Cuba’s Independent Artists Denounce the "State of Exception" They’ve Faced Since 1959

Yanelys Núñez, Nonardo Perea, Amaury Pacheco, Iris Ruiz, Luis Manuel Otero, Soandry del Río, and Michel Matos in a protest action against Decree 349. (Facebook)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana | 17 September 2018 — The group of independent artists who since July have been carrying out a campaign against Decree 349 reports that “since the triumph of the Revolution, in 1959, there has existed a state of exception when it comes to the freedom of artistic creation and expression” in Cuba and that a considerable number of “creators and cultural projects have flourished from their own will and creative capacity, but then been taken down by the powers and the official institutions that rule national life.”

The text is part of the San Isidro Manifesto, presented this past Wednesday by the group as one more of their actions against the rule that regulates artistic presentations in private spaces and against which they have been mobilizing since July. The document, which is circulating on media, is signed by Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara, Yanelys Núñez, Amaury Pacheco, Iris Ruiz, Michel Matos, Hamlet Lavastida, Soandry del Río, Verónica Vega, Lía Villares, Yasser Castellanos, and Tania Brugera, among others. continue reading

Its launch took place at the venue of the Museum of Politically Uncomfortable Art (MAPI), in the San Isidro neighborhood of Old Havana, and musicians, poets, writers, audiovisual directors, producters, and plastics artists joined the act.

Yanelys Núñez read the text, which invites “any individual who feels like part of this phenomenon that today we call ‘the independent'” to participate in the campaign aimed at the repeal of Decree 349, and urges a dialogue that will allow the review of cultural policies that the State institutions are attempting to impose.

Later, the attendees made a pilgrimage to the Malecon to ask the patron of Cuba, the Virgin of Charity of El Cobre, for the annulment of the law.

The manifesto mantains that the law “legitimizes the use of judicial action to punish the free creation and determination” that belongs to them as artists and individuals and says that it “stimulates corruption” through the creation of the figure of the supervisor-inspector “taking into account that inspectors are one of the most corrupt sectors of the regulatory apparatus of the State.”

On July 10 the Council of Ministers approved Decree 349, focused on “the violations regarding cultural policy and over the provision of artistic services” which will enter into full force in December.

The artists who defend the repeal of the law believe that this “is destined not only to control and intimidate artists and creators from various branches of the national culture, but also in the private business sector, to impede a natural and organic relationship inside the different spheres of Cuban society.” In addition, they believe that it “threatens with legal warnings, fines, and seizures of equipment or property used as a platform for the creation and dissemination of independent works.”

The decree grants to the “supervisor-inspector,” they emphasize, the authority to suspend immediately any performance or show that he understands to violate the law, having the ability to go to the extreme of canceling the self-employment license to practice work.

“We understand exactly that any nation in the world must regulate its internal activities, receive taxes if those become lucrative, just as they must safeguard internal order and peace,” point out the artists. However, in their view it is “inadmissable to accept the existence of a confusion of laws” that only aims to control the artistic sector and “punish it for its independent expression and action.”

The group of artists believes that the “only logical aim” this law appears to have is to maintain “the ideological primacy in a highly centralized state.”

Some of the artists complain that the official press has tried to distort the intention and origin of the campaign against Decree 349 and clarify that they are only asking institutions to listen to them and that they are not calling for “either neither anarchy nor confrontation.”

However, they maintain that these laws and rules are impossible to comply with because “they don’t adjust to the national reality at the present time” and because they are “abusive, disproportionate, and they violate international norms and agreements.” For this they direct their proclamation “to all men and women of good will” and invite their support.

“We are determined to come together as a group to begin a collection of sociocultural actions like this as calls for international attention to halt the imposition of a complex of laws that insults all Cubans,” they state.

On more than one occasion this group has suffered political repression for trying to carry out public acts to support and defend their campaign against the decree. On August 11 various artists who wanted to participate in a concert at the MAPI venue suffered the repression of police who showed up at the place along with officials from State Security to stop the action. On that day, which ended with the detention of several of the artists, neighbors from the San Isidro neighborhood went out to the street to condemn the conduct of those in uniform.

Translated by: Sheilagh Carey

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

"He said to me ’you’re a faggot’ and stuck his knife in me"

Campos is a promoter of the Network of Men who have sex with other men (HSH), associated with the Ministry of Public Health. (Y.C.)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 12 September 2018 — “I was the fly on that night’s cake for them,” laments Yoan Campos Guevara, 26, the young man who was attacked with a knife on Friday in Villa Clara in what appears to be homophobic assault. The son of singer Juan Carlos Campos, he lives in Caibarién and was leaving a party organized by the local LGBTI community at ‘Juanito’s Easy Chair’ when he was attacked, as he explained to 14ymedio from the Arnaldo Milián Castro Provincial Hospital in Santa Clara, where he is recovering from the surgery he underwent after the attack.

“Almost everyone had gone home but I stayed a little longer, there were five boys none of whom, as far as the little I could see, were older than 18. They stopped behind me, but I did not turn around. I finally got up to leave, I already had one of them behind me,” says Campos, who feels able to identify his main attacker. “When he was behind me, he said, ’You’re a faggot,’” and he buried a blade in me which didn’t hurt. I started to get scared when I felt something hot coming out of my back, and when I put my hands there I saw the blood running down,” he continues. continue reading

Yoan Campos Guevara is a dental assistant at the Pablo Agüero Guedes de Caibarién Polyclinic and promoter of the Network of Men who have sex with other men (HSH), associated with the Ministry of Health (Minsap) and in coordination with the Cenesex, which is directed by Raul Castro’s daughter, Mariela Castro.

Although now he admits to feeling “pretty good,” his voice, clear and strong, fades away when he remembers what happened. “I ran out to get help, but it was 4:30 in the morning and no one was going to get involved with a badly injured person, so two security guards at a nearby hotel — because this happened in a relatively public place, it was not in the dark — they put me on a scooter,” he says.

Campos, who did not lose consciousness, relates that on that trip he saw his attackers. “They were walking very happy, like someone who had thrown water on a dog,” he laments. Seeing them walking along the road “as if it was nothing” and “without any remorse” took away his desire to forgive them and he now announces that he will take it to the end to make the guilty ones pay for their crimes.

A few minutes after he was admitted, a policeman came to inform him of the arrest of the alleged perpetrators, who are from Santa Clara, and told him that the weapon used was a knife. “They have been informing me of everything and I have learned that one of the boys was responsible for the stabbing and is awaiting trial, they also say that he confessed, and that the other four are still detained,” he says.

The specialists at the hospital in Caibarién where he was initially admitted managed to stop the bleeding. He was later transferred to Remedios, where his wound was sutured and he had blood tests, but finally he had to be taken to Santa Clara because some of the blood had passed into his lung. According to his testimony, Remedios’ surgeon warned him that “if the wound had been a few millimeters higher” it would have pierced his heart.

His father, the well-known tenor Juan Carlos Campos, explained that at the hospital “they put a drain on his side because the knife cut caused a pneumothorax (collapsed lung) and he had blood and air in his lung.”Also, this Tuesday they did some tests that will be evaluated today by the doctors to decide whether to remove part of the drain and they will evalute later if he can be discharged, at best, at the end of this week.

Juan Carlos Campos believes that there is a set of people who are “homophobic and half criminals who are doing nothing and are a danger. He was on his cell phone, communicating after the holidays when everything happened,” says the father of the young man about that night, as if he wanted to go back in time. “The people in the neighborhood, his friends and all his co-workers” have been calling the hospital to find out about his son because “everyone loves him very much,” he says with satisfaction.

Yoan Campos was operated on after the knife attack for a perforated lung. (Y.C.)

