Drugs Play Increasing Role in the Battle for Cuban Teenagers’ Leisure Time

There is no neighborhood in the Cuban capital where you can not buy or sell a wide variety of preparations, pills and “flying” powders. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Marcelo Hernandez, Havana, 7 July 2017 — He dries his sweat and takes a drink of water from a bottle he carries in his backpack. “In my time the young people spent the holidays in front of the television,” says Ignacio, the father of two teenagers. As he moves along crowded Avenida 10 de Octubre, in Havana, he looks for video games for sale. “So that they stay at home, because in the streets there are more and more drugs.”

Ignacio’s concern is shared by thousands of parents all over the Island. The country where, decades ago, the government controlled how many cigarettes an individual smoked, has given way to a more complex reality. Authorities warn of increased drug use among young people and call on families to be alert. continue reading

In recent years the official press has also begun to address the issue, albeit with some hesitancy and clarifying that this problem is not as serious as it  is in the capitalist countries. However, there is no neighborhood in the Cuban capital where a wide variety of preparations, pills and powders for “flying” are not bought and sold.

His family life took a turn when his parents decided to take the route to the United States through Central America and he was left alone with his grandmother

Hannibal, 17, prefers to change his name to detail his relationship with narcotics. He began using at age 12 and what, at the beginning, was a game, later became an obsession. “I stopped going to school, I was only interested in getting high,” he relates to 14ymedio.

Over the last five years, Hannibal has been using and swearing off drugs. A week ago he broke his longest stretch without using drugs. “I was clean more than 80 days, but they invited me to a disco and I fell back into it,” he confesses.

His family life took a turn when, in mid-2015, his parents decided to take the route to the United States through Central America and he was left alone with his grandmother. In a short time, his consumption doubled. “I had at least two overdoses, but only once did they take me to the hospital.”

Hannibal’s friends did not want the doctors to report the case to the police and feared they “would all end up prisoners,” says the young man who, at 17, weighs no more than 110 pounds and whose hands shake all the time. “I lost interest in food and went for months almost without taking a bath.” He sold all the appliances in the house one by one to pay for drugs.

“I met others there like me and I promised to stop killing myself with all this, but in the street life is something else”

“One day I sold the bathroom mirror over the sink because I needed money and because I could not look at the face of how emaciated I was,” he says. At that moment he decided to seek help.

The young man went through the Provincial Center for Teen Withdrawal in Havana, an institution that since 2005 has been serving patients who have started taking drugs since very young ages. “I met others there like me and I promised to stop killing myself with all this, but in the street life is something else,” he says.

On weekends the wall of the Malecon becomes a massive meeting point, an open air brothel and display point for countless illegal substances. “I just have to go there and I always find something.” With the increase in tourism “the supply has diversified and there is a lot of marijuana,” although he says he prefers “faster and less adulterated” pills.

Synthetic drugs reign among the young and have become the currency with which foreigners pay for sexual favors, either in tablets or “dust,” says Hannibal. Although he says he has never sold his body to feed his addiction, he does know many who have. “Who’s going to pay for all these bones?” he asks wryly.

A confidential phone line helps those looking for information on the subject, although mistrust affects its reach. “Hello, you have contacted 103, Confidential Antidrug Line, we will soon help you,” says a voice. Claudia, 39, prefers to hang on. She has a daughter of 14 who has become “aggressive, she spends long hours in a stupor and sometimes she cannot get out of bed.”

Claudia fears the worst about what her daughter does when she leaves the house but does not want to “get her in trouble” by contacting a specialist

Data published by the Health Promotion and Disease Prevention Unit report that last year 14,412 calls were received on the confidential line, most of them in Havana, Pinar del Rio, Camagüey, Ciego de Ávila and Las Tunas.

Claudia fears the worst about what her daughter does when she leaves the house but does not want to “get her in trouble” by contacting a specialist. She has thought of another kind of solution. “I spoke with a cousin who lives in Quemado de Güines, in Villa Clara, about my daughter spending some time there.” The mother believes that “being in the countryside, outside of Havana and away from her friends” will help her, although no place in the national territory seems to be safe.

The entry of drugs into the country has been increasing in recent years. For all of 2016, the General Customs of the Republic (AGR) confiscated 67 pounds of drugs, however between January and May of this year the amount seized has already reached 72 pounds, according to data offered by Moraima Rodríguez Nuviola, AGR deputy director.

Ships are the main route of entry, especially of marijuana. Although the latter is also sowed on private farms where the owners risk ending up in jail with their land confiscated.

In the pocket of his jeans he carries a small envelope with ten pills. “These are the last, I promise.”

Drug trafficking is punished in the Cuban penal code with sanctions of four to ten years, if it is considered small scale, but if it is large amounts the sentence can reach 20 years. The size of the volume is determined in practice, it is not fixed in the law. International trafficking carries up to 30 years in prison and is aggravated if minors are involved. Consumption is also seriously punished, with fines of up to 10,000 pesos or deprivation of liberty of between six months and eight years.

Despite the severity of the national legislation “consumption begins very early,” according to a psychiatrist who preferred anonymity. “In Cuba initiation into these types of substances increasingly occurs at younger ages.” The specialist, who has treated about 100 patients, finds that “marijuana, psychotropic drugs and some medications used as drugs are displacing alcohol among adolescents.”

