“We Will Be Watching You”

The police offered Luz Escobar better treatment if she collaborated so that the Government could influence the editorial line of ’14ymedio’. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 16 January 2018 — Two State Security officers threatened the journalist Luz Escobar on Monday with prosecution for a common crime and making her life hell if she continues her work as a journalist for 14ymedio. “We are going to be watching you, because everyone here [in Cuba] has to buy something on the black market,” warned one of the interrogators.

Escobar received a summons, the second in less than five weeks, to attend an “interview” at the Zapata and C Street police station in Havana’s Vedado neighborhood, on 15 January at 1:00 in the afternoon. The meeting lasted an hour and 20 minutes and included several warnings.

“They threatened to tell my neighbors that I am a counterrevolutionary, to not let me leave the country and to prosecute me for a common crime,” adds the reporter, who in the last four years has published dozens of chronicles and reports in the pages of this newspaper. continue reading

“They gave as an example the case of the economist Karina Gálvez,” a member of the Center for Coexistence Studies (CEC) who was prosecuted last year for the crime of tax evasion. “The same thing can happen to you”

“They gave as an example the case of the economist Karina Gálvez,” a member of the Center for Coexistence Studies (CEC) who was prosecuted last year for the crime of tax evasion. “The same thing can happen to you,” the officers threatened.

Escobar, who previously worked as a theater producer, has been working as a journalist since the beginning of 2014 when she joined 14ymedio’s initial team. Since then she has specialized in cultural and local coverage; highlights of her work are her interviews with artists and her chronicles of daily life in Havana.

“They were particularly annoyed by the article I published last week about the situation outside the Colombian embassy in Havana, where visas are processed so that Cubans can continue the consular procedures for visas to United States in Bogotá,” she said.

“The official, who identified himself as Lieutenant Amed, reproached me for going there and gathering information from Cubans who were waiting to enter the consulate,” Escobar said. “He told me that I had to notify State Security whenever I wanted to cover news of that type.”

The “interview” cycled between threats and an offer of collaboration for the journalist to help the political police to “influence the editorial line” of 14ymedio, because right now “it is a newspaper that receives instructions from abroad to subvert the Revolution,” they told her.

“Among the warnings there were clear hints that they will put pressure on my family and even alluded to my daughters, telling me that they might not have me around as they grow up,” said the reporter, who has decided to continue with her work. “It’s what I want to do with my life,” she says flatly.

The agents asked the journalist to help the political police to “influence the editorial line” of ’14ymedio’,because right now “it is a newspaper that receives instructions from abroad to subvert the Revolution”

The officials insisted that the United States Government financially supports this digital newspaper, but did not reference public information on 14ymedio’s finances; in its four years of existence the newspaper has not received funds from any governments or political parties, or from any organizations linked to any nation’s executive branch.

“Lieutenant Amed avoided mentioning the transparent finances of which this newspaper boasts,” said the director of 14ymedio, the journalist Yoani Sánchez. “He is lying, because we have created our own business model with the resources derived from memberships, reporting agreements with other media, private donations and the work we do in academic centers or other information spaces,” she adds.

“Amed wants to blame us for something that is totally false and is committing the crime of defamation crime by saying that we receive resources from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) or the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), when we are a project with total economic and editorial autonomy,” she reiterates.

A few weeks ago, this newspaper inaugurated a membership system for Internet users to help support the costs of maintaining a newspaper in a country where the independent press is penalized. “We have managed to involve readers so that they can support, with their monetary contributions and solidarity, the work we do every day,” says Sánchez.

Thank you all for the solidarity. The “interview” was full of threats from State Security to get me to quit my work as a journalist on the digital newspaper 14ymedio. 15 January 2018

Since the founding of 14ymedio, in May 2014, members of the editorial team have received constant pressure to abandon their work as journalists. The website is blocked on national servers and residents on the island can only access it via anonymous proxies or VPN.

“Arrests, threats and interrogations have been our day-to-day reality, but we have tried to prevent that repressive atmosphere from distracting us from our reporting,” Sánchez emphasizes, “however, the situation has reached a point where we fear for the integrity of our reporters and it is time to call on the solidarity of journalism organizations in the region and human rights organizations to alert them to what is happening.”

At the end of the interview, Luz Escobar received a new police citation for next Wednesday, 17 January, at the Police Station on 21st and C streets in Vedado.

______________________

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.

Prejudices Put the Brakes on Bike Culture in Cuba

The lanes on the right, exclusive for bicycles and which were so common two decades ago, have been phased out. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 15 January 2018 — The first Sunday of each month they meet in a park in Centro Habana and ride through the capital on a route that varies to avoid boredom. They are the members of Bicicletear La Habana (Havana Cycling), a group of cyclists that promotes the use of bikes as a means of healthy transport and respectful of the environment, a task that in Cuba involves breaking down the stigma of unreliability attached to this means of transport.

The problems with the oil supply and the shortages during the Special Period, in the 90s, negatively affected the image of this transportation mode which, in Europe, is experiencing an era of splendor due to its positive impact on the economy and the sustainability of the cities.

A study published this Monday by the European Union’s PASTA Project (Physical Activity through Sustainable Transport Approaches) estimates that if at least in 24.7% of trips were made by bike, more than 10,000 premature deaths could be avoided per year.  In addition, the results show that by increasing spending on the cycle path network by only 10%, the estimated economic benefits of avoiding premature mortality are enormous. continue reading

“Getting people out of cars produces great health benefits. A combination of measures that make the car unattractive and policies focused on converting public transport and cycling into more attractive modes would be the best way to improve health and welfare in European cities,” the study concludes.

The restoration of the bike lanes in Cuba is not discussed, even though it is the measure most in demand by those who cycle.

In Cuba, the public commitment to promote the use of the bicycle is conspicuous by its absence. Last December, transport minister Adel Yzquierdo Rodríguez told the National Assembly that repairs to “some capital arterials” are planned for this year, but Wilfredo Vázquez, a 55-year-old electrician, believes that “we should also invest in parallel roads and smaller streets that could be a less dangerous alternative for cyclists.”

However, the restoration of the bike lanes in Cuba is not discussed, even though it is the measure most in demand by those who cycle.

In 2013 the economist Marino Murillo, known as the “Tsar of Economic Reforms,” made an announcement that excited some and robbed others of their sleep. The new plan to revitalize the use of the bicycle was aimed at alleviating transport problems and offering a healthier option to the population, Murillo explained at the time.

“In Cuba, one could say there are no bike shops, although there is a store in Miramar and another in another municipality”

The announcement set off alarm bells for many Cubans who saw in it a possible return to the hardest years of the 90s economic crisis.

“The application of below-cost pricing for the sale of parts for [bicycle] maintenance will be evaluated,” Murillo added then, but almost five years later there has been mo increase in sales of bikes or bike parts, nor has there been an increase in the availability of bike parking or bike repair shops.

“In Cuba, one could say there are no bike shops, although there is a store in Miramar and another in another municipality,” reflects Yasser González, from Bicicletear La Habana.

And this is not the only problem. The exclusive bike lanes on the right-hand sides of streets, which were so common two decades ago, have been phased out. On some streets, cycling has been prohibited altogether and the government no longer engages in a massive importing of bicycles, as it did during the Special Period to address the lack of other means of transport.

The architect Miguel Coyula believes that “in Cuba, bicycles are seen as a necessity imposed by extreme economic circumstances.” The specialist wrote an article in which he said that “Havana lost a golden opportunity to become a truly friendly city” for cyclists.

Although the data are not as alarming as those of other Latin American capitals, Havana already suffers from pollution levels that should be reversed.

Havanans give very little thought to the sustainability of their city or their health. In 2014, an investigation determined that nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide, volatile organic compounds and dust particles are causing a worrying environmental deterioration in the capital’s air quality. Although the data are not as alarming as those of other Latin American capitals, Havana already suffers from pollution levels that should be reversed.

But the majority of Habaneros consulted by this newspaper reject cycling because it is very hot, the streets are in very bad condition, it is dangerous and they don’t believe their nutrition is adequate for the effort required. Some people also fear their bikes will be stolen or there is no parking near their homes or work.

The cyclists who have joined Bicicletear La Habana pass in a multicolored row in front of Havana’s doorways, leaving curiosity in their wake. Passers-by and drivers sometimes call them “the crazy bike people” for moving on two wheels when in the collective memory “pedaling” is still something closer to sacrifice than pleasure.

