Father Jose Conrado Rodriguez Denounces Cuba’s “Totalitarian” System

José Conrado Rodríguez (center) during the presentation of one of his books in Miami. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario J. Penton, Miami, 19 September 2018 — The political system in Cuba, an inheritance from the former Soviet Union, is deeply monstrous and inhuman. Caribbean totalitarianism has turned every Cuban into an executioner and at the same time into a victim and the only way to escape from the vicious circle of lies and fear – the basis of the system – is to try to live in the truth. This is one of the conclusions of the new book Resistance and Submission in Cuba , by José Conrado Rodríguez, which will be presented this Wednesday at the Ermita de la Caridad del Cobre in Miami.

With a prologue by Carlos Alberto Montaner, Universal Editions has published this book that complements the recently released Dreams and Nightmares of a Priest in Cuba. It is an analysis of communist totalitarianism from the point of view of four authors from the periphery of the Soviet empire: Czeslaw Milosz from Poland, Constantin Noica from Romania, Vaclav Havel from the Czech Republic, and Cuban Eliseo Alberto de Diego García Marruz.

“The liberating force of truth, understood as a way of life, as a purpose in life, and as a fidelity to what we are, has an intimate dimension and is related to the knowledge of ourselves,” Rodríguez explains. continue reading

The dissidence, for this author and priest, is in intimate connection with the truth, because only from a coherent life that breaks with the social rites of the system, such as repeating slogans nobody believes in, can real change be driven.

The four authors on whom Father José Conrado Rodríguez based his reflection suffered under the communist system. Milosz (1911-2004), winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1980, in his work The Captive Mind analyzes the process of assimilation of totalitarianism on the part of intellectuals. The philologist Constantin Noica (1909-1987) was sentenced to 25 years in prison by the Stalinist regime of Ceaucescu in Romania. In his essay Pray for Brother Alexander, published posthumously in 1991, he makes it clear that only a life in truth and compassion can exorcise totalitarianism.

From Vaclav Havel (1936-2011), activist and, later, president of his country, Rodríguez addresses The Power Of The Powerless, an analysis of what he called post-totalitarian societies, where dictatorship goes hand in hand with ideology, where it becomes a kind of secular religion. Finally, from his compatriot Eliseo Alberto de Diego, he addresses Report Against Myself, a raw account of power in Cuba.

In a society like Cuba manipulation and lies are the basis of the system, says Rodríguez, paraphrasing Vaclav Havel. Already past the caudillo and the first stages of the revolution in which terror filled the prisons with political prisoners and brought down each of the democratic institutions, power does not need society to cohere.

If, earlier, the system tried to create a feeling of “the masses” and intensify the “fighting spirit” against an attacking enemy, the post-totalitarian society seeks to compel the population to accept the status quo.

The system will try to demonstrate “socialist legality” as a way to legitimize itself. “The function of ideology is to fill the gap between the plans of the system and the plans of life, implying that the intentions of the system derive from the needs of life, which is not true, but functions as if it were,” says Rodríguez.

Legality is one of the main weapons that the system has to defend itself. Laritza Diversent, an independent lawyer who went into exile in the United States, has detailed at least 400 laws in the Cuban criminal code that can be used against the opposition movement. In a post-totalitarian society like Cuba’s, everything is limited, controlled, well subjugated to the state apparatus, Rodríguez wrote.

Father Conrado uses Havel’s example of the self-employed person who takes a poster with a political slogan and hangs it in his window. He has not read it, the people who will visit his business will not read it either. The entrepreneur may not even agree with the content of the slogan (the likes of which abound in Cuban stores). But when he puts it in his window he has fulfilled the “social rite,” has been immunized against the suspicion of being disloyal to the system.

Perhaps the most dramatic example of cruelty that the book presents is that of Eliseo Alberto de Diego García Marruz, forced to spy on his own father, the Cuban poet Eliseo Diego. “We are at war against Yankee imperialism, Lieutenant,” he was told while serving in the Cuban army. “The Central Intelligence Agency has an exorbitant costume shop to hide spies, we can not lower our guard,” says the author in his Report Against Myself.

Before the timid objections of Diego García Marruz they gave him a report with the State Security files about his family. Former classmates, residents of the neighborhood, even exiles from Miami who visited his home had delivered reports to the all-powerful Cuban State Security.

“One against others, some over others, many Cubans were trapped in a network of mistrust,” writes Rodriguez and wonders how it is possible that in all the places where the totalitarian system has been established, the same things happened.

“How is it possible that the Russians and the Romanians, the Czechs and the Poles, the Cubans and the Chinese were victims of the same destructive mechanism? Victims and executioners: we ourselves have been transformed into these. We are the victims and the instruments of the system,” he concludes.

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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.

Extrajudicial Executions Are Still Happening on the Island, According to Cuba Archive

Alejandro Pupo Echemendía, presumed killed by Cuban police officials (courtesy)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario J. Pentón, Miami, August 27, 2018 — The NGO Cuba Archive claimed this Monday that extrajudicial executions are still happening on the island, and they cited as an example the case of Alejandro Pupo Echemendía, 46, “killed by officers at a police station” in the city of Placetas (Villa Clara).

Pupo Echemendía died on August 9, two days after being detained for an offense of illegal horse racing. According to Archive Cuba, citing Abel Santiago Tamayo, another detainee, as a source, Pupo Echemendía “was demonstrating a strong attack of nerves when a police officer handcuffed him and others proceeded to beat him with sticks, canes, kicks, and crashes against the floor.” continue reading

The human rights activist Jorge Luis García Pérez, known as Antúnez, was the one who denounced the alleged murder of Pupo Echemendía via social media. Various photos published on the activist’s account show signs of violence on the corpse. Pupo Echemendía’s wife as well as other family members testified to the state in which they received the body in the morgue.

Cuba Archive claims that this case is barely the “tip of the iceberg.”

“It’s only a window into the systematic killing in Cuba’s dungeons for nearly six decades,” adds the report published on their website. Cuba Archive asserts that it has documented some 509 extrajudicial executions, 22 deaths from hunger strikes, 312 deaths from lack of medical treatment or health reasons, and 107 suicides or supposed suicides, some of which may hide other executions.

“The vast majority of prisoners’ deaths are not reported, but it is thought that the victims add up to hundreds every year. The conditions in Cuban prisons are horrifying and they don’t permit monitoring or access for independent human rights organizations, they silence witnesses and victims’ family members, and they persecute human rights defenders,” adds Cuba Archive, which says that among the cases that it has documented are those of women and children.

Cuba keeps secret the number of prisons in the country and the number of people locked up. Cuba Archive estimates that there are more than 500 prisons, not including work camps, reformatories, and facilities for minors.

The NGO, based in Miami, claims that State Security is currently developing a campaign “of threats and intimidation to cover up the murder of Alejandro Pupo.”

On August 21 Abel Santiago was threatened by the authorities and forced to record a video where he declared that “he had been manipulated.” On August 22, Pupo’s niece and her husband were detained, threatened by State Security, and forced to sign a declaration denying the events. Various human rights defenders from Placetas, including Antúnez, Arianna López Roque, and Loreto Hernández García, are being harassed and threatened by the authorities, says Cuba Archive.

The report also accounts for the death of Daniela Ramón Rodríguez, 4 years old, who died on March 26, 2013 in Juan Manuel Márquez Hospital in Havana “after a health crisis caused by police mistreatment.”

