Nostalgia for “The Special Period”? / 14ymedio

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Pigs (14ymedio)

, Havana, 31 July 2104 — I knew about nostalgia for the colonial era, the Republican era and even for the “marvelous” eighties, what I never could imagine was that anyone could be nostalgic for the Special Period. But everything is possible on this island and if you don’t believe me, then read the June 23rd article in Juventud Rebelde, “The happiest children in the world,” by Glenda Boza Ibarra.

This young Cuban from the east recounts with great candor her childhood full of “good and nice” times, in which she dedicated herself – as a form of entertainment – to counting the few cars circulating in her neighborhood. Eventually, the journalist says: “I can’t complain, because I was born in this country, a place where children have everything they need to be the happiest in the world.”

To a great extent the conditions we are raised in determine our tastes, needs and aspirations. A native indigenous to our island would have perceived the disgusting Paris of 1492 as a dazzling paradise, and a pigsty like the suite of a three star hotel.
The aspirations, tastes and evaluation criteria of this young woman from Las Tunas were curtailed by the circumstances in which her childhood unfolded in the midst of the Special Period, particularly bleak in eastern Cuba. It is precisely because of these circumstances that she no longer sees the barefoot children who once again occupy our streets, terraces and paths, nor the tremendous cultural decline that has occurred between my generation and hers.

However, there seems to be a glimmer of hope for Glenda. Nostalgia is nothing more than the desire to escape a troubled present to a past in which we had not yet suffered the difficulties we are now subject to. She confesses the strange naivety of her childhood when she writes “we weren’t worried about the fall of the Berlin Wall, nor the disintegration of the USSR,” a reflection that she has already begin to expand her range of expectations, that her new circumstances have raised her cultural level and her aspirations.

Will there be such a change that Glenda will reject, outraged, the pigsty, or on the contrary will she become one more member of the sect of pig farmers? Only time will tell.

Days to Turn Off the TV / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

Woman watching TV (14ymedio)

Woman watching TV (14ymedio)Days

YOANI SÁNCHEZ , Havana, 29 July 2014 There are days when it’s better not to turn on the TV. Right now, just pushing a button can dump us in an avalanche of official propaganda for the birthdays of Hugo Chavez and Fidel Castro. From July 28 to August 13, the boring national programming will be filled with the cult of personality, ideological kitsch and political sentimentality. Children’s choirs will sing to the “Eternal Commander,” people who barely saw them pass by on the street will share anecdotes, and endless biographical scenes will bombard us from all sides.

“Right now the news has no news,” complained a neighbor who wants to know what is happening in the world and can’t see anything but processions of red and olive green. I felt the same today with the first news of the day. An hour after it started I couldn’t extract the least national or international information, only praise for the “immortal warrior of the race of Bolivar,” and the “wise guerrilla who loved him like a son.” I tend to have little patience with this overdose of flattery, so I turned off the TV and began calling several friends so they could tell me what was going on here and there. At least we have “Lip Radio”!

The ruling party continues to confront the distribution of information, serials and movies in the so-called “combos” or “packets.” However, it makes no real changes in its television programming to attract young people. Instead, the small screen becomes a loudspeaker for slogans and boring material that viewers find annoying and reject. Thus, they can never regain the ground they have lost to illegal satellite dishes, content copied onto USB sticks, and hard disks full of documentaries. If they continue with the ideological excesses of recent days, official TV will, very soon, become a monologue that few listen to.

Angel Santiesteban is Being Held at the Acosta and Diez de Octubre Police Station / 14ymedio

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14YMEDIO, Havana, 28 July 2014 – Since July 23 Angel Santiesteban’s family has denounced his disappearance from the Lawton Prison Settlement. That day the prize-winning author was taken from the place where he was serving a five-year sentence for an alleged crime of violation of domicile and injury. Until this morning his whereabouts were unknown.

This newspaper investigated, calling 18806, the police service number, and learned that Santiesteban is currently detained at the Acosta Station on Avenues Acosta and Diez de October. The duty officer there told 14ymedio that the writer is accused of the crime of “escape.”

The family has denied this accusation and his sister, Maria de los Angeles Santiesteban, in a statement to Diario de Cuba said, “My brother has never had an idea like that. He never agreed to leave Cuba and he had the opportunity, he was in the United States three times and he traveled the world.”

