Between Analogue and Ideologue. Internet Access in Cuba / Regina Coyula

Ideas shared at the Internet Governance Forum events of the Internet Society of Latin America and the Caribbean, which recently took place in Costa Rica.

Regina Coyula, 5 August 2016 — Now recognised as a human right by most people and most governments, internet access in Cuba has been a bumpy road. Cuba connected to the internet in September, 1996. The first dial-up internet access, by telephone, was via government information offices, although some users could access email .cu from their homes.The speed of the noisy connection through a modem some three or four years ago, hardly got to 50-56 kbps.

In 2010 news came out of the extension of a powerful underwater fibre optic cable, from Guaira, Venezuela to Santiago de Cuba. According to the report, this cable would be the solution for data transmission speed; we would no longer depend on satellite connections. When the cable reached Cuba, for nearly four years its use was a mystery – something was happening, therefore there must be something there. The last mile, most of us thought, was the expensive technological challenge which was delaying access for the public. But a solution was found in the form of wifi connections. Continue reading “Between Analogue and Ideologue. Internet Access in Cuba / Regina Coyula”

In a little under three years, they opened internet rooms in diifferent parts of the country, at a charge of 4.50 cuc an hour. That availability did not increase until 2015 with the provision of wifi points in principal town centre locations. ETECSA (Government-owned Cuban Telecoms Company) only offers services at home to foreign residents in Cuba, to officials and to certain personalities and journalists.

There are various information networks which make up the internet (Informed, Cubarte, Rimed, Upec, etc.). The great majority of their users don’t have internet access in their homes. Those who do, have an access packet of 25-100 hours a month.

Universities, and some colleges, offer access. Students have an increasing allocation (250 Mb a month in their last year of study).

When you hear talk in the press and in international forums about percentages of access to the internet, above all they are referring to the above-mentioned Internet which is generally limited to .cu sites, to an email provider and some news sites.

Cuba, with illiteracy erradicated, free education, and with a high percentage of university professionals, technicians and skilled workers, has the lowest level of internet penetration in the region.

One hour of connection now costs 2 cuc, and the average salary is about 20-25 cuc a month. People use their connection time mostly for communicating with family and friends. Use of mobile data in the CUBACEL network costs $1.00 CUC for every MB and is only available by going into the email service @nauta.cu.

In the broadcasting media you often come across references to negative aspects of the internet, such as child porn, racism, violence, loss of privacy, which influences people who only know the internet by hear-say. The government is the only IT service provider  and importing routers, hotspots and other digital tools for private use is prohibited by law.

People don’t know about the power of social networks to help them get organised and achieve consensus about things which matter, from local issues up to the desire to elect the President of the Republic. In fact, many people imagine that Facebook IS the internet.

The internet has not been free from profound ideologisation. If the terms of the embargo laws imposed by the US government have particularly impacted IT, it is our duty to insist on the importance of eliminating the internal blockade on information and vindicate the open and democratic character of the internet, wihout any censorship of the contents or personal opinions inside or outside of the web.

An additional factor in Cuba is that video gamers, prevented from gaining access to the real internet, have put together a cable connection which is free but contributory, which nowadays is not used just for games but also for online chat and the notorious Weekly Packet, which the authorities prohibit  but cannot sanction as it is not for profit.

Priorities

  • Lower access cost
  •  Improve the quantity and quality of connection locations
  •  Attack digital illiteracy

Objectives

  • Initial public discussion on the Media Law
  • Public education by way of courses on browsers, digital business, social networks, cyber security, ethics, etc. In Council computer clubs for kids.
  • National education channel
  • Open access internet
  • Transparency over payments for internet connections in order to improve public access
  • Permit private connections at market price with equal transparency and for the same reason as the above.

Make public internet connections, where you now have to pay, free.

Translated by GH

Cuban Civil Society, For The First Time Present In The Regional Internet Governance Forum / 14ymedio, Regina Coyula

The Regional Latin American and Caribbean Preparatory Meeting for the Internet Governance Forum, is a regional meeting prior to the upcoming global forum in Mexico. (Twitter)
The Regional Latin American and Caribbean Preparatory Meeting for the Internet Governance Forum, is a regional meeting prior to the upcoming global forum in Mexico. (Twitter)

14ymedio biggerRegina Coyula, Havana, 26 July 2016 — ¿Gover… what? That reaction has become increasingly familiar in a conversation discussing internet governance. Although many users who take advantage of it aren’t aware, governance is a fundamental issue for everyone when we venture out onto the World Wide Web. That our family email travels equally with the statistics of scientific research, with an online purchase, or with a bank account statement, is thanks to governance.

Behind any familiar and easily remembered address is a long string of numbers without which the internet couldn’t function. Early developers realized that the ordinary user would be unable to recall those long strings of numbers and so created a protocol to tie them to a name. Name and number indissoluble leading us unmistakably to the desired destination. These technical protocols that make our lives easier, also have to do with governance. Continue reading “Cuban Civil Society, For The First Time Present In The Regional Internet Governance Forum / 14ymedio, Regina Coyula”

Governance, a term originally applied in the social sciences, has gained strength within international organizations, and in the case of the internet, seeks interactions and consensus among interested parties, or an English word that is difficult to pronounce – multistakeholders – (multiple interested parties, academia, businesspeople, leaders and civil society).

