“They Want To Frighten Me and Other Independent Journalists” / 14ymedio

Journalist Roberto de Jesus Quinones

Journalist Roberto de Jesus Quinones

14ymedio, Havana, 7 October 2015 – The Cuban political police intend to prosecute lawyer and journalist Roberto de Jesus Quinones for a crime called “spreading false news about international peace,” according to what the independent journalist told this daily a few hours following his release after having been arrested October 5.

Monday a group of almost 20 people entered Quinones’ home in Guantanamo, presenting a search warrant that authorized the seizure of “means for subversive activities.”

The independent journalist was arrested, and they informed him that a file is being prepared where there appears a complaint against him based on the crime listed in the fifth section of Chapter III of the Penal Code, “Crimes against International Peace and Law.”

The rule stipulates that “whoever spreads false news for the purpose of damaging international peace or endangering the prestige or credit of the Cuban state or its good relations with another State, incurs a sentence of imprisonment of one to four years.”

“They told me that they are going to analyze any evidence they find in the confiscated objects: a laptop, a tablet, my cell phone, several books, my schedule, my phone book, the calendar where I write what I have to do, several documents and some 60 discs with films or installation programs, so that after they analyze their contents they will decide what course the process will take,” said Quinones.

As a lawyer, the reporter is also a member of the organization Corriente Agramontista. “They were always telling me to stop writing for Cubanet if I did not want to get into trouble,” he explains. “That makes me think that the basic point is to scare me and by extension other independent journalists,” he adds, although he says he has the impression that “the current political context is not favorable for them to imprison anyone for political reasons.”

According to Quinones, there is now in his neighborhood “a very unfavorable opinion towards the political police,” because he maintains that he has “a lot of prestige in the neighborhood, and the arrest operation was outrageously disproportionate.”

“What I have written and published is that I think that in any kind of negotiation, both sides must make concessions and that the United States has not demanded compliance on the part of Cuba with respect to rights and democracy,” he says regarding his opinions about the re-establishment of relations between the two countries.

Nevertheless, he explains: “Of course I cannot oppose the improvement of the condition of the Cuban people, but I believe that the United States, as a democratic power, cannot economically favor a Government that subjects its people the way the Cuban government does.” Because of opinions like that, “they tell me that I am systematically discrediting the Cuban government, and currently that works against foreign relations.”

In December 2006, Quinones finished a sentence of three years for falsifying documents in the process of buying and selling a home, although, in his opinion, the true cause was that he was practically the only lawyer in the province who dared to defend dissidents. After that time, he was no longer admitted to any collective firm, and they also discriminate against him in the Cuban Writers and Artists Union (UNEAC), an organization to which he belongs in his capacity as a writer and art critic.

He adds that on five occasions he has sought membership in a law firm, and they have not even answered him. Moreover, he says he recently told the president of the Writers Association that if he does not convene a meeting to explain the discrimination to which he is subjected, he will submit his resignation from UNEAC.

The journalist expresses strong determination: “I told my interrogators that I would continue writing for Cubanet. I cannot let them frighten me.”

Translated by Mary Lou Keel

Dominic Miller: “I Want Us To Be The First To Do Something Great Here” / 14ymedio, Luz Escobar

Guitarist Dominic Miller and Cuban musician Manolito Simonet. (14ymedio)

Guitarist Dominic Miller and Cuban musician Manolito Simonet. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 7 October 2015 — The British composer and guitarist Dominic Miller said Wednesday that he hopes to perform in Cuba with Sting. “I want to do it before Mick Jagger does it,” he said at a press conference held at the Cuban Art Factory (FAC) in Havana, “because it’s a race and I want us to be the first to do something great here.”

