Measuring Hopelessness / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

Those who believe that the closing of a one door to emigration will act like the snap of the fingers to awaken a society whose civic conscience is hypnotized are mistaken (Archive photo)

14ymedio biggerEl Pais/14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez,12 February 2017 — Statistics are deceiving. They only reflect measurable values, tangible realities. International agencies cram us with numbers that measure development, life expectancy or educational attainment, but seldom succeed in grading dissatisfaction, fear, and discouragement. Frequently in their reports they describe a Latin America and its inhabitants encased in a fog of digits.

This year the region will have weak growth of 1.3%, according to forecasts by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC). A data point that barely manages to transmit the scope of lives that will be ruined by the region’s sluggish progress. Unfinished projects and a long string of social dramas will be accentuated in many of these countries in the coming months. The breeding ground from which populism springs.

However, the major drama remains the lack of horizons for millions of people on this side of the planet continue reading

A Haitian who risks crossing the jungle of Panama’s Darien Gap to reach the United States is driven not only by the miserable conditions of life in her country, the destruction left by natural phenomena or the repeated epidemics that cost thousands of lives. The most powerful engine that moves her is hopelessness, the conviction that in her own country she will never have new opportunities.

Seeing no end to violence pushes other Central Americans to escape their countries. In several of these nations gangs have become an enthroned evil, corruption has corroded the internal scaffolding of institutions and politicians go from one scandal to the next. Discouragement then prompts a response quite different from that generated by indignation. While the latter may push people to rebel, the former pushes them to escape.

Meanwhile, on this Caribbean island, millions of human beings ruminate over their own disappointment. For decades Cubans fled because of political persecution, economic problems and weariness. Until 12 January 2017, that generalized choking sensation had a relief valve called the wet-foot/dry-foot policy, but President Barack Obama closed it a few days before finishing his second term.

The most staunch critics of that migratory privilege say that it encouraged desertions and illegal exits. Some people also criticized its unjust character in that it benefitted and offered entitlements to people who were not escaping war, genocide or a natural disaster. They forget, among these arguments, that discouragement also deserves to be taken into account and computed in any formula that tries to decipher the massive flight that affects a nation.

A similar error has been committed by agencies such as the FAO, UNHCR or ECLAC, all of which specialize in measuring parameters such as the number of daily calories ingested, the effect of climate change on human displacements, or the percentage decrease in a nation’s GDP. Their reports and statements never evaluate the energy that accumulates under frustration, the weight of disappointment or the impotence reflected in every migration.

When more than three generations of individuals have lived under a political and economic system that does not evolve or progress, there is a conviction among them that this situation is eternal and immutable. They no longer see any horizon and the idea that nothing can be done to change the status quo becomes rooted in their minds. By now, many of those born in Cuba after January 1959 have grown up with the conviction that everything had already been done by others who preceded them.

That explains why a young man who had recently slept under a roof in Havana, who had access to a limited but adequate amount of food through the rationed market and who spent his long free hours on a park bench, launched himself into the sea on a raft, at the mercy of the winds and sharks. The lack of prospects is also behind the large number of migrants from the island, in recent years, who have ended up in the hands of human traffickers in Colombia, Panama or Mexico.

Washington not only cut an escape path, but the White House’s decision ended up deepening the depression that comes from the chronic absence of dreams that characterizes our country. The Cuban Adjustment Act, enacted in 1966, is still in effect for those who can prove they are politically persecuted, but the most widespread feeling among potential migrants is that they have lost a last chance to reach a future.

However, this undermining of illusion has little chance of being transformed into rebellion. The theory of the social pressure cooker and the idea that Obama closed the escape valve so that the fire of internal austerity and repression will make it explode is a nice metaphor; but it misses several key ingredients, among them the resignation that overcomes individuals subjected to realities that appear unchangeable.

The belief that nothing can be done and nothing will change continues to be the principle stimulus, in these areas, to lift one’s anchor and depart for any other corner of the planet. The pot will not explode with a sea of people in the streets bringing down Raul Castro’s government while singing hymns on that dreamed of “D-Day” that so many are tired of waiting for.

Those who believe that the closing of a one door to emigration will act like the snap of the fingers to awaken a society whose civic conscience is hypnotized are mistaken. The cancellation of this policy of benefits in the United States is not enough to create citizens here at home.

A new bureaucratic barrier is a small thing to those who believe that they have reached their own glass ceiling and that in their homeland they have nothing left to do. This quiet conviction will never appear in tables, bar charts or schemes with which specialists will explain the causes of exodus and displacement. But ignorance of it means the specialists will never understand such a prolonged escape.

Far from the reports and statistics that everyone wants to explain, hopelessness will take Cuban migrants to other places, re-orient their route to new destinations. In distant latitudes, communities will flourish that will dine on their usual dish of rice and beans and continue to say the word “chico” before many of their phrases. They will be the ones who will let drop small tear when they see on a map that long and narrow land where they had their roots, but in which they could never bear fruit.

Editorial Note: This text was published this Sunday, February 12 in the newspaper El País.

When Life Is In The Hands Of Human Traffickers / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

Terminal 3 in Jose Marti International Airport in Havana (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Generation Y, Yoani Sanchez, 4 February 2017 – The wifi signal barely crosses the glass. The wireless network at José Martí International Airport only covers the boarding area. But a woman presses her whole body against the opaque window that separates the travelers’ area to communicate with human traffickers who are holding her daughter in Mexico.

For half any hour the lady reveals her despair. “I don’t have that much money, if I had it I would send it right now,” she prays through IMO. The videochat is cut several times by the poor quality of the connection On the other side, the voice of a man repeats, without backing off, “Three hundred dollars so she can return on Tuesday.”

The woman wipes her tears and unsuccessfully asks for a reduction. Nearby, a maid who cleans the bathroom passes by, idly dragging a cart with cleaning supplies. A customs official walks by, absorbed, and pretends he is not listening to the disturbing request projected from the screen of the phone, “Don’t kill her, don’t kill her.” continue reading

For half any hour the lady reveals her despair. “I don’t have that much money, if I had it I would send it right now,” she prays through IMO

The scene happens in a place crowded with people, most of whom are passengers about to board a transatlantic flight, or a new commercial route to the United States, and there are also the family members and friends who have come to see them off. No one shows any sign of hearing the drama developing a few feet away.

