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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Translated by Fernando Fornaris

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Staging Civil Society / 14ymedio, Manual Cuesta Morua

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Waiting for ‘Chromebit’ / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chromebits
Chromebits

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Sewers of Surgidero / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An Anachronistic May Day / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Translated by MLK

Oscar Arias meets with young Cubans and Venezuelans / 14ymedio, Eliecer Avila

Meeting of young Cubans and Venezuelans with Oscar Arias
Meeting of young Cubans and Venezuelans with Oscar Arias

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Eliecer Avila, San Juan, Costa Rica, 29 March 2015 — To Costa Rica, that Latin American country recognized for its outstanding economic push, its democratic stability, and its role in the defense of human rights, a group of young Cubans and Venezuelans has come as guests of the National Liberation Party.

Undoubtedly among the Costa Rican politicians most prominent in recent years, Dr. Oscar Arias Sanchez stands out. He held the presidency for two terms, the first from 1986 to 1990, and the second started in 2006 and ended in 2010. Thus, a meeting with him was something not to be missed on the visit’s agenda.

The Arias administrations brought Costa Rica notable advances in different sectors. So much so, that for the most part his compatriots usually refer to him as the “best president” they ever had.

The successful mediation of several international conflicts, among them that of Nicaragua in the 1980s, also turned him into a global paradigm in defense of peace, for which he was honored with the prestigious Nobel Peace Prize in 1987.

On Saturday, the long awaited meeting with Arias took place at his home where he received a group of young Cubans and Venezuelans. The dialogue lasted more than an hour, during which the former president listened attentively to continue reading

their plans later shared his vision of the political landscape of the two nations. Also discussed was the current situation, and the challenges facing those working for democracy in both countries.

Arias criticized governments for generally “remaining silent” about what happens in Cuba and Venezuela “for fear of upsetting their respective Lefts.”

Addressing the Venezuelans, he asked them about the status of unity of the democratic forces and the personalities engaged in the struggle. José Javier Martínez, member of the Vente Venezuela movement, responded that, “Although there are some differences between the main opposition leaders, they disappear on the issue of respect for human rights.”

“It is on this point, above all, and in its defense that we are firmly united,” Martinez reaffirmed. The young man also took advantage of the occasion, to ask the former president for support for a motion that several MPs from different parties are trying to push through the Costa Rican legislature. The objective of the motion is to have the ambassador of this nation propose to the Organization of American States (OAS) that it discuss the situation of Venezuela in its main plenary session.

Arias also asked about the course of relations with the United States and what might be expected in this respect. Kirenia Yalit, Coordinator of the Roundtable of Cuban Youth, explained the different visions and postures of Cuban civil society toward this process and pointed out that, “We young people are not opposed to the opportunities that this these changes could bring to the benefit the people, but we will continue in our struggle to achieve the rights that we need to exercise, whether or not there is trade with the United States.”

Arias then speculated about the possibility of a Cuban Deng Xiaoping, who would reform the Cuban system from within the Communist Party, as happened in China.

To this Eliecer Avila, leader of Somos+ (We Are More) and a member of the Roundtable, responded that, “There is always that possibility, but we Cuban democrats do not see in China an applicable or desirable framework for our country.” The young man emphasized that, “We are able to build a much better model, one that in addition to economic growth also ensures the full exercise of civil and political freedoms, the only guarantees for a national reconciliation and lasting stability.”

The former President thanked the young people for the visit and reiterated his commitment to the democratic cause of both peoples. Which, he said, “Would always be addressed in my upcoming conferences, because I say what I think and do not speak just to get along with anyone.”

An Afternoon for Danilo (El Sexto) / 14ymedio, Luz Escobar

Danilo’s (El Sexto’s) works displayed on the walls of La Paja Records studio (Luz Escobar)
Danilo’s (El Sexto’s) works displayed on the walls of La Paja Recold studio (Luz Escobar)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, 29 March 2015 – As part of the campaign to demand freedom for the artist Danilo Maldonado, known as “El Sexto,” several artistic activities took place this Saturday at la Paja Recold, the studio of the band Porno para Ricardo.

On the walls of the place were works by the graffiti artist who has been incarcerated since last December 25. El Sexto was arrested shortly before carrying out a performance that consisted of releasing in a public square two pigs with the names of “Fidel and Raul.” The crime that has been charged against him is contempt.

Several friends from all over the world and human rights organizations have demanded his immediate release. Yesterday’s activities joined those demands for his freedom. Among the most important moments of the afternoon was the performance by Tania Bruguera of The Whisper of Tatlin which opened the studio’s microphones to the fifty attendees of the encounter to ask for – in a minute each – Danilo Maldonado’s liberty. continue reading

The host band Porno para Ricardo, played the lead musical part with several songs from their repertoire. Subsequently rappers including El Opuesto, Maikel Extremo, Rapper Isaac and Lazaro Farise Noise appeared on stage. All demanded the release of the artist and demonstrated solidarity with his cause. Also a book was opened in order to gather signatures of support for the #FreeElSexto campaign. An option paralleling that already implemented on the digital platform Change.org and that is intended for those who do not have access to the Internet.

