Tania Bruguera Now Has Her Passport / 14ymedio

Pasaporte-Tania-Bruguera-FacebookYoTambienExijo_CYMIMA20150711_0011_16

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, 11 July 2015 — The Cuban government finally returned her passport to the artist Tania Bruguera, who can now travel outside the island, she reported this Saturday in a statement on her Facebook site #YoTambiénExijo. The document had been seized last December when she was arrested before staging a performance of political art in Havana.

According to the statement, State Security and a police instructor returned her only passport, a Cuban one, to Bruguera at a meeting on Friday. However, the artist declared that she would not leave Cuba, “Until I have an official document in my hands that legally assures me I can reenter the country without problems,” which the Cuban authorities have promised to have to her within the next two weeks. continue reading

“My argument was never that I would leave Cuba: my argument is that there is work so that freedom of speech and expression exist in Cuba, so that violence against thinking different politically different is penalized,” Bruguera said in the statement.” In Cuba people should feel happy to speak their minds without fear of losing their jobs or their university careers, without fear of being isolated or going to prison. ”

The artist also expressed her wish that “one day the police will be in a proud demonstration of those who think differently from them. My argument proposes an amnesty and eliminating the figure of the political prisoner because no one would be punished for thinking for themselves.”

“My argument was always Cuba’s need for a civic literacy campaign where everyone knows and learns to defend their rights as citizens,” concludes Bruguera.

Since the Cuban government prevented her from staging her performance six months ago, Bruguera has had several run-ins with State Security. On June 8 the artist was detained along with 47 Ladies in White at the exit of Santa Rita Church in the Havana’s Playa municipality. A few weeks earlier, during the activities of the Havana Biennial, Bruguera decided to pay tribute to Hannah Arendt with more than 100 consecutive hours of reading, analysis and discussion of the book The Origins of Totalitarianism. The event was hijacked by successive acts of police pressure, a noisy street repair project outside the home of the artist and the subsequent arrest of her and several companions.

Stirring Up the Book Publishing Hornet’s Nest / 14ymedio, Jose Gabriel Barrenechea

The Havana Book Fair. (14ymedio)
The Havana Book Fair. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, José Gabriel Barrenechea, Santa Clara, 7 July 2015 — The printed edition of the weekly Vangaurdia* dared mess with hornets. In her article “Let him who does not know you buy you?” the young journalist Laura Rodríguez Fuentes identified several inconvenient truths that will surely make waves in the tiny world of Cuban letters.

According to the journalist “many people ask if publishing houses are really thinking about the public for whom their publications are intended.” Her response, while only inferred, is of course no. Ms. Rodríguez continues: “An assessment of what is published is urgently needed, while opinion polls on topics, genres, and authors should be disclosed nationwide.”

After acknowledging that “except for children’s titles, the quality of many books is poor,” Ms. Rodríguez goes on to scrutinize Cuban publishing marketing strategies. With plenty of evidence to support her claims, she states that these policies are too focused on yearly book fairs. continue reading

Ms. Rodríguez continued by shoving a stick into a hornet’s nest and shaking it violently with the following paragraph: “Effective book publishing policies cannot be focused on writers who want to have their books published just because. They should focus on the consumer, the reader.”

State-sanctioned authors control Santa Clara’s publishers for their own ends. Despite the efforts of qualified editors such as Isaily Pérez and especially Idiel García of Ediciones Sed de Belleza (Thirst for Beauty Publishers), it is the clique of authorized writers that decides who can and cannot get published, while guaranteeing they will be published first. In order to ensure their place in the “publishing strategy,” these authors will write anything and on any subject.

The fact is that this clique is more concerned with making money than having its work disseminated. Such was the case in recent events in the town of Remedios. Several writers, who were not paid immediately for their work on a special publication commemorating the town’s 500th anniversary, behaved very uncivilly. According to off-the-record sources, even the police got involved as fists flew in middle of a brawl worthy of the worst Havana slum.

It seems none of the authors involved cared much about the significance that comes with being part of such a publication. Their only concern was cold hard cash and the fleeting moment.

Ms. Rodríguez concludes with the following observation: “There should be a direct link between opinion polls and the titles offered at book fairs. Book publishing should not be centered on favoritisms, but rather on consumers’ preferences and wishes.”

We could not agree with her more.

* Translator’s Note: The official newspaper of Villa Clara Province’s Communist Party’s Central Committee.

Translated by José Badué

Holguin Hospitals Throw Away Biological Wastes in the Cemetery / 14ymedio, Orlando Palma and Fernando Donate

Broken tombstones in the Mayabe cemetery, Holguin. (14ymedio)
Broken tombstones in the Mayabe cemetery, Holguin. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Orlando Palma and Fernando Donate, Holguin, 11 July 2015 – Broken tombstones, open graves, dilapidated tombs, and, here and there, scavengers that devour shallowly buried remains. This is no scene from a horror movie but images from a video that exposes the serious situation in the Mayabe Cemetery in Holguin.

Released by the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU) in 2014, the film was produced by journalists Nairovis Zaldivar, Yainiel Diamela Escofet and Rosaida Check, and has been distributed through the illegal “weekly packet” that circulates widely in the province without any official media picking up the story.

Almost a year later, the problem has not been solved; it was caused because the Vladimir Ilich Lenin University General Hospital, the Lucia Iniguez Landin Surgical Teaching Clinic and the Provincial Military Hospital bury their wastes in the place, since their crematoriums are not functioning. Criticism of the mismanagement of biological wastes has been heard at various levels but local authorities have not taken action in the matter.

