Nicaragua Was Freed From a Regime Modeled On That Of the Castros / 14ymedio, Julio Blanco C.

In the election of February 1990, Violeta Chamorro (center) defeated Sandanista commander Daniel Ortega (right)
In the election of February 1990, Violeta Chamorro (center) defeated Sandanista commander Daniel Ortega (right)

14ymedio, Julio Blanco C., Managua, 27 September 2014 — I follow with eagerness – almost bordering on addiction – the news out of Cuba. I suppose that my nationality has a lot to do with that because probably no one better understands the reality of the Island (apart from Cubans) than we Nicaraguans.

Here we suffered a regime modeled on that of the Castros, which among other “pearls” imposed on us:

  • A terrible State security system, so that all we citizens were suspected of being traitors and counter-revolutionaries.
  • The rationing card, such an unpleasant memory.
  • Indoctrination of students at all levels of education.
  • The division of society into the good and the bad. Everything within the revolution and nothing outside it was the slogan. Whoever opposed the regime was a pariah, a subhuman, a stinker who deserved not the least consideration or respect. Those “elements” had to be persecuted, silenced, beaten, intimidated and ultimately annihilated.
  • The brutal and ruthless persecution of every communication media disaffected with the regime. This they could not completely achieve, maybe for lack of time, therefore some emblematic media like the daily La Prensa and Radio Corporacion survived the burning.
  • Bank nationalization and the forced socialization or transforming into cooperatives of all means of production, which involved a massive confiscation of private goods.

The list is much longer; I do not need to tell it to Cubans who have suffered first hand for so many years a tragedy so similar but at the same time much more extensive than ours.

My interest now is focused on the transition that Cubans are experiencing, because we went through something very similar, although here everything was quite fast due to the fact that it was not the same government that carried out the changes, but another one.

For the people of my generation who grew up in the midst of so many shortages and limitations, that period of the country’s “normalization,” above all that of the economy, was something almost magical.

The most irrelevant things were all eventful. I remember as if it were yesterday when we began to be happily flooded with junk food. First there was Pizza Hut, then McDonald’s returned after an absence of several years, then Burger King, Friday’s, Subway, Papa John’s and so many other chains that were little by little turning up in the country.

Big hotel companies like Best Western, Intercontinental, Hilton, Hyatt and others arrived, too.

And private national and foreign banks reappeared, and excellent customer attention again became a priority, not like when they were state-owned and little was needed for the employees to bite the unfortunate client.

And the private universities and colleges (these never disappeared) multiplied for every taste and pocketbook.

And many corrupt and inefficient state businesses were privatized and so many others disappeared. Maybe the most significant was Enitel, the embarrassing equivalent of Cuba’s ETECSA telephone company. The change was positively colossal, and soon came competition, and now there were other options for cable, telephone and internet.

Rationing and lines and product scarcity ended, and the giants of the food industry and commerce landed: Walmart, Pricemart, Cargill, Parmalat, Procter and Gamble, and there follows a very long etcetera.

And the first mall opened its doors with dozens of stores and modern movie theaters and its food court and its enormous department stores… but that was nothing, because soon there appeared others even better.

And refueling became a guilty pleasure because the convenience stores are as pleasant as small supermarkets and small restaurants, all in one.

And the public transportation payment system changed. You no longer had to carry a mound of coins, just recharge the electronic card.

And suddenly one day, a growing number of establishments began to offer free wi-fi; even the government installed it in some public parks in all the provincial capitals.

All this, which for us has been fascinating, is completely incomprehensible for someone who has not lived it and been systematically diverted by the State from everything that smells of progress and development however insignificant it might seem.

Maybe one day, sooner than later, Cubans can go through all this, too, and feel that strange satisfaction that is given by knowing “now we are like all the rest,” that we are no longer “different” in the more negative and abject sense of the word. In fact, they are already immersed in a stage of transition – very sui generis – but transition in the end.

Hopefully the weight of reality will finally make the regime understand that it can no longer contain the floodgates of “normality” because Cubans have made too many thousands of holes in the dam, and the waters of creativity and private initiative flow with increasing force.

* Julio Blanco C. is a lawyer in Diplomacy and International Relations. He lives in Managua.

Translated by MLK

“I will not return to the classroom if I am not paid a decent salary,” a teacher declares / 14ymedio, Rosa Lopez

First day of this school year (14ymedio)
First day of this school year (14ymedio)

14ymedio, ROSA LÓPEZ, Havana | October 10, 2014 – The mass exodus of teachers from the classroom has been, according to the official press, the theme of meetings between the Education minister, Ena Elsa Velázquez Cobiella, and her department heads. The official admitted that “there are questions that need to be addressed in our country, which will be resolved in due time when the right conditions are in place.” Her words do not placate the dissatisfaction of workers in the education sector with low salaries and poor working conditions.

According to data provided by Velázquez Cobiella, in the last school year, “427 education workers resigned because of disagreements with their evaluations; 166 because of the issue of proximity to their places of residence; 766 for failing to obtain a raise; 37 for dissatisfaction with the teaching methods; and 2,343 cited personal problems.” These statistics contrast with the widely-shared opinion that low wages are the principal cause driving teachers from the classroom.

