…And We Continue to Be More / Somos+

We Are More: The Change is You

Somos+, 26 June 2015 — Somos+ [“We Are More”] is renewing itself. As a sort of reflection of the profound structural and organic transformation that we are undergoing as a result of the increase in our membership, a new visual identity now distinguishes us, brings us closer to our own people — whose borders transcend the Cuban realm and reaches into exile, the diaspora — dispersed, but united in the same feeling.

Digital platforms have been witnesses to the change. A new Web page, a permanent presence throughout our accounts and/or groups in Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, have served to expand the movement’s message, now with new colors and typeface in its identity.

The new graphic, produced by our designers and approved by the movement’s council, was accepted with satisfaction by our Somos+ followers. For nothing so characterizes our projects as that constant spirit of change, renewal and creativity — premises of the future that we desire to construct.

Changes in and of themselves provoke doubts, worries, questions: Why do something different if things have been going well for us just as they are? Won’t our message become diffuse if we introduce new elements, somewhat different from the original ones? Will the changes produce the desired results?

But, what have we we done? Our members have summarized it thus: A perfect simbiosis between the colors and the symbols that represent, without doubt, effective signifiers of our message.

Regarding the colors, there is now a high contrast between the orange, which links to the beginnings of the movement and which also evokes enthusiasm, optimism, vitality, brotherhood, unity — and the blue, which evokes tranquility, serenity, reflection.

On the other hand, the white, located in the position used in mathematics to indicate raising a base number to a power, expresses very well our character: every day more connected to peace, development and the purity of ideas.

The symbols are the other agents of change. Their location inside a square connotes well-defined solidity and stability. The “S” that appears in the middle is one of the most dynamic textual symbols of our language, as much for its sinuous shape as for being the indicator of the plural form in Spanish.

Meanwhile, the + sign — which mathematically indicates aggregating, adding — becomes an indicator of the spirit of the movement, always positive, multiplicative, flexible, as is our horizon: as José Martí said, “For all and for the good of all.”

Another way to view it is to also see in the logo the colors of our flag, but instead of the red of spilled blood, it is orange, which represents the young, active mind, the non-violent form of struggle in which current causes are defended.

The hashtag, “#ElCambioEresTu” [“#The Change is You”], as the new slogan of the movement, is centered on the individual responsibility of every Cuban to contribute to a better country, always to positive and inclusive change. Everyone of us has immense power.

After two years, Somos+ is committed to difference, to marking a milestone, to being a reference point. We launch into the world a new image, as a show of the strengthening of our concepts and our consolidation in the Cuban political scene, with a view to the future. It is, simply, perfecting our strategies, following the same path as always. Only in this way will we continue to be more.

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

“I want more movies and fewer laws” / 14ymedio, Luz Escobar

The filmmaker Miguel Coyula shooting. (Personal file MC)

The filmmaker Miguel Coyula shooting. (Personal file MC)

14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 31 July 2015 — Shy, but with a quick wit and a direct expression, the filmmaker Miguel Coyula (b. Havana 1977) opens the door the room where he works and lets 14ymedio into this creative space in a Vedado apartment. The director of Memories of Underdevelopment is craftsman of the cinema: he films, directs, edits, does the special effects and music, all the while organizing the entire production of the film.

Over coffee, he talks about the obstacles to making films in Cuba and his new project Corazón Azul (Blue Heart), a story set in an alternative reality after an explosion in genetic engineering. In this fictional future, the Cuban government launches the literal creation of its old dream: the New Man.

Luz Escobar: You are immerse in the shooting of your new film, Blue Heart, how far along is the project?

Miguel Coyula: I start shooting the film little by little and, if I can, in chronological order. Every month I am adding one more minute and can see how it grows. If you want to teach the actors, who in the end are working almost for free, and this is a great incentive to see the development of the characters, to see how everything is turning out.

This is out of necessity. It takes a long time because the structure of the production is to treat each scene as if it were a short film in itself. That is, film a scene, edit it and then start the next scene. It is the only way that has worked for me because it is very difficult to synchronize all the actors. They have to do other things to live, accept other projects, and it makes if hard for me to get them all together to film a scene.

