Opposition candidates are “counterrevolutionaries” according to their official biographies / 14ymedio

Biography of Hildebrand Chaviano Montes. (14ymedio)
Biography of Hildebrand Chaviano Montes. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 2 April 2015 — The official biographies* of Hildebrando Chaviano Montes y Yuniel López O´Farrill have been posted this Thursday for the information of the voters in Havana. The two opposition candidates will stand for election in the upcoming first-round elections for delegates to the Municipal Assemblies of People’s Power — to be held on 19 April – despite having been classified as “counterrevolutionaries” by their respective Municipal Electoral Commissions.

Chaviano’s biography is posted on the ground floor of the Fosca Building in Havana, located in the district to which he belongs, and that of Yuniel Lopez O’Farrill has been placed in an office of the Julian Grimau Policlinic, where presumably the election site will be located. So far, there have been no reports of the posting of the biographies in an accessible form in any other place. continue reading

Details biography of Hildebrand Chaviano. The last two paragraphs read: “In 2006 he joined the little counterrevolutionary groups. From 2011-2014 he received training in computers and journalist, organized by the United States Interest Section in Havana. Currently he dedicates himself to publishing articles against the Revolution financed by international organizations and counterrevolutionary organizations abroad, who have also organized and paid for his trips abroad.
Details biography of Hildebrand Chaviano. The last two paragraphs read: “In 2006 he joined the little counterrevolutionary groups. From 2011-2014 he received training in computers and journalism, organized by the United States Interest Section in Havana. Currently he dedicates himself to publishing articles against the Revolution financed by international organizations and counterrevolutionary organizations abroad, who have also organized and paid for his trips abroad.”

Chaviano, 65, belongs to the Plaza of the Revolutiuon municipality and Yuniel López O’Farrill to the Arroyo Naranjo municipality. The first is a freelance journalist and a Law graduate from the University of Havana. His biography, written by the authorities without consulting him, says that he dedicates himself to “publishing articles against the Revolution financed by international organizations and counterrevolutionary organizations abroad.”

Voters read the biography of Hildebrand Chaviano and the other candidates (14ymedio)
Voters read the biography of Hildebrand Chaviano and the other candidates (14ymedio)

The publication of these biographies, strongly criticizing the candidates, is unprecedented in the history of Cuban elections under the current system. So far nominees have always been described in laudatory tones, emphasizing their professional and personal qualities.

*Translator’s note: In Cuban elections candidates are only allowed to “campaign” through the posting of their “official biographies” – there are no other permitted campaign activities.

The Sewers of Surgidero / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

The sewage of Surgidero de Batabanó (14ymedio)
The sewage of Surgidero de Batabanó (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 2 April 2015 — “Here the earth sinks to enter the sea,” says a tanned Peasant, whose face is like a map of bays and marches. On the south coast of Mayabeque, there is a piece of land that wants to transcend its fate as a low area and where every year the waters gain a bit in the battle for firm land. Despite its slow disappearance under the tide, Surgidero de Batabanó is also a site appreciated for its abundance of shrimp, lobster and sponges.

“This town has the cheapest seafood in the whole western region,” boasts a man who claims to have a degree in the technical exploitation of maritime transport, in the far off Soviet Union. His degree is from those years when the USSR welcomed Cuban students to its universities to develop an army of builders of the future. Now, the man and his family build illegal cages to hunt crustaceans and sell them on the black market.

On both sides of Surgidero’s main street there is an open channel that flows with sewage toward the muddy Gulf of Batabanó. continue reading

There everything is all mixed together: salt and filth, foam and debris. As the area is barely fifteen feet above the level of the sea, the ditches that pass in front of the houses are always full and floating on the surface is everything that fails to flow along the weak slope.

Any cynical editor of tourist postcards could draw a parallel with Venice, but the neighbors believe it would be better to build a sewer

Any cynical editor of tourists postcards could draw parallels with Venice, but the neighbors believe it would be better to build a sewer. Each house has its own bridge to cross the stinking gutter, but when it rains it all overflows and there are days when the sewage, instead of flowing, seems to grow, reaching out to the living room of every home.

The inhabitants of the village have never gotten used to this situation, dating from when the streets were laid out and they were promised the drainage ditch would be temporary. Quite the contrary, the issue is no longer raised at meetings of the People’s Power and many are the unanswered letters describing the issue. They expose the dangers to health, landscape and tourists and even the shame of the villagers who don’t know how to explain such a stench to their visitors.

“These waters will end up swallowing us one day,” predicts a neighbor, who has seen how the sea and apathy will win the match against Surgidero de Batabanó.

An Anachronistic May Day / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 30 March 2015 – A compendium of bows to the official discourse has served the Secretariat of the Cuban National Workers Center (CTC) to tailor its now traditional Call for the May Day celebration. Under the central motto “United in the Construction of Socialism” a call has gone out to fulfill production commitments, to implement the Party’s Sixth Congress Guidelines, to replace imports, achieve savings, make plans for exports, and all the interests of the State boss, along with a vast anthology of Revolutionary slogans and verses.

