Cuban Government Launches Ideological Offensive On Human Rights Day / 14ymedio, Zunilda Mata

A member of the opposition movement Ladies in White is arrested during a demonstration on International Human Rights Day in December 2015. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Zunilda Mata, Havana, 10 December 2016 — For several years on International Human Rights Day, the Cuban government has strengthed its ideological battle on the internet with police operations around the country. The volume of epithets posted on social networks and the official slogans published in on-line forums offer a strong contrast to the poor access to the World Wide Web experienced by people on the island.

Cuba has one of the lowest internet penetration rates of the Western hemisphere, with fewer than 5% of the population connected, but this Saturday its presence on the web will surpass that of other more connected nations. The authorities have prepared an avalanche of messages of support to spread what they call “the human rights enjoyed by Cuban youth.”

For the virtual offensive they have called on university students, members of the Young Communist Union, and teenagers in high school. The political battle on the network will be accompanied by activities and celebrations in dozens of parks and plazas throughout the country.

“I have to go, but variety is the spice of life; because I publish on Twitter they asked me to take advantage of it and connect with some friends on Facebook,” a student majoring in History at the University of Havana, who is participating in the digital offensive, told this newspaper.

The official press has called the day a “hornet’s nest” that is held under the slogan “My Cuba with rights.” The activities not only address the National Day for Human Rights, but also plan a tribute to “the chief defender of the humble, Comandante en Jefe Fidel Castro Ruz,” according to the announcement.

The activities planned for Saturday also include sports competitions, cultural shows, book sales and presentations of audiovisual materials. The sites chosen for the celebrations coincide in many cases with points where the opposition traditionally demonstrates during the Human Rights Day.

University Law Professor Luis Sola Vila spoke on the Legal segment of the morning news magazine, saying that “in our country the Universal Declaration of Human Rights went into effect with the triumph of the Revolution, undeniably.”

Sola Vila noted that Cuba is a signatory to several treaties, including those against torture, discrimination against women and racial discrimination, but omitted that the government of the island has not yet ratified the United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and its International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

Amid the intense ideological campaign on display in the official media for the occasion, conspicuously absent has been any reference to the rights of association or freedom of expression.

From the early morning hours several activists denounced police operations around their homes and warnings from State Security not to go out into the street. At dawn the headquarters of the Ladies in White in the Havana neighborhood of Lawton was surrounded by political police, according to a report from the dissident Angel Moya.

Officialdom expects to mark another ideological victory on this Human Rights Day, keeping the opposition forces under control, deploying an army of followers on the internet, and staging prepared celebrations in Cuban parks.

The Film ‘Santa and Andrés’ is Excluded From Havana Festival / 14ymedio, Luz Escobar

Still from the film ‘Santa and Andrew’ Carlos Lechuga. (Facebook)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 23 November 2016 — The film Santa and Andrés will not be screened at the 38th edition of the Havana Film Festival, to be held between 8 and 18 December. Sources from the industry guild commented to 14ymedio that the exclusion of the independent film, directed by Carlos Lechuga, could be motivated by its theme, focusing on censorship against a gay intellectual in the early eighties.

The 36th International Festival of New Latin American Cinema awarded the film the prize for an unpublished script, but it will not compete in this year’s festival. This decision came from “the highest authority,” several filmmakers told 14ymedio, and contrasts with the decision initially made by the event’s organizing committee, which gave a green light to the showing of the film. Continue reading “The Film ‘Santa and Andrés’ is Excluded From Havana Festival / 14ymedio, Luz Escobar”

An article in the official blog El Heraldo Cubano says that the plot of the movie “aims to highlight political persecution and attacks on the island that did not take place.” The article says that the film follows “a course of action that is not consistent with history.”

The article has circulated widely among filmmakers, and Carlos Lechuga, in a passionate response on his Facebook page, says that the author’s words are not only an attack on Santa and Andrés, but also represent “a critique and an attack on all independent cinema.”

The director, Enrique ‘Kiki’ Alvarez, has joined the defense of the film because he feels that the story of the two main characters, “who are opposites, she a revolutionary and he a censored writer, forced to be together,” ends up leading them “to a coming together and a recognition of the other that defines the humanistic will of this film.”

Lechuga continues to hope that the decision to exclude the movie from the most important film event on the island will be reversed. However, the filmmaker Miguel Coyula believes he “is still trying to have a dialogue of the deaf (…). We have to advocate for creating a space, an independent theater, where art films are shown without being dominated by the dictates of an institution.”

The official attack has ignored the vast number of awards received by Lechuga, including the Julio Alejandro Award from Spain’s General Society of Authors and Editors (SGAE). This is the second feature film by this young director, who captivated audiences with his film Molasses (2012).

Santa and Andrés premiered to a full house at the Toronto International Film Festival, and was also screened at San Sebastian, Chicago and Zurich. Its first showings were dedicated to Reinaldo Arenas, René Ariza, Nestor Almendros, Guillermo Cabrera Infante, Virgilio Piñera and José Lezama Lima.

Lechuga says that in the idea and filming of the work he was motivated by “the desire, the attempt, to hear the voice of many who were silenced or who suffered the repression of people who tried to silence them.”

The Havana Film Festival will show 440 films this year, with 36 of them competing for prizes. Among them, two Cuban productions will compete in the category of first works and three will compete for the award for best feature film.

For more than three years several Cuban filmmakers have defended, in open meetings ,the idea of a Film Law that would permit the development and operation of independent production houses.


Impressions of a Novice (Part 1) / 14ymedio, Regina Coyula

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Regina Coyula, 8 December 2016 — A novice in Mexico and a novice in the Internet Governance Forum (IGF). The city surprised me because I had attributed to it a rural character it does not have. Zapopan and Guadalajara, to the eyes of a stranger, are a single city; one city with the equivalent of three-quarters of the entire population of Cuba. Many construction sites, many luxurious apartment towers that don’t seem to be inhabited, never mind the information from Miguel, my taxi driver to PALCCO.

