Cuba and the United States will reestablish diplomatic relations / 14ymedio

Telephone conversation between Barack Obama and Raul Castro. (Source: The White House)
Telephone conversation between Barack Obama and Raul Castro. (Source: The White House)

14medio, Washington, 17 December 2014 (With information from agencies) — Cuba and the United States will reestablish bilateral relations. The announcement was made this Wednesday after it became known that the American prisoner Alan Gross had been released in response to a humanitarian request from Washington. In exchange, Barack Obama’s administration released the three Cuban spies from the group called “The Five,” who were still serving sentences in the United States, according to the Twitter account of René González, one of the group who had been released in 2011, after completing his sentence.

Gross, 65, “has already left Cuba on a plane bound for the United States,” said a White House source. “He was released on humanitarian grounds by the Cuban government, following a request from the United States,” the source added, after serving five years of a 15 year sentence for “threats against the security of the State.” continue reading

The White House denied that US president Barack Obama would visit Cuban during the two years remaining in his term of office.

Obama made a statement from the White House in which he announced the immediate resumption of relations with Cuba, as well as the outlines of a new policy. “Neither the American, nor Cuban people are well served by a rigid policy that is rooted in events that took place before most of us were born.”

Cuban president Raúl Castro also offered a speech in which he stated that, in a telephone conversation with Obama, they had “agreed to the reestablishment of diplomatic relations. This doesn’t mean that the main issue has been resolved: the economic blockade.”

The New York Times reported that Havana and Washington undertook secret negotiations in Canada over the last 18 months, encouraged by Pope Francisco. The dialog culminated in a meeting at the Vatican. Pope Francisco announced he was “deeply pleased” by the historic decision.

Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro, speaking from the Mercosur Summit now being held in Buenos Aires, also welcomed the reestablishment of relations, calling it a “historic rectification.”

The situation of Alan Gross – arrested in 2009 for distributing satellite telecommunications equipment while serving as a subcontractor to the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), and sentenced in 2011 – was seen as the main obstacle to a normalization of relations between the United States and Cuba.

Washington had refused to consider the possibility of a prisoner exchange with Cuba. Gross repeatedly criticized the lack of an effort on the part of the US government for his release, and this year undertook a week-long hunger strike to pressure the White House.

Obama: “We are making these changes because it is the right thing to do” / 14ymedio

Obama during his speech
Obama during his speech

14ymedio, Havana, 17 December 2014 – US President Barack Obama announced in a speech from the White House this Wednesday that Cuba and the United States would resume diplomatic relations after the break that occurred in 1961.

“Neither the American, nor Cuban people are well served by a rigid policy that is rooted in events that took place before most of us were born.” Obama said. “We are making these changes because it is the right thing to do.”

The president said that the current classification of Cuba as a state sponsor of terrorism will also be reviewed.

The US Secretary of State will initiate conversations with Cuba “immediately” and it is expected that in the coming months the United States will open an embassy in Cuba. The first step in this process will be to address the issue of immigration between the two countries at a meeting scheduled for this coming January in Havana. continue reading

United States actions in Cuba, Obama said, will focus on improving conditions with regards to human rights and the implementation of democratic reforms in Cuba, as well as other issues of mutual interest, such as immigration, counter-narcotics, environmental protection, and human trafficking.

The White House also announced changes with regards to travel, such as favoring the expansion of general permits for travel to Cuba for all authorized travelers, or the ability to use American credit and debit cards on the island, and easing the policy on remittances. With regards to the latter the allowable amount will be increased from $500 per quarter to $2000, and will no longer require a license specific to the expediter.

Also authorized is the expansion of sales and commercial exports of certain goods and services from the United States (for example, some construction materials or agricultural machinery), as well as allowing travelers returning from the island to import a maximum of $400 in goods, of which no more than $100 may consist of a combination of tobacco and alcohol products.

Obama said that the United States will offer its support to increase Cubans’ access to communications, both through the commercial export of certain goods and the authorization for service providers to implement the mechanisms necessary to provide commercial telephone and Internet services.

“This April, we are prepared to have Cuba join the other nations of the hemisphere at the Summit of the Americas, but we will insist that civil society join us so that citizens, not just leaders, are shaping our future.” The US president will be present at the meeting in Panama at which topics such as human rights and democracy will be discussed.

Alan Gross, the hook that ended up being swallowed / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

Demonstrations demanding the release of Alan Gross
Demonstrations demanding the release of Alan Gross

14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 17 December 2014 – With the pessimism that has now become chronic in our society, many Cubans thought that Alan Gross would only leave Cuba, “in a box,” in an image allusive of a fatal outcome. The stubbornness shown by the Cuban government in its relations with the United States didn’t presage a short-term solution for the contractor. This Wednesday, however, he has been exchanged for three Cuban spies imprisoned in the United States, bringing to a close a long and complicated political chapter for both parties.

