Cuban Phone Company Authorizes Internet Refills From Abroad / 14ymedio

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pope Francis is an exemplary and admirable person for the way he thinks, for what he does, and for his beliefs, which are consistent with how he lived in Argentina. I remember what he was able to generate around him, especially in Buenos Aires where we were neighbors living in the same area, and where we had more contact with each other. I know a lot of things from back then that are now known in the public square.

14ymedio: How will this Papal visit to the island be different?

Marcos Pirán Gómez: This third visit is also linked to the resumption of talks between the Cuban and American governments. This time stands out because it hopes to keep alive the first step taken on December 17th of last year.

Pope Francis has closely followed the history of the Cuban people. He wrote a book about John Paul II’s trip to Cuba, which undeniably signaled a before and after. It not only did so as far as the relationship between the Church and the Cuban government is concerned, but the relationship between religion and the government as well.

14ymedio: Is there special interest for Cuba in the Vatican?

Marcos Pirán Gómez: Interest and worry for these people. Cuba has undergone a political and social experiment unlike that experienced by most of Latin America’s people. It’s different in the fact that Communist ideology takes precedence in Cuba, so theres a very different attitude towards religion here than in most other countries.

Starting with John Paul’s visit, an effort was made to initiate a new type of relationship (between the Church and the State) in which there would be an official recognition of the of religiosity of individuals and of our people as a whole.

14ymedio: What do believers in Holguín expect from this visit?

Marcos Pirán Gómez: On the one hand, the people of Holguín hope this visit will help them regain their enthusiasm and hope. There’re many people who due to different difficulties, such as the frustrations of life, the breakdown of families, the scarcities, have lost their will to forge ahead. The Pope can help reverse this because his message aims to break apathy and indifference.

14ymedio: Do you sense a lot of apathy?

Marcos Pirán Gómez: Yes. People are apathetic because of their incapacity to react to situations they don’t agree with. When an individual stops demanding or voicing his concerns, whether it is out of fear or because he thinks it would be useless, that is worrisome, because it shows an attitude of apathy and indifference. I hope, and many others do as well, that the presence of Pope Francis will help bring about a reawakening.

14ymedio: So you are excited about the visit?

Marcos Pirán Gómez: Very excited. I’ve been especially impressed by people who don’t practice any religion but who see the (Papal) visit as a very positive thing. People are hopeful this visit will bring something that’ll make them better persons.

14ymedio: The authorities have conceded that violence, drug addiction, suicide, and other social ills have increased in Holguín. Is there a spiritual crisis in Holguín?

Marcos Pirán Gómez: The family unit in Holguín is very damaged and divided. There’re a lot of difficult situations, and that affects the social order.

Family units are fragmented because of financial difficulties, and because a lot of people emigrate, and that brings suffering. People don’t know how to discuses issues, how to accept one another, how to collaborate, or how to promote solidarity within the family setting. When this starts happening to the family unit, it resonates throughout society at large, while adding to the already existing personal crises in each individual’s life.

14ymedio: The Cuban government pardoned 3,522 before the Pope’s arrival. What can you say about this?

Marcos Pirán Gómez: Some have reacted happily, while others were disappointed because they thought they met all the conditions for a pardon but weren’t. The announcement (of the prisoner release) states that those convicted of “crimes against State security” would remain incarcerated. That’s why in this case it is a matter of opinion if those still being held are political prisoners or not.

14ymedio: Are there political prisoners in Cuba?

Marcos Pirán Gómez: This isn’t conjecture. The government itself has admitted there are political prisoners. Several years back, the President mentioned them. I don’t know how many there are, because there’s a lot of information I don’t know or have any access to. That’s why I can’t say for certain how many political prisoners there are, or where they are.

14ymedio: Has the Church in Holguín, or you, received a request from the opposition to meet with Pope Francis?

Marcos Pirán Gómez: Up until now, that hasn’t happened. However, we have received letters from people directed to the Pope, asking him to intercede in support of freedom for their relatives serving prison sentences. Still, I don’t know if these cases are political prisoners.

14ymedio: Has the relationship between the Church and the State in Cuba been strengthened?

Marcos Pirán Gómez: The preparations for the Pope’s visit have opened the way for some dialog. Catholics in the Papal visit’s organizing committee note there have been important changes when compared to eighteen years ago while preparing for John Paul II’s visit.

Also, for some time now we have been noticing that the government has somewhat stopped pressuring mission houses or small (parish) communities from opening. Today, these houses do exist, but there was a time when the government wouldn’t allow people to gather in homes to celebrate the Word, to pray together, or to exchange ideas. The result of this is an increase in the social ills we’re now facing. When you keep something from growing over a long period of time, that has negative repercussions.

