Christmas Holidays, a Victory for Cuban Students

A couple of decades ago, it would have been unthinkable in Cuba for students to take a two-week break for the Christmas holidays. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Generation Y, 14 December 2019 — There are triumphs that are celebrated loudly, with gestures of pride for the victory achieved and expressions of popular jubilation. Others, however, are experienced more discreetly to prevent them from being revoked or taken away. To this last group belongs the recovery, without fanfare or celebrations, of the Christmas holidays which Cuban students have achieved in recent years.

This coming Friday will be a special day in the classrooms of this Island because in very few of them will classes be taught. The Teacher’s Day will be celebrated in advance, scheduled for December 22 but this year the date falls on a Sunday. Along with gifts for the teachers and organized parties with resources donated by the parents, students will also be saying goodbye to their colleagues until the new year.

A couple of decades ago, it would have been unthinkable in Cuba for students to take a two-week break for the Christmas holidays. Those of us who went to school in the 70s, 80s and much of the 90s, could never enjoy a real rest period on these dates. If anything, we managed not to avoid the classroom after presenting a medical “note” for some sickness (often fictitious) or after showing an unpostponable ticket to travel to another province. continue reading

Only in December 1997, a few days before Pope John Paul II visited the Island, did Fidel Castro declare December 25 a holiday for the first time in decades. After that, little by little, as conquerors who quietly take over a territory, running a few centimeters from the fence every night, Cubans were pushing the narrow boundaries of rest. To the point that in schools a tacit agreement has already been reached that the students do not go to classes from the penultimate Friday of December until the first Monday of January, should that day not be a holiday.

What particular group starred in the recovery of this Christmas break? None. Was it announced in any official media that a two week teaching break had been decreed for all school levels in the country? No. Has anyone gone out to celebrate in the streets that now they will not have to go to classes and can they enjoy this time of taking stock and celebrations with their family? No.

Like those victories that nobody is awarded and that are enjoyed quietly, Christmas holidays have returned to Cuban schools. And in this way, there are other triumphs that we have also accumulated without uproar but irreversibly.

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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.

Civil Society in Cuba is Diverse, Beyond the Control of the Government

If we understand that all peaceful tendencies have the right to exist … then we will have succeeded in taking the first step. (Social Sciences Blog)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Generation Y, Havana, 8 December 2019 — A few days ago, I took part in an exchange of ideas on the social network Facebook after a Cuban journalist asked about the opposition’s proposals and programs. I responded with some basic clarifications to understand what is happening on this Island outside government and state control. Here I share these opinions, with a certain didactic tone tailored just for those who are looking at the subject for the first time.

Many times, due to ignorance, stereotypes or lack of public information on the subject, multiple phenomena that are worth differentiating are grouped under the heading “opposition.” I believe that in today’s Cuba there is an opposition movement of a political, outlawed and structured nature based on platforms that mix ideological tendencies, economic programs and diverse positions on such varied topics as foreign investment, diplomatic alliances with other countries or the scale of the presence of the State in the functioning of the economy.

Those parties, groups or partnerships aspire, as in all parts of the world, to come to power, to lead the nation and to be at the political helms of the country. Among them I can mention some, and I apologize in advance if I forget others, for example: el Unión Patriótica de Cuba (Patriotic Union of Cuba), el Foro Antitotalitario Unido (United Antitotalitarian Forum), Somos+ (We Are More), Cuba Decide (Cuba Decides), Todos Marchamos (We All March), and el Mesa de Unidad de Acción Democrática (Democratic Unity Roundtable). continue reading

A second phenomenon, which I believe should not be subsumed under the word “opposition” is that of social activism. The majority are groups and organizations, also outlawed, that have a social agenda that can be directed to an infinite number of groups, problems or demands.

In that kaleidoscope of associations there are those that defend the rights of the LGBTI community, others that demand an Animal Protection Law, those that are demanding feminine grievances be addressed, those that ensure human rights such as the Damas de Blanco (Ladies in White), those that incline more to the union defense of workers, against racial discrimination and a long etcetera that can include many other tendencies and “struggles” from civil society.

In a third space, also erroneously called “opposition,” I would place independent journalism, which although it has spent decades reporting what is happening in the country, has had an important boost in recent years with the emergence of new technologies and the emergence of a varied ecosystem of press media not controlled by the State, the Communist Party or the Cuban institutions.

Among them are newspapers, to monthly magazines, cultural weeklies, environmental blogs and reporting podcasts. To think of these three universes as a block is a mistake, because many of their components are very different, pursue parallel objectives and work differently.

Let’s start by analyzing the first group. There are prejudices that are repeated again and again when the Cuban opposition speaks. Most people who repeat what they say and claim to be convinced by them, have never really sat down to talk with an opponent, have never read a program from one of those political parties, and only have a “passive bibliography” on the issue based on what the official Cuban press says, a press that in more than half a century has not allowed these opponents to explain themselves in the first person, or published their proposals or allowed them to participate in debates with official voices.

One of the stereotypes that is most repeated when talking about the Cuban opposition is made up of individuals with low ethical and moral appearance. As in every human conglomerate, there is everything. In the National Ballet of Cuba and the University of Havana, wonderful and dedicated people work, but also the mediocre and unscrupulous. I remember that in the Faculty of Arts and Letters, where I studied, I had professors with a touching altruism and exquisite wisdom, while others had come to the classrooms not because of their pedagogical quality but because of their partisan militancy. I even met some cases that plagiarized their students’ course work and presented it in their own names to gain a rise to a certain academic level.

The Cuban opposition has lights and shadows like every human group, but for more than half a century it has had over it, watching and denigrating it, one of the most implacable intelligence apparatuses that has existed. Hence, the official media, street conversations and even the rumors that are spread in a low voice on this Island, have been plagued all these years by the negative opinions that State Security has launched against that opposition.

This most resembles racial and xenophobic prejudices: the idea that a certain ethnic or racial group is “lazy, a thief and a liar” is spread or the foreigner is blamed for coming to “steal the job, violate women and ruin the national culture.” In the end there is an animosity towards a human group based on prejudice and fear. The approach necessary to destroy those clichés or false topics will only be undertaken by a few daring ones, because the rest fears being “attacked” by “unknown others” or blamed by their own group for getting too close to the “other.” colleague

The day that the opponents have a microphone on national television, a few minutes to express themselves on the radio or a few lines on the pages of the newspapers, these prejudices will begin to break.