A tourist tosses back a beer just as the woman is asking the man for half an hour to “collect the money.” She starts the race against the clock. She calls several contacts from her IMO address book, but the first four, at least, don’t answer. On the fifth try, a shrill voice on the other end says, “Hello.”

“I need a huge favor, you can’t say no,” the lady stammers. But the head that can be seen on the screen shakes from side to side. “Are you crazy? And if after you pay this money they don’t let her go?” asks the voice. The tension makes the hand holding the phone start to tremble and her granddaughter, who has accompanied her, helps her hold on to it.

Several more calls and the money is not forthcoming. Finally a serious voice says yes, he can lend the money if the woman will pay it back “in two installments” to his sister in Havana. The mother agrees, promises she can “repay every cent,” although it sounds like a formula to get out of a bind. The man believes her.

Now they must arrange the details. The victim doesn’t have a bank account but the mother will send information about “how to send the money.” This is how the kidnappers get paid. Only then will they allow her to fly from Cancun to Havana, or at least that is what they promise.

Several more calls and the money is not forthcoming. Finally a serious voice says yes, he can lend the money if the woman will pay in back “in two installments” to his sister in Havana

In the middle of last year the Mexican authorities shut down a network trafficking in undocumented people from Cuba that operated in this tourist area in the Mexican state of Qunitana Roo. The end of the “wet foot/dry foot” policy this January has left many migrants in the hands of the coyotes, who don’t hesitate to turn to extortion to make up for the reduction in the flow of Cubans and, as a result, their loss of earnings.

The wifi signal is lost altogether, but the mother is feeling relieved. “She was in a large group, about 20 people,” she tells her granddaughter. A simple calculation allows us to know how much the captors will earn on “freeing” all those they are holding.

Nothing ends with the delivery of the money. “She is going to want to go again,” concludes the mother, the instant she hangs up from the last videochat. “I can’t stand it here, I can’t” she repeats, while walking toward the escalator filled with smiling and tanned tourists.

Leaving Cuba But Stranded on Another Island / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

A group of Cubans detained in Trinidad and Tobago by immigration authorities. (Courtesy)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Miami, 25 January 2017 — They left Cuba before January 12 and are now stranded on the island of Trinidad and Tobago, northeast of Venezuela. They arrived with the advantage of not needing a visa, but they have lost hope of reaching the borders of the United States after the cancellation of wet foot/dry foot policy.

Unofficial figures estimate that more than a thousand Cubans have arrived in Trinidad and Tobago and are waiting to be able to leave for the United States. Some received refugee status in this time, conferred by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), but have difficulty obtaining a work permit.

Recently 15 Cubans detained in Trinidad and Tobago for being undocumented, including 12 men and 3 women, stated that they would rather die than return to their own country

Zenaida, a fictitious name, still has a son in Cuba and fears to give her real identity to the story she has experienced in recent months, but her desire to tell what happened demonstrates, at times, a touch of recklessness. continue reading

“The word that they are offering asylum has gotten out, and if the immigration authorities hadn’t turned back a large number, there would be considerably more of us.” Those stuck there when their visas expire are sent to jail.

Recently, 15 Cubans detained in Trinidad and Tobago for being undocumented, among them 12 men and 3 women, declared that they would rather die than return to their own country. They are trapped on one island and trying to avoid being returned to another.

Zenaida had a job with the Cuban Workers Center (CTC) – nominally a labor union, but entirely controlled by the government – but was disillusioned with the official ideology. “Despite experiencing the time of the mass exodus in the 1990s, I never thought to leave the country because I’m very attached to my family and my only daughter,” she says.

Her nonconformity started from the time she was a member of the Young Communist Union. “I realized that Robertico Robaina, our leader at the time, obeyed the principle of ‘do what I say and not what I do’.” Zenaida worked on a poultry farm and one day discovered, “a great embezzlement of the birds, where the records were falsified.” On confronting the people involved she learned that among the embezzlers was the director general of the enterprise. Frustration washed over her.

She decided to attend the course for political cadres to get away from the poultry farm. “I couldn’t imagine I would go from one hell to another.” After being a witness to the opportunism and the double standards of many of her colleagues, the little faith she still had in the system was completely destroyed.

“I requested to be released from my job after witnessing the outrage that the opposition figure Jorge Luis Perez ‘Antunez’ and his family were subjected to,” she tells 14ymedio. “That was the trigger that made me decide not to continue there.

“I started working secretly in my aunt’s paladar (private restaurant). There they offered me 100 Cuban convertible pesos (roughly the same in dollars) and the cost of my passport if I would go to Trinidad for seven days in order to import clothing,” she said.

But the fate of the “mule” took a turn when, passing through the airport in Havana, she happened to greet and speak with the author of this article. One of the women she was traveling with, who had witnessed the exchange, returned to Cuba before her, and told one of Zenaida’s neighbors that she was now “one of those human rights people.” “Small town, big hell,” she says, recalling that incident, “the news spread like wildfire and even my husband was called in by State Security.”

Trinidad and Tobago Airport

“My mother and my son were also questioned about my behavior,” she says. “I was aware of the consequences I would have to face if I returned to Cuba.”

“There are families who have been stranded here  waiting for a host country for more than two years. I think the world is not aware of the drama Cubans experience”

She applied for political asylum and now her legal situation is complex. “Immigration took my passport and gave me a card that’s called a supervision order, that allows me to be in the country freely, but doesn’t allow me to work.” Zenaida has to work in the shadows to survive. “I do it on my own and I do the hardest cleaning jobs that the natives here reject.”

For the moment, she is receiving some help from a Catholic organization, Living Water Community, which consists of a food allocation that includes rice, sugar, grains, flour, toilet paper, soap and some clothing donated by others.

After some time she will have her first interview with United Nations representatives and only then will she be able to obtain refugee status. “There are families who have been stranded here waiting for a country to take them for more than two years. I think the world isn’t aware of the drama Cubans experience,” says Zenaida.

Although Zenaida has been optimistic since reuniting with her husband and celebrates not being alone, her feelings are contradictory with respect to emigration “I do not know if we are living in limbo, but only now do I know that fleeing resolves nothing. We are left without our customs, our families, our roots, and clash with the hard reality of the immigrant. We will only be free when we don’t cross jungles and oceans looking for an answer that is only inside ourselves.” And she concludes with regret, “What a pity that it is only now that I understand all this!”