Yoan Campos, who confesses that he never thought something like this could happen to him, feels very grateful for the attention that his co-workers, friends and the LGBTI community have shown for his condition. “The provincial coordinator of the Network of men who have sex with other men visited me here. I did not expect that attention on a human level,” he says.

Pedro Manuel González, an LGBTI activist from the area, told Radio Martí that he is convinced that it is a hate crime because “there is an aversion towards these people.”

In mid-2017, another young homosexual, José Enrique Morales Besada, who lived in Morón, Ciego de Ávila, was beaten in the middle of the street by unknown persons who insulted him for being gay, although his case has not yet reached the courts. In May 2015, this newspaper announced the death by stoning of a 24-year-old transsexual in the city of Pinar del Río, but the official media never published the news.

Thanks to the work of members of the Cuban LGBTI community, more and more information and reports on aggressions and hate crimes can be documented. Although official institutions do not publish statistics on murders or violent acts against transvestites, lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgenders and intersexuals, at present the news filters out through social networks and independent media.

The Cuban Penal Code does not address the concept of “hate crimes” in the case of assaults against people based on ethnic origin, religion, race, gender, orientation and sexual identity. The latter, in particular, are not called out in the current legislation and these crimes are processed by the police and the courts without an aggravating circumstance that takes into account the vulnerability of this group of people.

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

Artists Denounce Decree 349 for "Criminalizing Independent Art"

Addressed to President Miguel Díaz-Canel and Minister of Culture Alpidio Alonso, the letter insists that the decree “not present a vision of the future of culture in Cuba.” (Facebook)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana | 27 August 2018 — A group of artists who have been promoting an intense campaign against Decree 349 since July are continuing to pressure the country’s authorities not to implement this law that demands that “commercial spaces for plastic arts” have prior authorization and be registered in the Creators’ Registry.

Last Thursday a representative of the group presented a letter with their demands to the office of the Attorney General and the National Assembly of People’s Power, as reported to 14ymedio by Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara, one of the visible faces of this initiative. The text, which details several demands and the reasons they are against this regulation, was sent as well to the Council of State and the Ministry of Culture.

Addressed to President Miguel Díaz-Canel and Minister of Culture Alpidio Alonso, the letter insists that the decree “not present a vision of the future for culture in Cuba.” It also denounces the law for “criminalizing independent art” and limiting “the ability of defining who can be an artist to a State institution.” continue reading

Another criticism made by the group of artists to this new law, which will enter into full force in December, is that creators weren’t consulted during its development and that they won’t have the ability to access “resources” or “independent arbitrators” in the case of a legal dispute.

The conceptual vagueness of the text is another point addressed in the letter, a matter that has worried the artists since they learned the content of the law after its publication in the Gazette Special Edition on July 10. One of the examples cited is the expression “contents harmful to ethical and cultural values,” a point that can take different interpretations that are not made explicit in the law. In response to this, the letter insists that art history demonstrates that “questioning the established systems of thought is the driving force of aesthetic development.”

They also mention that the government has dedicated itself to demonizing different mechanisms of independent art financing like crowdfunding. “The fact that a Cuban artist can finance his creations by his own means does not make him an opponent,” and they urge that the state to stop “confusing these platforms with the direct financing of a hostile organization or government.”

The document also announces that Decree 349 “authorizes the Ministry of Culture to designate inspectors” with the ability to “censor and suspend artistic performances, as well as impose fines and confiscate instruments, equipment, self-employment authorization, and goods like property from the house.”

According to the artists, the aim of Decree 349 “is the impoverishment of Cuban culture” and they warn that culture and art “can exist without a ministry, but the Ministry of Culture and the nation cannot exist without the creativity of its citizens.”

The letter that the group has delivered to these institutions is the same one attached to a petition that they are promoting on the platform avaaz.org, which already has 777 signatures. Among the artists who presented the letter are Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara, Yanelys Nuñéz, Iris Ruiz, Nonardo Perea, Amaury Pacheco, Soandry del Río, Yasser Castellanos, and Michel Matos.

Otero Alcántara makes clear that they were “well looked after” and that they received an acknowledgment of receipt but he emphasized the scarce information they received after the delivery of the letter and that only the Council of State communicated to them that the term to receive a response in this case is 60 days. “In the Capitol they told us that there were only three people working and that they didn’t know when they would have a response to give us because there were many cases pending,” he said.

The organizers of the campaign against the decree have claimed that this law is directed toward eliminating the work of independent artists who in recent decades have gained their space working at the margins of institutions.

The campaign #NoAlDecreto349, which has carried out various public actions to make the situation visible, has had the solidarity of numerous Cuban artists on social media, both on and off the island, who practice different artistic disciplines such as cinema and music. Writers, actors, and well-known plastics artists have also shown their support.

On at least two occasions the artists of this group were suppressed by force by State Security agents and the police during public protest acts. The most recent took place when they tried to hold a concert at the venue of the Museum of Politically Uncomfortable Art. Previously they tried to hold a performance on the steps of the Capitol.

Translated by: Sheilagh Carey

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

Fifteen Artists Denounce "Legalized Censorship"

Artists against decree 349 during the debate this Wednesday and Thursday. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 3 August 2018 — A group of independent artists has decided to confront Decree 349 which regulates the dissemination of culture and catalogs its content, calling it “legalized censorship.”  Fifteen creators meeting this week in Havana agreed to carry out actions to show their resistance to some of the measures that affect the alternative sector and activities on private premises.

For two days, Wednesday and Thursday, at the headquarters of the Museum of Politically Uncomfortable Art (MAPI) in Old Havana, the artists debated the Law Decree that will take effect in December.  Before its application, the legislation is already making waves, especially among musicians, comedians and other artists who perform in clubs and restaurants managed by the private sector.

The artist Luis Manuel Otero Alcantara says that the independent artists, who are not affiliated with any Ministry of Culture entity, are not against “paying taxes for personal income,” given that they can be used to qualify for retirement.  “We have said no because we think it has to do with legalizing censorship and making us prisoners for the simple fact that we have a different way of thinking than a certain system,” he says. continue reading

Decree 349 establishes rigid rules about presentations in private or state spaces for musicians and other creators.  In every case the artists must have prior authorization from the cultural institution with which they will be affiliated obligatorily, which can directly affect those who work outside of those state entities.

The content of presentations and work also will be regulated.  The places where music is disseminated or artistic activities developed “in which violence is generated with sexist, vulgar, discriminatory or obscene language” may receive penalties ranging from a fine to cancellation of the license to operate privately.  This measure may fundamentally affect urban genres like reggaeton and also humorists.

The controls will extend to book seller stalls where it is forbidden to sell volumes “with content that is harmful to ethical or cultural values,” a restriction that could end the private distrbution of works by Government-censored authors such as Mario Vargas Llosa and Vaclav Havel, among others.

During the first day’s debale at MAPI the artists unanimously denounced “the vagueness” of the law that can be “interpreted in many ways.”  In more than one session the constant use in the text of the expression “political culture” was criticized, a phrase that, for Iris Ruis, is completely subject to the interpretation of whoever applies it.

“If you read the whole decree you can see that the offenses described as very serious are those that have to do with political culture, and serious, those that relate to the provision of services.  “Where is that politics written in black and white?  Where and for whom has the Ministry of Culture published the political culture that they refer to here?” she asks.

The actress says one of the most perverse effects of the law is its repercussions on more current Cuban art.  “Being institutional in Cuba means entereing the political culture that today censors a great deal of what is contmporary art in Cuba and the whole world, therefore it excludes our contemporary art from the world,” she maintains.

In the debate on Wednesday Yanelys Nunez remembered that some of the basis for this law was already found in another from 1997 and that the new one is an update that worsens obstacles to cultural production.

