14YMEDIO, November 28, 2014 — UNPACU issued a statement Thursday night in which it accuses President Raul Castro of having ordered the “liquidation” of the opposition. The organization cites sources from the Ministry of the Interior (MININT) according to which the elimination of the most diligent activists should be carried out in the next three months.
UNPACU believes that the latest attacks on the Ladies in White and Jose Daniel Ferrer fit within that supposed order, given that they involve violent attacks against key dissident figures in the last weeks and come from people tied, in their judgment, to State Security.
In the statement they review last Tuesday’s event in Santa Clara in which activist Guillermo Fariñas asserts he suffered an assassination attempt and in which several Ladies in White were injured, leaving one of them in serious condition. “A similar case occurred at two UNPACU sites in Santiago de Cuba and is now the source of a farce that the government is trying to fabricate against Jose Daniel Ferrer,” continues the statement.
Jose Daniel Ferrer has been called by State Security to give a statement, presumably as a defendant, for the crime of assault against the complainant Ernesto Jimenez Rodriguez. As the statement explains, last November 13th, at the UNPACU headquarters located in Reparto Mariana de la Torre, in Santiago de Cuba, this man, supposedly sent by the political police, provoked a violent altercation.
“Fortunately, with several activists and responsible individuals present at the headquarters, they managed to disable the aggressor, immobilizing him and removing from him the metal weapons that he carried,” the document highlights.
The same individual had sought membership in UNPACU weeks before, for which reason the organization made the usual investigations that “are performed before accepting any applicant.” The conclusion was that he was tied to the Ministry of the Interior.
“In view of such fact, and without telling the individual anything about it, he was allowed to enter the headquarters with the proper control and knowledge by those present of his status as a political police infiltrator and only for events of no significance for activism,” they explain.
Jose Daniel Ferrer, who has denounced the situation, said that “in no case can an individual who has been seen by more than 15 witnesses attacking numerous people cause a peace activist for Human Rights to be taken into police custody with the objective of creating a false accusation and maybe holding him there without a possible defense. We at UNPACU are not going to submit ourselves to this farce in any way.”
14ymedio, VÍCTOR ARIEL GONZÁLEZ, Havana. 24 November 2014 — From food to motorcycles, stuffed into plastic water tanks, Cubans use the most improbable ways to introduce products into their country. But it has nothing to do with drugs or weaponry, but basic necessities intended as much to satisfy consumer demand as to supply a retail market that the state – so far – is incapable of supplying.
In one of the usual reports by national television where they intend to lecture the audience, an official reporter recently stressed that “Customs has confiscated several containers with articles that are not classified as household goods because among them are clothes, footwear, toiletry articles and foods. Also home construction or repair materials, fixtures and all kinds of spare parts, water tanks full of miscellaneous items, a central air conditioning unit compressor and internal combustion engines, new and disassembled, in order to trick customs control.”
“Household goods” is one of the classifications that General Customs of the Republic (AGR) employs for products that Cubans bring to the Island when they return from a trip or that they send here in packages.
The reason for the irregularities described by the press, according to an AGR official named Yudesis Alfonso, lies in the fact that “one of the fundamental advantages for individuals is that household goods are exempt from payment of Customs duties. And it is regrettable that there are people who use this operation to try to introduce merchandise into the country without declaring it to Customs as legislative decree 162 of 1996 specifies in article 6.”
In the words of Jorge Alberto, a Cuban with a Spanish passport who for months served as a mule for the importation of small volumes of merchandise in exchange for 150 CUC per trip, “What is really regrettable is that we have to bring hidden things in because the stores are bare.” When the government intensified the administrative measures about what it considers “commercial importation,” in addition to prohibiting the sale of clothes and footwear, Jorge Alberto was left without work, and what he will do now is finally emigrate from Cuba.
AGR is part of a strict system of state control that hinders the development of private businesses in Cuba where there exists no wholesale market for many self-employed activities. For this institution it is quite an achievement to display for the cameras cases such as the one that one of its officials, Aniuska Navarro, describes: “Within this white tank was an internal combustion motor, separated into pieces. This tank had to be broken up in order for us to be able to gain access to the pieces of the motor.”
The television report concludes that “Customs … is in a constant fight against the illegalities,” in a country whose domestic economy survives thanks to the black market.
The regulation of “household goods” exception is legally regulated by resolution 43/1998 by the Ministry of Finances and Prices and resolution 122/2009 by the AGR, but “on occasions” citizens have been found “importing into the country great volumes of merchandise which show a marked commercial character” as well as “the intention to import articles belonging to third parties who should use a different Customs regulation, which involves paying tariffs in convertible pesos.”
Which is to say that besides confiscation of the articles – whose subsequent fate is unknown – the offenders are criminally prosecuted for tax evasion, “being accused just as they should be to the competent agencies: the Ministry of the Interior and the system of justice.”
