The Potato, the winning candidate in Pinar del Río / 14ymedio, Juan Carlos Fernandez

Line to buy potatoes in Pinar del Río. (14ymedio)
Line to buy potatoes in Pinar del Río. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Juan Carlos Fernandez, Pinar del Rio, 20 April 2015 – On the day that Cubans voted to elect the local representatives of the People’s Power, the State markets in Pinar del Río put potatoes on sale.

Chance, someone said, is the daughter of causality and hence the suspicion of some who interpreted the sale of the highly valuable tuber as an electoral strategy to get the voters to leave their homes or to set aside possible plans to flee to the homes of friends or family who live far away. Who would allow themselves to lose a chance to buy potatoes for one Cuban peso a pound just to escape their commitment to the delegate elections. Very few. A triumph of political marketing in the best Soviet style. continue reading

The State markets are located very close to the polling stations. “Killing two birds with one stone,” as they say. Vote and from there go to the market to buy potatoes.

A gentleman of seventy said, before placing his ballot in the ballot box, “I’m going to finish with this delegate quickly, I don’t know who he is and I don’t care,” to immediately add, “I’m going to get in the potato line, there are a lot of people and they close at noon today.” With a certain tone of electoral authority, he concluded, “The potato won these elections, my friend.”

If from the mood of the inhabitants of the city of Pinar del Río it was clear that something had changed, it was because they were celebrating the victory of the absolute winner of these unforgettable elections which took place on the market stands and which had as the only candidate a food that appears very sporadically in these markets.

Meanwhile, in the balloting there was a notable boredom among the poll tenders, anxious for closing time to arrive. Indifference and apathy surrounded the process to select “the most capable.” “It’s tedious and nobody takes it seriously,” said a commentator at the Parque del Bosque Peña de Pelota in the city center.

On this “historic election day,” the potato had no rival candidate and carried the day with a resounding victory.

The vote of inertia / 14ymedio, Eliecer Avila

A woman looks at the biographies of the candidates before voting. (14ymedio)
A woman looks at the biographies of the candidates before voting. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Eliecer Avila, Havana, 19 April 2015 — “He abused me, but I love him… many years together, I don’t want to leave him.” How many times have we heard this phrase in the mouths of women who suffer domestic violence from their husbands. And how difficult is it for family, friends, specialists in psychology, to convince an abused person to denounce their situation, to take action for their own good, to free themselves.

The victim has developed a deep inferiority complex, feels dependent and doesn’t conceive of life outside the “protection” of her owner. Although she has all the capabilities to be much better off without him. continue reading

“He gives me everything, it’s true that he has this character; he won’t let me go out, if I say what I think he punishes me, he won’t let me work, he says what he gives me is enough. If I talk with the neighbor – the man in the big beautiful house – he shouts at me and beats me, but I know deep down he loves me, and he does take care of me.”

The classic symptoms of the victim of domestic violence are also seen in the relationship of people with their governments when, for more than half a century, they have been the tough masters of the house.

Everyone spends their life lamenting the “untenable situation,” the streets, the trash, wages, water, bread, Internet, prices, bureaucracy, censorship… But deep down, no one, or to be fair, few, dare to upset Dad.

And so it explains a thousand and one times that, on a day like today, people come out to participate in an absolutely useless exercise, such as district elections in Cuba.

Sometimes we don’t realize how much the struggles for democracy resemble those that were fought for gender equality or against discrimination. In all of them, the most difficult thing is getting the victims to change their attitude to life, to cease playing a passive role and become protagonists of their own history.

But that does not make us tire of telling the people, like we continue to tell abused women: you don’t depend on anyone, it’s all in your mind. You have the courage to break free, not only will you be better off, you will also discover that through your own efforts you can be happy.

Post Summit Debate / 14ymedio


14ymedio bigger14ymedio, 17 April 2105 – This Friday morning, the Forum for Rights and Freedoms convened a group of activists to a meeting under the title After the Summit in Panama, what next?  The event took place at the home of Antonio González Rodiles, director of the opposition group Estado de Sats.

About 70 attendees heard testimony from Berta Soler, Jorge Luis Garcia Perez Antunez, Gorki Águila, Roberto de Jesús Guerra and other activists who participated in the Civil Society Forum during the recently concluded Seventh Summit of the Americas in Panama.

The discussions addressed issues related to the restoration of relations between Cuba and the United States and on the actions taken by the representatives of civil society sent to Panama by the Cuban government.

Rescuing bread / 14ymedio, Luz Escobar

Among the many businesses that have flourished since the recent relaxations for self-employment, there are not many bakeries. (14ymedio)
Among the many businesses that have flourished since the recent relaxations for self-employment, there are not many bakeries. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 17 April 2015 — Eliot’s Bakery dawned this Friday with the kneading blade broken and a line of people waiting to buy a baguette or a bagel. Eliot’s brother hurried over to fix the broken blade, because, “You can’t have a day with no sales, the loss is tremendous,” says the concerned baker.

