When The Abuser Is The Government

Karla Pérez González has been the victim of a new type of harassment, this time incarnated in a campaign of character assassination. (Courtesy)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Generation Y, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 4 May 2017 – I was in the third grade and the teacher chose the most aggressive girl in my class to be the room monitor. She was given carte blanche to control the other children. Later, the abuser rose to a position in the Federation of Middle School Students and joined the Union of Young Communists. Today she is an active part of a Committee for the Defense of the Revolution. She is corrupt and violent, but highly valued by the authorities in her area.

Cuba’s National Center for Sexual Education (Cenesex), led by Raul Castro’s daughter Mariela Castro, has launched a campaign against homophobic and transphobic bullying in schools. The initiative includes the family in order to “understand what it is about, to help the girls and boys, the teenagers, the young people, and all the staff of the school,” says the sexologist. continue reading

Mariela Castro says that the level of abuse in schools on the island is “fairly low,” an affirmation that demonstrates – at the very least – her lack of connection with the Cuban reality. Without reliable official figures, any investigation of the subject must appeal to the personal experience of individuals and this is when the stories and testimonies of bullying in the educational environment surface.

The high schools in the countryside, promoted by former president Fidel Castro, were a reservoir of these abuses, many of them carried out under the impassive eyes of the teachers

The high schools in the countryside, promoted by former president Fidel Castro, were a reservoir of these abuses, many of them carried out under the impassive eyes of the teachers. Suicides, rapes, systematic robberies of the most fragile, accompanied by power structures more typical of prisons than an educational institution, were the daily bread of those of us who attended these schools.

I remember the spring of 1991, when a student threw himself off the water tower of the People’s Republic of Romania High School in what is now Artemis province. He had been harassed by the taunts and pressures of several classmates. We were all crowded together in the central hallway during the evening’s recreation hour when we felt the thud of his body landing on the concrete.

His harassers never paid for that death, it never became a data point in the statistics of student victims of bullying, and a family had to bury a son without being able to put a name to what had happened to him: abuse. In the weeks after that death another student slit his wrists – fortunately he didn’t die – and a group of twelfth grade students beat up a tenth grader for “having feathers,” i.e. being effeminate.

However, abuse in the schools doesn’t end there. There are many ways to harass a student and not all of them come from his or her classmates, nor are they motivated by sexual stereotypes, strict gender roles or group bravado. Ideological violence, exercised by power and with the consent of the school administrators, is another way to inflict psychological damage.

A few weeks ago, a journalism student at the Central University of Las Villas was the victim of institutional abuse that will leave permanent psychic and social scars on this young girl, just 18. To make matters worse, it was the leaders of the University Student Federation who behaved toward Karla Perez Gonzalez as the school abusers, like the leaders of a gang or the thugs of the hour.

The former student has been the victim of a new type of harassment, this time embodied in a campaign of character assassination that would be laughable if it weren’t aimed at destroying her self-esteem and turning her into a non-person

Since her expulsion, the former student has been the victim of a new type of harassment, this time embodied in a campaign of character assassination that would be laughable if it weren’t aimed at destroying her self-esteem and turning her into a non-person. To do something like that to a student of such a young age is an act of rape from power, persecution dressed up in the robes of school discipline.

The abusers, protected from above, end up feeling that they can destroy lives, denounce innocents and beat others as long as they are protected by an ideology. A system that has fomented political thuggery in its schools and its streets cannot confront bullying in all the complexity that the problem presents.

Noisy campaigns to fill foreign media headlines and the collection of large funds from international organizations is not the solution for all the Cuban children who have to deal, right now, with the physical blows, the ridicule of their classmates or partisan indoctrination in their schools.

Men’s Matters

Generation Y, Yoani Sanchez, 18 June 2008 (Reposted 10 April 2017) — In this Central Havana of guapos* – tough guys – and brawls where I was born, I learned there are certain lines a woman should never cross.  I have spent my life breaking the laughable rules of machismo, but today – and only today – I am going to take refuge in one of them, one of the ones I dislike the most.  It warns, “A woman needs a man to represent her and to go to bat for her when another man insults or slanders her.”

Feeling attacked by someone with a power infinitely superior to mine, more than twice my age, and in addition – as the neighbors of my childhood would have said – someone who is “macho-male-masculine,” I have decided it will be my husband, the journalist Reinaldo Escobar, who will respond. continue reading

I refer to the damaging remarks that Fidel Castro made about me in the prologue of the book, Fidel, Bolivia and Something More.  Not even such a “great” attack convinces me to abandon the premise of refusing to engage in a cycle of rejoinder and self defense.  I am sorry to say I remain focused on the theme called “Cuba.”

