“Cordial and very positive” meeting with Roberta Jacobson, say several activists / 14ymedio

L to R: Miriam Leiva (back to camera), Roberta Jacobson, Guillermo Fariñas, Marta Beatriz Roque, Antonio Rodiles

14ymedio/EFE, Havana, 23 January 2015 – Friday morning the US Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, Roberta Jacobson, met with a broad representation of Cuban activists. The meeting had the character of a working breakfast and the main objective was to hear from dissidents and opponents with regards to the negotiations for the reestablishment of relations between the United States and Cuba.

The meeting was held at the residence of the Chief of Mission of the US Interests Section and, on the Cuban side, attended by members of various civil society groups such as the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU), the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation (CCDHRN), and the opposition group Estado de Sats (State of Sats).

José Daniel Ferrer, UNPACU leader, said, “The meeting was very fraternal, frank and positive.” According to the activist, the American side was very receptive and “reaffirmed their interest in maintaining a commitment to the demand to respect human rights, the current point of greatest concern among Cuban civil society.” The majority of those present, according to Ferrer, “focused on detailing their concerns about the future of Cuba,” and also on the concern “that the decision about the future of Cuba must rest with the Cuban people.” continue reading

Some activist expressed their concerns that the government of the United States had already made too many concessions in the process of negotiations, while the Cuban government had only released 53 prisoners.

Elizardo Sanchez, president of the Cuba Commission on Human Rights and National Reconciliation, said that “the meeting was marked by cordiality and human closeness. With this invitation and with the reception to be held tonight, the US delegation wanted to give a clear message of appreciation to the peaceful efforts of civil society.”

One of those absent from the meeting was the leader of the Ladies in White, Berta Soler, who explained to EFE today that she decided not to participate because she considered that the guest list was not balanced.  Soler, who has expressed her opposition to US diplomatic approach towards Cuba and to the measures easing the embargo announced last week in Washington, expressed her dissatisfaction, saying “the selection” did not take into account “the diversity” of positions and opinions that exist in the internal dissent on this issue.

In a press conference after the meeting, Jacobson said the purpose of the change of policy toward Havana is to promote a “greater openness” in Cuba, with more rights and freedoms and “to empower the Cuban people.” According to the US diplomat, the issue of human rights and democracy is “crucial” for the United States, although she recognized that there remain “profound differences” with the Cuban government on this question.

Several activists have called a press conference at the headquarters of the CCDHRN to summarize the meeting and present their views on the process of restoring relations between the two countries. The conference will be held at 1:00 PM, at 3014 21st Street between 30th and 34th streets, in the Playa neighborhood.

Institutional Crisis / 14ymedio, Fernando Damaso

Meeting of the National Assembly (Neo Club Press)
Meeting of the National Assembly (Neo Club Press)

14ymedio, FERNANDO DAMASO, Havana, 22 January 2015 — Among so many crises that affect us, little is said about that related to institutions. In the Republican era, there existed institutions that, without being perfect, worked. If it had not been so, the country would not have developed in the way that it did. When the new regime was put in place in 1959, instead of being perfected, most of the existing institutions were liquidated or their spheres of influence were reduced for the purpose of initiating other new ones on bare ground. Even the family, considered a principal and primary institution, did not escape, being dismembered and atomized to respond to political and ideological interests.

An institution can be many things. There exist formal and informal institutions and, in both cases, they are always social constructions. They must be efficient, that is to say, capable of functioning well, having legitimacy, being able to adapt to changes in the environment and anticipate changes besides demonstrating stability. These components must act together if they want to get results. In the Cuban case, stability has turned into a kind of brake that impedes the necessary changes, giving rise to ossified institutions. The majority of institutions established in the last fifty years suffer this infirmity, mainly the economic, legal and political ones. continue reading

The companies nationalized or seized – financial, production, trade and others – that had functioned independently in accord with the policies of their owners, were subordinated to already existing institutions or ones created for that purpose that had never performed these functions of management and administration, instituting a rigid vertical system that totally eliminated their independence and chances of reacting to changing situations; everything was decided centrally, and they were reduced to mere implementers of orders. Economic institutions not only have been incapable of developing the country but have destroyed what was achieved during the preceding years thanks to the talent and effort of several generations of Cubans.

Legal power stopped being independent and, like the legislative, was subordinated to the executive, represented by a single authority. Judicial institutions respond only to the interests of the State, to the detriment of the citizens without there existing true rule of law.

In the provincial and municipal governments changes were introduced, stripping them of their names and functions, also creating a vertical system that left them financially destitute for having to deliver most of their income to the central authority which later would dole out resources for their needs. These changes reduced the chance of solving local problems, since they no longer had the resources that their own commercial and productive activities previously generated.

In the case of political institutions, the example of the National Assembly of Popular Power is depressing. Being the only constituent entity existing in Cuba, which also is the only legislative body and which retains the important authority to declare the unconstitutionality of laws, decrees, ordinances and other regulations, it has never exercised this authority in its 38 years of existence as the supreme agency of the State. Can anyone believe that everything legislated by the State has been just and correct?

Other negative aspects of its functioning are that almost all the votes in its legislative history have been unanimous and that the deputies have not exercised their right to present legislative proposals as individual members of the Assembly. As if that were not enough, the legal decrees of the State Council and the decrees by the Council of Ministers triple the laws by the National Assembly.

The main problem that affects all Cuban institutions – whether political, economic, legal, cultural, educational, military, medical, athletic or others – is their unconditional submission to a sole political-ideological approach, putting these interests ahead of those that relate to their reason for existing. The only exceptions perhaps are some religious institutions.

Until now the topic of institutions has been treated superficially, more with regards to their form than their content. Life demonstrates that some institutions must disappear, others must be changed, some new ones should be created and a few others can continue functioning. If this does not happen, the economic changes implemented so far and others that should come, as much economic as political and social, will lack the effectiveness, legitimacy, adaptability and stability necessary for producing beneficial results for all Cubans. It is not logical to hope that all this will be achieved with the existing historical leaders, but they could, at least, start.

