Cuban Opposition Prepares its Proposals for the Summit of the Americas / 14ymedio

Transitions in Latin American Societies meeting participants in Madrid
Transitions in Latin American Societies meeting participants in Madrid

Representatives of civil society meeting in Madrid agree on a set of strategies for 2015

14ymedio, Madrid, 6 March 2015 — Cuban dissidents, gathered in Madrid on Thursday and Friday at the Transitions in Latin American Societies conference, have agreed on a set of actions for 2015.Their proposals include:

  1. Implement actions to maintain the demands of Four Points of Minimum Consensus
  2. Promote discussion of the document An Ethical Path for Cuban Civil Society at the grassroots level (Open Space agreed by the meeting of February 25, 2015 in Havana)
  3. Support peaceful pro-democracy movements for greater visibility among citizens
  4. Discuss proposals for new laws on Associations and Parties and an Electoral Law
  5. Begin the Journey of thought to Cuba (3.0)
  6. Encourage projects by youth for youth

Among the participants in the meeting continue reading

, which took place in La Casa de America, were Dagoberto Valdés Hernández (of the magazine Convivencia), Daniel Millet Jiménez (Comando Agromontino F.N.R. Orlando Zapata), Eliécer Ávila Cicilia (leader of Somos+), Elizardo Sánchez (Comisión Cubana de Derechos Humanos y Reconciliación Nacional), Jorge Luis García Pérez “Antúnez” (Frente Nacional de Resistencia Cívica Orlando Zapata), Manuel Cuesta Morúa (Arco Progresista), Reinaldo Escobar (editor-in-chief of14ymedio), Yoani Sánchez (director of14ymedio) y Yusmila Reina Ferrera ( Unión Patriótica de Cuba).

Also participating in the event were Alejandro González Raga (executive director of Observatorio Cubano de Derechos Humanos), Amado Lorenzo (president of the Grupo de Estrategia y Geopolítica), Andrés Hernández (vice president of the Partido Demócrata Cristiano de Cuba), Antonio Guedes Sánchez (Asociación de Iberoamericanos por la Libertad), Antonio José Ponte (Diario de Cuba), Elena Larrinaga de Luis (FECU/Observatorio Cubano de Derechos Humanos), Frisia Batista ( Raíces de Esperanza), José Oscar Pérez Couce (President of the Centro Cubano de España), María Matienzo Puerto (Diario de Cuba), Tomás G. Muñoz y Oribe (Vice president of Relaciones Internacionales Unión Liberal Cubana), as well as Spanish politicians and representatives from European embassies in Spain.

Attendees discussed the establishment of the Democratic Unity Roundtable in Venezuela and its possible applications to the Cuban case

Attendees discussed the establishment of the Democratic Unity Roundtable in Venezuela and its possible applications to the Cuban case. The current status of the opposition in Cuba was also discussed, along with short-term action strategies (before the conclusion of the Summit of the Americas in Panama on 10 and 11 April), as well as medium- and long-term strategies.

One of the objectives of activists gathered in Madrid has been the development of a Journey of Thought for a new country that would include a diagnosis of the major social and economic challenges and the development of possible solutions. They also attempted to come to consensus on ideas and actions for Cuban civil society inside and outside the island, to achieve unity in the face of a peaceful transition, including freedom of expression, the ethical use of the media and new technologies, a process of civic education for the proper exercise of freedom, entrepreneurial empowerment, in addition to the essential legal and constitutional changes.

Participants agreed to organize follow-up meetings based on themes – economy, education, agriculture, communications media, new technologies – and the widest possible dissemination of these discussions outside the Island under the slogan “Another Cuba is possible.”

 

Lettuces of Lead / 14ymedio, Rosa Lopez

Urban organic garden in Miramar, Havana (flickr)
Urban organic garden in Miramar, Havana (flickr)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Rosa Lopez, Havana, 1 March 2015 – The raised bed exhibits its curly lettuces a few meters from the rough concrete building. There is an hour to go before the urban organic garden near Hidalgo Street in the Plaza township begins its sale, but already customers are thronging to get fresh vegetables and lower prices. None of them knows that the products they will buy here are neither organic nor very safe for their health.

Urban agriculture is a phenomenon that dawned in the nineties with the rigors of the Special Period. In the words of a humorist, “We Havanans turned ourselves into peasants and planted leeks even on balconies.” The economic crisis and the inefficiency of state farms required taking advantage of empty lots in order to cultivate greens and vegetables.

The initiative helped all these years to alleviate shortages and has many defenders who emphasize their community character, so different from the mechanization of modern agriculture. Nevertheless, together with the undeniable merits are hidden serious problems that point to the contamination of the crops with wastes characteristic of urban areas. continue reading

Hidden, serious problems point to the contamination of the crops with wastes characteristic of urban areas

Nationwide, about 40,000 people work in urban agriculture projects on some 83,000 acres (130 square miles) that are divided into 145,000 parcels, 385,000 patios*, 6,400 intensive gardens and 4,000 urban organic gardens. These last under the leadership of the Ministry of Agriculture, although with some autonomy for crop management.

With these lands planted in populated areas, it has been the goal to reduce food insecurity, offer greater access to fresh produce and to expand green spaces in urban zones.

Havana has 97 high yield urban organic gardens. One of the best known is located in the Alamar neighborhood and is currently managed by a cooperative of 180 members. The capital also has 318 intensive gardens, with crops sown directly in the ground, in addition to 38 crops that are semi-protected and in enriched soil.

The soil enrichment uses a technique known as vermicomposting, which consists of transforming solid wastes by the action of earthworms and micro-organisms. The problem is that many of the urban wastes that serve as a basis for the process are gotten from residential trash and carry a big load of heavy metals that with time accumulate in greens and vegetables.

The compost comes from household trash containing cadmium and lead above the maximum permissible levels

A study carried out in 2012 by several researchers from the Institute of Soils and that included samples from urban organic gardens in Havana and Guantanamo brought to light that “the compost obtained from the urban solid wastes originating in household trash extracted from landfills without prior sorting, and the subsoils prepared from them, contain heavy metals, especially cadmium and lead, above the maximum permissible levels.”

The lack of an effective system of trash sorting and processing works against us, because much of the waste used for compost in the urban organic gardens has had previous contact with materials like cans, paints, and batteries, thrown indiscriminately into landfills all over the country.

