The Aborted Protest

A police operation at Mónica Baró’s house. (M.B./Facebook)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Generation Y, Havana, 1 July 2020 — It was going to be a Tuesday like any other amid the restrictions imposed in Havana by the pandemic. A day of long lines to try to buy food, of walking enormous distances in the absence of public transport and of calling friends to find out if they are in good health and if the coronavirus had not knocked on their doors. But the official repression to avoid a peaceful protest made the last day of June break the mold of any routine.

By 11:00 in the morning, on a corner that is the left atrium of the heart of the Cuban capital, activists of various tendencies had gathered. They sought to raise their voices for numerous reasons, but especially for the death — last week — of a young black man at the hands of the police. A shot in the back ended the life of Hansel Ernesto Hernández Galiano and to the outrage over his murder was added the irritation that the  official press barely reported the news and the authorities justified what happened as an act of self-defense on the part of the officer, while describing Hernández as an aggressive criminal.

The event, which occurred in the poor neighborhood of Guanabacoa, has fueled a popular anger that has been incubating for decades. It is a social unrest that has been reached for multiple reasons. The police excesses and racial discrimination that continue to mark the attitudes of those in uniforms towards citizens are part of what motivates this anger, but added to this is the discomfort caused by the repressive turn of the screw applied by the Government which it justifies by the Covid-19 health emergency. A feeling of suffocation runs through the country, where, on top of the virus, the economic situation has deteriorated significantly in recent months.

This Tuesday’s protest sought to show some of that annoyance, in a national context where the official Cuban media has exploited to extremes the death of the American George Floyd, with numerous public figures in Cuba condemning the excessive violence used against an African American during his arrest in Minneapolis. The same informational spaces and voices on this Island which, until a few days ago, did not hide their support for the Black Lives Matter movement, now remain in complicit silence before the bullet that struck the young Cuban. For mote in the eye of others is always easier to denounce than the enormous beam of responsibility blocking your own vision.

At the time when the protest in Havana was due to start on June 30, the meeting place was surrounded by police and military personnel, the homes of numerous activists were guarded, and several artists and independent reporters were detained. With a disproportionate deployment, the regime aborted the initiative before any of those heading to the protest could even reach the corner of 23rd and L streets. The arrests were joined by the cutting of telephone service and verbal threats. Amidst the crisis of shortages hitting the country, the repressors spared no resources to prevent a peaceful demonstration.

Only hours later the first releases began, but on Tuesday things had definitely gone wrong.

________________________

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

_______________________

COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

Anonymity and Cowardice, Cuban State Security Profiles on the Internet

When they fail to identify themselves they are labeled as lily-livered, especially because they fling mud on people using their names, surnames, faces. (Piqsels)

14ymedio bigger

14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Generation Y, Havana, 26 June 2020 — They can take the name of character in a soap opera, or that of any neighbor’s child, or use a warlike epithet, but the anonymous internet profiles of Cuban State Security agents always share a common denominator: cowardice. Hidden behind a pseudonym they carry out the work of the official machinery in the smear campaigns against the critics, but end up muddying their own manufactured character more than their victims.

I remember one of these characters from a few years ago — whose name I can’t remember — who was created to attack the alternative blogosphere and dissidents. They had an ephemeral life, because they were deactivated soon after, probably by the same people who had attempted to place them on the networks as a “voice of young Cubans.” It was disguise, the mask behind which an entire political police team was probably hiding, and was used with the same impunity as the hangman’s hood.

That character, who behaved with the pretense of being able to sink reputations and intimidate the bravest, ended up being discarded. Especially because little by little, and despite the initial aftertaste that can arise in a certain audience that follows these gossip-focused profiles, the fact that they are not real people and cannot show their faces ends up taking a toll. When they fail to identify themselves they are labeled as lily-livered, especially because they fling mud on people using their names, surnames, faces and even their identity card numbers. continue reading

Now, we are witnessing a new installment of these deplorables, with the addition that even the official press alludes to them from time to time, journalists close to the Government use them as sources, and more than one public face of culture comes out to defend them. It is still contradictory that an enthroned power, which controls Parliament, dictates laws and manages the Army, ends up defending itself by appealing to a secret entity. That is evidence only of their fear.

The current anonymous pro-government profiles that promote the destruction of the reputation of a deceased young man – calling him a criminal – as well as the gossip about the private life of an opponent, will pass in a few years and they will not even be remembered, most likely their accounts in social networks will be deleted for the convenience of those that created them. They have the ephemeral life of an unknown soldier sent to die on the front line, of whom not a single tombstone with their name will remain.

However, the flesh and blood beings who took advantage of the stories spread by these masked entities, those who used their hoaxes to judge others, spread their lies and used their gossip to socially stigmatize citizens… those will remain and they will have to answer to their conscience, that little voice that hammers everyone in the head and that should have warned them before: it is not a good idea to rely on hooded anonymity or cowardice to follow others under a pseudonym.

____________

COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

Historical Revisionism and “Untouchable” Cubans

Bas-relief of Fidel Castro in the Plaza de la Revolución Ignacio Agramonte, in Camagüey. (Mi comarca / Aymee Amargós Gorrita)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Generation Y, Havana, 22 June 2020 — These are times of statues taken from plazas, of historical names questioned and of intense debates about the way we look at the past, but – as with so many other tendencies – these controversies that spread across the world barely reach Cuba. In a country with too many “untouchable” public figures, even to think about a process of reviewing the national events and subjects of the last half century sounds like a distant utopia.

We live in a nation where debate about the official faces and criticism of government decisions has been denied for so long that we are surrounded by issues frozen, enshrined and removed from any discussion on the part of civil society. Not being able to question, not even comedians can publish cartoons about party leaders, officials or ministers. Unlike what happens in other places where busts are removed, here we are surrounded by “living statues” that cannot be touched with even the hint of a critique.

