Fifteen Artists Denounce "Legalized Censorship"

Artists against decree 349 during the debate this Wednesday and Thursday. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 3 August 2018 — A group of independent artists has decided to confront Decree 349 which regulates the dissemination of culture and catalogs its content, calling it “legalized censorship.”  Fifteen creators meeting this week in Havana agreed to carry out actions to show their resistance to some of the measures that affect the alternative sector and activities on private premises.

For two days, Wednesday and Thursday, at the headquarters of the Museum of Politically Uncomfortable Art (MAPI) in Old Havana, the artists debated the Law Decree that will take effect in December.  Before its application, the legislation is already making waves, especially among musicians, comedians and other artists who perform in clubs and restaurants managed by the private sector.

The artist Luis Manuel Otero Alcantara says that the independent artists, who are not affiliated with any Ministry of Culture entity, are not against “paying taxes for personal income,” given that they can be used to qualify for retirement.  “We have said no because we think it has to do with legalizing censorship and making us prisoners for the simple fact that we have a different way of thinking than a certain system,” he says. continue reading

Decree 349 establishes rigid rules about presentations in private or state spaces for musicians and other creators.  In every case the artists must have prior authorization from the cultural institution with which they will be affiliated obligatorily, which can directly affect those who work outside of those state entities.

The content of presentations and work also will be regulated.  The places where music is disseminated or artistic activities developed “in which violence is generated with sexist, vulgar, discriminatory or obscene language” may receive penalties ranging from a fine to cancellation of the license to operate privately.  This measure may fundamentally affect urban genres like reggaeton and also humorists.

The controls will extend to book seller stalls where it is forbidden to sell volumes “with content that is harmful to ethical or cultural values,” a restriction that could end the private distrbution of works by Government-censored authors such as Mario Vargas Llosa and Vaclav Havel, among others.

During the first day’s debale at MAPI the artists unanimously denounced “the vagueness” of the law that can be “interpreted in many ways.”  In more than one session the constant use in the text of the expression “political culture” was criticized, a phrase that, for Iris Ruis, is completely subject to the interpretation of whoever applies it.

“If you read the whole decree you can see that the offenses described as very serious are those that have to do with political culture, and serious, those that relate to the provision of services.  “Where is that politics written in black and white?  Where and for whom has the Ministry of Culture published the political culture that they refer to here?” she asks.

The actress says one of the most perverse effects of the law is its repercussions on more current Cuban art.  “Being institutional in Cuba means entereing the political culture that today censors a great deal of what is contmporary art in Cuba and the whole world, therefore it excludes our contemporary art from the world,” she maintains.

In the debate on Wednesday Yanelys Nunez remembered that some of the basis for this law was already found in another from 1997 and that the new one is an update that worsens obstacles to cultural production.

Nunez called on “all artists and interested people who live in Cuba or outside” and  “Cuban or foreign artists worried about free creation” to join the initiative and demand that the decree not be applied to independent creators.  “Institutions cannot control what the artist produces at his home,” she claimed.

During the debate the art historian recalled, paper in hand, that the Creator’s Registry can remove an artist when the position that he assumes “is contrary to the country’s political cultural.”  This happened to the artists Italo Exposito and Luis Trapaga after participating in the #00Bienal.

Some artists present at the debate are aware of the reach that the law can have when exploring complex horizons from the moral point of view.  Italo Exposito believes that it is important to understand that in the history of Cuban art “we have great masters who have contributed to human dignity, and they all transgressed limits.”  The painter laments that now they will try to take from him a freedom that he has earned working at home and that no one has given to him.

The congregated artists have received the support and legal expertise of the Cubalex group, and its lawyer Laritza Diversent, now a resident of the United States, who made public her position through social networks.  In them she has shown that it is a law that “violates the right of every person to pariticipate in cultural life” and the “right to the indispensable free creator.”

Yanelys Nunez explained to 14ymedio that last Thursday they devoted themselves to receiving and generating proposals that support the campaign against the decree from the legal and artistic point of view, and they came to several agreements.  “What we ask it aht the Creator’s Registry be eliminated and that Decree 349 not be applied to the independent artist who has earned a space working for years on the margin of everything,” said the artist.

Also, she said that the Miami Poetry Festival, Vista, will support the initiative that they promote from Havana.  Artists Ana Olema and Diddier Santos are going to dedicate a space they they have at that event to supporting the campaign to fight against Decree 349 from exile.

The battle against Decree 349 began Saturday, July 21, with a protest by Luis Manuel Otero Alcantara, Soandry Del Rio, Jose Ernesto Alonso, Iris Ruiz, Amaury Pacheco and Yanelys Nunez on the steps of the capitol of Havana.  The protest act, which had not begun when the police arrived, ended in the arrest of all participants except Yanelys Nunez, the only one who could express her complaint.  For Otero Alcantara that bit of protest cost him two days’ detention in the Zanja Street police station.

Translated by Mary Lou Keel

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

Facebook, Do Not Leave Us In the Hands of Etecsa!

For those who live in societies with little access to the Internet, third-party services were an opportunity to publish on several networks at once. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havavna, 4 August 2014 — Facebook is changing its privacy policy, a scenario that was easy to foresee after the Cambridge Analytica data breach scandal that affected 87 million accounts on this social network. Last April, CEO and company founder Mark Zuckerberg announced changes to prevent a similar situation from happening again.

Until now, those of us who use this platform — to disseminate stories, inform about our realities and seek a minimum of protection against the repressive onslaught of certain regimes – had no worries. Rather it seemed that we would be more protected from surveillance, attacks and data theft.

However, many of us who live in societies where freedoms are violated also suffer difficulties in connecting to the web. Hence, we use paths that range from the basic text-only messages of mobile telephony (SMS), to email or services such as IFTTT and Buffer, which allow you to update several profiles at the same time and to connect them to each other. continue reading

On August 1, the news hit like a sledgehammer. HootSuite alerted people that they will not be able to upload content to Facebook’s personal profiles from their HootSuite account. With that announcement, my chances of keeping my wall updated wall were significantly reduced. Most of the time I use third party services due to my limited access to the web and to the considerable length of time Facebook takes to load on the slow connections on the Island.

For a long time I have been able to upload my voice to Facebook, in a regular and updated way, because HootSuite allowed me to prepare the messages, program them, send them in unison to several online services, and take advantage of a few minutes on one of the wifi zones operated by Etecsa, the state telecommunications monopoly, to narrate my reality. With that possibility now closed, I fear that my presence on those sites will be less frequent.

