Drug Consumption in Cuba…”Benefits” of Globalization? / 14ymedio, Miriam Celaya

Among consumers of alcohol combined with psychoactive drugs are users as young as 12 years old. (CC)
Among consumers of alcohol combined with psychoactive drugs, the youngest users average around 12-years-old. (CC)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 29 June 2015 — Juventud Rebelde’s extensive report (Alas Trágicas para Volar (I) [Tragic Flying Wings I], of Sunday, June 28th addresses the controversial issue of drug use among adolescents and young Cubans. Putting aside that the presence and alarming spread of this scourge in the Island’s population has been previously revealed on numerous occasions by the independent press and foreign media – which were accused at that time of distorting reality with the deliberate intention of tarnishing “revolutionary” Cuba’s image – it is no less commendable that the official press has finally recognized the existence of this evil in the supposedly exemplary Cuban society.

The article in question also notes other flaws, no less serious, such as increasing alcoholism from an early age and the growing illicit trade in psychotropic and other drugs controlled by the Ministry of Public Health. A string of corruption often starts with theft at the very factories producing the pills and its saga includes shorting at the warehouses, overpricing at drugstores and even at doctors’ offices where some unscrupulous physicians prescribe them, be it for lack of ethics or patient bribes.

A psychologist at the Community Mental Health Center in the Havana municipality Plaza de la Revolución declares that, among consumers of alcohol combined with psychoactive drugs the youngest users average around 12-years-old, a fact that reveals the extent and depth of the problem. continue reading

Neither happy nor too profound

Formerly, the official speech coined a Guevara phrase defining Cuban youth, “Happy but profound.” However, the article by Juventud Rebelde assures us that in a survey conducted on a sample of 40 young people between 14 and 19 of age, residing in the capital and in four other regions of the Island, it was evident that, though they are aware of the health risks of narcotics, “most” associate it with a social activity, and consume them at discotheques, parks, festivities and they even take “pills” at school or at home. Such are the ways the failed children of “the New Man” find happiness

Over half a century of indoctrination to purify four generations of revolutionaries have not been enough, and young Cubans have surrendered to that other noxious influence of the consumer society: drugs. We must ask ourselves how many of those who march each year towards the Fragua Martiana Museum carrying torches or those who join in youth battalions of the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution will be destined to combat and eradicate this new enemy that attacks us from within, drug use.

Drug use has become one of the ways to find joy for the failed children of the “New Man”

In any case, we know how useful the most wholesome youth can be when it comes to joining in those battles of the revolution, as was demonstrated in the past decade, when an army of young social workers* knocked themselves out in the urgent task of wiping out the roots of corruption. We can still recall the sassiness on their faces at the gas pump, trafficking happily in the hydrocarbons of their beloved mentor, Fidel Castro.

Without cause and without solutions

Juventud Rebelde’s article barely shows the tip of the iceberg, judging by a specialist in forensic medicine, who says that “consumption (of alcohol) mixed with medication is a fairly common group practice in recent times,” difficult to quantify because “alcohol consumption is often diagnosed, but it is very difficult to know if it has been combined with some psychotropic drug” due to the lack of controls and corresponding clinical examinations.

That leads directly to another question. If drug use has spread in such an epidemic fashion among young people, is it not time to set in this dazzling medical world power the necessary clinical procedures to find out what types of substances have been ingested by those who come to the health care centers, to identify trends and implement the most appropriate medical procedures, for both emergency treatment and a process of rehabilitation? What happened to that fabulous anti-drug laboratory — “the largest in the region” — perfectly equipped, which, in the brutal 90’s the Cuban president had constructed to demonstrate our purity as a sport nation? Why not devote the necessary resources to get this new scourge that hovers ever stronger over the Island out of the way, especially when payment for the services of the contingents of physicians services sub-contracted abroad is one of the most juicy foreign exchange net earnings in the country?

Is it not time to establish in this dazzling medical world power the clinical procedures to detect what types of substances have been ingested?

Meanwhile, the Juventud Rebelde article makes reference to the increasing use of drugs and alcohol in Cuba as if it were just another trend in line with global standards. It is, in short, a global scourge, and in this Cubans are also in tune with the rest of the world. So our young people are simply seeking “to escape reality,” which should not be expected of a just and happy society like ours, where everyone is guaranteed a bright future, very different from that of the wretched people who scrape by in decadent capitalist societies.

What’s more, it is known that drug use is also associated with alcoholism and smoking, another two of the national pandemics. But this is certainly not related to the fact that Cuba is one of the leading producers of tobacco, or that rum is one of the few industries that has survived the voracious predatory social system imposed on the island since January of 1959.

For now, Juventud Rebelde does not venture too far into the analysis of the causes, or of solutions. However, we should not get too far ahead of ourselves. This article last Sunday was only the first installment on the topic in the “Journal of Cuban Youth.” In the next installments we will certainly be able to discover some ingenious proposals that will fill us with hope.

*Translator’s note: These are young people performing their “social service,” not social workers in the sense of a life’s career.

Translated by Norma Whiting

Arrests This Sunday Of More Than A Hundred Activists Across The Island / 14ymedio

Activists supporting the Ladies in White on Sunday June 21 on 5th Avenue. (14ymedio)
Activists supporting the Ladies in White on Sunday June 21 on 5th Avenue. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 28 June 2015 — Jose Daniel Ferrer, leader of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU), reported early Sunday the arrest of 48 members of that opposition organization to prevent them from reaching the Sanctuary of Cobre in the east of the country. In Havana, fifty Ladies in White were also arrested at the end of their pilgrimage near the Church of Santa Rita, with over a hundred arrested across the country.

The leader of the Ladies in White, Berta Soler, and her husband, Angel Moya, were intercepted leaving the headquarters of the movement in the Lawton neighborhood and prevented from going to Mass, according to the dissident Martha Beatriz Roque. Both were taken to a detention site located in Tarará, east of the capital, where presumably they found the other detained Ladies in White.

The leader of the Ladies in White, Berta Soler, and her husband, Angel Moya, were taken to a detention site located in Tarará

Other activists reported that their homes were surrounded, as was the case with the independent reporter Agustín López Canino. The home of this activist, in the village of El Globo on the outskirts of Havan, was surrounded by a wide operation that he managed to evade, although later the police intercepted him in the vicinity of 5th Avenue in Playa municipality.

