Users Bothered By Increase in Internet Prices at Presidente Hotel /14ymedio

14YMEDIO, Havana, 24 October 2014 — Jorge Suarez has been connecting to the Internet for six months at the Presidente Hotel. In recent weeks he has seen an increase in the number of clients who use the wireless connection of the central Havana lodging. Nevertheless, some days ago he got a bitter surprise when the employees informed him of an increase in the price of the service. The measure was not due to a regulation by the Cuban Telecommunications Enterprise (ETECSA) but due to a decision by the management of the place.

The management of the Presidente Hotel has decided to increase the service to 8.50 convertible pesos since it has required a minimum purchase of 4 CUC in the cafeteria of the place, to which is added the price of an hour of Internet connection which is 4.50 CUC. The decision is aimed at decreasing the number of people who show up daily to their facility to navigate the web or check their email. “These people were filling us up, and that is not good for tourists,” says a cleaning lady who prefers to remain anonymous.

While most places that offer the navigation service keep the cost at 4.50 convertible pesos per hour, the Presidente Hotel has invoked the “discretionary” rate. Clients confirm that before the increase in connection costs, the service had been deteriorating, and most of the time at the desk they said that “there were no internet cards to sell.”

Jorge Suarez tells how he was losing confidence in being able to access the network from the well-known hotel establishment. “I knew that they were going to do something to hinder the connection, because every day the workers in this place looked with harsher faces at those of us who came and sat on the terrace or in the lobby with a laptop or a tablet,” he explains. “They told us that we had to make a purchase to be able to be here, but the prices of everything in this place are through the roof.”

The young man, a civil engineering graduate, has no other means of viewing digital sites or answering his email. “I would prefer internet in my home, I only come here because I cannot access a home connection.” The measure implemented in the Presidente Hotel leaves him without any options. “The price before already seemed expensive to me, but the new one is simply beyond reach,” he says with frustration.

According to official statistics in Cuba – with a population of more than 11 million inhabitants – there are 1,014,000 computers and more than 2.9 million internet users. The figure, nevertheless, has been questioned by those who assert that as “internet users” the government includes people who only have access to a national intranet with health or cultural content.

Cuba is the least connected country in Latin America, in spite of the fact that in February 2011 a fiber optic cable was installed between Venezuela and the east side of the island, which at first was announced as the best option for guaranteeing the highest connectivity in the country. Three years later, the government has only opened something more than a hundred public navigation places and offered an email service via mobile phones.

Cubans like Jorge Suarez keep waiting to become web surfers.

Translated by MLK      

Fear Has Seized the Artistic Community of Pinar del Rio / 14ymedio, Juan Carlos Fernandez

The strange ramblings of Utopito, Pedro Pablo Oliva. (Source: Web Utopias and Dissent)
The strange ramblings of Utopito, Pedro Pablo Oliva. (Source: Web Utopias and Dissent)

14ymedio, Juan Carlos Fernandez,Pinar del Río, 25 September 2014 — The artists’ guild in Pinar del Rio is living in distressing times because of the cancellation of the exposition by Pedro Pablo Oliva, “Utopias and Dissidences.” Talking about the most famous of the Pinareno painters has turned into a sad argument by Tyrians and Trojans, some in favor, almost in whispers, and others not so much, also in a quite low tone. But what the whisperers have in common is that they are living a fear that is corroding them and brings up the miseries and limitations that we humans all suffer, but that situations like this multiply.

The way in which the machinery of creating enemies can be efficient and dissuasive then becomes the model, the perception of real danger has been the offering of a local artistic community that shows its solidarity by emulating Nicodemus: they do not want to be seen or heard. They have given to the victim their absence and silence. They have been simple spectators, once again, of the crime of exclusion and disqualification. Listeners at a trial in which they themselves have been condemned although they may only have attended as the public.

The inquisitors of Pedro Pablo Oliva have known how to stimulate in the neurological systems of many Pinareno creators the amygdala situated in the temporal lobe which fires that feeling that we call fear. Although a scant minority has risked and has stood out in spite of also admitting its fears. These last have revived the artistic brotherhood in Pinar; some few carry the decorum of many; someone said one day, those few have meant a breath of hope in the middle of so much impoverishing hate against someone who only has sown love and has been consistent with himself. That is the price of honesty.

The others, the majority, are captivated by reforms that award airplane trips and trips for compensation that rot the soul and ruin the brush.

On the other hand, the common people possess an intuitive intelligence, flavorful and uninhibited and tell you to your face what they think. Overall, they do not plan to fly or exhibit in halls of the elite. Without any ambiguity that take sides with Pedro Pablo, both as a person and an artist, and lament the fear of his fellow painters, according to rumors.

That’s why I think that, although what has happened has been a sovereign injustice, it has served to put on the table who is company for cocktails, galleries and inaugurations and who accompanies you on the road overcoming their fears and discarding the complicity of silence and pretense.

