And the Spark Ignited…

Artists gathered in front of the Ministry of Culture in Havana demanding that the Cuban government open a dialog. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sánchez, Havana, 28 November 2020 – Sometimes in the dark, or with only the beams of mobile phones lighting their faces, hundreds of artists have planted themselves in front of the Ministry of Culture in Havana, until the early morning hours this Saturday. The peaceful protest marks a necessary precedent with unpredictable consequences in a Cuba where many are used to the fact that “nothing happens” and “everything is controlled from above,” or “a leaf does not move without the Government ordering it.”

The arrest of the rebellious rapper Denís Solís, the hunger strike of several activists of the San Isidro Movement and the violent entry into the headquarters of this independent group, last Thursday night, were the triggers for this concentration of filmmakers, visual artists, musicians and all kinds of creators in front of the mansion on Calle 2 in El Vedado, but the ferment of that demonstration had been accumulating for decades.

What happened is the result of more than half a century of trying to subordinate art to ideology without accepting nuances; years of parametración (parameterization), censorship, purges, the Five Grey Years, perks in exchange for silence, forced exile of so many creators, scissors pruning names in publishing houses, stages and galleries. This 27th of November 2020, all that accumulated magma — which at various times has caused the occasional small eruption or spark — overflowed in a public act, with a large presence and in front of one of the most feared of Cuban institutions. continue reading

Unlike 2007, when the cultural authorities and the guardians of the intelligentsia managed to channel the “Little War of emails” to a meeting — with a limited number of participants — at the Casa de las Américas, this Friday the protesting artists had the good sense not to be divided and not to accept the official proposal that only 40 of them might enter the Llauradó room, clearly a classic in the KGB and Stasi manuals.

Instead, in front of the high gate of the ministry, a democratic, plural and diverse government was created in a moment that allowed each union to elect its representatives, thirty people in whom to entrust their demands to be expressed in front of Vice Minister Fernando Rojas, because – of course – the minister himself never appeared, something inexplicable on an island where from any point of the geography you can reach Havana in less than 12 hours if you travel by car and in less than three if you go by plane.

The sequence of what happened on Friday was almost cinematic: it began with the arrival of the first people in front of the ministry around eleven o’clock in the morning, almost “four cats*” – as the official propaganda likes to repeat so often to insult their critics. Then came the hackneyed justification from an employee that the head of the sector, Alpidio Alonso, was not available to see them and that functioned like fuel thrown onto the fire. And then it continued with more and more artists coming to the site to demand a dialogue with the cultural authorities.

The scene was completed with an extensive police operation in the vicinity, the prohibition of passage face by several artists and activists who tried to approach, as well as an unjustified violent incident against a group that was on their way over and was tear gassed by a body of uniformed men who, surely, were not acting on their own but were responding to orders issued from some air-conditioned office.

By the early morning and after the meeting with Rojas, the representatives came out to recount the agreements reached. Results that raised applause but have also generated criticism, a necessary and expected diatribe if it is about planting the seed of a plural and democratic country. While some believe that they grabbed from the powers-that-be the conquest of reviewing their repressive procedures and allowing great freedoms in the art scene, others warmed that if could be a maneuver of distraction.

Everything is possible, because something like this has never happened in this way, in these dimensions and much less in a context similar to this. With a country plunged into the deepest economic crisis ever experienced by many of the young people who met yesterday before the Ministry of Culture; with the historic generation – which has had the island in its fist for more than 60 years – dying without glory nor legacy; and with a society tired of the shortages and dreaming of suitcases, flights and emigration… no one can predict if yesterday’s agreements are “a lot” or “a little.”

What will happen going forward? Some who have experienced previous disappointments predict that the Ministry of Culture will not comply with the agreement, the official propaganda will intensify its attacks against the San Isidro Movement and will raise a wave of supposed demonstrations in favor of the regime throughout the island. Those who previously experienced the seesaw of illusion and frustration with events of this type, predict calls from State Security to each of the most visible heads of the protest.

Separately, in an interrogation office in Villa Marista – the grim prison in Havana where State Security confines its political prisoners – with a mixture of threats and promises, they will most likely be able to make someone retract or at least walk away from any similar action that occurs in the future. The media controlled by the Communist Party will publish statements by artists faithful to the Party who tell of the “enormous support and freedom” that the Ministry of Culture offers them for their creation and some part of those who expressed the demands will go to another country to do a doctorate, create a family and forget the island they left behind.

