Atlantic Monthly/14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, 15 August 2015 — My grandchildren will ask, “Were you there, grandma?” The answer will be barely a monosyllable accompanied by a smile. “Yes,” I will tell them, although at the moment the flag of the United States was raised over its embassy in Havana I was gathering opinions for a story, or connected to some Internet access point. “I was there,” I will repeat.
The fact of living in Cuba on August 14 makes the more than 11 million of us participants in a historic event that transcends the raising of an insignia to the top of a flagpole. We are all here, in the epicenter of what is happening.
For my generation, as for so many other Cubans, it is the end of one stage. It does not mean that starting tomorrow everything we have dreamed of will be realized, nor that freedom will break out by the grace of a piece of cloth waving on the Malecón. Now comes the most difficult part. However, it will be that kind of uphill climb in which we cannot blame our failures on our neighbor to the north. It is the beginning of the stage of absorbing who we are, and recognizing why we have only made it this far. continue reading
The official propaganda will run out of epithets. This has already been happening since the December 17 announcement of the reestablishment of relations between Washington and Havana took all of us by surprise. That equation, repeated so many times, of not permitting an internal dissidence or the existence of other parties because Uncle Sam was waiting for a sign of weakness to pounce on the island, is increasingly unsustainable.
Now, the ideologues of continuity warn that “the war against imperialism” will become more subtle, the methods more sophisticated … but slogans do not understand nuances. “Are they the enemy, or aren’t they?” ask all those who, with the simple logic of reality, experienced a childhood and youth marked by constant paranoia toward that country on the other side of the Straits of Florida.
Now that an official Cuban delegation has shared the U.S. embassy-opening ceremony with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, there is a family photo that they can no longer deny or minimize. There we saw those who until recently called us to the trenches, now shaking hands with their opponent and explaining the change as a new era.
And it is good that this is so, because these political pragmatists can no longer turn around and tell us otherwise. We have caught them respecting and allowing entrance to the Stars and Stripes.
The opposition must also understand that we are living in new times—moments of reaching out to the people, and helping them to see that there is a country after the dictatorship and that they can be the voice of millions who suffer every day economic hardship, lack of freedom, police harassment, and lack of expectations.
The authoritarianism expressed in warlordism, not wanting to speak with those who are different, or snubbing the other for not thinking like they do, are just other ways of reproducing the Castro regime.
“Are they the enemy, or aren’t they?” ask all those who experienced a youth marked by constant paranoia toward that country on the other side of the Straits of Florida.
A conflict of eras is unfolding in Cuba—a collision between two countries: one that has been stranded in the middle of the 20th century, and one that is pushing the other to move forward. They are two islands that clash, but it needs to happen. We know, by the laws of biology and of Kronos, which will prevail. But right now they are in full collision and dragging all of us between the opposing forces.
This Friday’s front-page of the newspaper Granma shows this conflict with a past that doesn’t want to stop playing a starring role in our present—a past tense of military uniforms, guerrillas, bravado, and political tantrums that refuses to give way to a modern and plural country.
When one scrutinizes Friday’s edition of the official publication of the Cuban Communist Party, it is easy to detect how a country that is unraveling clings to its past, trying not to make room for the country to come.
In this future Cuba, which is just around the corner, some restless grandchildren will ask me about one day lost in the intense summer of 2015. With a smile, I will be able to tell them, “I was there, I lived it … because I understood the point of inflection that it signified.”
This article was translated from the Spanish by Mary Jo Porter.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Yoani Sánchez is the Havana-based founder and executive director of 14ymedio, Cuba’s first independent digital newspaper.
Note: This article originally appeared in Spanish in 14ymedio; this English translation appeared first in The Atlantic Monthly.
1898: the United States declares war on Spain after accusing it of the sinking of the battleship “Maine” in Havana harbor. The United States wins and Spain has to give up Cuba.
1901: On June 12, the United States imposes the Platt Amendment which will be incorporated into the first Constitution of Cuba and limits the sovereignty of the nascent republic.
1902: The island is proclaimed an independent republic under President Tomas Estrada Palma, but remains under the tutelage of Washington. continue reading
1903: Estrada Palma and the US President Theodore Roosevelt sign the Cuban-American Treaty, which includes a lease of the naval base in Guantanamo, in perpetuity.
1912: US forces return to Cuba to squelch the protests of the Black community against racial discrimination.
1928: Official Visit to Cuba of Calvin Coolidge, the last of a US president. He received the then president of Cuba, General Gerardo Machado.
1933: President Machado is overthrown by a coup.
1934: Washington waives the right to intervene in Cuba’s internal affairs (the Platt Amendment, imposed on Cuba in 1901, is repealed) and establishes a quota for sugar exports from the island to the US.
1945: On March 9 Edward R. Stettinius is the last US secretary of state to set foot on Cuba on official business.
1953: July 26, Fidel Castro fails to take the Moncada barracks in Santiago de Cuba.
1955: In February, US Vice President, Republican Richard Nixon, makes an official visit to Cuba three weeks before the inauguration of Fulgencio Batista.
1956: 82 men, including Fidel Castro and Ernesto “Che” Guevara, leave Mexico to Cuba aboard the yacht Granma purchased from a US company. The go into the Sierra Maestra to organize a guerrilla effort.
1958: In March the US withdraws military aid to Batista. In June Fidel Castro sends a letter to Celia Sanchez where he tells his “destiny” will lead to a “long and great” war against US.
January 1959: Batista flees, Fidel Castro enters Havana and takes power.
April 1959: Castro meets with US Vice President Richard Nixon in an unofficial meeting in Washington. Nixon later writes that the US had no choice but to try to “orient” the leftist leader toward the “right direction.”
1960: Cuba nationalizes US companies without compensation. US breaks diplomatic relations with Cuba, cancels the sugar quota and establishes an economic embargo on the island, still in force.