Some friends tell me not to despair and remind me that Etecsa recently announced that the coming of the internet to Cuban mobile phones was “almost ready.” But putting hope in a company that is responsible for our technological backwardness does not seem realistic to me. Nor is it clear whether, when the web browsing service comes to cell phones, it will be possible to enter Facebook, or if the government will try to impose a local, controlled and “safe” substitute.

When the administrators of Facebook decided to shut down many third-party services, they did not foresee the fragile state in which they left the thousands or millions of users across the planet who experience restrictions in their connectivity, whether due to bandwidth or censorship problems. Slamming the door on that community, without having previously improved the tools that allow us to effectively and safely overcome these obstacles is, at the very least, a snub. This social network has a commitment to all those people who have used multiple ways to make their voices heard. They can’t burn our bridges now.

These “Internet users without Internet,” or with very little Internet, chose third party services because the ‘blue giant’ has quickly shifted in the direction of serving increasingly connected companies, users with ever more intelligent phones and countries where people speak of ‘digital government’ and ‘the internet of things’, but it has been clumsy in continuing to promote more basic tools that allow any individual with an old mobile phone and an idea to share, to post content on their wall.

It now remains for the network of “Likes” and smiley faces to strive to find solutions for these users, to put its teams to work – also — for that fraction of the world that does not have smooth access to the network but needs it as a protective shield, whistleblower channel and information bulletin board.

Come on, Facebook, you can do it… because we cannot rely on Etecsa…

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

Athletes and Air Conditioners

Air conditioners pile up at Havana’s Jose Marti airport. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Generation Y, Yoani Sanchez, Bogota/Havana — Flight 254 climbs over Bogota on a cold, gray morning. Inside the plane members of the Cuban delegation is traveling back to Havana, after participating in the Central American and Caribbean Games held in Barranquilla, Colombia. For more than three hours, the restless athletes fill their area of the craft with conversations — which cross from one side of the aisle to the other — and that revolve, basically, around one issue: the purchases they have made to take home to the Island.

Other travelers flying on Avianca Airlines, on Tuesday, encountered more than twenty athletes dressed in blue uniforms marked with the flag with the single star. The composition of the group was heterogeneous. They were young people in perfect physical shape who evidently participated in the competitions; others with gray hair and the appearance of coaches, and third parties who were neither one nor the other, but who acted as guards.

As the plane broke through the dense layer of clouds over the Colombian capital a question broke the hypnotic silence of the ascent. “Hey, were you able to buy the split (air conditioner)?” an athlete sitting in row 11 loudly asks another, three rows back. The answer was also loud enough for everyone to hear. “Yes, I bought it with no problems, and also the bicycle and the parts that I need for the bike.” The brief dialogue triggered an avalanche of comments in the same style. continue reading

During the entire time the plane spent in the air, the group did not exchange a single word about the sports competition, the medals won, or the hard struggle for Cuba to come in second, after having lost the event’s scepter for the first time in almost fifty years. The contest they discussed was another. The protagonist was the game against the clock to be able to “leave the village and reach the markets” nearby, according to one of the athletes, or “to find where they sell things more cheaply to make the money stretch,” said another.

The jackpot, what really excited them and elicited grins, was not, for many of these young talents, to win the gold, silver or bronze, but to be able to return home with products and devices that will improve their quality of life. One boasted of having been able to “lift the suitcase a little bit with my hand” so that it did not register its whole weight during the airline check-in.

“I told the employee that they were bicycle parts although they are for a motorbike because it is easier to get them through,” boasted another. “They let me bring three suitcases and the extra they charged me I will get back quickly, because everything I brought is worth a lot more in Havana,” added an older man who seemed to be the manager of some sport. Beside him, a man with a military haircut and the same sports suit as the rest of the delegation listened without opening his mouth, but the backpack he had placed in the overhead compartment could barely be closed.

The plane began to circle over Havana. “We have to wait because we have been informed that the airport is closed for operations,” the captain informed the plane. While the passengers peered out through the windows at the same landscape repeated over and over, the athletes exchanged the latest recommendations for dealing with their luggage. “I’m going to pass the screening because I still do not have an import for this year, but I need you to take through the two phones I brought,” he asked one of his row mates.

Finally, the flight touched down and after the long line for immigration came the most anticipated moment for the anxious athletes: picking up their luggage on the belt. On one side of the conveyor, an employee of Customs shouted loudly that the AC units and televisions must exit through a small door that leads to the room where they scan each package to check its interior. The sports delegation was completely crammed in there.

Then an air conditioner came out, followed by another and then several more. The boxes were piling up, smiles lit faces, some took selfies in front of the growing mountain of appliances. Still, nobody was talking about medals.

It was time to exit to José Martí International Airport’s crowded waiting room. There were whole families waiting with babies or the elderly in wheelchairs. Screams, commotion and a woman in tears telling an athlete that seemed to be her son: “I knew you were going to bring it,” as she touches the box with the air conditioner with the relief of who imagines nights without sweating in a room kept in the comfortable 70s.

The scene repeats itself. The members of the sports delegation are hugging their relatives and distributing the first gifts. The tourists who have arrived on the same flight understand less and less. “Why do they have to bring those things?” asks a surprised Chilean who has come for a cousin’s bachelorette party. Nobody answers him.

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

Cuban Doctor Dies While Working for Medical Program in Brazil

The Cuban doctor Yanier Samón De Hombre and his wife Josileny Samón in Brazil. (Facebook)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio — Yanier Samón de Hombre, a thirty-two-year-old Cuban doctor who was working as a member of the Brazilian medical program Mais Médicos (More Doctors), died last Thursday in Livramento de Nossa senhora, a small town in the northeatern Brazilian state of Bahía.

According to local news sources, Samón had sought medical treatment for abdominal pain, was given medication and released. He later returned and was admitted to the same hospital. While being transferred to another facility, however, he died. Initial reports listed pancreatitis as the cause of death.

According to official documents obtained by 14ymedio, Samón married a Brazilian woman, Josileny Samón, last April and began working at Mais Médicos on July 3, 2017. continue reading

More than 18,000 Cuban doctors have passed through Brazil since the two governments created the Mais Médicos program in 2013 in an effort to increase the presence of medical personnel in small towns and rural areas. The number of Cuban doctors in the program has decreased since the impeachment of former president Dilma Roussef. Nevertheless, the current figure stands at more than 8,000.

Brazil pays Havanna around 3,600 dollars a month per doctor, of which each physician receives a monthly stipend of 900 dollars from the Cuban government. However, neither Cuban medical professionals nor their families receive compensation in the event of accident or death.

The export of medical services is one of the main sources of income for the Cuban government, which currently has tens of thousands of health care professionals deployed in more than sixty countries. Their work has brought in more than 11.5 million dollars according to official statistics. Human rights activists have criticized this practice, describing it as “modern slavery.”

