"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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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 Bishops Express "Their Good Wishes" in a Message to Miguel Diaz-Canel

The Cuban bishops entrusted the new Government to the Virgin of Charity. (COCC)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miami | Junio 12, 2018 — The Conference of Catholic Bishops of Cuba (COCC) sent a private message to recently appointed president Miguel Díaz-Canel “in support of the eminent national service he had assumed,” as confirmed by the president of the Episcopal Conference, Emilio Aranguren, to 14ymedio.

“I sent him a simple epistolary greeting expressing good wishes in support of the eminent national service that he had assumed and I included a quote from the Pope’s speech in Cesena on October 1, 2017 in which he alludes to good politics,” explained the Bishop of the Diocese of Holguín.

In Cesna, Pope Francis defined good politics as “neither servant nor patron, but friend and collaborator, neither fearful or reckless, but responsible and therefore courageous and prudent at the same time.” continue reading

Francis also emphasized the need to increase the participation of people, “their inclusion and progressive participation” in the search for the good of the entire community.

“A politics that can harmonize the legitimate aspirations of individuals and groups keeping the rudder firmly in the interest of all citizens,” the Pope added.

The Cuban bishops, including the first black prelate in the history of Cuba, entrusted the new Government to the Virgin of Charity, the image of Mary that Catholics venerate as the patroness of Cuba. Aranguren said that the new president responded to the gesture with a brief message in which he showed his appreciation for the communication received.

As part of an Extraordinary Assembly of the COCC, the official site of the Catholic Church on the island, Aranguren revealed the established communication with the new government, which caused speculation on the sites of the independent Cuban press.

The Catholic Church has traditionally had the largest number of faithful in the country. According to data from the Pontifical Yearbook, more than half of Cubans are baptized under Catholic rites, although participation in Sunday services is relatively small.

The Cuban bishops have, in the past, issued numerous criticisms of the Government. With the turn towards the Soviet Union and the implantation of Marxism-Leninism as an official ideology, the Church hardened its discourse in favor of individual liberties. In 1993 the pastoral letter Love Hopes All Things — in which the Cuban clergy denounced the difficult conditions in which the people lived and the harassment of State Security — provoked an angry reaction from the government, which carried out massive demonstrations against the Church.

In 2013 the bishops published Hope Does Not Disappoint, a critical and hopeful look at the national reality, in which they recommended, among other things, replacing the paternalist state with a participatory one and creating a new political order with the participation of all the actors of society and promoting the creative potential of the country.

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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.

Arsenic, Oil and Plastics Invade Cienfuegos Bay

Punta Cotica, in the vicinity of the thermoelectric plant, is one of the most polluted neighborhoods in Cienfuegos. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Justo Mora/Mario J. Pentón, Cienfuegos/Miami, 5 June 2018 — A crab covered with remnants of oil lifts a claw in a threatening gesture while sidling slowly through one of the mangroves on the banks of Cienfuegos Bay. It is rare to see seagulls crossing the bay in search of fish while some pelicans spotted in their flight over the water are stained with black.

“Since the oil refinery spilled into the bay we can no longer fish,” Eddy Alberto, a young man who lives in the Reina district just outside Cienfuegos, tells 14ymedio. On the morning of May 28, the Damují River overflowed near the refinery (recently abandoned by Venezuela), and flooded the sewage treatment pools, sending more than 12,000 cubic meters of liquids mixed with oil into the bay. continue reading

The rains from subtropical storm Alberto increased the flow in the province’s rivers, which empty into the bay, making the marine currents stronger than normal and sending the oil slick across more than 70% of the inlet. Cuba Petroleo specialists estimate that the recovery costs are on the order of a million dollars. Local fishermen fear that there will be no financial compensation for them.

“It’s not the first time they’ve polluted the bay, we live off fishing and no one will compensate us for this,” says Eddy Alberto, 30, his skin tanned by the tropical sun. The young fisherman complains that in order to support his family he now has to cut grass to sell to the drivers of the horsecarts — the main means of transportation in the city — to feed their horses. For each bag he receives 15 Cuban pesos (roughly 60 cents US).

This is not the first environmental tragedy experienced in the bay. The previous catastrophe dates back to 1986 when an oil spill seriously contaminated the inlet. The cleanup work lasted five months. In 2001, an arsenic spill caused alarm among Cienfuegans. Although the authorities never revealed how much of the poison was poured into the bay, fishing was prohibited.

