ymedio, Luz Escobar and Mario Penton”

Teresa, a woman from Cienfuegos who works in education, spends the hours as the sun passes overhead in front of a photograph of the former president and follows protocol to show signs of pain, which isn’t pleasant.

“I went because the union made me. If you dare not to go you’ll find out what happens to you. He died, but the system he created is just the same. He could have done a lot of good, but forcing us to go say goodbye to him seems abusive to me,” says the teacher, who added that she ended up with a migraine after so much time standing in the sun.

Perhaps the most notable case of following the forms was the debate between two news announcers, Froilán Arencibia and Mariuska Díaz, caught on open mike, about whether they should greet viewers with “good afternoon” or simply “greetings.” Finally, the direction to eliminate the “good” won the day because how could it be a good day if Fidel Castro had died?

“They put us in a huge line where, at the end all we had in front of us was a photo and his medals, because the ashes were for the leaders,” an independent worker told 14ymedio.

On elderly messenger in Havana had his own hypothesis about why Castro’s ashes weren’t on display to the thousands of people who waited at least four hours to enter one of the three “altars” in the Plaza of the Revolution. “Looking at his photo were his admirers and opportunists who wanted to look good at work. If they’d put the ashes on display, they’d have to have someone guarding them and there might have been some damage done,” he said, in reference to the Afro-Cuban rites where the bones of the deceased or, failing that, the dust of the skeleton contains the spirit of the departed.

“There are people who really loved him and they’re sorry. Fidel had a people,” a lady of 60 years, retired from the army, says ruefully.

In a Havana street, a young man who was with his girlfriend in a car complains that a policeman knocked on his window and asked, discourteously, that he turn off the music with which the couple was passing the time.

In the case of Cubans abroad connected with the country, the directions have been clear: you must first participate in a ceremony in which a book of dedications and lamentations is filled, then you have to reflect that pain in social networks.

“We want to make Facebook into a place where our Comandante is remembered and colleagues from other countries can go there to see the pain of our people,” a coordinator of the Cuban medical mission told Cuban doctors at a meeting in Brazil.

“The truth is easy come easy go, they force us to stand in lines,” jokes one of the doctors of the mission who requested anonymity.

“This is like an open stage or one of the famous ‘marches of the combative people.’ Doesn’t anyone ask why there were not spontaneous mass gatherings after the announcement? The people have to wait for directions from above to be sad.”

Police Free ‘14ymedio’ Journalist Reinaldo Escobar / 14ymedio

The '14ymedio' journalist, Reinaldo Escobar. (Youtube)
The ’14ymedio’ journalist, Reinaldo Escobar. (Youtube)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 1 December 2016 — The journalist Reinaldo Escobar, editor in chief of 14ymedio, was detained for more than four hours on Thursday, in the midst of the control measures that the Government deployed after the death of Fidel Castro. The reporter gave an interview to Spanish Television (TVE) on the Malecon in Havana where he was intercepted by police and taken to the Zapata and C police station in Vedado, according to witnesses who confirmed the arrest.

A man in civilian clothes approached the place where Escobar was being interviewed by Vicenç San Clemente of TVE. “He said we could not be here because it was an avenue where many presidents were passing by,” the Spanish correspondent told this newspaper. The man remained nearby listening to Escobar’s answers. Continue reading “Police Free ‘14ymedio’ Journalist Reinaldo Escobar / 14ymedio”

“They were questions about the future of Cuba, about the possible legal reforms that might be made,” explained San Clemente. However, the man ended up calling a patrol car, with license plate 099, which took the two journalists to the police station.

The Spanish Embassy in Havana began negotiations for the release of both reporters as soon as they heard the news, a diplomatic source informed 14ymedio. San Clemente was held at the entrance to the police station, but Escobar was lost to sight when he was led into the interior of the building.

Four hours after the arrest, the Cuban journalist was released and when he inquired at the station about the infraction or crime which had been entered into the log book, the uniformed officer responded with the brief word: prophylaxis.

Escobar graduated from the University of Havana in journalism in 1972, and has served as editor-in-chief of this independent newspaper since its founding, in May of 2014; the newspaper is blocked on servers on the island by the government. Previously, Escobar worked for various press media, among them the magazine Consensus, which was founded in December of 2014, and on his personal blog, From Here.

In December of 1988, Escobar was fired from the newspaper Juventud Rebelde (Rebel Youth), the second most important newspaper in the country. The dismissal was due to several critical articles he published after being motivated by the new air of glastnost in the Soviet press. Since then the government has not permitted him to exercise his profession in any of the state-controlled media, which exercise a monopoly over the press.

Patria y Libertad: Homeland and Freedom / 14ymedio, Tania Bruguera

One of the events in Havana in the 9-day mourning period for Fidel Castro (EFE)
One of the events in Havana in the 9-day mourning period for Fidel Castro (EFE)

14ymedio, Tania Bruguera, Havana, 1 December 2016 — Today in Cuba, we start a new phase, a phase that requires us to transition (shift) from an anecdote to historic data, from rumor to research, from passion to facts from what was symbolically assumed to what was actually done.

Time has come for us to ask for that archives be opened, to know how many truths  were manufactured and  to what extent victories  were achieved, to know with certainty how many  Cubans have  died around the world, to understand what social progress we have made and  to learn which agreements the government has  made on our behalf.

The Cuban people have the right to know its history, all of it, and be able to draw their own conclusions. Continue reading “Patria y Libertad: Homeland and Freedom / 14ymedio, Tania Bruguera”

Today Cubans have stopped being children waiting for orders.

