Fifty Years Ago, the Cuban Government Was Silent Before the Tlatelolco Massacre

This October 2 marks the 50th anniversary of the Tlatelolco massacre. (EFE / File)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 2 October 2018 — 1968 was a tumultuous year in Cuba. The Revolutionary Offensive that had swept away the last vestiges of private enterprise was followed by Fidel Castro’s support for the Soviet tanks in Prague and the complicit silence of the Plaza of the Revolution in the face of the Tlatelolco massacre in Mexico, half a century ago this 2 October.

For many Mexicans who were activists on the left, this silence led them to distance themselves from the Cuban model. The disappointment was stronger among those whose admiration towards the young Revolution had prevented them from seeing the close ties that connected the Cuban Government with Mexico’s Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI).

After the massacre, the Cuban official press avoided any headlines that discomfited members of the PRI and no diplomatic condemnation came from the leaders’ lips. Nor was single report published in the Cuban press about the people who were machine-gunned, detained or disappeared through the violence of the police and the Mexican army. Long years had to pass before the universities of the Island were able talk about what happened. continue reading

The omission was full of irony if one takes into account that many of those university students took as a reference point during their youth mobilizations not only what was happening in France, Czechoslovakia, Italy or the US, but also what was happening in Cuba. Their ideology even highlighted figures such as Fidel Castro and Ernesto Che Guevara, who had died in Bolivia a year earlier.

With information censorship and diplomatic muteness, the island compensated the Mexican government for its support and for its repeated denunciation of the expulsion of Cuba from the Organization of American States (OAS). The Aztec nation had also used international forums to demand an end to the US embargo and continued to maintain commercial ties with Havana.

At the end of the 60s, Castroism had already entered a stage of ideological radicalization, in which many of the leftist movements that gained ground in Europe and Latin America were seen as revisionists and removed from the manuals of the strictest Marxism. The consolidation of that stage was marked by repression, with greater control and vigilance over society.

And it was precisely in 1968 when the screws of Cuban authoritarianism were tightened. The state gained hegemony and the figure of Fidel Castro accumulated much more power, sweeping away opponents within the party’s own ranks and imprisoning anyone who seemed to be a dissident. The nuances ended and one could be only a “revolutionary” or “counterrevolutionary.”

The Soviet model, marked by Stalinism, gained ground on the island. In the midst of that scenario, any show of solidarity by the Castro regime for the thousands of young students who took to the streets in Mexico demanding greater liberties, would have been like shooting themselves in the foot. By then, any university autonomy had been dismantled on the island and street protests had been banned.

That movement in Mexico, which culminated in a bloody attack and in which professors, intellectuals, workers and housewives also participated, was a terrible example for the docile society Castro sought to have on the island.

Still today, in Ecured, the official version of Wikipedia, that should explain the slaughter of Tlatelolco appears empty and the event that is only mentioned in passing in the entries dedicated to personalities related to it and in the general description about Mexico. Twelve words* seal what happened and try to repair, with their bare presence, a half century’s silence.

*Translator’s note: 13 words in English translation: “In 1968, it was the scene of the massacre of the Tlatelolco demonstrators.” 

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

Cuba and the End of the Historical Generation

Three Cuban presidents (past, present and future) in a photo taken during the 7th Congress of the Cuban Communist Party (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 24 September 2018 — Nearly 60 years after its triumph, the Cuban Revolution today does not resemble what it was or what it pretended to be. In almost six decades, those bearded youth who came down from the mountains went from generating dreams to provoking fear or apathy. Their formula for staying in power has been a mixture of obstinacy and political cynicism.

Of those one hundred founding figures, rebaptized today as the “historical generation,” there are barely a dozen survivors of whom only four occupy key positions. Fidel Castro’s ashes repose in a stone and his brother Raul has passed on the powers of the Government while preparing for his replacement at the head of the Communist Party.

A quarter of a century after the collapse of socialism in the countries of Eastern Europe, and in the midst of a crisis of the left in Latin America, Cuban socialism has had to adapt to new times on a globalized planet where the concept of “capitalist countries” encompasses virtually the entire rest of the world. In order to not perish it has borrowed practices and formulas that it once rejected. continue reading

One of these cyclical make-overs is happening right now with the process of constitutional reform. This process is marked, on one hand, by the stubbornness of official thinking, which maintains that the system is irrevocable, and, on the other, by an excess of hopefulness among the reformist sectors which are betting on the Constitution being a step on the long road toward the transformation of the country.

Outside these two postures is positioned the extensive bloc of pessimists, who think that as long as there is no change in what has to change everything in Cuba will remain the same.

Irrevocability

The Constitution, which is being cooked up under the strict surveillance of the only party allowed in the country, maintains the concept that “socialism and the established political and social revolutionary system are irrevocable.” Thus, when Cubans go to vote on the constitutional referendum, on 24 February 2019, they will be ratifying or rejecting a straitjacket.

Raúl Castro has prepared a meticulous framework of 224 articles to leave the new generation of officials with a cast-iron system, in which it is almost impossible to promote a change of direction from within. The Constitution is the road map that can’t be deviated from by a single inch, or at least that is what the ex-president has planned.

Not even Parliament has the power to reform this principle of irrevocability that functions as a legal constraint for the new generation preparing to take the helm of the national ship, a generation that may be tempted to take the reforms too far, once the group of the historical generation has finally been extinguished.

The extensive text is the last move by the olive-green octogenarians to control the country beyond their deaths, to win the game of biology and continue to determine the fate of Cuba.

Reformist hopes

The most optimistic believe that despite the rigid bars imposed by some articles of the Constitution, other articles open a space for greater economic and social freedoms.

In the new Constitution that is now being promoted, the use of the word communism to define the final goal of the Revolution has been removed, the explicit purpose of eliminating the exploitation of man by man has disappeared, private ownership of the means of production has been accepted and the market’s role in the economy is recognized.

These adjustments open the way for the eventual establishment on the Island of a model in the Chinese or Vietnamese style, where the Party maintains rigid political control while the State renounces its monopoly on property. Economic centralism is undermined by the acceptance of other forms of management, but it is clear to entrepreneurs that they cannot grow or enrich themselves beyond a strict limit.

Other points, such as the acceptance of equal marriage or the regulation of the maximum age of senior officials in the country, are part of an attractively wrapped package within which they want to hide the poisoned candy of the Constitution. With these flexibilities, the ruling party wants to attract the LGBTI community and other reformist groups to endorse the document, despite the fact that the rest of the articles have an immobile and reactionary character.

In the public debates being held on the project, many voices are heard calling for permission for nationals to have the right to invest on equal terms with foreigners and it has been proposed to eliminate the article that inhibits “concentration of ownership in natural or legal non-state persons.” But so far these are only proposals and nobody knows if they will be reflected in the final document.

Optimists also worry about the oscillations or the backward steps that accompany each advance.

While it appears that the long dreamed of aspiration to be able to access the internet will be realized by the end of this year through connections from mobile phones, the ruling party has launched an offensive against the independent dissemination of content and the non-governmental press, which has had its climax in the enactment of Decree Law 349, which tightens the screws on cultural censorship.

Laws have recently been enacted to control entrepreneurs, who are not yet allowed to export or import and who lack a wholesale market to supply them with resources. The new enemy of the Cuban Revolution is – and has been for some time now – the private sector that is outperforming the State in services and quality.

For the Government, self-employed workers are a group that they suck the blood out of with taxes and fines, but also a group that should not be given wings to expand too much or allowed to organize themselves in unions. It is precisely in this area of ​​civil liberties that the system is most reluctant to take steps forward, fearing that a small opening that allows free association will jeopardize the monopoly of the Communist Party.

