The Hijacking Of Social Networks

In Cuba users connect through a Wi-Fi network in parks or at strategic points in their different cities. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 25 June 2017 – More than five years ago social networks were roiled by the Arab Spring, while the screens of their mobile phones lit up the faces of the young protesters. In those years Twitter was seen as a road to freedom, but shortly afterwards the repressors also learned how to publish in 140 characters.

With a certain initial suspicion, and later with much opportunism, the populists have found in the internet a space to spread their promises and capture adherents. They use the incredible loudspeaker of the virtual world to set the snares of their demagoguery, with which they trap thousands of internet users.

The tools that once gave voice to the citizens have been transformed into a channel for the authoritarians to enthrone their discourses. They assimilated that, in these post-truth times, a tweet repeated ad nauseam is more effective than billboards along the side of the road or paying for advertising space.

Totalitarian regimes have gone on the offensive on the web. It took them some time to realize that they could use the same networks as their opponents, but now they launch the information police against their critics. And they do it with the same methodical precision with which for years they have surveilled dissidents and controlled the civil society of their nations.

Totalitarian regimes assimilated that, in these post-truth times, a tweet repeated ad nauseam is more effective than billboards along the side of the road 

From the hacking of digital sites to the creation of false user profiles, the anti-democratic governments are trying everything to help them impose frameworks of opinion favorable to their management. They count on the irresponsible naivety with which content is often shared in cyberspace as a factor that works in their favor.

One of these radical about faces has been made by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. During the 2013 protests, when he was prime minister, he wanted to enact several laws to restrict the use of Facebook and Twitter. He described the network of the little blue bird as “a permanent source of problems” and “a threat to society.”

However, during last year’s coup attempt in Turkey, Erdogan relied on these tools to summon people to the squares and to report on his personal situation. Since then he has dedicated himself to expanding his power through tweets, reaffirming in the virtual world the dictatorial drift of his regime.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has dedicated himself to expanding his power through tweets, reaffirming in the virtual world the dictatorial drift of his regime.

Last March, Twitter administrators had to admit that several of their accounts, some linked to institutions, organizations and personalities around the world, had been hacked with messages of support for Erdogan. The sultan urged his cyberhosts to make it clear that, even on the internet, he is not playing games.

In Latin America several cases reinforce the process of appropriation that authoritarianism has been making with the new technologies. Nicolás Maduro has opened on Twitter one of the many fronts of a battle through which he intends to stay in power and to quell the popular riots that erupted since the beginning of April.

Venezuelans not only must deal with economic instability and the violence of the police forces, but for many the internet has become a hostile territory where the chavistas shout and threaten with total impunity. They distort events, turn victimizers into victims and impose their own labels as they launch the blows.

The Miraflores Palace responds to images of protesters killed by the Bolivarian National Guard with hoaxes about an alleged international conspiracy to destroy chavismo. The social networks have taken up against the general prosecutor, Luisa Ortega Díaz, where Maduro’s supporters have branded her, at the very least, as a crazy person.

Nicolás Maduro has opened on Twitter one of the many fronts of a battle through which he intends to stay in power and to quell the popular riots that erupted since the beginning of April.

With so many attempts to manipulate trends and adulterate states of opinion on the web, Venezuelan officialdom has ended up getting caught with its fingers in the door. Recently, more than 180 Twitter accounts, which repeated government slogans like ventriloquists, were cancelled. The penalty could be extended to the accounts of other minions linked to government institutions and media.

Venezuelan Communications Minister Ernesto Villegas defined this suspension of accounts as an “ethnic cleansing” operation and Maduro threatened microblogging network administrators with a phrase fraught with outdated triumphalism: “If they close 1,000 accounts, we are going open 1,000 more.”

With his well-known verbal incontinence, Hugo Chavez’s successor was revealing the internet strategy that his regime has followed in recent years. That of planting users who confuse, lie and, above all, misrepresent what is happening in the country. A strategy taught to them by a close ally.

With his well-known verbal incontinence, Hugo Chavez’s successor revealed the regime’s internet strategy… confuse, lie and, above all, misrepresent what is happening in the country.

In Cuba, the soldiers of cyberspace have long experience in shooting down the reputations of digital opponents, blocking critical sites and unleashing the trolls to flood the comment areas of any posting that is especially annoying to them. But the main weapon is to limit internet access to their most reliable followers, and to maintain prohibitive prices for the majority.

“We have to tame the wild colt of new technologies,” said Ramiro Valdés, one of the Revolution’s historical commanders, when the first independent blogs and Twitter accounts managed by opponents began to surface.

Since then there has been a lot of water under the bridge and the Castro regime has launched an effort to conquer those spaces with the same intensity that it brings to its rants in international organizations. Its objective is to recover the space that it lost when it was suspicious of adopting new technologies. Its goal: to silence dissident voices with its hullabaloo.

The Castro regime’s goal: to silence dissident voices with its hullabaloo.

Even in the most long-standing democracies, technologies are being hijacked to inflict deadly blows on institutions.

In the White House, a man puts his country and the world at the edge of the abyss with every tweet he writes. Every night that Donald Trump goes to bed without publishing on that social network, millions of human beings breathe a sigh of relief. He has found in 140 characters a parallel way of governing, one with no limitations.

These are not the times of that liberating network that linked dissidents and served as the infrastructure for citizen rebellion. We are living in times when populism and authoritarianism have understood that new technologies can be converted into an instrument of control.
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Editorial Note: This text has been previously published by the Spanish newspaper El País in its edition of Saturday, 24 June 2017.

 

Two Solstices Seen From Our Newsroom

The winter solstice (above) and the summer (below) seen from the newsroom. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Generation Y, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 21 June 2017 — It has been six months since a photo taken from 14ymedio’s newsroom, last 21 December, captured the moment when a reddish sun was about to sink into the longest night of the year. This Wednesday the image reflects the other extreme and the reporters of this newspaper look out over the day with the most light: the summer solstice.

From the municipality Diez de Octubre to Old Havana the restless star has traversed the landscape of our balcony. A brief route before the eyes, but incredibly transcendent for nature and life. Spring has ended in the northern hemisphere and the 93 days that summer “officially” lasts have begun, although the thermometers have us believing that we are already in the hottest season. continue reading

On this terrace it is impossible to ignore the resounding news that today, at noon, the sun will be at its highest point of the year and will illuminate us for the longest number of hours. In the southern hemisphere winter will begin and it will be the longest night. Meanwhile, in the street, life remains oblivious to how the stars place themselves above us.

The rainy season has also begun, although El Indio seems reluctant to cede prominence to the downpours and insists on mistreating with its rays the already affected Cuban landscape, which is suffering the most grueling drought in a century.

It is true that there will be scarcely any difference between today and tomorrow, that our spring is as close to the summer as one can imagine, and that the sun strikes equally in June as in August, but an avalanche of events has occurred in the six months since that other solstice. In December we were in a total diplomatic thaw with the United States and today we grind our teeth amid the political glaciation, led by President Donald Trump.

In half a year we have also had to say goodbye many times to the friends who have left, the official press has been filled with obituaries, and in our newsroom the gray hairs are sprouting and the impetus to report grows. I only wish that on this day, the longest of the year, the light will accompany us in both its real and metaphorical sense, and give us clarity to know what news is and what it is not; what sinks us and what saves us.

