A Turn of the Screw Against the Informal Market / 14ymedio

14ymedio, Havana, 30 May 2014 – A regulation of the General Customs of the Republic, published last Wednesday, has sellers of imported products and other private traders on edge. The official document includes new restrictions on travelers carrying goods to Cuba.

The measure adds to an escalation against the private market that hit a low point last December 31 when the government closed the so-called boutiques and outlets of varied merchandise, run by the self-employed. Many of these vendors transitioned to illegality, now offering their wares via catalogs that circulate hand to hand.

The Official Gazette has put special emphasis on warning of administrative or criminal liability for anyone who brings “foreign packages” to the Island. A direct reference to the so-called “mules” who bring clothing, shoes and other products sent by Cuban exiles to their families on the Island. continue reading

A video posted on the website of the Official Gazette shows a dramatization of the arrival of a traveler with 150 USB flash drives. On being questioned, the visitor said he did not know the contents of what he had brought because it came from another person who was sending it to his family.

For Antonio Tapia, who just bought an iPod through the classifieds website Revolico.com, it is “significant that Customs has chosen to issue their warning through these new technologies.” According to him, “For weeks we’ve been under a barrage of official propaganda against these technologies and now this shows up.”

The informal sellers are also very worried. On Reina Street in downtown Havana several outlets for imported clothing have been closed since the beginning of the year. However, most have continued to provide their customers with a wide range of dresses, brand name shoes and jewelry, although now they must do so illegally. “It gets worse and worse,” says Yanaisa, who has a boutique specializing in women’s underwear.

At José Martí International Airport Terminal 2, 14ymedio spoke with recent arrivals coming off a flight from Florida. So far no one has said they perceived a change in customs searches compared to previous trips. Carmen, age 61 and living in New Jersey, said that she was “very scared” when she heard about the measure because she always comes “loaded with gifts and commissions from others.” However, she reported “no problems of any kind” entering the country.

The effects of this new turn of the screw on the importing on merchandise could start to be felt in the coming weeks. But at the same time, in the words of Ruben Eduardo, a seller of computer parts, “We can always invent something.”

Over One Thousand Arrests of Activists in May / 14ymedio

14ymedio, Havana, 2 June 2014 – In its latest report*, for the month of May, the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation reported 1,120 arrests of peaceful dissidents and activists. This figure is one of the “highest in recent decades with regards to the number of arrests for political reasons,” the document reports.

As an example, the report cites the case of journalist Guillermo Fariñas, winner of the European Parliament’s Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, who has been arrested every Monday over the last 19 weeks. In the introduction to the list of detainees, the text reports an increase in “repressive violence against citizens who dare to disagree publicly.”

This report is prepared monthly by the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation, an independent organization led by Elizardo Sanchez; the government of the island does not recognize the organization in any legal way.

*Translator’s note: Although the report is in Spanish it is laid out in such a way that an English-speaker reader can grasp the dates, places, and names of those arrested.

The Free Territory of Skype / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

An article has been added to the saga against information technologies maintained by the official press. Last Thursday a report against phone fraud left many Juventude Rebelde (Rebel Youth) readers feeling that cellphones are a source of endless problems. To the barrage of accusations about the destabilizing plans that arrive via text messages, and the collapse of networks caused by titles that travel from one cellphone to another, we can now add the “personal profit” of those who use tricks to pay less for a call or for a text message abroad.

Every crime of fraud or embezzlement is legally and morally contemptible. However, the context in which these infractions are committed should be taken into account. We live under an absolute state monopoly of telecommunications. The only phone company in the country, ETECSA, has no competitors in its field and thus sets its prices much higher than the tariffs common in the rest of the world. A one minute call overseas costs the average worker about two days wages. With such a large population having emigrated, it’s easy to imagine the Island’s need to communicate with the rest of the world.

To this must be added the limited and scarce Internet access. Without any new facilities for services such as Skype, many prefer to resort to fraudulent practices rather than to give up calling other parts of the world. Penalizing the offenders who resort to tricks like voice bypass will not resolve the problem. I don’t imagine a lady in her sixties, with a son who emigrated, risks being fined for phone fraud when she can pay barely pennies to call via the Internet. Pushing a population into crime, and then condemning them for engaging in it, seems to me, at the very least, pure cynicism.

Yoani Sánchez, Havana, 31 May 2014 | 14ymedio

La Timba’s Ghost Bus / 14ymedio, Luzbely Escobar

Ruta-Foto-Luz-Escobar_CYMIMA20140525_0002_16Route 67 is what we in Cuba call a ghost bus. But for the inhabitants of the popular La Timba neighborhood in Havana, it’s the only public transport that leads to the city center and the historic old town. La Timbans know when it runs and even commit to memory the names of the drivers. Osvaldo is one of them and displays his National Vanguard status for his dedication to the art of driving.