April 1961: Cuban exiles fail in their attempt to invade Cuba at the Bay of Pigs (known as Playa Girón in Cuba) with the support of the US.
1961: Castro proclaims the socialist character of Cuba and confirmed its alliance with the USSR.
October 1962: President Kennedy denounces the presence of Soviet missiles in Cuba. After 13 days of tension, Moscow agrees to withdraw its 42 missiles in exchange for a US commitment not to invade the island.
1965: The “sea bridge” begins from Camarioca, Matanzas, to be followed by the “freedom flights,” which allow the exodus of some 260,000 Cubans to the US.
1966: US approves the Cuban Adjustment Act, known as “dry foot / wet foot”. Any Cuban who places a foot on American soil is allowed to stay, any Cuban intercepted at sea is returned to the island.
1977: Under President Jimmy Carter both countries establish “Interests Sections” in the other. The building has remained under diplomatic protection afforded by Switzerland since 1961.
April 1980: Mariel boatlift. After a diplomatic crisis with Peru — sparked by Cubans claiming, and being given, in Peru’s embassy in Havana — Fidel Castro allows exiles in Miami to come in a flotilla of boats to pick up their relatives at the Port of Mariel. Some 125,000 Cubans wishing to leave the country come to the US in this way.
1985: The US government creates Radio Marti to break the monopoly and the Cuban state censorship on news and information on the Island
1990: With the implosion of the Soviet empire, Cuba loses the huge subsidies from Moscow and establishes what it calls the “Special Period In the Time of Peace,” marked by widespread shortages
1994: As a result of the “rafter crisis”, Havana and Washington sign an agreement on immigration: The US will accept 20,000 Cubans each year and the island promises to control the exodus of migrants.
February 1996: The Cuban Air Force shoots down two US civilian planes of Brothers to the Rescue, an organization of Cuban exiles who are dedicated to saving the rafters in the Florida Straits. Four crewmen die. In response, the US Congress enacts the Helms-Burton Act, which tightens the embargo.
1998: The Clinton administation allows the sale of some food and agricultural products to Cuba.
January 1998: During his visit to Cuba, the first by a pope to the island, John Paul II asks: “Let Cuba open itself to the world and let the world open itself to Cuba.”
June 2000: The Cuban exile loses the battle for custody of Elian Gonzalez, who arrived the previous year off the coast of Florida on the same raft in which his mother, stepfather and several others died in their attempt to reach the USA. Elian is returned to his father in Cuba.
June 2001: Five Cubans detained in Miami received long sentences for spying for Havana. The case of “The Five” becomes a new rallying cry for the government in Havana.
November 2001: For the first time in 40 years Washington sends aid to Cuba: $30,000 in food for victims of Hurricane Michelle (22 dead).
May 2002: The Bush administration accuses the government of Cuba of developing biological weapons and adds the island to the group of countries that Washington calls the “axis of evil.” Former President Jimmy Carter, on a goodwill trip, visits several scientific centers in Havana. It is the first trip by a US former president to the island since 1959.
July 31, 2006: Fidel Castro is ill and provisionally delegates his functions to his brother Raul.
July 2007: Raul Castro demonstrates openness to talks with Washington to improve relations, but only after the US presidential elections of 2008.
February 2008: Raul Castro officially assumes power as president. Washington claims that the embargo will remain until the holding of free and fair elections.
April 2009: President Barack Obama lifts restrictions on family travel to Cuba.
December 2009: The US contractor Alan Gross is accused of espionage and sentenced to 15 years in prison in Cuba for having brought into the country equipment for satellite transmission, which is banned in Cuba.
October 2011: The US releases the Cuban agent Rene Gonzalez, one the group of “The Five.”
December 2011: The US again demands the release of Gross, but Cuba refuses.
December 2013: US President Barack Obama and his Cuban counterpart Raul Castro, shake hands at the official memorial service of the South African president Nelson Mandela in Johannesburg.
February 2014: Several surveys show that most Americans favor the restoration of diplomatic relations with Cuba.
December 16, 2014: US and Cuba agree to a prisoner swap.
December 17, 2014: Alan Gross lands in the US. In speeches on TV, the presidents Barack Obama and Raul Castro announce the start of the normalization of relations between the two countries.
January 2015: The White House softens the regulations on travel to Cuba and introduces other measures to facilitate, for example, the work of telecommunications providers and financial institutions.
April 2015: Barack Obama and Raul Castro dialogue at the Summit of the Americas in Panama. Soon after, at the request of Obama, Congress removes Cuba from the list of state sponsors of terrorism, on which it had been since 1982.
July 20, 2015: The Cuban embassy in Washington and the US embassy in Havana are reopened. Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez, travels to Washington for the ceremony of hoisting the flag.
July 27, 2015: The United States removed Cuba from its list of countries not doing enough to combat human trafficking, which includes Venezuela, Russia, Iran, Syria and North Korea, among others
August 14, 2015: Secretary of State of the United States, John Kerry, travels to Havana for the raising of the American flag at the embassy.
14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 12 August 2015 – In 1950 Emilio Roig de Leuchsenring presented to the Ninth Congress of History his controversial essay Cuba Owes its Independence to the United States. In it he laid out a little more than a century of facts and his nationalist and anti-imperialist view attributing the victory over Spain to Cuban troops.
Still discussed today is the weight of the American involvement in the conflict and especially the motives for its intervention. It has been another half century since that book came out and Cubans are no longer fighting to obtain their independence as a nation, but to install a system of democracy, and again our neighbor to the north makes laws, approves budgets and undertakes actions, this time with the declared intention to favor the future democracy on the island. continue reading
The Cuban government’s first endorsement of the scope of these measures is expressed every time it classifies as mercenaries, employees of the empire and other similar labels any opponent, civil society activist or independent journalist it sees.
