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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tania Bruguera released / 14ymedio

Tania Bruguera
Tania Bruguera

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

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

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

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

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

Hundreds of Artists Address a Letter to Raul Castro To Seek the Release of Tania Bruguera / 14ymedio

Tania Bruguera. Slogan on T-Shirt says "I Also Demand"
Tania Bruguera. Slogan on T-Shirt says “I Also Demand”

14YMEDIO, 2 January 2014 – As of right now, almost 300 artists have signed an open letter to President Raul Castro to petition for the release of Tania Bruguera and the other activists arrested after the performance organized by the artist last Tuesday, December 30. The initiative comes from Cuauhtemoc Medina (curator and critic of Mexican art), Andrea Giunta (Argentine art historian), Miguel Lopez (curator and critic of Peruvian art) and Octavio Zaya (curator and critic of Spanish and United States art), and the list of signatories keeps growing. continue reading

The letter considers that the staging that Tania Bruguera organized at the Plaza of the Revolution on the 30th had as its objective “promoting a moment of reflection and civilized debate about the changes that Cuban society and the government will experience after the re-establishment of diplomatic relations with the United States as announced this past December 17.”

The signers, who remind Raul Castro that Bruguera is one of the world’s most recognized Latin American artists, lament “with deep concern” seeing that the initiative “not only found no echo from authorities but that it caused the arrest of the artist and a diverse group of Cuban citizens.” “With all due respect, we ask you to discharge Tania Bruguera and the other arrestees,” they demand.

The work by Tania Bruguera, they recall, is “focused on the social and political intervention that is a result, as she herself has demonstrated repeatedly, of the development that produced the Cuban Revolution.” That is why they consider the arrest of the artist and seizure of her passport for the mere fact of creating an artistic work “that only sought to create a public discussion space” an inappropriate reaction.

Cuban cultural institutions have considered, on the contrary, that the effort by Tania Bruguera was precisely intended to damage relations with the US. As confirmed this Friday to 14ymedio by Elizardo Sanchez, spokesman for the Cuban National Human Rights and Reconciliation Commission (CCDHRN), at least 13 activists continue to be detained in connection with the events of December 30. Also, the artist was taken from the Vivac de Calabazar prison in a car, and her whereabouts are still unknown.

Translated by MLK

Several activists arrested outside Vivac Prison on outskirts of Havana / 14ymedio

Police arresting activist Eliezer Ávila on Tuesday, since released. (14ymedio)
Police arresting activist Eliezer Ávila on Tuesday, since released. (14ymedio)

14ymedio, Havana, 1 January 2015 (Developing news) — Speaking to 14ymedio , blogger Agustín López Canino confirmed his arrest and that of some fifteen activists at 3:52 PM outside Vivac Prison in Calabazar, on the outskirts of Havana. On the list of those arrested is Tania Bruguera, who had solicited an interview with the detention center authorities to ask for explanations regarding those arrested on 30 December.

The activists Ada María López, Antonio González Rodiles, Margarita Rodríguez Díaz, Adnaloy Rodríguez and Ailer González are also among those arrested, according to what some family members told this newspaper. Meanwhile, Eva Baquero, seized just outside Vivac Prison was taken to the Cotorro Police Station and later released. continue reading

On Thursday morning, there were fifteen activists still being held of the fifty arrested to prevent them from participating in the performance of Tatlin’s Whisper #6, called by the artist Tania Bruguera to take place in the Plaza of the Revolution. Some of the prisoners had been transferred to the prison known as Vivac of Calabazar, a processing center where inmates await trial or the setting of bail. Over the course of the day at least three of them were released: Claudio Fuentes, Delio Rodriguez Diaz and Miguel Daniel Borroto.

The blogger Agustín López Canino, while heading to Vivac, had said that he would demand, “The release as soon as possible of people who had only tried to exercise their right to expression.” The group also included relatives of detainees who claimed not to have been able to spend the New Year’s celebrations with their loved ones.

Tania Bruguera had declared this morning that, “We will be outside Vivac until the last of those arrested is released.” At the exact moment this newspaper was speaking with her, the photographer Claudio Fuentes was released.