All this can happen and much more, but it is better to opt for the film in which the events on Second Street give way to new situations, regenerating hope and constituting the embryo of the change that so many of us wish for our country. A change that is promoted not from violence but from the peaceful demands of people who create, love and dialogue. I choose that script, because the other I have already seen in an endless movie my whole life.

*Translator’s note: An insult, as in the phrase “four paid cats [implying paid by foreign governments, mafiosos, enemies, etc.] are not going to bring down the government.”

____________

COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

The Singularity of San Isidro

Members of the San Isidro Movement protesting after the arrest of Denis Solís. (Facebook/Anamely Ramos)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Generation Y, Havana, 26 November 2020 — The arrest of a rapper has led to a hunger strike being waged by several activists, members of a group known as the San Isidro Movement. What began as a meeting of friends showing solidarity and demanding the release of Denis Solís has led to an explosive situation.

What makes the hunger strike of these opponents and independent artists unique? The answer to that question points to the context and not to the use of fasting as a tool for advocacy. In the recent history of Cuba, the body has been frequently used as a civic plaza of demand, in the absence of legal and democratic ways through which citizens can demand rights and denounce injustices. The most dramatic case in recent years is, undoubtedly, that of Orlando Zapata Tamayo, who died in February 2010 after 86 days without eating.

But a decade after that preventable death, the political and social context is very different. The country is going through its deepest economic crisis of this century, the authoritarian figure of Fidel Castro is past history, and the officials who have risen to the highest positions in the nation are seen – by most of the population – as a band of useless opportunists. Added to this is the recent opening of stores that sell food and cleaning products but only accept foreign currencies, which has caused a wave of popular outrage at what is seen as “monetary apartheid,” dividing society between those who have dollars and those who do not have dollars. continue reading

In this scenario, further aggravated by the coronavirus pandemic, a group of young people has decided not to eat to demand that the eight-month prison sentence against a rapper be reversed. In a hasty trial Denis Solís was convicted of the alleged offense of contempt against a police officer. The gesture of solidarity by these activists has stirred consciences and, in recent days, there have been signs of support from various sectors, including those who until very recently did not speak out against the repression against dissidents.

International organizations have asked the island’s authorities to release Solís, one hundred filmmakers have joined in an open letter of support for the San Isidro Movement’s strikers, and social networks are seething with calls to preserve the lives of young people through a dialogue that allows their voices to be heard. But the Plaza of the Revolution seems to have chosen, so far, the path of trying to execute their reputations by calling them “marginals” and creators “without known work,” in addition to surrounding the house that serves as the group’s headquarters with a strict police cordon that prevents access to the strikers by friends or relatives.

Several empty stomachs and a dilapidated house in a poor Havana neighborhood are now the main battle front against a desperate and dangerous system.

________________________

This text was originally published  in Deutsche Welle for Latin America.

____________

COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

Where Are Arantxa and Other Useful Fools Now?

The Youth Labor Army (EJT) market on 17th street, in Havana, these past days. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sánchez, Havana, 19 November 2020 — With a casual tone, under the Havana summer sun, the Spanish political scientist Arantxa Tirado recorded a video last year where she explained the wonders of the Cuban economy, wonders that allowed a person to have three meals a day and even a snack for only 30 euros per month. Now, the same market that served as the setting for her dissertation is practically empty, but the protagonist of that panegyric is missing, not here to film this other side of reality.

At the corner of 17th and K streets, in El Vedado, the market stands have been almost deserted for weeks. Some dismal bananas, stone-hard oranges and ginger are among the few products that have appeared sporadically in the last month in what was one of the best-stocked markets in the Cuban capital, managed by the military through the Youth Labor Army (EJT). The ingredients that Tirado claimed to have stocked up on while on the Island are now found only in our memories and in the brief images of her video.

Those images raised a cloud of reproach when they went viral on Cuban social networks last January. An avalanche of criticism fell on the political scientist who, after spending a few days on the island, already felt sufficiently educated about Cuban daily life to instruct and clarify, to the “enemies” of the system, their mistakes. How many of those useful fools have we not met inside and outside our national borders? Why do none ever appear to report what contradicts their thesis? continue reading

I try to contain the toothache from a terrible filling from the polyclinic in my Havana neighborhood, while I remember some Germans who explained to me in the Berlin subway the tremendous advantages of the Cuban Public Health system. Several days of frustration passed before this I received dental repair because there was no water or electricity on the premises. I was finally able to “resolve” the treatment after giving the dentist on duty some soap and a sandwich.