In the eighties there were several routes serving this poor Havana neighborhood. During the Special Period the Ministry of Transport reorganized the service and cancelled many of them. The No. 67 remained as the only survivor. In runs from the Palatino area and usually operates with one bus on a two-hour schedule. The first bus leaves at 6:20 in the morning, taking early morning workers to their destinations. On days that are a true miracle, there are two buses which run every hour.

Some older people, to avoid having to walk with their heavy bags, wait for the single bus to travel just one or two stops. They are few and belong to a brotherhood that knows the schedule by heart. A kind of “No. 67 Club” made up mostly of the elderly who recall the glory days of their favorite bus.

Sometimes a member of the club will warn another not to wait because the bus is broken down and not running. They have contacts and use them, to find out if it already left the stop, if the driver is sick and couldn’t come to work, or if there is some technical problem that has left it back at the repair shop. In addition to their loyalty to the No. 67, they are characterized by optimism, trusting that, in the end, the bus will appear coming around the corner, with a slight sound of the horn as the doors open in front of the patient passengers.

Their fan enthusiasm even manifests itself in some outsized jealousy toward the Route 27. Originating from the same stop, this latter has been assigned additional reinforcements, evident in a larger number of buses. An indignant passenger asked about this disparity and the annoyed driver responded, “It’s that we are Palatino’s poor daughter,” and “we don’t collect as much as the No. 27, so we don’t get priority.”

The passionate users don’t understand how it is possible that the social function represented by their preferred route is not valued. Nor how in these instances the case is considered only from the economic point of view. They don’t understand because, for them, this route is part of the life of their community. It’s a piece of their environment. The No. 67, as they call it, is an essential part of the urban culture of La Timba.

Luzbely Escobar, Havana, 29May 2014 | 14ymedio

Alfredo Guevara In His Own Words / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

A recent interview published in the magazine Letras Libres, reveals Alfredo Guevara’s mood months before his death. The meeting, that came to be thanks to filmmaker Arturo Sotto, brings us closer to a man conscious of being on the last stretch of his life. His words try to find, or give sense to his existence, to justify some horrors and exalt some achievements.

Caustic but careful, Guevara ventures in topics of the past such as the divisions within the 26 of July Movement and its clashes with the forces of the Popular Socialist Party . Between one anecdote and the next, he reveals—perhaps without intention—details of a power taking shape among betrayals and rivalries. The scene of Celia Sánchez who lived with Fidel Castro in a house in El Vedado and would ask Guevara to expel the old communists from the Cuban Institute of Cinematographic Art and Industry (ICAIC) “by kicking them in the ass,” slips through his words, he lets it go just like any other story. continue reading

Reading the interview took me back immediately to a Sunday morning in the year 2013 in which I received a phone call. They were telling me about a police search in the home of the recently deceased Alfredo Guevara. Before dawn, several police cars and a minibus from the Technical Department of Investigation (DTI) had arrived responding to an alleged complaint about the traffic of art works. In the house there were only the housekeeping lady and an elderly man remotely related to Guevara.

A few minutes after receiving the news, we went over to verify what was happening. A few burly men, some in uniform, and a lady who could barely form any words because of fear, made up the scene we were able to glimpse when they open the mansion’s door a few centimeters. Using the old trick that we were looking for a “handyman,” we rang the bell, and were able to see that something very serious was going on inside. The news spread rapidly and the official voices were quick to explain the case as one of theft of the national cultural heritage. Nevertheless, some of us were not totally convinced by the story.

Through the testimony of those who witnessed the police raid, we learned that the officers placed particular emphasis in the search for documents. They took great pains to disassemble ceilings, to dig under mattresses, to explore drawers and file cabinets full of papers. Were they looking for some document or writing treasured by Alfredo Guevara? I have asked myself this question thousands of times since that day. The interview in the Mexican magazine Letras Libres confirms some of my suspicions.

We are before a man yearning for lasting relevance, and with valuable information in his hands; an elderly man who is able of realizing the re-writing that has been done to history to make it seem more heroic, more sublime. When he refers to Fidel Castro’s memoirs, Guerrillero del Tiempo, he states: “I think that he has his version and I have mine, but I don’t want to create any contradiction. I want to be very careful, I am afraid…” A man like that probably shields evidences of how things really happened. Some of them he lets slip in the excellent interview in Letras Libres.

