Chronicle of a Cuban “Rafter” on Foot (Part 2 of 3) / 14ymedio, Mario J. Martinez Penton

Farm in the jungle of Veracruz where Cuban migrants stay on the way to the US. (MJ Penton)
Farm in the jungle of Veracruz where Cuban migrants stay on the way to the US. (MJ Penton)

This is the second part of the testimony of a Cuban who has made the dangerous trip from Guatemala to the United State. Part 1 is here

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario J. Penton Martinez, Guatemala/Mexico Border, 17 November 2015 — The days pass slowly in the vicinity of the border Suchiate River. Guatemala, right now, is mourning the death of hundreds of people buried in the October landslide in the village of El Cambray. In the “waiting house,” as we have baptized it, we eight Cubans continue to wait for the moment when they will take us from here to cross the border and continue heading to the United States.

Cubans are arriving in dribs and drabs and bringing with them the stories of border crossings. Colombia, it seems, is the most important obstacle. From there they came by boat to Panama. A small plane got them into Guatemala and the human trafficking network took over from there. continue reading

Several thousand dollars are paid out on the trail of the main route of the Cuban exodus. People disappear falling in to the sea, are assaulted by thugs, women are raped… A whole accumulation of stories that we know by word of mouth and that some day the historians will have to write down for the historical memory of the Cuban nation.

Night falls at the moment when they suddenly alert us: “You’re leaving in 20 minutes.” Joy, surprise and consternation after 15 days of waiting, last words to family members, preparation for the final departure. “My brother, if you don’t hear anything of me in 15 days, you can tell Mom that something happened to me in Mexico.”

This is a truly dramatic moment for everyone. We will join another group of Central Americans on the road, at least that’s what we’re told. We have to get through 27 fixed checkpoints between Guatemala and Mexico City, plus whatever the Mexican Federal Police improvise.

The van ride to the river lasts half an hour. The coyote’s strident Christian music contrasts with the stillness of the cornfields. Finally, the coyote hands us over to the guide, the person who will take us to Mexico City. A final prayer with our solemn envoy, like the missionaries do it, is the memory our coyote Juan leaves us with.

The guide, Carlos, is a simple person, and I dare say there is something noble shining in his eyes. He lived for a time in the United States as a “wetback,” but returned to Guatemala when life became unbearable without his family. Now he dedicates himself to this “business,” which, according to what he tells us, earns him in one week what it would take three months to earn in his job as a farmhand.

They tell us we will be joined by two Guatemalans, among them a girl who, before leaving, asked the coyote to bring enough condoms because she fears being raped

The first challenge is to cross the Suchiate River. It is midnight and it was swelling, to the point of having to wait two hours to be able to do it, and not without risks. A fragile tractor innertube tied to some boards carries us to the other side. Here they tell us we will be joined by two Guatemalans, among them a girl who, before leaving, asked the coyote to bring enough condoms because she fears being raped. We walk for around two hours among cornfields and jungle. The dogs and lights from houses make us run like crazy. We all follow the leader because the orders are clear: we are in an exercise for survival.

We come to a creek that the recent rains have turned into a heavy stream. The water pushes us hard, reaching our chests, while we carry our passports on our heads so they won’t get wet. The two women in the group, one Cuban the other Guatemalan, have to be helped. This night ends around four in the morning, when we come to a house in the middle of nowhere. There we meet the other part of the group, eight Hindus who, without a word of Spanish, have launched themselves on the adventure of crossing half the world to join their families through the porous southern border of the United States.

Before dawn we are led, just as we are, wet and shivering with cold, to an island in the middle of a swamp. The boat trip is, without a doubt, spectacular. The richness of the mangrove, filled with alligators of course, reminds us of the Zapata Swamp in Cuba. The forests, the clouds painted red with the rising sun, the sensation of being close to the sea… On that island we hide all day.

On one side the sea, on the other the swamp. That is where I meet Erick, age nine, who with his deep black eyes and indigenous accent tells us of the dangers of the jungle and his dreams of becoming an architect to build a beautiful house for his mom, the powerful dreams of a child contrasting with the humbleness of dirt floors and sheet metal roofs.

One meal a day gives us strength to continue. At night we leave again, by boat, for the mainland. We are taken in trucks to the Mexican Army checkpoints, surrounded by thickets full of dangers: rivers, poisonous snakes, farmers protecting their properties from thugs… Long hours on the road at night, accompanied by the image of the Virgin of Charity of Cobre, Cuba’s patron saint.

Once more, I confirm how little those of raised under the Revolution are trained to coexist with those who are different but pose no threat

Day surprises us in the heart of the jungle. We will have to wait for the protection of the night to continue on our way. A torrential rain makes us crowd tightly together under the only available blanket. These are difficult hours when care not to be discovered is combined with protecting our documents that prove we are Cubans. Again, one meal a day.

With my deficient English I try to translate what the guide is saying for the disconcerted Hindus. Some Cubans start to show an antipathy towards those of another race but the rest pass the time praying. Mutual ignorance, fueled by the primal instincts of a suspicious islander, thin the atmosphere almost to the point of starting a fight. Playing the role of mediator is hard work. Once more, I confirm how little those of raised under the Revolution are trained to coexist with those who are different but pose no threat. The anthropological damage is done and it will take generations to overcome it.

Again, roads impassable at night, feet covered with blisters, skin bitten by insects. Hungry and tired we cross a railroad line, toward another border checkpoint. It is two in the morning when the guide tells us to be silent, after hearing movement up ahead. The sharp stones of the rail bed don’t help. Apparently attacks are common here. Tonight we’re lucky. The attacker pretends to be asleep next to a huge machete. Accustomed as he is to frightening small groups of Central American “wetbacks” who don’t usually exceed three or four people, our group seems like too much for him to take on alone. For now, we are safe.

The road to the next point of rest is extremely uncomfortable. In a fetal position we are crammed into and hidden in the truck. Only the moments where there is a threat of the police are a break, because we have to get down and rush to hide ourselves in the bush. The night ends and the signs announce we are in Veracruz. We have spent three days in the land of the Aztecs. We arrive at a farm where we spend the day.

Mexico City, the next stage of the journey, is getting closer.

___________________________________________________________

Editor’s note: The author worked as a religious consecrated to the Catholic Church in Guatemala for almost two years before embarking on the journey to the United States.

The Ostrich Syndrome / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

A group of Cuban immigrants block the Interamerican Highway at the border between Costa Rica and Panama in protest at being held. (Alvaro Sanchez / courtesy / El Nuevo Herald)
A group of Cuban immigrants block the Interamerican Highway at the border between Costa Rica and Panama in protest at being held. (Alvaro Sanchez / courtesy / El Nuevo Herald)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 17 November 2015 — Like the ostrich who buries his head in the sand so as not to see what terrifies or disgusts him, the Cuban government and official media have refused to recognize the plight of thousands of compatriots stranded at the borders of Central America. Single men and women, families with children, workers, peasants, students, Cubans all, are attacked by immigration authorities, exploited by human traffickers, and punished by a nature they don’t know, in their desire to emigrate to the North.

Not a single statement from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, no comments in the Communist Party’s provincial meetings, not one clarification from a delegate in the Accountability Assemblies of People’s Power. Not even on radio, television or the nationally circulating digital media has there been any mention of the issue. continue reading

However, in the street everyone is talking about it because they hear about it on foreign radio broadcasts, despite the interference, they see it through prohibited and persecuted satellite dishes, or they hear of it by using anonymous proxies to access the internet sites so delightedly blocked by the soldiers of information. In the most dramatic cases, they learn about it first hand, because they have a relative or friend suffering through it.

Cuba is bleeding into an uncontrollable migratory hemorrhage, but listening to officials and official journalists gives the impression that this is the country’s least important problem.

Cuba is bleeding into an uncontrollable migratory hemorrhage, but listening to officials and official journalists gives the impression that this is the country’s least important problem. The speeches follow a script drafted from above and focus on demanding more discipline and a high level of command and control. Inspectors go to stores and count the inventory to the last nail, checking for missing or diverted resources, but fail to note the thousands of employees who leave the island each year, be they warehouse workers or inspectors.

The nation’s expanding desire to leave appears to be of no importance nor cause any pain according to the government’s rhetoric. It is as if there is no interest in the fate of those who launch themselves on the sea or put themselves in the hands of coyotes, leaving everything behind: their professions, property, part of their family, promises of love, debts…

We are becoming a plague issuing from a country that boasts of its healthcare services. We are rejected, disdained, in airports and at border crossings despite our reputation as a sympathetic and friendly people that took us centuries to craft. This new scum* that has leapt from the oven, from the “crucible of the Revolution,” does not want to melt in the mold where they try to tame its nature. In Cuba there is no war, as in Syria, no famine like that of some African countries, only the fear that with improved relations with the United States the privileges awarded by the so-called Cuban Adjustment Act will be eliminated.

In the same way that parents do not divorce their children, States should not lose interest in what happens to their citizens, before whom they have duties, some of which are not even promulgated in laws or articulated in the Constitution. Worse still is the silence of the media, gagged by the same old culture of secrecy. The ostrich buries its head in the sand from cowardice, but its wings are too short to cover the eyes and ears of others.

*Translator’s note: During the Mariel Boatlift Fidel Castro said “let the scum (escoria) go.”

Costa Rica Accuses Managua of Forcibly Expelling 1,600 Cuban Migrants / EFE, 14ymedio

Cuban migrants rest at the Costa Rican border after being returned by the Nicaraguan Army
Cuban migrants rest at the Costa Rican border after being returned by the Nicaraguan Army

14ymedio biggerEFE/14ymedio, Managua, 16 November 2015 — Tension is growing between Costa Rica and Nicaragua because of a group of 1,600 Cubans trying to cross the border with safe conduct passes issued by the Costa Rican authorities, who are being blocked by the Nicaraguan army.

On Sunday, Costa Rica’s Foreign Minister Manuel Gonzalez rejected Nicaragua’s accusations with regards to the granting of temporary visas to Cubans and strongly criticized the use of force to prevent them from crossing the border.

“I absolutely refute each one of the words included in the statement of the Nicaraguan authorities,” Gonzalez said at a news conference, referring to the Nicaraguan Government’s official bulletin in which in branded Costa Rica as irresponsible and provoking a humanitarian crisis. continue reading

“Sending the country’s Army against a migrant population in the situation in which men, women and children find themselves. That’s the way this country (Nicaragua) addresses this issue”

“Sending the country’s Army against a migrant population in the situation in which men, women and children find themselves. That’s the way this country (Nicaragua) addresses this issue,” the foreign minister deplored.

The diplomat denied that Costa Rica has “launched” the Cuban immigrants on Nicaragua saying that Nicaragua closed the border last Friday, which prompted the Cubans to try to cross illegally.

According to Gonzalez, the Nicaraguan Army repelled the immigrants with gas and violence, and he lamented that that country does not see the situation as a humanitarian issue.

“What Costa Rica has done is to regularize the situation of immigrants through a seven day transit visa. But when other countries take the irresponsible decision to close their borders, these people will search for any mechanism to reach their destination” said the minister.

The foreign minister said his country respected international treaties and the human rights of immigrants, and that this can be confirmed by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) with whom they worked on this situation.

At the same time, the Nicaraguan Army announced the reinforcement, by an infantry battalion, of the southern border. The military institution said in a statement Sunday that the Costa Rican authorities “launched” Cuban citizens on the legal crossing of Peñas Blancas, “who pushed for the forced and illegal entry into the country, violating our laws.”

As a result, the Army said that the Caribbeans are being held and captured by its border detachments to return them to Costa Rica.

The Nicaraguan Army reinforced control of the southern border and accuses Costa Rica of “launching” at it Cuban citizens, “who pushed for the forced and illegal entry into our country, violating our laws”

“In compliance with the mandate of the Constitution and laws of Nicaragua to ensure the defense of our borders, the inviolability of the national territory and to enforce our laws, the Army of Nicaragua will not allow the entry of illegal persons into the country, to which end it has reinforced the southern border with an infantry battalion,” he added.

In recent weeks a wave of some 1,600 Cuban immigrants gathered on the border between Costa Rica and Panama, which the Costa Rican government decided to resolve by giving them seven day transit visas through that country.

The Cubans initially arrived in Ecuador by air, then passed illegally by sea and land through Colombia and Panama to reach Costa Rica. Their intention is to cross all of Central America.

Foreign Minister Gonzalez called on all countries involved in the transit of Cuban immigrants to create a “humanitarian corridor” to give them protection and to ensure respect for their human rights so that they would not fall into the human trafficking networks.

“Far from missing our responsibility, knowing that Costa Rica is not the point of origin of this situation nor its point of destination, we advocate the creation of a humanitarian corridor. This is a structural problem that must be tackled internationally for all countries involved,” he said.

Nauta Breakdown Leaves All of Cuba Without Email / 14ymedio

Throughout the weekend, the Nauta email has not been accessible to Cuban users. (14ymedio)
Throughout the weekend, the Nauta email has not been accessible to Cuban users. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 16 November 2015 – Almost 72 hours after its Nauta email service was interrupted, cellphone customers have not received an explanation from the Cuba’s State-owned Telecommunications Company (ETECSA). Calls to the #118 complaint line are told “it is a technical problem affecting the whole country” and the engineers are working on it.

On Friday afternoon, national email users started having problems sending and receiving messages. During the weekend it has not been possible access to mailboxes and they have ceased to be visible in browsers on the main page at webmail.nauta.cu. 14ymedio has also been hurt by the incident, which affected content updates over the weekend. So car, the only telephone company in the country has not issued a notice regarding the breakdown.

Last June users were warned several days in advance about technical problems on the platform that supports the email providers enet.cu and nauta.cu. On that occasion, ETECSA “apologized for the inconvenience such incidents might cause,” which contrasts with the lack of information prior to the current repair/

In Cuba there are more than three million mobile customers, most of them on a prepayment plan, Minister of Communications (MIC) Maimir Mesa Ramos said last July, when he also acknowledged the high level of technological obsolescence in the country and the limited capacity of mobile phone base stations.

Minimum Restaurant Charge to Use the Internet / 14ymedio, Sol Garcia Basulto

Facade of the Café Ciudad in Camaguey. (14ymedio)
Facade of the Café Ciudad in Camaguey. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Sol Garcia Basulto, Camaguey, 14 November 2015 — The number of wireless zones in the country continues to increase, as reported this week by the Cuban Telecommunications Company (ETECSA), but little is said about improving conditions for websurfers. In the city of Camagüey, the web browsing service is characterized by instability and inconvenience for users, to which is added the profit of some State establishments.

Café Ciudad modified its rules about food purchases on finding itself in the area covered by the antennas installed in Agramonte Park. Now, the restaurant requires a minimum food purchase of 5 Cuban convertible pesos (equivalent to a quarter of the average monthly salary) in order to connect to the Internet from inside. The “offering” does not include the right to connect devices to the electrical outlets, a detail that, along with the high prices, has annoyed patrons. continue reading

To learn the reasons that led to the adoption of these measures, 14ymedio approached Elizabeth Napoles, brigade chief of Café Ciudad. “We had to apply this measure because it was already too much, the whole world came and sat here,” explained the functionary, who noted that “they ask for a coffee and they stay for hours, but this is a place to eat, we have to generate income.”

Those who do not have the required sum to remain in the place choose to sit on the stairs, in doorways and nearby sidewalks. “It’s awkward and uncomfortable trying to write a message or have a videoconference with the noise of cars and people passing by,” comments Gustavo, 33, an engineer who frequently uses the services of the WiFi zone in Camaguey.

However, Café Ciudad does not seem willing to modify its pricing policy. Naples justifies the decision because the place has been a victim of certain incidents of “social indiscipline” since the opening of the WiFi network. She says “the situation came to be very difficult; we have to call on the police to get people to leave the tables.”

The brigade chief declared that “this doesn’t mean you have to pay five convertible pesos to remain at the table, but this is a bonus if you eat that much.” With this much money a customer can “drink five Cristal beers, or four Bucaneros and a soft drink, for example,” she points out.

For Naples it is intolerable what happened before the implementation of the new tariff, when “businessmen sat and spent the day connecting one device to another, and they left with more than 50 CUC in their pockets and just bought a soft drink,” she explained, referring to connection resellers who sell shared access to a single account on the Nauta Internet service (by creating a hotspot on their own device).

The usual Café Ciudad customers have screamed to high heaven about the measure. “Now, if you’re having a coffee and you need to connect for a moment, you have leave and this means you lose your table,” Wilfredo Aróstegui Quesada told this newspaper. “Not everyone has enough money to subscribe to this option, the price of two convertible pesos* for an hour of connection is already high.”

The place used to be the meeting place for Camaguey celebrities and the local artists. Rafael Hernández believes that the implementation of this minimum service is unfair: “It seems to be that ETECSA should enable spaces like this to offer its service free,” says the independent artist.

Café Ciudad employees wash their hands of it and say the command “came down directly from the provincial capital’s Tourism Company.” According to Elizabeth Naples, this policy has not solved the problem because “we always face some customers who pretend to be playing on their cellphone” while “staying connected, enjoying the comfort of our establishment,” adds the official.

*Translator’s note: That is, the 5 CUC a customer must spend on food and drink does not include a free wifi connection.

The Frustrated Trip of the Deported / 14ymedio, Orlando Palma

A group of Cubans protest in Paso Canoas, on the border of Costa Rica and Panama. (Alvaro Sanchez / courtesy / El Nuevo Herald)
A group of Cubans protest in Paso Canoas, on the border of Costa Rica and Panama. (Alvaro Sanchez / courtesy / El Nuevo Herald)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Orlando Palma, Havana, 14 November 2015 — They were seated in the back row when the passengers entered the plane. Cubana Airlines Flight 131 took off Thursday from Mexico City with four deportees on board. The Cuban bureaucracy calls them “returned by air” and they represent only a portion of those who are repatriated en route to the United States.

In recent months the number of Cubans leaving for the north has grown, as also has the number of those who are intercepted and returned to the island. Most are not dissuaded after a forced return and try again. Their worst nightmare is not immigration officials, but an end to the Cuban Adjustment Act. continue reading

From October 1, 2014 to this September 30, 43,159 Cubans reached the United States. The main entry points were the border areas of El Paso and Laredo (Texas), Tucson (Arizona) and San Diego (California).

“This was my third attempt, the first was on a raft and in the second they sent be back from Panama,” says Clara, 48, who was returned from Mexico this October. She considers her return to the island a real catastrophe. “I had sold everything to leave and when I got here I was repatriated without a penny in my pocket and no house to live in,” she explains.

“I had sold everything to leave and when I got here I was repatriated without a penny in my pocket and no house to live in”

Clara now sleeps on the couch of a relative in San José de las Lajas, Mayabeque. “I only have what I had in my hand luggage,” she adds. Her trip was frustrated at the Benito Juarez International Airport, where she was considered a potential migrant to the United States. She came from Havana, where she managed to get a visa to the Aztec soil, but her family in Miami, was left with the table set and their dreams frustrated.

“They took me to a room that was full of Cubans who were also to be returned” says Clara, recalling that fateful day. “We had to wait there for Cuban planes to have room to return us,” she details. The woman had a hotel reservation for seven days in Mexico City. “I already knew that if they asked me I would have to say I was not planning to visit any border area.” The truth is that the next day she was planning to leave for Nuevo Laredo and from there enter the United States.

Advice passes from mouth to mouth. “Don’t be nervous, don’t talk too much, just give short answers,” her daughter had warned her; having made the same journey she is now living in Miami’s Little Havana. But Clara was a bundle of nerves when they inquired about the reason for her trip. “I started to stutter and that was suspicious.” Afterwards they asked her how much money she had brought with her.

Clara was a bundle of nerves when they inquired about the reason for her trip. “I started to stutter and that was suspicious.”

“I had $200 and they told me that was a proof that I wasn’t going to spend a week in Mexico City, because it was very little.” She wasn’t able to make a phone call to warn her relatives of the situation in which she found herself and spent the rest of the night in a room with dozens of compatriots. “Everyone was in the same situation: they wouldn’t let us enter but we didn’t want to return.”

Some Cuban exiles carry out the first protest of their lives on foreign territory. Riots, hunger strikes and clashes with authorities have become common practice when they have been left stranded at airports, border crossings and immigration detention centers. This Friday, a group of them blocked the Panamerican Highway on the border between Costa Rica and Panama to demand that they be allowed to continue along the road. If they are returned to the island, they won’t be the same people who left.

“I returned a big mouth, I won’t shut up for anything,” relates Clara, who says she has “acquired a taste for freedom” in her three attempts to leave. For the Cuban authorities the best outcome is that people like her leave again, “because we no longer fit in here and they know it,” she says while pointing upwards with her index finger. “What I want is to leave, so I’m not going to fix something that has no solution.”

“What I want is to leave, so I’m not going to fix something that has no solution.”

On the flight back to Cuba, Clara agreed to give ten dollars to another passenger to borrow her cellphone just as they landed. An employee of the State airline, in his double role as a flight attendant and guard of the deportees, said they couldn’t get off until all the other passengers had gotten off. “We had to wait for two “uniforms” to come and get us and they gave them our passports,” she said.

Then they took her to an office at José Martí Airport, where they took down all their data and gave them warnings. The chairs in the room remained filled with the deportees who were arriving on other flights. “It didn’t stop, every time there were more, coming from Panama, Ecuador, Colombia and Mexico.”

When she left there, she managed to make the call. “They sent me back,” she told her daughter. On the other end of the phone line she heard the long moan. The failed trip had cost the family $3,000, months of planning and the stress of every minute when they didn’t know where she was.

This mother of a family shudders to remember that day when an immigration officer stepped between her and her dreams. But she isn’t giving up: “Nothing matters here, nothing attracts me, I just think about leaving again.”

Costa Rica Agrees To Give Safe Conduct To Cubans Detained On The Border With Panama / 14ymedio

A group of Cuban immigrants blocked the Interamerican Highway at the border between Costa Rica and Panama in protest at being held. (Alvaro Sanchez / courtesy / El Nuevo Herald)
A group of Cuban immigrants blocked the Interamerican Highway at the border between Costa Rica and Panama in protest at being held. (Alvaro Sanchez / courtesy / El Nuevo Herald)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 14 November 2015 — Costa Rica agreed to grant humanitarian visas to more than a thousand Cubans who have been held at the border with Panama for some days, according to a report this Saturday in El Nuevo Herald. The announcement was made ​​Friday night by the Costa Rican government, which clarifies that the measure is only for Cubans already in their territory and that it is adamant about its decision to close its border to citizens of Cuba who try to enter without a transit visa to the United States.

The crisis in the Paso Canoas border crossing on the border with Panama was complicated by the arrival of more Cubans, now numbering about 1,400, whom Costa Rica wishes to deport to the neighboring country and who, on Friday afternoon continued blocking the main highway. continue reading

The measure seeks to cut off the business of organized crime human trafficking, said the Director of Immigration of Costa Rica, Kattia Rodríguez.

