14ymedio, Eliecer Avila, Havana, 15 July 2017 — The visit to Cuba by United Nations expert on Human Rights, Virginia Dandan, ended this Friday. The press conference she offered before leaving fueled expectations, after spending several days in an intense program of meetings and activities “on the ground.”
In her statements, however, the official from the Philippines made no mention of the human rights situation on the island, but merely praised its system of international cooperation. In passing, she regretted the country’s limitations in accessing new technology, due to the US embargo.
Her analytical myopia revived the criticism of many towards international agencies linked, or not, to the United Nations. An international “bureaucracy” that no longer responds to its original meaning and has become a lever of influence for some governments to manipulate its mechanisms and officials. continue reading
This practice came to a head when representatives from North Korea, Venezuela and Cuba joined the Permanent Council on Human Rights in Geneva. That these confessed violators occupy such responsibilities is not the most worrisome, rather it is that the rest of the world accepts it without pressing for their immediate dismissal.
In her statements, the Philippine official made no mention of the situation of human rights on the island, but merely praised its system of international cooperation
After that, there is little room for astonishment, but Mrs. Dandan has succeeded in sparking outrage against the agency she represents. Despite being an expert, she allowed herself to speak from disinformation about a government that does not hide from – and even prides itself on – violating the fundamental rights of its citizens.
It would have been enough for the expert to search in the social networks to find evidence of the situation Cubans live in. She would have seen the videos with the mobs gathered by the government shouting “down the human rights” and images of police searches where copies of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights are taken as “proof” of the crime of subversive activity.
If, before arriving in Cuba, Dandan did not have time to check the internet, just looking out the window of the vehicle that brought her from the airport to the city she would have noticed the cult of personality that crushes, bores and frightens. The numerous billboards and posters that along the way impose the image of the two brothers who have ruled the country for almost 60 years are a distinctive detail of a totalitarianism, and should not have gone unnoticed by her keen eye.
On the other hand, Mrs. Dandan specializes in the area of education but did not go out into the streets of Havana to ask a child about the teaching of human rights in his or her school, or, more precisely, the rights of the child. Instead, she preferred meetings in the comfortable halls of the Cuban Institute of Friendship with Peoples or in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Undoubtedly, the Government of Raúl Castro estimated the usefulness of the expert’s visit and scheduled it to take place a few days after seeing the new Bilateral Agreement with the European Union
The expert could have inquired of any passer-by whether they belonged to one party or another, or who their favorite candidate is for the upcoming election, to receive the disturbing answer that there is only one party and the president is not directly elected. But was Virginia Dandan willing to listen to that part of reality?
Undoubtedly, the Government of Raúl Castro estimated the usefulness of the expert’s visit and scheduled it to take place a few days after seeing the new Bilateral Agreement with the European Union and its clause regarding respect for human rights that have so greatly bothered officialdom.
This situation coincided with the change of rhetoric of the United States and the new policy of Donald Trump towards the Island. “A good moment,” the Place of the Revolution surely must have thought, to pull out a letter and generate some positive headlines about human rights.
However, the opinion of the chosen expert has been so precarious and biased to make the diagnosis that she didn’t even manage to amortize the investment made by the Government to cover her days spent on the island.
In the case of Cuba, Dandan lost the opportunity to put her ear closer to parents, elders, young people, entrepreneurs trying to carry out an independent project and activists who report frequent human rights violations. She preferred to listen to the victimizers instead of the victims.
14ymedio, Eliecer Avila, Havana, 1 July 2017 – The Cuban revolution has been, above all, an enormous consortium of audiovisual production with global reach. Outside of the Island, this propagandistic flow competes with other products, but within, it roams freely, convinces some, confuses others and paralyzes the will of sectors indispensable to social change.
For more than half a century, officialdom has been preoccupied with the creation of emblematic songs, heavily ideological animated pictures; novels, ventures and series that spread their version of history, plus news and books geared towards maintaining the status quo.
That audiovisual machinery is so embedded in daily life that some barely notice its presence; but for a newcomer, it stands out.
A while back, a Peruvian journalist who had not been to Cuba insisted on researching why Cubans continue to live under a totalitarian regime when all of Latin America is democratic. continue reading
No explanation satisfied him, but the reporter travelled to the Island in order to report about the recently opened relations between Washington and Havana. During his stay he was able to watch television, listen to the radio, read newspapers and talk with people… After three days he called a friend in order to tell him – half-scared – that he now understood what was happening.
