Google Chairman Visits Cuba / 14ymedio

Google_CYMIMA20140628_0007_16
The purpose of the visit is “to promote the virtues of a free and open Internet”

14ymedio, Havana, 28 June 2014 – For two days several representatives of the giant Google, including its executive chairman, paid an official visit to Cuba. With the objective “to promote the virtues of a free and open Internet,” four well-known faces of the American company held meetings with the official sector and also with the alternative scene dedicated to technology and the digital world.

Jared Cohen, Brett Perlmutter, Dan Keyserling and Eric Schmidt – the latter Google’s executive chairman – met with young people at the polytechnic schools, and this Saturday they toured the University of Information Sciences (UCI). On Friday night they also contacted the editors and reporters of our digital daily 14ymedio.

The visit took months of preparation and was the first time a representative of Google had come to Havana to talk about technology and access to the Internet. In 2013, Eric Schmidt mentioned his desire to visit the Island in an interview with The Wall Street Journal. At that time he said he would like to visit the Island to promote the free flow of thought via the Internet and noted that Cuba was “at the top of the list” of his priorities.

During the official program, the visitors were able to see the desire of young people for more open access to the web. They also felt encouraged by the technological and computer science potential on the Island, although it is very limited right now because of problems with Internet connectivity.

In 2011, a fiber optic cable was installed between Cuba and Venezuela to facilitate access to the Internet. Three years after the cable installation was completed there is still no home access to the world wide web and one hour’s connection from a public place costs a third of a month’s salary.

The hope of many Cubans lies in the possibilities of connecting through Google’s balloon-based Project Loon, which will bring the Internet to several areas of the planet. However, the installation of these balloons must be approved and authorized by local authorities, a difficult hurdle in the case of Cuba.

Google Comes to Havana! / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

Google_CYMIMA20140628_0010_18Yoani Sánchez, Havana, 28 June 2014 – Have you ever tried to explain Google to someone who doesn’t know what it is? This happened to me a few days ago with a neighbor girl, barely 10, who asked me, “What’s a search engine?” I didn’t want to get deep into technology so I didn’t tell her anything about the algorithm these services use to organize information, nor did I talk about the “spiders” that travel the entire web to search sites, and much less of the race for positions on their lists, which obsesses so many. Instead, I explained it to her with a reference she could understand: “Google is like the magic mirror in fairy tales. You can ask it what you want and it will give you thousands of possible answers.”

Last night, Google knocked on our door. This isn’t a metaphor, the searcher came to find us. There were several representatives of the most popular of the search engines, peering into our lives and work. Faced with them, we couldn’t resort to so-called text tags, “keywords” and strict page ranks. These were human being, giving big hugs, laughing and curiously exploring the home of our technological inventions and our hairless dog. Jared Cohen, Brett Perlmutter and Dan Keyserling cheerfully climbed to the fourteenth floor of our building and shared with us our journalistic endeavor lacking in Internet, but with a strong commitment to today’s Cuban reality.

I asked if they had connected to the web from any public place. “Slow, very slow”… they explained. Then we started talking about the future, their commitment to Cuban internauts, and the relief of knowing they were aware of the information difficulties we are facing on the island. Before that we had talked with Eric Schmidt and understood that something of the sharpness of his eyes and the certainty of his words could already be guessed in the simple wisdom of Google’s homepage.

It was a technological night without technology. No one took out their cellphones to check the web – it’s not possible in Cuba – and it didn’t occur to anyone to show us the latest doodle, nor to tell us in figures the scale of the company in which they work. We had the immense good fortune of standing in front of the magic mirror, but we didn’t ask questions nor did we want answers, we just described who we are and where we are going.

Human Rights Watch Urges the Union of South American Nations (Unasur) To Respond To Venezuelan Abuses / 14ymedio

New York | June 26, 2014 — The organization Human Rights Watch, in a letter to the foreign ministers of several Latin American nations, today called on the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) “to urge the Venezuelan government to immediately address the grave human rights situation in the country.”

The letter is the corollary to a report by the organization titled “Punished for Protesting: Human Rights Violations in the Streets, Detention Centers, and Justice System of Venezuela,” about the situation in the South American country since the start of the demonstrations on February 12.

“While various international organizations, including human rights rapporteurs of the United Nations and the European Parliament, have expressed concern about human rights violations in Venezuela, UNASUR has not condemned the serious abuses committed by Venezuelan state agents,” said the letter from José Miguel Vivanco, Director for the Americas at Human Rights Watch. continue reading

The letter was sent to foreign ministers Héctor Timerman of Argentina, Luiz Alberto Figueiredo Machado of Brazil, Heraldo Muñoz of Chile; Maria Angela Holguin of Colombia, Ricardo Patino of Ecuador; Gonzalo Gutierrez Reinel of Peru, and Luis Almagro of Uruguay.

Citing “the absence of an independent judiciary in Venezuela that can curb government abuses . . .” the letter “urges the Administration of (President Nicolas) Maduro to protect the rights of the protesters,” referring to the UNASUR Constitutional Treaty of 2008.

The treaty provides that “the founding of the South American union is based on the guiding principles of democracy, citizen participation and pluralism, (and) universal, indivisible, and interdependent human rights,” the letter recalled from the organization in defense of human rights.

