Everything is Sold-Out / 14ymedio, Eliecer Avila

 Collective Transportation. (14ymedio)

Collective Transportation. (14ymedio)

14ymedio, Eliecer Avila, 16 December 2014 — The end-of-year all over the world presents a challenge for many enterprises and businesses, especially for those in the transportation sector. Nobody wants to miss the opportunity to considerably increase the profits to be made from an extraordinary rise in demand for services. To this end, strategies are plotted and necessary adjustments are made well in advance. It is also true that at this time there is a surge in ticket prices. What would be strange is if, assuming you have the resources to travel, you were unable to find any means to get to your destination by land, sea or air.

That is, unless you live in Cuba. This is an island whose land and total population are comparable to or exceeded by some large cities of the world.

Over here, starting in the first few days of December, you can already hear in any office that sells tickets to travelers the famous phrase, “No, Son, no, for those dates, everything is sold-out
It is also common to find someone who laughs and says, ironically, “But who in their right mind thinks they can wait till early December to start shopping for tickets? That’s something you start doing at least three months in advance!” Continue reading

Two hours with the New York Times’ Ernesto Londoño / 14ymedio

Ernesto Londoño

Ernesto Londoño

Our team had a conversation with the New York Times journalist who has authored the editorials about Cuba.

14ymedio, 1 December 2014 — Ernesto Londoño, who authored six editorials on Cuba published recently by the New York Times engaged in a friendly conversation on Saturday with a part of the 14ymedio team, in the hotel where he is staying in Havana.

Our intention was to interview him, but he told us the rules of his media prohibit his giving interviews without previous consultation. He also declined our proposal to take photos. Instead, he was eager to listen to our opinions in an atmosphere of mutual respect. There were two hours of conversation dedicated to refining, enriching and debating the controversial ideas that the newspaper has addresses in his editorials.

The following is a brief synthesis of what was said there, arranged by topics and ascribed to the author of each opinion.

Journalism

Yoani Sánchez: Cubans are going to need a great deal of information to avoid falling into the hands of another authoritarianism. In 14ymedio we are including a plurality of voices, for example on the issue of the embargo. We leave it to the reader to form his own opinion from a variety of information.

Reinaldo Escobar: The official Cuban press, which is all the press, there are no public media, they are private property of the Communist Party. Now, has there been a change? Yes, there has been a change. Since a few years ago the newspaper Granma has had a weekly section with letters by readers where you find criticism of bureaucrats, things that don’t work or prices at the markets. But look, the emphasis is on the self-employed markets.

So far I have not read a profound criticism of the prices at the convertible peso markets that the Government has, which are abusive. Nor can you talk about the legitimacy of our rulers or the impracticality of the system. Here are two big taboos, and in the third place, the topic of political repression. If they report on a repudiation rally, they show it as something spontaneous on the part of the people, without telling how the political police were behind it, organizing it all.

Miriam Celaya: There are changes indeed. The problem is that there are real and nominal changes, and these changes are generally nominal. Now everyone in Cuba can legally stay in a hotel, which before was forbidden. They never explained why it was forbidden before. But Cubans cannot really afford the luxury of a hotel stay, with wages being what they are; nor can they buy a car, a house, or travel. The problem with the reforms is that they are unrealistic for the vast majority of Cubans. They are a government investment in order to buy time.

There are two of those reforms that are particularly harmful and discriminatory for Cubans. One is the foreign investment law, which is explicitly for foreign investors and it does not allow Cubans to invest; and the other is a new Labor Code which does not acknowledge autonomy, the right to strike, and which spells out explicitly that Cuban workers cannot freely enter into contracts with potential companies investing in Cuba, which constitutes a restraint and a brake.

Víctor Ariel González: Yes, things are changing, but we ask ourselves if really those changes offer a brighter horizon and why people keep leaving, even more are going than before.

More Apathetic Youth?

Miriam Celaya: It is a backlash against ideological saturation, a submissiveness which conditioned almost every act of your life to obedience, to political subordination, whether picking a university career, a job or an appliance, anything. Everything was a slogan, everything a roadblock. This has subsided somewhat, but previously, it was impossible to take a step without hearing “Motherland or death, we will triumph” and go, go… The investigations they undertook to see if you belonged to the Committee for the Defense of the Revolution… the youth of today have not experienced that bombardment of “the enemy that harasses us.” I did not bring up my kids in that, on the contrary, I tried to detoxify them. So this generation, the children of the parents of disenchantment, grew up devoid of that and are at a more pragmatic level, even at a marketing one, whose greatest dream is to leave the country.

Economy

Eliécer Ávila: The law governing the leasing (in usufruct) of lands for farmers to work them was the basis of a plan for increasing food production and lowering prices — so that the average salary for a day’s work might be more than just three plantains.

I come from the banana plantations of El Yarey de Vázquez, in Puerto Padre, Las Tunas. The nation’s food supply is the most critical element in our collective anger. In January of last year, a pound of onions cost 8 Cuban pesos (CUPs). Later, between March and April, the price rose to 15. In May it increased to 25 CUPs and now, the onion has disappeared from low-income neighborhoods. It can only be found in certain districts such as Miramar, at five convertible pesos (CUCs) for 10 onions — more expensive than in Paris — while the monthly Cuban salary still averages under 20 CUCs per month).

I know very few farmers who even own a bicycle. However, any young person who joins up with the Ministry of State Security is in no time riding around on a Suzuki motorcycle.

