The New Scenario / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

Roberta Jacobson at a press conference at the residence of the head of the US Interests Section in Havana (Luz Escobar)

Roberta Jacobson at a press conference at the residence of the head of the US Interests Section in Havana (Luz Escobar)

14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, 23 January 2015 – The possibility that some day the dispute between Cuba and the United States would ever be solved, the discussion about how to accomplish it having been successively postponed, seemed so remote.

If we were to identify in a simple form the background of the disagreement between both contenders, we would have to say that it can all be reduced to the intention of the Cuban government to implant a socialist regime with a single party and without private property, in the face of the geopolitical will of the United States to maintain in the region a homogenous system of representative democracy and market economy.

The fact that Cuba became the first socialist country in the Western hemisphere sustained the dream of Nikita Khruschev to some day see the hammer and sickle flag waving over the Capitol in Washington. Perceived from afar, the problem qualified as one element of the contradictions of the Cold War.

But, observed from within, the conflict could not be reduced to a brawl between Cubans and Americans replicating the East-West conflict, rather it starred Cubans with different ways of thinking. The imposition of the Marxist ideology provoked an internal schism in Cuban society and in the Cuban family. Under the guise of a growing class struggle, appeared victims and victimizers, and an enormous quantity of silent witnesses.

To those who proposed to align the Island with the countries of the Socialist Camp, it wasn’t enough to confiscate all American-owned properties, in addition, in less than a decade, they swept away the last vestige of private property. They implanted a ferocious “scientific atheism” and prohibited any political or ideological display that didn’t maintain absolute fidelity to the principles of Marxism-Leninism.

The enemies that process engendered, inside and outside, ended up joining forces. There were armed landings, groups in the mountains, bombings and sabotage. The prisons filled with political prisoners, and the terror of suffering the consequences of dissent brought faked obedience. The great majority of victims of the Revolutionary laws left for exile, while socialism in Cuba continued to produce the dissatisfied.

One fine day, McDonald’s arrived in Moscow before the flag of the proletariat was hoisted in the capital of the empire, and as a consequence, the construction of pure hard socialism on the Island ceased to seem a Utopia to reveal itself as an absurd aberration. A Special Period that nobody dares to put an end to, the uncertainty about whether the leadership is a delirious dying man or a pragmatic conservative, the inability to produce, the insolvency to buy, the lack of an attraction for interested investors, the absence of an understandable definition of the way forward, the total exhaustion of old slogans, a crisis of values never before seen, an unstoppable emigration, the decline and aging of the population, the insecurity that Venezuela will continue its support with energy and financing, and a thousand more reasons, have placed before the Cuban government the need to sit down and talk with its oldest adversary.

These talks have found enthusiastic defenders, enemies and skeptics. These tendencies, with all the imaginable gradations and with greater and lesser visibility, are present in all environments: at different levels of power in the United States, in the apparent unanimity of the Cuban Government, in the exile, in the internal exile and, of course, in the gagged protagonist that is the Cuban people.

The enthusiastic defenders can be localized easily in that group of people on the Island who have as a priority achieving material prosperity and being legitimated as an emerging middle class. In the exile, there are those who would like to invest with guarantees in the innumerable niches that can be opened; from government positions, those who dream of recycling generals into managers; and from the environment of the opposition, the few with the healthy naivety to believe that, as a consequence of dialog, political dissent will be decriminalized and they will soon be seated in parliament after winning the votes of their constituents.

The enemies of the rapprochement are found among the hawks of the U.S. military sector and in that part of the exile that dreams of violently overthrowing the Cuban Government and making them pay with blood for their multiple and unpardonable crimes. They can be seen emerging in the internal opposition among those who suspect that if the government is sitting down to negotiate with the Americans, they will no longer have to talk to them.

They argue that their demands, their just demands, particularly with respect to Human Rights in Cuba, will fade into the background relative to the claims prioritized by the American executive branch. In addition, there is the group of those who aspire to be included in the refugee program, or to be beneficiaries of “help” from the North, and fear that all of this will disappear before the flowers that today adorn the negotiating table wither.

