14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 12 November 2014 – In a meeting with the president of the Cuban Journalists Union (UPEC), the first vice president, Miguel Díaz-Canel Bermúdez, said journalists had a responsibility to investigate more before offering an opinion, but also praised the work undertaken in recent weeks by the national press, giving as an example that published on Ebola, the comments about the editorial in The New York Times and other local topics.
This is the fifteenth meeting of its kind and it was held at the Council of State in the offices of the vice president, who has paid special attention to the work of journalists since the Ninth Congress of UPEC in July of last year. Diaz-Canel said he was pleased with the good level of those working in critical posts at the provincial newspapers.
After the meeting no detailed indication emerged relating to any notable excesses or gaps in the mass media, although it did seem to the vice president that “our media is fresher” and the Cuban press has begun to reflect topics that appear in the media of other countries. continue reading
At the meeting Antonio Molton, the president of UPEC, reported on the upcoming participation of the organization leading the meeting of the Federation of Latin America Journalists (FELAP), which will be held this week in Ecuador.
As is known, the media authorized in this country are closely controlled by the Communist Party, an organization that behaves like a true proprietor in naming the directors and outlining the editorial line of every newspaper, magazine, radio station and television station, be it national or provincial.
Lately there have been more critical articles and readers’ letters with notes of the inadequacies and mistakes of state entities, as well as critical demonstrations related to the quality of services or the prices of some products. What still had not been permitted – and Díaz-Canel did not speak of this – is questioning the legitimacy of the leaders or casting doubt on the viability of the socialist system in the country.
No independent journalist nor alternative blogger belongs to UPEC.
14ymedio, Bertrand de la Grange, Madrid/November 8, 2014 — Prensa Latina devoted only ten lines to news that stunned the world. Below a detached title – “The GDR Announces the Opening of its Borders” – the Cuban agency related on November 9, 1989, that the German Democratic Republic had just made an administrative “ruling” by which “citizens will be able to take private trips without the need to explain their reasons.” The word “wall” did not appear in the teletype. Such moderation reflected the prevailing confusion in Havana.
The transcendental event that western media celebrated was a catastrophe for the allies of the Soviet Union in the Americas. Cuba and Sandinista Nicaragua were in mourning. The guerillas still active in the region, above all the Salvadoran FMLN, the Guatemalan URNG, and to a lesser extent the Colombian FARC, saw their logistical and diplomatic space reduced with the weakening of the communist bloc.
Mikhail Gorbachev’s trip to Cuba, some months before, had made evident the gulf that separated the Soviet president from the then Maximum Leader who held tight to ideological orthodoxy as a detractor of the Perestroika economic reforms, which were seen by Havana as an imitation of capitalism. “We have seen sad things in other socialist countries, very sad things,” Fidel Castro would later say in reference to the changes that took place two years after the collapse of the USSR, with its devastating consequences for the Cuban economy, totally dependent on subsidies from Moscow. continue reading
The events of November 9 also alarmed the Sandinista leaders in Nicaragua. They did not expect it, in spite of – or perhaps because of – their close relationship with the Stasi, the intelligence apparatus of the GDR, which along with Cubans managed the security of the nine leaders of the revolution. A year before, the Stasi had played a key role in Operation Berta in order to change by force of arms the Nicaraguan currency in a desperate effort to stop an inflation of 36,000%, which the government managed to reduce to 2,000% in 1989.
When the news arrived from Berlin, Nicaragua was immersed in a very tense electoral campaign. At the request of the White House, Gorbachev had convinced the Sandinista government to advance the elections scheduled for the end of the year to February 25, 1990. This was about looking for a political exit to the war between the Sandinista forces, supported by Havana, and an essentially peasant rebellion, the Contras, sustained by Washington. Managua was then an important piece on the regional geo-political board, and the US feared that El Salvador would be the next chip to fall.
The Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) hoped to achieve with those elections democratic legitimacy to convince the international community of the need to disarm the Contras under the supervision of the United Nations. Opposing, the National Opposition Union (UNO) a coalition of 14 parties from the whole political spectrum, seemed to have not the least chance of winning. Its candidate, Violeta Barrios, widow of Joaquin Chamorro, assassinated during the Somoza dictatorship, was a housewife without political experience. Instead, the FSLN counted on the overwhelming machinery of the State to impose its candidate, Daniel Ortega, who had spent a decade in power.
La Prensa, property of the Chamorro family, dedicated extensive coverage to the Berlin event, including an editorial entitled, “Fall of the Wall, a Miracle of History.” Antonio Lacayo, son-in-law and close adviser to the UNO candidate, saw the opportunity that was presented to them. “We knew immediately that that historic event would have very favorable repercussions for us in the campaign against the Sandinistas,” he says in a book, The Difficult Nicaraguan Transition, published in 2005. “We said that if the Germans were capable of throwing off forty years of dictatorship, we could throw off ours of ten years…”
He was not wrong. Contrary to the surveys, the international press and the diplomats, who predicted a comfortable victory for Daniel Ortega, Violeta de Chamorro won with almost 55% of the vote.