The End Of The Cycle For Two Caudillos

The presidents of Cuba and Angola, Raúl Castro and José Eduardo Dos Santos during the signing of bilateral agreements, in the Palace of the Revolution of Havana. (File / EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 12 June 2017 — His mother died, his brother emigrated and now no one brings flowers to the tomb of one of those many young Cubans who lost their lives on the African plains. His death served to build the authoritarian regime of José Eduardo dos Santos in Angola, a caudillo who, since 1979, has held in his fist a nation of enormous resources and few freedoms.

At 74, Dos Santos knows the end is near. His health has deteriorated in recent months and he has announced that he will withdraw from politics in 2018, the same year that Raul Castro will leave the presidency of the Cuba. Both intend to leave their succession firmly in place, to protect their respective clans and to avoid ending up in court.

For decades, the two leaders have supported each other in international forums and maintained close co-operation. They are united by their history of collaboration – with more than 300,000 Cubans deployed in Angolan territory during the civil war, financed and armed by the Soviet Union – but also connected by their antidemocratic approach. continue reading

Longevity in their positions is another of the commonalities between Castro and Dos Santos.

The Angolan, nicknamed Zedu, is an “illustrious” member of the club of African caudillos who continue to cling to power. A group that includes men like the disgraceful Robert Mugabe, who has led Zimbabwe for 37 years, and Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, who has governed for almost 38 years Equatorial Guinea.

Their counterpart on the Island surpasses them, having spent almost six decades in the control room of the Plaza of the Revolution Square, as a minister of the Armed Forces or, following his brother’s illness, as president. Neither Zedu nor Castro tolerate political opposition and both have fiercely suppressed any dissent.

Angolans also live amidst the omnipresence of the royal family. On the banknotes, the face of Dos Santos shares space with that of Agostinho Neto, and in political propaganda he is represented as the savior of the country. One of the many tricks of populist systems, but very far from reality.

What has really happened is that the family and the African president’s closest allies have made colossal fortunes. The largest oil exports in Africa today have fueled this oligarchy, which, ironically, was built on the efforts of thousands of Cubans who left their lives or sanity in that country.

Isabel dos Santos, nicknamed by her compatriots the Princess, has wasted no time in taking advantage of the prerogatives that her father grants her. Forbes magazine calls her the richest woman in Africa, with a fortune of around 3.1 billion dollars, and last year she was named head of the state-owned oil company Sonangol, the country’s most important economic pillar. She also controls the phone company, Unitel.

She resembles Raul Castro’s daughter Mariela in her taste for giving statements to the foreign media and presenting herself as someone who has achieved everything “by her own efforts.” She projects an image of a modern and cosmopolitan businesswoman, but all her businesses prosper thanks to the privileges she enjoys as the daughter of her father.

Her brother, José Filomeno de Sousa dos Santos, also economically advantaged, sits at the head of the Angolan sovereign fund that manages 5 billion dollars. An emulator of Alejandro Castro Espín, whom many credit for the impressive voracity that has led the Cuban military to seize sectors such as hotel management.

However, Zedu has preferred to choose a puppet as heir to the post of president and head of the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA): Angola’s Defense Minister, João Manuel Gonçalves Lourenço. A figure who will be the public face while the true dauphins try to continue sucking dry – like voracious leeches – the resources of a country that is not experiencing good times.

Gonçalves Lourenço is seen as a moderate, as is his emulator in Cuba, first vice-president Miguel Díaz-Canal. Men who will try to give a face-lift to personality-centered systems to silence the voices of those who assert that the “historical generation” does not want to abandon power. Neither has been chosen for his abilities, but rather for his reliability and meekness.

Gonzalves arrived in Havana in mid-May with a message from President Dos Santos to Raul Castro. In Angola, 4,000 Cubans work in sectors such as healthcare, education, sports, agriculture, science and technology, energy and mines. It is one of the countries that most appeals to the Island’s professionals for the personal economic advantages that serving on an “internationalist mission” there affords them.

Gonzalves’ trip, of course, also included a commitment to continue to support the Island, perhaps with some promise of credit or oil aid to ease Cuba’s currently complicated situation. Most likely the heir to the throne came to tell the aging monarch not to worry, that Angola will continue to count itself among its allies. They are words that could be blown away in the wind before the uncertain future that awaits both countries.

For years the Angolan regime benefited from significant foreign investment and high oil prices, the main source of income. However, the fall in the value of crude oil in the international market has complicated the day-to-day situation of citizens subject to economic cuts, a rise in the cost of living and a decline in public investment. The discontent is palpable.

On the Island, not a week goes by without an obituary reminding us of the reality that the “historical” generation is dying off. The brakes are about to be applied to the thaw with the United States, and the mammoth state apparatus isn’t about to adapt itself to the new times. The double standard, corruption and diversion of resources undermines everything.

Neither Castro nor Dos Santos will leave power in the context they dreamed of. One falls ill, after having negated in practice his ideological roots, and senses that history will destroy his supposed legacy. The other loses control over Venezuela, that mine of resources that prolonged the life of Castroism. His worst nightmare is that young Cubans care more about Game of Thrones than the revolutionary epic.

Populism Cuban Style: Conquests, Threats and Leadership

Fidel Castro in his gangster era when he belonged to the Revolutionary Insurrectionary Union (UIR). Here, in 1947, in the company of Rafael del Pino and Armando Gali Menéndez. (D.R.)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, 6 June 2017 — The leader speaks for hours on the platform, his index finger pointing to an invisible enemy. A human tide applauds when the intonation of a phrase demands it and stares enraptured at the bearded speaker. For decades these public acts were repeated in Havana’s Plaza of the Revolution, shaping the face of revolutionary populism.

However, Fidel Castro’s extensive speeches constituted only the most visible part of his style of governing. They were the moments of collective hypnotism, peppered with promises and announcements of a luminous future that allowed him to establish a close bond with the population, to incite class hatred and to extend his growing power.

Castro has been the most complete product of Cuban populism and nationalism. Evils that sink their roots into national history and whose best breeding ground was the Republican era (1902-1958). Those winds brought the hurricane that shaped a young man born in the eastern town of Biran, who graduated as a lawyer and came to hold the military rank of Commander-in-Chief. continue reading

The political framework in which Castro was formed was far from a democratic example. Many of the leaders of that convulsed Cuba of the first half of the twentieth century did not distinguish themselves by presenting programmatic platforms to their constituents. The common practice was horse-trading to obtain votes, along with other aberrations such as stealing ballot boxes or committing fraud.

From his early days, the young attorney elbowed his way into the milieu of those figures who relied on gangster like behavior, rather than the transparent exercise of authority. He quickly absorbed many of the elements of demagoguery that would be greatly useful to him later when the time came to subject an entire nation.

Unlike republican populism, whose purpose was the conquest of electoral favor, revolutionary populism had as its goal the abolishment of the structures of democracy. From January 195,9 the civic framework was systematically dismantled and the laws were subjugated to the disproportionate will of a single man.

To achieve this dream of control, the Maximum Leader persuaded the citizens that they could enjoy a high degree of security if they renounced certain “bourgeois freedoms,” among them the ability to elect their leaders and a system of power in which leadership alternates.

The so-called Moncada Program outlined in History Will Absolve Me, is a concentration of these promises in the style of a tropical Robin Hood. The pamphlet was presented as Fidel Castro’s plea of self-defense during the trial in which he was indicted for the armed attack on the Moncada Barracks, the main military fortress of Santiago de Cuba, in July 1953.

Until that moment, this man was practically unknown as a political figure. The boldness that characterized the action enveloped him in an aura of heroic idealism that set him up as the leader of the revolutionary alternative to the dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista.

In his manuscript, where he described the problems the country faced, he never warned that solving them would require the confiscation of properties. He limited himself to detailing the necessity of an agrarian reform that would eliminate the latifundio and distribute land to the peasants. These were proposals that rapidly earned him sympathies among the poorest.

