“It’s Hard for the Government to Tolerate the Professionalism of Independent Journalists”

Ignacio Gonzalez, journalist and editor of Free Hot Press agency (screenshot)
Ignacio Gonzalez, journalist and editor of Free Hot Press agency (screenshot)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Joanna Columbie, Havana, 21 October 2016 – Ignacio Gonzalez is frequently seen in the streets of Havana with microphone in hand recording citizens’ reactions to a flood, a historic baseball game or the re-establishment of diplomatic relations between the governments of Cuba and the United States. Independent journalist and editor of the Hot Free Press (ECPL) agency, the young man aspires to continue excelling professionally and thinks that non-government media are experiencing a time of growth.

Recently Gonzalez spent 48 hours under arrest at a police station as a consequence of his work as a reporter, an arrest that is among the repressive acts carried out against independent journalism in recent months.

Columbie: How was Hot Free Press born?

Gonzalez: It comes from the idea that people are again gaining confidence in the independent press, which had lost a little due to government propaganda that says that it involves unqualified and mercenary journalists. We interview not only the regime’s opponents but also doctors, engineers, can collectors, mechanics, carpenters… people like that. Continue reading ““It’s Hard for the Government to Tolerate the Professionalism of Independent Journalists””

Columbie: You suffered an arrest recently. What happened?

Gonzalez: I was doing a report together with another colleague on a study of central Havana, and an operation began with a patrol car, five police officers and two agents from State Security. They took us to the fourth police unit and interrogated me in one of the offices. They made me undress and squat forwards and backwards in order to see if I had hidden any USB drives. I felt denigrated.

Then I was transferred to a police station on Zanja Street and later to the 10th of October, located on Acosta Avenue. I was detained for 48 hours, which had never happened to me, because they had always detained me between three and four hours.

Columbie. Were you accused of some crime or are you now subject to some investigative process?

Gonzalez. They told me that they had a file on me and that I am a counter-revolutionary. Although they assured me that my detention was not because of political problems, but because I was committing an illicit economic activity, since I had an agency where it was known that I paid workers and that I had no license to practice this activity nor was I accredited in the country. They also threatened me that my equipment could be seized. I did not sign nor will I sign any paper. There is no accusation as such, what I have is threats.

Columbie: Do you feel you are a “counter-revolutionary?”

Gonzalez: I told them that they were the counter-revolutionaries because they refuse progress and all kinds of democracy to our country. If they are going to put me in prison, they are going to have to do so also with thousands of Cubans who bravely and spontaneously make statements for our reports. Nor am I a mercenary. I work and get a salary for my work with my press outlet.

What they want with their threats is that I stop being an independent journalist and dedicate myself to taking photos for birthdays and quinceañeras [girls’ 15th birthday celebrations – a major coming-of-age milestone].

Columbie: How do you define yourself?

Gonzalez: I am neither an opponent nor a dissident; I am a person who practices journalism in favor of the truth. If the government does something positive, I do an interview or a report about that topic, but if it does something negative, I also bring it to light. If an opponent commits an act of corruption, I bring it to light, and if he is making a move in favor of the people, I do as well. That’s how journalism should be: impartial.

Columbie: Why do you believe that the repression against you has become more intense now?

Gonzalez: The increasing growth of independent journalism is upsetting them. We unofficial reporters have had the opportunity to attend courses, improve ourselves, and the government doesn’t tolerate it. This improvement, this professionalism that journalists are acquiring, even the audio-visual media which shows the whole world the news as it is, it is hard for them to tolerate. They are trying to accuse us of illegalities. It is a zero-tolerance policy towards the independent press.

In the case of Hot Free Press we are making reports almost of the same quality as Cuban television, but with the difference that we are not censored. We are reaching people; we have managed to make people feel a little more confident with the independent press, to give their statements. We have even found among members of the public that they say that if it’s not for national television, they say whatever they want. They are more disposed to make statements to independent outlets because they know that the national press belongs to the government and simply does not work.

Columbie: Are other non-governmental press agencies going through the same situation?

Gonzalez: I have not seen the same attitude with the rest of the new supposedly independent programs, like Bola 8 or Mi Havana TV. These just have a lot of nonsense. Supposedly they are being financed by the self-employed, but I work in this industry, and I know that the self-employed cannot pay for a production like these programs are showing. There are diverse locations and entry to places to which the independent press does not have access.

Columbie: How would you define the practice of the press in Cuba outside of the official sphere?

Gonzalez: Being an independent journalist here is like being a war correspondent.

Translated by Mary Lou Keel

Cuba’s Private Restaurant Owners are Worried / 14ymedio, Luz Escobar

The Esteban Kitchen paladar (private restaurant) in Havana’s in Vedado district. (14ymedio)
The Esteban Kitchen paladar (private restaurant) in Havana’s in Vedado district. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana 20 October 2016 — Chinese, Italian or international food fill the menus of Cuban paladares, but lately fear has starred as the main dish on the menu of these private restaurants. The jewel in the crown of entrepreneurship on the island is experiencing moments of uncertainty after the government froze the issuing of licenses for these businesses run by the self-employed.

In recent months food and beverage outlets have watched a parade of pop stars, Hollywood actors, emblematic rock-and-rollers and even US President Barack Obama through their establishments, but it is a complicated time.

Even Camaguey province has been shocked, after the closure, at the beginning of this month, of three of the most important paladares operating in the city. Restaurant 1800 was searched by the police, who confiscated some of the furniture and arrested the owner, Edel Izquierdo. Two other paladares, Mi Hacienda and Papito Rizo’s Horseshoee, were also forced to close. Continue reading “Cuba’s Private Restaurant Owners are Worried / 14ymedio, Luz Escobar”

The suspension in the granting of new licenses for these premises has stoked fears about a possible backward step in the reforms undertaken by Raul Castro starting in 2008. Although officialdom has rushed to clarify that this is a temporary measure, a sense of a country going backwards to times of greater controls is felt on all sides.

The Acting Vice-President of the Provincial Administation in the capital, Isabel Hamze, declared on national television this Wednesday that “of the 135 license holders [of private restaurants] we met with 129 to alert them to a group of problems that cloud the services that they offer and we explained them that, with these exchanges ended, it was time to undertake an inspection.”

The official noted that during several meetings with owners of the private locales they discussed among other issues the consumption and sale of drugs inside restaurants, along with evidence of prostitution and pimping.

Hamze emphasized that those who acquired “money in Cuba or abroad illegally” in order to “bring it to the island and launder it,” need to be on guard. “Nowhere in the world is it legal to launder money and it is not permitted. We are not accusing anyone of doing it, we talked about where their capital comes from,” she said.