“The electoral defeat of the Sandinistas was our Berlin Wall, we were convinced we were going to win,” Joaquin Villalobos would later say. Villalobos was one of the leaders of the Salvadoran guerrilla group, the Farabundo Marti Front for National Liberation, which had its rearguard in Managua. Instead, the events of November 1989 in Germany did not affect them “morally,” and they decided to continue with their plans to launch an unprecedented military offensive against the capital, San Salvador, and the country’s principal cities.
The political times of Central America did not match up with those of Eastern Europe. The Salvadoran guerrillas saw their survival endangered in the face of pressures from the United States on Gorbachev to stop the deliveries of Soviet arms through Cuba and Nicaragua. The FMLN dreamed of winning power by means of weapons, although their more realistic commanders settled for achieving a greater control of terrain in preparation for a negotiation.
While the Cold War was dying out and the citizens of East Germany were celebrating their new freedom, the leaders of the FMLN hurried the final details of “Operation To the Top” in safe houses placed at their disposal by the Sandinista government. November 11, a little before eight at night, Radio Venceremos, the emissary of the Salvadoran guerrillas, received the message from Joaquin Villalobos: “We are on the march. From here to there, there is no retreat,” he said from Managua. The offensive was beginning.
The Soviets were furious at feeling tricked by their Sandinista allies who had committed to cutting off logistical help to the FMLN. The minister of Foreign Affairs, Eduard Shevardnadze, one of Gorbachev’s closest associates, had traveled to Nicaragua the month before to announce Moscow’s decision to collaborate with the peace plan for Central America, launched two years before with international support.
Close to 4,000 Salvadorans died in the two weeks of combat, between guerrilla fighters, soldiers and the civil population. Was anything achieved? According to writer David Escobar Galindo, ex-negotiator for the government, “The offensive of November 11, 1989, opened the possibility for peace by demonstrating that war could not be decided militarily.” Terror had reached an equilibrium. Both sides would sign the peace in 1992 and, a distant consequence of the fall of the Wall, the FMLN would come to power by the ballot box in 2009.
Editor’s note: This text has been previously published in the daily El Pais. We reproduce it with permission of the author.
Bertrand de la Grange was a correspondent for Le Monde in Central America when the Wall fell.
14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 11 November 2014 — I was tempted to title this text “The Good New York Times and Bad New York Times”, but since Yoani Sanchez had done the same with USAID it seemed repetitive.
The truth is that lately, and in an unusual manner, the official organ of the Cuban Communist Party, the newspaper Granma, and its televised arm, The Roundtable show, haven’t stopped repeating the good reasons this newspaper has for criticizing the embargo, for demanding that Alan Gross be exchanged for Cuba’s Ministry of the Interior (MININT) prisoners held in the United States, or for criticizing U.S. policy with regards to the Cuban government. This is the good New York Times, a credible and influential American newspaper. continue reading
But some have the healthy habit of saving paper and among these pearls appears, published in the Granma itself, an article which speaks very differently in relation to the famous newspaper .
On April 24, 2003, the news was fresh of the imprisonment of 75 Cuban dissidents (originally there were 80 defendants) who were given sentences of 15, 20 and up to 28 years imprisonment. The New York Times addressed that process, later dubbed the Black Spring, and to the Cuban government this was unforgivable.
Granma’s response, under the byline of Arsenio Rodríguez, was overwhelming and conclusive. “…their editorial decisions are neither serious nor liberal, but obediently follow orders in defense of the interests of the dominant powers in this nation.” And concluding with this succinct affirmation: “… the true role of the New York Times was, is and will be to represent the essence of the empire.”
The question some of us in Cuba ask is if the newspaper has ceased to represent the imperial interests of the United States (if this was ever the case) or if now those interests are changing and something is moving under the table, behind the backs of the only protagonists in this drama: Cubans.
I do not know if Arsenio Rodriguez has retired, how old he is, or if he prefers to “pass” on the subject, but I would love to read his opinion now. I would give anything to have the evidence that the editorial decisions of Granma dutifully obey orders in defense of the dominant interests.
14ymedio, Havana, 10 November 2014 — Some 700 Cuban health professionals defected from Venezuela between September 2013 and September 2014, according to data published Sunday in Caracas by the daily El Universal. The majority went to the United States and reported the deterioration of their work conditions.
This figure doubles the number from the same period a year earlier, when some 300 professionals left their missions, according to information from Solidarity Without Borders (SSF), an organization with headquarters in Miami that helps Cuban health professionals looking for a better future.
“The worsening of conditions in Venezuela is causing an increase in defections. The lack of safety, low pay, worker exploitation and control over private life continue to be the big reasons,” said Doctor Julio Cesar Alfonso, president of the organization, to El Universal. continue reading
Alfonso explains that the most significant increase was registered after the death of President Hugo Chavez. Among other reasons that impel doctors to escape, according to the organization’s president, are the devaluation of the bolivar, an average salary of 100 dollars at the official exchange rate and few prospects for professional development.
The phenomenon is not limited to Venezuela and, according to Solidarity Without Borders, some 1,100 Cuban professionals abandoned their missions abroad between September 2013 and 2014.
