Nicolas Maduro’s Insults / 14ymedio, Luis Nieto

The secretary general of the Organization of American States, Luis Almagro. (OAS)
The secretary general of the Organization of American States, Luis Almagro. (OAS)

Background from Translating Cuba: Uruguayan Luis Almargo, secretary-general of the Organization of American States, sent a letter to Venezuela’s National Electoral Council this November regarding potential irregularities in the upcoming elections and condemning the assassination of an opposition politician at a campaign rally. Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro responded by saying, “to call Almagro a piece of trash is an insult to trash.”

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luis Nieto, 5 December 2015 – It is not Nicolas Maduro’s insults that provoke sadness, but rather the reaction of Luis Almagro’s compatriots, because the current secretary general of the Organization of American States (OAS) is a Uruguayan senator from the Popular Participation Movement (MPP), the majority group of the Broad Front (Frente Amplio). If the ex-president and senator José Mujica and the MPP are informed about the Venezuelan situation, it is even more incomprehensible that they can be so hard on Almargo, who is demanding guarantees for the opposition within a democratic system, as required by Mercosur (the Southern Common Market) of its partners. continue reading

Or perhaps Almagro was unknown to ex-president Mujica or was imposter during his tenure as Foreign Minister in Mujica’s administration. What matters now is knowing whether the OAS secretary general will fulfill the duty of overseeing the quality of democracy of the countries that make up the institution that he leads, or will be distracted, like his predecessor José Miguel Insulza was, when he served at the head of the regional institution.

In Venezuela, we have seen the closing of newspapers and the purchase of radio and TV stations with public funds and their subsequent operation by Chavistas; the express dismissal of elected deputies at the will of the president of the National Assembly and the regime’s number two, Lieutenant Diosdado Cabello; the imprisonment on false evidence of governors and mayors elected by popular vote; the detention and prosecution of students simply for demonstrating in the streets; the financing and provisioning of paramilitary groups such as El Picure which, curiously, is now mentioned as possibly responsible for the assassination of the Social Democrat leader Luis Manuel Diaz; use of the Venezuela’s state-owned oil company (PDVSA) for partisan purposes, because none of this could have been done without generous cash.

Venezuela lacks nothing that one would see in any dictatorship, although, it is true, it maintains a very thin crust of democratic formality. Lately we have heard the argument that in the Caribbean the kind of insult Maduro uses to disqualify Almargo is nothing unusual. It is also true that Chavez dispatched insults with pleasure when he wanted to illustrate his contempt toward someone. And in Cuba, as well, the term “worm” is applied to those who oppose the Castro regime.

But wanting to generalize this behavior to the entire Caribbean region is an unjustified excuse not to clearly reject Maduro’s insult to Almagro. He said it one, two, three, several times and from various angles, so as to leave no doubt. He is accustomed to showing the whip to his friends, and has called the Uruguayan vice president a coward. Who’s next?

Almagro isn’t speaking based the politics that drove the president he served under, Mujica, he is the highest authority of the OAS, and it is logical that his opinion represents the plurality of the countries that make up that organization, and which are beginning to tire faced with a regime that only flees forward, indebting the country to China and Russia to disguise its extravagances.

Maduro, a cocky blowhard who doesn’t respond to ridicule as he relates in details the conversations he has with birds, still generates some kind of expectation in the Latin American left. In private, the whole world is laughing at him, but he continues to feed the hopes that this is the path to socialism.

Living in the limbo of political ethics is dangerous, and more dangerous if you occupy important positions, or take advantage of your notoriety to spread the idea that anything goes. In Chavismo there is no possibility of moving toward socialism. None. Rather, the regime seems inspired by “the worse the better,” so any little help in increasing the arbitrariness, the institutional loss of prestige, the loss of the decision-making power of citizens, is welcome.

Fidel Castro had already raised complacent smiles with his use of the term “pluralcrap” to refer to the system of political parties with which Uruguay has built its society. The left let it go, like a vitality that, perhaps, it continues to share.

Maduro’s insult should raise a unanimous and unambiguous condemnation, first of all by Almagro’s partners. When it comes to human rights there is no territoriality, or is there? True or not, Uruguayan deputy Maria Macarena Gelman? You, more than almost anyone, bear witness to the fact that human rights have no country.

The letter Almargo wrote to Tibisay Lucena, Chavista president of the National Electoral Council, is a clear compendium of the unfavorable conditions that the Chavista regime imposes on the opposition, ahead of the December 6 parliamentary elections.

Apart from Maduro’s insulting language, which should be broadly rejected by the Uruguayan left, it is the threat, implying that if the opposition wins he will resist from the streets, and we already know what that means: calling up his civil-military alliance against the Democratic Unity Roundtable of Venezuela.

From the head of the Executive Branch, with the Armed Services at his command, Maduro is announcing that he will take control of the streets and, in this case, he will engage in, among others, the same crimes that he himself invented in order to prosecute Leopoldo Lopez, San Cristóbal Mayor Daniel Ceballos and Mayor of Metropolitan Caracas Antonio Ledezma, among more than one hundred political prisoners. With the aggravating circumstance in this case that Maduro will oppose, with the use of public force, a decision that emanates from the popular vote. An announced coup d’etat, nothing more, nothing less. Does Almagro’s letter to Venezuela still make no sense?

Maduro, and Latin American governments as well, started badly because they were blind to the amount of evidence of fraud presented by the Venezuelan opposition in asking for an audit of the election data. Many of these governments, we must not forget, were recipients of the millions that Chavez stole from Venezuela in order to create an favorable environment internationally for himself. Not only can it be said they were bribes, because they were delivered as solidarity donations with great fanfare, but, how else can one classify the suitcase full of cash that Antonini Wilson took from Caracas to Buenos Aires in a plane belonging to the state oil company, as if everything were Chavismo’s private property, to the shame of his gullible friends?

Did Uruguay not receive, among so many other gifts, the electronic scoreboard for Centenario Stadium, 10 million dollars for clinics, and even what was necessary to remodel the building now occupied by the President of the Republic? Why would the Venezuelan government give Uruguay this money, which belonged not to it but to its people, when today its people don’t even have toilet paper?

