“It’s Hard for the Government to Tolerate the Professionalism of Independent Journalists”

Ignacio Gonzalez, journalist and editor of Free Hot Press agency (screenshot)
Ignacio Gonzalez, journalist and editor of Free Hot Press agency (screenshot)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Joanna Columbie, Havana, 21 October 2016 – Ignacio Gonzalez is frequently seen in the streets of Havana with microphone in hand recording citizens’ reactions to a flood, a historic baseball game or the re-establishment of diplomatic relations between the governments of Cuba and the United States. Independent journalist and editor of the Hot Free Press (ECPL) agency, the young man aspires to continue excelling professionally and thinks that non-government media are experiencing a time of growth.

Recently Gonzalez spent 48 hours under arrest at a police station as a consequence of his work as a reporter, an arrest that is among the repressive acts carried out against independent journalism in recent months.

Columbie: How was Hot Free Press born?

Gonzalez: It comes from the idea that people are again gaining confidence in the independent press, which had lost a little due to government propaganda that says that it involves unqualified and mercenary journalists. We interview not only the regime’s opponents but also doctors, engineers, can collectors, mechanics, carpenters… people like that.

Columbie: You suffered an arrest recently. What happened?

Gonzalez: I was doing a report together with another colleague on a study of central Havana, and an operation began with a patrol car, five police officers and two agents from State Security. They took us to the fourth police unit and interrogated me in one of the offices. They made me undress and squat forwards and backwards in order to see if I had hidden any USB drives. I felt denigrated.

Then I was transferred to a police station on Zanja Street and later to the 10th of October, located on Acosta Avenue. I was detained for 48 hours, which had never happened to me, because they had always detained me between three and four hours.

Columbie. Were you accused of some crime or are you now subject to some investigative process?

Gonzalez. They told me that they had a file on me and that I am a counter-revolutionary. Although they assured me that my detention was not because of political problems, but because I was committing an illicit economic activity, since I had an agency where it was known that I paid workers and that I had no license to practice this activity nor was I accredited in the country. They also threatened me that my equipment could be seized. I did not sign nor will I sign any paper. There is no accusation as such, what I have is threats.

Columbie: Do you feel you are a “counter-revolutionary?”

Gonzalez: I told them that they were the counter-revolutionaries because they refuse progress and all kinds of democracy to our country. If they are going to put me in prison, they are going to have to do so also with thousands of Cubans who bravely and spontaneously make statements for our reports. Nor am I a mercenary. I work and get a salary for my work with my press outlet.

What they want with their threats is that I stop being an independent journalist and dedicate myself to taking photos for birthdays and quinceañeras [girls’ 15th birthday celebrations – a major coming-of-age milestone].

Columbie: How do you define yourself?

Gonzalez: I am neither an opponent nor a dissident; I am a person who practices journalism in favor of the truth. If the government does something positive, I do an interview or a report about that topic, but if it does something negative, I also bring it to light. If an opponent commits an act of corruption, I bring it to light, and if he is making a move in favor of the people, I do as well. That’s how journalism should be: impartial.

Columbie: Why do you believe that the repression against you has become more intense now?

Gonzalez: The increasing growth of independent journalism is upsetting them. We unofficial reporters have had the opportunity to attend courses, improve ourselves, and the government doesn’t tolerate it. This improvement, this professionalism that journalists are acquiring, even the audio-visual media which shows the whole world the news as it is, it is hard for them to tolerate. They are trying to accuse us of illegalities. It is a zero-tolerance policy towards the independent press.

In the case of Hot Free Press we are making reports almost of the same quality as Cuban television, but with the difference that we are not censored. We are reaching people; we have managed to make people feel a little more confident with the independent press, to give their statements. We have even found among members of the public that they say that if it’s not for national television, they say whatever they want. They are more disposed to make statements to independent outlets because they know that the national press belongs to the government and simply does not work.

Columbie: Are other non-governmental press agencies going through the same situation?

Gonzalez: I have not seen the same attitude with the rest of the new supposedly independent programs, like Bola 8 or Mi Havana TV. These just have a lot of nonsense. Supposedly they are being financed by the self-employed, but I work in this industry, and I know that the self-employed cannot pay for a production like these programs are showing. There are diverse locations and entry to places to which the independent press does not have access.

Columbie: How would you define the practice of the press in Cuba outside of the official sphere?

Gonzalez: Being an independent journalist here is like being a war correspondent.

Translated by Mary Lou Keel

Cuba After a Hurricane / Iván García

Elderly married couple married in their house which was destroyed by Hurricane Matthew in Jesús Lores, El Marrón neighbourhood, Guantánamo. The photo, taken by Leonel Escalona Furones, was taken from the Venceremos newspaper.
Elderly married couple married in their house which was destroyed by Hurricane Matthew in Jesús Lores, El Marrón neighbourhood, Guantánamo. The photo, taken by Leonel Escalona Furones, was taken from the Venceremos newspaper.

Iván García, 6 October 2016 — One week. Perhaps two. That’s the shelf-life of news in Cuba about the recovery process after a hurricane has passed through. You can read information, which has a slight smell of triumphalism, about  the various teams of linesmen who re-establish communications and power.

A gallery of moving photos of the disaster provoked by the hurricane in Baracoa. The account is always related in military terms. As if it were an epic battle. If you can believe the newspaper headlines, the olive green big cheeses and first secretaries of the Communist party in the eastern regions really got down and touched base with the people.

While they are inspecting the devastation, they promise to build strong new houses, and they ask the people in neighbouring areas for more work and sacrifice, and tell them they can be absolutely sure that “the revolution will never abandon them”. After that, the news focus fades. Continue reading “Cuba After a Hurricane / Iván García”

Then the state scribblers turn to concentrate on the starting of the new sugar harvest or in the “innumerable production successes”, which can only be effectively conveyed in the black ink of the national and provincial press.

The human drama starts up precisely on the day after a natural catastrophe terminates. Ask any of the 35 families who are surviving in precarious conditions in a big old dump of a place in the town of Cerro. The run-down development, number 208, is located way down in Domínguez Street.

The authorities declared the building uninhabitable in 1969. Its occupants have seen a dozen hurricanes pass through. As a result of the floods of April 29, 2015, caused by torrential downpours, Raúl Fernández lost all the electrical appliances his wife brought from Venezuela. “I am 46 and I was born in this place. I have spent years asking for an apartment so I can leave here and, up to now, my requests have been in vain. The town council is well aware of the situation of the families here and they do nothing”.

Some tenants say that the only things they have received have been foam mattresses. “But, if we wanted them, we would have to pay, in cash or installments. It is 900 pesos for singles and 1,400 for the bigger ones. Government corruption. Because insurance doesn’t work, or works badly in Cuba, people have to pay for the fuck-all that they give you — a mattress, a rice cooker and a packet of spoons and cups, says Magaly, who has lived in Domínguez for 20 years.

In 2015, by way of Resolution no, 143, The Ministry of Finance and Prices put out a regulation containing the procedure for valuing, certifying, setting prices, accounts, finance, fees, and risk and damage management in cases of natural, health and technological disasters.

That’s to say a family which loses its possessions needs to pay for what the state can give it at the commercial retail price level. If it can’t, they authorise a credit which has to be repaid in accordance with the terms set out by the bank.

Also, based on analysis of the economic situation of the victim’s family, the Peoples’ Council, or Defence Zone, can propose to the Municipal Council or the Municipal Defence Council, if it considers appropriate, that the bank loan interest be partially or wholly assumed by the public purse.

Olga, aged 71, retired, and resident in a poor area of Havana, lost an ancient cathode ray tube television, refrigerator, saucepans, rice boiler and all her clothing.

“After an interminable paper-chase and standing in queues for hours, where I had to demonstrate that I only have my pension to live on, they gave me an airbed, some extra-large size used clothes, a half-broken rice boiler, a refrigerator motor, for which I had to pay a mechanic 500 pesos to install. For a year I have had to listen to TV soaps on the radio. And the number one item in the political propaganda is about Civil Defence performance, which is good for saving lives, but as for repairing the damage suffered by the victims, the government does nothing”, says Olga.

There are families like Jorge Castillo’s, who live in a shabby room in an old lodging house in the south of Havana, turned into a hostel for victims, who have put up there for fourteen years waiting for a home.

“That was the time of the tropical storm Edward in 2002. Imagine waiting until the people came from Santiago, having lost their homes in Cyclone Sandy in 2012 and now the people from Baracoa after Matthew passed”, says Jorge.

