Tania Bruguera’s Tribute to Hannah Arendt Worries Cuban State Security / 14ymedio

Tania Bruguera during her performance (14ymedio)
Tania Bruguera during her performance (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 20 May 2015 — Wednesday morning the artist Tania Bruguera began more than 100 hours of consecutive reading, analysis and discussion of Hannah Arendt’s book The Origins of Totalitarianism. The event, which started in the presence of a dozen people, began in the “Hannah Arendt International Artivism Institute,” which is named after the renowned German philosopher.

The artistic action comes just at a time when galleries and cultural centers throughout the entire city are engaged in getting ready for the start, this coming Friday, for the Havana Biennial. Bruguera is not invited to the official event, but has joined the alternative artists’ circuit staging performances, expositions and shows of their current works.

Hours before the reading, Bruguera was visited by two members of State Security, who expressed their concern because the artist had bought audio equipment. They also let her know that they were aware that she intended to “go out into the street” at the conclusion of the event and warned her not to do so.

According to what was made known in the announcement, the newly opened Hannah Arendt International Artivism Institute, “proposed to provide a platform for research into the theoretical-practical approach for a socially committed art, and for a specific political moment.” Its headquarters is located in Bruguera’s home, at 214 Tejadillo Street, in Old Havana.

Yoani Sanchez Wins 2015 Knight International Journalism Award / 14ymedio

Logo of the International Center for Journalists
Logo of the International Center for Journalists

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, 19 May 2015 – The director of 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, has won the 2015 Knight International Journalism Award, the International Center for Journalists reported today. Priyanka Dubey, an independent Indian journalist has won the same award for exposing the atrocities of rapes, child trafficking and forced labor through her in-depth reporting, despite threats from human traffickers and gangs in her country.

The award, which will be delivered in Washington DC on November 10, has as its objective to honor journalists who, through pioneering work or technological innovation, have produced high-quality information and news that has had a significant impact on the lives of people in the developing world. continue reading

Yoani Sánchez has overcome censorship, arrests and poor Internet access to give the world a rare glimpse of daily life under Cuba’s communist regime and to open the door for other independent voices” read a press note on the announcement.

“Our winners this year show uncommon resolve in tackling censorship and sexual violence,” said ICFJ President Joyce Barnathan. “Thanks to their courageous reporting, Cuba’s closed society is more open and India’s democratic society is more responsive to the plight of abused women.”

“These winners are committed to upholding the best principles of journalism—acting as information leaders in communities that need it most and capturing stories in new and innovative ways,” said Jennifer Preston, Knight Foundation vice president for journalism. “Their work continues to have wide impact and holds valuable lessons,” she concluded.

What will happen in Cuba? / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

The new generations will also have to define what will happen in Cuba. (Franck Vervial / Flickr)
The new generations will also have to define what will happen in Cuba. (Franck Vervial / Flickr)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana 16 May 2015 – On the back of a copy of the I Ching were examples of questions about which one might consult this Chinese. Should I marry X? Is this the time to take a trip to Y? What will happen in Cuba? The readers of this copy from 43 years ago have had time to find out for themselves who they ended up sharing their lives with, or where they went on vacation. The situation for those of us who asked the ominous book about the fate of the Island has been very different.

The question written on that cover has continued to haunt me, as it has so many other Cubans. From restless foreigners who tried to practice their Spanish and ended up wanting to know the nation’s destiny, to foreign journalists, Cubanologists of all stripes, academics from various disciplines, politicians and career diplomats, coming from whatever part of the world. At one point or another our conversation always slid into the question: What is going to happen in this country? continue reading

After 17 December 2014, the question picked up steam. Hypotheses about possible scenarios are leaving behind the options of eternal immobility, foreign invasion and social explosion. At the same time, gaining credibility if the assumption that the driving force for change will come from above, in a more or less controlled form and with the critical approval of former foreign enemies. But anyone could predict that. What is lacking is the details.

Hypotheses about possible scenarios are leaving behind the options of eternal immobility, foreign invasion and social explosion

All indications are that on 24 February 2018, Cuba will unveil a president elected under the rules of the new Electoral Law. The characteristics of the person who holds this responsibility will be determined in line with the democratic character of the new regulations. If the current practice of a nominating committee that draws up a list of candidates or deputies is maintained, if it continues to be prohibited for candidates to present their programs, and if the current method in which the National Assembly appoints the president of the Council of State is prolonged, then the presidential chair will be filled by someone designated by those in power.

“The Cuban people must get their voice back to begin the transition” / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Rosa Maria Paya

Rosa María Payá. (14ymedio)
Rosa María Payá. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 17 May 2012 — In the summer of 2012, Rosa María Payá had just started out in the political arena. She moved among the young people who animated the Varela Project, El Camino del Pueblo (The Path of the People) and the Heredia Project, initiated by the Christian Liberation Movement founded by her father, the dissident Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas. Now 26 years old, she has two missions that consume most of her time. The first, is demanding an independent investigation into the death of her father, for the government to explain an “accident” which she believes was an attack. The second is leading the project Cuba Decides, which promotes a referendum on a proposal to hold free elections in the country.

Escobar: Your departure from Cuba came less than two years ago. How do you see the situation in the country upon your return?

Payá: We left Cuba under political persecution. The persecution against my father and my family before the attack, that ended his and Harold Cepero’s lives, continued after they died and became increasingly intense. They chased my brother when he was driving my dad’s car and did so in cars that have the same make as those that were chasing my father and that finally rammed [the car he was traveling in] on 22 July 2012. In addition, they did it with uniformed people, so that everyone — not only my family but also the local people — was aware of it. continue reading

We had always been persecuted, but this time they were doing it in an ostentatious way. There were also death threats over the phone, they began to spread slanders and defamations about us, they published those articles of the penal code which according to them would provide a reason to imprison us, accusing us of defamation. The situation became untenable and we decided to leave the country for the United States. Our experience was very dramatic. They ultimately killed my father and Harold and the danger was very great.