In its report, Human Rights Watch highlights abuses that occurred during demonstrations in Venezuela and documents how the National Guard, the Bolivarian National Police, and state police forces have “routinely applied illegitimate force against unarmed protesters and even bystanders.”

According to the organization, some of the attacks carried out by Venezuelan security forces included “severe beatings and the indiscriminate discharge of firearms, shotguns, and tear gas into crowds.”

The report also notes that “in many cases, detainees were held incommunicado at military bases for 48 hours or longer before being brought before a judge,” and that during that time suffered mistreatment that “clearly constituted torture.”

“Venezuela has responded to protests by resorting to excessive use of force, and judicial officials have been complicit in abuses committed by members of the security forces. Dialogue is now stagnant, and the intervention of UNASUR has not led to concrete results to improve the human rights situation in the country,” asserts Human Rights Watch.

They add that the abuses have gone beyond citizens to affect “journalists and others who photographed and filmed the repression,” the report concludes.

The document notes that President Maduro and the Venezuelan Attorney General, Luisa Ortega Díaz, have recognized that members of the security forces committed human rights violations, and have publicly undertaken to investigate these cases, but Human Rights Watch believes that “there is reason to doubt the credibility of these investigations.”

Translated by Tomás A.

I Am Nothing Else But Cuban / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Carlos Alberto Montaner

Carlos Alberto Montaner. 14ymedio
Carlos Alberto Montaner. 14ymedio

Interview with Carlos Alberto Montaner, writer, journalist and political

REINALDO ESCOBAR, Havana, 24 June 2014 — Carlos Alberto Montaner has long been a kind of black beast in the official Cuban government propaganda. Accused of being a terrorist, a CIA agent, an eminence gris in the world counterrevolution, in real life he is an academic and journalist who has been involved in politics without losing his vocation as a writer. In his home in Miami, in front of a window where the bipolar horizon is divided between Cuba and Florida, he responds to 14ymedio’s questions.

Question: You’ve had four passions: teaching, journalism, politics and literature. You’ve alternated between them, although at times some have predominated over others. Will it continue this way?

Answer: For four years I was a professor at a university in Puerto Rico, I enjoyed what I did. I’ve always enjoyed teaching, lecturing, giving classes. But I continue to do journalism, I haven’t renounced politics, and more and more I want to write novels.

Question: Journalism has many dilemmas: fulfill a political assignment, please the readers as if information were one more commodity, and make a commitment to the truth. How do you decide?

Answer: This is greatly debated today. In the United States they want to turn journalists into an objective machine, without a heart or compassion, that can’t make moral judgments, because that’s supposedly discredited. I think that’s a mistake. In these different lives that one has for the different occupations, there are many responsibilities: you have to take care of your family, there is a professional responsibility, and there is a civic responsibility to the wider society in which you live, and this requires making decisions of a moral character which are sometimes at odds with journalism’s too narrow criteria. continue reading

Question: But in any event you have to please the readers?

Answer: The journalist is obliged to interpret what society wants. If you don’t become a person able to summarize and argue what society suspects, then you aren’t going to connect with society, with the readers. One thing I’ve learned over the years is that most people who read you are looking for corroboration of their opinions, the coherent organization of their opinions.

When you’ve managed to bring people’s emotions and beliefs to a comprehensible language, then you’ve become a successful journalist. Authoritarian elements lie when they say that journalists represent the interests of the owners. That’s not true. For the media to function it has to represent the opinions and interests of its readers, to be a spokesperson for a sector of society.

The massacres of Fidel Castro’s early days were repugnant to me and gave me the impression of a detestable person

Question: Were you born a liberal, have you always been a liberal, will you die a liberal?

Answer: I’ve had my evolution. For a very short time I was a revolutionary boy who believed in the Revolution, but almost immediately the massacres of Fidel Castro’s early days were repugnant to me and gave me the impression of a detestable person. No one who talks so many hours straight can be a reliable person at all. Later I felt like a social democrat. That lasted longer. The first lecture I gave I was very young, 18 or 19, it was about the supposed falsity of this affirmation that “the State was a bad administrator.” I had a period until the seventies when I thought the social democratic solution would be better.

When I moved to Spain the in 70s and lived the change intensely and approached the Spanish liberal groups, I discovered something that no one in Cuba knew, that was liberal thinking. It was the time when the triumph of Keynesian ideas, social democracy and all that, were sold.

Question: Do you think that it’s a false dilemma between social justice and freedom?

Answer: There is always a time when we must make decisions confronting this dilemma, but to begin, it’s very difficult for me today to accept that idea that there is an abstract thing that is social justice. I don’t know what that is, and I don’t know because in reality no one knows what that is. There are suppositions that a certain number of benefits correspond to a certain number of people and that there are some officials who arbitrarily are those who know what those benefits are and to whom they’re assigned, and on top of that these officials make decisions in this direction and what they do are atrocities and destroy the possibility of creating wealth.

So, that said, what’s important is that everyone has equal opportunities to compete, and that everyone has the opportunity to study and the best possible health. You can’t ask a malnourished child who comes from a very poor home to compete when his possibilities are limited compared to others. We have to create the conditions where people can achieve their dreams and pursue their objectives, which also change with the evolution of one’s live. Everyone has his projects. There are those who want to be a philosopher, and there are those who want to be an entrepreneur. Nobody has the right to decide what is best for others.

