Cuba’s ‘Convivencia’ Project Celebrates Its First Decade

The Convivencia Project on-line. (Screen capture)

14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 15 October 2017 — It was April 2007 and a time of dark days. The most stagnant part of the Catholic Church intervened in the magazine Vitral (Stained Glass Window), shifting it away from its marked social mission. In the face of the hijacking, the editors jumped ship and months later founded the Proyecto Convivencia (Coexistence Project), which celebrates this October a decade of constant work.

The new publication was born under the influence of its predecessor, which had arisen in 1994 and came to have a circulation of 12,000 copies. However, from the beginning it became clear that the magazine Convivencia would be much more than a mere reflection of that stained glass window that stopped shining for diversity and reflected only pastoral issues. continue reading

In an environment of great debate and intense listening, the Catholic layman Dagoberto Valdés and his collaborators, working from Pinar del Rio, raised the first roof beams that would later cover not only that new publication, but also a project of civic development and a study center, both under the same name.

With the slogan “A threshold for citizenship and civil society in Cuba,” this triad has been a fresh wind in an independent sector where political approaches excessively prevail over social ones. Offering proposals rather than complaints became a part of the unique editorial and investigative seal of the project.

Unlike its predecessor, Convivencia placed its bets more on a digital presence. In times of blogging and Twitter accounts, its editorial board has relied on new technologies, and the web portal born of that vision has just updated its design, as well as offered more dynamic access to its content.

However, the biggest difference has been traveling the difficult road of offering information and opinion without the protection of the Church. To this difficulty is added that of maintaining a moderate profile in the midst of the polarization of Cuban society, the pressures of State Security and an intense campaign to discredit the project.

Seven years before Bishop Jorge Enrique Serpa Pérez forced a change of course on the Catholic publication, Valdés had been subjected to a harsh assault from two publishers of the official newspaper Granma, but the worst was yet to come. That was just the preamble to a sequence of interrogations and threats.

In this decade, members of Convivencia have experienced various forms of harassment. From constant police citations to a court’s latest decision to sentence Karina Gálvez, one of the leading publishers, to three years’ imprisonment and to confiscate her house which served as a headquarters.

Nor has there been a lack of criticism from other civil society groups in response to Convivencia’s approach of dialog, always maintained by the Pinar del Rio team, its position in favor of the diplomatic thaw between Cuba and the United States, and its use of respectful language toward any figure or institution. The project has paid a heavy price for its restraint.

In this landscape, the work of the Center for Coexistence Studies (CEC), which over a number of meetings has outlined an impressive reservoir of ideas and proposals for the future of the island, stands out. Culture, education, the media and economy are at the center of the analysis of this Cuban think tank, that labors without a lot of commotion, but without pause.

Together, the CEC, the civic center and the magazine seek “not only to educate citizens to exercise their own sovereignty but also work to have a vision of the future that will help to rebuild the nation,” Dagoberto Valdés proudly states. The man that the official propaganda calls a “mercenary” has only one obsession: to think about Cuba.

Today’s context is also very different than it was when the editors of today’s Convivencia began their work on the previous publication, at the end of the last century. Now, the spectrum of publications that address the issue of Cuba has grown both inside and outside the Island. Approaches have also diversified and readers have a flood of options from which to choose.

Other independent think tanks have also emerged and terms such as “community,” “civility” and “consensus” have become commonplace in the discourse of national activists. That light that began to peek through the stained glass of a magazine from Pinar del Rio, is today a common good that everyone shares.

Convivencia faces the challenges of surviving and growing: to avoid letting the repression make them adopt a discourse of denunciation rather than one of proposals; to overcome with their work the silence some want to impose on their very existence; to progress despite the insults others apply to their work; and to maintain their equanimity in times of hysteria.

The roof that began to rise in October of 2007 is complete, but within its interior there are still many subjects to address and innumerable situations on which to meditate. There is time for all that, because as emphasized in a recent statement the members of Convivencia Project, they have no plans to leave Cuba, Pinar del Rio or their civic space.

See also:

The Experiment of Hope, Francis Sanchez

Between the Gun and the Cassock, Miriam Celaya

Cuban Artists Warned Not To Stage An Independent Biennial

Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara in his workshop in Cuba. (Facebook)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 12 October 2017 — In a note published on its website and distributed through institutional emails, the Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba (UNEAC) warns its members that “some unscrupulous people” are organizing an independent Biennial after the postponement of event originally planned for 2018.

The XIII Havana Biennial was postponed to 2019 due to “the very serious damage caused by Hurricane Irma to the country’s system of cultural institutions ” according to a declaration of the National Council of Plastic Arts published at the end of September and also initialed by the Wilfredo Lam Center for Contemporary Art. continue reading

Several young artists, who are not in agreement with the postponement, have decided to go ahead with the organization of an independent event called the Havana Biennial 2018. The artist Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara is one of the most visible faces of this initiative.

Otero Alcántara commented to 14ymedio that they have “the support of several artists and independent galleries” to carry out the exhibitions and workshops. The young man believes the official artists union is annoyed because “it it an interesting and decisive moment” to hold the independent Biennial. “Strong energy has been generated” around the idea and “the majority of those consulted support it,” he says.

In the response note circulated by the UNEAC, the executive of the Association of Plastic Artists points out that the organizers of the independent proposal “can not divide us” and that the members of the official organization understand and support the decision to postpone the Biennial.

“We strongly support Raul’s call to our people,” concludes the statement, which stresses that “we will go forward in all fields, despite cyclones and blockades.”

The artist Leonardo Salgado, harshly criticized the declaration of the official organization and described as “opportunist” the intention to blame the cancellation of the XIII Havana Biennial on Hurricane Irma.

Salgado points out that “the obsolete, obsessive and unsustainable” will of the Cuban government to “organize and direct all political, economic and social activities” is what has plunged the country into stagnation and proposes that the government allow the Independent Biennial, at least to raise funds.