Paradoxically, those in the Island’s power structure who totally reject the reestablishment of relations appear to be at the controls of the repressive bodies; those who would be left without work and, still worse, without privileges, on the day that, by virtue of the presumed dismantling of the exterior harassment, Cuba can no longer be considered besieged and, in consequence, dissidence ceases to be treason. Along with this troop, are the gallant combatants who refuse to abandon their trenches, the ones where they won their medals and merit points that one day served to get a house, a car, a job and even public prestige.

Skeptics lack confidence in anything that some group of anonymous negotiatorss have agreed to in secret. There are abundant reasons to believe that the only thing the American government wants is to regain its hegemony in the region, or that the only purpose of the Cuban ruling elite is to save their heirs. They are everywhere, though they don’t speak up, or do so with due caution.

The issue of the reestablishment of relations, with everything that rests on it, will be an election issue in the campaigns of Republicans and Democrats; it could lead to political purges in the Communist Party, the government and the parliament; it could rearrange alliances in the exile; and delineate with greater precision the divisions in the internal opposition. But it will be a reason for hope in the crowded buses, in the lines for “chicken for fish,” in the private taxis and private restaurants, and among all those who have a relative on the other side.

We Cubans should never find ourselves in this extemporaneous and foreign dilemma. The real problem continues to remain unresolved and it is the dispute between the people and its government.

Neither optimistic enthusiasm nor sterile skepticism is any use, much less the intention to reverse what seems inevitable. The script is written for four hands by those who are already quantifying gains and losses. The only certainty is that there will be a new scenario where new rules will come into force and every actor must rearrange his or her strategies.

2015 Partial Elections: an Old Woman Wearing Rouge / 14ymedio, Miriam Celaya

Billboard for the 2008 parliamentary elections. "Cuba in elections: without masters, without impositions"

Billboard for the 2008 parliamentary elections.
“Cuba in elections: without masters, without impositions”

14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 19 January 2015 – Next spring, Cuba will hold the first election process after the announcement of the restoration of relations with the imperialist enemy. Everything indicates that the authorities of the Island are ready to stand the test of what the democratic makeup should look like to create an impression of positive change. For this reason, they are rushing to create their own mechanisms for “approval” with the democratic systems in the region.

If the US President wants to see democratic change in Cuba, the regime’s double-dealers are working on it. After all, the old adage has already stated it: “It is not enough to be Caesar’s wife; it is a must, in addition, to appear so.” Though we Cubans are aware that the innovations brought about by the hand of the same government that curtailed civil liberties are only imitations of those dilapidated and unkempt old buildings in order to prolong their existence, and that, in the popular jargon we refer to as “an old woman wearing rouge.”

Last January 5th, the official Cuban press published a call of the State Council to the midterm elections, “as established in the Constitution of the Republic and Law #72 of October 29, 1992″ in which delegates to the municipal assemblies of the People’s Power will be “chosen” for a “mandate” of two and a half years, subject to revocation.

The next day, the 17 members of the National Electoral Commission took up their positions and received appropriate accreditation. They must “organize, manage and validate the electoral acts”.

Granma newspaper reported the start of a “political and strengthening process on the 55th Anniversary of the CDR [Committees for the Defense of the Revolution]”, at the municipal level, as part of which  “assemblies at the popular board level” were held on January 8th, and on the 12th, they were held “at all zones of the CDR’s.” Such assembly process sought to “improve the functioning of the leadership structures of the CDR” from the grassroots level –on each city-block up to the municipal and zone-specific committees, and at the same time the “conditions of individuals who occupy charges at different levels of management” were evaluated. According to the national CDR coordinator, Carlos Rafael Miranda Martínez, this process ensured, among other objectives, “to help support the election process and the incorporation of young people.”

Election campaigns and political parties are expressly prohibited, but the PCC really runs the election process de facto

The first round of the process will take place on April 19th, 2015, the second round, “at those constituencies where none of the candidates have obtained more than 50% of the valid votes cast,” on the 26th.

The current Electoral Law in Cuba states that any citizen can be nominated as a candidate for delegate by a show of hands in the assemblies of each constituency, and subject to popular vote at the polls to exercise that capacity. Election campaigns and political parties are expressly forbidden, so it’s not a requirement that delegates and deputies belong to the Cuban Communist Party (PCC), but the PCC really runs the election process, plus governs the country de facto. Therefore, all levels of government of the popular power are subordinate to the PCC. In fact, party militancy is often a relevant qualification when proposing a candidate for delegate.