Urban agriculture in Havana (flickr)
Urban agriculture in Havana (flickr)

Furthermore, the process to achieve compost often is not carried out properly, so that the pathogens contained in the wastes are not destroyed. Although part of the material used in this process comes from the garden itself, trash from nearby settlements, market wastes and agro-industrial refuse are also added.

Family gardens account for close to 90% of the greens consumed by the population, so ingestion of high doses of heavy metals could be affecting a great number of Cubans.

Irrigation adds a high content of chlorine and other water purifiers 

Irrigation of the urban organic gardens aggravates the problem because the water comes from the population’s supply network and affects the amount of water available for human consumption, besides also being unsuitable for crops because of the high content of chlorine and other purifying products.

The proximity of streets and avenues to the crops worsens the pollution because heavy metals also arrive through the ground and the air. Add to that the use of pesticides and fungicides for control of pests in the urban organic gardens. An un-confessed but widespread practice.

Most alarming is that the Ministry of Agriculture keeps silent about this matter and does not promote research into the presence of chemical agents harmful to health in produce that consumers imagine fresh and organic. Complicity or apathy? No one knows, but there are many reasons to distrust that bunch of lettuce with its attractive green leaves.

*Translator’s note: “Patios” in this context refers to home gardens producing food primarily for family consumption.

Translated by MLK

Naty Revuelta, Some Notes for an Incomplete Biography / 14ymedio, Regina Coyula

Natalia Revuelta Crews
Natalia Revuelta Crews

14ymedio bigger

14ymedio, Regina Coyula, 2 March 2015 — Beautiful, intelligent, affluent – as Félix de Cossío portrayed her, dressed for a party – Natalia Revuelta Clews was collaborating with the Orthodox Party when, on 10 March 1952, hearing of Batista’s coup d’etat on the way to her job as an executive at Esso Standard Oil, she ordered two sets of copies of the keys to her home in Vedado: one for Milla Ochoa, leader of the Orthodox Party, and the other for another Orthodox Party member, Fidel Castro. Giving them the keys was offering them a safe place in case of danger. Fidel and Naty didn’t know each other personally, but that action would mark the rest of her life.

A university degree, fluency in three languages, and a strong culture would have allowed her to engage in any activity; but she was relegated to the mid-level bureaucracy, always under the burden of her adulterous relationship with Fidel – a petty-bourgeois prejudice of the Marxist Revolution. She went on trying to be useful.

I met her through my husband, with whom she shared half a century of friendship, and we were friends despite the huge differences we had on matters of politics. Our conversations were peppered with disagreements, but we never allowed such differences to tarnish our good relationship.

Many knew her as “the mother of Fidel’s daughter” and it’s easy to assume that she enjoyed the privileges of a kept woman. Quite the contrary continue reading

, the personal and social cost was enormous. Among other things, Naty pawned her jewels to finance in part the Moncada Assault and, at the triumph of the Revolution, she gave her home (now a diplomatic residence) and moved to a smaller house.

The society to which she belonged never forgave her; and her daughters had to suffer the breakup of the family they knew. She felt responsible for the estrangement of her daughters, and never said anything that reflected badly on them; on the contrary, she was happy with the achievements of both and especially proud of her granddaughter.

It was in my house where she came to vent her humiliation of having been excluded from the celebrations for the release of the Moncada barracks attackers. They also refused her a place in the 26th of July events, despite her having been the third woman to become a “moncadista.” All this happened after her daughter Alina fled the country.

Naty gave me the complete originals of the correspondence between her and Fidel Castro during the almost two years he was in prison on the Isle of Pines

Life often offers substitutes. Naty was a required presence at book launches, concerts or exhibitions; she was always invited to the activities at the diplomatic sees of Spain, Netherlands or the United States; she was a supporter of the National Library or of the Fragua Martiana (Marti’s Forge).

In her later years she was assiduous in a history group at the Dulce Maria Loynaz Cultural Center and dedicated many hours to reading and selecting what came to her by email to forward the articles and news that were of interest to her friends. This effort came to overwhelm her, but she considered it a duty to share this information, which they later thanked her for.

Naty’s confidence in me became clear ten years ago when she gave me the complete originals of the correspondence between her and Fidel Castro during the almost two years he was in prison on the Isle of Pines and later when he was in Mexico, to organize chronologically and transcribe into digital format.

It was weeks of work to unravel with a magnifying glass the rushed and cramped handwriting of the letters from the Presidio Modelo; however Naty’s letters were very easy because they were typed. Letters that the whole world had heard of but very few had seen and that Naty, aware of the value of this collection of paper, had never given to the Council of State’s Office of Historical Affairs, nor did she want them published in her lifetime. Now, major publishers will begin the bidding with her daughter Alina, fruit of that relationship and inheritor of the correspondence.

Behind all the media attention she has always sparked, Naty was a woman who paid for her decisions and who was loyal, not to Fidel Castro as many think, since over the years she learned to separate the public man from the private, but with the idea of social justice associated with the triumph of the 1959 Revolution.

Like any human being, she had her defects and virtues. Everyone will have their own Naty Revuelta, a character worthy of literature.

Natalia Revuelta, Mother of Castro’s Daughter Alina Fernandez, Dies in Havana / 14ymedio

Natalia Revuelta Crews
Natalia Revuelta Crews

14ymedio bigger

14ymedio, Havana, 2 March 2015 — Natalia Revuelta Clews, Fidel Castro’s ex-lover and the mother of his daughter, Alina Fernandez Revuelta, died last Saturday in Havana, according to the website Café Fuerte. Naty, as she was popularly known, was 89-years-old and died of emphysema.

Naty Revuelta’s remains were cremated at the request of her daughter, who was in Havana at the time of her death. Last August, Alina Fernández Revuelta returned to Cuba after 21 years in exile in Miami, when her mother suffered a stoke from which she was recovering favorably. Since then, her trips to Havana were frequent.

Naty Revuelta became a great political activist during the dictatorship of Batista. She met Fidel Castro in 1952 and three years later began a romantic relationship from which her daughter was born in 1956. Revuelta never withdrew her support for Castro and the Communist Party.

