Scholarships, Fears And Attractions / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

World Learning's scholarships are targeted to 16-18 year old students in Cuba.
World Learning’s scholarships are targeted to 16-18 year old students in Cuba.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Generation Y, Yoani Sanchez, 27 September 2016 – The woman approaches without fear or hesitation. “How can my son apply for one of the scholarships mentioned on television?” she asks me abruptly. It takes me a few seconds to realize what she’s talking about, for the images to come to mind of young Cuban students engaged in demonstrations called by the government to reject the programs of the World Learning organization.

She waits a few minutes, standing next to me, eager to have an email address she can write to, a bridge for her child to learn another reality. The slogans against the US NGO launched by officialdom don’t seem to have swayed her. When I ask her if she is aware of the government campaign attacking this program, which is targeted to Cuban youth between 16 and 18, she responds with a very popular phrase: “In this case, it’s all the same to me to be driver who rolls right over them.”

Fear no longer works as it once did. A few decades ago, it was enough for any phenomenon or person to be demonized on television for the circle of silence and fear to close around them. Now, the volume at which the extremists shout is inversely proportional to the interest in the object of their animosity. Without realizing it, the Party propaganda of recent days is helping to advertise the existence of some scholarships that were known to only a tiny part of the island’s population.

The woman is not afraid. She sticks close to me for help in some details that will allow her son “to breathe other air.” Like her, thousands of parents throughout the island watch their children leave for school, where in morning assemblies they shout their rejection of the new “manipulations of imperialism.” At home, the adults move heaven and earth to inscribe their children’s names on the list for the next round of scholarships.

‘Kaputt’: The Dreams of a Goethe Institute in Havana / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

The Headquarters of the Goethe Institute in Munich. (Goethe Institute)
The Headquarters of the Goethe Institute in Munich. (Goethe Institute)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 6 September 2016 – The word made me smile. I read Kaffeeweißer – coffee whitener – on the tiny envelopes near the coffee machine in a Berlin hotel, that promised to “whiten” that dark beverage that was relieving my jetlag. I had forgotten how direct and powerful the German language can be. For years, along with the Cuban Germanophile community, I had awaited the inauguration of the Goethe Institute on the island, but last week a report in Deutsche Welle poured a bucket of cold water on our aspirations.

The longed for opening of the center that would let us observe German culture was only a matter of time. In July of last year, the German Foreign Minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, made the first official visit of a German chancellor to our country since the fall of the Berlin Wall. In May of this year it was followed by a visit of Cuba’s Foreign Minister, Bruno Rodriguez Parrilla, to the capital city of bears and sausages. Continue reading “‘Kaputt’: The Dreams of a Goethe Institute in Havana / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez”

Like a diplomatic dance, we waiting impatiently for a step here, another there and the prodigal handshakes for the camera. Meanwhile, we counted the days until the country of Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Herta Mueller and Gunter Grass would honor Havana with a center of the stature and quality of the Alianza Francesa.

I’ve never found a word that is better at expressing the breakage of something than the German word kaputt. To this, my language of dreams and nostalgia, I owe the force of the verbal sledgehammer that Spanish hides in sinuous constructions and compromises. This crack that means “broken,” and carries with it a sense of frustration, resonated in my mind this Saturday when I read the declarations of the president of the subcommittee on foreign policy for material culture, Bernd Fabius, about the possible causes of the sine die – the indefinite postponement – of the Goethe Institute among us.

“Cuba fears that with the Geothe Institute, which promotes the German language and culture in the world, Germany will encourage the counterrevolution,” said Fabius, noting that the refusal “shows how fragile the systems of such states perceive themselves to be.”

The Cuban government has preferred that the “German dose” come through its own educational institutions and under tight control. In the Faculty of Foreign Languages at the University of Havana there is a lectureship for teaching the German language, but the autonomy of a cultural center – managed directly from Berlin – is not in its plans for now.

A real shame in a country where it is calculated that around 30,000 Cubans studied or worked in the German Democratic Republic while many others have gone in recent years to live in this now united European nation and there is a curiosity mixed with empathy for the Teutonic culture, despite the distance and the marked differences in identity.

Bernd Fabius’s conclusion about the fears of Cuban officialdom are not too far from the real motive for freezing out the Goethe Institute’s project. Every place that is not under the strict rules of ideology, that offers literature not filtered by the island’s publishers, or promotes a view beyond the borders of political blindness and the sea that surrounds us, causes the Plaza of the Revolution to break out in hives.

Most instructive is that the German government has spent years “behaving itself” so that it might make a sign with the name of the author of Faust shine on a Havana street. More than five years of exploratory feelers, plugged ears, caution, and maintaining a great distance from any phenomenon that might upset the olive-green hierarchy. After all this time invested to avoid hurting feelings, the Bundestag has received a loud and clear nein, as can only be heard in the language of Nietzsche.

Cubacel Censors Texts With The Words “Democracy” Or “Hunger Strike” / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Reinaldo Escobar

Cuban woman on her cellphone. (14ymedio)
Cuban woman on her cellphone. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez/Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 3 September 2016 — If you are considering sending a text message to a friend to wish him a “happy coexistence” with his family or to suggest that he not give in to “the dictatorship of work,” it is very likely that the phrase will never reach its destination. A filter implemented by the Telecommunications Company of Cuba S.A. (ETECSA) blocks certain words from flowing through the cellular network. (See below for the list.)

For years, users of the only cellphone company in the country have suffered from congestion on the lines and areas of poor coverage, but few have noticed that there is also a strict blockade on the use of key terms and phrases in mobile messaging.

The discovery of this list has happened almost by chance. Several users, upset that their messages were charged for but not delivered, exchanged experiences. This week they connected the dots and found that texts containing the following references never reached their destinations: “human rights,” “hunger strike,” “José Daniel Ferrer,” or the name of the independent magazine “Coexistence.” Continue reading “Cubacel Censors Texts With The Words “Democracy” Or “Hunger Strike” / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Reinaldo Escobar”

Texts with references to “human rights,” “hunger strike,” “José Daniel Ferrer,” or the name of the independent magazine “Coexistence” never arrive

Over several days and at different points in the national geography, this newspaper has run tests from terminals with very different owners, ranging from opponents and activists to people without any links to independent movements. In all cases, messages containing certain expressions “were lost on the way.”

Cubacel is ETECSA’s cellular network and the contract that each user signs to get a mobile line makes clear that the among causes for which the service will be terminated are uses “prejudicial to morality, public order, state security or that serve as support in carrying out criminal activities.”

