“We have a great vocation to commit the same mistakes” / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

Marifeli Pérez-Stable during the interview in Mexico. (Reinaldo Escobar / 14ymedio)
Marifeli Pérez-Stable during the interview in Mexico. (Reinaldo Escobar / 14ymedio)

14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, 6 January 2015 – Longing and love for Cuba have been a constant in her life. Sociology professor, scholar of Cuban history, and promoter of initiatives to bring “the two shores” closer, Marifeli Perez-Stable is a woman who raises passions and whose prose has the ability to make us reflect. Decades ago she embraced the idea of the Cuban Revolution, but she also knew its failure, and the disillusionment it caused so many. Today, she is a person of two cultures and two countries.

The first part of this conversation, that we present to the readers of 14ymedio, took place in Mexico City with coffees in front of us, and the second was via email after the announcement of the reestablishment of relations between the United States and Cuba, on 17 December.

Question: You have defined your generation as the one that buried its grandparents and parents outside the island. And the most recent exile, how do you see them?

Answer: I’m more familiar with those who are relatively young. They are lucky that they didn’t make the break that we were forced to. They can go back and see their families, they send money to help them, they have their own identity. I’m delighted to have them in the classroom when I’m teaching. Many have at least one of their parents in Cuba. Now, amid the abnormality, there is a normality that we did not have. So I’m going to die with a certain internal emptiness that I can no longer fill, no matter what, because I could not develop as a person nor as a professional in Cuba. continue reading

Q: How did you arrive in an unknown country and start from nothing?

A: When we left the island my mother suffered a severe dislocation and great depression. It wasn’t just for the loss of Cuba, but also for the loss of her social status. Her despondency was contagious and I was 11, so I was a girl who only knew how to play and study. When I started at the university I barely knew what I wanted to be. Then I did a Master’s in Political Science, and although I knew I would be studying themes related to Cuba, the fact is that I didn’t know much about my own country.

Q: You have gone through the experience of facing accusations from both extremes of the range of political positions. How do you handle these attacks?

A: The main evolution is that I no longer care about these attacks, whether from one side or the other. I am not anyone’s agent, neither the CIA’s nor the FBI’s nor Cuban State Security’s. For a little less than twenty years I sympathized with a process known as the “Cuban Revolution,” but I’ve spent many more years opposing this phenomenon. When a 2008 Miami television program invited a former US army colonel who made serious accusations against me and against other people, as if we were Cuban spies, yes, I was shaken up. I responded with a column saying that espionage was the antithesis of who I was. But now I don’t react to these attacks.

Q: You’ve published several books, among them “The Cuban Revolution: Origins, Development and Legacy” and “The United States and Cuba: Intimate Enemies,” What other national studies themes have you addressed in your studies?

A: I reconsidered, with special attention, two aspects of our past. One of them concerns the “reconcentrados*” during the War of 1895 in the era of General Valeriano Weyler; the other is the autonomists [the Home Rule Party]. In relation to the war it should be noted that Cuba then had 1.5 million inhabitants, but there were 178,000 deaths, basically among the farmers and civilians who roamed the cities without any chance of finding food.

I don’t like this type of comparison, but in the Civil War in the United States, around 625,000 soldiers and 50,000 civilians died, especially in the South. In that country at that time this meant some 2.5% of the population. In our war the figure was 10%, of whom the immense majority were civilians. If we compare the impact that the War of Succession still has on the United States, with that of the War of Independence in Cuba, we have to conclude that we have an enormous vocation for committing the same mistakes.

Q: And the autonomists?

A: José Martí said that they were the party of the permanent mistake, but you can see clearly that they weren’t rejected in the Republic. They conceived a democratic Cuba and, given the current disaster, you can’t say they were more disastrous.

Q: The term “dialoguero” [“dialogue-er”] is used against those who say they can talk with the Cuban authorities. Do you think that dialogue could still happen between the opposition and the government?

A: This has to define Cubans who live on the island. As things are today in Cuba, the conditions aren’t there, because the government refuses to talk. I think a lot about the transitions in Eastern Europe and in Latin American, but it remains to be seen if Raul Castro will leave power in 2018 as he has promised. We also have to take into account that anger of so many people within Cuba. This can trigger very disagreeable situations and, like many others, I don’t want this to happen.

Q: With regards to the normalization of relations between the United States and Cuba, do you think one stage is ending and another beginning?