Hannibal is determined to try. “I want to leave this garbage, go back to study, redo my life and get married,” he says. In the pocket of his jeans he carries a small envelope with ten pills. “These are the last, I promise.”

Panama Offers $1,650 and Return Ticket to Cuba for Migrants Stranded In Gualaca

Like other migrants, the family of Nirvia Alvarez is not satisfied with the proposal of the Panamanian authorities. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miami, 7 July 2017 – On Friday, Panama’s deputy minister of security, Jonathan del Rosario, offered Cubans stranded at the Gualaca camp $1,650, plus a ticket back to Havana and a multiple-entry visa for Panama, at a meeting to which 14ymedio had access.

The proposal, which the migrants will have until July 31 to accept, is the response promised by the Panamanian government to solve the crisis caused by the end of the United States’ wet foot/dry foot policy in January, which left Cubans already in Panama stranded.

“This option is a voluntary repatriation process. It is the way to obtain a visa to return to Panama legally and have seed capital to procure a different future for you and your family,” del Rosario told more than 100 Cubans in front of the temporary shelter where they are living. continue reading

The economic aid will be delivered at the airport, before the migrants board the flight that takes them to Cuba. Those who do not want to avail themselves of the Panama government’s offer could return to the point where they entered the country, or continue their journey undocumented.

“That’s all they have given us,” Yelisvarys Pargas, a migrant to Gualaca, told 14ymedio, because although the proposal appears good, he distrusts the Cuban authorities.

To attend the meeting, the deputy minister traveled by helicopter to the camp, an area of 104 acres far from any population center in the east of the country. The Panama government had transferred 128 Cubans there in April, after closing a temporary shelter maintained by Caritas in Panama City. Nine migrants escaped from the shelter of Gualaca, which is guarded by the presidential police and Migration and Public Security personnel.

“Panama and Cuba have diplomatic relations, and we have consulted representatives of the consulate and the Cuban embassy in the country about this option,” said the deputy minister.

Panama’s Deputy Minister of Security, Jonathan del Rosario (right), met with the Cuban migrants in Gualaca. (14ymedio)

The Panamanian authorities are also allowing migrants to pre-register for a application for a visa that would allow them, once in Cuba, to get an interview at the Panamanian consulate to obtain a tourist visa. With this visa they will be able to travel to Panama to make purchases for their businesses, according to the deputy minister. For migrants who have been away from Cuba for more than two years and so have lost their right, under Cuban law, to reside in the island, the Panamanian Government would facilitate the process of their return to the country.

Addis Torres, who was with her 13-year-old son and her husband in the shelter was devastated by the news. “I will continue, I cannot return to Cuba at this point. I will continue,” Torres said after the meeting with the deputy minister.

Nirvia Alvarez, another of the migrants said in a voice filled by emotion that Rosario’s proposal left her “on the verge of a heart attack.”

“After six months in this desperate wait and now they come out with this shit. I do not have a house in Cuba, I have nothing, because I sold everything I had. Go back, why? To live under a bridge?” protested the migrant, who is accompanied by her 11-year-old son and her husband.

When asked about the migrants, del Rosario explained that there are no options to emigrate to third countries. “To this day we have had no response from any country,” he explained. Nor did he open the door to regularizing the status of the Cubans in Panama, since the entry of migrants in an undocumented way precludes any kind of formalities for their regularization.

“There are other countries that have different migratory policies, maybe some of you want to return legally to Ecuador, what we can’t do is send you to a third country if we do not have the guarantee that the third country will welcome you,” said del Rosario.

After the presentation of the deputy minister, many of the migrants expressed their doubts about the proposal, arguing that Cuba is not a state of laws and that is why they fled the government of the Island.

Faced with the reluctance of migrants, del Rosario said that so far none of the people who have been returned to Cuba (more than 90 since the signing of the deportation agreement between Cuba and Panama) have filed a complaint at the Panamanian embassy to denounce the violation of their basic rights. “You have free will,” said del Rosario.

Tourism Boom Chokes Havana’s Airport

Arrival area in terminal 3 of Jose Marti International Airport in Havana. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Zunilda Mata, Havana, 4 July 2017 — The passengers leave the plane and make their way around the buckets catching the leaks from the roof. They still have a long wait in at baggage claim and have to suffer under the air conditioning that hardly alleviates the heat. The José Martí International Airport in Havana is stumbling through the tourist boom that has brought a volume of passengers its services and infrastructure find difficult to serve.

The main air terminal in the country received 3.3 million passengers in the first half of this year, a figure that increased by 27.4% compared to the same period of the previous year. However, travelers’ experiences are far from satisfactory.

There are few places to eat and the lack is supplies is a problem. “We only have these two cafeterias up here,” says one of the employees. “Today we did not get any beer and there is no water, we are only selling coffee in addition to bread with ham and cheese,” she told several customers on Monday. continue reading

There is an unfinished wing on the exterior that will be filled with places to eat. “The financing of this infrastructure was linked to the construction company Odebrecht and everything was paralyzed by the corruption scandal in Brazil,” says a source from the Ministry of Construction who preferred to remain anonymous.

“We hope it will be open before the end of the year as an alternative for travelers and their friends,” the official said. “But the building is one thing and the supply of food and beverages is another; the latter is the responsibility Cuban Airports and Aeronautical Services Company (ECASA).”

