Who is behind the mirror? / 14ymedio, Luz Escobar

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14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 19 March 2015 – On Wednesday, with great fanfare, the digital site “Reflections” was launched as part of the Cuban Youth Computer and Electronics Club’s Cuba Va (Cuba Goes) project. On its homepage you can read that this is the first Cuban blogging platform, although DesdeCuba.com, a blog portal, was launched eight years ago and, despite being blocked on the Cuban server, offers content generated in Cuba, where the majority of its authors live.

According to Kirenia Fagundo Garcia, who serves as senior specialist on Reflections, “there are no restrictions on the topics discussed on the blogs and users interested in the service,” on this platform. Each blog has only 250 megabytes allocated to post texts, photos, videos and sound, although Fagundo has made clear that it is planned to increase the initial capacity.

Despite the commitment to freedom announced by the portal, “the only condition is that the bloggers divulge the truth about Cuba, without offenses, disrespect or denigration.” continue reading

Thus, several questions immediately arise: Who gave the Youth Computer Club the power to determine what is “the truth about Cuba”? Who is behind this project? Who is funding it? What institution, undoubtedly State or Party, will approve the content to be published?

To test the limits of the new platform, this daily has created a new blog on the service, under the title 14ymedio, with the purpose of bringing the contents of our digital portal to Cuban readers on servers on the Island. The process was easy, although to create a new site we had to provide the number of the user’s State-issued ID card, undoubtedly a surprise.

Moreover, the portal has several technical deficiencies, frequent error messages and agonizing slowness. Obviously it has been opened without having done sufficient technical tests to check its operation. The site 14ymedio.cubava.cu has been activated and the content manager that works with the entire platform is WordPress. However, it has been impossible, so far, to publish our first text. Technical Problems?

In the coming days we will test whether the new blogging platform is as plural as announced, or nothing more than one more simple mirror of the official discourse.

 

A Mutilated Civil Society / 14ymedio, Regina Coyula

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Regina Coyula, Havana, 23 March 2015 — Just try it. On the street, randomly ask: What is civil society? You’ll be lucky if you find any satisfactory answer and will have better luck if, unlike for me, more than one person even deigns to answer you. To speak of civil society in Cuba is like teaching new material in school.

First the concepts, then, explain which is considered more successful according to the teacher’s vision. A meticulous educator looks for good examples. It is essential to mention the thesis of Alexis de Tocqueville of civil society as an intermediary between the individual and the State. Also interesting is Habermas’s approximation about individual rights that guarantee and foster free association. continue reading

Like almost all social science concepts, we find different and even opposing views on the subject. Where the philosophers agree, regardless of their political affiliation or their religious creed, is that civil society exists and functions independently of the State, and in many cases as its counterpart.

Only then, after talking about the subject enough so that the citizenry feels informed, can we speak of the role of civil society.

It has still been less than a decade that the term civil society, along with its close relatives, human rights and non-governmental organizations, was either nonexistent or cursed in the Cuban press. But with the growth of alternative civil society, which is attacked and simplified, accused of following an agenda dictated by the enemy, has the issue seeped into the discourse of the official press. To public opinion, contaminated with the unhealthy idea, now trying to present as civil society organizations that, for the most part, are created and financed by the government itself.

The upcoming Summit of the Americas will put to the test the ability of both – the civil society recognized by the government and the alternative one, unrecognized and derided – to show the continental community their projects and results. Since the constitution itself observes the difficulty of the alternation given that, according to Article 53, freedom of expression is only recognized in relation to the aims of socialist society. This article makes clear that the mass media are state or social property, and limits their use exclusively to working people and the interests of society.

The government tries to know and represent the interests of Cuban society but, given the deterioration of social conditions, the boundaries become blurred between popular support for the authorities and the desire of citizens to try another formula. Only within a totalitarian context is it possible to control the discontent, deaf to discordant voices and to make practically impossible the legalization of an independent project. This lock is constitutionally established in Article 62, that doesn’t recognize the freedoms when they don’t fit with the aims of the socialist state and the decision of the Cuban people to build communism.

I read Friday, in the newspaper Granma, the article “Our civil society.” I agree with some of the points of view of the journalist Sergio Alejandro Gomez. In effect, domination is not always applied by force or coercion and the powerful like to appropriate words and their meanings. However, I disagree with the manner in which the journalist resolves the current problem with civil society. The Cuban State represents the interests of the great majority (while it demonstrates the contrary), but this government has rejected the free associations established by Cuban citizens.

It is clear that the heterogeneity of the Cuban Civil Society Forum is circumscribed to differences in matters of religion, gender equality, racial equality or sexual diversity. Immediately observable is the absence of a political opposition, It’s very fair that the above rights are recognized, because bad memory can’t omit the fact that minorities were also discriminated against in Cuba. But as long as political opinion and initiative outside the State are not present, civil society will be incomplete, and any democratic observer immediately perceives this anomaly.

As pointed out by the Granma journalist, the society is not homogeneous. Homogeneity is not the personality of brothers brought up under the same roof. However, the Cuban state wants to achieve with these organizations of its civil society a symphony that supposedly affirms to the writer that this is a civil society unlike any other.

Holguin repairs a street after a hundred residents threaten not to vote in the elections / 14ymedio, Fernando Donate

Open sewers dddddd
Open sewers in the street (Fernando Donante)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Fernando Donante Ochoa, Holguin, 23 March 2105 – the Holguin municipal government decided to hurriedly solve the problem of sewage running down 8th Street between 29th and 35th, in the La Quinta neighborhood, after having received a letter signed by more than 100 people who threatened not to vote in the elections for delegates to the Municipal Assembles of People’s Power on 19 April, if their demand for a solution was not met.

A commission composed of government functionaries went to visit the residents, according to Lino Rubisel Almira García, one of the signatories. “They visited us two days after they received the letter, at the end of last October. The committee wanted to make us desist from the decision, but when they failed to achieve their objective they agreed to approve an investment as soon as possible.

The speed with which the work was begun surprised even those who didn’t trust in the efficacy of a letter with political content adverse to the government to resolve a historic demand, raised since the early eighties in every “Renditions of Accounts Assembly” of the delegates with their constituents. continue reading

During all this time, the fetid sewage that ran along the street endangered the health of the inhabitants of more than 60 homes, according to the complaint of Leopoldo Peña Jiménez, another of the signatories, resident of the place since 1979.

