Football Hangover / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

The World Cup on Cuban TV (14ymedio)
The World Cup 2014 on Cuban TV (14ymedio)

Gone is the last game, the German goal, Götze’s hands raising the 2014 Brazil World Cup. Gone are the get togethers with friends, wrapped in the flag of Italy or Costa Rica, to go see the games in some public place. Some of the excitement remains, it’s true, but the roar that ran through Havana when the ball entered the goal in Rio De Janeiro or Sal Paulo is now just a memory. The painted faces, the arms raised in imitation of the spectators from their seats, and the euphoria shared with millions all over the globe. The football party is over, now comes the hangover.

The hangover is a return to real life. Back to the store shelves and a realization that the shortages are greater than they were four weeks ago. Learning that yesterday a hundred Ladies in White were arrested for trying to pay tribute to the victims of the sinking of the 13-de-Marzo tugboat. There is no catchy tune performed by the famous to accompany this hard existence, rather the rumor of friends who warn us of “what’s out there”… “dengue fever, cholera, Chikungunya and even giant African snails.”

Like a kick to the head—and without failing to miss the opponent—reality returns. There are no arms to stop this fast ball that is daily life, unstoppable and painful. We are back to our world without lights, without loudspeakers that roar GOOOOAL, and without that familiarity created by competitive sports. In short, we live in “a world” where the rules are strict, the referee implacable, and there are no prizes.

Monday morning, I already saw them, as if waking from a dream. They were the hundreds of thousands of Cubans, especially young people, who were immersed in the passion of the Cup as if they themselves had kicked the ball. Today they realize they aren’t Germans, Dutch or Argentines and that a difficult Cuba awaits them on the other side of their doors. A Cuba that in four weeks has not stopped in time, waiting for the whistle to resume its course, rather it has deteriorated. Will they be willing to change the rules of the game of this reality? Or will they wait for the next reason to escape in front of the TV or the ball?

Bowling Pins, Sweets and Dangers / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

Putin and Raul Castro together on Cuban television. (14ymedio)
Putin and Raul Castro together on Cuban television. (14ymedio)

“These are the last sweets!” The cry could be the simple proclamation of a candy seller, but I heard it twenty-three years ago at my high school in the countryside and it was the first evidence I had of the collapse of the Soviet Union. The person shouting was Olga, a student who resold what the wives of the Russian technicians in Alamar gave her. She was the bridge between our Cuban money, worth less every day, and a series of products such as candy and canned goods “Made in USSR.” I remember this teenager, who warned us of the coming of shortages, like a blind Tiresias, alerting us to the adiós of the “bowling pins” (as we called the Russians).

The old relationship with the Kremlin comes to mind now, with Vladimir Putin’s visit to Cuba. We have seen the official delegation on national television with its businesslike demeanor in suits and ties, no longer speaking of Marxism-Leninism or the dictatorship of the proletariat. They look different, but so much the same. The same glance from above they once had when they knew our island was just a small domino in the game of power. They come looking for alliances, to define the contours of those blocks they are reassembling – right before our eyes – in a new return of the Cold War. We are one step away from returning to our old status as a satellite, diminished before Moscow’s power, its oil, the debt relief it just granted us.

Not a single official commentator has hinted at the dangers entailed in this approach, nor to the Russian government’s need to use Latin America as a diplomatic “launching pad” against its old enemy, the United States. In the midst of this renewed confrontation among the great powers, we are trapped as a disposable and negotiable part, as the case may be. The risk is such that I again remember Olga and the last Soviet candies she offered us in that dorm. Those sweets in extinction predicted an end, the goodies being announced today, like a new airport and possible Russian investment in the Port of Mariel project, compromise our future. You don’t have to be blind, nor Tiresias, to realize it.

12 July 2014

El Sexto Facing Trial / 14ymedio

El Sexto at his home in Havana (14ymedio)
El Sexto at his home in Havana (14ymedio)

14ymedio, Havana, 9 July 2014 – The graffiti artist Danilo Maldonado, known as “El Sexto” (The Sixth), has been in custody for five days charged with “violation of domicile and injury” and will be prosecuted, according to several friends and Cuban activists. Interviewed by the newspaper just two weeks ago, the artist is being held incommunicado and will be tried this week, according to reports from his family on Wednesday.

This newspaper was able to contact the photographer Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo who, in speaking of El Sexto, said, “he has no attorney, no money, no one left free in Cuba who is able to help him.” The young man has spent several years in the sights of the Cuban political police for a series of graffiti and expositions where he questions the powers-that-be and gives voice to outlawed civil society. His friends believe this could be a “settling of accounts.”

Several witnesses say that a domestic incident and a complaint from the father of El Sexto’s wife have “served as a reason for the police to charge his and to remove him from the streets where he realizes his art.” There is still no official version of events and the authorities are not providing clear answers to the several phone calls made to investigate the situation of the detainee.

In late 2012, the writer Angel Santiesteban Prats was convicted on similar charges and still remains an inmate of a forced work center on the outskirts of Havana. As a general rule, people critical of the government are not judged on political grounds but rather for “common crimes” with the objective of reducing solidarity and international pressure.

Are We In Transition? / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez


Yoani Sánchez, Madrid, 9 July 2014 – Right now I am taking part, along with several Cuban activists, in a seminar on the Spanish transition being held in Madrid. Organized by the Association of Ibero-Americans for Freedom and the Spanish Transition Foundation at the Casa de America, the event includes the participation of nine activists from within the Island from many different sectors, such as law, citizenship, human rights and journalism. An opportunity for us to meet with each other without the police cordons or acts of repudiation.

