The Forbidden Fruit for Cubans / Cubanet, Isis Marquez

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

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

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

Benefits of the strawberry

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

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

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

The odyssey of the strawberry

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

Kolia Morejón and Jorge Aspen
Kolia Morejón and Jorge Aspen

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fruit for the privileged

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

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

Translated by MLK

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Tragedy in Several Acts / Reinaldo Escobar

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

tuit-Guillermo-Farinas_CYMIMA20150413_0008_13

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

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

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

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

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

14ymedio bigger

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Barack Obama meets with Cuban activists before meeting with Raul Castro

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

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

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

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

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

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Raul Castro during his speech at the Summit of the Americas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mission Accomplished, General / 14ymedio, Miriam Celaya

A group of members of the official Cuban delegation will hold a protest at the entrance of the Civil Society Forum. (EFE / Alejandro Bolívar)
A group of members of the official Cuban delegation will hold a protest at the entrance of the Civil Society Forum. (EFE / Alejandro Bolívar)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, Panama, 9 April 2015 – Just as expected, April 8th was D-day for Castro’s troops in Panama, with the Forum of Civil Society in the framework of the Summit of the Americas. The physical and verbal aggression and the “revolutionary violence” unleashed in all its public display of barbarism before the astonished eyes of those who were involuntary witnesses of the shameful act, demonstrate how long the arm of the dictatorship of the Island is, and how disrespectful they are willing to be at international democratic venues.

It would have been naive to expect any other conduct, after preludes that foretold the climax. The Castro clan was initially flattered in its infinite vanity, after half a century of being expelled from the OAS, to have been one of the first invitees to the Americas’ Summit, only to have to swallow the bitter pill, soon after, of tolerating the independent civil society’s presence at the regional event. These are appropriate games of democracy, but a humiliation that the Antillean olive green caste was not willing to accept.

Now we were able to prove that it was not by happenstance that several activists of the Cuban independent civil society were harassed on our arrival at the Tocumen airport, some detained a relatively long time and interrogated, as if we were terrorists or criminals, by authorities that report directly to the Panamanian government. “We do not want disturbances or provocations at the Summit,” was the warning we received before allowing us to continue, and following that, a polite phrase that was almost cynical: “Welcome to Panama.” No doubt this is a peculiar sense of the hospitality and the official image this country is offering these occasional visitors. continue reading

It was no coincidence that several activists of the Cuban independent civil society were harassed upon our arrival at Tocumen airport

Later, there was an official apology issued by the Panamanian Foreign Ministry, but it was also learned that the Cuban regime’s troops of the “civil society” were not ill-treated or warned on their arrival. Perhaps that was why they immediately began to distribute, through the hotels hosting delegates from dozens of countries, printed leaflets containing the photographs and full names of various members of the Cuban dissidence, under the heading of “mercenaries.” A great number of the tabloids were placed on tables in the lobby of the hotel El Panama, where credentials were being processed, while other activists handed them out in the streets around the headquarters, where activities of the Summit would take place.

Thus, encouraged by the permission – the complicity, I should say – of the hosts and organizers of the Summit, the revolutionary low-lives who were further protected by the dozens of accreditations that were granted to them, felt free to create violent disturbances right in the meeting room, rudely attacking the scarce representatives of several independent organizations on the Island that had barely achieved accreditation from the Civil Society Forum on behalf of dozens of contenders who were denied the opportunity to participate.

Some public places were also the scenes of Castro mobs, sabotaging the democratic and civilized spirit that should have been expected from this hemispheric event.

It was a poor choice on the part of these guests to the democratic festivity, Messrs. hosts, and if such is the model of civility that we want to imitate in the region, a very bad effect. But worse are the results for the regime in Havana, whose objective was always to boycott the Summit and blow up the spaces for dialogue, but in attempting to demonstrate the supposed low aspect of its opposition, it ended up demonstrating its own, additionally granting its opponents the chance to show their moral superiority. Now the democrats in the region may be wondering about the stateless group who have sustained decades of peaceful struggle against the enormous machine of violence that has been brought to bear against them from the seat of power.

Worse yet are the results for the Havana regime, whose original purpose was always to boycott the Summit and blow up the spaces for dialogue

A great number of the delegates offered their solidarity to the Cuban civil society and commented to us about their bewilderment. “If this is the way it is in the midst of this forum and at a democratic venue, what must they be able to get away in Cuba,” commented a group of young people from several Latin American nations.

A somber sixty-something man shook his head disapprovingly: “This is not right … It is not proper … We cannot allow it,” he said, referring to the performance of Castro followers and supporters.

Our spontaneous embraces in the hotel lobby, to demonstrate support for each other among members of the independent civil society made a better impression than all the shouting and screaming of slogans of the crazed members of the regime. The aggression had only succeeded in uniting us beyond any differences.

It was also made clear that a dictatorship that has sustained itself on confrontation and belligerence, inside and outside its own geographical territory, would not be able to overcome the challenge posed by the open debate and arguments of its opponents. Weeks ago the General-President had already announced that “the true Cuban civil society would come to the Summit to defeat the stateless mercenaries at the service of the Empire,” thus demonstrating their absolute lack of political willingness to respect the diversity of ideas and alternative projects of the very Cubans on the Island.

