Unusual “bomb alert” at the Carlos III Market / 14ymedio, Miriam Celaya

Interior of Carlos III Market in downtown Havana. (14ymedio)
Interior of Carlos III Market in downtown Havana. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, Havana | August 18, 2015 — A crowd of shoppers and dozens of neighbors in the vicinity stood together at around 3 PM last Monday across from the popular Carlos III Market, in the capital municipality of Centro Habana. In a matter a minutes, and in a flurry of confusion, they had been forced to evacuate all shopping departments, eateries and entertainment areas due to a “bomb threat”.

The emblematic shopping center was shut down, and employees responsible for its security, who almost never have anything to do other than to check out the bags of customers suspected of theft, fluttered from one side to the other, trying to keep away the curious while exchanging details in their walkie-talkies, in a showy display worthy of a Hollywood action film like those that air on Cuban TV on Saturday nights. They had become the heroes of the day and were enjoying their role.

We are the only people who, instead of running away, stand around in a place where the possibility of a bomb exploding has just been announced. continue reading

There is so much national apathy here that Cubans are probably the only people who, instead of running away, stand around in a place where the possibility of a bomb exploding has just been announced. However, seeing that nothing was happening that was worthy of more attention, the crowd started to disperse gradually, and towards 6 PM there were barely a handful of neighbors hanging around, more entertained than concerned about an event that broke the neighborhood’s daily routine.

This was the moment this casual writer chose to innocently approach the security guard in charge of controlling the wrought iron fence at the market’s side entrance on Árbol Seco Street, to find out why they had closed before the regular time. “We have a special situation,” a very serious and circumspect guard responded. “And why is that, is there a fire, a new assault on Western Union, another gas leak like the one a few months back?”

Then I felt a hand on my shoulder. It belonged to a young man in his thirties who had quietly come over to us and had witnessed the brief dialogue. His Suzuki motorcycle, parked at the curb, by the sidewalk, betrayed his status as an agent of the State Security. He approached in a friendly and conciliatory – even condescending – manner: “No. We are going to tell this comrade the truth,” he directed his comment to the uniformed guard, who instantly turned into an unwelcome guest. Then, turning towards me, his hand still on my shoulder, informed me there was a “bomb threat” at the market, and, for security reasons, they had evacuated the place. The threat had been phoned in; they were not even sure whether the bomb had been placed at this store or at another one, so they had decided to close several shops since the previous day, as a precaution.

“Any Cuban might be a mercenary of the Islamic State. We have to be better informed, comrade! Don’t you know what the internet is?” the security dude told me.

I put on my best face of shock and disbelief. “A bomb… in Cuba? Are you sure about that? And if the threat has been known since yesterday, why is the market closed today? A lot of us could have blown up, right?” The agent began to lose his good demeanor and withdrew his affectionate hand from my shoulder: “But why are you surprised, comrade? Don’t you know there was an Italian tourist who died because of a bomb at a Cuban hotel?” I responded: OK, but that was a bomb, not a threat. As far as I know, nobody has placed a bomb in Cuba and later warned that he did. That is something you see in American movies. People who place bombs prefer to let them explode without warning.

By now the young man was showing real disgust with this exasperating inquisition. “Look, comrade, everyone knows that after the triumph of the Revolution there have been lots of bombs and counterrevolutionary terrorist attempts where lots of innocent people have died.” I nodded and added “You’re right, this thing about bombs is nothing new. Even before the Revolution there were revolutionary ‘Action and Sabotage’ groups of the July 26th Movement that would place bombs and petards [pipe-bombs} in movie theaters, parks, and other public places.”

It was a low blow on my part, I know. This time, my impromptu instructor was momentarily speechless, he looked at me suspiciously and began to lose his temper, but he still did not quit his lesson. “Listen, comrade, you should get better informed. Look, if you have any relatives abroad, ask them to tell you what is in the cable news. There is a terrorist group called ISIS that has branches throughout the world, and Cuba has become part of the world and we are globalized, so any Cuban might be a mercenary of the Islamic State, just like the one that was going to place a bomb but was arrested in Florida recently. Are you listening? Ask your relatives to inform you. You need to get better informed, comrade, you have to get in tune with the times! Don’t you know what the internet is?”

“We need to consider that there are many in Florida who don’t want relations between Cuba and the US. I bet they have something to do with the bomb.”

That was the foot in the door I had been waiting for. ”Let me tell you something, young man, as far as I know, we Cubans are so well informed by Granma, all of the national media and Telesur that we don’t need any foreign news show, internet or any cable to know what is happening in Cuba and in the world. What’s more, if they don’t mention this in the national TV news, the business about the bomb is another enemy hoax to sow fear in the population. What’s more, I fail to see any team of firemen, cops, or street closings. People continue to circulate throughout the area and employees continue inside the market. What kind of bomb is it that can only kill customers?”

Obviously, the agent had no answer to that, so he ended the conversation and improvised a crumb: “That’s another matter. We need to consider that there are many in Florida who don’t want relations between Cuba and the US. I bet they have something to do with the bomb.”

I could not help laughing, “Well, finally! It had been slow in coming. So we no longer have an imperialist enemy and now we invent another one. OK. We need to keep up the belligerence somehow. What would happen to the Revolution if it became orphaned of its enemies?”

Suddenly, the young security dude realized that he had been the victim of a scam and scowled, but it was in vain. People around us laughed heartily. An old neighbor from across the street sealed the brief episode with a solemn sentence, “A bomb was placed 56 years ago but it has failed to explode!” A general peal of laughter was the most convincing popular judgment on this unusual “bomb threat” in the Carlos III Market.

Translated by Norma Whiting

Food Shortages Are Getting Much Worse / 14ymedio, Rosa Lopez

The shortages and high food prices have led many retirees to stand in line for others.(14ymedio)
The shortages and high food prices have led many retirees to stand in line for others.(14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Rosa Lopez, Havana, 19 August 2015 – She boasts that she “walks all over Havana” and there isn’t a single store, market or point of sale she doesn’t know about. “I have a family to feed and for years I’ve also taken advantage of my walks to tell the neighbors where they can get something,” sais Maria Eugenia, 58, who these days never stops repeating, “everything is bare.” The food shortage has gotten worse in recent weeks and the situation has reached crisis levels in many places.

“There is no chicken, no chopped soy-meat, no sausages, and never mind meat,” details this stubborn housewife. The refrigerators in the stores of the Cuban capital have hardly any merchandise and in many cases the cooling system has even been turned off, to avoid wasting electricity. “People don’t know what is happening, because they don’t explain it on television,” the lady complains. continue reading

Few markets are spared the deficit in products. Ultra, a store in the heart of Central Havana, is one of the most affected. “It’s been days with no supply of chicken and when it comes it’s very little, people have even come to blows the get a package,” an employee who preferred to remain anonymous explained to 14ymedio. On Tuesday, a sign proudly announced, “We have butter,” but there was nothing else to see in the windows of the meat and freezer departments.

If they would at least carry hot dogs,” a woman with her baby pleaded, looking over the empty shelves. The frustrated customer was talking about the chicken sausages imported from the United States, Canada or Brazil, one of the food products in greatest demand among the Cuban population, given its low price and the number of hot dogs included in each package.

The last week dozens of telephone calls crossed the city to let family and friends know that “sliced mortadella is available” in the store at San Lazaro and Infanta. The message was brief and accompanied by a “hurry, before it runs out.” Two hours after the product processed by the Canadian firm Golden Maple was put on sale, this newspaper was able to confirm that it had run out.

“There’s no powdered milk anywhere,” bellowed a young man outside the Carlos III Plaza Monday morning. With a mother who had recently suffered a hip fracture, he shouted, “I must get milk,” perhaps hoping to reach the ears of any underground seller passing through the area.

