“Wave of Political and Social Repression” in September, according to CCDHRN / 14ymedio

Ladies in White during their march this Sunday (Angela Moya)
Ladies in White during their march this Sunday (Angel Moya)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 5 October 2015 – This September there were at least 882 arbitrary arrests for political reasons, according to a report by the Cuban Commission on Human Rights and National Reconciliation (CCDHRN). The figure is the highest in the last 15 months, says the independent entity which also warns about an increase in “physical assaults against peaceful opponents by police agents and their collaborators.”

The cases of physical violence reported and verified y the CCDHRN reached 93, “while there were 21 in August.” The Commission, chaired by human rights activist Elizardo Sanchez, points out that “September did not lack many acts of harassment and vandalism, either.” These include “house arrests and extrajudicial bans on movement,” says the text of the report.

As “a true wave of political and social repression” there were “353 arrests of peaceful dissidents to prevent them from participating in massive gatherings” with Pope Francis.

The opposition sector was not the only one that suffered police raids, and the CCDHRN reiterates that “an undetermined number of beggars, panhandlers and other homeless people who seek alms on the streets or search for food or anything else in trash dumpsters were interned without judicial order.”

The case of the three from the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU) who “managed to breach the police cordon and approach Pope Francis” in Havana’s Revolution Plaza, is singled out with interest in the report. Zaqueo Baez, Maria Anon and Ismael Bonet “have been jailed for 15 days, under subhuman conditions, in the hands of the secret political police, without access to defense attorneys and without formal charges.” The CCDHRN “is prepared to propose that they be internationally adopted as possible Prisoners of Conscience.”

Translated by Mary Lou Keel

Independent journalist Roberto de Jesus Quiñones Arrested in Guantanamo / 14ymedio

Independent journalist Roberto de Jesus Quiñones.
Independent journalist Roberto de Jesus Quiñones.

14ymedio, Havana, 5 October 2015 — At six in the morning on Monday, a group of 15 Interior Ministry troops stormed the house of lawyer and an independent journalist Jesus Quiñones Haces, in the city of Guantanamo. The troops conducted a thorough search and took the reporter, without specifying the reasons for his arrest or his final whereabouts.

According to his mother, Maria Haces, 77, among those who participated in the operation were men in olive-green uniforms and others in blue and black, plus individuals in plainclothes. The entire search process was filmed with a small camera and they ultimately seized a computer, several disks and documents. The arrest occurred in the absence of the Quiñones’s wife, who is traveling in the United States.

The reporter is also a member of the Corriente Agramontista association of independent lawyers. His reports on events in his province are published by the agency CubaNet and one of his last works denounced the poor state of the road known as La Farola, in the Nipe-Sagua mountain range of Tánamo-Baracoa.

Before turning to independent journalism, he was a member of the National Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba (UNEAC) and collaborated with the official press on reviews of the cultural life of his city.

No references of any facts that led to the police action, as it is not the exercise of their professional activities. An official present in the operation said the mother of the detainee no later tonight or tomorrow, Tuesday would be released.

The arrest occurs within hours of the Inter American Press Association (IAPA). during its meeting in Charleston (South Carolina, USA), expressing its concern about the situation of the press in Cuba and repression against independent reporters.

Transition in Cuba: Real or Imagined? / 14ymedio, Miriam Celaya

A sole proprietor sells peanuts and sweets in Havana streets, but he is far from opening a store and growing his small business. (Luz Escobar)
A sole proprietor sells peanuts and sweets in Havana streets, but he is far from opening a store and growing his small business. (Luz Escobar)

14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 3 October 2015 — Halfway between analysis and opinion, and not having responded clearly to his own initial question, journalist Carlos M. Álvarez recently addressed a controversial issue: the transition in Cuba, or to put it more accurately, as posed by the title of his work: Can a transition in Cuba be discussed?

In principle, we must give credit to Álvarez for his courage: to declare that we are experiencing a transition in Cuba may be total heresy for many, beyond their political positions, or likes or dislikes of the government or of the opposition. In particular, it is taboo for those who have communed with the official power; but also, as he points out, it is something denied by many Cubans who are not at all into politics, by a sector of the domestic opposition and by the most intransigent groups in exile. continue reading

In the case of the opposition, the author could not, or did not, wish to avoid the temptation to appeal to an imagined number of sources to validate the information, which assumes that “the bulk of the opposition” seems “caustic before a Cuba that’s stretching out from a slumber.” We hope that, in future journalistic deliveries, Álvarez might disclose statistical sources that led him to reach such a conclusion, beyond his personal impressions. Meanwhile, allow me to question the accuracy of his claim.

We are in a process of economic transition, extremely slow and strictly controlled by official power

On the other hand, the transition issue is far from being a novelty among us, at least not to a significant part of independent journalism and to some opinion groups in Cuba and the diaspora, which have been noting as transition signs certain perfectly perceptible changes, ranging from the official discourse following the departure from the public stage of ex-president F. Castro, to certain changes in the economic and social order, or legal reforms, such as the January 2013 immigration and travel reform.

These are really inadequate changes, both in their proposals and in their depth and scope, but, somehow, they open some loopholes to new areas – inconceivable just a few years ago — which, in spite of the ruling elite and their hired applauders, break through the stagnation that characterized the previous decades.

It might have been appropriate to give the term transition a surname, because, though in its simplest and most literal meaning, it generically means the passage from one state or mode to a different one, in the case of Cuba, it should be clear that we would need to state precisely that we are facing an extremely slow economic transition, strictly controlled by the official power, in which a self-proclaimed socialist State with a closed and vertically centralized economy has been mutating to State capitalism, with an economic monopoly controlled by the hands of the same political power.