“These definitions of final departure, of living forever in one country or another, belong to the language of totalitarianism.”

This is my country and I will never stop living in Cuba. The center of my return has been to honor the memory of my father and to visit his grave. I would also like to get to Chambas in Ciego de Avila where the remains of Harold Cepero rest. If I do not do it now I will do it another time. With this I put on the table that there be an independent investigation into the death of my father, an issue that has been taken up by the Cuban democratic movement and political and intellectual personalities worldwide.

Escobar. You are now visiting Cuba. Do you have plans to return, even to stay more permanently?

Payá. Where I am visiting is the United States. I interrupted this visit to come to my own country. These definitions of final departure, of living forever in one country or another, belong to the language of totalitarianism. The Cuban government still keeps intact the power to decide whose departure is permanent and who is not allowed to return.

There are many people who cannot enter and others who cannot leave and I’m not just talking about opponents, such as the Group of 75; I’m talking about professionals who “for issues of the public interest” cannot travel, perhaps, and as one example, a doctor because he is the only neurologist in Holguin. Freedom of movement that gives the right to enter and leave the country is not guaranteed. The times I leave Cuba, the times I decide to be outside of Cuba and the government’s repression with respect to limiting my freedom of movement are situations that are real.

Escobar. During your stay in the United States you have had the opportunity to talk to many people, and even with part of the US delegation participating in the talks with the Cuban government. Have you talked to them about your demand for an independent investigation into the deaths of Oswaldo and Harold?

Payá. The Government of the United States, from the United States Congress itself, has publicly called for this independent investigation to be carried out. More recently, on the occasions that I have met with Mrs. Roberta Jacobson and at the White House with Mr. Ricardo Zuniga, I have had the opportunity to bring it up. Because if this had been previously a request to the American government, now that they are talking with the Cuban government it should also be one of the issues discussed. I have understood that the matter has been talked about, but so far I don’t know what the response of the Cuban government has been.

My father denounced “the fraud change,” this process of scrubbing its image started by the Cuban government in the face of the international community

Escobar. There is a lot of debate about whether the government’s reforms are going to lead to a transition and also a lot of debate about the validity of the conversations that were announced on 17 December. What is your opinion on all this?

Payá. My father denounced and exposed what he called “the fraud change,” referring to this process of reforms and the scrubbing of its image started by the Cuban government in the face of the international community. But without recognizing the rights of Cubans, without actually, for Cubans, substantially changing things. In fact they have barely changed except maybe for the fact that there are more paladares (private restaurants).

The wellbeing of Cubans is still not a priority and of course they continue to violate our fundamental rights. There has been an effort to change the image at the international level that has borne fruit. We are experiencing a process where it seems that the international community is very interested in including the Cuban State in the family of world nations. We have seen it with the Organization of American States, in the negotiations promoted by Obama and in the process of negotiations with the European Union.

It seems very good to us that Cuba is included, but Cuba is not the Cuban Government. The citizens remain excluded precisely because they lack a tool to participate, because they do not enjoy basic human rights.

Escobar. Cuba Decides, this project that you are now promoting, could that be this tool?

Payá. The National Assembly of People’s Power never responded to the request of thousands of Cubans presented in the Varela Project. There we asked for a referendum. Cuba Decides is a project that in some way gives the appropriate continuity to that demand, that doesn’t come from any political party nor from any organization of civil society, but from the citizenry. It is a demand that is not based in any political color, it has no partisan position.

Escobar. So Cuba Decides is not a project of the Christian Liberation Movement?

Payá. All the opposition political parties and all civil society organizations are invited to take up the campaign. I repeat: it is not from a political platform because it has no political color. We are specifically demanding that they ask Cubans if, after 67 years in which there have not been ​​free and multi-party elections, they want a process of free, fair and multi-party elections, recognition of different political parties and access to the media. Do they want this process of free, multi-party and fair elections, yes or no?

“We demand that Cubans be asked if they want free, fair and multi-party elections, yes or no”

Escobar. Are you counting on the backing of the Christian Liberation Movement to carry out the project Cuba Decides?

Payá. My opinion is yes, but the project has no owner. If tomorrow someone goes out into the street saying “I Am Cuba Decides,” he is Cuba Decides. Anyone is Cuba Decides. The point is that we have invited many organizations to participate, we have not left anyone out, but we have not based it within any one [person or organization].

Escobar. Recently, the Government announced that it intends to adopt a new electoral law that would be in effect for the elections of 2018. Among various actors in Cuban civil society, especially in the context of the Cuban Civil Society Open Forum, there has emerged the initiative to maintain a storm of ideas so that each one adds to what we think should be in new electoral law. How do you see this initiative?

Payá. This initiative seems very good to me and I believe it complements what Cuba Decides is asking for. In fact, the Varela Project includes elements of an electoral law that is very specific on what changes there have to be in the current law to have minimally democratic and free elections. A representative part of the Cuban citizenry has already demanded those changes. It is interesting and opportune that this exercise is being done from within civil society. The Varela Project is one proposal, and there have been others, demonstrating that there is the capacity and diversity to design the country we Cubans want.

Escobar. Do you feel yourself to be a leader for the future?

Payá. The Cuban Government cannot claim to represent Cubans because it has not been democratically elected by its people. Nor have we as the opposition been elected. I do think that the opposition and civil society represent the vanguard of citizenship, but I do not want to speak for Cubans because Cubans never elected me. I have a proposal: that Cubans have a voice. I love the exercises that are being done and the proposals that are being presented. The Cuban people must get their voice back, not to begin democracy but to begin the transition. Cuba Decides is one citizen initiative and we invite everyone to participate, joining with us to demand that Cubans have the right to decide.

This would be the trigger to get to a stage in which the proposals of the Cuban Civil Society Open Forum can be presented and face the citizenry. Cuba Decides is not intended to replace other projects, nor presented as the only way. It is one step among others.

