With Water Chest-high / Camilo Venegas Yero

Playing dominoes in Cuba after Irma.

Camilo Venegas Yero (from his blog “El Fogonero”), Dominican Republic, 11 September 2017 — I found this image on a Facebook wall. It illustrates today’s Cuba like few others. In it, it is clear that the ruined country survives from catastrophe to catastrophe, without producing anything that makes it move in any direction (when you’re stuck any movement is better than nothing).

The sea, driven by Hurricane Irma, fills the streets of Havana. It would seem there is no time to lose, however this group of Havanans wastes it playing dominoes. Shortly before I saw this photo, I read a dialog between Dominicans. They commented on “the great discipline of the Cuban people.”

“It is admirable,” one of them said, “everything the Revolution does to minimize the impact of these natural disasters.” Another noted the million people evacuated, and even that a group of actors had performed to ease the stress of the refugees. continue reading

Is it perhaps that there is not a great concentration of victims in Cuba? The problem for Cubans is not the tensions of a storm, but the poverty-stricken daily life that awaits them after its passage. I was tempted to share this image with the Dominicans, but these kinds of discussions already exhaust me.

Tomorrow, when the waters return to their level, they will steal something, or buy something stolen, or – if they are fortunate enough to have a family member in exile – call them to resolve their problems. Today the sea is chest high, tomorrow it will be reality that causes the same feeling of suffocation.

That is why they can’t think of anything better to do than to sit in the water and shuffle the dominos.

Cuban Students Rebel Against the Uniformity of the Classrooms

Students are asked to “eliminate” their dyed hair if they want to enter the classroom. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 8 September 2017 – The return to class, for thousands of children and young people, means a return to the discipline of school after two months of vacation. This September, school directors have focused their crusade against fingernails and hair painted bright colors, and students are forced to get haircuts or remove the enamel to conform to the regulations.

In July and August, far from the classrooms, many teenagers chose the strident tones of summer fashion. Red, green, blue and purple have been a trend in hair and phosphorescent colors are favored for fingernails, a rainbow that the schools are not willing to accept.

“I do not want to see anyone here with phosphorescent nails or hair dyed in colors,” warned a fifth-grade teacher on Monday, at the entrance of her classroom in a school in the Plaza de Revolución municipality. The scene has been repeated in schools all over the island, which stick to regulations to limit the creativity of students. continue reading

Julio Mojena, the father of twins residing in the Havana neighborhood of Cerro, considers the restrictions arbitrary since there is no written rule that specifically states them. His sons dyed their hair in August and now, he laments, “they can’t go to class until they get haircuts… In my time it was the length of the hair and the earrings, now it’s the color. What will it be tomorrow?” he asks.

“Each school can make adjustments to school regulations” depending “on the characteristics of their community,” a Ministry of Education official, who prefers to remain anonymous, told 14ymedio by phone.

Although there is no specific regulation on hair color, nails or any other detail, the official maintains that “in the schools uniformity is demanded” in the physical aspect of the student body and that this detail is supported by the general regulations.

The official acknowledges that there was a time when the length of males’ hair was strictly regulated, but that now they may “wear their mane to the collar.” Formerly males’ hair could be no more than just over an inch long.

In the eighties the crusade against hair length and the maintenance of aesthetic uniformity among students even jumped to the pages of the official newspapers. However, the José Martí Pioneer Organization (for elementary schools) and the Federation of Middle School Students did not mediate in favor of those they represent and the students did not win that symbolic battle for differentiation.

Nevertheless, controls have softened over the years, especially since the economic crisis forced families to substitute parts of the school uniform for home-made ones or to buy their children’s school shoes in the hard currency markets as a result of a breakdown in the supply of manufactured products in the ration market.

Now it is common to see students in the regulated garments modified with pleats, raised hems or adjusted sleeves.

Nor do girls and young women escape the restrictions. “In this classroom you come to study and those nails decorated with figures or painted with phosphorescent colors distract the attention of other students,” a Spanish teacher tells his students at Baragua Protest Junior High School in Central Havana.

So far this year, at least ten girls from the school say they have had problems with the manicure they were wearing when the school year began. In contrast, the pressure for them is less in terms of hair; if they dye their hair blond or red it is ignored, although other tones, such as violet, blue or green may not be.

“Reality evolves faster than school regulations,” explains Zulema Vázquez, a sociologist with two school age children. “The teaching authorities have a mentality from the last century and are not prepared to deal with the new situations that are taking place,” she says.

The specialist considers that any attempt at uniformity in terms of physical appearance eventually causes children and adolescents to find more sophisticated ways to differentiate themselves. “It can be the length of the skirt, a piercing, adjustments made to a blouse, the color or the length of the hair, but in one way or another, they will find a way to break the monotony,” argues Vázquez.

María Molina, mother of a teenager in Cienfuegos, told 14ymedio that her 14-year-old son was unable to start the school year at José Gregorio Technological Institute where he is training to be a “teacher of agriculture,” because his teacher and the school’s principal did not allow him to attend with his dyed hair.

According to Molina, the teacher and the director warned that “if you don’t cut your hair or dye it black” he would not be admitted. The mother tried to negotiate an intermediate solution and proposed that the young man cut his hair a little every week until the dyed part disappears, but her alternative was not accepted.

“As a mother I feel frustrated, I called the provincial and municipal education department and everyone repeats that we have to respect the school regulations,” she concludes with irritation.

Cuba’s Most Pressing Problems / Eduardo Martinez

Trash overflowing and collecting around the available dumpsters at Aquila and Estrella Streets in Havana. Photo by Orlando Freire Santana

Primavera Digital, Eduardo Martínez Rodríguez El Cerro, Havana, 5 September 2017 — We list here the most pressing problems faced by average Cubans:

1-A greatly reduced ration book of subsidized foods. High prices in the markets. Very little on offer in the stores. Relatively cheap goods of horrendous quality. In an island surrounded by water there is no fish. Fishing is not permitted.

2-Total sustained inflation of 1000%. Constant reduction of the average Cuban’s buying power. continue reading

3-Almost total absence of locally produced or imported cosmetics and perfumes. Scarce, poor and expensive supply of clothing and shoes. Shortages of detergents, toilet paper, soaps, etc.

4-Terrible public transportation in a constant state of decay. Very expensive taxis. Private alternative drivers greatly harassed by police and inspectors who stringently enforce technical and aesthetic standards for which they provide no support.

5-Extremely high and burdensome taxes imposed on all private businesses, absence of incentives, no wholesale market, absence of low tariffs, barriers to importing, excessive and corrupt bureaucracy, great number of regulations and prohibitions that obstruct free enterprise, etc.

6-Abysmal state of the never-finished National Highway and of urban and rural roads throughout the country, where no work to reverse this situation can be seen. Advanced and irrecoverable (in terms of planning and current economic possibilities) deterioration of the housing stock and all urban infrastructure. Railway lines that are technologically backward, save those that have to do with access to the Port of Mariel.

7-Obsolete airports. New and more severe customs restrictions on the entry of merchandise and products when in fact the opposite should be the case, if the objective is to incentivize minimal but effective commerce. Impossibility of importation by private individuals or entities.

8-Dual monetary system*. When the Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC) is eliminated it will leave only the Cuban Peso (CUP) along with the exorbitantly high current prices. A median monthly salary consists of little more than 300 CUP monthly, while the cost of living for that same period is 2500 CUP.

9-High unemployment, not officially recognized.

10-The presence on the streets of a high number of uniformed police officers, members of State Security, and of inspectors who obstruct private enterprise and public life.

11-Exceedingly high emigration, especially of young and highly qualified professionals. Very low birth rate and very rapid aging of the population.

12-High housing deficit. Scarce and very expensive construction materials. Properties being bought-up by foreigners hiding behind national residents, incentivized by (for them) low real estate prices compared with those in their own countries.

