Camaguey Police Prohibit Sol Garcia and Henry Constantin From Exercising Journalism

Independent journalists Sol García Basulto and Henry Constantín Ferreiro. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 4 May 2017 — Journalists Sol García Basulto and Henry Constantín were summoned Thursday to Camagüey’s Third Police Unit, where they were threatened with having their homes searched and the equipment they use to do their work confiscated if they do not stop “publishing on social networks and in independent magazines.”

An official, who identified himself as Lieutenant Francisco Pacheco, reproached the young people for continuing to work as journalists and issued each of them a warning.

The official also accused Constantin of buying “200 bags of cement and a bathing suit” which he transported “in a yellow Lada car from Najasa to the city of Camagüey.” However, Constantin categorically denies the accusation and insists that he has not left the city because he is under a “restriction of movement” measure. continue reading

On March 23, both reporters were charged with the alleged crime of “usurpation of legal capacity,” a charge that is still active, according to Constantin speaking to 14ymedio a few minutes before the meeting with the police on Thursday.

If the charge goes to trial, they could be tried under Article 149 of the Criminal Code, which punishes those who “perform acts of a profession for which they are not properly qualified.” They would then be subject to a prison sentence of between three months and one year.

The reporters are part of the editorial team of the independent magazine La Hora de Cuba (Cuba’s Hour), which is distributed in digital format. In addition they collaborate with different independent media and García Basulto is a correspondent for 14ymedio in the province of Camagüey.

At the end of last year, Constantín was named regional vice president for Cuba for the Inter American Press Association (IAPA). Recently the reporter was not able to attend a conference in Los Angeles about the current situation of journalists on the Island, nor was he able to attend a later meeting of the IAPA in Guatemala, due to the restrictions of movement imposed on him by police authorities.

García Basulto was warned by the police again this Thursday, about her job of interviewing people and collecting information in public places. A task that she undertakes, according to the officers, to “misrepresent information and write against the government.” The police showed particular annoyance at an interview with the rapper Rapshela published in 14ymedio in March.

In November 2016, State Security prevented the 14ymedio correspondent from leaving her home in the days following the death of former President Fidel Castro, while the funeral procession transported his ashes to Santiago de Cuba.

At that time the young woman denounced the escalating repression against her, which began in December 2015 when she solicited opinions outside the Provincial Court of Camagüey where the trial was being held for the murder of musician Pedro Armando Junco, known as Mandy.

The IAPA believes that the accusations against the two journalists are contrary to international provisions that support “the right to seek, receive, disseminate information and express opinions.”

Legal Process Opens Against ‘14ymedio’ Reporter in Camagüey

The reporter Sol García Basulto has denounced the escalation of repression against her, which started in December 2015. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 23 March 2017 – This Wednesday the gates have begun to close around independent journalist Sol Garcia Basulto, who has been charged with the crime of “usurpation of legal capacity.” (In other words, “practicing journalism without a license.”) The correspondent for this newspaper in Camaguey is facing a sentence of between three months and a year of deprivation of liberty.

The accusation against Garcia Basulto coincides with that made against the regional vice-president of the Inter-American Press Association in Cuba, Henry Constantin. Both reporters are a part of the editorial team of the independent magazine La Hora de Cuba (Cuba’s Hour), which is distributed in a digital format.

The young reporter was warned by the police about her work interviewing and gathering information in public spaces. A task that she engages in, according to the officials, to “misrepresent information and write against the government.” continue reading

If the process takes its course, the journalist could be tried under Article 149 of the Penal Code which punishes those who “perform independent acts of a profession for which they are not properly qualified.”

The police did not mention the names of the possible complainants, but warned Garcia Basulto that she was not “empowered” to undertake work as a reporter. The young woman is being investigated and cannot leave the country. Any travel outside her home province must be communicated ahead of time to the police.

Last November, State Security prevented the 14ymedio correspondent from leaving her house in the days after the death for former president Fidel Castro, while the funeral procession carried his ashes to Santiago de Cuba.

At that time, the young woman denounced the escalating repression against her, which started on 4 December 2015 when she tried to take some photos and collect opinions in front of Camaguey Provincial Court where the trial was being held for the murder of the musician Pedro Armando Junco, known as Mandy.

The Inter American Press Association warned this week about García Basulto possibly being charged with the same crime for which its vice president is being prosecuted. The entity considers that such accusations are contrary to international provisions that support “the right to seek, receive, disseminate information and express opinions.”