Which is to say that we in Cuba are not witnessing – at least until now — a political transition consistent with a step towards democracy after more than a century of autocracy, but, at most, a process of transferring political power from the octogenarian elite to its heirs, after having secured guaranties for its economic power, a process which, in addition, has been demonstrating alarming signs of dynastic style, so we would be facing a political succession rather than a transition.

We are witnessing a process of transfer of political power from the octogenarian elite to its heirs

And this is not something that happens “just like that,” as the writer of the referenced text seems to be asserting, but because the Castro regime has concentrated such power and made sure of having dismantled so deftly the entire institutional framework of Cuban civil society. The regime has time and enough resources to even dispense quiet economic changes according to its own interests, without social mechanisms to question decisions made from the heart of power, let alone to push effectively towards more profound transformations.

Returning to Adam Michnik, whose quote proves to be unfortunately out of context and out of place in Álvarez’s article, it is true that we are in the midst of uncertain times in Cuba, but not because the power is not “strong enough to sweep the political and economic forms emerging, and vice versa” — which, on the contrary, it is — but because the uncertain and primitive economic forms that have emerged were promoted by that same power, while alternative political forms have not yet surfaced, or are too weak and fragmented to be erected on alternatives. Such is the peculiarity of the fragile and uncertain Cuban transition, whether we like it or not.

Thus, answering the essential question of the article by Carlos M. Álvarez for BBC World, a process of economic transition is taking place in Cuba that today, due to the particular circumstances of our socio-political reality and other factors of a historical and cultural nature, is being promoted and controlled from the same power. So far, it’s only been confirmed that the economic scenario, on a so-called “experimental basis,” is showing clear signs of fatigue. Perhaps this cumulative process of half-changes and simulations directed mainly at the preservation of the political power might lead to a point where events rush towards a new stage, as unpredictable and different as the current one. For now, the Government continues to seize the baton fiercely and, in the short term, we cannot catch a glimpse of a complete and positive Cuban transition.

Translated by Norma Whiting

Cuba and Mick Jagger’s Kiss / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

Mick Jagger in Deauville in 2014. (Georges Biard / Wikimedia Commons)
Mick Jagger in Deauville in 2014. (Georges Biard / Wikimedia Commons)

14ymedio, Generation Y, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 5 October 2015 – We never got to hear Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston on our national stages. Freddie Mercury died without touching down in Havana, and when The Beatles broke up, we were a country where English music was considered ideological diversionism. We followed the career of Elvis Presley from a distance and the charismatic Amy Winehouse slammed the door on life without stepping foot on this island. However, now we are about to regain part of what was lost: Mick Jagger’s emblematic mouth is here, the eternal youth of The Rolling Stones has arrived.

While the analysts debate, looking for signs of change in the Cuban political or diplomatic scene, transformations are capricious and take another direction. This country is not going to change itself into a new nation because John Kerry visited, nor because of the third visit by a pope in less than two decades. But Cuba is changing when people like this British rocker, icon of good music and of the greatest possible irreverence, touch down in Havana. continue reading

The vocalist, 72, has made his way through the streets of Havana leaving a trail of incredulity and beating hearts. It is not, admittedly, the excitement provoked by Beyoncé or Rihanna with their escapades in this theme park of the past, but Jagger’s visit has more profound connotations. For several generations of Cubans he represents the forbidden, an attitude toward life that was denied us by an obsessive police control.

For a political system that tried to form the “New Man,” with a Spartan spirit, “correct” and obedient, this skinny guy with his turbulent life signified the anti-model, what we must not imitate. However, the laboratory man hawked by the pedagogical manuals didn’t work out… and Mick Jagger won the battle against the prototype of the militant boy, hair cut short and willing to denounce his own family.

A friend close to seventy came out into the streets this Sunday with the energy of girl celebrating her fifteenth birthday. “Where is he?” she asked the guard at Hotel Santa Isabel, where the official news reported the idol of her youth to be staying, but the man gave her no details. Like an obsessed schoolgirl, she walked all the streets around the hotel looking in the windows, to try to see the lean figure of the leader of the Rolling Stones.

Mick Jagger won the battle against the prototype of the militant boy, hair cut short and willing to denounce his own family

The lady displayed none of these reactions toward the American secretary of state, nor before the Bishop of Rome. For her, all these exalted visitors were in the range of the possible, no longer surprising nor moving. But Jagger… Jagger is something else. “I don’t want to die without seeing him,” she told me on the phone, with the conviction of one who will not tolerate leaving this world without “closing an era,” putting the capstone on her “best years,” she told me.

My friend infected me a little with her enthusiasm, I must confess. No sermon in the Plaza of the Revolution, no speech to open an embassy, caused my stomach to jump this way, a sudden feeling of living in historic times. A nervousness that will last until we see the legendary British band play next March at the Latin American stadium, in front of a crowd that will try to recover its lost years.

Jagger is much more than the living legend of rock and roll presented by the media. This beanpole, all mouth, all energy, all life, embodies a time that they snatched from us, an existence that we could have had and that they took from us.

It seems a shame to me that the political analysts don’t realize it: the future Cuba could start with the Rolling Stones in Havana.