Julio And Enrique Iglesias, Two Moments In The Life Of Cuba / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

Enrique Iglesias in a file image with the Cuban group “Gente de Zona”. (Networks)

14ymedio, Generation Y, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 11 January 2017 — My mother had a T-shirt with the face of the Spanish singer Julio Iglesias, bought in the informal market in the early eighties. At a meeting of the Union of Young Communists they warned her she could not continue to wear it. The author of La vida sigue igual (Life Remains the Same) had fallen into the blacklist of censorship and after that the garment languished in a drawer in our house.

This January, almost four decades after that point in my childhood, Julio’s son Enrique Iglesias has come to Cuba to film the music video for the single Súbeme la radio (Beam me up to the radio). A legion of fans is preparing to follow him to the locations where he will work alongside director Alejandro Pérez, musician Descemer Bueno and the Puerto Rican duo Zion and Lenox. continue reading

Although the national media have handled Iglesias’ visit with caution, the news spread rapidly among the people. There will undoubtedly be crowds around the places where the singer plans to go, in the style of Beyoncé, Rihanna, Katty Perry, the Kardashians or Madonna, during their stays on the Island.

This Wednesday, many young people sigh to get an autograph of the successful artist and wait to capture on their cellphone a moment in which he approaches, passes, makes himself seen. They are women who are the same age as my mother was in those years when she was prohibited from wearing a T-shirt with the face of the other Iglesias, the forbidden one.

My mother could never go to a Julio Iglesias concert. I do not think she even listens to his songs anymore. This week, other Cuban women like her will have their little historical rematch

At that time, the Cuban authorities offered no explanations about the ban. There were only rumors and half-statements: “He made statements against Cuba,” was heard in some official circles; “Julio sang for Pinochet in Chile,” warned the most furious militants, in reference to the artist’s 1977 trip to that South American country.

The truth is that Iglesias, the father, swelled the list of singers who could not be broadcast on radio and television. Has name was added to others excluded, such as Celia Cruz, Olga Guillot, Nelson Ned and even Jose Feliciano. The latter was only broadcast again in the Cuban media much later on.

A few years before he was banned, the film inspired by the life of Julio Iglesias had been a blockbuster in the island’s movie theaters. Many viewers boasted of having seen the film several times in one day and the choruses of its songs displaced the songs of the New Trova.

Iglesias, as well as appealing to artistic tastes, meant a fresh wind at a time when Cuban music was filled with slogans. He spoke of romance, love, loss and oblivion, in a country where the bolero had been set aside and the only passion allowed was that which could be felt by the cause and the Revolution. He took off among young people, tired of so much focus on trench warfare and feeling the need for more flesh and less Utopia.

My mother was never able go to a Julio Iglesias concert. I do not think she even listens to his songs anymore. This week, other Cuban women like her will have their little historical rematch. Another Iglesias has arrived, his songs are different and the Cuba in which he has landed little resembles that Sovietized island of old. Music just won a match over ideology.

Juan Condemned To Nothing / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

In just over 50 minutes, the script details the expenses that face this fictional character, inspired by the director’s own brother. (Screen capture)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 9 January 2017 — How to explain to our grandchildren the economic absurdity of today’s Cuba? What pedagogical juggling will be needed to detail the black market, the ration book, the “Hard Currency Collection Stores,” and the capped prices? Will they believe us when we describe the devalued Cuban peso and its counterpart, the chavito? The movie The Singular History of Juan With Nothing, by the director Ricardo Figueredo, could help in this educational endeavor.

The documentary tells of the life – the “survival” – of Juan, a worker whose only source of income is his monthly salary of 250 Cuban pesos (CUP), the rough equivalent of 10 Cuban Convertible pesos (CUC – each worth roughly one dollar). Juan is a hypothetical “ordinary Cuban” who does not receive remittances from abroad, who does not “divert” (i.e. steal) state resources, or resell products to survive. A citizen living a grey life, that doesn’t allow him to buy even a new shirt, invite his girlfriend to a coffee shop, or polish his shoes. continue reading

In a little more than 50 minutes, the script details the expenses faced by this fictional character, inspired by Figueredo’s own brother, in order to feed himself and pay for basic services such as water, electricity and gas. The story is based on real testimonies that delineate a distorted economy, plagued with contradictions and where honesty is an obstacle in the struggle to survive.

In the voice of actor Luis Alberto Garcia, who serves as narrator, The Singular History of Juan With Nothing details the products still distributed on the ration book and their corresponding prices, a glimpse of the subsidized poverty enthroned by the rationed market which, as the economist Juan Triana says, also “transmits injustice.”

A selection of archive images helps to understand the misery trap in which millions of today’s Cubans are snared. It is an explanation sprinkled with sarcasm and certain historical details that the government has wanted to bury, such as its promises that shortages would never reach our markets or that Cubans would never fail to be able to enjoy their traditional Christmas nougats.

It is likely that this mix of humor and good memory have contributed to the film’s not having been selected to participate in last December’s latest edition of the Festival of New Latin American Cinema. However, the film is already circulating in alternative media networks, which means it enjoys a larger audience than it would have had in a few showings in December. So the life of Juan is being seen in the same way that characterizes it: separate from institutions and away from official privileges.

Among viewers, the title of the film awakens the memory of a poem by one of the regime’s favorite poets, Nicolás Guillén, in which he assures us that, after January 1959, we Cubans will become “Juan with everything,” an assertion that becomes a mockery when the protagonist uses a fifth of his salary to buy soap and deodorant in state-owned stores, at prices with “taxes of more than 200%,” the documentary says.

The agricultural market and illegal trade networks complete the choices that the impoverished man must resort to in order to feed himself, while simple arithmetic makes clear he won’t be able to do so, that no one can live a decent life with a decent wage. The tension grows and the audience’s uneasiness rises as the money slips out of Juan’s hands and his plate remains empty of food.

The interviews with self-employed workers, retirees, state employees and analysts make Figueredo’s film transcend a mere didactic explanation to achieve a high testimonial value, a hardened portrait of a Cuba no one is satisfied with, not even the voices closest to the official discourse that are heard in the film.

However, the greatest achievement of the documentary will only be seen later, when the incredulous generations of the future believe that we are exaggerating by telling them what we have lived through. The Singular Story Of Juan With Nothing will be like those fossils that, when unearthed, show the fierce anatomy of an extinct animal, the grim skeleton of an economy in ruins.

