Letter to Obama Sparks Controversy / 14ymedio

14ymedio, Havana | May 23, 2014

A letter published this week, signed by more than forty American personalities, asked Barack Obama to ease measures toward Cuba. In an unusual gesture of consensus, former senior U.S. politicians, military, analysts and businessmen advocate relaxing the embargo on the Island. Among the signatories are Republicans and Democrats who regard this as a good time to support Cuban civil society and entrepreneurs.

The missive includes a set of specific requests, such as expanding remittances, easing travel to the largest of the Antilles from the United States, and strengthening business relationships between the two countries. As explained in the text, it is a petition to Obama to carry our “specific actions.” Without falling into “ideological debate,” the signers clarify, with these measures they hope these measures will contribute to a “significant change” in Cuba. continue reading

During 2009 and 2010, the U.S. Administration pushed some relaxations such as increasing remittances, expanding family travel and academic exchange. However, this policy ceased when the Cuban government sentenced the American contractor Alan Gross to fifteen years in prison.

Ending the embargo requires congressional approval, so this letter asks the president to approve executive orders that circumvent congress.

Once the document was published the controversy erupted both inside and outside Cuba. Raul Castro’s government has barely mentioned it and the official media just outlined it with a brief note lacking details. However, this hasn’t stopped the issue from being debated in many social sectors.

Voices have been heard in two directions. There are those who believe these relaxations will reduce the Cuban government’s control over society, while others insist that their implementation would provide economic oxygen to maintain the regime in power longer.

Is a unilateral lifting of the sanctions, without asking for anything in return or demanding prior compliance with human rights and citizen liberties a good idea? That is the question 14ymedio asked several opponents on the Island.

Berta Soler (Ladies in White): Now is not the time to do business with the Cuban government because it’s not going to help the people at all. We aren’t thinking about profit, but rights.

Martha Beatriz Roque (opponent): At this point it doesn’t matter, relaxation or no relaxation. The news of what happens in Cuba is presented by the regime itself, the dictatorship, and there is a total destruction, there is no organization, there is a break in the chain of command. Sooner or later the problem will explode and there’s no want they can avoid it.

Manuel Cuesta Morúa (Progressive Arc): I agree with every easing from the United States toward Cuba, my position is against the U.S. Embargo. However, I notice that the letter barely mentions the issue of freedoms. It misses an opportunity to send a message in both directions: to to the American government and to the Cuba government. This could backfire because an opening without an interior strengthening could compromise any national project.

Dagoberto Valdés (director of the magazine Coexistence): This contributes to the exchange between peoples and what John Paul II said about “Cuba opening itself to the world and the world opening itself to Cuba.” There are human rights that are universal and that should be enjoyed by both Americans and Cubans. This exchange will strengthen Cuban civil society and will allow the world and American society to be more aware of the Cuban reality.

José Daniel Ferrer (Patriotic Union of Cuba): We support whatever brings improvement to the Cuban people, but we insist that the approach also improves the situation with human rights. Whatever is done should consider our nation’s need for human rights.

Felix Navarro (former political prisoner): There are many private interests in that letter and I doubt that it puts the critical situation of Cuban civil society at the forefront.  The government will use the economic oxygen it receives to grease the wheels of the machinery of repression.

30 Ladies in White Arrested / 14ymedio

Police Mount an Operation to Prevent a Meeting in Havana

14ymedio, Havana | May 23, 2014

As of midnight Thursday, the police deployed a strong operation around the headquarters of the Ladies in White in Havana. Once a month these women gather in a house on Neptune Street, for what they call a “literary tea.” This activity is frequently under pressure from State Security and groups organized by the government, who shout slogans and place loudspeakers facing the house.