According to Cuba Archive, the girl was forced to remain with her parents who had been detained by police, accused of the crime of burglary.

“The police threatened them and insulted them in front of their daughter. Two days after the traumatic incident, the health of Daniela [who had had an open heart surgery and suffered from congenital heart disease, an enlarged heart, and aggressive pericarditis] suddenly worsened; she was in intensive care until she died two months later,” adds Cuba Archive.

“This is the Cuba hidden from the world that we must continue to make known,” concludes the document.

 Translated by: Sheilagh Carey

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

Court in Cienfuegos Sentences Two of Leidy Pacheco’s Murderers to Life in Prison

Leidy Maura Pacheco Mur. (5 de Septiembre newspaper)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Justo Mora/Mario J. Pentón, Cienfuegos | 23 August 2018 — Justice came to Cienfuegos but in the deepest silence from the Provincial Court, which has kept secret the sentence of life imprisonment for two of the three men accused of raping and murdering Leidy Pacheco Mur, 18 years old and mother of a 10-month-old baby.

The information came to the public light this Thursday because the victim’s family told the local weekly 5 de Septiembre that Enrique Campos, 32, and Darián Gómez Chaviano, 25, had been sentenced to life imprisonment. The third man involved in the crime, Henry Hanoi Tamayo Hernández, 19, was sentenced to 30 years in prison.

The trial lasted two days, August 7-8, during which the population gathered in front of the court, which was protected by the police. The crowd rebuked the men with cries of “To the firing-wall” and “murderers.” continue reading

The sentence of the court can be appealed to the People’s Supreme Court.

“The truth is that those men got off easy. They should be shot after causing so much pain,” Margarita Fuentes, resident of the Junco Sur suburb on the outskirts of the city, told 14ymedio.

Yesenia Oliva, who planted herself outside the court during the trial, says that it’s an “exemplary sentence.”

“People don’t realize that there is a moratorium on the death penalty. The most that they can do is give them life imprisonment. The prisoners in Ariza will take care of those bastards,” she added.

Leidy Pacheco Mur was murdered September 26 of last year. At 2:56 PM, when she was a block from her home, she called her husband so that he wouldn’t worry about her, but she never arrived.

Enrique Campos, Henry Hanoi Tamayo, and Darián Gómez covered her mouth, took her to Plan Mango, a grove on the outskirts of Cienfuegos, raped her, killed her, and buried her at the bank of a small dam, according to the testimony of her father, Pedro Valentín Pacheco Alonso.

The three murderers lived in the same neighborhood as the victim. The next day the family notified the authorities of the young woman’s disappearance.

Family members, neighbors, and even one of the rapists participated in the search for the young woman, which lasted six days.

The death of Leidy Pacheco moved Cienfuegos, a city that in barely a year has suffered various murders. On February 14 Luis Santacruz Labrada was murdered with a knife and in May a double murder of women shocked the city, which in the past counted safety as one of its biggest appeals.

Translated by: Sheilagh Carey

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

After Four Months’ Detention In The United States, A Freelance Journalist Fears Repatriation To Cuba

Freelance journalist Serafín Morán Santiago (Cubanet)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario J. Pentón, Miami | The Cuban freelance journalist Serafín Morán Santiago, who arrived at the United States border to ask for political asylum in April, will appear on Friday before a court that will decide whether to grant him bail. This Wednesday in Miami, organizations that promote freedom of the press declared that if he is repatriated to the island, Morán Santiago’s life will be in danger.

“Serafín had a trial fixed for October, but they have cancelled it and they announced this bail hearing. Fundamedios and Reporters Without Borders (RSF) are worried about an eventual deportation to Cuba because of the Cuban government’s persecution of him,” said María Fernanda Egas, a journalist from Fundamedios, an organization that defends freedom of the press in the United States.

Morán Santiago is being held at an Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) facility. continue reading

Egas explained that RSF and Fundamedios have been keeping an eye on Morán Santiago’s situation and they urge his immediate release. “He considers himself a candidate for parole because he was a victim of torture by the Cuban authorities, and he believes that bail would take away his possibilities of obtaining the political asylum that he seeks,” she added.

Cubans benefitted for more than two decades from the “Wet Foot, Dry Foot” policy, which permitted their entry under parole to the United States if they stepped on US land. In January of 2017 President Barack Obama repealed the policy, and ever since Cubans have been treated like any other immigrant who arrives at the border without a visa, so now they can be deported back to the island.

The Zero Tolerance policy of the current Administration requires that political asylum seekers be detained while their cases are processed. Morán Santiago has spent four months in an ICE detention center and, although he successfully passed a “credible fear” interview, he still has to argue his political aslyum case, a long and complex process, according to lawyers.

“This is an opportunity for an immigration judge to grant bail and he can argue his asylum case from the street,” explained the immigration lawyer Wilfredo Allen to this newspaper by phone.

“A bail hearing is not a final trial, when the judge decides whether or not to grant political asylum. If he demonstrates that he won’t be a public charge for the United States and isn’t a danger to this country, they can grant him bail so that he can walk free. Otherwise he will have to remain in detention like the majority of asylum seekers until the definitive trial,” he adds.

Allen explains that it’s not the judge who grants parole, necessary to have recourse to the Cuban Adjustment Act, which gives permanent residency to Cubans who remain legally for one year in the country. The parole document is granted by an ICE official present in the detention centers.

“Bails can be as low as $1,500 or as high as $25,000,” adds Allen. If the judge doesn’t grant bail, Morán Santiago will have to remain in detention in Texas until the final trial where it will be decided whether he receives political asylum or not. The immigration attorney is skeptical of the possibility that Morán Santiago will be granted bail.

A judge imposes bail to ensure that the asylum seeker will appear at the final trial and will not remain undocumented inside the country.

In the last fiscal year, which ends in September, 364 Cubans have been deported to the island. Since January 12, 2017, Havana has committed to receive all Cubans deported by the American authorities for arriving at the border without a visa.

“Solidarity Without Borders has been helping Morán Santiago with his legal representation. We ask the help of the Cuban community in Miami and of the media so that it is known what is happening with this journalist,” he added.

Serafín Morán, 40, has worked as a freelance journalist for such media outlets as Univisión 23, Telemundo, Hispano Post, Primavera Digital, Cubanet, and TV Martí.

The reporter has said that he was threatened with death if he continued working as a journalist on the island, but the US Embassy in Cuba refused on two occasions to start a file to request asylum.

Morán Santiago left Cuba for Guyana and then crossed to Mexico, where he remained in a temporary shelter. As he has reported, he was harrassed by the Cuban embassy in that country. He appeared at the American border to seek political asylum in April and since then he has been waiting for a response to his case.

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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.

An Alliance is Created to Denounce the Violations of Human Rights in Cuba

Tomás Regalado, Director of the Office of Transmissions to Cuba, during a press conference this morning in Miami. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario J. Pentón, Miami | August 14, 2018 – Radio and TV Martí together with the non-governmental organization Freedom House launched a campaign on Tuesday that will aim to disseminate the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, as well as setting up a telephone number to receive complaints from Cuba.

“If you feel that your rights have been violated, denounce it on our human rights line. Call +1 305 437 7301. You’re not alone” says one of the promotional messages that will be broadcast on Radio and TV Martí, presented by Tomás Regalado, former mayor of Miami and current director of the station.

