The Hidden Pastors Of Cuba’s Evangelical Churches / 14ymedio, Ricardo Fernandez

Minister holds a service in the Cuban Evangelical Church League (Hispanic Evangelical Church)
Minister holds a service in the Cuban Evangelical Church League (Hispanic Evangelical Church)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Ricardo Fernandez, Pinar del Rio, 26 June 2016 – Religious visas for foreign pastors invited to Christian events exist in all countries, but in Cuba they serve as a mechanism of repression and blackmail by the state, with the aim of silencing the voices that are raised against it within the Christian community.

When this kind of visa is requested, the Cuban government demands that the churches submit a detailed schedule of the places where the foreigners will be and where they will stay, from the time of their arrival in the country until their departure. If the itinerary includes any of the churches that express disagreement with state policies, then the request for entry into the country is denied.

In addition, the Cuban governments demands that the church councils submit all the data on the preachers involved before offering them a visa, and if they are found to be associated with any NGO in their countries of origin that does not sympathize with “the Cuban cause,” the request is denied. If everything for one pastor is “in order,” according to their preferences, but the event has also invited other pastors who dissent from the communist process, the visa will probably be denied. Faced with this stark reality, the Christian community has been forced to hide foreign pastors who are invited to preach at their events.

This generates persecution by the Department of Immigration and Aliens, which levies heavy fines on offending churches or pressures their guests to leave the conference venue. On many occasions we have seen police operations mounted to stop pastors, as if they were drug dealers, who manage to make it to our activities.

How can the Church hide these preachers? It requires a great deal of audacity. The basic thing is to omit the names in the conference programs that are made public, and to have the guests travel on a tourist visa (sometimes through a third country) and reach the island by way of an airport in another province.

When they enter with a tourist visa (at least in theory) they can move freely around the country. That means it is not illegal for them to be in one of our churches and, if found with microphone in hand, we can always claim that they are “witnessing” (a term in Christian speech that is similar to preaching) rather than lecturing. As a security measure, these preachings are not made public through audios or videos, in case they might appear on social networks and become incriminating evidence against us.

While this happens with pastors of all nationalities, most abused are the Americans, because they provide most of the financial support for our congregations. This support is not some “Machiavellian plan of the Empire.” The Cuban Evangelical Church has had its roots in American congregations since 1900, when they began sending evangelists to our country, who established what we know today.

By denying US religious pastors visas, the Cuban government “punishes” the rebellious churches twice, because not only do they prevent their members from listening to the words of the guest, but they also cut off all possible financial aid.

That this happens in our country is contrary to the Constitution, which states in Chapter 1 Article 8: “The State recognizes, respects and guarantees religious freedom. In the Republic of Cuba, religious institutions are separate from the state. The different beliefs and religions enjoy equal consideration.”

How much longer will we have to wait for our religious freedom to be recognized and guaranteed? And above all: What is the government waiting for to start respecting our rights?

Gagged Words / 14ymedio, Jose Gabriel Barrenechea

The writer Amir Valle. (Photo EFE / File)
The writer Amir Valle. (Photo EFE / File)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Jose Gabriel Barrenchea, Santa Clara, 27 June 2016 – The Eva Tas Foundation, located in Amsterdam, publishes and promotes texts that have been and are censored, regardless of where or how. Indeed, as a part of this laudable and necessary work, this institution just published two books by one of the most important figures in Cuban letters, and one of the highest contemporary examples of commitment to the truth and the defense of freedom: Amir Valle.

Gagged Words is one of them. The book was completed this 20 February, and though the ink hasn’t dried yet it is essential reading for anyone who wants to know the history of the Castro regime’s censorship, harassment and persecution of creative work and thought in Cuba, mainly in literature and film, but above all it reveals the subtle mechanisms of intellectual repression that the regime has adopted in these times of what some call late-Castroism.

