Elections In Venezuela And Cuban Experiences / 14ymedio, Pedro Campos

”Thank you Venezuela, we won!” Message of the Bureau of Democratic Unity (MUD) after the results of parliamentary elections on 6 December 2015. (Youtube / screenshot)
”Thank you Venezuela, we won!” Message of the Bureau of Democratic Unity (MUD) after the results of parliamentary elections on 6 December 2015. (Youtube / screenshot)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Pedro Campos, Havana, 11 December 2015 — The victory of the Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD) in Venezuela brings an endless list of implications for Cuba, depending on how events develop there. We will have to wait some time to make a comprehensive assessment of the phenomenon.

According to Maduro’s speech, the blame for his crushing defeat in parliamentary elections last Sunday belongs to imperialism, its internal acolytes, and their economic and media war. We Cubans know this justifying discourse, which is incapable of self-criticism.

Madurismo” says that the counterrevolution triumphed in an election where the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) lost overwhelmingly, due to its own mistakes. The popular majority who voted for democratic change, according to this version, were counterrevolutionaries, including the forces of the left and the Chavistas who voted for opposition candidates: this is a misreading. continue reading

This approach is part of the philosophy of traditional authoritarian populism of a “left” that has seen as revolutionary and socialist centralized state control over the economy and politics, and the Manichaean “with me or against me”… “because the Revolution is me.”

A constructive vision of the future obliges the PSUV, along with the Cuban and international left, to make a calm, deep and dialectic assessment of the MUD’s triumph in the Venezuelan parliamentary elections, which seem to mark the failure, perhaps announced, of the statist experience of Chavism, as it deviated from its initial socialist currents.

To begin with, such a crushing defeat cannot be attributed solely to the “economic and media war waged by imperialism and the opposition,” which undoubtedly did exist. No support could be expected for a broad populist policy of vast government spending, restrictions on domestic investment and support of a huge bureaucracy all paid for by oil revenues, whose prices could not recover for many reasons. In addition, the government – authoritarian and engaged in systematically harassing the opposition – has close ties with and financially contributes to the only non-democratic state in the region.

In recent years, the center of focus of Nicolas Maduro’s government was the violent actions of extreme right groups, to which he linked all opposition — off-center, right or left — forgetting the causes of the phenomenon: the absence of effective policies to tackle the growth in insecurity, government corruption, inflation and shortages.

This, coupled with the abandonment of the initial process of installing socialism, already present in Chavez’s last years, alienated the government from its original base. All very typical of Cuban voluntarism: pay attention to the effects and not the causes.

There was a lot of fanfare about imperialism, a lot of unnecessary repression, and little in the way of political and economic practice to address these problems. Time and resources were dedicated to trying to raise the price of oil, to “international solidarity” in search of friends and supporters, to arbitrarily increasing the salaries of workers in the public and private sector, and little effort was directed to diversify the economy and tap into and make use of national productive capital. A lack of production and liquidity equals inflation. Good Cuban advice!

While the “missions” and general plans focused on social benefits for lower income sectors supported by oil revenues, with prices systematically undervalued in the international market, centralized distribution of resources brokered by the State was prioritized at the expense of making participative local budgets work and of promoting free, private or associated work, initially promoted as the pillars of Chavista socialism.

Those modalities, which many of us viewed with enthusiasm, were drifting to the Cuban approach of state monopoly capitalism, not socialism, where the main role of economic development does not lead to private and social initiative, but rather to employees of state enterprises attempting to violate laws and control the economy, and to an underestimation and even dismissal of forms of private and associated self-management of production, while different types of private capitalism are frankly rejected or only reluctantly accepted.

Instead of the originally democratic, self-managed and socializing Chavismo influenced by authoritarian Fidelismo and state control of labor, the opposite occurred and that is one of the causes of the disaster now facing the PSUV. Here and there, “socialism” has been swept away.

History has demonstrated everywhere that centralized control of labor – where the state is the main employer – along with centralized control of the markets, is contrary to the sustainable development of the economy.

Other Latin American governments, who felt solidarity with Havana, were careful not to fall into the same rut, as in the case with the presidents of Nicaragua, Ecuador and Bolivia.

In Cuba, the authoritarian and undemocratic political system of absolute control of the Communist Party over the state and society prevent the democratic opposition and the socialist left from organizing, publicly disclosing their programs and working for political change from democratic structures, as the PSUV opposition has been able to do.

Cuba’s leaders from the Sierra Maestra, who capitalized on their success of 1959, have never allowed a democratic election and, with what has happened in Venezuela, possibly conclude that the democratic system has nothing to do with their political interests. Sadly, they have not learned the lesson of the “socialist camp”: it is preferable to share and lose power democratically, power that will definitely be lost by other means.

A year after the announcement of the restoration of relations with the United States, and nine years since Raul Castro took the reins of government, improvements for the people come in dribs and drabs and are unstable.

As there are no democratic mechanisms of participation in Cuba that allow the manifestation of forces opposed to and distinct from the Government-Party-State forces, a telluric movement has been building that could erupt like a volcano, with all its consequences. But the people do not want a volcano, they want a channel for their concerns. The sustained exodus of Cubans, recently increased, is the most obvious proof of popular discontent.

But within the Cuban Government-Party-State the predominate forces appear to be those contrary to a process of democratization, due to their fears of losing all the levers of power. The recent statements by the president of the official National Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba (UNEAC) demonstrate the dread of the powers-that-be in the face of a democratization growing from below and the lack of political realism on high.

These blind and dark forces are responsible for everything negative they generate.

