Sales Of Building Materials Under Scrutiny / 14ymedio

Adjoining apartments in the same building: Among the most deficient products is paint for facades. (Reinaldo Escobar)
Adjoining apartments in the same building: Among the most under-supplied products is paint for facades. (Reinaldo Escobar)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 1 September 2015 – When there is sand, there are no bricks,” protests a lady this week outside the market in Havana’s La Timna neighborhood. People’s dissatisfaction with regards to quality, quantity and variety of construction materials continues unresolved despite having been addressed at the accountability meetings of the People’s Power throughout the country and in the national press.

The situation shows no signs of improvement despite the annual application of the Program for Local Production and Sales of Construction Materials, which began this Tuesday for the seventh consecutive year, starting in Guantanamo province and concluding on October 15 in Isla de la Juventud, according to the schedule published in the official press. continue reading

The aspects to be evaluated are the level of management the strategy for assuring that the 2015 plan targets will be met in each entity, and specifics regarding the 2016 program. In previous years the agenda has included other issues such as quality, innovation and environmental protection.

However, the fact that they have already published the dates and times for each local inspection distorts the picture, because it allows the offenders to be prepared and to eliminate, at least for this one day, the irregularities that affect their services.

Customers’ worst criticisms are not only about the supplies, but also about the mechanisms of sales, to which they attribute the appearance of resellers who manage to divert state transports haul the materials – aggregates, cement, steel, granite tiles and plumbing fixtures – to send their cargoes directly to the black market with the presumed complicity of the administrative employees.

The head of the National Group for Local Production and Sales of Construction Materials, Manuel Tomas Vazquez, announced that in the previous evaluation process only five provinces were certified “good”: Matanzas, Villa Clara, Ciego de Avila, Las Tunas and Santiago de Cuba.

Five were rated “regular” – Pinar del Rio, Artemisa, Sancti Spiritus, Holguin and Granma – while in the “bad” category were Havana, Mayabeque, the Isla de la Juventud Special Municipality, Cienfuegos, Camagüey and Guantánamo.

In the last session of the National Assembly, Vice President Ramiro Valdes Menendez criticized the irregularities and illegalities that threaten the production, transportation and sale of building materials.

Free or Slaves? / 14ymedio, Lynn Cruz

Scene from 'The Emigrants' by Slawomir Mrozek, directed by Sahily Moreda. (14ymedio)
Scene from ‘The Emigrants’ by Slawomir Mrozek, directed by Sahily Moreda. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Lynn Cruz, Havana, 30 August 2015 — The play The Emigrants (1975), by the Polish playwright Slawomir Mrozek has been staged by Sahily Moreado and his company Teatro del Cuartel at Sala Teatro El Sotano in Havana. This story of tearing apart, uprooting and exile will present the final shows of its revival over the weekend.

One of the characters fled for political reasons, while the other to escape misery. The first believes in the value of being able to think and speak freely, while the latter wants to make money to return to his family. Two visions of the world coexist in a basement, but what isn’t specified is in which country or city.

Driven by survival, each character shows his most primitive side and at the moments when the atmosphere becomes more sordid than dreary, the theater piece evokes the work Two Lost in the Filthy Night (1966) by the Brazilian Linio Marcos. continue reading

Because The Emigrants is presented in a Cuban scenario, for the audience the association is immediate: Two Cuban immigrants in a first world country. Thus, the two realities end up merged, and even more so due to the historic similarities that unite us with Poland.

The absence of scene design, however, weakens the vision. For example, the use of Caribbean objects and furniture found in any Cuban house or kitchen. Another notable aspect were the sudden and almost mechanical lighting transitions, which at many points are divorced from the rhythm of the staging.

However, the minimalism, as well as the use of space and each of the elements, display no lack of rigor. Moreda, in addition to being characterized by his exhaustive selection of texts, fends intelligently for himself, countering the material deficiencies with the quality of his performers, who achieve particularly emotional moments.

It is not difficult for the spectators to enter in the atmosphere of the basement where the story narrated by the play takes place. A match between the real space and the theatrical space, with the odor of dampness and the dust in the room, this time, favors the fiction.

The characters are from different backgrounds and had they remained in their birth countries it is probable that their paths never would have crossed. This is one of the conflicts of the play, which also addresses the psychological processes an immigrant passes through, ranging from the more casual relationship between them, to the most extreme circumstances.

The intellectual proclaims that he lives in post-socialism, now that he can say and express what he feels. He experiences freedom, but he has lost conflict as a driving force for creativity and his truths must be spoken in the place where they were engendered. On the other hand, the construction worker, his roommate, is his object of analysis and he needs him to cope with the displacement.

The subject and the object become one. The intellectual calls him slave, and challenges him to say what he thinks, without fear. He confronts the worker with his truth: The loss of the sense of the journey. With this he goes into a deeper truth that leads him to question even his own existence.

The truthfulness in his characters, the precision of movement as well as the careful diction, often absent in today’s Cuba, characterize the excellent performance of Daniel Robles. The young actor excels in an way, along with the more experienced Walfrido Serrano, who has returned memorable performances in Teatro El Publico. The latter, however, is excessively theatrical in his delivery at times and should check his laughter which, on occasion, tarnishes his naturalness.

The Emigrants arrives on the Cuban scene and, beyond history versus the individual, Mrozek digs into the human aspect. It brings us to accept out truth without distorting it, makes us live truly in the present and positively influences our future. It leaves us with an individual question: Are we free or are we slaves?

