Cuban Musicians Are Freeing Themselves / 14ymedio, Lilianne Ruiz

JouMP’s alternative recording studio, “Espacio Latino Records.” (14y medio)

JouMP’s alternative recording studio, “Espacio Latino Records.” (14y medio)

14ymedio, Lilianne Ruiz, Havana, 12 January 2016 – In an apartment located in a dingy, rundown concrete building of Havana’s Plaza district, dozens of musicians have made the dream of recording their songs come true. Here we find one of those “home studios” that are becoming essential for the Cuban music scene, and especially for the online market.

A couple of years ago, nineteen year-old Claudia Pérez chose a new more “intriguing” name befitting a “grand diva,” Nina. However, her vocal and performance talents will not get her very far without the backing of a musical expert and an independent producer.

JouMP, a music producer and editor, owns the studio where Nina recorded her first singles. It is composed of a single room with wood paneling, pompously advertising itself as “Espacio Latino Records.” JouMP spends hours in his studio, insulated from street noise, mixing musical effects and composing songs. Continue reading

Social Status is in the Cake / 14ymedio, Lilianne Ruiz

A bride looks at the multi-tiered cake designed for her wedding. (DC)

A bride looks at the multi-tiered cake designed for her wedding. (DC)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Lilianne Ruiz, Havana, 23 January 2016 — A cake in the shape of a camera, figures of the newlyweds modeled in sugar, or the Real Madrid team emblem are some of the offerings of a private company that arranges weddings and birthday parties. The company enjoys a growing number of customers in a society where the quality and height of the cakes has become a status symbol.

How many tiers will the cake have? The answer to this question demonstrates one’s economic solvency and widens the gap between those who can afford a pile of sugar and meringue, with fountains, LED lights and a layer of chocolate, and those who will have to make do with a sponge cake made at home with much ingenuity and few ingredients. Continue reading

Cuban Middle Class Takes Over ‘Proletarian’ Neighborhoods / 14ymedio, Lilianne Ruiz

The 12-story buildings are the most common, followed by those with 18 or 14 floors, built with the technique of prefabricated pieces. (14ymedio)

The 12-story buildings are the most common, followed by those with 18 or 14 floors, built with the technique of prefabricated pieces. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Lilianne Ruiz, Havana, 22 December 2015 — “These buildings are earthquake resistant,” says the owner of an apartment for sale in a Havana neighborhood. The potential buyer listens incredulous, looking out from the balcony at other concrete blocks in the surrounding area. What was once a working-class neighborhood, where work and political “merits” were needed to get an apartment, is now becoming the scene of an emerging middle class.

Across the whole country, especially in the provincial capitals, tall buildings were erected in the decades of the seventies and eighties. Twelve stories is most common, followed by those with 18 or 14 floors, constructed from prefabricated pieces. The highest, at 26 floors, were built using the then novel approach of sliding formwork technology.

The so-called Microbrigade* Buildings, have become synonymous with the socialist architecture of Eastern Europe, transplanted to the tropics. It came to be predicted that these giants would replace Cuba’s traditional architecture, and shelter the New Man. Today, despite their exterior ugliness, many of the apartments are bought by an emerging middle class that aspires to see Cuba “from above.” Continue reading

The Path To Learning, Paved With Politics / 14ymedio, Lilianne Ruiz

“We give her a lot of fantasies, fairy tales, and craft books to read, to offset what she receives in school,” says her grandmother. (Lilianne Ruiz)

“We give her a lot of fantasies, fairy tales, and craft books to read, to offset what she receives in school,” says her grandmother. (Lilianne Ruiz)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Lilianne Ruiz, Havana, 15 December 2015 — “On the path of Martí, with the guidance of Fidel, for the homeland and socialism: Moncadistas* always ready.” With that motto the school day begins every morning for Claudia Martinez, a fifth grader in Havana’s Plaza district whose parents try to soften at home the ideological excesses of Cuban public education.

