"Censorship Has Been A Constant In My Work," Laments Chinese Writer Yu Hua In Havana

A poster for Yu Hua’s works at this year’s Havana Book Fair, which is focused on China.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 8 February 2018 — The young woman walks among the booths selling Chinese literature at the Havana Book Fair in search of works by this year’s star attraction, the writer Yu Hua, who finds a passionate readership on the island. With his criticisms of the censorship imposed on his work by the Chinese government, the novelist also defies the Cuban authorities.

The writer, who feels most at ease up close and personal, joined six other authors on Friday speaking to a group of students from the Confucius Institute, at the spacious headquarters of the educational institution inaugurated in Havana’s Chinatown in 2015. During the event they asked him the question that always hovers over Yu: “How have you managed to get around censorship in your country?” continue reading

Before the astonished glances of some officials present at the encounter, the writer got right to the point: “Censorship has been a constant in my work,” he said. He criticized with particular harshness the film adaptation of his work To Live, taken to the screen by the director Zhang Yimou, which won of the Grand Jury Prize at Cannes in 1994.

“[The movie] did not represent what I wrote because so many aspects had to be deleted and changed because of censorship that it was unrecognizable,” he lamented in front of the students of Chinese Language and Culture. The writer believes that the “scissors” applied were stricter because at the time the film was made the officials who controlled the cinema were very severe.

Whether because of his skill as a writer, or the discomfort he generates among his censors, Yu’s work has enjoyed great popularity in this year’s Fair. His writing has brought a spirited touch to the event, one in which many Cuban authors are striking by their absence, particularly those who live in exile or who, although they continue to reside on the island, are not looked upon kindly by officialdom, for example the novelist Wendy Guerra.

“They sold out the first day,” responds the staff tending the stalls where Yu’s works “flew off the shelves.” A teenager who asked if the author was going to attend the Fair was very disappointed by the response: “He’s already been here.”

Yu seems to have a lot of experience in gracefully wriggling out of the stilted ceremonies, official honors and autograph signing events. He is one of China’s most important living authors, having sold millions of copies of his works around the world, and has been nominated for the Nobel Prize for Literature on more than one occasion.

His best-known work, To Live, narrates a raw and sublime history, which spans the time from the fall of the Chinese Empire and the fratricidal struggles, until the arrival of the Cultural Revolution. Fugui, the protagonist, is both a witness and a participant in the brutal and accelerated change that is shaking his country. The novel explores the limits, or the absence of limits, of the human being in a context where he is overwhelmed and forced to act.

His other books, including Chronicles of a Blood Merchant (1998), Cries in the Drizzle (2004), Brothers (2008), The Seventh Day (2013), and China in Ten Words (2012), have had to deal in one way or another with official objections.

“China will change, the Communist Party will not always govern, there will come a day when China will be truly democratic and free,” the author repeated in his interviews, reinforcing his dissident image in the eyes of the Beijing regime.

The son of a surgeon and a doctor, Yu Hua, who had to work as a dentist in an era when few could choose their profession, is an exception in the midst of the boredom of the Fair, whose Guest of Honor this year is China. His works have outshone those volumes with their ubiquitous red covers that detail the politics of China’s Communist Party, filled with pages that sing the praises of the current economic health of the Asian giant.

The irreverent author has ended up eclipsing the other 200 writers, intellectuals and officials of his country who landed on the island, accompanied by nearly 7,000 copies of classic and contemporary works published in Spanish, English and Mandarin.

On Wednesday, few readers bothered to visit the immense space of nearly 4,500 square feet where you can find in Spanish the second volume of Xi Jinping: The Government and Administration of China , which addresses the policies of China’s current president. Readers are only interested in looking for Yu’s works.

 _______________________

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 Government Approves New US Chargé d’Affairs Philip Goldberg

Philip Goldberg, newly appointed US Chargé d’Affairs for Cuba (CC)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Madrid, 8 February 2018 — The Cuban government has finally granted approval to Philip Goldberg to head the US embassy in Havana, according to Reuters, which cites a US official as its source. Despite the deterioration in relations since the beginning of the presidency of Donald Trump, Cuba and the United States have opted to keep the diplomatic channels discreetly open.

Goldberg will assume the position of Chargé d’Affairs in a few days and, although his planned tenure is unknown, the US official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that it is likely to be six months. continue reading

Neither the Cuban government, through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, nor the US State Department were willing to give official responses to Reuters about the leak of the appointment.

Goldberg, 61, has long diplomatic experience serving in several countries and has been described by an adviser to the US Congress as “professional and the best of the best.”

The diplomat was the Chief of Mission for the United States in Kosovo and held several posts in the Balkan region before going to Bolivia as Ambassador in 2006 and serving as Ambassador to the Philippines in 2013, where he was the target of harsh verbal attacks from President Rodrigo Duterte.

The fact that he was expelled from Bolivia after being accused by President Evo Morales of “fomenting social discontent,” was envisaged as a possible stumbling block in Havana, but the Cuban government finally decided to give the green light to Goldberg’s appointment.

The new Chargée d’Affaires will arrive in Cuba at a complicated diplomatic time, after the withdrawal of a high percentage (approximately 60%) of the embassy staff in Havana for the alleged acoustic attacks that affected more than a score of officials and their families, as of the end of 2016.

The United States Government has not had an ambassador in Cuba since 1960.

Jeffrey DeLaurentis, one of the main promoters of the normalization of relations between Cuba and the US, was nominated by Barack Obama to be Ambassador to Cuba but did not get the approval of the US Congress, whose Republican majority refused to vote on the president’s proposal. In July of 2017 he was relieved by Scott Hamilton on an interim basis.

