Deciding to Change / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

Brochure with the content of the Cuban Constitution of 1940. (Manuel Diaz Mons)
Brochure with the content of the Cuban Constitution of 1940. (Manuel Diaz Mons)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 25 September 2016 – If there is something it is difficult to disagree with the Cuban government about, it is the permanent defense of the people’s right to decide the economic, political and social system that suits them. This principle is put forward in every international forum attended by official representatives from the island, and is shared by the majority of civilized nations.

In parallel, above all within Cuba, there is an intense campaign to fight any intention to change the existing regime in the country. Clearly, if the intentions to change “the existing regime” come from another nation and are contrary to the legitimate interests of the people, resistance to change is absolutely valid. Continue reading “Deciding to Change / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar”

The question is whether that sacred right of the people “to decide” includes the option to “change” the system, regardless of whether the proposed changes coincide partly or completely, with some external proposal.

The first historical example in the case of Cuba was the change that occurred in the early twentieth century when we replaced the colonial regime, which subjected the people’s will to the will of the Spanish metropolis, to a new system in which the island became a Nation, established as a Republic. That change, imperfect, incomplete, truncated, responded on the one had to the popular will and on the other hand to the interests of a foreign nation, the United States of America.

The second example was the regime change proclaimed in April of 1961 when Cuba became “the first socialist country in the Western Hemisphere.” That substantial modification, which had not appeared clearly indicated on the revolutionary program that overthrew the brief dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista, was only submitted to citizen consultation, through a vote, 15 years later, when there was no private property left in Cuba, no entity of civil society, no independent press media and only one permitted political party.

The millions of Cubans who, with their secret and direct vote, approved the 1976 Constitution, where the new social regime was enshrined, which also coincided with the interests of a foreign nation, the Soviet Union, to support the presence of socialism “under the noses of imperialism.” The USSR did not hesitate to offer everything: food, arms, troops, oil, credits and whatever diplomatic and political support needed.

At the turn of the years to socialism in Cuba, the Republic passed away. Although no one had baptized it pseudo-socialism or mediated socialism, it has been necessary to add an “our,” at the risk of committing the revisionists’ sin.

That system approved by popular vote 40 years ago does not greatly resemble what is described today in successive guidelines issued by the only legally permitted party, but the changes introduced have only been discussed with the party membership and other representatives of certain previously chosen institutions.

Among the possible commonalities between the Party Guidelines and the interests of foreign nations, say China or the countries of the ALBA bloc, could be a sterile exercise of political speculation, especially in a globalized world where almost no country enjoys total freedom to dictate laws while turning its back on the interests of the rest of the planet.

The right of Cubans to maintain the regime is only legitimate if their right to change it is also recognized. The desire for uniqueness, the obsessive vocation of not resembling the other, of not coinciding with the interests of anyone, would be a difficult caprice to satisfy and an impossible one to pay.

Addressing regime change now, introducing changes to the regime or leaving everything as it is, requires a prior exchange of opinions and a subsequent approval. Only if there is freedom to debate and guarantees of a free vote, would it respect the sacrosanct right of the Cuban people to decide which system they wants to live under.

Laritza Diversent: “We Have The Right To Participate In The Social And Political Life Of The Country” / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

Video: Police search of Cubalex: breaking open the gate.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 26 September 2016 – The headquarters of the independent legal group Cubalex, this weekend, lacked the hectic bustle of the many users who normally flock to the site for legal advice, especially the families of inmates who come with thick folders of documents, appeals and demands.

When the attorney Laritza Diversent received us for this interview, the furniture had not been put back in place after an intense search that left everything “upside down” and, on the table, lay the shattered remains of a door latch, as physical proof of forced entry.

See also: Police Burst Into Cubalex Headquarters and Cuban Police Seize Legal Center’s Work Equipment

The psychological scars are fresh among team members of this organization, threatened with a legal process and forced to strip naked during the search. However, on Sunday the legal work resumed its course, thanks to the solidarity of other members of civil society who provided two computers. A few papers comprise the first evidence of a case that will demand time and expertise from Cubalex: their own complaint against the authorities who seized their belongings but could not stop their work.

14ymedio. What was the point of the raid against Cubalex?

Diversent. There were parallel purposes. On the one hand there were the architectural changes made on this house, where they were looking for the slightest violation of planning regulations. For example, they fixated on a bathroom that we put under the stairs as a service to the public. At the same time they wanted to monitor our work as an organization that provides legal services to the population. Continue reading “Laritza Diversent: “We Have The Right To Participate In The Social And Political Life Of The Country” / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar”

14ymedio. Who participated in the police search?

Diversent. The prosecutor Beatriz Peña of Oz, the Attorney General of the Republic, at the head of about 20 people. Among them, a doctor, an employee of the prosecutor, Lt. Col. Juan Carlos, who led the operation from his status as an officer of the Ministry of the Interior (MININT), another prosecutor of the province and an instructor called Doralis, who made the list of the equipment that was seized.

They also brought experts who took photos, a videographer who was filming everything, and other computer experts. They had several officials from State Security, two uniformed police officers and other MININT officials wearing the uniform typical of prison guards; a representative from the National Tax Administration Office (ONAT), another of the Institute of Physical Planning and another from the Ministry of Justice.

Laritza Diversent (Source: Cubalex)
Laritza Diversent (Source: Cubalex)

14ymedio. Why was there a representative of the ONAT present?

Diversent. It was justified with the assumption that we are undertaking an activity defined as ‘self-employment’, that we are providing a service for which we are supposedly charging people, without having the necessary permit. We explained to them in every possible way that we are a non-governmental organization (NGO) that provides a free social service, but they acted as if we hadn’t made that clear.

14ymedio. Why a repressive act of this nature at this time and against a peaceful group?

Diversent. It is very difficult to find the reasons for this action, which can be described as unconscionable. But it can be attributed to what we have done. First, our attempts to achieve the legalization of our organization, Cubalex. We have also filed complaints against official institutions such as the General Customs of the Republic, saying that books and other belongings have been seized from us at the airport without justification. That complaint we have taken to court. We have also made a policy proposal to the Communist Party of Cuba to change the electoral law.

14ymedio. So you think that is a response to these actions?

Diversent. You would have to ask them. As citizens we believe we have the right to make proposals and we have the right to participate in the social and political life of the country in which we live.

14ymedio. Did you resist the police officers who were entering the premises?

Diversent. The “resolution to enter the home” – the warrant – to undertake the search said that they were looking for “objects of illicit origin,” but it didn’t specify which ones. The law establishes that this detail must be clarified, so I denied them entrance and invoked the right to inviolability of one’s home. However, they broke the lock on the outer gate and also the one on the main door to the house.

