With Castro, When the Crime Was Committed

Fidel Castro and French journalist Jean Daniel at the Riviera Hotel on November 22, 1963, the day John F. Kennedy was assassinated. (March Riboud/L’Obs)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Jacobo Manchover, Paris, June 20, 2020 — An article by French journalist Jean Daniel, “Avec Castro, à l’heure du crime” (“With Castro, When the Crime Was Committed”), figured in a 1978 investigation by the U.S. House of Representatives’ Commission of Inquiry into Political Murders. The article was first published in French in the weekly news magazine L’Express on November 28, 1963 and in English in The New Republic* on December 7, 1963. It was later picked up by about twenty other publications and in numerous languages. Was this a international scoop? Or simply an alibi?

Jean Daniel died in February 2020, at the ripe old age of ninety-nine, in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. He had been co-founder and editor of the news weekly L’Obs, formerly Le Nouvel Observateur and, before that, France Observateur. A few months earlier an interview with him was published in the October/November issue of the pretentiously titled La revue pour l’intelligence du monde (The World Intelligence Review), headed by his friend Béchir Ben Yahmed. He later appeared in a documentary broadcast by the France 5 television network in early February 2020.

Even in the final months of his life, he still spoke with pride about the time, almost six decades earlier, that he happened to be present when Fidel Castro was told by phone of the assassination of John F. Kennedy. At no point did it occur to him that perhaps it was too coincidental. Could it have all been stage managed? continue reading

There was a detail that should have caught the attention of experts on the subject. The interview took place during a lunch with Fidel Castro, a nocturnal animal when it came to his encounters with foreign personalities, whether they were politicians or journalists. Why was a reporter able to enjoy such privileged access?

For his whole life Jean Daniel wanted to be an emissary of peace in different parts of the world, especially in the Israeli and Palestinian territories. On one occasion he met with Ernesto “Che” Guevara in Algeria. Though he had been born there, Jean Daniel was a supporter of Algerian independence. The meeting with Che convinced him that he could be the man to reduce tensions between the United States and Cuba.

With that in mind, he met several times with Fidel Castro after having interviewed John F. Kennedy a few weeks before, on October 24, in the Oval Office. The White House meeting lasted about twenty-five minutes. In his opinion the message Kennedy was conveying through him was of utmost importance. He wanted to bring back an encouraging response from Castro on maintaining secret contacts in light of the extreme tensions created in October and November of the previous year by the Missile Crisis.

Castro’s first meeting with the French journalist took place in a hotel room at the Riviera Hotel along Havana’s Malecón on the night of November 19 to 20, between 10:00 P.M and 8:00 A.M*. Castro’s arrival was completely unexpected since it had not been previously announced. The commander-in-chief came dressed in his ubiquitous combat uniform and a black beret.

Jean Daniel and his future wife Michele were resting, faces down, with their shoes next to the bed. The scene was more reminiscent of a vacation trip than a diplomatic mission. Also present were Castro’s personal physician and right-hand man until his death in 1969, Commander René Vallejo, and a translator, Juan Arcocha. During the meeting Vallejo, who was also dressed in battle fatigues, fell fast asleep, as was perfectly understandable given the time of night.

Nothing strange about that. Castro often gave interviews to countless reporters late at night, waiting until a few minutes beforehand, “for security reasons,” to announce his arrival. Snapshots of his meeting with Jean Daniel, taken by photographer Marc Riboud, were published in The New Republic, a magazine to which the reporter contributed articles, and in L’Express, immortalizing the rather informal meeting at the Riviera hotel.

Castro invited Jean Daniel to accompany him to the resort town of Varadero, about 130 kilometers east of the capital, on Friday November 22, where he was supposed to visit some new houses. Around 1:30 P.M., Cuba time (12:30 P.M in Dallas), it was announced that an assassination attempt on Kennedy had taken place. This time no photo of the historic moment was taken, at least as far as is known.

But why Varadero? Jean Daniel says it had something to do with his house on the beach. Officially, Castro did not own a house there, though there were countless “protocol houses” throughout the island at his disposal. Perhaps it was because Varadero had the advantage of being far from Havana and, therefore, from other sources of information who might contradict what Castro told the reporter.

Jean Daniel and Michele were chatting amicably with Castro through the interpreter, Juan Arcocha, when suddenly the phone rang. Commander René Vallejo, who was in the next room, and a security guard went to answer it. Castro was immediately told that President Osvaldo Dorticós wanted to speak to him. It was apparent something very serious had happened. Otherwise, it was inconceivable that Castro would be interrupted.

His reaction was one of astonishment: “How? An attack?” He listened to what the President was saying and repeated his responses three times and out loud so that his guests would hear and understand him, even if their understanding of Spanish was rudimentary: “That’s bad news. That’s bad news. Bad news.” In effect, Jean Daniel transcribed Castro’s emphatic reaction in his article.

But the phone call seems strange. In fact, President Dorticós’ position was only a ceremonial one. Real power on the island lay with Fidel Castro, who at that time was prime minister. It is inconceivable that he would receive the news from someone in a subordinate position rather than from his security services, or from his brother Raúl, who was minister of defense. Dorticós ultimately fell from grace, though he continued to hold a ministerial position, that of justice minister. In 1976 Fidel officially assumed the title of President of the Council of State and the Council of Ministers, with Raúl as his vice-president. Dorticós ended up committing suicide in 1983. Suicides among Cuban political, military, or police leaders are common, especially when they carry unspeakable secrets.

Between 1:30 and 2:00 P.M., Cuba time, those present at the Varadero house were tuned in to a radio station broadcasting in English from Miami, with Commander Vallejo roughly translating, when they learned of Kennedy’s death at Parkland Hospital in Dallas. Castro told Jean Daniel that he thought he would be blamed for what happened, even though they did not yet know the identity of the alleged assassin, who was still at large after he had shot police officer J.D. Tippit. He turned out to be Lee Harvey Oswald, who had gone to the Cuban consulate in Mexico City to apply for a visa.

Jean Daniel realized then and there that his role as an intermediary between Castro and Kennedy, whom he had planned to see again upon his return to Washington, was over. Vice-President Lyndon B. Johnson would automatically assume the presidency and nothing would be the same again. But Jean Daniel still had the instincts of a reporter. He described how Fidel Castro learned, at the same time he did, of the assassination in Dallas. It is not known who — he or an editor at L’Express — came up with the odd title: “With Castro, at the Scene of the Crime.” Nor does it specify what the crime was. But the ambiguity of the wording leaves little doubt that the person responsible for the crime might have been Castro himself.

This is how Jean Daniel achieved international fame. Moreover, his article became the quasi-official account, endorsed by Fidel Castro himself in at least two speeches he gave on November 23 and 27.

Jean Daniel served as Fidel Castro’s sole emissary. It never occurred to him that he might have been manipulated into believing he was the only reporter to witness Fidel Castro’s reaction firsthand. It would not have been the first time the old guerilla had fooled someone, however.

Herbert L. Matthews, a New York Times reporter who was on vacation with his wife in Cuba in early 1957, casually described how Castro had tricked him in the Sierra Maestra mountains, convincing Matthews that he was leading a full-fledged rebel army when in reality it amounted to a group of about twenty men. Matthews went on to become a personal friend of Fidel Castro and the best propagandist for his policies in the United States. Jean Daniel must either have not been aware of Matthews’ story or did not much care. He believed he was, or wanted to be, the first.

What was in the message that John F. Kennedy wanted his go-between to pass onto the Cuban prime minister? In one of his articles, Jean Daniel reports that Kennedy told him that he and his brother Robert — then attorney general and later assassinated himself in Los Angeles in 1968 after winning the California Democratic presidential primary — had become deeply distrustful due to Castro’s “insanities” and Communist stance after the Bay of Pigs operation and the Cuban missile crisis. During that crisis Castro had sent a letter to Nikita Khrushchev asking the Russian premier to launch a preventive nuclear strike on a large American city, a request that Kruschev fortunately denied.

