“It is up to Cubans decide their future” / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

Roberta Jacobson at 14ymedio’s offices

Roberta Jacobson at 14ymedio’s offices

14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, 24 January 2015 — In October of 2013 I had a conversation with Roberta Jacobson, via a Google hangout (videodebate), on democracy, technology and the role of women in activism. On that occasion, we interacted through a screen in the company of internauts interested in our chat. Now, we talked with a few inches between us, in a visit of the Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs made to our independent daily, 14ymedio, in Havana.

Proximity has allowed me to confirm what I had already felt in our previous conversation, that this loquacious woman with an attentive gaze has a profound knowledge of the Cuban reality. It is no wonder that she has led the first round of conversations between Cuba and the United States after the December 17th announcement about the reestablishment of relations between both countries.

Several members of our editorial board along with some collaborators met with Jacobson on the 14th floor of the Yugoslav-style building where our headquarters are located. Following is a transcript of a conversation, where we tried to address a wide spectrum of topics.

Yoani Sánchez: Do we have reason to worry that pragmatism and the politics of rapprochement prevail above all else, and that the issue of human rights and civil liberties will be relegated to the background? Continue reading

US Congressional delegation meets with Cuban activists and independent journalists /14ymedio

Patrick Leahy, Debbie Stabenow, Chris Van Hollen and Sheldon Whitehouse entering their hotel in Havana. (EFE / Ernesto Mastrascusa)

Patrick Leahy, Debbie Stabenow, Chris Van Hollen and Sheldon Whitehouse entering their hotel in Havana. (EFE / Ernesto Mastrascusa)

14ymedio, Havana, 19 January 2015 — On Sunday afternoon a dozen activists and representatives of Cuban civil society met with the American congressional delegation visiting Cuba. Chaired by Senator Patrick Leahy, the group was able hear diverse opinions in response to the announcement of the reestablishment of relations between the two countries.

A member of the delegation confirmed that the Cuban authorities were aware of the meeting with the activists and had made known to the American side their displeasure with the meeting.

In a relaxed atmosphere, several of those present expressed the conviction that “this opens a new era” and demanded greater transparency in negotiations, according to what they themselves reported after the meeting. Elizardo Sanchez, president of the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation, gave lawmakers a list with the names of 24 prisoners who, on humanitarian grounds, should be included in an upcoming release process. Continue reading

One name on the list / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez


The above video is of Yojarne Arce’s protest that eventually led to his arrest.

14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, 14 January 2105 — Living in Caimanera is like living on an island within the island. On either side of the highway at the entrance can be read “This is the first anti-imperialist trench in Cuba.” The land is arid and three points of police control block any unauthorized person from accessing the town.

In the village adjoining the Guantanamo Naval Base, a young man has woken up in his own bed today after months in prison. Yojarne Arce dreams of being lawyer, although in the last year he has experienced the law from its most arbitrary side, the political prison.

This 35-year-old Guantanameran has been released as a part of the agreements between the Cuban government and the United States. His name is on the list of activists that Raul Castro ordered out of the prisons, in a political game as long-awaited as it is disappointing.

In the cold language of the court record, it says that Yojarne was condemned for the crime of assault, but those who knew his activism said that State Securirty spent time “hunting him down.” It was a matter of time before they trapped him.

In the middle of last year a video raced across social networks and mobile phones. In it the images of a man is seen standing on a telecommunications tower where he displays a sign with the phrase “Cuba violates human rights.” For long minutes he waves the cloth and shouts slogans.

At the foot of the metal structure people are gathered, half curious, half supportive. That day the police could not arrest him, because his neighbors surrounded him and accompanied hi, home. “You’re not going to take him,” shouted some of them at the law enforcement officers.

But the police have the time, all the time, to wait until an inconvenient individual is alone and helpless. That day came. They arrested this young man from Generation Y right in the street, between blows and screams, a few yards from the border than separates Cuban territory and the American naval base.

And what list are you on?

Yojarne spent days of interrogations and threats. Afterwards they took him to the Guantanamo Provincial Prison, a school-style construction in the country where the greatest lesson to be learned is survival. “I went to ‘The Gulf,’ which is what the prisoners call this encampment where I was, because it’s the last, the end of everything.” He spent most of the time among murderers, repeat offenders and rapists.

