14ymedio, Havana, 13 January 2017 — Matilde sold her home just two weeks ago to pay for the immigration route to the United States. Thursday, the hope of achieving her dreams burst when president Barack Obama put an end to the wet foot/dry foot policy that granted legal residency to Cubans who reached the United States.
The news dropped like a bombshell on the island. “My family is desperate, having put all their hopes in this journey,” the retired woman told 14ymedio. With a son living in New Jersey, the woman planned to travel at the end of this month to Mexico and cross the border “to the land of freedom.”
Since the death of former president Fidel Castro, no other event has so shaken the Cuban reality. The announcement this Thursday affected many who normally live their lives outside politics and official issues. “I feel as if someone had snatched away my lifejacket in the middle of the sea,” said Matilde. Continue reading “Washington Closes The Escape Valve / 14ymedio”
Attorney Wilfredo Vallín, of the Cuban Legal Association, believes that the decision is “something that belongs to the sovereignty of a State.” In 1995, during the Bill Clinton administration, the policy was approved that today “is considered opportune to change,” but “the repercussions of that in other countries is a problem of other governments.”
“It has been said that these facilities provided by the US Government encouraged emigration and now a part of the argument is over”
The attorney maintains that what happened transcends the issue of migration and touches the pillars of the ideological propaganda of the Plaza of the Revolution. “It has been said that these facilities provided by the US government encouraged emigration and now that part of the argument is over.” For Vallín the decision could “increase discontent among citizens.”
The end of this immigration policy comes at a bad time for the government of Raúl Castro. Last year closed with a stagnant economy that experienced a fall of 0.9% in the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). For those most affected by hardship and the high cost of living, the possibility of emigration to the United States was a source of permanent illusion.
However, the ruling party has welcomed a new era. Josefina Vidal, the director general for the United States in Cuba’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, told the national media that with this suspension, “the migration crisis between Cuba and the United States is eliminated.” The end of the wet foot/dry foot policy has been a old demand of the government of the island, which has also pressed to end the Parole program for Cuban health professionals, a measure that was also suspended this Thursday.
“With these measures, Cubans who believed they could find prosperity and wellbeing in the United States will have to find another solution,” reflects opposition leader José Daniel Ferrer, leader of the Cuban Patriotic Union (Unpacu).
In a telephone conversation with this newspaper from eastern Cuba, Ferrer says now begins a stage of “thinking more about how to obtain freedom, prosperity, opportunities and rights here in our own land.” The scenario that opens “will make us much more responsible and aware that we must take the reins of our destiny as a people and as a nation here within.”
In front of the University of Havana, Ramon, 48, reflects on the possible repercussions of what happened. “Every time the popular disagreement reached a high point, the government managed to calm it by opening up emigration,” he says. “Now we are all unable to get out of this pressure cooker that is always getting hotter.”
“Political refugee status is too serious, too honorable for it to continue to function as it has until now”
Activist Eliécer Ávila, leader of the Somos+ (We Are More) movement, considers it an “excellent” decision. “The refugee status for political reasons is something too serious, too honorable for it to continue to function as it has so far,” he reflects. “Any measure that makes Cubans take more responsibility for their nation instead of fleeing it is something that should be supported.”
For opposition member Manuel Cuesta, a member of the Democratic Action Roundtable (MUAD), the elimination of this policy “should have been taken long ago to avoid the type of risky emigration that has resulted in the loss of the lives of young people, children and whole families.”
He acknowledges, however, that the decision is “controversial because those who were preparing their raft to leave early this morning have just been dissuaded in a way that cannot be appealed.” It is likely that “Trump is applauding the measure,” he said.
14ymedio, Havana, 12 January 2017 — Police maintained a strong operation Thursday around the headquarters of the 1010 Academy in the neighborhood of Cerro, in Havana. Activists Joanna Columbié and Georlis Olazabal were arrested while trying to access the site to participate in a conference on constitutional law, said Eliécer Ávila, president of the independent Somos+ (We Are More) movement.
“Since early this morning they have the block surrounded and do not let anyone in or out of the house,” said Avila. “We had organized a talk with the attorney Wilfredo Vallin of the Cuban Law Associatio, but the police did not allow him to leave his home,” in La Vibora, he told 14ymedio .
Meanwhile, scientist Oscar Casanella denounced the arrest of the artist Tania Bruguera “on leaving Havana” when they were traveling in a vehicle with “two mattresses and rice” for the victims of Hurricane Matthew in the eastern part of the country.
In a telephone call, Casanella said the artist had been taken to the Cotorro police station in Havana. However, the officer of the guard there denied that Bruguera was there. “We do not have any Tanya here, the one we have is a Nancy,” the police officer said through the phone line.
This second consecutive day of arrests against activists takes place a few hours after the replacement of the recently deceased Interior Minister, Carlos Fernández Gondín, by Vice Admiral Julio César Gandarilla.
For the whole of 2016, the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation (CCDHRN) documented a total of 9,940 arbitrary arrests. A figure that “puts the Government of Cuba in first place in all of Latin America,” said the report of the independent organization.
Academy 1010, an initiative of the Somos+ (We Are More) Movement, experienced a second day of police harassment with a strong Sttae Security operation around the homes of several activists, including arrests and deportations to home provinces. Today, no participants were able to reach the Havana site where courses on civil society, technology and human rights were to be held, according to information from the president of this opposition organization, Eliecer Avila, speaking to 14ymedio.
Joanna Columbié, director of the Academy initiative, said that since Monday “a cordon of patrol cars” has surrounded Avila’s home, the intended site of the conferences and classes.
During the first day of activities, five students who managed to get close to the site were arrested, while others have been unable to leave their home provinces, said Columbié. On the opening day only “seven students were able to come” and “they received their classes normally,” she added.
Those arrested so far are Yoan Valdivieso, Pedro Acosta, Georlis Olazabal, Norberto Leyva and Alexei Gamez. From the latter the police confiscated the laptop he travels with, and threatened to prosecute him under the crime of “receiving stolen goods.”