Let’s leave it up to Reinaldo and Fidel to do the fighting.  I will continue in my “womanly” labor of weaving together, despite the chatter, the frayed tapestry of our civil society.
The guapos from my neighborhood will know that I learned “something” from them!

* Please do not confuse a Cuban guapo with a handsome man or suitor. That might work in another Latin American country, but here in Cuba the word carries a different connotation, which someone might explain to you  with a slap, or perhaps a stabbing.

Translator’s note: The first sentence is hard to translate because there is a double meaning.  Guapo/guapa is both an adjective and a noun and in common use it means handsome/gorgeous.  In Cuban slang “guapo” also means a tough guy, someone who likes to fight.  It can be used as an insult or to dare someone, that is as the aggressive form of “Hey, man…”  The original footnote explains this meaning for non-Cuban Spanish readers who may not be familiar with it.

———-

Site manager’s note: Translating Cuba has chosen to reprint this article, from the early in the second year of Yoani’s blog, in connection with Generation Y’s tenth anniversary.

Raul Castro Squandered His Last Chance / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

US President Barack Obama and his Cuban counterpart, Raul Castro, shook hands a year ago in Havana. (White House)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Generation Y, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 22 March 2017 — A year ago Cuba had a once in a lifetime opportunity. US President Barack Obama came to the island willing to turn the page on political confrontation. The gesture transcended the diplomatic situation, but Raul Castro – fearful of losing control – responded by putting the brakes on economic reforms and raising the levels of ideological discourse and repression.

Nations are not presented with opportunities every year, nor even every century. The decision to entrench itself and not to undertake political flexibilizations has been the Plaza of the Revolution’s most egotistical measure of recent times. Failure to know how to take advantage of the end of public belligerence with our neighbor to the north will bring this country lasting and unpredictable consequences. continue reading

These effects will not be suffered by the so-called “historic generation” – those at the forefront of the 1950s Revolution – now diminished by the rigors of biology and desertions. Rather than the generals in olive-green, the ones who will pay the price will be those who are still sleeping in their cradles or spinning their tops in the streets of the island. They don’t know it, but in the last twelve months a short-sighted octogenarian tricked them out of a share of their future.

The greatest waste has been not exploiting the international moment, the excitement about foreign investments, and the expectations everywhere in Cuba of taking the first steps towards democratic change without violence or chaos. It was not the job of the White House to encourage or provoke such transformations, but its good mood was a propitious setting for them to be less traumatic.

Instead, the white rose Obama extended to Castro in his historic speech in Havana’s Gran Teatro has faded, beset by hesitations and fears. Now, it is our job to explain to these Cubans of tomorrow why we were at a turning point in our history and we threw it away.

Measuring Hopelessness / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

Those who believe that the closing of a one door to emigration will act like the snap of the fingers to awaken a society whose civic conscience is hypnotized are mistaken (Archive photo)

14ymedio biggerEl Pais/14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez,12 February 2017 — Statistics are deceiving. They only reflect measurable values, tangible realities. International agencies cram us with numbers that measure development, life expectancy or educational attainment, but seldom succeed in grading dissatisfaction, fear, and discouragement. Frequently in their reports they describe a Latin America and its inhabitants encased in a fog of digits.

This year the region will have weak growth of 1.3%, according to forecasts by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC). A data point that barely manages to transmit the scope of lives that will be ruined by the region’s sluggish progress. Unfinished projects and a long string of social dramas will be accentuated in many of these countries in the coming months. The breeding ground from which populism springs.

However, the major drama remains the lack of horizons for millions of people on this side of the planet continue reading

A Haitian who risks crossing the jungle of Panama’s Darien Gap to reach the United States is driven not only by the miserable conditions of life in her country, the destruction left by natural phenomena or the repeated epidemics that cost thousands of lives. The most powerful engine that moves her is hopelessness, the conviction that in her own country she will never have new opportunities.

Seeing no end to violence pushes other Central Americans to escape their countries. In several of these nations gangs have become an enthroned evil, corruption has corroded the internal scaffolding of institutions and politicians go from one scandal to the next. Discouragement then prompts a response quite different from that generated by indignation. While the latter may push people to rebel, the former pushes them to escape.

