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.

The vocalist, 72, has made his way through the streets of Havana leaving a trail of incredulity and beating hearts. It is not, admittedly, the excitement provoked by Beyoncé or Rihanna with their escapades in this theme park of the past, but Jagger’s visit has more profound connotations. For several generations of Cubans he represents the forbidden, an attitude toward life that was denied us by an obsessive police control.

For a political system that tried to form the “New Man,” with a Spartan spirit, “correct” and obedient, this skinny guy with his turbulent life signified the anti-model, what we must not imitate. However, the laboratory man hawked by the pedagogical manuals didn’t work out… and Mick Jagger won the battle against the prototype of the militant boy, hair cut short and willing to denounce his own family.

A friend close to seventy came out into the streets this Sunday with the energy of girl celebrating her fifteenth birthday. “Where is he?” she asked the guard at Hotel Santa Isabel, where the official news reported the idol of her youth to be staying, but the man gave her no details. Like an obsessed schoolgirl, she walked all the streets around the hotel looking in the windows, to try to see the lean figure of the leader of the Rolling Stones.

Mick Jagger won the battle against the prototype of the militant boy, hair cut short and willing to denounce his own family

The lady displayed none of these reactions toward the American secretary of state, nor before the Bishop of Rome. For her, all these exalted visitors were in the range of the possible, no longer surprising nor moving. But Jagger… Jagger is something else. “I don’t want to die without seeing him,” she told me on the phone, with the conviction of one who will not tolerate leaving this world without “closing an era,” putting the capstone on her “best years,” she told me.

My friend infected me a little with her enthusiasm, I must confess. No sermon in the Plaza of the Revolution, no speech to open an embassy, caused my stomach to jump this way, a sudden feeling of living in historic times. A nervousness that will last until we see the legendary British band play next March at the Latin American stadium, in front of a crowd that will try to recover its lost years.

Jagger is much more than the living legend of rock and roll presented by the media. This beanpole, all mouth, all energy, all life, embodies a time that they snatched from us, an existence that we could have had and that they took from us.

It seems a shame to me that the political analysts don’t realize it: the future Cuba could start with the Rolling Stones in Havana.

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

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

That First Central Committee / Reinaldo Escobar

Fidel Castro during the formation of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Cuba, on October 3, 1965.

Fidel Castro during the formation of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Cuba, on October 3, 1965.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 2 October 2015 – Fifty years ago the first Central Committee of the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC) made its appearance. It was composed of one hundred people, among whom there were 57 commanders of the Revolution, nine captains, one lieutenant and 33 civilians. Of that constellation only eight remain alive and in office, not including Fidel Castro. The average age of these “survivors” who made it to today is approximately 83 years.

The last time there was a formal election to the Central Committee was in 1997 during the Fifth Congress of the PCC. On that occasion, 14 members from the initial list remained, but that was 18 years ago and, after the deaths of Vilma Espín, Juan Almeida, and more recently of Jorge Risquet, plus the retirements due to dismissal or illness of Roger Acevedo, Osmany Cienfuegos and Pedro Miret, the so-called “historic generation of the Revolution” has been considerably narrowed in its number. Continue reading

Twelve Ladies in White Arrested Outside Combinado del Este prison / 14ymedio

Ladies in White in Havana.

Ladies in White in Havana.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, 1 October 2015 – The regime opponent Martha Beatriz Roque denounced the arrest Thursday of 12 Ladies in White protesting outside the Combinado del Este prison in Havana. The activists presented themselves at the place to complain about the prisoners Ricardo and Ariel Gonzalez Sendiña, sons of the Lady in White Lazara Barbara Sendiña, who are on hunger strike.

The two prisoners, convicted of the alleged crime of theft and slaughter of cattle, maintain their innocence. Since they began fasting, both are in punishment cells. The women demanded answers about their state of health, but the prison authorities did not give details.

