Three Days Without Fidel / Regina Coyula

Regina Coyula, 20 January 2017 — I was asked for this by a press agency, and they didn’t publish it. Then came the official reaction and we couldn’t have much time without his image. It’s like what a wise lady said in line at the pharmacy, “It would be preferable that the (National) Assembly approved an enormous monument, and not this Fidel that comes at us from all sides and doesn’t just die.”

Friday, already late in the evening, in front of the TV, idly I switch it on. Raul Castro is talking. A good part of the city was sleeping when the phones began to ring.

Perhaps for those who loved him, the reaction was emotional, but there is no surprise in the death of an old man who’s been sick for more than ten years. Yes, there is the irony that he was killed so many times, and now his death takes us all by surprise. continue reading

The programming continues and they even start playing a film, American of course. It was not until the movie was well along that they interrupted it to replace it with images from the documentary Fidel from Estela Bravo. It gives the impression that the TV directors never dared to make a plan for this moment; and on receiving directions “from above” that they began to look for film materials for the new days of “history and patriotism.”

It’s already dawn and groups of young people are coming from the Art Factory, their party having been interrupted. The drunkest obey the “on your feet!” that they learned in military or farming encampments, and add to the amusements and loquacious, “Turn on the TV, Fifo died!” These heralds continue on their way and others camp out in the park in front of the Acapulco Cinema; two girls dance little skip steps to their own music. It is a group without tears, these displaced from the Art Factory.

Saturday. A clueless man raised his eyebrows on hearing the news in the Tulipan agricultural market and continues on. Full as ever, the market is quiet without the loudspeakers; the buyers are very discreet moving quickly among the stalls to get a few vegetables at import prices.

In the morning there are still shops that haven’t received instructions to suspend sales of alcoholic beverages; a dry law and nine days of national mourning will be a tough test for those who live between hits of rum and reggaeton. I don’t see sad faces, rather serious ones. Or cautious.

Sunday. The television broadcasts endless materials about Fidel. Fidel at the UN, at a school, at a market, with Garcia Marquez, omnipresent Fidel.  Now he is a bigger star than ever, such a focus in the media, he who spent hours at the microphone on the national channel and on Radio Havana Cuba.

On the news, the announcers are dressed in black, they provide information about the funeral rites in the Plaza of the Revolution, the journey of the ashes to Santiago, the closing of the streets. On TV there are tears, but there is no children’s programming. And no one talks about causes of death.

My neighbor in the back, who has been so worried, talks with someone on the phone about the pills she has to take for the disgust. A woman is interviewed under the marquee of the Yara cinema, at the corner of 23rd and L. She is dressed in white and wears a black mourning band on her arm. She reads a poem about her soul being torn apart at the news.

Behind her, on the wall of the Habana Libre Hotel, you can see the enormous graffiti by El Sexto. “He left,” it says on the wall, and El Sexto is in prison for this graffiti with seconds of posterity on camera.

Monday. The buses are like always, going by full. Nothing seems to have changed, but in the workplaces and schools activities are suspended so people can go to the Plaza of the Revolution. At the base of the José Martí monument that have arranged sites with flowers and huge photo and the people file by.

No one stops in front of the photo where there are no ashes. The ashes are under control of the Ministy of the Armed Forces and the people don’t file past there. Many cellphones film the flowers and the photo. The real mourning does not happen on camera.

There is disgust and angry protests from those who spend hours in line and see groups of soldiers and people from other work centers who are allowed up the ramp to the base of the monument as soon as they arrive. A note of social indiscipline without public order to order it. The solution: to extend the hours of the line and people parading by until midnight so people can pay their respects.

In a country where saying yes while thinking something else has been a practice for years, we won’t know how many bottles were uncorrked, how many complicit hugs were given. But even those legitimately struck by the loss understand the before and after.

Fidel was in charge of embodying the Revolution. It doesn’t mater how many commitments we Cubans are invited to sign*, in an illusion of continuity. His phrase, “To change everything that should be changed,” will recur in the immediate future.

*Translator’s note: At the time Fidel died, the government asked all Cubans to sign a loyalty oath to his socialist ideology.