Those who believe that the Cuban government is democratic are the same ones who claim that our principal problem lies in the dispute between the governments of the United States and Cuba. For those who differ from the Communist Party line, the fundamental contradiction is the conflict between the Party-State and the legitimate rights of citizens.
There is an unbridgeable gap between American interests, which demand the return of confiscated property or compensation, and the demand for freedom of association and expression, made unanimously by all opposition political trends, whether social democrats, anarchists, liberals or Christian Democratic.
The point of agreement is that, as long as the current leaders remain in power, both things seem impossible, and that “common cause” has promoted, on the one hand, logistical support to armed invasions, the supply of military equipment, diplomatic pressure or trade embargoes, and on the other, riots, sabotage and, more recently, peaceful and political structures attempting to organize protests.
It is a fragile and uneven alliance and the first to want to break it is the Cuban government. So the Communists had two paths: open political space to opponents on the condition of “maintaining sovereignty,” or reforming the market to attract American capital. Faced with the dilemma, they chose the second option.
Consequently, some leaders of the opposition environment feel betrayed because they believed they had some sort of pact for democracy with the US government. The main argument put forward is the continuation of repressive acts against the Ladies in White and other peaceful activists who support them with their actions, just days before the formalization on the Havana Malecon of the restoration of relations between the two governments.
For others it is about a sovereign decision by President Obama backed by the idea that confrontation has not brought results. The concept of changing methods without renouncing objectives, proclaimed publicly and without nuance by the Americans, is a complete challenge for the Cuban government, which sees itself forced to maintain its repressive and confrontational methods to achieve its only objective: maintaining itself in power.
The United States maintains diplomatic relations with countries where there are not democratic regimes, which does not mean friendship or support for a totalitarian model. Now, in the case of Cuba, it remains to be seen if it will maintain, in the embassy, the internet rooms, the communications courses, the refugee program, invitations to celebrate Independence Day on the 4th of July, and all the contacts programmed by the former United States Interests Sections, now belonging to the embassy.
There are more than a few who fear “being abandoned in the dark of the night,” left to the excesses of an intransigent government. The new interests created between the old contenders are economic and everyone will do their best to protect them. Perhaps the Americans will keep the opponents at a distance to not annoy the Cuban leaders; perhaps the repression will give way to please the investors, be they real or potential.
What will not arrive by this route is democracy, as real independence will not come by way of American gunboats. The political system we deserve must arise from our own efforts, independent of solidarity that comes from outside.
Emilio Roig would not have written his famous book if a few miles from Santiago de Cuba the American ships had returned home and those troops had never landed. But history is the enemy of the subjunctive, and similar conjectures lack any value.
Hopefully a historian will never have to clarify that Cuba owes its democracy to the United States.
Reinaldo Escobar, 13 August 2015 – A Havanan – one of those who doesn’t usually use the letter “R”* — an old pro-American joke tells us, is walking along the Malecon with his young son. Pointing to the immense blue of the ocean, the boy asks his father, “Papa, and that, what is it?” And the man, with his Havana pronunciation, responds, “The evil, my son, the evil.”* Some yards further on and a few minutes later, the boy returns to the fray, “And what is on the other side of that?” To which the man answers, “The good, my son, the good.”
Just across from the Malecon, where the waves remain an impassive witness to what happens in Havana, the American flag will be hoisted at the recently inaugurated United States embassy. But the sea did not want to be distant from the diplomatic chores and offered up to Havanans a symbolic gift: fish in the ration market.
The funny thing is that the last time the buctcher shops in this coastal city were full of scales was, no more nor less, the day before December 17 of last year, when Barack Obama and Raul Castro announced that both countries was reestablish relations.
Surely, the Havana newspaper Tribuna, would publish the schedule for the sale of the marine product in every municipality. In the lines the same usual scenes repeat themselves and the joy of the poor will endure the little that always makes it to the quote of the ration book.
Fish, the sea, the flags, old whimsical symbols that invite us to a different reading, almost prescient, of reality.
*Translator’s note: The joke relies on replacing the letter R with the letter L. “Mar” is “sea” and “mal” is “bad” or “evil.”
EFE, 13 August 2015 – Ex-Cuban president Fidel Castro and Nicolas Maduro, president of Venezuela, surprised the Bolivian president Evo Morales this Thursday in the hotel where he was staying in Havana, according to the Bolivian State news agency ABI.
Castro and Maduro arrived in a microbus at La Laguna Hotel to visit Morales who arrived in Cuba in the early morning to celebrate Castro’s 89th birthday, according to the source.
“For Bolivia all the affection in the world and my admiration,” said Fidel Castro. Morales was scheduled to visit Castro at his house, so he was surprised that the Cuban leader went to find him at his hotel.
The Presidency of the Palace of La Paz also released photographs to the Bolivian media of the meeting between the political leaders. “I came to be with, to accompany our big brother, Fidel Castro, on his birthday. I admire him greatly and love him greatly and have learned a lot from him,” Morales said before arriving in Havana.
The Bolivian president is scheduled to attend a ceremony in Havana this Thursday where he will receive a donation of computer equipment for the Plurinational State of Bolivia primary school, according to the Foreign Ministry of the island.
His previous visit to the island was in December of 2014 when he attended the XIII Summit of ALBA in Havana and met with Cuban President Raul Castro.
EFE, Washington 10 August 2015 — The US government on Monday expressed “deep concern” about the detention for some hours of about 90 dissidents in Cuba, including a group of members of the Ladies in White, and insisted that it will continue to work to ensure respect for the right to demonstrate in Cuba.
“We have seen the reports, and our staff at the embassy in Havana confirmed these arrests,” said John Kirby, spokesman for the State Department, in his daily briefing.
Kirby stressed the “deep concern” of the US government over these arrests. continue reading
“We are going to continue to pressure for the rights of peaceful assembly, associate and freedom of expression, and we are going to continue expressing our support for an improvement in the conditions of human rights and democratic reforms,” he added.
