Pro Free Press Association Condemns Arrest of Two Independent Journalists in Cuba

Cuban journalists Rudy Cabrera and Augusto César San Martín (Cubanet)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 21 May 2018 — The Pro Free Press Association (APLP) condemned, on Sunday, the arrest of two independent journalists when they tried to cover the crash of the Boeing 737 leased by the Cuban airline Cubana de Aviacion, which killed 110 people.

Augusto César San Martín and Rudy Cabrera, reporters for the digital site Cubanet, “were trying to obtain information about the plane crash” on Friday, when they were arrested and taken to the Santiago de las Vegas police station in the Rancho Boyeros district, APLP said in a statement.

The journalists were “kept in jail until Saturday at around 8:30 at night and their mobile phones, a camera and other tools of their profession were confiscated.” continue reading

Both San Martin and Cabrera were fined 100 Cuban pesos for the alleged crime of “transgressing security limits,” said the APLP, which invoked the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states that no one may be arbitrarily detained and that everyone has the right to investigate and receive information.

The independent organization “asks for the solidarity of all the organizations in the world that defend freedom of expression for independent Cuban journalists.”

The Island’s independent journalists suffer continuous arbitrary arrests, confiscations of personal belongings, raids on their homes and judicial charges, to which is also added, more and more frequently, a prohibition on travel under any pretext.

Last April the organization Reporters Without Borders placed Cuba 173rd out of 180 nations in terms of press freedom. The country was the worst rated on the continent.

The Inter-American Press Association (IAPA) also denounced in its most recent report, presented in Colombia last April, that the Cuban government seeks to have “a mute, deaf, and blind country” in terms of communication, journalism, and the Internet.

It is “an increasingly difficult goal,” the IAPA said, for “the perseverance of journalists and independent media that do not cease their work despite restrictions.”

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The Real Parents of the Weekly Packet / Cubanet, Augusto César San Martín and Rudy Cabrera


This video is not subtitled but the images will be interesting to all.

cubanet square logoCubanet, Augusto César San Martín and Rudy Cabrera, Havana, 24 November 2017 — Contrary to what has been affirmed to date, the “Weekly Packet” did not have a creator. The original idea was spontaneous, in the mid-eighties, with the arrival in Cuba of domestic technologies that supported Cubans’ need to avoid the official viewpoints of the two politicized TV channels.

The current digital collection of a terabyte of foreign TV content, software and digital magazines, began to displace Cuban TV when Betamax technology, which entered the market in 1975, arrived in Cuba.

Betamax became popular in Cuba shortly before disappearing, with a format that allowed 2 hours of recording. During its first years of its introduction in the country, few Cubans, outside the ruling elite, owned this home technology, which initiated the alternative circulation of films and documentaries in the U-matic format.

 The pioneers of the Packet and the antenna continue reading

It was through the governmental company, Omnivideo Corporation, located in the residential area of Siboney in Havana’s Playa municipality, that people began to copy, translate, classify, distribute on the island and sell abroad, movies that had been shown in the U.S.

A participant in the corporation, a former Interior Ministry official who offered statements on condition of anonymity, said that Omnivideo Corp. did more than pirate movies.

“The company was created by Tony de la Guardia and then absorbed by CIMEX to sell films in Cuba. Omnivideo not only sold movies, it also distributed to the country’s leaders, through cables, the channels that were captured with a group of antennas that were located in Siboney.”

The same source adds that, by means of a Panamanian citizen linked to the premiere theater circuit in Panama City, the films remained in Cuban hands for less than 24 hours.

“That Panamanian took the premiere tapes to the Cuban embassy, they sent them from there to Cuba, they copied them, and the same day they sent them back to Panama.”

Deep in the enjoyment of capitalism, the socialist leadership did not notice that the era of domestic technology had begun in Cuba. Their piracy formulas would soon be copied by others.

The films of Chuck Norris and Sylvester Stallone confronting Vietnamese communism invaded the island. Cubans eager to discover everything distant from Russian culture, embedded in the small screen, created small movie theaters around a Betamax to watch the films pirated by Omnivideo Corp. The point of no return of the pirating of foreign images between Cubans had started.

A great number of films not associated with the official piracy began to be added to the nascent popular video cassette exchange. The documentary “Nadie Escuchaba” (Nobody Listened) by Néstor Almendros (1987) was one of the films that had the privilege to come the black and white screens, which still coexisted with the Betamax in Cuban homes.

To compete with the avalanche of Hollywood programming, Cuban television introduced the “Saturday Movie” program, a “healthy” version of American cinema that ended up displacing Russian cinematography from the official collection.

VHS and DVD, the adolescence of the Packet

At the beginning of the 90s, the VHS format arrived in Cuba, which had been on the market elsewhere since 1976. The recording capacity of that stimulated the creation of movie rental banks.