“Sometimes I have seen the group pass in front of my house and the truth is that I do not understand why they spend so much energy in that, if along this same route there are almendrones (collective taxis) running,” says María Elena, a retired teacher who lives on Infanta Road, near the departure point of the members of Bicicletear La Habana.

The woman traveled on two wheels when she was working, but no longer cycles because her knees are “in very bad condition.” The aging of the population is leading to a future where “in 2030 older adults will constitute 30% of Havana’s population,” which is another reason Miguel Coyula gives for the decline in cycling.

Among drivers, the opinion of cyclists is quite negative. The drivers refer to them with derogatory phrases, they shout insults and there are few displays of courtesy towards those on two wheels. Along with the tricycles known as pedicabs, bicycles are the lowest link in the Havana traffic food chain.

The Cuban Statistical Yearbook only mentions this type of accident when it is due to “violations by cyclists,” but not when they are the victims.

“I make the trip every day from my house in La Víbora to my work in Vedado and I have to be very attentive because the drivers cut me off or park unexpectedly in front of me without warning,” laments Wilfredo Vázquez.

The cyclist says he has been “in the saddle for almost 30 years” and has never had a serious accident, although several falls that he blames on “imprudent drivers.” However, the Cuban Statistical Yearbook only mentions this type of accident when it is due to “violations by cyclists,” but not when they are the victims.

According to data from the National Office of Statistics and Information (ONEI), in 2016 cyclists were responsible for 57 accidents with 5 deaths and 53 injured, an incidence lower than that recorded in 2015, when there were 69 accidents, with 10 deceased and 62 injured.

“They always blame us for interfering with traffic and saw we are a headache for taxi drivers and guagueros (bus drivers) but most of the time it is the other way around,” Vázquez complains. “They do not take us into account and without exclusive bike paths, they see us as if we were intruders on the road.”

The experienced cyclist believes that “the state of the streets doesn’t support cycling very much either.” In Havana “there are very few roads that are not full of potholes, with the asphalt broken down by the heat and with bad signals,” he says.

To make matters worse, the bicycle market does not support cycling as a means of transport. Unlike the 90s, when the streets were full of Chinese bicycles – the Flying Pigeon models and the popular Forever Bicycle – today the few rolling along the streets show a greater diversity of styles because they come from the personal imports or the tourists who, after using them, give them away to some Cuban.

Bicicletear La Habana promotes the idea of small private businesses who rent bikes by the hour. The informal market also often makes up for the lack, although the bicycles offered on classified ad sites are poor quality, this paper has confirmed.

“The most popular bicycles are the electric ones, because people do not want to pedal,” says Wilfredo Vázquez, who considers himself “a passionate cyclist.” He says, “I do not understand that, because having a bicycle is choosing to a healthier lifestyle and for that you have to do the exercise,” he argues.

Vázquez believes that “sooner or later” cycling will be common in Cuba’s major city. “Because it is untenable to move more than two million people on public transport and the city is very congested with cars.” However, “first you have to overcome people’s prejudice.”

________________

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.

"You Are Not in Control Here," the Refrain that Silences Women

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 26 November 2017  — In the Havana neighborhood of La Timba a teenager loudly sings Latin trap song that causes a stir among young Cubans:  “You are not in control here, silence/Pay attention you evil woman.”  The rhythm is gaining ground on the Island with its lyrics charged with misogyny and gender violence.

Born in the United States in the ’90’s and censored in the Island’s official media, a good part of trap music glorifies drug use, casual sex, violence and criminal acts.  Its refrains have managed to displace the popular reggaton that from the beginning of this century dominated the Cuban music scene.

Trap has gone viral thanks to technology.  Many of its follower are under twenty and use bluetooth in order to send songs from one phone to another.  Mobile applications like Zapya and services like YouTube are the best record labels that the exponents of this catchy music count on. continue reading

The Colombian Maluma, the American Arcangel, together with the Puerto Ricans Bad Bunny and Ozuna, are the best known stars of the new phenomenon in Cuba.  Their lyrics are loaded with stories about slums where scheming, drugs and weapons are part of the day-to-day life.

In the trap music context women are often seen as property of the man and dependent on his whims.  Scenes of sexual assaults, young people drugged or tied to the bed and continuous infidelities are hummed by children and teens on the bus, in the classroom or on the sidewalks throughout the Island.

Some lyrics are pure dynamite in a region where gender violence indices are alarming.  A recent report by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and UN Women warns that Latin America and the Cariberrean have the highest rates of homicide against women in the world.  “The role of the media as transmitters and builders of cultural models” makes them allies or adversaries in the “fight for equality,” warns Amnesty International.

The image of women in the media is also included in the analysis of these acts of aggression.

Trap musicians defend themselves against accusations of misogyny by claiming that they simply hold a mirror to poor neighborhoods where machismo reigns. They make themselves out to be chroniclers of a daily reality wherein women are often used as bargaining chips between gangs or to settle disputes.

The Cuban authorities have reacted to the spread of trap music with an avalanche of articles in the official press, in which they accuse the genre of depicting women as mere objects of desire. The song, 4 Babys, by Maluma, has been censored from television and radio playlists.

Nonetheless, the Columbian’s voice can be heard frequently in recreation centers, school parties and on public transportation. “They always give me what I want / They put out when I tell them / Not one says no,” a dozen students could be heard chanting during recreation at a primary school in Centro Habana.

“I have forbidden my grandson to play those songs because nothing good can come from those lyrics, but there is no way to prevent it because it’s all over the place,” complains Lucinda, 72, a resident of the city of Santa Clara. “It’s not enough to tell him that he cannot listen to that music at home if they’re playing it even at school,” she laments.

Patriotic ballads are often alternated with the most raw reggaeton and trap. The thousands of teachers barely past adolescence who are staffing the classrooms of the nation, due to the personnel shortage in education sector, are avid fans of these genres.

“I want do do Fifty Shades of Grey to you, tie you to the bed with tape, start at 11 and end at 6,” says the song, 50 Shades of Austin, by the singer Arcangel–which is on the phone or tablet of every student in the Old Havana prep school.

“I don’t see anything wrong with it because it’s not real, it’s a story the singer made up to have a good time,” says middle school student Magela. “It’s not like we’re listening now to Arcangel and then are going to do what he’s saying. It’s like a video game, where you don’t really die,” she explains.

The discussions over the new style have reached the television studios. During a recent debate, Israel Rojas, the lead singer of the duo Buena Fe, was pointing to educational deficiencies in school and at home as the soil in which trap music takes root.

However, Joseph Ros, an A/V producer, warned against the dangers of censoring those themes and of a lack of dialogue over decisions about political culture in the country. The censoring of political or erotic content tends to feed the popularity of songs and videos.

During the 90s, the independent Association of Women Communicators, or Magín, convened more than 400 professionals, largely from the world of television and radio, with the objective of changing “women’s image in the media,” according to one of its founders, Sonnia Moro.

Magín members tried to “confront sexism, taboos and stereotypes,” and the messages that help reinforce “the patriarchal mindset,” but the group was quickly “deactivated” by the Central Committee of the Communist Party. “We were stunned,” admits Moro, who also points to “an absence of focus on gender” in Cuban education.

Last Friday in the WiFi zone on La Rampa, Melisa, barely 9 years old, was asking her mother to download the Soy Peor [“I’m Worse”] video. “Go on your way because I’m better off without you / Now I have others who do me better,” sings the Puerto Rican, Bad Bunny. “If I was a son of a bitch before / Now I’m worse, because of you.”

With a few clicks and no hesitation, the woman booted up the material that the girl would later share with her friends.

_________

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.

Translated By: Mary Lou Keel and Alicia Barraqué Ellison

Daranas Seduces Cuban Audience with His Film About the Special Period

The ’Sergio & Sergei’ film crew this Thursday during the press conference at the Hotel Nacional. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, 15 December 2017 — On Thursday, Ernesto Darana’s film Sergio & Sergei was finally shared with a Havana audience and the full room of the Yara cinema eruped with applause, laughter and tears. The exhibition of the Cuban director’s work, presented at the International Festival of New Latin American Cinema, had been frustrated last Sunday by a projector breakdown at the Chaplin Cinema

The filmmaker, whose previous film Conducta (Behavior) received many awards, attended the screening and regretted that the Yara Cinema did not have “optimal quality” technology for both the image and the sound.