The artist Tania Bruguera told 14ymedio she had attended the event, “Because I think this is a case of the violation of the artist’s rights.” “It is not right that an artist who did not even carry out the work should be made a prisoner,” she stressed. Bruguera is precluded from leaving Cuba and is in the midst of legal proceedings because of events arising from her attempt to organize a performance last December 30 in the Plaza of the Revolution.

In spite of her delicate legal situation, the artist attended the event in order to offer her support to El Sexto’s cause. Because she says that “An artist that is in jail just for imagining a work and trying to make it, it is an injustice.” About the performance that the graffiti artist would have carried out, Bruguera points out that, “Public figures, whether politicians or celebrities, are likely to be criticized (…) they have to assume that people who do not have that power, they are able to make them aware of their discontent through humor and satire.”

Bruguera quipped that, “If they made prisoners of everyone who makes jokes about Fidel and Raul Castro, half the people would be incarcerated.” And she concluded, “The artist’s freedom lies in having the right to say symbolically whatever he wants.”

Gorki Aguila, meanwhile, explained that, “It is important that artists join together among themselves (…) art has an incredible power to summon.” El Sexto’s grandmother, attending the event, said that, “The right of a man to live as he wants to live must be respected, Danilo does not harm anyone, he respects everyone, but he also asks for respect for himself, that they let him do what he wants.”

With respect to the prison conditions in which this artist has lived, the grandmother says that, “He was sleeping on the floor for two months because for him, as for many other prisoners, there was no bed. They don’t let even an aspirin in. Danilo is chronically asthmatic, he had pneumonia, and they denied him antibiotics.”

The lady also told of the continuing threats by State Security to many of the invitees so that they would not go this Saturday to the tribute to El Sexto. The pressure included the visit of two officers to the home of Gorki Aguila in order to deliver to him a police citation that required him to appear at the police station that same afternoon. The musician refused to go on grounds that a citizen must be given at least 24 hours notice of such an action.

Lia Villares said that during the next Havana Biennial, which will get underway at the end of May, “We are going to do something.” The blogger anticipates that it will be, “A work by El Sexto that was not displayed here today.”

Translated by MLK

 

Rise and Fall of a Diocese / 14ymedio, Juan Carlos Fernandez

Extension of the Diocese of Pinar del Río. (Juan Carlos Fernández / 14ymedio)
Extension of the Diocese of Pinar del Río. (Juan Carlos Fernández / 14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Juan Carlos Fernandez, Pinar del Rio, 26 March 2015 – “How much everything has changed! How gorgeous the Cathedral is with those add-ons!” exclaimed a Catholic layman on returning to visit his native Pinar del Rio after three decades of exile.

The improvement of the infrastructure of the diocese, which started with the arrival of Archbishop Monsignor Jorge Enrique Serpa, is impressive. The construction work was fast-tracked and the traditional problems with permits disappeared. The cost of the strategy to sustain it, however, will be difficult to sustain.

Cardinal Jaime Ortega and Archbishop Serpa together undertook the task, which happened to please the Cuban authorities, removing part of the secular activity of the diocese to achieve, in exchange, benefits. continue reading

When in January 2007, Monsignor José Siro González Bacallao made official Serpa’s assumption of the Diocese, a new chapter began in the pastoral, religious and social life of the local church.

The appointment coincided with a rapprochement between the authorities and part of the Catholic hierarchy, led by the Archbishop of Havana, Jaime Ortega y Alamino. This improvement in relations culminated in the visit to Cuba of Benedict XVI, in March 2012, and the release from prison of a large group of political prisoners of the 2003 Black Spring.

The Conference of Catholic Bishops of Cuba also paved the way to understanding. The two bishops most uncomfortable for the Government were about to retire for reasons of age. In Santiago de Cuba, Pedro Meurice, old and sick ceded his episcopate to his disciple, Dionisio García. At the other end of the island, José Siro retired to Mantua and left the way open for the pact.

Since the inauguration of the new bishop in Pinar del Rio, it took just three months to begin the dismantling of all the works that were considered an obstacle to improving relations with the government.

It took just three months to begin the dismantling of all the works that were considered an obstacle to improving relations with the government

The members of the editorial board of the Church magazine Vitral were forced out, and the training center and publisher were dismantled. They also dissolved the Brotherhood of Assistance to Prisoners and Their Families, the Youth Ministry, the Catholic Commission for Culture and the Diocesan Council of Laity. Thus, the lay members left the structure of the Pinar del Rio Church.

When Monsignor Serpa took over, after 20 years serving in the Bogota Archdiocese, the Pinar del Rio Diocese had only 17 priests, fewer than 30 nuns, and a large group of committed lay people. The churches were deteriorated and the difficulties in obtaining permission for restoration were notable.

