‘Sputnik’ and ‘Russia Today’ Invade the Cuban Media

The references to ‘Sputnik’ and ‘RT’ are increasingly frequent in Cuba’s official media, which cites them among their main sources.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 13 December 2017 — While the accusations grow against Russia for using social networks to manipulate the Catalan crisis, the American elections and Britain’s Brexit, the Kremlin-financed press gains space in Cuba. The references to Sputnik and Russia Today, which is now called RT, are increasingly frequent in the official media, which presents them among its main sources.

The Russian state news agency Sputnik and its international television channel RT are mentioned every day in newspapers, and TV news and radio programs on the island. The content taken from both media ranges from scientific announcements, to information about Russia to international issues.

Without substantiating the veracity of the information provided, the analysts of the official press assume the points of view, the opinions and the assertions of those media, with the same complicity with which they once promoted information from the Soviet newspaper Pravda and the official new agency TASS. continue reading

Questioning the legitimacy of the West, promoting skepticism of democracy, doubting the future of the European Union, disseminating conspiracy theories about the powers that move the world, and denying the decision-making capacity of citizens in liberal systems are some of the ideas most repeated in those state media.

In support of this scaffolding are added “testimonies” and opinions to reinforce the idea of ​​the superiority of authoritarian regimes in comparison with the chaos that seizes parliamentary debates when approving new security measures or passing laws, in societies governed by the separation of powers.

The current closeness with Russian media contrasts with the attitude of the Cuban government towards Novedades de Moscú (a weekly newspaper published in Spanish) and Sputnik magazine in the years of Perestroika and Glasnsot in the Soviet Union, when the circulation of those publications was censored in Cuba.

The cult of personality around Vladimir Putin and Fidel Castro is also part of the recipe of this propaganda press, with more intentions to indoctrinate than to inform. Analysts warn that the average person does not know if what they see is propaganda or information, one of the keys to the success of these media, especially on social networks. In addition, RT and Sputnik also display a rampant absence of criticism towards any regime allied with the Kremlin or any enemy of the United States.

According to them, the launching of the missiles by the Kim Jong-un regime is the correct North Korean response to “the joint naval maneuvers of the United States, Japan and South Korea,” while the most recent Venezuelan elections represent the “greatest victory’ of Chavism and the “final defeat” of the opposition.

The information published by the official Cuban media on the Catalan crisis was mainly based on RT’s reporting. The support for the separatists reached its climax the days before the illegal referendum, which was presented as a democratic consultation in opposition to the position of the Spanish Government, which defended the constitutional legality but which was branded by the Russian media as “fascist” and an inheritor from the dictator Francisco Franco.

These official bodies of the Kremlin also have a political agenda when narrating the Cuban reality. Positive verbs such as “grow” and “develop” or nouns of a humanistic nature in the style of “solidarity,” “justice” and “collaboration” dot the information about Cuba, in which the supposed achievements of the Cuban health system, its sporting feats and official events are highlighted, while productive inefficiency, police repression or migratory exodus are silenced.

Both media fail to mention the political opposition within the country and, when they do, they repeat terms such as “internal enemies,” “counterrevolutionary” or “financed by the United States,” while presenting Raúl Castro’s government as having broad popular support and a proven diplomatic ascendancy in Latin America.

The worn-out formula of the small “revolutionary” David against the great “imperialist” Goliath fits within all of their content about the relations between Washington and Havana and the diplomatic thaw promoted by Barack Obama. Clearly, according to them, the economic problems faced by the island’s resident every day are the absolute fault of “the blockade.”

On 25 November, RT broadcast a program with the lead “One year after the death of Fidel Castro Cubans remain faithful to his legacy,” in which it delved into topics about the genius and charisma of the former president, in addition to interviews only with his eternally grateful supporters.

Last May, a few days after Donald Trump announced in a speech in Miami the change of course in the relationship between Washington and Havana, Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez offered an interview to the Russian network, one of the only two media that commented on the subject. The other was the Chavista channel from Venezuela, TeleSUR.

Several ideas were emphasized in the material presented: the US president develops a policy “typical of the Cold War”; the White House mutilates “the civil rights” of its own people; and any criticism launched by the occupant of the White House towards the Plaza of the Revolution represents the sin of “a double standard.” Three points from the Kremlin’s information booklet on Cuba.

These biased positions have been widely disseminated on social networks thanks to the island’s cyber soldiers who militantly share the content of RT and Sputnik. Both media also work to indoctrinate the Cuban audience through the Cuban press, thus Moscow influences the way in which the reality of the outside world is perceived by Cubans.

Unlike many European countries where alarms have been sounded over the new media war that is being deployed by the ex-official of the KGB who is now president of Russia, Havana willingly lends itself to all the manipulations of Putin and offers him, in addition, a captive audience of 11 million Cubans.

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

Life in Numbers

The tomatoes make the shape of a five and the tiny peppers used to season the beans come together to form a scandalous 16. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 7 December 2017 – She pauses to think in front of a stand at the market. My mother is not evaluating the size of the tomatoes or the quality of the garlic, but making calculations. A mathematical operation where subtraction and division are the stars. With a pension of 250 Cuban pesos a month (roughly $10 US), she can’t lose sight of a single centavo and is an expert in daily calculations.

For the majority of Cuban retirees, the cost of living, that concept that connects the value of goods and services to the material quality of one’s existence, is an equation that yields a higher figure every day. Those who come out worst with these price increases are those who do not receive help or remittances or – because of their health – cannot engage in any informal work, such as selling cigarettes at retail.

In stores and markets they are known by their gaze. They are those who pause, attentively observing the price lists, while only a few coins appear in their hands. They usually wear clothes more than two decades old, the same amount of time that has passed since the smile was erased from their faces and they wait for evening to fall so they can “catch” the products at reduced prices.

Throughout the day they calculate their accounts, living surrounded by digits and breathing sums. When they unpack the contents of their shopping bags, the 14 Cuban pesos for a pound of chili peppers appears between their eyes and the merchandise. Tomatoes make the shape of a five, and the littlest peppers used to season the beans come together to form a scandalous 16.

In just one visit to the market, retirees like my mother spend a seventh part of their pension. The numbers do not lie and they are there, on the table, to remind them.

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

Hemiplegia, The Sad Case Of Ignacio Ramonet

At the same university where Ramonet (right) presented his book on Tuesday, a journalism student was expelled a few months ago for her involvement with an independent opposition group. (UCLV)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Generation Y, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 23 November 2017 — When Ignacio Ramonet’s interview with Fidel Castro was published in 2006, many citizens did not miss the opportunity to mock the title. “Why should we read One Hundred Hours With Fidel if we have spent our whole lives with him?” people were saying on the streets, but the journalist did not even notice.

That volume, marked by journalistic meekness that led it to be cataloged as an autobiography of the Maximum Leader, earned more than just laughs. Accusations of having used the “cut and paste” method, to make answers out of the content of old speeches, also rained down. continue reading

Without having given a convincing explanation of such issues, Ramonet has returned to the charge with another book being promoted this week by several universities on the island. This volume has, also, has one of those titles that set off smiles of ridicule: The Empire of Surveillance.