The natural result of this interaction are world forums on governance, very fruitful meetings where those who participate know each other personally and engage in discussions at committee and plenary sessions. Prior to these world forums which have been held since 2006 and which this year will take place in Guadalajara, Mexico, in December, preparatory meetings will be held by geographic region and, in some case, even national groups. The meeting for Latin America and the Caribbean will be held in San Jose, Costa Rica, between 27-29 July.

The sessions approved for the meeting include:

  1. Security and privacy – Concerns about cybersecurity and confidence in the digital environment.
  2. The situation of human rights on-line in Latin American and the Caribbean: advances, challenges and trends.
  3. Evolution, progress and challenges of the implementation of a multi-sector approach to the work of public policy and Internet governance at national and regional levels.
  4. Lessons on the development and implementation of strategies for providing access and legal initiatives on network neutrality: What are the next steps to ensure open and interoperable internet in the region?
  5. Expand understanding with regards to the responsibilities of internet intermediaries: the scope and limits of their responsibilities in the digital ecosystem.
  6. The balance between intellectual property and access to knowledge: the scope and impact of interregional trade agreements in the regulatory ecosystem.
  7. Persistent and emerging challenges for Internet access: Connecting the next billion.
  8. Integration of Internet governance with the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda: What are the priorities of the region for digital inclusion?
  9. A multi-stakeholder perception of the digital economy.
  10. Future of Governance of the Internet Forum of Latin America and the Caribbean (LACIGF).

Undoubtedly, the meeting will address the issue of the independence of the US government’s Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), which will go into effect in September, and how ICANN, as a highly hierarchical international organization should guarantee the technical standards of internet quality: interoperability, scalability, and resistance to potential failures; but also the sovereignty of the virtual space, the equality of all users, the privacy of data, freedom of expression and the right to information, and also deal with cybersecurity. All of this in the context of a lack of rules for its proper use which diminish individual rights or national security, or favor some to the detriment of others.

Cuban civil society will be present at this event with a small representation, something that has no precedences but that could be very healthy for a citizenry that is just beginning to open itself to an internet that has restricted access and a censorship of opinions, and that is disregards of the rights that come solely by connecting to the world, human rights recognized as equals, in real space as in the virtual.

Domain Names and an Internet Debate / Regina Coyula

Regina Coyula, 30 June 2016 — For Cubans who update their home entertainment weekly with the now famous, private and anonymous Paquete (Weekly Packet), they are familiar with a subtitle in bright, greenish-yellow letters at the beginning of the movies. This inevitable “http://www.gnula.nu” which comes up so much, piqued my curiosity. It was impossible for me to recognize the country that corresponded to that extension, so I resorted to the always-useful Wikipedia.

Surprise. The country of the pirated movie site that we see at home is Niue, an atoll with airs of a small island, assigned to New Zealand. In 1996, a North American (who doesn’t live in Niue, of course) claimed rights to “.nu” and, in 2003, founded the Internet Society of Niue, which allowed the local authorities to convert the quasi-island into the first wi-fi nation of the world. They supplemented the offer with a free computer for every child. Nothing spectacular; we’re talking about a population of barely 1,300 inhabitants. Continue reading “Domain Names and an Internet Debate / Regina Coyula”

The irony is that the .nu domain generated enormous income, while the inhabitants of Niue not only didn’t enjoy those gains, but also wanted to be connected from their homes and not from the only cyber-café on the island, and they had to pay for the installation and the service.

I also discovered another curiosity. The second extension that is most used on the Internet after .com corresponds to another little place in a corner of the Pacific that few know about, a group of little islands barely 11 square kilometers in size. Tokelau is the name of the place whose domain .tk hatched in 2009, upon offering itself for free. Today it’s the virtual home of hundreds of thousands of websites of doubtful integrity, although, contrary to Niue, the administrative earnings of the island’s government have benefited the infrastructure and services.

The form in which the geographic domains are managed on a higher level (ccTLD) is very different. The Internet Corporation for the Assignment of Names and Numbers (ICANN) has left it to the discretion of each country to do what it likes. Many countries keep them privatized, although in the hands of institutions or businesses created for that purpose, while in others it’s an entity attached to a state agency.

The ccTLDs (country code top-level domains, geographic domains of a higher level, which, for better understanding, is the name that the extensions receive that identify each country or geographic region: .cu for Cuba, .ru for Russia, .mx for Mexico, etc.) are even more curious.

Both forms of operating the ccTLDs described above have advantages and disadvantages. Deregulating the extensions shifts the balance toward the higher-profit businesses to the detriment of agencies, NGOs and institutions with social and cultural goals. This diminishes the influence of the governments, which can have a negative effect on the sovereignty of countries that are economically fragile, or on young or small countries.

