Independent Journalist Arrested For Investigating The Case Of Karla Pérez González

Maykel González Vivero was also arrested while working to cover the damages caused by Hurricane Matthew in Baracoa. (El Estornudo)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 25 Havana, 25 April 2017 — The independent magazine El Estornudo (The Sneeze) has denounced Monday’s detention of its collaborator Maykel González Vivero. The young journalist was detained at Marta Abreu de las Villas Central University, while reporting on the expulsion of journalism student Karla Pérez González.

The digital site asserts that the reporter “did not at any time hide” that he was investigating on the case. “He managed to interview Karla’s classmates who voted in favor of her definitive exclusion from Higher Education, including as Miguel Ángel Castiñeira and Ney Cruz,” the article said.

However, in the course of the investigation “a number of teachers tried to confiscate Maykel’s belongings and his tools of the trade.” He was subsequently “held in a university department until police took him to the State Security Santa Clara Operations Unit.”

At the Unit, the reporter was subjected to five hours of interrogation and his equipment was confiscated: a laptop, tape recorder and cell phone. El Estornudo clarified that the reporter “is not facing any legal charges, but his devices will be returned to have after the police penetrate (sic) them and check their contents.”

In October of last year, González Vivero was jailed for three days in Baracoa, Guantánamo, “for covering as an independent journalist the passage of Hurricane Matthew through the East of the country,” the article notes.

The reporter “is not facing any legal charges, but his devices will be returned to have after the police penetrate (sic) them and check their contents.”

El Estornudo said that the expulsion of the journalism student was arbitrary, as was the arrest of Maykel Gonzalez Vivero: “two unjustifiable abuses that the Cuban government commits, in a manner as shameful as it is ironic, through one of its centers of higher education.”

On Monday, Karla María Pérez González received the official ratification of her expulsion from the University and has ten working days to appeal the decision. The young woman was accused of belonging to the Somos+ (We Are More) Movement and “having a strategy from the beginning of the course to subvert the young.”

The case has aroused a wave of outrage and in her favor official voices have weighed in, such as the singer-songwriter Silvio Rodríguez, who wrote in his blog, “What brutes we are, for fuck’s sake, it’s been decades and we don’t learn.

“It is so clumsy and obtuse what has been done to this girl that inevitably this will draw attention to the group to which she belongs and the ideas it defends. I know that they will come out with lists of links of some of these groups calling them terrorists, etc. But the damage is already done, because such injustice can only arouse solidarity,” he said.

Lady In White Sentenced To Almost Three Years In Prison For Alleged Crime Of ‘Attack’

Lady in White Micaela Roll Gibert, 53 years old. (Martinoticias)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 25 April 2017 — On Tuesday morning the Court in Havana’s municipality of Diez de Octubre, confirmed the prosecutor’s request of two years and eight months in jail for Micaela Roll Gibert, 53.

The woman, a member of the opposition group Ladies in White, is charged with the crime of attack, alleging that she knocked down Luanda Mas Valdés, an official form the Ministry of the Interior (MININT), during an arrest.

According to Berta Soler, the leader of the women’s group who spoke with 14ymedio, the incident took place on May 1, 2016, when Roll Gibert left the headquarters of the Ladies in White.

“Roll was beaten by two cops. When they put her inside the bus to take her to the police station, one of the officers twisted her arm and knocked her down. As she fell, Roll took with her another police officer who was trying to repress her,” explained Soler.

Soler says that Micaella Roll Gibert’s 16-year-old daughter was expelled from the School of Nursing because of her mother’s activism and another of her children, a son, was fired from his job in retaliation against his mother

The officer who fell, Mas Valdés, did not appear in this Tuesday’s trial and according to Soler, they explained to those present that she was “nine month’s pregnant” and “has high blood pressure.”

“The trial was finally held without the presence of the officer making the accusation and instead the court accepted an affidavit, taken at the house of Mas Valdés moments before the trial,” adds Soler.

According to the opposition leader the trial was rigged, prepared by State Security.

“It’s one more woman they are going to send to prison,” says the activist, who notes that some time ago a State Security official proposed to Roll Gibert that she “collaborate with them.”

“When she refused him, they warned her that her life would become a nightmare,” Soler adds.

Soler says that Micaella Roll Gibert’s 16-year-old daughter was expelled from the School of Nursing because of her mother’s activism and another of her children, a son, was fired from his job in retaliation against his mother.

The Lady in White also denounced that other women from the movement are “still missing since early this morning.”

“We do not know where the Ladies Yolanda Ayala, María Josefa Acón and Gladys Capote are,” says Soler.

How Cuban State Security Intimidates Potential Informants / Iván García

“DSE” clearly identifies this car as State Security.

Iván García,9 April 2017 — They did not put a Makarov pistol to his head or torture him with electric prods. Let’s call him Josué. (The names in his article have been changed). He is a guy who wears American-made jeans, listens to jazz by Winton Marsalis on his iPhone 7 and is a diehard fan of LeBron James.

He used to work at a gasoline station. One day earned the equivalent of fifty dollars, enough to have some beers at a Havana bar with his buddies. “One of my friends was an opponent of the regime and two were independent journalists,” says Josué. “That wasn’t a problem for me. I had known them for years and they were decent, trustworthy people. We talked politics but, when we just hanging out, we usually talked about sports or our daily lives,” says Josué. continue reading

One morning two officials from the Department of State Security (DSE), dressed as civilians and riding motorcycles, showed up at his door. “They wanted to ’have a friendly chat’ with me. They asked if I would collaborate with them, if I would pass on information about my dissident friends. When I refused, they threatened to charge me with embezzling state funds.”

“’We know you are stealing gasoline,’ they said. ’Either you work for us or we’ll press charges.’ At first, I went along with it but only passed along false information or said that my friends didn’t tell me anything about their work activities. Then they suggested I infiltrate the dissident movement. I refused. In the end I quit my job at the gas station. So now they hassle me constantly and come up with any excuse to arrest and detain me at the police station,” say Josué.

For Sheila, an engineer, the modus operandi is familiar: “First, they tried to blackmail me, accusing me of having an extra-marital affair with a dissident. When I told them, ’Go ahead; do it,’ they changed tactics and said they were going to charge me with harassment of foreigners and prostitution because I have a European boyfriend.”

One of the objectives of Cuban special services is to “short-circuit” the connections that so many of the regime’s opponents, such as independent journalists, have with official sources. “They are in a panic over the possibility that dissidents and independent journalists are building bridges and establishing networks of trust with employees and officials at important state institutions. That’s why they are trying to poison the relationships dissidents and journalists have with relatives, friends and neighbors,” claims an academic who has received warnings from the DSE.

According to this academic, “The DSE will use whatever weapon it can to achieve its goals. These include blackmail, psychological pressure, a person’s commitment to the party and the Revolution, and threats of imprisonment for criminal activity, which is not uncommon given that some potential informants work in the financial or service sector and often make money by defrauding the government. State Security does not need to torture its informants. A system of duplicity, widespread corruption and fear of reprisal are enough to accomplish the objective: to isolate the opponent from his circle of friends.”

Yusdel, an unlicensed bodyshop repairman, recalls how one day an agent from State Security told him, “If you want to keep your business, you have to inform on your stepfather,” a human rights activist. “They’re pigs,” says Yusdel. “It doesn’t matter to them if you betray one of your relatives. If you refuse, you are besieged by the police.”

For Carlos jail is a second home. “Once, when I was a serving time at Combinado del Este prison, a guard asked me to intimidate another inmate, who was a dissident. ’Punch him, do whatever it takes. Nothing will happen to you.’ In exchange for this, they were going to give me weekend passes. I said I wouldn’t do it. But there are common criminals who are all too willing to do this shit,” says Carlos.

The pressure to become a “snitch” is greater when a government opponent or an alternative journalist is inexperienced. Because the dissident community is made up of groups of pacifists and because it operates openly, it is easy for counterintelligence to infiltrate it and blackmail dissidents, who can easily break down or crack under psychological pressure.

