An Academy for Civil Society / 14ymedio, Victor Ariel Gonzalez

Graduation, Fundacion Sucesores

Graduation, Fundacion Sucesores

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Víctor Ariel González, Mantilla (Havana), March 12 2015 – Fifteen minutes until class begins and the students that have been arriving converse under the shade of a tree. Once a week, Carlos Millares’ humble patio hosts a very peculiar meeting. It’s the headquarters of the Fundacion Sucesores, or the “Successors Foundation,” an academy created to train members of civil society in the use of tools for leadership.

Professor Millares directs the program, but the idea – which gave way to a pilot course in 2013 and since then has been repeated three times – came from a young man called Frank Abel García, the coordinator of the academy, who waits for students and guides them Continue reading

Union of Young Communists (UJC): Who Is For That? / 14ymedio, Victor Ariel Gonzalez

9th Congress of the UJC (EFE)

9th Congress of the UJC (EFE)

14ymedio bigger

14ymedio, Victor Ariel Gonzalez, Havana, 24 February 2015 — The only thing Damian shares with Karl Marx may be the thick beard. In everything else, the Havana engineering student is quite different from the German philosopher who wrote Das Kapital. And the main contrast between them is found in their ways of thinking because for this young man who enjoys sporting the lumberjack style – the “lumberjack” fashion is spreading through the capital – the last thing he wants to talk about is class struggle, historical demands or communism. “Who is for that?” he asks.

To judge by his tone, it seems few. Instead, youngsters like Damian and his girlfriend, or the friends with whom they usually meet in places like the Bertold Brecht café theater or the Cuban Art Factory, prefer to talk about European football leagues while drinking beer paid for in hard currency. Things like the 10th Congress of the Union of Young Communists (UJC) appear nowhere in their conversations, despite the official propaganda that has been unleashed in an intense campaign about the event. According to the press permitted in Cuba, this “will be a congress that looks like Cuban youth.”

Adhering strictly to that maxim, for starters, a good part of the delegates to the Congress must come from abroad, given the number of people who are leaving Cuba. Of the almost half million who have emigrated in the last ten years, a high percentage are young Continue reading

“Check out how free this country is!” / 14ymedio, Victor Ariel Gonzalez

Presentation about the book ‘From Confrontation to Efforts at “Normalization.”  The Policy of the United States towards Cuba.’ (14ymedio)

Presentation about the book ‘From Confrontation to Efforts at “Normalization.” The Policy of the United States towards Cuba.’ (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Victor Ariel Gonzalez, Havana, 29 January 2015 — “In Vietnam, Yoani Sanchez would be in prison,” says Rafael Hernandez, editor of the magazine Temas (Topics), comparing the Cuban regime with the Vietnamese one. And he adds: “Check out how free this country is!” According to the official researcher, Cuban bloggers “are arrested and released, but they are not put in prison,” as occurs in the southeast Asian Continue reading

“To remain entrenched” / 14ymedio, Victor Ariel Gonzalez

Cuban and US Delegations at the Convention Palace in Havana (kkkk)

Cuban and US Delegations at the Convention Palace in Havana (Fotograma)

14ymedio, VICTOR ARIEL GONZÁLEZ, Havana, 24 January 2015 — We didn’t have to wait too long for an answer. “Yes, we have an enemy” was the title of an opinion article published some days ago by Pinar del Río’s Guerrillero, perhaps in honor to the provincial newspaper’s bellicose name. In any case, this was how the spokesman of the only political party in Cuba’s westernmost province appraised the country’s rapprochement to the United States, which started on December 17: “when the enemy is in your home, he becomes even more dangerous.” Continue reading

Cuba’s ruling party and the Havana visit of Roberta Jacobson / 14ymedio, Victor Ariel Gonzalez

Roberta Jacobson, Assistant Secretary for Latin America for the US State Department

Roberta Jacobson, Assistant Secretary, Western Hemisphere Affairs, US Department of State

14ymedio, Victor Ariel Gonzalez, Havana, 21 January 2015 – The opinions broadcast on Cuban Television spaces such as the National News or the Telesur channel show points in common, although there are also contradictions, with regards to the Havana visit of the Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs from the US Department of State, Roberta Jackson. There are “great expectations,” says the journalist Cristina Escobar; while the analyst Esteban Morales says, “We don’t have many illusions.”