“I told them I was leaving to care for my sick mother, but actually I just couldn’t stand the heavy workload and low salary any longer,” says Cristina Rodríguez, who taught elementary school for almost twenty years in the municipality of Cerro. Like her, many others have claimed family difficulties or health problems in order to free themselves from a burden they have found too heavy to bear.

“The highest leadership of the nation is aware of the problem and has the will to solve it, but this will be done in an orderly manner and when the country’s economy permits it,” said the minister. Her words were a bucket of ice water thrown on the education sector’s expectations for better compensation.

Around the middle of this year, public health professionals received a significant raise, which fanned the flames of hope for similar actions in other branches of service. However, the measure has not been extended to other departments.

A big unanswered question is: When can educators expect to be paid more decent salaries?

Among the criticisms that have emerged in discussions between the Education minister and other officials is the burdensome paperwork imposed on education workers. Every teacher is supposed to maintain files on incidents in the classroom, and others that include extracurricular information, such as family evaluations, community assessments, and those well-known reports that are more police-like in nature than education-related. The minister supported limiting such bureaucratic activities to the registry of assistance and evaluation, and to the students’ cumulative records.

There are approximately 10,366 educational institutions whose principal purpose is to stem the flow of teachers to other lines of work. “I will not return to the classroom if they don’t pay me a decent salary,” asserts Martha Vázquez, a special education teacher. Thousands of teachers echo this sentiment as they do other work across the country.

A big unanswered question is: When can educators expect to be paid more decent salaries that keep pace with the cost of living? In the meantime, classrooms will continue to lose valuable teachers who will end up behind the counter at a cafeteria, or in the void of unemployment.

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

The Baptist pastor Mario Felix Lleonart appears before the police / 14ymedio

Pastor Mario Felix Lleonart with his family. (Source: Facebook)
Pastor Mario Felix Lleonart with his family. (Source: Facebook)

14YMEDIO, Havana, October 9, 2014 – The Baptist pastor Mario Felix Lleonart refused to sign the official warning he received yesterday morning as part of a police citation. Although the document does not explicitly mention his recent journey to the eastern part of the island to check the status of harassment of some pastors, officers who confronted him mentioned it verbally, according to the pastor.

Around 11 AM yesterday, a lieutenant colonel read Feliz Lleonart a warning notice, in front of two witnesses – supposedly civilians and found by the officers, who the pastor didn’t know – and another lower ranking State Security official.

The notice, according to the lieutenant colonel, is considered an aggravating circumstance in the context of a possible criminal prosecution, which the official described as “very likely.”

This is the third warning the pastor has received, the last of which was delivered on 25 January. In the notice he was warned that if he continues to have close ties “counterrevolutionary elements within and outside Cuba and counterrevolutionary radio stations,” he will be prosecuted.

The pastor, who lives with his family in the village of Taguayabon in the central province of Villa Clara, in recent years has engaged in a very intense activism. Among other actions, he denounced the police beatings of Juan Wilfredo Soto, which could have caused his subsequent death.

The government cancels plans to build a mosque in Old Havana / 14ymedio

Ortaköy Mosque in Istanbul. (14ymedio)
Ortaköy Mosque in Istanbul. (14ymedio)

14YMEDIO, October 9, 2014 – Pedro Lazo Torres, leader of the minority Muslim community in Cuba, announced this Monday that the Government has rejected plans to build a mosque for the Islamic population in Havana, a gesture considered an offense against religious freedom on the Island. Lazo said that reasons aren’t related to the patron, the Turkish Religious Affairs Foundation, rather it is now the Government that opposes it, something unexpected as Russian has received permission to build an orthodox church.

The Muslim population in Cuba is around 4,000 faithful who lack a place of worship on the island.

Last April, Mustafa Tutkun, assistant director of the Turkish Religious Affairs Foundation, visited Cuba to manage permissions with the Religious Affairs Bureau of the Communist Party. He then explained that the mosque would reflect the design of the Mosque Ortaköy in Istanbul. The press secretary of the agency, Yuksel Sezgin, said: “We believe that the mosque fits perfectly with the European architecture of historic Old Havana.” The Island was assured that the building would be completed within one year, starting in the spring.

Religious freedom in Cuba is still an unresolved issue, However relations between the Catholic Church and the government have improved in recent years, even to the point where some confiscated properties were returned to the institution.

A group of 16 Cuban dancers defect while on tour in Mexico / 14ymedio

The dancers Ricardo Gil, Yaimara Naranjo during the interview with Telemundo 51.
The dancers Ricardo Gil, Yaimara Naranjo during the interview with Telemundo 51.

14YMEDIO, Havana, October 9, 2014 – Sixteen dancers from the Cuban company Pro-Dance of Laura Alonso, daughter of Alicia Alonso, deserted during a tour in Mexico. Five of them are already in the United States, according to information on the television Telemundo 51 this Thursday.

