The trail of the independent artist Danilo Maldonado, known as El Sexto – “The Sixth” – has been set for tomorrow at 8:30 AM in the Plaza of the Revolution municipal court.
The cartoonist and creator of numerous graffiti is accused of the alleged crime of threatening his wife, which could mask political retaliation. The complaint was made by Danilo’s wife’s father, who was also present as the main prosecution witness.
Friends and colleagues fear that the court hearing is a way of settling accounts with this uncomfortable “king of the spray can.” In statements to 14ymedio, El Sexto has demonstration his dissatisfaction with the legal process and has confirmed that his wife was present during the session to “state what occurred.” Right now the couple is living under the same roof together with their small daughter and hope that “the charges won’t go forward.”
With regards to tomorrow’s trial, Maldonaldo believes, “There won’t be any problems, although there is always the pressure. Just for the simple fact of thinking differently, I feel exposed in front of them.”
In recent decades it has become a frequent practice to bring common crime charges against activists and artists who undertake work critical of the government. In a similar situation right now is the writer Angel Santiesteban, condemned and sentenced to prison on alleged charges of violation of domicile and injury.
Gorki Aguila, the famous singer and leader of the punk rock band Porno para Ricardo is also on the list of those awaiting trial, accused of alleged “drug abuse.”
As a general rule, people critical of the government are not judged on political reasons but for “common crimes” with the aim of limiting solidarity and international pressure.
14ymedio, Havana, Victor Ariel Gonzalez, 21 October 2014 — Berta Soler, leader of the Ladies in White, has called for a vigil this October 21 in front of the Diez de Octubre Municipal Court in Havana. The reason is the new suspension of the trial of Sonia Garro.
Soler explained that there are “dubious things” in the way the authorities have handled this latest extension. “Sonia called to tell me that a captain had told her that the trial was suspended, but she did not believe it.” The activist also said that Sonia Garro’s defense lawyer “was unaware” of the decision. The new date for holding the criminal trial has been set for next November 7.
“We do not trust the Cuban Government, therefore the vigil goes on,” the leader of the Ladies in White told this newspaper. Soler does not rule out that “all this supposed suspension is for the purpose of demobilizing the people.” So, “we are going to be there anyway,” she announced.
There will also be a vigil in the interior of the country because it is expected that in front of the courts of Santiago de Cuba and other cities peaceful demonstrations similar to that in Havana will take place. The Diez de Octubre municipal court is at Juan Delgado and Patrocinio, and Berta Soler says that “the plan is to begin at 8:00 a.m. and last until noon. It depends on whether they let us or not.”
The activist also reported that “since this Saturday, State Security has reinforced vigilance over the Ladies in White.” This is the third time that they have suspended the trial of Sonia Garro. “They must to put an end to this,” she demands.
The Nobel Peace Prize winner speaks with several Cuban activists on the situation of the island and the possibilities for democratic change
14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Warsaw, 21 October 2014 — Vaclav Havel and Lech Walesa had an agreement that death annulled. The two would go to Havana when the democratic transition occurred to support the process of political and civic reconstruction in our country. The “Cuban change,” however, has been too long delayed and the Czech died before realizing his dream. The Solidarity leader, meanwhile, has only been able to have contact with the island through dissidents visiting Poland.
Yesterday, Monday, Walesa talked for more than two hours with a group of activists from diverse provinces and political leanings. It was if a piece of Cuba had arrived in the autumn cold of Wasaw. I share here with the readers of 14ymedio the first part of that conversation.
Lech Walesa: Tell me what can I do to help speed up the democratization process in your country. Am I likely to see a Free Cuba before I die?
Dagoberto Valdés. I have good news for you and a suggestion of how you can help. A significant and growing group within Cuban civil society has identified four points on which we agree and which are demands to the regime. It is a way of organizing ourselves, but not the only one. There are other agendas, but I will now read the four issues on which we converge: the release of political prisoners, the ending of political repression, ratification of International Covenants on Human Rights, and recognition of Cuban civil society as a legitimate interlocutor. You could collaborate with us to disseminate these and support them in international forums.
Lech Walesa: I like those points, but I would add a fifth which would be to ask that “Raul Castro leave power,” because I think when the previous four are achieved it will be because the current system has been dismantled. If the rulers accept that agenda, that would mean that they would lose power immediately. So I think that they will never approve them, but in any event I support them.
