Rebellion in Platanal / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

Santa Isabel de las Lajas.
Santa Isabel de las Lajas.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 28 May 2015 – Just a mention of the name Santa Isabel de las Lajas, a town in the province of Cienfuegos, recalls one of the greatest of all Cuban musicians, Benny Moré, the “Barbarian of Rhythm.” Dancing and fun, joy and youth.

But on the night of May 16 the El Platanal de Bartolo discoteque, in the little homeland of the greatest sonero, was the scene of a minor quarrel of which no one now wants to remember the origin. “Drunkenness,” said a waiter. The point is that someone with sufficient authority decided to end the day on the stroke of midnight, an hour earlier than usual. Hundreds of young people gathered there protested against the measure with all the energy of their age and, in addition, with every right. continue reading

From El Platanal they went toward Marti Park, one of the many in the major towns that serve as a point of rendezvous and conquests. When the police patrol passed through the area in their Chinese-made jeep Number 553, tempers were still running high, so always ready to repress anything that looks like a protest, the uniformed officers warned the boys they were making the rounds and on their return they didn’t want to see anyone there.

Those who had gone out without their IDs, those with something to lose or something to hide, went to their homes, but some 60 preferred to stay… and the patrol car returned. In retaliation for what they interpreted as unspeakable disobedience, they imposed a fine on every person, but there were three who did not accept the outrage and were threatened by one of the police officers with his regulation pistol.

Neither Yoexis Llorente, nor Oscar Luis Santana, nor Miguel Armenteros felt intimidated. They took off their shirts as a sign of protest and told the cops, “Shoot here, in my chest.” Brute force prevailed – on this case the force of arms – and the three were handcuffed and taken to the police station. It’s been 12 days, they still haven’t been formally charged in court, and they remain detained. It’s been said they will be charged with resistance and contempt.

The apparent abyss that separates popular discontent from the political opposition can be leaped in a minute and for unforeseen reasons

Jorge Luis Oliver, an activist in the Reflection Movement in Santa Isabel de las Lajas, said that Miguel Armenteros’s mother told the town’s Communist Party Secretary that she would turn in her Party membership card if her son, recently demobilized from military service, was legally affected by any measure, and that she and the mothers of the other two would take the matter wherever necessary. Including to the “Human Rights people.”

Among the topics discussed at the Tenth Congress of the Young Communist League, there was one identified as “Cultural consumption and recreational options.” Except in some of the provincial capitals, the only thing left for young people in the small towns is walking in the park and drinking alcohol.

There will be no uprising in Lajas, nor any uncontrolled social explosion because a discotheque closed an hour earlier than planned; but the apparent abyss that separates popular discontent from the political opposition can be leaped in a minute and for unforeseen reasons. And no one wants to be the “the fundamental clay” of any experiment in social engineering. At any moment El Platanal de Bartolo, that mythical site of Cuban enjoyment, could be registered as a center of conspiracy.


About 60,000 Havanans Receive Water via Tanker Trucks / Rosa Lopez, 14ymedio

At the end of February the situation got worse because of leaks and electrical problems (14ymedio)
At the end of February the situation got worse because of leaks and electrical problems (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Rosa Lopez, Havana, 25 May 2015 – A sound that is inseparable from the streets of Habana Centro (Central Havana) is the screech of the trucks filled with water, with their metal wheels on the asphalt. This symphony of necessity has become more intense in recent months because of the frequent cuts in supply that the city has undergone due to repairs, breakages and a drought affecting the entire country. More than 58,760 people receive water through tanker trucks, as affirmed, this Monday, in the Trabajadores (Workers) newspaper.

In Havana more than half of the water being pumped is lost in leaks, 20% of which are located in the so-called household networks, inside homes and buildings. For the engineer Antonio Castillo, Deputy Director of Operations for the Havana Water company, the situation is unsustainable in the medium and long term. “Supply basins are like bank accounts. If you deposit, but take out more than you deposit, you have less and less, and if you stop saving, one day you’ll have no money. That happens with the water,” he declared to the official press. continue reading

In late February the situation began to worsen because of the disastrous combination of leaks and electrical problems that caused large losses at La Cuenca Sur reservoir. About 45,000 residents of Habana Vieja, Plaza de la Revolución, Diez de Octubre, Centro Habana and Cerro municipalities in Havana were severely affected.

In order to reduce leaks, sector specialists propose to continue with network rehabilitation plans and impose a new fee on the charge for service for the residential sector. Meanwhile, capital residents are demanding shorter water delivery cycles and a higher quality of the precious liquid. “The water is very hard and this damages the pipes and bathroom iron fittings, that’s why there are so many leaks,” says Ruben, a self-employed plumber in La Lisa municipality.

Capital residents are demanding shorter water delivery cycles and a higher quality of the precious liquid

Others demand, as soon as possible, the enactment of a water law to regulate the consumption of this important natural resource. “Although in December the Council of Ministers approved a stricter policy, they are still indiscriminately wasting something that should be treated as a real treasure,” expressed Yaquelin de la Osa, engineer and promoter of a more focused policy on caring for the environment and natural resources.

Apart from the specialized opinions or those with in the environmental field, the main demands come from a population sector that needs to bring the water into their homes with wheelbarrows, buckets and bottles. “I don’t remember when was the last time that I could take a shower, because for several months I have had to bathe with a pitcher,” says Xiomara, resident of a tenement room at Marqués González street in Centro Habana.