“The state can not compete with the privates, which in a short time have managed to run more efficient and attractive places for foreign and domestic customers,” a waiter of the centrally located Doña Eutimia Restaurant, nestled against the Havana Cathedral. The man believes that the current “storm will pass, because otherwise it would go against the times.”

Most owners of these private premises prefer to keep silent. “He who moved doesn’t end up in the photo,” joked a private restaurant owner on 23rd Street. “Everything is on hold, because no one dares to stand out now,” he added. “The repression of the paladares has come because some have become nightclubs with musical programs that attract a lot of people.”

According to updated data, more than 150,000 self-employed work in 201 occupations in Havana. There are more than 500 private restaurants throughout the capital.

In some locations it has become common to alternate good food with shows ranging from comedy, to magic, to fashion. Lately, the celebrated King Bar has sent out invitations to spend October 30, Halloween night, with costumes and frights.

The government undertakes inspections to guarantee strict compliance with the rules that govern the operations of these establishments: no more than 50 seats, limited hours, and the purchase of supplies exclusively in state stores with receipts to prove it.

However, several entrepreneurs consulted by this newspaper agree that it is difficult to manage a private restaurant following the letter of the law. The shortages often experienced in the markets that sell in Cuban convertible pesos, the lack of a wholesale market, and the prohibition against commercial imports, hobble the sector and push owners to the informal market.

In the Labor and Social Security Office on B Street between 21st and 23rd in Havana, this Tuesday, it was not possible to get a license to open a paladar. “The licenses of those who already have them are not suspended,” but “the issuing of new licenses has been halted,” declared an official to the nervous entrepreneurs who came to the site for more information.

The measure was preceded by meetings with the owners of paladares where they were warned to comply with the law; officials from the National Tax Administration Office (ONAT) and the police were at the meetings. The answer has been felt immediately on the menus of the most emblematic places, which have reduced their offerings to what can be purchased in the state retail network.

The Don Quijote paladar (private restaurant) on 23rd Street in Havana’s Vedado district. (14ymedio)
The Don Quijote paladar (private restaurant) on 23rd Street in Havana’s Vedado district. (14ymedio)

Lobster and beef have been among the first items to disappear from the menus, as most of these products are purchased on the black market from suppliers who circumvent police roadblocks to bring them to the city.

The law criminalizes very severely the theft and illegal slaughter of cattle – which is nearly all slaughter of cattle outside the state system – in addition to the “illegal abetting” of such goods. Due to the decrease in the number of cattle, to a little more than 4 million today, the Government considers any irregularities in the slaughter and marketing of these animals to be a serious violation of Penal Code.

However, of the 1,700 private restaurants that offer the country has many typical dishes known as ropa vieja and vaca frita, among other dishes made from beef. Given the current onslaught of the authorities, a stealthy slogan is in play: survive and wait out the storm.

Tom Malinowski Speaks with the Independent Cuban Press / 14ymedio, Miriam Celaya

Tom Malinowski, Deputy Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, held a meeting with independent journalists in Havana this Saturday
Tom Malinowski, Deputy Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, held a meeting with independent journalists in Havana this Saturday

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 15 October 2016 — The second round of talks on Human Rights took place this past Friday between the governments of Cuba and the United States, as part of the ongoing dialogue initiated when relations were restored.

In line with the importance of the issue and in relation with the relevance that the US government has granted him, this Saturday, Thomas Malinowski — Deputy Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor- who co-chaired the US delegation, together with Mrs. Mari Carmen Aponte, Acting Assistant Secretary for Affairs of the Western Hemisphere — met with independent journalists Ignacio González and Miriam Celaya, to discuss topics that were debated on that occasion.

Unlike the previous meeting held in Washington on March 31, 2015, this time both sides delved deeply into human rights issues, on which they hold opposing positions. Continue reading “Tom Malinowski Speaks with the Independent Cuban Press / 14ymedio, Miriam Celaya”

Malinowski: “I don’t expect to be able to persuade the Cuban government about how we consider human rights should be applied in Cuba”

“I don’t expect to be able to persuade the Cuban government about how we consider human rights should be applied in Cuba, but we consider human rights as an important and permanent item on our agenda,” said Malinowski. While acknowledging the opposing stances of the two governments, he considers that these meetings are of great value because, on the one hand, they reflect the common agreement of both governments on addressing that the issue of human rights in the rapprochement process is legitimate; and on the other hand, it has been established that the basis for these freedoms is upheld in international standards that establish the universal character of human rights, recognized and signed by our two countries.

“The result is positive. At least the Cuban government is not refusing to discuss human rights, and does not deny that they are also applicable to Cuba, though the legal interpretation of the principles is defined differently in our countries”.

Both sides discussed related laws and international treaties that confirm the universality and protection of fundamental rights, such as freedom of association, freedom to join unions, and electoral systems, among others. About the last item, the US side fully explained the characteristics of its electoral system and inquired about the Cuban system, particularly the obstacles faced by opponents and critics of the Cuban government to aspire to political office.

“For our part, we recognize that our system is not perfect. But in the US human rights violations are made public, and there are ways and mechanisms to force politicians to fulfill their commitments and obligations”.

Cuban laws, however, are designed so that the Power can manipulate them according to its interests, with no civic or legal mechanisms to force the government to observe the principles enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, signed in 1948.

Malinowski asserted that the US government is committed to the debate on human rights at every meeting with the Cuban authorities, but he insists that it is not their place to interfere in Cuban politics, which is a matter for the government and the people of Cuba. He believes that dialogue is proceeding on the basis of mutual respect, despite differences in respective viewpoints on the subject. However, he believes that frank conversations about the realities of our nations create a more positive and beneficial climate for all than does the policy of confrontation that maintained a breach between the two countries.

There are pockets of the dissidence that remain critical or skeptical of the White House’s new policy of a thaw towards the Palace of the Revolution

There are pockets of the dissidence that remain critical or skeptical of the White House’s new policy of a thaw towards the Palace of the Revolution. Some people assume that it only favors the Castro regime, and complain that the demands of opponents are not represented on the agenda.

In that vein, Malinowski said: “We have maintained contact with all of Cuban civil society. Not only with opponents, independent journalists and other sectors of civil society, but also with representatives of the emerging private sector and even the sectors that are in tune with the Cuban government. We want to hear all opinions, aspirations and proposals to form a more complete picture of the aspirations of the Cuban people. We share and defend the defense of human rights and our government will continue with this policy”.

