Young Latin Americans call to fight against political apathy / 14ymedio

Young Cubans at the 2nd Forum of Youth and Democracy in Panama. (14ymedio)
Young Cubans at the 2nd Forum of Youth and Democracy in Panama. Eliecer Avila with the microphone. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Panama, 8 April 2015 — Young Latin American leaders gathered Tuesday on the second day of the 2nd Youth and Democracy Regional Forum in Panama and addressed issues such as the rise of populist regimes in the region, and agreed on the need to organize civil society at the hemispheric level to fight against political apathy.

The protagonists of the morning session were Micaela Hierro Dori, president of the Argentine civil association CICES, who acted as moderator; Ricardo Antonio Álvarez Arias, vice president of Honduras; Eduardo Stein, former vice president of Guatemala; Guillermo Cochez, former Ambassador of Panama to the Organization of American States (OAS); Martha Lucía Ramírez, former Minister of Defense of Colombia; Gustavo Amaya, executive director of the Center for Training and Promotion of Democracy (CECADE) in San Salvador; and Carolina Quinonez, a journalist from Guatamala’s Antigua Channel.

Political apathy, according to attendees at the meeting, threatens equally countries ruled by totalitarian regimes and those in which the society assumes that “all is well” or at least “better than in other countries,” because in the latter it can leave the door open to the possibility that populism and other deformations will silence thoughtful proposals to take advantage of what the traditional parties have not resolved. continue reading

Carlos Amel Oliva, of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU), compared this phenomenon with the rise of fascism in Europe before World War II, ignored by governments until the outbreak of the war. “The democratic countries of the region need to not let the same thing happen with populism. It is not Cuba’s or Venezuela’s problem, it is a regional problem.”

Press freedom was another issue that focused attention during the morning panel. The representative from UNPACU denounced the “media laws that are driving some governments to control and limit freedom of expression under the pretext of preventing the spread of lies and distortions.”

Participants also discussed the problem of parasitism that grows in the region due to both the family remittances from emigrants as well as government “handouts,” especially under populist systems, factors that discourage the growth and development of national economies and create a vicious circle that encourages emigration and at the same time reinforces parasitism.

Participants’ skepticism of transnational organizations and meetings was reflected in the statements of Eduardo Stein, shared by several attendees, who questioned the existence of a regional organization like the OAS. For the former vice president of Guatemala, on the OAS Permanent Council, the alliance of a few countries prevents certain issues from being analyzed in the Summits. “There will be no will to confront the political problems of each country, appealing to the right of national sovereignty,” he added about the Summit of the Americas.

The afternoon of the day was dedicated to the initiatives of young Cubans with regards to democratic opening, with the participation of Kirenia Yalit Núñez, Yasser Rojas, Eliécer Ávila and Roberto Jiménez on behalf of the Roundtable, a proposal of democratic changes on the base of initiatives that seek to involve all Cubans in the solution of the problems that affect the whole population.

Also presented at the meeting was the new Cuba Decides initiative led by Rosa María Payá and Erick Álvarez, members of the Christian Liberation Movement; while Yusmila Reyna and Carlos Amel Oliva spoke of the objectives of UNPACU.

Finally, the Aulas Abiertas (Open Classrooms) project was presented, a project which promotes knowledge of the basic questions inherent in democratic societies, to prepare citizens before the eventual process of transition in which they will be capable of participating with a proactive role.

Unfortunately, it was not possible to expand the debate with questions from the audience due to the frequent and prolonged power outages in the room where the session was being held, which also affected some of the equipment for projecting materials, and which the Forum organizers attributed a deliberate attempt to sabotage the activity.

Young people call to fight against fear and self-censorship / 14ymedio

Several activists of Cuban civil society at the 2nd Youth and Democracy Regional Forum (14ymedio)
Several activists of Cuban civil society at the 2nd Youth and Democracy Regional Forum (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 7 April 2015 — The Second Regional Youth and Democracy Forum started Monday in Panama City with the challenge of becoming a “dialogue space for young leaders of student, social and political movements in the region.” The meeting, which runs until Tuesday and is organized by the Latin American Youth for Democracy Network (RLJD), is being held in the framework of the Summit of the Americas and aims to prepare future leaders for democratic governance and citizen participation, two of the priority themes of the Summit.

Most participants concluded, during the day yesterday, that the region is undermined by the cancer of populism, whose origins lie in Cuba. They also consider that democratic governments violate the fundamental principle of the Organization of American States (OAS) by sitting down with Cuba and Venezuela and not recognizing the legitimate voice of civil society in these countries. If the OAS and its organizations are not genetically reformulated, they warn, they will cease to have a reason for being and could lose any credibility as a regional body. continue reading

In the opening session,Guillermo Cochez, Panama’s former Ambassador to the OAS and member of the RLJD Advisory Council, urged the young people not to allow authoritarian governments to appropriate the discourse of social justice and of the continent. “I urge you to continue the fight against the enemies of democracy, who do not rest. You also must not rest in your struggle to defend democracy,” he urged.

Present at the conference were Eduardo Stein, former vice president of Guatemala, and Marta Lucía Ramírez, former Minister of Defense of Colombia, who participated with opinions and questions.

Yesenia Alvarez, director of the Institute for Political Freedom (IPL- Peru) and member of the Iberoamerican Youth Advisory Council, asked the young civil society leaders to look at the problems of each country across the region. “We join with Cuba, and we will continue together with the Cubans until they are free and can choose their destiny as a nation. We will work hard for it. The Latin American presidents will not speak about it, so I ask the civil society not to forget Cuba and Venezuela. Don’t be afraid. Dictatorships live in self-censorship that causes fear,” she added.

Meanwhile, Gina Romero of RedLad (Latin American and Caribbean Network for Democracy), called for developing an awareness of the kind of democracy that seeks and prioritizes the objective that all citizens have a decent life.