When Maduro insults Almagro he insults all those who are following with great concern what is happening in Venezuela, where we have family and friends. He reminds us too much of what we experienced in Uruguay and, as well, of the courageous attitude of the government of the late Venezuelan president Carlos Andres Perez, the only Latin American government that broke off relations with the Uruguayan dictatorship, following its abduction of Elena Quintero from the grounds of the Venezuelan embassy in Uruguay. The same Carlos Andres Perez against whom, years later, Chavez, Maduro, Cabello and Cilia Flores attempted a coup d’etat. Even if only by the margin of doubt before these attitudes, all Uruguayans should take Madruo’s words as a personal grievance.


14ymedio Editorial Note: This op-ed was previously published in the Uruguayan weekly Voces. It is reproduced here with permission.


Oscar Arias: “Poverty Needs No Passport To Travel” / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

Reinaldo Escobar interviewing the former president of Costa Rica and Nobel Peace Prize winner Oscar Arias Sanchez
Reinaldo Escobar interviewing the former president of Costa Rica and Nobel Peace Prize recipient Oscar Arias Sanchez

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, San Jose, Costa Rica, 5 December 2015 –Nobel Peace Prize recipient in 1987 for his role in ending the armed conflicts in Central America, former President of Costa Rica Oscar Arias received 14ymedio at his home in San Jose and talked about the immigration crisis that keeps thousands Cubans stranded at the gates of Nicaragua, waiting to continue their journey to the United States.

Escobar. Is the Cuban migrant problem an exception in the region?

Arias. The principal problem of the 21st century will be emigration. For a very simple reason: Because the socioeconomic differences among the more than 7 billion people who inhabit this planet increase every day. Poverty needs no passport to travel. We see this in Latin America, especially among Central Americans who risk their lives to reach the United States. We see it with the South Americans, Haitians and, of course, throughout sub-Saharan Africa, to reach Lesbos, Lampedusa. continue reading

Escobar. Is the attitude of the people of Costa Rica and their government toward these “rafters on foot” something new?

Arias. Costa Rica, taking into account its size, is like Germany in Europe. We have been a country of asylum; we are generous, hospitable, supportive of those who for political reasons have knocked on the doors of our country. We are recognized as a nation of asylum, both for our Latin American brothers persecuted for their way of thinking, as well as for immigrants who flee their countries for economic reasons. We have a small colony of Cubans who arrived here in the past. Cubans have contributed greatly to Costa Rica, as have the Chileans who came here in the Pinochet era.

With regards to the Cubans who have arrived in recent weeks, the Costa Rican government has the obligation to provide them a roof, a shelter, as best we can, because they deserve it.

Escobar. Why do you think that these migrants have left the island and have undertaken such a dangerous route?

Arias. Frankly, they are fleeing a dictatorship. The only dictatorship that exists in Latin America, which we have been unable to end.

Escobar. Do you think that emigration could be reduced if there is a democratic change in Cuba?

Arias. This will end the day a Deng Xiaoping appears in Cuba. A man with the clairvoyance, with the vision and also with the courage to say “enough already” and “we are going to change the system, because the system does not work.” Because the system does not meet the expectations of being able to improve the living conditions of the Cuban people.

Escobar. Is it a failure of the implementation of the model or of the model itself?

Arias. Marxism failed and the practice of it ended, except Cuba and North Korea.

Escobar. How can a new migration crisis be prevented?

Arias. If we want these things not to happen again, it is imperative that Cuba open itself, that it open itself to democracy and freedom.

Youth For Democracy Travels To Caracas With Rosa Maria Paya / 14ymedio

Cuban activist Rosa María Payá and President of the Senate of Chile, Patricio Walker, in Caracas. (Twitter)
Cuban activist Rosa María Payá and President of the Senate of Chile, Patricio Walker, in Caracas. (Twitter)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 4 December 2015 — A delegation from the Latin American Network of Youth for Democracy has traveled to Venezuela to observe the legislative elections on Sunday. The delegation, led by Rosa María Payá, new president of the organization, wants to send a “signal of solidarity” to Venezuelan democrats.

In a statement, the Youth for Democracy Network states that “elections in Venezuela will influence the immediate future of the region, which has been marked by the anti-democratic thinking of the Cuban government powered with Venezuelan money.” The text denounces that “for ten years political models that have many points in common with the Venezuelan and Cuban system have flourished.”

Payá said in comments reported in the statement: “What we are doing is not just an exercise in solidarity with our Venezuelan brothers and sisters, it also is for the well being of all Latin America.”

This Friday, the activist posted on her Twitter account a photo of her with the President of the Senate of Chile, Patricio Walker, and a message announcing her trip to Caracas, where she arrived at noon on Friday.

The Latin American Network of Youth for Democracy met from 28 November to 3 December in the city of San Jose, Costa Rica, and Rosa María Payá was elected to the presidency to succeed Micaela Hierro.

Cuban Filmmakers Mobilize Against Censorship / 14ymedio, Luz Escobar

Juan Carlos Cremata during the G20 meeting last Saturday with a T-shirt that says "censored" and with his mouth covered with tape. (Luz Escobar / 14ymedio)
Juan Carlos Cremata during the G20 meeting last Saturday with a T-shirt that says “censored” and with his mouth covered with tape. (Luz Escobar / 14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 30 November 2015 – The G20 group of filmmakers voted unanimously at a meeting on Saturday in favor of supporting the filmmaker and playwright Juan Carlos Cremata by writing a letter denouncing the censorship of his work and the smear campaign against him.

The meeting had its most tense moment when an official of the Cuban Institute of Cinematographic Art and Industry (ICAIC) tried to expel from the Fresa y Chocolate Cultural Center, activist Eliecer Avila of Somos+, who had come in response to an invitation to the public.

Near the end of the day, just before the vote, ICAIC director Roberto Smith and another official of the institute, Ramon Samada, tried to eject the leader of Somos+, saying that he was a “counterrevolutionary.” Several filmmakers argued that the meeting was “open to the public” to which Samada replied: “Yes, but not to counterrevolutionaries.” continue reading

The critic Enrique Colina, who participated as a panelist at the event by reading his text On Censorship and its Demons, settled the incident saying that no one has the power to expel any of those present, “much less now,” arguing that they were creating a problem different from that that was being discussed.