At the end of 2013, Reinaldo Acosta Milán, director of the Supervision Unit of the Ministry of Science, Technology and Environment (CITMA) explained on Radio Ciudad del Mar that the waters of the bay were free of arsenic and that, with the passage time, the spill had been incorporated into the sediments. Acosta Milán recognized that of the species studied by CITMA, shrimp and some shellfish in the area had high levels of arsenic, so their consumption in a sustained manner could be harmful to human health. But many fishermen continued with the under the counter sale of seafood.

Eddy Alberto is not the only fisherman in his neighborhood. In the area known as the 100 Casitas, a settlement built by the Government to house the victims of Hurricane Lili, many are engaged in illegal fishing and they sell their products in the city.

“We do not hurt anyone with what we take from the sea, we are living day-to-day,” says a colleague who sells minutas (breaded fish fillets) and oysters. This man, who did not want to be identified, explains that some years ago he caught shrimp, but that it is more and more rare to find shellfish in the northern part of the bay, where he fishes.

A report by the United Nations Environment Program claims that the large-scale industrialization fostered in the years of Soviet influence on the island is mainly responsible for the compromised environmental condition of the bay. The scientists believe that the sediments of the bay are the second most polluted in the country, after those of the port of Havana.

In the 1980s, “the Nitrogenated Fertilizer Company alone contributed 9.7 tons per day of nitrogen,” notes the report. In those years, an average of 694 vessels passed through the waters of Cienfuegos annually, dumping 93.5 tons of garbage and more than 5,657 tons of oily water into the bay, according to the investigation.

The natural recycling of the bay’s waters is slow, which makes it easier for pollutants to remain longer. According to experts, the waters take between 39 and 59 days to clear the 34 square mile harbor.

The use of polluting fertilizers and biochemicals in the watersheds that flow into the port also contributed to the environmental imbalance. The sugar mills near the Damují and Caunao rivers, the Damují paper plant, and the industries built in the breeding zone are the main culprits of the environmental deterioration in the inlet.

Researchers detected the disappearance of the white shrimp in the northwestern zone, a species that was a symbol of the city and which, along with pink shrimp, was the main fishing resource of the bay.

“In general, in the last decades there are signs of ecological deterioration with a reduction in biodiversity, loss of benthic zone communities [starfish, oysters, clams, sea cucumbers, ophiuroids and sea anemones], a reduction in size and of the catch levels of commercial species, and the erosion and landscape deterioration of the coastline,” conclude the scientists.

Alejandro Sánchez, 23, lives in the historical center of Cienfuegos. In the evenings he takes advantage of the breeze from the west to go with his girlfriend to the Royal Pier to contemplate the sunset. Although the bay has exchanged its shades of blue-green for more of a yellow hue due to the recent weeks’ rains, he believes that “there is no place in the world more beautiful.”

“The only thing I regret is the pollution,” he says, using a green straw to sip a pina colada, prepared in a place a few yards from the dock. “This place was designed for tourism but they didn’t take into account the stench,” he laments.

Both the Muelle Real and other areas of the historic center of Cienfuegos have been recently restored after the proclamation in 2005 of areas of the city as a World Heritage Site. The influx of tourism has grown in recent years and Cienfuegos has become an obligatory stopover on the road to neighboring Trinidad.

The bad smell that Sanchez refers to emanates from a sewage water evacuation channel that flows very close to the wharf. The sewage network of Cienfuegos, built more than a century ago in the days of the Republic, throws the waste directly into El Inglés stream and into the bay without any type of processing.

“The environs of the city have the highest concentrations of fecal coliform in the bay,” according to several environmental experts, although fecal counts are currently below the established norms in the bathing areas.

Sanchez says he has heard about the danger of water pollution, but that local people “are not sensitive to the issue.”

“You can see plastics, garbage, dead animals and rubble everywhere you look, and in the absence of landfills, people throw it directly into the sea, which is very sad,” he says.

Arianna García Chamero, of the Cienfuegos Center for Environmental Studies, raised the alarm on behalf of local researchers when they discovered the presence of microplastics in the bay.

It is estimated that this type of waste represents 85% of pollution in the oceans and seas. Many bags, wrappings and similar waste end up in the sea and are ingested by animals and pass into the human food chain.

García Chamero told the local press earlier this year that the intake of microplastics and the heavy metals that often accompany them can be harmful to human health, causing cancer, among other diseases.