This “is a film to smile [and] to think,” said the producer about the work on the film, which was presented worldwide in the official section of the latest edition of the Toronto International Film Festival. The film reflects “a crisis that has not yet ended,” in reference to a not too distant past whose echoes still resonate in today’s Cuba. continue reading

With a script by the director and Marta Daranas, the plot of Sergio & Serguéi is set in Havana in 1991 when the Special Period begins. Sergio is a professor of Marxism and amateur radio enthusiast, while Serguéi, a Soviet cosmonaut who travels to space as a Soviet and will return to Earth as a Russian, spends days of anguish in the damaged Mir space station.

Sergio & Sergei communicate by radio, helping each other despite the adversities they experience and the complex circumstances of their respective nations. On Earth, the brutal economic crisis provoked in Cuba by the collapse of the USSR — a time Fidel Castro labelled “The Special Period in Time of Peace” — sharpens Sergio’s paranoia, as he flees from his persecutors to the service of State Security.

For Mario Guerra, the actor who plays the vigilante Ramiro, the work done by the political police in Cuba is “castrating” and he confesses that he likes that people laugh at “such a moronic person” as Ramiro.

“There are things that do not deserve to be taken seriously,” said Daranas, referring to the tone of farce in which the character of the security agent is approached. During the press conference the director also mentioned that the film still has no release date in Cuban theaters, but it will be released in 2018 in Spain, as confirmed by the co-producer Mediapro.

In developing Sergio & Sergei, the director said he was inspired by those “operetta characters” who constantly break into everyday life and people’s dreams, and took advantage of the press conference to say that he refused to take seriously “the permanent extremists” and “the controllers.”

The film achieves highly worthy special effects that the team may well be proud of, as well as having excellent sound design along with credit for having hired an actor of the caliber of Ron Perlman to play Peter. Peter, an American journalist who lives in New York who is interested in investigating the propaganda of his country’s space program, ends up contacting Sergio.

The veteran American actor describes his character as “a quasi-revolutionary Jewish journalist living in New York” who reveals “the different forms of corruption of the US government.” Perlman had to sign “more than three thousand papers” to obtain permission from the United States Actors Association and work on a Cuban production.

However, beyond the fiction recreated or the amalgam of nationalities in the film’s cast, the most certain thing one can say about the film is that it manages to connect with a Cuban audience on a plane of complicity, recognition and identification.

“I do not want my daughter to grow up seeing this,” Sergio says on the screen, and the phrase generates a tremor in the room full of parents and grandparents who lived through those years. The teacher of Marxism sees how the world he knows falls apart and how he must set aside his principles to support his family, a story known by those who from the seats who fought tooth and nail in their daily struggle.

For Daranas, the film is a story “about friendship” and “about good people who deserve better.” Although in reality it is a film about unburied ghosts that run through the national life and lead us to wonder: What good were so many sacrifices to get to today’s disaster?

___________________

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.

Ciro Díaz: “Musician In The Morning, Mathematician In The Afternoon, Activist In The Evening”

Ciro Díaz, the guitarist of the group Porno para Ricardo, is a dissatisfied Cuban who is doing a PhD in mathematics in Brazil. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 2 December 2017 — It is risky to define someone in brief strokes, but if it is Ciro Díaz we are talking about it is even more so because the same person contains a mix of the activist, the musician and the mathematician.

The guitarist of the group Porno Para Ricardo is a dissatisfied Cuban who is doing a PhD in mathematics in Brazil. This week he was visiting Havana and spoke with 14ymedio.

14ymedio. What attracts you most about life in Brazil?

Díaz. Freedom. At the University of Havana I felt persecuted. If you did this you were thrown out, if you said that you were thrown out, if you did not behave in a certain way, they would throw you out, if you did not go to an activity you got into trouble. In Brazil, the opposite is true, because universities are epicenter generators of political problems. continue reading

14ymedio. Have you had encounters with that part of the university left that supports the Cuban Government?

Díaz. In Brazil there is everything, both the liberal left and the conservative left, the funny thing is that many people of the liberal left are very ill informed about Cuba. They think that the government of Havana is liberal when in fact it is ultraconservative and for the most extreme Brazilian left that is difficult to digest.

14ymedio. Activist, musician and mathematician. Aren’t they occupations that are too disparate?

Díaz. I’m a jumbled mixture of all that: musician in the morning, mathematician in the afternoon and activist at night.

14ymedio. But does one predominate over the others?

Díaz. Sometimes I turn more toward one thing than for another. Now I’m recording a new album with La Babosa Azul. When I finish it I’ll put it on the internet and forget about music for a while to concentrate on mathematics. Meanwhile I am an activist in my free time, when I have to face an ill-founded opinion about Cuba and help people to see our reality in a different way.

14ymedio. You mentioned the musical project La Babosa Azul, but some thought that was over…

Díaz. La Babosa Azul is a submarine: we record a record and then we submerge until the next one comes out. Between one thing and another maybe we do a concert or we record a video clip. The previous album was called El último (The Last). I called it that because I thought there was not going to be another album, but next year there will be one released in English.

14ymedio. Has the fact of living in Brazil separated you from the punk rock group Porno Para Ricardo?

Díaz. Never in my life have I played as much with Porno for Ricardo as since I’ve been in Brazil. In the Czech Republic we have played four times and whenever a concert is organized I join. It is very fun to play live and I love festivals that are full of people. A tremendous experience that here in Cuba is difficult to have, at least with so much publicity.

14ymedio. Than in those times of clandestine concerts?

Díaz. Yes, there were for fewer people, at the most 100 showed up. However, the most enthusiastic audience we have had is in Cuba because the songs speak them more and there is more interaction.

14ymedio. Will you return to the Island soon?

Díaz. I will continue coming every two years so as not to lose my (right of) residence and I will look for a job in Brazil when I finish my doctorate. It does not make sense to study six years to get a doctorate and come to live in Cuba, where I can not even work. What I will never lose is my residence here.

14ymedio. Have you thought about working with record companies?

Díaz. It is very difficult and I do not want to spend time on those efforts, not to mention all the concessions that have to be made. In Cuba it is particularly pathetic, you have to be a bootlicker to be broadcast on TV and radio, something I am not willing to do.

________________________

The 14ymedio team is committed to making a 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 becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

“My Attackers Act As If Nothing Happened”

José Enrique Morales Besada feels deceived and refuses to let the perpetrators go unpunished. (Courtesy)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, 13 November 2017 – It was a warm night in June and José Enrique Morales Besada was connected to the internet at a Wi-Fi hotspot in Morón, Ciego de Ávila. On returning home, his life took a dramatic turn when he was a victim of a homophobic attack that left him with serious physical consequences and a desire for justice that current Cuban legislation has failed to satisfy.

Last Friday, the Prosecutor’s Office decided to close the criminal process for his case and settle it with the imposition of a fine on his attackers. The interest in the attack on the part of the National Center for Sex Education (Cenesex), led by Raul Castro’s daughter Mariela Castro, has not been enough to bring his assailants to trial, although it did speed up the police investigation. continue reading

At just 21, this young man has spent the last months shuttling between medical consultations and police appointments after two men insulted him and hit him on the side of his face with a bottle. José Enrique only remembers lying on the floor, with a friend by his side who was screaming for help, he tells 14ymedio by phone.

Morales Besada dreamed of becoming a professional singer. He performed at parties and tourist facilities, offering pop themes, ballads, classics in English and popular dance music, but now he can barely finish a sentence without speech problems that stop him in the middle of his words.

“Every time I speak I have a very strange feeling, so I can’t sing because I can’t modulate my voice well,” he laments. The blow caused him to lose several teeth, destroyed part of his gums and caused a serious fracture of the jaw for which he had to undergo surgery.

Four years before the attack, the streets of Morón were filled with colorful displays when the province became the site for the Day Against Homophobia. The annual vindication has not succeeded in banishing the prejudices that remain deeply rooted in that region and in the rest of the country.

For Morales Besada, the Ciego de Ávila LGBTI community faces a “dark panorama” and its members suffer constant aggravations in the streets as well as “degrading treatment.”

“It is very difficult to sit in a park without someone passing by and throwing an insult or a can of beer,” he complains.

Homophobia in Cuba also enjoys police complicity. “When somebody goes to file a complaint about something like that they treat them like they’re crazy,” declares the young man, who, in spite of appearing with witnesses before the authorities, barely managed that his attackers spent 24 hours in custody. “They left after paying a bond of 1,000 Cuban pesos (roughly $40 US) each.”

The Cuban Penal Code does not include the concept of “hate crimes” regarding attacks against people based on ethnic origin, religion, race, gender, sexual orientation and identity. The latter, specifically, are not included in the current legislation and attacks against them are treated by the police and the courts like any other crime.