Cuban Civil Society Open Forum Holds Third Meeting / 14ymedio

Meeting of Cuban Civil Society Open Forum. (14ymedio)
Meeting of Cuban Civil Society Open Forum. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 25 February 2015 – The Cuban Civil Society Open Forum held its third meeting this Wednesday with 25 people attending, among them activists, opponents and members of civic groups. The first point on the agenda was the approval of a document titled “Ethical Path for Cuban Civil Society,” which lays out the basic principles that should be supported. Also under discussion were internal organizational issues relative to the inclusion and representation of the participants.

A motion of solidarity with Venezuela (see below) was passed during the day and important agreements were made with regards to the attendance of Cuban civil society at the Summit of the Americas in Panama, to be held this coming April 10-11. Finally, those present were invited to make proposals about the elements and improvements that should be included in the next Elections Act, announced last Monday in an official note after the Tenth Plenum of the Central Committee of the Communist Party.

On this occasion there were new faces continue reading

around the table, while other activists weren’t present as they were participating events abroad or for other reasons. As has already been seen, a characteristic of the Open Forum is that discussion are of a frank character, marked by precise arguments and a thorough knowledge of the national reality.

Among those attending (see below), the idea prevailed that Open Forum is emerging as a good opportunity for civil society to find new points of consensus, but without the intention of becoming a political coalition. The horizontality in which everyone keeps their own individual personality is one of the most notable strengths of this organization, which resists being considered a group to which people belong, because it prefers to define itself as a place where people participate.

The participants confirmed that the Open Forum is “without hierarchies, or party discipline, but moved by a common denominator, love of Cuba and the stubborn will to seek solutions to the problems of the country.”

Motion of Solidarity with Venezuela

The independent Cuban Civil Society Open Forum meeting in Havana on 25 February 2015, has a approved a motion of solidarity with Venezuelan civil society and opposition victims of the repression unleashed by the government of that nation.

We emphasize our support for the former member of the National Assembly María Corina Machado; opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez, who has already served a year in prison; and Caracas mayor Antonio Ledezma, elected by the popular will, recently imprisoned.

Attendees

  1. José Díaz Silva (UNPACU)
  2. José Daniel Ferrer García (UNPACU)
  3. José Conrado Rodríguez (Diócesis de Cienfuegos)
  4. José A. Fornaris (Asociación por la Libertad de Prensa)
  5. Guillermo Fariñas Hernández (FANTU)
  6. Fernando Palacio Nogar (Partido Solidaridad Liberal Cubano)
  7. Félix Navarro Rodríguez (Partido por la Democracia Pedro Luis Boitel)
  8. Ernesto García Pérez(Unión Social Comunitaria Cubana)
  9. Elizardo Sánchez Santa Cruz (CCDHRN)
  10. Eliécer Lázaro Ávila Cicilia (Somos +)
  11. Eduardo Díaz Fleitas (UNPACU)
  12. Dagoberto Valdés Hernández (Director de Convivencia)
  13. Belkis Cantillo (CXD) Ciudadanas por la Democracia)
  14. Karina Gálvez Chiu (Proyecto Convivencia)
  15. Laritza Diversent Cámbara (Cubalex)
  16. Lázaro Báez (Movimiento ONR)
  17. Librado Linares García (Movimiento Cubano Reflexión)
  18. Mario Félix Lleonart (Instituto Patmos)
  19. Miriam Celaya González (Periodista Independiente)
  20. Pedro Campos Santos (Boletín SPD)
  21. Reinaldo Escobar Casas (periodista)
  22. René Gómez Manzano (Corriente Agramontista de Abogados Independientes)
  23. Saúl Raúl Quiala Velázquez (PSC-Fundación Sucesores)
  24. Yoaxis Macheco Suárez (Instituto Patmos)
  25. Yusmila Reyna Ferrera (Periodista independiente)

Birds of Ill Omen / 14ymedio, Eliecer Avila

A young man with a tablet
A young man with a tablet

14ymedio bigger

14ymedio, Eliecer Avila, 28 February 2015 — A topic that is raised for discussion these days is the obsolete argument that some official voices never stop repeating at every opportunity they have to strain relations between Cuba and the United States or rather between Cuba and the Outside World. I am referring to the supposed “need” of implementing “appropriate measures designed to avoid the penetration that the enemy hopes to make into Cuban society.”

Just a few days ago, in the context of the first National Workshop on Computing and Cyber-Security held in Havana, with the physical or virtual presence of thousands of computer engineers, really absurd speeches continue reading

were heard that, far from inviting the use of emerging opportunities to propel development, called for “being on guard” in the face of new “maneuvers” by the enemy to “penetrate” Cuban society.

I would like for some of these birds of ill omen really to explain, with what does the United States want to penetrate us? Or at least, with what negative thing? Maybe a virus? For that there are anti-viruses. With information about our own reality? We, the people, are screaming for that on our own.

Our youth (…) already think about the world and conceive their aspirations in the same way as do the youth of New York 

With capitalist propaganda? Our youth do not need it, they already think about the world and conceive their aspirations in the same way as do the youth of New York, sometimes even a little more capitalistic than those. With TV series, soap operas, shows? That is what the Cuban family watches every night, just a week behind. With vice and prostitution? Please, those are fields of enormous potential for replacing imports.

The more I think about it, I do not really find the harmful impact about which these things of which gentlemen speak. Could it be rather that they are preparing the terrain in order to justify the excessive and paranoid control that is planned for the future Cuban web surfer?

I believe that the old scheme of being able to try to survive at all costs, defending its privilege of being the only one that can “penetrate” the minds, every day, 24 hours a day, of all Cubans and many others out there. . .

The reality is that we do not need the Cuban government to “protect” us from any external influence. We are millions of Cuba adults responsible enough to make own decisions in the physical world as well as in the virtual one, who want for our country the same access to the Internet that is widespread on the planet. With all its risks and infinite possibilities.

Do not defend us anymore; no one has asked you to.

Translated by MLK

New Electoral Law: New Wine in Old Wineskins? / Miriam Celaya

Meeting of the National Assembly (NeoClubPress)
Meeting of the National Assembly (NeoClubPress)

14ymedio bigger

After the Tenth Assembly of the Central Committee (CC) of the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC) the news about the next “enactment of a new electoral law; and the subsequent holding of general elections” has begun to circulate in the official media. Such an important announcement in a country where, for more than 60 years ago no general election has taken place, is mentioned almost tangentially, just nine words in an informational note on the above Assembly, whose “focal point” had to do with issues related to the preparations for the celebration of the April 2016 Sixth Congress of the single party.