As for the other prejudice that there is little of formal qualifications in the opposition ranks, I must clarify that I have never believed that a university degree is a guarantee of good leadership, however, I warn that I know many graduates, academics, doctors, jurists and excellent professionals who are active in these games.

I add that in the high party leadership that controls Cuba, we have evidence that there are people who are not there because of their qualifications to direct the economy, public health or the investment process (these are only examples) but for their ideological fidelity. Some of these senior leaders cannot even articulate a complete sentence without making mistakes and have said some memorable barbarities in front of the national television cameras.

The Cuban opposition has a long history of initiatives, as does the activism that carried out on this Island, ranging from the document La Patria es de Todos (The Homeland Belongs to Everyone) and the Varela Project to the Carta de Derechos y Deberes de los Cubanos (Bill of Rights and Duties of Cubans) and many others. In all cases, the Cuban government responded to these proposals with more vigilance, arbitrary arrests, the destruction of the reputations of members and reprisals.

Parallel to these programs and platforms, spaces of thought and reflection have been created that range from the political, the pedagogical and the economic, to reach all the social aspects that urgently need solutions in our country. Cuba Posible (Cuba Possible) was one of them and the Centro de Estudios Convivencia

(Center for Coexistence Studies) has, for years, also been contributing ideas, assessments and initiatives from the academic scene. The reaction of the Cuban authorities to them has followed the same script: harass, denigrate, slander and push their members into exile.

If we move on to activism, its achievements and proposals would take very long to explain because of the number of initiatives and programs involved. I will only recall the historic march of May 11 for the rights of the LGBTI community, the most recent protest against Zoonosis [“the dogcatcher”] and the demand for an Animal Protection Law, in addition to the human rights activism that has managed to denounce and shed light on many cases of arbitrary arrests and violations of legislation.

In the case of independent journalism and the media not controlled by the Communist Party, the achievements are impossible to cover. Sites such as El Estornudo, Yucabyte, Tremenda Nota, 14ymedio, Periodismo de Barrio, El Toque, Inventario, Alas Tensas and many more that were born from within Cuba and their reporters, in most cases, graduated from Cuban universities, some of them from journalism programs and others in the humanities.

In my opinion, it is the ecosystems of activism and independent media where a more dynamic and interesting process of social pressure is taking place to bring about changes in Cuba, although I recognize that the political opposition has faced the worst in terms of a repressive and exhausting response due to retaliation and stigmatization.

To end this very long text and, looking at the situation as it is now, to eliminate the prejudices, confusions and misgivings that have become entrenched in Cuban society against the opposition, social activism and the independent press, I believe that the criminalization of disagreement should be eliminated and these people should have the right to access public media (which we all pay out of our pockets) to break down these stereotypes, to let people know their proposals and to stop being narrated “in the third person” as bad, ethically deplorable, mercenaries or enemies of the homeland.

Unblocking censored digital sites on Cuban servers and legalizing independent media would also be a very positive step for these plural voices to be heard and to be able explain their initiatives.

Mechanisms should also be created so that the citizens from their own pockets, and even – why not? – the state budget would support these parties and groups of activists, in addition to allowing them clear legal right to obtain resources, so that their income comes from national, business, and citizen sources.

Continuing to deny the opposition the right to collect and have legal income, on the Island, to carry out their work, is to condemn them to financial secrecy and is the cause of many of the problems we see today in the operations of many of them, such as lack of transparency

It is also necessary to remove the ideological indoctrination of a single party from the classroom, so that Cuban children and young people grow up feeling it is something very normal and healthy to have several parties, the presence of an independent civil society and access to multiple media with different approaches and opinions.

As long as education is in the hands of a single ideological group that uses it for political proselytism, there will be people who are educated to think that the “different” must be silenced, crushed and prosecuted for not behaving like them.

The current situation of censorship, discrimination and criminalization of political and ideological plurality is based on the same mechanism of racial, cultural and nationalist prejudices. If we understand that all peaceful tendencies have the right to exist, express themselves, be legal and have a space… then we will have managed to take the first step.

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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.

What We Cubans Have Been Able To Do With Internet On Mobile Phones

This Friday marks twelve months since the state telecommunications monopoly, Etecsa, first enabled the web browsing service from Cuban mobiles. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 6 December 2019 — Just one year ago, the Cuban state telecommunications monopoly, Etecsa, first enabled web browsing service from Cuban mobiles. The internet connection from cell phones came after years of pressure, complaints, and a high material, social and professional cost for a society trapped by the high rates of one hour of navigation in Wi-Fi zones and the inconvenience of having to connect to the World Wide Web from public spaces that often did not offer minimum conditions of comfort or safety.

Twelve months after that long-awaited moment that of 6 December 2018, we can see what we have achieved but also point out everything we need to become a truly connected country.

We have spent a good part of this year complaining about the high prices, inaccessible to those who live exclusively on their salary and do not receive remittances or have the balance on their phones refilled from abroad. Etecsa’s most recent attempts to offer new packages have caused great annoyance to customers who hoped that after one year the price reduction would be substantial and significant, and who have been demanding it with the hashtag #BajenLosPricesDeInternet (Lower Internet Prices). A 4 gigabyte navigation package still costs 30 convertible pesos, the monthly salary of a professional. continue reading

Despite the high costs and problems of infrastructure and coverage mobile browsing has experienced, this service has been an important accelerator of social phenomena, a loudspeaker for a citizen with few or almost no spaces to express their annoyance or channel their complaints

Last January, thanks to internet on mobile phones, we saw the first images in more than half a century where the Cuban population booed and shouted at a ruler. A cell phone recorded and broadcast via the internet the moment in January of this year when Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel’s caravan passed through one of the areas most affected by the tornado in Regla (Havana). That filming made it clear that the state and partisan monopoly over the management of its public image had been shattered.

In February, the unfortunate statement by an elderly “Commander of the Revolution” about the option of Cubans eating ostrich meat unleashed teasing in social networks through popular memes, the new form of political satire expression on this island. In less than 48 hours, the public image of the military had been shattered, provoking only laughter and criticism.

Around the time of the referendum on the new Constitution on February 24 and thanks to connectivity, many Cubans within the Island showed their disagreement on Facebook and Twitter with the hashtag #YoVotoNo (I’m Voting No).

In May, through social networks, a call for a march in defense of the rights of the LGBTI community resulted in a public demonstration with dozens of participants. The political police responded violently.