While I listened to several speakers, I remembered when, in 2011, I watched the series The Transition, with the voice of Victoria Prego. Coincidentally, the morning I started to watch the excellent scenes of that documentary and the analysis that accompanied it, a friend from Madrid visited me. She looked at the TV screen and said to me, “I experienced many of those events, but at that time I didn’t know we were in transition.” Her phrase has stayed with me as solace and hope all these years. Today, in the Casa de America, I remembered it.

Are we Cubans living in the transition? Just asking this question is enough to annoy some people and excite others. A transition – the experts and analysts tell me – needs more political, social and economic evidence. A word of such magnitude requires real substance, not just desires, others warn me, also with very good arguments. If it turns out that an irreversible and defining change has occurred within Cubans, could we see that as the transition? In this case, the micro look beats out the macro analysis.

Every day I meet more people who are no longer collaborating, who no longer believe, who no longer support the system. I also stumble upon people who aren’t interested in watching official TV, or taking part in official events, or accepting official perks. What do we call that? May the transition theorists forgive me, but if that is not a change, what is it? “Pre-transition” perhaps?

“Cuba’s problem is within Cuba” / 14ymedio

Speaking at the Atlantic Forum, Yoani Sánchez tells Mario Vargas Llosa that help is needed to move the center of the discussion to the island.


14ymedio, Madrid, 8 July 2014 — “Cuba’s problem is within Cuba. The locus of the discussion needs to be moved to the island.” This was the powerful message from Yoani Sanchez, 14ymedio director, to Nobel prize winning writer Mario Vargas Llosa at the VII Atlantic Forum, at the Casa de América in Madrid, Spain. Vargas Llosa had asked Sánchez how the Cuban opposition could be aided from the outside, whether there might be some common themes to emphasize, such as the embargo. “The embargo, tourism…all of that is just transferring the problem outside. To the White House, to the airports…” said the journalist and blogger, stressing that the way to push for a transition in Cuba from outside the island is not to turn attention elsewhere.

This exchange took place during the event organized by the International Foundation for Liberty, whose theme this year is the economic and institutional consolidation of Ibero-America. Vargas Llosa, foundation president, started off the proceedings by asking Yoani Sánchez about the actual scope of the so-called “Raulist” [for Raúl Castro] reforms on the island. The journalist qualified them as “small transformations caused by necessity and not by political will”, meaning that they do not correspond to the real changes that the country needs. continue reading

However, there are differences between Raúl and his brother, Fidel Castro. “The repression hasn’t ceased,” Sánchez said. “It’s just that the current version of it is more continuous, it’s in every minute, it leaves no evidence so the victims can defend themselves. Fidel was more media-savvy.”

Vargas Llosa also inquired about the birth of 14ymedio, remarking that, because of the many barriers it might face in Cuba, he never thought it would actually be created and maintained. “It’s a digital project because the printing houses in Cuba are under more surveillance than the barracks,” Sánchez explained, leading to a discussion of 14ymedio’s objectives. “Who is our readership? I think of people like my mother who, when I speak to her of injustice and human rights I don’t get her attention, but when I point out that this year she’ll have to double her spending to just maintain her current level of purchasing power, she is interested and exclaims, ‘this needs to change’.”

Sánchez spoke of the diversity of opposition movements on the island, although she emphasized that their principal limitation continues to be the state’s communication media monopoly. “In Cuba there is a great underground market for information,” she said, adding that technology is key to overcoming this barrier.

The Forum also included the writers Plinio Apuleyo Mendoza, Álvaro Vargas Llosa y Carlos Alberto Montaner, who presented their latest book, “Últimas noticias del nuevo idiota iberoamericano (Ed. Planeta)” [Latest News from the New Ibero-American Idiot, (Planet Publishers)]. The three authors — Colombian, Peruvian and Cuban, respectively — returned to analyzing the changes that have occurred in various Latin American countries and Spain, almost 20 years after the publication of their “Manual del perfecto idiota latinoamericano” [Guide to the Perfect Latin American Idiot].

Carlos Alberto Montaner pointed out that “the idiot is now also part of political life in Spain” and that the stability of Spain’s democracy is endangered by the presence of radical groups. “If that strange popular front were to become institutionalized and politically powerful, the country would head towards economic folly and alienate investors”, he added.

Nine Cuban activists travelled from the island to attend the Forum. However, Venezuelan opposition member María Corina Machado was unable to attend, having been barred from travelling outside the country because of her alleged implication in a plot to destabilize the government of Nicolás Maduro.

Translated by Alicia Barraqué Ellison

Repaying Debts With Loyalty / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, 4 July 2014 – The Cuban government has sided with Russia on every vote in the United Nations that has concerned Ukraine. It is a surprising outcome in a country that has traditionally defended concepts such as the self-determination of peoples, sovereignty and territorial integrity as key survival issues; a country which now looks kindly on the transfer of immense and rich Ukrainian territories to the control of Moscow.

Also noteworthy is the attention the government has devoted to discrediting its peaceful opponents, labeling them “mercenaries in service to the empire,” given that it has coined the term “independent militias” as a part of its official language, targeted to those who, with the undeniable support of Russia, are leading an authentic operation of imperial expansionism.

