Cuba Offers English Exams Required for Universities in the United States / 14ymedio

Private English classes in Cuba (14ymedio)
Private English classes in Cuba (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, 18 June 2015 – For the first time Cuba will be the site of two English exams needed for admission to most universities in the United States, according to a report this Wednesday in the Wall Street Journal.

Four Cuban students will take the Test of English as a Foreign Language in Havana on Saturday, June 27. The qualification is a world standard for the admission of non-Anglophone students to universities in the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia, among other countries. continue reading

The organization providing the test, the Educational Testing Service, has also announced plans to offer the Graduate Record Exam (GRE), an entrance exam required by many American universities for admission to graduate studies, despite the logistical obstacles stemming from the lack of technological infrastructure and financing in the country. This latter test will be given in October.

According to José Santiago, head of the GRE exam for the Educational Testing Service, this testing schedule reflects the interests of American universities in enrolling Cuban students after the reestablishment of diplomatic relations between Washington and Havana.

For now, no additional testing dates are scheduled on the Island. “There are still many issues to resolve,” explains Santiago, adding that he is working with two Cuban universities to turn their computer classrooms into sites for the official exams.

Students who want to take the tests confront several obstacles, including paying by credit card and the poor quality of the equipment for the listening tests.

Operation Miracle, Not Available to Cubans / 14ymedio, Fernando Donate Ochoa

In the opticians on Martí Street in the provincial capital, the supply of frames is as low as in the rest of the province (Fernando Donate / 14ymedio)
In the opticians on Martí Street in the provincial capital, the supply of frames is as low as in the rest of the province (Fernando Donate / 14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Fernando Donate Ochoa, Holguin, 19 June 2015 — Operation Miracle has as its objective to return vision to or cure any ophthalmological problem for low-income citizens of poor countries. The humanitarian project was started in mid-2004 under the leadership of the governments of Cuba and Venezuela, and thanks to it about a million patients have been operated on every year. However, this medical service has not been as successful inside Cuba as it has been abroad.

The surgical waiting list extends more than 30 days in the Ophthalmology Center at the Lucia Iniguez Landin Clinical Surgical Teaching Hospital in the city of Holguin. The departure of professionals to other sectors and the exodus caused by international medical missions have contributed to the increase in service deficiencies. To this is added the lack of surgical instruments and difficulties with the air conditioning in operating rooms, sources from local hospital officials explained to 14ymedio. continue reading

Supply problems for frames and lenses in the eyeglass industry don’t help to improve the eyecare situation in Holguin, with the Provincial Company of Pharmacy and Optics continuing to experience problems since last year. The eyeglass frames that can be seen in Holguin establishments are few, outdated and uncomfortable, leading most customers to reject them.

The situation has reached the extreme that, on occasion, the customer is asked to bring their own frames to hold the lenses

The problem affects not only the four opticians of the capital city. According to Caridad Garcia, a worker at one of the establishments on centrally located Martí Street, the shortage extends to the other ten opticians in the province.

The situation has reached the extreme that, on occasion, the customer is asked to bring their own frames to hold the lenses. However, there are also delays with the graduated glass, because the lens grinding workshop lacks the specialized personnel needed, and the equipment frequently breaks down, having been in use for 20 years without renovations.

The National Directorate of Public Health has reported that the country does not have sufficient resources to meet demand, a fact for which there does not appear to be a short or medium term solution.

Currently, 4,405 Holguin health professionals are serving on international missions spread across 45 countries.

WiFi is Extended Throughout Cuba / 14ymedio

The area outside Kcho's Romerillo Studio has become a meeting point for those seeking wifi. (14ymedio)
The area outside Kcho’s Romerillo Studio has become a meeting point for those seeking wifi. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 19 June 2015 — “It’s never too late if the WiFi is good,” the officials of the Cuban Telecommuniations Company (Etecsa) might say, announcing the opening in the coming weeks of 35 Internet browsing rooms with WiFi technology in public spaces throughout the country. The information was published this Thursday in the newspaper Juventud Rebelde (Rebel Youth) and comes just when people’s demand for connectivity has reached a point that makes it hard for the authorities of the sector to ignore it.

Luis Manuel Díaz Naranjo, Director of Communications for Etecsa, told the official press that the service will be implemented at the beginning of July, as the company is still engaged “in working on adjustments to the heart of the center that will operate this kind of wireless network technology.” continue reading

Wireless networks will be accessible in the locations under the name of WIFI_ETECSA, like those already operating under this name in the international terminal of Havana’s Jose Marti Airport, and in several hotels in the country. All those who have an account – temporary or permanent – with Etesca’s Nauta service will be able to access it through cellphones, personal computers, tablets or other technological devices with wireless signal receivers.

Another welcome announcement has been the reduction in price for an hour of navigation time, which as of July 1st will be 2 CUC versus the current 4.50 CUC, although in recent months reloads have been offered at half that price. Diaz Naranjo acknowledged, however, that “it is still not the target price,” in a country where the average monthly salary doesn’t exceed the equivalent of 30 CUC.

The official clarified that it is not a new service, but “a new method of access” for what is offered today in Etecsa’s public navigation rooms and at the Computing and Electronics Youth Clubs.

In the interview, Diaz Naranjo specified that the connection speed could reach 1 megabyte per user and that the number of people who can navigate at the same time could vary between 50 and 100, according to the size of the area included in the wireless network.


The 35 places that will implement this WiFi signal in Havana are: La Rampa, from the Malecon to Yara Cinema; La Lisa park located on Avenue 51; Fe del Valle park, on Galiano and San Rafael; the Marianao Amphitheater; and the Paseo de la Villa Panamerica. In Pinar del Rio: Independencia and Roberto Amarán parks. Artemisa: Boulevard and de la Iglesia park. Mayabeque: Guines Park and Boulevard de San Jose. Matanzas: Liberty and Peñas Altas parks. Villa Clara: Leoncio Vidal and Remedios parks.