Gross was only useful alive and his health was rapidly deteriorating. And Raul Castro knew this very well. Hence, in recent months he raised the decibels around the proposed exchange for the agent Antonio Guerrero and the officials Ramón Labañino and Gerardo Hernández, all serving long sentences in the prisons of our neighbor to the north. To the extent that the 65-year-old contractor grew thin and lost his vision, official campaigns grew increasingly insistent about the exchange. When Gross threatened to kill himself, the alarms if the island’s government went off and the negotiating schedule accelerated. continue reading

Barack Obama, for his part, made clear that any change in policy toward Havana would come up against the insurmountable obstacle of an American imprisoned for “threats against the security of the State.” Even the New York Times had suggested an exchange in one of its editorials on Cuba, and the publication of that text in such a prestigious newspaper was read as a preview of what would happen. As in every political game, we see only one part, while in the intricacies of power the threads of the agreement made public just today were being woven.

For those of us who know the mechanism of pressure used by the Plaza of the Revolution toward its opponents, the capture of Gross itself was a move aimed at recovering the Interior Ministry’s agents. The contractor wasn’t arrested for what he did, but rather for what they could do with him. It was a simple hook and he was aware of this from the beginning. His crime was not in having brought satellite equipment to connect the Cuban Jewish community to the Internet, but rather in carrying in his pocket a passport that immediately converted him into a medium of exchange on the board of tense bilateral relations between Washington and Havana.

If we review the five years of captivity endured by Gross, we see a well-designed information script that the Cuban government used to put pressure on the Obama administration. Each image that came to light publicly, each visitor allowed to see him, was authorized with the sole condition of reinforcing the exchange proposal. In this way, the Castro regime has managed to get its way. It has managed to exchange a peaceful man, embarked on the humanitarian adventure of providing connectivity to a group of Cubans, for intelligence agents that caused significant damage and sorrow with their actions.

In the game of politics, totalitarian regimes manage to win over democracies because the former control the public opinion inside their countries, determine all legal results to suit their purposes, and can continue to waste their nation’s resources trying to free the moles they sent to their adversary’s camp. Democracies, however, end up conceding because they must answer to their own people, they must live with an incisive press that criticizes them for making or not making certain decisions, and because they are forced to do everything possible bring their dead and alive back home.

The Castro regime has won, although the positive result is that Alan Gross has emerged alive from a prison that promised to turn into his grave. Now, we can expect long weeks of cheering and slogans in which the Cuban government will proclaim itself a victor in its latest battle. But, there is no space in the national pantheon for so many still-breathing heroes, and little by little, the recently returned agents will lose importance and visibility. The myth created for them from a distance will begin to fade.

With the main obstacle for the re-establishment of diplomatic relations eliminated, the only unknown is the next step. Is the Cuban government planning another move to return to a position of force vis-a-vis the US government? Or are all the cards on the table this time, before the weary eyes of a population that anticipates that the Castro regime will also win the next move.

Translated by Mary Jo Porter and Ernesto Suarez

The Wall of Tears / Reinaldo Escobar

The wall of tears at the Jose Marti International Airport. (14ymedio)
The wall of tears at the Jose Marti International Airport. (14ymedio)

14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, 16 December 2014 – In the days when Havana has as its only airport what we know today as Terminal 1, there was a wide unroofed terrace from which we said goodbye to family and friends. Many times, forever.

When Terminal 3 opened, it was no longer possible to see, from land, the so often filmed scene of the instant when people climb the airplane steps, but one chance was left. On the second floor there was a glass covered deck from which it was possible to look out, to see our loved ones pass after having gone through immigration and the security checkpoint. Connoisseurs of this detail took the opportunity to throw a kiss or make some meaningful gesture. This site was given the name “the wall of tears.”

One fine day they remodeled the building, hanging a false ceiling, relocating the shops and cafes, and replacing the transparent windows with opaque glass, or perhaps they merely painted it. No one offered an explanation They say that the order to block visibility came from a retired general who, at that time, directed airport operations.
Why? You go figure. We can speculate that the former military man, infected with chronic secrecy, wanted to avoid “any information leaking” at the final minute, or simply showed a lack of human feelings.

Now the wall remains blank. In some places you can see where someone tried to scrape the white paint off the glass, but every scrape has been quickly repaired. When Havana, someday, has an airport worthy of it, there will be magnificent tunnels leading to the doors of every airplane, but by that time travel will not be as dramatic, nor as difficult.

The Privilege of Living in Cuba / 14ymedio, Cederistin Dominguez

14ymedio, CEDERISTIN DOMINGUEZ, 10 December 2014 — The independent press that usually criticizes the Cuban government using human rights as a pretext should come out into the street today, December 10. Our children, especially those in primary school, will be playing, jumping and doing pirouettes in all Havana’s main plazas. Representatives from the United Nations, the foreign press and especially the national press will enjoy a great time there, watching the carnival of happiness and color that the children will give them spontaneously and voluntarily.