Well then, General, your serfs – those same strident individuals who carry out your acts of repudiation, whose passports were confiscated as soon as they crossed the border into Panama in order to avoid inopportune desertions – withdrew from the Summit as soon as they fulfilled their wretched role. It did not matter that the Cuban State spent its people’s ever-scarce resources to finance documents, travel, accommodations, food, and a huge amount of printed pamphlets. Nothing will prevent the end of its empire of corruption and fear.

I can imagine how its “victorious” delegation will be welcomed when it returns to the ridiculed homeland. I can almost imagine the team leader, submissively bowing his prop epaulettes: “Mission accomplished, General.” And just the thought of such a degrading image overwhelms me with two conflicting feelings: compassion and contempt.

Translated by Norma Whiting

The Cuban government’s ‘civil society’ admits defeat and withdraws from the meeting with the heads of state / 14ymedio

The site of the closing of the Summit's Civil Society Forum (14ymedio)
The site of the closing of the Summit’s Civil Society Forum (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 10 April 2015 — In a “statement” published on the government website Cubadebate, the Cuban government’s “civil society delegation” announced today that it will not participate in the Friday afternoon meeting between the Civil Society Forum and the heads of state participating in the Summit of the Americas in Panama.

“We have taken this decision after collectively reflecting on the scenario that has been designed in the Civil Society Forum to force us to share with mercenaries paid from abroad for the purpose of subverting the political and social system of the country,” they explained in their statement.

US President Barack Obama will participate in this meeting, along with the presidents of Uruguay, Tabaré Vázquez, and Costa Rica, Luis Guillermo Solis. In addition, Obama is expected to talk with various leaders of civil society, although the White House has not detailed with whom. continue reading

The Cuban delegation adds that it has decided to retire after “mercenaries [received] the official invitation to enter the plenary this afternoon. Out of respect for the host President and other leaders, including President Obama, the delegation of the Authentic Cuban civil society has chosen not to participate in the referenced meeting.”

STATEMENT OF THE CUBAN GOVERNMENT’S DELEGATION TO THE FORUM OF CIVIL SOCIETY AND SOCIAL ACTORS OF THE VII SUMMIT OF THE AMERICAS

Our delegation has decided not to participate in the dialogue of civil society and social actors with governments scheduled for this afternoon.

We have taken this decision after collectively reflecting on the scenario that has been designed in the Civil Society Forum to force us to share with mercenaries paid from abroad for the purpose of subverting the political and social system of the country.

Particularly offensive has been the presence of individuals linked to terrorist as vile as Luis Posada Carriles and Felix Rodriguez Mendigutía. Since our arrival in Panama, we have repeatedly denounced, with documented evidence, the true identity of these alleged representatives of the Cuban people. We reject the press manipulation of our consistent performance and its intentional omission of the evidence we have presented.

The mercenaries have received the official invitation to enter the plenary this afternoon. Out of respect for the host President and other leaders, including President Obama, the delegation of authentic Cuban civil society has chosen not to participate in the referenced meeting.

We also want to express our rejection of any document that may arise without having been the result of the discussions that took place yesterday at the Citizen Participation and Democratic Governance Tables in the Crystal and Bella Vista Rooms.

The Summit from my TV / 14ymedio, Regina Coyula

Meeting of Foreign Ministers of the Americas during the Summit. (Summit of the Americas)
Meeting of Foreign Ministers of the Americas during the Summit. (Summit of the Americas)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Regina Coyula, Havana, 10 April 2105 – A clever strategy on the part of the Cuban government, with regards to the participation of the official civil society at the meeting associated with the Summit of the Americas, has been to present a delegation full of projects and good results from which they can look down on the newcomers from alternative civil society.

Cuban Television’s coverage – where the word ‘coverage’ is more akin to ‘cover up’ – identifies the official delegation, however, with objectives anchored in the era of the Cold War. They arrived in Panama with a fierce spirit and clear directions to not recognize independent civil society and to silence as much as possible its participation in the forum.

I don’t know if, after so much reading of the newspaper Granma, my granmar is so sharp that where others read patriotic indignation, I see lack of arguments; where they see maneuvers against Cuba, I interpret an intention to boycott the event. continue reading

Once more I had to hear how shamelessly the representatives of the most rancid ruling party dominate the nation, and believe they have the right to deprive it of those who don’t think like them, but rather have free will; and they also deprive me as I don’t feel represented by any of their institutions.

A special mention of the incident at the statue of José Martí. We Cubans should definitely make our devotion to Martí a private matter and not a political wildcard, a moratorium should be established on the public use of Martí so as to be able to put him in his proper place. But aside from the buffeting this giant of a Cuban has been subjected to, I feel ashamed for others. A friend country hosts an event with global resonance and “our true civil society” choses every way possible to express their outrage through violence and rabble-rousing.

Statements by some of the delegates of this civil society make it clear that they prefer dialogue with the “enemy of the North that despises us,” over that with their next door neighbors in Cuba

 Statements by some of the delegates of this civil society make it clear that they prefer dialog with “the enemy from the North that despises us,” over that with their next door neighbors in Cuba, with whom they may have profound differences with whom they share a territory and an identity card.