State-regulated administration tends to protect social and cultural interests, and successful management can increase earnings, which has a positive impact on national life. It also happens that governmental norms for buying a ccTLD can be restrictive or discriminatory, protected by a deliberatively vague regulation to be applied at the discretion of the government.

In the Latin American environment, Argentina, the only country to offer its site for free and with millions of websites with the extension .ar, decided in 2014 to charge for them. In Chile and Nicaragua, administration is through the public universities. In Guatemala, it is also through a university, but a private one.

In Uruguay, regulation is by the State through the National Association of Telecommunications (ANTEL); in Venezuela by the National Commission on Telecommunications (Conatel); and in Cuba through the Enterprise of Information Technology and Advanced Telematic Services (CITMATEL).

Colombia reflects a debate similar to what is happening in other countries. A private enterprise manages its ccTLD, and 89 percent of the owners of the .co site are foreigners located outside the country which, far from violating the national identity, internationalizes Colombia and carries its trade name to the entire world. What underlies these debates is the idea that the market is imposing itself on cultural values, and national governments can do little in defense of their intangible patrimony.

But in short, who governs the Internet?

Any recently-arrived observer would say that the United States governs it. The institutions and most of the servers destined to organize what would otherwise be chaos are located in its territory. And the well-known ICANN, located in California, which assigns domain names (DNS) to the IP addresses, has a contract with the Government.

Businesses that have a lot of influence on the Internet, like Microsoft, Google or Amazon, are also in the United States. But this concept is changing: It is expected that in September, the process of transition for the custody of IANA, the authority for the assignment of domain names, will no longer be under the U.S. Secretary of Commerce, in order to give ICANN authority and independence.

Other parties that also participate in the Internet have interests opposed to this current asymmetrical influence. International organizations like the Commerce of Intellectual Property (OIC) or the International Union of Communications have been incorporating together with ICANN. Virtual space is modifying the notion of sovereignty, with the added danger for equality and diversity, so that the term “governance” is important in the designing of policies, where governments, civil society, businesses, academics and technical innovators merge.

In the same way in which the technical innovators have guaranteed open access to the Internet from any type of device, it is up to the governance to establish policies, even when they aren’t binding, to guarantee freedom of expression and information, full access to the Internet and limited control.

Translated by Regina Anavy

Manual For How To Buy Drugs At A Neighborhood Pharmacy / 14ymedio, Regina Coyula

Pharmacy in Havana. (14ymedio)
Pharmacy in Havana. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Regina Coyula, 28 June 2016 – Unless it’s for a purchase of contraceptives, the pharmacy generally comes through when someone nearby is ill or is being treated for a chronic illness. The pharmacies themselves do not raise one’s spirits. Many are poorly lit or poorly ventilated or in need of paint or all of the above. The workers’ initiative is “embellished” with decorative garlands of various kinds and informative murals with indecipherable writing. The medications are arranged according to use, with each group in a little cardboard box in which the inventory is carried.

If you decide to put together a home first aid kid, be patient and visit the pharmacy assiduously to gather the basics. For the most part, medications are subsidized by the state. This does not prevent an aging couple with chronic conditions (don’t forget the aging of the Cuban population) from spending on medications the full retirement pension of at least one of them. Continue reading “Manual For How To Buy Drugs At A Neighborhood Pharmacy / 14ymedio, Regina Coyula”

There are medications that do not require a prescription, among which are the “artisanal” and “green” medications for a cough or such like, but they are not always there when you need them. Others are dispensed by prescription and controlled by the “Tarjetón” – your ration card for medications.

The Tarjetón is a piece of cardboard that each patient receives, where medications and other health supplements whose monthly sales are regulated are recorded. The doctor gives you a certificate valid for one year, stamped with her seal with her name and both surnames and her practice registration number. Despite these unique data for each physician, there is still one unavoidable step missing, the seal of the healthcare institution. After standing in line (there is almost always a line), the “stamp issuer,” who is not a doctors nor has a list, nor writes on a computer, nor makes notes on paper, stamps the seal and continues to the next. With this paper, in the pharmacy nearest to your home among the 2,141 in the country, you get in line, deliver the certificate, show your identity card, register, and receive the Tarjetón.

Despite such rigor, it may be at the time of purchase, that the medications have run out, have arrived incomplete, or are “missing.” For insulin-dependent diabetics the Tarjetón controls disposable syringes. It says right on the packaging “sterile insulin syringe for single use,” but the patient only receives between two and five syringes a month. If you complain, the clerk peevishly tells you that this disposable “isn’t really” and you can reuse it and even boil it and nothing will happen.

When the medication on your Tarjetón is “missing,” which is not uncommon (data in the press from last year shows that this is the case, on average, for 40 medications a week), you have to see a doctor for a substitute. If the medication only needs a prescription it is simpler; if it needs the Tarjetón the process starts again, even if it’s a temporary certificate.