However, the largest evidence that Alfredo Guevara leaves us is neither a photograph, nor a piece of paper signed by hand by someone, much less an official document extracted from some obscure archive. His main testimony is the deception perceived in his words, the bitter touch in his stocktaking, the final clarity of not knowing with certainty if history will absolve him or condemn him.

Miguel’s Drone / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

Nobody knows how he got it into the country, with so many customs restrictions and government paranoia, but Miguel has a drone. Tiny, like a kid’s toy, and with a camera. In his spare time, this forty-something Havanan dedicates himself to using his new amusement to explore the nearby patios and rooftops of his neighbors. It’s so tiny that it’s barely noticeable when flying over the neighborhood, while it transmits images and videos to a screen in the home of its proud owner.

Right now it’s a prank, but if one day Miguel is discovered with his diversion, at best he could show up on official TV as a “CIA agent.” Who knows. An uncle of his was arrested on the street in the seventies for carrying a tape recorder that belonged to the government newspaper where he worked. He spent long hours at a police station, until the director of the publication himself had to intercede for him. Time has flown and now the “fearful” objects are other things, but the reprisals are usually the same.

In any event, beyond the presumed punishment, Miguel has now learned some valuable things. He has seen the pool hidden behind his neighbor the Colonel’s high fence, the satellite antenna a former minister has on the roof of his house, and even the bowl overflowing with meat for the rottweiler belonging to the painter who lives on the corner. He has also observed, with the device’s night vision, the man who, in the early hours of the morning, dives into the dumpster and emerges with his “treasures” under his arm, and the watchman who spends time opening the warehouse containers to steal from them, without leaving any traces on the security seals. Early one morning he even captured the president of his local Committee for the Defense of the Revolution (CDR) trafficking in the alcohol from a nearby hospital.

Through the eyes of his drone, Miguel has been looking at Cuba from the air, and what he is seeing is a country divided into pieces that don’t fit.

Yoani Sánchez, Havana | 30 May 2014

“Mommy, I want a new uniform” / 14ymedio

School uniforms. Photo: Luz Escobar
School uniforms. Photo: Luz Escobar

The sale of school uniforms started in Pinar del Rio this morning, a moment eagerly awaited by parents and students at different levels of education where the satisfaction of having a new outfit mixes with the frustrations of long lines and the problems with sizes.

A few days ago the Ministry of Education and the Ministry Domestic Trade reported that the pennant will be raised for the sale of uniforms on Wednesday. Unlike other years, this time the sales haven’t started in the capital. The provinces of Ciego de Ávila, Villa Clara, Guantánamo and Pinar del Río are leading off and the other regions of the country will be added throughout the month of June. continue reading

The news wouldn’t be significant if it weren’t that in recent decades the purchase of school uniforms has been an agonizing process for Cuban families. The national newspapers are obliged to publish a schedule of the sales and the rules governing them: a voucher with the student’s name, their town, province, school, gender and grade, authorizes the purchase of a school uniform.

Even the central store, La Capitana on Maximo Gomez Street, has come to 14ymedio to learn people’s opinions. Some two hundred mothers and grandmothers, as confirmed by this newspaper, are outside and inside the store. The line started forming yesterday afternoon.

The uniform for elementary school costs 9 Cuban pesos (CUP), and can be bought by students in the first, second, third, fourth and sixth grades, or those starting this level; while the junior high uniform costs 22.50 CUP for boys and 15.50 for girls. This year they’ve extended the possibility to grades that previously didn’t receive the so-called “uniform voucher.”

A similar policy was followed for junior high, high school and other educational levels.

Migdalia Herrera, with an eight-year-old son in elementary school, says she’s been there since last night. “I don’t want what happened in other years, when the medium sizes didn’t come, and I had to alter the shirt and the shorts,” she said. The main complaint of those who have already purchased uniforms is centered on the availability of “too few sizes for small or thin children.”

Another seller, The Sensation on Martí Street, also in Pinar del Rio, came to 14ymedio to ask about the “problem with sizes.” Assuncion Valdez has twin granddaughters who are starting in kindergarten. “Fortunately, I’m a good seamstress, because these skirts need to be taken in a lot at the sides,” she says while showing the uniforms she’d already bought.

The parallel path

Outside the stores where they’re selling the uniforms are resellers. A blouse for junior high students costs around 50 CUP in this informal market, almost ten times the price in the subsidized market. Many parents are forced to buy illegally because the school uniforms wear out or their teenage children grow too fast.