Escobar. So it takes a long time?

“Cinema is like vomiting the subconscious in images, trying to eliminate all possible rationality.”

Coyula. It can take me a month to do two scenes. It takes longer because I do the camera work, the editing, the sound design, the special effects… then I don’t have any money, I end up putting in the time. It is the price I pay. I’m thinking something similar to what happened with Memories of Underdevelopment, I had 40 minutes when I got a Guggenheim Fellowship and with that I was able to film the missing scenes. This knowing how to find the money is a talent some people have and others don’t. Unfortunately I don’t have it and I do what I do, which is to move forward and make the film grow bit by bit.

Escobar. Where did the idea for this film come from?

Coyula. Blue Heart, and my first feature film, Red Cockroaches, are based on a novel I wrote in 1999 called Red Sea, Blue Evil, which was published two years ago by La Pereza Ediciones in Miami. There will be a third, which is the main story of the book, but I don’t know when.

Escobar. With the kind of film that you do, how difficult it is to find budget or to get into the film festivals?

Coyula. In the European institutions, which often finance moviemaking in that area, they have created a concept they call, “cinema of the Latin American author.” These are profiles which strengthen a kind of filmmaking in which there is a specific social context, a minimalist staging without manipulating the image, the story. There is no room for science fiction in this. In addition, Blue Heart is not pure science fiction, so it doesn’t fit into the film industry models. It is a hybrid of many genres and formats.

Escobar.  Auteur cinema?

Coyula. This concept is a bit absurd, like that of the Hubert Bals Foundation in the Netherlands. Seeing the projects they finance, you see that the movies begin to resemble each other. It is putting art into a profile, creating a style, something that has nothing to do with auteur cinema where supposedly one looks for the distinct.

Escobar. Why do you introduce animation into your films?

Coyula. In many of my films special effects and animation have been ways to resolve them. I also grew up watching cartoons, and I really liked the Japanese ones in which each frame of a sequence is in a different plane. Every time there is a cut, each new image is a frame that has not been used before in the scene. I use this in the way I build the visual grammar of my films to escalate the tension in a scene.

”This position of distance and of criticizing everything is very important when it comes time to create.”

I also noticed that the Japanese didn’t have a big budget to do animation at 24 frames a second like Disney, so they concentrated on the most striking visual design, because the animation was very limited and they didn’t have the money to make it very fluid. Clearly, this then became a style.

Escobar. What is your opinion about the aspirations of the G-20 Group which, within the margins of the Cuban Institute of Cinematographic Art and Industry (ICAIC), is pushing for the implementation of a Film Law for Cuba?

Coyula. I feel good about what they’re doing. Making movies consumes so much of my time that I feel going to meetings in this country is a waste of time. On the other hand, the laws scare me a little. I want more cinema and fewer laws. The fact that this comes coupled with a tax worries me, it could be very harmful to people who are making non-profit films.

They could end up imposing the same tax on a filmmaker who is making a reggaeton video clip as on another who spends years filming a movie that isn’t going to make any money, that isn’t commercial. I attended one of those meetings at the beginning but I haven’t gone back.

Escobar. You are considered an “odd duck” among Cuban filmmakers. How do you see yourself?

Coyula. I try to make films that I would go to see. I don’t see cinema as it was often seen in the ‘60s, as an instrument of transforming the thinking of a country. If it generates dialog, of course that is very good, but I, at least, can’t create it with that in mind. Cinema is like vomiting the subconscious in images, trying to eliminate all possible rationality. For example, I write a scene and try not to think too much about what it means. Afterwards, when I am editing, is when I start to intellectualize. But, more than anything, I am looking for the sensuousness of the ideas that come to mind.

Escobar. Do you belong to the generation that was going to be the New Man?

Coyula. Most of us, when we were teenagers and we realized that Cuba would not be a utopia, we became critical of any political system, be it socialism or capitalism. On the other hand, for creativity I think it was good because this position of distance and of criticizing everything is very important when it comes time to create.

