Cuban State Security Prohibits Third Meeting Of Coexistence Studies Center / 14ymedio

The director of the Center for Coexistence Studies, Dagoberto Valdes. (Facebook)
The director of the Center for Coexistence Studies, Dagoberto Valdes. (Facebook)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 25 November 2016 — The meeting of the Center for Coexistence Studies (CEC) scheduled for Saturday in Pinar del Rio has been prohibited by State Security, as reported two officers to the organization’s director, Dagoberto Valdes. The men visited the house of the Catholic layman and they assured him that “high command” would not allow holding the event, the intellectual told 14ymedio.

The meeting, the third of its kind, had as its theme Culture and Education in the Future of Cuba: vision and proposal. The organizers expected the participation of about 20 people, most of them from other provinces.

One of the officials said he was Major Joaquin, who was also present at the last interrogation to which Valdes was summoned. Among the arguments presented for the prohibition of the meeting was that it had been scheduled to take place 72 hours before the anniversary of the landing of the yacht Granma, which brought Fidel and Raul Castro and other revolutionaries from Mexico.

The major also said that those invited to the meeting were “prominent counterrevolutionary ringleaders,” but without giving details. Valdes, who is also director of the magazine Convivencia (Coexistence), questioned the reasons why the Government to considers dangerous a meeting to talk about education.

Last September the CEC had to cancel a meeting on community issues, when two participants from Cienfuegos were intercepted and forced to return to their province.

The Coexistence Studies Center organizes training courses for the citizenry and civil society in Cuba. The organization operates independently of the State, the Church and any political group.

Dagoberto Valdes Recounts His Conversation With Cuban State Security / 14ymedio, Dagoberto Valdes

Cuban intellectuals and artists from both sides of the Florida Straits in a meeting organized by the Center for Coexistence Studies. (File 14ymedio)
Cuban intellectuals and artists from both sides of the Florida Straits in a meeting organized by the Center for Coexistence Studies. (File 14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Dagoberto Valdes, 25 November 2016 — At the stroke of noon today, 25 November 2016, two officials from State Security came to my house, Major Joaquin, who participated in my interrogation on 27 October, and another official.

Major Joaquin said that they came to inform me that I would not be permitted to hold the meeting planned by the Center for Coexistence Studies for this weekend, the 26th and 27th of November, because this is considered a provocative activity, because those invited are “ringleaders of the counterrevolution” because of doing so barely hours from the 60th anniversary of the landing of the [yacht] Granma [that brought Fidel and Raul Castro and other revolutionaries from Mexico]. Continue reading “Dagoberto Valdes Recounts His Conversation With Cuban State Security / 14ymedio, Dagoberto Valdes”

I asked them what they meant by a provocative activity and being “counterrevolutionary ringleaders,” because Coexistence is a project of study and thinking for the good of Cuba, and does not engage in provocations nor consider people to be “ringleaders.” These meetings are to think about solutions and proposals for the progress of our Nation and, in this specific meeting, it is to study the theme “Culture and Education in the future of Cuba.” He responded that it was an order from the high command of the Country and they would follow what is established, when and how they considered appropriate.

I asked if they were closing Coexistence, they told me no, but they would evaluate each activity we organized and would act as appropriate. I stated that I considered they were already carrying out the threat received at the interrogation summons from less than a month ago and which they assured me that “starting from today your life is going to be very difficult.”

Thus, continues the harassment of the Coexistence Studies Center that the Cuban authorities began as of 1 September 2016.

Dagoberto Valdes Hernandez

Director, Center for Coexistence Studies

Cuban Human Rights Group Denounces “Unstoppable Deterioration Of Civil And Political Rights” / 14ymedio

From today your life will be "very difficult", Dagoberto Valdes was warned by Cuban State Security (@mariojose_cuba)
From today your life will be “very difficult”, Dagoberto Valdes was warned by Cuban State Security (@mariojose_cuba)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 2 November 2016 — The arbitrary arrests of peaceful dissidents in Cuba marked the highest figure in the last three months in October, with 620 cases, according to the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation’s (CCDHRN) monthly report, released Wednesday. The report also cites 17 physical assaults, 39 acts of police harassment and three instances of “repudiation” by the secret political police and vigilante groups.

“The repressive actions in recent months are indicative of a visible and unstoppable deterioration of the situation of civil and political rights and other fundamental rights in Cuba, despite the countless gestures of goodwill towards the regime that has ruled the island for nearly 60 years,” laments the document. “Meanwhile, the vast majority of the Cuban people continue to survive amid a lack of freedom, poverty and despair,” it.

In the first 10 months of 2016, 9,125 arrests were registered, a figure that exceeds the totals for each of the last six years. The CCDHRN is led by Elizardo Sanchez, who predicts that this year’s final count of arbitrary arrests will exceed 10,000 cases.

The CCDHRN mentioned the secret political police raid of October 21 on the home and office of a legal aid center in Pinar del Rio, also the site of the newsletter Panorama Pinareño, sponsored by the Cuban Institute for Freedom of Expression and the Press (ICLEP).

The report also addresses the threats against the Catholic layman Dagoberto Valdes, director of the Center for Coexistence Studies (CEC) of Pinar del Rio, which publishes a magazine with the same name.

From Today Your Life Will Be “Very Difficult,” State Security Tells Dagoberto Valdes / 14ymedio

Dagoberto Valdes was summoned on Thursday at one in the afternoon to the headquarters of the State Security Pinar del Rio. (@mariojose_cuba)
Dagoberto Valdes was summoned on Thursday at one in the afternoon to the headquarters of the State Security Pinar del Rio. (@mariojose_cuba)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 28 October 2016 — The director of the Center for Coexistence Studies (CEC), Dagoberto Valdes, summoned to a meeting with State Security on Thursday, received “an official warning” which anticipates “the possibility of committing crimes against State Security as defined in the Penal Code.”