So far, the complete list of those arrested is unknown. It was planned that around five in the afternoon, the Ladies in White of Aguada de Pasajeros in Cienfuegos would try to attend Mass at the Jesus of Nazareth Catholic Church, where they were prevented from attending on 21 June by the church’s priest, Padre Tarciso.

Two activists from the United Anti-totalitarian Front (FANTU) are still on a hunger strike to demand that the priest reverse his decision and allow the women to enter the temple.

Holguin’s First Pet Store Opens / 14ymedio, Fernando Donate Ochoa

Red Squirrel Pet Store is the result of the initiative of a private entrepreneur. (Fernando Donate / 14ymedio)
Red Squirrel Pet Store is the result of the initiative of a private entrepreneur. (Fernando Donate / 14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Fernando Donate Ochoa, Holguin, 1 July 2015 — The first pet store in the province of Holguin opened in the first week of June, under the name  hasThe Red Squirrel. The place, the fruit of the initiative of a private entrepreneur, is located on Cuba Street at the corner of Jose Antonio Cardet in the provincial capital and raised the curiosity of passersby outside its door.

For now, there are more who come to look than to buy. Nor is there any lack of critics surprised by the prices and some of the products for animals that can’t be found even in the stores for human beings. In line with State-run establishments that allow payment in both currencies, all the merchandise can be acquired in convertible pesos (CUC) or its equivalent in national currency (CUP). continue reading

The offerings, for now, include the sale of four breeds of dogs. A Pekingese or a Czech Shepherd sells for 40 convertible pesos, while a Chow Chow costs 60 CUC and a German Shepherd 70 CUC. These prices reflect the investment of at least two months salary to acquire one of their beautiful pets.

In the store you can also purchase a wide range of dog accessories such as harnesses, toys, flea and tick collars, shampoo, combs, toothbrushes and toothpaste. The offerings do not end there, those who are going to travel can buy pet carriers and there are also pet beds for the home, dishes, clothes and even shoes. Among the “clothing” one can find sweaters, robes and winter coats, despite the almost always high temperatures in Cuba year-round.

Buying a pet can cost two months of the average Cuban salary

There is also a hair salon for animals, which includes bath, combing, trimming, cutting toenails and cleaning the ears.

The client, as an additional offering, may obtain training on the upbringing and care of the animal. The pets can have a clinical examination in the store and if they present a health problem, be referred to the veterinary clinic.

Luis Rodríguez Hijuelo, owner of the premises and possessor of a license as a breeder-seller of companion animals, says that there are already many people, especially children and teens, who are receiving advice for free.

Before opening the store, Rodríguez Hijuelo worked as a street vendor. Holguin health authorities prohibited his trading in squirrels, one of the animals he offered, arguing that they could be carriers or transmitters of many diseases. That experience is what gave him the idea to name his new business The Red Squirrel.

In the future an expansion of the business will allow him to increase the quantity and variety of animals, Rodríguez expects, and he also plans to sell birds such as cockatiels, canaries, exotic poultry and cats, such as Siamese cats.

 

The Fall of the Embassy Wall / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

The "Anti-imperialist Tribune" has tried for decades to cover the facade of the country now called to be a friend. (AFP / File)
The “Anti-imperialist Tribune” has tried for decades to cover the facade of the country now called to be a friend. (AFP / File)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Madrid, 2 July 2015 – In a few days they will change the letterhead, replace the name plaque, and hoist the flag. This building with its green-tinted windows by the sea will cease to be called the Untied States Interests Section and become the United States Embassy in Havana. A transformation that transcends the question of a name, one with political, symbolic and even linguistic connotations.

The date chosen for the reopening, between the United States’ Independence Day and the anniversary of the assault on the Moncada Barracks, will enter the history books and mark a new anniversary to remember. However, only practice will have the last word on how the site will transform or expand its functions. For now, the questions are many. continue reading

Will national television stop broadcasting those programs denigrating Cuban dissidents where they use images of them entering the Interests Section, now the embassy? Will the police no longer wait outside for independent reporters to confiscate their technologies or the diplomas they received from the journalism courses held there? Will they return to us that piece of sidewalk facing the sea, where today the police block pedestrians because of its proximity to the gate of the diplomatic site?

It will be enough to say “the embassy” for all of us to know they mean this site, by the sea, with the green-tinted windows, which has ceased to be “the enemy.”

Freedom of movement for American embassy officials should also be guaranteed, along with respect for their pouches and mailboxes. The ability to contact, visit and meet with civil society will have to stop being stigmatized. Now the diplomats of that country will be guests at commemorations and public acts. We might even see their faces in the Plaza of the Revolution during the May Day parade.

Hopefully, with the new diplomatic site we will also free ourselves from the enormous masts that disfigure the face of our city in front of the building’s façade, with which the Cuban government once wanted to cover the electronic ticker that displayed news items. Those times already seem long gone. The “anti-imperialist plaza” itself has lost a reason for being in a country whose president has smilingly shaken hands with the occupant of the White House.

The embassy will promote events, thematic film festivals, conferences with institutions, and concerts, as do those of other countries such as Canada, Spain, the Netherlands and Italy. Then we will see the stars and stripes on posters, flyers and invitations to cultural activities. Those who wear hats and dark glasses when they approach the place or contact its officials, now will arrive with uncovered faces and chins raised.

However, one of the most significant changes that will occur is in the language. People will stop the use of subterfuges to refer to the place and call it, directly, “the embassy.” Without nicknames, without specifying the country or detailing the ownership. It will be enough to say “the embassy” for all of us to know they mean this site, by the sea, with the green-tinted windows which has ceased to be “the enemy.”

 

Chronicle of a Visit Postponed to Jagüey Grande / 14ymedio, Eliecer Avila

Eliecer-Avila_CYMIMA20150628_0004_16
Eliécer Ávila

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Eliecer Avila, Havana, 28 June 2015 — Last Friday afternoon, my wife Rachell and I were going to the city of Jagüey Grande in Mantanzas Province. Several friends were waiting for us there to spend a weekend together talking and discussing future projects. We were going to see Alexey, a motorcycle mechanic and computer genius, as well as Carlos Raúl, a young pastor whose temperament and values make him stand out. Nevertheless, our planned getaway ended far differently than we initially intended, and not because of our will.

