Canadian businessman Cy Tokmakjian Released from Prison / 14ymedio

Cy Tokmakjian (Photo: Tokmakjian Group)
Cy Tokmakjian (Photo: Tokmakjian Group)

14ymedio biggerThe Canadian entrepreneur Cy Tokmakjian was released from prison in Cuba and is now back in Canada, his lawyer Barry Papazian informed the Canadian media on Saturday. The businessman was imprisoned in Cuba for more than three years and was sentenced to 15 years in prison for various crimes, including bribery and corruption.

The digital site Martinoticias also echoed the information and statements by Papazian, in which he says that, “Cy returns home in good health, fantastic sprits, and is looking forward to spending time with his family which includes three loving children and seven excited grandchildren.” The lawyer asked that that the privacy of his employer and his relatives be respected.

Tokmakjian operated business in Cuba for more than two decades, with a value estimated to have reached 80 billion dollars continue reading

annually. His company specialized in the import and sale of equipment for transport, mining and construction.

In 2011 Tokmakjian was arrested and was made to wait two and a half years in prison, before charges against him were formally filed. In September 2014 he was sentenced to 15 years in prison for bribery and other economic crimes. Tried in the same case were fourteen Cuban officials as well as two senior executives of the Canadian company, Claudio Vetere and Marco Puche, who were sentenced to 12 and eight years’ imprisonment respectively on charges of fraud, bribery, currency trafficking, counterfeiting bank documents and tax evasion.

The release of Tokmakjian occurs a few months after the new Law on Foreign Investment in Cuba went into effect; through this law the government hopes to attract capital to various sectors of the national economy.

Berta Soler announces recall referendum on her tenure as head of the Ladies in White / 14ymedio

Berta Soler during Sunday's press conference (Photo: 14ymedio)
Berta Soler during Sunday’s press conference (Photo: 14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 22 February 2015 — During a press conference this afternoon, Berta Soler, leader of the Ladies in White, announced that a recall referendum would be held within the organization to define her continuity at the head of this Human Rights movement.

Surrounded fifty Ladies in White, Soler read a statement to several foreign correspondents and independent media gathered near the Church of Santa Rita, in the Havana neighborhood of Miramar.

According to the activist, she will submit her leadership at the head of the organization to a recall referendum. The date of the consultation will be this coming March 16, but she did not detail how the procedure would be carried out.

In her statement, Berta Soler also invited the Ladies in White living in Miami who signed a letter last week asking for her resignation to “return to Cuba to fight.” continue reading

In a letter published last Wednesday by the newspaper El Nuevo Herald, several founders of the Ladies in White in exile felt that the group needed a new direction and requested the resignation of Soler. According to the newspaper, 16 members of the organization in the United States defended Alejandrina Garcia de la Riva, another member of the group in disagreement with Soler.

At the conclusion of the press conference on Sunday, the Ladies in White cheered Berta Soler and chanted her name.

Soler explained that today’s march was dedicated to Orlando Zapata Tamayo, an activist who died in February 2010 after a prolonged hunger strike. The leader of the Ladies in White also said that once the press conference ended, the women would continue their pilgrimage beyond Avenida Quintera towards the neighborhood of Vedado.

This newspaper was able to confirm that minutes after crossing the Calle Linea tunnel, an act of repudiation was carried out against the Ladies in White who, for fifteen minutes, were surrounded by people carrying posters with official slogans and screaming out against them. The women were then forced into several buses waiting near the site and driven off to a unknown destination.

Act of repudiation against Ladies in White near the Calle Linea tunnel (14ymedio)
Act of repudiation against Ladies in White near the Calle Linea tunnel (14ymedio)

Why Do Cubans Continue To Be Spaniards? / 14ymedio, Ferran Nunez

Treaty of Paris 1898
Treaty of Paris 1898 (CC)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Ferrán Nuñez, Paris, 21 February 2015 — With the signing of the Treaty of Paris of 1898, Spain ceded or sold the last pieces of its former empire where, in the time of Carlos V, “the sun never set.” This treaty, as has already been proven by Pedro Albizu Campos, had several legal defects that made it invalid. Curiously, no Spanish politician has used these arguments to challenge it outright. This is due to two main factors: The first, ignorance, and the second, of equal weight, reality. Spain today, as it has been for the last 115 years, is not in any shape to oppose the “Pax Americana.”

However, today this legal fissure acquires an unexpected dimension. Spain, through various laws, decrees and circulars, has decided to re-establish the rights of nationality for many of its former citizens who lost their nationality for different reasons in the last century (and even earlier, as is the case of the Sephardic Jews). Over time this worthwhile path is going to turn out partial and incomplete because unfathomable depths of injustice continue reading

are appearing. We are going to neither allude to the notorious inequality of conceding nationality only to descendants of male immigrants or detail the numerous legal ploys that officials abroad use in order to retard or delay the petitions of the interested parties, who could not always access to the documents necessary for validating their rights.

The Treaty of Paris completely dispossessed Cubans and Puerto Ricans born overseas of their status as Spaniards, leaving them to the disposition of the new authorities as if it were dealing with material property of the Crown ceded or sold by virtue of that agreement. Something that was in frank contradiction of the rights of peoples and is one of the reasons that the said treaty was never ratified by The Cortes – the Spanish Parliament – until today.

Few rose then to denounce such injustice, carried to The Cortes by Admiral Cevera, among others. Later a royal decree was published in the Manual of Military and Civil Classes, which declared them foreigners. Nevertheless, according to the current Constitution, the Civil Registry of the Kingdom was the only agency authorized legally to recognize (once registration had proceeded) the loss of nationality of those Spaniards, and this never occurred.

By not duly settling in the Kingdom of Spain’s civil registry the new administrative status of the natives of the island of Cuba, they continued to maintain de facto Spanish nationality.

The creation of the Republic of Cuba did not resolve this legal problem either, given that the Cuban Constitution established that those people had to “opt” for the new Cuban nationality, something that in practice – and from all the evidence – also turned out difficult to put into practice. Those who did not do it, as well as their descendants, kept their de facto status as Spaniards at least until 1940. As a result, their descendants continue to be Spanish and could demand that status currently in Spain’s civil registries.