Censored at the Camaguey Festival, Rapper ‘Rapshela’ Denounces “Fear of Liberty” / 14ymedio, Sol Garcia Basulto

Cuban rapper Rashel Cervantes, “Rapshela,” could not appear at the Trakean2 Festival because of not receiving authorization to reside abroad (Facebook)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Sol Garcia Basulto, Camaguey, 22 March 2017 – Hip Hop has become that redoubt of rebellion that other musical genres, like rock and roll, used to embody. The Trakean2 Fesitval, which ended Monday in Camaguey, gave voice to performers who sing as if they were shooting truths at the public, but censorship against Cuban rapper Rashel Cervantes – known as Rapshela – who lives in Spain, overshadowed the event.

Also missing were rappers who sing their lyrics in marginal neighborhoods where the genre enjoys the greatest vitality. But that is what was decided by the Brothers Saiz Association, who organized the ninth edition of the event with 40 participating rappers, including MCs (Masters of Ceremony), breakdancers and graffiti artists. Cockfights, the improvised verbal confrontations between musicians, were the moments most appreciated by the public.

Rapshela could not appear before the public in spite of having travelled to the Island for the occasion. Problems with her cultural visa and reproof by the organizers prevented it. continue reading

After spending her own money for the plane ticket from Barcelona, where she lives, Rapshela ran into the cancellation of the presumed institutional promise to pay for her travel from Havana to Camaguey. She managed to arrive nevertheless, but the obstacles had not ended: as a resident abroad she did not receive authorization to appear in time.

Festival Trakean2, which ended Monday in Camaguey, gave voice to rap, hip hop and other urban genre singers. (14ymedio)

“As soon as I arrived I went to the AHS, and the organizer [Eliecer Velazquez] told me that I could not sing because I was living abroad,” she tells this daily. Nor was the artist included in the lodging and food options that other guests enjoyed. A situation that she regrets “after four months of speaking” with the event promoters.

In a gesture of solidarity, Los Compinches, a group from Pinar del Rio, invited Rapshela to accompany them to the stage. But when the artist began to sing, the Festival organizers ordered the microphone sound lowered. A little later the spectacle came to an end.

The event generated an intense debate when other musicians and the public clamored for her to be permitted to sing, but the organizers proved inflexible. Although they declined to give their version of what happened, Eliecer Velazquez justified himself to the artist, arguing that it was the first time that he had organized a festival, and he did not know “that there was so much paperwork to do.” The promoter explained to the singer that she sought the cultural visa too late and that is why they did not grant it.

Among the attendees, many considered it absurd that a Cuban had to wait for a cultural visa to appear in the city where she was born, so they saw what happened as censorship masked in bureaucratic delays.

The organization also had disagreements with some lyrics by the group Los Compinches, in which marijuana consumption is promoted and Cuba’s economic situation is criticized.

Before the microphones went mute, the spectators had shown great enthusiasm and repeated choruses like Don’t step on the herb, smoke it. A second song increased nervousness of the authorities when the singer explained that the video clip that accompanied the lyrics had been censored.

Joaquin Corbillon Perez, member of the group, does not explain what they did wrong although he argues that the Brothers Saiz Association is not responsible for the situation. “The guilty ones are much higher and are the ones who prohibit it,” he said.

The AHS director from Pinar del Rio, Denis Perez Acanda, also a member of Los Compinches, defended the lyrics of his song and characterized as an “act of repression” the fact that the organizers did not let Rapshela sing.

For Rapshela the problems that she suffered transcend the music scene. “The Cuban people are censored,” she says. In her opinion “rap is a weapon for expression” and “a window to liberty, but here they are scared of liberty.”

The organizer of the Havana female rap festival and manager of the Somos Mucho Más (We Are Much More) project, Yamay Mejias Hernandez, known as La Fina (The Fine One), showed her solidarity with Rapshela because “she is Cuban, Camagueyan, and has never performed in her land. What she wanted was to introduce herself and for her people to hear her.”

Mejias Hernandez, also a feminist activist, told 14ymedio about the festival’s other problems. “It needs a little more organization, maybe more coordination in the places where they hold the concerts at night.” She thinks that Cristo Park, a site intended to offer concerts, did not meet the requirements for nighttime performances.

“There have to be more theoretical events like discussions, meetings, book readings,” adds Mejias Hernandez. “They need more female presence because at this event only two female rappers appeared.” The singer asserts that throughout the Island there are many females who are connected to the genre.

Translated by Mary Lou Keel

Artists Supply is Short of Materials for Camaguey Salon / 14ymedio, Sol Garcia Basulto

The art show opened in 2 February and will run until the first days of March in the Provincial Fine Arts Center. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Sol Garcia Basulto, Camaguey, 17 February 2017 – With a predominance of mixed techniques and recycled materials, Camaguey artists hide the shortage of raw materials in the City Salon show. The art show opened on 2 February and will run until the first days of March in the Provincial Fine Arts Center.