“The highest concentrations in the three matrices evaluated — water, sediments and organisms — are at the [environmental quality assessment] stations of the city of Cienfuegos, which leads us to assume that the city is one of the major polluters of the environment,” says the expert, who expressed her alarm adding, “I was shocked that the levels [of microplastics] are sometimes similar to, or even higher than, the ranges found in studies in ecosystems of highly industrialized sites on the planet.”

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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 Customs Threatens to Seize Goods Brought by ‘Mules’ from the U.S.

An official of the General Customs of the Republic checks the belongings of the passengers at the airport in Havana. (Customs)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario J. Pentón, Miami, 6 June 2018 — The General Customs of the Republic of Cuba threatened on Wednesday to confiscate packages sent from the United States through ‘mules’ (people who travel specifically to the island to carry merchandise) who serve shipping agencies based in the U.S..

The practice of sending goods  through agencies, which Havana considers “illegal,” has grown rapidly in South Florida as a result of the flexibilization in relations with Cuba initiated by former President Barack Obama.

José Luis Muñoz Toca, director of Technical Customs, said at a press conference that more than three tons of various products that were being brought into the country through the shipping networks were seized. So far there are four complaints of contraband associated with this phenomenon, Muñoz said, although the nationality of those involved has not been determined. So far this year the authorities have detected “113 cases of trafficked merchandise.” continue reading

Muñoz Toca said that 29 agencies based in the United States have been identified that operate “in an unauthorized manner” to send goods to Cuba “through travelers who agree to bring them in exchange for payment or compensation.”

For his part, the Deputy Chief of Customs, Wiliam Pérez González, justified the proscription against shipments because such agencies “have no official contract with the Cuban companies authorized to carry out these operations.”

Pérez González acknowledged the existence of corruption on the island with regards to packages carried by travelers. He also emphasized the warnings the agency gives to the travelers who carry the goods; even when they do not know the contents of the shipments, they take them to the island. “They may be engaged in drug trafficking or bringing other illicit materials,” he said.

Among the South Florida agencies that General Customs mentioned as a priority for their punitive actions are XAEL Habana, Va Cuba, Cubamax Travel, Viajes Coppelia, Habana Air, Blue Cuba Travels and Central America Cargo. Recently Customs updated the list of agencies it allows to send parcels to the Island.

When dealing with items sent to third parties through agencies, “their import becomes commercial,” the authorities explained, so the contents of the suitcases may be “subject to the administrative sanction of confiscation, if there is no more serious crime.”

The Cuban Diaspora uses the service of parcel delivery agencies to the Island to alleviate the shortages their relatives in Cuba experience.

According to Emilio Morales, director of the The Havana Consulting Group, based in Miami, about 90% of the shipments that arrive on the island come from the United States. The value of the goods sent to Cuba last year was in the order of three billion dollars, Morales told 14ymedio.

The measure is seen as a turn of the screw to regulate the growing black market. In Cuba, where most of the stores belong to the State and the economy is still regulated by the powers-that-be, shortages are endemic. Basic items such as toothpaste, sanitary pads or multivitamins disappear from the markets for weeks, forcing many people to buy them on the black market.

The incipient private sector on the Island also demands supplies that can not be purchased in wholesale stores and resorts to shipments as a way to ensure provisions to maintain paladares (private restaurants), tourist accommodations and small coffee shops scattered throughout the country.

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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.

Murder of Two Women Shocks Cienfuegos

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Justo Mora/Mario J. Pentón, Cienfuegos/Miami, 22 May 21 — It was 11:30 in the morning last Thursday when Luis Roque heard the first calls for help. He was about to go to work when his neighbor’s screams made him stop short. “Oh my little daughter, oh my little daughter,” shouted Tomasa Causse Fabat, a 64-year-old nurse on the sidewalk in front of her house in the city of Cienfuegos.

“She was bleeding, I thought something had happened and I ran to help her,” explains Roque. While he was helping Causse Fabat, the woman’s daughter left her house headed in the direction of Roque’s house, just on the other side of 66th Avenue.

“Daylín [Najarro Causse] took refuge in my house with multiple stab wounds in the stomach. My ex-wife and daughter helped her and put a sweater over her wounds to stop the bleeding, but at that moment the killer pursued her there, he continued stabbing her and finally cut her throat before the terrified eyes of my family members,” he adds. continue reading

Causse Fabat died a few hours later bleeding to death in the same ward of the hospital where she had worked, a victim of the multiple injuries allegedly caused by Rafael García, her former son-in-law. The nurse had received the internationalist worker’s medal in 2012.