Not only reselling helps alleviate the shortage of uniforms; a new phenomenon is expanding: importing these garments made abroad. Given the high demand on the island, some stores located in Miami, Florida offer almost identical – and better quality – copies of Cuban school uniforms. “My daughter said to me, ‘Mommy, I want a new uniform,’ and I have to ask my sister who lives in the North,” says Lilian Herrera, with a daughter in the third grade.

Similar scenes and comments are being repeated today in Ciego de Ávila, Villa Clara and Guantánamo.

“We can act creatively with respect to Cuba.” Interview with U.S. Vice President Joe Biden / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden and Yoani Sanchez
U.S. Vice President Joe Biden during the interview with Yoani Sanchez

Yoani Sánchez, Washington | May 27, 2014

The debate about relations between Cuba and the United States has heated up following the publication of a letter signed by 40 American personalities asking President Barack Obama for flexibility toward the Island. The proposal has unleashed passions and speculation, also fueled by the imminent arrival in Havana of representatives from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Cuban society, however, seems to remain out of the headlines, the hot articles, the replies — or support — like the so-called “letter of the 40” already circulating on the networks and in emails. Thinking about this uninformed population submerged in the big problems of everyday life, I did this interview with U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, who received me in Washington a few weeks before the launch of 14ymedio.

Question. The Cuban government has recently passed a new foreign direct investment law that has been met with both critics as well as a certain level of expectation. Will the promotion of this law change anything in U.S. Policy with respect to Cuba, specifically in regard to the ability of U.S. Citizens to invest in the Island?

Answer. U.S. Policy with respect to Cuba is guided by the commitment to support the desire of the Cuban people to freely determine their own future, supporting U.S. interests and promoting universal values. continue reading

Since President [Barack] Obama took office, we have shown that we are willing to promote pragmatic changes in our Cuba policies based on our interests and those of the Cuban people. Our policies with regards to travel, remittances and personal contacts are reducing the gap between divided Cuban families and promoting the free flow of information and humanitarian assistance to the Cuban people. These measures help to put resources in the hands of the Cuban people and help promote, in the words of the President, “spaces of freedom” in Cuba.

We note the Cuban government has made changes in its investment laws, and we expect that these efforts to attract foreign investment in Cuba to be accompanied by an expansion of the rights and freedoms so the Cuban people can develop their full potential.

    “We will continue looking for practical ways to support greater connectivity in Cuba”

Q. Although Cubans are able of circumventing censorship and the high price of Internet access, we still don’t have access to a number of websites and services because of current U.S. law. This includes access to online stores for Android or iOS apps and selected Google services. Is there any possibility of reducing these restrictions in the near future?

A. We will continue looking for practical ways to support greater connectivity and to help remove the obstacles that stand in the way of open communication and freedom of expression. In 2010, the United States eased restrictions and allowed for greater access in Cuba to free services that help connect to the Internet, such as instant messaging, chat and email. Earlier, in 2009, we changed our policies so that U.S. citizens could donate cell phones and other electronics to the people of Cuba. We also encourage U.S. companies to provide services and fiber optic and satellite communication services to Cuba, as we began talks with the Cuban government to establish direct mail service between the United States and Cuba. We want Cuban citizens to be more easily able to communicate with each other and with the outside world.

In 2009, in an interview with President Obama, I asked about a possible U.S. invasion of Cuba . His answer was a categorical “no.” However, Cuban leaders don’t stop talking about an imminent U.S. plan to overthrow the government in Havana. Beyond the official U.S. position, I would like to hear a simple answer to give to my son. What do I say when he asks me? Should we be concerned ?

A. I can give you the simplest of answers, and the answer is no. As President Obama said.

We support the development of a prosperous, secure and democratic Cuba and continue to support the brave Cubans who seek to exercise their freedoms. Our position is firm: only Cubans can or should determine the future of Cuba. These accusations are a relic of a distant past. They are being used to strike fear into the hearts of decent Cuban to divert their attention from the problems closer to home. The Cuban people deserve more honesty from their government.

    “To promote a change so that Cubans can enjoy a normal life”

Q. In recent months, your government has repeatedly used the term “creative” to describe the direction of U.S. Policy with respect to Cuba. I’m intrigued by this word: could you be more explicit?

A. President Obama has stated that he was not yet born when the United States declared a trade embargo against Cuba. Our goal is to promote positive change on the Island for Cubans to enjoy normal, productive lives in their own country, to have the freedom to express their views and the benefits of an inclusive and democratic political system. We have seen positive movement in some areas, such as increasing the ability of Cubans to travel abroad, but we remain deeply concerned about the continued detention and mistreatment of Cubans for exercising freedoms that are protected in other parts of the Americas.