Russia and Raúl Castro’s Mediating Role / 14ymedio, Jose Gabriel Barrenechea

Raúl Castro and Vladimir Putin in Havana’s Palace of the Revolution in July 2014. (EFE/Alejandro Ernesto)
Raúl Castro and Vladimir Putin in Havana’s Palace of the Revolution in July 2014. (EFE/Alejandro Ernesto)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Jose Gabriel Barrenechea, Santa Clara, 5 May 2014 — Russia is not the West’s Enemy, with a capital “E.” And even if it were, it would not be taken seriously. Russia is no longer the industrial superpower of the ’70’s and ’80’s, nor is it a leader in innovation. Its population is dwindling to catastrophic levels, as its share of GDP in comparison to those of other countries. It is indeed true its army is still the only one that can face the American army in all-out symmetrical war, but for how much longer?

In fact, Russia is not the enemy because it shares real enemies with the West, the enemies we really should fear. And we share them because Russia is part of the West. continue reading

The proof of this not only lies in Russia’s Christian tradition, but more importantly, it is one of the countries that has influenced Western culture the most. If you make a list of the ten most important figures in any scientific field, technology, the arts, music, philosophical inquiry, or of the literature of our Western civilization that have paved innovative and unforeseen paths, said list would invariably include at least one Russian surname.

Russia’s problem has been, as compared, for example, to France or Spain, that the segment of its society that has supported rationalism (and I mean rationalism as defined by Karl Popper) has not been able to replace the traditional and instinctively Russian characteristics of its society. As a matter of fact, Russian rationalism, which peaked at the end of the 19th century until approximately 1925, has been repeatedly purged by a pseudo-rationalistic survival method derived from tradition and national instincts. This pseudo-rationalism, a form of modernized half-baked Asiatic culture, started winning the race once the Bolshevik counterrevolution dissolved the constitutional convention of 1917, culminating with Stalin’s rise to power.

Needles to say, the continuing success of “Asiatic culture” in Russia has had a lot to do with mistaken impression the rest of the West has of it. This was understandable when the West indisputably ruled the world, and every nation fought for its piece of the pie. But now that is not the case at all. It is very clear that in this moment in time our civilization and its values are beginning to lose the unrestricted worldwide supremacy they once enjoyed.

Western civilization should try to do away with the anachronistic last vestiges of bloody civil wars, and what we call world wars, all waged for the sake of global domination. The West should attempt to lure Russia into joining the consensus building and security structures that have been gradually established since 1945. For this to work we should bear in mind that Russia is not a second or third-rate country. Russia has a genuine imperial tradition. In other words, Russia is not Poland, Czechoslovakia, nor even Turkey. Russia cannot be asked to just fall in line. It should be given its rightful place among the great nations.

Around 1920, José Ortega y Gasset said that Europe would unite only when it saw the enemy coming over the horizon. That danger exists today, and not only for Europe, but also for the whole West, and it comes from authoritarian China, and particularly, the Islamic world. China is a traditional empire with incredible rates of economic expansion. The Islamic world is experiencing an explosive demographic growth. While in the West, the United States is the only country whose population is increasing.

Jihadism threatens Russia’s entire southern flank, and after the disastrous Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, many Islamists perceive Moscow as the perfect personification of the enemy, more than they even do Washington. Or at least Moscow is the enemy they can hurt with greater ease. As far as China is concerned, not only does it threaten Russia’s Far East, it has now started expanding into it. It should be noted that the population density on the border between the two countries is 62 percent higher on the Chinese side than on the Russian. The Russian Far East is full of natural resources that the country cannot exploit in the face of an expanding China that needs them more and more.

In the next few years, when the Arctic Ocean is opened for navigation, Moscow will not benefit if it does not by that time exercise total control over its Far East, and especially its Pacific coast. Russia will need to maintain a naval force in that ocean, which in itself clashes with the Chinese strategic interest of controlling all its adjacent seas, and what they call “the first island chain” that surround them: Japan, the Philippines, Taiwan, Indonesia, and Australia.

Therefore both nations are already clashing on the continental mainland and on the ocean, and in the future they will do so with even more force.

In the face of all the jingoism of recent years, the first step should be changing the way the average Westerner sees Russia. The cultural achievements of the rational segment of Russian society should be disseminated throughout the whole West. The rediscovery of Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy, Tchaikovsky, Mendeleev, Lobachevsky, Chekhov, Eisenstein, Shostakovich, Tarkovsky… could help change the perception that the average Westerner has of Russia. Meanwhile, Western admiration for Russian rationalism might motivate the Russians to rediscover it for themselves.

Saving Russia is of vital importance. In the first place, it is part of our civilization, and secondly, because the West finds itself under threat. Only an alliance between the Russian bear and the American bald eagle could perhaps save them from being subordinated by other civilizations that are on the rise.

Cuba can play a significant role in the rapprochement between these two giants that Alejo Carpentier described as being situated at the two extremes of the West. It would be a very, very positive step if Raúl Castro were to realize this before embarking on his next visit to Russia to attend the festivities of the victory over Nazi Germany. If this were the case, and Castro were to indeed try to do something to secure a rapprochement, he could secure a legacy for himself and significantly bolster Cuba’s prestige as well.

Translated by José Badué

Cuba and Venezuela, in the same mirror / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

Line to buy food in Venezuela (Twitter)
Line to buy food in Venezuela (Twitter)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 14 May 2015 – “I got soap and some toys for her son,” one Venezuelan mother was telling another in Tocumen Airport in Panama. At her feet a carry-on looked like it was about to explode it was so full, as the lady enumerated everything she was taking back to her country. The conversation reminded me of my own compatriots who return to the Island with luggage stuffed with products, including everything from toothpaste to sewing needles.