“Why does UNEAC not defend and embody the interests of the artists it represents in front of a government that only prioritizes political, economic and social immobility?” the artist asks in a chain of responses to the official communication.

“If expressing freely what we think is called provocation, how can we dialogue? If the institutions that represent us call us unscrupulous for asking for the floor, through whom do we do it?”

The last edition of the Havana Biennial was held between May and June 2015 and had as its theme “Between idea and experience.” In its three decades of life, the artistic event has gone through different stages; at some points creative effervescence prevailed but at others the strongest influences were the nefarious effects of economic crisis and censorship.

Candelaria Runs Out Of Medicines

The outskirts of the place were a hive of customers who tried to reach the counter shouting and shoving. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Bertha K. Guillen, Candelaria, 13 October 2017 — The main pharmacy in Candelaria, a city in Cuba’s Artemisa province, looks like an overturned hornet’s nest when new medications arrive. Meanwhile, the area’s chronically ill spend their days in uncertainty due to the shortage of a growing number of drugs, a situation echoed in the ‘informal’ market.

“There is no Enalapril left or right,” lamented a retiree who waited for several hours this Wednesday to find out if the pills critical to those with hypertension had arrived. “I’m going to have to continue using herbal concoctions,” she lamented. continue reading

Since 2015, the deficit of drugs has worsened due to the country’s lack of liquidity. The Biotechnology and Pharmaceutical Industry Group (BioCubaFarma) attributes the problems to the shortages of raw material due to the long-standing non-payment of foreign suppliers.

“We did not have the necessary financing to pay the debts incurred,” Teresita Rodríguez Cabrera, vice president of the group, told the official press in late 2016. The official said that the industry was working to improve supply, but a year later the situation has worsened.

“Six months ago we had 97 drugs missing at this pharmacy,” says an employee of the Candelaria dispensary who prefers anonymity. “In the last three months the figure has reached an alarming number and we are now lacking 157.”

According to this source, analgesics, hypertension pills, diabetes pills, antibiotics and eye drops are among the most affected, “precisely because they are the most in demand.” The employee says that the managers of the branch assured them that the situation would normalize as of September, but the expected return to normal has not materialized.

“As of today, only a few drugs have arrived and in insufficient quantities,” the employee emphasizes.

The medications sold on presentation of a control card, known as a tarjetón,

are among those in shortest supply. The State subsidizes all pharmaceutical products and regulates the quantities that each consumer can buy, even when it comes to medications that don’t require a prescription.

The police had to come to the pharmacy to calm the building commotion. (14ymedio)

In the small villages near Candelaria several pharmacies have closed their doors permanently due to the lack of supply, which overloads the dispensaries that remain in operation.

The administration of the Municipal Main Pharmacy has taken measures to avoid the crowds that form when supplies arrive. These guidelines also seek to curb the hoarding of products, many of which end up on the black market.

This Wednesday, outside the pharmacy a hive of customers tried to reach the counter, screaming and shoving. In a near brawl won by the strongest, people with disabilities, pregnant women and the elderly had to retreat to avoid getting elbowed.

The pharmacy workers responded by closing the place down and calling the police to restore order. Buyers who clustered at the small window to ask questions also received no response and for hours no employee picked up the phone.

The pharmacy administration is determined to sell only one prescription of each drug per person, a decision that bothered those like Milagros, 64, who stood in line from nine o’clock on Tuesday night and had hoped to receive enough medication to last until the next supplies came in.

A few blocks away, the Catholic church also lacks the supplies to meet the demand for medicines. For several years the parishes have supplied the needy with non-prescription products that come from donations from abroad. In the last half year, however, the arrival of these donations has also declined.

“For months we’ve gotten nothing more than vitamins and some other things and those only in small quantities,” Olimpia, the women in charge of drug distribution at the Artemis church, tells 14ymedio. Hurricane Irma has affected many provinces of the country, causing much of the aid to be channeled to those areas.

In these circumstances, many Candelarians settle for trying to relieve their skin itches or lower their blood pressure through the traditional infusions that their grandmothers abandoned years ago.

Cubans Will Now Have to Go to Colombia to Apply for an Immigrant Visa for the US

Cubans can apply for a United States in person in Colombia.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 13 October 2017 — The US embassy in Bogotá will assume the work of issuing immigrant visas to Cubans for as long as the process is suspended at the embassy in Havana as a result of the reduction of personnel that took place because of the acoustic attacks that affected embassy workers.

“Due to the suspension of immigrant visa services at the US Embassy in Havana, Cuba, the United States Department of State has designated the US Embassy in Bogotá, Colombia to process immigrant visas for Cuban residents,” a State Department press release said. continue reading

The press release points out that it is still unclear when the interviews for Cuban applicants at the Bogota embassy will begin to be scheduled.

“Due to the suspension of immigrant visa services at the U.S. Embassy in Havana, Cuba, the U.S. Department of State has designated the U.S. Embassy in Bogota, Colombia to process immigrant visas for residents of Cuba. At this time, we are determining when we can begin scheduling Cuban applicants for interviews at Embassy Bogota. If NVC has not scheduled your case at Embassy Havana, they will schedule your visa interview at Embassy Bogota. NVC will send you, your petitioner, and your agent/attorney (if applicable) an email or letter noting the interview location, date and time. Please contact NVC through the  Ask NVC  online contact form for your updated status,” it said.

The statement also explains that if the person applying for the visa has not yet been interviewed they will be contacted “soon.” For those who have already been interviewed, the US Embassy in Havana will contact them to provide “additional instructions” and those who have not yet had their visa applications approved will have to contact the Citizenship and Immigration Service. United States Immigration (USCIS ) to learn the updated status of their case.