With eighteen years’ experience in the free press, a colleague who has known fake independent journalists such as the late Nestor Baguer and Carlos Serpa Maceira says that ultimately they became informants “because of pressure exerted on them by State Security.”

A professor of history who has been subjected to bullying by an agent believes, “The revolutionary/counterrevolutionary rhetoric was inspiring in the first few years after Fidel Castro came to power, when those who supported the revolutionary process were in the majority. Now, those who collaborate do not do it out of loyalty or ideology. They do it out of fear. And that makes them vulnerable and unreliable citizens. Not to mention that the professionalism of the current DSE officers leaves much to be desired. Some agents seem marginal and very intellectually unstable.”

To achieve its objective, Cuban counterintelligence resorts to extortion of would-be informants. And in the case of the opposition, to physical violence. If you have any doubts, just ask the Ladies in White.

The King, The President and The Dictator

Cuban President Raúl Castro receives the Spanish Foreign Minister, José Manuel García-Margallo. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 23 April 2017 — In the palace of the Captains General in Havana there is a throne awaiting its king. It was prepared when Cuba was still a Spanish colony and a monarch has never sat in its imposing structure. The visit of Spain’s King Felipe VI visit may end such a long wait, but the Island needs more than gestures of symbolism and protocol.

The king and the Spanish president, Mariano Rajoy, will arrive in the country a few months before Raul Castro leaves power. The official visit, long prepared for, has all the traces of a farewell. It will be like the farewell of the Mother Country to one of its descendants across the sea. Someone who began as leftist revolutionary and ended up being a part of a rigid dynasty.

The visitors will arrive in the middle of “the cooling off of the thaw” between Washington and Havana. The expectations that led to the diplomatic normalization announced on 17 December 2014 have been diluted with the passage of months in the absence of tangible results. More than two years have tone by and the island is no more free nor has it imagined to merge from its economic quagmire. continue reading

It will be like the farewell of the Mother Country to one of its descendants across the sea. Someone who began as leftist revolutionary and ended up being a part of a rigid dynasty

US airlines have begun to reduce the frequency of their flights to Cuba, discouraged by low demand and the limitations that remain on Americans traveling to Cuba as tourists. Castro has not withdrawn the ten percent tax he keeps on the exchange of dollars, and connecting to the internet from the island is still an obstacle course. All this and more discourages travelers from the country to the north of us.

The photos of building collapses and old cars fill the Instagram accounts of the Yumas (Americans) who tour the streets, but even the most naïve get tired of this dilapidated theme park. Cuba has gone out of style. All the attention it captured after the day Cubans refer to in shorthand as “17-D,” has given way to boredom and apathy, because life is not accompanied by a comfortable armchair to support this incredibly long move where almost nothing happens.

Last year tourism reached a historic record of 4 million visitors but the hotels have to engage in a juggling act to maintain a stable supply of fruit, beer and even water. Between the shortages and the drought, scenes of long lines of customers waiting for a Cristal beer, or carrying buckets from the swimming pool to use in their bathrooms are not uncommon.

Foreign investors also do not seem very enthusiastic about putting their money into the economy of a country where it is still highly centralized and nationalized. The port of Mariel, tainted with the scandals of the Brazilian company Odebrecht, and with activity levels far below initial projections, seems doomed to become the Castro regime’s last pharaonic and useless project.

But Donald Trump’s arrival in the White House hasn’t meant an iron fist against the Plaza of the Revolution as some had prophesied. The new US president has simply avoided looking toward the island and right now seems more focused on the distant and dangerous Kim Jong-un than the anodyne and close at hand Raul Castro.

The new US president has simply avoided looking toward the island and right now seems more focuses on the distant and dangerous Kim Jong-un than the anodyne and close at hand Raul Castro.

The Havana government lost its most important opportunity by not taking advantage of the opening offered by Barack Obama, who hardly asked for anything in return. Right now there hasn’t even been start on the drafting of the new Electoral Law announced in February of 2015. Was that news perhaps a maneuver so that the European Union would finally decide to repeal the Common Position? Fake news that sought to convince the unwary and fire up the headlines in the foreign press with talk of openings?

To top it off, they have increased the level of repression against opponents, and just a few days ago a journalism student was expelled from the university for belonging to a dissident movement. A process in the purest Stalinist style cut off her path to getting a degree in this profession that, decades ago, officialdom condemned to serve as a spokesperson for its achievements while remaining mute in the face of its disasters.

Take care. The visit of King Felipe and Queen Letizia is inscribed in times of fiascos. Failures that include the economic recession that plagues a country with a Gross Domestic Product that closed out last year in negative numbers, despite the usual make-up the government applies to all such figures. And the Venezuelan ally unable to shake off Nicolas Maduro, increasingly less presidential and more autocratic. The convulsions in that South American country have left Cuba almost without premium gas and with several fuel cuts in the state sector.

These are not the moments to proudly show off the house to visitors, but rather a magnificent occasion for the highest Spanish authorities to understand that totalitarianism never softens nor democratizes, it just changes its skin.

The Spaniard will have to spin a very fine thread not to turn the visit of the head of state into an accolade for the dying system. The royals will be surrounded by the attentions of officials who are trying to avoid, fundamentally, their stepping a single decorated millimeter beyond the careful preparations that have been underway for months. As was once attempted during the 1999 visit of Juan Carlos de Borbón to participate in an Ibero-American Summit.

The Spaniard will have to spin a very fine thread not to turn the visit of the head of state into an accolade for the dying system

On that occasion, and during a stroll with Queen Sofia through the streets of Old Havana, officialdom blocked access to the neighbors, emptied the sidewalks of the curious and worked the magic of converting one of the most densely inhabited areas of the city, with the most residents per acre in all of Cuba, into a depopulated stage where the royal couple walked.

Their successors, who will travel to the island “as soon as possible,” could do worse than to study the ways in which Barack Obama managed to shake off the suffocating embrace in March of 2016. The American president handled himself gracefully, even when Raul Castro – with the gesture of a conquering guerrilla, fists raised – tried to trap him in a snapshot. But the White House tenant relaxed his hand and looked away. A defeat for the Revolution’s visual epic.

Nor does Spanish Prime Minister Rajoy have an easy time. The official press does not like him and surrounds him always with criticism and negative news about his Party

Nor does Spanish Prime Minister Rajoy have an easy time. The official press does not like him and surrounds him always with criticism and negative news about his Party. He does not enjoy sympathies among the circles of power in Havana despite having reduced the degrees of tension that reached a peak during the term of Jose Maria Aznar. But on the island there are more than 100,000 Cubans who are nationalized Spanish citizens, also represented by that nation’s leader and who are, in the end, his most important interlocutors.

Felipe VI and Rajoy have in their favor that they will no longer be bound by the protocol to be photographed with Fidel Castro in his convalescent retirement. The king declined his father’s participation in death tributes for the former president last November in the Plaza of the Revolution. Thus, the young monarch managed that his name and that of the Commander in Chief do not appear together in the history books.

However, he still has to overcome the most difficult test. That moment in which his visit can go from being a necessary approach to a country very culturally familiar, to become a concession of legitimacy to a decadent regime.

Meanwhile, in the Palace of the Captains General, a throne awaits its king, and in the Plaza of the Revolution a chair awaits the departure of its dictator.

Editorial Note: This article was published in the original Spanish Saturday 22 April in the Spanish newspaper El País

Cuban Counterintelligence Plays Hardball with Journalists / Iván García

Headquarters of the Ministry of the Interior in Revolution Square. From Paseos por la Habana.

Ivan Garcia, 17 April 2017 — Money is no object. When it comes to thwarting, harassing and repressing intellectuals or journalists, there are always enough funds in military’s coffers to write a blank check.

