The One Who Left Ashes / Miriam Leiva

Poster of Fidel Castro in a Havana window (AP)

Cubanet, Miriam Leiva, Havana, November 29, 2016 – Fidel Castro died on November 25 at 10:29 p.m. and, according to his own will, his remains will be cremated, according to the brief statement read by Raúl Castro on Cuban television. at midnight.

As a deceased person, the former president deserves respect. Surely he expired on a soft bed, surrounded by his closest family members; perhaps he left directions for his funeral. Jose Marti, the man Cubans call the Apostle of Cuba, will welcome him in his monument in the Plaza of the Revolution and in the Santa Ifigenia Cemetery in Santiago de Cuba. Continue reading “The One Who Left Ashes / Miriam Leiva”

The government decreed nine days of official mourning and a journey of the funeral cortege from Havana to Santiago de Cuba, following in reverse the route of the “Freedom Caravan” of the guerrilla chief in January of 1959. The Comandante bequeathes his predilection for symbolism in dates: his death coincided with the 60th anniversary of the beginning of the Revolution with the departure of the yacht Granma from Mexico in 1956, and the burial on December 4th will coincide with the day of Saint Barbara, Shangó in the syncretic religion, a day venerated with great offerings. The drumming and all the rituals that begin in the early hours of the morning will be suspended on this solemn occasion, to the disgust of thousands of believers.

Most Cubans within the archipelago reacted with silence, no comment, without grief. The outcome had long been expected. The cheerful, humorous, jovial and bustling Cuban protects himself in the shell when he feels it dangerous to think differently from the official line, fears the consequences in his life, and disenchanted with the unfulfilled promises, is careful of his weak status or he looks the horizon to jump abroad.

Respectful relief floats in the environment, because the Comandante will allow everyone to rest, not fearing his interference in the essential changes. Every photo and every writing was overwhelming. The impressive olive green presence and thunderous voice became pitiful and the phrases delirious. He asserted, “history will absolve me,” at the conclusion of his trial for the attack on the Moncada Barracks in 1953. Much accumulated for 63 years, and there will be a delay in the objective writing of his until the secrets of all the parties involved are known. However, it is impossible to exempt him from the precarious present state of Cuba, because for 47 years he decided and prohibited everything.

In 1959, Fidel Castro liquidated a bloody dictatorship, he was Cuba’s most popular politician of all time and came to power with the false promises of democracy and a commitment to the religion. He will be remembered for dismembering families and sending their children to schools in the countryside, the exodus of more than two million Cubans, the hardships of a people overshadowed and disposed to immense sacrifices.

From the initial dispossession of the great owners, he continued with the small ones during the Revolutionary Offensive of 1968. Among his immense unproductive works: the failed Ten Ton Sugar Harvest of 1970, the destruction of the sugar industry that forged the Cuban nationality and of all agriculture with the uprooting of the peasants. For the waste of resources from the Soviet Union and the socialist camp. For not having invested Hugo Chavez’s petrodollars in the capitalization of the destroyed or antiquated industry.

Fidel Castro curtailed rights, credited the state with granting universal education and healthcare, when in fact this was paid for with the contributions of all workers. He left a weak economy, misery-level salaries and pensions, a dual monetary system, large debts accumulated since 1986, and a social fabric devoid of high ethical and moral values, a pride of the Cubans for centuries.

Fidel Castro will be remembered for the executions and long prison sentences. For punishing those who thought differently from the official opinions with agricultural work and expulsion from their jobs. For the surveillance and stalking by State Security, the informants and the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution. By the impossibility of attending a university because the universities were “only for the revolutionaries.”

Time will not forget that he was about to provoke a nuclear conflagration in October 1962, his support of guerrillas in Latin America and wars abroad, his persecution of homosexuals, his ban on miniskirts and the Beatles until the end of the 1980s, and on the practice of religion and tourism until 1992.

Raúl Castro inherited the ruins that he helped create. He mentioned the need for structural changes and concepts in 2007, which he reduced to the updating of the failing economic and social system. But he acknowledged that “the fundamental obstacle we have faced, as we predicted, is the burden of an outdated mentality, which forms an attitude of inertia, or lack of confidence in the future,” in his Report to the Seventh Congress of the Cuban Communist Party in April 16, 2016.

Ten years after the inevitable abandonment of absolute power, outside the Cuban archipelago, Fidel Castro is credited with the positive collaboration of doctors, teachers and technicians abroad. With the high rates of healthcare and education, achieved with the sacrifice and low quality of life of Cubans for 57 years.

The worn-out old man is kindly visualized, thanks to the process of cleaning up his nefarious image undertaken by Raúl Castro with the opportunities offered by the international community, the popes and eminences of various religions, the relationship with the United States, collaboration with the European Union, and the cancellation of debts. Economic interests have played an important role, but also the general president has the space to open up citizen participation in decision making.

Raul’s actions after Fidel’s death in compelling Cubans to sign an Oath to the Commander’s Words could strengthen the stagnation, or he could use them to reverse it: “Revolution is a sense of the historical moment. It is changing everything that must be changed. It is full equality and freedom. Is to be treated and to treat others as human beings,” Fidel said in his speech of May 1, 2000.

The high attendance of the population to the extensive and pompous funeral rites is a sign of the usual compulsion of students, workers, peasants and members of the so-called organizations of the masses and civil society, as well as the mobilization of the hundreds of thousands of party members and Youth communists, military agencies, ex-combatants and people who really did admire him.

However, the authorities should recognize the real feelings of the majority of Cubans and undertake radical changes.

The Ubiquitous Dictator / Cubanet, Miriam Leiva

Cubanet, Miriam Leiva, Havana, 6 December 2016 — Raul Castro wants Cubans to commit their support to major economic restrictions in 2017, during the complex period of the transfer of power from the so-called historic generation, through the signing of an oath to the definition of the Revolution and Socialism promulgated by the deceased leader, using the slogans “the permanent teaching of Fidel is that yes we can,” and “life continues.”

Fidel Castro prevented his physical permanence after death. The body was cremated. His tomb, apparently modest, in a rock from the Sierra Maestra, is a representation of strength and durability. There will be no monuments, statues, plazas nor allegorical streets, according to the Commander’s own decision. Continue reading “The Ubiquitous Dictator / Cubanet, Miriam Leiva”

Raul Castro announced that he will present proposed legislation for this for approval by the next session of the National Assembly. However, Fidel Castro will be omnipresent through the recurrence of his phrases and actions in discourse and in posters. During the days since his death on 25 November he has been mentioned in the media at the same level as José Martí, [the national hero whom Cubans of all stripes call] “the Apostle” of Cuba, and invoked as Father of the Fatherland, displacing Carlos Manuel de Cespedes.

Raul Castro deftly focused his farewell speech, given at Antonio Maceo Plaza in Santiago de Cuba on 3 December, on “yes we can,” based on the determination of Fidel to bring his proposals to fruition, to infect his followers, to find solutions and to overcome great obstacles.

