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”

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”

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”

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”

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”

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”

“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”

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”

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”

We Were All At Pulse / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

Christopher Sanfeliz and Alejandro Barrios, show to death by Omar Mateen at the gay nightclub Pulse. (Facebook)
Christopher Sanfeliz and Alejandro Barrios, show to death by Omar Mateen at the gay nightclub Pulse. (Facebook)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Generation Y, 15 June 2016 – The news mourned on Sunday, a week that ripped apart and will forever mark the lives of the victims’ families. The Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida, became a death trap for dozens of people at the mercy of a madman. The motivations that led Omar Seddique Mateen to kill 49 human beings and injure another 53 are still being investigated, but solidarity does not need to wait for FBI reports or summations, it should be immediate and unhesitating.

The official Cuban press has treated the fact that the event took place in a gay establishment with omissions and squeamishness. The prudery on television and in the national periodicals, with this silence, only promotes homophobia and belies their own discourse of changes. This absence is also noted in the condolence message sent by Raul Castro to Barack Obama, where he called the locale of the tragedy “a nightclub.” Continue reading “We Were All At Pulse / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez”

Rain, A Justification for So Many Things / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

Two teenagers in the rain (14ymedio)
Two teenagers in the rain (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Generation Y, 10 June 2016 –“Why did you bring the girl if it is raining?” my friend’s daughter’s second grade teacher asked when she brought her child to school on Wednesday. Although the school year should continue, many elementary school teachers took advantage of the precipitation this week to hasten its end. The bureaucrats used the excuse of the bad weather to delay paperwork, while countless medical clinics opened late due to the weather. Continue reading “Rain, A Justification for So Many Things / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez”

Elena Burke, A Voice That Resonates In Our Memory / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Generation Y, 9 June 2016 — The woman had something. In addition to her deep voice and the passion she poured into the microphone, she had an attitude that fascinated us. When she appeared on the television screen my childish self-absorption was put on hold and I stopped running around and paid attention to her. There she was, “Lady Feeling,” the teenager who had debuted on CMQ radio, the girl who was born in the same year that the cieba tree was planted in Fraternity Park in Havana. I shut up and listened to her.

Temperament, emotion and an interpretation that went beyond good diction or memory were her hallmark. She lived each song. She was ready to fight over an infidelity, cry over a heartbreak, relish to the point of madness, or say goodbye like a woman waving her hand from threshold of any door. In the Cuban musical scene of the seventies and eighties, filled with fear and duplicity, Elena Burke was authentic, seeking neither to please nor to humor.

Others reaped the glories of the international media when that imposing and sincere lady was no longer with us, when the lady of filin had gone. But no Cuban singer has managed to improve on her interpretations of songs composed by José Antonio Méndez, Marta Valdés or César Portillo de la Luz, among the many other songwriters she gave voice to. Because with a microphone in hand and her physical volume she filled the entire screen; she was simply herself, unadorned, uncompromising, forthright.

Tiananmen Square, Shared Silence / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

Tiananmen Square in China was the scene of protests calling for more openness in 1989
Tiananmen Square in China was the scene of protests calling for more openness in 1989

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 4 June 2016 – Havana’s Plaza of the Revolution shows its loyalty to its friends in many ways. One of them is complicit silence. When the Tlateloico Massacre happened in 1968, Fidel Castro did not condemn it because his ally, the Institutional Revolutionary Party, ruled Mexico at the time. Something similar happened with the events in Tiananmen Square in China, still absent to this day in Cuba’s official press and discourse.

It has been 27 years since thousands of students demonstrating peacefully in Beijing to demand democratic reforms were forcibly evicted from the square. The turning point of these protests was on June 4, when the army cracked down violently to those gathered at the square, leaving hundreds dead and thousands injured. This coming October, the last known prisoner of those who were arrested during those riots, Miao Deshun, is expected to be released. Continue reading “Tiananmen Square, Shared Silence / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez”

The “Little Witches” Arrived / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

”Little witches” (known is rail lilies in English) in the 14ymedio newsroom. (14ymedio)
”Little witches” (known is rail lilies in English) in the 14ymedio newsroom. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 14ymedio – There are those who believe that the pages of newspapers only have space for tragedy, armed conflicts and diatribes against politicians. In a world where the newspapers prioritize the extraordinary and the TV screens are filled with crises or shipwrecks, the little things, the common moments, lose narrative space. However, a good part of our existence takes place among the everyday, in the middle of a cycle that repeats itself over and over, like the seasons and the flowerings.

In the 14ymedio newsroom, 130 feet above the ground and amid the informational hustle, these “little witches” have been born. Known as “rain lilies” in English, no one planted them in a flowerbed, but they have arrived in the earth of some other plant and bloomed this summer. They are fragile and fleeting, but their simple presence convinces us that life continues, despite the problems, the fears, and the stubbornness of the leaders.

With their herringbone stems and ephemeral petals, these “little witches” have wrested a smile from the work team that reports a reality where there are few reasons for joy. One afternoon, just after a very long power outage, they sprang into bloom, on the same day that the political police browbeat one of our provincial collaborators. But here are these “little witches,” to remind us that being journalists is also narrating the diminutive, describing the ordinary and supporting freedom, like a plant, that returns to bloom again.

Shameful Friends / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

Alexandr Lukashenko has been in power in Belarus since 1994. (CC)
Alexandr Lukashenko has been in power in Belarus since 1994. (CC)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Generation Y, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 25 May 2016 – People with whom we share sorrows and joys are a reflection of ourselves, however different they may appear. As friends we choose them to accompany us, but also to complete us, with the diversity and continuity that our human nature needs. The problem is when our choices of coexistence are not based on affinities and preferences, but on interests and alliances focused on annoying others.

In the same week, the Cuban executive has embraced two deplorable authoritarian regimes. A few hours after Cuban Vice President Miguel Diaz-Canel Bermudez met with government functionaries in Belarus, Havana’s Plaza of the Revolution hosted a meeting between Raul Castro and a special representative from North Korea’s Workers Party. Disgraceful comrades, shamelessly embraced and praised by the island’s officialdom.

In a world where civil society, calls for the respect for human rights, and movements that promote the recognition of rights are making themselves heard ever more loudly, it is difficult for the Cuban government to explain his good relations with Europe’s last dictator and with the cruelly capricious grandson who inherited power through his bloodline. What united the island’s authorities with similar political specimens?

The only possible answer is sticking their finger in the eye of Western democracies and the White House. The problem with this attitude lies in the demands from these fellow travelers for commitments and silences. Diplomatic friendship is converted into complicity and the comrades end up defining the nature of those who have chosen their company.