Those arrests come just days before the US Secretary of State John Kerry travels to Havana this Friday for the formalization of the raising the flag over the embassy in Cuba, opened last month, and within the process of normalization of diplomatic relations between the two countries which remained suspended for more than half a century.
The spokesman referred to the arrests Sunday, several hours after a demonstration in a Havana park, with some carrying photos of political prisoners and others wearing masks with images of the US president, Barack Obama.
The opponents Antonio González-Rodiles, his partner, Ailer Gonzalez and Angel Santiesteban told EFE that they were arrested and taken into a police car to a detention center after meeting with the Ladies in White, after the usual walk that this women’s movement undertakes on Sundays after Mass in a church in the neighborhood of Miramar.
The three said they were detained for a few hours and they knew of other dissidents in the same situation as in the case of Aliuska Gomez of the Ladies in White, who was already released.
Gonzalez Rodiles, who leads the independent project Estado de Sats, explained that they carried the photos to “signal that repression has intensified against opposition activists” as part of the campaign “We All March” which they have undertaken to advocate for the release of political prisoners.
According to the latest report released by the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation (CCDHRN), during July there were at least 674 temporary political arrests on the island, the highest level since June 2014, and 21 cases of physical attacks during the arrests.
14ymedio, 12 August 2015 — The U.S. embassy in Havana will not be inviting the opposition to its official inauguration, which will take place this coming Friday, August 14th, in Havana, with the attendance of John Kerry. Nevertheless, another flag raising ceremony has been planned at the ambassador’s residence where there will be a meeting between the Secretary of State and a group of dissidents, as has been confirmed by 14ymedio. Among the activists who received an official invitation from Secretary of State John Kerry are Antonio González Rodiles, Martha Beatriz Roque, Elizardo Sánchez, Manuel Cuesta Morúa, Dagoberto Valdés and Héctor Maseda, among others.
The flag-raising ceremony and the reception at the residence of Jeffry DeLaurentis will begin at 4:15 PM and the guests are expected to arrive before 3:45 “for security reasons.”
Washington hopes this will resolve the dilemma created by the official visit of John Kerry to Havana, the first by a secretary of state in seventy years. continue reading
The news comes one day after Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), wrote Mr. Kerry asking him to “meet with the courageous leaders who are fighting to bring freedom to Cuba and invite them to the ceremony you will be presiding over at the new American embassy.” The Cuban-American senator added: “They [the dissidents], among many others, and not the Castro family, are the legitimate representatives of the Cuban people.”
Republicans are pressuring the White House to express a gesture of encouragement towards the opposition. Yet the Obama administration finds itself in a predicament, since the Cuban government might interpret its Washington’s approach to the opposition as an offense at a moment when both countries are trying to normalize relations, since it considers dissidents to be “mercenaries.” On the other hand, excluding the opposition might result in criticism from those sectors that would accuse the U.S. of being lukewarm when it comes to defending human rights.
State Department spokesman John Kirby said: “The United States will continue to advocate for the rights to peaceful assembly, association and freedom of expression and religion, and we’re going to continue to voice our support for improved human rights conditions and democratic reforms in Cuba.” Apart from the flag-raising ceremonies, Kerry will meet with Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez, and they may also hold a joint press conference. Kerry also plans on taking a short stroll through the capital, according to the authorities.
14ymedio, Eliecer Avila, Havana, 12 August 2015 – Recently the Cuban intellectual Rafael Hernández, editor of the journal Temas (Topics) and moderator of the debates that take place on the last Thursday of each month at the Fresa y Chocolate (Strawberry and Chocolate) center, gave an interview to the journalist Cristina Escobar for the program Interviews From Havana by the Telesur network.
The interview was conducted in English, and broadcast with subtitles in the early morning hours for Cuban viewers. In it Rafael Hernandez defends some theses that have been put forward for some time in the intellectual spaces tolerated by the government, and he proposed a “new look at the theoretical conceptualization of the socialism we need.”
When asked what to do with the fact that “the enemy press takes any criticism that comes out in the Cuban media to amplify it against Cuba”, the intellectual and responded with emphasis and determination: “We must tell the truth, period,” because he believes that “it is better to have a discussion on any topic in our camp, than to allow the enemy to take us to his.” continue reading
Rafael Hernández makes innumerable references to the “enemy” without it being clear to me exactly what or who he means
In the interview Rafael Hernández makes innumerable references to the “enemy” without it being clear to me exactly what or who he means. I do not know if I myself, or my friends, many of my neighbors or my fellow students, who think differently from the Government of Cuba, are part of Rafael’s “enemy.” I hope not.
On the other hand, when he encourages us to “tell the truth, period,” it is also not clear to me to whom he is directing his message. Honestly, I do not believe that those who resist telling these truths are journalists. I know many of them personally, and by reference many more, and I am sure that they one hundred percent share this vision of the dignified and independent role that should be played by the press anywhere in the world. So who or what then prevents them from telling the unvarnished truths? The custom of not speaking them? Or is it that, in front of the cameras, everyone defends this “necessary sincerity” but in the spaces where it is truly decided what will be aired and what will not, no one is willing to assume the costs of telling the truth?
Are journalists the ones who decide what is published in Cuba? Is it perhaps the directors of the media? I think that as a example of what he himself demands, Rafael Hernandez could begin to say “the truth, period” recognizing that it is a tiny group of bureaucrats at the exclusive service of the Communist Party who decide every letter, voice or image that Cubans throughout the island see, hear or read.
I liked his defense in favor or a political and public debate in the national media. Like what more or less happens in the public space he leads. I clarify this saying “more or less,” because indeed it is true that normally no one is denied entry to these events, but it is also true that the panel does not usually represent the colors of the political spectrum of any nation in the world. Only in the audience can this diversity be seen from time to time. It is also the case that some dissidents speak. But they have only three minutes to do so and then the panel can dismantle everything they want, without the ongoing right to respond.
