The Untouchables

Parody of the “cybercatfishers,” the ‘trolls’ who support the Cuban government. Text bubbles: ‘We are continuity*’ ‘Cuba saves’ ‘China new power’ (Observatorio Cubano de Conflictos)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Generation Y, Havana, 21 September 2020 – With a circus as the scene, with painted faces and shrill voices, some weighty official cartoons, until recently, represented several figures from the Cuban opposition and independent journalism. That was a time when internet access from the Island was so limited that social networks were crowded with profiles from State Security. Its presence has barely diminished, but now we are there too.

For more than a decade and with total impunity, the soldiers of the web denigrated activists, created false accounts to try to destroy the prestige of dissidents and launched a fierce fight against bloggers who were not under the control of the Plaza of the Revolution. Everything was allowed. They also launched a misogynistic attack that promoted an obvious threat against the family of the slandered or revealed intimate details to make them more vulnerable.

I don’t recall from those years, between 2007 and the beginning of 2019, that those of us attacked could engage in any type of legal process to clean our reputation or to uncover those who launched these defamations, but I do have a memory that most of the time such vileness only made us smile, accustomed as we are to the system’s propaganda machine. At the end of the day, even as negative as they were, those public attacks were excellent free publicity to publicize our work within and outside national borders. Nothing is more attractive than the prohibited. continue reading

Now, and since the arrival of internet access on mobile phones, we residents of the Island have been able to get closer — despite censorship and high prices — to a much more vast informational scene; we have been able to publish our complaints more immediately and we have not lacked humor as a tool for political criticism that emerges from Cuba or from the exile community. Dozens of parody accounts of Cuban officials have appeared and the overreaction has not been long in coming.

Where we smile at those furious attacks orchestrated by the institutions themselves, those ridiculed today rage and point to a campaign “from the empire” that tries to “destroy the image” of public officials. Their skin is as thin as the outer layer of those onions that for months now have disappeared from national markets. Faced with any questioning, meme or joke against them, they launch their cyber-combatants and cry out for international solidarity to confront the “harassment on the networks.”

They conveniently forget that it was they who incubated and gave life to the unstoppable Cuban monster of the execution of reputation through the internet. A creature that has now ended up digging its teeth into their own jugular.

*The following is an excerpt from the Cuban government website Somos Continuidad (We are Continuity): [This phrase] is not an empty hashtag. In it is the essence of a renewed government that stands on the blood of its heroes…

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The Grouchy State and the Fault of the Citizens

There is no room for self-criticism or any recognition of the scenarios conducive to Covid-19, such as long lines and shortages. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sánchez, Generation Y, Havana, 9 September 2020 — I turn on the TV. It has been a difficult day. Several neighbors, employees of the Cuban Institute of Radio and Television, are in quarantine due to the coronavirus outbreak in that institution, while a near death triggers questions. But on the screen I find no rest. The first minutes of the newscast sound like a scolding: those responsible are the citizens, our indiscipline is what has let the situation get out of control and the finger looking for a culprit is directed at us.

Authoritarian regimes are recognized not only for repression and excessive control, but also by the ways they speak to society. Imbued with the pretense of being our parents, Cuban officials do not let a moment go by without treating us as wayward children, children who, with our negligence, have caused the current rebound of Covid-19 in various areas of the country. It has been our folly, one infers from their speech, that has caused the current situation. Even the dead are reprimanded, a posteriori, in the official media.

In this oratory of scolding there is no room for self-criticism of the mistakes made by the authorities or recognition of any of the scenarios that lead to Covid-19, such as long lines, shortages and the economic crisis that was already breathing down our necks long before that the detection of the first positive case of the virus in the country. In this policy of reprimand there is only one offender and it is the individual who has not followed the ‘guidelines’The adverse context in which we move is erased at a stroke and some ill-advised decisions taken from above are also multiplied by zero. continue reading

Under the logic of the punishing father, the rulers have no responsibility whatsoever for the late closing of the borders or for the calls to international tourists to visit the Island – promised to them as a safe destination – when countless nations had already shut down tight as a drum. The delay in suspending classes, the delay in reducing the official acts of flag waving, the ideological harangues and the false step of decreeing an opening in a city that was obviously not prepared for it, “they” are not to blame for that either.