It has been painful for Pedro Pablo, his family, work team and all of us who love him as a friend and national treasure, but instructive. Although it may seem utopian, I think that the night we are living today will not have the last word. It only serves as the anteroom for the light of day.

Translated by MLK

Burma is closer than we think … / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

The Burmese activists Nay Phone Latt (left) and Soe Aung (right). (14ymedio)
The Burmese activists Nay Phone Latt (left) and Soe Aung (right). (14ymedio)

14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Prague, 15 October 2014 – A few years ago, when I was overcome with despair about the situation of my country, I thought about those who were in worse shape with regards to the lack of freedoms. Two nations invariably came to mind: North Korea and Burma. The first of these still tops the list of places where few want to live, while Myanmar (Burma) has undertaken a slow and imperfect process of opening.
In Prague I just met two Burmese who are contributing to these small changes, the blogger Nay Phone Latt and activist Soe Aung.

Question: Nay, you are just 34-years-old and you were arrested for spreading information about the 2007 protests in your country on the Internet, and then convinced of the alleged crime of violating the electronic law. Do you think that now the access to information is more free?

Nay Phone Latt: Right now there is less censorship in the media, it is not as strong as before. I’m speaking not only of digital media, but also of the written press that is subject to fewer controls on the part of the government. The problem we still have is that some of these media are in the hands of the ruling party and the others, which are private, belong to people who have very good relations with the military, so many are corrupt. However, there are always some who try to be independent.

There are still very clear limits on what you can write and what you can’t. For example if someone posts an article criticizing the Government and uncovering a corruption scandal, they can get into serious trouble and even end up in jail.

“There are still very clear limits on what you can write and what you can’t”

Q. How has the situation changed since the election in 2012?

Soe Aung: Currently in Burma we have a Parliament whose majority is still made up by the military. The Constitution reserves a quarter of the seats in parliament and 56 of the 24 Senate seats to the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party. Meanwhile, the opposition National League for Democracy (LND) has barely 43 seats. Thus, it is every difficult to promote changes, becaue this isn’t a real democratic process.

Q. The Nobel Peace Prize winner, Aung San Suu Kyi is the most visible face of dissent in Burma What other opposition groups are calling for changes?

Soe Aung: There is the movement known as Generation 88, because there was a popular protest in 1988 against the military junta. These demonstrations, composed mostly of students, were brutally repressed. Currently the group is still very strong in Burmese society and demands a democratic and open society.

Q. What are the main problems for the Burmese people now?

Nay Phone Latt: First, the lack of trust in institutions, in the police, the judiciary and the government. People have a lot of disbelief, they are very skeptical. The whole society has lost trust in the military regime. We have lost the ability to believe.

Aung Soe R.: In my opinion, our biggest problem is still poverty. We still have very poor people in our country who do not even have a piece of land to grow their own food. We have experienced an economic opening but the big winners are the military and the people close to them who have become very rich.

Artist El Sexto Will Face Trial in a Few Hours / 14ymedio

Daniel Maldonado, "El Sexto"
Danilo Maldonado, “El Sexto”

The trail of the independent artist Danilo Maldonado, known as El Sexto – “The Sixth” – has been set for tomorrow at 8:30 AM in the Plaza of the Revolution municipal court.

The cartoonist and creator of numerous graffiti is accused of the alleged crime of threatening his wife, which could mask political retaliation. The complaint was made by Danilo’s wife’s father, who was also present as the main prosecution witness.

Friends and colleagues fear that the court hearing is a way of settling accounts with this uncomfortable “king of the spray can.” In statements to 14ymedio, El Sexto has demonstration his dissatisfaction with the legal process and has confirmed that his wife was present during the session to “state what occurred.” Right now the couple is living under the same roof together with their small daughter and hope that “the charges won’t go forward.”

With regards to tomorrow’s trial, Maldonaldo believes, “There won’t be any problems, although there is always the pressure. Just for the simple fact of thinking differently, I feel exposed in front of them.”

In recent decades it has become a frequent practice to bring common crime charges against activists and artists who undertake work critical of the government. In a similar situation right now is the writer Angel Santiesteban, condemned and sentenced to prison on alleged charges of violation of domicile and injury.

Gorki Aguila, the famous singer and leader of the punk rock band Porno para Ricardo is also on the list of those awaiting trial, accused of alleged “drug abuse.”

As a general rule, people critical of the government are not judged on political reasons but for “common crimes” with the aim of limiting solidarity and international pressure.

Official citation of Danilo Maldonado
Official citation of Danilo Maldonado

Berta Soler: They Must Put An End To This / 14ymedio, Victor Ariel Gonzalez

Berta Coler, Leader of the Ladies in White
Berta Soler, Leader of the Ladies in White

14ymedio, Havana, Victor Ariel Gonzalez, 21 October 2014 — Berta Soler, leader of the Ladies in White, has called for a vigil this October 21 in front of the Diez de Octubre Municipal Court in Havana. The reason is the new suspension of the trial of Sonia Garro.