The event began with a contest in which 32 artists participated with more than 40 works, among which the wide presence of younger artists stands out. The members of the Camagüey Provincial Arts Center presented the prizes a few days after the opening. continue reading

Many of the works show a nonchalant character and the authors have had to deploy a greater imagination to supply the missing resources

The winner of the Grand Prize was video artist Hamlet Armas Perez, 27, who explained to 14ymedio the difficulty of “creating art right now in Camagüey” because of the lack of materials.

Many of the works show a nonchalant character and the authors have had to deploy greater imagination to supply the missing resources, since the Cuban Cultural Property Fund, the largest supplier of materials in the province, has stopped supplying art products.

This situation is suffered in particular by painters, says Armas Pérez, although video art makers also have “difficulties in finding resources.”

Kevis, a young graduate of the School of Art Instructors who could not finish his work in time for the exhibition, laments the high prices of materials, as well as the complexity of finding them. “I’m paying for a tube of white oil now 5 Cuban convertible pesos (roughly $5 US) on the street,” he protests.

“Some of the education and culture warehouses keep materials for more than 20 years.” Those are the resources that are circulating in the province according to Kevis. “The tubes of oil are sometimes hard and you have to put them in hot water to make them soft.”

Angel González Fariñas, director of the gallery, thinks that the predominance of mixed techniques is more related to “the authors’ instinct for experimentation” and takes for granted the “lack of materials especially in the prints and mountings.”

The artist Jorge Luis Pulido Álvarez, who won the Salon’s third prize and three collateral prizes with the trilogy In the habitat of my art, says that his work was done with mixed technique and that in spite of the shortages “the artists overcome these difficulties with the passion they feel.”

Lewis was unable to present his work because he could not get the mounting that he needed: a frame and glass

Lewis, an art instructor in the visual arts, said that he could not present his work at the event because he could not get the mounting that his work needed: a frame and glass. Lacking the necessary resources to dedicate himself to painting has pushed him to dedicate himself to drawing.

Another artist who has abandoned painting, in his case for a better remunerated technique — carpentry — is Pedro. This former professor at the School of Art Instructors says that he has dedicated himself to making coatracks and shoe racks because “you have to eat.”

However, despite the adversities, the organizers of the show have managed to maintain a high standard.

The curator and critic Pavel Alejandro Barrios Sosa sums up his perception of the work of the artists: “Art for art’s sake, the amusement of the artist, quotes, versions, allusions, the relationship between culture and popular expression, between the national and the universal.”

Political Arrests Increase / 14ymedio, Pedro Armando Junco

Reporter Sol Garcia Basulto was arrested on the night of November 3 when she was preparing to travel to Havana. (14ymedio)
Reporter Sol Garcia Basulto was arrested on the night of November 3 when she was preparing to travel to Havana. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Pedro Armando Junco, Havana, 23 November 2016 — I learned via the internet that 14ymedio’s Camaguey correspondent, Sol Garcia Basulto, was illegally and arbitrarily arrested on the night of November 3 when she was travelling to Havana to get a visa for her passport.

As she herself relates, she had won a trip abroad for a journalism course. She would not qualify for enrollment in a Cuban university journalism school because her political ‘wood’ is not suitable for the construction of that ‘national informational edifice.’ Her case is not isolated. There are many young students of this profession whose careers are interrupted for the least ideological slip-up or who, when they manage to graduate, have doors to jobs closed on them. They are innumerable, the names of the recent graduates who have crossed the Strait or who are marginalized within the country and take on any self-employment that is often as distant from their abilities and aspirations as they ever imagined. continue reading

Sol’s case is in keeping with a repressive wave that is playing out across the Island against opponents and independent journalists in order to put a stop to that avalanche of popular dissatisfaction that is growing among the citizenry because that handful determined to complain is the only representation of the people’s discontent. The system is not content with excluding them from the official media – the only media accessible to the population – but intends to eliminate them because of new technologies that one way or another allow what’s happening within Cuba to be known.

The most significant thing about Garcia Basulto’s detention, if the objective was to prevent her trip abroad, is that they could have visited her at her home and withdrawn her passport; taken her off the bus at the Camaguey terminal before it took off; or even summoned her to the police station. However, they waited for the bus to leave the city, and then they stopped it in the middle of the road, boarded it and handcuffed her like a common criminal. This is one more kind of mistreatment that so many of the Cuban population suffers.

I know Solecito – as I call her – and I know that she is a young woman of character. She raises her daughter alone because the father is a prisoner. I am not unfamiliar with that journalistic aspiration that has not been able to develop, as I said before, because of its dissident tenets. I have seen her often and read her work in the independent magazine Cuba’s Time which, by the way, is not at all “counter-revolutionary” except when its collaborators touch a sore spot of some public official – I even think that the State could take the articles that are written there as a reference to discover the administrative deficiencies of many revolutionaries who bleed public assets for their own benefit, as is well known.