Amir Valle, one of the most important Cuban intellectuals of all time, describes certain keys to this veiled censorship or repression that goes unnoticed by many strangers to the Cuban island. This censorship or repression in many cases is considered by the new Mr. Magoo as a hoax invented by enemies to discredit the “greatest example of human dignity and social justice in the world today”: The Cuba of Fidel. For example, the complex mechanisms which prevents foreign publishers at our Book Fairs from breaking the “ideological firmness” of our people by giving them access to controversial literature.

The foreword of the book is by another great of our literature and a person with an intellectual commitment to truth and freedom: Angel Santiesteban. Thanks to this prologue, the reader from other cultures (what Cuban does not know who we are talking about?) can learn the essential aspects of Amir’s life from the mouth of someone who has known him intensely for almost three decades, and who addresses the worth of information that one is about to receive, in very direct language, with which a master of the language aims to reach the widest possible audience.

It is not by chance, but by ineluctable statistical necessity (here surveillance and harassment never sleep), that this book came to me from the hands of another intellectual who is often quoted in the pages of Gagged Words, whom the police arrested Friday in my and my wife’s presence at one of the busiest intersections in Santa Clara. As the captain of the secret police informed us, on suddenly materializing next to us out of nowhere (what a shock to me, an atheist!) they took him to talk “a little while” with them: “Because, compadre, with Vilches we couldn’t have done better, check it out, we’ve even resolved (they = the secret police, it is understood) to put him on the jury in a contest there in Varadero.”

Gagged Words is a book with which, if you are still one of the clueless of good faith who remain out there, you should do two things: the first is to read it. The second is to go to Cuba with it in your suitcase so that you can, with total sincerity, declare it at Customs, and share it with any Cuban with the face of a reader you run into in the street. Only then will the reality of the “Raulist opening” be known first hand with regards to intellectual creativity, thinking and the free discussion of the ideas. Keeping in mind, if you are one of those anti-Yankee global-phobics who come and go in the world today, that Amir Valle, even though they invited him, never stepped foot in what was then the United States Interest Section in Cuba.

And it is my good friend, who then returned to the plane, expelled from the island as a persona non grata, as Amir summarizes in an epilogue: (In Cuba) “independence, creative freedom, free expression of creativity are elements as palpable as galaxy EGS-ZS8-I, the most distant, 13,000 million light years from earth.”

A pdf of Gagged Words is available here.

Archbishop Of Havana Wants “Socialism To Progress” / 14ymedio

Archbishop of Havana, Juan de la Caridad Garcia Rodriguez. (EFE)
Archbishop of Havana, Juan de la Caridad Garcia Rodriguez. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 27 June 2016 — The newly appointed archbishop of Havana, Juan de la Caridad Garcia, said in an interview broadcast Monday by the Associated Press (AP) that does not want that Cuba “to have capitalism or anything in that style, but for socialism to progress” to go “forward to fair, balanced and fraternal society.”

The priest defended the work of his predecessor, Jaime Ortega. “I think that the cardinal did a great deal of good,” he said. “In some places there is a slightly negative image of him, and it is false. I am going to continue doing what he did.”

The archbishop said he doesn’t fear the criticisms of government opponents, which for years demanded that Ortega, who led the archdiocese for three decades, press for a change in the country’s political model.

Born in 1948 in Camagüey, Garcia did not support the Revolution after its victory in 1959. He was ordained a priest in 1972 and became Archbishop of Camagüey in 2002. His father died in prison accused of being responsible for a train accident, which took place in unclear circumstances, at the end of the 1960s, an era marked by harassment of religious figures. Despite the fact that he challenged the state in the 1970s by offering catechism in homes, he later changed his attitude toward the authorities. “There were always people who remained faithful despite the great difficulties at the beginning of the Revolution. One can walk, talk and look to the future,” he told the AP. “We can’t live in the past.”

Cuba’s Port of Mariel Lags Behind Panama Canal Expansion / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

The Mariel Special Development Zone in Cuba (Amelia)
The Mariel Special Development Zone in Cuba (Amelia)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 25 June 2016 — “We want to be on the front pages of newspapers” claimed a taxi driver in the middle of heavy traffic on a Panamanian street after being asked about the leaked documents from the firm Mossacl Fonseca. A few weeks after that conversation, the media focused again on that country this Sunday, but this time for the opening of the new Panama Canal locks.

