“The canonization of historical figures continues” / 14ymedio, Luz Escobar

'Control of History' (1st part) by Saavedra. (Luz Escobar)
‘Control of History’ (1st part) by Saavedra. (Photo by Luz Escobar) Assignment: “Draw Che.” Grade received from teacher: 50 points out of 50.

14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 10 January 2015 – Outside the Galiano gallery in Central Havana yesterday, dozens of people gathered to enter the Añejo 27 [Aged 27] exposition. Some passersby were puzzled by the reasons for the tumult, perhaps thinking that eggs or pork had come to the ration stores. However, it’s “just art,” one disappointed girl told another who grimaced on hearing it.

The doors open and in the salon are hanging works from almost thirty years ago. “A liqueur from the past” with a strange taste of the present. The author of these drawings, collages and oils is Lázaro Saavedra, an artist with a stroke of the ironic and few words. Even so, 14ymedio managed to talk with him amid some images that characterize his work and his artistic generation.

Escobar: Graphic art and humor are in mourning this week because of the events at the weekly Charlie Hebdo. What did you think when you heard about this tragedy?

Saavedra: Rather than thinking, in the face of news like that what one feels is a very emotional reaction. continue reading

Escobar: Eight years have passed since the “little war of e-mails” in which you participated very actively. How has cultural policy changed at that time?

Saavedra: Everything has remained the same.

Escobar: In this exhibition, Añejo 27, there is an impressive effect in many of the themes and situations. Aren’t you frightened?

Saavedra: And what are the specific issues in which this effect is noticed?

Escobar: For example, this picture in front of us reminds me of the homework of my daughters who are now in elementary school.

Saavedra: You’re referring to the “Portrait of Che”? Yes, of course, it’s still current. That is, the entire canonization of historical figures continues.

Escobar: Tania Bruguera’s performance didn’t happen. Do you think it was too soon for a call like that?

Saavedra: I think so, it was too soon.

Escobar: What about Cuban art today, does it enjoy good health?

Saavedra: That’s a difficult question because if you think about health you have to counterbalance that with disease. In the answer to this question about disease, we have to be thinking about the cure for things to be better. Then we will have to detect what would be the points of sickness.

'Control of History' (part 2) by Saavedra. (Luz Escobar) Text of the composition on Che: “Che was Bolivian. He liked to smoke cigars. He had long hair and a very bright star on his forehead. His gaze was impressive and also very tender. He loved children very much and because of this they killed him in Argentina.” Teacher’s grade: 0 points out of 50.
‘Control of History’ (part 2) by Saavedra. (Luz Escobar)
Assignment: “Write a composition on Che.” Text of the composition: “Che was Bolivian. He liked to smoke cigars. He had long hair and a very bright star on his forehead. His gaze was impressive and also very tender. He loved children very much and because of this they killed him in Argentina.” Grade received from teacher: 0 points out of 50.

Escobar: The disconnect in artistic language, for example, with respect to what is happening in other countries in the world?

Saavedra: The disconnect in language has always been a constant in Cuban art. For example I did Volume One precisely because of this disconnect in Cuban art. In these times to do a work with new language could be considered a work of “ideological diversionism.” To some extent that is also what happened with Tania’s work, there is a disconnect in the appearance of the work with the traditional concepts of art.

Escobar: You’ve stood out as a teacher of new generations. What artistic surprises do young people have in store for us?

Saavedra: I don’t know now because I haven’t been teaching at ISA (Superior Institute of Art) for a few years, it’s been since about 2009 that I lost contact with the new generations.

Because of work problems I haven’t been able to give classes, in fact that is one of the doubts I have of myself. I would like to at least prove first hand, that is at the primary source, that this is what is being done at ISA. I refer to the place, because another thing is what comes out of ISA versus what is archived in ISA, which are two different things.

List of the Political Prisoners Released to date / 14ymedio

, Havana, 9 January 2015

2. Alexeis Vargas Martín

3. Ángel Figueredo Castellón

4. Ángel Yunier Remón Arzuaga

5. Anoy Almeida Pérez

6. Aracelio Ribeaux Noa

7. Ariel Eugenio Arzuaga Peña

8. Bianko Vargas Martín

9. Daniel Enrique Quesada Chaveco

10. David Piloto Barceló

11. Diango Vargas Martín

12. Emilio Plana Robert

13. Enrique Figuerola Miranda

14. Ernesto Riverí Gascón

15. Haydeé Gallardo Salázar

16. Iván Fernández Depestre

17. Jorge Ramírez Calderón

18. José Lino Ascencio López

19. Jose M. Rodriguez Navarro

20. Julio César Vegas Santiesteban

21. Lázaro Romero Hurtado

22. Luis Enrique Labrador Díaz

23. Miguel Guerra Astie

24. Rolando Reyes Rabanal

25. Ruberlandis Maine Villalón

26. Yohanne Arce Sarmientos

27. Yordenis Mendoza Cobas

28. Wilberto Parada Milán

29. Mario Alberto Hernández Leiva

30. Leonardo Paumier Ramirez

31. Miguel Angel Tamayo Frias

32. Ernesto Tamayo Guerra

33. Vladimir Ortiz Suárez

34. Roberto Hernández Barrio

35. Rubisney Villavicencio Figueredo

36. Carlos Manuel Figueredo Álvarez

37.  Alexander Fernández Rico

38. Miguel Alberto Ulloa

39. Reiner Mulet

Drug Consumption Increases in Cuba / 14ymedio, ORLANDO PALMA

Screen capture from the TV report issued by Primetime News about customs work against drug trafficking
Screen capture from the TV report issued by Primetime News about customs work against drug trafficking

14ymedio, Orlando Palma, Havana, 8 January 2015 – The seizure in 2014 of close to 40 tons of drugs in Cuban ports and airports belies the old official line that for decades presented narco-trafficking as a foreign phenomenon, a characteristic of the “corrupt capitalist world.” The official press boasted that the Island was not used as bridge for the introduction of narcotics into other countries.