Cafe at Jose Marti International Airport in Havana. (14ymedio)

We can’t do magic. If there is no beer in the country, where are we going to get it from?” an ECASA employee asks rhetorically, speaking to this newspaper by phone from the central office. “We have tried to meet the demand with imported products, but the tourists want to drink a Cuban beer at the airport,” she says.

Hope arrived for the terminal employees when it was announced last August that French companies Bouygues and Paris Airports had won a concession to expand and manage the terminal.

“They haven’t pounded a single nail here,” protests the saleswoman at a handicrafts stand on the middle floor. Industry sources say that no feasibility studies have yet been done to start the works. “The French planners have not even arrived to evaluate the terminal,” says a senior Transport Ministry official adding that the project is waiting for support from the new French president.

One floor down crowd those waiting for the travelers who arrive in the country. “This shows a lack of respect,” says Manuel Delgado, 58, who complains that “there is no place to sit, the heat is unbearable and the cafeteria has no water” while waiting for the Air France flight returning his daughter, who has been living in Paris.

The bathrooms earn the worst of the opinions of those who wait. “They smell bad and although the service is free, the employees are asking for money, in a somewhat disguised way, but they ask for it,” says Yesenia, who came from Matanzas to meet a brother returning from Mexico.

In the women’s restroom a female worker holds the roll of paper for drying hands. “It’s not mandatory, but they look askance at you if you do not give them something,” says Yesenia. One of the female employees asked the customers to exchange for 25 centavo coins in Cuban pesos (CUP) “for a convertible peso.” Finally, a European-looking tourist agrees.

A few meters from the bathroom, located on the third floor, a young man tries to catch the wifi signal to surf the internet, a service only offered in the area after immigration and security controls. For every hour of navigation one must pay 1.50 in Cuban convertible pesos (CUC) but there is nowhere in the airport “today where they are selling recharge cards for the Nauta service,” he says frustrated.

There are also no hotels nearby for passengers in transit to other provinces. For two years the Ministry of Tourism (MINTUR) has planned to build five-star accommodation in the immediate vicinity of the airport, but the project has not yet materialized. The private sector, however, has taken the lead from the state and more and more private houses are renting to tourists in the vicinity of the area.

The problems of infrastructure and services do not end after approaching the exit doors from the flights. “I was traveling in first class and they gave me an invitation for the VIP area,” says José Mario, a Cuban who each month takes the Copa Airlines route to Panama working as a “mule.”

Numerous trips allow you to accumulate points that you can take advantage of, from time to time, to travel in more comfort. But the VIP area has not met their expectations. “They told me I had to wait for other customers to finish eating, because there were not enough dishes,” he remembers with annoyance after his failed attempt serve himself some nuts and cheese from the available buffet.

Jose Mario admits, at least, that the taxi service has improved. More than a year ago a fixed rate was established from the airport to different points of the city. “Before the driver decided the price, but now I know that I must pay 25 CUC from here to my house, not a peso more.”

The experience on arrival, on the other hand, does not get much praise. It varies according to the schedule, the flight and the amount of luggage. “Sometimes I have spent less than an hour waiting for my bags, but other times I have spent up to four in front of the luggage belt,” complains the traveler.

Employees agree that the waiting time after the landing fluctuates. “At night, when large flights arrive from Europe, such as Iberia, Air France or Aeroflot everything slows down,” says one of the doctors waiting for the national passengers to fill out an epidemiological form.

Souvenir shop at the Jose Marti International Airport in Havana. (14ymedio)

The pilots themselves have had to explain to the passengers about departure delays because of not having “enough vehicles to bring the luggage to the plane”.

Added to this is the strict customs control over luggage, whose thoroughness is not only designed to prevent crime but to control the bringing of technological devices into the country (such as DVDs, NanoSations, hard disks or laptops) or large quantities of commonly used products. The most “meticulously” checked flights are those from the US, Mexico, Panama, Haiti, Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago and other regular routes for the “mules.”

In the area before passing through immigration, employees are wandering around with posters bearing the names of some travelers. Some approach families with children or newcomers who look like Cubans living abroad. “For 40 dollars I can pass you without problems from customs,” whispers a worker to a couple with two children.

For a certain fee employees can avoid passing through the search or paying for excess imported luggage, a relief for many Cubans living abroad and arriving loaded with gifts. For each kilo of luggage that exceeds the limit of 50 kilos, there is a fee that must be paid in CUC, and the fees also depend on the type of objects transported. For residents on the island is also very advantageous, since they can only pay in CUP for their first annual importing of goods.

Jose Mario often resorts to this illegal service. “What I am going to do?” he justifies himself. “I pay to get myself out of this airport as soon as possible, because it’s unbearable between the heat and the bad conditions.”


School Diplomas

School diploma in Havana (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Marcelo Hernandez, Havana, 5 July 2017 — They arrived, enthusiastic and happy, to their party for the end of the school year. One mother brought a macaroni salad with mayonnaise, another brought from home some disposable plates and a third took on providing the croquettes. The celebration was ready in no time, while the horns played an off-color reggaeton song. This Wednesday many elementary schools ended the school year and opened the vacation season.

The parents gathered what they could, in the midst of one of the most severe shortages in the last decade, and the calls made by the authorities to ensure good food hygiene. Summer, with its high temperatures, has set off a spate of diarrheal diseases and the schools take extreme measures to prevent their spread.