A: The announcement of 17 December adds a new dimension to the relations between Washington and Havana. There’s no conclusion to the old, nor the beginning of something new, if by that we mean a rupture. Although Obama was extraordinary, we can’t forget that in the ‘70s Ford and Carter headed in the same direction. In the ‘90s, Clinton also tried to improve relations but his effort didn’t come to fruition either. Obama was wise to make the announcement of normalization of relations out of the blue. He talked about a trip to Cuba by John Kerry before the Panama Summit. At the Summit, Latin American and Caribbean leaders will applaud Obama and Raul Castro. Finally the United States turned aside from the rocky road of old policies, for its relations with Latin American countries!

While Raul Castro affirmed before the National Assembly that Cuba had won the war, we would have to question the conditions of this triumph. The economy hasn’t taken off despite reforms and daily life for ordinary Cubans continues to be an ordeal. Two weeks after the change, Havana blocked the performance arranged by Tania Bruguera in support of freedom of expression. Some 70 opponents were arrested. The opposition isn’t going to sit by with its arms crossed. Will the government have the ability to recharge its batteries and develop other methods for dealing with the opposition? Above all, our people on the island are exhausted by the despair and the distrust. We will see if those at the top remain mired in the same things, or dare to seek out new directions.

*Translator’s note: “Reconcentrados,” (reconcentrated) in the War of 1895, refers to rural residents relocated to towns, combined with the destruction of the land from which the rebels supported themselves. See here for more.

One Day for Cuba / 14ymedio

[Note: One of more of the videos have English subtitles, but most are in Spanish]

14ymedio, 6 January 2015 – One Day For Cuba is the name of a new independent action from #YoExijo that takes the spirit of Tania Bruguera’s performance to appeal to the Cuban Government, and to a lesser extent to the US government, to listen to the demands of the Cuban people. Citizens can send and upload to the platform a one-minute long video formulating their requests. Some well-known artists, such as the actor Roberto San Martin, the rapper Don Eldon or the musician and writer Frank Sorie, have already sent their videos.

The action has been presented on the Youtube platform with this manifesto: “A day has 24 hours, every hour has 60 minutes; so a full day consists of 1440 minutes. Taking off from recent events, and inspired by the platform #YoTambienExijo [I Also Demand], following the proposal of multiple participants from civil society, we want to create an on-line platform where everyone can record a one-minute video and compile them in a single site. Out objective will be to bring 1440 one-minute videos, forming A Day For Cuba.”

The artist Ana Olema is one of the driving forces of the action, according to Diario de Cuba, which explained that the project aims to shed light on the real demands and concerns of civil society.

Here Comes the Packet, Knock, Knock / 14ymedio, Orlando Palma

  • Pinar-Rio-JUAN-CARLOS-FERNANDEZ_CYMIMA20150105_0015_16Research shows that among the main forms of cultural consumption in Cuba are television, visiting with friends and listening to music

14ymedio, ORLANDO PALMA, Havana, 5 January 2015 — A Cuban television special this Sunday entitled “They Call Me Cuba” addressed issues of “cultural consumption in the 21st century,” with special emphasis on the well-known weekly packet of audio-visual material that is distributed illegally throughout the country. Some specialists answered questions ranging from musical tastes to the need to impose cultural policy on the private and tourist sectors.

The results of an investigation carried out by the Juan Marinello Center have revealed that among the main forms of cultural consumption in Cuba are “television, spending time with friends and listening to music.” Pedro Emilio Moras, a researcher for that entity, said that, “The main way for the Cuban population to participate in culture is as the public, as the beneficiary of offerings, actions organized by cultural institutions.” Although he also asserted that, “We recognize that the houses where we live (…) are ideal scenarios for the cultural development of people, even our reality is the space par excellence.” continue reading

Just inside the homes, out of the control of the cultural supervisors and far from the censorship scissors, the packet has life. The numbers of audience members lost by official television is never made public, but, in view of the worry that its officials demonstrate, the phenomenon of the packet-ization of Cuban society must be reaching significant levels.

They Call Me Cuba emphasized that the country “is enjoying a moment of transformation not only economically but also socially. The establishments that belong to the non-state sector have taken their own initiative when it comes to animating their environment.” According to the report, there then arises “the question of how these entities are welcomed or not into the country’s cultural policy.”

It has not only to do with the time – ever greater – that people invest in consuming material of their choosing to the detriment of what’s shown on state television, but the social impact that the private spaces have on the formation of taste and musical and audio-visual distribution. In order to decrease that influence theater critic and researcher Jaime Gomez Triana urged that “the Government’s cultural policy be not only a policy for the Ministry of Culture’s institutions but that it be a cultural policy that regulates the way in which these offering are produced in other spaces.”