PALCCO is the Convention Center and is enormous. The security measures are extensive, because it is a world event filled with people, including famous people, sponsored by the United Nations.

Numerous social, academic, journalism and other organizations have set up little stands in the entrance to present their programs. Continue reading “Impressions of a Novice (Part 1) / 14ymedio, Regina Coyula”

Once inside the main building it is very difficult to orient yourself; an army of young volunteers, smiling and helpful, help you find your way in that labyrinth of meeting rooms and a place to have coffee.

I look at the agenda. All the topics are interesting and it’s hard to decide which to attend because up to ten sessions overlap at the same time. The technology is a wonder, because you can follow them on Youtube or watch them later.

For personal reasons I’m interested in the forums on public policy about access and internet rights, digital security, and surveillance; but I also attended sessions on other topics such as on-line education, and the lower levels of use among women, the disabled and minorities.

The sessions are in English and there is no simultaneous translation, which requires all my attention. Huge screens transcribe it and thus I can follow the topic.

I make the briefest comments on the panel on the Right of Internet Access in Latin America. I am listening to my Latin American colleagues, realizing the uniqueness of Cuba: not only has Cuba not ratified the UN covenants on human rights, but it voted against considering Internet Access a Human Right; and although the “cable” (Alba 1, from Venezuela) came to Cuba, the Internet has not come.

A synthesis that seems to be interpreted literally by another Cuban delegate, a woman representing the business sector, feels the need to remind the audience that Cuban has free education and healthcare, about the impact of the “Blockade” (the American embargo), and in my opinion, the most pernicious idea: the concern about giving people Internet when no one knows what they will do with it.

Here is the video with my comments, which occur roughly between 1:17:53 and 1:30:25.

Cuba’s Christian Liberation Movement Leader Gets a Lawyer / 14ymedio

Eduardo Cardet, national coordinator of Cuba’s Christian Liberation Movement. (Flickr)

14ymedio biggerEduardo Cardet, national coordinator of the Christian Liberation Movement (MCL) who has been under arrest since the night of 30 November, as of Thursday has found a lawyer to represent him. His relatives have denounced in several media that no lawyer wanted to take on the activist’s defense. Although the lawyer has not had access to his file, the family is optimistic and affirms that the attorney “fight for his right to bail.”

Yaimaris Vecino, the activist’s wife, told this newspaper in a phone conversation that she was able to see Cardet just after they moved him to the so-called “provisional prison” of Holguin, located on the Bayamo highway very close to the airport. Continue reading “Cuba’s Christian Liberation Movement Leader Gets a Lawyer / 14ymedio”

Yaimaris said that the regime opponent still has notable injuries on his face that he suffered during his arrest, and she clarified that ultimately the accusations have focused on the crime of attack, for which the prosecution would ask for a sentence of between one and three years, as stipulated in the Criminal Code.

Under the law, it is a crime when the use of “violence or intimidation against a public authority or official or its agents or assistants impede them from realizing an act appropriate to their duties.”

However, according to the testimony of numerous witnesses consulted and the family, it was the agents of authority, represented by two members of the State Security in plainclothes and two in uniform, who pounced on Eduardo Cardet when he arrived on a bicycle at his mother’s house.

“It was they who knocked him off his bike and exercised unnecessary violence to arrest him,” his wife explained. No one has officially explained why they went to arrest him at this time. “The first answer when I asked the reason for his arrest was from a State Security official, who told me everything was for his counterrevolutionary activism and they there were not going to allow any actions of this time,” his wife said.

Yaimaris Vecino explains that the attack occurred at the door of her house in front of their children, one age 11 and another 13 years old. “The only police officer who suffered something like an injury was one who injured his hand when he threw my husband against a fence with spikes to try to injure him,” she adds.

The Christian Liberation (MCL) Movement was founded in 1988 by the dissident Oswaldo Payá (who was killed in 2012); the MCL promotes a peaceful change towards democracy and seeks respect for human dignity.

Cuba’s Phone Company, The Monopoly of Inefficiency / 14ymedio, Zunilda Mata

Problems on the phone company’s Nauta internet service are exacerbated during the weeks a recharge specials are in effect. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Zunilda Mata, Havana, 9 December 2016 – The Nauta network has failed again. This time users have been unable, for several days, to recharge their accounts on the internet, or to check or make balance transfers. The Cuban Telecommunications Company (ETECSA) suffers constant interruptions, a situation that highlights the deficiencies in its infrastructure, despite the substantial profits it earns as a monopoly.

Since its creation in 1994, ETECSA has been gobbling up all the sectors of the telecommunications market that were once managed by other companies, such as C-COM or Cubacel. Five years ago, Cuban authorities acquired all elements of that company and put an end to any foreign investment in the sector. Continue reading “Cuba’s Phone Company, The Monopoly of Inefficiency / 14ymedio, Zunilda Mata”

The closing of that stage, which was characterized by foreign investment from countries such as Mexico and Italy, was a symbolic slamming of the door in the same year that the Italian company Telecom sold its shares – 27% of the company – for 207 million dollars. With complete control of the country’s phone service, ETECSA began to dictate its operations.

Currrently, the monopoly manages all fixed and cellular phone service on the island, email communications and internet, and the distribution of recharge cards, the latter of which has improved in recent years with the licensing of private individuals to work as telecommunications agents.

Although in the last five years ETECSA has expanded from 350 to a little more that 600 base stations in the country and brought its signal to all the municipalities in the country, in web services and email ongoing problems generate constant complaints among users.

“I can only send or receive messages late at night, when there’s no one on-line,” protests Yohandri Rojas who lives in Santa Clara. The 29-year-old complains about the poor quality of the Nauta email service, which is managed from mobile phones. “It’s a disaster,” he says.