Nunez called on “all artists and interested people who live in Cuba or outside” and  “Cuban or foreign artists worried about free creation” to join the initiative and demand that the decree not be applied to independent creators.  “Institutions cannot control what the artist produces at his home,” she claimed.

During the debate the art historian recalled, paper in hand, that the Creator’s Registry can remove an artist when the position that he assumes “is contrary to the country’s political cultural.”  This happened to the artists Italo Exposito and Luis Trapaga after participating in the #00Bienal.

Some artists present at the debate are aware of the reach that the law can have when exploring complex horizons from the moral point of view.  Italo Exposito believes that it is important to understand that in the history of Cuban art “we have great masters who have contributed to human dignity, and they all transgressed limits.”  The painter laments that now they will try to take from him a freedom that he has earned working at home and that no one has given to him.

The congregated artists have received the support and legal expertise of the Cubalex group, and its lawyer Laritza Diversent, now a resident of the United States, who made public her position through social networks.  In them she has shown that it is a law that “violates the right of every person to pariticipate in cultural life” and the “right to the indispensable free creator.”

Yanelys Nunez explained to 14ymedio that last Thursday they devoted themselves to receiving and generating proposals that support the campaign against the decree from the legal and artistic point of view, and they came to several agreements.  “What we ask it aht the Creator’s Registry be eliminated and that Decree 349 not be applied to the independent artist who has earned a space working for years on the margin of everything,” said the artist.

Also, she said that the Miami Poetry Festival, Vista, will support the initiative that they promote from Havana.  Artists Ana Olema and Diddier Santos are going to dedicate a space they they have at that event to supporting the campaign to fight against Decree 349 from exile.

The battle against Decree 349 began Saturday, July 21, with a protest by Luis Manuel Otero Alcantara, Soandry Del Rio, Jose Ernesto Alonso, Iris Ruiz, Amaury Pacheco and Yanelys Nunez on the steps of the capitol of Havana.  The protest act, which had not begun when the police arrived, ended in the arrest of all participants except Yanelys Nunez, the only one who could express her complaint.  For Otero Alcantara that bit of protest cost him two days’ detention in the Zanja Street police station.

Translated by Mary Lou Keel

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

More Restrictions on Private Activities in Tourist Areas

The buying and selling of homes was authorized in 2011 after decades of prohibition. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 28 July 2018 — Trading, donating, buying and repairing dwellings in tourist areas will be more complicated from now on with the advent of new regulations.  After July 24 an authorization from the Municipal Housing Directorate or the Physical Planning Institute will be required, in addition to the requisites in force in the rest of the country.

Since, at the end of 2011, the government of Raul Castro authorized the sale of homes after decades of prohibition, a dynamic real estate market was unleashed in a country with 3,700,000 homes, some 86% of them owned individually.

Less than two years after the ban on these transactions was lifted, some 80,000 sales and gifts were carried out, according to data offered then by Aniuska Puente Fontanella, specialist with the Directorate of the Commercial Property Registry and the Heritage of the Ministry of Justice. continue reading

In recent years authorities have tried to control the phenomenon with the creation of taxes and, more recently, with new regulations for the better areas demanded by the tourist rental businesses and private restaurants.  The new measures pose an additional obstacle to the development of the private sector.

Among the outstanding tourist zones are the Varadero peninsula, the most famous Cuban resort, and also the coast of Havana of the East, especially the beach areas of that township which are visited by many vacationing foreigners and nationals each year.

From now on, according to the latest resolution, when a resident from those areas wants to trade, donate, sell or buy a property, he will have to seek an authorization from the Municipal Housing Directorate, unlike in other areas where it is only necessary to formalize the process before a notary.

When it comes to repairing or remodeling a dwelling, the license will be processed by the Municipal Directorate of Physical Planning, a supra-entity created by the government in order to bring order to the urban space and directed by General Samuel Rodiles Planas, a hard-line military officer.

After complying with those procedures, the owner of a house in these areas will have to await a confirmation by the Tourism territorial delegation, which will take into account “the balance” of the resident population in each area in order to keep it from increasing and affecting state activity in that sector.

The new requirement has alerted owners of hostels, restaurants and architecturally valuable houses, who now fear the paralysis or freezing of repairs and projects managed privately in these areas.

The Official Gazette also warns that trades in these areas must not contribute to a population increase or create new owners.  The text prohibits gifts and sales from affecting the tourist development programs.

The construction of new buildings will also be limited in a way that “rigorously fits” the Territorial Ordinance Plan and the urban regulations of those areas.  This decision has fallen like a bucket of cold water on those who have bought land in tourist areas in order to later build a house.

In the case of Old Havana and Central Havana, capital municipalities that are associated with the City Historian’s Office, there exist other specific ordinances that are even more restrictive.

“The rooms that remain unoccupied and available in favor of the State” in those areas “will be delivered directly to the Office of the City of Havana Historian” who will dispose of them “in accord with the established regulations.”

The objective, according to the Official Gazette, will be “relocation and better housing conditions for the resident population” in the area as well as “the restoration and conservation of heritage.”  It says another purpose of the new law is to promote “tourist development” and “the provision of social services to the population.”

One of the measures that is causing more controversy is the prohibition on dividing rooms or bedrooms, whether they are “situated in bunkhouses or tenement blocks, except in basic cases of social interest and previous authorization by the Historian’s Office.”

The practice of dividing spaces, whether vertically or horizontally (the well-known barbacoas*), has been used for decades to relieve housing problems in Cuba.  At the end of 2016 there was a deficit of more than 880,000 houses on the Island, and last year only 21,827 new dwellings were built, according to information from the National Office of Statistics.

Translated by Mary Lou Keel

*Translator’s note: “Barbacoa” (barbecue) is an unlikely term for a platform built in high-ceilinged room to add another “floor.” Search on term in the linked report by the late architect Mario Coyula to find out more; the first reference is on page 7 and a drawing of a ’barbacoa’ is on page 10.

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

Offensive Against Cuba’s Critical Artists Intensifies

Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara was detained for 48 hours for Saturday’s protest attempt against decree 349. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger

14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 24 July 2018 — Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara spent two days in detention after the act of protest he tried to carry out last Saturday, along with five other artists against Decree 349 that regulates artistic performances in private spaces.

The group was also made up of Soandry del Río, José Ernesto Alonso, Iris Ruiz, Amaury Pacheco and Yanelys Núñez, the only one of the six gathered on the steps of the Capitol in Havana who was not arrested despite appearing with their faces covered with excrement and holding a sign that called for “free art.” The founder of #00Bienal spent 48 hours in a police station while his colleagues were released in the hours after the arrest.

“They beat me from the Capitol to the police station and told me I have to respect the police. They beat me as if they were trying to break my back,” denounces Otero Alcantara in a conversation with 14ymedio hours after his release. continue reading

The artist explains that the afternoon was quiet and the protest action had not yet begun when the police appeared and arrested them. Although Otero confesses that he was in shock, he reacted by arguing that a citizen sitting in a public space that could not be arrested without proof of having committed any crime worthy of handcuffing him and putting him in the police car. The officer who arrested him refused to give him explanations about the causes of his arrest, so the artist resisted.

At the police station on Zanja Street, the officer known as Kenia, who has dealt with the cases of other artists such as Tania Bruguera, threatened Otero with imprisoning him for many years to prevent his artistic actions. The young man replied that he was already planning the second edition of the alternative Biennial that he organized last May for his “responsibility with the times.”

The group of artists decided to carry out a protest action after having been ignored by the Minister of Culture, to whom they had directed a letter to claim precisely what the decree prevents. “We wanted to be able to meet with the minister to clarify the independence of Cuban art, from music to dance, everything. We want there to be no need to be a degreed artist in order to have a space of legitimacy, and now it turns out that the space of allegiance is such that tomorrow you can lose your house if you sell a painting,” he denounces.