However, it was not the melodies – that set everyone to dancing – nor the sanitary precautions that marked the day. The face of the deceased Fidel Castro took the leading role, being printed on thousands of graduation diplomas throughout the island.

Fortunately, between running through the corridors and devouring the cake with meringue, most of the students didn’t even notice that, like the dinosaur in Augusto Monterroso’s tale, when the party ended, “The dinosaur was still there.”

Cuban Convertible Peso Can’t Keep Up With The Dollar

The ‘alter ego’ of the Cuban peso is not the Cuban convertible peso, but the dollar. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Marcelo Hernandez, Havana, 4 July 2017 – Cuba’s dual currency system has been in existence for such a long time that many young people never lived under a system with a single national peso. The rumors of possible unification of the two currencies are no longer listened to and people appear resigned to continuing to pay for things in both Cuban convertible pesos (CUC) and Cuban pesos (CUP). The promise to resolve this financial mess appears to be one more item that Raul Castro will leave incomplete at the end of his term next year.

There are at least some certainties, however, in this economic schizophrenia: the alter ego of the Cuban peso is not the Convertible peso, but rather the dollar. The so-called chavito – a slang term for the CUC – that emerged in the decade of the ‘90s, is just a substitute for the “currency of the enemy,” a camouflage to cover over Abraham Lincoln’s face or Benjamin Franklin’s head. Little by little, the bills minted by our neighbor to the north have imposed themselves in the informal market.

The terrain won by the dollar is expressed in many ways. Not only in the classified ads that specify payment is accepted in USD for the products on offer, but also in the existence of an exchange system parallel to that of the official banking system, where the “greenbacks” are quoted at a price ranging from 0.95 to 0.97 CUC. It is also evidenced in nice pictures like the one attached to this article, where the chavito is conspicuous by its absence on the man’s T-shirt. After all, the CUC is nothing more than an imitation of Uncle Sam’s money.

Trump and the Tweets of Wrath

Donald Trump (EFE)

14ymedio biggerAna Navarro, a CNN analyst, says that Donald Trump must stop behaving like a “mean girl.” She was referring to the president’s latest tweets against Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski, hosts of Morning Joe, a popular morning show on MSNBC. Trump called Joe a “psycho” with low audience ratings (which is false). He called Mika a “crazy” woman with a “low IQ” (also false) whose face bled after a recent plastic surgery.

This is not a question of Trump against the leftist press. Ana Navarro is a Republican analyst, a lawyer, raised in Miami, former ambassador of Nicaragua, her native country, on the Human Rights Commission in Geneva, where she effectively defended dissidents and persecuted citizens of Cuba and other countries. Later, she was hired by CNN to tell her point of view, always moderately conservative, clever and amusing vs. other democratic versions farther to the left.

Scarborough and Brzezinski, a couple on-screen and off it, are also close to the Republican world although Mika is a Democrat. Before being a TV host, Joe was a lawyer, elected four times to the U.S. Congress by the Republican Party, to which he still belongs. Mika is the daughter of the late strategist Zbigniew Brzezinski, a professor at Columbia University and czar of U.S. diplomacy during the Jimmy Carter administration. continue reading

In the Spanish theater of the Renaissance, the word “decorum” described the congruence between the post held by a character and the language or costume used onstage. The list of Republican leaders concerned by the lack of decorum shown by President Trump is impressive: Paul Ryan, Speaker of the House; senators Lindsey Graham, Ben Sasse and John McCain; representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, and I’ll stop writing names so as not to turn this article into a boring telephone book.

The argument made by Ana Navarro and numerous other Republican figures is that Trump’s behavior is not proper for a White House tenant. Just as, during the campaign, it was not proper to tack nicknames onto the names of adversaries or mock a critical journalist who suffered a neurological syndrome that produced spastic movements. That’s just not done. It’s something typical of yokels, not of true statesmen, even if it’s useful to gain the votes of a certain type of voter who lacks empathy.

In the 1950s there was a legend that the U.S. political parties might face off harshly, but when it came to National Security they acted in concert. Not true. It never was true. American parties are like other parties in the rest of the world and carry their conflicts everywhere.

Nevertheless, there is a fundamental difference in favor of the American experience. The legislators on the ruling benches in the U.S., both in the House and the Senate, are not obligated to obey the president when the time comes to vote. The idea of representative democracy in this country is that the politicians represent those who elected them, not the parties of which they’re members. For that reason, Trump — although he holds an absolute majority in both chambers — does not have the votes he needs to replace the health plan known as Obamacare.

I suspect that the conflict between Trump and the party that sponsored him will grow. That’s what a Republican congressman tried to say when he told me confidentially: “I can’t wait for the year 2020, when this nightmare will come to an end.” He was hoping that Trump will be a one-term president.

Translation from the Interamerican Institute for Democracy

Cuban Government Turns To New Forms Of Repression

Activist Jorge Cervantes Garcia was on a hunger strike for 39 days. (UNPACU.org)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 3 July 2014 — Last June, there were 198 fewer arbitrary arrests of Cuban activists and opponents compared to the same month last year, according to a report by the Cuban Commission on Human Rights and National Reconciliation, which recorded a total of 380 arrests in June 2017.