It’s easier to do things for the good of all: an observance consistent with the main agreements of the 6th Cuban Communist Party Congress – real opening for self-employment, cooperatives, entrepreneurial autonomy, the decentralization of budgets, foreign investment and especially investments by Cubans who are outside the country – along with a clear democratic opening to eliminate repression for political reasons and to expand the freedom of expression and association.

All of this would strengthen the environment for dialog and national accord, support almost immediate growth in the national economy with prosperity for all Cubans, and renew the desire to live in this country for so many young people who leave. In addition, it would be crucial for the United States Congress to begin eliminating all the outstanding restrictions of the blockade/embargo.

A change in this inclusive democratic direction would permit a soft landing in the inevitable denationalization and decentralization of the economy and politics, consistent with a fundamental principle of political science: The power of the state is inversely proportional to the power of the people.

Fidel Castro Congratulates Maduro Without Referring To His Crushing Defeat / 14ymedio

The president of Venezuela, Nicolas Maduro (Photo EFE)
The president of Venezuela, Nicolas Maduro (Photo EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 11 December 2015 — While security forces were deployed in the streets of Havana to prevent the celebration of Human Rights Day, Fidel Castro wrote a letter to the glory of the Venezuelan president, published today by the daily Granma.

Under the anodyne title, Fidel’s Message to President Nicolas Maduro, Cuba’s former president joins “the unanimous opinion” of those who have congratulated Maduro for his “brilliant, valiant speech made on the night of December 6, as soon as the election results were announced.” He does not refer at any point to the crushing defeat suffered by the heir of Hugo Chavez at the hands of the opposition, represented by the Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD), which has achieved a two-thirds majority in the National Assembly. continue reading

The president reiterated in his message several ideas already addressed in previous “Reflections of Fidel,” such as fears of a possible global conflict because, he said, “There are nine states which possess nuclear weapons.”

However, as countries that avoided the debacle he points to “the People’s Republic of China and Russia,” who “know the world’s problems much better than the United States,” and have “their own revolutionary experience.”

Castro did not mention, however, the serious obstacles that will face the Venezuelan executive starting in January, with a National Assembly where the opposition, with its 112 MPs out of a total of 167, has the power to initiate a recall referendum against President Maduro. Among the the fears that are already spreading across the island, is a possible cut in aid, in the form of oil shipments, sent from Caracas, and the end of programs that have allowed tens of thousands of Cubans, in recent years, to serve on medical and other missions in the South American country.

In his text, Castro believes that Venezuela has “the largest and most modern system of public schools in the world,” and says the same is true of “the country’s network of medical care centers and the attention paid to the health of a brave people.” These statements contrast with the social and economic indicators released in recent weeks, which show that the country has the highest inflation in the world and suffers a serious shortage of commodities, medicines and food.

Cuban Parliament Will Meet On December 29 / 14ymedio

A session of the National Assembly of People's Power (voting unanimously, as usual).
A session of the National Assembly of People’s Power (voting unanimously, as usual).

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 9 December 2015 — The National Assembly of People’s Power, which will begin its next session on December 29, will meet in an important political moment, marked by the first anniversary of the new relationship with the United States and by the climate of uncertainty following the electoral defeat of the ruling party in Venezuela, the Cuban government’s main ally.

On December 4, the National Assembly’s Committee on International Relations expressed “its firm rejection of constant, systematic and increasing acts and statements of interference in the internal affairs of our sister Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela.”

In that statement the deputies accused “external opposition spokespeople” of trying to “deny or ignore the achievements of the Bolivarian Revolution.” However, since the overwhelming victory of the Venezuelan opposition in legislative elections on December 6, the Cuban parliament has not issued any formal statement.

The National Assembly holds two regular meetings a year, the second in December. The Assembly consists of 612 members representing 168 municipalities and is elected every five years, most recently in 2013.

Tribute to Ricardo Bofill / 14ymedio, Carlos Alberto Montaner

Cuban activist Ricardo Bofill. (Youtube)
Cuban activist Ricardo Bofill. (Youtube)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Carlos Alberto Montaner, Miami, 9 December 2015 – We are gathered on Human Rights Day, a great opportunity to offer Ricardo Bofill the tribute he deserves.

Bofill, Gustavo and Sebastian Arcos, Martha Frayde and another handful of patriots, changed the history of Cuba from the depths of a cell. They were imprisoned for opposing the Stalinist dictatorship of the Castros and everyone from the ranks of the Revolution.

Imprisoned and isolated, they modified the axis of the Cuban struggles. Starting with the creation of the Cuban Committee for Human Rights, in the remote decade of the seventies, the political battle, where it was anything goes, became a battle for the dignity of the individual.

And it was not anything goes. They could not achieve good ends through violent means. continue reading

The struggle for the respect for human rights is a fundamental milestone in the evolution of ideas. It means that there are certain rights that are not granted by the state but that are inherent in the nature of human beings.

Like many elements of our civilization, the struggle began in Athens, at the entry to the Stoa. That was when Zenon de Citia, 300 years before Christ, a Cypriot of Jewish or Phoenician origin, a  red-haired bow-legged doctor, as described by his contemporaries, preached that the rights of people did not proceed from the phratry – the brotherhood – to which they belonged or from the cities in which they had been born.

To paraphrase Martí, to be a man was much more than being Athenian or coming from an illustrious lineage. This idea of the Stoics, the philosophical current founded by Zeno, was picked up by Christianity and thus reached the present day. It is in the papers of the American Revolution and of the French. It is in the liberal revolutions of the nineteenth century.