Cubans, with few exceptions, have peculiar ideas about world events and especially about their own reality, as that journalist learned. When questioned about the source of their “certainties,” the nationals invariably cite the official daily Granma, the primetime television newscast and the TeleSur channel.
The amazed visitor heard in the street that “the FARC are a group of revolutionaries that fight for social justice.” Meanwhile, others feel relieved because “there is a leader like Vladimir Putin who puts a stop to the excesses of the imperial Yankee” or assert that these days “the majority of Russians seek the return of Communism.”
In his time on the Island, the reporter heard people assert that “ISIS is an invention of the United States to encourage conflict in the Arab world and keep its oil resources,” while in Latin America “children die of hunger, without rights to health care or education.”
The man could not believe it when a citizen swore to him that “the internet is a weapon of the U.S. to spy on those who do not subordinate themselves to its designs,” that the Island is “more democratic than the U.S. and Europe” and that “human rights activists just want to leave the country.”
Although new technology has helped remove the rigid national mentality and diversified opinion about many topics, to underestimate the propagandistic apparatus of the Communist Party is a mistake.
The official media continues to have a monopoly on the reach, quantity, immediacy and depth of reporting, which is the key to understanding the country’s civic stagnation.
An example of this is the recently concluded broadcast of the latest jewel of national television, the series, The Other War, an adventure dedicated to the “fight against the bandits” in Cuba’s Escambray Mountains, a rebellion that took place in the first six-years after the triumph of the Cuban Revolution. The production achieved a wide audience, and afterwards many cried, reflected and reached conclusions “applicable to these times.”
Each chapter, featuring excellent actors of various generations, described the excesses of the “counter-revolution supported by the U.S.” and at the same time highlighted the values of patriotism, heroism, and commitment of the State Security and other government forces.
As a whole, the material was plagued with omissions, manipulations, and distortions of facts and characters. It disregarded that in that era excesses were committed on every side and that not only the “Batistianos” rose up in arms but also the rebels who made the Revolution and later saw how their path became twisted.
However, there are hardly any available audiovisual materials, and of good artistic workmanship, that effectively contradict this version.
While from exile each year millions of dollars are spent and ultimately dissolved in tangled bureaucratic ways, the creation of a film industry has not been stimulated to rival the totalitarian hegemony in the diffusion of content within the Island.
This situation is paradoxical considering that among the diaspora is found the immense majority of the best artists, musicians, actors, screenwriters, historians, and technicians related to film, television and audiovisual production.
Many private or institutional donors who want to contribute to the Cuban cause still underestimate the power of the media and prefer to bet on other methods. They forget that the Soviet hierarchies themselves once blamed Hollywood and Walt Disney for the debacle that the system suffered.
The idea of Cuba’s freedom needs a modern narrative, with means to amplify its reach and transmit democratic values. For more than five decades the Plaza of the Revolution has been using mass media to impose its version of history. That is why it is so important for the citizenry to have audiovisual content that combines quality and truth.
14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 8 April 2017 – Walking along the streets with Eliécer Ávila can be a complicated task. His face is well known thanks to a viral video broadcast almost a decade ago. However, before fame came into his life, this young man born in Las Tunas was a model “New Man”: the most finished product of ideological indoctrination.
Like all Cuban children, Avila shouted slogans during his school’s morning assembly, participated in countless repudiation activities “against imperialism” and dreamed of resembling Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara. But while, in school, they taught him the social achievements that the Revolutionary process brought to the population, at home reality was stubborn and showed itself to be something quite different. continue reading
The residents of Yarey de Vázquez are poor, the kind of poverty that grabs you by the throat
The residents of Yarey de Vázquez – the Puerto Padre municipality of Puerto Padre where the leader of the Somos+ (We Are More) Movement was born – are poor, the kind of poverty that grabs you by the throat. A place lost in nothingness, where many families still use latrines for their bodily needs, and live in houses with roofs made of palm fronds.
Surrounded by pigs, chickens and tedium, Avila realized that his life did not resemble the official version he was being taught. Born in 1985, in the middle of that “golden decade” when the Soviet Union was propping up the island, he was barely walking a year later when Fidel Castro ordered the closing of the free farmers markets in the midst of the “Process of Rectification of Errors and Negative Tendencies.”
