‘Memes’, A Political Weapon Against Power In Cuba

With a little help from Photoshop: “In every neighborhood, an ostrich” (14ymedio) (CDR is the initials (in Spanish and English) for Committee for the Defense of the Revolution)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 11 April 2019 — Social networks were recently flooded with parodies about the flight of the presidential caravan from an area affected by the tornado, but this week the protagonists are ostriches, jutías (giant rats) and crocodiles which, according to comandante Guillermo García Frías, could resolve Cuba’s food problem. Just this week the 91-year-old García Frías proposed raising these animals to fill Cuban stomachs.

Memes have become a democratic alternative to the cartoon as a way of criticizing a power not greatly given to jokes. It is within the reach of almost anyone to make one and spread it until it becomes viral.

Political humor has been absent for decades in the official Cuban press, where only burlesque cartoons about capitalism or the president of the United States are found. No one has ever dared to offer irony about the ministers, officials or figures of the national leadership. All the jokes about them have been oral, told in low voices or in gestures.

Overhead: Welcome to Mexico. Ostrich 1: Run! Run! Here comes Guillermo García Frías. Ostrich 2: Hey! Hey! We are political refugees!

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And then the internet came to mobile phones. What in other nations has been happening for more than a decade has just began to become a reality for the residents of this Island. Now, the virtual world is not only a way to contact friends who have emigrated, seek out scholarships as a way to escape to some other place, or to ask a relative in exile to recharge your phone, but it has been erected as a place to mock the Castro regime. All the carefully contained creativity is exploding.

Some ‘memes’ rework the famous photo of Fidel Castro throwing himself from a tank, but in today’s version he is jumping off an ostrich. (Alen Lauzán)

The memes reach everyone, spark a smile and go viral many times over. The political power does not know how to deal with them: if they ignore them, they still generate laughter and reflections; if they mention and contest them, they consecrate them. The slogans can be infinitely parodied in these sparkling images and funny collages, while the sober ideological language of the billboards in the streets cannot adopt less formal codes to try to compete with such mockery.

The result is that the dissatisfaction and popular disapproval of the Executive’s management is coming to the fore in these collages. For example, the regime’s phrase, “In each block a committee” – referring to the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution, a national system of informants where all citizens are expected to monitor and report on each other’s revolutionary fidelity – is bowdlerized to “In each block an ostrich,” accompanied by a rework of the famous photo of Fidel Castro throwing himself from a tank, but in this version he is descending from one of those enormous African birds, a metaphor perhaps of a Revolution sustained more by improvisation than by military courage.

The Plaza of the Revolution has a problem. The irreverence of the meme has a greater impact on people than the solemnity of slogans because they are corrosive, familiar, catchy and make one think. The tendency of Cubans to look for the humor in things and to grab onto “anything to relax” turns out to be a very fertile breeding ground for these vignettes to deeply embed themselves in the collective imagination.

To mock the power is to begin to tear it down.

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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.

Where Is The FEU While Cuban Police Beat Congolese Medical Students?

Police invaded the university campus of the Salvador Allende School of Medicine in Havana on Monday. (Facebook)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 9 April 2019 — For decades, the official Cuban press has reported in detail on police violence against student demonstrations around the world. Thus, we have seen riot police respond with tear gas, tonfas and rubber bullets to university students in many countries. But the day that scene happened in Cuba, the national media did not broadcast it.

On Monday, an impressive repressive operation attacked dozens of Congolese students at the Salvador Allende School of Medical Sciences in Havana. The young people had been protesting for days due to the non-payment of their stipends and the bad conditions of the dorms. The situation reached its maximum tension when they moved the protest from outside their country’s embassy to the university campus.

The images are overwhelming. A large number of military and police vehicles arrived at the school. The uniformed officers were accompanied by dogs and fell on the unarmed youth. A policeman draws his weapon and points it at a student, while special troops immobilize and throw others to the ground. All this, amid the cries of repudiation and calls for nonviolence made by several students who film the events. continue reading

The residents of the area also narrate the harshness of the official response and some, who used their phones to capture the events, were arrested and taken to police stations where the images they had stored in the memory of their cell phones were erased. Despite the intention to eliminate evidence, in a few hours the videos of repression were on social networks and the news reached the covers of many international newspapers.

New images of the violent repression of students from The Congo by the Cuban police come to light. The medical fellows were protesting the delay in receipt of two years of their stipend and the poor conditions in which they live on the island. See images here and here. (Mario J. Pentón (@mariojose_cuba))

The disproportionate operation has generated outrage among many, but has not caused a single statement of condemnation by the docile University Student Federation (FEU), the official Union of Young Communists (UJC) or that grotesque without voice or vote that is the Continental Latin American and Caribbean Student Organization (OCLAE). In no faculty of the country this Tuesday the students made protests in solidarity with the Congolese youth.

It seems as if everything happened in another country, in a distant and alien galaxy, but the national history confronts us with the reality that it happened here and has happened before.

During the dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista, the chief of police, Rafael Salas Cañizares, entered the University of Havana with his troops, dealing out blows and fear. That day of April 1956 was considered an affront to the autonomy of the university and remained in the historical memory of this Island as an event that should not be repeated, ever again. That event is mentioned in the textbooks that were written after 1959 as clear evidence of the repressive nature of the Batista regime and the democratic weakness of the Republican era.

On Monday, uniformed men again entered a university campus with weapons. They handcuffed, beat and arrested numerous students but the images will not be seen in the national media nor will student organizations condemn the fact.

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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.

