Thank You, Dear Pablo, for the Musical Legacy and Honesty

Pablo Milanés and his daughter Haydée sing a duet. (File, Archive)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sánchez, Generation Y, Havana, 22 November 2022 — Three decades ago, when the dial of any radio in Cuba was turned, it was very unlikely not to stumble across, on various stations, the warm voice of Pablo Milanés. It was the time when the Nueva Trova phenomenon was at its peak on the island, and the singer-songwriter was starring in concerts, interviews, television programs, and even musical themes in support of a political process to which he gave not only his best chords but also his artistic prestige. Shortly after, something broke forever in that relationship and this November 22, when the artist died at the age of 79 in Madrid, he had long since become an open critic of the Havana regime.

The death of Milanés closes a cultural stage on the island, although troubadours of his generation are still active, in the style of Silvio Rodríguez. He puts an end to an era because, unlike the latter, the author of hymns like Yolanda and Yo no te pido [I don’t ask you] had not only captivated his public musically but had also managed to gain a foothold in the hearts of the audience. His reputation as a good man, without hatred and in solidarity with young talents, earned him much appreciation on and off the Island. Added to this was his honesty, a personal quality that made him publicly acknowledge his distance from the ideological model that he had once helped to praise with his songs.

In July 2021, when thousands of Cubans took to the streets asking for a change in the system and a democratic opening, Milanés was emphatic in his support for the citizens and in his repudiation of the ruling party. “It is irresponsible and absurd to blame and repress a people thathave sacrificed and given everything for decades to sustain a regime that, in the end, imprisons them,” he lamented on his Facebook account. The artist took the opportunity to recall that he had been denouncing “the injustices and errors in the politics and government” of Cuba for a long time. Those words have been repeated and remembered in the last hours, after learning of his death, as a worthy epitaph to the composer of El breve espacio en que no estás [In the brief space where you are not].

Cuban officialdom has been cautious up to now in its condolences. A few brief farewell messages have come from the accounts of cultural institutions and some party leaders, but the brief and distant tone of these obituaries is noticeable. Milanés is not a comfortable dead man for a regime accustomed to extolling only those who applaud it with enthusiasm. The troubadour had become a difficult being for them, something that became clear during his last concert in Havana in June of this year. On that occasion, the authorities wanted to confine the artist in a small room which they were going to fill with acolytes from the Plaza of the Revolution, but the indignation of his followers forced them to change the script and move the presentation to the larger Ciudad Deportiva. And yes, indeed, the place was packed with political police to prevent the public from chanting “Freedom!” or other protest slogans. continue reading

During that show, many felt that they were probably attending, for the last time, that Milanés would sing in their country. With the greatness that characterized him, he did not want to get sentimental or emphasize a possible farewell, but his age and his fragile health levitated over the thousands of attendees.

Social networks have been filled with messages of respect and affection for everything that he gave to people throughout his life. Along with an impressive musical legacy, his main testament is summed up in having been consistent, a consistency that frightens official propaganda but that his audience recognizes. Thank you for the songs and for the sincerity, dear Pablo.

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Editor’s Note: This text was originally published by Deutsche Welle‘s Latin America page.

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORKThe 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.

Cuban Independent Journalism in the Face of the Uncertain Future of Twitter

It is not known what will happen to Twitter but it is easy to predict what will happen to the thousands of Cuban users if its fluttering stops: we will be more gagged. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sánchez, Generation Y, Havana, 20 November 2022 — The winds of uncertainty are blowing over Twitter: massive layoffs, an attempt to charge for account verification, and inflammatory statements by its new owner, Elon Musk, have fueled doubts about the future of this social network. In Cuba, questions are also growing about a tool that is vital for activism and independent journalism.

The crisis that the blue bird is going through comes at a very sensitive moment for the Island. There are only a few days left before a new Penal Code comes into force that will further restrict freedom of expression and the exercise of the press. By the time this new legal code is in force, the need to denounce repressive excesses will multiply and Twitter’s 280-character postings is the main channel for these demands to reach the largest number of international organizations, media outlets, and associations that watch over human rights.

To the extent that the social network seems to be about to become a thing of the past, the scope of these complaints will diminish and the visibility of civil society actors on the Island will also decrease. In addition, the insecurity surrounding the San Francisco company emboldens the Cuban regime, which in recent months has suffered several virtual defeats with the cancellation of its official accounts that spread ideological propaganda and attacks against dissidents.

