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.

One name on the list / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

The above video is of Yojarne Arce’s protest that eventually led to his arrest.

14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, 14 January 2105 — Living in Caimanera is like living on an island within the island. On either side of the highway at the entrance can be read “This is the first anti-imperialist trench in Cuba.” The land is arid and three points of police control block any unauthorized person from accessing the town.

In the village adjoining the Guantanamo Naval Base, a young man has woken up in his own bed today after months in prison. Yojarne Arce dreams of being lawyer, although in the last year he has experienced the law from its most arbitrary side, the political prison.

This 35-year-old Guantanameran has been released as a part of the agreements between the Cuban government and the United States. His name is on the list of activists that Raul Castro ordered out of the prisons, in a political game as long-awaited as it is disappointing.

In the cold language of the court record, it says that Yojarne was condemned for the crime of assault, but those who knew his activism said that State Securirty spent time “hunting him down.” It was a matter of time before they trapped him.

In the middle of last year a video raced across social networks and mobile phones. In it the images of a man is seen standing on a telecommunications tower where he displays a sign with the phrase “Cuba violates human rights.” For long minutes he waves the cloth and shouts slogans.

At the foot of the metal structure people are gathered, half curious, half supportive. That day the police could not arrest him, because his neighbors surrounded him and accompanied hi, home. “You’re not going to take him,” shouted some of them at the law enforcement officers.

But the police have the time, all the time, to wait until an inconvenient individual is alone and helpless. That day came. They arrested this young man from Generation Y right in the street, between blows and screams, a few yards from the border than separates Cuban territory and the American naval base.

And what list are you on?

Yojarne spent days of interrogations and threats. Afterwards they took him to the Guantanamo Provincial Prison, a school-style construction in the country where the greatest lesson to be learned is survival. “I went to ‘The Gulf,’ which is what the prisoners call this encampment where I was, because it’s the last, the end of everything.” He spent most of the time among murderers, repeat offenders and rapists.

“From the beginning I behaved like a political prisoner because I helped to organize several protests and defend the rights of other prisoners,” Yojarne said, while his grandfather prepared a taste of coffee to be drunk in one sip, thinking about those days in prison with hardly any breakfast.

Yojarne Arce at home. (14ymedio)
Yojarne Arce at home. (14ymedio)

The life of this Patriotic Union of Cuba activist has gone from one list to another. To visit him in Caimanera it’s necessary to sign in on a form that every family has at the police station. “Relatives note the name of whoever wants to spend some days with them and then the person is investigated to see if they can enter the town.” For someone who was studying fifth year law when he was arrested, these restrictions remain intolerable.

He was in the prison yard with the common prisoners when they called him. “Yojarne, get your things, you’re going,” one of the guards told him. At first he thought it was a joke. Between those walls he had been on hunger strike and was in the punishment cell at least three times. The Guantanamo Provincial Prison was his home for six months, a cruel home where he won some small battles and left on parole.

“I started a protest which several inmates joined to demand that they display the prison rules,” he says in a lawyerly tone. He takes his time between one word and another, as if reliving those days and then continues, “I did it so the prisoners could know their rights and know what they had access to.”

The first visit after his release was to his captive village. “Caimanera remains the same, nothing has changed, the people are fed up.” Thus he explains his first impressions. His grandmother waited for him at home, running back and forth with joy. The neighbors also came to hug a man who was once a sports trainer and an improvised physiotherapist in the neighborhood.

“I lost the school year, because the university took advantage of my being in prison to kick me out,” he explained, sadly. He lacked just a few months to obtain the title of lawyer that he had planned to hang on the wall facing the door. “I am going to try again,” he says loudly, although it seems to be a promise he is making to himself.

The phone rings and it’s an activist from Santiago de Cuba who called to report that they wouldn’t let him enter Caimanera because he isn’t “on the list.” Yojarne is trapped in a Cold War bastion that the official discourse itself seems to be rejecting. He has exchanged Guantanamo provincial prison for the wide prison that is Caimanera.

