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.

The Press and Castroism, Two Old Adversaries

Several people waiting for the newspaper to come to the kiosk in El Vedado. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 3 May 2018 — It’s eight o’clock in the morning and the Granma newspapers have not yet arrived at the news kiosk. By that time, however, the most important news is already running by word of mouth in a Cuba where the censorship of information and the monopoly of the Communist Party over the press have remained a constant for more than half a century.

For decades, the press has been one of the most controlled and monitored sectors in the country. On an island where the walls have ears and people talk in a whisper about the most conflicting issues, the media is the space where the regime exercises absolute control.

Despite surveillance, in recent years more independent media have appeared, aided by technology, but above all driven by an audience that demands greater diversity in topics and approaches. Fashion magazines, digital sites dedicated to baseball and websites with a feminist focus are part of the new and varied information ecosystem. continue reading

This explosion of journalistic spaces contrasts, however, with the censorship of the official media maintained by officialdom. By law, any attempt to disseminate news or promote opinions different from those of the Government can be considered a crime of “enemy propaganda.”

Cuba has many of the most restrictive laws over journalism in Latin America. The Constitution prohibits private ownership of the media while the exercise of journalism is only allowed if it “maintains the objectives of the socialist society,” according to a report released in 2016 by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).

Defamation of institutions, political organizations and “heroes or martyrs of the Republic” is sanctioned by up to one year in prison. Those who commit slander, defamation, insult, injury “or any other form of contemptuous or offensive expression” against public officials may also go to jail.

This has been the case for decades, although at first it seemed that the relationship between information and the Revolution was going to be a honeymoon.

In 1959, when Fidel Castro arrived in Havana with his olive green caravan, the press enthusiastically welcomed the bearded men descended from the Sierra Maestra. Optimistic headlines, photos of the crowds cheering the passage of the guerrillas and the harsh images of the outrages of Fulgencio Batista’s dictatorship filled the front pages.

That idyll was short-lived. Castro undertook the extermination of all media, both national and provincial. Throughout the year 1960, newspapers, magazines, radio stations and television channels passed into the hands of the Government and five years later the press was under the absolute control of the Cuban Communist Party (PCC).

Since then the PCC has taken on the role of appointing the directors, providing equipment and supplies, and, above all, designating the editorial line of each medium. The training of journalists in university faculties begins with a rigorous process of ideological selection and in the classrooms there are frequent purges and expulsions for political reasons.

In March 2003, Fidel Castro’s government unleashed a fierce offensive against dissent and the independent press, known as the Black Spring. There were 75 opponents sentenced, among whom at least 25 were reporters who collaborated with international media or had founded their own press agencies.

That repressive blow was carried out under the legal protection of Law 88, popularly known as the Gag Law, the application of which generated a wave of international repudiation. After the scandal erupted, Castroism sought new ways to intimidate independent reporters, ways that last to this day.

In 2017 the map of press freedom in the world was tinted black and Cuba remained among its darkest areas. The Island ranked 172 out of 180 countries, in a classification prepared by Reporters Without Borders that analyzes the level of freedom of the press in the world. No other nation in Latin America was that low on the index.

Along with several colleagues, José Antonio Fornaris founded a union some years ago to represent the professionals of the press and their principal demands. The Association for Press Freedom (APLP) is one of the many organizations the Government does not permit, but it operates on the island with a low profile and under many pressures.

The confiscations of work equipment and supplies stands out among the complaints that arrive every day at the headquarters of the APLP. In 2016, alone, at least 18 cases were recorded in which the State Security seized a reporter’s camera, mobile phone, laptop, hard drive, or a simple USB memory with information.

Since 2017, the repression against the sector has included a new tactic: accusing independent journalists of “usurpation of legal capacity” and prosecuting them for practicing a profession without holding a diploma issued by one of the country’s centers of higher education. Educational institutions where the maxim “the university is for the revolutionaries.”

A ban on leaving the country is also part of the reprisals against these reporters. Recently, José Antonio Fornaris  had his passport cancelled and can not leave the country. “This type of regime is very afraid of press freedom, that is why it is up to independent journalists, every day, to make known the reality of the country,” he says.

In the center of the Island the landscape is very similar. In the city of Camagüey, journalist Henry Constantín has been unable to travel, even to another province, for months. The political police closely control Constantin, editor of La Hora de Cuba magazine, and the rest of his team. “There is a lot of surveillance especially when it comes to engaging in journalism on the public right-of-way,” he says.

Sol García Basulto, a designer and collaborator on the publication, has also experienced official outrages. In the middle of last year the reporter suffered restrictions of movement after the police imposed “a precautionary measure of house arrest” on her for interviewing people in Camagüey. Unable to move from her province, Basulto uses the social networks as a platform to channel her complaints.

Against this background, Henry Constantin believes that the first step to approach freedom of the press is ensuring that the independent media can count on the “right to have a legal existence with guarantees.” The possibility of “protecting sources, expressing all kinds of opinions and interviewing public officials” is also essential.