Twitter has always been a thorn in the side of Castroism, which saw from the beginning the threat posed by a technology that offered citizens the ability to publish immediately, even without the need for internet, as it was used widely on the Island through mobile phone text-only messages. After a time of reticence against this social network, the regime ended up opening its own accounts assigned to institutions and party leaders, but it has never been able to hide its displeasure towards the tool. It has always had a dislike for this restless bird. continue reading

Now, spokesmen for the regime rush to pluck the wounded bird, boasting that they always foresaw its fall from grace. The instability that has gripped this microblogging service sounds like music to their authoritarian ears and they are already fantasizing about the company’s closing and the end of the loudspeaker that it has represented for the opposition and independent Cuban media. Unable to impose their narrative online, they are anxiously waiting for the voices of Cuban citizens to stop being heard.

Twitter has a great responsibility towards those of us who live on this Island. For us, to keep “twittering” about our reality is not a matter of trends, entertainment, puerile conversations or the desire to kill boredom. A tweet can make the difference between being on one side or the other of prison bars, it is capable of stopping a repressive act, and revealing the coercive practices of the political police. In our case, it is not a channel to display our morning cup of coffee or our feet sunbathing in front of a pool, but a very important layer of the protective shield that we need so much.

It is not known what will happen to Twitter, but it is easy to predict what will happen to the thousands of Cuban users of that network if its fluttering stops: we will be more gagged and surrounded by greater dangers.

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORKThe 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.

Cuba: ‘That Was Not An Accident, It Was Murder’

Elizabeth Meizoso, Héctor’s niece who died in the event last Friday.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sánchez, Havana, 1 November 2022 — Héctor Meizoso’s life has taken a tragic turn since last Friday. Ten of his relatives were traveling in the boat sunk by the Cuban Border Guards north of Bahía Honda, in Artemisa, and three of them died in the attempt to leave the island, in an incident that the man classifies as “murder.”

“They [the rescue brigades] are no longer searching. The relatives are the ones who are finding the deceased,” the young man, a graduate of the Maritime Fishing Institute, in Mariel , told 14ymedio . “That was not an accident, that was murder, because it was on purpose,” insists the Artemiseño, who lost his niece Elizabeth Meizoso and his cousins ​​Yerandy García Meizoso and Aimara Meizoso in the sinking.

“They had to have let it [leave],” he now reflects on the boat in which at least 25 people were trying to leave the country and reach the shores of the United States, seven of them have been confirmed dead and at the moment one is missing . “In any case, it was not the first and it will not be the last,” adds the young man, who confirms that several of the survivors are still being questioned by the police.

The girl’s mother, Diana Meizoso, told Radio Martí that the boat they were traveling in received a premeditated impact from the Border Guards. “We got on the boat and, when we got out, he [driver] slowed down because he was closed on all sides, because another one was coming. When we passed them by, he [the Border Guard officer] said: ‘Now I’m going to split you in the middle, and then he rammed us’.”

The days that have passed since that October 28 have been for Diana’s brother and Elizabeth’s uncle “a nightmare and constant pain, since among those people who were on the boat ten are my family and three of them are among the deceased,” he tells this newspaper. continue reading

Meizoso fondly remembers his niece, whom he affectionately calls “fluff” in an emotional text he posted on his Facebook account a few hours after learning that the girl had died. “Thank you for learning to say uncle before you go, my life, beautiful,” he added along with a group of photos that review the little girl’s brief life.

In Bahía Honda, dozens of residents joined the funeral procession of several of those who died that day. The municipality “is in shock, nothing else is being talked about,” Maritza, a local resident who knows the Meizoso family and feels “devastated” by what happened, told 14ymedio by telephone.

“A lot of people are leaving along this coast, every day you find out about someone who left on a raft or that they came looking for them, but nobody thought that the Border Guards were going to do something like that. Nobody thought it,” reflects the woman. “Here people are going through a lot of trouble and young people have no future.”

Maritza considers that there is “a lot of popular unrest in Bahía Honda, because this thing about the dead girl has emotionally touched a lot of people, especially families who have small children and who know what it means to lose such a young life,” laments the neighbor, who adds that there is “a lot of solidarity with the relatives of the deceased and a lot of rejection of what the government did.”

However, the majority prefers to avoid voicing their opinion out loud because “this town has already been completely taken over by State Security since Saturday.” Along with the interrogations of the survivors, the neighbors detail “threats to people who were near the coast when all this happened, people who know what happened.”

“In Bahía Honda nothing happened. Here, the ordinary day was spent standing in lines, buying food, knowing that a neighbor’s son went along the route of the volcanoes or jumped into the sea, but this type of thing, it doesn’t happen. That they kill people like that, without them having weapons, without their shooting at the border guards. That can’t be.”