In interviews conducted on the street, several people referred to their experiences as consumers of the packet. The favorable opinions mentioned that an advantage of this kind of cultural consumption is that it gives better information about what is happening “in the international arena.” Reported among the factors leading to the increased alternative distribution of audio-visual content was the deterioration of the movie houses that domestically offer a poor substitute for public spaces.

The view that this compendium of audio-visual content is only “soap operas and reality shows” was challenged by several survey respondents who mentioned the didactic and instructive character of some materials like documentaries made by The Discovery Channel, as well as courses in make-up, gastronomy and handicrafts that are also included in the so-called combo.

Fernando Rojas, Vice Minister of Culture, in an interview, criticized those who concoct and distribute the packet as being “people who act strictly on their own and have a network that distributes that material that is updated periodically and that is made at the margins of the institutions and regulations for self-employed work.” In the judgment of Rojas, “the packet is made to feed the illusion that people are choosing (…) in reality, in a certain sense, and I stress in a certain sense, that idea about choosing is an illusion.”

In spite of the dread that the cultural institutions demonstrate before the advance of these forms of self-directed consumption, Rojas thinks that “people who talk so much about the topic of the packet, the famous packet, the aforementioned packet, give it greater importance than I believe it really has.” For the Vice Minister, “to the extent to which we move forward to a greater penetration of the Internet, and we are going to move forward, we are certainly going to move forward ever more, people are going to choose directly on the web and not have to depend on an intermediary. The packet is going to have a limited life in my judgment.”

Fabio Fernandez, content and programming director for the Cuban Institute of Radio and Television (ICRT), explained that among the great attractions of the packet is that “people can watch and listen to what they deem appropriate at the moment when they deem it appropriate.” The fact that “there is no direct relationship between the broadcast schedule times and the time a person decides to watch something” makes many choose this option that does not tie them to the screen on a determined broadcast schedule. To recover the viewers that national television has lost, the official bets on “offering ever more high quality products.”

Nevertheless, the formula for improving the official programming bill faces the difficulty of few resources for legally acquiring foreign content or advancing national production. Cuban television has underperformed in terms of quality, dynamism and thematic updates. An industry that was a pioneer in Latin America and the world has been suffering the fact that series and soap operas produced in Mexico, Colombia and Brazil captivate the public. The problem is rooted in issues that range from undercutting wages of actors and technical personnel to censorship that for decades caused bland, complacent scripts closer to sketches for a school morning assembly than to material to captivate and entertain.

Roberto Smith, president of the Cuban Institute of Cinematographic Art and Industry (ICAIC) said that it should be “based on the legitimacy of personal taste (…) some like one thing and others like another and that is their personal right, to prefer something and reject the other.” But later he remarked “that taste is educated, and that education is a process that must begin from earliest infancy. Right now we are developing (…) the possibility of offering different alternatives of audio-visual education from infancy for youth and for adults.”

Faced with the evidence that the demonization of the packet has only increased its attraction, Rojas confessed that “the path before any phenomenon (…) that is not desirable, in the sense that it is not a carrier of solid human values, of convictions and humanist, supportive, socialist feelings; the reaction before something that does not seem to us to fit in that formative educational effort, the reaction cannot be to prohibit it. The reaction has to be to compete.”

But the packet has come first to that competition with the advantage of being customizable, free from censorship, adjustable to all tastes and considered by the majority of Cubans as something outside of state control.

Translated by MLK

Armandito’s wheels / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

Police approach the portable stand with illegal wheels (14ymedio)
Police approach the portable stand with illegal wheels (14ymedio)

14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 5 January 2014 – With the authorization of mobile vendors, among the new forms of self-employment, an unexpected problem has arisen: the wheels. I’m not going to wear myself out here talking about the intimate relationship that exists between translational movement and this circular mechanical piece that rotates around an axis. The lack of foresight is as obvious as it is surprising, on the part of the bureaucrats who did not take into account something so elemental. If there isn’t a good supply of wheels suitable to move certain volumes of merchandise, those who use a cart, a scooter, or a wheelbarrow will take them where they find them. continue reading

Dumpsters are the most frequent victims of this depredation. The extraction is not always done in a friendly way, that is undoing the screws that connect the rolling mechanism to the base of the trash container, because on many occasions it is more practical to rip them out by force or to take the whole container and sell the rest of the structure as raw material for the manufacture of clothespins.