The first panel of the day, Youth Participation in Proposals for Strengthening Democracy and Governance, had as participants Pedro Cruz (Youth for Guatemala), Ricardo Sande (Student Federation of the Catholic University of Chile) and Rosa Maria Paya, who spoke of her project Cuba Decides. Also invited was, Rodrigo Diamanti, one of the directors of the video A World Without Gag Laws, who could not attend because the Venezuelan government prevented him from leaving the country. Sande demanded citizen involvement in politics to prevent the State from becoming the only provider of solutions. “There is no point having a democracy if we give the solution of the problems to power, (…) forgetting that citizens are responsible to each other, not to the states.”

Among those attending the second panel, on the Inter-American System of Human Rights and specific cases in the region, was Nizar El Fakih, a human rights lawyer from Venezuela who offered specific data on the situation in the country — including the unofficial count in 2013 showing 6% of the Venezuelan population in extreme poverty. Kirenia Nunez of the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation (CCDHRN), warned of the known increase in short-term detentions on the island, while Ana Karina Garcia, from the Venezuelan Youth Popular Will, discussed the challenge to sensitize Venezuelan society to the fact that authoritarianism affects not only the opposition but the entire society. “The government is applying the same methods as the Cuban dictatorship, spreading terror to paralyze the population, alongside increasing deprivation and violence,” she said.

The Nicaraguan deputy Edipsia Dubon focused criticism of the government of her country on the Canal Law that will threaten and sweep away indigenous rights, given that 52% of the lands that will be confiscated by the State under the Law belong to those groups. For his part, Mauricio Alarcon, of Fundamedios (Ecuador), called attention to the violation of freedom of expression and press, as well as the attempts by some of the governments of the region to maintain themselves in power.

After a discussion between all the young participants and the social and political leaders from Latin America, the first day closed with a concert with Cuban hip hop artists Michel Matos (Matraka), Soandres del Rio, David D Omni and Aldo Roberto Rodriguez Baquero (of Los Aldeanos).

Adventures and misfortunes of a correspondent in Cuba / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

Fernando Garcia poses with a copy of his book 'The Island of the Ingenuous”. (Photo: Esteban Cobo)
Fernando Garcia poses with a copy of his book ‘The Island of the Ingenuous”. (Photo: Esteban Cobo)

14ymedio bigger

14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, 6 April 2015 — Fernando Garcia del Rio was a correspondent in Cuba for the Spanish newspaper La Vanguardia (Barcelona), from 2007 until his expulsion from Cuba in 2011. He has just published a book,“The Island of the Mills,” where he relates the “adventures and misfortunes of a correspondent in Havana in the final years of the Castro regime.” From Madrid, where he still works for La Vanguardia, the author has responded by email to questions from 14ymedio.

Question. Why did they expel you?

Response. It is obvious that my work did not please the authorities. They did not specify the reasons in detail. One day in March 2011, when I was about to complete four years as a correspondent, an official from the International Press Center (CPI) called me to a meeting the following Saturday morning. For more than a year that organization had let me waiting for the renewal of my accreditation, an essential document to be able to work on the island. I’d also spent some months without receiving any calls or communication from the CPI. And this, as a member of that body explained to me with obvious cynicism, meant that I was in a phase that implied, among other things, “the silence of the mails.” continue reading

The fact is, that at the final meeting at the Center’s site on the Rampa, the official in charge of communicating to me the outcome of the process sat across from me and limited himself to reading what he had brought written on a piece of paper. It was Article 46 of the CPI rules, according to which the entity can withdraw a correspondent’s accreditation when it considers that there has been a lack of ethics or objectivity, or actions “inappropriate” to the mission. I asked how and in what reports had I incurred these suspicions. The official, instead of answering me, unfolded the paper again and repeated to me the contents of the article in question. He did answer my question regarding if there was a timeframe for me to leave, “As soon as possible, as soon as you organize the move and sell your car,” he said.

“I’ve often wondered which article or articles could have bothered them so much. The one I devoted to the significant drop in the rates of Communist Party memberships?”

 In the book I tell the story in detail, but not without noting that the CPI expelled a ton of journalists in similar circumstances. So the event was nothing extraordinary, although telling the story is still illustrative. I’ve often wondered which article or articles could have bothered them so much. The one I devoted to the significant drop in the rates of Communist Party memberships, and how much this fall worried its leadership. Or maybe it was the report about the terribly poor sugar harvests of 2010 and 2011, titled, “Cuba’s bitter sugar”?

Question: It has been four years since your expulsion. Does Cuba remain in your dreams and nightmares?

Answer: Of course it continues in my thoughts and in my memory. Predominantly fond memories. Cuba is a unique and unforgettable country. For starters, coming from outside can feel like a time machine. Or like being in a period film – back to the fifties – where contemporary elements seem like mistakes in the props. That feeds the reverie. Beyond this imaginary sensation there is maybe something superficial, I see Cuba as a country with people hungry for the future who improvise the present minute-by-minute within a system anchored by the past. A broken country, in a material and figurative sense, as so many of its buildings and its streets are broken, but also its economy, communication with the exterior, and the families who remain separated by a stretch of ocean. But Cubans masterfully use an infallible weapon against the breakdown of hope, which is resourcefulness.

The [Spanish] Real Academia dictionary gives this term three principal meanings, as well as one relative to sugar factories. Ingenuity is the “ability of man to devise or invent quickly and easily”; it is also “industry, cunning and artifice of someone to get what they want,” and at the same time, “the spark or talent to rapidly see and display the funny side of things.” I believe that it is thanks to ingenuity, in its different forms, that most Cubans continue to get ahead. With ingenuity to fix the broken and fill the vacuum; to stop and confuse the adversary with humor and constructive spirit. Hence the title of the book, clearly.

Question: How difficult was it to practice journalism onThe Island of the Ingenuous?

Answer: What can I tell you about that?! Of course, the difficulties aren’t the same for a foreign correspondent in Havana – at the end of the day, a kind of passage through the country with someone having your back – than for a Cuban journalist who puts it all on the line. So, I send my respect and sincere admiration to my colleagues on the Island who, against all odds, try to do real journalism inside the country. That said, in my case as a correspondent, the main and most obvious difficulty was maintaining an acceptable balance between a commitment to the readers for the truth and the desire to keep one’s position; that is, to relate events without hiding the essential data but without getting the country’s authorities all stirred up.