“We have seen an extraordinary upsurge in the violation of human rights,” added Regalado, who directly ordered Los Martí journalists to process the complaints received from Cuba. continue reading

“Through our network of correspondents on the island, those of the opposition and this hot line, human rights violations will be exposed. The News Department will dedicate itself to verify in a reliable way the denunciations and then present them  to Freedom House”, explained the official.

Carlos Ponce, director of Freedom House for Latin America, considered the alliance with Los Martí “a golden opportunity” that will promote the “Cuban, know your human rights” campaign.

“Every time the regime feels weak, it increases the repression of human rights,” he said.

For Ponce, the Cuban government infringes on their citizens “most basic rights”, such as educational freedom and political rights. “It is time for people to open their eyes so that Cuba not continue being the same old story that people no longer want to see,” he added.

“With this strategic alliance we will be able to bring a number of significant complaints to international organizations and give visibility to what is happening on the island,” he said.

In statements to 14ymedio, Ponce lamented that media coverage of human rights violations often focuses on Venezuela and Nicaragua, with no references to Cuba.

“Unfortunately the media has turned a blind eye to the situation in Cuba. The root of evil in Latin America is a dictatorial regime that with impunity continues to operate in the region,” he said.

“Cuba is a dictatorship that influences other countries, such as Venezuela and Nicaragua, in order to leach on them, prop up their regimes and destroy democratic systems. We call on all Cubans to denounce the violations of their rights,” he added.

Radio and TV Martí bet on reaching more Cubans with new technologies

According to statements from Tomás Regalado, director of the Office of Transmissions to Cuba (OCB) of the US Government, the coming months will see a substantial increase in the number of Cubans who can listen to the station or watch the television programs of Los Martí.

Regalado recently announced the addition of a new frequency for radial transmissions at 11860 kHz. “In short wave we had three frequencies and the regime managed to block one or sometimes two frequencies. With three we have the means to be immune to their blockade,” remarked the newly appointed director to 14ymedio.

For its part, a new type of technology, whose technical details have not yet been made known, will make it possible for TV Martí to be seen on the Island, according to its directors. “It is a novel technology that will allow what we call the Martí Communities to establish themselves,” explained Regalado.

At the moment there are more than 200 of these devices on the island and several communities of neighbors who can watch the TV Martí signal, the former mayor told the local media in Miami. According to him, it is impossible for the Government of Havana to track the signal of the devices, a concern of many activists who fear the sentences that can be faced by “counterrevolutionaries.”

“In the Cuban penal code there are criminal forms that put these people (who are part of the Martí communities) in danger, but the people defy it. The most important guarantee is that the Government does not know where the signal is shared,” explained Regalado.

“The regime can interfere with the output signal of the equipment but not the one that enters (input). It is immune to being detected,” he said.

The appliance that will allow TV Martí to be seen on the Island was designed by Cuban engineers on the Island and in South Florida. Regalado will present the results of this new technology at the beginning of September at an event of the Board of Governors of Radiodifusión, the federal entity in charge of Radio and TV Martí.

The Cuban Government has made a particular effort to block the Marti signal and accuses the United States of violating international radio broadcasting agreements by allowing and financing the stations. During the administration of Barack Obama, which promoted the thaw with the island, Cuba took the opportunity to demand the dismantling of these communication media.

Radio Martí began broadcasting its signal to Cuba in 1985 under the government of Ronald Reagan. In the early nineties, TV Martí followed and the Martí Noticias portal appeared with the digital era. This year the budget allocated by the US Congress to both broadcasters will exceed 28 million dollars.

Translated by Wilfredo Díaz Echevarria

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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 Police Captain, Rafter and Now Under Arrest in the US for the Disappearance of Two Women

Video of Hareton Jaime Rodríguez Sariol and other rafters arriving on the Florida coast. No subtitles.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario Penton/Manual Mons, Miami, 16 August 2018 — Hareton Jaime Rodríguez Sariol, a former captain in Cuba’s National Revolutionary Police (PNR), who arrived in Miami as a rafter in 2016, dressed in full uniform, has been arrested as the main suspect in the disappearance of two Colombian women in the state of Virginia.

Elizabeth Rodríguez Rubio, 48, and her granddaughter Angie Carolina Rodríguez Rubio, 12, were last seen on Sunday, 5 August, in the city of Harrisonburg, Rockingham County, Virginia.

They were accompanied by Rodriguez Sariol to the state of Maryland, where they reside. The police issued an alert on 7 August for the disappearance of the child and her grandmother. continue reading

The vehicle in which Rodriguez Sariol was transporting both women, a red Honda Civic, was found in flames on Interstate 66. After this the suspect drove a 2000 Volvo truck on the 6th and 7th of August to different places in the country.

Rodriguez Sariol was arrested in Lackawanna, Pennsylvania and continues to be questioned, police sources confirmed to this newspaper.

“The captain was madly in love with that woman. They met at an English school where they studied and then they left. She wanted to get married to get the papers,” says a source close to Rodriguez Sariol who agreed to speak with 14ymedio on condition of anonymity. According to this source, the Cuban was “obsessed” with the woman.

The vehicle Rodriguez Sariol was driving in with both women, a red Honda Civic, was found in flames in Interstate 66. (Courtesy)

“Hareton was a creep, he got his license in Texas and for a month he lived in his car outside the company he managed in Washington DC. She visited him on Fridays, when the captain got paid and gave her all the money. The woman lived with a son I never knew,” he adds.

David Barrero, son of Elizabeth Rodríguez Rubio and uncle of Angie Carolina Rodríguez Rubio, told local media that the family is very stressed by what happened. “Most of us have nightmares at night,” he said, adding that his sister and other relatives have distributed leaflets in Harrisonburg and other nearby cities.

The police set up a local crime line at (540) 574-5050 and is asking those who have information about both women to contact the authorities.

Rodríguez Sariol arrived in the United States in April 2016 aboard a raft with 25 other emigrants when the wet foot/dry foot policy was still in effect, which granted refuge to all Cubans who stepped foot on US territory.

The video that documents part of his journey went viral on social networks because he and another officer, Michel Herrera, arrived dressed in their PNR uniforms. As they said at the time, they did not take off their uniforms to avoid being arrested when they arrived on the boat on the coast.

El capitán, as his acquaintances call him for his rank in the national transportation directorate in Cuba, denied having repressed dissidents or participating in acts of repudiation against the opposition, in several interviews he granted to the South Florida media.

Angie and Elizabeth Rodriguez Rubio. Granddaughter and granddaughter respectively, have been missing since the beginning of the month when Hareton Jaime Rodriguez Sariol drove them to his home. (Courtesy Facebook)

The group of rafters left Guanabo, east of Havana and were at sea for more than 30 hours before arriving in the United States. Once in the country, Rodriguez Sariol received help from the US Government and settled in Virginia.

Marino Ramírez, a Cuban who has lived in the United States for more than 10 years, met Rodriguez Sariol at the Church of the Nazarene. “He was a serious man, but very kind. He always expressed his desire to bring his family from Cuba,” Ramírez told this newspaper. Still on the island are Rodriguez Sariol’s mother and a sister, as well as other relatives.