However, refusing to be underestimated requires understanding  other people’s feelings, those that think and  feel differently. It means understanding that we are not always right and  that the goal of discussion  is not to win arguments but to clarify our ideas and send them out for consideration..

We need to stop  thinking that only our feelings  are valid because the project of The Revolution  has  been a different  experience for each and  every one of us, and  since they were experiences, all of them  are valid. There are things  to rescue and  things  to remove. It would be more interesting to see  howpeople have  dealt  with their experiences, what they have done with them, instead of denying   someone to feel in their own terms.

We need to start  saying  “no” to the things  we don’t like, to the things  that keeps us from feeling clean  and  honest, even  if this means losing a privileged position, because there’s no money,  no professional opportunity, no material comfort  that can  be compared to feeling free, to being  able to speak one´s  mind.

But the life project that we can create from now on is only possible if we allow ourselves to stop  having  double standard ethics, if we stop telling something to some people and then something different to others.

We have  an exceptional moment before us, not to defend a government or a position, but to create all together a vision for Cuba; one that  is not biased to either extreme,  a vision that can be a compilation of all our points  of view.

It is the time to create a new legal infrastructure that includes  respect for different  opinions and  stops political hate forever, that ensures that citizens’ preferences cannot be controlled by the government; that can be a space for fair and inclusive decisions.

It is the time to create a political infrastructure that guarantees that never again  a president can hold all powers. This has happened 3 times  in Cuba  since  1902.  There should never be another president who thinks he knows  better than  anyone, and what is better for us all.

This is the time to create a civic and social  infrastructure that includes everyone, that includes rights for everyone, that includes political dissent as a civic right,  that includes civic literacy.

It is the time to create an emotional infrastructure that nurtures room for mutual understanding, a structure that does not allow anything to horrify or minimize us.

A structure that allows solidarity  and  privacy,  individual rights and  social  rights where  the life we want to have is respected but also represents a common effort; a structure that allows truths  and  claims  from everyone, the majority but also the minority. A place  where  a humanist utopia  exists  but never  again  paranoia among its citizens, where emotions don’t compromise what is fair.

Today, there is a real task for Cubans to complete: to balance what we want to rescue and what we want to change. It is the time to stop whispering our hopes, it is time to stop being  afraid.

The best way to honor  our homeland and ourselves is not being submissive, not being a cynical nation,  never  again  being a nation  with different classes of Cubans, nor a place  from where  to leave,  but a place  where  life is a dignifying act  we are proud of.

Placing love, family and friendship above ideologies is the only way Cuba will be a nation again.

(English version from Tania Bruguera’s own site)

Opposition Alliance Calls To Open An Inclusive National Dialog / 14ymedio

Cuban activists founding the MUAD. (14ymedio)
Cuban activists founding the MUAD. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 1 December 2016 – The Democratic Action Unity Roundtable (MUAD) has made a call to open a national dialog a few days after the death of former Cuban president Fidel Castro. The opposition alliance believes that the country is entering a new stage in its history, according to a declaration signed by its spokesperson, Boris Gonzalez Arenas.

MUAD said that for many Cubans the memory of the political leader is marked by “injustices and inhumane detentions” and the “unjustifiable loss of human lives.” The statement also references the “uprooting suffered” by thousands of islanders “on seeing themselves forced to abandon (…) the land in which they were born.” For these people, Fidel Castro will remain “a totalitarian dictator” the document emphasized.

However, for other Cubans he will always be considered as the ruler “who opened the doors and gave them opportunities for themselves and their families that they did not have before the revolutionary process initiated in 1959.” In the memories of this part of the population Castro will remain “the hero, the father, the ‘at your orders’ Commander in Chief,” the statement says.

The declaration focuses on “a new generation of Cubans” who have “their own interpretation of our history and our reality.” They are individuals with “desires for a respect for diversity of thinking and for freedom,” and who dream of “a truly plural Cuba with respect for human rights and oriented to the benefit of all.”

The challenge for the current government is to put into practice “a set of measures that really impact the economic and social environment” and that allow “wide participation of all Cubans, wherever they are,” MUAD emphasizes.

The renewal of the national legislative political order also is called out as an urgent matter, in the document made public by the opposition coalition.

“The only path we have to achieve all the economic, social and political transformations that we want for Cuba is an inclusive dialog,” says the final paragraph of the statement.

MUAD brings together more than thirty independent civil society organizations. In the middle of this year the alliance suffered a serious reversal with the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU), the largest opposition organization in the country, left its ranks. The same thing occurred with the United Anti-Totalitarian Front (FANTU), led by Guillermo Fariñas.

Lights After The Ashes / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

Despite the mourning, some have dared to put up Christmas decorations. (14ymedio)
Despite the mourning, some have dared to put up Christmas decorations. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 1 December 2016 – Timidly, without much noise or fuss, Havanans are shaking off the national mourning decreed for Cuba, as of last Saturday, for the death of Fidel Castro. Despite cultural activities having been cancelled, the closed theaters and the bars without alcohol, the first Christmas decorations are beginning to be seen in some homes.

The owners of these houses adorned with lights and garlands risk being reprimanded by those closest to officialdom or by the police.

In a city where the authorities have severely reprimanded those who play loud music in their homes, or who plan any kind of festivities, to install Christmas decorations is true defiance, a gesture of irreverence more daring and forceful than an opposition slogan shouted in the Plaza of the Revolution.