Fidel spoke the words sworn by the participants in the funeral rites, placed next to his tomb, and that will be invoked permanently by the authorities, on 1 May 2000, when the Special Period had been ongoing for nearly a year, and a few months after Hugo Chavez assumed the presidency of Venezuela.

He had had time to work with his soulmate on help for the Cuban economy and expansion through Latin America and the Caribbean, but achieving this would possibly require changes in the concepts expressed to date and the methods utilized so far.

So the crisis provoked then, by the loss of the subsidies from the Soviet Union and the Socialist Camp, now comes from the loss of aid from Venezuela, both the result of the waste of resources on mega-plans rather then economic needs.

Fidel left Raul his words to confront the economic situation, the hidden intentions of the hardliners, and the disgust of a population exhausted by privations and unmet promises. His major legacy is that “socialism is irrevocable” according to the Constitution. As Fidel explained in May of 2002, Bush demanded that Cuba change its political and social system, and in response there were two months of large demonstrations, the National Assembly approved amending the constitutions, and eight million Cubans signed their names to it, through different mass organizations.

Fidel did not mention it as a cause of the expansion of the peaceful opposition movement throughout the country, in organizations of journalists, librarians, doctors, independent educators and the Varela Project, which was repressed in March of 2003, with 75 prisoners of conscience condemned to long prison terms, in a process that came to be known as The Black Spring.

Fidel acknowledged that everything is revocable, but being part of the Constitution, it can only be revoked by the National Assembly of People’s Power. They decided to declare the socialist character of the Revolution irrevocable, which means “that to revoke the socialist character there has to be a revolution, or rather a counterrevolution… including a legal takeover of the government by the enemies of the Revolution, leaving them a theoretical clause: go to the Assembly and being the majority… and then doing the same, collect the millions of signatures, which they can never do, and declare by decree, revoking by decree, socialism.” (from One Hundred Hours With Fidel, Conversations with Ignacio Ramonet).

Achieving a National Assembly majority would face the challenge that the electoral system in Cuba makes it impossible for people to be candidates without the recommendation of the Communist Party.*

Raúl Castro, who has stated his plan to retire in 2017, will have to resolve the obstacles posed by the hardline leaders at the same time he deals with his replacement in the Councils of State and of Ministers in 2018. As the first secretary of the Communist Party, surrounded by his military, he will maintain the maximum power to direct and support the handing off of power to those who will not have the aura of having fought in the Revolution. He could use Fidel’s words that “revolution is to change everything that needs to be changed” to promote his limited reforms, apparently obstructed by the conservatives.

The general will have to reformulate the “updating of the economic and social model” with relaxation of the tight controls through real changes to free up agriculture and self-employment, to streamline the management of state enterprises, and to simplify legislation and decision making at all levels, with an emphasis on rapid approval of foreign investments.

Before the end of the 2016 concluding session of the National Assembly, where the general-president reports on the failure to achieve the 2% GDP growth planned, and even the 1% later projected in July, perhaps there will be new measures to cope with the recession in 2017, and the demand for renewed “heroism” following the spirit of Fidel.

The policy followed by the new US president, Donald Trump, could stimulate the hard line leaders if he reverses the measures taken by Barack Obama and obstructs the advance of reformist elements. The just demand for respect for human rights and space for the opposition could have counterproductive effects, if hardliners remain in positions of strength as they have during the previous 55 years of failures.

*Translator’s note: In fact, candidates can propose themselves for election without Party support, but the Party prepares all the election materials. Campaigning is illegal and candidates are presented entirely by officially prepared single page biographies, posted in windows. For two 2015 candidates, this meant biographies that stated they were “counterrevolutionaries.” They both lost, but one received 19% of the votes in his polling place, to the winning candidate’s 28% (in first round elections).

The Socioeconomic Legacy Of Fidel Castro / Miriam Leiva

ABC International, Miriam Leiva, 26 November 2016 — Fidel Castro left Cuba in disastrous economic conditions after exerting absolute power for more than 47 years. His brother received a country “on the precipice” on 31 July 2006.

Raul Castro has had to eliminate the “genial” initiatives of the comandante en jefe, without repudiating them, presenting it as an update of the economic model, always inspired by Fidel’s ideas. In fact, his speeches and aphorisms were so many that he could use them according to his needs. However, most Cubans are convinced he squandered them in his great failed works and caused the most comprehensive crisis in the nation’s history.

While arguing he was defending Cuba’s sovereignty, Fidel Castro was strengthened in power by economic dependence on the Soviet Union and Venezuela; he depreciated the value of labor; he impoverished the population; he destroyed moral and civic values; he extinguished hope for a solution and increased the exodus abroad, mainly of young people, with very serious implications for the future of the country. Continue reading “The Socioeconomic Legacy Of Fidel Castro / Miriam Leiva”

At the time of the triumph of the Revolution in 1959, Cuba shared with Argentina, Uruguay, Chile, and Costa Rica the most advanced economic and social indicators in Latin America and the Caribbean. Although it did face challenges, such as a slow rate of growth; excessive dependence on the sugar industry; outsized economic ties with the United States, particularly in investment and trade; high rates of unemployment and underemployment; significant inequalities in living standards, especially between urban and rural areas; unjust distribution of land, with extensive estates, poorly cultivated; and a lack of industrial development and infrastructure, among others.

Rupture

Fifty-five years later, reality indicates that the problems inherited from the pre-revolutionary period were not solved. The breaking off of economic and trade ties with the United States did not lead to the achievement of independence in these areas.

The Soviet Union and its allies replaced the United States until 1989, when the USSR disappeared and there began a period of great shortages that Fidel Castro called “a special period in times of peace.” GDP fell by a third between 1990 and 1994. Castro authorized, though with strong restrictions, farmers markets, tourism, a certain independence of state enterprises and foreign investments. But he reestablished restraints when Venezuela’s strong petro-dollar contributions began.

Without sugar

One of Castro’s most notable disasters was the destruction of the sugar industry, which began with the failed plan for a “10 million harvest” in 1970. Several years of preparation leading up to the grand plan annihilated the country’s non-sugar agriculture production and damaged livestock farming in favor of sowing sugar cane and huge investments in mills, which were not ready in time.

In 2002 he decided to restructure the 156 remaining sugar centers, dismantling 85 mills, 21 of them supposedly dedicated to producing honey or tourism. This involved the demolition of cane fields, the destruction of roads, the dispersion of experienced personnel and the decline of villages.

Cuba had been the largest producer and exporter of sugar in the world, with more than 6 million tons in 1959 and 8.2 million tons in the 1980s, which fell to 1.1 million annually, without being able to recover despite the reorganization. In 2013, 49 plants operated, producing about 1.6 million tons (similar to 1909). Cuban culture and nationality developed with this industry, starting in the seventeenth century. In those days it was said, “without sugar there is no country.”

Land confiscated after 1959 was not used efficiently. The state-owned estates created have been more unproductive than the previous ones. Agriculture remained for many years with enormous tracts of land poorly cultivated, empty or overrun by the invasive marabou weed.

Production levels in relative terms do not exceed what was achieved per inhabitant before 1959, with about 80% of the food that makes up the much-reduced basic food basket now imported, despite the leasing of land to private farmers and cooperatives since 2008.