Najarro Causse, 36, had been married to the man whom all the witnesses point to as her murderer and with whom she has a five-year-old girl. At the time of her death, she was three months pregnant by another man.

“I do not know if it was out of hatred or revenge but it was a massacre,” Adrián Najarro, a son and brother of the victims, told 14ymedio by telephone from Cienfuegos.

“Rafael García served a year in prison and had just left prison when he committed the crime,” explains Najarro, who had been accused of abuse and lewd touching of his own daughter.

“The little girl herself said that her father abused her, but since they did not find evidence, they only sentenced him to one year and six months in prison for a misdemeanor, something like exhibitionism,” laments the relative of the victims, aged 34, who maintains that “the laws are very weak” and that is what allowed this crime to be perpetrated.

Najarro, a teacher by profession, relates that several witnesses said that on that same Thursday the supposed culprit went to look for another ex-partner, but fortunately the woman hid, which prevented him from killing her. Other witnesses said that García also went to look for his daughter in the kindergarten, but the teachers did not hand him the girl over to him because they knew of his sentence.

“I feel bad, I do not have words to describe what I’m going through, it’s been a terrible day for me, I’m alone in the world with my niece,” she adds.

Rafael Garcia also caused minor injuries to Tomasa Causse Fabat’s husband, who tried to defend her by hitting him with a bat.

“I just want justice and for him to pay for what he did to my mother and my sister,” Najarro demands.

A neighbor of the San Lázaro district who witnessed the double crime told this newspaper that after murdering his ex-wife, García “put the knife in a black bag that he threw over his back, got on the bike and left for the Avenue as if nothing had happened.”

By then a good number of the residents of the block were crowded in front of the house where the crime had been committed and had already alerted the authorities.

“When the first patrol cars arrived, the aggressor went up the hill towards the Avenue and passed on the other side of them, people started shouting and pointing and that’s how they caught him,” said the same woman.

Another neighbor on the block who spoke with 14ymedio via telephone said she felt “extremely affected” by the crime. “We have always gotten along well on this block, we never thought we would see something like that,” she laments.

The city of Cienfuegos (150,000 inhabitants) shuddered last February with the murder of the young Luis Santacruz Labrada, aged 23 at the hands of a minor. In October of last year a young woman named Leidy Maura Pacheco Mur, aged 18, was raped by three men who later killed her.

The Cuban government does not publish official figures on the number of violent acts on the island and the crimes are rarely addressed by the official press. Mariela Castro, daughter of former Cuban President Raúl Castro and president of the National Center for Sex Education (Cenesex), said in January of this year that there were no femicides in Cuba and that this was an achievement of the 1959 Revolution led by her father and uncle.

In Cuba there is no specific legislation for sexist violence and the Cuban Penal Code does not address aggravations of this type. The cases of women who die at the hands of their boyfriends or husbands are addressed in court like any other homicide.

“A few weeks ago, another woman was murdered with machetes on 75th Street, near the Tulipán district, but unfortunately, the local media do not talk about most of the crimes that take place in the city,” says a doctor from the provincial hospital of Cienfuegos. He does not want to reveal his identity for fear of losing his job.

“Every day there are people injured with knives. This same Monday a patient arrived with several stab wounds. We need, as a society, to reflect on what is happening.”

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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 and Venezuelan Exiles Join Nicaraguans in Miami to Demand Respect for Human Rights

Denis Darse shows the face masks used by the protesters to cover themselves against the attacks of the Government. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario J. Pentón, Miami, 30 May, 2018 — Representatives of the Cuban exile in Miami joined their voices with those of Venezuelan and Nicaraguan exiles to ask for an end to the murders of young students in Nicaragua, where there have been intense social protests for more than a month.

In a press conference sponsored by the Democracy Movement in Miami, Denis Darce, member of the Permanent Commission on Human Rights in Nicaragua (CPDH) explained that the number of murders during anti-government protests amounts to 91 and more than 100 people have been tortured.

Darce, a sociologist by profession, also said that they have documented at least a dozen disappearances. continue reading

“Today we are celebrating Mother’s Day in Nicaragua, but today is a day of mourning,” he said, adding that “right now, for the Government and the Nicaraguan State being young is a sin.”

According to this representative of the NGO founded during the Somoza dictatorship in 1977, the government of Daniel Ortega promotes hatred through institutions and uses state resources to transport vigilante gangs to repress protesters.