The wheels are often taken from the containers, though sometimes the remaining structure is also used. (14ymedio)
The wheels are often taken from the containers, though sometimes the remaining structure is also used. (14ymedio)

A few yards from Prado and Neptuno, the mythical corner of the song, “La Engañadora,” [The Deceiver] the police have detained Armandito, a vegetable seller. Pushing his cabbages, tomatoes and onions, piled on a metallic structure that surely also qualifies as of doubtful origin. The law enforcement agents have examined the wheels and have determined they are illegal. Around the scene several bystanders intercede, asking for clemency. “This boy is working… Why can’t you leave him in peace,” a gray-haired man tells the officer.

“They’re ruining the dumpsters,” the cop replies, and the mobile vendor has no option but to let himself be taken to some police station to make a statement, where he might end up in a cell for hours or days. In the interrogation they will want to know how he acquired the wheels for his transport, who supplied them to him and at what price. A fine, a forfeiture, and if he’s a repeat offender it won’t end there.

Not far from where they caught the vendor, someone has installed the mutilated corner of a garbage container over a doorjamb. Still, full of holes and broken it will continue providing service to unsuspected limits and could be a victim of other thieves, who might rip off the remaining wheels. Will Armandito confess where he got his?

Political repression increases in Cuba during the month of December, according to CCHRNC / 14ymedio

People gathering in Havana on Human Rights Day in December. (14ymedio)
People gathering in Havana on Human Rights Day in December. (14ymedio)

14ymedio, Havana, 5 January 2015 — According to its monthly report, during the month of December the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and reconciliation (CCDHRN) registered at least 489 arbitrary arrests for political reasons, closing out 2014 with at least 8,899 arrests for the year. continue reading

The commission, based in Havana, said that despite the reestablishment of relations between Cuba and the US, “The situation of civil and political rights and other fundamental rights in Cuba continues to be the worst in the entire Western Hemisphere.”

The month of December was marked by two events that produced a large number of arrests. The first occurred on December 10, World Human Rights Day. That date was marked by a wave of, “At least 234 arrests at the hands of the Cuban government, often with violence, of peaceful dissidents,” according to the CCDHRN report.

The second wave of arrests occurred on 30 December, the date of the ‘performance’ scheduled by Tania Bruguera for the Plaza of the Revolution. At least 70 people, including several reporters from this digital newspaper, were arrested by the political police for attending or trying to attend the Tatlin’s Whisper performance, which was intended to exercise the right of free expression. These detentions lasted, in some cases, up to 72 hours.

The CCDHRN also warned that, compared with November, in December there was an increase in, “The victims of physical aggression, acts of vandalism and harassment, and acts of repudiation.” Furthermore, three new political prisoners were jailed in December: Danilo Maldonado, Sonia González and Marcelino Abreu.

Tania Bruguera leaves UNEAC and returns her National Culture Award / 14ymedio

Tania Bruguera at TEDGlobal 2013. (James Duncan Davidson)
Tania Bruguera at TEDGlobal 2013. (James Duncan Davidson)

14ymedio, Havana, 5 January 2014 – This Monday, the Cuban artist Tania Bruguera returned the National Culture Award (Distinción por la Cultura Nacional) she received in 2002, and decided to renounce her membership in the National Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba (UNEAC).

“I can not receive recognition from, nor be part of, an institution that speaks for all but only through the presidency of the organization. Cultural institutions which, instead of opening a dialogue and a space for aesthetic analysis criminalize and judge, reduce the response to a work to generating fear of the work, and on top of it, distance themselves from it,” says the letter addressed to Cuba’s Deputy Minister of Culture, Fernando Rojas, and delivered Monday to the headquarters of the Ministry of Culture. continue reading

Bruguera was released last Friday after her attempt to stage a ‘performance’ in the Plaza of the Revolution in Havana, which would have given one minute at the microphone to any citizen who participated. The artist could not reach the Plaza because she was arrested before leaving home and twice more in the following days. “To peacefully present yourself and speak for one minute is an example of political art and of the function of art in society. It is what is called ‘Art Made for a Specific Political Moment,’ which can be translated as a work undertaken for a specific political context and situation,” she added.

The text of the letter:

Compañero Fernando Rojas
Vice Minister of Culture
Republic of Cuba

Upon my return from Documenta11, on 27 November 2002 the Ministry of Culture gave me, along with other young artists, the National Culture Award (Distinción por la Cultura Nacional). For years I did not give importance to this event because it did not change anything in my life or in my thinking. In fact, I didn’t remember if I had saved it, or if it had been lost. After recent events, this Award has taken on another meaning for me.