The customer is never warned that their messages will be subjected to a content filter or that a part of their correspondence will be blocked if it alludes to opponents, concepts that are uncomfortable for officialdom such as “human rights” or to blogs critical of the government in the style of “Generation Y.”

Arnulfo Marrero, deputy chief of the ETECSA branch at 19 and B in Vedado, Havana, was surprised on Friday morning by a complaint presented to his office about the censorship. “We have nothing to do with this, you should contact the Ministry of Communications (MICOM),” the official explained to the bearer of the complaint.

“MICOM governs communications policy, because we don’t make any decisions here. All I can do is report it,” said Marrero.

Censorship, however, is not yet activated on messages that are sent to foreign countries, perhaps because of their high cost: 1 Cuban convertible peso (about $1 US) per 160 characters. Blocking them would provoke more complaints from disgruntled customers and would have set off alarm bells much earlier. However, in text messages received from abroad the same censorship applied to domestic text messaging is also applied.

In the Cuban case it is not morality that guides the scissors of censorship. Cubans can narrate an entire orgy in 160 characters, but cannot send the word “democracy”

In late 2001, Pakistan implemented a similar filter on cellphone text messages. The telecommunications authorities of that Asian country created a list of more than 1,600 prohibited terms in English and Urdu, which included obscene and insulting words, as well as words such as “condom” and “homosexual.”

In the Cuban case it is not morality that guides the scissors of censorship, because all the words in the popular argot alluding to sexuality can be sent freely. Cubans can narrate an entire orgy in 160 characters, but cannot send the word “democracia” to their recipients, not even when they try the trick of changing the “i” to a “1” and try to sneak in “democrac1a.”

The difference with Pakistan lies not only in the reason for blocking certain phrases or words, but also in the secrecy with which this censorship has operated for months, perhaps years, in Cuba. Few have noticed the relationship between certain expressions and communication problems, because they attribute it to the chronic problems of congestion and Cubacel’s bad service.

With more than three million cell phone users, the Cuban authorities have bet on few people associating errors in receiving messages with a desire to prevent the transmission of concepts and words.

The meticulous choice of what terms to block has not been random. Despite the high prices for mobile phone service, where one domestic call can cost as much as half a day’s wages, the presence of cellphones in the hands of Cubans has changed ways of interacting and people find parallel paths to avoid the excessive controls the government impose on all areas of activity.

“I didn’t know this was happening, although now that I read the list of censored words I’m sure I’ve used one of them at least once,” says Leo, 21, who was waiting outside the Cubacell office on Obispo Street in Havana this Thursday.

“I watch the news with breakfast,” said an astonished young man next to him, who said he had not noticed blocked terms, “although ETECSA works so badly that nothing should surprise us any more.” During special days, Christmas or Mother’s Day, communicating becomes a real ordeal.

At the University of Computer Sciences, as part of Operation Truth, a group monitored the internet and created matrices of opinions favorable to the Government

During his students years at the University of Information Sciences (UCI), the engineer Eliecer Avila worked on the so-called Operation Truth. His group monitored the internet and created matrices of opinion favorable to the government in forums, blogs and digital diaries. At present, Avila leads the independent Somos+ (We Are More) Movement, which is also on the long list of terms blocked by Cubacel messaging.

“We implemented algorithm projects that, given certain phrases or words entered by a user into their browser, they would appear preferentially in official pages,” Avila recalled for this newspaper. “We tried to invisibilize alternative proposals or criticisms.”

The presence of an intelligent filter is obvious in this case. If you type in the text “cacerolazo” – a word meaning the banging and pots and pans as a form of protest – your message will take much longer to arrive than some other text. A similar slowdown occurs if you write the names of Fidel Castro or Raúl Castro, and it is true in the latter case with or without the accented letter U.

How many dissident meetings have been frustrated because the invitation message never reached the invitees’ inboxes? How many misunderstandings between couples, domestic squabbles, and uncompleted professional tasks result from the filtering of messages that include last names such as Biscet and terms such as plebiscite?

Telecommunications censorship is not a new tool for the Plaza of the Revolution. Activist frequently denounce the blocking of their cellphones on December 10th, Human Rights Day, or other times when they want to gather together.

During the visit of Pope Benedict XVI to the island in September of 2012, more than 100 opponents reported the suspension of their cellphone service, along with house arrests and arbitrary detentions.

A blockade of uncomfortable digital sites has also been a common practice for officialdom. On the list of inaccessible sites are portals set up from abroad such as Cubaencuentro, as well as local newspapers like 14ymedio. More than a few users manage to circumvent the censorship by sending news via email or sending offline copies of pages that pass from hand to hand thanks to technological devices like USB flash drives and external hard drives.

China has transferred to Cuba its experience with the so-called Golden Shield Project, known as the Great Firewall, which employs more than 30,000 censors

In March of this year, Amnesty International noted that “only 25% of the Cuban population uses the internet and only 5% of households have a connection.” This situation has strengthened the use of mobile phones, especially texting, as a way of using “the internet without internet.”

Only since 2008 were Cubans legally allowed to have a cellphone contract and Cubacel currently has over three million users. Last year 800,000 new lines were established throughout the island, despite the high cost of a national call, the equivalent of half the salary of a working day.

In July 2014, the governments of Cuba and China signed an agreement on “cooperation in cyberspace.” China has transferred to the island its experience in monitoring and blocking content on the web, especially what they have learned from their launch in 1998 of the so-called Golden Shield Project, known worldwide as the Great Firewall, which employs more than 30,000 censors.

Raul Castro’s government has not only copied China’s content filtering strategy, but also the creation of its own social networks to discourage Cubans from using Facebook, Twitter or Google Plus. To achieve this an ersatz Wikipedia, called Ecured, was created, along with a platform-style Facebook dubbed La Tendera (The Shopkeeper) and an unpopular substitute for Twitter known as El Pitazo (The Whistle), all with little success.

We now know that the Cuban Government wants to go beyond such crude imitations and aspires to follow in the footsteps of its Great Chinese Brother, which has a long history of censoring text messaging through a “keyword list.” A user can have their entire messaging function disabled if their content does not pass the filter of the censors. In the city of Shanghai alone, the Hong Kong newspaper Apple Daily reports, messaging has been blocked for some 70,000 users.