We were faced with several organizational challenges before we left the house. We had adopted our second puppy the night before and she was in very bad shape. Moreover, Rachell had to work until five o’clock and run like a marathoner in order to meet all her obligations and get home just in time to leave. Nonetheless, luck was on our side and we quickly caught a bus leaving Havana.

Along the way we were also planning on visiting Playa Larga Beach for the first time to enjoy some relaxation. However, a highway patrol car and two State Security agents cut our dreams short when they stopped the bus on which we were traveling as it entered Jagüey Grande. continue reading

A highway patrol car and two State Security agents cut our dreams short

They ordered us off the bus and forced us into a Soviet World War II ambulance with a sign reading “Maintenance.” We were then transferred back to Havana as we sat on toolboxes. Before that, all our belongings were taken from us, as they uttered the only phrase they echoed throughout the whole journey: “There won’t be any Somos más in Jagüey Grande.”

We experienced moments of both fear and love inside that steel box. It felt like it was falling apart every time it hit a pothole, while its back doors were barely kept shut with wire. The return trip took two hours, but there were moments when adrenaline helped us surmount the hunger, the discomfort, and the abuse we were enduring. Nothing bonds people like sharing a just cause and enduring the ensuing consequences.

We were then taken to the police headquarters of Havana’s Cerro district, and there began the agonizing process of confiscating of all our belongings. Underwear, toothbrushes, deodorant, lipstick, phone chargers, and of all things, two sanitary napkins were confiscated. In short, an endless list of “tools of delinquency.”

The police officer in charge of this painstaking search did not hide his discomfort at having to inventory all that stuff. He was from Guantánamo Province, a large, pleasant, polite man. His attitude towards us undoubtedly troubled the State Security Agents. The same occurred when I was detained in Santiago de Cuba, and the police officers who recognized me tried to greet me, but the head honcho in charge that day ordered them to stay away from the detainee.

After the seizure of our possessions was complete, they took Rachell to a one-person cell, and they put me in a group cell. It was packed with men who seemed like they had been there for several days, sharing the unbearable heat and darkness. It did not take more than five seconds for the obligatory question: “What are you in for?” “Because I think” I replied.

He reiterated, “The Communist Party here has created mechanisms for people to express themselves and complain about anything they want.”

The youngest man there approached me and said: “Oh wait! Wait! That’s why your face looked familiar! You’re from the UCI [University of Information Sciences]!” And he added: “Man, you really let him have it!”* He gave me a friendly embrace and started laughing. He later told me he was in a rock band, and that they ended up fighting the police on “G” Street in Havana because they would not allow them play their music there, while constantly harassing them for identification papers. It was a short conversation, because once the others joined in, the officer in charge of political crimes ordered that I be taken to a one-person cell.

A while later I was transferred to an office so that an individual who introduced himself as Captain Marcos could “have a talk” with me. This young man said the most absurd things one could ever hear. “Eliécer! In that absurd democracy you like, there are thousands of Houses of Representatives, Senates, and Congresses! So to make any decisions, they all have to agree! That’ll never happen here! Can’t you see what they’re doing to Obama?”

Captain Marcos reiterated: “The Communist Party here has created mechanisms for people to express themselves and complain about anything they want.” He also sarcastically asked: “Have you seen any demonstrations? Don’t you get it? (…) The people support this Party and the Constitution. So you and the four little crazies who follow you, and we know who they are, aren’t getting anywhere. You don’t represent anybody,” he stated authoritatively.

I managed to respond that if things were as he said, that no one listens to us or pays attention to us, then why don’t they leave me alone and let the people decide? Why do they keep the people of Jagüey Grande and the whole country from knowing who I am? Of course, he would not answer my questions.

Instead, Captain Marcos repeated that it is they who will always be in charge in Cuba, to which I replied: “That hasn’t happened anywhere in the world.” I further provoked him by assuring him that, “One day there will be a democracy here.” He responded with the threat that I would be thrown in jail. While I showed Captain Marcos that I wanted to be a young man of today, he spoke like an old man of yesteryear. While I was trying to help repair Cuba, he was amazed that I would think there was anything political to fix.

Exasperated with me, Captain Marcos ordered me back to the dungeon. Now it was Rachell’s turn. Surely the interrogator thought it would be easier to pressure a woman, but instead, at one o’clock in the morning, Rachell – who had not even had a cup of coffee all day – gave him a lesson on courage and convictions. I overheard when they returned her to her cell, accusing her of disrespect. I blew her a supportive kiss from behind iron bars as they led her past my cell.

An hour and a half later, all our belongings were returned, and we were released.

In closing, I would like to tell Raúl Castro that it was a great honor for me to have been sent to one of his dungeons because of my beliefs. If he recalls the past, he will know what I mean, and that I will not give up.

Luckily, history never stops.**

Translator’s Notes:

*In 2007, Eliecer who was then a student at Cuba’s University of Information Sciences and actively engaged in coordinating support for the Castro regime on the Internet, was chosen to engage in a dialog with Ricardo Alarcón Cuba’s former ambassador to the United Nations and then president of the National Assembly. A video of this event later went viral worldwide; a version with English subtitles is here. Ultimately, Alarcon lost his post in the National Assembly. Eliecer’s account of his subsequent transition from regime supporter to democracy activist is here.

**Eliecer is referring to Fidel Castro’s speech at his trial after leading the assault on the Moncada Barracks in 1953. Entitled La historia me absolverá (History Will Absolve Me), in his speech Castro said it would be an honor for him to endure Fulgencio Batista’s dungeons, that he would not give up, and that unstoppable course of history would inevitably prove he was right.

Translated by José Badué

The Siege of Tania Bruguera Is Lifted / 14ymedio

artista-Tania-Bruguera-Yania-Suarez_CYMIMA20150522_0011_13
The artist Tania Bruguera at the front door of her home. (Yania Suárez)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 29 June 2015 — Last Friday, June 26th, a police official paid a visit to Tania Bruguera to inform her that the charges against her were being temporarily lifted. The artist refused to sign the offer, and demanded that the charges be permanently lifted, without any restrictions on her returning to her own country.