Fines Do Not Deter, They Accumulate / 14ymedio, Orlando Palma

A policeman checks a street vendor’s papers and merchandise (Reinaldo Escobar / 14ymedio)
A policeman checks a street vendor’s papers and merchandise (Reinaldo Escobar / 14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Orlando Palma, Havana, 29 August 2015 – Outside the market at 17th and K in Havana informal vendors gather despite the police raids. Niurka is one of them and her “offering” is reduced to selling plastic bags which she offers at one Cuban peso (about 4¢ US) each. “The last time they charged me, they gave me a one thousand peso fine,” says the women about her most recent encounter. However, she says she wouldn’t think of paying it and will continue to offer her wares.

“People come here when they are planning to travel or to do some paperwork and they don’t want to have an unpaid fine,” says an employee of the Fine Payment Office of the Plaza of the Revolution municipality. In line for the payment counter, a young man named Diego carried in his hand a paper that shows the amounts for each offense. “I was sitting on a wall and a cop fined me for damage to a public ornament,” he says angrily. continue reading

“I was sitting on a wall and a cop fined me for damage to a public ornament,” he says angrily

When asked if from now on he would avoid sitting there, Diego made a defiant noise with his mouth that is popularly known as “frying an egg.” Several people in the line laughed with complicity. Those who have come there are only a part of those fined, the rest will wait until the last moment to pay their debt, or never pay it at all.

The amount of fines accumulated in the capital are not the only in the country that are high. According to the local press in Ciego de Avila, the debts to the public purse, as of the end of July, consisted of 21,600 fines totalling more than 4,473,000 pesos, still unpaid in this province. Some 90% of them are “in arrears,” that is doubled 30 days after their imposition.

The lack of collection managers to go to the homes of those in default is one of the reasons that slows down the whole process. “Before, many came and paid so that their neighbors wouldn’t see that they had been fined,” explains an employee Department of Penalties of the Provincial Department of Finance and Prices in Havana, who asked for anonymity.

The opinion of those fined is very different from the official version. Eduardo, a traveling sweets seller who works primarily in the Cerro municipality, near the corner of Infanta and Manglar, believes that “sometimes they issue fines just because they feel like it.” The self-employed man says, “They’ve penalized me for standing in one place for a few minutes while selling my products.”

Many collection managers have a system of paying for results. This means that the more fines they issue they more they earn.

Many collection managers have a system of paying for results. This means that the more fines they issue they more they earn. “At the end of the month you see them acting like crazy people trying to collect all the accumulated fines,” explains Samuel, a collective taxi driver who plies the route from Fraternity Park to Santiago de las Vegas.

The payment system is plagued with bureaucratic deficiencies and excesses, as 14ymedio was able to confirm. If a cop or an inspector imposes a fine in Havana on a citizen whose identity card shows their residence in another province, the violation will be settled in the municipality of origin. It will be a headache for this office to locate the offender and make them pay.

“I must have a fortune in fines in Sagua de Tanamo, so it’s been years since I visited my family,” confesses the illegal driver of an almendrón (a shared, fixed-route taxi). However, none of the respondents for this article have had their wages seized as a consequence of not paying their debt to the public purse, nor has any been brought before a court or held in detention.

Fines grow. They are doubled and some reach unpayable figures, but it doesn’t seem to deter many from committing an offense. “The problem is that here everything is forbidden, so people have lost respect for the law,” blurts out Niurka. And she adds defiantly, “This week I will hide myself better, so that inspectors can not see me.”

Ladies in White Denounce Arrests That Began Early Sunday Morning / 14ymedio

Ladies in White in front of the church of Santa Rita, on 5th Avenue in Havana this last June (14ymedio / File)
Ladies in White in front of the church of Santa Rita, on 5th Avenue in Havana this last June (14ymedio / File)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, 30 August 2015 — The leader of the Ladies in White, Berta Soler, reported several arrests of opponents and independent journalists beginning early today. Those detained were prevented from attending Mass at Santa Rita Church and from participating in the traditional Sunday march along Fifth Avenue. Despite the strong police operation deployed around the parish, at least 40 Ladies in White and 15 activists managed to arrive at the site.

The blogger and activist Agustín López Canino was prevented from leaving his house by the police car with the number 632 and reporter Juan Gonzalez Febles was arrested before reaching the location of the march, according to sources from the dissidence. This newspaper was able verify the existence of a strong police operation on several streets around the meeting site of the Ladies in White at Gandhi park starting before ten o’clock in the morning.

For her part, the dissident Martha Beatriz Roque reported via Twitter the “troubling proximity between the forces of repression” and the Ladies in White who were able to reach the park. In particular, a rapid response brigade gathered at the corner of 3rd avenue and 24th, as reported by the regime opponent Juan Angel Moya.

As they left the place, the police proceeded to violently arrest the assembled activists. To date their whereabouts are unknown, but in the past the women have been transferred to a processing center in Tarara, east of Havana and men to the place known as Vivac in Calabazar.

Cuba Buys Successors to Russian Missiles That Downed Brothers to the Rescue Planes / 14ymedio

Russian Missile Vympel-R-73E
Russian Missile Vympel-R-73E

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, 30 August 2015 – In 2015 Cuba will have modern air-to-air missiles acquired from Russia, according to the state-operated Russian Agency of International Information. The island’s government will receive a consignment of VYMPEL R-73Es, which will add to the missiles already imported in recent years, said Yuri Klinshin, president of the Duks company.

The note added that the missile is highly maneuverable and can reach a top speed of 1,500 miles/hour, and a maximum height of 18.6 miles. Other countries that have already bought these arms include Vietnam, Angola, Venezuela Uruguay and Indonesia, among others.