There is a particular shortage of products from the United States. The import figures from that country have plummeted in the last year. If in the first quarter of 2014 the island imported $160 million in food from the US, in 2015 that figure has barely reached $83 million, according to MartiNoticias.

The effects of this decline are visible in the shops. “Every day it is more difficult to cook and give food to the children,” says Yanisbel, a 34-year-old mother of two, one of which is gluten intolerant. The woman was surprised that, “with all the contact we have now with the yumas (Americans) we’re no longer seeing the products that used to come from that country.” As an example he mentions frozen chicken, ground soy-meat, various kinds of tomato sauce.

The lack of liquidity to pay cash in advance for purchases from the U.S. has dented what seemed to be a growing trade. Moreover, the Cuban government’s poor credit history and unpaid debts does not favor the search for new suppliers.

The drop in imports cannot be made up for by a rebound in domestic products. “There is no significant increase in the production of food,” says the economist Karina Galvez. A reality that contradicts Point 184 of the Political and Social Economy Guidelines that urge, “the replacement of imports with foods that can be efficiently produced in the country.”

During the last session of Parliament, Marino Murillo Jorge, Minister of Economy and Planning, confirmed missed production targets, among them the delivery of fresh milk to the industry, which fell 13 million liters shorts.

With regards to the shortages of products in the hard currency stores, the official attributed it to the late arrival of imports and announced a set of provisions to better serve that market. More than a month later, the effects of these measures haven’t been felt on the plates of Cubans.

Who Has Barack Obama Betrayed? / 14ymedio, Juan Carlos Fernandez

Raul Castro and Barack Obama greet each other for the first time at the funeral of Nelson Mandela in South Africa
Raul Castro and Barack Obama greet each other for the first time at the funeral of Nelson Mandela in South Africa

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Juan Carlos Fernandez, Pinar del Rio, 18 August 2015 — The restoration of diplomatic relations between the governments of Cuba and the United States is leaving a trail of reactions. Cuban civil society on both shores shows two positions with many nuances, on the one hand those in favor of the process and on the other those who are against it.

From those against it a sharp rebuke against President Barack Obama is heard, accusing him of being “a traitor to the cause of Cuban freedom.” However, to think that the occupant of the White House embarked on such an adventure alone and on his personal initiative is crazy. continue reading

It is likely that the American president is anxious to change the direction of American policy toward Cuba. But he never would have succeeded if he had not had the support of a considerable number of legislators, both Republicans and those of his own party. So this political move represents the culmination of a strategy gestated before his arrival at the White House, and one whose principal protagonists were the so-called “pressure groups.”

Among what are also called “lobbies,” the powerful group representing commercial interests in the agricultural sector has led several initiatives of rapprochement toward the island. It has also promoted lifting the embargo and normalizing relations with the Cuban government. The reasons for this push in the direction of normalization are economic, but also political.

On the commercial side, American businesses are at a fundamental disadvantage with the restrictions against Cuba. Meanwhile, on the political side they argue that US influence in the region has declined considerably, thanks in large part to the conflict with Cuba’s communist government, and China has stepped in.

A portion of US civil society has also exerted pressure to take the path of diplomatic normalization. Involved in this crusade has been the radical left, as well as unions, cultural organizations, NGOs, religious groups and academics.

Barack Obama, however, is the person responsible for the political insight to take advantage of the hemispheric situation, with Venezuela in a free fall, and serious internal problems in Bolivia, Ecuador and Brazil. Meanwhile, inside the island a profound economic crisis seems to have no end, there are grave social problems, and Fidel Castro is practically out of the political game.

Beyond that ability, Obama also responded to a demand from his people, represented by civil society pressure groups. To ignore them would represent political suicide for the next Democratic candidate. Surveys have proved him right, with more than 60% of Americans looking favorably on the initiative he has promoted with respect to Cuba.

Moreover, to accuse Obama of treason will not change what happened last 17 December and lays on him a responsibility that belongs to thousands of people. On the other hand, the fact that the Cuban leaders now shake hands with their neighbor to the north does not give them carte blanch to do whatever they want. This they know very well in the Plaza of the Revolution.

Health Alert Causes Big Losses For The Self-Employed / 14ymedio, Fernando Donate Ochoa

The Candonga market. (Donate Fernando Ochoa / 14ymedio)
The Candonga market. (Donate Fernando Ochoa / 14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio,  FernandoDonate  Ochoa, Holguin, 18 August 2015 — The cholera outbreak affecting Holguin has gone way beyond the health problem and become a drag on economic activity.

The health authorities in the province have issued a set of transitional measures that restrict the manufacture and sale of food and drinks in eating establishments. The measures, designed to protect public health, are affecting public and private entities by the absence of a plan to cushion the effects on the economy.

The new regulation only authorizes the sale of canned and industrially packaged liquids. Beer and soda in bulk, for its part, will be offered exclusively in the eating establishments specifically authorized to do so and will be dispensed in unused disposable cups or glass containers. continue reading

Among the food products restricted are cold salads, appetizers with homemade mayonnaise and foods with sauces or dressings. Also suspended is the sale of raw seafood and shellfish such as oysters.

“They closed everything, but we do not receive financial compensation from the government. Nor does the Insurance Company include a policy to protect us in these cases,” protests Maximo Tejedor Avila, a 65-year-old entrepreneur who has a stand in La Condonga, an area near the Calixto Garcia stadium. The self-employed man laments the great loses his business wlll suffer this year, with the suspension of the carnivals and the regulation of good sales.

La Candonga, with thirty outlets, is an open space for privately run food stands, open for over two decades and the most frequented by Holguin residents.

Now, uncertainty has taken over the place. Romario Céspedes Ferrer, one of the first of the self-employed who started their sales in that area, says it is the first time “they have indefinitely closed these food businesses.”

For now, the only instrument the self-employed have to remedy the situation, is the application of a temporary suspension of their permits, a mechanism that would allow them to at least avoid paying taxes as long as they cannot exercise their activity. Many food workers have initiated the request, which is in process, as they still do not know what will be the resolution of authorities. Others, meanwhile, have continued selling some products in secret, with the aim of reducing their losses.

A similar situation faces self-employed people involved in food services working outside the Dagoberto Sanfield Intercity Bus Terminal in the city of Holguin. The whole city is under strict observation by a body of inspectors, who supervise volunteers workers who inspect homes and soldiers who have joined the fight against dengue fever and cholera.

Farinas Says Latest Arrests Show The Cuban Regime’s Insecurity / 14ymedio

Guillermo Fariñas during the Cuban National Meeting in Puerto Rico. (Martí Noticias)
Guillermo Fariñas during the Cuban National Meeting in Puerto Rico. (Martí Noticias)

14ymedio biggerEFE/14ymedio, San Juan, Puerto Rico, 17 August 2015 — The dissident Guillermo Fariñas, winner of the European Parliament’s Sakharov Prize for Human Rights, told EFE Monday, speaking from the Puerto Rican capital, that the arrests recorded last weekend in Cuba are a sign of insecurity of the regime in Havana.

Fariñas, who participated in the closing ceremony in San Juan of the first Cuban National Conference, said the regime in Havana “was left without enemies” after the rapprochement with the US Government.

“The battle is now with the Cuban citizen, because the enemy is the people,” said Fariñas, shortly after the issuance of the Declaration of San Juan, which contains the outcome of the meeting begun last Thursday in the Puerto Rican capital in which a hundred dissidents coming from Cuba and elsewhere participated. The declaration marks the steps to follow in the coming months. continue reading

Fariñas emphasized that the approach to Washington has not decreased the intolerance of the Raul Castro regime. “They demand tolerance from everyone, but also ask to be left to do,” whatever they want, he said.