Upon leaving prison, Castro was convinced that the only way to overthrow the dictatorship was by force. He organized an expedition and opened a guerrilla front in the mountains of the eastern region of the Island. Two years later, his triumphal entry into the capital and his charismatic presence made him the beneficiary of a blank check of political credit, endorsed by the majority of the population.

The first populist ruse of the new regime was to present itself as democratic and to deny any tendency that could identify it with communist doctrine. At the same time that it presented itself as the enabler of freedom, it expropriated the newspapers, the radio stations and the television channels.

The regime struck a deadly blow to civil society by establishing a network of “mass organizations” to bring together neighbors, women, peasants, workers and students. The new entities had in their statutes a clause of fidelity to the Revolution and perform – still to this day – as transmission wires from the power to the population.

The first revolutionary laws, such as the Agrarian Reform, the rent reductions, the Urban Reform and the confiscation of properties, constituted a radical rearrangement of the possession of wealth. In a very short time the State stripped the upper classes of their property and became the owner of everything.

With the enormous flow of treasure, the new power made multi-million investments in social benefits that allowed it to achieve “the original accumulation of prestige.”

From its original proclamation in April 1961, the socialist system declared the irreversible nature of the measures taken. Maintaining the conquests achieved required the implementation of a system of system backed by a legal structure that would make it impossible for former owners to recover what was confiscated.

The new situation brought with it a powerful apparatus of internal repression and a large army to deter any external military threat. The most important bars of the cage in which millions of Cubans were trapped were erected in those early years.

To the binomial of an irreversible conquest and an undisputed leader was added the threat of an external enemy to complete the holy trinity of revolutionary populism.

Conquests

The main conquests in those initial years focused on education, health and social security. Economic centralism allowed the new ruling elite to establish ample gratuities and to distribute subsidies or privileges in exchange for ideological fidelity.

Like all populism that rises to power, the government also needed to mold consciences, impose its own version of history, and create from the teaching laboratories an individual who will applaud greatly and question little.

In 1960 the Island was already among the Latin American countries with the lowest proportion of illiterates, but even so the Government summoned thousands of young people to isolated areas to teach reading and writing. Participation in this initiative was considered a revolutionary merit and dressed in heroic tones.

The text of the primer to teach the first letters was openly propagandistic and the literacy campaigners behaved like political commissars who, on reading the phrase “The sun rises from the East,” needed to add as a clarification “and from the East comes the help we are given by the Socialist countries.”

At the end of the process, a massive plan of boarding schools operated under military methods began, the goal of which was to remove students from the influence of their families. Mass teacher training also began, thousands of schools were built in rural areas, and privately run schools were taken over by the Ministry of Education.

From this rearrangement the “New Man” was supposed to emerge, free from “petty-bourgeois laziness.” An individual who had never known exploitation by a boss, paid for sex in a brothel, nor exercised his freedom.

The fact that there was not a single child left on the island who didn’t attend school became a dazzling paradigm that blocked the view of the shadows. To this day, the myth of Cuban education is being used by the defenders of the system to justify all the repressive excesses of the last half century.

The state monopoly turned the education system into a tool of political indoctrination while the family was relegated to the role of a mere caretaker of the children. The profession of teacher was trivialized to an extreme degree, and the costs of maintaining this giant apparatus became unsustainable.

Many of the achievements that were put into practice were unworkable in the context of the national economy. But the grateful beneficiaries had no opportunity to know the high cost these campaigns imposed on the nation. The country was plunged in an inexorable decapitalization and the deterioration of its infrastructure.

For decades, the media in the hands of the Communist Party helped to cover up such excesses. But with the disintegration of the Soviet Union and the end of the massive subsidies that the Kremlin sent to the island, Cubans came face to face with their own reality. Many of these supposed advantages vanished or were plunged into crisis.

The Maximum Leader

One of the hallmarks of populism is the presence of a leader who is given full confidence. Fidel Castro managed to turn that blind faith into obedience and a cult of personality.

The merging of the leader with the Revolution itself and of Revolution with the Homeland gave rise to the idea that an opponent of the Commander-in-Chief was “anti-Cuban.” His flatterers called him genius but in his long speeches it is difficult to find a theoretical nucleus from which a conceptual core can be extracted.

In the oratory of the Maximum Leader, a preponderant role was played by his histrionic character, the cadence of his voice and his playbook of gestures. Fidel Castro became the first media politician in Cuba’s national history.

Voluntarism was perhaps the essential feature of his personality and the hallmark of his extended mandate. To achieve his objectives at the necessary price, to never surrender before any adversary and to consider every defeat as a learning opportunity that would lead to victory, served him to conquer a legion of fidelistas.

The target dates for obtaining the luminous future promised by the Revolution could be postponed again and again thanks to Castro’s apparently inexhaustible political credit. The demand for people to tighten their belts to achieve well-being became a cyclical political stratagem to buy time.

There were some rather abstract promises, in the style of there would be bread with freedom, and others more precise, such as the country would produce so much milk that not even three times as many people could drink it all. The largest zoo in the world would be built on the island and socialism and communism would be constructed at the same time.

In December 1986, after 28 years of failed efforts, Fidel Castro had the audacity – or desperation – to proclaim before the National Assembly the most demagogic of all his slogans: “Now we are going to build socialism!”

The Enemy

Populist regimes often require a certain degree of tension, of permanent belligerence, to keep the emotional flame burning. Nothing is better for that than the existence of an external enemy. Even better if it is a powerful one that makes alliances with the regime’s political opponents.

From the time he was in the Sierra Maestra commanding his guerrilla army, Fidel Castro determined who that enemy would be. In a letter dated June 1958, he wrote: “When this war is over, a much longer and larger war will begin for me, the war that I will launch against them [the Americans]. I understand that this is going to be my true destiny.”

Between April and the end of October 1960 there was an escalation of clashes between Washington and Havana. The expropriation of large tracts of land held by US companies, the suspension of the sugar quota enjoyed by the Island, the nationalization of US companies based in Cuba, and the start of the embargo on goods from the North are some of the most important.

During that same period, Soviet Deputy Prime Minister Anastas Mikoyan visited Havana, diplomatic relations were restored with the USSR and Fidel Castro met in New York with Nikita Khrushchev, who went on to say in an interview: “I do not know if Castro is a communist, but I am a fidelista.”

In the eyes of the people Fidel Castro’s stature rose and he begin to take on the outlines of a world leader. The exacerbation of nationalism, another characteristic of the populists, reached to its fullest expression when Cuba began to be shown as the little David facing the giant Goliath.

Revolutionary arrogance, driven by the conviction that the system applied in Cuba should extend to the whole continent, led many to believe that fomenting the Revolution beyond the borders was not only a duty but a right protected by a scientific truth.

The populist root of this “liberator of peoples” thinking led tens of thousands of Cuban soldiers to fight in Algeria, Syria, Ethiopia and Angola as part of the geopolitical interests of the Soviet Union in Africa, although wrapped in the clothing of a disinterested Revolutionary internationalism with other peoples toward whom there supposedly was a historical debt.

The enemy was not only “American imperialism” but the South African racists, the European colonialists, and any element that appeared on the international scene that could become a threat to the Revolution.

Convinced, like the Jesuit Ignacio de Loyola, that “in a besieged plaza, dissidence is treason,” every act of internal opposition has been identified as an action to contribute to that enemy and by the official propaganda every dissident deserves to be described as a “mercenary.”