But there are items that have no substitute, such as colostomy bags. In that case, the pharmacy employee shakes his head sorrowfully, and advises you to solve the problem immediately by talking with the doctor at your hospital, but to look for a safe way, while accompanying the counsel with a wave of the hand in the air which alludes to very far distances, because the supply of the bags is usually very unstable.

Regardless if the difficulties are their own or others, if they have it or not, the purchase cannot be made retroactively and experience dictates that one should not leave it to the last days of the month because things run out. This largely explains the existence of an active black market.

To locate a drug that is not in your pharmacy assures hatred of the line. The employee is obliged to locate it, and the phone used for this is delayed because it is busy on the other end, or they don’t answer, or they don’t have it either. If the search is crowned with success, they will give you a paper (yes, it’s the Tarjetón), which reserves the medication for you, but not for 8 hours, nor for 16 or 24 hours, but only up to midnight of the same day.

If a lifelong treatment combines medications on the Tarjetón with other prescriptions, the patient is required to regularly go to their neighborhood doctor to wait for the prescription that completes their treatment. The staff shrug their shoulders and raise their eyebrows when asked why these drugs are not included on the Tarjetón.

I have left for dessert the issue of the sanitary pads received by women between ages 14 and 55. Outside this range women must document early menarche or late menopause. Fertile women must bring, in addition to their ID card, the ration book for food where their receipt of these items is marked; the book will show an item called a “torpedo,” a form that registers the monthly packet of ten sanitary pads, responsible for one of the most painful events that must be coped with.

Do not despair. There is always the appeal in extremis to spending Cuban convertible pesos [known as CUCs, each one worth about a dollar or one-twentieth of the average monthly wage] in clean, bright and air-conditioned hard currency-pharmacies, where there is no queuing or prescription required.

Internet Domains, Sovereignty And Freedom / 14ymedio, Regina Coyula

Of the approximately 7.4 billion people living on the planet, only 3.2 billion are connected to the Internet. (CC)
Of the approximately 7.4 billion people living on the planet, only 3.2 billion are connected to the Internet. (CC)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Regina Coyula, Havana, 25 May 2016 — For Cubans who update their domestic entertainment weekly with the now famous, private and anonymous “Weekly Packet,” a subtitle in bright greenish-yellow letters at the beginning of movies has become familiar. It is the ever present www.gnaula.nu, which appears so frequently that it spurred my curiosity: I found it impossible to recognize what country corresponded to the extension “.nu” so I turned to the always useful Wikipedia.

Surprise. The country where all the movies we watch at home are pirated is Niue, an atoll with the pretensions of a little island, attached to New Zealand. In 1996, an American (who of course doesn’t live in Niue) took the rights to “.nu” and in 2003 founded the Niue Internet Society, and offered to the local authorities to convert the quasi-island into the first wifi nation of the world. The offer was rounded out with a free computer for every child. Nothing spectacular; we’re talking about a population of barely 1,300 people. Continue reading “Internet Domains, Sovereignty And Freedom / 14ymedio, Regina Coyula”

The irony is that while “.nu” generates enormous profits, the inhabitants of Niue who want to connect from home and not from the only internet café are obliged to pay for installation and service.

So I find another curiosity: the second most used internet extension after “.com” corresponds to another little place in the corner of the Pacific, also unnoticed, a group of islets of roughly four square miles. Tokelau is the name of this place whose domain “.tk” hatched in 2009 and was free, and today it is the virtual home of hundreds of thousands of sites of dubious probity.

The way in which the territorial domains of each country (ccTLD, which stands for: country-code-top-level-domain) are managed is very different. The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) has left the who and how to the discretion of each country. Many countries have privatized it either in the hands of institutions or companies created for that purpose, while in others it is done by an entity attached to a stage agency.

The two ways of operating ccTLDs have advantages and disadvantaged. Deregulating the extensions tips the balance toward the more profitable companies to the detriment of the agencies, NGOs and social and cultural institutions. Decreasing the influence of governments, can weigh heavily on the sovereignty of countries with fragile economies or small and young countries.

As a counterpart, state-regulation administration tends to protect social and cultural interests, a successful management style that can lead to gains that positively impact national life. It can also happen that the process for buying a ccTLD are restrictive or discriminatory, sheltering under deliberately vague rules to be applied at their discretion, as is the case with Cuba’s “.cu”.

In Latin America, Argentina is the only country that offers a site for free; hence the millions of sites with the extension “.ar”. This gratuity is about to change because a way to collect payments is being studied. In Chile and Nicaragua domains are administered through public universities. In Guatemala it is also done through a university but in that case a private one.

State regulation occurs in Venezuela through the National Telecommunications Commission (Conatel), and in Cuba through the Information Technologies and Advanced Telematic Services Company (CITMATEL).

Colombia, and without going into details about its antecedents, is a reflection of a similar debate ongoing in many countries. A private company owns its ccTLD and they believe that the fact that 89% of the owners of a “.co” site are foreigners living outside the country, far from violating national identity, internationalizes Colombia and brings its brand to the entire world. What underlies these debates is that the market is imposed on cultural values and little can be done in the defense of an intangible patrimony.