The city of Cienfuegos will have wireless navigation in Martí Park and Rápido Punta Gorda. Sancti Spíritus: Céspedes, de Trinidad, and Serafín Sánchez parks. Ciego de Ávila: Martí and Morón parks. Camagüey: Agramonte Park and Plaza del Gallo. Las Tunas: Plaza Martiana and Tanque de Buena Vista. Holguín: Calixto García and Julio Grave de Peralta parks. Granma: Boulevards Bayamo and Manzanillo. Santiago de Cuba: Céspedes, Ferreiro and Plaza de Marte parks. Guantánamo: Martí Park and Baracoa Central Park. Isla de la Juventud: Boulevard Nueva Gerona.

Etecsa also plans to make adjustments to the Enet and Nauta email platforms, which today have more than 800,000 users across the country. The email service will be interrupted in the early morning of June 23, which has triggered speculations among the public about the possibility of the coming of mobile connections to the web.

In a call to the service number 118, an operator explained to this newspaper that the reason for the planned suspension on the 23rd was for transferring the platform, which is moving “from its current site in the capital’s Cubanacan neighborhood, to another located in Fontanar.”

For some weeks, in the early morning hours, users accessing Nauta service from their cellphones could experience a change in the message access protocols such as IMAP and POP. During the hours of lower traffic, the directions for downloading emails will appear redirected to the Enet service, an Internet connection option for foreigners, businesses and foreign press correspondents residing on the Island.

In recent days two directors from the Google giant, Bret Perlmutter, of Google Ideas, and Brehanna Zwart, of Google Access and Energy, have been in Cuba. Several American publications announced last week that the company had made a proposal to the Cuban government to participate in the Island’s connectivity infrastructure.

Almendrón Stories / 14ymedio, Lilianne Ruiz

The almendrones that abound in Havana retain the original body but the mechanical part is almost always modern. (Lilianne Ruiz / 14ymedio)
The almendrones that abound in Havana retain the original body but the mechanical part is almost always modern. (Lilianne Ruiz / 14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Lilianne Ruiz, Havana, 17 June 2015 — Noisy and filthy, with an air of Hollywood films of the 50s, they often evoke the words of Galileo: “And yet it moves.” The almendrones*, pre-1959 cars that abound in Havana, retain their original bodies but the mechanical parts are almost always modern.

A 1954 Ford may contain a Hyundai gas engine designed for minibus, a Mitsubishi transmission, a Toyota differential, Suzuki Vitara hydraulic steering, a Peugeot dashboard, Moskovich disk brakes from the Soviet era, a Mercedes Benz master cylinder, with the chassis and grill original to the make.

This combination means that the spherical steering system might not last three months with Havana’s potholes, or the emergency brakes may not work well. It’s a violation of the laws of physics and engineers if the weight of the car doesn’t match the brake system. Still and all, we have the perception that 90% of the cars circulating in the Cuban capital are almendrones. continue reading

These vehicles pass from hand to hand. Many of the Cubans who today have an almendrón, acquired it thanks to financial help from relatives abroad. In the informal market, the prices of these cars are over 10,000 CUC. The private taxi drivers, driving taxis with fixed rates of 10 and 20 Cuban pesos (CUP), have predetermined routes from the city center to various points on the periphery.

In order for the cars to be able to circulate, they must be inspected at the Automotive Technical Review Company, popularly known by drivers as the “somatón.” And, either because the almendrones always have some technical failure, or because they are what they are, the drivers agree that to “get” a favorable report that allows them to continue to operate they have to pay between 30 and 50 Cuban convertible pesos (CUC).

Maykel Perdomo is 32 and drives a ’54 Plymouth. “It is understandable and necessary to have these controls,” he says after lowering the volume on the reggaeton coming from the domestic speakers anchored above the rear seat. “What is not logical is the level of corruption and that the demands are so high when there is no appropriate market to buy spare parts,” he adds.

Drivers agree that to “get” a favorable report that allows them to continue to operate they have to pay between 30 and 50 CUC

All maintenance and parts replacement is done in the informal market. In State shops there is no good access to spare parts and to get them requires a network of contacts in State companies such as Rent-a-Car, where they sell some “under the table.” If you have the money to pay it’s possible you can find what you need there. “The people who work at Rent-a-Car don’t live on their wages. They divert whatever and sell it. Normally there are parts there to meet the needs of the cars rented to tourists,” he continued.

But there are also machinists in clandestine workshops who are dedicated to retooling parts for these antiques. “When an original piece breaks you have to create it, you can’t replace it. You have to go to a machinist to do it for you. It’s very expensive and often the piece doesn’t fit and you have to return it.”

The same thing happens with fuel. The vast majority of the almendrones used as rental cars have been re-engineered to work with oil. Oil-burning engines are offered by the State and can cost some 7,000 CUC, but they don’t come with a guarantee.

Nor is there any wholesale market to buy fuel at a lower price. In the State’s CUPET gas stations, a liter of oil costs 1.10 CUC. The almendrón drivers prefer to buy it from truck drivers or bus drivers, who sell it illegally at half the price. “If you buy oil from CUPET, you have to raise the price of a ride.”

Oil-burning engines are offered by the State and can cost some 7,000 CUC, but they don’t come with a guarantee.