Eliécer Avila reached puberty during what was called the Special Period. With the voracity that still characterizes him, he faced many days of his adolescence with his plate half full, or almost empty. He hand stitched the shoes he wore to school, invented all kinds of “outfits” from his grandfather’s old shirts, and turned off the light when it was time to strip down to his underwear, so no one could see the holes.
Surrounded by pigs, chickens and tedium, Avila realized that his life did not resemble the official version he was taught. He was born in 1985, in the middle of that “golden decade” when the Soviet Union was propping up the Island
With a natural leadership quality, in which a certain humor mixes with an undeniable histrionic capacity to narrate anecdotes, the young man made his way through those years without climbing aboard a raft to escape the country or ending up in jail. Those who knew him predicted a future in politics, because of those “fine lips” that helped him in student meetings and in romantic conquests.
A little bit later, luck smiled on him. He was able to enroll in the University of Computer Sciences (UCI), founded in 2002 in the middle of the Battle of Ideas. UCI was located on the site that had once been the Center for Exploration and Radioelectronics Listening, known as the Lourdes SIGNIT Station, where until 2001 Russia – and the Soviet Union before it – had had its largest spy station outside its borders. UCI was a school for trusted young people to become computer soldiers for a Revolution that fears the Internet.
While a student at UCI, Avila led Operation Truth. His task was to monitor digital sites and blogs critical of the Government. In those spaces, the young revolutionary sharpened his arsenal of tools for political struggle that included everything from hacking to the execution of the reputation of anyone who opposed the Plaza of the Revolution.
Little by little, like acid that filters through the cracks, those anti-government arguments he read on the web began to sink into his mind and mingle with his own disagreements. Restless, in 2008 he took his turn at the microphone during a visit to UCI of Ricardo Alarcón, then president of the National Assembly. The minutes of that public appearance that followed marked the rest of his life.
The video of the collision between Ávila and Alarcón jumped to first place in the hit parade on the clandestine networks that distributed audiovisuals. No one wanted to miss it, especially the moment when the leader of Parliament justified the travel restrictions imposed on Cubans by saying how congested the skies might be, if everyone were allowed to board an airplane.
Avila led Operation Truth while studying computer science; his task was to monitor digital sites and blogs critical of the Government
Now, nine years later, the young activist prefers not to be called “Eliécer, the one who debated with Alarcon,” but for the rest of his life it will be his most important letter of introduction to millions of Cubans. His challenge of power, with simple questions and a firm voice, has been one of the most accurate and best documented gestures of rebellion in almost six decades of Castroism.
After that, he received his punishment. After graduating, the authorities sent him to a remote Youth Computer Club to purge his audacity. It was the decisive moment in which he decided to cross the red line towards independence. He left the state sector, founded the Somos+ Movement and relocated to Havana. One audacious act after another.
The attacks rained down from all sides. State Security raised the level of pressure on his environment, traditional opposition leaders threw darts at the upstart, and there was no shortage of those who claimed that he was only a mole for the political police disguised as a dissident.
Since then, Ávila has tried to give shape to a civic discourse that uses new technologies and a less politicized language, closer to the concerns of ordinary people. But, like every dissident, he is caught in the grip of charges of illegal action, subjected to constant vigilance and assigned the halo of demonization imposed on anyone who does not applaud power.
Nothing is more disturbing to a system that has played with social alchemy than the fact of a creature from its own ideological laboratory turning against it
The numerous trips abroad that he has made since the Travel and Immigration Reforms of 2013 have allowed him to know the world, only to discover that the most exciting and indecipherable of the territories that await him is located in the future Cuba. That country so many have dreamed of and that is taking so long to arrive.
Recently he went a step further and announced that he was prepared to represent the electors of his constituency as a delegate. A somewhat remote possibility, given the oiled mechanisms of control over the People’s Assemblies maintained by the ruling party where, by show of hands, the attendees must nominate the potential candidates.
This week, the guajiro of Yarey de Vázquez has crossed another line. A public protest at José Martí International Airport has resulted in his house being searched, and him being arrested and charged with “illicit economic activity.” The trigger was the seizure of his laptop at Customs when he returned from Colombia.
Now, it is expected that the siege around the young leader and his Somos+ Movement will continue to close. Nothing is more disturbing to a system that has played with social alchemy than a creature from its own ideological laboratory turning against it. Eliécer Ávila will be doubly punished because power acts with more fury against its own, when it rebels.
The video shows Eliecer Avila and other human rights activists at the Jose Marti International Airport in Havana, protesting the confiscation of Avila’s laptop when he returned to the country from abroad.