Now we must listen to them add to the harsh reality that we are experiencing an avalanche of reprimands, ear boxing and media kickings. A public discourse lacking any empathy with a very injured population, one that evokes mastiffs barking at an injured prey rather than what should be the statements of public servants who look after our well-being. With that kind of accusatory harangue, they are only adding uncertainty and discomfort to what is already a tense daily life, in addition to showing very little sensitivity to the pain of those who have lost a loved one.

After ten minutes of scolding I turn off the television. The virus of authoritarianism is also very dangerous.

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Proust’s Madeleines and Artemisa’s Cheese

Photos from a police raid on The Cheese King of Artemesia. (Screen capture)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Generation Y, Havana, 31 August 2020 – We all have a mouthful that is the best we have ever eaten, a moment when all the taste buds explode with joy and leave an indelible mark on our memory. Mine was in Juchitán de Zaragoza, on the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, in Mexico. He was a small farmer who buried his arms in a white mass in a ramshackle barn, and I was a Cuban eager to try any dairy product.

With his hands he pulled out a piece of fresh cheese and offered it to me. The flies were hovering around, a couple of skinny dogs were eyeing me, and that white morsel was in front of my eyes and within reach of my nose. In a millisecond I took it and put it in my mouth. Since then, I have not felt anything so intense on my palate. Memory is also carved through taste (ask Marcel Proust) but a taste can trigger both memory and sadness.

Sadness, because in my country it would be impossible to repeat the image of that farmer proudly extending to me his piece of cheese. Sadness because a private producer would have to violate the law ten times every day on this island to achieve a product that impacts plates and memories. Sadness because a State has taken over the beef and dairy sector and left it with dry udders and empty mangers.

In other circumstances, the farmer from Artemisa, whom television presented a few days ago as a criminal, would be given a medal, promoted in his endeavor and had the formulas copied, by which — despite so many restrictions — he managed to make cheese in a country of starving cows and draconian laws. Just seeing the images of the police operation, my mouth began to salivate, as it did one day in a dark Mexican cowshed.

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Overcome By Reality

A line this Monday at the doors of a bank in Havana (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 17 August 2020 — The failure of the tests for the arrival of internet on mobile phones was the result of an “excess of demand,” according to statements at the time from Etecsa, Cuba’s telecommunications monopoly. The e-commerce platform TuEnvío collapsed shortly after the pandemic was declared due to an increase in purchases and, now, Fincimex cancels the delivery of magnetic cards to buy in foreign currency stores because a barrage of demands exhausted its supplies.

When we add the occasions on which state-owned companies justify their failures based on a surprising level of demand. We must conclude that the authorities are unaware of the national market, its needs and aspirations. Something difficult to believe in a centralized and planned economy, where – in theory – it would be easier to calculate the volume and intensity with which a product or service will be requested.

Such great business blindness is the daughter of multiple factors that continue to run rampant in the economy of this Island. One of them is the excess of triumphalism, which makes functionaries and ministers believe the pseudo-reality manufactured by the official discourse and media. From so much repeating “yes we can,” and from propagating the inflated figures for production or development, many of these leaders draw up plans that are more in sync with what should be than to what really is. continue reading

The difference between what is dreamed of and what is possible ends up breaking the chain at the weakest link, the customers of these state companies

The difference between what is dreamed of and what is possible ends up breaking the chain at the weakest link, the customers of those state companies, which have miscalculated their potential, at the same time that they underestimate the customer’s right to receive good treatment. Then come the complaints, the phones that ring for hours in the offices of these entities without being answered, the attempts to blame the citizens for their indiscipline or anxiety, and the repeated justification that “we did not imagine that there would be so many requests.”

The main cause for this bungling rests in the ignorance that the ruling class has about the people who walk the streets of this country. For them, from their vantage point of privileges and comforts, we Cubans should behave as humble beings, who accept what comes without demands or complaints. An individual with no desire for prosperity, no particular tastes, who does not criticize state management and waits in a disciplined way for what is his share through rationed distribution.

For ministers, soldiers, high officials and other subjects who receive perks, it is very difficult to imagine the agitation generated in families by any opportunity, however small, to improve their day-to-day activities. Those who take home an assortment of food and hygiene products free of charge cannot understand the mother who waits for weeks for a magnetic card that can be loaded with remittances from her son, so that she, after long hours in line, can buy tomato sauce and detergent in a store that accepts payments only in foreign exchange.