In the investigative work the errors committed by the medical institutions depositing the remains from surgeries, abortions, amputations and tests, without proper precautions, are laid bare. For months, those who have visited the grave of a relative in the cemetery have been overwhelmed by carrion birds and other animals that helped themselves to the hospital wastes barely covered by a little dirt. continue reading

Gate to the Mayabe, Holguin, graveyard, one of the biggest on the island. (14ymedio)
Gate to the Mayabe, Holguin, graveyard, one of the biggest on the island. (14ymedio)

Located six kilometers from the city, the Holguin cemetery has some 500,000 square meters and is one of the biggest in the country. Although there are no homes nearby, at midday the bad odor is unbearable, especially in the area at the back of the site where the three medical centers dump their wastes.

On the Cuban Medicine Blog, Doctor Eloy A. Gonzalez calls attention to the fact that “the management of hospital wastes, above all biological materials, is a problem of the highest priority for health systems and the organizations and institutions charged with management and disposal of the same.”

The doctor points out that “you cannot walk around in cemeteries throwing away biological wastes, barely buried where soon stray dogs and carrion birds notice the anatomical parts that come from a hospital. Are there no incinerators in hospitals in Cuba?” he asks. His text circulates through the email of various health professional with accounts on the Infomed service.

Specialists consulted by this daily agree that a first step to solving the problem would be to diminish as much as possible the biological wastes that the hospitals generate. Once reduced, their collection, transport and disposal must be rigorously controlled. Failure to fulfill the measures associated with the treatment of these wastes can present a serious health risk.

With the scandal uncovered by the UNPACU video, now the wastes are buried more deeply, although still without regard to the measures required for their handling. The regular edition of the February 15, 1999, Official Gazette governs the responsibility of “the heads of the entities that are in charge of installations and release areas whose operations generate dangerous biological wastes.”

Here and there are seen exposed remains in the neglected niches of Mayabe. (14ymedio)
Here and there are seen exposed remains in the neglected niches of Mayabe. (14ymedio)

Under Cuban law, wastes that may contain “biological agents, organisms and fragments of agents or organisms with genetic information, that represent a real or potential danger for human health and the environment in general” must be removed in a way that “guarantees the protection of the environment and in particular the population and workers.”

On questioning about the topic at the Vladimir Ilich Lenin University General Hospital, the employees shy away from responding about the conditions in which the wastes from the health center end up at the Holguin graveyard. Only one employee from the laboratory area, who preferred anonymity, submits: “We have problems with resources, for example with the correct bags and containers for placing the samples that we process.”

When they will repair the crematorium is a question that finds no answer in the management of the health center and much less in its administration. Nevertheless, the epidemiological risk from the wastes is not the only cause for worry for those Holguin residents who visit the cemetery. The use of an area laden with funereal connotations as a biological dumping ground bothers many, too.

Lucia Iniguez Landin Surgical Hospital Clinic, one of those denounced for burying biological wastes in the Holguin cemetery. (14ymedio)
Lucia Iniguez Landin Surgical Hospital Clinic, one of those denounced for burying biological wastes in the Holguin cemetery. (14ymedio)

Lucia, 72 years of age, often visits the family mausoleum which is located a few meters from the place where the hospitals bury their wastes. “It is a lack of respect that they do this because this is a sacred place for the dead to rest in peace,” this lady complains, and although she has not seen the journalistic report, she asserts: “I realized that something was going on when I arrived and this was full of miserable buzzards.”

The main complaint, however, lies in the fact that such a sensitive matter that involves ethical and epidemiological issues has still not been dealt with by the province’s official media. “It seems that they are waiting for something grave to happen, for someone to get sick or to protest because of this disrespect, before they put it in the press,” says Lucia.

Translated by Mary Lou Keel

A New Case of Fraud Jolts Cuban Universities / 14ymedio, Mario Feliz Lleonart

Students of the Faculty of Medicine of Villa Clara. (Facebook)
Students of the Faculty of Medicine of Villa Clara. (Facebook)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario Feliz Lleonart, Villa Clara, 9 July 2015 — A new case of academic fraud jolted university campuses this Thursday. A group of first year students in Medical Sciences in the province of Villa Clara had prior access to the answers for the Morphophysiology III exam, given on Thursday, 2 July. According to several witnesses, the sale and circulation of the test was extensive and affected sites in other cities such as that in Sagua la Grande.

The immediate solution will be to retest all first year students on Monday, 13 July. So far it is not known if sanctions will be applied to those who committed the fraud, nor if the source of the link is known. The only details come from those who must retake the test, a measure some students consulted lamented as “paying for the sins of others.”

Scandals of this kind in Cuban academia have become common at all levels of education. Last June, this newspaper reported on the leak of several final exams in the No. 1 Medical School in Santiago de Cuba. On that occasion, 23 students were directly involved in leaking and distributing the content of the second year Anatomy and Statistics exams, fourth year English and the well known State Test. On that occasion the school’s director asked for a two-year suspension from higher education for the students involved in the incident.

Wi-Fi crashes at La Rampa / 14ymedio, Miriam Celaya

Wi-Fi antenna in Havana. (14ymedio)
Wi-Fi antenna in Havana. (14ymedio)

14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 2 July 2015 — Contrary to what one might expect in a country where communications are almost a luxury and not a right, the announced opening of a public network access at Havana’s La Rampa, which would expand Internet access in the capital starting July 1st, did not generate significant crowds.

In the morning hours, the iconic El Vedado stretch, from 23rd Street, between L and El Malecón, showed its usual liveliness. Just a few, mostly young, would-be Internet users roamed the corner of 23rd and L, manipulating their mobile phones in vain: there was no Wi-Fi signal.