But ultimately, who governs the Internet? Any observant newcomer claims that the United States governs it. On its territory are the institutions and the majority of the servers intended to organize what would otherwise be chaos.

The now well-known ICANN assigns domain names (DNS) to IP addresses, has a contract with the government and is located in California. Very influential internet companies such as Microsoft, Google and Amazon are also American. By September there will be news of a change; simply that ICANN will be independent of the United States Department of Commerce.

In this asymmetric influence are counterpoised the interest of other parties involved and also of the internet. International organizations such as those dealing with trade (the ITO), intellectual property and the International Communications Union have been involved in conjunction with ICANN. Virtual space modifies the notion of sovereignty, with added risks to equality and diversity; so the term governance has gained importance in the design of policies, where governments, civil society, business, academic and technical innovators come together.

In the same way that innovative technicians have placed in our hands the protocol that ensures open access to the internet from any type of device, it behooves governance to establish policies, even if they are not binding, to guarantee freedom of expression and information, full access and limits on control.

Revolutions and Democracy / 14ymedio, Regina Coyula

Entry of Fidel Castro into Havana in 1959 (Camilo Cienfuegos, Fidel Castro and (in profile) Huber Matos). (File)
Entry of Fidel Castro into Havana in 1959 (Camilo Cienfuegos, Fidel Castro and (in profile) Huber Matos). (File)

We observe a man who always speaks of patriotism and he is never patriotic, or only with regards to those of a certain class or certain party. We should fear him, because no one shows more faithfulness nor speaks more strongly against robbery than the thieves themselves.

Felix Varela (in El Habanero, 1824)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Regina Coyula, Havana, 19 May 2016 – Observing the tranquil surface of Cuban society offers a misleading impression. The stagnation is localized only in the government and in the party; and even there it is not very reliable. There is no doubt that many party members participated in and observed the 7th Congress of Cuban Communist Party (PCC) hoping for changes and, watching the direction of the presidential table, dutifully (and resignedly, why not) voted one more time unanimously.

Outside this context, where one thing is said but what is thought may be something else, there is right now a very interesting debate in which all parties believe themselves to be right. The most commonly used concepts to defend opposing theses can be covered in the perceptions of revolution and democracy, which each person conceptualizes according to his or her own line of thinking. Continue reading “Revolutions and Democracy / 14ymedio, Regina Coyula”

There are generalities that are inherent in the concept itself. In the case of the concept of revolution, it involves a drastic change within a historic concept to break with a state of things that is generally unjust. Although it is a collective project, revolutions don’t always enjoy massive support; it is not until it is resolved that the great majority of citizens are included.

That said, from the official positions of the Cuban government they are still talking about the Revolution that overthrew the Batista tyranny and initiated profound changes in Cuba as a continuing event. This group believes itself still within the revolutionary morass, but can a country live permanently in a revolution?

One immediate consequence of a social revolution is chaos; everything is changing, and after a nation experiences a revolutionary process it needs stability to return to the path of progress, a natural aspiration of society and of the individual.

The 1959 Revolution became a government many years ago and its young leaders are, today, old men who in their long time in power ensured mechanisms for the control of the country. It could be nostalgia for not having been there or it could be comfort with the idea of having made mistakes and implemented bad policies, all justified as an appropriate effect of the revolutionary moment.

It is here that democracy intervenes. Whatever kind it is, it must characterize itself because popular decisions are effective; directly or through the leaders elected through voting. And also through debate. One can’t insist on continuing to wear children’s clothes when one is an adult. Norberto Bobbio’s concept is always widely accepted: without recognized and protected human rights there cannot be a real democracy, and when we are citizens of the world, and not of one state, we are closer to peace.

We do not live in a democratic country, however much they want to minimize the lack of freedoms and blame it on the “blockade,” the “imperialist threat” and novelties such as “opinion surveys” or “media wars.” Because democracy is an umbrella that should also protect minorities of every kind.

We can see vestiges of Marxism-Leninism in this stumbling march toward capitalism without democracy, we see in the free state version of the idea enclosed in this disturbing paragraph of a letter from Engels to August Bebel, regarding power and those who oppose it: “So long as the proletariat still makes use of the state, it makes use of it, not for the purpose of freedom, but of keeping down its enemies and, as soon as there can be any question of freedom, the state as such ceases to exist.”

Where are the rights of minorities? How do we know if they are real minorities? So far, certainly, the public support for the government has been a matter of trust, but the suspicion showed by the government when asked for transparency is striking.

From the polemics that are shared among websites and from closed-door meetings to emails and the chorus of the interested, and from there to the classic rumor on the street, it is clear that there is an imperative to widen the debate. Patriotism is not a state monopoly nor is it reflected only in talking about history and honoring symbols, much less in the cult of personality, which by the way, this year promises North Korean dimensions.