Solid numbers are hard to come by but, according to conservative estimates, Cuba’s special services and armed forces account for roughly 35% of the nation’s paltry GDP.

There is never a shortage of fuel, guesthouses, vacation homes, medical clinics or surveillance equipment for monitoring alleged counterrevolutionaries. continue reading

It is mistakenly believed that the top priority of the Special Services is the fragmented domestic opposition, which can never turn out more than a few followers for any public gathering. Meanwhile, the brave fighters at the barricades are kept in line by punches, karate chops and detention in damp, filthy jail cells.

The real danger for the government, and for counterintelligence as well, are high-level officials. “They are like laboratory guinea pigs, always under observation. Their phone calls, internet traffic, contacts with foreigners, sexual preferences and personal tastes are monitored. They cannot escape electronic surveillance even in the bathroom,” says a former intelligence officer with experience listening in.

As in the German film The Lives of Others, people with meaningful positions in government, the armed forces, international trade and the foreign ministry are under tight scrutiny. The next most heavily monitored group of individuals — more closely monitored even than dissidents — are those in the world of arts and letters and the sciences.

“The method for dealing with outspoken opposition figures is to intimidate them, pressuring them with physical and psychological abuse, or simply incarcerating them. We know how they think. But individuals such as writers, musicians, scientists, researchers and government-employed journalists are like a knife with two edges. Many are silent dissidents. They often lead double lives. In assemblies, government offices and newsrooms they appear to be loyal to the system. At home they are budding counterrevolutionaries,” observes the former intelligence officer.

According to this source, agents are well-trained. “They focus on managers, officials and employees of important state institutions. Recent graduates of the Higher Institute of the Ministry of the Interior are assigned to dissidents and independent journalists. They are more adept at using physical and verbal violence than intellectual arguments.”

In my twenty-years working as an independent journalist, State Security has summoned me for questioning five or six times. On other occasions the interviews were more casual. A guy would park his motorcycle outside my building or near my house, as though he were a friend, and calmly chat with me or my mother, Tania Quintero, who now lives in Switzerland as a political refugee and who was also an independent journalist.

He said his name was Jesús Águila. A blond, Caucasian young man, he had the air of an Eton graduate. When he became annoying, as when he would call or visit us to discuss our case or would harass my sister at work, Tania would threaten him with a ceramic mug and he would flee the scene.

One afternoon in the late 1990s I was questioned at a police station by a high-ranking, rather refined official. Then, on an unbearably hot morning in 2010, I was questioned at a branch of Special Troops near the Reloj Club on Boyeros Avenue by officials from Military Counterintelligence.

The site where I was interviewed was an interrogation cubicle located in a holding area for inmates. I had written a couple of articles for the Americas edition of the Spanish newspaper El Mundo on meddling by senior military officers in businesses and corporations. According to my interrogators, the Cuban armed forces did not like the image these articles created of military institutions. In a hollow threat, they told me that I could charged with violating a law — I do not remember which one — against disrespecting the “glorious and undefeated revolutionary armed forces.”

But ultimately it only amounted to intimidation. For six years they did not bother me. They denied me access whenever I tried to cover something at which operatives from State Security were present but they never detained me. Then, three weeks ago, they questioned a few of my friends whom they suspected of being sources for my articles.

I wrote one piece in which I said that, if they wanted to know anything about me, they could call me in for questioning. Apparently, they read it because on April 4 they summoned me to appear the next day at a police station in Havana’s Lawton district.

There I encountered two pleasant, mixed-race and educated young men. I cannot say much else about them. I told them that what is needed — once and for all and by everyone — is open dialogue, to acknowledge the opposition and to try to find a solution to the national disaster that is Cuba today by following the path of democracy. While the officers did not promise tolerance, they did remain silent.

Three days later, one saw the flip side of the coin. As had happened for ninety-seven Sundays, a mob dressed in civilian clothes was incited by State Security to stage a verbal lynching of the Ladies in White House near the police station in Lawton where I had been questioned.

From January to March of 2017 the political police made 1,392 arrests and in some cases confiscated work materials and money from independent journalists and human rights activists.

They harass people with little rhyme or reason. A group of reporters from Periodismo del Barrio (Neighborhood Journalism), an online journal which focuses on environmental issues and vulnerable communities, or a neo-Communist blogger like Harold Cardenas are as likely to be targeted as an overtly anti-Castro figure like Henry Constantin, regional vice-president of the Inter-American Press Society.

With ten months to go before Raul Castro hangs up his gloves, the Special Services’ game plan is poised to undergo a 180-degree turnaround. Using its contacts, it could establish a channel of communication between dissidents and the government, which could serve as a first step towards the ultimate legal resolution of Cuba’s political problems.

But I fear that democracy is not one of the Cuban regime’s top priorities.

Castro Conquers Miami With Cannon Blasts / Luis Cino Alvarez

cubanet square logoCubanet, 4 April 2017, Havana, Luis Cino Álvarez — A friend was telling me, horrified, that last Friday at the Hard Rock Café in Hollywood Beach, Florida, Cuban reggaetoneros [musicians who perform the musical genre of Reggaeton]–from the Island and from ‘over there’, no way to tell anymore what with all the going and coming–put on a show. The lineup consisted of El Chacal, El Taiger (spelled just that way, not “Tiger”), Diván, Chocolate, Harrison, and Descemer Bueno (the only one of them whom I would classify as a musician).

This Cubatón (Cuban-style reggaeton, guachineo included) spectacle was aptly titled The Cannon Blast, as it was an explosion of “Made in Cuba” vulgarity and bad taste.  And there will be other such events, many more, in Florida. continue reading

To my friend it was all a joke (or a nightmare): The crème de la crème of the reggaetonero set–who would have to include also Yakarta, Baby Lores, Misha, Insurrecto, the detestable Osmany García, and Gente de Zona–profanely performing their low-class crudities, with their sinister appearance and annoying taca-taca beat, on a stage that has recently featured artists such as Don Henley, War, America, ZZ Top and Daryl Hall and John Oates.

No need to be surprised. This particular cannon blast and those yet to come are part of the none-too-slow colonization by the Castro regime of Miami and indeed all of South Florida.  They want to turn it into a type of Hong Kong, to exploit and emotionally blackmail it with nostalgia for fatherland and family. Not satisfied with maintaining their failed regime at the expense of remittances from emigrés and exiles, the Castroites also–in an effort to stir up problems, debase the milieu, and collect even more dollars–send over infiltrators from the G-2, scam artists, provocateurs, short-fused jokers, propagandizing academics, know-nothing cameleons del tíbiri tábara (from the back of beyond and staying out of trouble),TV shows, and…reggaetoneros.

For the record, it’s not that the head honchos of the regime are aware of the damage they do with the reggaetoneros, thus employing them in a macabre plan to penetrate the exile community and turn Miami into one big Hialeah, full of homeboys and every day becoming more like Marianao or Arroyo Naranjo. Save for the minister Abel Prieto, he of such exquisite taste, the top bosses don’t seem to mind the proliferation of reggaeton. On the contrary, their children and grandchildren, as lacking in good taste and class as their parents and grandparents, go crazy to the beat and enjoy it to the max.

Pertaining to music, the bosses export what they have. This is what there is.

My friend would ask himself what became of Cuban music. Little of worth is left in a country that produced Ernesto Lecuona, Sindo Garay, Rita Montaner, Celia Cruz, Benny Moré, and, post-catastrophe, Silvio Rodríguez, Pablo Milanés, Chucho Valdés, Polo Montañéz and Juan Formell. Regarding the few good musicians and singers who remain on the Ilsand, the big guns–with their shopkeeper mentality and proverbial bad taste, and their (anti)artistic promoters–believe it not worthwhile to send them to Miami because they wouldn’t sell enough tickets and, worse, might even get away and defect. It’s better that they remain home, making do as best they can (even though they are rarely featured on radio and TV), making music for “the most cultured people on the planet”–even though these people only want to tie one on and hear reggaeton.