In addition, Otero Alcántara warns that this decree affects not only independent artists but also those who depend on the institution. “You can be a graduate of a school, but if they want to they can remove you from the Artist Register, as happened with some people in #00Bienal, and thus become part of the list of artists from whom they decide to take everything away.

For the artist, the decree “amounts to a stoning of all contemporary Cuban culture, everything that is not official and does not fall within the canon, it goes away” and it is “a very clear response” to the challenge the cultural authorities of the country perceived in the successful carrying off the independent Biennial event held in May.

The striking protest of Yanelis Núñez is, for Otero Alcántara, symbolic as well as very courageous. “It’s shit as a symbol of how we feel and how they treat us,” he says.

Amaury Pacheco, another of those who participated in the action and one of those who managed to record the moment of the arrest of Otero Alcántara, also celebrates this intervention that references the performance of Ángel Delgado, an artist who defecated on a copy of the state newspaper Granma. “Now the shit is on us in the form of protest and that makes us untouchable, Yanelys, they could not touch her and we carry the shit that has been poured on us all this time to the Capitol, directly to their stairs,” he said.

Pacheco feels “very happy” that “at least five people” have taken this step against a decree that he considers “a shot at the head of Cuban art” and a tool the Government uses to make alternative spaces “disappear completely” and to prevent unauthorized activities in private homes. If this is successful, he insists, events such as Endless Poetry or an upcoming independent Biennial will disappear.

These events coincide with an offensive against cultural activities by the Government.

A few days ago, Alpidio Alonso became Minister of Culture. Pacheco recalled that the new minister became famous in Alamar at the time of the “triumvirate” that he formed with Rojas and Jacomino when, in those years, he was directing the policy of the Hermanos Saíz Association. “If afigure with this background now appears as Minister of Culture he must also take a strong position for Cuban artists.”

In addition, this Monday 14ymedio, was able to confirm with the Cuban Institute of Cinematographic Art and Industry (ICAIC) that Ramón Samada is the new president of the organization. The appointment had not been announced in the official media, although it probably occurred in the last month. In a note on the week of German cinema in Havana published in Havana, he was already identified as the highest authority of the ICAIC.

Samada is a hardline officialist known for having starred in several controversial attempts to silence opponents. In 2015, he promoted the attempt to expel Eliécer Ávila from one of the assemblies of the G-20, where a group of filmmakers were calling for a film law on the island.

Years before, in 2010, he banned the entry of several government critics to Chaplin Cinema, where the eighth Young Filmmakers Exhibition was held. On that occasion the documentary Revolution was going to be screened, dedicated to the hip hop group Los Aldeanos. Among the artists who were prevented from entering were Ciro Javier Díaz Penado and Claudio Fuentes.

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

Methodist Church Distributes Bibles on La Rampa to Denounce Equal Marriage

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana | 17 July 2018 – The shouting and singing of a hundred evangelicals who prayed in defense of the “design of the original family” was heard two blocks from the Methodist church located between K and 25th Streets in Havana’s Vedado neighborhood. A live band accompanied Pastor Lester Fernandez as he spoke to his flock in a ceremony broadcast live on the internet that lasted several hours last Saturday.

In the pews there was no room for anyone else. From the crowded seats everyone raises their arms and sings, and at times they stand up and dance. “We know that this fast is not a fast without answers but with answers,” says the pastor and the believers give him a big ovation. continue reading

Speculations that the Constitutional reform now in progress will open the door to marriage between people of the same sex, and statements “especially by Mariela Castro,” specifies the pastor, are the reason for this fast. And he asks: “Do you imagine that when our children go to school and study Civics, our children are told blatantly and openly: you have a penis but you can figure out if, instead of being a man you want to be a woman, can you imagine a class like that?” Everyone responds “Nooooo,” and again applauds.

Fernandez said that in several countries in Europe laws have been passed to regulate unions between people of the same sex, which he attributed to a supposed weakness of the Church in those places. “Thanks to the Lord, our churches in Cuba are not like that and the Lord has prepared us for this moment, today more than ever, because we are a well-defined Church and the sin that is abhorred, we abhor,” he said.

On June 28, five Christian denominations issued a statement in which they expressed their rejection of a constitutional reform that would allow for equal marriage. Since then, opinions for and against have appeared in the independent press and social networks. “There are people who have confused what we are saying. There are people who believe that we are getting into politics or we are going to get into politics because we are going to hold a demonstration against the government. Today the Party is very nervous. We have people from State Security and independent journalists who are recording us but I am not afraid,” he tells his audience.

The pastor asked those who were present to “make it clear to the Government” that they were not afraid of them “because the Church is not going to depreciate itself, that our getting into politics is depreciating us.” He also said that they were not going to “sit idly by” in this matter, which, he said, will be solved with “fasting and prayer.”

Fernandez placed the number of people attending the fast at 800 — though this newspaper calculates it was about 500 — and said it was the largest congregation ever in the church.

It is still unknown how unions between same-sex couples will be regulated, but Mariela Castro, director of the National Center for Sex Education (Cenesex) and daughter of Raúl Castro, said that the issue would be promoted in the debates of the National Assembly, as a part of the constitutional reform.

The pastor explained that “more than 3,000 churches” prayed that day in their temples because they did not get permission to march on La Rampa. “How about if we pray for the National Assembly, How about if we pray for Raúl Castro, How about if we pray for Díaz-Canel and for Lazo? And even for Mariela Castro we are going to pray,” he encouraged the congregation. Fernandez asked the Cenesex director to “instead of what she is defending today, defend the true family bond.”

The march, called by the Assemblies of God, the Eastern and Western Baptist Conventions, the Evangelical League and the Methodist Church, was suspended, they said in a statement, because it overlapped with other activities. Although they said they are also working “with government leaders” to find a date and place for another “massive event” in the future.

“At this moment the churches in Cuba are carrying out this fast in favor of the family” closing the doors “before any attempt and every intention to make homosexualism and lesbianism (sic) formalized or legalized in Cuba,” he affirms. The pastor quoted passages from the Old Testament asking for a death sentence for homosexual relationships.

Methodists distributed Bibles to passersby after fasting in their Vedado church. (14y medio)

The pastor called on the faithful between the ages of 17 and 31 to go to La Rampa, the area of the capital in which, in his opinion there are more homosexuals, and to distribute bibles for free. “The young girls are given one of the pink ones and give the men the black ones,” he exhorted, while through a side door two boys left with several boxes full of Bibles of both colors.

The convocation took place minutes later when dozens of young people walked throughout La Rampa to fulfill the pastor’s request. Under the summer sun that embraced the city, at noon, some of the passers-by directly said that they did not want to know anything about the word of God, others listened with lowered heads and almost none showed the slightest enthusiasm.

The fast was copied in other municipalities of Havana and in several provinces of the country. In Holguin, dozens of faithful gathered at the entrance of a church to shout “viva!” while waving posters with a picture of what for them represents “the original family.” Similar scenes were repeated in Guantánamo and Pinar de Río.

Designer Roberto Ramos Mori feels that the posters that have appeared stuck on some electric posts and bus stops and that were displayed this Saturday in some churches, are “inciters of hatred and discrimination.” He asks, “If they [the government levies a] fine on me for doing it, shouldn’t the same thing happen to them?”

The Facebook page of the Afro-Cuban Alliance, an independent organization that fights against LGBTI discrimination, published some images of these posters warning that the intention of this campaign is “to go against the legalization of equal marriage in the constitutional reform.”

