“The Student Body Will Never Accept The Counterrevolution”

The 18-year-old journalism student, Karla Pérez González, was expelled from Marta Abreu University of Santa Clara for “political reasons”. (Courtesy)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 15 April 2017 — A statement signed by the Council of the University Student Federation (FEU) of ‘Marta Abreu’ Central University of Las Villas ratified the expulsion of student Karla Pérez González from the journalism department. “The university students will never accept the counterrevolution within our universities,” says the text published Friday.

The statement came to light in the midst of a flood of criticism over the expulsion of an 18-year-old student who is accused of having contacts with the Somos+ (We Are More) Movement and publishing on digital sites critical of the government. “In our universities professionals must be trained who are ever more competent and committed to the Revolution,” argues the FEU. continue reading

The statement dusted off the “Words to the Intellectuals” – delivered by Fidel Castro in June of 1961 in the National Library and which have served as the basis for the government’s cultural policy – and said that the student “acknowledges being a member of an illegal and counterrevolutionary organization, contrary the principles, objectives and values of the Cuban Revolution.”

“Within the Revolution, everything; against the Revolution, nothing. Because the Revolution also has its rights; and the first right of the Revolution is the right to exist. And no one can stand against the right of the Revolution to be and to exist,” writes the FEU, quoting Fidel’s speech.

The statement ends with a “Revolutionarily” and does not include the names of the members of the FEU Council that initial it

Perez Gonzalez told this newspaper about the sequence of meetings that led to her expulsion. “I was also accused of manipulating my friends and having a strategy from the beginning of the course to subvert the young.”

The statement from the Federation lists two main points of the organization’s actions, controlled for decades by the ruling party. “The defense of our José Marti inspired, Marxist-Leninist, socialist and anti-imperialist process will always be the first task of university students,” and “every brigade will be an impregnable stronghold against any enemy of the work that we Cubans raise our flag for.”

The statement ends with a “Revolutionarily” and does not include the names of the members of the FEU Council that drew it up.

Pérez González plans to “write a letter to the Minister of Education and to denounce what happened to organizations that watch over Human Rights,” to denounce her expulsion.

Cuba Stops Sending Doctors To Brazil For Fear Of Defections

Cuban Health Deputy Minister Marcia Cobas greets doctors from the island at the University of Brasilia. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miami, 14 April 2017 – Cuba just suspended the sending of a group of 710 health professionals who would have worked on the “More Doctors” mission in Brazil, our of fear of desertions, according to a report from the Brazilian press informed by that country’s Ministry of Health.

The decision not to send the doctors is an act of pressure from Havana in the face of the role played by the Brazilian government of Michel Temer, which has allows more than 80 Cuban health professionals to stay in the country after the end of their mission. continue reading

For the Health Ministry of the island, such action “is not in conformity” with the agreement signed between the two nations under the government of Dilma Rousseff. As a part of that agreement, more than 11,000 Cuban doctors remain in Brazil.

“The Cuban government fears that what is happening in Brazil could infect other Cuban doctors working in third countries,” says Julio César Alfonso, president of Solidarity Without Borders (SSF), a non-profit organization that helps doctors who deserted from the missions and to move to the United States and join the workforce in the healthcare system there.

“The Cuban government fears that what is happening in Brazil could infect other Cuban doctors working in third countries”

In the hospitals, polyclinics and doctors’ offices on the island there are 495,609 workers, according to the most recent official data. Of these, 58,000 are specialized doctors. The cooperation programs in which they participate, funded through international organizations, extend to more than 90 countries in the world, from Africa to Oceania.

Cuba has tens of thousands of doctors abroad. In 2014 the Government acknowledged that it received $ 8.2 billion for “export of medical services.” According to independent economists, profits have fallen by slightly more than one billion dollars, due to the crisis in Venezuela, but this “leasing out” of medical services continues to be the country’s main source of income.

When Cuban professionals leave the country, they are able to see that they are part of a trafficking scheme that only benefits the Havana Government. The only way to rebel is to escape and Cuba is not going to allow that,” says Julio César Alfonso, president of SSF.

Last January, in the last days of the Democratic administration of Barack Obama, the United States eliminated the Parole Program for Cuban doctors working abroad, a program that allowed deserters to travel legally to US territory and to benefit from the Cuban Adjustment Act.

“When Cuban professionals leave the country, they are able to see that they are part of a trafficking scheme that only benefits the Havana Government. The only way to rebel is to escape and Cuba is not going to allow that”

Alfonso and his team are confident that the administration of Donald Trump is going to reverse the Obama measure.

“It will take a few months, but we are working with great faith in that project to help the victims of the greatest human trafficking in the modern era,” he said.

Since 2006 the Cuban Medical Professional Parole has allowed 8,000 Cuban health professionals to escape and travel to the United States. In 2016, some 1,400 professionals from Brazil’s More Doctors program took advantage of these facilities. It is also estimated that more than 1,000 doctors from the island married Brazilians, a way to obtain permanent residency in Brazil and avoid the compulsory return to the island. Some 1,600 have taken the examinations to revalidate their titles and insert themselves in the labor market of Brazil.

Cuba has strictly forbidden its “health workers” to have relationships with “natives” and in its precise code of ethics requires that they “should be informed immediately,” to remain consistent with “revolutionary thinking” and “in no way be excessive” (sic).

Brazil’s health minister Ricardo Barros said that he had called on the Cuban government and the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) to relax conditions that forced doctors to return to the island.

After the dismissal of President Dilma Rousseff, the Cuban government pressured the Brazilian authorities to renegotiate the contracts for the doctors and obtained a 9% increase in payment

Brazil pays about $3,300 per doctor per month to the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), which acts as an intermediary – and charges for this service – with the Dealer in Cuban Medical Services. From the $3,300, the doctors themselves receive the equivalent of 800 dollars.

After the dismissal of Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff, the Cuban government pressured the Brazilian authorities to renegotiate the contract for the doctors and obtained a 9% increase in payment.

It also achieved a 10% increase in for the cost of feeding doctors in indigenous areas.

“We were waiting for something like this to happen,” says one of the doctors working in the Sao Paulo region.

