Eighty Percent of Las Tunas Province Is Facing Soil Erosion / 14ymedio

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 28 July 2015 — Experts have just confirmed what peasants in Las Tunas Province already knew due to the declining yields of their harvests and the degradation of their land. Eighty percent of the province’s arable land has already eroded, and another 28% is facing desertification. According to reports appearing in the official Cuban press on July 28th, this problem is a result of “changes in rain patterns, and inadequate management of the province’s farmable lands.”

Specialists from this eastern Cuban province’s Communist Party Agricultural Affairs Committee estimate that 445,000 acres of previously fertile land are now ruined, accounting for 11.67% of the of the island’s deserts. According to the report, climate change combined with a growth in farming in the so-called “vulnerable zones” will only exacerbate and spread the environmental damage.

Top and subsoil erosion, poor drainage, salinization, and compaction are among the negative results of soil degradation. Consequently, the region’s agricultural output has dropped significantly.

The government experts stress that uncontrolled forest fires, the burning of harvest leftovers, the absence of crop rotation, deforestation, and the excessive use of machinery are some of this situation’s other causes. Las Tunas Province has a naturally dry climate, from where it takes name.* Nevertheless, this reality has only been worsened by the current predicament.

The loss of arable land is worse on the northern border with Camagüey Province. According to Amado Luis Palma, an expert from the Ministry of Science, Technology and the Environment, “(northern) Las Tunas Province is beginning to resemble Cuba’s only semi-arid region, the desert corridor between Caimanera and Maisí, in Guantánamo Province.”

*Translator’s note: “Tunas” are a type of native Cuban cactus that grows wild in the province.

Translated by José Badué

Drivel and Anniversaries: Cuban Television is a Wreck / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

Cuban TV prime time news

Cuban TV prime time news

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 29 July 2015 — Twenty minutes after the start of the news, the only things they had announced were the anniversaries of historic events and obituaries. As if nothing has happened in the country now. For the evening prime time news, the world stopped fifty years ago and remains only something to remember and honor. Even the weather has mothballs. A “good night” concludes the broadcast and we viewers hold out unfounded hope for what could be the best part of the line-up. But nothing.

Cuban television is experiencing one of its worst moments. Programming oscillates between the stiffness of ideology and American programming taken without any regard for copyright. So, we go from a tearful documentary about the birth of Hugo Chavez, to the intrigue of the series Castle, where a murderer manages to escape at the last second. One channel re-broadcasts Machado Ventura’s soporific 26th of July speech, and on another some kids learn to cook recipes that could never be made in Cuba because of the lack of ingredients. Continue reading

Time for Compensations / 14ymedio, Miriam Celaya

Who will compensate the thousands of Cuban boat people who lost their lives in the Florida Straits? (Mexico, Department of the Navy)

Who will compensate the thousands of Cuban boat people who lost their lives in the Florida Straits? (Mexico, Department of the Navy)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 22 July 2015 — After the media foreplay stirred by the opening of the Cuban and US embassies in their respective countries, some outstanding issues on the agenda of negotiations between the two governments begin to surface as matters that should, in short order, get the attention of the media and of public opinion.

Statements by senior officials on both sides have made reference to cardinal issues that marred the Cuba-US relations for half a century, whose solution – requiring very complex negotiations and agreement — will depend on the success of the standardization process that has been occupying headlines and raising expectations since this past December 17th.

One such point refers to compensation claims from both sides. On the US side, for the expropriations suffered by large American companies in Cuba, whose assets have remained in the hands of the Cuban government, and the demands of Cuban citizens who emigrated to the US, who were also stripped of their properties under laws introduced by the Revolution in its early years which remained in place for decades. The total amount of compensation demanded by those affected is estimated at about 7 or 8 billion dollars. Continue reading

Havana’s Pools: That Blue Water Yonder / 14ymedio, Rosa Lopez

The José Martí Stadium Pool, on Havana’s Avenue of the Presidents. (14ymedio/Javier H.)

The José Martí Stadium Pool, on Havana’s Avenue of the Presidents. (14ymedio/Javier H.)