I like those points, but I would add a fifth which would be to ask that “Raul Castro leave power”
Yoani Sánchez: You wonder when you can visit a free Cuba, but for now what has happened is that a fragment of an already free Cuba has come here. A plural, diverse and growing group of Cubans, who behave as free beings, have come to Warsaw this week. Isn’t that hopeful? continue reading
Lech Walesa: Wherever there are two Poles there are three political parties and from what I see wherever there are two Cubans there are five political parties. You have to be very well prepared and organized, not only for what you are doing now but for what comes next.
Once democracy is achieved there are very important elements that have to be considered and one of them is creating laws that protect the rights of the people. However, if they already exist, than you have to ask yourself if people are using them to behave like citizens, if they are enjoying the legality they have and are organizing themselves in accordance with it. Another important part is economic resources. If people are afraid of showing their political differences because they will lose their jobs or resources, this greatly limits democratic activism.
While some help to create the laws, others have to teach people to use them and one part of that is that you must prepare financial proposals.
Yoani Sánchez: In the case of Cuba, recent years have also been characterized by a loss of the government’s monopoly on information. Numerous independent publications have emerged and new technologies help people to be better informed. Do you think this flow of information will help bring about change?
Lech Walesa: I am a big user of the new technologies, I always have a computer or tablet nearby. However, although technology and information are very helpful in any democratic process there is also information that can slow it down.
One day, after the transition, I was speaking with a Polish soldier who had had a high position in the Communist regime. I asked him why the military had not participated actively in the democratic struggle. His response was very interesting. He told me that in the barracks they that knew all the major Polish cities were targeted for a Soviet military attack. They had missiles pointed at those cities. Many people did not know, but the military itself was aware it. They feared that the USSR, with the push of a button, could erase a third of our country. Knowing too much paralyzed them, the responsibility this information brought them made them opt for passivity.
We were lucky that a Polish pope was appointed (…). He joined us… and the opposition learned to channel that feeling of unity
Dagoberto Valdés. With this control and all the threats of a foreign force how did Poland free itself? Did the spiritual power of the nation help?
Lech Walesa: For over twenty years I was looking for people to join me to overthrow communism, but very few wanted to join. We had a more difficult situation here because our country came to be occupied by more than two hundred thousand Soviet soldiers and people were enormously afraid. Our struggle was different, for too long we couldn’t organize because the government had a very simple formula against us: disperse, divide and dissolve the democratic forces. We were lucky that a Polish pope was appointed. He joined us first in prayer and faith, but afterwards the opposition also learned to channel that sense of unity brought to us by John Paul II.
Before the appointment of Karol Józef Wojtyla as Pope, I could not muster even ten people, and then ten million joined in. He awakened the nation and said “do not be afraid.”
Mario Felix Lleonart: I would like to say that even though you are not able to travel to the island, the government is very annoyed that you are receiving activists in Poland. The official press has published several articles against you. What message would you like to send to those who are in opposition in our country?
Lech Walesa: During the years of change in Eastern Europe, the Cuban opposition was not as organized and could not use that democratizing energy. Maybe that’s why you have had to wait so long. However, in the eighties when I was asking people whether they believed that Poland could democratize, everyone answered me no, we had no chance. The forecasts were very unfavorable.
You are in this situation now, because few believe you can change. Sure, they said the same thing to us, but you should wake up and find those values—which every nation has—and in these is the unifying force. If you find them and bring them together you can achieve it. You need a multitude of people who say, “Starting tomorrow we are going to change our country.” Who don’t just believe it but who take to the streets, who go into the factories to convince others. For this you have to have structures. You need responsible leaders.
14ymedio, Rebeca Monzó, Havana | October 14, 2014 — The high cost and the limited selection of basic produce forces us to trek from one farmer’s market to another in search of the most essential ingredients for our kitchens.
These days the prices for vegetables as basic as onions, garlic and peppers, indispensable in the kitchen, are so unbelievable that you would think they were threaded in 18 carat gold. The hard-currency stores have stocked various imported spices of good quality that generally are somewhat more economical.
So here I will list some of them, along with their uses and applications:
Garlic Powder. Well known by all for its use – however, being a concentrated product, it must be used carefully, with a concomitant reduction in the amount of salt used in the same recipe. Very appropriate for soups, and meat and fish sauces. A little goes a long way. continue reading
Onion Powder. Very recommended for all types of stews, legumes, meatballs and chopped meat. As with garlic powder, care in its application is recommended.
Sesame. This product is found in some farmers markets that accept CUPs (Cuban pesos). This oily seed is especially indicated for making pastas and sweets. For example, when caramelizing a pan to make a mold for pudding or flan (Cuban-style custard).