The doorknob and lock to Cubalex headquarters which was destroyed by the police to enter the premises.(14ymedio)
The doorknob and lock to Cubalex headquarters which was destroyed by the police to enter the premises. (14ymedio)

14ymedio. The law also specifies that the search must be made with at least two members of the Committee for the Defense of the Revolution [local watchdogs] as witnesses. Was that requirement met?

Diversent. The witnesses were two members of the party nucleus in the zone, who did not behave as impartial witnesses, but as partners in the operation. To the extent that they sometimes suggested to MINIT officials where they needed to search, and they constantly used the term “we” with the sense of being a part of the operation, far from their supposed function as impartial witnesses. One of them was more than 85-years-old and boasted of being an unblemished revolutionary.

14ymedio. What was the final outcome of the search?

Diversent. They seized four laptops and five desktop PCs, including a server, and three multifunctional printers. In addition they took hard drives, memory sticks, cameras and all the cell phones were taken.

14ymedio. What has been the reaction of other independent groups to this search?

Diversent. Almost all the entities of civil society have expressed their solidarity.

14ymedio. Could the information seized pose a risk to you?

Diversent. More than 200 case files that we are working were taken, many of them regarding inmates anxious to see some improvement in their status as prisoners. There is a risk that these people, in exchange for any advantage in their prison regimen, might declare something that hurts us, such as that we charge for our services. But that is in the realm of speculation.

14ymedio. What is the worst thing that could happen?

Diversent. We are very concerned because they have made specific threats against us, such as that so far this is an administrative matter but that it could become another type of process.

14ymedio. Are you thinking of not continuing the work you have been doing?

Diversent. No. Rather, what happened encourages us to keep doing what we do.

Non-Aligned Summit Avoids Condemning North Korean Nuclear Test / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

Moment of approval of the Declaration of Margarita, at the conclusion of the Non-Aligned Summit in Venezuela. (@MNOAL_Venezuela)
Moment of approval of the Declaration of Margarita, at the conclusion of the Non-Aligned Summit in Venezuela. (@MNOAL_Venezuela)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 19 September 2016 – The summit of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) ended this Sunday on the Venezuelan island of Margarita with commitments to the sovereignty of each country and a call for unilateral corrective measures. The work of the meeting urged the elimination of “weapons of mass destruction” but avoided admonishing North Korea for its recent nuclear tests.

With little political influence in the international arena, the NAM has crossed the threshold of six decades of existence with its importance in check. Born at a time of strong geopolitical and ideological conflicts, in the midst of the Cold War, the bloc has failed to maintain its intended neutrality and several of its nation members have ended up developing economic and political alliances with more than one “superpower.” Continue reading “Non-Aligned Summit Avoids Condemning North Korean Nuclear Test / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar”

However, the biggest setback for the organization, which includes half the world’s population, is having turned a blind eye at several transcendent moments in its history. The most notable of these was not strongly condemning the Soviet Union’s armed intervention in Afghanistan, which joined NAM in 1961, early in its existence.

This oversight was most striking during the 6th Summit, held in Havana in 1979, when Fidel Castro was named president of the movement. The presence of occupation troops from the Kremlin continued to 1989, but the leader of the organization never made any gesture of disapproval.

This September the silence has been repeated, in complicity with one of NAM’s most fractious members. At the summit, held in the Venezuelan Caribbean to which 120 member countries were invited, no pronouncement was made on the nuclear test recently conducted by the Pyongyang regime.

The Non-Aligned Movement has not only looked the other way as famine and lack of rights has affected the North Korean people, but has also been silent about the danger posed by the more than 20 nuclear bombs and almost a thousand ballistic missiles of different types that have reached the hands of Kim Jong-Un. The Movement did not make a forceful statement against the only country that has tested weapons of mass destruction in this millennium, though it dedicated considerable time demanding “peaceful settlement of disputes and refraining from the threat or use of force.”

NAM now proposes a “refounding” of the United Nations that seeks to expand the Security Council and to transform of the workings of the international organization. But with such oversights and its history of double standards it is difficult to promote a more democratic global and effective entity.

Instead, it could bring to the United Nations the same convenient blindness that it has been practiced for decades.

Condemned to Humility / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

Condemned to Humility / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar
Condemned to Humility / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 14 September 2016 – Limits on property tenure and wealth accumulation are prominent in discussions about the documents issued by the 7th Congress of the Cuban Communist Party (PCC). “The Talibans” – as the hardliners are often referred to – demand precision and the entrepreneurs also need it, for different reasons, to understand the subjective opinion of the local overlord who is going to determine whether someone has become too prosperous.

With only 15 days left to complete the analysis of the Conceptualization of the Bases* of the National Development Plan, issued by the congress, these documents have been discussed only by “the membership of the party and the Young Communists Union, and representatives of mass organizations** and large sectors of society.” Continue reading “Condemned to Humility / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar”

In December, if the deadlines are met, a plenary session of the PCC Central Committee will put the final touches on the these directives, perhaps with some modifications or additions. The principles that govern the country’s economic activities in the coming decades will not have been subjected to the scrutiny of a significant number of citizens.

This Monday one of these debates took place with several district delegates selected from the Santa Clara’s People’s Council. According to the official newspaper Granma, among the most debated topics was Paragraph 104 of the Conceptualization, which rejects the idea of “the concentration of property and wealth in natural or legal persons.”

As the official Party organ, Granma usually chooses with care the opinions it publishes, and in this case it published the opinion of several delegations about “the need to define how far it will allow this phenomenon [tenure of property and wealth] to go, and the imperative of defining limits.” Others called for “strict supervision by the competent bodies, with their control system to prevent the proliferation of new rich in Cuba.”

Such fears are consistent with the implementation of a new measure where it is stipulated those receiving monthly salaries exceeding 500 Cuban pesos (CUP, about $20 US) must make a special contribution of 5% to Social Security. A decision that also includes workers at state enterprise earning up to 5,000 CUP (about $200 US), who will have to also pay a personal income tax of 3%.

However, a self-employed person who has a personal net income of 60,000 CUP a year (an average of 5,000 per month) faces a tax rate of 50%. This is a clear obstacle to the development of private entrepreneurs, which the government has had to tolerate given the economic collapse of the country, but against whom it maintains a stubborn animosity.

Following the recent closed-door discussions, it is probable that the limits of wealth concentration in the hands of Cuban citizens will be defined with more precision. It is very likely that when the definition is written precedence will be given to the voices insisting “this is and will remain a Revolution of the humble, by the humble and for the humble.”

With this thundering no one can sleep, grow or prosper. If, given that a successful entrepreneur who manages to earn the equivalent of about $200 US a month will be placed on the top of the food chain and pay the highest tax rates, what can be expected from the corrective they will reserve for those who start a small or medium sized business?