A few days after the attack, the singer wrote in his Facebook account an initial message saying what happened, demanding justice and asking Mariela Castro directly for help.

The report that was prepared in the hospital, and that recorded the facial and mouth injuries, was “conveniently” lost. (Courtesy)

In 2015, Mariela Castro had assured in a public event that the institution she directs was working in collaboration with the Ministry of the Interior to closely monitor these aggressions. “A thorough and specialized analysis is needed to determine the type of crime because all situations where LGBTI people are victims do not have hatred as a motive,” said the sexologist.

Cenesex began to investigate what happened in Morón and sent a letter to the municipality’s National Revolutionary Police (PNR). Morales Besada admits that when the officers heard the name of the daughter of the Cuban leader “they started running around and wanted to do in a day what they should have done from the beginning.”

The 10th was when Morales Besada knew that there would never be a trial for his attackers. The Prosecutor’s Office dismissed the opening of the trial and has settled the case with a fine against both perpetrators. After hearing the conclusion from the investigator, the young man came out crying. He did not even want to sign the official communication.

Morales Besada denounces multiple irregularities in the process. “Nobody from the investigation visited my maxillofacial doctor to ask what my current state of health is,” he complains. In addition, the report that was prepared in the hospital recording the facial and mouth injuries he suffered was “conveniently” lost and only appeared, after much searching, detailing cervical injuries.

“No trial was held and they deceived me because until that moment they had told me that they would be taken to court.”

Members of the Cuban LGBTI community have collected more and more records of assaults and hate crimes. Although official institutions do not publish statistics on murders or violent acts against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people, the news now is made known thanks to social networks.

In May 2015, this newspaper published an article about the stoning death of a 24-year-old transsexual in the city of Pinar del Río. The official media never published the news.

Morales Besada, who feels deceived and refuses to let the perpetrators go unpunished “as if nothing happened,” published a Facebook message last Friday that has made his case known to thousands of internet users.

The young man claims that both attackers have a history of homophobic violence. “They beat another boy who works in the Cayo but he did not accuse them because he is afraid.”

“This attack has left me without a life,” says José Enrique. The physical damage can leave permanent affects, but what adds to the pain now is the impotence he feels in the absence of justice.

A 16-Day Detention That Started With a Kidnapping

The activist Roberto Rodríguez Jiménez spent 16 days in detention. (Aulas Abiertas)

14ymedio bigger 14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 9 November 2017 — An arbitrary arrest is not the same if on the other side of the bars there is a family willing to ask questions or a friend who dares to investigate. Roberto Jiménez Gutiérrez believed that no one would notice his absence, which began on October 23 when the police crossed his path, but the reaction outside of Cuba surprised him.

“I was held incommunicado for sixteen days in the Technical Investigation Department at 100 and Aldabó,” the leader of the independent organization Juventud Activa Cuba Unida (JACU — Active Youth, United Cuba), which describes his arrest as a “kidnapping,” he tells this newspaper. “But the officers never told me where I was, I knew that from other prisoners,” he explains by telephone after being released last Tuesday.

In Jiménez’s mind, the days in the cell passed slowly without any logic. “Almost every day they interrogated me, but the most intense moments were the first 72 hours,” he recalls. continue reading

The opponent was on his way to José Martí International Airport, in Havana, to take a flight to Miami where he planned to participate in a dinner organized by the Legal Rescue Foundation (FRJ).

At dawn, police stopped the car in which he was traveling to the airport and told the driver to leave. “Everything that followed was very violent,” the JACU leader explains now. “I demanded that they show me a document that validated my arrest and then they hit me in the chest.”

After that the memories are confusing. Four policemen forced him into a patrol car and pushed him down in such a way that he could not even see the road the vehicle was traveling along.

“I am being accused of association, meetings and illicit demonstrations,” an offense for which one can receive from “three months to one year of deprivation of liberty.” The police also warned him, without showing him any papers, that he was going to be charged under Law 88, also known as the Gag Law.

The draconian legislation is the same as that which led to the imprisonment of 75 opponents and independent journalists in 2003, in a repressive wave known as the Black Spring. The dissidents tried in that case were sentenced to sentences as long as 30 years.

Under those rules Jiménez could be prosecuted for accumulating, reproducing and disseminating “information or documentation that goes against the Government.” The officers who interrogated him did not succeed in getting him to confess to the accusation. “They did not get anything, I held my position.”

That same day, the activist César Mendoza, director of the Center for Studies for Local Development (CEDEL), was also arrested. He was also going to participate in the meeting in Miami together with Jiménez, as well as be part of a panel at the recently concluded Cuba Internet Freedom meeting.

Mendoza saw him last Saturday when he was taken to another detention center, and cannot say where he is being held because he was moved in a fetal position. “They wanted to confront us with each other so we would implicate each other,” he explains. But neither of the activists confirmed the police hypothesis.

Now, Jiménez will have to go every Monday to 100 and Aldabó to sign a record and is awaiting a trial that does not yet have a date. “In the detention they confiscated a laptop, money and a tablet that were part of the things I was taking with me for the trip,” he adds.

The government repressors still do not understand why JACU works in the training of young people and “everything is done without profit and rests on the basis of human rights and democracy so that they can direct their actions and define their future.”

The activist recognizes that lately they have had to change the places where they meet “due to the pressures from State Security.” His arrest was one more drop in a cascade of arrests, threats and seizures.

“I do not have a family and they took advantage of that,” Jiménez laments, but in the days after his arrest a whole hosts of relatives materialized. The human rights organization Freedom House publicized his case and social networks filled with demands for his release.

When Roberto Jiménez Gutiérrez returned to walk through the streets of Havana his phone did not stop ringing. A new family had emerged during those 16 days of confinement.

Drinking the Water From the Tanker Trucks is a Time Bomb for Cubans’ Health

Selling bottled water in Havana. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 1 November 2017 — When their daughter turned seven, the family stopped boiling its drinking water. “It took me a long time,” explains the mother in the gastroenterology office. Soon after, the little girl showed symptoms of being infected with amoeba, a parasite closely linked to the poor quality of drinking water on the island.

First came the discomfort, then the diarrhea and later the vomiting. By the time they went to the hospital, the diagnosis was evident: amebic dysentery. Now, the girl is under medical treatment and the parents have returned to the practice of boiling water. “You can’t trust the water that comes in the tanker truck,” reflects the grandmother. continue reading

Medical research conducted between 2013 and 2014 in Havana and Santiago de Cuba revealed that Cubans have a low perception of the risk of acquiring Acute Diarrheal Disease (ADD). In addition, most of the respondents said they consume the water as it is delivered via the trucks.

The study warned of the low consumption of boiled water in homes, most commonly motivated by lack of time or resources for cooking. According to data from the last census conducted in 2012, only 78% of homes cook with manufactured or liquefied gas.

Families that have only electric stoves or prepare their food with kerosene think twice before boiling water. “I can’t afford it and my electric bill goes through the roof if I start boiling all the water we consume in this house,” says María del Carmen, a resident of the city of Camagüey.

With a well in the yard, the woman recognizes that it would be best to “be safe” and give some additional treatment to the water that the family drinks. She, her husband and their two children have suffered repeated infestation by intestinal parasites. “When it’s not amoeba, it’s giardia,” she says.

Some areas of the country have to be supplied by tanker trucks due to the poor condition of the pipes and the low water pressure. (14ymedio)

Some residents opt for water filters, made in South Korea, which have been sold in the network of national stores. However, the authorities of the Ministry of Public Health (MINSAP) warn that these processors, manufactured with activated carbon and other elements, are not capable of eliminating the most dangerous bacteria and microorganisms.

Quality is not the only reason why many do not use filters. “They are very expensive, because at the very least they cost 65 convertible pesos (CUC) and the spare parts are never less than 10 CUC,” María del Carmen says with regret. For some months now, the Camagüey family has started using a 1% sodium hypochlorite solution to purify the water.

“The problem is that it is not always available in the pharmacies, so we spend several weeks drinking clean water and then we have to go back to the old habits because they don’t have the product in stock,” explains the mother.

In the tourist forums for trips to the island, the questions about whether travelers can consume water from the tanker trucks are many. The warnings not to do so are overwhelming and some tour operators even recommend traveling with chlorine tablets to use during the stay.

Owners of houses that rent to foreigners try to maintain a supply of bottled water, but the costs are high for a worker’s pocket. If an individual consumes between two and three quarts of bottled water daily, it would cost about 40 CUC per month to stock up, in a country where the average monthly salary is around 25 CUC.