Among those affected, a group that includes businesses as much as consumers, opinions like those of Jorge Alberto abound. “The customs taxes that are so high are the essential reason that we commit these crimes. They don’t let us raise our heads.”
14YMEDIO, Havana/November 21, 2014 — The American agency Cuba Travel Services announced last Thursday that it will operate a direct flight between New York’s J.F. Kennedy Airport and Havana. It is envisioned that the trips will occur daily in the afternoon, although company workers have not been able to confirm either the departure days or the frequency of the flights.
Cuba Travel Services has not provided information about the date the service will begin, but it has announced that the price for a round trip ticket on the inaugural flight will start at $849.
The company organizes travel to popular destinations like Cienfuegos, Camaguey, Santa Clara, Holguin and Santiago de Cuba, with flights operated by Sun Country Airlines.
The Turbo News site explained this afternoon that “in the spirit of the recent New York Times editorial published October 11, 2014, entitled ‘Time to End the Cuban Embargo,’ the agency Cuba Travel Services chose to provide an important cultural and social link between the two cities.”
The agency maintains that the expansion of its offering will permit travelers who leave from New York to save as compared with the current options on the market, avoiding the delays of connections and the cost of additional fares for stops in Miami, Fort Lauderdale or Tampa.
The company, which organizes daily flights between the US and Cuba, asked for permission to operate flights also from Newark Liberty International Airport, but that request was rejected.
The US government suspended direct air links with the Island at the beginning of the 1970’s and resumed them in 1999 with a flight between New York and Havana. After a slight opening by President Bill Clinton, Barack Obama also opted to soften restrictions on travel by Cuban Americans visiting the Island; now they can travel every year instead of every three and stay as long as they like.
In 2012 the Cuban government suspended landing rights on the Island for two airlines from Miami, Airline Brokers and C&T Charters, explaining the reason for the decision “as over capacity of seats and other operational issues,” although the travel agency operators revealed suspected payment defaults with Cuban authorities. Airline Brokers operated weekly flights to Havana and Cienfuegos from Miami and Fort Lauderdale, while C&T Charters traveled to Havana and Camaguey from Miami, New York and Chicago.
14ymedio,ELVIRA FERNANDEZ, Ciego de Ávila, 21 November 2014 – Seven years after Raul Castro, in a speech, criticized the spread of the marabou weed, this thorny plant continues to gain prominence in our fields. On that occasion, marking the 26th of July, the General said, “Arriving here by land I was able to see if everything is green and beautiful, but the most beautiful, which I could confirm with my own eyes, was how beautiful the marabou weed is all along the entire highway.” Today he could repeat these identical words.
The invasion of what is scientifically known as Dichrostachys cinerea has set off all the alarms. In the middle of the country, its dominion extends across the planes that once served to cultivate cane, the planting of vegetables, or the pasturing of cattle. Nothing is safe from its dense thorny bushes that defy the most intrepid peasants.
Two months ago a troop of men was gathered in Ciego de Avila, armed with rustic tools to fight the marabou weed. The new “Battle of the Revolution” takes place in very fertile lands, but ones which have suffered long neglect from their only owner: the State. Thus they now are drowned under the thorns that have led to enormous weedy thickets.
Something more than 400 men, with axes and machetes in hand, have the arduous mission as their charge. The objective is, that at the end of 2014, all the lands in the upcoming sowing plan will be ready for planting cane. An undoubtedly difficult task, because of the 50,000 acres needed, 32,000 are greatly affected.
Leaders of the territory have promised that the campaign will be recorded in history as “The Epic Against Marabou.” They are unaware, perhaps, of all previous attempts to eradicate a plant that was introduced into our country in the mid-nineteenth century, a plant with the great capacity to reproduce in our country’s climate and natural conditions.
The only advantage of the undesirable marabou is its wood – very hard – which is extremely suitable for firewood, as it burns well and creates little smoke and ashes. However, its collection for these purposes requires strict protection for the farmworker who may be subject to frequent wounds and punctures.
The cost of any collection or eradication of marabou tends to be very high. However, in the new battle against the plague, begun in the center of the country, the savings to the State are guaranteed with the sacrifice of the men who must sweat and bleed, with no right to expect mechanical reinforcements. The directors of the Sugar Company Group have clarified that “because of objective economic conditions we can’t use bulldozers in this confrontation.”
Those who remember, recall that there was no lack of heavy equipment to address other initiatives. Among them two campaigns that have indeed been recorded in history for their disastrous consequences, while opening the way to any plague that invaded the Cuban countryside. The first of these was in the 1970s when the forests were bulldozed and dynamited to sow sugarcane in abundance, with the intention of satisfying the demand from Communist Europe. More recently, many of the sugar mills were dismantled and exported piece by piece to the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela and the cane fields were left to the mercy of the plagues.