However, this prolonged and obligatory silence on so many transcendent questions will not prevent these discussions from happening some day, and even the delay bringing them to light may be serving as a stimulus for controversy. One of the most intense, without a doubt, will be directed around the figure of Fidel Castro, who will be at the center of the diatribe in a future Cuba. There is no way he can be saved from the controversy and the contrasting points of view of his actions. All attempts to officially sanctify him to avoid scrutiny will do little good if democratic winds blow on this Island. continue reading

Perhaps because he sensed the public pillory that awaited him, Castro preferred to avoid statues, although he left several bas-reliefs with his face in numerous squares in the country. Therefore, his fate will not be the tearing down of a bronze figure but the historical judgment against an individual and a system. There will be no images of defaced sculptures, but very probably new editions of history books will be prepared, the academics will tear apart his political testament and even the progressives of that time will put a healthy distance between their postulates and those of the Commander. The discussion about the permanence of his tomb, so close to the remains of José Martí, will also come and stoke the passions.

The hardest blow will fall when in a fluid and natural way, in the conversations and memories, the word “dictator” slips in when talking about Castro, while “dictatorship” is used to name his time in power. Those terms, coined by popular usage, installed in memory and ratified by scholars, will be like thousands of hammers beating against the statue of his legacy.

______________

COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

Last Day: Countdown To Get Nowhere

Infanta street in Havana is returning to its usual activity, despite the fact that the Covid-19 is still present. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 15 June 2020 — On television they say that Cuba is heading towards reopening, a curious word for a country with so many political borders and so many economic dams. “If they say it, they will know something,” says a neighbor who, by dint of passing needs, now entrusts his hopes in “we can only get out of this hole, we can no longer fall any further.”

A few days ago they announced that we will soon be in phase one of the de-escalation and I feel that an eternity has passed since the first case of Covid-19 on the Island.

Although the pandemic continues to haunt our lives, most of the people I meet on the street have already put an end to any type of confinement and the sidewalks of my neighborhood are once again full of neighbors who come and go looking for some food to buy. The nearby Rancho Boyeros Avenue, which in the first weeks after the suspension of public transport, was deserted, now roars from early on with vehicle traffic, many with the sign “Vía libre – Coronavirus,” which allows those vehicles to travel anywhere, any time, regardless of restrictions that apply to others. continue reading

Although the Ministry of Public Health has released low numbers for the Covid-19 contagion in recent days, Cubans intuit that beyond the disease, the peak of the economic crisis is yet to come. September, with thousands of students returning to schools, seems to be the time when the needs curve will escalate. After months without tourism, with difficulties in traveling from one province to another, with many private businesses operating at half-capacity, and even the informal market hard-bit, that first day of school will be a challenge for many families.

“If right now I had to pay 10 CUC (roughly $10 US) for a package of detergent, how much will it cost when people have to wash their children’s uniforms every day?” reflects a friend who advises me to prepare for “the hardest summer of the last two decades.” Even the announcement that national tourism will be restored and that, perhaps with the drop in the arrival of foreigners, Cubans can access cheaper recreational offers, does not excite my friend. “Who can think of going to a hotel to spend what little money they have?”

Contrasts also arise. A friend who lives in Batabanó has called me to tell me that he has been practically eating “lobsters and shrimp” for several days because from his fishing village in southern Havana, which has traditionally fed shellfish to the black market in the capital, merchants who now can’t distribute the product due to the cuts in transport and to the reinforcement of the vigilance on the highways. “There is no rice, no soap, no oil, but there is no lack of lobster,” he says ironically.

Although such delicacies could be seen as a sign of luxury on a Cuban table, my friend knows that his current abundance is a bad sign. “This town lives on this because we supply not only Havana, but also all the private restaurants and the private houses in Viñales, Soroa and the tourist areas of Artemisa, Pinar del Río and Mayabeque,” he adds. “If in those places the economy sinks, here we’ll be buried.”

It is curious that in many of the phrases I hear, it is perceived as if life had taken the form of a line that sinks when access to resources, well-being or hopes is dealt with and dramatically rises when measuring crisis, scarcity and uncertainty. A sharp curve that, to flatten it, requires bold and urgent decisions that the ruling party, however, delays.

My friend has made a decision. “As soon as they open, I’m leaving, I’m not going through a second Special Period here.” In the countdown to escape are thousands of Cubans right now, standing another line, the one that separates them from the outside.

________________________

COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

The Covid-19 Emergency in Cuba, Days 67 to 73: The Lines, Our Life and Our Death

Lines, so common on the Island, are a risk area, especially in Havana, where coronavirus cases continue to rise. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 2 June 2020 – The lines no longer last for hours, but rather days. It was happy, the voice of a friend who called me last Friday, he sounded relieved to tell me that after days of waiting his number, 306, finally was reached, permitting him to buy chicken at a store in the Arroyo Naranjo municipality, in Havana. His turn in line allowed him to go home for a bath, some sleep and to wait until Monday to collect the product.

Yesterday the phone rang and he didn’t seem so lively anymore. When he went to buy the package of chicken thighs from his efforts, the store manager informed him that “the merchandise didn’t come and the papers distributed to mark the places in line can no longer be honored.” The paper with the three digits ended up in bits on the sidewalk and my friend returned home, where his two elderly parents, seven dogs and four cats were anxiously waiting for him.

The lines, the markets and the food stalls are a dangerous focus for infections in a city where social distancing has been relaxing in recent days and in which we are obliged to go out every day to look for food. continue reading

“A tube of toothpaste is 10 CUC [roughly $10 US] on the black market,” another friend tells me, who has decided to save what little she has left by brushing with salt, bicarbonate or just water. She prefers that rather than “pay almost ten times the official price of the product” or spend the same number of hours in a line to get it through legal channels. Little by little we are cutting out parts of our lives and ending up with the most basic.

