Angel Santiesteban, Being Held in Military Unit to the West of Havana / 14ymedio

Angel Santiesteban through the blinds (14ymedio)
Angel Santiesteban through the blinds (14ymedio)

14ymedio, Havana, 2 August 2014 — Writer Ángel Santiesteban has been relocated to a prison under the control of Border Guard Troops in the Flores neighborhood near the town of Jaimanita, west of Havana. After weeks of uncertainty and conflicting information, a reporter for 14ymedio was able to locate and see this military unit.

For three weeks Santiesteban‘s situation has become even more confusing after the authorities in charge of keeping him under custody in the prison center in the Lawton neighborhood declared that he has “escaped.” He was immediately taken  to the police station at Acosta and Diez de Octubre Streets, where he could only receive visits from his closest relatives.

Freelance journalist Lilianne Ruiz, after touring the different places where it was stated that the writer being held, was able to see him and talk to him through the blinds. The guards of the Border Guard Troops confirmed to the journalist that Santiesteban is considered a “special case.”

Santiesteban himself assured Ruiz that he is not being prosecuted for a new offense, and that a brief letter will appear in his blog, The Children Nobody Wanted, explaining everything that happened during the last days.

Ángel Santiesteban serving a five-year sentence for the alleged crime of violation of domicile. Multiple irregularities during his trial have been denounced by activists and independent lawyers. A couple of weeks ago Reporters Without Borders released a statement calling on the Cuban government to clearly state the fate of the narrator and journalist.

University (for the Tenacious) / 14ymedio, Henry Constantin, Reinaldo Escobar

Henry Constantin during the interview (14ymedio)
Henry Constantin during the interview (14ymedio)

14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 28 August 2014 — Henry Constantin is a native of Camagüey province, born in Las Tunas on Valentine’s Day, 30 years ago. He has been expelled from university three times for his ideas, but still believes he will obtain his journalism degree.

This slender, plain-spoken young man has founded two independent publications and has just returned from a cultural exchange program. For years he has been part of the reporting team of the magazine Convivencia (Coexistence), and today he invites the readers of 14ymedio to share the challenges he has faced in his classroom journey.

Question: You hold the sad distinction of three expulsions from university. What was the first time like?

Answer: One day I wrote this question on the board: Who was the Cuban nominee for the Nobel Prize? My fellow students did not know, neither did the professor, so I wrote the name of Oswaldo Payá. continue reading

Later I selected for a research topic the actual level of acceptance enjoyed by the official media in the general population. I was failed, and that report was suggested as possible grounds for my expulsion. Finally, they lowered my grade for poor attendance — a false claim being that the majority of my colleagues had more absences than I did. That was the year my son was born and my professor/advisor had told me, “take care of that and don’t worry about absences.”

My son is now 8 years old – the same age as my problems.

Q: Even so, you tried again…..

A: A year later I was able to enter the University of Santa Clara journalism school. I was the only student who was not a member of the FEU (University Student Federation), and — in the university’s Internet lounge — I learned of the existence of alternative blogs. It was there that we founded a magazine called Abdala*, which we ultimately we named La Rosa Blanca* (The White Rose). We produced it without a computer, but still published five issues, until (another magazine) La Hora de Cuba (Cuba’s Hour) replaced it.

When I completed that course, they failed me for having produced a radio script dealing with the effects of the Huber Matos case on the broadcast media in Camagüey.

Q: Were you allowed to present it?

A: The professor thought it was heresy for me to stir up the case of that Sierra Maestra commander condemned to 20 years in prison for resigning his post. He suggested that I do a project on the journalism of José Martí. So I tackled the censorship suffered by the Apostle** at the hands of the Argentine government for his articles in the newspaper, La Nación. They failed me again, but by that time I had the right to reevaluation.

So I tackled the censorship suffered by José Martí at the hands of the Argentine government for his articles in the newspaper, La Nación.

I went to Camagüey for the weekend and when I returned (to the university) they were waiting to remove me from the premises. They informed me that I had been expelled from the graduate school by virtue of a disciplinary action — nothing ideological, of course!

Four men escorted me to the door and instructed the custodians to keep me from re-entering the building. They also instructed the newspaper Adelante and the Radio Cadena Agramonte station — where I had done my journalism practica — to call the police if I tried to enter.

Q: So that was your definitive goodbye to university classrooms?

A: I don’t surrender easily. In September, 2009, I took the aptitude tests to enroll in the National Institute of Art (ISA), in the school of audio-visual media. I attained the maximum score and was accepted. While at ISA, I worked on the magazine, Convivencia, edited by Dagoberto Valdes in Pinar del Río province. He proposed that I join the Reporting Council and I said yes. I also worked on the independent program Razones Ciudadanas (Civic Reasons).