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORKThe 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.

Cuba’s Official Press Loses the Credibility Battle on Twitter

Cuban regime is annoyed with social networks for labeling them as what they are: from the State. (SOURCE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sánchez, Havana, 26 October 2022 — The neck veins have swollen, the messages have risen in temperature and the headlines of the official press have been filled with demands. The reason for so much tension is a little blue bird that has been tormenting the Cuban regime for more than a decade: Twitter. This time the annoyance has been because the media controlled by the Communist Party on this Island have been labeled on this social network as “affiliated with the Government.”*

The hullabaloo is not understandable, because it comes from the same people who, at the beginning of the microblogging service, cataloged in their national newspapers the platform that, then, allowed text-only messages to be published with 140 characters, as a “technology created by the CIA.” All of us who, in those years of 2008 and 2009, used the potentialities of Twitter – blindly and publishing only by text messages (SMS) – were also put in the sack of “mercenaries,” “enemies,” and “traitors.”

What happened in this time so that now the official spokespeople are rending their garments before the new classification that this social network foists on them? What happened can be summed up in one word: they lost. They were defeated in a battle where they came to fantasize about putting bars on an unruly little character with a loose beak and bright feathers. After biting the dust of strategic and technological failure, little by little the Cuban institutions began to publish their first clumsy tweets. Other people’s grief is what they have given in this time.

They have never enjoyed a good footing with the San Francisco giant, this must be recognized. But not, as they want to make believe now, because they are victims of a universal conspiracy, but because their soldiers’ positions, their prefabricated slogans and the bots are immediately identifiable when it comes to tracking an opinion on Twitter.

Twitter has never been theirs. Everything that totalitarianism cannot control ends up being prohibited or domesticated. Thus we come to the present moment, in which official Twitter accounts complain of being classified abroad with the label that they feel no shame in using within national borders. Isn’t the Granma newspaper the official organ of Cuba’s only allowed party? Haven’t all those national media ratified in their statutes the unrestricted fidelity to an ideology, a model and a group of men? continue reading

What happened in these last few hours is nothing more than a shameful response to militant behavior. Militancy that is militancy has no itch to be labeled as such. The “revolutionary who is revolutionary” should rather feel very proud that Twitter signals he is close to the Cuban government. The contradiction emerges when it is verified that, during all this time since the Castro hosts disembarked on the wings of the blue bird, they have wanted to promote themselves as a progressive and alternative force, irreverent and independent. Nothing is so false.

This October the flight circle has closed. So much flapping to appear objective and trustworthy and end up, no longer, on the branch of the obedient. Twitter has just made clear what many of us have been saying for decades: these are not media, they are propaganda; these are not journalists, they are spokespeople. Now, the audience has a mark to decide what to read, whether to prefer pamphlets and sugarcoated articles, or to look further and immerse themselves, through independent media, in the bittersweet reality of this Island.

*Translator’s note: Twitter’s application of a “state-affiliated” identifier on Cuban government accounts began this week.
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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORKThe 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.

Cubans Have Lost Their Smiles

That laughter on the lips or the cackles set off by anything at all have disappeared from Cuban streets. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sánchez, Havana, 21 October 2022 — We are a dozen people waiting in line. The woman in front of me has her lips pursed as if she is avoiding saying anything. The young man in flip-flops and jeans turns his head from side to side from time to time, while next to him a teenager does not take her eyes off her phone and frowns. The man at the end of the line has released some insults for the delay and even the store’s guard can’t stop complaining. No one smiles, no face even hints at a gesture of joy or complacency.

For years I had to explain to my foreign students who came to learn Spanish on the island that the laughter of Cubans should not be interpreted as synonymous with happiness. “Even at funerals, and despite the sadness of the death of someone close, people will make their jokes and can burst out laughing,” I described. But the stereotype that people in this country felt content and lucky to live under the prevailing political system was as difficult to eradicate as lice in elementary school classrooms.

So, I drew on more data. I spoke to them about the repression, the domestic conflicts fueled by the housing deficit, the high divorce rate, the drama of the suicides about which the ruling party jealously guards the numbers, and the dream most shared by Cubans, that of emigrating to any other place in order to leave this Island. However, my explanations that a thousand and one dramas could hide behind those smiles tourists saw in the streets did not achieve any effect. The cliché of national contentment was stronger than any argument or statistic. continue reading

But even the most widespread and enduring clichés may one day run into the reality that proves them false. That laughter on the lips or the cackles set off by anything at all have disappeared from Cuban streets. The faces of sorrow and annoyance are seen on all sides and, instead of those jocular and hilarious phrases of yesteryear, now emerge complaints, insults and offenses. It gives the impression that a conflict is always about to break out with fists or that anyone might jump down another’s throat at the slightest difference of opinion or friction.