Thousands of families across the capital city are waiting for the end of this period of seclusion imposed by the powers-that-be to prominently display their tree with a star and snow made out of cotton. These are the symbols of the new times, of the holidays that will inevitably come after the great funeral.

Fidel Castro’s 13 Most Notorious Failures / 14ymedio, Zunilda Mata

Fidel Castro promoting the 10 million ton of sugar harvest from 1969 to 1970. (Archive)
“Now it begins, The Great 10 Million [ton] Harvest.” Fidel Castro promoting the 10 million ton of sugar harvest from 1969 to 1970. (Archive)
14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Zunilda Mata, Havana, 30 November 2016 – Cuba’s official press and, oddly, a good part of the international media, never stop repeating that Fidel Castro brought Cubans free education and healthcare for all. Cuba was already, however, one of the most developed countries on the continent before the Revolution, much more so even than some European countries such as Spain. Currently, the healthcare system is in a calamitous state since the USSR and Venezuela suspended their enormous subsidies for Havana, and education, despite being universal and free, is totally at the service of an ideology.

These are the 13 most notorious failures of the last 57 years, all attributable to the Maximum Leader. Continue reading “Fidel Castro’s 13 Most Notorious Failures / 14ymedio, Zunilda Mata”

  1. One of Fidel Castro’s first promises in 1959 was to drain the Zapata Swamp, the largest wetland in the Caribbean islands, and to use it for planting rice. After investing substantial resources and mobilizing a large labor force, the project was abandoned. The failure of this idea of Castro’s was fortunate for the ecosystem, and today the area is included in the National System of Protected Areas and is a breeding ground with more than 10,000 rhombifer crocodiles, a species native to Cuba. A natural resource that would have been lost with the expansion of agricultural crops.
  2. In a public speech in the sixties, Castro said that in a short time there would not be a single marabou bush to be found anywhere on the island. Five decades later, the advance of this invasive plant has hampered agriculture to the point that his brother Raul re-issued the promise in a speech in July of 2007, during the annual commemoration ceremony for the assault on the Moncada Baracks, but the problem remains unresolved.
  3. In the early sixties Fidel Castro promised that milk production in Cuba would be so great that although the population was expected to triple, Cubans would not be able to consume all the milk that was going to be produced. Currently, milk is a rationed product distributed only to children under seven (and those with special medical needs), who receive a kilogram of powdered milk every ten days. In 2007, Raul Castro expressed a desire that all Cubans would be able to “drink a glass of milk” every morning.
  4. The October Crisis, also known as the Missile Crisis, represented a major defeat for the Maximum Leader, when the Soviets ignored him and made an agreement with the United States to withdraw their nuclear arms without considering his opinion. The Cuban people were barely aware of how close they came to perishing in a global cataclysm. In the streets of the island people chanted, “If they come, they stay,” and “Nikita, pansy, what is given isn’t taken back,” (in a rhyming version in the original Spanish), an allusion to the withdrawal of the warheads.
  5. Starting in late 1968 the island began preparing for a 10 million ton sugar harvest in 1970, but managed to produce only 8.5 million tons. The country turned its entire attention to the cane cutting, with the end of year holidays suspended to concentrate on harvesting and sugar production. The economy was left in ruins, fields dedicated to other crops were turned over to sugar, and the damages to the environment were never revealed.
  6. The Alamar neighborhood to the east of the capital, built through a system of microbrigades – people diverted from their normal workplaces to construction brigades – was exposed as the Cuban model of socialist architecture. In Alamar’s concrete blocks would live the “New Man,” an individual without ambitions who would know nothing of markets or exploitation. Today the Alamar apartments represent the lowest price point in the capital’s housing market. Not only for their architectural ugliness, but because this bedroom community lacks an adequate cultural, economic and commercial infrastructure.
  7. In 1967 it was proposed to create what would be called “the Havana cordon” around the capital, with the planting of coffee interspersed with pigeon peas, a miraculous bean to feed cattle. Thousands of Cubans were mobilized for the cultivation and the official press predicted a notable improvement in food supplies. The project was abandoned and its final fate never explained. [Ed. note: Among other problems, Havana does not have a climate conducive to coffee growing.]
  8. In the late seventies it was planned that the Isle of Youth would be Cuba’s first communist territory. Experiments were established to eliminate money and extend free goods and services. Numerous schools were built to welcome students on fellowships from 37 countries. Today most of these schools are abandoned, their hallways and classrooms overrun by vegetation.
  9. The genetically superior cow was one of the most persistent obsessions of the Comandante en Jefe. Crossing Holsteins with native cattle would create the F-1 and later F-2 animals that would guarantee the national cattle herd. The emblematic animal of this project was a single cow named White Udder, which set several records, producing more than 100 liters of milk a day. The year 2015 closed with slightly more than 4 million cows on the island, almost two million fewer than in 1958, while the population had doubled.

Fired “Like A Dog” For Satirizing Fidel Castro / 14ymedio, Mario Penton

Apologies: The video is in Spanish without subtitles

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miami, 30 November 2016 — Leamsy Requejo Lorite, who worked as a curator at the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes in Havana, was expelled from his workplace on Tuesday, after publishing on the social network Facebook an ironic text about the death of Fidel Castro, accusing him of owing him thousands of pesos that he was never paid for the work of his whole life.

