Interview With Díaz-Canel: Neither So Presidential Nor So Much “Media Appeal”

Interview with Miguel Díaz-Canel in Telesur. Photo Telesur / Rolando Segura

Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 20 September 2018 — If something stands out in the interview recently granted to the transnational Telesur by the (not elected) president of Cuba, Miguel Díaz-Canel, it is the way in which the poverty of his vocabulary is revealed, the inconsistency of his arguments , the triteness of a discourse as preposterous as the interviewee himself and especially the theoretical fragility of the supposed heir of the Marxist-Leninist-Martiano-Fidelista torch endorsed as the jewel in the crown in the “constitutionalist” project that is currently – ignominiously — circulating throughout the Island.

In fact, the president’s babble overflows with so much mediocrity that trying to dismantle it would be an exercise almost as vain and simplistic as his own arguments. It’s quite enough, as a matter of example, to highlight the worn-out defense of the single party in Cuba under the ridiculous assumption that José Martí – for greater absurdity, an obstinate liberal and antisocialist – founded a single party. Obviously, only if Martí had been bipolar or schizophrenic would he have founded more than one party. But of course, the President did not stop to consider such an insignificant detail. At the end of the day, the masters will say to themselves: the Cuban people have never questioned the political decisions of the Castro regime and its emissaries, why should they do it now? continue reading

Perhaps even more embarrassing was the gibberish he introduced to justify the elimination of the term “communism” as the goal of society in the new constitution. “If one goes to classical Marxism, the mode of production to which we aspire is communism. (…) Communism and socialism are closely related. If you want to build socialism, it is because you want to reach communism, “the President said, undaunted. Perhaps he was convinced that such an inference should settle the matter. So much dialectical genius can only be the result of a very personal and outdated interpretation of the classics of Marxism (God save us from all of them, especially their interpreters!).

In addition, the entire interview overflows with common places such as the “U.S. government Blockade” (“a brutal practice which seeks to condemn our people to die of necessities” and “constitutes the main obstacle to our development”), Imperialist “violence” against Venezuela and its “laborer president”, the defense of the entelechy called “Latin American integration”, and other similar invocations.

Those who expected that in this, his first official interview – given not to a national media but to a foreign one, a disdain to the guild of native scribes – would offer the public some glimpse of a government program, a strategy to promote the battered economy or some kind of master plan to (at least) stop and reduce, in a reasonable timeframe, the pressing and multiple problems of the daily existence suffered by the Cuban population; In short, those who aspired to listen to a president’s proposals were left wanting.

There were no surprises. It is clear that Diaz-Canel was not going to depart from the old script dictated by his tutor and patron from the concealing shadows of the General’s supposed “retirement,” even less so in such uncertain times for both rulers and “governed” and for the region’s allies.  In it are included the responsibility, the ever-conditioned benefits and perhaps something else.

Let’s not forget the sinister Article 3 of the new constitutional script that states that “Treason against the nation is a most serious crime, and he who commits it is subject to the most severe sanctions” (instead of nation, read “the Power”). And it is known that the closer you are to the cupola of an autocratic power, the more serious the “betrayal” considerations become, and punishment results in a greater warning lesson.

Miguel Díaz-Canel interview on Telesur. Photo Telesur/Rolando Segura

By the way, causes number 1 and 2 of 1989 are worth citing. They took place amid the “dismantling” of the USSR and the “socialist camp,” which ended with the execution of several conspicuous servants of the regime and with long prison terms – not exempt of fatal health “accidents” – for others. They are the most convincing demonstration of this statement.

However, and following the basic principle of reading between the lines, he points out that, this time, the president’s words did not show the overflowing triumphalism that usually saturates official discourses. In general, there was emphasis on tone but the message lacked conviction. Diaz-Canel hesitates even when he claims to affirm.

A clear example of this is when it refers to Cuban youth as “active and anti-annexationist” – an attention-grabber use of this second term, which is not part of the common lexicon of Cubans and rather seems to reflect an unspeakable concern for them. The Power Caste that a reality – and later expresses: “This generation is cultured and educated (…), I do not believe that its main desire is to be against the Party and the Revolution”.

The subtlety of this message may be invisible to those who are unaware of the Cuban reality; however, the official discourse has traditionally referred to the country’s youth, not from the point of view of what “it does not want” or what “is not,” but in unequivocal terms of what it is supposed to be: “revolutionary,” “politically committed,” “intransigent” and “combative.”

A detail that apparently does not say much, but constitutes a flagrant slip that would not have been committed with impunity in the days of Castro I … Or perhaps it was an involuntary (and untimely) betrayal of the subconscious.

Because if the President, in his privileged position, is allowed to have the widest and most accurate information about the social temperature of this Island, does not seem very convinced of the revolutionary militancy of the young people and (what seems more serious) considers that the wishes of the current young generations “are concentrated on development, more progress, wishing to be included, aspiring to have more participation and striving for technological development and also social communication” instead of the holy defense of the Socialist Motherland, which was the mission commissioned to the generations that preceded them.

What sense would the authentication in the Law of laws make of an ideology and a sociopolitical system with aspirations of eternity not considered a priority by the current youth, who are heirs by fate and not by choice of a failed legacy?

Without a doubt, the President is confused, and that should not have gone unnoticed by the zealous political commissaries. Pretending to have “media appeal” can be tempting, especially when one does not have enough prestige or an adequate political pedigree, but it also entails many risks. Especially when you are an interpreter of someone else’s libretto, which reduces the probability of interpretation and authenticity to the character.

It may be that at this point the designated successor has received the corresponding phone call from his tutor, whom he considers “a father,” who will have warned him that in successive public presentations he should concentrate only on what the manual dictates and be more revolutionarily convinced of what he says, in order not to hand the enemy excuses to distort things or imagine weaknesses.

In spite of everything, in the coming days the official media will disclose, ad nauseam, the original or edited version of the aforementioned interview. For this, they can count on, to start, the political apathy of a population that, as we know, does not usually consume this type of product.

Not coincidentally, in the television programming this Tuesday, September 18th, the telenovela schedule was shown earlier so then aforementioned interview would be aired… With all certainty, that will be the moment in which, in spontaneous unanimity, the great majority of Cubans, according to their possibilities, will tune in to other channels, they will go into “package mode*” or will dive into “subversive” antenna shows.

*El Paquete Semanal (“The Weekly Packet”) is a one terabyte collection of digital material distributed since around 2008 on the underground market in Cuba as a substitute for broadband Internet. In 2015 it was the primary source of entertainment for millions of Cubans.

