“It is a good time for Cuban independent journalism” / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

The journalist Roberto de Jesus Quiñones.
The journalist Roberto de Jesus Quiñones.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 3 November 2015 – He just won the top prize in the Havana Newsprint journalism contest, but Roberto de Jesus Quinones feels that reporting is only one part of his civic responsibility. A lawyer by profession, this man from Guantanamo had to enter the world of reporting, press releases and the difficult search for sources in a country where independent reporters are frowned upon and outlawed by the ruling party.

Reinaldo Escobar. How does it feel to get this award?

Roberto de Jesús Quiñones. I am very happy, especially because the award has come at a time when I felt really badly about everything that has happened to me since October 5. So am doubly pleased, because I also know that participating in the contest were very worthy colleagues whom I respect greatly, such as the columnist Miriam Celaya, the attorney Rene Gomez Manzano and the reporter Manuel de Jesús Guerra Pérez. All of them are journalists of the independent media with years of experience in the profession. continue reading

RE. How did you come to do independent journalism?

RdJQ. I am a graduate in law and when I left the prison (Editor’s note: he was convicted of falsifying documents in the process of buying and selling a home, although it is suspected that it was actually for his role as a lawyer in the defense of regime opponents) I asked repeatedly to be able to return to the practice of that profession, but I could not do it. A few years ago I wrote and have five books of poetry in Cuba, primarily with the Oriente publisher. I also came out with a volume of stories in Miami. It was the jurist Gomez Manzana who got me to contact Cubanet, and I’ve also collaborated sporadically with Primavera Digital.

RE. Are you still a member of the Cuban National Union of Writers and Artists (UNEAC)?

RdJQ. No, no. I’m in a process of leaving that group and although I asked to step down, they have not even responded.

RE. In what genre or on what topics do you mostly work?

RdJQ. I’ve done cultural journalism since the early eighties. For about five years I worked with the local media of Guantanamo writing film criticism and I even had a program on that topic on TV in the province. Although I must say I also really like the opinion column.

RE. How do you see the health of independent journalism in Cuba?

RdJQ. Unfortunately, from Guantanamo it is very difficult to read Web sites, as is the case with 14ymedio. Sometimes I can get the content of some of those independent media through bulletins or compilations that I receive via email. There is a great deal of unknown talent in Cuba, people of great intelligence and value who are removed from the official media. It is a pity that the Cuban people cannot more freely access the work of those colleagues, because they are very competent people and extremely good articles published.

RE. When people ask you about not having a journalism degree, how do you respond?

RdJQ. It is true that I did not study journalism, so I found all this work very difficult, but I train myself and try to do my best. My goal is to be objective in each text and seek the truth. On the other hand, doing this reporting has forced me to see the reality of this country and I have learned a lot.

RE. Independent journalism versus official journalism?

RdJQ. Independent journalism has put the bar very high – to use a sports metaphor – for official journalism. The social networks and alternative ways of distributing news has also meant the ability to empower people through information. People spread the news and that has benefited Cuban independent journalism, which is experiencing a good time.

Epidemiological Nightmare In Santiago De Cuba / 14ymedio

The number of cholera cases is information that hospitals and polyclinics guard as a great secret.
The number of cholera cases is information that hospitals and polyclinics guard as a great secret.

14ymedio, Santiago de Cuba, 3 November 2015 — The city of Santiago de Cuba is experiencing an epidemiological nightmare right now with spread across the area of dengue fever and cholera. The problem has been exacerbated by deficiencies in water supply due to the severe drought affecting the country. The application of chlorine at building entrances and lime outside food establishments has changed the face of the eastern city.

The number of cholera cases is information that hospitals and polyclinics guard like a great secret. On the street there is talk of dozens of deaths from sudden overwhelming diarrhea.

In Palma Soriano, cars circulate every day with loudspeakers calling for strengthened hygienic measures. Washing of hands and not drinking soft drinks and prepared drinks (made with the local water), along with greater care in the handling of food, are some of the widespread suggestions. continue reading

Establishments such as the Youth Computer Club on Ferreiro Street have closed their doors to the public to avoid infection. On Monday afternoon the place was undergoing intense cleaning with chlorine. The closures of public places set of growing alarm in a population that is no detailed information about what is happening.

The leader of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU) in the province, Jose Daniel Ferrer, explains that in the neighborhood of Altamira “in the areas where food is sold they are not selling anything that isn’t canned or bottled.” According to the activist, several “stalls selling food products were closed for ten days and they applied lime in the doorways” to avoid infection with the bacterium Vibrio cholerae .

Dengue fever is another problem. Hospitals are overflowing with suspected cases. The activist and contributor to this newspaper, Yosmany Mayeta, is one of those admitted to Juan Bruno Sayas General Hospital. At present, he is being given treatement while awaiting an analysis to confirm the diagnosis.

This morning, at the September 28 Policlinic, reports show on a few admissions for suspected cholera in the last months. However, the name of the disease is not used in medical records and the patients are recorded as suffering from acute diarrhea.

So far the local authorities have not confirmed the information and the newspaper Sierra Maestra does not mention the presence of cholera in the area, although health warnings continue to be issued to the population by the Provincial Center of Hygiene, Epidemiology and Microbiology.

The Cancellation of A Cyber-Gathering In Camagüey Sparks Outrage / 14ymedio, Orlando Palma

Juan Antonio García Borrero during a conference. (Youtube)
Juan Antonio García Borrero during a conference. (Youtube)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Orlando Palma, Camaguey, 2 November 2015 — The peaceful city of Camagüey experienced a shock among its intellectuals this weekend. The well-known film critic Juan Antonio Garcia Borrero denounced the “intellectual conservatism” that led to the suspension of a cyber-gathering programmed for this Thursday in Café Ciudad. In his blog, Cine cubano, la pupila insomne (Cuban cinema, the insomniac pupil), the specialist reflects on the “tribal thinking and institutional self-censorship that follows from it.”