“As a correspondent, the main and most obvious difficulty was maintaining an acceptable balance between a commitment to the readers for the truth and the desire to keep one’s position”

On the other hand, in Cuba informative material is peculiar. More than news, what you find are propaganda and rumors. But beyond what circulates in the media and is put at your disposal, the field is enormous. Regardless of the political decisions, the relevant announcements and the more or less substantial official discourse, Cuba seemed to me from the beginning a country that deserves to be told. Because, given that everyone has to invent a life for themselves every morning, things are constantly happening to all Cubans.

So the stories are endless, and almost always interesting because they speak of the daily bread. It’s not about “objective conditions,” figures on the “blockade” or other aspects of the everlasting conflict with the enemy; it’s about raw reality, which is what should come first to us journalists. Reality with a face and eyes, although at times you have to hide identities to avoid problems with the staff. And if, in addition to this reality, you tell it gracefully… Finally, sometimes the system serves you gems, involuntarily, real jewels for the daily chronicle. I’m referring to the reports that Granma or Juventud Rebelde publish from time to time, intending to counter something or meant as a warning, but that for the foreign media are like diamonds in the rough.

I remember discovering an “urbanization” of 350 houses made with railroad rails and sleepers in a coastal neighborhood called La Panchita. The residents, beset by the severe housing shortage suffered by the entire Island, pulled up 15 miles of railroad track to get the construction materials they needed to build their homes. The government published this finding with great scandal and indignation and with the announcement of disciplinary measures. They had to show that in Cuba people are made to pay for their crimes. Meanwhile, what this gave me was excellent raw material for an article on the housing shortage, and the theft of materials as a recourse to alleviate basic needs.

Question: Ingenuity, creativity, “resolve”, “under the table”, “invent” … many different ways of calling the juggling of survival we have to perform every day. Did some of them have a lasting impact on you?

Answer: In my book I dedicate a chapter to the “resurrection of scrap.” Here I report my discovery of what Cubans think is a total classic. I’m referring to the use of the Russian Aurika 70 washing machine for purposes that have nothing to do with the original. I discovered it in a casa particular [private B&B] in Viñales. The owner – his wife told us – couldn’t come out to greet us because he was enjoying a “hydromassage session.”

We went through to look at the courtyard of the house and the guy had his hand in the washing machine. He explained how this had been prescribed by his doctor: he should put his hand in there for 20 minutes a day, I think on the prewash setting, for his injured wrist. Then the man showed us the fan he’d hooked up with the motor from the drier. Later I learned that this was a more or less usual practice, with this and other appliances distributed by the State, and that, being so widespread, it had even set off a national debate about the supposed energy waste.

“The architects of Old Havana say the ruined or  semi-ruined buildings still standing in defiance of the laws of physics are ‘in miraculous static.’ The image is useful to describe the lives of most Cubans”

They told me that the Aurika was also a stupendous tomato crusher. I learned of the electric teakettle converted into a shower heater, the rikimbili (a bicycle converted into a motorcycle), and I don’t know how many more inventions. But it not only made me admire the ability of Cubans when it comes to making utensils from almost any object; as much or more I admired your infinite capacity to fabricate metaphors. It sticks with me, the expression created by the architects of Old Havana to classify ruined or semi-ruined buildings that are still standing, year after year, in apparent defiance of the laws of physics: they are building, they say, “in miraculous static.” In addition to being a poetic and humorous definition, the image is useful to describe the lives of most Cubans. In any event, it’s great.

Question: Last December 17th the restoration of relations between Cuba and the United States was announced. Was this something predictable in the years you lived in Havana?

Answer: No, I didn’t imagine it. Some American officials and academics with good connections to the White House pointed out, then, that Obama could take important steps to approach Havana in his second term, that is, now. But neither I nor the European journalists and diplomats whom I know thought there would be such a warm agreement after 54 years of rupture. I suppose that the process towards full normalization will be slow and not free of surprises. Hopefully, those interested in stopping it will fail this time.

The Cuban regime classifies the opponents are “mercenaries” / 14ymedio

The Union of Journalists of Cuba accuses opposition leaders of orchestrating a provocation in Panama.
The Union of Journalists of Cuba accuses opposition leaders of orchestrating a provocation in Panama.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 7 April 2015 – The official Cuban civil society delegation that will participate throughout the week of parallel forums at the Summit of the Americas in Panama denounced, this Tuesday, the presence of “mercenaries in the service of a foreign power” in the meeting.

In a press conference, organized at the University of Panama shortly after the arrival from Havana and transmitted in full by the Island’s television monopoly, the members of the official Cuban delegation attacked the Cuban dissidents and independent activists who will also attend the meetings. In addition, the Union of Cuban Journalists distributed a pamphlet titled “Mercenaries,” in which they accuse the opposition leaders of a orchestrating a provocation on Panamanian soil. In the cover image, the deceased Huber Matos appears, along with others. In the press conference, only a few questions from the journalists present were allowed.

Liaena Hernández Martínez, a member of the National Committee of the Federation of Cuban Women, read a statement titled “It is inadmissible that mercenaries paid by enemies of the Island are in Panama,” where “the presence in these mercenary spaces [parallel forums] are paid for by the historical enemies of our nation. ”

A representative of the delegation said “there will definitely be no dialogue with those people,” accused of being part of a “meager ‘opposition’ fabricated from abroad, lacking any legitimacy and propriety.” The regime’s representatives didn’t even hesitate to link some members of civil society with “known terrorists that have caused infinite pain to the Cuban people.”

Rosa María Payá announces the creation of the initiative “Cuba Decides” / 14ymedio

The site of Youth Movements Forum, held Monday in Panama. (14ymedio)
The site of Youth Movements Forum, held Monday in Panama. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, April 6 2015 – Rosa María Payá, daughter of the late Cuban activist Oswaldo Payá, has announced this Monday the creation of the citizen initiative Cuba Decide, or “Cuba Decides.” The goal of the project, presented during the Forum of Youth Movements in Panama, is for Cubans to pronounce themselves through a plebiscite regarding the changes they would like to implement on the Island.