In a situation of scarcities, we human beings end up looking like those “leafcutter ants,” capable of carrying a part of the forest back to their anthills. But the task of seeking what we lack at any cost also locks us into a cycle of obsessions, where buying eggs, stocking up on milk or locating the market that has toilet paper will consume a major share of our time and energy. We end up trapped in a cycle of survival, in which we can hardly concern ourselves with our role as citizens. continue reading

However, there will also be some who want to explain the hardships in their own way. Like the official analyst who, some days ago on Cuban television, addressed the scarcity of basic goods in Venezuela. In that lady’s opinion, the blame for the shortages falls on the sector that hoards, or fails to import, merchandise in order to provoke social chaos. In her discourse, the “evil rich” make it difficult for the “good poor” to put a plate of food on the table. A line of argument so ridiculous that I stopped to listen to it, as if it were a comedy show.

The biased analyst was an outstanding student of the school of “Castroism,” in which Hugo Chavez and Maduro were also trained, and where they learned that while filling political discourse with a constant reference to the enemy may not serve to appease the burning hunger in the stomach, at least it keeps the needy entertained. A policy of fanfare, where there are always “the others” who do evil things and boycott the government, which claims to be the target of attacks coming from all sides.

A policy of fanfare, where they are always the others who do evil things and boycotting the government, which claims to be the target of attacks coming from all sides

The truth is that long lines outside markets are not a media hoax nor an exaggeration of the Venezuelan independent news media, but a reality that affects the entire country. Flour is unavailable for everyone and economic instability knows no social classes nor distinguishes ideologies, although the corruption and an extensive network of privileges awarded to those closest to power offer them a significant material respite. In these circumstances individuals are reduced to their condition as desperate consumers, a situation that results in a more controllable society, and a citizenry less attuned to the political scene.

As in a warped mirror, we Cubans see our worst moments reflected in Venezuelans. If previously we could say with pride that we share a culture, a language, and even geographic proximity, now we see ourselves in issues no one would want to brag about.

We are both a people who have learned to wait, stand in long lines, always carry a bag to catch on the fly any rumors of a reappearance of some product. The luggage we check at the world’s airports travels loaded with the same things and full of the same anxieties of deprivation. When we listen to ourselves speak it is now difficult to distinguish if we are in Havana or Caracas, if we are waiting outside a market in Maracaibo, or in Santiago de Cuba. Are we them or are they us?

François Hollande expresses his admiration for Fidel Castro / 14ymedio

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 12 May 2015 — “I wanted to experience this historical moment. It is the history of Cuba and of the world! Fidel Castro wanted to meet me and I also desired it. Regardless of what one thinks about what he has done, he belongs to History. I also wanted to meet him out of respect for the Cuban people.” With these words, French President Francois Hollande commented to reporters before his meeting on Monday with the Cuban president in Havana.

Ecology Minister Ségolène Royal, who is accompanying him on the first trip to the island by a French head of state, described Fidel Castro as character who is “mythical, beyond politics.” continue reading

During the meeting, which the French authorities kept secret until the last minute, Hollande and Castro addressed issues such as the “blockade” and its consequences for the island. The president, who transferred power to his brother Raul in 2006, spoke also of the need to avoid “war.” Hollande, for his part, said he was “surprised that he was so informed on current issues” and that he was so interested in food issues.

At the meeting, however, there was no talk of human rights, despite that fact that in 2003 Holland, then first secretary of the French Socialist Party, published in the newspaper Le Nouvel Observateur an opinion which he expressed his outrage at the “wanton brutality of the Castro regime.”

“That was 12 years ago,” the French president justified himself, and today Fidel Castro “is an old man.” He added in response to a question from the French journalists, “You can’t say: well now, you be held accountable before the tribunal of history.”

“I told him that I knew what his place in history would be and that one part of the French had looked at the Cuban Revolution at times with fervor and others with criticism.”

Should foreign leaders meet with civil society when they visit Cuba? / 14ymedio

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, 11 May 2015 — The arrival in Cuba of French President Francois Hollande has fueled the controversy about whether the presidents and other foreign leaders visiting the island should meet with representatives of civil society. The debate has intensified since it was announced that the agenda of the French President, Francois Hollande, on Cuban soil includes only a meeting with Cardinal Jaime Ortega y Alamino as representative of civil society.

Manual Cuesta Morua, Coordinator of Platform for a New Country: “Civil society actors are the most legitimate interlocutors to express the concerns and demands of the population.”

vs.

Luis Morlote, President of the Hermanos Saiz Association (Saiz Brothers Association): “The Cuban Revolutionary delegation, the true civil society (…) we cannot be in the same space (…) as a supposed civil society (…) that is paid and manipulated.”

Other presidents and international leaders who have visited the country in recent years have also chosen not to have contact with opponents and independent activists. The argument for this decision lies in not offending their hosts and trying to remove obstacles from the path of understanding with the Cuban government. Meanwhile, the authorities of the Island themselves do not recognize the legitimacy of these independent groups.

For their part, activists argue that representatives of the Cuban government, when they travel abroad, receive and meet with politicians who belong to the opposition in their respective countries and also with leaders of civil society in other nations. They also complain that an exclusively official agenda will never let the visitors approach the real problems of the country, and will give them a skewed vision of Cuban reality.

Contact with civil society: Yes or no? It seems to be one of the questions that is most difficult to answer for those considering a trip to Cuba.

“Return to Ithaca” or the Magic of Censorship / 14ymedio, Miriam Celaya

Scene from the film "Return to Ithaca"
Scene from the movie “Return to Ithaca”

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 4 May 2015 — The reunion of five friends on a roof terrace in Central Havana is the thread on which Return to Ithaca’s plot rests. Leonardo Padura wrote the screenplay and Laurent Cantet directed this French film about Cuban topics.

The film is currently circulating underground among Havana moviegoers, preceded by the best possible presentation: the official censorship that prevented its showing during the latest edition of the Latin American Film Festival, held in Havana in December, 2014. However, Return to Ithaca has been shown at the Charles Chaplin auditorium in Havana, in the framework of the French Film Festival, being held throughout the month of May.