Embargo

Yoani Sánchez: When talking about the end of the embargo, there is talk of a step that the White House must take, and for me I don’t care for the idea that what happens in my country depends on what happens in the White House. It hurts my Cuban pride, to say that the plans for my future, for my childrens’ future, and for the publication of 14ymedio depend on what Obama does. I am concentrating on what is going to happen in the Plaza of the Revolution and what civil society here is going to do. So for me I don’t want to bet on the end of the embargo as the solution. I want to see when we will have freedom of expression, freedom of association and when they will remove the straitjacket from economic freedom in this country.

Miriam Celaya: The reasons for the establishment of the embargo are still in effect, which were the nationalizing of American companies in Cuba without proper compensation. That this policy, in the limelight for such a long time, has subsequently become a tug of war is another thing. But those of us with gray hair can remember that in the 70’s and 80’s we were under the Soviet protectorate. Because we talk a lot about sovereignty, but Cuba has never been sovereign. Back then, Soviet subsidies were huge and we hardly talked about the embargo. It was rarely mentioned, maybe on an anniversary. Fidel Castro used to publicly mock the embargo in all forums.

Reinaldo Escobar: They promised me that we were going to have a bright future in spite of the blockade and that was due among other things to the fact that the nation had recovered their riches, confiscating them from the Americans. So what was going to bring that future was what delayed it.

Miriam Celaya: The issue remains a wildcard for the Cuban government, which, if it has such tantrums about it, it’s because it desperately needs for it to be lifted, especially with regards to the issue of foreign investments. I am anti-embargo in principle, but I can see that ending it unilaterally and unconditionally carries with it greater risks than the benefits it will supposedly provide.

Victor Ariel Gonzalez: The official justification says that as we are a blockaded country so we have the Gag Law. Because we are under siege and “in the besieged square, dissidence is treason.” There are those who believe that if the embargo is lifted that justification would end. But you have to say that this system has been very effective in finishing off the mechanisms for publicly analyzing the embargo, it has killed off independent institutions.

Then, how will people be able to channel discontent and non-conformity with the continued repression the day after the lifting of the embargo?

Reinaldo Escobar: They will have another argument for keeping repression when the embargo is lifted. Write it down, because “this will be the test” as they say around here: “Now that the Americans have the chance to enter Cuba with greater freedom, now that they can buy businesses and the embargo is over, now we do have to take care of the Revolution.” That will be the argument.

Repression

Yoani Sánchez: In this country people are very afraid. Including not knowing they’re afraid, because they have lived with it for so long they don’t know that this is called “fear.” Fear of betrayal, of being informed on, of not being able to leave the country, of being denied a promotion to a better job, not being able to board a plane, that a child won’t be allowed to go to the university, because “the university is for Revolutionaries.” The fears are so many and so vast that Cubans today have fear in their DNA.

Eliécer Ávila: We also need to understand how Cubans make their living. Ninety percent of Cubans do not work where their calling or vocation would take them, but rather where they can survive and make do. In this country, to be a Ph.D. in the social sciences is truly to be the idiot of the family. This is the same guy who can’t throw a quinceañera party for his daughter, who can’t take his family out to dinner at a restaurant. The successful person in this society is the manager of a State-owned cafeteria. This is because he controls the supplies of chicken, oil, rice, etc. and sells the surplus on the black market — which is really how he makes his living. The fundamental tactic to create social immobility in this country is [for the State] to make as many people as possible feel guilty about something.

Self-employment

Eliécer Ávila: People think that because there is now self-employment in this country, that there is a way to be more independent of the State — which is true up to a point. But the question is, how does a self-employed business person survive? I had to leave my ice cream business. After having received my degree in information technology, I was sent to the interior as a sort of punishment for having an incident with Ricardo Alarcón, who at that time was the President of the National Assembly. It was a turning point for me as I tried to become one of the first self-employed people in my town. I had a 1967 German ice cream maker. The process requires 11 products — including coagulant, which someone had to steal from the ice cream factory. Or rather, I should say, “recover,” because in this country we do not call that kind of thing “stealing.” The milk had to be taken from the daycare center, or from the hospital, so that it could be sold to me. The point is, there simply is no other way.

All of these private businesses that are springing up and flourishing are sustained by illegality.

Yoani Sánchez: … Or in the capital that comes clandestinely from abroad, especially from the exile. There are restaurants in Havana that could be in New York or Berlin, but those have received foreign money or are engaging in “money laundering” from the corruption and from the highest leadership itself.

Eliécer Ávila: Many of these businesses are created so that government officials can place their children, grandchildren and friends in them, people who are no longer interested in the creation of the “New Man” nor in achieving a communist society. Rather, they want to launder their money and insert themselves in society like any other person.

I do not know a single communist worker in Cuba who has been able to launch a business. Those committed Revolutionaries, who gave their all, are today the people who don’t have onions in their kitchens.

Yoani Sánchez: Self-employment has been presented as one of the major indicators of the “reforms” or the Raul regime changes. But on the issue of self-employment many things are not considered: they have no access to a wholesale market, they can’t import raw material nor directly export their products. Thus, the annoyance all Cubans have with the customs restrictions that went into effect in September. The Government justifies is saying that “every country has this kind of legislation,” but in those countries there are laws for commercial imports.

Miriam Celaya: They made a special regulation for foreign investors, so they can import, but not for Cubans.

Yoani Sanchez: Another issue that greatly affects the economy is the lack of Internet connection. We’re not just talking about freedom of expression and information or being able to read 14ymedio within Cuba, but that our economy is set back more and more by people not having access to the Internet.

Luzbely Escobar: It’s not only that: Self-employment is authorized only for selling or producing, but the professionals cannot join that sector with their abilities. You cannot be a self-employed lawyer, architect or journalist.