The almost total absence of foreign media at the location seemed a bad omen. One of the most important complaints of the Cuban population has been specifically about the Internet. That is why every occasion relating to the expansion of communications and the creation of cyberspace is an event that brings out the media. continue reading

Under the scorching midday heat it was already evident that “something” had failed and –lacking any information- speculation became more frequent. “They must be configuring the system so it will not crash when service starts” argued a twenty-something young man that had spent hours searching for the expected signal on his phone. Others around him kept trying, while disappointment grew as the hours passed. Everyone had purchased their Nauta cards for this occasion, and they had activated their accounts to allow international navigation.

Already under the scorching midday heat it was evident that “something” had failed and –lacking any information- speculation became more frequent

By the afternoon, the number of potential Internet users grew a bit. The most persistent were about a dozen teenagers, who wanted to sign onto Facebook and Twitter to chat with friends who live abroad. A 17 year old girl claimed that although she had bought a card at the nearby Habana Libre Hotel, she could not connect without the hotel’s password. “It’s telling me that I need to have the hotel’s access code, but they did not mention that to me, or give me the code when I bought the card”.

Several vendors at the well-known craft fair, Feria de La Rampa “had known” unofficially that the network would only start operations “from July 2nd… or after the 10th”. As is the norm in Cuba, nobody knew exactly what difficulties had prevented the network’s activation. Tania, a custom jewelry seller, said she sporadically checked her phone to see if she could finally get a signal, until a friend who works at the Instituto Cubano de Radio y Televisión came by and told her that there would be no Wi-Fi signal because of a “technical problem”, a worn-out phrase which is strictly true in the Cuban circumstance. In fact, Nauta mail had problems since mid-morning, connecting intermittently and not allowing images or attachments to be viewed.

By afternoon’s end it was already clear the expected Wi-Fi signal would not be available on La Rampa, at least not on the promised date, and even the more optimistic users felt frustrated and put away their phones. “These people are always lying to us, that’s why nobody ever believes anything they say”, stated Joan, a college student who has been my companion today thorough this failed attempt at web-navigation. He is upset and is not hiding it. “You see this? They can’t even set up a Wi-Fi network which they charge us a lot for, besides. But no, just try to connect for free at the US Interests Office in Havana and they expel you from the University, they hold a meeting and label you as a traitor.” Then he leaves, grumbling, down La Rampa.

“Americans are going to set up a nice web room, all for free. And they won’t be able to tell us that it would be a bad thing, because we are now friends aren’t we?”

There are also the irredeemable optimists, who have an extra dose of fantasy. Roberto is another young man, but did not complete school. He drives the Coppelia-Vívora route of an almendrón [a vintage car fixed-route taxi] for a living. He says, “As soon as they reopen the embassy (on July 20th) Americans will set up a nice web room all for free, just wait and see. And they won’t be able to tell us that it would be a bad thing, because we are now friends, aren’t we? I want to view all about the Major Leagues on the internet.” What’s amazing is that there is no malice or suspicion in his demeanor, as if what he expects were a done deal.

The worst part of it? The indifference of some who simply shrugged: another day without Internet, who cares? Time is a dimension that only acquires real value beyond the wall of Havana’s Malecón which the Telecommunications Company, monopoly of the Cuban government, set as limit for the Wi-Fi, but that, in truth, continues to be the border between Havana and the real world.

Translated by Norma Whiting

Camagüey’s San Juan Festival, Somewhere Between Fun and Indecency / 14ymedio, Henry Constantin

The floats, pulled by tractors, in the festival of San Juan. (14ymedio)
The floats, pulled by tractors, in the festival of San Juan. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Henry Constantín,Camagüey, 28 June 2015 — Saint John the Baptist, or San Juan in Spanish, was a man who used river water to baptize those who wanted to purify themselves, yet he ended up decapitated for criticizing Galilee’s corrupt rulers. Ironically, now almost two thousand years later, San Juan’s feast day is celebrated in Camagüey with a public festival organized by the city’s authorities (some of whom are also corrupt), and with plenty of diluted “baptized” alcohol.

One of the San Juan Festival’s aims and outcomes is to defuse the bottled-up but growing discontent and dissent of the preceding year, and it accomplishes its goal with the joyful “decapitation” generated by alcohol, music, and parades. continue reading

The opening of my 2004 article about the San Juan Festival – a June tradition that always brings joy to the people of Camagüey – was a bit less critical. Nevertheless, it was censored and consequently not published in Adelante, the official newspaper. I was accused of promoting religion for mentioning San Juan in the opening sentence. Now is my chance to get even, although I must admit that there were not many differences between the festival of 2004 and 2015.

The government organizes everything – which is not much ­­­­– with the support of the self-employed, who are the real organizers of most of the entertainment

Just like back in 2004 – and as is the case in nearly all Cuban towns sponsoring public festivals – this year’s San Juan Festival started with the closure of specific streets and squares, where dozens of food and trinket stands, stages for musical performances, trailers carrying beer kegs, and carnival games were placed.

Floats, conga lines and dance troupes filed by in the early evening and after dusk. This year they were very colorful and rhythmical, although some of the musicians and dancers seemed off beat and to have a blank look on their faces. As always, the music and sale of food and beer went on until dawn. This was especially the case at the location where the great Cándido Fabré’s orchestra was performing.

Most students and State employees are grateful for the festival because the afternoons of the week of June 24th become de facto time off. Most people just leave their workplaces.

The government organizes everything – which is not much ­­­­– with the support of the self-employed, who are the real organizers of most of the entertainment, and who also provide what is consumed, transportation, and even the pubic restrooms. Yet our festival has its own peculiarities. We have San Pablo Street, historically and instinctively preferred by homosexuals, reserved for the street carnival.