Look But Don’t Touch / 14ymedio, Victor Ariel Gonzalez

At Sol and Oficios, there is a closed park and a dry fountain. (14YMEDIO)
At Sol and Oficios, a closed park and a dry fountain. (14YMEDIO)
  • As ancient buildings are crumbling, the vacant lots are transformed into parks that are always closed

14ymedio, Victor Ariel Gonzales, Havana, 9 January 2015 — A group of tourists stops at the entrance of the “ecological park” on Mercaderes Street, a few steps from the Havana Cathedral. The guide speaks to them about this vacant lot turned into a public space which would be nothing out of the ordinary except for being the only one of its kind that is kept open. Aside from the brief circuit designed for foreign visitors, the parks of Old Havana are always closed.

So functions the fiefdom of Eusebio Leal, Havana’s City Historian. As old buildings crumble, the now-vacant parcels are transformed into gardens to which are added benches, trash cans, shade trees and maybe even a fountain. But, along with all that, they also put a magnificent gate closed with chain and padlock. No one can enter these urban oases.

At the corner of Teniente Rey and Habana there existed until a few years ago a children’s park full of attractions that were never used. The attractions “were burned” in the sun, says a neighbor of the place who remembers the image of children asking why “their park” was closed.

Today, the slides now dismantled, the site remains inaccessible but at least seeks another function in the community. Talking about this is Justo Torres who brought from his native Isabel de Sagua an interest in gardening and urban agriculture. He works at Nelva Oasis, a small gardening business very nearby that coordinated the park’s management with the Historian’s Office – a kind of local government.

Very enthusiastically, Torres confesses to being full of ideas for this place: giving it a “social use,” practicing agro-ecology and vermiculture, among others. “It is a unique experiment,” he says and one that also aims to be economically sustainable. He trusts that, in time, authorities will continue supporting the initiative.

Nevertheless, the rest of the parks have not had the same luck and have no use beyond the visual . . . behind bars. The monument erected in honor of Cuban doctor Carlos J. Finlay at Cuba and Amargura cannot be seen up close. There is also the Las Carolinas park, administered by the modern dance company Retazos, and open only for its interest in “some workshop for children and teens,” according to a custodian.

The list goes on. At Sol and Oficios, next to the Office of Cultural Heritage, an enormous green space surrounds a fountain as dry as a desert, that is their park. And at Acosta and Damas they built a pretty reminder of the Jewish community that lived there, just for the pedestrians to pass by because of having nowhere to rest without jumping the gate.

One of the best examples of this closure of public spaces is the fountain at Plaza Vieja in the heart of Havana within the city walls. The uninformed find the bars that surround the water to be strange. They do not know that this area has so many problems with the supply of the liquid which has had neighbors bringing buckets and tanks to it. A spectacle that reflects the real Cuba, which is not seen on postcards.

Across from the Central Train Station – another decadent icon of the city – a park offers anything except an invitation to relax. Old steam locomotives rust behind bars next to benches that will never be used again either.

This situation forms part of a vicious cycle that is completed with vandalism. The primary idea is that the parks remain closed so that the neighbors – who are not foreigners, but seemingly “uncivilized” Cubans – do no damage to them, while the lack of contact and “entrance prohibited” could be making it difficult to create respect for the urban environment or a sense of belonging.

So Nercy Perez, who works at the previously mentioned garden at Teniente Rey and Havana, would like the area schools to integrate themselves more in the projects she and her colleagues promote. “If children learn from an early age to take care of things, then later it will be easier.” The woman is of the opinion that “people do not have the culture” of caring for things. Indeed, she had to interrupt the conversation to scold a student who passed by and just grabbed one of her plants.

Other neighbors complain about the lack of public spaces. “The children have nowhere to play. They have to be in the street. The old people have nowhere to sit,” criticizes Joaquin from El Cristo neighborhood. The plaza that carries this latter name has been closed by metal barriers for a long time. Its interior does not look anything like a place where generations of Havanans scampered.