All this clandestine trade creates a gap in the revenue and expense ledgers. The drivers can’t declare buying anything on the illegal circuit, and so they leave blank the spaces where they should declare expenses. “On the black market you don’t receive any proof and it’s also illegal. If you tell, you’d be confessing to a crime. Then, you’re also forced to underreport your income, balancing the expenses you can’t declare,” the driver says.

The National Tax Administration Office (ONAT) makes a calculated estimate of what each carrier should have earned. Based on that estimate it can impose very high fines if it believes that the self-employed worker hasn’t told the whole truth. “It’s completely arbitrary because there are a lot of days that you can’t go to work because the car is broken, or you have personal problems, or you just want to take a day off. If one day you make 1,000 CUP it doesn’t mean that every day of the month is going to be the same. Without proof that you’re lying when it’s time to declare, they can impose a fine,” he laments.

The almendrón of Thomas Qunitana, who is also a driver, was broken down more than it was running, although he didn’t, because of this, fail to pay his taxes. One day, however, he had to recognize he couldn’t make it and returned his license. After a year and a half without working as a driver for hire, ONAT communicated to him that he had to pay a fine of around 60,000 CUP (about $2,400US) for having underdeclared his income. “They told me they had a right to do this for five years. If you turn in your license you have to keep all the papers of when you were working for the whole time,” said Qunitana, who had to hire a lawyer to try to free himself from the fine, a process he is still engaged in.

But there is another problem. If a self-employed worker earns more than 2,000 CUC a year, he or she enters a higher tax bracket, and has to pay 50% to the State

A policeman told him he was speeding. In exchange for not fining him, he asked for 10 CUC and the shorts he was wearing

Monthly, the drivers also have to pay three other types of contributions to the treasury: a monthly tax on the declaration of personal income of 10%, another for social security that has to be paid every three months, and a fixed tax. This last, in the municipality of Plaza of the Revolution, increased from 450 CUP to 800 CUP from May 2013 to March 2014.

“When you ask why they raised a flat tax, they don’t give you a logical argument. But it happens that, even though it increases, we self-employed don’t see any improvement in public services or in social security. Nor do we see a wholesale market where we can buy parts or fuel, nor improvements in the ate of the roads, nor credit facilities so we can make investments,” Quintana lists.

The drivers have to renew their operating license every year, which also means coming up with 500 CUP. In addition, there are other amounts they are forced to pay: those demanded by corrupt cops. Maykel Perdomo remembers a day when a uniformed cop stopped him while he was driving and said he was speeding. In exchange for not fining him, he asked for 10 CUC and even the shorts he was wearing. “When they behave like this, what recourse do we have? When you go to another regiment in the system, they are plugged into each other.”

To recover the initial investment in an almendrón within two or three years is impossible, but there is also the risk of losing everything. “If you crash the almendrón it’s going to cost you 16,000 CUC, you have a year of paying taxes with all those expenses that are massive and the State insurance company can’t cover everything, you’re going to go bankrupt,” concludes Perdomo.

*Translator’s note: “Almendron” derives from the Spanish word for “almond”; the use of this sobriquet comes from the shape of the cars.

Che Guevara, the Commercial Fetish / 14ymedio, Hector Dario Reyes

The murals with the Argentinean’s face cannot escape the wear and tear of a reality that little resembles what he planned
The murals with the Argentinean’s face cannot escape the wear and tear of a reality that little resembles what he planned (Silvia Corbelle/14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Hector Dario Reyes, Santa Clara, 15 June 2015 – “He was a man surrounded by good photographers,” is how a clever self-employed tour guide describes Ernesto Guevara to his clients in the streets of Santa Clara. The man lives by showing the face of the Argentine and telling of his hyperbolic exploits. This Sunday he has had good profits, taking advantage of the 87th anniversary of the birth of one who long ago stopped being a hero and turned into a fetish.

With the passage of the years, the plundering of the guerrilla’s image and the commercialization of his likeness have been imposed on this island. “Santa Clara, the city of Marta and of Che,” says the motto of the provincial capital, although Guevara was not born here. The Villa Clara capital tries to extract a return from the cheesiest ornaments with his name, and the whole tourist network is fed with some bit of his story.

Canek Sanchez Guevara, recently deceased musician and writer and grandson of the Cuban revolutionary commander, hated the t-shirts and pictures of his grandfather. “There is one that unifies his face with that of Christ that is really degrading,” he told his friends. continue reading

Since his death in 1967 and when the Havana photographer Korda gave his mage to an Italian publicist, international trade has encouraged a Che-rebel pseudo-fashion. Although t-shirts with his face abound in stores all over the world, it is in Cuba where that image of beret and jacket has profited most. As with other excesses so characteristic of our idiosyncrasy, in this also we overdid it.

“Here in this city can be found almost all the ways of remembering him that would have annoyed him.”

In Santa Clara there is even a Mate House, home of a historian who collects those traditional Argentinean accessories used for drinking the beverage extracted from the herb of the same name. “I began with the first mates, and when I had many, I placed them decoratively, then I put the image of Che Guevara on the door,” says the man who made a killing from then on. “My objective is to collect them and for people to come to see the display and drink the mate,” is how he explains his publicity strategy.

“Cuba commercializes Che,” says an alert tourist. From berets to bad songs, allegorical t-shirts, bags, bad oil paintings and ashtrays where tobacco is put out right in that face with the majestic gaze. Everyone wants to take advantage of the Argentine. From government institutions and artists to prostitutes or old men who exchange three peso bills with his image for one convertible peso. Che Guevara has become a bargaining chip.

“Santa Clara bases its tourism on the remains of the guerrilla,” the tour guide says ironically. “Here in this city can be found almost all the ways of remembering him that would have annoyed him.”