The number, however, is slightly higher than that recorded in May of this year, according to the report. “We documented four cases of physical aggression and 28 acts of harassment, attributable, without any doubt, to the secret political police and parapolice elements,” the report added.

The independent entity says that “in recent months there have been very visible efforts by the Castro regime to avoid the arrests of opponents.” The government has also avoided, in the Commission’s opinion, “the imposition of prison sentences to avoid criticism by international public opinion.”

“There are increasingly frequent cases of citations or threatening police visits, pressures on innocent relatives and other intimidating acts,” the report said.

The Commission notes that “at least four peaceful opponents have been on hunger strike during the past month” and mentions, in particular, the case of Jorge Cervantes Garcia, an activist with the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU) who did not eat for 39 days to protest his imprisonment, finally abandoning this form of protest last Saturday.

During June, “the highest number of violations of freedom of movement in many years” was recorded when authorities prevented at least 29 dissidents from traveling abroad. “Some were detained for hours and others were physically assaulted,” the statement said.

The Cuban Observatory for Human Rights (OCDH), based in Madrid, cited 410 arbitrary detentions in Cuba last month, of which 237 were against women and 173 against men, while “the number of blacks arrested was 138.”

The organization warns that although the arrest figures “are significantly lower than those for the same period in 2016, they are still scandalous, and the levels of repressive are the same or greater.”

For the Observatory, the decrease in the number of detentions “is not due to the existence of any positive change in the political will of the Cuban Government, but to the already denounced changes in its methods of repression.”

The new strategy against opponents is based on “short-term arrests” reinforced by “direct pressure and attacks on the children and relatives of activists, the confiscation or theft of personal property or the tools of work.” The report states that “the fabrication of criminal offenses is common” as is “impeding [activists] from leaving the country,” along with other methods.

The OCDH also warned about the fabrication of “false profiles on social networks,” allegedly set up by dissidents, and the “publishing of indecent content” on these profiles. These are “campaigns conceived by intelligence officers and launched in the environment of the University of Computer Sciences UCI and its subsidiaries,” the report said.

“The Government maintains intact and reinforces its ability to systematically and selectively violate its citizens’ exercise of universal rights and especially so in the case of activists and members of independent civil society,” it concludes.

Fidel Castro In Humor And Oblivion

The man, who in life was the target of thousands of jokes about his death, has been dead for more than half a year without popular humor deigning to mention it. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Generation Y, Havana, 3 July 2017 — For decades Cubans were bombarded by official propaganda filled with materials about Fidel Castro’s supposed genius. In these vindications he was not only a father, but also a strategist, visionary, pedagogue, farmer and cattle rancher, among other lofty characteristics and pursuits. However, that prototype of patriarch, scientist and messiah had some “soft spots.”

Over time, many of us came to understand that the Maximum Leader was not as outstanding as they wanted to make us believe. Counting against him, he had several capital defects: with a complete lack of any capacity for self-criticism, he never engaged in debate, and he was not given to irony or humor, the most difficult and elevated scales of the human intellect.

Despite all the ill-advised decisions he made, Castro died without saying “I’m sorry,” contrary to those who say “to err is human but to rectify is wisdom.” My generation waited in vain for his apology for the high schools in the countryside, and other sad educational experiments, just was we waited for a mea culpa for the victims of the Five Grey Years, the Military Units in Aid of Production (UMAP) or the Stalinist purges. continue reading

Nor was controversy the terrain of the Commander-in-Chief. He shunned diatribe and prepared himself with selected data and later spewed it out over unsuspecting foreign journalists and crowds gathered in the Plaza of the Revolution. He liked them to say: “What a well informed man!” When in reality he was only a ruler with access to information that was not allowed to his citizens.

Castro drowned, in long hours of discourse, what could have been sound political talk and a constructive discussion to improve the nation. We had to worship him or applaud him, never contradict him. He never ceded the spotlight, fearing perhaps that we would realize that “the king is naked” or that the guerrilla had “not the least idea” of what he was talking about.

All the times the late leader approached controversy he was caught short. When he exercised that egregious sport that is verbal fencing, he was beaten in the first act.

All the times the late leader approached controversy he was caught short. When he exercised that egregious sport that is verbal fencing, he was beaten in the first act. His way of dealing with these defeats was to overwhelm the other with long speeches or to get his acolytes to destroy the reputation of his opponent. He was mediocre as a gladiator of the word.

Nor were jokes his forte. Although Castro was the target of thousands of humorous stories, at no time in his life did he demonstrate a gift for humor. In a country where there is always a parody waiting to break the surface, that corpulent character – dressed in olive green with his serious and admonitory phrases – was the constant butt of mockery.

His death has highlighted that lack of charming banter. The man, who in life was the target of thousands of jokes about this death and his presumed arrival in hell, has been dead for over half a year without popular humor deigning to mention him. Not even Pepito, the eternal child of our stories, has wanted to “portray” the deceased.

Sad is the fate of those who are not remembered in a single joke. Poor is the man who never said “I was wrong,” who never knew the pleasure of engaging in arguments with an adversary, and who couldn’t even manage to taste the grace of humor.

Civil Society and the Power of the Audiovisual in Cuba

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Eliecer Avila, Havana, 1 July 2017 – The Cuban revolution has been, above all, an enormous consortium of audiovisual production with global reach. Outside of the Island, this propagandistic flow competes with other products, but within, it roams freely, convinces some, confuses others and paralyzes the will of sectors indispensable to social change.