The designation of Golberg was proposed last December and finally approved by Havana two months later.

_____________________________

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.

’Pizarra,’ a Cuban Twitter, Launches to Connect the Two Shores

A mobile phone showing the site Apretaste! (EFE)

14ymedio biggerEFE, via 14ymedio, Miami, 27 January 2018 — Pizarra, a new Twitter-like social network created so that Cubans inside and outside the island can communicate, is already working and will allow users themselves to moderate content.

This was explained to EFE by one of the social medium’s creators, the young computer scientist Salvi Pascual who has been working for half a year on programming the software from Miami.

“We are trying to create a communication window based on Twitter but with the difference that Pizarra allows us to sort information by topics,” explains Pascual, a 32-year-old Cuban who is the executive director of the social networking site “Apretaste!” continue reading

Apretaste! has 40,000 registered users in Cuba and works through email. Cuba is among the countries with the lowest internet connection rate in the world (only 5% of Cubans have actual connections to the World Wide Web according to research from the NGO Freedom House).  Given this reality, Pascual, who has a master’s degree in computer science and divides his time between the United States and Spain, has always challenged himself to find ways to connect his compatriots.

“It is very difficult for ordinary people to understand that we work based on emails, but that’s the way it is, and our input and output (from Cuba) is encrypted,” he says.

Around 300 users already use Pizarra to communicate with friends and relatives on the island. The vast majority of them, explains Pascual, live in the United States, the place “with the greatest number of Cubans outside Cuba.”

Right now, he and his team — which includes a “good hacker” who lives in Cuba and works under the pseudonym Kuma Hacker — are finishing an application of Pizarra for mobile phones that will be available at the end of March.

The name of the social network, “Blackboard” in English, was chosen because “it is a kind of synonym for learning and knowledge, a place where everyone can write and read openly,” explained the programmer.

Pascual says that his new software, which works “free of any political color,” has a function that can block or call out people who misuse it.

“We did not block any content, not even the Granma newspaper, so we have made some people unhappy,” he lamented.

Although the mobile phone version of application may or may not be accessible to users from within the island, the new social network can be used there through the platform Apretaste!

The Cuban government says that 35% of the population is connected to the Internet, but Freedom House research reports that the actual number is only 5%, some 560,000 people from a population of just over 11 million inhabitants.

Data from Apretaste! finds that 25% of the population (about 2.8 million users) receive emails even if they do not have Internet.

Pascual relies on state accounts and state servers, such as those used by university students, diplomats, radio amateurs and doctors, who can access email through the government domain “cu.”

But the computer scientist based in Miami wants to go further. His Pizarra, he said, is also being created to function as a tourist guide.

______________________________

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.

Historic Farm Where Cuba’s Wars of Independence Began to be Refurbished

Preserved equipment from the sugar plantation where Cuba’s wars of independence began. (visitecuba.org)

14ymedio biggerEFE, via 14ymedio, Havana, 7 February 2018 — La Demajagua National Park, the farm in eastern Cuba where the wars of independence began in 1868, is being refurbished to improve its facilities, gardens and access roads, with the incorporation of new symbolic elements.

Located in Granma province, the farm was declared a national monument in 1978 and will be refurbished on the occasion of the celebration of the 150th anniversary of the beginning of the struggles for island’s  independence, the official newspaper Granma reported on Tuesday. continue reading

The renovation includes three new facilities, the reconstruction and expansion of the access road and the improvement of the patrimonial complex with “allegorical components” such as ten royal palms as a reference to the date, the 10th of October, on which the revolt began, and a lighting system with the colors of the Cuban flag (white, blue and red).

A “mount” of twelve flags will also be added in memory of the number of men who stayed with independence hero Carlos Manuel de Céspedes after the failure of the first military clash, the capture of the town of Yara, according to La Demajagua’s director, Carlos Céspedes, speaking to Granma.

All the improvements and the new features “will respect the patrimonial design dictated by the existing museum,” he added.

La Demajagua was a sugar plantation belonging to Céspedes who is considered Cuba’s “Father of the Nation.”  The ruins of the sugar mill and the curved stone wall are preserved, along with the original bell, which is the one the pro-independence hero rang the day the uprising began.

On that date, which marked the beginning of the Ten Years War against Spain, Céspedes shouted the island’s first pro-independence proclamation — “Independence or Death!” — and also freed his slaves.

_____________________________

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.

Trump, UN and OAS Asked To Not Recognize Transfer of Power In Cuba Without Free Elections

Activist Rosa María Payá in front of the new Cuban Embassy in Washington. (Twitter)

14ymedio biggerEFE via 14ymedio, Miami, 7 February 2018 — On Tuesday, February 6, the Miami-Dade County Commission requested that the United States Government, the Organization of American States and the United Nations not recognize a possible transfer of power in Cuba if it is not the result of free elections.

The petition was contained in a resolution supported by Commissioner José Díaz on the occasion of tribute paid by the Miami-Dade Commission to the Cuban dissident, Rosa Maria Payá, for her work as the founder and coordinator of the Cuba Decide campaign. continue reading

The campaign is aimed at mobilizing the Cuban people to organize a binding plebiscite in which citizens can decide on the political system they want, according to an official of the Miami-Dade Commission.

In the resolution, which was unanimously approved, the Commission adopted Rosa Maria Payá’s call for the United States Government, the United Nations and the Organization of American States to “not recognize any succession of power in Cuba without free and multiparty elections that restore the self-determination of the Cuban people.”

Since Raúl Castro announced his intention to step down from the presidency, it is expected that his successor will be elected in a vote without opposition candidates on the electoral ballot.