From Miami, Ricardo Gil, Yaimara Naranjo and Alfredo Espinosa, spoke in front of the cameras, expressing their happiness on having left Cuba in search of a better professional and personal future. Espinosa said he had already arranged new work as a teacher at an academy in Miami Lakes.

The flight of Cuban dancers is a steady drip. At the end of September, two members of the Cuban National Ballet fled, also during a tour in Mexico, following the steps of another nine dancers who stayed in Puerto Rico months earlier.

Laura Perez (age 25) went from Mexico to Houston, and Jvier Graupera Miranda (age 23) went to Florida to receive assistance from the Miami Hispanic Arts Center and the Cuban Classical Ballet, according to reports form the Spanish daily El Pais.

The director of the National Ballet of Cuba, Alicia Alonso, said in a statement to the Mexican press that the escape of some members of the group “will not cause her to lose sleep.”

Activists Gather Around Four Points of Consensus / 14ymedio

activistas_CYMIMA20140925_0004_16
Activists meeting in Havana (14ymedio)

14YMEDIO, Havana, September 25, 2014 – An important meeting of Cuban civil society took place this Thursday in Havana, involving 16 activists from across the country, including five ex-prisoners from the 2013 Black Spring. The meeting was not announced ahead of time, and several of the invitees were unable to attend due to other commitments.

The discussion centered around four minimum points that have gained strength among activists and dissidents in recent months:

  1. Release of political prisoners
  2. Ending of political repression
  3. Ratification of International Covenants on Human Rights
  4. Recognition of Cuban civil society within the Island and in the diaspora

Also emphasized was the need to strengthen civic institutions and to pay special attention to civic education. The importance of adding other voices to the debate was a theme repeated by many of those present.

Under the name Civil Society Open Forum, the meeting is intended to be help on a regular basis to discuss the issues of today’s Cuba. This is the fourth in a series of meetings, two of which were held in Madrid and two in Havana. Previously, in February of this year, the four points of consensus that summarize the demands of Cuban civil society were agreed upon.

In attendance were: José Alberto Álvarez, Eliécer Ávila, Manuel Cuesta Morúa, Reinaldo Escobar, Guillermo Fariñas, José Daniel Ferrer, Librado Linares, Mario Félix Lleonart, Yoaxis Macheco, Héctor Maseda, Félix Navarro, Jorge Olivera, Lilianne Ruíz, Elizardo Sánchez, Yoani Sánchez and Dagoberto Valdés.

“My mom has a girlfriend” / 14ymedio, Lilianne Ruiz

Denia and Mayra don't kiss in front of their daughter because of concerns she would be rejected at school.
Denia and Mayra don’t kiss in front of their daughter because of concerns she would be rejected at school.

14ymedio, LILIANNE RUÍZ, Havana |October 3, 2014 – Denia and Mayra met twelve years ago on a walk along the Malecon. In the zone of tolerance that begins at Maceo Park and ends at the 23rd Street fountain, where historically a part of the LGBTI community gathers in the Havana nights. After a 7-year relationship they thought seriously of raising a child, but they ran into an obstacle: according Ministry of Public Health protocols, the possibility of conception through non-traditional means is designed for heterosexual couples and treated as a pathology of infertility.

The two women began to seek voluntary donors among their friends. They knew other women in the same situation had managed to conceive by introducing semen into the vagina with a syringe. “In contact with mucus it can live up to 72 hours; in a syringe stored at room temperature it can last 48 hours,” they say.

Among their close friends they didn’t find a candidate that met all their conditions, above all that he was willing to renounce paternity and cede it entirely to the female couple. So after many discrete inquiries, they used the services of an OB/GYN at a maternity hospital in the capital who, in addition to artificially inseminating Mayra, was able to offer them a donor with the desired characteristics, including some resemblance to Denia. The insemination took place in the couple’s home, far from the vigilant eyes of the health authorities. Should it be divulged, the doctor would lose his profession.

 The insemination took place in the couple’s home, far from the vigilant eyes of the health authorities

Denia sidesteps the question of whether they had to pay for this “under the table” service. According to other women in similar situations, the rates in the informal market for sperm vary between 100 and 300 Cuban convertible pesos (CUC).

“This has been the greatest joy of my life. The little girl calls me godmother,” Denia says. The two women consider themselves mothers of Paola, a beautiful five-year-old who attends preschool.

During the pregnancy and childbirth, Denia presented herself as a friend of Mayra’s. In their experience, if they had declared themselves the lesbian couple that they are, they would not have been treated the same. “In many places we found they don’t treat us like they treat a heterosexual couple. Sometimes they reject us. So we did what we did to keep up appearances.”

Denia tells how she gets up first in the morning to bring the baby to her mother’s breast. “Even though I’m not the biological mother, I feel like I’m also Paola’s mother. At times we argue lovingly about who’s going to do the cooking because the child likes my cooking more.”

They don’t kiss in front of the girl, not because they don’t want to promote their values of respect for sexual diversity and freedom of choice in front of her, but because they are worried that she might experience rejection at school. “We live in a society that has not adapted to a kiss as a gesture of love between a couple, and to the fact that couples can be made up of the same gender.”