All or nothing

Despite the surveillance and repression, the sector of discontented Cubans has grown significantly in recent years and numerous nuances have appeared. This critical sector encompasses citizens who suffer, without protesting, the harsh reality where a salary is not enough to feed a family, where market shelves are empty and public transport has collapsed, but also activists who take to the streets to shout slogans demanding democracy and respect for human rights.

Among the latter, especially, the idea prevails that the only solution to the country’s problems necessarily involves “the overthrow of the dictatorship.”

According to this point of view, there is no other way, given the fact that the generational change in power is being cemented by the irreversibility of the system and a single party that presents itself as “the leading force of society and of the State.”

However, outlawed and with few resources, without access to national media and constantly monitored, the likelihood of activists decapitating the system seem nil.

For the opposition, the constitutional referendum could become the only opportunity in a long time to send a message to the regime. For years, disunity, personal conflicts and the constant work of the political police have taken a toll on dissident groups. The diplomatic thaw between Washington and Havana deepened that fracture and divided civil society between those who accepted the rapprochement and those who rejected it.

Now they are at the crossroads of uniting around a No vote in the constitutional referendum or allowing the Government to end up closing the cage with a Constitution that aims to perpetuate the system. In the coming months, the decisions taken by the most important opposition leaders will become clear.

For the moment, there are already many arguments which could convince the ordinary citizen of the need to reject the Constitution. The promise of a bright future that Castroism offered as one of its most important popular pillars has vanished from so much failure to deliver. Nor is there a charismatic leader capable of dragging the masses to new heights of sacrifice.

In the national context the new generations lack enthusiasm, both to surrender their youth to the socialist utopia, and to rebel against the regime. The escape valve of emigration that functioned for decades has been largely closed by the end of the wet-foot/dry-foot policy in United States, the main destination of Cubans.

It is a moment of fragility for that process called the Cuban Revolution. A system that arrives at six decades of existence without having been able to fulfill a good part of its promises, but with the intention of staying in power by force and with a Constitution that consecrates it for eternity.

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Ed. note: This text has been published by the newspaper La Prensa Gráfica which authorizes this newspaper to reproduce it.

The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

Moreno Versus Correa: Three To Zero

Lenin Moreno after being invested president and receiving the baton from Rafael Correa. (@AsambleaEcuador)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Generation Y, Havana, 20 September 2018 — He seemed the perfect successor: docile, well trained and sticking to the script. However, Ecuadorian President Lenin Moreno has become the worst nightmare of his predecessor, Rafael Correa.

At first it was just a slight fracture that arose between them, marked more by differing points of view or by dissimilar impressions when the time came to take the reins of the county. But as the months pass the current Ecuadorian president has become the main executioner and undertaker of Correaism.

This September, Moreno has thrown another shovelful of earth over the former leader of the Alianza País party. Ecuador lost the legal battle against the American multinational Chevron, after a long confrontation in a historic case of environmental pollution in the Amazon. Before hearing the ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration based in The Hague, the president of Ecuador hastened to lay the responsibility on Correa. continue reading

The Secretariat of Communication accused the former president, who governed the country between 2007 and 2017, of using the clash with Chevron “to gain political and media prominence,” in addition to using “public funds for propaganda, manipulating national and international public opinion.” The level of the accusations Moreno’s administration has made against his predecessor marks the final break between the former party comrades and is the most critical point in a series of confrontations.

Recently, Moreno defined Correa as a “thug” who was “obsessed” with re-election and the latter responded by accusing Moreno of being a “traitor.” Ecuador’s departure from the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA) also constituted a serious setback for one of the most visible faces of that failed model that was called 21st Century Socialism. To these blunt blows is added an infinity of public skirmishes in which the current office-holder has always come out the winner from the political and diplomatic point of view.

While Moreno has projected an image of an equable man capable of dialogue, Correa’s arrogance has prevented him from controlling himself and in the face of every criticism he has received since leaving office, he has responded with very little statesmanship and obvious irritation on not feeling himself adored by Moreno.

That reaction is due, especially, to the fact that the plans of the former president saw the naming of a substitute as simply a legal move. The new president was supposed to hold on to the presidential sash for a time, just enough years to allow Correa to return to Carondelet Palace.

Instead, the one who had been trained to be a puppet cut the strings and decided to govern on his own. Beyond the lights and shadows of his administration, Moreno is sending a powerful message to other regimes, such as Cuba’s, who see in the handpicked and loyal successions a way to perpetuate themselves. The Ecuadorian president is destroying the illusions of those authoritarians of all political colors who hope to be able to manage, from behind the scenes, a puppet sitting in the presidential chair.

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This text was originally published by Deustche Welle’s Latin America page.

The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

Prologue to “La Grieta”

La Grieta is a novel full of dramatic moments, it is not exempt from those tragicomic instants derived from the totalitarian context. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 15 September 2018 — A quarter of a century ago, when I met Reinaldo Escobar, there were at least two obsessions around which his life revolved. The first was to try to continue doing journalism despite having been expelled from the official media, and the other was this novel, a biographical exorcism that he wrote with an almost monastic discipline.

That process of typing, on his sonorous Adler machine, the experiences accumulated in more than two decades of working in the press controlled by the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC), was happening at a time when the country was falling into the abyss of the economic crisis after the collapse of the socialist camp. So the sheets were filled amid the blackouts, shortages and long hours on an empty stomach.

After his expulsion from the Juventud Rebelde newspaper, Escobar had tried all sorts of occupations – providing material for a second novel – on a downward slide that found its parallel in the fall being experienced on the island. He worked as a proofreader in the National Library, where they sent him as punishment for the critical insolence of his articles, texts that, read in the light of today, produce more shame than pride, he confesses. continue reading

In the library galleries full of volumes, the journalist found a long list of censored books, met other punished individuals, and even signed a letter of protest against the agreements of the Fourth Congress of the PCC. That new boldness cost him another administrative warning that convinced him to distance himself from any state workplace where he toiled with the volatile material of words and ideas.

Thus he became an elevator mechanic, the job he had when he wrote the first page of this novel starring his alter ego Antonio Martínez. Thus, that original text had all the traces of the appeal of a condemned man, of someone who feels that an unjust penalty has been applied to him and who hopes to be able to vindicate himself through his own version of the facts. He hoped that after reading it they would come to rescue him from his forced “pajama plan”*.

That original text had all the traces of the appeal of a condemned man, of someone who feels that an unjust penalty has been applied to him and who hopes to be able to vindicate himself through his own version of the facts

That character of accusation was lost as he added paragraphs where he verified, with each passage, that he, too, had been responsible for the construction of the mirage of the Cuban Revolution. Another conviction began to surface with each written syllable: the censors who had expelled him from the official press had given him the gift of a charter of freedom to do the journalism he had always dreamed of. Rather than suing them, he almost had to thank them.

Overcoming that first desire to display his innocence, Escobar concentrated on narrating the events that took him from a desk in the School of Journalism to a greasy cab where he adjusted the mechanism of an old elevator, while the neighbors shouted at him to get it working as soon as possible and a brigade leader looked with scorn on that reporter fallen into disgrace.

It was a journey from the summit to the abyss, from being a reliable compañero to a dissident. The descent from the cloud of privileges, to the stinking hole of the counterrevolutionaries. In short, letter by letter, he wove the story of the journey to the infernos of real socialism and the lowest of its circles, where the renegades wander, persecuted by insults and reprisals.