The statement adds that the headquarters of Havana will handle diplomatic visas, official or unusual emergency cases in which the applicant has a serious illness requiring treatment in the United States.

“We understand that this is a significant change and a nuisance for visa applicants, but the number of consular officials in Cuba at this time does not allow us to continue with normal visa operations in Havana,” it adds.

The existence of this alternative opens a door for thousands of Cubans who were waiting with uncertainty for a way to get to the US. However, the requirement to go to Bogotá greatly complicates the process, and Colombia also requires visas for Cuban citizens.

Since the migration crisis reached its peak in late 2015, Colombia has increased the number of requirements for visa applicants applying at its consulate in Havana. The appointments to be seen in that country’s consular headquarters are also difficult to obtain and the visa application form must be completed via the internet, a step already difficult for many nationals.

In August of last year Colombian police arrested 35 suspects forming an international network involved in the trafficking of more than 3,200 migrants from Colombia to the United States and Canada. The traffickers were led by two Cubans who controlled the transfer of migrants from the island, mostly to the United States.

The United States also announced Thursday that it will keep active the program that allows Americans and permanent residents to apply for permission for their relatives in Cuba to visit them, but has not yet revealed how it will proceed to process the requests.

The Sonic Attacks Began With Fidel Castro

Fidel Castro was the only person who could give orders without consulting his younger brother Raul. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Jorge Hernandez Fonseca, Miami, 6 October 2017 — The mystery surrounding the so-called “sonic attacks” perpetrated in Cuba against US and Canadian diplomats, set off a major diplomatic crisis between the US government and the Cuban dictatorship of Raúl Castro. Now Cuba suggests that such attacks belong to “science fiction”, although they do not deny categorically.

The analysis I will do on the basis of the following clue: who would benefit from the crisis that these attacks would provoke? With this premise we deduce that there are two sectors that would take advantage of the developing crisis: on the one hand, the most anticommunist sector of the anti-Castro exile in the United States, and on the other the most conservative sector within the Cuban communists. continue reading

There are third countries probably involved in the plot, such as China or Russia; but we concentrate the analysis on the sectors closest to the “Cuban problem” without ruling out another possibility, although logic indicates that the interest in these attacks must come from the international actors.

Official Cuba suggests that the CIA could be the cause of the attacks, but what interests would that agency have above the interests of its country? It could be, but it seems unlikely. The Cuban exile could be the source, but does the exile have enough power to execute such an operation from the outside? It’s unlikely.

The Communist sectors within Cuba interested in derailing relations with the US seem to be the most likely to organize such an operation, including because they have all the means and are acting inside their country. As these attacks began during the Obama administration – and even when Fidel Castro was still alive – it seems very likely that he was the one who directed the attacks for the following reasons: no one other than the deceased dictator could have given that order without consulting Raul Castro, or even, with consulting him. No one, apart from the retired dictator, was personally more interested in thwarting the rapprochement with the US, as he stated in writing and was public and notorious about.

Thus, the dictatorship of Raul Castro now has no way out of the problem. It fails if it speaks the truth, and fails – as it is doing now – if it doesn’t speak it. There is no other hypothesis with more force that explains such a mystery. It is well-known of the ancestry

The ascendance of a special security body commanded by the deceased dictator is well known, a body faithful to him, and very probably it was them, under his orders, who executed the attacks, to provoke an estrangement between both countries, contradicting his brother.

No one but Fidel Castro – neither the CIA, nor the Cuban exile, nor Russia or China – can be more satisfied, enjoying from his grave the current estrangement between Cuba and the United States.

Venezuela Finances Russian Oil Coming To Cuba

Refinery in Cienfuego, Cuba. (5 de September)

14ymedio bigger

14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miami, 12 October 2017 — Russia is again aiding Cuba and, as with the Soviet Union in the 1970s and 1980s, the aid comes in the form of oil. Moscow is trying to compensate for the collapse of Venezuelan shipments, but part of the bill comes from Caracas, says Jorge Piñón, director of the International Energy Center at the University of Texas.

According to the Russian news agency Tass, last weekend the Kremlin agreed with the Palace of the Revolution to increase the supply of oil and develop cooperation in the extraction sector in Cuba. continue reading

“This is a triangulation of an agreement signed in 2016 and extended this year. Rosneft (a joint-venture company majority-owned by the Russian government) has loaned PDVSA (the Venezuelan state oil company) between four and five billion dollars in recent years, “says Piñón. “Part of the 250,000 tonnes of diesel that Rosneft pledged in May to deliver to Cuba was funded in the back office through the triangulation of the agreement with PDVSA.”

Piñón’s thesis is also supported by statements from Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak, who last May put as a condition on shipments of oil to the island that they must have a secure source of funding.

During the Soviet era, Cuba received more than $40 billion in subsidies and contracted a $35 billion debt that Russia condoned by 90 percent in 2014. At that time the USSR was sending oil to the Island, which the Cuban authorities partially re-exported to the international price. It did the same with a part of the shipments of Venezuela, that reached 100,000 barrels a day before falling to a little more than half that.

In addition to supplying oil and diesel, Rosneft intends to fulfill an unfinished promise of the late Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez: the modernization of the Cienfuegos refinery, the largest in the country, operating at half speed because of the fall of the Venezuelan oil deliveries.

According to several analysts, Caracas sends 55,000 barrels of oil daily to Havana, far from the 87,000 it supplied last year and the 100,000 barrels supplied during the life of Hugo Chavez. In return, Havana sells to Caracas, at very inflated prices, its doctors serving on medical missions and other professionals providing other types of service.

Under the government of Nicolás Maduro the payment through this model has abruptly dropped. Cuba has not published its earnings from the export of services since 2014 but, as economists Carmelo Mesa-Lago and Omar Everleny Pérez have reported, these earnings have fallen by more than 1.3 billion dollars in recent years.