Buy flowers? No, they are superfluous. Celebrate a birthday? When the pandemic passes. Get some new shoes? An unnecessary expense. Have a photo printed to hang on the wall? Who can think of it, when that money will buy a few pounds of sweet potatoes.

Use both a fork and a spoon to eat? How crazy, and with what detergent is all that going to be scrubbed? Discard the water from the rice after rinsing it? Leave the waste and use it to make vinegar. Sleep through the night? The hours for rest depend on whether there is electricity and the fan can be turned on.

And so, life is reduced, narrowed and severed. The coronavirus and the crisis make us elemental beings, of a single dimension.

____________

COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

The Covid-19 Emergency in Cuba, Days 59 to 61: Anniversary in the Midst of the Pandemic

What seemed then to be a wall of disadvantages, helped make this medium a stubborn survivor. (Good vibes)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sánchez, Havana, 21 May 2020 — This Thursday I got up before the alarm went off. There are days when it is difficult to get my body out of bed, but I popped out like a spring and immediately brewed the coffee. It is not every day that a child’s sixth birthday is celebrated, especially if the child has a cover instead of a face; in the place of the teeth, headlines grow and, similar to bones, it is supported by notes and reporting.

We are in the midst of a pandemic and there are not many resources or reasons to celebrate, but I feel that the newspaper 14ymedio, which today arrives at its sixth anniversary, has always been dealing with an emergency. We do independent journalism as an anomaly and that has prepared us – without our knowing it – for this moment of crisis. What at the time seemed to be a wall of disadvantages, helped make this medium a stubborn survivor.

The first scare that the “creature” gave us occurred on the very day of its birth, on May 21, 2014. As soon as it emerged, we found that the Cuban government had blocked our site on national servers. But since for every evil there can be found a vaccine or a remedy, we knew that readers within the Island were going to find their own ways to access our pages, through anonymous proxies or VPNs. continue reading

The “baby” had other stumbles. Threats, police summons to reporters, travel bans for several collaborators, and the intense downpour of smear campaigns on his tender skin. There were times when he could barely breathe due to lack of internet access, high connection prices, and the difficulties for editors, contributors, and editors to communicate fluently.

He had rubella, mumps, and even measles. Evils that originated not only from the repression and the lack of freedom of the press in Cuba, but also from the fear of the sources to give testimony in the face of possible reprisals, the attempts of some to turn us into the “official organ” of any trend or group and the lack of consistency in the work, which weighed down some who approached full of enthusiasm in the beginning.

The sound of the coffee maker brings me back to this Thursday. I make a bitter mug and instead of going through a box of photos of the first fallen tooth, a visit to the zoo or a blown out candle, I go through the most exciting articles. Those, with which we compel the official media to recognize a reality that had previously been swept under the rug; the first scoops; readers’ words of encouragement and criticism.

I look at the laptop screen, execute a few short clicks. I feel like I’m stitching the shirt he will wear when he goes out there to shine by himself, to defend himself and to make his own name. I’m nervous, I don’t deny it, so I take another sip of the bitter coffee to hide my anxiety. I look at it and I can detect in each of its details the work of colleagues, journalists and editors who have molded its form and personality.

There is a knock on the door and it takes me out of the mental review. It is a neighbor who comes to tell me that today is the last day to buy the eggs from the rationed market and that the line is now short. I grab my mask, run down the stairs and come back a little later with relief on my face. “Now we are going to be able to make a cake for the birthday.”

______________________________

COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

The Covid-19 Emergency in Cuba, Days 56 to 58: Our Sputnik Runs on Coal

Our 'Sputnik' would not win a design contest. (14ymedio)
Our ‘Sputnik’ would not win a design contest. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 18 May 2020 – Since the Covid-19 crisis has been unleashed in Cuba, the days and nights have passed with a cleaner sky due to the few vehicles that circulate on the streets and the closing of polluting industries. Except in Havana, unfortunately, because of the dirty column of smoke that the Ñico López refinery releases into the air every day.

To enjoy this clear panorama, it is best to climb on a rooftop. The one over our heads in this concrete block has the advantage that it is wide, has almost no television antennas since the advance of the digital signal and, in addition, at more than 14 floors above the ground, it is not suitable for those who are afraid of the heights, which is why it is little visited. If you add that birds nest in it, it looks like a paradise, but instead of the apple tree there is a huge water tank.

On this roof, Rei and I started our long journey together 27 years ago, so we have a special affection for each corner, each tile and even the lightning rod that has never worked. But what we like the most is the view that is achieved if one lies face up on the roof during a moonless night. After seeing something like this, even the most decorated chapel and the most exquisite ceiling seem small. continue reading

In these days of so much stress derived from the pandemic, a few long hours looking towards infinity can help calm the most distraught tempers and renew some hopes. When I was a little girl the future seemed inextricably linked to the stars. It was the time of the space race and in Cuba we lived surrounded by stories of Soviet cosmonauts, details about the Soyuz spacecraft, and constant allusions to Sputnik.

Back then, many children on this Island dreamed of being part of some crew that was heading towards space. We believed that, without a doubt, we were going to be adults in a world of supersonic ships accessible to everyone and that the boring meals of each day would be replaced by a couple of pills or a tube of cream, just a little bit of which would give us nutrients for long days. It was a time to dream…

Now, when I look back, I realize that in 1991 when the USSR disintegrated our astronaut chimeras were also pulverized. Almost three decades later, space has been filled with satellites, ships with crews of various nationalities and even trash. The pills to feed us, so we might resist without having to find something to put on our plates, did not arrive.