Nevertheless, as early as the nineties, some academic studies and journalistic reports began to speak in more realistic terms about national addiction and consumption of prohibited substances. continue reading

Last October Cuban television’s Primetime News published a report from Jose Marti International Airport in which the techniques used by customs to detect the entry of drugs were demonstrated and in which it reported the discovery of at least 40 cases of intent to traffic drugs through the border through mid-October.

The report came out days after the independent press echoed a study published by Customs of the Republic that showed the case of a passenger who transferred to the Island “a certain quantity of drug in an ingested form which was destined for the domestic consumption market.” That brief phrase focused attention on the existence of two problems within Cuba: domestic consumption and the use of “mules” for transport of the substances.

The Customs report, prepared by Moraima Rodriguez Nuviola, chief of the Department of Analysis for that agency, adds other figures. Between January and November 2014, the system for confronting drugs on the border discovered through air, sea and postal channels 38,843 kilograms of drugs, among them 36,587 of cocaine, 2,224 of marijuana and 32 of cannabinoids.
Customs now has 110 dog units trained to find not only explosives but also drugs.

Modern X-ray equipment for the Mariel port, together with other technical means of control have been installed or will be installed soon in all of the country’s international airports. Among them the internal body scan, which is used to find out if a person has ingested drugs and the external body scan to see if there is contraband attached to the body.

Official recognition of the existence of a domestic market for the consumption of drugs has been reflected on official television through signals such as the appearance of a message announcing a telephone help line for addicts and the introduction into scripts of cases brought against networks that distribute crack cocaine or any other substance. Counseling programs have begun to include advice for family members who live with addicts.

Increased tourism and the new economic capacity of some population sectors would be the main causes for the presumed increase in consumption of drugs. Meanwhile, the new official discourse suggests that, to the extent that the country now is looking like the rest of the world, these phenomena are inevitable.

After the announcement of the re-establishment of diplomatic relations between Washington and Havana, the fight to stop drug trafficking could become another area of cooperation between the two countries, since the Island, in contrast with the majority of its neighbors, is not an important point in the circulation of narcotics.

“I do not believe that the Cuban government wants to be a drug trafficking center,” Barry McCaffrey, a White House anti-drug official during the Clinton administration, has said in statements to The Washington Post. McCaffrey has said that there has already been “all kinds of communication between the US and the Island” in this area, although it was not “perfect cooperation.”

Translated by MLK

So we remember him? /14ymedio, Eliecer Avila

14ymedio, Eliecer Avila, Havana, 8 January 2015 — They say some animals possess the ability to perceive when natural phenomenon will occur. Man, however much he has evolved, is still an animal and retains some primitive characteristics. I don’t know if this sharp sense is present in our DNA. What I do know, is that we have a great ability to read between the lines of what happens around us and to draw logical conclusions and even to predict great events.

These days my neighbors and friends are behaving oddly. They speak softly, and in whispers share a kind of “sensitive information.” In general, they try to connect the dots…

There is a subtle but clear increase in surveillance in the streets, according to some. The press, radio and TV, with equal subtlety, increasingly broadcast more materials alluding to the former president Fidel Castro.

In fact, for days they’ve been airing a series called “Moments of the Revolution.” In this Thursday’s episode they showed a young and vigorous Fidel delivering a speech to the United Nations. The final sentence of the program perplexed me: “So we remember him…”

Nobody has missed Fidel’s silence on the historic events that marked the end of the year for Cuba and its politics. This has been, to my knowledge, the root of opinions and rumors gaining strength as the days go by. The more moderate of these suppositions refer to the historic leader’s delicate state of health. Others are less optimistic and theorize about the political interplay of dates and opportunities, which is typical of those systems that normally prefer mystery over timely and reasonable information.

For my part, I can only attest to an event unprecedented in recent years, at least where I have knowledge. It is, incredibly, nothing more and nothing less than the fact that Fish-for-Fish* has come to the bodega, instead of Chicken-for-Fish*. Yes, the kind that comes from the sea (imported mackerel).

In the face of this novelty that surprises us lately, I imagine that many don’t know whether to be happy or fearful. We’ll see.

*Translator’s note: Fish is supposedly part of the monthly food rations sold at reduced prices. However, as it is rarely, if ever, available, the ration stores routinely announce “chicken-for-fish,” substituting chicken for the fish ration. On the day that Obama and Raul Castro announced the new accords, fish was made available in the ration stores.

Learning to live without Fidel Castro / 14ymedio, Rosa Lopez

Graffiti in support of Fidel and Raul Castro “With Fidel and Raul Until the End” (14ymedio)
Graffiti in support of Fidel and Raul Castro “With Fidel and Raul Until the End” (14ymedio)

14ymedio, Rosa Lopez, Havana, 8 January 2015 — A poster with Fidel Castro’s face is pasted on the glass of the deteriorated locale. Years ago, some naughty boy painted the whites of his eyes dark and the effect is intimidating, but almost nobody sees it. The man who wanted to be indispensable and omnipresent for Cubans, has come to resemble the air, which few perceive although it is everywhere.

Learning to live without Fidel Castro has been an urgent subject for many Cubans during all these years of the convalescence of the Maximum Leader. Lately, however, the rumors of his death have reappeared and there are those who have dusted off the memories or rushed to close the national chapter where he had too much of a starring role.