The problem is that those who design the economic policies and business plans of the country are precisely those who receive privileges and comforts for free. Hence, time and time again, they make the same mistake of underestimating people’s needs and calculating the demand that any new service will generate. With a full plate, a car with a full gas tank, and a free telephone service, they are light years away from that galaxy that is “the real Cuba.”

No, it is not the excess of requests that collapses the services, but the distance that separates the planners from the customers.

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Cuba Needs a True Opening to the Private Sector, Not a Simulation

Dessert maker was one of the 123 activities allowed in the restrictive list whose elimination was announced this Thursday. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 7 August 2020 – Knife grinder, water carrier, blacksmith… No, this is not the list of occupations in a medieval village, but some of the 123 occupations that individuals have been allowed to perform privately in Cuba in recent years. Now, with the country plunged into a deep economic crisis, the authorities announce that they will end this absurd and limited list of permissible private work, which should never have existed in the first place.

As several economists have pointed out, the measure is heading in the right direction: towards greater flexibility, giving more space to private initiative and eliminating obstacles to entrepreneurship. The problem is that in order for the changes to be effective, it requires something more than following the track of sound popular demands; there also needs to be the necessary speed and depth to unleash a true transformation in society.

In this case, the stopwatch does not help. The demand to eliminate the detailed listing of self-employment licenses has been going on for more than two decades. The delay in implementing this demand has cost the country billions of pesos, the bankruptcy of promising private businesses, the penalization of countless entrepreneurs and the exodus abroad of an incalculable amount of talent. The announcement is certainly very late. continue reading

Now, when the Island is going through the most ominous economic moment of this century, the Plaza of the Revolution has pulled an ace out of its sleeve, one which, a decade ago, would have been exciting but that today hardly arouses enthusiasm. What could have been a political move to attract sympathy and support, reads now as a desperate maneuver, as the final act of an illusionist who has failed in all his previous tricks.

On the other hand, the depth of the measure is unknown, which fuels suspicion. Will individuals be allowed to go into the private practice of professions? Engineers, lawyers and dentists are asking themselves. Will the State release its monopoly over sectors such as telecommunications, public health and education? Computer scientists, doctors and teachers want to know. Will a journalist be able to practice privately, or will the press not be included in the crack that is opening? Independent reporters are wondering.

At the moment it is only known that the old list, which functioned as a straitjacket, will be abolished and “activities with a much broader profile may be carried out and the scope is defined by the work project presented by the interested party,” according to the official press. “For this, the limitations will be that it be legal work with resources and raw materials of legal origin,” adds the note drawn up from the words of the Minister of Labor and Social Security, María Elena Feito Cabrera.

If “lawful nature” means what is currently allowed, you should forget about seeing the “private trader” import products from abroad and sell or distribute them from private premises. Nor is it worth raising expectations about the possibility that doctors, lawyers or microbiologists can have their own office, firm or laboratory where they can practice their professions, since that is prohibited. There is not even the dream of a small private company installing cable television in homes, something also prohibited on the Island.

Although the elimination of the list of 123 self-employed licenses points towards the long-awaited and necessary opening, the old terrors of Cuban officialdom can make the speed of implementation and the depth of this reform leave more heartaches than satisfaction. To complete a race, it is not enough to point your feet towards the goal: the seconds and the quality of the stride are vital to advancing and winning.

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Cuba’s Enemy is Not 90 Miles Offshore, But in the Lines

Castroism needs coleros (people who stand in line for others) and hoarders – among other reasons – in order for people to be able to get products that the state’s inefficiency cannot supply. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Generation Y, 3 August 2020 — “Speculators and product hoarders will be punished with 180 days in prison,” reads the text of legislation that could have been passed this week, were it not for its effective date of that far off 1962. Since then, and for almost six decades, resellers have been presented by the Cuban official discourse as the cause of shortages, which, in reality, is an unwanted but inevitable effect.