In 1940, the new Constitution decreed by ius solis (birthright through parentage) Cuban status to those born in Cuba so that Spaniards who did not “opt” at that moment to keep their Spanish nationality ended up losing it as did their descendants.

However, Spanish nationality does not depend on Cuban nationality or vice versa. Each sovereign state decides for itself who are its citizens. Spain cannot impugn the Treaty of Paris but it can do justice to the descendants of those Spaniards, recognizing their right to nationality. Nothing prevents it and it would be an act of basic justice. The recent decisions by the Supreme Court denying Spanish status to those born in overseas territories are a disgrace and a legal aberration. Given the current international political environment, offering nationality to all those descendants of Spaniards who seek it opens unusual prospects – transcendental – for the cause of Hispanic heritage. Only a blind man would not know how to see them.

Translated by MLK

The Malecon as Pier / 14ymedio, Orlando Palma

Image of the Cayo Hueso-Havana ferry taken 1951 (History Miami Archives and Research Center)
Image of the Cayo Hueso-Havana ferry taken 1951 (History Miami Archives and Research Center)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Orlando Palma, Havana, 21 February 2015 — Jose Manuel is 70 years old and has spent more than half his life fishing from Havana’s Malecon. For this retiree with leathery skin and eyes that have seen almost everything, it is a dream to catch sight again of that ferry that used to go to Florida and that he so liked when he was a child. “We kids used to pretend to say goodbye, and although I could never travel on it, my grandmother did every now and then.” Now, while the evening falls, the septuagenarian hopes that some fish will take the bait, and before him a sea without boats extends to infinity.

Maritime transport between Havana and Cayo Hueso came to be very common in the first half of the 20th century until it was suspended in August of 1961 as a consequence of the restrictions from the American embargo of the Island. Now, the ghost of a ferry continue reading

that links the two shores has resurfaced as a result of talks between the governments of Cuba and the United States.

This week, the entrepreneur Brian Hall, who leads the company KonaCat with headquarters in Fort Lauderdale, made public his interest in operating ferry trips to Cuba from Marathon’s yachting marina on 11th Street. Hall told the daily digital KeysInfoNet that he was confident of getting available space for his 200-passenger capacity catamaran with which he plans to travel between the Florida Keys and Cuba twice daily.

The news has barely reached the Island, but since last December 17 when Raul Castro and Barack Obama announced the process for reestablishment of relations between the two countries, the return of the ferry has become a matter of importance for many nostalgic people. In addition to the economic concessions and the political détente that this reconciliation would bring between the two governments, connecting both countries with a maritime route would have, besides its practical effects, a strong symbolism, many assert.

All great human endeavors have something to do with madness, say the elders. The ferry service that connected Florida with the Cuban capital started with the efforts of a man. Henry M. Flagler, an oil magnate who in 1886 founded the Florida Faster East Coast Railway for railway construction and exploitation of Florida’s east coast. In spite of the great obstacles imposed by the geography of the keys and the constant danger of hurricanes, Flagler’s madness led him to trace the rail lines to Cayo Hueso, where the service was inaugurated in January 1912. That work would be considered by many as the eighth wonder of the world, besides being the boldest infrastructure built exclusively with private funds.

Once the railway was in Cayo Hueso, some way was needed to overcome the distance to Cuba. So was born “the train moving over the waters” as the ferry was also called and whose Havana-Cayo Hueso service was inaugurated January 5, 1915. The first shipment consisted of a batch of refrigerated cars, and the boat received the name of Henry M. Flagler, in homage to the visionary entrepreneur who had died two years earlier.

“We kids used to pretend to say goodbye, and although I could never travel on it, my grandmother did every now and then.”

The dispatch of products between both shores grew like wildfire after that moment. In 1957 it came to more than half a million tons of merchandise in both directions, to which was added the transport of passengers and cars. The sea connection between the two shores lasted 46 years, and some remember it as if it were yesterday that the last boat had sailed.

“My grandmother frequently travelled to Florida on the ferry,” explains Jose Manuel, who has had a bad day for fishing. “We were poor, but part of my family went there to work and sometimes would return the same day,” he says wistfully. Near the fishing pole, seated on the wall of the Malecon, a teenager listens to the conversation and smiles with incredulity. He is of the generation that cannot conceive that at some point the Malecon was not a barrier that separated Cuba from the world but a point of connection with the neighbor to the north.

The line tightens, and it seems that something has bit. Jose Manuel concentrates on recovering from the water what is going to be his supper tonight, but in spite of his concentration he manages to say, “The day that I see that ferry arriving here again I will be able to die in peace.”

Translated by MLK

Nancy Pelosi excited by the work of her delegation to Cuba / 14ymedio, Luz Escobar

US Congressional Delegation holding a press conference in Havana (Luz Escobar)
US Congressional Delegation holding a press conference in Havana (Luz Escobar)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 19 February 2015 — On Thursday afternoon, the Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi led a press conference in which she provided a summary of her visit to Cuba, in addition to answering questions from foreign journalists and independent press. The meeting was held on the outside of the residence of Lynn Roche, Head of the Public Affairs Section of the US Interests Section in Havana (ISIS).

During the conference, Pelosi was accompanied by Congressmen Eliot Engel (NY), Jim McGovern (Massachusetts), Rosa DeLauro (Connecticut), Collin Peterson (Minnesota), Nydia Velázquez (New York), Anna Eshoo (California), Steve Israel (New York) and David Cicilline (Rhode Island). Prior to the meeting with journalists, the delegation had met with Cardinal Jaime Ortega y Alamino the highest authority of the Catholic Church in Cuba, as well as holding “a meeting with members of civil society continue reading

,” although no names or groups were detailed.

During the press conference, Congressman Eliot Engel emphasized that “now the ball is in the Cuban government’s corner… We want to see a flourishing civil society,” he said. Engel also highlighted his hope of “seeing part of free civil society at the Summit of the Americas,” although he acknowledged being “very concerned about the issue of human rights” on the island.