Cuba had more than 7 million head of cattle, but today the number does not exceed 4 million, with a substantial decrease in the production of meat and milk.

Manufacturing has a production volume equivalent to 43% of that obtained in 1989. The average monthly salary and pension at the end of 2014 were 467 and 269 pesos respectively (the equivalent of 15 and 10 euros at the official exchange rate).

In order to survive, Cubans depend on remittances from family abroad, work in areas related to foreigners – where they can earn generous tips – or the informal market, all of which has led to a growing loss of ethical and moral values ​​due to deception, theft and illicit activities. The elimination of accounting, contracts and other practices in the 1960s prompted a great lack of control and administrative corruption, which Raul Castro is attempting to eliminate through the new Comptroller General of the Republic.

Without goods to export

In July 2007, Raul Castro acknowledged the need for structural and conceptual changes, which are contained in the “updating of the economic model, without haste but without pause.” However, the changes have been few, limited and late, and the economic levels of 1989 have not been regained.

In the last 24 years, the investment rate has been very low, causing a process of decapitalization. There are no savings or access to credits due to the unreliability of repayment. The new Mariel Special Development Zone is intended to bring in 2.5 billion dollars annual in foreign investment, which has not been achieved. The Minister of Economy and Planning acknowledged in July 2014 that “the economy grows in relation to 2013, although it does not reach the expected levels, which leads to a greater deceleration than expected.”

With virtually no goods to export, Cuba has become a supplier of skilled labor abroad, in particular health workers which are “leased” to other countries, and which has become the country’s main source of foreign exchange earnings. Characterized as having an advanced population, today the country exhibits a generalized technological backwardness, which places it behind the nations of the region on crucial issues such as internet access.

Progress at the beginning of the Revolution in public health and education has deteriorated. These vital sectors are set back by the lack of resources due to the crisis; at the same time graduates and specialists, generally poorly utilized and underpaid, prefer work that requires lesser qualifications but is better paid (for example, in the tourist sector), or choose to leave the country.

Colossal catastrophe

The dreams awakened by Fidel Castro as the Maximum Leader of the process begun on January 1, 1959 have ended in a great nightmare, a catastrophe of colossal magnitude. He squandered the opportunity to leave a legacy of progress and well-being for the Cuban people, prioritizing his desires to satisfy immense longings for absolute power and an uncontrollable delirium of grandeur.

Obama in Cuban History / Cubanet, Miriam Leiva

Obama in Havana
Obama in Havana

Cubanet, Miriam Leiva, Havana, 28 March 2016 – Barack Obama’s stay in Havana between the 19th and 22nd of March was described as historic before it even took place. In reality, it was the cusp of a new cycle in the history of Cuba, begun in 2009, when the president of the United States issued the first Executive Order in his proactive “people to people” policy, allowing Cuban families to reconnect after several decades of suffering, and improving the precarious living conditions of the islanders by allowing family and friends abroad to send larger remittances.

Soon people from all walks of life were crossing the ‘bridge’ across the Florida Straits, to sink into an embrace of Cuban and American friendship. But the Obama tsunami became unstoppable on 17 December 2014 with the announcement of the reestablishment of diplomatic relations and the reopening of embassies in Havana and Washington. The measures taken fostered openness, not a neutron bomb, and disintegrated the pretexts used by the Cuban leaders to justify the failures of their capricious programs, and to justify the repression. Continue reading “Obama in Cuban History / Cubanet, Miriam Leiva”

Barack Obama is making history in Cuba, far beyond the history of relations between the United States and Cuba. He did not come to make war, like in 1898, nor with the gunboats that escorted President Coolidge in 1928, but with a wide smile, simple words, familiar but forceful, and bringing the possibility of change with a country that is politically, economically and socially devastated.

His speeches reached all Cuban through live television, and were certainly recorded by many who circulate them and cite them to exemplify every circumstance. He addressed the thorniest issues respectfully and didactically, from the concepts of democracy and human rights to the need for internal openness, and the benefits of relations to both countries. For the first time a president publicly expressed his support for the peaceful opposition and the persecuting government had to allow the fruitful meeting the president held with 13 representatives from Cuba’s independent civil society at the United States Embassy.

Obama appeared on the most popular comedy show on TV in a country where jokes about the leaders can lead to criminal charges of contempt; he walked around Havana, whose residents were the beneficiaries of repairs to the destruction accumulated over decades; he spread joy with true spontaneity; and above all, he presented great challenges to the national leaders, the only impediments to national progress.

The immense impact of the Rolling Stones’ formidable concert did not cloud people’s thinking and diminish the Obama effect. The Communist Party of Cuba will hold its Seventh Congress on April 16-18, in an unprecedented national atmosphere, with a population fed up with insecurity with regards to their daily needs, uncompleted promises, delays and slogans, with demands for real changes – for now, still in a low voice.

Barack Obama does not make changes in Cuba, but he is facilitating Cubans realizing changes. The imprint of the president of the United States will endure, contributing to making Cuban history, and he can be expected, at the end of his term in January of 2017, to continue interacting with Cubans for many years.

Translator’s note: Miriam Leiva was among the 13 civil society activists who met with President Obama in Cuba.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

miriam-leiva.thumbnailMiriam Leiva, born Villa Clara, Cuba, 1947. An independent journalist since 1995. Vice President of the Manuel Marquez Sterling Society of Journalists. Founding member of the Ladies in White in March 2003. Diplomat and guest lecturer at the Higher Institute of International Relations. Official of the Cuban Ministry of Foreign Affairs, from which she was expelled in 1992. Currently maintains the blog Cuban Reconciliacion www.reconciliacioncubana.com and is a translator and teacher of English.

e-mail: leivachepe@gmail.com

My Brief Opinion On The Meeting With President Obama, 22 March 2016 / Miriam Leiva

Miriam Leiva, far right, meeting with President Obama in Havana (USA Today)
Miriam Leiva, far right, meeting with President Obama in Havana (USA Today)

Miriam Leiva, Havana, 23 March 2016 – I had the honor of participating in President Obama’s meeting with representatives of Cuba’s Independent Civil Society. Oscar Espinoa Chepe* would have attended, as he advocated for many years for the lifting of the embargo, as is well known, for the approach, and the abandonment of confrontation for the benefit of the Cuban people.

The meeting was held in a very cordial atmosphere. Among the attendees were some three people who did not agree with President Obama’s policy. All participants expressed our views, we were listened to with great interest by the President and Secretary of State John Kerry. Obama spoke of the objectives and expectations of his policy towards Cuba.

THE MEETING IS THE RECOGNITION AND SUPPORT FOR CUBA’S PEACEFUL OPPOSITION, which no other leader visiting Cuba has dared to show. Obama let the people of Cuba know about these considerations during his press conference on 21 March and his speech on 22 March, where were broadcast live on television.

*Translator’s note: Oscar Espinosa Chepe was a former political prisoner, Miriam Leiva’s husband, and an acclaimed economist. He passed away in 2013. This link includes articles by and about him.