Then there is Capdevila Street, which is synonymous with overwhelming vulgarity. We have a famous conga line, “The Commandos,” and the events start with a traditional inaugural in which the president of the local government delivers an official proclamation.

On the eve of San Juan’s Day, neighbors get together and make a large stew, which gets weaker every year, as do the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution, which are responsible for preparing the meal. This year, the CDR’s were so kind as to distribute rotting cattle bones to homes on several blocks.

At sunset, thousands of people pour out onto the streets, but most return home after taking a stroll or before the break of dawn. These are then followed by young people, groups of inebriated friends, and lovers. Walking on the streets where the festival takes place with a wallet or cellphone at that time of night is extremely dangerous.

Year after year, Camagüey’s San Juan Festival walks a very delicate tightrope between popular merriment and criminal bedlam.

Year after year, Camagüey’s San Juan Festival walks a very delicate tightrope between popular merriment and criminal bedlam. Rivers of pungent urine flow from the streets adjacent to the musical bands, from the beer kegs, and even from the walls of private homes. Later on it takes days to disinfect whole neighborhoods. Merry men and women of all ages hide in the dark to relieve their bladders, turning the simple acts of opening one’s front door or looking out the window into unpleasant surprises.

In the pre-dawn hours and in the areas reserved for dancing, it is not uncommon to see women in the crowd with their babies asleep in their strollers, accompanying their husbands who cling to their easily recognizable beer cans. No matter the time of day, the areas set aside for shopping and public consumption of beer are packed with minors, who with or without adult supervision witness and sometimes participate in all the rituals of adult nightlife: the consumption of alcohol and tobacco, public sex, lewdness, urination and defecation, and nighttime delinquency.

For some time now, Camagüey has been ravaged by violence, and the San Juan Festival only exacerbates the problem. Once festivities kick off on June 24th, the city’s residents start echoing the usual warnings: “Be careful out there!”; “Don’t go out at night!”; “Don’t ride your bike!”; “Make sure you lock the door!”; “Make sure to leave your money at home!”

According to older people, this year’s San Juan Festival was not as nice as those of yesteryear. Thousands of citizens of Camagüey stayed home, out of fear, indifference, or lack of money. Those who tried enjoying the festival did so despite the awful conditions caused by scarcity, stench, and danger. Still, the San Juan Festival is the only opportunity the people of Camagüey have in the whole year to forget about their gray lives, their limited hopes, and their bitter struggle for survival.

Translated by José Badué

At Least 563 Arbitrary Arrests in June, according to CCDHRN / 14ymedio

Lazaro Yuri Valle Roca
Lazaro Yuri Valle Roca

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 7 July 2015 – Through the month of June, at least 563 arbitrary arrests of regime opponents in Cuba were recorded according to the report published this Tuesday by the Cuban Commission on National Human Rights and Reconciliation (CCDHRN). In spite of a slight decrease in the number compared to previous months, the total continues to be one of the highest in the hemisphere.

The organization also counted 26 physical attacks and 16 cases of harassment; however, it recorded no acts of repudiation nor vandalism against homes of dissidents.

The report mentions the case of Lazaro Yuri Valle Roca, an independent journalist arbitrarily detained last June 3, interrogated by State Security and transported dozens of miles from Havana. After forcing him to kneel looking at the ground, the agents put the barrel of a pistol against his neck, which the CCDHRN classifies as an unofficial mock execution.

Translated by Mary Lou Keel

The Athens of the Caribbean / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

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14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 6 July 2015 — The “No” side won in the Greek referendum on Sunday. This controversial decision has given Raul Castro a chance to position himself on the multipolar world stage through a letter that the official press has published ad nauseam. The general president sent a message of solidarity and convergence to Alexis Tsipras, in which Athens and Havana display their points of contact.

The possible exit of Greece from the euro zone could occasion its approach to the Russian and Chinese gravitational camp, which also constitutes the strategic Cuban rearguard in the face of any negotiation with the United States and the European Union. Half a hundred words have been enough for the first secretary of the Communist Party to warn any negotiator that the “courageous policy” of the current Greek government would be an example to follow. continue reading

Elevating the tone of nationalism, putting the political discourse of sovereignty above the wellbeing of the population, and slamming the door to the creditors make up a part of the script that the Castros have been acting out for decades and that now has a good disciple in the leader from Greece’s Syriza Party. A way of governing that prioritizes fanfare in discourse above effectiveness in actions and calls for national sovereignty even though the individual is left out in the cold.

Tsipras (b. Athens 1974) has put his country on the brink of breaking away from the European Community and on the possible path of returning to the drachma, but Havana wins this game. It hasn’t even managed to reunify the two circulating currencies as it has projected it would do in more than one official economic plan. Both countries have broken economies, inflated growth numbers, dysfunctional financial systems, and, in the halls of power, leaders with more arrogance than pragmatism.

However, while the Greek government managed a nearly 62% acceptance of the referendum against the powerful troika (Central European Bank, European Commission, and International Monetary Fund), the Plaza of the Revolution has no need to submit its decision to a referendum. In the case of having to do it in the short or medium term, it would engage in its known mechanisms of coercion to ensure an overwhelming ninety-plus percent popular approval.

In the eighties, the Soviet subsidy made the most optimistic among us dream that Cuba could become a kind of Athens of the Caribbean. Today Raul Castro applauds Greece to send a message to the current geopolitical poles of the planet. A direct wink, with something of the flirt included, threatening the suitors in the struggle to approach the island with “falling into the arms of another.”

The enormous difference is that the European Union, the United States and NATO are more concerned over Greece’s approach to its contenders, than that far off Moscow or distant Peking could be interested in what happens in Havana. Where Greece wants an out because it cannot pay, is where Cuba would like to enter, which it demonstrates with this funny way of knocking at the door.