How do I know? Well, because I have lived in Cuba my whole life, and I know our children, and they are very prone to playing on the tenth of December… Why this day? Well, I don’t know, the truth is that now that you ask me it is a little strange. . . It’s cold, it rains and it is a school day.

What I do know is that it coincidentally matches the world day of human rights and at least our children will not be bored in cages learning mathematics, physics or Spanish. After all, we are barbarians in all that. continue reading

But while I do not “cover the sun with a finger,” I also criticize what is badly done. For example, a very pretty activity that they should do more often with the children is acts of repudiation. The last time my boy told me that an old lady almost died while they were dragging her son and that they crushed a pile of people. Those things are very important so that children learn to behave and don’t turn out later to be like those vulgar youth who are rather critical of Raul.

Over there, those strange countries have even prohibited parties and governments from using children for politics. And they call that democracy? Here there is democracy and how. Check it out, even the newborns and fetuses, although they are unaware of their own existences, are already defending the revolution on the national news.

That is what our enemies will not pardon us for. The traitors are determined only to see the little specks in the eye, no different from the whole world’s, and from that they make a huge problem. So what if those children, when they grow up, will not be able to elect their own government, so what if they earn a laughable salary, so what if half of them by age 25 will no longer be here (having gone into exile), so what if they are expelled from their universities or their jobs if they think differently, they will not be able to associate or meet or access the internet, yadda yadda. The same old song as always… The good thing is that the people are aware that all that is false.

Look, why don’t they talk about the beauty of the choreography that the children are doing? Much more open and improvised than that of the Chinese or North Korean children. Here each child throws a ball, jumps or laughs when he feels like it… That is a the painful truth, but of course, that is not what they see… What interests them is all that bunch of nonsense that the neighbors from the north and the Europeans have put in their heads. That’s why we suspended the meeting that we had planned for these days with those evil freaks.

Okay, I am going to grab my raincoat and go out for a walk because today for sure they will sell sweet cookies in the street, and I have to take advantage…

Translated by MLK

Are You One of Those Human Rights People? / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 9 December 2014 — Victims of political illiteracy — as so aptly described by Dagoberto Valdés — many people do not know the difference between being a member of an opposition party, a civil society activist, an independent journalist or a protester in their own right. All are usually accommodated under a single definition: “Those human rights people.”

I’m not going to give a history here — which needs to be written – of the Cuban movement in defense of human rights. In the last thirty years, several have specialized in researching, noting and reporting on violations committed in the country of those rights enshrined in the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights issued on 10 December 1948. continue reading

Such has been the hostility of the Cuban authorities to these claims, that in more than one act of repudiation voices have been heard to vociferously scream the infamous slogan, “Down with Human Rights!” This demonization has reached such an extreme that for many years the mere allusion that you have a right to something has been seen as suspicious.

Who are those who dare to approach, to jump the barriers of fear? Strangers who knock on the door, telephone calls from prison, old friends who reappear. Anyone who has seen their rights violated and has dared to go through their own Via Cruces of legal appeals, including the useless visit to the Council of State’s Office of Attention to the Population, or the call to the prosecutor’s new phone numbers when there is no other recourse, then he or she seeks out one of those “human rights people.”

The moral force of this dreaded spectrum, typecast as mercenaries in the pay of the empire, has been growing. I know of cases that are invoked as a threat, ”If you don’t resolve this problem I’m going to go to those human rights people, and see what you are going to do about it!” says the lady who built an bedroom extension on her house that they now want to make her demolish; or the worker in the process of retiring who claims a few years of service are missing from his file; or those convicted without proof, fined for no reason, the self-employed worker whose license they are going to revoke, someone who suffers a confiscation, a search; in short, all those being run over.

It is not enough to explain that others dedicate themselves to this issue, including journalists, independent librarians, or the creators of a political platform. In the end they don’t understand and they say to you, “I know you are one of those human rights people,” and there is no way to convince them that they should approach another specialist on this issue. We end up hearing the case and helping the injured.

How would you react? Would you, perhaps, tell me that you aren’t one of those human rights people either?

The Fall of an Untouchable / 14ymedio

José Antonio Fraga Castro. (Still from Vimeo)
José Antonio Fraga Castro. (Still from Vimeo)

Labiofam relieves José Antonio Fraga Castro, Fidel Castro’s nephew, from his post as president

14ymedio, Havana, 8 December 2014 — The company Labiofam will replace José Antonio Fraga Castro as president of the group. Last Thursday, during a meeting with the directors of the business group, included on the day’s agenda was the application of a sanction to the leader, Fidel and Raul Castro’s nephew. The company’s workers commented that the punishment was motivated by his participation in the decisions about the development and possible commercialization of the perfumes “Ernesto” and “Hugo,” inspired by the figures of Ernesto Guevara and Hugo Chavez, respectively.

