Cuba and Mick Jagger’s Kiss / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

Mick Jagger in Deauville in 2014. (Georges Biard / Wikimedia Commons)

Mick Jagger in Deauville in 2014. (Georges Biard / Wikimedia Commons)

14ymedio, Generation Y, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 5 October 2015 – We never got to hear Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston on our national stages. Freddie Mercury died without touching down in Havana, and when The Beatles broke up, we were a country where English music was considered ideological diversionism. We followed the career of Elvis Presley from a distance and the charismatic Amy Winehouse slammed the door on life without stepping foot on this island. However, now we are about to regain part of what was lost: Mick Jagger’s emblematic mouth is here, the eternal youth of The Rolling Stones has arrived.

While the analysts debate, looking for signs of change in the Cuban political or diplomatic scene, transformations are capricious and take another direction. This country is not going to change itself into a new nation because John Kerry visited, nor because of the third visit by a pope in less than two decades. But Cuba is changing when people like this British rocker, icon of good music and of the greatest possible irreverence, touch down in Havana. Continue reading

El Sexto: He Who Laughs First, Laughs Twice / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

Danilo Maldonado, "El Sexto," painting the balcony wall of Yoani's apartment

Danilo Maldonado, “El Sexto,” painting the balcony wall of Yoani’s apartment

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 3 October 2015 — There was no mistaking it. It was the same face that smiles defiantly from some paintings in which it resembles an unrepentant Christ. I had seen the signature of El Sexto at bus stops, followed his ironies on Havana’s walls, and wondered if this young man really existed, putting so many dreams, so many screams into his midnight strokes . But there he was, standing in front of me, in a T-shirt with a spray can.

“You cross out my stuff, I cross out yours,” said some of the artist Danilo Maldonado’s first paintings. It was when the police were using pink paint to hide his graffiti. Walking down Linea Street you could guess that behind those colorful patches in the middle of a wall that had gone decades without maintenance, the irreverent artist had left a drawing.

So when I stumbled upon El Sexto, thin, rebellious, talented, it seemed I had rediscovered a well-known face from my family photos, someone I had shared colorful nocturnal moments with, insolent and clandestine. With time I discovered that I was also facing a man who would not give in to fear and who would use his own body as a canvas for disobedience. Continue reading

Are We Cubans More Unruly Than Other Peoples? / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

Telephone with the handset ripped off

Telephone with the handset ripped off

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Generation Y, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 30 September 2015 – “Nobody takes care of anything,” raged the lady in line at the cash register of a State butcher shop. She was referring to those who leave the refrigerators open or who put their shopping baskets on the glass counters. However, she didn’t seem to notice the lack of air conditioning, the stench coming from some of the freezers where the goods were spoiled, or the single employee taking payments, while the others looked on with their arms crossed. The customers are to blame, according to the feisty woman.

Social indiscipline has become a recurring theme in reports and interviews in the national media. Vandalism is blamed for everything, from problems with public transport buses to the deplorable state of planted areas. Official journalists raise the accusing finger more and more against the pillage, while barely addressing the educational and political system that has molded these citizens so bent on looting and destruction. Continue reading

Raul Castro, The Altar Boy / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

Pope Francis greets Raul Castro on his arrival in Cuba. (EFE)

Pope Francis greets Raul Castro on his arrival in Cuba. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Generation Y, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 22 September 2015 – The Cuban leader, Raul Castro, has accompanied Pope Francis at all his Masses during his tour of the island. From the one celebrated in Havana’s Plaza of the Revolution to the words pronounced at the Santiago de Cuba Cathedral. Like one seeking absolution for a long list of sins, the General President has traveled from the capital to the east of the country, following the papal entourage.

Castro appears to be fulfilling, in this way, the notice he gave in Rome last May. He said then, “If the Pope continues speaking like this I will go back to praying and return to the Church, I’m not joking.” The return to the faith appears to include not only him, but a part of his family that has accompanied him, along with the executive branch of the island and officials from the state press. Continue reading

Francis And The Flight Of Skullcap / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

Francis Pope, without skullcap, greets Raul Castro on his arrival in Cuba

Francis Pope, without skullcap, greets Raul Castro on his arrival in Cuba

14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 21 September 2015 — A popular joke about the arrival of Pope John Paul II to Cuba referred to the wind blowing away his skullcap and its falling into the sea during a walk along the Malecon. Fidel Castro then walked on the water and rescued the silk cap. The next day, the newspaper Granma’s editorial declared that “El Comandante is God,” while L’Osservatore Romano asserted that the pontiff was responsible for the miracle and the Miami press concluded, “Castro can’t even swim anymore.”