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

Cuban Human Rights Groups Denounces More Arrests and Consolidation of the "Totalitarian Model"

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 1 August 2018 — During the month of July there were 229 arbitrary arrests, “for purely political reasons, of peaceful dissidents”, the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation (CCDHRN) denounces in its most recent monthly report. The figure is 107 arrests more than in June.

“We are going to see a rebound in these kinds of repressive actions,” warns the independent organization based in Havana, with activists being detaines only for “triying to exercise elementary civil and political rights.”

Cuban State Security “carried out 36 illegal acts of harassment, directly or through other repressive structures under its control.” These actions against the dissidents are embedded “within a permanent strategy aimed at intimidating, discouraging or demobilizing peaceful opponents,” warns the text. continue reading

The report includes the case of three independent lawyers, Maybell Padilla, René Gómez Manzano and Carlos Miranda, who were “prevented from attending a legal profession event that took place in Uruguay at the end of July.” A similar situation happened to activist Daniuska González and musician Gorki Águila, who were forbidden to travel abroad.

“In all cases, plane tickets and other financial resources have been lost to cover collateral expenses related to travel,” the CCDHRN says of these repressive acts.

The Commission also considers that the reforms of the Constitution “will not mean substantive improvements in terms of the situation of civil and political rights and other fundamental freedoms.” The report points out the “Gatopardian* character” of the currently proposed changes in the Cuban constitution because “changes are announced so that everything remains the same as before.”

“With these changes in the constitution, the Castro regime ensures its permanent objective of guaranteeing the reproduction of the totalitarian model that has been on the island for almost six decades,” the report criticizes.

Last June, the CCDHRN estimated the number of political prisoners on the island at 120. Among them, the case of Eduardo Cardet Concepción, leader of the Christian Liberation Movement, stands out.

*Translator’s note: I.e.: “To change everything so that nothing changes.”

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

The Traps of Constitutional Reform

Copies of the draft constitution are now available at newsstands. (EFE/Ernesto Mastrascusa)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, West Palm Beach, 1 August 2018 – A reading of the 224 articles of the constitutional draft confirms the Government’s intention to shore up and update its own legitimacy through the modifications made to the Constitution.

The second objective seeks the elimination of any possibility, whether current or future, of questioning the illegitimately established “socialist” political system, with the Communist Party (alone) as the “society’s and the State’s leading and superior force” at the forefront — now with the appended epithet of “fidelista” — which in itself contradicts any presumption for a democratic Constitution.

The third intention is to tweak the legal framework in order to adapt it, to some extent, to XXI Century-language, and to offer a chameleonic response to the requirements and criticisms that are being made against Cuba in the forums of many international organizations. continue reading

As expected, an autocratic legal empire is maintained which makes it impossible for the governed, in their capacity as citizens, to regulate, modify or suppress the outrages of power. This legal anomaly will remain camouflaged under terms previously demonized because it corresponds to the liberal principles of the “decadent capitalist society” that will now be made sacred even from the very preamble of the Law of Laws. This is demonstrated by the introduction of the “new” concept of a democratic, independent and sovereign socialist State of Law, declared in article 1, chapter I (Fundamental Principles of the Nation)

This article reaffirms the congenital malformation that characterizes the current Constitution by establishing that Cuba “has as its essential objectives the enjoyment of political freedom, equity, justice and social equality” rights that, nevertheless, are abolished by the obligatory nature and irreversibility of socialism as a political system, endorsed in Article 3, which does not recognize the multiparty system, and by the greater power that Article 5 grants to the Communist Party, whose attributions are incontestable.

Later on, Article 39 insists that “the Cuban State guarantees the enjoyment and inalienable, indivisible and interdependent exercise of human rights to the people, in accordance with the progressive principle and without discrimination,” when in fact the Constitution project — though it penalizes discrimination on the grounds of gender, race and religious beliefs — ratifies, without disguise, the existing political ideas that differ from those set by the Power.

This is reinforced by Article 224, which declares that “the pronouncements about the irrevocability of socialism and the political and social system established in article 3 will not be able to be reformed at all.”

Another detail of article 39 is this gem that masks another subtle legal trap: “The rights and duties recognized in this Constitution are interpreted in accordance with international human rights treaties ratified by Cuba,” but it just so happens that the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights are among the main international human rights treaties in existence, none of which has been ratified by Cuba.

While Title IV (Rights, Duties and Guarantees) dedicates the entire chapter III to Social, Economic and Cultural Rights, Civil and Political Rights do not receive an equal treatment. This corresponds, undoubtedly, to the fact that this is an absolutely private plot of the Communist Party. The recognition of private property, a term that is hardly mentioned to indicate that it is one of the five “forms of property” recognized in Article 21, is one of the new developments that have been privileged with the attention of the international information media in recent weeks. At this point we should make mention of the undeniable talent of the dictatorship for creating suspense, dazzling the foreign press and introducing false expectations of democratic changes that, in reality, only reinforce the omnipotent power of the ruling caste.

Types of property allowed in the project are: the socialist, in which the sagacious State acts as owner “representing and in the benefit of all the people” the cooperative, as conceived by the State-Party-Government itself; the mixed, which combines two or more forms of property; that of the political, mass and social organizations, which constitutes a true unknown and undoubtedly a heavy burden for the public treasury; the private one, which “is exercised over certain means of production” and, finally, the personal, which “is exercised over goods that, without constituting means of production, help in fulfilling the material and spiritual needs of the owner”, which, expressed in such ambiguous terms, could include at the same level both housing and automobile, as well as the TV set or the deodorant used by anyone. This is how deep the changes are.

Of course, threats to any manifestation of dissidence are ever-present, permeating the spirit of a constitutional reform “forged by the people to give continuity to the Revolution and socialism”. The text is even more explicit when it asserts that “citizens have the right to combat, by all means, (…) anyone who attempts to overthrow the political, social and economic order established by this Constitution.” Among that which must be “combatted” is “the cyberwar” (Article 16), as a sort of reproachful little finger that points to independent and alternative journalism and that, in the end, constitutes an unacceptable recognition of the advancement of these methods of communication, hand in hand with information technology sneaking into Cuba, in spite of controls and State censorship.

The profusion of articles about the project, the diversity and complexity of the issues and the pedestrian mode of their writing prevent a complete analysis all at once. Undoubtedly, each paragraph is worthy of comments that cannot be addressed in a space as limited as an opinion column.