Last Tuesday, Ramonet, a professor of Theory of Communication, spoke at Marta Abreu de Las Villas Central University during the presentation of the book, which was brought out by José Martí Publishing. It was a bitter diatribe against the global surveillance network that the United States has woven to obtain information about citizens, groups and governments.

The book puts special emphasis on the complicity of companies that manage user data, adding them to that web of espionage, commercial interests, control and subordination, a tangle in which modern society is trapped and from which it must urgently escape, according to the analyst.

On this point, he doesn’t differ from what so many of the planet’s cyber activists are denouncing, but Ramonet suffers from an ethical hemiplegia when it comes to sharing responsibilities and commenting on other governments that invade the privacy of their citizens every day.

The fact that he traveled to such an Orwellian country as Cuba to point the finger at Washington shows his position when investigating topics such as Big Data, the legalization of surveillance on the web and the compilation of user data to predict behavior or sell products.

Cuba, where State Security (the Big Brother in this case) monitors every detail of the lives of individuals, is not the best place to talk about indiscreet eyes that read other people’s e-mails, policemen who observe every piece of information that crosses the network and data intercepted by powers that use them to subdue human beings.

This nation, where the Plaza of the Revolution maintains an iron grip on information and only allows public dissemination of discourses in agreement with itself, should be among the regimes Ramonet denounces in his book. But, curiously, for the journalist there is “bad” and “good” surveillance, with that carried out by the Cuban government among the latter.

At the same university where Ramonet presented his book on Tuesday, a journalism student was expelled a few months ago due to her connection with an independent opposition group. The Empire of Surveillance sees no shades of gray and trashed her with the complicity of some coerced students and student leaders.

A few days later, the cyberpolice that make up that army of control launched a campaign of defamation against the girl on social networks. To denigrate her they used information taken from her emails, her phone calls and even private conversations. Our Big Brother acted without regard.

A few years ago, national television showed the contents of several private emails that had been stolen from the personal account of an opposition member. All this without the order of a judge, without the lady being prosecuted for a crime and, of course, without having sent a request to Google to provide the content that supposedly should be published.

Ramonet cannot ignore that the Telecommunications Company of Cuba (Etecsa) maintains a strict filter on each text message sent by its clients. The state monopoly censors words like “dictatorship” and the names of opposition leaders. Although senders are charged for the messages, they never reach their intended recipients.

Nor has Ramonet, former director of Le Monde Diplomatique, gone to a Wi-Fi zone to access the web among those that the Cuban government opened after years of citizen pressure. If he had tried any of them, he would know that on this Island the Chinese firewall model has been copied to censor innumerable pages.

Does Ramonet know that a good part of Cuban Internet users use anonymous proxies, not only to access these filtered websites but also to protect their private information from the indiscreet eye of the State? Has he noticed that people lower their voices to talk about politics, put covers on forbidden books or shield their computer screens with their bodies when they visit a blocked newspaper like 14ymedio?

Has he ever wondered about the agreement between Havana and Moscow to open a center in Cuba under the name of InvGuard, which will implement an alleged protection system against network attacks? Just when the Kremlin is accused of having manipulated, through the internet, everything from Brexit to the Catalan crisis to elections in the United States.

The reader can find answers to none of these questions in Ignacio Ramonet’s most recent book, because, like his autobiography of Fidel Castro that he tried to pass off as an interview, this book raises questions among Cubans from the title alone: Why should we read The empire of Surveillance when our entire lives are under its control?

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

Cubans in Trinidad And Tobago, Caught Between Illegality and Hope

Kenya Montes de Oca traveled from the Cuban community of Placetas, in Villa Clara, to Trinidad and Tobago where she has lived since September 2016. (Courtesy)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 19 November 2017 – She came to Trinidad and Tobago more than a year ago with “one pair of pants and two blouses.” Kenya Montes de Oca traveled from Placetas, in Villa Clara, with the idea of ​​becoming a mule and living off the import business, but life pushed her towards seeking political refugee status.

The villaclareña explains to 14ymedio that she still trembles when she sees a policeman in the streets of Port of Spain. During her first month in that small nation she lived illegally until she managed to get the so-called “supervisory order,” a step prior to the request for refugee status. continue reading

Trinidad and Tobago does not require a visa for Cubans, but at the airport immigration officials can deport anyone they suspect of wanting to stay illegally.  Montes de Oca passed that first test without great difficulties in September 2016.

The initial idea was to buy merchandise to resell in Cuba. However, a casual conversation at the Havana airport with a dissident and State Security’s subsequent visit to her family in Placetas led her to her current situation.

“I was forced to leave absolutely everything, my house, my family, my habits,” she emphasizes, although she feels that the questions she had been accumulating about the Cuban system would have led her, sooner or later, to get into trouble on the Island.

A union leader for a decade, Montes de Oca worked at the People’s Power polling stations and served as a lay judge. “I was responsible for the security of a poultry farm until I discovered a network of embezzlement.” Reporting these irregularities brought her countless pressures.

“It was never my goal to leave everything behind,” but “circumstances decided for me,” says this woman, speaking to the press for the first time.

There are no official figures on the number of migrants from the island who remain irregularly in the neighboring country, but Montes de Oca says that “they range from deserters from the FAR (Revolutionary Armed Forces) and MININT (Ministry of the Interior), to political cadres, medical personnel, marginalized Jehovah’s Witnesses and opponents: we are a mosaic.”

Some have been luckier than others. The worst case she ever encountered is that of a young woman from Ciego de Ávila who was working to send aid to her family in Cuba. “She suffered a horrible rape by the owner of the rental where she lived, but could not report the fact because she had no papers.”

The arrival of Cubans has been on the rise since the Government of Raúl Castro implemented its Travel and Immigration Reform in January 2013 that made it easier to travel abroad from Cuba. Last August the situation escalated to a point that the two governments began to negotiate a Memorandum of Understanding on Immigration Matters to regulate the flow of migrants.

Samuel, 32, has been living for 11 months in the Trinidadian community of San Fernando. Originally from the slum area of ​​Guanabacoa in Havana, the young man graduated a decade ago in mechanical engineering but now works as a bricklayer.

“I do not have papers but I have developed a clientele and I have friends who are helping me,” he tells this newspaper. With the nearly $600 he earns monthly, he has rented a room with a friend and sends money to his family in Cuba.

“I’m illegal, I do the worst jobs you can have here and yet I earn 50 times more than the salary I received in my country as a professional,” he argues. With the money that he sends every two weeks to his parents they have been able to “fix the roof of the house and repair the kitchen.”

His initial idea was to “earn a small capital stake” in Trinidad and Tobago to continue on to the United States, but last January he was surprised by the end of the wet foot/dry foot policy. “I thought I was going to die, but now I think this country can be a good place to stay,” he says.