“The Cuban people deserve the right to decide their own future in free, open and multiparty elections, not by a simulated vote orchestrated by the Communist regime,” said Commissioner Díaz.

Payá, the daughter of the dissident, Oswaldo Payá, who died in an automobile crash that his family believes was provoked by Castro agents in 2012, said that Cubans “need” the international community to support them in order to prevent a “dynastic succession” in Cuba.

Translated by Regina Anavy

_________________________________

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.

There’s No Nostalgia Worse Than Longing for What Never Happened

That obsessive search of a mythical golden age that Donald Trump repeats in his speeches has to do with a characteristic of the conservative personality. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Carlos Alberto Montaner, Donald Trump is wrong when he declares that his intention is to Make America Great Again. When has the country ever been in better shape and its society more comfortable? When have its Armed Forces been more feared and more powerful, endowed with an annual budget of 600 billion dollars, an amount greater than that of all its enemies combined? If someone knows, it’s urgent that we do away with the doubt.

In the 1930s came the Great Depression, caused by the Wall Street collapse. In the 1940s came the Second World War, immediately followed by the Cold War and the fall of China into communist hands. In the peaceable 1950s,cradled in the tranquilizing arms of Eisenhower, after Korea and its tens of thousands of dead Americans, came the unrest in the Middle East and the ominous national practices to survive a possible Soviet nuclear attack. continue reading

The 1960s brought race riots, Vietnam and government lies. In the 1970s, Nixon imploded, and at the end of the decade, in the Carter era, bank interest rates climbed to 20 percent, the economy suffered from “stagflation” and it seemed that the period of democracy was coming to an end, overrun by Soviet collectivism. A little later, however, Mikhail Gorbachev buried the Soviet Union and communism was relegated to two loony bins without any real importance: Cuba and North Korea. (In China and Vietnam today we find another genre of dictatorship, distanced from Marxist superstitions.)

In the United States, people’s life expectancy has risen, as has happened in almost the whole world, sparked, in large part, by the country’s medical discoveries. Homes are larger and are furnished with all kinds of electrical appliances (even among the poorest social groups); food, including junk food, is so abundant and so cheap that the country’s great problem is not hunger but obesity and a progressive increase in diabetes.

The poor — approximately 15 percent of the population — are poor because a family of four receives “only” about $24,000 a year, plus food stamps. Everyone — the poor, the middle class and the rich — has access to electricity, the Internet, drinking water, clothing, cell phones, transportation, schools, state or private universities that award scholarships to the best students and loans to almost everyone, police protection, reasonably efficient judicial systems and opportunities to work and move ahead.

True, the United States has problems, but they have always existed. It is a free society, complex and plural, with 325 million inhabitants, of whom more than 42 million are Afro-Americans and more than 57 million are Hispanics, whose representatives maintain order with a much discussed and debated punitive strategy where approximately three million are incarcerated.

It is also true that the quality of students decreases while the cost of tuition increases, but the country has the 25 best university and research centers on the planet. Simultaneously, there is no universal health insurance, medicines are expensive and malignant drugs cause deadly damage (never better said). The latter — the drugs — are linked to the fact that in some cities there are areas of extreme violence with very high rates of homicide. However, the United States remains a fundamentally free country and one full of opportunities.

That explains why millions of human beings try to settle in this country. There is no better index of the relative quality of a society than the presence of immigrants. The United States is a magnet because the American Dream is alive. As it was in Venezuela until Chavismo came. As it was in Cuba until Castro crushed the dream that one could prosper through one’s own efforts. As it was in Argentina, until Peronism ruined that great nation with its populist message, intermingled with fascism. The immigration balance of these three countries was very favorable until the ideological stupidity and barbarism destroyed the productive apparatus and pulverized coexistence.

It is true that there are places where life is better in some aspects than in the United States (half of Europe, including Spain, perhaps in Israel or Japan, because quality of life does not depend only on material issues), but perhaps in none of them can immigrants can establish themselves like in the USA, where in the last elections two senators, children of immigrants, aspired to the presidency, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, while the story of newcomers and their descendants who succeed is repeated again and again as a permanent mantra.

In the 15th Century, the Spanish poet Jorge Manrique, moved by the death of his father, Rodrigo, wrote a great poem with a melancholy ill-thought verse: “Any time in the past was better.” Not true. In those societies, such as the United States, where an institutional continuity exists despite the reversals and bad junctures, they manage to prosper in a constant manner, making themselves true progressives, an adjective that countries and parties that progress least often usurp.

Probably that obsessive pursuit of a mythical Golden Age that Trump keeps repeating in his speeches has to do with a characteristic of the conservative personality. Conservatives tend to be pessimists. They invariably see the glass half empty and become frightened when they see an ethnically diverse society, more tolerant in sexual and religious matters, in which the norms of behavior, from strident and rude music to tattoos, are very different from what they learned in a safe childhood of white and Christian homes.

Conservatives associate the profile of society with their own biography. In the past, they were young and handsome. Today, they are old, wrinkled and ugly. The past was better, they believe. That’s not true. It was different. Another poet, a singer named Joaquín Sabina, has expressed it in a very popular song: “There’s no worse nostalgia than longing for what never happened.” This is what is happening to Donald Trump.

Note: Portions of this translation taken from The Latin American Herald.

________________________

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.

Uncensored Internet in Camaguey Thanks to Alternative Networks

A woman connects to the internet through an alternative network that she captures from the doorway of her house in the city of Camagüey. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Ricardo Fernández, Camaguey, 7 February 2018 — The city of Camagüey is experiencing an intense digital transformation thanks to independent wireless networks that connect thousands of users throughout the country. It is a complex framework that carries the Wi-Fi signal from the Telecommunications Company of Cuba (ETECSA) to all neighborhoods and also eliminates censorship.