During the five years in which the Guidelines from the Sixth Communist Party Congress were in effect, Point 3 of the economic management model was designed to prevent the concentration of property. Some analysis suggested this point would be eased in the Seventh Congress, but instead it was strengthened by adding the word “wealth.”

A superficial glance could lead to the conclusion that those incapable of creating, moved by envy, want to tie the hands of those who through risk, imagination and personal effort put their goals above the prosperity managed by the generosity of a paternalistic and controlling state. Surely there are better arguments to explain these blunders.

Translator’s notes:
*“Base” in this context refers to what in other, non-totalitarian contexts, would be called the “grassroots,” that is Party organizations at the local level.
**”Mass organizations” refers only to government controlled entities such as the Federation of Cuban Women (FMC), the University Students Federation (FEU), and so on.

Complicated Law, Easy Cheat / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

A personal income tax is imposed when the monthly salary reaches 2,500 Cuban pesos (Approximately $100 US). (GNTB)
A personal income tax is imposed when the monthly salary reaches 2,500 Cuban pesos (Approximately $100 US). (GNTB)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Esconar, Havana, 8 September 2016 — The news that starting in October personal income taxes will be introduced along with a Special Contribution to Social Security has raised all kinds concerns among workers in the Cuban state enterprise system.

Prejudices solidly grounded in tradition and personal experience have raised fears that, the less understandable the measure is, the more chances there are to make mistakes and, therefore, for injustices to occur. The most widespread complaint is that salaries already are not enough to live on and any deductions from them will mean a loss of vital benefits, that is food or personal hygiene supplies for one’s family. Continue reading “Complicated Law, Easy Cheat / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar”

The argument put forth by Meisi Bolaños Weis, vice minister of the Ministry of Finance and Prices, is that thanks to this contribution people “will receive direct or indirect benefit in the medium and/or short-term, through the Social Security System,” but this does not satisfy those so far have opted to work longer to receive direct benefits immediately.

The Special Social Security Contribution (CESS) consists of a fixed tax rate of 5%. It applies to all those working in the state enterprise system who earn more than 500 Cuban pesos a month (about $20 US), provided that this amount falls under one of the following: a) additional payment from enterprise’s budget, b) implementation of pay for performance, c) distribution of profits as a stimulus for business efficiency.

Anyone with a calculator handy will notice that a worker who earns 501 Cuban pesos in a month only receives 474.95 after the 5% for social security is taken out, a reduction of 25.05 Cuban pesos, for having earned 1 peso more than 500. In the event a person earns 525 Cuba pesos, they get 474 pesos and will be losing 26.25.

Obviously Cuban employees will be watching that their salaries don’t exceed these ranges, because, paradoxically, from now on to take home 500 Cuban pesos a person must earn at least 535 pesos.

In the case of other taxes on personal income (SIP), under the provisions of the Tax System Law 113 the proceeds will go to the budgets of the municipalities in which the companies are located, paying for healthcare, education, public lighting and other services.

Thus, if the worker does not live in the municipality where he or she works, as is common, especially in Havana, they will not benefit directly from their contributions. They will not enjoy the improvements in infrastructure and services that they have helped to pay for.

According to the official figure, the average salary in the state sector today is around 779 Cuban pesos a month, but the ISIP is only applied at approximately three times this figure, starting at 2,500 Cuban pesos, where the earner will pay 3%, while those making more than 5,000 Cuban pesos will pay 5%. All those contributing are subject to an additional 5% for the CESS.

It is notable that the application of these new tax collections are not explicitly reflected in the Guidelines of the 7th Communist Party Congress, where mention of the issue is limited to generalities relating to perfecting the tax system.

Now everyone is paying attention, because work hours and earnings of this month will be reflected in October, when the taxes will begin to be levied. The only good news is that to pay the taxes you will not have register on some site or stand in line at the bank, the company will kindly deduct the contributions on the day you are paid.

The emblematic Cuban ability to find a way to cheat for every new law will be tested with this new provision.

Cubacel Censors Texts With The Words “Democracy” Or “Hunger Strike” / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Reinaldo Escobar

Cuban woman on her cellphone. (14ymedio)
Cuban woman on her cellphone. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez/Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 3 September 2016 — If you are considering sending a text message to a friend to wish him a “happy coexistence” with his family or to suggest that he not give in to “the dictatorship of work,” it is very likely that the phrase will never reach its destination. A filter implemented by the Telecommunications Company of Cuba S.A. (ETECSA) blocks certain words from flowing through the cellular network. (See below for the list.)

For years, users of the only cellphone company in the country have suffered from congestion on the lines and areas of poor coverage, but few have noticed that there is also a strict blockade on the use of key terms and phrases in mobile messaging.

The discovery of this list has happened almost by chance. Several users, upset that their messages were charged for but not delivered, exchanged experiences. This week they connected the dots and found that texts containing the following references never reached their destinations: “human rights,” “hunger strike,” “José Daniel Ferrer,” or the name of the independent magazine “Coexistence.” Continue reading “Cubacel Censors Texts With The Words “Democracy” Or “Hunger Strike” / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Reinaldo Escobar”

Texts with references to “human rights,” “hunger strike,” “José Daniel Ferrer,” or the name of the independent magazine “Coexistence” never arrive

Over several days and at different points in the national geography, this newspaper has run tests from terminals with very different owners, ranging from opponents and activists to people without any links to independent movements. In all cases, messages containing certain expressions “were lost on the way.”

Cubacel is ETECSA’s cellular network and the contract that each user signs to get a mobile line makes clear that the among causes for which the service will be terminated are uses “prejudicial to morality, public order, state security or that serve as support in carrying out criminal activities.”

The customer is never warned that their messages will be subjected to a content filter or that a part of their correspondence will be blocked if it alludes to opponents, concepts that are uncomfortable for officialdom such as “human rights” or to blogs critical of the government in the style of “Generation Y.”

Arnulfo Marrero, deputy chief of the ETECSA branch at 19 and B in Vedado, Havana, was surprised on Friday morning by a complaint presented to his office about the censorship. “We have nothing to do with this, you should contact the Ministry of Communications (MICOM),” the official explained to the bearer of the complaint.

“MICOM governs communications policy, because we don’t make any decisions here. All I can do is report it,” said Marrero.

Censorship, however, is not yet activated on messages that are sent to foreign countries, perhaps because of their high cost: 1 Cuban convertible peso (about $1 US) per 160 characters. Blocking them would provoke more complaints from disgruntled customers and would have set off alarm bells much earlier. However, in text messages received from abroad the same censorship applied to domestic text messaging is also applied.

In the Cuban case it is not morality that guides the scissors of censorship. Cubans can narrate an entire orgy in 160 characters, but cannot send the word “democracy”

In late 2001, Pakistan implemented a similar filter on cellphone text messages. The telecommunications authorities of that Asian country created a list of more than 1,600 prohibited terms in English and Urdu, which included obscene and insulting words, as well as words such as “condom” and “homosexual.”