The girl learned to read with stories of combat, biographies Sierra Maestra fighters and anti-imperialist slogans. Of the 222 pages in the current edition of the first grade reading book, 21 pages are dedicated to teaching the official version of the Cuban Revolution and its political figures. Guns and olive green uniforms abound in its illustration, although few would expect such a profusion of military themes in a children’s reader. Continue reading

For Cuban Scientists Paradise Is Abroad / 14ymedio, Lilianne Ruiz

The subsidies that accompany scholarships abroad is also a motivation to apply for them. (CC)

The subsidies that accompany scholarships abroad is also a motivation to apply for them. (CC)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Lilianne Ruiz, Havana, 6 November 2015 – He arrived in Berlin without a single euro in his pocket and with a pound of beans in his suitcase. Ariel Urquiola remembers his arrival in Germany to do post-doctoral work at Humboldt University’s Leibniz Institute. His departure from Cuba, like that of so many young specialists, was motivated by the desire to do serious science.

After graduating and earning a doctorate in cellular and molecular biology, Urquiola felt he had reached his peak inside the island. He was looking for a laboratory where he could examine zoological specimens but the lack of available technology didn’t allow him to study in his own country.

“Here I could work with at most one species, and in year have limited results,” he related during a visit to Cuba. “In contrast, in Germany, in just a month and a half I was able to process 503 samples,” that had arrived in Berlin from Cuba through institutional channels, he related with satisfaction. Continue reading

An Interview of a Friend / Lilianne Ruiz

Lilianne Ruiz, 9 October 2015 — Oscar needs visibility to get them to stop bothering him in his work just because he is the person he is and because he defends his identity. Typical of those systems where they try to prevent any participation, initiative, voting, creativity. Imagine what kind of hell it is when those who are violent, idle, less intelligent, those who repress, restrict the freedom of the rest.

This interview with Oscar Casanella, my friend, is late appearing in other media and so I am publishing it in my blog.

Oscar Casanella Saint-Blancard has a degree in Biochemistry and is a researcher at the National Institute of Oncology and Radiobiology (INOR). He is also an adjunct professor of Immunology with the Faculty of Biology of the University of Havana, where he has taught without receiving wages since 2006. Despite all the services he offers to society, Casanella has been continually harassed by the political police from Thursday 5 December 2013, when he planned to throw a party to welcome home Ciro Javier Díaz Penedo, a graduate in Mathematics from the University of Havana and a musician in the punk rock band “Porno para Ricardo,” who has been his friend for twenty years and who was returning to Cuba. Continue reading

Anybody Can Have a Bad Day / Lilianne Ruiz

Lili under the sea

Lilianne Ruiz, 22 September 2015 — A great friend always tells me, “When something unpleasant happens to you, just say, ’This happens to us because we are alive.’”  I have wanted to be as delicate as a flower but I must admit that life is not like that, and the hard knocks, some of them, are like a box of chocolates. We must have great expectations and be determined to realize them, or, at least, to start on the path to doing so. Over here there are a bunch of decadent people, it is true, but the sun keeps rising every day, and life is so beautiful.

Today, I am gifting myself this poem by Octavio Paz, that appears in Rayuela, and I am sharing it with everyone with whom I speak today, because it has always moved me.

Here

My steps on this street
re-echo
on another street
where
I hear my steps
passing on this street
where

Only the fog is real.

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

Several Reasons to Support #Otro18* / Lilianne Ruiz

Lilianne Ruiz (standing, middle) and her husband, Manuel Cuesta Morua (standing, left) with others in Havana

Lilianne Ruiz, 8 September 2015 — I have already written this before in my blog. I want to live in my country and to know that my power as a citizen is intact, that with my vote I participate in the legal architecture that governs the small details of our lives. Never more than now.

Because now, for example, our children are learning artificial values in school, that are not their families’ values. Children in elementary school, teenagers and our young people, in the entire school system, are inculcated with the terror of a State that does not respect the values of our families. The values that can only be transmitted through the family are missing in this country.