On 25 October, 2012, Barrio Rojo, in Mar Verde, Santiago de Cuba, nearly 1000 km east of Havana, was wiped off the map by the destructive 175 kph gusts of wind of Hurricane Sandy.

“Mar Verde is a community which has been officially recognised since 1981. It is located on the beach of the same name, forms part of the Agüero-Mar Verde Peoples’ Council, which covers 62.5 square kms and is District 47 out of the 277 which constitute the town of Santiago de Cuba. There is no postal service there, shops, farmers’ markets, pharmacies, schools or grocery stores. Only a family medical consultancy offering a basic service, reports the journalist Julio Batista in a shocking article published in Periodismo de Barrio last February.

Thirty one families, 85 persons in total, who lost their homes during Hurricane Sandy, live in little shacks in a poor old campsite where the water comes through the pipes only every 10 or 11 days.

The authorities have promised to let them have a group of new houses. But it’s a never-ending tale. First they said in December 2014 they would hand over the keys to 56 of the 250 homes. Then, in December 2015. Now, according to Julio Batista’s report, they are talking about finishing the works in December 2016.

But the people living in the Mar Verde campsite are sceptical. The people who lost their properties through natural disasters, whether in Havana, Santiago de Cuba, Guantánamo or Baracoa, feel they have been misled by the government. Or that it has not been frank with them. As if the tragedy they are living through is nothing much.

Diario Las Américas, 7 October 2016.

Translated by GH

Cuba’s Private Restaurant Owners are Worried / 14ymedio, Luz Escobar

The Esteban Kitchen paladar (private restaurant) in Havana’s in Vedado district. (14ymedio)
The Esteban Kitchen paladar (private restaurant) in Havana’s in Vedado district. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana 20 October 2016 — Chinese, Italian or international food fill the menus of Cuban paladares, but lately fear has starred as the main dish on the menu of these private restaurants. The jewel in the crown of entrepreneurship on the island is experiencing moments of uncertainty after the government froze the issuing of licenses for these businesses run by the self-employed.

In recent months food and beverage outlets have watched a parade of pop stars, Hollywood actors, emblematic rock-and-rollers and even US President Barack Obama through their establishments, but it is a complicated time.

Even Camaguey province has been shocked, after the closure, at the beginning of this month, of three of the most important paladares operating in the city. Restaurant 1800 was searched by the police, who confiscated some of the furniture and arrested the owner, Edel Izquierdo. Two other paladares, Mi Hacienda and Papito Rizo’s Horseshoee, were also forced to close. Continue reading “Cuba’s Private Restaurant Owners are Worried / 14ymedio, Luz Escobar”

The suspension in the granting of new licenses for these premises has stoked fears about a possible backward step in the reforms undertaken by Raul Castro starting in 2008. Although officialdom has rushed to clarify that this is a temporary measure, a sense of a country going backwards to times of greater controls is felt on all sides.

The Acting Vice-President of the Provincial Administation in the capital, Isabel Hamze, declared on national television this Wednesday that “of the 135 license holders [of private restaurants] we met with 129 to alert them to a group of problems that cloud the services that they offer and we explained them that, with these exchanges ended, it was time to undertake an inspection.”

The official noted that during several meetings with owners of the private locales they discussed among other issues the consumption and sale of drugs inside restaurants, along with evidence of prostitution and pimping.

Hamze emphasized that those who acquired “money in Cuba or abroad illegally” in order to “bring it to the island and launder it,” need to be on guard. “Nowhere in the world is it legal to launder money and it is not permitted. We are not accusing anyone of doing it, we talked about where their capital comes from,” she said.


“The state can not compete with the privates, which in a short time have managed to run more efficient and attractive places for foreign and domestic customers,” a waiter of the centrally located Doña Eutimia Restaurant, nestled against the Havana Cathedral. The man believes that the current “storm will pass, because otherwise it would go against the times.”

Most owners of these private premises prefer to keep silent. “He who moved doesn’t end up in the photo,” joked a private restaurant owner on 23rd Street. “Everything is on hold, because no one dares to stand out now,” he added. “The repression of the paladares has come because some have become nightclubs with musical programs that attract a lot of people.”

According to updated data, more than 150,000 self-employed work in 201 occupations in Havana. There are more than 500 private restaurants throughout the capital.

In some locations it has become common to alternate good food with shows ranging from comedy, to magic, to fashion. Lately, the celebrated King Bar has sent out invitations to spend October 30, Halloween night, with costumes and frights.

The government undertakes inspections to guarantee strict compliance with the rules that govern the operations of these establishments: no more than 50 seats, limited hours, and the purchase of supplies exclusively in state stores with receipts to prove it.

However, several entrepreneurs consulted by this newspaper agree that it is difficult to manage a private restaurant following the letter of the law. The shortages often experienced in the markets that sell in Cuban convertible pesos, the lack of a wholesale market, and the prohibition against commercial imports, hobble the sector and push owners to the informal market.

In the Labor and Social Security Office on B Street between 21st and 23rd in Havana, this Tuesday, it was not possible to get a license to open a paladar. “The licenses of those who already have them are not suspended,” but “the issuing of new licenses has been halted,” declared an official to the nervous entrepreneurs who came to the site for more information.

The measure was preceded by meetings with the owners of paladares where they were warned to comply with the law; officials from the National Tax Administration Office (ONAT) and the police were at the meetings. The answer has been felt immediately on the menus of the most emblematic places, which have reduced their offerings to what can be purchased in the state retail network.

The Don Quijote paladar (private restaurant) on 23rd Street in Havana’s Vedado district. (14ymedio)
The Don Quijote paladar (private restaurant) on 23rd Street in Havana’s Vedado district. (14ymedio)

Lobster and beef have been among the first items to disappear from the menus, as most of these products are purchased on the black market from suppliers who circumvent police roadblocks to bring them to the city.

The law criminalizes very severely the theft and illegal slaughter of cattle – which is nearly all slaughter of cattle outside the state system – in addition to the “illegal abetting” of such goods. Due to the decrease in the number of cattle, to a little more than 4 million today, the Government considers any irregularities in the slaughter and marketing of these animals to be a serious violation of Penal Code.

However, of the 1,700 private restaurants that offer the country has many typical dishes known as ropa vieja and vaca frita, among other dishes made from beef. Given the current onslaught of the authorities, a stealthy slogan is in play: survive and wait out the storm.

Tom Malinowski Speaks with the Independent Cuban Press / 14ymedio, Miriam Celaya

Tom Malinowski, Deputy Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, held a meeting with independent journalists in Havana this Saturday
Tom Malinowski, Deputy Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, held a meeting with independent journalists in Havana this Saturday

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 15 October 2016 — The second round of talks on Human Rights took place this past Friday between the governments of Cuba and the United States, as part of the ongoing dialogue initiated when relations were restored.

In line with the importance of the issue and in relation with the relevance that the US government has granted him, this Saturday, Thomas Malinowski — Deputy Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor- who co-chaired the US delegation, together with Mrs. Mari Carmen Aponte, Acting Assistant Secretary for Affairs of the Western Hemisphere — met with independent journalists Ignacio González and Miriam Celaya, to discuss topics that were debated on that occasion.

Unlike the previous meeting held in Washington on March 31, 2015, this time both sides delved deeply into human rights issues, on which they hold opposing positions. Continue reading “Tom Malinowski Speaks with the Independent Cuban Press / 14ymedio, Miriam Celaya”

Malinowski: “I don’t expect to be able to persuade the Cuban government about how we consider human rights should be applied in Cuba”

“I don’t expect to be able to persuade the Cuban government about how we consider human rights should be applied in Cuba, but we consider human rights as an important and permanent item on our agenda,” said Malinowski. While acknowledging the opposing stances of the two governments, he considers that these meetings are of great value because, on the one hand, they reflect the common agreement of both governments on addressing that the issue of human rights in the rapprochement process is legitimate; and on the other hand, it has been established that the basis for these freedoms is upheld in international standards that establish the universal character of human rights, recognized and signed by our two countries.

“The result is positive. At least the Cuban government is not refusing to discuss human rights, and does not deny that they are also applicable to Cuba, though the legal interpretation of the principles is defined differently in our countries”.

Both sides discussed related laws and international treaties that confirm the universality and protection of fundamental rights, such as freedom of association, freedom to join unions, and electoral systems, among others. About the last item, the US side fully explained the characteristics of its electoral system and inquired about the Cuban system, particularly the obstacles faced by opponents and critics of the Cuban government to aspire to political office.