“The deputy minister, Marcia Cobas, has the eye on us, they do not want the hen that lays the golden egg to die,” he says.

“They treat us like slaves. We have to work harder than other doctors and they do not even let our families stay with us in Brazil beyond three months, the least they cold do is let them stay; they all have to leave,” says the physician, a specialist in Comprehensive General Medicine.

Number of Cuban doctors defecting to the US. Top line is all doctors, bottom line is from Brazil.

Where the money goes. 5% commission to broker. 28% stipend to Cuban doctors. 67% to Cuban government.

Green Gold From Cuba’s Fields

Last summer the price of avocado selling on the street in Havana neared 20 Cuban pesos each, the daily salary of a professional. (CC)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Marcelo Hernandez, Havana, 7 April 2017 – A shout disturbed the morning’s tranquility. “Avocaaaaaaado!” shouted the roving salesman as he toured the streets of Central Havana. Considered the “green gold” of foods, this fruit could become an important source of income for the island, due to the high level of consumption around the world.

With the diplomatic thaw between Havana and Washington, some local farmers are hoping to export the fruit to the United States. In 2015, Americans consumed about 907,000 tonnes (metric tons) of avocadoes, twice as much as the year before. continue reading

And the phenomenon is not limited to the United States. At the international level the fruit is gaining ground; in 2013, 4.7 million tonnes of avocadoes were harvested, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), more than twice as much as two decades earlier. Mexico leads the market with 80% of world production, and in the Caribbean our neighbor the Dominican Republic harvests about 290,000 tonnes a year.

At the international level, the fruit is gaining ground; in 2013, 4.7 million tonnes of avocados were harvested, more than twice as much as two decades ago

Last December, scientists from the University of Cordoba (Spain) revealed the very high caloric value of the fruit’s pit, saying that it has “optimal qualities as a source of thermal energy comparable to other currently marketed biofuels.” The pit contains an average calorific value of 19,145 megajoules per kilogram.

In Cuba, the fruit is destined for domestic and tourist consumption, but there is no industry for processing or extraction of the oil, much appreciated in gastronomy and cosmetics. The authorities are currently seeking investors to open a pilot plant for these purposes, industry sources told 14ymedio.

In Cuba, the Antillean avocado variety is crossbred with its Guatemalan relative and although the result is large fruit with consistent mass, specialists say that it has low oil content compared to other varieties.

Private farmers distribute their crops among the markets that operate based on supply and demand and the individually-operated businesses that have flourished in the country in recent years. In this network the value of the product has experienced an upward trend in recent years.

The increase in tourism has influenced the shortages of some foods, and increased their prices, including avocados. “It’s in high demand and when it’s in season it is one of the most requested dishes, especially by foreigners,” José Miguel, a waiter in a private restaurant in Santiago de las Vegas, commented to this newspaper.

“Avocado is in high demand and when its in season it is one of the most requested dishes, especially by foreigners”

The self-employed worker says that “it is one of the products whose price has risen most steeply in recent years.” Last summer the street price of the largest avocados neared 20 Cuban pesos each (nearly one dollar US), the daily salary of a professional. “You can’t get one for five pesos any more even if you go directly to the fields.”

The state markets sell avocados by the pound, at a price that does not exceed 5 Cuban pesos (CUP), but as a rule they are small and unripe. “If you go out in the morning looking for one to eat at lunch time, you have to buy it from a pushcart vender or from a supply and demand market,” José Miguel emphasizes.

The climate has also contributed to the rise in prices. Last year was not a good year for avocado production on the island. Last September, the agronomist Emilio Farrés Armenteros, director of the Fruit Trees Division of the Agricola Business Group, told the official press that the climatic conditions were damaging the harvest.

With the country experiencing the most intense drought of the last half century, the rains did not arrive in time for the flowering of the trees. A situation exacerbated by the exhaustion of the nutrients in the soil due to the abundant production of 2015, which reached 120,000 tonnes. At the end of 2016, the avocado harvest totaled a much lower 90,000 tonnes.

Nancy and her husband are long-time avocado growers. In the area of Jagüey Grande they have a plot where they harvest three varieties of the fruit: Catalina, Wilson and Julio. The latter gives them more benefit because it has an early harvest and the trees are smaller in size than the others. However, both agree that “in the matter of taste, there is nothing to compare to the Catalina avocado.”

Farmers calculate that in a good year the harvest from each tree can bring between 3,000 and 5,000 CUP depending on the fruit produced

Farmers calculate that in a good year the harvest from each tree can bring in 3,000 to 5,000 CUP depending on the fruit produced. “We directly supply several restaurants and cafes in the area,” says Nancy. Although there are also “many wholesale buyers who take the fruit to sell in markets in Havana.”

The family aspires to be able to market their product beyond the national borders. They believe that exporting part of their crop would give them “greater profits and the possibility of investing in the farm.” They dream of earning the necessary resources for “a tractor and a new water turbine.”

However, the thaw with the United States is not enough to get Cuban avocados on American tables. In the middle of last year Barack Obama relaxed the regulations for the island’s coffee growers who sold their product to the US, and the official response from Cuba was not long in coming.

A declaration signed by farm leaders in Santiago de Cuba joined the top management of the National Association of Small Farmers (ANAP), controlled by officialdom, in rejecting the measures implemented by the White House. Since then, no local producer has sold a single coffee bean to potential US customers.

Nevertheless, and although exporting is still an illusion, having an avocado tree guarantees the economic sustenance of many families on the island. Land with an orchard of fertile trees shoots up in price on the classified ad sites, almost like those that contain a well or a house with ceiling tiles.

Some owners have chosen to sell the full crop for a year. “ I have an arrangement with a neighbor who paid me 2,000 CUP for all the avocados in the orchard”

Some owners of avocado trees have chosen to sell a full year’s crop. “I have an arrangement with a neighbor who paid me 2,000 CUP for all the avocados in the orchard,” says Tomas Garcia, a resident of Calabazar south of the capital.

Retired from the Ministry of Construction, the man supplements his monthly pension of less than 20 Cuban convertible pesos (roughly $20 US) with the sale of the tasty fruits from his patio. “One day my mother-in-law threw a seed in the trash in a corner, and then we realized that bush had sprouted.” Garcia replanted the small plant in a better place and, without knowing it, he made “the best investment in my life,” he acknowledges now.