Soler explained that there are “dubious things” in the way the authorities have handled this latest extension. “Sonia called to tell me that a captain had told her that the trial was suspended, but she did not believe it.” The activist also said that Sonia Garro’s defense lawyer “was unaware” of the decision. The new date for holding the criminal trial has been set for next November 7.

“We do not trust the Cuban Government, therefore the vigil goes on,” the leader of the Ladies in White told this newspaper. Soler does not rule out that “all this supposed suspension is for the purpose of demobilizing the people.” So, “we are going to be there anyway,” she announced.

There will also be a vigil in the interior of the country because it is expected that in front of the courts of Santiago de Cuba and other cities peaceful demonstrations similar to that in Havana will take place. The Diez de Octubre municipal court is at Juan Delgado and Patrocinio, and Berta Soler says that “the plan is to begin at 8:00 a.m. and last until noon. It depends on whether they let us or not.”

The activist also reported that “since this Saturday, State Security has reinforced vigilance over the Ladies in White.” This is the third time that they have suspended the trial of Sonia Garro. “They must to put an end to this,” she demands.

Translated by MLK

Lech Walesa: “Cubans need responsible leaders” / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

Lech Walesa during the conversation with Cuban activists, with his translator Tomasz Wodzyński
Lech Walesa during the conversation with Cuban activists, with his translator, with his translator Tomasz Wodzyński

The Nobel Peace Prize winner speaks with several Cuban activists on the situation of the island and the possibilities for democratic change

14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Warsaw, 21 October 2014 — Vaclav Havel and Lech Walesa had an agreement that death annulled. The two would go to Havana when the democratic transition occurred to support the process of political and civic reconstruction in our country. The “Cuban change,” however, has been too long delayed and the Czech died before realizing his dream. The Solidarity leader, meanwhile, has only been able to have contact with the island through dissidents visiting Poland.

Yesterday, Monday, Walesa talked for more than two hours with a group of activists from diverse provinces and political leanings. It was if a piece of Cuba had arrived in the autumn cold of Wasaw. I share here with the readers of 14ymedio the first part of that conversation.

Lech Walesa: Tell me what can I do to help speed up the democratization process in your country. Am I likely to see a Free Cuba before I die?

Dagoberto Valdés. I have good news for you and a suggestion of how you can help. A significant and growing group within Cuban civil society has identified four points on which we agree and which are demands to the regime. It is a way of organizing ourselves, but not the only one. There are other agendas, but I will now read the four issues on which we converge: the release of political prisoners, the ending of political repression, ratification of International Covenants on Human Rights, and recognition of Cuban civil society as a legitimate interlocutor. You could collaborate with us to disseminate these and support them in international forums.

Lech Walesa: I like those points, but I would add a fifth which would be to ask that “Raul Castro leave power,” because I think when the previous four are achieved it will be because the current system has been dismantled. If the rulers accept that agenda, that would mean that they would lose power immediately. So I think that they will never approve them, but in any event I support them.

I like those points, but I would add a fifth which would be to ask that “Raul Castro leave power”

Yoani Sánchez: You wonder when you can visit a free Cuba, but for now what has happened is that a fragment of an already free Cuba has come here. A plural, diverse and growing group of Cubans, who behave as free beings, have come to Warsaw this week. Isn’t that hopeful? continue reading

Lech Walesa: Wherever there are two Poles there are three political parties and from what I see wherever there are two Cubans there are five political parties. You have to be very well prepared and organized, not only for what you are doing now but for what comes next.

Once democracy is achieved there are very important elements that have to be considered and one of them is creating laws that protect the rights of the people. However, if they already exist, than you have to ask yourself if people are using them to behave like citizens, if they are enjoying the legality they have and are organizing themselves in accordance with it. Another important part is economic resources. If people are afraid of showing their political differences because they will lose their jobs or resources, this greatly limits democratic activism.

While some help to create the laws, others have to teach people to use them and one part of that is that you must prepare financial proposals.

Yoani Sánchez: In the case of Cuba, recent years have also been characterized by a loss of the government’s monopoly on information. Numerous independent publications have emerged and new technologies help people to be better informed. Do you think this flow of information will help bring about change?

Lech Walesa: I am a big user of the new technologies, I always have a computer or tablet nearby. However, although technology and information are very helpful in any democratic process there is also information that can slow it down.