Escobar dispenses with the tricks of language; his is a prose indebted to journalism, devoid of ornaments and without metaphorical boasts. His intention was never to transform into literature the uneasy journey of a communicator, but to make the fiction boil over with objectivity and to bear a part of those words that he had not been able to sneak into the national press.

The writing of this journey from revolutionary faith to apostasy began when the Berlin Wall had already fallen and the Soviet Union had dismembered itself without even one of those proletarians of the red flag doing anything to prevent it. The events surrounding Reinaldo Escobar fit the predictions ventured by Antonio Martinez while listening from the press room, as the cracks of the Cuban system opened.

Escobar dispenses with the tricks of language; his is a prose indebted to journalism, devoid of ornaments and without metaphorical boasts

 Completing each chapter became a struggle against the clock, driven by the mistaken feeling that Castroism was living its final years and this novel must be finished before the system that condemned its author to ostracism expired. It was the little victory of the ousted journalist: to sketch some letters of what would be the collective epitaph of a chimera.

The exercise demanded more than bravery. He suffered so many interruptions, especially those stemming from the numerous friends who filled his apartment in search of a space of freedom in that suffocating Cuba of the nineties, that in order to concentrate on his work he locked himself in a room for weeks, leaving a warning sign the he needed “absolute tranquility.” The message was in vain, because in Havana, in 1993, peace was as scarce as food.

In this context, La Grieta (The Crack) – which at that time carried the significant title Pages from the Pit – had to deal not only with the obstacles imposed by a disintegrating everyday life, but also with surveillance. Reinaldo received frequent “control visits” from a State Security official who shared his name and who asked, insistently, if he was writing “any book.”

Finally that unwanted “guardian angel” learned from other sources that there was a novel under development, something that sealed the fate of that first version, typed without copies. In May of 1994, when the author traveled for the first time outside of Cuba, bound for Berlin, his name echoed on the loudspeakers of the José Martí International Airport. A uniformed man confiscated the novel he was trying to get out of the island.

All that Escobar has left from that seizure is an official document in which the General Customs of the Republic provides a receipt for having seized some “some sheets with writing typed by machine” (sic). Later, in front of the first computer he had touched in his life, lent to him by a friend in Frankfurt, he began the hard task of trying to remember the novel that had been taken from him. From this effort of memory, the current text was born.

Reinaldo received frequent “control visits” from a State Security official who shared his name and who asked, insistently, if he was writing “any book.”

With the need to, once again, put in black and white the book that had been finished, the author decided to reshape the whole plot. He applied the scissors with great daring, decided to use the real names of most of the characters which, in the first version, he had changed for discretion, and present the protagonist with less heroism and more guilt.

The rewriting of La Grieta took more than two decades. During this time, Escobar could not hang a “do not disturb” sign to fully immerse himself in his endeavor, but rather was battered by the hurricane winds of life. His work as an independent journalist, which began with a collaboration with The Guardian in January 1989, led to several unsettling situations.

The Black Spring of 2003 arrived and the author watched as several colleagues were condemned to long prison terms and Fidel Castro tightened the repressive screws of the system. At that time, not even a memory was left what had been experienced in the years when the winds of Glasnost were blowing over Cuba and many had opted to create a press more attached to reality.

The majority of those reporters, editors and photographers who, influenced by the Soviet Perestroika, had tried to publish on the national plane more critical reports, bolder columns or more daring images, had ended up emigrating, or had locked themselves in self-censorship or had made the leap to independent journalism where they played with their own freedom every day.

The story of Antonio Martínez took on other connotations in these new circumstances. It was no longer just about the troubles of a university graduate who wanted to apply in practice what the manuals had taught him in school, but of a survivor. A Cuban who had gone through the stages of fascination, and then doubt, to rejection. His life was a testimony of disenchantment.

The story of Antonio charged other connotations in these new circumstances. It was no longer just about the troubles of a university graduate who wanted to apply in practice what the manuals had taught him in school, but of a survivor.

The pressures of reality on the fiction he was writing shaped La Grieta as a map of disenchantment, which marked the path followed by a young man who hoped to make an authentically revolutionary journalism and ended up being labeled as an “enemy.” As they peruse its pages, readers will go through different stages with respect to the protagonist; sometimes they will be sympathetic and at others they will want to insult him for harboring so much naiveté.

The author has not wanted to misrepresent those illusions, nor to present himself as someone who always knew that the communist utopia was impracticable and that underneath the false slogans of a system for the humble, the hidden reality was the construction of a calculated totalitarianism. Instead of the cynical look that his later experiences might have given him, Escobar prefers to assemble Martinez’s character with his real elements of ingenuousness.

That gullibility, shared by millions of Cubans during the first years of the Revolution, is what leads the protagonist to want to use his journalism to show what is working badly, in order to fix and rectify it. At the beginning, he falls into the trap of thinking that the greatest problems were derived from an incorrect application of the doctrine and not from the system itself.

In his dreams, he imagined that he would run into someone from the nomenklatura to whom he could explain the damage that bureaucrats and extremists caused the Revolution by distorting its precepts when putting them into practice. He speculated that if he could manage to explain to the leaders the inconsistencies between the proposed goal and the path that was being taken to reach it, surely the course could be corrected.

An attitude that repeats in his romantic life, in which he tirelessly seeks a love that fits the ideal mold that has been shaped from the borrowing of verses from Vicente Huidobro, the opinions of his mother, and the idea of an inseparable compañera from official propaganda. That passionate fantasy also ends – at least in the novel – shattered against the sharp rocks of reality. 

In the style of a tropical Milan Kundera, Escobar is unveiling the successive masks worn by many of the characters to survive professionally and socially

In the style of a tropical Milan Kundera, Escobar is unveiling the successive masks worn by many of the characters to survive professionally and socially. Opportunism, indolence and even radicalism are some of the obligatory covers for the political carnival of which he is a part. Sometimes he can see the face beneath those masks and he feels the urgent desire to flee in terror.

Although La Grieta is a novel full of dramatic moments, it is not exempt from those tragicomic instants derived from the totalitarian context. One in which the dilemma of whether to put butter or mayonnaise on the bread of the workers’ snacks encapsulates the dilemma between the freedom of opinion and the militant discipline that the regime expects from its employees.

Untimely questions, misguided sincerity, excessive self-criticism and the desire to improve society from the pages of newspapers are setting Antonio Martínez apart. With keenness, the censors notice the danger that exists in an individual who has swallowed the speeches delivered from the podiums. His end is defined as soon as they recognize a true believer.

This novel, for all that, is a description of a professional and social suicide. The precise narration of how the flame of a utopia burned the wings of a generation of Cubans, with the consent and approval of many of them. Reinaldo Escobar, who burned in that fire, has had the courage to tell the story.

*Translator’s note: “Pajama plan” is a common Cuban euphemism for the status of public employees forced out of their positions for political reasons.

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

History of a Botched Job

The most sagacious inquire why the same section of the conduit is broken again and again, as it is not even located on a busy street with heavy vehicles. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Generation Y, Havana, 11 September 2018 — The neighbors who pass in front of the huge crater scratch their heads, confused by the impression that they are suffering from déjà vu. Reasons for this estrangement are not lacking because the waterworks rupture that forced the closure of Conill Street, very close to the Avenida de la Independencia (Rancho Boyeros), has been repaired four times in a period of less than three years.

The current pit has been dug by the Havana Water Company, which is in charge of the supply of drinking water, the maintenance of the sewer system and the sanitation and storm drainage in the capital. On this entity falls a good part of the popular mockery and insults, for its remarkable inability to offer stable quality service.