Moreno Versus Correa: Three To Zero

Lenin Moreno after being invested president and receiving the baton from Rafael Correa. (@AsambleaEcuador)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Generation Y, Havana, 20 September 2018 — He seemed the perfect successor: docile, well trained and sticking to the script. However, Ecuadorian President Lenin Moreno has become the worst nightmare of his predecessor, Rafael Correa.

At first it was just a slight fracture that arose between them, marked more by differing points of view or by dissimilar impressions when the time came to take the reins of the county. But as the months pass the current Ecuadorian president has become the main executioner and undertaker of Correaism.

This September, Moreno has thrown another shovelful of earth over the former leader of the Alianza País party. Ecuador lost the legal battle against the American multinational Chevron, after a long confrontation in a historic case of environmental pollution in the Amazon. Before hearing the ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration based in The Hague, the president of Ecuador hastened to lay the responsibility on Correa. continue reading

The Secretariat of Communication accused the former president, who governed the country between 2007 and 2017, of using the clash with Chevron “to gain political and media prominence,” in addition to using “public funds for propaganda, manipulating national and international public opinion.” The level of the accusations Moreno’s administration has made against his predecessor marks the final break between the former party comrades and is the most critical point in a series of confrontations.

Recently, Moreno defined Correa as a “thug” who was “obsessed” with re-election and the latter responded by accusing Moreno of being a “traitor.” Ecuador’s departure from the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA) also constituted a serious setback for one of the most visible faces of that failed model that was called 21st Century Socialism. To these blunt blows is added an infinity of public skirmishes in which the current office-holder has always come out the winner from the political and diplomatic point of view.

While Moreno has projected an image of an equable man capable of dialogue, Correa’s arrogance has prevented him from controlling himself and in the face of every criticism he has received since leaving office, he has responded with very little statesmanship and obvious irritation on not feeling himself adored by Moreno.

That reaction is due, especially, to the fact that the plans of the former president saw the naming of a substitute as simply a legal move. The new president was supposed to hold on to the presidential sash for a time, just enough years to allow Correa to return to Carondelet Palace.

Instead, the one who had been trained to be a puppet cut the strings and decided to govern on his own. Beyond the lights and shadows of his administration, Moreno is sending a powerful message to other regimes, such as Cuba’s, who see in the handpicked and loyal successions a way to perpetuate themselves. The Ecuadorian president is destroying the illusions of those authoritarians of all political colors who hope to be able to manage, from behind the scenes, a puppet sitting in the presidential chair.

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This text was originally published by Deustche Welle’s Latin America page.

The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

Advice To The Independent Press To Protect Itself From Cuban Security

Among other items, the manual gives advice on what to do in case of suffering physical aggression. (Capture)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 23 August 2018 — How to evaluate the risks? What to do in the face of physical aggression? How to better protect information? These are some of the questions answered by the Holistic Security Manual for Cuban Journalists, recently published by the Institute for War & Peace Reporting (IWPR). With a simple language, the document is an essential “toolbox” for reporters on the island.

For decades, the Cuban independent press has experienced innumerable abuses and has had to adapt to frequent difficult and dangerous situations. This long experience has served as the main source for the IWPR in writing the current manual, presented in PDF format, inspired by the day-to-day of all those reporters who have chosen to narrate their country outside the official media. continue reading

Along with the experiences collected among these protagonists of free information, the manual has also relied on the advice of experts and various international organizations committed to freedom of expression and the protection of journalists. Hence, the final result is a compendium of recommendations sharply focused on the Cuban reality, with its peculiarities and its particular legal context.

The pages of the manual integrate advice for physical, psychological, digital and legal security, and also suggestions on how to act in times of danger. “The objective of the manual is to strengthen the capabilities of prevention, self-protection and security while exercising any information activity on the island,” say its editors, to which must also be added that it is a manual marked by awareness of civic matters and journalistic ethics.

The pages of the manual integrate advice for physical, psychological, digital and legal security, and also suggestions on how to act in times of danger

Responding to repression with a greater promotion of transparency and more professional work are some of the practices promoted by the 112-page document. This is a real challenge to a government that prefers to have “a mute, deaf and blind country,” as the Inter-American Press Association (IAPA) denounced at its meeting in Colombia in July.

In a society living under hyper-vigilance, with State Security increasingly dedicated to computer espionage, it is worth reminding reporters that they should never “leave notes or information from sources” nor fail to use encryption applications, which encrypt the messages from the moment of sending, as explained in great detail in the manual.

The flexibility when it comes time to adjust the advice, according to the subject on which the journalist is working or the characteristics of each medium, is also inscribed among the virtues of this volume. Its capacity for amendment can be infinite given the new challenges faced by reporters every day, which is why the IWPR insists on keeping the content “alive, subject to changes as the context changes.”

Beyond the recommendations for the safeguarding of the journalist, the media and the information collected, the text also becomes a glossary of the most common vulnerabilities suffered by the press in Cuba. A list to be taken into account at times when pressure is being applied from various sectors to have a Press Law in the country.

The fact that the manual was published soon after the end of the Congress of the Cuban Journalists Union, also helps to check it against the statements made in that conclave by professionals linked to official media, in which they demanded more access to institutional sources and better salaries. These demands stand in contrast to those of the independent sector, which is not even legally recognized that suffers from frequent arbitrary detentions and confiscations of tools of the trade.

It would be worth the effort for the editors to review some technological tips, such as the recommended use of WhatsApp in the Cuban context

It would be worth the effort for the editors to review some technological tips, such as the recommended use of WhatsApp in the Cuban context. The tool, very popular in other nations, faces several obstacles on the Island that don’t recommend it for journalism. With forced and data-heavy updates, it performs far below what Telegram can offer national users.

On the one hand, using the desktop version of WhatsApp requires a connection to the internet via mobile phone, something very difficult to achieve for those in Cuba who use a single browsing account in the public Wi-Fi zones. Telegram Desktop, meanwhile, can be used independently of cellular, which, together with the possibility of editing the messages after sending them, makes it more recommended for the press.

It is no wonder that Telegram has come to be called the messaging service of “the dissidents and the persecuted.” An added bonus is that it does not belong to Facebook, like WhatsApp, which was purchased by the social network giant. Mark Zuckerberg’s company has been shown to have serious vulnerabilities in terms of management of its clients’ data, while Telegram shows a greater commitment to security, and for this reason it has been blocked in Russia, where it was created.

Although the manual is intended for the Cuban press beyond the control of the Communist Party, many of the advice included in its pages can also serve those who work in media authorized and financed by the authorities. Even this media must be required reading for foreign correspondents living in Cuba, who are not exempt from surveillance and punishment for their work.

The manual closes with the text of Law 88, also known as the Gag Law, under which 75 activists were tried in 2003, in what came to be called the Black Spring. At least a third of the accused activists exercised independent journalism. A shocking epilogue that recalls that, despite the advice and recommendations regarding security, an independent Cuban reporter is at the mercy of the repressive caprice of the regime.

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

Athletes and Air Conditioners

Air conditioners pile up at Havana’s Jose Marti airport. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Generation Y, Yoani Sanchez, Bogota/Havana — Flight 254 climbs over Bogota on a cold, gray morning. Inside the plane members of the Cuban delegation is traveling back to Havana, after participating in the Central American and Caribbean Games held in Barranquilla, Colombia. For more than three hours, the restless athletes fill their area of the craft with conversations — which cross from one side of the aisle to the other — and that revolve, basically, around one issue: the purchases they have made to take home to the Island.

Other travelers flying on Avianca Airlines, on Tuesday, encountered more than twenty athletes dressed in blue uniforms marked with the flag with the single star. The composition of the group was heterogeneous. They were young people in perfect physical shape who evidently participated in the competitions; others with gray hair and the appearance of coaches, and third parties who were neither one nor the other, but who acted as guards.

As the plane broke through the dense layer of clouds over the Colombian capital a question broke the hypnotic silence of the ascent. “Hey, were you able to buy the split (air conditioner)?” an athlete sitting in row 11 loudly asks another, three rows back. The answer was also loud enough for everyone to hear. “Yes, I bought it with no problems, and also the bicycle and the parts that I need for the bike.” The brief dialogue triggered an avalanche of comments in the same style. continue reading

During the entire time the plane spent in the air, the group did not exchange a single word about the sports competition, the medals won, or the hard struggle for Cuba to come in second, after having lost the event’s scepter for the first time in almost fifty years. The contest they discussed was another. The protagonist was the game against the clock to be able to “leave the village and reach the markets” nearby, according to one of the athletes, or “to find where they sell things more cheaply to make the money stretch,” said another.

The jackpot, what really excited them and elicited grins, was not, for many of these young talents, to win the gold, silver or bronze, but to be able to return home with products and devices that will improve their quality of life. One boasted of having been able to “lift the suitcase a little bit with my hand” so that it did not register its whole weight during the airline check-in.

“I told the employee that they were bicycle parts although they are for a motorbike because it is easier to get them through,” boasted another. “They let me bring three suitcases and the extra they charged me I will get back quickly, because everything I brought is worth a lot more in Havana,” added an older man who seemed to be the manager of some sport. Beside him, a man with a military haircut and the same sports suit as the rest of the delegation listened without opening his mouth, but the backpack he had placed in the overhead compartment could barely be closed.

The plane began to circle over Havana. “We have to wait because we have been informed that the airport is closed for operations,” the captain informed the plane. While the passengers peered out through the windows at the same landscape repeated over and over, the athletes exchanged the latest recommendations for dealing with their luggage. “I’m going to pass the screening because I still do not have an import for this year, but I need you to take through the two phones I brought,” he asked one of his row mates.

Finally, the flight touched down and after the long line for immigration came the most anticipated moment for the anxious athletes: picking up their luggage on the belt. On one side of the conveyor, an employee of Customs shouted loudly that the AC units and televisions must exit through a small door that leads to the room where they scan each package to check its interior. The sports delegation was completely crammed in there.

Then an air conditioner came out, followed by another and then several more. The boxes were piling up, smiles lit faces, some took selfies in front of the growing mountain of appliances. Still, nobody was talking about medals.

It was time to exit to José Martí International Airport’s crowded waiting room. There were whole families waiting with babies or the elderly in wheelchairs. Screams, commotion and a woman in tears telling an athlete that seemed to be her son: “I knew you were going to bring it,” as she touches the box with the air conditioner with the relief of who imagines nights without sweating in a room kept in the comfortable 70s.

The scene repeats itself. The members of the sports delegation are hugging their relatives and distributing the first gifts. The tourists who have arrived on the same flight understand less and less. “Why do they have to bring those things?” asks a surprised Chilean who has come for a cousin’s bachelorette party. Nobody answers him.

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

There Will Be No Transition in Cuba… Not Even of Communism

The primary school children who every day recite the slogan “Pioneers for communism, we will be like Che,” should start looking for a new motto. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 22 July 2018 — The classic definition that socialism is a transition stage towards communism has historically generated theoretical debates and has been the watershed between the political movements located on the left of the ideological spectrum. It has also prompted flashes of humor, such as the statement: “The worst thing about communism is the first 500 years of socialism.”

That long-yearned-for moment, when “material goods will rain down like water” and humanity could inscribe on its flags the golden rule “from each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs,” no longer appears as an explicit goal in the next Constitution of the Republic of Cuba. The word communism has been deleted from the project.

This omission, or more accurately, this erasure, comes as no surprise to those who had carefully read the Conceptualization of the Model approved at the Seventh Congress of the Cuban Communism Party (PCC). In that text, simmering now for nearly ten years, it is not mentioned that the final result of the model is the arrival of the communist society, nor even the purpose of “eliminating the exploitation of man by man.” continue reading

Only among those who have reached, or exceeded, the third age is there any memory of the times when Fidel Castro chose a different heresy by proclaiming that it was possible to build socialism and communism at the same time. It was the decade of the 60s and in the town of San Andrés, in the municipality of La Palma in Pinar del Río, the experiment was intended to do away with money and make everything free for the benefit of its 500 inhabitants.

It was also the time when Nikita Khrushchev promised in Moscow that “the present Soviet generation will live in communism,” and in Cuban universities and other centers of thought there were predictions of the fortunate moment when the red flag of the proletariat would fly over Washington DC.

In Saturday’s session of the Cuban parliament, where the elimination of that word was discussed, the president of the National Assembly assured that its absence “does not mean that we renounce our ideas, but in our vision we think of a socialist, sovereign country, independent, prosperous and sustainable.” Later he argued that the current situation of the island and the international context are very different from those in 1976 when the first Constitution of the revolutionary period was written.

If anyone had had the audacity to suggest the annulment of the term communism in any of the party congresses presided over by Fidel Castro, he would have been accused, at least, of being a revisionist and probably of being a traitor. Even today it must be assumed that many old militants find it difficult to accept this suppression and at this point are wondering how it is possible that the socialist road is “irrevocable” but the end point of the trip, the obligatory destination of that route, is not mentioned.

Primary school children, who every day recite the slogan “Pioneers for communism, we will be like Che” should start looking for a new theme in September, under penalty of being in opposition to the constitution.

The communist society is unfeasible for two fundamental reasons. First because the resources of the planet do not support it; and second, because personal ambition is an indissoluble part of human nature.

Raúl Castro should be congratulated for having the political courage or at least the pragmatism to avoid commitment to an unattainable goal. But to be consistent with such a decision, he would also have to eliminate, in the preamble, that we Cubans are “guided by the political-social ideas of Marx, Engels and Lenin” and, ultimately, change the name of the party that he leads. For that he would have recourse to appeal to the adjective “fidelista,” a doctrine based on voluntarism and the necessary absence of scientific rigor that allows the validation of any solution, any change.

Frequently slow in his decisions, Raúl Castro never decided to inscribe the Cuban system under the imprecise definitions of “socialism of the 21st century,” and left everything hanging from the plural possessive “ours.” He has dismantled most of the chimeras imposed by his brother while swearing allegiance to his legacy. Now, when his final retirement seems to be no further than five years off, he has made it clear that the final destination of this experiment will have to be defined by others.

For many communists this change can be as traumatic as it would be for a Catholic to hear the pope confess that there will be no life after death, that the messiah will never return, or that the heavenly paradise will be erased from the scriptures. That was the thought of two thousand years ago, now things have changed.

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

Cuban Woman Will Be Tried For Contempt For Calling State Official Corrupt / Cubalex

Indira Martínez Borges with her 2-year-old son. (Photo (c) Sol Grcia Basulto / Facebook)

Cubalex, 19 July 2018 — Indira Martínez Borges, 33 and the mother of a two-year-old, will be tried on July 20 in a summary proceeding, charged with the crime of “contempt” for calling an official ‘corrupt’. The official, Anais Rodríguez Cárdena,  is with the Provincial Directorate of Housing of the Camagüey municipality, which confiscated Martinez’s home and assigned her another in poor condition, for which she had to pay.

Cubalex is concerned over the incompatibility of these summary trials with the right to a defense. Martínez will be tried without the advice of a lawyer. Only if the court concurs to a trial with a Defender, will it allow the participation of one. Nor does Martinez have the resources to hire a lawyer from the National Organization of Collective Law Firms (ONBC).

Even if the accused can hire a defender, their right to defense would be violated. The legal services contracts of the ONBC are the only ones accepted by the court, a situation that affects the right to freely choose a lawyer.

ONBC lawyers are not independent. They receive influence, pressure and undue interference by the authorities that intervene in the criminal process, which prevents them from acting diligently and without fear, and so they act against the interests of their clients. continue reading

In these summary proceedings, the ONBC lawyers do not even attempt to request postponement of the oral hearing, knowing that they have not had time to prepare their defense or access to the investigation file.

On July 17, the Special Rapporteurship for Freedom of Expression of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), in a press release, expressed its concern over defining criticism of public officials in Cuba as a punishable crime.

The Rapporteurship referred expressly to the cases of Ariel Ruiz, a doctor of Biological Sciences, that of Eduardo Cardet Concepción, coordinator of the Christian Liberation Movement (MCL), and also the case of Martha Sánchez González, member of the Ladies in White. All three were tried and imprisoned for this same crime, which undermines the freedom of thought and expression, and constitutes a mechanism to silence the pluralistic and democratic debate around the management of the government .

The Rapporteurship of the IACHR claims that the crime of contempt lends itself “to abuse, as a measure to silence unpopular ideas and opinions, which restricts a debate that is fundamental for the efficient functioning of democratic institutions.” It notes that in the majority of nations in the Americas the crime of contempt has been eliminated from the criminal legislation.

It calls on the Cuban State to adapt its legal framework to the Inter-American standards on freedom of expression, and reminds the Cuban government that “public officials are subject to greater scrutiny by society.”

The Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression is an office created by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), in order to stimulate the hemispheric defense of the right to freedom of thought and expression, considering its fundamental role in consolidation and development of the democratic system.

The Battle For Life / Veronica Vega

Billie Jean King (Wikipedia)

Veronica Vega, Alas Tensas, 5 July 2018 — Billie Jean King is a former American tennis player. She is among the greatest in the world sports and is a recognized activist for the defense of LGBT rights in the United States.

In 1973, she threatened to boycott the Tennis US Open if the women did not receive the same amount of prize money as the men.

She faced Bobby Riggs, a famous tennis player, in an unprecedented game-cum-show that was shown worldwide, where what was really being disputed was respect for women.

This last fact is magnificently reflected in the 2017 film Battle of the Sexes. continue reading

I would have preferred to learn about the event in 1973, when I was 8 years old. A match seen by 50 million people around the world and one of the great milestones of women’s sport! My mother would have been interested in the cause of the young woman, infecting me with the emotion of the moment and the significance of her victory.

There was am additional circumstance: my father had emigrated to the United States. Who knows if he was among the thousands of anxious spectators who watched the show live?

But my father’s letters took months. There was no internet, much less wifi. Without a mobile phone, or even a fixed one, how could we share that sports fervor with nuances of social vindication?

Wikipedia

And how would the Cuban government define sexual equality through a game of tennis? A mere circus performance, a capitalist ruse to get publicity and money. The battle between the genres had already been won in Cuba. The woman was equal to the man: guerrilla, militant, revolutionary.

A decade later, in the 80s I still didn’t know anything about Billie Jean King. I worked as a long distance operator in the communications ministry. As I had a night shift, during our breaks I did exercises with a colleague on the mattresses where were supposed to sleep. We challenged ourselves with the splits, we did stretches and push-ups.

A few days later we were summoned to the ministry’s director. We were accused of being homosexual.

I wasn’t sure what “homosexual” meant. Nor did I know that even the famous Billie Jean had her fame overshadowed by a scandal mixing a legal demand and a lesbian relationship. I only knew that there were women that people pointed to muttering: “tortillera.” The word sounded dirty, eschatological, obscene.