The great results of such “socialist epics” — in addition to villages and towns left lifeless, dead — is the health enjoyed by the marabou weed. In their branches is concentrated our economic collapse, in the abundance of their thorns is the result of the excessive nationalization of our lands.
14ymedio, Manzanillo, 22 November 2014 – This morning several activists reported an act of repudiation against the members of the Community Network of Journalists and Communicators in the eastern city of Manzanillo.
According to the testimony of those whom this newspaper had access, Leonardo Cancio had organized a celebration in his home for a six-year-old niece and invited his colleagues from the Network. From the previous day, there were several women surrounding the house, whom the activists said were summoned by State Security, to communicate that they would not allow “a party for children organized by the counterrevolution,” and they also visited the homes of neighbors to warn them not to send their children to such an activity.
Since the early hours a crowd, estimated by the Network to be some three hundred people, surrounded Cancio’s house to block access to the guests. However, some activists like Tania de la Torre, accompanied her daughter and granddaughter, had managed to arrive well in advance. De la Torre explained that “the State Security agents names Alexis and Julio” on seeing them leave the house, “pushed us into the crowd” where they were beaten and threatened with future retaliation.
In statements given to 14ymedio by Martha Beatriz Roque, leader of this group of independent journalists, the dissident commented that, “this is the Cuba that the Spanish Foreign Minister Margallo is coming to visit, where human rights are trampled without consideration.”
14ymedio, Caracas, 23 November 2014 – This Sunday the first edition of the publication Cuatro-F (Four-F) — a newspaper belonging to the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) — was announced by the president of this political organization, Nicolás Maduro.
The publication will be weekly, in its print edition. It is expected however that next year its frequency will increase and it will appear daily.
The media’s name evokes the 4th of February 1992, when Hugo Chavez and a military group attempted a coup d’etat in Venezuela against the then constitutional president Carlos Andrés Pérez. The coup attempt failed to achieve its objectives, but in the official calendar it is viewed as the beginning of the “Bolivarian Revolution.”
On the premiere of the new media outlet, Maduro visited the Alfredo Maneiro Editorial Complex in Caracas. There he witnessed the printing of the first issue of the newspaper and said the information arm will be a tool “to deepen the revolutionary and socialist consciousness of the Venezuelan people.”
The president warned that “this is the birth of a newspaper that is going to make a revolution in the political, social, cultural, national and international journalism in our country. A new revolutionary journalism.”
The announcement of the launch of publication, was made by Maduro himself, through the social network Twitter. In his account, the President explained that the appearance of Cuatro-F was one of the agreements coming out of the Historical Congress of the PSUV.
“Tomorrow the newspaper of @partido PSUV, christened Cuatro-F… All the UBCH members are waiting… to the Charge,” he wrote on his account @NicolasMaduro.
“This newspaper will reach every corner to make revolution in all areas, bringing the truth and the transparent opinion of the revolutionaries of Venezuela. We will not hide behind the pretext of impartiality, objectivity, no, here’s a revolutionary, Bolivarian anti-imperialist and deeply Chavista vision that will defeat the machinery of lies,” he said.
On the front page of the first issue of Cuatro-F a headline called the PSUV militants to participate in internal party elections to take place this Sunday.
14ymedio, ORLANDO PALMA, Havana, 23 November 2014 — Ernesto Londoño, the journalist to whom the six New York Times editorials on Cuba-United States relations are attributed, is in Havana. His trip was announced through the social network Twitter and has already provoked some reactions among Cuban activists.
The opposition leader José Daniel Ferrer has made public a message, which shows his concern over the fact that the reporter “only wrote about a part of the Cuban reality.”
In the note, Ferrer warns Londoño about the dangers of “moving from objective, honest balanced journalism to interest-based and biased journalism.” In the statement he invited the young man of 33 to meet. “Although I am in Santiago de Cuba, where they constantly persecute me, I am going to Havana, I would like to be able to tell you how the persecute me in the capital,” the dissident emphasized.
The text continues with several suggestions to the journalist, whom Ferrar recommends to “see it all, if they let you, talk to everyone, if they allow it, with the government, the churches, the dissidence, ordinary Cubans, visit the many slums, go to the interior, visit the eastern provinces, talk with the families of the prisoners of conscience.”
Londoño has been a member of the Editorial Board of the New York Times since last September and previously worked at the Washington Post
Street vendors are the last card in a clandestine business deck whose purpose is pure survival.
14ymedio, LILIANNE RUIZ, Havana, 20 November 2014 — In the shadow of the doorways on Galleno Street in Havana, a young man shows several pairs of sunglasses that he has encased in a piece of polystyrene foam, popularly known as polyfoam. The improvised showcase is kept in a travel bag that can easily be moved. At his side, a girl announces in a low voice: “Colgate toothpaste, deodorant, cologne.”
Suddenly the young man grabs the polystyrene containing the spectacles, as if he were really dealing with a suitcase, and both walk away, their step and pulse accelerating. They disappear within a hallway. They wait. Fifteen minutes later they come out and place themselves again in a stretch of the same street. For the moment, they have managed to cheat the inspectors and the police.