14ymedio bigger 14ymedio, Rosa Lopez, Havana, 21 July 2015 — Now 67 years of age, Juan Carlos recalls how when he was a kid he climbed up on a roof and from there spied on the pool of an adjacent exclusive Havana hotel. He was fascinated by what he saw, but Juan Carlos’ family’s financial limitations kept him from enjoying all that magnificence. The slogan “The People Have a Right to Sports” had firmly taken root by his teens and early adult years. Consequently, Juan Carlos got to splash around in several pools, and for free. However, his memories of those blue waters now come back to haunt him. Today, all the pools near Juan Carlos are either in a state of total ruin or way beyond his budget.

Currently retired, Juan Carlos insists that “access to pools in July and August should be a human right.” When summer heat waves make Cubans sweat so profusely, “there’s nothing better then taking a dip to cool off,” he says, with a confident half-smile. Continue reading

The Revolutionary Mass is Held at Dawn / 14ymedio, 26 July 2015

The official ceremony to commemorate the assault on the Moncada Garrison was celebrated at dawn. (EFE)

The official ceremony to commemorate the assault on the Moncada Garrison was celebrated at dawn. (EFE)

14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 26 July 2015 — The liturgy does not change. The anniversary event for the Day of National Rebellion took place this Sunday in front of the Moncada Barracks. A script where each detail is repeated year after year, like a rite empty of emotion and surprises. The only novelty on this occasion has been the hour chosen for the start. At 5:12 in the morning National TV began the broadcast of the event from a plaza in darkness with an orator yawning in the dawn.

The second secretary of the Communist Party, Jose Ramon Ventura, was charged with the annual speech for the 26th of July. Any study of the television audience would reveal that the only viewers of the small screen at this hour were the insomniacs looking for something to entertain them and the journalists chasing headlines. Both nocturnal creatures ended up disappointed. There was no entertainment nor news. Continue reading

Restore Sovereignty to the People If You Want To Avoid another Revolution / 14ymedio, Pedro Campos

The Moncada Barracks. An attack on the barracks  in 1953was the opening move of the Revolution

The Moncada Barracks. An attack on the barracks on 26 July, 62 years ago, was the opening move of the Revolution

A pandemic of freedom floods our senses.
Juan Carlos Cremata

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Pedro Campos and other authors, Havana, 25 July 2015 – It will soon be 62 years since a group of young men headed by Fidel Castro attacked the Moncada Barracks in Santiago de Cuba, an event that catapulted that figure to the foreground of national politics and definitively buried the possibility of a peaceful and political outcome to the situation created by Fulgencio Batista’s coup a year before.

The armed struggle prevailed and managed to oust the tyrant from power. But the violent way in which it was achieved marked until today the political fate of Cuba. The Encampment triumphed again over the Republic.

That same character who organized and led that assault and who then headed a rebel military movement capitalized on the popular triumph of the 1959 Revolution, made and supported by the great majority of the Cuban people in order to restore the democratic system. Continue reading

Authority as Exemplified by Elpidio Valdés / 14ymedio, Jose Gabriel Barrenechea

Elpidio Valdez

Elpidio Valdés

14ymedio, José Gabriel Barrenechea, Havana, 18 July 2015 —  I remember it as if it were yesterday when my old man took me to see the first Elpidio Valdés feature film in 1974. Having just debuted in the city of Santa Clara, we had to jump through hoops to find a taxi willing to take us all the way there from the town of Encrucijada. Thanks to the help of one of my father’s many friends, we were able to sneak into the Cubanacán Cinema, now long gone. Around the corner and in front of an improvised ticket booth set up for these types of events, a large police unit tried controlling half of Villa Clara Province that had descended on the Provincial capital for the movie’s premiere.

I have seen that film around fifty times. I doubt there are many who can beat my record. Whenever it played in Encrucijada’s movie house, I would go see it the four nights in a row of its run.

I was and still am a fan of this fictional military leader of the Cuban Wars of Independence. It is no wonder I stored all the Elpidio Valdés animations from before 1990 on my computer. On top of that, I also own a copy of the quickly-forgotten series Más se perdió en la guerra, or Más se perdió en Cuba,* the title changing depending on whether it was distributed on the island or in Spain. Continue reading

“They forced me not to dream”: Interview with Angel Santiesteban / 14ymedio, Lilianne Ruiz

Angel Santiesteban

Blogger and writer Angel Santiesteban (Luz Escobar)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Lilianne Ruiz, 24 July 2015 – In the Border Guard facility where Angel Santiesteban spent his last year in prison, he heard the sound of the sea. Inside his less than nine by twelve foot cell, when there was a storm the writer could feel the pounding of the waves. A sound that also accompanied him when he was released last Friday and walked, without a centavo in his pocket to take the bus, along the coast through Playa to the house of a friend.