I am at once saddened and indignant that the changes of openness promised to the people are the object of a double standard – to use this phrase that they like so much – and that now that the president general assures that there are no political prisoners, they stop and humiliate those who don’t submit to the system. It is possible that there are no political prisoners in Cuba; but political arrests increase daily.

The bad time that they gave to Solecito will not change her way of thinking but will increase her condemnation of those who oppress her. Maybe a friendly and convincing attitude together with facilitating her trip would have made her change her view and respond empathetically when the time came to practice non-professional journalism. But instead, the sad and regrettable event has brought to international light a new name that will have to be taken into account from now on.

Translated by Mary Lou Keel

“The State Fears The People Getting Rich” / 14ymedio, Sol Garcia Basulto

Onel Vara Fernández has a license to make and sell items for the home, in Camagüey. (14ymedio)
Onel Vara Fernández has a license to make and sell items for the home, in Camagüey. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Sol Garcia Batista, Camaguey, 19 November 2016 – With an incredible facility with recycled metals and plastics, Onel Vara Fernandez holds a license as a producer and seller of articles for the home* in Camaguey. For the last 22 years, this tenacious entrepreneur has engaged in high and low skilled work, working for himself in Cuba, an experience he shares with the readers of 14ymedio.

14ymedio: How do you recall the reintroduction of the private sector in the 1990s?

Onel Vara Fernández: The self-employed worker, or independent worker as it should be called, has already been around for 22 years, starting in November of 1994 with six types of trades. I am the founder of working on my own account, when I took out a license and started working as an artisan.

14ymedio: Are workers who choose this type of non-state work well looked upon? continue reading

OVF: At the beginning, an independent worker was seen as a dissident, an opponent. They gave us the name of “Merolicos” after a character in a [Mexican] telenovela from that time. At that time everything that was outside the state was viewed badly because with the triumph of the Revolution here, everything disappeared, even the shoeshine boys**. But I have been a person who never had a desire to leave the country, on the contrary, I have preferred to stay here and to continue to defend it. To me, the idea is to better it, not to criticize the government.

14ymedio: What types of articles do you produce.

OVF: Almost everything used in a house, from electrical boxes and spare parts from different appliances, such as washing machine agitators and pullies and even spools of thread.

14ymedio: Did you receive training for this work?

OVF: My work has nothing to do with what I studied, I was a technician in a machine shop. However, everything I use for my work I make myself, from the tools and molds to the machines to shape plastics or rewind cable reels, all in a general sense, I do it not only because I need to, but I like to make things.

14ymedio: What role does independent work play in Cuban today?

OVF: A high percentage of society lives off their own work. In addition to the official worker, the helpers benefit from it, those who sell the product, and their families, children, and the elderly.

14ymedio: Do you think the State appropriately values the work of the self-employed?

OVF: The State could be more appreciative of the work of entrepreneurs. I have seen electrical boxes made outside the country, stamped with “Made in Italy.” These electrical boxes come from the State warehouses and agencies, the State imports them but they’re no different from the ones I make. Why go to another country to find these products, if there are independent workers producing this type of item? We do it with the same quality and the with recycled plastic, which is more ecological and economical. But the State fears the people getting rich.

14ymedio: Do you think the category* “producer-seller of useful household articles” really defines your occupation?

OVF: The term with which they define me doesn’t seem right. I consider myself more of a goldsmith, that is the profession that includes manual labor. Before, we paid 100 pesos for a license to be an artisan that includes almost everything you can make and sell, but now you need about five licenses to do the same thing, because that way the National Office of Tax Administration (ONAT) gets more money. It allows the inspectors to have greater control over the worker. But the State fears people getting rich.

14ymedio: What role will the private sector play in the development fo the country?

OVF: The future of this country is in independent workers, because despite being persecuted by inspectors, we are less within the reach of the State and it restricts production, even in its own companies. But the independent worker is not in their hands. I can work however I want, with whatever raw materials and when I want, this gives me a wider margin for creativity.

We are also more aware of the needs of the people. This is a point in our favor because the State is distant from others, isolate, but the independent worker knows what they can sell, because it is what they themselves need, their family, their neighbor, the people they know.

14ymedio: And how does the US embargo affect your work?

OVF: The blockade is a political strategy that the leaders of this country use to justify everything bad they do. They caused the blockade to become law when they shot down the American [Brothers to the Rescue] planes in 1992. They did it precisely for that reason, to have an external enemy to blame. However, the blockade has benefitted the self-employed workers. Thanks to it Cuba has not experienced the consumer society and so it has developed the independent worker.

In developed countries people use things and then throw them away. Here we have learned to live thirty years with a Russian washing machine. When it breaks an independent worker is the one who has the parts. We have learned to engineer it and that makes us stronger. When an independent worker can develop their industry everyone wins. Now all that’s lacking is that they let us do it and it has nothing to do with the United States blockade.