“We are conscious that only Cubans should define and decide on the changes that our society needs,” states the group’s website. “In order for citizens to be able to design, decide and construct their future, their rights should be guaranteed by the law and an atmosphere of trust and respect for all should also be achieved. That is what we proclaim and we work for a plebiscite that will consult the people in that matter. There will be no transition to democracy in Cuba if Cubans are excluded once again.” continue reading

The initiative advocates for the calling of “free, just, and plural” elections in an atmosphere in which the freedoms of expression, press, and assembly into political parties and plural social organizations are respected.

“No one should question that the changes desired by the Cuban people are those of freedom, reconciliation and full and guaranteed rights. Opposition within Cuba and abroad works and battles peacefully to achieve these goals. However, our greatest deficiency is that we have no voice, nor the democratic tools needed to express ourselves while the government and some others around the world pretend to speak on behalf of our people,” reads Cuba Decide’s website.

The project presented by Rosa María Payá accuses the Cuban government of being responsible for repression and violence against those with alternative opinions and initiatives and blames the absence of an environment that respects the law and self-determination for the “social and economic failures, as well as the constant and massive exodus of citizens” from the Island.

The proposal seeks to give continuity to the Varela Project, promoted in 1998 by Oswaldo Payá with the aim of enlarging individual liberties in Cuba. Payá achieved the collection of the more than 10,000 signatures required by the Cuban Constitution for the proposal of legislative amendments. The National Assemble, however, rejected the proposal as inconsistent with the law.

Translated by Fernando Fornaris

Three members of Cuban civil society questioned on arrival in Panama / 14ymedio

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 4 April 2015 – When they got off the plane at the airport in Panama Saturday, immigration officials confiscated the passports of six young Latin Americans, including three Cubans who arrived from Costa Rica, where they had been participated in activities organized by the Liberation Movement Party and the Latin American Youth Network for Democracy.

The three Cubans are part of the first group of independent civil society arriving in Panama to participate in forums parallel to the Summit of the Americas. They are Eliezer Ávila (Somos+ / We Are More), Kirenia Yalit (Roundtable of Cuban Youth, MDJC) and Yasser Rojas (Cubalex).

“It was very clear that officials had a completely erroneous information about the purposes of our trip,” Eliezer Avila told 14ymedio. “Someone had communicated to them that we were coming to ‘sabotage the activities of the Summit,’ they explained to us during a two-hour interrogation in a closed room.” continue reading

After checking the data of the six young people and crosschecking them with the list of those invited to the forum, they concluded that everything was in order. “They apologized to us for the inconvenience and pointed out that all they want is to ensure that there no problems during the summit,” added the leader of Somos+.

According to Ávila, “This experience should serve those who come after us, because this incident indicates that the long arm of the Plaza of the Revolution came to Panama to undermine the terrain at every step of the way for those with a voice that is not governed the script of the Communist Party.”

Dissident leaders carry a united message to the Americas Summit in Panama / 14ymedio, EFE

Manuel Cuesta Morua during the press conference this Friday (EFE / Alejandro Ernesto)
Manuel Cuesta Morua during the press conference this Friday (EFE / Alejandro Ernesto)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio/EFE, Havana, 3 April 2015 –Several leaders of the Cuban opposition and independent civil society made public Friday a document title “A United Message to the Seventh Summit of the Americas” under the slogan “Yo soy Cuba” (I am Cuba). In the text they point out that the “ the full insertion of the Cuban government in the inter-American system is incompatible with the principles of the Inter-American Democratic Charter.”

The document is signed by Felix Navarro, Pedro Luis Boitel Party for Democracy; Manuel Cuesta Morua, Progressive Arc; Guillermo Fariñas, United Antitotalitarian Front; Iván Hernández Carrillo, Trade Unionist; José Daniel Ferrer, the Patriotic Union of Cuba; Carmelo Bermúdez Rosabal, Progressive Arc; Juan Antonio Madrazo, Committee for Racial Integration, and groups such as Citizens for Democracy, Municipalities in Opposition, among others. continue reading

The signers enumerated at least seven points that demonstrate the undemocratic nature of the Cuban government. Among them are the repression, the existence and political prisoners and prisoners of conscience, the harassment of entrepreneurs, the unwillingness to ratify the United Nations Covenants on Civil, Political, Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the existence of a single-party regime that does not allow the alternation of power, the inability of citizen to choose among different political alternatives, and the prohibition of multi-party representative democracy.

Their purpose is that the Summit of Americas, on April 10-11, is an “opportunity” to recognize “the legitimacy of the independent Cuban civil society within the island and in the diaspora as a valid interlocutor of the Cuban people,” opponent Manuel Cuesta Morúa, leader of the Cuban Progressive Arc Party said today.

Cuesta Morúa explained that the Ladies in White are not currently included because the project promoters have not been able to talk to the leader of the women’s group, Berta Soler, because she is outside the country, although they have not ruled out that she will join with them in Panama, during the summit.

In any case, there are more than dozen organizations behind this project representing what they call “independent civil society” within Cuba and in exile, groups that “cover the entire political spectrum,” said Cuesta Morúa.

He will be one of those charged with carrying this united proposal to the social forums of the Summit of the Americas, a meeting the Cuban government will attend for the first time and that will be the site of the expected meeting between the presidents of Cuba, Raul Castro, and of the United States, Barack Obama, the first after their diplomatic thaw.

Besides Cuesta Morua and Fariñas, other dissidents who will attend in Panama include Berta Soler, the leader of the Ladies in White; Elizardo Sanchez of the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation (CCDHRN); and representatives of UNPACU, although not its leader José Daniel Ferrer.

Ferrer, who is not allowed to leave the island because he was one of the political prisoners of the “Group of 75” released on parole in 2010, is one of the charged with organizing a social forum parallel to the summit in Panama within the island.

On April 10 two civil society forums will be held in Cuba, one in Santiago de Cuba and another in Havana, to present the “united message” within the island as well, and to gather people’s proposals with regards to what to work on going forward.

“It will be about a coming together of those of us who feel ourselves to be members of the democratic open forum to share views about the need for changes in human rights, freedoms and the election system, given that Cuba is not the only country on the continent with a single party,” Ferrer explained to EFE.

In the joint statement, these groups demand that Cuba’s participation in the summit for the first time serve the ends of the final insertion of the island into the inter-American system following the principles of the Inter-American Democratic Charter.