Miriam Celaya: A large administrative body was created to control the self-employed and it is full of corrupt individuals, who are always hovering over these workers to exploit them and relieve them of their gains. Some tell me that there are fixed fees for inspector bribes. Here, even corruption is institutionalized and rated.

Eliécer Ávila: In this country, for everyone who wants to lift his head towards progress, there are ten who want to behead him. There is much talk of “eliminating the middleman.” However, the great middleman is the State itself, which, for example, buys a pound of black beans from the farmer for 1.80 CUPs, then turns around and sells that pound for 12 CUPs at a minimum.

The New York Times Editorials

Eliécer Ávila: It would be a great favor to Cuba if, with the same influence that these editorials are intended to have on the global debate about one topic [the embargo], they also tried to shed light on other topics that are taboo here, but that go right to the heart of what we need as a nation.

Miriam Celaya: I have an idea. Rather than making gestures about the release of Alan Gross, rather than making gestures about making the embargo more flexible, I think that the strongest and clearest gesture that the Cuban government could make would be to liberate public opinion, liberate the circulation of ideas. Citizens should manifest themselves; this is something that is not happening here.

Reinaldo Escobar: Without freedom there is no citizen participation.

Miriam Celaya: What is going on with these editorials? They are still giving prominence to a distorted, biased view, composed of half-truths and lies about what the Cuban reality is. They are still giving prominence to what a government says, and Cuba is not a government. Cuba’s government today is a small group of old men, and when I say “old” it’s because of their way of thinking, of individuals who have remained anchored in discourse rooted in a cold war and belligerence. The Cuban people are not represented in that government.

Yoani Sánchez: I read editorials when they came out but last night went back to read them more calmly. The first editorial is perhaps the most fortunate, because it achieves a balance between one side and the other, but there are some that I think are really pitiful. Such as the one about the “brain drain” because these medical professionals are living a drama in this country that is not recognized in these texts.

First, I am against the concept of the theft of, or brain drain, because it accepts that your brain belongs to someone, to the nation, to the educational structure, or to whoever taught you. I think everyone should decide what to do with his or her own brain.

That editorial gives no space to the economic tragedy experienced by these professionals in Cuba. I know surgeons who may be among the best in their specialty in Latin America and they can’t cross their legs because people would be able to see the holes in their shoes, or they have to operate without breakfast because they can’t afford breakfast.

Miriam Celaya: There is something in that editorial that cuts and offends me, and it’s that slight of condescension, for instance, in this quote: “Havana could pay its workers more generously abroad if the medical brigades continue to represent an important source of income”… But, gentlemen! To do so is to accept the slavery of those doctors. It is to legitimize the implied right of a government to use its medical personnel as slaves for hire. How can that be?

Yoani Sánchez: With regards to these medical missions, I must say that the human character, no one can question it, when it comes to saving lives. But there has to be a political side and that is that these people are used as a kind of medical diplomacy, to gain followers, and because of this many countries vote at the United Nations on behalf of the Government of Cuba, which has practically hijacked many countries because they have Cuban doctors in their territories. It becomes an element of political patronage.

Another aspect is the economic, which is pushing doctors to leave because they can see the appeal of having a better salary, they can import appliances, pots for their home, a computer. Also, every month their bank account gets a deposit of convertible pesos, which they only get to keep if they return to Cuba and don’t desert from the mission. From a labor and ethical point of view it is very questionable.

Another issue is the negative impact it has on the Cuban healthcare system.

Luzbely Escobar: You go to a clinic and it is closed, or of the three doctors on duty, only one is there because the other two are in Venezuela, and then there is total chaos.

Miriam Celaya: In these editorials, I have read “Cuba” instead of “the Cuban government,” and I have read that the members of “the dissidence” were considered “charlatans.” These definitions, in addition to being disrespectful, put everyone in the same bag. Here, as everywhere else, society is complex, and, while it’s true that there are charlatans among the opposition – and among the government too — there are a lot of honest people who are working very faithfully for a better Cuba, with the greatest sacrifice and risk.

When they demonize it, then it seems that they are speaking the government’s language, as if they had written this in a room of the Party Central Committee and not in a newsroom of a country in the free world. Such epithets, coming from prestigious media, end up creating opinion. That’s a big responsibility.

Dissidence

Yoani Sánchez: In this country the nation has been confused with the government, the homeland with a party, and the country with a man. Then this man, this party and this government have taken the right to decide on behalf of everyone, whether it’s about growing a tomato or a cachucha pepper, or what ideological line the whole nation is going to follow.

As a consequence, those of us who have ideas different from those of that party, that government, and that man in power, are declared to be “stateless” or “anti-Cuban” and charged with wanting to align ourselves with a foreign power. It is as if now, that the Democratic party is governing the United States, all Republicans were declared to be anti-American. This is, like all the countries in the world, plural. If you walk down the street you are going to meet every kind of person: anarchist, liberal, social democrat, Christian democrat and even annexationist. Why can’t this so plural discourse be expressed in a legal way? And why do people like us have to be excluded from speaking and offering opinions?

Translated by Alicia Barraqué Ellison, MLK, MJ Porter and Norma Whiting

Raul Castro’s Migratory Reform Falters / 14ymedio, Eliecer Avila

Cuban passport (CC)

Cuban passport (CC)

14ymedio, ELIECER AVILA, Las Tunas/November 15, 2014 — Officials, opposition and public opinion in general have recognized as positive the implementation of the Migratory Reform (covering emigration and travel) promoted by the Cuban government at the beginning of 2013.