Everyone agrees that repairs to the hydraulic networks are necessary, but the slowness and lack of efficiency with which they are tackled causes discomfort among many Havanans.” This seems like a city after a bombing,” said an owner of rooms for rent for tourists located in Amargura street in in Habana Vieja, who must deal with the holes and trenches in the street every day to find customers. The municipality is being subjected to a replacement of the water networks which will be completed in 2017 and which has a budget of more than 64 million.

I don’t remember when was the last time that I could take a shower, because for several months I have had to bathe with a pitcher

The water that should fall from heaven hasn’t performed as expected in this rainy period. Downpours that flooded parts of the city in late April and early May failed to fill the cachement areas supplying the city. Precipitation was not abundant in the southern provinces of Artemisa and Mayabeque, which are the main sources of supply, nor in the Almendares-Vento basin, which supplies 47% of the water which is destined to Havanans.

As the situation worsens, Havanans wake up trying to detect clouds on the horizon and fall asleep with the sound of the trucks on the pavement.

Translated by Alberto

‘El Sexto’ dedicates his award to his jailers to show them that he is not alone / 14ymedio

Lia Villares collects the award for Danilo Maldonado, "El Sexto” Wednesday in Oslo. (MileydiMC)
Lia Villares collects the award for Danilo Maldonado, “El Sexto” Wednesday in Oslo. (MileydiMC)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 27 May 2105 – The Cuban artist Danilo Maldonado, known as El Sexto, could not collect the 2015 International Vaclav Havel Prize for Creative Dissidence, in the ceremony organized by the Oslo Freedom Forum. The prize, awarded by the Human Rights Foundation (HRF) of New York, was received by the activist Lia Villares, since the graffiti artist has been in prison since last December, charged with contempt, for trying to stage a performance with two pigs decorated with the names “Fidel” and “Raul.”

After presenting a brief music video, with the refrain repeating “Three years [in prison] for two pigs, no,” and closing with the images of a rally to demand freedom for the artist and the phrase, “Contempt should never be avoided,” Villares read a letter written by El Sexto from Villa Marista penitentiary. continue reading

“I want to dedicate this prize also to those who have me in prison, to remind them that I am not alone,” the artist said. The graffiti artist also thanked the Ladies in White, his daughter, the writer Angel Santiesteban (who is also in prison) and the artist Tania Bruguera (arrested this Sunday in front of her house and released shortly afterward).

The other award winners, members of the Sudanese non-violent resistance movement and the Indonesian comic Girifna Sakdiyah Ma’ruf, personally received a representation of the Goddess of Democracy, the iconic statue erected by Chinese students during protests in Tiananmen Square in June 1989.

The Oslo Freedom Forum, which opened Monday in the Norwegian capital and will close on Wednesday, gathers the proponents of freedom and human rights from several countries. This year’s gathering is the Freedom Forum’s seventh, and focuses “on those places where it is impossible to stage protests, which are silenced or attacked, as in Cuba and Russia,” according to its founder, Thor Halvorssen.

Visits by Americans to Cuba rose by 36% between January and May / 14ymedio

Female entertainers take photos with foreign tourists to earn a few convertible pesos. (14ymedio)
Female entertainers take photos with foreign tourists to earn a few convertible pesos. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 26 May 2015 — The number of visits by US citizens to Cuba has increased 36% in the first five months of the year compared to the same period of 2014, according to data released Tuesday by the Associated Press. The figure, which includes travel through third countries to circumvent restrictions on tourist travel, comes from statistics provided by Jose Luis Perello Cabrera, professor at the University of Havana.

In the months that have followed the announcement of restoration of diplomatic relations between Washington and Havana and easing of the rules governing the travel of US citizens to the island, Cuba received 51,458 visits from its neighbor to the north. Of this total, 38,476 traveled directly from the US, while another 12,982 did so through a third country (57% more than in 2014), mainly from Mexico, the Bahamas, Jamaica and the Cayman Islands. continue reading

Between January and early May, visits to the Island from international travelers also rose, for an increase of 14% compared with the same period last year. A total of 1,547,104 tourists came from 206 regions, led by Germany (+ 22%), France (+ 25%), Great Britain (+ 26%) and Spain (+ 16%).

Americans who want to travel to the island must certify that their trip falls into one of 12 categories permitted by law, such as family visits, professional research and support for the Cuban people.

Travel between Cuba and the United States is facilitated by new air links, with maritime routes expected to join them shortly.

“True Intentions”: Brief Sketch of a Long Relationship / 14ymedio, Miriam Celaya

Raul Castro with Barack Obama at a press conference at the Summit of the Americas
Raul Castro with Barack Obama at a press conference at the Summit of the Americas

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 14 May 2015 — Few sentences of the Cuban official discourse have been as well-worn as one that refers to “the true intentions” hiding behind the actions of the US government.