The film has become the cultural phenomenon of the moment, largely “by the grace of” the official censorship in a country where direct or veiled criticism of the system remains an event, even when — as in this instance — it makes use of worn-out clichés and platitudes. continue reading

The second element in its favor is participation in the script by Leonardo Padura, who has, in recent years, become a fashionable writer inside and outside Cuba, especially since the success of his greatest achievement to date, the novel The Man Who Loved Dogs, a best seller that has sparked what has been termed in literary cliques as “Paduramania”.

Almost the entire cast of the film is composed of experienced and well-known actors such as Isabel Santos, Nestor Jiménez, Fernando Hechavarría and Jorge Perugorría, though it should be noted that the actors do not always come out unscathed from the setbacks imposed on them by the script’s faults and the confinements of the straightjackets their characters embody.

Apart from that, Return to Ithaca is but a mediocre movie that, perhaps with the pretense of presenting the drama of a generation born and raised in the deceit of half a century of a failed Cuban socialist revolution, barely manages a pathetic caricature summarized in the five life stories of resentful and frustrated individuals who do not even come close to representing the spirit of their generation.

The plot, settings, characters and actions turn on stereotypical machinations to the point of lacking credibility and dramatic force. The script is somewhat forced and artificial, in addition to widely appealing to the ease of profanity and vulgarity that, for some, has become “the recourse of Cubanism” in film and literature. It seems that, regardless of what level of education or schooling we Cubans may have, we can only express ourselves through the use of obscene language.

Neither do the characters’ stories reach sufficient depth. They are stiff, synthetic, lacking nuance and not very credible, all of which fail to convey their personal conflicts or to move the viewer’s emotional fiber, thus establishing an atmosphere of distancing between actors and spectators bordering on rejection.

Plot, settings, characters and actions turn out stereotypical machinations to the point of lacking credibility and dramatic force

Amadeo (played by Nestor Jiménez) is the reason for the 50-something reunion of this group of friends. He is a writer who left Cuba to go live in Spain for reasons his friends only find out at the beginning of the movie.

So Amadeo decides to stay in Spain during a working trip to avoid betraying his friend Rafa (played by Fernando Hechavarría), a talented painter who has been harassed and marginalized because of his lack of political commitment to the system. When the reunion takes place, Rafa, who has never asserted himself over the hedge of official censorship, feels bitter about having to survive producing paintings lacking in artistic value for sale to tourists, while Amadeo embodies the misfit émigré who has never been able to write again since his departure, and is now determined to stay in Cuba.

Tania (Isabel Santos) is a doctor specializing in Ophthalmology who, during the so-called Special Period crisis of the 90’s, authorized her minor children’s departure from Cuba. Her decision plunged her into a depression, which she tries to overcome by appealing to her religious beliefs of African origins, as evidenced by the hand of Orula on the bracelet she wears on her wrist. Tania’s debate centers on whether or not she acted correctly when she distanced herself from her children.

Eddy (Jorge Perugorría), manages some enterprise or “firm.” He is a cynic, a hedonist, an opportunist, a parasite, and he is unethical. He travels frequently, he “gets around by car,” constantly gets calls on his cell phone and arrives on the scene with two shopping bags and a bottle of whiskey, a real sign of his status. He is the living image of the great pretender.

Aldo (Pedro Julio Díaz), a character and a perfectly forgettable performance, serves as host for the meeting. He is a frustrated engineer dedicated to the crafting of batteries and just barely making a living, the reason his wife left him to leave the country with an Italian. He is the resigned, conciliatory type, and – together with his mother, with whom he still resides – is one of the plot’s most obvious clichés: a decent and nice Afro-Cuban living in poverty in Central Havana, in a promiscuous environment, surrounded by marginal individuals who sacrifice pigs on the roof terrace next door, of couples who argue loudly from their balcony and of good-natured neighbors who shout out the scores of the baseball game they are watching on TV.

His mother is the kindly black woman who gives good advice, with a scarf wrapped around her head, who makes the best black beans that everyone wants to eat, and who humbly sets the table before leaving the room. She is a shockingly dispensable character.

The cliché of drawings showing El Malecón, the harbor, the Plaza of the Revolution and the Capitol’s cupola are abundant, as silent evidence that the story takes place in Havana, which the same the scenery painted on cardboard could have validated. This almost forces one to remember – in contrast — the masterful way in which Fernando Pérez managed those icons of the Havana environs in his film Suite Havana, where, rather than mere scenes, they are co-stars conveying the spirit of the cityscapes.

What reasons did the commissioners have to censor this poor film during the last film festival in Havana?

Return to Ithaca exudes the oblique, patronizing and folk interpretation of a team of foreign filmmakers and, as such, it’s oblivious to the reality it that wants to present. Therefore, since they are ignorant of the intricacies of such a complex, varied, and nuanced community, the final result offers a superficial and plain view of that reality, unfolding, as a touch of local color, what actually constitutes yet another unfortunate stereotype.

In general, the plot clings to the past — which is really the only element all the characters have in common — by appealing to victimization, to catharsis and to forced conflicts between them, while the Cuban socio-political system, reflected primarily among the memories of the characters, is the invisible villain, the victimizer, flowing from each actor’s lines, though only in the third person, singular: “they sent us to agriculture,” they made us go to the harvest,” “they took us to pick tobacco in the countryside,” “they did not let us listen to The Beatles,” “they fucked up our lives,” and others along the same lines. A non-committal “they did such-and-such to us,” a kind of impersonal culprit entity which is, all at once, the system and nobody, and that allows sneaking the bundle out through the open escape hatch.

And, to put the icing on the cake, there is a version of Return to Ithaca, this calamitous cinematographic accident, that breaks both scenic as well as temporary and situational planes, so that, in some passages, the viewer witnesses a sudden and dramatically useless blackout on the roof, and immediately afterwards, as if by magic, the characters converse with a perfectly lit up Havana in the background, or a roof scene ends and — without a transition — the next scene takes place indoors, with the characters seated around a table in the dining room, savoring Aldo’s mother’s incomparable black beans.

