Visits by Americans to Cuba rose by 36% between January and May / 14ymedio

Female entertainers take photos with foreign tourists to earn a few convertible pesos. (14ymedio)
Female entertainers take photos with foreign tourists to earn a few convertible pesos. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 26 May 2015 — The number of visits by US citizens to Cuba has increased 36% in the first five months of the year compared to the same period of 2014, according to data released Tuesday by the Associated Press. The figure, which includes travel through third countries to circumvent restrictions on tourist travel, comes from statistics provided by Jose Luis Perello Cabrera, professor at the University of Havana.

In the months that have followed the announcement of restoration of diplomatic relations between Washington and Havana and easing of the rules governing the travel of US citizens to the island, Cuba received 51,458 visits from its neighbor to the north. Of this total, 38,476 traveled directly from the US, while another 12,982 did so through a third country (57% more than in 2014), mainly from Mexico, the Bahamas, Jamaica and the Cayman Islands. continue reading

Between January and early May, visits to the Island from international travelers also rose, for an increase of 14% compared with the same period last year. A total of 1,547,104 tourists came from 206 regions, led by Germany (+ 22%), France (+ 25%), Great Britain (+ 26%) and Spain (+ 16%).

Americans who want to travel to the island must certify that their trip falls into one of 12 categories permitted by law, such as family visits, professional research and support for the Cuban people.

Travel between Cuba and the United States is facilitated by new air links, with maritime routes expected to join them shortly.

Fidel Castro’s Former Bodyguard Juan Reinaldo Sanchez Dies / 14ymedio

The cover of Juan Reinaldo Sanchez's book, "The Secret Life of Fidel Castro"
The cover of Juan Reinaldo Sanchez’s book, “The Secret Life of Fidel Castro”

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 26 May 2015 – Juan Reinaldo Sanchez, Fidel Castro’s bodyguard between 1977 and 1994, died from lung cancer on Tuesday in Miami. The author of the tell-all book The Hidden Life of Fidel Castro, written in collaboration with the journalist Axel Gflden, had left the Island in 2008.

Sanchez, who belonged to the former presidents personal security force with the rank of lieutenant colonel, was the only member of the guard to flee Cuba. After asking for early retirement, he spent two years in prison.

In his book, the former bodyguard told of the luxurious life of Fidel Castro, revealing that he owned yachts and some twenty residences scattered throughout the Island.

“True Intentions”: Brief Sketch of a Long Relationship / 14ymedio, Miriam Celaya

Raul Castro with Barack Obama at a press conference at the Summit of the Americas
Raul Castro with Barack Obama at a press conference at the Summit of the Americas

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 14 May 2015 — Few sentences of the Cuban official discourse have been as well-worn as one that refers to “the true intentions” hiding behind the actions of the US government.

This explains the discomfort that the “Paused General*” feels about the American Interests Section in Havana teaching courses to independent journalists or when they hold teleconferences about digital journalism, among other activities. These “illegal activities” that the US government promotes through its Havana Section even award certificates of studies to its graduates. Because “the true intentions” of the government of that country is for these journalists to undermine the strength and ideological unity of our people, piercing it with the intimidating US influence. continue reading

Beyond the blatant disregard of those studying under the auspices of the US government, the “Emerging President*”, a graduate of who-knows-where, does not seem to rely too much on the strength of his media monopoly or in its capacity to influence the masses despite the proven loyalty of its hired scribes. For this reason he “is worried” – his own words – about this exchange of journalism courses and conferences that run outside the classrooms, so strictly controlled by the government, where many graduates get more credit for their demonstrations of loyalty to the regime than for their academic achievements or their talents.

Brief historical look at the “harmful” American influence in Cuba

An article appearing on the last page of the newsaper Granma (The Teachers’ Lessons, Ronald Suárez Rivas, Wednesday May 13, 2015) supports what is already emerging as a new ideological crusade against American “penetration,” so crucial at this time when the government of the Island strives to make peace with its historic enemy.

The work in question goes back more than 115 years ago when, as part of the US intervention in Cuba, after the end of the war of independence from 1895 to 1898, the US government took the initiative to “contribute to training a group of Cuban teachers, and, as if it had been against their will, they “were taken” to the United States.

But, of course, collaborating in the field of education was not “the true intentions” of the northern government, but “one of Washington’s first concrete actions in the ideological field, intended to directly influence the Cuban people” according to the words of a local historian, quoted by the Granma scribe.