The question is how we can act creatively to promote positive trends and show our support to the Cuban people while pressing to improve the conditions of human rights. Our opinion is that the President’s measures to facilitate family travel, personal contacts, communications, remittances and humanitarian donations have had a positive impact and contributed to the welfare of Cubans. Similarly, our work with the Cuban government on matters of mutual interest has benefited the citizens of both countries. We established these policy changes while defending our values and promoting democratic reforms in Cuba.

Finally, I want to emphasize that the detention of Alan Gross in Cuba is an important obstacle to improved relations between the U.S. and Cuba. We can be as creative as we want with our policy, but Alan’s case continues to be at the top of the list of issues to be resolved. He should be released on humanitarian grounds.

A Preview of the Next Cuba / 14ymedio, Manuel Cuesta Morua, Reinaldo Escobar

  • Interview with Manuel Cuesta Morúa from Constitutional Consensus
  • Options under discussion: Change the 1940 Constitution, the 1976 update or create a new constitution
  • The Project involves most of the relevant organizations from the civic and political community, inside and outside Cuba
Manuel Cuesta Morua
Manuel Cuesta Morúa

Reinaldo Escobar, Havana | May 23, 2014

Question. What is the objective of the Constitutional Consensus project?

Response. To convene civil society and citizens to work for constitutional change, and to create a new Cuban constitution that is based on three key realities and requirements: citizen control of the State, which is the premise of democracy; the rule of law, which ensures that no one is above the law; and the limitation of power, without which there is no respect for fundamental freedoms. This is the central objective, seen through three integral and interdependent paths.

    We are still governed by what is probably the last Constitution in the Soviet mold still in existence in the world continue reading

There is another collateral purpose, basic to the consistency of a society and a constitutional state. This purpose is the cultural empowerment of Cubans with regard to laws, citizenship and the rule of law, accompanied by and based on the contributions of the independent organizations of Cuban jurists. As experience shows, the best constitutions sleep the sleep of the righteous if they are not based on a culture of rights and law. And the issue of constitutional culture in Cuba needs to be tackled hard for two main reasons: the first is that as the so-called Revolution has been and is the quintessential source of law, we Cubans are not familiar with the law and its value for coexistence; the second is that we are still governed by what is probably the last Constitution in the Soviet mold still in existence in the world — I do not know if you remember the Russian Constitution of 1936 that became the model for the current Cuban constitution — and as you know, it has nothing to do with our traditions and culture.

Q. What organizations sponsor you?

R. Constitutional Consensus is a horizontal proposal without hierarchies or rigid organizational charts. Participating are the majority of the most relevant organizations of the civic and political community, inside and outside Cuba. At www.consensoconstitucional.com you can see a list of all the sponsors, which I am not mentioning here because the list should continue to grow.

Q. At what stage are you now, and when (not in terms of a date but in signs) will you consider you have fulfilled your purpose?

A. Right now we are preparing Constitutional Initiative Discussions across the country, and we are preparing for the various meetings to be held outside of Cuba. In late May, between 8 and 10 people will meet in each of these Constitutional Initiative Discussions with the purpose of bringing us to a reasonable point for constitutional change: if is it the Reformed Constitution of 1976, if it is the paradigmatic Constitution of 1940, or if it is a new constitution. We first want to find a consensus that focuses on public legitimacy, unfortunately it cannot be among all Cubans, and then start designing a draft that will be drawn up by the Constitutional Initiative Committees, formed by lawyers and specialists in various law-related materials within a constitution.

These meetings will also be held in Madrid and Puerto Rico, and in July multiple organizations will come together in Miami at Florida International University (FIU).

We will have achieved our purpose, and for now I’m being a minimalist, when we have drawn up this draft that reflects the consensus of all participants, when we have collected up a critical mass of citizens’ signatures demanding a new constituent process, and when we have managed to stabilize Constitutional Initiative Discussions in each municipality as permanent spaces for interaction and exchange with citizens throughout the legal process. If we citizens do not set up a monitoring program over the quality of laws, compliance with legality, and the arbitrariness inherent to all immune and unpunished power, it’s worthless to have the best constitution. We had the Constitution of 1940 and Cuba finds itself rating less than zero on constitutional and legal culture.

There is, of course, a maximalist goal: to have a constitutional and legal system that is an expression of our needs, of our rights and of our demands to coexist in a truly civilized way. Uncivil behavior is the deepest reality of our country, from top to bottom. Fromthe powers-that-be to society. The rules of the game require a constitution that includes all Cubans. Inside and out of Cuba.

The Constitutional Consensus is to define the what, not the who. We care more about the nature of power than the individuals who exercise it.