Translated by MLK

The Unknown of the Diaspora / 14ymedio, Eliecer Avila

14ymedio, Elicer Avila, 13 January 2015 – Cuban civil society is often questioned, as are opposition groups, due to their apparent inability to join the masses and pressure the government for necessary changes.

All of these questions are not without some truth, and a doubt comes to mind that I would like to share. I am referring to the fact that the two million Cubans (between emigrants and descendents) who live outside the country have not found an effective way to participate in the politics of the nation.

In theory, this group of Cubans has everything that the internal opposition lacks in order to have a major influence: full access to communications and information, freedom of movement, the right of association and assembly, and, above all, it has an economic power that could compete with that of the government itself.

On the other hand, the remittances that the Cuban migration sends to the country every year constitute one of the top three sources of the gross domestic product. If we accept the maxim that “He who holds the purse strings holds the power,” then it would correspond that those living abroad should have a wide representation in the parliament for being the most efficient and productive workers in the system, as well as for being the largest union. Thus, we could at least say, “He who brings, participates.” But this is not the case.

Quite the contrary, the measures usually taken by the government tend to directly affect the interest of the emigrants, and at times don’t help their families. The new customs regulations, the cost of the paperwork to enter the country, and the treatment that often borders on disrespect, are some examples of this.

To make matters worse, the new Foreign Investment Law* also excludes them, depriving them of the opportunity to contribute with their investments and their talent to the development of the country. And it is a tremendous shame. I know that outside the country there is human capital of incalculable professional value, with experience in every kind of business and, above all with immense desires to see their native land move towards progress.

How is our emigration organized to defend its natural rights in this new scenario? Will it support in a major way a civil society and a responsible opposition that has a more inclusive vision of the nation? For me, this remains an unknown.

13 January 2015

The French Company Orange Signs Agreement to Operate Internet in Cuba / 14ymedio

Headquarters of the French company Orange in Paris
Headquarters of the French company Orange in Paris

14ymedio, 21 January 2015 — Last July the French telecommunications company Orange, chaired by Stéphane Richard, signed a confidential agreement with the Cuban state telecommunications company ETECSA to develop communications in Cuba, according to the French weekly L’Express.

According to the information this newspaper had access to, the contract stipulated that Orange would offer its services, products, and rates (telephones and equipment) to Cuba’s only local operator, and share its knowledge. The French company also committed to create an institute in Cuba dedicated to training in technologies and services for Latin America and the Caribbean.

L’Express explains that the new measures announced by Barack Obama and the easing of the embargo put the agreement with the French Telephone Company at risk. The weekly notes that Cuba continues to be a backward country with regards to access to the Internet and services are offered at prices prohibitive for the population, which makes it an El Dorado for those who want to develop this industry on the island.

Thus, L’Express comments, the agreement signed with Orange adds to the interest shown by the United States in the technological advancement of Cuba, initiated last June by Google, whose executives visited the island to promote free Internet.

Cuba’s ruling party and the Havana visit of Roberta Jacobson / 14ymedio, Victor Ariel Gonzalez

Roberta Jacobson, Assistant Secretary for Latin America for the US State Department
Roberta Jacobson, Assistant Secretary, Western Hemisphere Affairs, US Department of State

14ymedio, Victor Ariel Gonzalez, Havana, 21 January 2015 – The opinions broadcast on Cuban Television spaces such as the National News or the Telesur channel show points in common, although there are also contradictions, with regards to the Havana visit of the Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs from the US Department of State, Roberta Jackson. There are “great expectations,” says the journalist Cristina Escobar; while the analyst Esteban Morales says, “We don’t have many illusions.”

However, everyone recognizes that the negotiations on Thursday will mark a “historic” event, because they will address the reestablishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries. In short, the Interest Sections in Washington and Havana will be transformed into embassies.

On Tuesday’s National News it was reported that at the high-level meeting Havana “will discuss the banking situation of the Cuban Interest Section in the American capital, which has gone a year without offering normal services because no bank wants to offer them services due to the regulations of the blockade.” continue reading

It was also announced that, “There will be no lack (…) of issues like the fight against narcotrafficking, human trafficking, oil spills, search and rescue, counterterrorism, and confronting epidemics.” According to the official commentary, this information was provided by “a source from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs” on the Island.

Cuba is also anxious to be removed from the United States’ list of states that support international terrorism. That decision depends on President Obama.

Within the current political détente, the official media highlighted the current embargo. “Is the blockade over? Absolutely not,” concluded journalist Cristina Escobar in an analysis before Jacobson’s arrival. The journalist added that “the blockad will end the day that financial transactions between the United States and Cuba are not regulated by Congress,” which will be “a long and complex road.” Coincidentally, a few hours later, during his most important speech of the year, the US president asked Congress to end the Cuban embargo.

As was expected, one of the most fortified trenches on the Cuban side has been nationalist ideology. The regime will talk about human rights, democracy and individual freedoms – “the most difficult issues,” according to Esteban Morales on Telesur – with emphasis on “no interference” from outside and “sovereignty.” Morales argued that the US should not “demand that we follow a direction ordered [by them], in terms of organizing our democratic system and our individual liberties,” and there should also be a willingness to “throw on the table the problems of democracy, human rights and individual freedoms that exist in the US.”

The Cuban analyst does not think our northern neighbor “has renounced a political strategy to regain control of Cuba,” but now our country would have “the possibility of developing a much more positive activity” thanks to the existence of the embassies. Thus, “there will be a much more organized dynamic.”

Another concern of the ruling party is that the final lifting of the embargo might be postponed beyond the Obama administration, because the question would “depend a lot on whether we have a future administration that will stick to this idea.”

While the emphasis of the high-level meeting is diplomatic rapprochement, one agenda item that will be discussed on Thursday that does not go unnoticed is that this Wednesday will be the 28th meeting between the two governments on migration issues. Havana will take the opportunity to discuss the Cuban Adjustment Act, the “wet foot dry foot” policy, and “an interpretation of the document that could change.”

