Cardinal Bertone returns to Cuba / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

Tarcisio Bertone with Felipe Perez Roque in Havana in 2008. (Reuters)
Tarcisio Bertone with Felipe Perez Roque in Havana in 2008. (Reuters)

14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 12 December 2014 — Six years ago Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone came through the front door to Cuba. This December, however, he has returned on a private visit which is evidence of the discrete recognition of failure. For the former Vatican Foreign Minister, the time between one stay and another has been filled with missteps. This is a man who returns in disgrace. Just like what has happened with the “Raul reforms” that he validated with his presence.

Cardinal Bertone has arrived on the Island to mark the Feast of the Immaculate Conception of Mary, but on this occasion, far from the cameras and the presidential palace. The man who helped to coordinate the visit of Pope Benedict XVI to our country, has participated this week in the consecration in Santa Clara of a sanctuary to the Virgin of Charity del Cobre, Cuba’s patron saint.

Now, he prefers the ecclesiastical circles and has returned to the Cobre Sanctuary, where he said mass. The context today is very different from his previous stay, a few days after the installation of Raul Castro as president, which the prelate described as a “special, extraordinary moment.” In that February, he also asserted that the General “will continue (…) with a vision, if at all possible, of development.” However, the reality on display this December is stubbornly to the contrary.

The Cuba he is returning to is far from the hopes that some sheltered with the coming to power of Fidel Castro’s brother. Part of the Cuban population imagined the possibilities of an economic and political opening. However, the economic flexibilities ended up untying some knots only to tie others, and civil liberties never arrived.

Six years ago, Bertone said that he would have a conversation with “clarity, sincerity, an exchange,” with the new president, but the president seems not to have listened. The price paid by the former Vatican Foreign Minister for this family photo with the Government was high. While officialdom protected him, the most critical sector of the Catholic Church doesn’t look kindly on that embrace between the sickle and the cross. Excluding the dissidents from any possible dialog with the Cardinal, also signaled the bias of his point of view.

Accustomed to moving influences and cooking up agreements, the Vatican number two thought he could unstick the wheels of change. He met with Cuba’s Foreign Minister, Felipe Perez Roque, who a few weeks later would be ousted and accused by Fidel Castro himself of having become addicted to “the honey of power.” Those faces that once welcomed him with smiles, today are no longer here or are in hiding.

Bertone, who was also the Secretary of the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (the Holy Office), came six years ago to teach at a conference in the Main Hall of the University of Havana. Even the newspaper Granma had something of the odor of incense in those days and published a communication from the Cuban bishops, in which they called on Raul Castro to take “transcendental measures” to satisfy the “anxieties and concerns expressed by Cubans.”

Bertone already saw his name in the history of Cuba. The mass that he celebrated in Havana Cathedral focused on the search for larger spaces for the Church within Cuba. In exchange for the ability to gain this space, he accepted all the concessions required. He adopted the official discourse against the “American blockade,” he didn’t meet with regime opponents, and he validated the flexibilizations offered by power as the path to the dreamed of country.

Today, Bertone is not who he was… nor is Cuba what he predicted. Said to have mismanaged influence, now separated from the epicenter of Vatican power, and touched by the scandal of the letters revealed by Benedict XVI’s butler, the man who has come to this Island is a shadow. But the Raul regime reforms are also shadows. Economic relaxations that haven’t managed, after more than five years since they began, to allow Cubans to live in dignity, nor have they provided larger spaces of freedom.

Chance or destiny – who knows? – this time the Bertone’s mass at El Cobre coincides with International Human Rights Day. A few kilometers from the sanctuary where he addressed the congregation, dozens of activists have been confined to their homes, threatened, and some of them have been arrested to prevent their participating in events planned to celebrate this date. The Cuba he did not want to see on his previous trip is knocking on the door with a call that combines desperation and reproach.

Twenty activists arrested in central Havana / 14ymedio

Ladies in White put in police cars. (14ymedio)
Ladies in White put in police cars. (14ymedio)

TranslatingCuba.com note: Updates to this article made after what is translated below report more arrests, with more details from around the country. 

14ymedio, Havana, 10 December 2014 — The central corner of 23 and L dawned on Wednesday amid expectation and the utmost vigilance. For days, the call of the Ladies in White to be in that part of the city to commemorate Human Rights Day led the Government to activate all its mechanisms to prevent it.

Last night national television announced a children’s activity at the Coppelia ice cream parlor—located on that corner—a common practice used by the authorities to neutralize congregations of dissident. So far it has been reported that twenty opponents have been detained trying to reach the site, among them are reportedly at least five Ladies in White.

A 14ymedio reporter, present at the site of these incidents, was able to confirm the arrests of several Ladies in White who began to arrive, separately, to the well-known corner. At the beginning there were only people dressed in plainclothes, the so-called “enraged people,” awaiting the activists.

However, as the time of the call to gather approached, several people in uniform arrived along with police cars. One of the women of the Ladies in White–a group that defends human rights–who was able to get to the corner was forced into a police car.

The security agent Carlos Serpa Maceira*, present at the site, threatened Luz Escobar, one of the reporters of this newspaper, who took pictures of the arrests. After a brief detention, this journalist has been released.

Gathering in Havana on Human Rights Day. (14ymedio)
Gathering in Havana on Human Rights Day. (14ymedio)

The foreign press was also present on the site and several activists have reported strong vigilance around their homes. The Patriotic Union of Cuba, in the east of the country, also reported a large police operation and Special Troops personnel in the villages of Mella and Palmarito de Cauto. In this latter place the Communist Party organized a “people’s party” dispensing beer to occupy the meeting points of dissidents in the area.