This information was made public by a message sent through the #yotambienexijo (“I also demand”) platform nearly six months after Bruguera was detained while preparing to give a performance in Havana’s Plaza de la Revolución. At the time of her arrest on December 30th, the authorities also confiscated her passport, without which she cannot leave the country.

Bruguera decided to launch the Hannah Arendt Artivist Institute during the Havana Biennial. For more than one hundred consecutive hours, she led the reading, analysis, and discussion of Arendt’s The Origins of Totalitarianism. The event was ignored due to relentless police pressure, a very noisy street repair right in front of the artist’s home, and the subsequent arrest of Bruguera and several companions.

In the text published last Monday on the #yotambienexijo platform, the artist explained that the deal offered her “is unacceptable blackmail, whose intention is to control my art and silence me as a citizen.” Meanwhile, she is suing the Cuban Ministries of Culture and of the Interior for damages incurred during last December’s events.

Links to #yotambienexijo sites:
Restaging of Bruguera’s Tatlin’s Whisper 6 in Times Square in NYC
Twitter
Facebook

Translated by José Badué

Juan Abreu: “Executions in Cuba Are an Untold Story” / 14ymedio, Yaiza Santos

Juan Abreu: ‘1959. Fall from Grace,’ fragment (oil on canvas, 38 x 46 cm)
Juan Abreu: ‘1959. Fall from Grace,’ fragment (oil on canvas, 38 x 46 cm)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yaiza Santos, Mexico, 27 June 2015 – Painter and writer Juan Abreu (b. Havana, 1952) has taken on the inordinate task of painting, one by one, all those executed by the Castro regime. The work in progress is entitled 1959 but encompasses 2003, the year in which Lorenzo Capello, Barbaro Sevilla and Jorge Martinez were sentenced to death in a summary trial, accused of “acts of terrorism” after trying to reroute a passenger ferry to escape to the United States. They were the last executed by the Cuban government. “Let it be known,” says Abreu.

The project emerged, he says, recently, by chance: “I was doing some paintings that had to do with the firing squads in Cuba, because I was struck by the character, the loner that they are going to kill. I had seen some paintings by Marlene Dumas of Palestinians and then I approached the subject. When I started researching, suddenly the faces of all these people began to appear. I began to look at the faces and read, and suddenly I realized that I was going to have to paint this. Not only as a kind of pictorial adventure, which it is, because of the quantity of portraits and the complexity of the genre, but also because it seems to me that I have a certain moral responsibility.” continue reading

Juan Abreu: ‘1959. Carlos Baez’ (born in 1937, shot in 1965), fragment (oil on canvas, 27 x 35 cm)
Juan Abreu: ‘1959. Carlos Baez’ (born in 1937, shot in 1965), fragment (oil on canvas, 27 x 35 cm)

Of the executions in Cuba, he continues, “It is an untold story. Not only untold, but also they have tried to hide it, and when they have spoken of it, the effort has always been to discredit the protagonists, branded as outlaws or murderers. These accusations lack any kind of historical evidence. They were people who rebelled, the same as Fidel Castro rebelled against Batista, they rebelled against Fidel Castro.”

The death penalty, explains Abreu, was not contemplated in the 1940 Constitution which the Revolution originally claimed it would restore: “They [the Castro regime] imposed it. The trials completely lacked any kind of safeguard. Sometimes even the lawyer spoke worse of the condemned than the prosecutor did. They were Soviet-style trials: you already knew you were guilty as soon as they caught you; you knew that they were going to kill you or put you in jail for thirty years.”

In order to gather as much information as possible, he contacted some of the few people who have devoted themselves to the topic in the United States, like Maria Werlau, from the Cuba Archive, or Luis Gonzales Infante, a former political prisoner who sent Abreu his book Rostros/Faces, where he compiles names and photos of those dead by execution, from hunger strike or in combat during the El Escambray uprising, those seven years that historians like Rafael Rojas consider a civil war and that Fidel Castro called a “fight against bandits.”

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Other documents he has found easily on the Internet, like videos from the period and photographs from the free press that still existed in Cuba when the Revolution triumphed. Hence, the executions of Enrique Despaigne, doubled over by two shots at the edge of a ditch, or Cornelio Rojas, whose hat flew together with his brains against the execution wall. Abreu confesses that what impacted him most was “the gruesomeness and cruelty” of some of the cases.

Like that of Antonio Chao Flores, who at 16 years of age fought against Batista – the magazine Bohemia had him on its cover as a hero of the Revolution – and at 18 years of age he fought against Castro, and was required to drag himself from his cell in the La Cabana fortress to the execution wall without the leg he had lost in combat because the guard took his crutches from him. “It is from the savagery of the system’s punishment mechanism that one feels fury that all this that has happened has been forgotten. If I was Chilean or Argentinean, this would immediately demand attention.”

Abreu says that the project is becoming gigantic and that he cannot stop. For now, he has painted some twenty of the 6,000 total that he estimates were executed in Cuba in that almost half-century. Via a Youtube video [see below] he seeks photographs from all who may be aware of any victim.

No one has answered him from Cuba – “There, to have a relative who was a prisoner or who had been shot, was anathema, because of the amount of false propaganda against them” – but people have answered him from the United States. For example, one sent him the photograph of her neighbor in Cuba, whom she knew from childhood, who used to greet her kindly and whom she eventually learned was made a prisoner and executed. It was when media control was complete, and an absolute silence, when propaganda was not served, covered these kinds of cases.

“The death penalty in Cuba has always been used as a means of social threat. When they ask me, “But why has the regime lasted so long?” I answer: It has lasted for many reasons, but among them because it is a system that kills. You know that they will kill you. And there is no safeguard: There is no judge or lawyer who can defend you, and if they decide that you have to be killed, they will kill you. And if you do anything against the system, they will kill you. Death is a very effective deterrent.”