Miller will give a concert this Thursday at the Cuban Art Factory with Manolito Simonet y su Trabuco, They will perform songs from the CD Made in Cuba, what both musicians recorded in Cuba and Tenerife. The CD, almost entirely instrumental, will be launched for the first time this week on the island. Miller said that next March he will also promote the album in Europe. Continue reading

El Sexto Will Resume His Hunger Strike Next Week If He Is Not Released / 14ymedio

Danilo Maldonado, “El Sexto.” (Artist’s File)

Danilo Maldonado, “El Sexto.” (Artist’s File)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 7 October 2015 – The mother of Danilo Maldonado, El Sexto, has talked by phone with the artist, who reaffirmed his decision to resume his hunger strike if he is not released before 15 October. Captive in Valle Grande prison, the graffiti artist says he is willing to return to fasting, even in the midst of his recovery from 24 days without food that ended earlier this month.

Maria Victoria Machado told 14ymedio that she was able to speak for three minutes on Wednesday with graffiti artist and this he told her his decision to stop eating again starting next Thursday if they do not proceed with his release.

Machado said she received a call from Amnesty International asking for authorization to demand the release of her son at the United Nations

Maldonado also said he had been “well treated” by doctors in the prison and that he was “much better.” His mother, meanwhile, told him that the file of his case “is still with the prosecution,” without any new response from the legal authorities.

Machado also said that on Tuesday night she received a call from Amnesty International asking for authorization to demand the release of her son at the United Nations. The human rights organization considers El Sexto a “prisoner of conscience.”

Children Without Milk / 14ymedio, Boris Gonzalez

Dairy in Cuba

Dairy in Cuba

Moooooo (White Udder)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Boris Gonazales, 7 October 2015 – My son will be seven years old this Thursday, October 8. For decades, seven has been the age chosen by Fidel Alejandro Castro and maintained by his brother Raul Modesto for Cubans to stop drinking milk.

Every ten days a Cuban child under age 7 receives 2.2 pounds of powdered milk for the price of 2.50 in Cuban pesos, about 10 cents in US dollars. The minimum Cuban wage is around $10 a month, and the average is about $18 a month, and however prices are adjusted for markets around the world, you can see it would be impossible for a Cuban worker. In Spain and Brazil it is possible to buy a quart of milk for the equivalent of $0.70 on the US dollar, but such a figure approaches a day’s wages for a Cuban teacher. Continue reading

“Wave of Political and Social Repression” in September, according to CCDHRN / 14ymedio

Ladies in White during their march this Sunday (Angela Moya)

Ladies in White during their march this Sunday (Angel Moya)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 5 October 2015 – This September there were at least 882 arbitrary arrests for political reasons, according to a report by the Cuban Commission on Human Rights and National Reconciliation (CCDHRN). The figure is the highest in the last 15 months, says the independent entity which also warns about an increase in “physical assaults against peaceful opponents by police agents and their collaborators.”

The cases of physical violence reported and verified y the CCDHRN reached 93, “while there were 21 in August.” The Commission, chaired by human rights activist Elizardo Sanchez, points out that “September did not lack many acts of harassment and vandalism, either.” These include “house arrests and extrajudicial bans on movement,” says the text of the report.

As “a true wave of political and social repression” there were “353 arrests of peaceful dissidents to prevent them from participating in massive gatherings” with Pope Francis.

The opposition sector was not the only one that suffered police raids, and the CCDHRN reiterates that “an undetermined number of beggars, panhandlers and other homeless people who seek alms on the streets or search for food or anything else in trash dumpsters were interned without judicial order.”

The case of the three from the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU) who “managed to breach the police cordon and approach Pope Francis” in Havana’s Revolution Plaza, is singled out with interest in the report. Zaqueo Baez, Maria Anon and Ismael Bonet “have been jailed for 15 days, under subhuman conditions, in the hands of the secret political police, without access to defense attorneys and without formal charges.” The CCDHRN “is prepared to propose that they be internationally adopted as possible Prisoners of Conscience.”

Translated by Mary Lou Keel

Independent journalist Roberto de Jesus Quiñones Arrested in Guantanamo / 14ymedio

Independent journalist Roberto de Jesus Quiñones.

Independent journalist Roberto de Jesus Quiñones.

14ymedio, Havana, 5 October 2015 — At six in the morning on Monday, a group of 15 Interior Ministry troops stormed the house of lawyer and an independent journalist Jesus Quiñones Haces, in the city of Guantanamo. The troops conducted a thorough search and took the reporter, without specifying the reasons for his arrest or his final whereabouts.