In spite of the fact that the trips for many dissidents continue to be marked by abuse, delays and confiscations by Cuban customs authorities, the truth is that until now, only people subject to some kind of legal process, whether invented or not, have been prevented from travelling.

But this may be starting to change. Signs of a sudden regression, in regards to the new rules, come to us from the eastern part of the country.

Two officials, the Major “Oliver” and the Lieutenant Colonel “Vilma,” from State Security Management and Immigration and Alien Status Management (DIE), respectively, have communicated categorically to young Hanner Echavarria Licea that “it has been decided that you are not going to travel.”

To that end, today they retain his certified criminal record document, which the Peruvian embassy demands, so that he cannot participate in the conference “Civic Conscience and Citizen Participation” which will take place in Lima.

The youth, a teaching graduate, self-employed and son of a retired official of the FAR, is a serious and educated young man who enjoys high standing in his community. Precisely the kind of person that State Security cannot bear to see fighting for profound change in Cuba.

Echavarria Licea joined the political movement SOMOS+ and was elected by its members to be its leader in Las Tunas. This seems to be the reason for the current reprisal of not letting him leave the country.

His case could be palpable evidence that even today, someone without prior criminal history or any legal entanglement whatsoever, may be prevented from exercising his right to leave the country. Which would mean the end of the more or less serious application of the Migratory Reform.

Translated by MLK

Between the Renovated and the Pathetic / 14ymedio, Eliecer Avila

News from Cuban television, with Rafael Serrano at the front

News from Cuban television, with Rafael Serrano at the front

14ymedio, Eliecer Avila, Havana/November 5, 2014 — In recent months, an attempt to renovate the look of Television National News has been noted. They have changed the set, adding colors and trying to infuse dynamism and spontaneity into the reading.

It is clear that the directors of that news program have been inspired by the style of TeleSur, their only “competitor,” which combines the visual quality of the big television companies with its spokesman mission for the governments of Cuba and Venezuela. In order to carry out their political influence and consolidation of power, TeleSur has created a broad platform of opinion.

Faced with the effectiveness of TeleSur, the “cable” news programs and the packets, the directors of National News have no option but to put on a little makeup or they won’t even watch themselves. Nevertheless, we see how the newscasters fail to adapt to the new format: They feign dialogue, and it comes out wooden; they try to be spontaneous, but fear of making a mistake makes them rigid and stuttering; they want to give the impression of analysis but they wind up reading the raw, pre-conceived note.

They do not have a single journalist who really knows what he speaks of or can form intelligent questions or comments about events. Let’s see about today: They talked about the plenary session of Popular Power in Havana, where Esteban Lazo called for taking measures; about a national meeting of Protestant churches, where its president asserted that “in other places, no, but here we live in a society of dialogue;” and finally, about the president of the European Parliament who leaves his post when “the terrible social situation that exists in Europe” worsens following austerity policies.

With that news, lacking all objectivity, disconnected from reality and useless for any member of the public, they will never be credible even if they dress the newscasters in Halloween style or give Rafael Serrano an Afro.

Translated by MLK

Displaying Those Who Watched Us / 14ymedio, Eliecer Avila

National Memory Institute in Poland (14ymedio)

National Remembrance Institute in Poland (14ymedio)

14ymedio, Eliecer Avila, Warsaw, 23 October 2014 — Recently, a wide cross section of Cuban civil society and opposition has been invited to Poland. The program has included a broad array of activities; including a visit to a jail and the governmental palace, meetings with important political figures, debates and lectures.

What has struck me most was entering the archives of Polish Communist State Security. I had only seen such a degree of paranoia and meticulousness in movies, like the classic “The Lives of Others.”

But this time was different. We found ourselves face to face with 90 kilometers of documents, hundreds of thousands of records, operative cards, photos, video tapes, personal profiles, and information about collaborators and people under surveillance.

These records prove that in all the Russian communist colonies there existed similar repressive agencies that turned into the biggest and most sophisticated institutions of their time. The surveillance and repression of thought was the activity to which those countries devoted the most resources.

The National Remembrance Institute leads investigations to purge the responsibilities in thousands of crimes committed by State Security against Polish citizens, always under the guidelines of the infamous Soviet KGB.

The information that these documents hold even today can be vital for many people who aspire to occupy public office, now that new democratic institutions usually ask those in charge of the archive to investigate if in the past such-and-such a person collaborated with State Security.

Documents destroyed by State Security (14ymedio)

Documents destroyed by State Security (14ymedio)

The documents also reveal that practically no one escaped security surveillance. Priests, artists, intellectuals, diplomats, business owners, all foreigners and even the Communist leaders themselves were spied upon. To that end they used the most advanced techniques of the time, like steam machines to unseal and then reseal letters, microphones inside of homes, hidden cameras and personal tracking, among others.

Even Fidel Castro himself had his file in the archives of the Polish State Security

Even Fidel Castro himself had his file in the archives of the Polish State Security, even when cooperation was very tight between all the repressive bodies of the Soviet bloc, including Cuba.

In spite of all that Mafioso and apparently infallible machinery, the people knew how to find their way and free themselves from so much sick perversion and, in the majority of cases, undertake a road towards true development, with a foundation in a government of law and in open and democratic politics.

The gray days dominated by fear and sadness were left behind to give way to a multitude of colors in the plazas of cities like Warsaw and Cracow, converted into reference points for constant growth and improvement.

I am absolutely convinced that one day in the not-too-distant future we will show delegations from all over the world the archives and installations of State Security in Cuba. Officials and collaborators of the repressive apparatus will be like naked kings before the astonished gaze of new generations formed in pluralism and respect for others in order to rebuild the nation.