Meanwhile, on this Caribbean island, millions of human beings ruminate over their own disappointment. For decades Cubans fled because of political persecution, economic problems and weariness. Until 12 January 2017, that generalized choking sensation had a relief valve called the wet-foot/dry-foot policy, but President Barack Obama closed it a few days before finishing his second term.

The most staunch critics of that migratory privilege say that it encouraged desertions and illegal exits. Some people also criticized its unjust character in that it benefitted and offered entitlements to people who were not escaping war, genocide or a natural disaster. They forget, among these arguments, that discouragement also deserves to be taken into account and computed in any formula that tries to decipher the massive flight that affects a nation.

A similar error has been committed by agencies such as the FAO, UNHCR or ECLAC, all of which specialize in measuring parameters such as the number of daily calories ingested, the effect of climate change on human displacements, or the percentage decrease in a nation’s GDP. Their reports and statements never evaluate the energy that accumulates under frustration, the weight of disappointment or the impotence reflected in every migration.

When more than three generations of individuals have lived under a political and economic system that does not evolve or progress, there is a conviction among them that this situation is eternal and immutable. They no longer see any horizon and the idea that nothing can be done to change the status quo becomes rooted in their minds. By now, many of those born in Cuba after January 1959 have grown up with the conviction that everything had already been done by others who preceded them.

That explains why a young man who had recently slept under a roof in Havana, who had access to a limited but adequate amount of food through the rationed market and who spent his long free hours on a park bench, launched himself into the sea on a raft, at the mercy of the winds and sharks. The lack of prospects is also behind the large number of migrants from the island, in recent years, who have ended up in the hands of human traffickers in Colombia, Panama or Mexico.

Washington not only cut an escape path, but the White House’s decision ended up deepening the depression that comes from the chronic absence of dreams that characterizes our country. The Cuban Adjustment Act, enacted in 1966, is still in effect for those who can prove they are politically persecuted, but the most widespread feeling among potential migrants is that they have lost a last chance to reach a future.

However, this undermining of illusion has little chance of being transformed into rebellion. The theory of the social pressure cooker and the idea that Obama closed the escape valve so that the fire of internal austerity and repression will make it explode is a nice metaphor; but it misses several key ingredients, among them the resignation that overcomes individuals subjected to realities that appear unchangeable.

The belief that nothing can be done and nothing will change continues to be the principle stimulus, in these areas, to lift one’s anchor and depart for any other corner of the planet. The pot will not explode with a sea of people in the streets bringing down Raul Castro’s government while singing hymns on that dreamed of “D-Day” that so many are tired of waiting for.

Those who believe that the closing of a one door to emigration will act like the snap of the fingers to awaken a society whose civic conscience is hypnotized are mistaken. The cancellation of this policy of benefits in the United States is not enough to create citizens here at home.

A new bureaucratic barrier is a small thing to those who believe that they have reached their own glass ceiling and that in their homeland they have nothing left to do. This quiet conviction will never appear in tables, bar charts or schemes with which specialists will explain the causes of exodus and displacement. But ignorance of it means the specialists will never understand such a prolonged escape.

Far from the reports and statistics that everyone wants to explain, hopelessness will take Cuban migrants to other places, re-orient their route to new destinations. In distant latitudes, communities will flourish that will dine on their usual dish of rice and beans and continue to say the word “chico” before many of their phrases. They will be the ones who will let drop small tear when they see on a map that long and narrow land where they had their roots, but in which they could never bear fruit.


Editorial Note: This text was published this Sunday, February 12 in the newspaper El País.

Enough With the War Games / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

Regular troops of the Revolutionary Armed Forces parade in military exercise. (Archive)
Regular troops of the Revolutionary Armed Forces parade in military exercise. (Archive)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Generation Y, Havana, 20 November 2016 — Tiredness, in the voice of the friend who calls and asks when they are going to mute the sirens that have been going off since morning. Exhaustion, in the neighbor who couldn’t get home in time after work because traffic was diverted due to military maneuvers. Annoyance in the young reservist who was ordered to participate in military exercise on the exact days he was planning a getaway with his girlfriend.

The three days devoted to “Bastión 2016” have left many Cubans feeling extremely saturated. Especially because after 72 hours of aggressive confrontation, and just when it seemed that the nightmare of machine guns was over, the government decreed this Saturday and Sunday to be National Days of Defense. For those who don’t want to fight… three bullets. continue reading

Exhausted from so much “trench warfare” and too many allusions to the enemy, we wonder if it wouldn’t be more coherent to use all those resources to alleviate daily problems. To reverse the chronic difficulties of urban transport, the quality of the bread in the ration market, or the shortages of medicines in the island’s pharmacies, would be better destinations for the little money contained in the national coffers.