I do not know how international public opinion will treat these painful events, but within our dis-informed country the result has been a success. To my neighbor Tomás, Cubans not included in the official delegation are nothing more than terrorists and mercenaries. Both repeat a lie until it becomes a truth for the purposes of propaganda, and great has been the use of both adjectives in the last three days. Nor do I believe that this escalation of insults will be the prelude to a kind of cultural revolution of the young Talibans, as a friend fearfully expressed to me. The Government doesn’t need experiments with more surprises than certainties.

On writing these notes I don’t have the least idea how things are going indoors, but the image of the official Cuban delegation – and this is an impression formed exclusively by watching television – is one that even the most moderate international observers could confirm, with this presence in Panama of Cubans of a different nature, the lack of democracy in our country.

Cuba invites America’s entrepreneurs to do business together / 14ymedio

Rodrigo Malmierca, Cuba's Minister of Foreign Trade, speaks at a Business Forum at the Americas Summit. (Twitter)
Rodrigo Malmierca, Cuba’s Minister of Foreign Trade, speaks at a Business Forum at the Americas Summit. (Twitter)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Panama, 10 April 2015 – This Thursday Cuba offered itself as a safe destination for foreign investment and invited the business leaders of America, meeting in Panama, to visit the island “to make progress toward establishing mutually beneficial businesses.”

Rodrigo Malmierca, Cuban Minister of Foreign Trade and Investment also said, in statements to reporters, that “the policy of the [US] blockade goes against not only Cuba and the Cuban people, but also the will of businesspeople in the United States.”

In a speech to businesspeople participating in the CEO Summit of the Americas, Malmierca spoke of “great expectations” produced by last December’s announcement, the beginning of a process of normalization of relations between Washington and Havana. continue reading

“The measures adopted [by the US] on Cuba in January, which modify certain aspects of the embargo, although limited, are a step in the right direction. But it must not be forgotten that (…) the blockade remains in force,” he said.

He stressed that “in recent months” Cuba has “received important delegations of [US] businesspeople and politicians, who have confirmed their interest in developing businesses with Cuban entities.”

“We are witnessing a new phase of the inclusion of Cuba on the international economic stage”

In Cuba “We do not limit nor discriminate against US companies, so that opportunities” for business and investment offered by the Island in sectors such as food, renewable energy, oil exploration, pharmaceuticals and biotechnology “are also open (to the USA),” he added.

“Today we can say that we are witnessing a new phase of the inclusion of Cuba on the international economic stage, which introduces opportunities for trade and investment,” Malmierca told the business leaders

The Cuban minister said that in this “new phase” the government of Raul Castro extended its “vision of the role of foreign investment, recognizing it as an active and essential element for the growth of certain sectors and economic activities.”

The Cuban government estimates that it needs about “2,500 billion annually in foreign investment to stimulate a growth that will lead to developing prosperity and sustainability” of the “socialist” project, he said.

Malmierca pointed out that Cuba, in addition to the “guarantees and incentives” established in a new law, “makes available” to foreign capital attractions such as scientific potential, the availability of a skilled workforce with expertise in high technology, and a privileged geographic location, among other assets.

The government needs “about 2.5 billion annually in investment to stimulate growth to sustain the socialist project”

“The Cuban market, although it is not a large economy, has an important weight in the Caribbean (…), which together with other aspects (…) translates into new opportunities to expand trade with Cuba and its role in intraregional trade,” he said.

He added that Cuba has outlined a program of long-term development that leads the country’s efforts for the building of a socialist society to bring further benefits to all Cubans.

“We are convinced that the countries of the region will accompany Cuba in these efforts,” he said.

The Second CEO Summit of the Americas is one of four official forums previous to the Seventh Summit of the Americas at which, on Friday and Saturday, the 35 countries of the continent will meet for the first time.

One of the most anticipated moments of the continental meeting is the greeting between the American president Barack Obama and the Cuban president Raul Castro.

The business event has generated a document with recommendations that will be presented to heads of state and government attendees of the hemispheric summit.

A North Korean ship coming from Cuba detained in Mexico / 14ymedio

The North Korean ship Mu Du Bong. (John Wrightson / Marinetraffic)
The North Korean ship Mu Du Bong. (John Wrightson / Marinetraffic)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 9 April 2015 — The North Korean ship Mu Du Bong and its crew are being detained in the port of Tuxpan, Mexico, as confirmed Wednesday by the Mexican Mission to the United Nations. The whip coming from Cuba ran aground on a reef, causing serious environmental damage to a protected natural area. According to the UN, the company owning the vessel is included on a list of sanctioned companies.

North Korea has accused Mexico of illegally retaining the vessel with 50 people on board and announced that it will take the necessary steps to release the vessel.

The ship was traveling with a crew of 33 North Korean nationals, according to data provided by the Mexican government. The workers are in good physical, moral and psychological condition, according to the Mexican embassy, with complete freedom of movement and will be repatriated in cooperation with the Embassy of North Korea. The vessel, however, will remain in Mexico while the investigation continues.