In an effort to rewrite history to suit the Castro-ocracy, important details have been omitted that show that the US influence in Cuba was not all absolutely negative

Obviously, in their wish to rewrite Cuba’s history according to the Castro-ocracy’s taste, both the journalist and the official historian omit some important details recorded by renowned writers and other personalities of the time, documented in the Cuban National Archives, showing that the US influence on the Island had already penetrated deeply, long before the military intervention in the Spanish-Cuban-American war took place. Documents, that, in addition, show that the US intervention was not an absolutely negative event.

An event should be mentioned that, at the time, marked the sensibility of the Cuban people in a special way, and earned the gratitude and affection of the poorest sectors: the assistance provided by the US government to the victims of the Reconcentración de Weyler** (1896-1898).

In early January 1898, at the request of the then president William McKinley, Clara Barton, president of the American Red Cross arrived in Cuba to organize the relief to the reconcentrados. She and the US consul in Havana, with the help of Bishop Santander, toured various towns and cities on the Island and were responsible for the coordination and distribution of food, clothing and medicine that began arriving by sea at the port of Havana, thanks to the solidarity bridge established by a Central Committee on Relief, spontaneously organized by the American people.

The philanthropy demonstrated by the Americans had the additional benefit of raising the awareness of the wealthy sectors on the Island of Cuba, which until then had remained indifferent to the scenes of death and desolation caused by the colonial government and intensified by the incendiary torch of the mambises***, both of which had ruined the Cuban countryside, seriously damaging food production.

It was then that some societies and leading Cuban personalities of the era began organizing fund raisers through dances, opera and theater events, raffles, bullfights, book sales and other activities in order to help the reconcentrados and charitable institutions responsible for helping the poorer sectors, suffering from hunger and epidemics due to their lack of resources.

The philanthropy demonstrated by the Americans had the additional benefit of raising the awareness of the wealthy sectors on the Island.

It is true that the US naval blockade, which began on April 22,1898 and ended on August 14th of that year, temporarily worsened the shortages and general poverty. However, just two months after the war’s end, the tireless Clara Barton was able to restart the bridge of essential help – interrupted since the beginning of the naval blockade — which this time would also be enough to provide help to the insurgent mambises, still camped out in rural villages.

The previous month, a flotilla from the US had already been established, responsible for at least partially supplying food to the markets. Though not enough, the aid from the US was the assistance that reached the Cuban people when they needed it the most.

Later on, the work of Clara Barton in Cuba were aimed at creating the basis for what eventually became the Cuban Red Cross and the first health system through the Casas de Socorro (Free emergency clinics) caring for the poor sectors.  Also under the hand of the occupying American army, important sanitation work took place, the engineering work of planning the new sewer and paving systems were started (its construction began in 1908 and ended in 1913), sanitary facilities were established, and the improvement of the aqueduct commenced.

The “Paused General’s” concern for the danger of US influence on Cubans through independent journalism is untimely

The list of benefits derived from the relationship between Cuba and the United States, going back to the history of our nation, would be too long to finish in one article. Suffice it to note that many poor families in Cuba in recent decades would not be able to survive shortages or escape extreme poverty if it were not for the remittances and aid arriving from that country, to which most Cubans looking for a promising future emigrate.

Beyond “the true intentions” of our powerful Northern neighbor, the “Paused General’s” concern over the danger of the biasing effect of the United States on Cuba through independent journalism is, at the very least, untimely. In reality, Cuba and the US never had more mutual interaction than in the last half a century, and perhaps never before did Cubans count on, with so much hope the prosperity that has always arrived from that country, and now, even more than ever, with over two million Cubans living on its soil. And it can be said, without a doubt, that this all took place thanks to the Cuban Revolution.

Translator’s notes:

*”Without haste, but without pause” has been a catch phrase for Raul Castro, in speaking of economic reforms in Cuba. “Emerging President” is a reference to a former program to fill classrooms lacking ‘regular’ teachers with “emerging teachers” – teenagers with hardly any training.

**Valeriano Weyler y Nicolau, Marquis of Tenerife, Duke of Rubí, Grandee of Spain was a Spanish general and Governor General of the Philippines and Cuba whose Weyler Reconcentration policy was responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Cubans and for the almost complete destruction of the countryside.

***Mambises (plural of mambí) refers to Cuban independence and Filipino guerrillas, who in the nineteenth century took part in the wars for the independence of Cuba and the Philippines against Spain.