Fraga, to avoid an administrative and labor sanction that would “stain his record” decided to announce his retirement. On Saturday the news was communicated to the workers, and in the coming days it’s expected that a new person will be designated to fill his job.

At the end of September, Fraga had to present his apologies to the families of Hugo Chavez and Ernesto Che Guevara, after the persistent circulation of rumors about the commercialization of some perfumes with their names. The president of Labiofam alleged that it was the result of an “ill-intentioned and distorted focus” in one of the company presentations at a congress this year. continue reading

The perfumes Hugo and Ernesto
The perfumes Hugo and Ernesto

Labiofam lambasted the American Associated Press agency for having published an article about the creation of the perfumes, which had not yet been registered or commercialized under those names. The official press intervened in the controversy, and repudiated the commercialization of the perfumes, recalling that, “the symbols of yesterday, today and forever are sacred.”

Choreography of an Interrogation / 14ymedio, Victor Ariel Gonzalez

Arrests at a gathering on Human Rights Day (14ymedio)
Arrests at a gathering on Human Rights Day (14ymedio)

“Sit down!” ordered ‘Number One.’

“I’m comfortable like this, thanks,” I responded.

14ymedio, VICTOR ARIEL GONZALEZ, Havana, 12 December 2014 — “But you didn’t come here to be comfortable,” he concluded, and for once we were in agreement on something, Number One and I: I was not comfortable. It was Human Rights Day, which in Cuba is a sad date, and a mob of agents dressed in civilian clothes had arrested me together with other journalists as well as dozens of independent activists.

I was taken by force from the bus on which I was returning to the editorial office after taking photographs in the middle of Vedado, and also stripped of my mobile phone from which they also erased information. They put me into a patrol car that was parked at the corner of 21 and L, where they transferred me to bus full of uniformed police officers at the park at 21 and H. From there, accompanied again by plainclothes agents, they took me in a private car and I came to stop at the Aguilera station, an old barracks from the Batista police era.

Obviously, no one feels comfortable if they are trounced like that. During my trip to the Aguilera cells they held me without handcuffing me, maybe hoping for some violent reaction on my part so they could beat me up right there or later insinuate that I am one of them and therefore “they were treating me well.” That’s how these State Security guys work, mine also spoke of “accidents” that have happened because of not handcuffing arrestees. “What I am committing is a violation of procedure,” said the man next to me, in the rear seat of the Greely. True: It is a violation that unknown perpetrators kidnap a free citizen. continue reading

Returning to the scene of the interrogation, here I am next to a couple of henchmen who shared that December 10 with me. I will describe them: ‘Number One’ is older and calls himself Javier. His supposed position as lieutenant colonel was let drop by ‘Number Two,’ who had earlier identified himself as “Captain Ricardo” and is quite a bit younger.

When they brought me up to the interrogation rooms, Number Two was waiting for me, and his intervention started badly. He called me a “spoiled little boy” and “frustrated engineer.” Number One then arrived, authoritarian and even more unpleasant, his head polished by a splendid shave. “Sit down!” had been almost his first words directed to me, because the beginning phase of the choreography of the interrogation was intimidation or the attempt to establish authority.

Seeing that I would only be allowed to speak when they wanted me to, I tried to remain quiet most of the time. I wanted them to end their diatribe as soon as possible. One told me, among other things, to learn “to listen” and drop the “stobbornness” – he meant to say “stubbornness.” Number Two insisted, “You have problems, you have problems, you have problems.” The choreography was in phase two: informative-educational.

In that part of the dance Number One left the room, then entered to interrupt Number Two and then left again. The third act was when Number One interrupted his subordinate again, I don’t remember much of his discourse, and he said from the open door in a paternal and severe tone: “Your brother . . . came looking for you,” concluding with “We’re going to free you soon.”

Before describing the choreography’s fourth act, that of the threat, I find it imperative to clarify something about these guys: It is well for them to know that they do not have to “free” me, simply because I am already free. Freedom, more than walking around on a slave island and in a dilapidated city that individuals like my interrogators police and terrorize, is a state of grace.

They are less free than I because they obey orders, and because they feel the need to arrest someone who thinks differently in order to try to demonstrate that they are stronger. But it is easy to see that they are scared to death, because when they display their little borrowed power – in this country the powerful really are not they, but their bosses – they only demonstrate how startled they are that a little group of peaceful people like me think and express themselves differently.

Watch out for fear, officers, it cuts both ways. The act threat act in your interrogation served to reaffirm my conviction that there will be no going back. You will be able to threaten me and my family, but I will keep writing while I have the means.

Really, you have left me no other option. I only hope that by the next choreography you will have rehearsed your macabre dance a little more and studied the script better.

Translated by MLK

Matraka Productions regrets that the Associated Press “Revelations” damage the independent cultural sector / 14ymedio

14ymedio, 12 December 2014 – The independent promoter Matraka Productions expressed its regret in a statement about the damage the Associated Press has done to the unofficial cultural sector by linking the receipt of grants from the US to allegedly subversive actions. This Thursday the American agency published the results of an investigation, which claims that the Agency for International Development (USAID) promoted rap and hip-hop groups critical of the government.