In the succinct proposal process, selection of the candidates and voting for the delegates of the electoral districts, all “democratic possibilities” are exhausted. Cubans are deprived of their legal capacity to choose, not just a President to rule the country for a reasonable defined period, but they won’t be able to opt directly for governor of their municipal district, city, or the province where they reside.

The “delegate” thus embodies the living exponent of the beginning and the end of the (popular) citizen power in Cuba. In this way, from the actual implementation of the first revolutionary electoral system, established in 1976, Cubans have strictly voted for a district representative – barely a portion of a neighborhood – whose function is mainly centered on receiving complaints from his constituents and passing down to them the decisions or guidelines emanating from the Municipal Assembly. That’s where the functions and powers of electors and elected at the grassroots level cease.

A possible ban on using the Little Pioneers as agitators often sent by the presidents of polling stations to citizens’ homes to go to the polls

A few days after the decree for partial elections in April 2015, seminars have begun to be taught in the capital to those called “trios” – composed of three individuals, members of the Communist Party, subject to the municipal committee of the PCC – who are responsible for driving and controlling the grassroots electoral process.

At these seminars, the trios are being instructed in the new guidelines that will begin to be applied to Cuban elections, whose main component is the addition of two new figures: the observer and the supervisor. This information has not been published in the official media. Also not published to the seminar attendees is what organizations will be in charge of watching and supervising the elections in order to validate their transparency.

At this point we could only speculate that the Cuban government requested the presence of observers from allied organisms as the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) or the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA), since Cuba is not a member of the Organization of American States, an institution that has its own mechanisms for such effects. This will allow the Cuban government to evade the direct supervision of those entities more discerning in matters of democracy.

Another detail of these elections will possibly be banning the use of the Little Pioneers (i.e. children) as agitators, who are often sent by the presidents of the polling station to citizens’ homes to get them out to the polls, a practice guided by the directorate of the municipalities of the PCC to each electoral table, which has been in effect since the establishment of the system.

“In these elections, voters will not be able to be pressured to go to the polls so that election stations may close early,” an instructor of a seminar directed a large group of trios at the Centro-Habana municipality. He also made implicit reference to the coercion that has been exerted on the electorate – who sometimes vote as to “not stand out,” so their own will not be harmed, or with lesser knowledgeable sectors who might believe that voting is a mandatory exercise – when he stated that a voter may show up when he decides to do so, and that they should not be pressured into being forced to come out and vote. If 10 show up, then it will end up being 10. Whatever. Nobody is required to vote.”

Translated by Norma Whiting

Yes to Regulation, No to Control / 14ymedio, Henry Constantin

Filmmaker Fernando Pérez during the interview with Henry Constantin

Filmmaker Fernando Pérez during the interview with Henry Constantin

14ymedio, Henry Constantin, Camagüey, 21 January 2015 — I interviewed Fernando Pérez in a small room of that little movie theater is still left in Camagüey one day after the premiere of his latest production, La pared de las palabras (Wall of Words), a stellar film about which I didn’t ask a single question. I decided not to interview the film director and instead question the intellectual, the public figure who contributes more than just his works to the daily life of Cuba.

Fernando Pérez deserves, and can handle, any difficult question one can think of. His films, never boring and with noteworthy depth, reveal a certain level of social nonconformity and demonstrate high cinematographic and intellectual capacities that transform the slim and modest man into a very serious subject. Despite being thoroughly deserving, the cinematographer isn’t inflated with the airs of a great artist or a prominent public figure and treats with kindness both his public and the press.

I had to ask him a complicated or daring question in the scarce minutes of my interview because there was little I hadn’t heard following his eloquent speeches before the camagüeyano audiences that had welcomed him in various places throughout the day.

Constantin. Following the prohibition of privately owned movie theaters, do you, cinematographers, still include in your proposals for the Cinema Law the independent distribution and showing of films?

Peréz. We’ve advanced a proposal that, of course, includes the distribution, showing, and preservation of our patrimony.