Juan Abreu: ‘1959. Man Alone,’ fragment (oil on canvas, 35 x 27 cm, collection of Carles Enrich)
Juan Abreu: ‘1959. Man Alone,’ fragment (oil on canvas, 35 x 27 cm, collection of Carles Enrich)

Forged by the generation of his friends Reinaldo Arenas and Rene Ariza, Abreu says that “kind of strange fury” that he feels about Cuba has not abandoned him since he left the Island with the Mariel Boatlift, and that after so many years, he has decided to stop fighting it. “Towards Reinaldo (Arenas), for example, it seemed to me a great betrayal. In our last conversation, two or three days before he killed himself, we were talking about that precisely, and he told me, ‘Up to the last minute. Our war with those people is to the last breath of life.’ It surprised me a little why he was saying that to me, but of course, he already had his plans. Maybe I like lost causes, but I will continue infuriated.”

By way of poetic revenge, he hopes that his project 1959 – which he calls “completely insane” – ends up one day in a museum. “Because a hundred years from now, when no one remembers who Fidel Castro was, these paintings will be here and people will say, ‘And what about these, so pretty?’ And that, truthfully, is very comforting.”

Translated by Mary Lou Keel

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BDmzdQFbBtE#t=101

“Literature Does Not Matter. Many Other Things In Cuba Matter More” / 14ymedio, Yaiza Santos

David Miklos, Ahmel Echevarría and Carlos Alberto Aguilera inthe meeting organized by CIDE in Mexico City. (14ymedio)
David Miklos, Ahmel Echevarría and Carlos Alberto Aguilera inthe meeting organized by CIDE in Mexico City. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yaiza Santos, Mexico, 22 June 2015 – The Center for Economic Research and Teaching (CIDE) in Mexico City organized from 16 to 18 June, the meeting “Poetics of the Present: Narrating Cuba 1956 to 2015,” opened by critic Christopher Domínguez Michael and closed by the journalist Homero Campa. It was a meeting between young writers living on the island and intellectuals of the same generation living in exile.

The first group included the narrators Jorge Enrique Lage and Ahmel Echevarria, members of what has been called “Generation Zero” of Cuban literature; for the second there was Walfrido Dorta, a researcher of the City University of New York,Waldo Perez Cino, an editor living in Leiden (Netherlands), and the poet, novelist and essayist Carlos Alberto Aguilera, co-founder of the journal Diaspora(s), who is currently living in Prague.

At the end of the session, in which  the Mexican writer David Miklos and the Cuban historian living in Mexico Rafael Rojas also participated, 14ymedio spoke with five special guests. Their answers are a sample of the different approaches and fruitful dialogue that took place during those three days. continue reading

14ymedio, Yaiza Santos. In a society where the free market exists, the relationship between writers and readers can clearly be seen, for example, in how many books are sold. Those of you on the island, how do you observe your relationship with your readers?

Jorge Enrique Lage. I don’t observe. But it is because there is no physical media in Cuba, no space for criticism. There is no infrastructure that allows you to think in those terms: has my book sold, how successful has it been… I don’t expect criticism, and the feedback with readers comes when you talk to them. But reading reviews or knowing that all the books sold in a bookstore, I’m oblivious.

Nor do I care. Because the problem of lack of space is critical, but not for literature. Literature doesn’t matter. It is critical for everything else. Lacking space for journalism, truthful journalism, current commentaries on politics and economics. And when there is space for all that, it will at some point include space for literary criticism.

Ahmel Echevarria. I think this relationship is mostly displayed in the presentation of a book, and a literary activity or simply in a party with friends, because I don’t believe that at the level of the State – well, to call it the State is to say everything, because everything belongs to the State – there are devices that are analyzing that.

When the book fair is analyzed statistically, there are numbers that I’m not very sure reflect what actually happens: there are a number of people attending the book fair, but in reality, of those hundreds or thousands of people, how many people are consuming literature? So, like Jorge, I don’t expect this statistic for me. What interests me in thinking about literature, making literature, is having fun, talking with friends, and the rest, if it comes it comes.

Question. Has nothing changed with the digital landscape? I think, for example, that you, some on the island, some outside, as has been mentioned in this symposium, keep in touch via the Internet.

Carlos Alberto Aguilera. It is that one doesn’t write for the readers. Who are the readers? The readers don’t exist. I’m not saying that a reader doesn’t exist, that head that can connect with your literature and in some way is going to understand it or recycle it, or do something with it.

This happens in very determined micro-communities. But they are not the readers. There is no way to write for the readers: it is too large a mass, too heterogeneous. If my book can sell or not, it’s not a question for me: it’s a question for the publisher. It doesn’t interest me, and it has never been a constraint to the way I write.

“That what we call Cuban literature, the less Cuban it is, and the less literature as an institution is, the better.”

Waldo Pérez Cino. I agree totally with Aguilera, but invert the point of view: he says for an author, the readers don’t exist, but for the readers, the authors do exist. And from this point of view, the Internet has produced a kind of de-territorialization, of circulation of the book, of circulation of texts, and of the way the visibility of authors circulates. What Carlos said is true, but if you look at it in reverse, effectively there is a chance for the readers, for those potential readers, who even when they have not read a particular author, they can identify a name, a mark of style or an attachment. Thirty years ago, it would probably have been impossible to circulate references to as many authors as today.

Walfrido Dorta. Look, right now I’m reading the last column of Gilberto Padilla in On Cuba, which is just about online literature and the phenomena of literature produced starting only from what the reader asks for. A model totally opposite to that offered by Aguilera. Padilla speaks of those teenagers who write novelas in installments and continue with what their readers are asking for. With this, clearly, online literature is moving in diametrically opposed patterns.

Question. What specific thing would you like to happen tomorrow, for example, to improve the state of Cuban literature?

Carlos Alberto Aguilera. Which was totally destroyed. Seriously. I think that what we call Cuban literature, the less Cuban it is, and the less literature as an institution is, the better.

Walfrido Dorta. That there would be independent publishers. That the State not be the only source of any kind of initiative. That will greatly threaten the state of things. Beyond that, improving writing, and in terms of intellectual networks, this is the first thing that will have to fade into the past.