The fear of the critical epidemiological situation of the city since 2014 – with the increase in illness like dengue fever, cholera, and hepatitis – resulted in a death that “forced us to use politics when we didn’t get results through established mechanisms,” added Peña.

During the “Process of Renditions of Accounts” of last October, the delegate reported that the work was not in the investment plans and that a long-term solution was projected due to the difficult economic situation threatening the country.

The speed with which the work was begun surprised even those who didn’t trust in the efficacy of a letter with political content adverse to the government

However, Peña remembers that, “When, in the eighties, the government had available resources, the requests to representatives and officials of the People’s Power was characterized, year after year, by false promises that, after they weren’t met, were excused with absurd justifications.”

Given the indolence of the authorities, the residents began to resolve the problem with their own efforts in 2010, placing 8 plastic tubes, each 3 yards long. The solution was insufficient, but the government never provided the necessary resources.

The current work began mid-month last November, and the work, paralyzed as of a month ago, is still incomplete. Those affected point out that there is a section where the putrid waters still flow, and lament that there are still seven open manholes in the sewer, which in addition to blocking free flow, constitute a danger for the risk of falls, especially at night in streets lacking good lighting.

The neighbors continue to wait for the completion of the works, and according to Lino Rubisel, are “willing to write another letter, if necessary.”

Cubalex states that its work is in ‘danger’ / 14ymedio

The lawyers of Cubalex Laritza Diversent and Barbara Estrabao day the report on the Commission.(14ymedio)
The Cubalex lawyers Barbara Estrabao (L.) and Laritza Diversent (R.) on the day the report to the Human Rights Commission.(14ymedio)

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14ymedio, 22 March 2015 – Last Friday the Cubalex Center for Legal Information circulated a statement in which they report that their work is in “danger.” The independent entity said that after their presentation of “a report about Cuban prisons, the campaigns of defamation and harassment increased” toward their members.

In the text there is reference to a robbery that occurred in Cubalex’s offices on March 12, when “unidentified people broke in and (…) stole a laptop, a tablet, an iPod, a modem, an external hard disk, several flash memories and computer parts.”

The statement goes on to say that “the fact that no other objects of value were stolen, only those that could contain information about the work of the organization, leads one to assume (…) that the aggressors came on the part of the state authorities.”

In recent months Cubalex has reported being a “target of a smear campaign that includes libelous notes accusing the organization of corruption.” The texts are published on the Internet, most of the time anonymously or without specifying the source of the complaint.

Laritza Diversent, attorney and member of Cubalex, reports that since 2013 there has been “increased surveillance, harassment and threats against members of the team.” The lawyer explained that the pressure on the group increased after the presentation of the report on the detainees in Cuba, before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

The harassment includes “threats to prosecute the family members of the Cubalex team and to confiscate the building where the office is located.”

Given this context, in its statement Cubalex demands that the Cuban government “guarantee and protect the work of organizations and leaders engaged civil society of in defense of human rights.” In addition, it asks “the international community to rule in favor of the guarantees of our work.”

The Cubalex Center for Legal Information is headquartered in Havana and is considered a non-profit organization not recognized by the Cuban state. It has offered free legal advice since 2010, concerning the legalization of housing, immigration procedures, inheritance, labor, criminal review processes, constitutional procedures and the defense of civil and political rights of Cuban or foreign citizens who ask them.

Heavy Police Operation against Merchants and Carriers / 14ymedio, Yosmany Mayeta Labrada

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yosmany Mayeta Labrada, Santiago de Cuba, 21 March 2015 — Since early this Saturday, a heavy police operation had as its objective self-employed workers, street vendors and private carriers in Santiago de Cuba. The forces of the National Revolutionary Police (PNR) reported that the raid was aimed against high meat prices in the farmer’s markets and the sale of potatoes in illegal distribution networks.

Most of the arrests and fines occurred in the Venceremos and Altamira suburbs of Santiago de Cuba. The uniformed agents arrived in the first hours of the morning and demanded the vendors show their licenses for engaging in commercial activity. Until midday, the toll of the operation was the seizure of dozens of kilograms of pork meat and thousands of pesos in fines.

Romilio Jardines, vendor of meat and agricultural products, was fined 700 Cuban pesos, although he said that his merchandise was not removed. Nevertheless, he affirmed that “they came prepared in case one refused.” The operation included special forces known as “black berets” who surrounded the area’s markets and the main streets of both suburbs. continue reading

Alexander Benitez was among merchants who suffered the seizure of his products. “The found me selling pork meat at 27 pesos a pound in the doorway of my house and they came and demanded the license,” recounts this Santiago native. “When they saw that I had no license they confiscated the meat, the scales and also fined me 1,500 pesos.” Benitez says that he approached the police to get the scales back “because they were borrowed” but “they handcuffed me and put me in the police car.”

One of the covert sellers, who preferred to remain anonymous, confirmed that it was true that “many self-employed workers have very expensive meat and a pound of potatoes for seven pesos, but the government in the state markets has none at any price.” The residents of the province complain that the tuber has still not been distributed to the people through the network of state markets, although in other cities its sale has already begun.

Not only sellers of meat and agricultural products were the objective of the police operation, but also drivers of cars and motorcycles were investigated. Among them the driver of a private transportation truck who was fined 2,500 pesos and had his license plate taken away. One motorcyclist for a state enterprise also was sanctioned 30 pesos for not having changed the license plate to the new system that has been implemented in the country.

By the beginning of the afternoon, many merchants and carriers in the Venceremos and Altamira suburbs were fined, but once the police began to withdraw their forces, the areas around the farmer’s markets started slowly to fill again with vendors and drivers.

 Translated by MLK

Wheeling and Dealing with Plastic / 14ymedio, Lilianne Ruiz

Plastic footwear stall at the market of La Cuevita (14ymedio)
Plastic footwear stall at the market of La Cuevita (14ymedio)

Markets all over the Island are supplied with objects made on the illegal circuit of a material mostly derived from industrial waste or leftovers from the dump

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Lilianne Ruiz, Havana, 20 March 2015 – At the market of La Cuevita in San Miguel del Padron, some thousand people from all over the Island daily buy household goods, flip-flops and toys, all made of plastic. The purchasers come especially from rural areas where the economic situation is more precarious and the only thing that abounds is scarcity.