This explains the discomfort that the “Paused General*” feels about the American Interests Section in Havana teaching courses to independent journalists or when they hold teleconferences about digital journalism, among other activities. These “illegal activities” that the US government promotes through its Havana Section even award certificates of studies to its graduates. Because “the true intentions” of the government of that country is for these journalists to undermine the strength and ideological unity of our people, piercing it with the intimidating US influence. continue reading

Beyond the blatant disregard of those studying under the auspices of the US government, the “Emerging President*”, a graduate of who-knows-where, does not seem to rely too much on the strength of his media monopoly or in its capacity to influence the masses despite the proven loyalty of its hired scribes. For this reason he “is worried” – his own words – about this exchange of journalism courses and conferences that run outside the classrooms, so strictly controlled by the government, where many graduates get more credit for their demonstrations of loyalty to the regime than for their academic achievements or their talents.

Brief historical look at the “harmful” American influence in Cuba

An article appearing on the last page of the newsaper Granma (The Teachers’ Lessons, Ronald Suárez Rivas, Wednesday May 13, 2015) supports what is already emerging as a new ideological crusade against American “penetration,” so crucial at this time when the government of the Island strives to make peace with its historic enemy.

The work in question goes back more than 115 years ago when, as part of the US intervention in Cuba, after the end of the war of independence from 1895 to 1898, the US government took the initiative to “contribute to training a group of Cuban teachers, and, as if it had been against their will, they “were taken” to the United States.

But, of course, collaborating in the field of education was not “the true intentions” of the northern government, but “one of Washington’s first concrete actions in the ideological field, intended to directly influence the Cuban people” according to the words of a local historian, quoted by the Granma scribe.

In an effort to rewrite history to suit the Castro-ocracy, important details have been omitted that show that the US influence in Cuba was not all absolutely negative

Obviously, in their wish to rewrite Cuba’s history according to the Castro-ocracy’s taste, both the journalist and the official historian omit some important details recorded by renowned writers and other personalities of the time, documented in the Cuban National Archives, showing that the US influence on the Island had already penetrated deeply, long before the military intervention in the Spanish-Cuban-American war took place. Documents, that, in addition, show that the US intervention was not an absolutely negative event.

An event should be mentioned that, at the time, marked the sensibility of the Cuban people in a special way, and earned the gratitude and affection of the poorest sectors: the assistance provided by the US government to the victims of the Reconcentración de Weyler** (1896-1898).

In early January 1898, at the request of the then president William McKinley, Clara Barton, president of the American Red Cross arrived in Cuba to organize the relief to the reconcentrados. She and the US consul in Havana, with the help of Bishop Santander, toured various towns and cities on the Island and were responsible for the coordination and distribution of food, clothing and medicine that began arriving by sea at the port of Havana, thanks to the solidarity bridge established by a Central Committee on Relief, spontaneously organized by the American people.

The philanthropy demonstrated by the Americans had the additional benefit of raising the awareness of the wealthy sectors on the Island of Cuba, which until then had remained indifferent to the scenes of death and desolation caused by the colonial government and intensified by the incendiary torch of the mambises***, both of which had ruined the Cuban countryside, seriously damaging food production.

It was then that some societies and leading Cuban personalities of the era began organizing fund raisers through dances, opera and theater events, raffles, bullfights, book sales and other activities in order to help the reconcentrados and charitable institutions responsible for helping the poorer sectors, suffering from hunger and epidemics due to their lack of resources.

The philanthropy demonstrated by the Americans had the additional benefit of raising the awareness of the wealthy sectors on the Island.

It is true that the US naval blockade, which began on April 22,1898 and ended on August 14th of that year, temporarily worsened the shortages and general poverty. However, just two months after the war’s end, the tireless Clara Barton was able to restart the bridge of essential help – interrupted since the beginning of the naval blockade — which this time would also be enough to provide help to the insurgent mambises, still camped out in rural villages.

The previous month, a flotilla from the US had already been established, responsible for at least partially supplying food to the markets. Though not enough, the aid from the US was the assistance that reached the Cuban people when they needed it the most.

Later on, the work of Clara Barton in Cuba were aimed at creating the basis for what eventually became the Cuban Red Cross and the first health system through the Casas de Socorro (Free emergency clinics) caring for the poor sectors.  Also under the hand of the occupying American army, important sanitation work took place, the engineering work of planning the new sewer and paving systems were started (its construction began in 1908 and ended in 1913), sanitary facilities were established, and the improvement of the aqueduct commenced.

The “Paused General’s” concern for the danger of US influence on Cubans through independent journalism is untimely

The list of benefits derived from the relationship between Cuba and the United States, going back to the history of our nation, would be too long to finish in one article. Suffice it to note that many poor families in Cuba in recent decades would not be able to survive shortages or escape extreme poverty if it were not for the remittances and aid arriving from that country, to which most Cubans looking for a promising future emigrate.

Beyond “the true intentions” of our powerful Northern neighbor, the “Paused General’s” concern over the danger of the biasing effect of the United States on Cuba through independent journalism is, at the very least, untimely. In reality, Cuba and the US never had more mutual interaction than in the last half a century, and perhaps never before did Cubans count on, with so much hope the prosperity that has always arrived from that country, and now, even more than ever, with over two million Cubans living on its soil. And it can be said, without a doubt, that this all took place thanks to the Cuban Revolution.

Translator’s notes:

*”Without haste, but without pause” has been a catch phrase for Raul Castro, in speaking of economic reforms in Cuba. “Emerging President” is a reference to a former program to fill classrooms lacking ‘regular’ teachers with “emerging teachers” – teenagers with hardly any training.

