The Two Marielas / Cubanet, Martha Beatriz Roque Cabello

L, An ordinary Cuban woman looking out a bus window; R, Mariela Castro

cubanet square logoCubanet, Martha Beatriz Roque Cabello, Havana, 14 February 2017 – The story I want to relate has two parts, one is true and the other is fiction. The real one is an event I was involved in at the Carlos III market while in line to buy yogurt, one of the products in shortest supply in this country – despite the fact that it is sold in hard currency – and in this case with a price of 0.70 Cuban convertible pesos (CUC), although there are other yogurts sold in different containers for as much as 5 CUC (1 CUC is roughly equal to $1 US).

In front of me, while we were waiting, was a young woman of around 30 something, but I could see she’d had a pretty rough life. She had the money in her hand, some of it in 5 and 10 centavo coins in CUC and a note for 5 Cuban pesos (CUP) – because, as you know, now the stores have to accept both currencies. All of a sudden she dropped a 10 centavo coin and to her great misfortune it rolled under one of the display cases and although the woman made a great effort to retrieve it, she could not.

She turned to leave the line and I asked, “Are you leaving?” and she said, “Yes, I had the exact amount of money and I dropped 10 centavos under that case.” Without thinking twice I said, “No, don’t leave, take the ten centavos.” continue reading

She accepted with the happiest look on her face and told me, “You have no idea how grateful I am, because my older daughter is sick and she doesn’t want to eat anything.”

From that moment, with the facility a Cuban has to establish communication with another person, even if they don’t know them, we spent the next thirty minutes while we continued to wait in line talking to each other.

She explained that she worked as a teaching assistant at an elementary school, but often had to be the teacher because there aren’t enough educators. She is divorced and the monthly support she receives from the children’s father is 50 Cuban pesos (roughly $2 US). That plus her own salary is not enough to live on and she has to “invent” and go begging to her mother. She told me, literally, “You have no idea what I have to do to be able to feed my kids.”

Like any good Cuban, she lives in a building considered uninhabitable, but she won’t accept going to a shelter because she knows other people who live in those conditions and it is dangerous for the girls, now that they are becoming young ladies. Because her apartment is on the second floor and nothing works, she has no running water and every other day has to carry up 10 or 12 buckets of water to meet highest priority needs, although she says she is grateful to her mother who washes and irons the girls school uniforms.

“Imagine. My mother was a member of the Party (Communist) and worked in the Federation of Cuban Women and as for my my father, may he rest in peace, his surname was Castro, so it occurred to her to name me Mariela [after Raul Castro’s daughter]. Now she regrets it.”

Then she said that she did not listen to her mother and married a man who drank a lot, and when he came home he beat her. It took a lot of work to get out of that torture and now she regrets not having listened to her mother’s advice.

He left them that disastrous apartment where they live in Centro Habana, and now she is stuck because her sister is married and has two children and also lives in the divided living room, which doubles as a room for both her and her sister’s families in the home of their parents.

She confessed to me that she had been so distressed that she takes her daughters and walks along the Malecon. And she said the girls understand the whole situation and do not ask for anything. But they’re growing up and they have to have shoes and school uniforms and something to eat for a snack at school, which is almost always a piece of bread, because at breakfast they eat half of her daily quota (on the ration book).

I think she had a great need for someone to listen to all her problems and saw the opportunity to vent.

With a little imagination, while I was on my way to my house, I began to think about how the other Mariela might live, the one her mother named her after.

At the entrance, everyone can see that other Mariela’s super residence in the Miramar neighborhood even has a pool, always filled with water. There are several cars and they and the house are all beautifully maintained. This is something that you don’t have to imagine, and it is not fiction.

But surely that Mariela Castro does not line up to buy yogurt at 70 cents CUC and much less would she be sad if she dropped a coin, as all her food problems are taken care of without her even having to leave the house.

When she gets up for breakfast she does not “donate” her bread to the children. A maid prepares the food, certainly with ham, milk, bread, juices, etc. She is assured of coffee every day, very likely imported, she probably gets the most desirable brands brought in from Miami.

She doesn’t have to worry about what time the bus will come to take her to work; in the first place because she doesn’t have to mark a timecard and in the second because she has a modern car to take her to work without having to get all sweaty and push her way onto the bus with all the other people.

I could continue imagining things that we all know are part of the standard of living of the high government hierarchy, but I leave it to the reader so we can all share in this fictional (?) part of the story.

Cuba’s New Minister of the Interior Inaugurates His Tenure With a Repressive Wave Across the Country / 14ymedio, Mario Penton

Vice Admiral Julio César Gandarilla, Cuba’s new Minister of the Interior, has unleashed a fierce crackdown across the country (ACN/ Marcelino Vázquez)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario Penton, Havana/Miami, 11 January 2017 — While in the United States Rex Tillerson, Donald Trump’s nominee for Secretary of State, made it clear that human rights will be an important part of Washington’s policy toward Cuba, the island’s police forces carried out repressive actions in different parts of the country.

“The increase in repression is due to several causes, among them a push that the government is making in the last days of Barack Obama’s administration to make it clear to Trump that they do not care about the policy change he has announced towards Cuba,” said José Daniel Ferrer, leader of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (Unpacu) speaking from Santiago de Cuba. continue reading

Ferrer denounced the arrest of Jesús Romero and Alexis Rodríguez, activists of his organization who were accused of “posting an opposition sign in the center of the city.”

Among Unpacu members recently detained are also its coordinator, Ovidio Martín Castellanos, and the singer Yuniel Aguilera.

“After the death of his brother, Raul Castro needs to increase terror levels to maintain power,” says Ferrer, who says the government is willing to do anything to eliminate any hint of dissent.

“The increase in repression is due to the push the government is making in the last days of Barack Obama’s administration to make clear to Trump that they do not care about the policy change he has announced towards Cuba”

“They know people are tired of the same thing. When in April we mobilized more than 1,000 people the political police told us that we would never do something like that again,” he adds.

At the other end of the island, the editor of the magazine Convivencia (Coexistence), Karina Galvez, was the victim of search of her home, which ended up being sealed. Galvez herself, age 48 and an economist by profession, is under arrest for the alleged crime of tax evasion.