Also closed to the public, the Plaza del Cristo faces one of the many interminable repairs that can be seen in Old Havana, between crumbling buildings and dirty streets. What is obvious, unfortunately for those who long for a pretty city, is that not so many tourists pass through here.

“The only option for children is to go to the Inflatable Toys Park,” complains Norma, mother of two little ones. She concludes: “Of course, since that does provide money [from entrance fees], they don’t close it.”

Translated by MLK

“El Critico” will keep writing what comes from his heart / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar


Given to putting rhymes to reality and signing to the rhythm of rap’s social protest, Angel Yunier Remon, “El Critico,” just got out of prison where he spent the last two years due to his activism. In March of 2013, Remon, who also coordinated the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU) in Bayamo, was arrested for painting “Down with the dictatorship!” on a wall in front of his house. He was sentenced to six years for assault.

During the time he has been in prison, El Critico has suffered from cholera, and carried out several hunger strikes. The campaign for his release gained intensity on social networks, generated solidarity among many other musicians in the world, and led to demand for his release by numerous international organizations.

Less than 72 hours after his release, 14ymedio held a telephone conversation with El Critico, already at home in Bayamo.

Question: Prison is hard for anyone. What did you experience in your time behind bars? continue reading

Answer: As you know, I’ve been out three days and now I’m trying to reintegrate myself into my family after spending one year, ten months and fifteen days in prison. I want you to know that I was subjected to physical and psychological torture there, meant to punish me for my ideals, which are in sync with those held today by the majority of the Cuban population. They are the same as the dreams of this people, which has suffered sophism for more than 56 years and spent decades asking for changes and justice.

Q: What is the situation of the other activists who are in the same prison?

A: I was in Las Mangas provincial prison, four miles from Bayamo. With me, among other activists, were Rubisney Villavicencio Figueredo and Alexander Otero Rodríguez, who are also home now.

Q: Can you tell us about the day you were released and give us some details about your current legal situation?

A: They never explained to me that I was being released. I’d spent a month in a punishment cell because of the disobedience I maintained. I was in my underwear, because they had taken everything. Then the guards came and returned the clothes they’d taken and ordered me to collect my things. Everything indicated I was being transferred, but they didn’t tell me anything. I left prison in a paddy wagon, accompanied by several guards and other State Security personnel. When we were outside they let me out, gave me a paper and left. On this paper there was a stamp and a signature saying that I was on parole.

Q: Your case prompted a lot of solidarity around the world. Do you want to say something to the people have demanded your release all this time?

A: I don’t know how to thank so much goodness and I want to at least offer a fraternal embrace. Undoubtedly, these are people who sided with the truth, whether from exile or from here. this shows that when voices are raised, as they should be, they can make themselves heard. This we must also do for a free Cuba, which is what so many of us want.

Q: What are you thinking of doing now? What are your plans?

A: I have a musical project I’ve fought hard for, so I am going to go out and see the youth of my city, where there is a lot of talent. This project is called “The children nobody wanted.*” So now I want to dedicate myself to making music and rescuing the talent of all these young people who want to be heard. For my part, I can assure you that El Critico will continue writing what comes from my heart.

Q: How were you received in your neighborhood?

A: Here, right now, there is tremendous confusion, but great joy. One by one almost all the neighbors have come by the house to offer their support and their joy that I’m out. These are people who were witnesses to the injustices committed in this neighborhood. Now they come to embrace me and it is as if they had all been released along with me.

Q: Were you able to write any new songs while you were in prison?

A: I have documented everything that happened. They are experiences acquired in a difficult situation and I want to reveal them in my songs, because they are things that should be known.

*Translator’s note: Taken from the title of a novel (and also a blog) by Angel Santiesteban, who remains in prison.