Translator’s note:

*Cuba has a limited list of allowed lines of work for which people can get licenses to work independently. This is one of them.

** Fidel Castro moved quickly to nationalize major industries and foreign-owned business, and finally, in 1968 in the so-called Revolutionary Offensive, eliminated all private enterprise, taking over “mom and pop” businesses and, notably, even shoeshine boxes.

14ymedio Reporter Sol Basulto García Arrested In Camagüey / 14ymedio

Sol García Basulto
Reporter Sol García Basulto was arrested Thursday night when she was preparing to travel to Havana. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 4 November 2016 – The reporter Sol García Basulto was arrested by Cuban State Security Thursday night when she was traveling to Havana. The correspondent for 14ymedio in Camagüey was intercepted on the way to the capital by officers who handcuffed her and confiscated her belongings. About two in the morning she was released, with a warning that she cannot leave the province for 60 days.

The arrest occurred on the outskirts of the city, when the bus was stopped at a checkpoint. Several police officers entered the bus, handcuffed her and put her in a patrol car, taking her to a State Security unit in the Montecarlo neighborhood. continue reading

“They never gave me an explanation of why I was being arrested,” she said, in a telephone call to the 14ymedio newsroom in Havana. “At the unit I resisted giving them my belongings because they wanted to take my cellphone and my documents.”

“Six people seized me violently, five men and a woman, and took away everything I had, except for my passport.”

“I have to go every Wednesday to the State Security unit because I am charged with disobedience,” she detailed. If she does not appear, “a retentive measure will be applied,” she reported.

Basulto Garcia was heading to Havana to visit the newsroom of this newspaper and to begin the paperwork to travel abroad. The reporter would have gone to the Panama consulate on Friday to request a visa to participate in a course on investigative journalism, at the invitation of the Latin American Press Association.

A contributor to the magazine Hora de Cuba (Cuba’s Hour), and a reporter focused on cultural issues, García Basulto has been harassed in recent months for her work as a freelance journalist. In February of this year she was interrogated and threatened by the political police and told not to continue her work.

“They don’t like my work,” the reporter wrote in an email previously after suffering various pressures. “They warn me that I am constantly watched and that I am in their hands,” she said at that time.

A Woman Made Of Yarey Palm And Willpower /14ymedio, Sol Garcia Basulto

Siria Noris Rodriguez working on a palm front hat. (14ymedio)
Siria Noris Rodriguez working on a palm front hat. (14ymedio)

cubanet square logo14ymedio, Sol Garcia Basulto, Camagüey, 6 August 2016 – The fiber rubs the fingertips and leaves a pleasant burning, almost a caress. The life of Syria Noris Rodriguez revolves around the fronds of the yarey palm, with which she creates hats, bags and baskets. In the municipality of Rio Cauto, in the province of Granma, this petite woman with deft hands maintains a tradition languishing under the passage of time and fashions.

Siria’s whole house has a peculiar aroma, where the scents of the Cuban countryside mix with the sweat that flows when facing the sewing machine. She spends hours there, stitch by stitch joining the dry palm fronds that will rest on a farmer’s head, in the hands of housewife heading to the market, or in the beautiful bassinet where a newborn sleeps. continue reading

Siria’s creations end up with ordinary Cubans, not on the shelves where tourists buy souvenirs of their trip. It was not her decision, but that of the bureaucracy. She didn’t have the prerequisites – an academic background as an artist and membership in the Cuban Association of Artisans and Artists (ACAA) – to place her works in the commercial areas of hotels, bazaars and boutiques.

Not being a member of ACAA limits the economic dividends Siria can get for her work. So after several decades of weaving the fiber, she doesn’t live much better than those who receive a salary for working eight hours a day for the state. If she takes a day off she has to sew more when she returns to her machine. There are days when she wakes up dreaming that someone will knock on the door and take a mountain of hats, to be able to put something on the dinner table.

In the family workshop, everyone helps out. There are sisters, grandchildren and neighbors who work with the drying, taking care “not to spoil it,” says Siria. After the leaves open “you have to make the yarey fine” and only then can you make the braid, like a belt, with which all kinds of objects can be woven.

“A hat for an adult has a braid of 15 or 16 rounds, and that’s a full day’s work,” says the artisan, without taking her eyes off the long fiber she is feeding under the needle.

She and her siblings learned to work with the yarey from their mother, Petronila Mendoza, who learned it in turn from her mother and she from hers. “We have worked for generations,” says Siria, who shares the workshop with her older sister while acknowledging that “everyone who comes by the house helps out.”

The palm fronds must be bought from farm workers, some of whom exchange them for hats or baskets for later use in the fields.