Smith had read some pages before the beginning of the comments where he admonished them to “continue defending ICAIC as a space for debate and more complex ideas, open to a plurality of opinions.” The ICAIC director recognized right there that despite the fact that all those present, “live in the same reality, we have different points of view, contradictory and antagonistic.”

The discussion was moderated by Ernesto Daranas, director of the award winning film Conduct, and the narrator, essayist and scriptwriter Arturo Arango. After them, the three invited panelists spoke. Colina read his text and Arango read the article Phenomenology of Self-censorship in Cuba by the second speaker, Juan Antonio García Borrero, who was not able to get there from Camagüey. The third panelist was the journalist Dean Luis Reyes, host of the television program Sequence.

One of the topics discussed was the crisis in the documentary genre in Cuba. Dean Luis Reyes discussed The Train on the Northern Line, which “aspires to reveal the crisis of the Cuban people,” and the shooting of which “was affected by police and State Security intervention.” Despite, he explained, their having worked with “the necessary permits, the filmmakers had to suffer harassment and even threats.”

The filmmaker Jorge Luis Sanchez recalled the ICAIC “that no longer exists” and spoke of the presence in the media of a “blind triumphalism” and “persistent myopia of blaming individuals for the inefficiencies of the system.” Sanchez launched a call to “not be scandalized any more by works of art, but by the crazy design of reality,” and commented on the difficult and complex “reality of a country where to survive you have to turn to illegalities because the institutions almost never work well.”

For his part, the critic and professor Gustavo Arcos got straight to the point: “If we have censored films and if ICAIC participates in that censorship, we have to begin to define it.” Arcos understood that it is nonsense to have discussions “without having them in front of the people who are responsible for this issue,” and stressed the importance of having a counterpart so that the dialog does not become stagnant.

Arcos asked the authorities to explain why they consider the film they censor is “against the Revolution.” After admitting that, “we all have been too patient, waiting,” he proposed moving to implement a “a Plan B of strong actions.”

The filmmaker Belkis Vega recounted her long journey to run into the person who had censored her on military aid to Angola. She denounced the silence of the Cuban Writers and Artists Union (UNEAC) and how film meetings were manipulated in the last congress to create a “candidacy commission” that censored names approved by the meetings and imposed others that no one had proposed.

Vega confessed to being frightened by the smear campaign against Cremata and what looks like a “witch hunt.” She also called attention to those who attack him in forums and through articles under a pseudonym and who have information they could only have gotten “through State Security.”

The playwright Norge Espinosa took the floor to speak about his “closeness to the issue of Cremata” and to everything that this case that “has been unleashed on the rest of the Cuban theater.” Espinosa recalled the “little war of e-mails” in 2007, which led to a series of meetings, but nothing came out in the press about the meetings of intellectuals.

He also claimed that what happened to Cremata, the director of Nada (Nothing), who on Saturday was wearing a shirt with the word censored across the chest, has “rocked the Cuban scene in recent weeks.” Espinosa regretted that this has found “no support” in the “theater movement, which is represented by UNEAC and the Council of the Performing Arts,” but said that this case creates a “precedent” and expressed his joy that “Cuban filmmakers are gathering in a way that people of the theater didn’t know how to do.”

Colina took the floor again to insist that in the case of Cremata something had to be done, “something concrete, a statement of protest” as a group and “put it in the media” because “we are all Cremata.”

The agreed on support letter will be published in the blog of Juan Antonio García Borrero and on the Facebook page of Cuban filmmakers.

Site manager’s note: The ICAIC response to this meeting is reported here.

Disgust In Holguin With Broken Induction Cookers / 14ymedio, Fernando Donate Ochoa

Reception desk at the repair shop on Aguilera Street in Holguin (Donate Fernando Ochoa / 14ymedio)
Reception desk at the repair shop on Aguilera Street in Holguin (Donate Fernando Ochoa / 14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Fernando Donate Ochoa, Holguin, 4 December 2015 – Nearly and month and a half after the start of sales of induction cookers in Holguin, the poor quality of the product, which costs 500 Cuban pesos, has disgusted many buyers. The model sold includes a cooker, a pot, a jug, a pan with lid and a coffeemaker.

“The model we are selling is not good because the customers come to the repair shop daily with broken cookers; some of them haven’t worked since the day they were bought,” explained Mireya Almaguer Martinez to 14ymedio. Almaguer is a receptionist at the repair shop located on Aguilera Street at the corner of Martires, which is the one designated for post-sales service in the city of Holguin. continue reading

“When the cooker is beyond repair, the mechanic writes it up,” says Almaguer, and with this document, signed by the repair shop director, the customer returns the defective unit to the store where they got it and gets their money back.

The most common failure is a delay in heating up, which the technical repair shop blames on imperfections in the transistors and resistors. The coffeemakers commonly present structural problems, such deformed bases that prevent stability on the cooker.

The products are covered by a 90 day warranty but the repair shop has no way to replace defective parts.

However, Xiomara Ordoñez Rodriguez, National Director of Technical Services of the Ministry of Domestic Trade, told the official newspaper Granma that the repair shops had the necessary availability of spare parts in their warehouses to repair the broken cookers.

One of those affected is Ramon, a customer visiting for the second time with his broken cooker. “The first time I came was the day I bought it. When I got home, I connected it and it began to emit a continuous sound, and now I’m bringing it in because it does not heat up,” he lamented.

In the province, the sale of induction cookers started on 19 October. The number allocated to the territory was 27,800, an insufficient number for a province of more than one million people, causing long lines to the point that places in line were being sold for 50 Cuban pesos.

Omer González Velázquez, Commercial Director of the Commercial Business Group, announced that the sale of 27,000 more cookers in the province is scheduled for next year.