13-Highly censored news media that don’t report on many matters of national and international interest. Scant possibility of accessing the Internet. Dreadful radio and television programming. Culture that is mediated and restricted by a Ministry that inhibits and prohibits more than it encourages, supports or represents.

14-Bad education with non-systematic improvisation of evaluative measures (such as oral exams for the 12th grade). Low expectations of students, indifference and apathy on their part for a future devoid of interest.

15-Bad medical and health services throughout the Island in light of the acute shortage of professionals for so many residents. Chronic absence of primary and secondary medications. An abusive black market in health care and products. The appalling state of public hospitals. Full waiting rooms but an extreme dearth of personnel given the exporting of the healthcare labor force to work in foreign countries in exchange for hard currency paid directly to the government.

16-Very little possibility of accessing recreation centers.

17-Violence, aggressiveness and widespread coarseness in the streets. High social indiscipline as a consequence of the sharp and sustained economic crisis in the country. The appearance of uncollected trash heaps around insufficient or very deteriorated garbage cans–founts of stink, mosquitoes and disease–on the corners of not very privileged or centrally located neighborhoods. The appearance of legions of dumpster divers (barehanded garbage pickers, usually old or chronically displaced persons) in search of recyclable aluminum cans, empty soda bottles that can be sold to private entrepreneurs, remains of edible food, anything that can be sold to unsuspecting buyers, etc. These ladies and gentlemen care little about order and hygiene, and they contribute to the nation’s urban disaster.

18-The ruling class is not interested in any type of aid from the North Americans, for they fear that–as will happen anyway, as is in fact already happening–their power will quickly slip through their fingers, and in six months time this country will become another Puerto Rico.

eduardo57@nauta.cu

Translator’s Notes:

*Cuba has two currencies: Cuban pesos (CUP), worth about 4 cents US, and Cuban Convertible pesos (CUC), each worth 25 Cuban pesos, or about one dollar US. It has been a longstanding, but as yet unfulfilled, promise of the government to move to a single currency.

Translated By:  Alicia Barraqué Ellison

How Does the Cuban Survive? / Eduardo Martínez

Primavera Digital, Eduardo Martínez Rodríguez, Havana, 31 July 2017 — In the 1960s and even the 70s, the legitimacy of the system–despite its continuous economic fiascos and failure to achieve an adequate and genuinely Cuban social system–was acceptable for the hopeful lower classes, while the middle and upper classes were fleeing to Miami.

Fifty-eight years after the triumph of the Revolution and still under the same regime, we ask ourselves the same questions, and many more besides.

The so-called Special Period began in 1990, a crisis from which, more than a quarter-century later, we have been unable to emerge. But the government obstinately insists on committing the same errors that produced the misfortunes of today. continue reading

This system appears equitable in theory, but in practice (the evaluative test of truth) it has proven to be dysfunctional.

The government attempts to improve and change the system, but in practice, nothing improves and nothing changes.

Of what use has been the enormous propaganda expounded around the Economic Guidelines and the last two Congresses of the Communist Party?  What changes have effectively improved the very precarious living standard of the Cuban people?

A foreigner might ask, “What is this man saying? What ‘very precarious living standard,’ when in fact they have government-guaranteed basic subsistence, free education, unbeatable social security, and enviable health care comparable to the best in the world?” He might think that I am a “mercenary on the imperialist payroll.” But whoever thinks this way does himself little favor. We shall speak of these matters…

The changes the government has made–to allow for a certain degree of self-employment in minute private businesses–improve the living standard of a few very determined entrepreneurs who, come hell or high water, are trying to earn incomes that will provide them a decent existence.

But these individuals are few and far between, and they have a difficult time of it, given the great number of erratic and disorganized regulations, the stress of inspectors and functionaries constantly hanging around demanding the expected and the unexpected, the high cost and difficulty of obtaining inputs, and the draconian taxes that must be paid to agencies that provide no type of security, facilities or guarantees for the work they supposedly regulate. And there is no wholesale market to lower prices and provide some assurance of supplies, preventing start-up merchants from snatching up all available materials needed by individuals.

Up until a few years ago, everything was guaranteed. You would work for the State until the age of 60, then retire with a little pension that would support you until death. Today, nothing is guaranteed. Nothing.

Of what use have been those vaunted “Guidelines”? We Cubans continue to live in poverty, on the lowest human scale.

The current situation of average Cubans–more than 90% of the population–is dire, literally unsustainable. The government knows this but does nothing to improve this situation, even though there exist the means and resources to do so, the methods and a trained labor force desirous of working for a suitable salary.

A redistribution of profits is needed, a clear and transparent accounting system, so that the citizens may know where every cent that we produce is invested: it is our right…

Readers will forgive the digression that follows, because regarding this subject, I find myself obligated to put forth concrete examples that could hurt the feelings of many.

One of my neighbors in Havana’s El Cerro neighborhood is an engineer who is now quite advanced in years. His wife was a professor. Both have been retired now for decades, with pensions of 200 Cuban pesos* (CUP) per month each. They have no children or other relatives. They were once faithful and honest functionaries, and members of the Cuban Communist Party (PCC).

The minimum cost of living is at about 2500 CUP (approx. 100 Cuban convertible pesos, CUC*) per month. With that sum one can acquire basic foodstuffs and medicines. Forget clothes and shoes, household appliances, home repairs, etc.

Both of these elderly people have to decide between what they will eat or what medicines they will buy when needed. In the not too distant future they will die and will not be counted in the national statistics as dead from starvation or lack of adequate medical care.

Last month, by way of the ration book, they bought the assigned amount of chicken, five eggs, and a half-pound of “soy ham” per person. This couple cannot acquire anything in CUC. Where is the protein in their diet? The fruits and vegetables they need?

In their prime, this aged couple were active members of this society and faithful followers of the PCC. Today, they do not officially exist. They will soon leave this earth and nobody will have done anything for them. They live in isolation, confined to their apartment during their last days.

This is how the majority of the aged survive. Many were faithful followers of Fidel who, at some point, renounced their emigrating relatives, took part in repudiation rallies and hurled eggs at those who were leaving, always applauded at the Plaza of the Revolution–even when their monthly ration of rice and sugar was reduced by a pound under the standard quota—and who trooped along in the Marches of the Combatant People, etc.

This permanent economic crisis and the astronomical inflation that the government maintains by force directly harms the elderly. There has been much official talk about helping them, taking care of them, but nothing has been done of any great scale. Old folks’ homes are extremely scarce. To enter one, you have to give up your pension to the State and, to get his or her attention, you have to give up your house to a functionary who decides if you will be admitted.

Lack of adequate medical care? How can that be?

My brother, generally healthy and very active, took ill a few days ago. He went to the doctor’s office on the second morning of a severe malaise, but on that day they were only seeing pregnant women. He was not seen. On the third day he returned to the office and the general practitioner, without so much as examining him, let alone taking his blood pressure or listening to his heart, among other basic check-ups, prescribed him analgesics. On the fourth day, still suffering the same complaints, but worsening, my brother visited the polyclinic and the doctor on duty was about to prescribe him something, without performing any examinations, blood work, urinalysis, etc. Nothing. My brother fled before the doctor could get a word out. He turned to a well-known cardiologist, who within in a nearby hospital discovered that he is a diabetic, and placed him under treatment.

Doctors find themselves constantly besieged everywhere by relatives, friends and acquaintances in search of at least basic medical attention, and this increases their workload tremendously, because desperate people are knocking on the doors of their homes at all hours.

It takes me a half hour to walk to the hospital where my wife works as a gynecologist. For her–who of course does not own a car–it takes two hours. She has to constantly stop to give street consultations to the persons who are impelled to seek her out because of the deficiencies of the health care system. She, with infinite patience, gives them her time and does the best she can.