Regarding showings, there are very few venues that meet the requirements of a real movie theater. There are generations of youths that don’t know what a real movie theater is, even in a moment where the ways of showing and distributing films have diversified, for better or for worse. Rescuing the quality of movie theaters is fundamental. I can watch a movie in a smaller screen, on a laptop even, I don’t oppose that, but its true place is in a movie theater, not because it’s dark or because it is projected on a larger screen, it’s because of the energy generated from watching it alongside a live audience. It’s as if you were living within another movie altogether. Our movie theaters have either lost their intended purpose at the expense of other varied activities or, due to decay, have ceased to operate completely.

“Personal initiative would generate better results than having to wait for centralized decisions to be passed down.”

On the other hand, distribution is still centralized within The Cuban Institute of Cinematographic Art and Industry (ICAIC). We need to debate an editorial policy that is concrete and safe because there are national works – and I’m not talking about the international ones – that are not shown due to an editorial policy that is unclear. That needs to be regulated as well; it can’t be subjected to circumstantial or temporary decisions.

Q. Does your proposed Cinema Law conceive the ICAIC as the sole entity charged with distributing and showing films in Cuba?

A. Not exactly, although we don’t have all the answers, but distributing and showing is an extensive process that depends on a financial framework that we neither manage nor will. But, we are considering and analyzing the possibility of a breakup, a decentralization of many of these activities, where independent initiatives, regulated but not controlled, can generate improvements and also experience a more dynamic growth themselves.

I think that beyond Cuba’s audiovisual industry, having a centralized pyramidal social structure has caused many aspects of our reality to be plagued by processes that delay, that don’t find solutions, that aren’t dynamic, and that are bureaucratized because they depend on centralized decisions that cannot respond to everything. More freedom to operate and act would facilitate personal initiative, and personal initiative would generate better results than having to wait for centralized decisions to be passed down.

This structural relaxation has to somehow be envisioned as part of the system we would like to have. I can’t give you concrete solutions because we are, in fact, debating. We don’t want them to come only from us; we want to explore them with other regulatory entities in our country. Not everything will be feasible immediately.

We feel like that policy is not yet outlined, or like we don’t know where it’s going, or that it’s too centralized, that it starts on a routinely straight line that is very difficult to divert.

“Maybe Tania foresaw that it wouldn’t happen and that was the real performance, none at all.”

Q. From what I’ve seen within your work, you strike me as a person who believes that art can serve to change the world you live in. How do you see the relationship between art and politics?

A. Art needs to relate and mingle with life and also have its own discourse within that relationship, holding the person at the center of it all. While politics delves into the general, art targets the particular. Politics can serve art, by always upholding the freedom of expression that art needs, and art can serve politics, by rendering its reality more complex without becoming propaganda. If art becomes political propaganda, its reach becomes limited.

Q. I asked you that question because I was interested in knowing your opinion regarding Tania Bruguera’s performance and all that occurred around it.

A. Tania Bruguera’s situation has been very, very, very complicated. I think that it is possible that at some point an open microphone can be placed on Revolution Square. What happened was that Tania proposed it at a time when she knew it wasn’t possible. For a performance to have a deliberate result, it needs to account for its possible reach. Maybe Tania foresaw that it wouldn’t happen and that was the real performance, none at all. So, the performance was the whole process, the waves of detentions, censorship… it wasn’t the microphone for people to speak through. That will happen someday, but not now.

Translated by Fernando Fornaris

A Letter to Fidel Castro from ‘A Revolutionary Cuban’ / 14ymedio

Fidel Castro billboard: "Fight against the impossible and win"

Fidel Castro billboard: “Fight against the impossible and win”

Dear Fidel,

I know you’re dead. Despite their attempts to hide it from me, to deny it or to lie about it with false letters bearing your signature, I am convinced of your death.

I don’t believe you capable of abandoning us now, at the moment when we need you most, because that’s not what you have accustomed us to. I can’t imagine you sitting back on your recliner enjoying a good book, listening to music or eating your favorite dishes knowing that the course of this country is changing at a vertigo-provoking speed that we are not used to and that we are now faced with the impossible task of writing a new chapter in our history without a leader. I can’t picture you oblivious or indifferent, absent as if you were roaming on an adrift cruise ship, or wandering some faraway lands, ignoring what happens on this island that gave you life, that gave you glory, and made you universal. I also know that you would never cower like an ostrich or a rat before the dangers that stalk us.