Once, even a Canadian tried to convince me of the happiness of Cuban workers who never went out to protest in the streets to demand better wages or increases in their pensions. He added that he saw people in the street moving freely and that this was evidence of the advantages of the island’s political model. While he was developing his argument, several police officers with unfriendly faces fluttered around us in Havana’s Central Park to determine if I was a national who would be fined for “harassing a tourist.”

The list of preachers of utopia, builders of castles of smoke, and falsifiers of our reality is long. They unfold a story in golden tones to convince their audience that this is the best of all possible countries and that any criticism of its authorities is a vile imperialist hoax. Part of that spirit, between illusionist and combative, prompted a Spanish traveler to say – without blushing – in front of a camera, that she spent in a month, and only on food, the entire salary of a Cuban engineer.

And now, Arantxa Tirado? Where are you now to say that neither double nor triple that amount is enough to fill your bag? Do you dare to film another video in the 17th street market in Havana? This time prepare your wallet and practice your lies better.

____________

COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

From Oggún to Magric Two Years Have Passed and Cuban Farmers Still Lack Tractors

Two years ago the Oggún Tractor was excluded from Cuba, and not the Government is promoting the Magric. (Collage)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Generation Y, Havana, 11 November 2020 — Two years ago, after a long period of requests and expectations, the American tractor manufacturer Cleber was excluded from the projects approved to locate in Cuba’s Mariel Special Development Zone, despite offering much-needed equipment for Cuban agricultural producers. The tractor being promoted by the company — compact, light and nicknamed Oggún — would have solved many of the problems that farmers face in Cuba.

But it seemed to the “wise” Cuban authorities who make the decisions about the national economy, that the Oggún machinery did not meet “the standards of innovation required by this business center.”

Now, the official press is promoting the nationally produced Magric 80.2 prototype, which according to one of its creators, “took advantage of the experience acquired with the rebuilding of Yumz tractors in the 90s and the availability of resources related to the manufacture of tractor housings. Already in inventory were the engines, the transmissions and other aggregates.” The equipment “will be tested soon,” adds an article on the subject published in the State newspaper Granma.

That is, two years after rejecting Cleber and its compact Oggún, now it turns out that the national prototype has not even been tested. When it begins to be produced for the market, will it be sold in convertible currency (let us say dollars)? And meanwhile the farmers of this Island will have lost several years while they were unable to obtain much-needed machinery, and their customers in the market will have lost out on consuming countless pounds of fruits, vegetables and grains.

____________

COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

Cuba’s Official Press Has Not Yet Announced the Fall of the Berlin Wall

Today, 31 years later, a scar remains from the Berlin Wall that can still be seen on the asphalt of that city. (EFE / Archive)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 11 November 2020 — I have a friend who only found out about the fall of the Berlin Wall at a meeting of the Communist Party core at the state institute where he was then working then. The official press had barely published a brief note on its inside pages in which it reported on the “opening of the GDR border,” but without giving details of what happened or its profound political implications. The collapse of the barrier was only made known to a few of the chosen in the weeks after that November 9, 1989, but even for them the news came wrapped with all kinds of misrepresentations and disguises.

Today, 31 years later, a scar remains from the Berlin Wall that can still be seen on the asphalt of that city, some pieces still stand as a reminder, and an extensive profusion of testimonies, analyses and investigations of those days that redefined the face of Europe and the rest of the world. But the stubborn official Cuban press continues to hide that fact and avoids alluding to the event. It is not surprising that the state newspaper Granma has dedicated space these days to the anniversary of the October Revolution but has conveniently forgotten the end of the “sister German Democratic Republic.”

Castroism has always believed that through words it can change reality, girded in its slogans and its silences

Castroism has always believed that through words it can change reality, girded in its slogans and its silences. “If it is not mentioned, it is because it does not exist,” seems to be one of the most deeply-rooted editorial maxims in the Communist Party-controlled media. As if by silencing an event or sweeping it under the rug they also managed to erase its protagonists, its anecdotes and its repercussions. Under the same premise, to this day the national newspapers have not talked about Stalin’s crimes, have not published reports of Pol Pot’s massacres or alluded to the events in Tiananmen Square.

Thus, year after year, many Cubans review the national newspapers in search of any allusion to the fall of the Berlin Wall as a way of proving that the news veto over that event remains intact and how little progress official journalism has been made in these three decades. And every November, since that far off 1989, we once again verify that the steel curtain of censorship remains in place on this island.