From their home provinces, the political police will not allow Agny Almanza, Javier Rojas and Pedro Escalona to travel to the capital. Georlis Olazabal is being deported right now to the province of Camagüey.
Starting Sunday, Columbié and Avila were warned by State Security agents that they would prevent participants from getting to the conference and accused them of trying to “subvert the political order of the country.”
Through Academy 1010, Somos+ is proposing to provide “the necessary knowledge to empower hundreds of young Cubans to serve as political candidates.”
14ymedio, Eliecer Avila, 4 November 2016 — How many times have we heard the phrase “I do not want to put on a media show,” especially from people who have been victims of institutional abuse in Cuba? It would seem that there is a generalized notion that publicizing a problem hinders its solution. Is this really true? Not in my experience.
I have known cases where unscrupulous leaders have trampled the dignity of workers in the most diverse areas without feeling the minimum weight of the law and much less the moral judgment of public opinion, because when abuses are committed under the shelter of silence, the victims suffer double and the victimizers remain unscathed to continue committing their crimes.
As I’m not given to relying on stories that are two old or too distant, I will mention some recent events that reaffirm this false perception. Just a few months ago Omar Everleny Perez was fired from the World Economy Studies Center, at the University of Havana. Aside from information from third parties and some timid comments from the professor himself, the reality is that nothing formal was published about it. Nor was the decision overturned.
Then there was the firing of the Radio Holguin journalist, Jose Ramon Ramirez Pantoja, for publishing the remarks of the deputy director of the Granma newspaper. In this case, also, the journalist himself approached it very timidly and in his close circle, when it came time to call things by their name, although more comments circulated on Facebook than in the previous case. Nor was there any reversal of course, with the final result of the process far worse than one might think.
Last week, this newspaper published an interview with Professor Juan Antonio Fernandez, expelled from the University of Havana, in which he also mentioned this phrase: “I don’t want to make a media show of this.” It’s curious how we have embedded in our hypothalamus that sharing our problems is an act of “ideological weakness,” a “concession to the enemy” or, even worse, a betrayal of who knows who.
But apparently it’s very different when the problem happens to a “comrade” with another country. The exaggerated media coverage by Telesur and other national media in the case of Victor Hugo Morales comes to mind, when his contract was cancelled with an Argentinian television network after it stopped receiving the Kirchnerista check (bribe) after the election of Mauricio Macri as Argentina’s new president.
The headlines in the official press denounced the “abominable censorship” which the militant was supposedly a victim of, who certainly, thanks to this whole campaign, didn’t delay in finding another foxhole. Indeed, that’s one of the good things that happens in more than a few cases: when you have closed one door and others, who share your vision, can cooperate in opening another one even wider.
The phobia that exists among Cubans about telling the media what has happened to them has two key components. One, the fear of reprisals that might be even worse by a system that doesn’t tolerate being accused of anything, and that has control of all the strings to weave the most sophisticated traps. Two, the lack of confidence in national public opinion that has no real weight, nor is it accustomed to pressuring any institution, and much less the government, so that the limited repercussion that a specific case will have overseas and this can come via the antenna, distorted or manipulated.
In any case, I believe there is a legitimate right to make public knowledge what we consider exceeds our limited personal capabilities of self-defense. But this confidence that any of us can have in what exists and what could determine the solidarity of our people, should be cultivated with the rightful exercise of citizen opinion, the responsibility and seriousness of the media and, especially, the strong and effective articulation a broad civil society that covers every corner of the country.
National public opinion should become the protective shell of each fair person and the worst nightmare of those who violate their rights. This public opinion is not an abstract or distant entity: it is you, it is me, it is all of us.
Cubanet, Ernesto Perez Chang, Havana, 9 November 2016 – The elections in the United States, with the victory of the Republican Donald Trump and the defeat of the Democrat Hillary Clinton, contrary to the predictions of most polls, has captured the attention of the world’s public opinion in recent hours due to the decisive nature of United States policy in the international arena.
The normalization of relations between the governments of Cuba and the United States and the diverse opinions generated by the lengthy diplomatic process and packages of measures aimed at easing the embargo, implemented by current US president Barack Obama, have given rise to a broad spectrum of opinions within Cuban civil society, such that some of the main opposition leaders on the island have expressed their views to CubaNet to the election results announced at dawn on Wednesday.
Antonio Rodiles, coordinator of Estado de Sats (State of Sats) and organizer of the We All March campaign, says: “We expect consistency of those who, within Cuba, maintained a policy against Trump and were confident in Hillary’s victory. (…) Maybe difficult times will come for the process of normalization of relations with Cuba and the continuity of Obama’s program. We expect another direction in the dialogue and a president who places the issue of respect for human rights and freedom of expression as a priority, a determinant, at any negotiating table.” Continue reading “Opponents of the Cuban Regime React to the Election of Trump / Cubanet, Ernesto Perez Chang”
Jose Daniel Ferrer, a member of the Patriotic Union of Cuba, UNPACU, argues that the electoral decision does not mean negative effects on the relations between the two countries: “I do not think the difference is notable. The American people have chosen. The new president will do what suits the citizens of the United States and, as he should, prioritize the interests of his nation (…). The candidate the people believed to be better has won (…). (Regarding Cuba) common sense in the process of normalization of relations will prevail and we expect a strong hand with the dictatorship because (Cuba) is a regime contrary to the interests US, it is a regime that no American candidate would never agree to in the style of Venezuela or China. (…) We expect better relations with the new government.”
The regime opponent Martha Beatriz Roque said: “It seems that the American people have passed the bill to the Democratic Party. Many people are concerned about the ways in which Trump has expressed himself during his campaign, but I think that concern should be minimized because surely the Republican Party will take control of the situation. (…) With regards to his impact on the Cuba issue I think there are measures taken by Obama that are irreversible. Especially because America is a democracy, not like Cuba, which is governed by a totalitarian. It will not be easy to give a twist to relations with the island. However, I think this gentleman will be educated by his advisers enough to not make the mistakes of the previous president.”