List of Words and Phrases Known to be Blocked by Cubacel

14 y medio
14ymedio
Antunez
Antúnez
Berta Soler
Biscet
Carlos Amel
Coco Farinas
Coco Fariñas
Convivencia
Cuba Posible
Cubanet
Damas de Blanco
Democracia
Democrac1a
DDHH
Derechos humanos
Dictadura
Disidente
Elecciones libres
Generacion Y
Generación Y
Guillermo Farinas
Guillermo Fariñas
Hablemos Press
Huelga de hambre
Jose Daniel Ferrer
José Daniel Ferrer
Oscar Elias Biscet
Óscar Elías Biscet
Plebiscito
Policía Política
Policia Politica
Primavera Negra
Represión
Represion
Seguridad del Estado
Somos+
Todos Marchamos
Unpacu
Yoani Sanchez
Yoani Sánchez

Thinking With Our Stomachs / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

Decades of shortages and economic hardships have led us to a plane of survival where food is the center, obsession and goal of millions of people who inhabit this island. (14ymedio)
Decades of shortages and economic hardships have led us to a plane of survival where food is the center, obsession and goal of millions of people who inhabit this island. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 2 September 2016 – At the dining room table the grandparents are playing with their two granddaughters. They ask them what they would ask the genie for if they happened to stumble on a magic lamp in the corner. “I want a plate full of chicken and French fries,” the littlest one said immediately, while the older said she wanted it to rain candy. Their second wish included ice cream by the ton and the third wish concentrated on endless cheeseburgers.

National television broadcasts a report about a popular camping site that has been renovated and reopened to the public this summer. One customer smiles at the camera and says, “The food is good.” The administrator of the recreation spot enumerates the dining options and promises that culinary offerings “suited to all pocketbooks and well prepared” await whose who book one of the cabins scattered in the countryside. Continue reading “Thinking With Our Stomachs / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez”

Education Minister Ena Elsa Velázquez, calls for moral and material respect for teachers to avoid the exodus that profession is suffering as teachers quit for other—more lucrative—jobs in other areas. The official recommended holding agricultural fairs next to school buildings, with sales of pork and produce, so the educators can buy food after work.

An opponent of the Castros visiting a market in Miami recorded a video in which he says the only way his compatriots would be willing to “overthrow the dictatorship” would be if they were promised that the shelves would then be full of the same variety of beers on offer in Miami. The well-known dissident lists the prices, the quantity of food available in pounds and the high quality of the products that star in his video.

A nouveau riche couple books two nights all-inclusive at a Varadero hotel. They manage to polish off a lunch with two pork steaks each, a serving of fried beef, several helpings of rice and beans, along with a pile of succulent shrimp and lobster. Returning home they fail to describe a single example of the scenery they admired during their trip.

When was it that we Cubans came to be ruled by our stomachs? At what moment were we conquered by a mouth that swallows and a brain that thinks only of food? Can our dreams and desires be reduced to filling our bellies, whetting our appetites and cleaning our plates?

Unfortunately, yes. Decades of shortages and economic hardships have brought us to a plane of survival where food is the center, obsession and goal of millions of people who inhabit this island. That obfuscation often does not allow us to see beyond, because “with an empty belly, who will think about politics,” as any materialistic philosopher would say.

The problem is that “hungry once, always hungry.” When a tongue of flame rises into the esophagus, when a few grains of rice are at the center of wet dreams and some crumbs of bread are the be-all and end-all, it is immoral to talk about something beyond whetting the appetite.

We have been condemned, as a people, to mastication, gastric juices and digestion. In the process we have lost what makes us human and become creatures of the feedlot, more focused on the dinner bell than on our rights of free association or expression.

We are like Pavlov’s dog, whoever brings us a plate of food will make us react and salivate. How sad!

Reinaldo Escobar Arrested in Santa Clara, Cuba / Yoani Sanchez

Arrested, handcuffed
Arrested, handcuffed and forcibly deported to Havana — This is what happened to Reinaldo Escobar yesterday at the arrival of the JetBlue [flight in Santa Clara, Cuba, which he was covering as a journalist for 14ymedio.]
My phone service was cut off
My phone service was cut off so I couldn’t report the arrest of my husband Reinaldo Escobar when he was covering the arrival of the JetBlue flight.

See also:

JetBlue Ends Abusive Prices of Charter Flights to Cuba / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

Extremist Today, Democrat Tomorrow / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

Journalist Jose Ramirez Pantoja. (Facebook)
Journalist Jose Ramirez Pantoja. (Facebook)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Generation Y, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 31 August 2016 – In the nineties, this student was one of the most militant in his university classroom, until he managed to get a fellowship in Spain, and today he writes asking me, “Why do you put up with so much and not rebel?” From a rabid militant of the Young Communist Union (UJC) he went on to carve out a history as a clandestine fighter for the democracy he had to escape to because on this island “little could be done.”

The story of this colleague, who overturned his ideology at breakneck speed, came to mind lately on reading the intense controversy over the work sanction against the Radio Holguin journalist Jose Ramirez Pantoja. The young reporter published on his digital diary a statement by Karina Marron, deputy director for the newspaper Granma, where she defined the current economic and social conditions as the basis for “a perfect storm.” Continue reading “Extremist Today, Democrat Tomorrow / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez”

Along with the disciplinary measure, which consisted in permanent separation from his job at the station, Pantoja had to undergo a process of public disqualification that reached its climax in a text signed by Aixa Hevia, vice president of the Cuban Journalists Union (UPEC). The official accused him of wanting to “create a history that allows him to cross to the Miami media.” Perhaps a projection of what she herself would do if the opportunity presented itself.

It would not be the first time that a well-known face from Cuba’s official journalism ended up “crossing the pond” and declaring on the other side that it was because “at that time I believed, but not any more.” The greatest extremists I have met in my life have ended up this way: burying their red or olive-green attire, without intoning the self-criticism that would give some relief to the victims they caused with their outbursts.

Over time, if ever, the instruments of censorship such as Aixa Hevia undergo a process of selective amnesia and forget all the damage they did to those who demonstrated greater honesty and consistency. They leave behind a trail of colleagues they have betrayed and helped to depose, without even sending them a short note of apology or condolences.

It is not Pantoja, in this case, who is carving out a “history,” but the sectarians like the vice president of UPEC, who is capable of lashing out against someone she should defend. As a representative of the journalists’ union, she should protect her colleague, instead of helping to sink him. But she has preferred to act in harmony with the censors rather than in solidarity with a professional who simply defended freedom of the press, information transparency and the right of his readers to be informed about what journalists think.