I know that if you were still alive you would be, right now, exhorting us to defy these dangers like you always have. You would be warning us of the threats that, invisible to us, only you are capable of seeing. If you were alive, we would have seen you, filled with emotion, embrace your Cuban Five, your heroes, for whose freedom we rallied behind you in every campaign, march, parade, and act. If you still held on to life, you wouldn’t allow the threat of the empire to fly again over our heads, except this time closely, too closely, and with new arms and combat tactics for which we are unprepared. You wouldn’t allow savage capitalism to return to Cuba nor for those whom we once vanquished by simply throwing eggs at them to come back as proud victors.

If even a drop of life were to still inhibit your body, you would give your people a dignified goodbye, that people that has supported you in everything: in the liberation war, by cleansing the counter-revolutionary threats that hid in the Escambray Mountains, working the arduous sugarcane zafras, repudiating the “worms”, the “antisocials”, and the “scum,” betting our lives in Angola, Nicaragua, or Venezuela with rifles, notebooks and pencils or white coats, on volunteer work, giving what little we had to others and receiving nothing in exchange, and battling today, defenselessly, your most recent detractors. Right now, it’s your obligation to stand with us and you know it.

You surely haven’t forgotten (I haven’t) your favorite slogans, like “Homeland or Death” and “Socialism or Death”, those that you pronounced at the end of every speech in a firm tone, and that we followed with cries of “We will be victorious” before we applauded you in passionate approval while exclaiming “Long live Fidel” and “Long live the Revolution.” If neither the Homeland nor Socialism interest you any longer, the only logical explanation is that death has won against you in that final battle and we should not be kept in the dark, we should know, if at least out of respect for those that have supported you unconditionally, so that we may grieve you and honor you with a humble but heartfelt tribute.

And if your death not be true, excuse my sincerity Comandante, I’d rather continue thinking you’re dead because it’s simply the best option I have to keep my faith as a Revolutionary.

A Revolutionary Cuban, January 16 2015

3 and 25 p.m.*

*Translator’s Note: Fidel Castro signs his writings with the time expressed in this way.

Translated by Fernando Fornaris

14ymedio, 23 January 2015

“To remain entrenched” / 14ymedio, Victor Ariel Gonzalez

Cuban and US Delegations at the Convention Palace in Havana (kkkk)

Cuban and US Delegations at the Convention Palace in Havana (Fotograma)

14ymedio, VICTOR ARIEL GONZÁLEZ, Havana, 24 January 2015 — We didn’t have to wait too long for an answer. “Yes, we have an enemy” was the title of an opinion article published some days ago by Pinar del Río’s Guerrillero, perhaps in honor to the provincial newspaper’s bellicose name. In any case, this was how the spokesman of the only political party in Cuba’s westernmost province appraised the country’s rapprochement to the United States, which started on December 17: “when the enemy is in your home, he becomes even more dangerous.”

However, today the Island seems committed to dialogue with the United States regardless of how “dangerous” it might be. On Thursday, a first round of talks regarding the reopening of embassies and “other topics of bilateral interest” took place in Havana. That same day, Granma, the country’s official newspaper, dedicated almost an entire page to an analysis of the current diplomatic process, noting that “diverse are the tendencies that can be observed; from the slightly naïve views of those that think that with it all our problems will be solved, to those that frown upon the recent developments and prefer to remain entrenched.”

Looking back, it turns out that less than two weeks after the local newspaper Guerrillero called for “a new kind of confrontation” with the United States, Granma would publish several lines calling for moderation. That some Cubans prefer “to remain entrenched” does not sound like a positive attitude.

It certainly is not. What’s interesting is that it be recognized as such by a generally intransigent medium like Granma. At risk of seeming infected with the current excessive enthusiasm, I would even say it is a good precedent. Yes, it’s time to be moderates, because this attitude is the only way of negotiating solutions.