This newspaper has been able to confirm that among those detained in Vivac de Calabazar are the historian and filmmaker Boris Gonzalez, and UNPACU (Patriotic Union of Cuba) member Omar Fayut. Also on the list of those incarcerated are two activists from Independent and Democratic Cuba (CID), and Camilo José Olivera from the Estado de Sats team. Also in the same detention center, from days earlier, is the graffiti artist El Sexto (Danilo Maldonado), also for attempting to stage a performance.

The Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation (CCDHRN) reported a partial estimate of detainees, which amounted to fifty arrested, along with those who suffered house arrest, forced transfer to Santiago de Cuba, or threats to discourage them from participating in the artistic performance.

A fair idea in the depths of the dungeon / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

ImAgenes-Plaza-RevoluciAn-diciembre_CYMIMA20141231_0003_16
Images in the Plaza of the Revolution on December 30th. (EFE)

14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, 31 December 2014 – In the mouse gray uniform worn by inmates, as disheveled as usual and with eyes open wide, Tania Bruguera sitting on a bench in the Acosta Street Police Station seemed to be giving the best performance of her artistic career. At that point at noon on 30 December 2014, they’d already arrested dozens of people in the city of Havana to prevent them from answering the invitation to gather at the Plaza of the Revolution. continue reading

As Arnold Hauser said, “Artworks are provocations, we can’t explain them to ourselves, at most we can argue with them.” In 2009, at the Wilfredo Lam Center, during the Havana Bienniel, Tatlin’s Whisper had given us much to talk about. An open microphone, where everyone could say what they thought for one minute, was too much for the bureaucrats of the Ministry of Culture’s National Council of Plastic Arts, who arrived to make public their indignation with the libertarian event. But this one went further: it wasn’t in a closed gallery space, but in the Plaza of the Revolution, and it wasn’t just any moment, but two weeks after the announcement of the reestablishment of relations between Cuba and the United States.

If what the performance proposed was to measure and demonstrate the extent of the government’s lack of tolerance for freedom of expression, we must say it was a success, although for some it only highlighted a self-evident truth. If the style of “slowly but surely” has characterized the work of “the gradual revolutionary” in less complex areas, such as self-employment or the leasing of land in usufruct, what could be expected of civil liberties and politics a few days from the beginning of the dismantling of this “besieged plaza,” where all dissent has been interpreted as treason.

Far from harming the normal development of eventual negotiations between the participants in the old dispute, what happened in the final days of 2014 makes clear for both parties the limits within which conditions and requirements can move. Above all, it sheds light on the absence from the discussion table of alternative civil society, ordinary Cubans, the people, or whatever you would like to call the most injured party in this conflict on the path to extinction.

Tania Bruguera Under Arrest at Acosta Police Station in Diez de Octubre, Havana / 14ymedio

Tania Bruguera (photo from her blog)
Tania Bruguera (photo from her blog)

14ymedio, Havana, 30 december 2014 — Contacted by phone at her home, the director of 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, said that Tania Bruguera was under arrest at the Acosta Police Station in the Diez de Octubre municipality in Havana.

Reinaldo Escobar was released from the same station Tuesday night at 10:00 pm. Escobar affirmed that he saw Tania “wearing the gray uniform of a convict,” It is still unknown when Bruguera will be released.

The two police cars surrounding Yoani Sanchez’s building have been removed and the director of this digital daily is no longer under house arrest.

The 14ymedio reporter Victor Ariel Gonzalez is still being detained, in Guanabacoa. Still unknown are the whereabouts of the activists Antonio Rodiles, Ailer Gonzalez and Eliecer Avila, along with the photographer Claudio Fuentes and his partner, Eva Baquero.

Developing news.

UPDATE: Ailer Gonzalez has been released.

Several activists and Reinaldo Escobar, editor-in-chief of ’14ymedio’, arrested / 14ymedio

The police car in front of the apartment of Reinaldo Escobar and Yoani Sanchez. (14ymedio)
The police car in front of the apartment of Reinaldo Escobar and Yoani Sanchez. (14ymedio)

The director of this newspaper, Yoani Sánchez, is under house arrest

14ymedio, Havana, 30 December 2014 – Contacted by phone at her home, the director of 14ymedio, Yoani Sánchez, explained the circumstances of the arrest of her husband, Reinaldo Escobar, and of several other people this Tuesday in Havana. She is under house arrest. Patrol car No. 507 is stationed in front of the building where she lives, while four plainclothes offices are controlling the building entrances. continue reading

Reinaldo Escobar was arrested when he left the building where he lives in the company of the activist Eliécer Ávila, founder of the group “Somos Más” (We are More). Both were handcuffed and put in a patrol car waiting in front of the building in the Havana neighborhood of Neuvo Vedado. Reinaldo’s daughter, Luz, who was with her father, has not been arrested, but a State Security agency told her, “We are not going to let you leave.” The same official visited Luz Escobar’s home yesterday to warn her not to go near the Plaza of the Revolution today, where the artist Tania Bruguera has scheduled a performance titled “Tatlin’s Whisper #6” for 3:00 in the afternoon, to demand freedom of expression for Cuban’s citizens.