López Obrador and Historical Guilt

López Obrador has sent letters to the Pope and to the Spanish Government. (Screen capture)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Generation Y, 28 March 2019 — Until now, Andrés Manuel López Obrador seemed to be a focus of concern or hope for millions of Mexicans. Saving his lukewarm performance in the face of the regime of Nicolás Maduro, the Mexican president had received criticism and applause only within the borders of his own country, where he wages innumerable political and economic battles every day. That was how it was, until it occurred to him to stir up the ghost of historical guilt on two continents.

In a letter, AMLO — as he is popularly known in Mexico — has asked Pope Francis and the King of Spain to form a joint commission to study the conquest of America and to ask for forgiveness for the excesses committed. The letter has provoked some reactions of support, others of anger, many of indifference and resounding taunts that feed the memes in social networks. The Mexican politician has come to stand, in a few hours, at the center of a barrage of comments that cross the Atlantic from one side to another.

AMLO’s two Hispanic surnames do not help much in this process of demanding an apology, because they confirm that he himself is the fruit of a long cultural process that transcends the Manichaeism of the conquered and conquerors. His own existence springs from centuries of confrontation, integration, symbiosis, miscegenation and accommodation, where the limits are not precise and seeking the guilty is a work that delves deeper into the terrain of neurosis than of objectivity. But demagogues have to live for something and the most comfortable source lies in burdening others with responsibility. continue reading

López Obrador knows not what he has done. While he believed that he was extending that path of official apology that began with his mandate, which includes several bloody events of recent Mexican history, he did not realize that he was entering a terrain that does not belong to him: the distant past. In trying to extract returns from a supposed political humility that would have the powerful kneel before the defenseless victims, he has stepped on the tail of the Spanish bull and with it the millions of citizens of this part of the world whose veins run with both Hispanic and American blood.

It remains to be asked what led AMLO to compose the letters he sent to the Vatican and the Zarzuela Palace asking for an almost impossible historical redress. Was it the search for truth, or ignorance,or  the desire to shift attention beyond the problems of Mexico, or was it his own ego needing to scale higher peaks and take on more universal challenges? Whatever it is, so far he is losing the battle because he chose the losing path of “we are like this because they damaged us,” while rejecting the path of “we are nourished by diversity and in our culture many channels converge: this makes us powerful.”

If AMLO follows the path of blame then he must begin by preparing the plea to hold the Aztecs accountable for dominating and controlling large areas of Mesoamerica, the Romans for molding European faces with the advance of their implacable legions and the Mongols for having planted terror so many times under the hoofs of their horses. But this he will not do, of course, because his true objective is not to assign responsibility but to nurture his populist foundations. López Obrador is not looking for a culprit, instead he just wants to garner the distinctions of a savior.

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This text was originally published in the Deutsche Welle for Latin America.

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.

Why Was There No Student Strike For Climate Change In Cuba?

A young woman shouts slogans through a megaphone during a march for the environment in Santiago de Chile. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Generation Y, Havana, 16 March 2019 — Greta Thunberg, age 16, is quiet and shy. The Swedish teenager resembles any Cuban woman of that age who has understood that the world is not the neat and clean place described in children’s stories.

Her concern for climate change led her to skip school every Friday to demand politicians take effective actions that protect the environment, an attitude that has spread to schoolchildren in several European cities and has crossed the Atlantic to infect thousands of children in Latin America. So far in Cuba however, no student in primary, secondary high school or university has joined the initiative.

But the fact that, last Friday, the streets of Havana and other cities on the island were not filled with youthful faces demanding cuts in carbon dioxide emission, or the urgent implementation of policies to save the planet, does not mean – at all – that Cuban children and adolescents are not thinking about these issues. continue reading

What it shows is the lack of autonomy and of rights that leaves them unable to express their dissatisfaction. Nor is the majority apathetic and insensitive to environmental issues, as adults often want to believe, with that nefarious phrase, “young people are a lost cause.” Nor is Sweden so far away that Cuban young people are not aware of the earthquake of activism being launched by Thunberg.

Through social networks, internet access on mobile phones and conversations between friends, it is easy to hear about the story of the young woman who stood for weeks alone in a square in Stockholm to inspire thousands of people throughout the world. Thus, at least in this case, the justification of misinformation or ignorance is not valid. Nor, in Cuba, is it a valid argument to say – as the official press likes to repeat – that we do not have the serious environmental problems “of the developed world.” It is enough to see the long column of smoke that rises every morning from the Ñico López Refinery in Havana, to realize the seriousness of the situation.

Beyond the excessive local emissions or the specific contamination of an area, the protests initiated by Thunberg try to draw attention to the fact that this is a global problem that concerns us all. Why, then, have young Cubans not followed the path of Ecuadorians, Brazilians, Mexicans, Chileans and Argentines who have joined the demand she initiated? The answer is not indifference, but fear.

Not one of the structures that include students and young people on this Island is designed to let them act with their own voice. The José Martí Organization of Pioneers, for younger children, the Federation of Secondary Students, and the Federation of University Students are organizations used by power to transmit down to the new generations, not platforms for representation, demands and pressure from those generations up to the authorities.

If the Plaza of the Revolution does not order them to take to the streets they do not do so, and, sadly, this “orientation” comes only for ideological purposes, such as protesting against the White House, demanding the release of a Cuban spy or participating in a act of repudiation against dissidents on the island.

They are entities designed to muzzle the voices of young people rather than amplify them. This explains why the example of Greta Thunberg has been met in Cuba with silence.

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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.

Minnie Mouse Wins the Revolution Game

Miguel Díaz-Canel greets the crowd in this image published by the official press. (Granma)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, Generation Y, 11 March 2019 — Do you remember those years when national television did not broadcast the cartoons of the “capitalist” world? My generation grew up looking at Soviet, Polish, Czech and Bulgarian cartoons; some well crafted, but others crude and boring, with a clear ideological message of “collectivization,” in addition to an excessive tendency to tragedy, drama, cold and steppes that had little to do with the need for entertainment of a child born in the tropics.