But loyalty is profitable and on Friday the lower house of the Russian parliament ratified the cancellation of 90% of Cuba’s debt with the extinct Soviet Union. The gesture will save the Island from a payout of 31.7 billion dollars.

The Russian-Cuban accord, now ratified by the Duma, also provides that the remaining 3.5 billion that makes up the old debt will be paid over ten years and that the amount will be placed in special accounts dedicated exclusively to investments in the Cuban economy.

He who pays with loyalty runs no risks. The one left in a delicate position is he who collects under this concept, because once the debts are settled, the insolvent debtor can suspend his commitments without anyone being able to claim anything.

When Vladimir Putin steps foot on Cuban soil this coming 11 July he will sign the agreements and joint statements, none of which will compel a future commitment to vote for or against Russia in international forums. Clearly I’m speaking of that future we so greatly desire, that future after the change.

4 July 2014

Producers of Shoddy Work: Beware! / 14ymedio, Katia Tabares

Wooden toys (14ymedio)
Wooden toys (14ymedio)
  • The 2014 ONDI Awards to outstanding Cuban designers cause us to reflect on the limitations suffered by these professionals.
  • Several winners from years past no longer live in Cuba – they have moved on in search of new professional horizons.

14ymedio, Katia Tabares, Havana, 27 May 2014 — Within the first minutes of conversation with a designer, one realizes that caution is in order. Just as if, while facing a dentist friend, we might smile on just one side of our face so that our cavities wouldn’t show, when we find ourselves around these design professionals, it is best to watch ourselves. Their trained eyes will spot the poorly-lettered sign we’ve hung on the door, the kitschy centerpiece on the table, and the cut of our shirt that binds our arms. Then will we have fallen under the “dictatorship” of visual, functional and decorative quality. May Design have mercy on us!

This is how I felt this past weekend while viewing winners of the 2014 ONDI Awards, given every two years by the National Office of Industrial Design. Exhibited in the gallery of La Rampa cinema, in the capital neighborhood of El Vedado, these images represent a wide variety of conceptual and esthetic solutions. The first prize went to Luis Manuel Ramirez who developed a lighting system and other objects for the home, featuring quality, good taste and potential adaptability to multiple circumstances.

If we attend the exhibition accompanied by the smallest members of the household, they might remain attached to the toys designed by Adriana Horta Ramos and Eduardo Velazco Alvarez, who won the prize in the student category. Using wood as their primary material, these novelties for children ages 3 to 6 are a major cut above the plastic and tacky products that populate the display windows of our stores. continue reading

There is much to admire, as the laurels were distributed among various categories, such as Visual Communication Design, Industrial, Furniture and Apparel, in addition to a Design Project Award. From simple pieces for daily living such as Ernesto Iglesias Diaz’s functional spice containers that won Honorable Mention, to the interior design of the New Varadero International Hotel by Carla Oraa Calzadilla, recognized for its optimum use of space, lighting and furniture selection.

One of the honors went to the project to update the interface of the Infomed digital portal, used by Public Health professionals. It is accessible from the so-called “intranet”, for those users who possess an email connection and nationwide navigation capability. For years this portal has been crying out for an upgrade to its disheveled appearance and is now on its way to achieving it. Yondainer Gutierrez Fernandez and Yelene Bequer Crespo have taken on this task, although the actual carrying-out of their proposal remains to be done.

Cuban design is trapped between two contrary forces: the quality of its professionals and the few opportunities for these professionals to make their ideas reality.

Cuban design is trapped between two contrary forces: the quality of its professionals and the few opportunities for these professionals to make their ideas reality. The exodus of a good portion of the graduates of the Institute of Industrial Design (ISDI) points to the dearth of possibilities for the professionals of this field in our country. If right now there were a celebration in the works to bring together previous years’ winners of the ONDI Awards, we would have to await their arrival from all latitudes of the planet where most of them reside.

The material restrictions, the devaluing of good design in projects ranging from a cafeteria interior to a school uniform, make it so the graduates of this specialization see little hope of gaining true recognition for their work, beyond prizes and awards that hardly make good living room decorations. At certain levels, our society underappreciates the detailed work of these adepts in typography, color schemes and drafting. Bureaucrats and high-level officials don’t seem willing to bend toward the “exquisiteness” of good taste. They inhabit the realm of shoddiness, improvisation and arbitrary form.

Our streets are filled with political billboards that look like they came out of a word processor equipped solely with Times New Roman font, bold, red only, and exclamation points galore. Coarse writing, overused symbols, out-of-date visual cues that don’t even work on children, continue to permeate televised ideological propaganda and the design of many public places. Timid official discourse is accompanied by an equally moth-eaten esthetic.

However, a breath of hope traverses these days on 23rd Street in the area around La Rampa cinema. If at least half of the design projects exhibited within these walls were carried out, we would no longer be ashamed to stand before a designer and smile, show off our shirt, the home decoration, the recently painted sign. We would have gained at least a few centimeters on that bad taste that extends in so many directions.

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

The Loneliness of the Tobacco Growers / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

Farmer with tobacco leaves
Farmer with tobacco leaves

Reinaldo Escobar, Pinar del Rio, 5 July 2014

The tobacco growers of San Juan y Martinez listened — between astonishment and helplessness – to the National Assembly debates. They expected that their difficulties and the problems of payment would be addressed during the discussions of some committee. They were disappointed.