In order to sell in the market it is necessary to have a state license and a letter signed by the producers, also authorized, from whom the articles must be bought. The inspectors who pass through the sales stalls may require this letter, but in practice they pass with hand extended seeking money in exchange for not imposing a fine of 1,500 pesos on whomever continue reading

has skipped the State’s rules of the game.

There are many manufacturers who have no license. In the Cotorro township flip-flops are manufactured and in La Guinera, a settlement located in San Miguel del Padron, there are producers of household goods. The toys, with twisted forms and faded colors, are brought from the eastern part of the country.

The first step is gathering the recyclable plastic among the wastes of industrial smelting and rummaging through the garbage in search of plastic items that can be exploited, without discarding the possibility of melting the trash cans themselves. In order to improve the quality of the final product, the manufacturers add virgin plastic. This granulated raw material is bought under the table, gotten directly from state warehouses.

The mishmash is heated. When the material is quite melted it is injected under pressure into various molds. The injecting machines as well as the molds are produced by hand. When it liquefies, the homogenized paste takes on an earthy color, but artisans save the day using different colored dyes.

According to one of these artisans, who allows no photos on his patio, in many neighborhoods of the capital the police would have to search patio by patio and house by house because “reality is stubborn,” as he learned many years ago in a Communist Party school. “Even beer can be canned clandestinely,” he says. “Such machines are all over Havana. Where you least imagine it, there is one. The problem is to make the product and get it immediately out so that the chain is not discovered.”

The bowls and plates, funnels or any other object resulting from this mix of materials are not completely safe for storage of food intended for human consumption. “I don’t use any of the bowls that I buy in the candonga for keeping food from one day to the other. But they are cheaper than those made in China which are sold in the hard currency stores and cost a third of a worker’s salary,” says Morena, a housewife who frequents the market.

The vendors place themselves at the entrance to the market. Some offer strings of onion and garlic, others little nylon bags. An old lady sells a bag of potatoes that she has just bought after a long line, and a teen carries a box of ice where he keeps popsicles that sell for 15 Cuban pesos. They often have to go running. A patrol passes every twenty minutes.

The police pass by often while overseeing legal sales in the market (14ymedio)
The police pass by often while overseeing legal sales in the market (14ymedio)

“If you resist arrest, they beat you. Then they take you to the 11th Police Station, and railroad you and you don’t know if you’ll come out with a fine of 1,500 Cuban pesos or go directly to the Valle Grande prison,” says the popsicle salesman.

A man in his forties recounts how the police detained him once, accusing him of retailing without any proof, and they asked him for his identity card just because he was carrying a briefcase full of plastic plates that he had just bought. “It would be of no use to say it is my hobby to throw them in the air to practice my slingshot aim. Just like if they want to they seize everything and give you a fine. The police do not act for the benefit of the people,” he laments.

Mireya, almost seventy years of age, is the last link in the productive chain of plastic products. While others work in little brigades for a particular producer, authorized or not, she does it alone. She has put together brooms and brushes manually, with production wastes from state industry, for more than 20 years. “If they catch me doing this I can have serious problems with the authorities. I don’t do it to get rich. I have to assemble 100 brushes to earn 400 Cuban pesos [about $16 U.S.], and from that I have to invest part in order to buy the materials,” she explains.

Mireya does not want to get a license because she thinks the taxes are too high. Besides, she could not justify the materials that she uses to fabricate her brooms because, in spite of dealing with industrial waste, there exists no legal way of acquiring them. The bases and the bristles she buys from someone who, like her, has no license either and sells them more cheaply.

“What I would have left after paying for the license and the taxes would be more or less the same as the wage of a state worker. With that, added to my pension of 270 pesos, I can’t even live ten days. If you don’t believe what I am saying, take the rice and beans from the store, divide it into 30 piles to see how you eat and how you live. Then necessarily you have to live wheeling and dealing,” she concludes without ceasing to close the plastic threads with wire pincers.

Translated by MLK

Nineteen Cubans sentenced for the diversion of eight million eggs / 14ymedio

Thirty unit egg cartons (14ymedio)
Thirty unit egg cartons (14ymedio)

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Nineteen citizens who worked for the Havana Base Business Unit for the Collection and Distribution of Eggs and the Provincial Commerce Company were sentenced this week for the diversion of more than eight million eggs. The Prosecutor asked for sentences ranging from 8 to 20 years, according to a report today in the newspaper Granma.

The diverted merchandise represented 389 invoiced shipments that never reached their destination, which caused “an economic impact exceeding 8,907,562 pesos.” The official newspaper referred to the crimes imputed to the accused as ranging from misappropriation to falsification of bank and continue reading

commercial documents.

The systematic theft began in March of 2012 when the Avicola Production and Commercialization Company officially took on the UEB Collection and Distribution of Havana Eggs. A short time later, after intensive analysis of the entity’s situation, the director of UEB asked to be released due to “illness, which pointed to the existence of serious irregularities.”

From that moment, an investigation of the free distribution of eggs in the capital was opened. A complaint was also opened before the Territorial Department of Criminal Investigations and Operations and a special audit of UEB requested.

With these new controls, “there came to light accounting errors, breaches of obligations on the part of the directors, specialists and drivers, violations of established routes for the delivery of eggs, the falsification of invoices; as well as the existence of an entire criminal chain, fueled by the lacerating lack of control, the vulnerability of the procedures and the total loss of ethical and moral principles.”

An article presented the testimony of the penal investigators in the case, first deputy Barbara Rondon Vega and Capital Pedro E. Cordero Riveron, belonging to the Criminal Investigation and Operations Division. According to Granma, Gilberto Diaz Mojena, UEB marketing, “authorized the billing of notable quantitites of eggs to different entities, located in the municipalities of La Habana del Este, Cerro, Mrianao and La Lisa, basically.”