One day, after the transition, I was speaking with a Polish soldier who had had a high position in the Communist regime. I asked him why the military had not participated actively in the democratic struggle. His response was very interesting. He told me that in the barracks they that knew all the major Polish cities were targeted for a Soviet military attack. They had missiles pointed at those cities. Many people did not know, but the military itself was aware it. They feared that the USSR, with the push of a button, could erase a third of our country. Knowing too much paralyzed them, the responsibility this information brought them made them opt for passivity.

We were lucky that a Polish pope was appointed (…). He joined us… and the opposition learned to channel that feeling of unity

Dagoberto Valdés. With this control and all the threats of a foreign force how did Poland free itself? Did the spiritual power of the nation help?

Lech Walesa: For over twenty years I was looking for people to join me to overthrow communism, but very few wanted to join. We had a more difficult situation here because our country came to be occupied by more than two hundred thousand Soviet soldiers and people were enormously afraid. Our struggle was different, for too long we couldn’t organize because the government had a very simple formula against us: disperse, divide and dissolve the democratic forces. We were lucky that a Polish pope was appointed. He joined us first in prayer and faith, but afterwards the opposition also learned to channel that sense of unity brought to us by John Paul II.

Before the appointment of Karol Józef Wojtyla as Pope, I could not muster even ten people, and then ten million joined in. He awakened the nation and said “do not be afraid.”

Mario Felix Lleonart: I would like to say that even though you are not able to travel to the island, the government is very annoyed that you are receiving activists in Poland. The official press has published several articles against you. What message would you like to send to those who are in opposition in our country?

Lech Walesa: During the years of change in Eastern Europe, the Cuban opposition was not as organized and could not use that democratizing energy. Maybe that’s why you have had to wait so long. However, in the eighties when I was asking people whether they believed that Poland could democratize, everyone answered me no, we had no chance. The forecasts were very unfavorable.

You are in this situation now, because few believe you can change. Sure, they said the same thing to us, but you should wake up and find those values—which every nation has—and in these is the unifying force. If you find them and bring them together you can achieve it. You need a multitude of people who say, “Starting tomorrow we are going to change our country.” Who don’t just believe it but who take to the streets, who go into the factories to convince others. For this you have to have structures. You need responsible leaders.

Seasonings and Their Uses / 14ymedio, Rebeca Monzo

14ymedio, Rebeca Monzó, Havana | October 14, 2014 — The high cost and the limited selection of basic produce forces us to trek from one farmer’s market to another in search of the most essential ingredients for our kitchens.

These days the prices for vegetables as basic as onions, garlic and peppers, indispensable in the kitchen, are so unbelievable that you would think they were threaded in 18 carat gold. The hard-currency stores have stocked various imported spices of good quality that generally are somewhat more economical.

So here I will list some of them, along with their uses and applications:

Garlic Powder.  Well known by all for its use – however, being a concentrated product, it must be used carefully, with a concomitant reduction in the amount of salt used in the same recipe. Very appropriate for soups, and meat and fish sauces. A little goes a long way. continue reading

Onion Powder. Very recommended for all types of stews, legumes, meatballs and chopped meat. As with garlic powder, care in its application is recommended.

Sesame. This product is found in some farmers markets that accept CUPs (Cuban pesos). This oily seed is especially indicated for making pastas and sweets. For example, when caramelizing a pan to make a mold for pudding or flan (Cuban-style custard).

Celery Powder. Delicious and aromatic seasoning that has a great variety of uses, especially in sauces, vegetables, tomato juice, fish, mollusks, and above all in broths and stocks.

Curry. This is a mixture of spices – with strong therapeutic qualities – that comes from India. Very recommended for meats, fowl, and varied sauces and soups. Especially wonderful for curry chicken.

Cinammon. In stick or powder, this is the most prized eastern spice. Used in sweets, as we all know, but also in fruit salads, beverages such as sangría, ice cream, baked dishes and boiled fish.

Ginger. Widely used in international cuisine. Very appropriate for meat sauces, stews as well as sweets. In its natural form, ginger root, it can be found in high-end farmers markets, such as the one on 19 Street in El Vedado.

Sweet paprika. A marvelous vegetable product used as a seasoning in soups, sofrito*, stews, fish and rice dishes. It imparts an unusual color and flavor, and can substitute for red pepper powder which is often rare and expensive in our markets.

Vanilla bean. Has many uses in sweets, especially in flans and custards, ice cream, fruit cocktails and liqueurs, to which it imparts its delicate flavor. It is also used in cooking as an ingredient in certain sauces – for example, bechamel, in which it makes a good substitute for cinnamon.

Sage. Although this plant is known above all as a culinary herb, it has also had a medicinal use for thousands of years. In medieval times it was thought to promote longevity. Its flavor makes it advisable for soups and sauces for meats and meatballs, as well as for cheese-based dishes. Its leaves can be applied to infection sites as an effective, natural anti-inflammatory. It can be easily propagated by cuttings in gardens and pots. All it needs is watering and full sun.