The organization’s leader, Berta Soler, at the site, reported by telephone to the reporter Lazaro Yuri Valle Rica on the imminent arrest of the activists. Minutes later, in her Twitter account, Soler describe the arrests as “brutal.” To date, the whereabouts of the protesters is unknown and their phones are shut off.

The leader of the Youth Front of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU) Carlos Amel Oliva Torres, was also arrested on his return from a trip to Spain. The activist is right now in the Third Police Unit in Santiago de Cuba.

A Queen Without Competition / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

Queen electric cooking pot. (Luz Escobar)

Queen electric cooking pot. (Luz Escobar)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, 1 October 2015 — The “Energy Revolution”, one of the last initiatives promoted by Fidel Castro before his public retirement, made some peculiar appliances appear in Cuban homes. Perhaps the most popular was the electric cooking pot was popularly called Queen, manufactured in China and which serves equally to make a red bean stew or meat and potatoes.

Those appliances which were distributed in bulk throughout the island, as if it were a military operation, were sold on credit and at a price that did not exceed 400 Cuban pesos (about $16 US). One day, coinciding with the departure of the Commander-in-Chief from his post, those pots also disappeared.

Since the middle of this year the Queen began to be assembled in Cuba in the ProHogar plant in the city of Santa Clara, as a part of the Household Production Industry (INPUD), a project founded in 1964 by the then Minister of Industry, Ernesto Guevara.

The group made up of 32 skilled workers assembles some 700 appliances a day that then go for the commercial network of hard currency stores and are sold at prices exceeding 30 convertible pesos (over $30 US). The items for sale can no longer be paid for on the installment plan, that characterized their distribution during the “Energy Revolution.”

Also lost in time are the memories of those refrigerators in INPUD fabricated that were distributed based on “merits” in one’s workplace. Instead, the entity now seeks to impose its products on the market through the harsh law of quality and competition with other similar products. The Queens are no longer for commoners.

‘El Sexto’ Abandons Hunger Strike After 24 Days / 14ymedio

Danilo Maldonado, ‘El Sexto.’ (Artist’s File)

Danilo Maldonado, ‘El Sexto.’ (Artist’s File)

Danilo Maldonado (El Sexto) ends 24-day hunger strike with promise from prison authorities that he will be released in 15 days.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 1 October 2015 — The artist Danilo Maldonado, El Sexto, abandoned the hunger strike he had maintained for 24 days this Thursday. His mother, Maria Victoria Machado, confirmed the news after a visit to the Valle Grande prison, where the graffiti artist has been since last December.

This Thursday, Machado went to the prison to demand the release of her son and met there with a lieutenant colonel who was identified as a “mediator.” The official informed her that “Danilo lifted the hunger strike” and that “from today he will begin to eat.”

Machado was able to meet personally with El Sexto, whom she said was “in high spirits,” although his face “reflects that he has been on hunger strike, his lips are completely cracked,” his mother said. Tomorrow, Friday, the lady will be able to visit him again and bring him food to alleviate his days of fasting.

The artist told his mother that the hardest part of the hunger strike was “the psychological part.”

After asking for personal information, including her address and contact phone number, the lieutenant colonel said that the artist would be “released in fifteen days.” To a question from 14ymedio, the mother of graffiti artist said she believes that “now that there are international agencies involved in his case, it is possible they will do what they said.”

El Sexto, classified as a prisoner of conscience by the human rights organization Amnesty International, was arrested for organizing a performance with two pigs painted with the names Raul and Fidel.

It’s Not the “Blockade”: It’s Fear 14ymedio, Pedro Campos

Raul Castro gives his speech at the UN. (UN)

Raul Castro gives his speech at the UN. (UN)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Pedro Campos, Havana, 30 September 2015 – The Cuban leaders insist that the “blockade” is the main obstacle to economic development in Cuba. This was confirmed by general-president Raul Castro at the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday.