Eliecer Avila, activist with the movement Somos+ (We Are More), confessed to not having had a previous position in favor or against any candidate, although he said about his expectations: “I didn’t support either of them one hundred percent. In Hillary Clinton I saw very positive support for Obama’s policy (toward Cuba). (…) Donald Trump has shown some strong positions but I do not think that will change the policy of his predecessor but, apparently, will negotiate from other positions.”
The lawyer Laritza Diversent , founder of Cubalex, believes that the elections were a reflection of the opinion of the American people and believes that Cuba will occupy an important place in the policy of President-elect: “The process of normalization of relations between the United States and Cuba is irreversible. (…) There is a responsibility to the legacy of Obama. The United States, with its current policy, is leading positive changes. Many challenges are imposed on the new president. We should also consider the views of the US Congress and other powers in that nation.”
Berta Soler, leader of the Ladies in White, believes it is too early to make predictions about the directions Trump will take regarding policies on Cuba: “We have to wait. I have never preferred one or the other because there is a reality: it is not about the Cuban President but about the President of the United States. Someday I want Cuba to be able to elect a president in a way similar way to that in the United States. (…) We don’t know about Trump, we have to wait. There may be changes but I do not know, I’d rather wait. ”
The election of the 45th President of the United States has not only launched numerous questions in the world’s most important economic sectors. For Cuba, undergoing a process of rapprochement with the United States that could help find a solution to economic stagnation, for the government, or a way for democratization, for civil society, the policies toward the island that will be decisive in the immediate future will be designed by Trump.
14ymedio, Havana, 6 November 2016 – On Sunday morning, the police arrested for the third time this week the researcher and marine biologist Ariel Urquiola, who has been holding a peaceful protest in front the National Oncology and Radiology Institute (INOR) since Thursday. He is demanding medical treatment for his sister, Omara Isabel Ruiz Urquiola, who is suffering from cancer.
According to what this newspaper was able to confirm, the specialist remained under arrest until five in the afternoon.
Urquiola was dissatisfied and incredulous with this response and believes that, given that all this time the patient has been injecting herself, the only thing they had to do was to give her the drug this Sunday or Monday, and so he decided to continue his protest until the matter is truly resolved.
As reported to this newspaper by Oscar Casanella, at three in the afternoon on Sunday, after an interrogation at the police station located in Zapata and C, Urquiola was taken to the emergency room at Fajardo Hospital where he was given a physical examination to determine that he had no injuries.
In communication with 14ymedio, Urquiola’s sister explained that so far he has not been allowed to see his family for the duration of the arrest. “The officer in charge of this case is named Raul with a badge number 03734. I have told them I have nothing to talk to them about until they permit me to see him,” she said, shortly before he was released.
Urquiola’s sister suffers from invasive ductal carcinoma which is treated with two monoclonal antibodies every 21 days. For the completion of this immunotherapy she has lacked Trastuzumab (Herceptin).
The drug, which has been supplied for more than 20 years by the Ministry of Public Health (MINSAP), is manufactured by Roche pharmaceuticals. According to the family of the patient the absence of this drug is attributable to the Ministry of Public Health and the representation of the Swiss firm in Cuba.
Since Thursday, Ariel Urquiola has not taken food or drink and has been accompanied days by several civil society activists in solidarity with his demands. Among them are Gorki Águila, Eliecer Avila, Rudy Cabrera, Oscar Casanella, Claudio Fuentes, Antonio González Rodiles, Ailer González, Boris Gonzalez and Yanelis Nunez.
Biologist Ariel Urquiola, D.Sc., was expelled from the University of Havana after being deprived by the administration of his scientific project, arguing that he was not “trustworthy” because of his political leanings.
In the afternoon, the biologist was released, but vowed to continue his hunger strike until the reasons why he initiated it are resolved. However he agreed to withdraw from the site he had occupied in front of the hospital.
14ymedio, Eliecer Avila, Yangon, Myanmar, 2 September 2016 — During his visit to Cuba, US President Barack Obama mentioned the changes in Burma (now Myanmar) as an example of the most recent democratic transition from a fierce military dictatorship that lasted over half a century.
Since then, the idea of an exchange between the opposition and Cuban civil society and their counterparts in Myanmar was developed. Today this political and cultural contact is a reality full of very valuable lessons that can only be appreciated by seeing how changes take place and are managed in real time, the interactions between contending forces and their interests, the pros and cons, the alliances and the ruptures, the shared joys and disappointments of a frustrating process, which many say, is just beginning. Continue reading “Lessons From Myanmar / 14ymedio, Eliecer Avila”
From the air, the tremendous difference in infrastructure and development in Myanmar and, for example, its neighbor Thailand, is remarkable. It is like when you leave Miami and then fly over Cuba. It is clear that this country was left out of the democratic, educational and technological changes that catapulted the so-called Asian Tigers.
At a time when those countries focused on global integration with millions of young people ready to conquer the art of creating products and services on a grand scale, Myanmar’s military dictatorship chose total ostracism, shutting off the country like a strongbox to avoid any “foreign influence.” It always tried to keep the county semi-enslaved in the service of an army that, like an octopus, controlled the social, economic and spiritual life of this nation, located exactly on the other side of the world.
Going through immigration is somewhat tense because the military is not yet entirely accustomed to looking at tourists as ordinary people.
At the airport, going through immigration is somewhat tense because the military is not yet entirely accustomed to looking at tourists as ordinary people. To alleviate this problem they have thoroughly replaced all possible customs and immigration clerks, placing in these positions young people who are a lot more open and unprejudiced, and who even smile.
Myanmar currently receives just over a million tourists a year, an insignificant figure not only compared to its neighbors, but in proportion to its nearly 60 million inhabitants. This figure, however, is growing due to democratic changes, which in turn attract many investors.