12 January 2015

According to Washington, Cuba Has Freed the 53 Prisoners It Agreed Upon With the US / 14ymedio

Some of the political prisoners released (Enrique Figuerola, Yordenys Mendoza Coba, Bianko y Diango Vargas Martín, Alexander Otero Rodríguez, Haydeé Gallardo Salázar, Miguel Alberto Ulloa)
Some of the political prisoners released (Enrique Figuerola, Yordenys Mendoza Coba, Bianko y Diango Vargas Martín, Alexander Otero Rodríguez, Haydeé Gallardo Salázar, Miguel Alberto Ulloa)
  • The Island’s dissidence has insisted it has record of only 39 releases

14YMEDIO, Havana, 12 January 2015 — Cuba has released the 53 prisoners that it had promised to free in talks with the US according to an announcement Monday by the US ambassador to the UN, Samantha Power. According to these reports, the liberations of those prisoners who had been missing was completed this weekend, and the White House will send to Congress the complete list to then make it public.

Dissident groups such as the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation (CCDHRN) and the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU) have insisted that they have until now only confirmed 39 releases since last Wednesday. “We will see what happens in the coming days,” Elizardo Sanchez, spokesman for the CCDHRN, has said.

Power has admitted that there were differences in Congress about the way to act, but has assured that there is a common will to advance the rights of the Cuban people. continue reading

The Havana agreement was reached in July, according to Reuters, which also says that it is a question of “days and weeks” for Obama to begin exercising his executive powers to reduce the restrictions on trade and travel. The first changes could be announced, say officials, January 21st or 22nd when Roberta Jacobson, Latin American Deputy Secretary for the State Department, will arrive in Havana to begin the negotiations between Cuba and the United States.

Power has stressed that there are changes underway in Cuba, as also confirmed by the re-opening of the Embassy and the “democratic program” that the US will promote in its talks. Also, she explains that the future of the Guantanamo naval base has not been a topic on the table.

Translated by: MLK

“The canonization of historical figures continues” / 14ymedio, Luz Escobar

'Control of History' (1st part) by Saavedra. (Luz Escobar)
‘Control of History’ (1st part) by Saavedra. (Photo by Luz Escobar) Assignment: “Draw Che.” Grade received from teacher: 50 points out of 50.

14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 10 January 2015 – Outside the Galiano gallery in Central Havana yesterday, dozens of people gathered to enter the Añejo 27 [Aged 27] exposition. Some passersby were puzzled by the reasons for the tumult, perhaps thinking that eggs or pork had come to the ration stores. However, it’s “just art,” one disappointed girl told another who grimaced on hearing it.

The doors open and in the salon are hanging works from almost thirty years ago. “A liqueur from the past” with a strange taste of the present. The author of these drawings, collages and oils is Lázaro Saavedra, an artist with a stroke of the ironic and few words. Even so, 14ymedio managed to talk with him amid some images that characterize his work and his artistic generation.

Escobar: Graphic art and humor are in mourning this week because of the events at the weekly Charlie Hebdo. What did you think when you heard about this tragedy?

Saavedra: Rather than thinking, in the face of news like that what one feels is a very emotional reaction. continue reading

Escobar: Eight years have passed since the “little war of e-mails” in which you participated very actively. How has cultural policy changed at that time?

Saavedra: Everything has remained the same.

Escobar: In this exhibition, Añejo 27, there is an impressive effect in many of the themes and situations. Aren’t you frightened?

Saavedra: And what are the specific issues in which this effect is noticed?

Escobar: For example, this picture in front of us reminds me of the homework of my daughters who are now in elementary school.

Saavedra: You’re referring to the “Portrait of Che”? Yes, of course, it’s still current. That is, the entire canonization of historical figures continues.

Escobar: Tania Bruguera’s performance didn’t happen. Do you think it was too soon for a call like that?

Saavedra: I think so, it was too soon.

Escobar: What about Cuban art today, does it enjoy good health?

Saavedra: That’s a difficult question because if you think about health you have to counterbalance that with disease. In the answer to this question about disease, we have to be thinking about the cure for things to be better. Then we will have to detect what would be the points of sickness.