Although he has never considered exporting his small crop, the pensioner believes that “if something is good in this country, it is avocados that need little care and can be planted in any yard.” He says that in addition to eating them from time to time he uses them to “give a shine to my hair” and his wife uses it as an anti-wrinkle mask.

“If I don’t have much to eat, I only have to cut an avocado in half and now I have a rich person’s meal instead of a poor person’s,” he said.

Invitation to the Readers of ’14ymedio’

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Generation Y, Yoani Sanchez, Miami, 14 April 2017 — In this blog I have experienced good readers and bad moments, shared stories and exchanged opinions. For almost three years you have also accompanied me in the adventure of running a digital newspaper. Together with the team of 14ymedio, you are part of a diverse family spread over several continents.

To talk about this time that we spent together and update you on the challenges that are to come, I want to invite you to the meeting: Cuba: at the distance of an embrace, this coming April 24 from 6 to 8 pm at the CubaOcho Museum and Performing Arts Center in Miami, to share anecdotes and ideas with you and two other reporters from 14ymedio.

I know that many who live far away or are busy and will not be able to come, but I don’t lost hope of continuing to have this kind of conversation in different cities and one day, why not, do the same thing in our newsroom in Havana: without repression or fear.

____________

Note:
The Address of the Cubaocho Museum & Performing Arts Center is 1465 SW 8th Street #106, Little Havana, Miami.

There will be a menu for those wishing to buy food and drink during the event. Special guests will be our friends from Project 305 of the New World Symphony of Miami, an initiative of which we are part and which seeks to collect audio and video clips to be used in an orchestral work that reflects the spirit of this city.

It Is Forbidden To Sell Cheese In The Cuban Countryside

“Clandestine” cheese making in Cuba. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Bertha Guillen, Candelaria, 11 April 2017 — The milk boils on the rustic stove while on the table the cream is churned to make butter. The whole family revolves around the modest production of artisan cheese, a product targeted by the police and appealing to customers.

Roberto leaves the house every day very early and stands for hours at the edge of the national highway, displaying one or two cheeses to all passing travelers. He hides the rest of the merchandise in the grass to avoid large quantities of that soft and fresh food that they make at home being confiscated.

The patrols that monitor the area are mainly focused on trafficking in shrimp, fish, cheese and beef. From time to time a passenger bus is stopped in the middle of the road and the troops proceed to check each passenger’s luggage. The police are well able to detect that particular smell that emanates from dairy products. continue reading

“I get up at three in the morning for the milking in the dairy,” says Senén, Roberto’s father and a resident of Artemisa province. “When we have the milk that fulfills what we have to give to comply with the state plan, then my wife makes the cheese with what remains.”

Each farmer is obliged to sell most of their meat and milk production to companies and state centers

Each farmer is obliged to sell most of their meat and milk production to companies and state centers. In 2015 the price paid to the farmers for this fresh milk rose from 2.40 Cuban pesos (CUP) per liter to 4.50, less than half of the 10 CUPs (about 40 cents US) that it sells for in the informal market.

Private producers are prohibited from selling milk or any dairy product they produce to other private individuals on their own. However, many homes and private restaurants throughout the island are nourished by this artisanal food, made and transported under absolute discretion.

“My family has been making cheese for years,” Senén explains at midday. They started making it during the Special Period when all the clandestine pizzas were made with the so-called guajiro cheese. Now some private restaurants buy pieces of gouda or Parmesan in state stores or on the black market, but artisanal production remains the most affordable for domestic customers.

A few miles from the house of Roberto and Senén, in the dairies of Cayajabos, Olga begins to cut the milk with a serum made from pork lungs and lemon. This technique ensures a consistent and good tasting cheese. She adds some boiling water “to kill the bacteria” and to achieve a firm, “gummy” texture.

Cuba is experiencing the worst drought of the last half century and the country’s reservoirs are below 39% of their capacity

Today Olga wants to make a piece of about two pounds with ten liters of milk. “At the moment we are making few cheeses because the cows are giving very little milk and we have to fulfill the plan,” she says while straining the fermented milk and recycling the serum to use it again.

Cuba is experiencing the worst drought of the last half century and the country’s reservoirs are below 39% of their capacity. More than 81% of the agricultural area is affected by low water levels in irrigation and the effect on livestock production is especially negative.

Rain is not the only problem. Along with the 120 liters of water a day a cow drinks, it also consumes 10% of its weight in pasture grass, fodder and food concentrate, according to experts consulted by this newspaper.

Grasslands are currently dry and the feed supply is unstable. Farmers juggle feeding their cows with mixtures that also include derivatives from the sugar industry. The deficit directly influences the amount of meat and milk that is produced.

Cuba used to make 200 kinds of cheese but the fall of the Socialist Camp and loss of its financial support nearly killed the industry (14ymedio)

According to Rogelio González, a farmer from Cayajabos, 30 years ago a dairy was capable of producing up to 2,160 liters of milk daily, while now among the 10 dairy farms in the area, they barely reach the 1,080 liters needed to comply with the state plan.

“We had here the trays loaded with feed and purge honey, there were areas of fodder, urea, salt and the milking system was mechanized, all this helped to a improve production,” evokes Gonzalez. “But then everything got destroyed, the grazing fields are surrounded by the invasive marabou weed and the milking systems are pitiful.”

During the years of the Soviet subsidy, Cuba managed to produce up to 200 types of cheese, but the fall of the Socialist Camp ruined production and paralyzed the most important industries in the sector. The authorities are trying to revitalize some of the dairy processing plants, but without foreign investment the project becomes very difficult.

While state production tries to pick up the pace, Senén continues to make progress in artisanal cheese production. All around are small wooden molds made with bits of planks of different sizes to give shape to the cheese. The press that extracts the liquid is used before the work of turning.

Under the structure, a white bucket collects the liquid that is draining. “This is to feed the piglet I have back there,” adds the dairy farmer. “You have to take advantage of everything.”