Maurice Naranjo worked as a representative for the Cuban Haitian Entrant Program, a federal program administered by the US Citizenship and Immigration Services to host and relocate Cubans and Haitians with “parole” status (on probation until they regularize their status in the country), and that’s how he met Rodriguez Sariol.

“He seemed like a decent person. Being a police captain in Cuba did not influence his behavior. He was kind and expressed several times his desire to do everything possible to get ahead and find a job. He was helped with several federal and state benefits,” he said.

Naranjo can not believe that Rodriguez Sariol is involved in the disappearance of two people. “The police contacted me to ask me some questions about him and I could not believe it. I thought they were talking about someone else,” he added.

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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.

Diaz-Canel Visit to Manzanillo Recounted by Historian Without Mincing Words

This video is not subtitled

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Marion J Pentón, Miami, Augut 11, 2018 — On the eve of the visit to Manzanillo by Miguel Díaz-Canel at the end of June, this western city in frank decadence was subjected to special treatment. Houses were spruced up, the indigents were secluded in the psychiatric hospital, criticism was gagged, and even various ice cream flavors appeared in the unstocked state-owned ice cream parlors.

The historian Delio Orozco González dared to raise his voice and said that this visit was “prefabricated”.  His complaint earned him the censorship of a program he conducted for free on local television, Golfo Visión.

Like the child who was the only one that dared to say that the Emperor had no clothes when he thought he was dressed in invisible cloth, in the fable The Naked King [The Emperor’s New Clothes], in real life Orozco-Gonzales denounced what everybody knew but no one dared to say: that the visit by Díaz-Canel was nothing more than staged to please the new ruler. continue reading

“One thing is to show what has been accomplished by conscious and systematic work and quite another to prepare a staging with last minute touches whose sole purpose is to impress the visitor to avoid critical remarks. Unfortunately that was what was done in Manzanillo”, Orozco González wrote in a blog.

Orozco González, a well-known local historian, was unable to witness in slience the violent eviction of Mirtha Escobar Rodríguez, a physically handicapped woman who waited for Díaz-Canel in Céspedes Park to let the president know “what liars” the local leaders are.

The woman was promised 11 years ago the construction of a house, but her denunciation of alleged mismanagement in public funds for her home earned her the enmity of the local bosses. The police officers took her by force and took her first to the hospital and then to the psychiatric hospital.

“When they took her to the Celia Sánchez Manduley Hospital with very high blood pressure to give her medical treatment, they transferred her to the psychiatric hospital, as was done in the Soviet Union, to try to confuse her civic demand with dementia, the public denunciation with madness, the truth with alienation,” related Orozco González.

The historian, who is far from having a dissident position against the system, questioned the plasticity of the measures taken to receive Diaz-Canel, whom in the first hundred days of his mandate has appeared constantly in the media travelling throughout the provinces and leading meetings.

They hurriedly painted the old electoral billboards, removed the vines from the Caymari building, set up another lab in the Palace of Computing and “gathered all the homeless so that the President and his delegation would not see the sad spectacle of drunks and destitute people who swarm and sleep in our streets”.

Orozco González has worked in the Historical Archive of Manzanillo since 1990. He is also vice president of the Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba in the territory and is a member of the Academy of History of Cuba.  Among his notable books are Manzanillo in the pen of José Martí, Presence and reception martiana in Manzanillo, Manzanillo in the 50s and Of the faithful of Manzanillo.

The decision to stop broadcasting the historian’s program, Findings, was communicated a week ago by the scriptwriter of the television program. According to Orozco González, the municipal authorities prohibited the television director from continuing to use the platform to teach. The historian has said that he will not talk to the media because for him everything has been said. “Now the censors, if they believe it, should explain their decision or simply do what they always do: not show their faces,” he added.

14ymedio made multiple attempts to contact the director of Golfo Visión, Geraldo Romero Díaz, and several journalists from the channel, but none wanted to offer comments on the matter.

It is not the first time that Golfo Visión has been in the midst of a controversy over the treatment of its workers. At the beginning of the year cameraman Raidel Tirado was fired after having suffered a traffic accident on his motorcycle and caused minor damage to the state-owned camera when he was on his way to cover the celebration for the triumph of the Los Alazanes baseball team in Granma  vs. Las Tunas.

Translated by Wilfredo Díaz Echevarria

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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 Economy’s 1.1% Growth is Not Felt on Cubans’ Dinner Tables

Residents walking near the entrance of Barbacoa, in Guantánamo. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario J. Pentón, Miami | 25 July 2018 – Cuba’s 1.1% economic growth the first semester of 2018, announced by President Miguel Díaz-Canel, will not reach the kitchens of the Cuban people, nor will it be felt in the already reduced purchasing power of their wallets, according to various economists consulted by 14ymedio.

The island, crippled by the crisis of its greatest ally, Venezuela, has not been able to recover in light of the reduced number of tourists, the fall in exports, the impacts of tropical hurricanes and the incompetence of governmental officials.

“I am alarmed by this statistic. I am quite worried because I believe the Cuban economy is quickly getting out of control. Various Latin American nations have current growth rates above 4%. Cuba is below average. It is usual [for Cuba], but it indicates that the motors of the economy are turned off,” says the Cuban professor and economist Elías Amor Bravo from Valencia, Spain. continue reading

Amor Bravo explains that the low economic growth rate is produced by the fall in tourism, which is not registering the figures that were anticipated. In the first semester of the year, the number of tourists that traveled to Cuba fell by 5%. In the case of Americans, the reduction was of 24% (some 266,000 people) compared to the previous year. President Donald Trump’s new policy, which promised a hard stance against the tourism enterprises owned by the Cuban military, has struck the country’s economy.

The economist says that foreign direct investment continues to be paltry with respect to the 2.5 billion dollars that the country needs annually. In addition, the sugar harvest has been quite poor, one of the worst in an entire century in fact (1.1 millions of tons), coupled with the damage caused by hurricane Irma (13.585 billion dollars) and tropical storm Alberto. The trade balance (the difference between exports and imports) in 2016, the last year for which statistics are available, is of -7.953 billion dollars.

“The uncontrolled public deficit has snowballed from year to year and is fed by an ever-increasing debt,” cites Amor, in addition to “the government officials’ failure to manage the economy.”

Cuba received crucial aid in 2014 with the pardoning of 90% of its debt of 35 billion dollars to the former Soviet Union, of which the Russian Federation was on the receiving end. In 2015, the Paris Club and Havana reached an agreement to forgive 8.5 of the 11.1 billion dollars Cuba had accumulated in debt and interest since 1986. Mexico also pardoned 70% of the 487 million it had loaned to the island. Japan forgave almost one billion dollars of an outstanding debt in 2014.

“The symptom of the illness is a fever, but the illness is what a doctor must study. If you only fight the fever you don’t solve the problem. The illness in the Cuban case is the disequilibrium due to a lack of exports and the uncontrollable spending of the State,” he says.

An increase in blackouts, more shortages in shops where items are sold in Cuban convertible pesos (CUC), as well as in the rationed markets, are the result of the island’s current economic situation. This has led to a resurgence of government control over the private sector. According to economist Carmelo Mesa-Lago’s calculations, the average Cuban’s purchasing power is barely 51% of what it was in 1989.

