What remains after the tragedy / Yoani Sanchez

The location in the Alps where the remains of the Germanwing plane are strewn (Ministry of the Interior)

The location in the Alps where the remains of the Germanwing plane are strewn (Ministry of the Interior)

Generation Y, Yoani Sanchez, 30 March 2015 — There are clothes scattered across the mountains, open suitcases, children’s dolls that will never be played with again. Things that belonged to people who until recently were alive and of whom barely a memory is left, a trail of goods that will be sorted and conveyed to the families of the victims. The tragedy of Germanwings A320, crashed in the French Alps, makes me reflect, like many others, on the brief second that separates us from death. A suicidal leader, a madman at the helm, a war unleashed by others … a thousand and one ways to die that life brings us.

One evening in 1985 my family sat around the set table, waiting for Grandma. She never came, because two drunks in the middle of a brawl fatally wounded her in a nearby café. Her plate remained on the table. Cold, alone, with the spoon to its side and a glass of water making a wet round mark on the wood. Continue reading

Polarization and civil society / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

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14ymedio bigger 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 26 March 2015 – The family of Yamila, age 41, is a sample of Cuban society. The father is a member of the Communist Party, the mother a Catholic who never embraced the Revolutionary Process, there is a brother in Miami and she herself is working for a joint venture where she earns convertible pesos. When they sit down to eat, they discuss the high price of food, the low salaries, how boring the telenovela is, or how late the remittances from the emigrants are this month.

For decades the ideological fire has stirred no passions in Yamila’s living room. The father is increasingly tempered in his political views; the mother prays, while buying in the illegal market; the relative who lives on the other shore and comes every now and then on vacation is an obliging forty-something who saves every cent to bring them a flat screen TV. These are the daily problems that concern them and hold them together. The struggle to survive makes them set aside any differences.

This microcosm of the Cuban family today has a lot to teach those who, from polarized positions, try to say what civil society is and isn’t, Continue reading

The Day Peace Broke Out / Yoani Sanchez

Generation Y*, Yoani Sanchez, 25 March 2015 – “Peace broke out!” the old teacher was heard to say, on the day that Barack Obama and Raul Castro reported the reestablishment of relations between Cuba and the United States. The phrase captured the symbolism of a moment that had all the connotations of an armistice reached after a long war.

Three months after that December 17th, the soldiers of the finished contest don’t know whether to lay down their arms, offer them to the enemy, or reproach the Government for so many decades of a useless conflagration. Everyone experiences the ceasefire in his or her own way, but the indelible timestamp is already established in the history of the Island. Children born in recent weeks will study the conflict with our neighbor to the north in textbooks, not experience it every day as the center of ideological propaganda. That is a big difference. Even the stars-and-stripes flag has been flying over Havana lately, without the Revolutionary fire that made it burn on the pyre of some anti-imperialist act.

For millions of people in the world, this is a chapter that puts an end to the last vestige of the Cold War, but for Cubans it is a question still unresolved. Reality moves more slowly than the headlines triggered by an agreement between David and Goliath, because the effects of the new diplomatic mood have not yet been noticed on our plates, in our wallets, nor in the expansion of civil liberties. Continue reading

A Robinson Crusoe-like Singularity / Yoani Sanchez

An illustration of Robinson Crusoe.

An illustration of Robinson Crusoe.

Generation Y, Yoani Sanchez, 23 March 2015 — A young Panamanian told me in detail about the two weeks he spent in Havana, the new family that welcomed him here, and his surprise at a coastal city with almost no boats. His story resembled those of many who arrive on the Island for the first time, ranging from amazement to happiness, passing through tears.

However, his most astonishing conclusion was that that, thanks to the country’s disconnection, he had been able to live that long without Internet. Fifteen days without sending an email, reading a tweet, or worrying about a “like” on Facebook. On returning to his own country, he felt as if he’d been at a technology rehab clinic. Continue reading

Hello? Hello? / Yoani Sanchez

Public telephones in Cuba (Silvia Corbelle)

Public telephones in Cuba (Silvia Corbelle)

Generation Y, Yoani Sanchez, 13 March 2015 – She dialed the number and waited. Nothing, not a ring, not even a busy signal. She tried again and then got a woman’s voice telling her to wait on the line. After several minutes she realized it was a scam, but she’d already lost half the value of her prepaid card. Finally, she was able to connect, but her mother’s voice sounded as if she was speaking under water and she was barely able to say she was fine and that she missed her. The line was cut and her call to Cuba ended.

Among the many dramas that play out because of emigration, in the case of Cuba we have to add the complications of communicating with Island. We have the most expensive rates in the world for those who want Continue reading

By Secret and Direct Ballot / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

Ballot for Election of the Municipal Assemblies of People's Power (Photo: Yoani Sánchez)

Ballot for Election of the Municipal Assemblies of People’s Power (Photo: Yoani Sánchez)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Panama, 7 March 2015 — A few years ago I asked a friend why he had voted for a candidate he barely knew during the election of delegates to the municipal assemblies. His response at the time was simple and full of wisdom. “I don’t want to get into trouble, it’s not that the ballots are marked,” he warned me slyly. With my face showing how embarrassed I was for him, he immediately declared, “Fine, in the end, voting or not voting, it isn’t going to change anything.”