Jorge Enrique Lage. I would not ask for anything. Literature is one of the centers of my life, but in Cuba there are so many things lacking, that to ask something for literature would be irresponsible. Literature doesn’t matter. Many other things in Cuba matter now, and we are talking of thousands, millions of people, for whom literature in their lives means nothing and they need so many other things.

So I would separate Cuban literature in relation to the “Change” [in the Cuban political system]. I see it as two separate spheres: although at some point they connect, but literature has nothing to do with the Change. The Change is for other reasons, other needs.

In Cuba, many things other than literature matter now, there are millions of people for whom literature in their lives means nothing and they need so many other things.

Ahmel Echevarria. For me, if anything, that they fix the streets.

Waldo Pérez Cino. I think that for literature, neither for the Cuban nor the Icelander, you cannot do anything institutionally. Literature is what is, or it is not what it is not, period. It exists to the extent that it is written, and that it is produced. What could be done, perhaps, is for distribution (or circulation, although that’s used more for periodicals than books), but, well, that would not be for literature. And much less for literature marked with a national seal.

Question. For those who live outside Cuba, do you see yourselves returning to Cuba, living in Cuba, working in Cuba, at some point?

Walfrido Dorta. No, not right now. But to throw stones at yourself is irresponsible and uncertain, then I don’t know. One has very fresh in one’s mind the limitations, the traumas, and the impediments that are still there; they weigh heavily when it comes time to decide.

Waldo Pérez Cino. In my case, at least, a “final” return, to use a Cuban government adjective – “final” exit – no, I don’t see it at all. But I can perfectly imagine, not now, but indeed in the future, a kind of coming and going, of in some way being in Cuba, of spending seasons in Cuba and seasons outside.

Walfrido Dorta. When one hears the question, you think now about the “final,” which was my answer. Coming and going, yes, I see it, clearly. Because for example, if one chooses an academic career in the United States, the links with Cuban institutions are almost inevitable.

Carlos Alberto Aguilera. If you are talking about something final, it is not a question I ask myself, and it is not something final… I have never been back, and I have refused to be published inside Cuba, even in journals I admire, such as “La Noria,” as long as there is this regime. And it is a personal question. If I see myself returning to Cuba, coming and going, I think I would only go to Cuba if the worst happens – my mom lives in Cuba – otherwise, no.

 

Nearly 2,800 Cubans Have Tried To Reach The US Coast Since October / 14ymedio

Cuban boat people rescued by the Mexican Navy. (Secretariat of the Navy of Mexico)
Cuban boat people rescued by the Mexican Navy. (Secretariat of the Navy of Mexico)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, 23 June 2015 — A total of 2,796 Cubans have tried to or have arrived in the United States by the maritime route in the first eight months of the 2015 fiscal year, according to figures from the US Coast Guard (USCG) published by Martí Noticias.

The statistics, covering the time between October 1, 2014 and June 22, 2015, equals 76% of the number of Cubans who tried in the previous fiscal year (3,677) and includes operations of interception and disruption conducted in the Strait Florida, the Caribbean and the Atlantic, and the so-called “dry feet” that touched American soil. continue reading

The figure, published by Martí Noticias is an increase of 84 people compared to those reported by the by the USCG on June 18, when the repatriation of 32 rafters intercepted between June 6 and 10 was reported.

Back in October, the Coast Guard demonstrated concern about the increase in Cuban rafters arriving on the coast of Florida, which some Miami voices call a “silent exodus.”

A total of 3,940 migrants were intercepted at sea or managed to touch land in the 2013/2014 fiscal year, double those recorded in 2012 (2,129 Cubans) and even higher with respect to those of prior years: 2011 (1,870 Cubans), 2010 (1,976 Cubans) and 2009 (1.740 Cubans).

However, in fiscal years 2007 and 2008 a total of 7,866 Cubans and 5,766, respectively, attempting to arrive by sea to the United States, much higher than the figures of the last fiscal year.

Cuba Aims It Will Have 110,000 Tourist Rooms For 2030 / 14ymedio

Tourists in Havana. (14ymedio)
Tourists in Havana. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 23 June 2015 – Those who want to reserve a room today in a hotel in Varadero, Cayo Coco or other tourist areas hear frequent warnings of “it’s full” or “there are few rooms.” The increase in international tourism in the first quarter of the year, coupled with greater summer season demand by Cubans on the island, is forcing authorities in the tourist industry to plan an increase in lodging that could reach 110,000 rooms by 2030.

Experts gathered in Havana at the 10th International Seminar on Journalism and Tourism, being held at the Jose Marti International Journalism Institute, also addressed the importance of foreign investment in the sector. continue reading

At the meeting on Monday, the Ministry of Tourism’s business director, Jose Daniel Alonso, delved into the details of “The 101 new business opportunities for the expansion and diversification of infrastructure,” in hotels, included in the portfolio of opportunities directed to foreign investors, according to the official press.

Alonzo stressed the strengthening of investments in the southern area of Cienfuegos-Trinidad, north of Camaguey, Las Tunas and Holguin, although he did not rule out the possibility of making investments in other regions. The official said that by 2020 it is expected that 85,000 rooms will be completed and by 2030 the projected number is 110,000.

The facilities for deep sea diving and nautical recreation, as well as city tours and nature tourism are among the options Alonso described with “great untapped potential.” He also addressed real estate investment associated with tourism, which with the implementation of 13 projects expected by 2020, all of them under the new regulations of the Foreign Investment Act.

The event was attended by 70 industry professionals from 12 countries, including the United States, Ecuador, Colombia, Italy, Panama, Chile, Peru, Uruguay, El Salvador, Nicaragua and Honduras. This seminar is held annually under the auspices of the Cuban Journalists Union and with the participation of the tourist press circle.

Cuban Customs Detected 29 Drug Cases So Far This Year / 14ymedio

Watching a report broadcast by the main news about the work against drugs at customs.
Watching a report broadcast by the main news about the work against drugs at customs.

14ymedio, Orlando Palma, Havana, 25 June 2015 — The General Customs of the Republic (AGR) has detected 29 drug cases since early this year, as published on Thursday in the newspaper Juventud Rebelde (Rebel Youth). In the past six months, according to official media, they have seized about 51 kilos combined of cocaine, marijuana, hashish and synthetic cannabinoids.