In this sense, they denounce the repression of those exercising the rights of expression, assembly and association in Cuba; the existence of political prisoners; the prohibition of a representative and multiparty democracy; the refusal to consult the people about their future; and the unwillingness to ratify the UN Covenants on civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights.

The social forums to be held in parallel with the summit in Panama, will also be attended by more than one hundred representatives of Cuban civil society and government organizations on the island.

The text prepared by these activists expresses different views and the “rich diversity, in the Agreement for Democracy, in the Points of Cuban Consensus, in the proposals of the Forum for Rights and Freedoms, and the Open Forum Four Points of Consensus.”

The document also reflects the willingness of “most of our alternatives” to “working together, in order to return Cuba as a free and sovereign nation to a hemispheric environment where democracy and institutional respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms prevail.”

35th Anniversary of the Mariel Boatlift: A Photo Essay / 14ymedio

On 1 April 1980, the driver a city bus on its regular route full of Cubans decided to crash the bus through the fence of the Peruvian embassy in Havana, looking for asylum to leave the country. The embassy refused to expel them from the diplomatic cite and on April 4, Fidel Castro's government deiced to withdraw military guards from the site.
On 1 April 1980, the driver a city bus, on its regular route and full of unsuspecting Cubans, decided to crash the bus through the fence of the Peruvian embassy in Havana, looking for asylum to leave the country. The embassy refused to expel the driver and passengers from the diplomatic site and on April 4, Fidel Castro’s government deiced to withdraw military guards from the site.
The Cuban government announced that those people could leave the country if they wanted,  if they got a visa from a country to take them. A few hours later, thousands of Cubans invaded the Peruvian embassy.
The Cuban government announced that those people could leave the country if they wanted, if they got a visa from a country that would take them. A few hours later, thousands of Cubans invaded the Peruvian embassy.
It is estimated that 10,800 Cubans managed to enter the embassy site in just three days, and Peru offered refuge to 850 of them. Banner: We don't want water or food, we want to leave.
It is estimated that 10,800 Cubans managed to enter the embassy site in just three days, and Peru offered refuge to 850 of them. Banner: “We don’t want water or food, we want to leave.”

continue reading

Overcrowding caused diarrhea, dehydration and gastroenteritis among the refugees
Overcrowding caused diarrhea, dehydration and gastroenteritis among the refugees
One of the protagonists of those events, wrote in 2004 in the Puerto Rican weekly "El Veraz":  "Making that decision wasn't easy if we consider that Fidel Castro's regime was experiencing its best economic and political time, and had the unconditional support of the Soviet Union. The repression of those times was very strong and even having long hair or listening to American music or gathering as a group on a corner could get you arrested."
One of the protagonists of those events, wrote in 2004 in the Puerto Rican weekly “El Veraz”: “Making that decision wasn’t easy if we consider that Fidel Castro’s regime was experiencing its best economic and political days, and had the unconditional support of the Soviet Union. The repression of those times was very strong and even having long hair or listening to American music or gathering as a group on a corner could get you arrested.”
In an editorial, the newspaper 'Granma' branded the refugees "criminals, lumpen, antisocial, bums and parasites" and said that none of them was a "political persecution nor I am in need of the sacrosanct right of asylum"
In an editorial, the newspaper ‘Granma’ branded the refugees “criminals, lumpen, antisocial, bums and parasites” and said that none of them was “politically persecuted nor in need of the sacrosanct right of asylum.”
According to the editorial in the government newspaper, in the Peruvian embassy gardens there were many homosexuals, gamblers and drug addicts.
According to the editorial in the government newspaper, in the Peruvian embassy gardens there were many homosexuals, gamblers and drug addicts.
Granma asserted that the Cuban people, "Unanimously think let the bums go, let the antisocials go, let the lumpen go, let the criminals go, let the scum go."
Granma asserted that the Cuban people, “Unanimously think: ‘Let the bums go, let the antisocials go, let the lumpen go, let the criminals go, let the scum go’.” Poster: “Carter, take your ‘Carteristas'”
Supporters of Fidel Castro's government marched with signs calling for the "scum" and "antisocials" to be thrown out of the Island.
Supporters of Fidel Castro’s government marched with signs calling for the “scum” and “antisocials” to be thrown out of the Island.
Demonstrations in Miami supported the Cuban refugees in the Peruvian embassy in Havana
Demonstrations in Miami supported the Cuban refugees in the Peruvian embassy in Havana
On April 8 the front page of the Spanish newspaper "El Pais" headlined the events in Havana
On April 8 the front page of the Spanish newspaper “El Pais” headlined the events in Havana: “Castro announces that anyone who wants to can leave Cuba.”

In the following weeks, as a result of the events in the Peruvian Embassy, more than 125,000 Cubans left through the Port of Mariel, a figure much greater than the Camariocas exodus in 1965, when more then 30,000 Cubans left the island.
In the following weeks, as a result of the events in the Peruvian Embassy, more than 125,000 Cubans left through the Port of Mariel, a figure much greater than the Camariocas exodus in 1965, when more then 30,000 Cubans left the island.

Airbnb offers over 1,000 private accommodations in Cuba / 14ymedio

The website Airbnb offers private accommodation all over the world.
The website Airbnb offers private accommodation all over the world.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 2 April 2015 – Starting this Thursday, foreign tourists will be able to rent private rooms in Cuba through the service Airbnb, which directly connects homeowners and travelers all over the world.

Airbnb’s site already offers more than 1,000 properties on the Island, mostly in Havana, although also in other localities such as Morón, Camagüey, Santa Clara and Cienfuegos.

More than half of the rooms are in the capital, especially in neighborhoods such as Vedado and the Malecon. The prices for a room in a private apartment in Havana start at 23 dollars a day and go as high as $370 for an entire apartment that sleeps nine. continue reading

Offerings in other cities are much more modest and the prices are below the average for Havana. In Pinar del Rio province, for example, it is possible to reserve a room in Viñales starting at $12 to a maximum of $52 for a more luxurious accommodation.