The Ladies In White Face Another Sunday Of Repression In Havana / 14ymedio

Ladies in White during the pilgrimage this Sunday. (Angel Moya)
Ladies in White during the pilgrimage this Sunday. (Angel Moya)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 4 October, 2015 – Fifty-nine Ladies in White and 20 activists gathered this Sunday in Gandhi Park in Havana’s Playa district, despite the arrests previous to their traditional Sunday peregrination. After a summary of their weekly activities, the dissidents were detained, according to a report from witnesses at the scene.

From the early hours, the regime opponent Martha Beatriz Roque denounced the arrests of 12 human rights activists who had traveled to Santa Rita parish. Among those arrested with the mother and siblings of Zaqueo Baez Guerrero, one of the members of the of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU) who had approached Pope Francis in Havana’s Plaza of the Revolution.

Others arrested on Sunday included the regime opponents Antonio Gonzalez Rodiles, Ailer Gonzalez and Felix Navarro. The latter lives in the town of Perico, Matanzas, and traveled to the capital to show his support to the human rights movement.

Blogger Agustín López Canino denounced his arrest and reported that he was handcuffed at the corner of 5th and 30th streets, in the Playa district, together with two other colleagues. The activists detailed that he was “taken to the outskirts of Havana” to prevent his accompanying the Ladies in White during their Sunday march.

Meanwhile, in Colón, Matanzas, independent journalist Ivan Hernandez Carrillo reported ten Ladies in White marched in Colón, Matanzas, for the release of the political prisoners.

The leader of the Ladies in White movement, Berta Soler said that Yaquelín Boni, an activist detained since Thursday during a protest outside Combinado del Este prison and accused of “disobedience,” has now been released.

Cuban Phone Company Authorizes Internet Refills From Abroad / 14ymedio

A young man connects wirelessly in Cuba via his mobile phone. (14ymedio)
A young man connects wirelessly in Cuba via his mobile phone. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, 4 October 2015 – Starting October 6, Cubans on the island can have their “Nauta” internet access accounts refilled from abroad with 10 CUC (Cuban convertible pesos, about $11.30* US). The measure, announced this Saturday in the newspaper Granma, will be introduced by the Cuban Telecommunications Company (ETECSA) and requires users to have a permanent Nauta account.

Right now, this option does not include the “double minutes” or bonus options frequently available for recharges from abroad for cellphone service.

The official Communist Party newspaper said the new service will encourage users to sign up for permanent Nauta accounts, as many netizens still prefer to use temporary navigation cards, despite their higher prices.

The long lines outside the offices to open permanent internet access accounts, the lack of recharge bonuses associated with them, and the anonymity of navigation (without an account) are some of the reasons given by customers for continuing to use the temporary accounts.

Every day the island’s Wifi points are hosting 55,000 connections, 8,000 of them simultaneously. Although the connection price remains high at 2 CUC an hour (over $2.00 US in a country with an average monthly wage of less than $20.00), the opening of 35 wireless access points has created a social phenomenon with thousands of people congregating in those places.

*Translator’s note: The Cuban CUC officially trades at par with the US dollar, but a 10% “penalty” is added for exchanging US dollars, along with a 3% exchange fee.

“The Family Unit in Holguín Is Very Damaged” / 14ymedio, Fernando Donate Ochoa

Marcos Pirán Gómez, parish priest of San José Church in Holguín
Marcos Pirán Gómez, parish priest of San José Church in Holguín (Photo Fernando Donate/14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Fernando Donate Ochoa, Holguín. 21 September 2015 — He shares both his faith and Argentine citizenship with Pope Francis, yet Father Marcos Pirán Gómez is not on Cuban soil for just a few days. He has been living on the island for fifteen years, and since 2012 has been the parish priest of San José (Saint Joseph’s) Church in Holguín.

A few hours before the Bishop of Rome travelled to this land of mountains, heat, and seas, Father Marcos met with 14ymedio to discuss his parishioners’ expectations, the difficulties besetting his community, and the role of the Church in finding solutions.

14ymedio: What did you feel when you heard that Pope Francis was coming to Holguín?

Marcos Pirán Gómez: I felt an enormous thrill because of the joy another Papal visit would mean to our people; the third one in just 17 years, such a short period of time. This is a significant event not only for the life of the Church, but also for the Cuban people. Each one of the previous Papal visits have left its mark. continue reading

Pope Francis is an exemplary and admirable person for the way he thinks, for what he does, and for his beliefs, which are consistent with how he lived in Argentina. I remember what he was able to generate around him, especially in Buenos Aires where we were neighbors living in the same area, and where we had more contact with each other. I know a lot of things from back then that are now known in the public square.

14ymedio: How will this Papal visit to the island be different?

Marcos Pirán Gómez: This third visit is also linked to the resumption of talks between the Cuban and American governments. This time stands out because it hopes to keep alive the first step taken on December 17th of last year.

Pope Francis has closely followed the history of the Cuban people. He wrote a book about John Paul II’s trip to Cuba, which undeniably signaled a before and after. It not only did so as far as the relationship between the Church and the Cuban government is concerned, but the relationship between religion and the government as well.

14ymedio: Is there special interest for Cuba in the Vatican?

Marcos Pirán Gómez: Interest and worry for these people. Cuba has undergone a political and social experiment unlike that experienced by most of Latin America’s people. It’s different in the fact that Communist ideology takes precedence in Cuba, so theres a very different attitude towards religion here than in most other countries.

Starting with John Paul’s visit, an effort was made to initiate a new type of relationship (between the Church and the State) in which there would be an official recognition of the of religiosity of individuals and of our people as a whole.

14ymedio: What do believers in Holguín expect from this visit?