Cuban Human Rights Group Denounces Record Number Of Political Arrests In November / EFE (Via 14ymedio)

Ladies in White and activists gathered at Gandhi Park. (Angel Moya)
Ladies in White and activists gathered at Gandhi Park. (Angel Moya)

14ymedio biggerEFE (via 14ymedio), Havana, 3 December 2015 — The dissident Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation (CCDHRN) reported Thursday that there were at least 1,447 political arrests in Cuba in November, the highest figure this year says opposition group says.

The monthly report issued by this organization, led by activist Elizardo Sanchez said that the repressive activity has been “remarkable,” especially against the women’s opposition group The Ladies in White, and those who “dare to accompany them” every Sunday on their usual walk. continue reading

On every one of these occasions, the activists and their companions are “brutally beaten and subjected to all kinds of humiliation” on being arrested by the “secret political police” at the end of the Sunday Mass they attend at Santa Rita Catholic Church in the Havana neighborhood of Miramar, according to the report.

The CCDHRN says that the Cuban regime responds “with every more increasing fury” against those who “are only demanding the release of the political prisoners and the respect for civil rights and other fundamental rights. ”

According to data from this dissident group, the repressive actions take place in all regions of the island, especially in the eastern and central provinces, where the opposition group Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU) continues to be a “priority target.”

In its report, the CCDHRN accuses the Cuban government of “perfecting and enlarging its machinery of repression, propaganda and intimidation.”

The report also blames the government of the island for the “tragedy” being experienced by some 4,000 Cubans stranded on the border between Costa Rica and Nicaragua in their quest to reach the United States “for being most responsible for the rising poverty and hopelessness that oppress the Cuban people. ”

The Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation is the only group on the island which records and publishes the numbers of these incidents in Cuba.

Chicago Mayor Angry About Slip on Travel to Cuba / 14ymedio

Mayor of Chicago, Rahm Emanuel, during the interview. (Youtube)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 3 December 2015 – Mayor of Chicago Rahm Emanuel’s plan to spend the Christmas holidays in Cuba with his family is in danger since it was made public, because the embargo prohibits Americans from traveling to the island as tourists.

“Thanks for telling everybody what I’m going to do with my family,” the politician told Mike Allen in a tone of annoyance, after the American journalist asked about his trip in a live television interview. “You had a private conversation with me and now you decided to make that public,” President Obama’s former chief of staff reproached the journalist. “Yes this year… we will take our kids to Cuba, to expose them to the culture there, as we have done in India and also in Uganda, Kenya, Zambia, Chile and Vietnam and Laos,” he said. continue reading

Since the easing of the embargo last January, special government permission is no longer needed to go to Cuba. However, the reason for the trip must fall within one of twelve categories under the current regulation: family visits, official government travel, humanitarian missions, professional, educational, religious, cultural or sports exchanges, as well as news coverage.

These limitations have not prevented the increase in travel, and between January and July of this year 88,996 Americans visited Cuba, 54% more than in the same period of 2014.

The trip of the Chicago mayor and his family could fit within the people-to-people the category, a formula created to circumvent the embargo, which includes visits to community projects or small businesses. However, the disadvantage is that one can only make this type of trip in groups and with the logistical support from an agency approved by the US Treasury Department.

Costa Rica Negotiates to Fly Cubans to Belize, After Refusal from Guatemala / EFE, via 14ymedio

Cubans in a hostel in La Cruz, a few meters from the border between Costa Rica and Nicaragua. (Reinaldo Escobar / 14ymedio)
Cubans in a hostel in La Cruz, a few meters from the border between Costa Rica and Nicaragua. (Reinaldo Escobar / 14ymedio)

14ymedio biggerEFE (via 14ymedio) San Jose, Costa Rica, 3 December 2015 — The Government of Costa Rica reported on Thursday that given the refusal of Guatemala, it is negotiating with Belize to airlift thousands of Cubans who are stranded on Costa Rican soil to that country, to continue their journey to the United States.

Costa Rican Foreign Minister Manuel Gonzalez said this Thursday that the option is to send the Cubans to Belize by air, and from there move them overland to Mexico, to continue to the United States.

Gonzalez explained that Mexico is willing to cooperate, but on the condition that migrants come through a third country, in this case Belize. continue reading

“We are negotiating with Belize but they cannot give us an answer until Tuesday, when the Governing Council will meet,” the Foreign Minister said in a press conference.

Gonzalez revealed that the other alternative was Guatemala, but the government of that country is not willing to serve as a “bridge,” which took to Costa Rica “by surprise.”

“Every country is sovereign and makes its own decisions. It took us a little bit by surprise. We respect the decision of President (Alejandro) Maldonado and the considerations that led him not to allow passage through Guatemala,” Gonzalez said.

Guatemala argued that there are logistical complexities and that they could not guarantee the security of Cubans in dangerous areas close to their border with Mexico, nor has Mexico given them a written assurance that it will receive the migrants, Gonzalez revealed.

The minister clarified that the reasons given by Guatemala are “very different” from those given by Nicaragua to not allow the passage of Cubans by land from Costa Rica.

There are currently 4,600 Cubans stranded in Costa Rica, all of whom came through the border with Panama and received special transit visas from Costa Rican authorities.

The wave of Cubans began to come to Costa Rica on 14 November and a day later Nicaragua prohibited their entry into its territory.

Nicaragua accused Costa Rica of “creating” and “manipulating” this immigration crisis to support the immigration policies of the United States, which provide benefits to any Cuban who reaches that country.

The Costa Rican Foreign Minister said that the government does not have the economic resources to pay for airfare for the Cubans and that it is looking to international organizations to provide assistance.

The Cubans, who carry passports, must bear the costs of the transfer.

These emigrants left Cuba legally by air for Ecuador, a country that did not require a visa from them, and from there began their travel by land and sea through Colombia and Panama, to reach Costa Rica.

As a measure to solve the crisis, Ecuador decided to require Cubans to have tourist visas starting 1 November.

In Panama there are also over a thousand Cubans stranded, waiting to continue their journey to the United States.

Chancellor Gonzalez said that this issue will be addressed by Costa Rican President Luis Guillermo Solis on an official visit to Cuba, that will take place on 15 and 16 December.