The tribute to martyrs and heroes is not lacking, nor is solidarity with Venezuela, nor greetings to the World Federation of Trade Unions on its 70th years of life, nor evocation of the memorable definition of the concept of Revolution, expressed by Fidel Castro fifteen years ago during a celebration on International Workers Day. continue reading

An entire paragraph is dedicated to the present “international political concept,” emphasizing the maintenance of the “genocidal economic, commercial and financial blockade; the unjust inclusion on the list of countries sponsoring terrorism, and the occupation of the territory where the naval base sits in Guantanamo.” Curiously, the issue of the reestablishment and presumably normalization of relations between the two countries is restricted to “a new approach of the United States Government toward Cuba,” as if the Cuban side had played a passive role in this process and lacked a new approach in its strategy.

Absent from the message was any idea that could be interpreted as a claim, a demand for improvements in working class wages, living standards and working conditions. Not one word about the thousands of self-employed workers and entrepreneurs who today lack any kind of autonomous organization, no allusion to the double exploitation suffered by those who work for joint ventures or foreign firms, much less to the extortion suffered by Cuban collaborators abroad.

At the end of the day, the Call is an almost unnecessary formality. Through the country’s plazas, streets, villages and bateyes hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of Cubans will march waving their officially-permitted flags and placards. Not a single detail will deviate from the established script. Order, discipline and even enthusiasm will reign in the parade.

The Censors Talk about Censorship / 14ymedio, Victor Ariel Gonzalez

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Victor Ariel Gonzalez, Havana, 30 March 2015 — The Surprised Pupil is a program whose first mistake is the name. With quite mediocre staging, presentation and content, really this television program has nothing surprising to see. But to hear, maybe some viewer or another was hoping that its most recent on-air output would tackle seriously a very thorny topic: censorship.

However, that viewer with high expectations was soon disappointed. Censorship is a problem that affects every Cuban producer today, but The Pupil did not worry about that. It was foreign censorship, that which nations supposedly suffer “under the dominion of big corporations,” that occupied the program.

There was even a segment dedicated to McCarthyism, that period of “repressive delirium” in the United States in which “great artists lived through times of accusations, interrogations, trials and torture,” said the program’s host. Not even hinted at were the anti-intellectual raids undertaken by the Cuban government, those whose spirit was defined by Fidel Castro in his phrase reminiscent of Mussolini: “Within the Revolution everything, outside the Revolution nothing.” continue reading

It would be too much to ask that they openly address chapters as regrettable as the Military Units to Aid Production (UMAP), the university purification processes, or the repudiation rallies. Or to remember how less than 40 years ago listening to The Beatles could lead to suspicion. Those pages of the national history have been forgotten by the official media.

If, after all, few know who Cabrera Infante, Reinaldo Arenas or Heberto Padilla were; and if the ghosts of Pinero or Lezama Lima have suffered exorcisms of posthumous atonement, then what sense does it make to speak of censorship in Cuba?

Maybe none for those guests who lent their words to The Surprised Pupil. They used, for example, statements by the actor Enrique Molina to a Spanish speaking chain for a digression about the financing of projects. As “there exists no state budget for filmmaking, [Cuban] directors have to seek financing abroad,” said he who played Silvestre Canizo on the popular soap opera Tierra Brava.

Molina, who obviously does not have any intention of demanding anything from the Ministry of Culture, blamed the lack of money on the lack of foreign producers “with good intentions and honesty” who seek something different than reflecting “the ugly things of Havana” or “everything challenging the politics of the country.” That, together with the difficulties that the “blockade” involves in bringing Cuban cinema abroad, constitutes censorship for this artist.

For the musician Fidel Diaz Castro, “the censors of the contemporary world have turned into diplomats” because they say: “My fellow, I would like to place your work, but that doesn’t sell.” Here he referred to the censorship imposed by marketplace preferences, although it could well be an attempt to justify his own incompetence.

Another of the guests was Iroel Sanchez, a key figure in the official blogosphere in a country without the Internet. The blogger spoke of a documentary that criticizes the media groups owned by financial conglomerates. “In the United States one can speak ill of a Democratic or a Republican president,” said Sanchez, “but (…) you cannot speak badly of the owners of those big finance groups that control the means of communication.”

Iroel Sanchez did not cite the example in which the governing party and the owner of the means of communication are the same. This is precisely the Cuban case where the Communist Party is the exclusive owner of the country’s media.

The common denominator throughout The Pupil was the American topic. Judging by the final message, there persists in that country a fierce repression of transnational reach. And as Cuban television said it, doubting it is strictly prohibited. There was no time to mention those on the Island who seek to issue a critical judgment outside of the given guidelines. Is that also the fault of an external enemy?

The Surprised Pupil is indeed very badly named. The greater error is having conceived as a surprise, and not as an insult, that the official discourse goes unpunished yet again. That is what happens when censors have no one to censor them.

Translated by MLK

Oscar Arias meets with young Cubans and Venezuelans / 14ymedio, Eliecer Avila

Meeting of young Cubans and Venezuelans with Oscar Arias
Meeting of young Cubans and Venezuelans with Oscar Arias

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Eliecer Avila, San Juan, Costa Rica, 29 March 2015 — To Costa Rica, that Latin American country recognized for its outstanding economic push, its democratic stability, and its role in the defense of human rights, a group of young Cubans and Venezuelans has come as guests of the National Liberation Party.

Undoubtedly among the Costa Rican politicians most prominent in recent years, Dr. Oscar Arias Sanchez stands out. He held the presidency for two terms, the first from 1986 to 1990, and the second started in 2006 and ended in 2010. Thus, a meeting with him was something not to be missed on the visit’s agenda.