The Vympel R-73E is the successor to the R-60MK, which the USSR gave to Cuba and which was used by the Cuban Air Force to shoot down two civilian Cessnas belonging to Brothers to the Rescue on 24 February 1996. The attack cost the lives of four crew members and provoked a strong reaction from the Cuban exile community. The scandal led President Bill Clinton to sign the Helms Burton Act.

Twenty years later, in the midst of a fragile and tortuous process of normalization of relations between the US and Cuba, this new purchase of Russian rockets is disclosed.

11,000 Stolen Uniforms Are In The Black Market / 14ymedio, Rosa Lopez

School Uniforms (Luz Escobar)
School Uniforms (Luz Escobar)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Rosa Lopez, Havana, 28 August 2015 — Every summer national television calls on us to save electricity, reports the high temperatures and disseminates statements by officials of the Ministry of Education in which they assure us that school uniforms are guaranteed. However, year after year, complaints about deficient supplies and problems with the sizes of these garments return to inflame public opinion.

On this occasion the sale started in the capital on May 25 and will extend to December 31. According to prime time news, “The industry did its part and fulfilled the order for 699,000 garments,” for Havana’s students. However, beginning in the first half of July, the uniforms began to “go missing.” continue reading

“I spent a week looking for a girl’s skirt, but all I find are huge sizes,” says Caridad, the mother of a little girl who will enter first grade this year. “They told me the only place that has any left is the store on Dolores Street in Lawton. So I will go there,” says a determined but otherwise exhausted mother.

“I have all sizes of uniforms,” ​​an illegal vendor boasted Tuesday on the outskirts of La Cuevita, a known enclave for everything one needs to buy under the table

Among the reasons for such a poor offering is the pilfering of more than 11,000 elementary, polytechnic and high school uniforms from the wholesale warehouses, according to a report that appeared Wednesday night on national television.

So far the authorities have not specified if the perpetrators of the robbery have been arrested, but the informal market shows all the evidence of having received a large assortment.

“I have all sizes of uniforms,” ​​an illegal vendor boasted Tuesday on the outskirts of La Cuevita, a known enclave for everything one needs to buy under the table. You just have to follow her to a nearby shack for her to show you the merchandise. There are blouses and skirts for girls in elementary school, a complete set for boys, and also junior high uniforms. They sell for 100 Cuban pesos (just under $4 US) for each set, more than ten times the price in State stores.

Manuela, retired from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, is blunt, ”They should shoot those engaged in reselling uniforms, because this is very sensitive because it’s about our children.” She expressed this opinion loudly in front of her daughter and two granddaughters, outside the store at 20 de Mayo and Ayesteran streets, in El Cerro. But the young woman accompanying her didn’t agree with her opinion. “On the contrary, they should get a medal, because at least they do better than the State,” she opined.

The deficit has forced the provincial trade company to take a series of measures so that an assortment of the most popular sizes will reach Havana

The deficit has forced the provincial trade company to take a series of measures so that an assortment of the most popular sizes will reach Havana. “Undress one saint to dress another,” quipped a grandmother accompanied by her seven-year-old granddaughter when she was told to expect supplies from other provinces.

“Keep checking back every day,” an employee told a mother who couldn’t find pants in her son’s size at an establishment in Central Havana. “This woman thinks that I have nothing else to do in my life but to look for a uniform,” she commented to other customers who also left the store empty handed.

Both the Provincial Education Department and the Provincial Trade Company have issued a call for calm and promised that in the coming weeks uniforms will return to fill the state stores, especially the small sizes. By then, those who have not bought on the black market or used their seamstress skills to alter a large garment, may have their chance.

4-star Cockroaches / 14ymedio, Lilianne Ruiz

Facade of the Plaza Hotel in Old Havana (14ymedio)
Facade of the Plaza Hotel in Old Havana (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Lilianne Ruiz, Havana, 26 August 2015 – When Francina Islas and Juan Andres Sanchez planned their Cuban vacation from Miami, they didn’t imagine that their stay in Havana would become a sequence of discomforts and annoyances. Three days at the centrally-located Hotel Plaza was enough to know that the excellence of Cuban tourist facilities is often a publicity mirage with no connection to reality.

The latest figures released by the National Bureau of Statistics indicate that the country experienced a 21.1% increase in foreign visitors between January and May of 2015, compared the same period from a year ago. However, at the same time that the number of tourists was increasing, customer demands were increasing.

The couple who shared their experience with 14ymedio said, “We were not looking for luxury, just minimal conditions of hygiene and maintenance, working hot water, no cockroaches,” said Francina, a Mexican traveling with her Spanish husband and their daughter.

With difficulty, the family managed to book a room in Havana from Spain. The flood of tourists has left little availability in the accommodation network which includes 430 establishments throughout the country, including hotels, apartment hotels, motels, villas, hostels, houses, cottages and campgrounds. continue reading

After working through several obstacles, Francina and Juan Andres made a reservation through the Logitravel travel agency for a room in the Armadores de Santander, located in a historic mansion in the city. But a week before traveling, they were alerted that it was overbooked and they were relocated to the Plaza Hotel, what was announced as four-stars.

Interior Detail of the Plaza Hotel
Interior Detail of the Plaza Hotel (14ymedio(

The change didn’t bother them at all, because the new place is a few yards from Central Park, and had a beautiful façade. However, passing through the most visible areas of the building, they found the rooms left a lot to be desired.

The musty smell on opening the door of the room was the first sign that something was wrong. Then they found there was dust on the furniture, the shower was not embedded in the wall, but hanging, and the water pressure lasted just a few minutes. If someone closed the bathroom door from inside, they needed help from outside to open it, and the bedspreads were dirty and shabby. “Fortunately the sheets had been washed and changed, and they were the only things we used because the blanket was torn, ripped and filthy,” the alarmed Francina commented.