This self-employed worker has opened a unique business in Havana’s Timba neighborhood, offering a great variety of baked goods. Every day that he manages to overcome the high prices of raw material and the infrastructure problems, he counts as an accomplishment. continue reading

Among the many businesses that have flourished since the recent relaxations in self-employment, there are not many bakeries. Given that there are growing complaints about the poor quality of this product in the rationed market, it is surprising that daring Cuban entrepreneurs haven’t set out to knead and bake for every taste.

Very close to Colon Street, in one of the buildings known as “pastorita” on Bellavista Street, a few weeks ago a poster appeared announcing wonderful breads in a huge freshly printed graphic. In a ground floor apartment a simple wooden shelf has been installed to display the products. The bakery’s strong point is bread, but there are also panetelas, cakes and other fine desserts.

A bag of 15 large rolls costs 20 Cuban pesos and they even have sesame seeds. The word has passed among the neighbors and now they ask for special order breads that live only in the memories of some of the oldest people. From the early hours of the morning there is an unmistakable aroma of loaves slowly baking in the oven.

Every day that he manages to overcome the high prices of raw material and the infrastructure problems, he counts as an accomplishment.

The place also offers products of a more standard size that cost a peso each, as well as hotdog buns and others shaped like croissants. Eliot doesn’t need to go out hawking his wares. Sitting on the balcony of his house, he serves all those who come looking for a taste or texture other than the insipid bread from the State bakeries.

A few years ago he tried to open a barbershop in the apartment courtyard, but it didn’t go well. The thing ended up at the police station and they confiscated what little he had acquired to start his business. A pair of old barber chairs were loaded onto a truck and, in the end, he even spent a long time at the station, having lost his cool with the big guys dressed in blue.

Luckily, life smiles on him now. The mothers of the area can count on getting snacks for their kids, and the owners of nearby cafes wake up at dawn to get a good supply that they later sell as snacks and sandwiches. Briseida, a retired woman who collected her pension this morning, waits for the broken blade to be returned. “Today I’m going to give myself the taste of some good bread,” she says.

Who Are the “Rich Cubans”? / 14ymedio, Miriam Celaya

Many immigrants come to Havana from the provinces, hoping to expand their narrow horizons (14ymedio)
Many immigrants come to Havana from the provinces, hoping to expand their narrow horizons (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 16 April 2015 — It is a fact that permanent poverty creates distortions in perception. The most obvious example is the value judgments we Cubans place on the supposed “riches” of some, based on a comparison with our own poverty, which is the general state of the nation.

It is common for people from the towns and cities of the provinces to see, in the country’s capital, the wealth that they themselves do not enjoy. Viewed superficially, any observer would say that Cuba is no exception in this, because it is well-known that the capitals of all countries absorb a great deal of the immigration from the diverse points of their own national geographies, attracted by better job prospects, cultural options and the many other possible opportunities that more developed and cosmopolitan cities have to offer. continue reading

But the distinctive feature in the Cuban case is that Havana, far from symbolizing a promised prosperity, or the eventual realization of the dreams of an immigrant from the interior, is an impoverished and ruined capital, whose only – and doubtful – attraction is that it is also the capital of tourism, of contraband and corruption, currently the most promising and immediate sources of moderately ‘juicy’ incomes for those who can’t count on the support of remittances from family members who emigrated abroad, and so it is a mecca for those fleeing the narrowest provincial horizons.

Havana is the city with the largest influx of international tourism and, in consequence, where there are the greatest number of prosperous private business, whose owners have been able to pull together a relatively large amount of capital and whose employees receive a remuneration greatly superior to that of state employees, and so enjoy a standard of living much higher than that of most Cubans. They have come to constitute a sector that perceives the overall atmosphere of mediocrity and poverty that permeates the island as a brake on their capacity to consume and their personal development.

The legal aberrations that make a Cuban from the provinces “undocumented” in the country of their birth, have resulted in a profound cynicism among social sectors

Aside from the proliferation of restaurants, cafes, beauty salons, or rooms to rent for foreign tourists, along with the shady domestic operators, the extensive capital geography offers refuge and anonymity to the provincial immigrants who survive in a precarious balance of double illegality: that conferred by the law (Decree 217) – which expressly forbids those who have no address or job in the capital to remain there beyond a certain length of time; and that which derives from this: the inability to legally get a job without a residence in the city. A closed circle that, with few exceptions, condemns to marginality and exclusion immigrants from the interior who decide to establish themselves in “the capital of all Cubans.”