Another project I participated in while a student at ISA was Hora Cero (Zero Hour). It began after a strike motivated by the bad food we were served. It consisted in staging encounters with persons outside of the institution. Jorge Molina and Gustavo Arcos came, but when we invited Eduardo del Llano, we were obstructed.

In May, 2011, they scheduled me to meet with the dean of ISA, to tell me they had discovered that I had been expelled from the graduate school. At that point I was three days from completing my courses, so I resisted, arguing that the other students should decide my fate. Once again I was removed by force from the premises, in a car that left me at the bus station. So that is the end of my history as a university student, and my obsession with obtaining a degree.

Q: And after the third expulsion?

A: I returned to Camagüey and re-initiated the Hora Cero (Zero Hour) project, at my own risk, in my own home. We started with exhibitions of the photos of Orlando Luís Pardo, a short by Eduardo del Llano, and music by some troubadour friends. Up to now, we have had good attendance by the public. The poet Maikel Iglesias, the theater troupe Cuerpo Adentro, the poet Francis Sánchez, and Eliecer Ávila with his audiovisual work, Un cubano más (Just Another Cuban), have also participated.

To Hora Cero have come university students, professors, neighbors, courageous people who dare to exchange ideas. Some attend who have been instructed to inform about what takes place in these encounters, and others who have been coerced for having received a simple invitation from me to participate.

The first time that State Security visited me, my mother — who at that time was serving on a mission in Venezuela — was threatened. They told her that if she continued supporting me, she could lose the bank account where her salary is deposited. Others have been told that Hora Cero is funded by the CIA.

Q: Have you gone back to your studies?

A: A year ago I heard about a program, Somos un solo pueblo (We Are One People), for young people who have had difficulty pursuing their studies here, and are given the opportunity to do a 6-month course in the United States. Classes in psychology, personal effectiveness, principles of business or sociology, among many others. It was a wonderful experience for me and I learned a lot.

Q: And now?

A: I think I will have my work cut out for me in the next 50 or 60 years, judging by how I see present-day Cuba. If I have any time left over I want to write fiction…but with the way things are, that will have to wait.

Translator’s notes:
* Both of these titles are from the poetry of 19th century Cuban patriot José Martí.
**Martí is referred to as the “Apostle of Cuban Independence”.

Translated by Alicia Barraqué Ellison

What Does a Cuban Bring Home in Her Suitcase? / 14ymedio

Nuria's suitcase (14ymedio)
Nuria’s suitcase (14ymedio)

Nuria retired last year and this month she traveled to Miami, where her sisters live. On returning to the Island she showed 14ymedio what she brought home in her suitcase.

Let’s take a look at what she threw in her bags with brief comments from her about why she chose each product.

  • Two bottle of dishwashing soap. “There isn’t any in the spiritual centers and what they do sell here destroys my hands.”
  • Two packages of napkins: “In the snack bars they cut them in two and even in four, making them real onion skins.”
  • A stove lighter: “There aren’t any matches in the stores, and when you find them the heads fall off and burn my clothes.”
  • Two packages of bath soap: “I’ve spent years without washing myself with something soft and creamy, so I just couldn’t resist.”
  • Four pairs of jeans: “They last and I’m not going to pay the price the State charges for them in its boutiques.” continue reading