After so long, in my life the word Sputnik only means the name of a magazine that did not survive the end of the socialist camp, or of the homonymous official press agency which, founded in the last decade, now repeats everything that the Kremlin finds agreeable. This would be the case, except for the fact that an ingenious neighbor has helped us to manufacture a nice coal stove from the framework of an old gas cylinder. As soon as we laid eyes on it we nicknamed it after that satellite launched in 1957.

Sputnik would not win a design contest, nor does it measure up to the sophisticated grills advertised on classified sites, but it has something of that crude presence of objects that populated my Sovietized childhood. Maybe that’s why I got a smile on my face when I saw it finished, with one of its grills made of a fan casing, a small openwork door in the metal itself and a firepit that reminds us of the cartoons of wolves, steppes and tears with which we grew up.

These days, the cooking gas piped into our home sometimes arrives only weakly. The confinement imposed by the pandemic keeps families inside their homes longer and the stoves stay on longer. But there is Sputnik to save us. It squeaks when opened, emits fumes from its small firepit, and spreads the smell of burning coal throughout the apartment.

Today, we have put in Sputnik some sweet potatoes, a piece of chicken from the rationbook and some small capsicum peppers. The result was not like those extraordinary pills that I imagined when I was a child but – in the end – nor I did become a cosmonaut.

________________________

COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

The Covid-19 Emergency in Cuba, Days 52 to 55: Sometimes I Prefer to Watch the News With the Sound Off

I imagine the hard times that all those private entrepreneurs who have run out of raw materials must be going through. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sánchez, Havana, 15 May 2020 — The fan stopped turning at dawn. Silence and heat came immediately. What happened, we wondered as soon as we felt the emptiness when the blades stopped. The electricity had cut out, due to a “phase fault,” something quite common in this building where, on very hot nights, 144 families need some way to cool off and consumption increases dramatically.

A phase fault is like an energy “stroke,” because there is still power in some places, but many of the lamps and outlets are literally dead. The “hemisphere” that maintains appliances, elevators, and lights in common areas is disabled and some of this mass of concrete is left in the dark.

In the middle of the semi-blackout, Reinaldo had to go disconnect the elevators, because with a phase fault they can be seriously damaged. For the rest, we will have to wait until dawn and the Electric Company to send its employees to fix the capricious transformer that has ruined our night. Well, one more reason to get up early, because no one can handle this heat from the bed. continue reading

I strain the first coffee of the day, check my phone messages, and put the mobile on mute to watch the national news. Sometimes I like just looking at the screen without listening, especially when it is early and my ears are not yet ready to process slogans, triumphant headlines or biased news. But I keep looking to see if, by their gestures and mouth movements, I can guess what the official announcers are saying.

I’m sure this one – with his bow tie and military haircut – is talking about some agricultural product that has exceeded the production levels set in the official plan; I deduce this when the presenter raises his index finger and the screen immediately shows a furrow on some farm. Then he gets more serious and reads from a piece of paper, so I guess he’s probably reciting an official statement. Later, he is seen to frown and I feel that he is commenting on the news of a detained “hoarder” and an informal warehouse of seized merchandise.

I have watched the newscast from my mobile, transmitted via the internet, but I have not heard it. No need to. I continue with my coffee. The electrical phase continues to drop, so I go back to pen and paper to organize the day. I try not to lose my handwriting skills, even though keyboards and touch screens conspire against my calligraphy. I take a sheet and divide it in two, on one side I write the to-do’s for the14ymedio Newsroom, and on the other the survival emergencies.

So on one page I squeeze together activities as dissimilar as “review the weekly PDF before publishing it” and “search for onions”; “share on the networks the report of the left opening” and “store water when the electric pump starts working”; “check if the cultural events listing is up to date” and “ask the neighbor if he is interested in exchanging two eggs for a little flour,” (I need the latter to invent some croquettes); “finish editing the text that a collaborator sent” and “go out and get some sweet potato for the dogs’ food.” After I finish filling the sheet I can’t help but laugh.

If one day my grandchildren discover this rare collection of notes and tasks they will think that Grandma was missing more than two screws.

The phase fault is reset, the elevators are fully operational, the fan starts working again and I can turn on my laptop with the broken battery. I check the news about Covid-19 in Cuba and answer a couple of calls. One of them from a friend who tells me that in her neighborhood they have put instant chicken cubes and small packages of detergent on the store shelves. “You need the card, but I can lend it to you,” she clarifies, referring to the Covid-19 card issued in some neighborhoods.

My neighborhood is not yet under the strict restrictions that have been applied in others. Which has its advantages and disadvantages. Although we can still enter and leave the area, there is no preference for residents to buy in the area’s markets, so people desperate for a piece of chicken, some milk or a package of sausages arrive from various municipalities. My friend, however, already lives under a more stringent quarantine and has been given a document that allows her to shop in stores in the Cayo Hueso neighborhood, which are restricted to outsiders.

In the afternoon I hear a cry that hasn’t resounded in the neighborhood for weeks. “Ice cream sandwiches,” says a recorded voice from a street vendor’s bicycle. Until the end of March, that was a persistent, almost unbearable sound in this area, but with the arrival of the coronavirus on the Island, it was extinguished until it disappeared. Its return has given me hope, although I confess that I don’t like his merchandise. I have never cared for sweets.

However, I went downstairs and bought two ice cream sandwiches. Reinaldo or our son will eat them. I did it because I imagine the hard times that all those private entrepreneurs who have run out of raw materials must be going through, without the possibility of buying large quantities in stores and without customers, fearful of catching the virus from them.