My friend’s comments highlighted two of the most serious limitations of the current mechanisms for electing the people’s representatives. On the one hand, the little confidence that Cuban voters have in the secrecy of the process, and on the other hand, the inability of the candidates elected to influence the direction of the nation. Two of the aspects most mentioned Continue reading

Maduro Does Not Know How to Govern / Yoani Sanchez

Nicolas Maduro

Nicolas Maduro

Generation Y, Yoani Sanchez, 20 February 2015 — I never thought I’d get to say this, but Venezuela is worse than Cuba. It is true that the South American country has not surpassed in number nor in intensity the shortages of basic products, the economic collapse, nor the police surveillance that we suffer; but Venezuela is worse than Cuba. Its seriousness reflects its repeating of the failed past that we Cubans are trying to escape.

In the case of both nations, the fiasco has been determined largely by improper and harmful leadership. Cuba, with a Fidel Castro who tried to mold the country in his image and likeness, taking on his marked tendency to authoritarianism, intolerance Continue reading

“It does not matter to return or not return” / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

Abilio Estevez

Abilio Estevez

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana-Barcelona, 17 February 2015 – During this year’s International Book Fair in Havana, Abilio Estevez’s novel, Los palacios distantes (Distant Palaces), was presented. Living in Barcelona for the last fifteen years, on this occasion the author brings us the story of Victorio, a character who shares his pains and passions.

A few hours after the launch of the book in the Alejo Carpentier room, the novelist with a degree in Hispanic Language and Literature responded by email to some questions for the readers of 14ymedio, from Barcelona’s Gothic Quarter where he lives and creates.

14ymedio: To those who still haven’t read Los palacios… and hope to get a copy at the Book Fair, what would you like to warn them about before they enter your pages?

Estevez: Nothing, I would not warn them. I think should have its own importance, and the author should pass as unnoticed as possible. Also, the book should always be a mystery to solve, an adventure Continue reading

The Independents of the Independents / Yoani Sanchez

ADSL cables

ADSL cables

Generation Y, Yoani Sanchez, 8 February 2015 — “Do not talk about politics or religion,” says the number one rule of the most extensive illegal data network in Havana. Those who join the network of routers and antennas that make up SNET accept such guidelines as a matter of survival. Plugging into the service allows them to form a part of a brotherhood that every member protects and keeps “low profile.” Despite such strict limitations, it’s worth experiencing this chance to connect ourselves to others, to use the internal chat service, and to experience the vertigo of being online… even though we know we are sadly offline. An illusion of Internet that is maintained as long as the WiFi receptor on our computers is lit up. Continue reading

“In Cuba we have learned our duties very well, but not our rights” / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Tania Bruguera

Tania Bruguera (14ymedio)

Tania Bruguera (14ymedio)

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14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 4 February 2015 – This coming February 22 Tania Bruguera should be in Madrid to present one of her works at the ARCO International Contemporary Art Fair, but she knows she isn’t going to make it. Trapped by Cuban justice since last December 30, when she was arrested during her performance #YoTambienExijo (I Too Demand), the artist remains in Havana hoping to resolve her legal situation. We talked with her about this, her artivism, and the future of Cuba.

Sanchéz. What is your current legal and immigration situation?

Bruguera. I am waiting for a prosecutor to reduce the charges against me. I have been advised by several attorneys, such as Laritza Diversent from Cubalex, and also René Gómez Manzano, from Corriente Agramontista [both independent legal groups]. They have told me that in this case there are at least three possible outcomes: one is the dismissal of the case, which could be temporary or permanent. Another is that they could impose an administrative measure, which carries a fine. The detail with this option is that I would have to recognize my guilt and accept the charges and accusations they’ve made against me, and I don’t think this variation is just. The third possibility is that it will be taken to trial Continue reading

What Will We Do With the Hope? / Yoani Sanchez

An "Esperanza" (Hope) grasshopper. (Silvia Corbelle)

An “Esperanza” (Hope) grasshopper. (Silvia Corbelle)

“Any frustration is the daughter of excessive expectations,” I shared my concern with the U.S. members of Congress who visited Cuba in January. The phrase was designed to stress the flow of illusions that has been let loose in the population since December 17. The announcement of the restoration of relations between Cuba and the United States has provoked a resurgence in this country of a feeling lost for decades: hope.

However, the expectations that have been created are so high and so difficult to meet in the short term that many may feel disappointed. There is no way that reality can satisfy such extravagant fantasies of change. The level of deterioration in Cuba needs enormous resources and urgent transformations Continue reading

The spy who never wanted to be one / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

The journalist Jose Antonio Torres.

The journalist Jose Antonio Torres.

  • The unusual story of ‘Granma’ journalist sentenced to 14 years in prison

14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Santiago de Cuba, 27 January 2015 — Just outside the building, a ditch carries sewage down the street. Several children jump from side to side of the stinking canal which later runs through Micro 7, a neighborhood in the José Martí district of Santiago de Cuba. For a few years now the neighbors have pointed to number 9 on one rough block and said, “That’s where the Granma newspaper journalist lives.” Today the family bears the stigma of a journalist who is in prison, where he is serving a sentence for espionage.

The steps are rough and uneven. At the top improvised bars cover the door to the house. I knocked for long minutes, but no one answered. Mayda Mercedes, José Antonio “Tony” Torres’s wife, only received me another day, with a certain tremor in her voice while looking up and down the street. There I managed, for the first time, to see the court ruling that twisted the fate of this man, as a bolero says, “like a weak tin rod.” Continue reading