A French friend who worked in Cuba for a foreign firm for many years returned a few days ago after more than five years in Europe. “What has happened to the people?” he asked me. “No one laughs,” he added when he saw that I didn’t understand him. He concluded with a phrase that made me realize that we all have long, serious faces 24 hours a day: “All the faces I see are sad, even the children don’t smile.” We don’t even use that mask that we put on so many times to exorcise pain or dissatisfaction. We have stopped even wanting to pretend that we are happy.

After that conversation I walked down the Avenida de los Presidentes in El Vedado, turned onto Calle 23, continued to L, approached Infanta and quickened my pace towards Belascoaín. Not a single laugh the entire way.
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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORKThe 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.

Twenty Years Separate the Two Letters of Ignominy in Support of Repression in Cuba

A group from Cuba’s National Special Brigade of the Ministry of the Interior known as the ‘black berets’. (EFE)

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14ymedio, Yoani Sánchez, Havana, 8 October 2022 — Almost twenty years ago, Cuban society looked the other way when numerous heavyweights of the national culture signed a letter justifying the execution of three young people who hijacked a boat to reach the United States. The letter also supported the imprisonment of 75 dissidents in March 2003. Before that shameful text, silence, complicity or indifference were the most widespread responses of those who lived on the Island.

Is what is happening now is that a new “letter of ignominy,” which this time is on the side of the repression against popular protests, is causing such a different reaction here on the island? The first contrast lies in the signatories themselves. If among those who signed phrases such as “Cuba has been forced to take energetic measures that it naturally did not want” true intellectual and artistic wonders stood out, the list of the current signatories seems more like the list of members of a Committee for the Defense of the Revolution or of a Rapid Response Brigade than of figures from the cultural parnassus of this nation.

The absences are also more noticeable and speak for themselves. Each renowned troubadour, plastic artist or writer whose signature is missing at the bottom of this new letter weighs much more than fifty official spokespeople, watchdogs of the word and ideologues of Castroism that abound so much among those who support it. Although there are also surprising presences, one can imagine the threads of pressure that some of those signatories must have suffered. However, no threat, possible fall from grace, or loss of privileges can justify not having had the greatness of a “I do not sign” declared clearly and directly.

The document published this week, and to which new supporters are added every day, also distances itself from that other one, which circulated a few weeks after the Black Spring, in that it has no intention of convincing or changing the minds of foreign intellectuals who have spoken out against the repression unleashed on July 11, 2021 and the most recent in El Vedado in Havana. Rather, this text seeks to involve the largest possible number of figures within the Island — in the blow and the threat – in a visible and categorical way. It wants hundreds or thousands of arms to appear in the action of pulling the rope that surrounds the neck of the Cuban people. continue reading

In a desperate act, the Communist Party is trying to drag with it in its fall and mud anyone who, out of indifference, opportunism or fear, wants to join it in its final blows. More than support, the regime is looking for accomplices to be in the family photo of its inevitable funeral, and to do so as also responsible for the arbitrary arrests, the beatings of protesters, and the police terror. It is not a letter, it is a trap to catch names among whom to share the responsibility for the civil conflict that is brewing in this country.

Saying that “I didn’t know what I was signing,” “they didn’t even show me the final text,” or “I was traveling and they put my name without consulting me,” will no longer serve to distance oneself from this infamous letter. Those who signed each of its words will have to carry, for the rest of their lives and careers, the heavy burden of having taken sides with the gag on society and with an authoritarian power that has deprived Cubans for decades of exhibiting their differences, expressing themselves without masks, and voicing their opinions out loud. A signature, irresponsible or conscious, has sealed the fate of these people.

They will not be able to say that “nobody knows the past that awaits them” and they did not foresee the personal and social cost of supporting the letter written by a dying totalitarianism. Almost twenty years after that unfortunate text that so many signatories have repented of, while others have remained cowardly silent, there is no longer any possible justification that appeals to ignorance or fear. Cuban society, beyond intellectuals and artists, will not be exempt from looking the other way again. The times of apathy are over.

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORKThe 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.

Havana Already Stinks of Rot

Ruined food and garbage have been piling up for almost 100 hours since the widespread blackout began in Cuba. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sánchez, Generation Y, Havana, 1 October 2022 — The Internet continues to be cut off in a large part of Havana after the protests yesterday afternoon and evening. To the cry of Freedom! and Turn On The power! People came out in the Playa municipality and other areas of the Cuban capital.