For more than half a century, officialdom has been preoccupied with the creation of emblematic songs, heavily ideological animated pictures; novels, ventures and series that spread their version of history, plus news and books geared towards maintaining the status quo.

That audiovisual machinery is so embedded in daily life that some barely notice its presence; but for a newcomer, it stands out.

A while back, a Peruvian journalist who had not been to Cuba insisted on researching why Cubans continue to live under a totalitarian regime when all of Latin America is democratic. continue reading

No explanation satisfied him, but the reporter travelled to the Island in order to report about the recently opened relations between Washington and Havana. During his stay he was able to watch television, listen to the radio, read newspapers and talk with people… After three days he called a friend in order to tell him – half-scared – that he now understood what was happening.

Cubans, with few exceptions, have peculiar ideas about world events and especially about their own reality, as that journalist learned. When questioned about the source of their “certainties,” the nationals invariably cite the official daily Granma, the primetime television newscast and the TeleSur channel.

The amazed visitor heard in the street that “the FARC are a group of revolutionaries that fight for social justice.” Meanwhile, others feel relieved because “there is a leader like Vladimir Putin who puts a stop to the excesses of the imperial Yankee” or assert that these days “the majority of Russians seek the return of Communism.”

In his time on the Island, the reporter heard people assert that “ISIS is an invention of the United States to encourage conflict in the Arab world and keep its oil resources,” while in Latin America “children die of hunger, without rights to health care or education.”

The man could not believe it when a citizen swore to him that “the internet is a weapon of the U.S. to spy on those who do not subordinate themselves to its designs,” that the Island is “more democratic than the U.S. and Europe” and that “human rights activists just want to leave the country.”

Although new technology has helped remove the rigid national mentality and diversified opinion about many topics, to underestimate the propagandistic apparatus of the Communist Party is a mistake.

The official media continues to have a monopoly on the reach, quantity, immediacy and depth of reporting, which is the key to understanding the country’s civic stagnation.

An example of this is the recently concluded broadcast of the latest jewel of national television, the series, The Other War, an adventure dedicated to the “fight against the bandits” in Cuba’s Escambray Mountains, a rebellion that took place in the first six-years after the triumph of the Cuban Revolution. The production achieved a wide audience, and afterwards many cried, reflected and reached conclusions “applicable to these times.”

Each chapter, featuring excellent actors of various generations, described the excesses of the “counter-revolution supported by the U.S.” and at the same time highlighted the values of patriotism, heroism, and commitment of the State Security and other government forces.

As a whole, the material was plagued with omissions, manipulations, and distortions of facts and characters. It disregarded that in that era excesses were committed on every side and that not only the “Batistianos” rose up in arms but also the rebels who made the Revolution and later saw how their path became twisted.

However, there are hardly any available audiovisual materials, and of good artistic workmanship, that effectively contradict this version.

While from exile each year millions of dollars are spent and ultimately dissolved in tangled bureaucratic ways, the creation of a film industry has not been stimulated to rival the totalitarian hegemony in the diffusion of content within the Island.

This situation is paradoxical considering that among the diaspora is found the immense majority of the best artists, musicians, actors, screenwriters, historians, and technicians related to film, television and audiovisual production.

Many private or institutional donors who want to contribute to the Cuban cause still underestimate the power of the media and prefer to bet on other methods. They forget that the Soviet hierarchies themselves once blamed Hollywood and Walt Disney for the debacle that the system suffered.

The idea of Cuba’s freedom needs a modern narrative, with means to amplify its reach and transmit democratic values. For more than five decades the Plaza of the Revolution has been using mass media to impose its version of history. That is why it is so important for the citizenry to have audiovisual content that combines quality and truth.

Translated by Mary Lou Keel

A Cuban Fight Against The Demons Of Machismo

All these stupid prejudices, which have hardly diminished on this Island, pave the shortest way to deprive us of women’s talents. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Generation Y, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 1 July 2017 — A man looks over my shoulder because I talk about cables and circuits. He grimaces in disgust when he sees my clumsy nails cut short and is annoyed because I reject his “compliments,” which I should accept with pleasure and gratitude. He does not say it out loud, but to him I’m just a creature who should look “pretty,” care for his home and bear his children.

It is an exhausting battle. Every day, every hour, every minute, Cuban women – and so many women in other parts of the world – have to deal with this accumulation of nonsense. “You can’t, let your husband do it,” is one of the more pleasant phrases we hear from them, although I have found others who insist that “women should only talk when hens piss*,” a coarse way of saying that we should be seen and not heard.

A journalist asks me in front of the camera how I combine being a mother with the task of running a newspaper. Although I try to lead the conversation down a professional path, he insists on referring to my ovaries. A political policeman mocks me because my hair is tangled. Probably my texts bother him more, but he feels a special pleasure in “attacking” my femininity. He is wasting his time.

At the end of the day, I have had to evade a thousand and one attempts to force me into a mold. That box where we must be silent and endure; smile and bear it; laugh with grace at the machistas** and act flattered by their repartee. A twisted mechanism that results in society losing out on our cores and being left only with our shells.

All these stupid prejudices, which have hardly diminished on this Island, pave the shortest way to deprive ourselves of the talents that we possess, not only as women, but – mainly – as human beings.