“For our part, we recognize that our system is not perfect. But in the US human rights violations are made public, and there are ways and mechanisms to force politicians to fulfill their commitments and obligations”.

Cuban laws, however, are designed so that the Power can manipulate them according to its interests, with no civic or legal mechanisms to force the government to observe the principles enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, signed in 1948.

Malinowski asserted that the US government is committed to the debate on human rights at every meeting with the Cuban authorities, but he insists that it is not their place to interfere in Cuban politics, which is a matter for the government and the people of Cuba. He believes that dialogue is proceeding on the basis of mutual respect, despite differences in respective viewpoints on the subject. However, he believes that frank conversations about the realities of our nations create a more positive and beneficial climate for all than does the policy of confrontation that maintained a breach between the two countries.

There are pockets of the dissidence that remain critical or skeptical of the White House’s new policy of a thaw towards the Palace of the Revolution

There are pockets of the dissidence that remain critical or skeptical of the White House’s new policy of a thaw towards the Palace of the Revolution. Some people assume that it only favors the Castro regime, and complain that the demands of opponents are not represented on the agenda.

In that vein, Malinowski said: “We have maintained contact with all of Cuban civil society. Not only with opponents, independent journalists and other sectors of civil society, but also with representatives of the emerging private sector and even the sectors that are in tune with the Cuban government. We want to hear all opinions, aspirations and proposals to form a more complete picture of the aspirations of the Cuban people. We share and defend the defense of human rights and our government will continue with this policy”.

According to Malinowski, a climate of detente favors the desires to strengthen the ties between our peoples, and to promote a mutual approach after half a century of estrangement and hostility. In fact, in the last two years, exchanges between the US and Cuba have increased and diversified, as evidenced –for example — by the participation of young Cubans in scholarship programs in US universities

When asked how the US government viewed Cuban authorities’ insistence on spreading through its media monopoly a distorted interpretation of the topics discussed at the bilateral meetings, Malinowski stated that this encounter with the independent press was exactly a way to get a more complete view to Cubans about information on the issues discussed between the two delegations.

At the end of the meeting, the Deputy Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor recognized the importance of the views and suggestions received by the US delegation from many sectors of Cuban society. “Without their remarks and views, without their participation, our agenda for these meetings on human rights with the Cuban government would not be possible. We appreciate the contributions of all Cubans. We are open to continuing to listen to all proposals, whether they come from those who support the dialogue process or from its detractors”.

Translated by Norma Whiting

“God bless you!”: The Unusual ‘Goodbye’ from a Cuban Official to Dagoberto Valdes

Summons issued to Dagoberto Valdes
Summons issued to Dagoberto Valdes

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 19 October 2016 – The director of the Center for Coexistence Studies (CEC), Dagoberto Valdes, presented himself at ten o’clock on Wednesday morning at the headquarters of the State Security at Kilometer 4.5 of the highway to San Juan in Pinar del Rio, after receiving a summons to “address legal issues.” The interview, however, only “lasted half a minute,” the intellectual told 14ymedio.

“We presented ourselves at Kilometer 4.5, which is like the Villa Marista [a harsh State Security prison in Hvana] of here, the whole Coexistence team and myself. I gave the receptionist the summons, and she asked me to wait a moment,” he explained. Continue reading ““God bless you!”: The Unusual ‘Goodbye’ from a Cuban Official to Dagoberto Valdes”

According to the director of Coexistence, three minutes later an official who presented himself as the duty officer in charge of the unit came out and invited him to enter an office and, without even offering him a seat, told him that Lieutenant Colonel Osvaldo, with whom the interview had originally been scheduled, had to leave the province unexpectedly and so he was free to leave.

On leaving, Valdes explained, the captain in charge of the unit said, “God bless you!” to which he replied with a similar greeting.

“I take this opportunity to thank wholeheartedly the immense solidarity received from friends and brothers from many countries and institutions, as well as the prayers of pastors and brothers of different faiths,” Valdes said after the meeting.

“This summons to appear is a part of the measures for all kinds of people who have been called to speak to the police. Independent journalists, artists and bloggers, the self-employed, have experienced this new wave of repression,” he told14ymedio by phone.

This September, members of the Coexistence team reported that at least nine of them had been subjected to police interrogations. The activists were forced to suspend the program My Neighborhood A Community, due to pressure from State Security, which included operations stationing people around several homes, arrests and cutting cell phone service for event organizers.

Valdes said he did not fear the encounter with the authorities, because everything they do in the CEC “is transparent and for the good of Cuba.”

Valdes acknowledged that members of his team had been summoned to appear in recent weeks by police stations, “one to one”, so the only one missing was him.

“This is a step in the middle of the escalation we are experiencing. It is the first time they have cited me since the resumption of relations between the US and Cuba,” he added.

The Coexistence Studies Center focuses on training for citizenship and civil society in Cuba. Among its activities is the publication of the magazine Convivencia (Coexistence), the discussion of proposals for the future of the island, and the exchange ideas of about Cuba’s current situation.

Based in the province of Pinar del Rio, the independent entity is conceived as a think tank to “think about the national home that we desire, to contribute to the reconstruction of the human person and the fabric of civil society.”

Eusebio Leal Strikes Back Against the "Storm" / Juan Juan Almeida

City of Havana Historian Eusebio Leal Spengler

Juan Juan Almeida, 19 October 2016 — As in the Greek epic, Eusebio Leal, the Captain of a small stronghold of Cuban historians, confronted Brigade General Luis Alberto Rodríguez López-Callejas and the Business Administration Group of the Armed Forces (FAR) with lively and poetic oratory. We know that FAR has taken possession of Habaguanex and several business institutions linked to the Office of the Historian of the City of Havana.

This past October 11, from the central patio of the Palacio del Segundo Cabo, during an exhibit that began at 8:30 in the morning and lasted a little more than one hour, Doctor Leal Spengler inspired confidence in his troops, using phrases like: “The Office of the Historian is today stronger than ever”; “We’re facing the storm without any type of fear”; and, “Be calm and serene, let nothing perturb you; I am here.” Continue reading “Eusebio Leal Strikes Back Against the "Storm" / Juan Juan Almeida”

Self-taught and with more awards (national and international) than any other Cuban, Eusebio Leal met with the technicians and directors of the different museums, because – according to his explanation – “Of all the groups with whom I work, the one that shares my goals the most is the one dedicated to museums, the collections, and to that exercise of searching which becomes a necessity for each one of us.”

With vague insinuations of mutiny and not calling for obedience, Leal, a member of the National Assembly’s Commission on International Relations, the Committee for the Eradication of Poverty of the United Nations, the National Geographic Society, the Madrid Royal Academy of History and the Latin American Council for Human Rights encouraged his troops publicly to not allow anyone to intervene and put their hands even on one piece of the museum without being properly prepared, and to not accept “improvised directors although they have a wonderful curriculum of having done other things in life.”

“The inventory” — he harangued them — “to mention only the subject of furniture, needs the knowledge of an antiquarian who has studied the different styles, epochs and models. It’s not just a matter of a table with four legs.” And thus, dressed in his usual grey safari outfit that he wears like a uniform, visibly recovered from the illness that afflicted him and vaunting his oral skills, he answered with irony-charged words the discredited oration, “During the process of transfer, the important thing is the inventory,” that the General-Intervenor Leonardo Ramón Andollo Valdés gives in every meeting with imperial enthusiasm.

“I’m an attorney, and I know what corresponds to me,” he said solemnly, remembering, in an emotional moment, the sentence that the illustrious Cuban patriot and composer of our national anthem, don Pedro Figueredo, pronounced on that fateful afternoon of August in 1870, facing the military tribunal that condemned him to death by firing squad.

“To those like me who admire Leal’s work and the Office of the Historian, we are sad knowing that the final chapter in the struggle to govern Old Havana looks like it won’t go any further,” said a known worker who, having been present at such a restricted meeting, requested anonymity.

Translated by Regina Anavy

Cuba’s Private Restaurants, Struggling Not to Die of Success / EFE-14ymedio, Lorena Canto

The famous and government higher ups choose private restaurants for their meals in Cuba. Rihanna at the La Fontana paladar. (Twitter)
The famous and government higher ups choose private restaurants for their meals in Cuba. Rihanna at the La Fontana paladar. (Twitter)

EFE/via 14ymedio, Lorena Canto, Havana – Private restaurants, popularly known as paladares (palates), are under the scrutiny of the Cuban government, which has temporarily suspended the granting of licenses in the sector due to alleged breaches of rules in a booming industry that perfectly illustrates the new economy of the island.