**Valeriano Weyler y Nicolau, Marquis of Tenerife, Duke of Rubí, Grandee of Spain was a Spanish general and Governor General of the Philippines and Cuba whose Weyler Reconcentration policy was responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Cubans and for the almost complete destruction of the countryside.

***Mambises (plural of mambí) refers to Cuban independence and Filipino guerrillas, who in the nineteenth century took part in the wars for the independence of Cuba and the Philippines against Spain.

Translated by Norma Whiting

They Murdered My Son in the Streets of Camaguey / 14ymedio, Pedro Armando Junco

Mandy Junco killed last Saturday in Camaguey.  (Pedro Junco, Fury of the Winds blog)
Mandy Junco killed last Saturday in Camaguey. (Pedro Junco, Fury of the Winds blog)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Pedro Armando Junco, Camaguey, 22 May 2015 – Pedro Armando Junco Torres, alias “Mandy,” 28 years of age, was stabbed to death in Camaguey in the early morning of Saturday, May 16, a day before the beginning of the rock festival Sounds of the City. Mandy would have participated in it as guitarist and leader of the band Strike Back. His father, writer Pedro Junco, Thursday posted on his blog, The Fury of the Winds, this open letter in which he asks for “true justice.”

They Murdered my Son on the Streets of Camaguey

By Pedro Armando Junco

It is very difficult for me to write. All you mothers and fathers who read these lines, put yourselves in my place. Just for a minute think that it was your son who was stabbed to death in the street at the hands of four killers who did not even know him, who did not even do it to steal from him or to settle accounts. They think that the motivation was to kill, the pleasure of killing. Put yourself there for only one minute and then assimilate what you have felt in your hearts. That is what I am enduring and will endure until the end of my existence. continue reading

I write in order to thank so many people who, in and out of the country, have been at my side recently: the cruelest moments that I have suffered in my long existence. I also do it for so many friends who have not yet heard the news.

Saturday May 16, between 2:40 and 3:00 in the morning, my 28-year-old son: young, beautiful, intelligent, good, was surprised by a foursome of sadistic killers who, for no other purpose than to stab, riddled him with blows and knife wounds. The pathologists found 46 contusions on the body of my beloved Mandy. He was a joyful rocker, always smiling. He had no enemies. He was adored by the most beautiful young women in the city. He was returning from a rock festival, in which he was supposed to participate as a guitarist with his group the following night. Minutes before his murder he spoke with friends about his projects, about the successes he had already achieved and hoped to surpass with each new day, since he was already a professional musician.

I want to put in writing what I feel at this moment. As I said yesterday to a priest, I am angry with God. And I ask him: Lord Almighty, where were you then that you permitted such an injustice? Perhaps you were sleeping so that you did not run to his aid? What debts did we owe you? I believe in you, God Almighty, because you are evident to me, but I doubt your kindness and your justice.

To those who govern my country and dictate the laws; to the members of the courts that say they do justice: how long must one wait before terrifying events like this one receive exemplary punishments? The perpetrators of bloody events go to jails like they were on scholarships, and inside they are trained like graduates, they enjoy monthly visits with their women, they enjoy regular furloughs, and at half their sentence, if they have behaved well, they are granted “conditional” liberty, which many take advantage of to kill with impunity, because now in Cuba the death penalty is not used.

The city of Camaguey is electrified by this event. My son was the third victim of the gang which, that morning, carried out the crime spree. Cases like this emerge almost daily on our streets; but the press, muzzled, is not empowered to disseminate them. And to hide the truth is the most sordid way to lie.

The dismay that overwhelms me will not leave me for as long as I exist. But from now on I will fight with all my strength so that the streets of our city will be truly safe for our young people, whose parents today, horrified, corral them at home. Today it is my turn. Tomorrow the victim might be your child.

Let us demand true justice. Exemplary punishment.

I have been a zealous defender of the right to life. But if the use of the maximum penalty is necessary to save innocent people, then use it.

Translated by MLK

One Year, Despite Censorship / 14ymedio

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 21 May 2015 – The greatest satisfaction we have experienced in this first year of work has been reporting every day and doing it with our own voice with independent judgment, and without compromising with third parties. Having weathered the technological censorship that our digital site has suffered from its birth also fills us with joy. 14ymedio has been blocked on the Island since the first day and continues blocked on the servers that offer Internet access to the population, both in the State-run Nauta Internet rooms as well as in the hotels, but we know that Cubans read us via other ways.

We regret the news stories that have escaped us, not for lack of attention or for not having access to sources. Each fault committed hurts us, but we have learned more from mistakes than from successes. continue reading

In this time we have had the opportunity to interview the majority of the protagonists of Cuban civil society: artists, entrepreneurs of the Island, the diaspora and other foreign personalities interested in the destinies of Cuba. We follow the step-by-step process of détente between the governments of Cuba and United States, as well as the dialogs with the European Union, without ever ceasing to report the abuses against the Ladies in White, the arbitrary detentions of peaceful opponents, and the events seeking unity. We relate people’s catastrophes and fiestas, their tears and laughter. We have ceded space to optimism and to despair.

