Holguin Starts the School Year in the Midst of a Complex Epidemiological Situation / 14ymedio, Donate Fernando Ochoa

Preschool classroom of a primary school in Holguin. (Fernando Donate)
Preschool classroom of a primary school in Holguin. (Fernando Donate)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Fernando Donate Ochoa, Holguin, 1 September 2015 — The beginning of the school year in Holguin has been complicated this early September by the complex epidemiological context facing the region because of the outbreaks of dengue fever and cholera. The city is experiencing a declared health emergency, but authorities say they have taken all sanitary measures in order to prevent the spread of diseases in schools.

In junior high schools the school snack has temporarily been suspended, an offering that consisted of yogurt and bread with mortadella passed out free in the schools. continue reading

For this reason, the class schedule at this level now runs from 8:00 to 10:00 in the morning, with an afternoon session from 2:00 to 5:00, according to Claribel Casamayor, an English teacher at the Panchito Gomez Toro school.

Students at Celia Sanchez University are also beginning the year atypically. The vice rector, Liuska Bao Pavon, in a special program of the Radio Angulo station, informed those students that the dormitories are not available because they are being used as a field hospital for patients suffering from dengue fever. For now, the students are attending classes on adjusted hours at other universities in the provincial capital city.

The situation becomes more complicated at the primary level, according to Ricardo Ramirez, municipal deputy director of Education for Holguin. His students, between 6 and 11 years of age, are studying at centers that are severely deteriorated due to the age of the buildings and the lack of repairs. Ramirez told the local station Telecristal that of the 252 schools in the city, 130 began classes with seriously damaged plumbing and he did not rule out that some schools would remain permanently closed for lack of optimal sanitary conditions. In those cases, the students would be relocated to other schools.

These statements have contributed to keeping people in a state of fear. Maritza Avila, mother of a seven-year-old boy, Pedro Enrique Tamayo, who started first grade at the Julio Grave de Peralta primary school, confessed that she feared for the health of her son as the school is in an advanced state of deterioration in both its construction and plumbing.

The health problems are compounded by a shortage of 1,205 teachers, 444 of them in the provincial capital city.

Yaser Quintana, a math teacher at Rafael Freyre elementary school, notes that the school year has also been affected by the fact that many children and teenagers have been admitted to hospitals for cholera and dengue fever.

The health problems are compounded by a shortage of 1,205 teachers, 444 of them in the provincial capital city. Among the measures announced by the authorities to solve this problem is the reinstatement of retired teachers, contracting with students at Oscar Lucero Moya University and with graduates of the basic course at José de la Luz y Caballero Teaching University as well as with recent graduates of the University of Information Sciences.

Less Milk and Less Beef / 14ymedio, Jose Quintana de la Cruz

A cow in Cuba. (CC)
A cow in Cuba. (CC)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Jose Quintana de la Cruz, Pinar del Rio, 31 August 2015 – Cattle ranching in Cuba touched bottom in 1999, but it had started its decline in 1970. That year’s effort to produce 10 million tons of sugar was the focus of attention and resources for the entire nation. Such a disproportion was detrimental to the the motto of centralized planning: wielding economic harmony and proportionality.

The setback in the care and breeding of cattle came after a remarkable success in the cattle industry until 1968. In the sixties, mass vaccination increased the heads of cattle from just over 5 million on the island in 1958 to 7.5 million. The increase was the result of importing breeding stock from Canada, the massive use of artificial insemination and good animal husbandry and veterinary management. This improved the quantity and quality of the herds.

However, in 1968 a decline in the number of cattle began that is not yet over. Alarms sounded in 1999 when Cuba had 3 million fewer head of cattle than in 1968. Of the numbers lost, at least 1.9 million were heifers, which considerably affected the base of reproduction, the guarantee of future herds. continue reading

Many analysts attribute the livestock crash to the Special Period, officially decreed in 1990, that came with the collapse of the European socialist bloc. These analysts argue that the sectors loss of supplies was the main reason for its collapse. Obviously this was an influence, but the evils that became chronic in the nineties had originated almost three decades earlier.

In 1985 the warning signs were already clear: the country had 2.2 million fewer heads of cattle than in 1968. At a time when the Soviet supplies were still being received with both hands. What had happened was that the resources needed for livestock were being reassigned to other destinations by the Cuban government. Basically to the sugar industry, which, in the end, also collapsed.

In 1954 Cuba had 0.9 head of cattle per person. Today there are only 0.4 starving cattle per person

On the other hand, poor reproductive cycles have affected the replacement of slaughtered animals. A cow should be ready to reproduce at two years of age and give birth to a calf every 13 months until she has achieved 4 or 5 births during her reproductive life. But in Cuba many of these adult heifers only give birth to between 2 or 3 calves during their lifetimes.

The difference compared to the sixty years ago is staggering. In 1954 Cuba had 0.9 heads of beef per capita, an indicator where it was only surpassed in the region by Uruguay with 3.01, Brazil with 2.39, and Argentina with 1.01. Today, however, the Pearl of the Antilles has only 0.4 starving heads per capita.

Milk production has also failed to take off despite the government call to prioritize it. Between 2013 and 2014 it declined slightly this year could decline still more. In the Camaguey region, known for its cattle tradition, is trying right now to mitigate the effects of the severe drought to ease the lack of milk production. Other provinces are worse.

Hunger, the deficient planting of pastures, disease, legal and occasionally illegal slaughter caused by poor management, and the lack of economic incentives, stand as the chronic internal causes of the livestock disaster in Cuba. At the end of 2014, the number of cattle in the entire country reached 4.1 million. This year the lack of rainfall has forced massive slaughter of cattle that will surely adversely affect that figure.