Translated by MLK

Hong Kong: A Font of Inspiration / 14ymedio, Eliecer Avila

Students during the march for "The Cuban Five" (Lux Escobar)

Students during the march for “The Cuban Five” (Lux Escobar)

14ymedio, Eliecér Avila, Havana, October 2, 2014 — I saw the images of the Cuban students’ march in support of “the Cuban Five” and against “terrorism” and “subversion.” Telesur also echoed the news. I don’t know if any other television network has covered this topic. What I do know is that the participants believed they were giving an indisputable show of strength, principle and, possibly, valor.

So what did the nation gain from this audacity? Nothing – except many public expenses.

In contrast, I watch what is happening in Hong Kong, one of the most economically dynamic cities in the world, where thousands of students have been able to mobilize massive public sectors in support of their call for free local elections. The central government in Beijing opposes this demand.

Let us compare these two situations, both of which are developing in Communist territories.

In one case, protesters are taking to the streets calling for more democracy and for respect of citizens’ ability to elect their own representatives, against obstructionist government forces. In the other case – the one here (in Cuba) – the demonstrators travel comfortably to their site on buses, with snacks, slogan-emblazoned T-shirts, and security detail all included. All this to make a show of boldness geared to and directed by an agenda that has nothing to do with student demands or social protests in our country.

The students in Hong Kong get by with using social networking applications that make a joke of state censorship. When denied Internet access, they communicate directly with each other. The Cuban students use powerful megaphones to shout their “Long Live!” chants to those who are not allowed Internet access.

The apathy of Cuban university students towards the state of the nation does not cease to astound me.

The apathy of Cuban university students toward the state of the nation does not cease to astound me. If the young people of our country, with their vibrant health and energy, do not defend our elderly, our poor, our workers – our own selves – who will do it? —The state? —The bureaucracy? —The very causers of our problems?

Of what use is a march which forgets that we live in a country without the least shred of freedom of the press? Where the workers cannot afford even to eat adequately with the wages they are paid? And where the capital city is crumbling? What manner of respect can a youth and university movement inspire if it is incapable of empowering itself to recapture its autonomy and liberty?

It is clear that these marches are not initiated by the students themselves. We should also recognize that many who will read this article, and its author, took part at some time in similar marches – to break the monotony of our class schedules – to ride the wave that everyone says is the correct one – or simply to have a free day’s outing in Havana. When we grow up a little and leave the ideological bubble which our university system has become, reality punches us right in the face. We realize then the extreme manipulation to which we were subjected in order to defend the interests of a minority comfortably in power because we put them there. And this hurts.

We realize then the extreme manipulation to which we were subjected in order to defend the interests of a minority comfortably in power….

Being that nobody learns a lesson unless he learns it for himself, we will have to wait for the many Olympic champions of enthusiasm to graduate—and then face the challenge of maintaining their own households as citizens and workers.

But by then it will be too late. By then nobody will arrange buses and snacks to facilitate their expressions of nonconformity. Alternatively, if they go and do it on their own, they will discover a little-known aspect of the system, which will increase their frustration but will clarify much in their minds.

Some will decide to leave Cuba and will easily exchange their “Long Live!” megaphones for the steering wheel of the comfortable car that the ideological enemy will allow them to buy in exchange for their labor. Others will settle for eking out any kind of living they can and … “we’ll see what happens.” There will always be those others who are set on attaining positions from which they will have to convince a new generation of youths and students to march against the “historical enemy.” Their contribution will be the mental castration of the masses – an indispensable step towards constructing “The New Man.” These are the worst.

Still and all, I am convinced that this cycle of disempowerment and deception of the people cannot last forever. I feel that we are ever growing in number—those of us who in every corner of this country, including the universities, feel responsible for contributing to the profound and vital change that we need. All we have to do is agree to work together, as those demonstrators in Hong Kong are doing with such commendable maturity.

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

The Scam and the New Man / 14ymedio, Eliecer Avila

Products filled by scammers (14ymedio)

Products filled by scammers (14ymedio)

14YMEDIO, Havana, Eliecer Avila, 23 July 2014 – I grew up listening to my teachers saying that our society was building the man of the future, a different one, one that would have no defects, no malice, none of the vices “inherited from capitalism.”

Those of us who over the years strived to bring ourselves closer to something that is a good New Man, today find we are aliens maladapted to this society. It seems we had a monkey painted on our faces and anyone could mock us. Things had reached the point that my father, relentless defender of the best values, today tells me that if I continue trusting in everyone I might end up dead.

Just a few months ago I was at the bus station when a gentleman approached to tell me he’d spent three days sleeping there, on the floor and eating other people’s leftovers, because he didn’t have the money to return to the east. He had spent all he possessed “taking care of my mother who is very old and in the hospital here in Havana.” His eyes were sad, his clothes dirty, and his voice trembled. That boy wasn’t even 30 yet. Continue reading

Somos+ Launches a Project to Save History / Eliecer Avila

Among the first victims of January ’59 was the history of Cuba, especially the phase of the Republic. A radical rupture caused the immediate divorce of the new generations with a past that was reduced to four lines in scholarly books. (From Somos+)

La Havana, Cuba – “Puppet State, governing mafias, corruption, and poverty” are the only emblems, according to the official version, of the first half of the twentieth century in Cuba

A tour of eight libraries in Havana, while inquiring whether there existed some available texts on the Republic, resulted in only one book in two libraries dedicated to the theme: “The Republic of Cork” by Rolando Rodriguez.