We are still without electricity, and it will soon be 100 hours without power. Our building smells rotten, from the food that was spoiled without refrigeration, from the garbage that older people on the highest floors cannot go down to throw away, and from the system itself that stinks like a corpse even though it continues to resist burial.
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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORKThe 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.

Voices in Cuba: ‘Turn on the Power!’

Long before Hurricane Ian struck, power outages in Cuba were frequent. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sánchez, Generation Y, Havana, 30 September 2022 — Yesterday, Thursday, in the afternoon and at night, several popular protests shook Havana with the cries of “Turn on the power!” and “Freedom!” There are still large areas without electricity, as is the case in our neighborhood, which will soon mark 72 hours without electricity.

Web browsing from mobile phones was cut off last night to prevent us from seeing the images of the demonstrations and right now internet access remains very precarious.

The food shortage situation is very complicated and the winds of Hurricane Ian have fueled inflation, especially in the prices of basic products such as bread, eggs and vegetables.

Social unrest, acid criticism of the dismal performance of state entities and the demand for change have also increased significantly. People can’t take it anymore. Hopefully this outrage translates into a liberation movement and not more people fleeing the Island, as sadly has happened in similar cases.

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORKThe 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.

Two Days in Havana Without Washing Up or Eating Anything Hot

The almácigo tree (bursera simaruba) at the entrance to the parking lot of our building that did not withstand the winds of Hurricane Ian has been lying there since Tuesday. (Yoani Sanchez)

14ymedio bigger 14ymedio, Yoani Sánchez, Havana, 29 September 2022 — Soon we will complete 48 hours without electricity in our neighborhood. The problem is not only the lack of power, but also that this area has many tall buildings and the water tanks — normally filled with pumped water — in people’s apartments have already been emptied. Carrying the water up the stairs 10, 12, 14 or 18 floors is very difficult, especially for the elderly.

The few food reserves that people had been able to store are also gone and I know families with convalescent elderly people who have not been able to wash or eat something hot for several hours. Meanwhile, the hum of the Ministry of Agriculture’s generator floods the neighborhood and one wonders why an entity that can’t even make Cuban fields produce food needs an electric plant to provide us with fruits, tubers and vegetables at a price in line with wages.

A friend has called me to ask if the freely convertible currency markets will auction off merchandise that needs refrigeration before it spoils, or if they will deliver free food to those families who have been left with an empty refrigerator, or the food spoiled by heat. I think my friend is watching a lot of foreign documentaries.

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORKThe 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.

Hurricane Ian Moves On, While the Damage is Just Being Assessed in Cuba

Our Plumeria Rubra, “natural weather vane” on this 14th floor, lost several branches, its flowers and many leaves. (Yoani Sánchez)

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Thanks to everyone who worried about us. We are fine. It has been hard: part of our house was flooded, we suffered very intense gusts of wind and we felt a lot of fear, but now the rain and the wind are decreasing. Our Newsroom has only suffered minor damage and in our neighborhood we can see fallen trees, branches and objects in the streets.

Others, especially in Pinar del Río, have not had the same luck. What a hug of solidarity for all of them in this difficult time!

We can only begin to know the extent of the damage starting tomorrow. Here in the Cuban capital we have heard firefighter’s sirens on several occasions, we have friends without telephone coverage and a good part of the city is without electricity. Wound upon wound, damage upon damage.

Our Plumeria Rubra, a “natural weather vane” on this 14th floor, lost several branches, its flowers and many leaves. Its location in a large flowerbed prevents it from being taken in when a cyclone hits, but it is strong and will be reborn… so will we.

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORKThe 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 Yes and No Vote on Cuba’s Family Code, Keys to a Referendum with Victory and Punishment

The only propaganda that has taken over public billboards, television spots and newspaper covers is directed at the Yes. (14ymedio)

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14ymedio, Yoani Sánchez, Havana, 27 September 2022 — María Julia, a 67-year-old from Camagüey, never read the full text of the Family Code put to a referendum this Sunday in Cuba, but she voted Yes because in the nucleus of the Communist Party of which she is a member called to “support the Revolution and show up at dawn at the polls.” In Havana, Yania, 42, checked the No box even though she has been dreaming of marrying Yesenia for years and this new legislation opens the door to same-sex marriage. She did so because she believes that “under a dictatorship there is no valid election.”