Nancy Pelosi, meanwhile, said she was “excited” and “proud” of the work that his delegation undertook in Cuba. The Democrat had arrived with the rest of Congressional Democrats Tuesday and on Thursday also met with the Vice President of the National Assembly, Ana Maria Mari Machado, along with twenty members of the controversial Cuban parliament. Pelosi also expressed her pride in President Barack Obama for “the audacity to make such a shift in policy towards Cuba.”

According to what the members of congress explained to the press, both sides in the negotiations for the reestablishment of relations between Cuba and the United States recognize that “this is a time to look more toward the future than the past.” For his part, Steve Israel said that “for this process to succeed both countries have to focus more on the future and less on the past. December 17th was an historic moment for the two countries, but the real story is making the changes.”

Jim McGovern said that “if the embassies open” it could improve the negotiation process because both governments are speaking directly. “We have a more mature relationship. We can not agree on everything, but I think possibly we can achieve much more if we base our relationship on mutual respect… We will continue talking about human rights,” he said, but stressed that it must first a policy “that has proved to be a failure” should be changed. Finally, he supported “establishing formal diplomatic relations, rather than trading accusations and pointing fingers at each other.”

Later Israel himself speculated on how this ongoing process will be looked back on, and “how those who embraced the future of those who embraced the past will differ.”

At the end of the press conference, the delegation of Democratic members of congress met with First Vice President Miguel Diaz-Canel. To a question from 14ymedio regarding whether they had noticed any desire on the part of the Cuban government to cooperate on the issue of computerizing Cuban society and access to new technologies, Anna Eshoo stressed that “younger people in Cuba, in particular, are hungry for this, and recognize the empowerment that access to broadband would bring.”

Congresswoman Eshoo said that she “had the pleasure of sitting at lunch” with the blogger Harold Cardenas from La Joven Cuba blog, and had “a wonderful discussion.” As for the “preservation of values” that has so concerned the Cuban ruling class lately, the congresswoman said she let them know she understood their position.

Nydia Velázquez conveyed to the those present that they “would like to share [their] experience in promoting economic development,” especially in the field of small private businesses, which in the case of the US are “the backbone of the economy.” This would help the economic growth of many Cuban families, said the congresswoman.

Nauta lowers its prices by 50% for Internet / 14ymedio, Rosa Lopez

Lines in Front of Etecsa
Lines in front of Etecsa (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Rosa Lopez, 18 February 2015 — These days the line outside the State-run Nauta Internet “cafés” all over the country are much longer than usual. The reduction, to half price for Internet connection cards is the reason for such an influx. The special offering, put into effect by the State-run Cuba Telecommunications Company (ETECSA) this last 10 February, will remain in effect until this coming 10 April. Users not have to pay 2.50 CUC (convertible pesos) for one hour of Internet access, instead of the usual 5.00 CUC.

The measure has caused some excitement among customers, hoping that the special offering will be maintained to the end of the year. “It’s still expensive, but if now I have to pay half the price it means I can do twice the work continue reading

when I connect,” says Liudmila Muñoz, an entrepreneur who coordinates tourist trips to the Island, for which she arranges accommodating, dance classes and transportation.

In front of the Nauta Internet room in the centrally located Focsa Building, people spread the word of the new prices. “I have to come a lot. I’m a sailor and I’m looking for a contract to work on a cruise, so I shouldn’t have to pay so much,” explained José Antonio Romero who, nevertheless, believes that “it’s still armed robbery, to pay so much for Internet.”

The Nauta Internet rooms opened in June 2013 and there are now over 155 nationwide. In statements to the official press, ETECSA’s Director of Institutional Communication, Luis Maneul Díaz Narajo, said that during the first quarter of 2015, another 136 rooms with 538 computer stations will be added in the Youth Computing Clubs.

Local navigation Nauta opened in June 2013 and there are now over 155 nationwide. Speaking to the official press, the director of Institutional Communication ETECSA, Luis Manuel Díaz Naranjo, said that during the first quarter of 2015 136 other rooms with 538 points will be added in the Joven Clubs de Computación (Youth Clubs for Computing).

Despite the high prices of the connection rooms, the demand is very high. According to the National Bureau of Statistics, in 2012 Cuba had only a 25 percent Internet penetration with a population of 11.2 million inhabitants.

Cyber-police and Firewalls to Control Cuban Internet / 14ymedio, Orlando Palma

Central Computer Palace across from Fraternity Park in central Havana
Central Computer Palace across from Fraternity Park in central Havana

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Orlando Palma, Havana, February 15 2015 – Only a few weeks after Barack Obama’s decision to allow American telecommunications companies to offer their services on the Island, Raúl Castro’s government is making it clear that the virtual world will not exist without limits. Lately, official spokespersons have taken on the task of explaining to the general public that low connectivity in the country is not due to a government decisions, and this seems to be the purpose of the First National Computerization and Cyber Security Workshop, which is scheduled to take place on the 18, 19, and 20 of February.

According to the official newspaper Granma, more than 11,000 Cuban computer scientists will participate in the event, “the majority connected through videoconferences.” The quote is directed to sketch out a countrywide regulatory cyber-police continue reading

in a moment in which pressures for full access to the web have gained force. Alternative phenomena, like the distribution of audiovisual material in the so-called “combos or packages” (flash memories containing foreign TV shows, etc.), have also been pushing authorities from the Ministry of Communication to make decisions in this respect.

On February 19 and 20, around “260 specialists will share their opinions in commissions centered on four fundamental topics,” noted the Communist Party’s official media. The agenda includes “the human and scientific resources available in the country, electronic governance, cyber security, and economy and legality.” Throughout the Island, 21 headquarters will be made available for users interested in taking part in the debate and accessing the discussions. By visiting the website www.mincom.gob.cu, they will be able to share opinions and ask questions about the topics discussed, announced Ailyn Febles Estrada, Vice Dean of the University of Information Sciences of Cuba (UCI), on the web portal Cubadebate.