In this city, in the center of the island, there are only nine wireless zones installed by the state telecommunications monopoly and the majority are located in the most central areas of the city.

In parallel, dozens of NanoStation or Mikrotik devices capture the signal and broadcast it. That web of connections not only offers a cheaper internet experience but one that is also free from censorship thanks to the fact that the flow of data passes through virtual private networks (VPNs). continue reading

Previously it was the users who, on an individual basis, made a joke of censorship through anonymous proxies. Now, it is the administrators of the nodes who are in charge of doing it.

“What started with some guys offering Wi-Fi connections through a laptop is now a well-structured business that takes the Internet to all neighborhoods,” one of the young administrators of one of the most popular networks, who prefers to be called “AA” (Anonymous Administrator), tells 14ymedio.

The official service costs 1 Cuban convertible peso (CUC) for each hour of navigation, but local entrepreneurs make it possible for the same connection to be shared among several users in order to reduce costs. The price can fall to less than half the ETECSA rate and even go as low as 0.30 CUC an hour.

The purchase of service is made directly through those who manage the antennas, and prepaid cards have been created for that purpose. Regular customers benefit from the signal reaching the doors of their houses and others who receive a weakened signal, because they are further away, at least no longer have to travel long distances.

The commercialization of ETECSA’s Nauta Hogar service that supports Internet browsing in private homes began in the city on December 11. Right now, this service is available only in three of the council districts in the city and Internet users do not want to wait for Etecsa to extend the service to all neighborhoods.

The alternative network also offers the advantage that “you can access the pages stapled [i.e. blocked] by the government,” ’AA’ tells 14ymedio. The government censors dozens of sites, including this independent newspaper and the webpages of human rights organizations.

Last September a report from the Open Observatory of Network Interference (OONI), an organization associated with the anonymous network project and the free VPN tool Tor, revealed that after analyzing access to more than 1,400 web pages in three cities on the Island between May and June of 2017, it detected that at least 41 of them were blocked.

Most of the blocked sites belong to independent media and opposition organizations, so OONI concluded that the only Internet provider in Cuba, ETECSA, censors sites that “express criticism (direct or indirect) towards the Government.”

“The private [providers] not only have better prices but the user’s final experience is more pleasant”, says Mandy, 34, an administrator of a dozen antennas that provide service in Havana. “At the beginning we transmitted the ETECSA signal as it came to us but now we’re trying to give a superior service.”

Contracting with an efficient VPN means that these entrepreneurs must have a credit card for online payments, an obstacle they skillfully overcome through contacts abroad. “We take out our MasterCards and pay the fees for the different services so that our internet is really free,” explains another young Camaguey computer expert.

The business is attracting many interested in joining. The initial investment to manage your own node is around 500 CUC. The most expensive part of hosting is the NanoStation or the Mikrotik — costing up to about 200 CUC — and the rest of the capital is invested in routers or switches and mobile phones.

“All the sending and receiving equipment is configured through telephones so as not to use computers, in this way we minimize the damage if the police search us [and sieze the equipment],” AA explains.

Some of these wireless networks have managed to get official backing by signing up with the Youth Computer Clubs as communities dedicated to video games. Other distributors prefer to mask the network so that it is visible only to customers who pay for the service.

“This is not a business to get rich, but it gives us enough to live on. We have taken advantage of the lack of a laws [that we could be charged under], although we know that if they set the police on us everything would be complicated,” acknowledges AA.

However, much remains to be done. “The connection gets slow at peak times,” Yunior Rodriguez, a young man from the Guernica neighborhood, who connects from his home portal to one of these alternative networks, comments to this newspaper. He appreciates that the independent providers have a more attractive access interface than ETECSA does.

“There are the little things that make the difference: the homepage of the network where I have to put my user data is updated regularly,” he explains. Once again, competition knocks at the door of Etecsa, which since the beginning of its web browsing service has not changed its access portal or carried out many other improvements in the service.

____________________

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.

Fidel Castro Diaz-Balart was Buried in the Colon Cemetery in Havana

Several wreaths remained on Monday on the vault of the Academy of Sciences of Cuba, in the Colon Cemetery of Havana, where Fidel Castro Díaz-Balart was buried on Sunday. (EFE)

14ymedio biggerEFE via 14ymedio, Havana, 5 February 2018 — The remains of the nuclear physicist Fidel Castro Díaz-Balart, Fidel Castro’s first-born son, known as Fidelito, who took his own life last Thursday, rest in the pantheon of the Academy of Sciences in the Colon Cemetery, the largest cemetery in Havana.

On Monday, the discreet black marble pantheon was covered with several wreaths of flowers, most of them of white roses, from his children and grandchildren, his mother, Mirtha Díaz-Balart, and his sisters on his mother’s side and his nephews, according to EFE. continue reading

The funeral of the revolutionary leader’s first-born, who committed suicide at the age of 68, was celebrated on Sunday in Havana, where he was honored at the headquarters of the Cuban Academy of Sciences, of which he was vice president at the time of his death, according to several attendess who published on social networks.

The official media did not publish anything about the funeral, organized privately by the family, as had already been explained in the official note published on the death.

The only public comments from the Castro family about the death of the the commander of the revolution’s oldest son were made last Friday by Mariela Castro, daughter of President Raúl Castro and cousin of the deceased, who expressed appreciation on her Twitter and Facebook accounts for the condolences received.