If this time anything can be made to coincide with the masters of the plantation, authors of the legalistic monster, it is the fragment of a statement that reads as follows: “We Cubans must be aware of the commitment that the new Constitution of the Republic implies for present and future generations.” It could probably be the truest words of the whole project. Because, although of the “popular consultation” surprises cannot be expected, Cubans will have the opportunity to say NO at the polls and assert their rejection of a dictatorship that, since before learning to protect itself with legalistic tricks, had stripped the Cubans of their dignity and of their rights. It is now trying to snatch the last hopes from us, but it wouldn’t necessarily have to be “more of the same.” Acquiescence or rebellion: that is the real issue, and it is not to be decided by the Government, but by the vote. Will we go for it?

Translated by Norma Whiting

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

US Drastically Reduces Tourist Visas for Cubans

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, 10 July 2018 — The United States reduced the delivery of tourist visas to Cubans by 30% after the mysterious acoustic incidents in Havana that led to the evacuation of most US personnel from the Cuban capital.

According to figures from the State Department obtained by Martí Noticias, during the current fiscal year 2018 (which includes from October 2017 to May 2018), only 2,414 tourist visas have been issued for “family visits, cultural exchanges and business trips.” Of that number, 83% were issued in US consulates outside of Cuba.

Nonimmigrant (tourism) visas are known by their abbreviations B-1 and B-2. The B-1 visas are issued primarily for business trips, while the B-2 are for those who want engage in tourism, family visits or receive medical treatment in the United States. In 2013, the US extended the duration of the B-2 visa issued in Cuba, allowing it to be extended for a period of five years and allowing multiple entries. continue reading

Since the United States reduced its Havana staff by less than half in September 2017 and suspended the visa process in Cuba, those who are interested in traveling as tourists to the United States must go to a US consulate in another Latin American country to process their request. The processing of paperwork to legally migrate to the United States was transferred first to the US consulate in Colombia and then, as of this summer, to Guyana, one of the few countries in the world that does not require a visa for Cubans.

Of the number of visas issued since October, 158 are for B-1 visas and 1,178 are B-2. In addition, 1,078 documents are for the dual categories of B-1 and B-2. The website points out that the most significant cut is concentrated in the case of visas for cultural exchange, which fell by 28% with respect to the total of B-1 visas and double-category visas.

US Tourist visas issued to Cubans. (Marti Noticias)

Martí Noticias points out that since 1997 there has not been a decrease of such magnitude in the number of visas granted to Cubans. In that year, 5,829 tourist visas were issued.

The United States blamed Cuba for failing to protect the health of 26 members of its diplomatic corps on the island who presented symptoms such as migraines and nausea, hearing loss and imbalance. Canadian officials have also reported similar clinical pictures without it being possible to identify the causes of what the State Department initially alled “acoustic attacks.”

The Cuban government strongly denies that it has anything to do with the injuries to foreign officials and has allowed US research agencies to enter the island. Cuba says that the alleged attacks are part of a strategy of the current administration of Donald Trump to derail the normalization of relations between both countries initiated under Barack Obama in 2014.

The United States and Cuba signed migratory agreements in the mid-1990s to eliminate the mass exodus of rafters to the coast of Florida. Following the signing of the agreements, Washington undertook to issue 20,000 visas a year in Havana to promote “orderly and regular” emigration, in addition to returning to Cuba rafters who were detained at sea.

On January 12, 2017, outgoing President Barack Obama eliminated the wet foot/dry foot that gave automatic refuge to Cubans arriving in US territory.

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

French Foreign Minister in Cuba Asked to Intercede for Release of Eduardo Cardet

Christian Liberation Movement national coordinator Eduardo Cardet was violently arrested on 30 November 2016 at the door of his home in Holguin. (CC)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 28 July 2018 — The Christian Liberation Movement (MCL) has asked French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian to intercede for the release of activist Eduardo Cardet, during his visit to Cuba on Saturday, according to the Catholic news agency Aciprensa.

Le Drian is the first member of French President Emmanuel Macron’s government to visit the island and will meet with Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez. His arrival coincides with the first hundred days of Miguel Díaz-Canel’s term as president of Cuba. 

In its letter, the MCL asks Le Drian “to intercede with the Cuban authorities for the freedom of our national coordinator, Eduardo Cardet (elected in 2014 as Oswaldo Payá’s successor), who is recognized as a prisoner of conscience.”  continue reading



The letter was delivered by the Cuban writer Zoé Valdés, resident in Paris, to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, where the officials explained that they knew of the case of Cardet and the minister would have the letter in his hands “shortly.”

In the letter, the opposition movement details that Cardet “was violently arrested on November 30, 2016 at the door of his house” in Holguín, and was subsequently convicted of an alleged crime of assault on authority in a “manipulated trial.”

The three-year prison sentence aims to “prevent his peaceful activism for a democratic change in Cuba through legal means, especially by coordinating the ‘One Cuban, one vote’ campaign that calls for changing the current electoral law so that it will be democratic and inclusive,” says the letter. 

This week the NGO UN Watch filed a complaint with the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detentions to demand that the island’s authorities release Cardet. UN Watch lawyers registered the case against the Cuban State last July 23 with this independent organ of the UN formed by five jurists and experts in human rights.

UN Watch denounces that since his arrest, Cardet has been beaten, he has been denied medical treatment, visits by a priest and in a “routine” way also those of his family members, in addition to being denied bail.

On May 26, authorities suspended family visits for a period of six months as “punishment for the family’s campaign for the release” of Cardet and agents of the State Security have “harassed” and are monitoring the family of the dissident.

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

Cuba Must Increase Investment to Close Economic Gap with Latin America

A man holding a ration book, which provides some basic monthly staples. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, July 27, 2018 — The decapitalization of the Cuban economy and a decline in productivity has created a “gap” with the rest of Latin America that can only be closed by increasing the rate of investment to 10% to 15% of the gross domestic product (GDP), as noted this Friday by an economist at a conference in Miami.

This is one of the conclusions of a study entitled “What Is the Cuban Economy’s Place in the Region?” It was conducted by the Colombian economist Pavel Vidal Alejandro, who presented it on the second day of the annual conference of the Association for the Study of the Cuban Economy Cuban (ASCE).

This is the first time purchasing power parity (PPP), total GDP, per capita output and productivity of the Cuban economy has been measured. continue reading

Vidal points out the problem in relying on Cuban government’s statistics on the exchange rate to calculate GDP is that the official rate of one Cuban peso (CUP) to one US dollar “overestimates the dollar value of the GDP” and distorts it.

Based on the official exchange rate, Cuba’s total GDP in 2014 was 80.65 million dollars while per capita GDP was 7,177 dollars.

But Vidal’s estimate, which is based on the average exchange rate, differs substantially from the official estimate. According to Vidal total GDP and per capita GDP in 2014 were 33.88 million dollars and 3,016 dollars respectively, 60% less than the official estimate.

