“Wave of Political and Social Repression” in September, according to CCDHRN / 14ymedio

Ladies in White during their march this Sunday (Angela Moya)

Ladies in White during their march this Sunday (Angel Moya)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 5 October 2015 – This September there were at least 882 arbitrary arrests for political reasons, according to a report by the Cuban Commission on Human Rights and National Reconciliation (CCDHRN). The figure is the highest in the last 15 months, says the independent entity which also warns about an increase in “physical assaults against peaceful opponents by police agents and their collaborators.”

The cases of physical violence reported and verified y the CCDHRN reached 93, “while there were 21 in August.” The Commission, chaired by human rights activist Elizardo Sanchez, points out that “September did not lack many acts of harassment and vandalism, either.” These include “house arrests and extrajudicial bans on movement,” says the text of the report.

As “a true wave of political and social repression” there were “353 arrests of peaceful dissidents to prevent them from participating in massive gatherings” with Pope Francis.

The opposition sector was not the only one that suffered police raids, and the CCDHRN reiterates that “an undetermined number of beggars, panhandlers and other homeless people who seek alms on the streets or search for food or anything else in trash dumpsters were interned without judicial order.”

The case of the three from the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU) who “managed to breach the police cordon and approach Pope Francis” in Havana’s Revolution Plaza, is singled out with interest in the report. Zaqueo Baez, Maria Anon and Ismael Bonet “have been jailed for 15 days, under subhuman conditions, in the hands of the secret political police, without access to defense attorneys and without formal charges.” The CCDHRN “is prepared to propose that they be internationally adopted as possible Prisoners of Conscience.”

Translated by Mary Lou Keel

Independent journalist Roberto de Jesus Quiñones Arrested in Guantanamo / 14ymedio

Independent journalist Roberto de Jesus Quiñones.

Independent journalist Roberto de Jesus Quiñones.

14ymedio, Havana, 5 October 2015 — At six in the morning on Monday, a group of 15 Interior Ministry troops stormed the house of lawyer and an independent journalist Jesus Quiñones Haces, in the city of Guantanamo. The troops conducted a thorough search and took the reporter, without specifying the reasons for his arrest or his final whereabouts.

According to his mother, Maria Haces, 77, among those who participated in the operation were men in olive-green uniforms and others in blue and black, plus individuals in plainclothes. The entire search process was filmed with a small camera and they ultimately seized a computer, several disks and documents. The arrest occurred in the absence of the Quiñones’s wife, who is traveling in the United States.

The reporter is also a member of the Corriente Agramontista association of independent lawyers. His reports on events in his province are published by the agency CubaNet and one of his last works denounced the poor state of the road known as La Farola, in the Nipe-Sagua mountain range of Tánamo-Baracoa.

Before turning to independent journalism, he was a member of the National Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba (UNEAC) and collaborated with the official press on reviews of the cultural life of his city.

No references of any facts that led to the police action, as it is not the exercise of their professional activities. An official present in the operation said the mother of the detainee no later tonight or tomorrow, Tuesday would be released.

The arrest occurs within hours of the Inter American Press Association (IAPA). during its meeting in Charleston (South Carolina, USA), expressing its concern about the situation of the press in Cuba and repression against independent reporters.

Two Lies and One Meddle / Rebeca Monzo

Rebeca Monzo, 5 October 2015 — Cuba’s government continues imposing three conditions to continuing the restoration and normalization of relations with the U.S.: the return of “illegally occupied” Guantanamo; the lifting of the blockade; and the end of Radio and TV Marti. These are two lies and one impertinence that could even be considered meddling.

First, it is good to clarify that Guantanamo Bay has never been illegally occupied by the United States, but that it is the product of an agreement between governments, signed in 1903 and ratified in 1934. The misnamed “blockade” is nothing more than an embargo, which has been weakening since the Carter days and that the Obama administration has further eased in recent years in Cuba’s favor, except for some portions of it such as those relating to bank loans. As for the requirement that Radio and TV Marti disappear, it is a broadcast station (like many others that exist in different countries, including our own) whose disappearance or continuation depends solely on internal decisions of the U.S. government.

These silly demands seem more like roadblocks imposed by the island regime to buy time so they don’t have to answer to the Cuban citizenry and the world for the absurd measures and the imposition of laws and decrees that plunged Cuba into a complete political and economic disaster, which the current president also participated in is responsible for.

It would be healthy to courageously confront our own successes and failures, to turn that page once and for all and not continue blaming others, to be able to advance the restoration and normalization of relations, which would greatly benefit the country and its citizens, preventing the stampede of escaping Cuban young people.