The media belong to the State according to the 1976 Constitution but the absence of a Media Law has allowed the independent press to flourish. A loophole that dozens of reporters throughout the country have taken advantage of.

“The chance to do internships in other countries has helped to raise the quality of journalism that is done within the island,” says Constantín, regional vice president of the Inter-American Press Association. An improvement that is perceived “both in audiovisual work and in the written press.”

Quality, despite the fragile conditions in which they work, is an obsession for many of the emerging media reporters, editors and directors.

Carlos Manuel Álvarez, writer and journalist, leads the team of El Estornudo magazine and insists that the journalistic profession goes beyond ideological color or political positions, but that “rigor” is the only thing that differentiates it from propaganda.

The digital site that Álvarez runs has recently been blocked on national servers, like so many other websites. It is a decision “with a strong political weight, which can work as a stigma, cause more caution or suspicion towards the magazine by sources or possible new collaborators,” laments the reporter.

Mistrust between journalists in the official and independent media is a difficult obstacle to overcome in order to work together. The accusations fly between one side and the other.

Alvarez believes that this distrust “for the time being, will not disappear, since it is the direct result, within the media ecosystem in Cuba, of a political system that fosters ideological division and the fracture of public opinion in allies and enemies alike.”

In 2016, in an unprecedented gesture, a group of young journalists signed a letter, published by the local newspaper Vanguardia, in Villa Clara, claiming their right to collaborate with other media, especially the independent magazines and newspapers that had been born at the time, outside officialdom, but without setting themselves up as open opponents. The demand fell apart among the pressures and an official authorization never came to fruition.

The experience of Reinaldo Escobar, editor-in-chief of 14ymedio, is an interesting precedent. The reporter worked for two decades in the official press until he was expelled. “I decided to publish a series of opinion columns that criticized some issues that were still taboo at the end of the 1980s, such as opportunism, inefficiency and excessive prohibitions,” he recalls.

In Juventud Rebelde , the country’s second newspaper, Escobar’s most critical texts coincided with the years of glasnost in the Soviet Union. “Some colleagues in the news room looked at me as if I had gone crazy and others as if my journalistic funeral was just around the corner.”

In 1988 a decision of the then Department of Revolutionary Guidance (DOR), attached to the Central Committee of the Communist Party, expelled Escobar from his job and prevented him from returning to practice his profession in the official media. “At first I thought that my life had been destroyed but a short time later I realized that I had been made a free man and, since then, I have not suffered self-censorship again.”

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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.

"Almost All the Young People Want to Leave Here"

The lack of unemployment insurance helps to hide the real data. (Screen capture)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, 26 April 2018 — At 25, Yimmi Buchillón García has tried almost everything to make a living: he was a fisherman, carpenter and repairer of carnival floats, but in Punta Alegre, Ciego de Ávila, “it is very difficult to find a job,” he tells 14ymedio in despair. On March 25 he sailed for the United States but failed to reach his destination and was repatriated to the village from where “almost all the young people want to leave.”

Buchillón departed from the north coast of the center of the island, one of the areas most affected by Hurricane Irma last September. Many residents dream of emigrating to escape the crisis, but the end of US wet foot/dry foot policy means most of their attempts end in deportation back to Cuba. continue reading

In Punta Alegre, in the Chambas municipality, winds and coastal floods toppled 645 homes while another 1,054 partially collapsed. Although the government turned to repairing the area’s infrastructure and credits were granted to rebuild the houses, the economic life of the town has not recovered.

“The situation has gotten worse, I would like to stay with my family, with my wife and have a steady job here, but nothing comes up,” explains Buchillon just a few hours after arriving home after spending a month away from the island, a part of that time at sea and the rest in a prison in the Bahamas, from where he was repatriated.

According to data from the National Bureau of Statistics for 2016, 17.3% of young people in the country of working age do not study or work, although more than a third of these unemployed (37%) say they are not looking for work either, figure that totals 78,778 young people throughout the country.

In rural areas the problem is more serious and a good part of the young people only find informal and illegal tasks through which to make a living. ( Screen capture)

The numbers could be higher since many do not report their situation, in the absence of unemployment insurance that would allow them to collect a minimum amount while looking for a job. In rural areas the problem is more serious and a good part of the young people only find informal and illegal tasks to support themselves.

“Before the hurricane I had messenger work in a cafe, but it was illegal, without a contract,” says Yoandy Rojas, another young resident of Punta Alegre who has tried to leave the country illegally three times. “Since September, this town has been taken over by the police so even a fly can’t move outside the law,” he explains.

The area, with little agriculture, depends mainly on the sea and the visits of tourists who go to the keys, north of Ciego de Ávila. “There are towns where people live mostly off the tourism business, but foreigners don’t come here much and also in recent months tourism has dropped,” he says.

“Here tourism is the center of everything,” explains Dielsy Hechevarría, who works as an informal guide and rents out two rooms with her mother. “If there are no foreigners there is no work,” says the young woman who is now hoping to move to Havana in search of other opportunities. “This town has no future,” he concludes.