The results of Raul Castro’s accolade to “comrade Alexis Tsipras” may be one of those shots that backfires. At a time when the country is demonstrating its desire to attract investors and receive credits, it doesn’t help to give pats on the back to someone who hasn’t met its financial commitments. This is not the time to try to look like Athens.

 

Cienfuegos Activists Begin Hunger Strike Because Ladies In White Are Not Allowed To Attend Mass / 14ymedio

March of the Ladies in White on Sunday June 21 in Havana. (14ymedio)
March of the Ladies in White on Sunday June 21 in Havana. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Cienfuegos, 26 June 2015 – The activists Emilio García Moreira and Alexander Veliz García have begun a hunger strike in the town of Aguada de Pasajeros, in Cienfuegos, to demand that the Ladies in White be given unrestricted access to the local parish. Juan Alberto de la Nuez, the provincial coordinator of the opposition organization the United Anti-totalitarian Front (FANTU), told this newspaper that the action started yesterday at six in the afternoon and was motivated by the refusal of the Padre Tarciso to allow eight of these women to participate in Mass last Sunday at the Jesus of Nazareth Catholic Church.

Along with the two men on hunger strike, the Lady in White Mayelín García Moreira began a 24-hour fast ending this afternoon. According to de la Nuez it is expected that “in the coming hours other members of FANTU will join the strike,” and many of the several Ladies in White of the town will rotate in fasting. The protest is being held in House No. 2 of Block 33 in the La Communidad settlement. continue reading

The initiative has been accompanied by an open letter addressed to the priest Tarciso and with a copy to Bishop Domingo Oropesa in the Cienfuegos diocese. In the missive it specified that the hunger strike would continue until the priest asked forgiveness from those he offended and was transferred to another parish. However, to date it has not been possible to deliver the letter to its recipient, because in the church they told the activists that “he has been on vacation in Nicaragua.”

Padre Tarciso refused to allow eight Ladies in White to participate in Mass last Sunday at the Jesus of Nazareth Catholic Church

In the three pages occupied by the text, what occurred is classified as an outrage and it is recalled that, “None of us Cubans who are persecuted by the rulers due to our ideas will ever reproach the Church you represent because the families of the five spies who were released in December of 2014 came to your temples to pray for their release for the prisons, because it is understood that the Church belongs to everyone.”

For his part, a resident of Aguada de Pasajero, who asked for anonymity, told 14ymedio that the priest’s gesture had been motivated because, “The community that attends this church asked that the presence of the group not be permitted.” According to this version, Padre Tarciso refused entry to the Ladies in White because to allow them “would bring the consequence that other believers would refrain from attending to avoid problems.”

“We are suffering greatly from State Securty harassment experienced by the people and we don’t want any more problems,” explains the same source. However, the Lady in White Miladis Espino Diaz points out that the activists only want to peacefully attend Mass because “we believe in God,” and she considers herself discriminated against because “some of those who go to the Church look down on us and take off when we walk by.”

This Sunday, the eight Ladies in White previously excluded, accompanied by other supportive people, will return to try to exercise their right to attend Mass.

Martha Beatriz Roque: “In Cuba there are political prisoners, but they don’t all appear on the lists” / 14ymedio

Martha Beatriz Roque. (14ymedio)
Martha Beatriz Roque. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 6 June 2015 — The opposition leader Martha Beatriz Roque witnessed the controversial incident that occurred last Thursday, 2 July, at the residence of the head of the United States Interests Section in Havana, during the celebrations of that country’s Independence Day. A group of government opponents rebuked Cardinal Jaime Ortega y Alamino for his statement that there are no political prisoners in Cuba, which has been spread in spoken and filmed versions. Roque talks about these events in an interview with 14ymedio.

14ymedio. The Archbishop of Havana has just denied one version in which derogatory expressions about the independent press were attributed to Cardinal Jaime Ortega. You were there, how do you feel about what happened?

Roque. I think that it wasn’t the proper way to address a person who occupies the position in the Church that Cardenal Jaime Ortega occupies, nor was it the appropriate place to do it in the circumstances in which the incident occurred. There have been references to some videos and voice recordings, in one of which Jaime can be heard to say that the opponents “are blowing the trumpets of Miami.” continue reading

Although I was present at the home of the Chief if the Interests Section for the celebration of the United States’ independence day, I wasn’t a direct witness to the incident, but I talked with everyone moments later. Things got rough as they were speaking, to the point that Father Polcari had to intervene and ask them to keep their distance.

Those involved in the incident were Egberto Escobedo, who was the person who spoke; Jose Diaz Silva; Maria Cristina Labrada Varona, who is the wife of Escobedo; and the Lady in White from Matanzas, Leticia Herrería. Everything happened in the middle of the patio of the chief of the United States Interest Section’s residence in the atmosphere of the 4th of July celebration.

Escobedo told me personally that they had told the cardinal that the people of Cuba didn’t agree with him with regards to his behavior of denying the existence of political prisoners. Which I see as part of this injection of totalitarianism that the majority of us opponents have, of speaking like the system itself which systematically speaks in the name of the people, and there we go also speaking in the name of the people.

We never forget the execution of those three Cubans in 2003. That was an atrocity, but no one who commits this type of crime can be on a list of political prisoners, because they are not.

 14ymedio. The focus of the discussion is related to some statements by Archbishop Jaime Ortega where he denies the existence of political prisoners in Cuba. Do you share that opinion?