One of the sandwiches was strawberry and the other was chocolate. I climbed back  up using the stairs. When I reached the 14th floor I knew that I had been lucky not to take the elevator: the electricity had cut out again.

______________________

COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

The Covid-19 Emergency in Cuba Days 48 to 51: The Ration Book Gains Prominence

Will my grandchildren also be born in a Cuba with a rationed market? (Flickr / Borja García)

14ymedio biggerTesting positive for Covid-19, missing a line to buy chicken or misplacing the ration book are some of the worst situations that can be experienced these days in Cuba. Amid the crisis, some products that until recently could be bought on the liberated, or open, market are once again controlled by the booklet with gridded pages that has been with us for nearly six decades.

In my building, a neighbor almost suffered a heart attack this Saturday when he discovered that on one outing he had lost the booklet that allows him to buy his rationed quota for each month. This retiree had stopped going to the bodega (as the ration store is called) to look for rice, sugar and a few other goods that are sold in a regulated manner, because his two emigrated children send him enough in remittances to stock up in the unrationed stores – which we call “the shopping” – that sell in convertible pesos.

But those times are behind us. With the arrival of the coronavirus on the Island, the ration book has gained prominence and some food and hygiene products have become controlled again. So my neighbor was forced to return to the fold and this month he woke up very early to be one of the first to buy his rationed goods, along with a module for people over 65, which was also sold to him. continue reading

As convertible peso stores have also regulated the quantity of each product that each customer can be purchased, it seems that we are witnessing the bodeguization of “the shopping” and the shoppingization of the bodegas. In this case it’s more or less the same because both types of markets are already characterized by shortages, the abuse of customers, long lines and rationing.

On the verge of turning 57 years old, the Cuban rationed market has lived through many stages in its long life. I remember that a few years ago people even talked about its imminent end as proof that the country was doing well economically. In the streets the rumors put a date for the funeral of the ration book and some officials threw out phrases, like winks, that confirmed its early burial. But the exact opposite happened.

Now, whoever does not have access to a ration book on this Island is in a very difficult situation. This is the case of a man who sells cakes in my neighborhood and who has spent a year “without papers” in Havana. The last time I saw him he asked me if I knew of anyone selling “quota rice” or the right to buy the senior module. Even if he earns some money selling his desserts, in his case those pesos can hardly become food.

Given this situation, I wonder if these now regulated products will return to the liberated sale when the pandemic ends. It is difficult to foresee what will happen. When the ration book was implemented in 1963, many bet that it was a temporary thing for just a few months, but it ended up staying and shaping the lives of at least three generations of Cubans. Now, once again the prominence it had been losing at Cuban tables has returned, it reigns supreme in our existence.

My neighbor spent hours retracing the path he had taken that fateful day that he lost such a vital document, but could not find it. The process to get a new ration book will be long and tedious in the midst of the pandemic, and it is very likely that, when June starts, he will not be able to buy his quota in the first days of the month. He will then be in the same situation as the cake seller.

Will my grandchildren also be born in a Cuba with a rationed market? For the moment I focus on surviving Covid-19 so that I can at least one day hold those restless children in my arms. I hope that for them the ration book is merely an object hung in a museum and not the pass to get some rice to put on the plate.

__________________

COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

The Covid-19 Emergency in Cuba, Days 45-47: Animal Insults and Verbal Poverty

What Mariela Castro most betrays with such a blunder is that she lacks humility. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio Yoani Sánchez, Havana, 7 May 2020 — Just outside the Havana cafe which, until a month ago, was open on Tulipán street, a stray dog waits patiently. He doesn’t know why the place where some customers used to throw him bones is now empty and doesn’t even smell like food. In the midst of the pandemic hundreds or thousands of abandoned animals have been left even more helpless on this Island.

Meanwhile, the little stray we picked up when the Covid-19 crisis began in Cuba already has a name and seems to have forgotten the rigors of the street. We have named her Chiqui, although she threatens shortly to no longer honor that name, which means “little one.” One challenge has been trying to rid her of the fleas that she brought with her in the midst of this crisis, which has made scarce the few veterinary drugs that were on the market.

But with patience, we have also removed all the tiny ticks from the puppy. Blood-sucking animals that Mariela Castro tried, this week, to compare to the activists who promote platforms outside those hosted by the government. The animal-insult seeks to dehumanize the different, detract from the character of a person who thinks contrarily, and promote rejection of those who cannot even claim the category of homo sapiens, as suggested by the words of the sexologist. continue reading

I have not been surprised. Twelve years ago when Mariela, speaking as director of the National Center for Sexual Education, gave a talk in the building dedicated to universal works of the National Museum of Fine Arts, I asked for the floor and asked her, “When can we Cubans come out of the political closet?” After an evasive response, days later Ms. Castro threw a barrage of expletives at me online and called me “gallita,” a “cocky hen.” For her, I was reduced to a farm animal, confined in a body with a beak and feathers.

Attacking another with adjectives like gusano, burro, puerco or garapatilla (worm, donkey, pig, tick) puts on display the characteristics of the person who launches such insults. One of them is her deep verbal and mental poverty, unable to find more sophisticated and even subtle ways of criticizing the behaviors that she does not like. If “honor, honors”… denigration, denigrates and nobody is more muddied than the one who growls an insult of this type.

On the other hand, such attacks denote the arrogance and haughtiness of those who launch them. If, in addition, it comes from a woman born in a powerful crib and surrounded by privileges all her life, comparing others with tiny animals cannot fail to be read as the conceit-filled gesture of an aristocrat for whom anyone who is not at her social or economic level is a little less than a parasite or an insect.

However, what Mariela Castro most betrays with such a blunder is that she lacks the humility to surround herself with advisers who would advise her on her public image. Like her father and her uncle, the sexologist does not seem to listen to recommendations on how to speak without transmitting hatred, tension or contempt for others.