“Good morning to those who know the true reality of Cuba,” Requejo said in a video posted on his Facebook profile in which he denounces his dismissal. “It saddens me greatly to use my Facebook profile to give this news. The abuse here in Cuba is becoming more evident,” he adds. Continue reading “Fired “Like A Dog” For Satirizing Fidel Castro / 14ymedio, Mario Penton”

On November 26, a day after the death of Fidel Castro, this 31-year-old Cuban wrote a post for which he was fired. According to what he explained to 14ymedio by telephone, his co-workers reported him to the museum administration.

“I feel so sad, but so sad, that a person died who was paying my monthly salary,” his Facebook page said.

“He left and didn’t pay me what he owed. He left owing me thousands of pesos.”

“On Monday I approached Oscar Antuñu, deputy technical director of the museum, and he berated me for having posted these words on Facebook. He had not yet made the decision to fire me, but it was already rumored. A day later, he told me to get out because I’m not trustworthy,” says Requejo.

“They have not given me the pink slip, but at least verbally they kicked me out. They have told me I can not even enter the museum,” he adds.

The reason offered by the administration for his firing was the negative comment against “an idol of the Cuban Revolution.” Requejo asked what kind of idol is someone he never voted for to represent him.

“In one of the discussions they threatened not only to kick me out of the museum, but that I would never work in a state institution again,” he says.

Faced with the possibility of not being able to support himself and marked as a “counter-revolutionary,” Requejo threatened to call the international media to report his case, which finally precipitated the decision to dismiss him.

“They categorized me as untrustworthy and verbally abused me,” he explains, but says he didn’t fall short of words to defend himself against the attacks.

Requejo worked as a conservation specialist with six other colleagues, earning 365 pesos (14.60 dollars) per month, which was supplemented by 12 CUC (roughly 12 dollars) a month given to him to pay for his lunches.

“It was a shitty salary, but as bad as it was, it was what supported me,” he says. “In the two years I had been in that department I was always the best, but now they fire me like a dog.”

“I can not understand what my personal Facebook has to do with my workplace. I was fired from the museum simply for stating a political opinion, that goes against every right.”

Requejo says he is afraid of the pressure of State Security on him and it grieves him that this event destroyed his working life.

His immediate boss, Anniubys Garcia Blanco, refused to answer multiple calls from 14ymedio for comment, as did the deputy technical director of the museum, Oscar Antuña.

“I do not know what will happen to me, because I also work at the museum,” said Requejo’s mother, Barbara Lorite. “The only thing clear is that they threw him out, he’s out. Probably, they will fire me too when I return from my vacation,” she added.

The Only And Final Beer / 14ymedio

At Jose Marti International Airport in Havana rum and beer are still for sale despite the countrywide ban due to Fidel Castro’s death. (14ymedio)
At Jose Marti International Airport in Havana rum and beer are still for sale despite the countrywide ban due to Fidel Castro’s death. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 30 November 2016 — For many tourists who have experienced recent days in Cuba it has been especially difficult to enjoy a mojito, relax with a daiquiri, or sip a beer to deal with the heat. With the declaration of national mourning, the government has prohibited the sale of alcoholic beverages for nine days, and also cancelled all cultural activities and placed tight controls over music in public and private places.

However, at Havana’s Jose Marti International Airport, rum and beer are still for sale, but only in the area beyond the security controls and emigration booths. This Wednesday, the line at the café in Terminal 3 was longer than usual. Many wanted to once again feel “something cold that soothes the soul” on their tongues, said a Spanish traveler.

Only inside hotels and in the restricted areas of the airport terminals has the sale of these products been allowed. The restrictions include the emblematic Floridita Bar, which will be closed until after the mourning period, and the Bodeguita del Medio, which right now is empty and sad; both are famed for the “regulars” who drank there, including Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Ernest Hemingway, among others. “This is the only and last beer I’ve been able to drink in Cuba,” joked the Spaniard from Madrid, while enjoying a cold Cristal, tempting and unattainable for those on the outside.

The Political Testament Of Fidel Castro / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

Revolution is ... (14ymedio)
Revolution is … (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 29 November 2016 – Under the shadow of national mourning after the death of Fidel Castro, Cubans have been called to sign, as an oath, some words spoken by the former president in May of 2000, in which he left for posterity his concept of Revolution.

“Revolution is a sense of the historic moment; it is changing everything that must be changed; it is full equality and freedom; it is being treated and treating others as human beings; it is emancipating ourselves by our own efforts; it is challenging powerful dominant forces within and outside the social and national sphere; it is defending the values we believe in at the price of any sacrifice; it is modesty, selflessness, altruism, solidarity and heroism; it is fighting with audacity, intelligence and realism; it is never lying nor violating ethical principles; it is a profound conviction that there is no force in the world capable of crushing the force of truth and ideas. Revolution is unity, it is independence, it is fighting for our dreams of justice for Cuba and the world, which is the foundation of our patriotism, our socialism and our internationalism.” Continue reading “The Political Testament Of Fidel Castro / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar”

More than a definition, the text should be understood as a personal assessment of the political process in which Fidel Castro played the starring role. In the absence of a solid theoretical thought, the exegetes of the Commander in Chief have made use of the poetics of his rhetoric to extract, something like that, as a political testament.

The phrase chosen has the turns of an oratory delivered to captivate those congregated in a plaza, where almost all license is permitted, while sounding good and conquering the ears. But read at a distance and analyzed as a thesis, it lacks programmatic solidity.

In the phrase, the term Revolution is ambivalent and is presented both as a result obtained and reached for. At other moments the statement seems a method to achieve certain goals, the final fruit of a process, or a tie to moral values close to the Decalogue of good behavior.