In the Rafael Morán, cooperative, located in the town of San Juan y Martinez, frustration spread among the farmers. Just weeks earlier, the producers had been visited by a representative of the National Association of Small Farmers (ANAP), representatives of the Communist Party in the town, and several members of the National Tabacuba Business. The tobacco farmers expressed their difficulties and complaints to these officials.

The meeting was part of the government campaign called “We’re going for more …” whose visible face was Vice President Jose Ramon Machado Ventura. The State offensive to improve production led to these meetings between the producers and the authorities of the sector. In the meetings the feeling of many producers emerged, some of which asserted publicly that “If there’s no change in the price of tobacco, it is going to be very difficult.” continue reading

Among the main complaints expressed by the tobacco farmers was the discrepancy between the real costs of producing tobacco and the price that the state companies pay for dried tobacco. According to the official figures, it should cost a farmer 1.255 Cuban pesos (CUP) to produce 100 pounds of tobacco, but in reality the costs far exceed the official estimate.

Even the slightest setback so that leads the tobacco harvest to being considered “affected,” which lowers its price and leaves the producer in arrears. The disagreement with the payments made by State, the only permitted buyer, for the so-called “affected tobacco,” also showed up at the meeting. This supposedly damaged raw material is used industrially in the production of cigarettes. In the case of the plantations of San Juan y Martinez, the “affected leaves” are excellent quality and quality cigars and cigarettes can be made with them.

“It brings in great wealth in hard currency, and yet the peasant loses,” the producer laments.

The State standards establish that tobacco is “affected” if it doesn’t have good colors nor an adequate constitution to be considered high quality. But this doesn’t justify the paltry price of 345 Cuban pesos (CUP) per 100 pounds, established by the official valuation. If a farmer has the least amount affected, then he loses all the economic support that could pay for the crop. For its part, the State gets huge dividends, especially in the international market.

Hence, the concern of these tobacco growers on seeing that the National Assembly hasn’t been informed that there is no review process for the popularly called “purchase law.” The absence of any discussion of this subject made the growers feel cheated and forgotten. In the case of Pinar del Rio the prices are higher than in other provinces, so the dissatisfaction is higher in other tobacco-growing regions of the country.

“We haven’t seen our demands reflected,” claims Néstor Pérez González. “We also discussed the situation of poverty in the area, which is reflected in the farmers’ standard of living and doesn’t reflect the fact that this municipality exceed its tobacco production goals,” the farmer says.

During the conversation Néstor Pérez expressed his concern without restraint.” This year has been critical, so we are predicting a worse economic scenario for the area.” The crop damage has been caused by excessive rainfall during the period. A consequence of this situation is that the farmers have perceived the injustice of low payments for the so-called “affected tobacco” more seriously. “It will be affected, but it brings in great wealth in hard currency, and yet the peasant loses,” the producer laments.

“The so-called ‘cost sheets’ that they are offering us are well below the real costs of production; thus our demand that the prices should be raised,” says Juan Pablo, who combines his tobacco with the growing of lowers and fruit. The problem greatly affects the cooperatives such as the Basic Units of Cooperative Production (UBPC).

The tobacco growers have taken the pulse of the situation and feel that are being left aside. “We had the illusion that the Assembly would reflect and we would glimpse some change.” However, the last parliamentary session has brought more frustration than hope to the tobacco growing area of San Juan y Martinez and the mythical Hoyo de Monterrey.

It’s a Long Way to Cyprus! / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

Yoani Sánchez, Havana, 3 July 2014 — Yesterday on the bus, with the summer heat and after the long wait at the stop, two men commented loudly on their annoyance. “This sure doesn’t happen in Cyprus!” one said to the other, and laughter rang out all over the bus. He was referring to a monologue by the comedian Nelson Gudín, which has become a viral phenomenon on the alternative distribution network for videos. The actor plays a drunk who, among many other absurdities, complains about the space given in the national media to relating the problems of other countries, while remaining silent on ours. The old technique of “the mote in another’s eye…” which is one of the pillars of the official Cuban press.

Unemployment, corruption, economic cuts and social unrest… in Cyprus… were a topic of discussion and analysis by the panelists on the Roundtable show on several occasions. To underpin the axiom that “it’s hell out there and paradise in here,” the unpopular TV program placed a special emphasis on the difficulties being experienced by this member state of the European Union. So much time and so many reflections were dedicated to it, that the character played by Gudín ended up commenting, “Huh?… I didn’t know we were living in Cyprus?” The sarcastic phrase has almost become a slogan on our streets.

Just let an official delay some paperwork, for an ironic voice to note, “this guy surely comes from Cyprus.” That lady who is out of work due to economic adjustments, “is probably Cypriot,” her acquaintances will comment maliciously. Not to mention the empty shelves because of shortages; “It shouldn’t happen in Havana, only in Nicosia,” a frustrated customer claimed a few days ago. “At this rate, we’ll know more about the antagonisms between the Greeks and the Turks than about our own national problems,” a university professor pointed out to his students.

By the work and grace of the ideologues of the official press our principal preoccupations no longer take the form of an island in the Caribbean, but of this other one in the far off Mediterranean, where all the problems are concentrated.

“El Sexto” or the King of Spray Paint / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

El Sexto at his home in Havana (14ymedio)
El Sexto at his home in Havana (14ymedio)

We spoke with El Sexto, the young man who has made graffiti one more method of denunciation.

Yoani Sánchez, Havana | June 26, 2014 – Winking at art, a non-authorized decoration on the walls, graffiti maintains its irreverent and clandestine air that distances itself from galleries and approaches our eyes.