14ymedio: The Catholic Church in Cuba does not have at its disposal a radio station or a television channel. Doesn’t that limit your pastoral work?

Marcos Pirán Gómez: Nowadays, having access to the media is very important. I don’t like things that are just Catholic. I’d like more diversity in the Cuban media. I don’t need to have my own radio station, TV channel, or newspaper, because that in itself is exclusionary. I’m not interested in that way of thinking. What I do wish is that there be space for other voices, other ways of thinking, and other messages that contribute to the common good, within the media that already exists.

Translated by José Badué

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

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

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

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

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

He declared himself “El Sexto” – The Sixth – of the “heroes” and shamelessly demanded “give me back my five euros,” in a mocking allusion to the official demand for the “five heroes” to be returned to the island.

When we were drowning in the Castro regime’s longest campaign, demanding the release of the five Cuban spies in prison in the United States, Maldonado confronted this hemorrhage of slogans and billboards. He declared himself, at his own risk, “El Sexto,” The Sixth of the “heroes” and shamelessly demanded “give me back my five euros,” in a mocking allusion to the official demand for the “five heroes” to be returned to the island.

The nickname stuck, although the former prisoners – sent home from the United States last December – are now fat and bored in their endless national tours and public events. And so the graffiti artist went from being “the sixth hero” to being the only hero of this story. A few days ago Amnesty International declared him a prisoner of conscience. This same restless boy who launched flyers all over Havana, inviting people to tear up and destroy their own fears.

But it would be the playful side of El Sexto that most annoyed the prudish Cuban officialdom. The capacity for laughter, to ask an apparently naïve question that infuriates the repressor trying to interrogate him. The mischief of turning a traffic signal into a work of art. El Sexto made us big in his hands, although many of us were still watching him like a friendly and playful child who was beginning to leave his signature in the city.

Has there been anyone in Cuba as devoid of comic timing and the capacity for merriment as Fidel Castro? Probably not. And so the system created in his image and likeness reacts with self-consciousness and intolerance to sarcasm

But the authoritarians lack humor. To them, laughter is an offense. Any joke plunges into their chests like a knife and hits them in the face like an embarrassing slap. Has there been anyone in Cuba as devoid of comic timing and the capacity for merriment as Fidel Castro? Probably not. And so the system created in his image and likeness reacts with self-consciousness and intolerance to sarcasm.

The two piglets El Sexto was preparing to release in Havana’s Central Park last 25 December, painted with the names Raul and Fidel on one side, were the straw that broke the camel’s back. Every day of his long confinement in Valle Grande prison, they had to make him pay for the great audacity of that performance which he titled “Animal Farm.” But they don’t realize that he who laughs first laughs twice, and Danilo Maldonado has always been the one who initiated the fit of laughter in this story.

Danilo was born when many Cuban children were saying goodbye to their parents as they left for the war in Angola. He put on the neckerchief, recited at every morning school assembly that slogan we proclaimed, “Pioneers for communism,” concluding with the commitment “We will be like Che.” What when wrong with the process to tame his clay?

Poverty and exclusion shaped his life. In the letter he wrote from his cell, during the hunger strike that he carried out for 24 days, he wrote, “My family is very humble; I lived in Arroya Arenas from the time I was four; in Chafarinas, Güira de Melena; in Covadonga, Las Tunas: a village still without electricity; Guáimaro, Camagüey and Arroyo Arenas, La Lisa.” He wore Cuba on his skin before he painted it.

He worked for several days, filling the place with the smell of sweat and paint. Over his colorful rainbow of plurality, an angel asks for silence and a police inquisitor still looks out at us with reserve.

Then he knew the pain of police handcuffs when they tightened them around his wrists, the cell where they locked him up when Benedict XVI visited Cuba and that time he was detained for almost four days to make him confess that it was he who had painted those arabesques and rubrics. That sequence of clashing with reality forged the artist, in a more authentic way than the academy does other professionals of the brush and canvas.

I’ve never had a Christmas tree as beautiful as the one this young man, born in Nuevitas, Camagüey, painted on a cardboard box for a group of bloggers and independent journalists to celebrate the coming of the new year. It was rangy, beautiful and he did it in a stroke, without even taking a breath. Because if something springs from El Sexto’s every pore it is this capacity to turn the ugly and forgotten into a work of art.

One day we offered him the wall of our own home. The one that separates our apartment from the abyss, on the balcony fourteen floors up. He worked on it for several days, filling the place with the smell of sweat and paint. Over his colorful rainbow of plurality, an angel asks for silence and a police inquisitor still looks out at us with reserve.