Because of this, they believe that Cuba should legalize marriage between persons of the same sex, so that their rights are recognized in the Ministry of Health protocols, including the right of a lesbian woman to conceive with the help of science. “The same rights would make us more equal,” they say.

So far, however, there is no donor sperm bank in the Cuban health system, even for heterosexual couples. Nor are there statistics about the number of same sex couples with children. In a telephone call, the Legal Department of the National Center for Sexual Education (CENESEX) admitted it has taken no surveys and has nor information about it.

As often happens, the official world keeps its distance from what is happening in real life. It refuses to legislate and ignores the stories of different passions, with fruits and without patriarchs.

There will be 14yMedio for a very long time, gentlemen of State Security / Yoani Sanchez

Juan Carlos Fernandez, journalist, and Karina Galvez Chu economist. (From Facebook)
Juan Carlos Fernandez, journalist, and Karina Galvez Chu economist. (From Facebook)

Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 7 October 2014 – Monday afternoon was like any other for Juan Carlos Fernandez. The water stubbornly persisted in not coming out of the pipes, so cup by cup he collected it from the lowest source in his house. The family revolved around his mother-in-law, who had been suffering for half a year, dying, and now and again this lanky and smiling man from Pinar del Rio looked at the phone to see if there were any messages.

The routine was broken when someone knocked on the door and handed him a summons from the police. El Juanca – as his friends call him – is accustomed to State Security calling him to account. His longtime work with Coexistence magazine and his nonconformity as a citizen have taken him, on many occasions, to police cells and stations. So, he didn’t even flinch and notified all those who love him and appreciate him.

This morning he was finally face-to-face with a police official at the Technical Investigation Department (DTI). The topic at hand was as predictable as it was invasive of his rights. His collaboration with our little digital daily newspaper was the reason for the most recent box on the ears they gave him.

“They gave me a written warning for working for an illegal unregistered publication,” Juanca told me. With the mix of playfulness and good humor that characterizes him, he quickly suggested to the lady “that they allow the legalization of 14ymedio.”

Clearly, she responded evasively to his proposal, because fact of not allowing non-governmental media to exist seems to be an indispensable condition to sustain the official press, which is so bad from the journalistic point of view that only its status as a monopoly can ensure that it has an audience.

“You people are not journalists,” the official snapped. To which Juanca shot back, “Differences aside, neither was José Martí.”

Among other falsehoods, the police told him that 14ymedio was a newspaper financed by USAID. Although this accusation is repeated against any independent project, in this case it demonstrates ignorance more than malice. This newspaper, publicly and transparently, has a business structure that can be read in detail in the “About Us” section of its digital page.

This financial arrangement was precisely one of the conditions we found indispensable to undertaken renewed journalism with a sustainable press media. Unlike the government newspaper Granma, and all the official newspapers, we do not dip our hands into the state coffers to produce political propaganda. We are waiting anxiously, it’s true, for them to allow us to register our small enterprise in the corporate records of our country. Will they dare to allow it?

We are waiting anxiously for them to allow us to register our small … Will they dare to allow it?

We want to have legal status, to hang a sign on the door of our editorial offices and display, without fear, our press credentials. Why do they refuse us this right? Haven’t they realized that a press hijacked by a single party doesn’t meet the information demands of a plural and diverse country like ours? Will they ever have the political courage to pass a law so that independent journalism will emerge from the shadows into public life?

When that functionary lies without giving us the right to reply, she is using her authority to commit a true abuse of power. Which becomes even more dramatic because of the level of disinformation within which most Cubans and apparently, the political police as well, exist.

Wrapped in her uniform, the official also told Juanca that our media dedicated itself to “defaming and denigrating the achievements of the Revolution.” With this statement, the lady made it clear that in this country only media that sings the praises of the system can exist; and on the other hand, it gives the impression that she has privileged access to 14ymedio, because since our birth, on 21 May 2014, we have been blocked on the Island’s servers. Madam, do you enter our page via anonymous proxies? Or, even worse, are you talking about something you’ve never seen? I fear it’s the latter.

I also challenge this policewoman to point out to me a single characteristic of the current Cuban political system that allows her to call it a “Revolution.” Where is the dynamism? The character of renewal? The movement? Please, update your words – not out of respect for this renegade philologist who believes in the semantics of the terminology – but because, as long as you don’t publicly acknowledge that you are stuck in a stagnant and fossilized history, you will not be able to implement the solutions this nation urgently needs.

During the interrogation, our Pinar del Rio correspondent was also threatened that, if it looked like he was practicing journalism, he would be arrested and his phone and camera confiscated. Let’s hear it for the ideological bulwark information puts at risk! I understand the truth less and less.

In this situation we have come to, everything is possible. Repression, in the worst style of the 2003 Black Spring; the rifle butts breaking down the doors; the continuation of the campaign of defamation, increasingly ineffectual… this and much more. What will not happen is that, faced with the fear and the pressure, we will cease to do journalism. 14ymedio is going to be around for a long time, so you might as well get used to living with us.