Castro Díaz-Balart, the only child from Fidel Castro’s marriage with Mirtha Díaz-Balart, also served as scientific advisor to the Council of State of Cuba, the Island’s highest governing body.

According to the official statement released in state media, Fidelito was in a “deeply depressed state” for which he had been receiving treatment for months.

“As part of his treatment, he initially required hospitalization and then continued with outpatient follow-up during his social reincorporation,” the text said.

Trained in Russia, where he studied under a pseudonym for security, he was the head of Cuba’s nuclear policy between 1980 and 1992 and was in charge of the unfinished construction of the Jaragua nuclear power plant, which would have been the first installation of this type in the island.

Among his last public appearances were the investiture of Chemistry Nobelist Peter Agre, an American, as a member of the Cuban Academy of Sciences, in August of 2017, and a trip to Japan last October to represent Cuba in a scientific forum.

Few details of his personal life are known, but he was married to the Russian Natasha Smirnova, with whom he had three children (Mirta María, Fidel Antonio and José Raúl) and after divorcing his first wife he married the Cuban María Victoria Barreiro.

He had, in addition, five brothers recognized by their father (Alexis, Alexander, Antonio, Alejandro and Angel Castro Soto) and two sisters from his mother (the twins Mirta and America Silvia Núñez Díaz Balart). as well as Alina Fernández Revuelta, the illegitimate daughter of a relationship that Castro had with Natalia Revuelta.

In addition, his maternal cousins include Cuban-American Republican congressman Mario Díaz-Balart and former congressman Lincoln Díaz-Balart, both known for their anti-Castro positions.

 _______________________

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.

Rich in Venezuela, Beggars in Colombia

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Antonio Maria Delgado and Mario J. Pentón, Bogota, 6 February 2018  — “Venezuela … I would not wish it on even my worst enemy,” says Luis Alfredo Rivas in a bus terminal in Bogotá, with tears in his eyes.

The young man, 32, is one of the thousands of Venezuelan immigrants in Colombia who left their jobs, homes and all their possessions behind and now beg throughout the day just to collect enough coins to pay for a roof to sleep under. Despite this, many claim to be better off than before crossing the border.

As Venezuela’s economy continues to crumble, thousands of its citizens migrate to Colombia every day, sometimes walking hundreds of miles on foot through the Andes to escape the chronic shortage of food and medicine, the frequent looting and the rampant crime in their own country. continue reading

In its last report published in January, Migración Colombia estimates that more than 550,000 Venezuelans are now living in the country. In addition, according to the market research firm Consultores 21, some four million citizens have left Venezuela. The migration crisis has reached such a level that Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos will travel to the border city of Cúcuta on Thursday to announce measures to address the situation.

The flight of hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans from their homes reflects the impact the collapse of the national economy during Nicolás Maduro’s presidency has had on the lives of its citizens.

The once thriving oil nation, which used to provide billions in aid to its neighbors, is trapped in a spiral of hyperinflation that stood at 2,616% at the end of 2017.

“I have my house there, I have all my things there. But my and my husband’s salaries were not enough for my daughters to have breakfast, we couldn’t even give them bread,” Esperanza Tello, accompanied by her 6-year-old daughter, Edilianys Rojas, tells 14ymedio. “We live badly here, but it’s better than in Venezuela.”

Many Venezuelans who live in the streets of Bogotá have the same challenge every day: to try to collect 12,000 to 15,000 pesos (between 4 and 5 dollars) to pay for a room for the night. That is the most important thing for Tello and his family. His youngest son is 2 years old and it is cold at night in Colombia’s capital, which is 8,600 feet above sea level.

Sitting nearby in the same square, Shelby Jesús Monsalve Pérez, 29, and Alexis Romero, 22, say there have been days when they have not been able to collect the 12,000 pesos and have slept on the grass in a nearby park.

Brian Steven Tole, Edilianys Rojas and Ediangelis Alexandra Rojas, play outside one of the bus terminals in the city of Bogotá while their parents sell sweets and coffee to pay for a place to spend the night. (14ymedio)

The two former students have tried to find work, but it is very complicated, so they spend many days praying that the coins they put together are enough to eat. Despite his difficult situation, Perez claims to be more concerned about his little sister, who he left with his other brother in Caracas.

“We had a good life, but then what happened happened. I’ve talked to my brothers and they tell me that the situation is much worse now, much harder and more difficult,” Pérez said. “I feel very bad for my sister because she is there alone with my brother, I have been helping them, sending them 20,000 or 30,000 pesos (between 7 and 10 dollars) so they can eat, because there [in Venezuela] salaries are not enough.”

Rivas, the young man at the bus station, explains that the disconnect between wages and the price of food, which is mostly found on the black market, is disproportionate. “For starters, Venezuela’s minimum wage is only 190,000 bolivars per week, when a two pounds of rice costs 210,000 bolivars, so what can I do?” he says.

John Rodríguez, 29, recently arrived in Bogotá, says he knows many people who have decided to leave Venezuela because they believe there is no chance for them there. In his case, he decided to enter through Cúcuta from Valencia in November inspired by the experience of his friends.

Rodríguez walked, along with a friend, David Ortega, the 340 miles between Cúcuta and Bogotá along the roadsides.

“The Colombians have helped us along the way. We did not go hungry because they gave us food,” said Rodriguez. “I just arrived and I’m trying to find a hotel so I don’t have to sleep on the street, I don’t want to do it, but if it can’t be avoided, I’ll do it.”

 ____________________________

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.