Today, overburdened Cuban doctors are forced to economize, to employ a personal evaluative scale by observation before utilizing expendable or electronic resources that might be costly to the State. This is per training by the Ministry of Public Health. Where do they put the more than $8-billion earned by our foreign medical missions?

In the pharmacies, no antacids, anti-fungals, anti-allergens, potent analgesics, antibiotics, etc. can be found. There is practically nothing there except for medicinal syrups concocted from traditional herbal recipes. Even aspirin is scarce. Notwithstanding, many powerful medicines, some of Cuban manufacture, are sold on the black market at exorbitant prices.

In the poorly provisioned hospitals, to gain admittance is quite difficult, albeit free. For a surgical operation one needs a miracle or a friend.

When a patient is admitted, he or she must bring bedclothes, food, fans, drinking water, etc., and–in light of the devastating shortage of nurses–someone must remain with the patient to ensure the timely administration of treatment and medications. Upon release from the hospital, if the patient does not slip 10 CUC to the ambulance drivers, there is a wait of three days for the ambulance service from the hospital, or else one must rely on expensive private taxis.

Have we spoken of the enormous waiting lists for operations? The sick must wait weeks, months, years, and then die because the operating rooms are never available due to advanced deterioration, or lack of bedding, anesthesiologists, water or surgical sutures.

Is this the celebrated medical service?

Everything I refer to here is demonstrable. One only needs to visit a hospital as a patient.

But the rulers always have some luxury tour planned out for the gullible or those who want to believe.

Today in our society can be seen sharp differences between a rarefied group of enriched government bureaucrats (along with a few successful miscreants) and the overwhelming majority of the people.

There are excellent neighborhoods such as Nuevo Vedado, Miramar, Siboney, Atabey, and some other area along the periphery of Havana such as Fontanar, etc., where these personages somehow finagle (there is always something murky about these transactions) grand mansions, practically all built in the 1950s, as this is the only architectural era on which one can rely for elegance and style.

There is a law on the books, of which little is said, which imposes space limitations on permits for new construction. That law refers to modest dwellings of just a few square meters per inhabitant.

Near my house, a functionary who drives an enormous Mercedes has built a residence of nearly 1000 sq. ft., utilizing a private work force. With the blocks and cement they have used just on the surrounding wall, a modest apartment house could be built.

No argument here against big mansions. The problem is when its occupants sharply preach all that about “do as I say, not as I do.”

At this time, the government appears to be in a profound financial crisis. It hardly exports anything, tourism has not increased as predicted, and the price of petroleum is still low (thanks to Venezuela). All that’s left are the scarce products of our pharmaceutical manufacturing, biotechnology and the export of human capital to the detriment of our already precarious internal services.

There are shortages of supplies to the CUC stores, and delayed and even more scarce stocks of regular and subsidized foodstuffs.

What will low-income people, the aged, eat when there are no more provisions to be had through the ration book?

There are markets for fresh agricultural products and pork and lamb, but their prices continue to rise unabated. For example, at the peak of the harvest season, a pound of tomatoes or onions costs 10 to 15 Cuban pesos, which is more than a worker makes in one day, and let’s not even speak of pork, which costs 35 Cuban pesos per pound.

If the government is trying to gain access to the bank credits of major world markets to salvage at least one part of the socialist economy, it will find itself forced to cut back on all types of services to the population, and even if not, they will continue to deteriorate. And we are well past the times of Marches of the Combatant peoples, of military slogans and harangues.

Still, this government has nine lives. In the 1960s, the Soviets bailed it out. Later, Hugo Chávez came on the scene to rescue it. Today, as Chavismo is mired in problems, the help will come from whom we least expected it.

Will the regime accept the political and social cost of a massive infusion of North American investments? Hopefully it will, because I’m dying to eat a double Big Mac and wash it down with a liter of Coca-Cola on the corner of Malecon and 23rd.

Really, the Castros have never cared about the people’s calamitous situation. What they care about is the State, their State, the one they hope will survive them, so that they will not find themselves as defendants in a Cuban version of the Nuremberg Trials.

eduardo57@nauta.cu

Translator’s Notes:

*Cuba has two currencies: Cuban pesos, worth about 4 cents US, and Cuban Convertible pesos, each worth 25 Cuban pesos, or about one dollar US. It has been a longstanding, but as yet unfulfilled, promise of the government to move to a single currency.

Translated By:  Alicia Barraqué Ellison

 

Cubans Stranded In Panama Are Wary of the Deportation Initiated By the Government

Some twenty migrants organized a press conference outside the Gualaca camp in Chiriquí province to complain that they have been victims of a “deception”. (El Nuevo Herald)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miami, 29 August 2017 — This Monday the process began to repatriate 75 undocumented migrants who were stranded in Panama after the United States ended the wet foot/dry foot policy that allowed Cubans who touched American soil to stay. The Cubans stranded in Panama accepted that government’s proposal to return to their own country, in exchange for financial support and a visa to legally return to Panama, but some say they feel “betrayed” because the first deportees were not given an appointment at the consulate.

“We feel betrayed by Panama because they sent the first two emigrants to Cuba and did not give them an appointment at the consulate in Havana,” one of the Cubans, who has asked to remain anonymous for fear of reprisals, said via telephone. continue reading

This Monday a Cuban couple was repatriated to the island and according to the Panamanian Deputy Minister of Security, Jonathan Del Rosario, they received economic aid so that they can start over as self-employed. Regarding the consulate appointment, the couple says that they were only given telephone numbers for the Panama consulate in Havana and not a date as the deputy minister had said.

“I am a man of my word, and everything we have promised is going to be fulfilled,” Del Rosario told 14ymedio from Panama City.

According to the vice minister, the pre-appointment is a record that shows that the migrants have fulfilled the promise to return to Cuba. “The list of those who return will be transmitted to the consulate through the Foreign Ministry,” he explained.

“We have to have patience and confidence because everything we have promised has been fulfilled over time,” he added.

The first Cuban returnees were the ones who had spent the most time outside the country. According to the families of both migrants, who live in Havana, the trip was in line with what was planned and they are now “reuniting with family.”

“I have been very clear, very honest and very frank, I do not see why the migrants are suspicious,” said the deputy minister, who added that “those who misbehave or become rebellious will move from the Gualaca shelter to Migration for their deportation.” He lamented that the repatriation process could be at risk because of the despair of some islanders.

So far, no other migrants have been sent back to Cuba because it is the Panamanian administration that pays for the tickets and economic support, something for which it is still organizing the budget. “It’s a complex process that requires time,” Del Rosario explained.

Meanwhile, a dozen Cubans organized a press conference outside the Gualaca camp in Chiriquí province on Tuesday to complain that they have been victims of a “deception.”

“Not all Cubans think in the same way, there are some of us who are ungrateful and don’t value what this country is doing for us, but we are not everyone,” says a second migrant who asks for anonymity for fear of the protest leaders.

“We are desperate, that is true. The months pass and we are still here thinking that we will have to return to Cuba and start from scratch,” he adds.

Note: Our apologies that these videos are not subtitled in English

The Cubans fear having to face the difficult task of getting an appointment at the Panama embassy in Havana. Some applicants have waited more than six months to be seen by the consulate due to the thousands of calls received every Thursday to process visas to that country. Faced with increasing demand, Panama’s Director of Immigration, Javier Carrillo, told 14ymedio that the number of visas would increase from the current 500 to about 1,000.

At the end of June, the Panamanian government proposed to the 124 Cubans who were in the Gualaca camp that they voluntarily return to their country in exchange for $1,650 and a multiple entry visa to Panama.

A little more than half of the undocumented immigrants accepted this proposal because of the impossibility of legalizing their status in the country or entering the United States where, as of January 12, with the end of the wet foot/dry foot policy, Cubans lost the privilege of being granted automatic refuges status if they reached American soil.

‘Che’ Guevara Welcomes Passengers At Miami Airport For A Few Hours

A poster with the image of the Argentine guerrilla was exhibited for some hours by mistake in one of the main terminals of the Miami airport. (Courtesy)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miami, 1 September 2017 — Miami Dade County Mayor Carlos A. Giménez, whose family had to go into exile after the Cuban Revolution in 1959,  never thought that his image would be linked to that of Ernesto Che Guevara, one of the “bearded ones” who established communism in his homeland.

The image of Guevara welcomed passengers at Miami International Airport for a few hours on Thursday night and continuing into Friday morning, just a few yards from another image showing Giménez as part of the exhibition The Irish in Latin America, sponsored by the Irish embassy in the United States to highlight the contributions of immigrants from that country to the history and culture of Latin American.

“Che Guevara wanted to make people ‘an effective, violent, selective and cold killing machine’, as he put it. Far from being considered a hero, they should measure him by the same yardstick as Osama Bin Laden” continue reading

“The picture of Che is no longer there, they took it away,” said an airport employee who asked to remain anonymous.

“I saw it last night and I did not agree. They should have put another photo of a celebrated person from Cuba, but not Che who was a murderer. It’s fine that the communists in Cuban or Venezuela display it there, but not here,” said the employee of Cuban origin.

Greg Chin, communications director for the airport told 14ymedio that in one of the preliminary versions of the art exhibition organizers presented the poster with the image of Argentine guerrilla, but that the authorities of the terminal made it clear they would not display it out of respect for the community.

“It was taken down early in the morning. It wasn’t on display at the airport for even 12 hours,” he explained.

The image of Giménez remains at the beginning of the exhibition ,which contains a total of 27 posters with personalities of Irish descent that marked Latin American history. The legend under his image extols his Irish ancestry and credits the ties he has created between the two communities.

The mayor’s office said he “deeply regrets” the incident and they were unaware of the images that would be displayed at the airport.

“In an essay about the exhibition they included the image of Che Guevara and the staff of the air terminal themselves expressed their rejection of this figure and what it represents in Miami,” said Stephanie Severino, a spokeswoman for the mayor’s office.

The exhibition is divided by the main countries where the Irish emigrated to. Five of the images are dedicated to Cubans and highlight historical figures such as José Martí, Father Felix Varela, Ricardo O’Farrill and Alejandro O’Reilly.

Ernesto Guevara, born in Argentina, participated in the struggle against Batista and then joined the revolutionary government with Fidel Castro; the Irish exhibition presented him as a physician committed to social justice.

Fragment of the original exhibition of “The Irish presence in Latin America”. (Courtesy)

“After graduating as a doctor, Ernesto spent the rest of his life fighting against poverty and injustice in Latin America,” declared the exhibit, classifying him as “one of the most celebrated revolutionaries of the twentieth century.”

The image of Che that was displayed last night at the airport’s E terminal was created in 1968 by Irish artist Jim Fitzpatrick. It is a poster in white and red with the image of Che Guevara under the name VIVA CHE, and is inspired by the famous photograph taken by Alberto Korda.

The Irish ancestry of Guevara comes to him through his paternal grandmother, Ana Isabel Lynch, born in Argentina. The family’s Irish roots from Patrick Lynch, who established himself in Buenos Aires in 1740, married to a wealthy heiress.

The Irish embassy in the United States told this newspaper that the panel with the image of Che was not supposed to be included . “It was removed as soon as we discovered the error this morning. We fully understand the sensitivity and deeply regret the error,” said communications director Carol Jordan.

María Werlau, director of the NGO Cuba Archive, dedicated to collecting information on Cuban historical memory, believes that the image of Che Guevara is one of the “most successful” advertising campaigns in history.

Werlau is the author of a book entitled The Forgotten Victims of ‘Che’ Guevara which details the shootings directed by the Argentine guerrilla after summary trials in Havana’s La Cabaña fortress.

Che’s biographies are voluminous but almost never thoroughly investigate his crimes. Guevara was one of the forerunners of the infamous UMAP in Cuba [forced labor camps for dissidents, priests and homosexuals]. He wrote against the Indians and against the blacks. In his own writings he recognized that he liked to kill,” she explained.

For Werlau, placing the image of Che next to patriots like Martí and Varela is the “product of the ignorance.” According to the expert, the Cuban exile has not been able to raise awareness of the need to dismantle the propaganda of the Government of Havana.

Che Guevara wanted to make people ‘an effective, violent, selective and cold killing machine’, as he put it. Far from being considered a hero, they should measure him by the same yardstick as Osama Bin Laden,” she added.

Díaz-Canel: Killer of Illusions / Cubanet, Luis Cino Alvarez

Miguel Díaz-Canel and Raúl Castro (Reuters)

Cubanet, Luis Cino Alvarez, 24 August 2017 — In his hardline speech to Cuban Communist Party (PCC) cadres, Vice President Miguel Díaz-Canel killed any illusions some may have harbored that a future government headed by him, following Raúl Castro’s retirement,* would tend towards reforms and be less authoritarian and repressive.

Assuming the stance of a prison warden and speaking in a more commanding voice than usual, Díaz-Canel came across as considerably menacing–and not only with respect to the open opposition. Into the same bag of what he called “subversive projects” and “counterrevolution” Díaz-Canel also tossed the loyal oppositionists of Cuba Posible, the pro-government journalists who collaborate on non-state media, centrists and other ideologically diverse actors–no matter if they declare themselves to be within the Revolution.** As if this were not enough, he also warned that there would be no consolidations of a private sector that could break away from the State and turn into an agent of change. continue reading

All of this in a tone that more reminiscent of a State Security official than of a technocrat of the party bureaucracy. So intransigent and backward did Díaz-Canel come across, that in his place could have stood the uncouth Ramiro Valdés, or Machado Ventura himself were he not so busy cleaning up agricultural disasters.

If a medium as mild in its treatment of the regime as OnCuba Magazine irritates Díaz-Canel, we can only imagine what he thinks of Cubanet and Martí Noticias, among others, and what he has in store for independent journalists.

Could it be that the heir apparent, if he wants to make it to February 2018, could not spare any harshness in his lecture? How could he disappoint the little old commie fanatics who keep the fuse lit, even at the risk of it all exploding in their hands?

There is no need to dig deep and expect surprises from Díaz-Canel. For now, he called the play and it truly sets my teeth on edge. It is more of the same. Without much variation in the score.

There was no reason to expect otherwise–why insist on sniffing out a Gorbachev or Deng Xiao Ping in Díaz-Canel? He must have learned in cadre school that this type of system does not allow reforms that do not come apart at the seams; that rats, regardless of how they might beg for it, cannot be fed cheese, because then they will want water, and then more cheese, and will continue begging for it until the pantry runs out.

Actually, it was only the usual naifs, those given to wishful thinking, the extreme optimists, who harbored illusions about Díaz-Canel. He might have been able to appear liberal with the gays and rock fans of the Club Mejunje in his native Santa Clara, back when he had not yet put on weight, would ride his bicycle, and looked like Richard Gere. But once he got to Holguín as first provincial secretary of the PCC, he did not hesitate to order evacuations of marginal neighborhoods: apparently he preferred the invasive marabú* weed to squatters.

Starting now, he is giving advance notice, as if he were just another general–and of the praetorian kind–that he wants a calm and orderly classroom, and that he will not balk at ordering State Security (after seeing to the extinction of the dissident movement) to take care of the insubordinate, lackadaisical and diversionist elements. And it could be that later on, given his inclination to social media, he will tweet–cock of the walk that he is–that “there is no reason to make the least concession to the Yankee imperialists.”

Díaz-Canel is of a younger generation, but as in his school days, he remains disciplined, a follower of orders. And very attentive to what his preservation instinct dictates. Apparently it has not failed him yet. It is no accident that he has gotten to where he is today.

luicino2012@gmail.com

Translator’s Notes:

*In 2013, Raúl Castro told the Assembly of People’s Power (the Cuban Parliament), that he will retire from the presidency of the Council of State and the Council of Ministers on Feb. 24, 2018. At the time of that announcement, Díaz-Canel was promoted to first vice-president of both councils.