Economy Minister Ricardo Cabrisas said in July that the country was forced to import 99.6 million dollars in fuels so far this year due to non-compliances in the delivery of petroleum products from Caracas. Last year, Cuba was forced to import fuel from Algeria, and Raul Castro himself sent a letter to Vladimir Putin asking for a stable supply from Russia.

Jorge Piñón believes that it will be difficult for Cuba to find another Venezuela like that of Hugo Chavez willing to pay its oil bill: “The value of the Cuban oil deficit is approximately 1.1 billion dollars a year if we value a barrel at 45 dollars. Who and how is that bill to be paid?” he asks, since Havana does not have the financial resources.

Neither does he believe that Russia will assume the cost of refurbishing the Cienfuegos refinery, which the expert says needs between three and five billion dollars of investment.

“For example, we have the great Refinery of the Pacific, in Ecuador, that for the last ten years has been looking for partners after the Venezuelans ‘embarked’,” he cites as an example.

Data provided by the National Bureau of Statistics and Information show that oil production on the island has steadily declined over the last decade. In 2015 (latest figures published), Cuba produced 2,822,000 tonnes of crude oil, some 202,800 tonnes less than in 2010.

National oil production in Cuba. Source: National Bureau of Statistics and Information

National oil production in Cuba. Source: National Bureau of Statistics and Information

National production barely covers 48% of energy demand, as reported by the authorities of the Cuba Petroleum Union in an interview with the national press. The cost of extracting a barrel of oil on the Island is around $14, but it is of low quality and therefore needs to be mixed with other fuels to be used.

The deposits in operation are located in the north-western fringe of the island. After more than 40 years of operation the yield of the wells has fallen, which is reflected in the volume of extracted oil.

On the other hand, some of the most important deposits are located in Varadero, the main tourist center of the country, which makes it difficult to extract, according to authorities, who estimate to 11 billion barrels of oil reserves in that area of ​​the country.

Cuba’s biggest bet is its exclusive economic zone in the Gulf of Mexico (about 112,000 square kilometers), open to foreign investment since 1999, with high costs and investment risks in the Gulf’s deep waters. Russians, Canadians and Venezuelans have invested there without much results. This week, however, the Australian company Melbana Energy will begin exploration of the oil wells it has identified in the northern coast of Cuba.

Revolutionary Desecration

Going forward, the remains of Céspedes and Grajales will be next to those of Fidel Castro and José Martí (Christian Pirkl – Eigenes Werk/Flickr)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 10 October 2017 — In a simple note consisting only of four paragraphs, the official Cuban press reported yesterday a fact as unexpected as it was unusual: this Tuesday, coinciding with the 149th anniversary of the beginning of the War of Independence, “the political act and military ceremony of the burial of the remains of Carlos Manuel de Céspedes and Mariana Grajales” will take place in the cemetery Santa Ifigenia, in Santiago de Cuba.

As if it were not sufficiently offensive to the memory of José Martí – who devoted his life to, and met his death in pursuit of the dream of a republic of free Cubans – the imposition, in the vicinity of the beautiful funerary monument that honors his memory, of a horrible mortuary rock that contains the remains of the autocrat that destroyed the brief republican mirage and cut off all civil liberties, now the Cuban authorities have granted themselves the right to dispose of the mortal remains of other heroes of the nation, as if this were their particular legacy, and not the whole nation’s spiritual heritage. continue reading

146 years ago, eight medical students were executed for an alleged crime against the tomb of a Spanish journalist in colonial Cuba

And they obviously do it with the implicit intention of expanding the cult to the Deceased in Chief, his majesty, Castro I, equating him to the founding fathers of the Cuban nation, if not subordinating the founding fathers around him.

But the impunity of the olive-green cupola is as immense as its arrogance. Suffice it to remember that 146 years ago, eight medical students were executed for an alleged crime against the tomb of a Spanish journalist in colonial Cuba.

Such costly mobilization of funerary monuments – of Céspedes and of Mariana – is even more unfathomable in a country where material and financial deficiencies are ever more pressing, and where a very strong hurricane destroyed a significant part of the housing base of the most humble and insolvent Cubans. Only “so that, in the future, the Cuban people and foreign visitors can pay tribute in a more expeditious way, to both, the National Hero José Martí on one side and on the other, the Historical Leader of the Cuban Revolution, Commander in Chief Fidel Castro Ruz…”

It seems that the mortal remains of the Father of our Nation, which were disturbed and publicly exposed in Santiago de Cuba by the Spanish colonial power in 1874, haven’t yet found their well-deserved rest.

The official greed in quest of dollars does not stop at anything. It’s here that the historical memory of the nation, this time using the bones of the most noteworthy deceased, is subordinated to the tourist industry.

But in their decision to mobilize official necrophilia in the service of the particular interests of the Government, it is not only ordinary Cubans that have been excluded. Manuel Hilario de Céspedes and García Menocal, Bishop of Matanzas and descendant of the Father of the Nation’s lineage, was not consulted about it. Neither were other important ecclesiastical authorities, such as Juan de Dios, Auxiliary Bishop of Havana and Secretary of the Conference of Catholic Bishops of Cuba.

Nothing is sacred to the Cuban autocracy: neither memories, nor the nation’s heroes, nor the symbols they pretend to honor, nor the heir children of the national history

Oscar Márquez, the chancellor of the Archdiocese of Santiago de Cuba, was not only not previously informed of the exhumation, but his office has yet to receive any requests to officiate in a Catholic ceremony honoring the remains of such distinguished, undeniably Catholic, Cubans, which demonstrates the rampant contempt of the military elite for all values, feelings and traditions of the nation.