However, everyone recognizes that the negotiations on Thursday will mark a “historic” event, because they will address the reestablishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries. In short, the Interest Sections in Washington and Havana will be transformed into embassies.

On Tuesday’s National News it was reported that at the high-level meeting Havana “will discuss the banking situation of the Cuban Interest Section in the American capital, which has gone a year without offering normal services because no bank wants to offer them services due to the regulations of the blockade.” Continue reading

Look But Don’t Touch / 14ymedio, Victor Ariel Gonzalez

At Sol and Oficios, there is a closed park and a dry fountain. (14YMEDIO)

At Sol and Oficios, a closed park and a dry fountain. (14YMEDIO)

  • As ancient buildings are crumbling, the vacant lots are transformed into parks that are always closed

14ymedio, Victor Ariel Gonzales, Havana, 9 January 2015 — A group of tourists stops at the entrance of the “ecological park” on Mercaderes Street, a few steps from the Havana Cathedral. The guide speaks to them about this vacant lot turned into a public space which would be nothing out of the ordinary except for being the only one of its kind that is kept open. Aside from the brief circuit designed for foreign visitors, the parks of Old Havana are always closed.

So functions the fiefdom of Eusebio Leal, Havana’s City Historian. As old buildings crumble, the now-vacant parcels are transformed into gardens to which are added benches, trash cans, shade trees and maybe even a fountain. But, along with all that, they also put a magnificent gate closed with chain and padlock. No one can enter these urban oases.

At the corner of Teniente Rey and Habana there existed until a few years ago a children’s park full of attractions that were never used. The attractions “were burned” in the sun, says a neighbor of the place who remembers the image of children asking why “their park” was closed.

Today, the slides now dismantled, the site remains inaccessible but at least seeks another function in the community. Talking about this is Justo Torres who brought from his native Isabel de Sagua an interest in gardening and urban agriculture. He works at Nelva Oasis, a small gardening business very nearby that coordinated the park’s management with the Historian’s Office – a kind of local government.

Very enthusiastically, Torres confesses to being full of ideas for this place: giving it a “social use,” practicing agro-ecology and vermiculture, among others. “It is a unique experiment,” he says and one that also aims to be economically sustainable. He trusts that, in time, authorities will continue supporting the initiative.

Nevertheless, the rest of the parks have not had the same luck and have no use beyond the visual . . . behind bars. The monument erected in honor of Cuban doctor Carlos J. Finlay at Cuba and Amargura cannot be seen up close. There is also the Las Carolinas park, administered by the modern dance company Retazos, and open only for its interest in “some workshop for children and teens,” according to a custodian.

The list goes on. At Sol and Oficios, next to the Office of Cultural Heritage, an enormous green space surrounds a fountain as dry as a desert, that is their park. And at Acosta and Damas they built a pretty reminder of the Jewish community that lived there, just for the pedestrians to pass by because of having nowhere to rest without jumping the gate.

One of the best examples of this closure of public spaces is the fountain at Plaza Vieja in the heart of Havana within the city walls. The uninformed find the bars that surround the water to be strange. They do not know that this area has so many problems with the supply of the liquid which has had neighbors bringing buckets and tanks to it. A spectacle that reflects the real Cuba, which is not seen on postcards.

Across from the Central Train Station – another decadent icon of the city – a park offers anything except an invitation to relax. Old steam locomotives rust behind bars next to benches that will never be used again either.

This situation forms part of a vicious cycle that is completed with vandalism. The primary idea is that the parks remain closed so that the neighbors – who are not foreigners, but seemingly “uncivilized” Cubans – do no damage to them, while the lack of contact and “entrance prohibited” could be making it difficult to create respect for the urban environment or a sense of belonging.

So Nercy Perez, who works at the previously mentioned garden at Teniente Rey and Havana, would like the area schools to integrate themselves more in the projects she and her colleagues promote. “If children learn from an early age to take care of things, then later it will be easier.” The woman is of the opinion that “people do not have the culture” of caring for things. Indeed, she had to interrupt the conversation to scold a student who passed by and just grabbed one of her plants.

Other neighbors complain about the lack of public spaces. “The children have nowhere to play. They have to be in the street. The old people have nowhere to sit,” criticizes Joaquin from El Cristo neighborhood. The plaza that carries this latter name has been closed by metal barriers for a long time. Its interior does not look anything like a place where generations of Havanans scampered.