This is not about speculating whether Pantoja will exercise his right to perform as a journalist in another country because he is prohibited from doing so in his own. It seems more likely that someday it will be Aixa Hevia who will shed her chameleon skin to change her color in turn, to the dictates of the next power for whom she wants to behave as a mere instrument.

Cuba’s Landscape After the Thaw / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

 United States and Cuban flags in the streets of Havana
United States and Cuban flags in the streets of Havana

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 15 August 2016 – The baby cries in her cradle while her mother sings to console her. Barely three months old, her name is Michelle, like Barack Obama’s wife. This little Havanan who still nurses and sleeps most of the day, came into the world after the armistice: she is a daughter of the truce between the governments of Cuba and the United States. A creature without ideological phobias or hatred on her horizon.

In the history books that Michelle and her contemporaries will read, these months after 17 December 2014 – “17-D” as Cubans have dubbed it – will remain in a few lines. In these retrospective summaries there will be optimistic tones, as if the whole island, stranded for decades on the side of the road, had set out anew from this moment, putting pedal to the metal and making up for lost time. But, for many, living through the reconciliation is less historic and grandiloquent than was playing a starring role in a battle. Continue reading “Cuba’s Landscape After the Thaw / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez”

A process that, one day, analysts will compare with the fall of the Berlin Wall and perhaps define with high-sounding names like the end of the sugar curtain, the death of the Revolution or the moment when peace broke out, is losing brightness now, faced with the daily exhaustion. Indeed, the truce quieted the noise of the slogans and has allowed us to hear the persistent hum of the shortages and the lack of freedom.

The day when the presidents of Cuba and the United States announced the beginning of the normalization of relations has been left somewhere in the past. It will be a reference for historians and analysts, but it means little to those who are facing a whether decision to spend the rest of their lives waiting for “this to be fixed” or to choose to escape to any other corner of the world.

17-D has increased apprehensions about the end of the Cuban Adjustment Act. The number of Cubans who, since then, have crossed the United States border has shot up, with 84,468 arriving by land or air while another 10,248 have tried to cross the sea. The popular ironic phrase of the latter for leaving the island –“turning off El Morro,” a reference to Havana’s iconic lighthouse at the entrance to the bay – dramatically foreshadows those numbers.

Why not stay in the country if the thaw promises a better life or at least a more fluid and profitable relationship with the United States? Because 17-D arrived too late for many, including several generations of who had to face off against our neighbor to the north, shouting anti-imperialist slogans for most of their lives and abetting the commander-in-chief in his personal battle against the White House. They don’t trust promises, because they have seen many positive prognostications that survived only on paper and in the mystique of a speech, lacking any impact on their dinner tables or their wallets.

After a prolonged skirmish lasting over half a century and eleven US administrations and two Cuban presidents with the same surname, the nation is exhausted. The adrenaline of the battle has given way to dreariness and a question that finds it way into the minds of millions of Cubans: Was it all for this?

It is difficult to convince people that the confiscations of US companies, the diplomatic insults, becoming the Soviet Union’s concubine, and the many caricatures ridiculing Nixon, Carter, Reagan and Bush were all worth it, even with all the official propaganda that controls every one of the county’s newspapers, radio stations and TV channels.

The American flag raised at the US Embassy in Havana just one year ago, on 14 August 2015, put a final end to an era of trenches and to the eternal soldier: the Cuban government with its still hot Kalashnikov and a marked inability to live in peace. It is prepared for confrontation but its ineffectiveness is clearly evident in times of armistice. In his convalescent retirement, Fidel Castro noted how the country he molded in his image and likeness was out of his hands. The man who controlled every detail of Cubans’ lives cannot influence how he will be remembered. Some rush to deify him; others sharpen their arguments to dismantle his myth; while the great majority simply forget he’s alive: he is buried while still breathing.

Children born since 31 July 2006, when the illness of the “Maximum Leader” was announced, have only seen the president in photos and archival materials. They are the ones who don’t have to declaim incendiary versus before him in some patriotic act, nor be a part of the social experiments that emerged from the gray matter under his olive-green cap. They live in the post-Fidel era, which does not mean they are entirely freed from his influence.

For decades to come, the schism created by the authoritarian leadership of this son of Galicia, born in the eastern town of Birán, will divide Cubans and even families. The aftermath of this tension that has infiltrated the national identity, otherwise lighthearted, will last for a long time. There will be a before-and-after Castro for the followers of the creed of political obstinacy he cultivated, but also for those who will breathe a sigh of relief when he is no longer.

The Maximum Leader’s 90th birthday, celebrated this August 13 with cheers and a good dose of personality cult, has all the earmarks of being his farewell. Now his closest family members should be exploring the calendar to select a date to announce his funeral, because such a huge death won’t fit just any date. They will have to pick a day that is not associated with the memory of some offensive in which he participated, a project that he opened, or some lengthy speech that hypnotized his audience.

There will be no need, in any case, to disconnect the machines or to stop administering medications. To say the final goodbye, it will be enough to give him his measure as a human being. Forget all those epithets that extolled him as “father of all Cubans,” “visionary,” or “promoter of medicine” on the island, along with “model journalist,” initiator of the “water-saving policy”, “eternal guerrilla,” “master builder,” and a long list of other grandiloquent titles that have been repeated in the days before his birthday.

Fidel Castro and Michelle, the little baby born after the visit of Barack Obama to the island, will be together in the history books. He will remain trapped in the volume dedicated to the twentieth century, although he has made every effort to put his name on each page dedicated to this nation. She will star, along with millions of other Cubans, in a chapter without bloody diplomatic battles or sterile confrontations.

****

Editor ‘s Note: This text was published on Monday 15 August 2016 in the Spanish newspaper El País .

Recipe For Forgetting Fidel Castro / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

Former president Fidel Castro with a “Queen” brand pressure cooker, made in China. (EFE)
Former president Fidel Castro with a “Queen” brand pressure cooker, made in China. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Generation Y, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 13 August 2016 – Turn on the radio and the announcer reads a brief headline: “Fidel Castro, The Great Builder.” The man goes on to explain that the most important works of the country have come from this head that for decades has been covered by an olive-green cap. Weary of so much personality cult, I decided to watch television, but on the main channel a lawyer was detailing the legal legacy of the Maximum Leader and at the end of the program they announced a documentary about “The Invincible Guerrilla.”