If one day there is a tour of Cuban graffiti, it will have to include this gangly young man called El Sexto*. A character of the night, of agile fingers, he has marked facades, bridges and traffic signs all over Havana with his art.

Many consider him an artist, others accuse him of vandalizing the city and marking landmark places, but, how does El Sexto see and construe himself?

Question: Graffiti, performances, paintings, charcoal draawings… you work in many techniques.

Answer: I have tried to insert new technologies in my work as well. For example, I developed a line of placing QR codes (quick response code) messages about Cuban society and politics. After leaving them stuck to walls, on products in the market, on the wall of a cell in the police station… People were very curious tio know what the little quadrangle filled with pixels was saying, so they would look for someone with a smart phone with the QR reader application to understand them.

Then they would read the message: “El Sexto,” “Down with the Castros!” or the dissemination of some event on the alternative scene. It was a form of mocking censorship through new technologies.

Question: Many Cuban artists opt for the metaphor, perhaps to stay out of trouble and to not be censored. You go for an ever more direct language. Has no institution approached you to organize an exposition?

Answer: So far no one has approached me to present my work in any institutional gallery. I am an artist outside the permitted limits. Although the official world doesn’t accept me, other Cuban artists have offered me solidarity and encouragement. At first I thought that the art scene wasn’t looking at me, didn’t know my work. However, I’ve been in contact with some major figures such as Ezequiel Suárez, Garaicoa, Los Carpinteros, and to my surprise they value my art and are up to speed on what I’m doing. This has given me greater commitment to my work and makes me improve every project I undertake.

“I had to look out for the guards at the Museum of the Revolution in order to paint on the façade of the Museum of Fine Arts.”

Question: Can you talk about the graffiti movement in Cuba?

Answer: Yes, there are young people who are joining this phenomenon. Right now, I am working with a group that sees in the idea of painting walls as also being a way of promoting social phenomena. Helping to give a face and form to figures of the alternative scene and also artistic, technological and even journalistic projects. We create graffiti, flyers, umbrellas, shirts… with the symbols that distinguish these projects and to go to public places where people ask, “And this, what’s this?” A way of arousing curiosity and disseminating these phenomena.

Question: In the last year you left the country for the first time and you were in Miami. How did that first trip abroad go?

Answer: It’s been very important in my life. Especially the stay in Miami where I could meet so many Cubans and see what they’ve managed to achieve. That gave me a lot of happiness but it also made me very sad to think of all the lives that have been shattered on this side because they don’t have freedom to fulfill themselves. I learned a lot about publicity; it nurtured me, the ways in which people want to spread an idea among as many people as possible. But I also understood on those trips that I am here, in the street, I need the Cuban streets to realize my art and to inspire me. So I returned home.

El Sexto’s signature on a traffic sign (14ymedio)
El Sexto’s signature on a traffic sign (14ymedio)

Question: You were also in The Hague, Netherlands, what did you do there?

Answer: My art tries to call attention to what is happening here. So in The Hague I gave a public performance – which coincided with the so-called Night of the Museums in that city – where I used a 24-yard chain to convey the sensation of confinement and lack of freedom that we experience in Cuba. It was very cold and my body was totally shaking in the street, while people waited in long lines to enter the museum halls, also joining the piece and creating a great impact on those who were watching.

“In The Hague I performed with a 24-yard chain to convey the feeling of confinement we experience in Cuba.”

Question: You’re always living with one foot in the street and the other in jail. Are you afraid?

Answer: I’ve been given many fines for painting facades, fines I will never pay, because it’s my art. This has been a path to my individual freedom, I’m going to build myself toward greater sincerity. Even if I’m taken prisoner tomorrow, I will continue doing it.

Question: Of all your graffiti, which do you like best?

Answer: The one that has come farthest with me is my signature, El Sexto, and although I like them all, that one in particular took me a lot of work because of the place where I did it. I had to look out for the guards at the Museum of the Revolution in order to paint on the façade of the Museum of Fine Arts, so there I am, in that place, despite censorship.

Question: Future projects?

Answer: I’m going to do a performance that has a lot to do with the direction of my career. I still don’t have a date but I’m working on it. It will be a piece in which I will refine with my art and my own body the wall where I will paint it.

Translator’s note: Follow the link for an explanation of the nom-de-plume “El Sexto,” whose given name is Danilo Maldonado Machado.

26 June 2014

Carlitos’ Body Language / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

Yoani Sánchez, Havana, 1 July 2014 – I remember him well, leaning over the table with head bowed and a vacant look. Carlitos was barely twenty and his every gesture carried the reluctance of someone who had lived too much. The young man ended up emigrating – like so many others – and I suppose there is little time in his new life to let the hours pass lying around bored. However, I continue to see this physical image of apathy and a lack of personal projects everywhere I look. It’s as if the body is speaking and, with its posture, it is saying what so many mouths remain silent about.

Someday when a Cuban body language glossary is prepared, it will include this pose of “falling into the abyss of nothingness.” This appearance of already being defeated, like Carlitos, that so many young people and not so young people present in this country. It’s the nuisance of moving your hands, the droopy eyelids, the permanent drowsiness and a certain relaxation of the lips which barely articulate lazy words, when they are not reduced to simple monosyllables. That the clock is ticking doesn’t matter, life passes and it doesn’t matter, the country slips through our fingers and people couldn’t care less.

