Cuban Activists Discuss the Diplomatic Normalization with the United States / 14ymedio

Cuban activists in the meeting on Monday at the headquarters of "Hannah Arendt Institute of Artivism."(14ymedio)

Cuban activists in the meeting on Monday at the headquarters of “Hannah Arendt Institute of Artivism.”(14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 10 August 2015 – Under the title “Diplomatic Normalization and Democratic Normalization,” an even this Monday brought together some 25 Cuban activists of different points of view. The site of the meeting was the “Hannah Arendt Institute of Artivism” in Old Havana.

The panel in the morning meeting discussed diplomatic normalization with the United States and the political dialog that the Cuban government is holding with the European Union. Specifically, they dealt with “the effects on the generation strategies of Cuban civil society and the democratic opposition.”

The event was attended by dissidents and activists from several organizations, including Juan Antonio Madrazo, Pedro Campos, Laritza Diversent, Felix Navarro, Jorge Olivera, Tania Bruguera, Navid Fernandez, Eroisis Gonzalez, Boris Gonzalez and Lilianne Ruiz, among others.

The meeting took place a few days before the Secretary of State of the United States, John Kerry, will come to Havana to attend the reopening ceremony of the embassy of that country in Cuban territory. So far Kerry’s agenda on the island has not been made public, nor is it known whether it will include a meeting with activists and government opponents.

Mariela Castro’s Eloquent Silence / Cubanet, Tania Diaz Castro

Raul Castro’s daughter Mariela Castro Espin

cubanet square logo

Cubanet, Tania Díaz Castro, Havana, February 19, 2015 — Homosexuality has been around longer than humans have been walking upright. But Fidel Casto — working through State Security, an organization he founded and of which he has always been in charge — has done everything possible to banish it from Cuban soil. He once looked upon it as a cancer capable of eating away his dictatorship.

In an August 2010 interview with the journalist Carmen Lira for the Mexican newspaper La Jornada, the Cuban leader for the first time confessed feeling guilty for the emergence of homophobia in Cuba, an attitude that is still prevalent in the country’s top leadership.

In the interview he acknowledged that “there were moments of great injustice” and noted that he personally had no such prejudices. On this particular occasion the Comandante was not lying. Several of his friends in positions of power were widely known to be homosexuals, including Alfredo Guevara and Continue reading

Lies and Deceptions of a Revolution / Tania Diaz Castro

1401662613_fidel-raul-2Havana, Cuba – Because of the many lies and deceptions in Fidel Castro’s history, new generations of Cubans have great doubts about everything that happened since 1952.

Celia Sánchez was one of the key figures of the Revolution. She died in 1980. Her 21 years as personal secretary to Fidel Castro were devoted mainly to gathering “every last scrap of paper,” as she put it, in order to recover the history of that time, as it actually happened. On May 4, 1964, she founded the Office of Historical Affairs of the Council of State. They include, I suppose, the documents recording all the times that Fidel Castro swore up and down that he was not a communist.

A few days ago, on the 50th anniversary of the creation of that Office, Dr. Eugenio Suárez Pérez, its director, told the newspaper Granma that Celia‘s objective was to safeguard the historical memory of the Revolution, from the Sierra Maestra to its eventual triumph, and that they had currently collected more than 56,000 background documents and more than 159,000 photographs. Continue reading

Rebellion Against the Moringa / Tania Diaz Castro

HAVANA, Cuba – Not that my neighbors would agree. It was purely coincidence. While the workers on the state payroll marched in the Plaza of the Revolution, my closest neighbors ran out of patience; they rebelled and demanded that I cut down my moringa tree.

It had been planted in November 2011, less than three years ago, when at the behest of Fidel Castro several trucks handed out saplings in polyethylene bags to the residents of Santa Fe, Cangrejera, Baracoa, Jaimanitas and the residential neighborhoods adjoining the Commander in Chief’s exclusive enclave, known as Ground Zero. Continue reading

“I Only Know That I Am Afraid” / Tania Diez Castro

HAVANA, Cuba — For almost the first three years of his regime, Fidel Castro was not interested in Cuban intellectuals. He did not forgive their passivity during the years of revolutionary insurrection. They had not put bombs in the street, nor did they engage in armed conflict with the previous dictator’s police. Even those who lived abroad did not do anything for the revolutionary triumph. He never forgave them. Neither he nor other political leaders considered them revolutionaries either before or after the Revolution.