'Control of History' (part 2) by Saavedra. (Luz Escobar) Text of the composition on Che: “Che was Bolivian. He liked to smoke cigars. He had long hair and a very bright star on his forehead. His gaze was impressive and also very tender. He loved children very much and because of this they killed him in Argentina.” Teacher’s grade: 0 points out of 50.
‘Control of History’ (part 2) by Saavedra. (Luz Escobar)
Assignment: “Write a composition on Che.” Text of the composition: “Che was Bolivian. He liked to smoke cigars. He had long hair and a very bright star on his forehead. His gaze was impressive and also very tender. He loved children very much and because of this they killed him in Argentina.” Grade received from teacher: 0 points out of 50.

Escobar: The disconnect in artistic language, for example, with respect to what is happening in other countries in the world?

Saavedra: The disconnect in language has always been a constant in Cuban art. For example I did Volume One precisely because of this disconnect in Cuban art. In these times to do a work with new language could be considered a work of “ideological diversionism.” To some extent that is also what happened with Tania’s work, there is a disconnect in the appearance of the work with the traditional concepts of art.

Escobar: You’ve stood out as a teacher of new generations. What artistic surprises do young people have in store for us?

Saavedra: I don’t know now because I haven’t been teaching at ISA (Superior Institute of Art) for a few years, it’s been since about 2009 that I lost contact with the new generations.

Because of work problems I haven’t been able to give classes, in fact that is one of the doubts I have of myself. I would like to at least prove first hand, that is at the primary source, that this is what is being done at ISA. I refer to the place, because another thing is what comes out of ISA versus what is archived in ISA, which are two different things.

List of the Political Prisoners Released to date / 14ymedio

, Havana, 9 January 2015

2. Alexeis Vargas Martín

3. Ángel Figueredo Castellón

4. Ángel Yunier Remón Arzuaga

5. Anoy Almeida Pérez

6. Aracelio Ribeaux Noa

7. Ariel Eugenio Arzuaga Peña

8. Bianko Vargas Martín

9. Daniel Enrique Quesada Chaveco

10. David Piloto Barceló

11. Diango Vargas Martín

12. Emilio Plana Robert

13. Enrique Figuerola Miranda

14. Ernesto Riverí Gascón

15. Haydeé Gallardo Salázar

16. Iván Fernández Depestre

17. Jorge Ramírez Calderón

18. José Lino Ascencio López

19. Jose M. Rodriguez Navarro

20. Julio César Vegas Santiesteban

21. Lázaro Romero Hurtado

22. Luis Enrique Labrador Díaz

23. Miguel Guerra Astie

24. Rolando Reyes Rabanal

25. Ruberlandis Maine Villalón

26. Yohanne Arce Sarmientos

27. Yordenis Mendoza Cobas

28. Wilberto Parada Milán

29. Mario Alberto Hernández Leiva

30. Leonardo Paumier Ramirez

31. Miguel Angel Tamayo Frias

32. Ernesto Tamayo Guerra

33. Vladimir Ortiz Suárez

34. Roberto Hernández Barrio

35. Rubisney Villavicencio Figueredo

36. Carlos Manuel Figueredo Álvarez

37.  Alexander Fernández Rico

38. Miguel Alberto Ulloa

39. Reiner Mulet

Drug Consumption Increases in Cuba / 14ymedio, ORLANDO PALMA

Screen capture from the TV report issued by Primetime News about customs work against drug trafficking
Screen capture from the TV report issued by Primetime News about customs work against drug trafficking

14ymedio, Orlando Palma, Havana, 8 January 2015 – The seizure in 2014 of close to 40 tons of drugs in Cuban ports and airports belies the old official line that for decades presented narco-trafficking as a foreign phenomenon, a characteristic of the “corrupt capitalist world.” The official press boasted that the Island was not used as bridge for the introduction of narcotics into other countries.

Nevertheless, as early as the nineties, some academic studies and journalistic reports began to speak in more realistic terms about national addiction and consumption of prohibited substances. continue reading

Last October Cuban television’s Primetime News published a report from Jose Marti International Airport in which the techniques used by customs to detect the entry of drugs were demonstrated and in which it reported the discovery of at least 40 cases of intent to traffic drugs through the border through mid-October.