14ymedio, Havana, 10 November 2014 — In an article published Sunday, the Wall Street Journal lashes out against the “doctor diplomacy” carried out by the Island by sending health personnel abroad. The newspaper compares the system with the “slave trade” in spite of international praise.
Columnist Mary Anastasia O’Grady, however, asserts that the doctors who travel to poor countries “are not a gift from Cuba,” since the Island earns some 8 billion dollars annually at the expense of the workers through the payments it receives from the host country – as in the case of Venezuela – or other countries who send funds to the World Health Organization. O’Grady reminds readers that the medical personnel do not receive their remuneration directly and that this money goes to the coffers of the state which only dedicates a small part to the salaries. continue reading
“It is the perfect crime: By sending its subjects abroad to help poor people, the regime gains from the global community the image of a disinterested contributor even though it exploits the workers and enriches itself at their expense,” writes the columnist. “This is a great business which, if were not carried out by Marxists gangsters, surely would offend journalists. Instead, they swallow it.”
O’Grady insists that “human trafficking is nothing new for Havana, nor is it limited to the medical profession.” Refusing to participate in a mission can mean the loss of employment—as Cuban Doctor Antonio Guedes reported from Madrid to the German international television chain DW—or have consequences for children’s university admission.
In 2008, some workers reported to the United States Justice Department the hard work conditions and the salary of three cents per hour they received during a mission to Curacao where they went to work in exchange for Cuba’s debt to Curacao Drydock Company. The relatives of the claimants, according to the report by the United States newspaper The Christian Science Monitor, “lost jobs and access to education and suffered harassment by gangs.”
The columnist emphasizes that sending medical personnel abroad is causing a shortage of doctors in Cuba, in spite of the delicate epidemiological situation the Island is experiencing, affected by outbreaks of dengue fever and cholera.
14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, 3 November 2014 – We are consumers more than citizens. That is the conclusion to be drawn after having seen the “Con sentido” segment on the Buenos Días TV program. In the introduction they announced to us that the topic would be the rights we know, our rights they violate, knowledge of and compliance with the Constitution of the Republic.
But imagine our frustration to find that, during the entire time the screen was filled with specialists, legislators and people in general, interviewed on the street and in the studio, not a single word was said about how the police treat citizens, the wrongful retention of items in Customs, the time a person can be jailed without trial, the innumerable violations that derive from the lack of freedom of expression and association and long string that doesn’t fit in this space. continue reading
Instead the commentator, in the first minutes, the commentator offered what would be a litany of what set off the subsequent “protests,” among them falsifying the weights of products, not giving the correct change, or receipts not being entered into accounts. The most serious criticism referred to the absence or scarcity of copies of our Constitution and limited disclosure that is given to the law.
Appealing to the trick of mentioning the important to later anchor it to the less important details, we could hear statements such as these: “Our fundamental problem is that we don’t know our rights or we barely know them. We aren’t brought up with a judicial culture. Now they violate our rights and we don’t know what to do; worse, they violate rights we don’t even know we have.”
Two young women, the deputy Dayama Fundora and the specialist Maidelis Riguero, both on the National Assembly of People’s Power Commission on Constitutional and Judicial Matters, concentrated on the rights enjoyed by Cubans, such as education, health care, and jobs, and alluded to the fact that at that time they were working on the creation of a Consumer Protection Law.
The man-on-the-street interviews had their most daring moment when they asked a woman if it seemed right that they search a purse in the street, and she answered that if she hadn’t committed any crime there was no need to search her. But the majority of the selected interviewees spoke about the weight of the merchandise or the quality of the products. Also prevalent was the uselessness of complaining because in most cases no reply is received.
But the jewel in the crown was the voiceover saying, “To the extent that people know the mechanisms to make complaints, encounter receptive ears, find solutions to their complaints and feel that denouncing a negative act is not creating conflict but a contribution to bettering things, then they will break some of the chains of complicity that have their origin in the failure of citizens to do their du
14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 9 November 2014 – My life up to then had always been lived between walls. The wall of the Malecon that separated me from a world of which I’d only heard the horror. The wall of the school where I studied when Germany was reunified. The long wall behind which the illegal sellers of sweets and treats hid themselves. Almost six feet of some overlapping bricks that some classmates jumped over to get out of classes, as indoctrinating as they were boring. To this was added the wall of silence and fear. At home, my parents put their fingers to their lips, speaking in whispers… something happened, but they didn’t tell me what.
In November of 1989 the Berlin Will fell. In reality, it was knocked down with a sledgehammer and a chisel. Those who threw themselves against it were the same people who, weeks earlier, appeared to obey the Communist Party and believe in the paradise of the proletariat. The news came to us slowly and fragmented. Cuba’s ruling party tried to distract attention and minimize the matter; but the details leaked out little by little. That year my adolescence ended. I was only fourteen and everything that came afterwards left me no space for naivety.