The area, with little agriculture, depends mainly on the sea. (Franco)

In Punta Alegre, Buchillón made a living as a fisherman and illegally sold his products to residents and businesses in the area. The National Revolutionary Police (PNR) killed that opportunity with an increase in operations on the coast. “They harass fishermen and do not let them live,” says his mother, María de Los Ángeles García León.

Last summer, Buchillón was hired to repair the floats of the popular festivities. “They paid me 150 Cuban pesos, about 7 Convertible pesos, for all the work and it was only enough to buy shoes for my daughter who started school,” he recalls. Since then, he has not returned to work with the State or in any private business.

García León has said goodbye to her son four times, at every attempt to leave the country. The last time was barely a month ago, when he left with 12 other friends to try to reach the coast of the United States. “There is a lot of misery here, and the young people have no life because they have a rope around their necks,” the woman says.

The rafters built a craft with a sail but without a motor, known popularly as a chapín, and launched themselves on the water. “We spent five days in the sea and there were a lot of waves,” recalled Buchillon, still suffering from a throat infection and the tousled hair of the shipwrecked.

On March 30, the US Coast Guard intercepted the raft and moved its occupants to a migrant detention center in the coastal town of Flipper in the Bahamas. After being prosecuted, the 13 rafters were taken to Nassau where they were imprisoned for 22 days until their return to Cuba.

Buchillón says that 34 Cubans from different groups came together and received degrading treatment, a situation that led them to start a hunger strike. A few hours after the fasting began, the ambassador of Cuba in the Bahamas, Ismara Mercedes Vargas Walter, visited to urge them to end the protest.

This Monday, finally, they set foot on Cuban soil and two days later Buchillón was back in Punta Alegre. “For now, I’m not thinking about trying to leave again,” he reflects, but he knows that he has a difficult task ahead of him, as difficult as evading the coastguard or surviving the waves: finding a job.

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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.

’Actuar’ Offers Lynn Cruz a New Contract, Only to Fire Her the Following Month

“Following Orders” Note: Our apologies that this audio file is not subtitled in English

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 24 April 2018 — The director of the Actuar agency, Jorge Luis Frías Armenteros, acknowledged that irregularities were committed by excluding the actress Lynn Cruz from the catalog of that state entity. Today the actress has posted on the internet the audio of the labor hearing that was held last Friday in Havana, after her protest.

Cruz appealed her exclusion from the agency representing actors and her case reached the body overseeing labor justice. During the oral hearing, Frías accepted that the 30-day period to notify her of the agency’s decision had been violated, but justified the expulsion because of the “critical protests” about the government that the actress publishes on social networks. continue reading

The labor trial lasted more than an hour and a dozen functionaries from Actuar were present, Cruz told 14ymedio. The view reminded her of “the judgments of the parametración* era,” a purge in the artistic sector that took place in the 70s, when homosexual, religious and artists not in sympathy with the regime were sanctioned.

“At times I felt like I was in an asylum, it was insane to see how they tried to bring to 21st century methods of the 70s,” laments Cruz who was the accuser, but ended up being accused of writing on her Facebook wall opinions contrary to the political system from the country.

Recently Cruz was informed all of a sudden that Actuar was not going to continue representing her and that lack of representation was used by the International Film School of San Antonio de los Baños to exclude her from the institution’s workshops.

To free himself from Cruz’s accusation, Frias proposed to the actress during the trial that the agency would hire her again for a month with the sole purpose of expelling her, this time, without violating any clause of her contract.

Cruz refused to support that proposal and says that with her appeal she seeks to obtain a document that records the true reasons for her expulsion. In a recent interview with 14ymedio, she said that after what happened with Actuar she feels “freer” than before. Frías affirmed in the hearing that “by agreement of the [Actuar] Board of Directors…the demonstrations” of Cruz on the Internet have been considered “offensive to a group of leaders and executives of the Government, the Party and the Ministry of Culture.”

Without mentioning specific names or citing a single one of the offenses, the official also said that “these demonstrations do not correspond to the ethics and principles” that the Agency represents and defends.

Born in Havana, in 1977, Lynn Cruz has worked for television in cop shows and also in movies in films such as Larga Distancia oand La Pared.

The attack against the artist began after she participated in several creative projects promoted outside the country’s official cultural institutions. She is also a contributor to some independent media such as Havana Times.

Last November, the harassment of State Security prevented the public from attending a performance of her work, The Enemies of the People in the independent gallery El Círculo.

*Translator’s note: Parametración/parameterization: From the word “parameters.” Parameterization is a process of establishing parameters and declaring anyone who falls outside them (the parametrados) to be what is commonly translated as “misfits” or “marginalized.” This is a process much harsher than implied by these terms in English. The process is akin to the McCarthy witch hunts and black lists and is used, for example, to purge the ranks of teachers, or even to imprison people. See here, and here.

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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.