However, there are several users offering a large number of rooms in different parts of the country. An intermediary calling himself Michael, for example, publishes 232 lodging ads in Varadero, Pinar del Rio, Cienfuegos and Soroa, among other places.

Tourism, with revenues of some 2.5 billion dollars a year, is the third largest source of foreign exchange for Cuba, after the sale of medical services (Cuban doctors working abroad) and family remittances. As of the end of January the sector had grown by 16% this year compared to last, according to official data. In the first month of the year the Island received 371,160 foreign visitors, 51,097 more than last year.

After the White House eased the rules for travel to Cuba in January, the number of travelers from the United States is expected to increase significantly, although they are still not allowed to travel as tourists.

Staging Civil Society / 14ymedio, Manual Cuesta Morua

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Manuel Cuesta Morua, Havana, 2 April 2015 — The Summit of the Americas is the best opportunity for Cuba. For the first time since 1959, our country has and will take advantage of the occasion provided by the international community to put itself in sync with the world.

Let’s review. In 1985 the Cuban government had an excellent moment to link the country to the height of what was coming. Instead it decided not to take advantage of perestroika and the opportunity it opened, at some point, to stop the country’s structural crisis, although to do so they would have had to recognize the structural crisis of the country’s model.

In all likelihood it would not have saved socialism if the government had used the occasion to transform itself, but if would have saved, for example, the sugar industry. By not making the necessary changes, we’re left today with neither socialism nor sugar. continue reading

This second opportunity is better and distinct. Distinct, because it continues the gradual process of returning to our natural geopolitical space. Better, because for the first time the entire country is invited to this process of integration.

None of the forums in this part of the world engage Cuba in its entirety. Neither the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), nor the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) think about Cuba when they use the mail to open their doors to the country. For them it is about “thinking of the heights,” which only recognizes our nation through the State. No more, no less.

With the VII Summit of the Americans, everything changes. The Americas, half reluctantly among its Latin part, accept that those who disagree with the regime and those who support it against all common sense are on an equal footing.

This is a formidable challenge. Fundamentally for the democratic civil society. There we can do what we have been taught from a young age at all possible levels of education and what is projected almost daily in the Island’s communication media and from the corners of official politics, in those most hidden places of the Island. We can scream, offend, exclude and continue to focus onmoral destruction of the adversary, rather than on rational discussion of the arguments. We can also say, as the political narrative in use accustoms us to do: them no, us yes. That is, we can project ourselves in a negative way, adding impropriety to the complaint. But this is not recommended.

Panama is giving us the opportunity to close the cycle of a long transition from uncivil language to civic language

The Seventh Summit of the Americas will surely be a space of wider exposure and a more intense light than we have had for years. Surely it can be considered the greatest visibility for Cuba at any time since 1962.

And we must take advantage of this in several ways: first, to vindicate an image. The Cuban government has effectively sold, especially in Latin America and more than a few U.S. circles, the idea of an incapable people, kind of rundown without purpose or goals, just asking for benefits, and doing it directly now that we can travel.

Second, to refine the language. The language learned for too many years in Cuba is not a civil language of the civilized. They raised us on insults, on low attacks, on the primary stories of tangled and foul politics that are the ultimate negation of the civic that can’t be understood without moderation, the choice of appropriate words, tolerance and respect for the differences that make the world and civil society. Civil society is basically this: the difference that coexists with independent judgment and from social autonomy. The only thing that makes depersonalization of the conflicts and the same differences possible. Panama is bringing us the opportunity to close the cycle of a long transition from uncivil language to civil language. It brings to the Cuban government the chance to start this same transition. The faster the better.

Third, to calmly assume the legitimacy of Cuban society itself. A misconception, based on the political distortion that many States, particularly Latin American ones, make of social life is that of introducing the concept of representation, which is typical of parties, corporations and assemblies, within the values or requirements of civil society. Civil society can be managed by its representatives, but it is not more or less legitimate because it represents sectors or grups. Its legitimacy comes from the expression of different projects within society. Thus, the nature of civil society is its diversity. The more diverse it is, the richer it is. Thus, quietly: a voice is civil society even though it does not have an army behind it.

We must leave behind the language of the complaint and pain, moving to one where ideas and proposals prevail

Fourth, to send the best message of a civilized civil society: that of inclusion. We have experienced firsthand a fifty-year exclusion, which we repay in kind. A coherent defense of civil society is only possible when we include others. This assumes the risk, like that assumed by Yoani Sanchez, of including the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution (CDR), an organization formed to destroy the civil nature of coexistence from the most basic level, between neighbors and families, within the vast concept of civil society; which means for the CDRs the challenge of supporting citizens without spying on them.

Fifth, and finally, to leave behind the language of complaint and pain, moving to one where ideas and proposals prevail. Possibly the representatives of Revolutionary civil society, which answers to the regime’s discourse, be it in their critical or contemplative vision, will have an idea in one hand and stick in the other, aimed at our heads. But the best thing for us is to have two ideas, one in each hand, to share in a space where many, if not all, will be attentive to our staging. This must be worthy of the best theater.

Waiting for ‘Chromebit’ / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

In Cuba, housewives spend six hours a day watching television. (El Pais)
In Cuba, housewives spend six hours a day watching television. (El Pais)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 3 April 2015 — He is the king of the room. With his screen and speakers, no one looks away or ignores him. In front of our television sets, millions of Cubans have cried, laughed, and spent a good part of our lives. Now, thanks to new technologies, our relationship with this “idiot box” could begin to change. The devices that convert our little screens into computers are already here and are an option to computerize our families.

Google has launched the market for devices that convert TV sets into intelligent machines that help us to calculate, write, connect to the Internet and countless other functions. The device that achieves such a wonder resembles a USB flash drive, like the ones we’re used to passing from hand-to-hand to share information, audiovisuals, videoclips and programs. However, unlike these flash memories used to store data, the new creature conceived in Mountain View, California, holds within it the potential of a computer. continue reading

In the last census of population and housing, conducted in 2012, Cubans confessed to owning 759,164 black-and-white TVs, while 2,922,099 of their more sophisticated relations throughout the country had color TVs. It’s worth using the word “confess,” because it is still a very common practice to hide from the State’s prying eyes any technological infrastructure one relies on. “To the police, better to throw them off the scent,” we teach our kids at home, and all official surveys will be burdened by this component of popular suspicion.