While the heroes stand proudly on their marble pedestals, reality finds us bent over, tired, throwing ourselves on the first piece of furniture we come across. Is it perhaps the rebellion of indolence? The muffled scream of disinterest? I don’t know, but everywhere there are these poses that betray a lack of personal and national dreams.

Google Chairman Visits Cuba / 14ymedio

The purpose of the visit is “to promote the virtues of a free and open Internet”

14ymedio, Havana, 28 June 2014 – For two days several representatives of the giant Google, including its executive chairman, paid an official visit to Cuba. With the objective “to promote the virtues of a free and open Internet,” four well-known faces of the American company held meetings with the official sector and also with the alternative scene dedicated to technology and the digital world.

Jared Cohen, Brett Perlmutter, Dan Keyserling and Eric Schmidt – the latter Google’s executive chairman – met with young people at the polytechnic schools, and this Saturday they toured the University of Information Sciences (UCI). On Friday night they also contacted the editors and reporters of our digital daily 14ymedio.

The visit took months of preparation and was the first time a representative of Google had come to Havana to talk about technology and access to the Internet. In 2013, Eric Schmidt mentioned his desire to visit the Island in an interview with The Wall Street Journal. At that time he said he would like to visit the Island to promote the free flow of thought via the Internet and noted that Cuba was “at the top of the list” of his priorities.

During the official program, the visitors were able to see the desire of young people for more open access to the web. They also felt encouraged by the technological and computer science potential on the Island, although it is very limited right now because of problems with Internet connectivity.

In 2011, a fiber optic cable was installed between Cuba and Venezuela to facilitate access to the Internet. Three years after the cable installation was completed there is still no home access to the world wide web and one hour’s connection from a public place costs a third of a month’s salary.

The hope of many Cubans lies in the possibilities of connecting through Google’s balloon-based Project Loon, which will bring the Internet to several areas of the planet. However, the installation of these balloons must be approved and authorized by local authorities, a difficult hurdle in the case of Cuba.

Google Comes to Havana! / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

Google_CYMIMA20140628_0010_18Yoani Sánchez, Havana, 28 June 2014 – Have you ever tried to explain Google to someone who doesn’t know what it is? This happened to me a few days ago with a neighbor girl, barely 10, who asked me, “What’s a search engine?” I didn’t want to get deep into technology so I didn’t tell her anything about the algorithm these services use to organize information, nor did I talk about the “spiders” that travel the entire web to search sites, and much less of the race for positions on their lists, which obsesses so many. Instead, I explained it to her with a reference she could understand: “Google is like the magic mirror in fairy tales. You can ask it what you want and it will give you thousands of possible answers.”

Last night, Google knocked on our door. This isn’t a metaphor, the searcher came to find us. There were several representatives of the most popular of the search engines, peering into our lives and work. Faced with them, we couldn’t resort to so-called text tags, “keywords” and strict page ranks. These were human being, giving big hugs, laughing and curiously exploring the home of our technological inventions and our hairless dog. Jared Cohen, Brett Perlmutter and Dan Keyserling cheerfully climbed to the fourteenth floor of our building and shared with us our journalistic endeavor lacking in Internet, but with a strong commitment to today’s Cuban reality.

I asked if they had connected to the web from any public place. “Slow, very slow”… they explained. Then we started talking about the future, their commitment to Cuban internauts, and the relief of knowing they were aware of the information difficulties we are facing on the island. Before that we had talked with Eric Schmidt and understood that something of the sharpness of his eyes and the certainty of his words could already be guessed in the simple wisdom of Google’s homepage.

It was a technological night without technology. No one took out their cellphones to check the web – it’s not possible in Cuba – and it didn’t occur to anyone to show us the latest doodle, nor to tell us in figures the scale of the company in which they work. We had the immense good fortune of standing in front of the magic mirror, but we didn’t ask questions nor did we want answers, we just described who we are and where we are going.

Human Rights Watch Urges the Union of South American Nations (Unasur) To Respond To Venezuelan Abuses / 14ymedio

New York | June 26, 2014 — The organization Human Rights Watch, in a letter to the foreign ministers of several Latin American nations, today called on the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) “to urge the Venezuelan government to immediately address the grave human rights situation in the country.”

The letter is the corollary to a report by the organization titled “Punished for Protesting: Human Rights Violations in the Streets, Detention Centers, and Justice System of Venezuela,” about the situation in the South American country since the start of the demonstrations on February 12.

“While various international organizations, including human rights rapporteurs of the United Nations and the European Parliament, have expressed concern about human rights violations in Venezuela, UNASUR has not condemned the serious abuses committed by Venezuelan state agents,” said the letter from José Miguel Vivanco, Director for the Americas at Human Rights Watch. continue reading

The letter was sent to foreign ministers Héctor Timerman of Argentina, Luiz Alberto Figueiredo Machado of Brazil, Heraldo Muñoz of Chile; Maria Angela Holguin of Colombia, Ricardo Patino of Ecuador; Gonzalo Gutierrez Reinel of Peru, and Luis Almagro of Uruguay.

Citing “the absence of an independent judiciary in Venezuela that can curb government abuses . . .” the letter “urges the Administration of (President Nicolas) Maduro to protect the rights of the protesters,” referring to the UNASUR Constitutional Treaty of 2008.

The treaty provides that “the founding of the South American union is based on the guiding principles of democracy, citizen participation and pluralism, (and) universal, indivisible, and interdependent human rights,” the letter recalled from the organization in defense of human rights.