Before Wednesday, Costa Rica allowed entry to Cubans to process them as refugees. But Cubans never followed the procedures and always continued to travel to Nicaragua, the rest of Central America and Mexico, on their way from Ecuador to the United States.

Rodriguez told El Nuevo Herald that the crisis arose after Costa Rica disrupted a network last Tuesday dedicated to the illicit trafficking of Cubans. For each Cuban crossing from Ecuador to the United States, the mafias charge $7,500 to $15,000, she remarked, detailing that the flow between January and September of 2015 was 12,166 Cubans, compared to 5,144 in 2014, and 2,549 in 2013.

Costa Rica Closes Its Borders To Cubans / 14ymedio

Cubanos-Costa-Rica-Panama-YoutubeCB24_CYMIMA20151113_0013_13 (1)
Cuban migrants detained at the border of Costa Rica and Panama. (Youtube / CB24)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 13 November 2015 — Costa Rica on Wednesday closed its borders to Cubans who have no visa and announced that those who try to enter by land will be returned to Panama.

In an interview published Thursday in El Nuevo Herald, the Costa Rican Director of Migration, Kattia Rodríguez, said: “Costa Rica is cutting the chain at this time,” and confirmed that the order is to deport Cubans to Panama, which in turn refuses to receive them. More than a thousand Cubans at Paso Canoas, on the southern Costa Rican border, are in immigration limbo. “We are attributing to Panama this flow coming into Costa Rica from Panamanian soil, and it is mobilized by mafias of organized crime,” she said. continue reading

The Central American country is taking this step after seeing an exponential increase in the number of Cuban citizens who are transiting the country in order to continue their overland journey to the United States.

A report released Thursday by The Tico Times says that up to September, 12,166 Cubans had been arrested by the authorities of Costa Rica since early this year, which represents a 24,332% increase over the approximately 50 immigrants detained in 2011, according to figures from Immigration. In 2013, 2,549 Cubans entered Costa Rica without a visa, and in 2014 the number was 5,114.

Speaking to the TeleTica cameras, some Cubans trapped at the border criticized the measure, stressing that they are not interested “in the country, nor in its immigration laws.”

“We are in transit and we just want to get to the United States,” said one.

“We don’t want to stay here,” stressed another.

The network noted that the inhabitants along the southern Costa Rican border have complained about the measure, which has started to affect the flow of trade.

Cubans passing through the Central American countries usually come from Ecuador. Along the way, in some countries, such as Costa Rica, they were allowed to enter as refugees to travel to the capital to continue the process of regularization, which obviously they never continued because their objective was to reach the northern border. Honduras granted them humanitarian treatment to allow passage and Mexico gives them a safe conduct with a term of 20 days to leave the country.

More Than 12,000 Cubans Have Traveled Through Costa Rica In 2015 To Go To The US / 14ymedio

Mexico is one of the countries that Cubans who want to travel on foot to the United States have to cross. (Marti TV / screenshot)
Mexico is one of the countries that Cubans who want to travel on foot to the United States have to cross. (Marti TV / screenshot)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 12 November 2015 — Costa Rica has seen an exponential increase in the number of Cubans who enter the country illegally, intending to cross on foot to the United States, usually from Ecuador. A report released Thursday by The Tico Times says that as of September, 12,166 Cubans had been arrested by the authorities of Costa Rica since the beginning of the year, representing a 24,332% increase over the approximately 50 immigrants detained in 2011, according to figures from Immigration.

The Director of Immigration, Kathya Rodriguez, told the Costa Rican newspaper that one of the possible reasons behind this increase in numbers is the fear that the thaw in relations between Cuba and the United States will put an end to the Cuban Adjustment Act. continue reading

The report notes that on Tuesday the authorities of Costa Rica arrested 12 people who formed a band dedicated to smuggling aliens into the United States, mainly Cubans, Asians and Africans.

The immigrants arrived by land to Costa Rica coming from Panama, then evade immigration controls in various South American countries.

Once in Costa Rica, the criminal gang hides the immigrants in hotels in Paso Canoas (on the border with Panama) and in San Jose, and later moves them to La Cruz, Guanacaste Province (border with Nicaragua) where the group’s base of operations is located.

Moreover, the authorities of Costa Rica began Thursday to deport to Nicaragua to more than a hundred Cubans without legal status, while on the border with Panama there are about a thousand waiting to enter, government sources informed the news agency Acan-Efe.

The Caribbeans being deported entered Costa Rica illegally in recent weeks and were detained in a center of the Directorate of Immigration in San Jose.

Rodriguez told reporters that “the Nicaraguan government accepted those Cubans who have their papers in order.”

Apart from those, there are now almost a thousand Cubans in Paso Canoas on the border with Panama, although authorities have said it is difficult to determine the exact number.

These migrants, who have been coming to Paso Canoas gradually in recent weeks, are trying to enter Costa Rica to continue their journey to the US, but the Director of Immigration stressed that those who entered illegally “cannot remain in Costa Rica and will be returned to Panama.”

Chronicle of a ‘Rafter’ on Foot (Part 1 of 3) / 14ymedio, Mario Penton Martinez

A group of people crossing from Guatemala to the Mexican side aboard a raft. (Manu URESTE)
A group of people crossing from Guatemala to the Mexican side aboard a raft. (Manu URESTE)

Today we publish the first part of the testimony of a Cuban who has made the dangerous trip from Guatemala to the United States

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario J. Penton Martinez, Guatamalan/Mexican Border, 13 November 2015 – I live proud of being Cuban. I always have been. Cuba evokes the warmth of a mother’s lap, the tenderness of my great-nephews, friends, my first love, the pain of a suffering nation. I am one of a generation born on the threshold of the euphemistically called Special Period, so also coming to mind are blackouts, scarcities, building collapses and censorship. How can I forget that I had to come to Guatemala to hear the music of Celia Cruz for the first time, or to learn of the valiant struggle of the opponents of the Cuban regime? How can I forget that rights like freedom of expression, assembly, enterprise and the press were something that I never experienced, things that according to what was said could only be obtained “outside”?

It was pouring down rain in the Guatemalan capital the day they gave me the news. “After serious consideration we believe that your path is not to be a consecrated religious.” The temperature dropped and like every Caribbean in these mountainous lands, I began to feel a glacial cold. A lapidary moment. One by one the floor tiles start to sink to the rhythm of my life: the dreams that I had forged, the people with whom I had related, the university students, everything was being erased by that hurricane, whose vortex would be the duty of returning to Cuba. continue reading

It took a few hours to get over the shock: the decision was made. I would melt into this human river that had been written about in the independent media, and that few or no one in the world knew: the hemorrhage of Cubans who risk Central America and Mexico to get to the United States. Rather than return to slavery, at least I would try to get to a land of freedom. I knew it could cost me my life, but it was worth it to try.

The whole border region lives off human trafficking. My experiences confirmed it.

The first point was to find an appropriate coyote. Not all are reliable, so you have to make sure it is someone who has made successful trips. Through friends who made the journey previously I got Juan’s number. What first drew my attention was his ring tone. It was a popular Christian doxology. “It is so people will feel confident,” I thought. On the other end of the cell a voice assured me that the journey would be a success and that a group of Cubans was already waiting for me to leave. The cost, $2,500 US, in cash in Guatemala, was the price of the American dream, $5,000 if it was from Ecuador and you wanted to be sure to arrive. I had to leave, on my own account and at my own risk, from one of the most violent countries in the world to a border city with 18,700 quetzales in exchange. They were waiting for me there.

The bus that took me to the site was a tower of Babel: Africans, Hindus, Cubans… It seemed very ordinary, as no one was surprised. After a six hour journey, I arrived at my destination. At least a dozen people crowded around the terminal offering, to anyone who looked foreign, help in crossing the border illegally. Another passenger told me that the whole border region lives off human trafficking. My experiences confirmed it.