Another of his grandchildren organizes, in his name, motorcycle tours of the Island on nothing less than Harley-Davidsons. “In memory of the trip through Latin America on the Ponderosa,” he explains to interested clients. Although everyone knows that he made that historic journey “on a Norton 500,” wryly reminds a mechanic who has his garage a few meters from the sculpture complex where official propaganda asserts that the remains of the politico together with 29 of his companions are found.

In Santa Clara his image swarms in the Artex premises like a provincially manufactured product. “The myth is not sold, it is collected with the image,” says a local, tired of stumbling over that gaze everywhere.

Billboards and walls show phrases and drawings that sometimes do not match his face or were not even uttered by him

Opposite the monument to the armored train, a kiosk overflowing with t-shirts, berets, and postcards. A kilometer further, another statue of the guerrilla stands across from the headquarters of the Provincial Party Committee. They receive many foreigners there, who frequently place flower bouquets at the feet of the statue, “because the guidebook says so,” says a Canadian with the look of one who blindly follows to the letter everything that those travel books say.

Another line of exploitation, less profitable but equally petty, is the use of Guevara’s image for ideological purposes. Billboards and walls show phrases and drawings that sometimes do not match his face or were not even uttered by him, but the purpose is to show that his myth and his ideology are believed in.

Che is not only used in the revolutionary exhibition plan, but also to hide some things. Like in the Santa Clara mausoleum, where a giant fence across from the monument prevents foreigners from seeing the marginality of the neighborhood that surrounds Revolution Plaza. His eyes are directed there from the main sculpture; so that, as a popular saying recites, “In Santa Clara, Che watches the poor.”

Translated by MLK

Google Suggests That Cuba Jump Directly to Mobile Connections / 14ymedio

Google logo
Google logo

14ymedio biggerGoogle suggests that Cuba jump directly to mobile phones and tablets without passing through the stage of wired connections, according to comments made this Monday by a representative of the firm to OnCuba.

Two Google directors, Brett Perlmutter, of Google Ideas, and Brehanna Zwart, of Google Access & Energy, traveled to Havana in a business delegation just days after the Cuban government’s strategy to connect at least 50% of the households in the Island to the Internet by 2020 was leaked.

“Cuba has a great opportunity to jump right into mobile infrastructure without going all the way through hardwiring, as African countries are doing,” Perlmutter told OnCuba.

Company representatives would not confirm to the magazine if Google presented a proposal to the Cuban government to participate in the infrastructure, as several US publications reported last weekend.

Coexistence Magazine Calls on “Cuba to open itself to all Cubans” / 14ymedio

Cover of Issue 45 of the magazine Convivencia
Cover of Issue 45 of the magazine Convivencia

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 13 June 2105 – With the constancy of water dripping on a stone, number 45 of the magazine Convivencia (Coexistence) for the months of May and June has come out. Published from the Cuba’s westernmost province, the publication comes with a resounding editorial dedicated to the coming visit of Pope Francisco I to Cuba. With the premise, “Let Cuba open itself to all Cubans!” the text recalls the message of John Paul II when he touched Cuban soil in 1998.

In its usual cultural space, dedicated to art and literature, Convivencia offers an excellent gallery, this time with the cartography of Lucy Blanco Perez, while Maikel Iglesias contributed the narrative Diary of a Poet in Vueltabajo. Mines of Matahambre, One Day After the Peace (II), and Jose H. Garrido along with Hilda E Mateau published several of his poems. continue reading

In his usual cultural space dedicated to art and literature, Coexistence offers excellent gallery, this time with Lucy Blanco Pérez Carbografías while Maikel Iglesias from the narrative brings the Diary of a poet in Vueltabajo . Mine Matahambre a Day after Peace (II) and Joseph H. Garrido with Hilda E. Mateu published several of his poems.

This edition continues the approach to the work of great thinkers and presents Cuban Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda

This edition continues the approach to the work of great thinkers and presents Cuban Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda, under the signature of Hector Maseda Gutierrez. A review by one of the most outstanding figures of Cuban literature and thought.

Pedro Campos, meanwhile, is the author of an article that appeared in this issue under the title “For All The Rights of All Cubans,” and Yoandy Izquierdo

Toledo addresses the issue of “Ethics of Care” while Dagoberto Valdes, director of the publication contributes, “Manichaeism, Demonization and Paranoia: The Last Resources of Totalitarianism.”

The much appreciated Public Debate brings two texts, as always controversial, “My Call To Wake Up 20 Years Later,” by Pedro Medina, and “Transition in Cuba and Negotiation as a Means of Conflict Resolution,” by Jorge Ignacio Guillen. On the subject of economic there is an analysis by José A. Quintana on prices, wages and inflation.

Other documents, notices and recent news complement this 45th issue of Convivencia.

Holguin Besieged by Dengue Fever Mosquito / 14ymedio, Fernando Donate Ochoa

An operator fumigating a house in Holguin City (14ymedio)
An operator fumigating a house in Holguin City (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Fernando Donate Ochoa, Holguin, 15 June 2015 — An undesirable presence has been constant these days in the province of Holguin. A severe drought has been followed by the longed-for rains and with the torrential downpours outbreaks of the mosquito Aedes aegypti increase. According to local press, some 30,000 Holguinn residents are exposed to Dengue Fever, transmitted by this insect.