Samuel is still far from being able to claim political refugee status. “I have not done the paperwork but I plan to start it in the coming months.” His greatest fear is ending up, like a friend of his from childhood, locked up for months in the Aripo detention center for foreigners.

Both Kenya Montes de Oca and Samuel have received help from the Living Water Community Center. “I did not go hungry thanks to that NGO and my first clothes I also received from them,” confirms the villaclareña.

Last June, the United Nations (UN) granted refugee status to a group of Cubans who protested for a week in front of the offices of that international organization in Trinidad and Tobago.

The majority of those who demonstrated had been waiting months for an answer to their request for political refugee status. The favorable ruling assured them of the protection of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and opened a door of hope for other Cubans in a similar situation.

On November 24, Montes de Oca has her appointment with the UNHCR from which she could leave as a political refugee. If she succeeds, a new stage will begin for her and she plans to remain in the Caribbean country for the time being.

She dreams of reuniting the family but her only son has been called to compulsory military service so the final reunion will be delayed. The young man wants to study to be a journalist, but she is sure that “because he has a refugee mother he will not be able to access that career” in Cuba.

From her new homeland, the villaclareña admires “the cultural mix” and the fact that people of “different religions or political positions live in harmony.” She does not hesitate to say that she will only return to Cuba “when people are not discriminated against or mistreated because of their way of thinking”.

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

Another Ally Falls: The Siege Against Robert Mugabe

Every time Mugabe was condemned by international organizations for tainting elections and eliminating critical voices, Havana was always on his side. (EFE / File)

A year ago, Mugabe attended the funeral of Fidel Castro, his comrade in authoritarianism, perhaps like one who participates in his own funeral.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 16 November 2017 – No one who has been in power for four decades is innocent and Robert Mugabe will not be the exception. This week the 93-year-old African caudillo is being called to account for his outrages as the longest serving dictator in the world. The man who has held Zimbabwe in his fist since 1980, when he became head of the government, has been confined to his home by the army and his departure from his post as head of state, which he has occupied since 1987, seems imminent.

Sick, weakened and having become a nuisance even to his own party, the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF), Mugabe has been at the head of the country for 37 years and his record of human rights violations is as extensive as his days spent sitting in the presidential chair. continue reading

Like most revolutionaries who come to power, Mugabe was responsible for destroying his own prestige. The first president of Zimbabwe, after the country shook off the colonial yoke, has, by his actions, negated that aura of freedom and emancipation that once clung to him.

Like a horse alone on the race track, he won one after another presidential elections, elections that he orchestrated to validate himself before international public opinion and that he won by using fraud and repression against dissent. He insisted he be venerated as a God and recently announced his obstinate candidacy for the 2018 elections.

In recent years, Mugabe has led the country into one of the greatest economic crises in its history, with an increasingly severe shortage of food, skyrocketing inflation and 80% unemployment, some of which he attributed to an international conspiracy, as is common practice in these kinds of regimes.

Mugabe has controlled every detail of the life of a nation, a nation that was once known as “Africa’s granary” ​​for its fertile lands and high agricultural production, now burdened by plunder and the social abyss. Where each citizen resides, what they eat, who they meet with, their sexual orientation, are not options to choose from in the Zimbabwe of the old patriarch.

His regime fits the word “totalitarianism” with the exactitude of a dictionary. A political system that he tried to cloak in the garb of social justice and opportunities for all, but that in practice only provided opportunities to the circle closest to the president, to his ideological allies.

His policy of privileging locals by offering them the action of foreign companies, did not result in a better life for the common man but ended up fattening the pockets of his fellow politicians, family members and loyal officials. The Mugabe clan put down deep and devastating roots in the national economy, just like colonialism once did.

An outstanding disciple of the school of dictators, as a ruler he has also been vengeful and intolerant of discordant voices. The political leader, born in the British colony of Southern Rhodesia, initially presented himself as a “savior” of peoples but became a source of hatred and polarization for the society he promised to represent.

Last year the thousands of people who protested peacefully for human rights violations and the deterioration of the economic situation faced his repression and were met with blows, arrests and threats. The one-time revolutionary covered his ears at the complaints of international organizations, after all Zimbabwe was his kingdom.

However, from that moment his days were numbered though he did not yet know it, or chose the arrogance of not wanting to see it. The straw that broke the camel’s back was last week’s dismissal of his vice president Emmerson Mnangagwa, and the evidence – ever stronger – that the satrap was planning to transfer power to his wife, Grace Mugabe, age 53.

As the president’s health has plummeted, power struggles have broken out and each party, those who support Grace and those who bet on Mnangagwa, seek only an end: to take control of Zimbabwe, an appetizing piece of the African cake.

Fear of the other makes these caudillos take refuge in their nuclear families, placing their confidence in their narrowest circle to pass the baton. Successors that guarantee continuity, protection and impunity forever.

Like the end of all authoritarian regimes, Mugabe’s is full of contradictions. While some media reports that the president was preparing his resignation and negotiating the departure of his wife, others say that the situation is controlled in order to save national sovereignty and the nation itself.

“We want to make it very clear that this is not a military takeover of the government, what Zimbabwe’s defense forces are doing is intended to pacify a degenerative political, social and economic situation in our country, which if not addressed could result in a violent conflict,” said a statement from the military.

A document made public this Thursday and signed by 115 civil society organizations in Zimbabwe asks Mugabe to resign and the military to restore the constitutional order to finally achieve the long-awaited democratic transition. It is part of the desperate cry of a nation exhausted by the excessive prominence of one man.

A year ago, Mugabe attended the funeral of Fidel Castro, his comrade in authoritarianism, perhaps like one who participates in his own funeral. A dinosaur saying goodbye to another fossil of the twentieth century.

Every time Mugabe was condemned by international organizations for tainting elections and eliminating critical voices, Havana was always on his side. For decades, the African satrap has maintained an exchange of favors with the Island that now begins to falter.

The Plaza of the Revolution is cautious today in statements about what is happening in Zimbabwe. The island’s news programs have not yet condemned the perpetrators of Robert Mugabe’s house arrest. They are on the lookout for a new caudillo to emerge, someone to whom they can extend a willing and complicit hand.

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

In Cuba, the Cold War Returns

While the political class bares its teeth and boasts of the holster on its belt, around the United States Embassy in there is nothing but long faces. (EFE)

Raúl Castro has not taken advantage of the steps taken by Barack Obama and has chosen to opt for caution rather than reform

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 13 November 2017 — It was too quiet to last. The diplomatic thaw between Cuba and the United States has failed and both nations are resetting their watches to the times of the Cold War. In recent weeks new causes of tension have arisen and political discourse returns to that customary belligerence so yearned for.

The link between the Plaza of the Revolution and the White House has taken several steps back from where it was on 17 December 2014, a date coined in Cuba as 17-D, when Barack Obama and Raúl Castro announced the normalization of relations. This leap into the past is motivated by the alleged acoustic attacks – sounds that resemble the singing of dozens of crickets – that caused nausea, dizziness and headaches in United States diplomats stationed in Cuba.