“There has been very strong growth in a short time and it has gotten out of hand,” the self-employed owner of a very famous private restaurant in Havana told EFE, as she prepared for inspections by the authorities in the coming weeks.

In Cuba where, with the lack of official confirmations, the rumor mill runs riot, a few days ago alarm spread among paladares on hearing that the owners of the most prominent had been called to meetings – by neighborhood – with government officials. Continue reading “Cuba’s Private Restaurants, Struggling Not to Die of Success / EFE-14ymedio, Lorena Canto”

There they were told that there would be no new licenses for private restaurants in the capital, and that there would be a round of strict inspections to ensure that those now in operation were complying with the law: no more than 50 seats, respect for the established hours, and provisioning only with products purchased in state stores for which they can show the receipts.

“The atmosphere is now very unclear,” another owner of a pioneering paladar, who also asked not to be named, told EFE.

So, the dining industry’s private proprietors, awaiting the dreaded inspections, fell into a paranoid spiral, which included hiding any merchandise not obtained through official means and redoing the menus to include only dishes and drinks made with ingredients for which they can show the receipts.

Bottles of premium liquor that came to Cuba in a suitcase, exotic ingredients or the celebrated lobsters, almost impossible to acquire by legal means and bought directly from fishermen, remain under lock and key these days, waiting for the dust to settle.

The problem is that the regulations governing self-employment, which are part of the economic reforms introduced by Raul Castro in the last decade, still have large gaps, like the lack of rules governing private workers on the communist island, or a wholesale supply market.

“It’s about sorting out a sector that started out as a part of the family economy and has become an important part of the country’s economy,” explained the same owner.

For some time now, the paladares have no longer been in the living rooms of a private house where the lady of the house cooked for four tourists, who in this way were given a peek into the daily life of a Cuban family.

There are 1,700 licensed paladares in Cuba, hundreds of them in Havana, restaurants that rival international standards in quality, in original décor and in service, and that from the beginning of the thaw with the United States two years ago have received visitors such as Barack Obama, Madonna and The Rolling Stones.

But in addition to competing with each other, they also compete with ordinary Cubans at the supermarkets, because one of the great problems of the industry is that it must be supplied at the same outlets as the rest of the population, given the lack of any wholesale market, the opening of which would be in the state’s hands alone.

“The competition for products creates unrest among the population, although it is not the direct fault of the self-employed,” says the same source.

In the state supermarkets – the only kind that exist in Cuba – EFE was able to observe how national brands of beer barely last an hour on the shelves, as the restaurants carry them out by the box full. The same thing happens with soft drinks and products like chicken breasts and milk.

Hence, she adds, the private restaurants have long demanded a wholesale market, which would also benefit the authorities “because it would allow better fiscal control over the purchase invoices.”

Another nuance of the situation, says one source, is the “special sensitivity” of the government to issues such as prostitution and drug trafficking, banned and severely punished on the Island, or access for minors to places where alcohol is served.

The current legislation provides licenses only for restaurants and cafes, so under these categories night bars have begun to proliferate, some of which have been closed down in recent weeks, although this has not been confirmed by any official source.


Escape Or Get Married: The Dilemma Of Cuban Doctors In Brazil / 14ymedio, Mario Penton

The Cuban doctor Yohan Batista Martí when he resided as a volunteer in Brazil. (Courtesy)
The Cuban doctor Yohan Batista Martí when he resided as a volunteer in Brazil. (Courtesy)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miami, 16 October 2016 — Yohan Batista Martí spent nearly four months hiding to avoid persecution by the authorities of the Cuban Medical Mission in Brazil. Like him, thousands of Cuban doctors have fled to the United States before the date of their return to the island. Escaping or marrying a local resident are the best options for these health professionals.

“I had to hide. I commented to the Brazilian in charge of the mission that I was going to Cuba on vacation and that was how I escaped from the region of Piaui in the north, but when they realized I had defected they began to look for me,” Batista told this newspaper. Continue reading “Escape Or Get Married: The Dilemma Of Cuban Doctors In Brazil / 14ymedio, Mario Penton”

The cooperation program with Brazil was announced three years ago as a “stimulus mission” for the best Cuban professionals. The initiative was officially launched to support Brazil’s Workers Party (PT) and then-President Dilma Rousseff, considered a “friend of Cuba.”

During their work in the program each doctor receives a salary equivalent to 1,000 dollars US, 600 paid in Brazil and the other 400 deposited in a bank on the island and payable on their return. This represents less than one-third of the $3,300 that the Brazilian government pays the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) to be paid to the state Cuban Medical Services.

Many doctors, however, pass up the money accumulated in Cuba and choose to flee. Throughout the country, this year alone, 1,439 health professionals have escaped Brazil to the United States, taking advantage of the US Professional Parole program, a visa program started under President George W. Bush which over the last decade has brought more than 8,000 of these workers to the US.

Other doctors have resorted to the option of marrying Brazilian citizens to avoid forced return.

“The Cuban government benefited from the money due us and now they want others to come so they can do the same,” a doctor working in the region of Minas Gerais and who requested anonymity told this newspaper. The health professional says they are “alarmed” by the increase in marriages between Cubans and Brazilians for the former to obtain residency.

Marriages with foreigners and loving relationships are a taboo subject on the missions. The disciplinary regulations of civil workers abroad regulates that “if any loving relationship develops with natives it must be reported immediately and be consistent with the revolutionary thought of our stay and in no measure be excessive” (sic).

In June 2015, a case came into the public spotlight and exposed the limitations under which Cuban doctors live. After nine months of a legal battle the Cuban doctor Adrian Estrada Barber managed to marry the Brazilian pharmacist Letícia Santos Pedroso. “I met the woman of my life,” said the proud husband on hearing the court ruling.

Estrada Barber is just one case among hundreds. During the first ten months of this year more than 1,600 Cuban doctors took the exam to revalidate their titles in Brazil and win contracts on their own. They make up the largest group of foreigners who have applied for recognition of their university degree in the South American giant.

After the impeachment of Dilma Rousseff, the Cuban government pressured the Brazilian authorities to renegotiate the medical contract and obtained a 9% increase in payment. The Plaza of the Revolution also achieved an increase of 10% for food for doctors in indigenous areas, which will be effective in January 2017.

The government of Raul Castro has demanded the doctors return to the island when their “lease” expires. After much prodding, Brazilian authorities managed to get Cuba to reluctantly reauthorize the married doctors to be contracted for another three years.

Brazilian Minister of Health Ricardo Barros declared that in the middle of this year he had asked the Cuban Government and the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) to relax the conditions that force the doctors to return to the island, because,”More than 1,000 have married Brazilians and some have children,” the official said.

After hiding as a fugitive, Batista currently lives in Miami. From that city he related how he first tried to flee to Argentina but then traveled to Brasilia to seek refuge in the US embassy. “Everything has to be done in secret. A colleague in Venezuela who said she wanted to leave the mission was accused of a robbery that never happened and returned to Cuba,” he recalls.

Although he is a general practitioner abd also has a specialty in physical rehabilitation medicine he has had to start from scratch in Miami. “I deliver results of laboratory tests and study to revalidate my title,” he says proudly, while helping others through social networks to “restore the dignity of Cuban medicine.”­­­

Indian Workers Earn “Three Or Four Times More” Than Cubans, According To The Official Press / 14ymedio, Mario Penton

"Indian workers are three to four times more productive than Cuban workers."
“Indian workers are three to four times more productive than Cuban workers.”

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miami, 17 October 2016 — Three months after the revelation of the presence of workers from India in the construction of a luxury hotel in Havana, on Saturday the Cuban press mentioned, and tried to explain, the fact that domestic workers have been replaced by foreign workers with the argument that the Asians perform “three or four times” better.

“The result of their work is very high quality. Their presence results in taking great advantage of the workday, resulting in greater productivity,” said a report by the journalist Marianela Martin, published in Juventud Rebelde (Rebel Youth) and reproduced on the website Cubadebate. Continue reading “Indian Workers Earn “Three Or Four Times More” Than Cubans, According To The Official Press / 14ymedio, Mario Penton”

What the Cuban newspaper does not mention is that, according to Reuters, the wages paid by the French company Bouygues to the Indian builders is some 1,600 dollars a month, 53 times more than Cubans doing the same work are paid (some 30 dollars). In the best of cases, with a bonus included, Cubans can earn a maximum of 100 dollars a month, with the Asians still earning 16 times more.