The economic deformities, coupled with the social exclusions and the legal aberrations that make a Cuban from the provinces “undocumented” in the country of his or her birth, have resulted in a profound cynicism among social sectors based on their place of birth, their access to advantageous jobs or the ability to start private businesses and their ability to consume.

Thus, a fragment of “new rich” has arisen, representing those who have some means of income several times greater than the average Cuban’s, that sees themselves as a group distinct from that marginal and miserable mass, often forced to break the law to guarantee their survival.

However, in an economy in ruins, where there are no legal guarantees for anyone, where the laws of the market are barely a joke and the authorities have total control of lives and property, it is absurd to speak of a “growing class of rich Cubans.” At most, we could be facing a proto-entrepreneurial class that fights to sustain itself and defends a limited private space in the face of eventual and real changes that will allow them to really soar; but which is starting to socially distance itself from the most socially disadvantaged and create their own niches.

If some class is “growing” in Cuba, it is that of the excluded and extremely poor.

If some class is “growing” in Cuba, it is that of the excluded and extremely poor. In the interior of Cuba poverty has increased, there is almost zero access to the Internet, fewer cell phones, and infinitely greater problems with transportation, food, water and electrical systems, not to mention medical or other services. But this does not make the capital an emporium of riches that spontaneously or naturally despises immigrants from other provinces.

It is the Government itself that exiles the immigrants who come to the capital, deporting them to their places of origin, which deprives them of their rights as citizens of the Island. The Government, moreover, restricts the rights of all of us, denying our economic, political and social freedoms addressed in the United Nations covenants, signed by Cuba in February 2008, but never ratified.

The disdain of many Havanans toward those they call “Palestinians” – in reference to their ‘statelessness’ – born in the eastern provinces where major poverty and lack of opportunities are concentrated, is just a sample of the contempt that the Government itself feels for all Cubans. They encourage grudges between us when we have an executioner in common.

The Forbidden Fruit for Cubans / Cubanet, Isis Marquez

On the Calipso farm they cannot give interviews to uncertified journalists. Nor are photos permitted. (Photos Isis Marquez)

Any farmer caught selling to the general population the strawberries that he cultivates will be fined 1000 CUP* (national currency) and have his land confiscated

cubanet square, Isis Marquez, Havana, 17 April 2015 – The strawberry is the forbidden fruit for Cubans. Its limited national production is for tourists and for the olive green hierarchy. The State limits the production because it sells for 2.4 euros per kilogram on the international market. Some say that it was introduced onto the island in 1965. Fifty years have passed and still the Cuban people cannot consume this exquisite strawberry. Maybe the Cuban government pretends that its people do not eat these fruits, which are anti-oxidant and anti-carcinogen?

Benefits of the strawberry

The strawberry is a short cycle fruit rich in vitamin C. Its compounds have a high anti-oxidant power, as well as increased anti-cancer activity, and it prevents aging of the brain.

In February Cubanet had the opportunity to speak with vendors Kolia Morejon and Jorge Aspen, who said: “We are here because our client left us loaded. We have to sell the product to passersby before they go bad. We sell the small tin for 1 CUC*, the big one for 3 CUC. continue reading

Cubanet decided to investigate where the strawberry is cultivated for the purpose of investigating how and why the people do not have access to buying the “forbidden fruit” for their tables.

The odyssey of the strawberry

First you arrive at “Las Canas” community located on the border between Alquizar and Artemisa. Then you have to travel along La Roncha highway. From there on is where the communities called Maravilla, Calipso, Neptuno and La Pluma begin. In these inaccessible places is where strawberries are cultivated. These particular farms belong to the “Rigoberto Corcho” Cooperative of Artemisa.

Kolia Morejón and Jorge Aspen
Kolia Morejón and Jorge Aspen

On the Calipso farm as soon as I spoke with the producer Nadir Jimenez, he said: “I am sorry, we cannot give interviews to foreign journalists who don’t come certified with a letter from the Municipal Delegation of the ANAP (National Association of Small Farmers) in Artemisa or with a letter from the Ministry of Agriculture. Nor is it permitted to take photos of the crops. I am very sorry, but I cannot help you.”

Later, on the La Pluma farm, I was able to speak with a vendor identified as Julio Cesar Frias: “The strawberry is an exclusive product for the tables and the pastry shops of the 5-star hotels, and for some special contracts established with private bars and restaurants.”

And he assured: “We cannot market the strawberry to the population. Inspectors impose a fine of 1000 pesos in national currency and confiscate the farms. To go out to Havana to sell one can (5 kg) means dodging the control points, the police, the inspectors and the devil himself.” Frias concludes: “When we manage to overcome the controls, in Havana, we sell the frozen pints for 1 CUC and the big ones for 3 CUC.”