Translated by Tomás A.

Transition in Cuba: Real or Imagined? / 14ymedio, Miriam Celaya

A sole proprietor sells peanuts and sweets in Havana streets, but he is far from opening a store and growing his small business. (Luz Escobar)

A sole proprietor sells peanuts and sweets in Havana streets, but he is far from opening a store and growing his small business. (Luz Escobar)

14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 3 October 2015 — Halfway between analysis and opinion, and not having responded clearly to his own initial question, journalist Carlos M. Álvarez recently addressed a controversial issue: the transition in Cuba, or to put it more accurately, as posed by the title of his work: Can a transition in Cuba be discussed?

In principle, we must give credit to Álvarez for his courage: to declare that we are experiencing a transition in Cuba may be total heresy for many, beyond their political positions, or likes or dislikes of the government or of the opposition. In particular, it is taboo for those who have communed with the official power; but also, as he points out, it is something denied by many Cubans who are not at all into politics, by a sector of the domestic opposition and by the most intransigent groups in exile. Continue reading

Cuba and Mick Jagger’s Kiss / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

Mick Jagger in Deauville in 2014. (Georges Biard / Wikimedia Commons)

Mick Jagger in Deauville in 2014. (Georges Biard / Wikimedia Commons)

14ymedio, Generation Y, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 5 October 2015 – We never got to hear Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston on our national stages. Freddie Mercury died without touching down in Havana, and when The Beatles broke up, we were a country where English music was considered ideological diversionism. We followed the career of Elvis Presley from a distance and the charismatic Amy Winehouse slammed the door on life without stepping foot on this island. However, now we are about to regain part of what was lost: Mick Jagger’s emblematic mouth is here, the eternal youth of The Rolling Stones has arrived.

While the analysts debate, looking for signs of change in the Cuban political or diplomatic scene, transformations are capricious and take another direction. This country is not going to change itself into a new nation because John Kerry visited, nor because of the third visit by a pope in less than two decades. But Cuba is changing when people like this British rocker, icon of good music and of the greatest possible irreverence, touch down in Havana. Continue reading

Incident at the Airport Yesterday / Somos+, Eliecer Avila

Somos+, Eliecer Avila, 5 October 2015 — Everything appeared normal until I got to the immigration desk. There the official meeting me had a sign on his screen with the word “CONTROLLED” flashing in red. With more or less discrete gestures, the young official started dialing code numbers to his superiors to come to the booth to “deal” with me. In three minutes his boss appeared who indicated I should follow him and who took my passport.

After about half an hour a different official appeared who accompanied me passing through immigration and told me to collect my things… As usual, many people waited about an hour for their bags from the Madrid-Havana flight because they arrived in dribs and drabs… When my suitcase finally appeared, I’d just picked it up when two other officials, this time from Customs, indicated I should accompany them for a “routine control.”

Knowing these things and how they work, I tried to advise my wife who was desperately waiting outside but they told me I could not use my phone. Nevertheless I managed to tell her, “things are looking bad.” Continue reading

The Ladies In White Face Another Sunday Of Repression In Havana / 14ymedio

Ladies in White during the pilgrimage this Sunday. (Angel Moya)

Ladies in White during the pilgrimage this Sunday. (Angel Moya)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 4 October, 2015 – Fifty-nine Ladies in White and 20 activists gathered this Sunday in Gandhi Park in Havana’s Playa district, despite the arrests previous to their traditional Sunday peregrination. After a summary of their weekly activities, the dissidents were detained, according to a report from witnesses at the scene.

From the early hours, the regime opponent Martha Beatriz Roque denounced the arrests of 12 human rights activists who had traveled to Santa Rita parish. Among those arrested with the mother and siblings of Zaqueo Baez Guerrero, one of the members of the of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU) who had approached Pope Francis in Havana’s Plaza of the Revolution.

Others arrested on Sunday included the regime opponents Antonio Gonzalez Rodiles, Ailer Gonzalez and Felix Navarro. The latter lives in the town of Perico, Matanzas, and traveled to the capital to show his support to the human rights movement.

Blogger Agustín López Canino denounced his arrest and reported that he was handcuffed at the corner of 5th and 30th streets, in the Playa district, together with two other colleagues. The activists detailed that he was “taken to the outskirts of Havana” to prevent his accompanying the Ladies in White during their Sunday march.