14ymedio, Havana, 8 April 2017 – Some fifty uniformed members of the National Revolutionary Police and the Ministry of the Interior raided the home of the activist Eliécer Ávila, leader of the Somos+ (We Are More) Movement this Saturday morning. The police seized documents and home appliances, in addition to arresting the opponent, according to detailed information from his wife, Rachell Vázquez, speaking to 14ymedio.
The police search began at six in the morning and lasted about four hours during which the troops did not allow access to the property located in the neighborhood of El Canal, in the Havana’s Cerro municipality. “We were going to eat something when they knocked on the door,” says Vázquez.
During the search, the police were accompanied by two witnesses of the Committee for the Defense of the Revolution (CDR). “All they left us was the TV,” adds the wife. “Right now Eliécer is missing, because no one knows where they took him,” he says. continue reading
Hours earlier, the couple was at Terminal 3 of José Martí International Airport, where Avila staged a protest to demand the return of several of his belongings retained by the General Customs of the Republic. Last Thursday, when the activist returned from a trip to Colombia, his personal laptop was confiscated.
After being arrested this Saturday Ávila made a phone call to his wife to inform her that he is being held at the Police Station of Aguilera and Lugareño
After being arrested this Saturday Ávila made a phone call to his wife to inform her that he is being held at the Police Station of Aguilera and Lugareño in La Viñora. “He asked me to bring the deed of the house and 1,000 CUP,” says Vázquez, but “the police took the money in the drawers.”
In a video posted on the Somos+ website, Avila is seen in an airport lounge with two activists carrying posters with the phrase “No More Robbery.” The opponent denounced in front of the camera that the authorities “gave no explanations” and have not told him the reason for confiscating his computer.
Police searches and raids on dissidents’ homes have become common in the last year. In its report for March, the Cuban Commission on Human Rights and National Reconciliation (CCDHRN) denounced this procedure.
During that month “there were innumerable cases of dissidents deprived of their computers, cell phones and other means of work as well as cash,” the report adds. These actions are aimed “to prevent the work of peaceful opponents and to make them increasingly poor,” said the independent entity.
14ymedio, Havana, 6 April 2017 — Cuban opposition leaders were detained at Havana’s international airport on Thursday, when they arrived from Colombia, according to sources in the political movement Somos+ (We Are More) speaking with 14ymedio.
Eliécer Ávila, president of that movement remains “in open protest” at the capital’s airport after the authorities’ attempt to confiscate his electronic devices. continue reading
“Immigration has not allowed us to pass, it seems there are signs on the computers that say: interested in confrontation,” Avila explained in a message addressed to his movement. Later they were allowed to enter the national territory but in the face of the attempt to confiscate their belongings, the opponents rebelled.
Carlos Oliva, a member of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU), is being held at the police station in Santiago de las Vegas. Eliecer Avila has said that he refuses to leave the airport without his laptop. The opponent has been there for more than seven hours.
The order to seize his computer was issued by Carlos Pons, Chief of Confrontation at the airport.
In the case of Marthadela Tamayo and Zuleidy Pérez, they were subjected to a “rigorous search” and their personal computers siezed.
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
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.
14ymedio, 23 November 2016 — Academy 1010, an initiative of the Somos+ (We Are More) Movement, experienced a second day of police harassment with a strong State 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.
“I am surprised and indignant because we never imagined that an eminently academic activity would bring a wave of arrests and arbitrary acts as if we were doing something terrible, against the law,” said Avila. continue reading
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.
It is true that the mere fact of sharing with public opinion in a determined situation is not an act of magic that exonerates us from any frustration or suffering, but also it is a myth to believe that everything will go better if “nothing comes out on the internet” or in “the press of over there.” continue reading
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
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.
Shortly before his arrest he was received at the Oncological Hospital by its director, Dr. Luis Alfonso Curbelo, who notified him that the drug for his sister had arrived and would be administered this coming Tuesday. continue reading
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
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.
Overcoats, blankets and mosquito nets did not manage to improve my health. However, a sports instructor did manage the miracle of not only an improvement but the definitive cure of this illness that tormented almost my entire childhood. continue reading
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.
One of the pillars of “The Martís” (as OCB’s media are known on the island), is free access to the internet in countries where the right is censored, as is the case in Cuba,” explained Maria (Malule) Gonzales, OCB’s director. continue reading
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.