Celery Powder. Delicious and aromatic seasoning that has a great variety of uses, especially in sauces, vegetables, tomato juice, fish, mollusks, and above all in broths and stocks.
Curry. This is a mixture of spices – with strong therapeutic qualities – that comes from India. Very recommended for meats, fowl, and varied sauces and soups. Especially wonderful for curry chicken.
Cinammon. In stick or powder, this is the most prized eastern spice. Used in sweets, as we all know, but also in fruit salads, beverages such as sangría, ice cream, baked dishes and boiled fish.
Ginger. Widely used in international cuisine. Very appropriate for meat sauces, stews as well as sweets. In its natural form, ginger root, it can be found in high-end farmers markets, such as the one on 19 Street in El Vedado.
Sweet paprika. A marvelous vegetable product used as a seasoning in soups, sofrito*, stews, fish and rice dishes. It imparts an unusual color and flavor, and can substitute for red pepper powder which is often rare and expensive in our markets.
Vanilla bean. Has many uses in sweets, especially in flans and custards, ice cream, fruit cocktails and liqueurs, to which it imparts its delicate flavor. It is also used in cooking as an ingredient in certain sauces – for example, bechamel, in which it makes a good substitute for cinnamon.
Sage. Although this plant is known above all as a culinary herb, it has also had a medicinal use for thousands of years. In medieval times it was thought to promote longevity. Its flavor makes it advisable for soups and sauces for meats and meatballs, as well as for cheese-based dishes. Its leaves can be applied to infection sites as an effective, natural anti-inflammatory. It can be easily propagated by cuttings in gardens and pots. All it needs is watering and full sun.
Nutmeg. Generally available whole or sometimes ground into a powder. Used in all types of sauces for meats, fish, seafood and to give a special touch to bechamel sauce. Used as well in chicken stews and above all in sweets. This is an expensive spice and not always available in our markets.
White pepper. Also available in two forms: peppercorn or ground into a powder. It is the peppercorn that is ideal for use in pickling brine and is also recommended as a seasoning for meats and in stews. It has a mild flavor, subtle and aromatic. Ideal for soups, meats and sauces.
*Translator’s Note: Sofrito is a stir-fry of aromatic vegetables, herbs and spices used as the base for many Cuban dishes.
The Villena room was too small for the audience, which endured sweltering heat during the two hours of the presentation of the book “Back Channel to Cuba: The Hidden History of Negotiations Between Washington and Havana.”
The free event, at the headquarters of the Cuban Artists and Writers Union (UNEAC), had raised such high expectations in the academic world and in public opinion that almost two hundred people gathered his Monday at 4:00 in the afternoon to meet the authors of a book that has been presented outside of Cuba as “revelatory.”
Researchers Peter Kornbluh and William LeoGrande had to face being accosted by the press before entering the room where they were awaited by figures as diverse as Ministry of the Interior agent Fernando González – imprisoned in the United States for 15 years – and the Cuban-American businessman Max Lesnick. continue reading
“We have been working on the book for ten years, and it has come out at at the most important moment in the relations between the two countries,” Kornbluh told 14ymedio. He listed some elements to support his claim, such as “Obama, as president, is not seeking re-election, Hillary Clinton has made statements that the embargo should be lifted…”
The occasion was also utilized to present the book of Cuban researchers Elier Ramirez and Esteban Morales, From Confrontation to Attempts at ‘Normalization, United States Policy Toward Cuba. The quotation marks in the title are, in the words of Ramirez, because relations between the two countries “have never been normal.” The meeting’s moderator, Ramon Sanchez Parodi – former head of the Cuba Interests Section in Washington – presented the Cuban book to complement the American one.
Some copies of Ramirez’s and Morales’ book were sold at the event. Not so with that of Kornbluh and LeoGrande. These latter commented to the national press, at the end of the event, that they hope to release a Spanish edition, “so that Cubans can read it.”
The Americans made their presentation without following a script, while Cubans read their statements, which sounded more like an apology for the decisions taken by Cuba throughout the conflict with the USA.
Among the audience was Lynn Roche, head of the Press and Culture Office of the United States Interest Section in Havana
At the invitation of American researchers, among the audience was Lynn Roche, head of the Press and Culture Office of the United States Interest Section in Havana. In statements to this newspaper, Roche described the conference as an opportunity to talk about one part of the recent history of Cuba and the US, and to address certain “practical points.” She has also been interested in “knowing more about the internal debate that is occurring in the United States on the subject of Cuba,” that Back Channel has undoubtedly contributed to.