The economist, a professor at the Pontifical Xavierian University in Cali, used the PPA and formulations from the Penn World Table (PWT), as well as international relative price estimates by the World Bank, to calculate Cuba’s GDP. He then compared the island’s economy with ten economies of similar size in the region.

One of the principal conclusions of his report is that the Cuban economy “has still not achieved the levels of productivity or per capita GDP” it saw in the years preceding the serious economic crisis of the 1990s, known as the Special Period.

In fact Cuba’s total and per capita GDP in 2014 in current dollars relative to the PPA rate “is around 30% lower than 1985 levels.”

Vidal concluded that the Cuban economy shrank relative to the rest of the region and currently is equivalent to 71% of the economy of the Dominican Republic and 61% of the Ecuadoran economy.

It is worth remembering, he notes, that in the 1970s Cuba, along with Uruguay, had the highest per capita GDP in the region. Today, however, the Caribbean nation occupies sixth place among the ten nations — Bolivia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Guatemala, Honduras, Jamaica, Panama, Paraguay and Uruguay — chosen for the comparison.

Although the reforms undertaken by former president Raul Castro were “a step in the right direction,” they are “insufficient” to halt decapitalization and increase productivity. They also fail to leverage advantages the island has in education.

Vidal feels that, if Cuba wants to recover lost ground, it will have to increase productivity, something only possible if it commits to significant structural reforms and increased investment.

He believes increasing the rate of investment must be “the number one priority” in being able to halt decapitalization, which he sees as a disadvantage that has worsened since 2011 with the emigration of the young labor force.

In the realm of education, the economist points out that classroom and academic instruction had been one of Cuba’s important advantages that helped close the gap in the 1970s and 1980s. However, that is no longer the case. Today there are few opportunities for a qualified work force, one of the principal contradictions of the reforms.

In conclusion, he observes that the “socialist system has shrunk the Cuban economy relative to the rest of the region.”

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

More Restrictions on Private Activities in Tourist Areas

The buying and selling of homes was authorized in 2011 after decades of prohibition. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 28 July 2018 — Trading, donating, buying and repairing dwellings in tourist areas will be more complicated from now on with the advent of new regulations.  After July 24 an authorization from the Municipal Housing Directorate or the Physical Planning Institute will be required, in addition to the requisites in force in the rest of the country.

Since, at the end of 2011, the government of Raul Castro authorized the sale of homes after decades of prohibition, a dynamic real estate market was unleashed in a country with 3,700,000 homes, some 86% of them owned individually.

Less than two years after the ban on these transactions was lifted, some 80,000 sales and gifts were carried out, according to data offered then by Aniuska Puente Fontanella, specialist with the Directorate of the Commercial Property Registry and the Heritage of the Ministry of Justice. continue reading

In recent years authorities have tried to control the phenomenon with the creation of taxes and, more recently, with new regulations for the better areas demanded by the tourist rental businesses and private restaurants.  The new measures pose an additional obstacle to the development of the private sector.

Among the outstanding tourist zones are the Varadero peninsula, the most famous Cuban resort, and also the coast of Havana of the East, especially the beach areas of that township which are visited by many vacationing foreigners and nationals each year.

From now on, according to the latest resolution, when a resident from those areas wants to trade, donate, sell or buy a property, he will have to seek an authorization from the Municipal Housing Directorate, unlike in other areas where it is only necessary to formalize the process before a notary.

When it comes to repairing or remodeling a dwelling, the license will be processed by the Municipal Directorate of Physical Planning, a supra-entity created by the government in order to bring order to the urban space and directed by General Samuel Rodiles Planas, a hard-line military officer.

After complying with those procedures, the owner of a house in these areas will have to await a confirmation by the Tourism territorial delegation, which will take into account “the balance” of the resident population in each area in order to keep it from increasing and affecting state activity in that sector.

The new requirement has alerted owners of hostels, restaurants and architecturally valuable houses, who now fear the paralysis or freezing of repairs and projects managed privately in these areas.

The Official Gazette also warns that trades in these areas must not contribute to a population increase or create new owners.  The text prohibits gifts and sales from affecting the tourist development programs.

The construction of new buildings will also be limited in a way that “rigorously fits” the Territorial Ordinance Plan and the urban regulations of those areas.  This decision has fallen like a bucket of cold water on those who have bought land in tourist areas in order to later build a house.

In the case of Old Havana and Central Havana, capital municipalities that are associated with the City Historian’s Office, there exist other specific ordinances that are even more restrictive.

“The rooms that remain unoccupied and available in favor of the State” in those areas “will be delivered directly to the Office of the City of Havana Historian” who will dispose of them “in accord with the established regulations.”

The objective, according to the Official Gazette, will be “relocation and better housing conditions for the resident population” in the area as well as “the restoration and conservation of heritage.”  It says another purpose of the new law is to promote “tourist development” and “the provision of social services to the population.”

One of the measures that is causing more controversy is the prohibition on dividing rooms or bedrooms, whether they are “situated in bunkhouses or tenement blocks, except in basic cases of social interest and previous authorization by the Historian’s Office.”

The practice of dividing spaces, whether vertically or horizontally (the well-known barbacoas*), has been used for decades to relieve housing problems in Cuba.  At the end of 2016 there was a deficit of more than 880,000 houses on the Island, and last year only 21,827 new dwellings were built, according to information from the National Office of Statistics.

Translated by Mary Lou Keel

*Translator’s note: “Barbacoa” (barbecue) is an unlikely term for a platform built in high-ceilinged room to add another “floor.” Search on term in the linked report by the late architect Mario Coyula to find out more; the first reference is on page 7 and a drawing of a ’barbacoa’ is on page 10.

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

Offensive Against Cuba’s Critical Artists Intensifies

Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara was detained for 48 hours for Saturday’s protest attempt against decree 349. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger

14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 24 July 2018 — Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara spent two days in detention after the act of protest he tried to carry out last Saturday, along with five other artists against Decree 349 that regulates artistic performances in private spaces.

The group was also made up of Soandry del Río, José Ernesto Alonso, Iris Ruiz, Amaury Pacheco and Yanelys Núñez, the only one of the six gathered on the steps of the Capitol in Havana who was not arrested despite appearing with their faces covered with excrement and holding a sign that called for “free art.” The founder of #00Bienal spent 48 hours in a police station while his colleagues were released in the hours after the arrest.

“They beat me from the Capitol to the police station and told me I have to respect the police. They beat me as if they were trying to break my back,” denounces Otero Alcantara in a conversation with 14ymedio hours after his release. continue reading

The artist explains that the afternoon was quiet and the protest action had not yet begun when the police appeared and arrested them. Although Otero confesses that he was in shock, he reacted by arguing that a citizen sitting in a public space that could not be arrested without proof of having committed any crime worthy of handcuffing him and putting him in the police car. The officer who arrested him refused to give him explanations about the causes of his arrest, so the artist resisted.