Cubans should prepare for even less milk and less beef on their tables.

Sales Of Building Materials Under Scrutiny / 14ymedio

Adjoining apartments in the same building: Among the most deficient products is paint for facades. (Reinaldo Escobar)
Adjoining apartments in the same building: Among the most under-supplied products is paint for facades. (Reinaldo Escobar)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 1 September 2015 – When there is sand, there are no bricks,” protests a lady this week outside the market in Havana’s La Timna neighborhood. People’s dissatisfaction with regards to quality, quantity and variety of construction materials continues unresolved despite having been addressed at the accountability meetings of the People’s Power throughout the country and in the national press.

The situation shows no signs of improvement despite the annual application of the Program for Local Production and Sales of Construction Materials, which began this Tuesday for the seventh consecutive year, starting in Guantanamo province and concluding on October 15 in Isla de la Juventud, according to the schedule published in the official press. continue reading

The aspects to be evaluated are the level of management the strategy for assuring that the 2015 plan targets will be met in each entity, and specifics regarding the 2016 program. In previous years the agenda has included other issues such as quality, innovation and environmental protection.

However, the fact that they have already published the dates and times for each local inspection distorts the picture, because it allows the offenders to be prepared and to eliminate, at least for this one day, the irregularities that affect their services.

Customers’ worst criticisms are not only about the supplies, but also about the mechanisms of sales, to which they attribute the appearance of resellers who manage to divert state transports haul the materials – aggregates, cement, steel, granite tiles and plumbing fixtures – to send their cargoes directly to the black market with the presumed complicity of the administrative employees.

The head of the National Group for Local Production and Sales of Construction Materials, Manuel Tomas Vazquez, announced that in the previous evaluation process only five provinces were certified “good”: Matanzas, Villa Clara, Ciego de Avila, Las Tunas and Santiago de Cuba.

Five were rated “regular” – Pinar del Rio, Artemisa, Sancti Spiritus, Holguin and Granma – while in the “bad” category were Havana, Mayabeque, the Isla de la Juventud Special Municipality, Cienfuegos, Camagüey and Guantánamo.

In the last session of the National Assembly, Vice President Ramiro Valdes Menendez criticized the irregularities and illegalities that threaten the production, transportation and sale of building materials.

Free or Slaves? / 14ymedio, Lynn Cruz

Scene from 'The Emigrants' by Slawomir Mrozek, directed by Sahily Moreda. (14ymedio)
Scene from ‘The Emigrants’ by Slawomir Mrozek, directed by Sahily Moreda. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Lynn Cruz, Havana, 30 August 2015 — The play The Emigrants (1975), by the Polish playwright Slawomir Mrozek has been staged by Sahily Moreado and his company Teatro del Cuartel at Sala Teatro El Sotano in Havana. This story of tearing apart, uprooting and exile will present the final shows of its revival over the weekend.

One of the characters fled for political reasons, while the other to escape misery. The first believes in the value of being able to think and speak freely, while the latter wants to make money to return to his family. Two visions of the world coexist in a basement, but what isn’t specified is in which country or city.

Driven by survival, each character shows his most primitive side and at the moments when the atmosphere becomes more sordid than dreary, the theater piece evokes the work Two Lost in the Filthy Night (1966) by the Brazilian Linio Marcos. continue reading

Because The Emigrants is presented in a Cuban scenario, for the audience the association is immediate: Two Cuban immigrants in a first world country. Thus, the two realities end up merged, and even more so due to the historic similarities that unite us with Poland.

The absence of scene design, however, weakens the vision. For example, the use of Caribbean objects and furniture found in any Cuban house or kitchen. Another notable aspect were the sudden and almost mechanical lighting transitions, which at many points are divorced from the rhythm of the staging.

However, the minimalism, as well as the use of space and each of the elements, display no lack of rigor. Moreda, in addition to being characterized by his exhaustive selection of texts, fends intelligently for himself, countering the material deficiencies with the quality of his performers, who achieve particularly emotional moments.

It is not difficult for the spectators to enter in the atmosphere of the basement where the story narrated by the play takes place. A match between the real space and the theatrical space, with the odor of dampness and the dust in the room, this time, favors the fiction.

The characters are from different backgrounds and had they remained in their birth countries it is probable that their paths never would have crossed. This is one of the conflicts of the play, which also addresses the psychological processes an immigrant passes through, ranging from the more casual relationship between them, to the most extreme circumstances.

The intellectual proclaims that he lives in post-socialism, now that he can say and express what he feels. He experiences freedom, but he has lost conflict as a driving force for creativity and his truths must be spoken in the place where they were engendered. On the other hand, the construction worker, his roommate, is his object of analysis and he needs him to cope with the displacement.

The subject and the object become one. The intellectual calls him slave, and challenges him to say what he thinks, without fear. He confronts the worker with his truth: The loss of the sense of the journey. With this he goes into a deeper truth that leads him to question even his own existence.

The truthfulness in his characters, the precision of movement as well as the careful diction, often absent in today’s Cuba, characterize the excellent performance of Daniel Robles. The young actor excels in an way, along with the more experienced Walfrido Serrano, who has returned memorable performances in Teatro El Publico. The latter, however, is excessively theatrical in his delivery at times and should check his laughter which, on occasion, tarnishes his naturalness.

The Emigrants arrives on the Cuban scene and, beyond history versus the individual, Mrozek digs into the human aspect. It brings us to accept out truth without distorting it, makes us live truly in the present and positively influences our future. It leaves us with an individual question: Are we free or are we slaves?