Rojas works with a friend in a small place that repairs mobile phones, and has extensive knowledge of computing and communications that he taught himself. “This is because of problems with the bandwidth on the data network,” he explained to 14ymedio. “What has happened is that ETECSA has not expanded its servers consistent with the growth in the number of users,” he emphasizes.

ETECSA refused to answer questions from this newspaper to explain the causes of the frequent crashes in service and the poor quality of its operation. “We are working on solving the problem,” an employee at the number to report problems curtly told this newspaper.

Services from email to cellphones have worsened in the past year. “They have sold more accounts than they can effectively manage,” says a telecommunications agent in the Regla district of Havana, who preferred to remain anonymous. “The service is disappointing and if another company emerges offering a different service, ETECSA is going to lose a lot of customers.”

In the middle of this year, Ministry of Communications authorities let it be known that there are 11.2 million temporary or permanent email accounts on mobile phones. Many of them are opened by tourists passing through the country, but at least half are regularly used by domestic customers.

Each megabyte downloaded or uploaded via email on Nauta mobile phone services costs one Cuban convertible peso, the daily wage of a professional. But because of the instability in connections, the same amount can cost three times as much, because interruptions cancel message transmissions over and over again.

The problems are worse during weeks when “bonus recharges” are offered, allowing the user to purchase a recharge amount on the internet with a bonus as a “gift” from the company. “During those days there is no way I can get into my Nauta email inbox,” explains Deyanira, a nurse who lives in Havana’s Cerro neighborhood.

“When they announce ‘double’ or ‘bonus’ recharges, I know I won’t be able to communicate with my family by email that week,” she explains. The young woman’s mother lives in Germany with her younger sister, and email via mobile phones is the quickest way to stay in touch. However, most of the time, “my messages remain in the outbox for hours or days, waiting for ETECSA to wake up,” she jokes.

Bandwidth problems on the cellular network affect more than just email services. Ernesto, a Valencian visiting Cuba for two weeks, complains that “the roaming service is very unstable, and sometimes there’s a signal and sometimes not.” At more than 5 euros for every megabyte sent, the tourist tried to use “Facebook and also Instagram, but with little success.”

In recent months, Cuba has signed agreements for roaming with several telephone companies in the US, most notably Verizon, Sprint and AT&T.

“If they continue to strain the network with users demanding data, but do not expand or update the infrastructure, it will collapse,” predicts Yohandri Rojas. “ETECSA is going to be like the hard currency stores that sell beer: high demand and low supply,” he scoffs.

Little War Games / Fernando Dámaso

Fernando Damaso, 29 November 2016 — In October, Hurricane Matthew struck the eastern side of the Island, creating destruction and desolation in Maisí, Baracoa, and other communities of the territory, from which their inhabitants–given the precariousness under which they were already living–will take years to recover. This is especially so being that much of what is reconstructed today is of a temporary character, due to the lack of durability and resistance to natural phenomena of the materials utilized.

The national economy continues to be in crisis, and the lack of supplies can be seen in the empty shelves of the freely-convertible currency (CUC) stores, in the service stations bereft of gasoline, and in the pharmacies that don’t stock basic medications. Other essential services also show their deterioration and affect the Cuban people. Continue reading “Little War Games / Fernando Dámaso”

Against all logic, from the 16th through 18th of this month, the authorities carried out the Bastion 2016 Strategic Exercise, which practically paralyzed the country for those three days. As if this were not enough, they added two “Days of Defense,” the 19th and 20th, with the goal of perfecting the country’s preparedness to confront a supposed enemy, under the concept of “War of All the People.”

In the conclusions published in the official press, the solution to wartime problems was declared “successful” by the ministries in charge (the same ones who are incapable of resolving the problems of peacetime) as were the exercises carried out with the mobilized population (infantry exercises, arming and disarming of weapons, shooting, grenade launching, disguise and others). In addition, there were assurances that “Cuba’s invulnerability to military aggression” had been confirmed.

In today’s world, with the level of arms development and technological advances in all spheres, no country can consider itself invulnerable, including the major powers. It is absurd to declare this with respect to a small and poor country such as Cuba, equipped with obsolete and recycled weaponry.

Now the practice runs were underway for a great military parade, in the style of those from the Cold War era, on 2 December, for the 60th anniversary of the Landing of the Granma and in honor of the “historic leader’s” 90th birthday–which has been moved to 2 January 2017, due to his death on the evening of 25 November and the activities surrounding his funeral.

It is true that all of these events, except the (albeit expected) demise, was long planned. But prior to Hurricane Matthew and the results of the United States elections. they could have been reconsidered.

It is no secret to anyone that these happenings required resources of all types and exacted great physical and economic costs. The questions by many citizens were: Why, instead of being squandered, were these means not applied to relieve–in the shortest time possible and with greater quality–the problems in the communities affected by the hurricane?

The explanations provided by the authorities–including the one about the exclusion of Guantánamo, a poor province with few resources, from these activities–satisfied very few. In the context of the improvement of relations between the governments of Cuba and the United States, do they not insert unnecessary noise?

Could it be that with these little war games, there was an attempt to “cohere” to the regime the ever-less “cohered” Cuban people?

Could it be a pathetic attempt to “play an old hand” for the benefit of the next tenant of the White House?

Given the recent events, much should change.

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

Legacy and End Point / Somos+, Pedro Acosta

Somos+, Pedro Acosta, 6 December 2016 — After your departure the Cuban people should be eternally grateful for:

The fall of the dictatorship. Fulfilling your political promises, especially the respect for the 1940 Constitution, the quick holding of free elections, and not placing yourself permanently in power.

For making us economically independent (??!), developing our industry and raising it to levels never before seen, diversifying production and eliminating our dependence on our dangerous neighbor to the north and transferring it first to the Socialist camp and then to the first ones who came along. Maintaining the boom and constantly growing our powerful sugar industry. Continue reading “Legacy and End Point / Somos+, Pedro Acosta”

Also for giving us a dignified wage that allows us to live at ease. Because our children can savor a tasty breakfast, lunch and dinner. And the Cuban family has the possibility to enjoy some deserved vacations in the respectable hotels that adorn the national territory, including the keys.