In its report, Human Rights Watch highlights abuses that occurred during demonstrations in Venezuela and documents how the National Guard, the Bolivarian National Police, and state police forces have “routinely applied illegitimate force against unarmed protesters and even bystanders.”

According to the organization, some of the attacks carried out by Venezuelan security forces included “severe beatings and the indiscriminate discharge of firearms, shotguns, and tear gas into crowds.”

The report also notes that “in many cases, detainees were held incommunicado at military bases for 48 hours or longer before being brought before a judge,” and that during that time suffered mistreatment that “clearly constituted torture.”

“Venezuela has responded to protests by resorting to excessive use of force, and judicial officials have been complicit in abuses committed by members of the security forces. Dialogue is now stagnant, and the intervention of UNASUR has not led to concrete results to improve the human rights situation in the country,” asserts Human Rights Watch.

They add that the abuses have gone beyond citizens to affect “journalists and others who photographed and filmed the repression,” the report concludes.

The document notes that President Maduro and the Venezuelan Attorney General, Luisa Ortega Díaz, have recognized that members of the security forces committed human rights violations, and have publicly undertaken to investigate these cases, but Human Rights Watch believes that “there is reason to doubt the credibility of these investigations.”

Translated by Tomás A.

I Am Nothing Else But Cuban / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Carlos Alberto Montaner

Carlos Alberto Montaner. 14ymedio
Carlos Alberto Montaner. 14ymedio

Interview with Carlos Alberto Montaner, writer, journalist and political

REINALDO ESCOBAR, Havana, 24 June 2014 — Carlos Alberto Montaner has long been a kind of black beast in the official Cuban government propaganda. Accused of being a terrorist, a CIA agent, an eminence gris in the world counterrevolution, in real life he is an academic and journalist who has been involved in politics without losing his vocation as a writer. In his home in Miami, in front of a window where the bipolar horizon is divided between Cuba and Florida, he responds to 14ymedio’s questions.

Question: You’ve had four passions: teaching, journalism, politics and literature. You’ve alternated between them, although at times some have predominated over others. Will it continue this way?

Answer: For four years I was a professor at a university in Puerto Rico, I enjoyed what I did. I’ve always enjoyed teaching, lecturing, giving classes. But I continue to do journalism, I haven’t renounced politics, and more and more I want to write novels.

Question: Journalism has many dilemmas: fulfill a political assignment, please the readers as if information were one more commodity, and make a commitment to the truth. How do you decide?

Answer: This is greatly debated today. In the United States they want to turn journalists into an objective machine, without a heart or compassion, that can’t make moral judgments, because that’s supposedly discredited. I think that’s a mistake. In these different lives that one has for the different occupations, there are many responsibilities: you have to take care of your family, there is a professional responsibility, and there is a civic responsibility to the wider society in which you live, and this requires making decisions of a moral character which are sometimes at odds with journalism’s too narrow criteria. continue reading

Question: But in any event you have to please the readers?

Answer: The journalist is obliged to interpret what society wants. If you don’t become a person able to summarize and argue what society suspects, then you aren’t going to connect with society, with the readers. One thing I’ve learned over the years is that most people who read you are looking for corroboration of their opinions, the coherent organization of their opinions.

When you’ve managed to bring people’s emotions and beliefs to a comprehensible language, then you’ve become a successful journalist. Authoritarian elements lie when they say that journalists represent the interests of the owners. That’s not true. For the media to function it has to represent the opinions and interests of its readers, to be a spokesperson for a sector of society.

The massacres of Fidel Castro’s early days were repugnant to me and gave me the impression of a detestable person

Question: Were you born a liberal, have you always been a liberal, will you die a liberal?

Answer: I’ve had my evolution. For a very short time I was a revolutionary boy who believed in the Revolution, but almost immediately the massacres of Fidel Castro’s early days were repugnant to me and gave me the impression of a detestable person. No one who talks so many hours straight can be a reliable person at all. Later I felt like a social democrat. That lasted longer. The first lecture I gave I was very young, 18 or 19, it was about the supposed falsity of this affirmation that “the State was a bad administrator.” I had a period until the seventies when I thought the social democratic solution would be better.

When I moved to Spain the in 70s and lived the change intensely and approached the Spanish liberal groups, I discovered something that no one in Cuba knew, that was liberal thinking. It was the time when the triumph of Keynesian ideas, social democracy and all that, were sold.

Question: Do you think that it’s a false dilemma between social justice and freedom?

Answer: There is always a time when we must make decisions confronting this dilemma, but to begin, it’s very difficult for me today to accept that idea that there is an abstract thing that is social justice. I don’t know what that is, and I don’t know because in reality no one knows what that is. There are suppositions that a certain number of benefits correspond to a certain number of people and that there are some officials who arbitrarily are those who know what those benefits are and to whom they’re assigned, and on top of that these officials make decisions in this direction and what they do are atrocities and destroy the possibility of creating wealth.

So, that said, what’s important is that everyone has equal opportunities to compete, and that everyone has the opportunity to study and the best possible health. You can’t ask a malnourished child who comes from a very poor home to compete when his possibilities are limited compared to others. We have to create the conditions where people can achieve their dreams and pursue their objectives, which also change with the evolution of one’s live. Everyone has his projects. There are those who want to be a philosopher, and there are those who want to be an entrepreneur. Nobody has the right to decide what is best for others.