According to Malinowski, a climate of detente favors the desires to strengthen the ties between our peoples, and to promote a mutual approach after half a century of estrangement and hostility. In fact, in the last two years, exchanges between the US and Cuba have increased and diversified, as evidenced –for example — by the participation of young Cubans in scholarship programs in US universities

When asked how the US government viewed Cuban authorities’ insistence on spreading through its media monopoly a distorted interpretation of the topics discussed at the bilateral meetings, Malinowski stated that this encounter with the independent press was exactly a way to get a more complete view to Cubans about information on the issues discussed between the two delegations.

At the end of the meeting, the Deputy Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor recognized the importance of the views and suggestions received by the US delegation from many sectors of Cuban society. “Without their remarks and views, without their participation, our agenda for these meetings on human rights with the Cuban government would not be possible. We appreciate the contributions of all Cubans. We are open to continuing to listen to all proposals, whether they come from those who support the dialogue process or from its detractors”.

Translated by Norma Whiting

“God bless you!”: The Unusual ‘Goodbye’ from a Cuban Official to Dagoberto Valdes

Summons issued to Dagoberto Valdes
Summons issued to Dagoberto Valdes

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 19 October 2016 – The director of the Center for Coexistence Studies (CEC), Dagoberto Valdes, presented himself at ten o’clock on Wednesday morning at the headquarters of the State Security at Kilometer 4.5 of the highway to San Juan in Pinar del Rio, after receiving a summons to “address legal issues.” The interview, however, only “lasted half a minute,” the intellectual told 14ymedio.

“We presented ourselves at Kilometer 4.5, which is like the Villa Marista [a harsh State Security prison in Hvana] of here, the whole Coexistence team and myself. I gave the receptionist the summons, and she asked me to wait a moment,” he explained. Continue reading ““God bless you!”: The Unusual ‘Goodbye’ from a Cuban Official to Dagoberto Valdes”

According to the director of Coexistence, three minutes later an official who presented himself as the duty officer in charge of the unit came out and invited him to enter an office and, without even offering him a seat, told him that Lieutenant Colonel Osvaldo, with whom the interview had originally been scheduled, had to leave the province unexpectedly and so he was free to leave.

On leaving, Valdes explained, the captain in charge of the unit said, “God bless you!” to which he replied with a similar greeting.

“I take this opportunity to thank wholeheartedly the immense solidarity received from friends and brothers from many countries and institutions, as well as the prayers of pastors and brothers of different faiths,” Valdes said after the meeting.

“This summons to appear is a part of the measures for all kinds of people who have been called to speak to the police. Independent journalists, artists and bloggers, the self-employed, have experienced this new wave of repression,” he told14ymedio by phone.

This September, members of the Coexistence team reported that at least nine of them had been subjected to police interrogations. The activists were forced to suspend the program My Neighborhood A Community, due to pressure from State Security, which included operations stationing people around several homes, arrests and cutting cell phone service for event organizers.

Valdes said he did not fear the encounter with the authorities, because everything they do in the CEC “is transparent and for the good of Cuba.”

Valdes acknowledged that members of his team had been summoned to appear in recent weeks by police stations, “one to one”, so the only one missing was him.

“This is a step in the middle of the escalation we are experiencing. It is the first time they have cited me since the resumption of relations between the US and Cuba,” he added.

The Coexistence Studies Center focuses on training for citizenship and civil society in Cuba. Among its activities is the publication of the magazine Convivencia (Coexistence), the discussion of proposals for the future of the island, and the exchange ideas of about Cuba’s current situation.

Based in the province of Pinar del Rio, the independent entity is conceived as a think tank to “think about the national home that we desire, to contribute to the reconstruction of the human person and the fabric of civil society.”

Cuba’s Private Restaurants, Struggling Not to Die of Success / EFE-14ymedio, Lorena Canto

The famous and government higher ups choose private restaurants for their meals in Cuba. Rihanna at the La Fontana paladar. (Twitter)
The famous and government higher ups choose private restaurants for their meals in Cuba. Rihanna at the La Fontana paladar. (Twitter)

EFE/via 14ymedio, Lorena Canto, Havana – Private restaurants, popularly known as paladares (palates), are under the scrutiny of the Cuban government, which has temporarily suspended the granting of licenses in the sector due to alleged breaches of rules in a booming industry that perfectly illustrates the new economy of the island.

“There has been very strong growth in a short time and it has gotten out of hand,” the self-employed owner of a very famous private restaurant in Havana told EFE, as she prepared for inspections by the authorities in the coming weeks.

In Cuba where, with the lack of official confirmations, the rumor mill runs riot, a few days ago alarm spread among paladares on hearing that the owners of the most prominent had been called to meetings – by neighborhood – with government officials. Continue reading “Cuba’s Private Restaurants, Struggling Not to Die of Success / EFE-14ymedio, Lorena Canto”

There they were told that there would be no new licenses for private restaurants in the capital, and that there would be a round of strict inspections to ensure that those now in operation were complying with the law: no more than 50 seats, respect for the established hours, and provisioning only with products purchased in state stores for which they can show the receipts.

“The atmosphere is now very unclear,” another owner of a pioneering paladar, who also asked not to be named, told EFE.

So, the dining industry’s private proprietors, awaiting the dreaded inspections, fell into a paranoid spiral, which included hiding any merchandise not obtained through official means and redoing the menus to include only dishes and drinks made with ingredients for which they can show the receipts.

Bottles of premium liquor that came to Cuba in a suitcase, exotic ingredients or the celebrated lobsters, almost impossible to acquire by legal means and bought directly from fishermen, remain under lock and key these days, waiting for the dust to settle.

The problem is that the regulations governing self-employment, which are part of the economic reforms introduced by Raul Castro in the last decade, still have large gaps, like the lack of rules governing private workers on the communist island, or a wholesale supply market.

“It’s about sorting out a sector that started out as a part of the family economy and has become an important part of the country’s economy,” explained the same owner.

For some time now, the paladares have no longer been in the living rooms of a private house where the lady of the house cooked for four tourists, who in this way were given a peek into the daily life of a Cuban family.

There are 1,700 licensed paladares in Cuba, hundreds of them in Havana, restaurants that rival international standards in quality, in original décor and in service, and that from the beginning of the thaw with the United States two years ago have received visitors such as Barack Obama, Madonna and The Rolling Stones.

But in addition to competing with each other, they also compete with ordinary Cubans at the supermarkets, because one of the great problems of the industry is that it must be supplied at the same outlets as the rest of the population, given the lack of any wholesale market, the opening of which would be in the state’s hands alone.

“The competition for products creates unrest among the population, although it is not the direct fault of the self-employed,” says the same source.

In the state supermarkets – the only kind that exist in Cuba – EFE was able to observe how national brands of beer barely last an hour on the shelves, as the restaurants carry them out by the box full. The same thing happens with soft drinks and products like chicken breasts and milk.