Animal rights activists have also been strengthened with the mobile navigation service and, in addition to demanding a stronger animal protection law, they physically gathered in front of the notorious State Department of Zoonosis (commonly called elsewhere “the dogcatcher”) to demand the end of mass killings, which had multiplied just before the arrival in Havana of the Spanish royals. Now, these groups are doing a magnificent job of collecting, caring, sterilizing and arranging the responsible adoption of abandoned dogs and cats.

The members of the alternative SNET (Street Network) used social networks to organize protests over the new regulations of the wireless space and although, unfortunately, they were hijacked by the ruling party, their voice and their situation became well known in distant places.

The opposition has also used the new resource extensively, to denounce the arbitrary arrests, repression and imprisonment of the independent journalist Roberto Quiñones and the leader of the Patriotic Union of Cuba, José Daniel Ferrer.

During this time, live broadcasts from the Island of activists, entrepreneurs and independent reporters have multiplied. Several podcastshave also been born, including Ventana 14, (14th [floor] Window, informally known as ‘coffee and the news’; the informal market has been enhanced with connectivity and links with exile communities have also been strengthened.

But there are also shadows that have emerged along with old ones that remain. The newly established Decree-Law 389 regulates covert investigation techniques and legalizes electronic surveillance strategies that already existed but will now be carried out more publicly and quickly. Being more connected we are also more exposed to the official snooping.

The government’s own army of cybercombatants, with access to subsidized or free connections, has exacerbated cyberbullying against activists, independent journalists and critical citizens. But it has also made more evident the official nature of its positioning and use of labels.

In one year with internet on mobile phones, what we need is more than what we have achieved, but this is just beginning.

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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.

Press or Propaganda?

Several generations of Cubans have become accustomed to finding only one version of reality in the national media. (Wikipedia)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Generation Y, Havana, 5 December 2019 — For decades, we Cubans have lived under a strict information monopoly that has turned the public media into sounding boards of the Communist Party. Instead of journalism, what is published every day in national newspapers and broadcast on television and radio is closer to ideological propaganda.

In this way, several generations have become accustomed to finding in the national media only a version of reality, a limited part of the everyday stories and a single voice to try to narrate a polyphonic and diverse country. In a premeditated manner, the Plaza of the Revolution has excluded a diversity of information and has condemned the entire population to a discourse without nuances.

But, is this really a press or is it a political publicity that has taken over the microphones and pages of the national news? Without a doubt, it cannot be called “journalism.” Because any news work must include and shed light on a diversity of sources, opinions and judgments that go beyond what a single individual, a single human group or a single Party thinks or experiences. continue reading

We Cubans have lived so long under this “pseudo press” that a process of collective dismantling of these journalistic vices is necessary to be able to demand and encourage plural, inclusive and truthful media. Accommodating multiple opinions, presenting readers with several views on the same event and putting data ahead of adjectives, these are the first steps to achieve it.

But also, as readers, listeners and viewers we have to learn to respect the variety of approaches that a situation, a proposal or a public figure can generate. A diversity of opinions never detracts, rather it gives the audience the ability to form more complete, mature and serene judgments about any event.

The press cannot be propaganda at the service of a few, nor can it behave like a ventriloquist’s doll managed by a single group and forced to repeat its slogans to the letter. Journalism, when it is good, can be painful, uncomfortable or annoying. Trying to turn it into something docile and malleable only takes away what distinguishes it from the pamphlet.

If we are going to demand a free, democratic press with professional standards, let us prepare ourselves for the fact that many times it will publish issues that annoy us, opinions that we do not agree with and will also give space to signatures that oppose our positions. There will be days when we smile when reading the newspaper and others when it will leave a bitter taste, which will make us want to respond and complain. That is what we have to expect from good journalism: that it mobilizes us, shakes us, makes us rethink our opinions and evaluate those of others. To remove those thorns from the press is to reduce it to simple propaganda.

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.

Cuban Independent Journalist Luz Escobar Under House Arrest for the Second Consecutive Saturday

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 23 November 2019 — The journalist Luz Escobar, a member of the 14ymedio team, is under house arrest for the second consecutive weekend. This Saturday, while trying to leave for a family lunch, a State Security agent stationed on the ground floor of her building warned her that he had orders not to allow her to go outside.

The man, dressed as a civilian and who identified himself as Ramses, did not offer any legal reason for the exit ban. A while later the operative was relieved and the agent’s place ]was occupied by the same man who, on November 16, prevented Escobar from going outside.

At the insistence of the reporter to know the reasons for her house confinement, the agent, who would not remove his hand from his face, stressed that if she left she would be “arrested” and that “in due course they will explain it,” but without mentioning the names or positions of those who would provide the explanation. continue reading

Last Saturday, in the framework of the celebrations for the 500th anniversary of the city of Havana, State Security prevented numerous independent activists and journalists from leaving their homes on the grounds that they must be prevented from undertaking “harmful acts” during the activities organized for the anniversary.

Luz Escobar was one of those affected then by the ban, as were the journalists Yoani Sánchez and Reinaldo Escobar, who had an operative on the ground floor of their building in Havana for two days.

Reinaldo Escobar recorded the moment when one of the agents, who did not identify himself, explained the reason for his presence: “Today it is likely that you stay at home, right? To avoid arrests, to avoid a group of things, so as not to reach other extremes.”

Home arrests are a repressive practice widely used by State Security to prevent independent activists, opponents and journalists from attending activities or covering any news. With these actions the political police incur the crime of “duress” according to article 286 of the Criminal Code.

As of May of this year Luz Escobar has also been “regulated,” the official euphemism to designate citizens who have a ban on leaving the country. About 200 people, among them reporters, activists and political opponents are “regulated.”

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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.

Big Brother Legalizes Electronic Surveillance Of Cubans

In Cuba, the information obtained from “electronic or other surveillance” is legitimized during the criminal process. (Dreamstime)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 22 November 2019 — A decade ago, Cuban official television broadcast a series of programs to try to discredit opponents, independent journalists, activists and bloggers. In several episodes of that series private emails, telephone recordings and intelligence footage were aired that “showed” the alleged crimes committed by these citizens.

Few viewers were surprised that the emails, calls or text-only messages of the victims of the official propaganda apparatus were made public. We have been so accustomed to the Cuban Big Brother stalking everywhere that it seems normal to many that State Security rummages through our mobiles, records in our own homes and monitors our electronic correspondence.