My friend and I, inspired by the movie Flash Dance , were excited about dance and physical exercise. Our bewilderment was so authentic that the director concluded: “You are innocent little girls and do not know that there are gossiping and malicious people here…”

Two co-workers approached us, whispering: “As long as they don’t see you having sex, you can accuse them of defamation.” Then I did not realize the precariousness of the term “as long as.” These two young women were inseparable. Today I think they were lesbians, and that advice underlies their alibi and the basis of their rebellion.

Could they do more? Maybe they did not even know about the UMAP, but the social category of homosexuals had already been loudly established during the Mariel Boatlift. What does it matter that Cubans didn’t have a real tendency? They chose to include themselves among the “scum” just to escape from the socialist Eden.

Today the Cuban public can meet Billie Jean through a movie that was not shown in theaters.

Those who want to follow the trail will find out that she is as well known for her sports career as for her unstoppable social activism.

Now, 45 years after the War of the Sexes, the historical game of tennis won by her has not spread in Cuba, and homosexual unions are not legally recognized on the island.

The LGTBI community lacks political autonomy. So does the heterosexual. We can not associate freely or create independent projects. Much less companies. We can not organize ourselves and state our demands publicly and peacefully.

It has been announced that gays can now do their Military Service, while heterosexuals can not refuse even as conscientious objectors.

A film like Strawberry and Chocolate is praised to the point of exhaustion, but Santa and Andrés, a film that denounces not only repression of homosexuals but also of political dissidents, is marginalized.

Santa y Andrés (2016), a movie by Carlos Lechuga

We do not have the right to organize ourselves to develop independently whether in sports, art or thought, or for philosophical, ecological, or altruistic purposes …

The fight for a fair wage should include everyone: men, women, LGTBI… and any unclassified gender. Because the only equality granted, which is not discussed, is civic immobility and vulnerability.

 

Plebiscites and Elections in Cuba: Between the Illusory and the Possible

(Photo taken from the internet)

Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, West Palm Beach, 27 June 2018 — After more than a year since the death of Castro I, and just a few weeks after the symbolic withdrawal of Castro II from his post at the head of the Cuban government, the only verifiable changes within today’s Cuba are the accelerated and unstoppable deterioration of the living conditions of the population, the increase in material shortages, the growing scarcity of markets and the increase in repression.

All this, framed in an extremely confusing political and economic reality, where the highest authorities of the country announce at the same time, in a constitutional reform — under the assumption of adapting the legal framework to the “reforms” introduced by the government of General Raúl Castro — a “very, very tense” economic and financial situation for the second semester of the year 2018. More poverty on the Cuban horizon, while discontent and despair also grow in a society sunk in an eternal state of survival, suffocated by the accumulation of old and new problems, never overcome. continue reading

In the midst of such a scenario, it is perfectly understandable that political apathy should spread among a population that increasingly distances itself from the power elite. An epidemic apathy that continues to sow disbelief in the population, and that should be the appropriate breeding ground for the advance of proposals of the opposition, but that – unfortunately — is being projected, also to a large extent, towards the so-called opposition leaders and their projects.

Thus, paradoxically, the widening of the gap between government and the governed is not being interpreted at a sociopolitical level into a proportional approach of those governed to the different opposition projects.

It is true that all responsibility for this cannot be attributed to the opposition, at least not in an absolute way. The failure of numerous proposals over decades and the backlog of current opposition projects is associated, even more so than with the nature of the legitimate acceptance the opposition claims, with the repression and harassment suffered by activists, with the lack of spaces available to express themselves freely, with the helplessness and harassment suffered by those who disagree with the government in a country where there is no freedom of association (or any other civil liberty), and with the colossal campaign that is applied to them from the official press monopoly that defames and demonizes them, simultaneously sowing fear and social distrust towards everything that might mean confronting the totalitarian power of the Castro regime.

However, the opposition is not immune to the ills that afflict Cuban society, since it is the fruit of the same reality. This explains why dozens of proposals have been spoiled by the combination of the aforementioned adversities, but also by other evils not attributable to dictatorial power, such as the frequent internal fractures between parties and opposition movements that almost always involve confrontations and mutual disqualifications; the excessive self-interests of many leaders, the sectarian and often exclusive character of some projects, the lack of consensus and common strategies, as well as the inability to articulate truly realistic programs, among other limitations.

The sum of all these calamities and the unquestionable social base insufficiency make the Cuban opposition a marginal sector within Cuba, which moves in parallel direction without being able to penetrate the critical masses with viable and effective proposals which might eventually generate enough force to stand up to the government and begin — finally! — a democratic transition. This is, essentially, the biggest weakness of the opposition proposals.

Let’s view it from today’s perspective. It is enough to look at social networks to see a constant anti-Castro media boom, a flood of activists — almost exclusively from outside Cuba — and a permanent brawl between one project and another, one leadership and another, without absolutely any benefit for anyone.

This is how we see unrealizable plebiscites roaming only the virtual universe, fable “elections” and hallucinatory calls to demonstrations or street uprisings to “overthrow the dictatorship” which all who feel the daily rhythm within Cuba know very well will not happen, other than in the imaginations of some of today’s extremists.

Projects that, in principle, would be perfectly valid if they came together with an instruction manual that would indicate to “the masses” how to make them possible.

Because, in good faith, a plebiscite in Cuba would not solve anything except to “demonstrate” the dictatorship’s known bad nature, which will abort any attempt to carry it out. An “election” would not be possible without the existence of political parties, without freedom of expression, communication and the press, without the existence of institutions that certify the transparency and legitimacy of the process and without due legal guarantees. This, without taking into consideration the catastrophic results of a popular uprising in the streets.

Neither would any proposal be of help, whether in the form of a peaceful plebiscite or a violent assault on power from the streets without a master plan for “the day after.” How to establish changes from an event (and not a process), especially in a society so tense and so devoid of civic culture? How will the violent settling of accounts be avoided, how will justice be guaranteed, how will the excesses of a social polarization that has been fed from power for decades be controlled?

But let’s abstract from the reality we know so well and give these projects the benefit of the doubt. Imagine that a plebiscite can be held and that it will demonstrate (at a minimum) that there is an important segment of society that aspires to greater political participation and that demands a multiparty system and other freedoms such as freedom of expression, information, press, rights, economic, etc. How could we ensure that the dictatorship will respect the results of the polls and open the spaces claimed by that segment, when the reality of their actions proves otherwise?