Also closed to the public, the Plaza del Cristo faces one of the many interminable repairs that can be seen in Old Havana, between crumbling buildings and dirty streets. What is obvious, unfortunately for those who long for a pretty city, is that not so many tourists pass through here.

“The only option for children is to go to the Inflatable Toys Park,” complains Norma, mother of two little ones. She concludes: “Of course, since that does provide money [from entrance fees], they don’t close it.”

Translated by MLK

The Gag Law: A Victim of the Rapprochement between Cuba and the US? / 14ymedio, Victor Ariel Gonzalez

The legislation that has endorsed flagrant human rights violations seems to have its days numbered.

14ymedio, VICTOR ARIEL GONZALEZ, Havana, 30 December 2014 – Following the custom of seeing the speck in the eye of another, the “gag law” that in recent days has caused a waved of protests in Spain has been criticized by Cuba’s official Cuban. The Prensa Latina news agency recently cited a Spanish activist, opponent of the Popular Party’s legal project, who predicted that the edict “will repress rights like that of free assembly” as well as freedom of expression.

Nevertheless, the menacing “Law of Citizen Security” which has raised so much commotion in that European country has a counterpart on this Caribbean island. The “Law No. 88 for protection of national independence and the Cuban economy” has been, since its approval in February 1999, our own gag law, and its description is identical to that offered by the aforementioned activist and quoted by Prensa Latina: “A way of creating fear and exerting media pressure to criminalize protests.”

But in Cuba, unlike in Spain, for more than half a century one simply could not protest, and fear was consolidated into terror. The Cuban “Gag Law” affects, among others, those who “collaborate in any way with radio or television stations, newspapers, magazines or other foreign media,” “disturb the public order” or “promote, organize or incite disturbances of the public order.” The sanctions range from three to 20 years in prison. Continue reading

Tania Bruguera Under Arrest at Acosta Police Station in Diez de Octubre, Havana / 14ymedio

Tania Bruguera (photo from her blog)

Tania Bruguera (photo from her blog)

14ymedio, Havana, 30 december 2014 — Contacted by phone at her home, the director of 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, said that Tania Bruguera was under arrest at the Acosta Police Station in the Diez de Octubre municipality in Havana.

Reinaldo Escobar was released from the same station Tuesday night at 10:00 pm. Escobar affirmed that he saw Tania “wearing the gray uniform of a convict,” It is still unknown when Bruguera will be released.

The two police cars surrounding Yoani Sanchez’s building have been removed and the director of this digital daily is no longer under house arrest.

The 14ymedio reporter Victor Ariel Gonzalez is still being detained, in Guanabacoa. Still unknown are the whereabouts of the activists Antonio Rodiles, Ailer Gonzalez and Eliecer Avila, along with the photographer Claudio Fuentes and his partner, Eva Baquero.

Developing news.

UPDATE: Ailer Gonzalez has been released.

Several activists and Reinaldo Escobar, editor-in-chief of ’14ymedio’, arrested / 14ymedio

The police car in front of the apartment of Reinaldo Escobar and Yoani Sanchez. (14ymedio)

The police car in front of the apartment of Reinaldo Escobar and Yoani Sanchez. (14ymedio)

The director of this newspaper, Yoani Sánchez, is under house arrest

14ymedio, Havana, 30 December 2014 – Contacted by phone at her home, the director of 14ymedio, Yoani Sánchez, explained the circumstances of the arrest of her husband, Reinaldo Escobar, and of several other people this Tuesday in Havana. She is under house arrest. Patrol car No. 507 is stationed in front of the building where she lives, while four plainclothes offices are controlling the building entrances. Continue reading

“Things are not going to change overnight” / 14ymedio, Victor Ariel Gonzalez

University of Havana (14ymedio)

University of Havana (14ymedio)

14ymedio, Victor Ariel Gonzalez, Havana, 20 December 2014 — “Now when they lift the blockade …” a student says jokingly to his friends sitting in Mella Park at the University of Havana. His sentence ends mentioning some a problem that has been solved, supposedly, by the foreseeable end to the US embargo on Cuba. The group laughs and continues talking about the next party of the Law School or the salary a computer engineer earns at a company like Google.