Behind me, making me shudder: “Are you Juan?” I was facing the emissary of my coyote. Following a positive response, we wended our way through a web of intricate alleys to a poor neighborhood on the outskirts of the city. “Don’t worry, bro, this neighborhood is controlled by us, there’s no problem.” Both the fake Cuban accent and the difficulty of getting to the place sparked the exact opposite of what the guide intended.

That same afternoon, I was installed in one of the many houses used to hide the island migrants. In the full light of day, and unrestrainedly, because the law in Guatemala constitutes these networks tied to violence and nobody knows for sure how many millions of dollars move. Just to give an idea, it is said that globally, human trafficking generates gross revenues of more than 32 billion dollars annually, some $13,000 on average that each subject brings his coyote.

It was there that I met in person, I learned later, one of the most recognized coyotes in the traffic between Central America and Mexico. His humble demeanor hardly reflected the power he possessed. Emerging from the underworld of rural Guatemala, this person had trafficked drugs and belonged to the maras (armed groups or gangs who generally control the extortion, human trafficking and drugs in the region). Alcohol and drug use, along with little schooling, marked his life. In time, and according to what he himself told me that afternoon, he converted to evangelical Christianity, and today is its staunch promoter.

It is said that human trafficking globally generates more than 32 billion dollars annually, some $13,000 on average that each subject brings his ‘coyote’

Juan alternates conversation with preaching, and while he charged me $2,500, he affirmed to me that today Christ is the center of his life and the one who has given him everything he possesses. “God and Cubans,” he corrects himself. Under his protection are charitable sites and he shares his life between both passions: “The Church and crowning people so that they get to their destination: the flagpole with the stars and stripes.” Before leaving he let me know that I should leave there everything I owned. I will only be allowed to depart with a change of clothes and my papers. The rest will go into the coffers of his charities. “It doesn’t matter, at the end of the day when they will crown you in la yuma,” he blurts out as consolation.

Once the coyote left, I was alone in an unknown house, in the midst of an unknown city and in the hands of unknown people without very good references. I’m facing a mountain of clothes, shoes and the belongings of those who came before me. Judging by the number of garments there were dozens. On the walls graffiti recorded the names and hometowns of Cubans. Manuel from Matanzas, May 2013; Yoenia González from Camagüey, December 2013; Yendry from Bayamo, June 2015… What had become of them? Did they make it to the United States or are they in a mass grave? Images of Auschwitz crossed my mind, while on the roof rats frolicked. The die is cast. I waited three days in solitary confinement, three days “with the Creed in my mouth” as my grandfather used to say: facing death and praying to God to save me.

Thus began the long road of a “rafter” on foot. Swamps, jungles, rivers, robbers, internal divisions and police would take turns adding to the difficulties of a crossing already difficult, to reach free soil.

___________________________________________________________

Editor’s note: The author worked as a religious consecrated to the Catholic Church in Guatemala for almost two years before embarking on the journey to the United States.

Enrique Colina Comes to the Defense of Cremata Condemns “Censorship and its Demons” / 14ymedio

Juan Carlos Cremata in Mu Tian Yu the Great Wall of China, 2015. (Courtesy of the author)
Juan Carlos Cremata in Mu Tian Yu the Great Wall of China, 2015. (Courtesy of the author)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, 30 October 2015 — The critic and filmmaker Enrique Colina came out Thursday in defense of the Cuban director of films and plays Juan Carlos Cremata with a strong message titled On Censorship and Its Demons. In the text, which has been widely circulated by email, he affirms that to remain silent in the face of the censorship suffered by the playwright, “Is to fold before the arbitrary decisions that potentially affect all of us as creators, but also as citizens.”

A reading of Colina’s article was a part of the agenda of the upcoming meeting of the G20 Group, a gathering of numerous artists and producers who demand a law for the cinema. However, Cremata said that the organizers of the meeting determined “it is not the time” to present the article at the meeting this coming Saturday at their headquarters at Fresa y Chocolate in Havana’s Vedado district. continue reading

The letter was made public via email with the consent of the author, who sees no “contradiction in discussing a cinema law which we are fighting for, in which it is explicitly guaranteed that the law supports us to defend the culture against the exercise of a censorship which calls itself revolutionary.”

Colina, a man of great prestige without the Cuban film industry, and the creator of a work that enjoys great popularity, says in the message that accompanied the letter that there is an “ethical deterioration fed by neglect, corruption and the most cowardly and opportunistic faking.” As the only remedy, the director of the films “Neighbors” and “The Marble Cow” calls for a ripping away of “this gag that the bureaucratic bastards want to impose on committed artistic expression.

“After so many years preaching Marxism-Leninism it seems that the custodians of the orthodoxy of silence have forgotten the laws of dialectics

“After so many years preaching Marxism-Leninism seems that the custodians of orthodoxy of silence have forgotten the laws of dialectics,” Colina reflects strongly, adding that “faith and obedience to immobility seem to be the altars of worship at which we convene with their damning anathemas and excommunications,” and, in a colloquial tone concludes: “But no, my friend, we protest.”

“There is already a stagnation in citizen awareness and ideological exhaustion from the spent propagandistic character of the media,” says the letter. “This conduct of intolerance expresses well the weakness and the intellectual and political shabbiness to take on an open and responsible debate,” he added.

“What real constructive sense does an exclusive censorship bring to the debate between those who undertake these artistic activities and are potentially the subjects of this same arbitrariness,” asks the director.

Colina’s support is added to a long list of cultural figures inside and outside Cuba who have denounced the censorship against the play the The King is Dying (also produced in English as: Exit The King), directed by Cremata and closed down last September. Later, the authorities revoked Cremata’s contract as a theater director.

Just a week ago, Cremata announced a fundraising campaign to “continue independent work in film and theater in Cuba,” a gesture that opens the way to self-financing after decades of working with the Cuban Institute of Art and Film Industry (ICAIC) and the National Council for the Performing Arts.

On Censorship And Its Demons / 14ymedio, Enrique Colina

The critic and filmmaker Enrique Colina. (Youtube)
The critic and filmmaker Enrique Colina. (Youtube)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Enrique Colina, 30 October 2015 – The artistic censorship practiced in Cuba during these 56 years, against works and creators, from a culture in favor of a supposed defense of the Revolution, has paradoxically resulted in a backlash against the political prestige of the Revolutionary Process, the same one that encouraged and developed from its beginnings the diverse artistic expressions that today sustain and reinforce our national identity and guarantee the continuity of the positive legacy of this stage of our history.

If we consider the rectifications and rescues of cultural works and personalities that were once stigmatized with the counterrevolutionary sanbenito by officials and leaders of a rigid and dogmatic orthodoxy – on occasion fractured by a corrupt and opportunistic, or simply inconvenient, act within a centralized and vertical structure of power, which led them to be separated and condemned to political ostracism – the list would be long. Today the injustices committed during the so-called Five Gray Years are officially recognized, and the reparations, repairs and appropriation of our cultural legacy is often realized when its authors have already disappeared, moreover of those who had to emigrate, but for those who left because of criticism, warnings and the denunciation in their works the authoritarian and intolerant drift of the systemic bureaucracy, for those “rescued” they have to be dead already.

There is already a stagnation in public awareness and an ideological exhaustion from the worn out propagandistic character of the media continue reading

Intolerance to criticism as a rule to know the truth – which is inherent in the artistic phenomenon that explores, investigates and scrutinizes human conflicts, socially, politically and economically framed in its reality and its history – has been and continues to be a projection of a fear to face the responsibilities emanating from a bureaucratic power that has made mistakes, and suffered losses and deviations from its original revolutionary and libertarian impulse.