Che Guevara had left it written forever in his little Marxist manual Socialism and Man in Cuba: “The guilt of many of our intellectuals and artists resides in their original sin: they are not authentically revolutionary. We can try to graft the elm tree so that it will produce pears, but at the same time we must plant pear trees.”

But the pears that Che mentioned had nothing to do with human beings because an intellectual, writer or artist is characterized by his sensitivity, his pride, his sincerity. In general, they are solitary and proud.

But also they are, and that is their misfortune, an easy nut to crack, above all for a dictator with good spurs.

During those almost first three years of the Revolution, the most convulsive of the Castro regime — the number of those shot increased and the few jails were stuffed with more than 10,000 political prisoners — surely writers did not fail to observe how Fidel Castro was cracking the free press when after December 27, 1959, he gave the order to introduce the first “post-scripts” at the bottom of articles adverse to his government, supposedly written by the graphics workers.

It was evident that Fidel Castro, who controlled the whole country, did not want to approach them to fill leadership positions of cultural institutions founded by the regime, like the Institute of Art and Cinematographic Industry, House of the Americas, the Latin News Press Agency and numerous newspapers, magazines, and radio and television stations that were nationalized.

For minister of education he preferred Armando Hart. For the House of the Americas, a woman very far from being an intellectual, Haydee Santamaria.  For the Cuban Institute of Radio and Television, Papito Serguera, and for the Naitonal Council of Culture, Vicentina Antuna and Edith Garcia Buchaca, two women unknown in cultural domain.

The first approach that Fidel Castro had with writers, June 16, 1961, in the National Library of Havana, could not have been worse. It was there where he exclaimed his famous remark, “Within the Revolution, everything; outside the Revolution, nothing,” and where he made clear that those who were dedicated to Art had to submit themselves to the will of the Revolution, something that is still in force.

The maximum leader left that closed-door meeting more than pleased on seeing the expressions of surprise and fear of many of those present, and above all by the words of Virgilio Pinera, one of the most important intellectuals of the 20th century when he said: “I just know that I am scared, very scared.” That precisely was what the new Cuban leader most needed to hear from the intellectual throng: Fear, to be able to govern at his whim.

Two months later the Fist Congress of Cuban Writers and Artists was held, and UNEAC was founded.  The intellectuals had fallen into line.

If something was said about that palatial headquarters, property of a Cuban emigrant, it is that the Commandant was allergic to all who had their own judgment, and for that reason he would never visit it, as it happened.

It is remembered still today that in a public speech on March 13, 1966, he attacked the homosexuals of UNEAC, threatening to send them to work agriculture in the concentration camps of Camaguey province. The “Enlightened One,” as today the president of UNEAC Miguel Barnet calls the Cuban dictator, kept his word. Numerous writers and graphic artists found themselves punished with forced labor in the unforgettable Military Units to Assist Production — UMAP.

These Nazi-style units were created in 1964 and closed four years later after persistent international complaints. If anyone knew and knows still the most hidden thoughts of the intellectuals, besides their sexual intimacy, it is the Enlightened One, thanks to his army of spies, members of the political police who work in the shadows of the mansion of 17th and H, in the Havana’s Vedado where UNEAC put down roots.

In 1977, one cannot forget the most cruel and abominable blow that the Enlightened One directed against the writers of UNEAC when his army of political police extracted from the drawers of the headquarters the files of more than 100 members — among them was mine as founder — so that they were definitively and without any explanation separated from the Literature Section of that institution.

Cubanet, April 11, 2014

Translated by mlk.

Police Sharks / Tania Diaz Castro

Osvaldo Brito, Valdy, with his Florida baseball cap – Photo Tania Diaz Castro

HAVANA, Cuba, April – Osvaldo Esteban Brito Amat is another of the many Cubans, mostly youngsters, who every day jump into the sea looking for a better future.