That’s one of the great atrocities of socialism: the existence of a political elite who are the ones who know what happiness is, what should be the price of things, what we should consume, what we should study, what work we should do. Freedom consists precisely of this, the power to make decisions. The more decisions you can make, the freer you are.

I’m interested in participating in whatever change process there is in Cuba, but I believe that (this) process must be in the hands of the young people inside Cuba

Question: All signs indicate that from now on you are going to dedicate more time to literature than to politics. Is this true?

Answer: Literature, writing books of fiction, is an activity more appropriate for seniors than is politics, which is an activity for much younger people.

Question: Does that mean you’ve given up politics?

Answer: No, I never gave up politics in the same way that I never chose it. The political vocation comes naturally. I have a political vocation and I’m interested in participating in whatever change process there is in Cuba, but I believe that any process of this kind must be in the hands of the young people inside Cuba.

Question: You have a clear formulation of the kind of journalist and politician you want to be. Have you defined your style as a novelist?

Answer: I think the language should be used to the benefit of the reader. I don’t believe in baroque literature nor in the value of the phrase that isn’t understood. Gongorism has never interested me. Lezama Lima seems to me to be a very respectable figure, but his writing doesn’t interest me, and I mention this as a paradigm of the kind of literature that takes its quality and academic and literary range as a consequence of its difficulty. What’s important to me is the ability to say things in an elegant, creative but transparent way, with regards to form.

Then there are the technical aspects of the use of grammatical persons, the use precise adjectives, in short, the management of the language. I have published five novels, I have started a sixth. In the first. Perro mundo (Dog World), I related something I experienced and that is basically the story of people who are faced with a terrible choice: either submit or die. There is a character who decides to die rather than submit because his unique ability to act as a human being is to say no, to refuse what they want to impose on him, because to accept it would make him an animal.

From there what has interested me is to tell stories with fictional characters placed in realistic scenarios. La trama (The Plot) plays with the story of the bombing of the Maine, the battleship that exploded in Havana Bay and prompted the intervention of the United States in the War of Independence.

Julio Lobo, the Cuban sugar magnate who collected curious objects and documents – among them the act of the independence of Chile and things like that – had a sworn statement from a group of anarchists in the early twentieth century where they claimed that they were the ones who carried out the explosion. From this data I construct that story, how it was that some anarchists blew up the Maine in April 1898. I use the framework of how they anarchists worked in the U.S. and from there developed the plot.

Years passed dedicated to political and business activities, I picked up the novel again with La mujer del coronel (The Colonel’s Wife), a true story where there was an element of personal challenge. I wanted to explore what is most difficult, which is erotic language, difficult because when people take off their clothes they say things that aren’t very literary and that can be taken as obscene. You move between kitsch and vulgarity. In this case there were two elements, I wanted to tell the story of what seems to me the worst horror of the Cuban Revolution is the affective control of individuals. To decide who you can love and who you can’t, and to punish you when you part from what they believe.

When the government decided in the early 60s that whose who stayed in Cuba shouldn’t have relations with family members who left the country, this was a terrible crime. To give the order that you can’t love your mother, a brother, your friends, this is terrible. I had had that experience in Puerto Rico when a delegation of Cuban athletes came under the direction of José Llanusa, the director of the National Institute of Sports, Physical Education and Recreation, who has been my friend and my basketball coach.

The mother of this man, who became the Minister of Education in Cuba, had been exiled to Puerto Rico and as she was gravely ill she wanted to see her son before she died. But he decided he wouldn’t go see her because he preferred to behave as a revolutionary. This desire to pretend to become the master of human emotions, against which I have always rebelled, is what I wanted to relate in the story of this man, a senior army officer whom they ordered to separate from his wife because there was evidence that she had been unfaithful.

I’d love to have coffee with you at 14ymedio’s offices (but) I think I’ll die without returning to Cuba

The fourth novel is Otra vez adíos (Goodbye Again), which is my favorite. I read once that every ten years Freud arranged to have a portrait done, and this is the story of Freud’s portrait painter, who was Jewish, who had to flee Germany and ended up in Cuba. He ends up having to say goodbye again when the Cuban Revolution comes and he goes to New York.

Tiempo de canallas, which owes a debt to Otra vez adiós, is out of print. It has a chapter about the Cold War, which relates how an anti-communist front was formed on the island with Salvador de Maradiaga and Julian Gorqueno who, in Cuba, counted on Raul Roa. It was the era when Havana celebrated the Congress for Cultural Freedom. I realized that this story of the Battle of Ideas between the Soviet Union and the United States was so extraordinary that it deserved to be addressed as a separate subject in another book.

Tiempo de canallas, is a political thriller set in the time when the Central Intelligence Agency was created. It narrates the nature of those world peace congresses that rested on the propaganda concept with a binary structure where there were good communists and evil capitalists… but it doesn’t tell more because it’s a thriller.

Question. Would you like to go back to Cuba?