One of the ideas that is addressed in this debate is the danger posed by “non-revolutionary transitions in the name of democracy,” but we know that this is a concern of the hardline defenders of that model that they stubbornly insist on calling socialist; ‘they’ being those who consider themselves anti-imperialists, those who “won’t budge an inch,” and who sleep peacefully without looking for other culprits for the collapse that surrounds them on all sides.

My concern as a citizen is not having democracy in the name of the Revolution.

In the Dark / 14ymedio, Regina Coyula

Residents of #2 Bernaza Street, between Obispo and O'Reilly, were victims of an accident caused by the Electric Company at the site of repairs
Residents of #2 Bernaza Street, between Obispo and O’Reilly, were victims of an accident caused by the Electric Company at the site of repairs

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Regina Coyula, Havana, 13 May 2016 — The municipality of Old Havana had its ancient underground water and electrical systems renovated last year. The streets were dug up to replace the pipes and wiring. Beyond the mess and the dust, these works have brought the residents two precious services, services without which it is unthinkable to live in a modern city. But the happiness has not been felt everywhere.

Residents of #2 Bernaza Street, between Obispo and O’Reilly, were victims of an accident caused by the Electric Company at the site of the repairs. An overload destroyed electrical appliances; a few stabilizers managed to protect a few. The jolt didn’t even spare many appliances protected by their owners’ surge protectors. Continue reading “In the Dark / 14ymedio, Regina Coyula”

The building remained dark for several days and the residents organized to complain. The Electric Company blamed the Havana Water Company, which was able to prove its innocence, so the Electric Company was obliged to replace—“when there is availability”—the burned out appliances and to extend new wiring to the meters.

From the meters onward, that is to every apartment, is being litigated, so the majority of the residents, watching the days tick by without power, decided to resolve it themselves and to pay the Electric Company workers under the counter to connect their homes. With the wiring outside, almost all the residents have had makeshift electrical service for months now. But there are stubborn residents, or those who don’t have the 100 CUC (roughly $100 US) that it would cost to pay the electrical workers, and with faith in the power of justice, they have decided to take their case through institutional channels.

Those who have now lacked electricity for six months are finding the institutions unresponsive. The delegate to the People’s Power showed up on the day of the accident, but is surely engaged in the many other problems of her constituency. There was silence in response to letters to the Municipal and Provincial People’s Power. Silence in response to the section for complaint letters at the newspapers Juventud Rebel and Granma. Silence in response to a letter to the similar section at the Havana Channel. And silence in response to letters to the Electric Company. All this correspondence has been the victim of these residents’ “darkness syndrome,” and they haven’t received even an acknowledgement of receipt.

Only the Prosecutor took the time to rule that the residents are right and that the Electric Company is responsible, but this has not resulted in any change for those affected.

And in an event that is not without irony, the electric bills, which should show a “zero” for electrical usage, have arrived with an “approximate use” calculation, which after the accident caused by the Company last November is applied to the residents who have connected themselves to the electricity. Sparking new trips to the Basic Electricity Office in Old Havana to explain to them what they should obviously be very aware of.

One of the residents rests his hopes on managing to get an interview with the Minister of Basic Industry, which controls the Electric Company. His effort began through a friend who has a friend who is a friend of the minister, but after waiting three months for this improbable event, he went to the ministry in person and asked for an interview. He was assured that even though it is delayed, the minister deals with cases like his, so he feels optimistic that the blackout he is suffering will be resolved.

After learning about this event, we can make some inferences that go beyond who is responsible and what the deadlines for resolution are:

  • Most of the neighbors have no confidence in the institutions and decide to resolve the problem on their own
  • The pathetic complaint mechanisms available to citizens do not work
  • The capacity of some to resign themselves to such things is worthy of a study that could explain certain social behaviors, well beyond those related to a simple outage

My Absence at the Meeting / Regina Coyula

Regina Coyula, 25 April 2016 — The political police, who consider themselves such faithful followers of Jose Marti, know that with regards to the battles of thought, they’ve lost. Thus this weekend’s operation to prevent me from participating in a meeting in Pinar del Rio was unnecessary and ridiculous. Following is a report from the meeting.

The Coexistence Study Center Begins its Second Meeting of Thoughts For Cuba

Convened by the Coexistence Study Center, for 23-24 April in Pinar del Rio, the Second Meeting of the Journey of Thinking and Proposals for Cuba, with the participation of more than 20 Cubans from five provinces began today. Continue reading “My Absence at the Meeting / Regina Coyula”

The theme of this Second Meeting is “Legal and Constitutional Transition” and its objective is to propose a set of laws that provide a secure framework and facilitate the reforms Cuban society needs. And, as a result, to prepare, with citizen participation, an orderly and peaceful constitutional text that will lead the Cuban nation to a future of freedom, social justice and progress, transitioning from law to law without traumatic ruptures.

The result is expected to be published on the Center for Coexistence Studies website, once the proposals have incorporated proposals from the session held in our Diaspora Center, as well as the proposals for  “The Cuban economy in the short, medium and long term.”