Hence, she adds, the private restaurants have long demanded a wholesale market, which would also benefit the authorities “because it would allow better fiscal control over the purchase invoices.”

Another nuance of the situation, says one source, is the “special sensitivity” of the government to issues such as prostitution and drug trafficking, banned and severely punished on the Island, or access for minors to places where alcohol is served.

The current legislation provides licenses only for restaurants and cafes, so under these categories night bars have begun to proliferate, some of which have been closed down in recent weeks, although this has not been confirmed by any official source.


Escape Or Get Married: The Dilemma Of Cuban Doctors In Brazil / 14ymedio, Mario Penton

The Cuban doctor Yohan Batista Martí when he resided as a volunteer in Brazil. (Courtesy)
The Cuban doctor Yohan Batista Martí when he resided as a volunteer in Brazil. (Courtesy)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miami, 16 October 2016 — Yohan Batista Martí spent nearly four months hiding to avoid persecution by the authorities of the Cuban Medical Mission in Brazil. Like him, thousands of Cuban doctors have fled to the United States before the date of their return to the island. Escaping or marrying a local resident are the best options for these health professionals.

“I had to hide. I commented to the Brazilian in charge of the mission that I was going to Cuba on vacation and that was how I escaped from the region of Piaui in the north, but when they realized I had defected they began to look for me,” Batista told this newspaper. Continue reading “Escape Or Get Married: The Dilemma Of Cuban Doctors In Brazil / 14ymedio, Mario Penton”

The cooperation program with Brazil was announced three years ago as a “stimulus mission” for the best Cuban professionals. The initiative was officially launched to support Brazil’s Workers Party (PT) and then-President Dilma Rousseff, considered a “friend of Cuba.”

During their work in the program each doctor receives a salary equivalent to 1,000 dollars US, 600 paid in Brazil and the other 400 deposited in a bank on the island and payable on their return. This represents less than one-third of the $3,300 that the Brazilian government pays the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) to be paid to the state Cuban Medical Services.

Many doctors, however, pass up the money accumulated in Cuba and choose to flee. Throughout the country, this year alone, 1,439 health professionals have escaped Brazil to the United States, taking advantage of the US Professional Parole program, a visa program started under President George W. Bush which over the last decade has brought more than 8,000 of these workers to the US.

Other doctors have resorted to the option of marrying Brazilian citizens to avoid forced return.

“The Cuban government benefited from the money due us and now they want others to come so they can do the same,” a doctor working in the region of Minas Gerais and who requested anonymity told this newspaper. The health professional says they are “alarmed” by the increase in marriages between Cubans and Brazilians for the former to obtain residency.

Marriages with foreigners and loving relationships are a taboo subject on the missions. The disciplinary regulations of civil workers abroad regulates that “if any loving relationship develops with natives it must be reported immediately and be consistent with the revolutionary thought of our stay and in no measure be excessive” (sic).

In June 2015, a case came into the public spotlight and exposed the limitations under which Cuban doctors live. After nine months of a legal battle the Cuban doctor Adrian Estrada Barber managed to marry the Brazilian pharmacist Letícia Santos Pedroso. “I met the woman of my life,” said the proud husband on hearing the court ruling.

Estrada Barber is just one case among hundreds. During the first ten months of this year more than 1,600 Cuban doctors took the exam to revalidate their titles in Brazil and win contracts on their own. They make up the largest group of foreigners who have applied for recognition of their university degree in the South American giant.

After the impeachment of Dilma Rousseff, the Cuban government pressured the Brazilian authorities to renegotiate the medical contract and obtained a 9% increase in payment. The Plaza of the Revolution also achieved an increase of 10% for food for doctors in indigenous areas, which will be effective in January 2017.

The government of Raul Castro has demanded the doctors return to the island when their “lease” expires. After much prodding, Brazilian authorities managed to get Cuba to reluctantly reauthorize the married doctors to be contracted for another three years.

Brazilian Minister of Health Ricardo Barros declared that in the middle of this year he had asked the Cuban Government and the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) to relax the conditions that force the doctors to return to the island, because,”More than 1,000 have married Brazilians and some have children,” the official said.

After hiding as a fugitive, Batista currently lives in Miami. From that city he related how he first tried to flee to Argentina but then traveled to Brasilia to seek refuge in the US embassy. “Everything has to be done in secret. A colleague in Venezuela who said she wanted to leave the mission was accused of a robbery that never happened and returned to Cuba,” he recalls.

Although he is a general practitioner abd also has a specialty in physical rehabilitation medicine he has had to start from scratch in Miami. “I deliver results of laboratory tests and study to revalidate my title,” he says proudly, while helping others through social networks to “restore the dignity of Cuban medicine.”­­­

Indian Workers Earn “Three Or Four Times More” Than Cubans, According To The Official Press / 14ymedio, Mario Penton

"Indian workers are three to four times more productive than Cuban workers."
“Indian workers are three to four times more productive than Cuban workers.”

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miami, 17 October 2016 — Three months after the revelation of the presence of workers from India in the construction of a luxury hotel in Havana, on Saturday the Cuban press mentioned, and tried to explain, the fact that domestic workers have been replaced by foreign workers with the argument that the Asians perform “three or four times” better.

“The result of their work is very high quality. Their presence results in taking great advantage of the workday, resulting in greater productivity,” said a report by the journalist Marianela Martin, published in Juventud Rebelde (Rebel Youth) and reproduced on the website Cubadebate. Continue reading “Indian Workers Earn “Three Or Four Times More” Than Cubans, According To The Official Press / 14ymedio, Mario Penton”

What the Cuban newspaper does not mention is that, according to Reuters, the wages paid by the French company Bouygues to the Indian builders is some 1,600 dollars a month, 53 times more than Cubans doing the same work are paid (some 30 dollars). In the best of cases, with a bonus included, Cubans can earn a maximum of 100 dollars a month, with the Asians still earning 16 times more.

As the main reason for the hiring of foreigners, the directors of the Almest Real Estate Company argue the mobility of people trained in Cuban schools, who seek better paid work.

The publication notes, however, that “there is a permanent improvement” in the living conditions of the Cuban workers, among which it cites the constant assurance of work. Another “privilege” mentioned is “transportation from the shelters where they live to the worksite” and “the food offered is good, and so are the conditions where they spend the night.”

It also mentions “a study for the application of a new payment system,” but clarifies that it will not be “wage reform.”

Experts consulted by this newspaper corroborated that contracting for foreign personnel for tourist projects in Cuba is a common practice, but the case of the Indian workers is notable for the numbers involved. They are not only working in Havana, but also in the construction of several hotels in Varadero and other areas of the country.