The director of the Center for Coexistence Studies, Dagoberto Valdés Hernández, called the escalation against the civic project he leads – including the suspension of a planned meeting and multiple arrests – acts of “harassment” by State Security.

Also arrested this day was regime opponent Óscar Elías Biscet, founder of the Emilia Project, which seeks the change of government in the island by means of a popular uprising. After a few hours, Dr. Biscet, who has spent long years in jail, was released.

Activists Eduardo Quintana Suarez, Jose Omar Lorenzo Pimienta and Yoan Alvares, who belong to the same organization, were also arrested, as reported by El Nuevo Herald.

Activist Martha Beatriz Roque was arrested when she attempted to attend the scattering of the ashes of the recently deceased opponent Felix Antonio Bonne Carcassés. She explained to 14ymedio that her detention lasted until two on Wednesday afternoon.

Opponent René Gómez Manzano told this newspaper that they “appealed” to his sanity so that he would not attend the ceremony where the ashes would be scattered, although he finally succeeded in doing so.

This repressive wave unfolds a few hours after the replacement of the recently deceased Interior Minister, Carlos Fernández Gondín, by Vice Admiral Julio César Gandarilla

According to a press release from Democratic Directorate in the city of Holguín, human rights activist Maydolis Leiva Portelles, together with her three children, under arrest since November 27, 2016, were brought to trial.

The entire family, according to the press release, including two minors, was the subject of an act of repudiation that included “violent raiding of the home, beatings, and robbery of personal property.”

This repressive wave has been unfolding within a few hours of the replacement of the recently deceased Interior Minister, Carlos Fernández Gondín, by Vice Admiral Julio César Gandarilla. Among other prerogatives, the person who controls the portfolio of the Interior Ministry also exercises command over State Security and the National Revolutionary Police.

“With the [previous minister] repression was quite extensive, although it must be said that in Cuba a minister cannot do anything without Raul Castro authorizing it. The policy carried out by Gondín continues with Gandarilla. We will have more repression as the discontent increases,” says José Daniel Ferrer.

Opponents of the Cuban Regime React to the Election of Trump / Cubanet, Ernesto Perez Chang

Clockwise from top left: Eliecer Avila, Antonio Rodiles, Martha Beatriz Roque, Laritza Diversent, Jose Daniel Ferrer, Berta Soler
Clockwise from top left: Eliecer Avila, Antonio Rodiles, Martha Beatriz Roque, Laritza Diversent, Jose Daniel Ferrer, Berta Soler

cubanet square logoCubanet, Ernesto Perez Chang, Havana, 9 November 2016 – The elections in the United States, with the victory of the Republican Donald Trump and the defeat of the Democrat Hillary Clinton, contrary to the predictions of most polls, has captured the attention of the world’s public opinion in recent hours due to the decisive nature of United States policy in the international arena.

The normalization of relations between the governments of Cuba and the United States and the diverse opinions generated by the lengthy diplomatic process and packages of measures aimed at easing the embargo, implemented by current US president Barack Obama, have given rise to a broad spectrum of opinions within Cuban civil society, such that some of the main opposition leaders on the island have expressed their views to CubaNet to the election results announced at dawn on Wednesday.

Antonio Rodiles, coordinator of Estado de Sats (State of Sats) and organizer of the We All March campaign, says: “We expect consistency of those who, within Cuba, maintained a policy against Trump and were confident in Hillary’s victory. (…) Maybe difficult times will come for the process of normalization of relations with Cuba and the continuity of Obama’s program. We expect another direction in the dialogue and a president who places the issue of respect for human rights and freedom of expression as a priority, a determinant, at any negotiating table.” continue reading

Jose Daniel Ferrer, a member of the Patriotic Union of Cuba, UNPACU, argues that the electoral decision does not mean negative effects on the relations between the two countries: “I do not think the difference is notable. The American people have chosen. The new president will do what suits the citizens of the United States and, as he should, prioritize the interests of his nation (…). The candidate the people believed to be better has won (…). (Regarding Cuba) common sense in the process of normalization of relations will prevail and we expect a strong hand with the dictatorship because (Cuba) is a regime contrary to the interests US, it is a regime that no American candidate would never agree to in the style of Venezuela or China. (…) We expect better relations with the new government.”

The regime opponent Martha Beatriz Roque said: “It seems that the American people have passed the bill to the Democratic Party. Many people are concerned about the ways in which Trump has expressed himself during his campaign, but I think that concern should be minimized because surely the Republican Party will take control of the situation. (…) With regards to his impact on the Cuba issue I think there are measures taken by Obama that are irreversible. Especially because America is a democracy, not like Cuba, which is governed by a totalitarian. It will not be easy to give a twist to relations with the island. However, I think this gentleman will be educated by his advisers enough to not make the mistakes of the previous president.”

Eliecer Avila, activist with the movement Somos+ (We Are More), confessed to not having had a previous position in favor or against any candidate, although he said about his expectations: “I didn’t support either of them one hundred percent. In Hillary Clinton I saw very positive support for Obama’s policy (toward Cuba). (…) Donald Trump has shown some strong positions but I do not think that will change the policy of his predecessor but, apparently, will negotiate from other positions.”

The lawyer Laritza Diversent , founder of Cubalex, believes that the elections were a reflection of the opinion of the American people and believes that Cuba will occupy an important place in the policy of President-elect: “The process of normalization of relations between the United States and Cuba is irreversible. (…) There is a responsibility to the legacy of Obama. The United States, with its current policy, is leading positive changes. Many challenges are imposed on the new president. We should also consider the views of the US Congress and other powers in that nation.”

Berta Soler, leader of the Ladies in White, believes it is too early to make predictions about the directions Trump will take regarding policies on Cuba: “We have to wait. I have never preferred one or the other because there is a reality: it is not about the Cuban President but about the President of the United States. Someday I want Cuba to be able to elect a president in a way similar way to that in the United States. (…) We don’t know about Trump, we have to wait. There may be changes but I do not know, I’d rather wait. ”

The election of the 45th President of the United States has not only launched numerous questions in the world’s most important economic sectors. For Cuba, undergoing a process of rapprochement with the United States that could help find a solution to economic stagnation, for the government, or a way for democratization, for civil society, the policies toward the island that will be decisive in the immediate future will be designed by Trump.