With a bulldozer and an exasperating slowness, workers have unearthed on Conill Street a broken pipeline which, with its successive repairs, has become part of the landscape of this area of ​​Nuevo Vedado which is full of tall buildings constructed during the days of the Soviet subsidy. The deteriorated conduit has become a well-known character in these parts as well as an unwanted “neighbor” who, time after time, reminds us of his presence with a leak. continue reading

“It’s because the pipe was damaged,” the head of the works repeats with little enthusiasm this week, every time a concerned resident asks about the repairs that have affected the water supply to several surrounding blocks. The most sagacious inquire why the same section of the conduit is broken again and again, a section that is not even located on a busy street congested with heavy vehicles, but the man avoids answering.

The key to understanding the recurrence of the breakage is to recognize the degree to which most public works in Cuba are botched. “Every time they fix it, they don’t reinforce the area between the pipe and the asphalt, so the passing of the cars ends up damaging it,” says a neighbor who has not studied engineering or led a hydraulic repairs brigade, but who knows his own neighborhood well.

Others have been indirect accomplices to the bad practices suffered by this stretch of pipe. “The last time they stole some of the materials and there was even someone who paved the entrance to his private garage with what he diverted from that work,” says another resident nearby. “They filled the hole as well as they could and two weeks later there was another,” he says.

The hole in the street started as a slight drop, but over the months it turned into a dangerous cavern. Vehicles from the nearby Ministry of Agriculture had to drive around to avoid it and after the rainstorms it flooded for several days. In the end, the story repeated itself and the pipe that was underground ended up giving way.

“We have paid four times for this repair,” says a self-employed neighbor who sells pizzas a few yards away. “And I say we have paid because this comes out of our taxes, which are quite high.” The worried taxpayer passes each morning in front of the hole and wonders if there will be a fifth time. “Is this a curse?” He asks himself. But the Havana Water Company has no answers.

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

Young People Stay Up Late To ‘Get Drunk’ on 100 MB of Etecsa Data

This weekend Etecsa is running its third test of internet access from mobile phones. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 8 September 2018 — Before midnight Friday, Samuel, Yoyi, Cristian and Laura made a vow to use up, in just one night, the full 100 megabytes that the Telecommunications Company of Cuba has allocated to each user of a prepaid mobile phone during the 72-hour test that runs until Monday.

“We’re going to binge on the internet from our cell phones,” joked Samuel, 16. The young man waited on Havana’s centrally located G Street for “the zero hour,” as he called at the moment when the service would be activated, among friends, guitars and screens that lit up faces.

The four friends picked up their cell phones, as in a virtual toast, and “clinked” the devices a few minutes before the time came. Then came the silence of concentration, interrupted only by some questions from those who had not yet been able to connect. “Don’t ask me for a mega, I’m stingy, stingy,” one of them was heard to say. continue reading

As frequent users of the public wifi zones, the four teenagers have been waiting for years for the state telecommunications monopoly to take the final step towards individual connectivity. They want to be able, at any moment, to get on line using the device they now carry in their pockets everywhere they go.

However, the authorities have prioritized public access zones and connections in workplaces and schools. Another element the authorities take into account in allocating precious kilobytes is the “political reliability” of the users, so for months now government officials and official journalists have already been able to access the great world web from their phones.

“That street corner that you see there is like my room,” says Yoyi, just turned 15, who has molded her anatomy to a bit of space in Havana’s Vedado neighborhood where she often accesses the network to chat with friends and check her Facebook account. “Sometimes I get cramps, from sitting on the sidewalk for so many hours,” she explains.

Thus, the four friends decided to dive into social networks the very second the clock struck the zero hour this Saturday and consume, in a few hours, the two packages — 50 Megabytes each and free of charge — that Etecsa has allocated to each customer. “It’s so little that you have to drink it in one gulp, like a shot of rum,” explains Cristian.

The third connectivity test differs from the previous ones. In the first one, carried out on August 14, users were able to navigate without a data limit for about nine hours. That first massive incursion in the service was a resounding failure, due to constant crashes and low speeds.

By August 22, Etecsa seemed to have understood that their infrastructure “couldn’t keep up,” Cristian, 17, said ironically. “Then they did what they do in the bodegas (the rationed market) and only allowed each customer to consume about 70 Megabytes between 8 in the morning and midnight.” The result left much to be desired, but at least the connection was more stable.

This weekend the state company has returned to the arena. On this occasion the “rationing” of bytes is stricter; if a person spread out their use over 72 hours it would come to about 33 MB per day. “You can do very little with that, barely chat, check social networks and watch a short video on Youtube,” Yoyi calculates.

What she most regrets is that Etecsa still has not announced its schedule for the opening of the service and that it is also jealously guarding what the final cost of each package will be. A gesture of secrecy that points to high prices and a deepening social differences between those who can navigate more comfortably and those who can barely “put a toe in” from the edge of the network.

One of the young people on G Street managed to join a videoconference after midnight through the popular IMO application, designed to be used at low speeds. The face he saw on the screen was totally pixelated and froze for a few seconds. “See, this is my kitchen,” said the voice and showed something that could only be distinguished as a lighted area without contours.

Near the group, a couple inquired about the details of the settings “to be able to go online.” Only one of the teenagers responded, quickly so as not to lose a minute in front of his screen. “There are people who are going to find the data gets used up as if there’s a leak,” says Yoyi, “because they have many applications that eat it up in the background.”

A policeman watching the group from nearby didn’t have a clue. “Keep it down, there are people sleeping in this area,” he scolded. At three in the morning some could already count on the fingers of one hand the megabytes left to them. “I’m going to save some for tomorrow to say hello to my cousin who lives in Miami,” promised one of the teenagers.

In the entire time that quiet “data feast” lasted, not one of them entered an official news site, no one retweeted a message from a government institution and none of them was interested in what the front page of the official newspaper Granma had to say. Nor did they visit sites with opposition programs or show any interest in looking up any dissident campaigns. “These data, I spend only on me,” Samuel repeated.

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

The Stampede of Venezuelans Jeopardizes Latin America

Hundreds of Venezuelans earn their living in the streets of Cúcuta by carrying suitcases of other emigrants who left like them. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Generation Y, Bogota/Havana, 9 September 2018 — Beside me, a woman with two children sobs as she remembers her native Caracas. In the office of the Immigration and Naturalization Service of Bogotá, the Venezuelan accent is heard on all sides, a multitude of exiles who have come from the neighboring country with barely the clothes on their backs and who still have the bewildered look of departure.

In another part of the Colombian capital, near the Plaza de Bolívar, a young man sells arepas very cheaply from a small cart adorned with the eight-star flag. He tells me that he left his two children on the other side of the border and that he is hoping to make enough money to reunite his family “in a safe country.”

A few yards away, another man works as a street artist, becoming a living statue of Simón Bolívar, with the buttoned uniform, a sad look and a sword in his hand. The sculpture breathes under Bogota’s drizzle and seems to symbolize a nation’s fall from grace. From the libertarian summits, through the paths of populism, to arrive at the abyss of the diaspora. continue reading

Almost everywhere in Colombia are the displaced people of the regime of Nicolás Maduro. Something similar to what has happened in Ecuador, Brazil and Peru, although the exiles also make it to Chile and Uruguay, in addition to those who have managed to leap the Atlantic and take refuge in Europe and those who have managed to enter the United States.