Since April 18 when the country erupted in protests against the president and his wife, Vice President Rosario Murillo, numerous international organizations such as the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) have reported allegations of torture, murder and disappearances.

“We are overwhelmed by the situation,” acknowledged Darce, who revealed that his organization is trying to coordinate a tour for a group of mothers through the main hospitals and morgues in the country where “there are bodies that are about to be incinerated without having allowed a process for family members to identify them.”

Darce said that his NGO is preparing a presentation before the Truth Commission set up by the ruling party, although he acknowledged that “the families, the victims and the majority of the Nicaraguan people do not trust that institution created by the State.” According to him, the solution would be to create another Truth Commission with international participation through the IACHR and the Human Rights Committee of the United Nations.

“We have reports of communication professionals, state workers who have been fired for “liking” a post on Facebook, contrary to government policy,” explained Darce, who called on the Nicaraguan population to report to the competent bodies violations of human rights in the country.

His voice breaking from emotion, Darce reported some of the testimonies received by his organization. “The body of the son of a lady from Ciudad Sandino was found cut into pieces. We have the case of a boy from the Cuesta del Plomo who was found dead recently: his friends testify that he was arrested by the police forces and was found with signs of torture.”

Inventing the supposed burning of institutions and falsifying the identity of the mothers of the deceased so that they give statements to the media, together with death certificates that are not consistent with the reasons for the deaths, are some of the government’s procedures denounced by Darce.

“Although there is an open dialogue, the actions of the Government have not ceased either in repression or in violence. Quite the opposite. It has developed a whole plan of terror and anxiety toward the Nicaraguan population,” he added and reported several attempts to poison the protesters.

Darce demanded that the State of Nicaragua sign The International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance and The Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court as a guarantee that events such as those reported by the CPDH do not continue. “The dictatorship of Nicaragua is not 10 years old, it is a dictatorship of almost 40 years, which began in 1979 and continued in the 90s and is now consolidated,” he said.

The CPDH plans to present the Nicaraguan situation to the General Assembly of the Organization of American States in Washington from June 3 to 5. They also intend to visit US Congressional Representatives to pressure the Government of Managua and bring representatives of the victims to appear before the OAS.

Cuban-American congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen spoke via Twitter about the situation in Nicaragua. “One more death at Ortega’s hands is added simply because he refuses to leave power. The US must punish those responsible for the bloodshed,” Ros-Lehtinen tweeted. She is known for her critical positions toward leftist governments in the region aligned with Havana.

For his part, José Colina, president of the association of Persecuted Political Venezuelans in Exile called for sanctions and pressure on the Nicaraguan government, which in his opinion, is following the same script as Maduro followed during the student protests of 2015.

Representatives of Nicaraguan civil society in Miami summoned all their compatriots and supporters of the cause of the insurgents to demonstrate in front of the Nicaraguan consulate in Miami (1332 W Flagler St, Miami, FL 33135). “We want justice and democracy for our country,” said María Belén Ruiz, of the Nicas Unidos Movement in Miami.

“Nicaragua had its throat tied. They [the students] had value and have paid with their lives to tell the world about the atrocities that we have been experiencing for a long time,” said Raquel Pineda, a young Nicaraguan resident in Miami.

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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.

Bismarck, Another Young Idealist Who Dies in Nicaragua in the Struggle for Democracy

Bismarck Badilla López during the mission in the Mactzul communities of Guatemala. (14ymedio).

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario J. Pentón, Miami, 30 may 2018 — “Hard news arrives from Nicaragua,” a friend writes. “Bismarck, our brother, passed away.”

Confusion, disbelief, a feeling of emptiness. These were my first reactions. It was Sunday night when I received the news from Guatemala. The next day his death was confirmed by family and close friends. Bismarck Badilla López was found hanged in one of the rooms of the house he rented in the municipality of Santa Teresa, where he served as a doctor fulfilling his social service. He was 25 years old.

“Bismarck was under a lot of pressure from the government, they threatened him,” a close relative tells me; for security reasons, I will allow him to remain anonymous. continue reading

“In these last weeks of repression I saw so many injustices inside the health center and had to remain silent for weeks, until I came to a safe place where I could scream everything that was happening,” he says.

Bismarck was originally from Estelí, a city three and a half hours from the place where he performed his social service.

Bismarck Badilla in the community of La Puya, on the outskirts of Guatemala City. (14ymedio)

“He witnessed how the boys [the students] were allowed to die because the government did not allow them to be attended to just because they thought differently: the police, the doctors and the Sandinista youth were behind causing the greatest possible harm to the wounded,” explains the relative.