Chiqui, the little dog who arrived in our house full of garapatillas, seems more closely related to our house cat who is so different from her, than does Mariela Castro to the activists who demand more spaces for the LGBTI community in Cuba: freedom of association to be able to represent themselves without being in the shadow of an official institution, and the legalization of equal marriage, among other demands.

Anyway, animals give us many lessons and this morning I found the little stray and Totí the cat asleep, huddled in an embrace. I have thought to send a photo of that ability to coexist kindly to the director of Cenesex… But better not, so she won’t gift me with another insult, one with with four or eight legs.

________________________

COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

The Covid-19 Emergency in Cuba, Days 42-44: Without Bread There is No Country

The products that once were the most desired and scarce, are the same again today. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 5 May 2020 — I remember that one of the first signs of the Special Period was the difficulty in buying bread. In those years in the 1990s I lived in the Havana neighborhood of San Leopoldo and near my house there was a bakery that sold unrationed goods until, little by little, only one offering remained on its shelves and it became rationed.

One day I woke up to a long line to buy bread. After that, for the next few years, I spent hours and hours in that waiting, although I rarely came home with a full bag. On one occasion, my family was so hungry that they devoured what little I had bought through the ration book while standing on that same corner.

Today, we are close to similar scenes. In the neighborhood where I live, many have gone years without seeking out rationed bread because remittances and informal vendors allowed them to avoid the crowds at the state premises on Hidalgo and Lombillo streets. But that ended. Tyrians and Trojans are now there from the early hours, in a long line. continue reading

The products that once were the most desired and scarce, are the same again today, as if the timepiece of necessity moves its hands to the same demands. Rice, chicken pork, milk, vegetable oil, bread and vegetables are the protagonists of our anguish. Everything derived from raw materials purchased abroad – like flour – is on the red list of the most vulnerable, given the international crisis to which is added this country’s lack of liquidity.

So at home we have given up bread for breakfast. It’s OK. At that hour, I have always preferred a nice tea, because nothing more elaborate goes down my throat. But I am aware that this country cannot function without bread, though the nation could take a few steps without sugar or coffee, but not without that white mass that goes equally well with honey or with garlic.

We are a nation tied to our slices, slaves of the crumb, illegitimate daughter of yeast. “Without bread there is no country,” I think they should have said, because in the end many of us do not add sugar to coffee, nor do we like syrupy sweets, but we all enjoy a good loaf. To wheat what comes from wheat and to sugar what comes from cane.

Life goes on, however, beyond the plate.

This Monday our little dogs barked at four in the morning and I had a bad premonition. Shortly after we learned that a downstairs neighbor had died of respiratory failure. The details of his death remain to be clarified but he is a person who had worked on the construction of the building 40 years ago, so he leaves a significant void.

The problem is that the people who die in the midst of the pandemic leave without hardly any tribute. With the Covid-19 crisis, which in Cuba — according to official figures — has claimed 69 lives, funerals are brief and fearful. Few dare to go to the cemetery to accompany the remains, not knowing whether they carry the dreaded coronavirus. Saying goodbye these days is done more alone than ever.

In the middle of the afternoon they have come to ask Reinaldo to unstick the elevator of the building, which has been stopped near the ground floor. The problem is that, at that time, the body of our deceased neighbor was still in his apartment without the health authorities having come to check on him and confirm or refute that he died of Covid-19.

When Reinaldo was expelled from journalism, in that distant December of 1988, he had to earn a poor living as an elevator mechanic. Thinking to sink him, they pushed him into the most popular of occupations for someone living in a 14-story building. Who’s going to mess with the guy who gets you out when you lock yourself in a metal box several feet off the ground?

So I share my life with the journalist and the mechanic. If he can’t unblock the elevator, the official company can take hours and days to do it because the bureaucracy is long and tedious in these parts. But, we must add to this that we live different times. Right now, we don’t know whether Covid-19 has reached our neighborhood, our concrete block, and a floor near ours.

So, this Monday, when the phone rang for help to free someone from the stuck elevator — an always risky operation without official support, although widely desired by the community — we preferred to pass the buck and ask: And what would you do?

_________________________

COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

Day 41 of the Covid-19 Emergency in Cuba: The Empty Square

From my vantage point, I have seen one of my neighbors — the one who sells the fuel from his state vehicle on the black market — applaud with an excessive frenzy. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sánchez, Havana, 1 May 2020 — It was drizzling when dawn broke. On this morning of May 1st, the famous lucky downpour – something that people expect as a good thing as soon as the fifth month of the year begins – had not yet fallen. Nor was the traditional noise heard at dawn announcing the start of the massive arrival of people for the Workers’ Day parade. My neighborhood was silent and asleep.

For more than two decades, since I have lived in this concrete block near Rancho Boyeros Avenue, I have learned that from midnight on April 30 it is almost impossible to take in the line of buses bringing people from distant neighborhoods and provinces coming to fill the Plaza of the Revolution. On this date, the hullabaloo overwhelms everything.

But this year, with Covid-19 having already claimed 64 lives so far according to official figures published this Saturday, the parade was suspended. It is not a significant loss because the event is more about applauding power than a coming together to express some kind of demand from workers. In 2020, instead of the usual mass congregation, the national media have called on Cubans to applaud and commemorate the day of the proletariat from each house. My good luck is… I live on the 14th floor. continue reading

From my vantage point, I have watched one of my neighbors – like the one who sells the fuel for his state vehicle on the black market – applaud with an excessive frenzy. Washing the sins of illegality often entails a show of fervent support on these dates. I remember some friends who had a visa to emigrate to the United States and the day before they went to parade in the Plaza so as not to “get marked,” out of fear of being refused the right to leave.