The civil engineer Bladimir Ayra Estrada, vice president of the Arcos BBI International Economic Partnership, involved in construction in Cuba, explains that “with the presence of workers from India in the projects, jobs that have been lost are being recovered.”

The Manzana Gomez hotel is being rebuilt in Havana.
The Manzana hotel is being rebuilt in Havana.

According to Ayra Estrada, along with the Indian workers, Cubans are being put to work to learn the trades. The manager recognized that his business is taking fundamental advantage of recent graduates in technical courses related to construction, because they leave after finishing their social service (a three year period in which graduated students must work in the specialty in which they graduated).

Electricians, carpenters, plumbers and masons working on Cuban hotels being built in tourist areas are usually hired through the 13 employment agencies in the country. These are state enterprises created to recruit the best of the skilled workers on the island. They hire workers for wages in Cuban pesos (CUP) and in some cases with bonuses in Cuban Convertible pesos (CUC: 1 CUC = 25 CUP) while offering their services to foreign companies, adjusting their prices in dollars. It is a business that allows the state to realize significant gains, as it gets most of the benefits*.

text text tet
Indian workers in Cuba / Monthly salaries in dollars

The Cuban government is committed to promoting tourism as a way to boost its stagnant economy. Last year Cuba hosted more than three and a half million tourists, so it has had to make major adjustments and investments to balance the demand for rooms with supply.

The Manzana hotel, where the largest contingent of Indians is working, is located in Manzana de Gómez, which was the first major commercial center of the Cuban capital. Completion is scheduled for early 2017 and the project will be operated by the Kempinski International Hotel Chain and the Business Administration Group (GAESA), which belongs to the Cuban Armed Forces.

*Translator’s note: The State agencies collect the wages paid for the Cuban workers and pass on to the workers only a small share, retaining the rest in the government coffers.

‘Periodismo De Barrio’ Discovers The Harsh Reality Of Repression Against The Press / 14ymedio

The team of Periodismo de Barrio before departing for Baracoa. Elaine Diaz is front right. (Facebook)
The team of Periodismo de Barrio before departing for Baracoa. Elaine Diaz is front right. (Facebook)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 17 October 2016 — In an editorial published Monday, the independent medium Periodosmo de Barrio (Neighborhood Journalism) distances itself from the ruling party to explain the circumstances of the arrest of its director, Elaine Diaz, and several members of her team while covering, last week, the damage left by the hurricane Matthew in Baracoa in Guantánamo province.

Entitled “Who Has The Right to Tell a Country’s Stories? All Its Citizens,” the article states that the arrests were illegal given that the team from “Periodismo de Barrio didn’t violate any law.” The editorial explains that the authorities referred to a supposed state of emergency in force in the east of the island because of the hurricane, but, “This last statement does not have the legal status required to declare a state of emergency under the Constitution.” Continue reading “‘Periodismo De Barrio’ Discovers The Harsh Reality Of Repression Against The Press / 14ymedio”

After noting that Cuban legislation does not limit the exercise of journalism in areas affected by natural disasters, the text highlights that, during the two days the reporters remained under arrest, “No charges were filed against us nor were any members of the Periodismo de Barrio team accused of crimes,” which apparently confirmed the lack of motives to detain them.

Despite this, the members of the team were searched and their belongings confiscated. In addition, the three women “were physically searched by an official to seek other technological means they could have hidden in their bodies, treatment given to pre-criminal cases.”

The Periodismo de Barrio team sees in these events an opportunity to reflect on the role of the press in Cuba and the denounce the “monopolization of information” by the state.

“It is not possible to tell the truth about Cuba from a single version, or from unanimous versions, which amount to one.” It blames monopolies for the lack of the pluralism society needs, saying, “TV channels, radio stations, print publications, publishers, changed ownership but were not socialized. Socializing is not nationalizing. There are not good and bad monopolies. All monopolization, realized by the State, by a person or a corporation, ends up curtailing freedoms.”

The editorial denounces that, “The State, for more than 50 years has avoided requiring reporters to think about the economic dimension of the activity they carry out thanks to financing their means of production,” and explains that Periodismo de Barrio faces economic problems, lacking support from the authorities.

The media, the editorial reveals, uses the online PayPal service, despite its inaccessibility in Cuba due to the US embargo on the island. “The strategy is simple: use the account of a collaborator and friend resident in another country and then send money to Cuba using remittances through a legal agency,” it says. And adds, “Those who today question the funding mechanisms of Periodismo de Barrio are forgetting that journalism costs money.”

For the team of journalists, the organs of state security not only limit the right of speech and press guaranteed by the Constitution, ” but also the freedom of speech of each individual who chooses to speak to the media.”

“On October 11, the Cuban authorities tried to define who is entitled to tell the stories of our country. Because we believe that right belongs to the entire Cuban citizenship, because these stories need to be told, we will return to Baracoa, Imías and Maisí once the emergency is over,” adds the editorial.

Without over-elaborating, the editorial condemns the “arbitrary detention of journalists anywhere in the world [and] in Cuba.” It was not always so. Elaine Diaz came to be known through her blog La Polémica Digital (Digital Controversy), which was presented in another era by officialdom as a “revolutionary” alternative to the critical blogosphere that broke onto the Cuban scene in 2007.

In a chapter of the government’s TV series “Cuba’s Reasons,” Elaine Diaz was interviewed in her role as a professor at the School of Communication at the University of Havana a counterpart to bloggers critical of the Government that were defined in the program as “cyber-terrorists.” In her blog, Diaz avoided for years any statement of solidarity on the arrests of independent journalists who have characterized the Cuba of the past two decades.

Today, after the humiliations suffered at the hands of State Security, the Director Periodismo de Barrio has become aware of the enormous obstacles put in place by the authorities to the exercise a free press in Cuba. However, the editorial says nothing of other independent journalists arrested in Baracoa in the same circumstances.

The Nobel Goes to a Street Minstrel / 14ymedio, Ernesto Santana

Bob Dylan won the Nobel Literature Prize in 2016 for creating a new poetic expression within the great tradition of American song. (EFE)
Bob Dylan won the Nobel Literature Prize in 2016 for creating a new poetic expression within the great tradition of American song. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Ernesto Santana, Havana, 15 October 2016 – Like almost everything related to him, the fact that Bob Dylan received the Nobel Prize in Literature this Thursday has raised a media dust storm. Some celebrate, others criticize, some mock. The troubadour, regardless of the uproar, continues on his way.