The most common practice for introducing substances into the country is hiding them inside flashlights, cars and spare parts, swivel chairs, TV screens, soap, screws, boxes of food, religious objects, shoes and other articles. continue reading

Among the cases detected, in at least 23 of them the narcotics was in supposed gift packages, according to the traffickers. However, Customs clarifies that saying that the article in which the drugs are hidden “belongs to a friend, or someone who paid them to deliver it to their family, does not exonerate the passenger from the responsibility enshrined in Cuban law, which is intransigent before the importing of drugs and psychotropic substances.”

Customs also has detected attempts to take large amounts of Cuban medications out of the country, as well as smuggling of cash and precious metals. Since January, they have uncovered 293 cases of taking out tobacco, raw materials and cigars. Also high are attempts to take protected wildlife species out of the island.

The drugs are often hidden inside flashlights, cars, religious objects. shoes or other items

At a press conference, José Luis Muñoz Toca, Customs Technical Director specified that as of May 31, there were 73 cases involving arms smuggling. In addition, “We also detected media and equipment hidden in suitcases intended to support subversion activities in the country,” the official explained, without giving details of the nature of goods confiscated.

More streamlined customs procedures

Cuban Customs’ most pressing objective is arm itself with international standards before the eventual avalanche of tourism expected from the normalization of relations with the United States.

Without referring directly to this issue, the head of the AGR, Pedro Miguel Perez Betancourt emphasized that among the key priorities is to satisfy all passengers and that the Customs service performed at the border is exercised “Within the frame and law conferred by law for any processing, operation or baggage screening.”

The official said that efficiency in the offices has improved and that, “The time spent in customs procedures at airports has decreased considerably, from 45 minutes in 2011 to 25 minutes in 2015.”

Among the difficulties faced by Customs is corruption, because employees are constantly submitted to the pressures of bribery. Concern about maintaining the integrity of the employees in the airport terminals is most intense in regards to drug trafficking cases.
The officials explained that they are trying to do a better job on three parallel tracks: improving technological capabilities, the professional development of the workers and a greater degree of rigor in the controls on the part of the leadership.

Implementation of clearance by weight to reduce the number of times luggage is opened and implementing a new automated clearance system is still being tested and could reduce the time per passenger.

Muñoz Toca, director of Technical Customs, said they have reduced procedural errors and stressed that, “Most of the complaints and disagreements arise from delays in clearance and inappropriate behavior of employees at that time.”

According to officials, most complaints stems from the delays that arise from delays in clearance and inappropriate behavior of employees

He added that the complaint system has been perfected. “Today international airports have offices for reception and processing of complaints with groups to investigate and clarify the complaints and a subsequent evaluation in the legal commissions,” he explained.

He also addressed the commitment of Customs to, “Simplify and streamline procedures starting with the introduction of new control techniques and information technology which should contribute to supporting the commercial management of the country.”

At the press conference, no reference was made to the repeated complaints of the harassment to which civil society activists and political opposition leaders are subjected to, in a selective way, usually being minutely searched and having equipment and documentation seized on their return to the island.

Eight UNPACU Activists Who Recorded A Video Remain Detained / 14ymedio

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Santiago de Cuba, 24 June 2015 — Eight of the 15 Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU) activists from the Altamira neighborhood in Santiago de Cuba who were arrested Monday while filming an independent video remain in jail, the leader of the organization, José Daniel Ferrer, said Wednesday/

In a telephone call with 14ymedio, Ferrer said that among those still detained include singer Omar Sayud Taquechel, Fernando Vazquez Guerra and Romualdo del Risco Martin, who continue to refuse food at the police station known as Micro 9. In another detention center in the city, commonly called “the motorized,” Héctor Velázquez Gómez, José Roberto Núñez, David Fernández Cardoso, Anibal Ribeaux Figueredo and Franklin Álvarez Fernández are in jail.

A video posted on UNPACU’s YouTube channel, with hundreds of visitors so far, caught the moment when security forces violently fell on young people who were involved in filming on a Santiago street while carrying a flag Cuban.

The Job of a Father / 14ymedio, Eliecer Avila

Eliecer Avila speaks of his father (14ymedio)
Eliecer Avila speaks of his father (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Eliecer Avila, Havana, 21 June 2015 – When we are children we have an idyllic idea of who our father is. We see him as an invincible guardian, strong, fair, who feels no fear and protects us from all the dangers ahead of us in the world.

With the passing of time, two things can happen. One, you discover with disappointment a weak man, full of shortcomings, irresponsible and fearful who can’t even think, speak or act for himself. And to make it worse, he induces you to do the same, to fake it, to lie for the supposed “benefit of family tranquility.”

The other possibility is that on growing up you can verify that your father is actually what you always believed him to be.

I my case, I feel a profound happiness, because the second is what happened to me. Despite discovering, sometimes with a certain pain, that my father was not perfect, he wasn’t infallible and free of all failures, nor was he a stranger to fear and doubt. Today I can say he is a brave man, powerful in his word and his gaze. Firm in his support for me in the most difficult moments without failing to alert me about every aspect that he thinks I should consider.

Neither one of us can replace the other’s role in our lives. He cannot assume responsibility for and the cost of my actions, nor can I do so for his. But it is always an invaluable guarantee to know that he is there, watching with an experienced eye, supporting the trunk of the family tree so that it will grow straight. Ready to fight any plague or ruthless woodsman eager to cut me down from envy or malice.

It is my job to keep going and hopefully act so that my children will feel the same security I felt. I know that it will be difficult if I want to be his equal. But I intend to try, because I want to form with my own hands brave and free people, who not only belong to the future, but who will help to conquer and build it.

Today I congratulate all the fathers in the world. Especially those who, like mine, deserve to be congratulated.

March Of The Ladies In White Concludes Without Arrests This Sunday / 14ymedio

Activists supporting the Ladies in White Sunday on 5th Avenue. (Luz Escobar / 14ymedio)
Activists supporting the Ladies in White Sunday on 5th Avenue. (Luz Escobar / 14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 21 June 2015 – During the day, this Sunday, the Ladies and White held their traditional peregrination along Fifth Avenue in the vicinity of Santa Rita Church. Unlike the previous ten occasions, today no arrests were reported after the march, although at least 5 women belonging to the movement and 7 activists were detained to keep them from getting to the site.