Every morning I look at that wall as a daring orange sun rises over it. I imagine the cell where Danilo Maldonado is now, the mattress they give him to sleep for barely five hours a night, the heat and the overcrowding. There are no spray cans there, no colored pencils nor oils. But who knows if after he is released, in some corner of the prison, they will find one of his graffiti made with the metal of a spoon or a piece of coal. El Sexto will be laughing then, for the umpteenth time, at his jailers.

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

US Embassy in Havana. (14ymedio)
US Embassy in Havana. (14ymedio)

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

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

The press conference was attended by official media, such as the newspaper Granma, the Cuban Television and the National Information Agency (AIN), along with other media such as OnCubaCubaNet and 14ymedio. The press conference took place in a room inside the newly opened US American Embassy in Havana’s Vedado district.

The consular official specified that each year, “55,000 visas are granted to people who meet the eligibility requirements,” and detailed the registration process, emphasizing that it is free of charge. The application to join the program must be made ​​through the web site www.dvlottery.state.gov and once completed the form will receive an electronic confirmation.

There are six geographical areas from which people can participate and no country can receive more than 7% of the total visas available in a single year. The applicant must also meet competency requirements, having completed high school or having at least two years of work experience within the last five years.

When asked by 14ymedio whether the embassy would offer times in their navigation rooms for Cuban citizens to enroll in the program, the official responded with a definite no. She further recommended “that applicants enter their own information and don’t use the help of an unknown person.” The deadline for applications ends this coming 3 November at noon.

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

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

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

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

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

The case of the artist Danilo Maldonado Machado, known as “El Sexto,” was also highlighted by the IAPA as evidence of the lack of freedom of expression on the island. Nine months after his arrest for planning a performance, the Graffiti artist remains in prison without having been brought to trial. This week Amnesty International named him as a prisoner of conscience.

 

The IAPA report also denounces “the censorship maintained on digital sites, as is the case of sites like Cubaencuentro, Martinoticias, and the digital newspaper 14ymedio, as well as other sites that address the Cuban issue from a perspective critical” of the authorities.

Raul Castro’s government maintains a tendency towards “paramilitarization” of the repressions, with physical and verbal violence but without leaving legal footprints, says the report. This method was demonstrated during Pope Francis’s visit in mid-September, “particularly with the detention of the opponent Martha Beatriz Roque and the independent journalist Miriam Leiva, when both were traveling to accept an invitation from the Aposolic Nunciature to greet the pontiff at Havana Cathedral,” it says.

Civil society wins spaces

Among the achievements of Cuban civil society, IAPA enumerates the first Encuentro de Pensamiento (Meeting of Ideas) for Cuba, hosted by the independent think tank Center for Coexistence Studies in the city of Pinar del Río and the magazine of the same name. Founded in 2007, the publication has already published 45 issues and addresses issues ranging from culture to citizenship.

The opening of 35 WiFi points to connect to the internet also found space in the report, although the text reminds us that Cuba remains one of the least connected countries in the world, with only 5%, which is reduced to 1% in the case of broadband.

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

The reports comments on the parole granted to the writer Angel Santiesteban and transfer to a minimum security prison mid-year of the journalist Jose Antonio Torres, a former correspondent for the Party newspaper Granma, accused of espionage.

The report made special mention of the illegal compendium of audiovisuals and alternative information, known as the “weekly packet.” The IAPA said that the weekly packet “has continued to gain ground among the Cuban population and is causing great concern in the ruling party,” while the official press continues to be characterized by self-censorship and the absence of “a journalism of investigation, that puts pressure on government entities to have greater transparency about their internal workings.”

During the 71st General Assembly of the Inter American Press Association, there will be seminars run by the Press Institute that will focus on current issues under the title “Beyond the Digital Transformation.” Other panels will address the growing contribution of women in the media, value added and copyrights, according to information from the organizers.

The meeting will feature Literature Nobelist Mario Vargas Llosa, who will participate in a special session and be interviewed by journalist Andres Oppenheimer.

That First Central Committee / Reinaldo Escobar

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

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

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

We can consider the case of Commander Guillermo Garcia, still active, although he is not a member of the current Central Committee, he was in that inventory of tried and tested revolutionaries unveiled on 3 October 1965, the same day that, to justify the work of these creators of anniversaries, the Party was baptized with the epithet of “Communist,” Ernesto Guevara’s farewell letter was read, and the newspaper Granma was founded.

Aside from Raul Castro, those remaining active include Ramiro Valdés (83 years), Jose Ramón Machado Ventura (85), Abelardo Colomé Ibarra (76) and the youngest of all, Leopoldo Cinta Frías, who on 17 July of this year turned a mere 72. Added to that are Armando Hart (85), who is in a wheelchair, General Ramon Pardo Guerra, head of the Civil Defense, and Julio Camacho Aguilera, who only appears in the commemorations of minor importance. The birthdates of the latter two do not appear in any accessible register.