Impressions of a Novice (Part 1) / 14ymedio, Regina Coyula

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Regina Coyula, 8 December 2016 — A novice in Mexico and a novice in the Internet Governance Forum (IGF). The city surprised me because I had attributed to it a rural character it does not have. Zapopan and Guadalajara, to the eyes of a stranger, are a single city; one city with the equivalent of three-quarters of the entire population of Cuba. Many construction sites, many luxurious apartment towers that don’t seem to be inhabited, never mind the information from Miguel, my taxi driver to PALCCO.

PALCCO is the Convention Center and is enormous. The security measures are extensive, because it is a world event filled with people, including famous people, sponsored by the United Nations.

Numerous social, academic, journalism and other organizations have set up little stands in the entrance to present their programs. continue reading

Once inside the main building it is very difficult to orient yourself; an army of young volunteers, smiling and helpful, help you find your way in that labyrinth of meeting rooms and a place to have coffee.

I look at the agenda. All the topics are interesting and it’s hard to decide which to attend because up to ten sessions overlap at the same time. The technology is a wonder, because you can follow them on Youtube or watch them later.

For personal reasons I’m interested in the forums on public policy about access and internet rights, digital security, and surveillance; but I also attended sessions on other topics such as on-line education, and the lower levels of use among women, the disabled and minorities.

The sessions are in English and there is no simultaneous translation, which requires all my attention. Huge screens transcribe it and thus I can follow the topic.

I make the briefest comments on the panel on the Right of Internet Access in Latin America. I am listening to my Latin American colleagues, realizing the uniqueness of Cuba: not only has Cuba not ratified the UN covenants on human rights, but it voted against considering Internet Access a Human Right; and although the “cable” (Alba 1, from Venezuela) came to Cuba, the Internet has not come.

A synthesis that seems to be interpreted literally by another Cuban delegate, a woman representing the business sector, feels the need to remind the audience that Cuban has free education and healthcare, about the impact of the “Blockade” (the American embargo), and in my opinion, the most pernicious idea: the concern about giving people Internet when no one knows what they will do with it.

Here is the video with my comments, which occur roughly between 1:17:53 and 1:30:25.

The Cybernaut and Digital Security / Regina Coyula

Regina Coyula, 7 November 2016 — The leaks of presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s emails and those of her campaign chief have revived a debate that began with evidence that the National Security Agency (NSA) was spying on communications, with both national and foreign politicians suspected.

But the NSA is not the only one, nor is the honor of those with the ability to spy verifiable. Under labels as sonorous as national security, sovereignty, media war, competition, soft coup, industrial secrets, etc., government spies, companies spies, and, on more than a few occasions, innocent people are those under scrutiny. continue reading

It is, on the other hand, the fact that the great technological companies have given way to government pressures and have delivered inside information. Furthermore, the companies supplying information and communications technologies possess metadata about their users which, in context, may be relevant.

No one watches over one’s personal interests better than oneself, so the protection of data acquires an individual character. Arguments such as having nothing to hide is weakened before the possibility of joke in bad taste that you cannot handle an email account because someone changed the password or erased the contacts; or following the jokes, you see your profile on the social networks with photos and comments that are not yours and spend enormous efforts to regain control. These would be the simple cases.

It seems that the foregoing and what follows are only loosely related. The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), which was until last month was under the control of the an agency of the Department of Commerce of the United States Government, has been turned over to an independent agency with the management of multiple interested parties.

This transition has been a subject of controversy regarding the roles appropriate to each one of these multiple actors.  Representatives of controlling governments and some founding entities that, to save themselves from the hegemony of the great powers and of the great businesses of the sector, a minding international regulation is necessary for the use of cyberspace.

They have put into place a closed model with the services of the internet but without internet (for example, Reflejos, Tendedera or Weibo), which favor control of information traffic. In the name of a 20th century mentality, they try to put something as global as the internet in a straitjacket.

The most modern and predominant vision supports the strengthening of ICANN as a global and autonomous organism with a transparent management, in such a way that neither governments nor great private entities could take control of this institution whose functions include more than just naming and numbers. These names and domains and IP addresses allow access to data such as the source and destination of data packets.