In conversation with 14ymedio Berta Soler, leaders of the Ladies in White, described the situation they are facing at this time. “This is the 129th Literary Tea and we planned to have a reading of poems and letters, but the street was already closed off from the night before,” said Soler. According to her, “They had already detained some thirty women and others were blocked from getting here.” continue reading

This newspaper’s reporters confirmed the closing of Neptune Street and the diversion of traffic to surrounding roads. At least two buses with uniformed as well as plain clothes personnel had been  brought to the surrounding area. Groups usually used in the so-called acts of repudiation were stationed in the capital’s Trillo Park.

Several neighbors consulted confirmed that the police forces began arriving in the early hours of the morning. “We can’t live in this neighborhood any more,” said an elderly woman who lives in Hospital Street. According to her, “When there are so many police there are a ton of things you can no longer do. Not even the pushcart vendors want to sell here.” She was referring to the roaming sellers of fruits and vegetables who pass through the city’s neighborhood’s with their merchandise.

The Ladies in White are a peaceful women’s movement created after the 2003 Black Spring, a time when Fidel Castro’s government condemned 75 dissidents and independent journalists were condemned to long prison terms.

Our Terminology / 14ymedio

Screen Shot 2014-05-21 at 4.49.49 PMReinaldo Escobar, 14YMEDIO, Havana | May 21, 2014

The economic restrictions imposed by the United States on the government of Cuba are called “embargo” in one political pole and “blockade” in the other one. The country where such measures originate can be called “the imperialism” (or “the empire”), or by its actual names: United States, USA, and North America. The team of people that makes the main decisions in Cuba is called “the Cuban government,” “the authorities” or the “Castroite regime,” as well as other flattering names such as “the Revolution’s historic generation” or unflattering ones such as “the Castro brothers’ dictatorship.”

The term “revolution” is sometimes written with a capital R, mostly if it has another name attached to it: French Revolution, Industrial Revolution, Cuban Revolution. In the 1980s, in order to refer to the process that Lenin headed in Russia in 1917, it was almost mandatory to use the following formula: “The Great October Socialist Revolution.” In fact, this was the name given to a sugarcane combine factory in Holguín. In our case, one can opt for the most affected formulas, such as “the process initiated in 1959” if one does not want to use the noun “revolution.” continue reading

Those of us dedicated to writing about Cuban topics are constantly subjected to the scrutiny of our critics based on the terminology that we choose. What should I call Fidel Castro Ruz? Should I call him “our invincible commander in chief”? The simple and loving “Fidel,” or the distant “Castro”? Once, in the middle of a brainstorm, someone suggested “the hyena of Birán” and the suggestion stood as a joke. Perhaps it would be appropriate to call him “the Cuban ex-president,” but neither extreme likes it.

Now that we face the prospect of beginning a new journalistic experience with intentions of objectivity and moderation, we find ourselves trapped in the damned circumstance of terminology that, like water to the island, surrounds us everywhere. It is easy for a panel member on the Round Table[1] to use labels such as “the Miami terrorist mafia,” “the media war against Cuba,” and others lacking as much imagination as they lack any sense. They are paid to do that.

Nevertheless, how could we capture in one word the millions of Cubans who for varied reasons have decided to live outside their country? Should we say “exile,” “emigration” or “diaspora”? It is obvious that we will not say “scum” no matter how unexpected (treasonous) was their leaving this oven (melting pot), where we were manipulated (formed) as trash (the New Man).

In this launch, full of mishaps and emotions, we would like to make clear that each author owns his or her own terminology, as long as it does not trespass the most elementary limits of respect. This space can accommodate passion, all passions, but not insult. To the most sensitive, we beg for tolerance, for words can be the material wrappings of thought, but not the prison of ideas.

[1] The Round Table or la Mesa Redonda de Reflexión is a political “orientation” TV program in Cuba.

A Newspaper is Born in Cuba / 14ymedio

Screen Shot 2014-05-21 at 4.49.49 PMJournalists and intellectuals sign a statement of support for 14ymedio.

14YMEDIO | 21 May 2014

“Today we welcome a new communications medium, a digital daily that is born in a country without freedom of the press: Cuba.