Dissidents Call Meeting With Obama Positive And Give Him A List Of Political Prisoners / EFE, 14ymedio

Barack Obama meeting with dissidents in Havana on Tuesday. (14ymedio)
Barack Obama meeting with dissidents in Havana on Tuesday. (14ymedio)

14ymedio biggerEFE (14ymedio), Havana, 22 March 2016 – Several dissidents who met with President Barack Obama in Havana this Tuesday, assessed the meeting as “positive” and “frank,” and one of them delivered a list of 89 political prisoners recorded by the group he leads.

Elizardo Sanchez, spokesman for the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation (CCDHRN), said Obama was “very clear” and reiterated to the participants at the meeting “his commitment to the cause of human rights and democratic freedoms.”

Sanchez explained that during the dialogue with the US president, he handed him a copy of the list of 89 political prisoners prepared by his group, Continue reading “Dissidents Call Meeting With Obama Positive And Give Him A List Of Political Prisoners / EFE, 14ymedio”

the only one that undertakes an ongoing documentation of these cases in Cuba.

For veteran government opponent, the balance of Obama’s visit to the island was “favorable to the cause of bilateral democracy” but he lamented that far from encouraging an “atmosphere of calm” the Cuban government unleashed “a wave of political repression” which, according to the records of his group translates to between 450 and 500 arrests across the island between Saturday and today.

For his part, the former political prisoner of the 2003 Black Spring “Group of 75,” Jose Daniel Ferrer, one of the thirteen government opponents invited to the meeting, described as “very positive” the meeting because “it was a show of solidarity with those of us who are fighting for the reconstruction of the nation.

“We talked about the process initiated with the Cuban government to normalize bilateral relations, also about his visit, and we also had the opportunity to make suggestions and give opinions on issues that we believe should continue to be pursued and what should not be done in this case,” said Ferrer, leader of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU).

Miriam Leiva, also invited to the event, considered it “very open” because the president listened to the participants who “could express their views on the current situation of repression and human rights in Cuba” and also he made comments.

“There were some who raised positions contrary to the policies of President Obama, but in the end he expounded on his views about what he is doing and what he can do to benefit the Cuban people,” said the independent journalist.

In her opinion, the fact that Barack Obama set aside a space in his busy schedule of about 48 hours in Havana for this meeting at the US embassy, ​​represented “recognition and support” for the Cuban opposition.

Antonio González-Rodiles, who heads the Independent Estado de Sats (State of Sats) project, said the meeting was “very frank” and led to a debate in which “everyone raised their point of view and President Obama heard the different positions.”

Rodiles, critical of the new US approach to Cuba, said he told Obama his doubts about the process of normalization of relations and the “enormous level of violence and repression” in recent times.

He also criticized that “we have not heard from their government a clear condemnation regarding these excessive violations against the dissidence.”

Also at the meeting dissidents and activists such as the leader of the Ladies in White, Berta Soler; Guillermo Fariñas; Manuel Cuesta Morua, of the Progressive Arc; and the critical intellectual Dagoberto Valdes.

In brief remarks to reporters about the meeting, Obama said that one of the objectives of the normalization begun with Cuba is to be able to “hear directly” from the Cuban people and ensure that they also “have a voice” in the new stage initiated between the two countries fifteen months ago.

Note: Cuban dissidents, independent journalists and human rights activists present at the meeting were: Angel Yunier Remon, Antonio Rodiles, Juana Mora Cedeno, Jose Daniel Ferrer, Laritza Diversent, Berta Soler, Dagoberto Valdes Hernandez, Guillermo Fariñas, Nelson Alvarez Matute, Miriam Celaya Gonzales, Manuel Cuesta Morua, Miriam Leiva Viamonte, Elizardo Sanchez.

Obama Praises The Courage Of Dissidents In An Unprecedented Meeting / EFE, 14ymedio

US President Barack Obama meets with representatives of Cuban independent civil society in Havana (14ymedio)
US President Barack Obama meets with representatives of Cuban independent civil society in Havana (14ymedio)

14ymedio biggerEFE (14ymedio), Havana, 22 March 2016 — The president of the United States, Barack Obama, praised the “courage” of the dissidents and representatives of independent civil society Cuba at the beginning of the meeting held with them at the headquarters of the United States Embassy in Havana this Tuesday.

In brief remarks, Obama stressed that one of the objectives of normalization with Cuba is to be able to “hear directly” from the Cuban people and to ensure that they also “have a voice” in the new stage initiated between the two countries.

The meeting with president of the United States was attended by Berta Soler (Ladies in White), Miriam Celaya (activist and freelance journalist), Manuel Cuesta Morua (Progressive Arc), Miriam Leiva (freelance journalist), Guillermo Fariñas (former political prisoner and 2010 Sakharov Human Rights Prize recipient), Antonio G. Rodiles (State of SATS), Elizardo Sánchez (Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation), Nelson Matute (Afro-ACLU president, defense organization for black people discriminated against because of their sexual orientation), Laritza Diversent (Cubalex), Dagoberto Valdes (Coexistence ), Jose Daniel Ferrer (UNPACU), Yunier Angel Remon (rapper The Critic ) and Juana Mora Cedeño (Rainbow Project).

“It often requires great courage to be active in civil life here in Cuba,” Obama said, adding he said.

“There are people here who have been arrested. Some in the past and others very recently,” stressed the president.

On Monday, at least a dozen dissidents were arrested in Cuba, according to the dissident Cuban National Commission on Human Rights and National Reconciliation (CCDHRN), which also counts nearly 90 political prisoners on the island.

Participating in the meeting with Obama were government opponents who support the new US policy toward the island, as is the case of Cuesta Morua, and others who criticize it, as is the case with Berta Soler of the Ladies in White.

Cuba’s ‘Super Tuesday’: US Dollar ‘Freed’ and Havana Plants a Ceiba Tree / 14ymedio

An American flag flies on a pedicab Monday in Havana. (EFE)
An American flag flies on a pedicab Monday in Havana. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 15 March 2016 — It was an open secret that the United States would approve a new package of relaxations before Barack Obama’s official visit to Cuba. However, the new measures that widen Cubans’ access to the dollar and the ability of Americans to visit the island have taken some by surprise, among them the official press which, two hours after making the information public, still hasn’t reacted.

On the streets the rumor is just starting to get out that “the yumas (Americans) opened up the fulas (bucks),” a reference to the authorization to use the U.S. dollar from Cuba, and the new ability for residents of the island to maintain bank accounts in the United States. Amid the daily hardships, many cling to the hope that “Obama’s package-attack,” as it was baptized by a taxi driver this morning, will improve their lives.

Among the amendments that are beginning to spark the most excitement is the possibility that United States companies can engage in transactions “related to sponsorship or contracting with Cuban citizens to work or provide services in the United States,” a measure that benefits athletes, artists and other professional sectors.

Moises is 39 and drives a horse-drawn carriage for tourists around Havana’s Central Park. “I just heard about it because a customer heard it on TV in the hotel,” he told this newspaper. He has a degree in mechanical engineering, and hopes “to get a pinchita (visa) to come and go… I don’t want to stay permanently, but I would like to earn some money over there and live over here,” he explains.