Subsequently, the communists tried to refute this notion, which was tantamount to depriving us our right to a backbone. The argument put forth was that every right was positive and could be abolished or granted by the State, because the human being was nothing but an evolved infant.

Only the key to this evolution was, precisely, the increasing need that this infant has to freely make its own decisions. Without freedom the human being is a mutilated and sad infant. Without freedom, life is worth much less.

We do very well, in commemorating this celebration of human rights, to pay tribute to Ricardo Bofill and all the Cubans who accompanied him on the glorious adventure of changing the tragic sign of Cuban history.

Let us also dedicate this commemoration to Leopoldo Lopez and our Venezuelan brothers and sisters who today offer an unparalleled example of patriotism. Unfortunately, the struggle for human rights and freedom still consumes lives, but it is worth fighting this fight.

_________________________________________________________________

14ymedio Editor’s Note: These words were spoken by the author at Miami Dade College on the eve of Human Rights Day.

State Security is Outside 14ymedio’s Newsroom / 14ymedio

A member of the Ladies in White is arrested in 10 December 2015 by the Political Police in Havana (EFE)
A member of the Ladies in White is arrested in 10 December 2015 by the Political Police in Havana (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 10 December 2015 – State Security agents who introduced themselves as members of counterintelligence are outside 14ymedio’s newsroom right now to keep our reporters from covering the events of Human Rights Day, celebrated this Thursday.

Several neighbors sounded the alert when, from the early hours of the morning, they saw two men sitting on the stairs that lead to the 14th floor, where the newsroom is located. The subjects, dressed in civilian clothes with earpieces in their right ears, have stayed there since dawn, controlling everyone who ascends or descends the last floor of the building. continue reading

Yesterday, Wednesday, several groups of activists denounced the arrests and searches throughout the country. The executive secretary of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU), José Daniel Ferrer, reported the arrest of 12 members of that organization in Camagüey, and that of the cell coordinator Roberto Ferrer in Havana. The activist reported an operation in front of the UNPACU headquarters and a Communist Party fair “with repressive purposes” outside the national headquarters of the Ladies in White in Lawton.

The dissident and blogger Agustin Lopez also announced that he will repeat his action of last year, consisting of distributing sheets with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in a central location in the capital.

The situation against 14ymedio is a repeat for the second consecutive. On December 10, 2014 a strong police operation was maintained around the newsroom and, in addition, two reporters from this paper were arrested, Luz Escobar and Victor Ariel Gonzalez.

On Thursday, when the editor-in-chief of this newspaper, Reinaldo Escobar, tried to get to the elevator to go outside, the following exchange occurred with the two guards:

– Hey, Reinaldo, we are with CI and we are warning you, you are not going out today

– What is CI?

– Don’t be silly you know.

– Constructors Integrated?

– No, State Security.

– But the acronyms for State Security are others, the one I know is SE.

– It is the same.

– No, it’s not the same, and beware lest the weight of the law fall on you for passing yourselves off as a being from an organization that you aren’t.

– Well, the most important thing here is that you are not going out.

– And why?

– Because today is Human Rights Day and you know it.

– Do you have a warrant or any paper that you can show me where it says that?

– No, but you are not going out.

– Well, you’ll have to stay here until midnight … because I’m going out at some point.

– You’re not going to leave, that we assure you.

A man reads, in front of a newsstand, a printed version of '14ymedio', distributed alternately.
A man reads, in front of a newsstand, a printed version of ’14ymedio’, distributed alternately.

Searches And Arrests On The Eve Of Human Rights Day / 14ymedio

Ladies in White arrested in Havana on Human Rights Day 2014.
Ladies in White arrested in Havana on Human Rights Day 2014.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 9 December 2015 – In the morning hours on Wednesday, the political police undertook a thorough search of the Patriot Union of Cuba (UNPACU) headquarters in the Playa district of Havana. A portable computer and other belongings were seized, a few hours before the start of activities for Human Rights Day.

The owner of the home and activist of the organization, Arcelio Rafael Molina, told 14ymedio that “at approximately 7 in the morning the police started knocking” on his door and showed him a search warrant. After taking the laptop, “a piece of equipment to improve the wifi signal, that we use to send email,” and printed documents, “they did not leave a list of the seized items,” the homeowner said.

Molina is sure they took the signed copies of “the complaints that had been filed with the national leadership of the Police and other authorities, regarding a similar search,” last October. continue reading

During the operation, Jorge Cervantes Garcia and Andro Ross were arrested; both are members of the UNPACU in Santiago de Cuba and they were in the home at the time. To date their whereabouts are unknown.

Berta Soler, leader of the Ladies in White, denounced that in the town of Esmeralda in Ciego de Avila province, the Lady in White Yarleni Sanchez was arrested on her way to a medical clinic. The police arrested her because they assumed she was on her way to Havana to participate in the demonstration planned for Thursday at 23rd and L in Vedado, to mark Human Rights Day.

Other Ladies in White, Julia Herrera and Nieves Caridad Matamoros, have reported having their houses surrounded to prevent their going out in response to the call to demonstrate. For the same reason the police detained Pavel Herrera, a member of the opposition movement For a New Republic, at 6.30 in the morning, and Rolando Reyes Rabanat, who was taken from his home this morning.