However, the beginning of the diplomatic thaw between Cuba and the United States in late 2014 has shaken the thesis of a permanent danger of invasion. The death of Fidel Castro, the decline of leftist forces in Latin America and the announced stepping down of Raul Castro by February 2018 diminish what remains of revolutionary populism.

On the other hand, younger Cubans have a less grateful and more critical perception of those conquests in the field of education and healthcare that were presented as a generous gift of the system.

The reappearance of notable social differences arising from the urgent acceptance of the rules of the market and the growth of the economy’s “non-state sector” – the authorities are reluctant to call it “private sector” – have rendered unrepeatable the slogans of biased egalitarianism espoused by the ideological discourse that justified the obsolete rationing system for food products.

Haute cuisine restaurants and hotels of four or five stars, once exclusively for tourists, are now within reach of a new class of Cubans. The elimination of the exploitation of man by man, an essential banner of Marxist-Leninist socialism, has not even been discussed.

The widely shared conviction that the country has no solution is one of the main drivers of emigration in recent years. But this lack of hope for the future, combined with fierce repression, also limits the work of the opposition.

The system that once counted on enthusiasm is now supported by virtue of reluctance. The so-called historical generation still in power is fewer than a dozen octogenarians in the process of retirement and the new offspring are more inclined to business than to the podium. Today’s grandchildren of those populists have more talent for marketing than for slogans.

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Editorial Note: This text is part of the collective book El Populismo del Populismo , which will be presented this Tuesday at the Casa de América, in Madrid. The coauthors are, among others, Alvaro Vargas Llosa, Carlos Alberto Montaner, Mauricio Rojas, Roberto Ampuero and Cayetana Álvarez de Toledo.

The Swamp Of Wealth

Limiting wealth requires specifying how much a person can possess and where the prohibitions begin. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Generation Y, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 6 June 2017 — Almost a quarter of a century ago, the government launched a battle against illicit income that ended with the detention of dozens of criminals but also of prosperous entrepreneurs. During the dreaded Operation Flowerpot, you could be denounced just for having a freshly painted house, wearing new clothes or sporting a gold chain.

Popular humor has coined a joke that describes the arrest of a “New Rich” in 2030, where the infraction is possessing three cans of condensed milk and two brooms. Jokes like this point out the weakest part of the raids against the well-to-do. What’s the starting point for someone to be considered wealthy or a hoarder? continue reading

The relativism surrounding such definitions has come to the fore again during the last extraordinary session of Cuba’s Parliament, which supported a prohibition against accumulating property and wealth. Such limitations remain to be expressed in a law that establishes a clear limit on the possession of material goods.

The deputies of the National Assembly could see fit to define the amount of money that the savers will be allowed to keep in their bank accounts, how many clothes they can hang in their closets, the number of pairs of shoes they can wear and even the amount of shampoo they’re permitted to use when they wash their heads…

The champions of such prohibitions are, in most cases, people who do not even have to put their hands in their pockets to buy food

Such an enumeration seems absurd, but limiting wealth consists of specifying the quantity allowed and where the prohibitions begin. Without these exactitudes – generally ridiculous and elusive – everything remains in the realm of subjectivity, at the mercy of the whims of those who apply the punishments.

To add moisture to that legal swamp, the champions of such bans are, in most cases, people who do not even have to put their hands in their pockets to buy food. They live on privileges, free supplies and perks that insulate them from the daily life and the hardships of most Cubans.

They, who have accumulated all the wealth, fear that someone who has not assaulted a barracks, wielded a gun or shouted slogans, could move in a few feet from their mansions, run a hotel more competitive than those run by the Armed Forces and manage – and this is their worst nightmare – to have the economic autonomy to launch a political career.

Jesus Hernandez-Guero Or The Art Of Provoking

The Cuban artist, Jesús Hernández-Güero. (Courtesy)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 30 May 2017 — If something is clear in the work of Jesus Hernández- Güero is that he is not a complacent artist. His transgressive look is insolent and unrelated to any political militancy, religious creed or commercial convenience. The artist raises sparks everywhere: in Cuba where he was born and in Venezuela where he now resides.

In 2008, Hernández-Güero decided that his graduation thesis at Cuba’s Instituto Superior de Arte (ISA) would be a book entitled La Tercera Pata, with texts by journalists and writers censored. He collected writings by the poet Rafael Alcides, the former prisoner of the Black Spring Oscar Espinoza Chepe, and the narrator Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo, among others. continue reading

That effort led him to knock on many doors and more than a few saw him as a provocateur. He wanted to show the national journalistic tradition that includes figures like Félix Varela and José Martí, a tradition that was broken when independent publications “were closed and then prohibited” and all that was left “in circulation were those belonging to the State.”

The ISA leadership did not like this character of inclusiveness. Hernández-Güero recalls that a month before the discussion of his thesis the dean summoned him along with his tutor, critic and curator Mailyn Machado, to inform him that the project had not been approved. He had only two options: to take the state test or to present a compendium of his artistic work.

”At Fault,” a work by the Cuban artist Jesus Hernández-Güero. (Courtesy)

He opted for the second choice and happened on the book project. On the day of the presentation, a convenient power outage occurred at ISA and his thesis “never had a real conclusion” even though he finished with the maximum of qualifications.

Hernández-Güero, born in 1983, is aware that much of his research and his artistic production “has a critical sense and a high socio-political content, which makes official institutions or those who lead them uncomfortable.”

The artist established residence in Venezuela and he travels frequently to Cuba, where he recently participated in a show at the Chaplin Cinema under the title Contamination, a part of the Festival of Young Filmmakers.

However, his stay outside Cuba has not freed him from censorship because he seeks to “annoy, disturb the viewer, not only with the art, but in the face of reality that is lived and thought.” Something that he knows “is often not welcome institutionally.”

Three years ago, his work At Fault, with a 23-foot bent over flagpole and the Venezuelan flag “hoisted” on the ground, was displayed in Ciudad Banesco during the FIA ​​Youth Fair in Caracas. The piece was installed before the opening and organizers covered the flag with a black bag. The result resembled a covered corpse.

The piece caused so much turmoil in the social networks that finally they removed the flag and left only the bent over flagpole. “From that moment the work changed,” clarifies the artist and now the display of the work includes some of the tweets published during the process and “documentation of how they dismantled [the fabric].”

The whole media phenomenon and the condemnation was integrated into the work. Because the censorship, in the words of the artist, “is a boomerang that tries to hit who it is thrown at, but usually ends up hitting the thrower.”

The piece caused so much turmoil in the social networks that finally they removed the flag and left only the bent over flagpole. (Courtesy)

He has had to deal with similar situations on several occasions and believes that censorship is an inseparable companion “when the work has as its research subject the great social taboos such as politics, power, religion, sexuality, pornography, among others.”

Hernandez-Güero’s work constantly questions power. Not only political power, but also “the symbolic power of visual images and conventions that are deposited in the social imaginary as indestructible, immovable or untouchable truths,” he explains.

In these circumstances he is always exposed to reprimands or warnings that end up “completing the work or expanding it to another plane,” often one unsuspected by the artist himself.

For Jesús Hernández-Güero, censorship is an inseparable companion. (Courtesy)

The most recent of his works takes the name Historical Coincidences and mixes, in the same image, portraits of great personalities who have assumed similar postures and attitudes before the camera, regardless of time, place or context.

Most are premeditated appearances, but in other cases it is an instant captured without any pose. His intention is to “demystify these figures” and to question “the perception of them in the historical and social imaginary.” The elaboration is simple: superimpose one face on another, which gives way to new faces and “other possible expressions, but unrecognizable, unknown by all.”

