Scooters Ease The Problem Of Public Transport / 14ymedio, Yosmany Mayeta Labrada and Mario Penton

Scooters do not require registration and the only license required is one to drive light equipment. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yosmany Mayeta Labrada and Mario Penton, Havana/Miami, 8 March 2017 — Carlos began to travel to Ecuador when Cubans did not need a visa. He brought back clothes and appliances to sell in the informal market, until he discovered a more lucrative business: the import of electric scooters, the flagship product of those who do not want to wait hours for a bus or pay the fares charged by the fixed-route shared taxis known as almendrones (after the “almond” shape of the classic American cars widely used in this service).

At first, he sold these light vehicles discreetly from his garage on 23rd Street, centrally located in Havana’s Vedado district, he told 14ymedio. He asked between 2,500 and 3,000 Cuban Convertible pesos* for each bike, three to four times his investment. It was a “solid business,” he confesses.

“So we had several months until things went bad,” he recalls, referring to the visa controls that the government of Rafael Correa imposed on Cubans at the end of 2015. continue reading

The visa waiver Cubans had enjoyed in Ecuador since 2008, along with the immigration reform approved by Raúl Castro in 2013, led to an “airlift” with thousands of trips made each year by private individuals, allowing them to supply the Cuban informal market with products from the Andean nation. As the Ecuadorian door closed, there were other shopping destinations, including Russia, Guyana and Trinidad and Tobago.

For Yamilet García, a Cuban based in Miami, the ‘motorinas’, as they are called, are ‘a blessing’

“It is now more difficult” to find customers who are willing to pay what he was formerly able to charge for an electric scooters, explains Carlos. “There are a lot of people traveling,” so the number of “scooters of different brands and colors” has soared.

In South Florida, where the largest concentration of Cubans outside the Island is located, this business opportunity did not go unnoticed.

Yudelkis Barceló, owner of the agency Envios y Más based in Miami, explained to 14ymedio that for the last three years they have been in the business of shipping electric scooters to Cuba.

“The customer acquires the product and in a period of six to eight weeks they can pick it up at the Palco agency, west of Havana. Payment is made in Miami. The company offers Voltage brand bikes of 750 Watts and 1,000 Watts, which cost $1,450 and $1,600 respectively, plus customs costs (70 Cuban Convertible pesos (CUC) plus 400 Cuban pesos (CUP) in the first case; and 170 CUC plus 400 CUP in the second case).

There are also other models of scooters: the Ava Aguila costs 1,950 CUC, the Hornet is 1,850 CUC and the Mitshozuki is 1,750 CUC.

Barceló notes that the shipment of this equipment is intended for personal use only, so his company does not violate the US embargo. Shipments are made by sea.

Another circumstance that favors scooters is that they do not have to be registered and can be driven with a license to drive light equipment

For Yamilet Garcia, a Miami-based Cuban, the motorinas, as they are called, are “a blessing.”

“Everybody knows what transportation is like in Cuba. I sent one to my brother who lives in Cotorro and he’s happy because he doesn’t have to wait for the bus or take the shared-taxis,” he says.

The Caribbean Express agency is another company that sends motorinas to the Island.

“They are taking four to five months” to be delivered, explains one of the sales agents who for protocol reasons prefers not to be identified.

“Only the Palco agency receives this type of product because it has the scanner to analyze them, so there is a delay,” he adds.

Another popular article among relatives who send products to Cuba are electric bicycles, much cheaper than scooters and with speeds of between 15 mph and 30 mph.

The deterioration of public transport, which has intensified in recent months, has contributed to a rebound in orders

On the Island you can buy the 60 volt LT1060 model with a three phase 1000 watt motor that the Angel Villareal Bravo Company of Santa Clara assembles from components from China.

These are higher powered bikes compared to those previously produced by that factory, and they are capable of reaching speeds of up to 30 mph. They have hand controls to activate the horn, digital screen and disk brakes, among other features.

This model “has characteristics similar to those currently imported by many individuals” and will be sold in the government chain of “TRD stores at a price of 1,261 CUC,” Elier Pérez Pérez, deputy director of the factory explained to the government newspaper Granma, saying they expect to produce 5,000 units by the end of the year.

The deterioration of public transport, which has intensified in recent months, has contributed to a rebound in orders.

Many motorists and passers-by complain, “If anybody hits you, they flee and you can not even see a license plate to complain about it”

Another circumstance that favors scooters is that they do not have to be registered and can be driven with a license to drive light equipment. A condition that many riders do not meet.

However, many motorists and passers-by complain, “If anybody hits you, they flee and you can not even see a license plate to complain about it,” says Pascual, a driver of a state vehicle.

“I’ve even found children under 16 driving these things,” he complains.

“I take care of it like it’s my child and the truth is that it has saved me from a thousand problems,” says Maikel, a computer engineer with a Voltage Racing bike.

His problems go in another direction. “There are few parking lots where I can feel safe leaving the bike and the cars don’t show me any respect on the road,” he complains.

However, he says that the motorina has totally changed his life by giving him a freedom of movement that he did not have before.

*Translator’s note: Cuba has two currencies. Cuban Convertible pesos are officially worth one US dollar each, although transaction fees raise the cost for foreigners converting money on the island. Cuban pesos are worth roughly 4 cents US each.

Mexico Deports 49 Cuban Migrants / 14ymedio

Hundreds of Cubans have been stranded in various countries of Latin America on their journey to the United States. (Archive)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana. 13 March 2017 – Mexico’s National Institute of Migration (INM) reported in a press release that on Monday morning it repatriated 49 Cubans who were in the country in an irregular situation. At 7:30 a.m. (local time) they were sent on a Federal Police plane from Quintana Roo to Jose Marti Airport in Havana.

The migrants – 40 men and nine women – had arrived in Mexico on different dates and were waiting to obtain a transit permit that would have allowed them to reach the US border.

Since the ending of the previous US wet foot/dry foot immigration policy, the Mexican government no longer gives Cubans without visas trnsit permits, which allow foreigners without recognized nationality to legally travel for 20 days through the country.

In contrast, Mexican authorities have since implemented a bilateral agreement with Havana, which allows the return of citizens of the Caribbean country, if the Cuban consulate in Mexico recognizes their Cuban citizenship.

According to the official Cubadebate newspaper, between January 12 – the end of the previous US immigration policy – and February 15, 264 Cubans were deported by the Mexican INM following the same procedure.

As of February 18, a total of 680 migrants were repatriated to the island from different countries, mostly from the United States.

The Nomads Of The Commerce Travel The Towns Of Cuba / 14ymedio, Bertha Guillen

Street vendors move from one town to another to offer food, household goods and other products. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Bertha K. Guillen, Candelaria, Cuba, 13 March 2017 — Apples, disposable diapers and fried foods are some of the products on display on the stands of the traveling fairs that make the rounds of Cuban towns. Nomadic caravans that recall the circuses of the olden days, but without the jugglers or wild beasts.

Rosario González is 47 years old and lives in Los Palacios, Pinar del Río. For a decade he was employed at a state coffee shop, but a few years ago he decided to have his own business. Now he dedicates himself to preparing and selling snacks in a nomadic fair that travels throughout the west of the Island. continue reading

Rosario’s competition is strong, and he must add new options and products to make his offerings more attractive. At the end of February there were some 539,952 people with self-employment licenses. Of these, 59,700 are engaged in preparing and selling food.