On behalf of the Swedish Academy, Sara Danius said that the prize was awarded for “for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition,” adding, “Bob Dylan is a great poet. As simple as that. A great poet in the great tradition of English, Milton and Blake forward. ”

A few have complained that the Nobel should have gone to Philip Roth or Don DeLillo, or the novelist Haruki Murakami or Syrian poet Adonis. But the choice of the American singer-songwriter has been a surprise, although nobody was surprised that he had been nominated for years. Continue reading “The Nobel Goes to a Street Minstrel / 14ymedio, Ernesto Santana”

Although he published Tarantula and a part of his autobiography, Dylan is not a prose writer. He is a poet with a guitar. Such diverse writers as Salman Rushdie and Marguerite Yourcenar have always considered him a great poet.

His importance in the musical world has been greatly talked about. His invention of a new type of song, his work as a precursor of rap and hip-hop, his weight in the evolution of rock, his masterful incorporation of various musical genres to form a vast and unclassifiable work. They say he himself complained that “there is no Nobel Prize for music.”

The musician Robert Allen Zimmerman started calling himself Bob Dylan because of his early devotion to the Welsh poet Dylan Thomas and, as he himself confessed, Jack Kerouac’s poetry inspired him to enter the world of trova.

It was not only the author of On The Road that inspired him, but also other greats of the Beat Generation, such as Neal Cassady, William Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg – the latter of whom accompanied him on tour and at concerts – and who ended up seeing him not as a disciple, but as the generational spokesperson for the turbulent sixties.

Not only were many eminent poets impressed with the deep epic breath or lyrical themes such as Like A Rolling Stone, All Along The Watchtower and Knockin ‘On Heaven’s Door. For successive generations of songwriters and countless mass audiences, Dylan has been the revealer of unprecedented images, the wizard of golden words.

He has often been compared with Leonard Cohen, recognized as a good storyteller and poet, besides being a great lyricist, but there is significant distance between the scope of the Canadian artist and the American one, beyond the greater quality as a musician of the latter. It is no wonder that Dylan has been the standard raised in so many battles – artistic and otherwise – of the second half of the 20th century, a battle waged with Cohen who has managed to be a less tempting diamond.

Those who would like a Nobelist with more published works don’t acknowledge as such the books collecting the lyrics of Dylan’s songs which generally also appear on the covers of his albums. His lyrics have generated an entire literature – not to mention the writers influenced by them – about their significance, use of language, probable ideology, etc., along with the abundant academic studies of his poetry.

Bob Dylan has been described as a prophet of a new era, social leader, spokesman for the dispossessed, folk idol, rock superstar, example of committed artist, great balladeer of love, counterculture guide and, finally, among other things, as king of the protest song.

He has always been more than a musician, filmmaker or painter, writer or revolutionary of art: a poet in the broadest sense of the word. Free artist par excellence who did not fall into pathos or ridicule, like many during the Cold War, nor did he accept the warmongering violence of revolutionary bullying, and he was not fooled by reactionaries nor seduced by progressives.

Those who venerate the New Cuban Trova and the new Latin American song know that its principal singers owe him an incalculable debt, but they forget that, unlike most of them, Dylan never compromised with tyrants of any stripe. For him, more important than left or right are up and down.

Ultimately, the decisive factor is that Bob Dylan doesn’t need a Nobel Prize. He has several great prizes already, some of which he didn’t even go to collect. Nobody thinks very much about them when they speak of him.

In the European Middle Ages, the troubadours carried the mastersinger, their body of lyric and epic work, through a world without borders, wandering. There is no better way to speak of the work of this man who, although he doesn’t need the money from his concerts, continues on the road.

Although outside the United States his concerts represent a major cultural event, within the country you are as likely to see him at a simple county fair, on a college campus or on an Indian reservation, although he doesn’t go out into public very much. It is as if he would not let his guitar languish for any prize. As if he would not surrender the endless route of the eternal bards.

“He not busy being born is busy dying,” he sings on that endless road that is his only real prize.

Spanish Airline Air Nostrum Offers Use Of Its Aircraft To Avoid Embargo / 14ymedio

Air Nostrum is offering its aircraft to Cuba to connect the island with the United States. (Air Nostrum)
Air Nostrum is offering its aircraft to Cuba to connect the island with the United States. (Air Nostrum)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 14 October 2016 — Executives of the Spanish airline Air Nostrum have offered Cuban authorities the use of their aircraft to travel from Cuba to the United States and the Caribbean, in an attempt to evade the mechanisms of the US embargo, by which the assets of the Cuban State could be seized in the United States to compensate the victims of expropriations at the beginning of the 1959 Revolution.

Carlos Bertomeu, President of Air Nostrum, explained that his initiative has the backing of the Iberia company, for which Latin America is a highly strategic market. Bertomeu spoke from Havana, where a Spanish business mission organized by the Council of Chambers of Commerce of Valencia and the Valencian Community and Generalitat is exploring business options in Cuba. Continue reading “Spanish Airline Air Nostrum Offers Use Of Its Aircraft To Avoid Embargo / 14ymedio”

The opening of flights between Cuba and the United States have so far operated in only one direction for fear of confiscation of the property of the Cuban State, which could be seized to satisfy the claims American citizens whose properties in Cuba were expropriated by the state in the sixties.

With the proposal of Air Nostrum, the Valencian company would provide the flights, while Cuban Aviation would run the marketing. Bertomeu has experience in this type of business with other companies such as Iberia and Scandinavian Airlines.

“The market between Cuba and the United States is already real. The potential is enormous,” the President of Air Nostrum said, referring to a possible lifting of the US embargo on the island.

“We have an excellent fleet of short and medium haul planes. And we are convinced that there is enough demand in any corridor,” he said.

The information contrasts however with the actual numbers of air traffic between the two countries. According to a report published by the Miami newspaper, El Nuevo Herald, of 30 daily flights from American Airlines in the first five days of this week, “only two filled half their capacity and some only had 12 or 13 passengers.”

The Valencia Community has the fourth highest level of trade with Cuba of any Spanish region. Last year bilateral trade reached 100 million dollars.

Information as Treason / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

"For the retrograde Cuban officialdom all cats are gray." (EFE)
“For the retrograde Cuban officialdom all cats are gray.” (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Generation Y, 14 October 2016 – Authoritarians aren’t very given to calm. They need the citizens to feel widespread discomfort to be able to govern them with ease. This scenario of fears has sharpened recently in Cuba, where the government has strengthened or opened new fronts against the opposition, against the self-employed, against young people who aspire to a scholarships to study in the United States, and, especially, against the independent press.