Q. Do you believe that the country’s leadership has an essential quota of good faith that is required for the project not be aborted or even treated as a hostile action intended to overthrow the government?

R. The Cuban government is not characterized by good faith. The logic of power is not born able to understand the rational tie with the rest of the mortals, but is one of pure and hard domination. So there can be no good faith. However, this government shows capacity for pragmatism precisely because it wants to retain power. Reality force, and hopefully in this case, that of the constitutional change, the facts will impose themselves. In Latin America there is a strong movement towards constitutional reform that can and should include Cuba. Moreover, there is always an unspoken consensus, at times explicit, on the need for reforms in the laws.

Promoted from other spaces, albeit with an elitist viewpoint, is the need to reform the current constitution. And the designated President himself has expressed this direction. Our proposal, on the other hand, is not conceived with the mentality of toppling those up above. We care more about the nature of power than the individuals who exercise it. So there is no hostility towards power, but an attempt to define new rules of the game from where it is exercised. If among them citizens decide that the government should be in the hands of the same people who hold it today, I won’t like it but I have to respect those rules that contributed to defining it along the rest of the citizens. The authentic and interesting thing from this constitutional perspective is that the next be of the citizens.

A Cuba where citizen safety and effective control over the uncertainties allow the defense of fundamental freedoms and the creative explosion, in all directions, of Cuban society.

Reaping the Whirlwind / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

Today, while I publish this text, thousands of students from Havana are sitting in front of their Mathematics exam. The schedule for admission to the University has had to incorporate a new test date for this subject, after a scandalous case of fraud. The leaking and selling of the questions ended with the cancellation of the previous test results, three teachers arrested, and an unknown number of students investigated.

Although fraudulent practices are common in Cuban schools, this case has provoked a profound reflection in our society, including in the official press. We have seen on our small screens dozens of interviews with people who repudiate cheating by copying another, and the lie of procured knowledge you don’t have. Few, if any, reflect on the environment of hypocrisies, double standards and simulations in which these teenager, now between sixteen and seventeen, have come of age. continue reading

This batch of students has been educated under educational experiments such as the so-called “emerging teachers.” Is it a greater fraud to put someone at the front of a classroom and call them a teacher when they possess neither the ethical values nor the knowledge to exercise such a worthy profession? How can we ask them to be honest, if the TV screen from which they receive their tele-classes never managed to transmit adequate moral codes? It is these kids, at this very minute seated in front of the math test, the children of my generation, who are surrounded by artificial academic results and inflated credentials.

It is worth remembering that for decades the schools and teachers whose classes failed to achieve grades of ninety or almost one hundred, were scolded, stripped of their credentials, and even administratively and materially penalized. Those were the days when from the dais Fidel Castro read the academic results of the high schools with their elevated promotion rate, knowing–in his heart–that this was a huge lie created for him.

It turns out that the teachers often dictate the exam questions in advance, walking among the desks of those who take longer, to whisper the answers to them or, simply, leave the room so the students are left alone to copy the answers from each other. Those of us who studied hard were always frustrated by the complicity of so many teachers and education experts with the practice of academic fraud. We are the parents of this generation that is today being evaluated in Havana’s classrooms. How could they have turned out differently? How can we ask them not to do what they have seen done?

Yoani Sánchez, Havana | 26 May 2014 | 14ymedio

Everyone Deserves Freedom / 14ymedio

Inalkis Rodriguez Lora, Havana | 23 May 2014

The lives of birds are wonderful, especially when they are free.

But in Cuba, being free is hard, thanks to the human predators. For example, the Cuban grassquit, an endemic bird, is now captured at such a high rate that we fear its future extinction.

Another bird injured in this subject of prisons is the mockingbird, which is not endemic but lives permanently in our country. They say that if someone catches a mockingbird chick, takes it home and, of course, locks it in a cage, the parents of the captured chick, if they find it, bring it poisoned food so that it will die immediately because they would rather see it dead than a prisoner for life. In this country story, true or not, there’s a love for freedom. continue reading

Humans also go after parakeets, parrots and bullfinches, doomed to be amusements for human beings, as if their vocal qualities or plumage were a terrible crime. And it doesn’t give people any pangs of conscience. On the street in Camagüey it’s common to see, in broad daylight, the cages hanging with their prisoners for life.

It seems that certain people like to run roughshod over nature. I remember my grandfather, to whom I owe all my love for the natural world, was a passionate and jealous caretaker of flora and fauna, to the point that no one on our farms and its surroundings dared to hurt even the least plant or animal. If some little boy thought to pull out a slingshot in front of him, he immediately grabbed it and threw it in the kitchen fire, while giving the boy a good talking to about why he should care for nature.