The presentation of the book, which includes declassified US documents, occurs in a particular context. The Cuban government is reinforcing the anti-embargo campaign, both within and outside the Island, in view of the next United Nations vote that will be held on the question. On the other hand, in Florida the embargo is a hot topic of discussion in local elections. But Kornbluh assured 14ymedio that this latter has “no relation” to their presence in Havana and to the stir caused by their work. In any event, according to him, an important share of South Florida voters are Cubans who desire a “normalization” of ties between both countries.
Bilateral relations between the USA and Cuba cannot avoid the fundamental issue which Back Channel seems to ignore: human rights. What does Peter Kornbluh think about that? “The United States will always be talking about human rights in Cuba,” he says, in an accusatory tone, implying that this will remain a thorny issue between the two governments.
14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Prague, 13 October 2014 – We met a year ago in beautiful Prague at Forum 2000, with human rights activists from all over the world. Unlike that October, we are now missing Leopoldo Lopez. The Venezuelan politician and activist has been imprisoned since early this year, accused of various crimes that have all the hallmarks of a political montage.
Amid the celebrations for the quarter century of the Velvet Revolution in the Czech Republic, Lilian Tintori speaks with 14ymedio about repression in Venezuela.
Question. Which led to Leopoldo López being imprisoned?
Response. My husband Leopoldo Lopez is in prison for saying what all of Venezuela wanted to hear. The majority of Venezuelans want change. In January he raised his voice and started a peaceful campaign in the streets for constitutional change in Venezuela. By the second month of the protests there were so many people in the streets that they ambushed him and put out an order to arrest him for murder. Something that has nothing to do with Leopoldo, who is a progressive leader who has fought for freedoms, for democracy. He was the mayor of Chacao twice and won international awards for the transparency of his administration. continue reading
I think they are afraid of his leadership. There is no evidence against him. They accuses him of arson and damage to public buildings, but Leopoldo doesn’t believe in violence as a method to bring about change.
Q. The UN just released a resolution demanding that Leopoldo be released immediately. How has that been received by Nicolas Maduro’s government?
R. Foreign Minister Rafael Ramirez told the UN not to meddle in the internal affairs of Venezuela. To many of us that seemed irresponsible, because the UN is the most important organization in the world with regards to the promotion and protection of human rights, covenants to which Venezuela is a signatory. So the Venezuelan government should abide by a decision of the UN. Thus, we are expecting Leopoldo’s release within the next few hours.
The Government should abide by a UN decision. Thus, we are expecting Leopoldo’s release within the next few hours.
Q. Sometimes in the middle of the political connotations of such an event, one loses the human dimension a little. How has your family endured this imprisonment?
R. It’s very difficult and very hard to have a relative imprisoned. Much like the final loss of someone because he can’t be present in our lives. I can only see him when I visit. Right now I’m acting and mom and dad for our children. I am taking my children out alone and every family dynamic falls on my shoulders.
I can only be with Leopold when I visit him in prison and facing up to the military is very distressing. To go through a military search and they record all the conversations when we’re together, it makes me feel persecuted all the time. So I am prey, our family is prey and all of and Venezuela is prey.
Q. It seems at this point that Chavismo is confronting itself and there are attacks within their own ranks.
R. Venezuela is affected by violence, it is hurt, frustrated and unhappy because we do not like it. We reject violence. We reject weapons, the “Colectivos” and these murders are not what we want for our country. Definitely this is the result of years and years of violence in Venezuela, but I think that violent environment is going to end, the Colectivos themselves want a change, Chavistas themselves want a change. They want well-being, freedom to choose their food, to have medicine, to be safe walking the streets. We have a tremendous inflation, insecurity in the streets. They kidnap you, they kill you.
Q. And in those circumstances would not it be easier for you and your family to go into exile?
R. Easy yes, but my commitment is to Venezuelans. When Leopoldo asked me to marry him, he asked me to marry Venezuela and I said yes. He asked me to marry a project for a better Venezuela and this country needs us. This nation needs human rights to be respected throughout the country, not only for Leopoldo Lopez but also for all Venezuelans.
Cubans are once again eligible for Netherlands Fellowship Programs (NFP) scholarships, after a decade of exclusion. The modification of Dutch regulations allows citizens on the island to request support for courses, workshops, masters degrees and doctorates in the Netherlands.
Among the studies available, the Glasnost Foundation in Cuba promotes courses for bloggers and independent journalists with the purpose of “improving their work and connecting colleagues in other parts of the world,” at the RNTC, an institute dedicated to training for communications and media professionals.