The official propaganda machine had slowed down during the reconciliation period and now tries to resume the rhythm that characterized it in the days of Ronald Reagan or George W. Bush. However, we can see the fatigue and in particular the apathy of a national audience more attuned to daily survival than to diplomatic squabbles. continue reading

Cartoons lambasting the US president have also returned to the pages of government newspapers, while the concept of anti-imperialism takes center stage in the agendas of government institutions, unable to articulate a less ideological discourse. These are good times for recalcitrants, opportunists and radicals.

Lacking their favorite target, the regime’s spokespeople had found themselves lost among so many hugs, conciliatory photos and delegations of American businessmen who came to the Island. Unable to deal with the calm, now they can fill their lungs with the air of storm. Only confrontation makes them important, only combat seems alive to them.

While the political class bares its teeth and boasts of the holster on its belt, outside the United States Embassy in Havana long faces abound. Every morning dozens of Cubans arrive in the neighborhood, distressed by being stranded in the middle of an immigration process due to the suspension of consular work at the embassy. Small businesses in the area that thrived on selling coffee, renting rooms to visa applicants traveling from elsewhere in Cuba, or helping people to fill out immigration forms, have descended into sudden bankruptcy. Uncle Sam stimulated the economy of thousands of families near the perimeter of the imposing building and now everything is on hold, impregnated with uncertainty.

The neighbors can only remind themselves of the image of August 2015 when US Secretary of State John Kerry participated in raising the American flag in the recently inaugurated US Embassy in Havana. It was “the best time in this area and the country,” says Paquito, a neighbor who made a living offering a consignment service for bags and cell phones to visa applicants. Today his room is empty and his greatest wish is that “the yumas,” the Americans, “will return as soon as possible”.

Throughout the country many fear that Donald Trump’s measures will go further and end up affecting the flow of regular flights between the Island and its northern neighbor, flights restored during the past administration. A cutback in the sending of remittances also populates the nightmares of countless families who survive thanks to the help that comes every month from el Norte.

Those who predict a worsening of relationships are right. The withdrawal of non-essential personnel after the acoustic attacks is just one more episode in a soap opera punctuated with hatreds and passions, bickering and wrangling that have dominated both countries for more than half a century.

The new episode has only added a new measure of mystery, spy stories and sophisticated aggressions to what was already the typical script of this “avoidance/approach” conflict, where the object of desire is both rejected and hazily desired.

The terrain for belligerency is fertile, and on such a fecund base sprout the most varied speculations about the perpetrators of the attacks allegedly suffered by the diplomats.

Supporters of the thaw point to an orthodox group within the Cuban government who saw the pact with the United States as a betrayal. A “Taliban” brotherhood well enough placed in the spheres of power to be able to undertake an action of such complexity.

Others speculate that a third country, such as Russia, Iran or North Korea, used Cuban territory to perpetrate an attack on its old rival. In that case, the island would have been merely the scene of a struggle of external powers with national intelligence not even aware of it. The latter is very unlikely in a country where surveillance has escalated to degrees of oppressive sophistication and intensity.

There are also those who point to Fidel Castro as the evil genius behind the acoustic attack plot. The only man with more power than Raúl Castro who would have been capable of organizing something of that nature emerges amid the speculations of those who remember his incalculable capacity to annoy Washington.

Those who hold the hypothesis of the “poisoned will” of the Comandante say that the mysterious noises began before his death last November and also remember how he distanced himself from the diplomatic thaw. The eternal anti-imperialist must have liked nothing about his brother’s flirtations with the tenant of the White House, say those who support this conjecture.

The official press points out that the acoustic attacks have been just the pretext for Trump to implement a policy towards Cuba more aligned with those segments of the diaspora discontented with the thaw, as it downplays what happened and sows doubt that such aggressions even existed. However, it reiterates that the Government is willing to cooperate with the investigation.

The big loser in all these events is Raúl Castro. The main legacy of his mandate rested precisely on having achieved a rapprochement between both nations. Through the thaw, the youngest of the brothers made his own mark and stepped away from the shadow of the Comandante en Jefe, a contumacious agitator of the conflict between the Island’s David and the American Goliath.

The general, who until now has been unable to fulfill many of the promises of his mandate – such as monetary reunification, in a country fractured by the duality between the convertible peso and the Cuban peso – or returning to wages their lost dignity, sees how his government’s legacy is vanishing.

Diplomatic normalization is, without a doubt, a story of the failure of the second Castro, who did not take advantage of the steps taken by Barack Obama, preferring to opt for caution instead of reform. If he is not directly responsible for the acoustic attacks, then he is responsible for the negligence that allowed others to carry them out and for not having been able to prevent this incident from resulting in the current diplomatic confrontation.

In the end, the era of extended hands is over and the island is in the midst of an economic recession, suffering the effects of a powerful hurricane, facing diminished support from Venezuela, while the so-called”historic generation” is on the verge of biological obsolescence. The Cold War has returned, but the Cuba of those years no longer exists.

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Editor’s Note: This text has been previously published by the Spanish newspaper El País in its edition of Sunday, November 12.

The Art Of Turning Artists Into “Enemies”

Artist Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara on a park bench in Havana. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Generation Y, Yoani Sanchez, 10 November 2017 — He scribbled on a wall and they detained him for several months; he founded an opposition party and they accused him of buying some sacks of cement; he opened an independent media outlet and they denounced him for treason. Every step taken to be free ended with a disproportionate repression that can only be explained through the fear that the ruling party feels towards its own citizens.

The case against the artist Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara has once again exposed the fear that beats in the highest spheres and spills over onto everyone who leaves the assigned fold. The police officers who entered his house last Monday went in search of any evidence to incriminate him, because they are the executors of a punishment policy that is systematically applied against the system’s critics. continue reading

The sacks of construction materials are just a pretext to “show him the instruments” and to embroil Otero Alcántara in an infinite legal process. What is coming now is a movie we already know well: the trial at full speed, the sentence that allows him to be removed from circulation until after the date scheduled for the independent event and, meanwhile, a “good cop” who will whisper in his ear the advantages of emigrating and avoiding such imbroglios.

The artist will feel every kind of pressure. On the one hand, State Security will say that his call to participate in an independent event is a provocation that will not be allowed, and on the other hand the official artists’ guild will distance itself and its members from his proposals. Some of those who said “yes” to participating in the #Bienal00 will no long respond to the emails or will communicate that they will be unavailable due to an unforeseen trip.

Some will accuse him of wanting to attract attention, others will tell him he could have gone through official channels before throwing himself into organizing a parallel event. There will be those who will reproach him for having crossed the red line between art and activism, or for having dabbled in politics. The most caustic will whisper that now he can include his own face in the next Game of Thrones video he creates about the candidates for the Cuban presidency.

However, solidarity will also rain down upon him from those who, in recent days, have been expecting the imprisonment of the author of ¿Dónde está Mella?, a performance held in the former Manzana de Gómez, in Havana. His case will help show the world that Raúl Castro’s government has a similar modus operandi to attack opponents, artists and journalists.