Cartons of eggs, with thirty units each, were sold on the black market at a price between 35 and 40 Cuban pesos

“At the end of the month […] María Regla Pis Martínez, deputy director of commerce of the Provincial Trading Company […] altered the actual pre-prepared plan for units located in those areas, to make them coincide with the actual deliveries.”

Another of those involved, the driver Valery Caballero Moreda, “with the illegal sale of 1,209,600 eggs, contained in 53 invoices, caused a monetary effect upwards of 1,814,400 pesos. Meanwhile, the driver Juan Eliecer Perdomo caused a shortfall of 839,700 pesos, due to the illegal distribution of 559,800 eggs, corresponding to 29 invoices.”

The cartons of eggs, with thirty units each, were sold on the black market at a price between 35 and 40 Cuban pesos, although at times of scarcities the price could go much higher.

Granma concludes that, “While it’s true that the convictions, although severe, don’t resolve the problem alone, sometimes the malefactors need to feel the full weight of the Law, beyond their shame in front of their families and society.”

“Recognizing changes does not mean we go along” / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

José Daniel Ferrer, Felix Navarro, Hector Maseda, Jorge Olivera and Librado Linares
José Daniel Ferrer, Felix Navarro, Hector Maseda, Jorge Olivera and Librado Linares

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14ymedio, Havana, 19 March 2015 — Twelve years after the Black Spring, 14ymedio chats with some of the former political prisoners currently living on the Island. Two questions have been posed to those activists condemned in March 2003: one about their decision to stay in Cuba, and the other about how they see the country today.

José Daniel Ferrer

The whole time we were in prison, the Castro brothers’ regime did its best to pressure us, to force us to abandon the country. A few of us decided to say no, regardless of the circumstances. Today I am more convinced than ever that my having stayed is worth it. We are doing our modest bit to have a nation where there will never again be something like that spring of 2003, when so many compatriots paid with prison for attempting to exercise their most sacred rights.

“Today I am more convinced than ever that my having stayed is worth it”

Many things have changed, but they still maintain the repression, and sometimes increase it, against human rights activists and also against the people. Recognizing the changes doesn’t mean we go along, because what we don’t have is a prosperous and democratic Cuba. In the last days when I walked freely on the street, at the beginning of 2003, some people approached us and whispered in our ears, “I heard you,” referring to having heard us on some station like Radio Martí, one of the few media where they could learn about what the pro-democracy forces were doing.

Felix Navarro

Having stayed in Cuba after leaving prison is probably the best idea I’ve had in my entire life. continue reading

 On Saturday July 10, the day on which I spent my 57th birthday in prison, I received a call from Cardinal Ortega. He informed me that he was forming the third group of ex-prisoners and that I could leave together with my family. I thanked him for the gesture and the fact that the Church had always fought alongside the unprotected and against the injustices, but I would not abandon the country even if I had to serve the entire 25 years of my sentence. On 22 March he called me again and the next day they released me from prison. Along with José Daniel Ferrer, I was the last to get home.

Right now I’m on conditional release, on parole, but I am convinced that sooner or later they are going to allow me to travel normally like any other Cuban. In my case, I have no intention of traveling abroad as long as the president of Cuba is not a democratically elected member of civil society.

“I would not abandon the country even if I had to serve the entire 25 years of my sentence”

In my opinion, the country has changed, but for the worse. It is true that since the beginning of December of last year the political police have stopped repressing in the way they had been the expressions of peaceful struggle of the Ladies in White in Cardenas and Colon. Before that, every Sunday they prevented their walking down the street, they were beaten and insulted, put into vehicles and abandoned to their fate at whatever place. This doesn’t happen any more and we believe it is very helpful, but the repression continues in other ways, with police citations and surveillance.

Héctor Maseda

I was contacted three times by the Cardinal to leave for Spain and I said no. When they told me I could get out of prison on parole I refused, making my point that Raul Castro had announced months ago that we would all be released. I left prison against my will. In September 2014 I made a complaint to the People’s Power Provincial Court in the section for crimes against the security of the State and the Council of State for them to release me unconditionally. They responded that the court had determined that I would have to remain under control. I have no interest in leaving the country, this is my decision and I don’t have to explain it to anyone.

“I left prison against my will”

Some changes have occurred in our country, but I continue to insist that they are not fundamental. The government of Raul Castro maintains very rigid positions. The fact that relations with the United States are being reestablished is perhaps the most notable change, but behind this are the economic interests of the Cuban and American governments. In the case of Raul Castro, what he wants is to extend his dynasty in power, but I can’t see what the benefits are for the Cuban people.

Jorge Olivera

Just under five years ago I decided not to accept the offer to go into exile in Spain. I received a lot of criticism, but my closest friends, my wife and my family supported me in my decision. At one time I desired to leave Cuba, but one has a right to change and today I have no regrets. In the most difficult moment of the dilemma I chose to stay for many reasons, one of them is the trajectory of the independent press, where I worked with Habana Press since 1995, and also my convictions. After thinking about all aspects, I considered it better to stay here trying to open spaces for independent journalism, to bring our experience to the young people. I am here, happy, although it seems a contradiction in terms, because I am doing what I love and contributing with my modest efforts to a better country.

“The country has changed and will change again, perhaps not with the speed we want”

Life is dialectical and everything changes. Sometimes we do not notice because we are in the forest, but the world has changed and Cuba as well. The Cuba of 12 years ago was very different. Now, for example, events that no one expected have occurred, like the reestablishment of diplomatic relations between Cuba and the United States. They have opened spaces that were unthinkable back then, there are people who don’t see it that way, people who think it is very little, others say nothing has changed. The country has changed and will change, perhaps not with the speed those of us on the pro-democratic route would like, but there have been changes. Our work is made visible with the existence of new technologies, Internet and cellphones; discreet but important spaces have opened up that have contributed in a greater or lesser way to improving our work, both in the political opposition and in the alternative civil society.

Librado Linares

When I had been in prison for about a year and a half in Combinado del Este in Havana, some officials from State Security interviewed me to find out my willingness to leave Cuba as a way to be released from prison. I told them flat out no, and their leader assured me I would serve the 20 years without any benefit. I decided to stay because of the commitment I have to the development of a dynamic of change that will do away with the Castros’ totalitarianism and produce a transition to democracy. On the other hand, I greatly identify with and have a great sense of belonging to Cuban culture, with its values, the people in the neighborhood, the climate, with las parrandas de Camajuaní. I can’t find this in any other country.