Well, I remembered that veto of Donald Duck, Mickey Mouse and his dog Pluto when I saw the photo of the “meet-and-greet” with Miguel Diaz-Canel published today by the official press. Every morning, the newspapers controlled by the Communist Party feel obliged to show images where the new (handpicked) president appears as someone popular and close to the people, but in the effort he inevitably blunders or ends up with details unwanted by the Cuban Communist Party.

In the camera’s flash, this girl’s shirt shows that Disney prevailed over the Revolution. Minnie has been stronger than censorship and these children today are closer to Bugs Bunny than to Bolek and Lolek.

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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.

Cuban Women, The Rights We Lack

“We lack the freedom to walk the streets of the country without gender harassment, as an accepted practice.”(14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 8 March 2019 — This Thursday, Cuban national TV broadcast some minutes of the first session of the Congress of the Cuban Women’s Federation (FMC) now underway in Havana. In the most of the speeches I heard, they were talking about women as a part of the Cuban economy and our role “in the production of food,” but barely mentioned were the gains, rights and demands that Cuban women have failed to achieve.

In the face of this official organization’s silence about the serious problems Cuban women are experiencing, I have made my own list of priorities, fully aware that each woman who reads the following inventory will add her own demands:

We need to have shelters for battered women and more severe laws against abusers. The police must be prepared and trained to deal with these cases and not keep repeating, when they receive a complaint, the harsh platitudes of “no one should interfere between a husband and wife,” “you’re the one who provoked him,” or “go home and resolve it between yourselves.” continue reading

We urgently need access to gynecological and obstetric care that respects us as human beings, does not pressure us, protects our privacy and intimate lives. Also, during childbirth, our care should follow the recommendations of the World Health Organization which do not allow for the practice of compulsory episiotomies without consulting the pregnant woman, as happens in Cuban maternity hospitals, but which the medical community rejects as a routine practice.

We want to receive a decent salary. Although the authorities boast that there is no gender gap on the Island, the truth is that the monthly salary of a professional does not exceed the equivalent of $50 and a package of disposable diapers can cost more than $10, so being a mother creates a serious problem for the family budget.

We lack the right to walk freely in our country without a policeman stopping a woman because they think she looks like a “jinetera” (a sex worker). Furthermore, when her identity card is checked if the address does not correspond to the province she is in, she is deported to her place of origin, harassed judicially and, often, interned in a reeducation center.

We want the tranquility of a dignified old age with a retirement that allows women who have worked all their lives to lead a decent life and not have to collect cans in the trash to sell as raw material, depend on their children who have emigrated abroad, or sell individual cigarettes on a corner.

“We want the tranquility of a dignified old age with a retirement that allows these women who have worked all their lives to lead a decent life.” (14ymedio)

We lack the freedom to walk the streets of the country without gender harassment, not only as an accepted practice but one that is considered gallantry. We want to be able to travel on public transport without being groped or assaulted by sexist and humiliating phrases.

We must have the opportunity to fill the highest positions in the country and to have real responsibilities of decision-making and influence, not just fill gender quotas, please international public opinion, or offer ourselves as “pretty faces” in the Government, Parliament or ministries.
We urgently need the right to free association because I believe that only when we are able to band together according to our affinities and represent ourselves, will Cuban women be able to build the structures, demonstrate and carry out actions to demand any other rights that we lack. As long as only one female organization is allowed, in our case the Federation of Cuban Women (FMC) which functions as a transmission line from the power to women, little can be done.

We need to be able to dissent, to disagree with power and still not be discriminated against, segregated or insulted because we are women, to have ovaries and to dare to challenge the Party in power, the political authorities or the figure of a leader. In short, we want the freedom of the power of membership in any political organization, without regards to its leanings, ideological color or platform, without being denigrated for that.

We have the right to know the true statistics and figures of what happens to us. We want to know the real number of femicides committed in Cuba each year, the true incidence of gender violence and female suicide, the numbers of divorces or abortions. Making up or hiding those figures does not solve the problems, and the national media, together with the police authorities, have an obligation to show them.

Even if we are migrating, as so many Cuban women are right now in the Panamanian or Colombian jungle, we are owed attention and support from the authorities of this island. The Cuban consulates throughout the world need to look after our rights as émigrés.

Lastly, we also lack the right to public protest, to claim our rights in the streets, to strike and to receive a response. The right to make a day like today not a day of complaisant slogans, praise to power and genuflections to the Plaza of the Revolution, but a day of demanding rights, clamoring for demands and naming, aloud, everything that we lack.

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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.

María and the Lack of Cooking Oil

A line to buy cooking oil in in Camagüey, at El Encanto store. (Inalkis Rodríguez)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Generation Y, 6 March 2019 — Now that so many situations we are experiencing in Cuba remind us of those hard years of the 1990s, the stories of substitutions that were made in kitchens and in meals also return. People on the streets remember how they managed to cut a small bread into innumerable slices to eat during the day, how they dyed the rice yellow with pills from a food supplement, or turned a banana peel into fake mincemeat.

María is 43 and remembers very well those times when the national economy hit rock bottom. After petroleum and the buses, the next thing there was a shortage of was cooking oil. “My sister worked in a pharmaceutical laboratory,” she recalls, and this allowed her to bring mineral oil home, a product used as an ingredient in some medicines and one which has no smell or taste.