“And the sharks? Aren’t you afraid of them?” I asked him while he told me about what happened to him when he tried to get to the coast of the US for the second time.

“No way. If you don’t take any risks in life, you won’t achieve anything. The sharks here, on land, do you more harm. They go around dressed as policemen and they don’t let you live.”

Everyone calls him Valdy and he was born 41 years ago in Ben Tre, one of the various communities forming part of Bauta Council, in the province of Artemisa next to the city of Havana.

Because of his height, blue eyes and his build, Valdy could be taken for a North American in any place in the world, although the sun has darkened his skin and he speaks in a very Cuban manner.

He boasts of never having been a good example of a revolutionary, because from when he was a child he never felt anything in his heart when he was made to repeat every morning before starting his classes: “Pioneers of communism, we will be like Ché.” He says that nothing that you are forced to do can be sincere.

“I think that ever since I was born I have dreamed of living in the USA,” he tells me. “I didn’t try to go earlier because of my mother. I promised her not to do anything crazy like going in a very risky way. But my mother died a year ago. So now it won’t hurt her if the worst happens. And if I succeed in getting there I am sure she would be very happy.”

“In Ben Tre, that small village, where scarcely three hundred people lived, working on miserable little plots and in the poorest of living conditions, many people remember the former North American landowners there in the fifties of the last century, the good wages they paid to the workers, and how they lost their lands and they left the country when Fidel Castro disappropriated them without offering any compensation.

“It’s the second time I have jumped into the sea, hardly ten days ago, at El Salado beach, at Baracoa. I was a kilometer from the Florida coast. I could almost smell Miami. I felt so happy to be able to open my eyes and try to make out its lights from afar. But they caught us. There were several of us, all youngsters and we almost cried when we saw the US coastguards’ boats on top of us.

“They treated us well. With respect. Just as the Cuban authorities did. They only asked us why did we want to leave. I told them the truth: because I don’t like socialism. I am a bird with four wings who wants to fly to liberty. To earn money by working, not looking for handouts offered by the Cuban government.

“I work for myself. I sell meat and pigs’ trotters, sausages, and some fruit, from my horse and cart; what I get from the community in order to earn an honest living. But that’s a criime in Cuba. That’s why I am familiar with jail. I am very familiar with it without being a criminal.”

“Of course I will try again. As they say, third time lucky.”

He showed me the baseball hat with Florida on it which they gave him in the US boat. For him it’s a trophy for his heroic act of confronting the sharks in the middle of the night. I ask him if he doesn’t think that they deserve to be welcomed into that great country and he looks at me with his deep blue eyes, filled with tears.

Cubanet, 8 April 2014

Translated by GH

When Ramiro Valdes Lost his Cable / Tania Diaz Castro

Ramiro Valdez, a confident of the Castro brothers

Ramiro Valdez, a confident of the Castro brothers

HAVANA, Cuba – I heard the story late, it happened a year ago. But the residents of Santa Fe, a coastal community to the west of Havana where about 50,000 people live, are afraid to say anything about Ramiro Valdés Menéndez, a “historic commander,” who is credited with numerous shootings at the beginning of the Cuban Revolution.

At the entrance to Santa Fe, on 1st Street, is the residence of this member of the Politburo of the only legally existing party in Cuba. It is hidden there behind high walls that span more than two blocks, so that nothing can be seen from outside. It’s a Nazi-style bunker, but with access to the sea.

Between gritted teeth, very carefully, in case it might reach the ears of the Artemisa Spy as many call him, or one of this many bodyguards, I was told this story.

On a sunny afternoon in April 2013, several workers from the Communal, an organization that is responsible for cleaning and slashing of weeds in sidewalks and green areas of the city, was performing these tasks near Ramiro’s bunker when one of them inadvertently slashed a wire in the undergrowth with his machete.