Translated by Norma Whiting

They Murdered My Son in the Streets of Camaguey / 14ymedio, Pedro Armando Junco

Mandy Junco killed last Saturday in Camaguey.  (Pedro Junco, Fury of the Winds blog)
Mandy Junco killed last Saturday in Camaguey. (Pedro Junco, Fury of the Winds blog)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Pedro Armando Junco, Camaguey, 22 May 2015 – Pedro Armando Junco Torres, alias “Mandy,” 28 years of age, was stabbed to death in Camaguey in the early morning of Saturday, May 16, a day before the beginning of the rock festival Sounds of the City. Mandy would have participated in it as guitarist and leader of the band Strike Back. His father, writer Pedro Junco, Thursday posted on his blog, The Fury of the Winds, this open letter in which he asks for “true justice.”

They Murdered my Son on the Streets of Camaguey

By Pedro Armando Junco

It is very difficult for me to write. All you mothers and fathers who read these lines, put yourselves in my place. Just for a minute think that it was your son who was stabbed to death in the street at the hands of four killers who did not even know him, who did not even do it to steal from him or to settle accounts. They think that the motivation was to kill, the pleasure of killing. Put yourself there for only one minute and then assimilate what you have felt in your hearts. That is what I am enduring and will endure until the end of my existence. continue reading

I write in order to thank so many people who, in and out of the country, have been at my side recently: the cruelest moments that I have suffered in my long existence. I also do it for so many friends who have not yet heard the news.

Saturday May 16, between 2:40 and 3:00 in the morning, my 28-year-old son: young, beautiful, intelligent, good, was surprised by a foursome of sadistic killers who, for no other purpose than to stab, riddled him with blows and knife wounds. The pathologists found 46 contusions on the body of my beloved Mandy. He was a joyful rocker, always smiling. He had no enemies. He was adored by the most beautiful young women in the city. He was returning from a rock festival, in which he was supposed to participate as a guitarist with his group the following night. Minutes before his murder he spoke with friends about his projects, about the successes he had already achieved and hoped to surpass with each new day, since he was already a professional musician.

I want to put in writing what I feel at this moment. As I said yesterday to a priest, I am angry with God. And I ask him: Lord Almighty, where were you then that you permitted such an injustice? Perhaps you were sleeping so that you did not run to his aid? What debts did we owe you? I believe in you, God Almighty, because you are evident to me, but I doubt your kindness and your justice.

To those who govern my country and dictate the laws; to the members of the courts that say they do justice: how long must one wait before terrifying events like this one receive exemplary punishments? The perpetrators of bloody events go to jails like they were on scholarships, and inside they are trained like graduates, they enjoy monthly visits with their women, they enjoy regular furloughs, and at half their sentence, if they have behaved well, they are granted “conditional” liberty, which many take advantage of to kill with impunity, because now in Cuba the death penalty is not used.

The city of Camaguey is electrified by this event. My son was the third victim of the gang which, that morning, carried out the crime spree. Cases like this emerge almost daily on our streets; but the press, muzzled, is not empowered to disseminate them. And to hide the truth is the most sordid way to lie.

The dismay that overwhelms me will not leave me for as long as I exist. But from now on I will fight with all my strength so that the streets of our city will be truly safe for our young people, whose parents today, horrified, corral them at home. Today it is my turn. Tomorrow the victim might be your child.

Let us demand true justice. Exemplary punishment.

I have been a zealous defender of the right to life. But if the use of the maximum penalty is necessary to save innocent people, then use it.

Translated by MLK

One Year, Despite Censorship / 14ymedio

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 21 May 2015 – The greatest satisfaction we have experienced in this first year of work has been reporting every day and doing it with our own voice with independent judgment, and without compromising with third parties. Having weathered the technological censorship that our digital site has suffered from its birth also fills us with joy. 14ymedio has been blocked on the Island since the first day and continues blocked on the servers that offer Internet access to the population, both in the State-run Nauta Internet rooms as well as in the hotels, but we know that Cubans read us via other ways.

We regret the news stories that have escaped us, not for lack of attention or for not having access to sources. Each fault committed hurts us, but we have learned more from mistakes than from successes. continue reading

In this time we have had the opportunity to interview the majority of the protagonists of Cuban civil society: artists, entrepreneurs of the Island, the diaspora and other foreign personalities interested in the destinies of Cuba. We follow the step-by-step process of détente between the governments of Cuba and United States, as well as the dialogs with the European Union, without ever ceasing to report the abuses against the Ladies in White, the arbitrary detentions of peaceful opponents, and the events seeking unity. We relate people’s catastrophes and fiestas, their tears and laughter. We have ceded space to optimism and to despair.

Our ambition is to become an indispensable reference for everyone who wants to know what is happening in Cuba and also what might happen. Exposing the scenarios, discussing the variables, but also making know the price of malanga, pork or onions and, in addition what they are presenting at the La Zorra Club, or El Cuervo, or the Lark Marx Theater, or El Mejunje. Exposing an invasion of African snails, the fall into disgrace of an untouchable official, or the murder of a transsexual.