Meanwhile, in Colón, Matanzas, independent journalist Ivan Hernandez Carrillo reported ten Ladies in White marched in Colón, Matanzas, for the release of the political prisoners.

The leader of the Ladies in White movement, Berta Soler said that Yaquelín Boni, an activist detained since Thursday during a protest outside Combinado del Este prison and accused of “disobedience,” has now been released.

Cuban Phone Company Authorizes Internet Refills From Abroad / 14ymedio

A young man connects wirelessly in Cuba via his mobile phone. (14ymedio)

A young man connects wirelessly in Cuba via his mobile phone. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, 4 October 2015 – Starting October 6, Cubans on the island can have their “Nauta” internet access accounts refilled from abroad with 10 CUC (Cuban convertible pesos, about $11.30* US). The measure, announced this Saturday in the newspaper Granma, will be introduced by the Cuban Telecommunications Company (ETECSA) and requires users to have a permanent Nauta account.

Right now, this option does not include the “double minutes” or bonus options frequently available for recharges from abroad for cellphone service.

The official Communist Party newspaper said the new service will encourage users to sign up for permanent Nauta accounts, as many netizens still prefer to use temporary navigation cards, despite their higher prices.

The long lines outside the offices to open permanent internet access accounts, the lack of recharge bonuses associated with them, and the anonymity of navigation (without an account) are some of the reasons given by customers for continuing to use the temporary accounts.

Every day the island’s Wifi points are hosting 55,000 connections, 8,000 of them simultaneously. Although the connection price remains high at 2 CUC an hour (over $2.00 US in a country with an average monthly wage of less than $20.00), the opening of 35 wireless access points has created a social phenomenon with thousands of people congregating in those places.

*Translator’s note: The Cuban CUC officially trades at par with the US dollar, but a 10% “penalty” is added for exchanging US dollars, along with a 3% exchange fee.

“The Family Unit in Holguín Is Very Damaged” / 14ymedio, Fernando Donate Ochoa

Marcos Pirán Gómez, parish priest of San José Church in Holguín

Marcos Pirán Gómez, parish priest of San José Church in Holguín (Photo Fernando Donate/14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Fernando Donate Ochoa, Holguín. 21 September 2015 — He shares both his faith and Argentine citizenship with Pope Francis, yet Father Marcos Pirán Gómez is not on Cuban soil for just a few days. He has been living on the island for fifteen years, and since 2012 has been the parish priest of San José (Saint Joseph’s) Church in Holguín.

A few hours before the Bishop of Rome travelled to this land of mountains, heat, and seas, Father Marcos met with 14ymedio to discuss his parishioners’ expectations, the difficulties besetting his community, and the role of the Church in finding solutions.

14ymedio: What did you feel when you heard that Pope Francis was coming to Holguín?

Marcos Pirán Gómez: I felt an enormous thrill because of the joy another Papal visit would mean to our people; the third one in just 17 years, such a short period of time. This is a significant event not only for the life of the Church, but also for the Cuban people. Each one of the previous Papal visits have left its mark. Continue reading

General Raul Castro’s Plastic Bag at the Papal Mass / Juan Juan Almeida

At the bottom right of the photo the general-president’s plastic bag can be seen.

Juan Juan Almeida, 22 September 015 — When, before a crowd gathered in the Plaza of the Revolution in Havana, Pope Francis celebrated the first of three Masses on his visit to Cuba, in the first row was the elegant Lorena Castillo de Varela, first lady of Panama, and next to her General Raul Castro, and on his other side the president of Argentina Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner. And, in the row behind, between the legs of the famous bodyguard and grandson Raul Guillermo Rodriguez Castro, almost hidden in a corner, the inseparable representation of Cuban culture, la jaba — the plastic bag.

Perhaps no foreigner noticed this detail. Reasonable, for the Royal Academy of the Spanish Language defines la jaba as: a dark stain on the lumbar region with which some children are born; a box specially made for carrying bottles, china or other fragile objects; a kind of basket made of woven reeds or palm leaves; and/or a bag of cloth, plastic, etc. to be carried in the hand. Of course, the scholars cannot imagine that the word jaba, in Cuban, has a special dimension, almost solemn, representing much more than any of its forms. Continue reading

El Sexto: He Who Laughs First, Laughs Twice / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

Danilo Maldonado, "El Sexto," painting the balcony wall of Yoani's apartment

Danilo Maldonado, “El Sexto,” painting the balcony wall of Yoani’s apartment

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 3 October 2015 — There was no mistaking it. It was the same face that smiles defiantly from some paintings in which it resembles an unrepentant Christ. I had seen the signature of El Sexto at bus stops, followed his ironies on Havana’s walls, and wondered if this young man really existed, putting so many dreams, so many screams into his midnight strokes . But there he was, standing in front of me, in a T-shirt with a spray can.