On La Roncha highway I found a couple who preferred not to be identified, and they had recently acquired a 3 CUC pot. They said: “The strawberry that is produced is for the trusted people of the area. If you have friends, good contacts with the “bigwigs” of business and the municipal ANAP, you can have the luxury of coming and buying. We recommend that no outsider approach anything here if he does not come well ‘endorsed.’”

Later a passerby identified as Norberto Joel Batista added: “The strawberry is only for the rulers of this country, the tourists, the military and the new bourgeoisie. For us there is no opportunity to buy the strawberry. Strawberries definitely are the Cuban’s ‘forbidden fruit.’”

Strawberry buyers who were not identified
Strawberry buyers who were not identified

Fruit for the privileged

Later, back in the city, I entered the “Betty Boom” snack bar, with very American style and design, which is on 3rd Avenue and 60th Street. There I consumed a strawberry frappe that cost 2.8 CUC for the large cup. The customers obviously were foreigners and privileged Cubans.

Translator’s note: Cuba has two currencies, the “Cuban peso” or CUP, also known as “national money,” and the “Cuban Convertible Peso, or CUC.” The CUC is pegged to the US dollar but with exchange fees costs roughly $1.10. The Cuban peso is worth about 4¢ U.S. Most wages are paid in Cuban pesos, and the average wage is generally the equivalent of about $20 U.S. monthly. Pensions are much lower.

Translated by MLK

“El Sexto” Awarded 2015 Vaclav Havel Prize for Creative Dissent / 14ymedio

Danilo Maldonado, 'El Sexto' (The Sixth) (14ymedio)
Danilo Maldonado, ‘El Sexto’ (The Sixth) (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, 15 April 2105 — The Cuban artist Danilo Maldonado, known as El Sexto (The Sixth*), is one of three winners of the 2015 Václav Havel Prize for Creative Dissent, as announced on Wednesday by the New York-based Human Rights Foundation (HRF). Also receiving the prize are members of the Sudanese non-violent resistance movement Girifna, and the Indonesian comic Sakdiyah Ma’ruf. The prize will be awarded in an Oslo Freedom Forum ceremony on May 27.

The graffiti artist, who has been in prison since last December charged with contempt, continues to await trial. He was arrested while attempting to stage a performance with two pigs decorated with the names “Fidel” and “Raul.” continue reading

“Through his art, El Sexto reveals the intolerance of the Cuban regime,” said the former Romanian president Emil Constantinescu. “A government that is afraid of an artist and his work has a truly fragile hold on power and is demonstrating its tyrannical nature,” he added.

Girifna, whose name in Arabic means “we are fed up,” is a non-violent resistance movement in Sudan founded in 2010 by young pro-democracy activists. Its members have become a constant target for repression by the government of Omar al-Bashir.

Sakdiyah Ma’ruf is an Indonesian comic monologist who constantly challenges Islamic fundamentalism. Television producers have tried several times to censor her jokes, but Ma’ruf has always refused.

The three winners will receive a representation of the Goddess of Democracy, the iconic statue erected by Chinese students during protests in Tiananmen Square in June 1989 and will share a prize of 350,000 Norwegian kroner (about $44,000).

The Human Rights Foundation, a nonprofit organization that promotes human rights worldwide, established this prize with the support of Dagmar Havlová, widow of the late poet, playwright and statesman Vaclav Havel to honor those who fight against dictatorships. Previous prize winners include Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, the Russian group Pussy Riot, North Korean democracy activist Park Sang Hak and Burmese opposition leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, among others.

*Translator’s note: Danilo jokingly adopted this moniker in reference to “The Cuban Five” also known, in Cuba, as “The Five Heroes”; five Cuban spies formerly in prison in the United States.

Without dialogue and reconciliation, Cuba will go from bad to worse / 14ymedio, Pedro Campos

14ymedio biggerDoes the fact that Raul Castro has met and shaken hands with Obama and that both of their governments have engaged in a year and a half of secret conversations commit the general-president to the aggressive policies of the US government?

The Cuban government received billions of rubles in support and arms of every kind from the former Soviet Union and supported it through guerrilla and military actions in other countries. Does this make the Cuban government the mercenary of the USSR?

Fidel Castro received from the former president Carlos Prio, the most anti-Communist of all the presidents of the first half-century of the Republic, $50,000 to buy the yacht Granma [on which he sailed to Cuba from Mexico to start the Revolution]. Does this mean that Fidel responded to the interest of Prio and was his mercenary? continue reading

The US government suspended its military cooperation with the Batista dictatorship and that contributed to its fall. Did this make the government of United States a mercenary of Fidel Castro’s 26th of July movement and a Castro agent, or vice versa?

The 26th of July movement and the guerrillas of the Sierra Maestra received wide economic support from the national bourgeoisie and the oligarchy. Did that make the leaders of the Sierra mercenaries of the oligarchy and the national bourgeoisie?