Near the Plaza de Armas, the booksellers only have time to think about their own problems. The authorities in Old Havana have warned them they can’t set up there between 15 and 23 March. “It’s all about Obama’s visit,” complains one who sells books from the fifties and sixties. His daughter, who works in the food industry near the airport has also been told her workplace will be closed until after the visit of the US president.

Despite the inconvenience and the loss of money it means, the bookseller is happy with the new measures. “At last some good news, thank God, because the truth is we’ve had a tremendous bad patch of problems,” he says, cheerfully. Next to him is Osmel, another bookseller who has been selling there for more than a decade. “For my business this is very welcome because it means more trade and probably more tourists. Maybe now they’ll bring more greenbacks to the country,” he speculates.

Among members of the independent civil society, opinions have not been slow in coming. Dagoberto Valdes, director of the magazine Coexistence, believes the new relaxations are consistent “with the policy put in practice in Washington.” However, he demands that “in return, the Cuban government should now end the tax imposed on the dollar, which they justified by the difficulties that existed (in exchanging it) until today.”

Manuel Cuesta Morua, leader of the Progressive Arc, also applauded the gesture. “This is excellent news that indicates the acceleration of the normalization process and it will allow Cuba to better integrate itself into the global economy,” he says. A regime opponent and coordinator of initiatives such as the Otro18 (Another 2018) campaign, Cuesta Morua believes that “the world opening itself to Cuba implies the United States opening itself and that is what is happening.”

“The house of cards constructed by the government over the last fifty-some years to prevent Cubans from connecting to the world is falling down,” added Cuesta Morua.

Activist Miriam Leiva consider it “timely and positive” that Cubans can now use the dollar in banking transactions, because that opens the opportunity for American companies to buy in Cuba companies and also Cuban citizens can import or export goods, not just the self-employed. “What I think is important is that the Cuban government open the possibility to Cubans to enjoy the new measures, that is that it be not only useful for the state, but also for citizen transactions. In short, it is necessary that there be reciprocity with this measure,” she adds.

Satisfaction among the tourists was also evident this morning, as bit by bit they heard the news. Dominic, a German photographer who was waiting for the planting of the new ceiba tree at Havana’s El Templete, believes that news like today’s before the coming of Barack Obama is a hopeful sign. “I’m happy to be in Havana on a historic day, I hope that when I return the economic improvement resulting from a decision of this nature will be noticeable,” he adds.

An artisan on Obispo Street said he didn’t know if the news coming from Washington will be good or bad for Cuba. “To comment on that you have to be an economist, but for me it would be good if, in addition to the Americans ending the ban on using their currency, the government here allowed it to circulate freely and the currency exchanges gave you the real value for it.”

However, skepticism also abounds. “No one can fix this”, said a man who, broom in hand, was trying to remove fallen leaves around the statue of Carlos Manuel de Céspedes, in the center of the square. Near him some were throwing coins – Cuban pesos or Cuban convertible pesos – into the hole where the ceiba will be planted in Havana this Tuesday.

Cuba: Downhill in 2015 / Miriam Leiva

Photo: The elderly are among the most vulnerable people in Cuba (File Photo)
Photo: The elderly are among the most vulnerable people in Cuba (File Photo)

Cubanet, Miriam Leiva, Havana, 29 December 2015 — Cubans greeted 2015 with joy and great expectations, but they are saying goodbye to it sadly and without hope.

Cuban officials will not be able to blame the United States government for the current crisis and the coming catastrophe that popular wisdom senses is coming. Throughout the whole year many people of all ages were heard to say, “Don’t tell me that the fault lies with the Americans,” as well as, “the [Cuban] government does not create openings for Obama’s measures to benefit us.” Continue reading “Cuba: Downhill in 2015 / Miriam Leiva”

Two news items have depressed the people even more: the Venezuelan election results, and the announced supposed growth of 4% in Cuba’s GDP. The first is because Cubans sense the imminent repeat of the blackouts and shortages of the 1990s,* and the second because daily life conditions put the lie to this statistic. The majority of the population has shown indifference toward Chavismo, but they fear that without Venezuela’s economic support, calamities will befall Cuba. Meanwhile, the Cuban government has been seen to be squandering the foreign investment interest that had gained momentum from the new possibilities arising out of the Cuba/US thaw.

Only the top brass within their own environment, and a small number of successful Cubans, were able to prepare holiday feasts with the traditional foods, drinks and ornaments of the season, throwing perhaps-lavish parties with gifts from Santa Claus or the Three Wise Men.

A 96-year-old woman, still a militant member of the Cuban Communist Party, recounted that she receives a monthly pension of 270 Cuban pesos (CUPs)–the equivalent of about US$10. Out of this she pays 57 CUPs towards the financing of her refrigerator, which the government sold to her on credit years ago. A professor for decades and a participant in all the projects of the Revolution, this lady was convinced that Cuba would achieve prosperity. Now she has no money to buy the needed ingredients for a holiday dinner, and even less for a New Year’s celebration. Sometimes her relatives abroad send her remittances, and her grandchildren help her out so that she can eat.

The Catholic churches were filled for Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve. After a 40-year ban on religion, open evangelization began, thanks to the visits by the three Popes (John Paul II, Benedict XVI and Francis) and the rapprochement of Fidel and Raúl Castro, garnering international recognition and support for restoring the ethical and moral values destroyed by them. During the homily at the church I attended, the priest explained the significance of the date and mentioned the great adversities that Cubans endure daily, in an effort to fill the congregants with the strength to face them.

In 2015, the population suffered increased prices for agricultural products, brought about by continued low productivity. The government announced that pork, a traditional part of the Christmas Eve meal, would be sold at low prices. Even so, quantity and quality were scarce, which drove the price up to 50 CUPs (about $US 2.00) per pound on the free market, while the average monthly salary is the equivalent of some $25.00.

The shortages affected even the pricey hard-currency stores. All year long, essential medications were unavailable, among them drugs for diabetes, heart problems, and blood pressure, because those are produced abroad were not imported on time, and nor were the raw materials for producing them domestically. Aspirin has been rigorously rationed in Cuba for years. These products were not available, either, in the hard-currency pharmacies.

Regardless, the government produced its modern version of the Roman circus, announcing with great fanfare a supposed opening: WiFi. The new way of deceiving the world and lessening social pressure was to enable precarious connectivity within 50 zones scattered throughout the country, where people of all ages, with great emotion, have been able to see and talk with their relatives and friends in Miami and other points around the globe. For the first time, crowds were allowed to gather on the sidewalks, in the parks, and at the fronts of hotels—well-supervised, of course. In addition, much hard currency was collected. Labeled a great accomplishment of the Cuban Internet, ETECSA announced that new WiFi zones will be activated in 2016—although private homes will remain unconnected.

President Raúl Castro, likely having been informed of popular discontent, declared in the Council of Ministers on 18 December that problems must be addressed, wherever they may be. “We must go where the problems are, we must talk with the people affected, we cannot leave the field open to defeatism,” he said, according to media reports.