Kennedy knew Castro was capable of anything. He noted, however, that his guerrilla war against the government of Fulgencio Batista, which ended when Castro seized power in 1959, had aroused some sympathy in the United States, feelings which Kennedy implied he himself shared. But Castro’s misstep with the Soviet Union forced him to abandon any such feelings. The tension was obvious during the 1960 presidential campaign when Kennedy harshly criticized Castro. It culminated in the Bay of Pigs debacle, an operation whose planning had begun under the Eisenhower-Nixon administration. If Castro could return to his initial proposals, however…

By November of 1963 Cuba and the Soviet Union were not enjoying the closest relations, nor was the friendship between Fidel Castro and Nikita Khrushchev at its best. Nevertheless, no American leader could imagine the relationship breaking apart. A few months later, in April 1964, Fidel Castro undertook a 38-day trip to the USSR, during which he was greeted with full honors by the senior leaders of the Communist Party. The quarrels with the great “brother country” ended or were swept under the rug for decades.

The importance of Kennedy’s message to Castro, like Jean Daniel’s interpretation of it, should be considered in context. The reporter had gotten his exclusive and, out of naivetee or vanity, had made his views known to the world: Fidel Castro could not have known of a possible assassination attempt on John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963 since at 12:30 P.M., Dallas time, he was with the reporter in Varadero. And the whole world believed it.

This brief article arose out of a strange feeling I always had about Jean Daniel’s account of his meeting with Fidel Castro and the interviews I had with him shortly before his death. Those who knew firsthand the ways in which Castro wielded power could harbor legitimate suspicions.

*Translator’s note: In The New Republic article, Jean Daniel says the meeting lasted until 4:00 A.M., not 8:00. A.M. The title of the article, “When Castro Heard the News,” also differs  from the one in L’Express.

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Anonymity and Cowardice, Cuban State Security Profiles on the Internet

When they fail to identify themselves they are labeled as lily-livered, especially because they fling mud on people using their names, surnames, faces. (Piqsels)

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14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Generation Y, Havana, 26 June 2020 — They can take the name of character in a soap opera, or that of any neighbor’s child, or use a warlike epithet, but the anonymous internet profiles of Cuban State Security agents always share a common denominator: cowardice. Hidden behind a pseudonym they carry out the work of the official machinery in the smear campaigns against the critics, but end up muddying their own manufactured character more than their victims.

I remember one of these characters from a few years ago — whose name I can’t remember — who was created to attack the alternative blogosphere and dissidents. They had an ephemeral life, because they were deactivated soon after, probably by the same people who had attempted to place them on the networks as a “voice of young Cubans.” It was disguise, the mask behind which an entire political police team was probably hiding, and was used with the same impunity as the hangman’s hood.

That character, who behaved with the pretense of being able to sink reputations and intimidate the bravest, ended up being discarded. Especially because little by little, and despite the initial aftertaste that can arise in a certain audience that follows these gossip-focused profiles, the fact that they are not real people and cannot show their faces ends up taking a toll. When they fail to identify themselves they are labeled as lily-livered, especially because they fling mud on people using their names, surnames, faces and even their identity card numbers. continue reading

Now, we are witnessing a new installment of these deplorables, with the addition that even the official press alludes to them from time to time, journalists close to the Government use them as sources, and more than one public face of culture comes out to defend them. It is still contradictory that an enthroned power, which controls Parliament, dictates laws and manages the Army, ends up defending itself by appealing to a secret entity. That is evidence only of their fear.

The current anonymous pro-government profiles that promote the destruction of the reputation of a deceased young man – calling him a criminal – as well as the gossip about the private life of an opponent, will pass in a few years and they will not even be remembered, most likely their accounts in social networks will be deleted for the convenience of those that created them. They have the ephemeral life of an unknown soldier sent to die on the front line, of whom not a single tombstone with their name will remain.

However, the flesh and blood beings who took advantage of the stories spread by these masked entities, those who used their hoaxes to judge others, spread their lies and used their gossip to socially stigmatize citizens… those will remain and they will have to answer to their conscience, that little voice that hammers everyone in the head and that should have warned them before: it is not a good idea to rely on hooded anonymity or cowardice to follow others under a pseudonym.

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The Cuban Doctor who Fled from Andorra is Considered ‘A Leading Man’ of the Brigade

Dariel Romero, the doctor who supposedly abandoned the mission, is shown on the left together with Andorran Minister of Foreign Affairs María Ubach. On their right is Alain González, the Cuban Consul in Barcelona, next to the Andorran flag. (Altaveu)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, June 25, 2020 — With military training and family members in political positions, Daniel Romero, the anesthesiologist who supposedly fled last Saturday from the Cuban brigade in Andorra, was a key element in the delegation of 39 health workers sent to this tiny European country to fight COVID-19. According to the local press, a nurse joined him in his petition for asylum in the neighboring country of Spain, where both have family.

A rapid review of press reports, in Cuba as well as in Andorra, since the arrival of the brigade in Europe at the end of March, reveals Romero’s leading role. The anesthesiologist appears in high-level meetings with the Andorran Minister of Health, Joan Martínez Benazet, and the Consul General of Cuba in Barcelona, Alain González, who coordinated an intense propaganda campaign about “solidarity” and “philanthropy” as motives for sending medical brigades to 59 countries on the planet.

Barely ten days ago, Cubadebate published a video from Prensa Latina in which an Andorran doctor, Raúl Cerro, thanked the Cuban brigade for its collaboration in the Nostrada Senyora de Meritxell Hospital, specifically acknowledging Dariel Romero and the nurse, Yaquelin Oliva, with whom he worked in surgery. continue reading

The identity of the nurse who left with him is unknown; the only leak is that she was one of the youngest people on the brigade.

Apparently, the doctor left behind in his room the Andorran telephone that had been assigned to him plus work documents and a collection of data that the Government had entrusted to him, states Altaveu.

According to what 14ymedio has been able to verify, Alain González, the Cuban Consul, traveled on Thursday from Barcelona to Andorra. Although he is, on a political level, the one who mainly monitors the brigade, and his trips to the Principality have been frequent, it’s presumed that he now is meant to supervise and deal with the situation.

It’s said that González made the health workers uncomfortable, and that those responsible for the brigade were more flexible. González, on his trips to Andorra, imposed restrictions on them. They weren’t supposed to have contact with the population or with Cubans living in the country.

The group of 39 health workers arrived from the Island on March 29 to give support to the Andorran Health Service by caring for those who were ill from coronavirus. The Cubans had worked as specialists in internal medicine in the intensive care unit of El Cedre, a convalescent center for the elderly and disabled.

On May 15, three members of the delegation returned to Cuba, and some days later, another 13 came back. The 23 who remained still had to complete the work mandated by the Government of Andorra until the end of June, after which, in spite of the decrease in patients hospitalized, their stay would be extended for some weeks. The Health Minister, Joan Martínez Benazet, justified the decision alleging that the Cubans were meant to cover different services to allow the local professionals to rest.

Translated by Regina Anavy

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Two Health Workers Escape From the Cuban Mission in Andorra

The Cuban health workers in the entrance of the hotel in Andorra where they are being lodged. (Cancillería Cuba)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, June 25, 2020 — A doctor and nurse have abandoned the official Cuban mission in Andorra and left for Spain to request political asylum. According to the Diari d’Andorra, those in charge of the brigade realized last Saturday that the two health workers had fled.

The group of 39 health workers from the Island arrived at the Principality on March 29 to help the Andorran Health Service by attending those ill with coronavirus. The Cubans had worked as specialists in internal medicine in the intensive care unit of El Cedre, a convalescent center for the elderly and disabled.

The delegation was supposed to finalize the work mandated by the Government of Andorra at the end of this month, after which, despite the decrease in patients hospitalized, their stay would be prolonged for a few weeks. The Minister of Health, Joan Martínez Benazet, justified the decision by alleging that the Cubans would cover different services to allow the local professionals some time off. continue reading

With an area smaller than Havana and a population of barely 80,000, Andorra is a tax haven that shares borders with Spain and France. The Principality, which also makes a living from winter sports, has been significantly affected by coronavirus so that even with such a small population, there are 855 positive cases, 52 deaths and 797 recoveries.

Havana has 29,000 health workers in 59 countries, including some 3,300 who participate in fighting COVID-19 in 29 of them.

When a Cuban health worker “deserts”, according to the official terminology, he risks being penalized by being required to wait eight years before he can again enter the Island. Also, the part of his salary in Cuban pesos that he accumulated on the Island is confiscated by the State, and his family doesn’t have access to these funds.

The official Cuban propaganda calls these health workers who decide not to return “deserters”, but several international organizations consider them victims of human trafficking.

Translated by Regina Anavy

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Cuba’s State Telecommunications Company Yields to User Pressure and Lowers Prices for 4G Internet

The new Etecsa packages will come into effect as of June 25. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 22 June 2020 — On Monday, the Cuban Telecommunications Company (Etecsa) announced new mobile phone web browsing packages that will come into effect on June 25 with discounts for internet connection on the 4G network.

Among the new mobile data packages is 1 GB with an additional bonus of 1.5 GB to surf the Internet and 300 MB to access national sites, all for the price of 10 CUC (roughly $10 US, more than a week’s average wages). A package of 14 GB at 45 CUC was also implemented, with the national navigation bonus included, said the state monopoly on its Twitter account.

The rate that until now was charged for 10 GB will allow 14 GB, the highest volume package sold by the company so far. In addition, there will be offers from 1 GB at 4 CUC, 2.5 GB at 20 CUC, and 4 GB at 30 CUC, all with an extra bonus of 1.5 GB, 3 GB and 5 GB, respectively. continue reading

 Etecsa will keep the option of 1 CUC for the nauta.cu email service and also 1 CUC, for the 200 MB package to be consumed within 24 hours. The 600 MB package will have a bonus of 800 MB LTE plus 300 MB navigation of national sites and will cost 7 CUC; the 400 MB package, with the same addition, will cost 5 CUC.

This Monday’s announcement has divided customers between those who applaud the sale and others who feel disappointed by the price of the packages. “I like the action of improving plans, just a suggestion: Do it at least twice a year,” said a user on Twitter.

At 45 CUC, the price of the 14 GB package represents the monthly salary of a doctor and many customers depend on top-ups made by family and friends abroad in order to pay the high service fees.

Among the most repeated criticisms was from those who consider that the price of 45 CUC should include a monthly flat rate in which the user does not pay for megabytes consumed, a long-standing demand from the customers of the telecommunications monopoly.

Others regretted that most of the new offers are directed at the 4G network, which is still not working across the country. “Now what we need is a 4G base station in order to benefit us, in my area there are two nearby base stations that continue in 2G, in the municipality of Caimito, Artemisa,” René Alexander complained.

“Very good Etecsa, very good. For the next one, include more national megabytes that lately have had more demand from users. I congratulate you but I know you can do more,” asked another who identified himself as Marlom.

Last May, with the hashtag #BajenLosPreciosDeInternet (Lower Internet Prices), Etecsa users called on the state company to reduce internet connection rates from mobile phones, public Wi-Fi areas and domestic service from homes through Nauta Hogar. Etecsa described the promoters of the campaign as “mercenaries,” according to several tweets and articles published this week in official media.

The campaign, which has been going on for a year as of this June, achieved making the hashtag a trending topic within the Island within just 24 hours, and has remained present on the networks every Saturday, with more or less enthusiasm.

The arrival of mobile phone internet service in Cuba occurred in December 2018. The Island was the last country in the region to allow its citizens to surf the internet through their cell phones, due to the Government’s efforts not to lose control over information.

At the end of 2018, the President Miguel Díaz-Canel allowed the sale of the first navigation plans with data. Cubans were able to buy their first cellphone lines in 2008, following reforms promoted by former president Raúl Castro.

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Communisms

Marxism-Leninism Manuals (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 23 June 2020 — The first time I looked up the meaning of the word communism I did it in a little pocket dictionary my mother had. To my surprise, after the colon there was only one word: hunger. This occurred in mid-1959, when the Marxism-Leninism manuals produced in the Soviet Union were not yet circulating in Cuba.

A decade later I enthusiastically participated in university discussions where it was debated whether communism would succeed first in France, Germany, England or the United States. We were young and naive and we wanted the best for humanity, including world peace, free love and that stream full of material goods that would allow everyone to receive according to their needs.

Perhaps due to the delayed effects of those intellectual intoxications, every time I hear or read about someone commenting on the problems of communism in Cuba, I have the impulse to argue that this country is very far from establishing the social system that is called communism. But to make such a clarification is often confused with defending the system. It is as if to say “Cuba is already living in communism!” continue reading

In Das Kapital, Karl Marx warned that communism would be “a superior form of society whose fundamental principle is the full and free development of all individuals,” where work would become the first vital necessity of citizens. Behind this propagandistic assertion, it is supposed that there was a scientific basis backed by the discovery of “the contradiction between the social character of production and private ownership of the means of production.”

Although the final goal was the pretty face of communism, made up and exposed under lights in the announcement that “the earth will be the paradise of all humanity,” as the Hispanic version of La Internacional proclaims, it was necessary to pass through the ugly face, in which that supposed contradiction would be resolved by confiscating properties to allegedly socialize them.

In the decades that this social experiment has been carried out in different countries, it has been shown that in order to impose the system it is essential to deprive citizens of their liberties, because it is useless to seize property if the desire to own them is not also eradicated. And for this to happen, the state must also abolish the right to organize other parties, so that those who would seek to restore the right to property would never come to power or to Parliament.

The most grotesque deformities of this other face of communism are shown in the repressive apparatuses, without which it is not possible to strip away liberties or suppress rights.

The contradiction that neither Marx nor Marxists could see is the one that appears between human nature tending towards individualization and the fiction of socializing the ownership of the goods of production. The inefficiency of the system is, consequently, the result of a secret personal revenge of the individualistic character of human beings.

The appearance of a bureaucratic caste acting from the State to represent the role of owner that supposedly corresponds to society, not only generates the usual corruption and inevitable nepotism, but together with this caste, or better, under it, it leads to a mass of workers disinterested in producing, even more alienated than in capitalism.

The ruling caste tries to surround itself with privileges: it obtains scholarships for its children to attend the best universities in the world, it receives medical treatment in private hospitals in capitalist countries, it organizes trips abroad and it spends its exorbitant per diems acquiring the latest goods from the consumer society it demonizes.

The mass of workers, not without ambitions but devoid of opportunities, simulates submission so as not to attract attention, while using for their own benefit the time, materials and resources that the State puts in their hands for the fulfillment of the State’s own plans. The only recourse the workers have is to try to balance the gap between their salaries and the cost of living.

Moving among those who command and those who pretend to obey, we see the ruthless repressors, the unscrupulous inspectors who suck the blood from the entrepreneurs, the administrators who do not risk carrying what is stolen themselves, but look the other way in exchange for their cut, and a bunch of opportunists in the “intermediate levels,” always ready to give up and to escape as soon as they get the chance.

If what has been happening in Cuba in the last six decades fits in this brief description of the ugly face of communism, then it is not necessary to clarify that the country has not yet reached that upper echelon of society promised by the demagogues and yearned for by the delusional. Yes. This is communism.

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“The Man With the Flag” Protests in Front of the Cuban Embassy in Guyana

The activist, Daniel Llorente, “the man with the flag”, in front of the Cuban Embassy in Georgetown, Guyana. (Cortesía)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, June 23, 2020 — Daniel Llorente, known as “the man with the flag” after interrupting the May Day parade in 2017 by unfurling a United States flag to protest against the Government, had to move away from the door of the Cuban Embassy in Georgetown, Guyana, where he was demonstrating.

The motive of his protest, according to what the activist told Radio Television Martí, is that the diplomatic seat is “promoting the dictatorship” and doesn’t care about its citizens in Guyana.

Cuban officials notified the police that they asked Llorente to leave because “he couldn’t protest” owing to the “power” of his words. The dissident explained to the Miami chain that an employee of the Embassy suggested that he go protest in front of the American Embassy, but he refused. “You’re stupid,” replied Llorente after the Cuban official closed the door, putting an end to the brief exchange. continue reading

In May of 2019, Daniel Llorente reported that he had been forcibly exiled to Guyana, where he’s been for more than a year. His feat during the Workers’ Day march, protesting in front of Raúl Castro and the upper elite of the Communist Party, in addition to the accredited international press, made him internationally known, but it also involved his being sent to a psychiatric center for a year.

When he left the center last year, Llorente was pressured by State Security. In one of the interrogations to which he was submitted, they warned him that if he persisted in his attitude, he would have to choose between leaving the country or prison.

Days later, two agents came to his home and took him to buy a ticket to Guyana. “Before getting into the car they told me, ’Daniel, we’re advising you not to come back. Since you say the Americans are your friends, go tell them to help you. Don’t return. If they don’t help you, continue living there, because you’ll regret it if you come back,’ ” he told 14ymedio at that time.

Llorente’s intention always has been to travel to the U.S., and he has repeatedly requested asylum, but up to now he hasn’t received a response.

The activist has legalized his immigration status as a political refugee in Georgetown, but his economic situation has been very precarious, and he’s been sleeping on the street, according to what he told Cubanet last year.

Although his recognition as a political refugee by the United Nations allows him to receive aid, the amount remains limited for facing expenses like rent and daily living.

Guyana doesn’t request a visa for Cubans to enter its territory. For this reason, many travel to this country with the hope of continuing their route to the United States.

Translated by Regina Anavy

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

San Antonio de los Banos Runs Out of Water

“They’re only prioritizing the delivery of water in water trucks, for families who have ill, bedridden members.” (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, June 22, 2020 — Entire neighborhoods in San Antonio de los Baños, in Artemisa, have been without running water for more than a week. The frequency of delivery has been deteriorating for several months, and the only response those affected receive is that “the water table is dry”.

“The water system in our zone has presented problems for several months. We began having service one day on and one day off, then every 72 hours, but in these last 10 days, we don’t have service at all,” explains Pilar, one of the neighbors.

San Antonio de los Baños is the most important municipality in Artemisa, because it’s where the Ariguanabo River flows for 14 kilometers. Traditionally, water delivery in the zone has been supplied from the river basin, especially from springs and wells next to the river, but the drought, industrial residue and overexploitation have severely damaged its flow. continue reading

“Water delivery, in water trucks, is prioritized for families that have ill, bedridden members, says another neighbor, who notes that the most affected zones are Nodarse and Palenque. Families have to carry water in tanks and buckets long distances in order to perform domestic chores and maintain the hygiene measures recommended to prevent contagion by the coronavirus.

“This town is known for its river and its waters, but now we should change the name, because nothing remains of the “baños” [baths], and the river is almost dead, and there is no water in the houses,” explains an employee of the Las Yagrumas Hotel. “We have a bedridden old woman in my family, and in all these days we’ve only received 20 liters of water to be able to wash her.”

For farmers in the zone, the lack of water is also a problem, although several of them interviewed by this newspaper benefit from private wells. “I use a well in the courtyard for the whole field and the crops, but in the house, water normally comes to us from the street, and in 12 days we haven’t even seen one drop,” says Raudel Ramos, a farmer who lives on the periphery of San Antonio.

“The whole aqueduct network is very damaged and deteriorated,” adds Ramos. “For years here we’ve had problems with water that arrives dirty, contaminated, and even with a bad smell, because the plant hasn’t been maintained for a long time.”

The network of the San Antonio de los Baños aqueduct began construction in 1894 and initially took water from a spring of the Catalina in the Quintica together with the Ariguanabo River. “The whole structure is very old, and now we’re paying the price.”

In light of the complaints of the residents, the local radio station, Radio Ariguanabo, last week interviewed the provincial director of Acueducto y Alcantarillado de Artemisa [Water and Sewerage of Artemisa], Miguel Jiménez Álvarez, who explained that the prolonged drought of the last years has dried up the water table and service will continue to be unstable for several months, also owing to repairs in the infrastructure.

The situation, faced by the almost 49,000 inhabitants of the municipality and their constant complaints brought about on June 12 the emergency meeting of a Temporary Work Group, created by the National Institute of Hydraulic Resources for hydraulic regularization of the Ariguanabo River Basin, but the service has not improved nor have there been new explanations.

Translated by Regina Anavy

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Historical Revisionism and “Untouchable” Cubans

Bas-relief of Fidel Castro in the Plaza de la Revolución Ignacio Agramonte, in Camagüey. (Mi comarca / Aymee Amargós Gorrita)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Generation Y, Havana, 22 June 2020 — These are times of statues taken from plazas, of historical names questioned and of intense debates about the way we look at the past, but – as with so many other tendencies – these controversies that spread across the world barely reach Cuba. In a country with too many “untouchable” public figures, even to think about a process of reviewing the national events and subjects of the last half century sounds like a distant utopia.

We live in a nation where debate about the official faces and criticism of government decisions has been denied for so long that we are surrounded by issues frozen, enshrined and removed from any discussion on the part of civil society. Not being able to question, not even comedians can publish cartoons about party leaders, officials or ministers. Unlike what happens in other places where busts are removed, here we are surrounded by “living statues” that cannot be touched with even the hint of a critique.

However, this prolonged and obligatory silence on so many transcendent questions will not prevent these discussions from happening some day, and even the delay bringing them to light may be serving as a stimulus for controversy. One of the most intense, without a doubt, will be directed around the figure of Fidel Castro, who will be at the center of the diatribe in a future Cuba. There is no way he can be saved from the controversy and the contrasting points of view of his actions. All attempts to officially sanctify him to avoid scrutiny will do little good if democratic winds blow on this Island. continue reading

Perhaps because he sensed the public pillory that awaited him, Castro preferred to avoid statues, although he left several bas-reliefs with his face in numerous squares in the country. Therefore, his fate will not be the tearing down of a bronze figure but the historical judgment against an individual and a system. There will be no images of defaced sculptures, but very probably new editions of history books will be prepared, the academics will tear apart his political testament and even the progressives of that time will put a healthy distance between their postulates and those of the Commander. The discussion about the permanence of his tomb, so close to the remains of José Martí, will also come and stoke the passions.

The hardest blow will fall when in a fluid and natural way, in the conversations and memories, the word “dictator” slips in when talking about Castro, while “dictatorship” is used to name his time in power. Those terms, coined by popular usage, installed in memory and ratified by scholars, will be like thousands of hammers beating against the statue of his legacy.

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American Baptists Organize a Shipment to Cuba with Food and Hygiene Products

At the beginning of the year, a pound of rice could be bought in the free market for 5 Cuban pesos (CUP) and now has reached 50 CUP in the informal networks.(EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, June 15, 2020 — A family of evangelical parishioners from Waco, Texas, is organizing a shipment of food and hygiene products at the request of the Baptist Church in Cuba. According to Ken Camp, the publisher of a religious newspaper, Baptist Standard, L.M. Dyson, along with his son Peter, and Christian associations from other states, is coordinating a shipment to the Island of a 40-foot container (more than 12 meters, the largest in maritime transport), with beans, rice, dry soup, oil, diapers and non-prescription medicine.