Now, for the first time in more than fifty years, all the parishes have priests, the number of members by religious congregation has grown, and the entry and establishment of other orders, among them the Brigidine Sisters, have been extended from Havana.

Management has been allowed, in addition to restoring the Cathedral, to enlarge the parish house and the construction of a complex of classrooms for catechisms and meetings. The Church has been able to buy a site for Caritas located in the center of the city, less than a block from the provincial headquarters of the Communist Party.

In addition, in just eight years Sandino is the first captive people to have a temple, one of the greatest diplomatic achievements in the last 25 years of the authorities insistently denying Siro permission. The return of the religious processions in all the dioceses is also a noted achievement of Serpa.

But the negative consequences of his mandate have also been felt. The bishop complains of a lack of motivation and commitment among the faithful, including to make donations. On the other hand, the social commitment is almost zero and the pastoral is ecclesial – more severe than the so-called clerical. Except for the Bishop, there is no presence of Church members in any social environment.

“The loss of moral authority is not achieved overnight,” whispers a Pinar del Rio Catholic. “Rebuilding costs far more than any new temple,” says the layman.

The legacy the current bishop will leave when he retires, at age 75, will be a magnificent architectural infrastructure that will not need to be touched for a while. The challenge will be re-form, articulate and prepare the Church formed by laymen which was dismantled.

Will the mattress arrive before the baby turns a year old? / 14ymedio, Yosmany Mayeta

Woman with a mattress (Yosmany Mayeta)
Woman with a mattress (Yosmany Mayeta)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yosmany Mayeta Labrada, Santiago de Cuba, 28 March 2015 — The Gonzalez family baby slept her first weeks in a plastic tub lined with sheets and blankets. She could not use the crib because her parents did not manage to buy the mattress that is assigned by the Santiago de Cuba ration market to expectant mothers.

Shortages of the product and delays in its arrival to those in need create discomfort and situations like that of this baby in homes all over the country but with greater severity in the eastern region.

Outside of some stores intended for that purpose there are long lines of pregnant women and their families to buy the so-called “module basket” that is given at a subsidized price to each mother. The prices in the free market are unaffordable for a good many families. They need at least 50 convertible pesos (CUC) in order to get a mattress in the hard currency market, while the average monthly salary does not exceed 20 CUC. continue reading

Many of these mothers will celebrate the first birthdays of their children without the children having been able to enjoy a crib with a mattress. Such is the case of one young woman who preferred to remain anonymous and who was waiting this Wednesday in the line of the El Atardecer industrial products store. Her daughter is about to turn a year old, but she still has to sleep in a crib with an old mat repaired many times and that was loaned to her by a relative.

Yamile Fonseca, resident of the Nuevo Van Van area, had a little more luck and says that “almost when the ration book was expiring I could buy the mattress, but that was a pure pain and a line that no one could stand.” Others simply give up and resort to the illicit market or inherit part of the “basket” items from a sister or a cousin.

Beatriz Mena, clerk at an Industrial store, says that “they have only brought the product twice” to the store where she works. In those cases “they have sold to those mothers whose basket ration book is expiring and whose babies are turning a year old,” the others have had to wait until they are resupplied, she said.

When the product arrives at one of the commercial units devoted to that purpose, then the drama becomes the line. Jose Bonne, father of a 10-month old girl, staked out the front of the Industrial this Tuesday from four in the morning in order to be able to be one of the first. “When I arrived there were already more than ten people who, since earlier hours, were marking their place in line in order not to be left without the mattress.”

The manager of the store in the Altamira suburb said that “it has come to the unit on several occasions but the ones who have not bought are still more than those who have left with the product.” The lady says that “the mattresses that they leave are very few, and we have a great number of pregnant and newly post-partum women and the demand outstrips the quantities supplied.

Another person, who preferred not to give his name, says that “when the mattresses arrive at the industrial products stores, now the clerks in cahoots with the management get most of them, which are sold to those whose turn has not come up, but who pay extra money and so acquire them ahead of time.”

For her part, Yelaine Suarez said that when the mattresses arrive in the commission stores there are people who dedicate themselves to the sale of places in line for the amount of ten convertible pesos. “It is unfair to see how they take advantage of the opportunity in order to do things like that.

Cuban women point to economic problems and difficulties in materially supporting a baby as among the main causes for the low birth rate that the country is now experiencing; the Total Fertility Rate fell in 2012 to the worrying figure of 1.69 children per woman.

David Fernandez, resident of Alturas de Versalles, says that in the Altamira store they got crib mattresses at 300 pesos national currency, sold off the ration book. The resident of the place asks how it is possible that there are stocks for that but not for those women who have the “basket” ration book.

The complaints come and go and many babies keep waiting to sleep in a crib with a mattress. Meanwhile, their parents improvise a little bed and take turns standing in line in front of the store.

Translated by MLK