Answer. Yes, I would. I am nothing other than Cuban, although I have two other nationalities, the Spanish and American. I left the island at 18 and now I’m 71. I would like to participate in the reconstruction of Cuba, I’d love to have coffee with you at 14ymedio’s offices, stroll through the places of my childhood or the ruins of the places of my childhood. I grew up on Tejadillo street in Old Havana, it was a nice place where you could hear the bells of the Cathedral…

Question. Do you think that will be possible?

Answer. No. I think I will die without returning to Cuba.

14ymedio As Viewed by the International Press / 14ymedio

How the worldwide media reported on the birth of this newspaper and its subsequent censorship on the island

14ymedio, June 21, 2014

Hours before 14ymedio was born, the Spanish newspaper El Mundo published a column by Gina Montaner, “14ymedio’ against ’55ymedio” contrasting the name of our yet unborn daily with the long years that the island lived submerged not only in a lack of information, but also under institutionalized disinformation. Montaner emphasized one of the challenges to the Cuban press, so different from those faced by the international media: “In Cuba everything is up for grabs and the real revolution—the technological one accompanied by freedom of expression—is one of the great challenges of the post-Castro period.” The Cuban journalist added: “If Cubans get access to ‘14ymedio’, it will be a breath of fresh air compared to the nauseating ‘Battle of ldeas’ of the government media.”

A few minutes after 8 a.m. Cuban time this past May 21st, 14ymedio was visible in all the countries of the world. But on the island it could only be seen for a little over an hour. Then, our website was diverted to another address where they tried to discredit the director of 14ymedio. continue reading

The international press reported this blockage. The prestigious American newspaper The Wall Street Journal ran a headline on the 22nd, “ Cuban Dissident Starts Website, Which Is Promptly Hacked.” “Cuba’s government explicitly bars any printed material that it interprets as a threat, so there are no independent newspapers,” noted the newspaper. But despite the lack of internet access in the island, said the writer, the new website “poses a direct challenge to the Cuban regime’s almost total control of information.”

A day after the 14ymedio blockade the Inter-American Press Association (SIP) issued a statement denouncing the situation, which was reproduced by several outlets, including El Nuevo Herald. “While the measure is not surprising, the world expected more tolerance from the government of Raul Castro, considering his efforts to show a more positive, more open image in order to garner more respect from the international community,” it said in a statement setting out the SIP’s views on freedom of expression.

The blockade was lifted briefly on May 24, the day of the publication of a long commentary in the newspaper Granma, which denounced the “project of the counterrevolutionary blogger Yoani Sánchez to create a digital media outlet.” Several international media outlets reproduced 14ymedio’s tweet encouraging Cubans to “read us before the next blockage,” which indeed occurred a few days later. Since then Cubans have had to go back to this newspaper by anonymous proxies that hide the IP of the computer, to prevent the identification of the source of the connection.

On June 2nd the Nuevo Herald of Miami spotlighted the “battle against censorship” in a series dedicated to 14ymedio. Further from our borders, various European media announced the birth of 14ymedio: the British BBC; El Pais in Spain (which published a report last May 22 titled “Birth of the free press in Cuba” and on June 15 interviewed its director); and La Repubblica in Italy, among others. The leading French newspaper, Le Monde, also ran a note to explain the blockade suffered on the island. The title it chose, “Cuba: le premier média numérique bloqué independant dès are lancement” (“Cuba’s first independent online newspaper blocked at its release”), angered some of the independent publications that came before, but from the outset 14ymedio has acknowledged the work of its predecessors.

In Mexico, the daily La Razon devoted considerable space to 14ymedio, reprinting an article most representative of the its writing as part of a piece titled “They Have Resources for a Year and 11 Journalists.” “The editorial staff is composed of 11 persons including Yoani and her husband, Reinaldo Escobar, a journalist with extensive experience, who worked with the official press, but left 30 years ago. Other team members are young Cubans, mostly under 30 years old,” said the newspaper, which also republished the first story run in 14ymedio, “Red Dawn: Havana is Killing Out There.”

Translated by Tomás A.

The Modest Growth of the Cuban Economy Falls Short of Expectations / 14ymedio

14ymedio, Havana | June 23, 2014 — The Cuban economy is growing at a rate slower than the official forecasts, according to data announced by the Minister of Economy and Planning, Adel Yzquierdo Rodriguez. He said that during the first half of this year the GDP (Gross Domestic Product) will increase by just 0.6%, but will improve during the following months to an increase of 1.4% by the end of the year. However, independent analysts question these expectations and believe they are not a realistic reflection of the state of the economy.

The Cabinet last Saturday presented details about “the difficulties that continue to damage the Cuban economy.” Rodriguez blamed the failure of the Plan’s objectives on the “adverse weather conditions” and “the complex international situation.”

The Minister of Finance and Prices, Lina Pedraza Rodriguez, noted a substantial drop in productivity in 124 companies, which had planned a positive balance but ultimately had losses.

At the meeting, the ministers also addressed the issue of monetary unification. The head of the Permanent Commission for Implementation and Development, Marino Murillo Jorge, explained that this measure “will not by itself solve all the problems of the economy,” but requires the implementation of other policies aimed at increasing the efficiency and level of productivity of labor.

In addition, the officials said that, at the end of May, around 467,000 people were self-employed, but they have not provided any statistics on the high number of the self-employed who have ceased their activities.