Fines Do Not Deter, They Accumulate / 14ymedio, Orlando Palma

A policeman checks a street vendor’s papers and merchandise (Reinaldo Escobar / 14ymedio)
A policeman checks a street vendor’s papers and merchandise (Reinaldo Escobar / 14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Orlando Palma, Havana, 29 August 2015 – Outside the market at 17th and K in Havana informal vendors gather despite the police raids. Niurka is one of them and her “offering” is reduced to selling plastic bags which she offers at one Cuban peso (about 4¢ US) each. “The last time they charged me, they gave me a one thousand peso fine,” says the women about her most recent encounter. However, she says she wouldn’t think of paying it and will continue to offer her wares.

“People come here when they are planning to travel or to do some paperwork and they don’t want to have an unpaid fine,” says an employee of the Fine Payment Office of the Plaza of the Revolution municipality. In line for the payment counter, a young man named Diego carried in his hand a paper that shows the amounts for each offense. “I was sitting on a wall and a cop fined me for damage to a public ornament,” he says angrily. continue reading

“I was sitting on a wall and a cop fined me for damage to a public ornament,” he says angrily

When asked if from now on he would avoid sitting there, Diego made a defiant noise with his mouth that is popularly known as “frying an egg.” Several people in the line laughed with complicity. Those who have come there are only a part of those fined, the rest will wait until the last moment to pay their debt, or never pay it at all.

The amount of fines accumulated in the capital are not the only in the country that are high. According to the local press in Ciego de Avila, the debts to the public purse, as of the end of July, consisted of 21,600 fines totalling more than 4,473,000 pesos, still unpaid in this province. Some 90% of them are “in arrears,” that is doubled 30 days after their imposition.

The lack of collection managers to go to the homes of those in default is one of the reasons that slows down the whole process. “Before, many came and paid so that their neighbors wouldn’t see that they had been fined,” explains an employee Department of Penalties of the Provincial Department of Finance and Prices in Havana, who asked for anonymity.

The opinion of those fined is very different from the official version. Eduardo, a traveling sweets seller who works primarily in the Cerro municipality, near the corner of Infanta and Manglar, believes that “sometimes they issue fines just because they feel like it.” The self-employed man says, “They’ve penalized me for standing in one place for a few minutes while selling my products.”

Many collection managers have a system of paying for results. This means that the more fines they issue they more they earn.

Many collection managers have a system of paying for results. This means that the more fines they issue they more they earn. “At the end of the month you see them acting like crazy people trying to collect all the accumulated fines,” explains Samuel, a collective taxi driver who plies the route from Fraternity Park to Santiago de las Vegas.

The payment system is plagued with bureaucratic deficiencies and excesses, as 14ymedio was able to confirm. If a cop or an inspector imposes a fine in Havana on a citizen whose identity card shows their residence in another province, the violation will be settled in the municipality of origin. It will be a headache for this office to locate the offender and make them pay.

“I must have a fortune in fines in Sagua de Tanamo, so it’s been years since I visited my family,” confesses the illegal driver of an almendrón (a shared, fixed-route taxi). However, none of the respondents for this article have had their wages seized as a consequence of not paying their debt to the public purse, nor has any been brought before a court or held in detention.

Fines grow. They are doubled and some reach unpayable figures, but it doesn’t seem to deter many from committing an offense. “The problem is that here everything is forbidden, so people have lost respect for the law,” blurts out Niurka. And she adds defiantly, “This week I will hide myself better, so that inspectors can not see me.”

Ladies in White Denounce Arrests That Began Early Sunday Morning / 14ymedio

Ladies in White in front of the church of Santa Rita, on 5th Avenue in Havana this last June (14ymedio / File)
Ladies in White in front of the church of Santa Rita, on 5th Avenue in Havana this last June (14ymedio / File)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, 30 August 2015 — The leader of the Ladies in White, Berta Soler, reported several arrests of opponents and independent journalists beginning early today. Those detained were prevented from attending Mass at Santa Rita Church and from participating in the traditional Sunday march along Fifth Avenue. Despite the strong police operation deployed around the parish, at least 40 Ladies in White and 15 activists managed to arrive at the site.

The blogger and activist Agustín López Canino was prevented from leaving his house by the police car with the number 632 and reporter Juan Gonzalez Febles was arrested before reaching the location of the march, according to sources from the dissidence. This newspaper was able verify the existence of a strong police operation on several streets around the meeting site of the Ladies in White at Gandhi park starting before ten o’clock in the morning.

For her part, the dissident Martha Beatriz Roque reported via Twitter the “troubling proximity between the forces of repression” and the Ladies in White who were able to reach the park. In particular, a rapid response brigade gathered at the corner of 3rd avenue and 24th, as reported by the regime opponent Juan Angel Moya.

As they left the place, the police proceeded to violently arrest the assembled activists. To date their whereabouts are unknown, but in the past the women have been transferred to a processing center in Tarara, east of Havana and men to the place known as Vivac in Calabazar.

Cuba Buys Successors to Russian Missiles That Downed Brothers to the Rescue Planes / 14ymedio

Russian Missile Vympel-R-73E
Russian Missile Vympel-R-73E

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, 30 August 2015 – In 2015 Cuba will have modern air-to-air missiles acquired from Russia, according to the state-operated Russian Agency of International Information. The island’s government will receive a consignment of VYMPEL R-73Es, which will add to the missiles already imported in recent years, said Yuri Klinshin, president of the Duks company.

The note added that the missile is highly maneuverable and can reach a top speed of 1,500 miles/hour, and a maximum height of 18.6 miles. Other countries that have already bought these arms include Vietnam, Angola, Venezuela Uruguay and Indonesia, among others.