“From the beginning I behaved like a political prisoner because I helped to organize several protests and defend the rights of other prisoners,” Yojarne said, while his grandfather prepared a taste of coffee to be drunk in one sip, thinking about those days in prison with hardly any breakfast.

Yojarne Arce at home. (14ymedio)

Yojarne Arce at home. (14ymedio)

The life of this Patriotic Union of Cuba activist has gone from one list to another. To visit him in Caimanera it’s necessary to sign in on a form that every family has at the police station. “Relatives note the name of whoever wants to spend some days with them and then the person is investigated to see if they can enter the town.” For someone who was studying fifth year law when he was arrested, these restrictions remain intolerable.

He was in the prison yard with the common prisoners when they called him. “Yojarne, get your things, you’re going,” one of the guards told him. At first he thought it was a joke. Between those walls he had been on hunger strike and was in the punishment cell at least three times. The Guantanamo Provincial Prison was his home for six months, a cruel home where he won some small battles and left on parole.

“I started a protest which several inmates joined to demand that they display the prison rules,” he says in a lawyerly tone. He takes his time between one word and another, as if reliving those days and then continues, “I did it so the prisoners could know their rights and know what they had access to.”

The first visit after his release was to his captive village. “Caimanera remains the same, nothing has changed, the people are fed up.” Thus he explains his first impressions. His grandmother waited for him at home, running back and forth with joy. The neighbors also came to hug a man who was once a sports trainer and an improvised physiotherapist in the neighborhood.

“I lost the school year, because the university took advantage of my being in prison to kick me out,” he explained, sadly. He lacked just a few months to obtain the title of lawyer that he had planned to hang on the wall facing the door. “I am going to try again,” he says loudly, although it seems to be a promise he is making to himself.

The phone rings and it’s an activist from Santiago de Cuba who called to report that they wouldn’t let him enter Caimanera because he isn’t “on the list.” Yojarne is trapped in a Cold War bastion that the official discourse itself seems to be rejecting. He has exchanged Guantanamo provincial prison for the wide prison that is Caimanera.

The Thousand Ways to Conjure a New Year / Yoani Sanchez

Yoani Sánchez in January 2013, showing her new passport at home in Havana (Cuba). ALEJANDRO ERNESTO (EPA) EFE

Yoani Sánchez in January 2013, showing her new passport at home in Havana (Cuba). ALEJANDRO ERNESTO (EPA) EFE

El Nuevo Herald, Yoani Sanchez, 3 January 2015 – In the afternoon they started to assemble a doll. An old shirt, a straw hat and the dirty pants of a neighbor who repairs cars. In the end, it had a sad face and some straw sticking out through the eye holes. A few minutes before the arrival of 2015, they set it on fire. Everyone laughed and danced around the slowly-burning puppet. “We are scorching the bad that happened to us in 2014,” the principal organizer of the pyre said smugly. The flames lasted long enough for the many curious to arrive and join the hubbub. Continue reading

From Tatlin’s Whisper to Tatlin’s Cry / Yoani Sanchez

Images from the first Havana edition of "Tatlin's Whisper"

Images from the first Havana edition of “Tatlin’s Whisper”

Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 31 December 2014 – Those of us who participated in that first edition of Tatlin’s Whisper in Havana will never forget that minute of freedom in front of the microphone that would cost us years of official insults. The project to reenact the performance, but this time in the Plaza of the Revolution, invariably brought back to us memories of that night in the Wilfredo Lam center and the hope that this time the microphones would be open to a larger number of Cubans. I confess that I came to reflect on where it would be best to raise the podium, to place the actors dressed in olive-green who would regulate the time of each person’s speech, and how the white dove would look, fluttering over the shoulder of each orator. Continue reading

Tania Bruguera Under Arrest at Acosta Police Station in Diez de Octubre, Havana / 14ymedio

Tania Bruguera (photo from her blog)

Tania Bruguera (photo from her blog)

14ymedio, Havana, 30 december 2014 — Contacted by phone at her home, the director of 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, said that Tania Bruguera was under arrest at the Acosta Police Station in the Diez de Octubre municipality in Havana.

Reinaldo Escobar was released from the same station Tuesday night at 10:00 pm. Escobar affirmed that he saw Tania “wearing the gray uniform of a convict,” It is still unknown when Bruguera will be released.