“I seem to be living a nightmare,” García Borrero said in a post, in response to being informed by the leadership of the Office of the City Historian that the gathering could not be held, “despite having been promoted in all the media.” His first reaction was to “take a breath, breathe deeply… I won’t give them the pleasure, neither those here nor there, of making me into a disaffected person,” he wrote in a brief post. continue reading

Known for his work in rescuing and spreading Cuban cinema, Garcia Borrero has had a blog for more than eight years, where he reflects on the seventh art. His work as a blogger has also led him to approach the digital publication scene and he participated in the First Forum of Audiovisual Consumption, held in Havana in 2014, an experience that he had tried unsuccessfully to move to this native city.

The idea of the forum, according to the author of the book BLOGuerías – published by the Cuban publisher Acana in 2009 – “was born of personal exchanges that at some point” he had engaged in with the former Cuban Minister of Culture, Abel Prieto. Initially, the event was scheduled in Camaguey city, but the lack of time to organize it moved the first event to the capital.

Following the Havana meeting, Pedro de la Hoz Gonzalez, vice president of the National Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba (UNEAC), informed the provincial section of the organization of the “confirmation of the announcement of the Second Forum on Audiovisual Culture” for 30 and 31 October. However, the event did not happen. It was the local “UNEAC which has put the most obstacles in the way,” complains García Borrero.

Emotionally affected by the forum’s not being held and the cancellation of the cyber-gathering that would have taken its place, the film critic shared with his readers on the Internet his concern that the authorities would insist on decreeing his “civil death” in Camagüey. “It doesn’t matter. I will always have the cave, the solitary refuge to which Nietzsche alluded*,” he explained.

Garcia Borrero’s complaint arrives within a few of a meeting of the G-20 Group in Havana, which is promoting the implementation of a Film Law, a detail referred to by the critic Gustavo Arcos, in an article he published this Friday in defense of the Camagueyan, and denouncing the “tacit conspiracy of some people in power in the country to put an end to everything that has to do with initiative in the audiovisual field.”

Arcos says that this intention is seen “in the arbitrary bans on [private] 3D movie rooms,” decreed at the end of 2013, and in “the current resistance to implementing a Film Law.” The specialist adds that these attitudes, “the systematic attacks on the weekly packet,” and also seen in the “continued mantle of suspicion and threats that are launched against journalists, bloggers, graphic designers or artists linked to alternative publications, web pages or spaces generated by individual initiatives.”

The controversy over the cancelled cyber-gathering has barely begun and it could be joined by many other intellectuals, given the prestige enjoyed by Garcia Borrero, as an outstanding professional and honest man. The scene of the creation, production and film criticism in recent weeks in Cuba resembles dry grass about to catch fire. What happened in the city of Camagüey could be the spark.

*Translator’s note: “Wherever there have been powerful societies, governments, religions, or public opinions — in short, wherever there was any kind of tyranny, it has hated the lonely philosopher; for philosophy opens up a refuge for man where no tyranny can reach: the cave of inwardness, the labyrinth of the breast; and that annoys all tyrants.” Friedrich Nietzsche, Schopenhauer As Educator, 1874. Source of this English translation here.

A Growing Number Of Political Arrests In Cuba, According To CCDHRN / 14ymedio

March of the Ladies in White from Havana. (EFE)
March of the Ladies in White from Havana. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 2 November 2015 — Arbitrary political arrests continue to trend upward in Cuba, according to Monday’s denouncement from the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation (CCDHRN). In its report for the month of October, the independent entity reports “at least 1,093 arrests of this nature,” the vast majority “performed or supervised by the secret political police.” This is the highest figure in the past 16 months, exceeding the previous record reached in September of this year with 882 arrests.

Among the issues the CCDHRN views with greatest alarm is that “not all of the regime opponents arrested have been returned to their homes.” Among them are Hugo Damian Prieto Blanco and Wilfredo Parada Milian, who “have already spent eight days in provisional detention as a reprisal for having participated, in the last month, in separate peaceful demonstrations in front of the Ministry of Justice and the Attorney General’s Office,” the introduction of the report states. continue reading

The commission, focused on reporting on human rights, also notes that the artist Danilo Maldonado, known as El Sexto (The Sixth), was released at the end of October after ten months in “provisional detention” without having been taken to trial. A category of detention, they warn, that is “used by the Government with the intention of undermining and intimidating peaceful opponents.”

With regards to the conditions of the Cuban prison system, the organization warns that it is continuing to receive reports that “reveal a greater deterioration of the conditions of internment, characterized by the prevalence of cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment.” However, the government “persists in not accepting the disinterested cooperation of the International Red Cross to improve conditions of internment.”

The commission, headed by the activist Elizardo Sanchez, cites a prison population of “between 60,000 and 70,000 prisoners, mostly for common crimes or ‘pre-criminal attitude,’ who survive in the midst of filth and every kind of insecurity.” The organization details that “there are in Cuba between 150 and 200 high severity prisons, correctional centers and labor camps.”

Cuba’s Bahia Honda Coffee Farmers Denounce Lack Of Equipment / 14ymedio, Jorge Luis Guillen Garcia

Café 'Cubita' gourmet variety. (Wikipedia)
Café ‘Cubita’ gourmet variety. (Wikipedia)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Jorge Luis Guillen Garcia, Bahia Honda (Artemisa), 2 November 2015 — In Bahia Honda the coffee tastes much more bitter lately. The farmers of the Castro Brothers Credits and Services Cooperative of this Artemisa town are losing 2,840 pesos for each quintal (220 pounds) of green coffee, due to a lack of transport to take the product to the de-pulping machine, which separates the beans from the fruit. Lack of a vehicle puts at risk months of work, and the efforts of hundreds of people.