Valdes, who remained at the police headquarters on the San Juan road for two hours and fifteen minutes, explained to 14ymedio that the officials threatened him that “as of today” his life “would be very difficult” if one day “he was to incur one of these crimes.” The police mentioned as possible violations of the law the receipt of money from the United States for his activities, or the lack of a contribution to the treasury. The director of Coexistence affirmed that he had “received not even one cent from the United States government.” Continue reading “From Today Your Life Will Be “Very Difficult,” State Security Tells Dagoberto Valdes / 14ymedio”

Despite these warnings, Valdes affirmed that everything happened “in a serious and respectful climate” and that “there was no physical abuse” at any time.

“I came to this place [the headquarters of the State Security] on time and within minutes of the hour I was received by Lieutenant Colonel Osvaldo Labrador, head of the unit, and Major Joaquin” said Valdes in a statement received by this newspaper.

According to the director of Coexistence, on entering the unit he was led to “an interrogation room where the entire conversation was filmed.” In it, he said Lt. Col. Labrador told him that for “all these years” he had remained “at the razor’s edge between being a layman of the Church and being a counterrevolutionary.”

Accordingly, Valdes added by telephone, they advanced that if he “engages in counterrevolution” he would be “treated” accordingly, but not if he continues with “his profile as a Catholic layman and cares for the social objective of Coexistence” and he mentioned “2003, when the 75.”

At the end of the declaration, Valdes was taken to the “technical” room where they took his “finger and palm prints, an odor print of his pelvis and photos from the front and side,” and later took him to the infirmary. Despite telling Major Joaquin that he felt “in very good health,” they insisted on taking his blood pressure, which was stable.

Dagoberto Valdes is thankful “with all his heart, for the immense solidarity received from friends and brothers of many countries and institutions, as well as for the prayers of pastors and brothers of different faiths.”

The Coexistence Studies Center focuses on training for citizenship and civil society in Cuba. Among its activities is the publication of the magazine Convivencia (Coexistence), the discussion of proposals for the future of the island and the exchange ideas about our current situation.

Last September the members of Coexistence denounced that at least nine of them had been subjected to police interrogation. The activists were forced to suspend the My Neighborhood One Community program due to pressure from State Security, which included operations around several of their homes, arrests and the cutting of the cell phone service of event organizers.

Based in the province of Pinar del Rio, the independent entity is conceived as a think tank to “think about the national home we desire, to contribute to the reconstruction of the human person and the fabric of civil society.”

 

“God bless you!”: The Unusual ‘Goodbye’ from a Cuban Official to Dagoberto Valdes

Summons issued to Dagoberto Valdes
Summons issued to Dagoberto Valdes

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 19 October 2016 – The director of the Center for Coexistence Studies (CEC), Dagoberto Valdes, presented himself at ten o’clock on Wednesday morning at the headquarters of the State Security at Kilometer 4.5 of the highway to San Juan in Pinar del Rio, after receiving a summons to “address legal issues.” The interview, however, only “lasted half a minute,” the intellectual told 14ymedio.

“We presented ourselves at Kilometer 4.5, which is like the Villa Marista [a harsh State Security prison in Hvana] of here, the whole Coexistence team and myself. I gave the receptionist the summons, and she asked me to wait a moment,” he explained. Continue reading ““God bless you!”: The Unusual ‘Goodbye’ from a Cuban Official to Dagoberto Valdes”

According to the director of Coexistence, three minutes later an official who presented himself as the duty officer in charge of the unit came out and invited him to enter an office and, without even offering him a seat, told him that Lieutenant Colonel Osvaldo, with whom the interview had originally been scheduled, had to leave the province unexpectedly and so he was free to leave.

On leaving, Valdes explained, the captain in charge of the unit said, “God bless you!” to which he replied with a similar greeting.

“I take this opportunity to thank wholeheartedly the immense solidarity received from friends and brothers from many countries and institutions, as well as the prayers of pastors and brothers of different faiths,” Valdes said after the meeting.

“This summons to appear is a part of the measures for all kinds of people who have been called to speak to the police. Independent journalists, artists and bloggers, the self-employed, have experienced this new wave of repression,” he told14ymedio by phone.

This September, members of the Coexistence team reported that at least nine of them had been subjected to police interrogations. The activists were forced to suspend the program My Neighborhood A Community, due to pressure from State Security, which included operations stationing people around several homes, arrests and cutting cell phone service for event organizers.

Valdes said he did not fear the encounter with the authorities, because everything they do in the CEC “is transparent and for the good of Cuba.”

Valdes acknowledged that members of his team had been summoned to appear in recent weeks by police stations, “one to one”, so the only one missing was him.

“This is a step in the middle of the escalation we are experiencing. It is the first time they have cited me since the resumption of relations between the US and Cuba,” he added.

The Coexistence Studies Center focuses on training for citizenship and civil society in Cuba. Among its activities is the publication of the magazine Convivencia (Coexistence), the discussion of proposals for the future of the island, and the exchange ideas of about Cuba’s current situation.

Based in the province of Pinar del Rio, the independent entity is conceived as a think tank to “think about the national home that we desire, to contribute to the reconstruction of the human person and the fabric of civil society.”