The ruling party does not care if the “daring” report human rights violations, work with metaphors or investigate information. From up there, anyone who does not follow orders deserves only one word: enemy. Now, for them, Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara has fallen into that category.

With the End of the Russian Revolution We Lost the Colorful Candies

Former President Fidel Castro meeting with a group of pioneers in Uzbekistan. (Archive)

In just a few months the great empire had crumbled without its archenemy the United States firing a single shot.

14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 7 November 2017 — It was bath time after an afternoon of pulling weeds around tiny lettuce plants. The high school dorm was a coming and going of teenagers with towels on their shoulders and a piece of soap in their hands. The shout came from a bunk near my bed: “I have Russian candies and they are the last ones.”

The year was 1991 and the Soviet Union was in its final stretch. In just a few months the great empire had crumbled without its archenemy the United States firing a single shot. In Cuba, Russian technicians left in torrents and the buildings they had once occupied in Havana’s Alamar neighborhood were left empty. The worst was yet to come. continue reading

Olga, a 15-year-old teenager from Guantánamo, was reselling, at our “school in the countryside,” the goods that the wives of those Soviet workers had given her. For months, she supplied the dorm with candy, cookies and personal hygiene products, a variety of merchandise that contrasted with the empty shelves in the official stores.

Prices were high and Cuban money was worth less and less. We handed over those bills with the faces of the heroes of independence in exchange for a flavor that would transport us away from the monotonous trays in the boarding school cafeteria. The impromptu saleswoman did not know it, but she was bringing us pieces of a country that was about to collapse.

Days before that March afternoon when Olga offered the few candies she had left, in the USSR a popular referendum had been held on the proposed Union of Sovereign States to transform the giant federation into one of less centralized republics. The Cuban press was sparing in the details, but there was a whiff in the air, the smell of an end of an era.

Oblivious to politics and concentrated on filling our stomachs, the students of the Socialist Republic of Romania High School, deep in the Cuban countryside in the municipality of Alquízar, witnessed an unprecedented change in our lives. In the classrooms, until then, busts of José Martí had alternated with images of Vladímir Ilich Lenin, and at night some students rolled their cigarettes using pages torn from books on Marxism.

The USSR had always been there, throughout our brief existence. How could we imagine that this would change? We had grown up surrounded by all the symbolism of the October Revolution: its hammer and sickle, the dictatorship of the proletariat and the repeated phrase that humanity was in the stage of “transition from capitalism to socialism.” It was just a matter of time before the promised future arrived.

Instead, the Soviet presence was declining. My family kept some cans of condensed milk in a drawer, the last vestige that reached our tables of what had been “the fair exchange” between the island and the countries of the socialist bloc. On the screens of our poorly-made television sets, a frantic Fidel Castro was beginning to recognize that we might run out of bolos, bowling pins, as we were wont to call those powerful comrades, our fellow travelers.

That March afternoon I bought only a strawberry and a mint candy. They came in brightly colored papers with small diamonds. I unfolded one of those wrappers and stuck it on the underside of the bunk that I stared at when I went to bed. I looked at it every night trying to decipher a hidden form that escaped me.

In those tiny figures I could see the dome of the cathedrals of St. Basil in Moscow, snowflakes with bizarre structures, the tops of some trees and even the silhouette of a huge bear. I fell asleep imagining that I was waking up in a dacha or skiing on a frozen lake.

June arrived, I finished the exams and went home. For the first time the Russians chose a president: Boris Yeltsin. Shortly afterwards, George HW Bush visited Moscow and signed a historic treaty to reduce the nuclear arsenal of both superpowers. The official press barely touched on that surprising turn of events for which Fidel Castro coined a word: the desmerengamiento – literally the ‘cake-melting’ – the final collapse of the USSR.

During those school holidays I visited several classmates who lived in Alamar, east of Havana. Olga had moved with her family to one of the apartments emptied by the Russians in their stampede. They had forced the door and entered illegally, like the rest of the occupants of the building.

It was August and the beach near the concrete blocks was a blue plate without waves. We went for a swim and a while later the father of another teenager came running to report that a coup had broken out to overthrow Gorbachev and “avoid the decomposition of the country.”

“Now the bolos are going to return, for sure,” added the man. A cheerful uproar from hungry young people, eager to have the candy and the cans of milk back, went on for several minutes; but the Soviets never returned. Or at least not as before.

Navigating Among the Travel and Immigration Nonsense

A Cuban rafter who emigrated seven years ago now wants to return on his yacht, but he has been told that his family in Cuba cannot go out for a ride on his boat from the Hemingway Marina. (umbrellatravel)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Generation Y, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 2 November 2017 — Three days and thirty calls, this is how Carla summarizes the time immediately after the announcement of the new travel and immigration measures. “I dialed all the numbers I had on hand,” she says, with a cup of tea in her hands at her home in Centro Habana. The nursing graduate is anxiously awaiting a reunion with her brother who left Cuba on a raft and has been based in Tampa for seven years.

However, in the complex skein of prohibitions in Cuba’s travel and migration policy, the relaxations that will take effect as of the first of January in 2018 have introduced more uncertainties than certainties. “He wants to come on his yacht so our family can take the boat along the Cuban coast and even fish,” she explains.

Several calls to Marina Hemingway have crash-landed the nurse’s dreams. “Your brother can arrive on his boat, but Cubans living on the island can not yet go out for a ride on the boat,” a voice told her from the other end of the line. Thus Carla came up against that part of the legislation that still hasn’t budged an inch. continue reading

For decades, Cubans have been locked in successive boxes. Some compartments are designed to hobble their ability to decide who governs the country and what newspapers they can read. In the last decade, some of those restrictions have become obsolete, or been repealed or changed, but their “hard core” still stands.

At the center of so many limitations is the government’s conviction that if it allows citizens to have greater spaces for decision and action they will end up overturning the current regime. A trip on a yacht along the Cuban coast could make Carla’s family wonder why they have been denied that pleasure for so long and increase their discontent.

What this hypothetical long-awaited journey can trigger has long-term connotations for the family.

The mother, with a monthly pension that does not exceed 15 dollars, will cry for joy when she sees, before dying, the face that has been hidden from her by el Morro, something that few Havanans have been able to enjoy. She may even stuff down a lobster tail freshly pulled from the water by her son, “the enemy who escaped the Revolution,” as he was described by the president of her local Committee for the Defense of the Revolution on learning of his departure.

When the earth recedes and they find themselves in the safe discretion of the immense blue, it is probable that Carla will tell the former rafter how she steals medicines from the hospital to sell on the black market and that she dreams of an immigration process based on “family reunification” that will get her out of the country.  “No one can stand it, my little brother,” she will confess, protected by the waves and the sky.

If that maritime route were to open, a partition of the sealed compartment in which they have been enclosed will collapse and will not be able to rise again. An interior wall, of fear and lack of opportunities, will be seriously damaged. Aware of that, for the moment, the ruling party must be meditating on all the costs of allowing such a thing.