Santiago Martinez, a farmer in the cooperative, explains that the de-pulping of the beans should have started in the first week of October, but the lack of a tractor “which broke five years ago,” has prevented it. The farmer complains that the cooperative’s directors have not resolved the situation. “Clearly, it doesn’t hurt them that we are losing money and have problems fulfilling the plan, because regardless they get a guaranteed salary,” he complains loudly. “They told me to throw the coffee in the dryer until the issue is resolved,” he added. continue reading

Western Cuba is one of the most important areas for the supply of beans processed by Torrefactora Select Coffee, located in Almendares y Santa Maria, in Havana.

This company in Cuba’s capital provides coffees such as Extraturquino Especial, Turquino, Serrano Superior, Caracolillo, Alto Serra, Cubita, Arriero and other brands, both for export and for the network of hard currency stores in the country.

Field workers get a tiny share of the proceeds from the State. While, 2.2 pounds of coffee in the so-called “shoppings” costs more than 16 convertible pesos (CUC, about $17.50 US), the producer only receives some 1,000 Cuban pesos, the equivalent of 41 CUCs, for each 220 pounds of dried green choice coffee, said Maria Dolores Dominguez, a Bahia Honda farmer.

Dominguez says that “25 pounds of ripe coffee is worth 160 pesos and to get 220 pounds of green coffee, which is the equivalent of 100 pounds of clean coffee ready for roasting, you need 600 pounds of ripe coffee.” She complains that, “If we send the coffee to the de-pulper right away, they pay us 3,840 Cuban pesos for every 220 pounds, but if we dry it in the drying areas, even though it comes out prime quality, they pay us only 1,000 Cuban pesos.”

In a meeting with the coffee growers of the area on October 26, Raul Gonzalez, president of the cooperative, said he had reported the transport problem to the provincial coffee company, but so far that has not produced any results.

The problems in Bahia Honda could contribute to the coffee harvest not meeting the goals of the national plan. In 2014, the island produced 13.5 million pounds of beans, only a quarter of the annual domestic demand, which stood at 53 million pounds. However, industry directors expect to produce 51 million pounds by 2020.

More Than 100 arrested in Havana and Oriente / 14ymedio

The Ladies in White marching down 5th Avenue. (Angel Juan Moya)
The Ladies in White marching down 5th Avenue. (Angel Juan Moya)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 1 November 2015 – This Sunday was marked throughout the country by dozens of arrests, particularly against members of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU) and the Ladies in White. The arrests began in the early hours in the Oriente (in eastern Cuba), where 91 activists were intercepted trying to reach the sanctuary of El Cobre.

The leader of the UNPACU, Jose Daniel Ferrer, was arrested along with 36 other dissidents of his organization at the checkpoint known as the Pajuin, on the outskirts of the Santiago capital to prevent them from reaching the church dedicated to the patron saint of Cuba. Hours later this newspaper was able to confirm that all those arrested had been released.

We have gone “without hiding ourselves,” said Ferrar to 14ymedio. The former prisoner of the 2003 Black Spring said that “in the five eastern provinces a total of 91 people were detained, all members UNPACU.”

In Havana, about 51 Ladies in White and 29 other activists managed to gather outside Santa Rita parish, before undertaking their traditional Sunday march down Fifth Avenue. Then, opponents gathered at Gandhi park to take stock of the week.

After the meeting and as they headed toward Third Street, a police operation was waiting for the activists who were arrested and taken to detention centers outside the capital. They were then being released.

Gulliver Against Twelve Thousand Dwarves / 14ymedio, Carlos Alberto Montaner

Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez, in his address to the 70th UN General Assembly. (MFA)
Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez, in his address to the 70th UN General Assembly. (MFA)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Carlos Alberto Montaner, Miami, 31 October 2015 – Cuba 191, United States 2. This is called a diplomatic beating. One-hundred-ninety-one countries at the United Nations voted in favor of a resolution presented by Cuba against the commercial and financial restrictions imposed by the United States on the Castros’ government in 1961. Only two nations opposed it: The United States and Israel.

It has been happening for a long time. The novelty is that this year Obama’s government secretly celebrated it, although the law and common sense oblige American diplomacy to reject the resolution. The president himself has urged Congress to repeal the measure.

In any case, the United States, truly, was not defended. At the end of the day, these UN resolutions are not binding. It is pure propaganda within an organization so discredited that it chose Venezuela and Ecuador to belong to a committee that monitors the observance of Human Rights, which is like putting the fox to guard the henhouse. continue reading

What is interesting is how the Castros’ dictatorship consequently diverts attention from the real heart of the matter – the persistence of a Stalinist dictatorship derived from the Soviet model eradicated in the West a quarter of a century ago – and creates a fabricated perception: a poor island besieged by the greatest power on earth. David against Goliath.

How does it do it? To understand this we have to know that this small island, unproductive and mistreated, impoverished and beggared, who pays no one because it wastes its resources, has an exterior outreach of great power learned from the KGB: some 12,000 people dedicated to the task of promoting the causes chosen by Fidel Castro and inherited and continued by his brother Raul.

What are those causes? Essentially, the denouncing of the United States and of evil and exploitive capitalism. Everyone who opposes this common enemy is welcome: Iran and the ayatollahs, Gaddafi’s Libya in the past, today Putin’s Russia, “21st Century Socialism.” Everything. Anything.

Who are these 12,000 functionaries, the driving force of the Pharaonic diplomacy of Fidel, narcissistic, like so many, with the grandiose urgency to impose his will on the world?

First of all, the Directorate General of Intelligence, with its 1,500 officials, very well trained, scattered throughout the world. Every one of them seduces, recruits or manages a dozen local contacts. The members of the Cuban Institute of Friendship with the Peoples (ICAP), another intelligence arm, present in every country and all international organizations. The 119 Cuban embassies, with 140 cities and 21 consulates general, all managed by State Security. The academic, literary or artistic institutions that have contacts abroad and travel and receive visitors. Whatever piece fits into the puzzles: a Silvio Rodriguez concert, a conference in Panama. Whatever.

Total: Thousands of people directly or indirectly linked to the political life and the communications of most of the nations of the world – and especially, those of the major Western countries – who are responding to the dictates of Havana.