“We are more pluralistic, less monolithic”

Some experts in the areas of transition have said that there are four types of non-democratic regimes: totalitarian, post-totalitarian, sultanistic and totalitarian, but in the ‘90s a process of “de-totalitarian-ization” began and this has happened because of the pressure from the internal opposition and internationally and because of other reasons, including biological. The regime has been evolving toward post-totalitarianism and perhaps intends to move towards an authoritarian military regime.

They want to stay in power and that has led to allowing certain improvements in freedom of movement, they have facilitated aspects of the issue of ownership and non-state management of the economy, such as land leases and non-farm cooperatives. Despite the enormous repression, the opposition has been gaining spaces. We are more plural, less monolithic. People are forgetting their fear, breaking their chains and learning to speak up in public and to demand their rights.

Summit of the Americas: Fear of Others’ Ideas and Little Faith in Their Own / 14ymedio, Eliecer Avila

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Eliécer Ávila, Havana, 19 March 2015 – In less than a month the Summit of the Americas will be held in Panama, on April 10-11. A good part of the world will focus its attention this time on Cuba and the United States, the two countries that have announced their intention to reestablish bilateral relations, ruptured more than 50 years ago.

Many hope that this summit will not be like so many others, but rather a milestone in history, embracing the essential discussion about the only non-democratic state in the hemisphere, a discussion that has been unreasonably postponed for more than half a century.

Before the imminent possibility of no control over all the variables of the meeting, the Cuban government is ever more nervous. One of the plays already seen backstage, is accusing the dissidents of wanting to “undermine” continue reading

the ALBA alternative summit and other absurdities of this style launched by their opinion agents on the Internet.

Anyone who knows how these mechanisms operate is aware that these opinion matrices are not injected for fun, but rather in pursuit of creating an adequate framework for other moves that can range from preventing some people from leaving Cuba to organizing acts of repudiation and their other usual activities in their actions in Panama.

Still fresh in our memories are the spectacles orchestrated by the Cuban embassies on Yoani Sanchez’s first tour, especially in Latin America. Also, more recently, in Guadalajara as a part of the cultural summit in which the sympathizers of the Cuban government grabbed the microphones, spit and offended those who, with much effort, were trying to speak in a civilized manner.

Why so afraid of words? Should America forever endure the rudeness of a government that believes itself superior, divine and unquestionable?

Why so afraid of words? Should America forever endure the rudeness of a government that believes itself superior, divine and unquestionable?

This time, in addition to the external shock troops, they will bring their own civil society. Civil because they will not be put in uniform, civil although they have cars with official plates, official budgets, official sites and, best of all, a discourse more official than that of the government itself.

But none of this matters if the hosts manage to create a decent and safe space for all voices to be heard. Hopefully, a little bit of political decency will surprise us. It’s high time.

Laura Labrada and a Hundred Ladies in White Distance Themselves From Berta Soler / 14ymedio

Laura Labrada during the press conference at the headquarters of the Ladies in White (14ymedio)
Laura Labrada during the press conference at the headquarters of the Ladies in White (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 19 March 2015 — In a press conference Thursday in Havana, the Lady in White Laura Labrada, daughter of the late Laura Pollán, announced the creation of a foundation with the name of her mother said she wouldn’t allow “Berta Soler to use the name of [her] mother in her movement.”

In a long document, read in front of independent journalists and foreign correspondents, Labrada accused Soler of poor leadership of the movement and “adopting irreverent conduct.” She added, “I respect from a distance what [Soler] does and her effort, for this she should use her own name, which history will view with mistrust.”

The foundation, which will be created shortly, will have as its objective support for the most disadvantaged people, according to Labrada, especially children and the elderly. During the round of questions, the Lady in White said that in making these decisions she counted on the support of “more than a hundred women,” belonging continue reading

to the movement.

There have been lamentable events, which have challenged not only the prestige of the organization but also its intended purpose

In the first point of the statement, Labrada says that since the death of her mother, “There have been lamentable events, which have challenged not only the prestige of the organization but also its intended purpose and its methods.”

She highlighted, “Unjustified expulsions, resignations for mistreatment, misunderstandings and the lack of democracy. The intrusions of people from outside the movement in decision-making, fights between men and incitements to violence, internal repudiation rallies in the style of the Castro regime, and disqualifications.”

The conference has taken place a few weeks since a hundred women, among them Labrada herself, signed a letter in which they asked for changes within the Ladies in White. The organization was going through “a very difficult situation with undemocratic procedures that are happening in the headquarters of our organization,” the document asserted.

Berta Soler, who assumed the leadership of the group after the death of Laura Pollán, responded to the call for a referendum on her leadership. She received a widely favorable result, getting 180 votes out of a total of 201.

The organization has faced other problems in the past year. In September 2014, a group of women in the province of Santiago de Cuba, led by Belkis Cantillo, founded Citizens for Democracy. This decision was taken following the disagreements between Belkis Cantillo and Berta Soler that caused the separation of dozens of women from the Ladies in White.

The Ladies in White movement arose after the arrests of the Black Spring, exactly 12 years ago. A group of women dressed in white marched after attending mass at the Santa Rita parish in the Miramar neighborhood, to peacefully protest and give visibility to the situation of the political prisoners jailed that March of 2003. Laura Pollán stood out, together with Miriam Leyva and Gisela Delgado, and became the leader of the group and the most recognized figure internationally. The Ladies in White received the European Parliament’s Sakharov Price, which they did not collect until 2013, as the Government did not allow them to travel to participate in the award ceremony.

The house at 963 Neptune Street “cannot be returned to the women who participated in the act of repudiation against Alejandrina García de la Riva”

In her statements, Labrada referred to the negotiations between the governments of Cuba and the United States and said that “we support and recognize the decision of the United States government, a historic event that offers new opportunities to establish true democracy in Cuba. Then it will depend on us, the people, to know how to take advantage of it to construct a strong civil society that visualizes the path to freedom.”

To a question from 14ymedio about the property at 963 Neptune, Laura Labrada said that this house “cannot be returned to the women who participated in an act of repudiation against Alejandrina García de la Riva.”