According to his mother, Maria Haces, 77, among those who participated in the operation were men in olive-green uniforms and others in blue and black, plus individuals in plainclothes. The entire search process was filmed with a small camera and they ultimately seized a computer, several disks and documents. The arrest occurred in the absence of the Quiñones’s wife, who is traveling in the United States.

The reporter is also a member of the Corriente Agramontista association of independent lawyers. His reports on events in his province are published by the agency CubaNet and one of his last works denounced the poor state of the road known as La Farola, in the Nipe-Sagua mountain range of Tánamo-Baracoa.

Before turning to independent journalism, he was a member of the National Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba (UNEAC) and collaborated with the official press on reviews of the cultural life of his city.

No references of any facts that led to the police action, as it is not the exercise of their professional activities. An official present in the operation said the mother of the detainee no later tonight or tomorrow, Tuesday would be released.

The arrest occurs within hours of the Inter American Press Association (IAPA). during its meeting in Charleston (South Carolina, USA), expressing its concern about the situation of the press in Cuba and repression against independent reporters.

The Ladies In White Face Another Sunday Of Repression In Havana / 14ymedio

Ladies in White during the pilgrimage this Sunday. (Angel Moya)

Ladies in White during the pilgrimage this Sunday. (Angel Moya)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 4 October, 2015 – Fifty-nine Ladies in White and 20 activists gathered this Sunday in Gandhi Park in Havana’s Playa district, despite the arrests previous to their traditional Sunday peregrination. After a summary of their weekly activities, the dissidents were detained, according to a report from witnesses at the scene.

From the early hours, the regime opponent Martha Beatriz Roque denounced the arrests of 12 human rights activists who had traveled to Santa Rita parish. Among those arrested with the mother and siblings of Zaqueo Baez Guerrero, one of the members of the of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU) who had approached Pope Francis in Havana’s Plaza of the Revolution.

Others arrested on Sunday included the regime opponents Antonio Gonzalez Rodiles, Ailer Gonzalez and Felix Navarro. The latter lives in the town of Perico, Matanzas, and traveled to the capital to show his support to the human rights movement.

Blogger Agustín López Canino denounced his arrest and reported that he was handcuffed at the corner of 5th and 30th streets, in the Playa district, together with two other colleagues. The activists detailed that he was “taken to the outskirts of Havana” to prevent his accompanying the Ladies in White during their Sunday march.

Meanwhile, in Colón, Matanzas, independent journalist Ivan Hernandez Carrillo reported ten Ladies in White marched in Colón, Matanzas, for the release of the political prisoners.

The leader of the Ladies in White movement, Berta Soler said that Yaquelín Boni, an activist detained since Thursday during a protest outside Combinado del Este prison and accused of “disobedience,” has now been released.

Cuban Phone Company Authorizes Internet Refills From Abroad / 14ymedio

A young man connects wirelessly in Cuba via his mobile phone. (14ymedio)

A young man connects wirelessly in Cuba via his mobile phone. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, 4 October 2015 – Starting October 6, Cubans on the island can have their “Nauta” internet access accounts refilled from abroad with 10 CUC (Cuban convertible pesos, about $11.30* US). The measure, announced this Saturday in the newspaper Granma, will be introduced by the Cuban Telecommunications Company (ETECSA) and requires users to have a permanent Nauta account.

Right now, this option does not include the “double minutes” or bonus options frequently available for recharges from abroad for cellphone service.

The official Communist Party newspaper said the new service will encourage users to sign up for permanent Nauta accounts, as many netizens still prefer to use temporary navigation cards, despite their higher prices.

The long lines outside the offices to open permanent internet access accounts, the lack of recharge bonuses associated with them, and the anonymity of navigation (without an account) are some of the reasons given by customers for continuing to use the temporary accounts.

Every day the island’s Wifi points are hosting 55,000 connections, 8,000 of them simultaneously. Although the connection price remains high at 2 CUC an hour (over $2.00 US in a country with an average monthly wage of less than $20.00), the opening of 35 wireless access points has created a social phenomenon with thousands of people congregating in those places.