As the main reason for the hiring of foreigners, the directors of the Almest Real Estate Company argue the mobility of people trained in Cuban schools, who seek better paid work.

The publication notes, however, that “there is a permanent improvement” in the living conditions of the Cuban workers, among which it cites the constant assurance of work. Another “privilege” mentioned is “transportation from the shelters where they live to the worksite” and “the food offered is good, and so are the conditions where they spend the night.”

It also mentions “a study for the application of a new payment system,” but clarifies that it will not be “wage reform.”

Experts consulted by this newspaper corroborated that contracting for foreign personnel for tourist projects in Cuba is a common practice, but the case of the Indian workers is notable for the numbers involved. They are not only working in Havana, but also in the construction of several hotels in Varadero and other areas of the country.

The civil engineer Bladimir Ayra Estrada, vice president of the Arcos BBI International Economic Partnership, involved in construction in Cuba, explains that “with the presence of workers from India in the projects, jobs that have been lost are being recovered.”

The Manzana Gomez hotel is being rebuilt in Havana.
The Manzana hotel is being rebuilt in Havana.

According to Ayra Estrada, along with the Indian workers, Cubans are being put to work to learn the trades. The manager recognized that his business is taking fundamental advantage of recent graduates in technical courses related to construction, because they leave after finishing their social service (a three year period in which graduated students must work in the specialty in which they graduated).

Electricians, carpenters, plumbers and masons working on Cuban hotels being built in tourist areas are usually hired through the 13 employment agencies in the country. These are state enterprises created to recruit the best of the skilled workers on the island. They hire workers for wages in Cuban pesos (CUP) and in some cases with bonuses in Cuban Convertible pesos (CUC: 1 CUC = 25 CUP) while offering their services to foreign companies, adjusting their prices in dollars. It is a business that allows the state to realize significant gains, as it gets most of the benefits*.

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Indian workers in Cuba / Monthly salaries in dollars

The Cuban government is committed to promoting tourism as a way to boost its stagnant economy. Last year Cuba hosted more than three and a half million tourists, so it has had to make major adjustments and investments to balance the demand for rooms with supply.

The Manzana hotel, where the largest contingent of Indians is working, is located in Manzana de Gómez, which was the first major commercial center of the Cuban capital. Completion is scheduled for early 2017 and the project will be operated by the Kempinski International Hotel Chain and the Business Administration Group (GAESA), which belongs to the Cuban Armed Forces.

*Translator’s note: The State agencies collect the wages paid for the Cuban workers and pass on to the workers only a small share, retaining the rest in the government coffers.

Speaking of Human Rights Talks Between the US and Cuban Governments… / Lilianne Ruíz

Cuban human rights activists at the Americas Summit in Panama. “Democracy is Respect”

Lilianne Ruiz, 13 October 2016 — Cubans are a captive people. The first evidence of this is that the island’s government will not talk to dissident voices about human rights. It does it with the US government.

In the island’s 43,190 square miles, two completely opposite projects or visions of a nation coexist badly. The two visions of a nation speak different languages. One, theirs, defend its domination; the other, ours, the right to change in a peaceful and democratic way this state of affairs that is so unjust.

For the Cuban government, whose political model of supply is socialism, the language is one of intolerance, the rights of conquest on the social body. The discourse of sovereignty invoked by the regime is incompatible with respect for human rights. Continue reading “Speaking of Human Rights Talks Between the US and Cuban Governments… / Lilianne Ruíz”

Government propaganda blames material poverty on the American economic embargo. But doesn’t recognize that it itself is a political aberration, with the state erecting itself as the administrator of our human needs as if it was about an endowment of slaves, an infantilized family, a mass of poor people and failed citizens that cannot freely build their own destiny, because their rights to do so is not recognized by the state.

We, as dissident civil society, have a different vision of what we want our country to be. Without even having to agree, because we are very diverse, we want to resolve the issues that affect us and affect our children, like education, health, culture, the role of the state, through the exercise of our civil and political rights. We want to elect cultured leaders who willingly accept their limitations. We want a free economy, without state interference, because the socialist economy is a condition without which the current government could not exercise its tyranny over society.

To better understand us we could say that our spirit is more akin to the American Declaration of Independence than the Marxism they tried to indoctrinate us with in school. Precisely because the Cuban state-party-government  behaves with respect to society like, in their time, a metropolis did with respect to colonies. In its logic there are conquerers and conquered, which is the logic of a relation of forces and not the logic of politics, and does not recognize our rights and in this sense we are a captive nation.

But we’re not really conquered, because there is no chance that we will give up our dreams, that have withstood every kind of storm. Sooner or later dreams find a way to express themselves and end up coming to fruition in the world

We can say that the Castro regime is alien to us, deaf to our affections, because it ignores the spiritual dimension of a liberalizing longing. So the reasons that move the political changes in totalitarian dictatorships are not only political in nature, but above all spiritual.

In the Civil Society Forum in the 7th Americas Summit in Panama, we endured the insults of the alleged civil society of artifice brought by the Castro regime leaders to defend their interests in interfering in the social body and trying to legitimate their domination presenting is as the highest form of humanism. I will never forget the opportunity that premiered at that Forum, of responding to those ridiculous attacks, with which they tried to disqualify us, although the never responded to our arguments, to our signs that said “Democracy is Respect.”

That artificial civil society that  launched itself against us, howling, in Panama, is made up of associations registered with government permission or of its own employees.

As long as the government is the administrator of needs, the distributor of benefits, and can treat Cubans like the subjects of its beneficence, given the impossibility of choosing another alternative, our ordeal will continue.

We can’t forget the ultimate purpose of the Socialism which is to create a new kind of human being that has forgotten forever everything that constitutes civilization, and to give a new universal interpretation, especially the significance of human rights.

From the Panama Forum I remember the speech of President Obama. He said, “Strong democracies are not afraid of their citizens.” This is the language of my captive island Not of the government, which engages in sophistry with its interlocutors, as it has tried to fool them for more than half a century.

‘Periodismo De Barrio’ Discovers The Harsh Reality Of Repression Against The Press / 14ymedio

The team of Periodismo de Barrio before departing for Baracoa. Elaine Diaz is front right. (Facebook)
The team of Periodismo de Barrio before departing for Baracoa. Elaine Diaz is front right. (Facebook)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 17 October 2016 — In an editorial published Monday, the independent medium Periodosmo de Barrio (Neighborhood Journalism) distances itself from the ruling party to explain the circumstances of the arrest of its director, Elaine Diaz, and several members of her team while covering, last week, the damage left by the hurricane Matthew in Baracoa in Guantánamo province.

Entitled “Who Has The Right to Tell a Country’s Stories? All Its Citizens,” the article states that the arrests were illegal given that the team from “Periodismo de Barrio didn’t violate any law.” The editorial explains that the authorities referred to a supposed state of emergency in force in the east of the island because of the hurricane, but, “This last statement does not have the legal status required to declare a state of emergency under the Constitution.” Continue reading “‘Periodismo De Barrio’ Discovers The Harsh Reality Of Repression Against The Press / 14ymedio”

After noting that Cuban legislation does not limit the exercise of journalism in areas affected by natural disasters, the text highlights that, during the two days the reporters remained under arrest, “No charges were filed against us nor were any members of the Periodismo de Barrio team accused of crimes,” which apparently confirmed the lack of motives to detain them.

Despite this, the members of the team were searched and their belongings confiscated. In addition, the three women “were physically searched by an official to seek other technological means they could have hidden in their bodies, treatment given to pre-criminal cases.”

The Periodismo de Barrio team sees in these events an opportunity to reflect on the role of the press in Cuba and the denounce the “monopolization of information” by the state.

“It is not possible to tell the truth about Cuba from a single version, or from unanimous versions, which amount to one.” It blames monopolies for the lack of the pluralism society needs, saying, “TV channels, radio stations, print publications, publishers, changed ownership but were not socialized. Socializing is not nationalizing. There are not good and bad monopolies. All monopolization, realized by the State, by a person or a corporation, ends up curtailing freedoms.”

The editorial denounces that, “The State, for more than 50 years has avoided requiring reporters to think about the economic dimension of the activity they carry out thanks to financing their means of production,” and explains that Periodismo de Barrio faces economic problems, lacking support from the authorities.