In the spaces where it is truly decided what will be aired and what will not, no one is willing to assume the costs of telling the truth
A debate, technically, is something else. In a debate, people who defend different points of view can count on a fair and reasonable time not just to defend their position but to question the proposals of their counterparts in a sequence that makes it possible to plumb the depths of each topic. For this, you have to have good intentions, and select exponents of similar intellectual levels, or at least those who enjoy public recognition in the sphere they defend.
Following this logic one could have a debate between Rafael Hernandez, on the one side, and Reinaldo Escobar n the other, about “journalism and truth in Cuba,” for example. Would the director of Temas accept this debate? Would he feature it in his magazine? I am sure that if he did it would break audience records and the results would be very useful.
I believe that when certain authorized intellectuals or thinkers talk about the necessary existence of public debate or of public spaces, they don’t always take into account that none of these things exist in Cuba.
Neither the Party nor the Government nor the intransigent Communists have anything against debate itself, what they can’t bear are the consequences. Because four good televised debates on crucial issues, no holds barred, in a framework of respect and civility, would collapse the entire house of cards.
I invite the director of Temas with regards to what he seriously proposes to be the promoter of the first public political debates in Cuba, similar to those held in other latitudes, involving communists, liberals, greens and other visions, all essential.
14ymedio, Havana, 8 August 2015 — The government corporation Gaviota (Spanish for “Seagull”), the leader in tourism to Cuba, announced on August 6th that it will double the number of guest rooms it offers throughout the island from 24,000 to 50,000 by the year 2020. Since its creation 27 years ago, Gaviota has been linked to the Cuban Armed Forces, and many of its executives are retired high-ranking military officials.
One of Gaviota’s most important projects is next year’s opening of a five-star hotel inside of what is known as La Manzana de Gómez (“Gómez’s City Block”), opposite Havana’s Central Park. The Swiss hotel chain Kempinski, one of the oldest in Europe, will be in charge of managing its 246 guest rooms. continue reading
During its pre-revolutionary splendor, La Manzana de Gómez was one of the most important shopping centers of the capital, but it began quickly deteriorating by the end of the 1960’s, eventually ending up in ruins. A couple of years ago, everything housed there –including a school– was relocated elsewhere. A chain link fence now encircles the building where a multitude of laborers work virtually round the clock constructing the new facilities.
Gaviota’s other plans include the 2017 reopening of the Packard Hotel with 300 guest rooms, and the Prado y Malecón Hotel in 2018 with 200 rooms. There has also been talk of remodeling the Regis, El Gran, and the Metropolitano Hotels, all located in the capital’s historic center.
Gaviota’s other projects include hotel development on Varadero Beach, Holguín Province, and the archipelago off the northern coast of Villa Clara, Ciego de Ávila, and Camagüey Provinces. Still, the main objective will be to position Havana as one of the main destinations for urban sightseeing in the Caribbean.
More than two million foreign tourists have travelled to Cuba during the first half of 2015. American tourists are the group whose presence has increased the most. So far this year, 90,000 of them entered Cuba, 54% more than during the same period in 2014.
14medio, Havana, 10 August 2015 – The drought in Guantanamo province has triggered an illegal market in water. Residents of the province are coming to pay between 300 and 500 Cuban pesos for the contents of a water truck, a lucrative business for drivers of the so-called “pipes,” which the authorities have denounced after a meeting in which they discussed the measures to be taken to confront the situation.
Ines Maria Chapman, a member of the Council of State and president of the National Institute of Hydraulic Resources (INRH), called the attitude of these drivers opportunistic, and called for people to fight back by denouncing those who “exploit” the situation caused by the drought for material benefits. continue reading
Chapman added that several communities in the region are receiving water only every 25 days.
For its part the local INRH delegate, Alfredo Correa, reported on the lack of rain and the alarming decline of water in the reservoir, which is now only 134 million cubic meters out of 347.5 possible, 39% of the storage capacity for the province.
The depletion of many sources of supply, such as rivers, dams, lakes, tanks and wells, has forced water rationing on more than 258,000 Guantanameros, 72% of the population of the province. Irrigation has been limited to a minimum in the depressed agriculture in the area, including on land for sugar cultivation managed by the State sugar company, Azcuba.
The most fortunate can receive water through supply networks on a cycle ranging from two to ten days.
The situation has forced to government to increase pumping from the Bano River, very low for years and with a high level of pollution. They have also had to construct new pumping stations, one of them about to be open on the Camarones canal, next to the central town of Argeo Martinez.
Opening wells in the mountains and the battle against leaks and illegalities are also among the measures promoted by the authorities of the province.
14ymedio, Eliécer Ávila, Havana, 5 August 2015 — The Cuban National Conference, which will take place in Puerto Rico from August 12th until the 15th, is generating expectations and controversies. Since its dates coincide with the reopening ceremony of the American embassy in Havana and the visit to Cuba of Secretary of State John Kerry, it poses a challenge for leaders of Cuban civil society who are debating whether to be in San Juan during those days, or to witness the historical moment from within the island.
Guillermo Toledo, a lawyer by trade, and one of the event’s coordinators, explains the summit’s objectives and its significance.
Eliécer Ávila: How did the idea of a Cuban National Conference come about?
Guillermo Toledo: Around two years ago I submitted a proposal in writing to the leadership of United Cubans of Puerto Rico so they could analyze it and give me a response. A few months passed, and my proposal was still going nowhere. So I started insisting. I was then designated coordinator of the Cuban National Conference, the name we settled on after several meetings.
Ávila: Who worked to make it happen? continue reading
Guillermo Toledo: Together with the members of United Cubans of Puerto Rico, our Puerto Rican sisters and brothers have contributed their talents and hard work to this endeavor. Our Cuban sisters and brothers have also opened their wallets in order to make an event of this magnitude a reality. These are the same people who in a future free and democratic Cuba will help with their investments to further the material development of our people. Our profound gratitude to all of them.