USAID has played down the information from the AP and recalls that it is known that the agency “supports programs of civil society in Cuba and other restrictive environments” as part of the actions of the US government to promote democracy, a spokesperson told the EFE press agency. “Any claim that our work is secret or covert it is simply false,” he said.

The official press has published in its entirety the extensive AP investigation, as well as the documents in support of it, as they have also done with reports from the same American press agency on other USAID alleged covert operations such as ZunZuneo. continue reading

“In the ongoing investigation by AP, in their righteous grandeur, they have determined to exempt from responsibility those that catalog as “receivers unaware” of the origin of the funds. And they identify as manipulators, scammers and illegals in offshore activities the private contractors and companies who were clearly employed as implementers and in the US-Cuba dispute,” says Matraka in a communication sent to 14ymedio.

“We fear that these revelations are going to contribute to a radicalization in the authorities’ view of the independent cultural sector of our society, and the perspective that there might be an authentic civil society, capable of generating its own initiatives and discerning its interests. With these kinds of scandal, national public option gets the idea that any subsidy is synonymous with subversion, and that any grantee may itself be a subversive element.”

Matraka Productions spoke of the difficulties that face independent artists on the island, who are subject to censorship. “The reasons for such a wide range of prohibitions are always put forward on behalf of a universal revolutionary judgment: the American enemy!!”

For this reason, the promoter reemphasized his “Cubanness” and the right of artists to seek sources of alternative funding for the survival of their work. “We do not, nor can we, feel guilty before the revelations of a foreign press agency: we do not feel guilt for looking for sources of funding to do the work as we shape it. We don’t feel obliged to seek the indulgence or approval of anyone. We don’t feel guilty for trying ‘to change everything that should be changed*.’”

*Translator’s note: A phrase from Fidel Castro’s speech delivered on 1 May 2000 in Havana’s Plaza of the Revolution.

The Spell of Havana / 14ymedio, José Gabriel Barrenechea

The Historic Spanish Dance Society in Havana (BDG)
The Historic Spanish Dance Society in Havana (BDG)

14ymedio, José Gabriel Barrenechea, Havana, 9 December 2014 – One of my earliest memories is of my young self, singing, Set fire, set fire to the lock [of hair], while riding in a bus operated by Havana’s public transportation system. The other passengers around me laugh and a lady with sweet and mirthful eyes exclaims again and again, “That little blonde boy is a hellion!”

Havana at that time to me was that marvelous city which I would enter at dawn, riding through the tunnel, staying alert so as not to miss the fire station on Prado Street. Or it was that city which I would exit generally by train, at night, but not before stopping at la Casita de Martí [José Martí’s Little House]. All of this was in spite of the fact that my parents and I would go to Havana twice a year, in January and June.

Our agenda for our visits was always the same: the Aquarium and the 26th Avenue Zoo, with its little lead soldiers at the entrance, its bold squirrels that seemed not so much wild creatures as denizens of some tenement on Colón Street, the shit-flinging monkeys, the little train…and another day, to Lenin Park and the Botanical Garden. We would cover Old Havana by a route that invariably ended up in The Fort and its armories – at least until the day I stopped throwing tantrums to avoid embarking on the little Regla ferry, and then the tour would end with a slow cruise to park in that so-called “ultramarine town.” Then it was off to the Coppelia ice cream stand on any given day and later, in the afternoon, a stroll up and down the Malecón, re-enacting in the capital that small-town custom of zigzagging along the main street of Encrucijada. Such was the only way to pass the evenings in some innocent little town of the interior in those marvelous ‘70s.

Sometimes, in January, there might also be a visit to El Cerro Stadium, as our friend Ñico Rutina insisted on calling the Latin American Stadium, for my father and me to watch a baseball game. It didn’t matter who was playing whom, what my old man cared about (and still does, at 83) was enjoying the game, not being fanatical about a particular team. Our day trip would then conclude with the aforementioned visits to about a hundred of my parents’ relatives and close friends. All this to say – considering that we would alternate our stays among my Aunt Leopoldina’s house in Párraga; my Aunt Emilia’s house in the Little Cave of San Miguel de Padrón; or that of my Great Aunt Victoria in La Víbora – it can be seen that, at least on the east side of the Almendares River, very little of Havana escaped our routine itineraries for visits and outings.

Already by then, I could not escape the spell of Havana. Where people talked, walked, looked, breathed, and loved with ease, and “right” was “rye” [Translator’s Note: Habaneros are known among Cubans elsewhere on the Island for their rapid speech and lazy pronunciation of consonants]. Where defiant mulattos grew their sideburns long and dressed in the manner of their great-great-grandfathers, flashy black men in the days of the fleets. When from time to time could be heard, along some parallel street, the slow-moving cassock of one of the few remaining priests on the Island. When the stray cats were fat, not like those puny ones on Encrucijada Street, and actors in the latest adventure films might surprise you on any street corner.