If this disruptive intention was to surprise the viewer, it only serves to baffle him.

In short, when the parade of credits indicates that Return to Ithaca is over (at last!), the viewer can feel a strange mixture of relief and disappointment. Relief, because it will probably convince him that the most wasted 90 minutes of his life are just over. Disappointment, because, just like the very characters in the movie, he will feel deeply cheated. And so perhaps, as it happened to me, he will get up from his chair wondering what reasons the commissioners had to censor this poor film during the last film festival in Havana.

*Orula, a major Orisha in the Afro Cuban religion of Santería, (Yoruba in English), is the future prophet and the counselor of humans.

Translated by Norma Whiting

The Two Halves of Raul Castro / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

The meeting between Raul Castro and Pope Francisco. (EFE)
The meeting between Raul Castro and Pope Francisco. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 11 May 2015 – Raul Castro arriving in Italo Calvino’s other homeland, like the Viscount of Calvino’s book, landed divided in two, split down the middle. He came from a flood of soldiers and armaments at the Red Square parade in Moscow, where he showed his Communist nostalgia recalling the “glory days” of the Soviet Union. In Rome, however, he arrived with his other side taking the lead. At the Vatican he became the man educated in a Jesuit college and even confessed to Pope Francis that he might be disposed to return to the Church and once again take up prayer.

This Sunday, the two contradictory and irreconcilable pieces of Raul Castro have returned to Cuba, a country also fragmented between the celerity with which it feeds hopes and the slow pace of reality. The official media only reported the tour of one of the General’s parts, that of commitments and continuity and the embrace of the Kremlin comrades. However, with regards to the meeting with the pope, they only reported the words of thanks for the mediation between Cuba and the United States, accompanied by a reference to the pope’s upcoming visit to the Island. continue reading

Why did neither prime time TV news nor the newspaper Granma report Raul Castro’s declarations about a possible return to the faith? Because this part is not suitable to be aired indoors, it should only be exposed to a foreign public. Inside the house, within the national frontiers, the image must continue to be that of a tough, strong man of clenched fist, who neither wavers nor exhibits any weakness. In Cuba he is not willing to show the moderation or the diplomatic side on display during his trip. Here, he wants to make it clear who leads and reaffirm that there is no room for differences nor opposition.

At home, the image must continue to be that of a tough, strong man of clenched fist, who neither wavers nor exhibits any weakness

To add to the contradictions, while the General-President was engaged in a foreign tour, Fidel Castro published some reflections that reinforce the choice of Marxism-Leninism. Speaking out for an atheistic and materialistic ideology a few hours after his younger brother was received by Saint Peter’s successor. It was not a coincidental text, nor a careless one. It focused on reining in the reformist side that Raul Castro exhibited before democratic governments. The commander-in-chief also needed to make clear the limit of the transformations Cuba is experiencing, which so far have been timidly focused on the economic sphere without going so far as political changes.

Like the story written by Italo Calvino, it is very difficult for these two halves to coexist without confrontation. The pope, the French president and Barack Obama, among others, have shaken the hand of the politician who says he is willing to talk. They do not observe how the military and intolerant side, that is also a part of him, behaves on Cuban soil. Under this Raul Castro are authorized the acts of repudiation against the dissidents, State Security’s harassment and surveillance of activists and the greater part of the population which doesn’t even dare to criticize the system out loud.

A Raul Castro who maintains a benign moderation towards the outside world and a harsh authoritarianism within Cuba would be a terrible scenario for the future

Which of the two halves will prevail? A Raul Castro who returns to religious faith, propels a comprehensive reform of the country and sits down to talk with the internal opposition? Or that other, raised up in military intransigence, who incites political hatred and puts the interests of his family clan above the urgent needs of the nation? Will there come a time when he cannot sustain such duplicity?

In the last part of the book by the famous Italian-Cuban writer, the two halves of the protagonist are sewn together and live in harmony after trying to annihilate himself. In the Cuban case, that could be the most devastating of the choices. A Raul Castro who maintains a benign moderation towards the outside world and a harsh authoritarianism within Cuba would be a terrible scenario for the future.

The water does not come to Santiago de Cuba / 14ymedio, Yosmany Mayeta Labrada

Tanker truck on a street in Santiago de Cuba. (Yosmani Mayeta)
Tanker truck on a street in Santiago de Cuba. (Yosmani Mayeta)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yosmany Mayeta Labrada, Santiago de Cuba, 9 May 2015 – The drought has become an undesirable comrade for the residents of Santiago de Cuba. For years, the city has suffered low rainfall, deficiencies in the water supply system, and an erratic distribution policy.

In the midst of the celebrations for the fifth centenary of the city’s founding, the contents of a water truck cost the equivalent of ten convertible pesos on the black market, almost half the average monthly salary. The families who can’t pay it have to be satisfied with storing in tanks and buckets the trickle that comes out of the taps once or twice a month.

In recent months, the water supply situation has become more drastic, and although the rains flooded a part of the center and west of the country, they have not made it to the east. The residents of Santiago’s slums and neighborhood look to the sky in hopes of a downpour that will fill the reservoirs and improve the situation of agriculture. continue reading

Dayana Despaigne, mother of two, uses the water given to her by some neighbors with more resources, to clean, wash and do the cooking. She says she doesn’t have the money “to buy the water,” so she hopes for the generosity of others or of the “the workers on the aqueduct” supplying the neighborhood where she lives.

Not far from Dayana’s house is the Chicharrones neighborhood, where Luisa Hernandez said that “almost a month has gone by with no water coming to the block, and this is not only the fault of the drought.” The lady complains of the lack of organization and a regular supply schedule and says that “they have forgotten to open the aqueduct when it touches us,” referring to the taps that allow the water to flow to different areas of the city.

The situation extends to the area known as Venceremos, where the water comes every 15 days. On this occasion, according to comments from Juana Milagros Bonne, “They passed us up, because it’s been more than twenty-five days without a drop and it seems that for now it won’t come our way, because we have been informed that there is a break and that the cistern that supplies us is empty.”