The area of Ramiro Valdes's bunker from Google Earth

The area of Ramiro Valdes’s bunker from Google Earth

They continued their work, but on seeing the soldiers pour out of the bunker like wasps, looking for the counterrevolutionary terrorist who had cut Ramiro’s cable, they stopped in surprise. They didn’t know what to say.

Within minutes they were all under arrest and at the trail three of those working outside the bunker were sentenced to five years in prison, because as the action had been accidental, it was impossible to know who had cut Ramiro’s cable.

Three humble men who live in poverty, in houses they made themselves with materials found in the streets.

I know one of them, Carlos Merino Martinez, who has been my gardener for six years, someone who rarely speaks, honest and of good character, who still wonders why he has to serve a sentence if he is innocent.

He says that on occasion he’s wanted to speak with Ramiro who, after all, although he is vice president of the Councils of State and Ministers, was a poor man like him, a shopkeeper according to what he’s heard, back in Artemisa near his bunker, and to tell him of the injustice committed against him and his two companions, but he fears he would just be stopped approaching such a mysterious house. He tells me he feels humiliated, although the prison sentence was converted into “prison without internment,” he has to sign in at the Police Station every month, as if he were a criminal.

Groundskeeper Carlos Merino Martinez. Photo by Tania Diaz

Groundskeeper Carlos Merino Martinez. Photo by Tania Diaz

As a man who lives a quiet life, along with his wife, he doesn’t care that he’s forbidden to attend parties or to leave Santa Fe. In short, he has always gone home from work. He never made money for parties. But it saddens him that his companions, younger than he is, are facing this situation.

Time has passed but the story of the wire cut by the three unfortunate gardeners is still talked about. As we’ve lived half a century and backwardness and very little of internet cables, many of us wonder if the so-important cable Ramiro has hidden in the weeds along the sidewalk from his bunker was for electricity, telegraphy, or an underground or underwater telephone. Some even think it might be that very “fiber optic cable coming from Venezuela,” through which Ramiro instructs his Cuban agents there.

Cubanet, 14 March 2014, Tania Diaz Castro

Conversation Between an Opponent and a Colonel / Tania Diaz Castro

HAVANA, Cuba, January,  — It does not matter whether his name is Armando, Pedro or Juan. What is important is that a few days ago my neighbor the colonel and I found ourselves briefly chatting face to face at the entrance to my house. Such are the oddities of life. He, wore an old coat and a scarf wrapped around his neck, apparently from one of the former Soviet countries. I then wondered where the average senior citizen might be able to buy a coat and scarf to wear during these cold winter months.

It was the first time we had spoken, though we see each other almost every day. The reason was immediately obvious. It all started with poor quality of the bread, which we buy at the same place on 17th Street in El Roble, a neighborhood in the Santa Fe district of western Havana.

“It’s because they steal the fat that goes in it,” I said.

“The salt too,” said the colonel.

Tearing down the Berlin Wall

Tearing down the Berlin Wall

We talked about things that later he might have had reason to regret, but I took the opportunity to encourage this exchange since it is not often that such a spontaneous conversation takes place between a government opponent and a colonel, even a retired one, in the middle of the street on a cold January afternoon.

“I wonder how they will put an end to all this theft,” I said, trying to look naive.

“It’s difficult. The problem has been going on now for a long time,” he said. “In my village back in the 1950s it was unusual to come across a thief. The police were mainly concerned with drunkards and revolutionaries.”

“And there weren’t even that many drunks back then,” I added. “Those were the days.”

We then launched into an analysis of the Cuban experience. He did not defend Raul Castro’s “new economic model” (as I was expecting). Sometimes it even seemed to me he had his doubts, such as when he acknowledged that so far they had yielded no visible results.

When I asked him what he thought the path forward was, he pursed his lips and exclaimed, “I don’t believe in God. But if he exists, he must know what to do.”

I smiled. Was he making a joke? Was it a response born of pathos? I do not know the answer now anymore than I knew then.

The Ladies in White being harassed by State Security agents.

“Everything started getting worse when the Soviets threw Stalin overboard and then Gorbachev gave Lenin the coup de grace,” he said. “The Russians wanted to stick us with a bill that was impossible to pay.”