“The question is: it’s Fidel Castro, so what? In all societies of the world the rulers serve as an inspiration for artists.”

Escobar. What do you think about the censorship of the work The King is Dying by Juan Carlos Cremata?

Coyula. Many have criticized the interpretation of the meaning of the work by the National Council of Performing Arts, saying that Fidel Castro was the central character. It does not take a genius to see a play called The King is Dying, in today’s Cuba, refers to Fidel Castro. The question is: it’s Fidel Castro, so what? In all societies of the world the rulers serve as an inspiration for artists.

Utopia would be to achieve a society where the work is on the playbill and everyone could decide whether or not to enter the theater. Including getting up and leaving if they don’t like it and demanding their money back, as happens in other parts of the world.

Escobar. You lived for years in the United States. How is it to return to Cuba?

Coyula. I won two scholarships in the United States, but came and went constantly. The way I live and make films has been the same in any part of the world where I’ve been. For me, the camera becomes an extension of my arm and the computer the place where I do everything. I isolate myself to make my films, and this could be the same in New York as in Havana, I live for that.

Cuban Dissidents Outline A Common Agenda / 14ymedio

Participants in the meeting held on Thursday in Havana by a score of civil society and the political community. (14ymedio)

Participants in the meeting held on Thursday in Havana by a score of civil society and the political community. (14ymedio)

14ymedio, Havana, 31 July 2015 – The meeting held Thursday in Havana by some twenty civil society organizations and the political community has been defined as a new step in a common agenda. The initiative aims to work for democracy, fundamental freedoms, and a Rule of Law in Cuba, according to the activist Manuel Cuesta Morúa.

The gathering is the continuation of a meeting with similar aims held in Mexico between June 18 and 23 of this year, with the cooperation of the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, which brought together various organizations from the island and the diaspora.

At the meeting it was agreed to endorse Civil Society Open Forum four points of consensus, which involved the majority of the organizations that now decided to take this additional step in the direction of creating a strictly political space for democratic action.

It was also agreed to create of secretariat to distribute information and coordinate the coming meetings to which other organizations and actors will be invited to continue outlining the structure, rules and strategies of this new effort of plural political agreement.

The participants included, among others, representatives from the Patriotic of Union of Cuba (UNPACU), the Anti-totalitarian United Front, the Cuban Liberal Solidarity Party, the Progressive Arc, the Socialdemocratic Party, the Opposition Movement for a New Republic, the Center for the Support of the Transition, the Young Roundtable, the Successors Foundation, and Cuba Decides.

Also present were attorneys from Cubalex and the the Agromontista Current, independent journalists, artists and intellectuals, including Tania Bruguera and the recently released Angel Santiesteban, Rafael Vilches and Jorge Olivera.

When the Eggs Go Missing / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

An eggseller. (14ymedio)

An eggseller. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 30 July 2015 — One day it’s cooking oil, another it’s floor cleaning clothes or washing detergent, but there is always a product that all of a sudden doesn’t appear on the shelves either in the ration market or in the hard currency stores, “nor even in the spiritual centers” as some say.

When the eggs go missing, it is almost never the fault of the hens, but of the bad organization in production or distribution. The egg is a key player in the dramatic food situation of Cubans. As my neighbor Magdalena says, “It’s a can’t-miss,” because of which we call it a “lifesaver.” However, it vanishes, disappears, goes poof! like in those magic acts, and then alternative ways of selling it have to be put to work.

On the ration card, every citizen gets five eggs a month at a price of 15 centavos. In the free market, a 30-egg carton costs 33 Cuban pesos, and in the “shopping” – as we call the hard currency stores – they cost 3.60 convertible pesos (CUC), almost triple what they cost in the free market. In the black market, which functions according to the strict rules of supply and demand, eggs will always be more expensive than in the ration stores and cheaper than in convertible pesos, with their price rising and falling according to their presence or absence.