The disconnectedness from the Internet worsens the situation. It is such that the access to documents, testimonials, videos, statistics and serious studies, are reduced to such a small number of people that they do not rely on a platform to discuss the contents.

To this situation we are already working on a series of testimonials, with people who lived, worked, fell in love and started families, and dreamed during the Republic. Men and women who are a living treasure because of their accumulated experiences and unprejudiced vision of the different realities that nuanced a whole era.

We want to investigate, from the household perspective, how that society felt. How was the health, the education, the exercise of democratic participation (when it existed), the press, the architecture, the cost of living, the markets, the music, the recreational activities, the institutions, the problems of the moment . . . finally, everything that can provide understanding about a tumultuous period, but one that was productive in the construction of the Cuban nation.

We also seek to shed light over many deeds and historical circumstances that have been strongly manipulated or distorted. The objective is not to establish truths or impose visions, but to enrich the debate and provoke a flourishing of knowledge and vital analysis for the current age.

The people who wish to participate in this historical series can contact us through email, by phone, or through mail.

Eliecer Avila, Engineer, (Somos+)

Cubanet, 13 June 2014

Translated by: Bianca Martinez

Spanish post
14 June 2014

“One of the Hallmarks of the Twenty-first Century Will Be Overcoming the Burden of Political Labels” / 14ymedio, Eliecer Avila, Reinaldo Escobar

Eliecer Avila. 14ymedio

Eliecer Avila. 14ymedio

We speak with the founder of the political movement Somos+ (We Are More)

Reinaldo Escobar, Havana | May 30, 2014 – Eliécer Ávila launched the website this week of the political movement Somos+ (We Are More), which he created in June 2013. This 29-year-old computer engineer published a letter to young Cubans asking them to participate in “the reconstruction of the country.”

Question: What are the objectives of this movement?

Answer: We call ourselves Somos+ because we believe that every day there are more of us in Cuba dreaming of a different future. Among our objectives is to start talking among ourselves to know how many of us there are who have different ideas about how the country should be managed, from an economic, political, social point of view with regards to rights and freedoms.

Today we are isolated, and thus we have the idea that we are 11 million people thinking the same thing but not talking to each other about it, because there is neither the necessary confidence nor the platform to serve as a loudspeaker for people to express themselves without fear.
We are aware that in this early stage there will not be many people who want to be part of the movement, but we hope that we can count on a vanguard. We don’t expect to be a mass movement, but we can bring together an important number of responsible and thinking young people around a project for Cuba. We believe that it’s not enough to describe and criticize problems, we have to go from complaints to active participation and this participation implies that we need to organize ourselves. Continue reading

We’re at the Summit! / Eliecer Avila

Outside the government press, how Cubans experience the CELAC Summit.

As often happens with more or less important events that take place in Cuba, all of the radio, TV and written press is focused for days on the preparations undertaken to guarantee the success of the 2nd CELAC Summit.

According to the images shown, it’s clear that there have been important investments in preparing locations, the purchase of equipment and all the paraphernalia demanded by the protocols for the occasion.

Meanwhile, on the streets, the corners of the neighborhoods, and inside their homes, just about every Cuban speaks of nothing but CELAC. Which is logical. No one sees in this merely political instrument any kind of practical benefit for daily life.

Similar news coverage filled the screens and the presses didn’t do much to convey to us the daily sessions of the of the World Festival of Youth and Students in Quito-2013. The event left the country with tens of thousands of dollars spent and zero real gain in any area of daily interest.

Now, the press, or the government, announces with special emphasis another meeting where integrationist and anti-imperialist — or more to the point, anti-American — speeches will be delivered, leaving another million dollar bill for Cuba and nothing concrete for Cubans.

If we calculate how many kilometers of highway could be built, or how many buildings could be repaired, or how many buses could be bought with what is spent on the interminable list of international events that the government sponsors every year, and we can imagine how much we might advance of the State’s priority wasn’t, exclusively, politics.

However, interventions, at least rhetorically, have their attractions. They will speak of “brother countries and peoples,” but in practice none of our “brothers” will stop asking us for visas, letters of invitation and exceptional guarantees that make it ever more difficult to complete the paperwork to be able to visit them.

We are very special brothers, however, Venezuelans and Cubans. The rulers just say we share 99% of our genetics, but at the level of the people — with the exception of those who join official missions and travel to the country for this work — we carry ourselves like the most distant strangers. Anyone would think that a decade earlier with the fervor around bilateral relations, today we would have something that seems like a treaty of free movement of citizens, by which a Cuban family could decide to spend a week traveling in any Venezuelan state or vice versa.

This could be extended to Bolivia, Ecuador, Argentina or Brazil. In fact, among the South American countries there are mechanisms that favor mobility, employment, trade, regional tourism, communications, etc… But Cuba, or rather the people of Cuba, continue to be isolated and absent in these concrete and palpable realities; although from within our oyster, we are surrounded by a sea of “defensive” barriers, and we continue to pretend to be the most normal country in the world.

Outside of summits and rare brotherhoods, the issues that in reality concern us beat more strongly than ever; issues that the national press, concerned about official communications, not speaking or doing it in an imperceptible way: the grotesque mockery represented by the issue of car sales, the state crusade against the sel-employed, the ever more

The list is long, but the patience of a people who accept a government with a political agenda totally divorced from the their most pressing needs and aspirations seems even longer.