An investigation carried out by the University of Miami pointed out some important problems that affect the potability of the island’s water. Among its basic observations is the existence of aged pipes that in many cases are “so corroded” that the liquid is often contaminated. The study pointed out that due to the water shortage “most Cubans have cisterns or water tanks” – where they store water for their own use due to the unreliability of the supply, whether by pipes or water trucks – while the lack of pressure is a problem in many multi-family buildings. In addition, the irregular disposal of garbage often ends up contaminating the stored water.

The United Nations Children’s Fund and MINSAP are promoting the “Always Safe Water” campaign in disadvantaged neighborhoods such as La Timba, in Havana and Chicharrones, in Santiago de Cuba. (14ymedio)

Helena Solo Gabriele, an engineering professor at Miami University who worked on the study, found that a good part of the problem in Havana comes from the aquifer system underneath the Almendares River.

“The river is receiving all the wastewater, and the water from the river infiltrates the aquifer, putting the drinking water at risk,” the specialist warned.

Although there are no updated official figures on the degree of infestation by amoeba or giardia among Cubans, the last national survey on the subject, conducted in 1984, showed that these parasites affected 7% of the population.

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has decided to take action on the matter and, together with MINSAP, has launched the “Always Safe Water” campaign in disadvantaged neighborhoods such as La Timba, in Havana and Chicharrones, in Santiago de Cuba.

The United Nations Fund for Children and the Ministry of Public Health are carrying out the “Always Safe Water” campaign in Cuba. (14ymedio)

The project estimates that by next year some 27,700 inhabitants of the areas where they have worked will have improved their hygiene behavior on hand washing, storage and use of safe water.

Dr. Oria Susana, specialist of the Department of Health Promotion at national level, warns those who store the precious liquid that “the quality of water deteriorates over time” and recommends that before using it “it is always necessary to chlorinate it.”

However, cisterns, elevated tanks and storage buckets will remain a part of the daily routine for Cubans for a long time, since just under 6% of the population has access to running water 24 hours a day.

The figures offered by the National Institute of Hydraulic Resources show that last year only 654,001 people could count on running water in their homes at any time of the day, a drop in numbers compared to 2015 when 1,036,686 consumers had this assurance.

“Wash your hands with running water and rinse the vegetables abundantly under the tap,” reads a poster outside the gastroenterology clinic of a Havana polyclinic. The mural also recommends boiling the water or chlorinating it so as not to get sick, while all those waiting in line to be treated believe they are infected with a parasite.

Dissidence Museum in Havana Pays Homage to Poet Juan Carlos Flores

The artist Amaury Pacheco performed an artistic action in homage to the poet Juan Carlos Flores who committed suicide last year. (Dissidence Museum)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 22 October 2017 – Damas Street in Old Havana awoke Friday to the terrifying image of a man hanging from a balcony. After their fright passed, the residents realized that it was an artistic installation by Amaury Pacheco in homage to the poet Juan Carlos Flores.

The body that hung from a rope opened the exhibition Another Poet Commits Suicide, organized by the Dissidence Museum and the group Omni Zona Franca, in order to remember Flores and reflect on the “tradition of suicide that exists in Cuban culture,” as its organizers explain. continue reading

“Some time ago Luis Manuel Otero and Yanelys Nunez [managers of the museum] told me that they wanted pay homage to Flores but we did not encounter the moment and, now, the opportunity presented itself,” explained Pacheco to 14ymedio, minutes before the afternoon’s poetry recital.

Flores, born in 1962, committed suicide in the middle of last year at his house in the Alamar neighborhood after having struggled for several years with depression and psychiatric problems. Among his best known books are Group Portrait, Different Ways of Digging a Tunnel and The Kickback.

Pacheco, who belongs to the Omni Zona Franca Project to which Flores had close ties from its inception, added personal objects belonging to the poet to the exhibition. “I brought his manuscripts, clothes, the rope with which he committed suicide, and some of his other belongings to exhibit,” he explained.

The exhibit includes personal objects of the poet Juan Carlos Flores and the rope with which he committed suicide. (14ymedio)

“There were 20 years of friendship, and he embodied the poet his whole life, both in his imagination and in the social space,” emphasizes Pacheco, who believe that Flores’ verses “strongly touch on Cuban social reality.”

Yanelys Nunez, responsible together with artist Luis Manuel Otero for the Dissidence Museum, said that the title of the event is inspired by a text by Rafael Rojas about the death of Flores, an end that requires reflection about the incidence of suicide among Cuban artists.

Nunez recalled, before a dozen attendees, the end of Raul Hernandez Novas, Angel Escobar and “others who died in exile” like Guillermo Rosales and Carlos Victoria. To the list can be added also the writer Reinaldo Arenas and the painter Belkis Ayon.

Readings by poets Ariel Manzano, Cinecio, Osmel Almaguer, Irina Pino and Antonio Herrada began at six sharp in the small room, plus narrator Veronica Vega shared some remarks about the beginning of Omni Zona Franca in Alamar.

Poet Juan Carlos Flores was remembered with a poetry reading this Friday. (14ymedio)

Between coffee candies, cigarettes, water, rum and speeches, verses were read loudly in order to overcome the natural bustle of the Belen neighborhood.

For these artists, the homage to Flores is also “a way to rescue those poets important to Cuban history” but whom “the government or institutions render invisible,” Nunez notes.

The artist and curator thinks that these omissions are due to “cultural- or power-level intrigues.” Thus the exhibit Another Artist Commits Suicide permits retaking “those dark areas in Cuban culture.”

The poetry day this Friday, which began with the disquieting performance by Pacheco, closed with a hip hop concert headed by David D’ Omni and other guests. This Sunday the homage to Juan Carlos Flores will conclude with verses and questions, just as did his own life.

Translated by Mary Lou Keel

Luis Manuel Otero: “Fear is One of the Most Effective Tools of This System”

Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara during the interview last night with this newspaper. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 11 October 2017 — When he was a boy all he needed was a scalpel to shape a piece of wood and he gladly exchanged the tracks of athleticism for art. Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara dreamed of “being famous, having money and improving the world,” but ended up denouncing, through his aesthetic actions, racism, political polarization and injustices.

Born in the Havana municipality of Cerro, the controversial artist was the eldest of four brothers in a family with a welder father and a carpenter uncle. “None of my relatives was interested in culture, but ever since I was little I had a facility for manual work,” he recalls now, while talking to 14ymedio in the middle of the night. continue reading

Nothing indicated that Otero Alcántara would end up doing provocative performances, loaded with questions about the Cuban reality. However, while sport forged his resistance, he felt that he needed to incorporate “thought and the philosophy” to change his surroundings. He needed to get into politics.

“At home they called me ‘the priest’ because I spoke alone and told the stories in my head,” he recalls with a mischievous smile on his face. All this was channeled upon entering the art world in a self-taught way, as his attempts to study in the San Alejandro academy were met with the closing the course to workers.

Later he joined the Cuban Association of Artisan Artists and received a card that “gives a lot of privileges and supposedly supports you when you are traveling or exhibiting.” The young man tried use that document to join the institutional artistic circuit but with little success.

“I realized that the common way was barred for me. In Cuba the institutions have a lot of prejudice, if you do not come from the academy you are discriminated against, so I left that road,” he recalls. Choosing this path has allowed him to explore more controversial and less complacent topics.

“I started to go out with my sculptures. That took a political character because in this country going out on the street has that connotation, not because I had a political speech or was an activist,” clarifies Otero Alcántara as if he wants to make it clear that he is not the partisan opposition.

This year, while he wielded an enormous sledgehammer a few inches from the window of an exclusive store, he felt that he was able to condense many of his dissatisfactions at that moment. “I am more interested in inserting myself in the real fabric than in a cold gallery for someone to buy one of my pieces.”

Another way to denounce the abyss that separates the majority of Cubans from the bubbles of glamor that have been created on the island was to launch an alternative lottery where the jackpot was a night in a room of the luxurious Manzana Kempinski hotel. Fortune benefited a young man who a few days later entered compulsory military service.

“I do what I do because if I didn’t I would explode and my art saves me from sitting at home depressed.” Right now Donald Trump “practically closed the United States Embassy, ​​the wireless connection in the streets is bad, there is no democracy and even my son is afraid,” he deplores.

Otero Alcántara also complains about the serious economic problems facing many Cubans every day. “There is no way to buy a pair of shoes, there is no food, and the only way I can fight against that depression is art.” In Cuba, there is “a lot of fear and that is one of the most effective tools of this system.”