*Translator’s note: Serpa Maceira previously infiltrated the Ladies in White and acted as their spokesperson, before a “dramatic” unveiling on national television in which he was offered up as “proof” that the dissidents lie; this “proof” was based on the logic that, when he was masquerading as a dissident he lied and the foreign press believed him, ergo, the dissidents lie.

Lady in White Sonia Garro and two other activists released / 14ymedio

Sonia Garro and her husband Ramón Alejandro Muñoz (Archive photo)
Sonia Garro and her husband Ramón Alejandro Muñoz (Archive photo)

14ymedio, Havana, 9 December 2014 — On the afternoon of Tuesday, 9 December, Sonia Garro, Ramón Alejandro Muñoz and Eugenio Hernández were released from prison and are now in their respective homes. In a clear political gesture, Raul Castro’s government has given way before national and international pressure demanding the immediate release of the Lady in White, her husband and others charged in the same case.

In a telephone conversation with 14ymedio, Sonia Garro referred to health problems she has on leaving prison, and sent her thanks “to everyone who has supported me.” The Lady in White commented that she still doesn’t know the conditions of her new situation and that in the coming days she must report to the Sixth Police Station, in the Marianao municipality to learn more details.

The news was received a few hours before the worldwide commemoration of Human Rights Day, a date that Cuban activists remember with pilgrimages, meetings and street demonstrations. Every year the government unleashes a repressive wave around this time, which concludes with hundreds of detentions throughout the country, cuts in mobile phone service to block communications between dissidents, and a high number of house arrests.

For her part, Berta Soler, leader of the Ladies in White, said that Garro and the other two activists received a change of custody conditions and as of today will not have to await trial in prison. This does not mean that the charges against them have been dropped or that their trials have been cancelled, she said. Soler also said that the movement she leads will continue to defend all those people who are political prisoners or prisoners of conscience. “We will maintain our morning demonstration on the corner of L and 23rd at eleven in the morning,” she concluded.

The detention of these three people had occurred during a demonstration by a group of Government supporters outside the home of Sonia Garro Alfonso and Ramón Alejandro Muñoz González in March of 2012. The Government sympathizers, supported by State Security agents, tried to block the couple from participating in events to mark the anniversary of the crackdown on dissent (the Black Spring) that began on March 18, 2003 and resulted in the imprisonment of 75 peaceful activists.

The prosecutors accused Garro, Muñoz and Hernández of public disorder and attempted murder. Sonia Garro Alfonso also faces the additional charge of assault for alleged use of violence or intimidation against an agent of the State. Her trial had been postponed without explanation on three occasions, in November 2013, June 2014, and the latest delay in October 2014.

Amnesty International has long called for the trial to be held in accordance with international standards. This would include “ensuring the right of the accused to call witnesses and to challenge the evidence against them.”

Farmers no longer want to remain silent / 14ymedio, Orlando Palma

A poster invites farmers to achieve maximum efficiency and quality. (14ymedio)
A poster invites farmers to achieve maximum efficiency and quality. (14ymedio)

14ymedio, ORLANDO PALMA , Havana, 8 December 2014 — Far away from the television studios where they fabricate the triumphalist news, and from the air-conditioned offices where they try to plan the economy, the farmers are holding the evaluation meetings in their cooperatives, in anticipation of the 11th National Congress of Small Farmers (ANAP) to be held in May. A strong of restrictions and complaints unfolds in each one of these.

Expressed in the language of the official media, the ANAP members are currently analyzing the projections for their sector with a view to pushing economic efficiency and “reversing the outcomes of the production priorities to feed the people.” The president of ANAP, Rafael Santiesteban Pozo, has declared that the meetings will emphasize the introduction of science and technology in the cultivation of food, but the testimonies of several farmers point to other priorities.

So far only 48% of the planned meetings have been held and yet to meet are those that must be held at the municipal level, first, and then at the provincial level. But a common denominator is already taking shape in the issues raised. Among the most repeated is the concern generated by the delays in the delivery of resources to meet the agreed-upon commitments. The limited access to irrigation infrastructure and seeds, and the limitation on acquiring tractors are the main complaints.

The tobacco growers, for their part, complain about not receiving fertilizers in time, or that the framework to support the fabric covering the tobacco doesn’t have the required quality; the producers of roots and vegetables express their dissatisfaction with the lack of realism in the contract terms and in general the ANAP members don’t seem willing to shoulder the blame for the shortages or the fact that the market stands offer goods at unaffordable prices.

On the other side of the table, where the leaders sit, they insist on strengthening the management boards and work to overcome the cadres, plus the usual calls to order, discipline and demands. In this way, the functionaries’ formula for solving the serious problems in Cuban agriculture is presented in inverse order to that proposed by the men who work the land.

If these latter are essential for improving the State payments for the agricultural products, increasing the supply of inputs and lowering prices, in addition to expanding the autonomy of the farmers when it’s time to decide what they want to grow and the final destination of their crops. State leaders, for their part, are proposing to increase production at any price and they insist that only this will improve the conditions in the countryside.

We have here a deep conflict on the priorities, whether to first increase production, or to improve working conditions. What we do know is that a few months after the congress of the most important farmers’ organization in the whole country, the demands of the men in the furrows approaches the needs of a medieval country than they do of a twenty-first century economy.