The battle drums sound and the main enemy is embodied on this occasion by journalists not affiliated with the state media who are reporting on the damage caused by Hurricane Matthew. The government is opposed to “private sites, or those openly in service to the counterrevolution” giving “an image, not of a different, but of a distorted reality,” according to an article published this Thursday in the official newspaper, Granma. Continue reading “Information as Treason / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez”

The Granma article, titled “Matthew: Humanism, Transparency and Manipulation” is barely a skirmish in the escalation of recent weeks against publications that have escaped Communist Party control. What is new is that this time the attack reaches certain areas of the independent press that have fought tooth and nail not to be included in the sack of “enemies.”

The current offensive against them, embodied in the arrests suffered by the Periodismo de Barrio team and its director Elaine Diaz, the threats against Fernando Ravsberg about a possible expulsion from the country, and the sanction against Holguin journalist Ramirez Pantoja, show that for the retrograde Cuba officialdom all cats are grey, or, and it’s the same thing: the journalist who doesn’t applaud with sufficient enthusiasm is a traitor.

The official onslaught has reached the report by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) on the situation of the press in Cuba, a study prepared with the cooperation of Ernesto Londoño, a journalist for The New York Times whose editorials in favor of the thaw with the United States were, until recently, praised by Cuba’s government press.

Now… now we’ve all been tossed into the same sack.

It serves the new victims not at all to distance themselves from those who have been stigmatized by official propaganda on prime time television programs. There is little to be gained today by the acrimonious official rejection of independent journalism born in the nineties. Nor even that abomination of “controversial” or dissident bloggers as they publicly insist they are guided by a leftist ideology.

None of that matters. Because what is happening now is a clash between two eras. An era in which the Cuban Communist Party could control, decide and manipulate at will all the information published in the island’s media. A time when we learned weeks later that the Berlin Wall had fallen, and when the images of the 1994 Maleconazo uprising in Havana itself were whisked off the front pages of the national dailies. This era is dying and another is being born, thanks to new technologies, to many journalists’ commitment to the truth, and to the growing eagerness to be informed displayed by many Cubans.

However, to the Plaza of the Revolution, accustomed to deciding each headline and appointing the directors of every newspaper, radio and TV station, it matters little whether the new object of their animosity is a fashion magazine, a sports publication or an information site. If it doesn’t have the Party’s seal on it any attempt to inform will be seen as a declaration of war.

As long as Cuban journalists fail to recognize that beyond their editorial nuances, their phobias or their individual ideological affiliations they must unite and protect each other, officialdom will continue to land these blows. They will demonize, arrest and confiscate the tools of the trade, whether the journalists they are talking about the migrations of birds of prey or acts of repudiation suffered by the opposition.

The only thing worth distancing ourselves from right now is letting the forces most opposed to free information tear us apart. Separated, we are just journalists at the mercy of the whims of power; together we are united in a vigorous and needed profession.

Let this article serve to transmit my solidarity to all my colleagues who today are in the crosshairs of repression, whatever their editorial line, the focus of their work or the color of the dreams they cherish for our country.

Cuban Independent Press Grows Despite Censorship / 14ymedio

Cuban independent press has been marked by two opposing phenomena: censorship and growth. (Luz Escobar)
Cuban independent press has been marked by two opposing phenomena: censorship and growth. (Luz Escobar)

14ymedio, Havana, 13 October 2016 – The Cuban independent press has been marked by two opposing phenomena: censorship and growth, according to the report on Cuba published by the Inter American Press Association (IAPA) on Thursday.

The document prepared for the association made up of representatives from more than 1,300 publications of the Americas by Yoani Sanchez in her role as regional vice president for Cuba for IAPA’s Committee on Freedom of the Press and Information, concludes that “despite the material and legal obstacles that limit it, Cuba’s independent press is experiencing a good moment with regards to creativity, diversification and the issues and formal proposals it addresses.” In addition, it notes that the official press has not escaped a certain new wave and has realized, in recent times, an effort to address issues and perspectives closer to the citizenry,” although it has not managed to “free itself from the iron partisan limitations.” Continue reading “Cuban Independent Press Grows Despite Censorship / 14ymedio”

Among the novelties in the independent field El Estornudo (The Sneeze), Periodismo de Barrio (Neighborhood Journalism), the magazine OnCuba and the platform El Toque (The Knock) stand out. In the blogosphere there is an expanded variety of topics related to the citizenry, the rights of the LGBT community, sports, fashion and technology. In addition, new technologies allow more and more for non-official media to cross borders and to be reflected in the foreign press, amplifying their message.

However, the enemies to beat remain the same: primarily the lack of connectivity, increasing censorship, and self-censorship, which arises as a consequence of the fear caused by arrests, interrogations or seizures of material. The report details the cases of several detentions of journalists and reporters for independent media, among them the recent arrests of staff members of Periodismo de Barrio when they prepared to report from Guantanamo on the situation of the victims of Hurricane Matthew.

But this year has been mainly characterized by public complaints from journalists who work for official media and who have spoken out against government policies in that media. Among the examples is the letter signed by young journalists published by Vanguardia in which they demand their right to collaborate with other media. “We can not and will not be able to improve Cuban journalist as long as political information is not finally freed of its ties to institutions and official sources,” they argued.

In this context, also cited is the case of José Ramón Ramírez Pantoja, a reporter for Radio Holguin ruling means removed from office for posting on his blog the words of a deputy director of the official Party newspaper Granma on the complex economic situation in Cuba.

In the technological arena, the report addresses the importance of the Weekly Packet as the germ of a future private television channel in Cuba, and the creation of the app offline which helps to fill the gaps in internet connectivity given that, despite the implementation of numerous wifi points across the island, access to the network continues to be very limited and the provision of individual connections in people’s homes continues to be a chimera.

The Thaw Is Upsetting The Penguins / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

Video frame at All For A Free Cuba event. Alen Lauzán,
Video frame at All For A Free Cuba event. Alen Lauzán,

14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 13 October 2016 — The thaw between the US and Cuba, which has not yet risen to the level of normalized relations, has been greeted with mixed reactions by the Cuban opposition and independent civil society.

We cannot speak of an extreme polarization, because although the dissenting side registers very sharp tones, with abounding arguments and no lack of insults, the other side has never risen to explicit applause, or at most reaching a pragmatic acceptance of the fait accompli and a search for new strategies in the current scenario.

The recently concluded meeting of All for A Free Cuba gathered in Miami some 30 exile organizations along with guests from the island, with the express purpose of demanding “a real democratic change in Cuba.” The majority of participants disapproved of rapprochement between Washington and Havana, supported the US embargo and is committed to “overthrow the dictatorship of the Castro brothers” through a social explosion. Continue reading “The Thaw Is Upsetting The Penguins / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar”

Jorge Luis García Pérez, known as Antúnez, Berta Soler, on behalf of the Ladies in White, and Antonio González Rodiles, from the Forum of Rights and Freedoms, all promoters of initiatives based on direct confrontation with the repressive forces of the regime, fraternized there with the crème de la crème of the historical exile, including Cuban-American politicians Lincoln Diaz-Balart, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Mario Diaz Balart and Miami mayor Tomas Regalado, all prominent members of the Republican Party and militant opponents of Barack Obama’s policy toward Cuba.