Opposition Will Gather at 23 and L on Thursday, Human Rights Day / 14ymedio

Gathering in Havana for Human Rights Day 2014 (14ymedio)
Gathering in Havana for Human Rights Day 2014 (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 9 December 2015 – December 10, Human Rights Day, in Cuba has become a framework for various opposition activities and countless arrests. This year, several independent civil society groups have planned public activities, despite the possible repression. The Ladies in White have issued a call for a peaceful demonstration at the centrally located corner of 23rd and L, in Havana, at one in the afternoon.

Last Sunday, after ending their usual march along Fifth Avenue, Berta Soler told 14ymedio that the activity will promote “the exercise of freedom of association, of expression and of peaceful protest… If we don’t get there, it will be because we have been arrested or because when trying to leave our homes or on our way there they have blocked us from reaching the site,” she said. continue reading

With regards to the organizational details, she pointed out, “We are expecting Ladies in White from other places, although we will concentrate in the capital.” The activist and leader of the movement said that, “this call is not only to the women of our organization, but it is an invitation extended to other human rights activists and citizens in general.”

Other organizations and activists have also proposed activities to celebrate the date. The dissident and blogger Agustin Lopez announced that he will repeat his action of last year, consisting of distributing flyers with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in a central location in Havana.

On that occasion, Lopez was brutally repressed and the moment of his arrest was captured in a photo that was widely disseminated through social networks.

The celebration of Human Rights Day last year resulted in the arrests of more than 240 activists around the country, according to figures provided by opposition groups. Several independent journalists, including two reporters from this newspaper, were also arrested.

Esther Is Nowhere To Be Found / 14ymedio, Luz Escobar

Esther is the female "star" of a constellation of men trying to drown their sorrows in alcohol. (Luz Escobar)
Esther is the female “star” of a constellation of men trying to drown their sorrows in alcohol. (Luz Escobar)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 9 December 2015 — He woke in a doorway and could not remember how he got there. A few yards away, another drunk was snoring on his own urine. The scene was told in front of the national television cameras by the actor Mario Limonta, proof that the debate on alcoholism is winning space in the media, although it is still a long way from reflecting the seriousness of the problem.

Unlike the known actor, Esther not been interviewed on prime-time evening news, nor has she overcome her addiction. In the Silvia bar, on the corner of Vapor and Principe streets in Central Havana, she is the female “star” of a constellation of men trying to drown their sorrows in alcohol. Tourists who pass by take photos of the suggestive façade, a knife painted green and yellow, while inside the air smells of cheap rum and sweat. continue reading

Alcoholism is among the top ten causes of death in Cuba and specialists acknowledge that in the past two decades the consumption of such beverages has increased considerably. The share of men who drink is 47% while in the case of women it exceeds 19%. For females attached to a bottle, the drama is twofold, as they must face greater social rejection: both for drinking and for being women who do it.

Thin and short, Esther isn’t yet fifty years old but she already seems like a old woman. She worked at a downtown hotel in Old Havana for some years. “Every morning she would be all decked out,” remembers a neighbor in her building near the so-called Martyrs’ Park. “Now no one can stand to be three steps from her, everyone scorns her,” adds the lady.

The life of this Havanan sunk in addiction changed when she met Ignacio. With him, “every night was a party,” and at the beginning it was all “glamorous” but as the months went by, “we didn’t care any more which bar it was, as long as they served alcohol,” says Esther sadly, but without shame. Since then she has shared with him hugs and drinks, fights and nights of sleeping in any stairway they find.

She acknowledges she lost her shame the first time she had sex in a dark park with a stranger, just because he offered her a bottle filled with “good rum.” Then came the scandals at home when they didn’t open the door late at night, the fights in the bar because she didn’t have any money and “needed to keep drinking.” She remarked that yes, “in the beginning it is a desire,” but later on “it becomes a necessity.”

Violence is inextricably linked to the consumption of this substance. In Cuba between 20% and 69% of those hospitalized for injuries suffer from some disorder caused by alcohol, making alcoholism into the most prevalent chronic disease of patients with trauma, according to the report Projections of Public Health in Cuba 2015, drafted by the Ministry of Public Health.

To find some exit from the dead-end in which the disease trapped her, Esther’s mother took her by the hand to receive specialized care in a hospital. After receiving treatment and spending days in the hospital, they recommended she visit the nearest Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) group. Before going to the first meeting she had a relapse.

The experience of Alcoholics Anonymous in Cuba dates back to January 1993, after the visit of seven members of that organization from San Francisco. They founded the group Sueño (Dream) that started with nine members in some facilities of the William Carey Church in the Vedado neighborhood. A month later 50 Mexican AA members arrived to sponsor Cubans. Today, there are more than 200 groups throughout the country.

It was not until after her third hospitalization that Esther, “the star” of the Silvia bar, arrived at the AA meeting at Carmen Church, a few yards from her home. The first day she was overcome with shyness and found that of the six people who attended, she was the only woman. She notes that then “I let my tongue go” and “talked up a storm,” but confides with pain, resigned, that she has been unable to “go three months without drinking.”

The psychology student Erika Barrios Mancriff, of the Calixto Garcia Faculty of Medical Sciences, wrote her thesis on the testimony of 25 patients between 25 and 60 years of age, in Central Havana, just where Esther lives. An area which has the district’s highest incidence of addiction in the country, as confirmed by official sources.

Barrios Mancriff found, from the results of her research, that “these patients have low self-esteem while rejecting the behavior patterns of their families – many times their parents are also alcoholics – and yet they repeat these patterns of behavior.”

Esther’s parents, however, are like the neighbors everyone wants to have: quiet, saddened by the actions of their daughter, and willing to help her detox. To get to “their little girl” out of the hole she’s fallen into, they need her to start by recognizing that she needs help. For women it is more difficult to accept that they are addicted.

