Shadow Market / 14ymedio, Lilianne Ruiz

Vendors at a bus stop in Havana (14ymedio)]
Vendors at a bus stop in Havana (14ymedio)]

Street vendors are the last card in a clandestine business deck whose purpose is pure survival.

14ymedio, LILIANNE RUIZ, Havana, 20 November 2014 — In the shadow of the doorways on Galleno Street in Havana, a young man shows several pairs of sunglasses that he has encased in a piece of polystyrene foam, popularly known as polyfoam. The improvised showcase is kept in a travel bag that can easily be moved. At his side, a girl announces in a low voice: “Colgate toothpaste, deodorant, cologne.”

Suddenly the young man grabs the polystyrene containing the spectacles, as if he were really dealing with a suitcase, and both walk away, their step and pulse accelerating. They disappear within a hallway. They wait. Fifteen minutes later they come out and place themselves again in a stretch of the same street. For the moment, they have managed to cheat the inspectors and the police.

They sell their wares clandestinely in order to survive. They risk being detained by the police, who confiscate their products and impose fines for “hoarding.” The fines can reach 3,000 pesos. Frequently they incur debts because they get the merchandise from a “wholesale” supplier to earn, at maximum, 1 to 3 CUC.

On many occasions it is the Cuban stewardesses or other workers or state officials with the privilege of going abroad and buying in any supermarket, together with the “mules,” each day more hounded, who manage to get through customs controls some batch of basic necessities. The street vendors are the last card in that business deck. “We live daily on what we manage to make. It is not enough to save. If you live for food you can’t buy clothes and if you live for clothes you can’t eat,” they contend.

She has a bachelor’s degree in nursing, and her identity card places her at some address in Ciego de Avila province. That is why she cannot get hired as a nurse in the capital: “I think that from Pinar del Rio to Guantanamo is Cuba. But as I was not born here (in Havana), I have no address here, I cannot work. I am illegal in my country.” But she does not complain: “The salaries are so low that I would have to leave my job as a nights-and-weekend nurse and sell in the street if I want to buy myself, for example, a pair of shoes.”

For his part, he has a tailor’s license and is authorized to sell homemade clothes. “The licenses mean nothing in this country. To sell ready-made clothes, they ask for a ton of papers to know where you bought the thread, the cloth and even the buttons. The government always wins and we do nothing but lose. They charge you taxes to sell what the licenses authorize but also they are charging you taxes for the prices that they fix for raw materials. That’s why we have to buy and sell on the black market,” he explains. The earnings for selling homemade ready-made clothes are minimal.

In January of this year the government prohibited the sale of imported clothes or any imported article. So that after paying for the tailor’s license and the familiar taxes, he comes out to sell eyeglasses, ready to run from the authorities. “I get these glasses at five CUC for two, sometimes three CUC. I did not steal them from anyone. And if the police come, they take them from me. They have already confiscated from me about three times.” In spite of the persecution, he has a powerful reason to continue going out to sell: “If I lie down to sleep, we die of hunger at home.”

Both youngsters report that there are days when they sell nothing. “The whole day on foot from 8:30 in the morning to 6 in the afternoon, running from here to there: if not the inspector, then the police, or the surveillance cameras.”

According to them, there are cameras installed on the corners. Thus they suffer the enormous disadvantage of not being able to see who is watching them. The girl indicates a column: “That wall covers the camera that is at the corner and that is why we stop here. We already have them figured, because if not they order to search for you because of the camera. For example, they order to search for the one who has the black blouse, which can be me.” In this atmosphere of tension and fear of being discovered, this subsistence economy unfolds.

The government harasses the mobile vendors while it woos the big companies of global capitalism. Cuba does not look attractive for those who undertake the economic path of mere survival. Not even legally. That’s why so many young people want to leave the island.

Translated by MLK

The Cuban “Sovereignty” Fable / 14ymedio, Miriam Celaya

The "Sovereignty" of Robinson Crusoe (CC)
The “Sovereignty” of Robinson Crusoe (CC)

14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, Havna, 11 November 2014– In recent weeks we have seen a lot of media hype on the subject of US embargo against the Cuban government and the implications for lifting it. The New York Times led the way, with several inflammatory anti-embargo editorials which resulted in immediate answers from numerous other digital venues, pointing to the dangers of the unconditional and unilateral withdrawal of the sanctions that would allow the Island’s regime new possibilities for extending and consolidating power after half a century of dictatorship.

Without a doubt, the issue of the embargo constitutes the Gordian knot that marks US-Cuba relations

Without a doubt, the issue of the embargo constitutes the Gordian knot that marks the Cuba-US relations, though with a clearly differentiating thread: If lifting the embargo is today an element of crucial strategic importance for the survival of the Cuban regime, it is not a priority for the US government, and it does not constitute a strategic point in that country’s foreign policy agenda.

This antecedent, by itself, explains that the negotiations about the relations between both governments should not develop on the principle of “same conditions” as Cuban officials and its troupe of organic intellectuals (candidly?) claim, since, while the survival of the Castro regime depends to great measure on the lifting of the US sanctions, in Washington, it is neither an element of strategic importance nor an economic or political priority.

In addition, it is ridiculous to suppose that the Cuban government — after hijacking the rights of the governed and excluding them of all legal benefit — making a show of an unspeakable cynicism, pretends to establish itself as defender of the “American people”, which has been deprived by their own government of the ability to travel to or to invest in Cuba as they wish, even if it is a well-known secret that the US is currently one of the major trading partners with Cuba, especially in foodstuffs, and that the presence of Americans is an everyday event in the main tourist destinations on the Island.

But above all, all this foreign policy debate debunks the main pillar on which the foundation of the whole structure of the Cuban revolution has been created: the unwavering defense of sovereignty.