Cuban State Security Prevents a Meeting of Pinar del Rio’s Coexistence Studies Center / 14ymedio, Mario Penton

Members of the Coexistence Studies Center at a meeting in Pinar del Rio. (Coexistence)
Members of the Coexistence Studies Center at a meeting in Pinar del Rio. (Coexistence)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miami, 23 September 2016 — Tania de la Caridad Reyes and her husbandYosvany Alfonso were intercepted by police in Pinar del Río when they tried to reach the Coexistence Studies Center (CEC) to attend the course “My Neighborhood a Community.” Two police patrols forced them to return to Cienfuegos, where they reside. On Friday the organizers denounced the intervention by State Security, which prevented the realization of the planned activity with various groups of civil society to share ideas on “civic learning.”

“This last month we have had nine interrogations of team members. Finally we had to suspend the ‘My Neighborhood a Community’ program, which is part of the ethical and civic project for the safety of the participants,” Dagoerto Valdes, director of the CEC, explains to 14ymedio.

“Where in the world are people prevented from attending a course that the only thing it does is make them better and more responsible citizens in their community?” asks Valdes. Continue reading “Cuban State Security Prevents a Meeting of Pinar del Rio’s Coexistence Studies Center / 14ymedio, Mario Penton”

Reyes and Alfonso are the ones responsible for “Project New Hope,” which operates in the South Caunao neighborhood, a recently completed residential area on the outskirts of the city of Cienfuegos. According to the couple, under the auspices of the Czech NGO People in Need they do training work with children and youth in the area, organize walks and create networks to promote work in the neighborhood.

“We chose this course because ours is community work and this meeting would allow us to obtain tools to improve our work in the neighborhood,” Reyes told 14ymedio.

According to the activist, when they arrived at the bus station in Pinar del Río Thursday night, three police officers in plainclothes stopped them and made them turn off their cellphones. After allowing them to make a call from a landline provided by the officers themselves, they were driven to the outskirts of the city to send them to Havana.

“They stopped two tractors that make the trip to Havana and sent us separately. They took down the license plates of the vehicles and told the drivers they were responsible for what happened to us,” says Reyes.

When they got to the capital they were left at a gas station from where they had to get to the bus station and get “overpriced” tickets to return to Cienfuegos. (The regular tickets are subsidized and cost about two CUC (about $2 US), but the huge waiting list forced them to buy the tickets under the table).

“When we learned what had happened with the group from Cienfuegos, we decided to suspend the meeting. We advised the ecological group Eco-Social Movement for the Protection of Nation and the Environment (PRONATON), which sent several delegates from Sancti Spiritus, and the Pinar del Rio group Independent and Democratic Cuba, which would also participate in the event,” explained Yoandy Izquierdo, member of the editorial board of the magazine Convivencia (Coexistence).

Izquierdo also denounced the presence of several people who were monitoring the place where the course would be held from early in the morning, and making it difficult for the organizers to communicate by phone and text message.

The Coexistence Studies Center organizes training courses for citizenship and civil society in Cuba. It has four main lines of action, ranging from the publication of the magazine Convivencia to the debate of ideas through reflection and study groups. It also has a comprehensive training program and so-called micro-projects. It is a project of the nascent Cuban civil society and its members are totally independent of the State, the Church and any political group.

Dissidents Call Meeting With Obama Positive And Give Him A List Of Political Prisoners / EFE, 14ymedio

Barack Obama meeting with dissidents in Havana on Tuesday. (14ymedio)
Barack Obama meeting with dissidents in Havana on Tuesday. (14ymedio)

14ymedio biggerEFE (14ymedio), Havana, 22 March 2016 – Several dissidents who met with President Barack Obama in Havana this Tuesday, assessed the meeting as “positive” and “frank,” and one of them delivered a list of 89 political prisoners recorded by the group he leads.

Elizardo Sanchez, spokesman for the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation (CCDHRN), said Obama was “very clear” and reiterated to the participants at the meeting “his commitment to the cause of human rights and democratic freedoms.”

Sanchez explained that during the dialogue with the US president, he handed him a copy of the list of 89 political prisoners prepared by his group, Continue reading “Dissidents Call Meeting With Obama Positive And Give Him A List Of Political Prisoners / EFE, 14ymedio”

the only one that undertakes an ongoing documentation of these cases in Cuba.

For veteran government opponent, the balance of Obama’s visit to the island was “favorable to the cause of bilateral democracy” but he lamented that far from encouraging an “atmosphere of calm” the Cuban government unleashed “a wave of political repression” which, according to the records of his group translates to between 450 and 500 arrests across the island between Saturday and today.

For his part, the former political prisoner of the 2003 Black Spring “Group of 75,” Jose Daniel Ferrer, one of the thirteen government opponents invited to the meeting, described as “very positive” the meeting because “it was a show of solidarity with those of us who are fighting for the reconstruction of the nation.

“We talked about the process initiated with the Cuban government to normalize bilateral relations, also about his visit, and we also had the opportunity to make suggestions and give opinions on issues that we believe should continue to be pursued and what should not be done in this case,” said Ferrer, leader of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU).

Miriam Leiva, also invited to the event, considered it “very open” because the president listened to the participants who “could express their views on the current situation of repression and human rights in Cuba” and also he made comments.

“There were some who raised positions contrary to the policies of President Obama, but in the end he expounded on his views about what he is doing and what he can do to benefit the Cuban people,” said the independent journalist.

In her opinion, the fact that Barack Obama set aside a space in his busy schedule of about 48 hours in Havana for this meeting at the US embassy, ​​represented “recognition and support” for the Cuban opposition.