In March of this year, a high-profile corruption case came to light in which 19 officials from a State company were sentenced to prison terms of between 5 and 15 years for their involvement in the diversion of more than 8 million eggs to the illegal market, with an economic impact of over 8,907,562 pesos. But no one can believe that once those lawbreakers were discovered the racket ended. It was enough for the scarcity to come up with a new fiddle in which each played his or her role of greater or lesser risk, greater or lesser effort and hence, with greater or lesser profit.

The official media try to blame all the scarcities on private entrepreneurs

At that time private restaurants and snack bars were not authorized, the underground market in eggs was limited to door-to-door sales, offering the merchandise to people in their homes. I’ll never forget one day when a woman came to my house accompanied by a child with a beach ball. “Do you want eggs?” she asked me. “Give me ten,” I said and then, as if by magic, she took the eggs out of the ball. Now the owners of paladares – private restaurants – and especially those who make sweets, monopolize the purchase. The official media try to blame all the scarcities on private entrepreneurs, and even hold them responsible for the frequent detours, almost like kidnappings, of what leaves the warehouses headed to the markets.

The cyclist in the photo walked several miles along Rancho Boyeros Avenue in Havana with his precious cargo. At first he tried to pedal, but the height of his construction made him lose his balance. Throughout his journey he suffered every kind of joke from taxi drivers and truck drivers, but he was lucky not to stumble into a police patrol.

Cuba: Living to Eat / Ivan Garcia

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Iván García, 28 July 2015 — Juliana, a seventy-three-year-old housewife, devotes much of her time to tasks related to feeding her family. “I spend eight hours cleaning rice, picking through beans, which are very dirty, buying bread, scouring produce markets, butcher shops and corner stores to see what is available and making lunch and dinner,” she explains while preparing black bean soup.

Julia and those like her do not fit the national pattern: They still have breakfast, lunch and dinner at home. “My daughters make good salaries and I get dollars from relatives in the United States, but it evaporates in trying to eat as best we can.”

In Cuba people live to eat. Food costs eat up 90% of the average salary. “And it’s not enough,” notes Renier, a laborer. “The only reason I don’t spend my entire salary on food is because I have to pay the light, water and gas bills.” Continue reading

Leaving the Footprints of Some First Steps / Somos+, Niurvys Roca

Somos+, Niurvys Roca, 22 June 2015 — I inserted a flash drive in my old and slow computer, and a young man’s image appeared, nothing special about it except for his courage in questioning the limitations that we Cubans must endure. I admit that I had to contain an exclamation. Until that moment, I did not think anyone capable of revealing our problems in such a bold way, direct and honest. The next morning, people were talking about it, in whispers, in the schools, on street corners, and even at my workplace.  Later, a silence took over and everything seemed to return to normality — not because it is normal, but because it is the same, that which involves despair, denial and sadness.

Many years after connecting that flash drive, a young man I barely knew asked me, “Do you remember Eliécer Ávila, that guy from the University of Information Science (UCI)? He has a proposal that you should read.”

I thought that Eliécer had been “disappeared,” and I confess that I was very happy to find out that he was active, because this was about a hope for changes for my country. The young man continued, “He’s started a movement called Somos+, but…you know…without Internet access it’s almost impossible to hear much from them. I’ve heard that there’s a girl in Spain who helps out. I’ll try to get in touch with her.”

Meanwhile, a group of friends and I would gather to discuss how we could help Cuba in any way possible and, suddenly, that young man who was now well-known to me, said to me, “We have contact with those who are supporting the movement from abroad!” I knew than that we should take part in our country’s history, and that it was the perfect opportunity to get involved.

Today we really are more, and so many more are joining that, when I try to recall those early days when there were hardly ten of us in exile, it is almost impossible not to share the excitement. I remember a comment about how we should be called “Somos-” [“We Are Less”], which hurt me at that time, but now I laugh about it because time puts everything in its place. You have to be inside of this thing to know how delicious it is to unite with other Cubans who are full of energy, abilities, proposals, curiosity, and genuine desire to do for our country. Today I can only feel pride in what is accomplished if only the individual desires it — all that is obtained when love and dedication are given to something.