Today I return the Award to the Ministry of Culture, I put it in the hands of the vice minister with whom I previously have had ideological discussions about censorship. Today I also renounce my membership in the National Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba (UNEAC). I can not receive recognition from, nor be part of, an institution that speaks for all but only through the presidency of the organization. Cultural institutions which, instead of opening a dialogue and a space for aesthetic analysis criminalize and judge, reduce the response to a work to generating fear of the work, and on top of it, distance themselves from it.

I have heard many times in Cuba that this is not the appropriate time to criticize or to use a metaphor or to stage a work. Many times I have censored myself in the face of these words that magically cast blame on a doubt or an opinion. Today I know that the appropriate time for an artist is ALWAYS, but especially when the ways of evaluating the social or the human are suspended, but the appropriate moment cannot be a government directive because this makes it propaganda and not art. The artist would be in service to a government and not to a society. Opinion and art cannot exist only when they are permitted by the institution. I believe that it was the appropriate moment to make a work of art because all the decisions about what Cuba is going to be are still not implemented. There is still hope, many believe that undefined spaces exist within which all of we Cubans could be a part.

The changes in Cuba cannot be real if the decision comes from above and is reported and must be accepted. The changes in Cuba cannot be real if a different opinion is given when the government invites it. The changes in Cuba cannot be real if Cubans are afraid to know certain words, for example Human Rights. The changes in Cuba cannot be real if Cubans fear that having an opinion will leave them without a job. The changes in Cuba cannot be real if what is of interest to the government about Cubans is their money and not their ideas.

How sad is a government that sees a threat to the state in allowing regular Cubans one minute in which they can say what they think without government control! How sad is a government that jails the audience of a work of art!

Un abrazo,

Tania Bruguera

Havana, 5 January 2015.

An Independent Legal Group Files a Habeas Corpus Petition on behalf of El Sexto / 14ymedio

The artist Danilo Maldonado, El Sexto (Luz Escobar)
The artist Danilo Maldonado, El Sexto (Luz Escobar)

14YMEDIO, Havana, 29 December 2014 — On Monday, the independent group CubaLex filed a petition for habeas corpus in the case of artist Danilo Maldonado, El Sexto. In a document addressed to the Provincial Tribunal of Hanvana, the lawyers urge that the arrestee’s rights be respected and also that he be permitted a proper defense. Police have informed the relatives of the prisoner that all trials scheduled for the upcoming days, including that of the artist initially scheduled for next Wednesday, the last day of 2014, are delayed until the new year.

El Sexto was arrested December 25 shortly before carrying out a performance which consisted of releasing two pigs with the names of “Fidel and Raul” in a public square. He is charged with contempt. continue reading

Although the artist had told several friends of his desire to keep the exact date of the performance discreet, the police managed to find out and stopped the car in which he was traveling to the site. At first he was taken to the 4th Precinct Police Station at Infanta and Manglar, and then they transferred him to Zapata and C Station in Vedado, where he remains now.

Lawyer Laritza Diversent in conversation with 14ymedio has emphasized that she believes that “in this case they chose the date of December 31 with a malevolent intention because it is difficult to find a lawyer who wants to participate in a trial.” Nevertheless, Cubalex is advising El Sexto’s relatives to hire a lawyer from a collective firm as soon as possible. If they do not manage it in the next few hours, El Sexto would run the risk of being tried without the presence of his defender.

Habeas corpus is a legal institution that seeks to “prevent arbitrary arrests and detentions.” Its fundamental principal is the obligation to bring all arrestees before a judge within a short time period. In the case of El Sexto, today, Monday, marks four days since his arrest and incarceration.

Translated by MLK

A different end of year / 14ymedio, Juan Carlos Fernandez

Pinar del Rio returned to the custom of burning a doll symbolizing the old year  (Juan Carlos Fernández)
Pinar del Rio returned to the custom of burning a doll symbolizing the old year (Juan Carlos Fernández)

Despite all that has to change, Pinar del Rio greets the year with something new: hope

14ymedio, Juan Carlos Fernandez, Pinar del Rio, 2 January 2015 – The New Year was welcomed in the city of Pinar del Río very differently from before. For a long time it seems that we experienced more of a wake then a celebration. Wallets were thin, tempers heated, social violence was almost daily news. The predominant feeling was one of suffocation and a desire of many in Pinar del Rio to go to any other country, provided they could leave this quagmire called Cuba.