And what about socialism in the 21st century,” I asked. “Does this suggest there will be civil liberties. In Cuba that doesn’t seem likely. Not long ago a government minister said that opposition political parties would never be allowed to take part in elections.”

“You might very well be right,” he said. “Things could change. Everything in life changes. But one must never lose hope, even if it seems there is nothing else that can be done. But if there is one thing that bothers me, it is how much the people are to blame for what is happening.”

“The people are tired,” I said, interrupting him. “They are exhausted. They don’t have hope. They have been living under dictatorship for many years.”

The word “dictatorship” brought him back to his own reality. He frowned, his face tightened and he waved to leave without saying goodbye. Maybe it was the cold evening air in those impassioned times which forced him to see the two of us as we really were: an old man, maybe a little less faithful to the three sprigless stars on the colonel’s uniform he kept in a closet, and an old woman who says what she thinks because she has nothing to hide.

Cubanet, January 31, 2014, 

The Sputnik that got on Fidel Castro’s Nerves / Tania Diaz Castro

The Soviet magazine was prohibited.  Goodbye goose who lays the golden eggs. The Special Period arrived.

Mikhail Gorbachev and Ronald Reagan

HAVANA, Cuba — The last Soviet SPUTNIK magazine that circulated in Cuba, corresponding to the month of November 1988, was the one that got on Fidel Castro’s nerves. In it, an extensive article by Yelizaveta Dabrina recounts the details of the last years of Vladimir Ilich Lenin during his illness, the will where he exposed the reasons for which Joseph Stalin ceased to be Secretary General of the Central Committee and in which he practically proves that a dispute between Stalin and the wife of Lenin could have hastened the death of the Bolshevik leader.

The Magazine SPUTNIK, whose name comes from the satellite that the Soviets put in orbit in 1957, could only survive for 24 years, as in 1991 it was definitively shut down after the collapse of the USSR. It was considered the counterpart of the famous Reader’s Digest from the United States, and although it was published in seven languages, it was imported to very few countries, principally because of the bad quality of its texts and its lousy translations. Continue reading

Christmas Divided / Tania Diaz Castro

Havana, Cuba, December 24, — As a good predictor of the future, this man forecast that Christmas would not be necessary in a socialist country.  He knew since then that there would be no victuals and much less family for the days of celebration.

It is noteworthy that in the Population and Household Census carried out in September 2012, from which definitive results were recently offered, the National Office of Statistics and Information has not included in its questions how many of us Cubans are distant from our families.

Without any doubt any of the 11,167,325 inhabitants of the Caribbean archipelago suffers that pain.  So it is difficult in more than three million Cuban homes in the country, to be able to evoke these Christmas days happily, if those we love are not present since we opened our eyes to the world. Continue reading

Dreaming of Steak in Cuba / Tania Diaz Castro

Pedro-Yanez-Foto-de-Tania-Diaz-Castro-300x224HAVANA, Cuba , December, – Pedro Yánez, an honest and decent man, led a quiet life with his wife and two small sons in a humble house built almost completely by him, on 19th Street in Santa Fe. Like almost all the residents of this seaside neighborhood to the west of Havana, he raised pigs to sell to the neighbors. He had a she-goat that gave milk and poultry for birthdays.

But one day his life changed. He began to dream of eating a steak with french fries, with their spectacular taste and smell. The dream seemed so real that one night he shot out of bed and raced the kitchen, followed by his wife, puzzled by the behavior of her husband.

“What’s going on?”

“Nothing,” Pedro answered, “I just dreamt that I ate a steak.”

“C’mon, don’t dream the impossible.” She went back to bed, trying to calm him down.

But the story does not end there. The next night, Pedro had the same dream, a dream that began to repeat when he least expected it, until it became a nightmare.

When he confided his problem to a friend, the friend told him, “This is serious Pedrito. In this country you can’t eat beef, because there isn’t any, dreaming of a steak is almost a crime. Forget about it.  Imagine if you kill a cow… You’re going to rot in jail, bro. Look, better to kill the goat, or a chicken.”