Was it suicide or murder? We will probably never know. Some close friends said that he was killed and that peretrators tried to hide it by faking a suicide. It would not be the first. Since April 18 when the country erupted in protests against President Daniel Ortega and Vice President Rosario Murillo, his wife, more than 80 people have been killed, most of them young and civilians.

Allegations of torture, assassinations and disappearances have been documented by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, but the Ortega government remains deaf to the popular clamor and clings to power like its ideological allies in Caracas and Havana.

Bismarck’s close friends say he died because he helped “those he shouldn’t help,” that is, the protesters. Other people claim that he was present at a demonstration. How could such a generous heart deny help to those who needed it? It was serve or die. He chose the first.

I can not believe that Bismarck, El Gordo, as we affectionately called him, committed suicide. I met him in 2015 in Guatemala. At that time I had not exchanged the habits of a Marist brother for career in journalism and he was an aspirant in the community of brothers in Chinautla, Zone 6, in the Guatemalan capital.

Bismarck was a cheerful boy, very tall (over six feet), very intelligent and sensitive. We studied theology it Landívar University and, like all young people, we believed that we could change the world and make it more humane and fraternal.

I remember the endless conversations about politics, about the difficult situation of democracy in our countries. At that time, we were part of the community of brothers from Costa Rica, Guatemala, El Salvador, Spain, Nicaragua and Cuba.

Both for Bismarck and for me the support that the populist movements had among the most underprivileged social strata in Guatemala was a surprise. In a country so marked by inequality, the messianic discourse — in those years backed by Chavez petrodollars — triumphed.

Bismarck was always a boy critical of the Ortega government. He was not deceived by the Christian veneer of a disguised dictatorship that sought to permeate all the institutions of the nation to turn them into an arm of Sandinismo. That hodgepodge of Party-Nation-State, so typical of the totalitarianisms inspired by Cuba’s Plaza of the Revolution, was repulsive to him.

Like every young person he liked to enjoy life. If anything characterized him is was his loud laughter, which could be felt throughout the house. “You are a rogue,” he would tell me when we joked, taking selfies while we prayed the rosary in the hall or when we ate the olives that the good brother Jesús Balmaseda bought for us in secret.

He was also a person very sensitive to the pain of others. I remember how he was moved — to tears — on a mission we did with the Mactzules indigenous communities in the Guatemalan Quiché. In the midst of shocking poverty I had never seen him so happy. He found his raison d’être in the service of his neighbor, especially the most neglected children.

The Gospel says that if the seed does not fall to the ground and dies, it will not bear fruit, that to live fully, you must first pass through the cross and die. Bismarck knew how to die, as do dozens of his compatriots, in search of a better country, democratic, free of tyranny and oligarchies of any kind.

The blood of the martyrs is the seed of Christians, said the ancient fathers of the Church. Today perhaps we can say that the blood of the heroes who give their lives in the streets of Managua and other Nicaraguan cities is the seed of freedom.

Unlike me, who took the path of exile, my brother returned to his homeland to work for his people. He could have stayed in Guatemala, where a doctor has a better salary and living conditions, or emigrated to the United States, but he did not want it that way. He went to serve and died with his boots on.

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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.

A New Crypto-currency is Born in Cuba, The "Etecso"

A Cubacel user on the mobile web network (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario J. Penton, Havana/Miama, 26 May 2018 — The Telecommunications Company of Cuba (Etecsa) announced Thursday on Round Table program that beginning on June 5 people will be able to make three balance transfers daily between cell lines in the country and the charge for this service will be 20 cents CUC for this service instead of the current 30.

The measure triples the number of times that was permitted to send money from one phone to another and facilitates transactions for those who use the cell phone balance as a virtual currency.  It is not clear if this practice is legal or not, but it spreads every day.

“This is very good,” says Yosvany, a clandestine clothing and footwear seller on the Cienfuegos boulevard.  The man laments that the company does not allow an unlimited number of transfers, which according to him, would facilitate his business. continue reading

“It’s not the same having to carry CUCs and pesos to make a transfer from cell to cell,” he says.

The fear of a sudden and announced monetary unification, the poor quality of the bills as well as the presence of fake bills or simply the convenience of carrying out transactions without the need to count cash means that many Cubans prefer to use the phone balance transfers as their payment currency.