However, something changed this year. There is no noticeable improvement in the basic market basket, nor do we enjoy fundamental freedoms. The economy is touching bottom, the housing situation is terrible, and corruption undermines all levels of society. And yet, what motivated the sudden happiness and the signs of hope at this year end in a people who have almost nothing to cling to? continue reading

Many, among whom I count myself, point to December 17 as a turning point to begin the countdown to the opening of spaces for progress and well-being. It is not a magic wand but, undoubtedly, the news has cheered and breathed new hope into the lives of a great number of Cubans.

The reestablishment of diplomatic relations between Cuba and the United States has caused the few vehicles circulating on the streets of our city to blow their horns for the celebrations of December 31. It has been many years since the sirens of the Pinar del Rio Fire Department have been sounded with such emphasis on January 1. Even the popular tradition of burning dolls – made from cloth and straw and symbolizing the old year – was readopted on a massive scale. To the desires for prosperity, peace, tranquility and good health are added the omens of development for businesses and investments.

The passing of the old year and the welcoming of the new have taken on a great intensity in the city, along with the joy of seeing people feel like things will change for the better.

We don’t know whether this will be realized with more or less speed but, although we are not satisfied, we should be happy that this year end has been the one in which the countdown has begun.

Tania Bruguera released / 14ymedio

Tania Bruguera
Tania Bruguera

14ymedio, 2 January 2014 — The #YoTambienExijo.(I Also Demand) platform announced this Friday afternoon the release of the artist Tania Bruguera from the Acosta y Diez de Octubre Police Station. According to the platform, “Bruguera is already in her family’s apartment in El Vedado, she is going to rest right now and be with her mother.”

As of now, Bruguera has made no additional statements, but she appreciates all the support from the international community in the last few days. “Now is the time to be with my mother,” Bruguera stated, through the Twitter account of #YoTambienExijo.

Tania was arrested on Thursday outside the police center known as the Vivac de Calabazar. By the time of her release, thousands of people from all over the world had already signed a letter addressed to Raul Castro demanding her immediate release.

Bruguera made clear that she did not want to be released until all those arrested because of her artistic performance were released. “I cannot allow people to remain prisoners on my account, I can’t accept that the audience of political art is repressed, censored and suffers on my account,” the artist declared.

Bruguera’s case will be evaluated by the prosecutor in the coming days, the platform said. Her passport has been confiscated and she cannot leave the country.

Hundreds of Artists Address a Letter to Raul Castro To Seek the Release of Tania Bruguera / 14ymedio

Tania Bruguera. Slogan on T-Shirt says "I Also Demand"
Tania Bruguera. Slogan on T-Shirt says “I Also Demand”

14YMEDIO, 2 January 2014 – As of right now, almost 300 artists have signed an open letter to President Raul Castro to petition for the release of Tania Bruguera and the other activists arrested after the performance organized by the artist last Tuesday, December 30. The initiative comes from Cuauhtemoc Medina (curator and critic of Mexican art), Andrea Giunta (Argentine art historian), Miguel Lopez (curator and critic of Peruvian art) and Octavio Zaya (curator and critic of Spanish and United States art), and the list of signatories keeps growing. continue reading

The letter considers that the staging that Tania Bruguera organized at the Plaza of the Revolution on the 30th had as its objective “promoting a moment of reflection and civilized debate about the changes that Cuban society and the government will experience after the re-establishment of diplomatic relations with the United States as announced this past December 17.”

The signers, who remind Raul Castro that Bruguera is one of the world’s most recognized Latin American artists, lament “with deep concern” seeing that the initiative “not only found no echo from authorities but that it caused the arrest of the artist and a diverse group of Cuban citizens.” “With all due respect, we ask you to discharge Tania Bruguera and the other arrestees,” they demand.

The work by Tania Bruguera, they recall, is “focused on the social and political intervention that is a result, as she herself has demonstrated repeatedly, of the development that produced the Cuban Revolution.” That is why they consider the arrest of the artist and seizure of her passport for the mere fact of creating an artistic work “that only sought to create a public discussion space” an inappropriate reaction.

Cuban cultural institutions have considered, on the contrary, that the effort by Tania Bruguera was precisely intended to damage relations with the US. As confirmed this Friday to 14ymedio by Elizardo Sanchez, spokesman for the Cuban National Human Rights and Reconciliation Commission (CCDHRN), at least 13 activists continue to be detained in connection with the events of December 30. Also, the artist was taken from the Vivac de Calabazar prison in a car, and her whereabouts are still unknown.