Several governments of the continent gave military aid to the “bearded ones” of the Sierra Maestra in their struggle against the Batista tyranny. Did that make the anti-Batista movement the mercenary of those governments?

Several reports from that time assert that CIA officials were supporting in some ways the revolutionary movement against Batista. Among them is the testimony of Liman Kirkpatrick, Inspector General of the CIA who visited Havana in 1958, in his book The Real CIA. Could one, therefore, accuse CIA mercenaries of being Cuban revolutionary fighters?

The US consulate in Santiago de Cuba Santiago widely collaborated with revolutionaries who fought the dictatorship. Did that make those revolutionaries mercenaries of Washington?

It is true that more than a few opponents and government officials have lived for years off the business of confrontation. But most of them have done it for their ideals

Does the fact that the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) has sent economic aid to Cuban dissidents who fight peacefully for democracy in Cuba make them mercenaries of the US? Does Coco Fariñas appearing in a photo with Posada Carriles make him a terrorist?

It is true that Brigade 2506 that starred in the Bay of Pigs invasion was trained, armed, supported and transported by the US government and its intelligence agencies to overthrow the revolutionary government in 1961. But does that negate that the vast majority of the members of that brigade had participated in these events to free their homeland from Castro-Communism? Were they mercenaries of United States who came to fight because of the money they were paid?

It is also true that more than a few of the opponents and the officials of the Cuban government have lived for years on the business of confrontation. But it is not true that most of them have defended their positions, including with weapons in hand, for money or personal benefits. Most of them have simply done it for their ideals. Neither one nor the other can be classified as mercenaries.

Could the Government of the Castro regime label as mercenaries all of the journalist, party functionaries, and officials of the Armed Forces and State Security who defend that government and what it considers its revolution and from which they receive high salaries and some perks? Absurd.

With biased, simplistic, and one-sided analysis of human history and its realities, without taking into account the interests of other affected parties and ignoring the most progressive values corresponding to each era, it is not possible to reach an understanding.

“Justice must be served for the literacy teachers murdered, for those dead in attacks on boats, economic facilities and official missions, for the crime of the plane crash carried out in the Barbados, and an endless list,” say some.

“We must have justice for the hundreds killed in the fight against the Revolution in the Escambray, for the thousands dead in the sea trying to escape communism, for the children and women on the 13 de Marzo tugboat, for the Brothers to the Rescue and the three young men who hijacked a boat,” say others.

I am not asking anyone to forget, but I believe that without transparency of information, without truth, without integrity in historical analysis, and without forgiveness, there will be no possible reconciliation. At least until the disappearance of the generations involved in Cuba’s political struggles of the last decades.

To accuse all those who do not share a particular vision of the country of being mercenaries, terrorists and assassins is nothing more than a pretext to continue the confrontation

To accuse all those who do not share a particular vision of the country and all those who receive aid from others for their struggle of being mercenaries, terrorists and assassins is nothing more than a pretext of the extremes to continue the confrontation and to not enter into dialogue because of various fears.

The old Cuban Communists were accused of receiving money from Moscow in order to disqualify and discredit them.

It is not just, nor is it legitimate, nor isn’t constructive for either side to continue with these absurd accusations against everyone who has been involved in these struggles from one side or the other.

Why don’t we just recognize once and for all that the era of armed military confrontation and the language of the Cold War is over and we are in a time of peaceful democratic political struggles where everyone can defend his or her ideas freely?

Let’s be serious. How can the opponents of the Cuban government objectively sustain a peaceful political struggle for their ideals without any outside help, when everyone knows that we live in a country where the government controls absolutely everything?

Has the democratic left itself have not been victims of this absolute, absurd and counterproductive control that ends up leaving people without life support and eventually turns them against their own operators?

How can we forget that high and medium level government officials of the Revolutionary Armed Forces (FAR) and the Ministry of the Interior (MININT) suspected of perestroikos and ideological weaknesses were sent en masse to retire and “perform other important missions” to limit their access to information and decisions between 1989 and 1994?

How can we forget that some compañeros were removed from their posts and lost their Internet or Intranet accounts because they used them to spread articles critical of state socialism and to publicly propose ways forward towards a participatory and democratic socialism after Fidel Castro himself warned in late 2005 that these Revolutionaries were the only ones who could destroy the Revolution by corruption and excessive bureaucracy, and also called for help in this fight?

The attitude of the delegation sent by the Government of Cuba to the Civil Society Forum of the recent Seventh Summit of the Americas was an example of that old extremist, intolerant and neo-Stalinist mentality in the leadership of political and mass organizations and of the Cuban Communist Party (PCC) that pretends to be the only representative of Cuban civil society.

How can the opponents sustain a political struggle without outside help, when we live in a country where the government controls absolutely everything?