Sitting on a bench to the side and eavesdropping on the conversation doesn’t feel quite right, but it is, perhaps, the only way to capture accurately what the University feels about the latest news. Actually, few agreed to answer questions for this report, and one group of young people apologized with, “They’ve already been asking us a lot of questions today, the foreign press has been around all day.” On presenting myself as a reporter, one of them got up to leave. So it’s impossible to get a face or a statement, even though two or three loners are disposed – always in confidence and hurriedly – to offer their particular vision. Continue reading

Choreography of an Interrogation / 14ymedio, Victor Ariel Gonzalez

Arrests at a gathering on Human Rights Day (14ymedio)

Arrests at a gathering on Human Rights Day (14ymedio)

“Sit down!” ordered ‘Number One.’

“I’m comfortable like this, thanks,” I responded.

14ymedio, VICTOR ARIEL GONZALEZ, Havana, 12 December 2014 — “But you didn’t come here to be comfortable,” he concluded, and for once we were in agreement on something, Number One and I: I was not comfortable. It was Human Rights Day, which in Cuba is a sad date, and a mob of agents dressed in civilian clothes had arrested me together with other journalists as well as dozens of independent activists.

I was taken by force from the bus on which I was returning to the editorial office after taking photographs in the middle of Vedado, and also stripped of my mobile phone from which they also erased information. They put me into a patrol car that was parked at the corner of 21 and L, where they transferred me to bus full of uniformed police officers at the park at 21 and H. From there, accompanied again by plainclothes agents, they took me in a private car and I came to stop at the Aguilera station, an old barracks from the Batista police era.

Obviously, no one feels comfortable if they are trounced like that. During my trip to the Aguilera cells they held me without handcuffing me, maybe hoping for some violent reaction on my part so they could beat me up right there or later insinuate that I am one of them and therefore “they were treating me well.” That’s how these State Security guys work, mine also spoke of “accidents” that have happened because of not handcuffing arrestees. “What I am committing is a violation of procedure,” said the man next to me, in the rear seat of the Greely. True: It is a violation that unknown perpetrators kidnap a free citizen. Continue reading

Editing your contacts / 14ymedio, Victor Ariel Gonzales

A young woman checks her mobile phone. (CC)

A young woman checks her mobile phone. (CC)

14ymedio, VÍCTOR ARIEL GONZÁLEZ, Havana, 8 December 2014 – She turned 24 and spent that day with her few friends who still live in Cuba. She is known as a faithful exponent of a generation marked by uprooting and escape. She decided to not complete her social service so that she could devote her time to making handicrafts and, thanks to her perfect English and various contacts, she also offers guided excursions to tourists. “My degree in languages does not pay for itself,” Camila admits.

Seated in her backyard, she shares that this was where colleagues from her faculty, as well as classmates from prep school, used to come for gatherings. Camila’s yard was “the party place,” as recognized on an amusing handmade “diploma” that she keeps in a frame on her wall. There are still some festivities held there, except that now these have been occurring less frequently because “everyone has been taking their own path…you know.”

I do know. And the gesture Camila makes with her hand, like an airplane taking off, confirms this. To prove her point, she adds, “Have you ever counted how many contacts you’ve had to remove from your contacts on your phone?” and then goes on to recount how, on her birthday, more people called her from foreign countries than from Cuba.

Camila tries to make light of this fact, perhaps without meaning to do so, with a subversive smile. However, she cannot mask the subtle aroma of yearning released by her words. Today she has friends in Europe, Asia and even Australia – but the US is her “second Island” because more than half of her absent friends are now residing there. She has had to update their phone numbers on her contacts.

Even so, the new area codes in Camila’s contacts are in contrast to the old photos that appear on her mobile phone screen. She doesn’t want to forget that they were taken here, when her friends were still living in Cuba and there weren’t so many calls as visits and well-attended gatherings – be they “to study for a test or to have a drink, or both.” Camila’s vision of the present for young people like us can be summed up thus: “Our generation is mortgaged. It is going to take many years for us to pay this spiritual debt – if indeed we still can.”

Her phrase, which I stole, is so impactful, that any other word is just unnecessary. “And who do you think,” I later ask Camila, “might join the list of those who call you from outside Cuba on your next birthday?” She raises her eyebrows and laughs, saying, “The way I see things, and if everything goes according to plan, perhaps I will be the one to call from outside Cuba on my next birthday, so that those whom I’ve left behind can give me their good wishes. The most likely thing is that you will have to change my number on your contacts.”

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison