From Information to Action / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

Yoani Sanchez accepts the Knight International Journalism Award 2015. (karinkarlekar)

Yoani Sanchez accepts the Knight International Journalism Award 2015. (karinkarlekar)

14ymedio biggerGeneration Y, Yoani Sanchez, 12 November 2015 — My grandmother only knew how to write the first letter of her name. She would sign documents with an almost childish looking capitalized “A.” In spite of being illiterate, Ana always advised me to study and learn as much as possible. Nevertheless, that laundress who never went to school taught me the best lesson of my life: that tenacity and hard work are needed to accomplish one’s dreams. She instilled in me the urgency of “action.” Action with a capital “A,” like the only letter of her name that she could write.

However, action can become a problem if it is not appropriately accompanied by information. An uninformed citizen is easy prey for the powerful, a guaranteed victim for manipulation and control. In fact, an individual without information cannot be considered a whole citizen, because her rights will constantly be violated and she will not know how to demand and reclaim them. Continue reading

The Lilliput Rebellion / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

Gulliver being tied by the Lilliputians (CC)

Gulliver being tied by the Lilliputians (CC)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Generation Y, Yoani Sanchez, 5 November 2015 – Calling for austerity while living in opulence has been common practice for Cuban leaders for more than half a century. Demands to “tighten one’s belt” are brandished about by officials with fat necks and ruddy faces, who for decades haven’t known what a refrigerator with more frost than food looks like. This contradiction undoubtedly annoys those who have to divide rationed bread with a family member, or cleverly cut up a bar of soap so it will last for several weeks.

The popular unease before the contrast between words and deeds could have led the journalist Alexander A. Ricardo to publish a metaphorical but accurate text in the opinion section of the Havana Tribune*. Under the title The Travels of Gulliver Junior, the opinion column refers to someone who “is seen in giant enjoyment of the shores of the Mediterranean, or as a dwarf adventurer without a problem in his life, in his visa.” Continue reading

I no longer want to find you, Camilo / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

Flowers for Camilo Cienfuegos at a primary school in Havana's Plaza district (14ymedio)

Flowers for Camilo Cienfuegos at a primary school in Havana’s Plaza district (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Generation Y, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 28 October 2015 — The wall of the Malecon tastes of salt and is rough to the touch. Standing on it, my school uniform splashed by the waves, every October of my childhood I threw a bouquet of flowers into the sea. The tribute was addressed to a man who had died fifteen years before I was born. His face was on the walls and in schoolbooks, with an enormous smile beneath a broad-brimmed hat. Those were the days when I still dreamed of meeting Camilo Cienfuegos.

The story, repeated to the point of exhaustion in school assemblies and official propaganda, told of a plane that disappeared while the Commander was flying between the cities of Camagüey and Havana. For the children of my generation it was an almost magical enigma. We believed that one day we would find him, a bearded jokester, somewhere in the Cuban geography. It was just a matter of time, we thought. Continue reading

The Faces Of The Cuban Dream / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

The musical On Your feet! based on the lives of Gloria and Emilio Estefan. (Matthew Murphy)

The musical On Your feet! based on the lives of Gloria and Emilio Estefan. (Matthew Murphy)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Generation Y, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 20 October 2015 — “What is the Cuban dream?” he asked, as one inquires about the hour, the quality of the coffee, or the afternoon’s weather forecast. Around the table we all remained silent in the face of this question launched by the visitor. More than answering him about the country desired, the provocation made me think about the need for our dreams to reflect that faces of those who hold them, the people who inhabit them.

I remembered this conversation last Saturday, while enjoying the musical On your feet! in a crowded theater on Broadway in New York. Based on the lives of Gloria and Emilio Estefan, the work transcends the story of a Cuban couple making their way in the competitive world of entertainment in the United States, to become a story of nostalgia, tenacity and success. Continue reading

There Are In The Country of Solidarity, There Are No Foreigners / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

Graffiti painted on a wall and later erased in Havana. (14ymedio)

Graffiti painted on a wall (left) and later erased (right) in Havana. (14ymedio)

14ymedio, Generation Y, Yoani Sanchez, 12 October 2015 — Pepes, Yumas and tourists are some of the names we give to those who visit our country. For many Cubans, these travelers are their main source of income, through accommodation, transportation, dance and language classes. Some also share classrooms at the university, or work in a joint venture. However, in most cases their stay is brief, they are passing through, for only a few days or months. What happens when they come to stay?