“Where will all these memories go when I die?” I ask myself at times, like the android in Blade Runner. “Will that moment disappear with me when, for the first time, I watched a ship enter Havana Bay from the Point, while two other vessels lying at anchor waited their turn?” Or, fast-forwarding almost 40 years, there is an eternity in which I will always live in the entire night I spent with Her in a room on L Street, almost touching the sea, and at times would be surprised by the murmurs of another woman: Sleeping Havana?

I cannot answer these questions. I only know that upon learning of Havana having been selected as one of the Seven Wonders Cities of the World, all those memories have rushed to my throat. In any case something will remain, as today persists in our culture that spirit of the Athens of 500 BC, when a boy hand-in-hand with his father, regarded on a certain clear morning of the splendorous Mediterranean summer the road to Piraeus.

Because Havana, more than an obvious ruin, is a spirit, a soul, a mature woman with miles on her but still more beautiful than any 20-year-old. A certain something will persist when the tyrants and their henchmen no longer occupy more than a couple lines in the annals of history. A certain something to which all of us Cubans are joined in greater or lesser measure, and which provides the measure to explain why we love to exaggerate, to say that we Cubans “We Cubans are the greatest thing God ever conceived in this great wide world.”

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

At Least 34 Activists Detained In Cuba on Human Rights Day / 14ymedio

Ladies in White put in police cars. (14ymedio)
Ladies in White put in police cars. (14ymedio)

14ymedio, 10 December 2014 — At least 34 activists have been detained so far in various locations of the country on the occasion of the celebration of Human Rights Day this Wednesday. In Havana are reported some 20 arrests of opponents who tried to reach the meetings opposite the Yara room, one of the headquarters for the Havana Film Festival, which started six days ago. Among those are at least 18 Ladies in White and members of the New Republic movement, intercepted when they headed towards Vedado in order to participate in the announcement by Berta Soler and driven to the Calabazar zone. Before the arrests, some activists yelled, “Down with the dictatorship and long live human rights!” After the first arrests, dozens of Government partisans approached the place, yelling, “Long live Fidel, long live Raul!”

A reporter from 14ymedio, present at the location of the incidents, could confirm the detention of several Ladies in White who began to arrive, separately, to the well-known corner. At first, only civilians were seen, the so-called enraged people, awaiting the activists. However, as the time of the announcement approached, there appeared several uniformed officers and police cars. One of the women from this human rights defense group who managed to get to the place was forced into one of the cars.

Security agent Carlos Serpa Maceira, present at the location, has threatened Luzbely Escobar, one of the reporters for this daily, who took photographs of the arrests. After a three-hour detention, the journalist has been set free. Security agents, especially bothered by her participation in the Havana Film Festival and her credentials for press conferences, have warned her that she cannot “present herself as 14ymedio at official sites.” Another 14ymedio reporter, Victor Ariel Gonzalez, was also arrested on this day and freed on Wednesday night.

The downtown Havana corner of 23rd and L has dawned between expectation and the most absolute vigilance. The announcement several days ago by the Ladies in White to meet at this point of the city to commemorate Human Rights Day made the government activate all its machinery to prevent it. Last night a children’s activity at the Coppelia ice cream stand was announced on national television, a frequent practice used by authorities to neutralize dissident gatherings.

In the Calixto Garcia township in Holguin, some 20 Security agents do not let pass anyone who wanted to enter an activity about human rights.

In Puerto Padre, Las Tunas, only a dozen activists have managed to get to the place they had given as the location for celebrating Human Rights Day, while at least ten others have been arrested.

In Tunas Park, two dissidents have been arrested and many others have not been allowed to get to the house of David Gonzalez, where an event was going to be held in commemoration of the date.

At this time in Guantanamo, there are 35 activists at the headquarters of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU) and one detained. Some special troops from the Ministry of the Interior since last night have surrounded the Altamira neighborhood in Santiago de Cuba, where the headquarters of the organization is. Nevertheless, in the morning hours some activists have managed to get to the most important market of the city to share statements about human rights among attendees at the site and also were able to hold a brief ceremony in reference to the subject. In Altamira, barely five activists have been able to participate in an event by the organization because the police will not permit them to pass.

Gathering in Havana on Human Rights Day. (14ymedio)
Gathering in Havana on Human Rights Day. (14ymedio)

The foreign press was also present at the site, and several activists have loudly denounced surveillance around their homes. In Palmarito de Cauto, the meeting will be in the afternoon, but Security forces have been present since early in the day, since the Communist Party has organized a “people party” with beer provided, and no passage allowed, in order to occupy the dissident meeting places in the area. The officials have gathered several people across from the headquarters of UNPACU and threatened that if they do not remove posters alluding to the date, there will be reprisals like those of last Friday where there was much violence.