Ávila: Have other gatherings like this taken place before?
Guillermo Toledo: Cuban Exiles have held some great events, but as far as I know there hasn’t ever been a meeting with the character and nature of the Cuban National Conference. I don’t know of any other event that brought together so many organizations and pro-democracy activists from inside and outside of Cuba, regardless of their beliefs.
Ávila: Who will be participating?
Guillermo Toledo: Our leadership has decided not to name names until we get closer to the event. The central figures of the democratic opposition from inside and outside Cuba will be there, although there are a lot of people we couldn’t invite for lack of funds. I don’t like political labels, but I can say that we’ve invited the democratic center, the democratic right, and the democratic left.
Ávila: Regardless of their position regarding the reestablishment of relations between Cuba and the United States?
Guillermo Toledo: It doesn’t matter if they’re in favor or against the policies towards Cuba of the President of the United States, Barack Obama. This can’t and shouldn’t be for us a new source of division. If we’re going to be a democratic people, we should respect everyone’s opinions. That’s our meeting’s golden rule.
Ávila: What are the event’s objectives?
Guillermo Toledo: Reaching a consensus on unity of action in diversity, through the appropriate mechanism to lead us to a free, prosperous, fair, and democratic Cuba. We’ll also be conducting workshops focused on identifying strategies, tactics, and peaceful methods that will help us reach our shared objective. We want to send a message of unity to the Cuban people and the international community.
Ávila: Why choose Puerto Rico as the location for this meeting?
Guillermo Toledo: Both peoples share a common historical bond. The Cuban Revolutionary Party founded by José Martí had a division dedicated to helping Puerto Rico gain its independence from Spain. It’s also about being in a neutral place, where the understandable passions of exiles residing in Miami aren’t vented so strongly. We also don’t want State Security, or “Castro’s Gestapo,” operating in Puerto Rico as it does in Miami, working as hard here to sow internal divisions as it does there.
Ávila: Will Cuban émigrés play a major role in Cuba’s shift towards democracy?
Guillermo Toledo: Cuba’s independence could never have come about without the support of émigrés and exiles. The War of 1895 [Cuba’s second and final war of independence] had its roots in the key role José Martí played outside of Cuba, although all the actual battles took place on the island. Both shores played a decisive role when Spanish despotic colonialism came to an end. Nowadays we’re trying to do away with a totalitarian dictatorship. Cuba’s problems can’t be solved without its exiles.
Ávila: Once it was known that the date for your gathering in Puerto Rico would coincide with the reopening of the United States embassy in Cuba, and given the historical importance of the latter, have you thought about moving the date?
Guillermo Toledo: United Cubans of Puerto Rico chose August 13th, 14th, and 15th of the current year, long before December 17, 2014, when the new United States policy towards Cuba was made public. Maybe we should ask the Americans if it’s just coincidence that they chose August 14th to hold the events at their embassy.
Our gathering can’t be cancelled or postponed because the international community is already aware of it, and the financial losses would be enormous. We also don’t believe there’s a valid reason to postpone it since our meeting is a thoroughly Cuban event where we’ll be discussing and reaching agreements regarding Cuba. The embassy is an American matter, as it should be.
Ávila: Do you have a dream that still hasn’t come true?
Guillermo Toledo: To return to Cuba in a dignified manner, and help create a new country where its people can enjoy freedom, and material and spiritual development.
14ymedio, Regina Coyula, Havana. 2 August 2015 — In light of the government’s refusal to dialog with the nonviolent opposition, the latter should start a discussion within itself, an exercise unfamiliar to Cubans. Instead, we are accustomed to extremes ranging from the consistent unanimity of our parliamentary sessions, to the commotion of a “disqualifying”* act of repudiation.
Change – gradual or drastic – is the possibility of change in the roles of power and the government is not interested. But society needs all its actors, whether they are dissidents or government supporters. One must be blind not to realize that Cuba is on the road to change. So for starters, our government should uphold its own laws that it disobeys time and time again when they are not in keeping with its interests. This would be just a beginning. However, as we already know, the authorities are not interested in what would follow. The experiences of Eastern Europe are still fresh in their minds. continue reading
The Cuban government behaves – if not by decree or law, certainly in deed – as if it rules by divine right. It bases its authority on a form of anti-imperialism that on many occasions turns into anti-Americanism. Despite all the anti-imperialist warmongering and siege mentality indoctrination we have been subjected to for more than half a century, it was no match for the Cuban people’s jubilation upon the announcement of the process of normalization of relations between Cuba and the United States.
To speak of civil society in Cuba leads almost obligatorily to the dissidence, civic institutions that in other countries would be self-governing are subordinated to the state. According to this type of Socialism “we all support,” the only civic institutions are those recognized — and for the most part funded — by the government. Non-governmental organizations, especially those espousing independent political viewpoints, do not count.
Whether it is dissidents, government backers voicing criticisms, advocates for an independent civil society, or the “trusted opposition,” these groups highlight the existence of political pluralism in a country that is intended as a monolithic unit. Every individual is diverse and complex and if people don’t unite on issues far more simple than politics, it cannot be expected that a single political party could represent the interests of all its citizens over a timespan as long as five decades.
Cuba’s so-called “trusted opposition” is part of a larger ensemble that includes the genuine opposition. Clearly some of the more active and interesting members of this “trusted opposition” voice a type of radical nationalism more akin to the 19th century, not to this era in which national frontiers are blurred, among other reasons because of the emergence of globalization and a growing international consensus on protecting the environment, the eradication of poverty, and the marginalization of whole groups of people.
I do not support Cuba’s annexation to the United States, but if an annexationist** movement were to exist on the island, the level of support that it or any other political movement enjoys should be decided at the ballot box. Only the use of violence and discrimination in all its forms must be excluded from the national scene. Despite all the sloganeering to the contrary, Cuba is indeed moving towards a pluralistic future and it is not healthy if the government or the opposition flout the law.