The signs of deterioration have also been felt by the pharmaceutical sector due to various liquidity issues related to paying suppliers of raw materials. In an industry that imports 85% of the ingredients for the fabrication of drugs, the crisis has led to shortages of 45 basic medications.

The picture is the same for the supplies of ice cream, soft drinks and beer which have fallen sharply in recent months in stores and manufacturers. The problems in buying packaging and raw materials abroad has led many industries, such as Cuba’s iconic ice cream maker Coppelia, to reduce their production and temporarily close some plants.

Mesa-Lago concludes in a recent study that the average growth of the economy between 2016-2018 will be 0.6%, a very poor figure compared with other countries in the region. The International Monetary Fund forecast 1.6% growth for Latin America this year.

Emilio Morales, director of The Havana Consulting Group, also doubts the Cuban president’s figure. “A growth of 1.1% of GDP is questionable due to the poor economic results of this semester. At this moment the country is going through a tense financial situation and a profound lack of liquidity, which has delayed payments to a group of important suppliers of raw materials and products,” says Morales.

Cuba managed to boost its economy after Hugo Chávez came to power in Venezuela, which allowed it to find an alternative to the subsidies it had received from the former Soviet Union.

The signing of a collaboration agreement with Caracas at the beginning of this century and the sending of tens of thousands of professionals to work in Venezuela, for which that country paid Havana directly with subsidized oil, was like giving Fidel Castro’s government an oxygen balloon. However, the crisis facing Venezuela has caused this to change.

According to the latest published official figures, trade between both countries fell to 2.224 billion dollars in 2016, the historical minimum since the beginning of Chavismo, after having exceeded 8.2 billion in 2012.

Left side: Percentage of oil imports by Venezuela. Right side: Venezuelan exports to oil to ALBA (Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas) countries.

Venezuela, which in the best years of its “Bolivarian revolution” sent around 120,000 barrels of oil per day to Cuba (at a value of about 4 billion dollars a year), has reduced the shipments to about 55,000 barrels. The vertiginous fall of petroleum production in Venezuela has forced it to go to international markets to buy crude oil that it later sends to Cuba by an annual cost of around 1.2 billion dollars.

Cuba-Venezuela Trade Figures. Red line: Imports from Venezuela to Cuba. Green line: Exports from Cuba to Venezuela. Blue bars: Total trade. Source: Cuba’s Office of National Statistics

According to the economist Omar Everleny Pérez, “the government’s plan is still not being met every year, and the plan itself is already low.”

“For the economy to achieve the takeoff it needs to grow steadily between 5% and 7%, and for the last four or five years the Cuban economy has hit a plateau of 2%,” he told this newspaper by phone.

Pérez, who directed the Center for the Study of the Cuban Economy at the University of Havana, believes that there is a vicious circle that blocks growth from resuming.

“A 1%  growth in the case of an economy with a level as low as Cuba’s is nothing, it does not reach the population, it has no impact,” he says.

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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 Prefer the Cuba of the Special Period to the Venezuela of Nicolas Maduro," Says a Cuban Doctor

Cuban government claims it earns 11.5 billion annually from the sale of services abroad. (CC)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario J. Pentón, Havana, 13 July 2018  — After the robbery of 152,000 dollars (a figure later reduced to 16,000 by the police) Cuban doctors in Venezuela have come to be seen as privileged due to their access to the green bills in contrast to the unfortunate situation of the local population. Several physicians consulted by this newspaper fear that the media exposure will make them targets of criminal gangs, although, according to them, the standard of living of a Cuban health professional in Venezuela leaves much to be desired.

“They give us a million bolivars a month, that’s the stipend, but it’s not enough,” explains a doctor who, like the rest, is strictly forbidden to talk to the press. Some doctors assume that the stipend will be as much as three million after the minimum wage increases, but so far no action has been taken in this regard.

In the black market, which regulates street trade, the price of the dollar is over 3.4 million bolivars. All Cuban personnel, technicians, nurses and doctors receive the same stipend. continue reading

The Venezuelan Government guarantees them a home where they live with other “internationalists,” as well as a bag of food, and Cuba pays for their plane tickets to return on vacation to the island.

“We are not to blame for what is happening in Venezuela, the Government of this country has not been able to control the situation,” says this doctor, who has sometimes felt “despised” by his patients. “I prefer the Cuba of the Special Period to the Venezuela of Nicolás Maduro,” he says.

To buy toiletries and food, the professional brought money with him from Cuba. “When it’s all gone and I have nothing left, I send for more,” he says. On the island, the government keeps his salary and also deposits an amount in convertible pesos in a frozen account that he loses if he leaves the mission or he is sanctioned.

Among the prohibitions whose violation could mean returning to Cuba are being absent from work, talking to the foreign press about the medical mission or trying to escape to Colombia or any neighboring country. The doctor says that it has not crossed his mind because he fears he would not see his family on the island again. “They would punish me by forbidding me to enter Cuba for eight years, I can not stay away from my family that long,” he says.

The Cuban Government participates in medical missions in exchange for obtaining oil from Venezuela. Caracas sends some 55,000 barrels of oil a day to the island, which represents 1.5 billion dollars a year, a surprisingly high figure for a country sunk in a severe humanitarian crisis. The government maintains that it receives more than 11.5 billion dollars annually for the professional services it provides to countries all over the world, a figure questioned by independent economists.

Personal security is among the greatest concerns for Cuban doctors who provide services in Venezuela. Although the Special Action Forces of the police arrested the thieves, some Cubans consulted by this newspaper say that most of the time this is not the case.

“Many have been assaulted and some have died here, but nothing is said because the policy of the medical mission is total discretion, they tell us that it will become a political problem if we report these cases and they can punish us by terminating our mission,” says a doctor who works in eastern Venezuela.

The doctor also states that she has been the victim of harassment by the mission heads. “Sometimes I have had to face the machismo of the bosses, they believe that because we come alone to work we have to serve them as maids and as women in their beds,” she complains.

Most cases of abuse, according to this doctor, go unpunished, silenced by the secrecy surrounding the mission.

The doctor is concerned about the deteriorating situation in the country. “They have asked us to bear up until the end, but that end never comes and things get worse every day,” she explains.

Venezuela is experiencing a hyperinflationary process that has left its currency worthless. The economy of the country contracted the first quarter of this year by 12% according to the calculations of the opposition National Assembly. Oil production, the main export item in the country, has plummeted and reached 1.5 million barrels per day in June, the lowest figure in 70 years. Added to this is the widespread violence that has claimed the lives of more than 280,000 people since Chavismo came to power in 1999.

“Cuban professionals here are in a situation of war in a country that is crumbling to pieces and without any protection,” she laments.

Several doctors have sent messages to the heads of mission asking for better wages and protection, always under the slogan “everything for the Revolution” so as not to be branded as counterrevolutionaries, explains a third professional who works in Zulia.

“If our relatives in Cuba or our colleagues knew the things that we have to go through in this shitty country nobody would come,” says the doctor. But the official media of the Island censors the negative news about the missions abroad.

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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.

Criminal Gang Steals $150,000 from Cuban Medical Mission in Venezuela

A complex of buildings in Ciudad Caribia, on the outskirts of Caracas. (Twitter)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario J. Pentón, Miami | 2 July 2018 — Eight armed and hooded men attacked a group of Cuban doctors stationed in Venezuela in the early hours of Sunday morning and stole more than $152,000 (dollars) and 30,000 pesos, according to statements to 14ymedio from several doctors from the island who work in the medical mission in that country.