Spain Offers Up To 200 Euroes in Emergency Aid To Its Nationals in Cuba

The Spanish Embassy in Havana. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 1 February 2018 — Cubans with Spanish nationality living on the island who can show they have “special needs” can now, like every year, apply at the Spanish Embassy in Havana for up to 200 euros a month in emergency aid.

To access this benefit, interested parties only have to meet the same requirements specified in previous years. Thay must prove their Spanish citizenship, be entered in the Consular Register, prove that they lack the means to support themselves, and be under 18 or over 65 or demonstrate that they are unable to work. continue reading

They must also fill out a form available on the Spanish Embassy’s website and submit it before the end of process on March 31.

The processing of applications for 2018 was announced last week by the Consul General of Spain, Marta de Blas, who reported that in 2017 this measure benefited 5,732 Spanish residents on the island, out of a total of 13,531 applications processed.

To facilitate the distribution of the subsidy, Madrid also allows Cubans with Spanish nationality living in the United States but who have a family member on the island who meets the requirements, to send the request to the Consulate on their relative’s behalf to help them in the process.

People without Internet access can obtain the form through the presidents of the Spanish regional entities represented in the Council of Spanish Residents, but it is also possible to obtain it in the Honorary Viceconsulates in the cities of Villa Clara, Camagüey and Santiago de Cuba.

Applicants must send the form to this address and with the following references: Consulate General of Spain in Havana. Help Section. Application 2018. Calle Zulueta nº 2 Esquina Cárcel. Havana 1 CP10100-Havana.

For years not only the central government, but also the regional executives of Spain have provided monetary benefits to their citizens on the island who lack resources.

 ____________________

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.

Caribex Wants to Get More Profitability From Lobster

Caribex forecasts 2018 seafood exports will be worth 76 million dollars. (El Universal)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 5 January 2018 — Without increasing production and with a simple change in “the ways of presenting and marketing the product,” the state company Caribex aims to increase revenues between 40 and 50% from lobster exports. This was explained to the Cuban News Agency (ACN) by its director, Javier Francisco Aguiar.

The exquisite seafood remains reserved for export and tourists who visit the island. Its sale is a monopoly of the State but there is an illegal market that finds outlets in the paladares (private restaurants) and guest houses.

The Caribex director forecasts 2018 exports, including shrimp, will reach a total value of 76 million dollars, which corresponds to an increase of 3.7% over the previous year. continue reading

The main fishing areas, located south of the western provinces, between Pinar del Río, Havana and Isla de la Juventud, provide 80% of the catch from commercial fishing.

“With small investments, varieties such as lobster, shrimp or aquaculture fish can be even more profitable, by meeting the needs or tastes of consumers,” adds Aguiar in his statements to the ACN. The final destination of the seafood is found mainly on the tables of European and Asian countries, as well as Canada.

Lobster season runs from the beginning of June to the end of January. After the end of the season a period of closure of at least four months is established to facilitate the recovery of the species before the start of the new season.

________________________________

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 Authorities Denounce ‘Illegalities’ in Vinales to Serve Explosion of Tourism

The Valley of Viñales has a landscape of mountains and mogotes unique in the world. (Marius Jovaiša)

14ymedio biggerEFE, via 14ymedio, Havana, 5 February 2018 — The Valley of Viñales, whose unique landscape has made it a highly attractive place for tourism, faces the potential risk of an uncontrolled exploitation as well as illegalities in the provision of services for tourists, which has required the authorities to adopt measures for its protection, according to the local press.

Viñales, where traditional methods of agriculture, highly valued vernacular architecture and traditional artisanal crafts and music ​​are preserved, was declared a National Monument in 1978, a Protected Area in 1998, a UNESCO World Heritage Center in 1999, and a National Park in 2001. continue reading

All these attributes, and in particular its stunning natural setting, have stimulated a growth in foreign tourism to the town of Viñales, which in 2016 received more than 700,000 visitors, followed by some 600,000 in 2017, according to the Ministry of Tourism.

To welcome the burgeoning boom of travelers, this valley in Pinar del Rio province currently has 2,300 rooms for rent and more than 130 restaurants that employ about 5,000 private workers, according to data provided by the president of the Municipal Assembly of People’s Power from the area, José Antonio Valle.

He explained that the interest stirred by the tourist destination caused people from other regions to start creating food services and lodging for tourists.

In this sense, the director of the Technical Office of Monuments of the Provincial Center of Cultural Heritage, Nidia Cabrera, said that the growth of the town “has been more in housing than in demographics, because there are many campaigns that encourage visitors to visit Viñales,” and in her opinion this growth “has exceeded all capabilities,” to host it.

“The number of people we see [working here] are not all residents, but personal attracted by the trade, since the destination is a source of employment. There are those who work in construction, who are hired to serve, wash and clean,” the official said.

In the opinion of these authorities, tourism itself is not as much a risk for Viñales as are the illegalities linked to services, in “precipitous” expansion, in order to respond to the growing demands of visitors.

The proliferation of buildings has led to violations of urban planning rules, including heights and extensions of oversized housing, landscaped areas paved over for patios, and remodeling carried out with forms and materials inconsistent with the area’s existing patterns of development.

Among the measures proposed to stop the illegalities and preserve the heritage site are the restoration of planted areas, the use of an approved color palette, the replanting of trees along the main streets, the homogeneous painting of buildings and the use of approved lighting.

“Viñales must preserve the identity values ​​that have given it that importance at the universal level, especially with regards to the care of the landscape,” said the president of the Provincial Commission of Monuments, Juan Carlos Rodríguez.

This month a group of specialists from the Physical Planning Institute and the National Heritage Council will carry out a survey “meter by meter” of the anomalies, with the collaboration of local people, to dictate the pertinent measures, reports the local press.