The Arias administrations brought Costa Rica notable advances in different sectors. So much so, that for the most part his compatriots usually refer to him as the “best president” they ever had.

The successful mediation of several international conflicts, among them that of Nicaragua in the 1980s, also turned him into a global paradigm in defense of peace, for which he was honored with the prestigious Nobel Peace Prize in 1987.

On Saturday, the long awaited meeting with Arias took place at his home where he received a group of young Cubans and Venezuelans. The dialogue lasted more than an hour, during which the former president listened attentively to continue reading

their plans later shared his vision of the political landscape of the two nations. Also discussed was the current situation, and the challenges facing those working for democracy in both countries.

Arias criticized governments for generally “remaining silent” about what happens in Cuba and Venezuela “for fear of upsetting their respective Lefts.”

Addressing the Venezuelans, he asked them about the status of unity of the democratic forces and the personalities engaged in the struggle. José Javier Martínez, member of the Vente Venezuela movement, responded that, “Although there are some differences between the main opposition leaders, they disappear on the issue of respect for human rights.”

“It is on this point, above all, and in its defense that we are firmly united,” Martinez reaffirmed. The young man also took advantage of the occasion, to ask the former president for support for a motion that several MPs from different parties are trying to push through the Costa Rican legislature. The objective of the motion is to have the ambassador of this nation propose to the Organization of American States (OAS) that it discuss the situation of Venezuela in its main plenary session.

Arias also asked about the course of relations with the United States and what might be expected in this respect. Kirenia Yalit, Coordinator of the Roundtable of Cuban Youth, explained the different visions and postures of Cuban civil society toward this process and pointed out that, “We young people are not opposed to the opportunities that this these changes could bring to the benefit the people, but we will continue in our struggle to achieve the rights that we need to exercise, whether or not there is trade with the United States.”

Arias then speculated about the possibility of a Cuban Deng Xiaoping, who would reform the Cuban system from within the Communist Party, as happened in China.

To this Eliecer Avila, leader of Somos+ (We Are More) and a member of the Roundtable, responded that, “There is always that possibility, but we Cuban democrats do not see in China an applicable or desirable framework for our country.” The young man emphasized that, “We are able to build a much better model, one that in addition to economic growth also ensures the full exercise of civil and political freedoms, the only guarantees for a national reconciliation and lasting stability.”

The former President thanked the young people for the visit and reiterated his commitment to the democratic cause of both peoples. Which, he said, “Would always be addressed in my upcoming conferences, because I say what I think and do not speak just to get along with anyone.”

An Afternoon for Danilo (El Sexto) / 14ymedio, Luz Escobar

Danilo’s (El Sexto’s) works displayed on the walls of La Paja Records studio (Luz Escobar)
Danilo’s (El Sexto’s) works displayed on the walls of La Paja Recold studio (Luz Escobar)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, 29 March 2015 – As part of the campaign to demand freedom for the artist Danilo Maldonado, known as “El Sexto,” several artistic activities took place this Saturday at la Paja Recold, the studio of the band Porno para Ricardo.

On the walls of the place were works by the graffiti artist who has been incarcerated since last December 25. El Sexto was arrested shortly before carrying out a performance that consisted of releasing in a public square two pigs with the names of “Fidel and Raul.” The crime that has been charged against him is contempt.

Several friends from all over the world and human rights organizations have demanded his immediate release. Yesterday’s activities joined those demands for his freedom. Among the most important moments of the afternoon was the performance by Tania Bruguera of The Whisper of Tatlin which opened the studio’s microphones to the fifty attendees of the encounter to ask for – in a minute each – Danilo Maldonado’s liberty. continue reading

The host band Porno para Ricardo, played the lead musical part with several songs from their repertoire. Subsequently rappers including El Opuesto, Maikel Extremo, Rapper Isaac and Lazaro Farise Noise appeared on stage. All demanded the release of the artist and demonstrated solidarity with his cause. Also a book was opened in order to gather signatures of support for the #FreeElSexto campaign. An option paralleling that already implemented on the digital platform Change.org and that is intended for those who do not have access to the Internet.

The artist Tania Bruguera told 14ymedio she had attended the event, “Because I think this is a case of the violation of the artist’s rights.” “It is not right that an artist who did not even carry out the work should be made a prisoner,” she stressed. Bruguera is precluded from leaving Cuba and is in the midst of legal proceedings because of events arising from her attempt to organize a performance last December 30 in the Plaza of the Revolution.

In spite of her delicate legal situation, the artist attended the event in order to offer her support to El Sexto’s cause. Because she says that “An artist that is in jail just for imagining a work and trying to make it, it is an injustice.” About the performance that the graffiti artist would have carried out, Bruguera points out that, “Public figures, whether politicians or celebrities, are likely to be criticized (…) they have to assume that people who do not have that power, they are able to make them aware of their discontent through humor and satire.”

Bruguera quipped that, “If they made prisoners of everyone who makes jokes about Fidel and Raul Castro, half the people would be incarcerated.” And she concluded, “The artist’s freedom lies in having the right to say symbolically whatever he wants.”

Gorki Aguila, meanwhile, explained that, “It is important that artists join together among themselves (…) art has an incredible power to summon.” El Sexto’s grandmother, attending the event, said that, “The right of a man to live as he wants to live must be respected, Danilo does not harm anyone, he respects everyone, but he also asks for respect for himself, that they let him do what he wants.”