So this is how the casual style of the announcement turns out so very misleading, downplaying a code continue reading

whose nature would be essential in any minimally democratic society.

It is unknown what motivates this renewal of the law in a country whose government, until recently, boasted of having the most fair, transparent and participatory electoral process in the world, able to summon an overwhelming majority of voters to the polls. The case provokes many questions, some very basic: Why change a law that is supposedly a paradigm of democracy even for the most civilized nations on the planet? Why does the proposal arise from the central committee and not from the higher authorities of the People’s Power, as might be expected? What reason is there for the urgency in enacting a new Electoral Law?

Once again, we only have speculation in the face of official secrecy and conspiracy. In fact, this time they have not announced the completion of an extensive process of “popular consultation”, though it was conducted – at least in a formal manner — for several months in 2013, before the creation of the new Work Code currently in effect. The time span between the April 2015 “partial elections” and the enactment of the new Electoral Law was not clearly established either, though judging from the official information that was disclosed we can assume it will be brief.

In this society, alien to all politics and stripped of every right to elect its leaders, the news has not caused the least impression

In principle, the announcement has accomplished the government’s purpose: to not awaken dangerous expectations among Cubans, especially after the wave of enthusiasm that seized many with the December 17th announcement about the restoration of relations between Cuba and the U.S.

In that vein, subsequent statements by the General-President during the last meeting of CELAC cooled the wildest fires, and, at the same time, they have widened the gap between the Government and citizens. No doubt that the olive green tower has proven that the hope for effective changes for Cubans focuses more in the future steps of the “enemy” government than in the “actualization of the model” endorsed by mediocre Raulista reforms. The Revolution has become a succession of failures, and today the old Sierra Maestra combatants and their side troops sense that the smallest of openings could end in a loss of control.

For now, it seems impossible to imagine what “new” democratic clauses the same dictatorship that has dominated life and property for 56 years might have in store for us

It is fair to say that the fears of those in power are well founded. Wouldn’t it be right to expect that the multiparty system requirements or, at least, a strong controversy about the one-party system would emerge from an extensive debate by Cuban society? Are we not in a favorable scenario for claiming genuine democratic participation and transparent general elections to replace the electoral farce practiced for the past 40 years? Obviously, the elderly leaders will not want to take too many risks.

For now, it seems impossible to imagine what “new” democratic clauses the same dictatorship that has dominated life and property for 56 years has in store for us. In any case, the sacred scriptures say that you cannot pour new wine into old wineskins.

Everything indicates that the new electoral law will yet another plot of the power and its claque, just a hasty move to bolster up the makeup that minimally covers the dictatorial nature of the regime, and to silence the scruples and demands of the nations gathered at the Americas Summit this fast approaching April. Presumably, the olive green cohort – who might do away with uniforms and decorations and dress impeccably in civil garb for the occasion — will brag about the partial election results and offer the new electoral code as irrefutable proof of his willingness to change and his democratic calling. If it weren’t so twisted, such a pathetic pantomime would be laughable.

However, we could be facing a dangerous move here that would entail a high cost for the democratic aspirations of the Cuban people. Civic orphan-hood and generalized apathy are the best cards the Havana regime is counting on. It is urgent that public opinion be alerted about a possible ploy that – in the style of “eternal socialism” style — would only want to artificially postpone the end of the most persistent and pernicious dictatorship of the many that have blossomed in this Hemisphere.

Amnesty International Denounces Increase in Arbitrary Detentions in Cuba / 14ymedio

Members of State Security arrest women from the Ladies in White organization (Ernesto Mastruscusa/EFE)
Members of State Security arrest women from the Ladies in White organization (Ernesto Mastruscusa/EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 24 February 2015 — Short-duration detentions increased considerably in Cuba in 2014, according to the annual report published today by Amnesty International. The human rights organization, with headquarters in London, emphasizes that the situation with respect to freedom of expression, association and assembly, infringed on by criminal prosecutions for political reasons, did not improve. Amnesty International expects, nevertheless, that the announcement of the re-establishment of diplomatic relations between the Island and the United States may help produce a significant change in the matter of human rights.

The report highlights the 27% increase in short-duration detentions last year, according to data from the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation, which counted almost 9,000 brief arrests. The Ladies in White organization suffers the most from this type of repression continue reading

, although Amnesty International also mentions the arrests produced at the end of 2014 on the occasion of the Community Summit of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC).

The annual report, which offers an overview of the human rights situation in 160 countries and forecasts trends in this arena for the next year, addresses the issue of the control that Raul Castro’s government exercises over all means of communication and the difficulties of accessing information on the Internet. Among the harassments that independent journalists have suffered, the organization cites the case of 14ymedio, which, on the day of its launch last May 21, suffered an attack on its web page. Since then this digital daily has been blocked on the Island.

The report dedicates a special section to prisoners of conscience and notes that laws that classify “dangerousness” and the likelihood of future offense as crimes have been used frequently to incarcerate citizens critical of the Government. Also, they point to the restriction on travel outside of Cuba imposed on the 12 prisoners of the Black Spring who were released without a clarification of their legal status.

Amnesty International appreciates the immigration reform of 2013 which has permitted Cubans to travel abroad but points out that the government has confiscated materials and documents from opponents and critics on their return to the Island. The international organization complains that Cuba has not yet ratified the International Treaty of Civil and Human Rights or the International Treaty of Economic, Social, and Cultural rights, both signed in February 2008. Also, the Government has not responded to the petition made in October by the special rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhumane or degrading treatments and punishments. Cuban authorities have denied Amnesty International access to the country since 1990.

A “cruel” year on a regional scale

Amnesty International stresses that 2014 was a “cruel” year in all of the Americas, characterized by outbreaks of protests and impunity for criminal networks.

“Last year, insecurity and conflicts grew on the American continent. Protests exploded in several countries, among them Venezuela, Brazil, Mexico and the United States, often violently repressed by state forces. We also were witness to the tragic increase in violence by criminal networks that acted with total impunity,” Erika Guevara Rosas, director of the organization’s program for the Americas, asserts.