The organizers of the initiative are hoping to send, says Camp, up to 18 containers with a total value estimated at a half-million dollars for the Baptist churches in Cuba to share with those who need it most. He is scheduling the first of these shipments to arrive at the port of Mariel on July 7.

The publication notes that, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, around 265 million people in the world will suffer severe hunger by the end of this year, and that three-quarters of the food consumed by the 11.4 million inhabitants on the Island is imported. continue reading

The arrival of the pandemic in Cuba has aggravated the food-shortage situation, especially the supply of grains, oil and rice. On the informal market, this last product has multiplied in value by ten, and if, at the beginning of this year a pound of rice could be bought in the free market for 5 Cuban pesos, now it costs 50 in the informal networks.

Recently, the city government of Miami and the Foundation for Panamerican Democracy called on citizens to donate “staples” to help the Cuban people confront the COVID-19 crisis through the “Solidarity among Brothers” initiative.

The donations were collected in the Convention Center in the Winwood neighborhood, and it was announced that the shipment would be sent to Cuba and later distributed through a network of Catholic churches.

Translated by Regina Anavy

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Mexican Doctors “Vigorously Protest” the Contract for Cuban Health Workers

According to official data from Cuba, the export of professional services, almost all in the health sector, occupies first place in the Island’s balance of payments.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, June 14, 2020 — A dozen Mexican medical associations have signed a letter to President Andrés Manuel López Obrador stating their “profound disapproval and vigorous protest” about the arrival of Cuban doctors contracted to tackle COVID-19. It’s “serious misconduct toward health professionals,” they say.

The missive, to which 14ymedio had access, recognizes that in the framework of the pandemic, Mexico is legally permitted to contract professional health personnel trained in foreign countries exclusively for the duration of the health emergency. After authorization, the Mexican Government contracted with Cuba for 585 doctors and nurses, for a sum of 6.2 million dollars.

“The group of foreign doctors is composed mainly of general practitioners without a specialty, and they are placed in different hospitals or used only for consultations, infringing on the ability of the assigned hospitals to function,” warns the letter. In Mexico, all general practitioners and specialists have “documents and appropriate certifications,” a regulation that the signatories point out will be violated by permitting “medical staff without this certification to practice” inside the country. continue reading

“The colleges, associations and federations of specialists who have signed below, like other doctors in the country, hereby express our profound disapproval and vigorously protest against what we consider to be serious misconduct toward health professionals in Mexico,” they stress.

The doctors point out that “in this country there are doctors whose performance is endorsed by the universities of the Mexican Republic, trained fully in the needs and nature of the population.” Now they feel relegated, because the Government has “favored foreign doctors, disregarding the academic excellence of our universities”.

“It’s an injustice to prefer foreigners over Mexican doctors, who meet all the requirements established by the Law of Professions and the General Law of Health,” adds the text.

The doctors go one step further and say “It’s also a reason for indignation that they commit limited monetary resources and deliver fees to foreign personnel unfairly, paying them a salary higher than the one received by Mexican specialists in health-sector institutions.”

Recently, Diario de Cuba revealed that, on average, Mexican authorities and the Institute of Health for Wellbeing (Insabi) have paid Havana 10,693 dollars for each Cuban health worker that was contracted to deal with the virus.

The Mexican doctors say they require economic help “urgently, in order to fight the pandemic, such as quality personal protection equipment.”

The medical profession says that the agreement between its Government and Havana  “is to the detriment of professionals” as these foreign doctors don’t have the necessary competence, don’t have properly specified duties, don’t possess the requirements established by current law, and aren’t endorsed by professional schools.

The text concludes by saying that the intervention of Cuban health workers “provides no benefit to our population and is seriously unfair to the doctors of our country.”

“These are difficult times and we must join forces. We’re sure that Mexicans, supported by their doctors, nurses, and all health workers, will go forward and come out stronger as a nation,” concludes the letter.

Since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, brigades of Cuban doctors and nurses have left the Island for more than 20 countries, adding up to some 2,000 health workers. According to figures from April 30, provided by the Foreign Relations Ministry of Cuba, dozens of them have been sent to Caribbean countries like Dominica, Barbados, Granada, Surinam, or Belize.

According to Cuba’s official data, exportation of professional services, almost all in the health sector, occupies first place in the balance of payments of the Island, coming before remittances from exiles and tourism. In the epoch of bonanza in Venezuela, income was more than 10 billion dollars. However, the last data available indicate that, in 2018, remunerations were depleted and were set at 6.5 billion dollars.

Translated by Regina Anavy

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New EU Human Rights report, a Step Forward in Approach to Cuba

The European report refers, for example, to the six month imprisonment of José Daniel Ferrer, leader of the Patriotic Union of Cuba. (Courtesy)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 18 June 2020 —  The Cuban Observatory for Human Rights (OCDH) believes that the chapter dedicated to Cuba in the Annual Report on Human Rights of the European Union (EU), released this week, is a step forward in the European approach to the situation on the island.

In a statement released Thursday, the OCDH highlights that the EU text emphasizes that in 2019, in Cuba, “freedom of expression, association and assembly continued to be subject to significant restrictions, with reports of numerous arbitrary arrests, as well as with the imprisonment of several prisoners of conscience designated by Amnesty International, including the prominent dissident leader José Daniel Ferrer.”

The European report, as the Madrid-based organization points out, also comments on the restrictions to travel both within the country and abroad suffered by independent activists and journalists, and on Decree-Law 370, the so-called “scourge law,” because “it could be used to restrict independent media.”

Furthermore, the report denounces that the defenders of voting no or abstaining from the new Constitution “were excluded from the public debate and discredited by the Government.” The new Constitution, which preserves the current one-party socialist system, is also criticized in the report.

The non-ratification by Cuba of the United Nations International Conventions on Civil and Political Rights, and on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, as well as the concern of UN rapporteurs for the working and living conditions of Cuban doctors sent to missions abroad, are also addressed in the European report.

Another element that the OCDH highlights in the European document is that it does not classify Cuba as “a one-party democracy,” as was stated in the when Federica Mogherini was the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, and although it refers to the “broadly positive record in terms of economic and social rights, particularly in health and education,” it acknowledges that currently “universal coverage is being eroded.”

With regards to this, it establishes at least three causes: “financial scarcity, economic inefficiencies, and the impact of the United States embargo.”

“We cannot subscribe to what is stated on that point, with respect to the supposed history, or that the current problem is only a coverage problem,” says Alejandro Rodríguez Raga, executive director of the Observatory. For him, “the causes are deeper, structural and not only temporary, and they have to do with the general failure of a system that has not placed the human being at its center and that is inefficient by nature.” However, he concludes: “We understand that the European document marks a turning point in the vision of social rights in Cuba, having previously found them totally idyllic and aligned with the official Cuban discourse.”

The OCDH presented last week the Second Report on the State of Social Rights in Cuba, whose data reveals that 80% of the Cuban population lives in a situation of serious economic crisis.

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Members of Cuba’s San Isidro Movement Arrested After Delivering Complaint of Police Mistreatment

Alcántara this Wednesday, when he was on his way to file the complaint. (Facebook / Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 17 June 2020 — Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara has been released after spending the entire day on Wednesday being held in the Villa Marista detention center. The artist had been arrested in the morning, when he went to file a complaint about the police mistreatment that he and rapper Maykel Castillo suffered last Thursday. According to what he told this newspaper, they told him that they had detained him because they thought that, in addition to delivering the document, he was going to stage a ’performance’ or provocation.

Curators Anamely Ramos and Claudia Genlui were also arrested and released. In addition, the rapper Maykel Castillo, who had been missing since Tuesday, was released.