The media, the editorial reveals, uses the online PayPal service, despite its inaccessibility in Cuba due to the US embargo on the island. “The strategy is simple: use the account of a collaborator and friend resident in another country and then send money to Cuba using remittances through a legal agency,” it says. And adds, “Those who today question the funding mechanisms of Periodismo de Barrio are forgetting that journalism costs money.”

For the team of journalists, the organs of state security not only limit the right of speech and press guaranteed by the Constitution, ” but also the freedom of speech of each individual who chooses to speak to the media.”

“On October 11, the Cuban authorities tried to define who is entitled to tell the stories of our country. Because we believe that right belongs to the entire Cuban citizenship, because these stories need to be told, we will return to Baracoa, Imías and Maisí once the emergency is over,” adds the editorial.

Without over-elaborating, the editorial condemns the “arbitrary detention of journalists anywhere in the world [and] in Cuba.” It was not always so. Elaine Diaz came to be known through her blog La Polémica Digital (Digital Controversy), which was presented in another era by officialdom as a “revolutionary” alternative to the critical blogosphere that broke onto the Cuban scene in 2007.

In a chapter of the government’s TV series “Cuba’s Reasons,” Elaine Diaz was interviewed in her role as a professor at the School of Communication at the University of Havana a counterpart to bloggers critical of the Government that were defined in the program as “cyber-terrorists.” In her blog, Diaz avoided for years any statement of solidarity on the arrests of independent journalists who have characterized the Cuba of the past two decades.

Today, after the humiliations suffered at the hands of State Security, the Director Periodismo de Barrio has become aware of the enormous obstacles put in place by the authorities to the exercise a free press in Cuba. However, the editorial says nothing of other independent journalists arrested in Baracoa in the same circumstances.

Who Has The Right to Tell a Country’s Stories? All Its Citizens / Periodismo de Barrio

Baracoa after Hurricane Matthew
Baracoa after Hurricane Matthew

Periodismo de Barrio, 16 October 2016 – On 11 October 2016, six members of our Periodismo de Barrio (Neighborhood Journalism) team and two collaborators were arrested in the town of Baracoa, Guantanamo province. We were not arrested for smiling. Nor we were arrested for taking a photo in the state café at the viewpoint from El Gobernadora and publishing it on our personal Facebook account. We were not arrested for using the online PayPal service in our public fundraising campaign to allow us to cover the process of recovery of the communities affected by Hurricane Matthew.

We were arrested for doing journalism in Baracoa, in Maisí, in Imías: three major municipalities affected by the cyclone. Specifically, for doing or attempting to do interviews with the local government in Imías, with linemen working to restore power to the victims, families who evacuated, vulnerable people, teachers, cooks and school principals who lost roofs and books, medical clinics that were affected, men and women who saved other men and women and also their animals and plants. Those who arrived in Maisi were questioned by officers of State Security at the headquarters of the Municipal Committee of the Communist Party of Cuba, while trying to obtain authorization to work in the area. Those who arrived in Jamal were arrested in the house where we were staying. Continue reading “Who Has The Right to Tell a Country’s Stories? All Its Citizens / Periodismo de Barrio”

The argument used was that in Baracoa, in Maisí and in Imías journalistic activities could not be carried out because all the people were under a state of emergency. According to Article 67 of the Constitution of Cuba, the state of emergency is declared “in case or before the imminence of natural disasters or catastrophes or other circumstances which by their nature, proportion or importance affect public order, national security or the stability of the state.” As long as the current state of emergency continues, the rights and duties of citizens recognized by the Constitution may be regulated differently.

Law 75 of National Defense governs the way the state of emergency and other public emergencies are declared. “The state of emergency, in accordance with Articles 67 and 93, paragraph 1 is declared by the President of the State Council through a resolution which expresses the root causes, the delimitation of the territory where it is established and the time period.” To date, there is no public official communication by the President of the State Council announcing a state of emergency, outside the announcement on October 4 by the Civil Defense Staff alerting six Cuban provinces ahead of Hurricane Matthew. This last statement does not have the legal status required to declare a state of emergency under the Constitution.

According to Law 75, “in any of these exceptional situations no exclusion or suspension of fundamental rights of the Constitution is guaranteed.” Furthermore, “freedom and inviolability of the person are guaranteed to anyone residing in the national territory.”

As part of the measures taken and never publicly announced by the Cuban authorities, the practice of journalism in the affected areas was limited to those media accredited to work in the area. Neither Law 75, nor the Constitution of the Republic, nor the Code Ethics of the Union of Journalists of Cuba, to which two of our colleagues belong, govern the exercise of journalism in situations of natural disasters. If we recognize that during emergency situations there is “no exclusion or suspension of the fundamental rights of the Constitution,” among which are freedom of speech and of the press, Periodismo de Barrio did not violate any laws.

We did not go to Baracoa in order to act outside the law. None of our members knew of the need to be ‘accredited’ before leaving for Guantanamo province. However, if we had tried, we would not have found anyone to accredit us. Unlike state and foreign media, Periodismo de Barrio does not have a public official in Cuba before whom we can seek authorization for journalistic work in a particular region. Therefore, that night, in the municipal headquarters of the Interior Ministry, we asked for authorization to undertake reports that we had planned. The answer, the next day, after remaining at home for the approximately fifteen hours they indicated, was negative and all the journalists were taken to Operations Unit of the Ministry of Interior in Guantanamo, escorted by patrol 205N Department of State Security.

There we were questioned for the second time and our technological devices were seized. We were told to give them our passwords and cameras, digital recorders, laptops, flash drives, e-book readers and cell phones, and these were checked for at least four hours. We were informed that the images and recordings of our work in the province would be deleted and the electronic equipment would be returned. The three women who are part of the team of Periodismo de Barrio were physically searched by an official to seek other technological means they could have hidden in their bodies, treatment given to pre-criminal cases. The five men were not searched. Our devices were returned and no work-related files were deleted.

At all times we maintained a respectful and cooperative attitude. We answered all questions about Periodismo de Barrio, how we finance the work we wanted to do in the province, our previous journalistic experience, what academic training we have, the origin and final destination of individual donations of clothing, food and personal care that we brought to the province. On October 11 and until our release on October 12, about eight in the evening, no charges were filed against us nor were any members of the Periodismo de Barrio team accused of crimes.

We left Guantanamo as we entered it: innocent.

But innocence was not a sufficient reason to avoid this arbitrary arrest.

In a context where the law only recognizes the existence of state media and foreign media accredited by the International Press Center, Periodismo de Barrio media is outside these two groups. We are the result of developments in technology for communication of information of public interest, of university educations and of professional needs that are not accommodated in the existing media platforms. And we are not the only ones.

Numerous media have been created over the last year without any guarantee of legal recognition or protection for the exercise of the profession. Most of the stories published in these media are serious, balanced in their use of sources, display a high sense of ethics and a deep respect for the realities, in the plural, of our country.

We also recognize that there are stories that require more research and informative rigor. Their existence, their readers and the hundreds of professionals grouped around them should initiate an inclusive public debate in society about the ownership structure of the organs of the press. This debate could lead to a media law which, at least, considers cooperative ownership in addition to state ownership, among other forms of social and public property.

We understand that the public nature of the press in Cuba is not guaranteed only by government ownership of the media.  It is not possible to tell the truth about Cuba from a single version, or from unanimous versions, which amount to one. Not when there are so many versions that diverge. For the truth of Cuba to be the truth of Cuba, the confluence of the truths of everyone, there should be a collective construction where diverse voices participate with equal rights and duties.

The Constitution of the Republic of Cuba, in Article 53, recognizes citizens’ “freedom of speech and press in accordance with the objectives of socialist society.” And in the next sentence it states that “the mass media are state or social property and can not be, in any case, private property, which assures their use to the exclusive service of the working people and the interests of society.”

However, with the way in which it has been implemented under that logic, the full exercise of the freedoms of press and speech has not been achieved, nor has the exclusive use of the media to serve the people been secured, nor has the demon that inspired the ban on private media – the monopoly – been exorcised. What has been achieved, paradoxically, is a new monopolization of information, journalistic speeches and truths.

TV channels, radio stations, print publications, publishers, changed ownership but were not socialized. Socializing is not nationalizing. There are not good and bad monopolies. All monopolization, realized by the State, by a person or a corporation, ends up curtailing freedoms. To socialize assumes to regulate the power precisely so that it is not centralized or concentrated in an area of the social, because it generates other divestitures of power. To make a “Cuban socialism” appropriate to our circumstances, does not constitute a license to violate the inseparable principles of socialism. Reproducing structures of domination is not founding a socialist society.