Requests for an NFP scholarship are open until 26 October. Applicants should meet the eligibility criteria, among which are a high level of spoken and written English.
The NFP scholarship programs have been created by the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and are administered by Nuffic, the Dutch organization for international cooperation in higher education. Programs are offered in 51 countries and cover all visa and travel costs, as well as room and board, insurance and registration fees.
14ymedio, Julio Blanco C., Managua, 27 September 2014 — I follow with eagerness – almost bordering on addiction – the news out of Cuba. I suppose that my nationality has a lot to do with that because probably no one better understands the reality of the Island (apart from Cubans) than we Nicaraguans.
Here we suffered a regime modeled on that of the Castros, which among other “pearls” imposed on us:
A terrible State security system, so that all we citizens were suspected of being traitors and counter-revolutionaries.
The rationing card, such an unpleasant memory.
Indoctrination of students at all levels of education.
The division of society into the good and the bad. Everything within the revolution and nothing outside it was the slogan. Whoever opposed the regime was a pariah, a subhuman, a stinker who deserved not the least consideration or respect. Those “elements” had to be persecuted, silenced, beaten, intimidated and ultimately annihilated.
The brutal and ruthless persecution of every communication media disaffected with the regime. This they could not completely achieve, maybe for lack of time, therefore some emblematic media like the daily La Prensa and Radio Corporacion survived the burning.
Bank nationalization and the forced socialization or transforming into cooperatives of all means of production, which involved a massive confiscation of private goods.
The list is much longer; I do not need to tell it to Cubans who have suffered first hand for so many years a tragedy so similar but at the same time much more extensive than ours.
My interest now is focused on the transition that Cubans are experiencing, because we went through something very similar, although here everything was quite fast due to the fact that it was not the same government that carried out the changes, but another one.
For the people of my generation who grew up in the midst of so many shortages and limitations, that period of the country’s “normalization,” above all that of the economy, was something almost magical.
The most irrelevant things were all eventful. I remember as if it were yesterday when we began to be happily flooded with junk food. First there was Pizza Hut, then McDonald’s returned after an absence of several years, then Burger King, Friday’s, Subway, Papa John’s and so many other chains that were little by little turning up in the country.
Big hotel companies like Best Western, Intercontinental, Hilton, Hyatt and others arrived, too.
And private national and foreign banks reappeared, and excellent customer attention again became a priority, not like when they were state-owned and little was needed for the employees to bite the unfortunate client.
And the private universities and colleges (these never disappeared) multiplied for every taste and pocketbook.
And many corrupt and inefficient state businesses were privatized and so many others disappeared. Maybe the most significant was Enitel, the embarrassing equivalent of Cuba’s ETECSA telephone company. The change was positively colossal, and soon came competition, and now there were other options for cable, telephone and internet.
Rationing and lines and product scarcity ended, and the giants of the food industry and commerce landed: Walmart, Pricemart, Cargill, Parmalat, Procter and Gamble, and there follows a very long etcetera.
And the first mall opened its doors with dozens of stores and modern movie theaters and its food court and its enormous department stores… but that was nothing, because soon there appeared others even better.
And refueling became a guilty pleasure because the convenience stores are as pleasant as small supermarkets and small restaurants, all in one.
And the public transportation payment system changed. You no longer had to carry a mound of coins, just recharge the electronic card.
And suddenly one day, a growing number of establishments began to offer free wi-fi; even the government installed it in some public parks in all the provincial capitals.
All this, which for us has been fascinating, is completely incomprehensible for someone who has not lived it and been systematically diverted by the State from everything that smells of progress and development however insignificant it might seem.
Maybe one day, sooner than later, Cubans can go through all this, too, and feel that strange satisfaction that is given by knowing “now we are like all the rest,” that we are no longer “different” in the more negative and abject sense of the word. In fact, they are already immersed in a stage of transition – very sui generis – but transition in the end.
Hopefully the weight of reality will finally make the regime understand that it can no longer contain the floodgates of “normality” because Cubans have made too many thousands of holes in the dam, and the waters of creativity and private initiative flow with increasing force.
* Julio Blanco C. is a lawyer in Diplomacy and International Relations. He lives in Managua.
14ymedio, ROSA LÓPEZ, Havana | October 10, 2014 – The mass exodus of teachers from the classroom has been, according to the official press, the theme of meetings between the Education minister, Ena Elsa Velázquez Cobiella, and her department heads. The official admitted that “there are questions that need to be addressed in our country, which will be resolved in due time when the right conditions are in place.” Her words do not placate the dissatisfaction of workers in the education sector with low salaries and poor working conditions.