The police reports obtained by this newspaper document that the Cuban delegation comprising 126 professionals, of whom 38 had just arrived in Venezuela, was stripped of their belongings in Ciudad Caribia, in the state of Vargas.

Nelson Vielma, a 42-year-old Venezuelan taxi driver, explained to the Bolivarian National Guard (GNB) that the thieves broke the doors to the dormitories where the doctors spent the night and forced them to hand over their cell phones and cash they were carrying. continue reading

Some doctors reported that their colleagues told them they were beaten during the robbery.

Many of the doctors take advantage of missions abroad to buy products that help their families on the island to cope with the hardships they suffer because of the chronic shortages in the Cuban markets, which are controlled by the State.

“How long is our country is going to leave us unprotected in such a complex and ungrateful place,” protested one of the doctors who works in Venezuela and requested anonymity for fear of reprisals from the Cuban government.

Another doctor on the mission said that “unfortunately, robberies are already part of the routine in Cuban medical missions in Venezuela,” and asked her colleagues to demand respect and help from the authorities of both countries. The GNB placed two guards in the doctors’ dormitory to prevent future robberies.

“It’s so dangerous living in this sh…y country,” wrote a third doctor, very upset at the lack of protection from the authorities.

Venezuela is one of the most dangerous countries in the world. A recently released documentary about the consequences of the implementation of Chavism showed that someone is is murdered in that country every 20 minutes. Venezuelan figures under Chavez are terrifying: 280,000 homicides, 15,000 arbitrary detentions, 6,000 extrajudicial executions, more than 280 documented cases of torture in just 20 years, in a country of a little more than 30 million people.

Since the beginning of the century, when Cuba signed an agreement with Venezuela to send doctors, teachers and technicians in exchange for oil, tens of thousands of Cubans have passed through that country. The latest figures given by the office of president Nicolás Maduro stood at 28,000 doctors and health technicians currently present in Venezuela.

The agreements with regards to what Caracas pays for the Cuban professionals are not public, however, the Cuban authorities have said that they receive more than 11.5 billion dollars per year for the sale of these services in dozens of countries.

Several international organizations have denounced these practices in Havana as “slavery” due to the lack of rights which the professionals themselves enjoy. The Cuban government keeps two thirds of their salaries, which has led to a large number of desertions and demands in countries like Brazil as well as Venezuela itself.

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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.

Documentary Narrates the Destruction of Venezuela in Two Decades of ‘Chavismo’

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario J. Penton, Miami | 18 June 2018 — He changed the constitution, the coat of arms and the national flag, the name of his country and even its time zone. Hugo Chávez intended Chavismo to build a new social order on the remains of Venezuela’s liberal democracy and he succeeded. But at what a price!

Two decades after the arrival of Hugo Chávez in power and five years after his death, the documentary maker Gustavo Tovar presents a chronicle of the collapse suffered by the Latin American nation with his film Chavismo: The Plague of the 21st Century.

“Killing a person in Venezuela is called homicide, but killing a whole people is called Chavismo,” says the former president of Costa Rica, Óscar Arias, just one of the dozens of activists, academics, intellectuals and human rights defenders interviewed by Tovar. continue reading

How could Chávez, after a military coup, seduce the people of one of the richest nations on the continent to be governed by his will? Populism has a dangerously attractive answer: the poverty of many in Venezuela is the result of the wealth of others, therefore the poor must expropriate the wealth of the prosperous and redistribute it. In hatred, division, and a Manichaeism that divides everyone into good and bad, such that the success of Chavismo is based on lies, censorship and repression, according to the documentary.

“Hugo Chávez understood that people were very disillusioned and fed up with the usual politicians. He put at the center of the national debate a very important group of Venezuelans who had been excluded,” explains journalist Moisés Naím.

Chavismo comes to power through a combination of the weariness of the Venezuelan political class that brings an outsider to the presidency and the maneuvers of Fidel Castro who, from Havana, sees in Chávez the realization of his dream of conquering the richest nation of Latin America to export the communist revolution to Latin America.

Every twenty minutes Tovar interrupts his documentary to remind us that, while we have been watching, another Venezuelan has been murdered in the most dangerous country in the world. Venezuelan figures under Chavez are terrifying: 280,000 homicides, 15,000 arbitrary arrests, 6,000 extrajudicial executions, more than 280 documented cases of torture.

The power of Chavismo, first under Hugo Chávez and then with his successor, Nicolás Maduro, could not be explained without the rule of the army and corruption. Tovar presents the beginnings of the conversion of the armed forces to an ideological force, when Chávez proclaims that the Army will be “revolutionary, anti-imperialist, socialist and Chavista.”

In 90 minutes the film seeks to give an overview of the national reality by exploring the causes of the Venezuelan debacle. However there are unforgivable omissions, such as the Caracazo, the series of riots that shook the country in 1989, leaving hundreds dead, and the coup against Hugo Chavez in 2002, which precipitated the authoritarian ruler.

The writer and political scientist Laureano Marquez does an excellent job of describing the hijacking of the Venezuelan Army to serve Chavez’s party instead of serving the whole nation: “We have political parties in Venezuela and one political party that is armed: the Army.”

According to a study by the University of Zulia, cited by Tovar in his documentary, the military expenditures of Chavismo have amounted to 497 billion dollars, with billions spent on purchases from Russia and China, while on medicines they have barely spent 16 billion dollars.

Chavez promoted the creation of a militia of more than 500,000 men and publicly supports the colectivos, criminal associations that terrorize the public and control large areas of the country.

The manipulation of electoral power, in the hands of Jorge Rodríguez and the undaunted Tibisay Lucena, allowed Chavismo, which came to the government via the ballot box in 1998, to continue winning elections up until today.

“Chávez and Chavismo and all the Cuban power, from the very  beginning, begin to build a fraud. You can not expect anything from a regime that controls everything and put your hopes in the electorate, “says Juan Claudio Lechín, a Bolivian writer.

In order to maintain the machinery of an increasingly larger, more powerful State that is a dispenser of favors, Chávez used expropriations of private enterprise. Lands, banks, food producing companies and even the jewel in the crown of the country, the public company Petróleos de Venezuela, which operated as a State within the State, fall under his control.

“He leaves the people of Venezuela without food, telling them the story that a businessman is a heretic who has no virtues,” explains Lechín.

The use of hunger as a political weapon is reflected in the documentary with images of women who have nothing to feed their children, people who eat garbage, and widespread ill-health and malnutrition.

Although the minimum wage is nomimally close to 400 dollars, Chavez’s economic performance has plummeted the purchasing power of Venezuelans’to the equivalent of less than a dollar a month and inflation is now the highest in the world (so far in 2018 it is 13,865%).

Along with these evils, there is corruption and drug trafficking . A justice minister who defends socialism in front of reporters who question his Louis Vuitton tie, the luxuries of the ‘red bourgeois’ and their children, the systematic plundering of the country, and the multi-million dollar accounts of the defenders of egalitarianism, all these are shown in the documentary.

Chavismo is a process by which the lumpen — the criminal sectors of a society — seizes power. That is why they are so daring, that is why they can be so cruel and have such a hunger for power that they do not respect their friends or those who have supported them,” says Lechín.