They have left behind their homes, their neighborhoods and their friends. They are the most recent chapter of the Latin American exodus, but this time starring citizens of a country where, just a few years ago, the president promised a future of opportunities for all. They are escaping from the failure of a system, putting land between their bodies and broken dreams.

The figures of this escape are just beginning to be known. At the end of August 2018, according to official data, 935,593 Venezuelans were living in Colombia, but the real number promises to be much higher. On the corners, at the traffic lights, on the outskirts of the markets you can see them, with the lost look of people trying to grasp their new context and a certain air of relief at having been able to escape.

The authorities of the receiving countries also display a certain disorientation. Most have had a long tradition of emigration and now face the challenge of welcoming their neighbors. The institutional response is clumsy in most cases and, in others, not very hospitable. The exodus has already faced xenophobic responses in some communities.

One of the most interrelated regions of the planet, with the majority of countries sharing a language and customs, has not been successful in crafting joint policies to ease the drama of these exiles. The granting of work permits, healthcare coverage, access to public education for Venezuelan children and the recognition of professional titles occurs at different levels in each host nation, without a common front.

The continent where, a few years ago, the standard-bearers of 21st century socialism joined hands and proclaimed an America for all, is now unable to respond in a judicious and inclusive manner to this humanitarian crisis. Territorial conflicts and the inability to work together are making the exodus more difficult for Venezuelans.

As a curious fact, the escape route does not include Cuba. The island does not appear on the destination map of these migrants. On the one hand, because it is not advisable to take refuge from an evil in the place that promoted and supported the implantation of the system from which you are fleeing. On the other, because behind the false image of a country in solidarity, Cuban legislation is among of the strictest with regards to obtaining residency or sheltering displaced persons.

But the drama is not experienced only by those who have left, but also by those who are left behind. The massive exit of citizens is causing an accelerated depopulation of the South American country, which will be one of the most negative outcomes and most difficult to overcome. Infrastructure can be repaired and capital returned, but the effect of mass emigration becomes irreversible.

Gone are the most daring, the most prepared and probably the most discontented. As in Cuba, the incessant flight of nationals leaves a lethargic population and a country easier to control. Those of us who stay must get used to the farewells and absences. Few of those who leave end up returning.

“If you don’t like it leave,” the acolytes of the Plaza of the Revolution have repeated for decades, and now Nicolás Maduro also embraces that contempt and mocks the emigrants who are “washing dishes in Miami.” For both regimes, exile is a thing of the weak, the refuge of the selfish who did not want to incinerate their lives in the crucible of the cause.

In both cases, the official discourse has passed through denying the escape, applying denigrating adjectives to those who flee, and blaming third parties for the incessant departure of nationals. Both Caracas and Havana also shrug off concern for their exiles, whom they see only as potential senders of remittances, but not as citizens with rights.

Mass emigration is a bloodletting that weakens any country. Every Venezuelan who now wanders the streets of Bogotá, Quito or Rio de Janeiro is a life project that was lost to his homeland.

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

Victims of Machismo and Official Silence

The bodies of Tomasa Causse Fabat, a 64-year-old nurse and her daughter, Daylín Najarro Causse, 36, murdered by a former domestic partner of Najarro’s, are taken to Legal Medicine in Cienfuegos. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 25 August 2018 — A few weeks ago, purely by chance, I attended an international event about the treatment of gender violence in the press. The official Cuban representative at the meeting, with a certain pride and a touch of superiority, emphasized that on the island there was no “crime blotter” and femicides are not a problem.

This week, two events reminded me of those words. One was the 58th anniversary of the founding of the Federation of Cuban Women (FMC), a pro-government organization that has done immense harm to the feminist cause on the Island by promoting a sugarcoated version of reality, silencing aggressions against women and monopolizing their social representation.

The other memory triggered was the publication of a note in the Cienfuegos newspaper, September 5th, about the sentences handed out to the three perpetrators of the kidnapping, rape and murder of a 19-year-old girl. In an unusual gesture, the local media followed the case starting last year, when the father of the victim insisted on speaking out and making the tragedy known, and did not rest until he achieved that. continue reading

Editorial distinction goes to September 5th’s news reporting which broke the official silence, although the coverage was sparse and several times lacked the minimum requirements for information reporting. For example, the description of the context of gender violence in which the murder of Leidy Maura Pacheco Mur took place was missing, and the journalist took great care not to mention words such as “femicide.” An omission caused, in part, by the lack of statistics on the real incidence of this scourge.

In that same Cienfuegos city, in May of this year, a mother and her daughter were stabbed to death by the latter’s ex-husband. Their deaths were reported only by the independent press and are not part of the presentations from the FMC when they go on tour around the world, nor have they reached the archives of UN Women, the United Nations entity dedicated to gender equality and the empowerment of women.

This lack of institutional information does not prevent each Cuban woman from having her own list of friends, neighbors or relatives who have died at the hands of an abusive husband, or who have been raped or suffered harassment. This personal record includes the sexual pressures of their bosses at work, groping on public transport and even the catcalls that he believes are compliments that she sees as aggressions.

To hide this situation and to silence with lies what needs to be made visible makes the problem worse because it prevents the establishment of a clear idea of ​​the risks. How many times have we heard advice such “don’t walk down that street in the dark,” “call when you get there,” “don’t you feel alone in that park”? If the Cuban reality presents so many dangers for us, why isn’t the national media alerting us to them?

While thousands of women in Latin America march under the slogan “Not one more,” the victims of sexist violence on the Island can not be remembered in the streets and their faces are filed away only in that long gallery of outrages and aggressions that we carry in our memories. Every day that passes without public recognition of the true dimension of what is happening emboldens aggressors and weakens women.

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

Advice To The Independent Press To Protect Itself From Cuban Security

Among other items, the manual gives advice on what to do in case of suffering physical aggression. (Capture)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 23 August 2018 — How to evaluate the risks? What to do in the face of physical aggression? How to better protect information? These are some of the questions answered by the Holistic Security Manual for Cuban Journalists, recently published by the Institute for War & Peace Reporting (IWPR). With a simple language, the document is an essential “toolbox” for reporters on the island.

For decades, the Cuban independent press has experienced innumerable abuses and has had to adapt to frequent difficult and dangerous situations. This long experience has served as the main source for the IWPR in writing the current manual, presented in PDF format, inspired by the day-to-day of all those reporters who have chosen to narrate their country outside the official media. continue reading

Along with the experiences collected among these protagonists of free information, the manual has also relied on the advice of experts and various international organizations committed to freedom of expression and the protection of journalists. Hence, the final result is a compendium of recommendations sharply focused on the Cuban reality, with its peculiarities and its particular legal context.

The pages of the manual integrate advice for physical, psychological, digital and legal security, and also suggestions on how to act in times of danger. “The objective of the manual is to strengthen the capabilities of prevention, self-protection and security while exercising any information activity on the island,” say its editors, to which must also be added that it is a manual marked by awareness of civic matters and journalistic ethics.

The pages of the manual integrate advice for physical, psychological, digital and legal security, and also suggestions on how to act in times of danger

Responding to repression with a greater promotion of transparency and more professional work are some of the practices promoted by the 112-page document. This is a real challenge to a government that prefers to have “a mute, deaf and blind country,” as the Inter-American Press Association (IAPA) denounced at its meeting in Colombia in July.

In a society living under hyper-vigilance, with State Security increasingly dedicated to computer espionage, it is worth reminding reporters that they should never “leave notes or information from sources” nor fail to use encryption applications, which encrypt the messages from the moment of sending, as explained in great detail in the manual.