This coming Wednesday morning Angel Santiesteban may receive visits from relatives, according to what14ymedio learned. Today, however, they did not allow a fellow journalist to deliver a package personal hygiene products.

Ángel Santiesteban has received major literary awards, including the Casa de las Americas Prize in 2006. Just two days ago his novel The Summer God Slept was presented in New York, and he won the Franz Kafka Prize for Fiction 2013.

 

Routine and the Past Star in this 26th of July / 14ymedio, Ignacio Varona

Ramiro Valdes

Ramiro Valdes

14yMEDIO, Ignacio Varona, Camaguy, 26 July 2014 – Very early this Saturday many of us observed a new event for the 26th of July. The strict codes of ritual demanded that the commemoration of the 61st anniversary of the assault on the Moncana Barracks in Santiago de Cuba and of the Carlos Manuel de Cespedes Barracks in Bayamo, be celebrated this year with moderate pomp. If the “important” anniversaries are commemorated in style, in Santiago de Cuba or Havana, the intermediate ones happen in provinces with fewer resources.

The choice of the newly created province of Artemisa to host the main event, obeys the fulfillment of this liturgy. Also an experiment has been developing in it to streamline the administrative functions which it has taken on because the Port of Mariel megaproject is in its territory.

In the era in which Fidel Castro had the capacity to stand for four to six hours in front of a microphone, those events were anticipated as time to summarize accomplishments and to announce the news. In 1989, in one of his long speeches he warned of the possible disappearance of the Soviet Union. The last great surprise on the 26th of July was the day in 1993 that the Commander in Chief announced the dollarization of the Cuban economy. Since then, especially after 2007, his brother Raul has had very little to promise and has delegated the speech on several occasions to Mr. José Ramón Machado Ventura, second secretary of the Communist Party. Continue reading

Was Moncada Necessary? / 14ymedio, Fernando Damaso

Moncada Barracks

Moncada Barracks

A great deal has been written about the assault on Moncado Barracks in Santiago de Cuba and the Carlos Manuel de Céspedes Barracks in Bayamo on 26 July 1953. At times, with great exaggeration. Some, forgetting the differences in times and objectives, as compared with the Cry of Yara in 1868 or that of Baire in 1895, which started our war of Independence.

About the assault on the Moncada barracks in Santiago de Cuba and Carlos Manuel de Céspedes in Bayamo on 26 July 1953 much has been written.Sometimes exaggerated. Some, forgetting the differences in epochs and objectives, as compared with the 1868 Cry of Yara, or the Cry of Baire in l895, which kicked off our war of independence.

In response to the events of 1953, traditional Cuban political sectors reacted with surprise. They were used to solving national problems through dialogue and peaceful means, and suddenly armed struggle makes its appearance as a method of fighting against tyranny. Even some of those who would later become traveling companions of the revolutionaries, described the act as a putsch, although later they retracted. Others, less dogmatic and more dialectical, saw in the action a path for its principle organizers to rapidly achieve political prominence and popular support. Continue reading

From Cyberspace to Moringa / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

The signing of 29 documents between the government of Cuba and various official and business interests from the People’s Republic of China on the occasion of Xi Jinping’s visit to the island has awakened great expectations among Cubans. One of the most striking things was the television news broadcast of the signing ceremony for the documents, which could be seen along with all of the boring protocol details. A parade of ministers and businessmen passed in front of the table placed in the hall the Council of State, and in the background an enormous stained-glass titled The Sun of our America stood under the watchful eyes of the presidents of both countries.

While the television-announcer-turned-master-of-ceremonies was revealing the nature of the initialed documents and saying the names and titles of the signatories, it was difficult to take in what was really happening. What is the difference, many wondered, between a memorandum of understanding, an exchange of letters, a framework accord, a cooperation agreement, a commercial contract, and a funding agreement? How could one discern the hierarchy that distinguishes an exchange agreement from an executive program? What is the basic difference between a framework agreement and a memorandum of cooperation?

What everyone did understand was that the Asian giant granted credits and made donations and investments in very sensitive areas. Examples of these are cyberspace, communications, digital television, improvements in the port of Santiago de Cuba, the supply of raw materials for the production of nickel, oil drilling, and the construction of a building complex associated with a golf course.

The rest, not wanting to overstate their importance, is filled with Chinese water meters, young Chinese learning Spanish in Cuba, packaging lines, office supplies, and transportation.