“No, it’s not the same,” said the good man, “I can’t get the smell of beef steak out of my mind.”

So obsessed was he with the idea of eating a good steak with fries, that one night, back in the nineties, without giving it much thought, he went to the countryside and helped an old friend kill a cow that was wandering loose on the road.

The end of his story is the same as for thousands of Cubans who have been sentenced to prison for committing the crime of “Theft and Slaughter of Cattle,” punishable under Cuban law with eight years in prison, or more is the beef is stolen from a State corral.

Today, Pedro is a sad and bitter man. He laments having been from home for eight years, imprisoned like a criminal, and not being able to watch his sons, Yadiel and Anyi, grow up.

For two years Yadiel, his oldest son — a robust and happy boy — threw himself on rudimentary rafts to get to Florida, despite the shark-infested sea. On the seventh attempt he managed to get to the United States.

Today, Yadiel Yanez lives and works in Houston, Texas, as a home builder. Surely his friends there have heard him tell this story.

Tania Diaz Castro

Cubanet, 6 December 2013

Russian Millionaires Come to do Business / Tania Diaz Castro

Havana, Cuba, November 2013 – Mr Rodrigo Malmierca, minister for external trade and foreign investment, said that in the 31st Havana International Fair (HIF), held from November 3 to 9, the participation of various foreign delegations shows that “our country is not alone and there is no economic blockade of worldwide power that is capable of changing our course”.

Does this mean that the Castro regime will stop requesting the end to the blockade or commercial, economic and financial embargo imposed on Cuba by the United States?

The embargo was imposed in October 1960 when Fidel Castro illegally occupied properties owned by North American citizens and companies.  In 1992 the embargo became law when Castro refused to take steps towards democratization or to show respect to the Universal Charter of Human Rights.

More than twenty years later, the Cuban military dictatorship continues to violate the world’s most respected citizen rights and further impoverishes the country.

On the streets many ask what purpose 31 fairs that look for countries to trade with Cuba have served if Cubans continue to live in poverty, subsisting on incomes much less than a dollar a day, the same as those who live in sub-Saharan Africa.

it isn’t understood why numerous Cuban companies received prizes and mentions for many of their products exhibited at the 2013 HIF while in Granma, the official newspaper of the Central Committee of the Cuban Communist Party, the poor quality of the country’s products and services are criticised almost daily.

If the 2013 HIF welcomed Russian millionaire businessman — there are more than 20 in the country including one woman, Mrs Yelena Baturina, wife of the mayor of Moscow — why isn’t anything known of the commercial agreements that were reached with them?

How can we forget February 22 of this year when Russian president Dimitri A. Medvedev, visiting the island, signed an agreement about the “adjustment of Cuban debt to the Russian Federation, for credit granted during the period of the defunct USSR?

How can we forget that days afterward on May 22, the president of the Russian Federation Council, Ms Valentina Matvienko, expressed to Granma “We are pleased to have found a solution for the readjustment of debt”.

It is said that it refers to thirty billion dollars, an impressive figure.

How then will the insolvent and inefficient Cuban dictatorship be able to pay?  Why haven’t the technical aspects of the signed agreement signed by Ms Matvienko and the Cuban National Assembly “for a prompt ratification of debt and approval in the Russian parliament” been explained to the people?

Nothing is known. Only that the Russian business advisor in Cuba, Vadim Tiemnikov, visibly moved on television, thanked the Cuban authorities celebrating the 96th anniversary of the Great October Socialist Revolution, despite having dismantled socialism some twenty two years ago.

Despite the Havana International Fair of 2013, Cuba will continue to be a country weighed downed by marginalization, by the shortage of basic food products, with miserable salaries and fields infested with the invasive marabou weed, without a fishing industry or merchant navy, the livestock industry on its knees, the sugar industry in its worst state in history, an obsolete ration book system (Lenin’s idea) and a military dictatorship that asks the people to change their mentality although the people still doesn’t know how the hell they should change their mind.

Tania Díaz Castro

Cubanet, 13 November 2013

Translated by Peter W Davies