Marcos Pirán Gómez: On the one hand, the people of Holguín hope this visit will help them regain their enthusiasm and hope. There’re many people who due to different difficulties, such as the frustrations of life, the breakdown of families, the scarcities, have lost their will to forge ahead. The Pope can help reverse this because his message aims to break apathy and indifference.

14ymedio: Do you sense a lot of apathy?

Marcos Pirán Gómez: Yes. People are apathetic because of their incapacity to react to situations they don’t agree with. When an individual stops demanding or voicing his concerns, whether it is out of fear or because he thinks it would be useless, that is worrisome, because it shows an attitude of apathy and indifference. I hope, and many others do as well, that the presence of Pope Francis will help bring about a reawakening.

14ymedio: So you are excited about the visit?

Marcos Pirán Gómez: Very excited. I’ve been especially impressed by people who don’t practice any religion but who see the (Papal) visit as a very positive thing. People are hopeful this visit will bring something that’ll make them better persons.

14ymedio: The authorities have conceded that violence, drug addiction, suicide, and other social ills have increased in Holguín. Is there a spiritual crisis in Holguín?

Marcos Pirán Gómez: The family unit in Holguín is very damaged and divided. There’re a lot of difficult situations, and that affects the social order.

Family units are fragmented because of financial difficulties, and because a lot of people emigrate, and that brings suffering. People don’t know how to discuses issues, how to accept one another, how to collaborate, or how to promote solidarity within the family setting. When this starts happening to the family unit, it resonates throughout society at large, while adding to the already existing personal crises in each individual’s life.

14ymedio: The Cuban government pardoned 3,522 before the Pope’s arrival. What can you say about this?

Marcos Pirán Gómez: Some have reacted happily, while others were disappointed because they thought they met all the conditions for a pardon but weren’t. The announcement (of the prisoner release) states that those convicted of “crimes against State security” would remain incarcerated. That’s why in this case it is a matter of opinion if those still being held are political prisoners or not.

14ymedio: Are there political prisoners in Cuba?

Marcos Pirán Gómez: This isn’t conjecture. The government itself has admitted there are political prisoners. Several years back, the President mentioned them. I don’t know how many there are, because there’s a lot of information I don’t know or have any access to. That’s why I can’t say for certain how many political prisoners there are, or where they are.

14ymedio: Has the Church in Holguín, or you, received a request from the opposition to meet with Pope Francis?

Marcos Pirán Gómez: Up until now, that hasn’t happened. However, we have received letters from people directed to the Pope, asking him to intercede in support of freedom for their relatives serving prison sentences. Still, I don’t know if these cases are political prisoners.

14ymedio: Has the relationship between the Church and the State in Cuba been strengthened?

Marcos Pirán Gómez: The preparations for the Pope’s visit have opened the way for some dialog. Catholics in the Papal visit’s organizing committee note there have been important changes when compared to eighteen years ago while preparing for John Paul II’s visit.

Also, for some time now we have been noticing that the government has somewhat stopped pressuring mission houses or small (parish) communities from opening. Today, these houses do exist, but there was a time when the government wouldn’t allow people to gather in homes to celebrate the Word, to pray together, or to exchange ideas. The result of this is an increase in the social ills we’re now facing. When you keep something from growing over a long period of time, that has negative repercussions.

14ymedio: The Catholic Church in Cuba does not have at its disposal a radio station or a television channel. Doesn’t that limit your pastoral work?

Marcos Pirán Gómez: Nowadays, having access to the media is very important. I don’t like things that are just Catholic. I’d like more diversity in the Cuban media. I don’t need to have my own radio station, TV channel, or newspaper, because that in itself is exclusionary. I’m not interested in that way of thinking. What I do wish is that there be space for other voices, other ways of thinking, and other messages that contribute to the common good, within the media that already exists.

Translated by José Badué

El Sexto: He Who Laughs First, Laughs Twice / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

Danilo Maldonado, "El Sexto," painting the balcony wall of Yoani's apartment
Danilo Maldonado, “El Sexto,” painting the balcony wall of Yoani’s apartment

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 3 October 2015 — There was no mistaking it. It was the same face that smiles defiantly from some paintings in which it resembles an unrepentant Christ. I had seen the signature of El Sexto at bus stops, followed his ironies on Havana’s walls, and wondered if this young man really existed, putting so many dreams, so many screams into his midnight strokes . But there he was, standing in front of me, in a T-shirt with a spray can.

“You cross out my stuff, I cross out yours,” said some of the artist Danilo Maldonado’s first paintings. It was when the police were using pink paint to hide his graffiti. Walking down Linea Street you could guess that behind those colorful patches in the middle of a wall that had gone decades without maintenance, the irreverent artist had left a drawing.

So when I stumbled upon El Sexto, thin, rebellious, talented, it seemed I had rediscovered a well-known face from my family photos, someone I had shared colorful nocturnal moments with, insolent and clandestine. With time I discovered that I was also facing a man who would not give in to fear and who would use his own body as a canvas for disobedience. continue reading

He declared himself “El Sexto” – The Sixth – of the “heroes” and shamelessly demanded “give me back my five euros,” in a mocking allusion to the official demand for the “five heroes” to be returned to the island.

When we were drowning in the Castro regime’s longest campaign, demanding the release of the five Cuban spies in prison in the United States, Maldonado confronted this hemorrhage of slogans and billboards. He declared himself, at his own risk, “El Sexto,” The Sixth of the “heroes” and shamelessly demanded “give me back my five euros,” in a mocking allusion to the official demand for the “five heroes” to be returned to the island.