Citizens… Time To Tighten Your Belts / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

Raúl Castro will preside this January over his first parade, similar to the one shown here, without the shadow of his brother. (EFE / Archive)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Generation Y, Yoani Sanchez, 29 December 2016 – My generation knows no good news. We grew up with the grey subsidies of the rationed market, we reached puberty amid the rigors of the Special Period, we raised our children in a country with two currencies, and now they warn us that times of economic stress are coming. It appears there is no respite from this long sequence of disasters, collapses and cuts that we have suffered for decades.

This December the National Assembly of People’s Power acknowledged the negative numbers that reality made clear long ago: Cuba is not growing, production is not recovering, and the so-call Raulist reforms have not given citizens a better life. The island is heading toward the abyss of defaults, cuts in vital sectors of the economy, and continued stagnation. continue reading

In other places, the rulers would resign before the panorama facing this nation, due – in great measure – to bad management. However, since the general president did not win office by a popular vote, no one can punish him at the ballot boxes in the next elections. To the opposition that has demanded his departure, the iron fist of repression and punishment is always applied.

Instead of a mea culpa, the officials who, on Tuesday, detailed the economic debacle and in somber tones said it will continue in the coming year, have called for greater productivity, a reduction in superfluous expenses, and using the so-called “efficiency reserves,” the final official euphemism used to explain what little remains in the national treasury.

However, a few hours after concluding the parliamentary session in which such bad omens were unveiled, the second of the three planned test runs began – Friday will be the third – for the huge military parade that will be staged in Havana’s Plaza of the Revolution on 2 January. A mass gathering, with parades of war tanks and soldiers marching in lockstep, that will cost Cuba hundreds of thousands of pesos, if not millions.

The traffic on the capital’s most important arteries has been paralyzed as of the early morning hours of yesterday, Wednesday. Thousands of state employees didn’t have to complete their workday, and a long line of buses had to travel from various municipalities to the parade grounds. Countless snacks were distributed among the most faithful participants in what is coming to be seen as a “Raulist coronation.” The younger brother has planned his own investiture in power, now on his own, after the death of the former president Fidel Castro.

Why this waste of military resources in the middle of the crisis that the country is going through? Such delusions of grandeur are not consistent with the 0.9% decline in GDP this year. This military parade, with its boasts of strength and a “baring of teeth,” will squander some of the resources needed to repair the deteriorated roads of the island, to give just one example.

In this city that has suffered serious cuts in public lighting, where the last-hour bus terminal have been overwhelmed before the lack of interprovincial transport, and where a pound of pork costs up to two day’s wages, what will take place this coming Monday is far beyond wastefulness, it is a sign of lack of respect.

And so, there are certain politicians. They call – for the umpteenth time – for a tightening of belts and a reduction in the expectations for a better life, while they waste enormous quantities of national resources playing at war.

Reggaeton, Reality’s Soundtrack / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

Videoclip from Maluma’s ‘Cuatro Babys’. (Youtube)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 27 December 2016 — The car is about to come apart at the seams every time it hits a bump in Havana’s crumbling streets. The passengers in the shared taxi vibrate with the rattling of the vehicle and the reggaeton blasting from the speakers. It is the music of the early 21st century, a genre of raw lyrics and explicit sexuality that accompanies every minute of our reality.

With a paternity shared between Puerto Rico and Panama, this urban sound marks the birth of the millennium. It has added a naked touch and a certain lascivious rhythm to the times we live in. The lyrics of the songs venerate ostentatiousness as a virtue, celebrating a world where the size of your watch and the thickness of your gold chains are ever more important.

Reggaeton has won out over the protest song of so many social dreams born in Latin America, most of them failed. Its raw materiality has also displaced those anthological boleros that had us weeping on our bar stools, and the carols that overwhelm us at the end of the year. The singers of this fierce music don’t want to be seen as heroes nor as broken-hearted lovers. Rather, they want to convey an image of cynical survival, of calculated lightness. continue reading

Hence the fuss kicked up by some in response to the impudent lyrics of Cuatro Babys, a song from the Colombian Maluma, where he brags about having four women at his beck and call. The repulsion gets buried in the 200 million (and counting) views the video has enjoyed on YouTube. These are times of hits… not of indignation.

Maluma’s assertions do not scandalize the followers of the rhythm, who see him as the chronicler of a tangible and known reality. It is not reggaeton, it is life that has not taken hold as it should. The Colombian is only the loudspeaker of such a distrubing but common message that doesn’t raise a single eyebrow around here. Blushing does not change the environment.

Reggaeton has become a way of looking at life, in a cosmogony lacking in delicacies or half-tones. It doesn’t matter whether you follow it or not, if you like it or not, there is no way to cover your ears and ignore it. It is here, there, everywhere. Our children hum its choruses. “Tengo money,” repeats a seven-year-old girl in a Cuban classroom, using the English word for cash; and her classmates complete the phrase of a popular reggaeton song. A few minutes earlier they had been shouting a slogan in the school’s morning assembly: “Pioneers for communism, we will be like Che!”

Speaking and understanding the codes of reggaeton is essential to communicating with the younger generation, but also with many of their parents. Minimizing and censoring it only strengthens it, because it has become the compass that expresses rebellion. It has lasted longer than any other genre pushed by record labels or cultural policies.

At the end of the last century, very few would have predicted that for nearly two decades already this urban rhythm would dominate the music that is played at nightclubs, private parties and on the devices we attach to ourselves with earbuds. But it has stayed with us, grabbing us with its wild impudence. Perhaps it only interprets what beats down below, far from the lights of the ceremonies, the outfits for special occasions and the opportunism.

Who would have said it? From the songs of Victor Jara to the catchy phrases of Don Omar, from the utopian Silvio Rodríguez to the emaciated Cuban musicians Yomil and El Dany. “My Blue Unicorn” grazes now in a meadow of minuscule bikinis and hundred dollar bills. Those who hummed they would “give their heart” have decided to trade it in for swimming pool in which a thousand and one nymphs frolic and don’t say a word.

To reject reggaeton, this rhythm incubated in the “New World,” is like rejecting the potato domesticated in the high plateaus. Sooner or later you will end up eating it, sooner or later you will end up dancing. Even at the most glamorous parties, the dresses are hitched up, the makeup runs, and the social climbers, the nerds, the “good kids,” end up dancing doggy style, sweating in a spasm of lust and oblivion.