The Vympel R-73E is the successor to the R-60MK, which the USSR gave to Cuba and which was used by the Cuban Air Force to shoot down two civilian Cessnas belonging to Brothers to the Rescue on 24 February 1996. The attack cost the lives of four crew members and provoked a strong reaction from the Cuban exile community. The scandal led President Bill Clinton to sign the Helms Burton Act.

Twenty years later, in the midst of a fragile and tortuous process of normalization of relations between the US and Cuba, this new purchase of Russian rockets is disclosed.

11,000 Stolen Uniforms Are In The Black Market / 14ymedio, Rosa Lopez

School Uniforms (Luz Escobar)
School Uniforms (Luz Escobar)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Rosa Lopez, Havana, 28 August 2015 — Every summer national television calls on us to save electricity, reports the high temperatures and disseminates statements by officials of the Ministry of Education in which they assure us that school uniforms are guaranteed. However, year after year, complaints about deficient supplies and problems with the sizes of these garments return to inflame public opinion.

On this occasion the sale started in the capital on May 25 and will extend to December 31. According to prime time news, “The industry did its part and fulfilled the order for 699,000 garments,” for Havana’s students. However, beginning in the first half of July, the uniforms began to “go missing.” continue reading

“I spent a week looking for a girl’s skirt, but all I find are huge sizes,” says Caridad, the mother of a little girl who will enter first grade this year. “They told me the only place that has any left is the store on Dolores Street in Lawton. So I will go there,” says a determined but otherwise exhausted mother.

“I have all sizes of uniforms,” ​​an illegal vendor boasted Tuesday on the outskirts of La Cuevita, a known enclave for everything one needs to buy under the table

Among the reasons for such a poor offering is the pilfering of more than 11,000 elementary, polytechnic and high school uniforms from the wholesale warehouses, according to a report that appeared Wednesday night on national television.

So far the authorities have not specified if the perpetrators of the robbery have been arrested, but the informal market shows all the evidence of having received a large assortment.

“I have all sizes of uniforms,” ​​an illegal vendor boasted Tuesday on the outskirts of La Cuevita, a known enclave for everything one needs to buy under the table. You just have to follow her to a nearby shack for her to show you the merchandise. There are blouses and skirts for girls in elementary school, a complete set for boys, and also junior high uniforms. They sell for 100 Cuban pesos (just under $4 US) for each set, more than ten times the price in State stores.

Manuela, retired from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, is blunt, ”They should shoot those engaged in reselling uniforms, because this is very sensitive because it’s about our children.” She expressed this opinion loudly in front of her daughter and two granddaughters, outside the store at 20 de Mayo and Ayesteran streets, in El Cerro. But the young woman accompanying her didn’t agree with her opinion. “On the contrary, they should get a medal, because at least they do better than the State,” she opined.

The deficit has forced the provincial trade company to take a series of measures so that an assortment of the most popular sizes will reach Havana

The deficit has forced the provincial trade company to take a series of measures so that an assortment of the most popular sizes will reach Havana. “Undress one saint to dress another,” quipped a grandmother accompanied by her seven-year-old granddaughter when she was told to expect supplies from other provinces.

“Keep checking back every day,” an employee told a mother who couldn’t find pants in her son’s size at an establishment in Central Havana. “This woman thinks that I have nothing else to do in my life but to look for a uniform,” she commented to other customers who also left the store empty handed.

Both the Provincial Education Department and the Provincial Trade Company have issued a call for calm and promised that in the coming weeks uniforms will return to fill the state stores, especially the small sizes. By then, those who have not bought on the black market or used their seamstress skills to alter a large garment, may have their chance.

Cloud Seeding or the Sword of Voltus V / Yoani Sanchez

The Japanese anime Voltus V
The Japanese anime Voltus V

14ymedio biggerGeneration Y, Yoani Sanchez, 28 August 2015 — Undone, with the sparks of short circuits clouding his vision and the cabin smashed into smithereens, Voltus V faced the worst end against a fearsome enemy. However, at the last minute, he drew his sword and in a clean cut slew his enemy. Japanese anime, so popular on the island during the eighties, seems to have inspired the Cuban authorities in their tendencies to hold off on certain solutions until a problem has already resulted in the worst ravages.

This has happened with the recent announcement that, as of this coming September 15, a campaign will begin to “artificially increase the rain.” Through a technique known as “cloud seeding,” Pyrocartridges will be launched from a Russian Yak-40 plane so that the water vapor particles will condense, and this condensation will produce precipitation, according to the official press.

The first reaction of many on reading the news was to wonder why they hadn’t done something like this earlier. Did the country have to get to its current state of hydrological emergency for Voltus V to draw his sword? With the dams at no more than 36% of capacity and 25 reservoirs completely dry–at the so-called “death point”–now the experts from the National Institute of Hydraulic Resources (INRH) propose to bombard the clouds? continue reading

The answers to these questions not only alert us to the insolvency and inefficiency of our state apparatus to handle certain issues, but also clearly indicate that they have not been up to the task to preserve this valuable resource. As long as leaks and breaks in the country’s water system continue to waste more than 50% of the water pumped, no water project will be sustainable.

As long as leaks and breaks in the country’s water system continue to waste more than 50% of the water pumped, no water project will be sustainable.

On the other hand, it is worth questioning how water management has been approached for decades in our nation, which has prioritized the creation of large reservoirs. This decision has ended up damaging the riverbeds of the countless dammed rivers and has reduced the sediment they carry to the coasts, with the consequent erosion of flora and fauna in the deltas.