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

Some 14 Families Camp Out on a Tourist Street in Havana to Demand Housing

Policemen in front of the building where the collapse occurred. They have forbidden neighbors to talk to the independent press. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana | 30 June 2018 — A few yards from the place where tourists are trying to take a photo with the sign for Cuba Street, in Old Havana, a dozen people have planted themselves outside a half-demolished building to demand a decent home. At least 14 families have been out in the open for five days, according to statements collected by 14ymedio.

After an intense downpour last weekend a part of the roof collapsed at number 662 Cuba Street. Camping out on the sidewalk since Monday, the residents are demanding that the authorities relocate them to another building or one of the many vacant state offices in the area.

This Friday, under the strong midday sun, some residents sought shelter in a narrow shadow under the projecting facades, waiting for an official response to their demands. continue reading

Tourists walk through the neighborhood, oblivious to the scene of a row of families who use the street as if it were communal housing, where a baby sleeps in his cradle while a little coffee is brewed using an extension cord run from the interior of a building whose neighbors are offering solidarity.

The housing situation in Cuba is one of the biggest problems in the country. (14ymedio)

“It’s dangerous to enter the building, that’s why we’re here to protect you from being crushed,” one of the officers explained to 14ymedio, while playing with his nightstick. The warning has little effect because inside the building are all the belongings of the families and some take risks to recover them.

“If we do not take our things they will be lost, explains a resident who initially told this newspaper his name, but a few minutes later he asks for anonymity to avoid “suffering repression after the article comes out on the internet.” Nobody wants to put at risk their chance that their complaint will get them a safe roof.

However, the disagreement is source of great stress. “We are on the street, no one has come from either the Government or the Housing Institute, the only response we have received is that we must wait and that there is no capacity in the shelters,” the resident adds.

At the end of last year, after the damage in the Cuban capital left by Hurricane Irma, the availability of spaces to house those who lost their homes was exhausted in the shelters, collective temporary locations where families can wait up to two decades for a house.

The conditions in which thousands of Havanans live are extremely dangerous, in buildings that are about to collapse. (14ymedio)

The authorities recognize that the housing problem is the primary social need in Cuba, with a deficit of more than 800,000 homes. This problem is aggravated because in the last decade the construction of new houses has fallen by 20%. At the end of 2015, it barely exceeded 23,000, more than half raised through private management.

Outside the semi-ruined building on Cuba Street, a young woman says that the building was “declared uninhabitable” in 1980 and although they have lived through hell all this time “luckily on the day of the collapse no one was hurt.”

The woman is pessimistic and believes that nothing will be resolved because “the people are not united,” she explains. “No one wants to talk to the press because they are afraid and then the police come to ask who was talking to the journalists.”

After an intense downpour last weekend a part of the roof of the building collapsed at number 662 of Cuba Street. (14ymedio)

The protest that they are carrying out supposes a push with the Government and the Office of the Historian of the City, that manages the entire zone from a heritage perspective. What’s more, in the midst of the planning for the celebrations for Havana’s 500th anniversary in 2019, which is coming at a time of the celebrations for the 500 years of Havana that are fulfilled in 2019 and that come at a time of decline and difficult straits for the capital.

This week the historian of the city, Eusebio Leal, called for recovering “the dignity” of Havana and “not humiliating it” by painting “her in colors she doesn’t know,” throwing garbage in its streets or urinating in its corners. “Dignity begins with the people, through the homes,” a resident claims as he fans himself outside 662 Cuba Street.

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

Kisses Yes, Kisses No

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 28 June 2018 — Dozens of countries around the world celebrate Gay Pride Day today, 49 years after the Stonewall riots in New York, when a violent raid on a bar frequented by the LGTBI community was followed by a series of protests and demonstrations that are taken as a marker for the beginning of the movement for gay rights.

Thousands of marches will be held around the planet today in a celebration of diversity and love with or without government support. In Cuba, where, as a nod to Raulism, things go “without pause but without haste*,” a video clip in which gay and heterosexual couples kissing was shown for the first time on television this week.

Universe, made by Yeandro Tamayo, sets images to the music of the young Yissy García and her group Bandancha, and is the first nationally made video broadcast on a state channel that explicitly addresses love between couples of different sexual orientations. continue reading

It includes scenes “that, for many, can be complicated,” affirms Yeandro Tamayo, but he is satisfied that he was able to show the freedom he intended.

The video expresses, through dance and elegant photographic work, the stories of three couples: one between a man and a woman, another between two men and a third between two women. All of the stories, after approaches and caresses, end in a kiss.

“In times like these, when government is defending diversity, I wanted to put it in this video,” he explains in an interview with 14ymedio. He said that the dancers who performed worked without fear of speaking up about “the sexuality of human beings” and the plurality that is shown in the video.

The video is presented on social networks as “a celebration of love, a song of the right to express our feelings, and a critique of short-sightedness and the barriers imposed on us by human beings.”

With not everyone behind him, the director said there is a second version of the video, not yet released, in which the kisses do not happen. Tamayo explained at the press conference that due to the schedule on which the Lucas program is broadcast (five in the afternoon) an alternative was made.

“In the version for the television they are almost on the verge of kissing,” the director told this newspaper.

“As it is not a short film but rather promotional material I made the two versions, because I was afraid that Yissy would not be able to release her video. With this they [TV] are opening up a bit, although they are still very careful [despite the fact that] there is no policy that these images should not be shown,” stresses the director.

“That’s always a rule of thumb, you’re taking your risks, I think it’s the first time that this topic is treated so openly and I can assure you that in the world of the videoclip this is the first time this issue is treated as freely as seen in the video,” he says.

Yeandro Tamayo, who has won numerous Lucas Awards, believes that the video can help promote tolerance towards the LGBT community because “it shows [their relationships] without prejudice, as something natural that is expressed as something free, open.”

Tamayo is optimistic about the fate of Universe and is confident that despite having images that are “difficult” for many it will continue to be shown. “I think the video will remain in theaters because these are times when, even from the Government, there is an interest in promoting tolerant behaviors” towards this community, says the filmmaker, referring to Cenesex (the National Center for Sex Education).

The premiere of the video comes at a time when the government has expressed its decision to carry out a constitutional reform which, among other things, has among its purposes to bring legality “in tune with” reality. From the LGBT community, independent groups have launched proposals ranging from “freedom of association” under the protection of the law, to the “legal recognition of same sex parent families.”

Cuban television has taken great care to show, explicitly, homosexual relations both in its dramatized spaces and in the musical productions made on the Island. The only kiss between a homosexual couple that Cubans have seen on national TV occurred recently, to stupor of many, in the broadcast of a chapter of the Brazilian telenovela Rastros de mentiras (Traces of Lies). The scene, which shows Felix (Thiago Neves) Fragoso and (Niko) Mateus Solano kissing, was shown in Brazil in the 2013-2014 season.

The group Yissy & Bandancha premiered the single Universe last April as a preview of what will be their next album, integrating the voice of Dj Jigüe into the band’s usual sound. In the theme, this group, one of the most representative of the avant-garde of Cuban jazz, delves into the sounds of hip hop and electronic music.

*Translator’s note: “Without pause but without haste” is connonly referenced phrase from a speech by Raul Castro where he was talking about “updating” the Cuban model. 

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

Haydee Milanes Dedicated ‘A Night of Boleros’ to the City of Havana on the Verge of its 500th Birthday

Haydée Milanés dedicated her two concerts to the city of Havana last Wednesday.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, La Habana | Junio 22, 2018 — The singer Haydée Milanés shone on Wednesday night in one of the first days of the 30th edition of the Boleros de Oro International Festival, in which she paid homage to great composers of this genre.

The National Museum of Fine Arts of Cuba was the scene of two concerts by the artist, one at seven in the evening and another at nine.

