Cultural Crime / Rebeca Monzo

Celia Cruz

Rebeca Monzo, 27 March 2015 — For the last few years I have been tuning-in to a program broadcast on Sundays, from 6 to 9am, on the Cuban Radio station Radio Rebelde, ironically titled, “Memories.”

Because I love good Cuban music of all eras, I am a faithful listener of this program, and I also take the opportunity to dance a little, as a means of morning exercise. I must, I confess, bite the bullet to ignore the tedious sermons (“….had to travel thousands of kilometers to buy the molds….when the island was blockaded….”) and which year after year they play on the air lest, as they say, we forget.

What this program keeps quiet about is that it has been the Revolutionary government itself which has subjected its people to a criminal cultural blockade, depriving more than three generations of our best musicians and singers, for the sole fact of their having emigrated after 1959 — or who being on tour outside the country, never returned, as in the case of our great musician and composer Ernesto Lecuona, whose name was forbidden from being mentioned on the radio until 1989 or 1990.

Also silenced (and still so today) were a good number of musicians and singers, such as Celia Cruz — and Olga Guillot, who, for the first time, the program hosts dared to mention last month and to play one of her renditions.

They also seem to forget that The Beatles not only were prohibited, but that their records were hunted down, and those of us who owned any had to carry them inside other sleeves to keep them from being confiscated — and that now not only is there a sculpture of John Lennon in a centrally-located Havana park, but the old Atelier nightclub has been re-christened El Submarino Amarillo [“The Yellow Submarine”]. My generation cannot forget that if we wanted to listen to their music, we had to do so at low volume and under lock and key inside the house.

I believe that the moment has come, if we are to be current with these times (and with the timid attempts by the government to reestablish negotiations with the country that has always depicted us as Public Enemy Number One) to change that old aggressive and pejorative language, and address those great Cuban artists who opted for full individual liberty and left the country in search of broad cultural horizons.

I suggest to the program director, the whole team, and especially to the scriptwriter, that they break once and for all with those atavisms and finally broadcast those voices, silenced throughout so many years, as well as provide information about their interpreters, so as to stop damaging our musical culture.

Note: This article was published in the digital daily 14ymedio.com

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

 

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

Woman with a mattress (Yosmany Mayeta)

Woman with a mattress (Yosmany Mayeta)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Translated by MLK

A Leader Of Civil Society, A Real Story Without A Moral / Reinaldo Escobar

Desde Aqui, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 27 March 2015 — On a cold November morning in the late eighties, some two hundred of us were trying to come to an agreement to organize a line to buy interprovincial bus tickets at an agency in Havana’s Playa municipality. As usually happens in these cases, the line had two heads, both justifying themselves with loud protestations of their indisputable evidence of having arrived first.

The vast majority of those gathered there were trying to spend Christmas in some province. For inexplicable reasons, two parallel lists had been drawn up, both established at different times. At that time – and to some extent still – the police prohibited these lists, so it wasn’t possible to appeal to the police authority to establish some order in such a confusing situation.

At six in the morning, two hours from when ticket sales would commence, an angry Hercules type said that if there was no agreement he would be the first to buy a ticket, and he looked around to see if anyone disagreed. From the shadows, a man in his forties made a call for sanity. He was not of robust build and barely five feet tall, but he had a strong voice and seemed to be supported by the conviction that reason, well exposed, always has a chance of prevailing.

Doing his best to hide his obvious nervousness, he yelled as loud as he could, “Pay attention, please!” and calling on some hidden courage to invest himself with some authority, he invited both lines to stand one beside the other. Once that was achieved, he offered the magic formula. “What we have to do here is interweave ourselves.”

His leadership “burned” for the good of others, in an altruistic gesture showing that the most important thing was not “to shine, but to let there be light.”

The solution meant that everyone was further back in the line from where they considered themselves, such that if you were number 10 in one of the lines, now you were number 20. With unusual precision, the spontaneous organizer drew up and handed out numbers* on paper with his signature. Amid protests and agreements, acceptances and rejections of all kinds, the long line was happily established.