Hong Kong: A Font of Inspiration / 14ymedio, Eliecer Avila

Students during the march for "The Cuban Five" (Lux Escobar)
Students during the march for “The Cuban Five” (Lux Escobar)

14ymedio, Eliecér Avila, Havana, October 2, 2014 — I saw the images of the Cuban students’ march in support of “the Cuban Five” and against “terrorism” and “subversion.” Telesur also echoed the news. I don’t know if any other television network has covered this topic. What I do know is that the participants believed they were giving an indisputable show of strength, principle and, possibly, valor.

So what did the nation gain from this audacity? Nothing – except many public expenses.

In contrast, I watch what is happening in Hong Kong, one of the most economically dynamic cities in the world, where thousands of students have been able to mobilize massive public sectors in support of their call for free local elections. The central government in Beijing opposes this demand.

Let us compare these two situations, both of which are developing in Communist territories.

In one case, protesters are taking to the streets calling for more democracy and for respect of citizens’ ability to elect their own representatives, against obstructionist government forces. In the other case – the one here (in Cuba) – the demonstrators travel comfortably to their site on buses, with snacks, slogan-emblazoned T-shirts, and security detail all included. All this to make a show of boldness geared to and directed by an agenda that has nothing to do with student demands or social protests in our country.

The students in Hong Kong get by with using social networking applications that make a joke of state censorship. When denied Internet access, they communicate directly with each other. The Cuban students use powerful megaphones to shout their “Long Live!” chants to those who are not allowed Internet access.

The apathy of Cuban university students towards the state of the nation does not cease to astound me.

The apathy of Cuban university students toward the state of the nation does not cease to astound me. If the young people of our country, with their vibrant health and energy, do not defend our elderly, our poor, our workers – our own selves – who will do it? —The state? —The bureaucracy? —The very causers of our problems?

Of what use is a march which forgets that we live in a country without the least shred of freedom of the press? Where the workers cannot afford even to eat adequately with the wages they are paid? And where the capital city is crumbling? What manner of respect can a youth and university movement inspire if it is incapable of empowering itself to recapture its autonomy and liberty?

It is clear that these marches are not initiated by the students themselves. We should also recognize that many who will read this article, and its author, took part at some time in similar marches – to break the monotony of our class schedules – to ride the wave that everyone says is the correct one – or simply to have a free day’s outing in Havana. When we grow up a little and leave the ideological bubble which our university system has become, reality punches us right in the face. We realize then the extreme manipulation to which we were subjected in order to defend the interests of a minority comfortably in power because we put them there. And this hurts.

We realize then the extreme manipulation to which we were subjected in order to defend the interests of a minority comfortably in power….

Being that nobody learns a lesson unless he learns it for himself, we will have to wait for the many Olympic champions of enthusiasm to graduate—and then face the challenge of maintaining their own households as citizens and workers.

But by then it will be too late. By then nobody will arrange buses and snacks to facilitate their expressions of nonconformity. Alternatively, if they go and do it on their own, they will discover a little-known aspect of the system, which will increase their frustration but will clarify much in their minds.

Some will decide to leave Cuba and will easily exchange their “Long Live!” megaphones for the steering wheel of the comfortable car that the ideological enemy will allow them to buy in exchange for their labor. Others will settle for eking out any kind of living they can and … “we’ll see what happens.” There will always be those others who are set on attaining positions from which they will have to convince a new generation of youths and students to march against the “historical enemy.” Their contribution will be the mental castration of the masses – an indispensable step towards constructing “The New Man.” These are the worst.

Still and all, I am convinced that this cycle of disempowerment and deception of the people cannot last forever. I feel that we are ever growing in number—those of us who in every corner of this country, including the universities, feel responsible for contributing to the profound and vital change that we need. All we have to do is agree to work together, as those demonstrators in Hong Kong are doing with such commendable maturity.

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

Blessed be filtered water / 14ymedio, Elvira Fernandez

The lines are getting longer. Watting for water in nearby doorways
Watting for water in nearby doorways

14ymedio, Ciego de Avila, Elvira Fernandez, 26 September 2014 – “This water will satisfy you for today. Jesus will satisfy you for eternity, do you accept him?” it reads above the two taps, in one of the most useful and widely appreciated places in Ciego de Avila today. It is the people’s filtered water service point opened by the Pentecostal Evangelical Church in its Voice of Jubilee Assembly of God Church in the La Guajira neighborhood.

It rains frequently here, but the city suffers a scarcity of potable water. People are afraid to drink the water from the aqueduct network because it is almost always contaminated with sewage waste, due to the abundance of cracks and leaks in the pipes. For the people, in addition, in an environment where hygiene isn’t front and center, this water is one of the few chances to prevent contagious diseases such as cholera, which seems to be here to stay.

The modern filtration equipment has been donated by an evangelical congregation in the United States, which is dedicated to providing this type of assistance to countries facing humanitarian crises, such as Haiti. In Cuba they keep about forty similar pieces of equipment running. In Ciego de Avila province there is another in the Pentecostal church in the Venezuela municipality.