In the Cuban case it is not morality that guides the scissors of censorship, because all the words in the popular argot alluding to sexuality can be sent freely. Cubans can narrate an entire orgy in 160 characters, but cannot send the word “democracia” to their recipients, not even when they try the trick of changing the “i” to a “1” and try to sneak in “democrac1a.”

The difference with Pakistan lies not only in the reason for blocking certain phrases or words, but also in the secrecy with which this censorship has operated for months, perhaps years, in Cuba. Few have noticed the relationship between certain expressions and communication problems, because they attribute it to the chronic problems of congestion and Cubacel’s bad service.

With more than three million cell phone users, the Cuban authorities have bet on few people associating errors in receiving messages with a desire to prevent the transmission of concepts and words.

The meticulous choice of what terms to block has not been random. Despite the high prices for mobile phone service, where one domestic call can cost as much as half a day’s wages, the presence of cellphones in the hands of Cubans has changed ways of interacting and people find parallel paths to avoid the excessive controls the government impose on all areas of activity.

“I didn’t know this was happening, although now that I read the list of censored words I’m sure I’ve used one of them at least once,” says Leo, 21, who was waiting outside the Cubacell office on Obispo Street in Havana this Thursday.

“I watch the news with breakfast,” said an astonished young man next to him, who said he had not noticed blocked terms, “although ETECSA works so badly that nothing should surprise us any more.” During special days, Christmas or Mother’s Day, communicating becomes a real ordeal.

At the University of Computer Sciences, as part of Operation Truth, a group monitored the internet and created matrices of opinions favorable to the Government

During his students years at the University of Information Sciences (UCI), the engineer Eliecer Avila worked on the so-called Operation Truth. His group monitored the internet and created matrices of opinion favorable to the government in forums, blogs and digital diaries. At present, Avila leads the independent Somos+ (We Are More) Movement, which is also on the long list of terms blocked by Cubacel messaging.

“We implemented algorithm projects that, given certain phrases or words entered by a user into their browser, they would appear preferentially in official pages,” Avila recalled for this newspaper. “We tried to invisibilize alternative proposals or criticisms.”

The presence of an intelligent filter is obvious in this case. If you type in the text “cacerolazo” – a word meaning the banging and pots and pans as a form of protest – your message will take much longer to arrive than some other text. A similar slowdown occurs if you write the names of Fidel Castro or Raúl Castro, and it is true in the latter case with or without the accented letter U.

How many dissident meetings have been frustrated because the invitation message never reached the invitees’ inboxes? How many misunderstandings between couples, domestic squabbles, and uncompleted professional tasks result from the filtering of messages that include last names such as Biscet and terms such as plebiscite?

Telecommunications censorship is not a new tool for the Plaza of the Revolution. Activist frequently denounce the blocking of their cellphones on December 10th, Human Rights Day, or other times when they want to gather together.

During the visit of Pope Benedict XVI to the island in September of 2012, more than 100 opponents reported the suspension of their cellphone service, along with house arrests and arbitrary detentions.

A blockade of uncomfortable digital sites has also been a common practice for officialdom. On the list of inaccessible sites are portals set up from abroad such as Cubaencuentro, as well as local newspapers like 14ymedio. More than a few users manage to circumvent the censorship by sending news via email or sending offline copies of pages that pass from hand to hand thanks to technological devices like USB flash drives and external hard drives.

China has transferred to Cuba its experience with the so-called Golden Shield Project, known as the Great Firewall, which employs more than 30,000 censors

In March of this year, Amnesty International noted that “only 25% of the Cuban population uses the internet and only 5% of households have a connection.” This situation has strengthened the use of mobile phones, especially texting, as a way of using “the internet without internet.”

Only since 2008 were Cubans legally allowed to have a cellphone contract and Cubacel currently has over three million users. Last year 800,000 new lines were established throughout the island, despite the high cost of a national call, the equivalent of half the salary of a working day.

In July 2014, the governments of Cuba and China signed an agreement on “cooperation in cyberspace.” China has transferred to the island its experience in monitoring and blocking content on the web, especially what they have learned from their launch in 1998 of the so-called Golden Shield Project, known worldwide as the Great Firewall, which employs more than 30,000 censors.

Raul Castro’s government has not only copied China’s content filtering strategy, but also the creation of its own social networks to discourage Cubans from using Facebook, Twitter or Google Plus. To achieve this an ersatz Wikipedia, called Ecured, was created, along with a platform-style Facebook dubbed La Tendera (The Shopkeeper) and an unpopular substitute for Twitter known as El Pitazo (The Whistle), all with little success.

We now know that the Cuban Government wants to go beyond such crude imitations and aspires to follow in the footsteps of its Great Chinese Brother, which has a long history of censoring text messaging through a “keyword list.” A user can have their entire messaging function disabled if their content does not pass the filter of the censors. In the city of Shanghai alone, the Hong Kong newspaper Apple Daily reports, messaging has been blocked for some 70,000 users.

List of Words and Phrases Known to be Blocked by Cubacel

14 y medio
14ymedio
Antunez
Antúnez
Berta Soler
Biscet
Carlos Amel
Coco Farinas
Coco Fariñas
Convivencia
Cuba Posible
Cubanet
Damas de Blanco
Democracia
Democrac1a
DDHH
Derechos humanos
Dictadura
Disidente
Elecciones libres
Generacion Y
Generación Y
Guillermo Farinas
Guillermo Fariñas
Hablemos Press
Huelga de hambre
Jose Daniel Ferrer
José Daniel Ferrer
Oscar Elias Biscet
Óscar Elías Biscet
Plebiscito
Policía Política
Policia Politica
Primavera Negra
Represión
Represion
Seguridad del Estado
Somos+
Todos Marchamos
Unpacu
Yoani Sanchez
Yoani Sánchez

Reinaldo Escobar Arrested in Santa Clara, Cuba / Yoani Sanchez

Arrested, handcuffed
Arrested, handcuffed and forcibly deported to Havana — This is what happened to Reinaldo Escobar yesterday at the arrival of the JetBlue [flight in Santa Clara, Cuba, which he was covering as a journalist for 14ymedio.]
My phone service was cut off
My phone service was cut off so I couldn’t report the arrest of my husband Reinaldo Escobar when he was covering the arrival of the JetBlue flight.

See also:

JetBlue Ends Abusive Prices of Charter Flights to Cuba / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

JetBlue Ends Abusive Prices of Charter Flights to Cuba / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

Passengers disembark from JetBlue in Cuba, the first direct flight in decades between the US and Cuba. (CC)
Passengers disembark from JetBlue in Cuba, the first direct flight in decades between the US and Cuba. (CC)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Santa Clara, 31 August 2016 – Raul Caceres was a bundle of nerves as he put the finishing touches on the JetBlue Airlines office that opened this Wednesday in the airport in Santa Clara, Cuba. A few hours before the arrival of the first commercial flight between Cuba and the United States since 1961, the employee answered questions from onlookers, as he fixed the company’s blue logo, while constantly looking to the sky.