Also mentioned among the violations associated with the tourist activities is the uncontrolled exploitation of the footpaths intended for hikers that are  now being used for horseback riding. For this reason it was decided to control the activity of renting horses.

_________________________

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 ‘Yes’ Victory in Ecuador is Also a Defeat for Castroism

Lenin Moreno, Ecuador’s recently-elected president, triumphed in all 7 questions of a national referendum that was pro-democracy, pro-environment and anti-corruption. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 6 February 2018 — “For the first time, I’m a Leninist,” a Cuban retiree said repeatedly and recklessly, standing in line for the newspaper. Around him some responded with a complicit smile. A few hours before, the news of a story with profound significance for Cuba had arrived: the triumph of the ‘Yes’ vote last Sunday, in a 7-point referendum promoted by that other Lenin, the president of Ecuador, Lenin Moreno.

During the last decade, Ecuador had become a recurring reference point for  Cuba. The diplomatic closeness between Rafael Correa and Raúl Castro, the thousands of professionals who were sent to work in that geographically complex country, and the many other Cubans who made Ecuador a point of departure for migration to other places, brought both nations closer together. continue reading

Meanwhile, Cuba’s official press also played a hand with positive adjectives about a Citizen Revolution and presented Rafael Correa as an “eternal friend” who would always be there for Cuba, to close ranks against the “empire” of the North. The narrative ignored a key fact: the Andean nation was still a democracy and at some point, Correa, an economist with a PhD from an American university, would have to leave power.

The Cuban media controlled by the Communist Party, including the newspaper Granma, gave no space to critical information about the Ecuadorian president’s management of his country. Not even to question the terrible oil drilling agreement he signed with China that shorted the country 2.2 billion dollars for the anticipated sale of crude oil, according to data that have surfaced in an ongoing investigation.

Granma also remained silent on Correa’s attacks of arrogance, his lack of composure in dealing with political opponents, the judicial witch hunt he launched against the press that dared to criticize him, and the corruption plots that shook his government and have led to a six-year prison term for vice president Jorge Glas, for receiving bribes from the Brazilian construction company Odebrecht.

After ten years in office, Correa concluded his second term and Havana reinforced its information strategy with regards to Ecuador. Lenin Moreno, Correa’s vice president, was presented as an extension of his predecessor, the docile heir of the designs of the true leader of the process who would respect the law barring him from three consecutive terms, and take a brief pause before returning triumphantly, after Moreno served one term as a ‘placeholder’.

That entire fantasy has been collapsing in recent months and was shattered this last Sunday. Moreno triumphed over the former president and his authoritarian model, cutting off the path the latter had laid for himself to return to the presidency, and, incidentally, sending a bitter message to Castroism at a time when Cuba’s so-called ‘historical generation’ is tying up the threads of succession politics.

There is no doubt, the resounding ‘Yes’ victory on all seven of the referendum’s questions is also a defeat for the Cuban regime.  Ecuadorians who chose to reestablish firm term limits and support the political disqualification of those found guilty of corruption, among other topics voted on in the popular consultation, have taken a decision that transcends their own country and touches, in particular, on this island.

With Brazil’s former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva submerged in several legal processes, Bolivia’s Evo Morales facing an imminent crisis of sustainability, Kirchnerism going through its worst moment in Argentina, Venezuela’s Nicolás Maduro unable to buy support in exchange for oil, and a pathetic Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua making concessions to liberalism, the populist left has received another devastating blow in Ecuador. But this is a more effective hit because it comes from within.

After learning the results of the polls, Lenin Moreno called on his compatriots to build a country “happy, renewed, in peace and freedom.” That last word must have sounded in Havana’s Palace of the Revolution like a coup de grace.

____________________________

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.

An Arab Sheikh ’Offers’ 5 Billion Dollars for Cuba

Four friends discuss the offer of an Arab Sheikh to buy Cuba in Eduardo del Llano’s short film. (Still)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 5 February 2018 — How would the inhabitants of Cuba react if suddenly a Dubai millionaire wanted to buy the island for 5 billion dollars? That is the question the filmmaker Eduardo del Llano asks in his short film Domino, a part of the series Los cuentos de Nicanor (The Tales of Nicanor), which he has published on his YouTube channel under the label of Sex Machine Productions.

The story of the short, which revolves around four friends who interrupt the routine of their domino game on hearing this unusual news, overflows with critical humor about citizen misinformation, decision making without popular consultation and the question of what, really, is Cuba.

From this absurd opening emerge different positions and interests that reflect both the fears and doubts that assail the four men before the tempting offer to sell their own country. continue reading

The premiere of this piece, number 14 in the series, has arrived a year after the start of its filming. The director says he wanted to capture “the different types of Cubans” around the table and to weave a plot that is a example of “deep Havana.”

“There is a sense that things are happening, that decisions are being made, that domino pieces are being played and no one knows until after it has already happened and that feeling is always disturbing,” Del Llano emphasizes, speaking about the context that led him to shoot Domino.

The well-known character Nicanor O’Donnell, played by Luis Alberto García, after learning that the nation is going to be bought, starts to calculate — with the other three players La Ciencia (Néstor Jiménez), Sangremono (Omar Franco) and Pepe, El Víctima (Miguel Moreno) — how much money will be paid to each inhabitant once the transaction is done

Arithmetic that replaces any kind of the nationalist outburst and the comments that spring from the table have more to do with the pragmatism of survival than with any patriotic pose. The country is up for auction with its human beings included and in the acceptance of that situation there is no pain or bitterness, only pragmatism.