I got my ticket to Camagüey, Hercules was at the end and I never knew what became of him. The serene promoter of harmony was two places ahead of me, but he didn’t manage to get tickets to Santiago de Cuba. The natural authority he had displayed had not resulted in his personal gain, just assured him a place in line. His leadership “burned” for the good of others, in an altruistic gesture showing that the most important thing was not “to shine, but to let there be light.”

*Translator’s note: Lines in Cuba generally form by each person asking, as they arrive, “who’s last” and then noting who they are behind. In this way, people don’t actually have to stand in their place in line for what can be hours and hours of waiting. 

Suspended or Censored? / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya

14Ymedio
The members of the Taliban of the Cuban official web Reflejos, offended by the presence of an independent site like 14Ymedio should be celebrating: after a week of putting up with such dangerous neighbors, it withdrew the Yoani Sanchez’s daily from its platform. Authorities have demonstrated their inability to stand the test of freedom of the press.

cubanet square logo Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, MIAMI, Florida, 27 March 2015 — The members of the Taliban of Reflejos, the Cuban government-sponsored website, offended by the presence of an independent site like 14Ymedio should be celebrating. After a week of putting up with such dangerous neighbors, the authorities gave censure the all clear, in virtue of which 14ymedio has been “suspended or mothballed” because, in this era of technology and communications, euphemisms are also updated — it will no longer be able to be viewed on a platform which describes itself as “inclusive”.

Thus, while 14ymedio, the digital newspaper, launched from Cuba and in which several independent journalists on the Island collaborate or are involved, has demonstrated its ability to make use of any possible opening that facilitates access to its pages by Cubans from within Cuba, the authorities have shown their inability to stand the test of freedom of the press and differing opinions, particularly when participants have the moral authority of having experienced, on a daily and firsthand basis, the realities they narrate, report, or comment on. Continue reading

Web Platform Reflejos Closes the ‘14ymedio’ Blog / 14ymedio

"Esteemed user of the Platform "Blogs Reflejos": You have repeatedly published content that is not in keeping with the objectives of the platform Reflejos, not complying with the conditions you previously accepted. For that reason the blog is suspended...

“Esteemed user of the Platform “Blogs Reflejos”: You have repeatedly published content that is not in keeping with the objectives of the platform Reflejos, not complying with the conditions you previously accepted. For that reason the blog is suspended…”

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 27 March 2015 – The new Cuban blog platform, Reflejos, has decided to close the 14ymedio blog for “repeatedly publishing content that does not conform to the objectives with which the platform was created,” according to an email sent this Friday by the administrators.

The daily is accused of “failing to meet [the site’s] the conditions of use” with no other details. Nevertheless, when it was launched March 18, Kirenia Fagundo Garcia, a consultant on Reflejos, explained that there were no “restrictions as far as topics addressed on the blogs and users interested in the service.”

The blog opened by this daily on the digital platform was designed to bring its contents to Cuban readers since our site has been blocked on the Island’s servers since its creation in May of 2014.

During the few days in which it was active, the blog published a varied group of texts that ranged from culture to recipes to opinion columns. Neither verbal violence nor personal attacks were used, and the majority of commenters were internet users very interested in the topics that the posts covered.

The 14ymedio blog has been the object of many criticisms by bloggers associated with the Cuban government. At the beginning of this week, the official site for CubaSí news lamented the presence of “mercenaries in service of the US” on Reflejos. The writer of the article, M. H. Lagarde, accused 14ymedio in wrathful terms of having “contaminated” the platform with “counter-revolutionary propaganda.”

The digital platform is part of the Cuba Va project of the Computer and Electronic Youth Club. Set up on the free content manager WordPress, it has several technological deficiencies such as slow operation, low storage capacity (barely 250 megabytes per blog) and problems with the image upload tool. Nevertheless, in spite of these technical difficulties, we had managed to create a functional “mirror” of 14ymedio, on a service that calls itself Reflejos (Reflections) and that was announced from the beginning as a space for the blogs of the Cuban family.