This week, the State Council set out three legal rules that capture what has been done in the shadows for decades. Decree-Law 389, published this November 18 in the Official Gazette, modifies the Criminal Code, the Law of Criminal Procedure and the Law of Acts against Terrorism, to regulate covert investigation techniques. continue reading

Now, the figure of the effective collaborator has been put in writing, in addition to formalizing electronic or other surveillance, along with the calls monitored. Practices that will be carried out in the face of criminal acts that, “due to their seriousness, connotation or organization, require it, including operations whose origin or destination is outside the country.”

Thus, the information obtained from the “electronic or other surveillance,” which was already used to judge and condemn an ​​individual, is now sanctified by law and even wrapped in a rhetoric of protection of citizenship and national sovereignty.

In a court the alleged evidence that provides “the listening and recording of voices, location and monitoring, photographic fixations and filming of images, intervention of communications of any kind, access to computerized systems and other technical resources that allow knowing and prove the criminal act.” It will not be necessary for a judge to previously authorize these procedures.

We will have to wait to check the scope and effectiveness of these new regulations. Because, in recent years, we have added new tools to the old methods to protect ourselves as citizens, especially focused on protecting our presence in the networks. I imagine that after the publication of this decree, these practices will increase significantly.

If before we put the television at full volume when we were going to have a “complicated” conversation, now we must add to that trick the armoring of our mobile phones with VPN services and “firewalls” that prevent, or at least reduce, the police snooping. To the gesture of hiding the bag with the merchandise from the black market from the eyes of our neighbors, we have now added covering the laptop camera so that they do not film us through it without our realizing it.

After every step taken by the political police to get into our lives, citizen countermeasures have emerged. The metaphors have proliferated and the messages have been filled with phrases such as “the corner light is still on” to warn an activist that he is being watched, while some Cuban engineers already market devices to detect hidden microphones, or to isolate a cell phone and prevent it from being used remotely to listen to us.

However, Big Brother has all the mechanisms to delve into our lives. In the end, he owns the only existing telephone service in the country, he has a large army of informants, controls all the terminals that offer web browsing service in state premises, has trained thousands of potential cyber-police at the University of Computer Science and lacks any ethical limit when it comes to handling private information.

Faced with this ruthless offensive against freedoms on the part of the Plaza of the Revolution, there is no Faraday cage to protect us.

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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.

Cuban State Media’s Hemiplegic Plot

José Daniel Ferrer, leader of the Patriotic Union of Cuba. (Matias J. Ocner for 14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Generation Y, Havana, 20 November 2019 — Help me understand this: Granma, a Cuban newspaper of national scope, financed by the state coffers and with its journalists based within Cuban territory, publishes an article against a citizen, resident on the Island and held in a prison, which describes him as a criminal and accuses him of criminal acts.

However, to prepare the text, the reporters of the official organ of the Communist Party have not contacted José Daniel Ferrer, his relatives or his activist colleagues to offer their testimony and opinion on the events that took place on October 1, that ended up sending the leader of the Patriotic Union of Cuba to prison. continue reading

Do Granma journalists have resources to make a phone call to Aguadores prison? Why did the newspaper’s management not send its correspondent in Santiago de Cuba to Ferrer’s house to obtain the version of the facts that his wife wields, facts that contradict those published this Wednesday in the official newspaper? Did the reporters request a meeting with the prisoner from the Directorate of Corrections?

Sadly, the shortcomings of the article in Granma are not due to economic problems of the newsroom of the main Cuban newspaper, nor to the absence of permits to access the prison. The argumental hemiplegia of this note is evidence of the abuse of power of an entire apparatus that believes it has the right to crush an individual’s reputation, demonize and defame him without his being able to defend himself in national media. This is the old strategy of reputation execution, but using the state structures themselves, the official voice and the institutional speaker.

That is not journalism, nor press, much less information. We are facing a typical act of propaganda and slander… and of shameful complicity by some who call themselves journalists and editors.

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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.

Why the Reopening of the Cuatro Caminos Market Failed

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 18 November 2019 — Economists and analysts will say otherwise, but Amalia, 68, has her own version of events. This Saturday she decided to visit the Mercado de Cuatro Caminos, in Havana, to observe with her own eyes the reopening of the most important commercial center in the Cuban capital. “When I saw the tumult I didn’t want to enter but the crowd pushed me inside and I climbed the stairs, without moving my feet, to the first floor.”

Driven by the human energy of an avalanche of customers, the retiree ended up in front of an appliance store although she did not want to buy “neither a rice cooker nor a refrigerator,” she says. After being closed for five years, the so-called Single Market was the scene on Saturday of a popular escalation, a taking of the Bastille with a commercial touch, a revolution of customers desperate to buy everything that is lacking in other stores on this island.

The responsibility for what happened — several injured, dozens frustrated and hundreds disappointed by the temporary closure — rests primarily with the authorities. In the next few days the official press will try to convince us that it was “social indiscipline” or the hand of “counterrevolutionary elements” that caused the collapse of such a grand opening, but you just have to live in the Cuban reality to know what happened. continue reading

For weeks, the depressed Havana markets, especially the stores in selling in hard currency, had suffered an intensification of their shortages. One only had to ask the employees to hear something like: “They came and took the chicken breasts and the toilet paper for Cuatro Caminos.” Using the old strategy of “undressing one saint to dress another,” the Government played the card of using the reopening of the commercial center as a showcase to demonstrate an economic capacity it does not possess.

Although a “smart platform” was installed inside to control electricity and climate, as the State newspaper Granma hyped with great emphasis, it occurred to no one to design a simple mechanism to organize the line outside the premises, at least for the opening day of sales to the public. Thin ropes could have helped manage the line that began to form at dawn on Saturday. The human storm surge was already a tsunami by the time the market opened.

It is not possible to create a bubble of efficiency, prosperity and cleanliness in the middle of a city and a country that is falling to pieces. Previous examples, such as the Plaza de Carlos III, the Trasval Hardware Store on Galiano Street or the Ultra Store, one of the first department stores to open after the decriminalization of the dollar in the 1990s, are today a sad memory of what could have been. The shortages, grime and deterioration of their infrastructure complete the day to day of these businesses.

The Single Market is also located in one of the areas with the highest population density in the city, not to mention Cuba. It was enough to calculate that the surrounding neighbors would come on the first day of operation to know that the number of customers at the time of opening the doors would be counted by thousands, not tens or hundreds.

If you add to that the triumphant images that they broadcast on the TV News, with varieties of frozen chicken that right now can’t be found anywhere, some pristine pallets with malangas that mothers spend weeks trying to buy for their babies, shelves with packages of powdered milk, bags of detergent and the mundane cans of beer that are so scarce, the perfect storm was ready.