“I’m a demon who writes what she feels” / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

Wendy Guerra at a conference at the Casa de America, Madrid
Wendy Guerra at a conference at the Casa de America, Madrid

14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 8 December 2014 — Wendy Guerra is a rare bird in a country where everyone is seeking conclusive adjectives and extreme descriptions. Actress, writer, blogger and a Havanan down to her core, she always stands out. We remember her on the TV screen; in the pages of a book her writing will always touch us.

Today we talked about her literary work and the thematic and vital obsession that Cuba has been for her.

Question: The book Posar desnuda en La Habana (Posing Nude in Havana) surprises the reader with its perfect symbiosis of Anaïs Nin’s voice and your own voice. What is your creative process to achieve that effect?

Answer: First, I thank you for starting this exchange with a question of a literary nature.

Everything is in the language. Each fragrance that is in this book is powerfully driven by her voice and it is the use of her own turns of phrase, the discursive character of the author that distills and strengthens it. I spent twelve long years researching the Cuban fibers of Anaïs Nin. I earned several scholarships in France and the United States to find clues about the Cuban footprint of the author. It was the UCLA Department of Special Collections that gave me the opportunity read her unexpurgated diaries to research Anaïs’s island origins.

Accents lost and recovered, endemic pains, her marriage at La Finca La Generala, her relationship with the Cuban “sugarocracy,” her deep uprooting and the uncontrollable way of riding with her father, the Cuban pianist Joaquín Nin Castellanos. Her relationship with her brother, the composer and singer Joaquín Nin Cumell. Her mother, the Cuban opera singer Rosa Culmell, the hard exile that took her from luxury to poverty, from pain to euphoria… all this was the perfect climate to approach the writing of Posing Nude in Havana. What came to the fore was a deep respect for completing her words with mine.

Keep in mind that her Cuban Diary has very few pages and my delirium was always to write an apocryphal novel; literary conjecture about what might have happened.

Father-Cuba-Diary, for both of us, were, are and will be subjects as intimate as they are universal.

Q. What new literary project are you working on now?

A. I’m writing a novel about fear. The feeling of persecution many of us Cubans have, the panic that they are recording our conversations, of being watched, searched, harassed. This psychosis travels with us. La espía del Arte (The Art Spy) (the working title) will have approximately 100 pages. A brief piece full of neurosis and a sense of humor, the human-Cuban spectacle uncovered, what’s left of us after the long observation, the obligatory exhibition.

Some of my friends in exile think I am the spy of Cuban art who returns to Cuba with their secrets, which I pass on as reports or accusations. In Cuba, on the other hand, they think I’m hiding something, that I have some plan; they are suspicious of these long visits among the exile and think I’m the head of something, the spearhead of something. Who am I? A demon who writes what she feels, confident in her impressions, who manages to translate them, and therein lies the danger. I write or say what people think is not fashionable.

Another ongoing project is research into Ana Mendieta. Ana has been my literary and personal inspiration, now I’m beginning to find my way into her mystery. It will be long, I will spend all my savings in finding it, but… perhaps it isn’t literature, to open every one of the tightly sealed doors to find yourself?

Q. Many of us remember you for your performances in several TV series and programs. Should we resign ourselves to not seeing that side of you any more?

R. Vicente Revuelta was the person who made visible all my skills. Without him I’d never have seen my ability to act which, even so, I consider limited. Everything I did on television came from a path that he had already traced like a tattoo on my intellect. This cycle was very important because, for me, to write is to incarnate and thanks to this effort I respect the character and sense of interpretation… but no, no I didn’t feel happy as an actress, it is in literature where studying and growing makes me better, frees and defines me.

Vincent knew that Andrea Sarti (Gallileo Galilei) could repeat the lines and expand them. I was that actress that was arguing within each one of the speeches and with the director’s determinations. I was the actress who managed to write and dictate her own character.

Not all Cubans have found it possible to be a person, most of us have changed into characters to win this long race of resistance.

Q. From the publishing point of view you’ve experienced the extremes. From accolades like the Editorial Bruguera prize and the 2009 Carbet des Lycéens prize, to the scant attention your work has received from Cuban publishers. What do you think you’ve missed experiencing?

A. I want to publish in Cuba everything that’s been translated or published outside of it. I want to bring the best literature of my generation and my country, Cubans are excellent readers and deserve the power to update and feed their hunger for reading. I want to keep flowing with all my publishers and I want Cuba to accompany me in this process. I want what happens with Leonardo Padura to happen to me. Whenever his book comes out in France or Spain, Cuban readers have the opportunity to read it in their own land. The prizes are the vehicle to make yourself known in the world, to be published in your homeland is the way to confront the nature of what you do and are.

Q. You suffered an incident of censorship in the Santa Cruz Festival of Literature of Bolivia. Was it a surprise or were you able to foresee something?

A. It seemed like a distant situation but all this is so recognizable for us that we can even hum it like a Russian song that talks about snow in the middle of a Cuban beach. I imagine that this time those who blocked my presentation have reasons to agree and accept censorship, or to remain silent and bow their heads. The strange thing is to think that something a woman like me says in public can disrupt or affect a system like this… is it that fragile?

Q. The title of one of your novels is very revealing of the Cuban situation. Everyone Leaves, says the cover, and many of us wonder why Wendy Guerra is not leaving this country?

A. When I saw the filmed version of this novel, directed by Colombian director Sergio Cabrera, I knew this was not my own story. It’s a fictional story that left my hands and belongs entirely to those people who, like me, suffered the State as an executioner-intrusion installed in the center of the most sacred relationship: the family. The novel talks of the desertions of the soul, not only does it touch on the heartbreaking geographical exodus, we are talking about the flight of family and close friends in the name of a slogan or political responsibility.