Both the 14ymedio team in Havana, as well as our collaborators in the provinces, are learning on the fly. It is true that we have the experience of others on other alternative media before ours, here in Cuba and abroad, who have traveled this path that we are embarked upon, sometimes following in their footsteps and others taking shortcuts or looking for other ways to accelerate the pace.

We boast that we are not only trying to do journalism without partisanship and with professionalism, but also have dabbled in entrepreneurship from the field of information, with the intention that 14ymedio will be a self-sustaining newspaper with a solid economic model. We have not received one cent from governments, political parties or programs in support of democracy. Our newspaper is a business created with the financial support of 15 small private investors, most of them living in Europe, who believe in the project and are betting on change in Cuba.

Our fundamental objective is to maintain the editorial independence that allows us to report on all topics and to criticize any public figure. We take responsibility for everything we publish.

For the immediate future we intend to reach a larger number of Cubans on the Island. Launching an electronic newsletter for readers without access to the Internet is an urgent need we are working on. Applications for iOS and Android that allow our content to be downloaded and read offline must also be on our list in the coming months.

We intend to improve the refresh rate, but without turning our media into one of those “news factories” where the content is measured more by the speed with which it appears on the front page than by its quality. This is an infirmity of modern journalism and we do not want to contribute to the ailment. We want to immerse ourselves in data and research, strengthen our reach on social networks, and delve into genres such as reporting and chronicles, which also figure in our purposes.

The use of audiovisual resources and a clear commitment to innovation will mark our next steps. But above all the commitments, we want to assure our readers that by the next anniversary we will have more reasons for pride. We will continue to do journalism every day, with more professionalism and responsibility toward this society so in need of the oxygen of information.

‘14ymedio’ seen by its readers / 14ymedio, Rosa Lopez

Printed version of 14ymedio distributed on the island through alternative networks
Printed version of 14ymedio distributed on the island through alternative networks

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Rosa Lopez, Havana, 21 May 2015 – “The connection doesn’t work,” the young man tells the employee who frowns at him for making her get out of her comfortable chair. The heat is terrible and the air conditioning hasn’t worked for weeks in a State-run “Nauta” Internet room centrally located in Havana’s Plaza municipality. The woman approaches listlessly, looks at the screen, types in a some web address and the page opens with no problems. The client returns to the fray, “And why when I type in 14ymedio.com nothing happens?” A snort is heard throughout the navigation room. “Look son, it is because you can’t enter that site, you understand me?” In a few seconds the internaut has received his first lesson in censorship.

Who in Cuba reads the digital daily 14ymedio? This is the question for which the management of this medium has gone out into street to look for answers and suggestions to improve our work. We have surveyed different age groups, political viewpoints, and geographic situations, to try to trace a map of those Cubans who have in front of their eyes some of the content that we publish on the site. continue reading

An initial incursion along busy G Street, last Saturday night, shed light on some of those followers or detractors. “Ah, yes, I’ve had a copy for some months, but they publish almost nothing on videogames,” although, “my dad likes it because it talks about politics and that stuff,” says Juan Carlos Zamora, 19, a student at the Pedagogical Institute. “A friend told me about the newspaper, but I would recommend more topics for young people, like fashion and technology,” added this young man.

Since the day it was founded, 14ymedio has been blocked on the national servers that provide public Internet. Internet rooms, connections from hotels and other state locales show an error message on the screen when someone tries to access the portal. A PDF version published every Friday, with the best of the week’s news and an active network of friends and colleagues, is distributed within the country. The appearance in February of last year of Nauta email service has also contributed to the spread of the content, although there is much more to do in that direction.

For Marcia Sosa, a retired civil engineer living in Santiago de Cuba, “The best part is the list of prices for products in the farmers market, because you can see how expensive life is.” The lady receives the content of our site by email, because, “My son sends it to me every day from Miami, but without the images because that takes too long to load.” The retiree believes that “they should open a section saying where to find what product, because sometimes I’m like a crazy person looking all over and not knowing where to find it.” What she likes least, however, are “the opinion columns, because here everyone has an opinion, there are 11 million Cubans and 20 million opinions.”

In the city of Ciego de Avila, Ruben Rios has taken on the task of sharing with his friends copies of the 14ymedio articles that come his way. “I do it because I believe people should hear all versions, although I don’t agree with part of what you publish.” Recently released from prison, Rios has dedicated himself to getting his life back, “and informing myself is a way of feeling free, so I read everything that comes to hand and I am lucky that the newspaper comes my way.”