“From the disappeared students in Mexico through the revelations about torture at the hands of CIA agents in the United States and the shooting of protesters by Brazilian police, 2014 was a shameful year in the whole region,” she adds.

Amnesty International warns that, if significant structural changes are not put in place, the region will see an increase of protests and demonstrations, while organized crime and violence will continue devastating countries like Mexico, El Salvador and the English-speaking Caribbean.

The organization notes as positive the peace talks between the Colombian government and the Armed Revolutionary Forces of Colombia (FARC) for the purpose of putting a definitive end to the continent’s oldest armed internal conflict. Nevertheless, the report stresses that at the end of last year both parties continued abuses and violations of human rights.

As for Venezuela, the report insists that security organizations employed excessive force to disperse protests and emphasizes that dozens of people were detained arbitrarily and denied access to doctors and lawyers.

Amnesty International nevertheless harbors a certain hope that movements in defense of human rights in the Americas may improve their form of organization thanks to the help of new technologies and social networks.

Translated by MLK

The Ordeal of Automated Teller Machines / 14ymedio, Rosa Lopez

Lines at Cuban ATMs grow on weekends (14ymedio)
Lines at Cuban ATMs grow on weekends (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Rosa Lopez, Havana, 23 February 2015 – The line reached the corner and was moving with agonizing slowness. They were not selling eggs or potatoes. It wasn’t even a line for seeking a visa. Those who waited just wanted access to the automatic teller, the only one working last Saturday afternoon near Havana’s Central Park.

A few days before MasterCard can be used in Cuba, many are asking how the Cuban bank network will deal with the increased demand for money if it can barely keep its service afloat for domestic users and tourists.

The congestion in front of the machines grows even though only 1.3 million magnetic cards have been issued in the country, and for the moment only retirees, customers with accounts in convertible pesos, businesses that have contracts with the bank, self-employed workers and international collaborators can get them. The rest of society continues to depend exclusively on paper currency.

“When the subject is money, people fume,” says a young man whose Saturday night hangs by a thread because of the congested ATM. Even though this weekend the temperature dropped in the city, no one seemed ready to leave before getting their cash.

The scene is repeated at most of the 550 ATMs (Automated Teller Machines or automatic tellers) of Chinese manufacture, of which 398 are in Havana. In 2013 200 new units were purchased in China, but the majority were to replace defective terminals and did not solve the serious deficit of tellers. Cash payment is still the most common method in Cuba for acquiring products and services.

The scarcity of terminals combines with the deficient functioning of the system, affected by electrical outages, frequent connection failures between the ATM and the bank and lack of cash

The terminals are only available in private businesses with great resources and obvious official backing 

Almost all the self-employed workers offer their services for cash payment. The use of point of sale terminals (TPVs) for card scanning and payment, also known as POS, is only available in private businesses with great resources and obvious official backing.

In state business networks, the landscape is different but not very promising either. Although there exist POS terminals in most big department stores and hard currency shops, their service is unstable and slow. “When a client comes to pay with a card, the line stops for minutes because sometimes the communication with the bank is down and you have to try it several times,” explains a cashier from the busy market at 70th Street and 3rd in Miramar.

In the provincial cities and above all in the townships, where they are practically non-existent, the ATM and POS situation is even worse. Tourists who travel deep into Cuba must carry cash with them, increasing the risk of theft and loss in addition to the demand for liquidity.

The problem hits natives and foreigners. “Why do they pay me on the card if in the end I have to go get the money at the bank because I can make purchases almost nowhere with this?” complains Marilin Ruiz, a former elementary school teacher who also was waiting in line on Saturday for the ATM near Central Park. The delay was so long that she wound sharing recipes for making flan without milk and knitting suggestions with another woman.

 “I have a pension of less than 200 pesos (about $8 US) and I spend up to two hours in line at the teller to collect it,” an old woman complained

Between the 4th and 6th of each month, Cuban retirees go to ATMs to collect their pensions. “I have a pension of less than 200 pesos (about $8 US) and I spend up to two hours in line at the teller to collect it,” explained Asuncion, an old woman of close to eighty years of age. Meanwhile, some kids scamper from one side to the other. They are the children of a couple waiting at the end of the line without much hope of getting money before nightfall.

“We are late for everything; when the world has spent decades using plastic, now it is that we are trying it,” laments Asuncion. The first ATMs, of French manufacture, were installed in Cuba in 1997, but after 2004 only Chinese terminals arrived.

Asuncion keeps in her wallet a Visa card that her son sent her from Madrid. “I use this only every three months when he puts a little on it for my expenses.” There are no public statistics about how many of the country’s residents might be making frequent use of debit or credit cards associated with a foreign bank account of an emigrated relative, but the phenomenon has grown in the last decade.

In the line several Chinese student also put their Asian patience to the test with the red and blue cards in hand from the Chinese banking conglomerate UnionPay. More than 3000 citizens of that country study or work on the Island, and they receive their family remittances through that channel. Also, in 2013 alone some 22,000 Chinese tourists visited Cuba.

“We Cubans and Chinese are good at waiting, but let the gringos arrive in great numbers, they are more desperate, they want everything fast,”

“We Cubans and Chinese are good at waiting, but let the gringos arrive in great numbers, they are more desperate, they want everything fast,” says Lazaro, a teen with tight clothes, to a friend with whom he waits in the line.

The alternative to the ATM, which might be the window of the bank branch, is not recommended. In Havana there are 90 branches of the Banco Metropolitano, but at the end of 2014 at least twelve offices were partially or completely closed because of problems ranging from leaks, sewer network blockages, danger of building collapse or other infrastructure issues. Insufficient attention and lack of trust in the banking system make many continue to prefer hiding money “under the mattress.”

The limited work schedule of banks and the scarcity of offices open on weekends cause long lines on weekends in front of ATMs. The more optimistic, however, manage to profit from the wait. Marilin managed to achieve everything by renting a room in her house to the Chinese students who must, of course, pay in cash.

Asuncion could not stand the pain in her legs and left without her money, while the couple at the end of the line had to buy some ice cream to pacify their restless children. Lazaro was luckier, and in addition to exchanging phone numbers with a French woman whom he met in the crowd, he managed to extract twenty convertible pesos from the ATM to spend that same night. At least this time the blue screen did not appear with the “out of service” announcement, nor was there a power outage and, yes, the machine had cash.