“Anamelys Ramos, Claudia Genlui, Luis Manuel Otero and Maykel Castillo are missing, intercepted by State Security and taken to an unknown location,” wrote Michel Matos, of the San Isidro Movement, on his Facebook wall this morning. “The police infrmation numbers have no record or knowledge of these arrests. So, it is an enforced disappearance… there is no other name for it. My house is under surveillance, with warnings of arrest if I go out to file the complaint, and the homes of the rest of colleagues from the San Isidro Movement, are presumably under surveillance,” he concluded.

“I wake up besieged by the political police,” Alcántara had denounced this morning on his Facebook wall. “I will try to deliver my complaint for the police mistreatment suffered by art historian Anamely Ramos González, musician Maykel Osorbo and myself last Thursday. We will see what happens today.”

Alcantara and Maykel Castillo were detained by the police and imprisoned all night from Thursday to Friday. At the station, they were beaten by a dozen of them. Anamely Ramos, who approached the place to find out the whereabouts of both, was also attacked.

The visual artist had already been arrested on March 1 and released 13 days later, after an intense campaign that artists and intellectuals carried out for his release. At that time Amnesty International declared him a prisoner of conscience, demanding his immediate release.

The artist faced two accusations: one for the crime of “damage” and the other for “outrage against the national symbols”; the latter was for using the Cuban flag in an artistic action. The first case was dismissed, and the oral hearing for the second alleged crime was scheduled for March 11, but was postponed until further notice “due to the country’s economic conditions.”

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Cuban Doctors Will Extend Their Stay in Mexico if the Epidemic is Not Contained

A view of one of the corridors in the Juarez Hospital in Mexico City. (EFE/Jorge Nuñez/Archive)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mexico City, 16 June 2020 — The 585 Cuban doctors who arrived in Mexico in May to, according to authorities, provide support for the emergency caused by the Covid-19, are scheduled to stay until July 31, but if the cases continue to rise, their stay could be extended. This was stated by the Mexico City Secretary of Health Oliva López Arellano in an interview with Reuters.

She also acknowledged that Mexico’s National Institute of Health and Welfare (Insabi) is paying 135 million pesos (six million dollars) for this medical mission, one of the largest that has left Cuba, which already has 35 health brigades and 3,300 healthcare workers around the world.

This weekend, a dozen medical associations in Mexico published a letter to President Andrés Manuel López Obrador protesting the hiring of Cuban health workers, which they consider “a serious offense against health professionals,” while denouncing that the Cubans are, in their majority, general practitioners without specialties.

Asked about this in a radio interview this Tuesday for MVS, López Arellano justified the hiring of Cuban doctors due to Mexico’s deficit of medical personnel and asked the associations that raised the protest to participate in the “wide calls” that the Government has put out since March to treat patients with Covid-19.

“Wouldn’t it be better to spend six million dollars on tests than to pay it to the Fidel Castro regime?” asked journalist Luis Cárdenas. The secretary replied that this payment corresponds to a “comprehensive collaboration agreement,” which includes advice, exchange of good practices, protocolization of processes, epidemiological and community work, and direct care. “They are misstating the accounts,” she defended herself; “It is not a direct payment to a worker, but a set of activities that are supported through an agreement with Insabi.”

Parallel to the letter addressed to the Mexican president, a Mexican, Miguel De la Rosa, initiated a petition on change.org addressed to the local Government of Mexico and Insabi to request that the hiring of Cubans be terminated and that of national professionals be activated. The initiative has already exceeded 42,000 signatures out of a goal of 50,000.

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What The Covid-19 Pandemic Has Taught Me

Father José Conrado Rodríguez, priest of the Catholic Church in Trinidad, Cuba. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, José Conrado Rodríguez Alegre, Trinidad, Cuba, 24 May 2020 — When the Covid-19 pandemic was declared in Cuba, it was precisely in the city of Trinidad, where I lived and worked as a Catholic priest for just over seven years, where the epidemic began: three Italian tourists and one North American were the first affected. We already knew from the news of the serious situation affecting Italy and Spain and other European countries. Alarm took hold of the city. Perhaps the first to react were the owners of hostels and restaurants, especially threatened by their proximity to tourists. Before the government took the first measures, they closed their establishments. Some even wrote to President Díaz-Canel warning of the danger and demanding radical and urgent measures.

For this reason, when two officials from the Party and the Municipal Ministry of Justice visited me to explain the measures that would be taken, I told them that we were in agreement and would support them without reluctance, as we had already received the recommendations that they had prepared in this regard from the Vatican commission for divine worship.

To the officials, I expressed my surprise at the official delay in taking the measures, given the rapid spread of the serious pandemic. I even invited them to see how we had already taken measures in the church, separating the pews, placing chlorine-soaked carpets and directing worsipers to wash their hands with hypochlorite water, when entering and leaving the church. continue reading

Later I would learn that in Europe advertisements appeared in magazines and newspapers to visit Cuba as a coronavirus-free tourist destination with a good healthcare system. To a friend who called me from abroad, worried about the Cuban response in the face of Covid-19, I replied: “They will know how to do it. They are good at managing disaster. They have been doing it for more than 60 years. What they don’t know is managing prosperity.”

“They are good at managing disaster. They have been doing it for more than 60 years. What they don’t know is managing prosperity.”

When the radical restraining order came, at the end of March, this meant zero visits to rural communities and to families in the city that occupied a good part of my time and, in addition, the solitary celebration of the mass. One of the couples of the parish appeared with a huge plastic bag filled with rice, beans, and mutton.

It was the beginning of a continual arrival of the most varied things: fresh and canned milk and meat, fresh and canned fish, soup powder envelopes, dehydrated potatoes, and all kinds of food, vegetables and fruits, etc. My refrigerator has never been more full, nor has my table been so well served as in these days of the coronavirus. Thanks to the generosity of my parishioners and even of people who do not belong to the community.

I quickly realized that it was necessary to create a new routine that would guide everyday life. In my case, with a marked family tendency to obesity, and since I would not have the possibility of my usual exercise, visiting the sick and my parishioners, “exercising at home” was required. But my house is a barely more than a hut. The guest room: with two beds, a wardrobe and open shelving is the receptacle for how much is lost, suitcases, donation clothes, electrical equipment, tools… A true Pandora’s box!

My bedroom-office-living room: in a space of less than 10 by 11 feet there are the bed, the desk, a cabinet, an open closet and an armchair. The walls are upholstered with books, pictures and paintings that my painter friends have given me: three Broches, (an excellent Trinidadian painter and beloved parishioner), a Cuban landscape of Calzada, some sunflowers from my son and former parishioner, José Miguel Martínez, and a landscape of the Camaguey Montes de Oca.

Here I decided to put my daily gym, each time taking out the chair and the fan. Very early in the morning my day begins with dancing for an hour to the rhythm of Celia Cruz, followed by a bath and morning prayer time: lauds and the office of readings, which culminate with the celebration of mass at 8.30 in the morning.

After breakfast “the pastoral work on the phone” begins from my multi-use room. I have been at it for up to eight uninterrupted hours, literally hanging on the phone

After breakfast “the pastoral work on the phone” begins from my multi-use room. I have been at it for up to eight uninterrupted hours, literally hanging on the phone, and wanting to hang myself with it, if I am to be honest. A turning point for me was learning, in the same week, of the death, in New Jersey, of my friend Miguelina Rodríguez, the extraordinary mother of a family and a militant and committed Catholic, who made her life a gift of love for others.

And of Víctor Batista Falla in Havana! A great cultural promoter and patron, founder and owner of the Colibrí publishing house. Víctor was the uncle of María Teresa Mestre Batista, the archduchess of Luxembourg. For sixty years he remained outside Cuba, most of the time in Spain. He had told me that he would never return to the Island.

But like Heredia the 19th century poet, in the end nostalgia overcame him. A few days after arriving, the disease was declared. And he died. The death of these two great friends was a severe blow to me and a different way of perceiving Covid-19.