Translator’s notes:
*This expression derives from the fact that chickens do not urinate (as we know it).
**Male chauvinists.

Nominating Commission That Will Propose Replacement for Raúl Castro is Sworn In

Voters observe the electoral lists in Havana. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 30 June 2017 — The swearing in, today, of the National Nominating Commission (CCN) before the National Electoral Commission is a decisive step that makes it clear that the upcoming elections will be held under the provisions the electoral law of 1992 and not by the new legislation promised by Raúl Castro in 2015.

The Commission, composed of six “mass organizations,” is responsible for preparing the proposals for who will be members of the Provincial Assemblies, the National Assembly of People’s Power, and the Council of State, including its president. The existence of this entity has been one of the most criticized points of the current electoral law because it is believed that it hijacks the popular will to elect the president of the nation.

On this occasion the method of prefabricating a list of candidates is more sensitive because it is expected that at the conclusion of the February 2018 elections the country will have a new president whose most peculiar characteristic will be not carrying the surname Castro. continue reading

Article 68 of Law 72 states that “The Nominating Commissions are composed of representatives of the Cuban Workers Center (CTC), the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution (CDR), the Federation of Cuban Women (FMC), the National Association of Small Farmers (ANAP), the Federation of University Students (FEU) and of the Federation of High School Students (FEEM), designated by the respective national, provincial and municipal administrations.”

The members of these organizations, presided over by the engineer Gisela María Duarte, representing the CTC, took office on Friday and made a solemn oath of loyalty to the Constitution of the Republic.

The ceremony was presided over by the secretary of the State Council, Homero Acosta, who said that the representatives of these organizations “protect as a part of civil society the interests of the entire nation, the interests of the country, thinking of the commitments and the responsibility of those you will propose at the appropriate moment.”

The electoral process will begin this coming October 22 and 12,515 constituency delegates will be elected. From this group, the Nominations Commission will choose half of the candidates to the National Assembly of People’s Power, but this phase of the elections, where the candidates for the Provincial Assemblies will also be known, does not yet have a definite date.

Cuba’s current National Assembly is composed of 612 deputies representing the country’s 168 municipalities and is elected every five years.

Average Monthly Salary in Cuba is $29.60 US

The average monthly salary in Cuba, is 740 Cuban pesos, equivalent to just under $30 dollars US

14ymedio biggerEFE, via 14ymedio, Havana, 30 June 2017 – The average monthly salary in Cuba in 260 was 740 Cuban pesos (CUP), the equivalent of $29.60 in US dollars, although the figure is higher in sectors such as the sugar industry – where the best paid earn 1,246 CUP ($48.80 US), and falls in public administration, defense and social security, with a figure a 510 (CUP) ($20.40 US).

The figures come from the publication “Figures for Average Salaries in 2016,” released on Thursday by Cuba’s National Office of Statistics and Information, which includes average monthly salaries by province since 2007, and average monthly salary by economic activity type since 2014. continue reading

According to the report, the average salary in Cuban increased from 408 CUP ($16.30 US) in 2007 to 740 CUP in 2016.

By province, the highest salaries are earned in Ciego de Ávila, Villa Clara and Matanzas

By province, the highest salaries are earned in Ciego de Ávila (816 CUP / $32.60 US), Villa Clara (808 CUP / $32.30 US) and Matanzas (806 CUP / $32.20 US), while the lowest wages are paid in Guantánamo (633 CUP / $25.30 US), Isla de la Juventud (655 CUP / $26.20 US) and Santiago de Cuba (657 CUP / $26.20 US).

The highest paid sectors on the island are the sugar industry (1,246 CUP / $49.80 US), mining and quarrying (1,218 CUP / $48.70 US), financial services (1,032 CUP / $41.20 US), and agriculture, livestock, forestry and fisheries (991 CUP / $39.60 US).

On the other hand, economic activities with lower wages are: “Other communal services, associations and personal activities,” (503 CUP / $20.10 US); public administration, defense and social security (510 CUP / $20.40 US); Culture and sport (511 CUP / $20.40 US); and education (533 CUP / $21.32 US).

The low wages paid to state employees in Cuba, compared to the high cost of basic products—Cuba imports 80% of its food—are constantly subject to criticism by international organizations and also by opposition movements.

Health and education are universal and free in Cuba, and citizens receive some basic food from the state through the “ration book.”

But the rationing system, which decades ago covered much of the population’s needs—including underwear, shoes and children’s toys—has been reducing the quantities and types of subsidized products.

The rationing system, which decades ago covered much of the population’s needs, has been reducing the quantities and type of subsidized products

Currently, an adult Cuban receives monthly from the ration stores about 7 pounds of rice, 4 pounds of sugar, one pint of soybean oil, one packet of mixed coffee (that is coffee mixed with fillers such as dried peas), one packet of pasta, five eggs and small quantities of chicken. Children also get one quart of milk a day until they turn seven.

In 2011, Cuban President Raul Castro approved the authorization of new categories of self-employment (the term used in Cuba means “own account-ism”) as one of the key measures to compensate for the progressive reduction of 500,000 jobs in the state sector.

Another of the main distortions in the Cuban economy is the simultaneous circulation of two currencies—the Cuban pesos or “national money” and the Cuban convertible peso, or “hard currency”—that the Government recognizes needs to be changed, but for the system remains in force and there is no firm date to merge the currencies.