Adele’s family was one of the first in the Vibora neighborhood to put the phrase “This is your house, Fidel,” on the door. From then until now, this woman has worshiped the man who, in the photo hanging on the wall of her modest house, wears a beard and a military uniform. “I’m a Fidelista to the death,” she says almost angrily in front of her grandchildren who don’t seem to have come out as fervent as their grandmother. “Here, everything bad that has happened, they’ve ignored it,” explains the lady. For her, the absence of recent months is because “surely, he’s writing some book, his memoirs, or something like that.” continue reading

In a little lost village in the hills of the Escambray, Juan Manuel doesn’t agree. “At best he died a long time ago,” says this 28-year-old peasant who lives in one of the concrete buildings in the area where “reliable people” were moved after the events of the Escambray in the seventies. Although he comes from a military family, the young man shows little interest in politics and speaks of Fidel Castro in the past tense. “I saw him once when he passed through here in a jeep, but then he was a man full of energy,” he says, making an effort to remember.

Others, more savvy, note how long it’s been since the Maximum Leader has appeared on national television. “For about a year they haven’t even shown a live and moving image of him. Lately, we haven’t seen anything but stills,” says Miguel, a member of the Communist Party who sells discs with music and movies on the streets of Cerro. “If Raul has been able to arrange things with the yumas [Americans] it’s because he must already be very sick,” he theorizes and when he mentions the personal pronoun he makes a slight gesture with his hand making a beard on his chin. Everyone listening knows who he’s talking about.

However, beyond the speculations, passions and indifference, there are realities that point to the fading of the figure of Fidel Castro and his role in national life. For more than a year, he’s not been among the characters of any of the jokes on the street, although the stories of Pepito with Fidel Castro have flooded Cuban imagery from decades. Nor have there been any new nicknames for this man who came to have a list of dozens of epithets, insults and nicknames. It’s also significant that they haven’t hung the nickname of the latest soap opera villain on him, although lately there are several of these soaps on the small screen. Fidel Castro is dead in the collective imagination.

Ana Maria was born with the new millennium and now she’s finishing high school. “Yes, in the textbooks there are a lot of phrases with him,” explains this teenager who belongs to a generation that only remembers a convalescent Fidel Castro. “My grandfather told me some things about how it was before, that he gave several hour long speeches,” she says as if she were speaking of something very remote. If you ask her about the long time since the one-time president has appeared in public, she just shrugs her shoulders as if she hadn’t thought about it.

A prophetic joke is coming to pass. It said that in the Cuban encyclopedias published in the year 3000, the entry for Fidel Castro would have a brief entry. “Politician of the era of the Van Van orchestra,” say those who jokingly repeat this gag. For those born in recent years, the Commander in Chief will be remembered as an old man who appeared sporadically in photos, wrote about moringa and dressed in a tracksuit.

“The truth is that ‘The Five” have been here a lot of days and he hasn’t come out to even give them a hug, it’s a clear signal,” says the physiotherapist who talks with the old people who come the central Havana polyclinic every morning. “People come here with all kinds of stories, that he’s had a stroke, that they’re going to disconnect the machines after January 8, that he’s frozen, but I will believe it when I see it.” To conclude, and while helping a lady up from a chair, she says, “I have lost count of how many times we’ve buried him.”

Outside the Hotel Inglaterra, a foreign journalist asks a young woman: “What will happen if Fidel Castro dies?” His poor Spanish has led to the frequent mistake of saying “if” instead of “when,” which would be correct in this case. One wrong word and the reporter has left open the possibility of immortality.

The legends of a vital return are also mixed with speculations in the last weeks. “This, this is hoping that we think that it’s cool to return,” explains the custodian of a warehouse near the Almendares River. His hypothesis is shared with an old ousted official. “No, until January 10 he’s not going to reappear because he’s resting,” he says, while saying his source is very close.

The last years of Fidel Castro are happening among rumors, speculation and forgetting. There are signs that the news about his end will not have the social or political repercussion that it would have caused decades ago.

Twelve Dead in a Shooting at the Headquarters of the French Satirical Weekly ‘Charlie Hebdo’ / 14ymedio

Caption:  Cover of the special edition published in 2006 by ‘Charlie Hebdo,’ the first incident with radical religious Muslims.  In the vignette, Mohammed says, “How hard it is to be loved by imbeciles!”
Cover of the special edition published in 2006 by ‘Charlie Hebdo,’ the first incident with radical religious Muslims. In the vignette, Mohammed says, “How hard it is to be loved by imbeciles!”

14YMEDIO, Madrid, 7 January 2015 — The three presumed perpetrators of the attack against the satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo that claimed the lives of twelve people this Wednesday have already been identified, according to several French media outlets. The attack left at least 10 wounded and 12 dead, eight of whom were journalists. Among them are the editor of the publication, Stephane Charbonnier Charb, and another three long-time cartoonists, Cabu, Tignous and Wolinski, besides two police officers. The chief editor of the weekly, Gerard Biard, was in London, which saved him from the attack.

The daily Metronews website explains that the suspects are three men aged 34, 32 and 18 with histories of cooperating with jihadist networks. According to this outlet, they would be brothers Said K. and Cherif K. of French nationality, while the younger would answer to the name of Hamyd M., but his nationality is unknown. The latter was enrolled last year in secondary school in Reims (northern France), according to these reports, which have not been officially confirmed. continue reading

Cherif K. was tried in 2005 for being part of a cell sending jihadists to Iraq that would have recruited some dozen youths to go to combat in Iraq between 2003 and 2005. He was then sentenced to three years in prison, half of that suspended.

For its part, the weekly Le Point says that the three suspects were identified by an identity card found in the vehicle in which they fled the location of the events and in which they collided with another car in the northeast of Paris.

