Cubanet, Miriam Leiva, HAVANA, 18 December 2014 — President Barack Obama announced a new direction in US policy toward Cuba, on December 17. The Cuban population has expressed great joy at the news, both within the archipelago and abroad. It is a brave and historic decision, because it provides the opportunity to finally eradicate the existing environment of confrontation of almost 55 years and initiate fruitful relations to benefit of the Cuban people. The measures taken by the US president have been greeted with enthusiasm and hope by millions, although other Cubans remain cautious, because they commonly face harsh living conditions and repression.
President Raul Castro announced he was open to extensive negotiations with the United States, on all subjects, in a televised appearance coincident with that of President Barack Obama. The reasons to promote the rapprochement with Washington may be very extensive, including the deepening of the Cuban economic crisis, the need for foreign investment for recapitalization and development, social discontent over the socio-economic deprivation, loss of public confidence, and the need to improve Cuban’s international image. To achieve freedom and democracy, civil society will have to traverse the long and difficult path imposed by a totalitarian regime that seeks to prolong itself through its heirs. continue reading
The exchange of Alan Gross, imprisoned in Cuba in 2009, for 3 prisoners sentenced as spies in the United States, was a necessary condition for the US government to be able to initiate the process of normalization of relations and to achieve results with new measures directed toward the Cuban people. In addition, the island government agreed to release an American citizen after some 20 years, and 53 other political prisoners. The tradition of the American government is to not abandon any of its citizens, and to provide for their exchange or rescue with military action.
The efforts of lawmakers from both parties, the diplomacy, and members from all sectors of American society have had an important role in these developments. Pope Francis has once again demonstrated his wisdom, aided by nuncios accredited in Havana, and the Cuban Catholic Church, headed by Cardinal Ortega and the Conference of Cuban Catholic Bishops who have continued to accompany the nation and the people with their traditional patriotic and religious vocation.
The measures announced include initiation of talks to restore diplomatic relations; regulatory reform to empower the Cuban people with more efficiency; favoring the expansion of general permits for travel to Cuba and increases in the amount of remittances; expanded authorizations for commercial sales and exports of certain goods and services from the US; authorization for persons living in the United States to import additional goods to Cuba; facilitating financial transactions between the two countries; initiating new efforts to increase access to communications in Cuba and people’s ability to communicate freely; updating the application of sanctions on Cuba in third countries; establishment of negotiations with the governments of Cuba and Mexico to discuss the unresolved maritime boundary in the Gulf of Mexico; beginning of the process of reviewing Cuba’s as a state sponsor of terrorism; discussion of the participation of Cuba in the Summit of the Americas in April 2015; a firm commitment to democracy, human rights and civil society, including strong support for improving human rights conditions and democratic reforms in Cuba (a summary of an extensive Fact Sheet issued by the Office of the White House Press Secretary).
Leaders of the opposition call Obama’s reconciliation with the Cuban government a “betrayal” during a press conference in Havana
Cubanet, Ernesto García Díaz, Havana, 18 December 2014 — From the headquarters of the Estado de SATS project in Miramar, on Wednesday afternoon (12/17/14), Cuban opposition leaders held a press conference for national and international media, to make known their positions regarding the new political stance of the United States towards Cuba.
Guillermo Fariñas Hernández, winner of the European Parliament’s Sakharov Prize for the Freedom of Thought and Coordinator General of the United Antitotalitarian Front (FANTU), referring to the steps taken by the governments of Cuba and the United States, stated the following:
“We can applaud the release of Alan Gross, who really was used by the Island’s government to blackmail the American administration. But Obama has been inconsiderate with the civil society that is challenging Cuba’s tyrannical government In Miami, back in November of 2013, Barack Obama promised Bertha Soler and me that any action he would take with respect to Cuba would be consulted with the civil society and nonviolent opposition. Obviously this did not occur. These actions are now accomplished facts, they are reality, and Cuban democrats were not taken into account. continue reading
This amounts to a betrayal of Cuban democrats. We must now adapt ourselves to the new scenarios, which means that we must ask the American government to keep in mind the demands that these negotiations should require, to avoid colluding with the communist dictatorship of the Island. If the United States government listens to us, I believe that we can hope that this is not one more maneuver of complicity and help towards a regime drawing its last breath.”