More than ever, Cubans are watching freedom and progress in the US, while the Cuban government foments a migration crisis in Central America, taking advantage of the intention of some US legislators to modify policies regarding Cuban migration. Meanwhile, exit visas for Cuban doctors are again restricted, changes are not being implemented that would stimulate industrial and agricultural productivity; approved categories of self-employment are not expanded to include creative work and to compensate it well, it being a source of enrichment for all of society; we have yet to see the multi-million-dollar foreign investments that were predicted; the American president’s measures are blocked, beneficial as they would be for the average Cuban; and repression continues.

At the same time, the government ramped up its “ideological work” and propaganda to counteract the spontaneous displays of the Stars and Stripes that can be seen everywhere. Nevertheless, if Barack Obama were to not modify the existing migration policies, and were he able to ensure that his measures reached the people, he would be received with a jubilation never before shown to any visitor to Cuba, and he could increase the people’s empowerment.

*Translator’s Note: Leiva is referring here to Cuba’s so-called Special Period in the 1990s, a time of acute hardship in Cuba following the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

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

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.

Raul Castro in His Worldwide Debut / Cubanet, Miriam Leiva

raul-castro-ONUCubanet, Miriam Leiva, Havana, 30 September 2015 – The organization United Nations organization is celebrating the 70th anniversary of its creation in a big way. The most important players in world politics and the dignitaries from the majority of its member countries met in New York. The 2030 Sustainable Development Summit, where Pope Francis gave his first speech before the UN, took place from 25-27 September, and the Conference on Gender Equality was held on the 27th. The high-level meetings of the UN’s 70th session began on the 28th.

Raúl Castro traveled for the first time to the United States as President of Cuba on 24 September. The General-President wore the halo of the reestablishment of diplomatic relations with the United States, the reopening of the respective embassies, conversations with President Obama, the constant flow of dignitaries from other countries and American visitors to Cuba, the mediation between Venezuela and the US, and participation in the meeting of Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and the chief of the FARC-EP for the signing in Havana of their first peace accord. Continue reading “Raul Castro in His Worldwide Debut / Cubanet, Miriam Leiva”

The Cuban leader seemed to enjoy the influence of his constant accompaniment of Pope Francis during his Cuban tour—with a synchronicity developed during the papal facilitation of conversations with the US—and appeared to be counting on the symbolism continuing in Washington, New York and Philadelphia.

But the media stumble caused to the Supreme Pontiff over the detention of more than 150 activists from the independent civil society, among them three ladies who had been invited by the Papal Nunciature to greet him, uncovered the buried reality that in Cuba the same dictatorship from the last almost 57 years still exists; and it tarnished the arrival of Raúl Castro in the US, and his presence in the Cuban seat during the speech by the Holy Father before the United Nations on 25 September. Then he did not hear Cuba explicitly named for the negotiations with the US, nor the condemnation of the embargo/blockade, just as had not happened in the speeches by Pontiff previously during the US Congress joint session. The public greeting, and the Francis/Castro/Obama meeting that had been predicted by the media, did not occur.

Nonetheless, Raúl Castro saturated the UN as planned, to make up for his prior absence since assuming power nine years ago. He delivered speeches on 26, 27 and 28 September at the 2030 Development Summit, the Gender Equality Conference, and the high-level segment of the UN General Assembly, consecutively.

The General held meetings with: Bill Clinton; the Prime Minister of Sweden; Ban Ki-Moon; the President of Guyana; Vladimir Putin; Xi Jinping; Lukashenko (the dictator of Belarus); Francois Hollande; Democratic senators and representatives; the president of the US Chamber of Commerce and CEOs of major corporations; the Governor of the State of New York, Andrew Cuomo, and the mayor of the City of New York, Bill de Blasio; as well as other personalities. Also, diplomatic relations were established with the Marshall Islands.

During the inauguration of the 70th Session of the UN General Assembly, on 28 September, Obama reiterated that the policy maintained by the US towards Cuba for 50 years had failed in bettering the lives of the Cuban people, that the US will continue having differences with the Cuban government, and that it would defend human rights—but that it would deal with these matters through diplomatic channels as well as through increased levels of commerce and people-to-people ties (a policy initiated by President Obama in 2009).

He added that, as progress is made, he is confident that the Congress will inevitably lift “an embargo that should not be in place anymore.” He similarly reaffirmed that his policies have the same objectives, through other means: “Change won’t come overnight to Cuba, but I’m confident that openness, not coercion, will support the reforms and better the life the Cuban people deserve, just as I believe that Cuba will find its success if it pursues cooperation with other nations.”

Raúl Castro delivered a speech in Comandante style, albeit closely hewing to the brevity required in the UN (unlike Fidel Castro on 28 September 1960). He reiterated demands on the US for normalizing relations: elimination of the embargo, compensation for the embargo/blockade, return of the territory occupied by the Naval Base at Guantánamo, and the cessation of broadcasts from Radio and TV Martí.

That night he attended the reception hosted by Barack Obama for high-level dignitaries attending the UN—the first such occasion, since the reestablishment of diplomatic relations, in which he participated as Chief of State and Government at an official activity of the United States Government.

The presidents met the next morning, accompanied by their chancellors, Alejandro Castro Espín (Raúl’s son), and other functionaries. Later, [Foreign Affairs Minister] Bruno Rodríguez held press conference where he stated that the meeting had taken place in a respectful and productive atmosphere.

Regarding the detention of government opponents during the visit by Pope Francis, the minister responded that the Cuban government is proud of its record of achievement in human rights, that the exercise of all rights is guaranteed, that the laws and courts adjudicate and sanction according to the legal classification of behaviors, and that laws regarding foreign government agents in the US and European countries are much more severe.

This answer constitutes a warning that the Cuban government continues to categorize all opponents as US agents, and that it could go back to using Law #88 of 1997, on “Protection of the National Independence and Economy of Cuba,” for which they sentenced 75 peaceful individuals to terms of up to 28 years in prison. Twelve of those so condemned are still in Cuba on parole.

The world has opened up for Raúl Castro. How he will fulfill his promises remains to be seen. He cannot forget the “disposable ones”: almost all the people of Cuba.

Translated by Alicia Barraqué Ellison

The Abuse of My Rights and The Repression Reaffirmed My Opinions / Cubanet, Miriam Leiva

The independent journalist Miriam Leiva was detained on two occasions during the visit of Pope Francis (File Photo)
The independent journalist Miriam Leiva was detained on two occasions during the visit of Pope Francis (File Photo)

cubanet square logoCubanet, Miriam Leiva, Havana, 24 September, 2015 – I received the pleasant surprise of a brief visit to my little apartment by Msgr. Veceslav Tumir, secretary of the Apostolic Nunciature in Havana, around 11:30am on 19 September. It gave me great joy to receive the invitation to go to the Nunciature at 4:00 pm that day to greet the admired Pope Francis, who would be arriving there at approximately 5:30 pm. Up until that moment, I had planned to attend the welcome event at 31st Avenue (five blocks from my home) with the community of St. Agustín church, or the one at St. Rita church, and to attend the Mass at José Martí Plaza, as I did when Pope John Paul II (at which time I also went to the mass in Santa Clara), and Pope Benedict XVI came to Cuba.