The contradictions of the concept stated by Castro for more than fifteen years ago have discouraged academics of the official environment and organic intellectuals from analyzing it. Instead, they have chosen to sanctify the verse so as not to be seen to be committed to rigorously dissect it.

When Castro mentions that Revolution is the sense of the historic moment, it only confirms that he lacks the political instinct to perceive the wealth of opportunities that such processes trigger, something that rests exclusively in the capacity of certain individuals to take advantage of the situation.

On the other hand, the substantial difference between Revolution and reform resides in the way transformations are realized, but these words avoid pointing out the violent and radical character of the process they promote. The absence of this precision constitutes the most important conceptual deficit of the text.

In the horizon of almost all social revolutions is equality, but a process of such a nature is not needed to try to achieve it. Freedom has historically been most affected by revolutions. In particular, the freedoms of expression and association, and, in the case of socialist revolutions, economic freedoms.

The inaccuracies in the text does not end there.

In the words extolled today, Castro defines his creature as the capacity to treat others and to be treated as human beings. It is the promise of the lowest profile that a politician could project and, most obvious, that includes a concept for posterity that is, at least, a disturbing gesture.

The confusion rises in tone when the leader invites us to “emancipate ourselves by our own efforts,” without specifying if he speaks from the working class that must shake off the “chains” of exploitation, or if it is a nationalist-style demand to eliminate dependency on some foreign power.

In the first case, it would be renouncing alliances with other sectors such as the peasantry, while following the second to the letter leads to renouncing proletarian internationalism.

The act of “challenging dominant forces” differs if you are in an insurrectional period, or it is several years after the beginning of the Revolution. When Castro stated this concept, power in Cuba lay in the Communist Party and especially in his own will, which did not accept the slightest challenge.

The voluntarism of the orator stands out when he calls for “paying whatever price necessary,” while he appropriates Christian values by promoting modesty, selflessness, altruism, solidarity and heroism. The call to never lie or violate ethical principles reinforces the character of the commandments of a religion.

The text also extols audacity, intelligence and realism, guidelines that are more appropriate to succeed in business than to drive social transformation. Emphasizing these assertions with the conviction that “there is no force in the world capable of crushing the strength of truth and ideas”: pure idealism, alien to the dialectical materialism of Marxist inspiration.

Unity does not make the Revolution, nor is independence a conquest in the midst of a globalized world that has put an end to borders, so all that is left to the orator to base his concept on is “our patriotism, our socialism and our internationalism “and to fight for “our dreams of justice,” without substantiating any.

The conceptual gap of the definition of Revolution that, as of this Monday, millions of Cubans have signed, leaves their hands free for whatever future decision is taken by whoever relieves the current historic generation. On this foundation stone, one can erect anything.

Fidel Castro Was Anything But Courageous / 14ymedio, Andres Oppenheimer

Fidel Castro harangues the crowd. (Archive)
Fidel Castro harangues the crowd. (Archive)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Andres Oppenheimer, 28 November 2016 – It is not elegant to criticize someone who has just died, but seeing the messages from the heads of state around the world exalting the supposed courage of the recently deceased Cuban leader Fidel Castro, the truth must be told: Castro was anything but courageous. On the contrary, he was a coward.

In the first place, he was a coward for not allowing a free election in 57 years, from the time he took power in 1959. Only someone who is afraid of losing doesn’t desire to measure himself against others in a free election.

In the second place, Castro was a coward because he never allowed a single independent newspaper or non-government radio station or television channel. His critics didn’t even have access to the official channels. It was as if they did not exist. Continue reading “Fidel Castro Was Anything But Courageous / 14ymedio, Andres Oppenheimer”

Castro gave the vast majority of his interviews to journalists, models or sports figures who revered and honored him. And the few interviews he gave to serious journalists were monologues, in which he did all the talking.

I remember in the late 1980s, when I asked the Colombian Nobel Prize winner Gabriel García Márquez to intercede for me to ask for an interview with Castro. He laughed and said: “Why do you want an interview with Fidel? He never says anything in an interview that he hasn’t said in one of his five hour speeches.”

Castro’s fear of losing his omnipresent image as Maximum Leader was such that he forbade the media to talk about his private life. He had to be portrayed as a demigod who had sacrificed his life for the public good. For decades, the names of his wife and children were a state secret.

When I traveled to Cuba in the early 1990s, a journalist from the newspaper Juventud Rebelde (Rebel Youth) the communist youth paper, told me he had been reprimanded by his boss for trying to publish a photo of Castro eating dinner. The commander could never be shown eating, said the journalist.

Even the circumstances of the death of Castro may have been a government montage: Cuban official media say he died on November 25, which is the same day that Castro and his guerrillas left the Mexican port of Veracruz on the yacht Granma in 1955 to start their armed insurrection in Cuba.

Did they tamper with the date of his death to show it as a heroic journey to the afterlife, which coincides with the date of the beginning of his revolutionary epic six decades ago?

Third, Castro was a coward because he did not allow any independent political party. According to the Cuban Constitution drafted by Castro, only the Communist Party, which he presided over for decades, is allowed on the island.

Castro used the United States trade embargo as an excuse to prohibit independent political parties and freedom of assembly. Even after he handed the presidency to his brother Raul, although he remained a powerful figure behind the scenes, the Cuban regime intensified repression of the peaceful opposition despite the normalization of relations between the United States and Cuba that began under President Obama in 2014.

According to the Cuban Commission on Human Rights and National Reconciliation, an unofficial group, documented political arrests have soared from 6,424 in 2013 to 9,125 so far this year.