I don’t want to go to restore a foreign space that I don’t feel a part of. In my particular case, I want to feel that each one of my ideas, tantrums and battles goes to nurture the emotional and human restoration of girls like me, who have come to maturity without the ability to explain to ourselves why they abandoned us in exchange for a castrating and false collective happiness. This place where being human ceases to matter, to become ciphers.

If I haven’t left it’s because I think that the wounds, before being healed, have to be named, starting from the scene of the pain. Some day, when everyone returns, I will go to a town on the other side of the world to learn how to write diaries from afar.

Editing your contacts / 14ymedio, Victor Ariel Gonzales

A young woman checks her mobile phone. (CC)
A young woman checks her mobile phone. (CC)

14ymedio, VÍCTOR ARIEL GONZÁLEZ, Havana, 8 December 2014 – She turned 24 and spent that day with her few friends who still live in Cuba. She is known as a faithful exponent of a generation marked by uprooting and escape. She decided to not complete her social service so that she could devote her time to making handicrafts and, thanks to her perfect English and various contacts, she also offers guided excursions to tourists. “My degree in languages does not pay for itself,” Camila admits.

Seated in her backyard, she shares that this was where colleagues from her faculty, as well as classmates from prep school, used to come for gatherings. Camila’s yard was “the party place,” as recognized on an amusing handmade “diploma” that she keeps in a frame on her wall. There are still some festivities held there, except that now these have been occurring less frequently because “everyone has been taking their own path…you know.”

I do know. And the gesture Camila makes with her hand, like an airplane taking off, confirms this. To prove her point, she adds, “Have you ever counted how many contacts you’ve had to remove from your contacts on your phone?” and then goes on to recount how, on her birthday, more people called her from foreign countries than from Cuba.

Camila tries to make light of this fact, perhaps without meaning to do so, with a subversive smile. However, she cannot mask the subtle aroma of yearning released by her words. Today she has friends in Europe, Asia and even Australia – but the US is her “second Island” because more than half of her absent friends are now residing there. She has had to update their phone numbers on her contacts.

Even so, the new area codes in Camila’s contacts are in contrast to the old photos that appear on her mobile phone screen. She doesn’t want to forget that they were taken here, when her friends were still living in Cuba and there weren’t so many calls as visits and well-attended gatherings – be they “to study for a test or to have a drink, or both.” Camila’s vision of the present for young people like us can be summed up thus: “Our generation is mortgaged. It is going to take many years for us to pay this spiritual debt – if indeed we still can.”

Her phrase, which I stole, is so impactful, that any other word is just unnecessary. “And who do you think,” I later ask Camila, “might join the list of those who call you from outside Cuba on your next birthday?” She raises her eyebrows and laughs, saying, “The way I see things, and if everything goes according to plan, perhaps I will be the one to call from outside Cuba on my next birthday, so that those whom I’ve left behind can give me their good wishes. The most likely thing is that you will have to change my number on your contacts.”

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

Santiesteban Protests Against Conditions Of His Confinement / 14ymedio, Lilianne Ruiz

Angle Santiesteban (14ymedio)
Angle Santiesteban (14ymedio)

14ymedio, LILIANNE RUIZ, 7 December 2014 — Writer and journalist Angel Santiesteban continues to be detained, since August, in a border guard military unit located on Primera Street in Miramar. His jailers have announced to him this week that he may be transferred to a location yet to be identified.

The hut where Santiesteban has been incarcerated these months overlooks the street, just opposite the security checkpoint. It measures four by four meters. The prisoner cannot walk, stretch his legs, get sun or interact with other detainees. They only let him out once a week to use the phone and every twenty-one days to receive a two-hour family visit.

Santiesteban is thinner and paler. He relates that last weekend he began a hunger strike to demand better conditions like having the right to get sun, walk and run on the ground as is his custom, to have free access to the telephone like the other prisoners, and to receive visits every 15 days. “After an upset stomach, I refused to take oral rehydration salts and I stopped ingesting food in protest of my conditions of confinement,” he reports.

The writer explains that then two State Security officers told him that they would transmit his claim to the command and give him an answer within a week. They told him that “he has done much damage to the Revolution and that if he had accepted the offer they had made him last August his situation would be different.”

Santiesteban explains that in that month, when he was transferred to the border guard unit, officials from State Security proposed freedom to him in exchange for his leaving the country, which he roundly refused.

Wednesday he dropped the hunger strike pending an answer to his demands. Next April he should be released on parole if the authorities comply with the law which calls for release after the completion of half the sentence. Santiesteban also awaits the response from the Ministry of Justice which accepted the appeal of his case indicating that it admits that irregularities were committed in the trial held against him.

Translated by MLK

Intense Operations And Arrests Begin Ahead of Caricom-Cuba Summit / 14ymedio

14YMEDIO, Havana, 7 December 2014 — The women’s group Women for Democracy has been subject this Sunday to a broad repressive operation in Santiago de Cuba. While they were heading to the church of San Juan Bosco, 28 women from that movement were arrested or prevented from participating in Sunday mass, according to a report by their leader Belkis Cantillo.

The activist, in a telephone conversation with 14ymedio, explained that the political police were waiting for them at “las Alturas de El Cristo,” and the women were forced into several cars to be freed later at locations distant from their homes and the church where they were going.

“Some were left in sugar cane plantations or in the middle of the highway,” Cantillos also told this daily. “They were subjected to quite a bit of verbal and physical violence,” says the woman who, since last September, has led one of the most important dissident women organizations in the country.