Women who suffer from this disease are more greatly disadvantaged than men. Esther says that “in the world of drunks, women are frowned upon,” adding that “most men lose no opportunity to take advantage.” She adds mischievously, “That’s why I sought a man equally drunken, like me, because even if he is always falling he defends me.”

She has been with him more than seven years, but he has never managed to overcome it with his stints in rehab or visits to the AA group. She suspects that maybe that is why she has never made it out “of the hole… Every time I get discharged from the hospital I go back to the house and there he is, in the same old thing,” she reflects.

Juan Emilio Sandoval Ferrer, president of the Cuban Society of Psychiatry Addiction Section, found that among the major challenges of the public health system is the prevention of alcoholism through education and promotion of healthy lifestyles in the population.

“There is very little talk about it and much less about the risk for women also,” says this graduate in history who spent more than a decade of her life fighting against the temptation to “tipple.” According to her, “the majority of my women friends take pills, like diazepam, chlordiazepoxide and amitriptyline, but nobody is shocked with that … Now, if I have a drink, everyone calls me a drunk.”

Research suggests that alcohol causes more damage in women who have less body water than men. Thus, the level of saturation or condensation of substances in the body is higher and the toxicity of the substance is faster and more intense. And social rejection makes them take longer to ask for help.

On Sunday, Esther did not go to the Alcoholics Anonymous meeting where her companions in rehabilitation were waiting for her. A few yards from the church where the group meets, in the seedy Silvia bar, her uncontrolled laughter was heard all afternoon.

From Little Pioneers To Pioneers Of Entrepreneurship / 14ymedio, Mario Penton Martinez

Panel of Cuban entrepreneurs in Miami, during the 'Emerging Tech In Cuba: Meet Its Pioneers' event. (14ymedio)
Panel of Cuban entrepreneurs in Miami, during the ‘Emerging Tech In Cuba: Meet Its Pioneers’ event. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario J. Penton Martinez, Miami, 8 December 2016 — “Starting a new business should start with a good financial advice,” says the business card of Marta Deus’s company. After 15 years in Spain, this entrepreneur returned to the island and now advises self-employed workers on accounting. She was in Miami on Monday to attend a technology event where the public was invited to meet the pioneers of entrepreneurship in Cuba, Emerging Tech In Cuba: Meet Its Pioneers.

Cases like Deus’s are becoming more common. Other people are opening the way into the emerging Cuban private sector Cuban, mixing creativity, daring and technology. These pioneers of virtual businesses on the island presented their achievements in the meeting organized by #CubaNow and Techweek in front of an attentive audience, made up mostly of Cuban Americans. continue reading

From the stage were heard stories like that of Hiram Centelles, founder of the popular classifieds site Revolico. The stars of the day were some of the most visible faces of the emerging business community that has converted challenges into opportunities, finding business niches among Cuba’s many daily difficulties. All of them have been trained since childhood, as “Little Pioneers,” in a system that demonized the market, capital and business. But ultimately they have shaken off those prejudices to become entrepreneurs.

Centelles is currently heading up two other projects. The first Yagruma, is a crowdfunding platform for Cuban artists who are waiting for new US regulations to operate without the restrictions imposed by the embargo. The other is Fonoma, which facilitates the payment of Cubans’ telephone bills by family and friendsmabroad and has excellent business prospects, according to its developers.

Others, like Yondainer Gutierrez, are betting on the restaurant industry. Speaking in Miami, he explained the details of the restaurant directory Alamesa, which he created to bring customers to the best paladares (private restaurants) in the country. Started in 2011, there is now an Android app that contains records of more than 600 restaurants in nine provinces, with geolocation and offline maps.

The guest who generated the most excitement, however, was Elio Hector Lopez, also known as El Transportador, who talked about the origins of the “weekly packet,” an illegal compendium of audiovisual and digital content that is distributed on the black market throughout the country, which he has been a part of since the beginning.

With the rule “zero politics, zero violence, zero pornography,” Lopez’s packet has managed to avoid official censorship, although it is not looked on kindly by the cultural institutions which accuse him of encouraging frivolity and bad taste. In recent months the advertising potential of this product has grown, becoming a vehicle for disseminating the work of other entrepreneurs in the country.

The dialogue with the audience addressed the biggest obstacles facing these pioneers of digital enterprise. Difficulties in internet access and the high cost of connections was at the center of complaints. The need for banking reform to enable payments and collections online was also mentioned, as well as the obstacles of the bureaucracy and slowness of some official paperwork requirements.

To the question of how the island has changed since last 17 December – with the restoration of relations between Cuba and the United States – the young entrepreneurs agreed that they see it as “an opportunity” to learn about the business model in the United States and also to train tomorrow’s entrepreneurs in American universities and through academic exchanges.

Farmers Installed Electricity Without State Support / 14ymedio, Sol Garcia Basulto

Alternative power line in Camagüey. (14ymedio)
Alternative power line in Camagüey. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Sol Garcia Basulto, Camagüey, 8 December 2105 – In an act that mixes rebellion and impatience, the residents of Las Casimas in Camagüey have improvised a four kilometer long power line to bring service to their village. After years of negotiations and requests, the farmers did not want to remain in the shadows, and so they have scrounged to connect themselves to the nearest area that receives services from the Electric Company.