In this battle the local government has invested over 1.5 billion pesos, without obtaining the expected results, as shown by the data provided by the Department of Hygiene and Epidemiology. Officials say that the vector has crossed the boundaries of 26 de Julio, Pueblo Nuevo, Hilda Torres and Harlem neighborhoods, and arrived in Libertad, Alcides Pino, Palomo, Nuevo Llano and Centro Ciudad Norte, where a wide perimeter takes in the area between Frexes, Carretera to Gibara Streets, Capitan Urbino Avenue and 31st of Vista Alegre, with the appearance of Dengue Fever in all of them. continue reading

It is predicted that in June and July, months that favor the undesirable vector because of the climate and the rain, transmission could trigger an epidemic of patients appearing with Hemorrhagic Dengue Fever. The complicated situation has forced the health authorities to intensify the work of control, but there continues to be a deficit of 300 operators to support fumigation inside homes and other places.

Given the seriousness of the situation, the Municipal Health leadership has asked different state institutions for a workforce, but the answer has not been as expected.

It is predicted that in June and July the climate and rain could trigger the onset of patients with Hemorrhagic Dengue Fever

Yendri Bermúdez Estupiñán, a former operative of the anti-vector campaign, told 14ymedio that the work is every day, working more than 8 hours, most of the time carrying fumigation equipment weighing 65 pounds, and exposed to poisons through working with the cypermethrin, a chemical used to control mosquitoes.

He also complains that the lunch, guaranteed daily, is small and of low quality. The salary of 625 Cuban pesos a month (about $25 US), isn’t enough to maintain a stable workforce in the sector.

As a last resort, the municipal authorities have asked for help from the Revolutionary Armed Forces, which mobilized a weekly rotation of more than one hundred soldiers, according to what Julio Cesar Velazquez Garcia, head of the Provincial Health Vector Control Department, told local TV.

The Landscape Before the Storm / Yoani Sanchez

The headquarters of the State phone company ETECSA in Havana. (14ymedio)
The headquarters of the State phone company ETECSA in Havana. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Generation Y, Yoani Sanchez, 15 June 2015 – Before the downpour there is a scent that crosses the city. It is the premonition of water, the anticipation of the cloudburst. The birds fly to their nests and the most cautious seek a doorway where they can shelter until the rain passes. This impression of something approaching is being felt lately about a possible opening of Internet connectivity for all Cubans. There is nothing concrete to point to confirm our massive entry into cyberspace, but the gusts of impatience can be felt in the air.

The topic of the web of networks has reached significant prominence in the official discourse of the last half year. Barack Obama’s administration had to “make a move” to wake up the bureaucrats in the Ministry of Information and Communications, who are trained to go on the defensive. With the January 16th implementation of a package of flexibility measures, outstanding among them links to the sector of new technologies and connectivity, the White House has set more than one person scuttling on this island. continue reading

Four years after the installation of the fiber optic cable between Cuba and Venezuela, it seems that officialdom can no longer justify why we are among the countries with the least connectivity on the entire planet. On the other hand, American companies such as Verizon or AT&T, breathing down the neck of Cuba’s ETECSA phone company, are working as a catalyst to implement a data service that allows the Cuban telephone monopoly to hold on to the national market.

Conveniently, a document was leaked that puts into writing the national strategy for the development of broadband connectivity infrastructure in Cuba

The lesson of Isabel Dos Santos, the richest woman in Africa and the daughter of the Angolan president, should be keeping the dauphins of power in Cuba awake right now. They know that whoever gets a slice of the telephone and communications market will have a guaranteed fortune exceeding a lot of zeros. However, they are also aware that a company of this type requires agreements, roaming contracts, favorable rate packages, attractive offers for users. In the world we live in it can be summed up in one word: connectivity.

This reality is denied by the ideological outbursts, in the style of Abel Prieto when he claimed that he will give “free and open access to the Internet, and not to those who have money, but to those who need it to support their studies and research.” Mobile phone service alone shows that in the battle between politics and the market the latter comes out the winner. Cubacel users – save those who receive the privilege because they work for State Security or other strategic sectors – pay for it in convertible pesos. To purchase a cellphone requires the harsh practice of money in your wallet, not fidelity to any idea.

A few days ago, conveniently, a document was leaked that puts into writing the national strategy for the development of broadband connectivity infrastructure in Cuba. Despite the enthusiasm with which the text was received by those thirsting for the Internet, the deadlines proposed by the program are, at the very least, unconsidered. It talks about “reaching no less than 50% of households with access to broadband Internet by 2020,” while two years ago it was expected to have 100% connectivity “in Party organizations at the national, provincial and municipal levels, in State agencies, and in the Central Administrative Organs of the State.” It is not unlikely that right now there are people who are joining the Cuban Communist Party (PCC) in order to attain access to the vast World Wide Web.

It is not unlikely that right now there are people who are joining the Cuban Communist Party (PCC) in order to attain access to the vast World Wide Web.

On the other hand, Brett Perlmutter, director of Google Ideas, is visiting Cuba this week. His presence has been explained to the media as an exploration to “bring better Internet access to the Island.” According to a State Department official who asked to remain anonymous, “Google has made a proposal to the Cuban Government to help with the connectivity of the population,” adding, “we don’t know what they have proposed, but they have proposed something.”

Beyond what Google achieves, between official suspicion and postponements by Cuban functionaries, his presence on the Island reinforces the sense of urgency. He transmits to the Cuban Government the impression that its closing the doors to the sea of kilobytes not only is not working, but is under threat of being swept away from abroad and from within. Helium balloons, mini-satellites, WiFi antennas made from Pringles bags, clandestine wireless networks that share content, and even the irreverent weekly “Packet” of audiovisuals, are jeopardizing a structure designed for censorship, but inefficient in managing an opening.

There is a smell of rain these days. A gust of damp certitude that is wafting the bird of the Internet our way.