The concept of global internet on a fragmented model puts the human being above any other interest with the intention that their approach to the network is free of any monitoring, whether to track their tastes and inclinations for commercial purposes without their consent, as well as their right to inform and be informed to avoid the search of the sites they visit and with whom they communicate.

Whether one lives in a democratic state, or not, is not determinant when the time comes to protect personal data, although it could seem more important in some places than others and, in some cases, determinate of the integrity not only of data, but of one’s physical self: journalists who report on complex scenarios and issues.

Every cybernaut has an idea of the importance of protecting their bank accounts and social network accounts, but digital security, more than a right, is also an obligation. An urgent obligation in complex environments. Even mega-corporations have tried to distance themselves from the lack of confidence that is created by giving out private data and putting in users hands the tools to strengthen the securities of their communications and interactions. It has been a joint achievement of organizations and people who insist on behaving responsibly in the face of the privacy of the numerous but also most indefensible link.

Some basic recommendations for better digital security:

1. Implement complex passwords for one’s devices and accounts.

2. Use email accounts that have two-step verification.

3. Use instant messaging services that are encrypted end to end.

4. Use blog platforms with double verification.

5. Always think before sending a text, and image a video that could affect you or third parties.

6. Check (insofar as is possible) the integrity of programs and downloaded attachments.

Goodwill / Regina Coyula

Regina Coyula, 20 October 2016 — It is said that the choice of the word “embargo” or “blockade” to define the US policy toward Cuba, clarifies the position of the speaker-writer. Those who speak of the “blockade” are not better Cubans than those who call it the “embargo” (although they believe themselves to be). It is a policy that doesn’t depend on Cubans; not even the international community can eliminate it.

A goodwill gesture on the part of my leaders would be the elimination of the internal blockade to which we are subjected, in the name of the country and the imperialist threat. Clearly, although this policy toward Cuba has been dismantled little by little, it is there and we will have to wait for the goodwill of the American government for its total disappearance. continue reading

“The international community has denounced the US embargo because it violates international law, and also for moral, political and economic reasons.”

This quote is from a report by Amnesty International and reflects the rejection of the extraterritorial character of the set of laws that makes up the embargo. The bold text is intended to bring out the fundamental reason for the widespread rejection of this body of law, which is its extraterritorial nature. International law prohibits any national law to be applied beyond the country ’s borders. The Helms-Burton law is extraterritorial and retroactive, as it applies to events prior to the adoption of the legislation.

The Cuban citizen has become accustomed to hearing only about the damage the blockade  has caused and continues to cause in our economy and society; this citizen ignores in many cases the origin of these measures versus those taken in response to it, but above all, it serves as a smokescreen for domestic disaster resulting from a willful and failed policy. Neither the US blockade nor the one caused by our government have affected even for one second the life of our leaders.

The Flame Tree of Discord / Regina Coyula

Flame trees in Havana, dropping their petals int he street. Source: Caridad, Havana Times
Flame trees in Havana, dropping their petals in the street. Source: Caridad, Havana Times

Regina Coyula, 3 October 2016 — A powerful flamboyán tree, in English often called a flame tree, dominates the entrance to my house, more beautiful at this time of year with its explosion of fire, which also provides shade and spreads its colorful petals across the ground.

But two of my neighbors don’t see it that way; they dislike the dirtiness of it and feel obliged to sweep the sidewalk almost every day. And they protest greatly, but I never feel it’s about me, even though the other day they were gossiping and not imagining that I could hear them, one of them said, “I’m breaking my back over that filth, and ‘la Señora’ (a marked edginess in señora), who owns the bush acts like it’s nothing.”

I am not the owner of the flame tree, I didn’t plant it, it is in the parking strip and it is beautiful; and the señora sounded very nice coming from one trying to mark a difference between us. And so, without reaching for her style — inimitable for me as I am neither volatile nor rude — to her surprise I told that that the flame tree isn’t mine, but the red flowers that line the sidewalk don’t bother me at all, unlike the bags, cans, boxes and other trash that lines the city, product of indolent humans.

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

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

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.


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


  • 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

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 “” 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

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

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, 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

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

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

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

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.