Currency exchange offices accept the US dollar, the euro and the Singapore dollar, but in order to pay for anything in any one of these currencies, you have to be sure the bill is not the least bit wrinkled, because they won’t accept it. And don’t panic if you see people spitting out a red substance on the street. It is not blood, but rather a pigment that comes from a mix of herbs and is constantly chewed, as in Bolivia.
On the streets of Yangon there are no motorbikes. Here superstitions are very important even when making policy decisions. In a nearby country it happened that there was a wave of crime in which the criminals used motorbikes to move around and perpetuate attacks, so the military junta completely banned them in the capital “just in case.”
Myanmar currently receives just over a million tourists a year, an insignificant figure not only compared to its neighbors, but in proportion to its nearly 60 million inhabitants
In Myanmar men wear a kind of wide skirt that is adjusted through a knot just below the navel, without underwear. Women are often seen adjusting the typical costume that covers them from the ankles to the neck, an elegant garment emphasizing the sensuous curves of a perfect waist, as described by George Orwell in his novel Burmese Days.
They are as thin “as sticks” with shapely legs and smooth hair that falls in perfect shapes… no thanks to the gym or expensive treatments, but from a traditional diet based on vegetables, plus genetics and a life marked from childhood by hard work.
Incredibly decent and helpful, one and all, the citizens of Myanmar grab your heart with their extraordinary mixture of simplicity and nobility, probably a reflection of the basic teachings of Buddhism, among which one stands out in particular: “We must live to give love, not only to our friends, but also to our enemies.”
Although the country is an infinite melting pot of ethnicities and religions, Buddhism predominates as a belief, significantly influencing the moral base and value system that rules society. The presence of the monks and their temples (pagodas) is everywhere. You cannot touch the monks and much less can they touch a woman. They, however, can touch you at will.
The monks are greatly venerated and were the protagonists in several of the largest protests against the abuses of the military power and in support of changing the terrible economic situation of the country. The majority of these demonstrations were held in the late eighties and were called the Saffron Revolution, after the color of the monks’ clothing. Many of them were sent to prison and served long sentences as political prisoners.
In general, those who were young students in 1988 are called “Generation 88,” in memory of the heroic attitude that many of these boys, some of them mere children, assumed in defense of their country and their rights, paying a high cost in innocent lives at the hands of the armed forces.
That sacrifice laid the foundation for the process that is happening today in the country, overthrowing for the first time the one-party military rule in that year. There then emerged 235 political parties, which were more or less consolidated into 91 ahead of the 1990 elections, the first competitive elections since 1948.
The National League for Democracy (LND), which already had more than three million members (of which, one million are women), swept the elections getting a historic triumph that gave them the capacity to govern, but the defeated military didn’t go along, they broke the rules, ignored the election results and imprisoned the leaders of the winning party, among them its leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
With this coup, the military frustrated the aspirations of the whole nation for freedom and progress, but that would be temporary.
In 2011, after the release of Aung San and thousands of political prisoners, new elections were called, but several of the most influential parties chose not to participate, citing the obvious lack of confidence in the military and demanding a change in the Constitution to offer real guarantees to civil parties.
The constitution is the legal instrument that guarantees the supremacy of the military class, still today. The constitution establishes that 25% of the seats in parliament are reserved for the military, regardless of the results of the election. The trap closes completely with the provision, in addition, that the constitution can only be changed with more than 75% of the votes, so it is mathematically impossible to modify anything, no matter how small, without the consent of the military.
Not satisfied with this, the constitution gives the military permanent control of the country’s most important ministries: Borders, Armed Forces and the most strategic, Interior. This latter entity, in addition to the usual functions of controlling order, in Myanmar also controls all public administration, a great part of the economy, and also education. The decisions of the military in these institutions are virtually autonomous and unquestionable.
For these reasons, although the country is very happy with the second victory of the NLD in 2015 and the rise to power of Aung San, many believe that as long as the military holds on to all that power they will not have a true democracy.
It is mathematically impossible to modify anything, no matter how small, without the consent of the military.
Aung San and her party assumed from the beginning a conciliatory attitude, trying to reach agreements with the military leadership that will directly benefit citizens, and working so that the country can begin to emerge from its deep poverty, making it easier and offering guarantees for both foreign investment and internal trade.
These negotiations have been possible in part because the current top leader of the military and Aung San have a certain personal empathy and have maintained a constructive dialogue. This aspect was strongly criticized by other political parties and many civil society organizations, who demand clarifications and that the military take responsibility for its crimes, as well as the release of political prisoners who remain in jail.
Many of these prisoners were sanctioned for “resistance” against attempts of certain members of military or their associates to take away all or part of their land.
Beyond these issues, thorny and inconclusive, there are hundreds of examples of positive transformations that quickly began to empower people, especially young people. In 2012, a SIM card for a cellphone cost about $1,000. Today you can buy one for just $1.50 and it provides completely free access to the internet, creating overnight more than 10 million internet users ravenously exploring the web, creating new ways to organize and discuss issues that previously didn’t exist. In Myanmar, as in Cuba, meeting with others without permission from the military junta was prohibited.
Another important change was to eliminate the tax demanded by the military of 100% on the purchase value from anyone who acquired a vehicle. This was reduced to between 3% and 5%, which has facilitated the importation of millions of light trucks and buses for public transport. This measure represents an accelerator for the growing economy that is trying to flourish, but which in turn poses great challenges of infrastructure, because at certain times the city collapses in traffic jams of a size never expected or imagined.
Impressive and positive is also the great work being done in the country through hundreds of supportive organizations and NGOs
Impressive and positive is also the great work being done in the country through hundreds of supportive organizations and NGOs which, along with the new authorities, are contributing their experience on issues of all kinds: entrepreneurship, agriculture, digital commerce, the broad-based development of women, political participation, mediation in ethnic conflicts, issues of sexual orientation and gender identity, water purification and conservation, etc., through training in systems provided not only in the capital but in the most remote villages of the 14 states that make up the vast territory of the country.