Antonio González-Rodiles, who heads the Independent Estado de Sats (State of Sats) project, said the meeting was “very frank” and led to a debate in which “everyone raised their point of view and President Obama heard the different positions.”

Rodiles, critical of the new US approach to Cuba, said he told Obama his doubts about the process of normalization of relations and the “enormous level of violence and repression” in recent times.

He also criticized that “we have not heard from their government a clear condemnation regarding these excessive violations against the dissidence.”

Also at the meeting dissidents and activists such as the leader of the Ladies in White, Berta Soler; Guillermo Fariñas; Manuel Cuesta Morua, of the Progressive Arc; and the critical intellectual Dagoberto Valdes.

In brief remarks to reporters about the meeting, Obama said that one of the objectives of the normalization begun with Cuba is to be able to “hear directly” from the Cuban people and ensure that they also “have a voice” in the new stage initiated between the two countries fifteen months ago.

Note: Cuban dissidents, independent journalists and human rights activists present at the meeting were: Angel Yunier Remon, Antonio Rodiles, Juana Mora Cedeno, Jose Daniel Ferrer, Laritza Diversent, Berta Soler, Dagoberto Valdes Hernandez, Guillermo Fariñas, Nelson Alvarez Matute, Miriam Celaya Gonzales, Manuel Cuesta Morua, Miriam Leiva Viamonte, Elizardo Sanchez.

Obama Praises The Courage Of Dissidents In An Unprecedented Meeting / EFE, 14ymedio

US President Barack Obama meets with representatives of Cuban independent civil society in Havana (14ymedio)
US President Barack Obama meets with representatives of Cuban independent civil society in Havana (14ymedio)

14ymedio biggerEFE (14ymedio), Havana, 22 March 2016 — The president of the United States, Barack Obama, praised the “courage” of the dissidents and representatives of independent civil society Cuba at the beginning of the meeting held with them at the headquarters of the United States Embassy in Havana this Tuesday.

In brief remarks, Obama stressed that one of the objectives of normalization with Cuba is to be able to “hear directly” from the Cuban people and to ensure that they also “have a voice” in the new stage initiated between the two countries.

The meeting with president of the United States was attended by Berta Soler (Ladies in White), Miriam Celaya (activist and freelance journalist), Manuel Cuesta Morua (Progressive Arc), Miriam Leiva (freelance journalist), Guillermo Fariñas (former political prisoner and 2010 Sakharov Human Rights Prize recipient), Antonio G. Rodiles (State of SATS), Elizardo Sánchez (Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation), Nelson Matute (Afro-ACLU president, defense organization for black people discriminated against because of their sexual orientation), Laritza Diversent (Cubalex), Dagoberto Valdes (Coexistence ), Jose Daniel Ferrer (UNPACU), Yunier Angel Remon (rapper The Critic ) and Juana Mora Cedeño (Rainbow Project).

“It often requires great courage to be active in civil life here in Cuba,” Obama said, adding he said.

“There are people here who have been arrested. Some in the past and others very recently,” stressed the president.

On Monday, at least a dozen dissidents were arrested in Cuba, according to the dissident Cuban National Commission on Human Rights and National Reconciliation (CCDHRN), which also counts nearly 90 political prisoners on the island.

Participating in the meeting with Obama were government opponents who support the new US policy toward the island, as is the case of Cuesta Morua, and others who criticize it, as is the case with Berta Soler of the Ladies in White.

The Independent Voices Obama Will Hear From / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

Counterclockwise from top left: Jose Daniel Ferrer, Dagoberto Valdes and Miriam Celaya.
Counterclockwise from top left: Jose Daniel Ferrer, Dagoberto Valdes and Miriam Celaya.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, 21 March 2016 — A group of government opponents and activists from independent Cuban civil society have scheduled a meeting with President Barack Obama on Tuesday morning. This newspaper has contacted three of them to ask them what they plan to say at that meeting.

Jose Daniel Ferrer is one of the eleven former prisoners of the 2003 Black Spring who remains in Cuba and is also the leader of the Cuban Patriotic Union (UNPACU), one of the opposition organizations with the most members and one that maintains permanent action in support of human rights. Every time he crosses the capital city he has to do so almost clandestinely because State Security pursues him to deport him to Continue reading “The Independent Voices Obama Will Hear From / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar”

the province of Santiago de Cuba where he has permanent residence.

“In UNPACU we greatly appreciate President Barack Obama’s gesture of inviting us to a formal meeting at the United States Embassy in Havana and we also appreciate the gesture of solidarity of having invited colleagues from diverse civil society organizations, the opposition and independent journalists who have as a common cause the fight for the respect for human rights and for a free, just, democratic and fraternal Cuba.”

Jose Daniel Ferrer brings a charge from his comrades in the struggle. “This time that we are with the distinguished visitor we will use first to congratulate him for his bold decision to start this process of normalization of relations that has led even to his visiting the island. We are going to also congratulate him for the incredibly novel initiative he took to talk with the Cuban humorist Pánfilo which has had a tremendous effect on the population.”

I will ask that this position of solidarity that he is taking with the Cuban people be maintained even beyond his term as president, because being a high-ranking figure in the world, and even a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, he can continue to positively influence relations between the two nations and move others to support the suffering Cuban people who lack rights and freedoms and are living in deep misery.

Dagoberto Valdes is an agronomist who likes to present himself as a “yagüero” for the years he was sentenced to perform the humble work of collecting the “yaguas” (fronds) that fell from the palms in his province of Pinar del Rio. He is the director of the Coexistence Project, and the magazine with the same name, and of a Study Center that professes to be an authentic group of thinkers on Cuban matters.