“The creators of this risky enterprise, directed by blogger Yoani Sanchez, share our democratic values. In their declaration of principals, the 14ymedio team is committed to promoting ‘truth, freedom and the defense of human rights, without ideological or party ties.’

“Cubans look to the future and need information media that opens respectful spaces for debate on the Island. We are sure that this initiative will contribute to the peaceful and democratic transition and the construction of a new country.

“The undersigned, writers and journalists from different countries, call on the Cuban government to respect the right of this medium to exist and be distributed. And we ask that it not limit the freedom of expression and the right to information of its citizens.”

  • Mario Vargas Llosa, writer, Perú / Spain
  • Rosa Montero, writer and contributor to El País, Spain
  • Fernando Savater, “Claves de razón práctica” Magazine, writer, Spain
  • Fernando Trueba, movie director, Spain
  • Arturo Ripstein, movie director, México
  • Paz Alicia Garciadiego, scriptwriter, México
  • Arcadi Espada, journalist, Spain
  • Arsenio Escolar, journalist, director of 20minutos, Spain
  • Pablo Hiriart, journalist and conductor of Noticiero 40, México
  • Moisés Naím, columnist for El País, Estados Unidos
    Rafael Pérez Gay, writer and journalist in Milenio. México
  • Lech Walesa, ex-president of the Republic of Poland, Poland
  • Vicente Molina Foix, writer, Spain
  • Edward Seaton, director of The Mercury, United States
  • Fidel Cano, Director of El Espectador, Colombia
  • Jaime Mantilla, director of Hoy, Ecuador
  • Carlos Salinas, journalist of Confidencial, Nicaragua
  • Nuria Claver, editorial coordiantor of CLAVES de Razón Práctica en PROGRESA, Spain
  • Juan Malpartida, Escritor and director of Cuadernos Hispanoamericanos, Spain
  • Martine Jacot, journalist for Le Monde, Francia
  • Pedro Zambrano Lapenta, director of El Diario, Ecuador
  • Roger Bartra, sociologist and essayist, México
  • Esteban Ruíz Moral, artist, Spain
  • Adam Michnik director of la Gazeta Wyborcza, Poland
  • Maciej Stasiński, journalist for la Gazeta Wyborcza, Poland
  • Carlos Alberto Montaner, journalist, writer and politician. Cuba/United States
  • Mirta Ojitos, Cuban journalist at Columbia Univeristy, NY. Cuba/United States
  • Dagoberto Valdés, director of the magazine Convivencia, Cuba

Math Exam for University Entrance to be Repeated / 14ymedio

Screen Shot 2014-05-21 at 4.49.49 PMLeaking of the contents forces the Ministry of Education to cancel the results and repeat the test.

14YMEDIO, Havana | May 21, 2014

The Ministry of Higher Education and the National Admissions Committee decided to cancel the results of the Mathematics Exam for Admission to Higher Education for students in the city of Havana. The move came as a result of the leaking of the test contents, which many students in Havana had access to.

The official notice states that the exam will be repeated at 9:00 AM on 26 May. The news has caused consternation among young people who already completed the 12th grade, because access to the university requires passing exams in Mathematics, Spanish and History. Most of these students have been preparing for months, including studying with private tutors. continue reading

The exam was held on 8 May, and shortly afterwards it was learned that several of the capital’s high school students had previously obtained the questions. “Unscrupulous people stole the exam, despite the measures taken,” according to the statement by the Ministry of Higher Education.

“We have to pay for their sins,” a girl from Havana’s Nuevo Vedado neighborhood said. She had barely passed the test without having known the questions ahead of time. “Now  they’re going to ‘toss a pea,’” she added, using teenage slang to suggest that the second test will probably be harder than the first.

The investigations uncovered the involvement of at least three teachers who participated in the preparation of the test; severe penalties await them. As an additional measure, the History and Spanish tests are also being modified at the last minute, for fear that they, too, could have been leaked.