Reggaeton is the perfect soundtrack to accompany the breakdown of a dictatorial system that has lasted too long and which, if not finally dissolving, is coagulating.

Vulgarity, bad taste and social alienation were imposed on Cuba. And this is reflected in the music that is broadcast the most. Reggaeton, the apotheosis of low class and degradation, came about at just the right time in the right place. It is the perfect music for the national chaos.

How was Miami to ward off reggaeton, what with so many recently-arrived homeboys who the only things they left behind were their ration books?

If, in the final analysis, we are all Cubans, whether here or there, we bear a common karma, and we must share our misfortune: portion it out, and see if we can reduce it.

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison 

The Fidel Castro Fair / Iván García

By Elio Delgado, from the Havana Times

Iván García , 21 February 2017 — The wood charcoal embers are slowly browning half a dozen kebabs with vegetables, pineapples and pieces of pork, while, on a shelf, the flies are hovering around the steamed corn cobs.

From very early in the morning, Jesús, a chubby mulatto with calloused hands, gets on with cooking chicken, pork fillets and sautéed rice, to sell later in his small mobile shop positioned in a large car park, at the main entrance to the International Book Fair in Havana.

A line of kiosks with aluminium tubes and coloured canvas tops offer local favourites, like bread with suckling pig, ham and cheese sandwiches, jellies, mineral water and canned drinks. continue reading

“My kiosk specialises in dishes from San Miguel de Padrón.  But the truth is that in this particular fair, sales are sluggish. Mainly because the organisers prohibited the sale of alcohol. You can forget about books and all that intellectual shit, you have to give Cubans beer and reguetón if you want them to feel happy – the rest is secondary”, says Jesús.

Thursday February 16th started off rainy in Havana. Idelfonso, a self-employed clown, looks up at the overcast sky and mutters, “if it starts raining again, they’ll have to take the circus and its tent away, because no-one will bring their kids in bad weather. This fair has been pretty bad for us. No-one has any money, and those who do prefer to spend it on books and food”, he says, in his bear get-up.

In different parts of the car park, private businesses rent out inflatable toys for fifteen pesos for the kids to bounce about for thirty minutes, and five pesos for a quick ride on a horse.

“Many families don’t come to buy books. They would rather their kids enjoyed themselves playing with the equipment. There are hardly any amusement parks in the capital”, says Rita, who deals with charging for the horses.

Families and groups of friends lay towels out on the grass and picnic on a hill from where you get a unique view of the city across the bay.

Gerard, a young man with tattooed forearms, feels uncomfortable. He tells his wife to go off with the kid to play with the inflatable toys while he complains about the lack of any beer.

“These people are really party poopers. Whose idea was it to stop selling lager and nips of rum? I can’t imagine it was because of Fidel Castro’s death, as the bloke has been pushing up daisies for over two months now”, moans Gerard, knocking back a lemonade as a temporary solution to the matter.

Dora and Germán come from El Cotorro, in south west Havana, with two enormous bags to buy “fifteen or twenty boxes of drink. We have a cafe and we buy stuff here for ten pesos and then we sell them there for twenty. If we have time, we buy a few books for our grandchildren”.

The Book Fair always was a good excuse for thousands of Habaneros to amuse themselves. Kids skipping classes looking over displays of foreign books, inveterate bookworms, pseudo intellectuals who take the opportunity to come over as writers, the peripheral catwalk of hustlers and pickpockets selling tourists fake Cohíba cigars made in shacks in deepest Havana.

But this time the organisers decided to put a stop to “sideshows which have nothing to do with reading”, says Idalia, a Editora Abril bookseller, who adds:

“The fair has been turned into a mess. Like a strip club. Hustlers who came to pull foreigners and people with money who have never read a book and were downing beers ’til closing time. The number of people coming here has definitely fallen, as nearly two million people came here two years ago. Now the numbers have fallen to less than half” says Idalia, who, in exchange for offering her opinions for Martí Noticias, asks me to buy some books.

“The thing is, we get commission on our sales. And we aren’t selling much”, she emphasises. From the books on display, I choose the biography of  Raúl Castro written by Nikolai Leonov, an ex high-up in the KGB and personal friend of the Carribean autocrat.

The book, which looks good, costs 30 pesos, equivalent to three times the daily minimum wage in Cuba. According to the official press, it is the best selling book of the year.  Idalia thinks differently.

“You can put any rubbish you like on paper. They give the book, just like they did with Fidel’s, as gifts to lots of people who attend events, and then they record them as sales. And, being prioritised by the printers, they have gigantic print-runs, and are on sale in all the bookshops in the country. But, I haven’t seen too much enthusiasm among Cuban readers for Raúl’s biography. Foreign lefties certainly do buy books dedicated to Fidel”, she tells me.

Although the present Book Fair is dedicated to Canada and the tedious state official Armando Hart Dávalos, the dead Fidel Castro is the prime actor.

There is no lack of sets of Fidel Castro’s speeches on the local publishers’ stands, a revised edition of History will Absolve Me and cartoon books eulogising the dictator from Birán.

“God help us! Fidel everywhere”, says a lady walking through the Mexican pavilion looking for a diary she has promised her granddaughter. The foreign publishers are the busiest, in spite of the high foreign currency prices.

They also sell pirate Leo Messi, Luis Suárez and Neymar teeshirts, as well as a collection of Barcelona and Real Madrid posters. A Mexican bookseller tells us that “We take advantage of the fact that Cubans like football, and so we push this merchandise”.

At midday St Charles Fort looks just like an informal flea market. A few serious readers sit down, leaning against the ancient cannons which protect the fort, in order to read George Orwell’s 1984 or a Gabriel García Márquez novel.

The less serious fill up nylon bags with books on spritual advice or magazines about fashion and cooking. Then they form a little queue at the exit from La Cabaña, to get the bus going to the centre of Havana.

Few visitors know the dark history of the fort, an ancient prison and location of hundreds of firing squads for Castro opponents. The thing is that in Cuba the disinformation, fear of knowing the truth, and amnesia help people live apathetic and apolitical lives.

Translated by GH

Tell Us, General, What’s Plan B?

Venezuela’s president, Nicolás Maduro and Cuba’s president, Raúl Castro. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 20 April 2017 — The Venezuela of “XXI Century Socialism” is wavering and threatening to collapse. It’s only a matter of time, soon, perhaps, as to when it will tumble. And since the economic and political crisis of the country has slipped from the government’s grasp, President Nicolás Maduro, in another irrefutable demonstration of his proverbial sagacity, under the advice of his mentors of Havana, has opted for the most coherent path with the nature of the regime: increase repression and “arm the people.”

Such a strategy cannot end well, especially when thousands of street protesters are not only motivated by the defense of democracy, but also by the reluctance to accept the imposition of forced present and future poverty for a nation that should be one of the richest on the planet. Decent Venezuelans will not accept the imposition of the Castro-style dictatorship that is trying to slip in their country. continue reading

Thus, “Maduro-phobia” has become viral, people have taken to the streets and will make sure that they will stand in protest until their demands are met, which involve the return of the country to the constitutional thread, to legality, to the rule of law, that is to say, without Maduro.

Maduro, allegedly elected by the popular vote, continues to accelerate his presidential metamorphosis into a person of the purest traditional Latin American style, capable of launching the army and hundreds of thousands of armed criminals against their (un)governed compatriots

As the Venezuelan crisis increases in its polarization, Nicolás Maduro, allegedly elected by the popular vote, continues to accelerate his presidential metamorphosis into a person of the purest traditional Latin American style, capable of launching the army and hundreds of thousands of armed criminals against their (un)governed compatriots who have decided to exercise their right to peaceful demonstration.