“I Knew That Killing Fidel Castro In A Play Was My Social Suicide”

Lynn Cruz says she was recently denied access to a workshop at the San Antonio de los Baños International Film School and the Actuar agency stopped representing her. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 10 April 2018 – She was a “vanguard Little Pioneer” in her childhood, later earned a degree in Geography, and now Lynn Cruz has ended up an independent and censored actress. Born in Havana, in 1977, but raised in Matanzas, the actress is convinced that State Security is determined to end her artistic career.

Cruz says she was recently denied access to a workshop at the San Antonio de los Baños International Film School and the agency Actuar has stopped representing her, without explaining a single reason for the rebuff. All this comes after the artist participated in several creative projects that disgusted the cultural authorities.

“After everything that has happened to me, I feel more free,” says the artist. Last November, harassment by State Security blocked almost the entire audience from attending the staging of her work The Enemies of the People in an alternative space, an event that was preceded by her participation in the exhibition of the documentary Nadie, inspired in the officially damned poet Rafael Alcides. continue reading

Long before arriving at her current situation, Cruz worked for television in detective shows and her face is known to moviegoers through films such as Larga Distancia and La Pared. A few months ago, when she had not yet become a radioactive actress, she finished filming Eres tu papá, a film yet to be released.

Lynn Cruz recently responded to a few questions from 14ymedio.

Luz Escobar. How has your professional life changed since you are under the eyes of the authorities?

Lynn Cruz. Now I am in a limbo. They are erasing me little by little to make me into a non-person, which is a way of using me to teach a lesson to others. State Security goes around to all the places to let them know that they are deleting the files and now, if a director requests my work through an agency, they can tell him that I am not in the country or they can say directly that I am a ‘mercenary’ [in the pay of the “empire”, i.e. the United States].

Escobar. What were the first signs that something like this was coming?

Cruz. Since I made The Enemies of the People I knew all this could happen, but it is not the same to imagine the outrage as to be outraged. I can’t live worrying about the consequences of my actions, I simply take action because at that moment I am convinced. I did that work because since I started researching the sinking of the 13 de Marzo tugboat (1994) and I heard the testimony of María Victoria García Suárez, who lost her 10-year-old son, I felt the duty to do something with that.

For the actor it is possible to evade censorship because she is interpreting what someone else wrote and the censors are always searching for the author. However, in this piece I also became an author, which implies a greater responsibility. I came to writing because most of the time I am an unemployed actress and that is the way to release the things that happen to me.

Escobar. Have you received any signs of solidarity since the censorship?

Cruz. Most of the actors did not know what was happening and many people of my generation have gone to live outside of Cuba. I can’t say that I felt either antipathy or sympathy because it was as if it had not happened. When I talked about it, some people looked surprised because they could not believe that I had killed Fidel Castro in a play.

I knew that by doing so I was performing my own social suicide.

Escobar. Does your acting career end here and now?

Cruz. I’m working with Lía Villares and Luis Trápaga on the work Patriotismo 3677, a work I wrote a while ago where I take a tour of prisoners of conscience of these 60 years. It has testimonies from Sonia Garro, Maria Elena Cruz Valera, Nestor Diaz de Villegas and other writers of the diaspora. It is the way I have found to maintain hope and to be able to continue living in Cuba even in the midst of these situations that I am facing.

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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.

Cuban Young Filmmakers Exhibition Gives Award to Director Criticized by Government

Poster for the short film ‘Eternal Glory’.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, 9 April 2018 — After the controversy arising from the exclusion of Yimit Ramirez’s film I Want To Make A Movie from the Young Filmmakers Exhibition, on Sunday Ramirez won the prize for the best fictional film for his short Eternal Glory, a work that reflects on the historical myths in a totalitarian society.

The short, starring the actors Lynn Cruz and Mario Guerra (who play the characters Haydée and Julián), addresses the sanctification of heroes, which is the same subject that led the censorship of Ramirez’s feature film, which the authorities considered “disrespectful of José Martí.”

Yimit Ramirez’s work has been at the center of the debates and comments in this year’s Young Filmmakers Exhibition, an event focused on promoting film creation among young people under the age of 35. In recent years the event has been marked by several scandalous episodes of censorship and exclusion. continue reading

The Exhibition awarded the prize for Best Documentary to two films “on equal terms”: The Dogs of Amundsen, by Rafael Ramírez, which also won for Best Director and the Best Original Music, and Music of the Spheres, by director Marcel Beltrán.

The mentions in that category were awarded to the directors Daniela Muñoz for What Remedy? The Parranda, and Adriana Castellanos for Two Islands.

The Special Jury Prize went to Alejandro Alonso for his documentary work The Project, which is a nod to “cinema within cinema.” The peculiar script, through pure photography and without a single word of dialogue, narrates a story that mixes fiction and reality and begins when the young director tries to film inside high schools and boarding schools in the countryside but the authorities deny him access.

With the thread of the prohibitions and obstacles that appear in the way of any film project, Alonso manages to convey the states of uneasiness, doubt and commitment that the filmmaker goes through in order to complete his dream.