The group keeps tabs on patron saint parties, carnivals or any local festival. They arrive at the place and set up their improvised stands

The license to engage in this occupation allows the seller to move from one municipality to another and also between provinces. “I had some neighbors who were involved in this business and I realized that it was worth it. So I threw myself into it,” Rosario tells 14ymedio.

This man from Pinar del Rio is part of a group that keeps tabs on patron saint parties, carnivals, or any kind of local festival. They arrive at the place and set up their improvised stands, made out of the same metal cots they sleep on at night.

The merchants go from here to there and spend the greatest part of their time on the highways, roads and public plazas. Some of them don’t even have homes and choose the traveling business without ties to any place they can return to. They are this century’s nomads, in a country that has a housing deficit of 600,000 units.

“At the beginning it was a little complicated, because my previous life was so peaceful,” says Rosario. The state café where he worked was known as “the king of the flies” because it had very few products and even fewer customers. He then took a risky step and now he is used to the “festive atmosphere and the crowds of people.”

In a nearby timbiriche – the Cuban word for a tiny commercial stand – is Yaumara, a jewelry seller born in Bahia Honda. She displays necklaces, rings for all sizes, and jewelry made from surgical steel, very popular among those who can’t afford gold or silver.

“I always liked a party,” the merchant confesses, so her current job “is easier” for her.

When the swarm of vendors arrive in a town they register at the municipal Physical Planning Office. They rent a space for their flea market and show their licenses from the National Tax Administration Office (ONAT), which allows them to engage in activities ranging from the sale of good to the management of children’s games.

They take care of each other and warn of possible police controls. When an inspector demands they report on a colleague, everyone remains silent

Among the sellers bonds of friendship and family are created. In the caravan there are several married couples and some have even found love along the road. They take care of each other and warn of possible police controls. When an inspector demands they report on a colleague, everyone remains silent.

Despite the restrictions on selling imported merchandise, many products sold at the fairs come from Panama, Russia or the United States. What they display openly is only a small part of what they have on offer. “Here we have something for every taste and pocketbook,” says a home-appliance salesman who also offers light hardware.

Another part of the merchandise comes from the network of hard currency stores managed by the State. In towns where shortages are a much more chronic problem than in provincial capitals, resale has become a widespread practice. The merchants supply sponges for scrubbing, pens, flip-flops and belts.

Despite the strict controls of the inspectors, the street vending business is attractive to many self-employed. (14ymedio)

“We sell at retail and that’s good because there are people who can’t afford a packet of detergent but can buy the small bags we repackage it into,” says Maurilio, who has spent at least five years “in these comings and goings.”

The group evaluates how long to stay in each village. “We see how things are, the atmosphere of partying and how sales go on the first day, then we decide whether to stay or not,” clarifies the entrepreneur.

Most of the inhabitants of the hamlets and settlements welcome them. “I look forward to the fair because it is an opportunity to buy things for the house and also my children love it,” says a resident of Candelaria. However, some residents closer to the points of sale complain that the travelers sleep on porches or take care of their personal needs in the street.

Some residents closer to the points of sale complain that the travelers sleep on the porches or take care of their ‘personal needs’ in the street

Ernesto and Uvisneido have solved that problem. Coming from the distant city of Guantánamo, they entered the business with a supply of toy cars. With the profits they bought a small trailer with three bunk beds and a bathroom. “So we do not have to sleep outdoors,” says Ernesto.

“We also have a dragon toy, a small inflatable jumping structure and a swinging chair carnival-type ride,” he adds. His customers are children who pay about 5 Cuban pesos for each turn on the ride or for a few minutes of jumping on the inflatable.

“There is always some inspector who spoils the party, but with this work we make out,” says Ernesto. Traders who have not managed to get a trailer to sleep in at night, set up their cots anywhere and pay a guard to patrol the vicinity.

With the first rays of the sun, they need to begin to proclaim their products or undertake the journey to the next town. Trade nomads know that their business only works if they travel everywhere.

“This Job Is Not To Make Money”/ 14ymedio

Satisfactorily completing a three-day course is necessary before completing the contract and obtaining the license to take over a newspaper stand as a self-employed activity. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 9 March 2017 – The Cuban state has begun a gradual process of privatizing the sale of the official press in kiosks. Without announcing the measure in the official media, the kiosks operated by the “self-employed” have recently been authorized to engage in this activity under a “postal agent” license (which is among the 201 private occupations legalized in 2013), as reported by 14ymedio in an extensive article by Miriam Celaya this Thursday.

“We have five kiosks, but they are already occupied by self-employed workers,” says an employee at the Post Office located at 26th Street in Havana. The worker explains that “an interested party should locate a kiosk where they want to work and request it… Once hired, the kiosk operator should come and get the press here before eight in the morning,” she adds. continue reading

“For every newspaper I sell I earn 10 centavos in Cuban pesos (CUP) (a fraction of a cent US) and if it’s the Orbe I earn 20 centavos,” explains a kiosk operator on 26th and 41st streets. “The problem is that almost all the other publications are not available,” he complains. “Bohemia has not arrived, there is no Palante or Muchacha,” he says in relation to several missing publications.

“I get between 150 and 200 daily newspapers so I don’t earn much,” explains the self-employed operator. “This job is not to make money,” he said. The three-day course that entrepreneurs must take to occupy one of these places is “a routine thing,” he says. “Almost everything they told us was to show us where to get the papers and the details of the prices.”

For each copy of ‘Granma’, ‘Juventud Rebelde’ and ‘Trabajadores’, kiosqueros pay 19 centavos for a paper that sells at retail for 20 centavos

The self-employed woman at the Tulipan and Loma street kiosk supplies “many teachers, because they are required to have the paper but it’s not given to them.” She complains about the low profits due to the “lateness of the press.” For her, it’s important “that the publications come on time, but by the time most of them arrive they are already old news.” The woman has to go to a nearby post office to get the dailies and says, “I have to transport them myself, because most of those engaged in this work are elderly* and they can’t carry very much.”

For each copy of GranmaJuventud Rebelde and Trabajadores, the kiosk operators pay 19 centavos for a paper that sells at retail for 20 centavos (roughly one cent US). According to a calculation made by 14ymedio of the number of copies received each day or, when applicable, each week (181 Granma, 116 Juventud Rebelde, 199 Tribuna, 169 Trabajadores, in addition to the magazines: 27 Orbe and 41 Bohemia), the kiosk operators would earn about five Cuban pesos a month, if all their papers and magazines sold at the stated prices.

However, the private operators have to pay a monthly fee of 10 Cuban pesos for the license and the same for the use of the kiosk. Once these expenses are deducted, it is clear that the kiosk operators pay the state to sell the official press, not the reverse as would be normal. The self-employed are able to assume these expenses because they commonly collect more for each copy sold – in general buyers will offer one Cuban peso instead of 20 centavos** – but that is entirely up to the willingness of the buyers.

Translator’s notes:

*It is common for the elderly to informally buy a stack of papers and then walk around reselling them – providing a convenience for customers by making the papers available everywhere. They earn a little money because the customers willingly “overpay” for the papers, in exchange for the convenience and as a way to help out old people with very meager pensions.

**In this example the entrepreneur would earn a “profit” of about 3-4 cents US on each paper sold.

Utopia’s Courtesans / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

”Jineteras” accompany tourists on a Cuban beach. (Cuban  Human Rights Observatory)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 11 March 2017 — An aging prostitute is like a book with tattered pages depicting the life of a nation. A survival manual to approach the vagaries of reality, to learn about its most carnal and, at times, most sordid parts. Many of the courtesans of Utopia in Cuba are already octogenarians. They have gone from caressing the chests of their bearded idols to the arthritis they struggle with as they stand in long lines to buy bread.