____________

COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

The Mask, a New Political Battlefield

Masks like this one, designed by Rebeca Monzó, are not allowed in state workplaces and schools. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Generation Y, Havana, 23 October 2020 — That piece of cloth that for months we have been forced to wear over our faces threatens to become a new political battlefield. The mask has already entered the radar of the censors, who are beginning to want to dictate rules about the design, the artwork or the message they convey.

In recent months, this new apparel, which everything points to will be with us for a long time, has undergone a process of individualization and adjustment among those who want to wear more than just a piece of fabric over their mouth and nose. In search of difference and to make the most of it aesthetically, different models appear every day, which may or may not comply with health standards.

Masks with flags, sequins, family shields, hilarious mouths and scary fangs… all that and more is seen in the streets. But as state workplaces have restarted their working hours and schools in several provinces reopened their classrooms, masks have run into the same official restrictions that limit other pieces of clothing. continue reading

Several friends and acquaintances have told me that at their companies they are already beginning to hear the commands, warning they they will not allow facemasks with foreign flags, especially the United States, or with written messages of any kind, or with political images, criticisms of the Cuban regime, or erotic content.

In a society where the scissors of censorship have tried to cut back everything from the length of male students’ hair to the way pants or blouses fit, masks are the new piece that must be tamed. “We are not going to allow you to come with an offensive poster on your face,” an administrator told a young worker from the Cultural Property Fund who wrote the word “change” across his.

“Those red bars and those little stars cannot be brought into this classroom,” reproached the Holguin teacher who teaches a friend’s daughter. She questioned where she was going to get another facemask, since the one she was wearing was the only one she had been able to obtain on her own. The teacher shook her head from side to side in response, and the woman insisted: “Who said that this is part of the uniform? Are you going to distribute some olive green?”

The pulse is just beginning. Let’s not rule out that in a few weeks a clear list will come out with the designs or motifs allowed on the masks, and which others are outright banned. A country of prohibitions.
____________

COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

The Telegram App is Still Down in Cuba

This Tuesday, it is only possible to access Telegram through some VPNs (Virtual Private Networks).

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Generation Y, Havana, 20 October 2020 – I have read in various media about the supposed reestablishment of the Telegram app in Cuba. I am sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but on the morning of Tuesday, October 20, Cuban Culture Day, it is only possible to access the tool through some Virtual Private Networks (VPNs), the few they have not yet been able to block.

At least this is what I have verified with Android, iOS, MacOs and Windows through several friends and colleagues living in Havana, Sancti Spíritus, Santiago de Cuba and Pinar del Río. Although I would like to hear from other witnesses and their experiences.

What else would I like to see fixed?  But better to be cautious with the headlines, lest the censors are playing at confusion and attrition.

I know that strategy because of the blockade against this blog, Generation Y, since 2008.

____________

COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

Don’t Count on Me

Statue of Christopher Columbus vandalized in Miami. (Miami-Dade Police Department)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sánchez, Generation Y, Havana, 12 October 2020 —  Today, October 12, is a day that has several names: Day of the Race*, Hispanic Day,* and Day of Respect for Cultural Diversity. Each designation feels beautiful and laudable to me. That journey in 1492, when Christopher Columbus arrived in this part of the world, defined human civilization as we know it, changed the way we visually represent the planet and shaped the culture of millions of people.

Currently, there are movements and trends that question, criticize or extol that moment. All must have a voice in the polyphonic chorus that we have become. But, this little person that is me took a degree in Hispanic Philology twenty years ago, a profession that I could not have had if the intrepid Columbus had not thought that he could reach “The Indies” by heading the prow of his ships towards this part of the “Oceana Sea.”

Not only would I not have been able to graduate in this language, but my own existence would have been compromised because my ancestors crossed the Atlantic — long after the Niña, the Pinta and the Santa María — from a place quite close to the one from where the “craziest of sailors, sanest of founders” set sail. To top it all, I share my life with a descendant of this Island’s native Taíno people and my son looks like the Guamá cacique, with shorter hair and a modern shirt. continue reading

In my house, every day, multiple cultures meet. Nobody is startled or surprised. Nobody wants to deny or exterminate anyone. Pale hands share with coppery ones. Sometimes in his dreams he is a behique from those early times, while lying next to him I am walking El Camino de Santiago in my familial Spain; he prefers the cold water of the rivers where his ancestors bathed, and I – every so often – feel the salty breeze like the one that must have touched the visage of Rodrigo de Triana; he dreams of caves and I of the surprise of a humid forest that explodes for the first time in smells and colors in front of my face.