“For me this is marvelous.  My son reloads my phone every month from abroad and I pass some of the money to each of my relatives,” Angelina Verdecia, resident of Gloria street, told this newspaper by phone.  The woman, 68 years old, says that she does not understand much about technology, but her grandson uses the cell phone “even to pay the courier who runs errands for the bodega.”

Verdecia, however, laments that the transfers that she makes through her phone do not count for extending mobile lines’ annual contract.  In Cuba, one must add a balance before the year ends so that the line does not expire.  If the line owner does not, he loses the 40 dollars he paid for it.

The balance transfer is a service that Etesca implemented for prepaid customers (most cell phone users on the Island) in 2015, with a cost of 30 cents CUC for each transfer.  After this Friday the service will have a cost of 20 cents CUC (about five pesos in the CUP national currency).

In order to transfer balances from one cell to another one enters the access code *234# and follows the system instructions.  From once cent CUC up to 2,999 CUC can be sent.  “Within the company many of us are aware that there is a group of unscrupulous people who improperly use this service that Etecsa provides,” says an Etesca director from Santa Clara; he prefers not to reveal his identity because he is not authorized to speak with independent media.  The telephone company manager is referring to the use of the cell balance as money to pay for products or services or carry out commercial transfers.  “Those citizens should know that they could be committing a crime, and the company could cancel the contracts of those phone line owners who are involved,” he added.

Translated by Mary Lou Keel

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

Hero in Miami, Criminal in Havana, Luis Posada Carriles Dies at 90

14ymedio biggerMario J. Penton/Newsroom, Miami/Havana | Mayo 23, 2018 — Luis Posada Carriles, one of the Cuban regime’s most bitter enemies and a former CIA agent, died Wednesday in Miramar, southeast Florida, at 90 years of age after a long illness.

The activist died around 5:00 am local time “in a government veterans home,” said his lawyer, Arturo Hernandez, who told El Nuevo Herald that the anti-Castroite had been ill for a long time.

“I am very sorry because I spent five years of my life defending him and in that time he showed himself to be a great person, at least he tried to do something for Cuba,” Hernández emphasized. continue reading

In the legendary Versailles restaurant, recognized as the heart of anti-Castroism, the bakery continued serving customers as it does every day. At the rhythm of piña coladas, croquettes and cakes, the topics of conversation ranged from a shooting at a Texas school to the situation in Venezuela. The death of Posada Carriles is not a priority issue and among some customers it is even a matter of indifference.

His friends and “companions in the struggle,” however, remembered him with genuine fervor. “I knew Posada Carriles for many years, he was a great fighter against Castro’s tyranny, men like him do not come along very often, and when a person like that dies, you have to pay tribute to them,” said the politician Enrique Ruano in the popular Miami café.

Gonzalo Lopez, a 77-year-old Cuban exile who has lived in the United States for 55 years, called Posada Carriles “a tremendous patriot.”

“Unfortunately, good people are dying while the bad guys continue on in Cuba.” An opponent of the Cuban government, Lopez believes that the situation in Cuba will not change as long as citizens fail to rise up “against the dictatorship” and affirms that “Luis Posada Carriles’ methods of struggle have been tarred with many accusations that are not true. He was charged with the crash of the Cubana de Aviación airplane [in 1976] and that’s not true, behind those accusations are the communists and their allies in this country. “

Antonio Tony Calatayud, a partner with the deceased in the brigade that launched the invasion of the Bay of Pigs and a former news director for WQBA La Cubanísima, remembered Posada Carriles as a man who was “very good, very affectionate, helpful, a brother and a patriot.”

“He is an icon of the struggle for the freedom of Cuba.When the true history of the struggle for the independence of Cuba and what happened in relation to our struggles is written, it will be seen how much is defamation and how much is true, but history will recognize that Luis Posada Carriles, for us, his brothers, was a tireless patriot in the struggle for Cuba’s freedom from communist tyranny,” said Calatayud.

At the moment it is unknown what the funeral arrangements will be, although his friends and “compañeros de lucha” believe that it will be a massive and heavily attended event.

A survivor of throat cancer, of attacks attributed to the Cuban State Security and of a stroke, the health of the anti-Castro militant had deteriorated significantly after he suffered several broken bones in a traffic accident in 2015.

Posada Carriles was undoubtedly one of the worst and longest nightmares of the Cuban regime and dedicated his life, for decades, to a constant attempt to assassinate the president of the island, Fidel Castro. In the year 2000, Castro denounced an assassination plan against him in Panama, where he was attending an Ibero-American Summit.