Another interior shot of the Plaza Hotel (14ymedio)
Another interior shot of the Plaza Hotel (14ymedio)

When they went to breakfast the first time they tried to shake off their frustration with some good tropical fruits, but there was nothing like a Cuban pineapple, guava, or mango, nor even natural juices. Their annoyance grew and the couple – the journalist and her economist husband – were on the point of slamming the door to the Plaza Hotel, but it wasn’t that easy.

The price of the central accommodation is 120 convertible pesos (just over $120) a night in this season, but Francina and Juan Andres were only paying 80 because they got a deal. Contacting the Logitravel Agency was impossible: the cost of overseas calls too expensive, and the internet service too slow.

The Plaza Hotel is managed by the Hotel Group Gran Caribe SA, an entity that is grouped under the Ministry of Tourism, whose slogan is “in all its splendor.” With 12,123 rooms spread over 45 facilities, Gran Caribe is present in the main tourist centers in the country and now has its sights set on a possible flood of tourism from the United States.

On the third day, August 6, the couple left the Plaza and rented a room in the Hotel President. They found the room clean and airy, but “the bathroom taps didn’t fully shut off,” they said. Francina ended up wondering, “How can there be such a lack of water for Havanans and a permanent waste of water in hotels?”

“We will are not going quarrel with the Plaza, we will complain to the agency,” said Francina. “I lost count of how many cockroaches I found in the room.” For the couple it is not only about complaining to get their money back, but who is going to give them back their vacation?

Neither Strong Men nor Soft Coups / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

A Sunday march of the Ladies in White in Havana. (14ymedio)
A Sunday march of the Ladies in White in Havana. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, 24 August 2015 — Two notable Cuban analysts, Carlos Alberto Montaner and Rafael Rojas, have plunged the scalpel almost simultaneously, but without having come to an agreement (as far as we know) about a particular issue: the popular anti-government protests in Latin America. Montaner in, “The Terrible Time of the Strongmen” and Rojas under the title, “Soft Coups?” in the Mexican newspaper La Razón

The first, the politician, makes a list of twelve demands shared by the citizens of Latin American countries against governments of the left, the center and the right; the second, the academic, questions the term “golpista” (coup supporter) from the leftist governments faced with their respective “peaceful and institutional oppositions, without the support of the armies, who are loyal to their governments.”

Looking at this simultaneously from different positions – which do not diverge – overlooking the Latin American political landscape, one appreciates the agreement on the inefficiencies of the continent’s democracies. The protests, organized or spontaneous, with greater or lesser violence, allowed or suppressed, are a reflection of the discontent of certain sectors who do not feel duly represented in the halls of parliaments, where what is demanded with shouts in the street should be settled in a calm way. continue reading

The leaders affected by these protests, whatever political color they may be, defend themselves wielding the supposed legitimacy they once achieved at the ballot box, dismissing the demonstrators and claiming they have been confused or bought by foreign powers, or they send their supporters out into the streets to compete in numbers with the opposition.

Curiously, neither of the two analysts includes the case of Cuba. It gives the impression that the Caribbean island does not belong to Latin America, or that the uniqueness of Cuba merits its own separate study.

Of the dozen grievances enumerated by Montaner only one, the violation of human rights, has a permanent presence in the Sunday marches of the Ladies in White or the demonstrations of UNPACU in Cuba’s eastern provinces. The rest of the topics, except for the shortages, seem to be postponed until we have an imperfect democracy, although any one of them is worthy of an entire day of protest.

Another curiosity that comes to mind after reading “Soft Coups,” signed by Rojas, is that the Cuban government is on the only one in the club of Latin American leftists that has never used the descriptive “coup supporters” in the long list of insults it launches against opponents on the island or in exile. And this is despite the fact that from the most radical sectors of the opposition there is no attempt to hide the desire to “overthrow the dictatorship.” Not for one second does it occur to the managers of official propaganda that those in uniform would be against them.

The only military coup that might be expected in Cuba would have come from this recalcitrant left that frowns on timid openings in the market, rapprochement with the United States through an eventual normalization of relations, and any concession to multiparty democracy.

The presumed protagonists of this coup option would not go out into the street with posters or gladioli, but rather with tanks and machine guns. But this is an improbable hypothesis, just as much as is the sudden appearance of an enlightened leader who would drag the people to a restorative platform through the instrument of revolutionary means.

Yusmila Reyna: “UNPACU’s Challenge Is To Turn Sympathizers into Activists” / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

UNPACU activist Yusmila Reyna. (Facebook)
UNPACU activist Yusmila Reyna. (Facebook)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 25 August 2015 – A philologist by training, a dissident by passion, and an activist with the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU) by choice, Yusmila Reyna (b. 1976) is today one of the most important figures in the opposition. She speaks slowly, moves easily through technology issues and seeks perfection in everything she does.

Since joining UNPACU, this woman has known how to leave the imprint of a part of her personality on the movement. This week we exchanged messages through the State Nauta service about the fourth anniversary of the opposition organization. In her free minutes between her young daughter and daily challenges, Yusmila responded to some questions for 14ymedio.

Sanchez. Four years after the founding of the UNPACU, what is the main challenge of the organization?

Reyna. To motivate and move thousands of Cubans to join the peaceful struggle for freedom. That is the great challenge of all opposition. Although we have achieved certain results, the reality is that we have much left to do.

Sanchez. Who are the members of UNPACU and how many are there?