The problem of using mineral oil for human consumption, as happened in Cuba where it was substituted for cooking oil, is that it also worked as a powerful laxative. “When you put the food in the pan with the boiling oil it made a white foam, and after you ate it you had to put cotton in your underwear when you went out because it literally was dripping out of you like a broken car.”

“All my clothes were stained with grease and since there was no detergent and hardly any soap, that was also a problem,” recalls María. “Terrible things happened to me, like in my first interview I left an oil stain on the seat where I sat.” But now her concerns look not to the past, but to the present. “I don’t want my son to go through this, it’s shameful enough that I had to.”

María, with all the skills needed to adapt, currently prefers “to boil, steam or poach rather than fry,” something very common in Cuban cuisine, which has been impoverished in recent decades due to the lack of ingredients. “Specialists will say that it is healthier without oil, and perhaps they are right, but good nutrition is not imposed by scarcity, but rather by learning to choose,” she says.

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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.

Scrutiny and Repudiation, Chronicle of an Election Observer

Nothing else interrupted the counting, with 400 votes for Yes, 25 for No and 4 blank ballots, a woman stood a few inches from my ear and shouted with all her might “Long live the Revolution.”

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 24 February 2019 — I chose the place at random. A polling place in my neighborhood where I could attend, as an observer, the process of counting the votes. It was about six o’clock in the evening when I went to the entrance of the building, a twelve-story concrete block located on Lombillo Street. The voting was about to end and I waited outside, talking on the phone with a friend and finalizing some details about work.

The evening was warm and a reddish sun glimmered through the windows of the entrance. The count began. They asked me if I lived there as a requirement to observe. According to the current Electoral Law, any citizen can be present at the counting anywhere in the national territory, regardless of how near or far it is from their home. So I invoked the legislation, showed my identity card, wrote down my information and they emptied the ballot box on the table.

At one point, a young man arrived with a white envelope that seemed to be carrying some ballots. I thought it was votes from people with mobility problems, old people or other voters who had not been able to come to the premises. I asked the origin of the documents and right there detonated the ill-will. A man, who was not at the counting table, started shouting at me that I had no right to inquire about that and that I had asked “the wrong question.” continue reading

I responded by saying that he was not part of the Electoral Board and that the question I had raised had to be answered by those who were a part of it. The tension in the air could have been cut with a knife. One of those who reviewed the votes couldn’t control the unceasing trembling of his hands, and “a neighbor” located at the other end of the table kept taking pictures of me. Then another man approached me, wearing a striped sweater and with a mustache.

“Come with me outside,” he told me. I flatly refused, because I knew that as long as I was in the polling place I was, at least, a little more protected. “I do not go outside with strangers,” I snapped. Then came another who “rubbed” my arms in a show of confidence but started pulling me towards the door and I told him to stop touching me. Then, they told me that I had to stay “as far away from the table as possible.” I shut up and waited while the process went on.

Nothing else interrupted the counting, with 400 votes for Yes, 25 for No and 4 blank ballots, a woman stood a few inches from my ear and shouted with all her might “Long live the Revolution.” Thus the true act of repudiation was detonated, a choreography that I know so well that I had anticipated it with certainty.

I refused to sign the act as an observer because during the entire time I was there I felt harassed, threatened and not respected in my right to witness the counting. I perceived that they wanted to make me pay dearly for having dared to attend.

I left the premises, with a score of people shouting at my back. The slogans were repeated, they cheered the process, they accused me of not loving my country and a group of children joined the hullabaloo without really knowing why they were there. A woman dressed in white, a practitioner of Santeria, was confused with a Lady in White and also received some insults.

The man who filmed, disciplined, did not stop holding the phone in front of my face, so I took advantage of “the coverage” to claim my right and reject the Constitution. The shouts continued; an egg – perhaps thrown from a balcony – fell near one of my shoes. The sun was now completely hidden. Election day ended and some of those who had repudiated me crossed the sidewalk to buy some beers in a cafe across from the building.

I had just lived an unforgettable experience as a citizen, voter and journalist.

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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.

And If Venezuela Succeeds?

Miguel Díaz-Canel, Nicolas Maduro and Raúl Castro in 2017, at the close of the XV Political Council of ALBA in Havana. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 20 February 2019 — Coincidence or destiny, this is a defining week for Cuba and Venezuela. February 23 will be the key date for the humanitarian aid accumulated on the border with Colombia to reach Venezuelans and, a few hours later, Cubans will face, for the first time in decades, a ballot with the option of No.

That both events are occurring almost in unison complicates the scenario for both the Miraflores Palace and the Plaza of the Revolution. The sealed block that has been formed in the last two decades could be about to crack on one of its sides, but the other – irredeemably – will be touched by whatever happens. Both countries are “sewn to the same star,” in the words of the Chilean poet, Vicente Huidobro.

Raúl Castro knows that Nicolás Maduro is condemned. With a long experience of breathing energy into and sustaining guerrilla movements, leftist parties and presidents with whom it shares an ideology, Havana is an expert in detecting when the end has come. Its intelligence network, woven into the South American country, has also helped, in recent months, to complete the portrait of the death throes. continue reading

Juan Guaidó’s majority in international support, the deep economic crisis that Venezuelans are experiencing, and the disrepute that overflows the ruling cupola are precipitating Maduro’s fall. His administration becomes more indefensible every day, in step with what is learned about repressive excesses and the volume of looting it has perpetrated against one of the richest countries of Latin America.

The big question is what will Havana do when that end is closer and the so-called Bolivarian Revolution is left with barely a pulse or a breath.