The singer performed with great skill classic songs from Cuba and Mexico that challenge the oblivion in which the bolero has fallen in spite of its numerous interpreters in Cuban music. Haydée Milanés does not stand on a pedestal to interpret these beautiful songs, she does it from the simplicity of her scenic projection and her excellent fluency in a genre she has cultivated intensely throughout her career. continue reading

La gloria eres tú  by the Cuban composer José Antonio Méndez, and  Contigo en la distancia by César Portillo de la Luz were some of the songs performed. The singer also did justice to some Mexican boleros including Se te olvida by Álvaro Carrillo or Esta tarde vi llover from Armando Manzanero.

Special tribute was offered to Marta Valdés, a woman whom she already considers of her family and who “life and the universe” put in her way to change her destiny. “I will not say anything about her songs because they speak for themselves,” said Milanés, who asked for applause that the audience offered with gusto and intensity.

From her father, Pablo Milanés, she played two compositions that were not widely disseminated in the media, Todos los ojos te miran and Requiem por un amor, with the piano accompaniement of Cucurucho Valdés, a friend from her time as a student at the conservatory.

Milanés is usually accompanied by three musicians in her concerts, but that night the orchestra grew as some of the best musicians of the national scene paraded on stage. Enrique Plá on the drums, Raúl Verdecia and Dayron Ortiz on the guitars, Roberto García on the trumpet and Edgar Martínez on the percussion, while the young Samuel Burgos alternated on the bass with the renowned Fabián García Caturla.

The artist dedicated the concert to La Habana, “a woman I love with all the strength of my soul, a very special woman who will be celebrating 500 years next year.” At the beginning of the concert, the public received a postcard with an ecological message on the back: “I invite you to take care of your Havana.”

The vocalist, invited to the event by maestro Guido López Gavilán, said she felt honored and confessed that for her it was always an dream to participate.

Before she closed, she performed a song by Cuban singer-songwriter Frank Domínguez, Tú me acostumbraste, and after a long ovation she closed with Palabras, by Marta Valdés.

The Boleros de Oro International Festival began with a concert by Beatriz Márquez accompanied by Alejandro Falcón and his Grupo Cubadentro, among other guests, and ends on June 24.

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

Giving Birth at 40, Late Motherhood in Cuba

While fertility rates in Cuba decrease in most age groups, the downward trend does not occur among women who are between 35 and 39 and between 40 and 44 years old. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 16 June 2018 — Marcel runs through the park while his mother follows him everywhere and, between races, sits on a bench to rest. She is 47 with a small son who hasn’t started school yet. She is one of the many Cubans who preferred to give birth in her 40s despite the risks, social prejudice and “the fatigue that comes with age,” she tells 14ymedio.

They are women who do not have the energy of a twenty-year-old and are already combing gray hair, but have in their favor greater maturity, family stability and professional development. Many of these late mothers have been wanting to get pregnant for decades, others waited for better conditions to bring a child into the world, and for some of them, the arrival of a baby was a surprise. continue reading

When they show up pregnant at the OB-GYN clinics they are called “elderly” and talked to about risks and problems. Because along with social prejudices that see motherhood as something exclusive to young women, they must also face a public health system that has a hard time adapting to a global phenomenon: the postponement of pregnancies.

When they show up pregnant at the OB-GYN clinics they are called “elderly” and talked to about risks and problems. (14ymedio)

Grisell Rodríguez Gómez, a psychologist and researcher at the Center for Demographic Studies of the University of Havana, has studied this trend on the island. “The fertility of women over 30 years of age began to rise” explains the specialist, who says there is currently “a greater presence of mothers in these ages,” in Cuba. The Cuban health system considers any woman who is expecting a baby after the age of 35 as a “high risk” patient, although it is not contraindicated to conceive a child at this stage of life. “My doctor at the Family Clinic cried to high heaven and predicted a rather dark picture for me,” says Marcel’s mother. 

“I was the first pregnant woman in her 40s she had cared for and she was very nervous, because doctors are very demanding when it comes to a baby that is coming… There is still a very narrow mentality about motherhood at this age and they see us as a phenomenon, an abnormality, sick mothers,” she emphasized.

Little by little, society has had to get used to the presence of these mature women who push a baby stroller and are not grandmothers. The economic crisis of the 90s has been one of the triggers causing the postponement of motherhood, because many women preferred to wait for better times, according to several specialists consulted by this newspaper.

The Cuban health system has had to get used to the presence of these mature women who push a baby stroller and are not grandmothers. (14ymedio)

While the fertility rates in Cuba decrease in each age group, the downward trend does not occur among women between 35 and 39 and between 40 to 44 years old, who have steadily shown an increase in motherhood in recent decades, as proven by data collected by the National Statistics Office.

At 39, Ariadna López is preparing to enter her fourth decade of life with a newborn baby in her arms. She is now seven months along and one day she woke up with the suspicion that her second son was coming ten years after she had her first. A new relationship had started and her husband was happy with the announcement.

“The family doctor was scared at first,” recalls Lopez. “When I gave her the news, she raised his eyebrows in concern,” especially because now the Public Health authorities in the municipality of Habana del Este where she resides, “are in a tizzy because they have an old pregnant woman, which is a headache.” Lopez immediately began a strict plan of prenatal vitamins and folic acid. If it had been a planned pregnancy it would have been better to start with this regimen even before conceiving the baby to ensure the correct development and functioning of the brain of the fetus. 

The feminist activist Marta María Ramírez recently announced her pregnancy on social networks. At 42, each consultation has been a battle to stop them from treating her “with fear because of the risks involved in pregnancy” at her age. She is tired of hearing phrases like “let’s have a look at your problem” and she prefers not to know the biological sex of the baby until the delivery, something difficult for the medical staff to understand and accept.

According to a study conducted by several specialists and published in the Cuban Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, “a woman in good health” and “with adequate prenatal care” is very likely “to have a happy delivery and a healthy child” although they clarify that the health system of the Island must prepare itself to deal with the tendency to become pregnant later in life.

Society has had to get used little by little to the presence of these mature women who carry a baby stroller and are not grandmothers. (14ymedio)

“Many of these pregnancies are not spontaneous but occur in mothers who have had fertility treatment for many years,” explains Kenia Ferrán, a Cuban obstetrician who worked for years in the public health system until in 2017 she emigrated to Ecuador. of these pregnancies begin from the beginning because there is a high rate of spontaneous abortions among women over 40.”

If they manage to overcome the first trimester of pregnancy,”they still face the high possibility of suffering from gestational diabetes and hypertension, problems that affect not only the health of the pregnant woman but also the baby,” Ferrán said. “Genetic risks are also high, such as the presence of chromosomal alterations such as Down syndrome.” 

However, Ferran says that in her professional life she has treated “many women who decided to become mothers after 40 and in most cases everything has gone very well. The most important thing is the follow-up and above all, ethically, to respect the decision that the woman has made. We are here to accompany her on that trip, not to criticize her.”

Some of the women she cared for in her clinic “waited to have a place to have a child, because the housing difficulties force many of them to postpone the moment.” The economic situation and “dreams of emigrating” also influence the decision, along with “the desire to take more advantage of professional opportunities in the 20s and 30s,” she says.

Beatriz Medina, 41, has two children from a first marriage and this week she visited the Ramón González Coro Gynecology-Obstetric Hospital in Havana to ask for advice about a new pregnancy. “Among the problems they told me is the chance that the child will beborn underweight or that I deliver early,” she says, and immediately says that she is not afraid.

Medina, however, does not feel so confident about what will come next. “I estimate that at 60 I will still be taking care of a young man and the generational abyss will be tremendous.” The mother is concerned “that she she won’t live to see him develop his professional life, be an adult, have his own children,” although she believes that she will have “more maturity to educate him and more resources to support him.”