So if it is true that the terrible decisions of the Venezuelan government are guided by and directed from the Havana’s Palace of the Revolution, the intentions of the Cuban leadership are, at least, very suspicious. Such recommendations from the Cuba’s high command would drag the Chávez-Maduro regime directly down an abyss, and Venezuela toward the greatest chaos.

That is to say, if the Castro clan really ordered Maduro to radicalize a dictatorship and to cling to power against the will of the majority of Venezuelans, by applying repression and force to achieve it, even though this would mean the end of the “socialist” regime in Venezuela -with the consequent total loss of petroleum subsidies for the olive green cupula, as well as the income capital sources from health professionals services- would be a challenge to logic.

Such a strange move, in addition to Raúl Castro’s significant absence at the recent ALBA political meeting held in Havana as a show of support for the Venezuelan government, the official reluctance to directly accuse the US government of the popular expressions of rejection against the regime of Nicolás Maduro inside and outside Venezuela, the suspicious silence or minimization of the facts on the part of the Cuban official press about what happens in Venezuela, and the unusually circumscribed condemnation pronouncements “to the regional rightist coup” – which, in any case, have stemmed from the Cuban government’s political and mass organizations and other non-governmental organizations, and not directly from it –we can only speculate about the possible existence of secret second intentions on Cuba’s part.

It would be childish to assume that the Cuban government does not know the magnitude of the crisis of its South American ally, since it is known that it is widely infiltrated by Castros’ agents.

It would be childish to assume that the Cuban government does not know the magnitude of the crisis of its South American ally, given that – as it has been transcended by testimonies from authorized sources in various media over the years – both the army and the repressive and intelligence Venezuelan bodies are widely infiltrated by Castro’s agents, so it may be assumed that the regime’s political strategists have some idea of a solution, at least in what concerns Cuba.

One example is the case of Cuba’s aid workers, which are in Venezuela in the tens of thousands. We cannot ignore the serious danger faced by Cuban professionals in the health sector and in other services, who work in Venezuela as “collaborators” in ALBA programs, in the very probable case of a violent chaos in that country. How, then, would one explain the folly of advising, or at least supporting, the violent actions of the Venezuelan regime? Why don’t the official media offer more accurate information, specifically about the safety of our countrymen in Venezuela? What is the contingency plan to safeguard the lives of these Cuban civilians in case the Venezuelan humanitarian crisis is aggravated by the violence incited from power?

Cuba’s past history is disastrous. It is not wise to forget that the same person who occupies the power throne in Cuba today is the same subject that commanded the Armed Forces when thousands of Cubans were sent to fight (and to die) in Angola, Ethiopia, Nicaragua, Bolivia and other remote points of the world’s geography. Fidel Castro, who was never in a real war, was the one who had – at least de jure, not de facto –  the actions of the Cuban army when, in 1983, civilian workers were ordered to participate in the construction of an airport on the Island of Grenada who fought back the US Marines during the invasion of that small Caribbean country.

When one speaks of the profits of the Castro regime, one usually thinks in terms of money. However, the harvests of innocent martyrs have always brought the Cuban regime valuable political returns and allowed for a temporary respite. Now, when the glory years of the “revolution” have passed, when just a few naive ones believe in the discourse of the olive green big shots, and the predominant feelings of Cubans are disappointment, apathy and uncertainty, and when the very “socialist model “is only a sad compendium of failures and promises of infinite poverty, it would not be surprising that the Castrocracy is considering the possibility of nourishing its moral capital at the expense of the sacrifice of the helpless professionals who lend their services in Venezuela.

It no longer seems possible to mobilize the Cubans as in the days of the gigantic marches for “the boy Elian,” to cite the most conspicuous example, but neither should we underestimate the regime’s histrionic capacity and social control.

It would be particularly easy for the government to take advantage of several dozen Cuban doctors and technicians – the numbers are not important for the government leadership, as long as the people provide the corpses – that turn out victims of the violence of “the stateless ones who sold out to the empire” in Venezuela, to try to ignite some spark of the quasi withered Cuban nationalist and patriotic feeling and to gain some time, which has been the main goal of the power summit in Cuba in recent years.

It would not be unreasonable to consider this possibility, especially in a population that mostly suffers from a lack of information, which makes it susceptible to all sensory manipulation. It’s true that times have changed, and that, to some extent the penetration of a few information spaces -spread by the precarious access to technology – makes the consecration of the deception on a massive scale difficult. It no longer seems possible to mobilize the Cubans as in the days of the gigantic marches for “the boy Elian,” to cite the most conspicuous example, but neither should we underestimate the regime’s histrionic capacity and social control. Suffice it to recall the tearful and blaring spectacle displayed during Fidel Castro’s funeral novena.

In any case, and since the strategy of harvesting victims has often been applied successfully, perhaps the caciques are considering the possibility of taking advantage of the wreck of the Castro-Chavez ship. That’s how warped they are. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the narco-elite from Miraflores and their cohorts have made a pact with the Cuban honchos to escape to Havana in case they find it impossible to keep the scepter.

For now, it is a fact that the Cuban-Venezuelan soap opera is experiencing a truly dramatic escalation these days and nobody knows what the outcome will be. But in the midst of so much uncertainty, one thing seems irrefutable: what is currently being played out in Venezuela is not only the future of that nation, beyond the adversities of Nicolás Maduro and his cronies, buy the course of the next steps of the Cuban regime, which continues to be the absolute owner of the Island’s destinies. So, tell us, General Castro, what is Plan B?

Translated by Norma Whiting

Police Forces Raid Headquarters of ‘Captain Tondique’ Project in Matanzas

Members of the Captain Tondique Project prepare food for homeless people. (Courtesy)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 21 April 2017 — The headquarters of the Captain Tondique project in the municipality Matancero de Colón, was raided Friday by combined Police and State Security forces, according to a report received by this newspaper from Yelena Marrero Burunate, daughter of Caridad Burunate, the activist who owns the property.

The house, located at #163 Mesa Street, was raided from the early hours of dawn until one o’clock in the afternoon, Marrero explained. continue reading

“From seven in the morning they undertook a search, they came for the Tondique equipment and supplies, they took everything. The cauldrons, our food, everything. They did not explain anything to us, they took the benches we used. There were more than twenty people in here,” said the activist via telephone.

“We told them that without a search warrant they couldn’t come in and they were looking for it,” the woman explained.

Caridad Burunate and Francisco Rangel, the mother and uncle of Marrero are in custody. “Everything happened in the presence of my grandmother Raquel Gomez, an 88-year-old woman,” she added.

“The search lasted until one o’clock in the afternoon and they took away our cell phones.”

The community initiative Captain Tondique has working since April 2013 to help those who live on the streets and homeless people, offering them a plate of food every Thursday

The Captain Tondique community initiative has been working since April 2013 to help those who live on the streets and people who are homeless, offering them a plate of food every Thursday.

Felix Navarro denounced to 14ymedio that the search warrant alleged the crime of “illicit enrichment and abetting” and that Francisco Rangel’s home, a few yards from the project headquarters, at #125 Calle Pedro Betancourt, was also raided “at the same time.”

Navarro explains that the operation was carried out at a provincial level and included his home in Perico, which in the afternoon hours was still “surrounded by members of the State Security.”

According to the government opponent, when he tried to leave his house he was told by Officer Darío Torres Barrios that if he “went out” he would be arrested.

“Other activists of the province remain in their homes in the same situation of being under surveillance,” denounced Navarro.

The organization reported that on other occasions the political police have placed loudspeakers in the vicinity of the headquarters or closed the surrounding streets to prevent their work and intimidate the activists.

Cuba: Risk of Health Crisis Due to Lack of Potable Water / Iván García

Trinidad residents carrying their water in buckets from the tanker truck. Source: Giselle Morales’ blog.

Ivan Garcia, 21 April 2017 — There is a slightly damp and cold breeze when Antonio, after drinking a rather bitter sip of coffee, with his wooden cart with rusty steel wheels, moves to a water spout in Manglar Street, very close to an old Sports field in the overpopulated neighborhood of La Victoria, in the heart of Havana.