A painting on a Havana wall addresses the contradiction between the official discourse that prides itself on the solidarity of a nation, but one where the immigrant has no place. This drawing of Che Guevara with a contentious quote – “In the homeland of solidarity there are no foreigners” – lasted just a few hours in its makeshift place, before the censor arrived in the form of a blue brushstroke to cover it over. For the government, when the foreigners arrive on their cruises, stay a few nights and leave their cold hard cash in the state coffers, everything seems fine. It is a whole different thing when they decide to come and stay. Then, the nationalistic hostility that characterizes the Cuban system shows itself. Continue reading

The Pioneers Are Retiring / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

Nearly half a century later, children who begin studies in Cuban schools are forced to repeat the anachronistic slogan: "Pioneers for Communism, we will be like Che!"

Nearly half a century later, children who begin studies in Cuban schools are forced to repeat the anachronistic slogan: “Pioneers for Communism, we will be like Che!”

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 8 October 2015 — The ceremony is solemn. The national anthem echoes from the loudspeakers and an adult with a serious face ties the blue scarf around the student’s neck. Little has changed since my childhood, when that initiation turned us into members of the youngest mass organization in Cuba. A piece of cloth and a slogan sealed the commitment: “Pioneers for Communism, we will be like Che!”

These days the initiators of the Cuban Pioneers Union, renamed as the José Martí Pioneers Organization (OPJM) in 1977, are applying for retirement at their workplaces. They no longer have that glimmer of hope one saw in their eyes long ago, nor do they even speak about “communism,” a concept that the Party in power itself has forgotten to mention in the Guidelines issued by its last Congress. Continue reading

Cuba and Mick Jagger’s Kiss / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

Mick Jagger in Deauville in 2014. (Georges Biard / Wikimedia Commons)

Mick Jagger in Deauville in 2014. (Georges Biard / Wikimedia Commons)

14ymedio, Generation Y, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 5 October 2015 – We never got to hear Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston on our national stages. Freddie Mercury died without touching down in Havana, and when The Beatles broke up, we were a country where English music was considered ideological diversionism. We followed the career of Elvis Presley from a distance and the charismatic Amy Winehouse slammed the door on life without stepping foot on this island. However, now we are about to regain part of what was lost: Mick Jagger’s emblematic mouth is here, the eternal youth of The Rolling Stones has arrived.

While the analysts debate, looking for signs of change in the Cuban political or diplomatic scene, transformations are capricious and take another direction. This country is not going to change itself into a new nation because John Kerry visited, nor because of the third visit by a pope in less than two decades. But Cuba is changing when people like this British rocker, icon of good music and of the greatest possible irreverence, touch down in Havana. Continue reading

Are We Cubans More Unruly Than Other Peoples? / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

Telephone with the handset ripped off

Telephone with the handset ripped off

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Generation Y, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 30 September 2015 – “Nobody takes care of anything,” raged the lady in line at the cash register of a State butcher shop. She was referring to those who leave the refrigerators open or who put their shopping baskets on the glass counters. However, she didn’t seem to notice the lack of air conditioning, the stench coming from some of the freezers where the goods were spoiled, or the single employee taking payments, while the others looked on with their arms crossed. The customers are to blame, according to the feisty woman.

Social indiscipline has become a recurring theme in reports and interviews in the national media. Vandalism is blamed for everything, from problems with public transport buses to the deplorable state of planted areas. Official journalists raise the accusing finger more and more against the pillage, while barely addressing the educational and political system that has molded these citizens so bent on looting and destruction. Continue reading

Raul Castro, The Altar Boy / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

Pope Francis greets Raul Castro on his arrival in Cuba. (EFE)

Pope Francis greets Raul Castro on his arrival in Cuba. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Generation Y, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 22 September 2015 – The Cuban leader, Raul Castro, has accompanied Pope Francis at all his Masses during his tour of the island. From the one celebrated in Havana’s Plaza of the Revolution to the words pronounced at the Santiago de Cuba Cathedral. Like one seeking absolution for a long list of sins, the General President has traveled from the capital to the east of the country, following the papal entourage.