Also arrested were photographer Claudio Fuentes and his companion Eva, while the activists Antonio Rodiles and Ailer González were not answering the phone. Social networks also inform us of the arrests of José Díaz Silva, Raúl Borges, Lady in White Lourdes Esquivel, and of the 14ymedio reporter Víctor Ariel González.

Members of the #YOTAMBIENEXIJO [I also demand] platform issued a press release denouncing their inability to contact Bruguera. The organization explained that the artist’s telephone number is blocked and expressed their fear, given the arrests of the leaders of civic organizations currently underway.

Cuban Civil Society Open Forum statement on the resumption of relations with the US / 14ymedio

14ymedio, Havana, 23 December 2014 – With regards to the announcement of the restoration of relations between Cuba and the United States, coming out of secret negotiations, the Cuban Civil Society Open Forum wishes to state that:

  • We are pleased for the dozens of compatriots who will be released from prison and also by the release of Alan Gross.
  • We believe that this ends the pretext and the official narrative of a besieged people, and that we must focus on democratic change in Cuba.
  • We assume that the pressure from Cuban democrats within and outside the Island has contributed in a substantive way to the creation of this new scenario, and so we confirm that in the future we must expand the role of our civil society.
  • We must listen to, reflect, and give voice to what the Cuban people are feeling at this time and offer them a new narrative, tactics and strategy, and a new language.
  • We make a call to strengthen the unity in diversity achieved so far, whatever our opinions may be on this issue, and to maintain equanimity and respect.
  • We expect that further negotiations will be carried out with greater transparency and will take into account all of the actors of Cuban society, without secrecy, and not behind the backs of institutions.

The Cuban opposition calls for “strengthening unity in diversity” / 14ymedio

Civil Society Open Space, meeting in Cuba (14ymedio)
Civil Society Open Space, meeting in Cuba (14ymedio)

14ymedio, Havana, 23 December 2014 – Cuban Civil Society Open Forum, a new organization in Cuba which has come to be a forum of debate for the opposition, met this Monday in Havana to review its own development as well as its common position, faced with the new scenario that has opened with the reestablishment of relations with the United States.

The group, in the form of a final statement, made a call “to strengthen the unity in diversity achieved so far, whatever our opinions may be on this issue, and to maintain equanimity and respect.”

The meeting, with the participation of thirty activists of different points of view, focuses on developing an ethical approach to running the activities of Cuban Civil Society Open Forum. This framework, developed starting from the proposals collected in a previous draft, will be set out in a documents whose final version will be voted on at the next meeting, scheduled for the end of February 2015, according to a statement released by the group. continue reading

Another of the important points of the meeting was the future creation of a mediation group, which will work to solve conflicts internal to civil society.

With regards to the announcement of the reestablishment of relations between Cuba and the United States coming out of secret negotiations, Cuban Civil Society Open Forum expressed its pleasure in “the dozens of compatriots who will be released from prison and also the release of Alan Gross.” In addition, they noted that the agreement between Raul Castro and Obama puts an end “to the pretext and official narrative of a besieged people,” which will allow, according to the participants, focus “on democratic change in Cuba.”

Guillermo Fariñas criticized, in his speech, the “secrecy of the negotiations, which were held behind the backs not only of civil society but also the ruling party, parliament and the bulk of the institutions.” For his part, José Daniel Ferrer said that, “most important is the faith and hope that from now on we must convey to the people.” The activist also stressed the “importance of building new scenarios for democracy.”

Manuel Cuesta Morua agreed that the restoration of relations with the US represents “the end of the ‘epic’ stage and the beginning of the political stage for civil society.” Elizardo Sanchez confirmed that even the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation “does not know the list of prisoners to be released, which represents about half of those imprisoned for political reasons in Cuba.”