For the time being, Castro is betting on closing ranks with Maduro and warning in international forums of a possible “foreign invasion of Venezuela,” while, behind closed doors, he revives the political rallies in support of Caracas, the massive signing of a commitment of solidarity with the Chavistas, and an intense media campaign in all the keys of the Cold War. Will he go from saying to doing and turn these gestures into military support?

To answer this question, we have to take into account the internal situation on the Island. The Cuban regime is experiencing a moment of extreme fragility. The “historical generation” that controlled the country for more than half a century has, for years, been filling the empty niches in the mausoleums, and can barely captain a strategy from the conference tables. The economy is touching bottom and in the streets the scenes of huge lines to buy basic products have returned, while the young people are ideologically apathetic.

The Constitution conceived by Raul Castro as the obligatory road map that his heirs must follow has not managed to arouse massive sympathy and campaigns to vote no or to abstain, at the expense of the results, have permeated society. Since he was hand-picked for the presidency, Miguel Diáz-Canel has had to deal with growing popular discontent, which was seen in a video that went viral on social networks when his caravan raced away while dozens of victims of the tornado in Havana’s Regla neighborhood screamed reproaches.

The country seems to be coming apart on all sides and the arrival of the internet on cellphones last December, despite the high prices and the unstable service, contributes to the sensation that throats and eyes have sprung up on every corner, reporting and denouncing what officialdom hid from view. This, along with the growing belligerence from Washington, makes the short-term future of Castroism quite uncertain.

In these circumstances, embarking on military support for Maduro would be a death sentence for Castroism, and the regime knows it. The authorities are aware that a good part of public opinion will applaud a reprisal against Havana if it dares to send armed troops to Venezuela. As a cunning survivor of endless diplomatic and political strife, Raul Castro has realized that this time it’s serious. Very serious.

Thus, he is likely to support his disciple until the moment comes to abandon him or to rescue him and bring him to Havana to live a long exile on this island that will become his home, a refuge, a prison. We cannot rule out that he will “choose to die” in the contest to give a “heroic closure” to the Bolivarian Revolution and to place the photo of another martyr in the pantheon of the Latin American left. As soon as it is clear that the Venezuelan wet nurse is offering more losses than benefits, the Plaza of the Revolution will depart, but not before shouting to the four winds “the struggle continues.”

If Venezuela manages to recover the path towards democracy and Guaidó calls for elections that Chavismo will not have the remotest chance of winning, that wave of changes will also reach Cuba’s coasts. Castroism’s diplomatic solitude will become more acute in the region, the few resources that continue to arrive from Caracas will end up on the lapels of the generals, and the senior officials of the Communist Party will be left with the shameful insignia of a defeat.

Diaz-Canel will be pushed to undertake deeper economic and political reforms in the absence of a patron and the resurgence of daily problems; the opposition will have a scenario more conducive to winning new battles with each flexibilization that is made from above or with each frustration that springs from below, while Cuba’s young people will have a close referent to inspire them and a Venezuelan mirror to see themselves through.

If Venezuela succeeds, we Cubans will be closer to also achieving it.

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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.

Thieves of Memories

Kata Mojena (Facebook)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Generation Y, Havana, 18 February 2019 – A practice frequently repeated in the raids carried out by Cuban State Security against the homes of activists, opponents and independent journalist is, precisely, the seizure of personal photos and videos. They take away that unique image of a grandmother that sat on a shelf, the snapshot of a grandson’s birthday, and the film of the baby’s first steps in the living room of the house. As if they wanted, by snatching the memories of the past, to leave the person without emotional support and sentimental roots.

I recall a few years ago talking to a Lady in White who most regretted, among the personal items she lost during a police search of her home in March 2003, the loss of the photos of her wedding. That dawn of the Black Spring, when her husband was arrested, she lost the only images she had of that very special moment when they exchanged rings, cut the cake and kissed in front of the camera. They never returned them to her, although those photos had nothing to do with the accusation leveled by the prosecutor against her husband, who spent more than seven years in prison. continue reading

Now, I read this text by Kata Mojena*, and confirm that last Monday’s raids against several homes of Patriotic Union of Cuba (Unpacu) activists have repeated this same model of repression, the same absurd confiscations of private effects, of family memories and of images that have no value to the police, but are of incalculable importance to a human being. The strategy continues to be the same: take from the person what makes them a person; reduce them to the present; eliminate all those emotional elements that complete them; snatch the testimony of what they can no longer take as a lived experience. In short, take ownership of their history.

Luckily there are now social networks to denounce this immediately and we do not have to wait long years for the world to find out, so the reactions rejecting these activities are heard and the public scorn falls on these “memory thieves” who – from the so many outrages they have committed in the past – have ended up deeply panicked about their own future.

*From Kata Mojena on Facebook: Seeing the photos I have uploaded these last years, has made me feel melancholy because they are the only ones that remain after the assault I suffered. Of course I am not going to forget the disaster they left in my house nor all the information I lost which I had worked on for years, and I will remember with sadness this event every time I want to see videos of my children as babies or my wedding and can’t because they no longer exist. I still have no answer for my older son when he says to me, Mamá those aren’t police they are thieves in disguise, nor for my youngest son when he asks me to put on his favorite cartoons. It pains me greatly that my little sister, 16, remembers with shame how they stripped her naked and searched her like a criminal. But this is true: they did not manage to take my dignity, my decision to fight, my need to live in freedom. They cannot take these because they live in my mind and heart.

Therefore, I join the hunger strike in protest against so much barbarity and the impossibility of campaigning for a No [vote] on that shameful constitution. I had already started it on the first day but my husband explained that they needed me to be strong for other tasks. Now I have finished them. So we are 71 #enhuelgadehambreVsRepresion (on hunger strike vs Repression).

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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.