In the guts of 14ymedio, Juan Carlos Fernandez finds that his work on the team “Has been a liberating experience.” For this activist and reporter, writing for the digital site is not only “a democratic exercise, but also it is a very serious project.” He remarks with pride, “This is the prelude of the new press that is coming, the prelude of freedom of the press, of democracy.” However, he concedes that there is a long way to go to improve the quality and elevate the training of the press’s reporters and correspondents. “This is a school for me, now I have to publish every article with more objectivity.”

Yunier receives the articles appearing in our independent daily through the so-called “Marta’s list.” A Cuban immigrant living in Miami who participated in December 2004 in the founding of the digital magazine Consenso (Consensus), one of the first embryos of the independent press that took advantage of the new technologies. Marta Cortizas performs the true “labor of a little ant” compiling every day the best of the Cuban and international press and sending it by email to a growing number of subscribers. “If it weren’t for her, it would cost me a lot of work to read what you publish from Holguin.”

And why is it called 14ymedio, asks a resident of the Fanguito neighborhood when we inquire about our portal. With long experience standing in lines and counting every gram she receives from the ration market, the elderly lady is sure that behind a name like this, “there has to be something hidden, a warning… come on.” She doesn’t accept the explanation about the 14th floor where our headquarters are located, the “Y” from a well-known digital blog, nor the polysemy of “medio” in Spanish, which means both “half” and “press media.” “There is some trick here, some mathematical formula or who knows,” she concludes maliciously.

Not everyone likes it, which is evidence of the plurality of tastes and information preferences of the Cuban population. “I haven’t read it, I’m not going to read it, because I don’t have to visit this site to know that you want to destroy the country and do away with the Revolution,” says Nelson Bonne. A self-employed worker in Las Tunas, the man considers that “The [the State run newspaper] Granma is enough for me, and I don’t need any little newspaper created by the enemy.”

The director of the magazine Convivencia (Coexistence), Dagoberto Valdes, has a more constructive opinion. “To have a newspaper made in Cuba, by Cubans and for Cubans, is for me the best, and we are going to all push together to get access to the Internet so that we Cubans can look into this window.”

Cuba has 11,000 sources of pollution that affect water / 14ymedio, Rosa Lopez

Ditch with sewage from the town of Guanabo, east of Havana. (Luz Escobar)
Ditch with sewage from the town of Guanabo, east of Havana. (Luz Escobar)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Rosa Lopez, Havana, 20 May 2015 – On World Environment Day, this coming 5 June, Cuba will have 11,000 sources of pollution that affect ground water and coastal areas. This information was updated by Odalis Goicochea, Director of the Environment at that Ministry of Science, Technology and Environment (CITMA), in a press conference Monday.

The figure is very alarming, especially when we take into account our dwindling water reserves. 2014 was the driest year reported since the beginning of this century, and 2015 looks like it wants to compete for this negative record. With a long and narrow island and with no major surface or underground water resources, the country needs to do a better job of managing its waste stream to protect the water. continue reading

The town of Guanabo, east of Havana, is a clear example of the drama that is damaging our most precious natural resource. Part of the sewage from the urban area ends up in the sea and is mixed with the water where people swim. In some areas, the air stinks from the waste exposed in ditches and ponds, becoming an epidemiological danger and contributing to environmental degradation in areas crossed by the filth.

2014 was the driest year reported since the beginning of this century, and 2015 looks like it wants to compete for this negative record

The residents have appealed to every agency, even writing complaints to the “Letters to the Editor” section of the newspaper Granma. However, the town continues down the slippery slope of apathy and ecological damage. “Before this was a nice beach, when families came with their children, but now the number of people coming is greatly diminished,” says Agustin, a resident of the area who has a home where he hosts tourists near to the famous Horses of Guanbo.

According to the latest report from CITMA, Cuba needs large investments in the environment, although the text also stressed that the provinces of Villa Clara, Holguin and Artemisa have improved environmental management in recent years, such that the latter has been selected to host the activities for World Environment Day. But there is a long road ahead, especially in the proper recycling of waste, the creation of a social conscience of respect for nature and the application of legal penalties to entities and individuals who contribute to the deterioration of the environment.

The country urgently needs to begin implementing solutions, because every day that passes water is slipping through the fingers of indolence.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yoani Sanchez Wins 2015 Knight International Journalism Award / 14ymedio

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Translated by José Badué

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

François Hollande expresses his admiration for Fidel Castro / 14ymedio

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

vs.

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

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

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

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