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

Cubana de Aviación Suspends Ticket Refunds Due to Lack of Cash

Outside the Cubana de Aviación agency this Tuesday in Havana. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 5 June 2018 – Times are tense for the state airline Cubana de Aviación since the plane crash that killed 112 people on a flight between Havana and Holguin on May 18. The company has no money to continue to reimburse passengers for thousands of canceled tickets, 14ymedio was able to confirm this Tuesday.

Since last week hundreds of people have passed through the Cubana de Aviación office on Infanta Street in Havana to be repaid for the value of their tickets. The flood of returns has been such that “there is no money to continue repaying,” an employee told the frustrated passengers on Tuesday.

“You must keep in touch by phone or come after Thursday to see if the problem has been resolved and we have cash again,” he insisted over and over to all the customers who showed up. Some persist with their demands, to which the employee replies: “We went to the bank but there is no money.” continue reading

Those who inquired about possible additional compensation for the complications resulting from the flight cancellations were informed clearly that the services for the airline’s national customers are “subsidized” and they can only be guaranteed a refund for the value of the ticket. “Not one cent more.”

Cubana de Aviación is going through “an unprecedented situation in the number of returns and there is no liquidity to face these expenses,” explains an official consulted by this newspaper and who preferred anonymity. “We have no money coming in because our domestic flights are canceled and most of the international ones are too.”

The planes of the state airline that regularly fly to destinations such as Haiti, the Dominican Republic or Venezuela are not covering those routes, a situation that has forced the company to relocate customers or host them in hotels while looking for seats to travel on other airlines.

As of last Friday, the company also ruled out the possibility of transporting its customers by bus as a way to compensate them for the cancellation of flights and now offers only the reimbursement of the value of the air ticket.

A posted notice with the phone numbers that can be called is the response many customers receive to their claims at the Cubana de Aviación agency in Havana. (14ymedio)

“I came yesterday at ten o’clock and it was full of very upset people,” Enrique, a young college student, tells 14ymedio; he was among the first group of customers this morning at the agency on Infanta Street.

“Yesterday I had to leave because there were a lot of people in line and they have only been able to return the money to the first ones in line, almost at dawn,” he says. “That’s why I came early today but the situation is worse and today nobody has been able to collect even a peso.”

For Eloísa, a woman from Santiago de Cuba who has been stranded in Havana due to the cancellations, the delay in recovering her money is a source of trouble. “Without that money I can not buy a bus ticket, so I have no choice but to keep coming to see when Cubana can pay again.”

National customers must buy their plane ticket three months in advance at the Cubana de Aviación offices. For this reason most of those now seeking refunds purchased a ticket to travel during school holidays, coming up in July and August.

Cubana de Aviación domestic flights were suspended after the accident on May 18 and will not resume “until at least September” an employee of the state airline told 14ymedio last Friday.

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

Residents of Old Havana Sleep in the Portico Fearing the Collapse of Their Home

Residents prefer to spend the night out in the open rather than see their houses collapse on their heads.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 28 May 2018 — A crib, a large bed and a baby stroller are the first objects passersby come across as they walk through the porticos of Zulueta Street in Old Havana. In number 505, the most desperate of the nine families living in the ramshackle building, which has been declared uninhabitable by the authorities, preferred to spend the last few days in the open for fear that subtropical storm Alberto’s intense rains could cause their home to collapse.

This Saturday, several of them, including a baby just two months old, remained in the portico outside their front door. Iraida Alberto is one of those neighbors who, during the rainy days, decided on desperate measures to get the attention of the authorities. Last Tuesday she put her belongings out in the public passageway, blocking access to the sidewalk with her furniture, because of her fear that the roof over her head would collapse. continue reading

The comings and goings through the covered walkway is incessant in a densely populated area of Old Havana, near the Central Railway Station. The family — the mother, grandmother and older daughter — spends the night in a bed covered with a brightly colored blanket, right in the middle of the covered walkway.

The interior of the apartment house on Zulueta Street, which has already experienced 23 partial collapses. (14ymedio)

Nights in the portico can also be dangerous. When, at dawn, a person keeps approaching them, the worried grandmother thinks that they want to steal from her and tells this newspaper, “you can’t sleep with such a fright.”

“On Thursday I woke up because there was a person in front of me shooting pictures of me,” says the woman. “It doesn’t bother me that the press comes because I want to tell what is happening to me, but waking up like this at three in the morning is terrible.”

“This building has already had 23 partial collapses, eight families live upstairs in our house, although some have gone to shelters,” she tells 14ymedio, in a worried voice. Iraida Alberto, grandmother of a four-year-old girl and another two-month-old who was born prematurely, laments the indifference of the state institutions.

The police, in the form of two motorized officers, show up in the portico, which is blocked by appliances and bundles. They are joined by some patrol cars and a dozen uniformed people who seem to understand the precariousness of the situation. Nevertheless, they demand that Iraida Alberto not disturb the peace by living in the walkway and “blocking the traffic.” Then they leave.

“Neither the Government nor the (Communist) Party have come here,” she explains. The only representatives of some official entity that have passed through the place are those in charge of hostels in Havana, the temporary shelters for victims of hurricanes and building collapses. However, Iraida Alberto knows that moving to these places is a dead end in many cases.

Cuba has a housing deficit of more than 800,000 homes. Of the 3.8 million residential properties on the island, at least a third of them are in a physical state classified as regular or bad, according to official data.

When a family suffers the loss or collapse of their home, they are often relocated to a shelter. The length of stay in these sites averages 20 years and in the 120 shelters located in the capital, most of which are in old inns or industrial warehouses, more than 126,000 people are crowded, while another 34,000 struggle to find a place within them.

Iraida Alberto spent fifteen years of her life in one of those places. “They tricked me into moving here two years ago, after living for fifteen years in a shelter with my children,” she recalls. The lack of privacy and the poor conditions of that accommodation increased the family’s desperation to leave the place.

The family’s primary possessions are in the building’s portico, which is also a public passageway. (14ymedio)

“When I arrived at the building, there was no scaffolding and officials told me to sign [the papers to accept the housing] before going inside because another family wanted to sneak in.” The woman did not think twice.

“After a few days and when I spoke with the neighbors I knew that they had already suffered eight partial collapses and that the property was declared uninhabitable. Nevertheless, they had given it to us as if it were a final solution,” she complained.

The hardest thing for the woman to accept is the helplessness she feels. “The government has not given us any support, not even some food for the children. Sometimes I have to go inside the house despite the danger of collapse to be able to cook,” says Iraida Alberto.

Some of the neighbors have become aware of the family’s situation and help by letting the baby, who still has some health problems due to her premature birth, spend the night in their homes.

In an interview published this Sunday, the Historian of Havana, Eusebio Leal Spengler warned that “it is as important to recover the social fabric as [it is to recover] the city itself.” On Monday, the official press focused on the matter, stating president Miguel Díaz-Canel has urged that the housing program be given priority. Cases like that of Iraida Alberto continue to wait for those words to come true.

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

Cuba’s Independent #00Bienal Resists Government Pressures and Carries Off Event

A talk with the artists Jenifer Acuña and Alejandro Barreras in Instar. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 15 May 2018 — The #00Bienal has withstood the pressures of the Cuban Government and concluded its first edition on Tuesday, having completed its program despite them. The authorities, who marked the event from the beginning with accusations of it being financed by the “counterrevolution,” have made every effort to prevent the participation of a large number of national and foreign artists, in addition to sending the police to close the exhibition spaces.