Let no one count on me to ride the time machine and prevent Columbus from reaching this hemisphere. I know and I recognize the pain that was derived from that moment, the deaths, the submission and the suffering; but I also know the lights, the poetry born from the collision, the love between bodies so different, the children born from the mixture, the telluric force generated. No, I will not travel back to October 12, 1492 to prevent Columbus from disembarking, because it would be killing my current friends, cutting off the life of my offspring in advance, cutting off my family tree and missing this language that is my life. Don’t count on me.

*Translator’s note: Día de la Raza (Day of the Race) is the term commonly used in some Latin America countries for what is called Columbus Day in the United States; others call it Día de la Hispanidad, among the many names in use in different places.

____________

COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

Biology and Rumors, the Exhausting Cycle of ‘Undeath’

Former President Raúl Castro, in his reappearance on Cuba’s Primetime News. (Screen capture)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Generation Y, Havana, 8 October 2020 – Ever since I can remember I have been aware of cyclical rumors about the health of some figure of power in Cuba. The gossip always starts with a friend or neighbor who claims to have a well-connected relative, someone who is part of the network closest to a senior Party leader, a military man or a government minister whose health has become fragile, very fragile. Then, as the days go by, come the alleged testimonies of those who claim to know that the “great death” has already occurred, while the most daring even claim to have seen the rigid figure inside its coffin.

This cycle of rumors about the death of a public figure reached its paroxysm on this Island during the long period during which the course of the national ship responded to Fidel Castro’s will. The country was so defined by the designs of one man that the act of his breathing could determine everything from international relations to the direction of the economy, from the TV broadcast schedule to the content of school textbooks. This excessive prominence encouraged a thousand and one speculations about his health, and it was a rare year that dozens of whispers were not unleashed about a possible surgical intervention, the deterioration of one of his physical capacities and even his sudden death. continue reading

In the end, after days or weeks of the “rumor” growing to a huge size, he reappeared in his uniform, giving a speech for hours in the rain or crossing the country in a caravan of military jeeps to visit some of his delusional projects. The rumor died down, frustration spread, and the feeling that biology was playing the “joke of eternity” generated despair, annoyance and the desire to escape from so much immobility. Each rumor only brought disappointment and, when the news of his death finally arrived we had to wait to hear it through the official media and from the mouth of his own brother, at the specific moment those “up there” decided to tell us, and without, on that occasion, a single whisper having alerted us ahead of time.

Now, once again we have fallen back into the trap of linking our destiny and our plans to the fact that a one man’s heart keeps beating. In recent days there have been voices that have spoken of the supposed death throes of Raúl Castro and his imminent end. My phone rang several times during the week and on the other side there was always the voice of a friend who was inquiring, who wanted to know if it was true. I responded to all of them with the skepticism of someone who has heard the same story many times and warned them of the possible sudden reappearance of the presumed patient in the official press. “I think this gossip is generated by the powerful themselves, who start the rumor rolling so he can return like a Phoenix,” I remarked.

And I was not wrong.

Undoubtedly, one day the rumor will be true, because the resounding logic of life suggests that there is no other: we are all going to die, even those who have presented themselves to us as immortal and superior. But I refuse to accept that the future life of a nation and the plans of its millions of citizens depend on the continued circulation of blood through the veins of one individual. Betting on biology rather than rebellion or civility seems to me to be an easy and supreme act of social conformity. The question is not whether someone is walking, in bed, or in a coffin; the issue is what are we Cubans going to do to breathe life into a country that is dying in our hands.

____________

COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

For a Basic Market Basket of Technology and Freedom

But the greatest difficulty will arise before all those national laws that seek to muzzle the citizens of the virtual village. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Generation Y, 30 September 2020 — The walls are made of pure brick and sunlight trickles through the gaps in the ceiling, but the young woman sitting near the window is holding a state-of-the-art smartphone in her hands, with which she follows social networks minute by minute. The scene can be in any city or town in Latin America, where access to new technologies is, right now, marking the social contrasts that will become even greater in the coming years.

Last August, the executive secretary of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), Alicia Bárcena, released a report on the effects of Covid-19 in the region. In an urgent plea, the Mexican called on governments to universalize access to digital technologies to confront the profound damages the pandemic has caused to the continent’s economy. She then spoke of guaranteeing a basic market basket of information and communication technologies.