Berliners awoke to the noise of the hammers and we Cubans discovered that the promised future was a complete lie
The masks fell on by one. Berliners awoke to the noise of hammers and we Cubans discovered that the promised future was a complete lie. While Eastern Europe shrugged off the long embrace of the Kremlin, Fidel Castro screamed from the dais, promising in the name of everybody that we would never give up. Few had the insight to realize that that political delusion would condemn us to the most difficult years to confront several generations of Cubans. The wall fell far away, while another parapet was raised around us, that of ideological blindness, irresponsibility and voluntarism.
A quarter century has passed. Today Germans and the whole world are celebrating the end of an absurdity. They are taking stock of the achievements since that November and enjoying the freedom to complain about what hasn’t gone well. We, in Cuba, have missed out on twenty-five years of climbing aboard history’s bandwagon. For our country, the wall is still standing, although right now few are propping up a bulwark erected more at the whim of one man than by the decision of a people.
14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, 7 November 2014 – Of all the faces that circulate on the illegal information networks, there is a very serene and well-known one that has been with us for decades. This well-spoken man who never seems to get upset has received the worst insults in the official media and the stealthy applause of those who never miss his programs. Oscar Haza spoke to 14ymedio this week at the MegaTV studios in Florida, with a baseball cap, a telephone that never stopped ringing, and many interesting stories about his life, journalism and his other adoptive island.
Yoani Sanchez: People in Cuba know you as a television presenter, but help us to complete the person behind this sober man in suit and tie who asks incisive questions. Who are you, besides a face on the screen?
Oscar Haza: I’m an ordinary person, a child from a village in the district of San Carlos, in the center of the capital city of Santo Domingo
Sanchez: Here is where many of my compatriots interrupt you and exclaim in astonishment, AH!… because you’re not Cuban!
Haza: I am the grandson of Cubans. My grandfather was Luis Felipe Haza, a Cuban who moved to Santo Domingo to work in the sugar mills. From there comes my Dominican side, but my other side is from the province of Matanzas. continue reading
Sanchez: If you were not born in Cuba where does so much passion for our country come from? Just a genetic inheritance?
Haza: In the genes, but also because I grew up in a household of fufu, ropa vieja and mangú. That special fusion that the Caribbean has produced. So the Greater Antilles has always been present in my life because of this exchange between families. The person for whom I decided to come to Miami was a Cuban-Dominican of very illustrious lineage, Henríquez Ureña. My friend Hernán Henríquez Lora got me excited and so I came here. So I’ve always had in my heart and in my baggage this interwoven history of Cuba and the Dominican Republic.
Sanchez: And journalism? Does that also come from your family tree?
Haza: My father was the first face that appeared on television, when television arrived in the Dominican Republic in 1952. Of course, to introduce, in turn, the boss.
“I have trauma with dictatorships. (…) Trujillo removed seven members of the family of my father”
Haza: Yes, and that’s why I have a trauma with dictatorships. Although many people think I’m against the Cuban government out of convenience, because I live in Miami. It’s not that. It’s out of conviction. The Trujillo dictatorship eliminated seven members of my father’s family. So I grew up with the trauma of Latin American militarism. To the point that I don’t even have friends who know how to march. Everything it martial, everything is strict orders, I reject it. In this sense I’m a species in permanent opposition to all dictatorships
Sanchez: I have also heard you have a great music collection. Is that true?
Haza: Music is my psychiatrist. Instead of paying a psychotherapist, I buy discs … or I bought discs in another era, now no, because everything is on the internet. The music determines the mood. I listen to everything. I am a great admirer of Beethoven and Claude Debussy. The other day I had the opportunity to enjoy one of the best pianists I’ve ever heard and it was a Cuban, Jorge Luis Prats and he was playing Brahms.
But I also like dance music … I’m Caribbean! Imagine our islands: Cuba, the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico have inspired the public to dance, the whole world.
Sanchez: And you also like reggaeton?
Haza: Reggaeton is great! No matter the genre, music is divided into good music or bad music.
Sanchez: This long involvement in the topic of Cuba, has it included a visit to the island?
Haza: I’ve been twice. The first was in 1988 and I went with the delegation of Cardinal O’Connor from New York. I went to see my father who was in Santo Domingo and I told him I was going to Cuba. So he asked me, “And that won’t cause problems for you in Miami?” “Well, I hope not because I’m going with the church,” I answered. He said, “Ah… that soothes me, because two thousand years knows more than thirty,” which was how long the system had been in power at that time.
Sanchez: You came at an interesting time, because shortly afterwards the scandal of the Ochoa case broke.
Haza: I enjoyed that trip, because I had finally come to Cuba after having heard all the versions of my grandparents, my aunts and the versions of Cuba that are here in Florida. I had a personal list to go to the neighborhoods that interested me. I did a lot of things, I interviewed Ricardo Bofill for television in the Mañana neighborhood in Guanabacoa. Then I interviewed Elizardo Sanchez in the Vibora neighborhood. It was a difficult time when there was a rupture in the Cuban opposition movement, so I interviewed the two of them.
My second trip was when the Pope went to Cuba in 1998. The experience was different, it was more irregular. Then I went to my family’s house in Matanzas, which was behind the Cathedral. It was unforgettable.
Sanchez: What has been your most difficult interview?
“What would you say if a Cuban went to Argentina to shoot and kill Argentinians?”