The leader and opposition activist Antonio G. Rodiles, coordinator of the Campaign for Another Cuba and of the Estado de SATS project, made the following assertion:
“History has been made when, in 1994, the country [Cuba] was finding itself in a profound crisis and the explosion of 5 August 1994 occurred. The North American government’s response was to accept the exodus and later to sign the migration accords which provide for an annual cap on [US] visas issued annually [to Cuban nationals]. The result has been that during more than 20 years, the country’s human capital has been bleeding out and Cubans have opted to leave Cuba and not provoke change. This truly has been a disaster and the United States government cast a lifeline to the regime so that it may survive.
“The rancid Castro regime, as is common knowledge, in on the point of ending from natural causes. Obviously what they are trying to do is to cement the foundation for a mutation to Neo-Castroism, which is the family and descendents, who are trying to continue to governing, which is a grave danger for Cuba and for the entire region.”
“Today’s measures – without taking into account the opinion of Cuban civil society, of the political actors in the Cuban opposition – is a serious message, it is a bad message, and if the upcoming process of negotiation does not include our participation, the results will not be positive at all. We still have ahead of us the Summit of the Americas [to be held in Panama City in April, 2015], but what happened today does not make us feel optimistic.
“We rejoice at the liberation of Alan Gross. But the measures that the United States government has implemented today, of relaxing the embargo and reestablishing diplomatic relations with Cuba, will in no way benefit the people of the Island. The steps that have been taken will reinforce the repression against human rights activists by the government of the Castro regime. The regime will augment the resources and sinecures to its forces so that they will continue to harass and repress civil society activists. An example was the military reinforcements exhibited by the regime in advance of anti-demonstration activities on 10 December, ‘International Human Rights Day.’ ”
Félix Navarro Rodríguez, Coordinator General of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU) and president of the Pedro Luis Boitel Party for Democracy, had this to say:
“The conditions that brought about the United States’ embargo against Cuba in 1961 have not changed. It is well known that the government is totalitarian, dynastic, that it does not recognize the rights to free expression, free assembly and freedom of the press. As long as the political opposition, the different strains of political thought and a multi-party system are not recognized and general free elections are not called, we cannot point to anything beneficial for the people.
“We are in total disagreement with what has been produced today, because we consider it a betrayal of those of us who, from inside Cuba, are opposing the regime to obtain a definitive change for the wellbeing of all Cubans.”
Following the opposition leaders’ statements, the floor was opened to questions.
Associated Press (AP): “We walked the streets extensively today, and found the people to be happy, beyond the message. It is notable that all of you hold a position so different from ordinary people. Does this mean that you will alienate yourselves from the will of many people now living in Cuba?”
Antonio Rodiles: “People are disoriented, surprised by what has happened. On the street, in the taxis, people were not excited, others said that the pie was cut, the [Castro] family and the governing elite are strengthening their business positions. It isn’t the people, the person in a small cafeteria who is being watched by inspectors, people don’t know what is going to happen.”
Ángel Moya: “In the midst of the secret negotiations that were going on between the two governments, on 10 December the Havana dictatorship was repressing 75 Ladies in White and 35 human rights activists. In Cuba, laws are in force that are designed to guarantee the impunity with which the repressive forces act. What guarantee is there that the Cuban government will recognize civil society?”
CubaNet: “Has the United States government or any of its officials, following these declarations, contacted the leaders of the opposition, in accordance with the commitments Obama made in 2013?”
Félix Navarro Rodríguez: “We have not been consulted. This has all developed in strict secrecy between the two governments. There has been no encounter with Cuban civil society nor with its leaders. Nor do we know if they are willing to meet with us. As of today, they continue to repress the Ladies in White and twelve of us prisoners from the  Black Spring; we remain on parole, deprived of our rights and liberties.
“The commitment by Obama to Berta Soler and Guillermo Fariñas was not kept. In Cuba everything remains the same. Now, in the midst of this avalanche, we will reorganize and will fight until the end, we will press for the recognition of our civil rights and for democratic freedoms.”
At the end of the press conference, Guillermo Fariñas, by way of concluding remarks, asserted this:
“We need to channel our demands. The government of the United States has a moral obligation to all democracies in the world. It gave to the Cuban government a possibility to start instituting some democratic reforms. Now, it will depend on the actions we Cubans take.”
Attending, among various other officials of accredited diplomatic missions on the Island, were diplomatic representatives of the European Union, and of Sweden. Also present were human rights activists, among them Gorki Águila Carrasco (artist in the group Porno Para Ricardo), Hablemos Press, AP, and others.
Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, HAVANA, Cuba, 2 December 2014 — Young journalist Ernesto Londoño should feel very gratified professionally: he has not only managed to raise a bitter media controversy in recent weeks, stemming from his uncharacteristic editorial which appeared in the New York Times (NYT), in favor of bringing closer the governments of the US and Cuba and the lifting of the embargo, among other proposals, in line with the Cuban official discourse; but these days he has taken a “business trip” to the Island and has held several meetings with some media, including the most official media of all, the newspaper Granma, at whose headquarters he was cordially received on Monday, November 24th by the editorial team headed by its director. Londoño published several photographs of the occasion on his Twitter account.
Meanwhile, on Tuesday the 25th, the magazine OnCuba welcomed him at its headquarters in Havana, where “he talked, asked and responded to our concerns” according to an interview published by that journal, which states that Londoño is conducting research that will allow further development of the Cuba issue at the NYT. The page overflowed with photographs that testify to the meeting, depicting a smiling and relaxed Londoño.
And indeed, it appears that Londoño’s intention and that of his editorial bosses is to gather as much information as possible from diverse opinion sectors in this controversial trip. Or at least, that is what his phone call on Friday the 28th to the director of 14ymedio, Yoani Sánchez, evidenced. During that call, he requested to meet with her, and she agreed to conduct a meeting which should also involve other team members, including 14ymedio‘s editor-in-chief Reinaldo Escobar, reporters Luzbely Escobar and Victor Ariel González, Rachel Vazquez, in charge of the cultural section, columnists Eliecer Avila and this writer, Miriam Celaya. The urgency of the meeting precluded the presence of provincial correspondents.
The Hotel Saratoga, a “Neutral” Venue?
On Saturday, November 29th, at 11 am according to our previous agreement, we met with Ernesto Londoño at a “neutral” venue as the mezzanine of the hotel where he was a guest, the Saratoga, located on Prado and Dragones Sts., right across from La Fuente de la India and adjacent to the Parque de la Fraternidad and the Capitol, where some of us connect to the Internet at the astronomical price of 12 CUC per hour, and to put up with the anguish of slow service and full of “blockades”. In fact, coincidentally, during our close to three-hour conversation, there was no connection.
All around us, the ill-concealed movement of the agents of the political police in their ridiculous disguises as ‘guests’, employees or clients of the cafeteria, reminded us that, under totalitarian regimes, neutrality is always a chimera. In all that time, not even one of the waitresses came near us to see if we wanted to order at least a coffee, something remarkable in a country where Cuban born citizens cannot remain sitting, occupying a table if we are not “consuming”.
Anyway, all that police deployment was a useless waste: we, the disobedient ones, did not go there to share secrets or to make compromises, but to express ourselves as freely as we usually do in our writings, so we didn’t even take the trouble to lower our voices.
The first impression, after the introductions with the journalist-revelation of the moment, was disappointing: Londoño could not answer the questions that each of us had prepared for him because “he must ask for the approval” of his NYT bosses. The essential requirement was for us to submit the questions in writing and wait for his answers. We also could not photograph him during the meeting. Any opinion he expressed personally at that meeting could not be published by us.
Suddenly, what we thought would be a meeting between colleagues in two different media, at which we would exchange views and discuss topics of crucial interest for Cubans, was turning into a “clandestine” date, with a certain tinge of adultery, a sort of media conspiracy designed to feed and diversify knowledge (his) about the Cuban reality, but without our ability to disclose his view points, his motives about our country or where his interests were headed.
In stark contrast to his stay at Granma newspaper, the meeting would have a restraint (embargo?) imposed precisely from the anti-embargo defender, the NYT. Live and learn!
Nevertheless, the representatives of 14ymedio present at that meeting agreed to offer Londoño our opinions about anything he was interested to know about our country, but we would be free to publish whatever we stated on our own… because such are the advantages of those who don’t need permission to express themselves.
A Gift for the NYT
Thus, based on rigorous ethical issues and honoring the commitment we agreed to, I will only present here a summary of my impressions and commentaries about the meeting and, at no time, the questions and opinions of the foreign visitor.
It is impossible to summarize in only a few words the variety of topics of conversation on that Saturday evening; although I would dare say that Londoño must have been surprised to discover such a diverse group of ages, professions and opinions grouped in the same project. Undoubtedly, he must have noticed the absence of the monotonous “choirs” of unanimous agreements or hesitation among cronies, and he certainly must not have noticed in other meetings the flow of ideas as critical, free and spontaneous: there was no agenda or orders to speak one’s opinion, or taboo subjects. Nobody lead the meeting, nobody moderated, and nobody censured. A real present for a visitor who tries to get close to a reality where entrenched, social auto-censorship reigns.