More than half a century ago this island decreed the end of the exchange of sex for money. No one, ever again, would sell their body for a little food, a social position or a better job. Hookers were a thing of the capitalist past and in a country heading for Utopia there was no room for such weakness. They had to transform themselves into militants, outstanding workers and the irreproachable mothers of the New Man. continue reading

But prostitution, alas, continues to exist. Like the national lottery that was submerged in illegality after being outlawed, and the jokes against the Maximum Leader shared in whispers, the world’s oldest profession hid in the shadows. Clients were no longer nationals with a few pesos to spend at the nearest brothel, nor sailors eager to recuperate in the tropics from their long days of abstinence on the high seas.

Hookers were a thing of the capitalist past and in a country heading for Utopia there was no room for such weakness

Instead, the goal for socialist courtesans was to end up between the sheets with a guerrilla down from the Sierra Maestra, capture some senior leader of the Communist Party, or hook up with a government minister who would provide a car, a trip abroad or a house. Cash was not a part of the operation. She caressed him and he paid her with power. Those were the years of revolutionary polygamy in which a commander who was respected needed as many lovers as medals.

The pimp was transformed. There was a proliferation of heads of protocol who connected these dedicated compañeras with foreign guests of the Plaza of the Revolution. In tightly-fitting outfits they brightened the parties where Latin American guerrillas exchanged toasts with Basque separatists, union leaders and Eastern Europe diplomats. They laughed and flirted. A Revolution is pure love, they thought.

The fall of the Soviet Union caused a cataclysm in those beds where sweat and influence, semen and privileges, were exchanged. With the end of the subsidy coming from the Kremlin, and the economic reforms officialdom was forced to undertake, money regained its ability to be converted into goods, services and caresses. The new generation of prostitutes had read Karl Marx, declaimed the works of Cuba’s national poet Nicolás Guillén, and thrown flowers into the sea after the disappearance of Camilo Cienfuegos. They were, Fidel Castro said, the most educated prostitutes in the world.

The new generation of prostitutes had read Karl Marx, declaimed the works of Cuba’s national poet Nicolás Guillén, and thrown flowers into the sea after the disappearance of Camilo Cienfuegos. They were, Fidel Castro said, the most educated prostitutes in the world

International tourism came into play in the mid-1990s with canned drinks, hotels where Cubans were not allowed to enter, and the companionable ladies renamed jineteras (female jockeys). Official propaganda had shouted all over the world that Cuba was, before January of 1959, “the brothel of the Americas”; not it but collided with the evidence that the island had become the whorehouse of Europeans and Canadians.

These were the years of shortages and ridiculous prices. A bar of soap, a bottle of shampoo or a pair of shoes was enough to buy the favors of these young women who had been trained to inhabit the future and ended up in bed with men three times their age who couldn’t even pronounce their names. The dream that many of them now caressed was summed up in a marriage contract, emigration and a new life far from Cuba.

Today, many of these graceful courtesans – who swarmed around the discos in their colorful outfits – have become mothers and grandmothers walking with their offspring through the parks of Milan, Berlin or Toronto. With their pensions they buy apartments on the island and return willing to pay for a young lover who sighs before the passport with the new nationality that they acquired with the sweat of their pelvis.

They are the graceful survivors of a hard battle, but others only achieved venereal diseases, long nights in jail cells, and the treatment of rude clients who haggled until the last kiss.

The official response against the jineteras concentrated on repression. Arrests, prison sentences and forced deportations to their province of origin were some of the rigors these sex workers had to suffer. The pimp became important in direct proportion to the risks on the street. Now, many wait in a room, get a client, collect the money and manage their lives.

The well-known pingueros were not as shamed by the police in a country where the macho tradition does not stigmatize equally merchandise that comes packaged in a young man’s body

Male prostitution also flourished. The well-known pingueros were not as shamed by the police in a country where the macho tradition does not stigmatize equally merchandise that comes packaged in a young man’s body. They manage to circumvent surveillance and fill every space in the national territory where visitors are betrayed by their accents. They populate the wall of the Malecon, show off their meaty biceps on the most touristy beaches, and most offer a unisex service that doubles their opportunities and swells their incomes.

Because money, alas, continues to buy bodies. Much more so at a time when a new class stumbles to emerge among the economic spoils. The new rich do not wear military uniforms, but run private restaurants or administer a joint venture. With them, the national client has returned to the picture of Cuban prostitution.

The increase in social inequalities and the tourist boom that the island has experienced since the beginning of the diplomatic thaw between Havana and Washington have also fueled the carnal market. In 2016 the country reached the record number of four million international visitors. Once again, customers arriving from the country to our north are the most popular, those gringos that the official propaganda thought had been removed from the brothels.

These women throw themselves into the arms of tourists because “they cannot meet the basic needs of food, clothing and footwear”

At the recent International Symposium on Gender Violence, Prostitution, Sex Tourism and Trafficking in Persons, held last January in Havana, a researcher from the Interior Ministry revealed alarming figures. Of a group of 82 prostitutes studied, the majority were “mixed-race, followed by white and black, coming from dysfunctional and permissive families, living in overcrowded conditions.”

These women throw themselves into the arms of tourists because “they cannot meet the basic needs of food, clothing and footwear.” One in three began in the trade before age 18 and “charge between $50 and $200,” depending on the service they provide.

They do not seek luxuries, but crumbs. They are the granddaughters of those courtesans who panted between slogans and privileges.

Editorial Note: This text was published in Spanish on Saturday March 11 in the Spanish newspaper El País .

El Templete’s Ceiba Dies / 14ymedio

Since last year’s 497th anniversary of the founding of the city, passerby have noticed the quick deterioration of the new ceiba tree. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 9 March 2017 – The new ceiba tree of El Templete was in place for just one year. The tree itself was 15-years-old but did not survive being replanted at the place where the Villa of San Cristobal of Havana was founded. It had been planted to replace a legendary ceiba, but it dried up until it was just a trunk with a single leaf on one of its branches.

This Thursday, finally, the local authorities have removed what was left of the young replacement tree. In its place there is now only a huge hole surrounded by the dirt that was dug out, that Havanans look at with resignation and tourists with curiosity.

In its place there is now only a huge hole surrounded by the dirt that was dug out, that Havanans look at with resignation and tourists with curiosity

Since last year’s 497th anniversary of the founding of the city, passersby have noticed its speedy deterioration. During the realization of the traditional circling around the tree that takes place every November 16 at midnight, several of those engaged in the ritual noticed that it was “more dead than alive.”

The previous ceiba met its end because it had been devoured by termites from inside, but the new one never really “took” in the place, according to a newspaper seller who offers his papers in the Plaza de Armas.

The Cuban capital is now left without one of its historic symbols.

The Private Sale of the Official Press is Legalized / 14ymedio, Miriam Celaya

Satisfactorily completing a three-day course is necessary before completing the contract and obtaining the license to take over a newspaper stand as a self-employed activity. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 9 March 2017 — On one of the side walls, inside a small newspaper stand on Avenida 26, in Nuevo Vedado (Havana), an unusual sign announces: “This stand became private property.”

The event is unique. The elderly self-employed man behind the counter is normally cautious. Survival instinct has taught Cubans to mistrust those who ask too many questions, particularly when what’s in play is the relative security of some additional monetary income to round off the meager retirement income.