**A reference to Fidel Castro’s Words to the Intellectuals speech of June 30, 1961, in which he set limits to the free expression of artists and writers: “Within the Revolution, everything; outside the Revolution, nothing.”

Translated By: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

Real Power / Eduardo Martínez Rodríguez

Cuban troops parading in Havana

Cuba Primera Digital, Eduardo Martinez, Rodriguez, El Cerro, Havana, 25 July 2017 –The Cuban people wish for, desire and silently demand changes that can lift us out of this sticky inertia wherein poverty resembles some plasticine or treacly substance that endlessly congeals in our hands.

The demand is silent because we lack access to communication media, although many of us would shout out certain truths.

We average citizens who make up 90 percent of the population—manual laborers and knowledge workers; service employees of all stripes; technicians, including engineers and architects working on projects related to their specialties; and more—we have no voice nor vote, we do not truly boast ownership of the means of production, nor of technical and technological resources. All we have to give is our labor force, our effort and sacrifice. Period. In general, we are treated as one more machine, dispensable and interchangeable, which when no longer serviceable, is traded for a functioning model, or else discarded, kicked aside. continue reading

The remainder of the population also tries to implement the needed changes of which Fidel spoke, and which Raúl knows are vitally important to saving the system.

Once upon a time, Raúl Castro said, “We cannot continue wobbling on the edge of the abyss. Either we change, or we perish.”

The octogenarian generation led by the obstinate Fidel Castro also includes delayed septuagenarians, but all of these together do not comprise even one percent of the total population of our country. They are the superstructure, the historic leaders–figureheads who appear to be running things, but in reality not so.

Between this layer of elders and rulers who are rapidly disappearing and the immense working class below lies another stratum of rich potentates who retain the true power in this nation, although for the moment they are keeping a low profile.

Beneath the veterans who can barely stand up anymore there operates, imperceptibly, a relatively large group of persons, ranging from the level of ministers to those functionaries charged with implementing their orders and directives, and including the military chiefs who command the armed services and the repressive structures of the Ministry of the Interior. These people are the ruling class that actually generates the high-level decisions, holds the reins of power, and runs the country behind the scenes.

One feels a little sorry for the ancient overlords with their greatly diminished capacities and ability to really call the shots. They should stay home and be enjoying a good rest, away from public life; instead, they remain apparently in control, when in fact they are no more than a sad semblance of power.

True power is in the hands of the much younger generals who direct regiments and battalions of armed and well-trained soldiers; the generals of the Ministry of the Interior who manage State Security, the police, and other agents of confrontation that are behind the always-possible and ever-imminent popular uprisings that can flare up at any given time; the generals and colonels who lead the corporations and enterprises in which great investments are made of national and international capital in the productive spheres and foreign tourism; the managers of joint ventures that raise high levels of hard currency; the corporate personnel of the Banco Metropolitano, which finances the army and dominates almost all monetary and financial activity; the ministers and directors of departments in all domains of national life, who determine and issue their own regulations parallel to the elastic and vaguely-defined laws published in the Gaceta de Cuba [Official Gazette of the Republic of Cuba], for which our inefficient National Assembly scarcely convenes a couple of times a year.

These highly privileged señores retain real power when it comes to deciding what can and cannot be done, who can approve what, and which changes to allow or not. They decide who will leave the country or be incarcerated, where shopping can be done and by whom, who escapes and who will be taught a lesson. This is a dark intermediate layer, highly corrupt and merciless, which could not care less about the common people below or the old geezers above.

These señores do not want—they will fight tooth and nail to prevent—change of any kind. Any. The feeble government of the octogenarians is no match for them, and the lower classes do not know what to do, or do not seem to know.

Were this to change, the señores who comprise this intermediate layer—a wall of contention immovable in the face of change—would have to give up their good state-owned vehicles; they would not be able to maintain their various private luxury cars; they would lose their special stipends for food and fuel; they would have to vacate their elegant and well-maintained residences in exclusive neighborhoods (generally built during the 1950s with the money of the millionaires back then) where new construction is not permitted, such as Siboney, Cubanacán, Atabey, Nuevo Vedado, Aldabó, etc. They would not be able to constantly travel abroad to make the expensive purchases on behalf of the State so that it can support the 11-million parasites that they say we have become. They would not be able to enjoy the many sweet, efficient and beautiful secretaries at their disposal everywhere. They would not be able carry out that vastly lucrative internal influence peddling that keeps the nation’s wheels turning, and which so much resembles embezzlement.

Were all this to change, these señores would have virtually nowhere to go, and they are well-accustomed by now to living well.

These señores are the ones who keep this country in a permanent state of bankruptcy, spending and squandering the little cash we generate, while they fatten their own bank accounts, hidden throughout the planet, on the backs of the people.

These same señores, on the day they come to realize that on the other side of change the universe looks more lucrative, will not hesitate to execute a coup d’état, will not hesitate to neutralize the octogenarian overlords, will not hesitate to order the troops to the streets to massacre the opposition. And it will be worse than in other places: in Cuba we are all soldiers.

They will become the nouveau riche, as has already happened in so many other nations that went through this process in Eastern Europe.

If you doubt it, take a look at how many ministers and other functionaries have fallen into disgrace in recent years, when the octogenarians tried to apply a few honest touches with what little authority and prestige they have left—as happened to the corrupt General Acevedo, or the previous Education Minister, who traveled abroad on the public dime more than 70 times in barely two years. This could be a long list…

Within that dark layer, subtly and silently, lies the real power. They are the ones who could trigger a sudden upset to our society, were they to consider it prudent or beneficial to do so, for they hold the means and resources in their hands, under their direct control. They have a lot of money and have become used to wielding unlimited power, good students as they are of the aged rulers who are on their way out. This bad seed will become our new opulent capitalists, cruel and merciless. For now, they are the ones who will set the status quo, the clamor for change from average citizens notwithstanding.

eduardom57@nauta.cu; Eduardo Maro

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

Dozens of Opponents Attend Mass in Honor of Oswaldo Paya in Havana


Our apologies for not having subtitles for this video.

14ymedio, Havana, 21 July 2017 — At least 40 activists attended a mass in tribute to opponents Oswaldo Payá and Harold Cepero on the fifth anniversary of their deaths, on Thursday evening. The ceremony took place in the church of Los Quemados in Marianao, Havana, and passed without incident.

The daughter of the leader of the Christian Liberation Movement (MCL), Rosa María Payá, traveled from the city of Miami, where she lives, to participate in the memorial. About 60 people attended the mass, among whom were family, friends and opponents of the Castro government.

Among the activists who participated were former Black Spring prisoner Félix Navarro, the dissident Manuel Cuesta Morúa and the leader of the Ladies in White, Berta Soler.

Speaking to 14ymedio Rosa María Payá said she found “the whole of civil society represented” to honor the memory and legacy of his father. “[All opponents] agree fundamentally: this system does not work and we have to change it.”

Berta Soler said that “the Cuban regime thought that killing Oswaldo Payá was going to do away with him” but that was not the case because “he lives among us.”

Oswaldo Payá founded the MCL in 1988 and died on 22 July 2012 with Harold Cepero, after the vehicle in which they were traveling, driven by the young Spanish politician Ángel Carromero was driving, went off the road and hit a tree.

Payá’s daughter is carrying out an intense international campaign to demand an independent investigation of the case and maintains that the death of her father was a murder orchestrated by the authorities of Havana, and that the car was purposefully run off the road.

A report by the international Human Rights Foundation (HRF) points to “solid indications” that the car in which Payá and his companions were traveling was hit by another vehicle before the crash.