Why waste money on fuel for war tanks that could be used to improve elementary school lunches?

The threat of battle is part of the mechanisms of control. The trench is the hole where we are immobilized and reduced; the platoon erases our individuality; and the canteen filled with water that tastes of metal and fear exorcises our demons of prosperity.

The war games have reminded us that we are only soldiers. As the bugle’s roar pulls the uniformed from their beds, these days of military exercises have awakened the country from any dreams of citizenship.

Scholarships, Fears And Attractions / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

World Learning's scholarships are targeted to 16-18 year old students in Cuba.
World Learning’s scholarships are targeted to 16-18 year old students in Cuba.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Generation Y, Yoani Sanchez, 27 September 2016 – The woman approaches without fear or hesitation. “How can my son apply for one of the scholarships mentioned on television?” she asks me abruptly. It takes me a few seconds to realize what she’s talking about, for the images to come to mind of young Cuban students engaged in demonstrations called by the government to reject the programs of the World Learning organization.

She waits a few minutes, standing next to me, eager to have an email address she can write to, a bridge for her child to learn another reality. The slogans against the US NGO launched by officialdom don’t seem to have swayed her. When I ask her if she is aware of the government campaign attacking this program, which is targeted to Cuban youth between 16 and 18, she responds with a very popular phrase: “In this case, it’s all the same to me to me to be the pedestrian, or the driver who runs over him.” continue reading

Fear no longer works as it once did. A few decades ago, it was enough for any phenomenon or person to be demonized on television for the circle of silence and fear to close around them. Now, the volume at which the extremists shout is inversely proportional to the interest in the object of their animosity. Without realizing it, the Party propaganda of recent days is helping to advertise the existence of some scholarships that were known to only a tiny part of the island’s population.

The woman is not afraid. She sticks close to me for help in some details that will allow her son “to breathe other air.” Like her, thousands of parents throughout the island watch their children leave for school, where in morning assemblies they shout their rejection of the new “manipulations of imperialism.” At home, the adults move heaven and earth to inscribe their children’s names on the list for the next round of scholarships.

Reinaldo Escobar Arrested in Santa Clara, Cuba / Yoani Sanchez

Arrested, handcuffed
Arrested, handcuffed and forcibly deported to Havana — This is what happened to Reinaldo Escobar yesterday at the arrival of the JetBlue [flight in Santa Clara, Cuba, which he was covering as a journalist for 14ymedio.]
My phone service was cut off
My phone service was cut off so I couldn’t report the arrest of my husband Reinaldo Escobar when he was covering the arrival of the JetBlue flight.

See also:

JetBlue Ends Abusive Prices of Charter Flights to Cuba / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

Cuba’s Landscape After the Thaw / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

 United States and Cuban flags in the streets of Havana
United States and Cuban flags in the streets of Havana

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 15 August 2016 – The baby cries in her cradle while her mother sings to console her. Barely three months old, her name is Michelle, like Barack Obama’s wife. This little Havanan who still nurses and sleeps most of the day, came into the world after the armistice: she is a daughter of the truce between the governments of Cuba and the United States. A creature without ideological phobias or hatred on her horizon.

In the history books that Michelle and her contemporaries will read, these months after 17 December 2014 – “17-D” as Cubans have dubbed it – will remain in a few lines. In these retrospective summaries there will be optimistic tones, as if the whole island, stranded for decades on the side of the road, had set out anew from this moment, putting pedal to the metal and making up for lost time. But, for many, living through the reconciliation is less historic and grandiloquent than was playing a starring role in a battle. continue reading

A process that, one day, analysts will compare with the fall of the Berlin Wall and perhaps define with high-sounding names like the end of the sugar curtain, the death of the Revolution or the moment when peace broke out, is losing brightness now, faced with the daily exhaustion. Indeed, the truce quieted the noise of the slogans and has allowed us to hear the persistent hum of the shortages and the lack of freedom.

The day when the presidents of Cuba and the United States announced the beginning of the normalization of relations has been left somewhere in the past. It will be a reference for historians and analysts, but it means little to those who are facing a whether decision to spend the rest of their lives waiting for “this to be fixed” or to choose to escape to any other corner of the world.