For granting us a Social Security System that covers the basic needs of the human being and allows us to retire without having to depend on our families to maintain us or having to take up any task we can find to be able to subsist and not live by begging.

For giving us decent housing that resists hurricanes, with only 52% of the housing stock in the country in fair or poor condition. Because the stores have fair prices according to the generous income the government pays us. In addition to having at our disposal all kinds of new generation appliances.

Giving us free choice and having telephones, TV channels and internet and so having an excellent level of information and not being subject to the opinions of any individual or of the communication media.

For giving us free (??!) education and health care. And in the schools and hospitals having facilities and technologies sustained by country’s powerful economic development.

For giving us the chance to feel proud of the behavior and formal education of the population, especially the youth. For eradicating: gambling, prostitution, racism, marginalization, corruption and other evils of the past.

Establishing diligent public services and eliminating absurd bureaucratic and cumbersome procedures, with officials who feel proud of serving the people, for fulfilling an honorable duty.

Infinite thanks:

For not interfering in warring conflicts of any kind. And not squandering the country’s abundant resources. For respecting our free will and possessing an unsurpassed freedom of expression, given through the media.

For never having lied to the people and for expressing from the first day your intentions to implant socialism in Cuba.

Because with your example we learned to respect and never denigrate our compatriots with political opinions different from those proclaimed by the Communist Party, and the Organs of State Security never having repressed in any way the regime’s opponents, much less tried and condemned them under false accusations. With your actions jealously respecting the Constitution of the Republic.

For maintaining a clear separation between legislative, executive and judicial powers.

For giving us the best Electoral System in the world where others think and argue for us and for having the ability to know, through their biographies, the Deputies of the National Assembly, people who don’t need to be from the area where they are elected from and whom we have never seen in real life. For giving us the ability to elect the president of the county.

Also, for giving us, at 50 years, hopes that in the next 50 years it will be possible to find the right road.

For this and a thousand other things:


The Legacy of Fidel Castro and the Future of Cuba / Iván García

Saturday, December 3, Santiago de Cuba. Elementary school students await the arrival of the entourage with the ashes of Fidel Castro. Photo by Darío López-Mills, from AP, taken from El País.

Iván García, 6 December 2016 — Some large scale political events, the ones where people are weeping over the death of a “venerated leader” or yelling slogans like ventriloquists, are really smoke and mirrors. A dishonest trick.

On April 7, 1957, a month after the assault on the Presidential Palace by the March 13 Revolutionary Council, friends of the dictator Fulgencio Batista organized a demonstration on the esplanade in front of the palace.

It was a rainy day but, according to press accounts at the time, 250,000 citizens turned out. This was a huge number considering that the 1953 census reported that Havana had 785,455 residents. (The entire population of Cuba in 1953 was 5,829,000.) One year and nine months later the same residents, probably in even larger numbers, filled the streets of the capital to pay homage to the new soldier messiahs. Continue reading “The Legacy of Fidel Castro and the Future of Cuba / Iván García”

A resident of Santos Suárez, now deceased, told me that on November 8, 1958, Batista’s hitmen were involved in a shootout for more than five hours with four young people from the July 26th Movement, who were holed up in a building at Goicuría and O’Farrill streets in what is today the Tenth of October district.

No one from the neighborhood came to the defense of Pedro Gutiérrez, Rogelio Perea, Angel “Machaco” Ameijeiras and Norma Porras, who was nineteen-years-old and pregnant by Machaco, the group’s leader. Residents remained indoors, watching the shooting from behind their blinds. They later recounted seeing the three men taken alive. After being tortured, they were executed. Porras was captured on a neighboring roof and taken to a military hospital.

Neither their torture nor their corpses, which were thrown into a ditch by Batista’s repressive security agencies, were enough to convince Cubans to hold public demonstrations. Similarly, dissident protests denouncing human rights violations are not enough to summon the large mass of Cubans who harshly criticize the Castros in private.

According to experts, closed societies govern by resorting to human fear. In a democracy, any incident or injustice can be an incentive for strikes or public protests.

But in an autocracy — whether it be communist, fascist or a banana republic — acquiescence and fear stifle rebellion. It’s not as though Cubans have a genetic predisposition for this condition. Certainly not.

In Italy, Mussolini reined in the Mafia. In Germany, Hitler used the public squares for his xenophobic, anti-Semitic, and militaristic harangues.

Cuba has spent sixty-four years under dictatorships. Seven under a capitalist dictatorship which respected free press and granted amnesty to political prisoners. Although it did impose press censorship at times, it also later lifted it. For fifty-six years the socialist dictatorship has invoked a false sense of nationalism and co-opted the heroes of Cuban independence for its own advantage.

Fidel Castro was clearly an important leader, for good and for evil, but only in the political realm. In 1956 he raised a guerilla army and launched a war that broke all the rules of conventional warfare, destroying a professional army that relied on artillery, planes and war ships.

He was a key figure in Africa’s anti-colonial movement. He provided men and materiel to seventeen African nations. He tried to subvert almost all of Latin American except for Mexico (although Subcomandante Marcos’ men did train in Cuba) with strategies that combined armed struggle with terror.

A majority of the continent’s seditionists — from Venezuela’s Carlos the Jackal to Colombia’s Manuel Marulanda (alias Sure Shot) — passed through the military camp set up in Guanabo, a seaside area on the outskirts of Havana. They also included commandos from the Basque terrorist group ETA as well as the PLO and the IRA.

In terms of economics, Fidel Castro did very little that is worthy of applause. And a lot at which to jeer. Let’s consider what has come of some of his hair-brained schemes, the lies he told, the promises he never fulfilled.