“You cross out my stuff, I cross out yours,” said some of the artist Danilo Maldonado’s first paintings. It was when the police were using pink paint to hide his graffiti. Walking down Linea Street you could guess that behind those colorful patches in the middle of a wall that had gone decades without maintenance, the irreverent artist had left a drawing.

So when I stumbled upon El Sexto, thin, rebellious, talented, it seemed I had rediscovered a well-known face from my family photos, someone I had shared colorful nocturnal moments with, insolent and clandestine. With time I discovered that I was also facing a man who would not give in to fear and who would use his own body as a canvas for disobedience. Continue reading

Diversity Visa Lottery for Emigrating to the United States Begins / 14ymedio

US Embassy in Havana. (14ymedio)

US Embassy in Havana. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 2 October 2015 — The anguish is over. After months of speculation, it has been confirmed that the recently begun United States Diversity Visa program for 2017 maintains a quota for Cubans, according to a statement from a consular official from the US Embassy in Havana at a press conference Friday.

Rumors in recent months pointed to a reduction or cancellation of the program for natives of the island due to the reestablishment of relations between Washington and Havana. However, the official – who did not give her name – told the national press that “as in prior years, Cuba is included in the program to support a safe, legal and orderly migration.” Continue reading

The IAPA Does Not See Progress In Press Freedom In Cuba / 14ymedio

Lazaro Yuri Valle Roca has been threatened and detained for documenting repression. (14ymedio)

Lazaro Yuri Valle Roca has been threatened and detained for documenting repression. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, 2 October 2015 — Within a few hours of the opening of the 71st General Assembly of the Inter American Press Association (IAPA), scheduled between 2 and 6 October in Charleston (South Carolina), regional reports from the Commission for Freedom of the Press and Information were made public. According to the organization, ten months after the beginning of reestablishment of diplomatic relations between Cuba and the United States, journalism on the island continues to be “dogged by censorship in the Cuban Communist Party monopoly over the national media.”

The report details that in Cuba there are still no signs of “economic improvement,” nor an increase in the respect for “human rights, greater freedom of expression, association and the press,” derived from the process of diplomatic rapprochement that both countries are experiencing.

With special alarm, the text includes the threats and arrests made this summer by State Security against the reporter Lazaro Yuri Valle Roca, when he tried to document in videos and photos the repression suffered by the Ladies in White. The independent journalist denounced the repressive methods against the exercise of the unofficial press, including detentions for “several days without records of arrest nor of the seizure of our belongings” and the “confiscation of the tools of our work.” Continue reading

An Unconvincing Achievement / Fernando Damaso

Fernando Damaso, 30 September 2015 — In the face of failure of many countries to achieve the 2015 economic and social objectives established by the UN in 2000, the Cuban government has unleashed its current campaign, presenting itself as an example of a success, “despite the criminal blockade.”

First things first: it is not the same to achieve the objectives in a country of ten million people, that it is in the one of forty, a hundred, three hundred million and more, because in those the needs and costs to resolve them are vastly superior. In addition, and something that is not said, is that at the end of the decade of the fifties of the previous century, Cuba presented indicators in the economy, healthcare, education, social security and many others much higher than those of countries in Latin American, Asia and Africa, and in some areas higher than some European countries. Just check the statistics. Continue reading

Raul Castro in His Worldwide Debut / Cubanet, Miriam Leiva

raul-castro-ONUCubanet, Miriam Leiva, Havana, 30 September 2015 – The organization United Nations organization is celebrating the 70th anniversary of its creation in a big way. The most important players in world politics and the dignitaries from the majority of its member countries met in New York. The 2030 Sustainable Development Summit, where Pope Francis gave his first speech before the UN, took place from 25-27 September, and the Conference on Gender Equality was held on the 27th. The high-level meetings of the UN’s 70th session began on the 28th.

Raúl Castro traveled for the first time to the United States as President of Cuba on 24 September. The General-President wore the halo of the reestablishment of diplomatic relations with the United States, the reopening of the respective embassies, conversations with President Obama, the constant flow of dignitaries from other countries and American visitors to Cuba, the mediation between Venezuela and the US, and participation in the meeting of Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and the chief of the FARC-EP for the signing in Havana of their first peace accord. Continue reading