17-D has increased apprehensions about the end of the Cuban Adjustment Act. The number of Cubans who, since then, have crossed the United States border has shot up, with 84,468 arriving by land or air while another 10,248 have tried to cross the sea. The popular ironic phrase of the latter for leaving the island –“turning off El Morro,” a reference to Havana’s iconic lighthouse at the entrance to the bay – dramatically foreshadows those numbers.

Why not stay in the country if the thaw promises a better life or at least a more fluid and profitable relationship with the United States? Because 17-D arrived too late for many, including several generations of who had to face off against our neighbor to the north, shouting anti-imperialist slogans for most of their lives and abetting the commander-in-chief in his personal battle against the White House. They don’t trust promises, because they have seen many positive prognostications that survived only on paper and in the mystique of a speech, lacking any impact on their dinner tables or their wallets.

After a prolonged skirmish lasting over half a century and eleven US administrations and two Cuban presidents with the same surname, the nation is exhausted. The adrenaline of the battle has given way to dreariness and a question that finds it way into the minds of millions of Cubans: Was it all for this?

It is difficult to convince people that the confiscations of US companies, the diplomatic insults, becoming the Soviet Union’s concubine, and the many caricatures ridiculing Nixon, Carter, Reagan and Bush were all worth it, even with all the official propaganda that controls every one of the county’s newspapers, radio stations and TV channels.

The American flag raised at the US Embassy in Havana just one year ago, on 14 August 2015, put a final end to an era of trenches and to the eternal soldier: the Cuban government with its still hot Kalashnikov and a marked inability to live in peace. It is prepared for confrontation but its ineffectiveness is clearly evident in times of armistice. In his convalescent retirement, Fidel Castro noted how the country he molded in his image and likeness was out of his hands. The man who controlled every detail of Cubans’ lives cannot influence how he will be remembered. Some rush to deify him; others sharpen their arguments to dismantle his myth; while the great majority simply forget he’s alive: he is buried while still breathing.

Children born since 31 July 2006, when the illness of the “Maximum Leader” was announced, have only seen the president in photos and archival materials. They are the ones who don’t have to declaim incendiary versus before him in some patriotic act, nor be a part of the social experiments that emerged from the gray matter under his olive-green cap. They live in the post-Fidel era, which does not mean they are entirely freed from his influence.

For decades to come, the schism created by the authoritarian leadership of this son of Galicia, born in the eastern town of Birán, will divide Cubans and even families. The aftermath of this tension that has infiltrated the national identity, otherwise lighthearted, will last for a long time. There will be a before-and-after Castro for the followers of the creed of political obstinacy he cultivated, but also for those who will breathe a sigh of relief when he is no longer.

The Maximum Leader’s 90th birthday, celebrated this August 13 with cheers and a good dose of personality cult, has all the earmarks of being his farewell. Now his closest family members should be exploring the calendar to select a date to announce his funeral, because such a huge death won’t fit just any date. They will have to pick a day that is not associated with the memory of some offensive in which he participated, a project that he opened, or some lengthy speech that hypnotized his audience.

There will be no need, in any case, to disconnect the machines or to stop administering medications. To say the final goodbye, it will be enough to give him his measure as a human being. Forget all those epithets that extolled him as “father of all Cubans,” “visionary,” or “promoter of medicine” on the island, along with “model journalist,” initiator of the “water-saving policy”, “eternal guerrilla,” “master builder,” and a long list of other grandiloquent titles that have been repeated in the days before his birthday.

Fidel Castro and Michelle, the little baby born after the visit of Barack Obama to the island, will be together in the history books. He will remain trapped in the volume dedicated to the twentieth century, although he has made every effort to put his name on each page dedicated to this nation. She will star, along with millions of other Cubans, in a chapter without bloody diplomatic battles or sterile confrontations.

****

Editor ‘s Note: This text was published on Monday 15 August 2016 in the Spanish newspaper El País .

Recipe For Forgetting Fidel Castro / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

Former president Fidel Castro with a “Queen” brand pressure cooker, made in China. (EFE)
Former president Fidel Castro with a “Queen” brand pressure cooker, made in China. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Generation Y, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 13 August 2016 – Turn on the radio and the announcer reads a brief headline: “Fidel Castro, The Great Builder.” The man goes on to explain that the most important works of the country have come from this head that for decades has been covered by an olive-green cap. Weary of so much personality cult, I decided to watch television, but on the main channel a lawyer was detailing the legal legacy of the Maximum Leader and at the end of the program they announced a documentary about “The Invincible Guerrilla.”