“In the first place, I believe that the meeting with President Obama puts things in their place. It opens a new stage in which the historic enemy, necessary for these totalitarian systems, is turned into a visiting friend and therefore attention begins to focus on the real problem which is nothing more than the normalizations of democratic relations between the Cuban people and their government,” he told 14ymedio by phone.

He says he does not intend to ask for anything at the meeting. “The time our meeting lasts, at least the part that involves me, I will use to tell the president of the United States about the possibilities, the abilities, the projects with which the Cuban people are capable of being the protagonists of their own history.”

Miriam Celaya worked for a long time as an anthropologist, but obviously was born to be a journalist. She moved into the profession by way of blogs and now her byline is solicited by diverse media who request her penetrating analysis of Cuban society.

She says that the fact of being invited to a meeting of this kind, at this level, is an exceptional opportunity: “In addition to being a historical event, it is an opportunity to share with very valuable people about paramount topics.”

Asked if she has already noted what she wants to say this Tuesday, she clarifies, “I know that others will focus on repression, and the general issue of human rights and many other problems, including mentioning the concern that many have about how this rapprochement has advanced on the American side without seeing advances on the Cuban side. But I would like to concentrate on something that seems fundamental in the work of re-weaving our civil society and that is the issue of freedom of expression.

“It is not about our going there to ask for funding, like the official propagandists believe, but helping us with the desire to raise awareness about the need to support independent Cuban journalism. To empower the people they have to empower themselves with information, to be well informed at this stage when the government has an almost absolute monopoly on the media. And for people to know in depth the real scope of the measures the United States government is taking now, it is essential that an independent press has the ability to reach the citizens.”

Cuba’s ‘Super Tuesday’: US Dollar ‘Freed’ and Havana Plants a Ceiba Tree / 14ymedio

An American flag flies on a pedicab Monday in Havana. (EFE)
An American flag flies on a pedicab Monday in Havana. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 15 March 2016 — It was an open secret that the United States would approve a new package of relaxations before Barack Obama’s official visit to Cuba. However, the new measures that widen Cubans’ access to the dollar and the ability of Americans to visit the island have taken some by surprise, among them the official press which, two hours after making the information public, still hasn’t reacted.

On the streets the rumor is just starting to get out that “the yumas (Americans) opened up the fulas (bucks),” a reference to the authorization to use the U.S. dollar from Cuba, and the new ability for residents of the island to maintain bank accounts in the United States. Amid the daily hardships, many cling to the hope that “Obama’s package-attack,” as it was baptized by a taxi driver this morning, will improve their lives.

Among the amendments that are beginning to spark the most excitement is the possibility that United States companies can engage in transactions “related to sponsorship or contracting with Cuban citizens to work or provide services in the United States,” a measure that benefits athletes, artists and other professional sectors.

Moises is 39 and drives a horse-drawn carriage for tourists around Havana’s Central Park. “I just heard about it because a customer heard it on TV in the hotel,” he told this newspaper. He has a degree in mechanical engineering, and hopes “to get a pinchita (visa) to come and go… I don’t want to stay permanently, but I would like to earn some money over there and live over here,” he explains.

Near the Plaza de Armas, the booksellers only have time to think about their own problems. The authorities in Old Havana have warned them they can’t set up there between 15 and 23 March. “It’s all about Obama’s visit,” complains one who sells books from the fifties and sixties. His daughter, who works in the food industry near the airport has also been told her workplace will be closed until after the visit of the US president.

Despite the inconvenience and the loss of money it means, the bookseller is happy with the new measures. “At last some good news, thank God, because the truth is we’ve had a tremendous bad patch of problems,” he says, cheerfully. Next to him is Osmel, another bookseller who has been selling there for more than a decade. “For my business this is very welcome because it means more trade and probably more tourists. Maybe now they’ll bring more greenbacks to the country,” he speculates.

Among members of the independent civil society, opinions have not been slow in coming. Dagoberto Valdes, director of the magazine Coexistence, believes the new relaxations are consistent “with the policy put in practice in Washington.” However, he demands that “in return, the Cuban government should now end the tax imposed on the dollar, which they justified by the difficulties that existed (in exchanging it) until today.”

Manuel Cuesta Morua, leader of the Progressive Arc, also applauded the gesture. “This is excellent news that indicates the acceleration of the normalization process and it will allow Cuba to better integrate itself into the global economy,” he says. A regime opponent and coordinator of initiatives such as the Otro18 (Another 2018) campaign, Cuesta Morua believes that “the world opening itself to Cuba implies the United States opening itself and that is what is happening.”

“The house of cards constructed by the government over the last fifty-some years to prevent Cubans from connecting to the world is falling down,” added Cuesta Morua.

Activist Miriam Leiva consider it “timely and positive” that Cubans can now use the dollar in banking transactions, because that opens the opportunity for American companies to buy in Cuba companies and also Cuban citizens can import or export goods, not just the self-employed. “What I think is important is that the Cuban government open the possibility to Cubans to enjoy the new measures, that is that it be not only useful for the state, but also for citizen transactions. In short, it is necessary that there be reciprocity with this measure,” she adds.

Satisfaction among the tourists was also evident this morning, as bit by bit they heard the news. Dominic, a German photographer who was waiting for the planting of the new ceiba tree at Havana’s El Templete, believes that news like today’s before the coming of Barack Obama is a hopeful sign. “I’m happy to be in Havana on a historic day, I hope that when I return the economic improvement resulting from a decision of this nature will be noticeable,” he adds.