See here for more on the dual currency system:

Without Confidence in the Money, Reinaldo Escobar

What Purpose Did the Dual Currency System Serve, Miriam Celaya

Cuban General Who Oversaw the Downing of ‘Brothers To The Rescue’ Planes Dies

Eduardo Delgado also directed the espionage work in Miami of the Wasp Network, and was in charge of infiltrating five Cuban spies in the USA. (Cuban Television)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 29 June 2017 — On Wednesday, Brigadier General Eduardo Delgado Rodriguez died in Havana. He had supervised the intelligence operations that led to the downing of the Brothers to the Rescue planes in 1996, and as director of the Miami espionage work of the Wasp Network, he was in charge of infiltrating five Cuban spies into the United States. A brief note in the official press reported his death without specifying the cause.

The notice, which appeared in the Granma newspaper, briefly details his biography since joining “fight against the Fulgencio Batista regime” up to his presence as a military man in Nicaraguan territory during the 1980s. It also lists his many decorations. continue reading

However, the obituary published in the official organ of the Communist Party does not mention that Delgado served as head of the General Directorate of Intelligence of the Ministry of the Interior (MININT) for 20 years, a post he ascended to after his performance during the trial of “Cause No. 1” in 1989.

Eduardo Delgado was in charge of conducting investigations against Major General Arnaldo Ochoa Sánchez and three other military officers, sentenced to death for drug trafficking and abuse of power

In that famous proceeding, Major General Arnaldo Ochoa Sánchez and three other military officers were sentenced to death on charges of drug trafficking and abuse of power. At that time Delgado had the rank of colonel and presided over the investigations of the case.

In 1994 he was promoted to brigadier general and from his position as head of MININT intelligence directed the actions of the Wasp Network.

Delgado was in charge of the operation that compiled the information to bring down the planes of Brothers to the Rescue on 24 February of 1996. In 2013 he was replaced as head of Director of Intelligence, and became director of MINIT’s Eliseo Reyes Rodriguez Superior Institute.

At the time of his death, Delgado was retired. His remains were buried Wednesday afternoon in the Pantheon of the Firefighters of MININT, in Havana’s Colón Cemetery.

The Impossible Letter

“You will write a letter addressed to Fidel Castro thanking him for free education,” the center’s educator told the students. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Generation Y, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 29 June 2017 — “Today we are going to practice writing a letter,” announced the fourth grade teacher at a school in the Plaza of the Revolution district in mid-June. Immediately, Lucia, age 9, thought about writing a letter to her grandmother telling her about her latest acrobatics on skates, but the recipient had already been decided. “You are going to write a letter addressed to Fidel Castro thanking him for a free education,” declared the educator.

The girl froze. It never would have occurred to her to address a letter to a dead person, nor to anyone who wasn’t a friend or a member of her family. She scribbled the date on the top of the page and then stopped, with the pencil suspended in the air, not knowing what to do. “Lucia, you have to thank him for building schools and teaching Cuban children to read,” ordered the teacher. continue reading

The student remained paralyzed. “Come on, it is very likely that on the test they will ask you to write a letter to the Comandante and you have to practice.” The pencil didn’t move a fraction of an inch. “Look, I’m going to dictate some sentences to you and then you can continue on your own,” the teacher said, her tone increasingly irritable. “Fidel, without you I would have no shoes and no books and I would be illiterate,” she dictated. But the girl didn’t make a single mark.

When she got home the sheet of paper still had only the day and the month in one corner. So it was her mother’s turn to insist, “Think that you are writing another person and then later put ‘His’ name on it,” she proposed as a trick to get around the problem. Lucia imagined she was telling her grandmother about the games in the park, and thanking her for her affections and then signed it, squeezing in her name next to a drawing of a flower.

Last week the final exam included the request to write a letter. But this time it was addressed to the teacher and had to respond to the question, “What do you do to help your mom with the housework?” The girl stopped for several minutes with the pencil suspended over the paper without knowing what to do. No one came to dictate the sentences.

* This story is not literature, but absolute reality. The student’s name has been changed to avoid retaliation.

Soy Yogurt Will “Gradually” Return to Havana

After the announcement, hundreds of customers crowded outside the dairy outlets. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 28 June 2017 — This week the official media have fueled expectations among consumers in Havana with an announcement of “the return of soy yogurt,” a product of the rationed market that has not been distributed in the capital for nearly a year.

After the announcement, hundreds of customers crowded around outside the dairy outlets, but a national television report clarified that the distribution will be “gradual” until it reaches the 85,000 children in the city who are authorized to receive a share of this product. continue reading

During the last year, children between the ages of seven and fourteen have been receiving a powdered mix to make a dairy substitute shake, but it has been strongly criticized for its poor quality.

A national television report clarified that the distribution will be “gradual” until the it reaches the 85,000 children in the city

The interruption of the sale of soy yogurt was due to the technological deterioration experienced by Havana’s Milk Complex, especially the steam boiler, which has been in operation for more than 40 years.

The malfunctions forced production to stop for eight months in order to undertake a repair that included the importing of new boilers, and maintenance work on the cold storage facilities and the production rooms. In addition, the distribution service will now be made from a renovated truck lot.

However, many parents are wary about whether the renovations will last, and fear that the soy yogurt will disappear “gradually.”