Diario de Cuba, 27 January 2014, Eliécer Ávila

The Revolution Hasn’t Been Well Done But It’s Been Excellently Edited / Eliecer Avila

HAVANA, Cuba, November www.cubanet.org- Today no one doubts that much of the knowledge (still rare) that people in Cuba have about the people and projects of civil society, opposed to the political system, has been possible thanks to the dissemination of alternative materials in all formats, but especially in video. Thousands of discs, flash memories and other digital media have circulated from hand to hand in recent years, spontaneously creating the largest truly citizen network covering every corner of the island.

That’s why today we proudly present to Claudio, someone who has long been in the shadows, working tirelessly in the editing of the majority of the programs such as Estado de SATS, Citizens’ Reasons and many other initiatives.

Until yesterday Claudio had to be divided into little pieces, often using the wee hours of the morning to dedicate to us some time for each one us who lined up looking for his help to conceive, film and edit some material. This noble and intelligent young man deserves a gold medal for patiently enduring the demands of ao many friends who tried to be “Directors” of videos.

But he does not want to be irreplaceable, on the contrary, he is promoting a project that will give voice to more people and raise the quality of what is generated within the heart of a society that takes on, from the independent side, the tasks that State media should be developing to sustain us and instead deceive us.

His project is to provide digital editing workshops in several provinces. So far 11 students have passed the course in Havana and Santa Clara; in a few days four more will be ready.

“I’m doing nothing more than making a small contribution to democratize access to audiovisual media, technologically empowering citizens to develop their civic activism or sometimes, simply, so they can make a living without depending on the State, which always asks for something in return …  says the Prof.

In my experience, I can say that in learning to edit I have learned to observe, to decipher and therefore to understand the intentionality of what we Cubans are shown daily and what I see now on Telesur, the Venezuelan TV station that is now broadcast in Cuba.

In the case of Cuba, I can now affirm that the Revolution has not been well done, but it has been excellently edited.

Eliecer Avila, Leocuba001@gmail.com

Cubanet, 13 November 2013

Eliezer Avila Commits to a Green Party / Lilianne Ruiz

3-300x212Cubanet interviewed Eliezer Avila, the computer scientist who once faced Ricardo Alarcon, former president of the National Assembly. He moved to the capital in order to participate more directly in the changes in civil society.

What have you been doing in your public life lately?

Since I arrived in Europe I have focused on my personal life. One of my biggest frustrations was that I’ve always lived nearly 500 miles from the capital (in Puerto Padre, Las Tunas). I had to take a bus or a train and travel sometimes for days in order to participate in public life, which is not only all that is written which overseas readers may read, but what happens in debates within of Cuba, within the intelligentsia who, with or without criticism, is what touches us.

We must mention the debates of the journals Temas [Themes], Espacio Laical [Lay Space], a series of good debates, in which I want to participate. Then, making an effort to be able to insert myself in a more coherent and consistent way in public life, I have had to spend the last two months to stabilize my life in the city of Havana.

From your previous social work we perceived you as a human rights activist and then a freelance journalist. But you have defined yourself as a politician.  So: What political leaning do you identify with? Socialism, Social Democracy, Liberalism?

Bayley interviews Eliecer

Bayley interviews Eliecer

I said in an interview with Bayly (in Miami) recently, that I define myself as a rational politician, perhaps a mix of “liberal center.” The truth is that I have infinite belief in individual freedom as the sole driving force of initiative, progress, the maximum effort to get ahead, and freedom. Now, I also believe in social responsibility, and I believe in a government that offers opportunities.

In European politics,  as far as I could see, especially in the Nordic countries, there is a strong tendency for political rationality. That is, the issue we are talking about is the specific issue of what we should do. We don’t have to look through black or white glasses. We are going to study the issue in its totality and make a decision that at times could be a little to the left and at times a little to the right. The truth is it’s looking for the better good. I lean that way.

There are a ton of projects there that don’t consider economics, but the tendency of the left says that we have to do them because they sustain a group of services, of subsidies, because this is a social policy of interest to the left. But, well, it’s an economic disaster, that ends up undoing the policy itself because of the lack of resources to sustain what remains on the large screening, that can’t even sustain itself, and then, which way do I lean? For a balance between what is efficient and what is necessary.

Although you have defined yourself as a politician, Somos + [We Are More] is not a party but a movement. Has it been founded yet?

We are at the stage of conceptualization. I’m trying to gather a nucleus of people, especially young people; university students, workers. I’m looking for young people who aspire to have a future in Cuba. We can design a proposal addressing different subjects, in accordance with our dreams for a future for everyone in the country, including those who today make up a part of any  political tendency.

The new acquisition of Somos + is a specialist in biology, who is designing the policy proposals in the environmental field, which in Cuban is disarmed. We want to have economists, sociologists, workers. That is, we want to have a directing nucleus of the Movement as diverse and comprehensive as possible. And we are engaged in this effort. We have not yet officially launched the Movement.

You also said that the Movement could accept some communists as members. What, then, is is precisely the purpose of Somos +?

P8230031-300x225The point of departure of our Movement should be, above all, the most common demands of the largest possible number of Cubans. I know Communists who are Democrats. So, we are associating with tendency to the left, a hegemonic opinion, dictatorial, that doesn’t have to be that way. In Spain there are communists, in France, in Canada, the United States is full of communists who are democrats. Because they respects the rights of everyone else who are not communists to compete politically, fair and square, and to create a social balance, based on what we all think. Then, you can have whatever political position you have and at the same time be a democrat. What I will always defend is that our Movement is democracy. There’s no room for doubt about that. We will not accept people who are not democrats, that’s it. But for me, I don’t think it’s necessary to label people and ask them what color they are for them to be, in one way or another, a part of the Movement…

Have you been inspired by any movement within or outside Cuba to conceive the idea of the Somos+ Movement?