Fariñas is a part of the opponents of the regime in Havana gathered in San Juan to study a common strategy of opposition to the Government of Cuba, both inside and outside the island.

These Cuban dissidents called today for the unity of those who fight against the Castro regime during the closing ceremony of the conference.

The Declaration adopted at the conference said that the purpose of the meeting was “to seek ways to reconcile the work of the pro-democracy forces with the commitment to restore sovereignty and all their fundamental rights to the Cuban people.”

Fidel Castro’s Legacy for Cuba / 14ymedio, Jose Gabriel Barrenechea

Fidel Castro during an interview with journalist Barbara Walters for 'ABC' in 1977
Fidel Castro during an interview with journalist Barbara Walters for ‘ABC’ in 1977

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Jose Gabriel Barrenchea, Holguin, 15 August 2015 — For many, Fidel Castro has been “a light in the street and darkness at home.”* Although I don’t believe that either outside or inside Cuba’s borders this gentleman has illuminated a new path for humanity, I have to admit there is some truth in such a vision of his role in history. More than with doctors and teachers, Fidel Castro has performed an invaluable service for Latin Americans, behaving like those knuckleheads in the classroom who practice the sport of attracting to themselves the wrath of the teacher.

Many countries in Latin America, if not all, have benefited at some point from the role assumed by Fidel’s Cuba against Washington. They only had to sit at a desk and assume the face of an exploited lamb while the fractious Caribbean big guy assumed the defense of their rights with equal or more fervor than they themselves.

What’s more, in this role, the merit belongs not to Fidel Castro himself. It is unquestionable that he has been the first and only Latin American leader who has seriously challenged the hemispheric hegemony of the United States. But he achieved it for no reason other than the fortunate circumstance of having been born in Cuba. In short, the only merit of the Revolutionary Fidel Castro was to have been carried away by the explosion of expansive nationalism that this people of extremes experienced in the middle of the twentieth century. continue reading

However, as a revolutionary or as a tyrant, it is indisputable that Fidel Castro has truly brought about a dense darkness “in our house.” It is quite possible that only Captain General Valeriano Weyler was more disastrous for Cuba than what has resulted from this offspring of one of the little soldiers Spain sent here to fight against the desire of our ancestors to be free and independent.

Fidel Castro’s refusal to act For example, his refusal to act as a politician, that is with responsibility, put the country at the edge of the abyss during the missile crisis, in October of 1962.

For example, his refusal to act as a politician, that is with responsibility, put the country at the edge of the abyss during the missile crisis, in October of 1962. Indeed, one can admire and be proud of the fortitude with which the Cuban people faced the threat of nuclear holocaust, however frightened they were and opposed to the way in which their leader was stubbornly dragging it towards them. Nor did he channel in realistic ways the explosion of Cuban vital energy of the mid-twentieth century. Fidel Castro behaved not as a hero, but was a huge disgrace to his countrymen.

On assuming power in 1959, Fidel Castro took over a country that needed to find a new base of economic to assure the level of prosperity previously — but no longer — enjoyed, that had been shared out, with its vagaries, for more than a century. Since 1926, more or less, the Cuban economic model. based on the production and export of huge quantities of raw sugar, was in crisis. Such was the magnitude of this crisis, that from that year productive investments were not realized in the sugar industry. Despite the general will of the nation to improve the living standards of all its members, it was impossible to do so in the case of farm laborers. As would be shown in the sixties, it was absolutely unsustainable to increase the wages of the manual cane cutters, without destroying the profitability of the entire sugar industry.

After achieving full national sovereignty in the Revolution, it was a fundamental duty of the new rulers to put Cuba back on the path of prosperity.

However, Fidel Castro, in his nearly half century of governance, did nothing realistic with respect to it. Absolutely unable to deal with complex and non-linear economic problems, he always thought that, as on any feudal estate in his native Birán, the omnipotent will of the owner was enough to advance a modern economy of the then not insignificant size of Cuba’s.

Fidel always thought that, as on any feudal estate in his native Birán, the omnipotent will of the owner was enough to advance a modern economy of the then not insignificant size of Cuba’s 

Ultimately, his solution was not to convert the sugar industry into a modern sugar-chemical complex, as Ernesto Guevara had dreamed in the early sixties. Fidel Castro, pathologically incapable of doing anything good in economics, decided call on that other field that he seemed to give himself to so well: politics. If Fidel’s Cuba has experienced anything, at least from 23 December 1972 until today, it has been the economic exploitation of a dispute with the United States, more or less exacerbated any time it suited him. How? By presenting himself as the ideal ally of everyone who, in a world fill of such characters, had some ax to grind with the Americans.

By not solving the principal economic problem he just exacerbated the main danger to the nation: the lack of an non-precarious economic base that would assure credible levels of prosperity in a nation that had previously enjoyed a fairly high standard of living. Combined with very close proximity and easy communication with the United States, 1950s Cuba was in the same situation as a small planet that gets too close to an extremely massive one, ending up shattered into pieces with its remains devoured by the giant.

It was already clear in those years that, with no solution to its economic base, the nation would confront in the ‘60s and ‘70s a massive exodus of Cubans to the United States. Without any perspectives of work that would assure them the level of prosperity of their grandparents, or at least one that would compare to the neighbors to the south, there was no doubt that many Cubans would end up leaving with their families for the US. On the horizon, in addition, was the fear of the possibility of a resurgence of the previously overcome tendencies to desire Cuba’s annexation to the United States.

As would be expected in someone so impetuous, a Fidel Castro was caught flat-footed on the economic problem and tried to attack the danger directly… and to extract some advantage. As a leopard doesn’t change its spots, he tried to politicize it.

Those who left Cuba were businessmen, doctors, technicians, artists and generally a contingent of people with the values, skills and knowledge necessary to build a modern and prosperous society.

In a complex feedback process, Fidel Castro exacerbated the internal differences to the same extent that an ever greater human contingent continued what was already in the 1950s a natural tendency of Cubans to move. By 1965, a tenth of the population had emigrated to the United States, a human capital that few nations in the world of that era would have been able to display. Businessmen, doctors, technicians, artists and generally a contingent of people with the values, skills and knowledge necessary to build a modern and prosperous society.

After that, in the 1960s, we lost the sector of the population with the least affinity to his absolute authoritarianism, and he established immediate and complete control over the movements of the citizens who remained. Anyone, even the most humble seller of lollipops without any special knowledge or skills for national development, needed the express authorization of the Castro regime authorities in order to emigrate.

And at first it was almost impossible to get, at least until the eighties. Beginning in that decade Fidel Castro, by the confluence of many factors, increasingly relaxed his immigration policy. The main reason was the growing unrest.

Under his government, he had created a technical and professional sector much larger than the needs of the island. A large sector that found no possibilities for personal fulfillment in a country that first experienced the gradual withdrawal of the Soviet aid, and later its total disappearance. An extensive new opposition anticipated on the horizon, against which he might appeal to violence, although certainly not with the expected results, because already the international context wouldn’t support it. Alternately he could dip into the old standby of opening the path to emigration. Thus, this became the Cuban substitute for the Soviet gulag. Those who didn’t get on well in His Cuba could emigrate, or at least he was hoping they would, and this neutralized any desire they might have to fight.

The result of the total politicization of the life of the Cuban nation could be evaluated as of 31 July 2006. The day that, though he himself did not yet know it, Fidel Castro left power forever.

The result of the total politicization of the life of the Cuban nation could be evaluated as of 31 July 2006. The day that, though he himself did not yet know it, Fidel Castro left power forever.

By then, Cuba was (and is) without an economic base, no longer like that prior to 1926 with regard to a level of assured prosperity, but also one that brings some possibility of something more than survival to the absolute majority of the Cuban people. Even the sugar industry, with a respectable capital of accumulated knowledge of more than two centuries of evolution and with so many possibilities in new times, was eliminated by Fidel Castro in 2002. He tried in this way, it seemed, to avoid that on his departure from power, someone would dare to try to exploit the production capacity for biofuels.