The Cuban side is most likely to oppose a resolution that benefits all those on the Island who emigrate to the United States, a legal phenomenon that creates certain contradictions in this country with regards to migration reform. Paradoxically, those Cubans who are capable of establishing themselves in the United States – thanks largely to the Cuban Adjustment Act – constitute one of the principle sources of income to the regime’s economy.

Turning to the meetings on diplomatic relations, the previous scenario had to be reconfigured in record time. In little over a month, the United States announced the rapprochement with our country, started to implement the legal measures relating to it, and its president asked a Congress dominated by the opposition party to end the half-century embargo. The speed of events is excessive for those who do not usually deal with politics in a timely fashion: the Cuban leaders.

Beyond the expectations and mistrust generated among the Island’s authorities by Roberta Jacobson’s visit, there is a notable sense of consternation. Basically, what the regime is hoping for is that things will proceed slowly, so that they will not have to deal with the consequences of an excessive enthusiasm.

US Congressional delegation meets with Cuban activists and independent journalists /14ymedio

Patrick Leahy, Debbie Stabenow, Chris Van Hollen and Sheldon Whitehouse entering their hotel in Havana. (EFE / Ernesto Mastrascusa)
Patrick Leahy, Debbie Stabenow, Chris Van Hollen and Sheldon Whitehouse entering their hotel in Havana. (EFE / Ernesto Mastrascusa)

14ymedio, Havana, 19 January 2015 — On Sunday afternoon a dozen activists and representatives of Cuban civil society met with the American congressional delegation visiting Cuba. Chaired by Senator Patrick Leahy, the group was able hear diverse opinions in response to the announcement of the reestablishment of relations between the two countries.

A member of the delegation confirmed that the Cuban authorities were aware of the meeting with the activists and had made known to the American side their displeasure with the meeting.

In a relaxed atmosphere, several of those present expressed the conviction that “this opens a new era” and demanded greater transparency in negotiations, according to what they themselves reported after the meeting. Elizardo Sanchez, president of the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation, gave lawmakers a list with the names of 24 prisoners who, on humanitarian grounds, should be included in an upcoming release process. continue reading

The leader of the movement Somos + (There are more of us), Eliecer Avila, said on leaving that he told the visitors that “Throughout this time there has been talk about the agenda of the US government or the agenda of the Cuban government, but the most important thing to consider is the agenda of the Cuban people.” According to the activist, “Before December 17 people said ‘no one can fix this,’ now the expression most heard in the street is ‘let’s see what happens’ and the great challenge for the civic forces is to get people asking, ‘What can we do to change things?’”

Manuel Cuesta Morua said that he had shared with Leahy and the rest of the group that, “This is a historical event and it is very difficult to have a perspective on something so close.” Nevertheless, he reaffirmed that “A new era is opening for Cuba.”

Several participants in the meeting noted the expectations that the December 17 announcement had awakened in the Cuban people. José Daniel Ferrer, leader of the Patriotic Union of Cuba, expressed the appreciation of the activists of his movement who had been released from prison as a result of the negotiations between the two governments.

Berta Soler, for her part, reaffirmed the position of the Ladies in White against the negotiations and questioned whether the Cuban people would benefit directly from relations between the two countries. The activist cited the continuation of the repression and police harassment against the women who belong to this human rights movement. Her position was echoed by Antonio Rodiles, director of the opposition group Estado de Sats (State of Sats).

Yoani Sánchez, director of 14ymedio, emphasized that “The Cuban government is not willing to negotiate with its own people and yet has chosen to negotiate with the American government.” Hence, “Given the absence of the people’s voice at the negotiating table, it’s important to pressure the authorities to allow freedom of expression and of the press, as this will be the way we disseminate our demands and programs.”

Others present at the meeting confirmed the positive nature of the new scenario and the need for the Cuban civic movement to exploit the advantages it offers, and to be the people who to determine their own future.

Strange, Like a Bear in a Havana Square / 14ymedio

The Buddy Bears in San Francisco Plaza.  (Luz Escobar)
The Buddy Bears in San Francisco Plaza. (Luz Escobar)

14ymedio, LUZ ESCOBAR, Havana, 17 January 2015 — “Where is the end of the line for a picture with the Cuban bear?” yesterday asked a youngster during the opening of the United Buddy Bears show in Havana’s San Francisco Plaza. The project, created in 2001 by Eva and Klaus Herlitz with the collaboration of Austrian sculptor Roman Strobl, promotes a message of tolerance and understanding among all peoples, cultures and religions of the world. The exposition has travelled across five continents with life-sized sculptures of bears that evoke the member countries of the United Nations.

With the participation of artists from each of the represented countries, these bears have visited cities such as Vienna, Cairo, Jerusalem, Buenos Aires, Montevideo, Paris, Hong King, Istanbul, Tokyo, Sydney, Warsaw and Rio de Janeiro. Since its first exhibition in Berlin in 2002 they have been appreciated by more than 30 million people. Now, they are in Havana, which highlights the signature sculpture of our country, made by Cuban artist Nancy Torres.

Oso-buddy-cubano_CYMIMA20150117_0010_12With a cigar in his mouth, a cigar band around his waist and a mischievous wink of his eye, the Cuban Buddy Bear is part of this diverse and plural group. His creator explained during the opening that she named him Siboney in homage to the first Cuban Indians continue reading

and that she crafted him to include the colors of the flag. “He has traveled through many countries since 2002 which was when I created him,” added the artist. She also emphasized that, “I have lived in Berlin for more than 50 years. In this bear are rejoined symbolically the two heritages that I have: Berlin and Havana.”

Also participating in the ceremony was the German ambassador to Cuba, Peter Scholz, who said that he hoped that “the bears are capable of sharing much pleasure and happiness during the next six weeks and attracting visitors from all over. Because I hope that the bears give us much zest for life.” The show will be in San Francisco Plaza until the beginning of March of this year and during this time it is expected that a three-foot high replica bear that represents Cuba will be auctioned off.