They sell their wares clandestinely in order to survive. They risk being detained by the police, who confiscate their products and impose fines for “hoarding.” The fines can reach 3,000 pesos. Frequently they incur debts because they get the merchandise from a “wholesale” supplier to earn, at maximum, 1 to 3 CUC.
On many occasions it is the Cuban stewardesses or other workers or state officials with the privilege of going abroad and buying in any supermarket, together with the “mules,” each day more hounded, who manage to get through customs controls some batch of basic necessities. The street vendors are the last card in that business deck. “We live daily on what we manage to make. It is not enough to save. If you live for food you can’t buy clothes and if you live for clothes you can’t eat,” they contend.
She has a bachelor’s degree in nursing, and her identity card places her at some address in Ciego de Avila province. That is why she cannot get hired as a nurse in the capital: “I think that from Pinar del Rio to Guantanamo is Cuba. But as I was not born here (in Havana), I have no address here, I cannot work. I am illegal in my country.” But she does not complain: “The salaries are so low that I would have to leave my job as a nights-and-weekend nurse and sell in the street if I want to buy myself, for example, a pair of shoes.”
For his part, he has a tailor’s license and is authorized to sell homemade clothes. “The licenses mean nothing in this country. To sell ready-made clothes, they ask for a ton of papers to know where you bought the thread, the cloth and even the buttons. The government always wins and we do nothing but lose. They charge you taxes to sell what the licenses authorize but also they are charging you taxes for the prices that they fix for raw materials. That’s why we have to buy and sell on the black market,” he explains. The earnings for selling homemade ready-made clothes are minimal.
In January of this year the government prohibited the sale of imported clothes or any imported article. So that after paying for the tailor’s license and the familiar taxes, he comes out to sell eyeglasses, ready to run from the authorities. “I get these glasses at five CUC for two, sometimes three CUC. I did not steal them from anyone. And if the police come, they take them from me. They have already confiscated from me about three times.” In spite of the persecution, he has a powerful reason to continue going out to sell: “If I lie down to sleep, we die of hunger at home.”
Both youngsters report that there are days when they sell nothing. “The whole day on foot from 8:30 in the morning to 6 in the afternoon, running from here to there: if not the inspector, then the police, or the surveillance cameras.”
According to them, there are cameras installed on the corners. Thus they suffer the enormous disadvantage of not being able to see who is watching them. The girl indicates a column: “That wall covers the camera that is at the corner and that is why we stop here. We already have them figured, because if not they order to search for you because of the camera. For example, they order to search for the one who has the black blouse, which can be me.” In this atmosphere of tension and fear of being discovered, this subsistence economy unfolds.
The government harasses the mobile vendors while it woos the big companies of global capitalism. Cuba does not look attractive for those who undertake the economic path of mere survival. Not even legally. That’s why so many young people want to leave the island.
14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, Havna, 11 November 2014– In recent weeks we have seen a lot of media hype on the subject of US embargo against the Cuban government and the implications for lifting it. The New York Times led the way, with several inflammatory anti-embargo editorials which resulted in immediate answers from numerous other digital venues, pointing to the dangers of the unconditional and unilateral withdrawal of the sanctions that would allow the Island’s regime new possibilities for extending and consolidating power after half a century of dictatorship.
Without a doubt, the issue of the embargo constitutes the Gordian knot that marks US-Cuba relations
Without a doubt, the issue of the embargo constitutes the Gordian knot that marks the Cuba-US relations, though with a clearly differentiating thread: If lifting the embargo is today an element of crucial strategic importance for the survival of the Cuban regime, it is not a priority for the US government, and it does not constitute a strategic point in that country’s foreign policy agenda.
This antecedent, by itself, explains that the negotiations about the relations between both governments should not develop on the principle of “same conditions” as Cuban officials and its troupe of organic intellectuals (candidly?) claim, since, while the survival of the Castro regime depends to great measure on the lifting of the US sanctions, in Washington, it is neither an element of strategic importance nor an economic or political priority.
In addition, it is ridiculous to suppose that the Cuban government — after hijacking the rights of the governed and excluding them of all legal benefit — making a show of an unspeakable cynicism, pretends to establish itself as defender of the “American people”, which has been deprived by their own government of the ability to travel to or to invest in Cuba as they wish, even if it is a well-known secret that the US is currently one of the major trading partners with Cuba, especially in foodstuffs, and that the presence of Americans is an everyday event in the main tourist destinations on the Island.
But above all, all this foreign policy debate debunks the main pillar on which the foundation of the whole structure of the Cuban revolution has been created: the unwavering defense of sovereignty.