After two in the afternoon, Amelia tried to leave Cuatro Caminos and the inferno it had become. A can of wall paint overturned by the crowd had turned part of the halls into a series of footprints that ran desperately in one direction or another. The sandals she was wearing couldn’t take it and broke while she was trying to find the door to escape from there. With the empty bag, her painted feet and the conviction that “no one will come back here,” she returned home.

Its story is just one more, but Cuatro Caminos failed on its first day mainly because in Cuba the political class lives very far from reality, does not step foot on the streets, does not line up or know how long a liter of cooking oil or a can of tomato sauce lasts. They, up there, have not only lost the economic north a long time ago, but also the ability to intuit how people will act.

See also: Cuatro Caminos Market Closes Until Next Week Due to “Social Indiscipline”

See also: Cuatro Caminos Market and Free Trade in Cuba / Elías Amor Bravo

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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 Masks of Havana

King Felipe VI and Queen Letizia Ortiz (couple to the right)  with Lis Cuesta and Miguel Díaz-Canel at the dinner held at the headquarters of Cuba’s State Council.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Generation Y, Havana, 17 November 2019 — Havana was a city of carnivals and masks. Although the times of revelry passed long ago, this city is covered – whenever necessary – with convenient layers of makeup. Years ago, when a pope visited the island, the authorities painted the facades and cleaned the streets through which the caravan of His Holiness would travel from the airport to the historic center, a partial restoration that did not escape popular humor, which renamed the route la vía Sacra, the Sacred Way.

Another example of the capacity for masking are all those thousands, millions of photos made by tourists in which the only things that appear are an old Chevrolet of the last century, restored buildings, and mojitos with a lot of rum and little memory. To know the city that beats underneath you have to remove layers like peeling an onion, or use the corrosive makeup remover of objectivity. Unfortunately, only a few visitors are willing to work in facial and cultural archeology. At the end of the day they come for a short time, for a time that is only a sigh.

This November, the rouge has again been smeared over a city with more than two million inhabitants which has arrived at 500th year since its founding. “Facial” touch-ups have included the collection and mass slaughter of stray dogs, the inauguration of some architectural works that had been under repair for years, and a ban on dissidents and activists to going outside on the eve and the day of celebration of the celebration of the half-millennium of the Villa of San Cristóbal de La Habana. continue reading

But even if they had only applied a thin layer of lipstick, the Spanish royals Felipe VI and Letizia Ortiz would have been unable to discover very much on their two-day state visit to the Island. With an agenda planned millimetrically, their majesties could barely get away from the scheduled streets, prepared scenes and filtered guests. Even in their meeting with representatives of civil society, missing were human rights activists, opposition leaders and even independent journalists from the media most stigmatized by the ruling party.

However, like with the best makeup, sometimes a brief tear spoils everything. Cosmetics turned out to be too little cover reality and on the day when the Spanish royals strolled through Old Havana a street dog managed to cross in front of the royal couple and sneak into a photo of this visit, a nod perhaps to all those others who had died to “clean” the image of a city where an Animal Protection Law remains a painful chimera.

The national cleaning for the visit and the celebrations also included the arrest of uncomfortable citizens, those in the style of the artist Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara. Weeks before, and as part of the daily lack of rights, the independent journalist Roberto Quiñones and the opposition leader José Daniel Ferrer had been locked up and continue to be held, so far without the intermediation of international organizations nor a hypothetical request for clemency from the Spanish Crown.

Havana, like all Cuba, is a sequence of makeup and masks. On the epidermis, very high, are the bright colors of the ruling party; but below – with just the slightest scraping – emerges the hard gray of reality, the dark shadow of a country dominated by an authoritarianism without shades.

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Note: This article was  initially published in Deutsche Welle in Spanish and is reproduced in this blog.

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.

If You Leave, You Will Be Arrested

Note: The “video” is audio only — there are no images

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 16 November 2019 — Two of Cuba’s State Security agents have been stationed, since Friday morning, at the entrance of the building where Yoani Sánchez and Reinaldo Escobar live in Havana to prevent the two 14ymedio journalists from going outside.

One of the agents, who did not identify himself, replied that he was “licensed in Law” when Escobar explained to him, on Saturday, that, by not letting him leave his home, he was committing a crime of “duress” according to Article 286 of the Criminal Code.

“Today you will probably stay home, right? To avoid arrests, to avoid a group of things, not to reach other extremes,” said the agent.

This is the transcript of the conversation: 

Agent: Good morning.

Reinaldo: Good morning.

Agent: I recommend your staying here.

Reinaldo: What are you telling me?

Agent: That I recommend your staying here.

Reinaldo: I don’t know what you want to tell me with this.

Agent: Are you not Yoani (Sánchez)’s husband?

Reinaldo: I am Reinaldo Escobar, Yoani’s husband.

Agent: I am telling you that I recommend that you stay here. continue reading

Reinaldo: I hear your recommendation, but I don’t understand. Explain it to me better.

Agent: But how do you want me to explain it to you? You know how it is today. I am not here for pleasure.

Reinaldo: I don’t know who you are. I do not know you.

Agent: Well, I’m telling you, I’m the official here.

Reinaldo: What is your name, who are you, can you identify yourself?

Agent: I can identify myself but that won’t tell you much anyway. Not everyone is going to come and tell you that he suggests you not go out.

Reinaldo: You can say it however you want.

Agent: I said good morning, in a civil manner. I am suggesting. You determine what you want. Understand? As a suggestion.

Reinaldo: But what happens if I don’t accept your suggestion.

Agent: Ah, I don’t know. You know how it is today.

Reinaldo: I don’t know what you are saying to me about today. What is happening today?

Agent: What is happening today? I imagine that my colleagues who have spoken with you and Yoani have told you that today you are probably going to stay in the house, right? To avoid arrests, to avoid a group of things that… not to reach other extremes.

Reinaldo: Read this [and hands him a paper where he has copied Article 52 of the Constitution and a fragment of Article 286 of the Criminal Code detailing the crime of “coercion”].

Agent: Yes, of course, I know it. I know it, I have a law degree

Reinaldo: Then you know that you are violating Article 286.

Agent: No, I am not violating it

Reinaldo: Of course, you are preventing that…

Agent: No, preventing means that I hinder you right now, that you take some action. I stand in front of you. I told you good morning in a civil manner…

Reinaldo: Okay, but you’re telling me that if I go out that door then you proceed to do something else.

Agent: No, I said “I suggest.”

Reinaldo: Ah, then I’m going out because you are not my dad.

Agent: No, of course.

ReinaldoWhere are they going to detain me when I leave and for how long is this, until what day is this?

Agent: No, I don’t know. I can not tell you. I am here fulfilling a function.

ReinaldoWhat would you do.

Agent I’m going to tell you right now.

Reinaldo: What do you do in case I want to leave. So I can know.

Agent: (Makes a phone call). Hey, you hear me. Reinaldo is here in front of me, he wants to leave and I am telling him that today is not an appropriate day for that.

Reinaldo: The question is what happens if I go out?

Agent: (Talking on the phone) No, he has not done anything we are talking and he wants to know what can happen to him if he goes out.

Reinaldo: What does your compañero say?

Agent: That if you leave they will detain you. That if you leave they will detain you.

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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.

Successes and Mistakes of a Royal Visit

Before leaving for Santiago, Felipe VI of Spain met with Raúl Castro. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 15 November 2019 — This Thursday the three-day state visit by the Spanish Royals King Felipe VI and Queen Letizia to Cuba concluded, a stay that from before its beginning was surrounded by controversy and, now concluded, will continue to be subject to criticism, interpretations, grievances and redress.

We must recognize that the visit of the Royals was a small break in the Cuban information agenda, which had been dominated for weeks by the problems arising from the energy crisis and the ideological excesses to which the official press has accustomed us. For those of us who work in newsrooms, Felipe VI and Letizia became a brief distraction, a new topic that broke into our daily lives with more drums and cymbals than medium and long term effects.

However, after the excitement of those days, and beyond the thematic relief that it represented for the press, it is also worth highlighting some dark areas of this trip that were hidden by the official press and which, of course, had no place in the Twitter account of the Royal House. continue reading

After Felipe VI and Letizia’s plane took off from Havana to Santiago de Cuba, the artist Luis Manuel Otero Alcantara was released from one of the many arrests he has suffered throughout this year. The Royals went to offer flowers to the Spaniards who fell at the end of our wars of independence, without even knowing that a young artist was detained in a dungeon so that he would not pester the visit of such illustrious guests with one of his ‘performances.’

In Santiago de Cuba, the opponent José Daniel Ferrer did not experience the same luck. The Royals left and still the leader of the Patriotic Union of Cuba, arrested on October 1, remains imprisoned. Although it can be intuited that in the closed-door talks with Miguel Díaz-Canel, the King conveyed his concern and interceded for the release of the former prisoner of the Black Spring, no public statement confirms this.

In “there was talk of everything,” a phrase repeated by Spanish Foreign Minister Josep Borrell to describe to the accredited press the meeting between the monarch and the newly appointed President of the Republic, almost anything and nothing can fit: they talked about the weather, of non-payments to Spanish businesses, of the soft credits that the Motherland will give to the Island… or some demands regarding human rights, citizen liberties and the need to decriminalize dissent on this Island were also sneaked in. We will never know, or it will be a very long time before we know.

What we do know is that, so far, the official Cuban press has not fully reprinted the speech Felipe VI gave at the dinner he offered last Wednesday night for Diaz-Canel and his wife at the Palace of the Captains General. It is hard to believe that the Spanish authorities did not try to convince their Cuban hosts to make the words of the monarch known, and without censorship, through the press of the Island.

While in 2016 Barack Obama made a speech in a cultural symbol such as the Great Theater of Havana, before hundreds of guests and it was broadcast in its entirety on national television, the Bourbon spoke behind closed doors, for a select public, and the next morning no official media had spread his words. However, thanks to social networks and the foreign press, some of us were able know what was said there.

The address of that night saves part of this unfortunate trip, because — among other things — Felipe VI delivered very necessary phrases about the existence of institutions that represent all citizens, and about citizens being able to express their preferences for themselves and find in these institutions “adequate respect for the integrity of their rights, including the ability to freely express their ideas, freedom of association and of assembly.”

But that was a pearl in the middle of the great pile of litter of this trip.

The meeting with part of Cuban civil society subtracted more than it added. From that meeting, however, we have the general report made by independent journalists who were included in the guest list and who informed the Royals of the penalties and obstacles associated with exercising their profession in Cuba outside the state channels. Another point in favor of this visit, but — as even the participants say – it was a very short meeting in which they were barely able to touch on some very comprehensive and essential themes and ideas.

But it was the meeting with Raúl Castro that was the great blunder of this visit. Not initially included in the official program, Felipe VI agreed to that appointment with Castro in response to a request made by Díaz-Canel during the dinner. Afterwards it was described as a private meeting, but the presence of the flags and the foreign ministers of both countries gave it an official character. A real “trap” that led the King to allow the politicization of what until then had been presented as a cultural journey. Or is it perhaps not political to meet with the secretary general of a political entity, especially when the entity is the only authorized party?

Put in the balance of life, public relations and history, the mistakes weigh more than the successes in this Royal trip. We will have to see how it is interpreted with the passing of the weeks and the years, but at the moment it seems that the Plaza of the Revolution scored several points in its favor, gaining legitimacy, getting Philip VI and Letizia to pose before the image of Che Guevara, paving the way for financial assistance totaling more than 57 million, palming the words of the King, and at the last minute sneaking Castro on the agenda. And the Zarzuela Palace? Fine thank you, so far only a speech that few Cubans have been able to read is on the ledger in their favor.

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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 Berlin Wall Never Existed

Germans attack the Berlin Wall, 1989 (CC)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Generation Y, Havana, 9 November 2019 — For the official Cuban press the Berlin Wall has not fallen, it still stands or it never existed. A brief search on the digital sites and the printed versions of the country’s main newspaper is enough confirm that mentions of this scar which, for years, divided Germany, Europe and the world, barely appear because it is still a topic that is denied and hidden by the ideologues of the “journalism” that is cooked up in the newsrooms controlled by the Communist Party.

This Saturday, the 9th of November, marks 30 years since Berliners began to tear down that absurd barrier and that the Socialist camp in eastern Europe began to fall apart like a house of cards. It is also an anniversary of that 1989 in Cuba, when a generation looked with hope on the changes that shook our “fellow travelers” and the Plaza of the Revolution tightened the screws of its political control to avoid reformists or ‘perestroikans’ from gaining ground.