Nutmeg. Generally available whole or sometimes ground into a powder. Used in all types of sauces for meats, fish, seafood and to give a special touch to bechamel sauce. Used as well in chicken stews and above all in sweets. This is an expensive spice and not always available in our markets.

White pepper. Also available in two forms: peppercorn or ground into a powder. It is the peppercorn that is ideal for use in pickling brine and is also recommended as a seasoning for meats and in stews. It has a mild flavor, subtle and aromatic. Ideal for soups, meats and sauces.

*Translator’s Note: Sofrito is a stir-fry of aromatic vegetables, herbs and spices used as the base for many Cuban dishes.

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

17 October 2014

Back Channel to Cuba / 14ymedio, Victor Ariel Gonzalez

Presentation of "Back Channel to Cuba" at UNEAC (14Ymedio)
Presentation of “Back Channel to Cuba” at UNEAC (14Ymedio)

The Villena room was too small for the audience, which endured sweltering heat during the two hours of the presentation of the book “Back Channel to Cuba: The Hidden History of Negotiations Between Washington and Havana.”

The free event, at the headquarters of the Cuban Artists and Writers Union (UNEAC), had raised such high expectations in the academic world and in public opinion that almost two hundred people gathered his Monday at 4:00 in the afternoon to meet the authors of a book that has been presented outside of Cuba as “revelatory.”

Researchers Peter Kornbluh and William LeoGrande had to face being accosted by the press before entering the room where they were awaited by figures as diverse as Ministry of the Interior agent Fernando González – imprisoned in the United States for 15 years – and the Cuban-American businessman Max Lesnick. continue reading

“We have been working on the book for ten years, and it has come out at at the most important moment in the relations between the two countries,” Kornbluh told 14ymedio. He listed some elements to support his claim, such as “Obama, as president, is not seeking re-election, Hillary Clinton has made statements that the embargo should be lifted…”

The occasion was also utilized to present the book of Cuban researchers Elier Ramirez and Esteban Morales, From Confrontation to Attempts at ‘Normalization, United States Policy Toward Cuba. The quotation marks in the title are, in the words of Ramirez, because relations between the two countries “have never been normal.” The meeting’s moderator, Ramon Sanchez Parodi – former head of the Cuba Interests Section in Washington – presented the Cuban book to complement the American one.

Some copies of Ramirez’s and Morales’ book were sold at the event. Not so with that of Kornbluh and LeoGrande. These latter commented to the national press, at the end of the event, that they hope to release a Spanish edition, “so that Cubans can read it.”

The Americans made their presentation without following a script, while Cubans read their statements, which sounded more like an apology for the decisions taken by Cuba throughout the conflict with the USA.

Among the audience was Lynn Roche, head of the Press and Culture Office of the United States Interest Section in Havana

At the invitation of American researchers, among the audience was Lynn Roche, head of the Press and Culture Office of the United States Interest Section in Havana. In statements to this newspaper, Roche described the conference as an opportunity to talk about one part of the recent history of Cuba and the US, and to address certain “practical points.” She has also been interested in “knowing more about the internal debate that is occurring in the United States on the subject of Cuba,” that Back Channel has undoubtedly contributed to.

The presentation of the book, which includes declassified US documents, occurs in a particular context. The Cuban government is reinforcing the anti-embargo campaign, both within and outside the Island, in view of the next United Nations vote that will be held on the question. On the other hand, in Florida the embargo is a hot topic of discussion in local elections. But Kornbluh assured 14ymedio that this latter has “no relation” to their presence in Havana and to the stir caused by their work. In any event, according to him, an important share of South Florida voters are Cubans who desire a “normalization” of ties between both countries.

Bilateral relations between the USA and Cuba cannot avoid the fundamental issue which Back Channel seems to ignore: human rights. What does Peter Kornbluh think about that? “The United States will always be talking about human rights in Cuba,” he says, in an accusatory tone, implying that this will remain a thorny issue between the two governments.

“I am prey, our family is prey and all of and Venezuela is prey” / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

Venezuelan Lilian Tintori, wife of Leopoldo Lopez, in Prague
Venezuelan Lilian Tintori, wife of Leopoldo Lopez, in Prague

14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Prague, 13 October 2014 – We met a year ago in beautiful Prague at Forum 2000, with human rights activists from all over the world. Unlike that October, we are now missing Leopoldo Lopez. The Venezuelan politician and activist has been imprisoned since early this year, accused of various crimes that have all the hallmarks of a political montage.

Amid the celebrations for the quarter century of the Velvet Revolution in the Czech Republic, Lilian Tintori speaks with 14ymedio about repression in Venezuela.

Question. Which led to Leopoldo López being imprisoned?