Arnaldo Ramos Lauzurique: Farewell to an Exemplary Dissident / Iván García

Photo: Arnaldo Ramos Lauzurique. Taken from the Facebook page of Martha Beatriz Roque Cabello.
Photo: Arnaldo Ramos Lauzurique. Taken from the Facebook page of Martha Beatriz Roque Cabello.

Ivan Garcia, 5 November 2016 — When I began writing in 1996 as an independent journalist for Cuba Press, Arnaldo Ramos Lauzurique was no longer working as an economist for Cuba’s Central Planning Agency (JUCEPLAN ) and had already become an opponent of the Castro regime.

In 1991, together with another economist, friend and colleague, Manuel Sánchez Herrero, he joined the Cuban Social-Democratic Party, directed by Vladimiro Roca Antúnez. Later, with Martha Beatriz Roque Cabello, also an economist, the three participated in the founding of the Institute of Independent Economists of Cuba. continue reading

The most well-known members of the Internal Dissidence Working Group were Martha Beatriz Roque Cabello, Vladimiro Roca Antúnez, René Gómez Manzano and Félix Bonne Carcassés, and among their closest and most loyal collaborators were Sánchez Herrero and Ramos Lauzurique. These two also contributed their bit to the drafting of La Patria es de Todos — The Fatherland Belongs to Everybody — the document with the greatest national and international reach drafted by an opposition group on the Island.

La Patria de Todos was launched in June 1997, and barely one month later, four principal members were violently arrested (Martha, Vladimiro, René and Félix). On March 1, 1999, in the Marianao Court, the trial took place, one of those big, repressive shows mounted by Fidel Castro and the Department of State Security. The trial took place two weeks after the one-note Parliament, presided over by Ricardo Alarcón, approved the Law of Protection of National Independence and the Economy of Cuba, better known as the Gag Law, which, if violated, provides for a penalty of 20 years or more in prison.

The four were given different punishments, although the only one who served the whole five years of his sentence was Vladimiro (they gave him a stiffer penalty for being the son of the Communist leader Blas Roca Calderío, the ex-Secetary General of the Popular Socialist Party). Quietly, in their own discreet way, Arnaldo and Manuel continued the best they could with their efforts for the Internal Dissidence Working Group.

In those days, Arnaldo was living with his two children and wife, Lydia Lima Valdés, in a one-story house near the old Cerro stadium. Cuba was going through a “Special Period,” and Arnaldo, in order to survive, was buying raw peanuts in an agromarket, roasting them and packing them into paper cones. He went on foot, selling them on the outskirts of the Zoo on Avenida 26 in Nuevo Vedado. Manuel already was in very poor health, with prostate cancer. in 1985, when he still worked at JUCEPLAN, he spent a year under arrest, accused of insulting authority. The motive? A book that Sánchez Herrero wrote about the similarities between Benito Mussolini and Fidel Castro.

But the two (and I know this through my mother, the journalist Tania Quintero, who was a good friend of Arnaldo and Manual), in addition to continuing unabated in their opposition to the regime, often got together to analyze the economic, political and social panorama of Cuba in the international context. “Some afternoons, in 1998, I had the privilege of conversing and debating for a long time with Arnaldo and Manuel. We met in the house of Elena, the daughter of Martha Beatriz, on calle Neptuno. There were tremendous shortages, but Elena always managed to offer us a snack and coffee. And more than once she didn’t let us leave before she had offered us a plate of peas she had just made and a slice of bread, which was then a luxury.”

For lack of money, Arnaldo walked around Havana on foot; his health was good. Manuel was taken away by cancer on May 15, 1999. Because their pockets were empty, Arnaldo and Tania couldn’t send a wreath, but they went to his very modest service, in the Zanja funeral home, the funeral home of the poor. They sat on chairs that allowed them to see the entrance of the funeral home and detect the presence of officials of the political police dressed in civilian clothing.

Tania told me, “We saw Odilia Collazo come in, supposedly a dissident who led a pro-human rights party. She and a woman who accompanied her approached the row where Arnaldo and I were sitting and greeted us. We responded coldly and when they sat down next to us, Arnaldo and I immediately got up and left.”

Manuel, as well as Arnaldo and Tania (and also Raúl Rivero) always suspected that Lili, as they called her, was a snitch. And they weren’t wrong: in April 2003, State Security itself uncovered her as an agent infiltrated into the ranks of the dissidence. Collazo managed to fool several diplomats — among them some at the U.S. Interests Section — and also Cubans in exile in Miami, while she offered her house for meetings with dissidents and then later reported them.

In 2002, Martha Beatriz organized one of the opposition groups that, in my opinion, was more focused on people and their reality: the Assembly to Promote Civil Society in Cuba. It was supported by Gómez Manzano, Bonne Carcassés and Arnaldo Ramos, who always was a kind of right hand for Martha, because he was a disciplined and organized person, with great skill in researching information and extreme care when it came to drafting statistical tables, reports or articles.

The Assembly had a short life. They gave it the coup de grâce on March 20, 2003, when they detained Martha Beatriz and some 20 dissidents in the capital and provinces who passed several days fasting, among them a young black man named Orlando Zapata Tamayo. Seven years later, on February 23, 2010, Zapata Tamayo would die as a result of a prolonged hunger strike.

Arnaldo didn’t participate in the fast. His task, on that and other occasions, was organizational and logistical. On March 17, 2003, the day before Fidel Castro — taking advantage of the fact that the international meda gave priority to the U.S. invasion of Iraq — would decide to unleash the most brutal operation against the dissident movement and independent journalism on the Island, Arnaldo and Tania met in the little apartment of Jesús Yánez Pelletier, on Calle Humboldt, around the corner from the Vedado Hotel.

That morning they had come together for a press conference with hunger strikers, and among those present were two supposed dissidents who were part of the Assembly to Promote Civil Society: Aleida Godínez and Alicia Zamora, who, in April 2003, would be “outed” as agents of State Security.