According to Bárcena, this indispensable module must be made up of a laptop, a smartphone, a tablet and a connection plan for households that still do not have access to the web. It would be something like “a technological survival kit” that would allow citizens to stay informed, opt for distance education, work from home, refocus themselves with regards to work, access electronic commerce and exercise a good part of their civic rights and duties through a keyboard, a click or a video conference. continue reading

But ECLAC only touched on one of the many sides of connectivity in that report. It is not enough to have a modern device and access to the great world wide web if the person using these tools is constrained by censorship, monitored by digital police and threatened with ending up in court or in prison for criticizing officials and politicians on social media. The basic infrastructure basket is little or nothing if it is not accompanied by a set of guaranteed rights, the rights to exercise freedom of information and expression.

Unfortunately, we live in a region where both “market baskets” are quite incomplete. The high prices of technology, the little training given in schools for the use of these devices as a way to acquire new knowledge, and the difficulties of access from remote areas or areas not favored by the infrastructure, all complicate a scenario that would enable Latin America to reverse the confinement and social distance imposed by the  coronavirus, and also to emerge from the economic quagmire through screens and circuits.

But the greatest difficulty will arise before all those national laws that seek to muzzle the citizens of the virtual village. A basic technology module can include the market’s latest mobile phone, but if its user has to deal with censored sites, institutions that attack citizens on the networks and an army of trolls, often financed and trained by governments to silence criticism, little will be achieved.

In a continent where some of the regimes remaining in power are the world’s most predatory  with regards to information and the press, a cell phone is a springboard that could launch us into the restless and refreshing waves of cyberspace, but also directly and without protection towards the open mouth of the censors.

A basic technology basket yes; but may it not lack the bread of freedom.

__________________

This text was originally published  in Deutsche Welle for Latin America.

__________________

COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

The Untouchables

Parody of the “cybercatfishers,” the ‘trolls’ who support the Cuban government. Text bubbles: ‘We are continuity*’ ‘Cuba saves’ ‘China new power’ (Observatorio Cubano de Conflictos)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Generation Y, Havana, 21 September 2020 – With a circus as the scene, with painted faces and shrill voices, some weighty official cartoons, until recently, represented several figures from the Cuban opposition and independent journalism. That was a time when internet access from the Island was so limited that social networks were crowded with profiles from State Security. Its presence has barely diminished, but now we are there too.

For more than a decade and with total impunity, the soldiers of the web denigrated activists, created false accounts to try to destroy the prestige of dissidents and launched a fierce fight against bloggers who were not under the control of the Plaza of the Revolution. Everything was allowed. They also launched a misogynistic attack that promoted an obvious threat against the family of the slandered or revealed intimate details to make them more vulnerable.

I don’t recall from those years, between 2007 and the beginning of 2019, that those of us attacked could engage in any type of legal process to clean our reputation or to uncover those who launched these defamations, but I do have a memory that most of the time such vileness only made us smile, accustomed as we are to the system’s propaganda machine. At the end of the day, even as negative as they were, those public attacks were excellent free publicity to publicize our work within and outside national borders. Nothing is more attractive than the prohibited. continue reading

Now, and since the arrival of internet access on mobile phones, we residents of the Island have been able to get closer — despite censorship and high prices — to a much more vast informational scene; we have been able to publish our complaints more immediately and we have not lacked humor as a tool for political criticism that emerges from Cuba or from the exile community. Dozens of parody accounts of Cuban officials have appeared and the overreaction has not been long in coming.

Where we smile at those furious attacks orchestrated by the institutions themselves, those ridiculed today rage and point to a campaign “from the empire” that tries to “destroy the image” of public officials. Their skin is as thin as the outer layer of those onions that for months now have disappeared from national markets. Faced with any questioning, meme or joke against them, they launch their cyber-combatants and cry out for international solidarity to confront the “harassment on the networks.”

They conveniently forget that it was they who incubated and gave life to the unstoppable Cuban monster of the execution of reputation through the internet. A creature that has now ended up digging its teeth into their own jugular.

*The following is an excerpt from the Cuban government website Somos Continuidad (We are Continuity): [This phrase] is not an empty hashtag. In it is the essence of a renewed government that stands on the blood of its heroes…

____________

COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

The Grouchy State and the Fault of the Citizens

There is no room for self-criticism or any recognition of the scenarios conducive to Covid-19, such as long lines and shortages. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sánchez, Generation Y, Havana, 9 September 2020 — I turn on the TV. It has been a difficult day. Several neighbors, employees of the Cuban Institute of Radio and Television, are in quarantine due to the coronavirus outbreak in that institution, while a near death triggers questions. But on the screen I find no rest. The first minutes of the newscast sound like a scolding: those responsible are the citizens, our indiscipline is what has let the situation get out of control and the finger looking for a culprit is directed at us.