It should be taken as certain, however, that in the majority of Cuban homes there is one of these “self-sufficient fatties” bellowing away all day long. Even in the poorest households, where there is no supply of drinking water and the sheets covering the bed are worn down to barely more than “onion skins” or lacking altogether, there is a television. Our whole culture is intrinsically linked to this box of miracles that dazzled our grandparents, indoctrinated our parents, and will help to free our children.

A device that manages to convert this screen that talks to us into a piece of equipment that we interact with, will be a necessary and massive change. And if the housewife who consumes a minimum of six hours a day of telenovelas and reality shows is able to conduct business, learn a profession, manage her finances or apply for a loan from the same TV that is already in the living room? Could it transform the passivity of a consumer in to the interactivity of a user?

In collaboration with the Taiwanese technology company Asus, Google has announced the new Chromebit device that connects to modern televisions and makes them function as computers. The apparatus will arrive in the market this summer and will be available for less than $100 (U.S.), according to the company’s statement. It will be able to connect to flat screen TVs with a USB or HDMI port.

The Chromebit continues the saga of previous inventions and will provide a complete version of Google’s operating system, Chrome OS. It will also be able to connect via Bluetooth and WiFi to other devices, as well include applications able to begin working without the need to connect to the great World Wide Web. That it, it will work very well with the Internet, but it will also work without it for the inhabitants of this “Island of the Disconnected.”

Although the statistics published to date don’t tell us how many TVs in Cuba have USB or HMDI ports, a few hours spent at customs at any airport makes it clear that these appliances are flowing into the country. A brief tour of on-line classified sites also give the impression that we are going to be drowning in smart TVs.

Chromebits
Chromebits

Very well, if Cuba meets two characteristics tied to the Chromebit – a need to computerize ourselves and television viewing embedded in our DNA – we shouldn’t have to wait too long to see our country benefit from devices of this type. Now that Google executives have visited our island twice, could Chromebit but a project to encourage here?

If humanitarian aid works based on the concept of “don’t give me fish, teach me how to fish,” the same should apply to these telecommunications companies, which don’t have to teach us to “be free” – we carry this in our genes – but they can offer us the infrastructure to cut the chains for ourselves.

“Hopefully it will rain Chromebits on the (Cuban) countryside,” we might say, to paraphrase a well-known song by Juan Luis Guerra.

Opposition candidates are “counterrevolutionaries” according to their official biographies / 14ymedio

Biography of Hildebrand Chaviano Montes. (14ymedio)
Biography of Hildebrand Chaviano Montes. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 2 April 2015 — The official biographies* of Hildebrando Chaviano Montes y Yuniel López O´Farrill have been posted this Thursday for the information of the voters in Havana. The two opposition candidates will stand for election in the upcoming first-round elections for delegates to the Municipal Assemblies of People’s Power — to be held on 19 April – despite having been classified as “counterrevolutionaries” by their respective Municipal Electoral Commissions.

Chaviano’s biography is posted on the ground floor of the Fosca Building in Havana, located in the district to which he belongs, and that of Yuniel Lopez O’Farrill has been placed in an office of the Julian Grimau Policlinic, where presumably the election site will be located. So far, there have been no reports of the posting of the biographies in an accessible form in any other place. continue reading

Details biography of Hildebrand Chaviano. The last two paragraphs read: “In 2006 he joined the little counterrevolutionary groups. From 2011-2014 he received training in computers and journalist, organized by the United States Interest Section in Havana. Currently he dedicates himself to publishing articles against the Revolution financed by international organizations and counterrevolutionary organizations abroad, who have also organized and paid for his trips abroad.
Details biography of Hildebrand Chaviano. The last two paragraphs read: “In 2006 he joined the little counterrevolutionary groups. From 2011-2014 he received training in computers and journalism, organized by the United States Interest Section in Havana. Currently he dedicates himself to publishing articles against the Revolution financed by international organizations and counterrevolutionary organizations abroad, who have also organized and paid for his trips abroad.”

Chaviano, 65, belongs to the Plaza of the Revolutiuon municipality and Yuniel López O’Farrill to the Arroyo Naranjo municipality. The first is a freelance journalist and a Law graduate from the University of Havana. His biography, written by the authorities without consulting him, says that he dedicates himself to “publishing articles against the Revolution financed by international organizations and counterrevolutionary organizations abroad.”

Voters read the biography of Hildebrand Chaviano and the other candidates (14ymedio)
Voters read the biography of Hildebrand Chaviano and the other candidates (14ymedio)

The publication of these biographies, strongly criticizing the candidates, is unprecedented in the history of Cuban elections under the current system. So far nominees have always been described in laudatory tones, emphasizing their professional and personal qualities.

*Translator’s note: In Cuban elections candidates are only allowed to “campaign” through the posting of their “official biographies” – there are no other permitted campaign activities.

The Sewers of Surgidero / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

The sewage of Surgidero de Batabanó (14ymedio)
The sewage of Surgidero de Batabanó (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 2 April 2015 — “Here the earth sinks to enter the sea,” says a tanned Peasant, whose face is like a map of bays and marches. On the south coast of Mayabeque, there is a piece of land that wants to transcend its fate as a low area and where every year the waters gain a bit in the battle for firm land. Despite its slow disappearance under the tide, Surgidero de Batabanó is also a site appreciated for its abundance of shrimp, lobster and sponges.

“This town has the cheapest seafood in the whole western region,” boasts a man who claims to have a degree in the technical exploitation of maritime transport, in the far off Soviet Union. His degree is from those years when the USSR welcomed Cuban students to its universities to develop an army of builders of the future. Now, the man and his family build illegal cages to hunt crustaceans and sell them on the black market.

On both sides of Surgidero’s main street there is an open channel that flows with sewage toward the muddy Gulf of Batabanó. continue reading

There everything is all mixed together: salt and filth, foam and debris. As the area is barely fifteen feet above the level of the sea, the ditches that pass in front of the houses are always full and floating on the surface is everything that fails to flow along the weak slope.