*Translator’s note: The Cuban CUC officially trades at par with the US dollar, but a 10% “penalty” is added for exchanging US dollars, along with a 3% exchange fee.

“The Family Unit in Holguín Is Very Damaged” / 14ymedio, Fernando Donate Ochoa

Marcos Pirán Gómez, parish priest of San José Church in Holguín

Marcos Pirán Gómez, parish priest of San José Church in Holguín (Photo Fernando Donate/14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Fernando Donate Ochoa, Holguín. 21 September 2015 — He shares both his faith and Argentine citizenship with Pope Francis, yet Father Marcos Pirán Gómez is not on Cuban soil for just a few days. He has been living on the island for fifteen years, and since 2012 has been the parish priest of San José (Saint Joseph’s) Church in Holguín.

A few hours before the Bishop of Rome travelled to this land of mountains, heat, and seas, Father Marcos met with 14ymedio to discuss his parishioners’ expectations, the difficulties besetting his community, and the role of the Church in finding solutions.

14ymedio: What did you feel when you heard that Pope Francis was coming to Holguín?

Marcos Pirán Gómez: I felt an enormous thrill because of the joy another Papal visit would mean to our people; the third one in just 17 years, such a short period of time. This is a significant event not only for the life of the Church, but also for the Cuban people. Each one of the previous Papal visits have left its mark. Continue reading

El Sexto: He Who Laughs First, Laughs Twice / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

Danilo Maldonado, "El Sexto," painting the balcony wall of Yoani's apartment

Danilo Maldonado, “El Sexto,” painting the balcony wall of Yoani’s apartment

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 3 October 2015 — There was no mistaking it. It was the same face that smiles defiantly from some paintings in which it resembles an unrepentant Christ. I had seen the signature of El Sexto at bus stops, followed his ironies on Havana’s walls, and wondered if this young man really existed, putting so many dreams, so many screams into his midnight strokes . But there he was, standing in front of me, in a T-shirt with a spray can.

“You cross out my stuff, I cross out yours,” said some of the artist Danilo Maldonado’s first paintings. It was when the police were using pink paint to hide his graffiti. Walking down Linea Street you could guess that behind those colorful patches in the middle of a wall that had gone decades without maintenance, the irreverent artist had left a drawing.

So when I stumbled upon El Sexto, thin, rebellious, talented, it seemed I had rediscovered a well-known face from my family photos, someone I had shared colorful nocturnal moments with, insolent and clandestine. With time I discovered that I was also facing a man who would not give in to fear and who would use his own body as a canvas for disobedience. Continue reading

Diversity Visa Lottery for Emigrating to the United States Begins / 14ymedio

US Embassy in Havana. (14ymedio)

US Embassy in Havana. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 2 October 2015 — The anguish is over. After months of speculation, it has been confirmed that the recently begun United States Diversity Visa program for 2017 maintains a quota for Cubans, according to a statement from a consular official from the US Embassy in Havana at a press conference Friday.

Rumors in recent months pointed to a reduction or cancellation of the program for natives of the island due to the reestablishment of relations between Washington and Havana. However, the official – who did not give her name – told the national press that “as in prior years, Cuba is included in the program to support a safe, legal and orderly migration.” Continue reading

The IAPA Does Not See Progress In Press Freedom In Cuba / 14ymedio

Lazaro Yuri Valle Roca has been threatened and detained for documenting repression. (14ymedio)

Lazaro Yuri Valle Roca has been threatened and detained for documenting repression. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, 2 October 2015 — Within a few hours of the opening of the 71st General Assembly of the Inter American Press Association (IAPA), scheduled between 2 and 6 October in Charleston (South Carolina), regional reports from the Commission for Freedom of the Press and Information were made public. According to the organization, ten months after the beginning of reestablishment of diplomatic relations between Cuba and the United States, journalism on the island continues to be “dogged by censorship in the Cuban Communist Party monopoly over the national media.”

The report details that in Cuba there are still no signs of “economic improvement,” nor an increase in the respect for “human rights, greater freedom of expression, association and the press,” derived from the process of diplomatic rapprochement that both countries are experiencing.