Translated by Tomás A.

“Casting” for Employment/ 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

Yoani Sánchez, Havana, 25 June 2014 – Eugenia lost her job of thirty years in an office of the Ministry of Transport. She was left “available,” according to the declaration of her bosses, before they offered her a job as a bricklayer. Reluctant to lay bricks and mix mortar, she launched herself on the private market to see what she could find. Her possibilities were few. She doesn’t speak any other languages, she’s never touched a computer, and she doesn’t have the “good looks” of youth.

A friend signed her up on a digital site to look for work. “We don’t accept people with dentures,” said the first interviewer when she went for a job cleaning a house rented to foreigners. The owner of the place wanted “a clean woman who doesn’t talk very much, doesn’t smoke and looks strong.” She hired someone else and Eugenia decided to invest in her physique.

She dyed her hair, bought new shoes, and made the rounds of several cafes and restaurants in Central Havana. Over fifty, almost all the places responded the same, “we already have people in the kitchen and you won’t do for a waitress.” Eugenia noticed that behind the bars or waiting tables in the new privately run places there are almost always young thin women with prominent busts. continue reading

“You are from Havana, right?” she was asked at a place where they contracted with people to wash and iron. Eugenia was born in Holguin and spent nearly her entire life in the Cuban capital, but the owner of the laundry said she wouldn’t do. “We want Havana people, so there will be no problems with relatives who come and want to stay in the house.”

A neighbor told her about another possibility, caring for an old man. He was retired military and could barely get around in a wheel chair. “You can’t say anything bad about the Revolution in front of him,” warned the children of the old man, who had to feed him, change his clothes and read him the Granma newspaper. In the end, Eugenia also failed to get that job.

For a few days she managed to care for a child, but it was only a week because, “if you can’t sing and don’t know any children’s games my son gets bored,” the mother of the little boy told her. Eugenia only knows how to fill out forms, attach stamps, and nod her head affirmatively during the long meetings that were held at her company. She can’t compete in today’s job market.

Yesterday she heard about a job scrubbing in a private restaurant. “You can’t leave the kitchen during work hours,” the cook told her. “It’s better if the customers don’t see you,” he repeated, before confirming that she was “on a trial basis.”

Antunez Under Cautionary Injunction / 14ymedio

14ymedio, Placetas | June 22, 2014 — The activist Jorge Luis Garcia Perez, known as Antúnez, was released last Friday with an injunction that prevents him from leaving the municipality of Placetas without permission. His arrest last Sunday at 10:30 p.m. generated many expressions of concern and solidarity from the Cuban dissident community.

The activist must answer in court for an alleged crime of “public disorder,” for which a file was opened in preparatory phase, case number 651 2014. Initially Antúnez was threatened with being charged with “contempt for the figure of Fidel Castro,” but that charge was later discarded.

If he fails to obey the injunction Antunez could be imprisoned. His current legal situation also prevents him from traveling outside Cuba.

Translated by Tomás A.

Outrage and Confusion Over Silvio Rodriguez’s Statements / 14ymedio

Silvio Rodriguez in concert in 2011
Silvio Rodriguez in concert in 2011

The unusual statements of the singer-songwriter Silvio Rodriguez on the official website Cubadebate have provoked a stir on the web, where the habitual defender of the regime is the object of severe criticism. The person who was the greatest exponent of the Cuban Nueva Trova gave an extensive interview to Cubadebate in which he claimed that during his travels around the neighborhoods of the Island he learned that people in Cuba are “fucked, really fucked, much more fucked than I thought.” And he admitted to having “a much more comfortable life than the vast majority of Cubans.”

A 14ymedio reader commented that, “From his permanent residence in El Vedado [in Havana] and his vacation mansion on Jibacoa beach in Santa Cruz del Norte where he has a view of the sea from a high mountain, it’s clear that he can’t make out the hardships of the people.” This opinion coincided with the those of many who accuse the singer of cynicism and wonder how it is possible that he hasn’t realized that “more than fifty years have passed and the Government is still the same people.” continue reading

Another group of readers point to the possibility that Silvio Rodriguez wants to distance himself from the regime, “now that he knows the end of the dictatorship is imminent, there will be a settling of accounts and he’s trying to clean [up his act].” One of the comments posted on 14ymedio suggests that he maintains his “position as a communist,” because “the chameleons (…) no one respects them, neither one side or the other.”

Anger with Rodriguez is apparent even among the public on the official website, which published their statements. “The worst of all is that those who have lived and do live in that glass bubble without ever rubbing shoulders with those below, are those who run everything, control everything, and make the most important decisions in the names of the those below without consulting anyone and without the ability to see the reality…” laments a Cubadebate reader.

The statements of Silvio Rodriguez, who was a deputy of the National Assembly of People’s Power of Cuba for 15 years and who contributed with his music and his international fame as a singer for the Revolution, has been one of the most read pieces of news on 14ymedio in the first month of its life, and has nearly 4,000 hits on Facebook, one of the highest of the page.