The debates and creative workshops on thoughts and proposals are animated by the presentations of renowned Cuban jurists among whom are Lic. Rene Gomez Manzano and Lic. Laritza Diversent, who, although she was prevented from leaving her residence in Havana to participate in the meeting in Pinar del Rio, offered her lecture by telephone.

When one wants to work and think for Cuba nothing it is impossible. Also prevented from participating in this meeting was Pedro Campos, a member of the Academic Board of the Centre for Coexistence Studies and Regina Coyula. All other guests were able to attend.

Dagoberto Valdes Hernandez, director of the Center for Coexistence Studies, said in his opening remarks for this second academic session that “Cuba needs organic thinking and constructive and feasible proposals emanating not only from experts in each topic, but also from an increasing citizen participation and broad inclusive consensus building , for the good of the whole nation.”

Trash and Condoms / Regina Coyula

Regina Coyula, 4 May 2016 — The residents of 13th Street in Havana’s El Vedado neighborhood had quite a night on the eve of May Day, let’s say atypical. Near the intersection with Paseo, the gallent young people who would close the parade the following day camped out.

According to the Secretary General of the Cuban Central Workers Union, these young people would “make the Plaza tremble and would be a faithful reflection of the support of the new generations for study, work and defense, their usual trenches.”

Mobilized early in the morning and deposited there, the gallant ones decided to have fun as if they were on a camping trip; and before shaking the Plaza they shook the neighborhood. They pulled out their bottles, improvised some percussion and some farsighted soul brought a trumpet. But the improvised music didn’t compete with the reggaeton. And this was “shared” with great enthusiasm with all the neighbors.

With the parade, tranquility returned, and the neighborhood was able to observe the effects of the camp out: Empty bottles and other detritus.

“Trash and condoms! That is what we have left from May Day!” exclaimed an indignant old man in the area who had the task of cleaning out the passageway of his building.

Rafael Alcides, Chapter 7: The Stranger / Miguel Coyula

This video is the 7th in a series of vignettes extracted from a four-hour interview of Rafael Alcides conducted by the filmmaker Miguel Coyula. Below are links to the previous Chapters.

‘Rafael Alcides’ Chapter 1: The Beautiful Things / Miguel Coyula

‘Rafael Alcides’ Chapter 2: Artists and Politicians / Miguel Coyula

‘Rafael Alcides’ Chapter 3: Beautiful Things / Miguel Coyula

Rafael Alcides, Chapter 4: Once Upon a Time in Biran / Miguel Coyula

Rafael Alcides, Chapter 5: The People / Miguel Coyula

Rafael Alcides, Chapter 6: Capitalism in Cuba – Before and After / Miguel Coyula

The Backyard of My House is NOT Special* / Regina Coyula

First Screen:
There have been threats of drastic measures to be taken against any who do not comply with maintenance guidelines, and owners of vacant houses who have not had them fumigated. What you will see here is an open space of state property located just 30 yards from my house. All that’s needed is a light rain.

Last Screen:
Regina Coyula
Theme Music: The Mosquito’s Bite
J. Rudess; J. Petrucci
14 March 2016

*Translator’s Note: This is a take-off from a line in a Spanish-language children’s nonsense song, “The backyard of my house is special: it gets wet when there’s rain, just like the others.”

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

16 March 2016

Tangential Reaction to Obama’s Visit / Regina Coyula

Regina Coyula, 23 March 2016 — The reactions of the press have been quick to come. Yet, the visit from the American president has given us much to talk about. But I want to talk about comments from Rosa Miriam Elizalde yesterday on the Roundtable program on Cuban state TV. With respect to the offering of internet made during Barack Obama’s visit, the director of the portal Cubadebate could not think of a better way to refute this offer than to appeal to the example of an African country where a Swedish NGO installed magnificent internet service and the Africans, because they didn’t know how to use it, have it “filled with noise.” The same thing, she said, could happen here to Cubans.

I will leave each of you to your musings provoked by the journalist’s reflection. In my case, I think the real reason for their eagerness to put a negative spin on it is nothing more than to deny access to the content that each person could choose for themselves had they the freedom that, in Cuba, the government keeps for itself without consulting its citizens. Elizalde, with privileged access to internet of the highest quality, chose to appear arrogant, ignoring the educational level of Cubans and putting Cuba at the level of Africa.

He Failed to Immolate “His People” to End “Yankee Imperialism” / 14ymedio, Regina Coyula

Fidel Castro and Nikita Khrushchev.
Fidel Castro and Nikita Khrushchev.

14ymedio, Regina Coyula, Havana, 11 March 2016 — I remember clearly my mom in her militia uniform, kneeling beside me, instructing me to get under a bed, cover myself with a wet towel and bite the stick of cedar she had hung around my neck when the bombs began to fall. I remember nothing more of those days. The intensity of those recommendations was recorded in the precocity of a six-year-old girl.

They were useless recommendations for what was expected. My parents and my brothers were mobilized and I was left in the care of my grandmother. The Americans were coming. We Cubans expected to be disintegrated under a mushroom cloud.