The report came out days after the independent press echoed a study published by Customs of the Republic that showed the case of a passenger who transferred to the Island “a certain quantity of drug in an ingested form which was destined for the domestic consumption market.” That brief phrase focused attention on the existence of two problems within Cuba: domestic consumption and the use of “mules” for transport of the substances.

The Customs report, prepared by Moraima Rodriguez Nuviola, chief of the Department of Analysis for that agency, adds other figures. Between January and November 2014, the system for confronting drugs on the border discovered through air, sea and postal channels 38,843 kilograms of drugs, among them 36,587 of cocaine, 2,224 of marijuana and 32 of cannabinoids.
Customs now has 110 dog units trained to find not only explosives but also drugs.

Modern X-ray equipment for the Mariel port, together with other technical means of control have been installed or will be installed soon in all of the country’s international airports. Among them the internal body scan, which is used to find out if a person has ingested drugs and the external body scan to see if there is contraband attached to the body.

Official recognition of the existence of a domestic market for the consumption of drugs has been reflected on official television through signals such as the appearance of a message announcing a telephone help line for addicts and the introduction into scripts of cases brought against networks that distribute crack cocaine or any other substance. Counseling programs have begun to include advice for family members who live with addicts.

Increased tourism and the new economic capacity of some population sectors would be the main causes for the presumed increase in consumption of drugs. Meanwhile, the new official discourse suggests that, to the extent that the country now is looking like the rest of the world, these phenomena are inevitable.

After the announcement of the re-establishment of diplomatic relations between Washington and Havana, the fight to stop drug trafficking could become another area of cooperation between the two countries, since the Island, in contrast with the majority of its neighbors, is not an important point in the circulation of narcotics.

“I do not believe that the Cuban government wants to be a drug trafficking center,” Barry McCaffrey, a White House anti-drug official during the Clinton administration, has said in statements to The Washington Post. McCaffrey has said that there has already been “all kinds of communication between the US and the Island” in this area, although it was not “perfect cooperation.”

Translated by MLK

So we remember him? /14ymedio, Eliecer Avila

14ymedio, Eliecer Avila, Havana, 8 January 2015 — They say some animals possess the ability to perceive when natural phenomenon will occur. Man, however much he has evolved, is still an animal and retains some primitive characteristics. I don’t know if this sharp sense is present in our DNA. What I do know, is that we have a great ability to read between the lines of what happens around us and to draw logical conclusions and even to predict great events.

These days my neighbors and friends are behaving oddly. They speak softly, and in whispers share a kind of “sensitive information.” In general, they try to connect the dots…

There is a subtle but clear increase in surveillance in the streets, according to some. The press, radio and TV, with equal subtlety, increasingly broadcast more materials alluding to the former president Fidel Castro.

In fact, for days they’ve been airing a series called “Moments of the Revolution.” In this Thursday’s episode they showed a young and vigorous Fidel delivering a speech to the United Nations. The final sentence of the program perplexed me: “So we remember him…”

Nobody has missed Fidel’s silence on the historic events that marked the end of the year for Cuba and its politics. This has been, to my knowledge, the root of opinions and rumors gaining strength as the days go by. The more moderate of these suppositions refer to the historic leader’s delicate state of health. Others are less optimistic and theorize about the political interplay of dates and opportunities, which is typical of those systems that normally prefer mystery over timely and reasonable information.

For my part, I can only attest to an event unprecedented in recent years, at least where I have knowledge. It is, incredibly, nothing more and nothing less than the fact that Fish-for-Fish* has come to the bodega, instead of Chicken-for-Fish*. Yes, the kind that comes from the sea (imported mackerel).

In the face of this novelty that surprises us lately, I imagine that many don’t know whether to be happy or fearful. We’ll see.

*Translator’s note: Fish is supposedly part of the monthly food rations sold at reduced prices. However, as it is rarely, if ever, available, the ration stores routinely announce “chicken-for-fish,” substituting chicken for the fish ration. On the day that Obama and Raul Castro announced the new accords, fish was made available in the ration stores.