The house, located in Cental Havana, has been the headquarters of the Ladies in White since it emerged in 2003 and, until her death in 2011, the leader of the movement Laura Pollán lived there. The house has been the direct target of acts of repudiation, monitoring and control by the political police during all those years, and in it have been carried out numerous activities such as literary teas – the most important meetings of the organization – and tributes or memorials to other figures of the opposition movement. In addition, the place served as a shelter for women activists who came from other provinces to the capital. Currently living in the house is Laura Pollán’s widower, Hector Masada, who was one of the 75 opponents imprisoned during the Black Spring.

Berta Soler Confirmed as Leader of Ladies in White / 14ymedio

Ladies in White showing empty ballot box before voting. (14ymedio)
Ladies in White showing empty ballot box before voting. (14ymedio)

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14ymedio, Havana, 11 March 2015 – On Wednesday the Ladies in White confirmed the continuity of their current leader, Berta Soler, at the front of their movement with an overwhelming majority of 180 votes in favor with a total of 201 participants in the recall referendum. A total of 16 members of the group opted for change in leadership and three ballots were annulled while three were left blank; 32 members with the right to vote preferred not to do so.

On learning the outcome, the Ladies cheered Soler. The Matanzas delection, present at the site, read a statement in which they said they turned out in force for the consultation. The re-elected leader congratulated the entire organization for the referendum, those who said yes, who said no, and who annulled their ballots. The shock troops of the acts of repudiation did not appear. continue reading

Delegations from Havana, Pinar del Rio, Ciego de Avila have gathered this Wednesday at the organization’s headquarters at 963 Neptune Street, in Central Havana, to participate in the consultation in the presence of three observers: Raul Borges Alvarez, President the Party for Democratic Unity of Cuba; Antonio Gonzalez Rodiles, Estado de Sats, and Reinaldo Escobar, journalist with14ymedio .

Of the 104 convened (92 from Havana, five from Pinar del Río and seven from Ciego de Ávila), 79 voted. A total of 71 among them chose “yes”, six opted for

The election board was composed of five members of the executive of the Ladies in White: Aliuska Gómez, Lázara Barbara Sendiña, Lismeirys Quintana, Lourdes Esquivel and Magaly Norvis.

The results of the voting conducted in other provinces since last Friday had given a solid majority to Berta Soler, who declined to participate in the vote.

“No matter where I live, I will keep working for the freedom of Cuba” / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

Marta Beatriz Roque, Cabello Ángel Moya, Arnaldo Ramos Lauzurique, Diosdado González Marrero and Eduardo Díaz Fleitas
Marta Beatriz Roque Cabello, Ángel Moya, Arnaldo Ramos Lauzurique, Diosdado González Marrero and Eduardo Díaz Fleitas

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 18 March 2015 — Twelve years after the Black Spring, 14ymedio chats with some of the former political prisoners currently living on the Island. Two questions have been posed to those activists condemned in March 2003: one about their decision to stay in Cuba, and the other about how they see the country today.

Marta Beatriz Roque Cabello

I left prison in late 2004, paroled by the regime for reasons of health. They never offered me the chance to go abroad, but it wouldn’t have occurred to me. My closest family, and most distant as well, live abroad, but I never had plans to abandon the Island. I am a Spanish citizen because my family did the paperwork, I visited the embassy of that country the day they told me to fill out the forms and then got a passport, about four years ago.
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This is no longer the same country it was in the spring of 2003. The government has been forced to return certain rights to the citizens, regardless of the fact that we can’t make use of them. At that time, for example, a Cuban was not permitted to say in the hotels. Now it’s not prohibited, but the economy doesn’t allow the ordinary citizen to exercise that right. Who, other than “papá’s kids” [the Castro offspring] has the money to pay for a room? Another thing is the ability to travel abroad. Those of us who are on parole are not allowed to travel, or we know that if we do it we will not be allowed to return.

The government has been forced to return certain rights to the citizens, regardless of the fact that we can’t make use of them”

I remember Cardinal Ortega, in a statement published by the newspaper Granma, said that all of us would be set free, but they only freed those who chose to go into exile. That is a way of punishing us for not accepting deportation, it is a whim of the commander in chief and a mockery of Spain and of the Church. On 31 October last year we made a formal demand for a document of freedom, but we never got an answer. We only have an identity card.

Angel Moya

I got out of prison because of the efforts made by the Government of Spain and the Catholic Church with the Government of Cuba, but especially thanks to the internal pressures, which came from the actions of the Ladies in White, the death of Orlando Zapata Tamayo, and Guillermo Fariña’s hunger strike. No one ever pressured me to leave Cuba. The Cardinal called me and proposed it and I said no. My decision was to stay and continue to fight for the freedom of Cuba and I’ve never regretted that. It was very important that I had the support of my wife, Berta Soler, who has always agreed with our staying.

My decision was to stay and continue to fight for the freedom of Cuba and I’ve never regretted that

The country has not evolved at all in terms of human rights. Just look at the lists of arbitrary detentions issued monthly by the Human Rights Committee and Hablemos Press. The methods used by the State Security include beatings and abuses of all kinds. The repression has intensified to prevent the population from joining the activism. It is true that they have not been making the same mistake of the Black Spring, because that was a failure that cost the government dearly, but they continue to imprison people for political reasons and still refuse to ratify the international covenants on human rights.

Arnaldo Ramos Lauzurique

I left prison in November 2010. Just before, Cardinal Ortega called me and told me he was preparing for the prisoners of our cause to leave the country. I told him I wasn’t interested. It was a decision I’ve thought about a lot since that time, but I wouldn’t take it back. If I wanted to leave Cuba now it would have to be forever, but I’m not going to accept this blackmail. On leaving prison they gave us a little piece of paper to get an ID card, but I never managed to get anything legal. My family shares this decision and when your family supports you, the decision is more firm.

If I wanted to leave Cuba now it would have to be forever

The opposition still hasn’t been able to consolidate itself. The constant emigration of people with experience does a lot of damage to us, these exits don’t allow us to consolidate. Of course the regime was forced to take some actions, but it was done out of pure pragmatism. They have no interest in changing. In this similar situation of restoring relations with the United States I can’t see clearly what their real interests are. Maduro from Venezuela is an influence in this, because he isn’t happy to see there is a possibility of coming to an arrangement with Cuba.