Mistakes and absurdities motivated on occasion by a chimerical immobility incapable of adapting and overhauling the utopia to meet the urgent requirements of a reality in need of an objective, sensible and balanced assessment of the causes of its defects in order to correct and amend them. Rather, and despite, the cyclical openings of rectification and the calls to public criticism against what has been done badly in these 56 years, attention was always focused on the phenomena and not the causes.

Thus the absence of a systematic critical confrontation through the media, subjected to a castrating censorship, has ended up forging the sacredness and untouchability of the vertical decisions of power, although it tries to mask them with participative consultations to touch up the make-up.

There is already a stagnation in public awareness and an ideological exhaustion from the worn out propagandistic character of the media that support an opaque future reality and provoke this apathy and escapism that so concerns those who are worried about the ideological diversionism, superficiality and banality of the entertainment people seek in the “weekly packet,” the computer games, and reggaeton music…

This loss of values, bad education, vulgarity, social indiscipline… are also the result of not having promoted and nurtured in public practice that rebellion and autonomy of opinion that Che encouraged against all the liars and opportunists who preach the dictates of discretion, caution and restraint in the expression of our non-conformist citizens. Disagreement as a lawful civil right to express an opinion without being reprimanded through this inoculation of fear in the face of the consequences of expressing a critical point of view in “an inappropriate place, at an inopportune moment, and in a politically incorrect manner.”

Movies, plays and artworks … have suffered the brunt of this reactionary hangover that rejects the debate of ideas

Movies, plays and art works have contributed with many of their creations to confronting us with this wall of silence protected by the ideological gatekeepers who censor and condemn in the name of the defense of the Revolution when in reality what they do is undermine the humanist pillars of its continuity. Movies, plays and artworks – without forgetting the period of prohibition suffered by the best exponents of the Nueva Trova who ultimately became the most authentic singers of the Revolutionary work – suffered the brunt of this reactionary hangover that rejects the debate of ideas and crouches in the stone trenches to launch their poisonous inquisitional darts.

Recently — and in contradiction to the appeal made by the government’s highest authorities to face reality with a critical eye, honesty and ethical commitment, recognizing that unanimity of opinions is a fallacy of simulation — they have launched attacks against a writer whose literary work and journalism is an example of seriousness and sincerity recognizing our current material and spiritual scarcities, in addition to being a genuine exponent of a committed and authentic Cubanness.

I’m talking about Leonardo Padura and also referring to the stupid ban on the movie based on his novel, Return to Ithaca, which months later was shown during French Cinema week, more to keep up appearances than as recognition of the error of arrogance committed. Stupid because it shamelessly exposed the fangs of the crouching dogmatic beast just to create a problem that discredits not only its own maker but the power it represents.

Because it is understood that more than strength, such intolerant behavior expresses the weakness and the intellectual and political intolerance for open and responsible debate with reasons and arguments that nourish a shared confidence to seek solutions to the problems denounced in the work, so that this sad history is not repeated, a history of encouraging this “revolutionary” combativeness with a propensity to gag thinking and make a paranoid sickness of the logical precaution that assumes a change like that which is being produced in our country. Healthy change, not only of the intentions to keep everything the same, but to expunge this inability to see ourselves in an uncomfortable mirror, to recognize our imperfections and to question the historic deficiencies in the systemic structure of the model that encourages them.

Such intolerant behavior expresses the weakness and the intellectual and political intolerance for open and responsible debate

Thus, I finally get to the starting point that motivated me to write these lines: the prohibition of the play by Juan Carlos Cremata and the suspension of his employment as a theater director. This brought me to remember those years when the Cuban theater, that had reached its splendor with the Revolutionary triumph, suffered that purifying “parameterization” with its aberrant and repressive prejudices that resulted in frustration, ostracism and exile for creators and artists who were only enriching with their art the cultural patrimony that we know constitutes the support and sustenance of our national identity.

I am not telling the story nor mentioning names overwhelmed by that outrage which I consider truly shameful and counterrevolutionary, which only brought discredit to a Revolution that some extremists with the power of decision interpreted the aspiration to create a New Man with that of creating an obedient robot, dogmatic and filled with reactionary prejudices, today under attack but not exterminated. Nor will I stop to argue about the work in question which one can agree with or not, like its staging or not… no, I only want to point out that I consider it inappropriate for some – who are not artists nor have they contributed anything to the national culture – to again set themselves up as inquisition judges and who, yoked to an ephemeral authority, decide to frustrate the fate of an artist, of a creator whose work in the cinema and the theater is already the patrimony of our culture.

There may be contradictions and wherever a theater director can decide whether or not to present a work, whether to suspend or continue its representation, the anomalous case is that if there was prior supervision with respect to its content or staging, the responsibility the censors have in the situation created after the premiere.

The theater in Cuba is under by the Ministry of Culture and responds to a political culture whose tuning fork should be as broad as the recognition of the national audience’s capacity of discernment, an audience officially recognized for its educational, political and cultural level. So why, then, the censorship of the adaptation and staging of a play that itself contains great provocation, perfectly compatible with the shock factor of an art that tries to break taboos, move us and make us think, to take sides in favor or against their proposal?

Do we or do we not have an educated and committed audience with revolutionary ideas and principles capable of drawing their own conclusions to approve or reject it? What is the real constructive sense of an exclusive censorship without mediating a debate among those who undertake this artistic activity who are potentially subject to this same arbitrariness?

Some extremists with the power of decision interpreted the aspiration to create a New Man with that of creating an obedient robot, dogmatic and filled with reactionary prejudices

When, 25 years ago, censorship was dictated against Daniel Diaz Torres’s Alice in Wonderland, and direction was given to the militants of the Provincial Party, headquartered at M and 23rd, to go to the Yara Cinema during its showing to “cut off at the pass any manifestation of counterrevolutionary approval.” On the front page of the newspaper Granma an official note appeared where it was announced that the Council of State decided that the Institute of Cinematographic Art and Industry (ICAIC) would be under the supervision the Cuban Institute of Radio and Television (ICRT). This meant that the National Film Institute lost the relative autonomy of political decision-making for the approval of film production, which until then had allowed them to do documentary film production and today could be considered as a diagnosis of the evils of the Special Period which worsened to point of sounding the alarm on the urgent need to make the changes and openings that today are so long delayed.

At that time we filmmakers gathered to protest against that decision that discredited the film, its director and dissolved the ICAIC. The film was not counterrevolutionary, nor was its director nor any of those who went down on their knees to defend the artistic space with critical proposals, all lined up against the bureaucratic authoritarian and reductive abusive interventionism, exactly like that which caused the so-called desmerengamiento* (total collapse) of the Socialist Camp. (Because it was the same hammer and sickle that brought down the Berlin Wall, and it is worth saying that it was because of disbelief and the political dysfunctionality of the Socialist model, in whose womb, worn out and corroded, lay the revolutionary essence of its origin.)

What is the real constructive sense of an exclusive censorship without mediating a debate among those who undertake this artistic activity who are potentially subject to this same arbitrariness?

There were directors like Santiago Alvarez, Tomas Gutierrez Alea and others who, with their artistic careers, supported the continuity of this critical slope that always confronted the harassment and repudiation of those keepers of the chalice, pristine and pure, of that ideology without supreme saviors, without Caesar or bourgeoisie or God… today we say a controversy in the practical application of the laws of dialectics. And, thanks to this resistance they would keep making movies that never turned their backs on reality and that today maintain intact their rebellion against bureaucratic ukases and diktats.

So our protest is also confirmed by the pretension of excluding us from decision-making in the supposed restructuring of the ICAIC and the insistence, for more than two years, in the belief in a Film Law that guarantees the recognition of an independent production and a movie institute that promotes and protects national filmmaking and not one that monopolizes and controls it, because there is no… (There is an official claim of legitimate institutions eroded by a future that has exceeded its capacity for functional readjustment to meet new demands imposed by a very distinct present very different from that which motivated its origin. See the documentary, “Put me on the list…”)

The Cremata case falls within the ideological debate which has marked the destiny of a process that needs to keep alive the historic memory of its cultural work so as not to continue committing and supporting errors that put this valuable cultural treasure in danger, a critical thermometer that no censorship will be able to disconnect while we are able to act in consequence and committed to our civic duty.