When the process of pressing is finished “you have to refrigerate the cheese for a few hours so the crown has a nice yellow color and a better texture,” according to Senén.

“Right now, we are making only two kinds of cheese, not only because of the lack of milk but also because there’s not a great cheese culture here, so they eat the artisanal cheeses and the so-called processed cheese, which is sold in the little market for Cuban pesos, and in the store there is only gouda and it’s very expensive,” he says. A pound of the latter cost between 9 and 10 times more than the product made by Senén and his family.

Among the handcrafted products is the so-called guajiro cheese, which is sold on the highway

Among the handcrafted products is the so-called guajiro cheese, which is sold on the highway. Normally it is made from skimmed milk boiled and cut with piña de ratón, a wild seed. The result is a product that is white and more grainy.

To supply the private restaurants specializing in Italian food the process becomes longer and complex, in order to cure the cheese better. There are customers who prefer it with salt and others without salt, details the farmer. It should be avoided at all costs that the milk gets smoky during the cooking.

“We have to take the risk of selling it in Havana, because there they pay better.” A pound trades in the informal networks for between 25 and 35 CUP depending on the curing of the product. “We are making contacts and fixed points where they buy from us,” says Roberto, who fears fines and arrests on the highway.

“Every day the police get more strict and if they catch me, they remove the merchandise and take me to the station”, says the young man. More than once he has had to run and abandon the product. “It’s hard work, sometimes I only sell a little and most of the time is in the sun.” For him, the best days are those when some foreigner arrives.

For travelers passing by in their tourist cars the scene always looks nice and with an air of tradition: a man on the side of the road holds a cheese in his hands, as a trophy, while ensuring that it is “home-made.” Few realize the difficulties associated with trying to sell this delicious food in Cuba.

Journalism Student Expelled from University For “Political Reasons”

The 18-year-old journalism student, Karla Pérez González, was expelled Wednesday from Marta Abreu University of Santa Clara for “political reasons”. (Courtesy)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 13 April 2017 — Karla Pérez González was not summoned to the meeting where her future was decided. The first-year Journalism student received a telephone call on Wednesday to notify her of her expulsion from Marta Abreu University in Santa Clara. Her crime? Having contacts with the Somos+ (We Are More) Movement and publishing on digital sites critical of the government, as confirmed by the young woman herself speaking to 14ymedio.

On March 15, Perez Gonzalez was excluded from a student assembly where a video was projected to discredit the independent Somos+ Movement led by activist Eliécer Ávila. “I only found out several days later because they warned my classmates not to tell me anything,” she says. continue reading

On April 10 the situation worsened when the militants of the department’s Union of Communist Youth (UJC) met to present “the evidence” against her, she explains. “Members and leaders of the organization warned that those who were on my side would be investigated. Nor was I not invited to participate.”

On Tuesday, the 18-year-old scientist was summoned along with her parents to the Department of Humanities. “I arrived at 8:30 in the morning and the group of decision-makers were 14 freshmen, 4 professors in the department and 6 members of the management of different organizations, in addition to the dean, Osneidy Leon Bermudez,” she details.

“There were three hours of psychological abuse and they made false charges against me”

The brigade chief of the University Student Federation (FEU), Ney Cruz, proposed the expulsion of Gonzalez from the University. “There were three hours of psychological abuse and they made false charges against me, ranging from recruiting members at the school, to belonging to the leadership of Somos+.”

“I was also accused of manipulating my friends and having a strategy from the beginning of the course to subvert the young, according to leanings of the Somos+ Movement.” The student was also questioned about her relationship with digital sites critical of the Government.

The first secretary of the UJC, Hermes Germán Aguilera Pérez, stood out among “the most violent,” recalls Pérez González. “He used phrases intended to influence the vote” of the students. He told the students that they had the opportunity to demonstrate that they were Revolutionaries because this moment was “your Moncada, Sierra Maestra, Bay of Pigs.” “She is with the enemy,” he spit out during the meeting.

Eight students voted for the expulsion of Pérez González, while six supported her continuing in the department. “Those were the people who really knew my story and who defended me in that hell,” she says.

Later, Perez González appeared before a Disciplinary Commission that inquired about her “projections, actions, membership in organizations and pages in which she published.” The young woman was even asked how much she paid for a rental house in Santa Clara.

“It was a very cordial and respectful meeting [compared to] the string of abuses I had been subjected to,” Karla recalls.

González denounces the political and non-academic motivations for her expulsion; she ended last semester with the maximum score in all subjects except in computer science and also obtained an English certificate that exempted her from attending those classes during her entire program.

The young woman does not plan to make a complaint through university mechanisms, but will “write a letter to the Minister of Education and will denounce what happened to organizations that watch over human rights,” she confirmed to 14ymedio.

The expulsion of Karla Pérez González joins a series of repressive actions against the Somos + Movement in recent days

The expulsion of Karla Pérez González joins a series of repressive actions against the Somos+ Movement in recent days. Last Thursday the General Customs of the Republic confiscated Eliécer Ávila’s laptop computer, which provoked a protest of several members of the organization in Terminal 3 of the José Martí International Airport.

Avila was arrested on Saturday and police searched his home where they seized “hundreds of things from pens, clothes, business cards, books, phone chargers, cables, mirrors, everything they found,” the leader told 14ymedio. Since the raid, he is now being prosecuted for crimes of illicit economic activity and “receiving” unauthorized goods.

This same week the philologist Dalila Rodríguez González, who had worked as a professor for over ten years, was expelled from Marta Abreu University. The academic told the independent press that her departure was due to the university authorities considering her “a bad influence on the students,” in addition to the security forces linking her to her father, Leonardo Rodríguez Alonso, a defender of human rights and an opponent of the government.

Rodríguez González also denounced that she has been harassed by State Security in recent months and clarified that she does not belong to any opposition group and does not participate in activities organized by activists or dissidents.

Last February, a young student of 24, David Mauri Cardoso, was not allowed to enroll in the law school of Carlos Rafael Rodríguez Provincial University, in Cienfuegos, for expressing ideas “against the Revolutionary Process” in a Spanish exam.