The fallacy of Cuban “sovereignty”
In the 70s, Fidel Castro publicly mocked the embargo (“blockade” in the revolutionary jargon). By then, the much overhyped Cuban sovereignty omitted its humiliating subordination to the Soviet Union, legally endorsed in the [Cuban] Constitution and, under which, Cuba stood as a strategic base of the Russian communist empire in the Western Hemisphere, including in those relations of servitude the failed attempt to create a nuclear warhead base in the early days of the Castro era, the existence of a Soviet spy base in Cuba, Soviet military troops on Cuban soil, building of a thermonuclear plant — which, fortunately, was never finished — sending Cuban troops to encourage and/or support armed conflicts in Latin America and Africa, among other commitments, whose scope and costs have not yet been disclosed.
As compensation, the Soviet Union supported the Cuban system through massive subsidies that allowed for the maintenance of the fabulous health and education programs on the Island, as well as other social benefits. By then, the so-called US “blockade” was reduced to teaching manuals and classroom indoctrination, or mentioned in some other official discourse, as long as it was appropriate to justify production inefficiencies or some shortage that the European communist bloc was unable to cover.
After the demise of the Soviet Union and of socialism in Eastern Europe, the regime managed, with relative success, an economic crisis without precedent in Cuba.
After the demise of the Soviet Union and of socialism in Eastern Europe, the regime managed, with relative success, an unprecedented economic crisis in Cuba, euphemistically known as the “Special Period”, thanks to two key factors: foreign investment from a group of adventurous entrepreneurs who believed that a virgin market and a system in ruins were sufficient conditions for bargaining advantageously and the forced establishment of opening enterprise in the form of small family business, two elements that had been demonized for decades, since the nationalization, in the early sixties, of foreign capital businesses, and seizing of small businesses later, during the so-called Revolutionary Offensive of 1968.
In the late 90’s, however, a new possibility for subsidies appeared on the scene, in the form of Venezuelan leader Hugo Chávez. His deeply populist and egotistical government assumed the maintenance of the Castro system based on the exploitation and ruthless squandering that country’s oil. At the same time, he sustained the Cuban sovereignty myth. This myth is the foundation of the revolutionary anti-imperialist tale (David vs. Goliath), played endlessly in this ignorant and superstitious region by a host of leftist opportunistic intellectuals that thrive in Latin America.
That explains how, after half of century of revolution, Cuba is still one of the most dependent countries in the Western world, and at the same time the “most sovereign” though, currently, it may be common knowledge, according to the very official acknowledgement. The final destiny of the Island depends on foreign capital investment. It turns out that, in this nation, so very independent and sovereign, the olive–green oligarchs no longer mock the embargo, but they weep for its termination. It may be that their personal wealth, fruit of the plunder of the national treasury, is comfortably safe in foreign funds and vaults, but, without foreign investments, the days of their dynasty are counted.
Since the fall of the Berlin Wall, there have been about six US administrations (…) while Cuba continues with the same system.
Since the fall of the Berlin Wall there have been about six US administrations, three presidents have ruled in post-communist Russia, and several more have followed in the governments of the countries of Eastern Europe, while the same system of government still remains in Cuba, imposed by the succession of the Castro brothers, with adjustments and “renovations” that only serve to cover up the mimetic capacity of an elite military clique in the transition to state capitalism, the administrator of an economic and political monopoly that attempts to successfully survive the inevitable transformation of late-Castrism into something that no one knows for sure what it will be.
Today, while others resolve Cuba’s destinies, Cubans, always subjected to extraterritorial powers and at the mercy of an octogenarian autocracy – however sufficiently proud or stupid enough so as to not recognize it, and sufficiently meek as to not revolt — have ended up winning just one card: that of begging, only that the olive-green elite poses as a beggar, their hands held out palms up, asking the alms of foreign capital. Reality has ended up obeying the discourse: never before have we been more dependent.
14ymedio, Havana, 15 November 2014 — Activist Manuel Cuesta Morua, spokesman for Progressive Arc, has been informed that his legal case was dismissed, and he can now travel abroad whenever he desires. The information was made known to him by a lawyer from the Law Collective of Central Havana, who noted that the measure has “no conditions,” according to the dissident’s statement to this daily.
The government opponent had been precluded from travelling outside the country through an interim measure that was imposed on him at the end of last January.
Cuesta Morua, 51 years of age, tried to organize a forum parallel to the Second Summit of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) then being held in Havana.
The police arrested him to prevent his participation in the meeting, and after that point he had to sign in every Tuesday at the police station where he was arraigned, which prevented him from leaving the country.
In those months, Morua could not attend numerous invitations from international agencies and foundations, like that of this past October for the 25th anniversary of the fall of communism in Poland, which was held by the Lech Walesa Institute.
“Technically they have kept me from travelling with this absurd measure on the part of the authorities; this has been my punishment for my position regarding the Cuban government,” said Morua at the time.
Now in his new situation, the activist is preparing to fulfill several international invitations that include participation in forums, debates and academic meetings, as recounted to 14ymedio.