­Of course, many of these reservoirs–now below half their capacity, or totally dry–were built at a time when the Hydrologist-in-Chief made decisions about every detail of our lives. The marks of his excesses and harebrained schemes are still apparent in our country, excesses that failed to give our people more food, more water and more freedom.

The marks of excesses and harebrained schemes are still apparent in our country, excesses that failed to give our people more food, more water and more freedom

So enormous public works of damming the rivers and streams were undertaken to the detriment of other solutions that would have helped us to ease the current situation. Among them, investments in wastewater treatment and the desalination of seawater, which surrounds us on all sides. Every hydrological bet in the country was placed on one card: the rain. Now, we are losing the game.

If the announcement of “cloud seeding” had been made in a country with an environmental movement, we would see protests in the street. The method is not as innocuous as the newspaper Granma wants us to think. In fact, the critics of this practice consider it “an alteration of the normal rhythm of nature,” and argue that interference with moisture in one part of the country could compromise the rain pattern elsewhere.

Looking up to see whether or not the rains come, we Cubans are waiting for something more than a crop of clouds altered with a blast of silver iodide. We deserve a coherent hydrology policy, over the long term, without magic or spells, but with guarantees. May the next drought not find us like Voltus V, destroyed and thirsty, raising an arm to draw our majestic sword… that we haven’t carried for a long time.

“We Will Be More Effective In Promoting Human Rights,” Says Kerry’s Assistant / 14ymedio, Lilianne Ruiz

Tom Malinowski (Flickr)
Tom Malinowski (Flickr)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Lilianne Ruiz, Havana, 27 August 2016 — In mid-August Tom Malinowski was part of the delegation accompanying John Kerry during his visit to Cuba. The Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights was not only present at the raising of the flag at the embassy in Havana, but met behind closed doors with a group of Cuban activists in the residence of the US charge d’affaires.

Some questions of concern to Cuban civil society and the Cuban exile were included in the questionnaire that Malinowski agreed to answer for 14ymedio via e-mail.

Lilianne Ruiz. Several groups within the Cuban community believe that the historical commitment of the United States in favor of the democratization of the island has weakened since the restoration of diplomatic relations between the two countries.What can you respond to this?

Tom Malinowski. The commitment of my Government to promote universal human rights and democratic principles in Cuba remains as strong as before, as Secretary of State, John Kerry, said during the opening ceremony of the embassy in Havana on August 14. continue reading

“The opening of the embassy has allowed us to increase our contact with the Cuban people”

The opening of the embassy in Havana allows us to advocate more for these values. These changes have already allowed us to increase our contact with the Cuban people. Secretary Kerry and I were able to meet with several activists and other representatives of Cuban civil society on August 14 and it was clear that they are taking advantage of the new situation to push for real change.

Now we have more possibilities to discuss human rights issues with Havana. I met March 31 with the Cuban government to plan for a future dialogue. It will be more difficult to treat US organizations and other international NGOs as criminals now that Cuba has diplomatic relations with us.

The new approach also facilitates Cubans’ access to information and resources for they themselves to build their own future.

Ruiz. Will the programs that support Cuban civil society change as a result of this?

Malinowski. President Obama has made it ​​clear that the US government will continue the programs that promote universal human rights and fundamental freedoms in Cuba, as we do in dozens of countries around the world. However, it is possible that the Cuban Executive will maintain its objection to these efforts and try to repress those who are participating in these programs.

After Cuba eliminated many immigration restrictions in 2013, a larger number of members of civil society on the island has been involved in training courses abroad, developing their professional networks.

“The United States and its companies are among Cuba’s largest suppliers for food and health-related products”

Ruiz. The Cuban government alleges that the economic embargo prevents the buying of medicine and medical equipment from the US. For example, there is a shortage of some medicines for cancer treatment in Cuban hospitals. Is there any truth in the statements of the Executive?

Malinowski. The restrictions on transactions with the Cuban government do not apply to medicines or medical equipment. At least since the Act for Democracy in Cuba was approved in 1992, medicines and medical supplies, instruments and equipment are authorized to be exported to Cuba. Far from restricting aid to Cubans, we are proud that the people of the United States and its companies are among its biggest suppliers of food and health-related products. In 2014, US exports to Cuba totaled nearly $ 300 million in agricultural products, medical supplies and humanitarian goods.

One of the advantages of our new policy is that it will be harder for the Cuban government to blame the United States for any humanitarian difficulties which might befall the Cuban people. The United States will do its part, according to its laws, to enhance the success of the self-employed, to improve access to the internet and to increase economic ties between the two peoples, with the objective of benefitting ordinary Cubans. As the Secretary Kerry said, the embargo has always been a two-way street; both sides have to remove the restrictions that prevent Cubans from taking full advantage of these changes.

Ruiz. After December 17, the arbitrary arrests, intimidation and beatings of peaceful activists have continued and the regime refuses to respect fundamental freedoms. How will the US put into practice its commitment to support the defenders of human rights in Cuba?

Malinowski. First of all, we condemn the harassment instigated by the Cuban government, and the use of violence or arbitrary arrests of citizens exercising their rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. And we have addressed these points directly to the Government.

When we announced our new policy in December of last year, we said we did not expect that the behavior of the Cuban government would change overnight as a result of the restoration of diplomatic relations. However, we start with the idea that we will be more effective in promoting human rights if we have diplomatic relations and an embassy in Havana, because now the international attention will be focused on the policies of the Cuban government instead of instead of limiting itself to criticizing the embargo.

We have not stopped denouncing human rights violations and we will continue our dialogue with the Cuban Government on these matters, emphasizing the need for it to keep its promise to allow access to international observers.