One of the most unique results of the event lies in the development of a new social organization that will group together the country’s ICTs (Information and Communications Technologies) professionals, into which recent graduates from diverse backgrounds like Information Technology, Computer Science, and Telecommunications could be incorporated. It is a clear attempt to centralize Cubans who have ICT knowledge, many of whom provide services in the private sector repairing computers and smartphones.

The implementation of a Chinese-style model, with a potent cyber police and extensive firewalls aimed at censuring content and filtering sites, is being outlined

The words cyber-security in the title of this article have also set off some alarms, since in recent years the government has augmented its ideological combat on the Internet. The implementation of a Chinese-style model, with a potent cyber-police and extensive firewalls aimed at censuring content and filtering sites, is being outlined as a priority for Cuban authorities.

The announcement of this workshop is added to the recent promise made by directives of Cuba’s Telecommunications Company (ETECSA) that 136 new “internet cafés” will be opened in the year’s first trimester. The majority of them will be found in the Joven Clubs de Computación (Youth Clubs for Computing), where users will pay for connection time in Cuban Pesos. On the close of 2014, 155 collective Internet cafés operated throughout the country, with a total of 573 available computers offering web access, a service that must be paid in Convertible Pesos.

According to the recently published report Freedom on the Net 2014, which analyzed 65 countries between May 2013 and May 2014, Cuba is the only country in Latin America designated “not free” in regards to Internet access. The study points out the limitations in accessing the world-wide-web as well as the censorship of certain webpages and the high prices for connecting from public places.

Translated by Fernando Fornis

“It does not matter to return or not return” / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

Abilio Estevez
Abilio Estevez

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana-Barcelona, 17 February 2015 – During this year’s International Book Fair in Havana, Abilio Estevez’s novel, Los palacios distantes (Distant Palaces), was presented. Living in Barcelona for the last fifteen years, on this occasion the author brings us the story of Victorio, a character who shares his pains and passions.

A few hours after the launch of the book in the Alejo Carpentier room, the novelist with a degree in Hispanic Language and Literature responded by email to some questions for the readers of 14ymedio, from Barcelona’s Gothic Quarter where he lives and creates.

14ymedio: To those who still haven’t read Los palacios… and hope to get a copy at the Book Fair, what would you like to warn them about before they enter your pages?

Estevez: Nothing, I would not warn them. I think should have its own importance, and the author should pass as unnoticed as possible. Also, the book should always be a mystery to solve, an adventure continue reading

about which you have no idea. When I was in high school, for example, there were many books I didn’t read because of “warnings” from my teachers. Or I prejudged them, if I read on the back of Buddenbrooks that it was “a reflection of bourgeois decadence.” Later I read those books, I enjoyed them, and I realized the time I had lost because of the “warnings,” which most of the time were too biased.

“I’m not one who is going to close doors on himself.” 

14ymedio: The novel was originally published by Tusquets Editores, in 2002. What was the process to achieve this Cuban edition?

Estevez: Yes, the Tusquets edition came out 13 years ago. Some time ago Alfredo Zalvidar wrote me kindly asking for permission to publish Los palacios distantes in the publishing house he directed, Ediciones Matanzas. I was very pleased. I told him yes, of course. I’m not one who is going to close doors on himself. I put him in contact with the rights office of Tusquests Editores, and that’s all I know. For the process on the Matanzas side you’ll have to ask Zalvidar.

14ymedio: Are you surprised that your book is being presented at an event where exiled writers are often excluded?

Estevez: Yes, a little surprised. Although Ediciones Matanzas has published José Kozer, Gastón Baquero… In any event, there is a lot in my country that doesn’t surprise me. Neither for the better nor the worse.

14ymedio: Laughter, dreams and hope slip into the life of Victorio, the protagonist of Los palacios… despite his living a reality that is falling to pieces, like his own house. How much of your own personal experience is in your story?

Estevez: Certainly there is a lot of my own experience such as, for example, Victorio’s homosexuality and the collapse of his house. However, I believe that it’s a mistake to confuse the character with the author. However much of me is in Victorio, it is also true that there are many other people and, as is natural, imagination. There is a moment in the novel, for example, when Victorio says he never knew love. A true friend, a night of confidences, said to me, “It has happened with me as with you.” “What happened to me?” I asked. Never having known love. I had to laugh. However confessional a novel may seem, it is no more than that, a novel.

14ymedio: How do you deal with distance when writing about a reality that you haven’t lived since two decades ago?

Estevez: I suppose this is difficult if you try to write precisely about a certain “reality.” I suppose it might have been difficult for Emile Zola or for Miguel de Carrion. But for me, I’m not interested in sociology disguised as fiction, something more than reality concerns me, isf we reduce the word to its sociopolitical connotations. I am not a “costumbrista” – a novelist of quaint manners. At least I don’t want to be one. And the world (and this is something that has to be discovered) is fortunately wide and strange, and the problems of human beings are alike and different in each place where one lives. The same distance as literary material. I don’t live this reality, but I live another that also wants to be narrated. Also, I always remember and quote that phrase of Nabokov’s in a wonderful interview, when he responded that everything he needed of Russia he carried with him.

14ymedio: What have you brought to your writing life in Barcelona? How much have you changed from the point of view of writing your experiences as an immigrant?

Estevez: Everything you experience brings something to literature if you are alert to it. Barcelona is a cultured and beautiful city. And I believe that the mere act of walking through the Gothic Quarter transforms the vision you might have about anything. With regards to exile, it seems to me an extraordinary experience, even if it is painful. When I was a child and they took me to church, I heard a prayer to the Virgin that at some point said something like, “To you we cry, the banished children of Eve.” And then I wondered, “Why banished? Banished from where?” I didn’t understand until much later, although my interpretation had nothing to do with religion, because I wasn’t religious. I remember a phrase of Elias Canetti: “Only in exile does one realize how much of the world has always been a world of outlaws.” It’s very good for a writer, this sensation of losing things, of knowing that you are not going to have them again.