Cuban Civil Society Open Forum meets to discuss issues of Cuban society. Last February, the group signed, for the first time, four points of consensus that summarize the demands of Cuban civil society; these were reviewed at the meeting on Monday and ratified unanimously in what was one of the first steps of opposition unity on the island.

Sunday Respite for the Ladies in White / 14ymedio

Ladies in White opposite the church of Santa Rita in Havana. (Agustin Lopez Canino)
Ladies in White opposite the church of Santa Rita in Havana. (Agustin Lopez Canino)

14ymedio, 22 December 2014 – The Ladies in White marched for the freedom of political prisoners as they left mass this Sunday, an activity held every week and one which had special significance on this occasion because it was the first time since the announcement of reestablishment of relations with the United States. In Havana and Pinar del Río, where there are usually arrests and acts of repudiation against these peaceful activists, there were no repressive activities.

In Santiago de Cuba, however, the Citizens for Democracy suffered the usual repression, according to the Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation. Of the 36 women who were preparing to go to mass, only half managed to arrive there, while the remaining 18 were detained and abandoned in sites far from their homes.* The organization came into being after a rift with the Ladies in White over differences.

No other province had reported, as of last night, more cases of arrests or ill-treatment. The meeting this Sunday put to the test, for many, the political will of the Cuban government to behave in way coherent with the negotiations held with the United States government. The relative calm of the day has been interpreted by many opponents, however, as a maneuver by the regime to deceive public opinion and the international press. continue reading

At the end of the mass at Santa Rita Church in Havana, some 60 women marched through the pedestrian crossing on Fifth Avenue and then gathered in a park where some activists expressed their disagreement with the resumption of diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba, which some classified as a betrayal of the Cuban people.

Among the speakers who expressed that view were Ángel Moya, former prisoner of the Cause of the 75 of the 2003 Black Spring, and Antonio González Rodríguez, who both rejected the results of the talks because they only lead to sustaining and recycling in power the current leaders and their family members.

*Translator’s note: It is a common practice of State Security Agents to detain dissidents and, rather than processing them at a police station, to simply drive them far out into the countryside and put them out of the vehicle, with no way to get home.

Cuba and the United States: Regret the past or build the future? / 14ymedio, Jorge Calaforra

”With Fidel and Raul Until the End” (14ymedio)
”With Fidel and Raul Until the End” (14ymedio)

14ymedio, Jorge Calaforra, Warsaw, 20 December 2014 – On 17 December 2014 at 12:01 Washington DC time, the President of the United States, Barack Obama, announced the United States’ new policy toward Cuba. It should be recalled that the president of the United States of America makes his decisions taking into account all the interests of that country, not just in the short term but also in the medium- and long-term.

Fidel Castro, with the objective of remaining in power as long as his health allowed, began the absolute destruction in 1959 of all existing institutions in Cuba, all individual freedoms, and at the same time generated a conflict with the United States and brought about the rupture of diplomatic relations and the introduction of the embargo. Previous attempts by the United States to reinitiate diplomatic relations were boycotted and Cuban policies eventually led to the bankruptcy of Cuba and Venezuela.
continue reading

The embargo, initially designed to bring about the collapse of the dictatorship, ended up being just as a medium of exchange during American elections. The lack of information, tools and the impossibility of achieving one’s dreams, led almost all the human capital Cuba possesses to leave the country or to be ready to leave it at the first opportunity that presents itself.

Therefore it is unlikely that a shift toward democracy in Cuba would have occurred with the previous strategy, without a radical change in the strategy of the United States towards Cuba.

The release of Alan Gross, kidnapped after a failed attempt to exchange the five spies for the 75 prisoners of the Black Spring, the release of a Cuban spy very important to the intelligent services of the United States, the release of 53 political prisoners in Cuba, as well as the release of the three spies remaining imprisoned in the United States, were fundamental and nonnegotiable issues for both governments.

For the creators of this strategy there was no better time than today to begin implementing it. The resumption of relations tries to avoid a possible collapse of the country, an uncontrolled situation of domestic violence within Cuba, and a sudden and massive emigration to the United States. President Raul Castro knows that improving the economy is not working and will not work and that the entry of American capital will increase the legitimacy of his heirs, as well as offering the Cuban people what the majority of them really want at this time; more food at a better price and the ability to be closer to their families, between the island and exile.