Sometimes there are some bad fronds, but this woman’s sharp eye sees them at once. “The weather affects it, the best hours for weaving are in the morning and at night, because the rest of the time the palm is too hard because there is less moisture in the air,” she explains.

A man’s hat can sell for a price that varies between 30 to 40 Cuban pesos, depending on size. “Anyone can buy this, of any profession, whether a farmer or a vendor,” she adds. She remains hopeful that the tradition of weaving yarey palm fronds will not die out because there are a lot of young people “interested in learning.”

Sometimes Siria gets up feeling pessimistic and thinks about leaving her work with this natural fiber. “It’s too hard,” she comments, but then immediately recognizes that her work is entertaining. “I start weaving and it clears the mind and I forget the pains.”

Camagüey’s “innovative potential” / 14ymedio, Sol Garcia Basulto

Just outside the Casablanca movie theater, several participants of the First Meeting on Audiovisual Culture and Digital Technologies in Camagüey. (14ymedio)
Just outside the Casablanca movie theater, several participants of the First Meeting on Audiovisual Culture and Digital Technologies in Camagüey. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Sol Garcia Basulto, Camaguey, 14 February 2016 – Perseverance and optimism are Juan Antonio Garcia Borrero’s inseparable allies. Only the perseverance of this movie critic who is passionate about new technologies has allowed him to pull off the First Meeting on Audiovisual Culture and Digital Technologies in Camagüey. The event, censored last November, took place this week (11-12 February) and attracted an audience interested in audiovisual culture.

The meeting was held in The Alley of Miracles and the Alhambra room at the Casablanca cinema, and included lectures, workshops and other activities that show “the innovative potential” in the city, according to Garcia Borrero, who called on the guests to “listen, share and learn.” continue reading

The event set out to make Camagüey a a “stronghold in the creative use of new technologies related to the audiovisual culture.” Among its highlights was a panel moderated by Yoan Pico on the importance of media libraries in the digital revolution, with the presence of Jorge Santos Caballero, Luis Alvarez Alvarez and the host. The discussion concluded that the computerization of Cuban culture is imminent.

Digitizing books for the Net generation, born in the digital age, is the only way to guide young people to a healthy and well-informed consumer environment, the panelists pointed out. In this event they listed some of the aspirations of the project with regards to audiovisual dissemination, among them, “reaching a wider audience with cyber-literacy and new technology resources.”

Participants were able to access a digital media library, from which it was possible to download, from the wireless network in the lobby of the Casablanca cinema, the fifth installment of “A Thousand and one Texts,” a compilation from the researcher and critic Desiderio Navarro. Also available was a compendium with “The 220 best movies in the history of the cinema” selected by the Saiz Brothers Association.

The workshop addressed tricks and ways to get information and distribute audiovisual material in a session on the experiences that made up a part of the technology encounter. The public had the chance to question, criticize and suggest ideas for new digital literacy projects to representatives of the institutions involved: the State telecommunications monopoly, the Youth Club, the Information Faculty at the University of Camagüey, Citmatel, Portal Príncipe, and the Cuban Union of information Scientists.

Also invited were the so-called Wifi instructors, staff prepared to provide information and advice to users in the different Wifi zones that provide wireless access to the internet. These young people explained the importance of their work, which they defined as supporting “the population on a journey away from digital ignorance.”

There was no discussion of the sites censored on national networks, several of them made within Cuba. Some of the attendees believe that the next session of the event should include representatives of other sectors that work in new technologies and not only figures from the cultural audiovisual scene.

However, it seems to have unleashed in Camagüey one of the first battles for “technological emancipation,” as defined by Garcia Borrero, an initiative that “will demand long term collaborations and contributions from people who are immersed in the digital computerization supporting Cuban culture.”

At the end of the event, the manager of this First Meeting on Audiovisual Culture and Digital Technologies wrote in his blog that the dreams raised “now seem elusive,” but “it doesn’t matter how few there are, for now, involved in the enterprise.” In his judgment, “we must continue doing things however shocking that others ignore.”

Farmers Installed Electricity Without State Support / 14ymedio, Sol Garcia Basulto

Alternative power line in Camagüey. (14ymedio)
Alternative power line in Camagüey. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Sol Garcia Basulto, Camagüey, 8 December 2105 – In an act that mixes rebellion and impatience, the residents of Las Casimas in Camagüey have improvised a four kilometer long power line to bring service to their village. After years of negotiations and requests, the farmers did not want to remain in the shadows, and so they have scrounged to connect themselves to the nearest area that receives services from the Electric Company.