Up until today, after the fall of the socialist bloc and the USSR, the United States blockade-embargo* remains the Cuban government’s main justification for the whole economic and social disaster caused by the Statist wage model imposed in Cuba in the name of socialism, in truth a kind of State monopoly capitalism.

The Cuban economy declined to the extent that the State concentrated ownership of land, which came to be 90%, as well as of industry and services, which reached 100%, and state monopolies controlled foreign and domestic trade.

All this was spiced with price controls, voluntarist* policies and plans, total control by the economic elite of the country of state investments and expenditures (“central planning”), the elimination the relationship between goods and money, elimination of individual and collective initiative, a war on private capitalism and cooperatives, now skewed with a thousand obstacles. Simply stated: it was increasingly constraining the initiative of society. Continue reading

Are We Cubans More Unruly Than Other Peoples? / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

Telephone with the handset ripped off

Telephone with the handset ripped off

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Generation Y, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 30 September 2015 – “Nobody takes care of anything,” raged the lady in line at the cash register of a State butcher shop. She was referring to those who leave the refrigerators open or who put their shopping baskets on the glass counters. However, she didn’t seem to notice the lack of air conditioning, the stench coming from some of the freezers where the goods were spoiled, or the single employee taking payments, while the others looked on with their arms crossed. The customers are to blame, according to the feisty woman.

Social indiscipline has become a recurring theme in reports and interviews in the national media. Vandalism is blamed for everything, from problems with public transport buses to the deplorable state of planted areas. Official journalists raise the accusing finger more and more against the pillage, while barely addressing the educational and political system that has molded these citizens so bent on looting and destruction. Continue reading

Amnesty International Calls for Release of ‘El Sexto’ / 14ymedio

Danilo Maldonado, 'The Sixth'. (Claudio Fuentes)

Danilo Maldonado, ‘The Sixth’. (Claudio Fuentes)

14ymedio, 29 September 2015 — The human rights defense organization Amnesty International on Tuesday launched an action to demand the release of the Cuban artist Danilo Maldonado, El Sexto (the Sixth), whom it considers a prisoner of conscience.

The artist wrote a “farewell letter” from the Valle Grande prison where he has been detained since last December for trying to organize a performance in which two piglets, painted with the names Raul and Fidel, would have been released in a public place. The letter, dated Sept. 16, was published by the Foundation for Human Rights in Cuba (FHRC) on its website .

The graffiti artist, imprisoned without trial or sentence, has maintained a hunger strike since 8 September.

The farewell letter of El Sexto

Valle Grande Prison

From the “cell” (of punishment)

September 16, 2015…

Where I am there is little light and I am in my underwear because I do not want to wear the prison uniform. They give me a mattress for 5 or 6 hours at night. I only drink water and there will be no ability to respond (from you to this letter) because they don’t allow contacts.

Thanks to Lia, Gorki, Antonio and everyone for helping my mother manage things. Thanks to Aylín for the beautiful and encouraging letters. I read them as many times as I could, I would like to write you a thousand letters like you deserve but now I do not think I will have the light, the paper, nor the energy to do it. Continue reading

Pinar Del Rio, Under Siege By Dengue Fever / 14ymedio, Juan Carlos Fernandez


Hallway in Pepe Portilla Pediatric Hospital where beds have been set up for fever patients. (Juan Carlos Fernandez)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Juan Carlos Fernandez, 29 September 2015 – The fear of contracting dengue fever keeps thousands of families on tenterhooks in the province of Pinar del Rio, especially those with young children.

Problems with the water supply are among the main causes for the outbreak, said a family doctor from the Hermanos Barcón People’s Council, who requested anonymity. “People build tanks, cisterns and try to store water and that is a constant focus of vectors,” he says. “There are areas in the city that only receive water every fifteen days,” adding that the “poor state of the health centers in the capital makes many people with the disease try to hide it so they will not be forced to go to a hospital,” thereby increasing the risk of contagion. Continue reading