The Airbus A-320 departed from Ft. Lauderdale, Florida at 10:06 am and touched down at Abel Santamaria Airport at 10:56 am. A crowd of relatives, foreign correspondents and security personnel waited at the doors to the terminal. There was no lack of tears, shouts of welcome and children scampering from side to side. Continue reading “JetBlue Ends Abusive Prices of Charter Flights to Cuba / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar”

The blackboard showing the arrival times for each flight was removed from outside the airport this Tuesday, where it is now possible to read only the departure times. A measure that no employee could explain, although some of those waiting commented jokingly that it was “to avoid despair.”

As word spread that JetBlue’s Flight 387 had departed from Fort Lauderdale the journalists jockeyed for the best spots at the terminal door and excitement gripped the crowd.

Arriving in the plane was Anthony Foxx, US Secretary of Transportation, but the biggest hugs went not to the officials but to the passengers whose family and friends were waiting outside. The plane leaves for US soil this Wednesday at 1:15 in the afternoon, so those booked on the return flight were already at the airport.

Everyone was trying to make out the blue of the JetBlue logo, because the Santa Clara sky was one of dense grey clouds, associated with the ninth tropical depression of the season that has struck Cuba for several days, especially in the central and western parts of the island.

“Right now you can’t book a passage here,” Caceres told this newspaper, but “you can do it on the internet.” A piece of information supported by Nestor Nuñez, JetBlue’s manager, who added that the Santa Clara airport office is the company’s “only one right now,” on the island.

With a capacity for 220 passengers, the JetBlue flight marked a milestone with a 99 dollar one-way fare, a price that includes the insurance payment the Cuban government requires from visitors to the island.

“This is going to help put an end to the abuse,” commented Silvia, who was waiting for another flight outside the Santa Clara terminal, but who out of curiosity joined the welcome for the passengers coming from Fort Lauderdale. “For decades the prices for such a short trip have been abusive,” she explained. “My son travels frequently to the Caiman Islands and it costs more than three times as much,” complained the woman. With the recently inaugurated JetBlue service, “our family will be over the moon,” she said.

Pedro, a taxi driver waiting for a couple of Americans coming in on the flight, sees other advantages to direct commercial flights. “It will be easier to bring luggage now, because before firms like Havanatur [one of the companies managing charter flights to the island] took advantage of it to set very high fees for every last pound.”

Economy class tickets on JetBlue to Cuba carry a fee of $25 for the first suitcase, $35 for the second and $100 for the third. So for a total of $160, passengers can bring in around 90 pounds of luggage, good news for those who are bringing donations, gifts and other products unavailable on the island.

“If this continues,” Pedro begins to say with a certain suspicion, “we’re going to see all those Cubans with Spanish passports going to Miami and buying things to bring back on these flights.” The route of the “mules” is now through the Bahamas, the Caiman Islands or through charter flights. “It’s going to result in lower prices on the black market,” the taxi driver speculates.

A customs employee told this newspaper that “after a process of improvement, the airport has the capacity to serve 600 passengers an hour.” A figure still far below the number of travelers that could result from 110 daily commercial flights from the United States to Cuba, approved by the US Department of Transportation.

If It’s Green and Thorny, It Must be a Cactus / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

Jose Ramirez Pantoja, Holguin Radio journalist and author of the blog Verdadecuba.(Facebook
Jose Ramirez Pantoja, Holguin Radio journalist and author of the blog Verdadecuba. (Facebook)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana 29 August 2016 – The dismissal of the journalist Jose Ramon Ramirez Pantoja from Radio Holguin for having published in his blog a statement by Karina Marron, deputy director of the newspaper Granma, has sparked an interesting controversy which, by virtue of the secrecy that reigns in the Cuban press has not appeared on the social networks or in digital spaces.

I am not trying to put myself in the skin of Ramirez Pantoja. It has been 28 years since the same thing happened to me when I was fired from the newspaper Juventud Rebelde (Rebel Youth), accused of writing texts with a double meaning, trying to confront the new generations with the historic leadership of the Revolution. But, despite my justified reputation for conceit, I didn’t come here to talk about me, but about what one feels in a similar situation. Continue reading “If It’s Green and Thorny, It Must be a Cactus / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar”

The audacity of those who dare to criticize or share a criticism is usually grounded in the infinite confidence that the sentiments expressed are going to contribute to improving the situation. To warn at the time that “this is not the way” is a serious responsibility, one that is only assumed when we suppose that the guide who is leading us is listening to us, because he believes in our good faith. To say publically a necessary truth, disobeying the order of those who impose silence, is not only a gesture of courage, but above all of honesty.

When the response to the criticism is punishment, when the high-minded guide is disposed to expel the troops who question his decisions, when the exposed truth forces an unmasking because its nudity offends those who feel harmed, then the daring critic has only two choices: make a retraction or slam the door.

Someone once said that the lost sheep that escapes can return to the sheepfold, but can never return to the flock. The obedient flock can only see in its rebellion bad intentions or sinister aims of betrayal. With that grim admiration that underlies envy they will remain attentive to the final decision of the pastor.

If the insubordinate sheep is sacrificed, they squeal with happiness while applauding the verdict, if forgiveness comes, or even better the recognition Jose Ramon was right, he did the right thing, they will approach submissively patting him on the shoulder, while behind his back they will comment that everything was preplanned, it was all a dark operation of the upper echelons of power.

Really, who wouldn’t want to be in the skin of this Holguin journalist.

Oblivion Awaits The New Party Guidelines / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

Guidelines of the Sixth Congress of the Communist Party. (14ymedio)
Guidelines of the Sixth Congress of the Communist Party. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 18 August 2016 — The tabloid with the updates of the Sixth Congress of the Cuban Communist Party Guidelines, is distributed lately without fanfare. The few copies on sale in the newsstands and the majority of people’s lack of interest in official documents, suggest that very soon they will be forgotten. However, to not analyze or question them would be another form of meekly accepting their principles.

From the opposition sector voices are heard describing these new party directives as “tricks and traps from a caste that maintains itself in power.” The foreign press, for its part, has been quick to draw conclusions after a sidelong glance at them, but few have plunged into othe274 points plagued with grandiloquent propositions, commitments that seem to be dreams, and a syntax that is difficult to understand. Continue reading “Oblivion Awaits The New Party Guidelines / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar”

A question as basic as whether the stage between 2016 and 2021 will be characterized by an economy that leans toward the market or toward centralized planning can only be answered after determining what is missing and what is included, and weighing the nuances of the new wording that has been introduced in each concept.