Haza:Mercedes Sosa. I did not know that she was suffering from depression. I had a one-hour program with her. She came, sat looking at the floor and when I asked her a question she answered only in monosyllables. I looked at the clock and it was five past eight. The program ended at nine. What do I do, I asked myself. So I said, I have to say something to get a reaction from her; then it occurred to me: “What would you say if a Cuban went to Argentina to shoot and kill Argentinians?” That woke her up and we began the interview.
I also interviewed Fidel Castro in Bogota at the Tequendama hotel, during the inauguration of Ernesto Samper. It was something sui generis because it was the day after the Maleconazo. The Air Force refused to give him military honors when he arrived for the tribute because he had been supporting the FARC and the Colombian Left. I heard about the situation, so during the interview I asked several questions about the Maleconazo and the embargo but left to end the question, “And is this your first time in Bogota after the Bogotazo?” He quickly responded to me, “Yes, and if they tell me I’m in New York I would believe it… it’s changed so much,” so he went with the tourist line.
I was also a war correspondent in Central America and lived terrible moments, like the day they killed a colleague right next to me.
Sanchez: When you do interviews with Cuban dissidents and question them about internal issues in front of the cameras, do you have a dilemma between giving arms to the government, versus not touching on these sensitive issues?
Haza: I always have that dilemma. But as a journalist it’s my job to report. We journalists are the witnesses to history. We are here to tell it. We can’t control the consequences. To opt for self-censorship would be to choose our worst enemy. Things have to be said, but with the social responsibility that we have. Our job is to reveal the truth.
Sanchez: Suppose now you’re in a TV studio in Havana, who would you like to interview there?
Haza: The job surprises me when I’ve been with people in the villages, those who have no voice, they’ve given me spectacular stories. One of the interviews I would like is with a boy or girl to know how they see the world of the adults and the Cuban reality. Children are very authentic and very honest. I would also like to interview a great poet.
Sanchez: Do you think you’ll soon be doing these interviews in Cuba?
Haza: I think so, because now those who don’t want change call themselves revolutionaries. There is nothing more anti-revolutionary and anti-dialectical than to say everything is already changed and there’s nothing to do. That is the main enemy of those who today defend the status quo. I think so, because despite the will of the ruling class changes in Cuba are close.
14ymedio, Victor Ariel Gonzalez, Havana / 6 November 2014 — It’s ten in the morning, and the Golden Pig is packed with customers. On entering, one detects the intense odor of smoked meat mixed with the aroma of ripe guavas. Two salesmen work behind the counter, and a third places fruits in their boxes.
They almost have no time to assist the journalist who is interested in knowing how they have managed to start this business. This is not just any market; there are electronic scales, vertical refrigerators, air conditioning and — most surprising – the cleanliness and organization are infinitely superior to those of the typical farmers’ markets of Havana, those built hurriedly under zinc plates where flies swarm and mud has stained everything.
Here it is different. This is a small shop inside a building at the corner of Linea and 10 in Vedado. They threw cement on the floor and oiled it, installed dark windows and put an attractive label over the glass. “We took two months to prepare this,” says one of the workers when he can finally answer some questions. “You already saw that it is full,” the man continues. “In December I imagine that we are going to even need a doorman!” Success has come to them quickly since they have only been open a few weeks.
The Golden Pig functions as a cooperative. On one of the walls, over the counter, hangs the license that the State grants for this form of private activity that is gaining momentum and opening new businesses at several locations in the city.
So, for example, there is also El Barrio market, close to the embassy of the Czech Republic. It is easy to pass by if you are not familiar with it because, seen from outside, the closed garage does not have much paint for being a business. Inside, the presentation of products is even more attractive than the previous place. They possess a big refrigerated counter with all the offers in view, already packaged and with labels printed in Cuban pesos. They have a shiny machine for making slices at the customer’s request and an area in back where they prepare the packages. There are not those so disagreeable odors that one usually smells in the state butcher shops that sell in CUC (hard currency).
There are not those so disagreeable odors that one usually smells in the state butcher shops that sell in CUC
In El Barrio a saleslady explains how a business of this type can be pulled off. The required license is “retail seller of agricultural products” and is sought in the municipal offices of the Ministry of Work and Social Security. “It took us five months to take the necessary steps for the permit, but the advantage of this activity is that we do not need a health certificate like our suppliers,” she says before assisting another recently-arrived customer.
“Although we have to pay a lot in taxes, we manage to profit,” says a staff member at the Golden Pig. The prices on the boards are well above what the pocketbook of the common man can pay, although similar to those found elsewhere. “Our advantage is that we have made a different presentation, and people like that,” say the workers of the other store.
Mind you, it will never be possible to find beef in any of these businesses. Not even cow’s milk or its derivatives. The yogurt they offer in one of these butcher shops, where they sell several types of foods, is made with goat’s milk. Neither are they permitted to trade in imported products.
In spite of the administrative tethers and the enormous limitations that the government places on the offer of products, private initiative little by little paves the way in this economy that insists on calling itself “socialist” and “planned.” Nevertheless, the paltry purchasing power of the population means few Cubans can give themselves the luxury of entertaining their families with a pork leg – a month’s average salary – and some mouthwatering fresh lettuce leaves wrapped in clear plastic.