The fallacy of Cuban “sovereignty”

In the 70s, Fidel Castro publicly mocked the embargo (“blockade” in the revolutionary jargon). By then, the much overhyped Cuban sovereignty omitted its humiliating subordination to the Soviet Union, legally endorsed in the [Cuban] Constitution and, under which, Cuba stood as a strategic base of the Russian communist empire in the Western Hemisphere, including in those relations of servitude the failed attempt to create a nuclear warhead base in the early days of the Castro era, the  existence of a Soviet spy base in Cuba, Soviet military troops on Cuban soil, building of a thermonuclear plant — which, fortunately, was never finished — sending Cuban troops to encourage and/or support armed conflicts in Latin America and Africa, among other commitments, whose scope and costs have not yet been disclosed.

As compensation, the Soviet Union supported the Cuban system through massive subsidies that allowed for the maintenance of the fabulous health and education programs on the Island, as well as other social benefits. By then, the so-called US “blockade” was reduced to teaching manuals and classroom indoctrination, or mentioned in some other official discourse, as long as it was appropriate to justify production inefficiencies or some shortage that the European communist bloc was unable to cover.

After the demise of the Soviet Union and of socialism in Eastern Europe, the regime managed, with relative success, an economic crisis without precedent in Cuba.

After the demise of the Soviet Union and of socialism in Eastern Europe, the regime managed, with relative success, an unprecedented economic crisis in Cuba, euphemistically known as the “Special Period”, thanks to two key factors: foreign investment from a group of adventurous entrepreneurs who believed that a virgin market and a system in ruins were sufficient conditions for bargaining advantageously  and the forced establishment of  opening enterprise in the form of small family business, two elements that had been demonized for decades, since the nationalization, in the early sixties, of foreign capital businesses, and seizing of small businesses later, during the so-called Revolutionary Offensive of 1968.

In the late 90’s, however, a new possibility for subsidies appeared on the scene, in the form of Venezuelan leader Hugo Chávez. His deeply populist and egotistical government assumed the maintenance of the Castro system based on the exploitation and ruthless squandering that country’s oil. At the same time, he sustained the Cuban sovereignty myth. This myth is the foundation of the revolutionary anti-imperialist tale (David vs. Goliath), played endlessly in this ignorant and superstitious region by a host of leftist opportunistic intellectuals that thrive in Latin America.

That explains how, after half of century of revolution, Cuba is still one of the most dependent countries in the Western world, and at the same time the “most sovereign” though, currently, it may be common knowledge, according to the very official acknowledgement. The final destiny of the Island depends on foreign capital investment.  It turns out that, in this nation, so very independent and sovereign, the olive–green oligarchs no longer mock the embargo, but they weep for its termination. It may be that their personal wealth, fruit of the plunder of the national treasury, is comfortably safe in foreign funds and vaults, but, without foreign investments, the days of their dynasty are counted.

Since the fall of the Berlin Wall, there have been about six US administrations (…) while Cuba continues with the same system.  

Since the fall of the Berlin Wall there have been about six US administrations, three presidents have ruled in post-communist Russia, and several more have followed in the governments of the countries of Eastern Europe, while the same system of government still remains in Cuba,  imposed by the succession of the Castro brothers, with adjustments and “renovations” that only serve to cover up the mimetic capacity of an elite military clique in the transition to state capitalism, the administrator of an economic and political monopoly that attempts to successfully survive the inevitable transformation of late-Castrism into something that no one knows for sure what it will be.

Today, while others resolve Cuba’s destinies, Cubans, always subjected to extraterritorial powers and at the mercy of an octogenarian autocracy – however sufficiently proud or stupid enough so as to not recognize it, and sufficiently meek as to not revolt — have ended up winning just one card: that of begging, only that the olive-green elite poses as a beggar, their hands held out palms up, asking the alms of foreign capital. Reality has ended up obeying the discourse: never before have we been more dependent.

Translated by Norma Whiting

Dissident Cuesta Morua Now Can Travel Abroad / 14ymedio

Manuel Cuesta Morua, spokesman for Progressive Arc (CC)
Manuel Cuesta Morua, spokesman for Progressive Arc (CC)

14ymedio, Havana, 15 November 2014 — Activist Manuel Cuesta Morua, spokesman for Progressive Arc, has been informed that his legal case was dismissed, and he can now travel abroad whenever he desires. The information was made known to him by a lawyer from the Law Collective of Central Havana, who noted that the measure has “no conditions,” according to the dissident’s statement to this daily.

The government opponent had been precluded from travelling outside the country through an interim measure that was imposed on him at the end of last January.

Cuesta Morua, 51 years of age, tried to organize a forum parallel to the Second Summit of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) then being held in Havana.

The police arrested him to prevent his participation in the meeting, and after that point he had to sign in every Tuesday at the police station where he was arraigned, which prevented him from leaving the country.

In those months, Morua could not attend numerous invitations from international agencies and foundations, like that of this past October for the 25th anniversary of the fall of communism in Poland, which was held by the Lech Walesa Institute.

“Technically they have kept me from travelling with this absurd measure on the part of the authorities; this has been my punishment for my position regarding the Cuban government,” said Morua at the time.

Now in his new situation, the activist is preparing to fulfill several international invitations that include participation in forums, debates and academic meetings, as recounted to 14ymedio.

Translated by MLK

 

Raul Castro’s Migratory Reform Falters / 14ymedio, Eliecer Avila

Cuban passport (CC)
Cuban passport (CC)

14ymedio, ELIECER AVILA, Las Tunas/November 15, 2014 — Officials, opposition and public opinion in general have recognized as positive the implementation of the Migratory Reform (covering emigration and travel) promoted by the Cuban government at the beginning of 2013.

In spite of the fact that the trips for many dissidents continue to be marked by abuse, delays and confiscations by Cuban customs authorities, the truth is that until now, only people subject to some kind of legal process, whether invented or not, have been prevented from travelling.

But this may be starting to change. Signs of a sudden regression, in regards to the new rules, come to us from the eastern part of the country.