When at 3:10 pm I was walking along the sidewalk about 20 yards from my home en route to the Nunciature, a State Security official, accompanied by a young woman from the National Revolutionary Police (PNR), told me that I was detained, took my cellular phone and my little camera, and took me in a patrol car to the PNR precinct on Zanja Street. Continue reading “The Abuse of My Rights and The Repression Reaffirmed My Opinions / Cubanet, Miriam Leiva”

Shortly thereafter, a Lieutenant Colonel (who called himself Vladimir) arrived and said, “You are detained because….”

“…it is absurd that I cannot attend the welcome for the Pope,” I added, serenely.

I said that I had been invited to welcome Pope Francis at the entrance to the Nunciature. Between the departures of the two officers, obviously to report, my treatment was professionally respectful.

Soon after the Holy Father arrived at the Nunciature, they took me to the entrance of my little apartment in the same PNR patrol car. The whole proceeding took four hours total. The State Security official remained on the sidewalk facing the building where I reside (I don’t know for how long because I don’t have a window that faces the street).

On 20 September, around 7:24 am, I received a telephone call from a lady telling me, in the name of the Secretary of the Nunciature, that I should be at the entrance to Havana Cathedral at 4:00 pm, to greet the Pope upon his arrival there. At approximately 3:30 pm, I boarded a taxi-almendrón (a typical automobile made in America between 1925 and 1959), at the corner of my residence.

As I was traveling along San Lázaro Street, passing by Ameijeras Hospital, suddenly two cars brusquely intercepted the almendrón. The driver and passengers started babbling with astonishment as they spied a license on the windshield with an “SE” in red. “What’s going on?” they asked, alarmed.

I murmured, “Take it easy, this is my problem.” I exited the car. The same official from the day before yelled, “You are detained!” A plain-clothed woman rushed forward, I told her to let go of my arms, I turned to pay the taxi, and then surrendered my cell phone and camera. They sat me in a vehicle between a man and the woman, with two other officials on the front seat. They took me to the PNR station at 62nd & 7th in Miramar, and held me there until the end of the meeting with the young men at San Carlos Seminary.

At the door of the station the female official warned me: “You cannot exit your house nor participate in any activity of the Pope’s.” When I calmly argued against this measure, she replied that I did not possess any credentials, and did not have a written invitation to attend. I asked if the entire population of Cuba had them. The behavior of these four officials was also respectful. This “operation against a dangerous female subject” lasted two hours until my return to my “mansion.”

They used a lieutenant colonel and a State Security official on 19 September, and four officials on 20 September, to detain and guard a calm lady, accompanied and protected by God on the way to Him, whose lethal weapons were a straw hat, a little purse, a cellular phone and a little, almost-useless, camera. I am strengthened by the pain of being denied the honor of greeting Pope Francis and receiving his blessing. The abuse of my rights and the repression to which I was subjected reaffirmed my opinions and my perseverance over the last 23 years to work towards a democratic Cuba. More than 150 Cuban women and men throughout the country have been harassed and detained during the visit by Pope Francis.

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

The Other Flag / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

Secretary of State of the United States, John Kerry, in his Friday meeting with dissidents in Havana
Secretary of State of the United States, John Kerry, in his Friday meeting with dissidents in Havana

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, 15 August 2015 — Six hours after the hoisting of the Stars and Stripes at the US embassy along the Malecon, a similar ceremony occurred on 150th Street in the Cubanacan neighborhood where the official residence of Jeffrey DeLaurentis, charge d’affaires of that country, is located.

All of the heads of the United States Interest Section have lived in this mansion in recent years, and there is a flagpole in its garden. Across from it, congregated hundreds of guests who did not physically fit in the small space where hours earlier American and Cuban officials had witnessed the symbolic act that opened the US embassy in Havana. Continue reading “The Other Flag / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar”

The celebration at the residence was attended by diplomats, representatives of civil society, clergy, intellectuals and Cuban artists along with the large delegation that accompanied John Kerry in his trip to Cuba, including the three Marines who, 54 years ago, lowered the flag when the countries broke off relations, who given the honor of participating in the raising. The US Army Brass Quintet played an international repertoire, with no shortage Cuban pieces such as Guantanamera and Manisero.

In a half-hour meeting, representatives of civil society shared with Kerry their concerns and expectations

In the official residence John Kerry held a half-hour meeting behind closed doors with representatives of civil society activists and independent journalists, including Dagoberto Valdes, Elsa Morejon, Hector Maseda, Jose Daniel Ferrer, Manuel Cuesta Morua, Martha Beatriz Roque, Miriam Leiva, Oscar Elias Biscet, Yoani Sanchez and Reinaldo Escobar. Those present shared with Kerry the concerns and expectations generated by the restoration of relations between the two countries and presented an overview of the different projects they are engaged in.

Although the official media did not mention this activity on the busy schedule of the Secretary of State, it was one of the moments that marked the character of the Kerry’s visit to Cuba because it was the only thing that could provoke, and in fact did provoke, friction and controversy.

The Cuban leaders were annoyed because they would have preferred a distancing between the highest US official to step on Cuban soil in half a century, and this part of the non-conforming Cuban citizenry, persecuted, slandered and discriminated against by the government.

Others who shared this annoyance were some opponents, such as the leader of the Ladies in White Berta Soler and activist Antonio Gonzalez Rodiles, who declined the invitation they received because they believe that the US government has betrayed them “to establish relations with the dictatorship.”

If there is no progress on the issue of human rights in Cuba, there will be no lifting of the embargo, Kerry said plainly

At the meeting there was nothing that deserves to be classified as secret talks or as parallel agreements. The Cuban guests offered a general explanation of the four points of consensus from civil society, promoted by the Civil Society Open Forum, expressed the need for the United States to unblock all brakes it applies today on internet access for Cubans, and mentioned different initiatives such as developing proposals for a new Electoral Law, creating a “think tank” on Cuban affairs, and the civic actions of different political platforms.

Similarly, guests expressed the concern that main beneficiary of the restoration of relations is the Cuban government, and that the Cuban people will continue to suffer just as if nothing had occurred. Perhaps most important was the response of Kerry on this point. The Secretary of State committed to maintaining his government’s interest in advances on issues of human rights in Cuba. If no steps are taken in this direction there will be no lifting of the embargo, he said plainly.

“Paya Was An Example Of Dedication And Persistence” / 14ymedio

Oswaldo Payá holding the Transitional Program for political change in Cuba. (EFE)
Oswaldo Payá holding the Transitional Program for political change in Cuba. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 22 July 2015 — Three years after the death of Oswaldo Payá and Harold Cepero, 14ymedio has collected the opinions of some Cuban activists who knew the leader of the Christian Liberation Movement. They is people who shared with him projects and risks, who admired or were inspired by his civic labor. Let these seven testimonies serve to approach the legacy of a man who devoted his best years to achieving greater rights and freedoms for the citizenry.