This November, as they did three decades ago, Cuban officials again hide from us the fall of the Berlin Wall… but we have already learned of, already seen, the images of those hammers and chisels tearing down that wall. On our retina, despite the censorship, there is a young man, a child, a family, a village… that knocks down that strict limit once imposed on them.

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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 now becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

Journalism Today: Between Ethics and Technology

In the end, we are storytellers. Our field is not fiction, as in the case of novelists or playwrights, because we tell real stories. (Rafael Alejandro García)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Generation Y, Havana, 3 November 2019 – [This text was delivered at the graduation ceremony for the Master of Journalism of the Spanish newspaper El País.] More than a decade ago I crossed a thin red line and took a path that – even if I had wanted it to – has no turning back: I went from being a citizen who consumed the little information that came to her hands, to becoming a blogger, reporter and a news source in a country like Cuba, with 11 million inhabitants thirsty to know what is happening inside and outside its territory.

I did not decide, I did not take a minute to reflect, I did not even weigh what would come after taking this step, simply journalism knocked on my door and there was no way not to open up, to not let it pass or to prevent myself from turning my life upside down. There was so much to tell that it would have been an act of civic apathy and reprehensible indifference not to have assumed the responsibility of narrating my country.

Those were the years when the Arab Springs were forged and when the emergence of smartphones and social networks made one think that a screen, a keyboard and a brief message on Twitter were enough to awaken consciences and change realities. But it was also the beginning of a period of deep crisis for journalism. continue reading

Thus, years arrived when the media seemed to have lost its way. A single person, with a cell phone in hand, could achieve the most important coverage of an event and many times the teams of reporters, photographers and editors arrived late for what was already a story broadcast to exhaustion in forums, chats and Facebook walls.

The so-called “native digital” media emerged, while others became hybrid creatures, almost information chimeras that still, today, try to enhance their digital versions while attempting to keep the paper copies alive, which in most cases have been relegated to a second place less dynamic and important.

Also, a decade ago, many were betting that the new journalism that was going to emerge from all these changes would have to be ever faster and immediate, with greater integration of audiovisual elements, more interactive, more democratic and – of course – flooding social networks and the new content dissemination channels. Most of the time in that equation the central point of any reporting work was underestimated, beyond ornaments or technological tools: the story.

In the end, we are storytellers. Our field is not fiction, as in the case of novelists or playwrights, because we tell real stories, what happened a few minutes or several decades ago, our strength based on truthfulness, where we convey certainty. A well told story, with beautiful language, with a variety of sources consulted and backed by research, remains the core of our work.

And to tell a story it is not enough to have the luck or the patience to find an event worthy of our readers. It is not enough to use gerunds well and master a vocabulary that makes the reporting, the chronicle or the simplest informative note a pleasure for the eyes and the intellect. No, it is not enough. Nor is it enough that we publish stories characterized by novelty and revelation. Language and ethics make up the main cement that must unite all the elements of good journalism.

First, the mastery of the language (in our case of the beautiful Castilian language) is one of those subjects in which no one ever graduates completely, but in which good grades can be achieved through reading, linguistic curiosity to inquire about the meaning and origin of words, an unspoken acceptance of imported words and the boldness to combine terms and break with the idea that journalism should be written in a dry, direct language and one that never soars.

But ethics, this is more difficult to achieve because it is born from personal commitment to objectivity and truth. It also comes from understanding the human measure of a journalist in a society and accepting the responsibility we assume with each disseminated reportage.

The ethics in the press begins by being honest in the handling of the reporting raw material, conscientious in the verification of data and consistent with the reality of what we are reporting.

In the case of authoritarian societies, where information is still seen as treason and the press has only two possible positions: applaud the power or be condemned to exist in illegality and harassment. Information ethics also does not give way to pressures or self-censorship. In those regimes, allergic to information freedom, the reporter becomes an activist for truth.

Although new technologies have partially pierced the information monopoly walls erected by dictatorships, these years have also served for us to understand that political and social changes need much more than touch screens and calls on the networks. On the other hand, the same devices that are used for a liberating and democratizing purpose are also used by the political police to monitor activists, control the independent press and distort information.

Let’s not fool ourselves. There is no more effective ‘fake news’ and post-truth factory than populism, nor a laboratory from which the most finished and even “convincing” hoaxes come than within an authoritarian regime. Hence, exercising ethical and quality journalism in these circumstances is of vital importance in these times.

The most worrying thing is that these predatory attitudes of information freedom are not exclusive to authoritarian systems, but also extend to democracies. The exercise of journalism is now in the spotlight of too many powers.

In countries like Mexico and Honduras, a piece of reporting can cost an author their life; while in nations like Cuba, the ruling party boasts that journalists are not killed on the Island, although the truth is that they have killed journalism by force of threats, arbitrary arrests, confiscations of the tools of the trade and pressures to go into exile.

On the other hand, in societies where citizens see violations of their rights every day, and where there is no separation of powers and the courts are fiefdoms of a group that administers justice at will, the independent press (here it is worth using the qualifier “independent” given that these regimes are given to creating their own pseudo press or propaganda soundboard) it assumes new responsibilities. It becomes a loudspeaker for a gagged citizenship, with a share of heroism but also of the commitment that this role brings.

And how do young journalists fit into this complex scenario? What words of encouragement can I offer you for the path you have just started out on? Few and many. You have come to the press at a tipping point and time of doubts. You will disembark in newsrooms tormented by debts and obsession with ‘hits’; probably many of you will practice in societies where you will be playing with your lives, prison and prestige when publishing on certain topics. It is very likely that in certain circumstances you will avoid even confessing to others that you are journalists so as not to listen to the old epithets of “pencil pushers,” “news vultures,” “yellow journalists” or “fifth columnists.”

Your nights will become intense hours, you will never be able to look at a television screen, the front page of a newspaper or a digital site with that touch of healthy naiveté you once had; you will also learn that this is not a profession for making friends and that as you develop better skills animosity and criticism will grow around you. But also, you will enjoy the thrilling moment of following a story, the adrenaline rush that seizes you when you are only a few seconds or a click away from publishing a report on which you have worked for a long time.

You will enjoy that moment in which the publication of a story helps to improve reality, or correct an injustice or give voice to those who have long been silenced. They are brief moments, but they are strongly rewarding.

You will hate and love your editors, you will have to respond to the anger of some readers and also take responsibility for the reprisals suffered by your sources. You will drink more coffee than you can even imagine now and you will understand that in the face of any topic that you discuss in your articles there will always be someone who knows more than you about that matter and who will be there, carefully reading every line you publish, ready to find an error.