The two police cars surrounding Yoani Sanchez’s building have been removed and the director of this digital daily is no longer under house arrest.

The 14ymedio reporter Victor Ariel Gonzalez is still being detained, in Guanabacoa. Still unknown are the whereabouts of the activists Antonio Rodiles, Ailer Gonzalez and Eliecer Avila, along with the photographer Claudio Fuentes and his partner, Eva Baquero.

Developing news.

UPDATE: Ailer Gonzalez has been released.

Several activists and Reinaldo Escobar, editor-in-chief of ’14ymedio’, arrested / 14ymedio

The police car in front of the apartment of Reinaldo Escobar and Yoani Sanchez. (14ymedio)

The police car in front of the apartment of Reinaldo Escobar and Yoani Sanchez. (14ymedio)

The director of this newspaper, Yoani Sánchez, is under house arrest

14ymedio, Havana, 30 December 2014 – Contacted by phone at her home, the director of 14ymedio, Yoani Sánchez, explained the circumstances of the arrest of her husband, Reinaldo Escobar, and of several other people this Tuesday in Havana. She is under house arrest. Patrol car No. 507 is stationed in front of the building where she lives, while four plainclothes offices are controlling the building entrances. Continue reading

Several Activists and Reinaldo Escobar, Editor-in-Chief of “14ymedio”, Arrested / Cubanet

Cubanet, 30 December 2014 — The activist Eliezer Ávila and journalist Reinaldo Escobar, Editor-in-chieft of the independent daily 14ymedio and husband of the blogger Yoani Sánchez, were arrested this morning at 11:40 am by members of the State Security outside the building where Escobar lives, according to the lawyer Laritza Diversent from Havana.

The source, after a telephone conversation with Yoani Sánchez, added that the patrol officers of car N.328, carried out the arrest violently. So far the whereabouts of detainees is not known. According to Yoani she was not allowed to leave her residence.

It is presumed that the authorities are trying to prevent the attendance of opposition figures at the performance of artist Tania Bruguera to be held this in the Plaza of the Revolution.

Also arrested were activists José Díaz Silva, leader of the Opposition Movement for a New Republic (MONR), and the Lady in White Lourdes Esquivel, according to the Twitter account the opponent Manuel Cuesta Morua.

“No, we have no illusions that it will be easy” / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

Tom Malinowski (Photo Flickr)

Tom Malinowski (Photo Flickr)

14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana 20 December 2014 — Since December 17, Cuba has not been the same. Discussions, questions and expectations have multiplied among us since the announcement from Barack Obama and Raul Castro about the reestablishment of relations between the United States and Cuba. We citizens have a lot of questions about the process and its influence on the future of our country.

Tom Malinowski, United States Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor has responded to some of these questions for 14ymedio. Today we present his answers to our readers.

Sanchez: The US has announced several measures to ease its policy towards Cuba. During the negotiations has the Cuban government shown a list of measures it is willing to implement?

Malinowski: It is important to note that the measures announced by President Obama were not things he has asked of Cuban government. They have been steps we would like to take to empower the Cuban people. Continue reading

Goliath Opens His Wallet / Yoani Sánchez: A New Era for Cuba and the United States

Havana, Cuba. Credit Desmond Boylan/Associated Press (Taken from the New York Times)

Havana, Cuba. Credit Desmond Boylan/Associated Press (Taken from the New York Times)

[From the New York Times] HAVANA — In one of my earliest memories, I am in a schoolyard before a campfire. The kids are screaming and jumping around it while the teacher stokes the flames, where a ridiculous Uncle Sam puppet is burning. This image came to mind on Wednesday, as I listened to the speeches of Raúl Castro and Barack Obama about the re-establishment of relations between Cuba and the United States.

Generations of Cubans have grown up under the barrage of official propaganda against the United States. As the words directed against our neighbor to the north became more aggressive, our curiosity only grew. Overwhelmed by material precariousness, disillusioned because the so-called Raúl reforms have failed to fill their wallets or their plates, Cubans now dream of the material respite that might arrive from the other side of the Florida Straits. Without a fight, David, smiling, walks toward Goliath, who is about to open his bag of coins. The myth of the enemy is over; the difficult reality of coexistence has begun. Continue reading