However, when an informal conversation is established, some information and small details always surface which, at least in principle, confirm that a new secret experiment has been initiated by the State-Party-Government: the process of legal privatization of the sale of the main ideological weapon of the revolution: the press. continue reading

The truth about the new measure that includes the commercialization of the official press as a sole proprietorship activity was confirmed by Yordanka Díaz, director of the Cuban Postal Service, Habana-Centro

It is obvious, in addition, that this event is taking place barely three months after the death of the infamous creator of the information monopoly, as soon as the last prop tears of his faithful have dried up and in the midst of constant invocations in the press “to his memory, his legacy and his work.” No one can ignore that the colossal Castro press, and especially the Granma newspaper, was the apple of Fidel Castro’s eye, who commanded it for decades from his office, from where he was taken daily through the tunnel connecting the Granma building with the Palace of the Revolution, for his final approval, before going to press.

The true nature of the information about the new measure that includes the commercialization of the official press as a sole proprietorship activity was confirmed to this publication by Yordanka Díaz, director of the Cuban Postal Service Habana-Centro, in the Plaza of the Revolution municipality. “It is necessary to satisfactorily complete a 3-day course, after which the contract is made and then the worker must go to the National Office of Tax Administration (ONAT) to try to obtain his license.”

The official director added that, in the municipality under her management, there are at least three vacant places to negotiate a newspaper stand. So far, those who have filled the previous vacancies are retired workers or housewives returning to the workforce.

Although the vendor at the Avenida 26 location has misgivings that make him seem unwilling to reveal many details, it is obvious that he is more satisfied with his new status as self-employed, than that of his former status as an employee of the State. “Before, the State paid me a salary of 120 Cuban pesos a month, now I must pay 10 pesos a day. The price of a newspaper is still 20 cents in national currency, so I would have to sell 300 newspapers to earn 3 pesos, but people ‘help me’, some leave me a peso or 50 cents The state does not have to pay me a salary, but it charges me 300 a month; they win, I earn more now …and everyone is happy.”

The State will not distribute the newspapers to the sellers working as “self-employed,” which is another advantage, as it frees itself from transportation costs

The vendor does not reveal that, in fact, his greatest gain is in the established practice of selling wholesale to unlicensed street dealers, or informal home delivery, where there is a fixed minimum monthly rate of 30 Cuban pesos, which may be higher if the customer receives more than one daily newspaper. It is not a business that yields significant profits, but it does not require much effort or investment, and it helps to put food on the table.

Something else that’s new is that the State will not distribute the papers to the sellers working as “self-employed,” rather it will be the responsibility of the vendors to pick up and transport the papers to their individual stands, which is another advantage for the State, since transportation costs from the printing locations to the stands throughout the city are no longer the State’s responsibility. There is also a fixed allocation of newspapers for each seller, in order to avoid hoarding.

The vendor becomes more talkative as the conversation progresses. “They say they are going to repair the kiosks, which are in very bad condition, they are going to fix the ceilings and paint them, but I’m not sure about that. The stands are theirs, the sales, mine.”

Sign placed at the Avenida 26 Post Office in Havana, with guidelines to follow in the distribution of number of copies of publications to be delivered to self-employed newspaper vendors. (14ymedio)

“But I can only sell newspapers, no magazines, no books, no calendars or anything like that,” the old man explains. “But it’s okay, I don’t complain. It’s always easier to unload newspapers; people buy them more readily than they do magazines. They even buy old newspaper… imagine, of course they’ll sell, seeing how difficult it is to get toilet paper!”

At this point, everything has a certain logic, though it would seem, at least paradoxical, that the airtight press monopoly – so pure, so anti-capitalist, so Marxist – has consented, at least partially, to the commercialization of this important “trench” to the private sector, even if it is such a humble and low-profit activity as the sale of newspapers, usually taken over by retirees or other low-income workers.

However, taking into account the calamitous economic situation and the high costs arising from this archaic way of disseminating information, the State is compelled to exploit any way of lightening the load that results from the maintenance of a printed press monopoly in a country where limited and costly internet access, coupled with the Government’s imperative need to control information, prevents the absolute digitization of the media.

This way, the government is tied to its own Gordian knot: the monopoly of the press and the country’s laughable internet access are musts for the regime if it wants to keep the population uninformed or ill-informed, without other alternative sources of information about what is happening in the world or even within the nation, and without the possibility of comparing the news offered by the official media. But this, in turn, forces the government to sustain an unaffordable industry of the press in the middle of an economic crisis that produced negative numbers in 2016 and threatens an even more unfortunate 2017.

Allowing the sale of newspapers as a non-state activity, the government has simply legalized another black market item, since, for many years and to date, the private (illegal) sale of the official press has existed

In reality, the rationing process of the official press machinery has been showing signs for a long time. Recently, the country’s main newspaper, Granma, with only eight pages (four flat sheets) renewed its old and recharged design, not so much to improve its print quality and presentation – which remain aesthetically deplorable – but to save ink. For a long time there has been only one national edition in circulation.

Now, by allowing the sale of newspapers as a non-state activity, the Government has simply legalized another black market item – a phenomenon that has marked the entire “list” of what is regulated for the private sector – since for many years and to date the private (illegal) sale of the official press has existed, carried out by elderly and needy people who, not trying to disguise the act, and with their face uncovered, loudly yell out the headlines and sell without fuss in the middle of the road, buying the papers at 20 centavos and selling them at the price of one peso in national currency. In short, the black market of the official press has been legalized.

Curiously, this new form of self-employment has not been reviewed by the official press, although it is news of a clear symbolic meaning.

Translated by Norma Whiting

José Daniel Ferrer: “This Type Of Assault Does Not Discourage Us” / 14ymedio

Police also raided six properties of UNPACU members on Wednesday. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 9 March 2017 — The leader of the Patriotic Union of Cuba, José Daniel Ferrer, was released Thursday after being detained for more than 24 hours. The opponent denounced an “increase in the repression” against the activists of his movement, in a phone call to 14ymedio a few minutes after his release.

“The search of the homes began at six in the morning,” explains Ferrer, who was taken out of his home at eight o’clock in the morning this Wednesday and taken to the First Police Unit of Santiago de Cuba, known as Micro 9.

The former prisoner of the Black Spring explains that the police raided six properties of UNPACU members. They seized “food, a hard disc, several USB memories, two laptops, five cellphones, seven wireless devices, a stereo, a large refrigerator, an electric typewriter and a camera.” continue reading

“I spent more than six hours in an office with a guard,” Ferrer recalls. “Then they put me in a cell where you could have filmed a horror movie for the amount of blood on the walls of someone who had been cut.”

On 18 December at least nine houses of members of the opposition movement were searched and numerous personal belongings seized by members of the Ministry of the Interior

The dissident was interrogated by an official who identified himself as Captain Quiñones, who threatened to send him to prison for “incitement to violence,” in a recent video posted on Twitter. Ferrer flatly denies the accusation.

During the operation they also confiscated medications such as aspirin, duralgine, acetaminophen and ibuprofen.

“Most of our activists are in high spirits,” says Ferrer. “This type of assault does not discourage us,” he adds. He says that “from November 2015 to date, there have been more than 140” raids of houses of members of the organization.

On 18 December, at least nine houses of members of the opposition movement were searched and numerous personal belongings seized by members of the Ministry of Interior.