And when you believe that the day is over, because the text you have pampered like a child has already been delivered, edited and seen the light… and then you will have to start over at the beginning because a new day will come, with other stories to tell and an insatiable audience that awaits you. So I can only promise you: a lot of responsibility, little rest and even less boredom.

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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 now becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

A Dead Man Who Weighs Too Much

In 1975 Fidel Castro decreed in Cuba an official mourning period for the death of Francisco Franco.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sánchez, Havana | 25 October 2019 — The day Fidel Castro died, I called my mother to tell her the news. I waited long minutes while the phone returned to me a monotonous and annoying ring. That night of November 25, 2016, when a voice answered from the other side, I only managed a brief phrase: “He died.” Nothing more was needed, no one has so dominated our lives that they could be alluded to without mentioning their name. My mother’s answer could not have been more significant: “Again?”

Thus, this Thursday, more than three years later, when I read in the Spanish press the news about the exhumation of the dictator Francisco Franco something in my head asked if I haven’t heard this before, if the general had not been disinterred and reburied many times. Dictators appropriate our lives in many ways, deciding the present and forcing us to talk about them in the future, becoming permanent and cyclic presences in our existence.

Now, the man who tried to leave Spain’s future “done and dusted” is just a mummy for whom justice, memory and political expediency have changed places, a shadow of that Franco to whom Fidel dedicated three days of official mourning after his death in 1975, the year I was born and an era when my island maintained strange and conflicting complicities: Russia’s Kremlin and Spain’s El Pardo Royal Palace. continue reading

There is a close sympathy among those whose vital force is to maintain power at all costs, no matter the political color or the ideology that moves them. They share the essence of a deplorable caudillismo, that which is based on authoritarianism, nationalism, fear of change, clientelism and searching for guilt always abroad, always the fault of the “other.” Franco and Castro handled these reins of power with perverse mastery.

One day, I hope not that far off, in Cuba we will debate what to do with the ashes of Fidel Castro, which now rest in the Santa Ifigen cemetery in Santiago de Cuba. Most likely, it will be a discussion that will take place in a country with an incipient democracy, still marked by the pains and wounds left by a regime that privileged polarization over well-being, confrontation over the country’s development.

The Parliament of a future Cuba will address the issue of Castro’s ashes, now located a few meters from the tomb of the National Hero José Martí. A placement that was carefully calculated, to give the controversial guerrilla a screen of historical glory, a patina of studied popular acceptance. The man in the military uniform, the man of the death sentences, the man of the always raised authoritarian index finger, wanted to be close to the poet in the shabby coat, the man of beautiful verses and an honesty that led to his death.

Those parliamentarians of tomorrow, whom I imagine much more plural than the current monochromatic National Assembly, will debate and present citizens’ demands about the final destination of Castro’s ashes, a heavy burden for a nation that has already carried too many encumbrances.  I can imagine those discussions. There will be exalted exclamations, neck veins about to burst and voices for and against. A bath of democracy.

But in the end, the diatribe will come. The corrosive acid of history will fall on Castro as it has on Franco. No caudillo is saved. On an imprecise day of this turbulent century, the Cuban media will be filled with headlines for and against exhuming Castro and moving him to a less sublime, less historic, less symbolic place. We will look at each other and say that the gesture is important even if it does not solve our problems at that time.

There are historical wounds that must be healed even when it seems that they now hurt less and that their healing is barely an allegorical gesture. Call it The Valley of the Fallen in Spain, or the Santa Ifigenia Cemetery here in Cuba, the little we can take from those who took so much from us is their last abode. If they decided everything from what we ate to what we dreamed, it is not excessive that we impose ourselves on their plan for eternity and fracture the script of their eternal rest.

For that moment, when that hypothetical Cuban Parliament decrees the exit of the dictator’s ashes from the stone where he seems protected, my mother will ask me if we are not exhuming Castro for the umpteenth time. Mothers, like caudillos, are always there even if they are not. And I’ll have to answer, “No mami, no. This time is the last, the final one.”

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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 now becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

Elections in Cuba: The Curtain Falls

Without surprises, continuity prevailed during the day. Miguel Díaz-Canel was elected president of the Republic. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Generation Y, Havana, 12 October 2019 — The staging was studied carefully. This October 10 in Havana, every detail of the extraordinary session of the National Assembly obeyed a script rigorously written and, probably, many times rehearsed. In political dramaturgy, the election of a president of the Republic was the climax to consolidate the transfer of the helm of the national ship to a younger generation, under the tutelage of its predecessors.

As in a play whose ending they knew in advance, Cuban citizens watched what happened on Thursday at the Palace of Conventions with apathy and without expectations. At the end of the day it was just a formality, a set with the deputies of Parliament as actors. With the ratification of the Constitution last February and the subsequent implementation of a new Electoral Law, the positions of President of the Republic and Prime Minister, once unified to grant full powers to Fidel Castro, were separated on the Island. This Thursday was the day to begin to split these powers and to give the president of the National Assembly the reins of the State Council.

Perhaps in an attempt to prevent a single man from changing the system from above, the ‘historical generation’ divided the decision-making between several figures who, for now, are absolutely faithful to the legacy of the bearded men who once descended from the Sierra Maestra. Calculating their approaching biological end, the now octogenarians of that distant deed fear that concentrating command in one individual is a risky bet and they have chosen to put several wolves in charge of the pack so that, as a side effect, they will keep an eye on each other.

Without surprises, continuity prevailed during the day. Miguel Díaz-Canel was elected president of the Republic, if a process in which parliamentarians can only ratify a single candidacy for each of the positions can be called an “election.” Esteban Lazo remained at the head of Parliament although all political bets had pointed to the end of his leadership in the National Assembly, while the State Council was restructured with some inclusions and some departures.

In this careful representation, officiating as master of ceremonies was former president Raúl Castro, who was the first to exercise the right to vote in a clear gesture to mark the real order of relevance and the capacity of decision-making. With the control of the Communist Party in his hands, in addition to economic power and the Armed Forces in the hands of his family clan, the veteran general prepared the script to send a public message of the system’s solidity and continuity. There was just one detail he couldn’t control: the public.

In Cuban streets, the crisis in fuel supplies, the difficulties in transport and the problems in the food supply stole the starring role. So much care preparing the set and the actors of this “electoral process” turned out to be of little use; most people took advantage of this October holiday to continue looking for the exit, to find the door that leads away from this stage, be it indifference or emigration.

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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.