The flexibility when it comes time to adjust the advice, according to the subject on which the journalist is working or the characteristics of each medium, is also inscribed among the virtues of this volume. Its capacity for amendment can be infinite given the new challenges faced by reporters every day, which is why the IWPR insists on keeping the content “alive, subject to changes as the context changes.”

Beyond the recommendations for the safeguarding of the journalist, the media and the information collected, the text also becomes a glossary of the most common vulnerabilities suffered by the press in Cuba. A list to be taken into account at times when pressure is being applied from various sectors to have a Press Law in the country.

The fact that the manual was published soon after the end of the Congress of the Cuban Journalists Union, also helps to check it against the statements made in that conclave by professionals linked to official media, in which they demanded more access to institutional sources and better salaries. These demands stand in contrast to those of the independent sector, which is not even legally recognized that suffers from frequent arbitrary detentions and confiscations of tools of the trade.

It would be worth the effort for the editors to review some technological tips, such as the recommended use of WhatsApp in the Cuban context

It would be worth the effort for the editors to review some technological tips, such as the recommended use of WhatsApp in the Cuban context. The tool, very popular in other nations, faces several obstacles on the Island that don’t recommend it for journalism. With forced and data-heavy updates, it performs far below what Telegram can offer national users.

On the one hand, using the desktop version of WhatsApp requires a connection to the internet via mobile phone, something very difficult to achieve for those in Cuba who use a single browsing account in the public Wi-Fi zones. Telegram Desktop, meanwhile, can be used independently of cellular, which, together with the possibility of editing the messages after sending them, makes it more recommended for the press.

It is no wonder that Telegram has come to be called the messaging service of “the dissidents and the persecuted.” An added bonus is that it does not belong to Facebook, like WhatsApp, which was purchased by the social network giant. Mark Zuckerberg’s company has been shown to have serious vulnerabilities in terms of management of its clients’ data, while Telegram shows a greater commitment to security, and for this reason it has been blocked in Russia, where it was created.

Although the manual is intended for the Cuban press beyond the control of the Communist Party, many of the advice included in its pages can also serve those who work in media authorized and financed by the authorities. Even this media must be required reading for foreign correspondents living in Cuba, who are not exempt from surveillance and punishment for their work.

The manual closes with the text of Law 88, also known as the Gag Law, under which 75 activists were tried in 2003, in what came to be called the Black Spring. At least a third of the accused activists exercised independent journalism. A shocking epilogue that recalls that, despite the advice and recommendations regarding security, an independent Cuban reporter is at the mercy of the repressive caprice of the regime.

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

A Discreet Test of Internet for Mobile Phones Unleashes Frustrations

A young man connected to the wifi network in Havana. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Generation Y, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 15 August 2018 — A young woman was talking on the phone in a café when someone at the next table overheard the conversation. In a few minutes everyone in the place had their eyes glued to their cellphones to test the mobile internet they’d heard about in that private dialogue. The Telecommunications Company of Cuba (Etecsa) did not say a word, but at 11 am on Tuesday morning thousands of customers across the country knew that it was the moment they had been waiting for, for years.

Neither the official website of Etecsa, the state communications monopoly, nor its public communication office revealed that tests were being undertaken of the web connection; it was only uncovered by independent journalism sites and private accounts on the social networks. Thus, after two decades of delay and surrounded by institutional secrecy, Cubans peered into the World Wide Web from their cell phones. The experience was exciting but the technical problems generated more frustration than hope.

Congestion preventing the opening of web pages, continuous crashes causing the loss of data signals to phones, and an inability to see the images in applications with multimedia content were some of the most common difficulties suffered by thirsty netizens who expected to set sail in the virtual world, but were barely able splash on the shore of the WWW. continue reading

“I’ve spent 20 minutes and I have not been able to open a single digital site,” complained a boy who had learned about the “pilot test” through a friend who works at Etecsa. “They told the employees not to say anything but everyone who has a friend spread the word,” he says. By the end of the day, he had managed to “enter Facebook Messenger and write a couple of messages,” in addition to reading “half of an article, because it wouldn’t completely load,” from a newspaper in Florida.

The disappointed young man was only nine when, in February 2011, the Alba-1 submarine cable connected Cuba with Venezuela. At that time the majority of Etecsa users thought that the Internet was around the corner, but mismanagement and the ruling party’s fear that citizens would actively launch themselves on the web delayed connectivity.

After that came a long period of concealment and evasions. Official voices insisted that the government was going to opt for the “social use” of the new technologies, but it maintained prices for web browsing that had no relationship to national salaries. Wi-Fi zones were also born, a last attempt to delay the arrival of the web in the private space, but at least this addressed millions of people’s the appetite for communication and need for contact.

Connectivity policy has focused on delaying the moment when customers are alone, in the privacy of their homes or in a remote spot far from the public wireless access areas, in front of a screen where they can interact and through which they can publish and be heard. But Etecsa’s arguments were running out, its customers ceased to be convinced by old excuse of the US embargo and the demands for internet on mobile phones became a clamor.

In the end, the clumsy state company — one of the least efficient in the world — has announced that before the end of the year it will enable access to the web from prepaid mobile phones. Postpaid users and some privileged officials or official journalists have been enjoying this opportunity for months, but their opinions on the quality of navigation are very negative.

“It’s hopelessly slow,” says a young journalism graduate who works at a local media outlet with a quota of mobile phones connected to the web. “They have asked us to defend the Revolution on social networks but at this speed it is very difficult,” he says. The basic use this information professional has made of the connection is limited to “exchanging messages by WhatsApp and trying two frustrated video conferences in IMO.”

After yesterday’s experience, spoiled by slowness and technical problems, customers now wait for Etecsa to make an open announcement on the implementation schedule for the service and on the rates for data packages. They also want guarantees of functionality since “for something so bad I’m not going to pay as if it were really internet access,” a woman in the Etecsa office stressed this Tuesday .

The state communications monopoly is in trouble. It has millions of customers tired of waiting and many of them, on August 14, peeked into the network through their phones. Now they want to repeat the experience more efficiently and with complete freedom.

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

Prosecutor’s Office Accuses Jose Daniel Ferrer of "Attempted Murder"

The leader of Unpacu, José Daniel Ferrer, was arrested on 3 August along with Ebert Hidalgo. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 10 August 2018 — The leader of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU), Jose Daniel Ferrer, and activist Ebert Hidalgo were accused Friday of “attempted murder.”  Both must remain in pretrial detention according to prosecutor Rolando Reyes, as reported to 14ymedio by Ovidio Martin Castellanos, one of the national coordinators of the opposition organization.

Hidalgo and Ferrer were arrested August 3 after an incident involving an official of the Ministry of the Interior, Dainier Suarez Pagan, who supposedly had been hit by Ferrer when he was driving a car without a driver’s license.  Since then both activists have been held incommunicado and in different detention centers, their families complained.

Agent Suarez Pagan is know by dissidents from Palmarito de Cauto for being violent and stalking activists.  According to the judicial version, Ferrer tried to run him down while he was crossing the street, an assertion that the dissidents denied shortly before they were arrested. continue reading

As Ferrer told Carlos Amel Oliva, Suarez Pagan signaled to him to stop the car but on braking suddenly, the front wheel dislocated.  The agent fell to the ground and after getting up, went to a medical clinic in order to seek an injury certification.

In the Prosecutor’s documents it is stated that he was dressed in a complete uniform, something that the arrested activists denied, having always said that he was dressed in “plain clothes.”

According to the story that appears in the legal document obtained by this newspaper, “Ferrer demanded the car key from Hidalgo Cruz,” started it, and ran into the officer” Suarez Pagan, who was crossing the street to a nearby cafe, “unsuspecting” and “without noticing what was being attempted against his life and physical safety.”