For his part, City Historian Eusebio Leal Spengler noted the importance of the moment in which the bears have arrived on the Island. “I am happy to imagine that now revived with the colors with which each artist sees the world they are here in the heart of the Historic Center, a World Heritage Site, giving meaning to that vision of opening, and, as has been said, tolerance.”

Leal Spengler’s words alluded metaphorically to the re-establishment of relations between Cuba and the United States when he thanked “the embassy personnel who came to ask if it could be and my answer was, immediately, let the bears come. May they be announcements of a better time, now that the salmon that so please the bears are jumping in the river’s currents.”

Oso-Buddy-americano_CYMIMA20150117_0009_12Havanans have already chosen their preferred bears and stand in line to get their pictures taken in front of the one that represents the Statue of Liberty of the United States. Among the most appreciated also are those of Spain, France and Germany. Meanwhile, the Cuban bear has received several critiques from those who see the inclusion of the cigar as a promotion of the harmful habit of smoking in an exhibit that is aimed mainly at children.

The United Buddy Bears exhibit has been associated with projects by UNICEF and with help for needy children. From donations from local organizations and the auction of some pieces so far about two million euros have been raised for the children. The project promoters Eva and Klaus will accompany the bears during their Havana stay.

Translated by MLK

US Congressional delegation concludes visit to Cuba / 14ymedio

 US members of Congress at a press conference in Havana (Luz Escobar)
US members of Congress at a press conference in Havana (Luz Escobar)

14ymedio, 19 January 2015– Monday afternoon several United States members of Congress visiting Cuba held a press conference at the Saratoga Hotel. The meeting with foreign correspondents and independent media addressed the talks between the two governments and served as a culmination of the congressional delegation’s visit to the island.

Senator Patrick Leahy, in his remarks, emphasized that US policy toward Cuba “changed overnight.” He also spoke about the cooperation received from the Catholic Church, especially Cardinal Jaime Ortega y Alamino.

Leahy was visibly moved when he touched on the release of US contractor Alan Gross, whom the senator accompanied on his journey back to the United States on the day of his release, this last December 17. continue reading

When asked if these negotiations would vary in any way the help that the American government provides to the internal dissidence in Cuba, Senator Deborah Ann Stabenow said, “Our long-term goal is not only to create relationships involving the economy, research and trade, but also to create, through information and transparency, the freedom that the Cuban people deserve and need.”

“We have to take it a step at a time,” Stabenow emphasized, saying that this visit is very important. “We are the first group to come to Cuba since President Obama made his decision … well, the decision of both presidents.”

With regards to the economic situation in Cuba and the possible relief for the Cuban population that reestablishment of economic relations could bring the senator added, “We don’t want people to continually be worrying about if there will be potatoes or pork or beef or milk or fruit in the markets.”

Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, for his part, said that most of the meetings held so far have perceived a “time of hope.” “People are very excited and the more contact there is, the more we will notice the difference,” added the representative from Maryland Christopher Van Hollen. “We have to move forward with what can be done with regards to practical matters,” said Van Hollen.

Senator Richard Joseph Durbin, from Illinois, stressed the historical character of the visit of the high level American delegation, led by Roberta Jackson, that will arrive in Cuba this coming Wednesday. “What we are doing is more than opening up to trade and travel. It is about opening up a relationship to exchange ideas and that this opening to ideas will help to foster values and basic human rights.”

During the brief trip the members of Congress did not meet with President Raul Castro, but they did hold a meeting with dissidents on Sunday. In statements to 14ymedio, Durbin replied to the question of whether the meeting with activists may have influenced the fact that the General did not receive them. “I do not know what the decision process was, but every time I visit a country I have tried to listen to both sides of the story and that’s what we did yesterday.” To which he added “We will continue to do that and I hope that [the government of] Cuba respects the fact that that’s what we do wherever we travel.”

The members of Congress concluded their visit this afternoon and returned to the United States. During their visit to the island they met with Bruno Rodríguez, Minister of Foreign Affairs, leaders of the Catholic Church and a group of dissidents.

A Better Cuba is More Possible Than Ever / 14ymedio, Pedro Campos

Dawn breaks in Havana (14ymedio)
Dawn breaking over Havana (14ymedio)

14ymedio, Pedro Campos, Havana, 16 January 2015 — The resumption of diplomatic relations between Cuba and the United States and the beginning of the normalization of ties of every kind between both countries, which implies the elimination of the political blockade that the great power of the north sustained against the small Caribbean Island, opens a compass of hope and a new space that, taken good advantage of by all the constructive and democratic Cuban forces, creates — as never before — the conditions for a better Cuba for all Cubans.

Some at the extremes consider that this approach could distance, rather than bring closer, a better future for all citizens. Some because they believe that it will prolong and consolidate the Castro dictatorship, others because the “empire” will appropriate the economy and the hearts of Cubans. continue reading

Apart from the narrow sectarian interests that may be hiding behind these visions, none of them seem to realize the full benefits of this event for the vast majority of the Cuban people, their democratic hopes, their creativity, their productive forces and especially for their sovereignty as authentic decision maker and executor of their own future.

Some time ago I wrote that if the solutions to the problems of the Cuban people are entrusted to the help and benevolence of the powerful northern neighbor it would mean handing over the country for a miserable pittance. To ignore the advantages of a constructive and peaceful relationship with the U.S., would condemn the nation “besieged citadel” to the mercy of nationalist opportunism of all kinds.

Move the country along the path between those positions from a major and growing participation of citizens in decisions of all kinds, in politics and in economics, is the key and, at the same time, the great challenge of the Cuban democratic left .

The “update of the model” promoted by the government of Raul Castro, ceding to cooperatives and self-employment a secondary space in the economy, giving priority to state enterprises and leaving unmet his own assertion that the State should not run enterprises, without understanding the significance of free labor, associated or not for socialism, and forgetting the initial objectives of this Revolution, which does not belong to them but to all the people, about the reestablishment of democracy.