Even government officials have recognized certain adverse conditions in Cuba’s quest to resurface undefeated – that is to say without needing to make any concessions – from dialogue with the United States and therefore to remain exactly as we have known it. Among the difficulties are “years of material scarcity, certain weaknesses in the social formation of younger generations, and the loss of some values.” But, the greatest challenge is not a return to a “dependent relationship” with our Northern Neighbor; it is redefining the concept of enmity. And, alongside that, controlling the hope generated by the easing of political tension without seeming a spoilsport.

“There have been and there continue to be deficiencies in the social formation of our children and youths,” says Granma. However, even for those who “are not so young anymore” it seems that “the past no longer exists” and that’s the biggest worry for an ideology that, faced with limited perspective, clings desperately to its past, invoking a disagreement that has lost it followers. In any case, “the reserves of our identity” should save us against those disadvantages.

Both the solitude and fatigue of the Island’s rulers become more tangible with each passing day. The character of the Cuban government has cost it many friends; but currently, as dialogues with the United States unfold, it seems that the regime will also lose its most valuable enemy, the wild card it used to excuse its – many – failures. To remain entrenched is the instinctive response of those who are afraid, even of their own shadows.

Translated by Fernando Fornaris

“It is up to Cubans decide their future” / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

Roberta Jacobson at 14ymedio’s offices

Roberta Jacobson at 14ymedio’s offices

14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, 24 January 2015 — In October of 2013 I had a conversation with Roberta Jacobson, via a Google hangout (videodebate), on democracy, technology and the role of women in activism. On that occasion, we interacted through a screen in the company of internauts interested in our chat. Now, we talked with a few inches between us, in a visit of the Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs made to our independent daily, 14ymedio, in Havana.

Proximity has allowed me to confirm what I had already felt in our previous conversation, that this loquacious woman with an attentive gaze has a profound knowledge of the Cuban reality. It is no wonder that she has led the first round of conversations between Cuba and the United States after the December 17th announcement about the reestablishment of relations between both countries.

Several members of our editorial board along with some collaborators met with Jacobson on the 14th floor of the Yugoslav-style building where our headquarters are located. Following is a transcript of a conversation, where we tried to address a wide spectrum of topics.

Yoani Sánchez: Do we have reason to worry that pragmatism and the politics of rapprochement prevail above all else, and that the issue of human rights and civil liberties will be relegated to the background? Continue reading

Humanitarian proposal from the Human Rights Commission / 14ymedio

José Daniel Ferrer, Elizardo Sanchez and Hector Maseda at the news conference. (14ymedio)

José Daniel Ferrer, Elizardo Sanchez and Hector Maseda at the news conference. (14ymedio)

14ymedio, 23 January 2015 — The Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation (CCDHRN) convened a press conference at its headquarters to unveil an initiative to release, on humanitarian grounds, a total of 24 prisoners who have spent more than 12 years in Cuban prisons.

Presenting were Elizardo Sanchez, Jose Daniel Ferrer, leader of the Patriotic Union of Cuba and Hector Maseda, president of the Liberal Party of Cuba, who also promoted the Four Points of Consensus of the Cuban Civil Society, ratified and updated last December 22 in a meeting of the Cuban Civil Society Open Forum.

One of the aspects most discussed today among the internal dissidence on the Island, is the issue of who should be on the list of possible prisoners to be released. Debated is whether there should appear, among those who should receive this benefit, those accused of acts of terrorism, hijacking of planes, or other armed actions.

The group proposed by the CCDHRN includes people incarcerated for similar reasons, but it is argued that they are one the list for humanitarian reasons, which does not justify the acts committed.

A Question for Roberta Jacobson / 14ymedio, Clive Rudd Fernandez

Roberta Jacobson (From  Marti-Noticias)

Roberta Jacobson (From Marti-Noticias)

14ymedio, Clive Rudd Fernandez, 22 January 2015 — In July of last year, when I talked to some of the victims of the “Marzo de 13” Tugboat massacre in the Bay of Havana, I found a list of horrifying statistics.

Two of them would make any halfway decent human being shudder: the bodies recovered from the sea as a result of the sinking of the boat were never returned to the families, and there was never an independent investigation into the massacre in which 41 Cubans lost their lives. Ten of them were minors.