They are works with a great political content and, at the end of last year, five of the pieces of that series received prizes in the October Young Salon, at the Valencia Museum of Art.

Hernandez-Guerero does not prefer one medium over another. As for the new technologies, he believes that knowing them previously offers more possibilities to “know their potential.” Because the greater an artist’s arsenal, the more possibilities he will have to “navigate within the creation.”

The Kremlin is Back

Russian President Vladimir Putin is received at the Palace of the Revolution by Raul Castro. (EFE Archive)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 28 May 2017 — After decades of intense contact, the Russians left few footprints in Cuba. Some young people with the names Vladimir or Natacha, or the nesting matrioshka dolls decorating a few rooms, are the last vestiges of that relationship. However, in recent years the links between Havana and Moscow have gained strength. The Kremlin is back.

Russia has long been disembarking in Latin America into the hands of those same governments that in international forums demand a greater respect for sovereignty and “the free choice of the people.” Its populist leaders, in part to annoy the United States, make alliances with Vladimir Putin under the premise that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.”

That type of partnership allowed Venezuela’s Miraflores Palace to be equipped with 5,000 shoulder-launched surface-to-air missiles (MANPADS), according to a document recently published by Reuters. The arsenal began to be accumulated in the time of the late President Hugo Chavez, but is more dangerous now amid the political instability that is leading Nicholas Maduro to falter. continue reading

In Central America, Nicaragua functions as the gateway for the voracious superpower. Daniel Ortega has about 50 combat tanks sent by Moscow and his territory serves as a site for Russian military advisers. The corrupt system of the Sandinistas creates a favorable scenario for the former KGB official’s desire for expansion.

Russia has just lifted Raul Castro out of the quagmire after Caracas cut oil shipments

However, Havana remains Russia’s main ally on this side of the world. The suspicion that arose between the two countries, after the dismemberment of the Soviet Union and the coming to power of Boris Yeltsin, has been dissipating. With Putin in command, something of the USSR has been reborn and diplomatic ties are tightening again.

In the neighborhood of Miramar, west of the Cuban capital, the Russian embassy seems to have become more prominent in the last five years. Shaped like a sword plunged into the city’s heart, the building is jokingly called “the control tower,” from where the stern stepmother scrutinizes everything that occurs in her former and yearned-for domain.

Russia has just lifted Raul Castro out of the quagmire after Caracas cut oil shipments. In the years of the idyll with Chávez, Cuba received about 100,000 barrels a day of Venezuelan crude, but in recent months that amount has been reduced by more than 40%. The government was forced to cut fuel delivery to state-owned vehicles and restrict the sale of premium or specialty gasoline.

The Russian oil company Rosneft has come to Raul Castro’s aid and pledged to provide the island with 250,000 tonnes of oil and diesel, some 2 million barrels. The rescue operation leaves a trail of doubts about how the Plaza of the Revolution will pay Moscow, amid the country’s lack of liquidity and the recession.

Shaped like a sword plunged into the city’s heart, the Russian embassy is jokingly called “the control tower”

Added to the alarming signs is the fact that in recent days the son of the Cuban president, Colonel Alejandro Castro Espín, met with the Secretary of the Russian Security Council, Nikolai Pátrushev, to address the cooperation between both nations in the area of computer security. In 2014, in Moscow, the dauphin signed a memorandum of cooperation in the area of ​​intelligence.

The reunion between the old allies has been sealed with a symbolic gesture. Russia is taking care of the repair of the dome of the Capitol of Havana, which it will cover with natural stone, new bronze plates, and gold leaf that will shine under the tropical sun. A defiant message addressed directly to Washington, the city where the near twin of the imposing Cuban building stands.

Fidel Castro delivering a speech in Moscow(Archive)

As the Russian advance unfolds in various parts of Latin America, Donald Trump looks the other way. Enveloped in the scandal of possible Putin interference in the elections that favored his arrival in the White House, the tycoon is more interested in the Middle East or in erecting a border wall with Mexico than in approaching that region more distant from the Rio Grande.

As the Russian advance unfolds in various parts of Latin America, Donald Trump looks the other way

His indifference is evident not only in his words. The US president has just proposed substantial budget cuts to the assistance provided to all of the continent, a posture that contrasts with the ground won by the Kremlin in the economic and military sphere, propping up authoritarian and decadent regimes. The Cold War is reborn in Latin America.

But this time Moscow has returned without that mask with which it hid its geopolitical longings adorned with phrases such as “support to the proletarians of the world” or “disinterested development aid to the poorest nations.”

Now it displays a cruder and more direct diplomacy. It is not willing to subsidize but intends to buy. It no longer hides under an ideological cloak, but exhibits that crude pragmatism that oozes the capitalism that the Communists ended up adopting.

If once it lost positions and had to take refuge — inside its own pride — to lick its wounds, now Russia wants to step up the pace and regain lost ground in Latin America. It knows it has allies in the region willing to skip all ethical and patriotic considerations to help it confront the United States. And it knows it must hurry, because many of these compadres are becoming more unpresentable every day.

Its cronies on this side need a Moscow that provides them with armaments and watches their backs in international organizations. They see it as a burly bear ready to show it teeth to Washington as often as needed. In exchange, they grant it positions in their nations, intelligence information and the calculated fidelity of those who expect much in return. They dream of making Russia “great again.”

______________

Editorial Note: The original text in Spanish was published this Saturday May 27 in the Spanish newspaper El País.

Economic Crime, the Pitfall in the Path

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Generation Y, Yoani Sanchez, 22 May 2017 — The saleswoman described her merchandise in a murmur: loggerhead turtle steaks, beef and shrimp. The man salivated, but replied that he could not buy any of those products, the most persecuted in the informal market. Every opponent knows that the authorities would want to try him for an “economic crime,” and perhaps that saleswoman was just the bait.

The techniques used by an authoritarian government to control citizens can be as varied as the fertile imagination of the repressors. Some are designed in air-conditioned offices using studied methodologies, while others arise on the fly, from seemingly fortuitous situations.

Are the economic constraints that we live under a calculated scenario to keep Cubans locked in a cycle of survival? Do so many prohibitions seek to leave us civically paralyzed, feeling ourselves guilty and with one foot in a prison cell? continue reading

Beyond the conspiracy theories, officialdom has managed the informal market as trap for the nonconforming, a framework for gathering information about the deep Cuba, an element of blackmail against its citizens and a lure to hunt down political opponents.

Although it is a practice that has been engaged in for many years, in recent months there has been an increasing tendency to accuse activists of alleged economic infractions

The Plaza of the Revolution has turned its bad economic management into another way of keeping society in its fist. It knows that families will do everything possible to put food on the table and will turn to the underground networks to buy everything from their children’s shoes to the dollars that at the official currency exchanges are taxed at 10%.

In many cases it is just about waiting, like the spider who knows that sooner or later the little insect will fall into its sticky threads. State Security only has to wait for a dissident to buy coffee “under the table” or to dare to have the bathroom retiled by an unlicensed tile setter.

Although it is a practice that has been engaged in for many years, in recent months there has been an increased tendency to accuse activists of alleged economic infractions. They are charged with crimes that ordinary Cubans commit every day under the patronizing eyes of the police and with the complicity of officials or state administrators. However, in the case of an opponent, the law has the capacity to be narrower, more rigid and more strictly observed.

In all international forums, Raúl Castro’s government boasts of not having political prisoners and it supports this argument by severely, but politically selectively, criminalizing such trivial matters as keeping four sacks of cement or a few gallons of fuel at home, without being able to show the papers that prove they were purchased in state stores.