If in parallel with the process of negotiations with the US and its participation in supporting the development of the economy there is not a deepening of the process of socialization of property through the extension of self-employment, small and medium enterprises of all types, cooperatives, and worker participation in management, administration and distribution of the profits of state enterprises, with democratization and diversification of institutions of political participation at all levels, Cuba runs the risk of moving from a monopoly decadent state capitalism, imposed in the name of a socialism that has ever existed, to a form of authoritarian State capitalism, controlled by a political-military elite in association with the great American capital.

We have to recognize the presidents of the United States and Cuba have taken this step to create primary conditions for a country better than has ever been possible. But let this opportunity opens the way to the Cuba “with all and for the good of all” that Martí dreamed of and for which several generations of Cubans fought for nearly two centuries, relying on the citizens themselves and their own intelligence.

This is the time for dialogue and consultation, prudential waiting and popular and democratic alliances working with the interests of the majority.

If Raul and his inner circle want to consolidate their position and bring the upgrade of the model  to fruition, they will have to remove all the obstacles imposed by the heavy burden of the old neo-Stalinist party bureaucracy that controls the mass organizations, electoral processes, local authorities and state enterprises, and seek an alliance with the workers and the middle classes, opening every possible space.

We must avoid foreign companies ending up investing only in cooperation with state enterprises, without real independence to contact for labor, without credit or possibilities to develop small and medium sized businesses, with private or associated capital.

In this sense, the Investment Law will be relaxed and become a simple law of businesses, so that Cuban capital sources of whatever dimension, inside the country and abroad, can deploy their initiatives.

The State has to open the possibilities for external and internal trade, as currently their control remains the main cause of high prices which prevents the lowering of the costs of input and of a wide range popular consumer goods, especially food.

Another aspect to immediately review is the tax law that continues to tax revenues, not profits — a factor limiting the expansion of emerging companies — and to eliminate all the paraphernalia of absurd permissions to open businesses and cooperatives, whether in services or production.

All the constructive and peaceful forces in the country should, within and outside the government, within and outside Cuba, set aside grudges and revenge and engage in a national dialogue that makes possible a shared path of national progress towards a new constitution, democratic in its content, and towards how to achieve it.

The upcoming elections to the National Assembly of People’s Power are moving forward. This is a good opportunity for the government to demonstrate its commitment to democracy, to end the legal repression of of the political activism of those who think differently, to facilitate the expansion of freedom of expression and association, and to make changes to the electoral law that enable more democratic forms of putting forward candidates, and direct elections of mayors, provincial governors and the President of the Republic.

The nation will move forward with everyone it it will never be. None of its parts is entitled to hijack the future for narrow interests.

From the defense of the positions of the Participatory and Democratic Socialism, we advocate consultation, dialogue, meeting, national reconciliation and prosperity for the Cuban people in an atmosphere of peace and democracy.

A better Cuba is more possible than ever. To achieve is it is the responsibility of all Cubans of goodwill.

16 January 2015

Cuba is the Black Sheep of Human Rights / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar & Elizardo Sanchez

14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 10 December 2014* — Coinciding with the observance of International Human Rights Day today, we spoke with Elizardo Sánchez, spokesman for the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation (CCDHRN) in Havana to review the current situation on the Island.

Q:  Today the whole world commemorates Human Rights Day. What is the situation in our country at the close of 2014? Do we have reasons for hope or for worry?

A:  The general scene of civil, political, labor and other fundamental rights continues to worsen. Although the rate of detentions for political reasons has diminished in recent months, this is because the government has understood that this type of arrest portrays a very negative image. It did the same before when it decided to reduce the number of political prisoners, which is currently at around 110 persons.

Nonetheless, the government has not reformed any laws, and it has not given up its repressive and threatening mission against all of society. Therefore, it cannot be said that the situation has improved. Unless a miracle occurs, it will continue to worsen.

Q: What are the repressive methods which are most used at this moment?

A:  There has been a metamorphosis insofar as repression for political reasons is concerned. It no longer consists of lengthy prison sentences, or even of extended detentions. Instead, what occurs frequently are short-term arrests with the added element of other forms of intimidation, such as vandalism, including rocks being thrown at houses or residences being ransacked. There are also physical aggressions, which have increased throughout the year, be they overt or covert. continue reading

The repressive apparatus can be quite creative in its activities, such as taking the clothes off activists on some remote highway–or leaving them without shoes, which results in these people having to walk many miles barefoot to get home. This is in addition to the psychological effect inflicted on any individual when part of their clothing is taken from them.

Q: The Cuban government has called for this day to be observed throughout the country. How do you assess this new attitude?

A: We have been following the official media and we heard their calls for this day to be observed in parks and public places. Doing so, they neutralize any initiative undertaken by the independent civil society. An example is the announcement by the Ladies in White to meet today at the centrally-located corner of L and 23rd Streets. Very likely, this event will be quashed. The government will try to not have so much recourse to detentions, in keeping with the repressive trend this past year, 2014.

Q: Do you believe that Cuba will one day come to be a referee of human rights, even a regional watchdog to ensure their implementation?

A: This is the dream of many of ours. But, unfortunately, Cuba is today the black sheep of human rights within the inter-American sphere and the world. This is so because Cuba encourages abuses and blocks any attempt to bring forth certain complaints to the United Nations, as in the case of its complicity with the regime of North Korea.

Q:  Would you say that there is an International Committee of Human Rights Violators?

A: The great violators of human rights tend to act in conjunction with the rest, shielding themselves behind each other and lending mutual support. That is, not only is there a negative situation maintained within the country, but the Cuban regime provides negative leadership at the international level, much more than any other government does. This is quite contrary to the leadership role that the Republic of Cuba took in the drafting of the Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. Our diplomats at that time were second only to the French and the North Americans in terms of leading that task.

We therefore hope that Cuba will again become a bastion in the defense of human rights, and that the whole infrastructure that the regime has in place today for its own ends will help to create congresses that promote respect for fundamental rights at the continental level. May those halls and convention centers provide space for the formation, popularization, protection and training of human rights defenders throughout the world.