With that same work, Lisandra López won for best script, while the Best Animation award recognized the work Mamiya CR7, by Danny de León and Eisman Sánchez.

Parallel to the exhibition, the Cuban Association of Cinematographic Press award went to The Dominant Species, by Carolina Fernández-Vega. The National Center for Sexual Education and the Oscar Arnulfo Romero Reflection and Solidarity Center awarded the work I Love Papuchi, by Rosa María Rodríguez; the International Film and Television School of San Antonio de los Baños awarded its prize to Cosplayer, by Orlando Mora Cabrera; and the Faculty of Art of the Audiovisual Media chose The Project.

The documentary Two Islands, by Adriana F. Castellanos, also won an award from the Antonio Núñez Jiménez Foundation of Nature and Man, while the Sara GómezNetwork of Cuban Performers and Televisión Serrana awarded What Remedy? The Parranda. The Audience Award went to Human Thirst, by Danilo C. París and Gabriel Alemán, a film that also won the award for Best Photography.

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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.

Cuban Young Filmmakers Exhibition Starts in the Midst of a Debate About Film Censorship

The first hours of the 17th edition of the Young Filmmakers Exhibition took place this Tuesday in an almost empty theater at the Chaplin cinema, in Havana. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 4 April 2018 — The first hours of the 17th edition of the Young Filmmakers Exhibition took place this Tuesday in an almost empty theater of the Chaplin cinema, in Havana. The event began in the midst of the scandal over the the exclusion of the film I Want to Make a Movie, from director Yimit Ramírez, an incident that continues to generate conflicting opinions among officials and filmmakers.

The Exhibition was inaugurated with the screening of The Two Princes, a short film inspired by the homonymous poem by José Martí. The choice of the film was interpreted by the audience as a response to Ramírez’s film, which the Cuban Institute of Cinematographic Art and Industry (ICAIC) criticized for including “disrespectful” dialogue about the national hero. continue reading

The afternoon and evening session on this first day was enlivened a little more with the welcome offered by the organizing committee to the young filmmakers at their new headquarters on 23rd Street. Two exhibitions, Hair of the Wolf, by the artist collective Chambelon Network, and Vero de perro, by Manuel Almenares, completed the day’s program.

Also presented on the opening day was the feature film not part of the competition, The Wolves of the East, filmed in Japan and directed by Carlos Machado Quintela, known for his film The Work of the Century (2015)about the failed Cienfuegos Nuclear City project.

However, the main protagonists of the day were the absentee I Want to Make a Movie and its director, who were at the focus of the conversations among exhibition attendees, especially because, hours earlier, the Presidency of the Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba (UNEAC) issued a harsh statement against the film.

UNEAC’s statement adds to an avalanche of articles and comments published in the official press and on the websites of institutions that criticized the words of a character in the film, who refers to José Martí with the terms “mojón” and “maricón” (turd and faggot). UNEAC believes that the exclusion of the film from the program is an incident that has been “magnified” by the “anti-Cuban press.”

“We share the indignation of youth who follow Martí in the face of this attempt to tarnish the memory of the Apostle,” said the Presidency of the pro-government association. The statement, however, did not mention the public solidarity shown by much of the film industry with Ramírez.

“To those who seek to undermine the founding values ​​of the Cuban nation, we say: Don’t involve José Martí!” UNEAC said in its statement, in a tone that many filmmakers and film critics have considered threatening.

On Tuesday night, the Exhibition continued with the screening of the documentary short films Movies and Memory by Jorge Luis Sánchez and Notes on the Shore by Luis Alejandro Yero. In addition, the fiction short film Rocaman, by Marcos Díaz, and the animated Decomposition, by Jarol Cuellar, were screened.

Like last year, the Exhibition suffers from a shortage of works in the animation section, with just three this year. In addition to the films in the competition, the event also includes a Bonus section for non-competition pieces, known as the Moving Ideas space, along with the usual conferences and the pitching of movie themes in the Making Cinema section.

Among the most anticipated is the screening of Alejandro Alonso Estrella’s documentary, The Project, which presents the concept: “A filmmaker is forbidden to film an old school converted into housing. Years later, he decides to remake the Project.”

Also in the documentary category, the filmmaker Marcel Beltrán competed with the work The Music of the Spheres, inspired by a family history.

Despite the censorship applied to his latest film, Yimit Ramírez is represented with a short film from 2017, Eternal Glory, which tells the story of Julián, an “outstanding worker” worthy of an award he has always wanted, but “at the moment he is nominated, his mind is filled with great conflicts.”

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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 Prevents Activists From Traveling to Lima Summit

Adonis Milan (left) and Gorki Aguila (right)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 4 April 2018 — Two more activists were victims of restrictive measures that prevented them from leaving Cuba on Wednesday. They are the playwright Adonis Milan and the musician Gorki Águila, both of whom have been invited to attend the Forum of Civil Society and Social Actors that will be held in Lima, Peru, on the 10th and 11th of this month, an event parallel to the 8th Summit of the Americas also being held in Peru.