Today I have to accept that my 8-year-old daughter cries before she goes to school, because she has lost the badge that should be hanging from a button on her blouse that says “José Martí Pioneers Organization.” Continue reading

“We Will Be More Effective In Promoting Human Rights,” Says Kerry’s Assistant / 14ymedio, Lilianne Ruiz

Tom Malinowski (Flickr)

Tom Malinowski (Flickr)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Lilianne Ruiz, Havana, 27 August 2016 — In mid-August Tom Malinowski was part of the delegation accompanying John Kerry during his visit to Cuba. The Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights was not only present at the raising of the flag at the embassy in Havana, but met behind closed doors with a group of Cuban activists in the residence of the US charge d’affaires.

Some questions of concern to Cuban civil society and the Cuban exile were included in the questionnaire that Malinowski agreed to answer for 14ymedio via e-mail.

Lilianne Ruiz. Several groups within the Cuban community believe that the historical commitment of the United States in favor of the democratization of the island has weakened since the restoration of diplomatic relations between the two countries.What can you respond to this?

Tom Malinowski. The commitment of my Government to promote universal human rights and democratic principles in Cuba remains as strong as before, as Secretary of State, John Kerry, said during the opening ceremony of the embassy in Havana on August 14. Continue reading

4-star Cockroaches / 14ymedio, Lilianne Ruiz

Facade of the Plaza Hotel in Old Havana (14ymedio)

Facade of the Plaza Hotel in Old Havana (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Lilianne Ruiz, Havana, 26 August 2015 – When Francina Islas and Juan Andres Sanchez planned their Cuban vacation from Miami, they didn’t imagine that their stay in Havana would become a sequence of discomforts and annoyances. Three days at the centrally-located Hotel Plaza was enough to know that the excellence of Cuban tourist facilities is often a publicity mirage with no connection to reality.

The latest figures released by the National Bureau of Statistics indicate that the country experienced a 21.1% increase in foreign visitors between January and May of 2015, compared the same period from a year ago. However, at the same time that the number of tourists was increasing, customer demands were increasing.

The couple who shared their experience with 14ymedio said, “We were not looking for luxury, just minimal conditions of hygiene and maintenance, working hot water, no cockroaches,” said Francina, a Mexican traveling with her Spanish husband and their daughter.

With difficulty, the family managed to book a room in Havana from Spain. The flood of tourists has left little availability in the accommodation network which includes 430 establishments throughout the country, including hotels, apartment hotels, motels, villas, hostels, houses, cottages and campgrounds. Continue reading

Cuban Activists Discuss the Diplomatic Normalization with the United States / 14ymedio

Cuban activists in the meeting on Monday at the headquarters of "Hannah Arendt Institute of Artivism."(14ymedio)

Cuban activists in the meeting on Monday at the headquarters of “Hannah Arendt Institute of Artivism.”(14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 10 August 2015 – Under the title “Diplomatic Normalization and Democratic Normalization,” an even this Monday brought together some 25 Cuban activists of different points of view. The site of the meeting was the “Hannah Arendt Institute of Artivism” in Old Havana.

The panel in the morning meeting discussed diplomatic normalization with the United States and the political dialog that the Cuban government is holding with the European Union. Specifically, they dealt with “the effects on the generation strategies of Cuban civil society and the democratic opposition.”

The event was attended by dissidents and activists from several organizations, including Juan Antonio Madrazo, Pedro Campos, Laritza Diversent, Felix Navarro, Jorge Olivera, Tania Bruguera, Navid Fernandez, Eroisis Gonzalez, Boris Gonzalez and Lilianne Ruiz, among others.

The meeting took place a few days before the Secretary of State of the United States, John Kerry, will come to Havana to attend the reopening ceremony of the embassy of that country in Cuban territory. So far Kerry’s agenda on the island has not been made public, nor is it known whether it will include a meeting with activists and government opponents.