For weeks, we Cubans have lived under a veritable bombardment of references to Fidel Castro, which has increased in proportion to the closeness of the date of his 90th birthday, this 13 August. There is no shame nor nuance in this avalanche of images and epithets. Continue reading “Recipe For Forgetting Fidel Castro / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez”

This whole excess of tributes and reminders is, undoubtedly, a desperate attempt to save the former Cuban president from oblivion, to pull him out of that zone of media abandonment in which he has fallen since announcing his departure from power a decade ago.

We have left the man born in the eastern town of Biran, in 1926, in the past, condemning him to the 20th century, burying him alive.

Children now in elementary school have never seen the once loquacious orator speak for hours at a public event. Farmers have breathed a sigh of relief on not having to receive constant recommendations from the “Farmer in Chief” and even housewives are thankful that he does not appear at a congress of the Federation of Cuban Women to teach them how to use a pressure cooker.

The official propaganda knows that people often appeal to short-term memory as a way of protecting themselves. For many young people, Fidel Castro is already as remote as, for my mother in her day, was the dictator Gerardo Machado, a man who so adversely marked the life of my grandmother’s generation.

Followers of the figure of Fidel Castro are taking advantage of the celebrations for his nine decades of life to try to erect a statue of immortality in the heart of the nation. They deify him, forgive him his systematic errors and convert him into the most visible head of a creed. The new religion takes as its premises stubbornness, intolerance for differences, and a visceral hatred – almost like a personal battle – against the United States.

The detractors of “Él,” as many Cubans simply call him, are preparing the arguments to dismantle his myth. They await the moment when the history books no longer equate him with José Martí, but offer a stark, cold and objective analysis of his career. They are the ones who dream of the post-Castro era, of the end of Fidelismo and of the diatribe that will fall on his controversial figure.

Most, however, simply turn the page and shrug their shoulders in a sign of disgust when they hear his name. They are the ones who, right now, turn off the TV and focus on a daily existence that negates every word Fidel Castro ever said in his incendiary speeches, in those times when he planned to build a Utopia and turn us into New Men.

Tired of his omnipresence, they are the ones who will deal the final blow to the myth. And they will do it without hullabaloo or heroic acts. They will simply stop talking to their children about him, there will be no photos in the rooms of their homes showing him with a rifle and epaulettes, they will not confer on their grandchildren the five letters of his name.

The celebration for the 90th birthday of Fidel Castro is, in reality, his farewell: as excessive and exhausting as was his political life.

********

Editor’s note: This text was published Saturday August 13, 2016 in the newspaper O Globo of Brazil

The Special Period: The Return Of The Cuban Middle Ages / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

 Cubans try to repair an "almendrón" (old American car) in Havana. (SN)
Cubans try to repair an “almendrón” (old American car) in Havana. (SN)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 6 August 2016 — She split the plate into two meager rations. “Mommy, you’re not going to eat?” asked one of the daughters voraciously swallowing the mashed banana without oil, free of protein and with hardly any salt. The image of this skimpy dinner in the summer of 1993 is recalled by Maria Luisa, 59, a Havanan who now fears the return of the hardest moments of the Special Period. Like her, many Cuban families are alarmed by the worsening economic crisis.

Announcements during the last session of the National Assembly about the island’s liquidity problems, amid the falling prices of nickel and oil, have only confirmed what has been palpable on the street for months. The reductions in annual growth forecasts from an initial 2% in GDP to a more realistic 1%, is one of many signs of the worsening living conditions of Cubans. Continue reading “The Special Period: The Return Of The Cuban Middle Ages / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez”

For much of the island, Venezuela’s collapse is much more significant than the flutter of a butterfly’s wings and its effects could be a true economic tsunami. A scenario that could aggravate the migration crisis in a nation where few are willing to relive the deprivations of the 1990s.

The return of those rigors would be perceived like the reopening of a still painful wound. Once again, the languid faces whose features display hunger. The smell of sweat and grime that fills the air in the absence of hygiene products. People launching themselves en masse on the sea. The images when that period is evoked are like slides passing over and over again before the eyes.

There is no worse nightmare for a nation than to perceive that the past it is trying to distance itself from is returning in an endless loop. But the difference from that first period of misery, is that a new edition is not finding the same naiveté in its protagonists. Cubans know very well what is coming: it is called despair.

Official sources themselves warn of the possibility that the population will not react with the same complacency to the turn of the screw. Karina Marrón, deputy director of the newspaper Granma, the official organ of the Communist Party of Cuba, predicts that “a perfect storm is forming” on the island, due to the reduction in the supply of fuel to the state sector, the increasing blackouts, and the food shortages. Others also predict a situation that could lead to episodes of popular protests like the Maleconazo of August 1994.

Unlike then, the pressure cannot be released by decriminalizing the dollar, opening agricultural markets, or authorizing self-employment.

The most likely outcome is that increasing scarcities will increase the number of people emigrating. The repetition of a drama creates in the minds of those who have lived it the feeling that it will go on forever, without any possibility of changing it or influencing its ends. The looming economic collapse, whose real scope can barely be imagined, could be the shot that sets off the great stampede.

To convince the youngest to stay here and face it is harder every day. For many of them, who grew up practically without toys after the implosion of the Soviet Union and in a society divided by the dual currency system and with a generation in power that is exhibiting a threatening longevity, there is no argument strong enough to make them endure in their own land the effects of a profound economic crisis.

However, the Special Period, a Cuban Middle Ages, a dark age of despair and hunger, never ended. Its worst symptoms have only been appeased with the subsidy coming from Caracas. Cubans have remained in a “survival mode” all this time and the misery has shaped their character, determined their physical abilities and left an irreversible injury on their minds.

Although some, in the last two decades, have managed to work for themselves, benefit from remittances from family abroad, or open thriving businesses filled with the foreigners now flooding the island, Cubans have not lost the feeling of insecurity, the shock of store shelves that can be emptied in a second, and the dread of the so-called Zero Option—a fallback plan devised in the depths of the Special Period to feed the people of each block from a single collective pot.

Maria Luisa’s daughters are already mothers in their turn. They know that if the financial meltdown in the country continues to worsen, they will have to choose between carrying their children on their backs through the Central American jungles or once again lying, telling them: “Eat, eat all your mashed banana, I’m not hungry.”