Three nights after getting out of prison, the blogger and activist agreed to talk with 14ymedio about the days in prison, his literature, Cuba and the future.

Lilianne Ruiz (LR): How did they announce your release?

Angel Santiesteban (AS): Hours beforehand a guard was joking and told me, “I think you’re leaving today.” I ignored him, believing that it was a part of the game to psychologically debilitate me. While I was talking to the mother of my daughter during my turn to use the telephone, a prison officer came with the notice of my release. He said, “Congratulations, you’re going.” He gave me papers to sign for my parole. Continue reading

The False Prophecy of Fidel Castro About Obama and Pope Francis / 14ymedio

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14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 24 July 2015 — A phrase supposedly attributed to the former Cuban president Fidel Castro has become, in the last few months, one of the symbols of the thaw between Washington and Havana, announced last December after 54 years of enmity. “The United States will come to talk to us when we have a black president and the world has a Latin American pope,” the former president supposedly replied to a question asked by the foreign press in 1973. However, there is no proof of the existence of this quote prior to 2014.

Fidel Castro’s alleged prophecy has circulated widely on the social networks and in the international press, translated into several languages, generating amazement among users and readers, shocked by the ex-president’s ability to foresee the future. Continue reading

Half of Latin Americans Have Internet Access, But Only 5% of Cubans Do / 14ymedio

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Whole families connect to WiFi in central Pinar del Rio (14ymedio)

14ymedio biggerEFE / 14ymedio, Miami / Havana, July 24, 2015 — Half of the population of Latin America is still without internet access, while only 10% have broadband and 20% are connected via mobile phones, according to data from the Development Bank of Latin America (CAF) published Friday in Miami. However, Cuba is one of the most technologically backward countries in the world, with a penetration rate to the network of only 5%, which is reduced to 1% for broadband.

The report notes that, despite advances in digitization projects in the region, the absence of digital coverage in Latin America is 50%, according to the study “The Ecosystem and digital Economy in Latin America.” Continue reading

Marti and His Myth / 14ymedio, Jose Gabriel Barrenechea

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José Martí in an image from 1891 (University of Miami)

14ymedio, José Gabriel Barrenechea, Santa Clara, 17 May 2015 – From the interpretation of a significant event in the history of a nation, the interpreters’ political orientation can be very well surmised. Here we have this date, 24 February 1895 – the day on which our ancestors departed for the last time to the scrubland, to make of Cuba an independent and democratic nation, in which sovereignty would belong to each and every one who would declare themselves as Cubans.

This event can be interpreted in two radical ways: the Fascist, as a triumph of the Cuban people’s will, embodied in José Martí, ensuing from a supposed teleological destiny; or the Marxist, as a result of the economic contradictions between Cuban national interests and those of Spain, which engendered the fact that the colony’s economy was by that time integrated into that of its immediate neighbor, the US, and not of its distant and cash-strapped imperial ruler. Continue reading

Santiago Hides Its Indigents / 14ymedio, Yosmany Mayeta Labrada

Raw material collectors have been warned “not to appear” until the festivities have concluded (Yosmani Mayeta)

Raw material collectors have been warned “not to appear” until the festivities have concluded (Yosmani Mayeta)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yosmany Mayeta Labrada, Santiago, 23 July 2015 – The builders hurry to give the last touches to building projects, and the communal brigades obsessively clean the streets. A few days before the celebration of its fifth centennial, the city of Santiago is bustling. The imminent arrival of the delegations to the ceremony for the Assault on the Moncada Barracks has also caused the local authorities to gather up the many vagrants of the historic center.

The psychiatric institutions of the city have established monitoring services for the areas surrounding Cespedes Park in order to proceed with the detention of the mentally ill and homeless or those who beg near the tourist destinations. “Everything must be clean,” explains one of the members of a medical brigade that handles such tasks.

For those who reside in the city of Santiago it is evident that something is missing from the landscape of the so-called “golden kilometer” where the first houses, established in 1515, and the Holy Basilica are located. Absent are those figures, often scrawny and in dirty clothes, who stretch out their hands or display a prescription so that the passersby will give them “some help to live.” Continue reading