Among those who still have not been released are the activists Jorge Cervantes, coordinator of UNPACU in Las Tunas, and Juan Salgado, both of whom are being held in the third police unit in that eastern city. The whereabouts of opponent Esquizander Benítez remain unknown. In addition, about 50 of UNPACU’s militants are being held in several prisons in the country, which makes the it the opposition organization with the most political prisoners in the country.

Do You Want to be Free? / 14ymedio, Jose Azel

In memory of Oswaldo Payá

14ymedio, Jose Azel, Miami, 9 March 2017 – We take as a given that all people aspire to be free, but the idea of ​​individual freedoms is not universally accepted.

Defenders of totalitarian and authoritarian regimes argue that a dictatorial approach to government is moral, just, and necessary. Some preach that a developing nation needs a strong man to effectively promote economic growth without the complications of democracy.

Others feel that an authoritarian government is necessary to ensure law and order. Others prefer monarchies and other hereditary forms of government to protect the traditions and customs of their people. Others believe that their church and government are one and the same, and that their religious beliefs are about selfish desires for freedom. Marxists sacrifice individual freedoms on the altar of collectivism. continue reading

If that is their decision, those believers in the permanent dominion of a single party should be free not to be free, preferably on another planet. But this implies the question of how a society should decide its form of government. The dictatorial response is to remain in power indefinitely, as we can see in totalitarian states such as North Korea and Cuba. The democratic response is to hold free, fair, competitive, multiparty and frequent elections.

The democratic response is to hold free, fair, competitive, multi-party and frequent elections

That is why the Cuba Decide plebiscite project, headed by Rosa Maria Payá Acevedo, seems to me to be a refreshing proposal after nearly six decades of Castro rule in Cuba. Rosa María is the young and eloquent daughter of the late democratic activist Oswaldo Payá, winner of the prestigious European Parliament’s Sakharov Prize for the Freedom of Thought. Rosa María, as president of the Latin American Youth for Democracy Network, continues her father’s work to promote democracy on the tragic island.

The Cuban Decide initiative proposes that voters respond with a simple “Yes” or “No,” to a basic but transcendental question:

Do you agree with free, fair and plural elections, exercising freedom of expression and of the press; and organizing freely in political parties and social organizations with total plurality? Yes or No?

It would be naive to expect the Castro regime to accept such a plebiscite. But, at the very least, promoting the plebiscite provides a strategic tool to stimulate in Cuba and in international forums a solidly focused political debate and public dialogue. The plebiscite focuses attention on the fact that deciding how to be governed is the prerogative of the people, and no one else.

Few would reject the central postulate of the plebiscite that Cubans should be free to decide their future. Even sympathizers of the Castro regime would find it ideologically difficult to refuse to ask such a simple question to the Cuban people.

The only intellectually honest way to oppose a plebiscite that empowers the people in this way would be to argue that the people have nothing to say about their future, and that dictatorships are the preferable forms of government. Not many international leaders would be willing to publicly proclaim that preference.

The idea of ​​the plebiscite offers the leadership of Raúl Castro’s successors an elegant and accepted way of changing course or, alternatively, legitimizing their one-party rule

The Cuba Decide Plebiscite is not a political platform, but rather a tool to begin the change that would be justified if the Cuban people decide, by a “Yes” vote, and that offers the possibility of alternatives. The “No” vote would legitimize the one-party permanent mandate. To some extent the idea of ​​the plebiscite offers the leadership of Raúl Castro’s successors an elegant and accepted way of changing course or, alternatively, legitimizing one-party rule. In post-Castro Cuba, the initiative of the Cuba Decide plebiscite promoted by young people can become a key component of a legitimate transition.

Freedom has consequences, not all of them useful, but it is immoral to deprive the people of their liberties, as dictators do. Our rational approach is our basic way of living. If we cannot act according to our free opinions we can not live fully as human beings. And we need freedom to act according to our reasons.

After decades of living without freedom under a totalitarian government, the Cuba Decide Plebiscite is an initiative promoted by citizens presenting to the Cuban people a question with rational criteria: Do you want to be free? “Yes or No.” Who could oppose such a question? The answer should enlighten us all.

____________

Editor’s Note: José Azel is a senior researcher at the Institute of Cuban and Cuban-American Studies at the University of Miami and author of the book Mañana in Cuba.

Police Forces Assault UNPACU Headquarters, Activists Arrested / 14ymedio

The police clear a house of members of UNPACU (@patriotaliud)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 8 March 2017 — The headquarters of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU) were assaulted by police forces in the early hours of Wednesday. The troops forcibly entered five homes located in the Altamira and José María Heredia areas in Santiago de Cuba, where they arrested a dozen opponents, according to opposition sources.

Two buildings that operate as UNPACU headquarters and three belonging to members of the movement were the object of a wave of searches carried out by agents of the political police and brigades of the National Revolutionary Police (PNR).

The homes were “looted” simultaneously according to activist Ernesto Oliva Torres, who reported that at the main headquarters the troops confiscated “a refrigerator, a television, two laptops, six cordless phones, among other items.” continue reading

Two buildings that operate as UNPACU headquarters and three belonging to members of the movement were the object of a wave of searches carried out by agents of the political police

The searches were accompanied by arbitrary arrests and the interruption of the telephone communications of most of the UNPACU activists.

Among those arrested on Wednesday morning were Liettys Rachel Reyes, Carlos Amel Oliva and his father Carlos Oliva, Alexei Martínez, Ernesto Morán, Juan Salgado, Roilán Zamora, Yriade Hernández, Jorge Cervantes and his wife Gretchen, David Fernández, Miraida Martín, and the national coordinator of the movement, José Daniel Ferrer.

14ymedio was able to confirm that Carlos Amel Oliva was released on Wednesday night, but several of the dissidents remain incommunicado. Oliva’s telephone line had serious problems that prevented the dissident from communicating with the press.

Liettys Rachel Reyes, 30 weeks pregnant, was under arrest for about three hours and then released. The whereabouts of the rest of the detainees remain unknown.

With A Pension Of 240 Pesos, Raquel Survives Thanks To The Trash / 14ymedio, Luz Escobar and Mario Penton

With a system of unsustainable pensions in the medium term, economic recession and a foreseeable impact on social services as a result of the aging population, the country faces one of the biggest challenges in its history. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar/Mario Penton, Havana/Miami, 6 March 2017 — At age 67, struck by old age and a miserable pension, Raquel, an engineer “trained by the Revolution,” scavenges among the garbage for the sustenance of each day. Her hands, which once drew maps and measured spaces where promising crops would grow, are now collecting cartons, cans and empty containers.

“My last name? Why? And I don’t want any photos. I have children and I had a life. I don’t want people to talk about me,” she says while agreeing to tell her story with a certain air of nostalgia and disappointment. “I never thought I would end up a dumpster diver, one of those who digs through the cans in the corners and is the object of jokes.” continue reading

Cuba has become the oldest country in the Americas, according to official data. It has been an accelerated process that surprised even the specialists, who had calculated that the problem would not become acute before 2025.

With a pension system that is unsustainable in the medium term, an economic recession and a foreseeable impact on social services as a result of the aging population, the country is confronting one of the biggest challenges in its history.

The state welfare program does not include those elderly people living under the same roof with relatives. (14ymedio)

“I receive a pension of 240 Cuban pesos a month (less than 10 dollars). From that money I have to spend 50 pesos to pay for the Haier refrigerator that the government gave me [when it switched out older, less energy efficient  models] and an additional 100 pesos for the purchase of medicines,” says Raquel.

Although she is retired, the pharmacy does not subsidize the medicines she needs for her diabetes and hypertension. The state welfare program does not include those elderly people living under the same roof with relatives.