Throughout the national territory other activists have complained about an increase in police operations and surveillance around their headquarters or homes. The reason could be the Monday morning start of the 5th CARICOM-Cuba Summit which will be held in the capitals’ Palace of the Revolution.

It is a common practice of State Security to resort to house arrests and detentions during events that involve foreign guests.

Translated by MLK

Joint Statement By The Cuban Opposition Meeting in Mexico / 14ymedio

14ymedio, Mexico, 5 December 2014 — The meeting Roads for a Democratic Cuba, held in Mexico, closed Thursday with a joint statement signed by the attendees and focused on the consensus points necessary for beginning a democratic transition on the Island.

We reproduce here the entire text of that statement:

We, representatives of diverse organizations and activists of Cuban civil society from the Island and the Diaspora, meeting in Mexico City under the auspices of the Konrad Adenauer Foundation and the Christian Democratic Organization of America, have had the opportunity to concur on matters of common interest which we reflect below:

  1. The urgent need for Cuba to move to democracy
  2. The shared calling that this transition occur peacefully
  3. The respect for diversity of non-violent methods of fighting

Understanding that it is up to Cubans to carry out actions that lead to solving the problems of Cuba, taking into account the role of those who live on the Island and the indispensable support that the Diaspora can and should offer.

How beneficial it would be for the entities of civil society, political actors, governments and international organizations from all over the world to offer greater solidarity in defense of human rights in Cuba.

It is identified as one of the main challenges to work in search of projects for unity of action and strategies for change. Similarly, it is agreed to salute the existence of different projects with these features aimed at achieving a Cuban democracy.

Recognizing the absence from this event of activists whom the Government did not permit to leave the country and others who for various reasons were not present.

Signed December 4, 2014.

  • Eliecer Avila: We Are More
  • Yaxys Cires Dib: Christian Democratic Party of Cuba
  • Manuel Cuesta Morua: Progressive Arc
  • Reinaldo Escobar: Journalist
  • Guillermo Farinas Hernandez: Patriotic Union of Cuba and Anti-totalitarian United Front
  • Jorge Luis Garcia Perez Antunez: Orlando Zapata Tamayo National Resistance Front
  • Rene Gomez Manzano: Agramontista Current, UNPACU
  • Eroises Gonzalez Suarez: Liberal Cuban Solidarity Party
  • Andres Hernandez Amor: Christian Democratic Party of Cuba
  • Rene Hernandez Bequet: Christian Democratic Party of Cuba
  • Rafael Leon Rodriguez: Cuban Democratic Project
  • Omar Lopez Montenegro: Latin American Center for Non-violence
  • German Miret: Human rights activist
  • Armando Pena Guzman: Christian Liberation Movement
  • Marfeli Perez-Estable: Academic
  • Julio Pichs: National Cuban American Foundation, Cuban Consensus
  • Vladimiro Roca Antunez: Social Democratic Party of Cuba
  • Rolando Rodriguez Lobaina: Eastern Democratic Alliance
  • Rosa Maria Rodriguez Torrado: Cuban Democratic Project
  • John Suarez: Cuban Democratic Leadership

Translated by MLK

The Cuban version of Facebook does not convince users / 14ymedio, Luzbely Escobar

The Cuba social network: “The Clothesline”
The Cuba social network: “The Clothesline”

14ymedio, Luzbely Escobar, Havana, 5 December 2014 – Although its organizers deny it, La Tendedera (The Clothesline) is trying to emulate Facebook inside Cuba. The competition is tough because among the youngest on the Island Mark Zuckerberg’s social network has many followers. More than a year after its creation, its tropical competition has only managed to attract 4,500 users, and there are no clear figures on how many are really active.

In an interview published Wednesday by the newspaper Juventud Rebelde (Rebel Youth), Kirenia Fagundo, leader of the project Cuba Va (Cuba Goes), which includes La Tendedera, tells readers about the obstacles and challenges facing the digital site. At the beginning, the social network was designed for those without access to the Internet, the young woman explained. However, currently it is only possible to access it from the Youth Computer Clubs, which inhibits its expansion and is an inconvenience for users.

Presented to the public on 7 September of last year, La Tendedera isn’t hosted at the Cuba Telecommunications Company (ETECSA) national data center, which “would facilitate connectivity through the intranet.” The programmers didn’t want to wait for it to be ready and opened public access to those attending the Youth Clubs. A mistake that has been detrimental to the quality and expansion of the service.

The slowness at which the website loads is one of the problems most mentioned by La Tendera’s users. The platform is way too heavy for the low speed Cuban networks. Although, according to Fagundo, it’s hoped that a lighter version will be hosted on the ETECSA servers and finally be accessible from the national intranet.

On inquiring among several users, what comes to light is not only the speed and the access restrictions which conspire against this tropical emulation of Facebook. The most widespread criticism, not reported by the newspaper Juventud Rebelde, is the impossibility of interacting with users beyond our national borders. You can only connect with other domestic users who have registered on the service. “If I travel outside the country I can’t update my profile, because you can only access it inside Cuba,” says Julian Casanovas, a high school student.

The announcement a few weeks ago, that Youth Club will begin to charge for its services, has been a new obstacle for La Tendedera, although the majority of these sites still having implemented the charge. “If only a few people come here now, imagine when you have to pay to do it,” says the administrator of one of the sites in the Plaza of the Revolution municipality, who asked to remain anonymous.