Any cynical editor of tourist postcards could draw a parallel with Venice, but the neighbors believe it would be better to build a sewer

Any cynical editor of tourists postcards could draw parallels with Venice, but the neighbors believe it would be better to build a sewer. Each house has its own bridge to cross the stinking gutter, but when it rains it all overflows and there are days when the sewage, instead of flowing, seems to grow, reaching out to the living room of every home.

The inhabitants of the village have never gotten used to this situation, dating from when the streets were laid out and they were promised the drainage ditch would be temporary. Quite the contrary, the issue is no longer raised at meetings of the People’s Power and many are the unanswered letters describing the issue. They expose the dangers to health, landscape and tourists and even the shame of the villagers who don’t know how to explain such a stench to their visitors.

“These waters will end up swallowing us one day,” predicts a neighbor, who has seen how the sea and apathy will win the match against Surgidero de Batabanó.

An Anachronistic May Day / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 30 March 2015 – A compendium of bows to the official discourse has served the Secretariat of the Cuban National Workers Center (CTC) to tailor its now traditional Call for the May Day celebration. Under the central motto “United in the Construction of Socialism” a call has gone out to fulfill production commitments, to implement the Party’s Sixth Congress Guidelines, to replace imports, achieve savings, make plans for exports, and all the interests of the State boss, along with a vast anthology of Revolutionary slogans and verses.

The tribute to martyrs and heroes is not lacking, nor is solidarity with Venezuela, nor greetings to the World Federation of Trade Unions on its 70th years of life, nor evocation of the memorable definition of the concept of Revolution, expressed by Fidel Castro fifteen years ago during a celebration on International Workers Day. continue reading

An entire paragraph is dedicated to the present “international political concept,” emphasizing the maintenance of the “genocidal economic, commercial and financial blockade; the unjust inclusion on the list of countries sponsoring terrorism, and the occupation of the territory where the naval base sits in Guantanamo.” Curiously, the issue of the reestablishment and presumably normalization of relations between the two countries is restricted to “a new approach of the United States Government toward Cuba,” as if the Cuban side had played a passive role in this process and lacked a new approach in its strategy.

Absent from the message was any idea that could be interpreted as a claim, a demand for improvements in working class wages, living standards and working conditions. Not one word about the thousands of self-employed workers and entrepreneurs who today lack any kind of autonomous organization, no allusion to the double exploitation suffered by those who work for joint ventures or foreign firms, much less to the extortion suffered by Cuban collaborators abroad.

At the end of the day, the Call is an almost unnecessary formality. Through the country’s plazas, streets, villages and bateyes hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of Cubans will march waving their officially-permitted flags and placards. Not a single detail will deviate from the established script. Order, discipline and even enthusiasm will reign in the parade.

The Censors Talk about Censorship / 14ymedio, Victor Ariel Gonzalez

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Victor Ariel Gonzalez, Havana, 30 March 2015 — The Surprised Pupil is a program whose first mistake is the name. With quite mediocre staging, presentation and content, really this television program has nothing surprising to see. But to hear, maybe some viewer or another was hoping that its most recent on-air output would tackle seriously a very thorny topic: censorship.

However, that viewer with high expectations was soon disappointed. Censorship is a problem that affects every Cuban producer today, but The Pupil did not worry about that. It was foreign censorship, that which nations supposedly suffer “under the dominion of big corporations,” that occupied the program.

There was even a segment dedicated to McCarthyism, that period of “repressive delirium” in the United States in which “great artists lived through times of accusations, interrogations, trials and torture,” said the program’s host. Not even hinted at were the anti-intellectual raids undertaken by the Cuban government, those whose spirit was defined by Fidel Castro in his phrase reminiscent of Mussolini: “Within the Revolution everything, outside the Revolution nothing.” continue reading

It would be too much to ask that they openly address chapters as regrettable as the Military Units to Aid Production (UMAP), the university purification processes, or the repudiation rallies. Or to remember how less than 40 years ago listening to The Beatles could lead to suspicion. Those pages of the national history have been forgotten by the official media.

If, after all, few know who Cabrera Infante, Reinaldo Arenas or Heberto Padilla were; and if the ghosts of Pinero or Lezama Lima have suffered exorcisms of posthumous atonement, then what sense does it make to speak of censorship in Cuba?

Maybe none for those guests who lent their words to The Surprised Pupil. They used, for example, statements by the actor Enrique Molina to a Spanish speaking chain for a digression about the financing of projects. As “there exists no state budget for filmmaking, [Cuban] directors have to seek financing abroad,” said he who played Silvestre Canizo on the popular soap opera Tierra Brava.

Molina, who obviously does not have any intention of demanding anything from the Ministry of Culture, blamed the lack of money on the lack of foreign producers “with good intentions and honesty” who seek something different than reflecting “the ugly things of Havana” or “everything challenging the politics of the country.” That, together with the difficulties that the “blockade” involves in bringing Cuban cinema abroad, constitutes censorship for this artist.

For the musician Fidel Diaz Castro, “the censors of the contemporary world have turned into diplomats” because they say: “My fellow, I would like to place your work, but that doesn’t sell.” Here he referred to the censorship imposed by marketplace preferences, although it could well be an attempt to justify his own incompetence.

Another of the guests was Iroel Sanchez, a key figure in the official blogosphere in a country without the Internet. The blogger spoke of a documentary that criticizes the media groups owned by financial conglomerates. “In the United States one can speak ill of a Democratic or a Republican president,” said Sanchez, “but (…) you cannot speak badly of the owners of those big finance groups that control the means of communication.”

Iroel Sanchez did not cite the example in which the governing party and the owner of the means of communication are the same. This is precisely the Cuban case where the Communist Party is the exclusive owner of the country’s media.

The common denominator throughout The Pupil was the American topic. Judging by the final message, there persists in that country a fierce repression of transnational reach. And as Cuban television said it, doubting it is strictly prohibited. There was no time to mention those on the Island who seek to issue a critical judgment outside of the given guidelines. Is that also the fault of an external enemy?

The Surprised Pupil is indeed very badly named. The greater error is having conceived as a surprise, and not as an insult, that the official discourse goes unpunished yet again. That is what happens when censors have no one to censor them.

Translated by MLK