That morning, Tania remembers, Arnaldo had bought a copy of the newspaper Granma from a vendor at Infanta and San Lázaro. “And he showed me an article or an editorial, I don’t remember exactly, and commented that it gave him chills, that the Regime was cooking up something huge against the dissidence.”

Twenty-four hours later, Castro began the ferocious wave of repression that is still known today as the Black Spring of 2003. Among the 75 detained was Arnaldo Ramos, who had just turned 61.

His body paid the price of the almost eight years that he passed unjustly and cruelly incarcerated. But not his strength of spirit as a citizen, economist and dissident. In the three prisons where he was — Sancti Spiritus, Holguín and the last six months in Havana — he went on hunger strikes and protests, with political as well as common prisoners. But the most important thing was that in all that time he didn’t stop reading, analyzing and writing.

On three or four occasions, through his wife or the families of other prisoners, he sent his writings to Tania Quintero, so she could type them and send them out. They weren’t simply hand-written sheets of school notebooks. They were analyses of the socio-economic and political situations in Cuba. Texts that were drafted in the gloom of the cell. Annotations that he made after reading the first and last pages of the official press, the only one permitted in Cuban prisons.

It was very important for Arnaldo that his family, as well as bringing him a bag of non-perishable food so he could survive in miserable conditions, also brought him, although they were back issues, the newspapers Granma, Juventud Rebelde, Trabajadores, and the magazine Bohemia.

In November 2010, Arnaldo Ramos was released from prison, and I interviewed him for the newspaper El Mundo. In the apartment where he now was living, I could see the boxes where for years he archived the newspapers and magazines that he knew how to read between the lines and extract data that allowed him to discover the true economic situation of the country.

“When they detained me, on March 19, 2003, it was around 9:00 in the morning, and State Security spent five hours requisitioning papers and documents,” he told me. I reproduce here the first two paragraphs of that interview:

“He returned home on a Saturday. After seven years and eight months behind the bars of a cell and the squeaking of Chinese padlocks, the economist Arnaldo Ramos Lauzurique, 68 years old, at 6:30 in the morning of his first Sunday in liberty, sat down in the park situated in front of the modest building where he lives, in the neighborhood of Centro Habana.

“He wanted to contemplate the dawn, breathe fresh air and see ordinary people carrying their bags to do their Sunday shopping. He wanted to feel like a free man. After two hours of meditation, the sun began to heat up the morning, and the noise of the kids with their bats, balls, roller skates and soccer balls broke his personal spell.

“Then he began what was always his daily routine. Standing in the tiresome line to buy the official press at a nearby kiosk. It’s one of his manias. Gathering the daily Cuban newspapers and archiving them in a box.”

This mulato was born May 27, 1942 and died on November 3, 2016 in Havana, his native city. He lived in a tenement and made something of himself, overcoming poverty and prejudice. He managed to become an economist, marry a woman who also studied and graduated as a doctor, specializing in radiology, had two children and grandchildren and formed a solid family. He stays with me in his writings, which can be found on the Internet and in numerous blogs and digital sites.

But, above all, I am left with knowing what an extraordinary human being Arnaldo Ramos was, with incredible memory, simplicity and modesty. He has more learning and talent than most of the dissidents who surrounded him, but he always stayed behind the scenes. He had a humility that the present dissident movement lacks, where there are so many who get off on selfies, headlines and having the title of “leader.”

Photo: Arnaldo Ramos Lauzurique. Taken from the Facebook page of Martha Beatriz Roque Cabello.

Translated by Regina Anavy

Guillermo Fariñas Returns Home After Hospital Visit For Fainting / 14ymedio

Guillermo Fariñas on hunger and thirst strike. (Courtesy)
Guillermo Fariñas on hunger and thirst strike. (Courtesy)

14ymedio, Havana, 6 September 2016 — Cuban dissident Guillermo Farinas, after 47 days on a hunger and thirst strike, was transferred on Monday afternoon to Arnaldo Milian Castro Provincial Hospital. The dissident was discharged hours later because doctors felt that he did not meet the “entry criteria for intensive care,” he told 14ymedio activist Jorge Luis Artiles Montiel.

Sources close to Fariñas detailed that the intake occurred at 2:45 pm after he lost consciousness at his home in the neighborhood of La Chirusa. Hours earlier, the daily report on his health issued by members of the United Anti-Totalitarian Forum (FANTU), reported severe pain in the “joints, knees, ankles and shoulders.” continue reading

The note also explains that Fariñas was experiencing “dizziness, weakness and fatigue” and said his weight was 151 pounds, according to Dr. Yorkis Rodriguez Cardenas.

The winner of the European Parliament’s Andrei Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought is demanding that Raul Castro “publicly state that he will put an end to the beatings of nonviolent opponents,” and that he will schedule a meeting with a member of the Council of Ministers and “representatives of the Cuban opposition,” to explain what the government’s strategy will be “to end the beatings.”

A dozen Cuban dissidents have released a letter in which they call themselves Fariñas’ “brothers in the struggle” and say they share his demands. However, they also state that they need him alive to continue with them “on this path” until they “achieve freedom.”

“We respect you and we are aware of your sacrifice, but we would ask you to put an immediate end to your strike,” says a letter from dissidents Félix Bonne, Eduardo Díaz Fleitas, José Daniel Ferrer, Iván Hernández Carrillo, Ángel Moya, Félix Navarro, Arnaldo Ramos Lauzurique, Vladimiro Roca, Martha Beatriz Roque and Berta Soler.

Since the beginning, Fariñas has reiterated that, in the event that “Raul Castro will not yield to the demands” he will continue the hunger and thirst strike “until the end.”

“The opposition has not matured,” Laments Martha Beatriz Roque / 14ymedio, Lilianne Ruiz

Martha Beatriz Roque. (14ymedio)
Martha Beatriz Roque. (14ymedio)

14ymedio, Lilianne Ruiz, Havana, 28 April 2016 —  Martha Beatriz Roque has returned from Miami after receiving a permit from the Cuban government in late February, which authorized her to leave the country one time. The activist was one of the seven former prisoners of the Black Spring of 2003 who benefited from this permit. She returns with a certain pessimism and a critical impression of the state of the Cuban opposition.