Politics, economics, society, history, law, Cuba-US relations; new laws; myths and realities of Raúl’s “reforms” and their results so far; necessary steps for real changes in Cuba, which we would like see reflected in the editorials of the NYT; what kind of journalism we Cubans want and what we recommend to foreign researchers if they really want to know Cuba were several of the countless of topics not yet exhausted, but that surely marked the difference between what we are and what they had told Ernesto Londoño we were.
At any rate, despite the limitations and how dreadful what he has written so far in his quasi-perverse editorials, about which I offered my sincere opinion, expressed in several articles published in Cubanet, I’m glad this young journalist has had, so far, the opportunity to listen to opinions from positions and commitments so different as those of the barricades of the official press or the free spontaneity of at least a portion of the voices of the independent press. We hope he will learn to feel the pulse of the Cubans at the bottom rungs, those who subsist in neighborhoods near his expensive lodgings. I hope that, going forward, he is more responsible, or at least that he assumes the consequences of his writings.
I am glad that he has also been in the company of the makers of “critical” publications so light that they enjoy the privilege to work in legal offices in Havana, another reform miracle that betrays the type of changes that the Cuban government has implemented and that constitutes a clear signal of the long road that we Cubans must travel in order to defend our interests, so different from the long Cuban dictatorship and from those that Ernesto Londoño himself has defended with as much ignorance as vehemence from the biased NYT editorials.
Cubanet, Ernesto Perez Chang, 20 October 2014 — Contrary to the image of calm and stability that the Cuban government likes to project abroad, numerous posters are appearing with messages of protest and denunciations every morning around Havana streets and in the rest of the country, in spite of severe laws that prohibit expressing disagreements against official politics.
“Down with Fidel”, “Down with Raúl”, “Down with the dictatorship” or “Cuba is a corrupt country”, along with phrases of solidarity with Venezuela — where radicalized populist measures are taking place that have put democracy at risk — are some of the messages that proliferating in Cuba, despite the government sparing no expense to punish these acts of rebellion.
Sometimes written with regular pencils, and other times, simply scraping the wall with a piece of metal and with the haste of one who knows that, in Cuba, manifestly dissenting is a crime pursued with excessive fury, most of the graffiti only get to express in a direct manner the opposition to a system of government which very few people are betting on by now.
It is public knowledge that in Cuba just the appearance of a simple poster in the workplace, school or public place id enough to have all hell break loose, in the form of police investigations, harassment and arrests that not even a blood crime or a violent robbery can mobilize, since some forms of open opposition, even more so when they involve acts of association or are an enticement to rebellion, can be considered very serious crimes against “state security”, which is proof to the phrase “whoever sets the law, sets the trap”.
Nevertheless, men and women who cannot bear to continue to keep silent, assuming the risks, go out clandestinely at night to scribble their complaints, even knowing that in a few hours someone will make their messages disappear in the clumsiest manner.
Sometimes the Propaganda Department of the Communist Party is responsible for covering the messages using unsightly stockades covered in partisan slogans; Other times, a brigade of workers or students will cross off the graffiti with brushstrokes, fulfilling an urgent task of the syndicate or of the Union of Young Communists. This was described by a young man who has chosen to remain anonymous so as not to harm him at his place of employment. He used to be Secretary of the Youth of his class during his years as a university student:
“Since the university faculty is in an area without lighting at night, signs that read there ” Down with Fidel “and other things frequently appeared. My hair would stand up on ends because I knew that the problems would follow. The police would go crazy asking questions among students and teachers, They would treat everyone as if we were guilty. They treated us as if we were guilty, they looked at us with suspicion. Since I was in the Union of Young Communists, it became my job to put together a small brigade to paint over the signs to cover them up. The worst thing is that the painting appeared immediately, but when we would ask for paint for the classroom windows, they would tell us there was no money, but for covering the signs there was.
A worker at an automobile workshop in [the neighborhood of] El Cerro (where one can still see, even with the paint strokes, one of the signs by the Patriotic Union of Cuba UNPACU), comments:
“If you asked me, I would leave them, but if we don’t cover them up, there would be a big problem. The Party members gang up on us and the cops appear immediately as if someone had been killed. They fired the custodian because of that sign. They had to take it out on someone because it’s really impossible to know who scribbled it. Since the sign is on the walls of the workshop, then it’s our problem. They are about to paint the whole wall because what was written can still be seen.
Judging by the storm of official ideological propaganda that is invading the city, the Cuban people appear to be a homogeneous, monolithic mass, and, above all, happy with their status as a subdued herd. If we focus our eyes on those sloppy cover-ups and the paint stains on some other walls, then we will begin to understand that there is a silence that begins to break down.