Reyna. We have had many ups and downs in the course of these four years. Many have joined, but not everyone can bear the pressures of the repressive forces. Between the eastern region and Camaguey is where we are best organized. We now have about 2,500 activists. In the rest of the country we are not in a condition to establish numbers right now. In the central and western regions we are reorganizing, restructuring and trying to identify the leadership to sustain the fight. continue reading

We have had many ups and downs in the course of these four years. Many have joined, but not everyone can bear the pressures of the repressive forces.

UNPACU has members of all ages, but young people are the majority in our ranks, those between 18 and 45. A good portion of us are from the eastern provinces, Santiago de Cuba first of all, and we are humble people, working-class, young people who are unemployed and self-employed.

We have professionals and technicians, but the base is composed mainly of people who only finished high school, or even just the ninth grade.

Sanchez. The Cuban opposition has been strongly criticized for not being “connected to the people and not reaching ordinary Cubans.” How does this relate to the work of your organization?

Reyna.  For UNPACU, we reach out in so many ways to the people I mentioned, principally in the east and in the Cuban capital, to thousands of compatriots who look to us and ask us for help to solve many of their problems. They look to us to denounce the injustices they’ve been victims of, to avoid an eviction, to get them medications, to help them in the construction of a humble abode. They also ask to use our audiovisuals, to help them connect to the internet and many other things.

In Santiago de Cuba, for example, there is no person who does not know our organization. Young people and teenagers are humming the music produced by our artists and they even threaten the police that they will get UNPACU to come when they harass them or try to stop the weekend parties. If everyone who sympathized with us joined in a peaceful protest we would fill several plazas. The challenge is to turn sympathizers into activists.

Sanchez. Right now UNPACU is the opposition movement with the largest number of political prisoners. To what do you attribute such marked repression against you?

Reyna. Currently there are 21 and since September of 2011 we are the organization with the most political prisoners in Cuba. More than one hundred members of UNPACU have passed through the regime’s prisons in the last four years. Political prisoners and repression manifest themselves to the extend that pro-democracy public activism manifests itself. It is a law of physics: every action causes a reaction. The more our activism annoys the dictatorship, the more their repression. We are developing a diverse struggle in many areas. Some areas are more repressed than others.

They look to us to denounce the injustices they’ve been victims of, to avoid an eviction, to get them medications

 Sanchez. How does UNPACU view the normalization of relations between the governments of Cuba and the United States?

Reyna. Since last December we have said that we value the process of normalizing relations between the US government and the Cuban regime. We appreciate the solidarity of the US government with the Cuban people and independent civil society, and we are also grateful for the solidarity of governments and organizations of the old continent.

The protagonists of change must be Cubans, but solidarity is always necessary. In UNPACU we try to be realistic and never forget the feelings of the majority, the opinion of the people, our friends and the world in general. We always want to take the greatest advantage for the cause of freedom and open any space we can for freedom.

Sanchez. What do you expect from the visit of Pope Francis to Santiago de Cuba in September?

Reyna. We want to tell him that Cuba has not changed much since the visit of John Paul II and continues to be the same country that then Archbishop Pedro Meurice presented to the Polish pope. We hope that he can intercede for the political prisoners and be heard by Raul Castro. We will also tell him that the solidarity of the Church with the oppressed is always appreciated by many and that we hope his visit will be positive for our people and for the Church.

Another Sunday of Repression Against the Ladies in White / 14ymedio

14ymedio, Havana, 23 August 2015 — This Sunday has resulted in dozens of arrests among activists and Ladies in White. The arrests occurred after the traditional march that the human rights movement takes along Fifth Avenue in Havana. This time, the police operation was very intense and many of those who tried to approach Santa Rita parish in Miramar were intercepted.

The regime opponent Martha Beatriz Roque reported that after 11 in the moring only 14 people had been able to reach the place, along them activists from different groups and independent journalists. For his part, the dissident Angel Moya confirmed the arrest of at least 10 opponents who had intended to accompany the Ladies in White in their Sunday walk.

After the Mass and the meeting at the Gandhi Park, several activists were repressed by groups organized by the State Security. As is usual in these acts of violence, the police put dissidents in several buses that took them to a detention center in Tarara or the place known as Vivac in the south of the capital city.

The Terrible Time of the Strongmen / 14ymedio, Carlos Alberto Montaner

Hundreds of thousands of protesters take to the streets of Brazil to protest against corruption. (Twitter / Telenoticias)
Hundreds of thousands of protesters take to the streets of Brazil to protest against corruption. (Twitter / Telenoticias)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Carlos Alberto Montaner, Miami, 23 August 2015 — Latin America’s streets are filled with people protesting angrily against their governments. The protests are against governments of the left (Venezuela – the worst of all, Brazil, Ecuador, Bolivia, Chile, Nicaragua and Argentina); against those of the center (Peru and Mexico); and against those of the right (Guatemala and Honduras). Surely others will be added along the way.

Those who have taken to the streets in Latin America are essentially protesting for one, several or all of the following twelve reasons: corruption, inefficiency, insecurity against violent crime, the impunity of criminals, the subordination of the other republican branches of government – the legislative and the judicial – to the will of the executive, the blatant change in the rules to stay in power indefinitely, the violation of human rights, electoral tricks, control over the media, shortages, the abuse of rights previously granted to unions or indigenous peoples, and the irresponsible abuse of the delicate ecosystem.

The general perception is that the region is being governed terribly badly, which in part explains the longstanding relative backwardness continue reading

The phenomenon is very serious. The general perception is that the region is being governed terribly badly, which in part explains its longstanding relative backwardness. The social contract between the governors and the governed has been broken, and the latter refuse to give their consent to the former. The pitcher can only go to the well so many times before it breaks.