Milan, a member of Cuba Decides, was not allowed to not board the plane that would have taken him to Argentina. The immigration authorities cancelled his boarding pass and acknowledged that he was “regulated” by Cuban State Security Counterintelligence, he told 14ymedio. continue reading

The playwright, who has recently been expelled from the Hermanos Saíz Association and who suffers the permanent harassment from the political police, was intending to travel to Buenos Aires as a guest of the “cultural exchange of the Center for the Opening and Development of Latin America (CADAL).”

At the conclusion of that meeting, the activist had planned to travel from Argentina to Peru, without going through Havana, to attend this month’s events parallel to the 8th Summit of the Americas, as a guest of CADAL and the Center for Journalism and Technology Networks of Peru.

This morning, musician Gorki Águila, a member and leader of the punk rock band Porno para Ricardo, was also prevented from traveling, in his case to Miami. Once in the American city he also intended to travel to Peru to attend the Summit.

Theindependent civil society activists suspect that it is a strategy of the Government to prevent the arrival of the opponents in Lima.

“The government wants to avoid the meeting up of forces that occurred in Panama [in 2015] and therefore will not let any of the guests traveling to the Lima Summit leave the country,” the musician said, referring to the attacks against independent activists by of members of the official delegation that occurred that year.

In recent days, the vice president of the National Union of Jurists of Cuba, Yamila González Ferrer, said she would not share any space “with mercenary elements and organizations,” in reference to dissidents who have been accused of responding to the interests of “the empire.”

In the last year, State Security has increased the pressure against activists and dissidents, preventing them from traveling abroad. In most cases the refusal of the right to travel is not permanent, but arbitrary and circumstantial, which makes it difficult to report to international organizations. This strategy is in addition to the arrests, confiscations of personal belongings, the raids of homes and the imposition of legal charges.

In January 2013, Migration and Travel Reforms came into effect that eliminated the “exit permit” previously required for travel abroad. In the first ten months after the approval of the new measures, Cubans made more than 250,000 trips abroad, a record number compared with previous years.

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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.

Pads, Rags or Menstrual Cups?

Women line up at a pharmacy in Cuba for menstrual supplies. (Video Screen Capture)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 26 March 2018 — Marta María Ramírez was given her first tampons in 1991, when she got her first period at age 15. The country was experiencing the deepest days of its economic crisis and sanitary pads were not available. Some 27 years later the situation is little changed and Ramírez, now a journalist and producer, promotes the use of alternatives among Cuban women affected by the shortage and poor quality of sanitary napkins.

Each woman between 10 and 55 years old receives, through the rationed market, a monthly package with 10 “intimates,” as samitary pads are popularly called. The product, manufactured by the state monopoly Mathisa under the brand name ’Mariposas’ (butterflies), is sold at a subsidized price of 1.20 CUP a package, about 5¢ US, but has an impressive record of negative opinions among its users. continue reading

The poor quality of the pads, their poor ability to absorb, the defective glue that prevents them from being firmly fixed to the underwear, in addition to the irregularity in their supply, are some of the most common complaints heard when women are asked about ‘intimates’ on the streets of the country.

Alternatives are available in stores that sell products in hard currency, where several types of pads are sold, from the thinnest for light days to others for days of greater menstrual flow. But at more than 25 CUP a package, which for some can be the equivalent of a full day’s wages, the price is prohibitive for many pockets.

Ed. Note: Apologies for not having subtitles for this video.

“A woman’s menstrual cycle last three to seven days,” gynecologist Niurka Rodríguez tells this newspaper. “I recommend that my patients change their pad, at a minimum, every six hours, but most of them tell me that in the days of greatest menstrual flow they can use up to eight pads” on a single day.

“If you have a period for four days, taking the average, and you change every six hours, then you will need 16 ‘intimates’ for one cycle and the package that is distributed in the ration-market pharmacies only supplies 10 a month, which is not enough,” laments the physician.

However, “very few women who come to my practice use another alternative, such as tampons or a silicone cup that is inserted inside the vagina and manages to collect the flow,” adds Rodriguez, who works from a clinic in the 10 de Octubre municipality. “The cup can be worn for a longer time without great risks and lasts for years.”

The cups are made with medical silicone or TPE (thermoplastic elastomer) and are designed to be used also by those who have allergies, because they do not contain any chemical additives. They do not hurt, nor do they dry out the vaginal walls and they do not leave behind any bits of fibers, as traditional tampons can do.

In none of the more than 20 stores, pharmacies and supermarkets in Havana visited by this newspaper that sell feminine hygiene products in hard currency, were menstrual cups available, and there was only one pharmacy where tampons were available, for a price of 8 convertible pesos (CUC– roughly $8 US) for a box of 20.

Gynecologist Niurka Rodríguez believes that the limited use of these other options among Cuban women is due to several reasons. “The lack of information is vital, because many do not know that these products exist, but also the high prices at which tampons are sold in some pharmacies in CUC prevent them from becoming popular.”