On Saturday Pope Francis came to the island and a playful wind snatched his skullcap from his head as he was descending the stairs of the plane. It was just nature, the Havana breeze making itself felt. However, this unexpected little thing could symbolize his visit to Cuba, a journey where the moments outside of protocol will define the success or failure of his stay in this country. Continue reading

Generation Y Behind Bars / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

Men handcuffed(Luz Escobar/14ymedio)

Men handcuffed(Luz Escobar/14ymedio)

14ymedio biggerGeneration Y, Yoani Sanchez, 17 September 2015 — With the publication of the Official Gazette No. 31, there have been many published opinions about the pardons granted to 3,522 prisoners in anticipation of the visit of Pope Francis. Most of the criticism has focused on the fact that the beneficiaries include no one sentenced for political reasons. However, on reviewing the list of the released prisoners, another element jumps to mind.

At least 411 of those pardoned have names that begin with the letter “Y,” more than 11 percent of the total. It could indicate the we are talking about people between 20 and 45 years of age, because from the beginnings of the seventies to well into the nineties it was a fad in Cuba to give children names starting with the penultimate letter of the alphabet. Thus, we are in the presence of the “New Man,” born and raised in a society that felt itself part of “Utopia,” living under Soviet subsidies and excessive ideological indoctrination. How is it possible that so much of this human clay has ended up behind bars?

How is it possible that so much of this human clay has ended up behind bars?

Meat from the social laboratory and the skin of prison, Generation Y is far removed from what was projected for it. It has come to live in a different country from the one promised, and to survive in this jungle it has had to do the exact opposite of what it was taught. Although the list of released prisoners doesn’t include the crime for which each one was condemned, it is easy to adventure what led many of these Utopian men and women to end up in a cell.

Perhaps among them is Yoandis who killed a cow to feed his family, or a Yuniesqui who stole fuel from a company to resell on the black market to make up for his low wages. Who knows if some Yordanka was led down the road to marital revenge because of gender violence? Or a Yusimi, who learned from the time she was little in the tenement where she lived that it was better to strike first than to strike twice? From little Pioneers with their colored neckerchiefs, they passed to being inmates in gray uniforms; from the Cuba of Marxist manuals they fell into the real world.

A generation trapped by circumstances, forced many times to commit crimes, pushed at others to escape, and condemned to few opportunities. The 411 families of these children of the Cuban experiment will be relieved right now to see them return, as will the relatives of the rest of those pardoned. But, the society they will encounter on passing through the bars continues to belie that which was once explained in front of the blackboards and at the morning school assemblies. Prison has been a part of the social alchemy that has touched them.

Don’t Get Too Close, Brother Francis / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

Works in progress to build the altar for the Pope in the Plaza of the Revolution in Havana. (Luz Escobar)

Works in progress to build the altar for the Pope in the Plaza of the Revolution in Havana. (Luz Escobar)

14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 14 September 2015 — A Cuba of different points of view and clashing passions is what the Bishop of Rome will find when he begins, in a few days, his visit to the island. A country that wants to enter the future, but that remains clamped in place by a political discourse that died in the 20th century. This context will require all of the diplomatic skills of Jorge Mario Bergoglio, but it is worth advising him of the imposing verse from Ruben Dario: “Don’t get too close, Brother Francis.”

On his arrival in Havana a massive welcome and the corresponding family photos will await the pope. He will have to pose next to a power that decades ago ordered a the tearing off of scapulars, prohibited crucifixes, and forced the portraits of the Sacred Heart of Jesus to be hidden in the depths on our homes. The same government that blocked, under fear of reprisals, several generations of Cubans from being baptized or entering a church. Continue reading

Leopoldo Lopez, The Freest Prisoner In The World / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

Leopoldo Lopez waves from a window of the Ramo Verde military prison in Caracas. (EFE)

Leopoldo Lopez waves from a window of the Ramo Verde military prison in Caracas. (EFE)

Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 11 September 2015 — I met him and it was impossible not to notice him. He stood out among everyone: young, with an impressive energy and an intelligence that suggested he would go far. Yesterday he was sentenced to 13 years and nine months in prison by a court as biased as it was malicious. On hearing the sentence I started to calculate how old his two children would be when he left prison, but I immediately stopped short. Leopold Lopez will not serve those years behind bars, I told myself, nor will he disappoint the first impression I had of him.