14ymedio, Orlando Palma, Havana, 6 November 2014 – A meeting that was meant to sum up achievements turned into a flood of complaints and demands. The Review Assembly of the National Association of Small Farmers (ANAP) in Cienfuegos was the scene where some of the impediments faced by the peasantry of the region were heard.
The Assembly was held at the Martyrs of the Barbados Agricultural Production Cooperative in Rancho Luna, and the officials had to placate the attitudes of the angry farmers in the area. “They came to convince us to make a greater sacrifice, but the truth is I’m already tired of this,” explained a vegetable farmer in the region who participated in the meeting and requested anonymity.
The exodus of workers to other sectors was identified as one of the causes that have led to farm production not meeting the annual plans. The cooperative currently has 108 members, but the workforce is “unstable,” according to the local newspaper 5th of September in it digital edition this Thursday.
“The guys don’t stay with us because we don’t have housing. And they get married, have kids… create families. Then it’s logical that they seek work that can gratify their interests,” Mileydis Terencio Ramírez said at the ANAP meeting.
The official media, however, only reports a part of the anger expressed by the farmers who attended the meeting, according to what several in attendance told 14ymedio. “The working conditions here are bad, so people leave because they can’t progress,” said Lazarus, who works cultivating beans and yucca in the Rancho Luna area.
According to the official press, “nearly 75% of Cuba’s food program depends on how much the farmers can produce.” However the southern cooperative itself hasn’t been able to “satisfy the people’s real needs.” The Martyrs of Barbados has been proposed to conclude this year with 7 million pounds of product, well below the more than 22 million pounds of 1988.
Difficulties with inputs also negatively influence the fieldwork. Farmers complain of ‘high price, low quality’, and also the lack of administrative management to ensure a stable supply of products like footwear to work in agriculture.
“Now they send us 20 pairs of boots. What does that mean for 108 workers? Sometimes we have to work barefoot,” Wilfredo Arias Arias said at the meeting.
The official report in the 5th of September newspaper didn’t escape pessimism concluding that “while the debate resolved nothing, at least it hinted at the problems facing an industry, the peasantry, the job of feeing the people.”
14ymedio, Havana, 5 November 2014 — The documentation that the Cuban government has distributed among potential foreign investors for the purpose of capturing some 8.7 billion dollars for development projects on the Island highlights the country’s “favorable business environment.”
The Opportunities Portfolio and Guide, to which 14ymedio has had access, highlights the “restructuring of the country’s policies since the updating of the economic model,” even though the reforms promoted by President Raul Castro since 2007 have not solved the many problems that strangle the system.
The so-called Raulist reforms have not prevented the economy from growing at a slower pace than officially forecasted. According to government calculations, the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) will close the year with an increase of 1.4%. Nevertheless, independent analysts think that this figure does not reflect the real state of the economy.
Throughout 168 pages, the Opportunities Portfolio insists on the presence of a “regulatory framework and an updated foreign investment policy and incentives for investors.”
The document mentions the existence of a “secure and transparent body of law” and “promotional institutions at the service of investors” as well as a “climate of security for foreign personnel,” when a little more than a month ago the severe sentence imposed on Canadian entrepreneur Vahe Cy Tokmakjian was made known.
This case, often considered a test for those who plan to invest on the Island, concluded with the 15-year prison sentence for the President of Tomakjian Group for various corruption crimes. Along with him, another 14 Cubans were condemned to sentences of between six and 20 years in jail.
The Portfolio also praises the “high indicators in matters of education, social security and health of the population,” even though the island is going through a delicate situation from the epidemiological point of view. In recent months, the spread of dengue fever, cholera and chikungunya may have caused dozens of deaths throughout the country, although health authorities have not supplied reliable figures.
The document also celebrates the presence of basic infrastructure throughout the whole country, including railways and roadways, in spite of the fact that the bad state of the highways has caused more than 5,600 accidents in the first half of this year, with a balance of 347 deaths and more than 4,300 injuries.
14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 1 November 2014 – One of the distinctive features of the new era in Cuba is that it is no longer shortages but pricing that explains the difficulty of acquiring food grown on the island, but at bottom the issue is the same as always: lack of productivity.
For decades Cubans “got used” to the non-existence of certain agricultural products. Especially in the ‘60s and ‘70s when there was a stronger dependence on the ration market and consumers felt more like users than customers. The production plans were conceived to satisfy, barely, the rationing plan and there wasn’t even a way of marketing the excess.
Every time policies emerged that tended towards openings –such as the farmers markets of the ‘80s – fruits, vegetables and meats absent from the ration book reappeared on the stands, but along with the happy return of mamey, lettuce and malanga, also appearing were the long faces of those who didn’t even bother to reach into their pockets when they saw the exorbitant prices.
Then the righteous zeal of the Maximum Leader, his unbridled voluntarism, decided to prohibit these manifestations of mercantilism and beans, onions, and of course meat, were once again lost to us. Like the erratic gait of Ruperto, a TV comic character of our time, every two steps forward necessarily entailed one step back.