This alternative effort includes transformers, insulators and professional wiring, as well as posts made with trees along the alignments whose branches were removed. To finance the project, the families contributed according to their economic resources. In all, the figure reached about 4,000 convertible pesos. continue reading

The community of Las Casimbas, in the Najasa district in the province of Camagüey, is one of those places officially outside the area served by the Electric Company in the district it is a part of. There are 20,000 homes on the island without electric light. This last November, the Minister of Energy and Mines, Alfredo Lopez Valdes, assured that they would have this service in 2017, and that, at the end of this month, electricity would reach 33 settlements – some 1,610 homes – most of them in Plan Turquino and areas difficult to access.

The state company did not want to respond to 14ymedio’s question about the reasons why power has not yet reached Las Casimbas. However, an official of the Electric Company who preferred anonymity said that he was aware of the initiative taken by the villagers in the area to “light their houses and be able to enjoy other advantages of electrical service.” People there are afraid of reprisals from the Electric Company and the biggest nightmare right now in Las Casimbas is that the costly wire they have strung will be cut by orders “from above.”

Despite its simplicity, the structural quality of the engineering work organized by their own efforts is surprising, and supplies electricity to more than 30 families. Residents paid out of their own pockets for teams of professional to optimize the quality of service, according to the project coordinator, a farmer in the area nicknamed Toño.

“The transformers, cables and insulators were used, but in good condition. Some friends of mine who work in the utility bought them,” said the resident. He adds: “In this place, there has never been power. Only wealthy people had the privilege of illumination fueled by oil, but the rest of us were born and grew up with our nostrils blackened by candle smoke.”

Toño owns two caballerías of land – about 66 acres – that he inherited from his parents, but is not considered among the so-called “haves,” because, he says, it takes a lot of work to exploit the benefits of the earth because of “the lack of agricultural products.” The lack of electricity is added to these obstacles, making it difficult to pump water and do other work in the field.

“We pushed for power because it is very necessary, we need it for everything, for light, to watch TV,” says another local resident. Considering that, for decades, people in the village “knew nothing about the world… If someone was talking about a soap opera, we had to remain silent, without being involved in the conversation. This is why people gave the money without protest to buy the equipment and cables.”

“They put solar panels on the clinic and on the little school of San Ramon – a nearby neighborhood – but the houses didn’t have light, or any appliances, except radios and flashlights that use batteries,” says Toño.

In this area, the price of a battery of the kind most used for flashlights and radios is 20 Cuban pesos, the equivalent of two days of work in the field. “Things like the rice cookers and electric pots and ovens that they have been distributing for years mean nothing to us. Here the women cook with wood or charcoal, people don’t know what cold water (from the fridge) is, nor do they have cellphones. It is not out of ignorance, because you go out and see how people live in town, but because without power it’s impossible,” he points out.

According Toño, the new alternative does not solve the entire problem. “The voltage is too low, refrigerators only freeze late at night. We bring the current from a line like this. The transformer is what makes up the voltage, but at peak times it cannot supply all the houses.”

However, the experience of Romelio, another local resident, is positive. “We have improved a hundred percent, we were living here like the indigenous people in caves, in Cro-Magnon times, with no distraction at all, when night came you went to bed,” he explains. He says that without cell phones, when anyone got sick there was no way to call an ambulance or a doctor. “This is a place that is very isolated and so we struggle to live as people.”

The Castros’ Chess Game in Venezuela / 14ymedio, Jorge Hernandez Fonseca

Venezuelan opposition activist Lilian Tintori, wife of the political prisoner Leopoldo Lopez, Sunday. (Twitter)
Venezuelan opposition activist Lilian Tintori, wife of the political prisoner Leopoldo Lopez, Sunday. (Twitter)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Jorge Hernandez Fonseca, 8 December 2015 — The surprising, though expected, results of the Venezuelan elections have a fairly simple explanation if we consider that it implies the exit from the Venezuelan political scene of Disdado Cabello, Nicolas Maduro’s major enemy and, therefore, also that of the Castro brothers.

President Maduro’s last minute change in attitude towards the electoral process could be an order from Havana with an eye to resolving, with the triumph of the opposition, two aspects that are of major concern to the Castros: the current power of the president of the Venezuelan National Assembly, Diosdado Cabello, enemy of Cuba and therefore of Maduro; and in second place, avoiding the international blow that would derive from giving the president-elect of Argentina Mauricio Marcri’s a legal basis for his proposal to apply the “democracy clause” against Venezuela to expel it from Mercosur, the southern common market bloc. continue reading

In the final days before the elections we witnessed a radical change in the position of Nicolas Maduro regarding the electoral process. From original messages warning he would take violently to the streets, he switched to an attitude of apologizing for his words saying he “had been misinterpreted” and assuring that the government would accept the results.

He received his (former enemies), the Latin American ex-presidents in the Government Palace (sent – unsuccessfully – to expel Cabello from Venezuela), and allowed opposition politician Leopoldo Lopez to vote from prison, among other clear changes in his posture, which can only be explained if there had been an order from Havana to that effect.

Politics is a complex game of chess. The victory of the opposition in these parliamentary elections is a defeat for Nicolas Maduro, but there is no doubt that the main person defeated is Diosdado Cabello, and that this objective is greatly prioritized in Havana and will be very well received by Maduro. Of course, as the island is already preparing for how to deal with an opposition legislature, because Maduro has another three years in office, there is enough time – from the Cuban point of view – to neutralize it, having gained time.

Venturing a hypothesis, after the Cuban directive to accept the popular will in Venezuela, it could be the current US-Cuba relationship and possible negotiations that led Havana to influence Caracas in this regard, with the intention of initiating a thaw between Washington and Caracas without removing Maduro from power, only Cabello. The current President of the National Assembly is accused of being a drug kingpin in Venezuela, and we have seen Havana’s solution to this earlier, with accusations against Cuban generals (and ultimately the execution of a national hero General Ochoa).