Intensified Vigilance Against Fish and Yogurt Sellers in Mayabeque / 14ymedio, Carmona Osniel Breijo

Dairy in Cuba
Dairy in Cuba

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Osniel Carmona Breijo, Guines, 3 December 2015 – “Anyone with more than five pepinos [the liter-and-a-half plastic bottles that are standard for homemade yogurt] can get off now.” This phrase, according to Nereida, a 61-year-old seller of illegal yogurt, serves the police as their “calling card” when they stop public transport for an inspection.

Agents from the Ministry of the Interior’s different departments in Mayabeque province, in collaboration with inspectors from the Fishing Industry, have heightened their vigilance in recent months against underground sellers of fish and yogurt. continue reading

Self-employed people are forbidden to trade in these products, as they are in beef, coffee, honey, tobacco and cocoa, by Decree Law 318, which requires these products to be sold only to the State through existing contracts.

However, economic difficulties push fisherman and dairy farmers to look for alternatives in the underground market. On multiple occasions they end up facing stiff fines and risk the confiscation of their merchandise.

Orlando Cuevas, a farmer in the village of El Sopapo in the Batabano district, says that there is “nothing written, but if you don’t give the milk to the government, they slap you with a fine and can take away your animals. It is an outrage, and on top of that they pay you less than three pesos a liter, depending on the quality of the milk, when private buyers never pay less than five pesos.

Many farmers, to evade their commitments for the milk and to increase their earnings, don’t declare their entire production and make it into yogurt, which they then sell to street vendors. However, the police controls limit the number of containers of the product a person can transport.

The agents stop the vehicles and search the belongings of the passengers, mainly on public transport. According to the testimony of Nereida, on every trip the authorities detect some passenger outside the regulations. As a punishment, they impose fines of between 200 and 800 pesos, and seize the yogurt containers.

The controls can be mocked thanks to the solidarity of other travelers. “We look for people who are traveling who aren’t carrying anything and we distribute the yogurt among them, so that it’s within the regulations. When it goes badly and they catch us, we get off but we take off the lids and empty all the bottles, because they are going to take it from you anyway and fine you. If you leave it they get it,” Nereida adds.

A sergeant of the National Revolutionary Police (PNR) said that the seized yogurt is consumed in children’s homes, maternity homes and old people’s homes.

As for fishing, since October the PNR has intensified its searches on roads that provide access to fishing villages, in the homes of non-state fishermen, and in the homes of presumed recipients.

In a recent operation in the area known as “Playita” (Little Beach) in Surgidero de Batabano, PNR forces and local Fishing Industry inspectors intercepted a “smuggling operation.”

According to Yunior Castellanos, a local resident, the authorities seized about two tons of fish and half a ton of lobster. The boat used in the transfer was seized and the three fishermen and five receivers involved were detained. Some others managed to escape through the mangroves.

In other localities such police actions are also reported. A fisherman from Cajío village, who preferred not to be identified, said that the sale of seafood declined in recent days due to the authorities’ harassment of fishermen and street vendors.

The strict operation has included the inspection of private boats at sea. “They intercept you on the pretext of looking for people leaving the country illegally, and search the cargo,” commented a fisherman. “If there is a lot, you have to show the licenses and contracts to be able to justify it. If you don’t have them, they take your load, fine you and you have to complete a ton of paperwork to get your boat back,” he says.

The problems don’t end there. “After you dock, you have to get rid of it, because the police inspect every car on the road to the village, coming or going. The sellers don’t want to risk it.”

The focus of the searches and arrests also extends to Santa Cruz. José Víctor Fresneda engages in sport fishing there, and takes the opportunity to sell what is caught. According to Fresneda, last 19 and 24 November, the PNR conducted a series of raids on the homes of citizens engaged in selling fish.

As a result, he says, there were two people detained, where they found “quite a few pounds of fish, mostly frozen.”

Armando Capó: “I Can Not Understand The Amnesia Induced In A Whole Nation” / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

Armando Capó, Cuban film director. (File photo creator)
Armando Capó, Cuban film director. (File photo creator)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 1 December 2015 — The most recent project of the young filmmaker Armando Capó is to bring to the screen the Rafter Crisis of 1994. This director, born in Gibara (Holguin) in 1979, has long felt that this dramatic movement in our national life has not been publically addressed. Now, he wants to join these images he carries with him from that time and film “August,” a movie to experience the memories.

In the midst of a crowdfunding campaign to bring his project to the big screen, Capó spoke with 14ymedio via email from the San Antonio de Banos International Film School.

This guajirito remembers when he met Marisol Rodriguez, Jorge Luis Sanchez and Dean Luis Reyes at the Gibara Poor Cinema Festival, and they invited him to the third Festival of New Filmmakers in Havana. “They showed us Suite Habana and to me, it gave me an attack and I asked myself why I wasn’t doing what I really wanted or wasn’t trying,” he said. Shortly after, he moved to the capital to continue studying. continue reading

Since then his career as a director has led him to address ordinary or extraordinary situations within the documentary genre. “My first documentaries are more casual,” he explains. “Later, through school, watching movies and growing experience, my documentaries became more formal and correct. Each one has a different challenge but they’re not free of errors.” His challenge for the future is to make “documentaries that serve people, not only the director; where the aesthetic is not as important.”

Yoani Sanchez. Among the many interesting issues of the day, why choose for your next film the Rafter Crisis, which occurred more than two decades ago?

Armando Capó. I grew up without the Internet, the only possible source of information were the history books and the media, like the news. In my history book in high school, the Russians had fraternally protected Poland and the Baltic countries during World War II. It may have been true, I did not live it (and we all know what really happened with the pact between Hitler and Stalin). Instead, the Special Period and the rafters is what I experienced. But the media and books didn’t talk about hunger, pain, separation… It was converted into the glorious resistance of the Cuban people to preserve the achievements of our Revolution: The Special Period. When words are used to hide facts.

I cannot understand how there can be induced amnesia in a nation, and I don’t think this helps to heal.

Then there’s the personal: this marked not only the country, but it occurred at the time when I had to move to the city, when I fell in love, and when I had to stop being a child.

Sanchez. How do you think you can cinematically reconstruct an event that has so many verbal references and yet so few published images?