For weeks, we Cubans have lived under a veritable bombardment of references to Fidel Castro, which has increased in proportion to the closeness of the date of his 90th birthday, this 13 August. There is no shame nor nuance in this avalanche of images and epithets. continue reading

This whole excess of tributes and reminders is, undoubtedly, a desperate attempt to save the former Cuban president from oblivion, to pull him out of that zone of media abandonment in which he has fallen since announcing his departure from power a decade ago.

We have left the man born in the eastern town of Biran, in 1926, in the past, condemning him to the 20th century, burying him alive.

Children now in elementary school have never seen the once loquacious orator speak for hours at a public event. Farmers have breathed a sigh of relief on not having to receive constant recommendations from the “Farmer in Chief” and even housewives are thankful that he does not appear at a congress of the Federation of Cuban Women to teach them how to use a pressure cooker.

The official propaganda knows that people often appeal to short-term memory as a way of protecting themselves. For many young people, Fidel Castro is already as remote as, for my mother in her day, was the dictator Gerardo Machado, a man who so adversely marked the life of my grandmother’s generation.

Followers of the figure of Fidel Castro are taking advantage of the celebrations for his nine decades of life to try to erect a statue of immortality in the heart of the nation. They deify him, forgive him his systematic errors and convert him into the most visible head of a creed. The new religion takes as its premises stubbornness, intolerance for differences, and a visceral hatred – almost like a personal battle – against the United States.

The detractors of “Él,” as many Cubans simply call him, are preparing the arguments to dismantle his myth. They await the moment when the history books no longer equate him with José Martí, but offer a stark, cold and objective analysis of his career. They are the ones who dream of the post-Castro era, of the end of Fidelismo and of the diatribe that will fall on his controversial figure.

Most, however, simply turn the page and shrug their shoulders in a sign of disgust when they hear his name. They are the ones who, right now, turn off the TV and focus on a daily existence that negates every word Fidel Castro ever said in his incendiary speeches, in those times when he planned to build a Utopia and turn us into New Men.

Tired of his omnipresence, they are the ones who will deal the final blow to the myth. And they will do it without hullabaloo or heroic acts. They will simply stop talking to their children about him, there will be no photos in the rooms of their homes showing him with a rifle and epaulettes, they will not confer on their grandchildren the five letters of his name.

The celebration for the 90th birthday of Fidel Castro is, in reality, his farewell: as excessive and exhausting as was his political life.

********

Editor’s note: This text was published Saturday August 13, 2016 in the newspaper O Globo of Brazil

Cuba’s Journalists Missing in Action / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

Six members of the Cuban volleyball team have been detained in Finland without the press explaining what crime they are accused of. (Volleyball World League)
Six members of the Cuban volleyball team have been detained in Finland without the press explaining what crime they are accused of. (Volleyball World League)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Generation Y, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 7 July 2016 — My father came home with his head spinning. “What is the crime that several Cuban athletes in Finland are accused of?” He had only heard the official statement signed by the Cuban Volleyball Federation read on primetime news on Monday and published in the written press. The text did not clarify the imputed misdeed, so my father speculated: “Illegal sale of tobacco? Theft? Public scandal?”

The rape of a woman, for which the athletes are presumed responsible, was not mentioned in the statement, which constitutes an act of secrecy, concealment of the truth and disrespect for the audience. The official press acts as if we are small children with delicate ears to whom they cannot mention any gory details. Or worse still, as if we don’t deserve to know the seriousness of the accusations. continue reading

What happened, again makes clear the straitjacket that prevents information professionals from doing their jobs within the Communist Party-controlled media. This is something that many of them bear with pain and frustrations, while others—the most opportunistic—take advantage of the censorship to do work that is mediocre or convenient for the powers-that-be.

Why has no prominent Prensa Latina correspondent in Europe gone to Finland to report minute-by-minute on what is happening with the athletes from the island?

We suffer omissions of this type every day in the national media. These absences, now chronic, belie the winks that accompany Cuban first vice-president Miguel Diaz-Canel’s call for a journalism more attached to reality and without self-censorship. Where, now, is that official to urge the reporters to investigate and publish the details regarding the fate of the volleyball players?