In total, some 50 Ladies in White managed to get to the church and were accompanied on this occasion by 27 activists and independent journalists. Berta Soler confirmed to this newspaper that “there were no arrests after the Mass,” and that this Sunday they only “marched down Fifth Avenue, with the gladioli and the photos of the faces of the political prisoners,” but “out of respect for Father’s Day, after we finished each of us went to our own homes.”

Independent journalist Yuri Lazaro Valle Roca also reported to 14ymedio that there were no acts of repudiation nor the violent arrests that had characterized the previous Sundays.

Although there was a visible police operation in the area, the repressive forces did not proceed to arrest those who made it there.

“I feel like a war reporter” / 14ymedio, Luz Escobar

Lazaro Yuri Valle Roca. (14ymedio)
Lazaro Yuri Valle Roca. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 20 June 2015 — A couple of weeks ago, the neighbors crowded onto the ground floor of a twelve-story building near Tulipan Street. “He committed suicide … They say he hanged himself with his own belt,” ran the rumor among them, while pointing to the apartment marked with number 1. The police presence in the area and patrols around the site confirmed that something had happened.

Some men in civilian clothes who were a part of the operation detailed it for the curious, “He was the nephew of Vladimiro Roca.” The information would take hours to be refuted, and many still don’t understand that the false suicide hid a raid to keep Lazaro Yuri Valle Roca from going out to do his work as an independent journalist. The bad taste with which the political police handled the matter, lying about the death of a man, competes in this case with the abuse of his rights. continue reading

Last Saturday, the reporter and activist sent a letter to representatives of the Inter American Press Association and Reporters Without Borders. It not only condemned the repression suffered by him, but also that against the “Ladies in White, opposition activists, journalists, bloggers, independent journalists and photojournalists committed to the struggle for civil rights.”

Friday, 14ymedio spoke with Valle Roca at his home to learn the details of his situation and the reasons that led him to write that letter.

14ymedio/Luz Escobar. When did the harassment against you begin?

Lazaro Yuri Valle Roca. Starting from when I begin to cover the news about the Ladies in White and I captured on video the arrests and beatings they received every Sunday. Starting from that moment I have been subjected to beatings, they have beat me on the legs and one time they fractured a rib. And State Security officials have told me very clearly, we do not want you to go to go to Santa Rita Church anymore, we do not want to see published any more images or recordings under your name, YuriTv, we don’t want you to put anything else on YouTube.”

14ymedio/Ruiz. The worst moment?

Valle Roca. On May 9, they threw me in a car here at Avenues 26 and 41. It was about ten at night. I had gone out to buy cigarettes. Later was the eighth Sunday of repression for the Ladies in White, who woke up in my apartment surrounded. From two in the morning there were police there and they justified their presence by telling the neighbors I had hanged myself. In reality, I was inside the house with two Ladies in White, as it was easier to get to Santa Rita Church from here. So we were going to go together.

14ymedio/Ruiz. Was it very hard to hear the news of your “own death” from the mouths of others?

Valle Roca. I see that as the story of “a death foretold.” I found out because the journalist Reinaldo Escobar called to ask what was going on. He said he was concerned because he had got the news from someone who passed by and asked. After the statements I gave him, then Radio Martí also called me and countless people, but it was all false.

14ymedio/Ruiz. And last Sunday you were again a victim of repression?

Valle Roca. The political police intercepted me on 28th Street between 7th and 9th in Playa. It was a very spectacular arrest; without explaining the reasons, I was immobilized, handcuffed and they threw me back of the car. After several turns they took me out in Coyula Park and put me in another car with four other men. When I figured out where I was I was in Villa Marista [a State Security prison]. Where I was warned by a senior official, and finally they took me in a car to a deserted grassy area.

He put the gun to my head and then kicked me in the side and told me, “You already know what’s going to happen to you.”

The one on my right got out, opened the door and drew his weapon. He put the gun to my head and then kicked me in the side and told me, “You already know what’s going to happen to you.” They got in the car and from there threw me my cellphone and backpack. I got out and tried to orient myself until I managed to reach Via Blanca where, thank God, a truck stopped for me. The driver asked if I’d been left stranded and I made up a story about having been assaulted, I thought if I told him the truth he would be afraid. He left me off near Sports City.

14ymedio/Ruiz. How did the idea come up to write a letter?

Valle Roca. I didn’t do it for me but for all my fellow journalists who are suffering the same thing. For example, for Enrique Díaz and Vladimir Turró Páez who are also being threatened with death. We want to document all these allegations of threats on video, a video with all the journalists who are in danger. Journalists in similar situations include Agustín López Canino, Juan González Febles, Luis Serafin, Rubén Dario Garcia and Angel Moya, who make videos and also bring to light a lot of information about the Ladies in White. It’s for all of them that I wrote the letter.

14ymedio/Ruiz. Has the repression limited the work of independent journalists?

Valle Roca. Not at all, we continue working. They believe they’ve discredited us a little, but we continue denouncing what goes on. When I can’t leave my house, I report by phone, and Antonio Gonzalez Rodiles is also collecting testimonies. Of course, sometimes they affect us because they take our cameras or phones and they erase all the recorded contents, but we continue to work.

They believe they’ve discredited us a little, but we continue denouncing what goes on

14ymedio/Ruiz. What journalistic techniques do you use in your work?

Valle Roca. Especially photography and video. I film and shot photos with my cellphone. Then I have to edit and convert them for uploading. I edit them in Adobe Premier.

14ymedio/Ruiz. What reaction do you expect to your letter?

Valle Roca. That solidarity with reporters will increase and that there will be a statement to help us to continue to make known what is happening and that a commitment on the part of the government is achieved. I feel as if I were a war reporter, under constant threat.

14ymedio/Ruiz. Do all your neighbors now know that the suicide story was a lie?

Valle Roca. They have been very supportive. With our humor, we Cubans can laugh at anything. Now in the neighborhood they call me “the hanged man.” That Sunday on the underground lottery played in our area the numbers that came up were 79, which is exactly “hanged man,” and 7 which is “shit and police.