This alternative effort includes transformers, insulators and professional wiring, as well as posts made with trees along the alignments whose branches were removed. To finance the project, the families contributed according to their economic resources. In all, the figure reached about 4,000 convertible pesos. continue reading

The community of Las Casimbas, in the Najasa district in the province of Camagüey, is one of those places officially outside the area served by the Electric Company in the district it is a part of. There are 20,000 homes on the island without electric light. This last November, the Minister of Energy and Mines, Alfredo Lopez Valdes, assured that they would have this service in 2017, and that, at the end of this month, electricity would reach 33 settlements – some 1,610 homes – most of them in Plan Turquino and areas difficult to access.

The state company did not want to respond to 14ymedio’s question about the reasons why power has not yet reached Las Casimbas. However, an official of the Electric Company who preferred anonymity said that he was aware of the initiative taken by the villagers in the area to “light their houses and be able to enjoy other advantages of electrical service.” People there are afraid of reprisals from the Electric Company and the biggest nightmare right now in Las Casimbas is that the costly wire they have strung will be cut by orders “from above.”

Despite its simplicity, the structural quality of the engineering work organized by their own efforts is surprising, and supplies electricity to more than 30 families. Residents paid out of their own pockets for teams of professional to optimize the quality of service, according to the project coordinator, a farmer in the area nicknamed Toño.

“The transformers, cables and insulators were used, but in good condition. Some friends of mine who work in the utility bought them,” said the resident. He adds: “In this place, there has never been power. Only wealthy people had the privilege of illumination fueled by oil, but the rest of us were born and grew up with our nostrils blackened by candle smoke.”

Toño owns two caballerías of land – about 66 acres – that he inherited from his parents, but is not considered among the so-called “haves,” because, he says, it takes a lot of work to exploit the benefits of the earth because of “the lack of agricultural products.” The lack of electricity is added to these obstacles, making it difficult to pump water and do other work in the field.

“We pushed for power because it is very necessary, we need it for everything, for light, to watch TV,” says another local resident. Considering that, for decades, people in the village “knew nothing about the world… If someone was talking about a soap opera, we had to remain silent, without being involved in the conversation. This is why people gave the money without protest to buy the equipment and cables.”

“They put solar panels on the clinic and on the little school of San Ramon – a nearby neighborhood – but the houses didn’t have light, or any appliances, except radios and flashlights that use batteries,” says Toño.

In this area, the price of a battery of the kind most used for flashlights and radios is 20 Cuban pesos, the equivalent of two days of work in the field. “Things like the rice cookers and electric pots and ovens that they have been distributing for years mean nothing to us. Here the women cook with wood or charcoal, people don’t know what cold water (from the fridge) is, nor do they have cellphones. It is not out of ignorance, because you go out and see how people live in town, but because without power it’s impossible,” he points out.

According Toño, the new alternative does not solve the entire problem. “The voltage is too low, refrigerators only freeze late at night. We bring the current from a line like this. The transformer is what makes up the voltage, but at peak times it cannot supply all the houses.”

However, the experience of Romelio, another local resident, is positive. “We have improved a hundred percent, we were living here like the indigenous people in caves, in Cro-Magnon times, with no distraction at all, when night came you went to bed,” he explains. He says that without cell phones, when anyone got sick there was no way to call an ambulance or a doctor. “This is a place that is very isolated and so we struggle to live as people.”

Annoyances of the New Identity Card / 14ymedio, Sol Garcia Basulto

Identity card office in Camagüey. (14ymedio)
Identity card office in Camagüey. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Sol Garcia Basulto Camagüey, 25 November 2015 – One year since the start of the issuing new identity cars in Cuba, many recognize the advantages of the modern ID card, but criticize the complex process to get one. In Camagüey province the manufacture and distribution of the new identify card started last May, but delays in delivering them and long lines continue to characterize their arrival in this region.

To learn about the details of the process, 14ymedio approached the ID card office this Tuesday, where people interested in applying for the new polycarbonate card had gathered since the early morning hours. The applicant must bring one or several stamp/seals with a total value of 25 Cuban pesos. Fingerprints are taken on the premises and the applicant is photographed. continue reading

Among those waiting to update their identity card was Gabriel Villafaña Bosa, whose previous document had deteriorated through use and the passing of years. This Camagüeyan believes that the new format is “stronger and more durable,” so that the number of times it needs to be replaced because of damage will be reduced. However, to get it he had to overcome a long wait.

Yosbani Martinez commented, “I still don’t have the new card because everyone in the world is here.” Living near the office, the young man says that he has passed by the place at four in the morning, “and the line goes to the corner.”

Trying to reduce the avalanche of requests, the authorities have warned that the document can only be replaced in case of loss, damage, change of address or reaching the age of majority. In statements in the official press, several officials have insisted that it is not obligatory to possess the new card, because the two prior formats continue to be valid.

The dissatisfaction with the long wait even made the pages of the local newspaper Adelante this last September whenthe journalist Yasselys Perez Chaos commented to a friend, “after waiting five days in nighttime lines I was allowed to enter the office, where a single unhappy looking official was able to issue only three to twelve cards a day.”