In Picadura Valley there are no air-conditioned dairies or robust livestock setting new records for dairy production. Nor any exotic fruits in Baconao. And Havana was never able to attain the standard of living of New York, as he once promised in one of his hundreds of speeches.

Rather the opposite has occurred. The neighborhoods he built are a master class in architectural folly. His schemes destroyed or depreciated sugar, citrus and coffee production operations.

His brother Raúl had to resort to urgent economic reforms, timid and still incomplete, if for no other reason than to paper over the disasters created by Fidel.

Castro I was a dictator, an enlightened leader. He did not have a 900 million dollar fortune, as Forbes magazine reported. He had much more. He had something that cannot be appraised in monetary terms. He had a whole country. A country that he ran like his own personal estate.

Now that he has died, the question that arises is: What will happen to the more than twenty houses that he owned throughout the country? Or to his private navy? Or his island in Cayo Piedra south of the Bay of Pigs?

The man whom God has just called home has, to my mind, caused damage on an anthropological scale to Cuba and to Cubans. He polarized society and opinions. He sold us on the idea that the Fatherland was synonymous with revolution and socialism.

Castroism did not end with Fidel Castro’s death. The regime still has some life left in it. But with his death an era ends and the revolution loses a symbol. International economic forces will require new reforms if it is to survive. A relapse into ideology and a retreat from economic reform will spell the beginning of the end for Castroism.

After Fidel Castro’s ashes have been set inside an enormous rock, supposedly brought down from the Sierra Maestra, and the funeral services have concluded, honest Cubans — those from here and those from there — must sit down and discuss whether or not we want live in a democratic nation.

All of us are vital to the future of Cuba. The best way to repair the terrible sociological and spiritual damage Fidel Castro has caused is to set aside resentment and engage in dialogue.

To paraphrase the poet Angel Cuadra, the two sides have the same hero, José Martí. Both always defend their ideas singing the same anthem and raising the same flag.

The war is over. Let’s build a new Cuba together.

 Diario Las Americas, December 4, 2016

From Girl to Woman in Cuba / Somos+, Marcia Castillo Alvarez

Somos+, Marcia Castillo Alvarez, 7 December 2016 — Today I woke up with many thoughts and memories I’m trying to sort out, and it seems incredible to me how time passes and we with it. I remember when I was a girl, how I dreamt of and visioned the future, always wanting to see farther. I was raised in a humble home of peasant origin, with great thanks to Fidel and the Revolution, where I only heard about achievements and good things, but no one talked about mistakes.

As a girl I didn’t question myself, because in my fantasy, for me the whole world was good. At home, on the block, at school, i was raised as a disciple of José Martí, a patriot and a revolutionary. When I saw the comandante on the TV screen I saw him as an infallible giant. Along with my classmates I wonder what day the leader would day and how people would react and what would happen. Continue reading “From Girl to Woman in Cuba / Somos+, Marcia Castillo Alvarez”

Today everything is different, I’m no longer a child, and unlike those times I have a lot of questions, and my way of thinking has changed. I wonder how a man who has imposed his way of thinking, his ideology, his thinking, however, he transcends history today. How millions of Cubans recognize his achievements, while in other areas our country is paralyzed in time. It is impossible not to talk about these things that touch us very closely every day.

How one man who fought for a single social class, “the humble,” had at his disposal the car he wanted, while the people barely had a bicycle. How he partook of delicious banquets, when the working class didn’t earn enough money to eat, not to mention the keys to hunting lodges, luxury hotels and places he visited, when a Cuban could go only if he or she received help from abroad or if their family came, and on occasions hundreds have died without being able even to visit the capital city of all Cubans. If I continued to cite examples it would take me a long time to finish, and the truth is, they want us to see something that in reality doesn’t exist.

Today I ask myself, is if worth investing our time and paying tribute to a person who manipulated, cheated, abused, lied, just to remain in power? Can we teach today’s children to follow the example of a person whose deeds do not correlate with his principles, words and ideas?

I invite you all to reflect and decide what to follow, what to teach and what to remember. But beyond the differences, all of us together can bet on a better country, where man is truly free, to choose and to act, and that the people who lead us, we can really know them and choose them.

Mariela Castro’s Disrespect in New York / Cubanet, Jorge Angel Perez

cubanet square logoCubanet, Jorge Ángel Pérez, Havana, 1 December 2016 — A cable from the Cuban press agency Prensa Latina, written by Waldo Mendiluza, warned me that the sexologist, parliamentarian, and daughter of Raul Castro, was in New York.

According to the cable, the director of Cuba’s National Center for Sexual Education (CENESEX) spoke to the United nations about the social justice that distinguished the Revolution that triumphed in 1959, and also the way in which this “generous politician” was dealing with the rights of Cuba’s LGBTI community. Continue reading “Mariela Castro’s Disrespect in New York / Cubanet, Jorge Angel Perez”

According to the cable, Mariela praised the transformations on the island, at all levels, during the nearly six decades of the “Revolution” in power, and added that these developments contributed to the Cuban population being much more open to an understanding of social justice, facilitating this kind of work against homophobia and other prejudices.

The assertion that “this scenario means that, even when there are problems, they are not expressed through violence, with exceptions, as happens in other countries with major advances in legislation in the matter of the rights of the LGBTI community,” is odd.

And the oddity is that again, this official discourse is more interested in defending things, that is the “Revolution,” rather than persons, when it should be the exact opposition, and it seems disrespectful to me. No object deserves more respect than a person.

As we have known for a long time, respect is one of man’s greatest virtues. No wonder Zeus sent his son Hermes to teach men respect and justice, and this is what the homosexual community in Cuba most needs: respect and justice.

It is thoughtless to say that violence against homosexuals is less in Cuba than in the rest of the world. To forget that homosexuals have suffered from violence is thoughtless. To forget that homosexuals have been been victims of institutional homophobia is thoughtless. It is impolitic not to recognize that the “Revolution” did not care for the integrity and dignity of lesbians, gays and transexuals. We need to talk about this every day and name those responsible.