Diosdado González Marrero

Right now, almost four years after thye released us, I continue to see it as a question of principles to have made the decision not to give in to the Government’s pressure and accept exile as a condition for leaving prison. I saw it then and I continue to see it the same way now. In about a week I’m going to join my family abroad. I am leaving the Island, but I will stay in Cuba. I tried to leave like a normal visit, but it’s not allowed. My wife and I even went to the cardinal to intercede, but it wasn’t possible to resolve our request. I am leaving for two reasons: my desire to reunite with my children and grandchildren, and because we Cubans have to live in democracy. I have done my best for the unity of the opposition, but it’s very difficult, there are too many individual interests in each organization. No matter where I live, I will continue working for the freedom of Cuba.

I am leaving the Island, but I will stay in Cuba

Having spent eight years in those places that don’t even deserve to be called prisons, and coming back out to the street, I saw that everything was worse. After you get acclimated again, you can get used to anything. Now we see changes. There are things that Cubans have the right to, that they couldn’t do before. Get a cellphone, connect to the Internet, travel, those were goals that seemed impossible, likewise with the development of private businesses or land leasing, but politically, nothing. After Fidel Castro got sick and handed over power to his brother, they started to eliminate prohibitions and now, with the conversations between the Cuban regime and the American government, things will get better still, especially with the flow of tourists from the United States.

Eduardo Diaz Fleitas

They released me just a few days before I served eight years in prison. Cardinal Jaime Ortega called me to suggest that I accept leaving for Spain in order to be released. I told him I wasn’t interested in leaving Cuba. Having stayed on the Island has been very important because my commitment is to fight for the changes we need. I never regret having stayed here, and I don’t think I will leave under any circumstances.

Having stayed on the Island has been very important because my commitment is to fight for the changes we need

The biggest change the country has suffered in the last 12 years that I see is the greater deterioration. There is no respect for human dignity nor any kind of improvement in any order of life. Now we need the regime to decide to accept real changes and seek peace for the progress of the country.

An Academy for Civil Society / 14ymedio, Victor Ariel Gonzalez

Graduation, Fundacion Sucesores
Graduation, Fundacion Sucesores

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Víctor Ariel González, Mantilla (Havana), March 12 2015 – Fifteen minutes until class begins and the students that have been arriving converse under the shade of a tree. Once a week, Carlos Millares’ humble patio hosts a very peculiar meeting. It’s the headquarters of the Fundacion Sucesores, or the “Successors Foundation,” an academy created to train members of civil society in the use of tools for leadership.

Professor Millares directs the program, but the idea – which gave way to a pilot course in 2013 and since then has been repeated three times – came from a young man called Frank Abel García, the coordinator of the academy, who waits for students and guides them continue reading

hrough the steep streets of Mantilla, a neighborhood situated in the south of Havana.

Once seated in the classroom, both relate how they came up with the idea of starting this school. “I worked for Hablemos Press (“We Speak Press” – an independent press group) and interviewed opposition figures like Carlos, for example,” says Frank Abel García, who is also an executive member in the Mesa de Diálogo de la Juventud Cubana (Cuban Youth Roundtable), a project aimed at strengthening youth dialogue and leadership to propel Cuba’s democratization. “When I got here, I took the time to voice my concern about civil society and he made me realize that what I really wanted was to teach a course on leadership.”

“In that moment I only expected to take a group of young people and offer them the possibility of learning about topics like democracy from some of civil society’s personalities,” adds Frank Abel. “We began a pilot course with five students. Then we prepared the first course itself, which welcomed ten participants. From there, eight graduated.” In total, the academy already has around thirty graduates.

For his part, Carlos Millares knew many independent leaders who might be interested in such a project. “Indeed, that’s how it was,” recalls this veteran of the opposition, also director of a center on civil society studies. Political analyst and opinion columnist, Millares recounts that he studied Sociology at the university when, in 1974, he was expelled for “talking about what he wasn’t supposed to talk about.” Those times were too dark for an opinion of even slight skepticism. His courses on leadership are the academy’s main dish.

The necessary “succession of the past generation of the opposition by new young people” came to light when looking for a name that would make the idea concrete. That was how the Fundacion Sucesores was created. “The objective is to prepare young people with the characteristics needed to lead civil society,” Frank Abel García points out, “to prepare people to be able to continue and improve the work of their organizations.”

Would you accept people from the Union of Young Communists (UJC) in the bizarre case that someone might be interested?

“Yes. The academy does not make a distinction based on political inclinations.”

 Professor Millares describes the program as “an element of cohesion” for diverse groups whose members take part in its conferences. “An interrelation is created between students, who at the same time exchange with prestigious leaders.” Here we don’t mind where the student hails from, be it from the political party Cuba Independiente y Democrática (CID – Independent and Democratic Cuba) or from the Juventud Activa Cuba Unida (JACU – Active Cuban Youth United), an anti-government civil group.

Would you accept people from the Union of Young Communists (UJC) in the bizarre case that someone might be interested? The Foundation’s coordinator and vice-president responds: “Yes. The academy does not make a distinction based on political inclinations. We admit all those who want to take part in the course because the goal is not to impose a way of thinking, but to offer knowledge on which to base individual opinion and work.”

The proposal has been growing in popularity. The current semester welcomed twenty registration applications for only ten available spots. Carlos Millares favors focused attention, and thus favors fewer students; of course, they must be able to put in effort and prepare very well.

The authors of the program are well aware of the pressure that State Security forces tend to exert. That is the reason why initial enrollment can reach twelve, to account for the eventual “losses” throughout the semester. “Last semester there was a married couple that came to classes, but they worked for the Public Health System and they were threatened with being removed from their jobs if they continued with us,” the leadership professor relates.

They have also received police citations and suffered detentions here and there. Although they “do not bother us behind closed doors,” says Millares, “for government authorities, we are part of that civil society they accuse of being fabricated.”