Lilianne Ruiz. You returned from abroad after permission from the Cuban government, which allowed you to make only one trip. What impressions did you bring back from your stay outside the country?

Martha Beatriz Roque. I come back with a tremendous pain in my heart about what I have seen there. In Miami there is the historic exile, who love their country, their fatherland, who talk about democracy, who think about Cuba constantly and who have a great nostalgia for the island, but this historic exile, unfortunately, is getting old and some of its members have died. continue reading

However, many people who are coming to Miami through different countries, including now through Costa Rica, Ecuador and Panama, are turning their backs on Cuba, they even want to forget that they are Cubans. These are people who are a part of a social fabric here that is broken, who have no ethics, no formal education and they are contaminating Miami.

LR. What do you think has been the outcome of Barack Obama’s visit to Cuba?

MBR. Obama has his agenda and within it is defending the interests of American citizens, as is natural, because that is his country. He has made it clear that the problems of Cuba have to be solved by Cubans and that is important. The people had a great lesson with Obama’s visit: for the people it has meant hope, which the Communist Party Congress subsequently tried to annihilate.

LR. And the opposition?

MBR. In Cuba there are opponents, but an opposition, as such, does not exist. An opposition exists in Venezuela, because it has been capable of uniting despite its disagreements. We are not capable of something like that yet. Here the unity lasts seconds.

LR. Did the 7th Congress of the Communist Party frustrate you, or were you were expecting something like what happened?

MBR. The Party Congress was going to be postponed to another date but it was held to try to counter what Obama said to the Cuban people, and because of this they didn’t have any finished [guiding] document. Some said, after the Congress was over, “We were right, Obama has achieved nothing.” Others say that the Congress was a way of demonstrating the failure of what Obama is doing, but I would not say that. Much less do I think it is a failure, because there are things that have been accelerated with Obama’s visit.

LR. Like what?

MBR. In the specific case of the eleven members of us from the [Black Spring] group of 75 who remain in Cuba, we were not allowed to leave the country and, at least in this moment, they allowed us one trip abroad. There have been solutions to some problems that you couldn’t say are changes, without the reestablishment of rights. This has to be seen as something satisfactory, not as something negative. In the not so distant future other solutions will have to come, because the economic, social and political situation of the country is unbearable.

LR. Will it be the self-employed who change Cuba?

MBR. The Cuban regime will not allow any self-employed to export, because that, they will say, is reserved for the businesses of the Ministry of Foreign Trade. The United States government is trying to have direct relationships with the self-employed, but that is not going to be allowed. Right now, when some self-employed turn their faces just slightly to the north, they’re going to cut off those businesses they’re going to stop everything.

LR. Can access to the internet help make the changes occur?

MBR. The regime does not allow it because they know that the internet is a source of knowledge, of the transmission of news and possibilities.

LR. What is the Cuban opposition lacking to be able to call forth the people?

MBR. First of all, it lacks leadership. Unfortunately, here everyone wants to be a leader, no one wants to be in the line, everyone wants to be at the head of it. It also lacks the exile,, which is capable of manufacturing a leader and putting forward a project with resources, but this does not solve anything.

LR. Do you see any chance for the opposition to influence the constitutional referendum announced by the government?

MBR. The opposition has not matured, it is still the same, generating documents, projecting itself abroad, meeting abroad, telling people what they have to do. But if the opposition doesn’t take advantage of this moment to work jointly with the people, it’s simple, nothing is going to happen. If they don’t work with the people, if they don’t raise awareness among the people, what does it matter that they go to meet the Pope in Rome, it’s all the same, it is simply not going to solve anything.

Obama Advisor Ben Rhodes Meets With Cuban Activists In Miami, During A “Historic” Meeting / 14ymedio, Marion Penton

 President Barack Obama’s key advisor on Cuba policy, Ben Rhodes, during his meeting with representatives of civil society on the island. (14ymedio)
President Barack Obama’s key advisor on Cuba policy, Ben Rhodes, during his meeting with representatives of civil society on the island. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miami, 11 March 2016 – President Obama’s top advisor on US policy toward Cuba, Ben Rhodes, met this Friday with representatives from the island’s Civil Society and exile organizations. The meeting took place in Miami, concluding with a chat with Cuban-Americans that the official held at Miami Dade College.

The purpose of the meeting, which lasted several hours behind closed doors, was for Rhodes to listen to the aspirations and opinions of those groups in advance of President Obama’s visit to the island. Several of those attending agreed that the meeting was an “historic moment.” continue reading

Remberto Perez, vice president of the Cuban National Foundation (CANF) in New Jersey, explained that everyone expressed their points of view regarding the national reality before the US president’s visit. “It is a unique and extraordinary opportunity. The fact that we are doing this is a sign that the work of the internal and exiled dissidence has borne fruit,” he said.

Opposition member Martha Beatriz Roque, a member of the Black Spring’s Group of 75, confirmed that she will not meet with the US president, as speculated in some media. “It is not necessary that Obama receive me because I have been able to express my concerns to Ben Rhodes,” and she added, “I am super satisfied with this meeting,” said the dissident, who will not be on the island during the president’s visit because she is going to be traveling to Spain.

Leticia Ramos, a representative of the Ladies in White from Matanzas province, announced that Obama sent a letter to the organization and expressed his desire to meet with them in Havana. “So far we have high expectations and the president has informed us that he wants to meet with us,” said Ramos. Although she said they are “facing an uncertainty” because “the regime is going to prevent it at all costs” and “the arbitrary arrests will be massive to avoid this meeting.”

The Ladies in White have let Rhodes know that the visit should be directed “truly by the Cuban people” and he should try to ensure that “his speech reaches ordinary Cubans.” Initially, the position of the Ladies in White had been very critical of Obama’s visit to the island. With regards to the letter sent by the president, no details are available because “it was sent sealed” to Berta Soler, the representative of the organization.

The youngest activist at the meeting, Carlos Amel Oliva Torres, national coordinator of the Youth Front of the Patriotic Union of Cuban (UNPACU), told this newspaper that “the meeting surprised all of us in the most positive way,” because “we thought we would be coming to explain to Obama’s advisor the reality of the Cuban people, but to our surprise he knows it very well.”