Fought against far too often with the dictionary, the academy and too much café con leche, the reggaetoners are teen idols and set the styles, the customs and the forms of speech. They do not travel in yellow submarines but rather in luxury cars, surrounded by alcohol and kisses. These are not the psychedelic years, but the years of touching down, when the lower the fall and the deeper the plunge into the abyss of excess the more tracks they will sell.

Reggaeton is also a lingua franca, a common language like Esperanto once hoped to be, like HTML code did manage to be. All its followers descend or ascend to the same level when they dance. The hips that touch under its influence don’t understand ideologies, social classes, the exploitation of man or capital gains. It is the universal language of sheer pleasure, the jargon learned before birth, which we pass on with confidence.

Not by chance did Barack Obama, in his historic speech in Havana, allude to the contagious rhythm when he said, “In Miami or Havana, you can find places to dance the Cha-Cha-Cha or the Salsa, and eat ropa vieja.  People in both of our countries have sung along with Celia Cruz or Gloria Estefan, and now listen to reggaeton or Pitbull.”

A lyrical battle, where reggaetoners tackle the stage and confront the microphones, fighting for the audience as if it were a reality show. The crude lyrics and machine gun blasts in their productions reinforce the sense of combat. A contest where everything is achieved with pelvic sweat.

Reggaeton has proved to be the unexpected antidote against the malaise of a culture diagnosed by Sigmund Freud. It represents, like few phenomena, the end of innocence. Was there any left? A workhorse that returns us to the state which perhaps we never left, a moment when we are only flesh and guts.


Editor’s note: This text was published on Tuesday, 27 December 2016 in the newspaper El País.

Maduro, Disciple of a School in Decline / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

The differences of style between the Fidel Castro and Nicolas Maduro are endless, but something more decisive separates them: Time. (Headline: To die for the fatherland is to live.) (

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Generation Y, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 21 December 2016 – On television a speech by Nicolas Maduro reverberates. He is talking about international conspiracies, the enemy that wants to end the “Bolivarian” revolution and the “monetary mafias,” a refrain that recalls the deceased Cuban ex-president Fidel Castro, obsessed with blaming others for the disasters caused by his own decisions.

The differences in style between the two leaders are endless, but something more decisive separates them: Time. Decades have passed between Castro’s interminable oratory about Cuba and the Venezuela ruled by the erratic Maduro. continue reading

In that time, we Latin Americans have become suspicious of populist discourses and learned to reveal the seams of the redeemers, who hide authoritarians under their robes. Their political speeches do not work like they did before. Like those hackneyed verses that compare the eyes with the stars or the mouth with a rose, and that now only provoke mockery.

In these times, when from the podium the homeland is invoked too often, the spectrum of foreign interference is constantly dangled and results are never offered, this is the time to be on alert. If the leaders call on us to spill every last drop of blood, while they surround themselves with bodyguards or hide at some “zero point,” we have to cease to believe them.

A dose of skepticism immunizes against these pernicious harangues where it is explained that the country’s problems originate outside the national borders. Suspiciously, the whistleblower never takes any responsibility for the disaster and blames the failure on some alleged externalities and media wars.

Maduro was trained in the school of politics as permanent agitation, a school headquartered in Havana. To make matters worse, the Venezuelan leader has been a mediocre student, who interprets the original script with a lot of huffing and puffing, very little charisma and a huge dose of nonsense. His main blunder has been not to realize that the manual designed by Fidel Castro no longer works.

The Venezuelan leader arrived too late to take advantage of the gullibility that for decades made many people of this continent exalt dictators. His speeches resonate with the past, like bad poems, that neither move our souls nor win our affections.

“There Is Nothing Worse Than An Artist Who Collaborates With A Repressive Government” / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

The film 'Hands of Stone', directed by Venezuelan filmmaker Jonathan Jakubowicz, will be presented this December at the Film Festival in Havana. (Courtesy)
The film ‘Hands of Stone’, directed by Venezuelan filmmaker Jonathan Jakubowicz, will be presented this December at the Film Festival in Havana. (Courtesy)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 7 December 2016 – He has a Polish last name, a first name of Hebrew origin, and Venezuelan blood running through his veins. Jonathan Jakubowicz is as complex and versatile a filmmaker as the skein of influences that make up his family tree. Born in Caracas in 1978, the director has received both pressure from the government of Hugo Chavez and the most resounding applause from his audience. This December his film Hands of Stone will be shown in Cuba during the Festival of New Latin American Cinema.

The film, based on the story of the Panamanian boxer Roberto Duran, includes in its cast the fellow Venezuelan Edgar Ramirez, in the starring role, and the Oscar winner Robert de Niro in the role of his trainer. Jakubowicz responded to questions from 14ymedio about his expectations on presenting his work to a Cuban audience, and his reaction to the exclusion from the festival of the Cuban film Santa y Andrés, by director Carlos Lechuga. continue reading

Sanchez. During the Havana Film Festival of Havana Cubans will be able to enjoy your film Hands of Stone, one of the most interesting films that will be screened in this year. How can viewers on the island inform themselves before seeing the story of the legendary Roberto ‘Mano de Piedra’ Duran?

Jakubowicz. I think that Cubans feel the story of Duran as their own. Duran is the son of an American Marine who was assigned to the Canal Zone and who had an affair with a Panamanian, and then left. The relationship between the boxer known as Manos de Piedra and the United States is complex starting from his birth. But paradoxically it is only thanks to the help of his gringo coach, the character played by De Niro, that he becomes world champion and beats the United States boxing idols on the biggest stages in the world. It is a Latin American epic, filmed mainly in Panama but with Hollywood legends. I am sure Cubans will enjoy it.

Sanchez. You’re aware of the censorship of the film Santa y Andrés, directed by Cuban filmmaker Carlos Lechuga, and even thought of withdrawing Hands of Stone from the Festival, in solidarity with that filmmaker. Why have you kept your film in the Festival line-up? What do you think about the exclusion of the Lechuga’s film?