It is still too early to speculate with a reasonable degree of accuracy, but a statement of opposition victory readily accepted by President Maduro – the same man who had previously spoken of “massacres” if this were to happen – merits further investigation beyond saying “he complied with the popular will,” when we know that for the Castro brothers there is no reason other than always ensuring the protection of their interests.

Thus the acceptance of the Venezuelan opposition victory could have been driven by the division within the ruling party and the Cubans’ desire to get rid of a dangerous enemy.

15 Undocumented Cubans Detained in Colombia / 14ymedio

Cubans detained in Saldaña, Colombia. (Ondas de Ibagué)
Cubans detained in Saldaña, Colombia. (Ondas de Ibagué)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, 7 December 2015 – Ten Cuban citizens, between 22 and 38 years old, were detained this Monday in the city of Saldaña, Colombia, in a routine search of a bus on the Neiva-Medillín route, according to local sources.

The foreigners, natives of Havana, Cuba, were identified as Yanelis Pacheco Rodríguez, Raciel Hernández Santana, Adrián Rodríguez Blanco, Adrián González Díaz, Manuel Antonio Pereira Clara, Luis Pimentel Fernández, Adolfo José Yero Castro, Álvaro Leosbel Valdez Pacheco, Geonnis Dupuy Betancourt and Vladimir Pupo Gómez. continue reading

The Cubans carried passports with entry stamps for the province of Guayaquil, Ecuador and, according to the police who stopped them, did not carry documents for traveling in a regular way through Colombia. The migrants were taken to the Migration Department, and are waiting there for a solution.

Another five Cubans were arrested on Monday at a checkpoint at the city of Caldas, while travelling illegally on the Estrella-Manizales highway to Medellín.

According to official figures, since the beginning of this year up to the first week of December, more than 600 migrants had been intercepted in Colombia without their paperwork in order, almost 500 of them of Cuban nationality. The remainder of the immigrants were from China, Venezuela, Bangladesh, India, Somalia, Pakistan, Nepal and Ghana.

Chavez Supporter Calls For Maduro And Cabello To Resign / 14ymedio

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, and President of the National Assembly of Diosdado Cabello (PSUV)
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, and President of the National Assembly of Diosdado Cabello (PSUV)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 7 December 2015 — Javier Antonio Vivas Santana, a columnist for the Chavista site Aporrea, is demanding the resignation of the president of Venezuela in a hard-hitting article titled “Maduro and Cabello must resign!”

The author, who has a bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate in Education, and who from 2003 to 2012 worked as a teacher at the Sucre Mission, reflects on how “clear and predictable” Sunday’s election results were. Vivas Santana believes that the victory of the opposition in this election “is not only a parliamentary defeat,” but “Maduro received a setback in terms of popular acceptance.” And he recalls, “As in 2013, the elections of mayors were approved by Maduro and now these same people, have told him that his leadership as head of the National Executive has been disastrous, sectarian, corrupt and vulgar.” continue reading

In his column the Venezuelan ruling party is called a “retrograde leadership,” which, instead of taking “urgent measures for the operation of the State,” preferred “to play Russian roulette” in hopes that “oil prices would rise and so it would be able to supply the basic needs of the population.” What happened, said the columnist, was that they exhausted “the monetary reserves in the midst of an economic recession, coupled with terrible shortages and a perverse inflation.” The final result is apolitical, “leading to the accelerated impoverishment of the population.”

The failure of the government’s management should lead Maduro and Cabello to resign, says the writer. Failure to do so could “kill the Bolivarian Revolution,” although earlier he warns, “the people should constitutionally strip them of their functions,” to avoid, “Chavez being erased from the historic, political and social imagination of the Bolivarian people, because of them.”

Targets of the text include the so-called social policy of the government: the fact that “they gave away homes, taxis, electronic equipment, stoves, refrigerators and even food,” creating “a cronyism effect between the government and the voters.” Vivas Santana proposes that the new National Assembly “prohibit by law such donations during election campaigns,” because “supplying resources to citizens from the State budget cannot be used as a political tool.”

For Vivas Santana, the real social policy is one where “education and healthcare are a priority for the state, and where inflation is removed from the economy.” The only way, in his judgment, is to “create a space for wages as a source of social development.” To achieve this there will have to be a mandatory process “of coming to an understanding between the new National Assembly and the Maduro government,” the author reflects.

The article joins a broad trend within Chavismo that sees the management of Nicolas Maduro as a betrayal of the precepts of their “eternal Comandante.” Within this line of thinking is the so-called Socialist Tide, which proposes “avoiding the collapse of the revolution,” and yet that has failed to find support or recognition from the existing ruling party.

“On December 6, 1998, Hugo Chavez came to power by force of the people,” says the writer, who immediately notes that “17 years later the people have spoken again.” The text concludes with a categorically disappointed phrase: “Anyone who has eyes can see it.”

The Marriage Between Venezuela and Chavismo Failed / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro (EFE)
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro (EFE)

14ymedio biggerGeneration Y, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 7 December 2015 — This time neither deception nor fear worked. Like a woman long threatened by an abusive husband, Venezuela has slammed the door on Chavismo and done so with determination. From now on, governing will be an ordeal for Nicolas Maduro. With a party at an absolute disadvantage in parliament, Hugo Chavez’s successor can only impose his presidential will by violating his own laws.