Until now, and as things are going, everything seems to indicate that next year, the nurse’s rafter brother will be able to enjoy, in his status as an emigrant, something his relatives on the island are denied. Half-changes provoke these contradictions, but complete changes unleash fear at the highest levels.

With her cup of tea, Carla continues to dial phone numbers so that someone will answer a simple question: “Can we get on that yacht and walk the deck?” No one risks answering with certainty, but many wait for a slip that tears down that and other walls.

José Martí from New York, Without a Visa and With Mistakes

The equestrian statue of the Cuban hero José Martí, that has been living in Central Park in New York since 1950, has a replica in Havana. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Generation Y, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 19 October 2017 – We see him leaning over, a lost look in his eyes. He is mortally wounded and the bronze captures the second that separates him from immortality. The replica of the José Martí statue that has been in New York’s Central Park since 1950, now has a place in Havana. On Thursday afternoon, under an intensely blue sky, we can see his contours sparkling and the pedestal shine. Also noteworthy are the unpardonable mistakes on the commemorative plaque.

On the commemorative plaque of the monument of José Martí there are two spelling mistakes. (14ymedio)

City is spelled ”cuidad”– similar to the word for “care” – instead of “ciudad.” Nacío – an ugly attempt at “he was born” – misplaces the accent and almost flirts with “I was born,” but in fact is not a word at all. These are two of the “pearls” carved into the shining black granite that, as of this week, thousands of Cubans and foreign visitors will read on the monument. The devils of misspelling and lack of grammatical rigor have played a trick on the man who loved words and cultivated them with a venerable passion. continue reading

More than fifteen feet high and weighing three tons, the piece has been placed a few steps from the old presidential palace. Its lovely lines are a copy of the work conceived by the sculptor Anna Hyatt Huntington that stands in a small area at the southern end of the New York City park, along with monuments to Simón Bolívar and José de San Martín.

The mistake-plagued inscription on the Havana piece – no one has clarified whether it came with the statue or is a local production – is an insult to the poet of Versos Sencillos, Simple Verses. To write on a piece of paper a phrase that has not been carefully reviewed is one thing, but to sculpt it in stone is to make a monument to improvisation and to display a huge disdain for the language.

Some will say that they are only small details, but a graduate in Philosophy and Literature deserves – at the very least – that a good editor check his lines.

Nor does the equestrian statue come at an easy time. Forged in Philadelphia, it was carried to the Island in the midst of a growing escalation of tensions with the United States. The figure that should represent the confluence between two nations, as Martí did during his life, is now a reminder of a diplomatic meltdown that fell short and of a time that was irretrievably lost.

A man in a United States flag T-shirt gave the finishing touches to the monument in Havana. (14ymedio)

Thus, during its placement there was no lack of jokes from the nearest neighbors about whether the man we Cubans call the “Apostle” had asked for a visa to enter the country. The humor never fails, nor the sad jest that evokes the difficulties that Cubans currently face to travel to their northern neighbor, after the scandal of acoustic attacks about which there are more questions than certainties.

As an irony of life, one of the workers who finished some details around the monument proudly displayed a T-shirt with the banner of stars and stripes. As with the spelling mistakes, no one saw it, no official came to check on what was going on.

Cuba’s ‘Convivencia’ Project Celebrates Its First Decade

The Convivencia Project on-line. (Screen capture)

14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 15 October 2017 — It was April 2007 and a time of dark days. The most stagnant part of the Catholic Church intervened in the magazine Vitral (Stained Glass Window), shifting it away from its marked social mission. In the face of the hijacking, the editors jumped ship and months later founded the Proyecto Convivencia (Coexistence Project), which celebrates this October a decade of constant work.

The new publication was born under the influence of its predecessor, which had arisen in 1994 and came to have a circulation of 12,000 copies. However, from the beginning it became clear that the magazine Convivencia would be much more than a mere reflection of that stained glass window that stopped shining for diversity and reflected only pastoral issues. continue reading

In an environment of great debate and intense listening, the Catholic layman Dagoberto Valdés and his collaborators, working from Pinar del Rio, raised the first roof beams that would later cover not only that new publication, but also a project of civic development and a study center, both under the same name.

With the slogan “A threshold for citizenship and civil society in Cuba,” this triad has been a fresh wind in an independent sector where political approaches excessively prevail over social ones. Offering proposals rather than complaints became a part of the unique editorial and investigative seal of the project.

Unlike its predecessor, Convivencia placed its bets more on a digital presence. In times of blogging and Twitter accounts, its editorial board has relied on new technologies, and the web portal born of that vision has just updated its design, as well as offered more dynamic access to its content.

However, the biggest difference has been traveling the difficult road of offering information and opinion without the protection of the Church. To this difficulty is added that of maintaining a moderate profile in the midst of the polarization of Cuban society, the pressures of State Security and an intense campaign to discredit the project.

Seven years before Bishop Jorge Enrique Serpa Pérez forced a change of course on the Catholic publication, Valdés had been subjected to a harsh assault from two publishers of the official newspaper Granma, but the worst was yet to come. That was just the preamble to a sequence of interrogations and threats.

In this decade, members of Convivencia have experienced various forms of harassment. From constant police citations to a court’s latest decision to sentence Karina Gálvez, one of the leading publishers, to three years’ imprisonment and to confiscate her house which served as a headquarters.

Nor has there been a lack of criticism from other civil society groups in response to Convivencia’s approach of dialog, always maintained by the Pinar del Rio team, its position in favor of the diplomatic thaw between Cuba and the United States, and its use of respectful language toward any figure or institution. The project has paid a heavy price for its restraint.

In this landscape, the work of the Center for Coexistence Studies (CEC), which over a number of meetings has outlined an impressive reservoir of ideas and proposals for the future of the island, stands out. Culture, education, the media and economy are at the center of the analysis of this Cuban think tank, that labors without a lot of commotion, but without pause.

Together, the CEC, the civic center and the magazine seek “not only to educate citizens to exercise their own sovereignty but also work to have a vision of the future that will help to rebuild the nation,” Dagoberto Valdés proudly states. The man that the official propaganda calls a “mercenary” has only one obsession: to think about Cuba.

Today’s context is also very different than it was when the editors of today’s Convivencia began their work on the previous publication, at the end of the last century. Now, the spectrum of publications that address the issue of Cuba has grown both inside and outside the Island. Approaches have also diversified and readers have a flood of options from which to choose.

Other independent think tanks have also emerged and terms such as “community,” “civility” and “consensus” have become commonplace in the discourse of national activists. That light that began to peek through the stained glass of a magazine from Pinar del Rio, is today a common good that everyone shares.

Convivencia faces the challenges of surviving and growing: to avoid letting the repression make them adopt a discourse of denunciation rather than one of proposals; to overcome with their work the silence some want to impose on their very existence; to progress despite the insults others apply to their work; and to maintain their equanimity in times of hysteria.

The roof that began to rise in October of 2007 is complete, but within its interior there are still many subjects to address and innumerable situations on which to meditate. There is time for all that, because as emphasized in a recent statement the members of Convivencia Project, they have no plans to leave Cuba, Pinar del Rio or their civic space.