And today, are there no people or laws in Cuba to stop the unjustified abuses against nature and freedom, like my grandfather did on his farm?

Our First Day / 14ymedio

14ymedio is blocked in Cuba within a few minutes of its birth

14ymedio, Havana | May 22, 2014

At 8:20 in the morning on Wednesday, 21 May, this digital daily was born. Like a miracle, everything worked as we had hoped. A greeting signed by several personalities from the media and literature welcomed us. Two Nobel Prize winners, Lech Walesa and Mario Vargas Llosa, headed the list of signatories. The news of the appearance of a new medium immediately popped up in the publications of several countries and generated large displays of solidarity.

A few minutes later, when someone tried to enter from the Cuban networks, instead of our homepage another web page appeared. The attack consisted of redirecting our URL to another site where one could only read texts dismissing and insulting Yoani Sánchez. Sadly, the information on our site was supplanted on the Island by the tactics of personal rejection used so often in the official discourse. continue reading

It doesn’t take much imagination to discover the identity of the aggressors but, as we have no proof, we can only conjecture that it is someone with the technological resources, access permissions and prior information, rather than animosity.

Throughout the day the telephone calls and text messages from friends congratulating the newborn never ceased. When it had already been twelve hours since someone somewhere in the world first clicked on to read us, a group of collaborators and the entire 14ymedio team celebrated the occasion watching on the screen as the pages opened through an anonymous proxy. In this way, with the PDF version and the email bulletin, we will be read in our own country. Censorship is not the most difficult obstacle we have to overcome.

Blocking 14ymedio could become a failed strategy if the objective is to silence us. Nothing is more attractive than the prohibited.

Letter to Obama Sparks Controversy / 14ymedio

14ymedio, Havana | May 23, 2014

A letter published this week, signed by more than forty American personalities, asked Barack Obama to ease measures toward Cuba. In an unusual gesture of consensus, former senior U.S. politicians, military, analysts and businessmen advocate relaxing the embargo on the Island. Among the signatories are Republicans and Democrats who regard this as a good time to support Cuban civil society and entrepreneurs.

The missive includes a set of specific requests, such as expanding remittances, easing travel to the largest of the Antilles from the United States, and strengthening business relationships between the two countries. As explained in the text, it is a petition to Obama to carry our “specific actions.” Without falling into “ideological debate,” the signers clarify, with these measures they hope these measures will contribute to a “significant change” in Cuba. continue reading

During 2009 and 2010, the U.S. Administration pushed some relaxations such as increasing remittances, expanding family travel and academic exchange. However, this policy ceased when the Cuban government sentenced the American contractor Alan Gross to fifteen years in prison.

Ending the embargo requires congressional approval, so this letter asks the president to approve executive orders that circumvent congress.

Once the document was published the controversy erupted both inside and outside Cuba. Raul Castro’s government has barely mentioned it and the official media just outlined it with a brief note lacking details. However, this hasn’t stopped the issue from being debated in many social sectors.

Voices have been heard in two directions. There are those who believe these relaxations will reduce the Cuban government’s control over society, while others insist that their implementation would provide economic oxygen to maintain the regime in power longer.

Is a unilateral lifting of the sanctions, without asking for anything in return or demanding prior compliance with human rights and citizen liberties a good idea? That is the question 14ymedio asked several opponents on the Island.

Berta Soler (Ladies in White): Now is not the time to do business with the Cuban government because it’s not going to help the people at all. We aren’t thinking about profit, but rights.

Martha Beatriz Roque (opponent): At this point it doesn’t matter, relaxation or no relaxation. The news of what happens in Cuba is presented by the regime itself, the dictatorship, and there is a total destruction, there is no organization, there is a break in the chain of command. Sooner or later the problem will explode and there’s no want they can avoid it.

Manuel Cuesta Morúa (Progressive Arc): I agree with every easing from the United States toward Cuba, my position is against the U.S. Embargo. However, I notice that the letter barely mentions the issue of freedoms. It misses an opportunity to send a message in both directions: to to the American government and to the Cuba government. This could backfire because an opening without an interior strengthening could compromise any national project.

Dagoberto Valdés (director of the magazine Coexistence): This contributes to the exchange between peoples and what John Paul II said about “Cuba opening itself to the world and the world opening itself to Cuba.” There are human rights that are universal and that should be enjoyed by both Americans and Cubans. This exchange will strengthen Cuban civil society and will allow the world and American society to be more aware of the Cuban reality.