I am not counting, of course, counterintelligence. That system, forged in the image of the East German Stasi, has in its ranks 0.5% of the population, some 60,000 people dedicated to the task of infiltrating and controlling “enemy groups
within the island, among whom are not only democrats asking for freedoms, but also Freemasons, Christian churches, suspicious collectives such as the LGBT, or the self-employed who are trying to run small home businesses to survive in the midst of so much repression and stupidity.

As soon as the message goes out about taking the annual resolution to the UN, this immense mechanism is set in motion to achieve the objective. There are always ties with the foreign ministries and the seats of government, even though formally they are enemies. Cuba looks after these personal relationships like gold dust.

Everything is used: From giving free medical treatment to the relative of a deputy, a general or a local police chief, to sending large sums of money to like-minded candidates for election, or cigars to heads of government, or getting a Don Juan to relieve the aching genitals of a Cuban spy of Puerto Rican origin, as happened to Ana Belen Montes.

This lady, condemned to 25 years in prison for spying, and whose pardon is now being considered by President Obama, reached a very high position in the Pentagon. Her official function was to gather all the analysis from different agencies and inform the White House about how dangerous the island was. But, in reality, she was secretly working for the benefit of Havana, revealing to the Castros the sources of American intelligence (which cost some lives) and telling the sweet story of a small and defenseless country that posed no threat to the security of the United States.

Washington, which has lost the reflexes it once had during the Cold War, does not know, cannot, or does not want to fight this enemy. Jonathan Swift, in Gulliver’s Travels, described how, shipwrecked in Lilliput, Captain Lemuel Gulliver is tied up and arrested by a legion of six-inch tall dwarfs. This is what is happening to the United States. It is not David against Goliath. It is Gulliver against 12,000 efficient dwarfs.

Carcinogenic or not, Cubans Want Red Meat / 14ymedio, Orlando Palma

Meat for sale in the market in Camagüey. (Sun Basulto Garcia)
Meat for sale in the market in Camagüey. (Sun Basulto Garcia)

14ymedio, Orlando Palma, Havana, 29 October 2015 — “For me, no one can get me to quit this bad habit, I’ve tried vegetables and beans,” intones the troubadour Ray Fernandez in one of his songs. The main character in this song is named Butcher, and he spent ten years in prison for the theft and illegal slaughter of cattle.

Despite the legal prohibitions on the island that govern the raising, slaughter and sale of cattle, and the recent declarations by the World Health Organization about the carcinogenic properties of red and processed meats, Cubans do not seem willing to give up the dream of a steak, a hamburger or a nice hash on their plates.

This week, the official press reported the findings of a report by the International Agency for Research on Cancer. Backed by more than 800 studies conducted by 22 experts in 10 countries, the entity classified the consumption of red meat as “probably carcinogenic to humans.” The classification of processed meat was stricter; it was stated to be “carcinogenic to humans” and placed in Risk Group 1, along with tobacco, asbestos, arsenic and alcohol. continue reading

At the close of 2014, the island had a little over four million head of cattle. The severe drought in recent months has caused the mass death of hundreds of thousands of cattle throughout the country, so that the figure may be less at the end of this year. The number still falls short of the six million animals that existed in 1959, which at that time was one head per capita.

The progressive deterioration of cattle ranching in Cuba came along with the overvaluing of beef among diners. “Here people dream in red,” jokes Migdalia Fuentes, a retired doctor who specialized in oncology. “The tradition of eating meat is very difficult to eradicate, because for decades it has been the ideal food, the dreamed of meal,” she emphasizes.

The specialist agrees with the WHO report, adding, “Many cases of colon cancer that I treated during my working life were related to the out-of-control consumption of meat.” She adds that, “if people knew the damage it does, they wouldn’t desire it so much.”

In 2014, cancer, diabetes, cerebrovascular diseases and chronic respiratory disease accounted for 67.7% of total deaths in Cuba. For WHO, each serving of 50 grams (0.11 pounds) of processed meat consumed daily, the risk of colorectal cancer increases by 18%, according to findings published in The Lancet Oncology.

However, the information has been received with reluctance and ridicule among Cubans. “You have to die of something,” say the majority of those surveyed by this newspaper. Others question the publication of the news in the national media. “They are trying to convince us that meat is bad and we shouldn’t eat it because there isn’t any,” says Ismael, a father of two who, this Tuesday, bought a package of processed hash in the central Carlos II market in Havana.

Private and state restaurants have not yet noticed a decline in orders for meat since the WHO announcement. “Here, people who have money still prefer a good cut of beef, while those with fewer resources have to settle for pork or chicken,” said an employee of the restaurant located in the Sociedad Cultural Rosalia de Castro in Old Havana.

The Golden Pig butcher shop pig in Havana. (14ymedio)
The Golden Pig butcher shop in Havana. (14ymedio)

“Beef is connected in the popular imagination with good health,” says the oncologist Fuentes. “When I was little and I felt bad, my grandmother made me a meat soup or gave me a good steak. That remains in the collective subconscious and it is very difficult to convince people otherwise.”

Bertico’s story is much like that of the butcher who inspired Ray Fernandez’s song. He served twelve years in prison for leading a gang that was dedicated to killing cows on the plains of Villa Clara. His clients were mainly people living in Havana who risked a penalty of up to one year of imprisonment for the crime of receiving. “Here cows are sacred, as in India,” jokes this peasant hardened by illegal slaughter and imprisonment.

“There are those who eat it and don’t go to prison,” Ray Fernandez also satirizes in his song, in reference to those who have a better supply of beef as a privilege related to their proximity to power. For people without a ministerial portfolio, nor the rank of a high lieutenant colonel, the only legal option is to acquire it in the hard currency market. A little over two pounds of beef top round can run to 20 convertible pesos (over $20 US) in those places, the equivalent to the average monthly salary.