Is it possible that the government of Raul Castro could emerge from the current economic disaster with the collaboration of its historic enemy without essential changes in the political economic model that starts from a new national consensus that has the approval of workers, the self-employed, cooperatives, Cuban entrepreneurs, opponents and dissenters?

Do we really believe the Cuban president that the 97% approval of the Constitution in 1976 is the same level of approval that the government and its policies have today? Are we forgetting that in the last election almost 13% of the voters either did not vote or turned in a blank or annulled ballot? Does the general president not know that in recent years over 30,000 Cubans have left Cuba by different routes and does he not know that perhaps more than one million Cubans would like to leave the country?

Does the four-star general believe that the people don’t know the high level of nepotism and corruption that corrodes the system that he defends?

If the current government headed by Raúl Castro is unable to control its extreme wing and enter into a process of dialogue, national reconciliation and democratization of society, the country can hardly steer its development in peace and have the professional and financial aid from all Cubans, which it needs, no matter where they are, along with external collaboration. In any case, Cuba can go from bad to worse.

It is time to understand that our political and ideological differences, our sorrows over past events, leave us no choice but to overcome this stage of confrontation and take on the reunification of the nation with all its consequences.

Otherwise, we run the risk of turning our country into a failed state, either because the economy continues to sink into the vacuum of the inconsistencies of State management, of because of our inability to dialog, ending up in fratricidal conflict provoked by those who from the extremes would prefer that Cuba sink into the sea, rather than recognize errors and sit at the negotiating table.

Those of us who want to solve the problems of Cuba, be we within or outside of government and within or outside Cuba, need to set ourselves to seriously working for dialogue and reconciliation in a framework of democracy and rights, where the extremes are another bad memory of our history.

A Tragedy in Several Acts / Reinaldo Escobar

Figure dedicated to Fe del Valle in the park of the same name in Havana. (14ymedio)
Figure dedicated to Fe del Valle in the park of the same name in Havana. (14ymedio)

Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 14 April 2015 — Like every April 13, last Monday a group of Trade Union workers met with the task of carrying a bouquet of flowers to a marble statue. It is a figure dedicated to Fe del Valle in the Havana park of the same name and located at the central corner of Galiano and San Rafael. The site usually supplies the absence of public toilets in the area and the sculpture has both hands mutilated.

In this space was one of the most exclusive Havana stores, El Encanto, with branches in Varadero, Havana and Santiago de Cuba. Founded in the early twentieth century by Solis, Entrialgo and Company, S.A. was one of the first properties nationalized after the revolutionary process. continue reading

The park is named in honor of the employee who died around this time, trying to rescue goods store in the middle of a raging fire that left the building completely destroyed and which also injured 18 people. Material losses were valued at $20 million. Another shop worker named Carlos González Vidal, known for his opposition to the Revolution and identified as an active member of People’s Recovery Movement, was convicted of sabotage and subsequently shot.

Fe del Valle Ramos, affectionately known as Lula, was born in Remedios on August 1, 1917 and worked at the store from the ‘50s and served as department head. She was a member of the Federation of Cuban Women and in the militia. Eyewitnesses say that she was on duty that night and, although she was found safe when the firefighters arrived, she returned to save funds that had been collected for a daycare center for the children of store employees. Her burned body was found days after the fire amid the rubble.

Nowhere around the sculpture can be found the sculptor’s name. The woman represented there looks more like a kolkhoz from Socialist Realism times than a Cuban woman working a department store. The neighbors didn’t record the date on which her hands were torn off and no one even suggests the motives — political, personal or religious — that led to the vandalism.

In 2016 a celebration will be held for what specialists call a “closed anniversary” – ending in a zero or five. The commemoration of 55 years will be an opportunity to restore the statue, but it will probably follow the passions that were behind each of the acts of this tragedy: the confiscation, the revenge, the sacrifice, the desecration…

Guillermo Farinas, selected for the 2015 Truman-Reagan Medal of Freedom / 14ymedio


14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 13 April 2015 — The Cuban activist Guillermo Fariñas has been selected to receive the 2015 Truman-Reagan Medal of Freedom, as he himself announced Monday via his Twitter account.

The Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation, a non-profit organization based in Washington DC, offers this award annually to individuals or institutions involved in the fight for freedom and democracy and opposed to communism and other forms of tyranny.

Since the first edition of the award, in 1999, those who have received this distinction include Pope John Paul II (in 2005), former Polish President Lech Walesa (in 2006) and former Secretary of US Defense Donald Rumsfeld (in 2012), among others.
The Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation aims to honor the more than 100 million victims of communism worldwide and the freedom of those still living under totalitarian regimes.