It is very convenient to urge the journalists to be more daring and to take the time to guide them to be cautious or to remain silent. Such duplicity has been repeated so many times over the last five decades that it has inculcated in the collective imagination the idea that the press is synonymous with propaganda and with being an informer, a representative of the government.

The damage inflicted on Cuban journalism is profound and systematic. Repairing it will take time, a framework of respect for such an honorable profession and even the emergence of a generation of informers who are not marked by the “vices” of the current academy of Cuban journalism. These young people, without compromises with power, are the only hope left to us.

We Were All At Pulse / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

Christopher Sanfeliz and Alejandro Barrios, show to death by Omar Mateen at the gay nightclub Pulse. (Facebook)
Christopher Sanfeliz and Alejandro Barrios, show to death by Omar Mateen at the gay nightclub Pulse. (Facebook)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Generation Y, 15 June 2016 – The news mourned on Sunday, a week that ripped apart and will forever mark the lives of the victims’ families. The Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida, became a death trap for dozens of people at the mercy of a madman. The motivations that led Omar Seddique Mateen to kill 49 human beings and injure another 53 are still being investigated, but solidarity does not need to wait for FBI reports or summations, it should be immediate and unhesitating.

The official Cuban press has treated the fact that the event took place in a gay establishment with omissions and squeamishness. The prudery on television and in the national periodicals, with this silence, only promotes homophobia and belies their own discourse of changes. This absence is also noted in the condolence message sent by Raul Castro to Barack Obama, where he called the locale of the tragedy “a nightclub.” continue reading

The omissions don’t end there. The press in the hands of the Communist Party delayed until Wednesday the news that two Cubans were among the dead, when it was already vox populi on the streets. Why the delay? Because they were gay or because they were emigrants? This double condition must be upsetting to some in the government and thus in their periodicals, which operate by way of ventriloquists.

Also surprising is that the National Center for Sexual Education (Cenesex) has limited itself to a formal statement of condemnation and has not called for a vigil, for flowers to be left at the doors of the mothers who lost their sons, or at least a symbolic action that reflects the pains of the Cuban LGBTI community.

None of that has happened, and not for lack of indignation or sadness, but from the same lack of freedom of expression that prevents a dissident from making a public demand, or any person from carrying, spontaneously, a banner that recognizes: “We were all at Pulse.”

Rain, A Justification for So Many Things / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

Two teenagers in the rain (14ymedio)
Two teenagers in the rain (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Generation Y, 10 June 2016 –“Why did you bring the girl if it is raining?” my friend’s daughter’s second grade teacher asked when she brought her child to school on Wednesday. Although the school year should continue, many elementary school teachers took advantage of the precipitation this week to hasten its end. The bureaucrats used the excuse of the bad weather to delay paperwork, while countless medical clinics opened late due to the weather. continue reading

Many state employees behave as if they are sugar cubes, or watercolors about to dissolve, or allergic to water when the rain comes. This reaction is laughable given that we live in a tropical country, but there is also a lot of drama involved in the serious damage the rains cause to millions of people. Over and over again, public services behave as if each rainy season was the island’s first.

The banking system, dysfunctional throughout the year, collapses almost entirely when two drops of rain fall from the sky. The Nauta email service – operated by the state phone company – is thrown into crisis, and urban transport outdoes itself in terms of problems. A drizzle and schools suspend classes, retail markets barely open, and even the emergency rooms in public health centers work at half speed.

All this without a hurricane, or 60-mile-an-hour-plus winds, or one of those heavy snows that keep nations further north on edge. The paralyzation of life here caused by the rains is more than a justification, it is an alibi, one that allows many, during these days, to do what they most desire: Nothing.

Elena Burke, A Voice That Resonates In Our Memory / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Generation Y, 9 June 2016 — The woman had something. In addition to her deep voice and the passion she poured into the microphone, she had an attitude that fascinated us. When she appeared on the television screen my childish self-absorption was put on hold and I stopped running around and paid attention to her. There she was, “Lady Feeling,” the teenager who had debuted on CMQ radio, the girl who was born in the same year that the cieba tree was planted in Fraternity Park in Havana. I shut up and listened to her.

Temperament, emotion and an interpretation that went beyond good diction or memory were her hallmark. She lived each song. She was ready to fight over an infidelity, cry over a heartbreak, relish to the point of madness, or say goodbye like a woman waving her hand from threshold of any door. In the Cuban musical scene of the seventies and eighties, filled with fear and duplicity, Elena Burke was authentic, seeking neither to please nor to humor.