All this cooperation has also contributed to statistical studies, surveys and research to bring to light for the first time in history the true picture of the country in very sensitive areas such as human trafficking, the sex trade of children, drugs, discrimination, recruitment of children by ethnic guerrillas, etc., so that from this information the state can implement programs and make decisions to improve the situation.
The media, now much more free, foster discussions of all these issues and put pressure on the authorities from their platforms, both physical and digital. The young people working on a Yangon newspaper talk about the official media after the change, saying “nobody recognizes them,” because “they changed their stale and censored discourse for another kind of more dynamic journalism, objective and real; they are now becoming real competitors for us.”
This shows that journalism’s heart was always beating, but it was subjugated by a regime that annulled it and appeared more before the people.
The young Burmese man who acted as my translator said, “For me, the most important thing is that people are no longer afraid, they laugh now, before they were serious, now they dream of work and prosperity; before, most young people regretted being born here… For myself, I’m not going anywhere now!”
14ymedio, Eliecer Avila, Havana, 27 August 2016 – When I was small, I suffered from asthma for several years. I remember that my grandmother would not let me leave the house if it was slightly cloudy; I also had to wear shoes and thick socks although all the other children of the neighborhood ran barefoot through the gutters filled with puddles where one could experience the pleasure of feeling the mud between one’s toes.
Contrary to the opinion of my relatives, the then-student of Physical Culture who for us would always be Loriet, taught a group of us adolescents in the seventh grade that “the body and spirit can be shaped by a force that is greater than all illnesses or limitations, a transformative and colossal force call willpower.” At first these words sounded strange and distant to us. Only years later did we understand their significance.
I began training in taekwondo, drowning every time I ran 20 meters or did 10 pushups. Unable to breathe, I looked towards everyone around me to approach the nearest person, I suppose in search of some support in order to feel more secure. On one occasion, someone protested to the teacher, saying: “Don’t you see that this boy is purple?” However, Loriet displayed not the least pity or concern, at least not visibly. He just told me instead: “None of them can help you, only you can manage it yourself, the problem is yours and you have the option of overcoming it, but you have to work hard, learn to breathe and recover without yielding and continue advancing. I promise you that this will not last forever.” And so it was!
After two years, my health took a radical turn. I could endure whole afternoons of practice and fighting, I added weight training with the teacher Mario (the strong) and even participated in some city competitions in both disciplines. For the coming “green” medical checkup, as they call it in the Compulsory Military Service, no one remembered any longer my nights of intensive therapy, eating a breakfast, lunch and dinner of aerosol hydrocortisone. I passed each test, and they gave my condition “Fit 1,” thus totally ready for the rigors of military training, which by luck was commuted for me mostly because of the “mission” of teaching physics and mathematics in senior high school, given the province’s lack of teachers and my notable educational results.
Later I continued occasionally practicing taekwondo, even in university. I did not win many fights in competition, but I always felt proud of having overcome my own natural vulnerability.
I give you a little of my own history in order to talk about something much more important that concerns not only me but all Cubans born on the Island after ’59. I am referring to the false paternalism that the government still continues assuming with the pretext of protecting us when in reality it deprives us of the possibility of exploiting our strengths as individuals and, as a whole, as a nation.
For four generations, we have carried an umbrella against foreign propaganda, an overcoat to avoid ideological deviations, anti-communism socks, safety goggles for different information, and a powerful aerosol that kills any germ of personal creativity or inspiration for entrepreneurism.
Even today, when the times have changed, the world has changed, people have changed, still there appears on television a young journalist warning us of the “grave dangers” that “so-called inter-connected societies” bring, like the “loss of privacy” or “the alienation caused by the game Pokemon Go,” when the vast majority of Cubans cannot even access a landline.
Nothing is more advisable for managing any tool than to use it in a natural and everyday manner. The lack of practice by our citizens with respect to basic elements that characterize modern societies is visible in the behavior that we adopt on finding ourselves exposed to an environment where the minimum personal effort is required to find solutions or answers for ourselves. Simply, we are not accustomed to solving our problems without depending on someone or something.
During my last airplane boarding at the Jose Marti Airport in Havana, I carefully observed the conduct of several people, especially those who had to be between 50 and 60 years of age. Cubans that I bet had some university degree were incapable of interpreting posters, signs or signals of any type in the airport, or on or inside the airplane. Facing the simple issue of finding a departure gate or a seat identified by a number, the first reaction was not to try to understand the symbols or signs, but they opted to ask constantly about the slightest detail, brandishing the easiest argument for their insecurity: “It is that I am not accustomed to these things.”
Something very different drew my attention when I left Cuba the first time and lived for four months among Europeans. There people spent several minutes before a map at a train station or configured a mobile app that offered the needed information, but rarely did they yield to the temptation of asking or complaining without first making an effort. That attitude of absent-minded ease is very widespread and, unlike Cubans, there exists a respect or almost a cult of self-management, the capability, initiative and talent of getting along with ease in any circumstance. Because there and in other parts of the world (coincidentally the most developed) it is autonomy and not dependence that has been instituted as a value in society.
It is not unusual to see three French teens comfortably disembark in Latin America with a map and backpacks, in stark contrast with a Cuban engineer who lands in Paris who, if someone doesn’t pick him up he might die of cold without daring to tackle the subway system by himself.
I could cite thousands of daily examples of how our dependent personality manifests itself, but the essential reflection that I want to share is that it is not a change of system that is going to bring a change of attitude in Cuba’s citizens and, therefore, a better and more prosperous society, but the reverse: without a change in the people, in their expectations, values, behaviors, they will never be able to overcome the system and its effects. Because the system does not consist only of a government and a system of laws, but it consists of the whole of the beliefs, myths, schemes and behaviors that we daily assume, accepting and resigning ourselves to suffer as from a chronic illness, one that can be overcome with a minimum of risk and individual effort from each of us.