But it is in the exacerbation of the danger to the survival of the nation, provoked by this lack of a non-precarious economic base, where we discover the darkest legacy of the half-century of the absolutist government of Fidel Castro. This, paradoxically, stands out still more, because Fidel Castro always presented his absolutism as indispensable to the survival of the “homeland.”

Fidel Castro’s regime has promoted the desire to escape from the island on such a scale that today, despite the enormous difficulties in doing so, almost a quarter of Cubans live outside of Cuba. What’s more, the principal danger in this is not in the proportion, but in the particular pattern of the Cuban migration with the flight of those people who are most educated.

Fidel Castro’s regime has promoted the desire to escape from the island on such a scale that today, despite the enormous difficulties in doing so, almost a quarter of Cubans live outside of Cuba.

From a Cuba in which initiative was a highly suspicious quality, and therefore under close surveillance by the secret police, the best prepared have necessarily emigrated, the most active, those least given to respecting the opinions of authority. In other words, the problem is not that emigrants are a quarter of the population, but that this quarter has been systematically selected to rob the nation of its members most likely to put themselves forward and lead a prosperous future, and an orderly one… democratic of course.

As this pattern of emigration continues, and even has even intensified since Fidel Castro left power, though his regime continues, it is not so fanciful to suppose that in the near future we might see Cuba converted into the most backward and poor nation in the western hemisphere. A position it is not far from today, despite the fact that in 1959 this same society only yielded to the United States and Canada and was equated with Argentina and Uruguay.

The damage Fidel Castro caused the nation has, in the end, been so great — a nation where in the 1950s there were only inklings on the horizon — that today there is a strong current of furtive opinion, although not openly expressed by hardly anyone, that suggests the only solution to the problem of having a country without an economic base is to annex the island to the United States.

This current, expressed only in private, remains dormant only because of the fact that the Castro regime’s propaganda still manages to be somewhat effective in promoting nationalism. However, it is to be expected that a nationalism without an economic base, or one in which the remittances of those who emigrated to the United States rapidly occupy this role, will end up eventually losing any prestige among ordinary Cubans.

The main legacy of Fidel Castro is precisely this: Never before have Cubans had less confidence in ourselves and, consequently, never has the idea of annexation had so many followers.

*Translator’s note: “Candil de la calle, oscuridad de la casa” (a light in the street, darkness at home) is a common Spanish expression meaning that a person is effective (“lit up”) away from home and with others, but useless (“dark”) at home.

UNPACU Reports More Than A Hundred Activists Arrested / 14ymedio

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 16 August 2015 — From the early hours of Sunday the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU) denounced the arrest of more than 130 of its activists. Several sources within the organization told this newspaper that the detainees were going to the Shrine of Our Lady of Charity, in Santiago de Cuba, when they were intercepted.

Repression in the east of the country coincided with a major operation in Havana, around Fifth Avenue, a place where traditionally the Ladies in White march. The human rights activist movement reported an intense act of repudiation at the end of its weekly pilgrimage, along with arrests and police violence.

The march of the Ladies in White ended with about 40 women and 25 other activists detained and taken to police stations or detention centers. Mobs staged action against activists, markedly larger this Sunday, which was denounced by the leader of this movement, Berta Soler. continue reading

For his part Jose Daniel Ferrer, leader of UNPACU, told the independent press that the number of members of his organization who were arrested “is around 138.” He also said that more than a hundred arrests took place in Santiago de Cuba, a dozen at Guantanamo and the rest in Havana and Las Tunas.

The raid on the home of Geordanis Muñoz, coordinator UNPACU in Palma Soriano, was among the repressive actions reported during the day. Despite the control, Ferrer reported that the activists managed to deliver “leaflets, paint graffiti and distribute audiovisual materials on freedom of expression and association.”

UNPACU activities are primarily directed to denounce the arrest of Zaqueo Báez and Jordys M. Dosil, who have spent weeks in Havana criminal center known as VIVAC. Ferrer explained that Baez’s wife has been informed by the prison authorities that on Monday he will stand trial for the alleged crime of “contempt.”

“Those Pools Aren’t for the People” / 14ymedio, Juan Carlos Fernández

The pool at the Frederick Engels Vocational School. (Juan Carlos Fernández)
The pool at the Frederick Engels Vocational School. (Juan Carlos Fernández)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Juan Carlos Fernández, Pinar del Río, 13 August 2015 — “New movies, lots of ice cream, and a good pool,” is how a resident of Pinar del Río summarized his wishes for this school vacation. His second wish was granted at the local Coppélia ice cream shop, but his hometown has a sad record otherwise, counting only one open cinema, and no functioning pools.

Pinar del Río’s eleven pools are either dilapidated or are under some sort of renovation keeping them closed to the public. In spite of it being a particularly warm summer, with temperatures exceeding 97ºF, the people of Pinar del Río have to make do with fans in order to cool off a bit. Or they make do like Yoankys and Maykel, who use “a hose in the backyard” when the heat becomes unbearable. They used to able to take dives at the pool of the Pinar del Río Hotel after paying admission in CUC’s, but that option does not even exist anymore.

“This shows a lack of respect,” opined Yoaknys, who added that in the Galiano and Mijares Districts, adjacent to the Pedro Téllez Vocational School’s pool, the discontent is even greater. “People see the infrastructure is there, but we need the will to make it work.” That blue, waterless, and dilapidated rectangle is an eyesore for anyone who takes a peek at the school’s sports facilities. continue reading

Orestes, a longtime neighborhood resident who works on a government pig farm, said he could care less if there is a pool or not, but “the kids are sweltering, and we don’t even have a lagoon with water.” This man, who has always lived in the area, recalled that “the only recreation around here used to be the Vocational School’s pool, but since they didn’t change the water, they had to close it.”

Mariela, a housewife who moved to the neighborhood only two years ago, blamed the empty pool on the drought. “It would be a scandal if we had a pool full of water while we’re having such a hard time filling our water tanks.” Pinar del Río Province is facing the lowest precipitation in half a century. Its reservoirs are at a little more than 30% of total capacity, and seven are at critically low levels. Mariela added: “We can’t waste water for recreation when we barely have enough to wash dishes or bathe.”

Jorge, the custodian in charge of the Vocational School’s grounds said that (the Ministry of) Public Health ordered the pool closed because it was a mosquito breeding ground.” Together with the breakdown of pumping and water treatment systems, chlorine shortages are one of the causes that most often works against the safety of pool water throughout Cuba.

Bottom of the pool at the Ormani Arenado Sports School in Pinar del Río.
Bottom of the pool at the Ormani Arenado Sports School in Pinar del Río.

“This had turned into a health problem,” explained Mariela, who remembered that several “youngsters got sick from fungus, skin infections, and otitis in that place,” and said she was “relieved they drained the water, because it was a constant source of diseases.”

In her opinion, “people aren’t accustomed to pools. They don’t even shower before getting in, and they urinate or eat while in the water. And that’s not counting all those who in spite of having an infected wounds on their bodies, still dive in.”

However, Antonio Vázquez, a staffer of the city’s Ministry of Education, refused to accept that closing the pools is the way to solve health problems. “We want our children to learn how to swim, to play sports, and to spend their free time on wholesome recreation…but we have ten pools closed in this city!” he exclaimed in frustration.

Mr. Vázquez explained that “pools in the city of Pinar del Río fall under the jurisdiction of several government entities.” According to this government employee, the Vocational School’s pool is run by the Education Ministry, “but it was ordered closed by Public Health, because with the drought, they weren’t able to change the water, and after a month, it was polluted.”