With respect to the prison conditions in which this artist has lived, the grandmother says that, “He was sleeping on the floor for two months because for him, as for many other prisoners, there was no bed. They don’t let even an aspirin in. Danilo is chronically asthmatic, he had pneumonia, and they denied him antibiotics.”

The lady also told of the continuing threats by State Security to many of the invitees so that they would not go this Saturday to the tribute to El Sexto. The pressure included the visit of two officers to the home of Gorki Aguila in order to deliver to him a police citation that required him to appear at the police station that same afternoon. The musician refused to go on grounds that a citizen must be given at least 24 hours notice of such an action.

Lia Villares said that during the next Havana Biennial, which will get underway at the end of May, “We are going to do something.” The blogger anticipates that it will be, “A work by El Sexto that was not displayed here today.”

Translated by MLK


Rise and Fall of a Diocese / 14ymedio, Juan Carlos Fernandez

Extension of the Diocese of Pinar del Río. (Juan Carlos Fernández / 14ymedio)
Extension of the Diocese of Pinar del Río. (Juan Carlos Fernández / 14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Juan Carlos Fernandez, Pinar del Rio, 26 March 2015 – “How much everything has changed! How gorgeous the Cathedral is with those add-ons!” exclaimed a Catholic layman on returning to visit his native Pinar del Rio after three decades of exile.

The improvement of the infrastructure of the diocese, which started with the arrival of Archbishop Monsignor Jorge Enrique Serpa, is impressive. The construction work was fast-tracked and the traditional problems with permits disappeared. The cost of the strategy to sustain it, however, will be difficult to sustain.

Cardinal Jaime Ortega and Archbishop Serpa together undertook the task, which happened to please the Cuban authorities, removing part of the secular activity of the diocese to achieve, in exchange, benefits. continue reading

When in January 2007, Monsignor José Siro González Bacallao made official Serpa’s assumption of the Diocese, a new chapter began in the pastoral, religious and social life of the local church.

The appointment coincided with a rapprochement between the authorities and part of the Catholic hierarchy, led by the Archbishop of Havana, Jaime Ortega y Alamino. This improvement in relations culminated in the visit to Cuba of Benedict XVI, in March 2012, and the release from prison of a large group of political prisoners of the 2003 Black Spring.

The Conference of Catholic Bishops of Cuba also paved the way to understanding. The two bishops most uncomfortable for the Government were about to retire for reasons of age. In Santiago de Cuba, Pedro Meurice, old and sick ceded his episcopate to his disciple, Dionisio García. At the other end of the island, José Siro retired to Mantua and left the way open for the pact.

Since the inauguration of the new bishop in Pinar del Rio, it took just three months to begin the dismantling of all the works that were considered an obstacle to improving relations with the government.

It took just three months to begin the dismantling of all the works that were considered an obstacle to improving relations with the government

The members of the editorial board of the Church magazine Vitral were forced out, and the training center and publisher were dismantled. They also dissolved the Brotherhood of Assistance to Prisoners and Their Families, the Youth Ministry, the Catholic Commission for Culture and the Diocesan Council of Laity. Thus, the lay members left the structure of the Pinar del Rio Church.

When Monsignor Serpa took over, after 20 years serving in the Bogota Archdiocese, the Pinar del Rio Diocese had only 17 priests, fewer than 30 nuns, and a large group of committed lay people. The churches were deteriorated and the difficulties in obtaining permission for restoration were notable.

Now, for the first time in more than fifty years, all the parishes have priests, the number of members by religious congregation has grown, and the entry and establishment of other orders, among them the Brigidine Sisters, have been extended from Havana.

Management has been allowed, in addition to restoring the Cathedral, to enlarge the parish house and the construction of a complex of classrooms for catechisms and meetings. The Church has been able to buy a site for Caritas located in the center of the city, less than a block from the provincial headquarters of the Communist Party.

In addition, in just eight years Sandino is the first captive people to have a temple, one of the greatest diplomatic achievements in the last 25 years of the authorities insistently denying Siro permission. The return of the religious processions in all the dioceses is also a noted achievement of Serpa.

But the negative consequences of his mandate have also been felt. The bishop complains of a lack of motivation and commitment among the faithful, including to make donations. On the other hand, the social commitment is almost zero and the pastoral is ecclesial – more severe than the so-called clerical. Except for the Bishop, there is no presence of Church members in any social environment.

“The loss of moral authority is not achieved overnight,” whispers a Pinar del Rio Catholic. “Rebuilding costs far more than any new temple,” says the layman.

The legacy the current bishop will leave when he retires, at age 75, will be a magnificent architectural infrastructure that will not need to be touched for a while. The challenge will be re-form, articulate and prepare the Church formed by laymen which was dismantled.

Will the mattress arrive before the baby turns a year old? / 14ymedio, Yosmany Mayeta

Woman with a mattress (Yosmany Mayeta)
Woman with a mattress (Yosmany Mayeta)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yosmany Mayeta Labrada, Santiago de Cuba, 28 March 2015 — The Gonzalez family baby slept her first weeks in a plastic tub lined with sheets and blankets. She could not use the crib because her parents did not manage to buy the mattress that is assigned by the Santiago de Cuba ration market to expectant mothers.

Shortages of the product and delays in its arrival to those in need create discomfort and situations like that of this baby in homes all over the country but with greater severity in the eastern region.