Fourth, Castro was a coward because he never allowed international financial institutions to monitor or verify the positive economic statistics of his government.

Castro boasted that Cuba reduced poverty and improved health and education, and much of the international press believed it, unquestioningly. But unlike most countries, Castro never allowed the World Bank or other credible international institutions to undertake independent studies on the island.

He boasted of the educational progress of Cuba, but never allowed Cuba to participate in the International Student Assessment (PISA) testing program. In fact, many studies show that other countries such as Costa Rica made more social progress than Cuba, without paying the price of mass executions, imprisonments and exiles.

Fifth, Castro never allowed international human rights organizations to conduct on-site investigations into human rights abuses. According to the research group Cuba Archive  Castro was responsible for 3,117 documented cases of executions and 1,162 cases of extrajudicial executions. In any other country, he would have been declared a war criminal.

I am sorry, but the conventional narrative that Castro was a courageous revolutionary who defied ten US presidents and survived numerous assassination attempts does not impress me at all.

Courageous leaders are those who have the courage to compete with others in free elections. Castro was a coward who never dared to allow the Cuban people to exercise their basic rights, and who condemned his island to misery.

His death should be a reminder that there is no such thing as a good dictator. Whether a right-wing autocrat as Augusto Pinochet or a leftist like Castro, all dictators are bad and, deep down, cowards.


Editor’s Note: This article was previously published in Spanish in the newspaper El Nuevo Herald. It is reproduced with the permission of the author.

Cuban Government Imposes Mourning By Force / 14ymedio, Marcelo Hernandez

Hundreds of citizens in Havana came on Monday to say goodbye to Fidel Castro. (14ymedio)
Hundreds of citizens in Havana came on Monday to say goodbye to Fidel Castro. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio,Marcelo Hernandez, Havana, 29 November 2016 — Eulalia has two obsessions in her life: listening to music and sitting in her easy chair in the doorway of her home in the city of Alquízar, Artemis. There, she watches the evening fall and keeps an eye on her chickens so they won’t end up “in other people’s pots.” As of Saturday she has not listened to her boleros because the police are patrolling the streets to prevent people from drinking alcohol, listening to music, or holding any celebrations that contrast with the national mourning decreed for the death of Fidel Castro.

“I was here in the doorway when they picked up the pedicab driver,” said Eulalia, a retired 80-year-old with two children in the United States. The woman watched a scene this Sunday she will never forget: a uniformed officer stopped the driver because “he had some speakers with music and they told him to turn them off.” Continue reading “Cuban Government Imposes Mourning By Force / 14ymedio, Marcelo Hernandez”

The entrepreneur refused to comply and the scene ended with a violent arrest. “In this town not even a fly moves,” said the elderly woman, who believes that everyone should honor their dead however they please. “But to force a whole nation… that seems like extremism to me,” she added.

The scene is repeated everywhere. “My daughter turned 15 on Sunday” — a milestone birthday in a girl’s life often celebrated with as big a party as the parents can afford — “and we had to cancel the planned party because the police came by a few hours ahead of time and told us not to do it,” explained Ramon Carvajal, a resident of Havana’s La Vibora neighborhood. “We had planned to play the music softly behind closed doors, but we couldn’t do even that.”

On the other hand, in the emergency room of Calixto Garcia Hospital one of the guards welcomes the measure because, “since they suspended the sale of alcohol it’s quiet here, peaceful.”

There are also those who want to sincerely express their sadness at the death of the man who dominated the life of this island for more than half a century. That is the case for a cameraman with the Cuban Institute of Radio and Television (ICRT) for whom the president “was like one of the family, like a father who has always been close and now is gone.”

This pain is shared by Humberto, who drives for the Panataxi company, and fears that Raul Castro will not follow the path of his brother, “because he is not the same and there is a great difference in terms of charisma.” He also fears that after the funeral “everything will be forgotten and the government itself with throw aside what has been achieved here.”

“We lost the Great One,” said a newspaper seller this Sunday outside the Payret movie theater in Old Havana. “That man had a power, aché, and he was protected by a powerful dead,” explained the man, referencing the Afro-Cuban religions and the energy of the universe. “But I hope that now he will look after us from the other side.”

Nights in Havana are unrecognizable. “Nobody wants to risk their neck and people are waiting for all this to be over,” says Mizzy, a transvestite who frequents Las Vegas caberet on Infanta Avenue. “What’s going to happen when they open up the sales of rum and beer again… there are going to be deaths and injuries in the lines,” he jokes. “Even inside our homes we have to be careful, because the chivatón, the snitch, is making waves,” he explains, speaking of the whistleblowers who alert the police if there are celebrations in any home.

However, it is not only amusements and drinks that are regulated. “I’m building a house and I have to haul out some debris but no trucks want to move in these conditions,” says a resident of La Timba neighborhood. “I had arranged with some friends to take the left over wood and bricks, but they say there is a lot of control on the streets.”

The government intends to present a picture of massive acknowledgement and pain. It seems to have achieved it because the foreign press doesn’t look any deeper. The scenes on national television are of mourning and homage to the deceased, the announcers are wearing barely any make-up and two well-known presenters were captured on an open camera discussing whether to open the program with the usual “Good morning.”

“I’m looking for a DVD with movies because no one can stand this,” a retired ex-official from the Ministry of Foreign Trade told one of his daughters, looking at the repetitive programming flooding the national TV channels. “This is counterproductive, television is going to lose the little audience that remains and then they won’t be able to complain that people prefer the Weekly Packet,” he added.