The modern filtration equipment has been donated by an evangelical congregation of the United States

Four days a week (Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday) the doors of the side yard of the church open to all, believers and non-believers, between 2 pm and 11 pm. At first they came with small bottles, but most have already made tanks, tanks and big jugs because, with a single trip and after waiting so long, they are trying to accumulate the water for several days. And the lines are getting longer again. The people waiting when the sun shelter in the doorways all around.

The church can not cope and, lately with very little water falling in the tank, they have to pay for water from the Communal Company’s pipes. A woman carrying several bottles says: “I have two children and I feel very safe when I can be assured of this water. In my house, no one wants to drink any other. But I’m worried, what if this disappears?”

Sign asking people to limit the water they take.
The demand is such that rationing is imposed. (EF)

Given the shortage, the increasing demand and the difficulties, expands fear of a reduction in service. A new sign has appeared on the church gate has caused general concern, as it heralds drastic rationing:

“We have little water, but we want to continue helping with filtered water, therefore, during this situation, we can only give you 5 liters per person. We expect your cooperation, thank you. God bless you.”

A Strange Foreign Policy / 14ymedio, Fernando Damaso

14ymedio, Fernando Damaso, Havana, 1 October 2014 — The foreign policy of the Cuban government, which promised to start with democracy and freedom, soon showed its tendency to ally with authoritarian regimes when it suited the government’s interests.

From the first months of 1959 the Cuban government maintained close economic ties and a careful political deal with the Franco regime, although publicly it criticized it. In the case of Latin America, it interfered in the internal affairs of less like-minded countries and gave its political and logistic support to local guerillas, with the objective of weakening the influence of the United States in the region. Most of the attempts were defeated and failed, not receiving the hoped-for popular support, so it became interested in African countries, where it sent military advisors and even regular Cuban troops.

The African adventures were financed by the Soviet Union in the name of “proletarian internationalism” and with the objective of consolidating socialist influence on the continent. Over more than thirty years and at the cost of damaging its prestige, Cuba unconditionally supported Soviet policy in international forums, even when Moscow intervened militarily in Czechoslovakia in 1968 to liquidate the Prague Spring, or when it invaded Afghanistan eleven years later. continue reading

Whatever the “friends” and the friends of “friends” did received immediate support, and everything the “historic enemy”—the United States—and the friends of the “enemy” did was censored. In fulfilling this irrational principle, the Cuban government increased its support for dictatorial or totalitarian governments in Asia, Africa and even in Latin America. This context includes the strange alliance between Cuba and Argentina between 1976 and 1983, when the military was in power in Buenos Aires. Kezia McKeague, a political scientist specializing in Cuba, explains it in the 50th issue of the Bulletin of the Center for the Opening and Development of Latin America (CADAL).

In this context is the strange alliance between Cuba and Argentina between 1976 and 1983 when the military was in power in Buenos Aires

“While relations were not always optimal, despite the conspicuous ideological differences both governments approached each other regarding the sensitive issue of human rights and established a mutual support, to prevent violations of human rights in both countries being considered at the United Nations, specifically before the [Human Rights] Commission,” Kezia McKeague wrote. The Argentine dictatorship’s then ambassador in Geneva, Gabriel Martinez, described this relationship as “optimal” and “extremely close” adding, “The Cubans always, always supported us and we supported them.” As Cuba chaired the movement of Non-Aligned Countries in those years, it also played an important role in the defense this organization mounted for the Argentine regime, as well as serving as “interlocutor” between the Buenos Aires delegation and Eastern Europe.

In those years, Argentina was looking for support for its claim over the Falkland Island, and it and Cuba needed to prevent the issue of human rights violations from being taken to the United Nations Commission of Human Rights: here is the reason for this strange relationship which, ignoring the ideology and principles so often proclaimed, responded to simple short-term interests.

In later years, Cuban foreign policy has maintained the same course, introducing the practice of “solidarity” as well, through offering and sending specialists in health, education, sports and other areas, as well as awarding scholarships for study in Cuba, receiving in return political support in international forums. While, in Latin America Cuba tries to consolidate a common front against the United States, regardless of the different ideologies, politics, and economies of the countries—The Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) is the principle instrument—in the international arena it continues to maintain close relations with dictatorial governments and extremist movements, giving them its unconditional support: the dynasty that governs North Korea, some of the African countries with long-standing one-man regimes, the “family” regime in Syria, the totalitarian Belarus, or the Islamic Palestinian movement Hamas.

When voting in international organizations our government always starts from ideological principles

If we follow what is published in Cuba, our government and its representatives in international organizations always start from principles of an ideological character when it comes time to vote: supporting Russia in the annexation of the Crimea and condemning Ukraine for trying to defend its territorial integrity; condemning Israel for bombing Palestinian territory but not saying a word about the Palestinian attacks on Israel; sympathetic to Hamas terrorists and those they call patriots and freedom fighters, while accusing the Hebrews of genocide; opposing the bombing of the so-called Islamic State; applauding constitutional changes in “brethren” countries, where their presidents, intoxicated by the enjoyment of power, seek to be reelected indefinitely; they do not hide their sympathy for the Colombian guerrillas and, ultimately, they are against those who question and criticize, albeit respectively, and in favor of those who accept and applaud unconditionally.