A couple of cylindrical metallic tanks that can carry 55 gallons of water each are attached to the truck. At seven o’clock in the morning, when the city listens as a symphonized tune, a trail of alarm clocks, and Havanans get ready to go to work or school, Antonio unloads dozens of buckets to several customers in the neighborhood of San Leopoldo. continue reading

“Two years ago, for filling a 55-gallon tank, I charged 50 Cuban pesos (equivalent to two dollars) but now, because of the drought which is causing some scarcity, the price has risen to 60 pesos for each tank,” Antonio explains, while lunching on a serving of congrí rice, pork steak and cole slaw and cucumber in a private restaurant.

After five o’clock in the afternoon he goes back to the capital’s neighborhood to sell the water. In one day he can earn 500 pesos, about 20 dollars. “In addition to earning money, I keep in shape,” he says, and shows his trained biceps after almost twenty years carrying buckets of water.

In Havana there are more than 170,000 units that do not receive drinking water in their homes. Some of them due to breaks in the pipes and others because with aluminum sheets and pieces of cardboard and veneers they have raised frightening shacks without bathrooms and lacking the most basic conditions for human life.

According to an official of the state-run Aguas de La Habana, “these people are supposed to receive water in (state) tanker trucks. But because of the lack of gasoline, the drought that affects the country or simply corruption, the ‘pipers’ sell water to those who can pay, and thousands of families do not receive water in a timely manner.”

In Cuba, plagued with a dysfunctional government  and low productivity that generates scarcity, anything can become a business. Why not water.

From aguateros, like Antonio, who travel through the cracked streets of the old part of Havana selling water, to the tanker trucks of the state companies that also profit from the precious liquid.

“A full tank at this time costs between 25 and 30 pesos Cuban convertible pesos (about 25-30 dollars US). And demand outstrips supply. The buyers are business owners who have restaurants or rent out lodging, those who have swimming pools in their homes and in buildings where there is water shortage and people have a source of hard currency,” says the driver of a tanker truck.

The problem of the water supply in the capital is longstanding. For lack of a coherent hydraulic policy, the regime has been overwhelmed by something that is as essential as water.

With a population that exceeds two and a half million inhabitants, Havana continues to have as its main source of supply the old Albear aqueduct, a masterpiece of industrial engineering that began to be built in 1858 and was inaugurated in 1893, for a city of 600,000 people.

When Fidel Castro took power in January 1959, and after the October 1963 passage of Hurricane Flora, which left more than a thousand dead in the eastern part of the island, hundreds of dams and reservoirs of water were built that multiplied the country’s water storage capacity by a factor of five.

In 1987 the construction of the El Gato aqueduct began in the southeastern part of Havana. But because of lack of maintenance of the aqueduct and sewer networks, more than half of the water that was distributed was lost by leaks and ruptures of the pipes.

In the midst of the current drought, which plagues 81% of the country and is considered the worst that Cuba has suffered in the last hundred years, authorities that manage water resources have tightened measures to prevent water being wasted.

Manuel Manso, Aguas de La Habana’s ombudsman, explained that an inspector squad of 108 workers is trying to interact more directly with consumers, whether business or residential. One of the provisions is the application of fines, with 870 already having been imposed on private companies, in amounts of up to one thousand Cuban pesos (about 42 dollars).

Although the regime has invested nearly 9 million dollars in the rehabilitation of 550 miles of water networks in the capital, the effort appears to be inadequate.

“The company repairs a section, but then the water pressure damages another section that has not yet been repaired. Also, the quality of the repairs is not always good. And the technological obsolescence and timespans between maintenance complicate things. It’s like ‘plowing the sea,’ (a complete waste of effort),” says an engineer.

A health and epidemiology specialist is worried that “the water deficit in the residential sector could have an impact on the emergence of new outbreaks of Aedes Aegypti mosquitoes, carriers of dengue fever, chikungunya and other deadly diseases. Plus there is the proliferation of rats and cockroaches. Water scarcity, poor cleanliness in streets and public spaces, and the irresponsibility of citizens who dump garbage on any street corner have made Havana one of the dirtiest cities in Latin America.”

If the drought persists, along with poor hygiene in the city and problems with water supply, which cause families to store water in inappropriate containers without adequate protection, the arrival of summer could bring the breeding ground for a huge epidemic of mosquito-borne diseases.

“Every year we run the same danger, for not carrying out the necessary preventative work and the lack of hygiene in the city,” said one official. And walking on the edge of a cliff always carries risks.

The worst has not yet come. But the conditions are given.

Note: Although this article is limited to Havana, the water shortage due to drought has long been affecting all provinces.

Pedicab Drivers Can Only Work Where They Live

The traditionally complicated transport situation in the capital has become chaotic recently due to fuel restrictions and other bureaucratic measures that have affected private taxi drivers. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Marcelo Hernandez, Havana, 20 April 2017 — The transport ministry (MITRANS) has issued a new provision that obligates Havana’s pedicab drivers to have visible identification that specifies the municipality where they can operate.

The sticker carries the driver’s license number and the name of the municipality. An official calling herself Tamara explained to 14ymedio that MITRANS inspectors in the Central Havana district will ensure that “if you do not live in this municipality you can’t put the sticker on your vehicle that authorizes you to operate here.” continue reading

The office is located in a half-wrecked building on Zanja Street with a poorly painted façade and tree growing out of it, from a seed that fell into a crack in the building.

Sheathed in her blue MITRANS inspector’s uniform, Tamara barely looks up from the papers she has in front of her on her desk, to clarify that if you don’t have a license, don’t come. “In addition, they have to bring the acrylic.”

The sticker carries the driver’s license number and the name of the municipality where they are authorized to operate. (14ymedio)

The situation of transport in the capital, traditionally complicated, has become chaotic in recent times due to fuel restrictions and other bureaucratic measures that have affected private taxi drivers. Driving a pedicab is not very profitable, since drivers usually charge 1 Cuban convertible peso (roughly $1 US) for relatively short stretches, but unlike the so-called almendrones– the shared fixed route taxis whose name comes from the “almond-shape” of the classic American cars used in that service – they do not run on a fixed route and take the customers “to the door of their house.” Most of them are young people without a defined profession who work for an invisible boss who owns the equipment, and whom they have to pay more than half of what they collect daily.

A tour of the pedicab stands where the drivers usually find their customers, found that only a few drivers were displaying the identification. Very close to Chinatown a young man barely 20, who identifies himself as Yuslo, gives the impression of not feeling threatened by the new measure.

“I am a Palestinian* from Mayarí Arriba, I rent in a room in the Cerro district and I circulate around Old Havana. I don’t have an address in the capital on my identity card or license, I am a pirate who fights to survive. If things get ugly I make the sticker my own way and put it on the front of the bike,” he explains resolutely.

Most pedicab drivers are young people without a defined profession who work for an invisible boss. (14ymedio)

A little more measured and optimistic is Alberto Ramirez, who despite being in quarantine still has the energy to live from his physical effort. “We are accustomed to occasionally ‘inventing’ something of this type. A few days later the fever passes and no one remembers anything. I have my sticker to work in Old Havana because I have been living there for more than 20 years in a state shelter, but if a client asks me to take him to Coppelia (outside his district), I’ll charge him what the trip is worth and take him.”

While Alberto talks, a colleague at the pedicab stand keeps making gestures of disagreement. Finally he intervenes to say, “They are the ones who call the shots and do what they want. You don’t have to be an engineer to realize that this measure is a barbarity. It’s fine to have control but if no one cares where a minister or a chief of something lives in order to work here or there, why do they have to worry about where the unfortunates who survive from our work live? There’s no one who understands it,” protests the pedicab driver.

Without taking the time to answer another question he gets on his bike and in the worst possible mood concludes the conversation. “I’m going home. I don’t feel like working.”