“Officer Suarez Pagan went to the place where the car stopped, complained to the driver and his companion and ordered them to accompany him to the PNR station but was refused emphatically by the two,” adds the judicial document that reports after the arrests of Hidalgo and Ferrer.

For Martin Castellanos, this accusation is “a work of tyranny.”  The activist complains that it is “a gross lie” they are using in order to behead the biggest opposition organization in the country.

“Suarez Pagan never wears a uniform because he is thug, and those charged with confronting the peaceful opposition always dress in plain clothes,” he maintains.

The United States, on Wednesday, demanded Cuba immediately free Jose Daniel Ferrer and Ebert Hidalgo.  The US Assistant Secretary of State for Latin America, Francisco Palmieri, added that Havana must free “all political prisoners.”

Ferrer and Hidalgo face a possible sentence of 15 to 20 years in prison, although the penalty could be reduced significantly on consideration by the court because it is for a crime that did not materialize.

In 2003 Ferrer was sentenced to 25 years in prison in the well-known case of the Black Spring.  Since 2011 he has had an extra-penal license awarded to members of the so-called group of 75 who were still in jail.  The releases occurred after a negotiation between the Catholic Church, the Spanish Executive Jose Luis Zapatero and the government of Raul Castro.

After leaving prison, Ferrer founded the Patriotic Union of Cuba which is today one of the biggest opposition organizations in the country.  UNPACU carries out citizen protests and has several aid programs for low income families.

Translated by Mary Lou Keel.

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

Abortion, an Inflammatory Topic in Latin America

The Cuban context is different from that of other countries in the region. In some of them, women can spend long years behind bars for resorting to abortion. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 11 August 2018 — She is 20 years old and has had four abortions. This young Cuban woman, whom I will call Aimara to avoid revealing her identity, is not an isolated case. The interruption of pregnancy is so frequent among the Island’s women that is difficult to find one that has not gone through the procedure.

Our national context is different from what happens in other countries in the region. In some of them women can spend long years behind bars for resorting to such a procedure or simply because it is suspected that they have done so.

While in nations such as Chile and Argentina the debate inflames the streets and public forums, in Cuba a discussion on the subject barely registers on social networks or on the digital sites of the independent press. continue reading

According to official propaganda it is a “solved problem,” but within religious temples pastors sharpen their rhetoric against women who decide to abort. Meanwhile, in Cuban hospitals the practice has become almost as routine as having a tooth pulled. Abortion is considered one more method of contraception.

Mass access to medical services and the legalization of the interruption of pregnancy, despite decades of material deterioration in the Island’s public health services, contributes to saving maternal lives because women are not forced to resort to quacks or improvised clinics.

In 2016, 85,445 of these interventions were carried out in Cuban hospitals, representing 41.9 interruptions per 100 pregnant women, according to official figures.

A good part of these patients came to the hospital operating table moved by economic precariousness, but also by the helplessness resulting from little family support or the indifference of their partner. Strict gender roles and the prevailing machismo continue to place what should be a shared responsibility on the shoulders of women.

This is the case for Aimara, who, living “in a house overflowing with people and lacking in space,” as she herself says, doesn’t want to “give birth with an abusive husband and much less in Cuba as things are.” Right now, she has made the rounds of a dozen pharmacies in Havana and “there are no condoms,” the employees tell her, with resignation.

Maintaining a supply of birth control pills is also difficult and the last intrauterine device that the young woman had inserted “did more harm than good,” she says.

If, on the one hand, Cuban women claim the decision about what happens inside their wombs, on the other they find in interruptions of pregnancy — the so-called “curettage” (scraping of the uterus) and “menstrual regulations” (practiced before 6 weeks and without anesthesia) — a solution to the shortage of contraceptive methods, the chronic economic crisis and the desire to emigrate, which is complicated if there is a child included in the escape plan.

“Getting a visa is difficult for one person, imagine for two,” says Aimara, with a crushing logic. Her way of thinking is widespread. The housing difficulties, in a country with around 11 million people a deficit of more than 800,000 homes, and the desire to settle in any other geography, are some of the most important motivations that have led to the fall in the birth rate that has set off alarm bells on the Island.

In addition, repeated abortion, which is so frequent in Cuba, multiplies the dangers to women’s health and in many cases causes cervical problems and infertility. Aimara now traverses that dangerous tightrope. She has the legal and medical right to what happens in the small perimeter of her uterus, but her life and that of her future children are at the mercy of greater forces, especially at the whims of what a group of gentlemen without ovaries decide in an air conditioned office surrounded by creature comforts.

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

Bachelet, Havana’s Friend, to Monitor Human Rights for the UN

The last time the Chilean president visited Cuba was in January 2018. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 9 August 2018 — For some time it has been clear that the next steps in Michelle Bachelet’s career pointed to an international organization. With her political path closed in Chile, where as president her popularity hit historical lows, she is now poised to occupy the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (ONCHR), as announced this week.

Bachelet’s appointment to the head of the ONCHR comes as no surprise given that her name was mentioned as a potential leader of the UN after the departure of Ban Ki-moon. Although her new responsibility has yet to be ratified by the General Assembly, the Chilean is very likely to occupy the United Nation’s most important position in the field of human rights. Although both are based in Geneva (Switzerland), the ONCHR should not be confused with the Human Rights Council, which is a political body made up of the representatives of UN Member States. The ONCHR on the other hand, is a supposedly independent organization staffed by more than one thousand employees. continue reading

Bachelet assumes that position in a complex moment in which violations of citizen rights are rising in tone in many countries and the United Nations is experiencing a period of fragility, derived from its inaction, the manipulation of its mechanisms by authoritarian regimes and the little credibility it enjoys among democratic governments.

Her record will not help her much in this ecumenical endeavor. During her two presidential terms Bachelet demonstrated that she may suffer from an obstinate myopia when it comes to the excesses committed by her ideological colleagues who rule in Venezuela, Nicaragua and, above all, in Havana’s Plaza of the Revolution.

In the long years she was in charge of the solid Chilean democracy, her criticisms were rather lukewarm or nonexistent towards the leftist populisms that repressed their dissidents. With a few exceptions, the president preferred not to annoy her fellow utopians and opted for the strategy of looking away.

A few weeks before handing over the presidential sash to Sebastián Piñera, she arrived in Cuba on a trip that could only be understood as that of the practitioner of a creed to the temple from which it spreads its doctrine. Although both countries’ official spoke of a visit to strengthen commercial ties, in reality that visit had all the traces of a renewal of support Castroism.

The appointment of a friend of the Plaza of the Revolution to a position much coveted by Havana is not the result of chance. In it we sense the influence of Cuban diplomacy and its ability to move in the UN corridors, applying pressure, buying loyalties and votes, to pave the way to make the Chilean president to the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

The appointment of Bachelet is a magnificent opportunity for Havana because it needs international support to compensate for the weakening of its regional alliances within the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA) and the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC).

It is also an opportunity for Havana’s allies, who are experiencing difficult moments and doing everything possible to avoid international condemnations for their repressive actions. This is the case for Nicaragua, where Daniel Ortega, the former guerrilla turned Caudillo, has met popular revolts with fire and. Something similar is happening in Venezuela, which is experiencing a terrible humanitarian crisis while the Miraflores Palace resorts to a more aggressive, exclusive and disparate discourse.