It is insolent to once again try to care for institutions, things, instead of protecting those men and women who prefer, each one of those days, those like themselves. Nothing can advance if praising the “goodness” of a “revolution” marginalizes homosexuals.

It is counterproductive to defend the politics of a revolution that created concentration camps for homosexuals, that expelled them from the universities, and called them “deviant.” It is odd that the voice singing of this “policy of vindication” is a heterosexual woman who doesn’t know the suffering of those she “represents” and “defends.”

In Cuba there is violence against homosexuals and to deny it is embarrassing. In this country they continue to be repressed, and hate crimes are not solved. In Cuba, the moral judgment of its institutions remains opposed to freedom. I, for one, have not seen the documentary “Mariela Castro’s March: Cuba LGBTI,” which was presented at the United Nations on 17 November in the presence of the director of CENESEX, and broadcast on HBO on 28 November.

It would be fair to put it on Cuban television in primetime. It was presented at the last Festival of New Latin American Cinema, albeit with some discretion, and could not be expected to act otherwise if the testimonies of some homosexuals who were offended by the homophobic policies of the “Cuban revolution” appear on the tape.

That is not, apparently, the fate of “Santa and Andres,” a film whose main subject, according to its director, is “freedom, freedom, freedom”; that’s disrespectful, as is the fact that Mariela Castro will use her visit to New York to do some shopping.

That day a friend wrote telling me he had seen her at The Home Depot where apparently she was trying to buy lightbulbs, I guess to light her home. And I wonder if she decided to buy the same energy saving bulbs I am forced to buy.

Mariella Castro buys lightbulbs in Manhattan, despite the fact that in an interview on Cuban television conducted by the journalist Cristina Escobar, she assured the viewers that her salary doesn’t last her to the end of the month.

See also:

In the Midst of a Hurricane, Mariela Castro Remodels Her Mansion / Juan Juan Almeida

‘Santa And Andrés’ Under Revolutionary Vigilance / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

Frame from the film by Carlos Lechuga 'Santa and Andrés. (Facebook)
Frame from the film by Carlos Lechuga ‘Santa and Andrés. (Facebook)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 7 December 2016 — In the 38th edition of Havana’s Festival of New Latin America Cinema, shining by its absence is the Cuban film Santa y Andrés, by the filmmaker Carlos Lechuga. Those responsible for its censorship certainly didn’t cross it off the list without first consulting non-artistic entities such as the organs of State Security and other custodians of the official dogma.

The controversy over the exclusion of the film has been unleashed on social networks and in several digital spaces. Arguing against Lechuga’s feature film are the voices tied to the “establishment,” who claim that it distorts history and that the many errors committed in the cultural field have been rectified. The defenders, for their part, laud the artistic values of the film and assert that it cannot be considered counterrevolutionary. Continue reading “‘Santa And Andrés’ Under Revolutionary Vigilance / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar”

The Cuban Institute of Cinematographic Art and Industry (ICAIC) behaves like an entity privately owned by the only political party permitted in the country, and applies the resulting right of admission, an attitude contradictory and unacceptable for an institution that is publicly created as a representative the interests of the whole nation.

Many filmmakers act as if they believe that the ICAIC does not represent the interests of power. This apparent naiveté gives them a right to feel offended and surprised by the censorship imposed by the entity, like the teenager who comes home late with the illusion of not being scolded by her parents, who remind her of their right to search her belongings and to prohibit her next outing.

As long as artists continue to respect and revere institutions without directly questioning them, they will have to bow their heads and obey, or ultimately they will have to leave the country.

Santa and Andrés was conceived and created independently as if censorship did not exist, as if the stern father had softened and tempered over the years. One way of putting strength to the test and pushing the wall of prohibitions.

Regardless of its indisputable artistic values, Carlos Lechuga’s film will be remembered as another occasion when the repressors of thought were forced to take off their masks of good-naturedness. Cultural authorities have again demonstrated the hardened face of an intolerant patriarch showing his children who really holds the key to the house.

“There Is Nothing Worse Than An Artist Who Collaborates With A Repressive Government” / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

The film 'Hands of Stone', directed by Venezuelan filmmaker Jonathan Jakubowicz, will be presented this December at the Film Festival in Havana. (Courtesy)
The film ‘Hands of Stone’, directed by Venezuelan filmmaker Jonathan Jakubowicz, will be presented this December at the Film Festival in Havana. (Courtesy)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 7 December 2016 – He has a Polish last name, a first name of Hebrew origin, and Venezuelan blood running through his veins. Jonathan Jakubowicz is as complex and versatile a filmmaker as the skein of influences that make up his family tree. Born in Caracas in 1978, the director has received both pressure from the government of Hugo Chavez and the most resounding applause from his audience. This December his film Hands of Stone will be shown in Cuba during the Festival of New Latin American Cinema.

The film, based on the story of the Panamanian boxer Roberto Duran, includes in its cast the fellow Venezuelan Edgar Ramirez, in the starring role, and the Oscar winner Robert de Niro in the role of his trainer. Jakubowicz responded to questions from 14ymedio about his expectations on presenting his work to a Cuban audience, and his reaction to the exclusion from the festival of the Cuban film Santa y Andrés, by director Carlos Lechuga. Continue reading ““There Is Nothing Worse Than An Artist Who Collaborates With A Repressive Government” / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez”

Sanchez. During the Havana Film Festival of Havana Cubans will be able to enjoy your film Hands of Stone, one of the most interesting films that will be screened in this year. How can viewers on the island inform themselves before seeing the story of the legendary Roberto ‘Mano de Piedra’ Duran?