According to data provided by Velázquez Cobiella, in the last school year, “427 education workers resigned because of disagreements with their evaluations; 166 because of the issue of proximity to their places of residence; 766 for failing to obtain a raise; 37 for dissatisfaction with the teaching methods; and 2,343 cited personal problems.” These statistics contrast with the widely-shared opinion that low wages are the principal cause driving teachers from the classroom.
“I told them I was leaving to care for my sick mother, but actually I just couldn’t stand the heavy workload and low salary any longer,” says Cristina Rodríguez, who taught elementary school for almost twenty years in the municipality of Cerro. Like her, many others have claimed family difficulties or health problems in order to free themselves from a burden they have found too heavy to bear.
“The highest leadership of the nation is aware of the problem and has the will to solve it, but this will be done in an orderly manner and when the country’s economy permits it,” said the minister. Her words were a bucket of ice water thrown on the education sector’s expectations for better compensation.
Around the middle of this year, public health professionals received a significant raise, which fanned the flames of hope for similar actions in other branches of service. However, the measure has not been extended to other departments.
A big unanswered question is: When can educators expect to be paid more decent salaries?
Among the criticisms that have emerged in discussions between the Education minister and other officials is the burdensome paperwork imposed on education workers. Every teacher is supposed to maintain files on incidents in the classroom, and others that include extracurricular information, such as family evaluations, community assessments, and those well-known reports that are more police-like in nature than education-related. The minister supported limiting such bureaucratic activities to the registry of assistance and evaluation, and to the students’ cumulative records.
There are approximately 10,366 educational institutions whose principal purpose is to stem the flow of teachers to other lines of work. “I will not return to the classroom if they don’t pay me a decent salary,” asserts Martha Vázquez, a special education teacher. Thousands of teachers echo this sentiment as they do other work across the country.
A big unanswered question is: When can educators expect to be paid more decent salaries that keep pace with the cost of living? In the meantime, classrooms will continue to lose valuable teachers who will end up behind the counter at a cafeteria, or in the void of unemployment.
14YMEDIO, Havana, October 9, 2014 – The Baptist pastor Mario Felix Lleonart refused to sign the official warning he received yesterday morning as part of a police citation. Although the document does not explicitly mention his recent journey to the eastern part of the island to check the status of harassment of some pastors, officers who confronted him mentioned it verbally, according to the pastor.
Around 11 AM yesterday, a lieutenant colonel read Feliz Lleonart a warning notice, in front of two witnesses – supposedly civilians and found by the officers, who the pastor didn’t know – and another lower ranking State Security official.
The notice, according to the lieutenant colonel, is considered an aggravating circumstance in the context of a possible criminal prosecution, which the official described as “very likely.”
This is the third warning the pastor has received, the last of which was delivered on 25 January. In the notice he was warned that if he continues to have close ties “counterrevolutionary elements within and outside Cuba and counterrevolutionary radio stations,” he will be prosecuted.
The pastor, who lives with his family in the village of Taguayabon in the central province of Villa Clara, in recent years has engaged in a very intense activism. Among other actions, he denounced the police beatings of Juan Wilfredo Soto, which could have caused his subsequent death.
14YMEDIO, October 9, 2014 – Pedro Lazo Torres, leader of the minority Muslim community in Cuba, announced this Monday that the Government has rejected plans to build a mosque for the Islamic population in Havana, a gesture considered an offense against religious freedom on the Island. Lazo said that reasons aren’t related to the patron, the Turkish Religious Affairs Foundation, rather it is now the Government that opposes it, something unexpected as Russian has received permission to build an orthodox church.
The Muslim population in Cuba is around 4,000 faithful who lack a place of worship on the island.
Last April, Mustafa Tutkun, assistant director of the Turkish Religious Affairs Foundation, visited Cuba to manage permissions with the Religious Affairs Bureau of the Communist Party. He then explained that the mosque would reflect the design of the Mosque Ortaköy in Istanbul. The press secretary of the agency, Yuksel Sezgin, said: “We believe that the mosque fits perfectly with the European architecture of historic Old Havana.” The Island was assured that the building would be completed within one year, starting in the spring.
Religious freedom in Cuba is still an unresolved issue, However relations between the Catholic Church and the government have improved in recent years, even to the point where some confiscated properties were returned to the institution.
14YMEDIO, Havana, October 9, 2014 – Sixteen dancers from the Cuban company Pro-Dance of Laura Alonso, daughter of Alicia Alonso, deserted during a tour in Mexico. Five of them are already in the United States, according to information on the television Telemundo 51 this Thursday.