The implacable laws of biology lead us to calculate that the decline will be much more dramatic when the eighth Party Congress takes place in 2021

The implacable laws of biology lead us to calculate that the decline will be much more dramatic when the eighth Party Congress takes place in 2021 (if it is held at all). By then, there will probably be no one who feels guilty for the executions or the confiscations, which is the price to be paid today for displaying the crest of having belonged to the historic generation who earned its pedigree on that October night at the Chaplin (now the Karl Marx) theater, which served as the stage to present the brand new Central Committee.

In this one hundred names are two suicides (Osvaldo Dorticós and Haydee Santamaria), one executed (Arnaldo Ochoa), and one sentenced to 20 years in prison (Jose Abrantes). But most died in combat or in a hospital bed; or have gone into retirement, either through the infirmities of age or dismissals. At least none have defected (as far as we know), if that serves as a point of honor to those who did ​​the casting.

It was a troop obedient to the will of the Maximum Leader. Those who fell docilely accepted their punishments, and those who ascended humbly assumed their promotions. They silenced their differences and tried to applaud like members of the best claque. They knew when to raise their hands in approval and how to step over those compañeros who deviated from the path and, in this trance, they became skilled in the dark drafting of informers’ reports

They are already past or passing. We will have to learn to forgive without forgetting. The future, as the irreverent rocker Gorki Aguila says, belongs entirely to the future.

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

Ladies in White in Havana.
Ladies in White in Havana.

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

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

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

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

A Queen Without Competition / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

Queen electric cooking pot. (Luz Escobar)
Queen electric cooking pot. (Luz Escobar)

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

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

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

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

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

‘El Sexto’ Abandons Hunger Strike After 24 Days / 14ymedio

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

Danilo Maldonado (El Sexto) ends 24-day hunger strike with promise from prison authorities that he will be released in 15 days.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 1 October 2015 — The artist Danilo Maldonado, El Sexto, abandoned the hunger strike he had maintained for 24 days this Thursday. His mother, Maria Victoria Machado, confirmed the news after a visit to the Valle Grande prison, where the graffiti artist has been since last December.

This Thursday, Machado went to the prison to demand the release of her son and met there with a lieutenant colonel who was identified as a “mediator.” The official informed her that “Danilo lifted the hunger strike” and that “from today he will begin to eat.”

Machado was able to meet personally with El Sexto, whom she said was “in high spirits,” although his face “reflects that he has been on hunger strike, his lips are completely cracked,” his mother said. Tomorrow, Friday, the lady will be able to visit him again and bring him food to alleviate his days of fasting.

The artist told his mother that the hardest part of the hunger strike was “the psychological part.”

After asking for personal information, including her address and contact phone number, the lieutenant colonel said that the artist would be “released in fifteen days.” To a question from 14ymedio, the mother of graffiti artist said she believes that “now that there are international agencies involved in his case, it is possible they will do what they said.”

El Sexto, classified as a prisoner of conscience by the human rights organization Amnesty International, was arrested for organizing a performance with two pigs painted with the names Raul and Fidel.

It’s Not the “Blockade”: It’s Fear 14ymedio, Pedro Campos

Raul Castro gives his speech at the UN. (UN)
Raul Castro gives his speech at the UN. (UN)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Pedro Campos, Havana, 30 September 2015 – The Cuban leaders insist that the “blockade” is the main obstacle to economic development in Cuba. This was confirmed by general-president Raul Castro at the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday.

Up until today, after the fall of the socialist bloc and the USSR, the United States blockade-embargo* remains the Cuban government’s main justification for the whole economic and social disaster caused by the Statist wage model imposed in Cuba in the name of socialism, in truth a kind of State monopoly capitalism.

The Cuban economy declined to the extent that the State concentrated ownership of land, which came to be 90%, as well as of industry and services, which reached 100%, and state monopolies controlled foreign and domestic trade.

All this was spiced with price controls, voluntarist* policies and plans, total control by the economic elite of the country of state investments and expenditures (“central planning”), the elimination the relationship between goods and money, elimination of individual and collective initiative, a war on private capitalism and cooperatives, now skewed with a thousand obstacles. Simply stated: it was increasingly constraining the initiative of society. continue reading

It has not been the “blockade,” as the Government says, nor this “socialism,” as argued by those who believed there was such a thing, that have been causes of the disaster, but rather the Statist wage model imposed by those who capitalized on the 1959 triumph of the Revolution. Instead of restoring the 1940 Constitution and the democratic institutions which for which all the democratic political movements and all social sectors had fought for, the State assumed control of all large, medium and small enterprises, all private or associated property, domestic or foreign, and they continued to exploit wage-labor.