The French government has raised to maximum level the antiterrorist alert and has mobilized more than 3,000 members of the security forces in the operation to search for and capture the perpetrators of the attack.

Thousands of people have gathered in the emblematic Parisian Plaza of the Republic, in absolute silence, to protest against the terrorist massacre. The protestors have responded to spontaneous calls made through social networks, and many of them carried signs with the legend: “Je suis Charlie” (“I am Charlie”).

Several witnesses have told French television station iTele that three men dressed in black and wearing hoods entered the headquarters of the weekly armed with Kalashnikovs and shot at the people present in the editorial office. One of the Charlie Hebdo journalists has explained to the chain that many shots were heard inside the building.

French President Francois Hollande went quickly to the magazine’s headquarters, located in Paris’s District 11, where he has confirmed the number of victims and has announced that four of the wounded are in serious condition. “France is in shock,” said the president who has classified the attack as “extraordinary barbarity.” “We must demonstrate that we are a united country. I am going to act with firmness in the coming days and weeks,” said Hollande who has declared the highest antiterrorist alert level. Classes have been suspended.

British Prime Minister David Cameron has shown solidarity in statements from London. “We are with the French people in the fight against terror and in defense of freedom of expression,” he declared. His vice minister, Nick Clegg, also has condemned the attack and stressed that it is an act against press freedom.

Caption:  One of the last cartoons by Charb, editor of Charlie Hebdo:  “Still no attacks in France.  Wait a minute!  We have until the end of January to celebrate the new year!”
One of the last cartoons by Charb, editor of Charlie Hebdo: “Still no attacks in France. Wait a minute! We have until the end of January to celebrate the new year!”

Solidarity with France has come from other points. Both the Russian President Vladimir Putin and the White House, as well as the German Chancellor Angela Merkel and the Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, have expressed their condolences to Francois Hollande. “It is an intolerable act, a barbarity that concerns us all as human beings and as Europeans,” the European Commission has said through a statement by its president Jean-Claude Juncker. US President Barack Obama has offered assistance to France to bring the guilty “terrorists” to justice.

Charlie Hebdo has received threats for having published caricatures of Mohammed. The journalist Vincent Justin, who worked in an office next to the weekly’s headquarter, has assured the EFE agency that the parties responsible for the shooting justified the action with the sentence: “We are going to avenge the prophet.”

Cartoon:  “Bad times for humor.”  Caption:  A cartoon by the Spanish satirical magazine ‘El Jueves’ after learning of the shooting at the ‘Charlie Hebdo’ headquarters.
Cartoon: “Bad times for humor.” A cartoon by the Spanish satirical magazine ‘El Jueves’ after learning of the shooting at the ‘Charlie Hebdo’ headquarters.

French Muslim leaders already have demonstrated their rejection of the attack. The rector of the Paris mosque, Dalil Boubakeur, has classified the attack as a “declaration of war” and has bluntly condemned the shooting. The imam of Paris said that “the cartoons have to be responded to as cartoons,” while the imam of Drancy (in Seine-Saint-Denis, on the outskirts of Paris) has characterized the Charlie Hebdo journalists as “martyrs of liberty:” “Their prophet is not Mohammed, it is Satan,” he added.

In 2011 the headquarters of the magazine suffered an attack with a Molotov cocktail that caused a fire and widespread damage. That attack was carried out a day after the publication of an edition entitled Sharia Hebdo, dedicated to the Islamist advance in Tunisia and Libya, which portrayed Mohammed as the chief editor of the caricature edition.

Translated by MLK

“We have a great vocation to commit the same mistakes” / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

Marifeli Pérez-Stable during the interview in Mexico. (Reinaldo Escobar / 14ymedio)
Marifeli Pérez-Stable during the interview in Mexico. (Reinaldo Escobar / 14ymedio)

14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, 6 January 2015 – Longing and love for Cuba have been a constant in her life. Sociology professor, scholar of Cuban history, and promoter of initiatives to bring “the two shores” closer, Marifeli Perez-Stable is a woman who raises passions and whose prose has the ability to make us reflect. Decades ago she embraced the idea of the Cuban Revolution, but she also knew its failure, and the disillusionment it caused so many. Today, she is a person of two cultures and two countries.

The first part of this conversation, that we present to the readers of 14ymedio, took place in Mexico City with coffees in front of us, and the second was via email after the announcement of the reestablishment of relations between the United States and Cuba, on 17 December.

Question: You have defined your generation as the one that buried its grandparents and parents outside the island. And the most recent exile, how do you see them?

Answer: I’m more familiar with those who are relatively young. They are lucky that they didn’t make the break that we were forced to. They can go back and see their families, they send money to help them, they have their own identity. I’m delighted to have them in the classroom when I’m teaching. Many have at least one of their parents in Cuba. Now, amid the abnormality, there is a normality that we did not have. So I’m going to die with a certain internal emptiness that I can no longer fill, no matter what, because I could not develop as a person nor as a professional in Cuba. continue reading

Q: How did you arrive in an unknown country and start from nothing?

A: When we left the island my mother suffered a severe dislocation and great depression. It wasn’t just for the loss of Cuba, but also for the loss of her social status. Her despondency was contagious and I was 11, so I was a girl who only knew how to play and study. When I started at the university I barely knew what I wanted to be. Then I did a Master’s in Political Science, and although I knew I would be studying themes related to Cuba, the fact is that I didn’t know much about my own country.

Q: You have gone through the experience of facing accusations from both extremes of the range of political positions. How do you handle these attacks?