A waiter at the Pinar del Río Hotel explained to 14ymedio that the closure of their pool was due to remodeling, “but it’s going to end up looking very nice. We’re opening it on August 13th *, with a ten CUC admission, of which eight covers food and drinks.” The hotel employee stressed “they had to close it, because it was in a very bad sate, but now it’s going to be perfect. We felt bad for the public, but it had to be closed.”

Like a vanquished giant, the Olympic-size pool at the Nancy Uranga Physical Education College, is deserted and waterless. “We had to empty it,” recalled the college’s custodian “because youngsters would show up with alcohol and knives, and then things would get bad. The grounds are under police surveillance, but the problem did not go away.” The custodian then explained, “The problem with the diving pool is another story. That one is contaminated.” Its green water covered with a layer of litter confirmed the custodian’s words.

Far from there, weeds cover the entrance path to the Frederick Engels Vocational School, inaugurated by Fidel Castro. It has been almost five years since any students have been able to submerge themselves in its two pools, which were once its source of pride. “No one gives a hoot about this. They were ruined because of the lack of upkeep,” complained an employee. The pool at the Medical Sciences Department is in a similar state.

The Ormani Arenado Sports School has become the last hope for the desperate swimmer. However, two of the three pools have not been filled for months, and the Olympic-size pool overflows with a liquid covered by a green film that reeks terribly.

In contrast with these bleak scenarios, the Central Home of the Revolutionary Armed Forces, located on the Central Highway, at the outskirts of the city, showcases a well-maintained pool, but it is reserved for the members of the military. The Ministry of the Interior’s Villa Guamá, located on the 4th kilometer (2.5 mile) mark of the highway to Viñales, is another one of the privileged locales enjoying the relief of a functioning and clean pool.

“But those pools aren’t for the people,” protested a frustrated Yoansky, the young man who tries beating the heat by dousing himself with a hose in his backyard. “It’s as if they didn’t even exist.”

*Translator’s note: August 13 is Fidel Castro’s birthday and the day is often marked by “special” events such as this.

Translated by José Badué

Cuban Opposition Gathered In Puerto Rico Support Plebiscite For Free Elections / 14ymedio

14ymedio, Havana, 16 August 2015 – The Cuban National Conference –  involving one hundred activists from 23 organizations from the Island and 32 from exile meeting for three days in Puerto Rico – concluded this Saturday with a document setting forth a common strategy. The Declaration of San Juan emphasizes the need to work “to achieve full freedom for the Cuban people and genuine Rule of Law.”

Among the points of agreement among the participants were the demand for the unconditional release of all political prisoners and the repeal of laws that violate fundamental freedoms. The declaration also established as a priority achieving “freedom of speech, press, association, assembly, peaceful demonstration, profession and religion.”

The signers of the Declaration of San Juan made a call to fight for “the participation of all the people in every decision of the nation, the legalization of all political parties, and free and multi-party elections.” During the meeting 30 papers, prepared over the last year, were presented addressing several of the topics that were later reflected in the final document.

The Cuban National Conference urged “work for a campaign for a binding plebiscite in favor of free, fair and plural elections, under democratic conditions, that guarantee the sovereignty of the citizens.” Support for the Agreement for Democracy in Cuba, a document put forward in 1998 by organizations in the diaspora and on the island, was another of the issues agreed to in the final document.

The promotion of the peaceful struggle and “training of pro-democracy activists in the methods of civil disobedience,” is included among the issues to strengthen.

The participants committed to working for the collapse of the “cyber-wall in Cuba and striving so that the internal opposition has the technological resources needed to continue mobilizing the citizenry.” Progress in both aspects will monitored over the coming six months.

The Cuban National Conference, enjoyed the participation of activists such as Guillermo Fariñas, Elizardo Sanchez, Mario Felix Lleonart, Eliecer Avila, Laritza Diversent and Rene Gomez Manzanos. Its realization coincided with the visit of US Secretary of State John Kerry to Cuba.

The Other Flag / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

Secretary of State of the United States, John Kerry, in his Friday meeting with dissidents in Havana
Secretary of State of the United States, John Kerry, in his Friday meeting with dissidents in Havana

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, 15 August 2015 — Six hours after the hoisting of the Stars and Stripes at the US embassy along the Malecon, a similar ceremony occurred on 150th Street in the Cubanacan neighborhood where the official residence of Jeffrey DeLaurentis, charge d’affaires of that country, is located.

All of the heads of the United States Interest Section have lived in this mansion in recent years, and there is a flagpole in its garden. Across from it, congregated hundreds of guests who did not physically fit in the small space where hours earlier American and Cuban officials had witnessed the symbolic act that opened the US embassy in Havana. continue reading

The celebration at the residence was attended by diplomats, representatives of civil society, clergy, intellectuals and Cuban artists along with the large delegation that accompanied John Kerry in his trip to Cuba, including the three Marines who, 54 years ago, lowered the flag when the countries broke off relations, who given the honor of participating in the raising. The US Army Brass Quintet played an international repertoire, with no shortage Cuban pieces such as Guantanamera and Manisero.

In a half-hour meeting, representatives of civil society shared with Kerry their concerns and expectations

In the official residence John Kerry held a half-hour meeting behind closed doors with representatives of civil society activists and independent journalists, including Dagoberto Valdes, Elsa Morejon, Hector Maseda, Jose Daniel Ferrer, Manuel Cuesta Morua, Martha Beatriz Roque, Miriam Leiva, Oscar Elias Biscet, Yoani Sanchez and Reinaldo Escobar. Those present shared with Kerry the concerns and expectations generated by the restoration of relations between the two countries and presented an overview of the different projects they are engaged in.

Although the official media did not mention this activity on the busy schedule of the Secretary of State, it was one of the moments that marked the character of the Kerry’s visit to Cuba because it was the only thing that could provoke, and in fact did provoke, friction and controversy.

The Cuban leaders were annoyed because they would have preferred a distancing between the highest US official to step on Cuban soil in half a century, and this part of the non-conforming Cuban citizenry, persecuted, slandered and discriminated against by the government.

Others who shared this annoyance were some opponents, such as the leader of the Ladies in White Berta Soler and activist Antonio Gonzalez Rodiles, who declined the invitation they received because they believe that the US government has betrayed them “to establish relations with the dictatorship.”

If there is no progress on the issue of human rights in Cuba, there will be no lifting of the embargo, Kerry said plainly

At the meeting there was nothing that deserves to be classified as secret talks or as parallel agreements. The Cuban guests offered a general explanation of the four points of consensus from civil society, promoted by the Civil Society Open Forum, expressed the need for the United States to unblock all brakes it applies today on internet access for Cubans, and mentioned different initiatives such as developing proposals for a new Electoral Law, creating a “think tank” on Cuban affairs, and the civic actions of different political platforms.

Similarly, guests expressed the concern that main beneficiary of the restoration of relations is the Cuban government, and that the Cuban people will continue to suffer just as if nothing had occurred. Perhaps most important was the response of Kerry on this point. The Secretary of State committed to maintaining his government’s interest in advances on issues of human rights in Cuba. If no steps are taken in this direction there will be no lifting of the embargo, he said plainly.

Cuban Dissidents Meet In Puerto Rico To Seek A Common Position Against The Regime / 14ymedio, EFE

Poster for National Cuban Conference in San Juan, Puerto Rico (MartiNoticias)
Poster for National Cuban Conference in San Juan, Puerto Rico (MartiNoticias)

14ymedio biggerEFE/14ymedio, San Juan, 14 August 2015 — Leaders of the Cuban dissidence arrived on the island and everyone met this Friday in Puerto Rico to work towards a common position with regards to the new scenario that is opening with the rapprochement between the United States and Cuba.