___________

This text was previously published in El Nuevo Herald

Erdogan Unmasked / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

Recep Tayyip Erdogan became president of Turkey in 2014 after eleven years as prime minister. (DC)
Recep Tayyip Erdogan became president of Turkey in 2014 after eleven years as prime minister. (DC)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 22 July 2016 — Recep Tayyip Erdogan has taken off the mask and let us witness the spectacle of his contorted and autocratic face. Last week’s failed coup d’etat has allowed him to unleash political persecution in Turkey. Now he rails against his opponents, decrees a state of emergency and suspends the European Convention on Human Rights. The sultan is out of control.

We are witnessing the moment when the serpent emerges from the egg, but we knew long ago it was incubating, its heart beating beneath the shell of an elected president. From playing at blackmailing the European Union with the refugee crisis and embracing other caudillos enthroned in power, in the style of Raul Castro, the red warning lights have been flashing all around Erdogan. Continue reading “Erdogan Unmasked / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez”

He just needed a justification. All he lacked was an argument with sufficient nationalist weight and the breath of a defensive gesture to show his true self. Now we contemplate the pure despot, without sweeteners. He no longer wants to pretend that he governs in a state of law. It suits his purpose that only one man is in charge of the situation.

With this turn of the authoritarian screw, the president of Turkey has betrayed those who elected him through the ballot box and the thousands of citizens who, just a few days ago, took to the streets to preserve the democratic order. None of them deserve this autocratic slap in the face.

Erdogan has ended up being worse than any coup, because he has broken the agreement. He used the attack on his person to arrest about 7,000 soldiers, accusing them of being linked to the coup attempt, and even publicly flirted with the idea of applying the death penalty, a punishment that is currently no longer in force in Turkey and that would prevent his country from becoming a part of the European Union.

The long arm of this unscrupulous authoritarian didn’t stop there, he has suspended 21,000 teachers from their jobs in private educational institutions. He has prohibited officials from traveling abroad and has withdrawn the broadcast licenses of 24 stations. A decision he justifies under the framework of an investigation to find the alleged collaborators and those involved in the failed coup.

Erdogan has taken advantage of the circumstances to request the extradition of Fethullah Gülen, an Islamic preacher exiled in the United States whom he holds responsible for all his ills, including the recent coup attempt.

Meanwhile, official spokesmen say that the state of emergency would only last 40 or 45 days and not three months as initially announced by the president. They promise that the current situation is not synonymous with martial law and that citizens will not be affected. They even assure that parliament will continue to function, but the Turkey that tried to maintain its chequered democratic journey has been broken.

Erdogan plans to dismantle all the plurality that the transcontinental nation has achieved and reduce the opposition to a minimum. He wants Turkey only for himself: a country that he can manage as if it were the Ottoman Empire, as he has dreamed of his whole life.

Guilty! / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

This summer, taxi drivers have become the government’s new public enemy. (14ymedio)
This summer, taxi drivers have become the government’s new public enemy. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 20 July 2106 – At the beginning of the year evil was incarnated in the intermediaries, who were blamed for the high food prices in the produce markets. At the end of 2013, the boogeymen were those who worked for themselves selling imported clothes and other merchandise. In February of this year the war against the pushcart vendors reached its height, and today the enemy drives a shared taxi, a person who in common parlance is called a “boatman.”

If there is anything that has characterized the Cuban system of the last 57 years it is its ability to find a scapegoat. When the agricultural plans are not met it is the fault of the drought, the indiscipline of the workers or the poor organization dictated by some low-ranking bureaucrat. If in times of heavy precipitation the water supply remains unstable in towns and cities it is because, “the rain is not falling where it should,” as was explained to us in recent statements by an official of the National Institute of Hydraulic Resources (INRH). Continue reading “Guilty! / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez”

Urban transport does not work well due to “vandalism” and because “the population doesn’t treat this equipment as it deserves,” they tell us. Meanwhile most road accidents are because of the “recklessness of the drivers,” and not because of the poor state of the roads and highways, the terrible signage or the inventive measures taken by drivers to keep their obsolete vehicles running.

The powers-that-be point their index fingers in all directions to accuse others, but never turn it back on themselves. From time to time, to display a certain tone of self-criticism, they come down on Communist Party members themselves, and accuse them of not voicing their opinions “in the right place and at the right time,” or they make some minister take the fall for the failed policies in the areas of public health, education or some other sector.

We citizens are the main culprits, according to what state television tells us, for the presence of the Aedes aegypti mosquito that, for years, has failed to yield to spraying or campaigns against it. Our homes are the “main foci” of the mosquito, they spit at us from the press, as if state and government entities were untainted redoubts of cleanliness and order.

Emigration is also among our sins, because we go in search of “siren songs” and let ourselves fall “into the hands of the coyotes,” declares the Castro regime’s discourse. In this script it is third parties who are always to blame; the migrants who protested in front of the Cuban embassy in Ecuador were ‘scoring points’ with the United States and some of them, once they are settled in our neighboring country to the north, will end up sending “illicit funds” to their relatives on the island to support a private business.

The easiest to find are the external enemies, like imperialism, “the criminal United States blockade,” the conspirators “from the Latin American right,” and even the “historic betrayal” of the old comrades of Eastern Europe. This scarecrow to install fear is accompanied by the demonized “counterrevolutionaries” in our own backyard, who are targeted by all the insults the rude government machinery has created over almost six decades.

If products are missing on market shelves, television reports accuse the “profiteers.” If a papaya has come to cost an entire day’s wages for a professional, it is “the fault of the unscrupulous” who want to “profit at the expense of the people,” or so they lecture us from the little screen. In this apportioning of blame we have all been placed in the center of the allegations.

Right now the government propaganda apparatus is taking on the drivers of shared taxis, but tomorrow it could be the proprietors of private restaurants, the teachers who offer private tutoring, or the water carriers who sell their precious commodity in neighborhoods where the pipes have run dry for weeks now.

There will always be an “evildoer,” an “irresponsible” or an “enemy” that keeps the system from working in all its great manual-guided humanity, its never demonstrated efficiency, or it supposed but still un-proven capacity to make Cubans happy.

But the strategy of blaming others, in waves and programmed installments, has a weak point. There comes a time when the culprits outnumber the accusers. There is a second in which, from this side, from the stigmatized, we agree with the rafters, the dissidents, the pushcart vendors, the self-employed, the taxi drivers, the ousted ministers and the vilified trinket sellers. At this point, where we have been for a long time now, we have every right to point our index fingers at the system that has condemned us to the perennial dock of the accused.