Capó. We have worked hard on finding those images, but more as a reference to build situations. For example, at the end of the film, Carlos accompanies a group of rafters who are preparing their raft just beyond Caletones beach. Hence the images of rafters in the dog’s teeth of Cojimar or in other parts of Havana that serve as well. There are many good photos of the rafts, of how they were made, how they were launched on the sea, etc. But the best are the recordings made by foreign broadcasters, some press agencies, or by some correspondents or individuals. These are very useful for the emotional climate, where you can see the relationships between individuals, the pain, the sounds, and even the prayers.

Sanchez. Why choose the method of crowdfunding to help finance August ?

Capó. Because it is not only a way to get money to make the movie: everything we are doing now to publicize our crowdfunding is also a way of promoting this film on the social networks and in the press.

Our idea is to build a community, to create an audience and the need to see the movie. In Cuba there is no way to distribute it, no one goes to the movie theaters, nor do the theaters generate any return on what is spent on them. In addition, the distribution is very poor quality, which makes the audience not want to go back. How do you reach an audience like this, in a poor country and on top of that one scattered throughout the world. The networks were created for this. The idea is to be able to reach everyone, any possible viewer wherever they are in the world, make the rounds of the festivals and a find a possible opening for streaming.

Now, if it is hard to access the community of Cubans outside Cuba, it seems to us that it is because there isn’t much of a custom among this community of participating in these kinds of campaigns, and it takes time and media support to reach them, because it is a divided community all over the world, with different realities and priorities. We know it is hard, but we also know that it is possible. Right now, if 80 people donate an average of 25 euros, we will make it.

Sanchez. How did you choose the actress Laura de la Uz for one of the protagonists of the film?

Capó. There was no casting process. Laura is a great actress and I needed good actors. I had given some thought to her during the writing process, but nothing definitive. Then I consulted with the producers Marcela Olivera and Claudia Esquivel, and they loved the idea.

I have to confess that I was a little afraid to approach her. But it is because I respect her work so much and then one begins to create a distance that is not real. So much so that I asked Fernando Perez to set up a meeting, like when a school friend sets you up with a cute girl you’re afraid to approach.

Now I think that the first time I tried to get it on with a girlfriend was as clumsy as my first meeting with Laura.

Sanchez. Is the current migration crisis with Cubans stranded in Central America a repeat of the nightmare of the rafters?

Capó. We did not expect this to happen, but in a certain sense it was coming. The number of people who are attempting this route has grown to approach or exceed the dramatic figures of the rafters in 1994, but until now it was in dribs and drabs so it didn’t have the visibility of 20 years ago. It may serve to comfort to all the countries Cubans are passing through in their journey that it is Costa Rica that is best able to address this crisis.

My question is: Will crossing the border of Nicaragua eliminate the problem? How can their route to the US be protected? Can they pass? There are many testimonies of kidnapped migrants, of families that need to be ransomed, or threats that they will receive pieces of their families until they get the money. I think this is the beginning of a possible tragedy whose consequences we can’t foresee.

Capó believes the 1994 Rafter Crisis is still "an uncomfortable topic," which has hardly been touched in Cuba.
“August, the summer an island shipwrecked.” Capó believes the 1994 Rafter Crisis is still “an uncomfortable topic,” which has hardly been touched in Cuba.

Sanchez. In the last few months the need for a Film Law has been strongly debated in Cuba, what do you think?

Capó. The country has changed and is becoming more pragmatic on the one hand and more blind on the other. Symptomatic of this is the announcement that cultural production has dropped to 0.5% of gross domestic product. The austerity policy that is applied to culture is reaping its rewards and they are not good. It is like the recipe the International Monetary Fund applies to member countries to reduce their fiscal deficit.

I would like to see Cuba as a place that has enormous potential thanks to its culture, a virgin territory. But if we are not capable of protecting that culture against the coming changes, this cultural patrimony that generates industry, then we are not thinking about the future, much less the present. It is irresponsible to maintain that attitude.

Besides, there is a real need to regulate current film production, to democratize access to financing, to create laws to protect those who make movies, not only among ourselves but also with regard to those who use our country as a stage. The ICAIC (Cuban Film Institute) as an institution is rooted in a way of thinking and making movies that is, at the least, archaic, and that is not capable of taking on the role as the representative of Cuban cinema.

For me, a Film Law goes far beyond the necessary restructuring of the audiovisual industry. I would like to see in it a a premonition of the kind of relationship we should have in Cuba, of civic responsibility to participate in proposals and solutions. That is why this proposal is so subversive, because it creates a precedent for what an opinion group and a guild can create. The proposal for horizontal citizen participation, which for so long has not happened in our country.

Complaints And Confusion In Digital Forum On Restricting Doctors’ Travel / 14ymedio

Cuban doctors in Ecuador. (Facebook)
Cuban doctors in Ecuador. (Facebook)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 2 December 2015 – “Will retired doctors be subject to the special travel regulations?” This question, asked by a commentator named Rita, led off the online forum managed by the Ministry of Public Health (MINSAP) on the digital site Cubadebate. Dozens of internauts swamped this site from 10 in the morning looking for information about one of the most unpopular measures of recent months. The rules announced this Tuesday established that, starting from next Monday, Cuban medical specialists will need authorization to travel for private purposes.

The Public Health Ministry responded at several opportunities that it is “not prohibiting [healthcare professionals] from leaving the country on personal trips or living abroad, but that, “it is trying to organize the services to guarantee quality healthcare to the population.” The agency asked for “trust, as always, in those who do what is best for everyone.” It also clarified that “this measure only includes medical specialists and final year residents in those specialties that are not specialist in comprehensive general medicine.” continue reading

Also a focus of attention of several commentators was improving salaries for medical personnel as a measure that could help much more than restricting travel. “They should make adjustments in the financial remuneration of the principal actors who make this contribution to the economy,” noted Oro22, speaking of the considerable resources received by the nation every year through the concept of medical missions abroad.

Several of the participants delved into their personal situation and their fear of having to cancel and already planned trip in the coming weeks because of not being able to obtain the permission to leave in time.