Brazil in Cuba, When Pragmatism Overcomes Ideology

Former Brazilian president Dilma Rouseff and former Cuban president Raul Castro at the opening of the Mariel Special Development Zone in Cuba.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 16 February 2019 — A enormous crane lifting a container filled the TV screens of millions of Cubans in January 2014, during the inauguration of the first part of the Mariel Special Development Zone, west of Havana. In the official photo, Dilma Rousseff smiled with Raúl Castro; but five years later, that port has not managed to get the island out of its economic crisis and the former Brazilian president is a political corpse.

Mariel, the coastal area from where, in 1980, tens of thousands of Cubans, fed up with the Communist model, left for Florida, has become the “white elephant” of Castroism in the last decade. All the hopes of the nation were placed in that pharaonic work, financed thanks to the support of Brazil’s Workers’ Party (PT).

The construction of the “commercial emporium” was carried out by Odebrecht, the Brazilian conglomerate that shortly after the inauguration became the centerpiece of a corruption scandal that touches several Latin American governments, numerous political parties and hundreds of officials. continue reading

However, the main problem has been trying to make Mariel a kind of laboratory of capitalism in a nationalized country led by a group of octogenarians who distrust the market.

When Rousseff and Castro cut the tape to open that first part of the Mariel container terminal, they were also sending a message. Those were the times when starring in the family photo of Latin American presidents were the faces of the representatives of 21st Century Socialism. A brotherhood of comrades who supported each other in international forums and helped hide – reciprocally – their authoritarian excesses.

So the Cuban port, financed with a loan from Brazil’s National Bank of Economic and Social Development (BNDES), was not only part of a strategy of solidarity with the Plaza of the Revolution in Havana, to alleviate its chronic inability to produce riches, but also an ideological intention to make viable a model that, in half a century, had given more than sufficient evidence of its failure.

As the subsidy from the Soviet Union had once sustained the deliriums of Fidel Castro and, later, Hugo Chavez’s patronage allowed him to pass power to his younger brother Raúl, Brazil wanted to lend a shoulder to keep alive “the flame” of the Cuban Revolution. It was an almost archaeological rescue task, an effort to make it seem that a regime was still breathing through its own lungs, though it was incapable of surviving without outside resources.

In January of 2014 several months still remained before the announcement of the diplomatic thaw between Cuba and the United States, but without a doubt the entire port of Mariel was designed to accommodate ships that, having stopped on the island, would end in US ports and vice versa. After five years, the thaw cooled again due to Havana’s inability quickly respond to the opening promoted by Barack Obama in his relationship with the island, and Donald Trump’s arrival in the Oval Office.

Nor does the PT remain in power in Brazil and little remains of that family portrait of the region where you could see faces like Rafael Correa, Rousseff herself or Michelle Bachelet. From those “golden times” Cuba was left with a debt that it can barely pay its former South American partner and a port that is becoming a theme park of the past every day that it fails to attract ships loaded with merchandise or investors willing to settle in its commercial area.

But the Brazilian withdrawal from the island has not stopped there. At the end of 2018 an angry diplomatic dispute between the regime of Miguel Diaz-Canel and Brazil’s then president-elect Jair Bolsonaro, ended in the untimely departure of thousands of Cuban health professionals from the Mais Médicos program.

Bolsonaro accused Havana of practicing modern slavery with its doctors on mission and demanded that they be paid the full amount of their salary, because the Cuban government was keeping 75% of the $3,300 that Brazil paid for each doctor. He also demanded that the doctors pass tests to validate their titles and demonstrate their knowledge, but the Island’s Ministry of Public Health did not accept these terms and slammed the door.

Behind the headlines and the clash between the two administrations, the small stories of thousands of Cubans who are now trying to reconstruct their hopes to improve their lives and that of their families were omitted. Many of them had arrived in Brazil not only moved by the humanitarian instinct inherent in all health personnel, but also driven by their economic needs.

Doctors in Cuba are the best paid of all professionals, however, their monthly salary does not exceed the equivalent of 60 dollars. That is why it is not uncommon to see a doctor with broken shoes, who has not been able to eat breakfast because he does not have the resources to do so, or who has to wait two-hours for a public bus before arriving at an operating room to perform a complicated brain surgery.

Official missions abroad have always been an opportunity for these doctors to access greater financial resources, despite the high percentage of their salary retained by the authorities. But, above all, it is a propitious stage to establish human relationships that allow them to marry, create friendships or contacts to stay in another country or to return later in a private way.

With the vertiginous departure from Brazil, the dreams of many of those doctors were shattered. The same happened with the Port of Mariel that had filled with illusions the inhabitants of the small town in that coastal area west of Havana, as it had many Cubans who for decades have expected the island’s economy to rise so that they might live more decently and not have to watch their children leave for exile.

For all that, right now, to say “Brazil” in Cuba is to mention a dream, the illusion of what could have been and was not; but it is also evidence of the failure of a strategy and the fall from grace of a support that was more ideological than pragmatic.

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Note: A Portuguese version of this text has been published in the Brazilian magazine Crusoé  and is reproduced in this newspaper with the authorization of the author.

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.

Citizen Solidarity After The Tornado Shows A Vibrant And Alive Civil Society

The citizen response to help the victims of the tornado is a source of hope about the nature and organizational capacity of Cuban civil society. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Generation Y, 5 February 2019 – In recent days we have seen moving signs of solidarity with the victims of the tornado that hit Havana. Drivers who offer their taxis, free of charge, to carry donations, paladares – private restaurants – who deliver food to those who lost everything, artists who bring water to the most affected areas, and emigrants who call for campaigns to collect products to send to the Island. Often the protagonists in this aid are people who, themselves, have very little or almost nothing.