In Sancti Spiritus, the residents are complaining that the Rapid Response Brigades are roaming the streets and the city appears to be under a state of siege. “People stay inside, there are a lot of uniformed police and black berets,” source who prefers to remain anonymous told 14ymedio.

At dawn on 26 November, a few hours after the announcement of Castro’s death, two evangelical pastors were arrested in Manatí, in Las Tunas province. The police forcefully entered the home of Rafael Rios Martinez and his wife, Maria Secades, and arrested them for the mere fact spreading their religious message through the speakers used during their worship service.

No one wants to cross the line to disturb officialdom. “You have to sit out the weather and wait,” says Eulalia from her doorway in Alquízar. The woman says that all these controls are designed to “prevent scenes like in Miami, people are toasting and celebrating.” However, despite her age, she is determined to celebrate the event: “On New Year’s no one will forbid me from singing and getting drunk; it will be late but it will be.”

Long Lines In the Plaza Of The Revolution To Say Goodbye To Fidel Castro / 14ymedio

People walking to the Plaza of the Revolution to view the quasi-altars set up for Fidel Castro.
Cubans walking to the Plaza of the Revolution to view the quasi-altars set up for Fidel Castro.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio/EFE, Havana, 28 November 2016 — The memorial to José Martí in the Plaza of the Revolution opened its doors on Monday so that Cubans could say goodbye to former president Fidel Castro, who died on the 25th, and whose ashes have been installed in this emblematic place in Havana where they will remain for two days. People arriving in groups from their workplaces, and schools are assigned gathering points near to the Plaza.

Hundreds of people lined up from the early hours waiting for 9:00 in the morning (14:00 GMT) to render tribute to the Cuban leader in the same iconic scene where he delivered the greater part of his long harangues. The authorities asked people to come dressed in red, blue or white, without caps or hats. Some brought gladioli, others roses. Continue reading “Long Lines In the Plaza Of The Revolution To Say Goodbye To Fidel Castro / 14ymedio”

At the same hour that the tribute commenced there were, simultaneously in Havana and Santiago de Cuba, 21 gun salutes in homage to the Commander in Chief of the Revolution, who died at 90 years of age, after a decade removed from power because of health problems.

In the Plaza of the Revolution three different entry points have been set up to expedite people’s access, to three tributes, exactly alike, in none of which the presence of the ashes can be observed with the naked eye. All these points are presided over by a large photograph of Fidel Castro, in which he is seen in full body view looking at the horizon and wearing his iconic olive green uniform.

There are also two wreaths, one from the Communist Party of Cuba and one on behalf of the Cuban people, as well as an exhibit with the major awards Fidel Castro received in life.

Flanking these quasi-altars is a bodyguard of members of the Ceremonies Battalion of the Revolutionary Armed Forces and representatives from the Council of State, among whom are the Comptroller General of the Republic, Gladys Bejerana, the Minister of Transport, Adel Yzquierdo, and the Secretary of the Ministry of Transport, Homero Acosta.

Windows everywhere displayed posters of Fidel Castro
Windows everywhere displayed posters of Fidel Castro

Currently Cuban President Raul Castro is not present at the memorial, nor are other family members of the deceased leader such as his wife, Dalie Soto de Valle, or his sons.

People file past smoothly: there are women throwing kisses, many drying their tears with handkerchiefs, and some who cannot help sobbing, which resonates above the whispers and the sounds of cameras, in the solemn atmosphere that prevails.desesperaba-escuchaban-protestas-laborales-intentaban_cymima20161128_0085_17

“I have come to due to patriotic and revolutionary duty, in hone or our commander in chief, who died as an undefeated comandante,” said Jesus, an 85-year-old man who engaged in the clandestine struggle before the Revolution in Ciego de Avila.

Also reluctant to say goodbye to the comandante were high school students such as Idolaris, 16, who while waiting in the long ling to enter the memorial felt “tremendous pain” for having lost a leader of his magnitude, although “his memory is always present.”

“There is a lot of sadness here. We are all very upset by the death of our comandante because we all love him from the bottom of our hearts, without hypocrisy,” Felix Jardines, a 58-year-old lawyer told EFE, while waiting in line to enter the tribute.

Although Cuba has experienced two days of mourning of the nine decreed by the government, this event marks the beginning of a week of funeral rites that will culminate this coming Sunday with the interment of Fidel Castro’s mortal remains in Santa Ifigenia cemetery in Santiago de Cuba. The residents of Havana will have until tomorrow to pay tribute to Castro in this plaza where, at 7:00 PM, there will a massive act of farewell, attended by leaders and personalities.

Fear, Dry Law and Funerals / 14ymedio, Zunilda Mata

Cubans still manage to get some alcohol in the middle of the 'dry law' imposed by the official mourning. (14ymedio)
“Prohibited, the sale of alcoholic beverages.” Cubans still manage to get some alcohol in the middle of the ‘dry law’ imposed by the official mourning. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio/EFE, Havana, 28 November 2016 — The always busy corner of Infanta and Carlos III was a desolate wasteland Sunday. Since the death of Fidel Castro was announced, Havanans have gathered at home. The official media say that it is from pain, but fear is the protagonist of days in which the sale of alcoholic beverages has been prohibited and the biggest funerals in contemporary Cuba are arranged.