With regard to what was missing, at least among the 29 documents, nothing was heard about an increase in tourism, nor was there a single word about the Port of Mariel megaproject, and there was nothing about free-trade agreements such as those between China and other Latin American countries.

By chance—or benevolence—the number 13, a number so significant to the former Cuban president, appeared at the top of the Framework Agreement on the Establishment of the Agricultural Demonstration Farm, signed by the ministers of agriculture of both countries, which had among its objectives “cooperation on the science and technology of moringa, mulberry and silk worms.” What it said, a mere detail, passed unnoticed.

The Scam and the New Man / 14ymedio, Eliecer Avila

Products filled by scammers (14ymedio)

Products filled by scammers (14ymedio)

14YMEDIO, Havana, Eliecer Avila, 23 July 2014 – I grew up listening to my teachers saying that our society was building the man of the future, a different one, one that would have no defects, no malice, none of the vices “inherited from capitalism.”

Those of us who over the years strived to bring ourselves closer to something that is a good New Man, today find we are aliens maladapted to this society. It seems we had a monkey painted on our faces and anyone could mock us. Things had reached the point that my father, relentless defender of the best values, today tells me that if I continue trusting in everyone I might end up dead.

Just a few months ago I was at the bus station when a gentleman approached to tell me he’d spent three days sleeping there, on the floor and eating other people’s leftovers, because he didn’t have the money to return to the east. He had spent all he possessed “taking care of my mother who is very old and in the hospital here in Havana.” His eyes were sad, his clothes dirty, and his voice trembled. That boy wasn’t even 30 yet. Continue reading

The Second Shipwreck of the Granma / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

It has a woman’s name and the fatality of a widow. The Carolina center, in Matanzas province, not only ground sugar cane for decades, but gave sustenance and prosperity to an entire village. On dismantling the mill, the former workers and the neighbors had to learn to live in a ghost town.

Carolina was one more among the 161 sugar mills that ground through the middle of the last century. In total, national production approached five million tons of sugar per harvest. The owners of the center, the Mirando Blanco brothers, never suspected that in October 1960 the industry that rose on their own efforts—theirs and others’—would pass into the hands of the State.

Imbued with revolutionary enthusiasm, many believed that the nationalization of the sugar industry would bring higher production and better working conditions. In an assembly where a new name would be selected for the Carolina, worker Piro Martinez suggested that the plant should be called Granma*. The reason was that one of the expeditionaries, Luis Crespo, had been born and spent his childhood in the batey (the sugarcane workers’ village). And so the name of that femme fatal was replaced by the English nickname for grandmother.

In the distance the dismantled sugar mill (14ymedio)

In the distance, the dismantled sugar mill (14ymedio)

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To the Rhythm of the Chinese Horn / 14YMedio, Reinaldo Escobar

Chinese Horn

Chinese Horn

14YMEDIO, Havana, Reinaldo Escobar, 22 July 2014 – On an unspecified date at the beginning of the twentieth century Havanans heard for the first time the sharp and contagious sound of an as yet unknown instrument, brought by Asian immigrants. It happened in the middle of a carnival parade and was played by members of a troupe called “The Good Chinese.” Soon after, the horn was brought to Santiago de Cuba where it became a main part of Santiago’s conga and was dubbed the Chinese horn.

In remarks to the press on the eve of his visit to Cuba, President Xi Jinping said, “China has sounded the trumpet for the comprehensive deepening of the reform, while Cuba is promoting the updating of its economic model.”

More than a century has passed since that memorable cultural event and another Asian wind instrument arrived in Havana today calling for a change in the rhythm. Perhaps less leisurely than that pushed by Raul Castro, characterized by the gradual introduction of slow and short movements in our society. It would be better if this were another troupe of good Chinese and not the messengers of a new authoritarianism.

The Political Legacy of Oswaldo Paya / 14ymedio

Oswaldo Payá's Funeral (Luz Escobar)

Oswaldo Payá’s Funeral (Luz Escobar)

14YMEDIO, 22 July 2014 – On 22 July 2014, the opposition leader Oswaldo Payá and the activist Harld Cepero died. Payá led the Christian Liberation Movement and promoted the Varela Project, which managed to collect some 25,000 signatures to demand a national referendum. Freedom of expression, of association, freedom of the press and of business, as well as free elections, were some of the demands of that document signed by thousands of Cubans.