What was so shocking about these events was not just the impunity of those who perpetrated the atrocity on Cuban soil, but that what happened on 13 July 1994 is a pattern that has been repeated almost since the Revolutionary government took power in 1959.

The violent deaths, on 22 July 2012, of Oswaldo Payá, winner of the European Parliament’s Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, and Harold Cepero, young leader of the Christian Liberation Movement, followed the same path of an absence of justice and the utter helplessness of the affected families. Although in this case the bodies were handed over to the families, neither Payá nor Harold were given an autopsy or an independent investigation.

With the policy changes of the Obama administration and the Havana dictatorship, some voices have begun to ask for independent investigations of the violent deaths, especially where it is known that the authorities had some participation.

Some voices think that these “problems” have the potential to point the accusing finger at the face of the government in Havana and that “this is not the opportune moment to talk about accusations, but rather about the issues that bring both nations closer,” like an independent blogger on the Island told me.

Oswaldo Payá and Harold Cepero

Oswaldo Payá and Harold Cepero

The international media ignores the issue to the same extent. The saddest thing isn’t that they don’t emphasize these presumed assassinations, but rather that the majority of us, Cubans inside and outside the country, don’t consider it one of the most important issues to address.

An independent investigation into the deaths of Osvaldo Payá and Harold Cepero protects all of us Cubans.

The alleged “accidents” and “careless doctors” who allegedly caused the deaths of Laura Pollán, Oswaldo Payá, Harold Cepero and many other Cubans are today the extrajudicial execution that hang like the Sword of Damocles over the heads of all Cubans living on the Island.

Those who dare to dissent and openly criticise the Government have felt the danger much more closely. Many of them have received death threats from members of State Security, who act with total impunity, as they well know that there will be no legal consequences for them.

Rosa María Payá

Rosa María Payá

Last night I heard that Rosa María Payá met Robert Jacobson on a plane, when the daughter of the Cuban dissident was returning from a short trip to Washington, where she had the privilege of being the guest of Senator Marco Rubio at the State of the Union.

The Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs was on her way to Havana to meet with officials from the Cuban Government in one of the meetings between the two nations at the highest level since the Jimmy Carter administration.

In this short encounter, Rosa María Payá asked whether the investigation into the death of her father would be on the negotiating table. The answer, as politically correct as it was evasive, was, “This is always a point that we raise”. 

Maybe I’m wrong, but judging by the response, the issue of the unexplained deaths of opponents like Oswaldo Payá and Laura Pollán will remain unaddressed and, with them, the fear every Cuban has of being murdered at any moment, without consequences for the executioners, nor for those who give the orders.

*In English in the original

“This is your country, and no regime can take it from you” / 14ymedio

A World Heritage site, the Colón (Columbus) Cemetery in Havana has more than 500 mausoleums, chapels and family vaults. (Photo: Marius Jovaisa)

A World Heritage site, the Colón (Columbus) Cemetery in Havana has more than 500 mausoleums, chapels and family vaults. (Photo: Marius Jovaisa)

  • The photographer’s work was the pretext that Havana used to suspend negotiations with the European Union

14ymedio, Ernesto Hernandez, Miami, 23 January 2015 — Marius Jovaiša is a Lithuanian photographer, 41, who has spent much of the last five years taking photos of Cuba from a perspective never before seen: from above. He started the project in 2010 thinking that, being a foreign artist far removed from politics, it would be quite easy to get permission to take aerial photos. However he quickly realized that he would have to navigate against an extremely slow bureaucracy, invest a great deal of resources, be patient, and understand that the freedom to do things is very limited on the island.

Unseen Cuba, a collection of more than 300 ariel photos of the island, taken from an ultralight 300 feet above the surface of the earth, was published in 2014. The exhibition of the images in Washington and Brussels caused problems with the Cuban authorities, who came to use his work as a pretext to suspend their dialogue with the European Union last November.

Question: Why did you decide to write a book about Cuba?