*Translator’s note: Desmerengamiento was coined by Fidel Castro to embody, in a single word, the debacle of the Soviet Union. It comes from the word “meringue” and, like a failed meringue, refers to the idea of a complete collapse.

Surviving in Venezuela / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Poleo

Line to buy things in Caracas (Reinaldo Poleo)
Line to buy things in Caracas (Reinaldo Poleo)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Poleo, Caracas, 11 November 2015 — Alex is one of those characters who leaves a mark on your life. He is a bright guy, a diligent scientist, methodical, focused. He has been this way since the day I met him, back in the eighties, when we were studying together at the La Salle Foundation on Isla Margarita.

He is an avid reader, whose personality seems to come from a Franz Kafka work, with Herman Hesse for a father and Mafalda for a mother.

His patience dictated early on what he wanted to do: this man was definitely born to be a fish farmer.

He’s the kind you say was born in the wrong place at the wrong time. continue reading

Since we left manual labor, Alex has focused on fish production, which he has mastered to an extraordinary extent. He is a guy who should be developing this activity in a country that needs it as a way to produce proteins.

Alex has never doubted, he has fallen and he has risen. He is a worthy Venezuelan who has believed, does believe and holds fast to the dream; he is in the here and now suffering like every Venezuelan, he has no plans to flee, he has stayed to “try”…

For days we have been exchanging notes, talking about the things that are happening and what we think will happen or should happen. So here I am, sitting in a corner at the clinic, waiting for the doctor, when his whatsapp arrives. It is a message from a tired man. Sometimes tilting against windmills is tiring.

“Good friend, I have to climb Junquito in the morning and continue with the fish, but first I have to complete a ritual that belongs to my caste: go to the PDVAL [Venezuelan Producer and Distributor of Food].

“The ritual starts today, going to bed before eight in the evening to get a good night’s sleep, because, in addition to standing in line, if you want to buy anything, you have to get there before dawn.

“Usually I go at four in the morning, confident that the thugs, like nocturnal guácharos, are going to return to their dens and so it is possible that today will not be the last day I stand in line in this life.

“I get to the PDVAL and, like always, the ritual of my caste has started from the early hours of the day before. Those in the line tell me that they sleep on cardboard. I take my place at the end of those who are not of the so-called “third age,” those who make up the line.

“Not everything is that bad during the hours prior to the opening of the PDVAL. It is an interesting place to chat with other members of the clan and when the day dawns, they also begin to take the shapes of their silhouettes. And what silhouettes!

“At six, an Afro-descendent – I still don’t understand why it is bad to call them morenos and/or negritos – come by checking our ID’s and informing us in which batch it will be our turn to enter. There is still time to continue chatting and enjoying the silhouettes, which reminds me of a beautiful phrase from a friend of mine: ‘Superlative forms, almost insolent, of beauty.’

“At half past seven they open and the first batches begin to enter. Those pioneers, via cellphones, advise as to what is available and also begin to horde for their friends in the basic products lines. Thus, in entering, it’s common to see a man or a woman with a stroller with twelve chickens, for example, when you only get two per person.

“At nine it is my batch’s turn to enter. On hearing your name they take your ID and you enter. Something that always happens is that, on crossing the threshold, the people, literally, run to the shelves. I haven’t reached that level, but I do start walking faster.

“I turn first to where there is milk, rice, sugar, coffee and oil; only with luck will they have all of them. Then I go to the refrigerators looking for chicken at 70 bolos [bolivars] for a kilo and meat at 250. With great great luck, they will have both. Once having grabbed these products, you relax a little and look for some extras that you fancy. The final phase is the line to pay, as slow and cumbersome as the one to enter. By 11:00 I am out of PDVAL. I have completed the ritual.”

After such a story, I wonder if Lycra is the mandatory uniform, if some baby must be carried, and if there are large size ladies saving places for 10 housewives at the top of the line, to which he responds:

“Well, there are urban legends that say that in the PDVALs in the 23 y Enero parish, those in El Valle and La Vega, are only for the use of the clan called ‘that of the Colectivos.’

“Also there is the Clan of the Women, who come carrying their babies, and with another inside them, or another line with the blind and lame and people in wheelchairs; all that is missing to complete the picture is the spiritual master.”

He explains that the “urban legends” come from other historians in line, survivors of the above lines.

Finally the doctor shows up. I notice she is visibly upset: the insurance company wants to significantly lower her fees, she has to operate on a fractured tibia and fibula, displaced and open, of a member of the Clan of the Motorized. She asks 70,000 bolivars. As a fee, the company only pays 30,000. Immediately she tells me about the price of the dollar, her studies, the risks…

An operation like that for $87 dollars is absurd, and more absurd is trying to get her to do it for $37 dollars. She explains herself, she knows she isn’t paid in dollars, but in a country where everything is imported, it seems that we pay for things in dollars. Particularly, when a doctor can’t spend a day standing in line at a PDVAL, because the fallen “Motorized” can’t wait. Perhaps she will join the exodus of professional who have successful practices abroad. In Venezuela, we train excellent medical professionals, among others.

Toilet paper shortage in Venezuela: “Dear Customers. We inform you that is is three packages of toilet paper per person. Thank you and forgive us the difficult situation. (Wikimedia)
Toilet paper shortage in Venezuela: “Dear Customers. We inform you that is a three package limit for toilet paper per person. Thank you and forgive us the difficult situation. (Wikimedia)

Our doctors have graduated in the daily practice of battlefield medicine, as they have seen the need to work in the worst sanitary conditions, with limited equipment and medicines, risking their lives when criminals kidnap them to save the life of a gangster, on pain of losing it if they fail.

The story of don Rey came to me in a similar way, a monthly pilgrim to the Social Security High Cost Medicines Department, who belongs to the Clan of those who fight against a Cancer. Once a month he meets with his Clan, from the early hours of the morning, waiting for the medicines he needs to confront such a terrible illness. Once again, he has missed a morning’s work, however, he couldn’t find the medicine; he waited for them to open to hear the news: There isn’t any.

A lady who comes from far away, with her head covered with a scarf, tries with difficulty to hide her lack of hair and dares to ask when they will have her medicine. The cold response from the official is the same for everyone: “I have no idea, there is no date.”

The next day, don Rey and the lady are there at the same time and he overhears the official denying her the medicine because “today, there isn’t any for you.” Crestfallen, the lady left, returning to her home more than three hours from the office intended to provide service to “the people.” Nobody says anything, everyone turns away, no one dares, if they deny you medicine it is a death sentence. The bald lady walks away in silence bowed by the weight of the death sentence on her shoulders.

Don Rey follows her with his eyes, a lump in his throat chokes him as he thinks about his own mortality. Don Rey loves life and endures humiliation because he wants to live.

His gaze pauses at the graffiti painted on the front wall, the sketch of a man with his hand raised and the legend that asks: “Free Leopoldo.” That boy and his family belong to the Clan of Political Prisoners, who also have their sentence.

In this precise instant, in the line at Locatel in Los Palos Grandes, Yuiriluz confronts Yuletzaida. Both are women of great size. The first is saving a place for her six friends, two of whom are pregnant and with babes in arm; the second said she had been there from early holding a place for another three. They are “resellers.” A push from Yuletzaida manages to make Yuiriluz fall headlong; a wad of notes and a cellphone falls out of her bra. The women in the line are trying to get away without losing their places, some men approach just to watch and, laughing, even place bets.