Journalist Henry Constantin is accused of “usurpation of legal capacity” for working as a reporter in an independent publication, but dozens of ex-military are appointed managers of tourist facilities without ever having studied hotel management or business management. None of them have been reprimanded for serving in a position for which they are not formally qualified.

The lesson is that no matter what degree of economic illegality you commit, keep your mouth shut and don’t criticize the government

Karina Gálvez, a member of the Coexistence Studies Center, is being prosecuted for alleged “tax evasion” during the purchase of her home. However, before the new tax imposed on real estate transactions came into force, thousands of Cubans thronged the notaries to complete their paperwork under the previous tax laws, far removed from the real estate market rates. Not one was sanctioned.

Eliécer Ávila, leader of the Somos+ Movement, had his home broken into in a police raid and is charged with the offense of “illicit economic activity.” His “crime”: possessing a laptop, rewritable discs and several disposable razors. Unlike those thriving artists who import the latest iMac from the market or “Daddy’s kids” – children of the regime’s leaders – who have a satellite dish to watch Miami television, the activist committed the offense of saying he wants to help change his country.

The lesson is that no matter what degree of economic illegality you commit, keep your mouth shut and don’t criticize the government. It is not the same to buy beef in the informal market when you pretend ideological fealty to the regime, than it is to do the same when you belong to an opposition movement.

The black bag can become a wall, a noose, a hidden trap for those who do not applaud.

We Have Survived

A man reads the printed version of ’14ymedio’ circulating in PDF format inside Cuba. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 21 May 2017 — Three years ago this digital daily was just a dream, a project on paper and a desire in the heads of several colleagues. On that 21 May 2014, the mirage took shape on the first cover of a site that robs us of our nights, brings us frequent moments of tension, but also puts a smile on our faces when we publish a successful investigation or report.

When we joined together around that initial idea of ​​creating a newspaper from within Cuba, we had at least two pillars on which to build this informational edifice: to engage in quality journalism and to maintain our economic independence. Fulfilling those initial goals has been a difficult challenge, but we are pleased and proud to have succeeded in most cases. continue reading

For three years this newspaper has privileged opinion, has made reporting its flagship content and has opted for well written stories, carefully prepared and anchored to reality. We have managed to address opposing worlds: opposition and officialdom; ecology and industry; emigration and local entrepreneurship.

We have avoided adjectives to focus on the facts and to distinguish ourselves from activism journalism. Our compass seeks to maintain seriousness and rigor in the simplest and most complex articles. In this newsroom we repeat some phrases that reveal this premise: “it is better to be late than wrong,” “we do not work for the hits but for the information,” “being a reporter is not a good profession for making friends,” “a good journalist will always end up annoying someone”… and many others.

We have avoided adjectives to focus on the facts and to distinguish ourselves from activism journalism. Our compass seeks to maintain seriousness and rigor in the simplest and most complex articles

In this time, we have rejected all offers of economic support from foreign governments, political parties, foundations linked to power groups and figures with a marked ideological position. Instead we have chosen to “make a living” through journalism, something so distressing and difficult in these times it has put us constantly on the verge of material indigence. However, this tension has been the best incentive to produce high quality content that we can offer to media and agencies in other parts of the world.

Our editorial team is the best family you can imagine. Like all relatives, it has its headaches: there are severe parents, hypercritical uncles, grumpy grandparents, unkind brothers and fast-paced cousins when it’s time to click the button to “publish” to information. But in general it is a team united by the best possible glue: the search for journalistic quality.

Our main obstacles remain obtaining information in a country where institutions practice secrecy, the official press gilds reality and most citizens are afraid to speak with an independent newspaper. They are not insurmountable difficulties, but they demand an enormous amount of energy and patience from us every day.

The blocking of our digital site, the stigmatizing of our name and the harassment of reporters have also negatively affected the scope of our work, but we are not discouraged. Nobody said it was going to be easy.

The most important thing we are going to keep in mind today, when we blow out the three tiny candles on our digital cake, is that “we have survived.” Against all the predictions of friends and enemies, we are here, we have made a space in Cuban journalism and we will continue to work to improve the quality of this newspaper.

Manipulation And Silence, Cuba’s Information Policy On Venezuela

Maria Jose Castro, known as ‘the woman of the tank’, blocks the passage of an armoured tank of the National Guard during a demonstration by the Venezuelan opposition. (Miguel Gutiérrez / EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 9 May 2017 — Cubans have not seen the images of that lady who, armed only with her determination, stopped an armored police tank in the streets of Caracas. The official press also conceals the tears of those who have lost their children because of the repression of the those in uniform and the government-allied militants known as colectivos. Instead, the media controlled by the Communist Party of Cuba appeals to silence and distortion to narrate what is happening in Venezuela.

On Tuesday, the front page of the Juventud Rebelde newspaper went a step further and compared the demonstrators against Nicolás Maduro with “those hordes that gave rise to the fascism that triggered the Second World War.” The text, sprinkled with words like “right,” “counterrevolutionaries” and “onslaught,” reinterprets the events in the South American country and adjusts them to the information agenda of Havana’s Plaza of the Revolution. continue reading

A journalistic manipulation that is repeated – again and again – whenever an ally of the Cuban government faces popular protests or commits some political blunder. Recent history is plagued with examples in which the national newspapers have wanted to adjust reality to their editorial line in order to finally swallow the bitter evidence that life follows another path.

The island authorities stood up for Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, presenting him as an inflexible revolutionary who would never accept “the impositions of the European Union.” But they were silent when Greeks took to the streets to protest the policies of austerity, impoverishment and deprivation embraced by the left-wing Syriza party itself, after its sell-out to the Troika of the European Union-International Monetary Fund-European Central Bank.

It is time to “sweeten the pill” of what is happening in that country and fill the pages of the daily newspapers to accommodate the desires of the Miraflores Palace rather than the truth

A few years earlier, the government newspaper Granma said that the Polish union Solidarity had been totally dismantled and its leading leader Lech Walesa was nothing more than a memory of the past. A few months after that note appeared in the official press, Cubans knew that president Wojciech Jaruzelki had agreed to sit at the negotiating table with his opponents.

During the United States’ invasion of Granada in 1983, the information distortion became immensely scandalized. The national media reported the immolation of Cuban soldiers – while wrapped in the Cuban flag – when in fact they ran for their lives and surrendered without any heroism. Soon afterwards, those who had supposedly perished returned to the country.

The list of lies or omissions spans decades and includes the silence on the Island when a man stepped foot on the moon, the falsehoods around the fall of the Berlin wall, and the indescribable journalistic neglect in not specifying the cause of the death of former President Fidel Castro.

Now it is Venezuela’s turn. It is time to “sweeten the pill” of what is happening in that country and fill the pages of the daily newspapers to accommodate the desires of the Miraflores Palace rather than the truth. The ink of praise for Nicolás Maduro will run, protesters will be branded enemies of the country and the images of repression will be censored.

However, nothing will stop the reality. On Venezuela’s streets citizens are demanding change, and not even experts in editorial manipulation can turn their cries to applause.

When The Abuser Is The Government

Karla Pérez González has been the victim of a new type of harassment, this time incarnated in a campaign of character assassination. (Courtesy)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Generation Y, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 4 May 2017 – I was in the third grade and the teacher chose the most aggressive girl in my class to be the room monitor. She was given carte blanche to control the other children. Later, the abuser rose to a position in the Federation of Middle School Students and joined the Union of Young Communists. Today she is an active part of a Committee for the Defense of the Revolution. She is corrupt and violent, but highly valued by the authorities in her area.