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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.

Several Evangelical Churches Appeal to Cuban Government and the Revolution to Block Equal Marriage

Evangelical churches have gained ground in Cuba in recent years. (Facebook)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miami, 6 July 2018 — Five evangelical denominations in Cuba issued a public statement against equal marriage. The document states that “gender ideology” has nothing to do with Cuban culture “or with the historical leaders of the Revolution.”

The Evangelical League of Cuba, the Baptist Conventions of the West and East, as well as the Methodist Church and the Evangelical Assembly of God endorsed the document as the National Assembly prepares, at the end of the month, to debate a constitutional reform that seeks to update the constitution approved in 1976.

“We want to sensitize the authorities to the danger that equal marriage can bring to the nation,” said Dariel Llanes Quintana, president of the Western Baptist Convention. continue reading

According to Llanes, the five denominations, which are not within the Cuban Council of Churches, requested permission from the Government to carry out a march along Havana’s La Rampa, from 23rd and L to the Malecón, but this request was rejected by the authorities.

“We met with those responsible for religious affairs in the leadership of the Communist Party, Sonia García and Caridad Diego, who explained that the demonstration could not be held, but that the constitutional reforms would be carried out after a “broad popular debate,” Llanes added.

Llanes explained that the churches intend to take advantage of the temples and houses of prayer to explain their position to the population. In the joint statement, the evangelical denominations state that the family “is a divine institution, created by God” and that marriage “is exclusively the union of a man and a woman.”

The religious leaders point out that the gender ideology “has no relationship with the communist countries,” and gives as examples the extinct Soviet Union as well as China, Vietnam and North Korea.

“That paragraph was included as proof that communist countries do not have same-sex marriage,” said Bishop Ricardo Pereira Díaz, representative of the Methodist Church. “You can’t take from capitalism what suits you. If the country is communist, let it be communist,” he added.

To the religious leader, the ideology promoted by governmental institutions such as the Center for Sexual Education (Cenesex), directed by Mariela Castro, daughter of former President Raúl Castro, constitutes a danger for children.

“In other countries, parents can send their children to a private or public school that is in accordance with the precepts of their faith. In a country like ours where education is governed by the State and there are no alternatives, putting a child in a place where they must learn something that is contrary to their faith is to violate their free will, “explained the pastor.

Worship services in an evangelical church.

Pereira believes that more than 60% of the country is against homosexual marriage and gender ideology, although he does not have data to support that figure.

The constitutional reform is part of the unfinished transformations left by former President Raúl Castro after a decade in office. Castro currently presides over the Communist Party and the commission charged with proposing the changes to the Magna Carta.

Some experts consulted by this newspaper believe that the reformed Constitution will modify the family code and will incorporate the same gender parenthood. Other foreseeable changes are to allow the presence of the small and medium-sized private company and to specify the limitation of the terms of public office to five years, with a limit of two terms.

The Evangelical Churches in Cuba have experienced a rapid growth after the religious opening that the country experienced in the 90s. The Methodist Church has more than 80,000 faithful, while other denominations also have hundreds of “temple houses” scattered throughout the country.

LGBT activist and Pentecostal member, Victor Manuel Dueñas, exiled in Holland, regrets that the declaration of the evangelical churches ignores the persecution against Christians. “In the Soviet Union, North Korea and Cuba itself, being a Christian was considered a crime, and together with homosexuals, Christians were held in concentration camps, and these pastors should study a bit of history,” he said.

Adiel González Maimó, religious leader of the Christian Metropolitan Church, open to the LGBT community, believes that Christian denominations “will do everything they can to avoid homosexual marriage.”

The young man from Matanzas, close to the Cenesex, called it “a manipulation” for the statement of religious institutions to use “political elements” to reinforce their reading of the Bible. “I am sure that the government is going to offer a strong response, they are accusing the authorities of being homophobic, just after everything that has been done by the LGBT community,” he added.

“The Word of God says very clearly that Jesus came to give us life in abundance, when you take away the right of people to live their love, you are robbing them of the life and happiness that God wants for them,” he said.

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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.

Pinar Del Rio’s Bishop Asks For “A Review of the Case” of Ruiz Urquiola

The Bishop of Pinar del Río, Jorge Serpa, and the biologist Ariel Ruiz Urquiola. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario J. Penton, Miami, 30 June 2018 – On Friday, shortly after visiting biologist Ariel Ruiz Urquiola, on hunger strike over his sentence of one year in prison, the bishop of the Catholic diocese of Pinar del Rio, Jorge Serpa, spoke in favor of “a review of the case and of the process.”

Serpa made these comments in the course of a telephone call with 14ymedio. He explained that he spoke for more than an hour with the prisoner and was left with the impression that he was “a person with whom one can talk, with his views and convictions.”

The bishop clarified that he can not talk about the religious advice he lent to Ruiz Urquiola because, although it is not a secret of confession, it is something private. However, Serpa agreed to give a few details about the striker’s health status. continue reading

“Some people call me telling me that he is in a condition where his life is in danger. That’s not the case,” Serpa said.

“A person who can coherently carry on an hour’s conversation can not be said to be debilitated, although if his protest continues he will end up that way. Anyone who spends several days in that situation ends up debilitated.”

“He is protesting for justice to be done, so that the process in which he was condemned is reviewed. I think he’s right and it’s his right to protest.”

“Everyone who protests, if they are right, should do it. This protest is based on a conviction that Ruiz Urquiola considers flawed, and for that the best thing is to review the case and the process that led to that conviction. Everyone has the right to ask for that,” explained the bishop.

Ariel Ruiz Urquiola was sentenced last month to one year in jail for “contempt” in the Municipal Court of Viñales (Pinar del Río) after a trial that the family believed was manipulated by State Security. Urquiola was arrested on the farm he leases from the State in that locality, after calling the area’s officials “rural police,” a term that ended up with his arrest and a charge of “contempt.”

Two weeks ago, Amnesty International declared Ruiz Urquiola a prisoner of conscience and took urgent action to demand his release. On Tuesday, the United States asked Cuba for the “immediate” release of all political prisoners on the island and expressed its special concern for the cases of Eduardo Cardet and Ariel Ruiz Urquiola.

“The cases of Dr. Ariel Ruiz Urquiola and Dr. Eduardo Cardet, both highlighted by a human rights organization as ‘prisoners of conscience’, are just two examples of how the Cuban government continues to silence the peaceful opposition of its own citizens,” said Heather Nauert, spokeswoman of the US State Department.

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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.

Mobile Phone Recharges in Cuba Are a Headache for Relatives in Miami

The video is not subtitled.  The woman is repeating over and over “don’t ask me for a recharge.”

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario Pentón, Miami | Junio 15, 2018 — “My little brother, toss me a refill.” “Asere, I need a little help.” “Compadre, they are only twenty pesitos.” These are some of the most common phrases repeated every month on the social networks of people living in Cuba. They are addressed to friends, relatives and even strangers abroad, the only ones who can take advantage of the promotions offered by the state communications monopoly Etecsa.

As if it were a hunting season, the gun is that of the telecommunications company itself. “Etecsa informs that a recharge with a bonus will be valid from June 11 to 15. If you recharge 20 you get 60,” says a text message that the company sends to its users’ mobiles on the Island. From then on, the desperate search for benefactors abroad begins. continue reading

“The refills have no name. Every month I have to get strong because if I don’t they bleed me dry,” says Yuralay Batista, a Cuban who has lived in Miami for three years. “Imagine this, the other day a woman who says she was in daycare with me, sent me a friend request, asking if I could help her with a recharge,” she said.