By airing grievances before the authorities or the public, Cuban citizens are actually voicing their hopelessness in regards to what they expect from their government, which is the embodiment of the political system itself. Therefore it is absurd to think that Cubans will not switch ideologies, or “come out of the ideological closet” once we enjoy freedom and access to information. We will represent a wide spectrum – ranging from Christian democracy to the aforementioned annexationist movement – while never feeling any less patriotic than the most devoted member of the Communist Party.
It will be very difficult to ask for decency from an endogamous group that many years ago turned itself into the government and whose players defend their power at all costs. In their long manipulation of both information and nationalistic sentiments, we have inverted the concept of the presidency and the president. Therefore, instead of wasting time debating the limits of the “trusted opposition,” and consequently of the “other opposition” as well, we should begin to use the term “trusted government” to define what Cubans really need, a government we can trust based on the rule of law.
Translator’s Notes: * The regime commonly uses the term “disqualified” towards its opponents, as a way of completely dismissing them and their opinions, a strong assertion that they do not even have the right to speak. For example, in this post Yoani Sanchez is told: “You have transgressed all the limits… This totally disqualifies you for dialog with Cuban authorities.” ** Historians estimate that during the last half of the 19th century, Cuba’s political class was divided into three equal parts: one third strived for more autonomy for the island while securing its place as an overseas province of Spain, another third fought for Cuba’s absolute independence, and the last third wanted to apply for U.S. statehood. The latter were known as “annexationists.” The current Cuban regime often dismisses dissidents with this term, which it considers pejorative.
14ymedio, Fernando Donate Ochoa, Holguin, 7 August 2015 — The Deputy Minister of Public Health, Jose Angel Portal, described the epidemiological situation in the city of Holguin as a health emergency, according to a local television report. The statement was confirmed this Friday during a meeting to assess the epidemiological measures in the provincial capital to halt the spread of dengue fever in the area.
Deputy Minister Portal said that although the epidemiological situation of the country is one of the most favorable in recent years, Holguin is facing “a public health emergency in which there can be no room for carelessness and mistakes.” He emphasized that “people’s lives are at stake,” although he also said that currently, “it is more a perception of risk and we’re heading down the right path.”
For his part, the first secretary of the Communist Party in Holguin, Luis Antonio Torres Iribar, criticized the directors of the state agencies for allowing there to be foci of the Aedes aegypti mosquitos in their workplaces. The official criticized that situations like this go on despite the great offensive that takes place in all social and business sectors. continue reading
The provincial Government vice president, Marcia Aguero, called for more action by the state health inspectors with regards to fining offenders – people with mosquitoes breeding sites on their property. In this regard she noted that the number of penalties applied is minuscule relative to the violations committed.
Public health directors emphasized that the high prevalence of foci persists, including uncovered water tanks and closed houses that haven’t been inspected. They also reported an increase in cases of cholera in the area.
Also present at the meeting was Ines Maria Chapman, a member of the Council of State, who called attention to the water rationing because of the drought which is expected to get worse in the coming months, and which could further complicate the situation in Holguin.
Deputy Minister Portal stated that Cuba has extensive experience in the management of dengue fever, to which he will give his full attention, and added that in reversing the situation in the province they can count on sufficient health professionals and they are the best in the country.
Dr. Jorge Luis Quiñones Aguilar, head of the provincial department of Education and Health Promotion, said that cases of fever and cases of diarrhea are continuing to appear, with most of the latter testing positive for cholera.
Quiñones Aguilar said that given the large numbers of patients flocking to hospitals it has been decided to have a fourth hospital, located on the campus of Celia Sanchez Manduley University. He acknowledged that positive tests for dengue fever continue to increase with a figure now over 90%; that is of 100 cases of patients with fever, most of them are positive for dengue.
“We should not underestimate any kind of fever in our homes. If we know a neighbor who does not want to go to the hospital we must report it without fear and anonymously,” said Quiñones Aguilar.
He said that so far Holguin has not had a lamentable loss of life from this outbreak of dengue fever, but that there are patients in serious danger of dying.
14ymedio, Jorge Hernandez Fonseca, 4 August 2015 – Cuba has lived under the rule of the Castro brothers for a long “socialist” period, the result of which has been an impoverished society. The solution now promoted by the authorities is “to befriend the imperialist enemy,” because, “without the restoration of capitalism it is impossible to construct socialism.” However, it is not the socialism that Raul Castro and his generals are going to implement on the island, but rather a hybrid of the worst of both worlds.
Capitalism requires individual freedom as a condition to better develop the entrepreneurial potential of society, to foster the development of the productive sources. Individual freedom implies, however, a certain dose of social insecurity – an undesirable feeling for many people – but that strengthens the entrepreneurial capacity of the other part of the same society. continue reading
Capitalist production organization is structured naturally so that the few entrepreneurs – owners of the businesses – give employment to a greater number of employees. Socialists denounce the “capitalist exploitation” by these entrepreneur-owners of the “unredeemed” masses.
Socialism, for its part, prioritizes “the social” at the cost of sacrificing individual freedom. It argues that “the social security is obtained at the sacrifice of individual freedom,” as a kind of payment to obtain the longed-for “social justice for the great dispossessed masses.
The productive socialist organization is very similar to the capitalist. In order to eradicate capitalism, it nationalizes the productive enterprises and in parallel limits individual freedom through a dictatorship in order to “give social justice in exchange for freedom.” As there are no owners, the earnings go to the all-powerful state which supposedly distributes them “equally” to offer the promised social justice. This scheme doesn’t work and decreases the earnings until the final collapse of the economy, an incentive for the return to the “old” capitalism.