A: The main evolution is that I no longer care about these attacks, whether from one side or the other. I am not anyone’s agent, neither the CIA’s nor the FBI’s nor Cuban State Security’s. For a little less than twenty years I sympathized with a process known as the “Cuban Revolution,” but I’ve spent many more years opposing this phenomenon. When a 2008 Miami television program invited a former US army colonel who made serious accusations against me and against other people, as if we were Cuban spies, yes, I was shaken up. I responded with a column saying that espionage was the antithesis of who I was. But now I don’t react to these attacks.

Q: You’ve published several books, among them “The Cuban Revolution: Origins, Development and Legacy” and “The United States and Cuba: Intimate Enemies,” What other national studies themes have you addressed in your studies?

A: I reconsidered, with special attention, two aspects of our past. One of them concerns the “reconcentrados*” during the War of 1895 in the era of General Valeriano Weyler; the other is the autonomists [the Home Rule Party]. In relation to the war it should be noted that Cuba then had 1.5 million inhabitants, but there were 178,000 deaths, basically among the farmers and civilians who roamed the cities without any chance of finding food.

I don’t like this type of comparison, but in the Civil War in the United States, around 625,000 soldiers and 50,000 civilians died, especially in the South. In that country at that time this meant some 2.5% of the population. In our war the figure was 10%, of whom the immense majority were civilians. If we compare the impact that the War of Succession still has on the United States, with that of the War of Independence in Cuba, we have to conclude that we have an enormous vocation for committing the same mistakes.

Q: And the autonomists?

A: José Martí said that they were the party of the permanent mistake, but you can see clearly that they weren’t rejected in the Republic. They conceived a democratic Cuba and, given the current disaster, you can’t say they were more disastrous.

Q: The term “dialoguero” [“dialogue-er”] is used against those who say they can talk with the Cuban authorities. Do you think that dialogue could still happen between the opposition and the government?

A: This has to define Cubans who live on the island. As things are today in Cuba, the conditions aren’t there, because the government refuses to talk. I think a lot about the transitions in Eastern Europe and in Latin American, but it remains to be seen if Raul Castro will leave power in 2018 as he has promised. We also have to take into account that anger of so many people within Cuba. This can trigger very disagreeable situations and, like many others, I don’t want this to happen.

Q: With regards to the normalization of relations between the United States and Cuba, do you think one stage is ending and another beginning?

A: The announcement of 17 December adds a new dimension to the relations between Washington and Havana. There’s no conclusion to the old, nor the beginning of something new, if by that we mean a rupture. Although Obama was extraordinary, we can’t forget that in the ‘70s Ford and Carter headed in the same direction. In the ‘90s, Clinton also tried to improve relations but his effort didn’t come to fruition either. Obama was wise to make the announcement of normalization of relations out of the blue. He talked about a trip to Cuba by John Kerry before the Panama Summit. At the Summit, Latin American and Caribbean leaders will applaud Obama and Raul Castro. Finally the United States turned aside from the rocky road of old policies, for its relations with Latin American countries!

While Raul Castro affirmed before the National Assembly that Cuba had won the war, we would have to question the conditions of this triumph. The economy hasn’t taken off despite reforms and daily life for ordinary Cubans continues to be an ordeal. Two weeks after the change, Havana blocked the performance arranged by Tania Bruguera in support of freedom of expression. Some 70 opponents were arrested. The opposition isn’t going to sit by with its arms crossed. Will the government have the ability to recharge its batteries and develop other methods for dealing with the opposition? Above all, our people on the island are exhausted by the despair and the distrust. We will see if those at the top remain mired in the same things, or dare to seek out new directions.

*Translator’s note: “Reconcentrados,” (reconcentrated) in the War of 1895, refers to rural residents relocated to towns, combined with the destruction of the land from which the rebels supported themselves. See here for more.

One Day for Cuba / 14ymedio

[Note: One of more of the videos have English subtitles, but most are in Spanish]

14ymedio, 6 January 2015 – One Day For Cuba is the name of a new independent action from #YoExijo that takes the spirit of Tania Bruguera’s performance to appeal to the Cuban Government, and to a lesser extent to the US government, to listen to the demands of the Cuban people. Citizens can send and upload to the platform a one-minute long video formulating their requests. Some well-known artists, such as the actor Roberto San Martin, the rapper Don Eldon or the musician and writer Frank Sorie, have already sent their videos.

The action has been presented on the Youtube platform with this manifesto: “A day has 24 hours, every hour has 60 minutes; so a full day consists of 1440 minutes. Taking off from recent events, and inspired by the platform #YoTambienExijo [I Also Demand], following the proposal of multiple participants from civil society, we want to create an on-line platform where everyone can record a one-minute video and compile them in a single site. Out objective will be to bring 1440 one-minute videos, forming A Day For Cuba.”

The artist Ana Olema is one of the driving forces of the action, according to Diario de Cuba, which explained that the project aims to shed light on the real demands and concerns of civil society.

Here Comes the Packet, Knock, Knock / 14ymedio, Orlando Palma

  • Pinar-Rio-JUAN-CARLOS-FERNANDEZ_CYMIMA20150105_0015_16Research shows that among the main forms of cultural consumption in Cuba are television, visiting with friends and listening to music

14ymedio, ORLANDO PALMA, Havana, 5 January 2015 — A Cuban television special this Sunday entitled “They Call Me Cuba” addressed issues of “cultural consumption in the 21st century,” with special emphasis on the well-known weekly packet of audio-visual material that is distributed illegally throughout the country. Some specialists answered questions ranging from musical tastes to the need to impose cultural policy on the private and tourist sectors.