*Translator’s note: Havanans call Cubans from the provinces who settle in their city “Palestinians” – a reference to the fact that without a resident permit, they are “illegals” in the city.

For Ordinary Cubans, Democracy Isn’t a Priority / Iván García

Eliécer Ávila. Taken from Gaceta de La Habana.

Iván García, 19 April 2017 — When evening falls, Yainier and a group of friends who live in El Canal, a neighborhood in the Cerro municipality, 20 minutes by car from the center of Havana, grab a table by the door of an old bodega, and between swigs of rum and Reggaeton, they play dominoes well into the dawn.

They are six unemployed youths who live by whatever “falls off the back of a truck.” They also sell clothing imported from Russia or Panama, joints of Creole marijuana and toothpaste robbed the night before from a local factory. continue reading

They note down the domino scores they accumulate in a school notebook. The duo that gets to 100 points earns 20 pesos, the equivalent of one dollar, and if they really kick ass, they can earn double that amount.

The winners buy more rum, and between laughter and chatting, they kill time in a country where the hours seem to have 120 minutes. No one has a plan for the future.

In the seven or eight hours they pass playing, they usually talk about women, football or black-market businesses. Politics is not a subject of conversation.

The dissident, Eliécer Ávila, lives a few blocks away from where they’re playing dominoes. He’s an engineer and the leader of Somos Más (We Are More), an organization that supports democracy, free elections and free speech.

Probably Ávila is the most well-known dissident among Cubans who drink their morning coffee without milk. His debate in 2008 with Ricardo Alarcón, then the president of the one-note national parliament, was a success on the Island. The concerns of the young computer engineer and Alarcón’s incoherent answers circulated clandestinely on flash drives.

Eliécer, together with Antonio Rodiles, Manuel Cuesta Morúa and Julio Aleaga Pesant, figure among the most well-prepared dissidents in Cuba. Born in 1985 in Puerto Padre, Las Tunas, Ávila has leadership qualities and good speaking skills.

His project goes over the heads of people in the neighborhood, like the six domino players, who are indifferent to the reality of their country. How to achieve anything is a problem to solve for a repressed local opposition, which up to now has no power to convoke a meeting. Without going farther, in the slum area of Canal, where most inhabitants are black and deathly poor, almost no one is interested in demanding inalienable rights in any modern society.

One of those neighbors is Raisán, a mulatto with discolored skin, who religiously pays his dues to the Cuban Workers Center, the only labor organization that’s authorized on the Island. However, he recognizes that the Center, which supposedly ensures his salary and labor demands, doesn’t even attempt to manage them.

“Brother, this has to change. You can’t live on a salary of 400 Cuban pesos — around 17 dollars — while it costs 10 times that to eat or dress yourself,” says Raisán, after making a list of the daily hardships that the government never solves.

There’s a dichotomy in Cuba. Ask any Cuban his assessment of the performance of the State organizations and you can publish several tomes of complaints. People are tired of political rhetoric. The citizens want better services, salaries and living conditions. But they don’t have the legal tools to carry out their propositions.

Creating a movement or party that looks out for their interests, changing the political dynamic and demanding the democratization of society, continue to be taboo subjects. Although the dissidence requests these rights, it still hasn’t managed to gain the confidence of the beleagured citizens, for whom the priority is to find food and money sufficient to allow them to repair their houses, among other needs.

State Security, the political police, short-circuits any initiative that tries to insert the opposition inside the population. And certainly it’s the fear, typical of a tyrannical regime that has more severe laws for dissenting than for certain common crimes. Fear is a powerful wall of containment that repels nonconformists.

Cuban society continues being excessively simulated. It always was. During the dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista, after the assault on the Presidential Palace by the Revolutionary Directorate, March 13, 1957, the authorities called for an act of reconciliation with the dictator, and in spite of the rain, 250,000 residents of Havana responded in a spontaneous manner.

The same thing happened in 1959, after Fidel Castro took power. In silence, without protesting, Cubans saw how Castro knocked out democracy, dismantled the legal judicial machinery, buried the free press, eliminated private businesses and governed the country like a vulgar autocrat.

The answer to discontent always was to emigrate. A considerable segment of the citizenry didn’t support – nor do they support – those who bet on peacefully reclaiming their rights, inserting themselves into politics and denouncing the frequent attacks on human rights.

People prefer to look away or continue coming to the game, seated in the stands.

To get Cubans to understand that the best solution to their complaints is democracy, free elections and a coherent and independent judicial framework, which supports small and medium-sized businesses, until now has been a subject that stopped with the internal opposition. Which has tried, but without success.

Translated by Regina Anavy

Is Raul Castro in Hibernation Mode? / Iván García

Raúl Castro and Miguel Díaz-Canel. From ABC Color, newspaper in Paraguay.

Ivan Garcia, 11 April 2017 — Right now the most closely guarded secret in Cuba is the protocols for succession of the nation’s president, army general Raul Castro, after his retirement in February 2018.

I will tell you what is rumored among some officials close to the tight-lipped team of advisers and influential relatives in the Council of State.

A well-informed source claims, “The man is desperate to retire. He wants to spend more time with his children and grandchildren and travel around the world. He’s really going to retire. And it seems to me that he will probably pass his job on to the first party secretary. He has always preferred to be in the background.” continue reading

A technocrat with connections to powerful elites states, “The succession is not happening at the best time but Raul is serious when he says he is leaving. I have it on good authority that Miguel Diaz-Canel and his wife Lis Cuesta, around whom the media has been creating a presidential image in recent months, are studying English in depth and preparing to lead the country.”

A former personal security officials says, “Resources have been put at Diaz-Canel’s disposal, the kind of communication technology and logistical support that a president would have.”

Meanwhile, as the official media has been inundating us with reports of  economic successes and the alleged loyalty of the population to Raul Castro and his deceased brother, the countdown to the succession continues.

There is only a little more than ten months until D-Day. At midnight on February 24 the republic will presumably be governed by a civilian president without the last name Castro.

One of the sources consulted for this article believes that “after his own retirement, Raul will force the retirement of several longtime revolutionary officials such as Jose Ramon Machado Ventura and Ramiro Valdes.* His son Alejandro, who is a colonel in the Ministry of the Interior, will retain a certain degree of power while his daughter Mariela will continue promoting an image of tolerance towards homosexuality but will no longer hold any really significant positions.

“The power behind the throne will be the military. Everything has been arranged. There will be major economic changes. If the purchasing power of the population does not increase, consumer spending will be encouraged while the monetary and intellectual capital of the exile community will be tapped.

“If not, Cuba will never get out of the swamp. Political exhaustion and systemic failures have created conditions conducive to the emergence of an acute social crisis whose outcome no one can predict. That is why there will be changes.”

In Cuba, where the state press’s greatest strengths are saying nothing and masking daily reality, rumors within the halls of power carry more credibility than the official news.

Raul Castro is a perpetual schemer. Let the analyst or journalist who foresaw the secret negotiations with the United States and the reestablishment of diplomatic relations on December 17, 2014 raise his hand.

Prognosticating in such a secretive country can be disastrous but there have been some signals. During the the monotone National Assembly’s 2015 legislative session a gradual rollback of Raul’s reforms began. And Marino Murillo, the czar of these reforms, disappeared from official photos.

In response to the Venezuelan crisis, which led to cuts of 40% in fuel imports, the economic initiatives promoted by Raul Castro came to an abrupt halt.

Barack Obama’s visit to Cuba in March 2016 was the final straw. The regime’s most conservative factions began changing the rules of the game.

While lacking the charisma or stature of his brother, Castro II has proved to be more effective at putting together negotiating teams and has had greater successes in foreign policy. They include reestablishing diplomatic relations with the United States without having to make many concessions in return, acting as mediator in the meeting in Havana between the Orthodox and Catholic churches, facilitating the peace agreement in Colombia and securing the cancellation of a considerable portion of the nation’s financial debt.