Outside of some stores intended for that purpose there are long lines of pregnant women and their families to buy the so-called “module basket” that is given at a subsidized price to each mother. The prices in the free market are unaffordable for a good many families. They need at least 50 convertible pesos (CUC) in order to get a mattress in the hard currency market, while the average monthly salary does not exceed 20 CUC. continue reading

Many of these mothers will celebrate the first birthdays of their children without the children having been able to enjoy a crib with a mattress. Such is the case of one young woman who preferred to remain anonymous and who was waiting this Wednesday in the line of the El Atardecer industrial products store. Her daughter is about to turn a year old, but she still has to sleep in a crib with an old mat repaired many times and that was loaned to her by a relative.

Yamile Fonseca, resident of the Nuevo Van Van area, had a little more luck and says that “almost when the ration book was expiring I could buy the mattress, but that was a pure pain and a line that no one could stand.” Others simply give up and resort to the illicit market or inherit part of the “basket” items from a sister or a cousin.

Beatriz Mena, clerk at an Industrial store, says that “they have only brought the product twice” to the store where she works. In those cases “they have sold to those mothers whose basket ration book is expiring and whose babies are turning a year old,” the others have had to wait until they are resupplied, she said.

When the product arrives at one of the commercial units devoted to that purpose, then the drama becomes the line. Jose Bonne, father of a 10-month old girl, staked out the front of the Industrial this Tuesday from four in the morning in order to be able to be one of the first. “When I arrived there were already more than ten people who, since earlier hours, were marking their place in line in order not to be left without the mattress.”

The manager of the store in the Altamira suburb said that “it has come to the unit on several occasions but the ones who have not bought are still more than those who have left with the product.” The lady says that “the mattresses that they leave are very few, and we have a great number of pregnant and newly post-partum women and the demand outstrips the quantities supplied.

Another person, who preferred not to give his name, says that “when the mattresses arrive at the industrial products stores, now the clerks in cahoots with the management get most of them, which are sold to those whose turn has not come up, but who pay extra money and so acquire them ahead of time.”

For her part, Yelaine Suarez said that when the mattresses arrive in the commission stores there are people who dedicate themselves to the sale of places in line for the amount of ten convertible pesos. “It is unfair to see how they take advantage of the opportunity in order to do things like that.

Cuban women point to economic problems and difficulties in materially supporting a baby as among the main causes for the low birth rate that the country is now experiencing; the Total Fertility Rate fell in 2012 to the worrying figure of 1.69 children per woman.

David Fernandez, resident of Alturas de Versalles, says that in the Altamira store they got crib mattresses at 300 pesos national currency, sold off the ration book. The resident of the place asks how it is possible that there are stocks for that but not for those women who have the “basket” ration book.

The complaints come and go and many babies keep waiting to sleep in a crib with a mattress. Meanwhile, their parents improvise a little bed and take turns standing in line in front of the store.

Translated by MLK

Polarization and civil society / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

14ymedio bigger 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 26 March 2015 – The family of Yamila, age 41, is a sample of Cuban society. The father is a member of the Communist Party, the mother a Catholic who never embraced the Revolutionary Process, there is a brother in Miami and she herself is working for a joint venture where she earns convertible pesos. When they sit down to eat, they discuss the high price of food, the low salaries, how boring the telenovela is, or how late the remittances from the emigrants are this month.

For decades the ideological fire has stirred no passions in Yamila’s living room. The father is increasingly tempered in his political views; the mother prays, while buying in the illegal market; the relative who lives on the other shore and comes every now and then on vacation is an obliging forty-something who saves every cent to bring them a flat screen TV. These are the daily problems that concern them and hold them together. The struggle to survive makes them set aside any differences.

This microcosm of the Cuban family today has a lot to teach those who, from polarized positions, try to say what civil society is and isn’t, continue reading

try to put limits and Manichean labels on the diversity of phenomena that make up our reality. Any definition of the framework of this complex tapestry that makes up a society should be constructed with the objective of recognizing all of its parts and the right of each to exist.

Branding some as regime supporters and others as traitors only deepens the social distances and delays the necessary transformation that this country needs to experience.  

Branding some as regime supporters and others as traitors only deepens the social distances and delays the necessary transformation that this country needs to experience. In the current social fabric there are identifiable strands that have to be considered and that no snip of intolerance should exclude. If we are aware of our responsibility in this process of inclusion, then we will try not to arbitrarily cut off any part of the fabric.

The issue heats up as we approach the Americas Summit in Panama, where both the Government and the opposition are ready to present their own versions of Cuban civil society. All indications are that, despite conciliatory longings on the part of the Panamanian organizers, this platform is only going to hear a skewed version from each side, not the so necessary discourse of respect for the other and for plurality that the Cuban nation needs at this moment.

While it is true that the so-called mass organizations such as the Federation of Cuban Women (FMC), the National Association of Small Farmers (ANAP) and the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution (CDR) behave in the ideological arena like transmission poles from the powers-that-be, it also needs to be borne in mind that each of them encompasses a large number of Cubans – whether as an automatic response, the inability to choose other options, fear, or true complacency – and every one of our families is made up, for the most part, by members of these organizations. To ignore them is to amputate a part of our reality.