The emergence of this citizen response, spontaneous and disinterested, inspires hopes about the nature and organizational capacity of Cuban civil society. And surprise about its efficiency and the volume of products collected despite the fact that these initiatives have not been able to rely on mass media for coordination, and in many cases have had to fight against the misunderstandings of the local authorities and the attempt of the Plaza of the Revolution to monopolize the distribution of donations. continue reading

And excitement, too, that after three decades of not permitting free association and only authorizing the existence of government organizations, there still remains, in the Island, the attitude and commitment to organize a campaign for humanitarian donations, autonomously and effectively. Many of the self-employed deserve special mention as they have offered – after so many years of suffering under the suspicion of those who say they only want to enrich themselves to live “above the people” – a lesson in dedication and selflessness at this time.

The displays of solidarity have come from the hands of restaurants like D’ La Abuela, who put into practice an effective system so that anyone could pay for a meal on-line to be delivered to the most damaged neighborhoods in Luyanó, Regla, Santo Suarez and Guanabacoa. Similarly, from musicians who have arranged concerts privately to raise money. And even from the attitude of independent reporters who not only related the testimonies of the victims, but also helped to document their particulars so that aid could reach them directly.

All of them are the heroes of recent days, especially because they have not received a salary for doing what they have done, they were not called by those “up above” to clear debris or give a hug and the work they performed was not a part of their ordinary jobs. They did it because they wanted to help and because they felt that each individual matters when it comes to civil society. Like a gigantic anthill, the smallest gestures and the simplest resources help to raise and maintain the common edifice of a citizenry.

A big hand to all of them.

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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.

Proposals to Get Help to Havana’s Tornado Victims

The State is responsible for taking measures and decisions that help donations and contributions become effective as soon as possible. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Generation Y, 29 January 2019 — How to help? This is one of the first questions that arises when, Monday at dawn, we see the images of the destruction left by Sunday night’s tornado that affected several areas of Havana. The campaigns for the collection of resources and food have begun, there are neighbors lending a roof so a family that lost everything can sleep in safety, and citizens who look for the most suitable ways to offer this solidarity from within and outside of Cuba.

Now, the State is responsible for taking measures and decisions that help these donations and contributions become effective as soon as possible and benefit the greatest number of victims. Here are some proposals for the Plaza of the Revolution to facilitate the arrival of aid and speed the recovery:

  • The State must start distributing, as soon as possible and free of charge, food, water, blankets and flashlights for families who have lost everything and those who live in the most affected areas; not selling them, as it did this Monday in the neighborhoods most affected, such as Luyanó and Regla.
  • The General Customs Office of the Republic has to decree a moratorium on its strict regulations limiting imports for personal use, extend it to private businesses so that not only the affected families can receive aid in the form of food, clothing, medicines and construction materials, but also so that small home repair businesses can stock up on supplies.
  • Allow ‘natural persons’ to import vehicles of all types and sizes to replace those destroyed in order to provide a vehicle fleet to support reconstruction and mobility in the affected areas.
  • Eliminate the 10% tax on the dollar so that remittances received from abroad, especially from the United States, grant the benefitting families the maximum purchasing power.
  • Substantially reduce the prices of basic products such as oil, flour, milk and eggs throughout the domestic trade network, at least in Havana.
  • The Telecommunications Company of Cuba must offer, as soon as possible, a significant reduction in the price of calls abroad and within the Island, especially for its customers in the Cuban capital, to facilitate communications and interaction between those affected and their families.
  • This reduction should also extend to the 3G data connection service from mobile phones and wireless connections in wifi zones.
  • Suspend taxes for the self-employed (the private sector) in the damaged neighborhoods and approve loans on favorable terms for the reconstruction of their businesses.
  • Allow non-governmental organizations and international organizations to enter the country to assess the damages and help those most affected. Guarantee that the Catholic Church and other religious institutions can carry out, without obstacles or restrictions, their humanitarian work.
  • Allow a recovery campaign on the part of civil society, ordinary people, Cuban emigrants and international organizations, ending the government’s monopoly on solidarity and aid.

In the next few days we will be able to verify if the State’s priority is the recovery of the people or the exclusive control of the aid to play politics with the catastrophe.

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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.

Nicolas Maduro Clings to Power With No Concern for the Cost to the Country

On the second night of protests this January, in San Felix in Bolivar State, the demonstrators set fire to the statue of Hugo Chávez. (Cocuyo Effect)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 26 January 2019 – If the populists share something, in addition to believing that they embody an entire nation, it is their inability to cede power when their project is exhausted. The decision to cling to the helm, no matter what the cost, has been shared by numerous caudillos in Latin America, but Nicolás Maduro in Venezuela is the most recent and dramatic case.

Repudiated by a good share of Venezuelans, designated as a dictator by a large number of governments, and proven incapable of getting his country out of an economic quagmire, the successor of Hugo Chávez ignores all signals. Maduro is wedded to power more to save a ruling elite than to seek the wellbeing of more than 30 million people. continue reading

He believes that if he remains in the presidential chair, Venezuelans will end up wearing themselves out and that exhaustion, together with the repressive blows, will pacify the popular protests that have shaken the South American country in recent days. He is playing the card of not accepting that his time has passed, and of baring his teeth to anyone who advises to him to get out of the way, call elections or seek asylum.

In part, he clings to the presidential chair to avoid the judicial process that awaits him for plundering one of the richest nations in the world, for having pushed hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans into exile, and for having ordered the armed forces to use their weapons against ordinary people. But while trying to delay the judgment of his compatriots, Maduro leaves Chavism with no chance to escape the judgment of history.