The performance with which he denounced the removal of the bust of communist leader Julio Antonio Mella from the Manzana de Gomez mall – filled with luxury stores never before seen in Cuba – generated an intense controversy that led him to prove once again that “art does work and has a lot of force. Because of this the dictators censor it and sometimes even kill the artists.”

He acknowledges, however, that among intellectuals and artists there is “a lot of opportunism, because there are some who disengage from the people and receive a lot of the perks the state grants, which has seduced many artists with money, house, position or being able to leave and enter the country.”

Following the announcement of the postponement of the Havana Biennial, scheduled initially for next year, Otero Alcántara has promoted an event planned for the days between May 5-15, 2018 and with a low budget. The project is supported by alternative spaces and sees in that enthusiasm a sign that it is “breaking the fear.”

Recently the artist published a provocative video with a supposed presidential campaign of independent candidates ranging from a mix of journalists, artists and bloggers to opponents associated with political movements although he, personally, clarifies he is not interested in a position of such responsibility.

“I like getting up late, I’m irresponsible, vague, in art I found my world, my metaphor and it’s something very personal,” he says to clear any doubts about his expectations for the future.

Otero Alcántara wants to make clear that dissidence, a concept that he frequently addresses in his work, is a person who dissents from the common doctrine, although on the island “the word brings with it terms like gusano (worm)” so you have to work to reframe its meaning. “The problem is not that the government calls you a dissident, but that it represses you for existing, for being in opposition,” he says. “With freedom everything is resolved, freedom of expression is vital.”

Cuban Authorities Secretly Disinter Remains of Céspedes and Grajales

Pantheon of Carlos Manuel de Céspedes in the cemetery of Santa Ifigenia, in Santiago de Cuba. (Coexistence)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 9 October 2017 – Months ago, surrounded by strict discretion, the remains of Carlos Manuel de Céspedes and Mariana Grajales were exhumed in the Santa Ifigenia cemetery in Santiago de Cuba. The operation was led by the same specialist who, two decades ago, led the search for the remains of Ernesto Che Guevara in Bolivia.

This time the task was easier because there was no need to travel to other latitudes. All it took was opening the tombs of the Father of the Fatherland and the mother of General Antonio Maceo, dismantling the pantheons in which both were buried, and moving the sepulchers to within a few yards of the place where former Cuban president Fidel Castro lies.

This Tuesday, they will repose in the new location after a military ceremony with more than 350 guests, although several descendants told 14ymedio that they were not consulted about the move and several ecclesiastical sources lament that no one was allowed to offer a funeral oration during the extraction of their bodies. continue reading

A brief note appearing Saturday in the local weekly Sierra Maestra was the first public notice that the remains of Céspedes and Grajales were not in their traditional graves where they were assumed to have found “eternal rest.”

On Monday, four short paragraphs published in the newspaper Granma also referred to the upcoming interment, which many expect to be attended by Raul Castro, who participated this Sunday in the official commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the death of Ernesto Guevara.

A neighbor of Santiago cemetery told 14ymedio that entrance to the area where the two patriots were previously buried was forbidden. “For months you haven’t been able to go there,” he said. “That entire part of the cemetery is cordoned off with a tape that forbids access.”

Both the newspaper Granma and the Sierra Maestra said that the transfer of the tombs was carried out in the interest of facilitating “in the future, that the Cuban people and foreign visitors can pay tribute to both [Grajales and Céspedes] in a more expeditious way.”

Each tourist must buy a ticket for 3 Cuban convertible pesos (CUC) to enter the graveyard. The cemetery of Santa Ifigenia has experienced an increase in visitors in the last year since the arrival of the ashes of Castro, after his death on 25 November.

The place has become an obligatory point of pilgrimage for left-wing militants from all over the world and is also included in tourist agencies tours that promise to introduce their clients to Santiago de Cuba, “the most important city in eastern Cuba.”

The remains of Grajales arrived in the cemetery of Santiago de Cuba three decades after his death in Kingston, Jamaica, on November 27, 1893. The first stone of the monument to Céspedes was placed in October 1909 and his body was placed in the tomb almost one year later.

Granma, the official organ of the Communist Party, highlighted in its note Monday that Grajales and Céspedes will also be closer to the funeral mausoleum of José Martí, the most important grave in the cemetery, and a few yards from the site of the monument that contains the ashes of Castro.

The new position, however, is surrounded by intense controversy over the lack of public information, the non-observance of Christian rituals that the exhumation of two consummate Catholics would merit, and the high cost of the move in the midst of the country’s economic crisis.

Oscar Márquez, chancellor of the archdiocese of Santiago de Cuba, said via telephone to this newspaper that the authorities had not previously informed the Church about the exhumation of the remains, nor about the weeks during which they remained unburied before being reinterred.

“Here everyone thinks their own way and those who have done this think in one way… they decided not to tell us,” explains the priest with an enigmatic touch. “No, there has been nothing, no information about the fact that the pantheons would be opened,” says the chancellor when asked if there was any official message.

Manuel Hilario de Céspedes y García-Menocal, bishop of Matanzas and a descendant of the Father of the Fatherland, says he did not know anything about the exhumation of the remains of his ancestor, who died in 1874 at the San Lorenzo de la Sierra Maestra estate, four months after having been stripped of his role as President of the Republic in Arms.

Nor did a descendant of Maceo, who lives in Havana and asked for anonymity, recall being informed of a possible change in the site of his tomb.

Yudy Garcia Delis, administrator of Santa Ifigenia, informed this newspaper that the exhumation of the remains of Carlos Manuel de Céspedes and Mariana Grajales occurred four months ago. “On 27 June they took Cespedes and a few days later Mariana, although I can not specify the exact day.”

A team of the Department of Legal Medicine led by Jorge Gonzalez, current director of Medical Education at the Ministry of Public Health and the person who headed the mission to locate the body of Ernesto Guevara and bring him to Cuba for the 30th anniversary of his death, was in charge of opening the sepulchers of these heroes of independence and extracting the remains.

Gonzalez, an firm supporter of the government and deputy to the National Assembly, has been embroiled in several controversies surrounding the authenticity of his findings in Vallegrande to find Guevara. The research has been charged with being imprecise and carried out more in search of a political effect than a scientific proof.

Garcia Delis is reluctant to say where Grajales and Céspedes have been being kept until today. “They are in a place that I cannot reveal,” he says, although he minimizes the secrecy on the grounds that they are “well guarded.”

This Tuesday the mystery is revealed. Carlos Manuel de Céspedes, the man who started the war for Cuban independence, and Mariana Grajales, the matron of a family of patriots, will be resting in a new location. Until the whim of the next power determines otherwise.

Cubans Outraged to Learn they Will Not be Reimbursed for US Visa Interview Fees

Cubans who spend more than 24 months outside of the country need permission to return, even to visit. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar/Mario Penton, Havana/Miami, 5 October 2017 — A few days after the US authorities announced the suspension of the issuance of visas at its embassy in Havana, the State Department has confirmed this Thursday to the Nuevo Herald newspaper that it will not reimburse the money Cubans paid for the visa process.

The 160 dollars (about six months average wages in Cuba) paid for the interview for a tourist, business or family visit visa will not be returned. The amount paid also cannot be credited to an application for a visa in the consulate of another country, but will remain valid for one year should the current diplomatic conflict between Cuba and the United States be resolved, according to the South Florida newspaper.

This Thursday’s news increases the despair among Cubans on both sides of the Florida Straits, who are already upset because, last Friday, the United States announced a 60% reduction of its personnel in Cuba and an indefinite cancellation of consular procedures. continue reading

“Okay, there are no visas, but they have to return the money to my family,” Cristina, a retiree waiting outside the Embassy to try to talk to an official, complained angrily.

Cuban citizens can “apply for [United States] visas at any [US] embassy or consulate in the world but must be physically present in that country,” the State Department said in a statement.

However, that option raises doubts on the island. “Who will give us a visa for another country?” asks Cristina. “In addition, that will cost me an arm and a leg between the plane ticket and the accommodation while I wait for the consulate to stamp my visa.”

In a note published on the US Embassy’s Facebook page, it is clarified that they are “delivering passports, visas and travel packages that have been previously issued,” but it does not give details on what will happen with the family reunification program and other visas to emigrate to the United States.

Moisés Salazar, a young American whose girlfriend is in Havana, is also mired in uncertainty. He cannot believe that after spending so many months in the process for his girlfriend to get a fiancé visa this misfortune has happened.