Rice Without Pebbles For The Tourists

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Marta Requeiro, Miami, 13 April 2017 — I still have a clear memory of the Cuban TV show Cocina a minuto, every Sunday before noon. It disappeared, of course, when it was no longer possible to make the recipes with what the people had at their disposal in the refrigerator or the pantry and and what they were still given – although with a few more alternatives than now – on the ration book.

It was ridiculous that they would broadcast it on television and we would see the host and chef, Nitza Villapol, preparing some exquisite dessert with a can of condensed milk and twelve eggs, when Cubans were only given five eggs per person per month. At home we would say, “But what planet is this woman living on?” Surely this is what provoked the cancelling of the show. continue reading

In June the Varadero International Gourmet Festival will be held, with the participation of ten countries.

The magazine Caribbeannewsdigital.com affirms that it will focus on the search for excellence in tourist services, and will celebrate two of Havana’s most famous establishments, the 200-year-old the Floridita restaurant and the 75th anniversary of La Bodeguita del Medio. This is because Washington and Havana enjoy excellent relations at the moment.

Innovations in culinary techniques and vegan recipes will surely grace the tables; but ordinary Cubans, once again, will not know this

Innovations in culinary techniques and vegan recipes, which are trending around the world, will surely grace the tables; but ordinary Cubans, once again, will not know this.

Dinner table conversations will be enlivened with quality cocktails prepared with the real Cuban rum, which enjoys international prestige, none of those rotgut brands that Cubans drink like Chispa Del Tren (Train Spark) or Hueso De Tigre (Tiger Bone). Fine Habano cigars, chocolates and coffee – real coffee, not the one Cubans get that is half crushed peas – will also be part of the feast, enjoyed and appreciated by the experts.

According to data from the Department of Commerce, collected by the United States-Cuba Economic and Trade Council, the island bought a considerable amount of rice (about 700 tons) in February, something that hadn’t happened for nine years.

We already know who is going to taste that exquisite rice and how many dishes will be made with it. It is for tourists, who can enjoy rice pudding or rice with chicken. Instead, the people will continue to eat the rice filled with pebbles and rubbish that you have to spend hours picking out before you cook it.

Lysandra Does Not Want To Be Reeducated

Lisandra Rivera was sentenced to two years’ imprisonment by the Provincial Court. (UNPACU)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 12 April 2107 — Confined for more than 80 days in a punishment cell, without a single contact with the outside, the activist Lisandra Rivera Rodríguez of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU) received her first family visit this Tuesday, in the Mar Verde Women’s Prison in Santiago de Cuba.

Lisandra Rivera, 28, was arrested after her home was raided by State Security on 31 December of last year. On that occasion, and despite having been beaten by the agents, she was accused of an alleged criminal “attack,” according to UNPACU activists. Her family had not been able to contact her since 17 January when her trial was held in the Provincial Court and she was sentenced to two years imprisonment. On 18 April she will have served four months. continue reading

She had no access to anything, no right to family or conjugal visits, or to receive calls or food brought in from outside

Her husband, Yordanis Chavez, commented in a telephone interview with 14ymedio that both he and her parents managed to be with her for almost two hours. “As of Saturday she is outside the punishment cell and is in a of maximum severity wing of the prison.”

According to Chávez, from now on they will be able to visit her normally. The next appointment is scheduled for the 17th of this month. “We saw her well, quite strong of spirit. She continues to refuse to comply with orders and or to accept reeducation.”

The authorities of the prison used this refusal to accept the “reeducation” regime as a reason to impose the isolation of a punishment cell on Rivera. “The tried to make her stand up and give military salutes to the jailers who conduct a count three or four times a day. When a high official arrived she also had to stand at attention like they do in the military and she refused to do it,” says Chavez.

During the visit, Lisandra told her relatives that the punishment cell is like that of any police dungeon, pestilent and in very bad conditions, without light. She had no access to anything, no right to family or conjugal visits, nor could she receive phone calls or food brought in from outside. “Every Tuesday I was handcuffed and taken, almost dragged, to the disciplinary council,” the activist told her husband.

UNPACU’s leader, José Daniel Ferrer, fears that, in the midst of the difficult international situation, there could be a repeat of the 2003 Black Spring

Yordanis Chavez explained that they have not appealed the ruling because they do not trust the judicial system. “Lisandra has not committed any crime, it is only because it was an order of State Security as punishment for her activism in UNPACU in favor of freedom and democracy in Cuba.”

José Daniel Ferrer, UNPACU’s leader, fears that, in the midst of the difficult international situation, there could be a repeat of what happened in the spring of 2003, when 75 regime opponents were arrested and sentenced to extremely long prison terms. That crackdown, which came to be known as the Black Spring, coincided with the United States’ invasion of Iraq, a time when the world was looking the other way. At present, more than 50 UNPACU activists remain in prison in several provinces, many of them accused of crimes they have not committed.

For its part, the Cuban Commission on Human Rights and National Reconciliation announced in its last report, on the month of March, that there had been at least 432 arbitrary detentions of peaceful dissidents in Cuba in that month. In addition, several dissidents were vandalized and stripped of their computers, cell phones and other means of work, as well as cash.

Ice Cream and Kilobytes

The inauguration of a Wi-Fi zone for internet access seeks to revitalize the Coppelia ice cream parlor. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Marcelo Hernandez, Havana, 10 April 2017 – The large and little-used park around the Coppelia ice cream parlor has a new function as of a few days ago. The inauguration of a wifi zone for internet access is looking to revitalize the ice cream stand, as iconic as it is fallen into disgrace. Now, in the absence of those mythical 26 flavors, the customers will have a serving of kilobytes on side, courtesy of the Cuban Telecommunications Company (ETECSA). continue reading

Under the inclement sun, some curious came this week came in search of a few hours of “free” navigation as had been mentioned in various official media. The state monopoly only allowed access to the web at no cost during the opening day, and then an hour of navigation again cost the same as in the rest of these wireless parks: 1.50 CUC an hour (about $1.50 US, the equivalent of nearly two days pay at the average wage).