If this is a challenge, we can imagine what it would be like to call for elections in a nation that has not had a government democratically elected at the ballot box since 1948 and where, for 60 years, the existence of a political party or a true public debate on any matter of common interest has not been permitted. Is the Cuban population (those living in Cuba and a good part of those living abroad) prepared to confront the responsibility of the most decisive exercise in civil law? I don’t think so.

As for taking power by force, it is scary to think of the human crisis that would bring unleashed violence in the streets, the social unrest, the consequences of unleashing the beast. Who would assume the consequences and how would we recover from such a long and definitive fracture? Who would be saved from this new Haitian Revolution?

Many readers will assume this analysis too pessimistic or defeatist. There will not be a lack of those who accuse me of promoting divisionism or even label me with worse epithets. However, the Cuban situation is so desperate and urgent that we should not continue to use time and bullets to confront one another, but to conceive answers for a possible solution. Such is the task of the opposition parties, in case they had not realized it: to propose alternatives and a route to attain them.

I must clarify, finally, that I do not consider the plebiscite proposals and (eventually) elections in Cuba totally misguided, but only incomplete. All efforts have the courage to break the inertia, promote action. But it is necessary to abandon, once and for all, the cravings for personal wishes to be in the limelight and find one or several feasible solutions in the shortest time to overcome the Castro nightmare. Right now, the “who” is not so important, rather the “what” and especially the “how” are. Cuba languishes while some walk around, thriving in its name and contemplating their belly-buttons.

Or, who knows? Maybe there is already a solution properly thought out and strategically realizable, as an old friend always tells me, “momentarily locked in a desk drawer of some good Cuban, who is waiting for the right moment to bring it to light.” Or maybe the miracle will finally take place and the wills of many Cubans from all over will come together to allow light to shine and open the way. Only this thought exposes me for what I am: an incurable optimist.

Translated by Norma Whiting

In Tribute to Rafael Alcides, Cuban Poet and Writer and Wonderful Man

Rafael Alcides (9 June 1933 – 19 June 2018)

Today Translating Cuba is dedicated to Rafael Alcides, who died yesterday. We are republishing articles by and about him, and you can also do your own search of past articles on this site by going to this link.

The following “Author’s Biography” was written several years ago and is not up-to-date.

Rafael Alcides was born in Barrancas, municipal district of Bayamo (Cuba) in 1933. A poet and storyteller, he was a master baker in his teen years. He has worked as a farmhand, cane cutter, logger, wrecking crew cook, and manager of a sundries store in a cane-cutters’ outpost.

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In Havana in the 1950s he worked variously as a mason, broad-brush painter, exterminator, insurance agent, and door-to-door salesman. In 1959 he was the chief information officer for the Department of Latin American Affairs in the Ministry of Foreign Relations, and spokesman of this agency in a daily television program in which he hosted and interviewed foreign political personalities. He was chief press officer and director of Cultural Affairs in the Revolutionary Delegation of the National Capitol.

Among his most recently-published titles are the poetry collections, GMT(2009), For an Easter Bush (2011), Travel Log (2011), Anthologies, in Collaboration with Jaime Londoño (2013), Conversations with God(2014), the journalistic Memories of the Future (2011), the multi-part novel, Ciro’s Ring (2011), and the story collection, A Fairy Tale That Ends Badly (2014).

As of 1993, he had been employed by the Cuban Institute of Radio & Television for more than 30 years as a scriptwriter, announcer, director and literary commentator when, at that time, he ceased all publishing and literary work in collaboration with the regime in Cuba. As a participant in numerous international literary events, Rafael Alcides has given conferences and lectures in countries in Central and South America, Europe, and the Middle East. His texts have been translated into many languages. He was honored with two Premios de la Crítica, and a third for a novel co-written with another author. In 2011 he received the Café Bretón & Bodegas Olarra de Prosa Española prize.

Rafael Alcides, Who is a Very Important Person / Regina Coyula

Rafael Alcides, poet, writer and my husband

Note: This article is being republished from 2013. Rafael Alcides passed away yesterday, 19 June 2018.

My husband is not just any writer.  He belongs to the generation known as “The Generation of the ’50s,” a rather arbitrary poetic grouping that started with Carilda Oliver (1922) and ran through David Chericián (1940). His generation’s peers — if they haven’t died or emigrated — have received the National Literature Prize and enjoyed social and official recognition. This is one of the reasons he is an extraordinary writer. Not only that he wasn’t seduced by the siren song of the National Prize ten years ago. Not only that he willingly “inxiled” himself from Cuba’s cultural life for twenty years and is not published in Cuba. continue reading

For him, the prize has been that his book Agradecido como un perro (Grateful As a Dog) was traded for cigarettes in the Combinado del Este prison in the late eighties, and asked around for; kids coming from the provinces discovered him by chance in a second-hand bookshop. His books today would be collectors’ items, of a writer unknown to the young and unpublished after 1990, if it weren’t for the Seville publisher Abelardo Linares who knocked on our door one day.

He is not a run-of-the-mill writer. Foreign publishers are highly sought after, their visits to Cuba put them in a position to receive a ton of unpublished and published texts from hopeful authors who either fete the foreign visitor or put a Santeria spell on them.

Alcides is incapable of boarding a bus, a shared taxi (almendrón), or a called taxi (panataxi); he is incapable of walking even 200 yards to meet a celebrity. Instead, he is an extraordinary host, so warm and attentive, who immediately makes even new acquaintances feel comfortable.

In this era of ideological polarization, he maintains an intact and intense affection for those he loves, whether a high government official or a senior opposition leader in exile. He forgives (but does not forget, he has excellent memory) some highbrow (?!) silliness from a fledgling poet to a functionary who from his new position has been allowed to treat him coldly. He will regrets the error of omission in the dedication to Roberto Fernández Retamar in a poem in a book just published in Colombia.

Another of the things that makes him extraordinary has to do with his appearance. When we started our relationship 24 years (!!) ago, my niece, with all the candor of ten years, wondered if he was Eliseo Diego. He was then a venerable white beard unsuspectedly balding. His contemporaries seemed like younger brothers. It turned out the joke was on them as he didn’t get any older while others lost their freshness, hair, pounds, physical and/or mental agility and for a long time the tables have been turned. That, despite a copious medical record very well concealed.

With the bias of affection, there are those who say he’s the best poet in the world. There’s no need to exaggerate, although some verses are saved for posterity.

These fires feed this man who writes and writes on a battered computer with no more to give. Leaving poetry behind he is dedicated to finishing enormous drafts, novels that became priorities in the rush of life.