US Helps Raul Castro To Maintain Stability In Cuba / 14ymedio, Pedro Campos

Barack Obama and Raul Castro shake hands at the opening of the Americas Summit
Barack Obama and Raul Castro shake hands at the opening of the Americas Summit

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Pedro Campos, Havana, 10 June 2015 — Even when senior officials of the Obama administration and the president himself have said the new US policy toward Cuba is not intended to change the regime, the propagandists of the Caribbean Stalinism insist that this remains the real pretension of the United States.

Of course the intention is to say that nothing has changed and continue raising the smoke screen of the blockade of the “enemy’s” plans to continue to try to hide the true causes of the economic disaster and justify the lack of democracy and the repression of difference.

It is elementary that the United States would like a free market economy regime, with a government that helps it to preserve its interests on the Island and in the region. But to accomplish this it can’t subvert the Cuban government.

However, from there to trying to impose a government of its will, in the new international conditions, goes a long way, because they know full well that a deliberate attempt in this sense would be met with great resistance in the country and the region. Besides, why fall into dangerous adventures, if via other “intelligent” ways you can get the same results? continue reading

No. Today the objective of the United States is not to “destroy the Revolution.” The “revolutionaries” in power have been changed with this, as Fidel Castro himself said on 5 November 02005 at the University of Havana. He and his group prevented, first, the triumph of the democratic revolution in 1959-1960 and later, in the name of the Revolution, Socialism and the working class have avoided the Socialist transformations.

In Cuba we’ve had neither a democratic revolution nor a socialist revolution.

In Cuba we’ve had neither a democratic revolution nor a socialist revolution.

The United States watched the transition of the centralized “socialist” economies in the Soviet Union, Eastern Europe, China and Vietnam, to more or less free markets, in the hands of many of their own former leaders. Boris Yeltsin, former member of the Politburo of the USSR Communist Party, or Deng Xiaoping, also a member of the Politburo of the Communist Party in China, and others of a similar style.

With this disaster it became clear that “State Socialism” never ends, because its inconsistencies between socialist ends and capitalist measures (working for wages and the centralization of property), sooner or later, move the economy in a natural way toward private capitalism.

This is the result of not having socialized the economy nor democratized political power, i.e. delivered real power – economic and governance – to the workers and the people.

Previously, the objectives pursued by the United States in Cuba were to avoid the consolidation of a “socialist” regime, its eventual reversal and to avoid its spread in the region. But with the fall of international support the Castro regime fell into crisis, ending the export of the Revolution and no one on the continent is excited about following the Cuban model.

With these goals, without any invasion, and demonstrating the endogenous unviability of the Cuban State socialist model (neither socialist nor Cuban), the United States believed that its implosion would be the matter of a short time. It didn’t understand until today that, despite its inconsistencies and economic deficits, the “confrontation with imperialism,” the support from Venezuela, the hyper-exploitation of those who work for the State, the permanence of the historic leader and some populist measures brought certain reserves of time to the “Castro experiment.”

With the fall of international support the “Castro experiment” fell into crisis, ending the export of the Revolution and no one on the continent is excited about following the Cuban model

In parallel, starting from 1994, concern was growing among the American “establishment” over the complicated internal crisis that was generating another rafter migration crisis, converting Cuba into a failed state, and leading the United States to have to engage in some kind of intervention. This definitely put US strategic interests in the region at risk.

This was no longer defined by the Intelligence Community, as expressed by different representatives, when the transmission of power in Cuba from Fidel Castro to his brother became clear. They then specified that a government in military hands, like those of Raul Castro, suited their purposes of realizing a peaceful economic and political transition in Cuba.

It was at that time that the United States began to understand the political futility of the blockade-embargo and to delineate a new policy. Obama was not yet president.

Once power was transmitted to Raul, and with a different administration in Washington, a new intention became clearer: to help the General’s Government ease the internal economic situation to avoid this dangerous crisis and, of course, to take advantage of the opportunities offered by the “opening” for foreign capital and the established of all the ties and commitments permissible to be as close as possible to the Cuban government

And this is what, in the first instance, explains the policy change that had antecedents even in the Bush administration, when food imports were allowed and talks were held on commitments about migratory problems.

The policy change had a history even in the Bush administration, when food imports are allowed and talks on migration issues and commitments were made

Another key element in this new projection is that the unnecessary extension of the absurd blockade-embargo became a boomerang for US foreign policy, particularly in Latin America. Mending its relations with Cuba would seem to be a precondition to reverse this situation and create a more favorable environment for the expansion of political and economic relations in the region in the face of the Chinese and Russian offensive.

We must not forget that the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA), with which the United States tried to create an economic zone on the continent to try to preserve the extra-continental competition, was sabotaged by the initiative of Fidel Castro with the support of Hugo Chavez.

With “normalization,” the United States aims to neutralize the extreme anti-imperialism of the “historic leadership,” which has brought it so many problems around the world.

Part of the new policy is the continuation of the Cuban Adjustment Act, a permanent escape valve for the dissatisfied, now with more opportunities to skip the country with the new migratory law; clearly there is a need to get the growing discontent — generated by the “update” itself — off the Island.

A sign of discontent? An old man in the neighborhood, 80 years old, loyal to Fidel, and upset because the ration book offers almost nothing, and his pension doesn’t stretch far enough, told me, “If Fidel knew that Raul took the food away from the people, he would have him shot. End of story.”

Certainly, a major relief would be political changes that ease the internal tensions. But the United States knows that this part is the responsibility of Cubans.

With the “normalization” US aims to neutralize the extreme anti-imperialism of the “historical leadership” which has brought it so many problems around the world

To the Stalinist extreme, deep in the structures of the Communist Party and for the purposes of its intransigent anti-imperialist image, it is not convenient to accept that the strategic objective of the United States in Cuba is the stability to avoid a crisis, nor that supporting Raul Castro’s government is a part of the tactic to accomplish that.