José Daniel Ferrer (Patriotic Union of Cuba): We support whatever brings improvement to the Cuban people, but we insist that the approach also improves the situation with human rights. Whatever is done should consider our nation’s need for human rights.

Felix Navarro (former political prisoner): There are many private interests in that letter and I doubt that it puts the critical situation of Cuban civil society at the forefront.  The government will use the economic oxygen it receives to grease the wheels of the machinery of repression.

30 Ladies in White Arrested / 14ymedio

Police Mount an Operation to Prevent a Meeting in Havana

14ymedio, Havana | May 23, 2014

As of midnight Thursday, the police deployed a strong operation around the headquarters of the Ladies in White in Havana. Once a month these women gather in a house on Neptune Street, for what they call a “literary tea.” This activity is frequently under pressure from State Security and groups organized by the government, who shout slogans and place loudspeakers facing the house.

In conversation with 14ymedio Berta Soler, leaders of the Ladies in White, described the situation they are facing at this time. “This is the 129th Literary Tea and we planned to have a reading of poems and letters, but the street was already closed off from the night before,” said Soler. According to her, “They had already detained some thirty women and others were blocked from getting here.” continue reading

This newspaper’s reporters confirmed the closing of Neptune Street and the diversion of traffic to surrounding roads. At least two buses with uniformed as well as plain clothes personnel had been  brought to the surrounding area. Groups usually used in the so-called acts of repudiation were stationed in the capital’s Trillo Park.

Several neighbors consulted confirmed that the police forces began arriving in the early hours of the morning. “We can’t live in this neighborhood any more,” said an elderly woman who lives in Hospital Street. According to her, “When there are so many police there are a ton of things you can no longer do. Not even the pushcart vendors want to sell here.” She was referring to the roaming sellers of fruits and vegetables who pass through the city’s neighborhood’s with their merchandise.

The Ladies in White are a peaceful women’s movement created after the 2003 Black Spring, a time when Fidel Castro’s government condemned 75 dissidents and independent journalists were condemned to long prison terms.

Our Terminology / 14ymedio

Screen Shot 2014-05-21 at 4.49.49 PMReinaldo Escobar, 14YMEDIO, Havana | May 21, 2014

The economic restrictions imposed by the United States on the government of Cuba are called “embargo” in one political pole and “blockade” in the other one. The country where such measures originate can be called “the imperialism” (or “the empire”), or by its actual names: United States, USA, and North America. The team of people that makes the main decisions in Cuba is called “the Cuban government,” “the authorities” or the “Castroite regime,” as well as other flattering names such as “the Revolution’s historic generation” or unflattering ones such as “the Castro brothers’ dictatorship.”

The term “revolution” is sometimes written with a capital R, mostly if it has another name attached to it: French Revolution, Industrial Revolution, Cuban Revolution. In the 1980s, in order to refer to the process that Lenin headed in Russia in 1917, it was almost mandatory to use the following formula: “The Great October Socialist Revolution.” In fact, this was the name given to a sugarcane combine factory in Holguín. In our case, one can opt for the most affected formulas, such as “the process initiated in 1959” if one does not want to use the noun “revolution.” continue reading

Those of us dedicated to writing about Cuban topics are constantly subjected to the scrutiny of our critics based on the terminology that we choose. What should I call Fidel Castro Ruz? Should I call him “our invincible commander in chief”? The simple and loving “Fidel,” or the distant “Castro”? Once, in the middle of a brainstorm, someone suggested “the hyena of Birán” and the suggestion stood as a joke. Perhaps it would be appropriate to call him “the Cuban ex-president,” but neither extreme likes it.

Now that we face the prospect of beginning a new journalistic experience with intentions of objectivity and moderation, we find ourselves trapped in the damned circumstance of terminology that, like water to the island, surrounds us everywhere. It is easy for a panel member on the Round Table[1] to use labels such as “the Miami terrorist mafia,” “the media war against Cuba,” and others lacking as much imagination as they lack any sense. They are paid to do that.

Nevertheless, how could we capture in one word the millions of Cubans who for varied reasons have decided to live outside their country? Should we say “exile,” “emigration” or “diaspora”? It is obvious that we will not say “scum” no matter how unexpected (treasonous) was their leaving this oven (melting pot), where we were manipulated (formed) as trash (the New Man).

In this launch, full of mishaps and emotions, we would like to make clear that each author owns his or her own terminology, as long as it does not trespass the most elementary limits of respect. This space can accommodate passion, all passions, but not insult. To the most sensitive, we beg for tolerance, for words can be the material wrappings of thought, but not the prison of ideas.

[1] The Round Table or la Mesa Redonda de Reflexión is a political “orientation” TV program in Cuba.