  • A package of coffee: “I know it seems like a crime, but I’m going to mix it with what I get from the ration book and it’ll last me longer.”
  • Two bottles of cologne: “Since Suchel reduced production, it’s something refreshing and fragrant for after the bath which has become a luxury.”
  • A packet of washing detergent: “I have clothes that are a little grimy and I’m going to see if this can restore the colors.”
  • A paper datebook: “The doctor who operated on my cataracts asked me for something to write down her appointments and I can’t go wrong with her.”
  • Four scouring pads: “With the ban on traders [importing such things for resale], mops and sponges have disappeared.”
  • A package of instant glue: “I need it to glue together things that have broken around the house.”
  • A package of candles: “I’m preparing for the blackouts, because every now and then the lights go out.”
  • Ten condoms: “At my age I don’t think you need them, but I brought them for my daughters because they say the ones at the pharmacy are past their expiration date.”
  • A jar of CoffeeMate: “I’m going to invite my friends to have a little coffee with this, to remind us of the old times.”
  • Two towels: “The only one I have I bought a decade ago and there’s so little left of it it doesn’t even dry you.”
  • 20 bouillon cubes: “This fixes a meal, if I don’t have anything to go with the rice I throw in a cube and at least it tastes of something.”
  • Two tubes of tomato concentrate: “I have so many cravings to eat some good spaghetti with real tomatoes, I couldn’t resist.”
  • Five school notebooks: “My granddaughter is starting elementary school in September and the study materials they give them there are poor quality.”
  • A tube of toothpaste: “My prosthesis will be gleaming with this.”
  • Two boxes of Tampax: “My daughters are dying for this, because the sanitary napkins on the ration book are annoying and not very absorbent.
  • A package of disposable plates: “I want for at least one day to have the pleasure to invite someone to eat and not have to scrub the dishes.”
  • Two rolls of toilet paper: “There is none in the stores and the newspaper Granma is printed on rougher and rougher paper, so I wanted to treat myself to something soft but sturdy.”
  • A swimsuit: “You’d think we didn’t live on a tropical island considering the high price of suits in the stores.”
  • A bottle of aspirins: “When I have a headache I prefer some real aspirins, not the kind that when you take them they stick in your throat… like the ones they make in Cuba.”
  • A jar of ointment: “I’m old, I have to have something on hand for sore bones.”
  • A roll of plastic bags: “My sisters laughed because I brought these, but they don’t know how many stores and markets there are that after you buy the merchandise they tell you they don’t have any bags to carry the products.”
  • A blood pressure monitor: “I’m tired of going to the family doctor and finding there’s no one there, because the doctor is on a foreign mission or because the water is off.”
  • Four razors: “So I don’t have to go out looking like a pirate with hair legs.”
  • A bottle of salt: “This isn’t easy to find here and when you can buy it it’s so damn and heavy it will barely pour.”
  • Four incandescent bulbs: “I can’t remember when I had light on the terrace and in the hallway because the energy-saving bulbs aren’t available and when you can find them they cost an arm and a leg.”
  • Some reading glasses: “I bought them in a wholesale market but at least I solved the problem, because in the Miramar opticians they wanted to charge me ten times more for some similar ones.”
  • Powdered onion and garlic: “Onions and garlic are so expensive in the agricultural markets that I can’t buy them.”
  • A small tin of olive oil: “I don’t want to die without experiencing that taste again.”
  • A universal remote control: “The one for my Panda television that they gave me during the energy revolution broke years ago.”
  • A DVD player: “My trip was especially to bring back this, because the truth is that I can’t stand the official programming.”

Nuria has also traveled with a handbag in which she brought personal belongings and some underwear. She’s happy about her “treasures,” so she shuts the suitcase, smiles and goes home to distribute the gifts and enjoy what she brought.

Another Member of the Magazine ‘Coexistence’ is Cited by Police / 14ymedio

14YMEDIO, Havana, 28 August 2014 – In an escalation that started weeks ago, another member of the editorial board of Convivencia (Coexistence) magazine has been summoned by the police. This Wednesday Javier Valdes received a citation for the following day at 5:00 PM, at the National Revolutionary Police (PNR) station in Pinar del Rio. Other notifications were sent a couple of weeks ago to Karina Galvez, Juan Carlos Fernandez and William Rodriguez, members of the editorial team and collaborators on the independent publication. 

Convivencia is a magazine created in the westernmost Cuban province, that recently celebrated its sixth anniversary and 40 issues. Its topics include culture, civil society, debates about the economy and politics, but also cover pastoral and ethical issues. Since its inception, the publication has been the object of police pressure and its director, Dagoberto Valdes, has been treated especially aggressively in the official media.

Pressures have also come from the General Customs of the Republic, who confiscated cameras and laptops from Karina Galvez and Juan Carlos Fernández after a recent trip abroad.

You Can’t Come In / 14ymedio, Rosa Lopez

Anuncio-derecho-admisiAn-cine_CYMIMA20140827_0002_16
This venue reserves the right of admission (14ymedio)

14ymedio, Havana, Rosa Lopez, 27 August 2014 – “You can’t come in,” a young doorkeeper emphatically tells a young man, while gesturing for him to move away from the door. When the target protests, he receives the explanation that in this crowded Havana club, “you can’t enter wearing shorts.” A sign posted at the entrance warns that the place, “reserves the right of admission.”

The story is repeated in many other places in Havana. The Charles Chaplin Cinema downtown posts a sign with entry restrictions. When you ask an employee if the rules are dictated by higher body, she says, “No, no. Management is in charge, there’s no law. We are the ones who decide.” And she adds, “We don’t allow people without shirts, or wearing flipflops, or behaving inappropriately.” It’s not unusual to see, however, flexible rules for foreigners. An Italian in short shorts—which could be confused with a bathing suit—passed through the lobby without being ejected.

In 2010, the Chaplin Cinema refused entry to a group of people trying to attend the premier of the documentary Revolution about the hip-hop group Los Aldeanos. Some of these citizens drafted a legal demand against the entity, charging that the segregation was based on ideological reasons, because they were activists, bloggers and musicians from the dissident scene, but it was unsuccessful in court. Years later, the downtown movie theater still sports a sign with restrictions on entry. continue reading

Welcome Cubans, but…

In 2008, one of the first steps taken by Raul Castro on assuming power was to allow Cubans access to hotels. According to the General President, that decision was meant to avoid the emergence of “new inequalities.” Nevertheless, native Cubans still can’t enjoy all the recreational areas of the country. The boats that run along the coast, the marine enclaves along stretches of the coast, and some keys still do not allow Cubans residing on the Island where they were born.