The resistance of the Cuban people to the update of the socialist economic system, which has not brought them benefits, is demonstrated by an emigration that is accelerating from year-to-year. Raul Castro prefers to sharpen the demographic problems and provide incentives for people to use their talents to improve their lives through independent work. Obama’s plan will try to reverse this flow, that is already exhausting the Florida’s capacity for the absorption of new labor and social support.

The Cuban effort to destroy the Venezuelan economy, by recommending to them that they take the same measures that Cuba took in the 1960s, is finally bearing fruit, and the fall of oil prices, from $107.89 a barrel on average in June 2014 to $55.91 this Wednesday, has led both parties who made the decision this week not to postpone it any longer.

The American decision to reestablish diplomatic relations with Havana and to begin the process that will lead to the end of the embargo in force since 1960 has little to do with Cubans.

It is a geopolitical strategy to try to position themselves as the culturally dominant matrix that absorbs a culturally different circle, the Latin American. To do this, the United States uses its best asset: force and its admirable economic wealth. Force and wealth that it has produced and maintained since it was formed as a nation, because they were able to come together as confederated states and live together with their differences. And to always point to great common objective: prosperity to guarantee opportunities for all Americans.

We Latin Americans, however, despite belonging to the same cultural circle, have not been able to stay united. Since the wars of independence and the division of the continent into twenty republics, we have spent almost two centuries in permanent conflict and cyclical poverty. If we were to identify ourselves as belonging to the same cultural circle, we could develop a strong Latin American industry, the only possible source of a true democracy.

A scenario with members of the current Cuban opposition in power is not an option desired by either of the two governments, and the strategy desired by the Republicans in the United States, to strengthen the embargo and unconditionally support the opposition in overthrowing the Cuban government, can be discarded after its disastrous application in Iraq.

The Cuban government can greatly help to implement the new American strategy in Latin America, and Cuba can benefit hugely if the decisions taken by its Council of State benefit not just its members’ own families, friends and children of friends, but if they begin to make decisions to the benefit of the 13.6 million Cubans. More than two million Cubans live in the United States, which according to the 2010 census had more than 250,000 firms doing more than 51 billion dollars in business, and the talent, creativity and skills of the Cuban labor force will be another cornerstone in this strategy, with an enormous benefit for Cuba and Cubans.

From the point of view of the United States, the forces left to Raul Castro in his remaining two years in power* is an advantage to ensure stability in the country and to take advantage of his influence in the region to build the foundations of a new structure in its relations with Latin America.

The lack of details, and the traditional style of Raul Castro’s speech, broadcast simultaneously with Obama’s on 17 December at noon, should not cause much concern. Fidel Castro has ended his active political life and President Raul Castro’s is coming to an end. On the morning of 9 November 1989, the leaders of the Communist Party of the German Democratic Republic confirmed the support of the German people for the construction of socialism; while that same night the same people joyously celebrated the fall of the Berlin Wall.

From the point of view of the art of negotiation, this decision is fine as it allows Raul Castro to construct an exit strategy, and so avoid the failure that would lead to an extremely dangerous situation for the whole region: a rise in populism financed by Russia or China. This would aggravate Latin America’s problems such as drugs and corruption, bringing as a consequence greater instability in the region and an increase in migration to the United States. In other words, more costs and fewer businesses.

We Cubans must once again build a prosperous and democratic country. But for it to be democratic, we must first and fundamentally modernize its economy, There are no human rights without prosperity. And we must not relegate this responsibility to the government of another country.

Both Raúl Castro and Barack Obama have opened new opportunities, and we will have as much democracy in Cuba as we as a civil society are able to build.

We have had one of the most inhuman governments of all time. The groups close to the current halls of power are not going to disappear, nor will they want to renounce their benefits and Mafia methods, nor their secret tribunals.

But not everyone now participating in the system belongs to these groups. Cuba will be prosperous if we are capable of building institutions for the benefit of all, if we include those with constructive attitudes, creating a state of law, forcing the government to respect human rights, and if we destroy the mafias and the corruption and prevent decisions from being taken without transparency. From within Cuba, and from civil society, organized and with clear objectives.

If we as Cubans know how to take advantage of American money and know-how, we can not only rebuild our country but support a better future for all of Latin America.