Translated by MLK

Polarization and civil society / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

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14ymedio bigger 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 26 March 2015 – The family of Yamila, age 41, is a sample of Cuban society. The father is a member of the Communist Party, the mother a Catholic who never embraced the Revolutionary Process, there is a brother in Miami and she herself is working for a joint venture where she earns convertible pesos. When they sit down to eat, they discuss the high price of food, the low salaries, how boring the telenovela is, or how late the remittances from the emigrants are this month.

For decades the ideological fire has stirred no passions in Yamila’s living room. The father is increasingly tempered in his political views; the mother prays, while buying in the illegal market; the relative who lives on the other shore and comes every now and then on vacation is an obliging forty-something who saves every cent to bring them a flat screen TV. These are the daily problems that concern them and hold them together. The struggle to survive makes them set aside any differences.

This microcosm of the Cuban family today has a lot to teach those who, from polarized positions, try to say what civil society is and isn’t, Continue reading

Two Types of Dissidence, Two Policies / Angel Santiesteban

Angel Santiesteban, 25 March 2015 — For the first time in the history of the violations against the Cuban dissidence by the political police of the totalitarian Regime, there are two lines of thought: one subdued and the other more severe.

Those in the opposition who have publicly supported the intention of the governments of the United States and Cuba to reconstruct diplomatic relations have had their rights respected to travel abroad, reunite, publish, etc.

But those who openly oppose the reestablishment of diplomatic relations, unless the Cuban Government respects human rights and frees the political prisoners, have been detained and had their passports take away, like the plastic artist Tania Bruguera, who was visiting the country, so that she now finds herself held hostage, and the activists Antonio Rodiles and Ailer Gonzales. Continue reading

And where did that glass of milk go? / 14ymedio, Orlando Palma

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14ymedio bigger 14ymedio, Orlando Palmo, Havana, 25 March 2015 — The newspaper Granma published Wednesday a comprehensive report on milk production in the province of Camagüey. This scenario is grim and confirms the downward trend in terms of delivery of this precious food. Since 2012, Camagüey’s milk production and sales to the industry have declined, both in the cooperative and private sectors.

Although in the last five paragraphs it outlined with moderate optimism the possibilities of the sector recovery program, a reading of the article, signed by journalist Miguel Febles, reveals a problem that extends across many sectors of the economy, which can be summed up in the affirmation that the bureaucracy continues to be the heaviest weight dragging down food production in Cuba.

In short, the problem is that farmers must deliver the milk they produce to a pre-determined collection center. There samples are taken to assess the quality of each delivery, which is tied to the price of the product. However, instead of paying everyone according to the quality of food they bring to the center, the quality is averaged across all deliveries and the price paid to the farmer is derived from that average. The result is to demotivate improvements in quality.

Milk production in Cuba only covers 50% of domestic demand, so the country needs to import half of the milk consumed 

One of those interviewed, Alexis Gil Perez, director general of the Provincial Dairy Company, explains that the contracts are not with individual farmers but with “the productive base.” Gil Perez argues that this does not violate any procedure. “If there are opinions or dissatisfactions, we would have to revise the documents that govern the activity, and this decision can only be taken at the national level,” he adds. “Meanwhile, we must comply with the established provisions. It is not within my powers to vary the range of what we pay for milk.”

In a ceremony held in Camagüey on 26 July 2007 {commemorating the rebel attack on the Moncada Baracks), General Raul Castro said that every Cuban would be able to drink a glass of milk. Nearly eight years after that desire failed, the immediate proposal is not even to improve the distribution of what is collected, but to stop the decline in milk production observed in that province since 2012.

Milk production in Cuba only covers 50% of domestic demand, so the country needs to import half of the milk consumed. Its distribution is controlled by the government and private companies are forbidden from trading in milk products, even in the farmer’s markets.

 

Kuwait invests $ 21 million in hydraulic networks Havana / 14ymedio

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 26 March 2015 — The Kuwait Fund for Arab Economic Development awarded $21 million for the rehabilitation of water supply and sewer networks in Havana, as reported Thursday in the official media. With the signing of three agreements Wednesday, the second phase of the project gets underway; the project began in 2012 when the Fund awarded a credit to work on water resources in the capital.