By the Bay of Cienfuegos a pleasure boat sails which doesn’t allow any Cubans to enjoy the excursion. 

By the Bay of Cienfuegos a pleasure boat sails which doesn’t allow any Cubans to enjoy the excursion. The reason, according to several dock workers, is fear that that the boat could be hijacked in an illegal attempt to leave the country. The argument reveals the drama of emigration, but also the continuing existence of an apartheid that makes those born in this land second-class citizens. The measure also violates the Cuban Constitution which guarantees, in Article 43, that all Cubans have the right to use, “without segregation, maritime, rail, air and road transport.”

So far, there are no national guidelines that justify such segregation procedures, especially in State facilities, where it is established that they are projected by law. Outside Pepitos Bar, located on 26th Avenue downtown, there is a sign that shows the use and abuse of the right admission “They are rules imposed by the administration,” says a worker at the center who didn’t want his name revealed.

The rights and duties of the consumer are often subject to arbitrary criteria. (14ymedio)
The rights and duties of the consumer are often subject to arbitrary criteria. (14ymedio)

The existing Penal Code establishes one to three years imprisonment or a 300,000 share* fine for an official who arbitrarily exceeds the legal limits of his or her competency. However, none of the lawyers consulted by this newspaper could remember a trial against any administrator or director of a public facility for irregularities in the “right of admission.”

The “house rules” that govern some public sites in Cuba go against even the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. According to its Article 133, “Every person as the right to circulate freely,” and Article 27 also adds that every citizen “has the right to freely form a part of the cultural life of the community.”

Several State restaurants on Obispo Street prohibit nationals from talking with tourists. 

Attorney Wilfredo Vallín, director of the Cuban Law Association, published an article on the site Primavera Digital (Digital Spring), in which he asserted that “restricting, and at the extreme not permitting, access to public places to people who behave correctly, don’t cause disturbances, don’t bother anyone, is illegal.”

Several State restaurants on Obispo Street prohibit nationals from talking with tourists. Management claims the right to expel people from the premises under the pretext that they are annoying foreign customers. However, cases of verbal reprimands or expulsions of tourists for annoying a Cuban with their insinuations or proposals are unheard of. Having a passport from another country appears to grant carte blanche in these situations.

*Translator’s note: Under Cuban law fines are set as a number of “shares”; the value of a single share can then be adjusted, affecting all the fines, without having to rewrite every law.

El Zanjon In Baragua Times / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

Cartel-entrada-zanjon_CYMIMA20140825_0004_1314ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, El Zanjón, 25 August 2014 – No one remembers when the old Spanish barracks were demolished and or the decades passed since the allegorical tally of what happened there. Although the official history vilifies this place, a sign on the central highway tells us we are nearing El Zanjón, whose name also appears on the ID cards of the three hundred people who live in the small village.

On 10 February 1878, the seven agreements of the Pact of Zanjón were signed there, putting an end of the Ten Years War. Thus, the two fundamental objectives that had caused the war were frustrated: Cuban independence and the abolition of slavery. General Arsenio Martinez Campos would be the big winner in an accord that many Cubans considered a shameful page in the national history.

The vast majority of the Liberation Army fighters accepted the pact, with the exception of Antonio Maceo, who a month later starred in the Baraguá Protest. That attempt to keep the struggle alive only lasted until mid-May of the same year, and shortly after Maceo, the Bronze Titan, abandoned the Island for Jamaica. continue reading

A century later, Fidel Castro would proclaim that “Cuba will be an eternal Baraguá.” On taking up this historic event, he would define the intransigence and obstinacy of the political system that has been installed on the Island for half a century. Any dialog with an ideological opponent has been perceived, for decades, as an imitation of the Pact of Zanjón, while intolerance is guided by Maceo’s classic phrase, “We don’t understand each other.”

Perhaps this is why the small rural school in El Zanjón is now called Baraguá Protest School, and the history books define the signing of that Pact as an act of treason. Even the use of the name “Zanjoneros” for those who, according to official views, tried to capitulate after the disaster or Real Socialism in Eastern Europe. Thus, in a small town 375 miles from Havana, people no longer have a native identity they can wear with pride.

But today, the few cows chew their cud and its distaste in the Zanjón lands is not altered, nor the roar of the trucks on the highway. “Here, nothing happens,” a resident tells me, and adds, “So I’m leaving and I’ll never come back.” Leave Zanjón, I ask him. “No, I’m leaving the country, because no one can resist this.”

And there goes another who capitulates, as the official discourse would say, although others prefer to think that they will go into exile to return one day… like Maceo.