14ymedio: Readers have followed and admired your work for years. Will we soon be able to enjoy a presentation of your novels where you will be physically present? Will you return to this Havana of “the distant palaces”?

Estevez: Thank you for the “followed and admired.” This question has no answer. I do not know. It does not matter to return or not return, because what I really want to return to is the good times that I lived. And that, to my knowledge, is impossible.

Coup warning? / 14ymedio, Gerver Torres

Nicolas Maduro talking to the press (File photo)
Nicolas Maduro talking to the press (File photo)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Gerber Torres, Caracas, 16 February 2015 — This article should appear today in the Venezuelan newspaper El Universal. It was censored. From here I make public my resignation as columnist for that newspaper, for which I worked for fifteen years.

Maduro speaks daily with shock and anguish of conspiracies that he discovers, that he dismantles and that apparently reproduce themselves everywhere, all the time. Why does Maduro feel so tortured by a possible coup? The truth is that when one recognizes the circumstances surrounding him, one comes to the conclusion that Maduro is right and has many reasons to be distressed, to fear a coup, and even more continue reading

than one. Let us review some of the circumstances.

His international allies have abandoned him and are all in serious trouble: Cubans rushing to reestablish relations with the United States; Argentine president Cristina Kirchner at the end of her term with an economy in a tailspin and facing serious accusations of all kinds. Brazil’s president Dilma Rousseff, also with a stagnant economy and overwhelmed by the Petrobras corruption scandal, the biggest in the history of Brazil. Vladimir Putin, submerged in the Ukraine crisis, under sanctions by the European Union and in severe difficulties because of the fall in oil prices. Iran, negotiating a nuclear accord with the United States and trying to redefine its relations with that country.

Men very close to the regime are fleeing the country and starting to openly attack the regime: Leamsy Salazar defected to the United States with his wife to tell the story of the Cartel of the Suns (cocaine traffickers within the Venezuela military); Minister of Foreign Affairs Rafael Ramirez will sneak away, distancing himself from the regime. At any moment a bomb explodes there; Giordani reappears emboldened to say that the country has become the laughingstock of Latin America, just months after he was kicked out of the government.

The country’s employment is in the toilet, with Venezuelans experiencing totally unexpected events, lines, shortages, patients dying in hospitals for lack of supplies, runaway inflation, and other tragedies such as unchecked and unpunished crime.

Maduro can no longer count on abundant oil revenues and access to debt which could postpone the solution to many problems.

Maduro lives in a country institutionally ruined, turned into a jungle, without a Judiciary, devoured by corruption. Meanwhile all this was generated by the same regime that presides today and served to sustain it over a long period of time, this same lack of a framework of institutions that now turn against it. The regime no longer has anything to latch onto but repression.

Maduro knows that his popularity has fallen very low, not even the Chavez loyalists want him any more.

Maduro knows, and this is not small thing, that his eternal commander — Chavez — found justification for the 1992 coup in problems much smaller than the country has today.

How is Maduro not going to be anguished by the possibility of a coup?

 

Scientists Find a More Aggressive Variant of HIV in Cuba / 14ymedio

The Human Immunodeficiency Virus. (Flickr)
The Human Immunodeficiency Virus. (Flickr)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 13 February 2015 — A team of researchers from the Catholic University of Leuven (Belgium) and the Pedro Kouri Institute of Tropical Medicine in Havana have discovered a new strain of Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) present on the island, according to a study published in the scientific journal scientific EBioMedicine. This variant, native to Africa, accelerates the time in which the infected person develops AIDS.

Through the monitoring of 95 patients who received treatment at the Havana institute since 2007, scientists detected that those infected with this strain showed a high amount of virus in their blood and progressed to AIDS at a much faster rate than average, the average being between 6 and 10 years. The study suggests that each year between 13% and 16% of patients diagnosed in Cuba already had AIDS at the time their infection was detected.

Each year between 13% and 16% of patients diagnosed in Cuba already had AIDS at the time their infection was detected

Scientists relate the rapid development of AIDS in Cuba to other factors as well, such as a low use of condoms, often unavailable in the pharmacies, and other diseases such as oral candidiasis.

In Cuba, 19,781 new cases of HIV infections were diagnosed between 1986 and 2014, according to a report by the Island’s government.

Shortage of Condoms / 14ymedio, Rosa Lopez

Some condoms (CC)
Some condoms (CC)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, ROSA LOPEZ, Pinar del Rio, 12 February 2015 – People in Pinar del Rio didn’t have to wait to read about it in the newspaper Granma. For weeks the popular voice says it, louder and louder. “There are no condoms,” started to be heard like a whisper on the corners. “There are no condoms,” said the couples on hearing it and the teens warned their parents before they went out on Saturday night. “There are no condoms,” howl the pharmacy clerks when their customers dare to ask. The uproar was such that finally this Wednesday the official organ of Communist Party issued a formal answer.

Those who still have a sense of humor, after a month long shortage continue reading

of contraceptives in the country’s westernmost province, suggest that perhaps it’s a government strategy to increase the birth rate. We will have to see the birth statistics between September and October of this year, although it could be that the number of abortions will also shoot up in the coming weeks.

Before every shortage, some specialist always suggests a workaround. That’s what happened with the article published by the official newspaper, which says that the Program of Prevention and Control of STDs and HIV proposes that, given the scarcity of the product, “people find alternatives, for example, limiting the sexual act to kissing, caresses and masturbation…” Tell that to a customer burning with passion whose store of condoms ran out at the end of last year!

What the note in Granma doesn’t say is that contraceptives aren’t the only thing missing from pharmacies. A brief tour this morning of places where medications are sold in the city of Pinar del Rio demonstrated that other products have also been disappearing for weeks. Both in the pharmacy on the central corner or Marti Street at Recreo, as well as the one known as Camancho or the one located on the ground floor of the 12 story building on Maceo street, have empty shelves and drawers.