An artisan on Obispo Street said he didn’t know if the news coming from Washington will be good or bad for Cuba. “To comment on that you have to be an economist, but for me it would be good if, in addition to the Americans ending the ban on using their currency, the government here allowed it to circulate freely and the currency exchanges gave you the real value for it.”

However, skepticism also abounds. “No one can fix this”, said a man who, broom in hand, was trying to remove fallen leaves around the statue of Carlos Manuel de Céspedes, in the center of the square. Near him some were throwing coins – Cuban pesos or Cuban convertible pesos – into the hole where the ceiba will be planted in Havana this Tuesday.

Cuba’s First Independent Think Tank Forms / 14ymedio

Opening day of the Meeting of Ideas in Cuba (Photo Miriam Celaya)
Opening day of the Meeting of Ideas in Cuba (Photo Miriam Celaya)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Pinar del Rio, 12 September 2015 – This weekend the first Encuentro de Pensamiento (Meeting of Ideas) for Cuba is being held, sponsored by the independent think tank Center for Coexistence Studies. This meeting is intended to “think about the national home that we desire, contribute to the reconstruction of the human person and the fabric of civil society,” Dagoberto Valdes Hernandez, one of the event’s organizers, told this newspaper.

The program begins this Saturday with an opening panel that will address the topic, “The Cuban Economy in the Short, Medium and Long Term.” Among the guest panelists are María Caridad Gálvez, Pedro Campos, José A. Quintana and Dimas Castellanos. The discussion is divided into four subthemes: the economic model, property, work, and social security, according to the invitation to the participants. Continue reading “Cuba’s First Independent Think Tank Forms / 14ymedio”

The managers of the event also clarified that “in these laboratories of plural thinking it is not strictly necessary to reach consensus.” They added, “in the Cuba of ideas there will always be diversity and nuances,” while emphasizing that this will be “an academic workshop, that is, about studies. It will not be another political group.”

In welcoming remarks, Valdes Hernandez said, “our mission is to concentrate on a systematic workshop, coordinated with citizens, independent of ideologies and creeds, to support the fabric of a plural nation from a peaceful and inclusive vision.”

Founded in 2007, the Coexistence project is supported by its magazine of the same name, which has already published 45 editions, addressing issues ranging from culture to civics. For its part, the Center for Studies that has recently emerged considers itself to be “a continuation of the work started 22 years ago by the now defunct Center for Civic and Religious Training of the diocese of Pinar del Rio.”

The Other Flag / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

Secretary of State of the United States, John Kerry, in his Friday meeting with dissidents in Havana
Secretary of State of the United States, John Kerry, in his Friday meeting with dissidents in Havana

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, 15 August 2015 — Six hours after the hoisting of the Stars and Stripes at the US embassy along the Malecon, a similar ceremony occurred on 150th Street in the Cubanacan neighborhood where the official residence of Jeffrey DeLaurentis, charge d’affaires of that country, is located.

All of the heads of the United States Interest Section have lived in this mansion in recent years, and there is a flagpole in its garden. Across from it, congregated hundreds of guests who did not physically fit in the small space where hours earlier American and Cuban officials had witnessed the symbolic act that opened the US embassy in Havana. Continue reading “The Other Flag / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar”

The celebration at the residence was attended by diplomats, representatives of civil society, clergy, intellectuals and Cuban artists along with the large delegation that accompanied John Kerry in his trip to Cuba, including the three Marines who, 54 years ago, lowered the flag when the countries broke off relations, who given the honor of participating in the raising. The US Army Brass Quintet played an international repertoire, with no shortage Cuban pieces such as Guantanamera and Manisero.

In a half-hour meeting, representatives of civil society shared with Kerry their concerns and expectations

In the official residence John Kerry held a half-hour meeting behind closed doors with representatives of civil society activists and independent journalists, including Dagoberto Valdes, Elsa Morejon, Hector Maseda, Jose Daniel Ferrer, Manuel Cuesta Morua, Martha Beatriz Roque, Miriam Leiva, Oscar Elias Biscet, Yoani Sanchez and Reinaldo Escobar. Those present shared with Kerry the concerns and expectations generated by the restoration of relations between the two countries and presented an overview of the different projects they are engaged in.

Although the official media did not mention this activity on the busy schedule of the Secretary of State, it was one of the moments that marked the character of the Kerry’s visit to Cuba because it was the only thing that could provoke, and in fact did provoke, friction and controversy.

The Cuban leaders were annoyed because they would have preferred a distancing between the highest US official to step on Cuban soil in half a century, and this part of the non-conforming Cuban citizenry, persecuted, slandered and discriminated against by the government.

Others who shared this annoyance were some opponents, such as the leader of the Ladies in White Berta Soler and activist Antonio Gonzalez Rodiles, who declined the invitation they received because they believe that the US government has betrayed them “to establish relations with the dictatorship.”

If there is no progress on the issue of human rights in Cuba, there will be no lifting of the embargo, Kerry said plainly

At the meeting there was nothing that deserves to be classified as secret talks or as parallel agreements. The Cuban guests offered a general explanation of the four points of consensus from civil society, promoted by the Civil Society Open Forum, expressed the need for the United States to unblock all brakes it applies today on internet access for Cubans, and mentioned different initiatives such as developing proposals for a new Electoral Law, creating a “think tank” on Cuban affairs, and the civic actions of different political platforms.

Similarly, guests expressed the concern that main beneficiary of the restoration of relations is the Cuban government, and that the Cuban people will continue to suffer just as if nothing had occurred. Perhaps most important was the response of Kerry on this point. The Secretary of State committed to maintaining his government’s interest in advances on issues of human rights in Cuba. If no steps are taken in this direction there will be no lifting of the embargo, he said plainly.