After reconstructing the loose pieces, it is clear that the State will maintain majority control over production and services. The only positive innovation introduced in this edition is the appearance of “second degree cooperatives,” the characteristics of which are not explained, but which seem like the boldest step the Party is willing to take.

Some presences are easier to detect looking at the 16 pages of the brochure, such as the inclusion of the word “wealth” in the third point in the chapter on the economy. Not content with having determined at the 6th Congress to prohibit “the concentration of ownership” for non-state forms of production, the new version from the 7th Congress adds that neither will the concentration of wealth be accepted.

In a country where no one has ever made a formal declaration of their possessions there is no way to calculate what each person has, either in goods or in cash. The absence of regulatory mechanisms with regards to the possession of wealth, especially among natural persons, makes the control of assets a real mission impossible.

Such an alarming addition is nothing more than a potential threat, and even a formula of commitment to satisfy those most concerned about the growing inequality which has worsened in the country over the last two decades. Perhaps it is a crumb to please the hardliners within the Party, a wink and a nod to the old guard.

The disappearance of some guidelines, the rewording of others and the inclusion of new ones, makes it difficult to research which of the guidelines are in the 21% the authorities claim to have met, and which are in the 79% that are “in the implementation phase.” As if reshuffling the dominoes makes the readers unable to detect which tiles are missing.

As the artist Arturo Cuenca said one say, “the takes can be more important than the puts,” especially when the points that are missing or reduced in some of their essential aspects, don’t appear on the list of things accomplished, but in the sub-paragraphs of the problems, of those objectives that have been set aside.”

The first guideline to disappear is number 4 which mentions the idea that structural, functional, organizational and economic changes will be made “informing workers and listening to their opinions.”

Another striking and highly provocative example is the evaporation of an objective reflected in Guideline 57 of the chapter on fiscal policy, which in 2011 proposed to establish “higher taxes for higher incomes, to contribute, also in this way, to mitigating inequalities among citizens.”

Has the Cuban Communist Party (PCC) met this objective with the taxes imposed by the Office of Tax Administration (ONAT) or has it just abandoned tempering inequalities through the treasury?

The text is not without its absurdities, like the commitment outline in the change on economic integration of “giving priority to the participation of the Bolivarian Alliance for the People’s of Our America (ALBA),” a regional organization that has lost prominence since the death of Hugo Chavez and seems doomed to an early demise.

A new chapter entitled Demographic Dynamics is reduced to the issue of the aging of the population and efforts to stimulate fertility, but omits the most serious problem facing the country today: the uncontrolled emigration that robs it of its human capital.

In other parts of the document, the inclusion of a concept reveals the pressures of certain sectors, such as the demand to “comply with medical ethics” in the chapter regarding healthcare, or the unexpected appearance in the section on culture of a point for the implementation of “the policy regarding the transformation of Cuban cinema.” A clear response to the demands of the numerous artists who joined together in the so-called G-20 group that is demanding a new Film Law.

When we contrast the wording of the 6th Congress guidelines with those now updated, details such as “attention to cruise ships” jump out. Along with more subtle references like changing the proposal to delete the ration book by “the orderly and gradual elimination of products in the ration book,” a way of making the subsidized market languish, instead of eradicating it all of a sudden.

The warning regarding “progressively decreasing the levels of subsidies” runs through a good part of the document like a thin strand of steel, like that emphasized in point 58 focused on achieving the principle of “subsiding people and not products.”

The update of the Party Guidelines is far from meeting the expectations of those who want to see in its pages a clear path to the dismantling of the centralized economy and the freeing up of the productive forces in Cuba. But also to distance itself from the paternalistic tone that once characterized the five-year plans on the island.

One step forward and two steps back? Or simply a Party that seems to be running in place

In Puerto Rico, Cubans Call for a Commission Against Impunity / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

Cuban National Conference in Puerto Rico (14ymedio)
Cuban National Conference in Puerto Rico (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, San Juan, 15 August 2016 — The emergence of a new opposition partnership called the Conference of the Cuban National Congress is the most notable result of the event that has gathered in Puerto Rico 65 organizations from the island and in exile.

After lengthy and complex discussions in which there was laughter and tears, reasoned arguments and passionate declarations, lights and shadows… in short, Cubans. An agreement has been reached to forge an integrated structure with a Coordination Committee composed of 22 elected representatives. Continue reading “In Puerto Rico, Cubans Call for a Commission Against Impunity / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar”

Work has been assigned on different fronts distributed among 11 working committees, including ones assigned IT and communications, the press, popular consultation, Human Rights and one to address political prisoners and their families. Like any other organization, some working committees will deal with international relations, finance and legal affairs. Leading each committee is one representative from the island and one from exile. These coordinators will appoint a minimum of three and a maximum of five members to their respective committees, and will provide a report on their work every three months.

The principal declaration from the event that expresses the consensus on the new Cuba proposed at the Second Cuban National Conference, ratified the Democracy Agreement of 1988 as containing the elements needed to reconstruct the new Republic of Cuba, which had been ratified in the previous conference held in August of 2015.

The Declaration supports “the establishment of a commission against impunity” and, in response to the demands of several organizations, it proposes to “retroactively audit the management of existing companies in Cuba with the intention of respecting the conventions of the International Labor Organization.” Similarly, with clear perspective on the future, it proposes the need to implement “measures that guarantee transparency and integrity and fight corruption in public management and the electoral process of the new Republic of Cuba.”

Telecommunications was a topic at the meeting. In the accords, the US government was asked to seek an accord with the Cuban government to connect an internet cable between the two countries and to ask the American company Google to establish an appropriate policy to provide uncensored internet via wifi. In addition, it denounced the violation of the internet giant’s code of conduct for its indifference to the Cuban people in this regard.

Telecommunications were present at the meeting. In the agreements, the US government to seek an agreement with Cuba to connect an Internet cable between the two countries and the US company Google to establish a correct policy to provide uncensored internet via wifi was claimed was requested. In addition, the violation of the code of conduct Internet giant was denounced for its indifference to the Cuban people in this regard.

As is usual in this type of meeting opposition activists and civil society residents on the island manage to get together with Cuban exiles there were immeasurable parallel results that over the long term will open new contacts and support the emergence of diverse indicatives.

The results of the agreements reached will not have an immediate effect, but progress has been made, despite the inevitable differences among personalities, given those who only understand unity when it goes their way, along with all the pessimism and the overcoming of exhaustion and induced suspicions.

The composition of the Coordinating Council of the Congress of the Cuban National Conference is (in alphabetical order by last name).

Composition of the Coordinating Board of the Cuban National Congress (In alphabetical order by last name).