From Miami, Ricardo Gil, Yaimara Naranjo and Alfredo Espinosa, spoke in front of the cameras, expressing their happiness on having left Cuba in search of a better professional and personal future. Espinosa said he had already arranged new work as a teacher at an academy in Miami Lakes.
The flight of Cuban dancers is a steady drip. At the end of September, two members of the Cuban National Ballet fled, also during a tour in Mexico, following the steps of another nine dancers who stayed in Puerto Rico months earlier.
Laura Perez (age 25) went from Mexico to Houston, and Jvier Graupera Miranda (age 23) went to Florida to receive assistance from the Miami Hispanic Arts Center and the Cuban Classical Ballet, according to reports form the Spanish daily El Pais.
The director of the National Ballet of Cuba, Alicia Alonso, said in a statement to the Mexican press that the escape of some members of the group “will not cause her to lose sleep.”
14YMEDIO, Havana, September 25, 2014 – An important meeting of Cuban civil society took place this Thursday in Havana, involving 16 activists from across the country, including five ex-prisoners from the 2013 Black Spring. The meeting was not announced ahead of time, and several of the invitees were unable to attend due to other commitments.
The discussion centered around four minimum points that have gained strength among activists and dissidents in recent months:
Release of political prisoners
Ending of political repression
Ratification of International Covenants on Human Rights
Recognition of Cuban civil society within the Island and in the diaspora
Also emphasized was the need to strengthen civic institutions and to pay special attention to civic education. The importance of adding other voices to the debate was a theme repeated by many of those present.
Under the name Civil Society Open Forum, the meeting is intended to be help on a regular basis to discuss the issues of today’s Cuba. This is the fourth in a series of meetings, two of which were held in Madrid and two in Havana. Previously, in February of this year, the four points of consensus that summarize the demands of Cuban civil society were agreed upon.
In attendance were: José Alberto Álvarez, Eliécer Ávila, Manuel Cuesta Morúa, Reinaldo Escobar, Guillermo Fariñas, José Daniel Ferrer, Librado Linares, Mario Félix Lleonart, Yoaxis Macheco, Héctor Maseda, Félix Navarro, Jorge Olivera, Lilianne Ruíz, Elizardo Sánchez, Yoani Sánchez and Dagoberto Valdés.
14ymedio, LILIANNE RUÍZ, Havana |October 3, 2014 – Denia and Mayra met twelve years ago on a walk along the Malecon. In the zone of tolerance that begins at Maceo Park and ends at the 23rd Street fountain, where historically a part of the LGBTI community gathers in the Havana nights. After a 7-year relationship they thought seriously of raising a child, but they ran into an obstacle: according Ministry of Public Health protocols, the possibility of conception through non-traditional means is designed for heterosexual couples and treated as a pathology of infertility.
The two women began to seek voluntary donors among their friends. They knew other women in the same situation had managed to conceive by introducing semen into the vagina with a syringe. “In contact with mucus it can live up to 72 hours; in a syringe stored at room temperature it can last 48 hours,” they say.
Among their close friends they didn’t find a candidate that met all their conditions, above all that he was willing to renounce paternity and cede it entirely to the female couple. So after many discrete inquiries, they used the services of an OB/GYN at a maternity hospital in the capital who, in addition to artificially inseminating Mayra, was able to offer them a donor with the desired characteristics, including some resemblance to Denia. The insemination took place in the couple’s home, far from the vigilant eyes of the health authorities. Should it be divulged, the doctor would lose his profession.
The insemination took place in the couple’s home, far from the vigilant eyes of the health authorities
Denia sidesteps the question of whether they had to pay for this “under the table” service. According to other women in similar situations, the rates in the informal market for sperm vary between 100 and 300 Cuban convertible pesos (CUC).
“This has been the greatest joy of my life. The little girl calls me godmother,” Denia says. The two women consider themselves mothers of Paola, a beautiful five-year-old who attends preschool.
During the pregnancy and childbirth, Denia presented herself as a friend of Mayra’s. In their experience, if they had declared themselves the lesbian couple that they are, they would not have been treated the same. “In many places we found they don’t treat us like they treat a heterosexual couple. Sometimes they reject us. So we did what we did to keep up appearances.”
Denia tells how she gets up first in the morning to bring the baby to her mother’s breast. “Even though I’m not the biological mother, I feel like I’m also Paola’s mother. At times we argue lovingly about who’s going to do the cooking because the child likes my cooking more.”