Castro appears to be fulfilling, in this way, the notice he gave in Rome last May. He said then, “If the Pope continues speaking like this I will go back to praying and return to the Church, I’m not joking.” The return to the faith appears to include not only him, but a part of his family that has accompanied him, along with the executive branch of the island and officials from the state press. Continue reading

Generation Y Behind Bars / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

Men handcuffed(Luz Escobar/14ymedio)

Men handcuffed(Luz Escobar/14ymedio)

14ymedio biggerGeneration Y, Yoani Sanchez, 17 September 2015 — With the publication of the Official Gazette No. 31, there have been many published opinions about the pardons granted to 3,522 prisoners in anticipation of the visit of Pope Francis. Most of the criticism has focused on the fact that the beneficiaries include no one sentenced for political reasons. However, on reviewing the list of the released prisoners, another element jumps to mind.

At least 411 of those pardoned have names that begin with the letter “Y,” more than 11 percent of the total. It could indicate the we are talking about people between 20 and 45 years of age, because from the beginnings of the seventies to well into the nineties it was a fad in Cuba to give children names starting with the penultimate letter of the alphabet. Thus, we are in the presence of the “New Man,” born and raised in a society that felt itself part of “Utopia,” living under Soviet subsidies and excessive ideological indoctrination. How is it possible that so much of this human clay has ended up behind bars?

How is it possible that so much of this human clay has ended up behind bars?

Meat from the social laboratory and the skin of prison, Generation Y is far removed from what was projected for it. It has come to live in a different country from the one promised, and to survive in this jungle it has had to do the exact opposite of what it was taught. Although the list of released prisoners doesn’t include the crime for which each one was condemned, it is easy to adventure what led many of these Utopian men and women to end up in a cell.

Perhaps among them is Yoandis who killed a cow to feed his family, or a Yuniesqui who stole fuel from a company to resell on the black market to make up for his low wages. Who knows if some Yordanka was led down the road to marital revenge because of gender violence? Or a Yusimi, who learned from the time she was little in the tenement where she lived that it was better to strike first than to strike twice? From little Pioneers with their colored neckerchiefs, they passed to being inmates in gray uniforms; from the Cuba of Marxist manuals they fell into the real world.

A generation trapped by circumstances, forced many times to commit crimes, pushed at others to escape, and condemned to few opportunities. The 411 families of these children of the Cuban experiment will be relieved right now to see them return, as will the relatives of the rest of those pardoned. But, the society they will encounter on passing through the bars continues to belie that which was once explained in front of the blackboards and at the morning school assemblies. Prison has been a part of the social alchemy that has touched them.

Leopoldo Lopez, The Freest Prisoner In The World / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

Leopoldo Lopez waves from a window of the Ramo Verde military prison in Caracas. (EFE)

Leopoldo Lopez waves from a window of the Ramo Verde military prison in Caracas. (EFE)

Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 11 September 2015 — I met him and it was impossible not to notice him. He stood out among everyone: young, with an impressive energy and an intelligence that suggested he would go far. Yesterday he was sentenced to 13 years and nine months in prison by a court as biased as it was malicious. On hearing the sentence I started to calculate how old his two children would be when he left prison, but I immediately stopped short. Leopold Lopez will not serve those years behind bars, I told myself, nor will he disappoint the first impression I had of him.

The authorities don’t learn. They don’t take into account that the bars magnify a political leader and the pain suffered in the cells hangs on his chest like a medal won on the bloodiest battlefield. Leopold will leave there strengthened, while on the other side, a fearful Nicolas Maduro, will not know what to do with the freest prisoner in the world. Every day that he spends behind bars, this Venezuelan will hang like a shameful weight from the dying remnants of the Chavez regime.

I also remember the moment I met Lilian Tintori. A woman who had to leap over her own fears to become the citizen who last night read a message from her husband after the unjust sentence. There was a firmness in her that had not yet emerged in the first exchange of phrases we shared in Madrid. However, the absurdity that she has experienced has emphasized her strength, brought forward her resolve.

The authoritarians know not what they do.

Leopoldo will return. Young, energetic and rewarded for his pain. Lilian is already here, with this determination that makes us ask ourselves, would we be willing to do the same for our family and for our country?

The Sacred Way / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

Reina Street in Central Havana. (14ymedio)

Reina Street in Central Havana. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Generation Y, Yoani Sanchez, 8 September 2015 — The paint drips into the cracks and holes and over the rusted metal poking through the columns and the ceilings. A colorful layer that covers over cobwebs, cracks and dirt, like make-up masks scars and wrinkles. Havana preens for the arrival of Pope Francis. The facades along the streets are touched up where the Bishop of Rome will pass by and popular humor has derisively re-baptized the path “The Sacred Way.” It is an ephemeral blush, rushed, one that the rain and the months will wash away.