See also:

The Experiment of Hope, Francis Sanchez

Between the Gun and the Cassock, Miriam Celaya

Two Referendums, Different Perspectives

Young Kurds line up to vote in the referendum. (@aminahekmet)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 29 September 2017 — In a country like Cuba, where regional conflicts don’t surpass the resounding insults during a ball game, secessionism sounds like a distant subject. However, the ruling party has not hesitated for more than half a century to support annexation or separatism efforts in other nations based on ideological convenience.

Right now, the national press is addressing two referendums: those of Kurdistan and Catalonia. Both processes, so different and distant, constitute an excellent opportunity to measure the political whims of the Cuban Government and its double standards in this area.

In both cases, the news coverage has been so contradictory that even the most indifferent viewers have noticed that in the local news the Catalans are called independentistas and the Kurds separatistas. Some “have every right to be a nation,” but the others “put at risk the stability of a convulsive zone.” continue reading

The same interests that salute the Catalonian government, raise their hands against the proposal of Kurdish leader Masoud Barzani. In the morning, the radio commentators clamor for Barcelona to disconnect itself from the Kingdom of Spain, but in the afternoon they support the words of the Turkish Government that consider the Kurdish plebiscite “null and void” and lacking a “legal basis.”

Behind this obvious contradiction in public discourse are the political pacts of the day, the complicities between regimes and, at worst, the objective to contribute to damaging the democratic governments of the world.

The enthusiastic official support for the Catalan referendum is not supported because of the connotations that this will have for the lives of millions of people, but by the blow that it means for the Spanish State. The Cuban Government is more concerned that Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy and the Popular Party suffer a defeat in their own home than it is in the fate of the independentistas.

In addition to visits by senior officials and the anticipated visit of Spain’s King Felipe VI to the island early next year, Raul Castro’s government does not condone the Moncloa Palace’s criticism of human rights violations in Cuba. In addition, Spain belongs to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and strongly criticizes Nicolas Maduro, two of many profound differences.

The press controlled by Cuba’s Department of Revolutionary Orientation (DOR) also needs the Catalan conflict to show that democratic countries are shaken by instability, a way of emphasizing that only with the Revolution will the unity of the Cuban nation be maintained and that only socialism will prevent the dismemberment of the national territory.

However, in the case of the Kurdish plebiscite, Havana does not hide its suspicions of the process, which has origins more in political opportunism than in realpolitik.

When the High Electoral Commission of Iraqi Kurdistan announced on Wednesday that more than 92% of voters said ‘yes’ to independence, there were not many smiles on the island’s newscasts. The reason is not only that Iraq is opposed to the victory of the secessionists. So, also, are Iran, Syria and Turkey, all three of which are, to a greater or lesser extent, allies of President Raul Castro.

While the Turkish administration fears that Kurdish independence will infect Kurds living in its territory, Iran accuses Israel of supporting this week’s referendum and Syrian officials say it is the “result of US policies aimed at fragmenting the countries of the region,” despite the fact that the United States has declared itself against a plebiscite that has found international support only in Tel Aviv.

Aligned with its partners, with whom it shares positions and forms blocks in the United Nations to evade responsibilities or to avoid sanctions, Havana’s Plaza of the Revolution has preferred to distance itself from the “Yes” victory among the Kurds. These separatistas are not well regarded by Granma, Cuba’s official newspaper.

It matters little to the Cuban government whether or not, in both referendums, people vote for a legitimate demand that has roots in the history of a region. What is most worrisome is deciphering who is affected by secessionism. In its symbolic and simplified way of thinking, the Plaza of the Revolution believes that independence is a prize deserved only by its comrades.

Absence Means Forgetting

Even if Castro were to leave for Esmeralda, Punta Alegre, or Corralillo today, he could not escape the doubt that his visit was more fruit of the pressures than of his own desires. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Generation Y, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 25 September 2017 — Most active politicians like to have their photos taken while greeting children, talking to factory workers, or visiting a disaster area. These images, seen on countless occasions, do not translate into better government performance, or even real concern, but at least they are consistent with a formal and public ritual.

More than two weeks ago, Hurricane Irma devastated countless towns in central Cuba, affected communities near the north coast and left the coastal areas of the city of Havana under water. Since then, Raúl Castro has not been to any of the affected sites and has not been seen near the houses that lost their roofs, the sidewalks filled with the furniture drying in the sun or the places sheltering some who  have no homes to return to. continue reading

In the first days of his absence, speculations focused on the octogenarian’s health and a possible indisposition making him unable to travel to the most affected areas. However, Castro had enough physical energy to go and receive Nicolás Maduro at the airport. He has chosen to take a photo with the Venezuelan president rather than with the population battered by the meteoric winds.

The feelings left by this distancing are contradictory. His most ardent supporters speculate that he does not want to add expenses to the national budget with a visit more symbolic than effective. Others say he is letting younger officials take his place before the cameras so that they can gain visibility before 24 February of next year, when he will step down from the presidency of the country.

His critics, however, speak of the weariness that has gripped the General after a sequence of defeats, among them not being able to end the island’s dual currency system, or to reduce corruption, or to offer Cuban workers dignified wages that can become their primary source of economic support, or to attract foreign investment. Exhaustion has taken over the leader of the Communist Party a few months before he leaves power.

Now it is too late for the photo next to the victims. Even if Castro were to leave for Esmeralda, Punta Alegre, or Corralillo today, he could not escape the doubt that his visit was more the fruit of pressures than of his own desires. A snapshot next to an old woman whose house is nothing more than the foundation would seem to be a resounding act of gimmicky populism, but the lack of that image makes him look as distant and indifferent.

If he goes where Irma left a trail of pain he loses; if he stays in his palace he also loses.

Lessons From Irma

Hopelessness has settled in for thousands of Cubans who know well how long it will for the island to recover from Irma, especially if there are no political initiatives. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 13 September 2017 — There is a rare calm in Havana after the passing of Hurricane Irma. So many years of crisis leave a certain resignation in citizens in the face of new tragedies. The country of this September is not the same as that of a few weeks ago, and yet it is very familiar because it is in the state of emergency in which we have always lived.

Irma’s capriciousness has left us some certainties. The first of these has to do with that bridge of tragedy that united Cuba and Florida during the difficult days of winds, floods and power outages. Nature connected what politics has separated for decades.

In small Cuban towns, when many families did not know if they would survive through the night on Sunday, countless thoughts went out to their relatives in Miami who were waiting for the arrival of the hurricane. The same thing happened in the opposite direction. Hearts on the island and the peninsula beat as one, suffered in sync and shared the misfortune. continue reading

On the other hand, Cuba’s complex national situation has taken on an unexpected variable since the weekend. Just before the name of the next president is known– in advance of Raul Castro’s commitment to leave the presidency in February of 2018– and when many analysts insisted that all that was left was the “plain sailing” of a tightly planned transfer of leadership, the country is a pile of ruins and the future leader is heir to an immense mortgage.