The nickname stuck, although the former prisoners – sent home from the United States last December – are now fat and bored in their endless national tours and public events. And so the graffiti artist went from being “the sixth hero” to being the only hero of this story. A few days ago Amnesty International declared him a prisoner of conscience. This same restless boy who launched flyers all over Havana, inviting people to tear up and destroy their own fears.

But it would be the playful side of El Sexto that most annoyed the prudish Cuban officialdom. The capacity for laughter, to ask an apparently naïve question that infuriates the repressor trying to interrogate him. The mischief of turning a traffic signal into a work of art. El Sexto made us big in his hands, although many of us were still watching him like a friendly and playful child who was beginning to leave his signature in the city.

Has there been anyone in Cuba as devoid of comic timing and the capacity for merriment as Fidel Castro? Probably not. And so the system created in his image and likeness reacts with self-consciousness and intolerance to sarcasm

But the authoritarians lack humor. To them, laughter is an offense. Any joke plunges into their chests like a knife and hits them in the face like an embarrassing slap. Has there been anyone in Cuba as devoid of comic timing and the capacity for merriment as Fidel Castro? Probably not. And so the system created in his image and likeness reacts with self-consciousness and intolerance to sarcasm.

The two piglets El Sexto was preparing to release in Havana’s Central Park last 25 December, painted with the names Raul and Fidel on one side, were the straw that broke the camel’s back. Every day of his long confinement in Valle Grande prison, they had to make him pay for the great audacity of that performance which he titled “Animal Farm.” But they don’t realize that he who laughs first laughs twice, and Danilo Maldonado has always been the one who initiated the fit of laughter in this story.

Danilo was born when many Cuban children were saying goodbye to their parents as they left for the war in Angola. He put on the neckerchief, recited at every morning school assembly that slogan we proclaimed, “Pioneers for communism,” concluding with the commitment “We will be like Che.” What when wrong with the process to tame his clay?

Poverty and exclusion shaped his life. In the letter he wrote from his cell, during the hunger strike that he carried out for 24 days, he wrote, “My family is very humble; I lived in Arroya Arenas from the time I was four; in Chafarinas, Güira de Melena; in Covadonga, Las Tunas: a village still without electricity; Guáimaro, Camagüey and Arroyo Arenas, La Lisa.” He wore Cuba on his skin before he painted it.

He worked for several days, filling the place with the smell of sweat and paint. Over his colorful rainbow of plurality, an angel asks for silence and a police inquisitor still looks out at us with reserve.

Then he knew the pain of police handcuffs when they tightened them around his wrists, the cell where they locked him up when Benedict XVI visited Cuba and that time he was detained for almost four days to make him confess that it was he who had painted those arabesques and rubrics. That sequence of clashing with reality forged the artist, in a more authentic way than the academy does other professionals of the brush and canvas.

I’ve never had a Christmas tree as beautiful as the one this young man, born in Nuevitas, Camagüey, painted on a cardboard box for a group of bloggers and independent journalists to celebrate the coming of the new year. It was rangy, beautiful and he did it in a stroke, without even taking a breath. Because if something springs from El Sexto’s every pore it is this capacity to turn the ugly and forgotten into a work of art.

One day we offered him the wall of our own home. The one that separates our apartment from the abyss, on the balcony fourteen floors up. He worked on it for several days, filling the place with the smell of sweat and paint. Over his colorful rainbow of plurality, an angel asks for silence and a police inquisitor still looks out at us with reserve.

Every morning I look at that wall as a daring orange sun rises over it. I imagine the cell where Danilo Maldonado is now, the mattress they give him to sleep for barely five hours a night, the heat and the overcrowding. There are no spray cans there, no colored pencils nor oils. But who knows if after he is released, in some corner of the prison, they will find one of his graffiti made with the metal of a spoon or a piece of coal. El Sexto will be laughing then, for the umpteenth time, at his jailers.

Diversity Visa Lottery for Emigrating to the United States Begins / 14ymedio

US Embassy in Havana. (14ymedio)
US Embassy in Havana. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 2 October 2015 — The anguish is over. After months of speculation, it has been confirmed that the recently begun United States Diversity Visa program for 2017 maintains a quota for Cubans, according to a statement from a consular official from the US Embassy in Havana at a press conference Friday.

Rumors in recent months pointed to a reduction or cancellation of the program for natives of the island due to the reestablishment of relations between Washington and Havana. However, the official – who did not give her name – told the national press that “as in prior years, Cuba is included in the program to support a safe, legal and orderly migration.” continue reading

The press conference was attended by official media, such as the newspaper Granma, the Cuban Television and the National Information Agency (AIN), along with other media such as OnCubaCubaNet and 14ymedio. The press conference took place in a room inside the newly opened US American Embassy in Havana’s Vedado district.

The consular official specified that each year, “55,000 visas are granted to people who meet the eligibility requirements,” and detailed the registration process, emphasizing that it is free of charge. The application to join the program must be made ​​through the web site www.dvlottery.state.gov and once completed the form will receive an electronic confirmation.

There are six geographical areas from which people can participate and no country can receive more than 7% of the total visas available in a single year. The applicant must also meet competency requirements, having completed high school or having at least two years of work experience within the last five years.

When asked by 14ymedio whether the embassy would offer times in their navigation rooms for Cuban citizens to enroll in the program, the official responded with a definite no. She further recommended “that applicants enter their own information and don’t use the help of an unknown person.” The deadline for applications ends this coming 3 November at noon.