*Translator’s note: This interview took place a week before Barack Obama’s announcement of the re-establishment of diplomatic relations with Cuba.

 Translated by Alicia Barraqué Ellison

10 December 2014

The Guidelines that Failed / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

Sixth Congress of the Cuban Communist Party
Sixth Congress of the Cuban Communist Party

14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 16 January 2015 — After so many years of demanding an end to the American blockade, the Cuban government discovered it is not prepared even for the first relaxations which its neighbor to the north has implemented with unprecedented agility. It turns out that the entire scaffolding erected by way of the 33 Guidelines agreed to at the Sixth Communist Party Congress is insufficient, if not crippling, before the prospects on the horizon.

Perhaps the most glaring inconsistency between the American apertures and the Cuban bureaucracy’s stubbornness, is with in regards to remittances for the development of private initiatives, including small farmers, which the United States will authorize without limitations.

From this side, putting this measure into practice could be interpreted as a violation of the regulations in the Foreign Investment Law, which restrict the entrance of money to operate businesses to legal entities, that is, State entities or those authorized by the State. Not to mention what it means to receive money for humanitarian projects or to support the Cuban people through the activities of human rights organizations. continue reading

Among the advantages that might have difficulty being fully implemented on the island because of ideological restrictions, is access to the Internet. A decade ago, the country viewed World Wide Web like science fiction, but now there is a generation that knows what it is and that realizes what they’re missing by not being connected.

The new general license from the Office of Foreign Assets Control facilitates the establishment of commercial telecommunications facilities and authorizes additional services related to communication via the Internet. As of that decision, it is no longer possible to blame the “criminal imperialist blockade” for the existing limitations and they will have to choose between accepting the free flow of information or displaying the unmasked repressive face of the prohibitions.

There is a working hypothesis in which they could produce a kind of recycling operation where the elements and the military structure, along with other spheres considered ’reliable,’ assume the role of “approved private entrepreneurs.” Then, through a network of relationships, the funds will go to the ruling elite. The failure of this idea is that there has to be someone on the other side willing to provide financing to an unknown party, and that seems highly unlikely.

The Cuban government has shown a special knack for generating euphemisms that mask reality. Instead of the term “unemployed” these people are called “available,” and private businesses are called “the non-state sector of the economy.”

But the full acceptance of private ownership of the means of production requires tremendous linguistic effort to find a new name. For the simple reason that private owners find a way to empower themselves and to grow, threatening the role of centralized socialist planning system as the principle engine of the national economy. The dinosaur state production mode, devoid of the injection of capital which the private sector could count on, could not compete.

The other risk factor for the Cuban government will be the influx of Americans in Cuba. Although the restrictions against tourist travel formally remain in place, the new permissions are so broad that they could lead to an uncontrollable avalanche. The appetite for communication, and for tipping, will be at its highest level. Private restaurants, B&Bs, street musicians and hookers of every kind will be in their element and surely it will be all the same to them whether they get dollars or convertible pesos.

In the face of each of these new measures, the dilemma is the same. Whether to make a vain attempt to maintain the rigid control now established, or to let everyone do as they wish and let prosperity become an individual goal and not a planned program. Anyone who knows the natural elusive escaped-slave nature of this people, know it will be very hard to put internal brakes on the tremendous impact that is coming.

Will we have to wait, perhaps, for the 7th Cuban Communist Party Congress, announced for 2016, for new and more flexible guidelines to put the country in sync with its new reality? Hopefully not.

The ‘Cabanuelas’ for Religious Freedom / 14ymedio, Mario Felix Lleonart

:  Children during a celebration of the Day of the Kings at Taguayabon Church (M. F. Lleonart Barroso)
: Children during a celebration of the Day of the Kings at Taguayabon Church (M. F. Lleonart Barroso)

14ymedio, Mario Felix Lleonart Barroso, 16 January 2015 – Cuban peasants have a tradition that they carry out at the beginning of year. They observe the first twelve days of January and complete the observation – in a countdown – with the following twelve days until they get to the 24th day. They have the idea that what happened in the natural environment on those dates can yield some insight on how the year will be.

If it rains on the third day, that means for the men of the field that the same thing will occur in the third month. This way they get an idea of whether the year will be rainy or dry, if there will be hurricanes, much heat or if it will feel cold in the limited winter. The farming traditions call these days that the farmers think of as a preamble to the months of the year cabanuelas.

For those of us who form part of the religious sphere in Cuba, the last year ended with new perspectives on the relations with our counterparts in the United States. After the announcement by President Barack Obama last December 17, there have been more than a few citizens from that country who have been interested in how they might help us in the most effective way, given the opportunities that are opening up. continue reading

The new scenario is positive for those churches on the Island who never stopped maintaining fraternal relations with their peers in the northern country, in spite of all those years that intervened in and served as obstacles to those ties.

Nevertheless, nothing is gained if perspectives feed only on the bright side, ignoring realities present in the landscape. If that were done, one would fall into very illusory readings extremely loaded with subjectivity. There is no doubt about the good intentions of the whole world, of American churches and even of President Barack Obama, but on what obstacles will those good intentions stumble?

In our country there are great impediments that limit exchange in the religious area and that form part of what many call “the internal blockade.” In order for the recently announced policies to have the desired effect, at least the following changes will have to occur on a national level:

  1. The Office of Attention to Religious Matters of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Cuba must disappear. It is unacceptable that an office embedded in an atheist organization, which is also the only legally recognized party, tries to resolve everything concerning religion in the country.
  2. The Register of Associations by the Justice Ministry of Cuba must act with total independence and not under pressure, as occurs now, coming principally from the Office of Attention to Religious Matters. To begin, it should agree to the legalization of dozens of religious groups that for years have aspired to it.
  3. A Worship Law must be created and approved by all the people to defend religious liberties. In spite of its imperative need until now it has been conspicuous by its absence.
  4. The monopoly and privileges that the said office grants to the Counsel of Churches of Cuba, which does not shield most religious institutions as was intended, must end.