They have not been able to camouflage the people, however, with optimism. The strokes of the painters, rushing to meet their schedule, don’t cover the skin or the worries. From early in the morning, Habaneros go out with their bags hanging from their shoulders looking for food. “Not even the pope coming has put something in the shops,” complains a woman on the corner of Manrique and Salud, while a friend directs her to Galiano Avenue where, she assures her, “they have good hot dogs for sale.”

Bergoglio isn’t going to pass by the empty refrigerators in the stores, so the touch up doesn’t include pretending that there is food, or disguising the shortages. Thus we are saved from the cartons of chicken thighs and the powdered milk extended with sand! There are no cosmetics to cover up the economic downtown we are experiencing. The market stands and shelves remain indoors, far from all the pomp of the papal entourage.

Our Sacred Way is hollow, purely a stage set, with the crudest props, the least believable.

Machado Ventura: Neither Young Nor Female / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

Machado Ventura in 2012, at the eighth plenary session of the 1st National CDR Directorate. (JCG)

Machado Ventura in 2012, at the eighth plenary session of the 1st National CDR Directorate. (JCG)

14ymedio biggerGeneration Y, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 31 August 2015 — If anyone embodies the most antiquated orthodoxy of the Cuban political system, it is undoubtedly Jose Ramon Machado Ventura. With his frail gait and infinite power, the vice president of the Councils of State and Ministers represents the most reactionary and ultra-conservative wing of the island’s government. Thus, the excessive role he has gained in the media in recent weeks worries many.

Machadito, as his elders call him, has starred this summer in activities ranging from visits to sugar mills and a meeting with cattle ranchers, to the speech at the closing ceremony of the Federation of Cuban Women Congress, a day at the 10th Congress of the Young Communist League, and the closing words this Saturday at the National Council of the University Students Federation. All this, although he is neither a farmer, nor a woman and much less young. Continue reading

Cloud Seeding or the Sword of Voltus V / Yoani Sanchez

The Japanese anime Voltus V

The Japanese anime Voltus V

14ymedio biggerGeneration Y, Yoani Sanchez, 28 August 2015 — Undone, with the sparks of short circuits clouding his vision and the cabin smashed into smithereens, Voltus V faced the worst end against a fearsome enemy. However, at the last minute, he drew his sword and in a clean cut slew his enemy. Japanese anime, so popular on the island during the eighties, seems to have inspired the Cuban authorities in their tendencies to hold off on certain solutions until a problem has already resulted in the worst ravages.

This has happened with the recent announcement that, as of this coming September 15, a campaign will begin to “artificially increase the rain.” Through a technique known as “cloud seeding,” Pyrocartridges will be launched from a Russian Yak-40 plane so that the water vapor particles will condense, and this condensation will produce precipitation, according to the official press.

The first reaction of many on reading the news was to wonder why they hadn’t done something like this earlier. Did the country have to get to its current state of hydrological emergency for Voltus V to draw his sword? With the dams at no more than 36% of capacity and 25 reservoirs completely dry–at the so-called “death point”–now the experts from the National Institute of Hydraulic Resources (INRH) propose to bombard the clouds? Continue reading

The Missing Statistics On Women In Cuba / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

Gender violence affects an unknown number of victims in Cuba every day, but the statistics of these reprehensible acts do not come to light. (Silvia Corbelle / 14ymedio)

Gender violence affects an unknown number of victims in Cuba every day, but the statistics of these reprehensible acts do not come to light. (Silvia Corbelle / 14ymedio)

14ymedio biggerGeneration Y, Yoani Sanchez, 25 August 2015 — In the neighborhood of Cayo Hueso everyone knew her as “the woman with the machete slashes.” You didn’t have to get too close to see the scars on her arms. These marks for life were made one night when her husband returned home with more alcohol than patience and, machete in hand, went after her. He was in prison for a couple of years and afterwards returned to the same tenement room where the fight had been. “He didn’t have any place else to live and the police didn’t get him out of here,” she said, apologetically. Gender violence creates an unknown number of victims every day in Cuba, but the statistics on these acts are not made public.

For weeks now, marking the 55th anniversary of the Federation of Cuban Women (FMC), we’ve had to hear on television and in the official press the numbers of women who have achieved administrative positions, who are at the helm of a company, a part of Parliament or who have managed to graduate from college. They stuff us full of only some of the numbers, to show that the women’s emancipation has reached this country, while remaining silent on the data about the dark side of reality, where the man commands and the woman obeys. Continue reading