Cuba’s National Center for Sexual Education (Cenesex), led by Raul Castro’s daughter Mariela Castro, has launched a campaign against homophobic and transphobic bullying in schools. The initiative includes the family in order to “understand what it is about, to help the girls and boys, the teenagers, the young people, and all the staff of the school,” says the sexologist. continue reading

Mariela Castro says that the level of abuse in schools on the island is “fairly low,” an affirmation that demonstrates – at the very least – her lack of connection with the Cuban reality. Without reliable official figures, any investigation of the subject must appeal to the personal experience of individuals and this is when the stories and testimonies of bullying in the educational environment surface.

The high schools in the countryside, promoted by former president Fidel Castro, were a reservoir of these abuses, many of them carried out under the impassive eyes of the teachers

The high schools in the countryside, promoted by former president Fidel Castro, were a reservoir of these abuses, many of them carried out under the impassive eyes of the teachers. Suicides, rapes, systematic robberies of the most fragile, accompanied by power structures more typical of prisons than an educational institution, were the daily bread of those of us who attended these schools.

I remember the spring of 1991, when a student threw himself off the water tower of the People’s Republic of Romania High School in what is now Artemis province. He had been harassed by the taunts and pressures of several classmates. We were all crowded together in the central hallway during the evening’s recreation hour when we felt the thud of his body landing on the concrete.

His harassers never paid for that death, it never became a data point in the statistics of student victims of bullying, and a family had to bury a son without being able to put a name to what had happened to him: abuse. In the weeks after that death another student slit his wrists – fortunately he didn’t die – and a group of twelfth grade students beat up a tenth grader for “having feathers,” i.e. being effeminate.

However, abuse in the schools doesn’t end there. There are many ways to harass a student and not all of them come from his or her classmates, nor are they motivated by sexual stereotypes, strict gender roles or group bravado. Ideological violence, exercised by power and with the consent of the school administrators, is another way to inflict psychological damage.

A few weeks ago, a journalism student at the Central University of Las Villas was the victim of institutional abuse that will leave permanent psychic and social scars on this young girl, just 18. To make matters worse, it was the leaders of the University Student Federation who behaved toward Karla Perez Gonzalez as the school abusers, like the leaders of a gang or the thugs of the hour.

The former student has been the victim of a new type of harassment, this time embodied in a campaign of character assassination that would be laughable if it weren’t aimed at destroying her self-esteem and turning her into a non-person

Since her expulsion, the former student has been the victim of a new type of harassment, this time embodied in a campaign of character assassination that would be laughable if it weren’t aimed at destroying her self-esteem and turning her into a non-person. To do something like that to a student of such a young age is an act of rape from power, persecution dressed up in the robes of school discipline.

The abusers, protected from above, end up feeling that they can destroy lives, denounce innocents and beat others as long as they are protected by an ideology. A system that has fomented political thuggery in its schools and its streets cannot confront bullying in all the complexity that the problem presents.

Noisy campaigns to fill foreign media headlines and the collection of large funds from international organizations is not the solution for all the Cuban children who have to deal, right now, with the physical blows, the ridicule of their classmates or partisan indoctrination in their schools.

‘Good Morning, Lenin!’

Raúl Castro watches the crowd parading before the political leaders in the Plaza of the Revolution (CC)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Generation Y, Havana, 2 May 2017 — The loudspeakers blared in the distance. Their echo filled the neighborhood where many took advantage of the Monday holiday to sleep until mid-morning, far from the May Day parade and its slogans in the Plaza of the Revolution. The screams into the microphone sneaked into that apathy, like an alien band with its instruments out of tune. On the Day of the Workers, officialdom took its tropical chauvinism for a stroll.

I woke up, like in the German movie “Goodbye, Lenin!” and had the feeling I’d leapt through time. But my journey did not carry me into a future of imprecise contours, but rather into the past. The words spoken by the Secretary General of the Cuban Workers Center took me back to a time of ideological bravado, years in which the Kremlin bear had our backs and Cuba sent guerrillas to the jungles of South America and cosmonauts to space. continue reading

Ulises Guilarte De Nacimiento’s address smelled like mothballs, and didn’t fit the times we are living in. In his angry phrases there was a nationalism as ridiculous as it is outdated, and in any case politically incorrect almost everywhere on the planet. He spoke of exploits that most of the population had never experienced and, to top it off, ignored the demands of Cuba’s working class. He spoke in the past tense, with the rhetorical twists and turns of agitators from the last century and the overacting of every good opportunist.

I thought of all the topics he failed to address, all the proletarian demands that no one mentioned because the event had more ideology than class-consciousness. Missing were any demands from labor, requests for greater union autonomy, complaints about serious violations of occupational safety and health throughout the country, and the vital demand for wages more in line with the high cost of living.

Instead, the government preferred to use the day for political purposes, repeating the structure of the podium, up there, and the workers down below. More than a thousand foreign trade unionists and activists were present as guests, able to see with their own eyes the “proletarian enthusiasm” displayed by Cubans, but the event was nothing more than a faded repeat of those that formerly took place in the extinct socialist camp.

When the Berlin Wall fell, where were all those workers who had marched on the International Day of the Workers? When the USSR collapsed, what did they do to block those workers with medals on their chest who marched shouting slogans in those squares?

The King, The President and The Dictator

Cuban President Raúl Castro receives the Spanish Foreign Minister, José Manuel García-Margallo. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 23 April 2017 — In the palace of the Captains General in Havana there is a throne awaiting its king. It was prepared when Cuba was still a Spanish colony and a monarch has never sat in its imposing structure. The visit of Spain’s King Felipe VI visit may end such a long wait, but the Island needs more than gestures of symbolism and protocol.

The king and the Spanish president, Mariano Rajoy, will arrive in the country a few months before Raul Castro leaves power. The official visit, long prepared for, has all the traces of a farewell. It will be like the farewell of the Mother Country to one of its descendants across the sea. Someone who began as leftist revolutionary and ended up being a part of a rigid dynasty.

The visitors will arrive in the middle of “the cooling off of the thaw” between Washington and Havana. The expectations that led to the diplomatic normalization announced on 17 December 2014 have been diluted with the passage of months in the absence of tangible results. More than two years have tone by and the island is no more free nor has it imagined to merge from its economic quagmire. continue reading

It will be like the farewell of the Mother Country to one of its descendants across the sea. Someone who began as leftist revolutionary and ended up being a part of a rigid dynasty

US airlines have begun to reduce the frequency of their flights to Cuba, discouraged by low demand and the limitations that remain on Americans traveling to Cuba as tourists. Castro has not withdrawn the ten percent tax he keeps on the exchange of dollars, and connecting to the internet from the island is still an obstacle course. All this and more discourages travelers from the country to the north of us.

The photos of building collapses and old cars fill the Instagram accounts of the Yumas (Americans) who tour the streets, but even the most naïve get tired of this dilapidated theme park. Cuba has gone out of style. All the attention it captured after the day Cubans refer to in shorthand as “17-D,” has given way to boredom and apathy, because life is not accompanied by a comfortable armchair to support this incredibly long move where almost nothing happens.

Last year tourism reached a historic record of 4 million visitors but the hotels have to engage in a juggling act to maintain a stable supply of fruit, beer and even water. Between the shortages and the drought, scenes of long lines of customers waiting for a Cristal beer, or carrying buckets from the swimming pool to use in their bathrooms are not uncommon.