However, the desecration of important tombs and the patriotic memory of the nation is an old practice for that autocracy. For example, in 1987, after the death of an old communist leader who became a faithful servant of the Castro regime, Blas Roca Calderío, his body was buried at Cacahual, of all places, very close to the mausoleum that holds the remains of General Antonio Maceo Grajales, one of the most important heroes of the Cuban wars of independence, in what constituted a sharp affront to all those who erected his mausoleum from public and private donations.

Nothing is sacred to the Cuban autocracy: neither the memories, nor the nation’s heroes, nor the symbols they pretend to honor, nor the children who are the inheritors of the national history. When, on October 10th this conspiracy is finally consummated, the Government will just have added one more injury against Cuba. However, the worst affront is not the desecration of power, but the acquiescent silence of those who should be the true guardians of the historical memory that gave birth to us as a people: Cubans.

Translated by Norma Whiting

Cuban VP Diaz-Canel Calls “Acoustic Attacks” Issue “Extraordinary Humbug”

Raúl Castro (4th from left) took a back seat to his heir apparent, Vice-President Diaz-Canel (2nd from left), who carried the weight of the ceremony. (EFE / Alejandro Ernesto)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 9 October 2017 – A sober ceremony this Sunday was the official tribute for the 50th anniversary of the death of Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara. Cuban first vice-president Miguel Díaz-Canel Bermúdez deliver the main speech in the city of Santa Clara and called the information about the acoustic attacks suffered by US diplomats in Cuba “extraordinary humbug.”

“Some spokespeople and the media lend themselves to offering extraordinary humbug without any evidence in order to discredit the impeccable performance of our country,” he said. Díaz-Canel stressed the island’s status as “a safe destination for foreign visitors, including Americans.” continue reading

However, he avoided referring directly to the recent warning from the United States government to its citizens, where it recommends not staying in the Hotel Nacional and the Hotel Capri in Havana, both scenes of some of the attacks suffered by US diplomatic staff.

The warning from Washington goes straight to the heart of one of the most important economic activities for the island, which last year surpassed 4 million visitors for the first time. The State Department announcements along with damages caused by Hurricane Irma threaten the forecast of 4.7 million tourists projected for 2017.

Díaz-Canel, Raúl Castro’s apparent dauphin to succeed him to the presidency of the country in February of next year, took the opportunity to reiterate the island’s unconditional solidarity with the government of Nicolás Maduro and with the “Bolivarian and Chavista” people of Venezuela and highlighted the qualities of Ernesto Guevara, whom he described as “exceptional revolutionary.”

The vice president spoke in his address about “the difficult times” of the present and pointed out that “there is a recurrent resort to destabilization and policies of ‘regime change’ against legitimately constituted governments.”

Díaz-Canel said that losses of the Latin American left in recent years is “an evident expression” of the “neo-liberal capitalist colonization plans.”

Raul Castro attended the event after a long absence from appearing in public. The fact that, to date, he has not visited the areas affected by Hurricane Irma had sparked strong speculation about his health.

Castro, dressed in military uniform, remained in the front row of the audience and deposited a white rose over the niche placed in Che Guevara Plaza 20 years ago where lie, according to the official version, the remains of the guerrilla and several of his Cuban colleagues.

The mausoleum, inaugurated in October 1997, was restored this year and has become a place of pilgrimage for leftist militants and a regular destination on the tourist routes in the center of the island. So far it has been visited by 4.7 million people.

Meliá Reopens Hotels In Varadero Northern Cuban Keys After Hurricane Irma

The Meliá Jardines del Rey will repoen November 1st, the Meliá Cayo Coco will open on the 4th, and the Sol Cayo Guillermo on the 15th. (Meliacuba)

14ymedio biggerEFE/14ymedio, Havana, 11 October 2017 — The Spanish group Meliá announced Wednesday that it will reopen eleven hotels in Cuba beginning on October 15, two of them in the resort of Varadero and the rest in the keys of the center-north of the island, areas devastated by Hurricane Irma.

“Meliá Cuba announces the reopening of hotels affected by Hurricane Irma in Cayo Santa María, Cayo Coco, Cayo Guillermo and Varadero,” the company said in a statement sent to EFE. continue reading

The company, based in Mallorca, offered thanks to the “cooperation of the Cuban tourism authorities” which made it possible to identify “in a short period of time the facilities that suffered damages due to the intense storm.”

The group also announced that it will offer “renovated products for the peak season,” due to the improvements made in the facilities during the almost month-long closure.

The first to resume services will be the Meliá Peninsula Varadero and the Paradisus Varadero, which will reopen on October 15.

Following will be those in Cayo Santa María (Villa Clara province); the Meliá Cayo Santa María and Meliá Las Dunas hotels will be open on November 1, while the Meliá Buenavista and the Sol Cayo Santa María will resume operations on November 15.

In the Jardines del Rey archipelago, where Irma touched down as a category 5 hurricane – the maximum on the Saffir-Simpson scale – the Sol Cayo Coco will reopen on October 17 followed three days later by the Meliá Cayo Guillermo.

The Meliá Jardines del Rey will restart its services on November 1, and will be followed by the Meliá Cayo Coco opening on the 4th and the Sol Cayo Guillermo on the 15th.

Between August 8 and 10, the powerful Hurricane Irma hit the Cuban coast from east to west, affecting 13 of the island’s 15 provinces, causing 10 deaths and substantial material damages to housing, infrastructure and agriculture.

More than 1.8 million people were evacuated to safe places, including thousands of vacationers along the north coast of the country, who were relocated to Trinidad (south) and Varadero, about 90 miles from Havana, which was also affected by the storm.

Trump Names Cuban American For Job In His Government

Cuban-American foreign policy and national security expert Yleem Poblete. (Twitter)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Miami, 12 October 2017 – On Tuesday, President Donald Trump nominated the Cuban-American Yleem Poblete the a position as assistant secretary of state, according to a statement from the White House.