VHS with a capacity of up to 10 hours, in LP mode (Long play), facilitated the compendium of foreign programs that the Cubans took advantage of to create clandestine independent businesses in the style of Omnivideo Corp. In Cuba the EP (Extended play)  format was used in NTSC (30 frames per second), the lower image quality.

The illegal Direct TV and Dish antennas were the alternatives that Cubans found to copy foreign programming. Popular among wealthy citizens, the so-called “Caciques” (chiefs) for years dominated the recording of programs, novels and movies that the film banks bought for a price, which according to how current or recently released they were.

Rogelio Reyes started his film bank that included the Betamax format. In an interview with CubaNet, he narrated his compendium experiences in the different formats, Beta, VHS, DVD.

“Beta lasted just a short time, although I remember that shows were already being recorded (…). In VHS I came to have almost five thousand cassettes, among them soap operas, films and documentaries.”

Rogelio remembers that the Caciques sold the compendium (VHS) for between 50 and 60 pesos. Once acquired, a classification process was carried out, perfected in the current Packet.

“In the bank I recorded in EP format to allow more hours of programming. Sometimes there were varied Packet of shows with soap operas, that was according to what you saw what the clients wanted (…). VHS was outdated the fastest, it did not last two years. Right after DVDs arrived (…) I had to give away all the VHS cassettes.”

The adolescence of the Packet was gaining strength with the format war. In the libraries of the film banks, the DVD with more content and better visual quality was imposed. The extinction of the VHS was extended due to the high cost of the first DVD players, that oscillated between 200 and 250 dollars, in the black market.

While the population updated with the new format, data storage devices appeared, popularized in Cuba during their second generation, launched at the beginning of this century.

Data storage, the maturity of the Packet

The ability to have greater storage capacity and the recopying of the content in the data devices (USB, hard drives), revolutionized alternative programming on the island. Until then the DVD, up to 4 GB, offered limited capacity without the ability to recopy.

The determining factor for the increase of those involved in the business was the arrival of computers, and with them, the television signal capture cards.

Mario Cabrera, who was part of this evolution, explained to CubaNet his participation in the chain of program copiers.

“I had antenna service of one channel. Since I had a TV capture card, I was hired by one of those who copied for the Packet (…) He suggested that I record two shows: Sábado Gigante and Belleza Latina. I remember that, when the program was over, a person would come by and pick up what I had recorded, and he would pay me 5 convertible pesos (CUC) for each program.”

This group paid tribute to a new formula that annihilated the hegemony of the Caciques: the head offices. They began to use computers, hard drives and finally the internet to download and organize the materials contained in the Packet.

Reloj Club (Club Clock) was one of the first head offices that identified the users, created by two young people known as Robert and Mayito.

Alexis Rodríguez Tamayo (known as el Nene), a graduate of the University of Computer Sciences (UCI), inherited Club Reloj when its founders left the country. The engineer who is currently the owner of the Omega house, told CubaNet about his experiences at the beginning of the current Packet.

“The Packet came from the movie banks. The computers opened the door, and the younger ones skillfully saw the way to supply the banks. It was not anyone in particular who created the Packet.”

Alexis Rodríguez recalls that among the best-known head offices were “Paquete de Lachy,” “Samuel” and “Joe PC,” who, in his opinion, “stole all the customers.”

“That boy revolutionized everything, when the novelas were not sold by episodes, he started selling them by episodes. We all had to sell them by episodes or we lost our customers. (…) After that, it shortened the frequency of the weekly collection, to a daily delivery.   There are distributors or head offices that do not wait for the end of the week, they buy the programming that is downloaded daily, to be more current.”

Alexis does not believe that technological advances can eliminate the Packet. About this, he said: “Now with the Internet, I think that when another six months pass, the clientele will weaken. But there are many who will pay for the information because they do not have internet at home, or do not have the time [i.e. cannot afford to pay for it] to download. (…) We download the movies as soon as they come out, the series are downloaded, the games are such large files that we download them in snippets, and if it’s not today, it’s tomorrow.”

 The Packet within the antenna or cable

Then, without the need to store the content, the Packet’s programming was inserted in SNet, an illegal wireless community. What nobody imagined is that this programming would return to the users through its origin: the clandestine service of the antenna.

The antenna or cable that began offering one channel for 10 CUC, now, for the same price, includes thirty-two channels in some areas of the capital city. This variety of channels makes Dish and Direct TV share their popularity in Cuba with channels designed by Cubans with the contents of the Packet. Through the WD Elements Play technology (multimedia hard drive), 2 Tb of programming are broadcast through the illegal antenna.

El Paketito (the Little Packet)

Since the beginning of the current Packet, the authorities of the Island have confronted it with a variety strategies. More variations of official television, creation of the Mochila (“Backpack” — the official packet), police operations and, according to the testimony of officers of the political police, the creation of a group named “Paqueteria,” specialized in spying on the whole chain of creation and distribution.