Although it is undeniable that, in recent times, the Cuban government has maintained a more pragmatic foreign policy, managing to establish relations with countries with different political, economic and social regimes, and abandoning costly and unproductive offshore military adventures, it has not yet been able to develop a serious and viable policy of normalizing its relations with its principal neighbor, the United States. This constitutes, without a doubt, its principal unresolved foreign policy matter.

The Tokmakjian case and the snares of the law / 14ymedio

Cy-Tokmakjian-Fuente-The-Star_CYMIMA20140930_0002_13
The Canadian businessman Cy Tokmakjian. (Source: The Star)

14ymedio, Havana, Ignacio Varona, 30 September 2014 – Few expected a magnanimous gesture from the Cuban courts toward the Canadian businessman Vahe Cy Tokmakjian. After he was arrested in September 2011, this 74-year-old man was turned into a test case for those thinking of investing in the Island. “If Tokmakjian is judged too harshly, few are going to want to put their money here,” whispered many in charge of businesses at embassies and other market and capital professionals.

The 15-year sentence for the president of the Tokmakjian Group may now seem a gesture of strength on the part of Raul Castro, but the main outcome is the weakening of investor confidence and the withdrawal of capital from the island. The idea has gained strength in diplomatic and business cliques, who placed all their hopes… and their suspicions on the judicial process that started last June.

According to the prosecutor, Tokmakjian was tried for the crimes of bribery, acts to the detriment of economy and contracting activity, fraud, trafficking in hard currency, forgery of bank and business documents, as well as tax evasion. Two other Canadian citizens, managers in the same company,Claudio Franco Vetere and Marco Vinicio Puche, were sentenced to 12 and 8 years in prison, respectively.

The excessive sentences fell not only on the foreign defendants. Fourteen senior officials and Cuban executives were tried in the same process and received sentences of between six and twenty years. Nelson Labrada, former vice minister of Sugar, will spend the next two decades of his life in prison, according to the ruling of the Provincial Court of the Havana.

The main outcome is the weakening of investor confidence and the withdrawal of capital from the island

On learning of the sentences, relatives and defense attorneys let out a cry of horror that had been pent up for three years. The Ontario-based company has denounced “the lack of due process” and the CFO has confessed that the Cuban authorities have demanded some 55 million Canadian dollars from the group to let Tokmakjian walk the streets again.

Freedom has a price for this foreign businessman, although in the case of the Cuban defendants little can be done to lessen their sentences. If it is an act to make an example and stop corruption, as some say, the severity of the punishment was greater for those who don’t hold a passport from the other side of the world.

The sentence has been made public after months of waiting and tons of speculation. Some ventured that with the new Foreign Investment Law, which came into force last June, the Cuban government would “pass the case under the table” to avoid provoking fears among potential entrepreneurs who want to settle in our land.

Others believe that only an exemplary sentence against this group would make the rules clear and avoid future corruption. For those who believe that the accusations against Tokmakjian are substantiated, the law that has fallen upon him with its full weight will deter others from playing tricks with taxes, appealing to patronage and graft, or falsifying accounts.

This second line of opinion, which considers Tokmakjian guilty and deserving of a heavy penalty, ignores that similar actions are taken by figures from the government itself and the family clan that rules the destinies of the nation. “Do as I say, not as I do,” the generals and lieutenant colonels turned career businessmen seem to say. Not holding military rank is a dangerous condition for businesses on this island.

“Do as I say, not as I do,” the generals and lieutenant colonels turned career businessmen seem to say 

Almost a quarter of a century’s presence in Cuba was useless to the Tokmakjian Group in making the prosecutor lenient. Their business group calculated some 100 million dollars of the company’s assets have been confiscated during the judicial process. On top of that, the prosecutor is about to demand some 91 million as compensation for the economic damages allegedly inflicted on the national economy.

Only the Canadian nickel company Sherritt International was ahead of the Tokmakjian Group with regards to commercial operations in Cuba. Specializing in construction and mining equipment, this latter does business worth up to 80 million a year and brings in many of the Hyundai cars that are still circulating in our streets. The niche market they took advantage of included replacement parts and engines for old transport vehicles imported from the Soviet Union.

One could say that Tokmakjian fished in the troubled waters of the lack of business rights for Cubans. He made his fortune when we couldn’t, although that’s not a crime but rather an ethical omission that allowed him to profit where nationals are banned. However, one day he upset someone, and the courts undertook to remind him who rules in this house.

Now, with their offices in Havana closed and sealed, the Tokmakjian Group is claiming in Canadian courts about 200 million dollars from the Cuban government. The case promises to be an interminable sequence of chapters where complaints, negotiations and gestures of clemency or arrogance play out. However, what happens there is beyond the fate of the 17 defendants who have just suffered firsthand the lack of autonomy of the Cuban courts and the regrettable absence of separation of powers.

The harsh sentences against Tokmakjian and the others who were tried is a direct signal to those who believe that they can make easy money in Cuba with the approval of the authorities. The reality is a world of snares: some are activated immediately and others take twenty years to close on the victim.