This is not the first time we went to work in areas affected by natural disasters. Less than three days after the tornado that damaged Playa del Caimito we visited this area without asking permission. Both citizens and the authorities cooperated with us in interviews. Six months after the rains of April 29, 2015, we investigated the main affected areas. Three years after Hurricane Sandy, we returned to Santiago de Cuba.

Periodismo de Barrio publishes research reports and tries to delve into the realities we address. Cuban state media and institutions like the Civil Defense and the Institute of Meteorology have always offered extensive coverage before, during and after extreme weather events. But the news cycle is fast, and often the victims no longer appear in newspaper headlines after a few weeks or a few months of the natural disaster. Other realities occupy the agendas of our day. But even if those other realities do not occupy the agendas of our day, the information needs of citizens are not exhausted by the coverage of the disaster before the full time in which its consequences play out. Nor can Periodismo de Barrio be exhausted.

It is the duty of our media to track the recovery process, which usually takes years. It is the duty of our media to accompany the most vulnerable. It is our duty to oversee that the Revolution, effectively, leaves no one abandoned. Often, this phrase is used just after a hurricane and then is forgotten by some public officials charged with converting it into loaves and tiles, as happened with the mattresses for the victims of the Diez de Octubre municipality in April 2015. This oversight should not be understood as a threat, but as part of our right to public scrutiny through our representatives.

We know Baracoa, Imías and Maisí are now disaster areas and we know the immediate dangers: epidemics, shortages of food and water, lack of electricity, among others.

Our intention was not in any to way hinder the work of the Civil Defense or local government but to help address what has happened from our professional positions. Every minute spent in Baracoa, Imías and Maisí, every house that we visited became a neighborhood meeting place. “The journalists have arrived,” people said to one another and what started out as an interview of a pregnant woman who had been evacuated ended up becoming a meeting of fifteen, twenty people who recounted their experiences. We deceived no one. We presented ourselves as members of Periodisomo de Barrio and explained the social object of the medium. Still, when we were leaving, they blessed us. And when they said “God bless you,” they were blessing our pens and our ears, with the capacity to give voice to their realities.

Who knows the Cuban people knows of their dignity. Each respondent suffered material losses but celebrated having kept his or her life. The presidents of the People ‘s Councils and delegates had not slept in days, inspecting the damage caused by the hurricane. Families with a roof lent their homes to homeless families. And there were still places that remained incommunicado.

We arrived in Baracoa with questions: How is humanitarian aid being distributed? How are victims being given assistance with building materials, food, clothing, etc.? What measures were taken to protect the Haitian refugees in the area? What is the condition of the coastal communities and what measures will be taken to relocate them? What were the main damages to agriculture and housing? How were the evacuation centers organized? What was the role of amateur radio in maintaining communications with the areas that were cut off? And so on.

The number of victims is not low. But the number of media covering the area is. We are talking about hundreds of villages, some remote, others completely cut off, inaccessible, thousands of people who need to be heard. During our detention in the Municipal Committee of the Communist Party of Maisi, an official pointed to an article published in the newspaper Venceremos to prove his point of view: there was media coverage in place.

Nearly 600 news agencies and foreign media were accredited to cover the visit of US President Barack Obama to Havana. The newspaper Granma, in an article published last October 14, can barely cite ten foreign agencies working in Guantanamo in addition to the province’s own media. In more than 45 interviews conducted during the twelve hours that we were able to work, no victim had been visited by any other communications media. We were the first to reach them. We were the only ones. The state newspapers and foreign media have come to others (especially the Guantanamo media), but Baracoa, Maisi and Imías are now abuzz with people who need to tell their stories.

The Guantanamo journalists, it is worth noting, have continued to work and visit neighborhoods completely out of touch that take days to get to without stopping to think about their own material losses.

Those who today question the funding mechanisms of Periodismo de Barrio are forgetting that journalism costs money. In the case of the state media, the state subsidizes the cost of the basic means of production. This does not mean they are free. It helicopter used to fly over the isolated zones was not free, the hours of Internet access that is guaranteed in the homes and workplaces of state journalists are not free, computers, trucks, fuel used by cars, cameras photographic, electricity and generators used to maintain air radio stations after power outages are not free. The offices, chairs, tables, fixed and mobile phones are not free.

The State, for more than 50 years has avoided requiring reporters to think about the economic dimension of the activity they carry out thanks to financing their means of production. Without this grant, they would be unable to exist. This funding imposes correlative obligations, as it is provided by the public and, as such, is public, giving the state media the duty to respond to the multiple needs of that audience. Now and always, the duty of transparency and accountability in the use of these resources should be standard practice.

The media that lacks the financial support of the State must seek other forms of economic management. Some turn to advertising, payment for content or payment for services, cooperation agreements with other media or non-governmental organizations and collective funding.

Crowdfunding is a method internet users have turned to for several years to finance individual and collective projects. Under this form of funding, readers are free to decide whether to contribute or not. Furthermore, it is a method that allows us to know the donated amount and identity of each contributor. The dream of any media is to be financed solely by its readers. In our case, we use the online service PayPal, inaccessible in Cuba because of the US blockade* on the island. We believe the blockade* is an arbitrary, unfair policy, which seeks to economically asphyxiate the Cuban people and, for that reason, we will continue looking for ways that do not affect the work of our media. We trusted readers and it worked. In less than 48 hours we raised the money needed to go to Guantanamo. 

There is an economic and financial blockade* by the United States for Cuban state enterprises and Periodismo de Barrio. There are no exceptions. No soft hand. And both Cuban state companies and Periodismo de Barrio have learned to outsmart it. The strategy of Periodismo de Barrio’s use of PayPal is simple: use the account of a collaborator and friend resident in another country and then send money to Cuba using remittances through a legal agency.

We have received numerous criticisms and suggestions about the money collected for coverage. Most of them from readers, well argued and with the clear intention of improving Periodismo de Barrio. We will not turn a deaf ear to them. We believe that the role of the press in the reconstruction also involves partnerships with other media, identifying projects organized in the affected areas that need help and can redistribute it, such as local governments or the Red Cross. Covering a natural disaster, we have indicated to our readers transcends the journalistic exercise itself. That is why we value, in future work, the possibility of making executive summaries with the needs and ways to access and distribute aid that are relevant to both local governments and non-governmental organizations and as well as working with to those working in the disaster areas. To report, in these cases, is not the only duty.

We condemn the arbitrary detention of journalists anywhere in the world. And we condemn it in Cuba. In doing so, the organs of state security not only limit our right of free expression and press guaranteed by the Constitution, but also the freedom of speech of each individual who chooses to speak to the media.

On October 11 not only was Periodismo de Barrio silenced, also silenced were all the communities and people who wanted to talk to our journalists. On October 11, the Cuban authorities tried to define who is entitled to tell the stories of our country. Because we believe that right belongs to the entire Cuban citizenship, because these stories need to be told, we will return to Baracoa, Imías and Maisí once the emergency is over.

*Translator’s note: The US embargo against Cuba is generally referred to in Cuba as “the blockade,” although it is not, in a legal sense, actually a blockade.

"Work is rewarded according to its quality and quantity" / Cuban Law Association

Cuban Law Association, Egar Luis Arozarena Gómez, 10 October 2016 — This article’s title is taken from Art. 45 of our Constitution, which is a clear reflection of the socialist principle “from each according to his ability, to each according to his work.”

For work reasons I visited a production centre, concerned with exporting Cuban products, and I couldn’t help noting that in just one month more than 70 workers went off sick. Why? Low salaries, and union discontent with the payment system introduced by the company management.

How is it possible that there are such problems in a sector like this, which is so important to the economy? Men and women working 12 hour shifts, covered in grease, dust, working outside in sun, rain, heat and cold, not being paid a reasonable salary for what they are doing?

In different speeches and out of the mouth of one of our leaders I have heard the call to the workers to produce more. We have to produce more, because it is the only way to satisfy the basic needs of Cuban society, but I don’t agree with the working class being urged to produce more, without motivating them. I am not talking about paying people who are not producing, but paying people in accordance with the work they are doing, because it is painful to see the conditions in which most of our workers have to work, and the quality of the snacks and lunches they receive.

People like me, who were born and brought up in the countryside and have a family member or friend who cuts cane, operates farm machinery, or who works in the sugar industry, live with these conditions every day and it affects us closely.