If the phrases uttered in speeches (in that of Raul regarding respect for the United Nations, and in that of Obama with regards to human rights) are a reflection of some agreement in the negotiations, then the preconditions exist to improve the conditions of individual freedoms on the island. But we will have rights only to the extent that we are effective in fighting for them, and if we are capable of defending them.

We can devote the entire 24 hours in a day to regretting the past, or to building our future. It we lose ten pesos, somehow it comes back to us. Ten minutes that is lost, is lost irretrievably.

Jorge Calaforra
www.foresightcuba.com

*Translator’s note: Raul Castro has stated that he will step down from the presidency in 2018.

“No, we have no illusions that it will be easy” / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

Tom Malinowski (Photo Flickr)
Tom Malinowski (Photo Flickr)

14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana 20 December 2014 — Since December 17, Cuba has not been the same. Discussions, questions and expectations have multiplied among us since the announcement from Barack Obama and Raul Castro about the reestablishment of relations between the United States and Cuba. We citizens have a lot of questions about the process and its influence on the future of our country.

Tom Malinowski, United States Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor has responded to some of these questions for 14ymedio. Today we present his answers to our readers.

Sanchez: The US has announced several measures to ease its policy towards Cuba. During the negotiations has the Cuban government shown a list of measures it is willing to implement?

Malinowski: It is important to note that the measures announced by President Obama were not things he has asked of Cuban government. They have been steps we would like to take to empower the Cuban people. continue reading

The objective is to strengthen the possibility that the people themselves can change the public policies of the Cuban government through greater access to resources and information, as well as to improve the quality of life for Cuban citizens who have lived with unnecessary social, economic and political restrictions imposed by the government.

The Cuban government has indicated that it will release 53 political prisoners, an important first step for us, and it will also allow its people greater access to the internet. We have no illusions that it will be easy, but we feel that now we have an opportunity and we will be pushing hard.

Q: Do you think President Obama or Secretary of State John Kerry will visit Cuba in the coming months? Would it not be against the embargo?

R: President Obama has said that from now on senior US government officials will visit Cuba. Roberta Jacobson, Assistant Secretary of State for the Americas, will be responsible for the delegation that will travel to Havana in January 2015 for the round of negotiations about migration between the United States and Cuba. Secretary of State John Kerry has also said that he hopes to be the first Secretary of State in 60 years to visit Cuba.

With regards to the embargo, US law prohibits certain transactions with agencies of the Cuban government. President Obama announced several modifications to the rules to facilitate the flow of resources and information to the Cuban people. In any case, visits of high officials will be part of the new diplomatic relationship between our countries.

Q: Has legalization and an opening for a free and independent press in Cuba been among the topics discussed by the two governments?

A: Yes. A key focus of our policy will be to support civil society so that every Cuban can have the right to freedom of expression, association, assembly and the press. We will insist on these reforms in our meetings with the Cuban government working together with other countries in Latin American and Europe.

We will continue to implement programs financed by the United States Congress to support fundamental freedoms, including freedom of the press and the free flow of information. The changes announced by President Obama eliminate one of the pretexts used by the Cuban government to persecute citizens who work to guarantee that the people have more freedoms. Now the focus of attention will not be on US policy toward Cuba, but on the policies of the Cuban government itself.

Q: Is there a schedule with already defined timelines to put into effect the measures announced on 17 December? And if so, when will it be made public?

A: President Obama wants to streamline the process so that the vision he presented in his speech is implemented as soon as possible The Secretary of State and all the members of president’s cabinet understand the urgency that exists to take advantage of the opportunities presented by the new measures. The changes in our regulations to increase travel and trade will happen very quickly; the normalization of relations will depend on the Cuban government and also that of the United States. This issue will be discussed by the Undersecretary of State Roberta Jacobson in January.

American Agency Will Operate Direct Flights Between New York and Havana

JF Kennedy Airport in New York. (Facebook page: Cuba Travel Services)
JF Kennedy Airport in New York. (Facebook page: Cuba Travel Services)

Translating Cuba note: This translation got “lost” (due to the site manager’s Thanksgiving travel apparently), and is being belatedly posted now. Our apologies.

14YMEDIO, Havana, 21 November 2014 – The American agency Cuba Travel Services announced last Thursday that it will operate a direct flight between New York’s J.F. Kennedy Airport and Havana. It is envisioned that the trips will occur daily in the afternoon, although company workers have not been able to confirm either the departure days or the frequency of the flights.