The actress Lola Amores makes a brief appearance as the same character she played in Santa and Andrés, Carlos Lechuga’s movie censored by the Cuban authorities. The seconds she appears in the screen work as a nod towards the viewer and in solidarity with the young filmmaker.

The men’s first calculations of earnings lead the players to think that each resident on the island will receive 10 million dollars when the purchase of the national territory is completed, an illusion that passes quickly because El Sciencia (Science) is in charge of correcting the mathematical error; he confirms that they will only get 500 dollars per capita.

The calculation opens the way to reflection on the egalitarianism that has ruled many aspects of the national economy and the political discourses, on introducing the possibility that the distribution will be a function of need.

There is also no shortage of irony in reference to the external enemy. “And if all this is just a CIA maneuver (…) it would be a simple way to end communism,” whispers Pepe El Víctima, suspicious, but he recovers immediately: “500 dollars is crap but it’s a lot more than half of all Cubans have ever seen in their damn life.”

Without pain or nostalgia, the concerns of the friends run the gamut, including whether they will have to embrace the Islamic faith or emigrate after the sale of the country. “What is Cuba, us or the land?” The question triggers a doubt about who will be included in the distribution, touching on exiles, government opponents, the terminally ill and Cubans about to be born.

The friends are also incredulous that the capital might be used in collective works: “They can no longer grind us down with all that talk about how they are going to invest in social plans.”

The sparkling dialogue shows Del Llano’s skill in filmmaking where he combines the irrational with sharp and real criticism. “Typical. They are talking about selling the country and no one tells us anything, they don’t even consult us,” complains Nicanor, for whom “there is no journalist, not one” who dares to report what is happening.

The mockery goes one step further until it touches on the authorities. “When they get that money and they’re left with no territory to govern, does the government stop being a government?”

Without tears or lamentations, in the tenement passageway and while slapping down the dominos, the four men express their conviction that the decisions will be taken in a place very distant from their opinions. All they can do is wait for the Island to pass from one hand to another, and so it has been for as long as they can remember.

 ________________________________

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.

Cienfuegos Pharmacies Get a Coat of Paint But Still Lack Medicines

The lack of medication allows state employees to enjoy a lot of free time during their work hours. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Justo Mora, Cienfuegos, 4 February 2018 — Shelves without medications and patients who do not find an answer to their needs; pharmacists who spend the day talking on the phone or doing manicures. Everything remains the same, but the newly restored pharmacies and opticians of the city of Cienfuegos are trying to hide their lack of supplies with paint.

“In the week just ended, there were 86 medications that were not available from the basic set,” Dr. Salvador Tamayo, provincial director of Public Health, said at a meeting held at the Provincial Hospital to which 14ymedio had access. The “basic set” consists of more than 800 medicines available in the country. continue reading

Most of the medicines that are missing from pharmacies are imported or require the use of foreign raw materials. The national austerity policy has meant that less budget is spent on acquiring medicines from abroad. According to official data, there are 32% fewer hospitals than there were 10 years ago, while the clinics where family doctors practice only have 40% of staff positions filled.

“This is like putting rouge on an old woman,” says María del Carmen Arroyo, a neighbor of the pharmacy on Arguelles Street. “They can paint and fix the roof, which is appreciated, but if we do not have medicines, why do we need a pharmacy,” she says.

Boxes of empty medicines and others with the same medicine in large quantities is the daily situation of pharmacies in Cienfuegos. (14ymedio)

The woman, 65, reports that buying an analgesic for her spinal pain has become her biggest nightmare. “The first thing is to go to the family doctor, who is never there, and when he arrives there is a tremendous line. Afterwards, you have to go out and search for the medicine, because in the pharmacy I am assigned to it is always missing,” she says.

Display cases filled with empty boxes and bottles of the same medications, mostly artisanal herbal syrups, adorn the shelves of the pharmacies, while bags of sanitary pads, sold on the ration book, accumulate in the corners.

“That medication is missing,” the pharmacist tells Maria del Carmen when she asks about methocarbamol. The woman does not give up and inquires about aspirin, dipyrone, kogrip and ibuprofen. Every time she receives the same answer, “That’s missing, compañera.”

The pharmacist, who prefers not to give his name, assures 14ymedio that the tinctures and syrups that they sell are the best substitutes for the medicines. “We have oregano syrup for coughing in case the patient has a cold. We also have a tincture of pumpkin seeds for the stomach and other homeopathic medicines,” he explains.

Tuesdays is the day pharmacies receive medicines so it is their busiest day. (14ymedio)

Francisco Ruíz is a 78-year-old retiree who knows the tricks of pharmacies. Every Tuesday he gets up very early and stands in line “to wait for the medicine truck.”

“The truck arrives around 10:00 in the morning to supply the pharmacy. Sometimes a little earlier,” he says, speaking like an expert.

The pharmacy is located on Calzada de Dolores, one of the busiest places in the Cienfuegos. “Soon the medicines are gone. If you come on Wednesday you cannot find anything,” he says.

Ruiz remembers the times when that pharmacy was privately owned. “On the façade they had a Virgin of Charity that the Government knocked down when they took over the apothecary. There was everything here. It was a bit expensive, but they had everything.”

The pensioner regrets that the population has to endure the lack of medicines while in the clinics and pharmacies for tourists there is no shortage of products.

“A few months ago my grandson needed Schostacovsky balsam (an antiseptic with healing properties). He does not hide his indignation when he relates his personal experience: “In normal pharmacies we did not find it and we had to pay almost 20 dollars for the bottle in a pharmacy for tourists that is in Punta Gorda.”

__________________

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.