To disqualify, per se, a person because they are a part of the FMC, the CDR or the ANAP, for example, becomes an act of sectarianism and eliminates from the national discussion an essential area of the citizenry. Among them are some very capable people from the professional point of view, who will be part of those supporting the economic, social and legal reconstruction of Cuba. Many of them will be at the Panama Summit – subsidized by the Cuban Government and chosen for ideological reasons – with proposals that should be heard.

Panama could be the moment when Cuban civil society meets and understands that no child of this land should be excluded from the national debate. 

Sociologists, economists, intellectuals and Cuban academics will bring solidly supported studies that address the core theme of the meeting: Prosperity with Equity: The challenge of cooperation in the Americas. Instead of rejecting them because they come with directives to convert the event into trench warfare, it would be very healthy to interact with them and their proposals with respect. Panama could be the moment when Cuban civil society meets and understands that no child of this land should be excluded from the national debate.

On the other hand, the Cuban government official campaign has already begun to vent its venom on dissident figures and groups, the opposition and independent journalism which will also attend the event in April. Those attacks are not directed at damaging the self-esteem of the activists, already used to the verbal violence constantly directed at them, but rather to avoid any possible dialogue between this part of our civil society with that part recognized as closest to the Government, the one that defends the current state of affairs on the island.

Non-government attendees will travel, for the most part, with tickets and accommodation paid for by foreign institutions and entities, given the material poverty they experience from their situation of illegality. However, the selection process for those who will attend, incarnated that part of Cuba that has lacked internal democracy and a necessary transparency. Driven by improvisation and material precariousness, these representative should know that they will also be evaluated for the ideas and proposals they bring, not just for anecdotes about the pain and repression they have experienced.

If the dissidence wants to show its adulthood, it must communicate in Panama that it has a plan for the future and not only that it knows who to survive under the heroic status of being a persecuted group

If the dissidence wants to show its adulthood, it must communicate in Panama that it has a plan for the future and not only that it knows who to survive under the heroic status of being a persecuted group, but also that it knows how to engage in politics in an intelligent, measured and thoughtful way for the wellbeing of all Cubans. Its agenda should include not only calls for respect for human rights and a framework for individual and collective freedoms, but must also address the most pressing everyday problems of the citizens they want to represent.

It is also important for this other share of Cuban civil society that does not feel recognized in the mass organizations, nor in the opposition parties, understand that their role is to be a bridge, not an island. Pointing fingers at both sides from the moral stature of those who are neither “subsidized by the Cuban Government” nor “employees of the empire,” only adds more fuel to the fire of distrust.

The small private sector that is trying to prosper on the island, the sectors tied to the Catholic Church and other denominations, the academics who have tried at all costs to maintain an independent view in their analysis, and those groups who defend the rights of minorities, working for female emancipation, independence for artists and filmmakers, or an end to racial discrimination, all should know that it is not helpful to sit on the fence watching the confrontation between the two poles. They have a responsibility to modulate and form a part of the tapestry, not snip away at it or remain outside the conflict.

At Yamila’s dinner table everyone wants to live his or her life, have his or her own autonomy. They have managed it, in the shelter of their home and the understanding that comes from family ties. Can we reach it as a nation?

And where did that glass of milk go? / 14ymedio, Orlando Palma

14ymedio bigger 14ymedio, Orlando Palmo, Havana, 25 March 2015 — The newspaper Granma published Wednesday a comprehensive report on milk production in the province of Camagüey. This scenario is grim and confirms the downward trend in terms of delivery of this precious food. Since 2012, Camagüey’s milk production and sales to the industry have declined, both in the cooperative and private sectors.

Although in the last five paragraphs it outlined with moderate optimism the possibilities of the sector recovery program, a reading of the article, signed by journalist Miguel Febles, reveals a problem that extends across many sectors of the economy, which can be summed up in the affirmation that the bureaucracy continues to be the heaviest weight dragging down food production in Cuba.

In short, the problem is that farmers must deliver the milk they produce to a pre-determined collection center. There samples are taken to assess the quality of each delivery, which is tied to the price of the product. However, instead of paying everyone according to the quality of food they bring to the center, the quality is averaged across all deliveries and the price paid to the farmer is derived from that average. The result is to demotivate improvements in quality.

Milk production in Cuba only covers 50% of domestic demand, so the country needs to import half of the milk consumed 

One of those interviewed, Alexis Gil Perez, director general of the Provincial Dairy Company, explains that the contracts are not with individual farmers but with “the productive base.” Gil Perez argues that this does not violate any procedure. “If there are opinions or dissatisfactions, we would have to revise the documents that govern the activity, and this decision can only be taken at the national level,” he adds. “Meanwhile, we must comply with the established provisions. It is not within my powers to vary the range of what we pay for milk.”

In a ceremony held in Camagüey on 26 July 2007 {commemorating the rebel attack on the Moncada Baracks), General Raul Castro said that every Cuban would be able to drink a glass of milk. Nearly eight years after that desire failed, the immediate proposal is not even to improve the distribution of what is collected, but to stop the decline in milk production observed in that province since 2012.

Milk production in Cuba only covers 50% of domestic demand, so the country needs to import half of the milk consumed. Its distribution is controlled by the government and private companies are forbidden from trading in milk products, even in the farmer’s markets.


Kuwait invests $ 21 million in hydraulic networks Havana / 14ymedio

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 26 March 2015 — The Kuwait Fund for Arab Economic Development awarded $21 million for the rehabilitation of water supply and sewer networks in Havana, as reported Thursday in the official media. With the signing of three agreements Wednesday, the second phase of the project gets underway; the project began in 2012 when the Fund awarded a credit to work on water resources in the capital.