El Sexto Confirms from Jail His Hunger Strike / 14ymedio

Danilo Maldonado, known as El Sexto (The Sixth)
Danilo Maldonado, known as El Sexto (The Sixth)

14ymedio, Havana, 27 August 2015 – In a telephone call this Thursday, artist Danilo Maldonado, El Sexto, confirmed that he is on a hunger strike. From the Valle Grande prison he also referred to his mother, Maria Victoria Machado, whom a State Security agent had told of his “speedy release.” The graffiti artist has made the announcement cautiously because it is not the first time that “they have tricked him with something like this,” Machado told this daily.

On August 24, El Sexto’s family waited outside the prison for hours for his release. Days before, an official from State Security had reported that date as the one on which he would be liberated. However, the prison authorities denied that “an order or paper allowing him to leave” had arrived. The graffiti artist advised that he would declare himself on hunger strike, although until today his situation could not be confirmed.

Wednesday at the Office of Attention to the Valle Grande Jail Population, Machado was assisted by an official who assured her that no one in the penitentiary center was on hunger strike. However, on exiting, relatives of other prisoners advised her that her son together with other prisoners had begun a fast.

El Sexto recently received the International Vaclav Havel 2015 Prize for creative dissidence, awarded in a ceremony organized under the framework of the Oslo Freedom Forum which he could not attend because he was in prison.

The artist has been imprisoned since last December on a charge of contempt for having tried to carry out a performance with two pigs painted with the names of “Fidel” and “Raul.” Eight months after his arrest he has not been taken before a court.

Translated by Mary Lou Keel

4-star Cockroaches / 14ymedio, Lilianne Ruiz

Facade of the Plaza Hotel in Old Havana (14ymedio)
Facade of the Plaza Hotel in Old Havana (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Lilianne Ruiz, Havana, 26 August 2015 – When Francina Islas and Juan Andres Sanchez planned their Cuban vacation from Miami, they didn’t imagine that their stay in Havana would become a sequence of discomforts and annoyances. Three days at the centrally-located Hotel Plaza was enough to know that the excellence of Cuban tourist facilities is often a publicity mirage with no connection to reality.

The latest figures released by the National Bureau of Statistics indicate that the country experienced a 21.1% increase in foreign visitors between January and May of 2015, compared the same period from a year ago. However, at the same time that the number of tourists was increasing, customer demands were increasing.

The couple who shared their experience with 14ymedio said, “We were not looking for luxury, just minimal conditions of hygiene and maintenance, working hot water, no cockroaches,” said Francina, a Mexican traveling with her Spanish husband and their daughter.

With difficulty, the family managed to book a room in Havana from Spain. The flood of tourists has left little availability in the accommodation network which includes 430 establishments throughout the country, including hotels, apartment hotels, motels, villas, hostels, houses, cottages and campgrounds. continue reading

After working through several obstacles, Francina and Juan Andres made a reservation through the Logitravel travel agency for a room in the Armadores de Santander, located in a historic mansion in the city. But a week before traveling, they were alerted that it was overbooked and they were relocated to the Plaza Hotel, what was announced as four-stars.

Interior Detail of the Plaza Hotel
Interior Detail of the Plaza Hotel (14ymedio(

The change didn’t bother them at all, because the new place is a few yards from Central Park, and had a beautiful façade. However, passing through the most visible areas of the building, they found the rooms left a lot to be desired.

The musty smell on opening the door of the room was the first sign that something was wrong. Then they found there was dust on the furniture, the shower was not embedded in the wall, but hanging, and the water pressure lasted just a few minutes. If someone closed the bathroom door from inside, they needed help from outside to open it, and the bedspreads were dirty and shabby. “Fortunately the sheets had been washed and changed, and they were the only things we used because the blanket was torn, ripped and filthy,” the alarmed Francina commented.

Another interior shot of the Plaza Hotel (14ymedio)
Another interior shot of the Plaza Hotel (14ymedio)

When they went to breakfast the first time they tried to shake off their frustration with some good tropical fruits, but there was nothing like a Cuban pineapple, guava, or mango, nor even natural juices. Their annoyance grew and the couple – the journalist and her economist husband – were on the point of slamming the door to the Plaza Hotel, but it wasn’t that easy.

The price of the central accommodation is 120 convertible pesos (just over $120) a night in this season, but Francina and Juan Andres were only paying 80 because they got a deal. Contacting the Logitravel Agency was impossible: the cost of overseas calls too expensive, and the internet service too slow.

The Plaza Hotel is managed by the Hotel Group Gran Caribe SA, an entity that is grouped under the Ministry of Tourism, whose slogan is “in all its splendor.” With 12,123 rooms spread over 45 facilities, Gran Caribe is present in the main tourist centers in the country and now has its sights set on a possible flood of tourism from the United States.

On the third day, August 6, the couple left the Plaza and rented a room in the Hotel President. They found the room clean and airy, but “the bathroom taps didn’t fully shut off,” they said. Francina ended up wondering, “How can there be such a lack of water for Havanans and a permanent waste of water in hotels?”

“We will are not going quarrel with the Plaza, we will complain to the agency,” said Francina. “I lost count of how many cockroaches I found in the room.” For the couple it is not only about complaining to get their money back, but who is going to give them back their vacation?