The state monopoly only allowed access to the web at no cost during the opening day and then an hour of navigation cost again 1.50 CUC

During two busy months, a brigade of construction workers installed benches, planters, lights and three reflectors for the security of the netizens. This last is one of the conditions most demanded in other areas where ETECSA offers its Nauta wifi service, where users report frequent thefts of telephones, tablets and computers, mainly at night.

Little by little word has spread and the place is beginning to fill with faces that stare closely at a screen, people who speak animatedly by videoconference and access resellers who, through the application Connectify, offer a plunge into the great world-wide web for half the state price.

It is hoped that soon, among Havanans, the word “Coppelia” will become synonymous with social networks and digital sites, instead of the mythical ice cream parlor that it once was.

“The Politician Of The Week,” A Citizens’ Initiative

The initiative involves people as different as the filmmaker Carlos Lechuga (above) or Cuba’s Minister of the Interior. (Facebook)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 10 April 2017 — Facing the times that we live in can be an unpleasant task. And doing it without discrimination based on ideological viewpoints and with immediacy, takes visions of daring. This is the challenge that the Center for the Application of Political Marketing and Political assumes with the election of the “politician of the week,” an initiative that approaches the Cuban reality from its protagonists. continue reading

The profiles developed by the independent entity are made in collaboration with the site Primavera digital (Digital Spring), the historian Dimas Castellanos and the journalist José Antonio Fornaris, among others. They are distributed through e-mail and several web pages. Their intention is to summarize, with the fewest adjectives, the biography and significant details of those who mark the events of the Island. Those faces that embody the moments most sublime and most ridiculous of the day-to-day.

The “politician of the week” does not evaluate the person, but rather the events in which he or she has taken part and the decisions for which they are responsible. The brief sheet that accompanies their name doesn’t judge, but it does describe. In a country where most of the time the public debate centers on “killing the messenger” instead of understanding the message, this moderate exercise carried out by the Center takes on hints of the historic.

So far this year, the names included in the classification have ranged from officials in the highest ranks of power to opponents condemned for their activism. This wide range of points of view can only be recognized from an independent perspective, given that the official media only gives space to names linked to the government.

Its catalog of personalities is the closest thing to a democratic exercise, in which there is no discrimination or tendency to stigmatize positions

Thus, this civic initiative has described both Jennifer Bello Martínez, president of the Federation of University Students, and Dr. Eduardo Cardet Concepción, a person Amnesty International has declared a political prisoner of conscience. In its entries it has shed light on the life of the new interior minister, Rear Admiral Julio Cesar Gandarilla Bermejo, as well as Carlos Lechuga, director of the censored film Santa and Andrés.

Nor have they missed, in their accounts, figures such as Vice President Jose Ramon Machado Ventura, a hard-liner known for his partisan orthodoxy, or Havana’s private taxi drivers who demonstrated their dissatisfaction after the imposition of price caps on their service.

The Center, led by the analyst Julio Aleaga, has given space to Tyrians and Trojans. Its catalog of personalities is the closest thing to a democratic exercise in which there is no discrimination or stigmatizing positions, a posture that in today’s times of polarization, does not stop giving some people hives or provoking indignation.

There are those who are upset to not have been included yet, while others cry out to have their names erased from the list. To the extent that it is list of the protagonists of a reality, the “politician of the week” approaches those who are part of events, but the evaluation of their performance will depend on the opinions of each individual reader.

Ten Years, A Blog

Yoani Sánchez received the Ortega y Gasset award for her work on ‘Generation Y’ in 2008, although she was not allowed to leave the country to receive it until five years later. (El Pais)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Generation Y, Yoani Sanchez, 10 April 2017 — Dawn, the sound of the keyboard marks the beginning of the day. I start a blog that will make me experience the most gratifying and terrible moments of my existence. I go out with the USB stick around my neck, climb the steps of the Havana Capitol and mumble a few phrases to get myself into the place with internet access exclusively for foreigners. It is the 9th of April 2007 and I publish the first text of Generation Y… My life has just taken a turn.

A decade has passed since that scene. A time during which I laid bare, post by post, the events that mark the reality of my country and of my own existence. I have filled the pages of this personal diary and left a testimony of the eventful and intense years I have lived. A digital logbook that could well serve as an impressionist portrait of Cuba at the beginning of this millennium. continue reading

There has been a lot of water under the bridge since then. I discovered the immense scope of the written word, the amplifying character of technology, and an authoritarian power’s lack of ethical limits. I owned responsibility for every published phrase and not a few times paid the consequences not for what I said, but for what others believed I said.

I discovered the immense scope of the written word, the amplifying character of technology, and an authoritarian power’s lack of ethical limits

I earned a scolding from a severe leader accustomed to hearing only his own voice, I spent more than one night in a jail cell, and I learned to speak in code to evade the microphones placed in my house. I got used to seeing my face in the official media surrounded by the worst adjectives and lost more than one friend. However, the gratifying moments have far surpassed all the punishments this opinion space has brought me.

I watched innumerable voices be born and gain strength, voices that made the Cuban blogosphere a more plural and inclusive space. I met many, like myself, who in their respective countries grabbed ahold of the new digital tools to try to better their societies. I received the support of my family and discovered the profession that I exercise today: journalism.

Each text that has come out in Generation Y shows that personal path, marked by obstacles and gratifications. If I could go back in time I would only amend the moment when I decided to open this blog. I don’t forgive myself for having waited so long to express myself.

Young Cuban Filmmakers Challenge Official History

Young directors present their work in the “Moving Ideas” section at the 16th Young Filmmakers Show of the Cuban Institute of Cinematographic Art and Industry (ICAIC), in Havana. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, 8 April 2017 – Were the events like the books tell us? Is the official story a report of what really happened? The attempt to answer these questions inspires the documentary and two fictional shorts that were presented Wednesday in the ‘Moving Ideas’ section of the 16th edition of the Young Filmmakers Exhibition of the Cuban Institute of Cinematographic Art and Industry (ICAIC) in Havana.

Under the motto “Forgetting does not exist,” the filmmakers approached collective and family memory to show a point of view often ignored by the epic of Revolutionary discourse. The works probe those memories for what Cubans treasure about moments in national life, beyond the gilded frame that the institutional version attaches to them.