The supporters or opponents of this Family Code, which the experts classify as advanced, and jurists as necessary, are not homogeneous blocks nor are they divided along a clear line. Only the third referendum in Cuba in more than 60 years, this one was much more than a consultation on ‘solidarity gestation’*, the ways of dividing assets between a couple at the time of marriage, or the replacement of the concept of parental authority with that of parental responsibility. For many, this referendum was the only opportunity to send a message, through the polls, of disagreement with the Miguel Díaz-Canel regime.

The victory of Yes, with more than 66% of the valid votes, is not the victory that the ruling party had dreamed of, having bet all its propaganda resources on the approval of the Code without allowing voices to appear in the national media that would question or reject it. With more than 26% abstention, Castroism has come face to face with the lowest turnout at polling stations in its entire history. That figure in a democracy could be a sign of the times, but under a dictatorship – where not going to vote sends a signal and can cause serious individual reprisals – it is a clear gesture of defiance and confrontation. continue reading

Nor did the attendees behave according to the official script, which would have preferred a resounding acceptance of the new legislation. More than 27% of those who came to the polls said No, canceled the ballot or left it blank. In the end, less than 47% of the electoral roll said Yes to the Family Code. This figure shows a fractured society based on an issue, but also a population that has used, to a large extent, abstention and rejection to send a clear message to the Plaza de la Revolución.

If instead of a law to regulate family issues it had been a referendum on the draconian Penal Code, imposed without popular consultation and profoundly repressive, the message of repudiation of the Executive would have been much stronger and more massive. Cuban totalitarianism chose, however, to put to the vote some citizen rights that should have been approved de facto without going through an election. Perhaps Díaz-Canel thought it was going to be an overwhelming success and that he would wash his face before the international community, but he ended up reaping bitter spoils.

The Friday before the referendum, Díaz-Canel called for support for Yes also “for our socialism.” This Sunday he found his ability to convene has been significantly reduced, that the mobilization mechanisms no longer achieve the same effect as they did a few years ago, and that more than half of Cuban voters have punished, in one way or another, the system that he represents.

*Translator’s note: “Solidarity gestation” refers to legalizing methods to have children beyond a male/female couple conceiving and gestating their own child.

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Editor’s Note: This text was originally published in Deutsche Welle in Spanish.

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORKThe 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.

Cuba: The Sand Generation

He shares the surveillance of the cars with a friend who takes care of his position so that, from time to time, he runs a race to take a client to his house. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sánchez, Generation Y, Havana, 24 September 2022 — As I adjust my helmet, he tells me that he is 29 years old and has an ulcer. I get on the back of the motorcycle and we head down Calle Reina heading to Carlos III. The Belascoaín traffic light forces us to a stop, where he tells me that he was born in the middle of the Special Period and that he is part of what he has called “the sand generation.” “We were the children who grew up without milk and without toys,” he adds, just as the green light gives way to the wide avenue.

He has tried almost everything to survive: “I worked as a waiter in a state cafeteria; I was a house-to-house distributor for the weekly packet; I got a job at a gas station but I didn’t last long there; I let myself be carried away by the dream of working in the Mariel Special Development Zone but that quickly deflated; I was a coachman in Old Havana; and finally I ended up in El Trigal Market.” We are already arriving at Zapata Street and a close trust – as if we had known each other all our lives – marks our conversation.

“But I can’t leave this country because I have my mother and my grandmother here, I know that if I ‘go out to see the volcanoes’ I will never see them again.”

“At first the idea of ​​El Trigal was good,” he confesses. “I bought bananas from the farmer for 80 centavos in pesos and sold them to the customers, who were mostly paladares [private restaurants] and cafeterias, for 1.50.” But El Trigal market, a prototype of what could be extended throughout the island to eliminate obstacles to agricultural trade, ended up collapsing. “One day we arrived and we were no longer allowed to buy directly, we had to go through the state company Acopio, which then offered the bananas at 2.50 CUP [Cuban pesos] and there was no business for us to sell them.”

The tower of the Plaza de la Revolución is on the left as we cross part of La Timba. “I had to leave there and I started driving an electric tricycle to offer my services to the self-employed who went to buy at the Mercabal on 26th Street, but that was dying little by little and now it is closed and without anything to sell… Nor do I have the health to continue in that job, which involved carrying a lot of weight and I have a herniated disc and hip problems.”

“I started driving an electric tricycle to offer my services to the self-employed who went to buy at the Mercabal on 26th Street.” (14ymedio)

Now, he makes a living parking cars outside a Havana store. He shares the work of keeping an eye on the cars with a friend who steps in for him, so that, from time to time, he can speed off to take a customer home. “It doesn’t pay much but at least I have a job, most of my friends are at home with their arms crossed because they can’t find anything.”