The IAPA Does Not See Progress In Press Freedom In Cuba / 14ymedio

Lazaro Yuri Valle Roca has been threatened and detained for documenting repression. (14ymedio)
Lazaro Yuri Valle Roca has been threatened and detained for documenting repression. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, 2 October 2015 — Within a few hours of the opening of the 71st General Assembly of the Inter American Press Association (IAPA), scheduled between 2 and 6 October in Charleston (South Carolina), regional reports from the Commission for Freedom of the Press and Information were made public. According to the organization, ten months after the beginning of reestablishment of diplomatic relations between Cuba and the United States, journalism on the island continues to be “dogged by censorship in the Cuban Communist Party monopoly over the national media.”

The report details that in Cuba there are still no signs of “economic improvement,” nor an increase in the respect for “human rights, greater freedom of expression, association and the press,” derived from the process of diplomatic rapprochement that both countries are experiencing.

With special alarm, the text includes the threats and arrests made this summer by State Security against the reporter Lazaro Yuri Valle Roca, when he tried to document in videos and photos the repression suffered by the Ladies in White. The independent journalist denounced the repressive methods against the exercise of the unofficial press, including detentions for “several days without records of arrest nor of the seizure of our belongings” and the “confiscation of the tools of our work.” continue reading

The case of the artist Danilo Maldonado Machado, known as “El Sexto,” was also highlighted by the IAPA as evidence of the lack of freedom of expression on the island. Nine months after his arrest for planning a performance, the Graffiti artist remains in prison without having been brought to trial. This week Amnesty International named him as a prisoner of conscience.

 

The IAPA report also denounces “the censorship maintained on digital sites, as is the case of sites like Cubaencuentro, Martinoticias, and the digital newspaper 14ymedio, as well as other sites that address the Cuban issue from a perspective critical” of the authorities.

Raul Castro’s government maintains a tendency towards “paramilitarization” of the repressions, with physical and verbal violence but without leaving legal footprints, says the report. This method was demonstrated during Pope Francis’s visit in mid-September, “particularly with the detention of the opponent Martha Beatriz Roque and the independent journalist Miriam Leiva, when both were traveling to accept an invitation from the Aposolic Nunciature to greet the pontiff at Havana Cathedral,” it says.

Civil society wins spaces

Among the achievements of Cuban civil society, IAPA enumerates the first Encuentro de Pensamiento (Meeting of Ideas) for Cuba, hosted by the independent think tank Center for Coexistence Studies in the city of Pinar del Río and the magazine of the same name. Founded in 2007, the publication has already published 45 issues and addresses issues ranging from culture to citizenship.

The opening of 35 WiFi points to connect to the internet also found space in the report, although the text reminds us that Cuba remains one of the least connected countries in the world, with only 5%, which is reduced to 1% in the case of broadband.

Half of Latin Americans Have Internet Access, But Only 5% of Cubans Do / 14ymedio

The reports comments on the parole granted to the writer Angel Santiesteban and transfer to a minimum security prison mid-year of the journalist Jose Antonio Torres, a former correspondent for the Party newspaper Granma, accused of espionage.

The report made special mention of the illegal compendium of audiovisuals and alternative information, known as the “weekly packet.” The IAPA said that the weekly packet “has continued to gain ground among the Cuban population and is causing great concern in the ruling party,” while the official press continues to be characterized by self-censorship and the absence of “a journalism of investigation, that puts pressure on government entities to have greater transparency about their internal workings.”

During the 71st General Assembly of the Inter American Press Association, there will be seminars run by the Press Institute that will focus on current issues under the title “Beyond the Digital Transformation.” Other panels will address the growing contribution of women in the media, value added and copyrights, according to information from the organizers.

The meeting will feature Literature Nobelist Mario Vargas Llosa, who will participate in a special session and be interviewed by journalist Andres Oppenheimer.

That First Central Committee / Reinaldo Escobar

Fidel Castro during the formation of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Cuba, on October 3, 1965.
Fidel Castro during the formation of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Cuba, on October 3, 1965.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 2 October 2015 – Fifty years ago the first Central Committee of the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC) made its appearance. It was composed of one hundred people, among whom there were 57 commanders of the Revolution, nine captains, one lieutenant and 33 civilians. Of that constellation only eight remain alive and in office, not including Fidel Castro. The average age of these “survivors” who made it to today is approximately 83 years.

The last time there was a formal election to the Central Committee was in 1997 during the Fifth Congress of the PCC. On that occasion, 14 members from the initial list remained, but that was 18 years ago and, after the deaths of Vilma Espín, Juan Almeida, and more recently of Jorge Risquet, plus the retirements due to dismissal or illness of Roger Acevedo, Osmany Cienfuegos and Pedro Miret, the so-called “historic generation of the Revolution” has been considerably narrowed in its number. continue reading

We can consider the case of Commander Guillermo Garcia, still active, although he is not a member of the current Central Committee, he was in that inventory of tried and tested revolutionaries unveiled on 3 October 1965, the same day that, to justify the work of these creators of anniversaries, the Party was baptized with the epithet of “Communist,” Ernesto Guevara’s farewell letter was read, and the newspaper Granma was founded.

Aside from Raul Castro, those remaining active include Ramiro Valdés (83 years), Jose Ramón Machado Ventura (85), Abelardo Colomé Ibarra (76) and the youngest of all, Leopoldo Cinta Frías, who on 17 July of this year turned a mere 72. Added to that are Armando Hart (85), who is in a wheelchair, General Ramon Pardo Guerra, head of the Civil Defense, and Julio Camacho Aguilera, who only appears in the commemorations of minor importance. The birthdates of the latter two do not appear in any accessible register.