Response. My husband Leopoldo Lopez is in prison for saying what all of Venezuela wanted to hear. The majority of Venezuelans want change. In January he raised his voice and started a peaceful campaign in the streets for constitutional change in Venezuela. By the second month of the protests there were so many people in the streets that they ambushed him and put out an order to arrest him for murder. Something that has nothing to do with Leopoldo, who is a progressive leader who has fought for freedoms, for democracy. He was the mayor of Chacao twice and won international awards for the transparency of his administration. continue reading

I think they are afraid of his leadership. There is no evidence against him. They accuses him of arson and damage to public buildings, but Leopoldo doesn’t believe in violence as a method to bring about change.

Q. The UN just released a resolution demanding that Leopoldo be released immediately. How has that been received by Nicolas Maduro’s government?

R. Foreign Minister Rafael Ramirez told the UN not to meddle in the internal affairs of Venezuela. To many of us that seemed irresponsible, because the UN is the most important organization in the world with regards to the promotion and protection of human rights, covenants to which Venezuela is a signatory. So the Venezuelan government should abide by a decision of the UN. Thus, we are expecting Leopoldo’s release within the next few hours.

The Government should abide by a UN decision. Thus, we are expecting Leopoldo’s release within the next few hours.

Q. Sometimes in the middle of the political connotations of such an event, one loses the human dimension a little. How has your family endured this imprisonment?

R. It’s very difficult and very hard to have a relative imprisoned. Much like the final loss of someone because he can’t be present in our lives. I can only see him when I visit. Right now I’m acting and mom and dad for our children. I am taking my children out alone and every family dynamic falls on my shoulders.

I can only be with Leopold when I visit him in prison and facing up to the military is very distressing. To go through a military search and they record all the conversations when we’re together, it makes me feel persecuted all the time. So I am prey, our family is prey and all of and Venezuela is prey.

Q. It seems at this point that Chavismo is confronting itself and there are attacks within their own ranks.

R. Venezuela is affected by violence, it is hurt, frustrated and unhappy because we do not like it. We reject violence. We reject weapons, the “Colectivos” and these murders are not what we want for our country. Definitely this is the result of years and years of violence in Venezuela, but I think that violent environment is going to end, the Colectivos themselves want a change, Chavistas themselves want a change. They want well-being, freedom to choose their food, to have medicine, to be safe walking the streets. We have a tremendous inflation, insecurity in the streets. They kidnap you, they kill you.

Q. And in those circumstances would not it be easier for you and your family to go into exile?

R. Easy yes, but my commitment is to Venezuelans. When Leopoldo asked me to marry him, he asked me to marry Venezuela and I said yes. He asked me to marry a project for a better Venezuela and this country needs us. This nation needs human rights to be respected throughout the country, not only for Leopoldo Lopez but also for all Venezuelans.

Cubans Can Again Apply For Dutch Scholarships / 14ymedio

Cubans are once again eligible for Netherlands Fellowship Programs (NFP) scholarships, after a decade of exclusion. The modification of Dutch regulations allows citizens on the island to request support for courses, workshops, masters degrees and doctorates in the Netherlands.

Among the studies available, the Glasnost Foundation in Cuba promotes courses for bloggers and independent journalists with the purpose of “improving their work and connecting colleagues in other parts of the world,” at the RNTC, an institute dedicated to training for communications and media professionals.

Requests for an NFP scholarship are open until 26 October. Applicants should meet the eligibility criteria, among which are a high level of spoken and written English.

The NFP scholarship programs have been created by the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and are administered by Nuffic, the Dutch organization for international cooperation in higher education. Programs are offered in 51 countries and cover all visa and travel costs, as well as room and board, insurance and registration fees.

 

Nicaragua Was Freed From a Regime Modeled On That Of the Castros / 14ymedio, Julio Blanco C.

In the election of February 1990, Violeta Chamorro (center) defeated Sandanista commander Daniel Ortega (right)
In the election of February 1990, Violeta Chamorro (center) defeated Sandanista commander Daniel Ortega (right)

14ymedio, Julio Blanco C., Managua, 27 September 2014 — I follow with eagerness – almost bordering on addiction – the news out of Cuba. I suppose that my nationality has a lot to do with that because probably no one better understands the reality of the Island (apart from Cubans) than we Nicaraguans.

Here we suffered a regime modeled on that of the Castros, which among other “pearls” imposed on us:

  • A terrible State security system, so that all we citizens were suspected of being traitors and counter-revolutionaries.
  • The rationing card, such an unpleasant memory.
  • Indoctrination of students at all levels of education.
  • The division of society into the good and the bad. Everything within the revolution and nothing outside it was the slogan. Whoever opposed the regime was a pariah, a subhuman, a stinker who deserved not the least consideration or respect. Those “elements” had to be persecuted, silenced, beaten, intimidated and ultimately annihilated.
  • The brutal and ruthless persecution of every communication media disaffected with the regime. This they could not completely achieve, maybe for lack of time, therefore some emblematic media like the daily La Prensa and Radio Corporacion survived the burning.
  • Bank nationalization and the forced socialization or transforming into cooperatives of all means of production, which involved a massive confiscation of private goods.