We can already see Tulipán street, without traffic at that time of the afternoon, and the young man comments: “It’s just that, as I told you, we are made of sand, we are disarming ourselves.” We turn and he continues: “But I can’t leave this country because I have my mother and grandmother here, I know that if I ‘leave to go look at the volcanoes’ I will never see them again.” The train station, with its empty rails and platforms, is the scene of his harshest comment: “I don’t want to have children here, but I can’t emigrate either, so it seems that my family ends with me.”

In front of my concrete block he says goodbye. I get off the bike and hand him back his helmet. I see him go away and out of sight as if the breeze from my street had finished disseminating the grains of sand that he had still managed to retain inside his shirt.
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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORKThe 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 Hidden War of Cuba’s Telecommunications Company Against Our Freedoms

An office of the Cuban state telecommunications company Etecsa on Obispo Street, in Old Havana. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sánchez, Havana, 12 September 2022 — “We have not reported any breakages in that area,” the customer service employee of the Cuban telecommunications monopoly, Etecsa, answers in a tired voice. It is the fifth time that I have called on the same day to complain because web browsing from my mobile does not work, but Etecsa only gives vague explanations: “Perhaps there is congestion on the network.” Almost four years after internet access on cell phones appeared on this island, staying connected is still a headache.

With more than seven million active mobile phone lines, and rates that allow Etecsa to pocket figures in the millions of dollars each month, anyone would assume that this state-owned company has engaged in a process of investments and improvements over the years that enhance the experience of its subscribers. However, instead of benefits and new functionalities, we Cubans have seen our connectivity to the great world wide web deteriorate in recent months. Like a crab, the Etecsa networks have gone backwards in stability and data transmission speed.

It should be clarified that the impairment of the service is not the same for everyone. In the editorial office of this newspaper, it happens, more and more frequently, that the 4G network that is working at five in the morning disappears by the time dawn arrives, leaving our mobile phones disconnected and practically useless for certain journalistic tasks. Coincidentally, the service is restored in the afternoon or at night, without any company operator knowing what answer to give us about the reasons for the interruption. Something similar happens to other independent journalists, activists and opponents in Cuba, but Etecsa does not respond – at all – to their rights as customers who pay for a service.

Since naivety is the first thing you lose when you live under totalitarianism, we went through those first speculations a long time ago: thinking that maybe it was a technical problem that affected the entire neighborhood; or an electrical storm that damaged the transmission tower of the closest phone line; or a blackout that left the company’s data servers useless. After inquiries and questions, we can only conclude that these difficulties we are experiencing are due to a political decision. continue reading

By the will of a regime that is allergic to the free flow of information, we Cubans must wade through a handicapped internet in which audiovisual files take forever to be published and a long hell to download. Significantly, these difficulties become greater when trying to access networks like Facebook, a platform that has become a wall of denunciations of Cuban citizens and the place where the first images of any popular protest that occurs on the island almost always appear.

“They knocked down the internet, surely they threw it into the street somewhere,” I heard a young woman say from a long line to buy bread several days ago. The woman was right. After several of us in line tried, to no avail, to check our email inbox or chat with a friend, we found out about the demonstration in El Cepem and the demands of a group of residents of that poor community of Artemisa that the police not suppress their attempt to leave the country. The logic of “there is no connection to the web, something must be happening that the ruling party wants to hide” hardens into a certainty with each “coincidence” between the data blackouts and the protest events.

As Etecsa does not respond and has zero transparency about what really happens, the customers of this telecommunications monopoly are left to speculate and connect the dots. We can conclude, for example, that since the popular protests of July 11, 2021 our access to the great world wide web is more precarious. We also assume that the regime’s recently announced agreements with Russia on information technology, along with those previously with China, are not to expand the frameworks of autonomy for Internet users, but rather the contrary.

Along with the censored sites, the mobile service cuts and the censorship of keywords in text-only messages (SMS), Etecsa has been adding layers and layers of new restrictions until leaving us with weighted-down and totally monitored access to the web. Probably inspired by the excesses of Beijing, the Cuban regime has been erecting its own great wall to filter the “pernicious” effects of the free flow of content and intends for this wall to reach a limit where we desist from using the networks as a virtual civic plaza.

While it was 14 years ago I started my blog Generation Y blog with an old laptop and, shortly after, I opened a Twitter account to which I sent blind messages by SMS, it will not be these ups and downs in connectivity that will prevent me from continuing to report on deep Cuba. But I fear that what today are outages and reductions in the quality of service for many Etecsa clients, tomorrow will be jails, beatings and convictions. It’s not about kilobytes, it’s about freedoms.

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORKThe 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.