The country’s vice-president, Miguel Diaz-Canel, publicly expressed his concern: “We aren’t bothered by the Packet as an idea, but with the values, the culture and the ways in which it can be transmitted,” he said. Other government figures attack it as a degrading ideological and aesthetic concept.

To protect themselves, those who make the Packet make the decision to self-censor. They eliminate from the content any information — be it in soap operas, news or websites — that affect the image of the government.

The fill this gap El Paketito (The Little Packet) arose. A compendium of information that adds what is censored to the Packet.

Its creator broke, for the first time, its main rule: Do not offer an interview to the media. Under the condition of protecting his identity for fear of reprisals, he told CubaNet:

“The first thing is that, due to the censorship, the difficulties of accessing the Internet, the publications of independent media are greater abroad. The idea of the Paketito is to take all that censored information to its first consumer, the ordinary Cuban.”

Based on the idea of the Packet, the Paketito was created in February 2015 with a weekly frequency. Its content includes all the information from the platforms used by the independent press, television news programs, documentaries of political content, and animated series censored by the Packet, with radio programs and Cuban image archives.

“It has had good acceptance throughout the country, because it divulges the forbidden,” said its creator, adding. “Cubans want to know what happens on the other side of censorship and we respect that.”

We are very afraid / Cubanet, Augusto Cesar San Martin and Rudy Cabrera

cubanet square logoCubanet, Augusto Cesar San Martin and Rudy Cabrera, Havana, 23 January 2017 – In 2014, Cuban doctor Nelson Cabrera Quinta, his wife and two teenage children were declared illegal occupants of his home located at No. 1705 – 200th Street in the Havana neighborhood of Siboney. The house has been part of the family patrimony for 40 years and they have been been permanently residing in it for 12 years.

Six months after Dr. Cabrera left on an official Cuban medical mission in Saudi Arabia, his wife Bisaida Azahares received a notification from the Ministry of Construction to evacuate the house immediately. continue reading

“In the resolution it says: Leave the house [and go to] to your place of origin. We do not have options and much less a place to go… We are afraid, we have been told so many things about the eviction, that they are very violent people who open the doors, they break them down, they come in and they just put you out and that’s it. Imagine yourself, alone with two children,” says Bisaida.

Dr. Cabrera was warned that when he traveled abroad as a health worker, that they were going to evict his family from the house. For a long time that was the reason he rejected the chance to serve on several collaboration missions, and continued to direct one of the polyclinics in the Playa municipality. The doctor lowered his guard when the municipal president of the People’s Power assured him that while he was on a government mission, there would be no “forced extraction” at his house.

The right to reside in a garage

The resolution of “forced extraction”, the Cuban “neo-eviction,” is the result of a claim filed five years ago by the University of Medical Sciences of Havana (UCMH) against Nelson Cabrera Quintana and his family. According to the institution, the family lives in one of the 17 houses owned by the school in the residential division of Siboney, considered a “frozen zone,” which means the family registered as living in the residence must be “officially verified.”

The Cabrera family resides in the garage of a mansion, divided into three units. One-third of the house was granted in 1979 to the grandfather Gilberto Falcón Darriba, because of his work; he was a founder of UCMH, then the Institute of Medical Sciences of Havana, where he worked for more than 40 years.

Falcón lacked the mental and physical health to claim his property rights when he arrived at the end of 15 years residing in the garage. According to the provisions of the Ministry of Public Health, the houses are granted after having been leased for 15 years, giving the property to the lessee. Librada Arancibia, Falcon’s wife was on the verge of gaining title after her husband died in the United States, afflicted with Parkinson’s Disease.

“My grandmother was not recognized as the owner even though she initiated the process. I have documents from various UCMH lawyers who explicitly say that they were being deprived of the house they lived in for more than 20 years, and that they had paid the bank for in full,” says Nelson.

However, UCMH recognized the right of the elderly woman to live until the last day of her life in the residence transformed into a fortress.

Siboney, residential enclave

Each third of the residence has a different history, tied to its being property of the UCMH. On the main floor of the house, lived Dr. Caridad Dovale, retired from the UCMH, who emigrated to the United States in 2012. According to a document from the university center, her husband stayed in Cuba, managing to obtain the right to the property. In 2016 Dovales returned to Cuba, was repatriated and regained ownership of the house, as a university doctor.

The so-called “part behind,” belonging to the third, was claimed by the educational institution in 2013. Nelson affirms that Armando Hart Dávalos (former Minister of Education and Culture) and his wife interceded for those residents, and managed to get the eviction process cancelled.

The Cabrera family asks: Why if Falcón emigrated to the US, his wife did not get the benefit of housing, like the neighbors above? What has more value in Cuba, citizen rights or a good godfather in the government?

The answer is clear in the ​​Siboney area, a neighborhood full of mansions built before 1959 by the so-called “bourgeoisie,” but which today is dominated by the government upper class.