Those sentenced for the crime of illegal slaughter rarely have their sentences reduced, nor are they released on humanitarian grounds. Among the 3,500 prisoners pardoned for Pope Francis’s September visit to the island, there were those convicted of murder, manslaughter, rape, pederasty with violence, and the corruption of minors. But there were none sentenced for the theft or illegal slaughter of cattle.

The few vegetarians who maintain a meat-free diet are seen as “freaks” in this country. “People get upset when they invite me to eat and find out that I don’t eat beef, or chicken or even fish,” says Maura, 36, who has been a vegetarian for at least a decade. For this native of Cienfuegos living in Havana, “It is more expensive sometimes, and more difficult, to buy vegetables than it is to get meat.” However, she feels happy with her decision, “I wake up every day very healthy.”

Most Cubans feel very attracted to the red fiber, perhaps because it represents the forbidden, or because of a culinary tradition that celebrates meat. The World Health Organization will have to work very hard to convince them otherwise.

The Weighty Legacy of ‘Furry’ / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

General Abelardo Colome Ibarra, alias 'Furry,' minister of the interior from 1989 until his resignation on Monday, 26 October 2015 (EFE / Alejandro Ernesto)
General Abelardo Colome Ibarra, alias ‘Furry,’ minister of the interior from 1989 until his resignation on Monday, 26 October 2015 (EFE / Alejandro Ernesto)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 27 October 2015 — Every Cuban has a minister in charge of his or her affairs, but the Ministry of the Interior is responsible for everyone. This is the reason why, when someone says “The Ministry” everyone understands that they are speaking about MININT, the Ministry of the Interior, that macro entity that controls, among other things, immigration, firefighters, border guard troops, identity card offices, the police, and that colossal apparatus generically known as “the organs of State Security.”

Abelardo Colome Ibarra was, since 1989 and until yesterday, the all-powerful minister of the interior. His long record of service began 30 November 1956, when he joined the revolutionaries who took the city of Santiago de Cuba to support the landing of the Granma expedition. He ended the war against Batista with the rank of commander, not yet having reached age 20, and has since been the confidant of the Ciuban Government (especially of Raul Castro, having been head of his bodyguard) which has entrusted him with missions such as head of the State Security, directing the police, or commanding the war in Angola.

Furry, as his close associates call him, until this Monday was one of the seven living and still active men appearing on the list – almost never disaggregated – of the so-called “Historic Generation” of the Cuban Revolution. His role as a founder of the first Central Committee of the Communist Party and of the National Assembly of People’s Power, plus his being named as a “Hero of the Republic of Cuba,” support the merits that have allowed him to do something unusual: resign his position and receive a tribute. continue reading

Some years ago a rumor circulated about his declining state of health, but he continued to be one of the makers of government policy, and this also makes him responsible for the shadiest events, such as the sinking of the 13 de Marzo tugboat in July of 1994, the downing of the Brothers to the Rescue planes in February of 1996, the arrests of 75 regime opponents in the spring of 2003, and the frequently denounced horrible conditions in Cuban prisons. Under Furry’s mandate the activist Orlando Zapata Tamayo died, at the beginning of 2010, after a prolonged hunger strike during which it is alleged his jailers denied him water.

Who doesn’t know that it is almost impossible to organize a repudiation rally without the consent of State Security? Whenever Sunday operations are carried out in various provinces to suppress the Ladies in White, in the end there is a report that ends up on the minister’s desk. Behind every one of these brief and arbitrary detentions, beatings, assaults on the homes of regime opponents, searches and seizures, has been MININT and Furry.

During all the years of the humiliating “exit permits” that were required to leave the country, the lists of who could leave and who could not were drawn up in that institution. In the same way, from these offices were issued – and are still issued – the refusals to allow a Cuban abroad to return to his or her country, even for a visit.

According to insiders, Colome Ibarra had been spending less and less time in his office while the work was carried out by the vice-minister, Carlos Fernandez Gondin, also a member of the Cuban Communist Party Central Committee and a deputy to the National Assembly. Fernandez Gondin’s appointment as the new minister has not been a surprise, although it put to rests rumors that insinuated that Alejandro Castro Espin, Raul Castro’s son, would be promoted to the job.

Within six months Fernandez Gondin will probably be promoted to the Politburo as a part of the renewal that is expected with the upcoming 7th Congress of the PCC. His face rarely appears in the media and he has a reputation as a loyal and inflexible person. In a few years, when there is no one from the Historic Generation making decisions, he will be surrounded by people to whom he does not owe obedience and whom he will know a lot about because he will have read secret reports on every one of them. This could be interpreted as bad news for the future of Cuba.

To March or Not to March… that is the Question / 14ymedio, Miriam Celaya

March of the Ladies in White through Havana. (EFE)
March of the Ladies in White through Havana. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 28 October 2015 — The latest cyber-skirmish unleashed around statements made by Eliécer Ávila, leader of the opposition movement Somos+, about the #Todosmarchamos initiative, once again focuses first, on the need for restraint in political discourse and the importance of not allowing ourselves to be swayed by the provocations of those who pursue only ratings and drama from the comfortable security of their distant geographical locations, and secondly, on the inability to weigh things at fair value, whether by the so-called opposition leaders — regardless of their strategies, their ideological orientation or their political proposals, if they happen to have them — or by public opinion.

In this case, there are numerous myths contained in a sort of Theogony of the opposition, a mirage created and sustained from abroad in an absurd desire to hold on to an opposition epic — which should eventually replace the current revolutionary epic — which, like the latter, creates pockets of prestige and heroism, and even castes and lineages, depending on whether the new heroes are willing to bleed or get slapped on the head. It is a well-known fact that we Cubans are experts at repeating our mistakes, especially those that guarantee future suffering and shredding of vestments.