Jakubowicz. Cuba and Venezuela are sister nations, not only in our history but in our political present. When my first film came out, Secuestro Express (Kidnapping Express), the Chavez government charged me twice and published in the state media all kinds of information to discredit me. Only someone who knows what it is to be persecuted because of his art can understand the pain that means. That is why it affected me so much to read about censorship being applied to this Cuban film.

I felt that going to the Festival to show my film would be a hypocrisy, like when I saw international filmmakers photographing Chavez while I was being persecuted. I was afraid of becoming that dismal figure of the artist who supports the repressor, a very common figure in our countries, and one that has done great damage to our people.

But Cuban filmmakers themselves asked me not to withdraw my movie from the program, because the festival is one of the few windows left on the island to see the outside world, and so I decided to do it. At the end of the day I don’t live in Cuba and the only thing I can to do is help those who do live there.

Sanchez. You’ve experienced first hand harassment within your own country. How do you experience all those pressures?

Jakubowicz. With much anguish and sadness. My film was not even against the government, but was made by people from all social classes in Venezuela, and the success filled Chavez with insecurity, because his power was always based on dividing the population. On attacking us, he attacked our invitation to overcome the problems we have as a society, but also made it impossible for me to continue making films in my country. So I am filled with admiration for Cubans like you, like Gorki Aguila, El Sexto and others who dare to stay in the cave of repressor to do battle for freedom from within.

I just published a book, Las Aventuras de Juan Planchard (The Adventures of John Planchard), showing the corruption of the Chavista revolution in all its glory. It is my grain of sand in this fight. There are people who ask me if I’m not afraid to publish it, and my answer is that if there are people in Cuba and Venezuela who put their lives on the line daily for freedom, the least I can do is support them with my art.

Sanchez. What do you think of the relationship between cinema and power? Between artists and official institutions?

Jakubowicz. Cinema and power have always been related, the problem is when those in power repress some filmmakers, and welcome and support others. There is nothing worse than an artist who collaborates with a repressive government. To put your sensibility at the service of a power that persecutes human beings who want to express themselves like you do is a contradiction which, in my opinion, annuls you as an artist and makes your work into propaganda.

History is full of talented artists who have done that and ended up persecuted by the very machinery they supported. Generally those who remain cozied up to power forever are mediocre, they would have no capacity for transcendence if not for the help they receive as payment for their complicity.

Sanchez. In Cuba, as of more than three years ago, a group of filmmakers has been promoting a Film Law to gain autonomy and protect their work. What would you recommend to your colleagues on the island in that regard?

Jakubowicz. In my opinion they should focus on creating methods for their films to be viewed online. Just as there are now journalistic spaces coming out in Havana and reaching everyone, create spaces for local filmmakers to put their work on the internet. Almost all filmmakers in the world are doing works that are exhibited on the internet.

Even Woody Allen is making a series for Amazon. No one can underestimate the power of the internet as a tool for the distribution of independent cinema of the future. I find it commendable that they are trying to pass this law, but in my experience art cannot beat authoritarian governments with laws. They can be conquered with art. The laws were not made for artists.

Lights After The Ashes / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

Despite the mourning, some have dared to put up Christmas decorations. (14ymedio)
Despite the mourning, some have dared to put up Christmas decorations. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 1 December 2016 – Timidly, without much noise or fuss, Havanans are shaking off the national mourning decreed for Cuba, as of last Saturday, for the death of Fidel Castro. Despite cultural activities having been cancelled, the closed theaters and the bars without alcohol, the first Christmas decorations are beginning to be seen in some homes.

The owners of these houses adorned with lights and garlands risk being reprimanded by those closest to officialdom or by the police.

In a city where the authorities have severely reprimanded those who play loud music in their homes, or who plan any kind of festivities, to install Christmas decorations is true defiance, a gesture of irreverence more daring and forceful than an opposition slogan shouted in the Plaza of the Revolution.

Thousands of families across the capital city are waiting for the end of this period of seclusion imposed by the powers-that-be to prominently display their tree with a star and snow made out of cotton. These are the symbols of the new times, of the holidays that will inevitably come after the great funeral.

Cuba Survives Fidel Castro / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

A group of older people waiting for bread talk about the death of Fidel. (14ymedio)
A group of older people waiting for bread talk about the death of Fidel. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana 27 November 2016 – Few people were watching official television at that hour. The news of Fidel Castro’s death began to spread through the night on Friday by phone, as information that was vague and imprecise. “Again?” my mother asked when I called her. Born in 1957, this Havanan of nearly six decades does not remember life before the Commander in Chief took power in Cuba.

Three generations, we Cubans have put the final period on an era this Friday. Each person will define it in their own way. There are those who claim that with the departure of the leader a piece of the nation has also left and that now the island seems incomplete. They will be those who will shape the creed of Fidelism that, as a replacement of imported Marxism-Leninism, will fill the manuals, the slogans and the burning commitments to continuity.
continue reading

The propagandists of the myth will put his five-letter name in the pantheon of national history. They will dedicate a revolutionary prayer every time reality seems to belie “the teachings” he left in his hours of interminable speeches. For his followers, everything bad that happens from now on will be because he is no longer here.

In Miami, the exile so vilified in his harangues celebrates that the dictator has embarked on his last journey. On the island, within the privacy of many homes, some uncorked a bottle of rum. “I kept it so long I thought I would never be able to taste it,” an early rising neighbor told me. There are those who have woken up this Saturday with one less weight on their shoulders, a sensation of lightness they are not yet accustomed to.

These are also the days to remember those who didn’t make it this far. Those who were killed during the Castro regime, shipwrecked at sea, victims of the censorship that the Maximum Leader imposed, or who lost their sanity as a consequence of the delusions he promoted. An immense chorus of victims is expressed today in the sighs of the survivors, the euphoria in the streets of Florida, or in a simple “Amen.”

Most, however, after learning the details of the great funeral, turn down the TV and express their disgust with a simple shrug. This indifference contrasts with the messages of condolence from international leaders, both the ideologically aligned as well as the others. On the wall of Havana’s Malecon, a couple of hours after Raul Castro announced the death of his brother, some groups continued to behave as on any other late night: sweat, sensuality, boredom and nothingness surrounding them.

Cubans who were under 15 in July of 2006 when the then-president’s illness was announced, barely remember the timbre of his voice. They only know him from the photos in which he would appear lately when some foreign guest visited, of through his increasingly absurd Reflections, published in the national press. It is the generation that never vibrated to his oratory and never seconded the dreaded cry of “Paredon!” – To the Firing Squad! – that he bellowed from the Plaza of the Revolution.