“Paya Was An Example Of Dedication And Persistence” / 14ymedio

Oswaldo Payá holding the Transitional Program for political change in Cuba. (EFE)
Oswaldo Payá holding the Transitional Program for political change in Cuba. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 22 July 2015 — Three years after the death of Oswaldo Payá and Harold Cepero, 14ymedio has collected the opinions of some Cuban activists who knew the leader of the Christian Liberation Movement. They is people who shared with him projects and risks, who admired or were inspired by his civic labor. Let these seven testimonies serve to approach the legacy of a man who devoted his best years to achieving greater rights and freedoms for the citizenry.

Father José Conrado

He has left us a testimony of life, a consistent life in service to his people, a courageous life that knew how to respond to the difficulties and the circumstances of the times. A life true to his convictions of faith and his love for his country until his last moment. It is a testimony that we will never forget and at the same time something to be deeply grateful for, because men like him are the ones who are needed, men like him are those who build a people from within.

Martha Beatriz Roque

It is very difficult to summarize in a few lines his life and the legacy he left us. First of all we have to note his actions as a father, a husband and a member of the Catholic Church. He knew how to pass on an excellent education for his children and to sow love in his family. Now we have Rosa María [his daughter], who is continuing his struggle and also persevering in seeing that justice is done for those who murdered him. His life’s companion, Ofelita, is doing the same thing.

Payá witnessed in favor of democracy and his legacy is reflected in the continuity of his work. These men who have acted with dignity in life, in times as difficult as those we Cubans have had to live through, one can say they have not died, they continue with us.

Jose Daniel Ferrer

I always had great respect and great affection for him, and joined in with the Christian Liberation Movement (MCL) for many years, especially on Project Varela. I would like to highlight one way he is remembered in the eastern region, especially in the province of Santiago de Cuba. The term that we are referred to by, whether we are members of UNPACU, of CID, of the Republican Party, the Citizens for Democracy, or any other organization, is “Varelistas” [“supporters of Project Varela”], and not because of a direct relation to Felix Verala, who well deserves it for his contribution to Cuban nationality, but precisely because of Project Varela, which not only collected thousands of signatures at that time, but also left a lasting impact.

So that is what people call us there and, on occasion, even our worst enemies do. So every time they call us Varelistas, they are remembering Payá.

Dagoberto Valdes

The first thing I want to point out about the legacy Oswaldo left us is the integrity of one person who throughout his life remained consistent with what he thought and believed. Secondly, he left us what in my view is the most important civic exercise of the last decades: the Varela Project. Third, he left us the perseverance of a man who believed in the cause of freedom and democracy for Cuba and who dedicated his entire life to it.

Pastor Mario Felix Lleonart

His legacy goes far beyond even the Christian Liberation Movement he founded. His precious heritage belongs to Cuba and is found in the shared yearning for democracy and respect for human rights, for all individuals who think as he thought. For this he will always be respected. When Cuba can enjoy democracy, he will not be with is, but his teachings will be.

Felix Navarro Rodriguez

He was a great leader in the peaceful Cuban opposition because he accomplished what no one had been able to accomplish, which was to collect those thousands of signatures supporting Project Varela and doing it within the very laws of Cuba.

Still today I feel I see him, with the enthusiasm that characterized him, seeking unity among Cubans so that we can manage the change in a peaceful way, so that the people would be the owners of their own opinions and be able to put their rights into practice. It fills us with great satisfaction to have been able to be at the side of a man like him at those moments before the Black Spring of 2003, and to continue working with his daughter Rosa María today.

Miriam Leyva

He was a very self-sacrificing person who was characterized by believing in what he was doing. He was convinced that he could fight for a better life for Cubans to achieve progress and democracy for Cuba. He was a practicing Catholic and also a tireless worker. In his specialty, medical equipment repair, he was acknowledged and respected, not only in his workplace but in all public health facilities where he went to provide services.

Payá was an example of self-sacrifice and above all persistence, so his legacy extends beyond the MCL and Project Varela; an example as a human being, as a Cuban. That is what remains in my memory and I appreciate all the years I knew him in the midst of such difficult situations.

Roads to Democracy for Cuba / 14ymedio

Conference participants gathered in Mexico. (14ymedio)
Conference participants gathered in Mexico. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, 20 June 2015 — The second edition of the event Roads for a Democratic Cuba is taking place in Mexico from 18 to 23 June 2015 under the auspices of the Konrad Adenauer Foundation and the Christian Democrat Organization of America (ODCA). Participating in this meeting are dozens of political activists and civil society leaders of the Island and the Diaspora. The event will continue through the weekend and until next Tuesday.

Among the topics discussed on the first day is the impact on the Island of everything related to the talks between the governments of Cuba and the United States for the purpose of restoring diplomatic relations. Other areas to be discussed are the options of the opposition, various proposals before a new Cuban Electoral Law and ways to strengthen Cuban civil society. Continue reading “Roads to Democracy for Cuba / 14ymedio”

Among the participants from the island are Dagoberto Valdes, Manuel Cuesta Morua, Vladimiro Roca, Laritza Diversent, Juan Antonio Madrazo, Juan Carlos Gonzalez Leiva, Wilfredo Vallin, Rolando Rodriguez Lobaina, Rosa Maria Rodriguez, Rafael León Rodríguez, Guillermo Fariñas and Boris Gonzalez Arenas.