We Cubans are experts at repeating our mistakes, especially those that guarantee future suffering and shredding of vestments continue reading

If there is anything I agree 100% on with Eliécer, it’s the need for the independent press in Cuba to cease to be complacent with the opposition – sadly mimicking the stance of the official press towards the Castro regime — and assume from this day (during the dictatorship) the usual journalistic roles and functions in democratic societies. This includes questioning absolutely everything and everyone, desecrating any public figure whose effect should ultimately be to serve, not to rule. In this regard, here are some observations I propose that might seem unbearable to some extreme radicals. I suggest that the passionate stop reading at this point so they can avoid the usual patriotic tantrums.

I shall not vent my sympathies or personal differences on the opposition — not on a nonexistent “opposition movement” — an environment that I know by heart, since it’s been almost fifteen years since I delved into it. What I know or believe about anyone is completely irrelevant.

I have found many of the most honorable, honest, generous and dedicated people I’ve ever met in my life within the opposition, and also many of the worst and most harmful: ambitious, hypocritical, opportunistic, false patriots and, as Eliezer stated, some corrupt little characters who have made the “struggle for democracy” a way of life. Over the years I have come to understand that that reality is not unique to the Cuban stage or that it is bound by the geography of the Island. There are good and bad Cubans both in Cuba and in the Diaspora, there are those who live for Cuba and those who live from it. Note that I am merely reviewing the facts as a necessary and true evil. It is what it is, period.

There are good and bad Cubans both in Cuba and in the Diaspora, there are those who live for Cuba and those who live from it

Some people prefer to ignore that the Cuban dissidence is as varied in its composition from the point of view of human quality as any other social group. In fact, all the vices inherited from a corrupt and sick system are present in our sector, including atavistic evils, such as an autocratic government, authoritarianism and despotism. There is even what we might call an opposition gerontocracy, firmly clinging to old precepts and unchanging bad habits, incapable of evolving in the light of new scenarios.

When I travel abroad, I’m always surprised to hear someone, perhaps with the best of intentions, refer to dissidents in general, including independent journalists, as “heroes.” And what’s worse, there are characters who “modestly” accept the epithet, as if it were their true right. I will never support a leader who perceives himself as worthy of moral supremacy over the everyone else. In addition, such a prefabricated pantheon of heroes will only serve to cement many present and future ills.

Nevertheless, in those circumstances, and with those actors, we must continue to open the way for Cuban democracy. We optimists believe in the best of scenarios and, with the passing of time, many individuals and proposals will surface which will expand and diversify the options in the political and social milieu, thus covering all interests and including all the trends and options for citizen participation And we will need to learn to live with our differences.

Another one of the most notorious Cuban imaginary myths of all time is based on measuring the value of people by their willingness to “shed blood,” to be beaten in the streets or locked in dungeons. To march or not to march seems to want to establish itself as the moral question for future politicians. It doesn’t matter whether the event is repeated again and again with the same result, and the dictatorial power continues to not move one inch, or that one of those “common” citizens, the ones who are trying to get free from the Castro yoke, has joined in the martyrdom. It is known that no “leader” has attracted followers by becoming the scapegoat of a dictatorship known to be repressive and capable of the worst abuses.

To march or not to march seems to want to establish itself as the moral question for future politicians

It seems to be that what’s truly important is that the more marches and more beatings one gets, the more “courageous” one becomes, and that will get you a place of privilege in the select club of the anti-Castro titans.

But given that no Cuban “peoples” are willing to suffer the already traditional Sunday assaults, the organizers of this Antillean Via Crucis have not only summoned the other dissidents –including those who have been labeled a “naive” and even “traitors” for having acted in accordance with the US administration policy of détente — but they question the reluctance of those who do not abide by the summons.

And they see in this negativism, not the right of others to choose their own methods of resistance or their own path to work for the Cuba we want, but an alleged intention to divide the opposition or “to play into the hands” of the dictatorship. It would seem that if the Castro regime has not failed it is because some of us, whether absurdly or cowardly, have refused to march after attending church. Not believing in God, in the sponsors of the initiative or in their results, is secondary: a herd must follow the alpha male, who — in the purest Castro sense — will assume that those who do not follow him blindly are cowards and are against him.

Thus, Eliécer Ávila’s greatest sin was excessive transparency in a world of masquerades, forgetting that to ignore provocations is the wisest and most expeditious strategy that anyone aspiring for political leadership could employ. The sponsor of Somos+ wasted a great opportunity to keep his subtle silence.

There is no need to conquer freedom. Being free will suffice, though it needs to be done intelligently.

I, for one, while enjoying the privilege that my status as an opinion journalist grants me and my complete lack of commitment to leaders or parties of any political color, take the opportunity to join the commentary of a wise reader: there is no need to “fight” for democracy, practicing it should be enough; there is no need to conquer freedom, being free will suffice, though it needs to be done intelligently. It is impractical to continue implementing strategies that lead to the same result again and again… except when what we seek is that seal of pedigree that has been repeated so many times throughout our history.

In Cuba’s immediate future we will not hear that worn-out phrase that marked our lives and legitimized the rights of the privileged few over the rest of Cubans: “Did you by any chance fire shots in the Sierra Maestra?” It will be replaced with “Did you by any chance march on Sundays down La Quinta Avenida?” God forbid!

Translated by Norma Whiting

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

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

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

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

But the years passed and on this long and narrow island there has never been detected even a single piece of that twin-engine Cessna. New technologies burst into everyone’s lives, satellites search every inch of the planet, and mythical cities, submerged or buried, are found all over the globe. But of Camilo, not a single clue.

The illusion that he would return to unite “the highest leadership of the country” was giving way to another desire. In the mid-eighties I heard talk of Camilo Cienfuegos as the hope for change. “If he were here, none of this would have happened,” the elderly intoned. “He wasn’t a communist,” my grandfather said.

Once again we want to find alive the hero of Yaguajay, but this time to lead our dissatisfaction and to help us overcome our fear.

In the Special Period the urge to discover at least a vestige of that tailor-turned-guerrilla forcefully resurfaced. We speculated that if the circumstances of his death were unraveled, Fidel Castro’s government would fall like a house of cards. The best-kept secret of the Revolutionary era would also be its end. But even in those years the mystery was not solved.