In the republican concept we are all equal, we are obliged to comply with the laws, we cannot write constitutions or dictate laws at the pleasure of an abusive clique, elections are organized as collective mechanisms to make decisions and not to legitimate corrupt mandarins.

Likewise, it is assumed that politicians and officials obtain their positions and move up and keep them based on their merits and not on their relationships. They are public servants who enter government to fulfill the mandate directed by the society that has elected them. They have been chose not to command, but to obey. This, at least, is the theory.

And the theory is not wrong. We Latin Americans have violated it until it has failed.

Bad businesspeople have violated it, in collusion with the rulers, sharing out profits and closing the path to economic actors who lack sponsors or who are unable to engage in bribery.

Union and syndicate leaders have made a mockery of it when they negotiate with power for privileges, knowing that they are making it almost impossible for young people to enter the labor market.

Certain religious leaders of all ranks have done great damage, as have verbose journalists and certain radical professors who condemn the quest for personal triumph, as if economic success in life – achievements through profits – were a crime or a sin.

The republican design works and we see it in the twenty most prosperous and free countries in the world

Of course the republican design is correct and it works. We see it in the twenty most prosperous and free countries in the world. Some are republics and others are parliamentary monarchies, but all accept the basic norms of the Rule of Law born from the enlightenment and perfection of liberal revolutions.

Among these successful nations, some governments are liberal and renounce the anti-clericalism of early times, while others are social democrats who stripped away the superstitions of Marxism, or Christian democrats devoid of religious fanaticism, or conservatives who abandoned an unpleasant taste for the iron fist or the disproportionate worship of order.

Sometimes coalitions form, at others the political terrain is adversarial, but they always proceed democratically in the exercise of power. They form a part of the same political family, presided over by tolerance, that arose from the American and French revolutions, although they are divided by an important factor, but one that is neither vital nor irreconcilable: the intensity and destination of the tax burden, which determines the size and responsibilities that each group assigns to the State.

Not included in this lineage are communists, fascists, and authoritarians of every stripe – militarists, ultranationalists, religious fanatics – because they do not believe in coexisting with and respecting differences, nor in the pluralism inherent in every society, nor in democratic changes in government, as evidenced by the endless trail of corpses they have left in their efforts to conserve power.

It is desirable that we Latin Americans learn once and for all a rather obvious lesson: the republican structure is very fragile and is only sustained over the long term if societies are capable of discriminating in favor of governments that accept and follow the rules that give meaning and form to this way of organizing coexistence. Govern well or everything will go up in smoke.

When they govern badly, first comes the widespread sense of collapse, and then come the strongmen, the military who command and control, the enlightened revolutionaries; they exert authority over our peoples, aggravating all the evils that they swore to fix. That is the terrible time of the strongmen.

Cuban Doctors in Bogota Demand US Visas After Defecting In Venezuela / 14ymedio

Dozens of Cuban doctors demonstrating this Saturday for a US visa in the Plaza de Banderas, south of Bogota. (EFE / Leonardo Muñoz)
Dozens of Cuban doctors demonstrating this Saturday for a US visa in the Plaza de Banderas, south of Bogota. (EFE / Leonardo Muñoz)

14ymedio biggerEFE / 14ymedio, Bogota, 22 August 2015 – Around fifty Cubans who deserted from Cuban “medical missions”* in Venezuela, gathered this Saturday in Bogota to denounce the “legal limbo” of nearly 500 of them who continue to wait for a visa to the United States and have exhausted the time of their stay in Colombia.

“We are gathered here today to demonstrate the world that we are professional and we are seeking freedom to practice our profession,” the dentist Mara Martinez, one of the Cubans in Bogota, explained to EFE.

Martinez, like many of her compatriots, finds herself in Bogota after deserting in Venezuela and crossing the border to Columbia “informally.” continue reading

On arriving in Bogota she asked to access Parole, a special US visa program, and while her request was pending she obtained safe conduct that allowed her to remain in the country legally for 90 days. After that time transpired she found herself in an irregular situation defined as “legal limbo.”

According to official data from Colombia Migration, in total 720 Cubans have entered the country informally so far this year after deserting in Venezuela.

Currently, according to the data, 117 of them are waiting for the US visa, while 603 have been deported so far in 2015.

However, this data contrasts with that managed by the Cubans themselves; the doctor Jose Angel Sanchez told EFE that from January to date they estimate that about 1,600 doctors have entered Colombia.

Of these, about 600 have gotten a visa to the United States, so there are still a thousand in Bogota.

“At the time we abandoned [the missions] we cease to be professionals in service to Cuba,” said Sanchez, explaining that their titles had already been cancelled in their native country.

The reasons why they decided to try to travel to the United States range from lack of freedom to the poor conditions in which they lived in Venezuela.

According to Colombia Migration, in total 720 Cubans have entered the country informally so far this year after deserting in Venezuela.

“We are modern slaves, I made the decision to abandon the mission to seek a better economic solution,” said the doctor Inalbis Lao Miniel.

Lao Miniel explained that the wage paid in Venezuela “barely covers the basic needs of anyone” and they had to live in substandard housing, which made them become infected with dengue fever.

With their salary they could not afford to purchase of essential hygiene items and had to resort to relatives in Cuba to meet some of their basic needs.

To enter Colombia they had to illegally cross the border at city of Cucuta, currently closed following an attack by suspected smugglers against Venezuelan military.

On their way they met policemen from both countries who “know why come, they think we have money and to not be betrayed by them they ask us for an amount of money that sometimes we don’t have to give them,” added Lao Miniel.

Among the reasons why they decided to leave their country as well, is the lack of democracy,” explained the nurse Adriana Lopez to EFE.