The total amount of Kuwaiti aid for rehabilitation of networks amounts to $52 million in the last three years. It is expected that the works will be completed in all of the capital’s municipalities within 14 years.

The Cuban side at the time of the signing of the agreements was headed by Minister of Foreign Trade and Foreign Investment, Rodrigo Malmierca, while the general director of fund development, Abdulwahab Al-Bader, represented Kuwait.

“This is the fourth time we concluded agreements with the island and we are committed to continuing to provide credit to support works of such magnitude,” said Al-Bader. He added that his institution is ready to support the third stage of the capital rehabilitation and also evaluate the potential to contribute financially to other projects related to renewable energies.

The situation of hydraulic networks in Havana is a source of constant complaints from the population and heavy loss of water due to leaks and breaks. It is estimated that over 50% of the water pumped in the country is lost due to poor distribution infrastructure.

Cuba: Artist imprisoned for painting the names "Fidel" and "Raul" on two piglets / Laritza Diversent

After 90 days of imprisonment, there is no formal accusation against the artist, Danilo Maldonado.

Laritza Diversent, Havana, 25 March 2015 — Authorities are still imprisoning the artist, Danilo Maldonado, known as “El Sexto” (The Sixth), who was detained arbitrarily by the police.

Maldonado, 31 years old, is an urban artist and painter who finds himself accused of “aggravated contempt,” a charge that the Cuban State uses to incarcerate people who are critical of the Government. He presently is serving 90 days in preventive custody in Valle Grande, on the outskirts of the Capital.

On the afternoon of December 25, 2014, Maldonado staged a “show” in a spot in the city of Havana, when he was detained by police operatives. They arrested him for having two piglets in a sack. One was painted on the back with the name “Fidel,” and the other, with the name “Raul.”

Both names are common; however, the authorities assumed that they disrespected the Castro brothers, and they could impose on him a sanction of between one and three years of prison. Continue reading

The Day Peace Broke Out / Yoani Sanchez

Generation Y*, Yoani Sanchez, 25 March 2015 – “Peace broke out!” the old teacher was heard to say, on the day that Barack Obama and Raul Castro reported the reestablishment of relations between Cuba and the United States. The phrase captured the symbolism of a moment that had all the connotations of an armistice reached after a long war.

Three months after that December 17th, the soldiers of the finished contest don’t know whether to lay down their arms, offer them to the enemy, or reproach the Government for so many decades of a useless conflagration. Everyone experiences the ceasefire in his or her own way, but the indelible timestamp is already established in the history of the Island. Children born in recent weeks will study the conflict with our neighbor to the north in textbooks, not experience it every day as the center of ideological propaganda. That is a big difference. Even the stars-and-stripes flag has been flying over Havana lately, without the Revolutionary fire that made it burn on the pyre of some anti-imperialist act.

For millions of people in the world, this is a chapter that puts an end to the last vestige of the Cold War, but for Cubans it is a question still unresolved. Reality moves more slowly than the headlines triggered by an agreement between David and Goliath, because the effects of the new diplomatic mood have not yet been noticed on our plates, in our wallets, nor in the expansion of civil liberties. Continue reading

EU Diplomat Federica Mogherini: ‘There is no distancing from civil society’ / 14ymedio

Federica Mogherini, just outside the press conference where a reporter from 14ymedio was not allowed to enter

Federica Mogherini, just outside the press conference where a reporter from 14ymedio was not allowed to enter

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 24 March 2015 – On Tuesday afternoon the European Union’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Federica Mogherini, held a press conference for Cuban official media and foreign correspondents in Havana. According to the representative, Cuba and the European Union aspire to reach an agreement on political dialog and cooperation before the end of the year.

At the press conference, held in the Taganana Room at the Hotel Nacional, independent Cuban media were not allowed to enter. However, despite the restrictions, a 14ymedio reporter managed to get some statements from the official as she left the location.

Thanks to the collaboration of Herman Portocarero, European Union Ambassador to Cuba, this newspaper was able to have brief contact with Mogherini at the end of the press conference. Continue reading