Our ambition is to become an indispensable reference for everyone who wants to know what is happening in Cuba and also what might happen. Exposing the scenarios, discussing the variables, but also making know the price of malanga, pork or onions and, in addition what they are presenting at the La Zorra Club, or El Cuervo, or the Lark Marx Theater, or El Mejunje. Exposing an invasion of African snails, the fall into disgrace of an untouchable official, or the murder of a transsexual.

Both the 14ymedio team in Havana, as well as our collaborators in the provinces, are learning on the fly. It is true that we have the experience of others on other alternative media before ours, here in Cuba and abroad, who have traveled this path that we are embarked upon, sometimes following in their footsteps and others taking shortcuts or looking for other ways to accelerate the pace.

We boast that we are not only trying to do journalism without partisanship and with professionalism, but also have dabbled in entrepreneurship from the field of information, with the intention that 14ymedio will be a self-sustaining newspaper with a solid economic model. We have not received one cent from governments, political parties or programs in support of democracy. Our newspaper is a business created with the financial support of 15 small private investors, most of them living in Europe, who believe in the project and are betting on change in Cuba.

Our fundamental objective is to maintain the editorial independence that allows us to report on all topics and to criticize any public figure. We take responsibility for everything we publish.

For the immediate future we intend to reach a larger number of Cubans on the Island. Launching an electronic newsletter for readers without access to the Internet is an urgent need we are working on. Applications for iOS and Android that allow our content to be downloaded and read offline must also be on our list in the coming months.

We intend to improve the refresh rate, but without turning our media into one of those “news factories” where the content is measured more by the speed with which it appears on the front page than by its quality. This is an infirmity of modern journalism and we do not want to contribute to the ailment. We want to immerse ourselves in data and research, strengthen our reach on social networks, and delve into genres such as reporting and chronicles, which also figure in our purposes.

The use of audiovisual resources and a clear commitment to innovation will mark our next steps. But above all the commitments, we want to assure our readers that by the next anniversary we will have more reasons for pride. We will continue to do journalism every day, with more professionalism and responsibility toward this society so in need of the oxygen of information.

Cuba and the United States Don’t Agree on a Date for Opening Embassies / 14ymedio

The US delegation in the 4th round of negotiations (Twitter)
The US delegation in the 4th round of negotiations (Twitter)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 22 May 2015 — The fourth round of negotiations between Cuba and the United States to reestablish diplomatic relations ended this Friday without a date for the opening of embassies.

The chief of the US delegation, Robert Jacobsen, confirmed in a press conference in Washington does not believe there will be a fifth round of negotiations. For her part, the director general for the United States in the Cuban Foreign Ministry, Josefina Vidal assured that they would continue working on the issue in the “coming weeks.” continue reading

After a two day meeting between the delegations of both countries, Vidal said that the two sides had “continue to advance” on pending issues and highlighted the “professional and respectful climate” of the meeting.

“Both delegations agree to continue the exchanges about aspects relative to the working of the diplomatic missions,” explained the chief of the Cuban delegation shortly after the Havana Government announced in a communication that there was no progress in the reopening of the embassies and that it will take more meetings.

Jacobson expressed her optimism about the advance toward normalization of diplomatic ties and characterized the meeting of the last two days as “hugely productive,” although she recognized that “it is not an easy task due to the complicated history of relations” between the two countries.

In the talks they also addressed matters of civil aviation, human trafficking, fraud and maritime issues. Vidal affirmed that in the upcoming negotiations there would also be an exchange of information on justice and policing, and health and medicine issues.


So Many Lists Having Nothing to Do With Obama / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

Raúl Castro with Barack Obama at a press conference during the Summit of the Americas.
Raúl Castro with Barack Obama at a press conference during the Summit of the Americas.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 27 April 2015 — A few days back, a commentator on Cuban state television found it “interesting” that Republican Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinan, speaking on behalf of her party, said there would be no opposition in the U.S. Congress to removing Cuba from the list of state sponsors of terror.

This time, the Cuban-American Congresswoman was not disparaged as a “wild wolf,” as the official media christened her back in the days of the campaign for the return of the little boy rafter Elián González to Cuba. If everything goes according to plan, on May 30th, after the 45 days required for the U.S. Congress to ratify the President’s recommendation, Cuba’s name will be erased from the list. continue reading

According to an explanation given by Miguel Díaz-Canel, Cuba’s vice-president, in an interview on April 19th, the significance of Cuba no longer appearing on the list is that from then on the country will be able to qualify for bank loans, as well as undertake other financial activities hitherto denied to it.

Still, will this signal an end to the commercial problems that cripple our imports and trade with the rest of the world?

The removal of Cuba from this list does not automatically mean that it definitely will be included among the countries taken seriously into account when it comes to negotiations, investments, partnerships, and qualifying for loans. Additionally, it does not mean that Cuba would immediately join the ranks of nations attractive to investors and international financial entities. Cuba’s name appears on other negative assessments from which it would be very difficult to erase its name in the short or medium-term.

In the repertoire of nations representing a high risk for investors, Cuba sadly occupies a distinguished spot. It is listed together with countries where it is least recommended to do business. Whether or not Cuba remains on these lists does not depend on Obama’s goodwill. It depends on Cuba complying with specific requirements established by financial entities whose assessments are universally accepted.