“Cuba greatly appreciates foreign companies,” according to Tokmakjian / 14ymedio

When the highest Cuban authorities got along with the president of the Tokmakjian Group. (Peter Kent / Huffington Post)
When the highest Cuban authorities got along with the president of the Tokmakjian Group. (Peter Kent / Huffington Post)

In 2010 the Canadian businessman stressed his full confidence in the Island’s authorities in an interview with Excelencias del Motor magazine.

14ymedio, Havana, 30 September 2014 — A year before his arrest in Havana in September 2011, for a host of crimes (bribery, fraud, trafficking in foreign currency, forgery, tax evasion, acts to the detriment of the national economy), the Canadian businessman Cy Tokmakjian, sentenced last week to 15 years in prison, made very positive statements about the business climate in Cuba.

In an interview published in January 2010 in Excelencias del Motor magazine, belonging to a Spanish group with representation on the Island, the owner of the Tokmakjian Group spoke of the success of his company and its projects after 21 years in Cuba.

At that time, the company was expanding with the opening of the technical facilities of Wajay (Havana), Camaguey and Moa (Holguin), which had helped increase the number of Cuban employees from 140 to 230 workers.

The Tokmakjian Group, according to its founder, intended to use Cuban specialists for trade with the rest of Latin America, especially Panama, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and the Dominican Republic. The businessman introduced high-tech equipment to manufacture products in Cuba, “to solve national problems quickly and export from this country,” through joint ventures.

“We have to maneuver carefully not to lose the investment, the support and the confidence we have in Cuba”

Cy Tokmakjian showed no fear, faced with the ravages of the global economic crisis. “I’ve been in Cuba 21 years, I know the current situation in the country. During the years 1991 and 1992, the situation was no better, we are ‘accustomed’ to working in difficult times,” he explained. “The parent company in Canada trusts Cuba and the Cubans, which allows flexible receipts and payments; we expect Cuba will recover; we will continue doing business. However, we have to maneuver carefully, not to lose the investment, the support and the confidence we have in Cuba. We are all working on this together, Canadians and Cubans,” he added.

“Cuba greatly appreciates the foreign companies that continue to work in Cuba through difficult times. Together, Cubans and Canadians, we maintain an ethic, a principle, and mutual assistance,” he revealed.

The number of foreigners living in Cuba has dropped dramatically / 14ymedio

Population and Housing Census 2012
Population and Housing Census 2012

14ymedio, Havana, 30 September 2014 – The National Statistics Office recorded a sharp drop in the number of foreign residents in Cuba, which in 2012 represented only 0.05 percent of the population. The figure is well below the 15 percent share of the foreign population based on the Island during the 1970s.

These data are included in the census conducted in 2012, which also points to a growing trend of population shift to Cuba’s cities, especially toward Havana. Of those who migrate internally in Cuba, 46.1 percent are men.

A note in the newspaper Granma notes that people who move to Havana Come primarily from the provinces of Holguín, Granma, Santiago de Cuba and Guantanamo. Proportionally Havana is also the province with the largest number of native residents who do not emigrate—followed by Mayabeque, Matanzas and Artemis, while Guantánamo keeps the smallest number of its natives followed by Pinar del Rio and Cienfuegos.
The search for better pay as well as better opportunities to improve one’s condition and for recreations were the main reasons that sparked internal migration.

Tiananmen Returns / Yoani Sanchez

The Tank Man became internationally known, caught standing before a column of tanks in the Tiananmen revolt (1989)
The Tank Man became internationally known, caught standing before a column of tanks in the Tiananmen revolt (1989)

14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 30 September 2014 – Memory can rarely be put to rest. Memories don’t understand permissions or authorizations, they return, period. For a quarter of a century the Chinese government has tried to erase the events of Tiananmen Square, but now the thousands of young people who are protesting on the streets of Hong Kong evoke them. It’s hard not to think of that man with the shopping bag stationed in front of tank, while looking at these people who demand the resignation of an official as servile to Beijing as he is unpopular.

Twenty-five years of trying to clean up the official history of what happened in that other social explosion that ended in the most brutal repression hasn’t accomplished much. Those streets full of peaceful but exhausted people show it. However, there are also great differences between the 1989 revolt in the Asian giant and the current demonstrations in their “special administrative region.” The fundamental change is that we are participants—from our televisions, digital newspapers and social networks—in every moment the people of Hong Kong are experiencing. The lack of information that surrounded the Tiananmen Square protests now has its counterpart in a barrage of tweets, photos and videos coming from thousands of mobile phones

For how many years will the Chinese government try to erase what is happening today? How will they strengthen the Great Firewall within the country so that people don’t know what is happening so close by? The violent repression of last Sunday only serves to add to the determination and the number of protestors in the streets of the ex-British colony. However, despite the multitudes and the numerous digital screens shining in the Hong Kong night, memory persists in taking us back to one man. An individual who was returning from the market and decided that the treads of a tank were not going to crush his remaining civility. Twenty-five years later, reality is echoing his gesture.