The shortages include drugs such as Meprobamate, anti-flu medications, Dipyrone, Azithromycin, Prednisolone and Clotrimazole. What do the public health authorities propose in the face of such shortages? Looking for alternatives like with condoms? Will they then engage in the fantasy to anticipate what the patients should do in the face of such shortages.

New US regulations Open Markets to Self-Employed Cubans / 14ymedio

Artisans in front of the Caridad Theater in Santa Clara (Wilder Méndez)
Artisans in front of the Caridad Theater in Santa Clara (Wilder Méndez)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Miami, 13 February 2015 – The US State Department published new details on its website on Friday about the goods and services that US citizens may import from Cuba. The list includes articles such as perfumes, soaps, candles, photographs, jewelry and crafts, including wood, some metals, hide, plastic or rubber, textiles, shows, ceramic and glass, among others.

However, the limits are maintained for the importing of animal products, vegetables, prepared food, mining products, tobacco and alcohol continue reading

, wool or silk textiles, some metals, machinery and appliances, transport equipment and firearms, among others.

Companies or individuals in the US who import products made in Cuban must have proof that the import is from a self-employed person and not from a State enterprise. For travelers who import the products on the new list, the $400 limit applied to other products does not apply.

For the import of services provided by the self-employed in Cuba, the US government has created even fewer regulations than for goods As of now, any self-employed Cuban who offers services with a license authorized by the State will be able to import that service to the United States. The US person or company that imports goods or services from Cuba must keep a copy of the self-employment license associated with the good or service.

With these new measures, self-employed Cubans will have a new market to export their goods and services, and will have more opportunities to grow their businesses. However, the Cuban government still has no legal framework for self-employed to enter into legal contracts with international companies.

Sources close to the State Department US have assured 14ymedio more changes in the regulations are coming.

Negotiating with Machiavelli / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, February 11 2015 – When Cuba’s government announced the postponement of its talks with the European Union on 9 December 2014, it was speculated that the real reason lay in that the Cuban side wasn’t ready to face the topic of human rights, which had been anticipated to be a part of that round. Instead, the pretext of a photographic exhibition that offended “revolutionary sensitivities” was employed as a reason, but almost no one believed it. Eight days went by and the mystery was unveiled when continue reading

Barack Obama and Raúl Castro divulged to the world their shared intention to reestablish diplomatic relations.

Cuban negotiators will sit at the table with their European counterparts in the first week of March with an unexpected advantage: one provided by the December 17 announcement and one that will allow them to boast of no longer depending on the cooperation the Eurozone can offer. Like good cheaters at poker, they will brag about the Ace of hearts they hide up their sleeves, a dollarized manna from the North, so as to make believe that they no longer play under pressure.

Like he who offers two buyers the same merchandise to see who pays more, they will take with them some list of prisoners they could free, they will announce their next economic apertures, and they will make whatever promise they would be willing to eventually break.

The negotiating technique of the Cuban government rests upon the ambiguity with which it outlines the doctrine of not yielding a single millimeter of its principles. Its pragmatic interlocutors, removed from ideological catechism, are incapable of discerning the extent reached by the cynicism of a functionary who gets flustered upon sensing that an innocent suggestion could “put the sovereignty of the homeland in danger,” and yet, without the batting of an eyelid, seek foreign investment in petroleum extraction projects or the 90-year usufruct-style lease of future golf courses.

It does not tolerate a word about democratic elections, yet it hands the commercialization of rum and tobacco to foreign companies

It’s astonishing, the plasticity of an intransigence that does not tolerate a word about democratic elections, that upholds the morality of arbitrary detentions, of physically attacking dissidents, and of refusing to recognize the legitimacy of civil society while it hands the commercialization of rum and tobacco to foreign companies, and also accepts the exploitation of one man at the hands of another in Cuba, this as long as the exploiter is foreign and the exploited is Cuban.

Cuban negotiators expect to convince their counterparts that the country deserves credibility and respect because it grows and advances on a solid foundation, but that it needs to be aided as though it were a nation in a state of catastrophe. In certain subjects they act as if they had absolute power. They do not feel limited by the existence of a labor union that may prevent them from striking deals that will lower wages or by an eco-friendly group of parliamentarians that will seek to limit mining in protected areas. Much less by the fact that an irritating part of the Republic’s Constitution may not fit well in what is being negotiated.

Oh! But don’t touch that point of Human Rights. It is then that they raise their chins, frown their brows, and clench their fists… or maybe not. Maybe they’ll conjure a knowing smile and make some indication insinuating that it is important to have trust, they might even raise their index finger, to subtly inform that the impediments, external to their own wishes, come from “up above.” Then, slowly, as if they were bouncing an invisible ball with their palms a few centimeters from the table’s surface, they’ll signal the need for patience. They’ll close up their briefcases and they’ll get up satisfied, sure that they have once again achieved a magnificent purchase of time.

Translated by Fernando Fornaris

Follow the Trail of Flour / 14ymedio, Orlando Palma

A piece of bread. (14ymedio)
A piece of bread. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Orlando Palma, Havana, 9 February 2014 – “The flour trail is easy to follow,” says a retired baker whose hands, for more than five years now, haven’t mixed ingredients nor added leavening to a dough. “I left it all behind, because the administrator of the bakery where I worked changed every six months and the last one ended up in jail,” explains this sixties-something man with long arms, wearing a white cap from his days in front of on oven.

The illegal market in flour has grown in recent years. With the revival of private businesses offering varied menus, demand for “the white powder” has multiplied. It’s estimated that three of every five pizzas sold in the private cafés and restaurants are made with flour acquired in the underground continue reading

networks and not from the hard currency stores as required by law.

A recent TV report has revealed that the diversion of the grain starts at the mills where the wheat is processed and packaged for distribution throughout the country. Cienfuegos Combined Cereals supplies the product to 11 of the country’s provinces, and a high percentage of its merchandise ends up in the informal networks. The trail this traffic leaves extends from the ships of the Cienfuegos company, passing through the railroad cars of at least three provinces and also involving entities such as the Business Base Unit (UEB) and Cargo Transport (Transcar).