Answer: After the publication of my book of ariel photos of Lithuania, I realized that I was doing something that I enjoy, that appealed to the public, and that could also be a profitable project. With this new project I could combine my passion for photography with the adrenaline that one feels when flying in an apparatus that is open as an ultralight. It was like I was flying in a chair and, at the same, time taking incredible photos. Continue reading

“Cordial and very positive” meeting with Roberta Jacobson, say several activists / 14ymedio

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L to R: Miriam Leiva (back to camera), Roberta Jacobson, Guillermo Fariñas, Marta Beatriz Roque, Antonio Rodiles

14ymedio/EFE, Havana, 23 January 2015 – Friday morning the US Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, Roberta Jacobson, met with a broad representation of Cuban activists. The meeting had the character of a working breakfast and the main objective was to hear from dissidents and opponents with regards to the negotiations for the reestablishment of relations between the United States and Cuba.

The meeting was held at the residence of the Chief of Mission of the US Interests Section and, on the Cuban side, attended by members of various civil society groups such as the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU), the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation (CCDHRN), and the opposition group Estado de Sats (State of Sats).

José Daniel Ferrer, UNPACU leader, said, “The meeting was very fraternal, frank and positive.” According to the activist, the American side was very receptive and “reaffirmed their interest in maintaining a commitment to the demand to respect human rights, the current point of greatest concern among Cuban civil society.” The majority of those present, according to Ferrer, “focused on detailing their concerns about the future of Cuba,” and also on the concern “that the decision about the future of Cuba must rest with the Cuban people.” Continue reading

Institutional Crisis / 14ymedio, Fernando Damaso

Meeting of the National Assembly (Neo Club Press)

Meeting of the National Assembly (Neo Club Press)

14ymedio, FERNANDO DAMASO, Havana, 22 January 2015 — Among so many crises that affect us, little is said about that related to institutions. In the Republican era, there existed institutions that, without being perfect, worked. If it had not been so, the country would not have developed in the way that it did. When the new regime was put in place in 1959, instead of being perfected, most of the existing institutions were liquidated or their spheres of influence were reduced for the purpose of initiating other new ones on bare ground. Even the family, considered a principal and primary institution, did not escape, being dismembered and atomized to respond to political and ideological interests.

An institution can be many things. There exist formal and informal institutions and, in both cases, they are always social constructions. They must be efficient, that is to say, capable of functioning well, having legitimacy, being able to adapt to changes in the environment and anticipate changes besides demonstrating stability. These components must act together if they want to get results. In the Cuban case, stability has turned into a kind of brake that impedes the necessary changes, giving rise to ossified institutions. The majority of institutions established in the last fifty years suffer this infirmity, mainly the economic, legal and political ones. Continue reading

The Unknown of the Diaspora / 14ymedio, Eliecer Avila

14ymedio, Elicer Avila, 13 January 2015 – Cuban civil society is often questioned, as are opposition groups, due to their apparent inability to join the masses and pressure the government for necessary changes.

All of these questions are not without some truth, and a doubt comes to mind that I would like to share. I am referring to the fact that the two million Cubans (between emigrants and descendents) who live outside the country have not found an effective way to participate in the politics of the nation.

In theory, this group of Cubans has everything that the internal opposition lacks in order to have a major influence: full access to communications and information, freedom of movement, the right of association and assembly, and, above all, it has an economic power that could compete with that of the government itself.

On the other hand, the remittances that the Cuban migration sends to the country every year constitute one of the top three sources of the gross domestic product. If we accept the maxim that “He who holds the purse strings holds the power,” then it would correspond that those living abroad should have a wide representation in the parliament for being the most efficient and productive workers in the system, as well as for being the largest union. Thus, we could at least say, “He who brings, participates.” But this is not the case.

Quite the contrary, the measures usually taken by the government tend to directly affect the interest of the emigrants, and at times don’t help their families. The new customs regulations, the cost of the paperwork to enter the country, and the treatment that often borders on disrespect, are some examples of this.

To make matters worse, the new Foreign Investment Law* also excludes them, depriving them of the opportunity to contribute with their investments and their talent to the development of the country. And it is a tremendous shame. I know that outside the country there is human capital of incalculable professional value, with experience in every kind of business and, above all with immense desires to see their native land move towards progress.

How is our emigration organized to defend its natural rights in this new scenario? Will it support in a major way a civil society and a responsible opposition that has a more inclusive vision of the nation? For me, this remains an unknown.

13 January 2015