One of the most frequent questions was whether “doctors residing in Cuba who are currently working under independent contracts abroad, would have to ask permission to leave if they were to enter the country.” This reflects the growing number of healthcare professionals who are undertaking independent contracts and countries such as Ecuador, South Africa, and other nations in Africa and the Caribbean area.

“All of the doctors who left the country before this new measure do not have to ask for any kind of authorization to return,” MINSAP authorities stressed, because “they are no longer active doctors in the system so they can enter and leave without any document.”

Complaints were also directed at the quality of the forum, given that one hour after its start there were more than 100 questions and barely 3 answers, one of them repeated. One internaut criticized the schedule of the forum and asked “Who had the idea of having an online forum at a time when all of the healthcare personnel interested in the subject are busy delivering the health services so necessary to the population?”

The implementation of the new measure was questioned bluntly by many of the forum participants, as was the case with Mexico2 who inquired, “To whom can we appeal a decision that we don’t agree with? Can we go above the Minister of Health? Can we take it to the Supreme Court?”

The fear of doctors living in other countries was also presented through doubts such as, “what guarantee does a medical specialist or a doctor of sciences who is abroad for personal reasons have that if they travel to Cuba they will be able to leave when they want to without depending on a decision made by others?” The same commentator, with the nickname Doctor, responded, “If there are no guarantees there will be many who would prefer to lose their Cuban citizenship, rather than face of the possibility of being detained [in Cuba].”

The authorities detailed, “The procedure establishes as a part of the request to the director of his agency, [the doctor must] give the reason for his departure (a temporary journey or to live abroad).” Once this first step is taken, “the director considers the guarantee of continuity of medical care to the people and how the service is organized so it will not be affected by his departure.” Then the “appropriate analysis” will be done and the interested party “will receive a timely response within 50 days.”

Dr. Lazaro Hernandez Coteron expressed his dissatisfaction with the regulation questioning, “Doesn’t this measure limit my rights as a citizen because of my profession?” Sarcastically, another commenter, under the nick  Ramanoco, felt that the new process of liberation that a medical specialists must pass to leave the country “in colonial times was called a freedom letter,” in reference to slavery.

Public Health Emergency In Panama Village From The Massive Influx Of Cubans / EFE-14ymedio

In Puerto Obaldia, Panama, there are already more than a thousand Cubans. (La Estrella de Panama)
In Puerto Obaldia, Panama, there are already more than a thousand Cubans. (La Estrella de Panama)

14ymedio biggerEFE (via 14ymedio), Panama, 2 December 2015 — A small border town of Panama is experiencing a public health emergency due to the presence of more than 1,000 Cubans in transit to the United States, a flow that has quadrupled this year in the Central American country and which has exceeded 21,000 people, the government said on Wednesday.

The director of the National Immigration Service, Javier Carrillo, said that in Puerto Obaldia, a village of some 400 residents on the border with Colombia, there are now problems of access to food, shelter, sanitation and logistics, which the government is dealing with “for humanitarian reasons.” continue reading

The director of Panama’s National Civil Protection System (Sinaproc), José Donderis, told EFE that his agency is providing logistics and supplies such as water and food to the National Border Service (Senafront), which is the agency that “maintains control of the situation” in the Panamanian village.

Panama is “pacing” the departures of the Cubans stranded in Puerto Obaldia to join with “some 4,000 who are in Costa Rica,” waiting to continue their journey to the United States, despite Nicaragua having closed its border, Carrillo said.

The senior official felt that the restoration of diplomatic relations this year between the United States and Cuba, after half a century of tensions, has caused the wave of emigrants, because they fear the elimination of the so-called “dry-foot” privilege that gives access to the United States to any Cuban who touches US soil, regardless of how they arrive.

Carrillo explained that in Ecuador “there are 42,000 resident Cubans, and we don’t know how many of them want to go to the United States.”

“Cuba Is Going To Be Emptied Out” / 14ymedio, Mario Penton Martinez

Cuban medical mission in Ecuador. (Américatevé.com)
Cuban medical mission in Ecuador. (Américatevé.com)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario Penton Martinez, 2 Deceber 2015 — The first thing Frank Gonzalez (not his real name) dreams of doing upon his arrival in New York is eating ice cream, even if it is snowing. The route to the United States, however, is still a long one for this medical clinician from Camagüey who is in Ecuador, from where he is going to try to get to Colombia.

The doctor, 49, traveling with his wife and daughter, says he is “looking for freedom,” as other family members and neighbors have already done. “In my neighborhood of Camagüey very few of my friends remain, most of them are here or in the United States. Cuba is going to be emptied out,” he muses. continue reading

His motivations to leave the island, he says, “were the same as for all those who have been leaving Cuba for years.” And he added, “When I had spent two days in this country I said to myself, I spent at least 15 years when I should have been here, how stupid I’ve been, waiting for a change there.”

Gonzalez left his native country because of a lack of prospects for the future. “I don’t mean only in the economic sphere, but also intellectual freedom. It’s not about doing whatever you want, but at least being able to make plans with your salary, to be free to express your feelings and opinions. Leaving Cuba is a personal decision, but if you have dreams, goals and want options in your life, you have to do it,” he explains.

Before embarking on the trip he had to sell all his belongings, including his house. The first expense facing him was a passport, which cost 100 dollars, one of the most expensive in the world. He also had to pay some 2,000 dollars for certifications of his credentials and the ticket to Ecuador, plus about 350 dollars for a new visa because he wasn’t a tourist.

However, he thinks that “the worst is not the expense, which is hard; the worst is facing a completely new reality in capitalism.” Gonzales said that in the private clinics in Ecuador where he has worked they have paid him “much less than an Ecuadorian doctor would earn,” and even at times fired him without paying the salary owed to him, and without him being able to demand it.

However, “for professionals like us, it is best that we leave, because others cannot be legalized as quickly and are much more exploited. Their jobs are usually the lowest paid and, of course, if you get into any kind of trouble they immediately deport you to Cuba.”