It’s not my fault either / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

Raul Castro during his speech at the Summit of the Americas (EFE Señal Instucional)
Raul Castro during his speech at the Summit of the Americas (EFE Señal Instucional)

14ymedio bigger

14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Panama, 12 April 2015 — During the Summit of the Americas, when Raul Castro said Barack Obama was not at fault for the decisions taken by the ten presidents that preceded him, confusion overcame me and it’s no wonder.

Upon hearing that speech, delivered in front of more than thirty leaders meeting in Panama, it became even harder for me to understand why the gallant members of the pro Cuban government “civil society” who came to this city continued to label as assassins the activists, dissidents and independent representations who came to participate in forums parallel to the historic event.

If Obama is not guilty of what happened at the Bay of Pigs, nor the logistics support to the anti-Revolution rebels of the Escambray; if he is not responsible for the creation of Radio Martí, nor the Cuban Adjustment Act… nor even for the implementation of the embargo, then, what guilt is it that they want to foist on the activists defending human rights?

Now, that the general-president has already absolved the dignitary of the country that official propaganda sees as “the enemy,” it is worth asking why his supporters accuse of events that happened decades ago those, who organize opposition parties, or engage in library projects or independent journalism with the sole purpose of proposing a country different from that outlined in the guidelines of the Sixth Communist Party Summit.

When the horrendous sabotage occurred to the Cuban plane coming from the Barbados, Guillermo Fariñas was engaged in or preparing for an international mission in Africa. At the moment when they shot the prisoner Ernesto “Che” Guevara in Bolivia, neither Eliécer Ávila nor Henry Constantin had been born. It would be like blaming Abel Prieto for the firing squads, the forced relocation of the farmers from the center of the country to captive villages, the atrocities of the Revolutionary Offensive, the disaster of the 1970 sugar harvest, the “Five Gray Years” and so many other things.

When I mention Abel Prieto I could include the names of almost the entire delegation whose tickets and lodging were paid for by the Cuban government. Are they aware that when you accuse others of a past in which they didn’t exist nor make decisions, you will also be evaluated in the same light? Are they prepared to take on all the atrocities committed by their predecessors?

The Panamanians, however, gave us a clear example of this positive attitude during the summit, an attitude that is summed up by looking more to the future than the past. I would like to believe that Raul Castro is not responsible for anything… although the evidence points in the other direction.

Perhaps the time has come when we should concern ourselves more with solutions than with blame.

I know many compatriots, who totally within their rights, will not agree with me, especially since there are wounds impossible to heal and grievances difficult to forget. If I had to vote on it, I would raise my hand in favor of their retiring in peace. Their penance, their worst punishment, will be to watch us construct a nation without hatred nor rancor. Once again Cubans, everyone, at the same fiesta.

“We are ready to talk about everything, with patience,” Castro tells Obama / 14ymedio

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

14ymedio biggerEFE / 14ymedio, Panama, 11 April 2015 – The president of the United States, Barack Obama, today told his Cuban counterpart, Raul Castro, that “it was time to try something new” in relation to Cuba, during the historic meeting they held in Panama under the framework of the Summit of the Americas.

It is the first time in half a century that the presidents of the two countries have met.

For his part, Raul Castro assured the US president that “we are willing to talk about everything, but with patience,” in the process towards normalization of bilateral relations. continue reading

Moments before the start of the meeting, Obama explained that “The history between the United States and Cuba is complicated,” and, “We are now in a position to move on a path toward the future.” He immediately said that the majority of Americans and Cubans had “responded positively” to the process of reestablishing relations, announced last December 17.

The US president confirmed that there are “profound differences” between to two countries. “We are willing to talk about everything. The United States will defend democracy and human rights and Cuba will put on their table their concerns with respect to US policy, as Mr. Castro did during his speech,” Obama emphasized during a press conference immediately after the meeting.

Obama went further and ventured that, “And over time, it is possible for us to turn the page and develop a new relationship between our two countries.”

The two leaders met in room at the Atlapa Convention Center where, on Friday, the Summit of the Americas got underway, and where Saturday’s sessions have transpired.

The meeting began after the photo session of all the presidents who participated in the hemispheric forum in which Cuba is participating for the first time.

“This is the time for Cuba to open up” in Baseball / 14ymedio

Juan Francisco Puello, president of the Caribbean Confederation of Professional Baseball
Juan Francisco Puello, president of the Caribbean Confederation of Professional Baseball

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, 11 April 2015 — The Dominican Juan Francisco Puello, president of the Caribbean Confederation of Professional Baseball, is currently visiting Cuba and attended the sixth game of the finals of the National Baseball Series. At the conclusion of the game at the stadium in Ciego de Ávila, the representative of the regional organization answered questions from the press.