Economic disasters, a war on a distant continent and the drama of family separation after exile, were some of the issues addressed by this new generation of film directors, who show a special interest in looking back. Children of indoctrination and official silence seem willing to shed light on the darker areas of what has happened in the last half century. continue reading

Director Pedro Luis Rodríguez offers the short Personal Report set on the eve of the Revolutionary Offensive of 1968 — when all remaining private businesses in the country were confiscated, down to the last shoeshine boy. It was a watershed moment in the economic life of the nation that brought profound effects on commerce, supply and even the mentality of those born after that massive closure of private businesses.

Were the facts as they are told in the books? Is the official story a report of what really happened?

In less than half an hour, Rodríguez shows the conflicts experienced by Ricardo, an analyst on the Planning Board, who is preparing to present a report to his boss on the consequences of the measure that is about to be taken. The protagonist defends his right to participate in the decisions that are made in the country or at least to be heard, but everything is in vain.

Personal Report presents that look from below on a historical event where the decision was taken “on high.” An offensive about which the government has never offered a public self-criticism, although a quarter of a century later the private sector was again authorized to operate. Today, more than half a million workers are struggling to support themselves despite strong legal limits on their activities and economic hardships.

Screen shot from ‘The Son of the Dream.’ (CC)

In the discussions with the audience after the screening in the Chaplin room, Rodriguez acknowledged that his film is “a wink” at the current phenomenon of self-employment. His desire is that the work serves to “reflect on this present” and to meditate “on participation and the need to be heard and to be consistent with oneself.”

The flood of memories and questioning continued with the fictional short Taxi, directed by Luis Orlando Torres. Taxi addresses another of the many themes barely touched on by the fiery speeches from those in power: Cuba’s involvement in the war in Angola and its aftermath in society; the plot centers on the physical and mental wounds left by that conflict outside the island’s borders.

‘Personal Report’ presents that look from below on a historical event where the decision was taken “on high.”

Torres focuses on the effects on families and establishes a parallel with the internationalist medical missions that now send Cuban healthcare workers around the world, and their consequences here at home. The film develops a suspense story that begins when a taxi driver picks up a passenger in a seemingly casual way. A brief conversation will suffice to call into question moral aspects of a war, one which the Government has always defended as an act of solidarity.

Meanwhile, The Son of the Dream, directed by Alejandro Alonso and filmed in 16 millimeter with a Bolex camera, relives through family letters and postcards the filmmaker’s memories of an uncle whom he was unable to know due to the separation caused by the Mariel Boatlift. The material is the result of a workshop given at the International Film School of San Antonio de los Baños by Canadian director Philip Hoffman.

Beyond the aesthetic and artistic values ​​of each of the projects presented in ‘Moving Ideas’, it is clear that much of the young cinema that is being produced on the Island is not trying to please institutions or accept pre-established truths. It is an uncomfortable, irreverent, questioning and willing movement to belie an epic story that has been shaped more with silences than with truths.

Eliécer Ávila, The ‘New Man’ Who Became An Opponent

Eliecer Ávila, leader of the Somos+ (We Are More) Movement (CC).

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 8 April 2017 – Walking along the streets with Eliécer Ávila can be a complicated task. His face is well known thanks to a viral video broadcast almost a decade ago. However, before fame came into his life, this young man born in Las Tunas was a model “New Man”: the most finished product of ideological indoctrination.

Like all Cuban children, Avila shouted slogans during his school’s morning assembly, participated in countless repudiation activities “against imperialism” and dreamed of resembling Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara. But while, in school, they taught him the social achievements that the Revolutionary process brought to the population, at home reality was stubborn and showed itself to be something quite different. continue reading

The residents of Yarey de Vázquez are poor, the kind of poverty that grabs you by the throat

The residents of Yarey de Vázquez – the Puerto Padre municipality of Puerto Padre where the leader of the Somos+ (We Are More) Movement was born – are poor, the kind of poverty that grabs you by the throat. A place lost in nothingness, where many families still use latrines for their bodily needs, and live in houses with roofs made of palm fronds.

Surrounded by pigs, chickens and tedium, Avila realized that his life did not resemble the official version he was being taught. Born in 1985, in the middle of that “golden decade” when the Soviet Union was propping up the island, he was barely walking a year later when Fidel Castro ordered the closing of the free farmers markets in the midst of the “Process of Rectification of Errors and Negative Tendencies.”

Eliécer Avila reached puberty during what was called the Special Period. With the voracity that still characterizes him, he faced many days of his adolescence with his plate half full, or almost empty. He hand stitched the shoes he wore to school, invented all kinds of “outfits” from his grandfather’s old shirts, and turned off the light when it was time to strip down to his underwear, so no one could see the holes.

Surrounded by pigs, chickens and tedium, Avila realized that his life did not resemble the official version he was taught. He was born in 1985, in the middle of that “golden decade” when the Soviet Union was propping up the Island

With a natural leadership quality, in which a certain humor mixes with an undeniable histrionic capacity to narrate anecdotes, the young man made his way through those years without climbing aboard a raft to escape the country or ending up in jail. Those who knew him predicted a future in politics, because of those “fine lips” that helped him in student meetings and in romantic conquests.

A little bit later, luck smiled on him. He was able to enroll in the University of Computer Sciences (UCI), founded in 2002 in the middle of the Battle of Ideas. UCI was located on the site that had once been the Center for Exploration and Radioelectronics Listening, known as the Lourdes SIGNIT Station, where until 2001 Russia – and the Soviet Union before it – had had its largest spy station outside its borders. UCI was a school for trusted young people to become computer soldiers for a Revolution that fears the Internet.

While a student at UCI, Avila led Operation Truth. His task was to monitor digital sites and blogs critical of the Government. In those spaces, the young revolutionary sharpened his arsenal of tools for political struggle that included everything from hacking to the execution of the reputation of anyone who opposed the Plaza of the Revolution.

Little by little, like acid that filters through the cracks, those anti-government arguments he read on the web began to sink into his mind and mingle with his own disagreements. Restless, in 2008 he took his turn at the microphone during a visit to UCI of Ricardo Alarcón, then president of the National Assembly. The minutes of that public appearance that followed marked the rest of his life.