Yubiriluz rises with unusual agility while one of her friends collects her belongings from the ground, at the same time extracting a knife wrapped in lycra panties. The men step away, some shout. Before the astonished gazes of the rest of the line, she prepares to lunge at her attacker.

A couple of policemen from Chacao appear on their motorbikes, people shout after them, but they continue on their way without even blinking under their sunglasses.

However, something has changed, the armed woman moves away. Just this once Yuletzaida has been saved, surely tomorrow there will be another line for food, surely tomorrow she won’t have the same luck.

And so the days pass in our Venezuelan village: some loot to survive, while the most powerful build their empires with the dark elixer flowing from the ground

The dark troops fear the Clan of the North, it seems there are winds of war between the clans.

The Clan of the South looks after its regional tyrannies, disguised as democracy and people, while strengthening the defenses at the cost of hunger for the people.

And people live separated from each other, engaged in the struggles between their impoverished clans, bearing up under and dealing with their individual miseries.

The heroes falter under the gaze of a disunited people, critical from fear and waiting for help from the Messiahs from the North, they don’t know how to emerge from their own cowardice.

Some leave, others stay. But that is not important; what matters is that here or there they are finding their way to poverty, the mental poverty that kills dreams and numbs feelings.

Don’t think that we are all dead, every day I build my clan, with my family and friends. Every day that passes I speak about the Venezuela I dream of, and I have the pleasure of knowing more people who are waking up and beginning to dream, better still, they are starting to move in accord with their dreams.

My clan is increasing. In my clan we don’t loot, we work, we do not make war, but we are willing to give it.

In my clan we do not forge armies but ideas. In my clan we do not destroy, rather we strive to build.

In my clan, Alex will be the fish farmer we need, don Rey will live longer to enjoy the life his 74 years has given him. The lady with the headscarf will once again comb her hair, and the children of Yuletzaida and Yubiriluz, as well as those of their friends, will have the same opportunities that I had. Opportunities are not free, but a good government should create guarantees so that everyone can pay for them.

Because my clan does not belong to Generation Boba that waits for things to come from the sky or for a government that makes a gift to them of what they loot from the effort of others. It is time to make way for the builders, the critical and productive people, for true democracy and the defense of freedoms.

From Information to Action / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

Yoani Sanchez accepts the Knight International Journalism Award 2015. (karinkarlekar)

Yoani Sanchez accepts the Knight International Journalism Award 2015. (karinkarlekar)

14ymedio biggerGeneration Y, Yoani Sanchez, 12 November 2015 — My grandmother only knew how to write the first letter of her name. She would sign documents with an almost childish looking capitalized “A.” In spite of being illiterate, Ana always advised me to study and learn as much as possible. Nevertheless, that laundress who never went to school taught me the best lesson of my life: that tenacity and hard work are needed to accomplish one’s dreams. She instilled in me the urgency of “action.” Action with a capital “A,” like the only letter of her name that she could write.

However, action can become a problem if it is not appropriately accompanied by information. An uninformed citizen is easy prey for the powerful, a guaranteed victim for manipulation and control. In fact, an individual without information cannot be considered a whole citizen, because her rights will constantly be violated and she will not know how to demand and reclaim them. continue reading

The most expansive authoritarian regimes in history have been characterized by a strict control of the media and a high disregard for freedom of information. For these systems, a journalist is an uncomfortable individual who must be tamed, silenced, or eliminated. These are societies where a journalist is recognized only when she repeats the official government rhetoric, applauds the authorities, and sings praises to the system.

I have lived forty years under a government that considers that information is treason. At first, when I learned to read and began to pay attention to the national media, with its optimistic headlines and data on the country’s economic over-achievement, I blindly believed what those newspapers were saying. That country that only existed in the ink of the Cuban Communist Party’s national newspaper was similar to the one my teachers taught me about in school, similar to the one from the Marxist manuals and the speeches of the Maximum Leader. But it did not resemble the reality.

From the frustration between my desires to know and the wall of silence that the official Cuban press imposes on so many issues, the person I am now was born.

My first reaction in the face of so much manipulation and censorship – like that of so many of my fellow citizens – was simply to stop reading that press which served those in power, that propaganda disguised as journalism. Like millions of Cubans, I sought information that was hidden, censored news articles, and I learned to hear the radio transmissions coming from outside even with the interference that the government would impose on them.

I felt like I would drown if I wasn’t informed. But, then another moment came. A moment when I switched to “action.” It wasn’t enough to know everything that was being hidden from me and to decipher the truth behind so many false statistics and such editorial grandiloquence. I wanted to be part of those who narrated the Cuban reality. Thus, I began my blog Generation Y in April of 2007, and with it I took the path of no return as a reporter and a journalist. A path filled with danger, gratification, and great responsibility.

During the past eight years, I have lived all of the extremes of the journalistic profession: the honors and the pains; the frustration of not being allowed to enter an official press conferences and the marvel of finding an ordinary Cuban who gives me the most valuable of testimonies. I have had moments where I have exalted this profession and moments in which I wished I had never written that first word. There is no journalist who does not carry the burden of her own demons.

Now, I lead a media outlet, 14ymedio, the first independent news platform inside of Cuba. I am no longer the teenager who turned her eyes away from the official press, looked for other alternative news sources, and later began her own blog as if she were someone opening a window into the entrails of a country. I now have new responsibilities. I lead a group of journalists, who every day must cross the lines of illegality to perform their jobs.

I am responsible for each and every one of the journalists who are a part of the newsroom of our news platform. The worst moments are when one of them takes longer than expected to return from covering a story and we have to call their family to say that they have been arrested or are being interrogated. Those are the days that I wish that I had not written that first word…or that I had not written that first word the moment I did, but much earlier.

I feel that if we had moved towards action, and if we had exercised our right to inform much earlier, Cuba would now be a country where a journalist would not be synonymous with a tamed professional or a furtive criminal. But at least we have begun to do it. We have moved from information into action, to help change a nation through news, reporting, and journalism. It is Action with a capital “A,” like the one my grandmother wrote on those papers though she never really understood what they were saying.

Note: Speech delivered by Yoani Sanchez on 10 November in New York, at the ceremony for the 2015 Knight International Journalism Awards. The director of 14ymedio was given the award last May by the International Center for Journalists for her “uncommon resolve in the fight against censorship.”

“We Want Decent Housing,” Say Residents Of Old Havana / 14ymedio, Armando Martinez

Residents in an Old Havana tenement demand "decent housing." (14ymedio)
Residents in an Old Havana tenement demand “decent housing.” (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Armando Martinez, Havana, 9 November 2015 — In Old Havana, the residents of a tenement on Compostela Street, between Luz and Acosta, across from the Belen Convent, no longer want to risk their lives under the roof of their dwelling. The façade is no longer a place where sports passions are written, now the residents have turned it into their Wailing Wall with an irrevocable demand: “We want decent housing.”

The reason they have taken their beds into the street is the deterioration of the building, which threatens to fall down on their heads. As of last Friday, the residents of the place made the decision to sleep in the entryway, which seems more secure, with their more precious treasures: a TV, a refrigerator, three mattresses and a table. continue reading

Since we’ve come out of there they are starting to listen to us,” says a woman of around 50, referring to the local authorities. With an unconvincing optimism, the woman says, “This Monday they will give us an answer, they’ve promised.” However, she adds with determination, “We do not want to go to a shelter and spend 15 or 20 years there waiting for the day they give us a decent house.”

The residents of the Compostela Street no longer want to continue to risk their lives under the roof of the dwelling. (14ymedio)
The residents of the Compostela Street no longer want to continue to risk their lives under the roof of the dwelling. (14ymedio)

In November of last year the official press published the alarming number of families in need of homes: 33,889 (132,699 people). Many of them have lived for two decades in shelters for victims of uninhabitable housing. According to the census, 60% of the 3.9 million housing units on the island are in poor condition.