14ymedio, ELIECER AVILA, Las Tunas/November 15, 2014 — Officials, opposition and public opinion in general have recognized as positive the implementation of the Migratory Reform (covering emigration and travel) promoted by the Cuban government at the beginning of 2013.
In spite of the fact that the trips for many dissidents continue to be marked by abuse, delays and confiscations by Cuban customs authorities, the truth is that until now, only people subject to some kind of legal process, whether invented or not, have been prevented from travelling.
But this may be starting to change. Signs of a sudden regression, in regards to the new rules, come to us from the eastern part of the country.
Two officials, the Major “Oliver” and the Lieutenant Colonel “Vilma,” from State Security Management and Immigration and Alien Status Management (DIE), respectively, have communicated categorically to young Hanner Echavarria Licea that “it has been decided that you are not going to travel.”
To that end, today they retain his certified criminal record document, which the Peruvian embassy demands, so that he cannot participate in the conference “Civic Conscience and Citizen Participation” which will take place in Lima.
The youth, a teaching graduate, self-employed and son of a retired official of the FAR, is a serious and educated young man who enjoys high standing in his community. Precisely the kind of person that State Security cannot bear to see fighting for profound change in Cuba.
Echavarria Licea joined the political movement SOMOS+ and was elected by its members to be its leader in Las Tunas. This seems to be the reason for the current reprisal of not letting him leave the country.
His case could be palpable evidence that even today, someone without prior criminal history or any legal entanglement whatsoever, may be prevented from exercising his right to leave the country. Which would mean the end of the more or less serious application of the Migratory Reform.
For some time, TEDx Havana had been cooking. Those of us who for years have followed the trail of this event, which mixes science, art, design, politics, education, culture and much ingenuity, were counting the days until we could hear on our national stages its stories of entrepreneurship, progress and creativity. Finally, that day arrived, to the gratification of many and the dissatisfaction of many others.
TED is a non-profit organization founded 25 years ago in California, which is an acronym for Technology, Entertainment and Design. Its annual conference has become a feast of ideas and proposals, while the famous “TED Talks” provide a microphone to speakers who inspire their listeners to take on new projects. These talks have, over time, been sneaked into the alternative information networks in Cuba, and they have sparked a desire among the public to see these screen personalities in-person, in the here and now.
For these reasons, there was great anticipation at the news of the imminent landing in our city of that independent – and equally inspiring – part of TED, which is TEDx. The event, named InCUBAndo [“InCUBAting”], took place in the Covarrubias Hall of the National Theatre this past Saturday afternoon. Among the organizers credited in the printed program were the singer Cucú Diamante, the actor Jorge Perugorría, and Andrés Levin, music producer.
We almost did not learn of the arrival of TEDx until 24 hours prior to the curtains being drawn back at the National Theatre.
So, yes, the arrival of this program was literally a landing. The set design in the hall included some little allegorical pink airplanes – the meaning of which many in the audience wondered about – but which turned out to be part of a plastic art installation. Besides which, we almost did not learn of the arrival of TEDx until 24 hours prior to the curtains being drawn back at the National Theatre.
Some flyers distributed at the University of Havana and around the La Rampa cinema last Friday were the first signs to the Havana public that TEDx would arrive in our capital city. Actually, prior to this, the British ambassador to Cuba, Tim Cole, had already announced it on Twitter – but the news only got through to those with Internet access – of which there are very few in this “disconnected city.”
Regardless, as long as we could have TEDx, we were ready to forgive all: the haste of the arrangements, the lack of advertising, and even the “secrecy.” If the event had to occur under these conditions, well, so be it. At any rate, hundreds of Cubans arrived at the scene to hear these exceptional people who were here to tell us their life stories. One of the best presentations was the one titled “Borders Without Borders,” by the diplomat Herman Portocarrero, European Union representative in Cuba.
The energy in the X Alfonso Hall could be felt also from Portocarrero’s story of the birth and first steps of the Cuban Art Factory. Meanwhile the founder of the famous La Guarida restaurant tackled the difficult but gratifying path of the entrepreneur. As host, a dynamic and subtly humorous Amaury Pérez was a good link betweeb some parts of the program. Missing, however, were the voices – further away from the worlds of show business and diplomacy – of others whose ingenuity helps them to survive every day, negotiate the commonplace difficulties, and unbuckle themselves from the straightjacket of our reality.
I do not know the process that was employed to select speakers for TEDx Havana, but what I saw on the stage left me a taste of incompleteness and partiality. The dance music seemed intended to fill those voids and distract an audience that mainly had come to hear anecdotes, testimonies and life stories.
Some of the guest speakers politicized the proceedings, favoring, of course, the official line.