These young people have now been charged with reducing his historical dimension, in inverse proportion to the hubris he exhibited in governing this nation. They won’t stop listening to a single lyric of their preferred reggaeton songs to intone the slogan “Viva Fidel.” They will not give birth to a wave of infants who will carry the name of the deceased, nor will they beat their breasts and tear their clothes during the funeral.

Fidel Castro in Rome in 1996
Fidel Castro in Rome in 1996

Never have we heard less about the Commander in Chief than at the moment of his death. Never had oblivion loomed like a more threatening shadow than when his end was announced. The man who filled every minute of Cuba for more than 50 years receded, faded, was lost to spectators’ sight in this extremely long film, like the character who walks off down a path until he is barely a blip on our retina.

He leaves behind the great lesson of contemporary Cuban History: tying the national destiny to the will of one man ends up passing on to a country the imperfect traits of his personality and inflates one human being with the arrogance of speaking for everyone. His olive green cap and his Greek profile, for decades, have encouraged the nightmares of some and the poetic residues of others, along with the populists promises of many leaders on the planet.

His “anti-imperialism,” as he stubbornly called it, was his most constant attitude, the only slogan that he managed to take to the ultimate consequences. No wonder the United States was the second great protagonist of the documentaries national television began to broadcast as soon as the news was announced. Castro’s obsession with our neighbor to the north ran through every moment of his political life.

The eternal question that so many foreign journalists asked, now has an answer. “What will happen when Fidel Castro dies?” Today we know that he will be cremated, his ashes will be carried across the island and placed in the Santa Ifigenia Cemeterey, a few yards from the tomb of José Martí. There will be tears and nostalgia, but his legacy will fade.

The Council of State has decreed nine days of national mourning, but the official elegy will last for months, time enough to cover with so much hullabaloo the flat reality of post-Fidelism. A system that the current president is trying to keep afloat, adding patches of market economy and calls for the foreign capital that his brother abominated.

A representation of the “good cop, bad cop” that both brothers unfurled before our eyes, is now missing one of its parts. It will be difficult for the defenders of Raul Castro’s regime to argue that the reforms are not faster or deeper because, in a mansion at Point Zero on the outskirts of Havana, a nonagenarian has applied the brakes.

Raul Castro has been orphaned. He knows no life without his brother, no political action without asking what his brother will think about his decisions. He has never taken a step without this gaze over his shoulder, judging him, pushing him and underestimating him.

Fidel Castro has died. He is survived by a nation that has lived through too much mourning to dress in the color of widowhood.


Editor ‘s note: This text was published on Sunday 27 November, 2016 in the newspaper El País.

Enough With the War Games / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

Regular troops of the Revolutionary Armed Forces parade in military exercise. (Archive)
Regular troops of the Revolutionary Armed Forces parade in military exercise. (Archive)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Generation Y, Havana, 20 November 2016 — Tiredness, in the voice of the friend who calls and asks when they are going to mute the sirens that have been going off since morning. Exhaustion, in the neighbor who couldn’t get home in time after work because traffic was diverted due to military maneuvers. Annoyance in the young reservist who was ordered to participate in military exercise on the exact days he was planning a getaway with his girlfriend.

The three days devoted to “Bastión 2016” have left many Cubans feeling extremely saturated. Especially because after 72 hours of aggressive confrontation, and just when it seemed that the nightmare of machine guns was over, the government decreed this Saturday and Sunday to be National Days of Defense. For those who don’t want to fight… three bullets. continue reading

Exhausted from so much “trench warfare” and too many allusions to the enemy, we wonder if it wouldn’t be more coherent to use all those resources to alleviate daily problems. To reverse the chronic difficulties of urban transport, the quality of the bread in the ration market, or the shortages of medicines in the island’s pharmacies, would be better destinations for the little money contained in the national coffers.

Why waste money on fuel for war tanks that could be used to improve elementary school lunches?

The threat of battle is part of the mechanisms of control. The trench is the hole where we are immobilized and reduced; the platoon erases our individuality; and the canteen filled with water that tastes of metal and fear exorcises our demons of prosperity.

The war games have reminded us that we are only soldiers. As the bugle’s roar pulls the uniformed from their beds, these days of military exercises have awakened the country from any dreams of citizenship.

End of the Obama Era: Valuable Time Lost / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

Barack Obama in one of the last rallies of support for Hillary Clinton. (EFE / EPA / CRISTOBAL HERRERA)
Barack Obama in one of the last rallies of support for Hillary Clinton. (EFE / EPA / CRISTOBAL HERRERA)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 8 November 2016 – On Tuesday a new era opens for the United States and for the rest of the nations on the planet, while for Cuba a period of great opportunities will end, one that the Plaza of the Revolution’s stubbornness did not use to its advantage.

The normalization of relations between Washington and Havana, announced on 17 December 2014, began a time of possibilities to improve the lives of the Cuban people, a time that the Cuban government received with excessive caution. Every step taken by Barack Obama was responded to with suspicion by Raul Castro, without any lessening of political repression and, in recent months, with a escalation in the tone of ideological rhetoric. continue reading

The general-president has wasted the enthusiasm of the thaw, squandering chances and delaying – with his stubbornness – the inevitable opening that the island will experience. He has chosen entrenchment rather than ease the iron controls that strangle the country’s economic, civic and cultural life.

When the opportunity opened for Cuban coffee growers to sell their product in the United States, our side responded with a tirade from the National Association of Small Farmers. Before proposals to strengthen ties between the young people of both nations, olive-green officialdom barricaded itself in a bitter campaign against scholarships offered by the World Learning organization.

Google’s offers to help connect the island to the internet ran up against the monopoly of the Cuban Telecommunications Company, which only at the end of this year will begin a “pilot project” to bring the great World Wide Web to 2,000 homes in Old Havana. Meanwhile, censorship is still in force against digital sites, and wifi zones maintain their high prices and poor service.

The Plaza of the Revolution has focused its discourse on the glass half empty. For long months it has blamed Obama for not managing to lift the embargo or to return the Guantanamo Naval Base, a propaganda strategy of strident demands to cover up the evidence that our neighbor to the north has shown itself in a better mood for reconciliation.