Also, this morning I saw a red flag waving on the balcony of the same neighbor who yesterday complained about the very poor ‘module’ of four eggs, a little cornmeal and some noodles that he had been given for being over 65, in order to survive the pandemic. His wife, who spends all day speaking ill of the Party leaders, today even today launched a “Viva Díaz-Canel!” and beat out a sound with an old wooden rattle.

The group in power appropriated a date that was for all the workers. They censored the demands on the signs and erected billboards with slogans of support; they cut off the right to strike while promoting the obligation to applaud; they prohibited the existence of independent unions and turned the only union allowed into a direct pulley for the transmission of power.

After the screaming this morning, which lasted just a couple of minutes, life returned to the “normal” of confinement and the obsessive search for food. Unlike other years, this time the intense smell of urine from the public toilets placed along the nearby avenue did not reach us, nor did the echo of patriotic songs echo in the loudspeakers, as the parade-goers left at full speed.

“Onion!” an illegal vendor yelled at the bottom of the building. For this little merchant there was no holiday today. In the end, he is not facing a boss who takes a succulent surplus value from him, but a State for which the sale of agricultural products right now is a trench that it wants to fully dominate. After the proclamation, the neighbor who until a few minutes ago was shouting political slogans came down like a thunderbolt to buy a string, for which she paid a quarter of her monthly pension.

Then silence returned. I cut up some beets, made rice and looked towards the Plaza of the Revolution. That ugly tower that cuts the landscape in two can be seen from our balcony. Instead of an anxious crowd leaving the place, I saw only empty streets and a light rain drizzling down any vestige of false enthusiasm.

____________________________

COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

Days 38 to 40 of the Covid-19 Emergency in Cuba: Under the Bed

Long lines and shortages at state markets lead many to opt for the black market. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sánchez, Havana, 30 April 2020 — These are days of risk to health and freedom. The Cuban government is taking advantage of the Covid-19 emergency situation to further curtail the right to free expression, but also to hold “show” trials that are more circus than justice. At the center of this attack is the black market, the alter ego of Castroism.

Yesterday a neighbor told me that pork would “drop” at 47 CUP (Cuban pesos, less than $2 US) per pound, brought directly from Artemis. I smelled, in the air… not cracklings, but danger. “Thanks, but these days I can’t buy a pin under the table,” I said bluntly, and I’m not exaggerating. It is a rare night that the TV news does not feature cases of the diversion of state resources and unsuspecting buyers sentenced to heavy prison terms.

These types of topics dominate the news as products become scarce and the lines to buy food lengthen, with the apparent aim of removing the responsibility for the shortages from the authorities and putting it on the shoulders of a few thieves and informal merchants. However, in a country immersed in the clandestine economy, a large part of the population is involved in acts of this type, although they do not confess it. continue reading

I remember the first expressions relating to the black market that I learned before I was ten years old. If someone said they had “three meters of red cloth,” I already knew that they were offering three pounds of beef. “They gave me flour,” said a nearby neighbor when the powdered milk arrived, and “an ugly anthill has appeared in the house” was someone else’s code to announce that she was selling coffee.

Metaphors and similes mask a world in which we Cubans have lived for decades and from which we cannot separate. In our existence, the role of the black market is such that it is almost impossible to find someone who can boast of never having resorted to these informal networks. If the person who has never stooped to buying something illegally was urged to throw the first stone, not even a pebble would fly.

Every once in a while, the Plaza of the Revolution takes measures against that deep Cuba where everything is for sale, from medicines to passing grades to get by in school. These are cyclical turns of the screw that give the impression that informal traders and the diversion of state resources have “gone too far,” but they barely manage to move the surface of the waters of an underworld that, on this island, is as deep as the ocean.

In the midst of one of these windstorms, we must redouble our caution.

A friend told me that she called an illegal detergent vendor who had saved her in previous crises. “I am under the bed until the pandemic passes,” replied the merchant, half-joking half-fearful. I liked the phrase because in the midst of all these tensions, we are at risk of losing that popular humor that manages to mock even death. Imagining a whole people hiding under their mattresses wrenched a smile from me, in the midst of the arduous task of searching for food.

While waiting outside the Youth Labor Army market near my house, I imagined 11 million people crowded together in the narrow space under a bunk. Holding their breath and peering out at a pair of boots and military pants as they walk around the room looking for anyone who has bought at least one illegal aspirin.

It was my turn to enter the market and I kept laughing to myself about the image. I got some carrots, beets and a packet of birdseed. Doves, blackbirds, the occasional mockingbird and little sparrows frequently come to our balcony to eat. At least they will have their guaranteed food for the next few days, without having to dive into the dangerous waters of the black market.

______________________

COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

Day 33 to 38 of the Covid-19 Emergency in Cuba: There is Always an Eye That Sees You

The TuEnvio service only guarantees the products and allowed you to pay in advance, because the line to pick up purchases is practically the same as in the physical stores.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 27 April 2020 — Life does not stop. We may be in a health emergency or quarantine, but children continue to be born, couples separate and the pipes break. We know about this last thing in our house, where we spent several days trying to repair a leak that made our already complicated daily life even more difficult. In the end we beat it, but that endeavor wore us out.

Among the measures that have been taken in recent weeks to try to stop Covid-19 is the suspension of the sale of all those products that are not considered basic or essential. In other words, if someone is doing a home renovation, they will have to wait for the pandemic to end to buy cement, paint or a simple faucet.