Cuba Travel Services has not provided information about the date the service will begin, but it has announced that the price for a round trip ticket on the inaugural flight will start at 849 dollars.

The company organizes travel to popular destinations like Cienfuegos, Camaguey, Santa Clara, Holguin and Santiago de Cuba, with flights operated by Sun Country Airlines. continue reading

The Turbo News site explained this afternoon that “in the spirit of the recent New York Times editorial published October 11, 2014, entitled ‘Time to End the Cuban Embargo,’ the agency Cuba Travel Services chose to provide an important cultural and social link between the two cities.”

The agency maintains that the expansion of its offering will permit travelers who leave from New York to save as compared with the current options on the market, avoiding the delays of connections and the cost of additional fares for stops in Miami, Fort Lauderdale or Tampa.

The company, which organizes daily flights between the US and Cuba, asked for permission to operate flights also from Newark Liberty International Airport, but that request was rejected.

The US government suspended direct air links with the Island at the beginning of the 1970’s and resumed them in 1999 with a flight between New York and Havana. After a slight opening by President Bill Clinton, Barack Obama also opted to soften restrictions on travel by Cuban Americans visiting the Island; now they can travel every year instead of every three and stay as long as they like.

In 2012 the Cuban government suspended landing rights on the Island for two airlines from Miami, Airline Brokers and C&T Charters, explaining the reason for the decision “as over capacity of seats and other operational themes,” although the travel agency operators revealed suspected payment defaults with Cuban authorities. Airline Brokers operated weekly flights to Havana and Cienfuegos from Miami and Fort Lauderdale, while C&T Charters traveled to Havana and Camaguey from Miami, New York and Chicago.

Translated by MLK

The beginning of the end of the Castro regime / 14ymedio, Jose Gabriel Barrenechea

Anti-imperialist black flags in front of the United States Interest Sections in Havana
Anti-imperialist black flags in front of the United States Interest Sections in Havana

14ymedio, JOSÉ GABRIEL BARRENECHEA, Havana, 20 December 2014 – We Cubans continue to be as impressionable as ever. Thus, on the island, the masses seem to see the release of the three spies who were still in US prisons, and nothing else. Many opponents and exiles, for their part, only seem to see this bias among the great majority within Cuba. As a consequence, they immediately assume that Obama’s decision will only serve to strengthen the Castro regime.

What will remain three months from this melodrama that Cuban media officials have emphasized as focused on the three spies? Nothing, because among other things it has unfortunately revealed that los muchachones – the “big boys” – who some thought could become a part of the elite to replace the historic leaders, have no expressiveness, no people skills. They lack charisma to the point that the colorless Miguel Diaz-Canel – First Vice President of the Council of State – gives the impression of being a total politician along with the rest of them. continue reading

On the other hand, we must not overestimate the reaction of the masses. There was no more than an apathetic joy after the General President’s speech. Not even a spontaneous conga line, nor demonstrations like those of prior years when American monopolies were nationalized.

Only a few isolated acts whose protagonists have never made into to the core of public officials, members of the Party or the Communist Youth, or the usual snitches who we know flood the spaces where people tend to congregate.

Personally, at that moment I was in Santa Clara’s Vidal Park. I noted the disinterest, and the only concern on the faces of some young people appeared when they heard me predict that the Cuban Adjustment Act wasn’t long for this world.

Within three months, if in fact diplomatic relations are reestablished with the United States, there will be a functioning embassy, and most of all, every presidential measure from Obama to facilitate the flow of people, finances, goods and information. The Castro regime is one of confrontation, of segregated sterility. They only have three options: change the world, isolate themselves from it, or inexorably disappear. Their end will be:

1 – The hundreds of thousands of American tourists who can’t handle the hotels operated by the warlords and who, unlike the Canadians or Europeans, don’t mince words and don’t accept any restrictions on their basic freedoms to go where they want and meet with anyone they want.

2 – The money will rain down, and not to the dissidents but to the most effective sector of democratization: the thousands of small and minuscule businesses that will spring up left and right and that, ultimately, can’t help but clash with the “Raul stuff.”

3 – The unstoppable jet of information that will stream toward the opposition to an element much less suspicious of other spurious interests, and at the same time more educated and flexible, ideal for the times to come when, what we need will not heroes of the resistance but politicians.