The people, the same people that the president of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) invoked from the platform to justify his misdeeds, has said no to 21st Century Socialism and the national project promoted by the ruling party. A flat refusal against a political force under whose management the South American nation has been plunged into insecurity, shortages, corruption and unsustainable polarization.

People are fed up. Tired of so much tense discourse, of fear in the streets, of the constant emigration of the young and of the instability that gnaws at everything and that in the last year has gotten worse. The voters also used their votes to penalize a party that hasn’t known how to govern for everyone, but only for a part of society, which has systematically rallied against those who think differently.

With the tool of the polls in their hands, Venezuelans have pushed change in a peaceful way, without stepping into the trap of violence or engaging in an armed revolution. Maduro has reaped, thus, the fruits of his mismanagement. His declarations prior to the elections, among which was the threat of fight from the streets if his party was defeated, only to the determination of a social decision that was already made. With his words, he finished digging the grave of his own executive authority.

Because there is a moment when the abused realizes that the abuser is just another frail human being, someone who can be defeated. That moment arrived for the Venezuelan people this December 6, as they demonstrated with their votes that Chavismo is neither eternal nor popular. What happened confirms the loss of the fear with which a 17-year authoritarianism had permeated the country, the sick relationship of dependency and dread with which it wanted to keep its citizens paralyzed.

The election results also go against the Plaza of the Revolution in Havana. In the dark intricacies of that power that has spent more than five decades without calling elections, the figure of Hugo Chavez was molded, and it tried to do the same with Nicolas Maduro. But the move backfired because it came up against a population that reacted, an opposition that knew how to unite despite its differences, and an international community that closed ranks in criticism of the methods of the PSUV.

The axis financed from Miraflores and symbolized by the political bravado of Chavez and the mediocre arrogance of the current president, is beginning to disarm. Venezuela already sees the way out and is dragging behind itself an island that still does not dare to stop the blows of an abusive government, to close the door and leave it outside the national future.

Cuban Activists Celebrate The Victory Of The Venezuelan Opposition / 14ymedio

Venezula's Democratic Unity Roundtable opposition alliance won an absolute majority, according to official data (Fotograma)
Venezula’s Democratic Unity Roundtable opposition alliance won an absolute majority, according to official data (Fotograma)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 7 December 2015 – Satisfaction in the triumph of the opposition, words of encouragement to the great loser of the contest, Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro: these, respectively, were the reactions in Cuba among democracy activists and the ruling party. While Cuban activists celebrated the absolute majority of the Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD), Raul Castro took note of the results and limited himself to predicting “new victories of the Bolivarian and Chavista Revolution.”

Cubans were able to listen live to the reading of the first election returns on the Telesur channel, after midnight, in the voice of the president of Venezuela’s National Electoral Council (CNE), Tibisay Lucena.

Cuban Catholic activist Dagoberto Valdes believes that these results are “a great triumph of democracy, a sign of the political maturity of the Venezuelan people.” The director of the magazine Convivencia believes “it is clearly the beginning of a new stage in the life of these people and I wish them progress, freedom and democracy.”

Manuel Cuesta Morua, leader of the Progressive Arc, also refers to the vote on Sunday as a “magnificent exercise in democracy continue reading

… I think it is important for all regional movements, especially Cuban, that there has been a change in the balance power in Venezuela, which has recovered the sense of plural participation, and that the hegemony of a political group has ended,” said the opponent. “It only remains to congratulate the members of the Democratic Unity Roundtable, with whom we have a good relationship. This means the end of a cycle of populism in Latin America, beginning in Argentina, continuing in Venezuela and also reflected in the end of the hegemony in Ecuador, and it will have an impact on the process that we are engaged in in Cuba to bring democracy,” he added.

“The Patriotic Union of Cuba feels the celebration like we were Venezuelans, because we believe that this has been the triumph of the forces that are in favor of democracy, freedom and respect for human rights over a party that has infringed on freedoms and rights for over 15 years,” said the executive secretary of that organization, José Daniel Ferrer. After congratulating the Venezuelan people “for the extremely important electoral democratic fiesta that it has had,” and the Democratic Unity Roundtable for the triumph, he added, “We were happy for Macri’s win in Argentina and we are glad that Venezuelans democrats have triumphed peacefully. This encourages us to continue fighting for the triumph of the democrats on the Island, because someday we will have in Cuba a system that allows the people to freely elect their leaders and their legislators.”

For the economist Martha Beatriz Roque, “There is a reaction in Latin America about what was happening in their towns,” and she emphasizes that “the Venezuelan people were as tired as the Cuban people.” The opposition leader looks to the new year and expects 2016 “to bring new and good things for all of Latin America, especially for Cuba, which right now is suffering another migration crisis that is ruining a ton of homes and undoing the lives of many people.”

The opponent Guillermo Fariñas believes that what happened Sunday in Venezuela is “proof that totalitarian regimes can fool people for some years but not for all the years. The lack of goods, the underdevelopment of the economy, is a sign that characterizes the construction of socialism anywhere in the world.”

The leader of the Ladies in White, Berta Soler, expected the victory of the opposition. However, she believes that “the whole truth is not reflected… God knows how many more votes there were in favor of the Democratic Unity Roundtable and they managed to hide the real number,” argues the activist, who was arrested on Sunday and released around 11 pm. “The truth is that the democrats have won and will keep winning. Maduro’s government has reached a time when it must let go of power. It is the time when the opposition in Venezuela has triumphed and when the Cuban opposition must also triumph.”