The total amount of Kuwaiti aid for rehabilitation of networks amounts to $52 million in the last three years. It is expected that the works will be completed in all of the capital’s municipalities within 14 years.

The Cuban side at the time of the signing of the agreements was headed by Minister of Foreign Trade and Foreign Investment, Rodrigo Malmierca, while the general director of fund development, Abdulwahab Al-Bader, represented Kuwait.

“This is the fourth time we concluded agreements with the island and we are committed to continuing to provide credit to support works of such magnitude,” said Al-Bader. He added that his institution is ready to support the third stage of the capital rehabilitation and also evaluate the potential to contribute financially to other projects related to renewable energies.

The situation of hydraulic networks in Havana is a source of constant complaints from the population and heavy loss of water due to leaks and breaks. It is estimated that over 50% of the water pumped in the country is lost due to poor distribution infrastructure.

EU Diplomat Federica Mogherini: ‘There is no distancing from civil society’ / 14ymedio

Federica Mogherini, just outside the press conference where a reporter from 14ymedio was not allowed to enter
Federica Mogherini, just outside the press conference where a reporter from 14ymedio was not allowed to enter

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 24 March 2015 – On Tuesday afternoon the European Union’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Federica Mogherini, held a press conference for Cuban official media and foreign correspondents in Havana. According to the representative, Cuba and the European Union aspire to reach an agreement on political dialog and cooperation before the end of the year.

At the press conference, held in the Taganana Room at the Hotel Nacional, independent Cuban media were not allowed to enter. However, despite the restrictions, a 14ymedio reporter managed to get some statements from the official as she left the location.

Thanks to the collaboration of Herman Portocarero, European Union Ambassador to Cuba, this newspaper was able to have brief contact with Mogherini at the end of the press conference. continue reading

The official regretted the incident that blocked journalist Reinaldo Escobar from entering the area of the press conference and agreed to answer some brief questions.

In its questions, 14ymedio, recalled that during the rift between the Cuban authorities and the European leaders there was increased contact with alternative civil society, whose representatives have been received in several European Chancelleries. Thus, it’s worth asking, “Does the current approach of the European Union to the Cuban government mean that this relationship with civil society will be reduced or eliminated?”

Mogherini replied, “No, there is no distancing from Civil Society. The Europeans, the European Union, always talk with civil society, with every civil society.” To which this newspaper asked if she thought that relations between Cuba and the European Union were improving. The European head of diplomacy said, “I believe it is advancing.”

The issue of the United Nations Human Rights covenants that the Cuban government has signed but not ratified was also a subject of questions. Mogherini responded that, “The subject was discussed, but I cannot speak to it. I can’t speak on behalf of the Cuban government.”

Mogherini made an official visit to Cuba this Tuesday, the first for a European Union High Representative for Foreign Affairs to the island, to advance the dialogue seeking a normalization of relations between Brussels and Havana.

Cuba is the only Latin American country with which the European bloc does not have a bilateral agreement. Since 1996 relations have been determined by the “Common Position” which has conditioned ties with Havana to advances in democracy and human rights in Cuba.

‘CubaSí’ accuses ’14ymedio’ of “contaminating” the new platform of Cuban blogs / 14ymedio

"Mercenaries in service to the US blog on Cuban platform"
“Mercenaries in service to the US blog on Cuban platform”

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 23 March 2015 — The government information portal “CubaSí” regrets, this Monday, the presence of “mercenaries in the service of the United States” on the new blogging platform “Reflections”launched last week by the Cuban government. The author of the article, M.H. Lagarde, angrily cites the blog opened on this platform by 14ymedio, which has found a way to reach Cuban readers on the Island’s servers with the contents of the independent digital newspaper since its creation in May of 2014.

In his article, Lagarde accuses 14ymedio of having “contaminated” the platform with “counterrevolutionary propaganda,” although, at the time of its release, the government portal explained that it had no “restrictions with regards to themes addressed in the blogs and users interested in the service.”

“The fact undoubtedly ranks as the first provocation realized by Cuban mercenaries in the face of the Summit of the Americas to be held in April in Panama, continue reading

where by the express desire of the Government of the United States there will be active participation of the reduced Cuban ‘civil society’ that responds to its interests,” Lagarde writes.

“According to the imperial perspective, [Yoani Sánchez] and her team of ‘journalists’ of 14ymedio play an important role in the so-called war of the fourth generation based on the use of new technologies. The function of these groups has been, so far, to serve as media mourners who encourage and justify sanctions and invasions against the countries that are not liked by the United States,” he adds.

Lagarde provides as “proof of the faith the current American administration has in its puppet Yoani Sanchez,” the visit of Secretary of State for the Western Hemisphere Roberta Jacobson to the digital newspaper’s headquarters during her first trip to Havana this last January.

While most of the readers’ comments in CubaSí support Lagarde’s diatribes, several dare to disagree. Oscar Sanchez, for example, is blunt: “As a Cuban citizen, Yoani has the right to an opinion. No one has the only right nor the absolute truth.” And Heru added, “I believe in respect for diversity and, if they open a blog on Reflections, they are completely within their rights, I don’t see why so much fuss and crowing.”