The Cuban National Conference brought together in San Juan one hundred dissidents who are trying to achieve a single strategy among all the groups who are fighting against the regime in Havana, with regards to the steps they should follow to bring democracy to the island, according to what regime opponent Guillermo Fariñas told EFE.

“There is a new context with the change in relations – between the United States and Cuba – and therefore it is necessary to achieve unity,” said Fariñas, who emphasized that it can’t be ignored that the rapprochement between Washington and Havana has repercussions on the strategy of the dissidence. continue reading

“We are working to be heard as a single voice for the democratization of Cuba,” said Fariñas about the objective of the meeting, scheduled before learning of the change in relations between the US and Havana, which culminated this Friday with the raising of the American flag over its embassy in the Caribbean capital in the presence of US Secretary of State John Kerry.

The dissident outlined that although the change in relations is a relevant event, the ultimate goal of the National Cuban Conference being held in Puerto Rico is to mend fences between all the opposition groups inside and outside the island to agree on a common strategy that will bring democracy to Cuba.

Fariñas added that the work undertaken during the meeting will result in a Declaration of San Juan, this coming Monday, in which a joint strategy will be announced to ensure that democracy comes to Cuba.

Eliecer Avila, the young regime opponent and collaborator on the digital newspaper 14ymedio directed by the critical blogger Yoani Sanchez, told EFE that the change in direction in relations between the United States and Cuba opens a new stage, which civil society on the island must adapt itself to.

“Unity of action is paramount, and so far it has been a struggle against a regime marked by dispersion and by the actions of groups with isolated agendas,” said Eliecer Avila

“The objective is to capture all opinions to prepare a joint document,” said Avila, for whom this is the time to unite on a strategy that facilitates the return of democracy to Cuba, despite the fact that among the dissidents there are those who see the rapprochement as a positive thing, and others who are critical of it.

Thirty papers, prepared over the last year, have been presented during the meeting.

“Unity of action is paramount, and so far it has been a struggle against a regime marked by dispersion and by the actions of groups with isolated agendas,” said Avila.

Sylvia Iriondo, president of the human rights organization MAR for Cuba (Mothers and Women Against Repression), told EFE that the San Juan meeting arose in order to “unite democratic Cuban forces committed to change on the island.”

Iriondo, who lives in Miami, expressed her rejection of the rapprochement between Washington and Havana, given that Raul Castro’s regime does not represent the Cuban people.

The Cuban National Conference, in preparation for over a year, was promoted by United Cubans of Puerto Rico, an organization founded in 1967 with the aim of supporting opposition to the Havana regime from the Puerto Rican commonwealth.

The presence of nearly 20,000 Cubans in Puerto Rico and the cultural affinity were some of the reasons to bring the meeting to San Juan, according to the organization.

The work has been divided into two thematic areas, the first being the coordination of efforts between the interior of the island and the exile, and the second on strategies for democratic change.

‘A Conflict of Eras Is Unfolding in Cuba’ / 14ymedio, Atlantic Monthly, Yoani Sanchez

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People gather outside the US embassy in Havana on August 14, Alexandre Meneghini / Reuters

Atlantic Monthly/14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, 15 August 2015 — My grandchildren will ask, “Were you there, grandma?” The answer will be barely a monosyllable accompanied by a smile. “Yes,” I will tell them, although at the moment the flag of the United States was raised over its embassy in Havana I was gathering opinions for a story, or connected to some Internet access point. “I was there,” I will repeat.

The fact of living in Cuba on August 14 makes the more than 11 million of us participants in a historic event that transcends the raising of an insignia to the top of a flagpole. We are all here, in the epicenter of what is happening.

For my generation, as for so many other Cubans, it is the end of one stage. It does not mean that starting tomorrow everything we have dreamed of will be realized, nor that freedom will break out by the grace of a piece of cloth waving on the Malecón. Now comes the most difficult part. However, it will be that kind of uphill climb in which we cannot blame our failures on our neighbor to the north. It is the beginning of the stage of absorbing who we are, and recognizing why we have only made it this far. continue reading

Pablo Martinez Monsivais / AP

The official propaganda will run out of epithets. This has already been happening since the December 17 announcement of the reestablishment of relations between Washington and Havana took all of us by surprise. That equation, repeated so many times, of not permitting an internal dissidence or the existence of other parties because Uncle Sam was waiting for a sign of weakness to pounce on the island, is increasingly unsustainable.

Now, the ideologues of continuity warn that “the war against imperialism” will become more subtle, the methods more sophisticated … but slogans do not understand nuances. “Are they the enemy, or aren’t they?” ask all those who, with the simple logic of reality, experienced a childhood and youth marked by constant paranoia toward that country on the other side of the Straits of Florida.

Now that an official Cuban delegation has shared the U.S. embassy-opening ceremony with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, there is a family photo that they can no longer deny or minimize. There we saw those who until recently called us to the trenches, now shaking hands with their opponent and explaining the change as a new era.

And it is good that this is so, because these political pragmatists can no longer turn around and tell us otherwise. We have caught them respecting and allowing entrance to the Stars and Stripes.

The opposition must also understand that we are living in new times—moments of reaching out to the people, and helping them to see that there is a country after the dictatorship and that they can be the voice of millions who suffer every day economic hardship, lack of freedom, police harassment, and lack of expectations.

The authoritarianism expressed in warlordism, not wanting to speak with those who are different, or snubbing the other for not thinking like they do, are just other ways of reproducing the Castro regime.

“Are they the enemy, or aren’t they?” ask all those who experienced a youth marked by constant paranoia toward that country on the other side of the Straits of Florida.

A conflict of eras is unfolding in Cuba—a collision between two countries: one that has been stranded in the middle of the 20th century, and one that is pushing the other to move forward. They are two islands that clash, but it needs to happen. We know, by the laws of biology and of Kronos, which will prevail. But right now they are in full collision and dragging all of us between the opposing forces.

This Friday’s front-page of the newspaper Granma shows this conflict with a past that doesn’t want to stop playing a starring role in our present—a past tense of military uniforms, guerrillas, bravado, and political tantrums that refuses to give way to a modern and plural country.

When one scrutinizes Friday’s edition of the official publication of the Cuban Communist Party, it is easy to detect how a country that is unraveling clings to its past, trying not to make room for the country to come.

In this future Cuba, which is just around the corner, some restless grandchildren will ask me about one day lost in the intense summer of 2015. With a smile, I will be able to tell them, “I was there, I lived it … because I understood the point of inflection that it signified.”


This article was translated from the Spanish by Mary Jo Porter.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

  • Yoani Sánchez is the Havana-based founder and executive director of 14ymedio, Cuba’s first independent digital newspaper.

Note: This article originally appeared in Spanish in 14ymedio; this English translation appeared first in The Atlantic Monthly.

A Century Of Tumultuous Relations / 14ymedio

14ymedio bigger1898: the United States declares war on Spain after accusing it of the sinking of the battleship “Maine” in Havana harbor. The United States wins and Spain has to give up Cuba.

1    Ground invasion during the war between the US and Spain
1 Ground invasion during the war between the US and Spain

1901: On June 12, the United States imposes the Platt Amendment which will be incorporated into the first Constitution of Cuba and limits the sovereignty of the nascent republic.

1902: The island is proclaimed an independent republic under President Tomas Estrada Palma, but remains under the tutelage of Washington. continue reading

2    Tomas Estrada Palma, the first president after the independence of Cuba. (University of Miami)
2 Tomas Estrada Palma, the first president after the independence of Cuba. (University of Miami)

1903: Estrada Palma and the US President Theodore Roosevelt sign the Cuban-American Treaty, which includes a lease of the naval base in Guantanamo, in perpetuity.