The list is much longer; I do not need to tell it to Cubans who have suffered first hand for so many years a tragedy so similar but at the same time much more extensive than ours.

My interest now is focused on the transition that Cubans are experiencing, because we went through something very similar, although here everything was quite fast due to the fact that it was not the same government that carried out the changes, but another one.

For the people of my generation who grew up in the midst of so many shortages and limitations, that period of the country’s “normalization,” above all that of the economy, was something almost magical.

The most irrelevant things were all eventful. I remember as if it were yesterday when we began to be happily flooded with junk food. First there was Pizza Hut, then McDonald’s returned after an absence of several years, then Burger King, Friday’s, Subway, Papa John’s and so many other chains that were little by little turning up in the country.

Big hotel companies like Best Western, Intercontinental, Hilton, Hyatt and others arrived, too.

And private national and foreign banks reappeared, and excellent customer attention again became a priority, not like when they were state-owned and little was needed for the employees to bite the unfortunate client.

And the private universities and colleges (these never disappeared) multiplied for every taste and pocketbook.

And many corrupt and inefficient state businesses were privatized and so many others disappeared. Maybe the most significant was Enitel, the embarrassing equivalent of Cuba’s ETECSA telephone company. The change was positively colossal, and soon came competition, and now there were other options for cable, telephone and internet.

Rationing and lines and product scarcity ended, and the giants of the food industry and commerce landed: Walmart, Pricemart, Cargill, Parmalat, Procter and Gamble, and there follows a very long etcetera.

And the first mall opened its doors with dozens of stores and modern movie theaters and its food court and its enormous department stores… but that was nothing, because soon there appeared others even better.

And refueling became a guilty pleasure because the convenience stores are as pleasant as small supermarkets and small restaurants, all in one.

And the public transportation payment system changed. You no longer had to carry a mound of coins, just recharge the electronic card.

And suddenly one day, a growing number of establishments began to offer free wi-fi; even the government installed it in some public parks in all the provincial capitals.

All this, which for us has been fascinating, is completely incomprehensible for someone who has not lived it and been systematically diverted by the State from everything that smells of progress and development however insignificant it might seem.

Maybe one day, sooner than later, Cubans can go through all this, too, and feel that strange satisfaction that is given by knowing “now we are like all the rest,” that we are no longer “different” in the more negative and abject sense of the word. In fact, they are already immersed in a stage of transition – very sui generis – but transition in the end.

Hopefully the weight of reality will finally make the regime understand that it can no longer contain the floodgates of “normality” because Cubans have made too many thousands of holes in the dam, and the waters of creativity and private initiative flow with increasing force.

* Julio Blanco C. is a lawyer in Diplomacy and International Relations. He lives in Managua.

Translated by MLK

“I will not return to the classroom if I am not paid a decent salary,” a teacher declares / 14ymedio, Rosa Lopez

First day of this school year (14ymedio)
First day of this school year (14ymedio)

14ymedio, ROSA LÓPEZ, Havana | October 10, 2014 – The mass exodus of teachers from the classroom has been, according to the official press, the theme of meetings between the Education minister, Ena Elsa Velázquez Cobiella, and her department heads. The official admitted that “there are questions that need to be addressed in our country, which will be resolved in due time when the right conditions are in place.” Her words do not placate the dissatisfaction of workers in the education sector with low salaries and poor working conditions.

According to data provided by Velázquez Cobiella, in the last school year, “427 education workers resigned because of disagreements with their evaluations; 166 because of the issue of proximity to their places of residence; 766 for failing to obtain a raise; 37 for dissatisfaction with the teaching methods; and 2,343 cited personal problems.” These statistics contrast with the widely-shared opinion that low wages are the principal cause driving teachers from the classroom.

“I told them I was leaving to care for my sick mother, but actually I just couldn’t stand the heavy workload and low salary any longer,” says Cristina Rodríguez, who taught elementary school for almost twenty years in the municipality of Cerro. Like her, many others have claimed family difficulties or health problems in order to free themselves from a burden they have found too heavy to bear.

“The highest leadership of the nation is aware of the problem and has the will to solve it, but this will be done in an orderly manner and when the country’s economy permits it,” said the minister. Her words were a bucket of ice water thrown on the education sector’s expectations for better compensation.

Around the middle of this year, public health professionals received a significant raise, which fanned the flames of hope for similar actions in other branches of service. However, the measure has not been extended to other departments.

A big unanswered question is: When can educators expect to be paid more decent salaries?