The water trucks, commonly known as “pipes,” should help to ease the situation when the water doesn’t come through the actual water pipes. However, much of their cargo ends up diverted to the black market, where there is a growing demand due to need.

A resident of Altamira commented to 14ymedio that on several occasions they have bought water from the trucks because “the cycle is very long and my tank supplies several family houses.” But he considers “ten convertible pesos to be a lot of money,” and “in the neighborhood we’ve never seen the supply trucks sent by the government to supply water to the people.”

The problem is not just that the water doesn’t fall from the sky, but how much is lost through leaks and breaks. A worker on the aqueduct revealed to this newspaper that “the meters that measure the water are in poor condition in many houses, which negatively affects the wasting of water.” The employee also recognizes that “the company does not have the necessary means to repair the networks in the short term.”

Just two years ago, Raul Castro made a speech at the 26th of July celebration in the Santiago capital where he set as a goal repairing the water system throughout the city. Today, many families in the area give up a good part of their wages to pay for the water trucks or the water carriers who sell buckets and bottles. Water days don’t seem to arrive for Santiago de Cuba.

Cuba Civil Society Open Forum meets for the 7th time / 14ymedio

Tania Bruguera during the discussion group at her home in Havana Vieja (14ymedio)
Tania Bruguera during the discussion group at her home in Havana Vieja (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 8 May 2015 – Some twenty activists, political leaders, intellectuals and artists participated in a new meeting of Cuban Civil Society Open Forum last Friday morning. At the meeting they discussed the need to take into account in future discussions the organization of the parallel forums at the recent Summit of the Americas.

The discussion touched on points such as the lack of transparency on the part of the State in the administration of public funds, the participation of independent candidates in elections and the current state of Cuban society.

An intense discussion developed around several initiatives, such as “Citizen Hour” inscribed within the Constitutional Consensus project, which seeks to promote a new elections law, as well as a new law of associations and political parties. Also discussed was a proposal to create five working groups on the issues of human rights, democracy and governability, civil society, communications, and the private sector.

Finally, it was agreed to send a letter to the European Union, the US government and the Cuban government expressing the deep concerns of the participants with the systematic repression against human rights activists and against the citizenry in general, which contrasts with the context in which they are promoting understanding and dialog.

Among the participants were the artist Tania Bruguera and the writer Victor Manuel Dominguez. The attorney Laritza Diversent and opposition member Manuel Cuesta Morua also spoke at the event, along the analyst Pedro Campos and the Baptist minister Mario Felix Lleonart, among others.

Human rights in Nicaragua have deteriorated considerably since 2008″ / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

Flores-Centro-Nicaraguense-Derechos-Humanos_CYMIMA20150508_0010_13 (1)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Brussels, 9 May 2015 — Wendy Flores Acevedo, a young lawyer with the Nicaraguan Human Rights Center (CENIDH), spoke with 14ymedio in Brussels about the loss of legal guarantees in recent years in her country, under the government of Daniel Ortega.

Escobar. What is the situation today with human rights in Nicaragua?

Flores. Human rights in Nicaragua have deteriorated considerably since 2008, one year after Daniel Ortega was reelected, because they have lost the value they had. They are not given due respect by the officials and above all non-governmental organizations who devote themselves to this work have been excluded, accused of being mercenaries in the service of imperialism. On top of that, we lack access to information.

The CENIDH made at least two annual visits to the eight prisons in the country, and in addition when we receive complaints about serious violations, we were able to visit the complainant, and physically see the individual in an interview. Since 2008, this is no longer possible. We aren’t even allowed to enter the prisons.

Escobar. Has the government withdrawn your legitimacy? continue reading

Flores. We still have legitimacy, in the sense that citizens continue to trust us, they continue to send us complaints, and that is what legitimizes us as an organization in defense of human rights. Despite the difficulties, we investigate cases. Often, the lack of information, refusal of access, is a confirmation of the alleged facts.

“A military doctor was denounced and sentenced just for commenting that it seemed we were back in the 80’s”

Escobar. How are political prisoners currently registered?

Flores. We don’t have it now but we did have it. For example, a military doctor who was sentenced last December just for commenting that it seems like we were in the 80s again, in a “Red Christmas,” because it was stained with the blood of the peasants. He made statement was made on the sidewalk outside his home when he was on vacation. This lieutenant was accused of the crime of “against military decorum.” His comment was heard by one person, who denounced him. Thanks to the pressure they gave him a sentence of only three months, but it still was a political case, because it violated his right to freedom of expression.

Escobar. And what was this military man referring to when he spoke of the blood of the peasants?

Flores. He was referring to the repression suffered by several peasants at the hands of the national police for protesting against the canal they are planning to build in Nicaragua. Those demonstrations lasted one week and on 24 December ended with violence by the authorities.

Escobar. And what is the conflict with the canal?

Flores. The main problem is perhaps the lack of information people have about the consequences of having a canal. Informing them has not been possible because, among other reasons, there are no studies of the economic feasibility or the environmental impact. At a recent hearing before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, the State affirmed they were terminating these studies, but the problem is the law has already been approved and a concession agreement is already signed through which a Chinese concession acquires the rights to 107 square miles of the nation’s land. In this agreement it specifies that neither the Constitution nor the laws of the country will apply to this area in the case of future conflicts.

Escobar. What about the majority of Nicaraguans, are they happy or unhappy with this project?

Flores. There is a lot of discontent. Indigenous peoples have not been consulted and it is an obligation of the State to do so. Farmers have not been consulted, nor have they been given any information about the process of land expropriation, or if there will be compensation. This is ancestral land with and this has generated all kinds of protests.

Escobar. Is a referendum or something similar not provided for as a part of the public consultation?

Flores. Many have raised this issue, but the government does not mention this possibility. There have been deputies who have questioned the project and have supported the peasantry. Private business is silent, because it is assumed that there will be many economic interests at stake. The same goes for politicians who are businesspeople.