Foreign investors also do not seem very enthusiastic about putting their money into the economy of a country where it is still highly centralized and nationalized. The port of Mariel, tainted with the scandals of the Brazilian company Odebrecht, and with activity levels far below initial projections, seems doomed to become the Castro regime’s last pharaonic and useless project.

But Donald Trump’s arrival in the White House hasn’t meant an iron fist against the Plaza of the Revolution as some had prophesied. The new US president has simply avoided looking toward the island and right now seems more focused on the distant and dangerous Kim Jong-un than the anodyne and close at hand Raul Castro.

The new US president has simply avoided looking toward the island and right now seems more focuses on the distant and dangerous Kim Jong-un than the anodyne and close at hand Raul Castro.

The Havana government lost its most important opportunity by not taking advantage of the opening offered by Barack Obama, who hardly asked for anything in return. Right now there hasn’t even been start on the drafting of the new Electoral Law announced in February of 2015. Was that news perhaps a maneuver so that the European Union would finally decide to repeal the Common Position? Fake news that sought to convince the unwary and fire up the headlines in the foreign press with talk of openings?

To top it off, they have increased the level of repression against opponents, and just a few days ago a journalism student was expelled from the university for belonging to a dissident movement. A process in the purest Stalinist style cut off her path to getting a degree in this profession that, decades ago, officialdom condemned to serve as a spokesperson for its achievements while remaining mute in the face of its disasters.

Take care. The visit of King Felipe and Queen Letizia is inscribed in times of fiascos. Failures that include the economic recession that plagues a country with a Gross Domestic Product that closed out last year in negative numbers, despite the usual make-up the government applies to all such figures. And the Venezuelan ally unable to shake off Nicolas Maduro, increasingly less presidential and more autocratic. The convulsions in that South American country have left Cuba almost without premium gas and with several fuel cuts in the state sector.

These are not the moments to proudly show off the house to visitors, but rather a magnificent occasion for the highest Spanish authorities to understand that totalitarianism never softens nor democratizes, it just changes its skin.

The Spaniard will have to spin a very fine thread not to turn the visit of the head of state into an accolade for the dying system. The royals will be surrounded by the attentions of officials who are trying to avoid, fundamentally, their stepping a single decorated millimeter beyond the careful preparations that have been underway for months. As was once attempted during the 1999 visit of Juan Carlos de Borbón to participate in an Ibero-American Summit.

The Spaniard will have to spin a very fine thread not to turn the visit of the head of state into an accolade for the dying system

On that occasion, and during a stroll with Queen Sofia through the streets of Old Havana, officialdom blocked access to the neighbors, emptied the sidewalks of the curious and worked the magic of converting one of the most densely inhabited areas of the city, with the most residents per acre in all of Cuba, into a depopulated stage where the royal couple walked.

Their successors, who will travel to the island “as soon as possible,” could do worse than to study the ways in which Barack Obama managed to shake off the suffocating embrace in March of 2016. The American president handled himself gracefully, even when Raul Castro – with the gesture of a conquering guerrilla, fists raised – tried to trap him in a snapshot. But the White House tenant relaxed his hand and looked away. A defeat for the Revolution’s visual epic.

Nor does Spanish Prime Minister Rajoy have an easy time. The official press does not like him and surrounds him always with criticism and negative news about his Party

Nor does Spanish Prime Minister Rajoy have an easy time. The official press does not like him and surrounds him always with criticism and negative news about his Party. He does not enjoy sympathies among the circles of power in Havana despite having reduced the degrees of tension that reached a peak during the term of Jose Maria Aznar. But on the island there are more than 100,000 Cubans who are nationalized Spanish citizens, also represented by that nation’s leader and who are, in the end, his most important interlocutors.

Felipe VI and Rajoy have in their favor that they will no longer be bound by the protocol to be photographed with Fidel Castro in his convalescent retirement. The king declined his father’s participation in death tributes for the former president last November in the Plaza of the Revolution. Thus, the young monarch managed that his name and that of the Commander in Chief do not appear together in the history books.

However, he still has to overcome the most difficult test. That moment in which his visit can go from being a necessary approach to a country very culturally familiar, to become a concession of legitimacy to a decadent regime.

Meanwhile, in the Palace of the Captains General, a throne awaits its king, and in the Plaza of the Revolution a chair awaits the departure of its dictator.

Editorial Note: This article was published in the original Spanish Saturday 22 April in the Spanish newspaper El País

Invitation to the Readers of ’14ymedio’

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Generation Y, Yoani Sanchez, Miami, 14 April 2017 — In this blog I have experienced good readers and bad moments, shared stories and exchanged opinions. For almost three years you have also accompanied me in the adventure of running a digital newspaper. Together with the team of 14ymedio, you are part of a diverse family spread over several continents.

To talk about this time that we spent together and update you on the challenges that are to come, I want to invite you to the meeting: Cuba: at the distance of an embrace, this coming April 24 from 6 to 8 pm at the CubaOcho Museum and Performing Arts Center in Miami, to share anecdotes and ideas with you and two other reporters from 14ymedio.

I know that many who live far away or are busy and will not be able to come, but I don’t lost hope of continuing to have this kind of conversation in different cities and one day, why not, do the same thing in our newsroom in Havana: without repression or fear.

____________

Note:
The Address of the Cubaocho Museum & Performing Arts Center is 1465 SW 8th Street #106, Little Havana, Miami.

There will be a menu for those wishing to buy food and drink during the event. Special guests will be our friends from Project 305 of the New World Symphony of Miami, an initiative of which we are part and which seeks to collect audio and video clips to be used in an orchestral work that reflects the spirit of this city.

Ten Years, A Blog

Yoani Sánchez received the Ortega y Gasset award for her work on ‘Generation Y’ in 2008, although she was not allowed to leave the country to receive it until five years later. (El Pais)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Generation Y, Yoani Sanchez, 10 April 2017 — Dawn, the sound of the keyboard marks the beginning of the day. I start a blog that will make me experience the most gratifying and terrible moments of my existence. I go out with the USB stick around my neck, climb the steps of the Havana Capitol and mumble a few phrases to get myself into the place with internet access exclusively for foreigners. It is the 9th of April 2007 and I publish the first text of Generation Y… My life has just taken a turn.

A decade has passed since that scene. A time during which I laid bare, post by post, the events that mark the reality of my country and of my own existence. I have filled the pages of this personal diary and left a testimony of the eventful and intense years I have lived. A digital logbook that could well serve as an impressionist portrait of Cuba at the beginning of this millennium. continue reading

There has been a lot of water under the bridge since then. I discovered the immense scope of the written word, the amplifying character of technology, and an authoritarian power’s lack of ethical limits. I owned responsibility for every published phrase and not a few times paid the consequences not for what I said, but for what others believed I said.

I discovered the immense scope of the written word, the amplifying character of technology, and an authoritarian power’s lack of ethical limits

I earned a scolding from a severe leader accustomed to hearing only his own voice, I spent more than one night in a jail cell, and I learned to speak in code to evade the microphones placed in my house. I got used to seeing my face in the official media surrounded by the worst adjectives and lost more than one friend. However, the gratifying moments have far surpassed all the punishments this opinion space has brought me.

I watched innumerable voices be born and gain strength, voices that made the Cuban blogosphere a more plural and inclusive space. I met many, like myself, who in their respective countries grabbed ahold of the new digital tools to try to better their societies. I received the support of my family and discovered the profession that I exercise today: journalism.

Each text that has come out in Generation Y shows that personal path, marked by obstacles and gratifications. If I could go back in time I would only amend the moment when I decided to open this blog. I don’t forgive myself for having waited so long to express myself.