A Shortage of Teachers Will Mark the Upcoming School Year / 14ymedio

Elementary students (Luz Escobar)
Elementary students (Luz Escobar)

14ymedio, Havana, 25 August 2014 – This Monday enrollment began for the various levels of education across the country. The 2014-2015 school year presents a challenge to the Ministry of Education authorities, given the alarming shortage of teachers in the provinces of Havana and Matanzas. On September 1st more than 1.8 million students will enter the classrooms, a figure that declines every year because of the low birthrate affecting the Cuban population. The coming school year will put to the test an educational system caught between an educational system, the unattractive salaries for professionals, and the verticality of decision making.

So far, the presence of 172,000 teachers in the schools has been confirmed, which meets only 93.1% of the needs. However, at least 10,897 positions have been difficult to fill and the educational authorities have tried to fill them by hiring retired teachers, using school staff members from management and administration, and increasing the workload of the teachers already confirmed. Officials and education experts will also help in the schools, although without the ability to cover all the educational needs.

Still, there is a shortage of at least 660 teachers in the capital and Matanzas province, which so far have no replacements. The Education Minister, Ena Elsa Velazquez, remarked that regardless of the shortage, already confirmed educators have to be protected and “not given extra tasks.” An intention difficult to achieve given the current circumstances.

In recent decades Cuban education has suffered a process of material and professional deterioration. During the previous year there was an increase in people complaining about the loss of spaces in classes and assignments in numerous schools around the country. The exodus of teachers to other types of work has forced the training of “emergent teachers” and the introduction of classes taught by television and videos. These measures demonstrate that education is broken and generate deep concern among the students’ parents, particularly those with children in elementary and junior high school.

A Thief Who Steals from a Thief… / 14ymedio, Miriam Celaya

Computer store (14ymedio)
Computer store (14ymedio)

14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 23 August 2014 — “Beds, furniture, mattresses, heaters”, is the soft cry from a reseller who prowls around the Carlos III Market entranceway. A few steps away, another dealer advertises his wares: “airs,’microgüeys’, washing machines, rice cookers, ‘Reina’ brand pots and pans…” The cries are not too loud, but measured, uttered in a tone just loud enough to reach the ears of the nearby walkers, or of those people who enter or leave the market.

Speculators move around with stealth and pretending, like one who knows well that he is operating at the margin of what is legal. So, as soon as he sees a cop or some individual he suspects of being an “inspector”, the cries are abruptly suspended. Many turn away instantly, but the more adventurous stay and buy themselves a beer and adopt the carefree air of one who just wants to cool off from the heat wave of this merciless August air. They know they don’t fool anyone, but neither can they be charged with a crime if they are not caught dealing in the illegal market.

For years, black market traders have flourished all around shops operating in foreign currencies. They speculate in several different products, from sophisticated electronics equipment to cosmetics or toothpaste. They come in quite a few categories, depending on the product they sell, but all belong to this illegal trade network that is many times more efficient than the legal markets: the chain formed by hoarders and/or burglars-resellers-receivers. There is currently an official media campaign being developed against the first two links (hoarders-resellers).Government media particularly blame those who traffic in products that are scarce, while shortages–another epidemic that has turned endemic–affect the country’s commercial trading networks. continue reading

Speculation, an evil concomitant with a society marked by material shortages of all kind.

This crusade against corruption and illegal activities, however, does not stand out for “uncorking” before public opinion the obvious problem of speculation, a concomitant evil to the system, and fitting to a society scored by material shortages of all kinds. In fact, this type of crime is nothing new, but just the opposite: we could almost state that there isn’t a “pure” Cuban who is able to survive outside of illicit trading in any of its many forms.

Thus in Cuba there is currently an unwritten law: those who do not steal at least receive stolen products. A situation that is based on the failure of the social project built on an economy that is fictitious and eternally dependent on external subsidies.

However, the official media not only points an accusing finger at the usual dealers, among which are common criminals, lazy opportunists, thugs of all kinds, thieves by vocation, and other specimens classified as social stigmas anywhere in the world but that proliferate with impunity and force in economically and morally deformed societies.

The immaculate criers of the regime also accuse of being “hoarders and resellers” those traders in the abused sector of “the self-employed” who take advantage of the shortage to profit from the sale of items previously purchased from retail networks, often by agreement with corrupt managers or employees. The self-employed are now the blackbirds [the weather] that everything gets blamed on, as were the “Free Market” farmers of the distant 80’s, and later, in the bloody Special Period of the 90’s, artisans and Cathedral Square vendors, the first outposts of self-employment.

Official reporters, in their poignant candor, attribute store shortages to speculators and not to the State Government, owner of all commercial chains and responsible for keeping them supplied. In their way of thinking it doesn’t appear that the old and effective correlation between supply and demand exists, in virtue of which speculation would not be possible, as long as the commercial network supply is maintained. That is why certain products, such as rum and cigars produced domestically are not part of the black market: all the shops are overflowing with them.