The implacable laws of biology lead us to calculate that the decline will be much more dramatic when the eighth Party Congress takes place in 2021

The implacable laws of biology lead us to calculate that the decline will be much more dramatic when the eighth Party Congress takes place in 2021 (if it is held at all). By then, there will probably be no one who feels guilty for the executions or the confiscations, which is the price to be paid today for displaying the crest of having belonged to the historic generation who earned its pedigree on that October night at the Chaplin (now the Karl Marx) theater, which served as the stage to present the brand new Central Committee.

In this one hundred names are two suicides (Osvaldo Dorticós and Haydee Santamaria), one executed (Arnaldo Ochoa), and one sentenced to 20 years in prison (Jose Abrantes). But most died in combat or in a hospital bed; or have gone into retirement, either through the infirmities of age or dismissals. At least none have defected (as far as we know), if that serves as a point of honor to those who did ​​the casting.

It was a troop obedient to the will of the Maximum Leader. Those who fell docilely accepted their punishments, and those who ascended humbly assumed their promotions. They silenced their differences and tried to applaud like members of the best claque. They knew when to raise their hands in approval and how to step over those compañeros who deviated from the path and, in this trance, they became skilled in the dark drafting of informers’ reports

They are already past or passing. We will have to learn to forgive without forgetting. The future, as the irreverent rocker Gorki Aguila says, belongs entirely to the future.

Twelve Ladies in White Arrested Outside Combinado del Este prison / 14ymedio

Ladies in White in Havana.
Ladies in White in Havana.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, 1 October 2015 – The regime opponent Martha Beatriz Roque denounced the arrest Thursday of 12 Ladies in White protesting outside the Combinado del Este prison in Havana. The activists presented themselves at the place to complain about the prisoners Ricardo and Ariel Gonzalez Sendiña, sons of the Lady in White Lazara Barbara Sendiña, who are on hunger strike.

The two prisoners, convicted of the alleged crime of theft and slaughter of cattle, maintain their innocence. Since they began fasting, both are in punishment cells. The women demanded answers about their state of health, but the prison authorities did not give details.

The organization’s leader, Berta Soler, at the site, reported by telephone to the reporter Lazaro Yuri Valle Rica on the imminent arrest of the activists. Minutes later, in her Twitter account, Soler describe the arrests as “brutal.” To date, the whereabouts of the protesters is unknown and their phones are shut off.

The leader of the Youth Front of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU) Carlos Amel Oliva Torres, was also arrested on his return from a trip to Spain. The activist is right now in the Third Police Unit in Santiago de Cuba.

A Queen Without Competition / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

Queen electric cooking pot. (Luz Escobar)
Queen electric cooking pot. (Luz Escobar)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, 1 October 2015 — The “Energy Revolution”, one of the last initiatives promoted by Fidel Castro before his public retirement, made some peculiar appliances appear in Cuban homes. Perhaps the most popular was the electric cooking pot was popularly called Queen, manufactured in China and which serves equally to make a red bean stew or meat and potatoes.

Those appliances which were distributed in bulk throughout the island, as if it were a military operation, were sold on credit and at a price that did not exceed 400 Cuban pesos (about $16 US). One day, coinciding with the departure of the Commander-in-Chief from his post, those pots also disappeared.

Since the middle of this year the Queen began to be assembled in Cuba in the ProHogar plant in the city of Santa Clara, as a part of the Household Production Industry (INPUD), a project founded in 1964 by the then Minister of Industry, Ernesto Guevara.

The group made up of 32 skilled workers assembles some 700 appliances a day that then go for the commercial network of hard currency stores and are sold at prices exceeding 30 convertible pesos (over $30 US). The items for sale can no longer be paid for on the installment plan, that characterized their distribution during the “Energy Revolution.”

Also lost in time are the memories of those refrigerators in INPUD fabricated that were distributed based on “merits” in one’s workplace. Instead, the entity now seeks to impose its products on the market through the harsh law of quality and competition with other similar products. The Queens are no longer for commoners.

‘El Sexto’ Abandons Hunger Strike After 24 Days / 14ymedio

Danilo Maldonado, ‘El Sexto.’ (Artist’s File)
Danilo Maldonado, ‘El Sexto.’ (Artist’s File)

Danilo Maldonado (El Sexto) ends 24-day hunger strike with promise from prison authorities that he will be released in 15 days.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 1 October 2015 — The artist Danilo Maldonado, El Sexto, abandoned the hunger strike he had maintained for 24 days this Thursday. His mother, Maria Victoria Machado, confirmed the news after a visit to the Valle Grande prison, where the graffiti artist has been since last December.

This Thursday, Machado went to the prison to demand the release of her son and met there with a lieutenant colonel who was identified as a “mediator.” The official informed her that “Danilo lifted the hunger strike” and that “from today he will begin to eat.”

Machado was able to meet personally with El Sexto, whom she said was “in high spirits,” although his face “reflects that he has been on hunger strike, his lips are completely cracked,” his mother said. Tomorrow, Friday, the lady will be able to visit him again and bring him food to alleviate his days of fasting.

The artist told his mother that the hardest part of the hunger strike was “the psychological part.”

After asking for personal information, including her address and contact phone number, the lieutenant colonel said that the artist would be “released in fifteen days.” To a question from 14ymedio, the mother of graffiti artist said she believes that “now that there are international agencies involved in his case, it is possible they will do what they said.”

El Sexto, classified as a prisoner of conscience by the human rights organization Amnesty International, was arrested for organizing a performance with two pigs painted with the names Raul and Fidel.