It is time to put in place the well-known “inverted pyramid” and pay attention to our “Supreme Law,” as José Martí always wanted,  in the interests of an ever more just Cuban society

Translated by GH

Internet Access Remains a Luxury in Cuba / Iván García

Cuban state phone company internet room. Source: Asriran.
Cuban state phone company internet room. Source: Asriran.

Ivan Garcia, 11 October 2016 — Marcos, the fifty-six-year-old owner of an illegal gambling operation, went to Cordova Park in Havana’s La Vibora neighborhood to chat online with a friend who lives in Miami. When he got there, he wondered if he was dreaming.

Perhaps there are people in some remote corner of Africa or in the Amazon rain forest who are still surprised by the possibilities the internet provides. On a planet where there are as many mobile phones as people, access to cutting-edge technologies has spurred economic, cultural and scientific development in a number of countries.

The underutilization of worldwide web in Cuba is comparable to the rejection of motorized transportation, television and antibiotics by puritanical cults. Continue reading “Internet Access Remains a Luxury in Cuba / Iván García”

The regime is fond of saying that the island’s most valuable resource is its human capital. The country boasts of more than a million university graduates and the average person attends school through the twelfth grade. But what does it matter if in the twenty-first century countless Cubans are unaware of the unlimited powers of the internet.

In a country with stagnant economy in crisis due to government mismanagement, with no significant natural resources and with an infrastructure in serious disrepair, encouraging the adoption of start-up technologies that have the potential to unleash expansion of the tourism industry and domestic electronic commerce should be a priority.

But the autocratic regime has always looked upon the internet with suspicion, assuming it to be a CIA-designed Trojan horse. This fear has put the island at the tail end of countries with limited internet access and mortgaged the nation’s future.

There are not many entrepreneurs in Cuba like Reinaldo, the owner of a bar in southern Havana who saw his sales increase 25% after launching a website.

It has been private businesspeople, especially those based in the capital or in cities near tourist destinations, who have pioneered the use of the internet as something more than simply a information tool.

For roughly 90% of state-owned enterprises, the web is a mere formality. Visit their websites and you will see how poorly the internet is being used to attract potential buyers and investors.

Online commerce in Cuba is extremely limited and geared strictly to a foreign market. Even then, very few stores offer Cubans living overseas the option of purchasing food or home appliances online.

The service is also expensive, slow and inefficient. In theory, the Carlos III mall in downtown Havana offers e-commerce. “But it leaves a lot to be desired. They sometimes wait two or three weeks to ship purchases,” says Olga Lidia, a regular customer whose daughter lives in Canada and sends her merchandise this way.

According to a floor manager at Carlos III, transportation shortages and “the little fuel they allocate us are the reasons internet sales are bad or almost non-existent.”

Internet use in the national educational system is scandalously low. Primary, secondary and college preparatory schools do not have access to the information highway.

Universities do have internet facilities but the connection speeds are so slow that the ability of take full advantage of the web’s possibilities is limited, rendering its usefulness questionable.

“Every student gets a certain number of hours a month but the machines are old, broken or barely working. You can almost never use them to do a research paper or homework assignment. Generally, students use them to gossip on Facebook or to read about sports and celebrity gossip. Using internet proxies to access sites blocked by the government such as as Martí Noticias, Diario de Cuba and 14ymedio would be unthinkable. The fallout would be huge” says a telecommunications engineering student.

Infomed, a vast network for local medical professionals, has filters to detect access to websites that the regime considers counterrevolutionary and to “oligarchic [periodicals] that are part of the campaign of distortion against Cuba.” One doctor notes that, “even in emails you have to choose your words very carefully or they can cut off your access.”

Some workplaces have internet access but, before being able to use it, staff must sign a code of ethics agreement promising to “use it appropriately in accordance with the principles of the socialist revolution.”

“You have to be inventive. You cannot open international email accounts or send emails to relatives overseas. People do it but, if they catch you, they punish you. You lose your monthly hard currency bonus and they take away your internet access,” says an engineer with ETECSA, Cuba’s telecommunications monopoly.

After commercial wifi hotspots became available in June 2013, more than a million users opened Nauta accounts.

One hour of internet access initially cost 4.5 convertible pesos (CUC), the equivalent of one week’s salary for a working professional. But in 2015 the price fell to 2 CUC per hour, roughly three days’ salary for a construction worker.

A network traffic specialist notes that “80% of internet activity in Cuba involves using social media, looking for work overseas, registering for international immigration lotteries, talking to family members in other countries, shopping on sites with overseas servers or reading sports articles, especially those by ESPN and Marca. Only 20% of of internet users go online to do research or read Cuban blogs.”

In the various wifi hotspots around the country, most people use it strictly to chat with friends and relatives overseas.

Marcos, the owner of the illegal betting operation, is convinced that connecting online is like traveling from the past to the future with one click.

Zero Victims in Cuba, at What Price? / Cubanet, Luis Cino Alvarez

Baracoa after Matthew (Photo: Ramon Espinosa/AP)
Baracoa after Matthew (Photo: Ramon Espinosa/AP)

cubanet square logoCubanet.org, Luis Cino Alvarez, Havana, 13 October 2016 – Several reporters from international press agencies, in particular the AFP, have recently highlighted the fact that in Cuba, in contrast with neighboring countries like Haiti, Hurricane Matthew caused no loss of life in spite of its extensive property damage.

The journalists credit the preventive work, mainly evacuation, that the Civil Defense carries out as soon as a storm approaches Cuban shores. And they are right: the Civil Defense is one of the few Cuban state institutions that really functions effectively.

But the admiring journalists overlook the fact that the Civil Defense works with an advantage: that which is conceded by social control and the “command and control” methods of a totalitarian regime. When evacuation is ordered, the people have no choice but to carry their rags and three or four pieces of junk, get on the trucks and buses and evacuate. If they refuse, they are evacuated by force or taken prisoner. Continue reading “Zero Victims in Cuba, at What Price? / Cubanet, Luis Cino Alvarez”

In a country where the citizen is free, the master of his actions, there is always some stubborn person who refuses to take refuge or prefers to stay to take care of his belongings, his animals, etc. Or he simply stays home because he wants to. But not in Cuba. If he doesn’t go one way or another, they take him. To a shelter or a jail cell if he acts the fool.

And Cubans, resignedly, let themselves be driven to the shelters, no matter the overcrowding, filth, and head and pubic lice: the roof there will not fall on top of them, as probably would happen in their miserable and dilapidated dwellings, and they are guaranteed food, even if it is bread with canned Venezuelan sardines, which the army keeps in its warehouses for emergencies. And as if there were not enough, Kcho will come, with an artist brigade that includes clowns and reggaeton players, to bring them a little entertainment…

If not for these forced evacuations there would have been deaths and injuries in Cuba as in the other countries. Or more: let’s remember that most dwellings in Cuba are in a deplorable state. Especially in the poor eastern region, which usually is one of the most affected by hurricanes. (Fortunately it has been years since a cyclone passed through Havana where with so much ruined housing and buildings – much of which remains upright only through miraculous static – the catastrophe would be unimaginable.)

Without detracting from the merits of the Civil Defense leaders: most of the generals of the armed forces, the older ones, in spite of playing so much with tanks and AK-47s, have not forgotten their rural origins, their highland times, when before the arrival of a cyclone, they would put their cattle and chickens in a safe place. We now are their animals, on their bosses’ farm, the size of an archipelago.

Too bad they are not more effective in the recovery effort. Or in guaranteeing, after the evacuation ends and the people return to the ruins that their houses have become, the most basic things: food and water. And not to mention the materials for repairing the dwellings, though the state says that it will bear 50% of the costs.

General Raul Castro at once assured the people of devastated Baracoa – the AFP should have referred to how happy they are with the Chief’s visit – that “the Revolution will never leave us” but warned them that reconstruction will take time.

They already know, without haste but without pause*. So they can join the long line of victims from prior hurricanes…

About the Author: Luis Cino Alvarez (b. Havana, 1956).

*Translator’s note: A catchphrase from a Raul Castro speech to the Communist Party Congress of 2016, often repeated in official discourse, and even more often mocked. Excerpt from speech: “The course is already plotted. We will continue at a steady pace, without haste, but without pause, bearing in mind that the pace will depend on the consensus that we can build within our society and the organizational capacity we reach to make the necessary changes without precipitation, much less improvisations that only lead us to failure.” 

Translated by Mary Lou Keel