The other option is to dive into the black market, but these days “it’s bad, very bad,” a friend with multiple contacts in informal sales networks warns me. “They are doing surprise operations,” he adds. The wide area around the Plaza de Cuatro Caminos, where until a few weeks ago the main black market for plumbing parts, pipes and fittings was operating, now looks like a desert. continue reading

So Reinaldo and I had to start calling friends to see who had a left-over three-foot piece of three-quarter pipe. Finally, a neighbor on the lower floors told us that he could donate a piece that he had left after a renovation. So now we had the pipe, we needed to make the threads, something also very complicated with the city almost paralyzed and with the police lurking in every corner looking for anyone who’s carrying anything that seems strange.

We took a risk and, with the pipe on our shoulders, we went to a place near the corner of Infanta and San Lázaro, where a plumber made the threads, cut the pipe to the exact length we needed, and even gave us a missing elbow. On the way home we presented an unusual image. While most of the people we ran into carried a bag with food or an empty bag, we looked like pilgrims carrying a nice plastic cross.

Upon arriving at the building, a neighbor stationed on the ground floor looked with inquisitive eyes at what we were bringing, common behavior for him, as he has been snooping for years to see who enters and leaves our home or what is in the bag we are carrying as we return from the market. This is such permanent and open surveillance that we even joke about it and warn our visitors.

Retired and with a very authoritarian mentality, my neighbor is like those thousands and thousands of Cubans whose life revolves around watching others and being aware of what they do, people who consider intimacy a niche of individualism that should not be allowed. They are the ones who are suspicious when we close the door, remain silent and take refuge inside, because there they cannot reach us or delve into our thoughts. “Revolutionary is a revolutionary who has nothing to hide,” they repeat, and in the name of an ideology they feel they have the right to disrespect other people’s space. Poor devils.

The line is back at the ration store on the ground floor of the building. This time it is to buy a food ‘module’ that is being sold to people over 65. Four eggs, cornmeal, and a few noodles make up the survival combo for seniors. The food supply has become so unstable and complicated that I know some who sigh because they are still a few months short of reaching the age that would give them access to this bag.

At home we are inventing all the time. The day we finally managed to fix the pipe, I made a sweet potato puree, which I seasoned with oregano and some garlic cloves from the pots on the terrace. A small can of tuna and several slices of banana completed the dinner. We are lucky, because we did not have to wait eight hours in a line to prepare this “feast.” We have decided to avoid long lines and crowds at all costs, even if that entails much smaller dishes.

But many have no other option. A friend spent six hours outside the Plaza de Carlos III to collect a package that he purchased through the TuEnvío online store. After days trying to complete the operation, due to the constant hiccups on the digital site, he managed to get hold of some soaps, a bottle of oil and some sausages. When he went to pick up for the merchandise, he understood that the online service only guaranteed him the products and allowed him to pay in advance, because the line to pick up his purchases was practically the same as in the physical stores.

Now my friend has decided to go to a black market reseller to get some chicken and powdered milk. He will not have to line up, but he will pay a little more and avoid the stares, the prying eyes that loom everywhere.

See other posts in this series.

_______________

COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: In this time of Covid-19 crisis, 14ymedio could really use your help to keep the news coming. Please click on this link to support our work.

Masks Are Not Gags

The journalist Mónica Baró, winner of an award from the Gabo Foundation, is one of the journalists who has suffered an interrogation and a fine.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sánchez, Generation Y, 22 April 2020 — While the coronavirus rages in Latin America, another enemy – not as tiny – is also gaining ground. Authoritarianism takes advantage of the health emergency and the fear of citizens to cut freedoms, crush rights and impose tight control over daily life. In a few weeks we have regressed many years and the steps backward could accelerate in the coming days.

Along with the necessary calls for social confinement, restrictions on mobility and the closing of borders, some governments have gone further and have launched a campaign against the press and freedom of expression. Between one and another series of preventive measures they want to impose a bitter censorship and curtail of civic rights. Along with the quarantine and the masks, punishments and gags spread everywhere.

We have seen everything. From leaders and rulers who incite xenophobic hatreds and use the pandemic politically, to others who promote mass mobilizations despite the risk and minimize scientific recommendations. While many politicians insist they are combating dangerous hoaxes against health, they actually plunge the knife in an attempt to destroy their critics, who question their management and the media that challenges them. continue reading

In times of epidemic, independent reporters in Cuba receive more police citations than usual, and Internet users who report official errors are threatened with exemplary punishment. A shower of interrogations and fines has fallen on the press not controlled by the Communist Party and it is expected that these retaliations will increase as the number of cases positive Covid-19 also increase.

Along with interrogations by the political police, confiscations of work supplies and monetary penalties, the new wave of repression includes demonization campaigns against the private media, presenting these reporters as almost another type of coronavirus. Authorities seem especially interested in cutting off any narrative about the harsh reality of long lines, shortages, and economic uncertainty that have flared in recent days.

The official attacks are also characterized by amnesia. When, a few weeks ago social networks were filled with exhortations for classes to be canceled and borders closed to tourism, government spokespeople branded citizen proposals as manipulations coming from abroad. Days later, the Plaza of the Revolution imposed a package of measures very similar to the one it repudiated.

The delay of those weeks, in which official tourist campaigns continued promoting the Island as “a safe destination” and even hinted that the high temperatures of the Caribbean were an additional protection against contagion, was widely denounced in the independent media. The cost in lives of that delay is something we will never know with certainty.

Now, intolerance has escalated a step further, and a young journalist was summoned by police last week and given a hefty fine. Mónica Baró, winner of the Gabo Prize in the Text 2019 category, received threats for her posts on Facebook. According to the repressors, her crime is having disseminated “information contrary to the social interest, morality, good customs and integrity of people”, according to the draconian Decree Law 370 that regulates the distribution of content.

Sheltered through the coronavirus, other dangerous pathogens thrive, ones that – wearing a necktie or military epaulets – want to leave society without “information defenses.”

________________________

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

COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.