The results of an investigation carried out by the Juan Marinello Center have revealed that among the main forms of cultural consumption in Cuba are “television, spending time with friends and listening to music.” Pedro Emilio Moras, a researcher for that entity, said that, “The main way for the Cuban population to participate in culture is as the public, as the beneficiary of offerings, actions organized by cultural institutions.” Although he also asserted that, “We recognize that the houses where we live (…) are ideal scenarios for the cultural development of people, even our reality is the space par excellence.” continue reading

Just inside the homes, out of the control of the cultural supervisors and far from the censorship scissors, the packet has life. The numbers of audience members lost by official television is never made public, but, in view of the worry that its officials demonstrate, the phenomenon of the packet-ization of Cuban society must be reaching significant levels.

They Call Me Cuba emphasized that the country “is enjoying a moment of transformation not only economically but also socially. The establishments that belong to the non-state sector have taken their own initiative when it comes to animating their environment.” According to the report, there then arises “the question of how these entities are welcomed or not into the country’s cultural policy.”

It has not only to do with the time – ever greater – that people invest in consuming material of their choosing to the detriment of what’s shown on state television, but the social impact that the private spaces have on the formation of taste and musical and audio-visual distribution. In order to decrease that influence theater critic and researcher Jaime Gomez Triana urged that “the Government’s cultural policy be not only a policy for the Ministry of Culture’s institutions but that it be a cultural policy that regulates the way in which these offering are produced in other spaces.”

In interviews conducted on the street, several people referred to their experiences as consumers of the packet. The favorable opinions mentioned that an advantage of this kind of cultural consumption is that it gives better information about what is happening “in the international arena.” Reported among the factors leading to the increased alternative distribution of audio-visual content was the deterioration of the movie houses that domestically offer a poor substitute for public spaces.

The view that this compendium of audio-visual content is only “soap operas and reality shows” was challenged by several survey respondents who mentioned the didactic and instructive character of some materials like documentaries made by The Discovery Channel, as well as courses in make-up, gastronomy and handicrafts that are also included in the so-called combo.

Fernando Rojas, Vice Minister of Culture, in an interview, criticized those who concoct and distribute the packet as being “people who act strictly on their own and have a network that distributes that material that is updated periodically and that is made at the margins of the institutions and regulations for self-employed work.” In the judgment of Rojas, “the packet is made to feed the illusion that people are choosing (…) in reality, in a certain sense, and I stress in a certain sense, that idea about choosing is an illusion.”

In spite of the dread that the cultural institutions demonstrate before the advance of these forms of self-directed consumption, Rojas thinks that “people who talk so much about the topic of the packet, the famous packet, the aforementioned packet, give it greater importance than I believe it really has.” For the Vice Minister, “to the extent to which we move forward to a greater penetration of the Internet, and we are going to move forward, we are certainly going to move forward ever more, people are going to choose directly on the web and not have to depend on an intermediary. The packet is going to have a limited life in my judgment.”

Fabio Fernandez, content and programming director for the Cuban Institute of Radio and Television (ICRT), explained that among the great attractions of the packet is that “people can watch and listen to what they deem appropriate at the moment when they deem it appropriate.” The fact that “there is no direct relationship between the broadcast schedule times and the time a person decides to watch something” makes many choose this option that does not tie them to the screen on a determined broadcast schedule. To recover the viewers that national television has lost, the official bets on “offering ever more high quality products.”

Nevertheless, the formula for improving the official programming bill faces the difficulty of few resources for legally acquiring foreign content or advancing national production. Cuban television has underperformed in terms of quality, dynamism and thematic updates. An industry that was a pioneer in Latin America and the world has been suffering the fact that series and soap operas produced in Mexico, Colombia and Brazil captivate the public. The problem is rooted in issues that range from undercutting wages of actors and technical personnel to censorship that for decades caused bland, complacent scripts closer to sketches for a school morning assembly than to material to captivate and entertain.

Roberto Smith, president of the Cuban Institute of Cinematographic Art and Industry (ICAIC) said that it should be “based on the legitimacy of personal taste (…) some like one thing and others like another and that is their personal right, to prefer something and reject the other.” But later he remarked “that taste is educated, and that education is a process that must begin from earliest infancy. Right now we are developing (…) the possibility of offering different alternatives of audio-visual education from infancy for youth and for adults.”

Faced with the evidence that the demonization of the packet has only increased its attraction, Rojas confessed that “the path before any phenomenon (…) that is not desirable, in the sense that it is not a carrier of solid human values, of convictions and humanist, supportive, socialist feelings; the reaction before something that does not seem to us to fit in that formative educational effort, the reaction cannot be to prohibit it. The reaction has to be to compete.”

But the packet has come first to that competition with the advantage of being customizable, free from censorship, adjustable to all tastes and considered by the majority of Cubans as something outside of state control.

Translated by MLK

Armandito’s wheels / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

Police approach the portable stand with illegal wheels (14ymedio)
Police approach the portable stand with illegal wheels (14ymedio)

14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 5 January 2014 – With the authorization of mobile vendors, among the new forms of self-employment, an unexpected problem has arisen: the wheels. I’m not going to wear myself out here talking about the intimate relationship that exists between translational movement and this circular mechanical piece that rotates around an axis. The lack of foresight is as obvious as it is surprising, on the part of the bureaucrats who did not take into account something so elemental. If there isn’t a good supply of wheels suitable to move certain volumes of merchandise, those who use a cart, a scooter, or a wheelbarrow will take them where they find them. continue reading

Dumpsters are the most frequent victims of this depredation. The extraction is not always done in a friendly way, that is undoing the screws that connect the rolling mechanism to the base of the trash container, because on many occasions it is more practical to rip them out by force or to take the whole container and sell the rest of the structure as raw material for the manufacture of clothespins.