A totalitarian and repressive political system can suffocate a society like asthma can suffocate our lungs. If we shed the overcoats, thick socks and mosquito nets on which we depend and go out to run, to discover and confront our obstacles, surely we will discover how incredible and marvelous it is to be able to breathe deeply all that oxygen that was always there, waiting for us.
14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miami, 24 August 2016 – This coming 12-13 September, independent Cuban journalists will meet with digital innovators and individuals who are fighting to open the island to the World Wide Web. This first conference on the use of the internet in Cuba is being organized by the Office of Cuban Broadcasting (OCB), which operates Radio and TV Martí. The event will be free and open to the public.
According to Gonzalez, the event will be something new because it will not be Miami Cubans teaching islanders about the internet, but more than 20 experts in different areas who will come exclusively to share their knowledge and experience with the use of the network in Cuba.
“We are looking, first of all, to provide the ABCs of internet use in Cuba, and also to present the ‘offline’ internet that people on the island have developed: applications, informal information networks, among other things,” she explains.
The Office of Cuban Broadcasting is an institution funded by the US government in order to break the government monopoly on information in Cuba. For more than 30 years it has managed Radio Martí, later adding a television signal, both of which are bones of contention between the Cuban government, which wants their elimination, and the US government which funds them.
“Our first means of distribution is Radio Martí, but shortwave use is declining in Cuba. The digital world is gaining tremendous momentum,” said Gonzalez, hence the interest of the enterprise to enhance its digital portal.
The conference will include different sessions, among them universal access to the internet as a human right, the work of social networks and dissidence and activism in the digital era, as well as covering different Cuban media from outside the island.
Among the speakers from Cuba will be Eliecer Avila, president of the Somos+ Movement (We Are More), and Miriam Celaya, freelance journalist. In addition, professors Ted Henken and Larry Press will attend, along with Ernesto Hernández Busto, manager of the blog Penúltimos Días, and Karl Kathuria.
For Celaya, the meeting in Miami will be an occasion to show that journalism on the island has its own voice. “We are in a process of maturation. Independent journalism in Cuba was not born yesterday, but is the result of an evolutionary process. Right now, the conditions are ripe to accelerate it,” she said.
Cuba ranks among the countries with the poorest internet access in the world. According to official sources, about 30% of the Cuban population has been on the wireless networks that the government has installed in parks and downtown streets of some cities. Only two provinces have wifi in all municipalities, and prices remain very high for the average Cuban, at two CUC per hour, in a country with an average wage equivalent to about 20 CUC a month.
Guillermo Fariñas, UNPACU Activist: “With this [hunger strike] I am giving the Castro regime leaders to decide if they want to assassinate me publicly.”
Eliécer Ávila, President of Somos+ (We Are More): “I don’t see how the death of leaders who should motivate people and push changes can be helpful.”
14ymedio, 10 August 2016 – This Tuesday, activist Carlos Amel Oliva has ended four weeks on hunger strike after spending the last five days in hospital due to the deteriorating state of his health. Eight members of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU) had seconded his protest and decided not to eat in solidarity with the opponent’s demands, including State Security returning his personal belongings, the confiscation of which he considered a violation of his rights.
In the last twenty years Fariñas has undertaken a total of 25 hunger strikes, the last of these six years ago when he demanded the release of a group of opponents from the 2003 Black Spring. On that occasion the opponent went 135 days without eating, the great part of the time hospitalized and receiving parenteral nutrition and hydration.
Fariñas began that strike on February 24, 2010, one day after the death of Orlando Zapata Tamayo, who died after staging a hunger strike for 86 days while incarcerated.
Amnesty International considered Zapata Tamayo a prisoner of conscience and many analysts agree that his death was decisive in the negotiations subsequently held between the Cuban government, the hierarchy of the Catholic Church and the Spanish government that ended with the release of many political prisoners.
Previously, a hunger strike had been maintained to its final consequences by Pedro Puis Boitel, who died in prison in May 1972 after 53 days without food or medical care. The young man was buried in an unmarked grave in Colon Cemetery in Havana.
Since January 1959 it has been common for activists and opponents to use hunger strikes as a form of protest against the government and to demand improvements in prison conditions or political reforms. Currently some opponents believe that this strategy of peaceful struggle is not effective.
However, other dissidents cite the importance of the hunger strike as a way to attract the attention of international organizations to pressure the government and bring about political change.
On Tuesday, the Cuban Observatory for Human Rights called on all opponents to abandon their fasts, considering that it is not an effective method of struggle and activists are people who are needed “with all their energy, strength, intelligence and courage in the demand for freedom, democracy and better living conditions for Cubans.”
Guillermo Fariñas, who currently is continuing his hunger strike, has recently stated in an interview that he has a responsibility given that he is a person known internationally for the use of this method of protest. “With this I’m giving time for Castro’s rulers, extending my possible death, so that they can assess, among and political and ideological international allies and opponents, which really has to do with my demand, if they are going to publicly murder me,” he said.
Eliecer Avila, who on Tuesday wrote a letter asking Carlos Amel Oliva to abandon his strike, emphasized the importance of activists who are still alive today being, one day, public representatives of the citizens if they wish. The leader of Somos+ (We Are More) ended his letter with the words: ” Do not give away your life to these bastards, compadre!”
14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 11 August 2016 – Cuba’s immigration authorities prevented activists Ivan Hernandez and Felix Navarro from traveling outside Cuba this Thursday. The former prisoners of the 2003 Black Spring were invited to participate in the 2ndCuban National Conference that be held in San Juan, Puerto Rico, from 12 to 14 August, but were unable to board their flight at Havana’s José Martí International Airport, where they ran into Reinaldo Escobar, 14ymedio’s editor
Both Hernandez and Navarro had received, in March of this year, special permission to go abroad “one-time” after being placed on parole, a condition the authorities continue to maintain since release from prison in 2011. All those released from the Black Spring “Group of 75” who continue to reside in Cuba benefited from a similar authorization.