Authoritarian regimes are recognized not only for repression and excessive control, but also by the ways they speak to society. Imbued with the pretense of being our parents, Cuban officials do not let a moment go by without treating us as wayward children, children who, with our negligence, have caused the current rebound of Covid-19 in various areas of the country. It has been our folly, one infers from their speech, that has caused the current situation. Even the dead are reprimanded, a posteriori, in the official media.

In this oratory of scolding there is no room for self-criticism of the mistakes made by the authorities or recognition of any of the scenarios that lead to Covid-19, such as long lines, shortages and the economic crisis that was already breathing down our necks long before that the detection of the first positive case of the virus in the country. In this policy of reprimand there is only one offender and it is the individual who has not followed the ‘guidelines’The adverse context in which we move is erased at a stroke and some ill-advised decisions taken from above are also multiplied by zero. continue reading

Under the logic of the punishing father, the rulers have no responsibility whatsoever for the late closing of the borders or for the calls to international tourists to visit the Island – promised to them as a safe destination – when countless nations had already shut down tight as a drum. The delay in suspending classes, the delay in reducing the official acts of flag waving, the ideological harangues and the false step of decreeing an opening in a city that was obviously not prepared for it, “they” are not to blame for that either.

Now we must listen to them add to the harsh reality that we are experiencing an avalanche of reprimands, ear boxing and media kickings. A public discourse lacking any empathy with a very injured population, one that evokes mastiffs barking at an injured prey rather than what should be the statements of public servants who look after our well-being. With that kind of accusatory harangue, they are only adding uncertainty and discomfort to what is already a tense daily life, in addition to showing very little sensitivity to the pain of those who have lost a loved one.

After ten minutes of scolding I turn off the television. The virus of authoritarianism is also very dangerous.

____________

COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

Proust’s Madeleines and Artemisa’s Cheese

Photos from a police raid on The Cheese King of Artemesia. (Screen capture)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Generation Y, Havana, 31 August 2020 – We all have a mouthful that is the best we have ever eaten, a moment when all the taste buds explode with joy and leave an indelible mark on our memory. Mine was in Juchitán de Zaragoza, on the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, in Mexico. He was a small farmer who buried his arms in a white mass in a ramshackle barn, and I was a Cuban eager to try any dairy product.

With his hands he pulled out a piece of fresh cheese and offered it to me. The flies were hovering around, a couple of skinny dogs were eyeing me, and that white morsel was in front of my eyes and within reach of my nose. In a millisecond I took it and put it in my mouth. Since then, I have not felt anything so intense on my palate. Memory is also carved through taste (ask Marcel Proust) but a taste can trigger both memory and sadness.

Sadness, because in my country it would be impossible to repeat the image of that farmer proudly extending to me his piece of cheese. Sadness because a private producer would have to violate the law ten times every day on this island to achieve a product that impacts plates and memories. Sadness because a State has taken over the beef and dairy sector and left it with dry udders and empty mangers.

In other circumstances, the farmer from Artemisa, whom television presented a few days ago as a criminal, would be given a medal, promoted in his endeavor and had the formulas copied, by which — despite so many restrictions — he managed to make cheese in a country of starving cows and draconian laws. Just seeing the images of the police operation, my mouth began to salivate, as it did one day in a dark Mexican cowshed.

_________________

COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

Overcome By Reality

A line this Monday at the doors of a bank in Havana (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 17 August 2020 — The failure of the tests for the arrival of internet on mobile phones was the result of an “excess of demand,” according to statements at the time from Etecsa, Cuba’s telecommunications monopoly. The e-commerce platform TuEnvío collapsed shortly after the pandemic was declared due to an increase in purchases and, now, Fincimex cancels the delivery of magnetic cards to buy in foreign currency stores because a barrage of demands exhausted its supplies.

When we add the occasions on which state-owned companies justify their failures based on a surprising level of demand. We must conclude that the authorities are unaware of the national market, its needs and aspirations. Something difficult to believe in a centralized and planned economy, where – in theory – it would be easier to calculate the volume and intensity with which a product or service will be requested.

Such great business blindness is the daughter of multiple factors that continue to run rampant in the economy of this Island. One of them is the excess of triumphalism, which makes functionaries and ministers believe the pseudo-reality manufactured by the official discourse and media. From so much repeating “yes we can,” and from propagating the inflated figures for production or development, many of these leaders draw up plans that are more in sync with what should be than to what really is. continue reading

The difference between what is dreamed of and what is possible ends up breaking the chain at the weakest link, the customers of these state companies

The difference between what is dreamed of and what is possible ends up breaking the chain at the weakest link, the customers of those state companies, which have miscalculated their potential, at the same time that they underestimate the customer’s right to receive good treatment. Then come the complaints, the phones that ring for hours in the offices of these entities without being answered, the attempts to blame the citizens for their indiscipline or anxiety, and the repeated justification that “we did not imagine that there would be so many requests.”