Father José Conrado

He has left us a testimony of life, a consistent life in service to his people, a courageous life that knew how to respond to the difficulties and the circumstances of the times. A life true to his convictions of faith and his love for his country until his last moment. It is a testimony that we will never forget and at the same time something to be deeply grateful for, because men like him are the ones who are needed, men like him are those who build a people from within.

Martha Beatriz Roque

It is very difficult to summarize in a few lines his life and the legacy he left us. First of all we have to note his actions as a father, a husband and a member of the Catholic Church. He knew how to pass on an excellent education for his children and to sow love in his family. Now we have Rosa María [his daughter], who is continuing his struggle and also persevering in seeing that justice is done for those who murdered him. His life’s companion, Ofelita, is doing the same thing.

Payá witnessed in favor of democracy and his legacy is reflected in the continuity of his work. These men who have acted with dignity in life, in times as difficult as those we Cubans have had to live through, one can say they have not died, they continue with us.

Jose Daniel Ferrer

I always had great respect and great affection for him, and joined in with the Christian Liberation Movement (MCL) for many years, especially on Project Varela. I would like to highlight one way he is remembered in the eastern region, especially in the province of Santiago de Cuba. The term that we are referred to by, whether we are members of UNPACU, of CID, of the Republican Party, the Citizens for Democracy, or any other organization, is “Varelistas” [“supporters of Project Varela”], and not because of a direct relation to Felix Verala, who well deserves it for his contribution to Cuban nationality, but precisely because of Project Varela, which not only collected thousands of signatures at that time, but also left a lasting impact.

So that is what people call us there and, on occasion, even our worst enemies do. So every time they call us Varelistas, they are remembering Payá.

Dagoberto Valdes

The first thing I want to point out about the legacy Oswaldo left us is the integrity of one person who throughout his life remained consistent with what he thought and believed. Secondly, he left us what in my view is the most important civic exercise of the last decades: the Varela Project. Third, he left us the perseverance of a man who believed in the cause of freedom and democracy for Cuba and who dedicated his entire life to it.

Pastor Mario Felix Lleonart

His legacy goes far beyond even the Christian Liberation Movement he founded. His precious heritage belongs to Cuba and is found in the shared yearning for democracy and respect for human rights, for all individuals who think as he thought. For this he will always be respected. When Cuba can enjoy democracy, he will not be with is, but his teachings will be.

Felix Navarro Rodriguez

He was a great leader in the peaceful Cuban opposition because he accomplished what no one had been able to accomplish, which was to collect those thousands of signatures supporting Project Varela and doing it within the very laws of Cuba.

Still today I feel I see him, with the enthusiasm that characterized him, seeking unity among Cubans so that we can manage the change in a peaceful way, so that the people would be the owners of their own opinions and be able to put their rights into practice. It fills us with great satisfaction to have been able to be at the side of a man like him at those moments before the Black Spring of 2003, and to continue working with his daughter Rosa María today.

Miriam Leyva

He was a very self-sacrificing person who was characterized by believing in what he was doing. He was convinced that he could fight for a better life for Cubans to achieve progress and democracy for Cuba. He was a practicing Catholic and also a tireless worker. In his specialty, medical equipment repair, he was acknowledged and respected, not only in his workplace but in all public health facilities where he went to provide services.

Payá was an example of self-sacrifice and above all persistence, so his legacy extends beyond the MCL and Project Varela; an example as a human being, as a Cuban. That is what remains in my memory and I appreciate all the years I knew him in the midst of such difficult situations.

Hope for a prosperous 2015 for Cuba / Cubanet, Miriam Leiva

A religious Cuban woman
A religious Cuban woman

cubanet square logoCubanet, Miriam Leiva, Havana, 6 January 2015 – The psychological barrier utilized by the Cuban government to keep its citizens subjugated was broken on the 17th of December. The surprising announcement that Raúl Castro would deliver a speech on US/Cuba relations, on live television, set off a tense anticipation of bad news. For 56 years, the US was the enemy aggressor, supposedly the cause of all problems in Cuba, and an excuse for repression.

The General/President went from the traditional reminder of the confrontation to a smile upon announcing the reestablishment of diplomatic relations with the US. Continuing the surprise was the immediate broadcast of statements by US President Barack Obama. The following day both announcements were published in the newspapers and the news has been highlighted in year-end reviews on television as the most important event of 2014. Continue reading “Hope for a prosperous 2015 for Cuba / Cubanet, Miriam Leiva”

Since then it has become the main topic of conversation. Most Cubans, according to their aspirations, knowledge and analytical ability, pin their hopes on the US. Among the more interesting opinions heard on the street, an average citizen – envisioning potential benefits to the people and the nation – could be heard remarking on how the boom in North American travelers would stimulate the economy.

His reasoning was that there is no extensive hotel and service infrastructure in the country. Therefore, as occurred during the 1990s, more rooms to rent in private homes will be needed, as will more private restaurants and cafeterias. Similarly, a greater supply of agricultural and artisanal products will be required. There will be an increased demand for service employees and for individuals skilled in the construction and repair trades.

In brief, the reestablishment of US/Cuba relations could be of great benefit for the impoverished population, the community, and Cuba as a whole. Tourism in 2014 reached 3 million visitors, according to Cuban media. Certainly the government continues the policy of tourism apartheid in Varadero and the Cuban Keys.

In any case, Cienfuegos and other prime tourism spots lack the infrastructure to absorb imminent, substantial increases in visitor traffic. The cruise ship companies tend to be concentrated primarily in Havana, for which the Avenida del Puerto is being upgraded, but it’s unlikely to see a big boom, given current conditions, and it won’t affect earnings from other forms of tourism. The affluence of North Americans, with their varied interests and greater buying power, will substantially increase demand.

Within this context, new possibilities of supplies and greater economic assistance from relatives, friends, and non-governmental organizations based in the US would create the financial conditions needed for private tourism-related enterprises to flourish, as had happened on a tiny scale over the last twenty years, but now with a much greater expansion. Farmers could receive equipment and advise, they would be more productive, improve their quality and their earnings. After paying back an initial investment, they would no longer depend on external help. The self-employed would need to need to increase their methods and output, and they would be more independent.

The current support of the family economy would nurture the creation of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), in turn complementing the nation’s macroeconomy, as is the case the world over including in countries that are close to the Cuban government, such as Bolivia and Ecuador. One could also foresee the expansion of mini-enterprises, which in many places have provided opportunity to very poor people, primarily women who carry the full weight of their family, and allow them to access credit from outside the country to start their own businesses.

The Cuban government will need to expand its limits on substantial foreign investments for its own controlled projects, above all in tourism, and listen to the analysts and the multi-faceted cries from the people. The restrictions created to ensure that “nobody will become rich,” continue to drag down the quality of life for Cubans. Beyond that, it deepens poverty, corruption, and loss of values, evils engendered by the regime.

The opportunities that President Obama has opened could increase the Cuban people’s well-being and knowledge and contribute to their empowerment, as have measures adopted by the Island’s government since 2009. The Cuban government has the opportunity not to block their implementation for the benefit of the nation. All Cubans should be involved in the great challenges and opportunities that open before us.

Translated by Alicia Barraqué Ellison