Every day that he remains in the position of president, a position he usurped after an election riddled with irregularities, he destroys what, in the collective imagination, could still be his predecessor’s legacy. Neither opponents nor right-wing governments in the region have been as effective as Maduro in dismantling the myth of Hugo Chávez.

It’s no wonder, on the second night of protests this convulsive January, that demonstrators in San Felix, in the state of Bolivar, set fire to the statue of Hugo Chavez, the one-time commander of a Parachute Battalion who managed to install himself in the Miraflores Palace. These flames were directed at the entire Chavista myth which, at the end of the last century, installed the first bars of the cage that Maduro tries to keep shut today.

By proclaiming himself interim president of Venezuela, the young politician Juan Guaidó, who as of this month is president of the National Assembly, has not only managed to bring the Venezuelan issue to the center of international attention, but has forced all those who supported the eccentricities of that soldier who sang in his speeches and believed himself a reincarnation of Simón Bolívar to look in the mirror. Not a few of those fervent followers have hastened to chant a belated mea culpa in recent days.

Today Nicolás Maduro is Chavism’s main gravedigger, the most effective resource to dismantle a whole system which, in the beginning, attracted applause from millions of followers all over the planet.

However, along with that ideological funeral, every day in which the Venezuelan ruler remains in charge, the tragedy of the country deepens. Until last Thursday, the non-governmental organization The Venezuelan Observatory of Social Conflict (OVCS) estimated the total number of deaths in protests against Maduro at 26. The economy is paralyzed and thousands of citizens are escaping across the borders every day.

The stubbornness of a handful of Boliburgueses – the new rich ‘bourgeoisie’ of Chavez’s “Bolivarian Revolution” – has spread the uncertainty about where the country is headed and fanned the specters of a bloodbath. The support they enjoy from the military leadership could bring this bloody scenario closer, because – like all populists – they prefer to drag down the country they once claimed to represent before acknowledging that they failed.

It is up to the international community to guarantee that, in the historical abyss into which Nicolás Maduro is plummeting, there is room only for the gang that governs Venezuela and for the authoritarian Chávism that elevated it.
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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, a Sanctuary for Fugitives From Justice

Negotiations with the guerrillas continue as of today. (Colpisa)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 21 January 2019 – The center of attention has shifted abruptly for the Cuban authorities. A few weeks before a complex constitutional referendum, with an economy taking on water everywhere, Havana is now embroiled in a bitter dispute with the government of Colombia. The bout between the Plaza of the Revolution and the Nariño Palace looks like it might go on for a while.

After the terrorist attack that left 20 dead and 68 wounded in Bogota, President Ivan Duque has insisted that Havana hand over the ten members of the National Liberation Army (ELN) peace delegation that remain on the island. Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez has responded with a technicality that raised more doubts than certainties. continue reading

According to the foreign minister in his Twitter account, “Cuba will act in strict respect with the Peace Dialogue Protocols signed between the Government and the ELN,” should negotiations break down. The Colombian side replied that “there is no protocol that protects terrorism,” and Havana added fuel to the fire by insisting that it has never permitted nor will it permit its territory to be used for the organization of terrorist acts.

But the precedents of these last six decades belie these assertions. If the history of recent years is reviewed, it is easy to conclude that the island’s authorities will avoid handing over the guerrillas at all costs. It is very unlikely that this case will put an end to the government’s long history of protection for fugitives and criminals. It is unthinkable that, asked to choose between two loyalties, it will end up choosing to please Duque.

Dozens of members of the Basque separatist group ETA, involved in assassinations and with a long criminal history in Spain, have been hiding on the island for decades. Joanne Chesimard is also living in Cuba’s capital city; known here as Assata Shakur, she is on the FBI’s list of most wanted terrorists after having killed a policeman. The famous thief Robert Vesco found refuge under the skirts of the Cuban Revolution after stealing more than 200 million dollars.

This “solidarity” with criminals and terrorists is based on two pillars. The first of these was established from the first years Fidel Castro came to power and expressed support for any movement or person who shares anti-capitalist, communist ideas and supports subverting the established order in their country of origin. The second obeys the maxim that “the enemy of my enemy” is always a friend to the Cuban regime.

Under these two premises, the authorities have welcomed any and all international criminals who have requested refuge after showing a record of harm against the institutions of the United States, the governments of Latin America and the law enforcement agencies of the countries most critical of the human rights situation in Cuba. Hosting these “unpresentables” has been an act of political revenge, a challenge to international justice and a mockery of the victims.

Criminals who have escaped from other countries have not only found here a place to avoid ending up in front of a court, but most have enjoyed a standard of living far superior to that of most Cubans. In mansions, with bodyguards and a good supply of food, many of these delinquents on-the-run have led a life well away from the narrow cell they deserved.

In the case of Colombia’s National Liberation Army (ELN), the “hospitality” has meant that as of 10:00 am this Monday, the official press has still not published a word about the statement made by the guerilla group taking responsibility for the terrorist attack against the Police Cadet School in Colombia. Not only has the government given them shelter, but it has also offered them the complicity of its silence.

Why would the Government of Cuba now act differently with these fugitives? Increasingly isolated in the region, with the so-called “historic generation” clearly in biological withdrawal, and a system that can not lift Cuba’s 11 million people out of a quagmire, Havana should respond affirmatively to Bogota’s request, to make it clear that the times of support for criminals have ended.

However, to believe that something like this is possible is equated to the frog’s dream that the scorpion who helps him cross the river will not sting him. Even though it is sinking in the waters of disrepute and diplomatic solitude, sheltering terrorists is in Castroism’s nature.

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Editor’s Note: A shorter version of this text was published by Deutsche Welle.

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.