Furthermore, the Baptist Resurrection Church, in the rural community of Rosalia, celebrated Day of the Kings or Epiphany at the beginning of the year. Given that January 6 was a work day, they decided to celebrate it on the weekend and announced it to the residents of the place. The Communist Party in Camajuani and Taguayabon ordered our celebrations counteracted. With such objective they dedicated significant funds so that cultural and culinary institutions would carry out collateral activities, not with the healthy desire to entertain the people, but with the unhealthy one of “confronting” us.

If I stick to this view and the reading of these hard facts, I could prophesy that in spite of the good wishes of the world that is opening up to Cub, the religious scene does not begin well at all for our country, given the obstinacy of those who occupy political and military power. Nevertheless, when I see that in spite of the police apparatus our celebration of the Kings triumphed in a church full of children, I return to optimism and believe that so many good wishes will come to a good end.

Translated by MLK

Activists present proposals for the next phase of US / Cuba relations

From L to R, top row and then bottom row: Antonio Rodiles, Félix Navarro, Berta Soler, Ángel Moya and Ailer González are some of the activists who signed the roadmap with proposals for a new stage between the United States and Cuba.
From L to R, top row and then bottom row: Antonio Rodiles, Félix Navarro, Berta Soler, Ángel Moya and Ailer González are some of the activists who signed the roadmap with proposals for a new stage between the United States and Cuba.

14ymedio, 16 January 2014 – This Friday, almost 300 activists, artists, journalists, academics and trade unionists representing diverse groups within the Cuban opposition presented a roadmap of proposals for what the civil society movement hopes to see beyond the reestablishment of US/Cuba diplomatic relations.

The statement by the Forum for Rights and Freedoms was presented on Thursday at the headquarters of Estado de SATS in Havana.

The principal objective of this initiative is to enable Cubans to be the lead players in the changes that lie ahead for Cuba, and to ensure that the new relationship with the US will bring real changes to benefit civil society on the Island.

“We find ourselves facing two options,” the document states. “One is to accept the mutation of the regime to one of authoritarian capitalism, wherein Cubans will have to resign themselves to pittances, while the heirs of the Castro regime dispose of our rights and assets. The other choice is to demand concrete and measurable changes that will lead to the formation of a true democracy.” continue reading

The proposals focus mainly on human rights and freedoms, and are based on the principles expressed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. They seek to establish a multi-party democracy in which citizens will be able to directly and transparently elect their leaders.

The text outlines seven principal points. It seeks, first of all, the immediate release and overturning of convictions of all political prisoners; the elimination of the concept of “pre-criminal dangerousness” from the Cuban penal code, as well as all other standards that could contribute to justifying arbitrary detentions; and the reestablishment of constitutional-level judicial guarantees that will ensure the implementation of due process in judicial procedures.

In a similar vein, the statement calls for repealing all those articles of the Constitution and laws that violate the International Covenants on Human Rights, and restrict freedoms of expression, association, trade union membership, assembly, movement and conscience.

In conclusion, the document promotes the creation of a series of greatly important laws: a new Law of Association to include a multi-party system and guarantee rights of assembly, as per the standards of the International Labour Organization; a new Communication Media law that guarantees the right of expression and flow of information; and, finally, a new Election Law that emphases a multi-party system and transparent elections.

The Forum for Rights and Freedoms submits this document as a first step towards transitioning to a true democracy, and hopes to have the support of the international community.

Translated by Alicia Barraqué Ellison


The Park of Lost Connections / 14ymedio, Yosmany Mayeta Labrada

Recreational Technology Center of Santiago de Cuba (14ymedio).
Recreational Technology Center of Santiago de Cuba (14ymedio).

14ymedio, Yosmany Mayeta Labrada, Santiago de Cuba, 16 January 2015 — “Happiness in the home of the poor is brief,” said a young man a few days ago who had been excited about connecting to the Internet through the WiFi network in a park in Santiago de Cuba. The Telecommunications Company of Cuba (ETECSA) denied this Monday the news that users could navigate the web from their phones, tablets or laptops in the new Recreational Technology Center of this city, as the official website Cubaperiodistas (Cuba Journalists) had indicated.

But a worker from the Center itself, who asked to remain anonymous, assures 14ymedio that there has been a change from the initial plan. “At first, the service that would be provided was wireless access to the internet, but after revealing the information and seeing the media coverage that it caused, the authorities decided that they will only supply a connection to the intranet without any cost.” continue reading

The Recreational Technology Center is located near Ferreiro Park and will open this coming January 28. Its facilities will offer services in an Internet navigation room with computers for public use. Also they will teach classes for children, teens and adults who want to learn to use computers and other new technologies.

Specialists consulted by this paper assure that the users obtain more secure connections accessing the Internet with WiFi, thus ETECSA would lose some control over what the web surfers send and receive. Such an advantage would be so remarkable, that many suspected from the first that it was a false report.

Yusmila Reyna, an independent journalist, maintained she had “no hope.” The reporter was skeptical that the Cuban government would offer those facilities “in a place where pro-democratic activism is stronger.”

Poster with WiFi announcement at the Technology Center (14ymedio)
Poster with WiFi announcement at the Technology Center (14ymedio)

Lazaro Borrero, resident of the Mariana de la Torre neighborhood, thinks that the announcement of wireless connection to the worldwide web “had made many people very happy because they thought they would be able to connect directly to the Internet.” Now, with the denial having been made by the state enterprise, in which they also confirmed that they will only offer navigation service on an intranet – that is a network with sites hosted only within Cuba – the young man laments in frustration: “Again, we are back to normal.”

Sulianne Gomez, a young university student, did not believe at first the rumors from fellow students but then thought that if it was true, it would be very positive to “access bibliographies that today we do not have and also to enter sites like Facebook and Twitter with greater speed.” Currently the connection that university students use in their educational center is characterized by low quality and slowness, plus several digital portals and social networks are blocked.