In the name of a democratic and popular revolution the government imposed a persona, authoritarian, anti-democratic dictatorship which they called “of the proletariat” where the proletarians continued to be proletarians (i.e. workers), deciding nothing and, what’s worse, being exploited.

In the name of a nonexistent socialism they also appropriated the Cuban labor force for half a century, of the humble and dispossessed in the name of whom they erected this economic and government system. And unbearably, they called this thing socialism!

If from the former owners of land, factories, businesses and real estate they took away their material property, from four generations of revolutionaries of all stripes they took away their lives, which were placed at the service of the state in the Armed Forces, the State Security services, diplomatic work, international missions, guards and demonstrations. There was a need to defend the state from so many arbitrarily generated enemies.

But this is not the time for blame. If I mention blame it is because it is incriminating that the main cause was an effect, albeit one that has also done so much damage to us, above all because it has served to justify such nonsense.

It is time now for solutions. How to resolve the problem? Many of us have raised this and even Raul Castro knows it and says so, but he is in no hurry: the productive forces need to be freed.

How? By democratizing the political and economic life of the country. It is necessary to destroy the obstacles, laws and regulations that prevent people from deploying their initiative; to eliminate every restriction that stands in the way of the private labor of doctors, nurses, dentists, lawyers, architects and other professionals. The restrictions on free cooperativism need to be eliminated. Dismantle the state business monopolies and the price controls on agricultural and industrial products. Allow Cubans to import whatever they wish, establish stores and factories, with simple import and sales taxes.

Involve workers in the direction, management and profits of state enterprises, allow autonomous companies to invest, buy and sell. Allow the broad development of SMEs of all types, be they of private or associated capital, supported by private or state capital. Allow Cubans living abroad to invest in the island, supporting their families and friends. Change the tax laws to stimulate production and services.

To change the Foreign Investment Law for a simple investment law for everyone, where you can engage in all the forms of production that reality demands, with freedom for unions and guarantees for the fair wages for the workers. To reduce the size of the state and its spending. To expand and free the internet allowing free trade and horizontal exchange of information of all kinds. The free market makes possible the development of free labor, whether individual or associated. Without these changes there is no socialism, sustainability nor prosperity.

And can these changes in the economy be made by an authoritarian elite that aspires to perpetuate itself in power and maintain political and economic control over society?

So far it has been proven that they can not. First – or in parallel – there must be a process of democratization of the political life, which in a climate of trust will allow other sectors, groups or visions to perform with a focus on democratizing the society. This implies freedom of expression, association and free elections so that all political and economic trends manifest themselves and interact democratically to work towards a new constitution and a new electoral law.

A genuine democracy must establish participatory budgets locally, so that taxes and budgets are controlled more by communities to strengthen their capacities and sustainable development and to ensure that all relevant laws are widely and horizontally discussed and that all of the are subject to referendum.

And without an internal “blockade,” even if the other persists, so that as Cubans we can see what we are capable of.

If the blockade-embargo were lifted and these obstacles continued, the State would swallow all the loans and only support unproductive state enterprises of interest to the elites to paternalistically continue to govern health and education at a low cost, a pittance for food on the ration book, and precarious levels of wages, pensions, housing support and transportation the majority.

But the bureaucracy does not want socialization nor democratization: they do not want to risk their power and privileges. The fear of losing power is the ultimate cause that prevents these changes. Please, do not frighten them even more. No one needs to be done away with. Do not forget “with all and for the good of all.”

Whoever helps empower the people, whoever helps improve the living conditions of the people, whoever helps people to be more free and able to decide their destinies, to let them be happy and prosperous, whoever would do more for the welfare of the people, would win the greatest popular support.

If we have the United States to thank for all this and the lifting of its “blockade”… you get the idea, reader.

Translator’s notes:
*The Cuban regime insists on calling the US embargo against Cuba “the blockade.”
**In this context “voluntarism” is relying on volunteer labor for major economic activities.

Amnesty International Calls for Release of ‘El Sexto’ / 14ymedio

Danilo Maldonado, 'The Sixth'. (Claudio Fuentes)
Danilo Maldonado, ‘The Sixth’. (Claudio Fuentes)

14ymedio, 29 September 2015 — The human rights defense organization Amnesty International on Tuesday launched an action to demand the release of the Cuban artist Danilo Maldonado, El Sexto (the Sixth), whom it considers a prisoner of conscience.

The artist wrote a “farewell letter” from the Valle Grande prison where he has been detained since last December for trying to organize a performance in which two piglets, painted with the names Raul and Fidel, would have been released in a public place. The letter, dated Sept. 16, was published by the Foundation for Human Rights in Cuba (FHRC) on its website .

The graffiti artist, imprisoned without trial or sentence, has maintained a hunger strike since 8 September.