Nominated five times for the Nobel Peace Prize, Payá was one of the most visible and respected figures of the Cuban opposition. In 2002  the European Parliament awarded him the Sakharov Prize for Human Rights by and he was able to tour several countries to offer information about the situation on the island. He was also an official candidate for the Prince of Asturias Award and received honorary degrees from Columbia University and the University of Miami.

Paya’s death occurred in the vicinity of the city of Bayamo, while he was traveling accompanied by the Spaniard Angel Carromero, the Swede Aron Modig, and his colleague Harold Cepero. The Cuban government explained the death as the result of a car accident, but his family and many Cuban activists have maintained their doubts about that version. An independent investigation into the events of that tragic July 22 has been requested in various international forums, but Cuban authorities have not responded to those requests.

On the second anniversary of the death of Oswaldo Payá, we asked activists who shared his democratic ideals, “What is the greatest legacy of the leader of the Christian Liberation Movement?”

Guillermo Fariñas, a psychologist and the winner of the European Parliament’s Sakharov Prize

The main legacy left by Oswaldo Payá Sardinas for the Cuban nation, beyond its geographical boundaries, was that he showed his people and the world that the Cuban government breaks its own laws. When the Varela Project submitted almost 25,000 signatures to the People’s Assembly on a citizens’ petition for a plebiscite, the Cuban government refused to hold one and in a crude way changed the Constitution. That in my opinion was his main contribution: demonstrating that the Cuban government is beyond anything that could be construed as the Rule of Law and that it does not even respect its own draconian laws that support Castro’s totalitarian state. Continue reading

The Battered Press / 14ymedio, Fernando Damaso

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Two papers, same owner, same front page. (YS)

14YMEDIO, Fernando Damáso, Havana, 21 July 2014 – It is no secret that the editorial policy of a newspaper responds to the interests of its owners. In countries where freedom of the press exists and is respected, newspapers abound, reflecting many different interests. In countries where freedom of the press is clearly absent, one, two or three newspapers are sufficient, more than enough to cover the form, because they all say the same thing and defend the same principles.

The case of Cuba is a good “bad example”; Granma, Juventud Rebelde (Rebel Youth), and Trabajadores (Workers), each in its area of influence, serve a single objective: to defend at all cost the established political economic system.

In Republican-era Cuba, with a population half as large as today, there were 14 national newspapers: Diario de la Marina, El Mundo, Información, El País, Excelsior, Prensa Libre, Mañana, Alerta, El Crisol, Ataja, Tiempo en Cuba, La Calle, Diario Nacional and Noticias de Hoy. There were also two newspapers in English and three in Chinese, as well as newspapers in each one of the six provinces.

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“I do not know if it makes much sense to try to legalize the Hispano-Cuban Foundation on the Island” / 14ymedio, Marta Beatriz Roque

Martha Beatriz Roque, the new president of the Cuban Hispano Foundation. (14ymedio)

Martha Beatriz Roque, the new president of the Hispano-Cuban Foundation. (14ymedio)

14YMEDIO, Havana, 18 July 2013 — The Cuban economist Martha Beatriz Roque has just been named president of the Hispano-Cuban Foundation (FHC). The institution has tried to “promote the presence and relevance of the FHC in the island.” 14ymedio was able to speak with the prominent dissident to get her impressions about the new appointment and her immediate plans.

QUESTION: How do you feel to have been chosen for this position?

ANSWER: It is a tremendous responsibility, because when the board members of the FHC decided to choose me for this position they based it on some expectations that I must now meet. A challenge of this nature, one always takes it as a challenge, with a bit of fear too, because I know it will not be easy.

Q. What are the first steps that you will take starting now?

A. First I must organize the Cuban side. The patronage in Madrid is very well defined, but here there are some steps that need to be taken in that regard. The first is to legalize the situation at the Embassy of Spain in Cuba and then there will be many other steps and concrete actions. But contrary to how Raul Castro thinks things must be done in Cuba, when he advised doing everything slowly and gradually, we will try to make our plans a reality as quickly and swiftly as possible.

Q. Do you intend to try to legally register this entity in the Register of Associations of Cuba?

A. In Spain this foundation is legalized, it is based in Madrid and is well known in the European Union. Legalize it in Cuba? …? I don’t know if it makes much sense even to try.

Q. Will you continue as usual with his work as head of the Community Communicators Network and the Institute of Independent Economists?

A. Yes, of course, one has nothing to do with the others. All tasks that come starting now with this new responsibility will be in addition to what we do every day. I hope I have the time and energy.