That’s one of the great atrocities of socialism: the existence of a political elite who are the ones who know what happiness is, what should be the price of things, what we should consume, what we should study, what work we should do. Freedom consists precisely of this, the power to make decisions. The more decisions you can make, the freer you are.

I’m interested in participating in whatever change process there is in Cuba, but I believe that (this) process must be in the hands of the young people inside Cuba

Question: All signs indicate that from now on you are going to dedicate more time to literature than to politics. Is this true?

Answer: Literature, writing books of fiction, is an activity more appropriate for seniors than is politics, which is an activity for much younger people.

Question: Does that mean you’ve given up politics?

Answer: No, I never gave up politics in the same way that I never chose it. The political vocation comes naturally. I have a political vocation and I’m interested in participating in whatever change process there is in Cuba, but I believe that any process of this kind must be in the hands of the young people inside Cuba.

Question: You have a clear formulation of the kind of journalist and politician you want to be. Have you defined your style as a novelist?

Answer: I think the language should be used to the benefit of the reader. I don’t believe in baroque literature nor in the value of the phrase that isn’t understood. Gongorism has never interested me. Lezama Lima seems to me to be a very respectable figure, but his writing doesn’t interest me, and I mention this as a paradigm of the kind of literature that takes its quality and academic and literary range as a consequence of its difficulty. What’s important to me is the ability to say things in an elegant, creative but transparent way, with regards to form.

Then there are the technical aspects of the use of grammatical persons, the use precise adjectives, in short, the management of the language. I have published five novels, I have started a sixth. In the first. Perro mundo (Dog World), I related something I experienced and that is basically the story of people who are faced with a terrible choice: either submit or die. There is a character who decides to die rather than submit because his unique ability to act as a human being is to say no, to refuse what they want to impose on him, because to accept it would make him an animal.

From there what has interested me is to tell stories with fictional characters placed in realistic scenarios. La trama (The Plot) plays with the story of the bombing of the Maine, the battleship that exploded in Havana Bay and prompted the intervention of the United States in the War of Independence.

Julio Lobo, the Cuban sugar magnate who collected curious objects and documents – among them the act of the independence of Chile and things like that – had a sworn statement from a group of anarchists in the early twentieth century where they claimed that they were the ones who carried out the explosion. From this data I construct that story, how it was that some anarchists blew up the Maine in April 1898. I use the framework of how they anarchists worked in the U.S. and from there developed the plot.

Years passed dedicated to political and business activities, I picked up the novel again with La mujer del coronel (The Colonel’s Wife), a true story where there was an element of personal challenge. I wanted to explore what is most difficult, which is erotic language, difficult because when people take off their clothes they say things that aren’t very literary and that can be taken as obscene. You move between kitsch and vulgarity. In this case there were two elements, I wanted to tell the story of what seems to me the worst horror of the Cuban Revolution is the affective control of individuals. To decide who you can love and who you can’t, and to punish you when you part from what they believe.

When the government decided in the early 60s that whose who stayed in Cuba shouldn’t have relations with family members who left the country, this was a terrible crime. To give the order that you can’t love your mother, a brother, your friends, this is terrible. I had had that experience in Puerto Rico when a delegation of Cuban athletes came under the direction of José Llanusa, the director of the National Institute of Sports, Physical Education and Recreation, who has been my friend and my basketball coach.

The mother of this man, who became the Minister of Education in Cuba, had been exiled to Puerto Rico and as she was gravely ill she wanted to see her son before she died. But he decided he wouldn’t go see her because he preferred to behave as a revolutionary. This desire to pretend to become the master of human emotions, against which I have always rebelled, is what I wanted to relate in the story of this man, a senior army officer whom they ordered to separate from his wife because there was evidence that she had been unfaithful.

I’d love to have coffee with you at 14ymedio’s offices (but) I think I’ll die without returning to Cuba

The fourth novel is Otra vez adíos (Goodbye Again), which is my favorite. I read once that every ten years Freud arranged to have a portrait done, and this is the story of Freud’s portrait painter, who was Jewish, who had to flee Germany and ended up in Cuba. He ends up having to say goodbye again when the Cuban Revolution comes and he goes to New York.

Tiempo de canallas, which owes a debt to Otra vez adiós, is out of print. It has a chapter about the Cold War, which relates how an anti-communist front was formed on the island with Salvador de Maradiaga and Julian Gorqueno who, in Cuba, counted on Raul Roa. It was the era when Havana celebrated the Congress for Cultural Freedom. I realized that this story of the Battle of Ideas between the Soviet Union and the United States was so extraordinary that it deserved to be addressed as a separate subject in another book.

Tiempo de canallas, is a political thriller set in the time when the Central Intelligence Agency was created. It narrates the nature of those world peace congresses that rested on the propaganda concept with a binary structure where there were good communists and evil capitalists… but it doesn’t tell more because it’s a thriller.

Question. Would you like to go back to Cuba?

Answer. Yes, I would. I am nothing other than Cuban, although I have two other nationalities, the Spanish and American. I left the island at 18 and now I’m 71. I would like to participate in the reconstruction of Cuba, I’d love to have coffee with you at 14ymedio’s offices, stroll through the places of my childhood or the ruins of the places of my childhood. I grew up on Tejadillo street in Old Havana, it was a nice place where you could hear the bells of the Cathedral…

Question. Do you think that will be possible?

Answer. No. I think I will die without returning to Cuba.