Between the cacophony of the official celebrations and the criticisms provoked by the megaproject, one thing is missing from the news reports: the supposed beneficiary of such improvements – Cuba’s Port of Mariel. A cloak of silence surrounds the details of its current conditions, or lack of conditions, to serve as a stopover for ships that will pass through the new facilities and can carry up to 13,000 20-foot-equivalent-unit (TEUs) containers each. Continue reading “Cuba’s Port of Mariel Lags Behind Panama Canal Expansion / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez”

Cuba’s Self-Employed Join State Union to Avoid Trouble / 14ymedio, Mario Penton and Caridad Cruz

Street vendor in Havana (14ymedio)
Street vendor in Havana (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario J. Penton/Caridad Cruz, Miami/Cienfuegos, 24 June 2016 – Like every morning, Maria Elena and Enrique go out to sell vegetables, tubers and fruits in the streets of Cienfuegos. At temperatures of more than 86 degrees and with a sun that “cracks stones,” they travel the city carrying their products house to house and earning their bread, literally by the sweat of their brows. They are part of the more than 12,600 self-employed legally registered in the offices of the National Office of Tax Administration (ONAT) in the province, a not inconsiderable number for the officials of the Cuba Workers Central Union (CTC) which has seen in these “workers” an opportunity to increase their ranks.

Cuba has a unionization rate of almost 96%. According to official statistics, more than three million workers belong to18 unions that are grouped under the umbrella of the Cuban Workers Central Union, which functions as a conveyor belt for the Communist Party’s “instructions.” Continue reading “Cuba’s Self-Employed Join State Union to Avoid Trouble / 14ymedio, Mario Penton and Caridad Cruz”

Remittances To Cuba A Record $3.3+ Billion in 2015 / EFE, 14ymedio

As of this spring, Western Union is sending remittances from the US to Cuba (Business Wire)
As of this spring, Western Union is sending remittances from the US to Cuba (Business Wire)

EFE (via 14ymedio), 23 June 2016 – The sending of remittances – money primarily from family and friends to Cubans on the island – has experienced the “most dynamic growth” in Latin America, with a record 3.354 billion dollars sent in 2015, according to the Havana Consulting Group.

Between 2008 and 2015, remittances to Cuba grew by 1.907 billion dollars, an annual average increase of 238 million dollars, “an event without precedent in the Cuban market where remittances to the island officially began in 1993,” according to Emilio Morales, the president of the group based in Miami.

Morales attributed much of the growth to the easing of “restrictions and limitations” on the sending of remittances, especially that stemming from the “rapprochement” between Cuba and the United States, under the leadership of US President Barack Obama.

Another factor in the change has been the “huge increase” in travel between the US and Cuba; in 2015 a total of 538,433 Cubans and Cuban-Americans made round trips between the United States and Island, or vice versa, an increase of 328% over 2007.

Cubans And Foreigners Competing For Hotel Rooms / 14ymedio, Zunilda Mata

It is estimated that domestic tourism will grow by 13.8% this year compared to 2015. (14ymedio)
It is estimated that domestic tourism will grow by 13.8% this year compared to 2015. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Zunilda Mata, Havana, 20 June 2016 — With the arrival of summer on Monday, Cubans are obsessed with getting an “all-inclusive” package tour to enjoy the school holidays. However, domestic demand is affected by the simultaneous growth of foreign tourism — up 11.9% since January — and the insufficient number of hotel rooms.