Translated by MLK

The Gag Law: A Victim of the Rapprochement between Cuba and the US? / 14ymedio, Victor Ariel Gonzalez

The legislation that has endorsed flagrant human rights violations seems to have its days numbered.

14ymedio, VICTOR ARIEL GONZALEZ, Havana, 30 December 2014 – Following the custom of seeing the speck in the eye of another, the “gag law” that in recent days has caused a waved of protests in Spain has been criticized by Cuba’s official Cuban. The Prensa Latina news agency recently cited a Spanish activist, opponent of the Popular Party’s legal project, who predicted that the edict “will repress rights like that of free assembly” as well as freedom of expression.

Nevertheless, the menacing “Law of Citizen Security” which has raised so much commotion in that European country has a counterpart on this Caribbean island. The “Law No. 88 for protection of national independence and the Cuban economy” has been, since its approval in February 1999, our own gag law, and its description is identical to that offered by the aforementioned activist and quoted by Prensa Latina: “A way of creating fear and exerting media pressure to criminalize protests.”

But in Cuba, unlike in Spain, for more than half a century one simply could not protest, and fear was consolidated into terror. The Cuban “Gag Law” affects, among others, those who “collaborate in any way with radio or television stations, newspapers, magazines or other foreign media,” “disturb the public order” or “promote, organize or incite disturbances of the public order.” The sanctions range from three to 20 years in prison. continue reading

Nothing better characterizes Law No. 88 than its first article, which reads that its objective is “to criminalize and punish those actions designed to support, facilitate or collaborate with the objectives of the Helms-Burton law, the blockade and the economic war against our people.” Throughout the text are repeated ad nauseam the elements that turn the United States into an enemy that wants to see us crushed.

This was the law that sought to justify the mass incarcerations of the 2003 Black Spring. But now the legislation that has supported flagrant violations of human rights seems to have its days numbered.

With the end of the Cuba-US confrontation a document loses meaning that consecrates as “an unavoidable duty responding to the aggression whose object is the Cuban people” who desire to maintain their “independence and sovereignty.” For decades the regime has shielded itself behind this discourse to refuse to open itself to hearing its opponents or, at least, to not repressing them.

The recent statements that ended 53 years of Washington’s “hard” line towards Havana were the exorcism of the imperialist demon who threatened Cuban sovereignty, as the regime defines it. According to the law, which serves above all to imprison peaceful opponents, the actions of the US are designed to “break internal order, destabilize the country and liquidate the Socialist State and Cuban independence.” But Barack Obama himself, when he describes the American strategy as “failed” underscores official Cuban paranoia.

With the December 17 statements from the White House, the foundations of the “Gag Law” wobbled. This shows that its reach was as terrible as it was weak. In the next months we may be witnessing the definitive emptying of its contents, ever more hollow. What remains to be seen is if they withdraw the law, ease it or just replace it.

Translated by MLK

A fair idea in the depths of the dungeon / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

Images in the Plaza of the Revolution on December 30th. (EFE)

14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, 31 December 2014 – In the mouse gray uniform worn by inmates, as disheveled as usual and with eyes open wide, Tania Bruguera sitting on a bench in the Acosta Street Police Station seemed to be giving the best performance of her artistic career. At that point at noon on 30 December 2014, they’d already arrested dozens of people in the city of Havana to prevent them from answering the invitation to gather at the Plaza of the Revolution. continue reading

As Arnold Hauser said, “Artworks are provocations, we can’t explain them to ourselves, at most we can argue with them.” In 2009, at the Wilfredo Lam Center, during the Havana Bienniel, Tatlin’s Whisper had given us much to talk about. An open microphone, where everyone could say what they thought for one minute, was too much for the bureaucrats of the Ministry of Culture’s National Council of Plastic Arts, who arrived to make public their indignation with the libertarian event. But this one went further: it wasn’t in a closed gallery space, but in the Plaza of the Revolution, and it wasn’t just any moment, but two weeks after the announcement of the reestablishment of relations between Cuba and the United States.

If what the performance proposed was to measure and demonstrate the extent of the government’s lack of tolerance for freedom of expression, we must say it was a success, although for some it only highlighted a self-evident truth. If the style of “slowly but surely” has characterized the work of “the gradual revolutionary” in less complex areas, such as self-employment or the leasing of land in usufruct, what could be expected of civil liberties and politics a few days from the beginning of the dismantling of this “besieged plaza,” where all dissent has been interpreted as treason.