I would say I’ve had very broad influences. I have had excellent conversations with leaders of movements in Cuba. For example, José Daniel Ferrer, a person I admire and respect very much. Other people who are not actually a political movement, but they do have some very interesting ideas for the future of Cuba , such as Antonio Rodiles, Yoani Sanchez, Dagoberto Valdés and well, a long list… They have nurtured me in all this, but also the trip to Europe, especially to northern Europe, where I think they are the most balanced politics in the world… The German Green Party really left me very inspired… I like doing politics that way. A relaxed politics, no angry grand passions that try to move the world, a conversational politics. I saw in the German Parliament the most heated political discussions, and then everyone has a glass of wine, hugs each other, shakes hands.

This to me seems to be the best example I’ve seen of what we have on a small island. We don’t have to have these great conflicts that some people want to encourage until they’re unsalvageable. We have the same language, the same idiosyncrasies, we have the same aspirations. What do we want? A state of decent comfort, of dignity, a freedom of information that allows us to be believe we have entered the world, and we are not in a small cave in the Caribbean and that we are not part of the development.

We want to be respected for our work, we want to be paid, and according to this we can have the life we deserve.

Why are you leading Somos + instead of joining one of the already established movements within the opposition?

It has always seemed necessary to me for a new seed to be born, a new flower, that is not conditioned, permeated by a group of things that can be positive or negative but that have been longstanding.

It is good to assume responsibility for success if we achieve it, but also bear the weight of failure if it comes to that. It is very interesting to travel this whole road, we have the right, as a new generation, to make mistakes, to forge our way, to be neither better nor worse than those who started earlier and whose work I respect.

Now I want to ask questions to get an idea of your profile: What books do you read, what music do you like, what movies do you remember?

eliecerprimerplano_651.jpg-300x152I like old music, from the ‘70s and ‘80s, in English and in Spanish. As I am a computer scientist I’m passionate about programming sometimes whole nights, whole weeks, without going to bed, listening to a lot of hard rock, “System of a Down,” “Nightwish.” Movies: I very much like historic films, and adventures. I like all the movies about World War II, including the reflections of those who make you questions yourself, to think about the essence of humanity itself, above all, this capacity to create hatred. I really like “Life is Beautiful.” At the same time I very much like movies that exalt human valor. In books, as in movies, and in music, I like true stories. I was reading “The Rage and the Pride” by Oriana Fallaci. I finished reading the novels of Padura. I like Cuban writers who defined an era, with a writing that was very brave for its time, because it was ahead of many things that happened then.

How do you intend to add more people to Somos +, taking into account the fear that people have of reprisals from the government with its repressive apparatus?

First, I don’t think I should feel badly that no one has beaten me, I haven’t been in jail. Then, I think it is normal that it happens, that many people tell me, “I don’t want to sign up, I don’t want anything to happen to me.” You have to show these people that they are standing on safe ground. A ground in which I have confidence and which anyone can also rely on because there is nothing hidden. Political transparency can, in every sense, be a weapon that will help us to add many people.

The underground Cuban opposition has its advantages and disadvantages. One of the greatest fears that I have is that once we engage in politics in a democracy, too many people were accustomed to hiding.

This recent event with the musician Roberto Carcasses asking for changes at the concert of September 12, do you think it’s a sign of new times ?

I think so, recently I was talking to my wife. There are many people who are willing to assume some measure of responsibility for what touches them, according to their place in society, and I mean artists, intellectuals, many people who have responsibilities within the media …

People who travel, and Robertico Carcassés is one of them, they realize that in the whole world today a new wave is happening, they sometimes say, “Well good, the Arab countries are being shaken up.” I think the whole world is being shaken up…. These people who travel, who leave, they are seeing everything that is happening, when they get to Cuba it’s like traveling back in time 54 years… Sometimes there are situations like that of Robertico Carcasses, which I think it was mostly an awakening of consciousness that marks a before and after. It marks a precedent, as did what happened at the University of Information Sciences (UCI) as well.

With that speech I had the opportunity to make … It raised the bar a little of what would be done and what could be criticized, and after there was a trend in the newspaper Granma, in the News, of creating spaces where people began to discuss a set of issues . Well, I think it is very healthy and very necessary for a country to have things happen like with Robertico Carcassés … Far from being the exception, it should be the rule.

It’s said that the reforms within Raul Castro’s government are a fraudulent change, and that one of their tactics is the replace the real opposition, organic within the society, with what the spokespeople themselves have called a “loyal opposition.” If you agree with this opinion, what do you think of this phenomenon?

Today what we have in this second stage, to give it a name, in the government of Raul Castro, is a setback, including a discourse that already seems to come from the past. We have seen once again the pioneers reciting with their neck veins bulging, almost in the style of the “open platform.” We have reading in the newspaper again these discourses that label things “Revolutionary” and “truly Revolutionary,”or that abuse the word Revolutionary.

Yes, but when I gave the example of what they call loyal opposition, I was thinking of places like the official blogosphere, where there is a certain amount of criticism, but it is fabricated by the government to create an impression of openness…

I also include that in what I was saying. In any of those spaces even La Joven Cuba could enter, but the result is that you can fool some of the people some of the time, but you can not fool All of the people forever. These spaces were opened and people began to feel a catharsis there. It turns out that criticism is only the first link in a chain of a process that should end with political decisions. Then, something very interesting has happened in Cuba, it is that we have already talked too much. We bring too many years of criticizing.

Lilianne Ruiz, From Cubanet

4 October 2013