Gonzales is aware that in the United States he will probably have to “paint bus stops,” but he still prefers that to the work he performs in Quito. “I want to see things from another perspective. I want to dedicate my remaining years to other activities, but not having to live in Cuba or here,”

The doctor believes that the situation in Ecuador is increasingly difficult for Cubans. “The Ecuadorians themselves do not want us, they see us as people who come to take away their jobs and they are happy with the decision to require visas,” he says. The physician estimates that the new measure, taking effect this Tuesday, has raised the prices charged by the coyotes. Before the measures, it cost 600 dollars to get to the border of Colombia and Panama. Today they are talking about 1,500 dollars,” he explained.

“In Colombia the situation is also critical, everyone agrees that it is the worst stretch of the journey, they cheat you, rob you, and many women have been raped. But desperation makes people take the risks.”

Gonzalez believes that behind the bottleneck at the Nicaraguan border is the hand of the Cuban government. “The two governments are hand in glove. I do not think that they will deport so many thousands of Cubans, but I believe the situation there could get worse. The social networks are a real blessing, letting us know the situation of our brothers,” he adds.

“People are leaving the island because Cubans are peaceful people and fear the military apparatus that governs us,” the doctor continues. He is convinced that even with a capitalist government on the island, it will be at least 20 years before the change is noticeable.

“Cuba needs a huge push to get out of the current situation,” he opines. “Our country has had development opportunities and completely lost them. The government continues to be in the hands of old men with a retrograde mentality and immersed in the same demagoguery and lies.”

Costa Rica’s Deputy Foreign Minister Meets With Mexico About Cuban Migrant Situation / 14ymedio

Nicaraguan military on the border with Costa Rica to prevent the passage of Cubans (14ymedio Photo / Reinaldo Escobar)
Nicaraguan military on the border with Costa Rica to prevent the passage of Cubans (14ymedio Photo / Reinaldo Escobar)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio (with information from EFE), Mexico, 1 December 2015 — The Deputy Foreign Minister of Costa Rica, Alejandro Solano, met Tuesday in Mexico City with Socorro Flores. Mexico’s Deputy Foreign Minister for Latin America and the Caribbean, with whom he discussed issues of bilateral relations, including the results of the meeting held in El Salvador on 24 November on the situation of Cuban migrants, according to the Mexican Foreign Ministry.

Solano is in Mexico participating in the 2015 Fourth Meeting of the Executive Committee of the Mesoamerica Project, also attended by representatives of other governments in the region. Taking advantage of his stay in the country, the two held a working breakfast, according to a statement by the Mexican Foreign Affairs Secretariat (SRE). continue reading

At that meeting, the Secretary reiterated “the solidarity of Mexico with Costa Rica” and its willingness to “evaluate measures that could help resolve the situation within the framework of Mexican law.”

Both officials agreed to remain in contact on the offered an opportunity to review progress in implementing the Declaration of the XV Summit of the Mechanism of Dialogue and Agreement of Tuxtla and agree on actions to be taken next year. The report also presented the results of the Joint for the first half of 2015, which was headed by Mexico and the Dominican Republic.

The Executive Director of the Mexican Agency for International Cooperation on Development (AMEXCID), María Eugenia Casar, noted that “the Mesoamerica Project represents an excellent vehicle for cooperation and political dialogue to bring the countries of the region closer, being a truly collective effort.”

Created in 2008, the Mesoamerica Project is a mechanism of technical and political dialogue that seeks to build consensus, articulate cooperation efforts, and attract resources to strengthen the Mesoamerican process of integration and development, with the aim of improving the quality of life for 226 million people.

The SRE corrected information released to some media on Monday by the Costa Rican Deputy Minster, which reported that the Mexican Deputy Secretary and the Guatemalan Deputy Foreign Minister, Carlos Ramiro Martinez, would meet in Mexico.” There has been no meeting between Costa Rica, Guatemala and Mexico to address the issue of Cuban migrants who are currently in Costa Rica,” he said.

‘The Visionary’: A Tank Dedicated To Fidel Castro / 14ymdio, Juan Carlos Fernandez

'The Visionary', a work of Humberto ‘El Negro’ Hernandez, in collaboration with Arquimedes Lores 'Nelo'.(Juan Carlos Fernandez)
‘The Visionary’, a work of Humberto ‘El Negro’ Hernandez, in collaboration with Arquimedes Lores ‘Nelo’.(Juan Carlos Fernandez)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Juan Carlos Fernandez, Pinar del Rio, 1 December 2015 – Pedestrians walking along Martí Street in the capital of Pinar del Rio were astonished last Wednesday on seeing a crane moving a tank. A work by the artist Humberto El Negro Hernandez, in collaboration with Arquimedes Lores Nelo, weighs several tons and has been baptized The Visionary, in homage to Fidel Castro.

After several months of labor in the bus rebuilding workshops, the installation has been installed in the middle of a public street, to the amazement of some and jeers of others. The piece, which was originally meant to be ready last August 13, the former Cuban president’s birthday, was only finished a few days ago. continue reading

The authors readjusted the schedule and decided to inaugurate the installation this 26 November, Pinar del Rio’s Day of Dignity. In the construction and placement of the piece collaborators include the Music Center, the Cuban Writers and Artists Union (UNEAC), the Provincial Department of Culture, the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution (CDR), the Federation of Cuban Women (FMC), the Communist Party and the local government, and so El Negro Hernandez declares that “this is not an invention,” with the pride of someone who has done something authorized “from above.”

With regards to the similarity of the piece with a tank, the artist states, “What else is life but a tank?”

“It comes from our commander;s campaign cap,” says El Negro Hernandez, noting that he has been inspired by this object that “sustains a thought that generates peace, dignity and progress.”

Both creators cherish the idea of making a gift of the tank with their artistic intervention to the person honored, but did not explain how they would move the massive piece to Fidel Castro’s residence in Havana.

Children playing. (Juan Carlos Fernandez)
Children playing. (Juan Carlos Fernandez)

Installing of the piece in such a central place has aroused great controversy, which is whispered, without anyone daring to publically express any criticism of the mass of metal. Only Pipo, a sympathetic character who wanders here and there, has dared to say out loud that “in reality, it’s junk, nothing more.”

For now, given its volume, in the wee hoursThe Visionary provides relief for the lack of public toilets.