Emphasizing the smallness of the timid reforms undertaken by the government of Raul Castro, this group insists that the change must be “real” and distances itself from the more moderate opposition sector that doesn’t see Obama’s policy as a betrayal of the opponents and aspires to solutions that don’t spill blood, including plebiscites or the use of electoral resources and dialogue with the current government.

Among the arguments most reiterated by the enemies of the thaw is the “increase in repression” that they attribute directly to the supposed “blind eye” of the United States government and the European Union in the face of the arbitrary detentions, beatings, confiscation of resources, threats, police operations to prevent the holding of meetings and other actions. This repression is carried about by troops from the political police, the Communist Party and the “mass organizations.”

However, the apparent relationship of cause and effect between the thaw and the undeniable increase in repression does not necessarily imply fault on the side supporting the thaw. It is worth asking to what extent the repressive temperature would rise if the United States agreed to the demands of the hard-line opposition and strengthened the embargo, promoted increased funding for the most energetic opposition groups and returned to the times when they parachuted arms into the Escambray mountains and promoted military initiatives such as the 2506 Brigade that invaded the Bay of Pigs, through the Central Intelligence Agency.

The whole arsenal of measures implemented today by the government of Raul Castro against opponents would then be seen as lukewarm and the return of the old days of confrontation between the United States and Cuba would bring back the executions, the long prison sentences, the literal beheading of the political opposition and the loss of an opportunity to change something in Cuba peacefully.
And would the US government also be blamed?

The problem with the "thaw" is still being a penguin. Alen Lauzán
The problem with the “thaw” is still being a penguin. Alen Lauzán

The All For A Free Cuba event had among its many merits appearances by musicians and comedians. Among these was the excellent artist Alen Lauzán, who showed some disturbing cartoons where we see penguins in Havana protesting the thaw.

Like any artistic production the images are provocative and polysemic. What is more appropriate in today’s Cuba: to thaw the environment or behave like a penguin?

Sentence Upheld In The Case Of Journalist Expelled From Radio Holguin / 14ymedio

Jose Ramirez Pantoja, Holguin Radio journalist and author of the blog Verdadecuba. (Facebook)
Jose Ramirez Pantoja, Holguin Radio journalist and author of the blog Verdadecuba. (Facebook)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 13 October 2016 — Journalist Jose Ramirez Pantoja appeared for a second time before the Municipal Court of Holguin on Wednesday. The reporter, expelled from his job in the provincial radio station, reported on his blog that “everything transpired normally in accordance with the law” and that the trial had “upheld the sentence.”

Both parties attended the hearing: the administration of Radio Holguin and the attorney Rafael Jorge Noya Lafite, representing Ramirex Pantoja. During the hearing “new evidence” was presented and the journalist had the chance to state before the court “issues raised at the first hearing,” according to his brief blog post.

Pantoja was fired from his job on July 11 and sentenced to five years of suspension from his job and his profession for posting on his personal blog some controversial words of the assistant director of the newspaper Granma, Karina Brown, about the current economic crisis in Cuba.

Last September the President of the National Ethics Commission of the Cuban Journalists Union, Luis Sexto Sanchez, traveled to Holguin and met with Pantoja. A few days later, the Commission upheld the sentence against the reporter at both the provincial and national level.

Before the incident with Brown, Ramirez Pantoja was recognized with the Félix Elmuza Distinction, the Journalists Union highest award.

Journalist Elaine Diaz Arrested In Baracoa While Reporting On Hurricane Matthew / 14ymedio

The team of Periodismo de Barrio before departing for Baracoa. Elaine Diaz is front right. (Facebook)
The team of Periodismo de Barrio before departing for Baracoa. Elaine Diaz is front right. (Facebook)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 12 October 2016 — The journalist Elaine Diaz, director of the independent media Periodismo de Barrio (Neighborhood Journalism), was arrested Wednesday morning in Baracoa, Guantanamo province, while covering the damage left by Hurricane Matthew. The reporter was accompanied by several members of the editorial board of her publication, who also have been arrested, according to a family source who confirmed the information with the site Cubanet.

Diaz, along with nine other journalists, traveled to eastern Cuba after a fundraising campaign that allowed her to support a journey to the areas most affected by the hurricane. This morning the reporters were intercepted by police and authorities who warned them they they would be deported to Guantanamo City, said the same source. Continue reading “Journalist Elaine Diaz Arrested In Baracoa While Reporting On Hurricane Matthew / 14ymedio”

Among the detained journalists were Monica Baro, Julio Batista Rodriguez, Thomas E. Perez and Geysi Guia.

The latest publications from the Periodismo de Barrio (PB) team date from Tuesday when they loaded a photo onto their Facebook page from “the furthest east of Cuba.” Diaz explained that some of them would try to reach the village of La Maquina, in the Maisi municipality, while another group would leave for Imian, Baracoa and Parque Alejandro de Humboldt.

The last message published on PB’s twitter account confirmed that they had reached the most eastern area of Cuba, where electricity service was beginning to be restored.

Hours later the PB Facebook profile published a message in which it claimed that the reporters were well and in the city of Guantanamo. “Tomorrow we leave for Havana. These days expect our team as usual: JOURNALISM. All efforts should be directed to continue to support the victims of Hurricane Matthew,” concluded the brief note.

Periodismo de Barrio is a journalistic nonprofit organization led by Diaz, who graduated in journalism from the University of Havana in 2008 and later served as an assistant professor in the faculty of communications at that university.

Diaz sought permission “fruitlessly, to reach Baracoa and work from there,” explains CubaNet, but the authorities are only allowing accredited media access to the area, such as foreign correspondents based in Cuba and the official press.

The arrest of Diaz and her team comes amid a bitter debate over the legitimacy of small independent publications born in recent years on the island. Official government voices have chosen in recent weeks to maintain Communist Party control over the press and to close ranks against non-government media.

After Hurricane Matthew several independent journalists who planned to approach the eastern part of the country have suffered threats and arrests.

The reporter Maykel González Vivero, who was also in Baracoa reporting for the portal Diario de Cuba, was arrested and spent three days in a cell, as denounced by the journalist’s mother.

The Patriotic Union of Cuba has also reported that several of its activists who maintained a flow of information on Twitter about the affected areas have been victims of arrests, seizures of their work equipment, and forced deportations away from the affected zone to other parts of Cuba.