Ah “Maria”! / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

Yoani Sanchez, HAVANA | 20 June 2014 – Livio went on a trip and left his friends in charge of the most precious thing in his life. It wasn’t a child, or a pet, or even one of those home appliances so idolized in Cuba. The “apple of his eye” was a marijuana bush, grown, watered and ready to be made into the first cigarettes. Oblivious to the care such a plant requires, the astonished “babysitters” chose to put it behind the glass of a window, away from the eyes of neighbors and potential informers. It survived, but on returning from abroad its owner swore he would never again leave his precious crop in the hands of neophytes.

This is not an isolated case. Marijuana — which we also call “María” — is a familiar presence in the life of any Cuban. Although the media does not talk about it, it doesn’t need advertising to be popular. It is smelled at parties, seen in the air at some public concerts, and detected in the half-closed eyes of more than a few who appear on national television itself. It is a fact, it is here, and not only through the “bales” that come in along the coasts—according the official press bad things always come from outside—but also as a “made in Cuba” product, with the flavor of red earth grown among the palm trees or in the fields of marabou weed. continue reading

Havana’s musical scene knows its cousin “María” very well. Some can’t imagine the act of composition without this eternal friend who “whispers the lyrics in my ear.” The parents of those “hooked” are relieved, thinking that at least it’s not cocaine. “Softer, more therapeutic, happier,” they say to comfort themselves. However, behind this apparent social acceptance of the herb is hidden a debate too-long delayed. Legalize or penalize? That’s the dilemma. A question that simply asking publicly puts you on the side of the enemy.

Those very old men who govern us… have prevented discussions of modernity. I want to live in a society that questions the therapeutic use or the strict prohibition of “María.” I dream of living in a country where my son, age 19, can participate, in turn, in the social debate about whether to legalize or penalize the herb that Livio cares for almost with devotion.

Not speaking of marijuana doesn’t uproot it from our land. Looking away doesn’t prevent thousands of cigarettes made from its leaves ending up between the lips of your children, my children, the children of others. Why don’t we set aside so much prudery and start talking about what we’re going to do with it? With its serrated leaves, so slender and striking… that right now are growing on countless terraces and in gardens and water tanks converted into planting beds all over this Island.

Let’s see if we can stop “smoking” the cigarette of indifference and talk… about what we need to talk about.

“Bullying” in Cuba? / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

14ymedio, Yoani Sánchez, Havana | 20 June 2014 – Damaris is almost forty and has several scars on her face. They were made by a 5th grade classmate with a hair clip. They were in the middle of class and a dispute over the ownership of a pen led the opponent to scream, “I’ll be waiting for you at four-thirty!” This is the worst threat a student can receive in a Cuban elementary school. The phrase lets you know that when school gets out strength and supremacy will be proved with fists or fingernails.

For Yosniel it was worse. He jumped from a water tank at the People’s Republic of Romania High School, after months of ridicule about the size of his head from his classmates in the dorm. He fell on concrete and no effort at resuscitation was able to save him. The next day, during the funeral, the very students who had ridiculed him offered their condolences to the bereaved family in the impoverished Romerillo neighborhood.

However, the problem touches both the poor and the better-off. The cold metal of a knife pierced the heart of Adrian, also a high school boarding student, because another student, stronger than he, decided he wanted his Converse sneakers. The parents of the dead boy were in the military, but even so they could not understand how the schools that were supposed to form the “New Man” could end up functioning with the same bullying as in prisons. continue reading

Cecilia, meanwhile, was always one of the ones who hit… not one of those who was hit. She would choose which uniform skirt she wanted, searching the lockers of the weaker and smaller students. One day she met her match in a skinny little gap-toothed girl who – with a knife improvised from a hacksaw blade – slit her face from ear to ear.

Abuse at school, bullying, is an issue that is rarely discussed in the national media, but it affects hundreds, even thousands, of students across the country. Among the most alarming characteristics of this problem is the complicity or indifference on the part of the teachers. Often the teachers support “these tough guys and girls” in order to control the rest of the students. The result is an institutional validation of a structure of bravado and abuse.

How can it be reported? No one knows. There is no telephone number that a student victim of bullying can call. There is no Ministry of Education circular protecting the victims in these cases. The parents usually respond to their children’s complaints of abuse with “hit him harder” or “show them who you are.” The teachers don’t want to get in the middle of a dispute and many school directors respond defensively, “You can imagine, I no longer know what to do with this boy.”

The truth is that the drama of school abuse is not reported, debated, questioned… meanwhile, the many Cecilias who are out there continue taking smaller children’s uniforms, cutting classmate’s faces with a blade, or mocking – to the point of suicide – the head size of another.

What’s Happening Today in Angola? / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

14ymedio, Yoani Sánchez, Havana | June 18, 2014 — He has been in power 35 years, he’s the father of the richest woman in Africa, and he has created in Angola one of the most corrupt regimes in the world. His name is Jose Eduardo dos Santos, and he’s visiting Cuba, which helped him to win a war that cost more than two thousand Cuban lives.

Yesterday afternoon the leader of the People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) arrived in our country, and the government received him as a fellow traveler. A long and bloody military conflict was fought on his territory beginning in 1975, in which more than 377,000 Cuban soldiers participated as well as some 50,000 Cuban civilians. Despite such prolonged and intense contact between the two nations, few on the Island are informed about the situation of this “liberated land” today.