Escobar. Do you suspect that there is some corruption behind this plan?

Flores. It is assumed that behind the canal there could be money laundering or corruption, and this assumption rests on the lack of transparency about the financial resources to be employed. In fact, the Chinese company that has the concession does not have the money to carry out this project, which is immense.

What there is now doesn’t fit into any definition of philosophy or of what we once knew as “Sandanistism,” as an orientation of the political Left.

Escobar. So ultimately does all this seem a little “too good to be true”?

Flores. That’s part of the hypothesis: that the canal scheme is a strategy to carry out the expropriations and ultimately what they will end up creating will be tourist centers. But it could be a canal, or something else, the fact is that by law they have established the occupation of a strip of territory that will divide Nicaragua into a North and South and that has been approved due to the lack of independence on the part of the judicial system. We are not seeing the canal, nor the resources, nor the viability, nor the increase in demand for labor. The only thing we are facing is the imminent threat of expropriations.

Escobar. But a work of this magnitude would necessarily create a high demand for labor.

Flores. They say about 50,000 Chinese will come to the country, considering that they have done similar projects in other countries.

Escobar. How is it in Nicaragua today with regards to women’s rights?

Flores. We have suffered a legal setback since political parties decided to pass a law that completely criminalizes abortion, including therapeutic abortion or abortions for pregnancies that occur as the result of rape. We had an article in the law establishing the exception to guarantee the health of the woman. That article was repealed in November 2006. In 2008, with the new government of Daniel Ortega, a new penal code which repealed all criminal regulations were formulated, but in this new code did not set any exceptions to the ban on abortion, and even established language on “injuries due to giving birth” which eliminate every consideration regarding the risk of childbirth. The United Nations has made ​​recommendations for allowing termination of pregnancy in case of congenital malformations or in the case of rape, but to date the Supreme Court has not made ​​a judgment on the appeals filed.

Escobar. Are what we are seeing in Nicaragua is still “Sandinistism” or is it something else now?

Flores. What there is now doesn’t fit into any definition of philosophy or of what we once knew as “Sandanistism,” as an orientation of the political Left. Today all this is contradicted by the practices of the government, with the living conditions enjoyed by the senior political leaders, who bow are businessmen with great economic resources whose priorities have nothing at all to do with situation of human rights and protecting the disadvantaged.

Escobar. And will they continue in power?

Flores. Yes, probably for a long time. They have full control of the economy, the army, the media and parliament.

Google Toolbar now available in Cuba / 14ymedio

Google headquarters in Mountain View, California. (CC)
Google headquarters in Mountain View, California. (CC)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, 6 May 2015 — Cuban Internet users can now download the Google toolbar, according to a Tuesday announcement on the firm’s corporate blog. The new service joins last year’s arrival of Google’s Chrome browser, as well as the applications and free games of Google Play and the free version of Google Analytics.

The directors of the US Internet giant have traveled to Cuba twice in the last year. This March a company delegation led by deputy director Scott Carpenter met with students and professors of the University of Information Sciences (UCI) in Havana and visited Jose Antonio Echeverria City University (CUJAE ) as well as facilities of the state Youth Club of Computing and Electronic.

That trip was preceded by a trip last June by Eric Schmidt, chief executive of the company, who visited the Island with Google employees Jared Cohen, Brett Perlmutter and Dan Keyserling, with the aim of “promoting the virtues of a free and open Internet.” continue reading

After the trip, Schmidt wrote in his profile on Google Plus: “If Cuba is trapped in the 1950’s, the Internet of Cuba is trapped in the 1990s.  About 20-25% of Cubans have phone lines but mostly subsidized land lines, and the cell phone infrastructure is very thin. Approximately 3-4% of Cubans have access to the Internet in internet cafes and in certain universities.”

Several US companies such as Netflix and Apple are trying to break into the Cuban market after the easing of access to information infrastructure introduced after the announcement of the restoration of diplomatic relations between Havana and Washington on 17 December.

However, Internet access remains restricted in Cuba. With few exceptions home-based connections are not permitted and the rates in public internet rooms or in hotels are extremely high for most people. There are one million computers in the country, of which only half have Internet access, according to statistics from the ONE.

Alan Gross leads movement to strengthen relations between Cuba and the US / 14ymedio

Alan Gross on the plane returning him to the US after his five years in a Cuban prison (CC)
Alan Gross on the plane returning him to the US after his five years in a Cuban prison (CC)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, 5 May 2015 (With information from agencies) – Alan Gross, the former US contractor who imprisoned in Cuba for five years for espionage until last December, is heading up a movement created to push for a closer relationship with the Island.

The “New Cuba” mission is pressuring the United States Congress to put an end to the travel restrictions on Americans who want to visit the Island, as well as to expand commercial relationships, according to its organizers.

This Monday Gross participated in a presentation in Miami Beach attended by members of the large Cuban community in south Florida, both Democrats and Republicans. The committee has the support of companies hoping to do business in Cuba. “We want to send a strong message to all candidates for Congress. There is a bipartisan push for further changes in policy,” added Luis Miranda, a political strategist and former White House spokesperson who is consulting with the committee. continue reading

The “New Cuba” movement defies the power of the pressure long-exercised by more politically radical Cuban-Americans, led by the US-Cuba Democracy PAC, which has raised more than $4 million since 2004.

Alan Gross was released as part of the agreement between the US and Cuba announced on December 17 to restore diplomatic relations and he now wants to contribute to the restoration of normalization between the two countries, according to his lawyer, Scott Gilbert. “Alan supports president Barack Obama’s initiative 100 percent and he believes that open travel and trade between our countries is the best thing for the people of Cuba and the people of our country,” he added.

On Tuesday, US Senator Marco Rubio, who aspires to be the presidential candidate of his party for the 2016 elections and who and opposes Obama’s policy towards Cuba, will chair a hearing on US Department of State’s budget, which is expected to focus on Cuba.