3 -  Guantanamo Naval Base
3 – Guantanamo Naval Base

1912: US forces return to Cuba to squelch the protests of the Black community against racial discrimination.

1928: Official Visit to Cuba of Calvin Coolidge, the last of a US president. He received the then president of Cuba, General Gerardo Machado.

4 --- Coolidge with President Machado at the Embassy of Cuba in Washington in 1927. (Library of Congress)
4 — Coolidge with President Machado at the Embassy of Cuba in Washington in 1927. (Library of Congress)

1933: President Machado is overthrown by a coup.

1934:  Washington waives the right to intervene in Cuba’s internal affairs (the Platt Amendment, imposed on Cuba in 1901, is repealed) and establishes a quota for sugar exports from the island to the US.

5 -- Carmita sugar mill. (University of Miami Libraries)
5 — Carmita sugar mill. (University of Miami Libraries)

1945: On March 9 Edward R. Stettinius is the last US secretary of state to set foot on Cuba on official business.

1953: July 26, Fidel Castro fails to take the Moncada barracks in Santiago de Cuba.

1955: In February, US Vice President, Republican Richard Nixon, makes an official visit to Cuba three weeks before the inauguration of Fulgencio Batista.

6 -- Nixon with his wife during his visit to Cuba. (Video Capture Archive British Pathé)
6 — Nixon with his wife during his visit to Cuba. (Video Capture Archive British Pathé)

1956: 82 men, including Fidel Castro and Ernesto “Che” Guevara, leave Mexico to Cuba aboard the yacht Granma purchased from a US company. The go into the Sierra Maestra to organize a guerrilla effort.

7 -- Fidel Castro in the Sierra Maestra (CC)
7 — Fidel Castro in the Sierra Maestra (CC)

1958: In March the US withdraws military aid to Batista. In June Fidel Castro sends a letter to Celia Sanchez where he tells his “destiny” will lead to a “long and great” war against US.

January 1959: Batista flees, Fidel Castro enters Havana and takes power.

8 -- Fidel Castro entering Havana on January 8, 1959
8 — Fidel Castro entering Havana on January 8, 1959

April 1959: Castro meets with US Vice President Richard Nixon in an unofficial meeting in Washington. Nixon later writes that the US had no choice but to try to “orient” the leftist leader toward the “right direction.”

1960: Cuba nationalizes US companies without compensation. US breaks diplomatic relations with Cuba, cancels the sugar quota and establishes an economic embargo on the island, still in force.

April 1961: Cuban exiles fail in their attempt to invade Cuba at the Bay of Pigs (known as Playa Girón in Cuba) with the support of the US.

1961: Castro proclaims the socialist character of Cuba and confirmed its alliance with the USSR.

9 -- Fidel proclaimed the socialist character of the Revolution on April 16, 1961 (Humberto Michelena)
9 — Fidel proclaimed the socialist character of the Revolution on April 16, 1961 (Humberto Michelena)

October 1962: President Kennedy denounces the presence of Soviet missiles in Cuba. After 13 days of tension, Moscow agrees to withdraw its 42 missiles in exchange for a US commitment not to invade the island.

10 -- The missile crisis referred to in the official Cuban press
10 — The missile crisis referred to in the official Cuban press

1965: The “sea bridge” begins from Camarioca, Matanzas, to be followed by the “freedom flights,” which allow the exodus of some 260,000 Cubans to the US.

1966: US approves the Cuban Adjustment Act, known as “dry foot / wet foot”. Any Cuban who places a foot on American soil is allowed to stay, any Cuban intercepted at sea is returned to the island.

1977: Under President Jimmy Carter both countries establish “Interests Sections” in the other. The building has remained under diplomatic protection afforded by Switzerland since 1961.

April 1980: Mariel boatlift. After a diplomatic crisis with Peru — sparked by Cubans claiming, and being given, in Peru’s embassy in Havana — Fidel Castro allows exiles in Miami to come in a flotilla of boats to pick up their relatives at the Port of Mariel. Some 125,000 Cubans wishing to leave the country come to the US in this way.

11 -- The April 1, 1980 a crowded bus Cuban drove through the fence of the Peruvian embassy in Havana, and the drive and passengers sought asylum to leave the island. The embassy refused to let them leave the embassy and on April 4 the Government of Fidel Castro decided withdraw military protection from the place.
11 — The April 1, 1980 a crowded bus Cuban drove through the fence of the Peruvian embassy in Havana, and the drive and passengers sought asylum to leave the island. The embassy refused to let them leave the embassy and on April 4 the Government of Fidel Castro decided withdraw military protection from the place.

1985: The US government creates Radio Marti to break the monopoly and the Cuban state censorship on news and information on the Island

1990: With the implosion of the Soviet empire, Cuba loses the huge subsidies from Moscow and establishes what it calls the “Special Period In the Time of Peace,” marked by widespread shortages

1994: As a result of the “rafter crisis”, Havana and Washington sign an agreement on immigration: The US will accept 20,000 Cubans each year and the island promises to control the exodus of migrants.

12 -- The Maleconazo. (Wikimedia)
12 — The Maleconazo. (Wikimedia)

February 1996: The Cuban Air Force shoots down two US civilian planes of Brothers to the Rescue, an organization of Cuban exiles who are dedicated to saving the rafters in the Florida Straits. Four crewmen die. In response, the US Congress enacts the Helms-Burton Act, which tightens the embargo.

1998: The Clinton administation allows the sale of some food and agricultural products to Cuba.

January 1998: During his visit to Cuba, the first by a pope to the island, John Paul II asks: “Let Cuba open itself to the world and let the world open itself to Cuba.”

13 --  Fidel Castro during the visit of Pope John Paul II to Cuba in 1998. (Cubadebate)
13 — Fidel Castro during the visit of Pope John Paul II to Cuba in 1998. (Cubadebate)

June 2000: The Cuban exile loses the battle for custody of Elian Gonzalez, who arrived the previous year off the coast of Florida on the same raft in which his mother, stepfather and several others died in their attempt to reach the USA. Elian is returned to his father in Cuba.

14 -- Elián González reunited with his father and family members at Andrews military base. (CC)
14 — Elián González reunited with his father and family members at Andrews military base. (CC)

June 2001: Five Cubans detained in Miami received long sentences for spying for Havana. The case of “The Five” becomes a new rallying cry for the government in Havana.

15 -- Fidel Castro with The Five, on 28 February in Havana. (EFE / Revolution / Cubadebate Studies)
15 — Fidel Castro with The Five, on 28 February in Havana. (EFE / Revolution / Cubadebate Studies)

November 2001: For the first time in 40 years Washington sends aid to Cuba: $30,000 in food for victims of Hurricane Michelle (22 dead).

May 2002: The Bush administration accuses the government of Cuba of developing biological weapons and adds the island to the group of countries that Washington calls the “axis of evil.” Former President Jimmy Carter, on a goodwill trip, visits several scientific centers in Havana. It is the first trip by a US former president to the island since 1959.

July 31, 2006: Fidel Castro is ill and provisionally delegates his functions to his brother Raul.

July 2007: Raul Castro demonstrates openness to talks with Washington to improve relations, but only after the US presidential elections of 2008.

February 2008: Raul Castro officially assumes power as president. Washington claims that the embargo will remain until the holding of free and fair elections.

April 2009: President Barack Obama lifts restrictions on family travel to Cuba.

December 2009: The US contractor Alan Gross is accused of espionage and sentenced to 15 years in prison in Cuba for having brought into the country equipment for satellite transmission, which is banned in Cuba.

16 -- contratista-estadounidense-Alan-Gross_CYMIMA20141114_0013_16

October 2011: The US releases the Cuban agent Rene Gonzalez, one the group of “The Five.”

December 2011: The US again demands the release of Gross, but Cuba refuses.