Since 2008, when Cubans were granted the previously denied permission to book rooms in hotels, domestic tourism has seen a sharp increase and is estimated to grow by 13.8% this year compared to 2015. The island currently has about 61,200 rooms in about 300 hotels. The Ministry of Tourism plans to add some 3,790 new rooms and repair 5,677 others, by December. Continue reading “Cubans And Foreigners Competing For Hotel Rooms / 14ymedio, Zunilda Mata”

Latin America in the Mirror of ‘Brexit’ / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

A demonstration against the costs of the Mercosur Summit in 2014. (Digital Analysis)
A demonstration against the costs of the Mercosur Summit in 2014. (Digital Analysis)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 22 June 2016 — Rupture can only be possible if there was once an agreement, a relationship or love. In the eyes of Latin America, Brexit seems like the story of a mature friend embroiled in the bitter litigation of a divorce, provoking a certain envy in those who have never managed to mate. In this world, while some arrange their departure from an alliance, others yearn for the marriage of an agreement.

When the British vote this Thursday on a referendum to decide whether the United Kingdom will remain in or leave the European Union, the major impact of in Latin America should be a reflection on unitary structures, their reason for being and their fragility. On a continent where, in recent years, there have been innumerable groups, alliances and regional councils, each one more ineffective than the last, comparisons are inevitable. Continue reading “Latin America in the Mirror of ‘Brexit’ / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez”

The Goytisolo Palace, A Jewel Of Cienfuegos About To Disappear / 14ymedio, Caridad Cruz

The Goytisolo Palace, also known as La Catalana, in Ciefuegos
The Goytisolo Palace, also known as La Catalana, in Ciefuegos

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Caridad Cruz, Cienfuegos, 19 June 2016 — One of the greatest treasures of Cienfuegos, the Goytisolo Palace, lies in ruins amid official apathy to the rescue of this emblematic building in a city declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 2005.

Declared a local monument, the Goytisolo Palace, or La Catalana as it is also known, was built by Agustín Goytisolo Lezazarburu, a Biscayan born in 1812 who came to Cuba in search of opportunities in the 1830s. Continue reading “The Goytisolo Palace, A Jewel Of Cienfuegos About To Disappear / 14ymedio, Caridad Cruz”

Cooling Off / 14ymedio, Luzbely Escobar

Boys bathing in the rain in Havana. (14ymedio)
Boys bathing in the rain in Havana. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luzbely Escobar, Havana, 21 June 2016 — With the coming of summer the evening downpours are back. Almost daily, in the evening, the sky is loaded with black clouds about to burst. Sometimes we get the “deluge” and sometimes not. When it happens, invariably the boys in the neighborhood come out together to have fun in the rain.

Most of the students in the country are on vacation in these weeks, and don’t miss an opportunity to play soccer or baseball on any corner. When the downpour comes, instead of trying to find shelter under a roof, they walk the streets looking for puddles to splash in and enjoying everything falling from the sky. Continue reading “Cooling Off / 14ymedio, Luzbely Escobar”

Nespresso Will Be The First Company To Export Cuban Coffee To The US / 14ymedio

A farmer selects ripe coffee. (EFE)
A farmer selects ripe coffee. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio (With agency information), Havana, 20 June 2016 — The Cuban coffee will again be exported to the US after more than 50 years. Nespresso, of the Nestlé group, will be the first company to do so, as reported Monday by the Reuters agency.

Cuban coffee is one of the products of the island’s non-state that the US State Department authorized for import this April. Cuba’s National Bureau of the National Association of Small Farmers (ANAP) rejected the measure and charged that it was an attempt to influence Cuban peasants and separate them from the state, saying that it “cannot be permitted, because it would destroy a Revolutionary process that has provided participatory democracy, freedom, sovereignty and independence.” Continue reading “Nespresso Will Be The First Company To Export Cuban Coffee To The US / 14ymedio”

The Crisis Hits Cuban Doctors In Venezuela / 14ymedio, Mario Penton

The island earns more than 8.2 billion dollars from the "export of health services." (EFE)
The island earns more than 8.2 billion dollars from the “export of health services.” (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Miami, Mario Penton, 21 June 2016 — Tania Tamara Rodríguez never thought of fleeing the Cuban medical mission in Venezuela and become a “defector” who is prohibited from entering her own country for eight years. The plight of the island’s health professionals in Venezuela has led an increasing number to seek refuge in neighboring countries or to take alternative work to meet their needs in the midst of the economic crisis in that “Bolivarian” nation.