A few days ago a little girl reminded her mother she needed to take a bouquet of flowers to school to throw into the sea on the day this Havanan not yet turned 30 disappeared. A second later the girl asked, “But is he dead, or is he not dead?” Her mother explained the official version in a bored voice, ending with a categorical, “Yes, he’s dead… he is not breathing.”

The mystery has collapsed. Not because we found answers, but because we got tired of waiting for them. Right now, nothing would change because we know that Camilo Cienfuegos is alive somewhere – with his graying beard – unless it is scientifically proven that the official version is true. Nor would there be a great commotion on finding out his death was an assassination order by his own compañeros from the Sierra Maestra.

Time, implacable, has ended up burying Camilo.

Camilo Cienfuegos. (CC)
Camilo Cienfuegos. (CC)

Vandals Paint Che Statue with the Word “Murderer” / 14ymedio

Paint on the statue of Che in the Galician town of Oleiros. (La Opinión A Coruña)
Paint on the statue of Che in the Galician town of Oleiros. (La Opinión A Coruña)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Spain, 26 October 2015 — At dawn on Sunday, a group of vandals painted the statue of Ernesto Che Guevara in the Galician town of Oleiros with the colors of the Spanish flag and the word “murderer.” This is the fourth attack on the monument since it opened in 2008.

The vandals, according to a local resident who alerted the police, acted around six o’clock in the morning and were wearing masks and coveralls. The attack, carried out with glass bottles filled with paint, came hours before a tribute to Che organized by several Portuguese, Galician and Cuban collectives to mark the 48th anniversary of the revolutionary’s death.

When the police arrived at the statue in Santa Cristina Park, the vandals had already left.

The mayor of Oleiros, Angel Garcia Seoane, branded them “idiots” and added that the modus operandi of the attack reflects the “behavior of cowards, during the night.” The councilman said the statue would be cleaned the next day.

On Sunday different groups of Cubans in exile and from the Association of Victims of Castroism, in addition to individuals, expressed their “repudiation” of the tribute in the face of a monument they called “illegal.” For them the monument is an “aggression against all the victims of Fidel Castro’s dictatorship.”

The first attack on the monument occurred just weeks after its unveiling. Both at that time and in August 2013, the 26-foot high statue was spotted with red and yellow paint.

In 2008, groups in opposition to the local Alternative Party government demonstrated against the monument’s construction and the 180,000 euro cost of building the roundabout where the work, donated by its makers, was placed.

Neighborhood Journalism in Cuba / 14ymedio, Rene Gomez Manzano

Homepage of “Neighborhood Journalism.” Headline: Why do Neighborhood Journalism in Cuba today?
Homepage of “Neighborhood Journalism.” Headline: Why do Neighborhood Journalism in Cuba today?

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Rene Gomez Manzano, Havana, 24 October 2015 — Thanks to the US Embassy in Havana, which provides press briefings with national and international news to us Cubans who navigate in their internet rooms, last Monday, October 19, I learned about a new information organ. Periodismo de Barrio (Neighborhood Journalism) is the name by which the colleagues engaged in it identify themselves.

The presentation of the new digital media starts with an appealing paragraph: “Journalism is an implicit promise of change. Presenting yourself as a journalist is almost like preaching in favor of hope. When you ask someone to tell you their story, it is not just asking them to confide in you, but also to believe that sharing their story can help to change something.”

According to its statement of principles, “Neighborhood Journalism is born with the objective of bringing to the public the stories of neighborhoods affected by natural disasters, or particularly vulnerable to phenomena such as hurricanes, floods, droughts, fires, landslides or others caused by man.” continue reading

A summary of the United States press fills more than 34 pages of the first issue. In addition, there are reports – of good quality including some that are excellent, although perhaps one might consider them late – dedicated to floods suffered by different Havana neighborhoods six months ago, during the torrential rains of last April 29.

It should be clarified that the colleagues of the new media have shown a special interest in not projecting themselves as against the established government in our country. In the presentation, for example, it is bluntly stated, “We do not accept donations from any institution that seeks – or has sought – the subversion of the Cuban political system.”

Are these journalists outside the system, but who do not want to stand out as being so? “Chemically pure” informers who do not want to identify themselves with any party agenda? Agents of a new pro-government initiative to make it seem that in Cuba the press acts freely? The broad access that Neighborhood Journalism enjoys to the Castro regime’s organs and officials could suggest the latter.

But the answers to these questions do not seem to have great importance. The purpose of truthfully reflecting the realities that confront our compatriots in the face of natural disasters deserve everyone’s applause. And it is fair to say that the compañeros of Neighborhood Journalism, to achieve this purpose, have displayed objectivity and professional skill. They do not follow the easy path of limiting themselves to proclaiming “the Revolution does not abandon its children.”

The series of reports begins with a piece by Geisy Guia Delis devoted to the work of the members of the National Search and Rescue Detachment, belonging to the Fire Department. It does not lavish laudatory adjectives or trite words on them: it focuses on the facts, such as – and this is just one example – the outstanding performance of a disabled rescuer, something that is perhaps exclusively Cuban.

From the expository point of view, it might have been preferable to start the delivery of Neighborhood Journalism with another of the reports. But we should not belittle different aspects of importance. Among them, the understandable aspiration to play it safe, leading off with a laudatory work which, regardless of the humanitarian effort undertaken, is about an arm of the Ministry of the Interior, an emblematic force of the system. One more way not to alienate the powers-that-be.

The second article is a report from San Felipe by Monica Baro: probably the best of the issue. It is amazed that the dispossessed of this capital neighborhood continue to suffer the calamities described in the report, trembling with anxiety whenever the sky clouds over and threatens rain with the consequent promise of certain flooding. And this more than half a century after the proclamation of the “Revolution of the humble, by the humble and for the humble”…

The colleagues of Neighborhood Journalism elude political allusions like the one I just offered, but it is not necessary to make them. They describe the reality and this, in its turbidity, is more eloquent than any adjective or declarations. We await their upcoming issues.