Jakubowicz. I think that Cubans feel the story of Duran as their own. Duran is the son of an American Marine who was assigned to the Canal Zone and who had an affair with a Panamanian, and then left. The relationship between the boxer known as Manos de Piedra and the United States is complex starting from his birth. But paradoxically it is only thanks to the help of his gringo coach, the character played by De Niro, that he becomes world champion and beats the United States boxing idols on the biggest stages in the world. It is a Latin American epic, filmed mainly in Panama but with Hollywood legends. I am sure Cubans will enjoy it.

Sanchez. You’re aware of the censorship of the film Santa y Andrés, directed by Cuban filmmaker Carlos Lechuga, and even thought of withdrawing Hands of Stone from the Festival, in solidarity with that filmmaker. Why have you kept your film in the Festival line-up? What do you think about the exclusion of the Lechuga’s film?

Jakubowicz. Cuba and Venezuela are sister nations, not only in our history but in our political present. When my first film came out, Secuestro Express (Kidnapping Express), the Chavez government charged me twice and published in the state media all kinds of information to discredit me. Only someone who knows what it is to be persecuted because of his art can understand the pain that means. That is why it affected me so much to read about censorship being applied to this Cuban film.

I felt that going to the Festival to show my film would be a hypocrisy, like when I saw international filmmakers photographing Chavez while I was being persecuted. I was afraid of becoming that dismal figure of the artist who supports the repressor, a very common figure in our countries, and one that has done great damage to our people.

But Cuban filmmakers themselves asked me not to withdraw my movie from the program, because the festival is one of the few windows left on the island to see the outside world, and so I decided to do it. At the end of the day I don’t live in Cuba and the only thing I can to do is help those who do live there.

Sanchez. You’ve experienced first hand harassment within your own country. How do you experience all those pressures?

Jakubowicz. With much anguish and sadness. My film was not even against the government, but was made by people from all social classes in Venezuela, and the success filled Chavez with insecurity, because his power was always based on dividing the population. On attacking us, he attacked our invitation to overcome the problems we have as a society, but also made it impossible for me to continue making films in my country. So I am filled with admiration for Cubans like you, like Gorki Aguila, El Sexto and others who dare to stay in the cave of repressor to do battle for freedom from within.

I just published a book, Las Aventuras de Juan Planchard (The Adventures of John Planchard), showing the corruption of the Chavista revolution in all its glory. It is my grain of sand in this fight. There are people who ask me if I’m not afraid to publish it, and my answer is that if there are people in Cuba and Venezuela who put their lives on the line daily for freedom, the least I can do is support them with my art.

Sanchez. What do you think of the relationship between cinema and power? Between artists and official institutions?

Jakubowicz. Cinema and power have always been related, the problem is when those in power repress some filmmakers, and welcome and support others. There is nothing worse than an artist who collaborates with a repressive government. To put your sensibility at the service of a power that persecutes human beings who want to express themselves like you do is a contradiction which, in my opinion, annuls you as an artist and makes your work into propaganda.

History is full of talented artists who have done that and ended up persecuted by the very machinery they supported. Generally those who remain cozied up to power forever are mediocre, they would have no capacity for transcendence if not for the help they receive as payment for their complicity.

Sanchez. In Cuba, as of more than three years ago, a group of filmmakers has been promoting a Film Law to gain autonomy and protect their work. What would you recommend to your colleagues on the island in that regard?

Jakubowicz. In my opinion they should focus on creating methods for their films to be viewed online. Just as there are now journalistic spaces coming out in Havana and reaching everyone, create spaces for local filmmakers to put their work on the internet. Almost all filmmakers in the world are doing works that are exhibited on the internet.

Even Woody Allen is making a series for Amazon. No one can underestimate the power of the internet as a tool for the distribution of independent cinema of the future. I find it commendable that they are trying to pass this law, but in my experience art cannot beat authoritarian governments with laws. They can be conquered with art. The laws were not made for artists.

The Golden Dream of A Prostitute / Cubanet, Gladys Linares

cubanet square logoCubanet, Gladys Linares, Havana, 5 December 2016 — I don’t remember exactly how much time had passed since I’d seen Cristina, but it must have been more than three years, because today, when I saw her at the home of a mutual friend and asked about her daughter, who had caused her so many headaches, she responded, very content, “She’s good, calm, married and has a son who is about to turn two.”

When Cristina turned 16 and was studying in high school, she started to change radically. At first she made up the story that she was studying with some classmates, and was late or that she slept over at some girlfriend’s house. And so, little by little, until she stopped showing up some night at all, although she continued in high school and some teachers said she was a good student.

Then she left school and started to disappear more often, sometimes even for a week. Desperate, her  mother went out looking for her and tried everything to discipline her, from persuasion to violence, but without results. According to a friend, the young woman said she didn’t continue her studies because even if she graduated she would not be able to meet her basic economic needs, and that what she needed was “a yuma [foreigner] to be able to live well.” Continue reading “The Golden Dream of A Prostitute / Cubanet, Gladys Linares”

Among her clients was a Spaniard three times her age. This gentleman wanted to meet her mom and came to collect her at home. The girl ended up pregnant. The Spaniard repaired the house, which was in very bad conditions. When the child was born he married her and came by even more often. He took her to live in Spain for a time, but she couldn’t adapt. His family lived there, his kids, his grandkids — some of them older than she was — and she didn’t feel comfortable among them.

Then, he bought her a mansion in La Vibora, on Santa Catalina Avenue. It had land with fruit trees, a swimming pool, servants and it was peaceful. The Spaniard even bought a car for when he was in Cuba, and when her husband was gone she had a chauffeur.

Although I can’t think that this is what Cristina as a mother would have wanted for her daughter, the truth is that at least the young woman is not spending her nights in the streets looking for clients, being extorted by pimps or police or risking going to jail at any moment.

This story of the life of a prostitute is not the happiest, but in today’s Cuba, this has become the golden dream of a prostitute. Nor is it the exception: many young women come to the oldest profession to escape the poverty and the homelessness our population faces.