Cuba: The School Year Starts (Reprint from ‘Generation Y’ 2007)

Secondary school students during a cultural activity. (2015)(14ymedio)

(Note from Translating Cuba: This article is being reprinted because of its relevance to an article in 14ymedio today.)

Yoani Sanchez, Generation Y, Havana, 13 September 2007 — My son has worn this week for the first time his mustard color uniform at a junior high school building of Giron-style prefabricated architecture barely five minutes from our Yugoslavian model building. The last days of vacation were marked by the process of buying the shoes, the search for a new backpack, and the discussions about how much to narrow the oversized size 18 pants.

The morning of the first day went by with passionate words and promises of a perfect course. Then, it came time for us to get familiar with the new model of junior high school, so different compared to the years when I went to one. For instance, for a while now, junior high school students can’t go home for lunch.  The measure seeks to eradicate the contrasts between those who have a good lunch waiting for them and those who have less or almost nothing. It tries as well to prevent them from wandering the streets and committing crimes.

Under this new system, at noon each student receives a sandwich of some protein food and a glass of yogurt.  At that age, such a small portion only serves to awake the fierce appetite and makes their stomachs rumble during the next class hours. So from twenty past twelve, the parents start to approach the school’s surrounding fence with little containers, jars and spoons, to reinforce their children’s diet.  Some schools have banned the practice of bringing food to students, and other schools have announced that the students must bring their lunch to school with them in the morning.

Every day, in a quite stealthy way, I go near the school and pass through the fence the “shopping bag” with the necessary reinforcement.  I notice many parents outside doing the same, but I also notice that a good share of the kids don’t get the additional ration.  In the end, by trying to erase the differences, another one has been created, a difference so visible and sad that I wonder if it wouldn’t be better to be more flexible with the above mentioned measure and let the youngsters have their lunch at home, while guaranteeing decent food for those who stay at school.

Everything that is imposed, whatever is mandatory and rigid, ends up being undermined, weakened and, worst yet, rejected.

Of Spontaneous Leadership and Popular Protests in Cuba

“Let us do with our lives what we want,” demands the shirtless man in the center, before the strict faces of officials and police in El Cepem, Artemisa. (Screen capture)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sánchez, Generation Y, Havana, 31 August 2022 — A shirtless man stands up to officials and police to prevent them from confiscating the rafts with which a group of residents of El Cepem, Artemisa, want to get out of the Cuban “socialist paradise.” A woman sits in front of her phone in Santiago de Cuba and launches an acid criticism against stores that only take payment in foreign currency. An old man walks the streets of San Antonio de los Baños shouting slogans against president Miguel Díaz-Canel. Hours before those actions, no one would have believed that either would become a leader, no one would have singled them out as ringleaders of the outrage on this Island.

For decades, Cubans have been waiting for anointed protagonists who will confront power directly and, in the style of Joan of Arc, come to immolate themselves if necessary for the cause of all. Waiting for these bold and magnetic messiahs, many citizens have parked their own civic actions. The demands from outside and within the national borders for these determined and authoritarian caudillos to appear, feared by the ruling party and loved by the people, fascinating and good orators, have also delayed change in this country.

However, life has shown that the leader emerges where forced by circumstances, that the leading role passes from one to another as reality dictates. That momentary chief is the biggest headache right now for the Cuban regime, which, when it finishes putting out the flame of rebellion in one area of ​​the country, another more sophisticated and stronger popular fire appears. In El Cepem, a poor community near El Salado beach, Castroism faced another problem this Monday, its own lack of charismatic figures and solutions to national problems.

A man, with a speech that borders on the philosophical heights, and whose address lacks a single obscenity, has struck the Cuban system to the heart. “If they don’t want us, because we are an illegal community, if we don’t fit in this country because our wages are not enough to buy in hard currency stores, if there is no oil for the thermoelectric plants to work,” then “let us do with our own lives whatever we want,” demands this father of an eight-month-old baby in front of the strict faces of officials and police.

Microphone in hand, while another resident of El Cepem holds the speaker on his shoulder through which his flat and firm voice is heard, this man displays all the arts of a true leader: he summons, unites, protects and confronts those who want  to do harm to his group, his neighborhood. What is his name? Where did he learn all those truths that he shoots like argumentative arrows, accurate and irrefutable? It is not necessary to know. The political police will now invent a past for him that is tailored to the campaigns to assassinate his reputation, to which they have appealed so often for more than 60 years. But, for a few minutes, he was the undisputed leader of national despair.

Let’s stop waiting for “the voice.” Any of us, at any given moment, can be chief, director, rector, general or president.


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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORKThe 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.