With special alarm, the text includes the threats and arrests made this summer by State Security against the reporter Lazaro Yuri Valle Roca, when he tried to document in videos and photos the repression suffered by the Ladies in White. The independent journalist denounced the repressive methods against the exercise of the unofficial press, including detentions for “several days without records of arrest nor of the seizure of our belongings” and the “confiscation of the tools of our work.” Continue reading

That First Central Committee / Reinaldo Escobar

Fidel Castro during the formation of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Cuba, on October 3, 1965.

Fidel Castro during the formation of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Cuba, on October 3, 1965.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 2 October 2015 – Fifty years ago the first Central Committee of the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC) made its appearance. It was composed of one hundred people, among whom there were 57 commanders of the Revolution, nine captains, one lieutenant and 33 civilians. Of that constellation only eight remain alive and in office, not including Fidel Castro. The average age of these “survivors” who made it to today is approximately 83 years.

The last time there was a formal election to the Central Committee was in 1997 during the Fifth Congress of the PCC. On that occasion, 14 members from the initial list remained, but that was 18 years ago and, after the deaths of Vilma Espín, Juan Almeida, and more recently of Jorge Risquet, plus the retirements due to dismissal or illness of Roger Acevedo, Osmany Cienfuegos and Pedro Miret, the so-called “historic generation of the Revolution” has been considerably narrowed in its number. Continue reading

Twelve Ladies in White Arrested Outside Combinado del Este prison / 14ymedio

Ladies in White in Havana.

Ladies in White in Havana.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, 1 October 2015 – The regime opponent Martha Beatriz Roque denounced the arrest Thursday of 12 Ladies in White protesting outside the Combinado del Este prison in Havana. The activists presented themselves at the place to complain about the prisoners Ricardo and Ariel Gonzalez Sendiña, sons of the Lady in White Lazara Barbara Sendiña, who are on hunger strike.

The two prisoners, convicted of the alleged crime of theft and slaughter of cattle, maintain their innocence. Since they began fasting, both are in punishment cells. The women demanded answers about their state of health, but the prison authorities did not give details.

The organization’s leader, Berta Soler, at the site, reported by telephone to the reporter Lazaro Yuri Valle Rica on the imminent arrest of the activists. Minutes later, in her Twitter account, Soler describe the arrests as “brutal.” To date, the whereabouts of the protesters is unknown and their phones are shut off.

The leader of the Youth Front of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU) Carlos Amel Oliva Torres, was also arrested on his return from a trip to Spain. The activist is right now in the Third Police Unit in Santiago de Cuba.

A Queen Without Competition / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

Queen electric cooking pot. (Luz Escobar)

Queen electric cooking pot. (Luz Escobar)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, 1 October 2015 — The “Energy Revolution”, one of the last initiatives promoted by Fidel Castro before his public retirement, made some peculiar appliances appear in Cuban homes. Perhaps the most popular was the electric cooking pot was popularly called Queen, manufactured in China and which serves equally to make a red bean stew or meat and potatoes.

Those appliances which were distributed in bulk throughout the island, as if it were a military operation, were sold on credit and at a price that did not exceed 400 Cuban pesos (about $16 US). One day, coinciding with the departure of the Commander-in-Chief from his post, those pots also disappeared.

Since the middle of this year the Queen began to be assembled in Cuba in the ProHogar plant in the city of Santa Clara, as a part of the Household Production Industry (INPUD), a project founded in 1964 by the then Minister of Industry, Ernesto Guevara.

The group made up of 32 skilled workers assembles some 700 appliances a day that then go for the commercial network of hard currency stores and are sold at prices exceeding 30 convertible pesos (over $30 US). The items for sale can no longer be paid for on the installment plan, that characterized their distribution during the “Energy Revolution.”

Also lost in time are the memories of those refrigerators in INPUD fabricated that were distributed based on “merits” in one’s workplace. Instead, the entity now seeks to impose its products on the market through the harsh law of quality and competition with other similar products. The Queens are no longer for commoners.