The first meeting of the event was held last December 2014 in the Mexican capital. At that meeting they talked about the diversity of peaceful means to fight for democracy, the role of exile and the importance of identifying the minimum points of consensus to move forward, if not in the desired unity, at least in arranging purposes.

Conference participants gathered in Mexico. (14ymedio)
Conference poster for this year’s meeting.

“It is up to Cubans decide their future” / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

Roberta Jacobson at 14ymedio’s offices
Roberta Jacobson at 14ymedio’s offices

14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, 24 January 2015 — In October of 2013 I had a conversation with Roberta Jacobson, via a Google hangout (videodebate), on democracy, technology and the role of women in activism. On that occasion, we interacted through a screen in the company of internauts interested in our chat. Now, we talked with a few inches between us, in a visit of the Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs made to our independent daily, 14ymedio, in Havana.

Proximity has allowed me to confirm what I had already felt in our previous conversation, that this loquacious woman with an attentive gaze has a profound knowledge of the Cuban reality. It is no wonder that she has led the first round of conversations between Cuba and the United States after the December 17th announcement about the reestablishment of relations between both countries.

Several members of our editorial board along with some collaborators met with Jacobson on the 14th floor of the Yugoslav-style building where our headquarters are located. Following is a transcript of a conversation, where we tried to address a wide spectrum of topics.

Yoani Sánchez: Do we have reason to worry that pragmatism and the politics of rapprochement prevail above all else, and that the issue of human rights and civil liberties will be relegated to the background? Continue reading ““It is up to Cubans decide their future” / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez”

Jacobson: The goals of our policy are exactly the same as before. It focuses on achieving a free country, where Cubans have the right to decide their future. The most important thing is how to get to that point, and we are aware that we have not been successful with the previous strategy. So we’re trying to use a new policy of having diplomatic relations because we – and especially President Obama and Secretary Kerry – feel that it is important to have direct contact with the government.

The most important thing is how we can empower the Cuban people in a more effective way and offer you more telecommunications opportunities to modernize your computer systems, to have access to information and to be part of the connected “global village.” It is a complex process, that is going to take time, but we are not going to set aside the issue of human rights and of democracy because they are in the center of this new policy as well.

Reinaldo Escobar: The Cuban government has so far only put on the negotiating scale the release of 53 people – and I emphasis “release” because they are not liberations, because the majority have only been placed on parole. Can we expect new releases derived from these conversations?

Jacobson: That was part of the conversation where we showed an interest in several people in Cuba. What was agreed in this process was the exchange between intelligence agents, one who has traveled to the United States and three who have returned to Cuba. The rest have been policies of each side, gestures, of self interest. We are going to continue implementing policies according to these interests, which we believe support the Cuban people.

Reinaldo Escobar: We have learned that in Cuban prisons some of the prisoners who are on the list of political prisoners but who haven’t yet been released are promoting a hunger strike. Should they have any hope?

Jacobson: I want to say something more: In the discussions of recent days, we have agreed to hold dialogs of many kinds. About cooperation, about the environment, anti-narcotics, etcetera, including the issue of human rights which was proposed by Cuba last year and which has now been accepted by us.

We have different conceptions of this dialog and participating for us will be the experts on those issues, but we have said several times that we have never thought that after more than fifty years of this problem, it would be resolved overnight. We know that there are more people in the prisons and there are more elsewhere fighting for their rights.

Eliezer Ávila: Some media have shown that in these conversations the formula is human rights versus economics. However, I understand politics as the mechanism for people to live more freely and to live well, so I see no conflict between one subject and another. Do you share that view?

Jacobson: We totally agree that they are, not only complementary, but are essentially linked. We have talked, and we have heard the president, Secretary of State Kerry and Vice President Biden talk, about reaching a democratic, free, secure and prosperous hemisphere.

Those are things that are all linked. How can we talk of a hemisphere that is prosperous, but does not have freedom? Or that has freedom but has nothing to eat? Or where there is plenty to eat and freedom but you can’t walk the streets because of insecurity and other dangers? These are things that are linked, but some are the responsibility of the governments to protect their citizens and to guarantee their fundamental rights, and others have to be met by the citizens themselves, but in a civilized society we have to talk about all these things.

Eliezer Ávila: Hence also the importance of access to telecommunications and information…

Jacobson: Yes, citizens must have access to information not only on issues of freedom and rights, they need access to information for their economic life. It is very important and this is one way in which they can have greater prosperity. So we are in total agreement that the economy and human rights are closely linked. There is no contradiction between them, none at all.

Dagoberto Valdés: From January 21-25, 1998 we had the historic visit of Pope John Paul II to Cuba. For Cubans it was a visit of expectations and yours now is also. What do you think is the role of the Catholic Church as a mediator in the dialogue not only between the governments of Cuba and the United States, but the important dialogue that must take place ​​between civil society and government of Cuba?

Jacobson: First I want to say that the role of Pope Francis and the Vatican was instrumental in our process with the Cuban Government. We know that the Vatican is always important in a process like this, but I would add that this pope is special to this region… “We are all Argentines at this moment…” So we appreciate the role of the Church.

In the future, I think the role of the Church in Rome as well as the Church in Cuba will be very important. I had a conversation with the Cardinal and there are several initiatives by the Cuban Church in several areas, aimed at changes in economic, educational and other areas. In the Church, as in the field and the media, it is for Cubans to decide, not Americans.

Yoani Sánchez: Thank you for your visit to our editorial offices. We deliver a printed version of 14ymedio with a weekly selection, which we do to circumvent censorship. We hope that one day our newspaper will be on newsstands nationwide.

Roberta Jacobson: Thank you, I have felt very comfortable here, like with family.