Puello acknowledged that having witnessed the game between the local team and the team from the Isla de la Juventud was “an enlightening and rewarding experience.” At his side were Higinio Velez, president of the Cuban Baseball Federation, and Heriberto Suárez, another senior official of the State Institute of Sports. continue reading

All the questions were directed to the visitor, who began by responding to the possibility of recruiting Cubans in the leagues that make up the Caribbean Confederation. Puello said that this issue was one of the items on his agenda during his current trip to Cuba. “It is important to note that (…) until we have a specific definition with the Major Leagues and OFAC [both in the US], that we can have Cuba as a full member of the Confederation, it will not be possible,” the Dominican said with respect to contracts.

However, he added that the arrival of players from the island to the winter leagues in Venezuela or Mexico, “Is at hand, because we have been talking to lawyers in the major leagues who are working on that.” Next week, Puello announced, there will probably already be a definition of that in particular, “and we will communicate it to Cuba.”

He also confessed that “some organizations have approached the Cuban authorities informally” but the impediment would come from the US authorities, both Major League Baseball and the government of that country. “All the leagues [of the countries of the Confederation] have shown interest” in Cuban athletes. “The fact that they are engaged (…) is going to reduce the extreme fatigue,” a condition that hinders the participation of players committed to the major leagues in regional tournaments.

The Confederation official believes that at least until 2020 there will not be a Caribbean Series held here, because for this to happen the Island should be a full member of the regional sports organization. Meanwhile, the country is expected to continue to attend the annual competition, the latest of which was won by a team with the name of Vegueros of Pinar del Río.

“To invite Cuba is a firm decision,” said Puello, who considers it “disproportionate” not to pay the Cuba players the awards they won for their performance in Caribbean Series. And he judges that this is a “problem is more political than sport-related, (…) it must end.”

“This is the time for Cuba to open up,” said Puello, who was visiting the country for the first time since 1999, but, he said, “That was not the time for opening Cuba” he said. The official is currently working on including the Cuban Baseball Federation, controlled by the government and still officially represented as an “amateur” sport, in the Caribbean Confederation of Professional Baseball.

Barack Obama meets with Cuban activists before meeting with Raul Castro

Laritza Diversent and Manual Cuesta Morua in meeting with Barack Obama
Laritza Diversent (3rd from R) and Manual Cuesta Morua (2nd from R) in meeting with Barack Obama

14ymedio biggerEFE, 10 April 2015 – The president of the United States, Barack Obama, met today in Panama with members of the Cuban opposition and civil society leaders from other countries before his anticipated meeting this Saturday with with Cuban president Raul Castro.

After giving a speech at the Forum of Civil Society, Obama attended a round table, closed to the press, with activist and civic leaders from several countries, among them the Cuban opposition members Manuel Cuesta Morúa and Laritza Diversent, according to information provided by the White House.

Also participating in the meeting were the presidents of Costa Rica, Luis Guillermo Solís, and Uruguay, Tabaré Vázquez.

Castro exempts Obama from responsibility for the policy of the previous “ten presidents” / 14ymedio

Raul Castro during his speech at the Summit of the Americas

14ymedio biggerEFE / 14ymedio, 11 April 2015 — The first speech from the president of Cuba, Raul Castro, at the Summit of the Americas, received a standing ovation in the room where the meeting is being held and grabbed the attention of hundreds of journalists in the press room installed in the Atlapa Convention Center.

“It was time for me to speak here” on behalf of Cuba, said the Cuban leader, who on Friday joined the US President Barack Obama, in a historic moment when they shook hands at the opening of the Seventh Summit of the Americas.

The announcement of Castro’s speech of the host country’s president, Juan Carlos Varela, immediately after the words of the president of the United States, provoked a loud and long applause from the heads of state and official delegations. continue reading

In the newsroom, reporters crowded in front of the giant screen to follow closely the discourse of the Cuban leader, who provoked laughter throughout his audience when he confessed that he would make “a great effort” to limit his historic speech to the eight minutes established by protocol.

“And as the six summits that excluded [Cuba] should count, six times eight is 48,” the president of Cuba joked.

During his oration, Raul Castro exempted the United States president, Barack Obama, from responsibility for the policy developed against the Caribbean island by the “ten presidents” preceding him.

The Cuban president called Obama “honest” and expressly apologized for getting emotional “in defense of the Revolution.”

However, the speech was peppered with historic allusions and complaints about the actions of the United States toward the island. He also referred to the Internet because “it works for the best […] and it works for the worst.” The issue of new technologies has played a major leading role in several of the speeches at this Summit of the Americas.

Raul Castro also expressed today his “resolute and real support for the sister republic of Venezuela and the legitimate government of Nicolas Maduro.”

“Venezuela is not and cannot be a threat to the national security of a superpower like the United States, and it is positive that the US president Barack Obama has recognized that,” added Castro during his speech to the Seventh Summit of the Americas that is unfolding in Panama.