But the long faces of the “disadvantaged” still demand some Robin Hood to bring order to the Sherwood Forest. In letters from readers of the newspaper Granma or on the National Television program “Cuba Says” the indignant tear their hair out in the face of “the abusive prices that unscrupulous intermediaries impose to profit on the needs of the population.” It is recognized that the producers and the sellers are now sheltering under the law of supply and demand and therefore are authorized to set the prices they want, but others think that there should be “a limit” because consumer protection should come first.
On this topic, the commentator Talia Gonzalez said this week on the TV magazine Buenos Días, “We have to recognize that the experiment undertaken in the provinces of Havana, Artemisa and Mayabeque for the last year has enabled the expansion of supply and variety in the markets, but now there is another phenomenon: the products are there, but in many cases they are inaccessible…”
There has been an 18 percent increase in production over the previous year, but this isn’t reflected in prices
Officials in the Ministry of Agriculture affirm that there has been an 18 percent increase in production over the previous year, but this isn’t reflected in the prices because the supposed increases are destined principally to replace imports or to fulfill commitments to schools, hospitals and other social sectors, which are not always met.
The blame for the problem lies entirely in eminently subjective issues, such as the lack of control and demands, the arrears in payments or the failure to meet contracts, but there is something deeper, closely related to the nature of a system that, however much they try to update or perfect it, still has the same essence.
When a farmer realizes that 100 pounds of onions sold at 40 pesos a pound brings in the same as 800 pounds sold at 5 pesos a pound he has discovered, without needing to be an economist, sociologist or politician, that in Cuban society today for every economically favored consumer, there are eight who are not.
That is, if in Cuba there are approximately one and a quarter million people with sufficient purchasing power to absorb what little is produced, at the stated price, there will be no interest in increasing production, unless by some miracle the communist prophecy is fulfilled where work will become the first human need, beyond narrow material interests.
What a discovery! The system can’t function as long as it tries to maintain a policy of equity and justice, while aspiring to an efficient and sustainable economy. It is not that the producers have been given too much freedom, but rather not enough. At least as much as necessary so that, from the ruins of a proletariat forced into corruption to survive and a peasantry fearful of putting their prosperity on the display, an empowered and entrepreneurial middle class can emerge. But such an idea, so liberal, doesn’t fit in the straitjacket of the Guidelines of the 6th Communist Party Congress.
It is historically proven that productivity grows not only when there are the necessary technological and scientific requirements to make the performance of the productive forces more efficient, but also when there is a need to increase production and that need is backed by the purchasing power of consumers. Otherwise the hungriest countries would be the most productive but, sadly, the opposite happens.
At every hierarchical, academic and political level they know that this serpent doesn’t stop biting its tale, but in the inaccessible premises where the great decisions are taken they are afraid to recognize that unviability is a regular part of the socialist system they learned as a catechism from the Soviet manuals. They will never recognize it, unless the dissatisfied with their long faces move beyond their irritations at the prices in the market stalls, and channel their anger and frustration where it belongs.
14ymedio, Rosa Lopez, Havana / 1 November 2014 — Why do young people prefer video games to the high-flown revolutionary exploits that national television displays? Is the audio-visual “packet” displacing official programming? Those questions hang in the air – although without being directly enunciated – at the Forum on Cultural Consumption in Cuba: Art, Culture, Education and Technology, which is being held this weekend in the Mayo Room of the Cuba Pavilion.
Participating in the official event are Abel Prieo*, Raul Castro’s adviser on cultural topics, Miguel Barnet and other members of the Cuban Union of Writers and Artists (UNEAC) and the Saiz Brothers Brigade. The meeting of intellectuals takes a critical stance in the face of an avalanche of material – uncontrolled by government – that is circulating within the country, especially through the so-called “packet” or “combo” that is distributed by alternative means.
The manifest purpose of this event is to diagnose the ways culture is consumed in Cuba and accordingly “to create an alternative platform for art, education and new technologies and in this way reach a much wider audience.”
Abel Prieto stated in one of the sessions that it seemed to him “that the intellectual position of irrational rejection of new ways of consuming culture is as harmful as that of a post-modern relativism which accepts everything as good. That relativism brings us a blurring of precisely the objectives of a cultural policy, the objectives of the humanism that today is absolutely in bad shape.”
In the forum several references were made to the topic of video games, and Prieto himself judged it as “a complex and dialectical process,” to immediately add that “some are inoffensive, but others are essentially violent and become an addiction.”
Cuba thus seems to be peeping out to the great modern debates about violence and addiction to which video games may give rise, but for the moment it is only permitted to publicly discuss a portion of those involved in the possible problem. The government’s cultural policy tries to determine from above what each Cuban sees on his television screen and what is good or bad for his subsequent social attitude.
Abel Prieto also attacked the “packet” and “technological nomadism” through storage devices like USB memory. The ex-minister of culture opined that “one of the tricks of these new ways of consuming culture is that they give the idea that the person is choosing what he wants to consume, but he does it from the paradigms that are imposed on him. Democracy and diversity are hidden beneath a trap of the hegemonic agenda of the entertainment.”