The wheels are often taken from the containers, though sometimes the remaining structure is also used. (14ymedio)
The wheels are often taken from the containers, though sometimes the remaining structure is also used. (14ymedio)

A few yards from Prado and Neptuno, the mythical corner of the song, “La Engañadora,” [The Deceiver] the police have detained Armandito, a vegetable seller. Pushing his cabbages, tomatoes and onions, piled on a metallic structure that surely also qualifies as of doubtful origin. The law enforcement agents have examined the wheels and have determined they are illegal. Around the scene several bystanders intercede, asking for clemency. “This boy is working… Why can’t you leave him in peace,” a gray-haired man tells the officer.

“They’re ruining the dumpsters,” the cop replies, and the mobile vendor has no option but to let himself be taken to some police station to make a statement, where he might end up in a cell for hours or days. In the interrogation they will want to know how he acquired the wheels for his transport, who supplied them to him and at what price. A fine, a forfeiture, and if he’s a repeat offender it won’t end there.

Not far from where they caught the vendor, someone has installed the mutilated corner of a garbage container over a doorjamb. Still, full of holes and broken it will continue providing service to unsuspected limits and could be a victim of other thieves, who might rip off the remaining wheels. Will Armandito confess where he got his?

Political repression increases in Cuba during the month of December, according to CCHRNC / 14ymedio

People gathering in Havana on Human Rights Day in December. (14ymedio)
People gathering in Havana on Human Rights Day in December. (14ymedio)

14ymedio, Havana, 5 January 2015 — According to its monthly report, during the month of December the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and reconciliation (CCDHRN) registered at least 489 arbitrary arrests for political reasons, closing out 2014 with at least 8,899 arrests for the year. continue reading

The commission, based in Havana, said that despite the reestablishment of relations between Cuba and the US, “The situation of civil and political rights and other fundamental rights in Cuba continues to be the worst in the entire Western Hemisphere.”

The month of December was marked by two events that produced a large number of arrests. The first occurred on December 10, World Human Rights Day. That date was marked by a wave of, “At least 234 arrests at the hands of the Cuban government, often with violence, of peaceful dissidents,” according to the CCDHRN report.

The second wave of arrests occurred on 30 December, the date of the ‘performance’ scheduled by Tania Bruguera for the Plaza of the Revolution. At least 70 people, including several reporters from this digital newspaper, were arrested by the political police for attending or trying to attend the Tatlin’s Whisper performance, which was intended to exercise the right of free expression. These detentions lasted, in some cases, up to 72 hours.

The CCDHRN also warned that, compared with November, in December there was an increase in, “The victims of physical aggression, acts of vandalism and harassment, and acts of repudiation.” Furthermore, three new political prisoners were jailed in December: Danilo Maldonado, Sonia González and Marcelino Abreu.

Tania Bruguera leaves UNEAC and returns her National Culture Award / 14ymedio

Tania Bruguera at TEDGlobal 2013. (James Duncan Davidson)
Tania Bruguera at TEDGlobal 2013. (James Duncan Davidson)

14ymedio, Havana, 5 January 2014 – This Monday, the Cuban artist Tania Bruguera returned the National Culture Award (Distinción por la Cultura Nacional) she received in 2002, and decided to renounce her membership in the National Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba (UNEAC).

“I can not receive recognition from, nor be part of, an institution that speaks for all but only through the presidency of the organization. Cultural institutions which, instead of opening a dialogue and a space for aesthetic analysis criminalize and judge, reduce the response to a work to generating fear of the work, and on top of it, distance themselves from it,” says the letter addressed to Cuba’s Deputy Minister of Culture, Fernando Rojas, and delivered Monday to the headquarters of the Ministry of Culture. continue reading

Bruguera was released last Friday after her attempt to stage a ‘performance’ in the Plaza of the Revolution in Havana, which would have given one minute at the microphone to any citizen who participated. The artist could not reach the Plaza because she was arrested before leaving home and twice more in the following days. “To peacefully present yourself and speak for one minute is an example of political art and of the function of art in society. It is what is called ‘Art Made for a Specific Political Moment,’ which can be translated as a work undertaken for a specific political context and situation,” she added.

The text of the letter:

Compañero Fernando Rojas
Vice Minister of Culture
Republic of Cuba

Upon my return from Documenta11, on 27 November 2002 the Ministry of Culture gave me, along with other young artists, the National Culture Award (Distinción por la Cultura Nacional). For years I did not give importance to this event because it did not change anything in my life or in my thinking. In fact, I didn’t remember if I had saved it, or if it had been lost. After recent events, this Award has taken on another meaning for me.

Today I return the Award to the Ministry of Culture, I put it in the hands of the vice minister with whom I previously have had ideological discussions about censorship. Today I also renounce my membership in the National Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba (UNEAC). I can not receive recognition from, nor be part of, an institution that speaks for all but only through the presidency of the organization. Cultural institutions which, instead of opening a dialogue and a space for aesthetic analysis criminalize and judge, reduce the response to a work to generating fear of the work, and on top of it, distance themselves from it.

I have heard many times in Cuba that this is not the appropriate time to criticize or to use a metaphor or to stage a work. Many times I have censored myself in the face of these words that magically cast blame on a doubt or an opinion. Today I know that the appropriate time for an artist is ALWAYS, but especially when the ways of evaluating the social or the human are suspended, but the appropriate moment cannot be a government directive because this makes it propaganda and not art. The artist would be in service to a government and not to a society. Opinion and art cannot exist only when they are permitted by the institution. I believe that it was the appropriate moment to make a work of art because all the decisions about what Cuba is going to be are still not implemented. There is still hope, many believe that undefined spaces exist within which all of we Cubans could be a part.