The opponent Librado Linares, also a former prisoner of the Black Spring and general secretary of the Cuban Reflection Movement (MCR), did manage to board his flight on Thursday to participate in the meeting of Puerto Rico, since it was the first time he made use permit leave the Island.
The American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) recently sent a letter to Raul Castro expressing “deep concern” about the “violent treatment” received by the trade unionist Ivan Hernandez on his return to Cuba after his first trip abroad. He traveled on the same flight as the opponent Vladimir Roca and attorney Wilfredo Vallin, of the Law Association of Cuba.
Hernandez was arrested on July 31 and reported that he received a “savage beating” when he refused to be subjected to a search at the time of arrival. During his trip abroad he met with organizations and activists from Europe and the United States.
Both Hernandez and Navarro cataloged the “injustices” and said they will continue trying to assert their right to travel freely.
The Cuban National Conference is a continuation of one held last year, which involved 23 organizations in Cuba and 32 from exile. It has been convened by the Coordinating Liaison Committee composed of Ana Carbonell, Rosa María Payá, Sylvia Iriondo, Guillermo Farinas, Juan Carlos Gonzalez Leyva, Rene Gomez Manzano, Mario Félix Lleonart and Saylí Navarro
Among the participants in the conference traveling from Cuba are also Eliecer Avila, leader of Somos+ (We Are More) and Boris Gonzalez, a member of the Democratic Action Roundtable (MUAD). The great absence the meeting will be Guillermo Fariñas, who remains on hunger strike in Santa Clara.
In the early hours of Thursday, Lady in White Leticia Ramos Herrería was arrested while traveling from Matanzas to Havana to take the flight that would also have taken her to the conference in Puerto Rico, according to the leader of the Ladies in White movement, Berta Soler, speaking to this newspaper. The activist was returned to her home where she is under police surveillance.
Event organizers want to use this 2nd Conference to create a “structure of unity of action in diversity,” whose purpose is to “operate inside and outside Cuba, coordinating the efforts of both shores.” In addition, they discussed “the general principles of the new Cuba” desired, an issue that was left pending at the previous meeting.
14ymedio, Eliecer Avila, Havana, 9 August 2016 — I think I should say at this time what I think of the situation of human beings who are on hunger strike, especially my friend Carlos Amel.
In Somos+ (We Are More), being respectful of the decisions they took, we send them in their moment our messages of solidarity. Not because we believe that hunger strikes work as a method to achieve anything in Cuba today, but because it always seems unjust to us that ordinary people did not know what was going on and the reasons behind these extreme decisions.
I am dying of pain when I see the images of Carlos, an intelligent young man, father of two beautiful children and with a future ahead of him, at risk of suffering irreversible traumas and even death, for demanding things from a cruel and ruthless system that will gain more with his death than with his life.
If Carlos was a member of my organization I would not have allowed him to do something like this or, at least, I would have done everything possible to dissuade him. I think there are many more effective ways to generate pressure, especially when in theory we have thousands of activists across the country, to have to simply rely on the health, and even death, of these young people to be able to move forward.
I do not consider the sacrifice of one’s life as a “natural cost” of any political battle, on the contrary, to encourage an attitude like this seems to me a crime, and more so from the abundance of the table of many who today light up Facebook with messages such as: “The death of these patriots paves the path of freedom.” This is cynical.
I do not see how the death of leaders who must motivate people and drive change can help in any way. For days I have felt the need to say it, although some may not find it not politically correct. Today I could not hold back anymore.
Our struggle is for life, for family, for the future, for our children. All this becomes meaningless if we die.
There is no material value in Carlos Amel’s or any of the others ceasing to breathe. I would gladly give everything I own for a man like him to live and to live a long life, because the nation will need him more and more. In the past, many patriots, with their pressures, pushed our best men to die. I will not be part of the club of those who accept or promote such a horrendous act that rather than providing any political gain, not only forever stains our history, but our consciences.
Carlos, friend, I want to attend your valuable participation in political life, not your funeral.
Do not give away your life to these bastards, compadre!
14ymedio, Eliecer Avila, Havana, 28 July 2016 — On numerous occasions I have had to listen to the stories of friends and colleagues who have been detained or have been interrogated by the State Security. “These people are unreal, they know everything. The day I went to see so-and-so, what I said to what’s-his-face, what time, and even that we had coffee and ate roast pork. They don’t miss a thing!”
I imagine that these people feel very impressed, because it is as if they were sitting with a fortuneteller who “divines” their past, present and can even predict their future. The difference is that the fortunetellers, or so they tell us, “have a gift,” while State Security has human and technical methods and a society completely organized to facilitate their work, such that their gifts are simply their ears and a crystal ball made of optical fiber. Continue reading “Neither Brave Nor Intelligent, Much Less Fair / 14ymedio, Eliecer Avila”
How are they not going to know the exact locations of the moles on our bodies, if they can openly and brazenly invade all our privacy?
They don’t have to be super-gifted nor pass in some school to “discover” who we spend time with, what our plans are, what our means are, because in the vast majority of cases we don’t even hide these things. The reason? It is very simple, we are citizens who study in normal schools, lead normal lives, we are not trained and don’t even want to be in intelligence or counterintelligence, we speak naturally and openly about what we think and desire because we are not ashamed.
On the other side, we have something very different, military personnel, indoctrinated, with studies of all kinds, with specialized equipment, transportation, a made-to-measure judicial system, subordinated press and fearful people who offer them what they ask for to avoid becoming targets of their investigations.
Who could do a bad job with all this? The contrary would amaze me. That there would be something they don’t know.
