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”
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.
EFE (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.”
EFE (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.
14ymedio, 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.
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”
14ymedio, 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”
Cubanet, 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”
Cubanet, 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.
14ymedio, 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”
14ymedio, 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Cubanet, 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”
Cubanet, Miriam Leiva, HAVANA, 18 December 2014 — President Barack Obama announced a new direction in US policy toward Cuba, on December 17. The Cuban population has expressed great joy at the news, both within the archipelago and abroad. It is a brave and historic decision, because it provides the opportunity to finally eradicate the existing environment of confrontation of almost 55 years and initiate fruitful relations to benefit of the Cuban people. The measures taken by the US president have been greeted with enthusiasm and hope by millions, although other Cubans remain cautious, because they commonly face harsh living conditions and repression.
President Raul Castro announced he was open to extensive negotiations with the United States, on all subjects, in a televised appearance coincident with that of President Barack Obama. The reasons to promote the rapprochement with Washington may be very extensive, including the deepening of the Cuban economic crisis, the need for foreign investment for recapitalization and development, social discontent over the socio-economic deprivation, loss of public confidence, and the need to improve Cuban’s international image. To achieve freedom and democracy, civil society will have to traverse the long and difficult path imposed by a totalitarian regime that seeks to prolong itself through its heirs. Continue reading “From Discontent to Joy in Twenty-four Hours / Cubanet, Miriam Leiva”
HAVANA, Cuba , January www.cubanet.org – The position of the Port of Mariel has revalued the geographical importance of Cuba, lost with the end of the Cold War. The soldiers who for 46 years were the support of the government, when they began to direct everything in mid-2006 they found a country undercapitalized, productively and humanly.
General Raul Castro has moved the troops towards economic ends to confront the disaster that can not be overcome, despite his straitjacketed reforms that don’t encourage hard work and creativity to supply imports and increase exports.
As his travels through the friendly countries failed to achieve a financial injection for core investments and the replacement for the possible reduction or loss of petrodollars from Venezuela, he seems to have taken advantage of the changes in the XXI century, to preserve the fifty-year revolution, the “unity in diversity” of CELAC, beyond militant ALBA.
The transit of senior officers of the Armed Forces to create civilian businesses in innovative sectors began in the late 1980s and, especially, with the debacle of the “Special Period in Peacetime” and the loss of subsidies from the Soviet Union and other countries of real socialism.
In the early ’90s, Fidel Castro authorized the company Gaviota to engage in tourism, the TRDs or stores for the recovery of hard currency, and Raul Castro sought the implementation of the successful business system in the Revolutionary Armed Forces, but passing into the civilian sector without the conditions of organizational control military did not give the same results. From here much of the current entrepreneurs emerged.
The Port of Mariel is the only great monument built by the Revolution and will remain as a legacy of Raul Castro. Companies of the Ministry of the Armed Forces appear to have met the schedule and built a quality container terminal , inaugurated by the president and his Brazilian counterpart Dilma Rousseff last January 27.
Upon completion of all the works, perhaps it will join the seven wonders of Cuban engineering, like the Albear aqueduct, from the nineteenth century, still in use. Furthermore, the Special Development Zone boost the national economy. Stark contrast to the legacy of destruction across the country, critically wrought over previous decades.
Undoubtedly, President Jose Inacio Lula da Silva and his successor, Mrs. Rousseff, calculated well the positioning in an economically asphyxiated Cuba. The Brazilians arrived in a big way to “help confront the northern neighbor,” to open American trade and tourism. The companies of the competitive Yankees advance with the best technology in the world.
Of course, it also entered the current priority calculations: Super Post-Panamax vessels, the Panama Canal expansion. In the Cuban press reports it was noted that the top leaders of the works are executives of the Brazilian company Odebrecht — the principal in the project — and Raul Castro said the administration of the container terminal will be in charge of one of the largest port operators in the world. Lamentable guarantee that inexperienced Cubans will not hard the adequate functioning.
As a prelude to the opening, the advantages of foreign investment in the Mariel Special Development Zone have been divulged. Russian, Chinese, German, British, French, Italian and Brazilian companies of course are mentioned as interested. The approach of the Mexican president could follow the same course. However, investors need guarantees that the old law doesn’t offer. Hence a new version has been promised.
As the project only benefits those who desire to hide their problems and arbitrariness, a greatly cultivated style in Cuba for decades, the presence of more European Union countries and the United States could be advantageous to the competence of the best economic opportunities, most advanced technologies, training, sources of jobs and less dependence.
HAVANA, Cuba, January, www.cubanet.org – The reader is not surprised. It’s not about bank loans to buy the cars recently “liberated” by the government. Those are available to anyone who has a good backpack to carry many thousand convertible pesos (CUCs). For now, the fortunate can only acquire on credit electric pressure cookers, conventional rice cookers, electric cookers (one burner) and household goods: a saucepan with a lid, a skillet, a pot and a kettle. How poor are people who require a bank loan to cook!
Some years ago Fidel Castro decided the means of cooking had to be “unified.” The harmful kerosene and liquified gas, always in short supply, were eliminated, which would mean huge savings for the country. Simultaneously, with the campaign to optimize energy resources, the elimination of US-made electric stoves and refrigerators was imposed, although these had performed efficiently for decades.
Trucks were loaded with Chinese equipment for exchange, like it or not, and the grocery stores specifically allotted to corresponding ‘modules’ to every Cuban so they could acquire these goods. Such was the rush, that cash payments or credit contracts were extended to much later, sometimes when the shoddy Chinese products were already broken or unusable. Continue reading “Opening a Line of Credit to Buy a Pressure Cooker / Miriam Leiva”