La Tendedera’s creators don’t appear to have learned the lesson. Despite the great limitations imposed by the Cuban networks’ slow speeds and lack of connectivity, they are planning to create a national version of Twitter, provisionally called Pitazo (Whistle). Will this new project also languish before the indifference of users and the competition from the large social networks? The answer can already be anticipated. Cuban users don’t seem disposed to put up with limitations.

Alan Gross, ‘The New York Times’ And The Spies / 14ymedio, Mario Felix Lleonart

American Contractor Alan Gross
American Contractor Alan Gross

14ymedio, Mario Felix Lleonart, Havana, 1 December 2014 — Last November 4, the White House reiterated that the case of citizen Alan Gross, prisoner in Cuba for bringing electronic equipment onto the Island, is not comparable to that of the Cuban spy members of the Wasp Network and that therefore there will be no exchange.

The reaffirmation invalidates the principal objective of the Havana regime in the kidnapping of Gross and took place amidst one of the intense campaigns by the so-called International Conference for the Liberty of the Five, which more than freedom for the prisoners has as its objective making noise and gaining followers from among the naïve of the world who may still be in favor of a Caribbean totalitarianism that approaches its 60th year.

Far and wide, the name of Gross has kept petitions moving that join the regime’s proposal that he should be exchanged for the spies. The Church World Service, for example, which since its beginning in 1948 has served the interests of the extreme left, made a three-day visit to Cuba at the beginning of November in which it made clear that Gross is only its excuse, and its objective: the liberation of the Cuban spies.

Among the saga of the editorials devoted to Cuba by the New York Times, which so far add up to six, the fourth, published at the very beginning of November, aligned with the proposal for exchange contrary to the reiterations by the American government. November, by the way, concludes with the visit by the editorial writer Ernesto Londono to Cuba, and with him, also, the spirit of each editorial arrives on the Island.

The support of the Church World Service for each propagandistic slogan Havana’s political agenda is to be expected, it has always been its trajectory. Never a statement in favor of the victims of the system, always in favor of the victimizer.

But the case of the New York Times has been different, because in its history we remember positions contrary to the dictatorial excesses on the Island, as occurred in the face of the so-called Black Spring of 2003. At that time, Fidel Castro’s “Reflections” did not report favorably on the positions taken by the New York Times, nor did we see the wholesale publication of New York Times editorials in the Communist Party Organ, but all to the contrary.

Like that article in Granma of April 24, 2003, under the signature of Arsenio Rodriguez, which Reinaldo Escobar of 14ymedio reminded us of, where he stated: “…its editorial decisions are neither serious nor liberal, but they obediently comply with the defense orders of the dominant power interests of that nation,” to conclude: “…the true role of The New York Times (sic) was, is and will be to represent the essence of the empire.”

On the other hand, the New York Times has never said that those who hold political power in Cuba are a good government, what it criticizes are positions historically maintained by the United States, which from its point of view have been ineffective in achieving the dismantlement of totalitarianism on the Island and for which it proposes another policy, one of rapprochement, which some call “the embrace of death.”

Even if I do not agree with the New York Times’ thesis, I do hope that after their present visit to the island, the new editorials that are published will correct a little their current direction. For example, in the case of the fourth editorial I have the hope that Londono will not only interview Gross himself in person, but that he will explore other possible resolutions for the case that worries him, that of the spies, more feasible for an exchange and that until now he has not considered: that of the exchange of other probable spies for spies.

This has to do with cases like that of Ernesto Borges Perez, accused of spying for the United States, now confined in the Combinado del Este Prison, in his 16th year of incarceration, the same amount of time as the three who are imprisoned in the United States accused of spying for Cuba.

Under accusations similar to those of Borges are found also Rolando Sorraz Trujillo, sentenced to 25 years since 1995; Claro Fernando Alonso Hernandez, sentenced to 30 years since 1996; the team of Ricardo Alarcon, ex-president of the National Assembly of Popular Power, Miguel Alvarez, sentenced to 30 years, and Mercedes Arce, sentenced to 14; and Eusebio Conrado Hernandez Garcia, close to the ousted Carolos Lage and Felipe Perez Roque, sentenced to 20 years, which he is serving in the Guanajay prison.

It is obvious that the Cuban regime is not interested in packing off these prisoners who seem to be a high priority of general Raul Castro, but one would have to see his reaction if the United States government recognizes that the accusation under which Havana keeps in prison – with severe penalties – these Cubans were correct and were to take an even further step, weighing as more valid the option of exchanging for them the three Cuban spies in United States territory.

Maybe the New York Times, which likes to look for the fifth leg to the table, will redirect its proposal and expose this more comparable option. And that, of course, the exchange of spies for spies will be produced with the antecedent liberation of Alan Gross, who evidently did not spy for anyone and finds himself unjustly imprisoned in Cuba.

Translated by MLK

Battered women in Cuba: Where can they go? / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

UNHCR workshop on prevention and response to gender-based violence with women from Cuba, Haiti and Peru. (UNHCR Americas)
UNHCR workshop on prevention and response to gender-based violence with women from Cuba, Haiti and Peru. (UNHCR Americas)

14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 25 November 2014 — “Do you know what it feels like to break the wall?” she asked me years after we met. “It’s like someone cracked a table on your face… it hurts, but you can’t believe its your body.

“Now I’m afraid of men, I don’t want to have anything to do with them,” she confessed while we talked in a café with more flies than menu options. She began to narrate the details of a Calvary she had always kept hidden, from shame and because she felt responsible for those blows. Today, she can’t hear out of one ear, her nose slants to the left and she mistrusts all those whose pants have a fly.