Several activities are planned for the next hours. On the Island of Juventud, in Nueva Gerona, an event will be held at 2 pm.

In Mella there is also found a strong police operation even though there are no activities scheduled.

Translated by MLK

Note: This is and updated and expanded version of information reported in a previous article published earlier in the police operation. 

The Counterrevolutionary Activities of the Associated Press / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 11 December 2014 — After reading the latest investigation published by the Associated Press involving Cuban musicians, I no longer have the least doubt that the AP is developing the most subtle and treacherous counterrevolutionary campaign of all time. Obviously I don’t have the documents that certify the identity of those who are financing this investigative journalistic project, but at least I know they are not doing it for free and that money must come from some fund.

The atmosphere related in their dispatches – government control over artistic creation, the circulation of information, and the ability of people to gather together – gives the impression that there is a police state in Cuba, where agreement is synonymous with conspiracy and where information is necessarily an arm in the hands of the enemy of the country.

In the latest link in the long chain of articles focused on this secret mission, the Cuban government is compared with that of Slobodan Milosevic and they do it with the ingenious recourse of matching the methods used to overthrow this disgraceful regime with the activities which, from within, are undertaken by some other discontented who, according to the AP, have similar objectives.

What I cannot understand is how the clever State Security agents and the talented members of the editorial board of Cubadebate don’t realize that they are playing into the game of this sophisticated smear campaign, surely generated at those American Intelligence sites that don’t even leave traces of their plans, as USAID and other entities have.

Soon we will see the effect of this work when, in front of television cameras, several Cuban artists will admit their panic, their willingness to betray and offer their expressions of regret. The worst is that the senior officials of State Security will be very pleased with these results, without suspecting that in some nameless office their worst enemies will be toasting to the success achieved.

How we are going to laugh when everything is declassified!


Cardinal Bertone returns to Cuba / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

Tarcisio Bertone with Felipe Perez Roque in Havana in 2008. (Reuters)
Tarcisio Bertone with Felipe Perez Roque in Havana in 2008. (Reuters)

14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 12 December 2014 — Six years ago Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone came through the front door to Cuba. This December, however, he has returned on a private visit which is evidence of the discrete recognition of failure. For the former Vatican Foreign Minister, the time between one stay and another has been filled with missteps. This is a man who returns in disgrace. Just like what has happened with the “Raul reforms” that he validated with his presence.

Cardinal Bertone has arrived on the Island to mark the Feast of the Immaculate Conception of Mary, but on this occasion, far from the cameras and the presidential palace. The man who helped to coordinate the visit of Pope Benedict XVI to our country, has participated this week in the consecration in Santa Clara of a sanctuary to the Virgin of Charity del Cobre, Cuba’s patron saint.

Now, he prefers the ecclesiastical circles and has returned to the Cobre Sanctuary, where he said mass. The context today is very different from his previous stay, a few days after the installation of Raul Castro as president, which the prelate described as a “special, extraordinary moment.” In that February, he also asserted that the General “will continue (…) with a vision, if at all possible, of development.” However, the reality on display this December is stubbornly to the contrary.

The Cuba he is returning to is far from the hopes that some sheltered with the coming to power of Fidel Castro’s brother. Part of the Cuban population imagined the possibilities of an economic and political opening. However, the economic flexibilities ended up untying some knots only to tie others, and civil liberties never arrived.

Six years ago, Bertone said that he would have a conversation with “clarity, sincerity, an exchange,” with the new president, but the president seems not to have listened. The price paid by the former Vatican Foreign Minister for this family photo with the Government was high. While officialdom protected him, the most critical sector of the Catholic Church doesn’t look kindly on that embrace between the sickle and the cross. Excluding the dissidents from any possible dialog with the Cardinal, also signaled the bias of his point of view.

Accustomed to moving influences and cooking up agreements, the Vatican number two thought he could unstick the wheels of change. He met with Cuba’s Foreign Minister, Felipe Perez Roque, who a few weeks later would be ousted and accused by Fidel Castro himself of having become addicted to “the honey of power.” Those faces that once welcomed him with smiles, today are no longer here or are in hiding.

Bertone, who was also the Secretary of the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (the Holy Office), came six years ago to teach at a conference in the Main Hall of the University of Havana. Even the newspaper Granma had something of the odor of incense in those days and published a communication from the Cuban bishops, in which they called on Raul Castro to take “transcendental measures” to satisfy the “anxieties and concerns expressed by Cubans.”

Bertone already saw his name in the history of Cuba. The mass that he celebrated in Havana Cathedral focused on the search for larger spaces for the Church within Cuba. In exchange for the ability to gain this space, he accepted all the concessions required. He adopted the official discourse against the “American blockade,” he didn’t meet with regime opponents, and he validated the flexibilizations offered by power as the path to the dreamed of country.