“One of the affects on the country of the aging population is a significant increase in public spending and the decline of the population of childbearing age,” explains Juan Valdez Paz, a sociologist based on the island and author of several books on the subject.

According to the Statistical Yearbook of Cuba, health spending fell from 11.3% of GDP in 2009 to 8% in 2012.

Almost 20% of the Cuban population is over 60, and the country’s fertility rate is 1.7 children per woman. In order to compensate for the population decline, it would be necessary to raise that number to 2.4 children for every female of childbearing age. In 2015 there were 126,000 fewer active people than the previous year.

Almost 20% of the Cuban population is over 60, and the country’s fertility rate is 1.7 children per woman. (14ymedio)

For Valdés, no society is prepared for the demographic difficulties such as those facing Cuba.

One solution could be to increase production or for emigrants to return, according to the specialist. So far both possibilities seem very distant.

In the country there are almost 300 Grandparent Houses (for day care and socialization) and 144 Elder Homes, with a combined capacity of about 20,000 places. The authorities have recognized the poor hygienic and physical situation of many of these premises. Many elderly people prefer to enter the scarce 11 asylums run by religious orders that survive thanks to international aid, an example of which is the Santovenia nursing home, in Havana’s Cerro district.

The cost to use the Grandparents House facilities is 180 Cuban pesos a month, and the Elder Homes cost about 400 Cuban pesos. Social Security grants a subsidy to the elderly who demonstrate to social workers that they can’t pay the cost.

Cuba had one of the most generous and most comprehensive social security systems in Latin America, largely because of the enormous help it received from the Soviet Union, estimated by Mesa-Lago at about 65 billion dollars over 30 years.

The Family Care System allows more than 76,000 low-income elderly people to eat at subsidized prices. (14ymedio)

“Although pensions were never raised, there was an elaborate system provided by the State to facilitate access to industrial products and food at subsidized prices,” explains the economist.

“It annoys me when I hear about how well they care for older adults. They don’t give me any subsides because I live with my son, my daughter-in-law and my two grandchildren, but they have their own expenses and cannot take care of me,” says Raquel.

“I need dentures and if you don’t bring the dentist a gift they make them badly or it takes months,” she adds.

With the end of the Soviet Union and the loss of the Russian subsidy pensions were maintained but their real value fell precipitously. In 1993, the average retiree could barely buy 16% of what their pension would have bought in 1989. At the end of 2015, the purchasing power of pensioners was half of what it had been before the start of the Special Period, according to Mesa-Lago’s calculations.

Raúl Castro’s administration drastically reduced the number of beneficiaries of social assistance in a process that he called “the elimination of gratuities.” From the 582,060 beneficiaries in 2006, some 5.3% of the population, the number fell to 175,106 in 2015, some 1.5% of the population.

Several products that had previously been supplied to everyone through the ration book were also eliminated, such as soap, toothpaste and matches, and now are only available at unsubsidized prices.

In the patio of her house a retiree has created a tool to crush the cans she collects in the streets. (14ymedio)

The government has authorized some assistance programs for the elderly. The Family Care System allows more than 76,000 low-income elderly people to eat at subsidized prices, although it is a small figure considering that there are more than two million elderly people in Cuba.

Some elders receive help from churches and non-governmental organizations.

“People see me collecting cans, but they do not know that I was an avant-garde engineer and that I even traveled to the Soviet Union in 1983, in the Andropov era,” Raquel explains.

When she retired, she had no choice but to devote herself to informal tasks for a living. She cleaned the common areas of buildings inhabited by soldiers and their families in Plaza of the Revolution district, until the demands of this work and her age became incompatible.

“They asked me to wash the glass windows in a hallway on the ninth floor. It was dangerous and because I was afraid to fall, I preferred to leave it, even though they paid well,” she says.

Many elders are selling products made with peanuts or candy in the streets to supplement their income, others ask for alms. (14ymedio)

For each week of work she was paid 125 Cuban pesos, (about 5 dollars) almost half as much as her pension.

Raquel now collects raw material to sell in state-owned stores, although she confesses that she wants “like mad” to get a contract with a small private canning company to sell her empty bottles and avoid the state company and its delays.

In the patio of her house she has created a tool to crush the cans she collects in the streets.

“In January I made 3,900 Cuban pesos from beer cans. Of course, you have to deduct the 500 pesos that I paid for the place in line, because I can not sleep there lying on a porch. Each bag of cans is worth forty pesos. It is eight pesos for a kilogram of cans.”

In Cuba, there are no official statistics on poverty, and the only data available is old. In 1996 a study concluded that in Havana alone, 20.1% of the population were “at risk of not meeting some essential needs.” A survey in 2000 showed that 78% of the elderly considered their income insufficient to cover their living expenses.

The 20,000 places for care of the elderly are insufficient in a country with two million people over 60. (EFE)

Most of the older adults surveyed said their sources of income were mostly pension, support from family living in the country, something from their work and remittances from abroad.

Many elders are dedicated to selling products made with peanuts or candy on the streets to supplement their income. Others resell newspapers or search the garbage for objects they can market and a significant increase in beggars on the streets of the country’s main cities has become apparent.

“It doesn’t bother me to go out in old clothes picking up cans. The one who has to look good is my grandson, who started high school,” says Raquel.

“The boys at school sometimes make fun of him, but my grandson is very good and he is not ashamed of me, or at least he does not show it. He always comes out and defends me from mockery,” she says proudly.

The Day of the Woman in Cuba, More Honored in the Breach / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

On Women’s Day, no protest march is scheduled in Cuba, as if the life of the women in this country was a bed of roses. (Silvia Corbelle)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Generation Y, Yoani Sanchez, 8 March 2017 – Lying in bed, with the light off, feeling each one of her vertebrae howling. After coming home from work she spent four hours in the kitchen, bathed her invalid mother, helped the children with their homework, went shopping and prepared an administrative report. On TV the announcers offer congratulations for the Day of the Woman, but it sounds like a distant echo that does not influence her life.

On March 8, the workplaces end their days earlier, the officials intone mellow speeches and all the stands are sold out of flowers. The news is filled with images of women who cut cane, give life to babies, and carry guns on their shoulders. Nor is there any lack of politics. Officialdom takes advantage of the day to insist that only “after January 1959” have we Cuban women been recognized. continue reading

There are no protest marches, no demands expressed, as if the life of women in this country was a bed of roses

The National Symphonic Orchestra prepares a special concert, the Post Office sells postcards in bad taste, while the Cuba Workers Center – the only legal union in the country – dedicates the day to Fidel Castro and the “eternal president of the Federation of Cuban Women,” Raul Castro’s late wife Vilma Espín Guillois. There are no protest marches, no demands expressed, as if the life of women in this country was a bed of roses.

The noise of the music, the slogans and the triumphalism drown out our complaints. The day, made compulsorily festive, does not allow demands to emerge, nor talk – with bras shed – about the problems that threaten our daily lives. “Today is a day for celebration, not complaining,” many say; but tomorrow other topics will fill the agenda and there will never be “a good time” to talk.

Symptomatically, the initiative of a women’s strike under the slogan #NosotrasParamos (We Stop) does not find space here, although 45 countries have joined the protests to demand equality between men and women. The lack of independence of women’s associations and their subordination to the government prevents the idea of our taking to the streets with posters and demands.