Among the criticisms that have emerged in discussions between the Education minister and other officials is the burdensome paperwork imposed on education workers. Every teacher is supposed to maintain files on incidents in the classroom, and others that include extracurricular information, such as family evaluations, community assessments, and those well-known reports that are more police-like in nature than education-related. The minister supported limiting such bureaucratic activities to the registry of assistance and evaluation, and to the students’ cumulative records.

There are approximately 10,366 educational institutions whose principal purpose is to stem the flow of teachers to other lines of work. “I will not return to the classroom if they don’t pay me a decent salary,” asserts Martha Vázquez, a special education teacher. Thousands of teachers echo this sentiment as they do other work across the country.

A big unanswered question is: When can educators expect to be paid more decent salaries that keep pace with the cost of living? In the meantime, classrooms will continue to lose valuable teachers who will end up behind the counter at a cafeteria, or in the void of unemployment.

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

The Baptist pastor Mario Felix Lleonart appears before the police / 14ymedio

Pastor Mario Felix Lleonart with his family. (Source: Facebook)
Pastor Mario Felix Lleonart with his family. (Source: Facebook)

14YMEDIO, Havana, October 9, 2014 – The Baptist pastor Mario Felix Lleonart refused to sign the official warning he received yesterday morning as part of a police citation. Although the document does not explicitly mention his recent journey to the eastern part of the island to check the status of harassment of some pastors, officers who confronted him mentioned it verbally, according to the pastor.

Around 11 AM yesterday, a lieutenant colonel read Feliz Lleonart a warning notice, in front of two witnesses – supposedly civilians and found by the officers, who the pastor didn’t know – and another lower ranking State Security official.

The notice, according to the lieutenant colonel, is considered an aggravating circumstance in the context of a possible criminal prosecution, which the official described as “very likely.”

This is the third warning the pastor has received, the last of which was delivered on 25 January. In the notice he was warned that if he continues to have close ties “counterrevolutionary elements within and outside Cuba and counterrevolutionary radio stations,” he will be prosecuted.

The pastor, who lives with his family in the village of Taguayabon in the central province of Villa Clara, in recent years has engaged in a very intense activism. Among other actions, he denounced the police beatings of Juan Wilfredo Soto, which could have caused his subsequent death.

The government cancels plans to build a mosque in Old Havana / 14ymedio

Ortaköy Mosque in Istanbul. (14ymedio)
Ortaköy Mosque in Istanbul. (14ymedio)

14YMEDIO, October 9, 2014 – Pedro Lazo Torres, leader of the minority Muslim community in Cuba, announced this Monday that the Government has rejected plans to build a mosque for the Islamic population in Havana, a gesture considered an offense against religious freedom on the Island. Lazo said that reasons aren’t related to the patron, the Turkish Religious Affairs Foundation, rather it is now the Government that opposes it, something unexpected as Russian has received permission to build an orthodox church.

The Muslim population in Cuba is around 4,000 faithful who lack a place of worship on the island.

Last April, Mustafa Tutkun, assistant director of the Turkish Religious Affairs Foundation, visited Cuba to manage permissions with the Religious Affairs Bureau of the Communist Party. He then explained that the mosque would reflect the design of the Mosque Ortaköy in Istanbul. The press secretary of the agency, Yuksel Sezgin, said: “We believe that the mosque fits perfectly with the European architecture of historic Old Havana.” The Island was assured that the building would be completed within one year, starting in the spring.

Religious freedom in Cuba is still an unresolved issue, However relations between the Catholic Church and the government have improved in recent years, even to the point where some confiscated properties were returned to the institution.

A group of 16 Cuban dancers defect while on tour in Mexico / 14ymedio

The dancers Ricardo Gil, Yaimara Naranjo during the interview with Telemundo 51.
The dancers Ricardo Gil, Yaimara Naranjo during the interview with Telemundo 51.

14YMEDIO, Havana, October 9, 2014 – Sixteen dancers from the Cuban company Pro-Dance of Laura Alonso, daughter of Alicia Alonso, deserted during a tour in Mexico. Five of them are already in the United States, according to information on the television Telemundo 51 this Thursday.

From Miami, Ricardo Gil, Yaimara Naranjo and Alfredo Espinosa, spoke in front of the cameras, expressing their happiness on having left Cuba in search of a better professional and personal future. Espinosa said he had already arranged new work as a teacher at an academy in Miami Lakes.

The flight of Cuban dancers is a steady drip. At the end of September, two members of the Cuban National Ballet fled, also during a tour in Mexico, following the steps of another nine dancers who stayed in Puerto Rico months earlier.

Laura Perez (age 25) went from Mexico to Houston, and Jvier Graupera Miranda (age 23) went to Florida to receive assistance from the Miami Hispanic Arts Center and the Cuban Classical Ballet, according to reports form the Spanish daily El Pais.

The director of the National Ballet of Cuba, Alicia Alonso, said in a statement to the Mexican press that the escape of some members of the group “will not cause her to lose sleep.”