In fairness, we must recognize that rampant speculation exists in Cuba, and that this phenomenon greatly affects everyone’s pockets, but to harshly focus blame onto its effects without aiming at its source is redundant and a discredit to the accuser. It turns out that the biggest culprit is absent from the bench of such severe judgment.

If there is any hoarder in whose hands the whole of the market concentrates, it’s the State monopoly.

Because, if there is a hoarder in whose hands the whole market, trade, prices and distribution of each product is concentrated, it’s the state monopoly, controlled by the ruling elite and its closest acolytes. If there is a reseller with a capital “R” it’s the very elite in power that buys at bargain prices all kinds of cheap merchandise that it later resells “legally” at astronomical prices.

We should not ignore in this story memories of other hoarding on the part of the government, the adjudication of approximately 70% of all of the country’s arable land, of the National Bank; of all industries; hotels and housing infrastructures; of the best mansions and spaces for their benefit and for the benefit of their caste and followers, among others which we will omit so we won’t impose on the readers’ patience.

The philosophy of poverty as “virtue” 

While the black market has expanded and specialized in the last 25 years, the truth is that it has coexisted with this system almost from the start, turning each Cuban into a true or potential violator of the law.

The poverty that the triumph of the revolution would supposedly end, in practice not only became widespread, but also systematized and institutionalized to the point that today Cuba holds the sad record of being the only country in the world that has maintained a ration card–a mechanism of  war economy–for over 50 years, which has planted in the consciousness of several generations an effect of disability and dependence culminating in a detachment from the law which establishes permanent hardship as morality.

Dealers, instead of being perceived as criminals, are transmuted into benefactors, since they rob the rich (the Government-State), to benefit ordinary Cubans

This phenomenon has penetrated into the national psyche so deeply that we don’t even perceive the harm in all its magnitude, so the solution for necessities becomes legitimate regardless of the method used for this. For example, for an average Cuban, the purchase of one kilogram of powdered milk on the black market at 80 pesos seems legitimate, since it ensures her 7 year-old kid’s breakfast–who is thus stripped of her right to acquire the same product on the ration card–since the cost on the legal market for the same amount is 160 pesos, twice the amount as in the black market.

Thus, a new “Robin Hood syndrome” has been established in Cuban society, such that the reseller or trafficking dealer, instead of being perceived as a criminal, is transmuted into a benefactor, since he is stealing from the rich (the government-state) in order to benefit, in some measure, the poor (the common Cuban), given that his prices, though high and out of the reach of the poorest, are less onerous than those of the state monopoly. At any rate, as the old saying goes, “a thief who steals from a thief gets a hundred years’ pardon”.

An unbreakable chain? 

However, the chain of hoarding-speculation-receiving, as well as its effects on the economy, and even on social morality, is not unbreakable. Freeing the market and allowing normal operation of its laws would be sufficient, or releasing a portion of that market, so that traders would no longer be the evil that the government hypocritically seeks to protect us from, to have it become an important sector for healing the domestic economy. In short, the story of the last few decades offers an unquestionable lesson: there has never, ever been a central economy that has survived this logic.

Another useful measure would be to maintain a permanent and satisfactory level of supply and prices commensurate with incomes, but the impossibility of this option has already been demonstrated. Meanwhile, the same government that decries illicit small merchants legitimizes its own speculation at the expense of a country that belongs to all. At the end of the day, the root of the evil resides in the perverse nature of the politics of a group that has accumulated too much power for too much time. In Cuba, the truth is redundant.

Translated by Norma Whiting

Angel Santiesteban Transferred to La Lima Prison / 14ymedio

Angel-Santiesteban_CYMIMA20140516_0001_1314YMEDIO, Havana, August 22, 2014 – The writer Angel Santiesteban might have been transferred to La Lima prison, located in the Havana municipality of Guanabacoa. The information was provided to 14ymedio by Lilianne Ruíz, a freelance journalist who visited the police station at Acosta and Diez de October streets where the narrator and blogger was detained.

For several weeks, Santiesteban’s family and friends have been demanding an explanation for the aggravation of the charges against him. The police informed the family that the writer was being prosecuted for an escape attempt. However, his family believes that this “new imputation is groundless and is being lodged only to increase his time in captivity.”

Reporters Without Borders issued a statement calling on the Cuban authorities to “clearly explain” Santiesteban’s situation.

Prior to his transfer to the Acosta Station, Santiesteban was held in a construction unit where he could receive visitors and make telephone calls. The blogger was sentenced in 2013 to five years in prison for an alleged “violation of domicile and aggression.” Independent lawyers have repeatedly denounced the irregularities committed in his case and have raised the complaint with national and international entities.