Roque. On two occasions the Cardinal has said that in Cuba there are no political prisoners. On a third occasion he said that on the lists that have been submitted to him there are no political prisoners. We did the work of analyzing the different lists prepared and we prepared a document with respect to that which will soon be published.

It does not seem necessary to specify the authors of such lists, because I do not want anyone to feel attacked with this. The truth is that on some of the lists there are a lot of people who are not only not political prisoners, but in some cases are not even prisoners right now.

14ymedio. You mean those who have carried out violent acts?

Roque. Personally I do not agree that those who have come to Cuba to perform violent acts, terrorist acts or murders, being considered political prisoners. I think you have to have mercy on them, especially those who are Catholics, because in many cases the regime has imposed excessive penalties and this is not permissible from the human point of view. I’m talking about those who have committed serious crimes, but not enough to warrant the conviction of spending the rest of their lives in prison.

We all know how Mr. Fidel Castro made decisions in this regard. We never forget the execution of these three Cubans who stole the boat Baraguá to leave Cuba in 2003. That was an atrocity, but no one who commits this type of crime can be on a list of political prisoners, because they are not.

14ymedio. But do you agree with the cardinal that in Cuba there are no political prisoners?

Roque. In Cuba there are political prisoners, but they do not all appear on those lists. These lists need to be cleaned up. For that we should talk with the heads of organizations and they can say who is who and if they still detained or not, because it also happens that if they are not updated, people are released from prison but remain on the lists. We must agree on the lists and seek the advice of lawyers in the field to explain some cases.

I maintain that it was disrespectful to rebuke Jaime Ortega and also a lack of courtesy to the hosts

14ymedio. To which cases are you referring?

Roque. For example, it is common that in Cuba a person is beaten by police and then charged with assault. I know a whole family where the political police broke down the door of the house, beat them, and they went to prison for up to nine years, serving time for the crime of assault. I’m talking about Osvaldo Rodriguez Acosta and his son Osvaldo Rodriguez Castillo, along with Juana Castillo, wife of Osvaldo, who was sentenced to five years of “correctional deprivation without internment.” However, in one of the dictates it appears as “attempted police murder” and to read that is very hard.

14ymedio. Someone who is limited to reading official documents in a case like this, which you pose as an example, could say that these people are not imprisoned for political reasons.

Roque. Exactly. It is saying what it is not and I think they are political prisoners, as I think others who do appear on some lists are not.

14ymedio. So perhaps the Cardinal could have “fallen into the temptation” of making a candid reading of official documents.

Roque. I do not know how he might have read it, but I maintain that it was disrespectful to rebuke him and also a lack of courtesy to the hosts. All I could do was to greet him and try to erase the impression, which may have been that all of us opponents have similar behaviors.

Don’t Look Away / 14ymedio, Regina Coyula

Antonio Rodiles After his Arrest
Antonio Rodiles After his Arrest

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Regina Coyula, Havana, 6 July 2015 — Ailer González, artistic director of the Estado de SATS project, called me on Sunday afternoon. Knowing it was her, I opened the communication with the festive and very pertinent question of whether she was a grandmother. Sounding crushed and full of indignation she let me know that Antonio Rodiles, her partner and director general of Estado de Sats had just arrived home. He had been savagely beaten in the morning by several individuals dressed in plainclothes while trying to get to the Sunday March of the Ladies in White; he was then arrested, and because of his injuries, taken to the hospital. continue reading

According to Ailer, the doctors were shocked by his condition when he arrived at the emergency room. I do not believe that the doctors’ outrage goes far beyond the horror on display yesterday; there is an invisible but powerful barrier that many Cubans don’t dare to cross.

These kinds of incidents are neither spontaneous nor improvised; they are the result of operational plans and decisions by the political police. Antonio Gonzalez may be a figure who is detested by the Cuban government; but he was not armed, he was not heading out to assault a barracks, or to commit an attack.

Twelve weeks of sustained repression have been directed against the peaceful Sunday marches of the Ladies in White, and the dissidents and journalists who accompany them. Is this brutality and escalation? Are they using the dissidents that have come out against the normalization of relations with the United States to poison the normalization of those same relations? Or are they sending a message to the population? Or both combined?

The government should be more decent. The world is carefully watching Cuba at this time, and actions by their own henchmen only confirm the lack of freedoms. Once again I recall the words of Rosa Luxembourg – an uncomfortable Communist – “Freedom always has been and is the freedom of those who think differently.”

Fidel Castro Visits El Guatao and Talks About Climate Change and Cheese Production / 14ymedio

14ymedio bigger14ymedio Havana, 4 July 2015 – A popular Cuban refrain says that when something ends in violence it was because “it ended like party in El Guatao.” This village immortalized in the national refrain received a visit from Fidel Castro Friday, according to the official press, which highlighted his visit to the Food Industry Research Institute, where he talked about climate change and cheese making in the country.

The appearance of Fidel Castro, three months after his last public outing, occurred a few days after it was announced that the embassies of the United States and Cuba would reopen in their respective territories. Participating in the meeting were María del Carmen Concepción González, Minister of the Food Industry, several members of the governing board of that body, and faculty from the Institute.

Cuba’s dairy industry is experiencing its worst moments, if we compare it to 1984 which set a record with an annual production of 1.1 billion liters of milk. Last year, however, according to the National Office of Statistics, dairy farms produced barely 497 million liters.

The Intellectual, a Ruminant in the Castro Zoo / 14ymedio, José Gabriel Barrenechea

Miguel Diaz-Canel, First Vice President of Cuba's Council of State (Facebook)
Miguel Diaz-Canel, First Vice President of Cuba’s Council of State (Facebook)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, José Gabriel Barrenechea, Santa Clara, 22 June 2015 – Why don’t our intellectuals act like so many foreign observers expect? Why don’t they try to intervene in the debate about the future of the country now that there is ever more open access to the Internet, whether directly or through the exchange of USB memories, and ideas have started to move with greater ease? Why don’t they move, why don’t they stir, now that in Cuba the days of the reign of Castro II are coming to an end and everything becomes so soft, so malleable that it powerfully inspires one to get to work?