Additionally, among countries that tend not to pay their bills, Cuba has earned a notorious standing after decades of not meeting its financial obligations and owing large sums of money to member states of The Paris Club as well as to several others. At the end of the 1980’s, Cuba led the Latin American movement in support of not repaying foreign debts, thus endearing it to the worldwide left, but also earning the country a very negative reputation among those who invest or lend their money.

Cuba’s bad reputation regarding private property has also landed it on several other lists that frighten businesspeople and discourage foreign firms. This is due especially to the official Cuban discourse, which for over half a century has shown contempt towards private ownership of the means of production.

The memories of the massive confiscation of companies, newspapers, sugar mills, and small businesses are still very fresh in the sharp minds of businessmen who do not want to risk their investments, as happened during the Revolutionary Offensive of 1968.*

Additionally, how can Cuba be removed from the list of countries that do not allow independent trade unions, nor freedom of association and expression? Would it be possible, as if by magic, for Cuba to be removed from the list of countries that do not duly protect property owners nor shield them ideological whims without a real reform of its penal code?

Seeing we are no longer on the list of sponsors of terrorism, the Cuban government now seems to be hoping that investments and loans offers will be forthcoming overnight. No matter how paradoxical it may sound, these illusions rest on the government’s presumption that those who may be interested in doing business with the Island are cynics lacking any corporate ethics.

The Cuban authorities will then welcome unscrupulous sweatshops owners, the most heartless of loan sharks, and others who exploit workers who do not have the right to protest and cannot find a decent place to call home.

On what list will Cuba end up then?

*Translators note: In a speech delivered on March 13, 1968, Fidel Castro launched a “revolutionary offensive that would do away with the urban petite bourgeoisie.” By the end of the year the government had confiscated 55,636 small businesses (mostly family-owned and with no more than two employees, ranging from grocery stores to shoe shining stalls) that had survived the first waves of confiscations of the early years of the régime. This move marked the end of private enterprise in Cuba.

Translated by José Badué

‘14ymedio’ seen by its readers / 14ymedio, Rosa Lopez

Printed version of 14ymedio distributed on the island through alternative networks
Printed version of 14ymedio distributed on the island through alternative networks

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Rosa Lopez, Havana, 21 May 2015 – “The connection doesn’t work,” the young man tells the employee who frowns at him for making her get out of her comfortable chair. The heat is terrible and the air conditioning hasn’t worked for weeks in a State-run “Nauta” Internet room centrally located in Havana’s Plaza municipality. The woman approaches listlessly, looks at the screen, types in a some web address and the page opens with no problems. The client returns to the fray, “And why when I type in nothing happens?” A snort is heard throughout the navigation room. “Look son, it is because you can’t enter that site, you understand me?” In a few seconds the internaut has received his first lesson in censorship.

Who in Cuba reads the digital daily 14ymedio? This is the question for which the management of this medium has gone out into street to look for answers and suggestions to improve our work. We have surveyed different age groups, political viewpoints, and geographic situations, to try to trace a map of those Cubans who have in front of their eyes some of the content that we publish on the site. continue reading

An initial incursion along busy G Street, last Saturday night, shed light on some of those followers or detractors. “Ah, yes, I’ve had a copy for some months, but they publish almost nothing on videogames,” although, “my dad likes it because it talks about politics and that stuff,” says Juan Carlos Zamora, 19, a student at the Pedagogical Institute. “A friend told me about the newspaper, but I would recommend more topics for young people, like fashion and technology,” added this young man.

Since the day it was founded, 14ymedio has been blocked on the national servers that provide public Internet. Internet rooms, connections from hotels and other state locales show an error message on the screen when someone tries to access the portal. A PDF version published every Friday, with the best of the week’s news and an active network of friends and colleagues, is distributed within the country. The appearance in February of last year of Nauta email service has also contributed to the spread of the content, although there is much more to do in that direction.

For Marcia Sosa, a retired civil engineer living in Santiago de Cuba, “The best part is the list of prices for products in the farmers market, because you can see how expensive life is.” The lady receives the content of our site by email, because, “My son sends it to me every day from Miami, but without the images because that takes too long to load.” The retiree believes that “they should open a section saying where to find what product, because sometimes I’m like a crazy person looking all over and not knowing where to find it.” What she likes least, however, are “the opinion columns, because here everyone has an opinion, there are 11 million Cubans and 20 million opinions.”

In the city of Ciego de Avila, Ruben Rios has taken on the task of sharing with his friends copies of the 14ymedio articles that come his way. “I do it because I believe people should hear all versions, although I don’t agree with part of what you publish.” Recently released from prison, Rios has dedicated himself to getting his life back, “and informing myself is a way of feeling free, so I read everything that comes to hand and I am lucky that the newspaper comes my way.”

In the guts of 14ymedio, Juan Carlos Fernandez finds that his work on the team “Has been a liberating experience.” For this activist and reporter, writing for the digital site is not only “a democratic exercise, but also it is a very serious project.” He remarks with pride, “This is the prelude of the new press that is coming, the prelude of freedom of the press, of democracy.” However, he concedes that there is a long way to go to improve the quality and elevate the training of the press’s reporters and correspondents. “This is a school for me, now I have to publish every article with more objectivity.”