Cubans Want to Vote in Free and Open Elections: Oswaldo Paya and Harold Cepero Are Two of the Many Who Have Died For It

5 years since the death of Oswaldo Paya and Harold Cepero

On NOT Waiting for the King to Die / Rosa María Payá

Cuba Decides: Continuing Oswaldo Paya’s Work for a Plebiscite

Oswaldo Payá Remembered On The Anniversary Of His Birth / 14ymedio

Rosa María Payá: “Totalitarianism is not broken in Cuba, we can not pretend it is” / EFE (14ymedio), María Tejero Martín

Je Suis Cuba / Rosa Maria Paya Acevedo

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

School Diplomas

School diploma in Havana (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Marcelo Hernandez, Havana, 5 July 2017 — They arrived, enthusiastic and happy, to their party for the end of the school year. One mother brought a macaroni salad with mayonnaise, another brought from home some disposable plates and a third took on providing the croquettes. The celebration was ready in no time, while the horns played an off-color reggaeton song. This Wednesday many elementary schools ended the school year and opened the vacation season.

The parents gathered what they could, in the midst of one of the most severe shortages in the last decade, and the calls made by the authorities to ensure good food hygiene. Summer, with its high temperatures, has set off a spate of diarrheal diseases and the schools take extreme measures to prevent their spread.

However, it was not the melodies – that set everyone to dancing – nor the sanitary precautions that marked the day. The face of the deceased Fidel Castro took the leading role, being printed on thousands of graduation diplomas throughout the island.

Fortunately, between running through the corridors and devouring the cake with meringue, most of the students didn’t even notice that, like the dinosaur in Augusto Monterroso’s tale, when the party ended, “The dinosaur was still there.”

Planet Nothing

Rebeca Monzo, Havana, 16 June 2017 — Cuba is a distant planet. It has nothing to do with the rest of the world, because nothing functions there as in the majority of civilized countries. This “planet” is ruled by the whims of its ancient rulers who have spent almost 59 years doing whatever they please.

Now is when we were supposed to be doing better, thanks to the massive arrival of a tourist trade that for decades overlooked Cuba as a destination because of the innumerable restrictions imposed by the regime–and which now has no choice but to “loosen its grip” in this regard, because the country does not produce goods and is totally bankrupt. Curiously, almost all the tourists I talk with remark that they come to Cuba because they want to experience it before the great changes that are coming. It must be that they want to “feel” firsthand, rather than watch a movie about, a true Jurassic Park. continue reading

Nobody knows what is being done with the money collected via remittances [from Cuban émigrés abroad to their relatives on the Island] and tourism, being that the stores are practically empty, the public transportation service is worse every day, the city grows ever dirtier, and buildings continue to collapse–structures whose extreme deterioration is due to the government never having taken care of them adequately.

Yesterday at the the Panamericana chain store location on 26th Avenue between 17th and 15th Streets in Vedado, I was struck with consternation to see the huge line of people waiting to enter. I asked an employee who told me that they had only one cashier, because the other three had quit their jobs, as had the workers in the personal and household cleaning supplies department. Only one cash register, in the groceries department, was open to the public.

We go on floating in a state of absolute stagnation, where “nothing from nothing” is our daily reality.

Ed note: Rebeca has a room for rent on Airbnb if you are going to Havana. (Additional note: this “advertisement” has NOT been posted at her request or even with her knowledge.)

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

The Dark Side Of Tourism in Cuba

Among the areas most affected by the avalanche of visitors are the Viñales valley, the city of Trinidad, the resort of Varadero and the Cuban capital. (JVY)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Zunilda Mata, Viñales, 27 June 2018 — At the entrance to Calle Obispo a guide explains to her customers the restoration works in the historical center of Havana. A few yards away, the line to exchange currency is full of foreigners and in the corner bar one hears English, French and German. Tourism is shaping the face of several areas of Cuba and becoming a problem for their residents.

“In this neighborhood you can’t even walk,” complains Idania Contreras, a resident of Obrapía Street in Old Havana and a law graduate. “At first people were happy because the area improved economically, but little by little the tourists have been taking over all the spaces and this is less and less like a neighborhood where people live.” continue reading

A pineapple never costs less than 20 Cuban pesos because the private restaurants in the area can pay that amount, because they sell the tourists a piña colada for three times that price

As a consequence of the increase in tourism, prices have also risen. “Now buying fruits in the markets is a headache because they are hoarded by the people who rent to tourists,” adds Contreras. “A pineapple never costs less than 20 Cuban pesos because the private restaurants in the area can pay that amount, because they sell the tourists a piña colada for three times that price,” she explains. In her view, those mainly affected are the citizens themselves who can’t afford these prices.

Contreras, who worked for a few months in a real estate management office, says housing prices are also up in the area. “The price per square meter has exploded around the Plaza de la Catedral, the Plaza de San Francisco and the streets where it is most profitable streets.” She also says that these areas are beginning to look like the center of Barcelona or Venice, where fewer and fewer families are living.

However, she acknowledges that “the problem has not yet reached the point of other cities in the world that receive many more tourists,” but she is concerned because there are no “public policies to alleviate the problems we are already experiencing.”

Contreras’s biggest fear is that there is only talk of the positive side of tourism, while some streets in the area are already showing symptoms of congestion and tourism activity aggravates the problems of waste treatment and water supply.

Several regions of the island face the challenge of absorbing an increasing number of travelers despite the precariousness of their infrastructure. Among the areas most affected by the avalanche of visitors are the Viñales valley, the city of Trinidad, the Varadero resort area and the Cuban capital.

“At night the discos are full of ‘yumas’ with young girls and it is a really pitiful show for our children”

“It is very difficult for a Cuban to rent a room because homeowners prefer to rent only tourists,” warns Gustavo, a handicraft seller near the Casa de la Trova in the city of Trinidad, which was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1988 and is now an obligatory stop on many of the package tours.

“This whole area is focused on foreigners,” he says. The salesman, born on the outskirts of Trinidad, believes that there are many people who benefit from tourism, but on the way he has lost the city he knew as a child. “Now it has been commodified and everything has a price, even people,” he laments.

In all the tourist hubs, along with an increase in private businesses there is also an increase in prostitution. “At night the discos are full of yumas, foreigners, with young girls and it is a really pitiful show for our children,” notes Gustavo.

“[Tourism] is more positive than negative because 30 years ago this city had old and beautiful houses, but nothing more,” says the seller despite his reservations about this economic sector.

Carlos and his two children live on the road to Viñales. Coming from a family of farmers, they now sell fruit at a stand by the side of the road. “Most of our customers are foreigners coming and going from the Valley,” says the farmer. He hasn’t gone into town for two years because, he says, “you can’t take a step with so many tourists.”

“Before this was predominantly a farming area with strong traditions, but now everything is being lost”

The winding road that leads to Viñales also suffers with the increase of vehicles. “It’s a rare week that there is not an accident in this section,” recounts Carlos while pointing to one of the curves near his house. The number of travelers interested in the area seems to have grown, but the seller points out that the streets and roads remain the same and that no expansion has been undertaken.

Carlos’s closest neighbors have a thriving business that offers horseback rides to travelers. They gain much more from these “ecotours” than they could sowing beans or tobacco, another change that is due to the avalanche of visitors. “Before this was predominantly a farming area with strong traditions, but now everything is being lost,” he says.

A few yard away, a tobacco drying shed stands with its gabled roof and its walls made of logs. In the interior, a peasant shows a dozen tourists how the leaves re dried. “This shed has been set up for groups who want to see how the process is done, it’s pure showcase,” says Carlos. “In this town everything is already like this.”

Danger, Men At Work

In 2016, occupational accidents totaled 3,576. Havana leads the list of provinces with 27 deaths. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 29 May 2017 — They call him “Manolo 440” because a few years ago he had an electrocution accident in a building under construction. He managed to survive and has since been given the nickname of the voltage that almost killed him. He was lucky, unlike the 89 people who died in Cuba last year in one of the 11 work accidents that occur every day on the Island.