In part it is a problem of legitimacy. When in the last congress of the Cuban Writers and Artists Union (UNEAC), Miguel Diaz-Canel insisted that they prioritize the works and talents of the State, through its cultural institutions, he wasn’t talking of something minor and secondary but of an essential aspect of politics thanks to which the regime ensures its stability and its permanence ad aeternum. continue reading

Since about 1976, a pact has been articulated in Cuba between the Castros and the Cuban intelligentsia. A tacit agreement, which largely has built itself on the fly, and above all, in a not completely premeditated way (otherwise it would accept a higher intelligence in the leaders of the regime, or some intellectuals, where none of them seems to have had so rare a gift). In it the Castro State guaranteed the monopoly of a space for the intelligentsia, provided it does not attack, and also as long as it fulfilled any mission assigned to it directed toward the inside or outside of the country.

That space, guaranteed to the already renowned intellectuals, the same ones who during the first 16 years of revolution had been so severely beaten by the regime that they had ended up “learning a lesson,” implied something else. Someone had to define who could legitimately enjoy the space among the newly arrived: that is, who was an intellectual and who was not in the Cuba of Fidel Castro.

It is still the State that legitimizes the Cuban intellectual. Or at least that legitimized that generation already established

Although the mechanism has become more sophisticated with the passing of years, in essence it is still the State that legitimizes the Cuban intellectual. Or at least that legitimized that generation already established, and that comes to mind to the uninformed (or rather to those informed by the regime) when it comes to Cuban intellectuals.

Some are fully aware that they are only intellectuals within this small enclosure in which the Castro regime has allowed them to graze. However the rest, the majority, although they don’t understand it differently cling to this question: What will happen when others, who don’t have pacts with the regime, try to raise their tents in these small paradises? Bearing in mind that this pretend intelligentsia only serves to be exhibited, that it could never justify itself through its sales, much less live off of them. A publisher like Capiro, for example, taking into account an extended system of promotion, and a dozen and a half employees, never sells more than 25% of its runs, no more than 500 copies.

Lobotomized, the pact-holding intelligentsia knows what is best for it is that characters like Diaz-Canel are responsible for “establishing artistic and literary hierarchies.” What to do when being an intellectual implies being truthful? Many are fearful of mentioning that possibility, and therefore also of the possible demise of the Castro regime.

Do not expect much from them. And is it this that ultimately deserves the name of intelligentsia? If anything, it has been nothing more than a useful but misleading label of another “conquest of the Revolution,” through which it tries to romantically justify its perpetuation within the power of the Castros.

The spiritual life of the country, gentlemen, is elsewhere, never through the bars of a zoo. But then, why do we persist in expecting gestures from these poor fairground attractions? Vast are the fields of Cuba…

Independence Day / 14ymedio, Miriam Celaya

Celebration of Independence Day (14ymedio)
Celebration of Independence Day (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 3 July 2015 — The traditional celebration offered by the US Interests Section in Havana, on the anniversary of the Independence of the United States, had on this occasion a special connotation for being the first one to take place following the announcement of restoration of relations between that country and Cuba, and the last one before the reopening of the US embassy in Havana, scheduled for July 20th.

A large turnout of members of the independent civil society participated in the festivities on Thursday July 2nd, sharing the space with known artists, other cultural figures, scholars, and representatives of the Catholic Church, led by Cardinal Jaime Ortega. As usual, there were numerous officials of the diplomatic corps present at the event.

After listening to the national anthems of Cuba and the US, Mr. Jeffrey De Laurentis, Chief of the US Interests Section, delivered a brief speech by referring to the importance of the date and the events that are taking place at this new stage of dialogue between the two governments, while expressing his hopes that soon the ties between our two countries will deepen and consolidate. continue reading

The gathering was enlivened by American entertainers, who performed traditional Cuban and American music.

The simultaneous presence of members of independent civil society and of well-known personalities of the national culture has been evolving into a healthy trend that has been implemented in celebrations organized by the Interests Section, thus creating room for tolerance and mutual respect in a relaxed atmosphere, though, overall, certain distrust persists on both sides.

Perhaps for the 240th US Independence Day anniversary we will have the unusual image of the bird on its structure with the marble columns, paradoxically close to the Anti-Imperialist Tribunal

Of course, most of the discussions were focused on the new relations between Cuba and its neighbor to the north, the imminent opening of the US embassy, and frequent speculations about what the current dialogue and “normalization” process, initiated last December, might mean for the lives of Cubans in the medium term. An atmosphere of cautious optimism prevailed, though those who are more knowledgeable on policy issues recognize that the current situation within Cuba is complex and delicate.

White roses adorned the surroundings, while the crowd of invited guests was presented with fans with the US flag on them, to mitigate the heat that prevailed in the gardens of the residence of the head of the US Interests Section, where the reception was held.

Monument to the Maine in Havana before the Revolution
Monument to the Maine in Havana before the Revolution

There, at the back of the beautiful park, the bold eagle, symbol of the “enemy” nation, stands proud, and now extends an olive branch to Cubans. This is the first bronze sculpture crowning the monument to the victims of the USS Maine. The bronze eagle was struck down by the hurricane that hit Havana in 1926; the sculpture which replaced it fell under the onslaught of the other major hurricane, the 1959 revolution, and now head of the eagle can be found on the wall of the conference room at the Cuban Interests Section building, while the Historian for the City of Havana treasures the rest of the body.