The farewell letter of El Sexto

Valle Grande Prison

From the “cell” (of punishment)

September 16, 2015…

Where I am there is little light and I am in my underwear because I do not want to wear the prison uniform. They give me a mattress for 5 or 6 hours at night. I only drink water and there will be no ability to respond (from you to this letter) because they don’t allow contacts.

Thanks to Lia, Gorki, Antonio and everyone for helping my mother manage things. Thanks to Aylín for the beautiful and encouraging letters. I read them as many times as I could, I would like to write you a thousand letters like you deserve but now I do not think I will have the light, the paper, nor the energy to do it. continue reading

This may be my last letter from here in the punishment cell and if I survive you will hear more from my lips. So I want to tell everyone that I waited too long for this moment to do a hunger strike, we Cubans have wanted too long to expel these scoundrels.

Now that I have started, I feel my faith, determination and self-esteem go through the roof for having decided. I feel proud of being the artist that I am and of doing the art that I do for the Cuba I represent. So I am willing to give my life a hundred times if necessary.

He who lives without finding out what to die for, has not found the essence of life. A man with ideals of peace, love and one who does not carry a weapon to assert his opinions is the man of the future. Because with his faith, his hope, he builds an Eden here on earth.

Thank you all for trusting me and know that if I die I will die happy to carry with me a tattoo of my time like Laura Pollan, Oswaldo Paya, who left traces of their existence, of their generation, of their responsibility to leave behind then a legacy for their loved ones, one lesson: love what you do and devote your life to it.

I was born in a poor neighborhood, Nuevitas, Camagüey. My family is very humble: I lived in Arroyo Arenas from age 4; in Chafarinas, Guira de Melena; in Covadonga, Las Tunas: a village still without electricity; Guáimaro, Camagüey and Arroyo Arenas, La Lisa. And I was lucky to live in Vedado often, there I have my daughter Renata María, who was born in England.

I am a wanderer and I have gone here and there getting to know my country, my culture, that I love and so I raise my voice to denounce what seems wrong to me. I visited Holland for three months, I lived in The Hague, 45 minutes by train from the fabulous Amsterdam. I studied and lived at Miami Dade College in the United States for three months as well. All these places taught to me relate quickly to my surroundings, that the most important thing is to have friends, to love, to respect and not to do to anyone what we do not want them to do to us. I learned how to stand up to the powerful.

My art is respected today, more than anything because I believe in it. I respected it and gave it—and give it—all my strength, perseverance, affection and love. Although I was misunderstood and perhaps by others I still am, when those around you see so much love and how much you are able to give and how much you respect your art, then they begin to value it. But first we must build an altar of consecration in our chest and others, little by little, will begin to respect you for what you do: this knowledge is my legacy.

Someone said that all of humanity will part when we see a man who knows where he is going. This might be my last work and I have named it “Drawing Attention” or “The Awakening of the Inner Magician.” Each one of us has an inner magician. May my Gothic existence touch your hearts and light your flame and awaken your internal leader, being conscious of this gift of life and standing up against evil. Someone said, “The world is not this way because of those who do evil but because of those who allow it.”

This work is dedicated to my mother, my little daughter Renata María, to all those who support me, all those who added a grain of sand to achieve freedom for Cuba. To all the Ladies in White in the world and especially in Cuba: no more beating of women! To the memory of Laura, Oswaldo, Zapata.

This work is dedicated to my mother, my little daughter Renata María, to all those who support me, all who put in a grain of sand to achieve the freedom of Cuba. To all the Ladies in White of the world especially those in Cuba: no more beating of women! In memory of Laura, Oswaldo, Zapata.

The day I grabbed a spray can in my hand I decided what to do with my life.

So be it.

I am with faith and conviction: Liberty or death, to die for art is to live.

Hugs,

Danilo Maldonado, El Sexto.

Please sign for his freedom at Causes.com. < click there

El Sexto has been on a hunger strike since September 8th. He is demanding his freedom because he has been imprisoned since December 25th (of last year) for thinking to release some pigs with the names of Fidel and Raul, which he never released because he was imprisoned. He is in prison without trial or sentence or justice.

Pinar Del Rio, Under Siege By Dengue Fever / 14ymedio, Juan Carlos Fernandez

Pasillo-Pediatrico-Portilla-Carlos-Fernandez_CYMIMA20150929_0004_13
Hallway in Pepe Portilla Pediatric Hospital where beds have been set up for fever patients. (Juan Carlos Fernandez)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Juan Carlos Fernandez, 29 September 2015 – The fear of contracting dengue fever keeps thousands of families on tenterhooks in the province of Pinar del Rio, especially those with young children.