Oliva Torres agrees with the rest of those present that it was an “historic” meeting and, in his opinion, “there was very good communication, great harmony between our approaches and his responses.”

“We are all demanding the same thing: we want the American president to go to Cuba and direct his discourse to the people of Cuba, not to the government,” said the UNPACU member.

The meeting was moderated by Jorge Mas Santos, president of the CANF, who praised the attitude of “these brave men and women (…) who keep alive the flame of hope on the island.” The Cuban-American extended his appreciation to the White House and stressed that meetings like this show that “beyond the Straits of Florida that separate us, we are one people.”

Mas Santos said that “President Obama’s advisor was able to listen to you directly, your dreams, your aspirations, the totalitarian nature of a regime that has oppressed our island for more than five decades, and through your suggested this liberating message can reach the mouth of President Obama on his visit to Cuba.”

Martha Beatriz Roque Believes That The US Should “Straighten Out” The Normalization With Cuba / EFE, 14ymedio

Martha Beatriz Roque. (14ymedio)
Martha Beatriz Roque. (14ymedio)

EFE/14ymedio, Miami, 4 March 2016 — The Cuban dissident Martha Beatriz Roque told EFE on Friday in Miami that she would like to be received by the US President, Barack Obama, to ask him to “straighten out” the process of normalization of relations with Cuba.

In that process, “the only thing the Cuban government does is demand and it has given very like in exchange,” said Roque, an economist condemned to 20 years in prison in the 2003 “Black Spring” for violating the “independence and territorial integrity of the State,” collaborating and receiving resources from the United States, and trying to undermine the principles of the Revolution. continue reading

Roque Cabello, who was born in 1945 and also has Spanish nationality, arrived in Miami Thursday, on a permit granted by the Cuban government that allows her to travel outside the country one time only.

The dissident, who saw her sister for the first time in 55 years this Thursday, said that she would return to Cuba on 31 March and so will not be there when Obama visits the island on 21st and 22nd, although she would like to be able to speak with him before his trip to explain to him her opinions about the process of normalizing relations announced at the end of 2014.

“Not to be radical, I must say that the Cuban government has given very little. It does only what is required to get the embargo lifted, return Guantanamo, close Radio and Television Marti,” she said in a telephone interview with EFE.

In her view, the United States should “straighten out” this, so that the Cuban government offers something from its side.

Roque said it now is not the time to judge whether Obama was or was not wrong about the agreement he reached with Cuban President Raul Castro to end the antagonism between the two countries, which has already resulted in a restoration of diplomatic relations.

She would like to be received by Obama before traveling to the island to give him her views on the situation in the country and the changes needed, as she did with the United States Secretary of State, John Kerry, when he visited Cuba.

Roque, from the Assembly to Promote Civil Society, said that after this “private trip” she will return to Cuba on March 31 and will be subject to the parole conditions she received in 2004, unable to leave the country again.

A large group of those convicted in the Black Spring Group of 75 left Cuba under an agreement between the Cuban government, the Catholic Church and the Spanish government in 2010. Of the 11 who remained in Cuba, only seven have received permission to take one trip outside of Cuba, and of these three are not going to travel, for various reasons, according to Roque.

Seven of Eleven Former Black Spring Prisoners Allowed to Travel for “Good Behavior” / 14ymedio

Martha Beatriz Roque leaving her appointment at the Immigration and Nationality office at Factor and Final Streets in Nuevo Vedado in Havana.(14ymedio)
Martha Beatriz Roque leaving her appointment at the Immigration and Nationality office at Factor and Final Streets in Nuevo Vedado in Havana.(14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 22 February 2016 — Former prisoners of the Black Spring Martha Beatriz Roque and Arnaldo Lauzurique received from the authorities “a unique opportunity to travel,” Roque informed 14ymedio this Monday, adding that today she will begin the paperwork to apply for a new passport.

On leaving the Immigration and Nationality Office, located at Factor and Final Streets in Havana’s Nuevo Vedado neighborhood, Roque explained that Major Orestes Rodriguez Bello assured her that she will be able to return to the country without problems. He added that this was an exceptional measure because the beneficiaries “have displayed good behavior.” However, their status as beneficiaries of “parole” is maintained, and this is not a change in their criminal status. continue reading

Seven of the eleven former prisoners of the Black Spring who remain in Cuba have been summoned to the Immigration offices, presumably to regularize their situation and allow them to travel abroad before Barack Obama’s visit to the island. So far only two among them have had their appointments and the rest will do so throughout the morning and the afternoon.

In the citation they are summoned “to the section covering immigration and nationality to resolve their immigration status.” The document is signed by Maria Cristina Martinez Bello, according to a report from the dissident Martha Beatriz Roque to this newspaper.

In addition to Arnaldo Lauzurique and Martha Beatriz Roque, those cited so far include Oscar Elias Biscet, Hector Maseda, Jorge Olivera, Eduardo Diaz Fleitas and Félix Navarro.

Those not summoned to appear include Angel Moya, José Daniel Ferrer, Iván Hernández Carrillo and Librado Linares.

The eleven former prisoners of the Black Spring residing in Cuba have been prevented from leaving the country under the legal justification that they are “on parole,” a situation that has been widely condemned by international human rights organizations.

In March of 2003, the government ordered the arrest of 75 dissidents, including 29 independent journalists. They were sentenced to long prison terms. In 2010, after mediation through the Catholic Church, they were released in exchange for their departure to Spain, but the eleven remaining in Cuba did not want to leave the country.

People In Need Award Goes To Former Cuban Prisoners Of The Black Spring / 14ymedio

Martha Beatriz Roque believes that work to defend human rights "is becoming more difficult for the internal opposition," in Cuba. (14ymedio)
Martha Beatriz Roque believes that work to defend human rights “is becoming more difficult for the internal opposition,” in Cuba. (14ymedio)

14ymedio, Havana, 3 February 2016 — The Czech organization People in Need has given its Homo Homini Award for this year to the 11 former prisoners of the 2003 Black Spring who continue to live in Cuba, as confirmed to this newspaper by several of the laureates. The entity, focused on the defense of human rights, has recognized the work of those who have continued to exercise their peaceful activist for decades, despite the rigors of prison and political repression.