Radio, television, web pages, the very few newspapers and magazines circulating all under the Communist Party baton, and even the boxes of matches and the covers of the school notebooks are, besides vehicles of manipulation of the popular masses, an expression of the paranoia of the main leaders in the most unsuspected places are a lesson in dignity and its persistence.
SANTIAGO DE CUBA, Cuba, 12 October 2014, Yusmila Reyna Ferrer — The Island’s government has denied the right of Carlos Amel Oliva Torres, youth leader of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU), based in Santiago de Cuba, to travel to the Czech Republic, as invited by organizations based in that European country, on Saturday 11 October.
According to reports from the young activist, when the customs authorities at Havana International Airport checked his documents, after separating from him the rest of the check-in line, and on looking at his passport, informed him that he could not travel, without giving a specific reason.
Carlos Amel says that such a violation demonstrates the intention of Cuban State Security wanted to silence UNPACU’s activist and to censor international exposure to the arguments of the organization in their fight for a pluralistic society within the island.
It is not the first time that the Cuban authorities have violated Amel Carlos Oliva’s basic right to travel. According to the activist, last September 30 he was also intercepted while preparing to go to a similar event in Chile.
With the repeal of the famous “exit permit” in January 2013, Cuban society appeared to take a step forward in achieving new freedoms. However, these facts show that what is enshrined in Article 13 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is still subject to consideration by the authorities of the island, who continue to arbitrarily decide who can leave the country and who can not.
HAVANA, Cuba, 31 January 2014, www.cubanet.org – The position of the Port of Mariel has revalued the geographical importance of Cuba, lost with the end of the Cold War. The soldiers who for 46 years were the support of the government, when they began to direct everything in mid-2006 they found a country undercapitalized, productively and humanly.
General Raul Castro has moved the troops towards economic ends to confront the disaster that can not be overcome, despite his straitjacketed reforms that don’t encourage hard work and creativity to supply imports and increase exports.
As his travels through the friendly countries failed to achieve a financial injection for core investments and the replacement for the possible reduction or loss of petrodollars from Venezuela, he seems to have taken advantage of the changes in the 21st century, to preserve the fifty-year revolution, the “unity in diversity” of CELAC, beyond militant ALBA.
The transit of senior officers of the Armed Forces to create civilian businesses in innovative sectors began in the late 1980s and, especially, with the debacle of the “Special Period in Peacetime” and the loss of subsidies from the Soviet Union and other countries of real socialism.
In the early ’90s, Fidel Castro authorized the company Gaviota to engage in tourism, the TRDs or stores for the recovery of hard currency, and Raul Castro sought the implementation of the successful business system in the Revolutionary Armed Forces, but passing into the civilian sector without the conditions of organizational control military did not give the same results. From here much of the current entrepreneurs emerged.
The Port of Mariel is the only great monument built by the Revolution and will remain as a legacy of Raul Castro. Companies of the Ministry of the Armed Forces appear to have met the schedule and built a quality container terminal, inaugurated by the president and his Brazilian counterpart Dilma Rousseff last January 27.
Upon completion of all the works, perhaps it will join the seven wonders of Cuban engineering, like the Albear aqueduct, from the nineteenth century, still in use. Furthermore, the Special Development Zone boosts the national economy. A stark contrast to the legacy of destruction across the country, critically wrought over previous decades.
Undoubtedly, President Jose Inacio Lula da Silva and his successor, Mrs. Rousseff, calculated well the positioning in an economically asphyxiated Cuba. The Brazilians arrived in a big way to “help confront the northern neighbor,” to open American trade and tourism. The companies of the competitive Yankees advance with the best technology in the world.
Of course, it also entered the current priority calculations: Super Post-Panamax vessels, the Panama Canal expansion. In the Cuban press reports it was noted that the top leaders of the works are executives of the Brazilian company Odebrecht — the principal in the project — and Raul Castro said the administration of the container terminal will be in charge of one of the largest port operators in the world. Lamentable guarantee that inexperienced Cubans will not hard the adequate functioning.
As a prelude to the opening, the advantages of foreign investment in the Mariel Special Development Zone have been divulged. Russian, Chinese, German, British, French, Italian and Brazilian companies of course are mentioned as interested. The approach of the Mexican president could follow the same course. However, investors need guarantees that the old law doesn’t offer. Hence a new version has been promised.
As the project only benefits those who desire to hide their problems and arbitrariness, a greatly cultivated style in Cuba for decades, the presence of more European Union countries and the United States could be advantageous to the competence of the best economic opportunities, most advanced technologies, training, sources of jobs and less dependence.