Problems with the water supply are among the main causes for the outbreak, said a family doctor from the Hermanos Barcón People’s Council, who requested anonymity. “People build tanks, cisterns and try to store water and that is a constant focus of vectors,” he says. “There are areas in the city that only receive water every fifteen days,” adding that the “poor state of the health centers in the capital makes many people with the disease try to hide it so they will not be forced to go to a hospital,” thereby increasing the risk of contagion. continue reading

Hospitals have reinforced their services to deal with cases of dengue fever, especially Leon Cuervo Rubio Hospital and Abel Santamaría General Teaching Hospital, which has one room only for pregnant women. It has also set up a room at the Simon Boliver Health Polytechnic and another for infants in the Turcios Lima polyclinic, while in the Pepe Portilla Pediatric Hospital the avalanche of fever cases has required them to place beds in the corridors, with mosquito nets to prevent transmission.

Although health authorities spread the word about the increase of cases in the region they have not yet provided data on infections. Dr. Mérida Morales Lugo, head of the International Sanitary Control Program, simply explained last Friday in a statement to the local newspaper Guerrilla that conditions are favorable for “accelerated vector reproduction,” referring to the Aedes aegypti mosquito. However, the specialist said, so far there are no cases of hemorrhagic dengue fever, the most feared form of the disease.

There are confirmed cases of dengue fever in the four health areas of the Pinar del Rio capital and in eight of its People’s Councils, an area that has a population of about 122,000. The disease has also reached the municipalities of San Luis, San Juan y Martinez and Consolacion del Sur, near the provincial capital.

Health authorities have urged people to go to the doctor at the least sign of fever symptoms. Medical students, staff in all the family medicine offices and public health administrative workers have been mobilized along with other workplace employees to search house to house, looking for people with symptoms of the disease.

Wifi, Another Opportunity To “Resolve Things Under The Table” / EFE, Yeny Garcia

People of all ages connect to the WiFi from the center of Pinar del Río. (14ymedio)
People of all ages connect to the WiFi from the center of Pinar del Río. (14ymedio)

EFE, 14ymedio, Yeny Garcia, Havana, 28 September 2015 – For the last three months Cuba has experienced an unprecedented, although still limited, increase in Internet access with 35 new WiFi points, a boom that engages Cubans and that has led to the proliferation of services “under the table.”

Many “bisneros” [businessmen] or street traders have taken advantage of the inability of the telecommunications monopoly, ETECSA, to maintain a stable supply of recharge coupons, high prices and the lack of knowledge among neophyte users, to offer services outside the legal to meet demand.

“It’s like it’s always been, we try to resolve it however we can, we don’t worry too much about how, the problem is to resolve it, to connect,” says Gerardo, a young man who has settled with his laptop on a bench on Boulevard San Rafael in Old Havana, where one of the wireless internet areas operates. continue reading

Almost always this Cuban “resolve” goes one way: “under the table,” which explains what this young Havanan intends to do to be able to challenge the restrictions.

For Gerardo “the world moves through the Internet” so the access to the web brings “many benefits to Cubans,” although for some it is still very difficult to pay the 2 Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC) fee for one hour of internet (over $10 US or one-tenth or more of the average monthly wage).

The eagerness of Cubans to surf the web has resulted in 55,000 individual connections from the 35 WiFi points spread across the island

“The price for the cards is very expensive, because we cannot do much in an hour, the connection is very slow, you have to keep reconnecting, and in the end it is not economical for us,” he said.

Cuba is one of the countries with the lowest rates of connectivity in the world, with only 5% of people connected to the internet (that is, not the island’s own intranet), which is reduced to 1% for broadband.

The eagerness of Cubans to surf the web has resulted in 55,000 individual connections from the 35 WiFi points spread across the island, 8,000 of them simultaneously, according to the official data.

“Many people connect and ETECSA isn’t equipped to sell the recharge cards, the lines are very long, they’re only sold during working hours. So you have to go to the black market,” a “bisnero” who offers the service told EFE, asking for anonymity.

Reselling the cards, generally at 3 CUCs (one above the official price) means having “the police always on top of you,” and so this business has shifted to “installing software,” to turn cellphones into WiFi hotspots.

Several local media, among them the main official newspaper, Granma, criticize these WiFi “merchants” who sell to users via middlemen who use their devices to create alternative wireless networks that can be accessed for half the official price.

“People often do not have the money to take advantage of what is offered, but they’re aware of all this and have increased the surveillance; I myself have been picked up by the police, for no reason, and they had to let me go,” says this young man who recognizes that “the wifi is something that has not been developed as it should have been.”

“ETECSA isn’t equipped to sell the recharge cards, the lines are very long, they’re only sold during working hours. So you have to go to the black market”

Another user, Grisel, welcomes the opportunity to connect, but is concerned about the consequences, “You have to keep your eyes open, so that someone doesn’t take your cellphone,” recognizing that the price will continue to be “elevated” if you take into account the average Cuban salary.