Chosen by the Island

Eliecer Ávila: Somos+
Henry Constantín: Proyecto La Hora de Cuba
Guillermo Fariñas: Foro Anti Totalitario Unido (Fantu)
Jorge Luis García Pérez (Antúnez): Frente de Resistencia Orlando Zapata
René Gómez Manzano: Corriente Agramontista de Abogados Independientes
Juan Carlos González Leyva: Consejo de Relatores de Derechos Humanos
Iván Hernández Carrillo: Confederación de Trabajadores Independientes de Cuba
Mario Félix Lleonart: Instituto Patmos
Damaris Moya Portieles: Coalición Central Opositora
Félix Navarro: Partido por la Democracia Pedro Luis Boitel
Rolando Rodríguez Lobaina: Alianza Democrática Oriental

Chosen by the Exile

Ana Carbonell:Instituto de la Rosa Blanca
Pedro Fuentes: Consejo Presidio Político Cubano
René Hernández: Partido Demócrata Cristiano de Cuba
Faisel Iglesias: Fundación Nuevo Pensamiento Cubano
Augusto Monge: Free Cuba Foundation
Rosa María Payá: Fundación para la Democracia Panamericana
Pedro M. Peñaranda: Círculo Democrático Municipalista
Mario Rivadulla: Unión de trabajadores cubanos de la comunicación social y la cultura.
Ramón Saúl Sánchez: Movimiento Democracia
Julio M. Schiling: Patria de Martí
Guillermo Toledo: Cubanos Unidos de Puerto Rico

Cuban Second National Conference Debates Principles of a “New Cuba” / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

”United We Will Be Free” is the slogan of the conference, which involved nearly a hundred activists from the island and from exile (14ymedio)
”United We Will Be Free” is the slogan of the conference, which involved nearly a hundred activists from the island and from exile (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, San Juan, Puerto Rico, 12 August 2016 — The Cuban 2nd National Conference is meeting this Friday in San Juan, Puerto Rico, under the slogan “United we will be free,” with the presence of nearly a hundred activists from the island and from exile.

The event seeks to “provide a space for reflection and dialogue among the greatest possible number of opposition organizations” to discuss, among other things, the principles of a “New Cuba.” Throughout the meeting, which will run until noon on Monday, there will be a discussion of the creation a structure of unity of action in diversity inside and outside Cuba. Continue reading “Cuban Second National Conference Debates Principles of a “New Cuba” / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar”

The organizers of the conclave have predicted, at the end of the discussions, there will be proposals of candidates for the elective positions of the resulting structure, and a vote. The members elected by the new organization will inform the plenary regarding the work to be carried out both within Cuba and from the exile.

The meeting has as its antecedent the one held last year, where a nine-member Coordinating Committee was created, with five members from the internal opposition and four from the exile. Their principal mission has been to communicate the contents of the Declaration of San Juan and coordinate the current meeting.

On the eve of the conference and during the first day of work, attendees focused on ironing out differences and finding common ground in order to achieve the democratization of Cuba. Creating a coalition or common front among the opposition is the larger challenge ahead of the participants.

The Cuban 2nd National Conference is taking place at a time of intense debate among Cuban activists on the island, a situation reflected in the departure of at least two of the most representative opposition groups on the island – the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU) and the United Anti-totalitario Forum (FANTU) – from the Democratic Action Unity Roundtable (MUAD).

A statement released this week by Boris Gonzalez, MUAD spokesperson, sent a greeting to all the participants in the Second Conference, and wished them “the greatest successes to achieve the democratization of Cuba.” The document recognizes “all efforts in this direction.” This opposition coalition is widely represented in the San Juan meeting.

Ivan Hernandez And Felix Navarro Prevented From Leaving Cuba “A Second Time” / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

Ivan Hernandez Carrillo. (Twitter / @ivanlibre)
Ivan Hernandez Carrillo. (Twitter / @ivanlibre)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 11 August 2016 – Cuba’s immigration authorities prevented activists Ivan Hernandez and Felix Navarro from traveling outside Cuba this Thursday. The former prisoners of the 2003 Black Spring were invited to participate in the 2nd Cuban National Conference that be held in San Juan, Puerto Rico, from 12 to 14 August, but were unable to board their flight at Havana’s José Martí International Airport, where they ran into Reinaldo Escobar, 14ymedio’s editor

The answer that each of the dissidents received on presenting their documents to the Immigration and Nationality official was: “You cannot leave a second time.” Continue reading “Ivan Hernandez And Felix Navarro Prevented From Leaving Cuba “A Second Time” / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar”

Both Hernandez and Navarro had received, in March of this year, special permission to go abroad “one-time” after being placed on parole, a condition the authorities continue to maintain since release from prison in 2011. All those released from the Black Spring “Group of 75” who continue to reside in Cuba benefited from a similar authorization.

The opponent Librado Linares, also a former prisoner of the Black Spring and general secretary of the Cuban Reflection Movement (MCR), did manage to board his flight on Thursday to participate in the meeting of Puerto Rico, since it was the first time he made use permit leave the Island.

The American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) recently sent a letter to Raul Castro expressing “deep concern” about the “violent treatment” received by the trade unionist Ivan Hernandez on his return to Cuba after his first trip abroad.  He traveled on the same flight as the opponent Vladimir Roca and attorney Wilfredo Vallin, of the Law Association of Cuba.

Hernandez was arrested on July 31 and reported that he received a “savage beating” when he refused to be subjected to a search at the time of arrival. During his trip abroad he met with organizations and activists from Europe and the United States.

Both Hernandez and Navarro cataloged the “injustices” and said they will continue trying to assert their right to travel freely.

The Cuban National Conference is a continuation of one held last year, which involved 23 organizations in Cuba and 32 from exile. It has been convened by the Coordinating Liaison Committee composed of Ana Carbonell, Rosa María Payá, Sylvia Iriondo, Guillermo Farinas, Juan Carlos Gonzalez Leyva, Rene Gomez Manzano, Mario Félix Lleonart and
 Saylí Navarro

Among the participants in the conference traveling from Cuba are also Eliecer Avila, leader of Somos+ (We Are More) and Boris Gonzalez, a member of the Democratic Action Roundtable (MUAD). The great absence the meeting will be Guillermo Fariñas, who remains on hunger strike in Santa Clara.

In the early hours of Thursday, Lady in White Leticia Ramos Herrería was arrested while traveling from Matanzas to Havana to take the flight that would also have taken her to the conference in Puerto Rico, according to the leader of the Ladies in White movement, Berta Soler, speaking to this newspaper. The activist was returned to her home where she is under police surveillance.

Event organizers want to use this 2nd Conference to create a “structure of unity of action in diversity,” whose purpose is to “operate inside and outside Cuba, coordinating the efforts of both shores.” In addition, they discussed “the general principles of the new Cuba” desired, an issue that was left pending at the previous meeting.