Far from harming the normal development of eventual negotiations between the participants in the old dispute, what happened in the final days of 2014 makes clear for both parties the limits within which conditions and requirements can move. Above all, it sheds light on the absence from the discussion table of alternative civil society, ordinary Cubans, the people, or whatever you would like to call the most injured party in this conflict on the path to extinction.

Tania Bruguera Under Arrest at Acosta Police Station in Diez de Octubre, Havana / 14ymedio

Tania Bruguera (photo from her blog)
Tania Bruguera (photo from her blog)

14ymedio, Havana, 30 december 2014 — Contacted by phone at her home, the director of 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, said that Tania Bruguera was under arrest at the Acosta Police Station in the Diez de Octubre municipality in Havana.

Reinaldo Escobar was released from the same station Tuesday night at 10:00 pm. Escobar affirmed that he saw Tania “wearing the gray uniform of a convict,” It is still unknown when Bruguera will be released.

The two police cars surrounding Yoani Sanchez’s building have been removed and the director of this digital daily is no longer under house arrest.

The 14ymedio reporter Victor Ariel Gonzalez is still being detained, in Guanabacoa. Still unknown are the whereabouts of the activists Antonio Rodiles, Ailer Gonzalez and Eliecer Avila, along with the photographer Claudio Fuentes and his partner, Eva Baquero.

Developing news.

UPDATE: Ailer Gonzalez has been released.

Several activists and Reinaldo Escobar, editor-in-chief of ’14ymedio’, arrested / 14ymedio

The police car in front of the apartment of Reinaldo Escobar and Yoani Sanchez. (14ymedio)
The police car in front of the apartment of Reinaldo Escobar and Yoani Sanchez. (14ymedio)

The director of this newspaper, Yoani Sánchez, is under house arrest

14ymedio, Havana, 30 December 2014 – Contacted by phone at her home, the director of 14ymedio, Yoani Sánchez, explained the circumstances of the arrest of her husband, Reinaldo Escobar, and of several other people this Tuesday in Havana. She is under house arrest. Patrol car No. 507 is stationed in front of the building where she lives, while four plainclothes offices are controlling the building entrances. continue reading

Reinaldo Escobar was arrested when he left the building where he lives in the company of the activist Eliécer Ávila, founder of the group “Somos Más” (We are More). Both were handcuffed and put in a patrol car waiting in front of the building in the Havana neighborhood of Neuvo Vedado. Reinaldo’s daughter, Luz, who was with her father, has not been arrested, but a State Security agency told her, “We are not going to let you leave.” The same official visited Luz Escobar’s home yesterday to warn her not to go near the Plaza of the Revolution today, where the artist Tania Bruguera has scheduled a performance titled “Tatlin’s Whisper #6” for 3:00 in the afternoon, to demand freedom of expression for Cuban’s citizens.

Also arrested were photographer Claudio Fuentes and his companion Eva, while the activists Antonio Rodiles and Ailer González were not answering the phone. Social networks also inform us of the arrests of José Díaz Silva, Raúl Borges, Lady in White Lourdes Esquivel, and of the 14ymedio reporter Víctor Ariel González.

Members of the #YOTAMBIENEXIJO [I also demand] platform issued a press release denouncing their inability to contact Bruguera. The organization explained that the artist’s telephone number is blocked and expressed their fear, given the arrests of the leaders of civic organizations currently underway.

Cuban Civil Society Open Forum statement on the resumption of relations with the US / 14ymedio

14ymedio, Havana, 23 December 2014 – With regards to the announcement of the restoration of relations between Cuba and the United States, coming out of secret negotiations, the Cuban Civil Society Open Forum wishes to state that:

  • We are pleased for the dozens of compatriots who will be released from prison and also by the release of Alan Gross.
  • We believe that this ends the pretext and the official narrative of a besieged people, and that we must focus on democratic change in Cuba.
  • We assume that the pressure from Cuban democrats within and outside the Island has contributed in a substantive way to the creation of this new scenario, and so we confirm that in the future we must expand the role of our civil society.
  • We must listen to, reflect, and give voice to what the Cuban people are feeling at this time and offer them a new narrative, tactics and strategy, and a new language.
  • We make a call to strengthen the unity in diversity achieved so far, whatever our opinions may be on this issue, and to maintain equanimity and respect.
  • We expect that further negotiations will be carried out with greater transparency and will take into account all of the actors of Cuban society, without secrecy, and not behind the backs of institutions.