Poblete is an expert in foreign policy and national security who worked for nearly two decades for the United States House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs. She also worked for Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, who thanked the Trump administration for choosing her for the position. continue reading

“I would like to congratulate President Trump and Secretary (Rex) Tillerson for nominating Yleem Poblete for this position. For almost 20 years, Yleem was my lead advisor on Foreign Affairs,” said Ros-Lehtinen, the first Latina woman elected to Congress.

In 2015, Poblete published an article entitled US-Cuba Policy: Myth Vs. Reality in which she strongly criticized the move to normalize relations with Cuba promoted by former President Barack Obama.

With her husband, Jason Poblete, she leads The Poblete Analysis Group. Her legislative work addresses issues such as the threat of Iran, human rights and counter-terrorism.

Luis Manuel Otero: “Fear is One of the Most Effective Tools of This System”

Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara during the interview last night with this newspaper. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 11 October 2017 — When he was a boy all he needed was a scalpel to shape a piece of wood and he gladly exchanged the tracks of athleticism for art. Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara dreamed of “being famous, having money and improving the world,” but ended up denouncing, through his aesthetic actions, racism, political polarization and injustices.

Born in the Havana municipality of Cerro, the controversial artist was the eldest of four brothers in a family with a welder father and a carpenter uncle. “None of my relatives was interested in culture, but ever since I was little I had a facility for manual work,” he recalls now, while talking to 14ymedio in the middle of the night. continue reading

Nothing indicated that Otero Alcántara would end up doing provocative performances, loaded with questions about the Cuban reality. However, while sport forged his resistance, he felt that he needed to incorporate “thought and the philosophy” to change his surroundings. He needed to get into politics.

“At home they called me ‘the priest’ because I spoke alone and told the stories in my head,” he recalls with a mischievous smile on his face. All this was channeled upon entering the art world in a self-taught way, as his attempts to study in the San Alejandro academy were met with the closing the course to workers.

Later he joined the Cuban Association of Artisan Artists and received a card that “gives a lot of privileges and supposedly supports you when you are traveling or exhibiting.” The young man tried use that document to join the institutional artistic circuit but with little success.

“I realized that the common way was barred for me. In Cuba the institutions have a lot of prejudice, if you do not come from the academy you are discriminated against, so I left that road,” he recalls. Choosing this path has allowed him to explore more controversial and less complacent topics.

“I started to go out with my sculptures. That took a political character because in this country going out on the street has that connotation, not because I had a political speech or was an activist,” clarifies Otero Alcántara as if he wants to make it clear that he is not the partisan opposition.

This year, while he wielded an enormous sledgehammer a few inches from the window of an exclusive store, he felt that he was able to condense many of his dissatisfactions at that moment. “I am more interested in inserting myself in the real fabric than in a cold gallery for someone to buy one of my pieces.”

Another way to denounce the abyss that separates the majority of Cubans from the bubbles of glamor that have been created on the island was to launch an alternative lottery where the jackpot was a night in a room of the luxurious Manzana Kempinski hotel. Fortune benefited a young man who a few days later entered compulsory military service.

“I do what I do because if I didn’t I would explode and my art saves me from sitting at home depressed.” Right now Donald Trump “practically closed the United States Embassy, ​​the wireless connection in the streets is bad, there is no democracy and even my son is afraid,” he deplores.

Otero Alcántara also complains about the serious economic problems facing many Cubans every day. “There is no way to buy a pair of shoes, there is no food, and the only way I can fight against that depression is art.” In Cuba, there is “a lot of fear and that is one of the most effective tools of this system.”

The performance with which he denounced the removal of the bust of communist leader Julio Antonio Mella from the Manzana de Gomez mall – filled with luxury stores never before seen in Cuba – generated an intense controversy that led him to prove once again that “art does work and has a lot of force. Because of this the dictators censor it and sometimes even kill the artists.”

He acknowledges, however, that among intellectuals and artists there is “a lot of opportunism, because there are some who disengage from the people and receive a lot of the perks the state grants, which has seduced many artists with money, house, position or being able to leave and enter the country.”

Following the announcement of the postponement of the Havana Biennial, scheduled initially for next year, Otero Alcántara has promoted an event planned for the days between May 5-15, 2018 and with a low budget. The project is supported by alternative spaces and sees in that enthusiasm a sign that it is “breaking the fear.”

Recently the artist published a provocative video with a supposed presidential campaign of independent candidates ranging from a mix of journalists, artists and bloggers to opponents associated with political movements although he, personally, clarifies he is not interested in a position of such responsibility.

“I like getting up late, I’m irresponsible, vague, in art I found my world, my metaphor and it’s something very personal,” he says to clear any doubts about his expectations for the future.

Otero Alcántara wants to make clear that dissidence, a concept that he frequently addresses in his work, is a person who dissents from the common doctrine, although on the island “the word brings with it terms like gusano (worm)” so you have to work to reframe its meaning. “The problem is not that the government calls you a dissident, but that it represses you for existing, for being in opposition,” he says. “With freedom everything is resolved, freedom of expression is vital.”

Cuban Authorities Secretly Disinter Remains of Céspedes and Grajales

Pantheon of Carlos Manuel de Céspedes in the cemetery of Santa Ifigenia, in Santiago de Cuba. (Coexistence)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 9 October 2017 – Months ago, surrounded by strict discretion, the remains of Carlos Manuel de Céspedes and Mariana Grajales were exhumed in the Santa Ifigenia cemetery in Santiago de Cuba. The operation was led by the same specialist who, two decades ago, led the search for the remains of Ernesto Che Guevara in Bolivia.

This time the task was easier because there was no need to travel to other latitudes. All it took was opening the tombs of the Father of the Fatherland and the mother of General Antonio Maceo, dismantling the pantheons in which both were buried, and moving the sepulchers to within a few yards of the place where former Cuban president Fidel Castro lies.