Last year the award celebrated two decades since its founding. The award is intended to honor individuals for their “dedication to the promotion of human rights, democracy and non-violent solutions to political conflicts.” continue reading

Among the honorees with distinction, is Cuban opposition member Felix Navarro who told 14ymedio that he was “very pleasantly surprised with the news” and dedicated the honor to all those who struggle “peacefully inside Cuba to produce the changes that will make Cubans free.” The activist went on to ask whether the Cuban government will allow the winners to travel to receive the award, given the travel restrictions they have endured since their release from prison.

The only woman in the so-called Group of 75, Martha Beatriz Roque, welcomed the recognition for her work “within the country to defend the cause of human rights.” The activist points out that this task “is becoming ever more difficult for the internal opposition” and agrees that it is likely that none of the 11 will be allowed to leave the country, so that “there will be an empty chair, with everything that’s going to mean.”

“Moral and political backing and support,” is how the dissident Angel Moya described the Homo Homini Award, adding that this is a recognition that extends “to all those within Cuba struggling to establish the rule of law”.

For the leader of the Patriotic Union of Cuba, Jose Daniel Ferrer, this is a good time to remember that “the first Cuban to receive it was Oswaldo Paya Sardinas in 1999.” At the time, Ferrer was an activist in the Christian Liberation Movement, who spread ” the news throughout the eastern part of the country.” He added, referring to Payá’s death, “It is now up to us and this award makes us very happy.”

Among the winners from previous years, as well as Oswaldo Paya, are Sapiyat Magomedova (Russia, 2013), Intigam Aliyev (Azerbaijan, 2012), Azimžan Askarov (Kyrgyzstan, 2010), Liu Xiaobo (China, 2008), Su Su Nway, Phyu Phyu Thin and Nilar Thein (Myanmar, 2007), Ales Bialiatski (Belarus, 2005) and Sergej Kovaljov (Russia, 1994), among others.

The NGO People in Need was founded in 1992 and is defined as a non-profit organization ” based on the ideas of humanism, freedom, equality and solidarity.” It has employees and volunteers both in the Czech Republic and in a dozen countries seeking to “provide assistance in regions of conflict and support the commitment to human rights throughout the world.”

Vladimiro Roca: “Many just saw me as the son of Blas Roca” / Cubanet, Martha Beatriz Roque Cabello

vladimir roca
Vladimiro Roca, in an interview with CubaNet (photo by the author)

cubanet square logoCubanet, Martha Beatriz Roque Cabello, Havana, 16 November 2015 – Vladimiro Roca Antunez is one of “the old guard” group of dissidents who is still in Cuba. He holds a degree in International Economic Relations, and was a MIG fighter pilot in the Revolutionary Armed Forces. He served 5 years, from 1997 to 2002, in Ariza prison in Cienfuegos, as one of a group of four dissidents who wrote “The Homeland Belongs to Everyone.”

Vladimir will be 72 on December 21. His family, friends and neighbors call him Pepe.

Martha Beatriz Roque: What were your years as a MIG fighter pilot like? Where did you learn to fly these planes?

Vladimir Roca: I have always considered the years I spent as a pilot, both as a fighter and in transport, as the best of my life, because the profession of pilot is entirely vocational. Anyone who doesn’t feel a passion for flying can never be a good pilot, and not just a good one, not even an ordinary one.

Speaking of my years as a pilot is something that fills me with emotion. The day that I flew solo for the first time, it was the greatest feeling of freedom I have felt in all the days of my life. It’s very hard to describe. continue reading

I studied in the former Soviet Union. I was in the first group of young rebels who studied aviation in that country. We went for a quick course that was supposed to last a year, but then there was a change of plans and they divided up the group of pilots into those who would end up flying the MIG-15, those who passed to flying the MIG-19, and a group that was going to fly the Il-28 tactical bombers. I was in the last group, as a bomber navigator in those planes.

During the Missile Crisis, the bombers were retired. When I returned to Cuba, I went to a base in the Holguin area, which was under the command of then First Lieutenant Rafael del Pino. He put me to flying the MIG-15s.

Martha Beatriz Roque: People associated with politics locate you on the left. From the ideological point of view, what is your position?

Vladimir Roca: It is a definition that comes from our founding of the Democratic Socialist Current, with many people who defined themselves as leftists. As for me, from the practical point of view I define myself more as center left, with a tendency to the center, because according to physics the equilibrium is in the center, and this is precisely what I seek. The extremes are, in my opinion, pernicious.

The Ladies In White Face Another Sunday Of Repression In Havana / 14ymedio

Ladies in White during the pilgrimage this Sunday. (Angel Moya)
Ladies in White during the pilgrimage this Sunday. (Angel Moya)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 4 October, 2015 – Fifty-nine Ladies in White and 20 activists gathered this Sunday in Gandhi Park in Havana’s Playa district, despite the arrests previous to their traditional Sunday peregrination. After a summary of their weekly activities, the dissidents were detained, according to a report from witnesses at the scene.

From the early hours, the regime opponent Martha Beatriz Roque denounced the arrests of 12 human rights activists who had traveled to Santa Rita parish. Among those arrested with the mother and siblings of Zaqueo Baez Guerrero, one of the members of the of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU) who had approached Pope Francis in Havana’s Plaza of the Revolution.

Others arrested on Sunday included the regime opponents Antonio Gonzalez Rodiles, Ailer Gonzalez and Felix Navarro. The latter lives in the town of Perico, Matanzas, and traveled to the capital to show his support to the human rights movement.

Blogger Agustín López Canino denounced his arrest and reported that he was handcuffed at the corner of 5th and 30th streets, in the Playa district, together with two other colleagues. The activists detailed that he was “taken to the outskirts of Havana” to prevent his accompanying the Ladies in White during their Sunday march.

Meanwhile, in Colón, Matanzas, independent journalist Ivan Hernandez Carrillo reported ten Ladies in White marched in Colón, Matanzas, for the release of the political prisoners.