Almendrón Stories / 14ymedio, Lilianne Ruiz

The almendrones that abound in Havana retain the original body but the mechanical part is almost always modern. (Lilianne Ruiz / 14ymedio)

The almendrones that abound in Havana retain the original body but the mechanical part is almost always modern. (Lilianne Ruiz / 14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Lilianne Ruiz, Havana, 17 June 2015 — Noisy and filthy, with an air of Hollywood films of the 50s, they often evoke the words of Galileo: “And yet it moves.” The almendrones*, pre-1959 cars that abound in Havana, retain their original bodies but the mechanical parts are almost always modern.

A 1954 Ford may contain a Hyundai gas engine designed for minibus, a Mitsubishi transmission, a Toyota differential, Suzuki Vitara hydraulic steering, a Peugeot dashboard, Moskovich disk brakes from the Soviet era, a Mercedes Benz master cylinder, with the chassis and grill original to the make.

This combination means that the spherical steering system might not last three months with Havana’s potholes, or the emergency brakes may not work well. It’s a violation of the laws of physics and engineers if the weight of the car doesn’t match the brake system. Still and all, we have the perception that 90% of the cars circulating in the Cuban capital are almendrones. Continue reading

From Villa Marista They Threaten to Delay Angel Santiesteban’s Release / Lilianne Ruiz

Angel in an earlier prison where he was held for a while.

Angel in an earlier prison where he was held for a while.

Lilianne Ruiz, 12 June 2015 –Last Saturday, officials of Section 21 of the Ministry of the Interior returned to take Santiesteban  from the prison where he is held in Jaimanita to Villa Marista. There he spent twelve hours in an office listening to threats from two MININT officers who told him “Why would we free you if some Sunday you’re going to meet with the Ladies in White and we’ll put you back in prison.”

Angel got two and a half years in prison, although the Ministry of Justice accepted the appeal for review of the judgment filed by his lawyer, which showed that he was a victim of a spurious trial, because of the slanders of his ex-wife. This June he is rightfully entitled to parole. His friends and family hope he will be released before the September visit of the Supreme Pontiff of the Catholic Church. Continue reading

Wheeling and Dealing with Plastic / 14ymedio, Lilianne Ruiz

Plastic footwear stall at the market of La Cuevita (14ymedio)

Plastic footwear stall at the market of La Cuevita (14ymedio)

Markets all over the Island are supplied with objects made on the illegal circuit of a material mostly derived from industrial waste or leftovers from the dump

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Lilianne Ruiz, Havana, 20 March 2015 – At the market of La Cuevita in San Miguel del Padron, some thousand people from all over the Island daily buy household goods, flip-flops and toys, all made of plastic. The purchasers come especially from rural areas where the economic situation is more precarious and the only thing that abounds is scarcity.

In order to sell in the market it is necessary to have a state license and a letter signed by the producers, also authorized, from whom the articles must be bought. The inspectors who pass through the sales stalls may require this letter, but in practice they pass with hand extended seeking money in exchange for not imposing a fine of 1,500 pesos on whomever Continue reading

The ‘Sandor Case’ / 14ymedio, Lilianne Ruiz

Known as "The BimBom 23 and Malecón" this is one of the meeting points for pingueros. (14ymedio)

Known as “The BimBom 23 and Malecón” this is one of the meeting points for “pingueros.” (14ymedio)

  • In tribute to El Caso de Sandra (The Sandra Case) by Luis Manuel García Méndez

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Lilianne Ruiz, Havana, 30 January 2015 — A farmer wakes up before dawn to brand with a burning iron the last cow he has left. It’s a ritual of pain and possession. A tourist brands a young person in one of Havana’s cabarets and takes them to bed in exchange for some money. The brands are different, but both as permanent.

Sandor was born in the countryside and was raised to be rough. When he reached adolescence he had already castrated and slaughtered pigs. His wide shoulders, olive skin, and oriental eyes earned him town-wide fame as being “hot.” Since he was young he felt the pressure of desiring other men Continue reading