The changes in Cuba cannot be real if the decision comes from above and is reported and must be accepted. The changes in Cuba cannot be real if a different opinion is given when the government invites it. The changes in Cuba cannot be real if Cubans are afraid to know certain words, for example Human Rights. The changes in Cuba cannot be real if Cubans fear that having an opinion will leave them without a job. The changes in Cuba cannot be real if what is of interest to the government about Cubans is their money and not their ideas.

How sad is a government that sees a threat to the state in allowing regular Cubans one minute in which they can say what they think without government control! How sad is a government that jails the audience of a work of art!

Un abrazo,

Tania Bruguera

Havana, 5 January 2015.

An Independent Legal Group Files a Habeas Corpus Petition on behalf of El Sexto / 14ymedio

The artist Danilo Maldonado, El Sexto (Luz Escobar)
The artist Danilo Maldonado, El Sexto (Luz Escobar)

14YMEDIO, Havana, 29 December 2014 — On Monday, the independent group CubaLex filed a petition for habeas corpus in the case of artist Danilo Maldonado, El Sexto. In a document addressed to the Provincial Tribunal of Hanvana, the lawyers urge that the arrestee’s rights be respected and also that he be permitted a proper defense. Police have informed the relatives of the prisoner that all trials scheduled for the upcoming days, including that of the artist initially scheduled for next Wednesday, the last day of 2014, are delayed until the new year.

El Sexto was arrested December 25 shortly before carrying out a performance which consisted of releasing two pigs with the names of “Fidel and Raul” in a public square. He is charged with contempt. continue reading

Although the artist had told several friends of his desire to keep the exact date of the performance discreet, the police managed to find out and stopped the car in which he was traveling to the site. At first he was taken to the 4th Precinct Police Station at Infanta and Manglar, and then they transferred him to Zapata and C Station in Vedado, where he remains now.

Lawyer Laritza Diversent in conversation with 14ymedio has emphasized that she believes that “in this case they chose the date of December 31 with a malevolent intention because it is difficult to find a lawyer who wants to participate in a trial.” Nevertheless, Cubalex is advising El Sexto’s relatives to hire a lawyer from a collective firm as soon as possible. If they do not manage it in the next few hours, El Sexto would run the risk of being tried without the presence of his defender.

Habeas corpus is a legal institution that seeks to “prevent arbitrary arrests and detentions.” Its fundamental principal is the obligation to bring all arrestees before a judge within a short time period. In the case of El Sexto, today, Monday, marks four days since his arrest and incarceration.

Translated by MLK

A different end of year / 14ymedio, Juan Carlos Fernandez

Pinar del Rio returned to the custom of burning a doll symbolizing the old year  (Juan Carlos Fernández)
Pinar del Rio returned to the custom of burning a doll symbolizing the old year (Juan Carlos Fernández)

Despite all that has to change, Pinar del Rio greets the year with something new: hope

14ymedio, Juan Carlos Fernandez, Pinar del Rio, 2 January 2015 – The New Year was welcomed in the city of Pinar del Río very differently from before. For a long time it seems that we experienced more of a wake then a celebration. Wallets were thin, tempers heated, social violence was almost daily news. The predominant feeling was one of suffocation and a desire of many in Pinar del Rio to go to any other country, provided they could leave this quagmire called Cuba.

However, something changed this year. There is no noticeable improvement in the basic market basket, nor do we enjoy fundamental freedoms. The economy is touching bottom, the housing situation is terrible, and corruption undermines all levels of society. And yet, what motivated the sudden happiness and the signs of hope at this year end in a people who have almost nothing to cling to? continue reading

Many, among whom I count myself, point to December 17 as a turning point to begin the countdown to the opening of spaces for progress and well-being. It is not a magic wand but, undoubtedly, the news has cheered and breathed new hope into the lives of a great number of Cubans.

The reestablishment of diplomatic relations between Cuba and the United States has caused the few vehicles circulating on the streets of our city to blow their horns for the celebrations of December 31. It has been many years since the sirens of the Pinar del Rio Fire Department have been sounded with such emphasis on January 1. Even the popular tradition of burning dolls – made from cloth and straw and symbolizing the old year – was readopted on a massive scale. To the desires for prosperity, peace, tranquility and good health are added the omens of development for businesses and investments.

The passing of the old year and the welcoming of the new have taken on a great intensity in the city, along with the joy of seeing people feel like things will change for the better.

We don’t know whether this will be realized with more or less speed but, although we are not satisfied, we should be happy that this year end has been the one in which the countdown has begun.

Tania Bruguera released / 14ymedio

Tania Bruguera
Tania Bruguera

14ymedio, 2 January 2014 — The #YoTambienExijo.(I Also Demand) platform announced this Friday afternoon the release of the artist Tania Bruguera from the Acosta y Diez de Octubre Police Station. According to the platform, “Bruguera is already in her family’s apartment in El Vedado, she is going to rest right now and be with her mother.”

As of now, Bruguera has made no additional statements, but she appreciates all the support from the international community in the last few days. “Now is the time to be with my mother,” Bruguera stated, through the Twitter account of #YoTambienExijo.

Tania was arrested on Thursday outside the police center known as the Vivac de Calabazar. By the time of her release, thousands of people from all over the world had already signed a letter addressed to Raul Castro demanding her immediate release.

Bruguera made clear that she did not want to be released until all those arrested because of her artistic performance were released. “I cannot allow people to remain prisoners on my account, I can’t accept that the audience of political art is repressed, censored and suffers on my account,” the artist declared.

Bruguera’s case will be evaluated by the prosecutor in the coming days, the platform said. Her passport has been confiscated and she cannot leave the country.