“Last semester there was a married couple that came to classes, but they worked for the Public Health System and they were threatened with being removed from their jobs if they continued with us”

In spite of the harassment, the academy has continued to consolidate. It already has several sessions and boasts a community of graduates. In addition to Millares and García, the Executive Board also has two vice-presidents: Saúl Quiala for public relations and Maikel Pardo for the press.

Fundación Sucesores maintains relations with international organizations that support the development of its courses. Its future perspectives are to expand into Cuba’s interior, and they have already begun to achieve it with the enrollment of students from Pinar del Río province. Additionally, they are working to prepare a multimedia library. In the long term, the academy aspires to become a sort of “university of the opposition.”

Enrollment is by open call. It is necessary to posses a High School or technical diploma as a minimum, given the level of the content discussed in the conferences. For the course’s final evaluation, a project for civil society must be conceived, and it’s not just a mere academic exercise; some of the ideas developed in past courses have been successful and are currently being applied.

Courses are forty semester hours and are taught in two-hour weekly sessions at the Foundation as well as the headquarters of affiliated regional organizations. In addition to the subject of leadership, there are conferences about economics, political parties, anti-segregation movements, new technologies, and many other areas, all discussed by guest experts, among which are renowned opposition figures ranging from political leaders to LGBT activists.

The program is updated each year. Recently, the topic of Cuba-U.S. relations has been added, and, for this upcoming April, human rights observers will be trained in coordination with the Cuban Human Rights and National Reconciliation Commission led by Elizardo Sánchez.

Back in the patio of that Mantilla home, while Carlos Millares teaches his course on leadership – the current semester’s second meeting – Frank Abel García finishes explaining the functioning of the school.

Speaking with students at the end of the conference, one can perceive the diverse stories that shaped each of the course’s participants. Eliosbel Garriga, from Pinar del Río, is a member of the Movimiento Integración Racial, or “Racial Integration Movement”: “We come in whatever we can,” he comments in reference to the difficult mission that is waking up in the early morning in order to travel from Los Palacios, where he lives, “but I want to develop leadership skills.”

There is also Josué, a young member of the CID party: “I have the intention of becoming a leader and my dad told me that this was a good course.” His father, Esteban Ajetes, is next to him. “Within our movement, knowledge and training are lacking. It’s the first thing needed to be influential in these apolitical times,” he reflects on.

Another Esteban, but surnamed García, is an independent journalist and editor of the JACU’s bulletin. He notes, “In our current circumstances [as a nation] it’s difficult to be a leader because even a sportsperson exhibits more leadership than a political figure.” They all agree on that leaders are not only born or made, but are actually little bit of both things.

Translated by Fernando Fornaris

More Than a Hundred Activists Arrested in Santiago de Cuba / 14ymedio

José Daniel Ferrer, leader of UNPACU (14ymedio)
José Daniel Ferrer, leader of UNPACU (14ymedio)

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14ymedio, Santiago de Cuba, 15 March 2015 — On Sunday morning over one hundred activists, mostly belonging to the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU) and Citizens for Democracy (CxD), were arrested while trying to reach the Sanctuary of Cobre. Among those arrested was Jose Daniel Ferrer, executive secretary of the UNPACU and former prisoner of the Group of 75.

José Daniel Ferrer told 14ymedio that since last Friday organization members started moving towards the Sanctuary of Cobre, so the political police mobilized continue reading

in the street from that time to prevent them from reaching the Catholic church.

This Sunday, starting at dawn and coming from various parts of Santiago de Cuba, more than 130 activists headed to the Sanctuary of Cobre in order to ask the Virgin of Charity, patroness of Cuba, for the release of all political prisoners.

Only 19 managed to reach the Sanctuary and just over a hundred were retained in the Control Point on the Highway to Cobre, said Ferrer. At that point the political police identified the private trucks transporting the activists and prevented them from continuing their journey, in collaboration with uniformed members of the National Revolutionary Police (PNR).

After noon, this newspaper was able to confirm that most of the activists had been released including opposition leader José Daniel Ferrer.

UNPACU has denounced being victims, over the past 30 days, of over 400 arbitrary arrests.

 

Fidel Castro Warns That Venezuela Has Latin America’s Best Equipped Army / 14ymedio

Cartoon bubble:  "Forget about the Gringos; don’t worry, boy, I have the control!" Cartoon by Manuel Guillen (La Prensa, Nicaragua)
Cartoon bubble: “Forget about the Gringos; don’t worry, boy, I have the control!” Cartoon by Manuel Guillen (La Prensa, Nicaragua)

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14ymedio, 17 March 2015 – Coinciding with this Tuesday’s meeting in Caracas of the Summit for the Bolivarian Alliance for America (ALBA) to analyze the latest confrontation between the United States and Venezuela, Fidel Castro has written a letter published by the newspaper Granma in which he praises the attitude of the “heroic people of Bolivar and Chavez” and reminds us that “Venezuela has the best equipped soldiers and officers of Latin America.

The Cuban ex-president stresses the “exemplary discipline and the spirit of the National Bolivarian Armed Forces,” and concludes that “whatever the imperialism of the United States does, it can never count on doing what it did during so many years,” referring to the military coups that occurred in Latin America in the 20th Century. “When you met with those officers in recent days, you could tell they are ready to give their last drop of blood for continue reading

the Homeland,” says Castro.

The historic leader of the Revolution remembers that Hugo Chavez was the one who took the initiative to found ALBA in order to “share with his Caribbean brothers” Venezuela’s natural resources that were, according to the ex-leader, going to American businesses and Venezuelan millionaires.

“Simon Bolivar dedicated himself fully to the colossal work of freeing the continent,” points out Castro going epic. “With less than 1% of the planet’s surface, [Venezuela] possesses the greatest oil reserves in the world. For a whole century it was obliged to produce all the fuel that the European and United States powers needed. Even though today the hydrocarbons formed over millions of years would be consumed in no more than a century, and we human beings who today number 7.2 billion, in ten more years that will double and in two hundred will exceed 21 billion, only the wonders of the most advanced technology may permit the survival of the human species a little longer. Why is the fabulous mass media not used to inform and educate about these realities that each person in his sound judgment must know, instead of promoting deception?”

Fidel Castro says goodbye to Maduro, as is customary, with a “brotherly hug” that he extends this time to all Venezuelans and the peoples of ALBA.

Translated by MLK