Another Cuban who recently exploded in response to requests for reloads was Nairovis Brooks López, a woman from Santiago who went on Facebook Live to protest against the massive number of requests she received. The video went viral and currently exceeds 360,000 views.

Cubans have had cell phone access only relatively recently. After years of its being a privilege of diplomats, tourists and top leaders of the Communist Party, in 2008 Raúl Castro allowed the use of these telephones to be extended to the population.

In just a decade the country already has more than five million cell phone lines and Etecsa has announced that in the near future it will allow users to surf the internet via smartphones, although it has not revealed the prices.

The costs of mobile phone serve are very high relative to the average monthly salary of the Island, which is just 29.5 CUC, according to official figures. Contracting for a mobile line costs about 40 CUC and a minute of conversation is 0.40 cents CUC, almost half the average wage of a full working day in state companies.

“Etecsa is growing at the expense of the work of people abroad,” said Batista.

Alain González, who resides in Hialeah, told this newspaper that he considers it “an abuse” that Cubans living on the island can not have the right to recharge their mobile phone in national currency and qualify for the Etecsa promotions.

González, who has been working in a factory for five years, travels frequently to the island and admits that he frequently recharges the cell phones of family and friends because that allows them to “keep in touch.”

“My mother lives in Centro Habana. With the recharge she calls me once a week. It’s cheaper than me calling her from the United States,” he says. “Having a landline in Cuba is a luxury. That’s my way of helping,” he adds.

Another important element with regards to the recharges to the Island is that the balances on people’s cellphone accounts have started to be used as a virtual currency. In a country where most transactions have to be made with notes or coins, the use of this tool, for which Etecsa charges 0.30 cents of CUC has grown exponentially.

Some economists have estimated that the state monopoly has realized profits exceeding 2 billion dollars from prepaid cellphone service. More than half of the country’s telephone lines are maintained by recharges from abroad, the sources add.

Etecsa does not provide data on the number of top-ups or the profits obtained through them, but Tania Velázquez, vice president of Business Strategy and Technologies for the company, told the national media that the company prioritizes services with payments from abroad to capture foreign exchange.

The official figures in just 20% of the top-ups made from abroad despite the avalanche of petitions protested by Cubans living abroad.

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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.

Mariel, the Cuban Hong Kong That Never Became One

The Mariel Special Development Zone.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miami, 14 June 2018 — In 2014, Raúl Castro, who promoted the deepest economic reforms since the establishment of the socialist system in Cuba, surrounded by his allies Dilma Rousseff, Evo Morales and Nicolás Maduro, promoted the largest project of his mandate, the creation of a Special Development Zone in the Port of Mariel.

Four years and a Brazilian investment of more than one billion dollars later, the zone that promised to turn Cuba into the Caribbean Hong Kong languishes, waiting for investors, according to Emilio Morales, director of Havana Consulting Group.

“The idea of developing a special zone in the Port of Mariel is good; the problem has been in the management, and (thanks to the thaw with the United States) no Latin American country has had in just two years the number of entrepreneurs, presidents and delegations that have visited Cuba, but they did not know how to take advantage of it,” Morales said in a telephone conversation with 14ymedio. continue reading

Mariel was built at a time when the diplomatic thaw with the United States allowed one to foresee the end of the embargo. The most modern port in the Caribbean could accommodate the huge Super-Panamax ships for which the port’s entrance channel was dredged to a 60 foot depth and a modern container terminal was built.

The resistance of the Republicans in the US Congress against lifting the sanctions, the arrival of Donald Trump to the White House and the decline in trade with Caracas, which according to most experts subsidized the battered economy of the island, undid Raúl Castro’s star project.

The Cuban economy, rigidly controlled from the highest power, remains inefficient. The management of the businesses in the Mariel Special Development Zone (ZEDM) is under the control of State officials. “Private enterprise is essential for the future development of Cuba and Mariel. But because the only owner is the State, nobody pays for a wrong decision, the money is not theirs, nor the risk, therefore, it remains something abstract, which is called the State,” adds Morales.

At the end of March there were only 35 approved companies (five of them Cuban), of which 10 were in operation and 25 in the process of investment. The official newspaper Granma reported that so far the ZEDM has captured 1.191 billion dollars, only 9.5% of the 12.5 billion dollars that had been planned, at a rate of 2.5 billion per year.

The causes of the poor performance of the industrial zone that promised to accelerate the national economy have to be looked for in “an excessive bureaucracy, a complicated decision-making process that delays the follow-up of the investment offers from foreign companies, and delays in the completion of the infrastructure,” Morales highlighted in an article recently published in Martí Noticias.

The government itself acknowledged in March that the ZEDM is not going “as fast” as the country needs. President Miguel Díaz-Canel, this week, reviewed the program of foreign investments and exports together with a group of ministers and officials of the sector.

“We must make things more feasible, more viable, less cumbersome,” the president said in relation to the obstacles that delay the investment process. Díaz-Canel later expressed his bewilderment about the slowness with which decisions made in the Council of Ministers or in the National Assembly are applied to the project.

The Mariel works were financed by the Brazilian State, at that time governed by the Workers’ Party, an ally of Havana. The multi-million dollar contract was awarded to Odebrecht, the same company whose bribery practices to secure public contracts shook the foundations of many corrupt governments in Latin America. In Cuba, no investigation related to the multinational has been opened to date.

To Emilio Morales, much of Mariel’s failure can be seen in the small number of jobs it has achieved. “This state project has only created 4,888 jobs, compared to more than 570,000 that were generated by the granting of licenses to small private companies,” (cuentapropismo, or self-employment), he says, justifying his idea of opening up opportunities in the ZEDM to the private sector within the Island.

“It’s not possible that they would create a special economic zone in Mariel and leave out the Cubans themselves, without any chance of investing in it. National entrepreneurs should be privileged first, and then the foreigners,” he emphasizes.

The US company Cleber LLC, the first company with 100% North American capital that was going to be in Mariel, ended up being rejected by the Cuban government. The project of the Cuban-American businessman Saul Berenthal and his partner Horace Clemmons sought to assemble Oggún tractors, designed for small farmers to make the land more productive.

“Mariel had several prospects: first to process oil from the northern part of Cuba, to create industrial parks with import facilities and repatriate capital. In addition, Cuba’s geographical position places it at the center of major routes, which could facilitate the establishment of a free trade zone,” says Morales. All these opportunities are still present, but the weight of the State chokes them.

The Mariel Special Development Zone was inaugurated during the 2nd CELAC Summit in 2014, an international organization promoted from the socialist Venezuela of Hugo Chávez, excluding the United States and Canada. Four years later, the CELAC is being dismembered, Chávez has died, Venezuela is plunged into an unprecedented crisis and most of the governments of the region (including the Brazilian) have changed their ideological sign.

“Political decisions cannot continue to govern the Cuban economy because the market has its own rules: the State must — as the Vietnamese advised — liberate the productive forces of the nation and not want to absorb everything,” Morales says.

Video: Raul Castro during the opening of the Mariel Special Development Zone. Not subtitled.

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