Dos Santos has held the presidency in an authoritarian form, concentrating in his own hands the powers of the president and prime minister, as well as controlling parliament, the judicial system, and the main political party of that African nation. In 2010 a new Constitution was adopted which ended the division of powers and confirmed the president as supreme commander of the armed forces and as the figure who determines the composition of the Supreme Court. continue reading

Angola is torn between the greatest contrasts and the worst tragedies. The misappropriation of public funds and the diversion of state resources are common practices that have allowed many to enrich themselves. The country’s main sources of wealth have become its major sources of problems. Oil, diamonds and uranium, added to its reserves of gold, iron and bauxite, have fueled an entire legion of the corrupt, sheltered under Dos Santos.

Diarrheal diseases, typhoid fever, malaria, tuberculosis and sleeping sickness are rife among the Angolan people, putting the nation on the list of countries at “high risk” with regards to health. Currently, more than four thousand Cubans are serving “missions” in its territory, in areas such as education, construction and healthcare, but this represents barely a drop in the ocean of needs.

HIV also preys on Angolans. Official figures admit to only some 200,000 cases of people suffering from the virus, but its enough to walk the streets and villages to realize the high social impact of this scourge. The mistreatement of women, child slavery, and constant sexual crimes also have a high incidence. Cocaine trafficking and the sale of human beings into servitude are lucrative businesses.

As if this picture weren’t enough, Angola has worrying indices of human rights violations. Limitations on freedom of association and assembly are some of the rights violated, which coincides with the identical practices carried out by the “friendly government” of the Plaza of the Revolution.

However, alarming indicators with regards to health and repression do not deter many Cubans from taking the Angolan route. This time they will fight not in the trenches, but as employees in clinics, businesses and schools. In the African country they receive economic remuneration superior to the low salaries on the Island. The so called “missions” to Angola are much more sought after by medical professionals than are those in Venezuela. They are sold at the highest prices in the “influence market” within the Ministry of Public Health.

Neither the Angolan nor the Cuban national media have reported that the president’s eldest daughter has already passed the barrier of two billion dollars in personal wealth. Isabel dos Santos controls more than 25 percent of the shares in Unitel, one of the country’s two telephone companies. She also participates in businesses in Portugal, where she is said to be the principal shareholder in the country’s largest cable television company. The lack of transparency around power in Luanda, and the people close to the leader, have seized key positions in the national economy.

While her father visits Havana, Isabel dos Santos is in Brazil, where the magazine Veja has published several photos of the Angolan multimillionaire during the inaugural ceremony of the World Cup. According to the publication, some 600 people – among them businessmen and celebrities – have “accommodated” the businesswoman in luxurious rooms in Sao Paule, Rio de Janeiro and Belo Horizonte, to enjoy the football parties and the euphoria of the World Cup.

Stories like these will never be told in the official Cuban press. The families who lost their children in that far off land don’t know what has become of the country where their loved ones fell.

What Was the Havana Metro? / 14ymedio, Victor Ariel Gonzalez

Bus Routes in Havana. (BdG/14ymedio)
Bus Routes in Havana. (BdG/14ymedio)

Conceived 30 years ago, it would have been the largest civil engineering project in Cuba, but it sank after Perestroika.

14ymedio, Victor Ariel Gonzalez, Havana | June 17, 2014

It’s morning rush hour at the Coppelia Ice Cream Parlor bus stop, a busy node in the city of Havana. Thousands of people rush to work, school, the office, or run errands. New bus routes, as well as signaling changes on the existing road network, have tried to relieve the headaches involved in mass transit in our country.

Thirty years ago, when the island was a satellite of the USSR, and other foreign capital was virtually nonexistent, an ambitious rapid transit project was conceived for the Cuban capital with a metro  system as the centerpiece. The civil engineer Felix C., today employed by a Cuban-Foreign construction equipment company, related his experiences working for the City of Havana Executive Group (GEMCH), the company then in charge of what was called “the work of the century.”

“I came here after I graduated, in the mid-eighties,” he said. “GEMCH already existed at the beginning of the decade and several projects for the metro came out of CUJAE (Ciudad Universitaria Jose Antonio Echeverria) — the technical branch of the University of Havana. Several of us were even sent to Eastern European countries to study and participate in works of this type already being implemented.

During those years, in fact, everything seemed to be in place to build the metro in Havana. A series of articles published in the magazine Technical Youth in August, September and October of 1982, expounded in a straightforward way not only on the necessity, but also on the possibility that Havana could count on this type of transport. Enthusiasm was great. At that time relations with the USSR looked stronger than ever, and it was considered significant that the only socialist country in the Western Hemisphere would have its own metro system. continue reading

In those years, public opinion about transit in Cuba was already very negative, although Soviet subsidies of oil allowed an average of 30,000 daily bus trips and a number of routes greatly superior to today, some arriving less than a minute apart, according to reports from a former Transport Ministry official. “If with all this service they couldn’t cope, the obvious solution was a metro,” he said.

It was considered significant that the only socialist country in the Western Hemisphere would have its own metro

So a huge work team was put together and it started the engineering-geological studies that would confirm the technical viability of the project. The project objectives were developed, including those of the preliminary design phase, which would include stations such as Central Park, “which would be the deepest, because there the line would cross the bay to the east side of the city,” the engineer Felix C. remembers.