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

Machado’s Young People / Somos+, Javier Cabrera

Machado Ventura

Somos+, 13 July 2105 — One of the most important qualities of a politician is credibility. I am one of those who believe that credibility must be earned — and must not be lost, because sometimes it cannot be recovered. The obligatory homage to “the caste” has been the tool used to obviate the need for credibility in Cuba, and processes have been created to redress its loss: “rectification of errors,” “update of the economic model,” and even “voting for everything.”

This is why it is not strange that the octogenarian Machado Ventura addressed us, the young people of Cuba, telling us what we should do, think or feel. Those who in the old days were dazzled by promises of faraway lands and indeed enjoyed (and still enjoy) privileges, today demand that we not be dazzled by pretty things — basically because many of these things might turn out to be good, and might sentence them to a forced retirement. And it is there that they leave us their legacy: Remember the confrontation! A war cry against the rapprochement, against the aim of those models that have encouraged it on both sides. Continue reading

Examination of the Latest Ministry of Public Health Crusade / Jeovany Jimenez Vega

Jeovany Jimenez Vega, 3 April 2015 — The gods of Olympus have spoken. In their eyes we, miserable creatures, must simply obey and resign ourselves to complying with their divine whims. I will try to translate into the language of mortals the outrageous coercive measures ordered by the Cuban government, through the Minister of Public Health, to try to stem the current exodus of healthcare professionals. In the same order in which they were set out, it would read something like this:

4. Stop the increase of individual contracts* in Angola: Because the African country is forever indebted to Cuba since the 1980s war, it goes without saying that it is obligated to comply with everything that Havana orders. In other words: Cubans in Angola as cannon fodder, yes; Cubans in Angola to work honestly, without being exploited by the Cuban government, never. Continue reading

A Chavez Supporter Denounces “The Castros’ Deception” / 14ymedio

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Advertisement greeting arriving passengers at Havana’s José Martí International Airport Terminal 3. Poster reads “Cuba: A Healthcare Destination for All.” (14ymedio)

14ymedio, Havana, 29 July 2015 — On June 30, 2015, the pro-Chávez website Aporrea posted a disturbing testimonial about the Cuban healthcare system, with a title that says it all: “Ninety Days in Havana: You Have to be There to Know The Truth.” The Venezuelan Nelson Jesús Lanz Fuentes, a regular contributor to Aporrea, and a great admire of Hugo Chávez, narrates the ordeal he went through first in his country, and later in Havana, where he accompanied his son with the hope that Cuban doctors could save his leg.

A traffic accident left the son of Lanz Fuentes, a resident of the Venezuelan city of Guarenas, with severe injuries to one of his legs. His tibia factured in three places and the doctors from Venezuela’s public health system inserted a plate in his leg to help regenerate the bone. However, the operation caused an infection resulting in a terrible diagnosis: infected pseudoartrosis and osteomyelitis of the right tibia, and a dermoepidermal ulcer with bone exposure. Venezuelan doctors in private practice recommended a very expensive treatment that did not guarantee good results. Continue reading

The Umbilical Cord / Rebeca Monzo

Rebeca Monzo, 25 July 2015 — The majority of Cuban emigrants, those of the last three decades, seem to leave with the remains of their umbilical cords hanging from their bodies.

They barely arrive, be it as wet foots or dry, by raft or by plane, and just start settling in, but that they start asking their families who stayed on the island for medicines, Vita Nova tomato sauce, dry wine and other silly things. They don’t seem to realize they’ve arrived in another country, which they themselves chose to start a new life, and they try to continue depending on their families and friends with scant resources, those they left behind. Continue reading

Eighty Percent of Las Tunas Province Is Facing Soil Erosion / 14ymedio

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 28 July 2015 — Experts have just confirmed what peasants in Las Tunas Province already knew due to the declining yields of their harvests and the degradation of their land. Eighty percent of the province’s arable land has already eroded, and another 28% is facing desertification. According to reports appearing in the official Cuban press on July 28th, this problem is a result of “changes in rain patterns, and inadequate management of the province’s farmable lands.” Continue reading