“I call the US Embassy in Cuba and I do not get information. I call the Cuban Embassy in Washington and I always get an answering machine and they never return the call. This is very ugly and very sad,” he says.

Salazar, who lives in North Carolina, has been in a two-year relationship with his Cuban partner and has visited the island many times. “I suffer from what I see happening. I love the Cuban people even if they are not my people and I know that this is going to be a very hard blow for all of them because it will take away the tourism that is an important source of income,” he laments.

The suspension of visas jeopardizes the migration agreements between the two countries that have been in force for more than 20 years, which require that at least 20,000 immigration permits be granted each year.

Miguel Ramón Salas from Las Tunas has lived in the United States for five years. From the distant state of Arizona he expresses his frustration with the political events that distance him from his wife and daughter on the island.

“From Cuba you can expect anything to happen, but not in this country. I paid for a service and if I cannot bring my family I will sue the State Department if necessary,” he says indignantly.

“In Cuba I have my wife and two children and I have invested a lot of money in bringing them to be here with me. The medical checkups alone cost $1,015, plus the formalization of documents and a lot of things that are necessary for them to leave the island,” he adds.

“My wife had an interview scheduled for the 18th and they changed it to November 27, supposedly because of the cyclone. The truth was they knew this was going to happen and they have been stringing us along,” he says.

Salas is disappointed by Florida politicians such as Senator Marco Rubio, who is of Cuban origin. “Politicians do not represent us. If Rubio had his family in Cuba he would not be so fervently supportive of the closing of the Embassy. Most of the Cubans who recently arrived have people on the other side and we want to reunite with our relatives,” he adds.

The social networks are filled with messages of anguish and the Embassy’s Facebook page is full of complaints from relatives who can’t get over their stupor at what happened. “I became a US citizen five years ago and now I want to know why they prevent my mother from coming to visit me,” commented an angry internet surfer.

Sandra Pino, who was waiting for her brother on the island to visit her soon, says it is important to remember that the US decision was made after several Embassy officials “became ill from unknown causes.”

“Some will be permanently damaged, so they will not be able to exercise their professions and will lose the ability to put food on the table,” she laments.

However, she believes that the US must reimburse the visa fees because “this is not Cuba and if you pay for something thay have to give it to you or give you the money back.”

“The Man With the Flag” Marks Five Months Detention

Daniel Llorente has been detained for five months since being arrested during the May 1 parade in Havana. (Courtesy)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 1 October 2017 — To avoid losing his sanity, Daniel Llorente sweeps the floor of the psychiatric hospital in Havana with a broom. Llorente trained in automotive mechanics in East Germany, and five months ago the activist was arrested while waving the American flag in the May Day parade in the Plaza of the Revolution. Even today, neither the court nor the doctors dare to confirm the date on which he will be released.

“Cleaning allows me to occupy my mind with something,” comments the “man with the flag” about the work routine that he performs in the Commander Eduardo Bernabé Ordaz Hospital, known as Mazorra. “They do not let me leave this small area or throw out the garbage,” he laments. The spontaneous activist fears for his safety in the Giralt room, intended for the convicted, and where he says he has seen “everything.” continue reading

After an onerous arrest in front of the platform where Raul Castro was waiting for the workers’ parade, Llorente spent a month in the detention center known as 100 and Aldabó. On May 30 of this year he was transferred to the psychiatric hospital under an alleged “post-criminal measure” issued by a court and is awaiting trial.

His only way to communicate with the press has been by phone. His son, Eliezer Llorente, visits the hospital twice a week and has become his only contact with the world.

“They tell me here that my situation is in on ‘stand by’ because my case is being reviewed,” he tells 14ymedio. So far Llorente has not been accused of any crime and claims to have signed a document where he was exonerated of charges of “public disorder and resistance” for the May 1 incident.

The “independent opponent” promotes the diplomatic rapprochement between Cuba and the United States, but in recent weeks relations between Washington and Havana have gone downhill. This Friday the administration of Donald Trump announced the indefinite suspension of visas from the US embassy in Havana and the exit of 60% of the personnel.

It is bad news for Llorente, who asked last June to “be immediately expatriated” to the US, a demand driven by his desire to live in the country he considers “the greatest defender of human rights, hope, freedom, justice, brotherhood and the pursuit of happiness.”

He had already shown his sympathy for the nation of the north in May of 2016 when he made a similar protest to celebrate the arrival of the Adonia Cruise Line to Havana. At that time he was also arrested and detained for 24 hours.

On his hands, Daniel Llorente has tattooed the flags of Cuba and the United States. (Courtesy)

Although the US government denounced his latest detention, the case has been losing its prominence in the media as other priorities have displaced it, such as the acoustic attack on dozens of US diplomats.

More than two months ago, the doctor who attends Llorente announced that he could leave the psychiatric center on weekends. The news filled this man who worked as a private taxi driver before his arrest with enthusiasm. Shortly afterward, the psychiatrist told him that “these people” warned her not to give him a pass, a reference to State Security.

The specialist has assured Llorente that he does not suffer a mental illness and there is no reason to keep him hospitalized. Neither has he received any therapy or drugs for his alleged psychiatric disorder.

In an attempt to assert his rights Llorente has held several hunger strikes in the hospital and has written letters to political and religious leaders to denounce a situation that he calls “unjust.”

For the moment and until the hospital and the court agree, Llorente seems trapped in the script of a horror film. “All it takes is a hospital paper that says I’m fine to be able to dictate the end of this [detention] measure,” he says. While anxiously awaiting this document, he dedicates himself to sweeping the floor of the psychiatric hospital in Havana.

Irma Reconfigures Cuba’s Tourist Map

When the powerful hurricane Irma touched land, there were about 50,000 tourists on the island, according to calculations by the Ministry of Tourism. (14ymedio)

14ymedio, Luz Escobar and Zunilda Mata, Havana/Varadero, 21 September 2017 — “This is what’s left of the gardens of the Blue Lagoon,” says an employee while looking at a cellphone photo of fallen palm trees and tangled vegetation. The bus in which he is traveling is responsible for distributing staff to the hotels in Varadero, Cuba’s main resort, which is trying to recover after Hurricane Irma.

The Hicacos peninsula, where the famous beach is located, is wrapped up in a recovery effort operating at different speeds. A land of contrasts, alternating luxurious resorts, mansions and fragile private houses with gabled roofs, the main tourist center of the Island is binding up its wounds on the eve of the high season. continue reading

On Tuesday, the streets were clear of the logs and debris left by the storm, but inside the hotels the damages range from light to serious. However, Varadero again has that air of a “tourist nation” – one with no flag or local flavor – that can be found anywhere on the planet where there is sun and sand.

“This beach feeds a lot of people,” Rigoberto told 14ymedio; he is an artisan by profession licensed to sell seed and pearl necklaces in the town’s most important artisan fair. “On the days we couldn’t sell, people were crazy because they lost a lot of money,” he says.

On a small table Rigoberto sets out ceramic ashtrays, carved wooden images of sensual women, and tiny clay turtles. “The worst has been for the homeowners who have suffered damages but who don’t have the resources available to the hotel managers and the state,” he says.

After days of anguish, an urgency to close the wounds has overtaken the residents and the resort employees. “We’ll all be ruined if the tourists decide to go to Cancun,” Rigoberto explains. The Mexican beach is Cuba’s main rival at a time when the Greater and Lesser Antilles have been battered by several hurricanes.

Three young men speaking Russian pass near Rigoberto wearing wrist-bands confirming their “all-inclusive” status at the resort. “Those are the first who have returned,” says the artisan. “They don’t care that much that the hotels aren’t a hundred percent ready, because what they are looking for is sun,” he opines.

Irma hit Cuba just before the high season, in a year when the authorities expected to reach the longed-for figure of five million tourists. When the powerful hurricane hit land, there were about 50,000 travelers in the entire island according to the calculations of the Ministry of Tourism.

After the weather disaster the official information has talked of devastation to describe the situation in the keys area. But at the same time a recovery in record time seems destined to appease the fears of travelers.

Wednesday’s primetime news warned of “an international campaign against Cuban tourism” that “is attempting to magnify the damages.” Tourism Minister, Manuel Marrero assured that “there is no hotel that has suffered structural problems.”

However, complaints about substandard services are being felt and reported at hotel reception desks and in internet travelers’ forums. At the Royalton Hotel Hicacos about 40 guests are trying to make their vacation holiday not end in nightmare, but the conditions are not the best.