Last Friday the gallery-house El Círculo was the site of the greatest physical repression against the independent Biennial which, until that moment, had been carried out without large police deployments. State Security surrounded the property and prevented public access to the Co-Cina exhibition. An agent who identified himself as Efren even blocked the gallery door. “They did not let anyone in but we have everything filmed,” activist Lia Villares told 14ymedio. continue reading

Most of the events of the #00Bienal have been held in artist Tania Brughera’s Instar space in Old Havana, but there have also been events in other Havana municipalities including Marianao, El Vedado, Habana del Este and Santa Cruz del Norte.

In the neighborhood of Alamar, artists Iris Ruiz and Amaury Pacheco have also suffered reprisals for participating in the event. Authorities of the Housing Institute and local government authorities pressured them to stop the painting of several graffiti by the artist Yasser Castellanos, inside and outside their home.

“If we did not stop the work they told us they were going to bring a shock brigade to erase it,” Ruiz tells this newspaper.

However, the employees who arrived to undertake the erasure could not enter the house because the neighbors and friends of the artists supported them “to avoid the outrage.  After a while security agents arrived and said that Physical Planning would give us permission to paint,” Ruiz concluded.

“Three months ago everyone thought it would be impossible to stage the #00Bienal,” recalls Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara, one of its main organizers. Among other reasons because “in the Cuban intelligentsia there is a lot of commitment to the system that gives them perks, but also many artists find themselves in a comfort zone that they do not want to leave.”

Despite the wide variety of exhibitions and artistic actions that took place, Otero Alcántara recognizes that “some of the artists announced in the catalog reconsidered a little and have not appeared” due to the harsh accusations that the official institutions launched at the event.

“I’m not a superhero or anything like that,” says the artist, who in recent years has become known for performances like those he held around the luxury hotel Manzana Kempinski, in Old Havana. His artistic actions have aimed to point out the economic gap between nationals and tourists.

“Being an artist is a life position,” confesses the artist, whose greatest current fear is that “the #00Bienal will be shelved within the historical passages” of recent years. “We would like the young filmmakers who recently published a statement to also do an independent film event.”

Threats and interrogations by State Security have been another technique in the attempts made to restrain the participants. Among those affected was the painter Luis Trápaga, removed from the National Artists Registry in retaliation for his involvement in the independent artistic event. The authorities of the National Council of the Plastic Arts, which manage the registry, informed him that the measure was taken because of his position “contrary to the cultural policy of the country.”

The artist José Ernesto Alonso participated in the #00Bienal with a survey that he drew from surveys conducted by international institutions that measure elements such as happiness, satisfaction and well-being in different parts of the world. “I created a guide that allows us to quantify the level of satisfaction that each Cuban has with respect to the current situation of the country.”

Alonso clarifies that “the greatest fear that an artist can have about being part of the #00Bienal is that it all ends up black and white,” and later “they come from the institution and they tell you: if you supported the independent biennial you can not participate in any more of the events we organize.”

Cuban artists such as Hamlet Lavastida and Sandra Ceballos are participate in the event. Ceballos’s independent gallery, Aglutinador, which opened in 1994, is one of the most important venues of the event. The curator Gerardo Mosquera, founder of the Havana Biennial in 1984, has also joined the independent event.

“Some foreign artists, such as the Spaniard Diego Gil, have been summoned by Immigration and they have been told that they can not appear in the Biennial,” says Cuban-American curator and artist Coco Fusco.

Fusco was also prevented on May 3 from entering the country after arriving at the Havana airport. A day later, the artist Gean Moreno, linked to the Institute of Contemporary Art of Miami (ICA), was held for 10 hours in Cuban Customs. Although he was finally able to enter the country, the authorities confiscated the piece with which he intended to participate in the #00Bienal.

The Brazilian artist Thiago Morandi was one of those summoned by the Identification, Migration and Immigration Directorate (DIIE), which demanded that he leave the event, but the photographer and audiovisual producer ignored the threats and continued to appear in the activities of the alternative event.

Ulises Valdés, a Mexican, was also summoned by immigration officials and told to cancel his presence at #00Biennial, but he told the uniformed officers to communicate directly with the consul of his country if there was any irregularity with regards to his presence in Cuba. The officers told him that to be eligible to participate in the event, he would have had to enter the country with a cultural visa.

State Security officials and DIIE members warned foreign participants that they were part of an “unofficial” event that is “financed by the Miami mafia.”

That assertion conflicts with the information provided by the organizers of #00Biennial, who say that all the funding that sustains the event “comes from crowdfunding, which is very transparent” through digital platforms, according to the independent biennial’s curator and organizer, Yanelis Nuñez.

Nuñez and Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara, the main organizers of the event, received important help from the artist Reynier Leyva ‘El Chino’ Novo, who contributed 3,800 CUC from the sale of one of his works to the National Council of the Arts.

The alternative event, which arose after the Ministry of Culture’s announcement that it would postpone the XIII Havana Biennial until 2019, has achieved its initial objective of granting visibility to younger artists, as well as creating a space that promotes debate in an environment of freedom.

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

"My Detention Was A Kidnapping Ordered by Raul Castro," Daniel Llorente Says

Daniel Llorente a few hours after his release.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 12 May 2018 — Returning home after a one-year confinement at the psychiatric hospital in Havana, Daniel Llorente wants to continue his fight for freedom. In conversation with this newspaper, the man with the flag says he wants to recover the American flag that was confiscated when he raised it in last year’s May Day parade.

Llorente says that during the last days of his stay in the psychiatric hospital, security was redoubled around the ward where he was hospitalized. “There were police patrol cars and two guards when there was usually only one.” He suspects that the authorities were watching him so he would not try to escape and repeat his action on May Day, “The Day of the Workers.” 

“The flag that was taken from me I intend to recover because it was not confiscated legally,” says this self-employed taxi driver who has become the most visible face on the island in support of the diplomatic thaw between Washington and Havana. continue reading

“I am going to write to the Council of State, to Granma newspaper and to the foreign press agencies so that they know that I want to recover my flag,” he says.

The waving of the American flag in front of the platform where Raul Castro awaited the start of the parade became the event of the day for the most important international media, which had convened to cover an event that the ruling party traditionally uses to show popular support for its management.

“They did not give me any document that says I’m free and there was no trial nor I was convicted, everything was very arbitrary,” the dissident explains.

“The doctor who treated me in Mazorra always recognized that I did not have any type of psychiatric problems and even the director of the hospital told me that he couldn’t do anything because it was State Security that determined everything about my case.” 

Llorente says that the year he spent in detention was in fact a kidnapping “by orders of Raúl Castro and State Security, in coordination with the State Council and with the complicity of Public Health and the Ministry of Justice… I had not committed any crime nor did I have psychiatric problems. What was I doing there?”

Llorente wants to remain an independent activist and insists on distrusting opposition groups “because without a doubt State Security has infiltrated many of them.”

“I want to deal with things in such a way that it’s always respectful of the law, without provocations, because against them you have to use their own laws,” he recommends.

“The State Security officials I talked to told me that when I had a problem I could call them and to do nothing without calling.”

From that 1 May 2017, he remembers all the obstacles he faced getting to the Plaza of the Revolution, the warnings he received from the police and the emotional moment when he slipped under the banner that was at the front of the parade. “When I saw myself running with the flag I could not believe it, it was very exciting.”

He was immediately approached by several men who took him down to the ground him and beat him. “I did not have time to see their faces and I was shouting: ‘I accuse Raúl Castro of mistreating the people of Cuba and the workers’.” He could barely breathe and one of his captors told him angrily: “You have to die.”

“They threw me to the pavement and tied my hands with the belt they took off me, I asked a doctor who was nearby to help me but she left,” says Llorente. Then he was taken to a vehicle and moved out of the Plaza. His ordeal was just beginning.

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.