Stations were planned for several points in the city, one of them near the hill of the University in Vededo, and a line running to the south, under Rancho Boyeros Avenue. Today, it all is part of an almost forgotten myth. “Nobody remembers anything about this project,” says Felix. The authority charged with administering the Havana Metro was located in an enormous building which would also serve as a station, which was never built, on the land where the EJT Market is on Tulipan Street.

“I was working for GEMCH between 1984 and 1988,” said the old engineer. “In those tunnels was where I got my lung disease, and so I had to leave. Although by the time I left my job it was all over, all that remained of the initially planned lines were the bus routes.” He is referring to the infamous “camels” which emerged as a response to the severe crisis that begin with the collapse of the USSR, when all projects, great and small, failed.

Felix has done relatively well. In 2012, Ana A. Alpizar filmed a short, “Without Metro,” a reunion of many of the workers on that project who remembered how they had to reorient their professional plans with the end of those construction plans. Not all of them were lucky enough to find new positions.

Perhaps the old specialist is right to forget a project of such magnitude. The subway tunnels, in any case, remain buried in the past. The oldest professors in the Civil Engineering Department of Havana Technical University say this is true: the plans have been lost and the theses disappeared.

Today, nobody remembers this great project that would have solved the transport problem in the capital. The government’s priorities have changed and no foreign power is willing to invest in an extremely costly work in a country as impoverished as Cuba.

Super Dad / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

Yoani Sánchez, Havana, 15 June 2014 – Ricardo has raised his two daughters alone. One August morning he woke up and his wife had left. Later he learned she’d been intercepted on the high seas and spent months at the Guantanamo Naval Base before arriving in the United States. At the time, the youngest of the girls still slept in a cradle and the oldest was learning her first letters.

They had hard times. The maternal grandmother’s aggressiveness didn’t respect paternal custody. “These girls need a mother,” she shouted angrily, every time she saw him. Nor was it easy for him in the village. A man abandoned can go unnoticed in Havana, but in the provinces it’s a constant joke, the talk of all the neighbors.

He had to face it all alone. He had to explain to his daughters what it means to start menstruating, and also the importance of using a condom. He had to stand in long lines at the pharmacy to buy sanitary pads and sell some of his belongings to buy them extra cotton every month. He specialized in ironing uniform skirts, mending stockings, and removing nits from their hair. At first his braids were loose at the top and fell apart in a few minutes, but later he was a total master. continue reading

He never went back to sleep in the morning. There was always one of his “women” who had to get up early and he made breakfast and woke them up. One of them says her “papi” makes the best peas in the whole country, while the other still asks him to edit what she writes.

He doesn’t speak ill of their mother. He prefers to build up their hopes that somewhere in California there is a sad-looking lady who is waiting to reunite with her daughters. But the letters don’t come more than once a decade and the last time she was more worried about her own unemployment problems than the girls she left in Cuba.

Ricardo could have disengaged and done what so many others do. Cuban society never would have blamed him for sending his daughters to their grandmother’s house. After all, the popular refrain would justify it, asserting that “a father is nobody.” His case, however, is not so rare. It happens that his story is lost among so many of our everyday emergencies.

Today he went out early, without making any noise, wanting to get a haircut and buy a little rum to celebrate Father’s Day. It’s Sunday, “the girls” will sleep late and the kitchen will already smell of the pot where the beans are cooking.

One Less Thread in the Social Tapestry / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

Yoani Sánchez, Havana, 12 June 2014 — In a country where there are so few spaces for debate, the loss of any one of them is a tragedy. The departure of Roberto Veiga and Lenier Gonzalez from the magazine Lay Space leaves us with even fewer opportunities for debate. Their work was characterized by its willingness to address controversial and difficult topics in the pages of a publication which, in recent years, became an obligatory reference. With a respectful spirit, a true concern for the nation, and the ability to present arguments, these editors opened a reflective space that we, their readers, fear will be missed from now on.

Differences in ideas should not lead us to personal confrontation. A lesson that should be learned by more than one person who takes ideological contradictions as a pretext to channel their lowest passions. So, despite my points of difference with many of the ideas of Veiga and Gonzalez, and especially with their category of “loyal opposition,” I have always respected their work and considered it to be of great value. The public existence of their voices improved the quality of discussions within the Island, encouraging different points of view – which is always a good thing – and brought together political tendencies that seem to run along contrary paths. I regret that they never accepted invitations to also participate in non-official debates within the country. I hope, now they have been “liberated” from their jobs, that we will be able to exchange ideas outside the protection of the Cátedra Félix Varela.

Cuba loses and I can’t imagine who wins with this dismissal. The next archbishop of Havana? Is the church so fickle? One day they snatched the magazine Vitral from us, to turn it into a shadow of the multicolored light it once was. Now, it seems, the same will happen with Lay Space. I am not convinced by the declarations of its current director who assures us that the work of the journal will continue. I believe deeply in the stamp each human being imprints on a work, and in the case of this publication it’s clear that Veiga and Gonzalez were its principal sources of inspiration.

The ragged tapestry of our civil society just suffered the tearing of another thread.