Foreign journalists are arriving in the country by the hundreds and are seen in the streets trying to interview every passerby. Many pedestrians look down and refuse to give interviews. When the reporters finally manage to get some statements, they are only from those who agree with the official discourse. Inside people’s homes everything is different. Continue reading “Fear, Dry Law and Funerals / 14ymedio, Zunilda Mata”

“Luckily we had a bottle of rum left over from a party,” says Chicho, a retired teacher who has waited decades for this moment. “It is not that we’re celebrating the death of a human being, because this man made us all believe that he was not one… that he was above life and death,” he tells 14ymedio.

Chicho has a nine-year-old granddaughter who will go to school early this Monday, although there are doubts about how the week will go in schools and workplaces, in the midst of the national mourning that has been decreed for nine days. “I’m sure that they aren’t going to teach classes, there is going to be one event and another until the day the ashes reach the Santa Ifigenia Cemetery,” says the grandfather.

For Mileidis, a resident of Havana’s Regla neighborhood, there is another concern. “My brother is a son of Changó,” (an orisha of the Afro-Cuban religion who is the equivalent of Saint Barbara). The celebration of the saint is held every December 4, the same day the national mourning concludes. “I don’t know how we are going to get the brandy and rum,” the young woman worries.

The festivities on the eve of Saint Barbara are very popular on the island, fueled by drumbeats, Yoruba songs and a great deal of alcohol. With the sale of alcohol prohibited, many Santería rights are in danger of collapse. Distilled alcohol has doubled in price in barely three days of the “dry law.”

A well-known bar on Reina Street is deserted and the drinks list has been put away. Nearby, in El Curita park, three regulars of the place get together on a corner and pass a plastic container that looks like it contains cola. In reality it is distilled alcohol, better known as “train sparks” for the effects it occasions in the stomach when ingested.

Police patrol cars and uniformed officers approach, and the three men hide the bottle. “This is my thing, I can’t live without it,” says one of the men, justifying his transgression. “What fault is it of mine that He can no longer take a drink?” he reflects, slurring his words.

Posters with the face of Fidel Castro are everywhere. Since the celebration of his 90th birthday in August, the tone of the personality cult has noticeably risen, such that Cubans seem to be used to Fidelmania.

“Will they change the bust of José Martí in the schools for one of Fidel?” a seven-year-old girl asks her mother. In the street, Havana residents speculate about the anticipated tributes to Castro and expect the establishment of an official order in his honor, his face on a banknote, a multi-story iron relief with his silhouette in the Plaza of the Revolution — like the ones for Che Guevara and Camilo Cienfuegos – some street with his name, and a museum in his memory in the heart of the city.

The most daring even predict a change in the only political organization allowed in the country. “It’s a good moment to shake off the communist label,” an official academic who asked for anonymity told this newspaper. “It’s possible that at the next plenary session of the Cuban Communist Party or at an extraordinary congress they will re-baptize it the Fidelista Party.

In tune with popular predictions, the illegal lottery, known as la bolita, has seen an increase in bets on the numbers that mean ‘police,’ ‘great death,’ and ‘horse,’ the later for Fidel Castro’s nickname, “El Caballo.”

The Myth Died, Cuba Must Change / 14ymedio, Pedro Campos

There are no copies of the official daily Granma at the newsstands. (14ymedio)
There are no copies of the official daily Granma at the newsstands. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Pedro Campos, Havana, 27 November 2016 — Fidel Castro has died. The mythic figure has died. The event will be discussed for a long time and from many points of view. Nine days of mourning has been decreed in Havana, the flag is at half mast; in Miami they are partying, the same Cuban flag held high.

The Fidelistas mourn, the anti-Fidelistas party. The vast majority of the island’s population, eager for changes, are waiting. It could not be any other way. Since the attack on the Moncada Barracks in 1953, Fidel Castro’s imprint on Cuba shapes our days. The government is ready to maintain total control over the streets. Its mass organizations are mobilized to prevent and counteract any demonstrations against him.

But like the myth, his charisma and his influence are not inherited. We can affirm that a political cycle in Cuba has ended: the eclectic sum of conceptions that make up Fidelism, populism, authoritarianism, neo-Stalinism, statism and bureaucratism, just received a mortal blow. A stage of inevitable changes opens. Continue reading “The Myth Died, Cuba Must Change / 14ymedio, Pedro Campos”

Raul Castro, since he assumed power in 2006, promised to undertake important reforms, replaced many officials, and began dictatorially implementing a set of measures that he consolidated and expanded in both Cuban Communist Party Congresses held since then, but without establishing a legal framework that guarantees them.

During these years, the bureaucracy, laws, regulations and customs of Fidelism, established over almost 60 years, have prevented such reforms from being fully deployed.

Raul Castro now has the opportunity to demonstrate whether his reformist proposals are real or were just a deliberate attempt to counter the resistance within the system and seek international recognition and funding.

Cuba’s economic situation requires that the changes set forth by Raul be deepened and expanded, that all state monopolistic barriers to domestic and foreign markets for capital investment, enterprise development and productive initiatives of all kinds be broken.

However, it does imply that the Fidelistas abandon their positions in the government and the Party and that many regulations and customs of traditional statism be removed. This will be very difficult if, in parallel, there is no democratization process that permits deep criticism of the Fidel regime, the adoption of new forms of organization in the economy and politics, and the emergence and development of new entrepreneurs and unprejudiced leaders at all levels the society.

Cuba is facing inevitable changes. The death of the mythic figure favors them. The Cuban people also demand them. Everyone, those inside and those outside, regardless of their political ideas, must have the right to participate in the reconstruction of the nation. Achieving it more or less peacefully will depend on those who still hold power in Cuba.

It is time to assume, with decency, José Martí’s homeland: With all and for the good of all.