The Castro regime has decided to implement a State capitalism that allows only foreign “capitalist exploitation,” but leaves the dictatorship intact
In the current circumstances, the Castro regime has decided to implement a State capitalism that allows only foreign “capitalist exploitation,” but leaves the dictatorship intact to curtail the individual freedoms of Cubans. In this case, we have the worst of both worlds: on the one hand, the lack of freedom implied by a socialist dictatorship, on the other hand, that lack of social justice implied by capitalism only for foreigners. This, for Cubans, means the continuation of the struggle against the dictatorship.
The Castro regime will disappear with the disappearance of the Castro brothers, with or without the presence of the United States on the national stage. It will be then when the Cuban people, inside and outside the island, will assert their rights, violated in this half-century of oppression and treachery.
14ymedio, Eliecer Avila, Havana, 7 August 2015 — It’s seven in the evening and at home we’re hurrying to eat early. We decided to try to the WiFi connection on the capital’s La Rampa, a stretch of arterial which extends from the Coppelia ice cream stand to the Malecon. The preparations are the same as for going to the theater or a movie. With the difference that now we have to bring equipment bigger than a telephone, to be able to type with ease and take better advantage of the time.
Bus 174 with its new route favors us this time and before eight-thirty we’re entering the area. We are immediately struck by the number of people gathering on the sidewalks and on every corner, as we walk down the few blocks that make up what we might call the “hot stretch.”
As we brought our computers, we are impatiently looking for a little gap where we can squeeze in, but it’s impossible. Every stone, step, or piece of wall is occupied. Even the sidewalk itself is covered with people sitting and the almendrones – fixed route taxis – pass a few inches from feet with no one noticing. continue reading
The public is of all ages, although the predominance of teenagers is remarkable, in many cases a little impatient with their older family members, as they try to teach them to connect and navigate the web. Probably this nice gesture by the kids for their parents and grandparents happened in the same way all over the world 20 years ago, when mass access to the internet started, but that process started inside homes and later in public spaces, generally free.
On not finding any adequate space, we decide to try the Habana Libre Hotel, and we realize there is a little space in the outside corridor on the second floor. We hurry to sit on the floor, machines on our knees and enter the access passwords to see what happens.
Instantly, several boys ask us if we can do them the favor of allowing them to access the phone company’s portal through our PCs to recharge their accounts, because from certain types of phones it’s not easy to enter the site. We help some of them out and then go on-line ourselves.
We manage to enter and for a few minutes we experience this feeling of freedom that is the sense of a modern and civilized existence, where you feel yourself a part of something very big, infinite… It is like breathing the air of the outside world and flying through it to the point where you want to stop and contemplate the beauty and the tragedy in which we live. When we start to feel pains in our legs, aches in our backs and the irritation of the ambient noise, a half-hoarse voice wakes me up, “You can’t be here gentlemen, you have to go down to the world, let’s go.” It was one of the hotel guards, who constantly pass to “clear the area.”
With great difficulty we manage to gather ourselves, computers in hand, headphones on. With dozens of users on the stairs, we can barely see to descend to start a new search for a space. We find a ledge in front of the Ministry of Public Health and along with other internauts climb aboard again. This time our hands are moving faster because we have lost several golden minutes. We no more than alert a couple of friends to chat on Facebook when another guard comes along and repeats the same phrase. We stand up and head toward the Malecon, to see if we can find better luck.
On the way, there is no shortage of offers for access cards at three CUC, one more than the State phone company ETECSA charges, a commission that puts it in your hand at the right time and the right place, which is something ETECSA does not do. At the top of O Street, we see something inconsistent with a rational scheme and the logic of business. While the street is full of people trying to get comfortable to surf and the heat is tremendous, several State-run places that serve as restaurants and cafes with tables and chairs are completely empty. We ask other friends who have spent days in the hustle and bustle of the WiFi and they tell us they don’t allow people to connect there.
To those who have been lucky enough travel out of Cuba, this is especially shocking and uncomfortable, because we are aware of the volume of refreshments, snacks, beer and all the rest people might consume while checking their email or working on the web. In fact, the majority of the notable food establishments in any country in the world have free WiFi as a way to attract customers.
In the case of Cuba, the national food service functions more under the logic of corruption than the logic of business, because its false profitability has never depended on satisfying the customer, but rather on managing the inputs to feed a chain of interests that would merit another article.
The truth is that there is no place anywhere along La Rampa to sit decently and consume an overpriced hour of internet. Or that is, there are places, but you can’t use them. Getting up again, I see to my right a spacious plaza facing the ICRT building. I imagine it full of tables and comfortable benches, with elegant and discreet service that harmonizes with the peace necessary to make productive use of the web. But it’s just a mirage: the space is part of the park belonging to the provincial committee of the Cuban Communist Party.
As I walk I notice another important detail, which is the darkness, already chronic, of 23rd Street in general and of the stretch of it called La Rampa in particular. This condition has long been conducive to other activities that now coexist and intermix with people using the WiFi. The result is an interaction that could be the perfect opportunity for some malefactors to easily snatch from someone’s hands a phone, tablet or laptop, because usually those surfing the web are concentrating too hard on their device to take the time to perceive the danger all around them. There has already been some incident, despite the permanent police presence.
Returning to the Cuba Pavilion, home of the Hermanos Saiz Association, I draw the team together again and sit on the stairs, filling a space just abandoned by a girl who, after turning off her tablet, continued laughing on her own. What news did she get? There I finally managed to get the 30 minutes remaining to me and discover with pleasure that at certain moments even videos work, and I can also chat with several guys from Somos+, who were also waiting to see me at this time. I show them from this side of La Rampa, the people, the cars, and no end of laughing, of questions and wonder. It is like magic, we are connected and we experience it intensely until the time runs out and once again we are isolated and distant.
Despite everything, the WiFi passes the test of the first month with the joy of its existence, serving mainly as an appetizer to unleash a much greater hunger for connectivity and freedom.