The loss of at least ten human lives is the most tragic outcome of the hurricane, but Irma’s most palpable victim has been hope. The victims know that recovering a refrigerator, a mattress or a kitchen lost in the water could cost them the rest of their lives. Their expectations in the short and medium term are rock-bottom.

The lack of liquidity in the national coffers and the lack of supply in the markets, which made daily life difficult before Irma’s arrival, became deeper with this climatic shockwave. Predictions of GDP growth – which last year ended in negative numbers – are no longer realistic and the tourism sector will take months to recover.

The feeling that invades millions of people throughout the nation is that even more difficult days are to come. Times of famine, hardship and social tension. Only a generous about-face from power, along with international solidarity, could shorten the deadlines for a recovery that is expected to be long and complex.

Foreign aid will do its part, but the government must make important decisions to alleviate the suffering of those who have lost all or a good part of their property. Removing restrictions on personal imports and allowing commercial imports into private hands would help to bring huge resources into the country in the coming months.

In times like these it is urgent that vehicles, construction materials, medicines in large quantities and agricultural machinery can be brought in from outside.

The granting of licenses for self-employment needs to be unfrozen, the number of occupations allowed expanded, and a moratorium established on the payment of taxes in the most affected areas. These measures can help to rebuild the nation’s economic fabric.

International organizations need to be able to channel their aid directly and with less bureaucracy. This is the only way to prevent resources from ending up in provincial headquarters, in institutional stores where the “subtraction of resources” (i.e. management and employee theft) depletes their quantity, or on store shelves where they are sold at prices inaccessible to the poorest.

In the coming weeks, the government has the opportunity to demonstrate that it can cede areas of economic control for the sake of a less delayed recovery. The last page of Raul Castro’s book as head of the country is blank. Now he must decide whether to fill it with gestures of control or openings, whether he will contribute to the sinking of the island or help to revive it.

Judge and Press

Archive image of a protest by journalists in Caracas. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 3 September 2017 — The man approaches a dilapidated Havana kiosk and buys the latest copy of the newspaper Granma, the official organ of the only party allowed. The situation, extreme like almost everything that happens in Cuba, is only a small part of the tensions that journalism is experiencing in Latin America, the most lethal region on the planet for the press.

The continent, where several of the patricians who promoted independence also exercised the profession of journalism, has become a hostile place for reporters, a minefield for the media. Now, every written word can send its author to court or even to death.

In many of our countries, families would prefer their children to become civil servants or gang members, rather that become cannon fodder for a newspaper. “You’re going to end up underground,” the mother of a Salvadoran reporter has repeated for years when she finds him searching for data or gathering the pieces of an investigation. continue reading

In the absence of solid institutions, the press has unduly been awarded the role of prosecutor, ombudsman and comptroller. With all the risks that this entails.

That role transcends the boundaries of the profession and has created excessive expectations among readers. Before it was the redeemers or the caudillos who came to save a nation, now many expect these hybrid beings – a mixture of kamikaze and journalist – to be willing to sacrifice themselves for them.

The darkest scenarios these information specialists find on their path are where impunity or populism reigns. They are the targets of insults or bullets in countries where democracies fail and insecurity reigns. There is no clearer sign that a system has been shipwrecked by authoritarianism or has become a failed state than the way it treats the press.

Where institutions are collapsing, the dangers faced by reporters are greater. A system that cannot protect its citizens, will start by failing to support those who report or those who put in writing the generalized defenselessness.

Nicolás Maduro’s Venezuela, Raúl Castro’s Cuba, or the Nicaragua of the late Daniel Ortega are some of the geographical points where reporting reality means exposing yourself to reprisals from power. But the list of territories adverse to investigative journalism includes many more nations in the region. In Mexico criminal groups see journalism as a more deadly enemy than military operations.

Poorly paid, even more poorly valued and with working days that know no limits, a good share of Latin American journalists feel that the dreams that led them to take on a profession were more of a mirage than a reality. They have reached this conclusion not only because of the lack of professional and material support, but especially because of coercion.

The defensive response to repression and punishment has been – in many cases – to avoid the street, to choose to do desktop journalism or to rely on the great evils that the recently deceased teacher Miguel Ángel Bastenier described as “declarationitis, officialdom, hyperpoliticization, and international omission.”

The uncritical reproduction of official declarations in the insipid environment of a press conference is complemented by genuflections to the ruling party, because it is from “up there” that the press credentials are distributed for the next event, privileges are administered and jobs in the public media are filled.

The excess of politics is also expressed with those series of stories about the internal workings of government palaces instead of addressing human stories. A press that survives off the party entrails and the fights between its figures has taken possession of the media scene.

“The prideful villager” that José Martí spoke about discovers the warm water in the midst of the ocean of needs that defines Latin America. Turning one’s back on the other has become a form of protection and reproducing in the newspaper headlines what happens on a diplomatic scale among the nations of this continent: so close and so separate.

However, the strongest effect brought about by repression is withdrawal, locking oneself in the glass bubble of a newsroom and writing from a distance. Screen and keyboard reporters swarm everywhere. Flesh-and-blood stories are missing while analyses abound.

The editors know that each headline can become a declaration of war in these places and, in most media, the red lines are added not by the publisher but are marked by threats or expediencies.

The journalist and Spanish professor Bernardo Díaz Nosty describes in his book Dead Journalism the string of obstacles faced by the reporters of our continent. Dictatorships on the one hand, impunity on the other, and narco-power, which manages large regions – as if they were countries in question –make up most of those risks.

At the top of this scale of terror are disappearance and death, although “before the assassination, there usually comes the harassment of the journalist and his relatives, physical assault, stigmatization, extortion,” says Díaz Nosty.

“All this leads to the breakdown of professional independence, the renunciation of the practice of journalism, and exile, if not to capitulation and surrender to the conditions established by the enemy,” he points out in his book.

Writing about organized crime, drug trafficking, money laundering or political corruption can be a death sentence in these places. The lack of a state response to actions against information professionals increases the feeling of lack of protection.

Worse yet, many governments in the region have chosen to kill journalism. To achieve that murder – without leaving too much evidence – they develop an extensive network of threats, legal punishments and controls. Not to mention, of course, the perks.

Buying the loyalty of a journalistic pen is one of the aspirations of any power or political group. To narrate through the arts of a loyal informant and to be able to count on the submissive undertones of the press populate the fantasies of partisan propaganda departments.

Together with the court jester, the sycophant of the moment and the spokesmen who repeat slogans, populists reassure themselves that they have their own press. A tame byproduct, headlines molded to avoid any discomfort, and reporters who settle for attending bland press conferences where the most important remains hidden and the inconsequential fills the teletypes.

The vast majority of Latin American governments dream of training the media, managing them as ventriloquists, and making them jump through the hoops of their desires. For them, a journalist is just an amplifier, through which they manage the audience and impose their ideas.

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Editorial Note: This article has been published previously by the Spanish newspaper El País in its edition of Saturday 3 of September.