“The Cuban Nation Is Wounded, But It Will Laugh Again” / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

Camagüey Pastor Bernardo de Quesada. (14ymedio)
Camagüey Pastor Bernardo de Quesada. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 8 August 2016 – Everyone in the Versalles neighborhood in the city of Camagüey knows Bernardo de Quesada Salomon. Loquacious, restless and the founder of the Apostolic Movement, he has experienced intense months this year, especially January 8th, when the police entered his home and demolished the structure in the backyard that served as a center of worship.

Quesada opened his doors to this newspaper to talk about how he became an adored pastor to his neighbors and malefactor to State Security. On the slab behind his house, where until recently the temple stood, he now meets every Sunday with his congregation under the intense August sun. None of them have stopped coming in the last months, despite the campaign against the leader of the church which continues to rage every day. Continue reading ““The Cuban Nation Is Wounded, But It Will Laugh Again” / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar”

The Christian movement he is a part of separated from the Cuban Council of Churches in 2003, but Quesada had devoted himself to religion since much earlier, in 1984, a year after he began studying Biology, for which he received his degree just as the Berlin Wall was falling in Europe.

Now, while showing the place where he sang and improvised sermons, he recalls that when he was working as a high school teacher “every time I taught some of the subjects such as evolution, embryology, anatomy, physiology and genetics, I ended up seeing the hand of God.” His faith began to clash with the education authorities.

“In 1991 I felt there was little left for me in the education system. I was working then in Vladimir Ilich Lenin University in Las Tunas, where I taugh microbiology and botany to students in agricultural engineering,” he says. Quesada was named to various positions at the national level in his Church, a situation that strained the atmosphere in his job.

Cuba was currently in the midst of the Special Period and the island was suffering economic hardship and despair. Thousands of former atheists began to embrace religion and Protestant movements grew everywhere.

In September 1991, he was called in by the university leadership, who evaluated him with “a kind of judgment looking at all factors, the party, the union, youth” he recalls. They accused him of speaking about God to students and teachers, although he remained in his post until April 1992 when he was expelled. Among the complainants was an employee there who now “works in Radio Marti in Miami,” he said derisively. “Beware of extremism and extremists” he says in a passage in his book, In The Eye Of The Hurricane.

When he cut his ties with his state position, Bernardo began to consider himself “a free man” and began “preaching in different churches in Cuba.” He came to be an “itinerant evangelist” which brought him to very poor places like Macareño, in Santa Cruz del Sur. In those places he found thousands of followers who attributed to him even physical healings.

Quesada believes that the shepherds of the people with the greatest problems should not even go to Havana, much less, emigrate to another country. “People avoid talking to me about an illegal exit,” he explains, talking about the issue of the thousands of rafters who each year cross the sea from the Cuban coast to try to reach the United States. “I tell them it is going to divide the family, like the medical missions abroad have done,” he says.

He reiterates, stressing each syllable, that it is “against Cubans to leave Cuba. We must change our nation ourselves and fleeing only numbs the problem more,” he says.

His critics within the system have validated the animosity of the authorities. “In Cuba there is no Law of Associations. No one can register an organization to give it legal status,” he denounces in his writings. With regards to the dissidents on the island, he believes that “expressing their rights, going out into the street to demand justice” should not be classified as “a counterrevolutionary action like they want to make people think.”

He has been accused of being a CIA agent, a provocateur, and even a madman, but Bernardo seems to know how to deal with the insult. “When they throw the stones of defamation, don’t toss them away: use them to keep building your platform for further growth,” he preaches.

The road ahead is very difficult, he thinks, but he is confident that a “genuine church” will be an “important factor in the future.”

“The Cuban nation is wounded, it bears a great social wound, but it will laugh again,” he predicts with conviction, smiling in the same courtyard where eight months ago the police thought they had dismantled his place of worship.

See also:

Video reveals demolition of an evangelical church in Camagüey

Evangelical pastor arrested during demolition of temple

Amel Carlos Oliva: A Handful Of Guts Against A System / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

Amel Carlos Oliva receiving hydrating serum at the September 28 Polyclinic. (Twitter)
Amel Carlos Oliva receiving hydrating serum at the September 28 Polyclinic. (Twitter)

14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, 4 August 2016 — On August 13, the 90th birthday of Fidel Castro, there will not be only official festivities. If the young activist Carlos Oliva Amel holds to his decision not to eat, that day will mark one month of his hunger strike. The government opponent is fighting an uphill battle: his body deteriorates and the government appears deaf to his demands. This member of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU) is fading slowly without his demands being answered.

Amel Carlos Oliva told 14ymedio during on phone call on Wednesday, the 22nd day of his fast, that he felt a lot of pain “in the knee, and acidity.” Two days ago he received a rehydration drink at the September 28 Polyclinic in Santiago de Cuba that eased the “heartburn” but now he is again suffering from “nausea and dizziness.” The dissident complained that in recent days he has been totally surrounded by a “strong repressive operation.” Continue reading “Amel Carlos Oliva: A Handful Of Guts Against A System / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar”

A few yards from Oliva, at the UNPACU headquarters in Santiago de Cuba, opposition members Oria Josefa Casanova Moreno and Zulma López Saldaña have gone without food from the 16th and 18th of July respectively. This morning they were visited by two doctors who arrived from the nearest polyclinic and insisted that the two women should be “rehydrated” as soon as possible.

“We are waiting for ambulances to come to take them,” explains Yriade Hernandez Aguilera, a board member of the opposition organization. This activist who responds to calls in minutes, attends to the strikers and monitors the operation that that is expanding around them.

Oliva had his belongings confiscated on 24 May. Two laptops, a cellphone, a hard disk and a Nanostation (to receive and repeat WiFi signals) and some money were taken from him in that arbitrary dispossession that turned his world upside down. In July they returned and along with a laptop they took a Samsung Galaxy S6 cellphone, 6,421 dollars, 12 convertible pesos, a kitchen knife and two screwdrivers.

On July 12 Oliva received a call from the police telling him he should wait for State Security to contact him for the return of his belongings, but the call never came. The dissident decided that night to stop eating and publically announced his hunger strike the following day, 13 July.

State Security officials tried to pacify him on a visit to the police station, saying that they would return one of the laptops, but the dissident stood his ground: “I’ll take all or nothing.”

Oliva, in a bare whisper through the phone line, tells this newspaper that “a high official” from State Security “alias The Pole,” assured him that there was “no need” to carry out a hunger strike. “With one call we would have returned your things,” was the key message the official sent through Oliva’s father.

Wednesday Oliva was still committed to achieving, through his empty guts, a correction from the repressive apparatus and the return of his property. But the outcome is uncertain and his strength is beginning to fail him.