The worst moment was without a doubt the segment of extemporaneous versifiers Tomasita and Luis Paz – who in the middle of their improvisations sang praises to the five Cuban spies, of which three are still in prison in the United States. Up until that moment, many of us accepted the rules of TEDx Havana. Faced with the evident absences at those microphones, I believe that we had convinced ourselves that “it was all right that spaces not be politicized that way.” However, as it turned out, some of the guest speakers politicized the proceedings – favoring, of course, the official line.
Even with all the shambles, TEDx Havana leaves a good taste in the mouth – at the least a feeling that there are people not only with much to tell, but with expressiveness and composure in telling it before hundreds of attentive eyes. The experiences of this first edition will serve to better the second opportunity this event will have to take place among us.
If the organizers are open to suggestions for future TEDx events, it would be good to emphasize better and greater promotion prior to this feast of creativity and entrepreneurship. In addition, let us have transparency in the process of selecting the speakers, so that they may compete and audition in advance, from those who have created a small cottage industry of homemade preserves, to even those who, with ingenuity, laugh at censorship or dream of a Cuba where success in accomplishment is not something extraordinary, but commonplace.
14ymedio, Orlando Palma, Villa Clara, 15 November 2014 – Around 7,000 head of beef cattle were presumed disappeared in the space of a year during a count carried out in ten cattle ranches in the province of Villa Clara, according to a report by the newspaper Juventud Rebelde.
The inspection, carried out by the province’s Department of Livestock Registration and revealed by the official newspaper, was carried out in a group of agricultural production cooperatives where 51 animals were found missing, whereas the State sector counted around 6,900 “not found,” which means the loss of practically the total inventory of these ranches.
Among the explanations the ranchers offered their inspectors are: deaths that could not be reported for lack of a veterinarian to issue the relevant certificate; statistical errors; and – not ruling out! – the possibility that the disappeared cows were victims of theft and illegal slaughter.
To add a touch of science fiction to the matter, as if it had to do with some kind of abduction carried out by extra-terrestrials, the possibility was mentioned that some of the vanished cattle might reappear, maybe because it will be less dangerous to get them from their hiding places without much explanation than to face up and confess where the innocent animals were kept.
Most of the missing heads of cattle were from the townships of Manicaragua, Encrucijada and Sagua La Grande.
Translator’s note: Cows in Cuba belong to the State and it is against the law to kill and eat them. This post from Miguel Iturria Medina — Is Killing a Cow Worse Than Murder — discusses the relative penalties for murder of a human being versus slaughter of a cow. This post from Yoani Sanchez — Male Heifers and Cow Suicide — discusses a creative ways to get around the law.
14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 12 November 2014 – In a meeting with the president of the Cuban Journalists Union (UPEC), the first vice president, Miguel Díaz-Canel Bermúdez, said journalists had a responsibility to investigate more before offering an opinion, but also praised the work undertaken in recent weeks by the national press, giving as an example that published on Ebola, the comments about the editorial in The New York Times and other local topics.
This is the fifteenth meeting of its kind and it was held at the Council of State in the offices of the vice president, who has paid special attention to the work of journalists since the Ninth Congress of UPEC in July of last year. Diaz-Canel said he was pleased with the good level of those working in critical posts at the provincial newspapers.
After the meeting no detailed indication emerged relating to any notable excesses or gaps in the mass media, although it did seem to the vice president that “our media is fresher” and the Cuban press has begun to reflect topics that appear in the media of other countries. continue reading
At the meeting Antonio Molton, the president of UPEC, reported on the upcoming participation of the organization leading the meeting of the Federation of Latin America Journalists (FELAP), which will be held this week in Ecuador.
As is known, the media authorized in this country are closely controlled by the Communist Party, an organization that behaves like a true proprietor in naming the directors and outlining the editorial line of every newspaper, magazine, radio station and television station, be it national or provincial.
Lately there have been more critical articles and readers’ letters with notes of the inadequacies and mistakes of state entities, as well as critical demonstrations related to the quality of services or the prices of some products. What still had not been permitted – and Díaz-Canel did not speak of this – is questioning the legitimacy of the leaders or casting doubt on the viability of the socialist system in the country.
No independent journalist nor alternative blogger belongs to UPEC.
14ymedio, Bertrand de la Grange, Madrid/November 8, 2014 — Prensa Latina devoted only ten lines to news that stunned the world. Below a detached title – “The GDR Announces the Opening of its Borders” – the Cuban agency related on November 9, 1989, that the German Democratic Republic had just made an administrative “ruling” by which “citizens will be able to take private trips without the need to explain their reasons.” The word “wall” did not appear in the teletype. Such moderation reflected the prevailing confusion in Havana.
The transcendental event that western media celebrated was a catastrophe for the allies of the Soviet Union in the Americas. Cuba and Sandinista Nicaragua were in mourning. The guerillas still active in the region, above all the Salvadoran FMLN, the Guatemalan URNG, and to a lesser extent the Colombian FARC, saw their logistical and diplomatic space reduced with the weakening of the communist bloc.