Machismo and gender discrimination fill every space of our daily lives. In the media, a catchy children’s song tells the story of mother ant who urges her daughter to abandon her games and help her iron, sweep and scrub; but the capricious little girl prefers her dolls. In schools, teachers prepare an area of ​​pink kitchens and baby beds for the girls to play in, while they reserve trucks and play weapons for the boys. In workplaces, bosses feel the power to compliment, harass and touch their subordinates, often under the belief that “they like it.”

Power continues to maintain its old-fashioned, cheesy machismo, purportedly “chivalrous”, which veers from flattery to insult towards those in skirts

In the official discourse we are seen as decorative elements, as a necessary gender quota or simple pieces of the ideological gears. Power continues to maintain its old-fashioned, cheesy machismo, purportedly “chivalrous,” which veers from flattery to insult towards those in skirts. The woman who shares their ideology is a “beautiful flower of the Revolution,” the dissident only deserves that hard four-letter word that questions our morality.

The Cuban feminist movement is dead. This system was killed by depriving it of autonomy, extinguishing the discourse of demands and imposing the false premise that women emancipated themselves five decades ago. All a fallacy that hides the drama of millions of women condemned to double or triple working hours, subjected to sexual harassment and surviving every day with a dose of antidepressants.

The entire economic crisis that we have experienced has claimed women as its main victims. The shortages force them into the long lines to buy food and the stress, every day, of having to “invent” a meal. The accelerated emigration has separated them from their children and the layoffs at state workplaces have returned them to the house, back to the hearth.

Where are the figures for the number of women murdered or beaten by their partners? Where can harassed wife who fears the next beating take shelter?

Statistics about women professionals, deputies to the National Assembly, scientists in white coats or athletes, cannot hide the other side. The numbers of battered women, threatened by a boyfriend who has sworn to kill them if he sees them with another, those raped inside or outside of marriage or those who have had to exchange sex for promotions at work.

Where are the figures for the number of women murdered or beaten by their partners? Where can harassed wife who fears the next beating take shelter? Why not talk about femicide in the national media if each of us knows at least some case where a macho rage ended a life?

Today is not a day to celebrate, but to worry. A day of demands that have been extinguished by the music of a machismo reluctant for us to have our own voice.

Disappeared / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

Marino Murillo and Ramón Machado Ventura have been absent from official events for some time, in which their presence would normally be assured. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 7 March 2017 — The two personalities who represent the polar opposites of the so-called process of updating the Cuban model have disappeared. We have seen neither hide nor hair of the “captain” of economic reforms, Marino Murillo, since October of last year, and Jose Ramon Machado Ventura, considered the braking mechanism for any measure that looks like a change, has not appeared in the official media since 27 February.

Murillo did not appear in the images that filled the media during the nine days of the funeral and mourning period of former President Fidel Castro. He was not seen in the last session of the parliament fulfilling his usual role of asking for accountability on the implementation of the Party’s Guidelines. He was not on the viewing platform saluting the troops who marched in the military parade of 2 January, nor at any other significant event of the ruling party during the current year.

On the other hand, rare is the day when the second secretary of the Communist Party, Machado Ventura, does not appear visiting a chicken farm, sausage factory or a sugar mill, moments that he uses to hammer home his slogans of discipline andcontrol, demands that put him in the headlines almost daily in the official press. He is the visible face that exhorts the peasants to produce food and the workers to comply with savings measures.

Absences attract attention as well as presences. What is not said can be as revealing as what is stated

However, the most significant sign that unveils the wide range of suspicions about the whereabouts of this hardliner has been that when Raul Castro returned from his brief trip to Venezuela, the so-often repeated scene of Machado Ventura receiving him at the bottom the airplane stairs was missing. Perhaps this is the first time that images of the general president’s return to the country were not released and that the press didn’t mention who welcomed him.

The last meeting of the Council of Ministers, held on 28 February, was the first of Raul Castro’s presidential term that was not broadcast live on television, nor were photos published in the Party newspaper Granma. Both Murillo and Machado Ventura should have been visible as members of the group of highest ranking decision makers in the country.

Instead, in the official information about the meeting there was a reference to Leonardo Andolla Valdea, deputy chief of the Permanent Commission for the Implementation and Development of the Party Guidelines. He was in charge of saying, on this occasion, what would have normally been said by Murillo, also known as the “czar of the economic reforms.”

It is not serious to spread rumors, much less to invent them. In journalism only the facts must be counted, showing evidence and citing sources. However, under the opaque veil of secrecy in which the most important political and economic events unfold in Cuba, absences attract attention as much as presences. What is not said can be as revealing as what is stated.

After Trump, the Deluge / 14ymedio, Carmelo Mesa Lago

Donald J. Trump addresses the Joint Session of Congress. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Carmelo Mesa Lago, Miami, 5 March 2017 — In his speech to Congress last Tuesday, Donald Trump was magically transformed into a statesman and looked “presidential” for the first time. He offered something for every member of society: new infrastructure, one million jobs, paid maternity leave, cutbacks in the high cost of medicines, special education for students in difficulties, defeat of “Islamic radicalism” and all of this, in unity, without hatred and in support of the resurgence of the nation. Was this a real transformation or just a well-rehearsed reading of a speech written for him and projected onto a screen? In any case, his key proposals did not change, only his tone: A good one-hour speech cannot erase twenty months of incessant stumbling.

Shortly after Trump announced his candidacy in June of 2015, I wrote a statement with Enrique Krauze, signed by 68 prominent Hispanic intellectuals, academics and artists, where we criticized the magnate’s ideas and predicted the disastrous effects of them. There was a prestigious academic who refused to sign the statement because he believed that the clown’s candidacy would quickly evaporate (just like what happened with Hitler). With 45 days in power, the US and the world are already suffering the devastating effects of his nonsense. continue reading

Trump is an egocentric narcissist, an arrogant know-it-all who proclaims himself the best on any subject

Trump is an egocentric narcissist, an arrogant know-it-all who proclaims himself the best on any subject (self-described as “outstanding in his performance”); thus he does not take advice and improvises creating chaos. From the beginning he said he would deport 11 million “undocumented” Mexicans. In February he decreed that people from seven Islamic countries could not enter the United States, none of which have sent terrorists to the country. This order created massive problems in airports around the world, with American residents refused entry, and measures had to be improvised to relieve the catastrophe; fortunately a district court overturned the executive order and Trump denigrated them as “so-called judges.”

Another sinister trait is his racism and xenophobia: against Mexicans and Hispanics, women (“with my power I can grab them by their genitals”), African-Americans, Muslims, Jews and gays. He dismissed as unfair (for being a “Mexican”) a judge born in the United States who approved the complaint against Trump University; he denied he was a racist and paid 25 million dollars to the scammed, to stop the spread of the scandal.

The effects of his discrimination has been horrendous: attacks on Mexicans; the murder of an Indian engineer, taken as a Muslim, to the scream of “leave my country”; the airport detention of Muhammad Ali’s son, interrogated because of his Arabic name and religion (the agents denied this); the resurrection of the white supremacist Ku Klux Klan that brazenly supported him; the proliferation of Nazi swastikas; the bomb threats against 53 synagogues and the desecration of a hundred Jewish cemeteries; the attack on a gay couple because “we live in Trump country now.”

His motto “America First” was used by American Nazis during World War Two. Reacting to the question of a Jewish journalist he exclaimed, “I am the least anti-Semitic person in the world,” and despite his abominable treatment of Latinos he insists that they adore him. Although his discourse denounced those attacks, his rhetoric of intolerance, division and hatred has incited them.