For years, Fidel Castro thundered that the Revolution had ended gambling and prostitution, “the evils of the capitalist society,” although later he was forced to publicly recognize its existence: “Our prostitutes are the healthiest and best educated in the world,” said Castro, which is also a lie.

And with the economic crisis that began in the ’90s, the so-called “special period in times of peace,” prostitution spreads like wildfire. Today, thousands and thousands of young people throughout the country turn to this practice to satisfy their economic needs and/or their anxiousness to emigrate. Surprisingly, the hookers are not looked badly on by a broad sector of the population, but in many cases are admired, because in general they display a higher standard of living that is possible in Cuba on the salary of a job.

Barcelona-Real Madrid: Also Mourning in Cuba / Iván García

Benzemá, Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, before starting the classic Real Madrid-Barcelona, at the stadium of the latter, Camp Nou of Barcelona, on Saturday 3 December 2016.
Benzemá, Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, before starting the classic Real Madrid-Barcelona, at the stadium of the latter, Camp Nou of Barcelona, on Saturday 3 December 2016.

Iván García, 4 December 2016 — There are three things in the spirituality of the island. Rumba, Santeria, and baseball, which for a decade has been replaced by the passion for football (soccer) among Cubans, especially the youngest generation.

But Fidel Castro is overwhelming. When the cedar casket reposed in Santa Ifigenia Cemetery in Santiago de Cuba, about 600 miles east of Havana, and the funeral is over with complete coverage by the media, perfect amanuensis of the Communist Part, is when people can find out what is happening in the world. Continue reading “Barcelona-Real Madrid: Also Mourning in Cuba / Iván García”

For nine days — something unprecedented in the cuntry — we Cubans have been disconnected from the events and sports overseas. A real media blackout.

Mourning, hymns and slogans rining in the ether. Also the mourners and exalted eulogy. In these nine days, Cuba smelled a little bit like North Korea, its ideological partner.

At this point, after 60 years of autocracy, the public applauds, fakes loyalty to the regime and signs whatever the government proposes [during the mourning period Cubans are being asked to sign a loyalty oath]. hallucinatory as it seems. But under the table Cubans continue to live in this stronghold of the real Cuba ignored by state media.

In that Cuba, people speak with fractured words, reinvent themselves every twenty-four hours, and clandestinely buy everything from cocaine to a yacht.

In the terrestrial island, not in the virtual or the delirious one that the Castro regime authorities sells us, after eliciting some tears on Via Blanca with the passing of the caravan with Fidel Castro’s remains, Oneida, on arriving at the shabby filthy room where he resides in the Luyano neighborhood, went to see the list-keeper who collects the money from the illegal lottery known as la bolita, and bet 200 pesos, around ten dollars US, on number 64, which stands for “big death,” according to the list that assigns a meaning to each number.

The funeral rites of the “big death” recalled that stage of the not so distant Soviet Cuba, full of prohibitions and a press worthy of Charlie Chaplin. It seems like a backward Middle East nation.

Now, from 26 November to 4 December, by state decree, there is zero alcohol. Zero films, zero soap operas, not even the news. The olve green mourning prevents Cubans from learning about Stefan Curry or LeBron Hames, paralyzes the insipid national baseball series and the fans missed the game of the year, between Real Madrid and CR7 and the Barcelona team of the flea Messi.

Spanish journalists who covered the funeral figured out where they could watch the game. “I hope in a hotel in Santiago de Cuba I can see the match,” commented a reporter from a Catalan newspaper.

In hotels and bars in Havana, where the fans usually gather with their scarves in the team colors — very hot in this climate — and wearing T-shirts with Leo Messi, Neymar, Luis Suárez, Cristiano Ronaldo or Sergio Ramos, were closed, complying with the official ukase of maximum mourning for the death of Castro I at the age of 90.

But in Cuba, there is always a Plan B. Those who have powerful shortwave radios try to get the signal from Spain’s Radio Exterior. Others, paid for an hour of internet connection, 50 pesos, the equivalent of two-and-a-half days pay, to follow the crucial game on line in the pages of El Pais or El Mundo.

At the end of the game, tied at one, Julian, who had connected in Cordoba Park, located on the border between the Sevillano and La Vibora neighborhoods, some crestfallen Barça were leaving: “33 games without losing, now we’re at eight points, goodbye league for you.” A friend asked him to speak softly: “Pal, keep it down with all this going on, the police are waiting to pounce.”

With the disappearance of Fidel Castro, the last guerrilla of the Third World, has deployed an dense ideological paraphernalia in Cuba, asphyxiating, that has brought back the animal fear among many Cubans.

Those who daily put their elbows on the bar do it in secret, so that the snitches and the intransigent followers of the regime don’t think they celebrating the death of the “great world leader.”

All the music has been shut off, and quinceñeras, weddings and anniversaries are postponed until  further notice. Also cancelled were dances and religious festivals, like the night of 3 December, the eve of the day of Saint Barbara, who is also Changó in the Yoruba religion, one of the most venerated deities for Cubans.

“Fidel Castro owned the farm and the horses. There must be calm until his ashes are deposted in Santiago de Cuba,” said the peanut seller who was once a political prisoner.

The dissidents are also quiet. The Ladies in White didn’t go out into the street to protest on the last two Sundays, as a sign of respect and not to provoke the repressors.

On his way to paradise or hell, according to your viewpoint, Fidel Castro pounded the table with authority to demonstrate that even as dust, he generates absolute respect in the population.

Meanwhile, on the outskirts of Havana, in a big mansion about to fall down, but with an illegal satellite connection, the owner spent the whole game keeping a dozen young people quiet so they could see the match, each one paying 2 Cuban convertible pesos, a little more than two dollars.

“Gentlemen, don’t shout so much, we don’t want to go to jail,” he told the boys. But the joy could barely be controlled when Sergio Ramos, scored in the last minute of the game. Result: one to one.

And when it’s about Fidel Castro, even a football game can be an offense.

Translated by Jim