14ymedio As Viewed by the International Press / 14ymedio

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

14ymedio, June 21, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Translated by Tomás A.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Translated by Tomás A.

“Casting” for Employment/ 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Antunez Under Cautionary Injunction / 14ymedio

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

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

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

Translated by Tomás A.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ah “Maria”! / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Super Dad / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Ninth Cuban Dancer Defects to the United States / 14ymedio

June 11, 2014 (With information from El Nuevo Herald and EFE) – The number of dancers from the National Ballet of Cuba who have defected to the United States has increased to nine. Jaime Reytor joins the eight members of the company that fled last weekend in Puerto Rico and are already in Miami. The artists revealed Wednesday that they decided to defect from the island because “there is no future for young people.” They will perform next Sunday with the Cuban Classical Ballet of Miami at a gala dedicated to the Russian ballet.

Eight dancers (Jorge Oscar Sanchez, Raizel Cruz, Carlos Ignacio Galindez, Ariel Soto, Monica Gomez, Yaima Mendez, Lisette Santander and Yinet Fernandez) participated in a press conference organized by the Cuban Classical Ballet of Miami, in which they described their flight from the City of San Juan in Puerto Rico, where they were to participate in the show “The Magic of Dance,” where the Cuban director of art education, Alicia Alonso, was to be present.

“This is the country of the future. There are many options for work and places to choose from. We came here in order to dance and we will dance,” Jorge Oscar Sanchez, age 23, told EFE. He decided not to return to Cuba but to stay in the United States “in search of opportunities,” despite his sadness “at leaving behind family and friends,” because on the island “there is no future for young people.”
continue reading

Since 2007, at least 35 dancers have sought asylum in the U.S. and other countries, according to figures from the Cuban Classical Ballet of Miami. The artistic director of the company, Pedro Pablo Peña, said the steady drip of defections shows “the absolute discontent” of artists with the Cuban regime.

“At first I was a little nervous because it was a very strong impact. It was leaving your family behind to go and find your profession, to be a dancer . . . It’s very hard. I keep thinking about my family,” said Ariel Soto. “They didn’t give us the opportunity of showing us how to reach our potential. I didn’t want to be frustrated because I have a life ahead of me. I’m 23 years old and I want to grow and not stagnate,” he said.

Another dancer, Yaima Mendez admitted that “I’ve been working since I was a child, and could not see the final result of that sacrifice” and that “it always hurts. It’s something very tough, very heavy, but I needed it to fulfill my dreams in a big country.”

According to Raizel Cruz, all dancers in Cuba support the decision of any artist who defects. “I dance, but I come with the mindset of doing anything. Whatever it takes,” he said.

According to the América Tevé channel, Cuban tennis players Randy Blanco (age 21) and Ernesto Alfonso (age 24), who participated in the Davis Cup elimination rounds, also held in Puerto Rico, fled and arrived yesterday at Miami International Airport.

Translated by Tomás A.

Who is Writing History? / 14ymedio, Miriam Celaya


Miriam Celaya, La Habana | Junio 02, 2014


No one could have anticipated a short time ago that the formulas to define the Cuban reality would be so radically transformed. In the last five years, we have been witnessing the gradual extinction of phrases and words that constituted an indispensable part of the official lingo, and the emergence of others which had been demonized, since they were considered remnants of a shameful bourgeois past which from which the revolution of 1959 had saved us.

Our language is foreseeing a scenario which is very different than that of the last 50 years. Lately, we rarely hear such terms as “comrade”, while in the official media, such phrases as “revolutionary intransigence”, “socialist emulation”, “voluntary labor” “collective vanguard” and “moral incentives” are infrequent, as are others, typical of the inescapable dialect of the old Soviet-Marxist period.

Thus, Cubans have once again become “señor” and “señora” and we have also stopped being “users” or “consumers” and have been transformed into “customers”. It is not the same or equal. It is a question of category based on a consumption level of access. For example, those who enter a store to buy the products of “local industries” in national currency remain “consumers”, but shoppers in stores dealing in hard currency are “clients”. continue reading

Now being a “comrade” means belonging to the lowest social ladder.

Cubans are also considered “clients” when they open a cellular phone account at the telephone company, as are those who can allow themselves a few vacation days in all-inclusive beach resort. It is worth mentioning that a Cuban client is not the same as a foreign client, because, after all, prosperity here always comes from “outside” No wonder foreigners or Cubans living abroad are the only ones who have a legitimate right to invest on the Island.

All this explains the extinction of the “comrade” among Cubans with greater purchasing power, and, by extension, among those who dream of attaining that level. Now to be a “comrade” means belonging to the bottom of the social scale or -to define it in the popular undying parlance- to be “broke”. Comrades are out of style.

At the same time, terms such as “investor”, “foreign capital”, “performance”, “competition”, “economic strategies”, “business autonomy”, “trade”, “tax culture” “legal guarantees for investments”, etc. have become commonplace, which point to the gestation of a paradigm diametrically opposite.to the old revolutionary discourse

We shouldn’t think that all euphemisms have been abandoned completely. To Cuban authorities, the private sector does not exist in Cuba, but “non-state forms of employment” do, and there are no Cuban-born entrepreneurs, but “self-employed workers”.

But the discourse is not being transformed from just the Cuban political authorities. Now that the interests of the ex-communist Castro regime graciously coincide with foreign capital interests, changes are also being observed in the discourse and the attitudes of certain Cuban-American entrepreneurs, as well as in intellectual and political US sectors.

The interests of the ex-communist Castro regime graciously coincide with foreign capital.