This Tuesday, they will repose in the new location after a military ceremony with more than 350 guests, although several descendants told 14ymedio that they were not consulted about the move and several ecclesiastical sources lament that no one was allowed to offer a funeral oration during the extraction of their bodies. continue reading

A brief note appearing Saturday in the local weekly Sierra Maestra was the first public notice that the remains of Céspedes and Grajales were not in their traditional graves where they were assumed to have found “eternal rest.”

On Monday, four short paragraphs published in the newspaper Granma also referred to the upcoming internment, which many expect to be attended by Raul Castro, who participated this Sunday in the official commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the death of Ernesto Guevara.

A neighbor of Santiago cemetery told 14ymedio that entrance to the area where the two patriots were previously buried was forbidden. “For months you haven’t been able to go there,” he said. “That entire part of the cemetery is cordoned off with a tape that forbids access.”

Both the newspaper Granma and the Sierra Maestra said that the transfer of the tombs was carried out in the interest of facilitating “in the future, that the Cuban people and foreign visitors can pay tribute to both [Grajales and Céspedes] in a more expeditious way.”

Each tourist must buy a ticket for 3 Cuban convertible pesos (CUC) to enter the graveyard. The cemetery of Santa Ifigenia has experienced an increase in visitors in the last year since the arrival of the ashes of Castro, after his death on 25 November.

The place has become an obligatory point of pilgrimage for left-wing militants from all over the world and is also included in tourist agencies tours that promise to introduce their clients to Santiago de Cuba, “the most important city in eastern Cuba.”

The remains of Grajales arrived in the cemetery of Santiago de Cuba three decades after his death in Kingston, Jamaica, on November 27, 1893. The first stone of the monument to Céspedes was placed in October 1909 and his body was placed in the tomb almost one year later.

Granma, the official organ of the Communist Party, highlighted in its note Monday that Grajales and Céspedes will also be closer to the funeral mausoleum of José Martí, the most important grave in the cemetery, and a few yards from the site of the monument that contains the ashes of Castro.

The new position, however, is surrounded by intense controversy over the lack of public information, the non-observance of Christian rituals that the exhumation of two consummate Catholics would merit, and the high cost of the move in the midst of the country’s economic crisis.

Oscar Márquez, chancellor of the archdiocese of Santiago de Cuba, said via telephone to this newspaper that the authorities had not previously informed the Church about the exhumation of the remains, nor about the weeks during which they remained unburied before being reinterred.

“Here everyone thinks their own way and those who have done this think in one way… they decided not to tell us,” explains the priest with an enigmatic touch. “No, there has been nothing, no information about the fact that the pantheons would be opened,” says the chancellor when asked if there was any official message.

Manuel Hilario de Céspedes y García-Menocal, bishop of Matanzas and a descendant of the Father of the Fatherland, says he did not know anything about the exhumation of the remains of his ancestor, who died in 1874 at the San Lorenzo de la Sierra Maestra estate, four months after having been stripped of his role as President of the Republic in Arms.

Nor did a descendant of Maceo, who lives in Havana and asked for anonymity, recall being informed of a possible change in the site of his tomb.

Yudy Garcia Delis, administrator of Santa Ifigenia, informed this newspaper that the exhumation of the remains of Carlos Manuel de Céspedes and Mariana Grajales occurred four months ago. “On 27 June they took Cespedes and a few days later Mariana, although I can not specify the exact day.”

A team of the Department of Legal Medicine led by Jorge Gonzalez, current director of Medical Education at the Ministry of Public Health and the person who headed the mission to locate the body of Ernesto Guevara and bring him to Cuba for the 30th anniversary of his death, was in charge of opening the sepulchers of these heroes of independence and extracting the remains.

Gonzalez, an firm supporter of the government and deputy to the National Assembly, has been embroiled in several controversies surrounding the authenticity of his findings in Vallegrande to find Guevara. The research has been charged with being imprecise and carried out more in search of a political effect than a scientific proof.

Garcia Delis is reluctant to say where Grajales and Céspedes have been being kept until today. “They are in a place that I cannot reveal,” he says, although he minimizes the secrecy on the grounds that they are “well guarded.”

This Tuesday the mystery is revealed. Carlos Manuel de Céspedes, the man who started the war for Cuban independence, and Mariana Grajales, the matron of a family of patriots, will be resting in a new location. Until the whim of the next power determines otherwise.

The Forgotten Victims of ‘Che’ Guevara

“Executions, yes we have executed, we are executing and we will continue to execute as long as necessary.” Ernesto Guevara speaking at the United Nations in 1964. (

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Maria Werlau, Miami, 9 October 2017 — ‘Che’ Guevara’s face adorns T-shirts worn by many opponents of capital punishment, but the flesh-and-blood man displayed a deep contempt for the sanctity of human life.

Behind the carefully constructed myth of Che, there is a dark and irreconcilable truth. A cursory look at the extensive bibliography on Che, including his own writings, and a glance at the list of his known victims, makes that patently clear.

Guevara knew, through his self-study of communism, that terror would be a necessary component of revolutionary order. Besides, he had come prepared for the task of executioner; in the Sierra Maestra he had been forged as a serial killer. Of the 25 executions by the Rebel Army during the fight against Batista that Cuba Archive has documented, at least 6 were at Che’s hand or ordered by him. From the 1st of January 1959, he and the Castro brothers pushed the imperative to kill to guarantee control in Cuba. continue reading

The death penalty was practically abolished in Cuba, as article 25 of the 1940 Constitution forbade its application except in cases of military treason. But on 10 January 1959 the new Council of Revolutionary Ministers modified the constitution, ignoring the clauses about the process for its amendment, and on 10 February 1959 they promulgated a new Basic Law. Thus, the constitution was subordinated, and essentially abolished, granting the death penalty a vestige of legality and permitting its retroactive application.