Translated by MLK

Canadian businessman Cy Tokmakjian Released from Prison / 14ymedio

Cy Tokmakjian (Photo: Tokmakjian Group)
Cy Tokmakjian (Photo: Tokmakjian Group)

14ymedio biggerThe Canadian entrepreneur Cy Tokmakjian was released from prison in Cuba and is now back in Canada, his lawyer Barry Papazian informed the Canadian media on Saturday. The businessman was imprisoned in Cuba for more than three years and was sentenced to 15 years in prison for various crimes, including bribery and corruption.

The digital site Martinoticias also echoed the information and statements by Papazian, in which he says that, “Cy returns home in good health, fantastic sprits, and is looking forward to spending time with his family which includes three loving children and seven excited grandchildren.” The lawyer asked that that the privacy of his employer and his relatives be respected.

Tokmakjian operated business in Cuba for more than two decades, with a value estimated to have reached 80 billion dollars continue reading

annually. His company specialized in the import and sale of equipment for transport, mining and construction.

In 2011 Tokmakjian was arrested and was made to wait two and a half years in prison, before charges against him were formally filed. In September 2014 he was sentenced to 15 years in prison for bribery and other economic crimes. Tried in the same case were fourteen Cuban officials as well as two senior executives of the Canadian company, Claudio Vetere and Marco Puche, who were sentenced to 12 and eight years’ imprisonment respectively on charges of fraud, bribery, currency trafficking, counterfeiting bank documents and tax evasion.

The release of Tokmakjian occurs a few months after the new Law on Foreign Investment in Cuba went into effect; through this law the government hopes to attract capital to various sectors of the national economy.

Berta Soler announces recall referendum on her tenure as head of the Ladies in White / 14ymedio

Berta Soler during Sunday's press conference (Photo: 14ymedio)
Berta Soler during Sunday’s press conference (Photo: 14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 22 February 2015 — During a press conference this afternoon, Berta Soler, leader of the Ladies in White, announced that a recall referendum would be held within the organization to define her continuity at the head of this Human Rights movement.

Surrounded fifty Ladies in White, Soler read a statement to several foreign correspondents and independent media gathered near the Church of Santa Rita, in the Havana neighborhood of Miramar.

According to the activist, she will submit her leadership at the head of the organization to a recall referendum. The date of the consultation will be this coming March 16, but she did not detail how the procedure would be carried out.

In her statement, Berta Soler also invited the Ladies in White living in Miami who signed a letter last week asking for her resignation to “return to Cuba to fight.” continue reading

In a letter published last Wednesday by the newspaper El Nuevo Herald, several founders of the Ladies in White in exile felt that the group needed a new direction and requested the resignation of Soler. According to the newspaper, 16 members of the organization in the United States defended Alejandrina Garcia de la Riva, another member of the group in disagreement with Soler.

At the conclusion of the press conference on Sunday, the Ladies in White cheered Berta Soler and chanted her name.

Soler explained that today’s march was dedicated to Orlando Zapata Tamayo, an activist who died in February 2010 after a prolonged hunger strike. The leader of the Ladies in White also said that once the press conference ended, the women would continue their pilgrimage beyond Avenida Quintera towards the neighborhood of Vedado.

This newspaper was able to confirm that minutes after crossing the Calle Linea tunnel, an act of repudiation was carried out against the Ladies in White who, for fifteen minutes, were surrounded by people carrying posters with official slogans and screaming out against them. The women were then forced into several buses waiting near the site and driven off to a unknown destination.

Act of repudiation against Ladies in White near the Calle Linea tunnel (14ymedio)
Act of repudiation against Ladies in White near the Calle Linea tunnel (14ymedio)

Why Do Cubans Continue To Be Spaniards? / 14ymedio, Ferran Nunez

Treaty of Paris 1898
Treaty of Paris 1898 (CC)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Ferrán Nuñez, Paris, 21 February 2015 — With the signing of the Treaty of Paris of 1898, Spain ceded or sold the last pieces of its former empire where, in the time of Carlos V, “the sun never set.” This treaty, as has already been proven by Pedro Albizu Campos, had several legal defects that made it invalid. Curiously, no Spanish politician has used these arguments to challenge it outright. This is due to two main factors: The first, ignorance, and the second, of equal weight, reality. Spain today, as it has been for the last 115 years, is not in any shape to oppose the “Pax Americana.”

However, today this legal fissure acquires an unexpected dimension. Spain, through various laws, decrees and circulars, has decided to re-establish the rights of nationality for many of its former citizens who lost their nationality for different reasons in the last century (and even earlier, as is the case of the Sephardic Jews). Over time this worthwhile path is going to turn out partial and incomplete because unfathomable depths of injustice continue reading

are appearing. We are going to neither allude to the notorious inequality of conceding nationality only to descendants of male immigrants or detail the numerous legal ploys that officials abroad use in order to retard or delay the petitions of the interested parties, who could not always access to the documents necessary for validating their rights.

The Treaty of Paris completely dispossessed Cubans and Puerto Ricans born overseas of their status as Spaniards, leaving them to the disposition of the new authorities as if it were dealing with material property of the Crown ceded or sold by virtue of that agreement. Something that was in frank contradiction of the rights of peoples and is one of the reasons that the said treaty was never ratified by The Cortes – the Spanish Parliament – until today.

Few rose then to denounce such injustice, carried to The Cortes by Admiral Cevera, among others. Later a royal decree was published in the Manual of Military and Civil Classes, which declared them foreigners. Nevertheless, according to the current Constitution, the Civil Registry of the Kingdom was the only agency authorized legally to recognize (once registration had proceeded) the loss of nationality of those Spaniards, and this never occurred.

By not duly settling in the Kingdom of Spain’s civil registry the new administrative status of the natives of the island of Cuba, they continued to maintain de facto Spanish nationality.

The creation of the Republic of Cuba did not resolve this legal problem either, given that the Cuban Constitution established that those people had to “opt” for the new Cuban nationality, something that in practice – and from all the evidence – also turned out difficult to put into practice. Those who did not do it, as well as their descendants, kept their de facto status as Spaniards at least until 1940. As a result, their descendants continue to be Spanish and could demand that status currently in Spain’s civil registries.