“There is also a lack of information among us, health professionals, because most of my colleagues have never seen a menstrual cup and can not recommend something they know nothing about,” she says. “I am informed because I have a sister who lives in Sweden, where it is very popular.”

“When I use all the pads from the pharmacy I turn to rags,” says Mariela, a 23-year-old Havana woman who learned that habit from her mother, who “lived through very diffcult times, like the crises of the 70s and the 90s.”

“She taught me how to cut a towel into pieces, that I wrap and fill with a bit of cotton, which helps me replace the pads,” she explains to 14ymedio. “The problem is that afterwards you have to wash them very well and hang them in the sun to dry so there is no residue on them  that could affect your health.”

This method is very widespread among Cuban women and became practically obligatory during the most critical years of the so-called Special Period. “At that time everyone went around with their rags in their bags and the worst partwas when you removed one it had to be carefully stored, to take it home and wash it.”

Prejudices also contribute to “the pad remaining the first and most widespread choice among women” on the island, says Dr. Niurka Rodríguez. “There are many popular legends that using a tampon is dirty because the woman has to touch her genitals or that it may end up stuck in the vagina, but these are the result of ignorance.”

“With the tampon I felt liberated,” Marta María Ramírez tells 14ymedio. “Despite the risks (toxic shock syndrome and other longer-term ones that I heard of), I enjoyed being free,” she says.

Toxic shock syndrome is caused by a toxin produced by some types of Staphylococcus bacteria. Although its prevalence is very low (from 1 to 9 cases per 100,000 people) it is estimated that around half of the cases are associated with the use of tampons, particularly among women who leave the product in their vagina for a long time.

Other than that risk, that is explained in every tampon container, women interviewed insist that it is a better option than sanitary pads, because it performs better with regards to “how long it works, cleanliness, mobility and safety,” according to opinions collected by this newspaper.

On March 8, for Women’s Day, Ramírez published 42 demands of Cuban women on her Facebook account. These included the promotion and sale of tampons and menstrual cups in the country at prices that any woman can afford.

A few years ago, Ramírez learned about the work of Feminist Economics, a space that promotes “on this side of the Atlantic, the MenstruAcción campaign, asking the Argentine Congress to pass a law to provide menstrual products free of charge and tax exempt,” she said.

“There I found out about the battles of women in other parts of the planet and I decided to include the mentrual cup in my first book “SurvivalKitForWomen,” which lists objects that all women must carry in their purses.

Ramírez tested the menstrual cup thanks to a friend who bought it for her abroad. “It is safe, hygienic and more economical, having a useful life of up to three years. And in addition, it’s better for the environment,” she explains.

Now, she is disseminating her experiences because “Cuban women need access to information” on these issues “in order to be able to choose and to demand that the government set aside the absurd paternalism that ignores issues that would make us happier.”

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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.

Independent Newscast Faces Censorship

Ignacio González, journalist and director of En Caliente Free Press. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 21 March 2018 — The first memory that many have of Ignacio González was seeing him up to his waist in water reporting on the floods in Havana. Over the years, this independent journalist has narrated innumerable events of the Cuban reality through his YouTube channel and now he has released a newscast.

This week González launched En Caliente (In the Heat of the Moment), a self-financed news program that will be broadcast through social networks from the island with a weekly frequency. The space will address national and international news, but also topics of potential interest for young people, such as technology. continue reading

The director’s objective, as he explained in conversation with 14ymedio, is “to help Cubans see the news that is denied in the official media” and “to contribute a grain of sand to the information balance needed in every society.”

En Caliente aspires to be “its own product, prepared from the independent press and by those outside officialdom,” Gonzalez said, while adjusting the final details of the launch this Wednesday.

En Caliente will try to distance itself, through a modern and fully digital approach, from the sober official newscasts in which the speakers address the audience as if they were on a dais.

Years of work as a reporter have led González to take on the omitted topics, the rumors that try to fill the gap in news on many local and foreign topics.

The journalist is aware that poor internet connectivity, high costs and censorship contribute to Cubans’ misinformation. “It is very difficult and expensive to review one by one the news reports on the network or circumvent the censorship on the national servers against the independent press sites such as Cubanet, CiberCuba, OnCuba and 14ymedio in which there is abundant news, but are almost all blocked,” he laments.

The reporter aspires to offer a weekly summary, a kind of press review, with the most outstanding reports from these independent newspapers collected “in a brief and analytical way.”

The broadcast of each newscast will probably last between seven and eight minutes. González is committed to the viral distribution of material, through mobile phones and USB flash drives capable of counteracting the “computer illiteracy” of many who do not know “how to download a file from the network or how to use a VPN or a proxy.”

“The idea is to show something that is fast, striking and engaging,” says the director, optimistically.

The reporter will appear seated at a virtual table in setting different from what the audience knows now, more on-the-street and urban. Still with much left to “polish” in his new role, Gonzalez has in his favor that no director dictates what he can say and what he can not. It is, in its entirely, a newscast without scissors.