Back then, Law 1035 approved by the Council of Ministers determined that a person could not buy more than 11.5 kilograms (about 25 pounds) of agricultural products. Nor was it legal to transport an amount above that limit through the country’s streets and highways, except in an authorized state vehicle. The offense not only carried a six-month prison sentence, but also the confiscation of the car.

My parents had not even met, my birth was barely an infinitesimal part of a future possibility, and on this Island the authorities were already pointing to coleros  (people who stand in line to hold a place for others) and to informal merchants as at fault for the fact that many basic products could not reach homes with fewer resources. I heard the accusation again in the 80s when I was a child, in a Cuba that despite the Soviet subsidy was still marked by the periodic absences of certain merchandise. continue reading

In the 1990s, instead of intoning a mea culpa for gambling on that losing horse that was the socialist camp, official slogans once again pointed to the US embargo and to backyard hoarders as the reasons for the deep famine that was upon us. The responsibility should always be placed elsewhere, far from the Plaza of the Revolution, far from Fidel Castro’s voluntarism*, and far from the intrinsic inefficiency of the economic model imposed from above.

Thus, we come to this new crisis in which the informational script that is disseminated in the official media has hardly changed to explain the disaster in which we live. Now, the “primetime newscast” is full of police operations against merchants who deal in car parts, onions or powdered milk. The authorities call for the creation of armband wearing brigades to monitor the lines to prevent the same individual from standing in line multiple times, selling his turn or holding a place for his friends.

All this gesticulation is nothing more than pure folderol and a very calculated campaign of distraction. Nobody, other than the Cuban State itself, has all the tools at hand to end such practices, and not, as they have led us to believe, through criminalization or repression. It is only where there are shortages that hoarders can thrive and enrich themselves, the black market for a product comes to fruition where it is missing or prohibited.

Speculators and product hoarders will be punished with 180 days in prison,” reads the 1962 law.

It is in the hands of the regime to cut off the sources from which coleros and resellers thrive, but not with more restrictive legislation, but rather with flexibilities, a decrease in the role of the State in the economy and trade, openings to allow private parties to import, and a series of measures that do not attack the annoying effects of the crisis but rather help an entire country to get out of this long desert of deficit and “not enough.”

Although it bares his teeth and shows them on the screens as the new adversary to defeat, the truth is that Castroism needs coleros and hoarders – among other reasons – in order for people to be able to get products that the state’s inefficiency cannot supply. There are, in defined accounts, distribution tools that regulate the market, not under the rules of egalitarianism and social justice, but based on the demand and purchasing power of the customer.

Those who can pay for the services of a colero or a reseller live better than those who, with fewer resources or with only their wages, have to spend long hours in a line. It is basically similar to the segregation or economic apartheid which is deepened by the new stores selling food only in foreign currency. The difference is that, in the first case, the offer that is prohibitive for many is in the hands of a private party, and in the second it is the Government itself that implements and authorizes it.

This new raid that we are experiencing against clandestine merchants is no more than another pantomime, a theatrical performance that has been repeated dozens of times in the last half century. The only thing that changes is the age or forgetfulness of the frightened public, who watches this crude spectacle from their armchairs.

*Translator’s note: The principle of relying on voluntary action (used especially with reference to the involvement of voluntary organizations in social welfare). [Source: Quizlet]

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From Generals to Managers, Those Who Are Allowed to Create SMEs in Cuba

The migration from olive-green uniforms to suits and ties has left us with the most succulent sectors of the national economy in the hands of the military. (ACN)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Generation Y, Havana, 28 July 2020 — For more than two decades, when the exercise of private work was authorized in Cuba, one of the most repeated demands by entrepreneurs has been to create medium and small companies. The economy had to hit rock bottom for the authorities to promote so-called SMEs*, although the requirements to found them have not yet be clarified.

What will the process be like to register a small or medium business? Will the entities of the state sector responsible for this structure issue a public tender? Will political filters be applied to select new entrepreneurs? Will there be a transparent record of those awards? There are so many questions and such negative past experiences that only the facts can dispel or confirm current fears.