The Interior Ministry has an ongoing investigation in response to multiple complaints of shortages of flour. The Controller of the Republic herself has intervened in the matter and at the end of 2014 presided over a tense meeting in Camaguey Province attended by all the entities involved in the embezzlement. That meeting turned into a battlefield where each party defended their own innocence and accused the others.

In November 2014, María Victoria Rabelo, director general of the Cuba Milling Company, had sent a long missive with a detailed sequence of the thefts committed against the merchandise marketed by her company, pointing an accusing finger at the railroad authorities. According to the millers’ version, the sacks of precious grain go astray during the journey to numerous destinations in the region.

In July of last year, the Department of National Railways reduced the number of staff in the Loading and Unloading Inspection Division. Added to the spending cuts is the illusion that the security of the loads relies more on automated methods and the verification of the locks of every boxcar with merchandise. The result of this measure has been a real catastrophe.

Three of every five pizzas sold in the private cafés and restaurants are made with flour acquired in the underground networks

In a Provincial Food Company inspection of 60 boxcars, it was determined that between September and October alone, over 100,000 pounds of the precious product disappeared. “If before they reduced the manpower of inspectors they were losing between two and three sacks per boxcar, today we’re talking about losing as much as 17 tons fromone of them,” confessed one Cuba Milling Company official on national television.

Ledy Guerrero Ramírez, head of packing and stowage for Cienfuegos Cereal company, said it was impossible that the product was stolen during loading. “No way,” she responded before the insinuation that the main diversion was happening in her entity. “Here we have a computer with two automatic scales and here we have another computer where the number of sacks loaded to a boxcar is programmed in,” she added. Guerrero Ramírez also said that, when the full number of sacks is loaded, the conveyor stops automatically.

During the police investigation it was found that, despite the implementation of an automatic scale in the filling of the cars, the shipments arrive at their destination with between eight and ten tons less flour. An even greater mystery, and one confusing to the experts, is that this happens without the security seals placed on the door of each car showing any signs of being violated.

The railroad operators defend themselves, bringing up Ministry of Economy and Planning Resolution No. 2 of 2008. According to its provisions, the supplier is obligated to place the product in the warehouses of the customers and guarantee its arrival in good condition and without losses. Following the exact letter of the provision, it is the responsibility of Cienfuegos Cereals to take control of and transport the flour to every distribution center.

Centralized State control, however, obliges the millers and the railroad operators to work together in a forced relationship. The spotlight of the accusations is falling on the work of the UEB railway in Cienfuegos. Its chief of operations, Antonio Subí Claro, referred to the television official who had recorded missing sacks over the whole year, which have been “significantly increased (…), adding up to some 4,800 missing sacks as of December.”

Nothing here … nothing there

Getting the sacks of flour out of the boxcars can only be carried with the complicity – or blindness – of the train crew. Several farmers in the central area say that there are sites located on the outskirts of towns and cities where the illegal off-loading occurs. A non-scheduled stop allows the product to be transferred to trucks, which wait on both sides of the rail line. The security seals on the boxcars were never closed, which requires several accomplices in the loading areas at the mills. Once they take out the merchandise, they proceed to seal the doors, leaving no signs that they had been forced.

Despite the implementation of an automatic scale in the filling of the cars, the shipments arrive at their destination with between eight and ten tons less flour

The web of conspirators is so extensive that from the loading centers they convey the information to the off-loaders about which boxcars are marked by the police, to be inspected on arrival. A game of cat and mouse, where this time the rodents appear to have greater ingenuity and creativity than the stupid cat who monitors them without success.

Contrary to what many believe, a great part of the stolen flour ends up in the state institutions themselves. The bakeries are the final destination of thousands of these stolen sacks. It will be there where they concoct, with the implements and state infrastructure, the bread and baked goods that later will be sold by private vendors. A mix of state and private (estatal and particular) that people have jokingly baptized estaticular.

The phenomenon of undeclared production has become common in state institutions. However, it is in bread baking where it reaches its highest peak. The bakeries work at double their capacity, although the product offered on the ration book is poor quality and underweight. Inside the state entities, the ovens never stop and on the kneading tables they give shape to the bread sold according to supply and demand. This is marketed “under the counter” from the display cases of the bakery itself, or is supplied to private bakers, birthday party managers, café owners and casual shoppers.

Another part of the stolen grain goes to families who hide distribution centers where they package the merchandise in smaller portions and offer it to their usual clients. “We supply owners of private restaurants and cafés, mostly to people who sell Italian food,” says Amilkar, a young man of 28 who is part of the flour distribution network in the capital neighborhood of Puentes Grandes, very close to the Cuba Milling Company.

“This is a dangerous business,” says Amilkar, who has seen many “end up in the tank.” In mid-2013 an illegal flour distribution network was dismantled in the city of Camaguey. The police arrested two young men hiding five sacks and flour and two pounds of leavening in the false bottom of a tricycle. The investigators busted it wide open and ended up taking down a network of 17 people, who included some who were issuing false invoices to account for the grain transfers.

An illegal industry that is carried out with the stealth of those who traffic in cocaine, because all the flour circulating in the country has been stolen from the state network that imports the wheat and processes it in domestic mills. Attempts to cultivate the grain in Cuban soil have ended up being a sterile, and excessively expensive, enterprise.

If I were to buy all the flour I use in the hard currency stores, I would have to sell every pizza at a price no one could afford

In selling flour, so it can be processed by others, the suppliers try to find regular customers. They are offered each sack at a price that varies between 300 and 400 Cuban pesos. Much cheaper than the 2.2 pounds for 1 convertible peso (equivalent to 24 Cuban pesos), which it costs in the network of hard currency stores. Along with the illegal grain business, there also flourished a wide offering of counterfeit receipts so the self-employed workers can justify the product to the inspectors.

An establishment of the Cuban Bread Company.(14ymedio)
An establishment of the Cuban Bread Company.(14ymedio)

“In the absence of a wholesale market, if I were to buy all the flour I would have to sell every pizza at a price no one could afford,” says Norge, an electrical engineer who now runs a private pizzeria. “We have several empty containers labeled with the brand of flour sold in stores in convertible pesos and we fill them with what we get outside, in case an inspector suddenly shows up.”