Cuba’s Journalists Missing in Action / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

Six members of the Cuban volleyball team have been detained in Finland without the press explaining what crime they are accused of. (Volleyball World League)
Six members of the Cuban volleyball team have been detained in Finland without the press explaining what crime they are accused of. (Volleyball World League)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Generation Y, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 7 July 2016 — My father came home with his head spinning. “What is the crime that several Cuban athletes in Finland are accused of?” He had only heard the official statement signed by the Cuban Volleyball Federation read on primetime news on Monday and published in the written press. The text did not clarify the imputed misdeed, so my father speculated: “Illegal sale of tobacco? Theft? Public scandal?”

The rape of a woman, for which the athletes are presumed responsible, was not mentioned in the statement, which constitutes an act of secrecy, concealment of the truth and disrespect for the audience. The official press acts as if we are small children with delicate ears to whom they cannot mention any gory details. Or worse still, as if we don’t deserve to know the seriousness of the accusations. Continue reading “Cuba’s Journalists Missing in Action / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez”

What happened, again makes clear the straitjacket that prevents information professionals from doing their jobs within the Communist Party-controlled media. This is something that many of them bear with pain and frustrations, while others—the most opportunistic—take advantage of the censorship to do work that is mediocre or convenient for the powers-that-be.

Why has no prominent Prensa Latina correspondent in Europe gone to Finland to report minute-by-minute on what is happening with the athletes from the island?

We suffer omissions of this type every day in the national media. These absences, now chronic, belie the winks that accompany Cuban first vice-president Miguel Diaz-Canel’s call for a journalism more attached to reality and without self-censorship. Where, now, is that official to urge the reporters to investigate and publish the details regarding the fate of the volleyball players?

It is very convenient to urge the journalists to be more daring and to take the time to guide them to be cautious or to remain silent. Such duplicity has been repeated so many times over the last five decades that it has inculcated in the collective imagination the idea that the press is synonymous with propaganda and with being an informer, a representative of the government.

The damage inflicted on Cuban journalism is profound and systematic. Repairing it will take time, a framework of respect for such an honorable profession and even the emergence of a generation of informers who are not marked by the “vices” of the current academy of Cuban journalism. These young people, without compromises with power, are the only hope left to us.

“It’s Very Possible That I Will Try Again,” Says Rafter Repatriated To Cuba / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

The failed rafter Walter Marrero Velazquez arrived in Las Tunas Monday. (Courtesy)
The failed rafter Walter Marrero Velazquez arrived in Las Tunas Monday. (Courtesy)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 6 July 2016 — Bearded, hungry and full of frustration, Walter Marrero Velazquez returned to the same island that saw him leave on a flimsy craft. On 20 May the group, consisting of 24 rafters, was intercepted by the US Coast Guard while clinging to the American Shoal lighthouse, eight miles off Sugarloaf Key in the Florida Keys. The case ended up with four of them deported to Cuba and the other 20 taken to the US Naval Base at Guantanamo, to await further action.

Marrero Velaquez arrived in Puerto Padre, Las Tunas on Monday and only now is seeing the information about “the lighthouse rafters” published in the international press and by independent reporters. A few hours ago he learned about the emergency appeal presented by five attorneys from the Democracy Movement and its rejection by Judge Darrin P. Gayles, whose decision opened the way for them to be deported. Continue reading ““It’s Very Possible That I Will Try Again,” Says Rafter Repatriated To Cuba / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez”

The rafter remembers each one of the 42 days he spent in the custody of American authorities. “At first we were in a smaller boat, but then they put us in at least three larger ships, known as ‘cutters’ or ‘mother ships,” he told 14ymedio by phone.

The repatriation occurred on 30 June, with the first stop in Havana, and on the 4th of July, American Independence Day, the rafter was taken to Las Tunas, where lack of fuel meant that the police could only transfer him to Puerto Padre hours later. Others of those repatriated were returned to the same province, while two of them reside in Havana.

In the Cuban capital, immigration authorities and the police asked them some questions about the origin of the fragile craft’s engine. “They wanted to get information out of us,” said the rafter, who had to sign his statement but didn’t receive a “warning letter.” In the interrogations they never suggested to him not to repeat the illegal departure from the country.

While on the “mother ship,” Marrero Velaquez came to count 160 Cubans intercepted at sea who were returned to the island. “The amount of food they gave us was very small, like enough for a six-month-old baby,” he complained. “I lost 15 pounds during the days I spent there,” he said.

The young man, 20, said that when they protested the meager ration they were pushed and handcuffed. The hullabaloo raised by the group was not expected in such cases, but it did little good, he recalls. Situations like that led them to write a collective letter which they threw into the sea in a bottle, like desperate castaways.

“We have spent 37 days sleeping on the floor, the food is for dogs, they mistreat us to the point of violence and we have companions who are sick in the head, it is hell,” explained the two-page missive written by hand. The bottle was fund by a fisherman who didn’t even speak Spanish and who gave it to the authorities. Held incommunicado, without the ability to contact attorneys, that letter was the only chance the rafters had to tell about what they were experiencing.

The SOS message managed to get the case re-heard, and gave them the chance to travel to the Guantanamo Naval Base, an area administered by the United States in eastern Cuba. But the young man from Las Tunas preferred not to take advantage of that opportunity.

“In the interview we had with the consul, one by one, the paper they made us sign said that, if we went to Guantanamo as refugees, then we would end up in a third country.” The rafter said that they made it clear that with this option they would lose the right to enter the United States. “I decided to come to Cuba because it is very possible to try again,” he says with determination.

Cuba’s Port of Mariel Lags Behind Panama Canal Expansion / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

The Mariel Special Development Zone in Cuba (Amelia)
The Mariel Special Development Zone in Cuba (Amelia)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 25 June 2016 — “We want to be on the front pages of newspapers” claimed a taxi driver in the middle of heavy traffic on a Panamanian street after being asked about the leaked documents from the firm Mossacl Fonseca. A few weeks after that conversation, the media focused again on that country this Sunday, but this time for the opening of the new Panama Canal locks.