No one would expect that behind this thunderous voice asking who’s last in line at the farmer’s market, this competent cook who saves me from the daily doldrums, is this Amazing Poet in “atrocious invisibility” who tomorrow, June 9th, will be 80 years old.

8 June 2013

Activist Iliana Hernandez Released from Jail

The activist Iliana Hernández, director of the television program Lente Cubano, was arrested for participating in the independent #00Bienal. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 12 May 2018 — The activist Iliana Hernandez, director of the television program Lente Cubano (Cuban Lens), was released on Saturday after being arrested on Friday when she tried to enter El Círculo gallery, where a show that is a part of the independent #00 Biennial currently taking place in Havana is on display.

Initially her whereabouts were unknown, but on Saturday afternoon Hernandez’s relatives managed to locate her at Cotorro police station, after hours of intense search and the unwillingness of the police to release her location. Hernandez was finally released at night and was able to return home, as confirmed by telephone to this newspaper. continue reading

According to Lia Villares speaking to 14ymedio, State Security blocked several people from entering El Círculo gallery, including the artist Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara organizer of the independent Biennial, who was accompanied by a group of foreign participants.

Last March, Iliana Hernández was declared a “person of priority police interest” after an interrogation at the Cojímar station, east of Havana. The police issued a “warning notice” to her and, in addition, she was prevented from traveling to Miami a few days later, as planned.

Iliana Hernández was born in Guantanamo and has been linked to the sports world and activism. Nationalized as a Spanish citizen after living several years in that country, she returned to Cuba in 2016 and founded her audiovisual channel Lente Cubano. Since then she divides her time between Spain, the United States and the Island.

“I do not plan to leave Cuba, I intend to fight to continue my normal life as I have until now between Spain and Cuba, which are my two homelands,” she said in a recent interview with this newspaper.

In a similar vein, activist Liettys Rachel Reyes, a member of the Patriotic Union of Cuba, was prevented from leaving the country on Wednesday after being “regulated” by the authorities, according to her Facebook account.

Reyes went to the José Martí International Airport in Havana to try to board a flight to the United States but an immigration official told her that she was under a ‘travel restriction.’ “This is how things work with a tyrannical regime like this. One that every day violates the rights and fundamental freedoms of people,” she complained.

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

Cuban Doctors, a Controversial Signing in Kenya and Uganda

Signing of the Health Agreement last year in Geneva with Minister Roberto Morales Ojeda on the Cuban side.

14ymedio biggerEFE, via 14ymedio, Pedro Alonso, Nairobi, 6 May 2018 — Hundreds of Cuban doctors are going to cross the Caribbean Sea for the African savannah and will travel to Kenya and Uganda to strengthen their public health services, but without even boarding the plane, they already encounter the rejection of unions and medical associations.

Last week, Kenya and Cuba signed an agreement for one hundred Cuban doctors to come to the African country and fifty Kenyan doctors to travel to the Caribbean island to receive training, especially in the field of family medicine.

The agreement was signed after the historic visit the president of Kenya, Uhuru Kenyatta, made to Cuba in March to boost bilateral cooperation, the first of a Kenyan head of state since both countries established diplomatic relations in 2001. continue reading

The Kenyan Ministry of Health of Kenya insists that the Cuban reinforcements, scheduled for before July, will improve access in rural areas to specialized medical services in areas such as oncology, nephrology and dermatology.

In neighboring Uganda, the president, Yoweri Museveni, returned this week to defend his government’s plan to hire 200 doctors from Cuba as a buffer against the persistent threats of strike by local doctors, who have called the project “treason.”

“I want to bring Cuban doctors because our people behaved very badly and unprofessionally, they started strikes, they incited other doctors and they let our patients die, they blackmailed us,” Museveni said last Tuesday.

During a celebration of Labor Day, the veteran president, who has led Uganda since 1986, referred to the three-week strike that last November paralyzed Ugandan hospitals to demand better wages, among other demands.

“A doctor who goes on strike is not a doctor, he is an enemy of our people and we should treat him as such,” snapped Museveni, not known for mincing words.

Despite the excellent global reputation of Cuba’s “white coats,” the unions and medical associations of the two countries reject the Cuban agreements outright, arguing that they are expensive and do not offer a permanent solution to the lack of specialists.

According to the Ugandan Minister of Public Service, Wilson Muruli Mukasa, the State will pay about 1,500 dollars a month for each Cuban doctor, a salary higher than the 1,200 dollars earned by a high rank Ugandan specialist doctor.

“Uganda already has many specialists, all we want now is better salaries, better working conditions and the tools to offer those services,” demanded the president of the Uganda Medical Association (UMA), Ekwaro Obuku.

The Kenyan Union of Physicians, Pharmacists and Dentists (KMPPDU) has urged the Ministry of Health to hire the more than 2,000 Kenyan doctors, including 171 specialists, who are looking for work, before importing doctors from the Latin American country.

“The Cubans are not going to come to do something that we can not do, they are not going to contribute anything special,” said KMPPDU general secretary Ouma Oluga, who believes that the government plan is a waste of public resources.

In the opinion of gynecologist Nelly Bosire, of the Board of Doctors and Dentists of Kenya, “Cuba trains doctors for export to generate income, Kenya can not afford to buy that expensive product, which should be manufactured at home.”

Doctor Bosire is not mistaken, because the sale of medical services is one of the main sources of income of Cuba, which in 2016 had doctors deployed in more than sixty countries, according to official data.

In contrast to some of the detractors, some voices advocate opening the doors of Kenyan and Ugandan hospitals to Cuban doctors, including the Kenyan entrepreneur Njoroge Mbugua, who received medical attention in CUba.

“On February 2, I started my medical treatment in Cuba and in the last seven weeks I have achieved more than in the two years I was hospitalized,” writes Mbugua in an article published on 8 April in the main Kenyan newspaper, Daily Nation.

In his “letter from the bed of a Cuban hospital,” the businessman relates that he spent a year in a hospital in Kenya and eleven months in centers in India and Dubai in search of a cure for his illness, until he arrived in Cuba, where he found “the end of the road” for his sorrows.

And, without the least bit of doubt, Mbugua sends a message to the Kenyan authorities: “Bring Cuban doctors.”

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

Cuban Children and Childish Journalism

Students from a primary school in Havana say goodbye to the 2016-2017 academic year. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 9 April 2018 — On Friday, April 6th, The National Newscast on Cuban Television (NTV) devoted a few minutes of its midday and evening editions to broadcast a critical report by journalist Maray Suárez about parents’ lack of attention to their children. In her own words, this situation, which is becoming worrisome in current Cuban society, negatively affects the education and the formation of children’s values.