Pedestrians Are the Most Frequent Victims of Traffic Accidents / 14ymedio

Pedestrians walking in the street in Havana (BdG 14ymedio)
Pedestrians walking in the street in Havana (BdG 14ymedio)

14YMEDIO, Havana, August 22, 2014 — In recent weeks, the official media have reported numerous traffic accidents in several provinces. In addition to drivers and passengers, pedestrians represent a significant proportion of victims: 34.6% of deaths in the country and, in the case of Havana, the percentage skyrockets to 70.9%, according data reported on the television evening news by the National Directorate of Traffic.

The official report hid some of the factors contributing to this situation, especially the poor condition of the sidewalks, the lack of pedestrian crossings on busy streets and avenues, and the deterioration of the traffic lights or the power outages affecting their operation.

As for the responsibility of drivers, several factors explain the high incidence of accidents: disrespect for the right of way, speeding or drunk driving.

According to recently published official data, in the first half of this year Cuba reported more than 5,600 traffic accidents, with a balance of 347 dead and over 4,300 injured.

Authorities Seize a Shipment of Seafood Hidden in an Ambulance / 14ymedio

Tending their nets (14ymedio)
Tending their nets (14ymedio)

14YMEDIO, Havana, 20 August 2014 – Cuban authorities recently seized a shipment of 270 pounds of shrimp and 110 pounds of lobster being transported hidden in an ambulance, the official newspaper Granma reported in its edition of Tuesday 19 August.

The official organ of the Communist Party refers to unlicensed fishermen as “internal enemies against whom we must intensify the struggle.” The author of the text, Ortelio González Martínez, analyzes the situation of illegal fishing in the province of Ciego de Avila where, he says, “There are still black holes into which seafood escapes.”

The journalist said that so far 18 contracts have been cancelled “for repeated breaches of catch plans, boats out of commission for a long period of time, and sales out of the province,” and he emphasizes the growing danger posed by the illegal seafood sales networks.

Despite being unavailable in the official markets, seafood is widely available in the informal trade networks on the Island. Harvesting shellfish is illegal for most fisherman—with or without a license—and is the exclusive domain of State or private cooperatives. The State has sole responsibility for managing seafood, which can be destined for export, or consumed at tourist resorts on the Island.

Reseller, That Dirty Word / 14ymedio, Victor Ariel Gonzalez

14YMEDIO, Havana, Victor Ariel Gonzalez, 21 August 2014 – “I have mattresses, games room, air conditioning …” an individual stationed at the entrance to a popular store says softly. A few yards further on, another vendor has filters for drinking water, and so it continues, on both sides of the commercial center, an illicit network that caters to more than a few dissatisfied customers with poor State offerings.

If you look in the stores without success, you shouldn’t worry, because outside it’s possible to find everything you need from the “resellers” for a few pesos more. Those traders who swarm streets like Carlos III, Monte, or 10 de octubre, operating with nothing more than the law of supply and demand. The solution that occurs to the government, far from focusing on filling up the half-empty shelves, has been to eradicate what they describe as “social indiscipline.”

What they haven’t considered, however, is granting licenses to the traders. In fact, the word “trader” is banished from the official jargon. Those who exercise one of the oldest crafts known to humanity are called “resellers” and that, in the eyes of the authorities, is not a good thing. The government accuses them of hoarding and speculation.

So far this year there have been almost 17,000 fines and hundreds of seizures. However, the punitive measures taken so far are not enough. “We don’t have an inspector on every corner. We need help from the public,” declare some State inspectors on the TV news. The phenomenon has gotten out of control. This not only contributes to the lack of productivity and bad distribution on the part of the State monopoly, but the problem also includes more than a few corrupt officials.

Chimeras and Frustrations / 14ymedio, Luzbely Escobar

Longing for the beach (14ymedio)
Longing for the beach (14ymedio)

14YMEDIO, Havana, Luzbely Escobar, 21 August 2014 – It is a little more than a week before the start of school and the youngest at home are already taking stock of what they’ve done on their vacation. They go to sleep thinking about what they’ll tell their friends in September and in their little heads they remember each outing with their families. Although parents have few options to entertain their children in the summer, they always make an effort.

The options range from five pesos to buy an ice cream cone at the corner snack bar, to the complicated and greatly desired trip to the beach. I’ve made many promises to my little ones to take them for a dip, but I still haven’t been able to keep my promise. A trip to Santa Maria or Guanabo is like the children’s Road to El Dorado during the summer season.

A trip to the beach is a chimera. The main difficultly rests in the long lines for the bus, with its riots of boys who push in front of everyone because they don’t like to wait that long. Coming home, as if it weren’t hard enough to catch the route 400, we add the drunkenness and fights that break out in front of the innocent eyes of the children. Not to mention the abundant stream of bad words and atrocities shouted with a natural mastery from one end of the bus to the other. continue reading

As an alternative to the beach, the other day we inflated a plastic pool in the basement and poured in a few buckets of water. They had a good time, after the frustration of the breakdown of the transport that would take us to Marazul—coming and going guaranteed—but in the end it left us with swimsuits packed and snacks prepared.