Like many provincial women. Ileana landed in Havana on the arm of a man who promised her “villas and castles,” he said. “I was very young and, since I was a little girl I’d been taught in my house in Banes that I should serve a man and please him.” While she told me her story I had the impression I was speaking with a woman from the early twentieth century, but no: Ileana is younger than I am. She wore the school neckerchief, shouting “Pioneers for communism, we will be like Che,” and studied up to the eleventh grade in a high school in the countryside.

“I came to Havana and for the first weeks he treated me like a queen,” she said, unable to contain her smile. When Ileana laughs her whole face lights up and her nose looks more crooked than ever. “Then he started to mistreat me, but only verbally,” she says, downplaying the importance while looking over her shoulder. A young man had sat down at the table next to us and was observing us laciviously. “Ladies, did someone stand you up? Because here is a stallion who never fails,” he blurts out, under the imperturbable gaze of the waiter.

“The neighbors called the police several times. Then we spent hours and hours at the station at Zanja and Dragones streets, for nothing. The investigator told me they didn’t get involved in things between husband and wife,” and that, “I had to go home with him, because I didn’t have anywhere else to go,” she explains, already on the verge of tears. In Cuba, current law has enormous gaps with regards to gender violence. If the abuse “is not defined in the Penal Code, the abuser is not sanctioned,” a lawyer at the law firm on Carlos III Street later explained to me, asking not to be named.

“He could only be charged if a doctor determined I had injuries,” Ileana recalls. However, a black eye or an ache in the side isn’t considered one. “I had to show a wound that was a puncture or bleeding,” she explains. I look at her and question why a doctor would ignore the marks of cigarette burns on her forearm and her boxer’s nose, without protecting her. What was lacking for a restraining order? That he kill her? I wondered, without sharing it with her.

Things have calmed down. The abuser is far away and this petite woman with her battered face confesses, “Well, I have to say, he wasn’t so bad,” and immediately adds, “in the tenement where we lived one woman had a husband who came home drunk from work one day with a machete.” She touches wood and looks around while concluding, “Thanks to the virgin, I was luckier.”

Her case was archived again and again. She had no phone to call from, no address for a battered women’s shelter is published in the official media, so Ileana endured and remained silent. Her martyrdom lasted for a decade, including rape within the marriage—also not defined in our laws—the odd fracture, and constant humiliation.

“Then my daughter was born and she made me bold,” says this woman dressed in baggy clothes, looking down, avoiding the eyes of the man sitting beside us at the café. “One night I gathered everything and went to my aunt’s house.” However, the escape didn’t last very long. “Someone ran their mouth and told him where I was staying and he came to find me. It was the darkest night of my life.”

Between pushes and insults, Ileana returned to her husband’s house. “That night he forced me for hours while telling me ‘you’re mine and no other man’s’.” She told how the next day she couldn’t even urinate. “I hurt all over and had his teeth marks all over my back.” Then began the phase of total defeat. “I got used to it, that my life would be like this, and stopped resisting,” she related with a pragmatism that is still painful.

Shortly afterwards the abuser found “an even younger country girl he mistreated,” recalls Ileana. “I was crushed, I didn’t want to look at myself in the mirror, I didn’t put on make up, or go out in the street.” In all that time, no women’s organization approached her, she didn’t know of any haven where she could find shelter, and more than a dozen times she heard the police that responded say, “Well, she must have done something to piss him off.”

Today, Ileana shared with me her wish. “I want to have sex with a man without fear… romantically.” As she says it her right hand touches her nose, trying to push it to the center… The place where it should have been if the abuser had not crossed her path.

The Ferguson case and its possible implications for Cuba / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

Ferguson protests. (Andrew Benedict, Twitter)
Ferguson protests. (Andrew Benedict, Twitter)

14ymedio, Yoani Sánchez, Havana, 27 November 2014 – The events in Ferguson, arising from the death of the young man Michael Brown and the decision not to charge the police officer who killed him, have caused millions of people in the United States to question the situation in their country. The protests that followed the grand jury’s verdict raised new questions about the image of coexistence within the diversity that has been presented as a pillar of American identity.

The situation has renewed the alarm about the American model and sets off warnings in other countries where large sectors of the population continue to be disadvantaged, whether because of ethnicity, race, or geographic origin. This week’s images showing the overwhelming anger on the streets of Missouri speak to us of the accumulation of problems, which have found their trigger in the recent decision not to charge the police officer.

It is not only a question of Michael Brown’s death during a questionable arrest, but one of a society that has been fractured for centuries, living with racism that prolongs the distrust, stokes hatred and fuels the violence that is now breaking out into fires and vandalism. A scream, at times, sometimes silenced, that now raises its volume after the sad events of last August 9th.

Cuban society should take note of the events in Missouri. Among us racism, far from diminishing, has increased in recent decades. Motivated in part by the stubborn official policy of denying its existence and downplaying the rancor that sometimes hides under the disingenuous appearance of a joke, but whose bitter side is the high percentage of the prison population that is black, or the economic precariousness that characterizes this community.

At the last minute, and in a race to show international organizations that it is working on the problem, the Cuban government has created an agenda to fight against racism, which sadly lacks independence as well as enforceability. Lectures, conferences, statements by prominent figures in the Afro-descendant community, abound in the media. However, in reality, little has been done to give a voice to those who suffer first-hand from these prejudices.