At the police station on Zanja Street, the officer known as Kenia, who has dealt with the cases of other artists such as Tania Bruguera, threatened Otero with imprisoning him for many years to prevent his artistic actions. The young man replied that he was already planning the second edition of the alternative Biennial that he organized last May for his “responsibility with the times.”

The group of artists decided to carry out a protest action after having been ignored by the Minister of Culture, to whom they had directed a letter to claim precisely what the decree prevents. “We wanted to be able to meet with the minister to clarify the independence of Cuban art, from music to dance, everything. We want there to be no need to be a degreed artist in order to have a space of legitimacy, and now it turns out that the space of allegiance is such that tomorrow you can lose your house if you sell a painting,” he denounces.

In addition, Otero Alcántara warns that this decree affects not only independent artists but also those who depend on the institution. “You can be a graduate of a school, but if they want to they can remove you from the Artist Register, as happened with some people in #00Bienal, and thus become part of the list of artists from whom they decide to take everything away.

For the artist, the decree “amounts to a stoning of all contemporary Cuban culture, everything that is not official and does not fall within the canon, it goes away” and it is “a very clear response” to the challenge the cultural authorities of the country perceived in the successful carrying off the independent Biennial event held in May.

The striking protest of Yanelis Núñez is, for Otero Alcántara, symbolic as well as very courageous. “It’s shit as a symbol of how we feel and how they treat us,” he says.

Amaury Pacheco, another of those who participated in the action and one of those who managed to record the moment of the arrest of Otero Alcántara, also celebrates this intervention that references the performance of Ángel Delgado, an artist who defecated on a copy of the state newspaper Granma. “Now the shit is on us in the form of protest and that makes us untouchable, Yanelys, they could not touch her and we carry the shit that has been poured on us all this time to the Capitol, directly to their stairs,” he said.

Pacheco feels “very happy” that “at least five people” have taken this step against a decree that he considers “a shot at the head of Cuban art” and a tool the Government uses to make alternative spaces “disappear completely” and to prevent unauthorized activities in private homes. If this is successful, he insists, events such as Endless Poetry or an upcoming independent Biennial will disappear.

These events coincide with an offensive against cultural activities by the Government.

A few days ago, Alpidio Alonso became Minister of Culture. Pacheco recalled that the new minister became famous in Alamar at the time of the “triumvirate” that he formed with Rojas and Jacomino when, in those years, he was directing the policy of the Hermanos Saíz Association. “If afigure with this background now appears as Minister of Culture he must also take a strong position for Cuban artists.”

In addition, this Monday 14ymedio, was able to confirm with the Cuban Institute of Cinematographic Art and Industry (ICAIC) that Ramón Samada is the new president of the organization. The appointment had not been announced in the official media, although it probably occurred in the last month. In a note on the week of German cinema in Havana published in Havana, he was already identified as the highest authority of the ICAIC.

Samada is a hardline officialist known for having starred in several controversial attempts to silence opponents. In 2015, he promoted the attempt to expel Eliécer Ávila from one of the assemblies of the G-20, where a group of filmmakers were calling for a film law on the island.

Years before, in 2010, he banned the entry of several government critics to Chaplin Cinema, where the eighth Young Filmmakers Exhibition was held. On that occasion the documentary Revolution was going to be screened, dedicated to the hip hop group Los Aldeanos. Among the artists who were prevented from entering were Ciro Javier Díaz Penado and Claudio Fuentes.

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

Raul Castro Calls for Savings and Denounces US "Neoliberal Offensive" in Latin America

Ex-Governor Raúl Castro with President Miguel Díaz-Canel in Santiago de Cuba. (Granma)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, July 26, 2018 — Raul Castro returned to the limelight, making an appearance at the main event celebrating the sixty-fifth anniversary of the assault on the Moncada Barracks, considered by the government to be the start of the Cuban revolution. In his first speech since giving up power on April 19, the former president spoke once again the nation’s tense economic situation, called for maximum savings and described recent electoral defeats of leftist Latin American leaders as a “neoliberal offensive.”

Castro, who remains secrectary general of the Cuban Communist Party, referred to the current constitutional reform process, stating its success “wil depend on Cubans’ active and committed participation.” He urged that all necessary steps be taken to ensure that “every citizen understands how profound and sweeping the proposed changes in the text are.”

At the beginning of this month five Protestant denominations made public statements opposing marriage equality, which the proposed constitution defines as the “union between two people” rather than “between a man and a woman.” For this reason several religious communities are calling on their members to reject the constitution. continue reading

Some opposition groups are also calling for a “no” vote in the referendum in protest against an article in the document which identifies the Communist Party as of the nation’s guiding force and reaffirms the “irrevocability” of the socialist system. Numerous dissident organizations have begun to campaigning for a negative vote.

“We cannot ignore the complicated nature of the current internal and external situation,” Castro acknowledged during the commemoration of the 1953 assault on the Moncada Barracks — at the time the most important military fortress in eastern Cuba — in which he took part with his brother.

The political event was broadcast live by state radio and television and was attended by more than 10,000 Santiago residents, who began arriving at the site sometime after midnight on Wednesday.

Castro warned of “an ongoing, tense situation in foreign earnings as a result of anticipated economic impacts from sugar exports and tourism” and blamed the problems “a prolonged drought, a devastating Hurricane Irma, unseasonably heavy rains and tropical storm Alberto.”

The former leader also cited the U.S. embargo, a standard talking point in his speeches, and denounced its “tightening” in recent months, which coincided with the arrival of Donald Trump in the White House.

“Despite these adverse factors, as previously reported, there was a slight growth of the economy in the first half of the year,” he said, referring to the 1.1% of GDP growth between January and June 2018, an insufficient figure for a real improvement in the lives of Cubans, according to some economists interviewed by this newspaper.

Castro described this result as “encouraging” but said that “it is necessary to ensure exports and reduce all non-essential expenses to allocate the amounts available to production and services that generate income in foreign currency.” The phrase was received with very serious faces among those present.

The memory of the economic crisis of the 90s, officially named the Special Period, has resurged with more intensity in the last year with the cuts of oil shipments to the island from Venezuela, the worsening of the shortages of products in the network of retail stores and the return of power cuts in several cities in the country.

The former president defined savings as “the main source of resources” in these circumstances and, as is traditional in these speeches whose style was coined by his brother Fidel Castro, he did not detail the figures for productive achievements or future projects.