Today, Bertone is not who he was… nor is Cuba what he predicted. Said to have mismanaged influence, now separated from the epicenter of Vatican power, and touched by the scandal of the letters revealed by Benedict XVI’s butler, the man who has come to this Island is a shadow. But the Raul regime reforms are also shadows. Economic relaxations that haven’t managed, after more than five years since they began, to allow Cubans to live in dignity, nor have they provided larger spaces of freedom.

Chance or destiny – who knows? – this time the Bertone’s mass at El Cobre coincides with International Human Rights Day. A few kilometers from the sanctuary where he addressed the congregation, dozens of activists have been confined to their homes, threatened, and some of them have been arrested to prevent their participating in events planned to celebrate this date. The Cuba he did not want to see on his previous trip is knocking on the door with a call that combines desperation and reproach.

Parades and rights / Yoani Sanchez

Arrests in Havana on Human Rights Day (14ymedio)
Arrests in Havana on Human Rights Day (14ymedio)

Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 10 December 2014 — The carnival was planned for days, months. The background music would slogans and false joy. The venue, the same Havana corner where the Ladies in White were called to remember the International Day of Human Rights. Meanwhile, the “corps de ballet” would consist of workers and students – taken from their workplaces and teachers – to occupy the site chosen by the activists. There would be no lack of food kiosks and some provincial towns added huge trucks dispensing beer because, in our case, instead of bread and circuses, the formula is alcohol and repression.

Then it was time for the parade. Around the Coppelia ice cream stand, in Havana, an unusual crowd of people dressed in civilian clothes caught the attention of some naïve bystanders who didn’t know if it was a line to buy an extinct product, or passionate movie buffs waiting for the Yara cinema to open. Moving their heads from side to said, like someone waiting for prey, they were wearing the clothes we all recognize as the attire of State Security when they want to go undercover, and displayed that physical state of over corpulence compared to the average Cuban. They weren’t dancing, like at carnivals, they just moved towards the women who came dressed in white and tried to shield with their bodies the act of forcing them into a police car. A macabre “corps de ballet” thus represented their choreography of reprimand.

And then the trumpet sounded, excuse me… the car horn. A small lady had managed to get to the left atrium of the heart of El Vedado. Dozens of faces turned and they spoke into the little cables hanging from their earphones. An agent, who for years infiltrated the ranks of independent journalists, unmasked without pain or glory, directed the orchestra. The loudspeakers blared previously recorded phrases, so there were no surprises nor spontaneity. The woman disappeared in seconds. The kids drank their soft drinks and Havana experienced one of the coldest days of the year. The spectacle continued for hours.

How many times as a child was I part of a carnival of repression without knowing it? What naive parties did I participate in that, in reality, were a cover for the horrors? Have those dances and street festivals also been a police operation? After this, it will be hard for me to ever enjoy a parade again.

Twenty activists arrested in central Havana / 14ymedio

Ladies in White put in police cars. (14ymedio)
Ladies in White put in police cars. (14ymedio) note: Updates to this article made after what is translated below report more arrests, with more details from around the country. 

14ymedio, Havana, 10 December 2014 — The central corner of 23 and L dawned on Wednesday amid expectation and the utmost vigilance. For days, the call of the Ladies in White to be in that part of the city to commemorate Human Rights Day led the Government to activate all its mechanisms to prevent it.

Last night national television announced a children’s activity at the Coppelia ice cream parlor—located on that corner—a common practice used by the authorities to neutralize congregations of dissident. So far it has been reported that twenty opponents have been detained trying to reach the site, among them are reportedly at least five Ladies in White.

A 14ymedio reporter, present at the site of these incidents, was able to confirm the arrests of several Ladies in White who began to arrive, separately, to the well-known corner. At the beginning there were only people dressed in plainclothes, the so-called “enraged people,” awaiting the activists.

However, as the time of the call to gather approached, several people in uniform arrived along with police cars. One of the women of the Ladies in White–a group that defends human rights–who was able to get to the corner was forced into a police car.

The security agent Carlos Serpa Maceira*, present at the site, threatened Luz Escobar, one of the reporters of this newspaper, who took pictures of the arrests. After a brief detention, this journalist has been released.

Gathering in Havana on Human Rights Day. (14ymedio)
Gathering in Havana on Human Rights Day. (14ymedio)

The foreign press was also present on the site and several activists have reported strong vigilance around their homes. The Patriotic Union of Cuba, in the east of the country, also reported a large police operation and Special Troops personnel in the villages of Mella and Palmarito de Cauto. In this latter place the Communist Party organized a “people’s party” dispensing beer to occupy the meeting points of dissidents in the area.

*Translator’s note: Serpa Maceira previously infiltrated the Ladies in White and acted as their spokesperson, before a “dramatic” unveiling on national television in which he was offered up as “proof” that the dissidents lie; this “proof” was based on the logic that, when he was masquerading as a dissident he lied and the foreign press believed him, ergo, the dissidents lie.