Shortly before April 28, World Occupational Safety and Health Day, a worker painting the façade of the Hotel Plaza in Havana stumbled and fell two floors onto the street. He had no protective gear but was lucky and was taken to the hospital. continue reading

The United Nations counts 6,300 people who die every day in the world due to accidents or work-related illnesses. There are more than 317 million work accidents annually. But that data is only a part of it.

In 2016 occupational accidents in Cuba totaled 3,576 (144 more than in the previous year). Havana leads the list of provinces with 27 deaths.

The International Labor Organization (ILO) has called for eradicating the practice of “massaging” the numbers and this year is leading an intensive campaign in which it insists that it is essential for countries to improve “their ability to collect and use reliable data on safety and health in Work (SST).”

In Cuba, information on this scourge is rarely addressed in the press, although in recent years the National Bureau of Statistics and Information (ONEI) has published some figures. According to this state agency, in 2016 occupational accidents totaled 3,576 (144 more than in the previous year). Havana leads the list of provinces with 27 deaths.

The head of the Department of Occupational Safety and Health at the Ministry of Labor and Social Security (MTSS), Angel San Martín Duporté, said a few weeks ago that “66% of accidents are caused by the poor conduct of men and women. ”

However, workers say the principal causes of work accidents are poor organization, the chaotic supply of protective gear and measures, and the incompetence of unions in demanding compliance with safety protocols as the main causes of workplace accidents.

“These boots were brought to me by a relative from Ecuador,” says a sugarcane cutter at the Majibacoa sugar mill in Las Tunas. The man, who preferred to be called Ricardo to avoid reprisals, said agricultural workers in the area are subject to frequent “cuts on their hands and feet.” He says, “the type of footwear matters a lot, because if it is strong and high the chances of getting cut are smaller.”

All those who work alongside Ricardo are dressed in old military uniforms that were gifts or that they bought in the informal market. “They do not give us adequate clothes and when it does come the sizes are too small or too large,” the cane cutter complains. “We have had colleagues who don’t even have a hat and have gotten sun stroke, with dizziness, headaches and even vomiting,” he emphasizes.

Clothing and footwear are among the personal protective equipment which according to the new Labor Code must provide the employer free of charge

Clothing and footwear are among the personal protective equipment which according to the new Labor Code must be supplied free of charge by the employer. Although an official of the Ministry of Labor and Social Security clarifies via telephone to this newspaper that “each company has autonomy to modify those issues.”

Damaris, head of a construction brigade located in Central Havana, says that the workers under her command are “very upset” because now they have to pay for their work clothes and shoes. Previously, both garments were “supplied free” but now are “deducted from wages” and in response the workers are refusing to pay the union dues.

The Government allocates between 20% and 30% of the gross monthly salary of a construction worker linked to the tourist sector to pay for life insurance. “When someone is injured, that money is supposed to cover them, but the truth is that it serves for very little.”

An injured worker has the right to receive benefits in services such as orthopedic appliances and prosthetics, according to Law 105/8 of Social Security. As far as economic compensation is concerned, they get a total or partial disability pension which can reach up to 90% of their salary. In the case of death, the amount goes to the nearest relatives such as husbands or minor children.

For a person in delicate health, that money barely lasts for a couple of weeks. “I lost three fingers while working on the railroads,” says Yasiel Ruíz, a transportation technician who now sells churros near a school in Marianao.

The former state employee would have received a disability payment of less than the equivalent of 5 Cuban convertible pesos per month (about $5 US), so he decided to start his own business. “I gave up the financial compensation because it was more paperwork than benefits. My family helps me and I have become accustomed to not having those fingers, but at the beginning it was difficult,” he confesses. He claims that the accident in which he suffered the amputation was caused by “a failure to close a cattle transfer cage,” but he never brought his case to a labor court.

The former state employee would have received a disability payment of less than the equivalent of 5 Cuban convertible pesos per month (about $5 US), so he decided to start his own business

Decisions like his are repeated over and over again. Vicente A. Entrialgo León, a lawyer specializing in labor law, recently confirmed to the official press that in Cuba “there are not a great number of claims around this issue.”

But the danger is not only in the complicated work of construction, the hard work of the countryside, or the roughness of working on the railroad.

Nuria is afraid of contracting a disease at the polyclinic in Plaza of the Revolution municipality where she works as a dentist. “I get three pairs of gloves a day and many times they break while I’m taking care of a patient, but I cannot change them,” she complains. She says that there is little distribution of “equipment and hygiene items” to keep the place clean and “to protect patients and staff.”

The National Labor Inspection Office (ONIT) must ensure that these situations do not happen and demand “administrative responsibility” in case of accidents. But Nuria has never seen a representative of that entity visiting the health center clinics where she works. “This is like Russian roulette, any day I could get an infection.”

Interview with El Sexto (Danilo Maldonado) in San Francisco

Danilo Maldonado, known as El Sexto, in San Francisco. (Regina Anavy)

Danilo “El Sexto” Maldonado is in San Francisco, planning for the opening of his art exhibit, “Angels and Demons,” at the Immersive ART LAB, 3255A Third Street, May 11, 6-10pm. His exhibit is sponsored by the Human Rights Foundation as part of its Art in Protest series. This interview took place with the translation help of Alexandra Martínez.

Link to exhibit on Facebook

Regina Anavy: Danilo, I know that you’ve already had interviews with the Los Angeles Times, the Washington Post and other people about your experiences as a political prisoner in Cuba. Now I want to ask you about your artistic process. How you were able to create art while you were in prison?

Danilo Maldonado: I wasn’t able to paint in prison. I could only draw.

RA: How did you get drawing materials?

DM: To draw, all I need is pencils and plain sheets of paper.

RA: Did you have visitors who brought you these materials?

DM: My family brought colored pencils and pens and paper.

RA: Did the authorities try to prevent you from having these materials?

DM: Yes, that happened. They search everything, and a lot of the things they take away. For example, they didn’t let my mother take in my asthma medication, but I could get pens and little notebooks, as long as there was nothing already written on them. continue reading

RA: What did you do without your medication?

DM: A friend provided it for me until my mother finally was able to bring it in.

RA: How did you have the space to draw in a cell with other people?

DM: The same place where I was living and sleeping was the place where I could draw: my bed. I wrote letters but also spent my time drawing.

RA: How did you get your drawings out?

DM: In Valle Grande, I could always get somebody to help me take out the drawings. Someone who worked with an official but who wasn’t part of the searching, even sometimes an official.

RA: So people were mainly sympathetic to you?

DM: Some, yes. When I was in the isolation cell in Valle Grande, a doctor at one point gave me a sheet of paper and a pen so I could draw.

RA: It’s good to know that there were people inside the system who wanted to help you.

DM: Yes.

RA: How long have you been living in Miami?

DM: I’ve been here for roughly four months in total in the U.S.

RA: Are you here permanently or are you planning to go back to Cuba?

DM: At the moment it doesn’t make much sense – it’s not very logical – for me to be in Cuba. I can’t keep going to jail every five minutes. I can’t help my family. Now I’m trying to start a new life here, and I’m trying to focus on my career. There are a few motives for me to return, of course, because that’s my country, that’s my place, but I’m not sure when that will be.

RA: I understand you’re having a baby with Alexandra. Congratulations. How did you two meet?

Alexandra Martinez: I met him over a year ago in Miami. I’m a local journalist in Miami, and he was there for an art show, and I interviewed him, and then a few months later I went to visit family in Cuba and we started dating.

DM: It was her plan to be together. She went after me. And she’s been supporting me ever since. There have been a lot of dark moments but also some nice moments.

RA: Alexandra, are you still working as a reporter in Miami?