His agricultural reforms have failed. People are still waiting for that glass of milk he promised them in a speech given in Camaguey on July 26, 2007. On that day Raul Castro said, “We have to erase from our minds this limit of seven years (the age at which Cuban children are no longer entitled to receive a certain ration of milk). We are taking it from seven to fifty. We have to produce enough so that everyone who wants it can have a glass of milk.”

The Foreign Investment Law has not been able to attract the roughly 2.5 billion dollars expected annually. The sugar harvest and food production have not gotten off the ground, requiring the regime to import more than two billion dollars worth of food every year.

Except for tourism, the profitable foreign medical assistance program and other international missions, and remittances from overseas, all other exports and economic initiatives have decreased or not shown sufficient growth.

Vital industrial sectors are not profitable and its equipment is obsolete. Problems in housing, transportation and public service shortages are overwhelming. The price of home internet service is outrageous. Official silence has surrounded recent restrictions on the sale of gasoline** while public speculation about a return to the “Special Period” has not been discussed by the executive branch.

Raul Castro barely appears in the public anymore. Aside from attending Fidel’s funeral in November 2016, presiding over parliament last December and sporadic appearances at the Summits of the Caribbean and the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, his presence is almost imperceptible.

He is governing in hibernation mode, on automatic pilot. There is no word on currency reform. The vaunted Economic Guidelines, only 21% of which have been carried out, seem to be dead in the water.

According to a former journalist who now lives in Miami and who dealt closely with Raul in the late 1980s, his seemingly erratic behavior could be interpreted in several ways.

“Raul is not doctrinaire like his brother. Nor does he leave tasks half done like Fidel used to do. I supposed he has his hands full preparing Diaz-Canal so he can finish the job and implement good, effective reforms. I think Diaz-Canal will play an important role in Cub’s future. Reporters should start lining up their canons now,” says the former journalist.

The sense on the street is that the island is going to hell. The outlook does not look good. The future is a question mark. The pathways to emigration are closing. And the average person’s salary remains a bad joke.

The optimists, who are in the minority, are praying the general has an emergency plan in his desk drawer. The pessimists, who are in the majority, believe that life in Cuba will go on as it has, whether under Raul, Diaz-Canal or any other members of the Communist praetorian guard.

 *Translator’s note: Vice-president of the Council of State and governmental vice-president respectively.

** Though no public announcement has been made, as of April 1 sales of so-called “special gasoline” have been restricted to tourists with rental cars. 

Residents Thank The Rain That Put Out The Year’s Biggest Fire

The provinces at greatest risk for fire are Guantanamo, Pinar del Rio, Matanzas, Camaguey, Las Tunas, Holguin, and Isla de la Juventud. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 19 April 2017 – When the wind blows, the odor of burning overwhelms the town of El Guay, in the municipality of Mella (Santiago de Cuba). It is an odor that sticks to clothes, hair and food. Last Sunday a downpour put out the forest fire that burned 5,000 hectares in the eastern part of Cuba, but the worst could be yet to come.

The columns of smoke warned the community’s residents that something was happening. In the neighboring province of Holguin, the flames began April 9 and devoured everything in their path. “Nothing was said on radio or television,” Ruberlandy Avila, 35 years of age and resident of El Guay, tells 14ymedio. continue reading

Surrounded by cane fields and vegetation, the neighbors saw the tongues of fire on the horizon as they approached. When night fell, they looked daunting and ever closer to the houses. “The entire town was affected by the smoke, many parents fled with their children without knowing what to do,” recalls the young man.

News of the fire was broadcast on national media only after a timely rain put out the last flame. The official statement blamed the disaster on the August 6th Cattle Company from the town of Biran. But the later disorganization among the forces charged with controlling it did the rest.

The fire spread through the Sierra Cristal range until arriving at the Pinares de Mayari area. According to Avila, Civil Defense authorities later reported that several local administrators had not authorized delivery of the fuel necessary for getting the tanker trucks underway to the affected zone to put out the flames.

In El Guay the residents saw the fire approaching which also fed on the branches and trees that fell after Hurricane Sandy in 2012. The combination of the dry wood and the disorganization produced conditions favorable to the fire’s spread. “We thought nothing could put out such a strong fire,” recalls the resident of Santiago.

Engineer Raul Gonzalez, head of the Fire Management Department for the Forest Rangers, warned last February that this year the Island could suffer between 400 and 450 forest fires, damaging some 4,000 hectares. The figure was easily exceeded by the 5,000 hectares of pastures, forests and oak that just finished burning in Holguin.

The fire destroyed more than 5,000 hectares of fields and forests in Holguin. (Archive/Telesur)

Not only dried branches and fallen trees were lost. Environmental specialists from the area classify as “sensitive” the damage caused to flora and fauna of the municipalities of Cueto and Mella. “There are no bird nests or butterflies left, and even lizards are damaged,” commented one resident of the Cueto municipality to 14ymedio.

Leonel Sanchez, Agriculture subdelegate in the Santiago de Cuba province, reiterated in the local press that most of these fires occur “in crop rows, livestock areas, areas where the elimination of the invasive marabou weed is underway, uncontrolled burning and non-use of spark arrestors in cars.”

Between January and May the conditions are most favorable for fires to start and for the flames to spread. Between the beginning of the year and the beginning of February, some 40 fires were reported, more than one per day.

The provinces at greatest risk are Guantanamo, Pinar del Rio, Matanzas, Camaguey, Las Tunas, Holguin, Granma and Isla de la Juventud. The human factor is the trigger in 90% of the cases.

Far from El Guay, at the other end of the Island, tobacco planter Nestor Perez also watches his cultivated fields with worry. “In this time of year forest fires are more likely,” and in Vueltabajo the farmers try to “have clean surroundings for tobacco curing houses in order to prevent those accidents.”

The Pinareno farmer recognizes that many do not complete these tasks and “that is why sometimes fires occur” because “the grass itself at this time is very dangerous.”

For Avila and his family, the drama they experienced is still very real. The days passed, the air became almost unbreathable, and in the middle of last week helicopters and small planes began to arrive to control the flames, but the situation seemed to be out of control.

A “huge downpour” came to the aid of the residents. The day that the first drops fell many watched the sky gratefully. This Monday it kept raining in Mella, a municipality that, like the rest of the Island, is suffering the worst drought since the middle of the last half century. For the moment, the residents of El Guay breathe with relief, but they know that many hard months lie ahead.

Translated by Mary Lou Keel

Gargoyles Recover Their Fierceness

The Palacio de Guasch, in the city of Pinar del Rio, has been under intense repair for months. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Pinar del Rio, 19 April 2017 — At the beginning of the last century many parents did not let their children approach the mysterious construction that was erected at the corner of Martí and Cabada streets in the city of Pinar del Río. Its builder, Francisco Guasch, was considered a madman for building the most whimsical palace of Cuban architecture.

Along its almost 300 feet, the façade exhibits a diverse collection of flowers, plants, animals and mythological beings. On its nine columns the images hardly repeat, accompanied by towers of Gothic reminiscences with unclassifiable capitals and cornices. continue reading

Witnesses say that this architectural “phenomenon” only required two skilled masons and the creativity of its inspirer who, after studying medicine in Europe, returned to live on the Island. With his own hands he kneaded the stone and cement to give his monsters the beautiful ugliness of chimeras.

Now, those children’s grandchildren visit the wifi zone to connect to the internet a few yards from the property. Over time, the inclemency of weather and apathy chipped away at the structure of Guasch’s work, while in its interior, years ago, the Museum of Natural History took up residence.

The repair of the building, which will probably end in late July, has revived the residents’ hopes of seeing the terrible gestures of its gargoyles reborn. They are a testimony to the madness of a man who was considered a lunatic and who has ended up being seen as an outstanding son of the city of Pinar del Río.

Gargoyles everywhere. (www.dcubanos.com)