The leader of the Ladies in White movement, Berta Soler said that Yaquelín Boni, an activist detained since Thursday during a protest outside Combinado del Este prison and accused of “disobedience,” has now been released.

The IAPA Does Not See Progress In Press Freedom In Cuba / 14ymedio

Lazaro Yuri Valle Roca has been threatened and detained for documenting repression. (14ymedio)
Lazaro Yuri Valle Roca has been threatened and detained for documenting repression. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, 2 October 2015 — Within a few hours of the opening of the 71st General Assembly of the Inter American Press Association (IAPA), scheduled between 2 and 6 October in Charleston (South Carolina), regional reports from the Commission for Freedom of the Press and Information were made public. According to the organization, ten months after the beginning of reestablishment of diplomatic relations between Cuba and the United States, journalism on the island continues to be “dogged by censorship in the Cuban Communist Party monopoly over the national media.”

The report details that in Cuba there are still no signs of “economic improvement,” nor an increase in the respect for “human rights, greater freedom of expression, association and the press,” derived from the process of diplomatic rapprochement that both countries are experiencing.

With special alarm, the text includes the threats and arrests made this summer by State Security against the reporter Lazaro Yuri Valle Roca, when he tried to document in videos and photos the repression suffered by the Ladies in White. The independent journalist denounced the repressive methods against the exercise of the unofficial press, including detentions for “several days without records of arrest nor of the seizure of our belongings” and the “confiscation of the tools of our work.” continue reading

The case of the artist Danilo Maldonado Machado, known as “El Sexto,” was also highlighted by the IAPA as evidence of the lack of freedom of expression on the island. Nine months after his arrest for planning a performance, the Graffiti artist remains in prison without having been brought to trial. This week Amnesty International named him as a prisoner of conscience.

 

The IAPA report also denounces “the censorship maintained on digital sites, as is the case of sites like Cubaencuentro, Martinoticias, and the digital newspaper 14ymedio, as well as other sites that address the Cuban issue from a perspective critical” of the authorities.

Raul Castro’s government maintains a tendency towards “paramilitarization” of the repressions, with physical and verbal violence but without leaving legal footprints, says the report. This method was demonstrated during Pope Francis’s visit in mid-September, “particularly with the detention of the opponent Martha Beatriz Roque and the independent journalist Miriam Leiva, when both were traveling to accept an invitation from the Aposolic Nunciature to greet the pontiff at Havana Cathedral,” it says.

Civil society wins spaces

Among the achievements of Cuban civil society, IAPA enumerates the first Encuentro de Pensamiento (Meeting of Ideas) for Cuba, hosted by the independent think tank Center for Coexistence Studies in the city of Pinar del Río and the magazine of the same name. Founded in 2007, the publication has already published 45 issues and addresses issues ranging from culture to citizenship.

The opening of 35 WiFi points to connect to the internet also found space in the report, although the text reminds us that Cuba remains one of the least connected countries in the world, with only 5%, which is reduced to 1% in the case of broadband.

Half of Latin Americans Have Internet Access, But Only 5% of Cubans Do / 14ymedio

The reports comments on the parole granted to the writer Angel Santiesteban and transfer to a minimum security prison mid-year of the journalist Jose Antonio Torres, a former correspondent for the Party newspaper Granma, accused of espionage.

The report made special mention of the illegal compendium of audiovisuals and alternative information, known as the “weekly packet.” The IAPA said that the weekly packet “has continued to gain ground among the Cuban population and is causing great concern in the ruling party,” while the official press continues to be characterized by self-censorship and the absence of “a journalism of investigation, that puts pressure on government entities to have greater transparency about their internal workings.”

During the 71st General Assembly of the Inter American Press Association, there will be seminars run by the Press Institute that will focus on current issues under the title “Beyond the Digital Transformation.” Other panels will address the growing contribution of women in the media, value added and copyrights, according to information from the organizers.

The meeting will feature Literature Nobelist Mario Vargas Llosa, who will participate in a special session and be interviewed by journalist Andres Oppenheimer.

Regime Arrests Berta Soler and Martha Beatriz Roque When They Go to Greet the Pope / Diario de Cuba

diariodecubalogoDiario de Cuba, 20 September 2015, Havana–The government opponent Martha Beatriz Roque was arrested this Saturday in Havana, activist Ailer González reported via Twitter. Sources from the Ladies in White informed Diario de Cuba that Roque was invited to the Apostolic Nunciature to greet Pope Francis upon his arrival.

Also invited to welcome the Holy Father before the Nunciature was the leader of the Ladies in White, Berta Soler. Dissident sources fear that she has been arrested along with her husband, the ex-political prisoner Ángel Moya, said Ailer González.

The activist also denounced “power outages” that opponents’ telephone services are undergoing. Attempts to communicate by telephone with various opponents were unsuccessful.

For his part, the leader of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU), José Daniel Ferrer, sent word via a communiqué of the arrest of 26 activists in Santa Clara who were intending to travel to Havana to attend the Pope’s mass on Sunday. In the capital, Ferrer said, five members of his organization have been arrested.

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

Pre-Pope Arrests of Dissidents Underway / Martha Beatriz Roque

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Lady in White Leticia Herreria arrested Thursday 2 AM in Matanzas whereabouts unknown
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Lady in White Marta Belkis Rodriguez arrested 7 am in her house
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Leonardo Rodriguez member of Convivencia Think Tank surrounded in Camajuani — under house arrest
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Lady in White Gladys Zapote arrested today on leaving her house
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Husband reports arrest of Lady in White Marlen Gonzalez
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Lady in White Maylen Maidike in Ciego de Avila threatened by political police not to go to Havana
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State Security places Librado Linares 75 under house arrest in Villa Clara
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Ladies in White threatened in Matanzas Tania Echevarria, Magra Garcia, Julia Sylvia
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Matanzas Ladies in White arrested yesterday warned they cannot get into vehicles, woman are watching their houses
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Jean Michel Duarte Sta Isabel Lajas from Reflection Movement arrested, warned not to attend Pope’s Mass
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The syndrome of repression around a Pope’s visit is making itself felt in Cuba
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Reports received that dissidents’ houses are under siege by political police and mobs