In relation to the retreat suffered by the left in Latin America, the former president blamed Washington and its “methods of unconventional warfare,” in addition to describing as “fraudulent” some successes of the right in Latin American elections for having benefited from “support of the hegemonic media.” It is, according to him, “a neoliberal offensive.”

Castro did not miss the opportunity to reiterate Cuba’s “unwavering solidarity” with Nicolás Maduro and Daniel Ortega, in addition to demanding the freedom of former Brazilian president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and “his right to be the presidential candidate of the Workers Party” in the upcoming Brazilian elections.

Relations with Washington occupied a good part of the speech in which Castro reiterated the phrase that “Cuba should not be expected to renounce the ideas for which it had fought for more than a century in order to improve relations with the United States.”

This week the Assistant Secretary of State for Latin America, Paco Palmieri, met in Havana with officials of the Foreign Ministry, who once again denied the attacks and accused the United States of seeking political ends. In his speech this Thursday, Raul Castro defined the alleged attacks as a pretext for the Trump Administration to cool relations with the island.

When he finished speaking, the first rays of sun had not yet come out in Santiago de Cuba.

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

Cuban Economy’s 1.1% Growth is Not Felt on Cubans’ Dinner Tables

Residents walking near the entrance of Barbacoa, in Guantánamo. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario J. Pentón, Miami | 25 July 2018 – Cuba’s 1.1% economic growth the first semester of 2018, announced by President Miguel Díaz-Canel, will not reach the kitchens of the Cuban people, nor will it be felt in the already reduced purchasing power of their wallets, according to various economists consulted by 14ymedio.

The island, crippled by the crisis of its greatest ally, Venezuela, has not been able to recover in light of the reduced number of tourists, the fall in exports, the impacts of tropical hurricanes and the incompetence of governmental officials.

“I am alarmed by this statistic. I am quite worried because I believe the Cuban economy is quickly getting out of control. Various Latin American nations have current growth rates above 4%. Cuba is below average. It is usual [for Cuba], but it indicates that the motors of the economy are turned off,” says the Cuban professor and economist Elías Amor Bravo from Valencia, Spain. continue reading

Amor Bravo explains that the low economic growth rate is produced by the fall in tourism, which is not registering the figures that were anticipated. In the first semester of the year, the number of tourists that traveled to Cuba fell by 5%. In the case of Americans, the reduction was of 24% (some 266,000 people) compared to the previous year. President Donald Trump’s new policy, which promised a hard stance against the tourism enterprises owned by the Cuban military, has struck the country’s economy.

The economist says that foreign direct investment continues to be paltry with respect to the 2.5 billion dollars that the country needs annually. In addition, the sugar harvest has been quite poor, one of the worst in an entire century in fact (1.1 millions of tons), coupled with the damage caused by hurricane Irma (13.585 billion dollars) and tropical storm Alberto. The trade balance (the difference between exports and imports) in 2016, the last year for which statistics are available, is of -7.953 billion dollars.

“The uncontrolled public deficit has snowballed from year to year and is fed by an ever-increasing debt,” cites Amor, in addition to “the government officials’ failure to manage the economy.”

Cuba received crucial aid in 2014 with the pardoning of 90% of its debt of 35 billion dollars to the former Soviet Union, of which the Russian Federation was on the receiving end. In 2015, the Paris Club and Havana reached an agreement to forgive 8.5 of the 11.1 billion dollars Cuba had accumulated in debt and interest since 1986. Mexico also pardoned 70% of the 487 million it had loaned to the island. Japan forgave almost one billion dollars of an outstanding debt in 2014.

“The symptom of the illness is a fever, but the illness is what a doctor must study. If you only fight the fever you don’t solve the problem. The illness in the Cuban case is the disequilibrium due to a lack of exports and the uncontrollable spending of the State,” he says.

An increase in blackouts, more shortages in shops where items are sold in Cuban convertible pesos (CUC), as well as in the rationed markets, are the result of the island’s current economic situation. This has led to a resurgence of government control over the private sector. According to economist Carmelo Mesa-Lago’s calculations, the average Cuban’s purchasing power is barely 51% of what it was in 1989.

The signs of deterioration have also been felt by the pharmaceutical sector due to various liquidity issues related to paying suppliers of raw materials. In an industry that imports 85% of the ingredients for the fabrication of drugs, the crisis has led to shortages of 45 basic medications.

The picture is the same for the supplies of ice cream, soft drinks and beer which have fallen sharply in recent months in stores and manufacturers. The problems in buying packaging and raw materials abroad has led many industries, such as Cuba’s iconic ice cream maker Coppelia, to reduce their production and temporarily close some plants.

Mesa-Lago concludes in a recent study that the average growth of the economy between 2016-2018 will be 0.6%, a very poor figure compared with other countries in the region. The International Monetary Fund forecast 1.6% growth for Latin America this year.

Emilio Morales, director of The Havana Consulting Group, also doubts the Cuban president’s figure. “A growth of 1.1% of GDP is questionable due to the poor economic results of this semester. At this moment the country is going through a tense financial situation and a profound lack of liquidity, which has delayed payments to a group of important suppliers of raw materials and products,” says Morales.

Cuba managed to boost its economy after Hugo Chávez came to power in Venezuela, which allowed it to find an alternative to the subsidies it had received from the former Soviet Union.

The signing of a collaboration agreement with Caracas at the beginning of this century and the sending of tens of thousands of professionals to work in Venezuela, for which that country paid Havana directly with subsidized oil, was like giving Fidel Castro’s government an oxygen balloon. However, the crisis facing Venezuela has caused this to change.

According to the latest published official figures, trade between both countries fell to 2.224 billion dollars in 2016, the historical minimum since the beginning of Chavismo, after having exceeded 8.2 billion in 2012.

Left side: Percentage of oil imports by Venezuela. Right side: Venezuelan exports to oil to ALBA (Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas) countries.

Venezuela, which in the best years of its “Bolivarian revolution” sent around 120,000 barrels of oil per day to Cuba (at a value of about 4 billion dollars a year), has reduced the shipments to about 55,000 barrels. The vertiginous fall of petroleum production in Venezuela has forced it to go to international markets to buy crude oil that it later sends to Cuba by an annual cost of around 1.2 billion dollars.

Cuba-Venezuela Trade Figures. Red line: Imports from Venezuela to Cuba. Green line: Exports from Cuba to Venezuela. Blue bars: Total trade. Source: Cuba’s Office of National Statistics

According to the economist Omar Everleny Pérez, “the government’s plan is still not being met every year, and the plan itself is already low.”

“For the economy to achieve the takeoff it needs to grow steadily between 5% and 7%, and for the last four or five years the Cuban economy has hit a plateau of 2%,” he told this newspaper by phone.