Between the cacophony of the official celebrations and the criticisms provoked by the megaproject, one thing is missing from the news reports: the supposed beneficiary of such improvements – Cuba’s Port of Mariel. A cloak of silence surrounds the details of its current conditions, or lack of conditions, to serve as a stopover for ships that will pass through the new facilities and can carry up to 13,000 20-foot-equivalent-unit (TEUs) containers each. Continue reading “Cuba’s Port of Mariel Lags Behind Panama Canal Expansion / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez”

When the Cosco shipping company’s vessel Andronikos, from China, with a capacity of 9,400 containers passes from the Atlantic to the Pacific through the new facilities today, it will awaken the competition between the region’s ports to win the largest numbers of vessels using the canal.

In April of 2015, one of those responsible for the development of the Cuban port facility some 28 miles from Havana, said that the government aspired to convert the container terminal at the Port of Mariel into a “better choice” for transshipments in the region, once the Panama canal expansion opened.

A projection also confirmed recently by Alicia Barcena, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), said that the port will be “a major logistics hub and regional transfer” and stressed “the huge advances in the Mariel Special Development Zone (ZDEM) and its port terminal.”

However, the flagship project of Raul Castro’s government, intended to boost the national economy, generate exports and attract investment, is not ready at the precise moment when it might tap the huge flow of cargo through the improved Panama locks. Several sources consulted suggest that the the main cause for the delay is the poor dredging of Mariel Bay.

With 4,268 workers, including 454 technicians and 221 engineers, the Port of Mariel has not taken advantage of the nine-year duration of the work on the Panama Canal, including the fact that that project is more than 24 months late in relation to its initial schedule. A reality that belies Cuba’s official forecasts that placed the beginning of 2016 as the date for the opening of its terminal for Post-Panamax containers.

However, Miami-Dade County has done its work. Last year that port city served the highest number of containers in ten years, and has been preparing to welcome the large freighters that transit through the new locks. Officials there hope that port will become the first stop in the southeastern region of the United States, before the boats file through Panama.

The works in Miami have been mentioned over the past few days by the international media, linking them closely to the Panama Canal. Improvements in the port facilities include new railroad service, plus a tunnel connecting the port with the interstate highway system. While in Cuba, tons of rice and fertilizer have remain stuck in the Bay of Havana in recent weeks, in the absence of freight cars to transport them.

Significantly, the issue of the Port of Mariel has a diminished presence in the official Cuban media and the few reports that are transmitted avoid specifying the current volumes of activity. No ZDEM specialist or authority has explained to the national press how the country will take advantage of the opportunities opening from today, while Panamanians celebrate the inauguration of the work of the century.

Instead of information, we get only silence and rumors. The dark wall of secrecy installed around the Port of Mariel separates the official megaprojects from reality.

Latin America in the Mirror of ‘Brexit’ / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

A demonstration against the costs of the Mercosur Summit in 2014. (Digital Analysis)
A demonstration against the costs of the Mercosur Summit in 2014. (Digital Analysis)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 22 June 2016 — Rupture can only be possible if there was once an agreement, a relationship or love. In the eyes of Latin America, Brexit seems like the story of a mature friend embroiled in the bitter litigation of a divorce, provoking a certain envy in those who have never managed to mate. In this world, while some arrange their departure from an alliance, others yearn for the marriage of an agreement.

When the British vote this Thursday on a referendum to decide whether the United Kingdom will remain in or leave the European Union, the major impact of in Latin America should be a reflection on unitary structures, their reason for being and their fragility. On a continent where, in recent years, there have been innumerable groups, alliances and regional councils, each one more ineffective than the last, comparisons are inevitable. Continue reading “Latin America in the Mirror of ‘Brexit’ / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez”

The dozens of entities and coalitions, whose initials, logos and premises surround us everywhere in Latin America, pompously hold inaugural summits with family photos filled with heads of state, but in practice and in real life they are of very little use. Latin America has not even achieved full freedom of movement for its citizens within its own borders, a theme that takes on a seriousness in the face of the strict requirements Cubans need to meet to visit neighboring countries.

The history of the political community called the European Union, even if one of its parties chooses to leave this week, is that of the hard road of conciliation, the journey of dialog with all its obstacles and its search for points in common. Why haven’t Latin Americans extended an embrace in our area to create a legal framework that facilitates easier migration, investment and exchanges for our inhabitants?

Few areas on this planet show so many linguistic, cultural and historical similarities as that found between the Rio Grande and Patagonia. These similarities make the fragmentation exhibited in so many regulations increasingly incomprehensible, in an area where many governments have chosen to join in their “little groups” based more on ideological affinities than on their responsibilities to their peoples.

The reason for so much disunity – contrary to the common points of our identity that work to bind us together – are a sign of the egotism of the executives and the shortsightedness of the foreign ministries.

The Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), created to emulate the Organization of American States (OAS) while leaving out the “uncomfortable” United States and Canada, does not advance beyond symbolic statements. At its last meeting in Ecuador, held in January, its most “concrete” achievement was to express support for the states participating in the Colombia peace process and to congratulate the government of Juan Manuel Santos. After long organization and with the concurrence of the delegates from the 33 member countries, the intergovernmental organization didn’t move beyond paraphernalia to results and was incapable of taking on and proposing solutions to the great challenges of the continent.

Even worse has been the outcome of the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA), inflated by the temperament of a populist politician who thought he could redesign his country and go on to define the contours of the map of Latin America. With the death of former Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez, this regional entity, defined by ideological exclusion and political commitment in exchange for oil, is like a pricked balloon: it has deflated.

Even the Central American Integration System (SICA) demonstrated its ineffectiveness during the Cuban migrant crisis which, in late 2015, raised the political temperature on the border between Costa Rica and Nicaragua. Tension over the unilateral decision of Daniel Ortega to close his border to Cubans caused Costa Rican President Luis Guillermo Solis to declare that “Costa Rica can not participate in these conditions in an Integration System that ignores solidarity.”

Mercosur, the alliance the has come closest to achieving the free movement of goods and services between its member states, is also faltering because it became too incestuous and too dependent on Brazil’s Planalto Palace, from which President Dilma Rousseff, one of its principal supporters, has departed as of a few weeks ago, in the midst of process in which she is accused of trying to disguise the country’s budget deficit.

Amid the rubble of so many failed organisms and so many acronyms condemned to the dustbin of history, the Pacific Alliance, comprising Chile, Mexico, Peru and Colombia, has chosen to “make it on their own” in a region where agreements are here today and gone tomorrow and organized groups bear more resemblance to gangs than to functional entities.

This Thursday, when the British decide to leave or remain in the European Union, at least they will have known the taste of coexistence, the bittersweet contrast that defines every marriage. We in Latin America remain chronically single, looking enviously toward the altar.