“The situation of doctors and aid workers Cubans is terrible. The whole time you are living under the threat that they send you back to Cuba and you lose your mission. You’re afraid they’ll take away all the money – which is in official accounts in Cuba – and if they take some disciplinary measure they will revoke the mission,” says Rodriguez. While working in a clinic lab in the “Barrio Adentro” mission, her salary of 700 Cuban pesos (about $26 US) is deposited in Cuba and she has the right to an account of 280 dollars a month and a card giving her 25% off on purchases at Foreign Exchange Collection Stores (TDRs) in Cuba. Continue reading “The Crisis Hits Cuban Doctors In Venezuela / 14ymedio, Mario Penton”

No Diploma Certifies Us As Parents / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

The statue of Carlos Manuel de Céspedes in Old Havana, on Father’s Day Sunday without a single flower. (14ymedio)
The statue of Carlos Manuel de Céspedes in Old Havana, on Father’s Day Sunday without a single flower. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 19 June 2016 – Those of us who have had the joy of being parents spend our lives asking ourselves whether we have done well, if in the strict judgment our children will make about our work will we earn a good score, a mediocre grade or, instead, a resounding disapproval.

The Venezuelan singer Franco de Vita says it is “not enough” to feed our offspring, surround them with comforts and conveniences, or guarantee that they receive an education, we must also respond to their questions. But our answers, which we have to improvise in a second, will be the most momentous memories our children have of us. Continue reading “No Diploma Certifies Us As Parents / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar”

Necessity Doesn’t Understand Slogans / 14ymedio

On this wall in the town Regla, Havana, life has overtaken the revolutionary slogans. (14ymedio)
On this wall in the town Regla, Havana, life has overtaken the revolutionary slogans. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 20 June – The city walls emulate the political billboards with regards to signs and slogans. However, the propaganda painted on the facades is frequent interrupted by a doorway, a window or a vent. Behind these changes to the exterior there is always the story of a divorce, or the birth of a child, or even a relative who comes to live with the family.

In these cases, respect for the slogan written on the wall means less than necessity in most cases, as is shown in this photo in the town of Regla , a few yards from the pier served by the ferries that link this capital municipality to the historic heart of Havana.

The phrase on the wall marks the anniversary of the founding of the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution (CDR) is now just a series of letters with little sense. The phrase “long live” has been replaced by a doorway leading to a new dwelling, where “life” has imposed its own slogans.

Cuban Phone Company’s Technical Problems Interrupt Service on the Island / 14ymedio

 ETECSA Telepoint in Havana. (14ymedio)
ETECSA Telepoint in Havana. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 16 June 2016 – Customers of Cuba’s Telecommunications Company SA (ETECSA) have seen their cellphone service affected since early Thursday morning. The messaging service (SMS) does not work correctly due to instabilities in cellular coverage.

The company has not sent any SMS information to its customers nor has it made a statement to the official Cuban media. Yes it has distributed a press release through its Twitter and Facebook accunts explaining that the failure from “the early hours of today,” is due to “voltage fluctuations in the network supplying the equipment of the mobile service infrastructure. ”

The state company claims that this is the reason why service was affected in the province of “Mayabeque, the special municipality Isla de la Juventud (Isle of Youth), and municipalities in Havana including: Plaza of the Revolution, Centro Habana, Cerro, Habana Vieja, Diez de Octubre, Arroyo Naranjo, Boyeros and San Miguel del Padron.”

Some users trying to communicate at the stroke of noon said that despite their phones indicating they had coverage, they received an error message when trying to send an SMS.

Internet services at the public wireless points are also unstable. “The signal comes and goes,” says a young woman trying to connect in the park at Linea and L Street in Havana’s Vedado area. A telecommunications agent in the Plaza municipality told 14ymedio that several clients had been to ask him if he was aware of the problem.

According to the press release, signed by the ETECSA Communications Department, “specialists have worked continuously on the solution to the failure and steb-by-step service had been restored.” As usual in these cases, the company also “apologizes for any inconvenience this may have caused.”