The authorities don’t learn. They don’t take into account that the bars magnify a political leader and the pain suffered in the cells hangs on his chest like a medal won on the bloodiest battlefield. Leopold will leave there strengthened, while on the other side, a fearful Nicolas Maduro, will not know what to do with the freest prisoner in the world. Every day that he spends behind bars, this Venezuelan will hang like a shameful weight from the dying remnants of the Chavez regime.

I also remember the moment I met Lilian Tintori. A woman who had to leap over her own fears to become the citizen who last night read a message from her husband after the unjust sentence. There was a firmness in her that had not yet emerged in the first exchange of phrases we shared in Madrid. However, the absurdity that she has experienced has emphasized her strength, brought forward her resolve.

The authoritarians know not what they do.

Leopoldo will return. Young, energetic and rewarded for his pain. Lilian is already here, with this determination that makes us ask ourselves, would we be willing to do the same for our family and for our country?

The Sacred Way / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

Reina Street in Central Havana. (14ymedio)

Reina Street in Central Havana. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Generation Y, Yoani Sanchez, 8 September 2015 — The paint drips into the cracks and holes and over the rusted metal poking through the columns and the ceilings. A colorful layer that covers over cobwebs, cracks and dirt, like make-up masks scars and wrinkles. Havana preens for the arrival of Pope Francis. The facades along the streets are touched up where the Bishop of Rome will pass by and popular humor has derisively re-baptized the path “The Sacred Way.” It is an ephemeral blush, rushed, one that the rain and the months will wash away.

They have not been able to camouflage the people, however, with optimism. The strokes of the painters, rushing to meet their schedule, don’t cover the skin or the worries. From early in the morning, Habaneros go out with their bags hanging from their shoulders looking for food. “Not even the pope coming has put something in the shops,” complains a woman on the corner of Manrique and Salud, while a friend directs her to Galiano Avenue where, she assures her, “they have good hot dogs for sale.”

Bergoglio isn’t going to pass by the empty refrigerators in the stores, so the touch up doesn’t include pretending that there is food, or disguising the shortages. Thus we are saved from the cartons of chicken thighs and the powdered milk extended with sand! There are no cosmetics to cover up the economic downtown we are experiencing. The market stands and shelves remain indoors, far from all the pomp of the papal entourage.

Our Sacred Way is hollow, purely a stage set, with the crudest props, the least believable.

“You Have To Eat A Bread That Has Dignity” / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

Baker Alberto Gonzalez in front of 'Salchipizza’s' oven. (14ymedio)

Baker Alberto Gonzalez in front of ‘Salchipizza’s’ oven. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 4 September 2015 — I just wanted to reach Carlos III Avenue. Pass quickly through Infanta Street, avoiding the propped up arcades, to catch a collective taxi and go home. This street, named for royalty, is too woven into the memories of my childhood not to lament every pothole, every sewer leak draining across the sidewalks, every balcony on the point of collapse. However, this week the avenue had a surprise for me, in the shape of a smile and the aroma of bread.

Alberto Gonzalez is an entrepreneur, “a little crazy” say those who predicted he would never launch his artisan bakery, much less in a neighborhood where many eat this staple only through their meager portion from the ration market. Determination, stubbornness and a good dose of optimism have combined so that Salchipizza, his private business, is efficient, well run, with varied offerings in the midst of this heir without the right to a throne that is Infanta Street. Continue reading

A Child Writes the Tragedy of a People in the Sand / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

Front page of Spain's El Pais, 3 September

Front page of Spain’s El Pais, 3 September

I am innocent and I have come to the seashore 
Gaston Baquero

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, 3 September 2015 – There is a boy on the beach, he does not move, he does not smile, he does not build sand castles. The life of Aylan Kurdi has been brief: only three years, but the drama of his people has lasted decades, centuries. A tragedy that sheds light on the displaced, on wars, on the overwhelming economic contrasts that mark this planet. The little head that rests in the sand encompasses the pain of those who flee, who leave everything behind, but who never arrive at their destination.