Hundreds of people, focused on their phones, tablets and computers, accommodate themselves as best they can on sidewalks, benches, stairs and curbs within the WiFi zones, including Yainiel, who travels from Santiago de las Vegas, about 12 miles from Havana, to connect.

“I come from far away,” he tells EFE, while affirming that “when so many people with phones and computers are outdoors, robberies increase the insecurity.”

The young engineer acknowledges the poor quality of the connection, “when there are a lot of people it is very slow and that’s money that it’s costing you,” he said, noting that this is why many people prefer to pay half-price, even though it is illegal.

“If ETECSA lowers prices (…) and expands the sale of cards, this (the illegalities) will eventually fall,” he said, while excusing himself saying that in Cuba “time is money.”

Cuban Exiles Demand The Release Of Danilo Maldonado / EFE, 14ymedio

Danilo Maldonado, 'El Sexto' (The Sixth). (Artist's File)
Danilo Maldonado, ‘El Sexto’ (The Sixth). (Artist’s File)

EFE, Miami, 29 September 2015 — The Assembly of Cuban Resistance in Miami on Tuesday demanded the release in Cuba of artist Danilo Maldonado, known as El Sexto (The Sixth), who has spent 22 days on a hunger strike to demand his freedom after nine months of detention.

According to the Cuban exile group, the graffiti artist is in “critical condition” in the Cuban prison of Valle Grande, in the province of Mayabeque, along with the activisits Zaqueo Báez, Ismael Bonet Reñé and María Josefa Acón, detained in Havana and also on hunger strike.

The organization explained that Maldonado was arrested in December 2014 for painting the names of the two Castro brothers on the backs of two pigs, before an artistic performance he was going to stage with the animals. continue reading

The group called on human rights organizations and the international community to “show solidarity with this cause.”

“No trial has yet been held and the reason is that he simply wanted to stage a performance,” the Assembly of the Cuban Resistance said in a statement today.

The organization said that the three other human rights activists belong to the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU) and were arrested on 20 September during the visit of Pope Francis to the island.

“We call on the international community to support these defenders of human rights whose lives are really at risk,” Antonio Rodiles said in a statement; Rodiles is one of the coordinators of the Forum on the Rights and Freedoms.

After more than five decades of enmity, Cuba and the United States re-established diplomatic relations on 20 July.

The White House said this Tuesday that President Barack Obama “reaffirmed” before his Cuban counterpart Raul Castro, his “commitment” to ensure that the Government of the island “does a better job” in protecting the human rights of its citizens, following the participation of both presidents on Monday at the UN General Assembly in New York.

Education Launches a New Offensive against the “Weekly Packet” / 14ymedio, Orlando Palma

A Cuban accessing the “Weekly Packet” from his laptop at home (14ymedio)
A Cuban accessing the “Weekly Packet” from his laptop at home (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Orlando Palma, Havana, 25 September 2015 – Under the name To Educate Yourself, the Ministry of Education announced Thursday a collection of documentaries, films and music that it will begin distributing monthly in its learning facilities during the current academic year. In open competition with the illegal weekly packet of audio-visual material, this official rival seeks to establish itself as “an attractive offering of Cuban education” through content of “good taste.”

The compendium is aimed at those among whom the weekly packet is a hit. The majority of Cuban children and teens frequently watch cartoons, video clips, series and films that are distributed on the black market. In order to compete with those materials, the Ministry announces that its offering has “a search engine so that the user is not lost searching among more than a terabyte of data.” continue reading

The new product will include courses and tutorials for the self-study of foreign languages, computation, agriculture, and masonry, as Barreto detailed. Some materials will be accompanied by animated graphics and a tool to display video, text and photos at the same time, reported the official.

However, the official announcement did not address how copyrights will be managed on To Educate Yourself. Cuban television and national media frequently overlook payment for rights to films, concerts and musical recordings, especially those coming from the United States, which are the majority.

Divided into folders, like its rival alternative, the file will contain a section called Learn to Look with “expert commentaries and interesting facts so that the young form critical judgment about what they are watching,” Barreto specified.

The Cinesoft manager added that a second packet aimed at teachers and entitled The Teaching Library will also be distributed every fifteen days and will consist of books, articles and theses.

Given the serious material problems which plague labs in many of the country’s learning centers, To Educate Yourself will include a collection of virtual labs for Physics, Chemistry and Biology so that “when [the students] truly perform the exercise, there will be less risk that they will break some implement or spill a substance.”

This is not the first time that the government has tried to compete with the weekly packet. Distribution in Youth Clubs of the Backpack, a collection of audio-visual materials, began in August 2014; so far it has had a poor popular reception.

Translated by Mary Lou Keel