Yunier receives the articles appearing in our independent daily through the so-called “Marta’s list.” A Cuban immigrant living in Miami who participated in December 2004 in the founding of the digital magazine Consenso (Consensus), one of the first embryos of the independent press that took advantage of the new technologies. Marta Cortizas performs the true “labor of a little ant” compiling every day the best of the Cuban and international press and sending it by email to a growing number of subscribers. “If it weren’t for her, it would cost me a lot of work to read what you publish from Holguin.”

And why is it called 14ymedio, asks a resident of the Fanguito neighborhood when we inquire about our portal. With long experience standing in lines and counting every gram she receives from the ration market, the elderly lady is sure that behind a name like this, “there has to be something hidden, a warning… come on.” She doesn’t accept the explanation about the 14th floor where our headquarters are located, the “Y” from a well-known digital blog, nor the polysemy of “medio” in Spanish, which means both “half” and “press media.” “There is some trick here, some mathematical formula or who knows,” she concludes maliciously.

Not everyone likes it, which is evidence of the plurality of tastes and information preferences of the Cuban population. “I haven’t read it, I’m not going to read it, because I don’t have to visit this site to know that you want to destroy the country and do away with the Revolution,” says Nelson Bonne. A self-employed worker in Las Tunas, the man considers that “The [the State run newspaper] Granma is enough for me, and I don’t need any little newspaper created by the enemy.”

The director of the magazine Convivencia (Coexistence), Dagoberto Valdes, has a more constructive opinion. “To have a newspaper made in Cuba, by Cubans and for Cubans, is for me the best, and we are going to all push together to get access to the Internet so that we Cubans can look into this window.”

The Risks of Journalism / Yoani Sanchez

Generation Y, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 21 May 2015 – If you has asked me a year ago what would be the three greatest challenges of the digital newspaper 14ymedio, I would have said repression, lack of connection to the Internet, and media professionals being afraid to work on our team. I did not imagine that the another obstacle would become the principal headache of this informative little paper: the lack of transparency in Cuban institutions, which has found us many times before a closed door and no matter how hard we knock, no one opens or provides answers.

In a country where State institutions refuse to provide the citizen with certain information that should be public, the situation becomes much more complicated for the reporter. Dealing with the secrecy turns out to be as difficult as evading the political police, tweeting “blind,” or becoming used to the opportunism and silence of so many colleagues. Information is militarized and guarded in Cuba as if there is a war of technology, which is why those who try to find out are taken, at the very least, as spies. continue reading

Belonging to an outlawed media makes the work even more problematic, and gives a clandestine character to a job that should be a profession like any other. Now, if we look at “the glass half full,” the limitation of not being able to access official spaces has freed us, in 14ymedio, from that journalism of “statements” that produces such harmful effects. To quote an official, to collect the words of a minister, or to transcribe the official proclamation of a Party leader, has been for decades the refuge of those who do not dare to narrate the reality of this country.

Lacking a press credential to enter an event, we have approached its participants in a less controlled setting, one where they have felt more free to speak

Our principal limitation has become the best incentive to seek out more creative ways of to inform. Government silence about so many issues has motivated us to find other voices that can relate what happened. Lacking a press credential to enter an event, we have approached its participants in a less controlled setting, one where they have felt more free to speak. From Federica Mogherini, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, who answered several of our questions outside the press conference where our access was denied, to employees who alert us in whispers about an act of corruption in their companies or anonymous messages that put us on the trail of an injustice.

It has also been hard to work out our true role as providers of information, which is different from the role of a judge, a human rights activist and a political opponent. It is our role to make facts visible, so that others can condemn or applaud them. In short, as journalists we have the responsibility to inform, but not the power to impute.

Nor can we justify our failings because we are outlawed, persecuted, stigmatized and rejected. No reader is going to forgive us if we are not in the exact place of history’s twists and turns.

Cuba has 11,000 sources of pollution that affect water / 14ymedio, Rosa Lopez

Ditch with sewage from the town of Guanabo, east of Havana. (Luz Escobar)
Ditch with sewage from the town of Guanabo, east of Havana. (Luz Escobar)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Rosa Lopez, Havana, 20 May 2015 – On World Environment Day, this coming 5 June, Cuba will have 11,000 sources of pollution that affect ground water and coastal areas. This information was updated by Odalis Goicochea, Director of the Environment at that Ministry of Science, Technology and Environment (CITMA), in a press conference Monday.

The figure is very alarming, especially when we take into account our dwindling water reserves. 2014 was the driest year reported since the beginning of this century, and 2015 looks like it wants to compete for this negative record. With a long and narrow island and with no major surface or underground water resources, the country needs to do a better job of managing its waste stream to protect the water. continue reading

The town of Guanabo, east of Havana, is a clear example of the drama that is damaging our most precious natural resource. Part of the sewage from the urban area ends up in the sea and is mixed with the water where people swim. In some areas, the air stinks from the waste exposed in ditches and ponds, becoming an epidemiological danger and contributing to environmental degradation in areas crossed by the filth.

2014 was the driest year reported since the beginning of this century, and 2015 looks like it wants to compete for this negative record

The residents have appealed to every agency, even writing complaints to the “Letters to the Editor” section of the newspaper Granma. However, the town continues down the slippery slope of apathy and ecological damage. “Before this was a nice beach, when families came with their children, but now the number of people coming is greatly diminished,” says Agustin, a resident of the area who has a home where he hosts tourists near to the famous Horses of Guanbo.