The delays mean serious problems for those who have lost their identification. “Imagine a police officer stops me and asks for the card. When I tell him I don’t have it they take me to the station for fun,” said Villa Faña Bosa. The lack of the document has even affected his collection of remittances. “What do I do if my dad sends me money? How can I collect it at Western Union without the card,” the young man asks, standing in the middle of a long line.

Others resist losing patience despite the obstacles. This is the case with Adalberto Perez Arteago, who says, “It’s the first card I have, because I spent 25 years in prison and didn’t participate in the prior change of format.” The man also feels that the design of the new document, “looks better.”

Among the changes in the document is that the identity number is embossed, there are security features, the content is printed in invisible ink, the bars are machine readable, and there is a ghost image on the back.

The most repeated complaints also address the continued interruptions in the service of delivering the new cards, for various reasons. This Tuesday the building was being fumigated, which paralyzed the process in the only office authorized to issue them in the Camagüey capital. A couple waiting for the process so they could get married decided to return another day, earlier. “It’s already five in the afternoon and look at the number of people who are here. We lost an entire day on this,” the woman pointed out.

As of last June, 380,645 new-format identify cards had been issued in the entire country; that covers 4% of the population over age 16. In Camagüey the numbers are more modest; with a population of 717,686 adults, only 5,746 had obtained the document by that date, some 0.8% of the local population.

Minimum Restaurant Charge to Use the Internet / 14ymedio, Sol Garcia Basulto

Facade of the Café Ciudad in Camaguey. (14ymedio)
Facade of the Café Ciudad in Camaguey. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Sol Garcia Basulto, Camaguey, 14 November 2015 — The number of wireless zones in the country continues to increase, as reported this week by the Cuban Telecommunications Company (ETECSA), but little is said about improving conditions for websurfers. In the city of Camagüey, the web browsing service is characterized by instability and inconvenience for users, to which is added the profit of some State establishments.

Café Ciudad modified its rules about food purchases on finding itself in the area covered by the antennas installed in Agramonte Park. Now, the restaurant requires a minimum food purchase of 5 Cuban convertible pesos (equivalent to a quarter of the average monthly salary) in order to connect to the Internet from inside. The “offering” does not include the right to connect devices to the electrical outlets, a detail that, along with the high prices, has annoyed patrons. continue reading

To learn the reasons that led to the adoption of these measures, 14ymedio approached Elizabeth Napoles, brigade chief of Café Ciudad. “We had to apply this measure because it was already too much, the whole world came and sat here,” explained the functionary, who noted that “they ask for a coffee and they stay for hours, but this is a place to eat, we have to generate income.”

Those who do not have the required sum to remain in the place choose to sit on the stairs, in doorways and nearby sidewalks. “It’s awkward and uncomfortable trying to write a message or have a videoconference with the noise of cars and people passing by,” comments Gustavo, 33, an engineer who frequently uses the services of the WiFi zone in Camaguey.

However, Café Ciudad does not seem willing to modify its pricing policy. Naples justifies the decision because the place has been a victim of certain incidents of “social indiscipline” since the opening of the WiFi network. She says “the situation came to be very difficult; we have to call on the police to get people to leave the tables.”

The brigade chief declared that “this doesn’t mean you have to pay five convertible pesos to remain at the table, but this is a bonus if you eat that much.” With this much money a customer can “drink five Cristal beers, or four Bucaneros and a soft drink, for example,” she points out.

For Naples it is intolerable what happened before the implementation of the new tariff, when “businessmen sat and spent the day connecting one device to another, and they left with more than 50 CUC in their pockets and just bought a soft drink,” she explained, referring to connection resellers who sell shared access to a single account on the Nauta Internet service (by creating a hotspot on their own device).

The usual Café Ciudad customers have screamed to high heaven about the measure. “Now, if you’re having a coffee and you need to connect for a moment, you have leave and this means you lose your table,” Wilfredo Aróstegui Quesada told this newspaper. “Not everyone has enough money to subscribe to this option, the price of two convertible pesos* for an hour of connection is already high.”

The place used to be the meeting place for Camaguey celebrities and the local artists. Rafael Hernández believes that the implementation of this minimum service is unfair: “It seems to be that ETECSA should enable spaces like this to offer its service free,” says the independent artist.

Café Ciudad employees wash their hands of it and say the command “came down directly from the provincial capital’s Tourism Company.” According to Elizabeth Naples, this policy has not solved the problem because “we always face some customers who pretend to be playing on their cellphone” while “staying connected, enjoying the comfort of our establishment,” adds the official.

*Translator’s note: That is, the 5 CUC a customer must spend on food and drink does not include a free wifi connection.