For his part, Rafa opens the door to dialog, in his way, “We are not afraid, they confront our ideas with those of the adversary, traitor and puppet of the empire.” And Yosbel Marin, more combative and intransigent, expressed his suspicions toward his co-religionist: “M.H. Lagarde, with this article, will just publicize 14ymedio. Why? Naivety or intentional?”

Who is behind the mirror? / 14ymedio, Luz Escobar

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 19 March 2015 – On Wednesday, with great fanfare, the digital site “Reflections” was launched as part of the Cuban Youth Computer and Electronics Club’s Cuba Va (Cuba Goes) project. On its homepage you can read that this is the first Cuban blogging platform, although DesdeCuba.com, a blog portal, was launched eight years ago and, despite being blocked on the Cuban server, offers content generated in Cuba, where the majority of its authors live.

According to Kirenia Fagundo Garcia, who serves as senior specialist on Reflections, “there are no restrictions on the topics discussed on the blogs and users interested in the service,” on this platform. Each blog has only 250 megabytes allocated to post texts, photos, videos and sound, although Fagundo has made clear that it is planned to increase the initial capacity.

Despite the commitment to freedom announced by the portal, “the only condition is that the bloggers divulge the truth about Cuba, without offenses, disrespect or denigration.” continue reading

Thus, several questions immediately arise: Who gave the Youth Computer Club the power to determine what is “the truth about Cuba”? Who is behind this project? Who is funding it? What institution, undoubtedly State or Party, will approve the content to be published?

To test the limits of the new platform, this daily has created a new blog on the service, under the title 14ymedio, with the purpose of bringing the contents of our digital portal to Cuban readers on servers on the Island. The process was easy, although to create a new site we had to provide the number of the user’s State-issued ID card, undoubtedly a surprise.

Moreover, the portal has several technical deficiencies, frequent error messages and agonizing slowness. Obviously it has been opened without having done sufficient technical tests to check its operation. The site 14ymedio.cubava.cu has been activated and the content manager that works with the entire platform is WordPress. However, it has been impossible, so far, to publish our first text. Technical Problems?

In the coming days we will test whether the new blogging platform is as plural as announced, or nothing more than one more simple mirror of the official discourse.


A Mutilated Civil Society / 14ymedio, Regina Coyula

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Regina Coyula, Havana, 23 March 2015 — Just try it. On the street, randomly ask: What is civil society? You’ll be lucky if you find any satisfactory answer and will have better luck if, unlike for me, more than one person even deigns to answer you. To speak of civil society in Cuba is like teaching new material in school.

First the concepts, then, explain which is considered more successful according to the teacher’s vision. A meticulous educator looks for good examples. It is essential to mention the thesis of Alexis de Tocqueville of civil society as an intermediary between the individual and the State. Also interesting is Habermas’s approximation about individual rights that guarantee and foster free association. continue reading

Like almost all social science concepts, we find different and even opposing views on the subject. Where the philosophers agree, regardless of their political affiliation or their religious creed, is that civil society exists and functions independently of the State, and in many cases as its counterpart.

Only then, after talking about the subject enough so that the citizenry feels informed, can we speak of the role of civil society.

It has still been less than a decade that the term civil society, along with its close relatives, human rights and non-governmental organizations, was either nonexistent or cursed in the Cuban press. But with the growth of alternative civil society, which is attacked and simplified, accused of following an agenda dictated by the enemy, has the issue seeped into the discourse of the official press. To public opinion, contaminated with the unhealthy idea, now trying to present as civil society organizations that, for the most part, are created and financed by the government itself.

The upcoming Summit of the Americas will put to the test the ability of both – the civil society recognized by the government and the alternative one, unrecognized and derided – to show the continental community their projects and results. Since the constitution itself observes the difficulty of the alternation given that, according to Article 53, freedom of expression is only recognized in relation to the aims of socialist society. This article makes clear that the mass media are state or social property, and limits their use exclusively to working people and the interests of society.

The government tries to know and represent the interests of Cuban society but, given the deterioration of social conditions, the boundaries become blurred between popular support for the authorities and the desire of citizens to try another formula. Only within a totalitarian context is it possible to control the discontent, deaf to discordant voices and to make practically impossible the legalization of an independent project. This lock is constitutionally established in Article 62, that doesn’t recognize the freedoms when they don’t fit with the aims of the socialist state and the decision of the Cuban people to build communism.

I read Friday, in the newspaper Granma, the article “Our civil society.” I agree with some of the points of view of the journalist Sergio Alejandro Gomez. In effect, domination is not always applied by force or coercion and the powerful like to appropriate words and their meanings. However, I disagree with the manner in which the journalist resolves the current problem with civil society. The Cuban State represents the interests of the great majority (while it demonstrates the contrary), but this government has rejected the free associations established by Cuban citizens.

It is clear that the heterogeneity of the Cuban Civil Society Forum is circumscribed to differences in matters of religion, gender equality, racial equality or sexual diversity. Immediately observable is the absence of a political opposition, It’s very fair that the above rights are recognized, because bad memory can’t omit the fact that minorities were also discriminated against in Cuba. But as long as political opinion and initiative outside the State are not present, civil society will be incomplete, and any democratic observer immediately perceives this anomaly.

As pointed out by the Granma journalist, the society is not homogeneous. Homogeneity is not the personality of brothers brought up under the same roof. However, the Cuban state wants to achieve with these organizations of its civil society a symphony that supposedly affirms to the writer that this is a civil society unlike any other.