“I decided to leave it because I realized that (in Cuba) I would continue to be without freedom, without democracy,” she said.

In this regard says she observed in Venezuela how citizens “expressed what they felt and I wondered why they can express it and we cannot.”

“If you say what you think you can be prosecuted,” she said of the situation in Cuba.

Lopez explained that in Cuba she currently has her two daughters, both pregnant, along with her mother. She says they only ask for support and even ask that she “send a helicopter get them out of there.”

A situation that is repeated in numerous cases among Cubans who gathered today under a clear slogan: “When the people emigrate the rulers should step down.”

*Translator’s note: The Cuban government calls the work of Cuban doctors in other countries “missions,” but they are monetary arrangements and one of the major sources of government revenue. The doctors serving abroad are paid a small fraction of what foreign governments pay the Cuban government for their services.

Jose Daniel Ferrer Can Not Leave The Country For Reasons Of “Public Interest” / 14ymedio

Jose Daniel Ferrer, UNPACU leader. (14ymedio)
Jose Daniel Ferrer, UNPACU leader. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 19 August 2015 — The activist José Daniel Ferrer, leader of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU) has been informed this week by the Office of Immigration and Nationality that he can not leave the country. The authorities said that the travel restrictions are being imposed because he is not “in compliance with the criminal sanction” and there are “reasons of public interest” to prevent him from crossing the national borders.

The official response was communicated Wednesday, when Ferrer attempted to being the paperwork for a new passport at the identity card office in the Playa municipality in Havana. continue reading

The regime opponent had received an invitation from the Forum 200 Foundation to participate in its traditional annual event, to be held in Prague from 13 to 16 September. The forum seeks to maintain the legacy of Václav Havel and supports “the values ​​of democracy and respect for human rights, supporting the development of civil society,” in the words of its organizers.

Jose Daniel Ferrer is a part of the group of 75 dissidents imprisoned during the “Black Spring” of 2003, when he was sentenced to 25 years in prison. In 2011 he was released, but on parole.

Unusual “bomb alert” at the Carlos III Market / 14ymedio, Miriam Celaya

Interior of Carlos III Market in downtown Havana. (14ymedio)
Interior of Carlos III Market in downtown Havana. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, Havana | August 18, 2015 — A crowd of shoppers and dozens of neighbors in the vicinity stood together at around 3 PM last Monday across from the popular Carlos III Market, in the capital municipality of Centro Habana. In a matter a minutes, and in a flurry of confusion, they had been forced to evacuate all shopping departments, eateries and entertainment areas due to a “bomb threat”.

The emblematic shopping center was shut down, and employees responsible for its security, who almost never have anything to do other than to check out the bags of customers suspected of theft, fluttered from one side to the other, trying to keep away the curious while exchanging details in their walkie-talkies, in a showy display worthy of a Hollywood action film like those that air on Cuban TV on Saturday nights. They had become the heroes of the day and were enjoying their role.

We are the only people who, instead of running away, stand around in a place where the possibility of a bomb exploding has just been announced. continue reading

There is so much national apathy here that Cubans are probably the only people who, instead of running away, stand around in a place where the possibility of a bomb exploding has just been announced. However, seeing that nothing was happening that was worthy of more attention, the crowd started to disperse gradually, and towards 6 PM there were barely a handful of neighbors hanging around, more entertained than concerned about an event that broke the neighborhood’s daily routine.

This was the moment this casual writer chose to innocently approach the security guard in charge of controlling the wrought iron fence at the market’s side entrance on Árbol Seco Street, to find out why they had closed before the regular time. “We have a special situation,” a very serious and circumspect guard responded. “And why is that, is there a fire, a new assault on Western Union, another gas leak like the one a few months back?”

Then I felt a hand on my shoulder. It belonged to a young man in his thirties who had quietly come over to us and had witnessed the brief dialogue. His Suzuki motorcycle, parked at the curb, by the sidewalk, betrayed his status as an agent of the State Security. He approached in a friendly and conciliatory – even condescending – manner: “No. We are going to tell this comrade the truth,” he directed his comment to the uniformed guard, who instantly turned into an unwelcome guest. Then, turning towards me, his hand still on my shoulder, informed me there was a “bomb threat” at the market, and, for security reasons, they had evacuated the place. The threat had been phoned in; they were not even sure whether the bomb had been placed at this store or at another one, so they had decided to close several shops since the previous day, as a precaution.

“Any Cuban might be a mercenary of the Islamic State. We have to be better informed, comrade! Don’t you know what the internet is?” the security dude told me.

I put on my best face of shock and disbelief. “A bomb… in Cuba? Are you sure about that? And if the threat has been known since yesterday, why is the market closed today? A lot of us could have blown up, right?” The agent began to lose his good demeanor and withdrew his affectionate hand from my shoulder: “But why are you surprised, comrade? Don’t you know there was an Italian tourist who died because of a bomb at a Cuban hotel?” I responded: OK, but that was a bomb, not a threat. As far as I know, nobody has placed a bomb in Cuba and later warned that he did. That is something you see in American movies. People who place bombs prefer to let them explode without warning.

By now the young man was showing real disgust with this exasperating inquisition. “Look, comrade, everyone knows that after the triumph of the Revolution there have been lots of bombs and counterrevolutionary terrorist attempts where lots of innocent people have died.” I nodded and added “You’re right, this thing about bombs is nothing new. Even before the Revolution there were revolutionary ‘Action and Sabotage’ groups of the July 26th Movement that would place bombs and petards [pipe-bombs} in movie theaters, parks, and other public places.”