In this situation, the illegal use of wireless networks was a palliative for some. Liudmila Cedeno, computer enthusiast, used to connect to a wireless network clandestinely. “Fifty of us gathered in the Plaza de Marte Park near the Rex hotel, which had an open network, and with the Freedom application we accessed the Internet.” However, “after several months of doing it, the government authorities together with the National Police decided to come down on the people who were gathered there.”

Another young man who did not want to give his name and confessed to being one of those who met to download, taking advantage of the hotel’s open signal, says that he managed to watch the police seize laptops, tablets, and mobile phones, besides imposing fines of up to 2,000 pesos on those who used that connection without authorization.

The hope of those who lacked that chance focused then on the possible service that the Recreational Technological Center would offer. Ridel Brea says that all the teens with smart phones had created great expectations. “They were like crazy people searching for telephones with WiFi to be able to connect, and now what they have is great despair,” he laments.

The chance for a wireless connection to the global network would have been an alternative to the few navigation rooms that the province has, which usually are jammed by high demand and the deterioration of their infrastructure. Santiaguans lament the lost connections that appeared in the headlines of an official media but, at least for now, it does not appear that they are going to reach the park.

Translated by MLK

Cubans Euphoric Over the New Regulations / 14ymedio

Counterclockwise from the top, Miriam Celaya, Manuel Cuesta Morua and Dagoberto Valdés share with us their reactions to the new US regulations.
Counterclockwise from the top, Miriam Celaya, Manuel Cuesta Morua and Dagoberto Valdés share with us their reactions to the new US regulations.

14ymedio, Havana, 15 January 2015 — The new regulations on travel, insurance, the import of goods, remittances and telecommunications that the United States will put into effect with respect to Cuba as of Friday, have already provoked the first reactions on the Island. Although the evening news barely mentioned it at the end of the show, the information passed mouth-to-mouth on the street.

Lilianne Ruiz, independent journalist, received the welcome news and noted, “This flow of people who are going to come, along with the increase in the remittances, means the country’s return to normalcy.” In the opinions of this reporter, “The Cuban government is going to weaken, the only thing left is the repression and the restrictions. This will make people more accurately identify the origin of our difficulties.”

Among the most attractive points of the new regulations is the authorization to establish “telecommunications installations within Cuba, as well as installations that connect third countries with Cuba.” Internet connectivity and cheaper mobile phones are demands that have gained strength in the last year, especially among the youngest.

Yantiel Garcia was outside the Telepoint Communications Company of Cuba (ETECSA) in Pinar del Rio. The teenager said that she hoped that her brother in Jacksonville, Florida, could now help her with a technological gadget to connect to the web. “If the American mobile phone cards can be used here, my brother will pay for a data package for me to navigate without restrictions.”

The “ball is now in the Cuban government’s court,” said an ETESCA official who preferred to remain anonymous. As he explains, “The number of visitors from the United States will grow and the country will have to offer them a solution to connecting while they’re here.” To which he added, “It’s a question of business, not of ideology.”

The families who receive remittances will also benefit from the increased dollar amount that can be sent each quarter. The prior figure was limited to 500 dollars every three months, while now they can send up to 2,000 dollars to relatives residing on the Island.

At the Metropolitan Bank branch on Galiano in Havana this morning, several old people hoped to complete bank transactions. Cristina Marrero was one of them and she explained that she has one son in New York and another in Atlanta. For this lady the most appreciated measure is the one related to the sending of parcels in large quantities. “My sons have furniture and appliances that they want to send me and this is an opportunity,” she said.

For his part, Julio Aleago, political analyst, said that “Since 1959 the Communist government has always tended to isolate the country from the rest of the world and these measures will increasingly integrate Cuban into Western free market values, democracy, participation, free exchange of people and goods between countries.” With regards to the American embargo, still in effect, he said, “In the same way the American government imposed sanctions on Venezuelan and Russian officials, that should serve as a paradigm, instead of establishing a general embargo over the whole country, punish those personalities of the military government who have something to do with violations of human rights.”

As of Friday, airlines will not need a specific license from the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) to fly to Cuba, and this has received a good reception on the Island. This afternoon at Jose Marti International Airport’s Terminals Two and Three, the news spread like wildfire.

Dayane Rios, who was waiting for her grandmother who had been visiting Washington for three months, commented, with the illusions of youth, “This time she had to travel through Mexico because there are no direct flights, but I hope that for the next trip she can do it more directly and cheaply.”

However, although there are no new regulations about a possible maritime connection, many Cubans also dream of the idea. “Pick a place on the Malecon, when the ferry comes all of Havana will be seated on the wall,” one bike-taxi driver joked to another, crossing near Maceo Park.

Manuel Cuesta Morua finds, “The direction this normalization of relations between Cuba and the United States is taking very positive. If we think about the phrase let Cuba open itself to the world and the world open itself to Cuba*, than what is happening is that the United States is opening itself to Cuba, it is like opening the world.” The opponent pointed out that “The impact on the social empowerment of the citizenry, on issues of information and on the possibilities to manage their own lives, is very positive, it’s going to help to ease the precarious situation of Cubans.”

Dagoberto Valdes says, “I am in favor of everything that benefits the ordinary Cuban citizen, the facilitation of travel, communication between civil society here and there, between one people and the other, I am in favor of everything that improves the quality of life.” The director of the independent magazine Convivencia (Coexistence) also added that, “To those who say this is oxygen to the Cuban regime, I say that I am not a believer, I don’t think the Cuban model works and oxygen only works in live models, it doesn’t work in dead ones… what is the value of giving oxygen to this system if the structure of the cell doesn’t work.”

Miriam Celaya said, “It seems positive to me that Americans can travel to Cuba, that it will widen contacts between the two countries, but I don’t know how this is going to empower Cubans as long as all these government controls exist here, as long as free enterprise continues to be demonized and there are so many prohibitions.” In the activist’s opinion, “These measures empower Americans, but in the short term they do not give Cubans back their rights.

*Translator’s note: A phrase uttered by Pope John Paul II during his 1998 visit to Cuba.