In 1940, the new Constitution decreed by ius solis (birthright through parentage) Cuban status to those born in Cuba so that Spaniards who did not “opt” at that moment to keep their Spanish nationality ended up losing it as did their descendants.

However, Spanish nationality does not depend on Cuban nationality or vice versa. Each sovereign state decides for itself who are its citizens. Spain cannot impugn the Treaty of Paris but it can do justice to the descendants of those Spaniards, recognizing their right to nationality. Nothing prevents it and it would be an act of basic justice. The recent decisions by the Supreme Court denying Spanish status to those born in overseas territories are a disgrace and a legal aberration. Given the current international political environment, offering nationality to all those descendants of Spaniards who seek it opens unusual prospects – transcendental – for the cause of Hispanic heritage. Only a blind man would not know how to see them.

Translated by MLK

The Malecon as Pier / 14ymedio, Orlando Palma

Image of the Cayo Hueso-Havana ferry taken 1951 (History Miami Archives and Research Center)
Image of the Cayo Hueso-Havana ferry taken 1951 (History Miami Archives and Research Center)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Orlando Palma, Havana, 21 February 2015 — Jose Manuel is 70 years old and has spent more than half his life fishing from Havana’s Malecon. For this retiree with leathery skin and eyes that have seen almost everything, it is a dream to catch sight again of that ferry that used to go to Florida and that he so liked when he was a child. “We kids used to pretend to say goodbye, and although I could never travel on it, my grandmother did every now and then.” Now, while the evening falls, the septuagenarian hopes that some fish will take the bait, and before him a sea without boats extends to infinity.

Maritime transport between Havana and Cayo Hueso came to be very common in the first half of the 20th century until it was suspended in August of 1961 as a consequence of the restrictions from the American embargo of the Island. Now, the ghost of a ferry continue reading

that links the two shores has resurfaced as a result of talks between the governments of Cuba and the United States.

This week, the entrepreneur Brian Hall, who leads the company KonaCat with headquarters in Fort Lauderdale, made public his interest in operating ferry trips to Cuba from Marathon’s yachting marina on 11th Street. Hall told the daily digital KeysInfoNet that he was confident of getting available space for his 200-passenger capacity catamaran with which he plans to travel between the Florida Keys and Cuba twice daily.

The news has barely reached the Island, but since last December 17 when Raul Castro and Barack Obama announced the process for reestablishment of relations between the two countries, the return of the ferry has become a matter of importance for many nostalgic people. In addition to the economic concessions and the political détente that this reconciliation would bring between the two governments, connecting both countries with a maritime route would have, besides its practical effects, a strong symbolism, many assert.

All great human endeavors have something to do with madness, say the elders. The ferry service that connected Florida with the Cuban capital started with the efforts of a man. Henry M. Flagler, an oil magnate who in 1886 founded the Florida Faster East Coast Railway for railway construction and exploitation of Florida’s east coast. In spite of the great obstacles imposed by the geography of the keys and the constant danger of hurricanes, Flagler’s madness led him to trace the rail lines to Cayo Hueso, where the service was inaugurated in January 1912. That work would be considered by many as the eighth wonder of the world, besides being the boldest infrastructure built exclusively with private funds.

Once the railway was in Cayo Hueso, some way was needed to overcome the distance to Cuba. So was born “the train moving over the waters” as the ferry was also called and whose Havana-Cayo Hueso service was inaugurated January 5, 1915. The first shipment consisted of a batch of refrigerated cars, and the boat received the name of Henry M. Flagler, in homage to the visionary entrepreneur who had died two years earlier.

“We kids used to pretend to say goodbye, and although I could never travel on it, my grandmother did every now and then.”

The dispatch of products between both shores grew like wildfire after that moment. In 1957 it came to more than half a million tons of merchandise in both directions, to which was added the transport of passengers and cars. The sea connection between the two shores lasted 46 years, and some remember it as if it were yesterday that the last boat had sailed.

“My grandmother frequently travelled to Florida on the ferry,” explains Jose Manuel, who has had a bad day for fishing. “We were poor, but part of my family went there to work and sometimes would return the same day,” he says wistfully. Near the fishing pole, seated on the wall of the Malecon, a teenager listens to the conversation and smiles with incredulity. He is of the generation that cannot conceive that at some point the Malecon was not a barrier that separated Cuba from the world but a point of connection with the neighbor to the north.

The line tightens, and it seems that something has bit. Jose Manuel concentrates on recovering from the water what is going to be his supper tonight, but in spite of his concentration he manages to say, “The day that I see that ferry arriving here again I will be able to die in peace.”

Translated by MLK

Americas Summit: Opportunity and Challenge / 14ymedio, Miriam Celaya

Enrique Peña Nieto and Barack Obama spoke at the Summit of the Americas in their meeting last January 6 in Washington. (EFE / Michael Reynolds)
Enrique Peña Nieto and Barack Obama spoke about the Summit of the Americas in their meeting last January 6 in Washington. (EFE / Michael Reynolds)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 8 February 2105 — One of the most controversial issues facing both the Cuban government and Cuban independent civil society is one stemming from President Barack Obama’s December 17th speech when he stated: “Next April, we will be ready for Cuba to join the other nations in the hemisphere at the Americas Summit, but we will insist that Cuban civil society joins us so that it will not only be the leaders, but the citizens who will shape our future.”

Immediately after, Obama added: “And I urge all my colleagues and leaders to give meaning to the commitment to democracy and human rights, which is the essence of the Inter-American Charter. Let’s leave behind the legacy of colonization and communism and the tyranny of drug cartels, dictators continue reading

and electoral farces.”

After the first moments of surprise and with each other’s positions set out on the table about the decision to reestablish diplomatic relations between Cuba and the US, most Cubans are sure that the regime is not prepared to face, in a satisfactorily manner, an honest debate on democracy and human rights, and much less is willing to compromise on its stubborn refusal to recognize areas of rights which would inevitably lead to the end of its power.

But, with the same certainty and for the sake of honesty, we must recognize that we still have major obstacles to overcome in the independent civil society, starting with the one that will be, without a doubt, an essential premise: to agree on our consensus, leaving aside our differences – derived from political partisanships, ideologies, autocratic individuals and other personal agendas — that have divided us and prevented further progress over decades.