The Missing Statistics On Women In Cuba / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

Gender violence affects an unknown number of victims in Cuba every day, but the statistics of these reprehensible acts do not come to light. (Silvia Corbelle / 14ymedio)
Gender violence affects an unknown number of victims in Cuba every day, but the statistics of these reprehensible acts do not come to light. (Silvia Corbelle / 14ymedio)

14ymedio biggerGeneration Y, Yoani Sanchez, 25 August 2015 — In the neighborhood of Cayo Hueso everyone knew her as “the woman with the machete slashes.” You didn’t have to get too close to see the scars on her arms. These marks for life were made one night when her husband returned home with more alcohol than patience and, machete in hand, went after her. He was in prison for a couple of years and afterwards returned to the same tenement room where the fight had been. “He didn’t have any place else to live and the police didn’t get him out of here,” she said, apologetically. Gender violence creates an unknown number of victims every day in Cuba, but the statistics on these acts are not made public.

For weeks now, marking the 55th anniversary of the Federation of Cuban Women (FMC), we’ve had to hear on television and in the official press the numbers of women who have achieved administrative positions, who are at the helm of a company, a part of Parliament or who have managed to graduate from college. They stuff us full of only some of the numbers, to show that the women’s emancipation has reached this country, while remaining silent on the data about the dark side of reality, where the man commands and the woman obeys. continue reading

For a couple of years now I have been talking in a climate of trust with at least eight women friends, all of them graduates of higher education, with professions in the humanities and a certain economic autonomy. Most of them confess to having been beaten by their husband at least once, a couple of them have suffered rape within marriage, and three have had to flee “with just the clothes on their backs” to avoid domestic violence. Most alarming is that they tell these stories with the equanimity of “this is what we get for being women.”

They stuff us full of only some of the numbers, to show that the women’s emancipation has reached this country, while remaining silent on the data about the dark side of reality, where the man commands and the woman obeys.

If we move away from Havana, the problem worsens and takes on connotations of tragedy. It burns you up to hear about the humiliations women experience, the wife battering that is a much more common practice than is admitted in the statistics. Odieti, a peasant from a little village lost in the Cienfuegos countryside, drank a bottle of India ink to put an end to the ordeal her husband subjected her to. After hours of suffering, her life was saved and she earned the next beating for “being loose.” This is what he repeated while whipping his belt against her back.

Living in a country where there is no female circumcision or forced marriages, where women are not forbidden to drive a car, is not sufficient reason to breathe easily and believe that the serious problem of gender inequality is resolved. To display the numbers regarding professional development, integration into the workforce, and the responsibilities of millions of women throughout the island, doesn’t silence the drama so many of them are mired in.

They need to display other statistics. Those that reveal the number of kicks that fall on women’s breasts, backs and faces each week. They should clearly publicize the number of victims who have gone to a police station begging them to keep the abuser away from home and who find only a yawning duty officer who says, “you have to take care of that between the two of you.”

Where do they keep the inventory of the suicides, or of the suicide attempts, because of the indignities suffered at the hands of an abusive man?

They also need the numbers of those who are “slaves” to the stove after a full work day outside the home and it would probably match the four million number of members that the FMC boasts about. The numbers of single and divorced women with ridiculous pensions that aren’t enough to feed a child for even a week. Who includes these in the numbers reported to official journalists? And what about those whose partners have threatened, “If you leave me I will kill you”? Where do they show up in the statistics? How many have had their faces cut with a knife like one “brands” a cow, so that everyone will know they belong to the male, the man, the masculine, who cheats on them with so many others?

Where do they keep the inventory of the suicides, or of the suicide attempts, because of the indignities suffered at the hands of an abusive man? What is the number of those who have been harassed by a jealous boyfriend who follows them everywhere and beats them and causes public scandals? How many have to give in to pressures for sex from their bosses at work, because they know there is no other way to get ahead professionally? And what about the number who are harassed on the streets by those who think it is a virile obligation to accost a woman, touch her, to insinuate himself all the time?

We can only be proud of what has been achieved with regards to the dignity of women when we can begin to solve all these evils, evils that right now cannot even be publicly debated. Having autonomous women’s organizations is essential to achieve these demands. Shelters for abused women, a legal framework that forcefully penalizes the abuser, and a press that reflects the suffering of so many, are essential if we are to leave such atrocities in the past.

Neither Strong Men nor Soft Coups / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

A Sunday march of the Ladies in White in Havana. (14ymedio)
A Sunday march of the Ladies in White in Havana. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, 24 August 2015 — Two notable Cuban analysts, Carlos Alberto Montaner and Rafael Rojas, have plunged the scalpel almost simultaneously, but without having come to an agreement (as far as we know) about a particular issue: the popular anti-government protests in Latin America. Montaner in, “The Terrible Time of the Strongmen” and Rojas under the title, “Soft Coups?” in the Mexican newspaper La Razón

The first, the politician, makes a list of twelve demands shared by the citizens of Latin American countries against governments of the left, the center and the right; the second, the academic, questions the term “golpista” (coup supporter) from the leftist governments faced with their respective “peaceful and institutional oppositions, without the support of the armies, who are loyal to their governments.”

Looking at this simultaneously from different positions – which do not diverge – overlooking the Latin American political landscape, one appreciates the agreement on the inefficiencies of the continent’s democracies. The protests, organized or spontaneous, with greater or lesser violence, allowed or suppressed, are a reflection of the discontent of certain sectors who do not feel duly represented in the halls of parliaments, where what is demanded with shouts in the street should be settled in a calm way. continue reading

The leaders affected by these protests, whatever political color they may be, defend themselves wielding the supposed legitimacy they once achieved at the ballot box, dismissing the demonstrators and claiming they have been confused or bought by foreign powers, or they send their supporters out into the streets to compete in numbers with the opposition.

Curiously, neither of the two analysts includes the case of Cuba. It gives the impression that the Caribbean island does not belong to Latin America, or that the uniqueness of Cuba merits its own separate study.