Such an approach would undermine the “confrontation with imperialism,” the Party’s propaganda and the philosophy of the “citadel under siege” that tries to justify the internal repression of the dissidence and those who think differently, as well as the democratic deficit of the “model” (a model of what should not be done in the name of socialism).

The real purpose of the “update” is no longer to build “socialism,” but to go from the monopolistic capitalism of the State to the restoration of private capitalism, but under the control of the senior bureaucracy in alliance with big foreign capital.

Number of Self-employed in Cuba Exceeds Half a Million / 14ymedio

A self-employed person in the food industry (Photo Silvia Corbelle)
A self-employed person in the food industry (Photo Silvia Corbelle)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 13 June 2015 — At the conclusion of the month of May, the number of self-employed persons in Cuba had risen to 504,613, as shown in a report from the Ministry of Labor and Social Security (MLSS) published Saturday. Of these, at least 17 percent combine their work in the private sector with a government job.

The document also notes that among people with a license to practice an occupation on their own, there are some 155,605 young people, a number that grew by 7,912 during the first quarter of the current year. continue reading

Moreover, some 154,756 women are self-employed, while 62,043 retired people have chosen to re-enter working life through this non-State form of employment.

The report also reveals that the provinces of Havana, Matanzas, Villa Clara, Camaguey, Holguin and Santiago de Cuba lead the rest of the country, accounting for 66 percent of workers engaged in these occupations.

The most common activities are still making and selling food, transport of cargo and passengers, renting of housing, rooms and spaces, telecommunications agent, and contract workers, the latter associated primarily with the first two listed activities.

The expansion of the process of self-employment began in October 2010 and the promising initial growth has been overtaken in the last year by a slower increase. Self-employed people complain about the high taxes, the lack of a wholesale market, excessive restrictions on what they are allowed to do, and the lack of permits to import raw materials.

Cuba’s Ladies in White Repressed on Their Sunday March Today / 14ymedio

Ladies in White walking down 5th Avenue in Miramar. (14ymedio)
Ladies in White walking down 5th Avenue in Miramar. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 14 June 2015 — Security forces have lashed out against the Ladies in White this Sunday, as they have on the previous ten Sundays. This time they carried out several preventive arrests among the activists who often accompany the Ladies in White in their march on 5th Avenue, at the end of the Mass at Santa Rita Church in Miramar.

According to information provided by a 14ymedio reporter present at the site, 61 Ladies in White and 18 men, among them activists and independent journalists, attended the Mass.

Arrested before arriving were photographer Claudio Fuentes, independent journalist Juan González Febles and activists Agustín López Canino and Hugo Damian. Also reported, at 11:30 am, were the arrest of four Ladies in White and 8 men to prevent them from arriving at the church. continue reading

After the conclusion of the Mass, at the corner of 5th and 30th, a police patrol made up of uniformed men and woman violently arrested Jacqueline Boni as she tried to join the march. Meanwhile, Agustin Lopez was released about two in the afternoon and wrote in his Twitter account, “I was just released, incredibly they neither handcuffed me nor beat me but they violated my rights.” This newspaper was able to confirm that the security forces arrested a total of 68 people, including Ladies in White and other activists.

Today marks the 640th Sunday of marches by the Ladies in White along a stretch of 5th Avenue in Miramar, at the end of Mass at Santa Rita Church, which is located at 5th and 24th in the Miramar neighborhood. The first march occurred on 30 March 2003, when the arrests of the 75 opposition figures of the so-called “Black Spring” — carried out earlier that same month — were still recent.

On the previous nine Sundays, after “allowing” the walk along the avenue’s boulevard, there have been acts of repudiation and arrests, some of them with notable violence.

Arrests for political reasons nationwide nearly doubled in May as compared to April. The Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation counted a total of 641 arrests for political reasons, the highest monthly figure in the last ten months.

The Cardinal’s Bad Memory / 14ymedio, Mario Felix LLeonart

Cardinal Jaime Ortega at a conference at Harvard University in 2012 (Fotograma)
Cardinal Jaime Ortega at a conference at Harvard University in 2012 (Fotograma)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario Felix Lleonart, Havana, 12 June 2015 – As was expected, Cardinal Jaime Ortega’s flat denial of the fact that there are still political prisoners in Cuba has leaked from the interview granted to Spain’s Ser Chain program Hour 25. It borders on the enigmatic how someone in the position of this man is open to asserting something that no one believes at all and that has done nothing for either the church that he represents or he himself. It is obvious that such a nonsensical statement shatters all of the church’s social doctrine that he is called upon to support and practice. continue reading

But supposing that the prelate is so badly informed that he is ignorant of the existing lists, like that of the Cuban Commission on Human Rights and National Reconciliation (CCDHRN), that include dozens of prisoners, whether supporters of violence or not, but without doubt all incarcerated for political reasons, one will have to add that the cardinal suffers also from a memory deficit. Because the archbishop must at least remember that on the eve of the visit by Benedict XVI on February 28, 2012, he had to visit the political prisoner Ernesto Borges Perez at Combinado del Este Prison to ask him to give up his hunger strike because he was putting the Pope’s visit at risk.

Ernesto was amenable to the proposal of his pastor, who raised great expectations of his liberation with the then-imminent visit. That hope was frustrated, as before in 2010, when 126 prisoners were released, or later, in December of 2014, when another 53 were freed after the announcement of the re-establishment of US-Cuba relations. Many of us came to think that it had been he for whom the liberation of the Wasp Network spies had been negotiated, until we learned that in reality it had been Rolando Sarraff Trujillo, sentenced for a reason similar to his.