According to the latest report from CITMA, Cuba needs large investments in the environment, although the text also stressed that the provinces of Villa Clara, Holguin and Artemisa have improved environmental management in recent years, such that the latter has been selected to host the activities for World Environment Day. But there is a long road ahead, especially in the proper recycling of waste, the creation of a social conscience of respect for nature and the application of legal penalties to entities and individuals who contribute to the deterioration of the environment.

The country urgently needs to begin implementing solutions, because every day that passes water is slipping through the fingers of indolence.

May 20, That Hole in Our Memory / Reinaldo Escobar

On 20 May 1902, Cuba gained its independence from the United States of America
On 20 May 1902, Cuba gained its independence from the United States of America

Desde Aqui, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 20 May 2015 — Yesterday I invited my granddaughters to get ice cream. To boast of her knowledge, the oldest, who is in the third grade, said to me: “Today marks the 120th anniversary of the death in combat of José Martí, our National Hero.” She said it with the same pride in wisdom with which one day, many years ago, I alerted my parents to the fact that the earth was round.

“And tomorrow, May 20, what will we celebrate?” I asked her, imitating the emphasis of schoolteacher. Almost arrogantly she responded, “On May 20 nothing happened.”

As she was born in the 21st Century I invited her to look for the significance of the date on a phone app containing Wikipedia, which she could consult without an Internet connection. Surprise! The text there reads: “1902: Cuba achieves independence from the United States of America.” continue reading

But the newspaper Granma wasn’t having it: In the top right corner of the last page, where anniversaries often appear under the heading “Today in History,” it said: “1902: The neocolonial republic was installed in Cuba.”

I can foresee that in the future, that bright morning of the first day of the year will not be remembered as the end of a dictatorship, but as the beginning of another

The protagonists of History are not to blame for how the future interprets their acts. For example, the massacred aboriginals who inhabited our beautiful island never could have suspected the enthusiasm with which Cubans would celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Spanish colonial settlements. The people of Bayamo who watched their properties burn could never have imagined the degree of voluntary unanimity today attributed to the glorious fire of 1869. No one could have convinced those who lost a son, a father, a brother in the bloody events of 26 July 1953, that that date would be a national holiday.

On May 20, 1902 dozens of countries around the world publicly recognized the advent of Cuba as an independent nation. The joy was massive, sincere and overwhelming. And I do not say unrepeatable because 56 years later there was a first of January on which Cubans never thought that a tyrannical regime would be installed in Cuba.

I can foresee that in the future, that bright morning of the first day of the year will not be remembered as the end of a dictatorship, but as the beginning of another. Nor that when my great-grandchildren are asked what happened on that date, they will respond “nothing happened that day.”

Tania Bruguera’s Tribute to Hannah Arendt Worries Cuban State Security / 14ymedio

Tania Bruguera during her performance (14ymedio)
Tania Bruguera during her performance (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 20 May 2015 — Wednesday morning the artist Tania Bruguera began more than 100 hours of consecutive reading, analysis and discussion of Hannah Arendt’s book The Origins of Totalitarianism. The event, which started in the presence of a dozen people, began in the “International Artivism Institute,” which is named after the renowned German philosopher.

The artistic action comes just at a time when galleries and cultural centers throughout the entire city are engaged in getting ready for the start, this coming Friday, for the Havana Biennial. Bruguera is not invited to the official event, but has joined the alternative artists’ circuit staging performances, expositions and shows of their current works.

Hours before the reading, Bruguera was visited by two members of State Security, who expressed their concern because the artist had bought audio equipment. They also let her know that they were aware that she intended to “go out into the street” at the conclusion of the event and warned her not to do so.

According to what was made known in the announcement, the newly opened Hannah Arendt International Artivism Institute, “proposed to provide a platform for research into the theoretical-practical approach for a socially committed art, and for a specific political moment.” Its headquarters is located in Bruguera’s home, at 214 Tejadillo Street, in Old Havana.

Yoani Sanchez Wins 2015 Knight International Journalism Award / 14ymedio

Logo of the International Center for Journalists
Logo of the International Center for Journalists

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, 19 May 2015 – The director of 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, has won the 2015 Knight International Journalism Award, the International Center for Journalists reported today. Priyanka Dubey, an independent Indian journalist has won the same award for exposing the atrocities of rapes, child trafficking and forced labor through her in-depth reporting, despite threats from human traffickers and gangs in her country.

The award, which will be delivered in Washington DC on November 10, has as its objective to honor journalists who, through pioneering work or technological innovation, have produced high-quality information and news that has had a significant impact on the lives of people in the developing world. continue reading

Yoani Sánchez has overcome censorship, arrests and poor Internet access to give the world a rare glimpse of daily life under Cuba’s communist regime and to open the door for other independent voices” read a press note on the announcement.

“Our winners this year show uncommon resolve in tackling censorship and sexual violence,” said ICFJ President Joyce Barnathan. “Thanks to their courageous reporting, Cuba’s closed society is more open and India’s democratic society is more responsive to the plight of abused women.”

“These winners are committed to upholding the best principles of journalism—acting as information leaders in communities that need it most and capturing stories in new and innovative ways,” said Jennifer Preston, Knight Foundation vice president for journalism. “Their work continues to have wide impact and holds valuable lessons,” she concluded.