Joseph and his wife did not want to cancel the reservation they made six months ago to visit Varadero and “get a rest from so much work,” they tell this newspaper. Coming from Germany, they followed the course of the hurricane, fearing that the agency would postpone the trip or send them to another part of Cuba.

“We were scared to arrive but outside of some broken glassware in the hotel we found no major damage to the infrastructure,” says the German, although he acknowledges that the food is not good because he came looking for local flavors and even the butter is imported.

“The employees are very nervous and the hot water service still isn’t working very well.” Among the problems most lamented by the guests is that “there is no peppermint for the mojitos” and “there are few fruits at breakfast despite being in the tropics.”

For Andrés, a Colombian who spent his honeymoon in Cuba during and after Irma’s passage, the most difficult thing to deal with was what he calls “the fall in quality.” Staying at the Varadero Meliá hotel he lamented that the menu was bad. “Although they say they have two buffet restaurants, it’s not true,” he complains, and notes that the water sports services are not yet working again.

“We had to pay for the extra nights we stayed at the hotel because our flight was canceled and they didn’t give us any rebates even though the pools aren’t open and they didn’t change the sheets for more than three days,” he protests. Now, he hopes to make a claim to demand a refund of some of the money he spent.

At the moment, the management of the hotel has sent him a message stating its “total willingness to favor you with the best conditions if you return to the Varadero Meliá.”

Some hotels in the area are still closed, such as the Meliá chain’s Varadero Paradisus, which suffered severe damages. An employee of the Cubatur agency explained via telephone to this newspaper that the area known as Family Concierge was “devastated” and there were also damages to the main building and to the restaurant that was built near the beach.

Some hotels in the area are still closed like the Meliá chain’s Varadero Paradisus, which suffered severe damages. (Courtesy)

A spokesman for the Mallorcan chain, which owns a total of 27 hotels on the island, 11 of them in the keys, told the Spanish media that their accommodations in the famous resort have suffered minor damages and are re-establishing their services. In addition, he specified that the closure of the Varadero Paradisus is because of improvements being made before the high season arrives.

The head of the sales department of the Sol Palmeras hotel proudly said that on Wednesday about 200 tourists were staying at their facility. “Given how the area was left, we have recovered quickly,” he emphasized.

Dana, an employee of the exclusive Royalton Hicacos, acknowledges that conditions are still not optimal. The main damages are in “the buffet service restaurant and beach gazebo, still closed,” after Irma.

Despite this, private and government-controlled hotel authorities have not decreed any special reduction in room costs, according to a Cubanacan travel agency specialist.

Only during the hurricane itself “tourists who came here and booked directly at the hotel reception received a 40% discount,” says Dana. This rebate was offered only to clients who arrived at the accommodation relocated from the keys of the north of the Island, who were compensated for the fact that their new accommodation had no electricity.

To avoid distress, many are choosing another destination within the island where the hurricane did less damage. The largest beneficiaries are the town of Viñales, the María la Gorda beach, also in the west, and the city of Trinidad in the south.

“There is a lot of demand for the hotels in the historical center of Havana as well,” says an employee who offers tour packages in the Cubatur office in the Habana Libre Hotel. “What is totally closed is accommodation in the northern keys,” she explains to a Cuban client.

National tourism has been increasing since 2008, when Raúl Castro’s government allowed Cubans living on the island to go to the country’s hotels, from which they had been banned for decade. In 2014, about 1.2 million nationals stayed in these facilities and spent 147.3 million Cuban convertible pesos (roughly the same in US dollars), according to official data.

The trend has continued to increase and “most of the packages sold here are intended for Cubans,” says the Cubatur employee. She notes, however, that “right now international tourism is being prioritized, for those who made reservations weeks ago.”

Rebeca Monzó, who lives in Havana’s Nuevo Vedado neighborhood and rents a room through Airbnb, has not suffered serious damage to her business. So far she has not had reservation cancellations and is waiting for a new customer who is arriving this week.

During the hurricane she hosted two Spaniards “who fled from the province of Sancti Spíritus” when the first winds began to blow. Her guests “experienced the hurricane from another perspective,” says Monzó.

“They helped us to store water, lined up to buy bread and experienced their days in Havana as a great adventure.” The hostess acknowledges that they survived “thanks to the pasta we had because in those days there was nothing to eat.” Her home was five days without water and electricity.

Shortages are one of the most negative side effects left by the hurricane.

In Varadero, the extensive informal market network that nourishes a good part of the area’s private businesses is also trying to recover. “In this area it was very easy to buy shrimp and lobster,” says Rigoberto, while taking some canvases painted with coconut motifs and reddish sunsets out of boxes.

“The hurricane has been a serious blow to the seafood vendors because apart from cutting off several access roads and leaving a lot of people without refrigeration, there is now more police control in the area,” he says.

The sale of these raw products is forbidden to private individuals and is strictly punished by the authorities, as is the black market in cheese and milk, also prominent in the area.

At the corners of the main street, parallel to the beach, are uniformed police officers and some state brigades cleaning the area. “Until all this goes away we have to stay quiet,” recommends the artisan. “Irma has stirred everything up and it will take time until the waters find their level,” says a Spaniard.

Hurricane Victims Along Havana’s Coastline Wait for Help That Never Comes

A group of neighbors puts their belongings out in the sun after the storm. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 23 September 2017 – Hope is fading these days in Havana’s San Lázaro Street due to the closing of the Malecón, after the damages left by Hurricane Irma. The lives of the residents along the coastline are stalled, waiting for humanitarian aid that has never arrived.

The San Leopoldo neighborhood and the areas from Maceo Park to the mouth of the Almendares River are the most affected. Two weeks after Hurricane Irma the residents are still trying to salvage their furniture and belongings damaged by the sea which flooded the area.

Mattresses have taken possession of the sidewalks, and some sofas and armchairs that show the watermarks from the floodwaters are musty with the small of salt and dampness. The most affected cling to the idea of rescuing everything they can, because they fear aid will be delayed or doled out in dribs and drabs. continue reading

“Ours is the only working TV on the block,” says Georgina, a resident of Perseverance Street. Every night when the primetime news comes on, dozens of neighbors gather around the screen. “People come to find out when they’re going to start distributing things.”

Reports in the official media show the arrival in the country of numerous donations from Panama, Venezuela, China, Bolivia, Colombia, Suriname or Japan. However, “not even a tablespoon of rice has reached this neighborhood,” laments Georgina.

A few yards from Belascoaín Street, a kiosk installed by the State for the sale of prepared food only offers a watery stew that few deign to buy. (14ymedio)

Expectations grew among those most affected on hearing of the arrival of a Dominican Navy ship last Monday, with 90 tons of construction materials such as wood, doors, aluminum window frames, nails, metal roofing, wire, in addition to mattresses and portable generators.

“People thought they were going to start distributing all of that right away,” a young man explains to 14ymedio, as he helps his father move some sacks of cement to raise a more than three-foot high wall and stairs at the entrance of his home, which faces the sea. “We had one but it fell short,” he explains.

The Government allocated part of the national budget to finance 50% of the price of construction materials that will be sold to victims with total or partial damage to their properties.

Although Irma seriously damaged the electrical wiring, took part of the kitchen tiles, removed the toilet bowl and contaminated the water tank, the young Habanero considers that “the most urgent need is food because there isn’t any.”

Mattresses have taken up permanent residence on the sidewalks, as people wait for them to dry. (14ymedio)

A few yards from Belascoaín Street, a kiosk installed by the State for the sale of prepared food only offers a watery stew that few deign to buy. So far no free rations have been distributed in the area and potable water is also on sale in containers of various types.

The World Food Program (WFP) has allocated 1,606 tonnes of food and $5.7 million to cover the food needs of 664,000 people in affected areas for four months, but only one ration has been delivered to Centro Habana.

A resolution passed Tuesday said that the delivery of “products received as a donation (internal or external)” will be made “at no cost.” However, along with free distribution, victims are also demanding greater speed along with controls to avoid the ‘diversion’ (i.e. stealing) of resources.

“Food is the main thing because many people are left without money,” explains Heriberto, a retiree who lives on a second floor in San Lázaro Street. “I had no direct affects in my apartment but the refrigerator is empty and I have nothing to put in my mouth.”

Nearby, the broad portal of the Immaculate Church has just been repaired after the floods, with hinges and everything. Humanitarian aid for the most affected residents has been collected through a side entrance for days. The donations arrive in small quantities but they provide some relief.