Monument to the Maine in Havana today
Monument to the Maine in Havana today

It has been said that only when Cuba and the United States rekindle the path of harmony the two parts of the bald eagle would be reassembled and placed anew on its pedestal, by the sea at the Malecón, peering at the horizon. If this prophecy is fulfilled, perhaps for the 240th Independence Day anniversary we will have the unusual image of the bird on its structure with the marble columns, paradoxically close to the Tribunal Anti-Imperialista and the Monte de las Banderas.

Translated by Norma Whiting

Drug Consumption in Cuba…”Benefits” of Globalization? / 14ymedio, Miriam Celaya

Among consumers of alcohol combined with psychoactive drugs are users as young as 12 years old. (CC)
Among consumers of alcohol combined with psychoactive drugs, the youngest users average around 12-years-old. (CC)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 29 June 2015 — Juventud Rebelde’s extensive report (Alas Trágicas para Volar (I) [Tragic Flying Wings I], of Sunday, June 28th addresses the controversial issue of drug use among adolescents and young Cubans. Putting aside that the presence and alarming spread of this scourge in the Island’s population has been previously revealed on numerous occasions by the independent press and foreign media – which were accused at that time of distorting reality with the deliberate intention of tarnishing “revolutionary” Cuba’s image – it is no less commendable that the official press has finally recognized the existence of this evil in the supposedly exemplary Cuban society.

The article in question also notes other flaws, no less serious, such as increasing alcoholism from an early age and the growing illicit trade in psychotropic and other drugs controlled by the Ministry of Public Health. A string of corruption often starts with theft at the very factories producing the pills and its saga includes shorting at the warehouses, overpricing at drugstores and even at doctors’ offices where some unscrupulous physicians prescribe them, be it for lack of ethics or patient bribes.

A psychologist at the Community Mental Health Center in the Havana municipality Plaza de la Revolución declares that, among consumers of alcohol combined with psychoactive drugs the youngest users average around 12-years-old, a fact that reveals the extent and depth of the problem. continue reading

Neither happy nor too profound

Formerly, the official speech coined a Guevara phrase defining Cuban youth, “Happy but profound.” However, the article by Juventud Rebelde assures us that in a survey conducted on a sample of 40 young people between 14 and 19 of age, residing in the capital and in four other regions of the Island, it was evident that, though they are aware of the health risks of narcotics, “most” associate it with a social activity, and consume them at discotheques, parks, festivities and they even take “pills” at school or at home. Such are the ways the failed children of “the New Man” find happiness

Over half a century of indoctrination to purify four generations of revolutionaries have not been enough, and young Cubans have surrendered to that other noxious influence of the consumer society: drugs. We must ask ourselves how many of those who march each year towards the Fragua Martiana Museum carrying torches or those who join in youth battalions of the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution will be destined to combat and eradicate this new enemy that attacks us from within, drug use.

Drug use has become one of the ways to find joy for the failed children of the “New Man”

In any case, we know how useful the most wholesome youth can be when it comes to joining in those battles of the revolution, as was demonstrated in the past decade, when an army of young social workers* knocked themselves out in the urgent task of wiping out the roots of corruption. We can still recall the sassiness on their faces at the gas pump, trafficking happily in the hydrocarbons of their beloved mentor, Fidel Castro.

Without cause and without solutions

Juventud Rebelde’s article barely shows the tip of the iceberg, judging by a specialist in forensic medicine, who says that “consumption (of alcohol) mixed with medication is a fairly common group practice in recent times,” difficult to quantify because “alcohol consumption is often diagnosed, but it is very difficult to know if it has been combined with some psychotropic drug” due to the lack of controls and corresponding clinical examinations.

That leads directly to another question. If drug use has spread in such an epidemic fashion among young people, is it not time to set in this dazzling medical world power the necessary clinical procedures to find out what types of substances have been ingested by those who come to the health care centers, to identify trends and implement the most appropriate medical procedures, for both emergency treatment and a process of rehabilitation? What happened to that fabulous anti-drug laboratory — “the largest in the region” — perfectly equipped, which, in the brutal 90’s the Cuban president had constructed to demonstrate our purity as a sport nation? Why not devote the necessary resources to get this new scourge that hovers ever stronger over the Island out of the way, especially when payment for the services of the contingents of physicians services sub-contracted abroad is one of the most juicy foreign exchange net earnings in the country?

Is it not time to establish in this dazzling medical world power the clinical procedures to detect what types of substances have been ingested?

Meanwhile, the Juventud Rebelde article makes reference to the increasing use of drugs and alcohol in Cuba as if it were just another trend in line with global standards. It is, in short, a global scourge, and in this Cubans are also in tune with the rest of the world. So our young people are simply seeking “to escape reality,” which should not be expected of a just and happy society like ours, where everyone is guaranteed a bright future, very different from that of the wretched people who scrape by in decadent capitalist societies.

What’s more, it is known that drug use is also associated with alcoholism and smoking, another two of the national pandemics. But this is certainly not related to the fact that Cuba is one of the leading producers of tobacco, or that rum is one of the few industries that has survived the voracious predatory social system imposed on the island since January of 1959.

For now, Juventud Rebelde does not venture too far into the analysis of the causes, or of solutions. However, we should not get too far ahead of ourselves. This article last Sunday was only the first installment on the topic in the “Journal of Cuban Youth.” In the next installments we will certainly be able to discover some ingenious proposals that will fill us with hope.

*Translator’s note: These are young people performing their “social service,” not social workers in the sense of a life’s career.

Translated by Norma Whiting