It’s Not the “Blockade”: It’s Fear 14ymedio, Pedro Campos

Raul Castro gives his speech at the UN. (UN)
Raul Castro gives his speech at the UN. (UN)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Pedro Campos, Havana, 30 September 2015 – The Cuban leaders insist that the “blockade” is the main obstacle to economic development in Cuba. This was confirmed by general-president Raul Castro at the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday.

Up until today, after the fall of the socialist bloc and the USSR, the United States blockade-embargo* remains the Cuban government’s main justification for the whole economic and social disaster caused by the Statist wage model imposed in Cuba in the name of socialism, in truth a kind of State monopoly capitalism.

The Cuban economy declined to the extent that the State concentrated ownership of land, which came to be 90%, as well as of industry and services, which reached 100%, and state monopolies controlled foreign and domestic trade.

All this was spiced with price controls, voluntarist* policies and plans, total control by the economic elite of the country of state investments and expenditures (“central planning”), the elimination the relationship between goods and money, elimination of individual and collective initiative, a war on private capitalism and cooperatives, now skewed with a thousand obstacles. Simply stated: it was increasingly constraining the initiative of society. continue reading

It has not been the “blockade,” as the Government says, nor this “socialism,” as argued by those who believed there was such a thing, that have been causes of the disaster, but rather the Statist wage model imposed by those who capitalized on the 1959 triumph of the Revolution. Instead of restoring the 1940 Constitution and the democratic institutions which for which all the democratic political movements and all social sectors had fought for, the State assumed control of all large, medium and small enterprises, all private or associated property, domestic or foreign, and they continued to exploit wage-labor.

In the name of a democratic and popular revolution the government imposed a persona, authoritarian, anti-democratic dictatorship which they called “of the proletariat” where the proletarians continued to be proletarians (i.e. workers), deciding nothing and, what’s worse, being exploited.

In the name of a nonexistent socialism they also appropriated the Cuban labor force for half a century, of the humble and dispossessed in the name of whom they erected this economic and government system. And unbearably, they called this thing socialism!

If from the former owners of land, factories, businesses and real estate they took away their material property, from four generations of revolutionaries of all stripes they took away their lives, which were placed at the service of the state in the Armed Forces, the State Security services, diplomatic work, international missions, guards and demonstrations. There was a need to defend the state from so many arbitrarily generated enemies.

But this is not the time for blame. If I mention blame it is because it is incriminating that the main cause was an effect, albeit one that has also done so much damage to us, above all because it has served to justify such nonsense.

It is time now for solutions. How to resolve the problem? Many of us have raised this and even Raul Castro knows it and says so, but he is in no hurry: the productive forces need to be freed.

How? By democratizing the political and economic life of the country. It is necessary to destroy the obstacles, laws and regulations that prevent people from deploying their initiative; to eliminate every restriction that stands in the way of the private labor of doctors, nurses, dentists, lawyers, architects and other professionals. The restrictions on free cooperativism need to be eliminated. Dismantle the state business monopolies and the price controls on agricultural and industrial products. Allow Cubans to import whatever they wish, establish stores and factories, with simple import and sales taxes.

Involve workers in the direction, management and profits of state enterprises, allow autonomous companies to invest, buy and sell. Allow the broad development of SMEs of all types, be they of private or associated capital, supported by private or state capital. Allow Cubans living abroad to invest in the island, supporting their families and friends. Change the tax laws to stimulate production and services.

To change the Foreign Investment Law for a simple investment law for everyone, where you can engage in all the forms of production that reality demands, with freedom for unions and guarantees for the fair wages for the workers. To reduce the size of the state and its spending. To expand and free the internet allowing free trade and horizontal exchange of information of all kinds. The free market makes possible the development of free labor, whether individual or associated. Without these changes there is no socialism, sustainability nor prosperity.

And can these changes in the economy be made by an authoritarian elite that aspires to perpetuate itself in power and maintain political and economic control over society?

So far it has been proven that they can not. First – or in parallel – there must be a process of democratization of the political life, which in a climate of trust will allow other sectors, groups or visions to perform with a focus on democratizing the society. This implies freedom of expression, association and free elections so that all political and economic trends manifest themselves and interact democratically to work towards a new constitution and a new electoral law.

A genuine democracy must establish participatory budgets locally, so that taxes and budgets are controlled more by communities to strengthen their capacities and sustainable development and to ensure that all relevant laws are widely and horizontally discussed and that all of the are subject to referendum.

And without an internal “blockade,” even if the other persists, so that as Cubans we can see what we are capable of.

If the blockade-embargo were lifted and these obstacles continued, the State would swallow all the loans and only support unproductive state enterprises of interest to the elites to paternalistically continue to govern health and education at a low cost, a pittance for food on the ration book, and precarious levels of wages, pensions, housing support and transportation the majority.

But the bureaucracy does not want socialization nor democratization: they do not want to risk their power and privileges. The fear of losing power is the ultimate cause that prevents these changes. Please, do not frighten them even more. No one needs to be done away with. Do not forget “with all and for the good of all.”

Whoever helps empower the people, whoever helps improve the living conditions of the people, whoever helps people to be more free and able to decide their destinies, to let them be happy and prosperous, whoever would do more for the welfare of the people, would win the greatest popular support.

If we have the United States to thank for all this and the lifting of its “blockade”… you get the idea, reader.

Translator’s notes:
*The Cuban regime insists on calling the US embargo against Cuba “the blockade.”
**In this context “voluntarism” is relying on volunteer labor for major economic activities.