In politics, time is a fundamental asset we Cubans tend not to figure into our calculations, being accustomed as we are to half a century of stagnation.

To leave behind political adolescence and suddenly attain adulthood to achieve a common front that amplifies the democratic demands of Cubans which several generations have been struggling for under difficult conditions is not impossible, as evidenced by debate and consensus forums in the past two years. However, achieving a single agenda capable of meeting the essential requirements of all sectors of the civil society will not be easy, particularly for those who are more reluctant to dialogue and have opted instead for a confrontational stance.

It may seem premature to put on the table an issue that depends, in the first place, on the combination and coordination of many as yet unknown issues. But in politics, time is a fundamental asset we Cubans tend not to figure into our calculations, being accustomed as we are to half a century of stagnation.

Obviously, President Obama’s willingness to support civil society does not imply — or at least it should not imply — the government’s direct intervention in financing or selecting the actors who participate in the hemispheric conclave. Presumably, taking as a sign his own statements when he recognized that Cuban issues belong first of all to Cubans, his government’s commitment should be to support the proposals we make, and should include those who do not live in Cuba but who are part of the nation’s heartbeat.

In that case, it would be advisable to start a process of discussion and consultation now with participants in the independent civil society groups and leaders of opinion, journalists, activists of all existing projects, and those individuals or organizations — whether from the opposition or any civic venue — who may have ideas to contribute to the agenda.

It is time to show that we are partners in the dialogues that are sketching all our destinies.

We should not be seeking unanimity, but trying to consolidate unity in those essential points we agree on, and readying our proposals, both in a plausible memo to present at the Americas Summit and in a representation that could encompass, more inclusively and justly, the whole range of organizations and trends of the independent civil society. At the same time, we must give up our presumptions and embrace modesty for the common good.

Unfortunately, we have witnessed the persistence of intolerant positions in recent events, verbal violence and contempt for those ideas different to our own, something that is inherent to a society that has been, for a long time, tense and controlled by a regime that has sown totalitarianism and intimidation as valid methods to prevail, which a handful of democrats seem to want to perpetuate.

These actions, which have been carried out against the public image of a dissidence characterized mainly by its posture of peaceful struggle and respect for differing views, should be banished from the discussions if we wish to strengthen and achieve standing and recognition inside and outside Cuba. It is time to show that we are partners in the dialogues that are sketching all our destinies.

In short, what is truly important is, after all, to be prepared for the occasion that is politically being offered to us. It is a matter of commitment, not a easy ride, and whoever will end up representing us in this or any other international forum should feel the great historical responsibility they assume, and be worthy of the trust of all those who have committed their forces and pinned their hopes on the future of democracy in Cuba.

Translated by Norma Whiting

Nancy Pelosi excited by the work of her delegation to Cuba / 14ymedio, Luz Escobar

US Congressional Delegation holding a press conference in Havana (Luz Escobar)
US Congressional Delegation holding a press conference in Havana (Luz Escobar)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 19 February 2015 — On Thursday afternoon, the Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi led a press conference in which she provided a summary of her visit to Cuba, in addition to answering questions from foreign journalists and independent press. The meeting was held on the outside of the residence of Lynn Roche, Head of the Public Affairs Section of the US Interests Section in Havana (ISIS).

During the conference, Pelosi was accompanied by Congressmen Eliot Engel (NY), Jim McGovern (Massachusetts), Rosa DeLauro (Connecticut), Collin Peterson (Minnesota), Nydia Velázquez (New York), Anna Eshoo (California), Steve Israel (New York) and David Cicilline (Rhode Island). Prior to the meeting with journalists, the delegation had met with Cardinal Jaime Ortega y Alamino the highest authority of the Catholic Church in Cuba, as well as holding “a meeting with members of civil society continue reading

,” although no names or groups were detailed.

During the press conference, Congressman Eliot Engel emphasized that “now the ball is in the Cuban government’s corner… We want to see a flourishing civil society,” he said. Engel also highlighted his hope of “seeing part of free civil society at the Summit of the Americas,” although he acknowledged being “very concerned about the issue of human rights” on the island.

Nancy Pelosi, meanwhile, said she was “excited” and “proud” of the work that his delegation undertook in Cuba. The Democrat had arrived with the rest of Congressional Democrats Tuesday and on Thursday also met with the Vice President of the National Assembly, Ana Maria Mari Machado, along with twenty members of the controversial Cuban parliament. Pelosi also expressed her pride in President Barack Obama for “the audacity to make such a shift in policy towards Cuba.”

According to what the members of congress explained to the press, both sides in the negotiations for the reestablishment of relations between Cuba and the United States recognize that “this is a time to look more toward the future than the past.” For his part, Steve Israel said that “for this process to succeed both countries have to focus more on the future and less on the past. December 17th was an historic moment for the two countries, but the real story is making the changes.”

Jim McGovern said that “if the embassies open” it could improve the negotiation process because both governments are speaking directly. “We have a more mature relationship. We can not agree on everything, but I think possibly we can achieve much more if we base our relationship on mutual respect… We will continue talking about human rights,” he said, but stressed that it must first a policy “that has proved to be a failure” should be changed. Finally, he supported “establishing formal diplomatic relations, rather than trading accusations and pointing fingers at each other.”

Later Israel himself speculated on how this ongoing process will be looked back on, and “how those who embraced the future of those who embraced the past will differ.”

At the end of the press conference, the delegation of Democratic members of congress met with First Vice President Miguel Diaz-Canel. To a question from 14ymedio regarding whether they had noticed any desire on the part of the Cuban government to cooperate on the issue of computerizing Cuban society and access to new technologies, Anna Eshoo stressed that “younger people in Cuba, in particular, are hungry for this, and recognize the empowerment that access to broadband would bring.”

Congresswoman Eshoo said that she “had the pleasure of sitting at lunch” with the blogger Harold Cardenas from La Joven Cuba blog, and had “a wonderful discussion.” As for the “preservation of values” that has so concerned the Cuban ruling class lately, the congresswoman said she let them know she understood their position.

Nydia Velázquez conveyed to the those present that they “would like to share [their] experience in promoting economic development,” especially in the field of small private businesses, which in the case of the US are “the backbone of the economy.” This would help the economic growth of many Cuban families, said the congresswoman.