4 – The almost certain abandonment of the Cuban Adjustment Act, which will deprive the regime of a convenient escape valve to lower the internal pressure at the difficult moment of the transfer of power from Raul to the colorless man he chose to replace him.

5 – The moral strengthening of the Church for having played a key role in this process, in the person of Pope Francis, who hopefully will not delay in visiting Cuba. An institution that has been upright against the dictatorship, even though some who never have been don’t find it convenient to admit it.

Although almost nobody wants to, or can, see it, in the midst of the current turmoil, the long night of the Castro regime is coming to an end. That is why Fidel Castro, to whom the details do not lie and indeed, he sees the essential, has remained, or they have made him remain, silent.

As in April of 1898, or in March of 1958*, the Americans have returned to do their part. Something that, unfortunately, they have almost never done, engaged in village style and prepotent foreign policies.

Perhaps thanks to this gesture, our two peoples, separated by barely 90 miles, are finally beginning to behave no longer like adolescent brothers, full of jealousy and small family resentments. And I speak now of a time beyond the Castro regime in retreat, when Cuba can join as one in the battles that loom over our –western – civilization.

*Translator’s note: In March 1958 the United States stopped shipping arms to Batista’s government, after Batista refused to end his suspension of constitutional guarantees and censorship of the press.

“Things are not going to change overnight” / 14ymedio, Victor Ariel Gonzalez

University of Havana (14ymedio)
University of Havana (14ymedio)

14ymedio, Victor Ariel Gonzalez, Havana, 20 December 2014 — “Now when they lift the blockade …” a student says jokingly to his friends sitting in Mella Park at the University of Havana. His sentence ends mentioning some a problem that has been solved, supposedly, by the foreseeable end to the US embargo on Cuba. The group laughs and continues talking about the next party of the Law School or the salary a computer engineer earns at a company like Google.

Sitting on a bench to the side and eavesdropping on the conversation doesn’t feel quite right, but it is, perhaps, the only way to capture accurately what the University feels about the latest news. Actually, few agreed to answer questions for this report, and one group of young people apologized with, “They’ve already been asking us a lot of questions today, the foreign press has been around all day.” On presenting myself as a reporter, one of them got up to leave. So it’s impossible to get a face or a statement, even though two or three loners are disposed – always in confidence and hurriedly – to offer their particular vision. continue reading

Alberto, sitting on the side of the grand staircase waiting for his classes to begin, is one. “We have to see if everything is not just words, but I’d give it a greater than 50 percent chance that things are going to go well.” He is still wary, however, both of the changes to come and of my identify, so he doesn’t even want to say what department he’s in.

A recently graduated professor is less concise. “Everyone’s talking now about the approaches [between the governments].” And this seems to be true, because near us three or four students are talking about it. She confesses, “I believe that the reestablishment of relations is more important than the return of the prisoners. At the end of the day, it’s what was expected. And of course it has much more influence on what will happen from now on.” She is also more positive than pessimistic about the future.

Beyond University Hill, toward one end of the city, is the José Antonio Echeverría Polytechnic Institute (CUJAE), the university for engineers. Its students were less timid about offering their opinions for this report, and in general were much more excited about the important statements of Wednesday.

The first response of three of them, Telecommunications Engineering students, about what to expect from the Cuba-US rapprochement, touched on the improvement in connectivity. “Imagine, in our career,” they commented. “We hope that very soon we have more opportunities to access the Internet and that there will be more advances in this. Even the professors have talked about everything it [the announcement] could mean. It’s going to be good.”

In the faculty of Civil Engineering, a young professor at the Hydraulic Research Center (CIH) says he also has faith. “When I got the news via SMS, before the announcement midday on Wednesday, I did not want to believe it. And Obama’s speech… it didn’t match the summaries on Telesur and I heard it again that night. I thought the translation was bad, but it’s true. It’s wonderful.”

Referring to the perspectives of his specialty in this new environment, he notes that, “The rapprochement could facilitate our use of the CIH equipment, which is in a pretty bad state. Right now, for example, we can’t test with the wave simulator.” However, the interviewee said that “things are not going to change overnight.”

A little more than two days ago the nation suffered a political shakeup, and Friday was the last day of classes for the year for many university students, who start their Christmas vacations next week. The year 2015 is a great unknown for some; but unlike other times the answer, whatever it is, seems to be really close. In a few words: the university students don’t know what to expect, but they are filled with expectations.