Mikhail Gorbachev’s trip to Cuba, some months before, had made evident the gulf that separated the Soviet president from the then Maximum Leader who held tight to ideological orthodoxy as a detractor of the Perestroika economic reforms, which were seen by Havana as an imitation of capitalism. “We have seen sad things in other socialist countries, very sad things,” Fidel Castro would later say in reference to the changes that took place two years after the collapse of the USSR, with its devastating consequences for the Cuban economy, totally dependent on subsidies from Moscow. continue reading
The events of November 9 also alarmed the Sandinista leaders in Nicaragua. They did not expect it, in spite of – or perhaps because of – their close relationship with the Stasi, the intelligence apparatus of the GDR, which along with Cubans managed the security of the nine leaders of the revolution. A year before, the Stasi had played a key role in Operation Berta in order to change by force of arms the Nicaraguan currency in a desperate effort to stop an inflation of 36,000%, which the government managed to reduce to 2,000% in 1989.
When the news arrived from Berlin, Nicaragua was immersed in a very tense electoral campaign. At the request of the White House, Gorbachev had convinced the Sandinista government to advance the elections scheduled for the end of the year to February 25, 1990. This was about looking for a political exit to the war between the Sandinista forces, supported by Havana, and an essentially peasant rebellion, the Contras, sustained by Washington. Managua was then an important piece on the regional geo-political board, and the US feared that El Salvador would be the next chip to fall.
The Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) hoped to achieve with those elections democratic legitimacy to convince the international community of the need to disarm the Contras under the supervision of the United Nations. Opposing, the National Opposition Union (UNO) a coalition of 14 parties from the whole political spectrum, seemed to have not the least chance of winning. Its candidate, Violeta Barrios, widow of Joaquin Chamorro, assassinated during the Somoza dictatorship, was a housewife without political experience. Instead, the FSLN counted on the overwhelming machinery of the State to impose its candidate, Daniel Ortega, who had spent a decade in power.
La Prensa, property of the Chamorro family, dedicated extensive coverage to the Berlin event, including an editorial entitled, “Fall of the Wall, a Miracle of History.” Antonio Lacayo, son-in-law and close adviser to the UNO candidate, saw the opportunity that was presented to them. “We knew immediately that that historic event would have very favorable repercussions for us in the campaign against the Sandinistas,” he says in a book, The Difficult Nicaraguan Transition, published in 2005. “We said that if the Germans were capable of throwing off forty years of dictatorship, we could throw off ours of ten years…”
He was not wrong. Contrary to the surveys, the international press and the diplomats, who predicted a comfortable victory for Daniel Ortega, Violeta de Chamorro won with almost 55% of the vote.
“The electoral defeat of the Sandinistas was our Berlin Wall, we were convinced we were going to win,” Joaquin Villalobos would later say. Villalobos was one of the leaders of the Salvadoran guerrilla group, the Farabundo Marti Front for National Liberation, which had its rearguard in Managua. Instead, the events of November 1989 in Germany did not affect them “morally,” and they decided to continue with their plans to launch an unprecedented military offensive against the capital, San Salvador, and the country’s principal cities.
The political times of Central America did not match up with those of Eastern Europe. The Salvadoran guerrillas saw their survival endangered in the face of pressures from the United States on Gorbachev to stop the deliveries of Soviet arms through Cuba and Nicaragua. The FMLN dreamed of winning power by means of weapons, although their more realistic commanders settled for achieving a greater control of terrain in preparation for a negotiation.
While the Cold War was dying out and the citizens of East Germany were celebrating their new freedom, the leaders of the FMLN hurried the final details of “Operation To the Top” in safe houses placed at their disposal by the Sandinista government. November 11, a little before eight at night, Radio Venceremos, the emissary of the Salvadoran guerrillas, received the message from Joaquin Villalobos: “We are on the march. From here to there, there is no retreat,” he said from Managua. The offensive was beginning.
The Soviets were furious at feeling tricked by their Sandinista allies who had committed to cutting off logistical help to the FMLN. The minister of Foreign Affairs, Eduard Shevardnadze, one of Gorbachev’s closest associates, had traveled to Nicaragua the month before to announce Moscow’s decision to collaborate with the peace plan for Central America, launched two years before with international support.
Close to 4,000 Salvadorans died in the two weeks of combat, between guerrilla fighters, soldiers and the civil population. Was anything achieved? According to writer David Escobar Galindo, ex-negotiator for the government, “The offensive of November 11, 1989, opened the possibility for peace by demonstrating that war could not be decided militarily.” Terror had reached an equilibrium. Both sides would sign the peace in 1992 and, a distant consequence of the fall of the Wall, the FMLN would come to power by the ballot box in 2009.
Editor’s note: This text has been previously published in the daily El Pais. We reproduce it with permission of the author.
Bertrand de la Grange was a correspondent for Le Monde in Central America when the Wall fell.