However, to the extent that you interact with them, you realize that they have many gaps. For example, there is an important difference between what the bosses know and what they tell the field agents. There is the need for State Security to constantly convert the ordinary into the extraordinary. This is justified because each one of these agents has to constantly think they are “saving the country” and that “the people appreciate their heroism and bravery.” In the majority of cases, however, what they are doing is committing a common crime in the name of authority against natural persons unhappy with a bad government.
In this sense they are very exquisite in their internal language. There is nothing a seguroso – security agent – likes more than to be called a “combatant,” and it delights them even more when the designation “anonymous” is added, because this gives them the sensation of being a spy and makes them think they are smarter. Incidentally, before society they think they “run great risks…” OK, this is true in part, because on retirement the majority suffer back pain because they dedicated themselves to dragging people into patrol cars. Upon reflection, they should wear supportive belts to protect themselves in these dangerous maneuvers.
Surely, in times past and under other circumstances, there might have been some who did more serious things against real threats, I don’t deny it. But today. 99% of what these “combatants” “confront” are the natural rights of a people who want to peacefully change what does not work to move the country forward and above all to not continue to shipwreck it in every respect. “Confronting” this is neither brave, nor intelligent and much less just or admirable.
The work of those who have to protect the state in societies based on rights and fundamental freedoms is very different; in societies where the threats are of an extreme magnitude and it is not enough to demand an ID card so that people or companies “cooperate.”
Men and women who risk their lives and dedicate themselves to protecting their nations against the grave threats our civilization confronts will always be heroes and heroines worthy of every kind of recognition and the gratitude of their peoples. But if the terror they impose themselves in the service of a dictatorship tramples the lives of protestors to keep themselves in power at all costs, these combatants have made a mistake in the ethical and moral sense of their careers and their lives.
So they should not confuse their facile abuse with expertise or ability. Because this latter is an attribute of those who survive and express themselves, despite them.
14ymedio, Havana, 3 July 2016 – This Sunday several independent organizations are holding the first Cuban Youth Congress in the city of Santiago de Cuba, under heavy police pressure and after dozens of arrests. Among those arrested is the activist from the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU) Amel Carlos Oliva, who was arrested last Thursday, according to sources from UNPACU.
Oliva returned from Washington the same day he was detained and, according to the leader of the UNPACU, Jose Daniel Ferrer, was “kidnapped by the repressive forces” as he traveled from the Cuban capital to the east.
Since Saturday some members of both organizations were also victims of arbitrary detention, while others were subject to strong police operations around their homes. However, a few managed to reach the Santiago headquarters of UNPACU, where the Congress is now taking place.
Joanna Columbié, a member of Somos+, was arrested on the outskirts of the meeting. She managed to report her arrest by telephone, seconds before being put in the police car. According to reports from the organizations involved in the Congress, more than a hundred activists have been arrested.
The wave of arrests on Sunday is the continuation of the dozens of arrests from the day before, when several members of UNPACU were violently arrested while protesting to demand the immediate release of Carlos Amel Oliva.
14ymedio, Eliecer Avila, Havana, 3 July 2016 – A great deal has been written in recent months about the permanent crisis of Cubans stranded in different Latin American countries. Those living outside the island and the few “connected” (i.e. on-line) within it, are certain to have read some of the news and have access to the emotional videos circulating which include ones of families with little children desperately asking for a way out that will allow them to reach the United States.
The truth is that the governments of the countries involved seem to be determined not to cooperate in any way to address the current wave of immigrants. Cuban’s own foreign minister took on the task of persuading them in a tour of the affected countries and managed to get a unanimous commitment for the sake of the “security and stability” of the region. Continue reading “The Cuban People Are Packing Their Bags / 14ymedio, Eliecer Avila”
What is really worrying, incredible as it may seem, is that the vast majority of the Cubans who live on the island have not been aware of the seriousness of the situation their families and friends confront in those countries. This is the direct consequence of the censorship of information in the official media, where references to the subject are scarce and vague.
As a result, I’m amazed and frightened to hear about the number of people who at this very moment are packing their bags. Today, two friends I am very close to came by to say goodbye, and to ask for some details about airports and about “what we need to say” when immigration asks them hard questions.
One of them who is nearly 50 and works in the hotel industry told me, “I’m going to Guyana, a buddy left and is already there, and it connects to Mexico and there are cab drivers…” Right then I interrupted and said, “Compadre, have you looked at a map? Do you know where Guyana is? I go to the map and show him. It was something to see the look of amazement on his face on seeing that Guyana is on the far side of Venezuela and Columbia.
I asked the two of them if there were aware of the crisis and the dangers and they told me, “Well… yeah, it’s always hard but I know someone who already went and told me you can do it.” I looked at them and saw the faces of two people whose desire to leave is greater than any warning, and who had already sold even their pregnant dog to get the money.
The eldest, who was a doubtful after realizing his geographical error, told me, “All things considered compay, I think I’m going to go via Russia. Show me where Russian is.” I showed him and looking from right to left and seeing that at Russia is at one edge of the map and the United States is at the other he mutters, “Wow, but this is a lot longer, this is a boat at least…” I explain patiently, reminding him that the earth is round and that the extreme right of Russia is almost next to Alaska, separated by the Bering Strait. I also tell him, however, that there are direct flights from Cuba to Moscow, which is next to Europe, and that it would take a lot to get to the other end, less populated and at best difficult to access.
My friend looks at his friend and reaffirms, “Look, at least this is just one country and I even remember some Russian phrases. Let’s go that way,” he concludes.
The whole time my mind is filled with the idea of talking about political parties, human rights, market economies, civic resistance and Somos+, but the truth is that when someone is under the influence of a frenzy like this, it is as if rational thought is annulled by the obsession that is driving him.
The most complicated task is to stand in front of a human stampede and try to change the direction of its steps for good of everyone, the nation, the future, when the majority of these sacred things sound like blah-blah-blah.
So I decided to abandon the role of weighty protective father and give them a strong embrace. I said goodbye to them recognizing at least that in this season of the year, the Russian landscape should be gorgeous.