In Cuba itself, the organizations of the United Nations system tend to align themselves with the Government instead of taking note of the denunciations by citizens against the iron control of the Communist Party. Can this change with the appointment of the former Socialist president at the head of the ONCHR?

If she hasn’t done so before, why would Bachelet now criticize her old friends in olive green? Why would she denounce acts of repudiation against dissidents, arbitrary arrests or the control exercised by the authorities over the lives of millions of Cubans?

Instead of speaking out about the violations of the political rights of an entire population, Michelle Bachelet has dedicated herself for many years to extolling the supposed achievements in Cuban healthcare and education of which barely a mirage remain. There is no reason to think that she will change her discourse from the UN watchtower.

She can always justify her silence and her inaction with the argument that she is very busy with the multiple complaints that will come from so many other places on the planet.

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

Facebook, Do Not Leave Us In the Hands of Etecsa!

For those who live in societies with little access to the Internet, third-party services were an opportunity to publish on several networks at once. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havavna, 4 August 2014 — Facebook is changing its privacy policy, a scenario that was easy to foresee after the Cambridge Analytica data breach scandal that affected 87 million accounts on this social network. Last April, CEO and company founder Mark Zuckerberg announced changes to prevent a similar situation from happening again.

Until now, those of us who use this platform — to disseminate stories, inform about our realities and seek a minimum of protection against the repressive onslaught of certain regimes – had no worries. Rather it seemed that we would be more protected from surveillance, attacks and data theft.

However, many of us who live in societies where freedoms are violated also suffer difficulties in connecting to the web. Hence, we use paths that range from the basic text-only messages of mobile telephony (SMS), to email or services such as IFTTT and Buffer, which allow you to update several profiles at the same time and to connect them to each other. continue reading

On August 1, the news hit like a sledgehammer. HootSuite alerted people that they will not be able to upload content to Facebook’s personal profiles from their HootSuite account. With that announcement, my chances of keeping my wall updated wall were significantly reduced. Most of the time I use third party services due to my limited access to the web and to the considerable length of time Facebook takes to load on the slow connections on the Island.

For a long time I have been able to upload my voice to Facebook, in a regular and updated way, because HootSuite allowed me to prepare the messages, program them, send them in unison to several online services, and take advantage of a few minutes on one of the wifi zones operated by Etecsa, the state telecommunications monopoly, to narrate my reality. With that possibility now closed, I fear that my presence on those sites will be less frequent.

Some friends tell me not to despair and remind me that Etecsa recently announced that the coming of the internet to Cuban mobile phones was “almost ready.” But putting hope in a company that is responsible for our technological backwardness does not seem realistic to me. Nor is it clear whether, when the web browsing service comes to cell phones, it will be possible to enter Facebook, or if the government will try to impose a local, controlled and “safe” substitute.

When the administrators of Facebook decided to shut down many third-party services, they did not foresee the fragile state in which they left the thousands or millions of users across the planet who experience restrictions in their connectivity, whether due to bandwidth or censorship problems. Slamming the door on that community, without having previously improved the tools that allow us to effectively and safely overcome these obstacles is, at the very least, a snub. This social network has a commitment to all those people who have used multiple ways to make their voices heard. They can’t burn our bridges now.

These “Internet users without Internet,” or with very little Internet, chose third party services because the ‘blue giant’ has quickly shifted in the direction of serving increasingly connected companies, users with ever more intelligent phones and countries where people speak of ‘digital government’ and ‘the internet of things’, but it has been clumsy in continuing to promote more basic tools that allow any individual with an old mobile phone and an idea to share, to post content on their wall.

It now remains for the network of “Likes” and smiley faces to strive to find solutions for these users, to put its teams to work – also — for that fraction of the world that does not have smooth access to the network but needs it as a protective shield, whistleblower channel and information bulletin board.

Come on, Facebook, you can do it… because we cannot rely on Etecsa…

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

Athletes and Air Conditioners

Air conditioners pile up at Havana’s Jose Marti airport. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Generation Y, Yoani Sanchez, Bogota/Havana — Flight 254 climbs over Bogota on a cold, gray morning. Inside the plane members of the Cuban delegation is traveling back to Havana, after participating in the Central American and Caribbean Games held in Barranquilla, Colombia. For more than three hours, the restless athletes fill their area of the craft with conversations — which cross from one side of the aisle to the other — and that revolve, basically, around one issue: the purchases they have made to take home to the Island.

Other travelers flying on Avianca Airlines, on Tuesday, encountered more than twenty athletes dressed in blue uniforms marked with the flag with the single star. The composition of the group was heterogeneous. They were young people in perfect physical shape who evidently participated in the competitions; others with gray hair and the appearance of coaches, and third parties who were neither one nor the other, but who acted as guards.

As the plane broke through the dense layer of clouds over the Colombian capital a question broke the hypnotic silence of the ascent. “Hey, were you able to buy the split (air conditioner)?” an athlete sitting in row 11 loudly asks another, three rows back. The answer was also loud enough for everyone to hear. “Yes, I bought it with no problems, and also the bicycle and the parts that I need for the bike.” The brief dialogue triggered an avalanche of comments in the same style. continue reading

During the entire time the plane spent in the air, the group did not exchange a single word about the sports competition, the medals won, or the hard struggle for Cuba to come in second, after having lost the event’s scepter for the first time in almost fifty years. The contest they discussed was another. The protagonist was the game against the clock to be able to “leave the village and reach the markets” nearby, according to one of the athletes, or “to find where they sell things more cheaply to make the money stretch,” said another.

The jackpot, what really excited them and elicited grins, was not, for many of these young talents, to win the gold, silver or bronze, but to be able to return home with products and devices that will improve their quality of life. One boasted of having been able to “lift the suitcase a little bit with my hand” so that it did not register its whole weight during the airline check-in.

“I told the employee that they were bicycle parts although they are for a motorbike because it is easier to get them through,” boasted another. “They let me bring three suitcases and the extra they charged me I will get back quickly, because everything I brought is worth a lot more in Havana,” added an older man who seemed to be the manager of some sport. Beside him, a man with a military haircut and the same sports suit as the rest of the delegation listened without opening his mouth, but the backpack he had placed in the overhead compartment could barely be closed.

The plane began to circle over Havana. “We have to wait because we have been informed that the airport is closed for operations,” the captain informed the plane. While the passengers peered out through the windows at the same landscape repeated over and over, the athletes exchanged the latest recommendations for dealing with their luggage. “I’m going to pass the screening because I still do not have an import for this year, but I need you to take through the two phones I brought,” he asked one of his row mates.

Finally, the flight touched down and after the long line for immigration came the most anticipated moment for the anxious athletes: picking up their luggage on the belt. On one side of the conveyor, an employee of Customs shouted loudly that the AC units and televisions must exit through a small door that leads to the room where they scan each package to check its interior. The sports delegation was completely crammed in there.

Then an air conditioner came out, followed by another and then several more. The boxes were piling up, smiles lit faces, some took selfies in front of the growing mountain of appliances. Still, nobody was talking about medals.

It was time to exit to José Martí International Airport’s crowded waiting room. There were whole families waiting with babies or the elderly in wheelchairs. Screams, commotion and a woman in tears telling an athlete that seemed to be her son: “I knew you were going to bring it,” as she touches the box with the air conditioner with the relief of who imagines nights without sweating in a room kept in the comfortable 70s.

The scene repeats itself. The members of the sports delegation are hugging their relatives and distributing the first gifts. The tourists who have arrived on the same flight understand less and less. “Why do they have to bring those things?” asks a surprised Chilean who has come for a cousin’s bachelorette party. Nobody answers him.

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.