Two officials, the Major “Oliver” and the Lieutenant Colonel “Vilma,” from State Security Management and Immigration and Alien Status Management (DIE), respectively, have communicated categorically to young Hanner Echavarria Licea that “it has been decided that you are not going to travel.”

To that end, today they retain his certified criminal record document, which the Peruvian embassy demands, so that he cannot participate in the conference “Civic Conscience and Citizen Participation” which will take place in Lima.

The youth, a teaching graduate, self-employed and son of a retired official of the FAR, is a serious and educated young man who enjoys high standing in his community. Precisely the kind of person that State Security cannot bear to see fighting for profound change in Cuba.

Echavarria Licea joined the political movement SOMOS+ and was elected by its members to be its leader in Las Tunas. This seems to be the reason for the current reprisal of not letting him leave the country.

His case could be palpable evidence that even today, someone without prior criminal history or any legal entanglement whatsoever, may be prevented from exercising his right to leave the country. Which would mean the end of the more or less serious application of the Migratory Reform.

Translated by MLK

TEDx Lands in Havana / 14ymedio, Rosa Lopez

Herman Portocarrero, ambassador of the European Union Delegation, in Havana during his talk, “Borders Without Borders,” during TEDx Havana (Photo: 14ymedio)
Herman Portocarrero, ambassador of the European Union Delegation, in Havana during his talk, “Borders Without Borders,” during TEDx Havana (Photo: 14ymedio)

For some time, TEDx Havana had been cooking. Those of us who for years have followed the trail of this event, which mixes science, art, design, politics, education, culture and much ingenuity, were counting the days until we could hear on our national stages its stories of entrepreneurship, progress and creativity. Finally, that day arrived, to the gratification of many and the dissatisfaction of many others.

TED is a non-profit organization founded 25 years ago in California, which is an acronym for Technology, Entertainment and Design. Its annual conference has become a feast of ideas and proposals, while the famous “TED Talks” provide a microphone to speakers who inspire their listeners to take on new projects. These talks have, over time, been sneaked into the alternative information networks in Cuba, and they have sparked a desire among the public to see these screen personalities in-person, in the here and now.

For these reasons, there was great anticipation at the news of the imminent landing in our city of that independent – and equally inspiring – part of TED, which is TEDx. The event, named InCUBAndo [“InCUBAting”], took place in the Covarrubias Hall of the National Theatre this past Saturday afternoon. Among the organizers credited in the printed program were the singer Cucú Diamante, the actor Jorge Perugorría, and Andrés Levin, music producer.

We almost did not learn of the arrival of TEDx until 24 hours prior to the curtains being drawn back at the National Theatre.

So, yes, the arrival of this program was literally a landing. The set design in the hall included some little allegorical pink airplanes – the meaning of which many in the audience wondered about – but which turned out to be part of a plastic art installation. Besides which, we almost did not learn of the arrival of TEDx until 24 hours prior to the curtains being drawn back at the National Theatre.

Some flyers distributed at the University of Havana and around the La Rampa cinema last Friday were the first signs to the Havana public that TEDx would arrive in our capital city. Actually, prior to this, the British ambassador to Cuba, Tim Cole, had already announced it on Twitter – but the news only got through to those with Internet access – of which there are very few in this “disconnected city.”

Regardless, as long as we could have TEDx, we were ready to forgive all: the haste of the arrangements, the lack of advertising, and even the “secrecy.” If the event had to occur under these conditions, well, so be it. At any rate, hundreds of Cubans arrived at the scene to hear these exceptional people who were here to tell us their life stories. One of the best presentations was the one titled “Borders Without Borders,” by the diplomat Herman Portocarrero, European Union representative in Cuba.

TEDx Havana participants greet the public at the conclusion of the presentation (Photo: 14ymedio)
TEDx Havana participants greet the public at the conclusion of the presentation (Photo: 14ymedio)

The energy in the X Alfonso Hall could be felt also from Portocarrero’s story of the birth and first steps of the Cuban Art Factory. Meanwhile the founder of the famous La Guarida restaurant tackled the difficult but gratifying path of the entrepreneur. As host, a dynamic and subtly humorous Amaury Pérez was a good link betweeb some parts of the program. Missing, however, were the voices – further away from the worlds of show business and diplomacy – of others whose ingenuity helps them to survive every day, negotiate the commonplace difficulties, and unbuckle themselves from the straightjacket of our reality.

I do not know the process that was employed to select speakers for TEDx Havana, but what I saw on the stage left me a taste of incompleteness and partiality. The dance music seemed intended to fill those voids and distract an audience that mainly had come to hear anecdotes, testimonies and life stories.

Some of the guest speakers politicized the proceedings, favoring, of course, the official line.

The worst moment was without a doubt the segment of extemporaneous versifiers Tomasita and Luis Paz – who in the middle of their improvisations sang praises to the five Cuban spies, of which three are still in prison in the United States. Up until that moment, many of us accepted the rules of TEDx Havana. Faced with the evident absences at those microphones, I believe that we had convinced ourselves that “it was all right that spaces not be politicized that way.” However, as it turned out, some of the guest speakers politicized the proceedings – favoring, of course, the official line.

Even with all the shambles, TEDx Havana leaves a good taste in the mouth – at the least a feeling that there are people not only with much to tell, but with expressiveness and composure in telling it before hundreds of attentive eyes. The experiences of this first edition will serve to better the second opportunity this event will have to take place among us.

If the organizers are open to suggestions for future TEDx events, it would be good to emphasize better and greater promotion prior to this feast of creativity and entrepreneurship. In addition, let us have transparency in the process of selecting the speakers, so that they may compete and audition in advance, from those who have created a small cottage industry of homemade preserves, to even those who, with ingenuity, laugh at censorship or dream of a Cuba where success in accomplishment is not something extraordinary, but commonplace.

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

Some Seven Thousand Cows ‘Disappear” in Villa Clara Province / 14ymedio, Orlando Palma

Cows in Cuba (CC)
Cows in Cuba (CC)

14ymedio, Orlando Palma, Villa Clara, 15 November 2014 – Around 7,000 head of beef cattle were presumed disappeared in the space of a year during a count carried out in ten cattle ranches in the province of Villa Clara, according to a report by the newspaper Juventud Rebelde.

The inspection, carried out by the province’s Department of Livestock Registration and revealed by the official newspaper, was carried out in a group of agricultural production cooperatives where 51 animals were found missing, whereas the State sector counted around 6,900 “not found,” which means the loss of practically the total inventory of these ranches.

Among the explanations the ranchers offered their inspectors are: deaths that could not be reported for lack of a veterinarian to issue the relevant certificate; statistical errors; and – not ruling out! – the possibility that the disappeared cows were victims of theft and illegal slaughter.

To add a touch of science fiction to the matter, as if it had to do with some kind of abduction carried out by extra-terrestrials, the possibility was mentioned that some of the vanished cattle might reappear, maybe because it will be less dangerous to get them from their hiding places without much explanation than to face up and confess where the innocent animals were kept.

Most of the missing heads of cattle were from the townships of Manicaragua, Encrucijada and Sagua La Grande.

Translator’s note: Cows in Cuba belong to the State and it is against the law to kill and eat them. This post from Miguel Iturria Medina — Is Killing a Cow Worse Than Murder — discusses the relative penalties for murder of a human being versus slaughter of a cow. This post from Yoani Sanchez — Male Heifers and Cow Suicide — discusses a creative ways to get around the law.

Translated by MLK

The official press keeps the government satisfied / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

Miguel Dí­az-Canel Bermúdez
Miguel Dí­az-Canel Bermúdez

14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 12 November 2014 – In a meeting with the president of the Cuban Journalists Union (UPEC), the first vice president, Miguel Díaz-Canel Bermúdez, said journalists had a responsibility to investigate more before offering an opinion, but also praised the work undertaken in recent weeks by the national press, giving as an example that published on Ebola, the comments about the editorial in The New York Times and other local topics.

This is the fifteenth meeting of its kind and it was held at the Council of State in the offices of the vice president, who has paid special attention to the work of journalists since the Ninth Congress of UPEC in July of last year. Diaz-Canel said he was pleased with the good level of those working in critical posts at the provincial newspapers.

After the meeting no detailed indication emerged relating to any notable excesses or gaps in the mass media, although it did seem to the vice president that “our media is fresher” and the Cuban press has begun to reflect topics that appear in the media of other countries. continue reading

At the meeting Antonio Molton, the president of UPEC, reported on the upcoming participation of the organization leading the meeting of the Federation of Latin America Journalists (FELAP), which will be held this week in Ecuador.

As is known, the media authorized in this country are closely controlled by the Communist Party, an organization that behaves like a true proprietor in naming the directors and outlining the editorial line of every newspaper, magazine, radio station and television station, be it national or provincial.

Lately there have been more critical articles and readers’ letters with notes of the inadequacies and mistakes of state entities, as well as critical demonstrations related to the quality of services or the prices of some products. What still had not been permitted – and Díaz-Canel did not speak of this – is questioning the legitimacy of the leaders or casting doubt on the viability of the socialist system in the country.

No independent journalist nor alternative blogger belongs to UPEC.

Orphans of the Wall / 14ymedio, Bernard de la Grange

alemanes-emprenden-muro-BerlA-n-CC_CYMIMA20141108_0067_16
Germans tackle the Berlin Wall, 1989 (CC)

14ymedio, Bertrand de la Grange, Madrid/November 8, 2014 — Prensa Latina devoted only ten lines to news that stunned the world. Below a detached title – “The GDR Announces the Opening of its Borders” – the Cuban agency related on November 9, 1989, that the German Democratic Republic had just made an administrative “ruling” by which “citizens will be able to take private trips without the need to explain their reasons.” The word “wall” did not appear in the teletype. Such moderation reflected the prevailing confusion in Havana.

The transcendental event that western media celebrated was a catastrophe for the allies of the Soviet Union in the Americas. Cuba and Sandinista Nicaragua were in mourning. The guerillas still active in the region, above all the Salvadoran FMLN, the Guatemalan URNG, and to a lesser extent the Colombian FARC, saw their logistical and diplomatic space reduced with the weakening of the communist bloc.

Mikhail Gorbachev’s trip to Cuba, some months before, had made evident the gulf that separated the Soviet president from the then Maximum Leader who held tight to ideological orthodoxy as a detractor of the Perestroika economic reforms, which were seen by Havana as an imitation of capitalism. “We have seen sad things in other socialist countries, very sad things,” Fidel Castro would later say in reference to the changes that took place two years after the collapse of the USSR, with its devastating consequences for the Cuban economy, totally dependent on subsidies from Moscow. continue reading

The events of November 9 also alarmed the Sandinista leaders in Nicaragua. They did not expect it, in spite of – or perhaps because of – their close relationship with the Stasi, the intelligence apparatus of the GDR, which along with Cubans managed the security of the nine leaders of the revolution. A year before, the Stasi had played a key role in Operation Berta in order to change by force of arms the Nicaraguan currency in a desperate effort to stop an inflation of 36,000%, which the government managed to reduce to 2,000% in 1989.

When the news arrived from Berlin, Nicaragua was immersed in a very tense electoral campaign. At the request of the White House, Gorbachev had convinced the Sandinista government to advance the elections scheduled for the end of the year to February 25, 1990. This was about looking for a political exit to the war between the Sandinista forces, supported by Havana, and an essentially peasant rebellion, the Contras, sustained by Washington. Managua was then an important piece on the regional geo-political board, and the US feared that El Salvador would be the next chip to fall.

The Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) hoped to achieve with those elections democratic legitimacy to convince the international community of the need to disarm the Contras under the supervision of the United Nations. Opposing, the National Opposition Union (UNO) a coalition of 14 parties from the whole political spectrum, seemed to have not the least chance of winning. Its candidate, Violeta Barrios, widow of Joaquin Chamorro, assassinated during the Somoza dictatorship, was a housewife without political experience. Instead, the FSLN counted on the overwhelming machinery of the State to impose its candidate, Daniel Ortega, who had spent a decade in power.

La Prensa, property of the Chamorro family, dedicated extensive coverage to the Berlin event, including an editorial entitled, “Fall of the Wall, a Miracle of History.” Antonio Lacayo, son-in-law and close adviser to the UNO candidate, saw the opportunity that was presented to them. “We knew immediately that that historic event would have very favorable repercussions for us in the campaign against the Sandinistas,” he says in a book, The Difficult Nicaraguan Transition, published in 2005. “We said that if the Germans were capable of throwing off forty years of dictatorship, we could throw off ours of ten years…”

He was not wrong. Contrary to the surveys, the international press and the diplomats, who predicted a comfortable victory for Daniel Ortega, Violeta de Chamorro won with almost 55% of the vote.

“The electoral defeat of the Sandinistas was our Berlin Wall, we were convinced we were going to win,” Joaquin Villalobos would later say. Villalobos was one of the leaders of the Salvadoran guerrilla group, the Farabundo Marti Front for National Liberation, which had its rearguard in Managua. Instead, the events of November 1989 in Germany did not affect them “morally,” and they decided to continue with their plans to launch an unprecedented military offensive against the capital, San Salvador, and the country’s principal cities.

The political times of Central America did not match up with those of Eastern Europe. The Salvadoran guerrillas saw their survival endangered in the face of pressures from the United States on Gorbachev to stop the deliveries of Soviet arms through Cuba and Nicaragua. The FMLN dreamed of winning power by means of weapons, although their more realistic commanders settled for achieving a greater control of terrain in preparation for a negotiation.

While the Cold War was dying out and the citizens of East Germany were celebrating their new freedom, the leaders of the FMLN hurried the final details of “Operation To the Top” in safe houses placed at their disposal by the Sandinista government. November 11, a little before eight at night, Radio Venceremos, the emissary of the Salvadoran guerrillas, received the message from Joaquin Villalobos: “We are on the march. From here to there, there is no retreat,” he said from Managua. The offensive was beginning.

The Soviets were furious at feeling tricked by their Sandinista allies who had committed to cutting off logistical help to the FMLN. The minister of Foreign Affairs, Eduard Shevardnadze, one of Gorbachev’s closest associates, had traveled to Nicaragua the month before to announce Moscow’s decision to collaborate with the peace plan for Central America, launched two years before with international support.

Close to 4,000 Salvadorans died in the two weeks of combat, between guerrilla fighters, soldiers and the civil population. Was anything achieved? According to writer David Escobar Galindo, ex-negotiator for the government, “The offensive of November 11, 1989, opened the possibility for peace by demonstrating that war could not be decided militarily.” Terror had reached an equilibrium. Both sides would sign the peace in 1992 and, a distant consequence of the fall of the Wall, the FMLN would come to power by the ballot box in 2009.

Editor’s note: This text has been previously published in the daily El Pais. We reproduce it with permission of the author.

Bertrand de la Grange was a correspondent for Le Monde in Central America when the Wall fell.

Translated by MLK

The Dominant Interests / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

Granma article against The New York Times, April 24, 2003: “The New York Times is neither serious nor liberal”
Granma article against The New York Times, April 24, 2003: “The New York Times is neither serious nor liberal”

14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 11 November 2014 — I was tempted to title this text “The Good New York Times and Bad New York Times”, but since Yoani Sanchez had done the same with USAID it seemed repetitive.

The truth is that lately, and in an unusual manner, the official organ of the Cuban Communist Party, the newspaper Granma, and its televised arm, The Roundtable show, haven’t stopped repeating the good reasons this newspaper has for criticizing the embargo, for demanding that Alan Gross be exchanged for Cuba’s Ministry of the Interior (MININT) prisoners held in the United States, or for criticizing U.S. policy with regards to the Cuban government. This is the good New York Times, a credible and influential American newspaper. continue reading

But some have the healthy habit of saving paper and among these pearls appears, published in the Granma itself, an article which speaks very differently in relation to the famous newspaper .

On April 24, 2003, the news was fresh of the imprisonment of 75 Cuban dissidents (originally there were 80 defendants) who were given sentences of 15, 20 and up to 28 years imprisonment. The New York Times addressed that process, later dubbed the Black Spring, and to the Cuban government this was unforgivable.

Granma’s response, under the byline of Arsenio Rodríguez, was overwhelming and conclusive. “…their editorial decisions are neither serious nor liberal, but obediently follow orders in defense of the interests of the dominant powers in this nation.” And concluding with this succinct affirmation: “… the true role of the New York Times was, is and will be to represent the essence of the empire.”

The question some of us in Cuba ask is if the newspaper has ceased to represent the imperial interests of the United States (if this was ever the case) or if now those interests are changing and something is moving under the table, behind the backs of the only protagonists in this drama: Cubans.

I do not know if Arsenio Rodriguez has retired, how old he is, or if he prefers to “pass” on the subject, but I would love to read his opinion now. I would give anything to have the evidence that the editorial decisions of Granma dutifully obey orders in defense of the dominant interests.

Defections by Cuban Doctors in Venezuela Double / 14ymedio

Cuban doctors before leaving on a “mission” (EFE)
Cuban doctors before leaving on a “mission” (EFE)

14ymedio, Havana, 10 November 2014 — Some 700 Cuban health professionals defected from Venezuela between September 2013 and September 2014, according to data published Sunday in Caracas by the daily El Universal. The majority went to the United States and reported the deterioration of their work conditions.

This figure doubles the number from the same period a year earlier, when some 300 professionals left their missions, according to information from Solidarity Without Borders (SSF), an organization with headquarters in Miami that helps Cuban health professionals looking for a better future.

“The worsening of conditions in Venezuela is causing an increase in defections. The lack of safety, low pay, worker exploitation and control over private life continue to be the big reasons,” said Doctor Julio Cesar Alfonso, president of the organization, to El Universal. continue reading

Alfonso explains that the most significant increase was registered after the death of President Hugo Chavez. Among other reasons that impel doctors to escape, according to the organization’s president, are the devaluation of the bolivar, an average salary of 100 dollars at the official exchange rate and few prospects for professional development.

The phenomenon is not limited to Venezuela and, according to Solidarity Without Borders, some 1,100 Cuban professionals abandoned their missions abroad between September 2013 and 2014.

Translated by MLK

Cuban Doctors Are Enslaved Says ‘The Wall Street Journal’ / 14ymedio

The Column ‘Cuba’s Slave Trade in Doctors’ in ‘The Wall Street Journal’
The Column ‘Cuba’s Slave Trade in Doctors’ in ‘The Wall Street Journal’

14ymedio, Havana, 10 November 2014 — In an article published Sunday, the Wall Street Journal lashes out against the “doctor diplomacy” carried out by the Island by sending health personnel abroad. The newspaper compares the system with the “slave trade” in spite of international praise.

Columnist Mary Anastasia O’Grady, however, asserts that the doctors who travel to poor countries “are not a gift from Cuba,” since the Island earns some 8 billion dollars annually at the expense of the workers through the payments it receives from the host country – as in the case of Venezuela – or other countries who send funds to the World Health Organization. O’Grady reminds readers that the medical personnel do not receive their remuneration directly and that this money goes to the coffers of the state which only dedicates a small part to the salaries. continue reading

“It is the perfect crime: By sending its subjects abroad to help poor people, the regime gains from the global community the image of a disinterested contributor even though it exploits the workers and enriches itself at their expense,” writes the columnist. “This is a great business which, if were not carried out by Marxists gangsters, surely would offend journalists. Instead, they swallow it.”

O’Grady insists that “human trafficking is nothing new for Havana, nor is it limited to the medical profession.” Refusing to participate in a mission can mean the loss of employment—as Cuban Doctor Antonio Guedes reported from Madrid to the German international television chain DW—or have consequences for children’s university admission.

In 2008, some workers reported to the United States Justice Department the hard work conditions and the salary of three cents per hour they received during a mission to Curacao where they went to work in exchange for Cuba’s debt to Curacao Drydock Company. The relatives of the claimants, according to the report by the United States newspaper The Christian Science Monitor, “lost jobs and access to education and suffered harassment by gangs.”

The columnist emphasizes that sending medical personnel abroad is causing a shortage of doctors in Cuba, in spite of the delicate epidemiological situation the Island is experiencing, affected by outbreaks of dengue fever and cholera.

Translated by MLK

Consumers rather than citizens / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

Mara Góngora, Eduardo Mora and Yisel Filiu on the set of the Buenos Dias program. (Source: Facebook)
Mara Góngora, Eduardo Mora and Yisel Filiu on the set of the Buenos Dias program. (Source: Facebook)

14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, 3 November 2014 – We are consumers more than citizens. That is the conclusion to be drawn after having seen the “Con sentido” segment on the Buenos Días TV program. In the introduction they announced to us that the topic would be the rights we know, our rights they violate, knowledge of and compliance with the Constitution of the Republic.

But imagine our frustration to find that, during the entire time the screen was filled with specialists, legislators and people in general, interviewed on the street and in the studio, not a single word was said about how the police treat citizens, the wrongful retention of items in Customs, the time a person can be jailed without trial, the innumerable violations that derive from the lack of freedom of expression and association and long string that doesn’t fit in this space. continue reading

Instead the commentator, in the first minutes, the commentator offered what would be a litany of what set off the subsequent “protests,” among them falsifying the weights of products, not giving the correct change, or receipts not being entered into accounts. The most serious criticism referred to the absence or scarcity of copies of our Constitution and limited disclosure that is given to the law.

Appealing to the trick of mentioning the important to later anchor it to the less important details, we could hear statements such as these: “Our fundamental problem is that we don’t know our rights or we barely know them. We aren’t brought up with a judicial culture. Now they violate our rights and we don’t know what to do; worse, they violate rights we don’t even know we have.”

Two young women, the deputy Dayama Fundora and the specialist Maidelis Riguero, both on the National Assembly of People’s Power Commission on Constitutional and Judicial Matters, concentrated on the rights enjoyed by Cubans, such as education, health care, and jobs, and alluded to the fact that at that time they were working on the creation of a Consumer Protection Law.

The man-on-the-street interviews had their most daring moment when they asked a woman if it seemed right that they search a purse in the street, and she answered that if she hadn’t committed any crime there was no need to search her. But the majority of the selected interviewees spoke about the weight of the merchandise or the quality of the products. Also prevalent was the uselessness of complaining because in most cases no reply is received.

But the jewel in the crown was the voiceover saying, “To the extent that people know the mechanisms to make complaints, encounter receptive ears, find solutions to their complaints and feel that denouncing a negative act is not creating conflict but a contribution to bettering things, then they will break some of the chains of complicity that have their origin in the failure of citizens to do their du

Our wall has not fallen … but it is not eternal / Yoani Sanchez

The fall of the Berlin Wall or the birth of a new era (Archive Photo)
The fall of the Berlin Wall or the birth of a new era (Archive Photo)

14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 9 November 2014 – My life up to then had always been lived between walls. The wall of the Malecon that separated me from a world of which I’d only heard the horror. The wall of the school where I studied when Germany was reunified. The long wall behind which the illegal sellers of sweets and treats hid themselves. Almost six feet of some overlapping bricks that some classmates jumped over to get out of classes, as indoctrinating as they were boring. To this was added the wall of silence and fear. At home, my parents put their fingers to their lips, speaking in whispers… something happened, but they didn’t tell me what.

In November of 1989 the Berlin Will fell. In reality, it was knocked down with a sledgehammer and a chisel. Those who threw themselves against it were the same people who, weeks earlier, appeared to obey the Communist Party and believe in the paradise of the proletariat. The news came to us slowly and fragmented. Cuba’s ruling party tried to distract attention and minimize the matter; but the details leaked out little by little. That year my adolescence ended. I was only fourteen and everything that came afterwards left me no space for naivety.

Berliners awoke to the noise of the hammers and we Cubans discovered that the promised future was a complete lie

The masks fell on by one. Berliners awoke to the noise of hammers and we Cubans discovered that the promised future was a complete lie. While Eastern Europe shrugged off the long embrace of the Kremlin, Fidel Castro screamed from the dais, promising in the name of everybody that we would never give up. Few had the insight to realize that that political delusion would condemn us to the most difficult years to confront several generations of Cubans. The wall fell far away, while another parapet was raised around us, that of ideological blindness, irresponsibility and voluntarism.

A quarter century has passed. Today Germans and the whole world are celebrating the end of an absurdity. They are taking stock of the achievements since that November and enjoying the freedom to complain about what hasn’t gone well. We, in Cuba, have missed out on twenty-five years of climbing aboard history’s bandwagon. For our country, the wall is still standing, although right now few are propping up a bulwark erected more at the whim of one man than by the decision of a people.

Our wall hasn’t fallen… but it is not eternal.

“We journalists are the witnesses to history” / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

Oscar Haza during the interview in the studios of 'Mega TV'. (14ymedio)
Oscar Haza during the interview in the studios of ‘Mega TV’. (14ymedio)

14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, 7 November 2014 – Of all the faces that circulate on the illegal information networks, there is a very serene and well-known one that has been with us for decades. This well-spoken man who never seems to get upset has received the worst insults in the official media and the stealthy applause of those who never miss his programs. Oscar Haza spoke to 14ymedio this week at the MegaTV studios in Florida, with a baseball cap, a telephone that never stopped ringing, and many interesting stories about his life, journalism and his other adoptive island.

Yoani Sanchez: People in Cuba know you as a television presenter, but help us to complete the person behind this sober man in suit and tie who asks incisive questions. Who are you, besides a face on the screen?

Oscar Haza: I’m an ordinary person, a child from a village in the district of San Carlos, in the center of the capital city of Santo Domingo

Sanchez: Here is where many of my compatriots interrupt you and exclaim in astonishment, AH!… because you’re not Cuban!

Haza: I am the grandson of Cubans. My grandfather was Luis Felipe Haza, a Cuban who moved to Santo Domingo to work in the sugar mills. From there comes my Dominican side, but my other side is from the province of Matanzas. continue reading

Sanchez: If you were not born in Cuba where does so much passion for our country come from? Just a genetic inheritance?

Haza: In the genes, but also because I grew up in a household of fufu, ropa vieja and mangú. That special fusion that the Caribbean has produced. So the Greater Antilles has always been present in my life because of this exchange between families. The person for whom I decided to come to Miami was a Cuban-Dominican of very illustrious lineage, Henríquez Ureña. My friend Hernán Henríquez Lora got me excited and so I came here. So I’ve always had in my heart and in my baggage this interwoven history of Cuba and the Dominican Republic.

Sanchez: And journalism? Does that also come from your family tree?

Haza: My father was the first face that appeared on television, when television arrived in the Dominican Republic in 1952. Of course, to introduce, in turn, the boss.

Sanchez: Trujillo?

“I have trauma with dictatorships. (…) Trujillo removed seven members of the family of my father”

Haza: Yes, and that’s why I have a trauma with dictatorships. Although many people think I’m against the Cuban government out of convenience, because I live in Miami. It’s not that. It’s out of conviction. The Trujillo dictatorship eliminated seven members of my father’s family. So I grew up with the trauma of Latin American militarism. To the point that I don’t even have friends who know how to march. Everything it martial, everything is strict orders, I reject it. In this sense I’m a species in permanent opposition to all dictatorships

Sanchez: I have also heard you have a great music collection. Is that true?

Haza: Music is my psychiatrist. Instead of paying a psychotherapist, I buy discs … or I bought discs in another era, now no, because everything is on the internet. The music determines the mood. I listen to everything. I am a great admirer of Beethoven and Claude Debussy. The other day I had the opportunity to enjoy one of the best pianists I’ve ever heard and it was a Cuban, Jorge Luis Prats and he was playing Brahms.

But I also like dance music … I’m Caribbean! Imagine our islands: Cuba, the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico have inspired the public to dance, the whole world.

Sanchez: And you also like reggaeton?

Haza: Reggaeton is great! No matter the genre, music is divided into good music or bad music.

Sanchez: This long involvement in the topic of Cuba, has it included a visit to the island?

Haza: I’ve been twice. The first was in 1988 and I went with the delegation of Cardinal O’Connor from New York. I went to see my father who was in Santo Domingo and I told him I was going to Cuba. So he asked me, “And that won’t cause problems for you in Miami?” “Well, I hope not because I’m going with the church,” I answered. He said, “Ah… that soothes me, because two thousand years knows more than thirty,” which was how long the system had been in power at that time.

Sanchez: You came at an interesting time, because shortly afterwards the scandal of the Ochoa case broke.

Haza: I enjoyed that trip, because I had finally come to Cuba after having heard all the versions of my grandparents, my aunts and the versions of Cuba that are here in Florida. I had a personal list to go to the neighborhoods that interested me. I did a lot of things, I interviewed Ricardo Bofill for television in the Mañana neighborhood in Guanabacoa. Then I interviewed Elizardo Sanchez in the Vibora neighborhood. It was a difficult time when there was a rupture in the Cuban opposition movement, so I interviewed the two of them.

My second trip was when the Pope went to Cuba in 1998. The experience was different, it was more irregular. Then I went to my family’s house in Matanzas, which was behind the Cathedral. It was unforgettable.

Sanchez: What has been your most difficult interview?

“What would you say if a Cuban went to Argentina to shoot and kill Argentinians?”

Haza: Mercedes Sosa. I did not know that she was suffering from depression. I had a one-hour program with her. She came, sat looking at the floor and when I asked her a question she answered only in monosyllables. I looked at the clock and it was five past eight. The program ended at nine. What do I do, I asked myself. So I said, I have to say something to get a reaction from her; then it occurred to me: “What would you say if a Cuban went to Argentina to shoot and kill Argentinians?” That woke her up and we began the interview.

I also interviewed Fidel Castro in Bogota at the Tequendama hotel, during the inauguration of Ernesto Samper. It was something sui generis because it was the day after the Maleconazo. The Air Force refused to give him military honors when he arrived for the tribute because he had been supporting the FARC and the Colombian Left. I heard about the situation, so during the interview I asked several questions about the Maleconazo and the embargo but left to end the question, “And is this your first time in Bogota after the Bogotazo?” He quickly responded to me, “Yes, and if they tell me I’m in New York I would believe it… it’s changed so much,” so he went with the tourist line.

I was also a war correspondent in Central America and lived terrible moments, like the day they killed a colleague right next to me.

'Mega TV' Studios in Miami. (14ymedio)
‘Mega TV’ Studios in Miami. (14ymedio)

Sanchez: When you do interviews with Cuban dissidents and question them about internal issues in front of the cameras, do you have a dilemma between giving arms to the government, versus not touching on these sensitive issues?

Haza: I always have that dilemma. But as a journalist it’s my job to report. We journalists are the witnesses to history. We are here to tell it. We can’t control the consequences. To opt for self-censorship would be to choose our worst enemy. Things have to be said, but with the social responsibility that we have. Our job is to reveal the truth.

Sanchez: Suppose now you’re in a TV studio in Havana, who would you like to interview there?

Haza: The job surprises me when I’ve been with people in the villages, those who have no voice, they’ve given me spectacular stories. One of the interviews I would like is with a boy or girl to know how they see the world of the adults and the Cuban reality. Children are very authentic and very honest. I would also like to interview a great poet.

Sanchez: Do you think you’ll soon be doing these interviews in Cuba?

Haza: I think so, because now those who don’t want change call themselves revolutionaries. There is nothing more anti-revolutionary and anti-dialectical than to say everything is already changed and there’s nothing to do. That is the main enemy of those who today defend the status quo. I think so, because despite the will of the ruling class changes in Cuba are close.

A Management Success: The Butcher Shops without Flies / 14ymedio, Victor Ariel Gonzalez

A client leaves The Golden Pig (14ymedio)
A client leaves The Golden Pig (14ymedio)

14ymedio, Victor Ariel Gonzalez, Havana / 6 November 2014 — It’s ten in the morning, and the Golden Pig is packed with customers. On entering, one detects the intense odor of smoked meat mixed with the aroma of ripe guavas. Two salesmen work behind the counter, and a third places fruits in their boxes.

They almost have no time to assist the journalist who is interested in knowing how they have managed to start this business. This is not just any market; there are electronic scales, vertical refrigerators, air conditioning and — most surprising – the cleanliness and organization are infinitely superior to those of the typical farmers’ markets of Havana, those built hurriedly under zinc plates where flies swarm and mud has stained everything.

Here it is different. This is a small shop inside a building at the corner of Linea and 10 in Vedado. They threw cement on the floor and oiled it, installed dark windows and put an attractive label over the glass. “We took two months to prepare this,” says one of the workers when he can finally answer some questions. “You already saw that it is full,” the man continues. “In December I imagine that we are going to even need a doorman!” Success has come to them quickly since they have only been open a few weeks.

The Golden Pig functions as a cooperative. On one of the walls, over the counter, hangs the license that the State grants for this form of private activity that is gaining momentum and opening new businesses at several locations in the city.

So, for example, there is also El Barrio market, close to the embassy of the Czech Republic. It is easy to pass by if you are not familiar with it because, seen from outside, the closed garage does not have much paint for being a business. Inside, the presentation of products is even more attractive than the previous place. They possess a big refrigerated counter with all the offers in view, already packaged and with labels printed in Cuban pesos. They have a shiny machine for making slices at the customer’s request and an area in back where they prepare the packages. There are not those so disagreeable odors that one usually smells in the state butcher shops that sell in CUC (hard currency).

There are not those so disagreeable odors that one usually smells in the state butcher shops that sell in CUC

In El Barrio a saleslady explains how a business of this type can be pulled off. The required license is “retail seller of agricultural products” and is sought in the municipal offices of the Ministry of Work and Social Security. “It took us five months to take the necessary steps for the permit, but the advantage of this activity is that we do not need a health certificate like our suppliers,” she says before assisting another recently-arrived customer.

“Although we have to pay a lot in taxes, we manage to profit,” says a staff member at the Golden Pig. The prices on the boards are well above what the pocketbook of the common man can pay, although similar to those found elsewhere. “Our advantage is that we have made a different presentation, and people like that,” say the workers of the other store.

Mind you, it will never be possible to find beef in any of these businesses. Not even cow’s milk or its derivatives. The yogurt they offer in one of these butcher shops, where they sell several types of foods, is made with goat’s milk. Neither are they permitted to trade in imported products.

In spite of the administrative tethers and the enormous limitations that the government places on the offer of products, private initiative little by little paves the way in this economy that insists on calling itself “socialist” and “planned.” Nevertheless, the paltry purchasing power of the population means few Cubans can give themselves the luxury of entertaining their families with a pork leg – a month’s average salary – and some mouthwatering fresh lettuce leaves wrapped in clear plastic.

Translated by MLK