They don’t kiss in front of the girl, not because they don’t want to promote their values of respect for sexual diversity and freedom of choice in front of her, but because they are worried that she might experience rejection at school. “We live in a society that has not adapted to a kiss as a gesture of love between a couple, and to the fact that couples can be made up of the same gender.”
Because of this, they believe that Cuba should legalize marriage between persons of the same sex, so that their rights are recognized in the Ministry of Health protocols, including the right of a lesbian woman to conceive with the help of science. “The same rights would make us more equal,” they say.
So far, however, there is no donor sperm bank in the Cuban health system, even for heterosexual couples. Nor are there statistics about the number of same sex couples with children. In a telephone call, the Legal Department of the National Center for Sexual Education (CENESEX) admitted it has taken no surveys and has nor information about it.
As often happens, the official world keeps its distance from what is happening in real life. It refuses to legislate and ignores the stories of different passions, with fruits and without patriarchs.
14ymedio, Eliecér Avila, Havana, October 2, 2014 — I saw the images of the Cuban students’ march in support of “the Cuban Five” and against “terrorism” and “subversion.” Telesur also echoed the news. I don’t know if any other television network has covered this topic. What I do know is that the participants believed they were giving an indisputable show of strength, principle and, possibly, valor.
So what did the nation gain from this audacity? Nothing – except many public expenses.
In contrast, I watch what is happening in Hong Kong, one of the most economically dynamic cities in the world, where thousands of students have been able to mobilize massive public sectors in support of their call for free local elections. The central government in Beijing opposes this demand.
Let us compare these two situations, both of which are developing in Communist territories.
In one case, protesters are taking to the streets calling for more democracy and for respect of citizens’ ability to elect their own representatives, against obstructionist government forces. In the other case – the one here (in Cuba) – the demonstrators travel comfortably to their site on buses, with snacks, slogan-emblazoned T-shirts, and security detail all included. All this to make a show of boldness geared to and directed by an agenda that has nothing to do with student demands or social protests in our country.
The students in Hong Kong get by with using social networking applications that make a joke of state censorship. When denied Internet access, they communicate directly with each other. The Cuban students use powerful megaphones to shout their “Long Live!” chants to those who are not allowed Internet access.
The apathy of Cuban university students towards the state of the nation does not cease to astound me.
The apathy of Cuban university students toward the state of the nation does not cease to astound me. If the young people of our country, with their vibrant health and energy, do not defend our elderly, our poor, our workers – our own selves – who will do it? —The state? —The bureaucracy? —The very causers of our problems?
Of what use is a march which forgets that we live in a country without the least shred of freedom of the press? Where the workers cannot afford even to eat adequately with the wages they are paid? And where the capital city is crumbling? What manner of respect can a youth and university movement inspire if it is incapable of empowering itself to recapture its autonomy and liberty?
It is clear that these marches are not initiated by the students themselves. We should also recognize that many who will read this article, and its author, took part at some time in similar marches – to break the monotony of our class schedules – to ride the wave that everyone says is the correct one – or simply to have a free day’s outing in Havana. When we grow up a little and leave the ideological bubble which our university system has become, reality punches us right in the face. We realize then the extreme manipulation to which we were subjected in order to defend the interests of a minority comfortably in power because we put them there. And this hurts.
We realize then the extreme manipulation to which we were subjected in order to defend the interests of a minority comfortably in power….
Being that nobody learns a lesson unless he learns it for himself, we will have to wait for the many Olympic champions of enthusiasm to graduate—and then face the challenge of maintaining their own households as citizens and workers.
But by then it will be too late. By then nobody will arrange buses and snacks to facilitate their expressions of nonconformity. Alternatively, if they go and do it on their own, they will discover a little-known aspect of the system, which will increase their frustration but will clarify much in their minds.
Some will decide to leave Cuba and will easily exchange their “Long Live!” megaphones for the steering wheel of the comfortable car that the ideological enemy will allow them to buy in exchange for their labor. Others will settle for eking out any kind of living they can and … “we’ll see what happens.” There will always be those others who are set on attaining positions from which they will have to convince a new generation of youths and students to march against the “historical enemy.” Their contribution will be the mental castration of the masses – an indispensable step towards constructing “The New Man.” These are the worst.
Still and all, I am convinced that this cycle of disempowerment and deception of the people cannot last forever. I feel that we are ever growing in number—those of us who in every corner of this country, including the universities, feel responsible for contributing to the profound and vital change that we need. All we have to do is agree to work together, as those demonstrators in Hong Kong are doing with such commendable maturity.