Alexandra Martinez: Freelancing. I went with him to Cuba for a month, and I was reporting from there. That was our original plan, for me to do that from Cuba with him, and then he went to jail. There was a moment when they didn’t want me to visit Danilo. They tried taking my camera away, and then when he was in jail they wouldn’t let me see him at first. They said that I was American and I wasn’t really his spouse. So I couldn’t see him. And then I was with his mom trying to visit him, waiting outside the prison, and in that very moment we hear Danilo’s voice, and he’s screaming, “They’re taking me to Combinado del Este.” And that was the first time that Danilo and I had seen each other in a month. They move prisoners around without informing the family. Families have to struggle to find out where the prisoners are, and it was lucky that we were out there.

DM: In 55 days I was moved to six prisons.

RA: And each time your family didn’t know where they had taken you?

DM: No. But I would always find a way to relate the news back to my mom. Whether that was through a prisoner who had recently been released or a friend who worked there, I would always find a way to get the news back to her.

RA: Were you allowed to have telephone calls?

DM: No. It was always very difficult for me to get to the phone. It was complicated, because if the guards helped me they would get into trouble.

RA: Did you have trouble getting a visa to come to the U.S.?

DM: No. I have a five-year travel visa.

RA: Are you planning to study art here?

DM: If they pay me, I will teach. I’m not a student anymore. I absorb what’s going on around me, and it would be difficult for someone else coming from a different tradition, a different place and time to teach me something. I’ve always drawn from when I was little. I had art history professors; then I studied marketing and public relations.

RA: I understand your mother is in Cuba and you also have a daughter there.

DM: Yes, but my mother can’t travel. She doesn’t have a passport. My daughter has a British passport, like her mother, and I’m trying to see if they will be able to come over here, so I can see my daughter.

RA: Is your art recognized in Cuba as much as it is outside?

DM: There are many people who know me, who recognize me in many parts of Cuba, in my neighborhood. I didn’t make myself famous on social media at first. I’m a graffiti artist who invaded the street, and the people on the street know me. It’s a different type of thing, because bloggers, journalists and people who tweet or do interviews are famous on social media, but I’m coming from the street and this gives me a different type of visibility. For example, on May Day, May 1, the activist who went out with the American flag and was beaten, many people had known him and seen him before, but never on the television screen. Although many people would never dare do that, many people now know about him, like the famous Reggaeton artist, Chacal. They will give a shout-out in a concert, and the popular rap group, Los Aldeanos, who are on film, critical of the Regime, have made songs about me as well. Now is when I’m able to take my career to another level of visibility. I’m really just trying to show and teach others through my own conduct.

RA: Do you feel now that you’re outside that you’re getting more information about what is going on in Cuba with opponents of the Regime?

DM: Yes, now I can get a lot more, but I already have my network and I’m well connected. I know what’s going on in my neighborhood.

RA: Is this through the Internet, telephone, word of mouth?

DM: Facebook.

RA: What was your reaction when Obama suddenly ended the wet foot /dry foot policy?

DM: Unfortunately the issue of immigration and people entering the country is really only a concern for the president of that country. Really it was Obama’s decision whether or not to end the policy. The reason Cubans emigrate is not really Obama’s fault. The blame is on the Castro Regime for forcing people to leave. And at the end of the day, I’m more concerned about the problems facing the Cuban people. Even I could have been a victim of the change, of not being able to come into the country, but really the people to blame is the Castro government. The main concern is changing things inside Cuba. The dictatorship is to blame for me even being here right now. The country’s a prison. Look at all the people who attacked the man with the flag. There are people who get attacked and don’t appear on television. But we need to be very clear about who’s to blame here, because maybe even if they [the Castro Regime] are brought to international trial, they could be set free, and we need to be very clear. Who’s to blame? The guard in the prison? The police officer who didn’t want to open the door for me or the security guard who was beating me up for saying something? In this case both of them are guilty.

RA: Our mutual friend, Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo wants to ask you this question: Was it easy to find a tattoo artist willing to put the image of the martyrs, Laura Pollán and Oswaldo Payá on your skin? Tell us about that experience and what it means to you.

[There is a You Tube video of the tattooing.]

DM: Yes. A friend made the appointment. I explained what I wanted to do. He told me, “Don’t record my face.” And immediately I had a solo appointment just for me. Another problem with art is that tattoo artists in Cuba are persecuted by the Regime. It’s not a legal business. They don’t give out licenses. Everyone is persecuted.

RA: Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo has another question: In 2011, in the first article ever published about you, which appeared in Diario de Cuba, he quoted you as saying that you were like “the noise of the people.” Today, six years later, what do you feel is the noise of Cuba?

DM: I believe that there’s some “noise” now with respect to graffiti. There are a few graffiti street artists, like Yulier [Yulier Rodríguez Pérez]. I love his work. He does graffiti on the street, very morose-looking surrealist creatures. He’s not outrightly political; he doesn’t associate himself with anything political. Right now I’m in a process of war against the bad in Cuba, and even heroes like José Martí had to leave Cuba and go into exile for some years. So I consider what I’m doing now to be part of this process, part of this war that I’m fighting. I didn’t leave to forget about what’s going on. I don’t stop working. I don’t stop thinking every moment, every day, about what I started and what I want to achieve. So there’s a lot left to do.

RA: What about what’s happening in Venezuela. What would it take for a movement like that to happen in Cuba?

DM: No, it’s a different situation. The people in Venezuela are completely different.

RA: What do you predict will happen when Raúl steps down in 2018?

DM: I don’t like predictions. The future belongs to the future. But I believe that what comes after Raúl is going to be another Castro. They will put different faces, different people to control the economy, different people to control different sectors, but at the end of the day they’re all puppets for the Regime. And one day they can put up on the television that so-and-so, like Miguel Díaz Canel, is betraying the revolution. Mariela Castro knows what she’s doing with the homosexual community, running around with the flag, and they’re trying to make out that what she’s doing is not a political campaign, not a political strategy, but of course it is. What’s coming is Mariela. That’s what they’re preparing. She’s taking a political platform. And if it were the sons, they would have created a political campaign for them. But the only thing people see is Mariela Castro going around, touting herself, doing whatever she wants and getting away with it, so we can only imagine that she is staging a political campaign to build the next face, the future of the revolution, something progressive, a human rights activist, a woman.

RA: But she wont be officially replacing her father.

DM: No. I wouldn’t dare make that type of prediction, but I can see that she’ll be the president; she’ll be the one controlling everything from behind the scenes. It will all be the same.

RA: So we should talk about your upcoming art exhibit in San Francisco.

DM: I’ll be inside of a cell for three days not eating anything, just drinking water.

RA: And at night?

DM: Same thing. I’ll be drawing portraits of political prisoners to raise awareness not just in Cuba but also in the whole world.

RA: What about a bathroom?

DM: There is one inside the cell.

RA: Are you going to have more of your paintings up in the gallery?

DM: There will be a total of about 20-25 paintings, all the drawings I did in prison and the most recent ones. They will be for sale.

RA: And this exhibit is going on how long?

DM: Two weeks, but I’ll only be there for three days.

RA: What are your future plans?

DM: I’ll continue with my work here. First I’m trying to take my art to the next level. Not just in the U.S. but in the whole world, the free world. Now there’s a show coming up called “Angels and Demons,” on May 11. Then I’m going to Europe for an Oslo Freedom Forum and Internet event, and then in September, this same show is going to Houston. The goal is to not stop working, to build a larger platform, so that when I decide to go back to Cuba, I will have a larger following, a larger layer of protection. We’re dealing with a group of murderers, of assassins, and we don’t know if they will detain me or not, so I have to keep doing what I’m doing. That’s my job.

Danilo Maldonado, known as El Sexto, and Alexandra Martinez in San Francisco (Regina Anavy)

Note: This interview is © by Regina Anavy