As evidence that the ruling party surrenders before the existence of those phenomena, Prieto ventured that “we have to promote more diverse and inclusive packets.” The problem is that the greater part of the Cuban people are no longer willing to have officialdom make their audiovisual menu for them.
Tedium, low-quality production, excessive ideology and secrecy have for too long characterized the audiovisual products cooked up in the laboratories of the Communist Party Central Committee Department of Revolutionary Orientation (DOR), the entity that governs television programming and the content of all national press media.
However, the recent speeches in the Forum also hint at alarm. Abel Prieto asserted that “at no time will the State cede to private individuals the decision of cultural policy.” His immediate call “to not demonize new cultural consumption in an authoritarian manner” did not manage to erase the implicit threats in his prior words.
“Hopefully knowledge and cultural information will come into fashion,” concluded Prieto, but he failed to include in that sentence the adjectives “revolutionary” or “politically correct” which always hang over every audiovisual production promoted and encouraged by the ruling party.
Regrettably, culture continues to be governed more by political statements than by demands for education or personal growth.
This morning the Forum’s sessions will continue, missing the voices that defend video games, the “packet,” and the democratization of information.
14ymedio, Eliecer Avila, Warsaw, 23 October 2014 — Recently, a wide cross section of Cuban civil society and opposition has been invited to Poland. The program has included a broad array of activities; including a visit to a jail and the governmental palace, meetings with important political figures, debates and lectures.
What has struck me most was entering the archives of Polish Communist State Security. I had only seen such a degree of paranoia and meticulousness in movies, like the classic “The Lives of Others.”
But this time was different. We found ourselves face to face with 90 kilometers of documents, hundreds of thousands of records, operative cards, photos, video tapes, personal profiles, and information about collaborators and people under surveillance.
These records prove that in all the Russian communist colonies there existed similar repressive agencies that turned into the biggest and most sophisticated institutions of their time. The surveillance and repression of thought was the activity to which those countries devoted the most resources.
The National Remembrance Institute leads investigations to purge the responsibilities in thousands of crimes committed by State Security against Polish citizens, always under the guidelines of the infamous Soviet KGB.
The information that these documents hold even today can be vital for many people who aspire to occupy public office, now that new democratic institutions usually ask those in charge of the archive to investigate if in the past such-and-such a person collaborated with State Security.
The documents also reveal that practically no one escaped security surveillance. Priests, artists, intellectuals, diplomats, business owners, all foreigners and even the Communist leaders themselves were spied upon. To that end they used the most advanced techniques of the time, like steam machines to unseal and then reseal letters, microphones inside of homes, hidden cameras and personal tracking, among others.
Even Fidel Castro himself had his file in the archives of the Polish State Security
Even Fidel Castro himself had his file in the archives of the Polish State Security, even when cooperation was very tight between all the repressive bodies of the Soviet bloc, including Cuba.
In spite of all that Mafioso and apparently infallible machinery, the people knew how to find their way and free themselves from so much sick perversion and, in the majority of cases, undertake a road towards true development, with a foundation in a government of law and in open and democratic politics.
The gray days dominated by fear and sadness were left behind to give way to a multitude of colors in the plazas of cities like Warsaw and Cracow, converted into reference points for constant growth and improvement.
I am absolutely convinced that one day in the not-too-distant future we will show delegations from all over the world the archives and installations of State Security in Cuba. Officials and collaborators of the repressive apparatus will be like naked kings before the astonished gaze of new generations formed in pluralism and respect for others in order to rebuild the nation.
14ymedio, Cardenas, 31 October 2014 – A strong State Security operation on Thursday prevented activists and independent journalists from attending a trial held at the Cardenas Municipal Court at 2:00 PM against five young people who installed an extensive Wi-Fi network in this town, according to a report to 14ymedio from independent journalist Leticia Ramos, who was expelled from the court and briefly detained.
The defendants, who were no older than 30, had been the object of a complaint by the Cuban Radio Company. They are accused of illegal economic activity, a crime under Article 228.1 of the Penal Code, facing a sentence of three months to one year imprisonment. If the aggravating circumstance of use of materials or means of illicit origin is proved, the sanction is one to three years imprisonment, in addition to confiscation of the property involved.
The prosecutor couldn’t prove that “any of the servers were stolen or had entered the country illegally,” a person who didn’t want their name published told 14ymedio. continue reading
The case had already been announced in the local paper Girón last 26 June, when there was great anticipation to know the results.
The defendants were arrested during an impressive police operation last June, when the network that received audiovisuals over the Internet and distributed them through a wireless network was dismantled.
At that time, Girón reported that an individual “behind the façade of a ham radio operator, installed several antennas in his home.” The official media report warned that this type of action fostered “the circulation and consumption of alienating audiovisual materials.”
Several people were caught taking notes and were expelled from the court. Sources close to the families of the accused reported that the prosecutor asked for high fines and the permanent confiscation of all the materials seized.
The trial concluded pending sentencing, with the expectation that the accused will receive communications about their sentences in the next few days.