Others reaped the glories of the international media when that imposing and sincere lady was no longer with us, when the lady of filin had gone. But no Cuban singer has managed to improve on her interpretations of songs composed by José Antonio Méndez, Marta Valdés or César Portillo de la Luz, among the many other songwriters she gave voice to. Because with a microphone in hand and her physical volume she filled the entire screen; she was simply herself, unadorned, uncompromising, forthright.

Tiananmen Square, Shared Silence / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

Tiananmen Square in China was the scene of protests calling for more openness in 1989
Tiananmen Square in China was the scene of protests calling for more openness in 1989

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 4 June 2016 – Havana’s Plaza of the Revolution shows its loyalty to its friends in many ways. One of them is complicit silence. When the Tlateloico Massacre happened in 1968, Fidel Castro did not condemn it because his ally, the Institutional Revolutionary Party, ruled Mexico at the time. Something similar happened with the events in Tiananmen Square in China, still absent to this day in Cuba’s official press and discourse.

It has been 27 years since thousands of students demonstrating peacefully in Beijing to demand democratic reforms were forcibly evicted from the square. The turning point of these protests was on June 4, when the army cracked down violently to those gathered at the square, leaving hundreds dead and thousands injured. This coming October, the last known prisoner of those who were arrested during those riots, Miao Deshun, is expected to be released. continue reading

Along with the more than one thousand detainees who were sentenced to harsh penalties for showing their desire for change, China sent many other protesters to forced labor camps to be re-educated. Since then, significant resources and millions of hours of propaganda have been dumped on society, to suppress the idea of rebellion and stifle memories.

Recently, several activists who were trying to evoke the date have been detained by the government or prevented from leaving their homes to pay tribute to the victims. The gag-rule extends to virtual space, where China’s internet police have skillfully managed to erase many of the references to the events of Tiananmen Square.

However, despite the fact that in June 1989 the foreign press had been expelled from the area and the government restricted coverage of events, an iconic image was imprinted on the retina of humanity. A defenseless man with a bag, standing in front of a military tank, showed the absolute fragility of citizens under a totalitarian power.

That picture has never been reproduced in any Cuban media managed by the Communist Party. Thus the island’s authorities have joined in the attempt to erase history, vigorously led by their Chinese comrades. They are complicit in the attempt to create a hole in the past.

Today, along with China’s booming economy and environmental problems, there is a country where it is not permitted to speak publicly about its history. A nation that has been offered an unequal economic well-being in exchange for its conscience, but where, also, many have not accepted the deal. They are the ones who remeber that young man who was going to the market when his luck changed forever.

In the case of Cuba, the effort to force amnesia does not begin and end with the tragedy that took place in that vast and distant square. Cuba’s official media once hid from us the fall of the Berlin Wall, denied the Chernobyl accident for weeks, and “made itself scarce” in the face of Nicolae Ceausescu’s crimes.

The loyalty of the Plaza of the Revolution toward its ideological comrades includes the ignoble task of accompanying them in altering the figures, hiding the news, and burying the dead in silence.

Shameful Friends / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

Alexandr Lukashenko has been in power in Belarus since 1994. (CC)
Alexandr Lukashenko has been in power in Belarus since 1994. (CC)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Generation Y, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 25 May 2016 – People with whom we share sorrows and joys are a reflection of ourselves, however different they may appear. As friends we choose them to accompany us, but also to complete us, with the diversity and continuity that our human nature needs. The problem is when our choices of coexistence are not based on affinities and preferences, but on interests and alliances focused on annoying others.

In the same week, the Cuban executive has embraced two deplorable authoritarian regimes. A few hours after Cuban Vice President Miguel Diaz-Canel Bermudez met with government functionaries in Belarus, Havana’s Plaza of the Revolution hosted a meeting between Raul Castro and a special representative from North Korea’s Workers Party. Disgraceful comrades, shamelessly embraced and praised by the island’s officialdom.

In a world where civil society, calls for the respect for human rights, and movements that promote the recognition of rights are making themselves heard ever more loudly, it is difficult for the Cuban government to explain his good relations with Europe’s last dictator and with the cruelly capricious grandson who inherited power through his bloodline. What united the island’s authorities with similar political specimens?

The only possible answer is sticking their finger in the eye of Western democracies and the White House. The problem with this attitude lies in the demands from these fellow travelers for commitments and silences. Diplomatic friendship is converted into complicity and the comrades end up defining the nature of those who have chosen their company.