On Norge’s kitchen floor, there is a trail of white powder that extends to the back door. In the words of an old baker, that footprint is like a betrayal, a most indiscrete and eloquent track left by the illegal flour business.

Corruption, the Cancer of Cuban Public Transportation / Cubanet, Ernesto Perez Chang

Photo by author
Photo by author

cubanet square logoCubanet, Ernesto Perez Chang, Havana, 7 February 2015 — More than a decade has passed since the first big purchase of busses from China and Russia was made in order to ameliorate the transportation problem in Cuba, and no improvement is in sight. Contrary to what was promised then, moving from one point to another becomes each day a greater agony for low-income citizens.

Although officials from the Ministry of Transportation continue blaming the economic embargo and the world crisis for all the difficulties they face, it is well known that there are other phenomena, many of them related to corruption.

In that sense, it is not surprising to encounter silence in the official media and in the statements by some officials in which they try to hide the million-dollar embezzlements that continue reading

the importing and transportation companies must confront every year such that what is invested on one side passes to the pockets of a few on the other.

Besides the negative figures supplied by Ricardo Chacon, Director of International Relations for the Ministry of Transportation (MITRANS), in the press conference held in 2014 in order to “denounce the embargo,” there were other data missing about the damages caused to the Cuban economy by the frauds and thefts committed by some of the senior leaders of strategic enterprises related to transportation.

According to what we could learn through an official from Havana’s Provincial Transportation Department, who for obvious reasons has asked our discretion as far as his identity, a great part of the economic losses that were suffered last year, as in years before, is due to the chaos and the embezzlement of great sums of money by senior leaders of enterprises like Transimport, whose director, Jesus Jose de Hombre, was arrested some months ago and is under investigation for an act of corruption that also involves the director of the company Autopartes, tied to the illicit sale of thousands of engines that were intended for public transportation.

Alternative transportation in Lido, Marianao
Alternative transportation in Lido, Marianao — The people ride in the backs of trucks

On the streets of Cuba it is common knowledge that the black market for parts and vehicles, as well as for all services related to the field, is supplied by a network of corruption that reaches the highest levels in government institutions. The inability to honestly administer all these enterprises that function as true mafias is obvious when the constant resignations by officials are taken into account, the frequent changes of high managers as well as of the ministers and vice-ministers related directly or indirectly to transportation but, also, when it is revealed to us the exaggerated price of a vacant position in any of the warehouses or offices related to the sale or import of automobiles and auto parts.

The lines for the bus
The lines for the bus

A worker – whom we do not identify for his safety – for one of the warehouses of the Gaviota enterprise group, in the capital, tells us about this particular:

“The job as assistant to the Warehouse Chief goes for a thousand dollars and those that have to do with marketing also are “nibbling close.” There are people here who have entered on the bus and left in a Hyundai. They enter without a peso in their pockets because of what they had they spent on buying the job but later they get twenty times what they invested. Here I have seen new cars being removed, just arrived through the port. Later old cars are put out to rent, as if they were the new ones.”

All of the old trucks and cars that circulate through the city, above all those dedicated to the particular business of transportation, are known to get their spare parts in mechanisms of the dark market due to the absence of legal providers. It might seem like a miracle that cars in use for more than half a century still continue rolling on the country’s highways but a glance inside of any of them would dispel such amazement.

The driver of an almendron (a 1950s American car for hire) says about the expenses that keeping those vehicles functioning implies that necessity has become part of the urban profile.

“You have to go out and look for all the parts. As there are none, they stab you with the prices. If you want to have it running at least eight hours, so that the business pays you, you know that in a year or two you are going to have to “re-motorize yourself.” Every week you have to give it maintenance so that it doesn’t die and adapt all kinds of parts. And none of it is legal, they all require papers and you pay this and that and the other so that everything comes out okay. Everyone who has a car rolling on the street has to make an arrangement if you don’t want to forget about the car. The State requires you to go to the black market because it doesn’t give you anything. They know what they are doing and they have seen a windfall in that. He who makes the law makes the trap.”

Alternatives in the transportation crisis (photo by author)
Alternatives in the transportation crisis (photo by author)

Even though for the foreign visitor it could all work wonderfully – given that they travel the best routes of the country in comfortable panoramic buses and not in horse drawn carriages or unsafe trucks like those at the Lido terminal in Mariano – the transportation outlook on the island is quite grim. There is no way to break that cycle of corruption that the government itself has created and not because of inability or innocence. So many years committing the same mistakes only points to something quite high, at the head of the State, someone knows how to finish that infallible refrain that seems the slogan of every social project: There’s good fishing in troubled waters.

About the author:

perez chang 448.thumbnailErnesto Pérez Chang (El Cerro, Havana, June 15, 1971) Writer. Graduate of Philology from the University of Havana. He studied Galician Language and Culture at the University of Santiago de Compostela. He has published these novels: Your Eyes Face Nothing (2006) and Alicia Under Her Own Shadow (2012). At the end of this year the outlet Silueta in Miami will publish his most recent novel, Food. He is also the author of books of stories: Last Pictures of Mama Nude (2000); The Ghosts of Sade (2002); Stories From Headquarters (2003); Variations on the Illiterate (2007), The Art Of Dying Alone (2011) and One Hundred Lethal Stories (2014). His narrative work has been recognized with the prizes: David de Cuento, the Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba (UNEAC), in 1999; Gazette Story Prize of Cuba on two occasions, 1998 and 2008; Julio Cortazar Latin American Story Prize in its first call in 2002; National Critic’s Prize in 2007, Alejo Carpentier Story Prize in 2011, among others. He has worked as editor for numerous Cuban cultural institutions such as the House of the Americas (1997-2008), Art and Literature Editorial, the Center for Research and Development of Cuban Music. He was Editor in Chief of the magazine Union (2008-2011).

Translated by MLK