They are not limited to reinventing vocabulary terms, but they go beyond that, to interpret the so-called Raúl reforms as the driving force behind “significant changes” that are leading to the “development of business potential” of Cuban “citizens” by virtue of which “half a million entrepreneurs“ currently exist. These are the “leading democratic catalysts” that will “empower civil society”.  In fact, these “entrepreneurs”, forged in the heat of the reforms, are “starting to rewrite” the history of the country.

Inexplicably, a group of those who, at the beginning of this “revolutionary” process, felt compelled to pack and leave their homeland, but not before being stripped of their property and their capital, today seem to assume this “economic autonomy” as a possibility in the absence of political and civil liberties, and even believe that it’s possible to go forward with the democratization of Cuba by taking advantage of the economic “openings” in recent years and an imaginary Cuban entrepreneurship.

This formula is inconsistent with historical facts, since these same bilked-out millionaires, with their great capitals, did not stop the consolidation of the regime that bamboozled them at that time. In the new democratizing strategy, what possibilities could our measly native entrepreneurs have –taxi drivers, cart owners, trinket vendors, bike-taxi drivers, owners of small eateries and cafeterias– when they can’t even count on the basic right of free association

We are not against the vital need for change and the power of capital, but let’s not disguise certain private interests with rhetorical discourses and good intentions. Capital and good wishes have poured into China and Viet-Nam, those two exemplary jewels of innovation and prosperity that nobody would wish for themselves.

I agree that the history of Cuba is, in effect, being rewritten, but, so far, the Castro regime has been dictating its script.

Our Own Dangerous “Twin Towers” / 14ymedio, Victor Ariel Gonzalez

Tejas Corner. 14ymedio
Texas Corner. 14ymedio

Havana, June 9, 2014, Victor Ariel Gonzalez — Corrugated fiber-cement sheets and wooden planks form a security fence in the shadow of the two tallest buildings of an iconic Havana site: the “Twin Towers” at Texas Corner, where 240 families live, marooned, as the buildings crumble.

Every day many people walk past, where the sidewalks of Calzada Del Cerro and Diez de Octubre intersect. Life goes on as usual at the foot of the gray structures, 20 floors and 200 feet high, which dangerously dominate the landscape.

A glance behind the makeshift wall leaves no doubt about the problem: chunks of rust-stained concrete detached from the walls are scattered in the grass, evidence of the deterioration of the buildings. If you look up, the poor state of the structural walls, which support thousands of tons, is revealed, with their broken edges and numerous areas where rebar is exposed. continue reading

The corrosion causes the metal framework inside the concrete to expand, creating pressure on the covering, cracking and loosening pieces. People say the concrete is “bursting.” This is inevitable in construction using low-quality materials or inadequate technology in the concrete-fabricating process. The phenomenon now affects both 20-story structures on Texas Corner.

An unpredictable and deadly shower of concrete hailstones weighing several pounds

With rust replacing metal, the reinforcing steel loses its structural strength, which is its sole purpose. The building weakens, significantly shortening its useful life. Those who inhabit the buildings are at risk, but not only them. Before the agency responsible for repairing properties extended the protective perimeter in October 2013, passersby were exposed to an unpredictable and deadly shower of concrete hailstones weighing several pounds.

Children play after school in the portion of the park remaining outside the fence. A neighbor, whose little granddaughter is running around there, recalls that construction of the towers was completed in 1992: “I myself participated in the work because during that time I was in the micro.” She is referring to the “microbrigades,” crews of unskilled laborers who built multifamily housing in exchange for a place to live. “They gave me an apartment here, but I’ve always had problems. The windows don’t keep the rain out.”

She remembers that the south tower was built entirely by prisoners, while the north was under the control of those who would be the future owners. In both cases, the work left much to be desired technically. “One time they came around collecting money to retouch the exterior bearing walls, but the people wouldn’t agree because the windows were going to stay the same and the problem was not really going to be solved.” That was several years ago.

Now emergency intervention is needed. But those who installed the fence in only a few days—supposedly the same ones who would repair the towers—have not continued the work, which has been postponed indefinitely. The residents have not been informed of a date for the work to be done. The months go by and the risk increases every day as the corrosion silently advances.

Translated by Tomás A.

Cold Kisses Under the Tropical Sun / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

The fear of not being able to leave, of remaining locked on the island, is shared by many of my compatriots. Those who have never traveled fear they will grow old without ever knowing what’s on the other side of the sea. Cubans living abroad are not exempt from this fear. Many of them, when they visit the Island, have a recurring nightmare that they will not be allowed to board the plane when they leave. It is precisely this feeling overwhelms the main character of the novel “Eskimo Kiss,” by the novelist and journalist Manuel Pereira.

The book, as yet unpublished, describes the experiences of a man who travels to the land he left twelve years ago. His mother’s advanced age compels him return to the “country of mirages,” as he calls it. His arrival is accompanied by the panic of being trapped and that apprehension is mixed with the constant feeling of being watched. To him, his country is “like a moustrap” during the four days of the “humanitarian entry permit” the authorities have given him.

It is not only that perception of confinement that overwhelms the character of Pereira, but the difference between what he remembered from his homeland and what it really was. The distance, years and emotions tend to put a patina of sweetness and harmony on loved ones and everyday life that is often shattered when they are reunited. Nor does a nation fading away, in a moral freefall, do much to help allay the impression of suffocation that runs through the pages of this book. “Will he be able to escape?” we ask ourselves from the moment we start reading. To get to the answer we have to immerse ourselves in the reality—as well known as it is absurd—in which we ourselves are trapped.