“Luis Posada Carriles has been turned into a controversial personality for Cuban indoctrination and communist propaganda, he is a patriot and a freedom fighter, not only for Cuba but also for Venezuela,” his fellow prisoner in Panama, Pedro Remón Rodríguez, told 14ymedio.

Remón, who was detained along with Posada and spent four years in prison in Panama, remembers the late anti-Castro fighter as a sensitive, affectionate and family person. “Luis Posada Carriles had nothing to do with the blowing up of the Cubana de Aviación airplane in Barbados, absolutely not, I shared with him and he told me that was a kind of struggle that he did not believe in. We even wrote a book that was titled Fidel Castro, the Real Terrorist where we deal with this.

Mireya Moscoso, then president of Panama, pardoned him before leaving office, after which he traveled to El Salvador and from there entered the United States illegally in 2005, for which he had to face justice there.

He was acquitted in 2011 of 11 counts of perjury, fraud and obstruction in proceedings in a Texas immigration court and since then he has been living in retirement in Miami.

Another terrorist episode allegedly linked to Posada Carriles  points to him as a participant in the explosion of a bomb at the Copacabana hotel in Havana in 1997, which killed an Italian tourist.

According to declassified documents from the State Department, Posada Carriles was a paid informant of the CIA (Central Intelligence Agency), for which he traveled to different Latin American countries where he worked against communist and leftist movements.

In fact, he worked in the 1960s and 1970s for the espionage services of Venezuela, Guatemala and El Salvador in the anti-guerrilla struggle.

Cuba and Venezuela consider Posada Carriles the intellectual author of the blowing up of a commercial Cubana de Aviación airplane in Barbados in 1976 and they attempted to capture him in order to try him for terrorism.

Born in Cienfuegos, in 1928, Posada Carriles was imprisoned in Venezuela for blowing up the plane, but in 1985 he escaped from prison, disguised and with a false document.

Cafe Versailles in Miami this Wednesday. (14ymedio)

The former CIA agent belonged, in addition, to the United States Army between 1962 and 1963, reaching the rank of second lieutenant, and participated in the failed Bay of Pigs landing.

On the death of Fidel Castro in November 2016, Posada Carriles said he considered it “unjust” for his sworn enemy to die in the “best hospital” on the island and “so late,” although he still considered his death a “triumph.”

He acknowledged then that he tried to kill the Cuban leader several times, but “fate” did not help him.

“Castro was looking for the opportunity to kill me and I to kill him,” Posada Carriles said in the interview.

“Posada is a brother in the struggle who is leaving us,” remarked Tony Calatayud in Miami. “If we count how many of the freedom fighters for Cuba have already gone through such a long process, I would say it’s 95%, we are a kind of dinosaurs, an extinct race, where some of us are still alive. The next generations must take the step forward, the future of Cuba belongs to the young and it is only left to us to document the history to avoid. “

Cuban official propaganda labeled Posada Carriles as a “black beast” of anti-Castroism. His face often appeared on public billboards and in partisan media which tried to link him to the peaceful opposition on the island.

His death was announced in the first newscast on Wednesday, on the Buenos Días show, clarifying that the he had died “without paying for his crimes” against Cuba.

While Fidel Castro was alive, especially in the last years of his mandate, the campaign against Posada Carriles became especially intense, to the point that the population of the Island came to see the exile as an alter ego  of the Commander in Chief.

In some state workplaces the information was included in the morning assembly attended by employees, and throughout the morning the news spread through the streets of Havana.

“He never came before a court for what he did, but he had to face the tribunal of history and the conscience of the Cuban people,” says Amaury Rosales, a worker at a hard currency store in Havana’s El Cerro neighborhood.

In the same store a teenager avoids answering the question about the death of Posada Carriles because “it is better not to talk about politics,” she says.

Others say that they prefer to know a little more before taking a position. “One day I would like to read something more impartial about his life in order to understand the motivations of what he did, because television here paints him as if he were a devil and nobody is like that,” explains a retired economist who prefers to remain anonymous.

The official machinery, however, did not appear to be particularly effective this Wednesday. After noon, the Granma newspaper still did not carry the news on the front page of its digital site.

In keeping with his own request, the remains of Posada Carriles will be cremated and the ashes thrown in the vicinity of the coasts of Cuba, as reported to this newspaper Humberto Lopez, member of the board of directors of the Brigade 2506, the former Bay of Pigs fighters. “His brothers in the struggle will be your honor guard at his funeral,” 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.