In the last quarter century on this Island we have seen the transmutation of generals into managers. The migration from olive-green uniforms to suits and ties has left us with the most succulent sectors of the national economy, telecommunications and foreign trade, in the hands of the military that is not accountable nor accepts criticism. Why should SMEs behave differently? continue reading

Like the “Sandinista piñata” in Nicaragua, which promoted the distribution of properties and the appropriation of companies and goods, among those closest to Daniel Ortega, in Cuba we have experienced the awarding of the most appetizing portions of the national pie to those closest to the family clan that controls the Island, to the most ideologically faithful and to those who, in turn, can use these spaces to maintain and prolong vigilance over society.

I find it hard to imagine ‘Yusimí Pérez’ or ‘Yantiel López’ — to put two hypothetical but possible names of the generation to which I belong — going to register a small company in the Registry, and their proposal to create a family footwear industry or a plant manufacturing animal feed being accepted without, in the process, not having to demonstrate their full adherence to the system, the Party and its leaders.

Although Miguel Díaz-Canel recently insisted that “we cannot continue doing the same in the field of the economy,” it is highly unlikely that this statement includes eliminating the pro forma segregation of thinking that continues to divide the economic reality of this country. It is quite probable that the first SMEs to be authorized will be in the hands of ex-officials, ex-colonels or people in whose family tree some power-related chromosomes frolic.

In a different case, if the vocation to save the country and revive the economy outweighed the narrow-mindedness of partisanship, it would be a whole different ballgame (or, as the Cuban expression would have it, ‘another rooster would crow’). Companies would be in the hands of those who could make a success of them, create jobs and innovate. Among those entrepreneurs there could be liberals, social democrats, anti-Castroites and anarchists… It would not be necessary to fake loyalty or applaud to be prosperous. But the latter would be like asking Castroism to shoot itself in the temple and to recognize that, after more than six decades of failed experiments, only a private sector without ideological reins can move the economy forward.

*SMEs = Small and medium-sized enterprises

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There Was Food But Not For Us

Images from this morning show the shelves full of meat. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Generation Y, Havana, 20 July 2020 — When the sun rose this Monday, about 250 people were already waiting outside the Boyeros y Camagüey store in Havana to buy food and toiletries with foreign currency. Since last week, when the Cuban government confirmed what the independent media had already reported, the start of the sale of food in foreign currencies through magnetic cards has monopolized the talks and the outrage.

This weekend several images were leaked from the interior of one of the shops preparing to open its doors on July 20. So, we came face to face with a reality that we suspected but that we have seen confirmed on those shelves full of preserves, in the refrigerators loaded with meat, and on the shelves full of toiletries. There were products but not for those who only had national currency.

Where were all these sauces, these cuts of beef, the ground beef and these packages with beans when for months people have had to spend hours, if not days, in a line to buy what little stores had for sale in convertible pesos? Is it that they are going to make us believe that all this arrived in the country last week, circumventing the American embargo that the Plaza de la Revolución always uses as a pretext for the shortages? continue reading

These goods were here but the authorities did not want to sell them in the stores in Convertible and Cuban pesos (CUP and CUC). All those arguments that there were no raw materials and that the pandemic had left the country without the ability to buy basic items, were just to justify why there were no products for sale in exchange for those colored slips of paper that they still insist on calling “Cuban pesos,” when in reality they seem to levitate with so little worth.

They have kept us passing most of our lives in a long line to get a package of frozen chicken or some detergent, while in state warehouses there were tons of merchandise that was reserved exclusively for those who have the currency of that country which, in official propaganda, remains “the enemy.” This peculiar adversary, whose currency it is necessary to use to sustain a dysfunctional and unproductive system like the one that exists on this Island.

Today, when the police distributed the first 200 turns in line outside the Boyeros and Camagüey market, customers prepared not only to buy food and cleaning supplies, but also to peer into that inventory of products that has been hidden from us for months.

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The Dollar Returns to Rule Our Lives

This week, after the independent press leaked the information that stores were enlisting for the sale of food and toiletries in foreign currency, many emphatically denied that possibility. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Generation Y, Havana, 18 July 2020 – The first time I entered a hard currency store was in long distant 1994. I had to show the three one-dollar bills that a friend had given me, and thus managed to enter the shopping* on the ground floor of the Seville hotel, near the Capitol in Havana. The smell of cleanliness, the air conditioning and the shelves full of products were a hard blow for this Cubanita who, until then, had only known about state-run businesses and the rationed market. Since then it has rained a lot, but it also seems that history moves in circles on this Island.