Of the dozen grievances enumerated by Montaner only one, the violation of human rights, has a permanent presence in the Sunday marches of the Ladies in White or the demonstrations of UNPACU in Cuba’s eastern provinces. The rest of the topics, except for the shortages, seem to be postponed until we have an imperfect democracy, although any one of them is worthy of an entire day of protest.

Another curiosity that comes to mind after reading “Soft Coups,” signed by Rojas, is that the Cuban government is on the only one in the club of Latin American leftists that has never used the descriptive “coup supporters” in the long list of insults it launches against opponents on the island or in exile. And this is despite the fact that from the most radical sectors of the opposition there is no attempt to hide the desire to “overthrow the dictatorship.” Not for one second does it occur to the managers of official propaganda that those in uniform would be against them.

The only military coup that might be expected in Cuba would have come from this recalcitrant left that frowns on timid openings in the market, rapprochement with the United States through an eventual normalization of relations, and any concession to multiparty democracy.

The presumed protagonists of this coup option would not go out into the street with posters or gladioli, but rather with tanks and machine guns. But this is an improbable hypothesis, just as much as is the sudden appearance of an enlightened leader who would drag the people to a restorative platform through the instrument of revolutionary means.

Yusmila Reyna: “UNPACU’s Challenge Is To Turn Sympathizers into Activists” / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

UNPACU activist Yusmila Reyna. (Facebook)
UNPACU activist Yusmila Reyna. (Facebook)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 25 August 2015 – A philologist by training, a dissident by passion, and an activist with the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU) by choice, Yusmila Reyna (b. 1976) is today one of the most important figures in the opposition. She speaks slowly, moves easily through technology issues and seeks perfection in everything she does.

Since joining UNPACU, this woman has known how to leave the imprint of a part of her personality on the movement. This week we exchanged messages through the State Nauta service about the fourth anniversary of the opposition organization. In her free minutes between her young daughter and daily challenges, Yusmila responded to some questions for 14ymedio.

Sanchez. Four years after the founding of the UNPACU, what is the main challenge of the organization?

Reyna. To motivate and move thousands of Cubans to join the peaceful struggle for freedom. That is the great challenge of all opposition. Although we have achieved certain results, the reality is that we have much left to do.

Sanchez. Who are the members of UNPACU and how many are there?

Reyna. We have had many ups and downs in the course of these four years. Many have joined, but not everyone can bear the pressures of the repressive forces. Between the eastern region and Camaguey is where we are best organized. We now have about 2,500 activists. In the rest of the country we are not in a condition to establish numbers right now. In the central and western regions we are reorganizing, restructuring and trying to identify the leadership to sustain the fight. continue reading

We have had many ups and downs in the course of these four years. Many have joined, but not everyone can bear the pressures of the repressive forces.

UNPACU has members of all ages, but young people are the majority in our ranks, those between 18 and 45. A good portion of us are from the eastern provinces, Santiago de Cuba first of all, and we are humble people, working-class, young people who are unemployed and self-employed.

We have professionals and technicians, but the base is composed mainly of people who only finished high school, or even just the ninth grade.

Sanchez. The Cuban opposition has been strongly criticized for not being “connected to the people and not reaching ordinary Cubans.” How does this relate to the work of your organization?

Reyna.  For UNPACU, we reach out in so many ways to the people I mentioned, principally in the east and in the Cuban capital, to thousands of compatriots who look to us and ask us for help to solve many of their problems. They look to us to denounce the injustices they’ve been victims of, to avoid an eviction, to get them medications, to help them in the construction of a humble abode. They also ask to use our audiovisuals, to help them connect to the internet and many other things.

In Santiago de Cuba, for example, there is no person who does not know our organization. Young people and teenagers are humming the music produced by our artists and they even threaten the police that they will get UNPACU to come when they harass them or try to stop the weekend parties. If everyone who sympathized with us joined in a peaceful protest we would fill several plazas. The challenge is to turn sympathizers into activists.

Sanchez. Right now UNPACU is the opposition movement with the largest number of political prisoners. To what do you attribute such marked repression against you?

Reyna. Currently there are 21 and since September of 2011 we are the organization with the most political prisoners in Cuba. More than one hundred members of UNPACU have passed through the regime’s prisons in the last four years. Political prisoners and repression manifest themselves to the extend that pro-democracy public activism manifests itself. It is a law of physics: every action causes a reaction. The more our activism annoys the dictatorship, the more their repression. We are developing a diverse struggle in many areas. Some areas are more repressed than others.

They look to us to denounce the injustices they’ve been victims of, to avoid an eviction, to get them medications

 Sanchez. How does UNPACU view the normalization of relations between the governments of Cuba and the United States?

Reyna. Since last December we have said that we value the process of normalizing relations between the US government and the Cuban regime. We appreciate the solidarity of the US government with the Cuban people and independent civil society, and we are also grateful for the solidarity of governments and organizations of the old continent.

The protagonists of change must be Cubans, but solidarity is always necessary. In UNPACU we try to be realistic and never forget the feelings of the majority, the opinion of the people, our friends and the world in general. We always want to take the greatest advantage for the cause of freedom and open any space we can for freedom.

Sanchez. What do you expect from the visit of Pope Francis to Santiago de Cuba in September?

Reyna. We want to tell him that Cuba has not changed much since the visit of John Paul II and continues to be the same country that then Archbishop Pedro Meurice presented to the Polish pope. We hope that he can intercede for the political prisoners and be heard by Raul Castro. We will also tell him that the solidarity of the Church with the oppressed is always appreciated by many and that we hope his visit will be positive for our people and for the Church.