“This first edition is experimental to measure the reactions of the viewers,” says González. Infrastructure problems and the limited resources of a self-financed newscast for the moment, despite its being low cost, complicate the path.

“Little by little, the way the news is presented will be improved and changed, adding a dose of analysis and freshness,” he says, still optimistic.

En Caliente will be developed responding to on-line comments,” he says. “He who does not take risks does not achieve his goals.”

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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.

Film Considered Disrespectful of Jose Marti Rejected By Cuban Film Institute

Cuban filmmaker Yimit Ramírez partially financed his film “I Want to Make a Movie” through crowdfunding. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 14 March 2018 — The film “I Want to Make a Movie,”  by filmmaker Yimit Ramírez, was excluded from the Special Presentation section of the Young Filmmaker’s Exhibition by officials of the Cuban Institute of Art and Film Industry (ICAIC), who said that the dialog during a scene of his trial was not very respectful of José Martí, who “is sacred.”

The scene that has generated discomfort among the censors has been published by Marta María Ramírez. In it, one of the characters declares himself to not be a follower of Martí and describes the Cuban hero as a “mojón” and “maricón” (turd and faggot). continue reading

The film was to be screened at the 23rd and 12th Cinema in Havana on 3 April, in the Special Presentation Section, followed by a discussion between the artists and the public.

However, the initial program, designed by the exhibition team, was not approved by the ICAIC authorities, which excluded the film from the section and moved its projection to the small Terence Piard Room, recently inaugurated in ICAIC’s headquarters in 23rd Street, in Vedado.

The idea of projecting the film came from the Exhibition itself, but two weeks after the invitation, its developers knew that the ICAIC officials had to “give the go-ahead” to the film before projecting it in one of the rooms.

“It fell to me to talk to Octavio Fraga Guerra, an official I have known for a long time and who, armed with flash memory, demanded that I copy the film so that he could watch it with the president of ICAIC,” Ramírez explains in a post he shared on his Facebook account.

The post also states that his lack of trust in giving ICAIC a copy of the film on a flash memory came mostly from fear that the film would be “leaked as has happened with other works of Cuban filmmakers” that have been entrusted to that institution. Despite his resistance, the official warned him: “If you don’t give me a copy, if won’t be shown.”

After repeatedly telling him that he would take responsibility if the copy was leaked Ramirez agreed. Three hours later his response was that the film would not be screened in the planned section because the official “had not liked a phrase from the film,” while Fraga Guerra clarified that the ICAIC director had not yet seen it.

“I Want to Make a Movie” is the first feature film by Ramírez, who finished it with an 8,000 euros budget obtained through a crowdfunding campaign. The journalist Marta María Ramírez, who designed the communication strategy for the campaign on the Internet, explained to this newspaper that the new screening room “has only 24 seats” and is “small” for the planned showing.

Ramírez explains that the filmmakers “have made tremendous noise with that film and created many expectations” and that it makes no sense to hold a screening where there is only enough space for the team that made the film to attend. “The interesting thing would have been to open a debate with the public,” he says.

“We were asking that it not be a premier because it is a first cut and not the finished film, we wanted to connect with people and talk about other forms of financing, such as crowdfunding, which we don’t know a lot about because we don’t have the internet connection we need,” he says.

The organizers of the show insisted the institution include the film in the planned section with a showing in the 23rd and 12th Cinema, but Roberto Smith de Castro, director of ICAIC, responded categorically that “Martí is sacred” and that the alternative if they wanted to show the film was the Terence Piard Room.

The team putting on the exhibition disagreed in a note posted on their Facebook account, where they said that the decision was made under criteria that they do not share and described as “totally inappropriate” the option to exhibit it in another room.

The outstanding filmmaker Fernando Perez resigned his position as director of the Exhibition in 2010 after a similar maneuver by the ICAIC, when they excluded the documentary made by the filmmaker Ricardo Figueredo about rapper Raudel Collazo, from Escuadrón Patriota. “Not being able to demonstrate in practice the inclusive coherence that I have planned for the Exhibition, I have made the personal decision not to continue at the front of it,” said the director.

Yimit Ramírez, director of the film, is not surprised about what happened and says he expected it. “We did not count on them to make the movie, and we did it, completely independently. It would be nice to see it in the cinemas, but the truth… The truth is that they control only the movie theaters here, there are many other formats in which people can see it.”

In addition, the director has praised the figure of a José Martí that he considers more real than the one promoted by the institutions. “The Martí I love is more human, some like it and others do not, it’s that simple, like the verses,” he said, referring to José Martí’s poetry collection titled “Simple Verses.”

The film team told 14ymedio that the production company will present the film to all competitions in Cuba wherever they are, including the Havana Film Festival, the Nuevitas Hieroscopia Festival and the Almacén de la Imagen  in Camagüey. “Otherwise we will give it away and project it where we can. It’s the price of independence.”

Film critic Dean Luis Reyes expressed his solidarity with the film’s team: “Martí will be a God for some people, but art has to do with doubt, religion is about something else.”

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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.