Borges Perez has completed 17 of the 30 years of incarceration to which he was sentenced after his death penalty was commuted. He was sentenced for his effort to reveal the names of 26 spies that Cuban State Security had ready to send to the United States. He was then the main analyst and leader of the General Directorate of Counter-Intelligence and apparently acted under the influence of the Glasnost and Perestroika winds that were blowing in the USSR.

Converted to Catholicism in prison, where he survives as a fervent believer who clings to his faith as his only lifeline of salvation, he must have felt an enormous frustration after that visit by his pastor who left satisfied on achieving his objective and has never returned to see him. I doubt that the two letters of pastoral support addressed to him by Benedict XVI through the papal nuncio mitigate his disappointment on learning that his pastor did not even take account of him in his interview with Hour 25.

I pray to God that history does not repeat itself and that Ernesto does not again declare a hunger strike with the approach of the new papal visit in September.

Translated by MLK

The University Of Havana Is In Position 83 Of The 300 Best In Latin America / 14ymedio

University of Havana (Romtomtom / Flickr)
University of Havana (Romtomtom / Flickr)

14ymedio bigger 14ymedio, 11 June 2015 — The University of Havana is the only Cuban institution of higher education that sneaks into the top 100 in Latin America according to the QS University Rankings for the region, published for the fifth consecutive year. The University of the East in Santiago de Cuba remains in position 141, making it into the first half of the table that evaluates 300 schools of the continent.

Despite their less than prominent positions, both universities improved their position over the previous year. The university in Havana moves from number 91 in 2014 to number 83 in 2015, while the one in Santiago de Cuba rose sharply from the 171-180 range to its current position of 141. Two other Cuban universities, Carlos Rafael Rodriguez University in Cienfuegos and Jose Antonio Echeverria University, known as CUJAE, are at very end of the list, between positions 250 and 300. continue reading

The best institutions according to this ranking would be the University of São Paulo and the State University of Campinas, both in Brazil, the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile, which dropped from first to third place, and the University of Chile, which is in fourth place. The top 10 is completed by Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, Autonomous University of Mexico, Andes of Colombia, Sao Paulo State University, Monterrey Tech and University of Brasilia.

The QS University Rankings: Latin America is an initiative launched in 2011 to complement the QS World University Rankings, whose purpose is to provide an assessment adapted to the regional context.

The ranking is based on seven indicators, including measures of institutional reputation by global surveys of academics and employers. Scientific research is also a key indicator and is measured by the impact of publications (citations per publication) and productivity (publications per faculty). The methodology also includes two distinctive indicators that, for the moment, have not been used in other initiatives: the proportion of teachers with doctorates and the online impact of institutions.

Abel Prieto Demands End Of Radio Marti To Normalize Relations With The US / 14ymedio

Abel Prieto
Abel Prieto

14ymedio biggerEFE (on 14ymedio), 13 June 2015 — The adviser to Cuban President Raul Castro and former Minister of Culture Abel Prieto believes that the restoration of diplomatic relations with the US does not yet mean “normalization” because to get to that point, “They must lift the blockade which they call an ‘embargo.’”

In an interview with EFE Prieto affirmed that the normalization should also include “return of the occupied Guantanamo Base,” and compensation to the Cuban people for the “terrible suffering” and for the “difficulties and limitations.” continue reading

For the former minister (who served during the years 1997-2012) the base of conversations with the United States should be “equality” and argues that “no one should wait on us to cede a single one of our principles.”

“We demand respect for our system,” and because of this he thinks that the process will be “long and difficult.”

The Castro advisor considers that an essential point is to eliminate the “illegal transmissions” of Radio and Television Martí (broadcasts financed by the United States to promote freedom and democracy in Cuba), if they want to talk about this “normalization” of relations between the United States and Cuba.

Asked whether Cuba would change its principles with regards to international politics, Prieto responded, “No,” and asserted that he considers Venezuela a “friend,” and expressed himself “against any interference in any of the internal affairs of Venezuela.”

“I think that this is an operation to discredit the government of President Nicolas Maduro; it is an economic war and a flow of false accusations,” he said.

According to Abel Prieto, Venezuela, “Will always count on the solidarity of Cuba, that is very clear, very firm and the opinion is not going to change.”

While visiting Madrid, the former minister participated in a colloquium with the Cuban ambassador in Spain, where he defended the democratization of culture and a Latin American and Caribbean focus in this.

Prieto, who affirmed he intends to die “without listening to Justin Bieber,” recognizes that after the new relations with the United States, “we have to confront the symbolic war and do it in the open, without prohibiting anything.”

The idea that Cuba fears the Internet is “indefensible,” according to Prieto, a supporter of “democratizing rules that must be based on the Internet.”

With regards to the Internet and the importance of social networks in his country, which is among the countries in the world with the lowest Internet penetration, Prieto said that in Cuba the Internet has “a lot of weight,” although he recognizes that connectivity is “very slow.”

The former minister says that Cuban society will be computerized, “To give free and open access to the Internet, and not to those who have money, but to those who need it to support their studies and research.”

Prieto considers the Internet an important way of “Exchanging cultural messages and collective creation,” and he says it is a part of the project of making Socialism “prosperous and sustainable” launched by the government of Raul Castro.

The idea that Cuba fears the Internet is “indefensible,” according to Prieto, a supporter of “democratizing rules that must be based on the Internet.”

“Cuba itself will oppose the attempts to create division and to destabilize the government, we are not going to accept that the false opposition uses social media to discredit us because this is part of sovereignty.”

He advocates for a “decolonized and emancipated” use of the Internet, and refers to the governance of the network, which according to him is controlled “by the United States government and a few corporations based in the United States.”