To go to the beach there are other variants such as the almendrones—classic American cars—that cost one convertible peso* (CUC) each but don’t guarantee the return. At one time we could take advantage of the buses that run on the tourist routes, at least for a visit, because they cost 3 CUC each coming and going and the children didn’t have to pay. However, now they’ve gone up to 5 CUC, which is too expensive for ordinary mortals.

Other options, which we have done, are going to the movies, the theater, the usual family visits and games in the park below. But that quickly bores them and they want more. They are tireless in their requests for the Aquarium, the beach, the pool, the zoo, and the Maestranza Fun Park in Old Havana. We decided we weren’t going to the last one any more. It’s too much suffering under the sun and closes at the best time, when it starts to get dark.

If we went to the Zoo twice it’s because it’s close, although it already has a super-well-known terrible reputation. We can go to the Aquarium at night, but sadly, that’s when transport in that area of Havana is more complicated than in the daytime, and so we haven’t had an opportunity to go. In short, if we add up the possible choices, there are few real possibilities of entertaining children.

There are still about ten days of vacation but I don’t think we’ll do much more. Now we’re focused on uniforms, backpacks, shoes, snacks, notebooks, pencils and everything that makes up the school package. Luckily they’ve already forgotten the chimerical holiday and have replaced it with school. We still have the task of making sure there’s no lack of teacher for the classroom, as happened in the last semester of the previous school year. That would be too much frustration.

*Translator’s note: The average monthly wage in Cuba is around 20 CUC. One CUC is about 24 Cuban pesos (about one dollar US).

Portugal Has Spent $ 12 Million Euros Since 2009 to Recruit Cuban Doctors / 14ymedio

14YMEDIO, Havana, 19 August 2014 – The Portuguese National Health Service spent about 12 million euros (about $16 million dollars) in the last six years to recruit Cuban doctors, the local newspaper Jornal I reported Tuesday.

In June 2009, the Government of the Socialist José Sócrates signed its first agreement with Cuba to address the shortage of family doctors. The first protocols provided for payment of a monthly payment of 5,900 euros for every Cuban professional, a base salary above the pay of the Portuguese healthcare provides, although the figure was reduced to 4,230 euros at the end of 2011.

Between August 2009 and 2011, Portugal disbursed 259,600 euros a month for a team of 44 Cuban doctors. Spending in 2012 and 2013 was 164,970 per month for 39 professionals. Following the changes in the latest revision of the agreement last April, the monthly cost is currently 219,960 euros, according to information published by Jornal I.

Payments are made every three months to the Cuban Medical Services Company, which is responsible for paying for healthcare workers, although each of them receives less than a quarter of the total disbursed by Portugal for their services. Cuban authorities justify these deductions to finance training and for the National Public Health Service.

In addition, Portugal has assumed the cost of travel between the two countries, including during the holidays, so that doctors can travel once a year to their country of origin.

The workers on this mission are subject to Cuba’s code of ethics and disciplinary rules. They cannot participate in political activities or make statements to the press, and must inform the authorities if they want to marry. The agreement also provides that in case of abandonment of the mission or violation of the contract, the doctors cannot return to Cuba for a period of eight years.

 

Do You Recognize the Face of This Rafter? / 14ymedio

Some photos from the collection of Willy Castellanos (Exodus Project website)
Some photos from the collection of Willy Castellanos (Exodus Project website)

The photographer Willy Castellanos fought so that the faces of the more than 30,000 rafters who fled Cuba in the summer of 1994 would not be forgotten. The Exodus Project, by the Aluna Art Foundation, in which the Polish documentary film maker Marian Marskinsky is also involved, attempts to once again give names to the protagonists of the exodus of that era.

Castellanos documented the departure from the island of dozens of people in precarious vessels from the beaches of 30th and 24th in Miramar, and from the Cojimar esplanade, east of Havana, during the so-called Rafter Crisis.

The photographer launches a call for all those who recognize the faces immortalized in the photos to provide information to help reconstruct their individual stories.

“Today, 20 years later, I want to once again find these people. I want to document the progress of their lives from the precise moment that my old Nikon captured them on the Cuban coast exchanging spells with fate and the sea, to aspire to a different life. If you recognize yourself, or recognize someone you know in these images and, like me, value the importance of remembering and are moved to tell about it, call or email me,” Castellanos said on the website of the project.

The curator Adriana Herrera of Aluna Art Foundation and Castellanos himself are preparing an exhibition at the Spanish Cultural Center of Miami, which will open in September. The exhibition will also feature videos and installations by Cuban artists such as Coco Fusco and Juan-Si Gonzalez.