Cuba, A Country Without Thermometers / 14ymedio, Luz Escobar

Promotional posters for Cuban Medical Services in the departure terminal at Havana’s Jose Marti Airport. (14ymedio)
Promotional posters for Cuban Medical Services in the departure terminal at Havana’s Jose Marti Airport. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, 25 October 2015 – There are few grandmothers left who simply put their hand on a grandchild’s forehead to find out if he or she has a fever. With the widespread availability of body temperature thermometers in the home, this peculiar gift has been lost. Now it is imperative to have this little gadget that uses mercury or batteries, which, nevertheless, has been in short supply or entirely missing from Cuban pharmacies for years.

Maria Esther is a modern grandmother: “I grew up with thermometers and home phones as normal things,” she says with the pride of a woman born in the 20th century. Last week she was left in charge of both of her granddaughters and the little one started to show symptoms of the flu. Hours of calling stores, pharmacies and clinics shocked her with the hard reality: there are no thermometers for sale in Havana. continue reading

Asking at a pharmacy in the Cuban capital for this gadget of glass and quicksilver is like inquiring about an object from outer space. Faces of surprise and laughter are the employees’ response if a customer is looking for thermometers. At the clinic at the corner of Concordia and Campanario streets in Central Havana, a clerk told the frustrated buyer categorically, “We haven’t had any of those here for years,” like someone reporting the last sighting of an endangered species.

The customer, before leaving, resigned, took the opportunity to ask, “This medical power of a country, that sends doctors to fight Ebola… but doesn’t have any thermometers to check a simple fever…” Other customers silently nodded. Just a week ago official television confirmed in an extensive report the drug shortages threatening the country.

According to Barbara Olivera, head of the Operations Department of BioCubafarma, some 60 drugs classified as the “basic health core,” mainly those used to treat cancer, have disappeared from the national pharmacies. This is due to “accumulated production arrears since 2014,” the official said.

The loss of some foreign suppliers of raw materials and the “diversion of resources” [as employee theft is called in Cuba] were other causes identified for the shortages. Thermometers are not made in Cuba. They are imported from China, and are the mercury type, although many countries prohibit their use. They cannot be sold in Europe as of 2007, although they were sold in Spain until April 2009.

The national press harshly criticized the situation with medicines, but did not say a word about other products such as tape, elastic bandages, or bandaids. The Cuban people are so used to such shortages that you barely hear any complaints about the difficulties of getting something as simple as gauze, syringes, swabs or cotton balls.

Many resolve the problem by asking their relatives abroad to send them a thermometer. “At home, a couple of years ago, we had one sent to us by a cousin in the United States, but it was in Fahrenheit,” says Lourdes, 51. “I never understood how to convert to Celsius but we knew that over 100 degrees was a fever; but we can’t use it any more for lack of batteries.”

Even in the clean, well-stocked and air conditioned international pharmacies that sell in hard currency it’s not easy to find one. When they appear, the price ranges between six and ten CUC (approx. $6 to $10 US), according to the manufacturer, for sophisticated digital thermometers. In the pharmacies that sell in Cuban pesos those available are the mercury type and sell for three Cuban pesos (about 12¢ US).

But having hard currency guarantees nothing. In the Casa Bella store in Miramar, the helpful clerk says they don’t haven’t had thermometers for months and in response to a question says, “Don’t take the trouble to call others, they aren’t available in any pharmacy.” Behind her, a sign announces “excellent service.”

Pharmacy in Havana (EFE)
Pharmacy in Havana (EFE)

Customers at the Taquechel y Sarra tourist pharmacy, located in the historic center of Havana, receive the same response. “Beautifully restored, but few medicines,” says an old woman bitterly, on coming to buy pills for heartburn and leaving “stunned” by the prices.

The capital experiences only part of the problem. In June of 2014 in Granma province, the thermometer crisis reached a point where they didn’t even have them in the emergency rooms in the hospital network. However, people in the province could by them in the black market for 10 Cuban pesos. A similar situation occurred in Santa Clara, where some pharmacy clerks said the product hadn’t crossed their desks in more than 20 years.

Now the shortage has spread to all provinces of the country, as confirmed by this newspaper. In Pinar del Río an employee said that sometimes you could find digital thermometers in an entity of the Ministry of Public Health which she identified as “medical purposes” for a price of around 100 pesos. But “for a while now they haven’t had them,” she said.

The problem remains six months after the deputy health minister, Alfredo Gonzalez, assured the official press that Cubans would be able to buy such products “more easily” this year. Even Roberto Morales himself, Minister of Public Health, said they were taking the first steps, although they would not be able to meet the demand for the current year.

‘El Sexto’ Marches with the Ladies in White This Sunday / 14ymedio

The artist Danilo Maldonado, ‘El Sexto,’ marched with the Ladies in White this Sunday (Photo Angel Moya)
The artist Danilo Maldonado, ‘El Sexto,’ (the tallest person in the photo) marched with the Ladies in White this Sunday (Photo Angel Moya)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 25 October 2016 — The artist Danilo Maldonado, ‘El Sexto’ (The Sixth), joined 48 Ladies in White during their traditional walk down Fifth Avenue in Havana this Sunday. Released last week after ten months in prison, the graffiti artist accompanied the women and about twenty activists who gathered outside after mass at Santa Rita Church.

Also participating in the march were Jose Daniel Ferrer, leader of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU), along with the families of the three activists arrested while trying to approach Pope Francis during his visit to Cuba. The regime opponents Zaqueo Baez, Ismael Boris Reñi and the Lady in White Maria Josefa Acon are still being detained, after having been arrested on 20 September at the Mass in the Havana’s Plaza of the Revolution.

In the east of the country, UNPACU reported more than 80 arrests today to prevent individuals from reaching the Sanctuary del Cobre. In Havana, after the march, more than 50 Ladies in White and activists were arrested.