It was a low blow on my part, I know. This time, my impromptu instructor was momentarily speechless, he looked at me suspiciously and began to lose his temper, but he still did not quit his lesson. “Listen, comrade, you should get better informed. Look, if you have any relatives abroad, ask them to tell you what is in the cable news. There is a terrorist group called ISIS that has branches throughout the world, and Cuba has become part of the world and we are globalized, so any Cuban might be a mercenary of the Islamic State, just like the one that was going to place a bomb but was arrested in Florida recently. Are you listening? Ask your relatives to inform you. You need to get better informed, comrade, you have to get in tune with the times! Don’t you know what the internet is?”

“We need to consider that there are many in Florida who don’t want relations between Cuba and the US. I bet they have something to do with the bomb.”

That was the foot in the door I had been waiting for. ”Let me tell you something, young man, as far as I know, we Cubans are so well informed by Granma, all of the national media and Telesur that we don’t need any foreign news show, internet or any cable to know what is happening in Cuba and in the world. What’s more, if they don’t mention this in the national TV news, the business about the bomb is another enemy hoax to sow fear in the population. What’s more, I fail to see any team of firemen, cops, or street closings. People continue to circulate throughout the area and employees continue inside the market. What kind of bomb is it that can only kill customers?”

Obviously, the agent had no answer to that, so he ended the conversation and improvised a crumb: “That’s another matter. We need to consider that there are many in Florida who don’t want relations between Cuba and the US. I bet they have something to do with the bomb.”

I could not help laughing, “Well, finally! It had been slow in coming. So we no longer have an imperialist enemy and now we invent another one. OK. We need to keep up the belligerence somehow. What would happen to the Revolution if it became orphaned of its enemies?”

Suddenly, the young security dude realized that he had been the victim of a scam and scowled, but it was in vain. People around us laughed heartily. An old neighbor from across the street sealed the brief episode with a solemn sentence, “A bomb was placed 56 years ago but it has failed to explode!” A general peal of laughter was the most convincing popular judgment on this unusual “bomb threat” in the Carlos III Market.

Translated by Norma Whiting

Food Shortages Are Getting Much Worse / 14ymedio, Rosa Lopez

The shortages and high food prices have led many retirees to stand in line for others.(14ymedio)
The shortages and high food prices have led many retirees to stand in line for others.(14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Rosa Lopez, Havana, 19 August 2015 – She boasts that she “walks all over Havana” and there isn’t a single store, market or point of sale she doesn’t know about. “I have a family to feed and for years I’ve also taken advantage of my walks to tell the neighbors where they can get something,” sais Maria Eugenia, 58, who these days never stops repeating, “everything is bare.” The food shortage has gotten worse in recent weeks and the situation has reached crisis levels in many places.

“There is no chicken, no chopped soy-meat, no sausages, and never mind meat,” details this stubborn housewife. The refrigerators in the stores of the Cuban capital have hardly any merchandise and in many cases the cooling system has even been turned off, to avoid wasting electricity. “People don’t know what is happening, because they don’t explain it on television,” the lady complains. continue reading

Few markets are spared the deficit in products. Ultra, a store in the heart of Central Havana, is one of the most affected. “It’s been days with no supply of chicken and when it comes it’s very little, people have even come to blows the get a package,” an employee who preferred to remain anonymous explained to 14ymedio. On Tuesday, a sign proudly announced, “We have butter,” but there was nothing else to see in the windows of the meat and freezer departments.

If they would at least carry hot dogs,” a woman with her baby pleaded, looking over the empty shelves. The frustrated customer was talking about the chicken sausages imported from the United States, Canada or Brazil, one of the food products in greatest demand among the Cuban population, given its low price and the number of hot dogs included in each package.

The last week dozens of telephone calls crossed the city to let family and friends know that “sliced mortadella is available” in the store at San Lazaro and Infanta. The message was brief and accompanied by a “hurry, before it runs out.” Two hours after the product processed by the Canadian firm Golden Maple was put on sale, this newspaper was able to confirm that it had run out.

“There’s no powdered milk anywhere,” bellowed a young man outside the Carlos III Plaza Monday morning. With a mother who had recently suffered a hip fracture, he shouted, “I must get milk,” perhaps hoping to reach the ears of any underground seller passing through the area.

There is a particular shortage of products from the United States. The import figures from that country have plummeted in the last year. If in the first quarter of 2014 the island imported $160 million in food from the US, in 2015 that figure has barely reached $83 million, according to MartiNoticias.

The effects of this decline are visible in the shops. “Every day it is more difficult to cook and give food to the children,” says Yanisbel, a 34-year-old mother of two, one of which is gluten intolerant. The woman was surprised that, “with all the contact we have now with the yumas (Americans) we’re no longer seeing the products that used to come from that country.” As an example he mentions frozen chicken, ground soy-meat, various kinds of tomato sauce.

The lack of liquidity to pay cash in advance for purchases from the U.S. has dented what seemed to be a growing trade. Moreover, the Cuban government’s poor credit history and unpaid debts does not favor the search for new suppliers.

The drop in imports cannot be made up for by a rebound in domestic products. “There is no significant increase in the production of food,” says the economist Karina Galvez. A reality that contradicts Point 184 of the Political and Social Economy Guidelines that urge, “the replacement of imports with foods that can be efficiently produced in the country.”

During the last session of Parliament, Marino Murillo Jorge, Minister of Economy and Planning, confirmed missed production targets, among them the delivery of fresh milk to the industry, which fell 13 million liters shorts.

With regards to the shortages of products in the hard currency stores, the official attributed it to the late arrival of imports and announced a set of provisions to better serve that market. More than a month later, the effects of these measures haven’t been felt on the plates of Cubans.