Pérez, who directed the Center for the Study of the Cuban Economy at the University of Havana, believes that there is a vicious circle that blocks growth from resuming.

“A 1%  growth in the case of an economy with a level as low as Cuba’s is nothing, it does not reach the population, it has no impact,” he says.

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

Corruption and Mistreatment in the Ruins of the Old Hotel Rex in Havana

Yudiris Caridad Cintras with her three children leaving the Hotel Rex. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 26 July 2018 — The two hotels have the same name but have had very different destinies. The Hotel Rex in Santiago de Cuba, where some of the protagonists of the assault on the Moncada barracks stayed, can boast of three stars. The ruins of what was once the Hotel Rex in Havana, on the other hand, at number 64 San Miguel Street, are home to several families who live with the fear of an imminent collapse or eviction.

The deterioration of this four-story building with its formerly beautiful Art Deco facade adorned with balconies has had different stages. The worst came to pass in the late 80s, when it stopped being an inn that was rented by the hour for love affairs and became a shelter to accommodate families who had lost their homes due to building collapses, fires or because the buildings they previously lived in had simply deteriorated to the point where they were declared uninhabitable. continue reading

Each of the small rooms with bathroom, suitable for the shelter two lovers for a couple of hours of passion, welcomed large families who installed kitchens, laundry rooms and ‘subdivisions’ made from whatever material was available. Everyone believed that their stay would be for a limited time and under the logic of provisionality exploited their spaces without mercy.

Finally, the stigma of uninhabitability fell on the Rex and its inhabitants were relocated. However, despite the unfortunate state in which negligence left the building, it remained a space with a roof and this, more than a minimum, was a luxury for the most needy, willing to do anything to obtain and maintain housing in the capital of the Republic.

Exterior view of the Hotel Rex in San Miguel street in Centro Habana. (14ymedio)

They come from all the provinces — hustlers, workers joining the “heroic construction contingents,” policemen to persecute criminals, and thugs to evade the police– with every square meter of surface disputed every day, along with every stretch of cable through which the electricity circulates, and each pipe through which the water flows.

The network of procedures required to obtain a permit to live in this lion’s den includes the recognition of ‘exceptional circumstances’ that legitimizes some cases and, although it is difficult to prove, many of the previous procedures that resulted in the authorization to live there bear the unmistakable stench of corruption.

Yudiris Caridad Cintras, from the municipality of Antilla, in Holguín, had to escape with her three children from the house where she was mistreated for more than 7 years by her husband, an ex-cop who was never convicted of any of the numerous complaints she filed for threats and abuse.

This took place in May 2017, when she was 30 years old, and led her to qualify for the category of a “social case,” for which she receives economic aid of 300 Cuban pesos (roughly $12 US): 135 to pay for meals, and 165 for two of her children who do not receive maintenance from the father.

The delegate for this district of the municipality of Centro Habana, Ramón César García, alias El Yardo, was assigned the task of housing her and he placed her in a room on the second floor of the Rex that did not even have a toilet. For months she had to relieve herself in bags. Some neighbors sympathized with Yudiris and helped her move to the third floor, where there was a room with better conditions. They improvised a door for her and there she settled with what she could pick up off the street. Now she sleeps on the floor with her children, after burning old mattresses infected with bedbugs.

Currently, relations between Yudiris and the delegate are very difficult. According to her, this representative of the People’s Power, also a former cop, “has in his house the control of the water pump that supplies that liquid, subject to his own pleasure.” She hasn’t forgotten the occasion when she went to complain that she had been without water for days.” He mistreated me verbally and physically in the presence of my children, I had the youngest of the children in my arms when he knocked me to the ground by punching me in the face.” In addition, Yuridis denounces that he is accusing her of being a “human rights” person or a member of the Ladies in White, in order to isolate her.

Yudiris Caridad Cintras her rights in the offices of the Municipal People’s Power of Centro Habana. (14ymedio)

As recounted by Yudiris herself, and as 14ymedio was able to verify, also living in the Rex are around a dozen police friends of the delegate, who support him unconditionally in gratitude for the authorizations he has provided them without legal grounds. “I’m surrounded,” says the woman with a mixture of humor and anguish

Yudiris has gone to every government agency to raise complaints. In each office she tells her whole story and each one adds the new steps to her ordeal.

Her case is now known to the Ombudsman Office of the Council of State, in the military prosecutor’s office, the provincial prosecutor’s office, the provincial Committee of the Party, the Federation of Cuban Women, and the Municipal Assembly of Centro Habana. “I have been promised mattresses and a kitchen but the only thing I have achieved is that they allow me to have one of my children in a Children’s Circle.”

Yudiris de la Caridad is just one of the many cases caught between the quarrels and shared solidarity in this lodging that has become a pigsty. The human birds of prey among the ruins dehumanize some and make others better, but they are all victims equally, even the victimizers.

This Thursday July 26, in the revelry of the celebrations for the attack on the Moncada Barracks so many years ago, some of the veterans of that “historical feat” will remember the hours they spent at the Rex Hotel in Santiago de Cuba, maybe they will visit it and admire the good state in which everything is preserved. Probably none of them knows about the Havana Rex, nor do they need to.

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

Colombian Navy Rescues More Than a Dozen Cubans on the Caribbean Sea

The group of immigrants rescued by the Colombian Navy. (Twitter)

14ymedio bigger14YMEDIO, Miami | July 23, 2018 – The Colombian Navy rescued 21 “undocumented” immigrants off the coast of the San Andrés archipelago, more than 400 miles from Colombia’s Atlantic shoreline, according to a statement issued by that country’s military.

Thirteen of the immigrants were Cuban nationals, while the other eight were Ecuadorians.

“The undocumented immigrants were being transported by two Colombian nationals aboard a motorboat named ‘Black Moon’ traveling in the area south of the island of San Andres,” the authorities said. continue reading

According to the statement, the migrants received medical attention at a military health facility when they reached land.

The migrants were turned over to Colombian Immigration, while the alleged traffickers were handed over to the country’s Attorney General, and the boat in which they were being transported was confiscated.

The border guards at San Andrés Station have rescued 38 undocumented migrants this year and captured five people allegedly linked to immigrant trafficking.

The Colombian coast is part of the route undertaken by thousands of Cubans, Haitians, and Africans who every year try to reach the southern border of the United States. Although the “wet foot, dry foot” policy was repealed by former President Barack Obama, many Cubans continue to arrive on U.S. soil hoping to get political asylum.

Two weeks ago, 62 emigrants from Bangladesh, Brazil, Cuba, Eritrea, and India were thrown into the waters of the Colombian Caribbean by traffickers who were transporting them on a boat to Central America. A Cuban died on the dangerous crossing, authorities said.

Translated by Tomás A.

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.