On the other hand, as the news of what was happening in Italy and Spain came, my anguish was growing. In both countries I have a multitude of friends, of whom I knew nothing. Although the slogan of Etecsa, Cuba’s telecommunications company, is “in war and in peace we will maintain communications,” for those who have tried to communicate with Cuba, or from Cuba, it is a risky adventure and not always successful.

When I tried to install their “Nauta home” internet service, it was denied because I am an institution, not a family home. On the other hand, my pastoral work with the exile was concentrated on my trips outside of Cuba.

But when I arrived here I did not insist on telephone or electronic communication, so as not to interfere with my pastoral work here, more than abundant with such an extensive parish, in the city and in the countryside. At last I discovered a thing called mobile data, which gives me access to the internet and allows me to communicate by WhatsApp, a fairly expeditious way.

This is how I found out about the illness of my New Orleans cousins ​​and my dear friend Miguelina Rodríguez from New Jersey. This is how I learned about my Madrid priest Jesús García Camón, my adoptive parents from Madrid, Papo and Nena Robles, Father José Manuel Sánchez Caro, my rector at the University of Salamanca, all safe and sound, and about my former teachers and colleagues from the University of Comillas, in Madrid. And so many others.

These solitary Masses allowed me to rediscover the Eucharist. Without an audience, I no longer had to worry about time

At daily mass I prayed for everyone. These solitary Masses allowed me to rediscover the Eucharist. Without an audience, I no longer had to worry about time. It was the Lord and me. My parishioners and friends were physically absent but my masses were pro vobis et pro multis: For you and for the mutitude. My Masses, without a homily, could last an hour and even longer.

In thanksgiving I would take my imaginary plane and tour my extensive parish, then all of Cuba, diocese by diocese, its bishops, priests, men and women religious, and laity. Later I went up to Miami, and from there, Tampa, Orlando, Jacksonville, Saint Augustine, Atlanta, Philadelphia, Washington, New Jersey, New York, Boston, and from Boston Canada. There I prayed for the nuncio Luigi Bonazzi, Sara Olga, Rogelio, Evelin, and so many other friends. I returned to the United States through Wisconsin, Chicago, Kentucky and the south-central United States: Louisiana, New Mexico, Phoenix, etc. Then I returned west, from Portland, San Francisco, Sacramento and Los Angeles, entered Mexico, and then flew over Central and South America… to the Caribbean, the Greater and Lesser Antilles: Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Haiti and Jamaica, the Bahamas … to Spain, Italy, France… my friends from Poland, Sweden, Germany, the Czech Republic, former diplomats in Cuba and those who welcomed me in those countries when I went to receive the Geremek Prize. The Middle East and Africa where so many comrades from Comillas and Salamanca, Africans, work today. Russia, China, Japan, Philippines, India, Vietnam. Until ending in New Zealand and Australia. That is, the wide world, without excluding anyone.

In these days I have discovered the truth contained in the title of that book by Congar: Wide world, my parish. Countries and Churches; Cubans, whom I carry always in my heart, wherever they are, Catholics or not, believers or atheists. My Cuba with a capital letter, even those who consider me their enemy.

Even those who I think are wrong, because they excluded and banished those who think differently: how to forget what the Master – José Martí – said, when he portrayed himself in those verses that we learned as children: “I want when I die, without a country but without a master…” But without chauvinism, without excluding those who did not have the happiness of being born on this earth and under this sky. Because they too, those who are not Cubans, are my brothers.

People have almost naturally understood Covid-19 as a deserved warning for what we are doing to God’s creation. Not so much in the key of punishment, but more positively, in the key of warning

What does God mean by all this?

I have been struck by the fact that here in Cuba, and from what I see in other parts of the world, people have understood, almost naturally, Covid-19 as a deserved warning for what we are doing to God’s creation. Not so much in the key of punishment, but more positively, in the key of warning. I have called it “the divine knock.” We cannot continue as we were.

Perhaps Pope Francis came forward with his precious encyclical letter Laudato si. The Pope, taking up a Franciscan inspiration and perspective, so in keeping with his name and program as a Pontiff, with the added value of being a convinced and convincing Jesuit. The Pope has helped us understand the responsibility we have with the world, this magnificent and beautiful gift, which does not exclude, but includes the one who is the summit and crown of this divine gift, the human being, humanity. We are singers and maximum beneficiaries of creation, the stewards and custodians of this gift that is life itself, as a mystery and as a task.

That is why I dedicate these reflections to our dear supreme Shepherd, sometimes as criticized as misunderstood, even from within the Church. So with these reflections, I am making public a letter that I sent to Pope Francis two years ago. I did not make it public because in those days, which coincided with his visit to Chile, the Pope was object of so much criticism and rejection by different sectors in that country, although that had been my intention because it was an “open letter.” Nothing is further from me than collaborating with that negative and gratuitous environment, giving rise to being put in the same bag as those critics of the moment. The Pope is a prophet, I perceive it this way, and for this I want to thank him, from this my lost corner between the hills of Escambray.

Christ came to establish koinonia, communion, which has a concrete and direct expression in the kiss of peace, the fraternal embrace in the liturgy of Holy Mass. Normally, I never get tired of hugging my parishioners before and after Sunday mass: young people, children, adults or the elderly.

Trinidad, an eminently tourist city, with about 2,000 families that rent to tourists, is full of these voluntary slaves to the “tourist-God.” “I had to make breakfast for my tourists” is an excuse that I hear more than I would like when people have missed Mass on Sunday

I believe that for the majority of my parishioners coming to mass on Sunday is a favor that they do to God. But how easily they leave the Most High planted. Nothing is said when business is involved. Trinidad, an eminently tourist city, with about 2,000 families that rent to tourists, is full of these voluntary slaves to the “tourist-God.” “I had to make breakfast for my tourists” is an excuse that I hear more than I would like when people have missed Mass on Sunday.

Two months ago the tourists left but my parishioners have been left without the Sunday mass… and how much they yearn for it! In the city, nervousness is felt due to the lack of food, the endless lines and the growing lack of money, and it has everyone crying out for God: “How long, Lord, will you keep forgetting us… How long, Lord, will you hide your face!”

And I myself how many times did I cowardly fall silent without telling them what I clearly perceived as failure of my sheep! Many years ago, at a mass celebrated in Santa Teresita, my parish at the time, my dear Archbishop Pedro Meurice attacked the half-heartedness of our faithful. So strong was the rebuke that I felt compelled to defend the people by reminding my archbishop in the middle of mass of the difficult life they led. My wise father-bishop, when I finished speaking, said to me: “José Conrado, do not defend them. They, you and I, are lacking God. We are responsible for the tenderness with which we serve the Lord, who gave everything for us on the cross, do not feel sorry for them, because the day will come when they, and the two of us, will be judged as lukewarm, if the Lord does not spew us out of his mouth before: Revelations 3,15-16: I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot. So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew thee out of my mouth.

I fell silent and sat down. Ashamed, because I realized that Meurice was absolutely right. We were the sentries, the guardians of the flock, but how many times had we forgotten the first reading of his bishop’s ordination and my priestly ordination: “But the LORD said unto me, Say not, I am a child: for thou shalt go to all that I shall send thee, and whatsoever I command thee thou shalt speak. Be not afraid of their faces: for I am with thee to deliver thee, saith the LORD.” (Jer 1,7-8, 17).

Cowardly shepherds of a cowardly people. Where are we going to stop? The story says that Seneca, the Stoic Roman philosopher, told his former disciple, the Emperor Nero: “All your power over me is based on the fear that I have had for you. That power will vanish when I stop fearing you. And, in right, I’m not afraid of you anymore.” Nero sentenced him to death but Seneca was free at last. Free from the fear and abject life of those who sell their birthright for a plate of lentils.