A people who escapes always understands better another who emigrates. They know the pain of saying goodbye to things that are left behind. Goodbye table. Goodbye tree. Goodbye window, from which every day they gaze upon the sunrise, and the horror. Goodbye friends. There is always a touch of innocence, of blind hope in those who leave, as if they are filled with the certainty that they will reach the other side. Continue reading

Cloud Seeding or the Sword of Voltus V / Yoani Sanchez

The Japanese anime Voltus V

The Japanese anime Voltus V

14ymedio biggerGeneration Y, Yoani Sanchez, 28 August 2015 — Undone, with the sparks of short circuits clouding his vision and the cabin smashed into smithereens, Voltus V faced the worst end against a fearsome enemy. However, at the last minute, he drew his sword and in a clean cut slew his enemy. Japanese anime, so popular on the island during the eighties, seems to have inspired the Cuban authorities in their tendencies to hold off on certain solutions until a problem has already resulted in the worst ravages.

This has happened with the recent announcement that, as of this coming September 15, a campaign will begin to “artificially increase the rain.” Through a technique known as “cloud seeding,” Pyrocartridges will be launched from a Russian Yak-40 plane so that the water vapor particles will condense, and this condensation will produce precipitation, according to the official press.

The first reaction of many on reading the news was to wonder why they hadn’t done something like this earlier. Did the country have to get to its current state of hydrological emergency for Voltus V to draw his sword? With the dams at no more than 36% of capacity and 25 reservoirs completely dry–at the so-called “death point”–now the experts from the National Institute of Hydraulic Resources (INRH) propose to bombard the clouds? Continue reading

The Missing Statistics On Women In Cuba / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

Gender violence affects an unknown number of victims in Cuba every day, but the statistics of these reprehensible acts do not come to light. (Silvia Corbelle / 14ymedio)

Gender violence affects an unknown number of victims in Cuba every day, but the statistics of these reprehensible acts do not come to light. (Silvia Corbelle / 14ymedio)

14ymedio biggerGeneration Y, Yoani Sanchez, 25 August 2015 — In the neighborhood of Cayo Hueso everyone knew her as “the woman with the machete slashes.” You didn’t have to get too close to see the scars on her arms. These marks for life were made one night when her husband returned home with more alcohol than patience and, machete in hand, went after her. He was in prison for a couple of years and afterwards returned to the same tenement room where the fight had been. “He didn’t have any place else to live and the police didn’t get him out of here,” she said, apologetically. Gender violence creates an unknown number of victims every day in Cuba, but the statistics on these acts are not made public.

For weeks now, marking the 55th anniversary of the Federation of Cuban Women (FMC), we’ve had to hear on television and in the official press the numbers of women who have achieved administrative positions, who are at the helm of a company, a part of Parliament or who have managed to graduate from college. They stuff us full of only some of the numbers, to show that the women’s emancipation has reached this country, while remaining silent on the data about the dark side of reality, where the man commands and the woman obeys. Continue reading

Yusmila Reyna: “UNPACU’s Challenge Is To Turn Sympathizers into Activists” / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

UNPACU activist Yusmila Reyna. (Facebook)

UNPACU activist Yusmila Reyna. (Facebook)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 25 August 2015 – A philologist by training, a dissident by passion, and an activist with the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU) by choice, Yusmila Reyna (b. 1976) is today one of the most important figures in the opposition. She speaks slowly, moves easily through technology issues and seeks perfection in everything she does.

Since joining UNPACU, this woman has known how to leave the imprint of a part of her personality on the movement. This week we exchanged messages through the State Nauta service about the fourth anniversary of the opposition organization. In her free minutes between her young daughter and daily challenges, Yusmila responded to some questions for 14ymedio.

Sanchez. Four years after the founding of the UNPACU, what is the main challenge of the organization?

Reyna. To motivate and move thousands of Cubans to join the peaceful struggle for freedom. That is the great challenge of all opposition. Although we have achieved certain results, the reality is that we have much left to do.

Sanchez. Who are the members of UNPACU and how many are there?

Reyna. We have had many ups and downs in the course of these four years. Many have joined, but not everyone can bear the pressures of the repressive forces. Between the eastern region and Camaguey is where we are best organized. We now have about 2,500 activists. In the rest of the country we are not in a condition to establish numbers right now. In the central and western regions we are reorganizing, restructuring and trying to identify the leadership to sustain the fight. Continue reading