It is refreshing to see that someone finally cares about this issue despite the slow reaction of the government press when it comes to addressing the multiple and pressing problems of society. continue reading

The report is based on Suarez’s two particular personal experiences. The first took place 4 o’clock in the morning, when the reporter was on her way to work and she encountered a group of teenagers, between 12 and 15 years old, gathered on a corner of Havana’s Vedado district. The second, when she attended a choreographed performance by a large group of children from the primary school Quince de Abril, in the Havana municipality of Diez de Octubre, on the occasion of the celebration of the 57th anniversary of the Organization of Pioneers of Cuba. The reporter showed the video recording of that performance in conjunction with the report.

It’s heartening that someone finally cares about this matter, despite slow reaction by the government press when it comes to addressing the problems of society

In the first case, Suárez stopped to talk with the night-owl boys, asked them their ages and reflected on the families’ lack of supervision that allows these children to stay up late at night in the street, with all its implied risks.

In the second case, the video presented on NTV shows a group of children at the Pioneer celebration, dressed in their school uniforms, dancing provocatively to the sound of reggae music, sensually swaying their hips, glutes and waists. Suárez believes that the celebration should have included the sort of music which is more appropriate to a children’s audience than that which led to a vulgar, erotic display that played out on the school’s stage.

“Are these the spectacles we want from our children?” the worried reporter of the official press asks rhetorically. The journalist insists on the importance of “the interaction of the child with the family,” underlining that the development of minors is an obligation “that the whole society should be concerned with.” All of which is (or should at least be) true.

However, perhaps driven by her passionate interest in the education and care of children, Maray Suárez forgot to inform us if – as one would expect – she consulted or asked the families of those children for their authorization before exposing them publicly performing their obscene dance in a video broadcast by the Cuban TV news media, which did not take the trouble to have anyone pixelate their innocent faces.

Could it be that this media professional not know that exposing images of children publicly constitutes a crime in any moderately civilized society in the world?

Could it be that this press professional did not know that exposing images of children publicly constitutes a crime in any moderately civilized society in the world? Where, then, are her own ethical values as a journalist? Does she find it very educational to act with such flagrant disrespect to minors and their families?

Unfortunately, since Cuba is not a State of Laws, the parents and children thus vexed are defenseless: they cannot sue the colossal official press apparatus or the reporter in question.

Although the reporter addresses the issue of family supervision, it would not hurt to introduce reflections on the role that the teachers and the primary school management played in this case. Ultimately, it was they who allowed – and perhaps even promoted – these children’s vulgar dance display at school.

For the problem to be really corrected, the official press should put aside all the hypocritical puritanism that mediates each article of information and take on the challenge of describing and exposing the dark and dirty cracks lacerating the current Cuban society.

The official press should put aside all the hypocritical puritanism that mediates each article of information and take on the challenge of describing and exposing the dark and dirty cracks lacerating current Cuban society 

The task is particularly impossible if we take into account that to find a solution to sensitive issues such as the one we are dealing with, it is necessary to stop beating about the bush. Instead of flirting with the effects, you must first identify the causes of the malady.

But faced with a deep problem in education, it will not be the communicators of the government press who air the dirty laundry.

Because, at the end of the day, the official journalists are also a bit like children: to publish each and every one of their lines or tidbits they need the consent of the principal responsible for the disaster: the Government. And the journalists of the Castro regime are, Yessir, respectful and obedient children.

Translated by Norma Whiting

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

Which One Is The Criminal?

The brothers Raul and Fidel Castro together with Lula (center) in 2010, when the former Brazilian president visited the island at the time of the death of Orlando Zapata Tamayo. (Juventud Rebelde)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 6 April 2018 — In 2010, then Brazilian president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva provoked a bitter controversy when he compared Cuban dissidents to common criminals. Those words, said a week after the death of the opponent Orlando Zapata Tamayo, take on a new meaning today, a few hours before the Brazilian leader goes to prison.

“I think hunger strikes cannot be used as a human rights pretext to free people,” said the former steelworker, eight years ago in March. “Imagine what would happen if all the bandits who are imprisoned in Sao Paulo went on hunger strike and asked for their freedom,” he remarked cheerfully. continue reading

For Lula, the dissident who agonized in his cell until he died was nothing more than a criminal who refused to eat for 86 days to pressure the authorities to release him from prison. Despite publicly lamenting his death, Brazil’s president believed the official version of Zapata’s death and insisted the Cuban bricklayer, born in Banes, was not a political prisoner.

Now it is the popular trade unionist who has been tried in the courts of justice and public opinion. He came to this point not because he protested police repression in the streets, as Zapata did, but because of corruption and money laundering. As president of his country he betrayed the voters’ trust by exchanging favors, receiving bribes and handing out contracts.

Under the image of a humble man who ascended to the highest position in an imposing nation like Brazil, Lula was in fact a “political animal” accustomed to prioritizing ideology and his old ‘comrades in the struggle’ over the welfare of his people. As soon as he settled into Planalto Palace he began to create his own robust network of perks and fidelities that ultimately blew up in his face.

In this network of favors were not only some of his old comrades from Brazil’s Workers Party, but also those from outdated regimes like Havana’s. Lula solicitously served the Castro brothers the entire time he was in office, an attitude inherited by Dilma Rousseff when she succeeded him in office.

For the Cuban Government the years during which the Workers Party led Brazil served as a panacea. Lula and Rousseff closed ranks to support the Plaza of the Revolution in international forums, kept their shock troops at the ready to attack any critics of the Castros, and financed the Port of Mariel Special Development Zone project, which involved the corrupt Brazilian transnational Odebrecht.

In the name of those old favors, on Thursday the Havana regime released a statement signed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in defense of the former president, calling his sentence an “unfair campaign against Lula, against the Workers Party and against the leftist and progressive forces in Brazil.” Some corruption is repaid with apartments, some with bribes, and much of the rest with political statements.

Lulu’s 12 year prison sentence could well be extended much longer, should the magistrates find him guilty in other pending cases. His time behind bars could be long, enough time to allow him to reflect on everything he has said and done.

Perhaps in the long days that await him looking through the thick bars, the former president can imagine what Zapata’s last days might have been like for the young black bricklayer born in a small town in the east of the island who refused to eat or drink water to demand his freedom. That man, unlike Lula, was innocent.

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.