Capitalizing on fear of greater discrimination has been, for too long, an instrument of ideological subordination on the Island. The constant allusions to a past of abuse and segregation – prior to January 1959 – have been used by official propaganda to maintain the support of the black community. As if the only choices were the current situation or returning to the slave quarters and slave drivers.

The authorities have ended up hijacking and distorting the voice of this community that should have its own presence in independent organizations and entities that allow it to denounce and make demands with regards the situation in which it exists.

Lately, the Ferguson case has also been sadly used by the official media to stoke fears of democracy. “Look at what happened in the United States,” the television commentators – obsessed with the mote in another’s eye – seem to say to black Cubans. Again, the fear of returning to the whip and the specter of police lynchings are used to call Cubans of African descent to conformity or false complacency.

However, anger is something that is incubated slowly. We are fed facts such as false quotas of power delivered to people by the color of their skin, people who have no real possibilities of decision-making.

Anger gains strength when you enter a university classroom and see hardly any colors beyond a “light mixed-race,” while in the prisons it is just the opposite.

Resentment rises when you see who lives in the illegal slums that crowd the outskirts of the capital and compare that to the racial origin of those who hold positions in foreign joint-venture companies, tourist facilities, or in the administration of economically strategic entities.

Pain increases outside the offices that receive remittances from exiles abroad and you can see for yourself that the most of the people who rely on this relief in convertible pesos are white.

Anger grows slowly and one day explodes. The detonator can be a police officer in Ferguson who kills a young black man, or a man in Havana who is handcuffed and put in a squad car for the simple act of walking through a tourist facility with that skin tone that brings so many problems in so many places.

Academic Cruise Ship from U.S. Arrives in Cuba / 14ymedio

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Students from Semester at Sea at the University of Havana. Photo Credit: Semester at Sea.

14ymedio | Havana | 29 November 2014 — (Supplemented with information from EFE news agency) The M.V. Explorer academic cruise ship from Semester at Sea arrived today [Saturday, 11/29] in Havana bearing 624 students. The students, hailing from 248 U.S. universities, will participate in a program of cultural exchanges, conferences and excursions.

Frank González, rector of the University of Havana, greeted the group upon their arrival. The students were then transported to the grand staircase of the university where they were given another welcome.

On their first day in Cuba, the students were scheduled to attend conferences on US/Cuba relations, and to view an evening performance in the Havana Amphitheater.

On Sunday, the students were to have their choice among excursions to provinces such as Matanzas, Pinar del Río and Villa Clara. This last one will include stops in Remedios, the Monument to Ché, and the eco-tourism/art project, NaturArte. The Trinidad itinerary includes a stop at Topes de Collantes in the Escambray mountains, while in Matanzas they will be able to visit Playa Girón in the Bay of Pigs.

In Havana City, the students are scheduled to visit Ciudad Escolar Libertad (Freedom School City), the old Columbia military encampment that, after the Revolution, was converted into a school. There will also be a tour through La Habana Vieja (Old Havana) that will explain the restoration process for various buildings and streets in the city’s historic district.

The M.V. Explorer will remain docked in the port of Havana until Dec. 3.

Apparently, the program will provide these university students with a very specific vision of Cuba, one that celebrates the “achievements” of the Revolution in the areas of culture and education, among others.

May these students also be able to maximize their brief stay on the Island so that they may compare this ideal vision with the reality that we Cubans live every day.

Translated by Alicia Barraqué Ellison

UNPACU Denounces A Plan For “Liquidating the Most Active Opposition” / 14ymedio

14YMEDIO, November 28, 2014 — UNPACU issued a statement Thursday night in which it accuses President Raul Castro of having ordered the “liquidation” of the opposition. The organization cites sources from the Ministry of the Interior (MININT) according to which the elimination of the most diligent activists should be carried out in the next three months.

UNPACU believes that the latest attacks on the Ladies in White and Jose Daniel Ferrer fit within that supposed order, given that they involve violent attacks against key dissident figures in the last weeks and come from people tied, in their judgment, to State Security.

In the statement they review last Tuesday’s event in Santa Clara in which activist Guillermo Fariñas asserts he suffered an assassination attempt and in which several Ladies in White were injured, leaving one of them in serious condition. “A similar case occurred at two UNPACU sites in Santiago de Cuba and is now the source of a farce that the government is trying to fabricate against Jose Daniel Ferrer,” continues the statement.

Jose Daniel Ferrer has been called by State Security to give a statement, presumably as a defendant, for the crime of assault against the complainant Ernesto Jimenez Rodriguez. As the statement explains, last November 13th, at the UNPACU headquarters located in Reparto Mariana de la Torre, in Santiago de Cuba, this man, supposedly sent by the political police, provoked a violent altercation.

“Fortunately, with several activists and responsible individuals present at the headquarters, they managed to disable the aggressor, immobilizing him and removing from him the metal weapons that he carried,” the document highlights.

The same individual had sought membership in UNPACU weeks before, for which reason the organization made the usual investigations that “are performed before accepting any applicant.” The conclusion was that he was tied to the Ministry of the Interior.

“In view of such fact, and without telling the individual anything about it, he was allowed to enter the headquarters with the proper control and knowledge by those present of his status as a political police infiltrator and only for events of no significance for activism,” they explain.

Jose Daniel Ferrer, who has denounced the situation, said that “in no case can an individual who has been seen by more than 15 witnesses attacking numerous people cause a peace activist for Human Rights to be taken into police custody with the objective of creating a false accusation and maybe holding him there without a possible defense. We at UNPACU are not going to submit ourselves to this farce in any way.”

Translated by MLK