From January 1 to 3, 1959, Che executed, or left orders to execute, 25 people in Santa Clara. On 3 January, Fidel Castro appointed him commander of La Cabaña prison in Havana and supreme judge of the revolutionary tribunals. In the short period in which he was in charge of La Cabaña (from January 4 to November 26, 1959), at least 73 people were executed without basic legal guarantees and the great majority without their crimes having been proven. Che not only commanded La Cabaña, but was also the judge in charge of all appeals.

Curiously, the best biographies of Che Guevara have devoted hundreds of pages to the smallest minutia of his life, but given almost zero attention to his victims. In fact, Che’s clothes, appearance, interests, sexuality, or personal correspondence receive more interest than those whose lives he stole or the tracks of pain he left in the anguished families of his victims.

Che spoke frankly to the international community about the executions in Cuba. At the United Nations in New York on 11 December 1964, he made his famous declaration: “Executions, yes we have executed, we are executing and we will continue to execute as long as necessary.”

What is less legendary, but more shocking, is that he was in favor of unleashing nuclear war to “build a better world,” supposedly from the ashes, during the Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962. A few weeks later, he told a British journalist if the missiles had been under Cuban control, they would have been launched. If there were any doubts about his objectives, his 1967 message at the Tricontinental Conference passionately advocating the destruction of the United States.

The real number of Che’s victims may never be known. In addition to those he may have killed in Cuba and who are still unknown, many others died in the guerrilla revolts he led in the Congo and Bolivia, as well as other violent actions he led in Latin America. After his death, the totalitarian system he helped to design and impose in Cuba has cost thousands of lives and the communist model he was devoted to has left a number of victims calculated at 100 million in the world.

In this era of suicide bombers who massacred civilians for fanatic objectives, it is imperative to make clear who Che really was. We owe his victims a memory and we owe the loved ones they left behind solidarity. They were plunged into a pain underestimated by the world, made deeper by the exaltation of the executioner.


María Werlau heads the Cuba Archive Project. The second edition of her book, The Forgotten Victims of Che Guevara, includes the profiles of some of his victims.

Bar, Perfume Shop or Brothel?

Only those who dare to enter discover that the La Dulce Mulatta is a bar. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Marcelo Hernandez, Havana, 9 October 2017 — She looks suggestively from the door on República Street in the city of Camaguey. “La Dulce Mulata*” says the poster that accompanies her provocative face. With that name, tourists think it’s a brothel, the clueless bet that it is a perfume shop and only those who dare to enter discover that it is a bar.

Owned by the state-owned Empresa de Comercio, with eight tables and a bar for ten customers, the place has a huge screen that plays videoclips of barely dressed models all day long. The bartender confesses that every week there is a foreigner who asks if it is a “puticlub” – a brothel. Perhaps for this reason, or to evade police controls, the locale has become – little by little – a meeting point for jineteras – hookers – and clients. continue reading

“With that name, could it be anything else?” says a customer on his third mojito, laughing. “They call it that for Mulata rum,” adds the guy, although he confesses that “it’s sweet, nobody knows where it came from.” Three other men with their elbows on the bar smirk as they make sexual allusions about the origin of the adjective.

Recently, a Regional Conference on Women in Latin America and the Caribbean finished in Cuba. In the main session, Congresswoman Yolanda Ferrer said that “the concept of the feminine began to change from the day the Revolution triumphed.” However, she avoided referring to the sexist use that continues to be made of the image of women, not only in popular music, but also in tourist advertising and political propaganda.

The conference, convened by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), had room only to extol the situation of women in Cuba, to recall the late Vilma Espín, president of the Federation of Cuban Women, and to slip in another line from Fidel Castro. During the days of the event, tourists continued to arrive at the La Dulce Mulata bar asking, “How much does a woman like the one in the photo cost in Cuba?”

*The Sweet Mixed-Race Woman

Darsi Ferret Dies in Miami

The Cuban dissident Darsi Ferret. (Courtesy)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 7 October 2017 — Cuban dissident Darsi Ferret, who has lived in the United States since 2012, was found dead Saturday in West Palm Beach, as confirmed to 14ymedio by his colleagues and family.

Ferret, 47, a doctor, was at a local television station planning to launch in that Florida city when he died in circumstances still unknown.

In 2006, the dissident was removed from the practice of medicine in Cuba for his political positions and he founded the Juan Bruno Zayas Center for Health and Human Rights. His work as an opponent was widely recognized, especially for leading a peaceful demonstration in front of the UNESCO headquarters in Cuba every December 10th, International Human Rights Day. These marches were severely repressed by the political police. continue reading

In 2009 he was arrested and sentenced to 11 months in prison for the alleged crime of buying building materials in the informal market to renovate his house. Half a year later Amnesty International declared him a “prisoner of conscience” and demanded that Raul Castro’s government release him.

In June 2010, Ferret was released on parole and two years later emigrated as a political refugee to the United States. His wife at that time, Yusnaimy Jorge Soca, and his son Daniel, then 10, resided in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

“I left my homeland, friends and a people that is suffering greatly,” Ferret said when arriving in the US “but I keep alive the hope that Cuba will be free because the Cuban people are ever more committed to that freedom.”

In the United States, Ferret dedicated himself to spreading the reality of the island through his work as producer, reporter and event organizer in which several Cuban dissidents participated. Until his death he maintained a very critical position towards the Palace of the Revolution. An attitude emphasized last August on his Facebook wall when he said that “during almost six decades of absolute control of power on the island, the Castros have contributed nothing good or meritorious.”

Ed note: Ferret’s name has been frequently misspelled as “Ferrer,” including on his Wikipedia entry and in articles on this site (which we will correct). His family has confirmed that his name is Ferret, which is also correct on his Facebook.