“Without country, but without master.” The mission of the Church is to help people lose their fear

“Without country, but without master.” The mission of the Church is to help people lose their fear. Christ said so many times to the apostles: “Do not be afraid… The truth will set you free.” The “learned helplessness” or induced hopelessness, as I explained in my thesis for the degree in journalism, is the weapon that allows the powerful of this world to take from us the responsibility, the awareness of our dignity, that is, our ability to tell the truth and do good. Because “freedom is the right of every man to be honest, to think and speak without hypocrisy” as Martí taught children in The Golden Age.

Lichi, the son of Eliseo Diego, expressed it in this dilemma, which he took from the character of a story by Horacio Quiroga. “The peon, scared to death but ready to die with dignity, shouts to the foreman of the hacienda: That he does not obey you does not mean he betrays you.” Lichi goes on to say: “The currency could be flipped: that I obey you does not mean that I am loyal to you. Today I shield myself in Quiroga’s chest,” concludes Lichi, “to say that fear can explain much of what happened in my country.”

This strange introduction serves as an preamble to my final reflections, or rather to my final experiences. As I said before making the most drastic decisions regarding the coronavirus pandemic, I received a visit from two officials, one from the Party and the other from the Ministry of Justice. And I promised to support the measures already contemplated in the guidelines issued by the Holy See and other countries. So I did it. But in the following weeks I received several visits to find out if we were abiding by the measures. Apparently, the open doors of the church, although the bars, which prevented the entrance to the church, were closed, and my long daily masses, sung, made them suspect my failure to do so. I had explained to the congregation that they could spiritually join the celebrations from their homes.

On April 26, (we had more than 45 days without cases of Covid-19 in the city) four people asked to please participate in Sunday mass and were allowed. On Sunday, May 3, 11 people came. All distancing measures were taken (five yards, with facemasks and previous washing of hands and shoes, when entering and leaving the church). That week I received a visit from both officials to complain about the presence of those few faithful. I told them that next Sunday we would not let the faithful enter. But I had not realized that it was Mother’s Day Sunday, very important for us Cubans. On Mother’s Day we let twelve people and two technicians come in, who arrived early to make an urgent fix of an electrical problem in the parish house. But at 9 o’clock the gate was closed so that no one could pass.

I went out to greet the “companions,” who, quite upset, began to argue with the faithful. The response of the faithful was forceful: before coming to the church they had seen the people clustered in lines, without protection measures and without police to organize them, unlike what happened in the church. Marta, known for her revolutionary commitments since the citizen resistance to the Batista dictatorship, was the first to speak: “Be careful not to touch the father. He did not invite anyone to come. We are here because we felt like it and the measures of protection we have had here I have not seen them anywhere.”

She told them, “Go take care of the lines where they are not keeping their distance, nor are they protecting people. They need you there.” When they asked for the card – allowing people to circulate – only a faithful had it. But Martica said: “I didn’t bring the card, but I know the number by heart. If they fine the brother, let them fine me too.” In the end, only Albertico was fined: 100 pesos out of the 350 of his monthly retirement. (We plan to collect at one peso per person, to pay Albertico’s fine).

When at the peak of the discussion the compañera from the Ministry of Justice said that she was following orders, and that she had received them from Caridad Diego who had called her from the Central Committee, it was I who jumped

When at the peak of the discussion the compañera from the Ministry of Justice said that she was following orders, and that she had received them from Caridad Diego who had called her from the Central Committee, it was I who jumped up. “Wait a minute, this discussion is not caused by the pandemic. This is what they want to turn into a political issue. Please tell Doña Caridad that I am not afraid of her. If she is behind this, it is for a personal matter. Because 25 years ago, when I wrote Fidel Castro a letter about the desperate situation in the town, that lady has had it in for me. She should obey the deceased commander, who back then, when she asked him for instructions on the measures they would take against “that ungrateful priest who dared to confront our commander,” Fidel said to her: “Leave the priest alone.”

In the end, we agreed to have a meeting the next day with the municipal official responsible for hygiene and epidemiology. In a climate of respect and understanding we had that meeting. I explained that if I did not reject the 12 people who came that Sunday it was because I realized that they were stressed, because the press was talking about the failures that the attention to the pandemic had in the United States and that they had their children and grandchildren and other relatives in that country. And they came to pray for them. Based on the measures we had taken in the parish, I knew that they would be out of danger here. (At some point the day before, one of the officials suggested that I was not interested in the safety of my parishioners, without taking into account that people can also die of stress, of anguish, not only of the coronavirus). A guide, political or religious, has to take those factors into account, I say, because “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.”

I looked at the televised mass on Sundays: up to 15 or more people in a space one fourth the size of my parish church

I looked at the televised mass on Sundays: up to 15 or more people in a space one fourth the size of my parish church. On the other hand, I had known of other parishes that had had masses with some faithful, even more than those who had come to Paula these four Sundays, without being questioned or threatened by the authorities. Even at Easter! All this led me to think that I could open my hand a little to help people who needed it, without creating major problems or posing a threat to people. But the truth is that I have always been a fairly naive man. What I did, whatever it was, would always be misinterpreted by the authorities.

The following Sunday, May 17, there were only four people at mass. I had fallen asleep and they were already in the church when I came down. It is very hard to expel people who come desperate. The fifth was followed, from his home to the church, by a car driven by a soldier in uniform. To this lady, the only one who asked if she should stay, I said: “Go home. I don’t want them to think that we are provoking you. That is not our intention.” This time the cordon, official or unofficial, was greater. They sat in the park waiting for the end of mass. But this was so long and with so many songs, that in the end they left. When they were leaving mass the few faithful who had participated in it told me that the park was empty, I said, laughing, “There is no doubt that the mass has the virtue of scaring away demons.”

Despite this humorous phrase, I want to make it clear that I detest the demonization of the different, the one who thinks differently or belongs to “another Church.” The uncritical posture that forgives everything to those who think as I do, and who attacks the enemy on the side, seems to me one of the greatest miseries of the time in which we live. When I told my Spanish son, Felipe Ronda (whom I call “Felipe I of Spain,” since the King is Felipe VI, and may the Crown forgive me if I offend him with that!), he said: “Old man, politicians manipulate and want to take advantage of even pandemics. Everything turns on propaganda and power management. Here in Spain they are doing the same thing.”

That is why I deeply admire my friend the Argentine-Jewish journalist Andrés Oppenheimer, who has written so much about corruption, both in the US and in Latin America, the same on the left as on the right. He won his first Pulitzer for his research on Iran-Contra. I am very honored by the words he wrote in his book Chronicles of Heroes and Bandits about corruption, that of politicians and the military as well as of businessmen and intellectuals… although in his book he speaks not only of corruption, but of the virtues and good examples of men and women, who, whether lowly or from the stage of power, are good examples to follow: “For José Conrado, whom I deeply admire, among other things, for his courage to denounce bandits. Your friend,” Andrés Oppenheimer.

I always like to talk “of right and wrong.” It seems to me that the most divine attribute of God is that he can bring good even from evil

I always like to talk “of right and wrong.” It seems to me that the most divine attribute of God is that he can bring good even from evil. How he manages, don’t ask me: my theology doesn’t go that far. In these months a cartoon went viral showing God talking to the devil: the latter, rubbing his hands, said to God, “Did you notice how I closed all the your temples with one stroke?” While God, smiling peacefully, replied: “Did you notice how I have turned every home into a temple?”

The Coronavirus has become a tough but perhaps necessary lesson. We must return to the essential. Put aside foolish pride, blind ambition, empty vanity and discover that God has left us two great sacraments of his presence: the Eucharist and human beings: especially the one most in need of our solidarity and love. Both sacraments must be appreciated in all their value. Let us not forget that the sacrament is not only a sign, but an instrument: it realizes what it means. When we can neither embrace those we love, nor celebrate the living presence of God in his Eucharist, it is when we better understand its value because “nobody appreciates what he has until he loses it,” as the saying goes. Amen.

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