The video of the collision between Ávila and Alarcón jumped to first place in the hit parade on the clandestine networks that distributed audiovisuals. No one wanted to miss it, especially the moment when the leader of Parliament justified the travel restrictions imposed on Cubans by saying how congested the skies might be, if everyone were allowed to board an airplane.

Avila led Operation Truth while studying computer science; his task was to monitor digital sites and blogs critical of the Government

Now, nine years later, the young activist prefers not to be called “Eliécer, the one who debated with Alarcon,” but for the rest of his life it will be his most important letter of introduction to millions of Cubans. His challenge of power, with simple questions and a firm voice, has been one of the most accurate and best documented gestures of rebellion in almost six decades of Castroism.

After that, he received his punishment. After graduating, the authorities sent him to a remote Youth Computer Club to purge his audacity. It was the decisive moment in which he decided to cross the red line towards independence. He left the state sector, founded the Somos+ Movement and relocated to Havana. One audacious act after another.

The attacks rained down from all sides. State Security raised the level of pressure on his environment, traditional opposition leaders threw darts at the upstart, and there was no shortage of those who claimed that he was only a mole for the political police disguised as a dissident.

Since then, Ávila has tried to give shape to a civic discourse that uses new technologies and a less politicized language, closer to the concerns of ordinary people. But, like every dissident, he is caught in the grip of charges of illegal action, subjected to constant vigilance and assigned the halo of demonization imposed on anyone who does not applaud power.

Nothing is more disturbing to a system that has played with social alchemy than the fact of a creature from its own ideological laboratory turning against it

The numerous trips abroad that he has made since the Travel and Immigration Reforms of 2013 have allowed him to know the world, only to discover that the most exciting and indecipherable of the territories that await him is located in the future Cuba. That country so many have dreamed of and that is taking so long to arrive.

Recently he went a step further and announced that he was prepared to represent the electors of his constituency as a delegate. A somewhat remote possibility, given the oiled mechanisms of control over the People’s Assemblies maintained by the ruling party where, by show of hands, the attendees must nominate the potential candidates.

This week, the guajiro of Yarey de Vázquez has crossed another line. A public protest at José Martí International Airport has resulted in his house being searched, and him being arrested and charged with “illicit economic activity.” The trigger was the seizure of his laptop at Customs when he returned from Colombia.

Now, it is expected that the siege around the young leader and his Somos+ Movement will continue to close. Nothing is more disturbing to a system that has played with social alchemy than a creature from its own ideological laboratory turning against it. Eliécer Ávila will be doubly punished because power acts with more fury against its own, when it rebels.

More articles in English by and about Eliécer Ávila can be read here.

Police Arrest Activist Eliécer Ávila and Raid His Home


The video shows Eliecer Avila and other human rights activists at the Jose Marti International Airport in Havana, protesting the confiscation of Avila’s laptop when he returned to the country from abroad.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 8 April 2017 – Some fifty uniformed members of the National Revolutionary Police and the Ministry of the Interior raided the home of the activist Eliécer Ávila, leader of the Somos+ (We Are More) Movement this Saturday morning. The police seized documents and home appliances, in addition to arresting the opponent, according to detailed information from his wife, Rachell Vázquez, speaking to 14ymedio.

The police search began at six in the morning and lasted about four hours during which the troops did not allow access to the property located in the neighborhood of El Canal, in the Havana’s Cerro municipality. “We were going to eat something when they knocked on the door,” says Vázquez.

During the search, the police were accompanied by two witnesses of the Committee for the Defense of the Revolution (CDR). “All they left us was the TV,” adds the wife. “Right now Eliécer is missing, because no one knows where they took him,” he says. continue reading

Hours earlier, the couple was at Terminal 3 of José Martí International Airport, where Avila staged a protest to demand the return of several of his belongings retained by the General Customs of the Republic. Last Thursday, when the activist returned from a trip to Colombia, his personal laptop was confiscated.

After being arrested this Saturday Ávila made a phone call to his wife to inform her that he is being held at the Police Station of Aguilera and Lugareño

The opponent remained at the airport for more than 36 hours and insisted to security agents that he would not leave the place until they returned the computer. Other members of his organization joined in the protest.

After being arrested this Saturday Ávila made a phone call to his wife to inform her that he is being held at the Police Station of Aguilera and Lugareño in La Viñora. “He asked me to bring the deed of the house and 1,000 CUP,” says Vázquez, but “the police took the money in the drawers.”

In a video posted on the Somos+ website, Avila is seen in an airport lounge with two activists carrying posters with the phrase “No More Robbery.” The opponent denounced in front of the camera that the authorities “gave no explanations” and have not told him the reason for confiscating his computer.

Police searches and raids on dissidents’ homes have become common in the last year. In its report for March, the Cuban Commission on Human Rights and National Reconciliation (CCDHRN) denounced this procedure.

During that month “there were innumerable cases of dissidents deprived of their computers, cell phones and other means of work as well as cash,” the report adds. These actions are aimed “to prevent the work of peaceful opponents and to make them increasingly poor,” said the independent entity.

Cuban Photographer Wins Two Major Prizes for Photo of Air Force One Landing in Cuba

Cuban photographer Yander Zamora observes his snapshot ‘Arrival of Air Force One’ during a visit to the headquarters of the EFE press agency. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Madrid, 6 April 2017 — Cuban photographer Yander Alberto Zamora de los Reyes was awarded the Ortega y Gasset Prize for Graphic Journalism this Thursday, just fifteen days after receiving the King of Spain Journalism Prize from EFE Agency for his photograph of Air Force One flying over homes in Cuba in 2016.

The snapshot, published by Reuters, is titled “Arrival of Air Force One” and captures the historic landing of Barack Obama’s presidential plane in Havana on 20 March 2016, on the first visit of a US president to the island In 88 years.

The jury of the 34th edition of the King of Spain Awards unanimously recognized that the photograph reflects “a historic moment in relations between the US and Cuba, after the serious divergences maintained for more than half a century.”

For its part, the jury for the Ortega and Gasset prize, which is awarded by the newspaper El País, described the image of “pure photojournalism, capable of capturing the moment.”