This simple view of the October crisis took on form with the years. So I disagree with another myth of Cuba’s relations with the United States: “Cuba brought the world to the brink Continue reading “He Failed to Immolate “His People” to End “Yankee Imperialism” / 14ymedio, Regina Coyula”

of a worldwide holocaust in October of 1962.”

I will focus on the analysis of the overblown letter of 26 October 1962 that Fidel Castro delivered to the Soviet embassy to get it to the hands of Nikita Khrushchev; but not on what everyone usually comments on, that the USSR should never allow the United States to take the lead and set off the first nuclear strike.

What interests me is what it says a little later: …if the United States should “manage to carry out an invasion of Cuba — a brutal act in violation of universal and moral law — then that would be the moment to eliminate this danger forever, in an act of the most legitimate self-defense. However harsh and terrible the solution, there would be no other.”

If anything defines these high-level messages it is the use of very precise terms to leave no doubt about the idea to be expressed. Without any errors in translation, it speaks of an invasion and not of an attack on Cuba, it being understood that this would be a conventional invasion with the landing of troops and air support. In the face of such action, it asks the Soviet leadership that its response “eliminate such danger forever.”

It does not mention eliminating the Pentagon; it does not mention eliminating the Capitol, the White House, the intercontinental ballistic missile silos closest to Cuba, it does not even mention another target previously agreed to by the parties, no.

Those words must have produced stupor in the Soviet hierarchy. While the Russians were already negotiating with the US government, the leadership of the Cuban Revolution was willing to immolate its own people if, with that, Yankee imperialism would disappear from the face of the earth.

In Fidel Castro’s words, the consideration does not appear that a military invasion by the United States would have received immediate condemnation from the international community, given that it is a small island whose Revolution enjoyed enormous sympathy among the global intelligentsia and opinion leaders. The Cold War and the pro-American blockade were not enough to observe such a scenario impassively. Nor should the diplomatic route be contemplated as a solution to the crisis, as is laid out at the end of the paragraph: “However harsh and terrible the solution, there would be no other.”

Probably, Khrushchev had a profound effect on the psychology of the Cuban leader when he made the offer to place the R-12s and other strategic weapons on our territory. While Fidel Castro was looking for an open and defiant installation, the Soviets, excellent chess players and with more political experience, were aware that the United States would not allow with impunity that installation so close to its shores; the Soviets were looking not to the Caribbean, but to the Mediterranean, specifically to the missiles aimed at the USSR from stations in Italy and Turkey.

With Operation Anadyr the Soviet leadership put on Cuban soil the war material necessary to then negotiate the withdrawal of the Titan and Minuteman missiles from Turkey, which, according to the political divisions of the time, had borders with Armenia and Azerbaijan, territories of the USSR, and to achieve a moratorium on US aggressions against Cuba for a period of 15 years.

The end of the crisis was a setback for the Cuban leadership in general and for Fidel Castro’s pride in particular. Despite the so-called Five Points, the truth is that he was not taken into account in the negotiation; he was not even consulted, and most likely the Soviet side made that decision knowing that the Cuban leadership would be against the removal of the weapons and rationality indicates not opening several fronts of conflict if they could not be managed.

I bring up again the Soviets and chess, because Khrushchev took advantage of the impulsiveness and inexperience of the Cuban leader to move the pieces according to his own interests and to achieve – collaterally – guarantees for his new Caribbean ally.

The Crosshairs in the Crosshairs / Regina Coyula

Screen Shot 2016-03-13 at 6.18.35 PMRegina Coyula, 12 March 2016 — In a decision that takes one’s breath away, even among commentators who defend official orthodoxy, the author of the blog El Colimador (The Crosshairs) has decided to stop publishing.

He had been “notified by the monitoring team for the Reflejos platform, due to the publications of comments approved by him that violate the conditions of use established by this platform.” Continue reading “The Crosshairs in the Crosshairs / Regina Coyula”

Accustomed to my WordPress blog, a .com platform, it was striking to me that in the Terms of Use of reflejos.cu moderation (I would say censorship) of comments is included (which are not part of the posts) under ideological considerations; while in WordPress the terms regarding comments are established by the author and WordPress limits itself to offering the tool to perform this function.

It turns out that in the conglomerate of blogs about sports, spirit, food, unfailingly full of applause, respectfully forgettable like almost everything on the platform, El Colimador stood out for being interesting and intense. It unapologetically defended what we know as the Cuban Revolution and its administration always managed a balance that fostered a respectful debate.

Who was the “regulator” (the author exonerates the technical team) who expressed the narrow viewpoint of a sector with power that appears not to live in the 21st Century but rather in the 19th.

Those with a better memory will remember the incomprehension with which La Polemica Digital and La Joven Cuba were dealt with, blogs that won their space and their readers not with obsequiousness but quite the opposite.

It would be lamentable if the enemies of El Colimador take advantage of my complaint to justify their censorship of the blog. These people can’t understand that I want a country where the Ruslans and the Reginas can express themselves without fighting under a nick and a false IP and accusing them of receiving “goodies” from the Cuban government or dollars from the American government.