This week, after the independent press leaked that stores were being prepared sell food and toiletries in foreign currency, many emphatically denied that possibility on the premise that “something like this cannot be.” Curiously, until Miguel Díaz-Canel confirmed, this Thursday afternoon, that the network of businesses managed by Cimex was going to offer food in dollars, euros or other foreign currencies, some clung to the conviction that such a segregationist measure could not be implemented in this country.

Memory is a slippery animal. This is exactly what Fidel Castro did when, in August 1993, he authorized the possession of dollars and fired the starting gun for the appearance of a vast network of state stores where you could pay only in that currency. The time came when those lacking US banknotes looked on – salivating – as others bought cookies, frozen chicken, sausages or soda in a type of store that, soon after, began to introduce the convertible peso (CUC) into its operations. continue reading

We have already experienced this, but many do not remember or do not want to remember. The dual monetary system became something so ordinary that, little-by-little over the last 20 years, we “normalized” the idea that to acquire merchandise of better quality and variety you had to have convertible pesos. The only difference now, with respect to recent years, is that the currency that once again governs the country’s destinies, and that guarantees a certain personal comfort, is the one with the faces of Lincoln and Franklin, one that had already determined our life in the 90s but that, this time, operates through magnetic cards.

This is nothing new: every time in the last half century that the Plaza of the Revolution has felt that the critical economic situation could shake its power, it has allowed certain winds of the market to flow over the Island and a social group to find accommodation in some shots of consumption. Nothing should surprise us in that strategy, which they have repeated so many times, although the double talk of proclaiming one political model and applying another that is so different, must not fail to outrage us.

Among those who until Thursday doubted that foreign exchange stores would include food, at a time of brutal shortages of food in the markets that sell in local currency, most were from my son’s generation. Cuban youths who were born after the shoppings opened, and the free circulation of the dollar allowed and the subsequent appearance of the commonly called chavito, the Cuban convertible peso (CUC).

For them, state commerce operated in two currencies: the CUC and the CUP… but they forgot – or could not remember due to age issues – that under the skin of those colored pieces of paper called convertible pesos there was always the bristling hair of a wolf named the dollar, a wolf which is now about to become the owner of the new hard currency stores. Any other version is bedtime story about Little Red Riding Hood.

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Violating Private Correspondence: Routine At Correos de Cuba

The envelope sent by the Anaya publishing house was opened and reached its recipient this Monday morning. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Generation Y, Havana, 13 July 2020 — The envelope was placed over our apartment’s mailbox. The postman never rang the bell, no one alerted us that there was a letter to collect, but there it was. My first feeling was surprise, and then relief that, finally, and after months without receiving even a telegram, some correspondence could reach the “cursed” address where I live.

However, the joy was short-lived. The envelope was opened roughly and the papers inside were visibly wrinkled. The letter had traveled from distant Madrid and the sender is the publisher Anaya, with whom I have published several books on the WordPress content manager, but not even the “innocent” letterhead of a publishing house nor the distance traveled by the shipment had deterred someone from violating my correspondence.

It is nothing new. Disrespect for privacy has become the norm of life on this island, where the institutions themselves violate the intimate space of citizens and the State postal service, Correos de Cuba, is one of the many scrutinizing eyes of State Security and the political police. It would be strange if the envelope had reached my hands intact, respected and on time. continue reading

It matters little that the Constitution establishes that “correspondence is inviolable. It can only be seized, opened and examined in the cases provided by law.” We all know and intuit that in this country, the right to privacy is held almost as an immoral and petty-bourgeois act. Those who opened the envelope that should have come to my hands sealed do not accept the intimate space and fear any individual zone that they cannot access.

These are the same people who condemned me during my adolescence to board at a pre-university where dozens of students had to bathe in showers without doors or curtains; those who confiscated school notebooks to read the verses that we scribbled on the last page and those who have fueled the hundreds of thousands of eyes throughout the country dedicated to monitoring every block through the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution.

Today, an opened envelope that arrived at my door suddenly reminded me of all that.

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

The Aborted Protest

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Anonymity and Cowardice, Cuban State Security Profiles on the Internet

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Historical Revisionism and “Untouchable” Cubans

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Last Day: Countdown To Get Nowhere

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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