The main cause for this bungling rests in the ignorance that the ruling class has about the people who walk the streets of this country. For them, from their vantage point of privileges and comforts, we Cubans should behave as humble beings, who accept what comes without demands or complaints. An individual with no desire for prosperity, no particular tastes, who does not criticize state management and waits in a disciplined way for what is his share through rationed distribution.

For ministers, soldiers, high officials and other subjects who receive perks, it is very difficult to imagine the agitation generated in families by any opportunity, however small, to improve their day-to-day activities. Those who take home an assortment of food and hygiene products free of charge cannot understand the mother who waits for weeks for a magnetic card that can be loaded with remittances from her son, so that she, after long hours in line, can buy tomato sauce and detergent in a store that accepts payments only in foreign exchange.

The problem is that those who design the economic policies and business plans of the country are precisely those who receive privileges and comforts for free. Hence, time and time again, they make the same mistake of underestimating people’s needs and calculating the demand that any new service will generate. With a full plate, a car with a full gas tank, and a free telephone service, they are light years away from that galaxy that is “the real Cuba.”

No, it is not the excess of requests that collapses the services, but the distance that separates the planners from the customers.

_______________________

COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

Cuba Needs a True Opening to the Private Sector, Not a Simulation

Dessert maker was one of the 123 activities allowed in the restrictive list whose elimination was announced this Thursday. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 7 August 2020 – Knife grinder, water carrier, blacksmith… No, this is not the list of occupations in a medieval village, but some of the 123 occupations that individuals have been allowed to perform privately in Cuba in recent years. Now, with the country plunged into a deep economic crisis, the authorities announce that they will end this absurd and limited list of permissible private work, which should never have existed in the first place.

As several economists have pointed out, the measure is heading in the right direction: towards greater flexibility, giving more space to private initiative and eliminating obstacles to entrepreneurship. The problem is that in order for the changes to be effective, it requires something more than following the track of sound popular demands; there also needs to be the necessary speed and depth to unleash a true transformation in society.

In this case, the stopwatch does not help. The demand to eliminate the detailed listing of self-employment licenses has been going on for more than two decades. The delay in implementing this demand has cost the country billions of pesos, the bankruptcy of promising private businesses, the penalization of countless entrepreneurs and the exodus abroad of an incalculable amount of talent. The announcement is certainly very late. continue reading

Now, when the Island is going through the most ominous economic moment of this century, the Plaza of the Revolution has pulled an ace out of its sleeve, one which, a decade ago, would have been exciting but that today hardly arouses enthusiasm. What could have been a political move to attract sympathy and support, reads now as a desperate maneuver, as the final act of an illusionist who has failed in all his previous tricks.

On the other hand, the depth of the measure is unknown, which fuels suspicion. Will individuals be allowed to go into the private practice of professions? Engineers, lawyers and dentists are asking themselves. Will the State release its monopoly over sectors such as telecommunications, public health and education? Computer scientists, doctors and teachers want to know. Will a journalist be able to practice privately, or will the press not be included in the crack that is opening? Independent reporters are wondering.

At the moment it is only known that the old list, which functioned as a straitjacket, will be abolished and “activities with a much broader profile may be carried out and the scope is defined by the work project presented by the interested party,” according to the official press. “For this, the limitations will be that it be legal work with resources and raw materials of legal origin,” adds the note drawn up from the words of the Minister of Labor and Social Security, María Elena Feito Cabrera.

If “lawful nature” means what is currently allowed, you should forget about seeing the “private trader” import products from abroad and sell or distribute them from private premises. Nor is it worth raising expectations about the possibility that doctors, lawyers or microbiologists can have their own office, firm or laboratory where they can practice their professions, since that is prohibited. There is not even the dream of a small private company installing cable television in homes, something also prohibited on the Island.

Although the elimination of the list of 123 self-employed licenses points towards the long-awaited and necessary opening, the old terrors of Cuban officialdom can make the speed of implementation and the depth of this reform leave more heartaches than satisfaction. To complete a race, it is not enough to point your feet towards the goal: the seconds and the quality of the stride are vital to advancing and winning.

__________________

COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.