17 -- Demonstration calling for the release of Alan Gross
17 — Demonstration calling for the release of Alan Gross

December 2013: US President Barack Obama and his Cuban counterpart Raul Castro, shake hands at the official memorial service of the South African president Nelson Mandela in Johannesburg.

18 -- Raul Castro and Barack Obama greet each other for the first time at the events of the funeral of Nelson Mandela in South Africa
18 — Raul Castro and Barack Obama greet each other for the first time at the events of the funeral of Nelson Mandela in South Africa

February 2014: Several surveys show that most Americans favor the restoration of diplomatic relations with Cuba.

December 16, 2014: US and Cuba agree to a prisoner swap.

December 17, 2014: Alan Gross lands in the US. In speeches on TV, the presidents Barack Obama and Raul Castro announce the start of the normalization of relations between the two countries.

19 -- Alan Gross in his flight back to the US after being released last December. (CC)
19 — Alan Gross in his flight back to the US after being released last December. (CC)

January 2015: The White House softens the regulations on travel to Cuba and introduces other measures to facilitate, for example, the work of telecommunications providers and financial institutions.

April 2015: Barack Obama and Raul Castro dialogue at the Summit of the Americas in Panama. Soon after, at the request of Obama, Congress removes Cuba from the list of state sponsors of terrorism, on which it had been since 1982.

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

July 20, 2015: The Cuban embassy in Washington and the US embassy in Havana are reopened. Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez, travels to Washington for the ceremony of hoisting the flag.

21 -- Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez after hoisting the national flag at the Cuban embassy in Washington. (EFE)
21 — Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez after hoisting the national flag at the Cuban embassy in Washington. (EFE)

July 27, 2015: The United States removed Cuba from its list of countries not doing enough to combat human trafficking, which includes Venezuela, Russia, Iran, Syria and North Korea, among others

August 14, 2015: Secretary of State of the United States, John Kerry, travels to Havana for the raising of the American flag at the embassy.

22 -- Cuba and the United States, at odds for more than half a century after the triumph of Castro's revolution, today inaugurated a new era with the restoration of diplomatic relations, broken in 1961
22 — Cuba and the United States, at odds for more than half a century after the triumph of Castro’s revolution, today inaugurated a new era with the restoration of diplomatic relations, broken in 1961

May Cuba Not Owe Its Democracy To America / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

"Those who believe that the Cuban government is democratic are the same ones who claim that our principal problem lies in the dispute between the governments of the United States and Cuba."
“Those who believe that the Cuban government is democratic are the same ones who claim that our principal problem lies in the dispute between the governments of the United States and Cuba.”

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 12 August 2015 – In 1950 Emilio Roig de Leuchsenring presented to the Ninth Congress of History his controversial essay Cuba Owes its Independence to the United States. In it he laid out a little more than a century of facts and his nationalist and anti-imperialist view attributing the victory over Spain to Cuban troops.

Still discussed today is the weight of the American involvement in the conflict and especially the motives for its intervention. It has been another half century since that book came out and Cubans are no longer fighting to obtain their independence as a nation, but to install a system of democracy, and again our neighbor to the north makes laws, approves budgets and undertakes actions, this time with the declared intention to favor the future democracy on the island. continue reading

The Cuban government’s first endorsement of the scope of these measures is expressed every time it classifies as mercenaries, employees of the empire and other similar labels any opponent, civil society activist or independent journalist it sees.

Those who believe that the Cuban government is democratic are the same ones who claim that our principal problem lies in the dispute between the governments of the United States and Cuba. For those who differ from the Communist Party line, the fundamental contradiction is the conflict between the Party-State and the legitimate rights of citizens.

There is an unbridgeable gap between American interests, which demand the return of confiscated property or compensation, and the demand for freedom of association and expression, made unanimously by all opposition political trends, whether social democrats, anarchists, liberals or Christian Democratic.

The point of agreement is that, as long as the current leaders remain in power, both things seem impossible, and that “common cause” has promoted, on the one hand, logistical support to armed invasions, the supply of military equipment, diplomatic pressure or trade embargoes, and on the other, riots, sabotage and, more recently, peaceful and political structures attempting to organize protests.

It is a fragile and uneven alliance and the first to want to break it is the Cuban government. So the Communists had two paths: open political space to opponents on the condition of “maintaining sovereignty,” or reforming the market to attract American capital. Faced with the dilemma, they chose the second option.

Consequently, some leaders of the opposition environment feel betrayed because they believed they had some sort of pact for democracy with the US government. The main argument put forward is the continuation of repressive acts against the Ladies in White and other peaceful activists who support them with their actions, just days before the formalization on the Havana Malecon of the restoration of relations between the two governments.

For others it is about a sovereign decision by President Obama backed by the idea that confrontation has not brought results. The concept of changing methods without renouncing objectives, proclaimed publicly and without nuance by the Americans, is a complete challenge for the Cuban government, which sees itself forced to maintain its repressive and confrontational methods to achieve its only objective: maintaining itself in power.

The United States maintains diplomatic relations with countries where there are not democratic regimes, which does not mean friendship or support for a totalitarian model. Now, in the case of Cuba, it remains to be seen if it will maintain, in the embassy, the internet rooms, the communications courses, the refugee program, invitations to celebrate Independence Day on the 4th of July, and all the contacts programmed by the former United States Interests Sections, now belonging to the embassy.

There are more than a few who fear “being abandoned in the dark of the night,” left to the excesses of an intransigent government. The new interests created between the old contenders are economic and everyone will do their best to protect them. Perhaps the Americans will keep the opponents at a distance to not annoy the Cuban leaders; perhaps the repression will give way to please the investors, be they real or potential.

What will not arrive by this route is democracy, as real independence will not come by way of American gunboats. The political system we deserve must arise from our own efforts, independent of solidarity that comes from outside.

Emilio Roig would not have written his famous book if a few miles from Santiago de Cuba the American ships had returned home and those troops had never landed. But history is the enemy of the subjunctive, and similar conjectures lack any value.

Hopefully a historian will never have to clarify that Cuba owes its democracy to the United States.

Of the Sea and Beyond / Reinaldo Escobar

Fish in the market. (14ymedio / Luz Escobar)
Fish in the market. (14ymedio / Luz Escobar)

14ymedio biggerReinaldo Escobar, 13 August 2015 – A Havanan – one of those who doesn’t usually use the letter “R”* — an old pro-American joke tells us, is walking along the Malecon with his young son. Pointing to the immense blue of the ocean, the boy asks his father, “Papa, and that, what is it?” And the man, with his Havana pronunciation, responds, “The evil, my son, the evil.”* Some yards further on and a few minutes later, the boy returns to the fray, “And what is on the other side of that?” To which the man answers, “The good, my son, the good.”

Just across from the Malecon, where the waves remain an impassive witness to what happens in Havana, the American flag will be hoisted at the recently inaugurated United States embassy. But the sea did not want to be distant from the diplomatic chores and offered up to Havanans a symbolic gift: fish in the ration market.

Fish prices in the market. (14ymedio / Luz Escobar)
Fish prices in the market. (14ymedio / Luz Escobar)

The funny thing is that the last time the buctcher shops in this coastal city were full of scales was, no more nor less, the day before December 17 of last year, when Barack Obama and Raul Castro announced that both countries was reestablish relations.

Surely, the Havana newspaper Tribuna, would publish the schedule for the sale of the marine product in every municipality. In the lines the same usual scenes repeat themselves and the joy of the poor will endure the little that always makes it to the quote of the ration book.

Fish, the sea, the flags, old whimsical symbols that invite us to a different reading, almost prescient, of reality.

*Translator’s note: The joke relies on replacing the letter R with the letter L. “Mar” is “sea” and “mal” is “bad” or “evil.”