His motto “America first” was used by American Nazis during World War II

Trump is a pathological liar: Obama was not born in the United States, three million of Hilary’s votes were fraudulent, public attendance at his inauguration was the highest in the country’s history and also higher than the massive demonstration of women against his misogyny. His advisor Kellyanne Conway invented a massacre in Bowlling Green to justify the deportations. All false.

A Freudian lapse is his constant catch-phrase “believe me.”  His Orwellian construction of “alternative facts” is a remembrance of “1984,” a trinket to deny the truth. He denounces the leaks to the press by officials as a crime that has to be eradicated and insinuates that Obama has been responsible for them.

His praise of Putin as a strong leader is detestable. Advised that the Russian autocrat is an assassin, that he annexed Crimea and dreams of retaking Georgia, Trump responds with the excuse that those in the United States “are not innocent.” He asked the FBI to end its investigation into his relations with Russia, based simply on his word: “I haven’t talked to Russia for a decade.” Another scam because he talked to Putin after his inauguration and was in Moscow in 2013.

Michael Flynn, his national security advisor, resigned when it was discovered he lied about talking to the Russian ambassador in the United States; and the Attorney General Jeff Sessions did the same. If Trump really is not guilty, why is he so afraid of that investigation?

Worse yet is his authoritarianism and irritable attacks against all criticism even it it’s documented. At the beginning of the election campaign he refused to answer a question from the Mexican journalist Jorge Ramos and violently expelled him from the premises. In his first press conference as president-elect he refused to let the CNN reporter ask a question, accusing him of “fake news” (what irony!), days later accusing the New York Times of the same thing, and in the last week he referred to the “fake media” as “enemies of the American people.”

Later The NY Times, Buzzfeed News, CNN, The Los Angeles Times, Politico, BBC and The Huffington Post were excluded from a meeting with Press Secretary Sean Spicer. He also disqualified his opponents: branding the hero of the Vietnam War John McCain a “loser” for having been captured, while he himself evaded military service through some trickery, and mocked the brilliant Meryl Streep (nominated for an Oscar 20 times), saying she was Hollywood’s most “overvalued” actress.

Stubbornly, Trump has insisted many times that Mexico will pay for the wall, something firmly denied by President Peña Nieto and two former Mexican presidents

From the beginning he promised to build a “fantastic” wall on the border with Mexico that would put an end to the entry of “criminals, drug addicts and rapists,” denigrating Mexican emigrants who play a crucial economic role in the United States. The wall will cost at least $20 billion and will not stop immigration because it takes place mainly by air.

Stubbornly, Trump has insisted many times that Mexico will pay for the wall, something firmly denied by President Peña Nieto and two former Mexican presidents. Changing tactics, Trump says he will finance the wall with a 25% tax on all Mexican imports, which will trigger a similar policy in the neighboring country. In his speech to Congress he announced legislation to protect “the victims of the migrants.” Mexican Foreign Minister Luis Videgaray has been emphatic that Mexico will not admit non-Mexicans deported from other countries.

The blind Republican fury against “Obamacare” was exacerbated by Trump with his call to “repeal and replace.” Two days before his speech he said that “nobody knew how complicated health care is”; in fact he is the one who didn’t know, unlike Obama and tens of thousands of experts that Trump ignored.

There are 22 million citizens covered by the affordable health plan and there is no idea if they will remain covered and how. In his speech he tried to offer something new by ensuring that those with a prior chronic illness will have to be covered, something that is already in the law, which he doesn’t know.

One of his first actions was to overturn the Trans-Pacific Partnership, creating a vacuum that is rapidly being filled by China, which he provoked with his announcement that he would strengthen ties with Taiwan, abandoning the American policy of a single China from the time of Nixon (later he tried to undo the damage). He proposed to renegotiate or annul the North American Free Trade Agreement, which would provoke a serious crisis in Mexico, the second largest Latin American economy and the main trading partner of the US, which could destabilize the region and generate a global trade war.

His latest delusion is to increase the defense budget by $54 billion, cutting back vital programs by the same amount, such as protection of the environmental and international aid

His latest delusion is to increase the defense budget by $54 billion, cutting back vital programs by the same amount, such as protection of the environment and international aid; although he has promised not to touch social security, there is fear he will privatize it. He will also reduce taxes, benefiting the richest 1% of the population, something that is enthusiastically supported by his cabinet of billionaires.

When the tax reduction is added to the $20 billion cost of the wall and the trillion dollars in infrastructure, the budget deficit will soar. His speech to Congress did not explain how he will finance his great vision of the future, he just said that “money is pouring in.”

It is astounding that the Republican congress allows such nonsense that goes against their neoliberal beliefs such as freedom of trade, a balanced budget and reduction of public debt, as well as the risk of increasing Russian power and Chinese expansion. But doesn’t matter, they were rejoicing, standing up and applauding Trump’s speech. After him, the deluge.

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Editorial Note: This text has been published in the Letras Libres website and we reproduce it with the authorization of its author.

Carmelo Mesa Lago. Cuban economist. Degree in Law from University of Havana (1956). Professor Emeritus of the University of Pittsburgh.

Cuban Police Prevent Joanna Columbié From Boarding A Plane To Mexico / 14ymedio

Joanna Columbie, member of the Somos+ (We Are More) 1010 Academy. (Courtesy)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 6 March 2017 – Cuban police prevented activist Joanna Columbié from boarding a plane this Monday heading to Mexico. The car in which she was raveling was intercepted on the way to the airport and a State Security official warned her that she would not be allowed to travel abroad, according to what she herself told 14ymedio after being released.

Columbié had planned to participate in a discussion meeting of the Democratic Action Roundtable (MUAD) to be held in Mexico City. The meeting is scheduled for this week and four activists from various opposition groups and social projects were invited. continue reading

Manuel Cuesta Morúa, Boris González, Roberto Díaz and Eroisis González were the other participants planning to attend event in Mexico. So far this newspaper has not been able to determine if those four activists managed to board their flights or if any of them was detained inside the Havana airport.

“The meeting was to be the MUAD secretariat with other members outside the island,” says Columbié. The activist also states that the Konrad Adenauer Foundation participated in organizing the event.

“I left the house in a taxi and I was nearing Lenin Park when a police patrol car with the number 784 stopped us. They told me to go with them and they also asked me for my phone so I could not make any calls,” says the member of Somos+ (We Are More) Movement.

The official warned her to stay away from “the counterrevolution” and threatened that “from now on” her life would become “very bad.” 

In the police car was a State Security official known to Columbié from previous arrests, who calls himself Leandro. She was taken to Bacuranao Beach, to the east of the city, where the man warned her that they would have “a long conversation” and that she would not be allowed to travel to Mexico.

“I asked him what the reasons were but he simply told me that he wanted to talk,” recalls the activist. Leandro warned her that in recent months she had been “greatly elevated in her profile,” and that this could lead to her being deported to the village of Céspedes in Camagüey, where Columbié lived before residing in the capital.

The official warned her to stay away from “the counterrevolution” and threatened that “from now on” her life would become “very bad.” The man insisted that they would not let her leave the country.

“This is totally arbitrary,” says Columbié. “They have come to the point of taking completely arbitrary actions without even seeking a pretext.” The activist does not rule out taking legal action before the Military Prosecutor’s Office to denounce what happened.

During 2016, the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation (CCDHRN) documented a total of 9,940 arbitrary detentions in the country. A figure that “puts the Government of Cuba in the first place in all of Latin America,” according to the report of the independent organization.