The photos of Castro and Obama shaking hands and smiling for the cameras matter little. The reality is far from deserving the headlines in the foreign press, which tell us that Cuba has changed because Madonna walked the streets of its capital, a United States soccer team shook the stands of a stadium on the island, or that both countries are collaborating on protecting the region’s sharks.

In recent weeks, the slowdown has been felt more strongly. Cuban authorities know that the new occupant of the White House will face many challenges ahead. Her or his first months’ agenda will focus on emergencies such as the war in Syria, the conflict with ISIS, and the country’s own internal problems, which are neither few nor small. Cuba will not be a priority on the agenda of the next president of the United States.

Whether Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump wins today, it will be some time before the new president addresses the issue of the island and makes it their own, with an imprint that could mean “freezing the thaw,” or deepening the path initiated by Obama. But the reins that keep Cuba locked in the 20th century do not issue from the Oval Office, they are held in the hands of an octogenarian who fears this future that awaits us, one where he will not be.

The Old Age of Elpidio Valdés / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

The image of the artist Denys Almaral gives an unexpected turn to the iconography created by Juan Padrón.
The image of the artist Denys Almaral gives an unexpected turn to the iconography created by Juan Padrón.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 24 October 2016 — Several generations of Cubans have grown up watching cartoons based on the adventures of Elpidio Valdés. A Mambí – Cuban freedom fighter – friendly and popular, the character has starred in many popular sayings and some jokes repeated ad nauseam. Willing to annihilate the Spaniards with a slash of his machete, nationalist to the core and vindicator of the version of history clung to by the official discourse, this insurrectionist tried to represent Cuban identity in his picaresque rebelliousness.

The image created by the artist Denys Almaral gives an unexpected twist to the iconography created by Juan Padron. Aged, forced to sell newspapers to survive and marked by economic hardship, this Elpido Valdes of this little vignette belies the heroic tints in which he appeared in numerous shorts and feature films dedicated to the witty independence fighter. continue reading

Instead of the country for which he fought, the rogue spends his last years in a Cuba where those who live better are those who have hard currency, where the dreams of equity are a thing of the past, and where the generation that helped to build the system is a “hindrance” to the government’s desire for a monopoly.

The island is full of Elpidio Valdéses asking for alms, standing in long lines to buy the only bread they have the right to each day and dreaming of the project of this nation that led them to the countryside to shake off the yoke of a foreign power. Now, they are not subjects of the metropolis, but of the Castro regime.

Elpidio Valdes -- the Jaun Padron version "in his youth"
Elpidio Valdes — the Juan Padron version “in his youth” Source:

Panama’s Darien Gap, a Mediterranean Without Boats or Headlines / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

Cubans crossing the Darien jungle to get to Panama. (Courtesy to '14ymedio')
Cubans crossing the Darien jungle to get to Panama. (Courtesy to ’14ymedio’)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Panama, 23 October 2016 — If anything deserves to be called “tropical” it is the Darien jungle in the south of Panama. Humidity, mosquitoes and heat makes moving within the dense vegetation of the area a superhuman task. Through the dense jungle extends one of the most dangerous migratory routes of the world. A Mediterranean without boats or headlines, but one where opportunity and death also converge.

Where Central America joins in a narrow embrace with South America, is is the deadliest and most feared stretch along the route to the United States. Crossing from Colombia to this area in Panama are migrants arriving from nearby or distant countries, such as Cuba, Haiti, Ivory Coast, Ghana, Somalia, Bangladesh, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

This piece of land has lodged in many migrants’ memories as the most difficult in the long march toward a dream. However, for migrants from other continents, coming from Asia and Africa, overcoming it is a major effort. There are those who cross the Atlantic at the mercy of the human traffickers, hidden in the cargo holds of ships that often depart a Europe incapable of confronting its own immigration crisis. continue reading

Without speaking a word of Spanish, nor knowing the least cultural details of this area of the world, the recently arrived collide with a region where reality oscillates between the marvelous and the sinister. In most cases, they carry no identity documents and only a few know words such as “water” and “food.”

Those who manage to cross the thicket of vegetation and danger, celebrate on the other side, now in Panamanian territory, with the joy of reaching a final destination, but with the crossing of the rest of Central America and Mexico still ahead of them, some of it semi-desert. But conquering the Darien comes to be seen as winning a medal in the most difficult Olympic disciplines… one in which the athletes play at life.

There are no half measures in this strip of rough terrain. A coyote might be an experienced guide who leads a group of travelers toward the next frontier, or a criminal who delivers the group into the hands of extortionists, rapists and thieves.

Through the jungle, the migrants appear in groups, some with children riding on their shoulders, stumbling through the mud and branches along makeshift routes. Their stories are barely told in the foreign media, and international organizations have been parsimonious in highlighting the humanitarian crisis that is taking place in this narrow waist of land that enhances the curves of America.

It is also a path marked by simulation. Many Haitians cross the jungle passing themselves off as Africans. The citizens of the country in this part of the world hardest hit by natural disasters and poverty are considered as pariahs, with little appeal even to the human traffickers.

In no other place on the continent, as in the Darien, are the deficiencies of Latin American diplomacy in coordinating common policy more apparent. Meanwhile, Nicaragua continues to keep its borders closed to migrants, Costa Rica seeks to stem the flow of foreigners flooding it, and the president of Panama warns that those who enter the jungle area separating his country from Colombia “are going to be given humanitarian assistance to continue their journey.”

The Darian Gap incarnates the fiasco of regional integration, delayed by the short-sightedness of the politicians and the successive attempts to create select clubs of countries, united more by ideological conveniences than by the urgent needs of their citizens. The greatest failure is the fault of the Central American Social Integration Secretariat (SISCA), incompetent to implement an effective contingency plan for the situation.

It has been of little use that James Cavallaro, President of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (CIDH), made a call to the United States of America to act “immediately to open channels that allows these people to migrate legally and safely.” In the government palaces, everyone seems more focused on lighting their own fires than in supporting joint efforts.

This diplomatic selfishness didn’t escape Cavallaro, who also said that “the fact that the migrants resort to irregular channels and human traffickers is explained by the lack of legal and safe channels to migrate,” a situation that increases their vulnerabilities to the abuses and extortion of criminal organizations, human traffickers and corrupt police.

The landscape worsens every day with a Europe overwhelmed by the massive arrival of migrants and a “destination America” appearing as an option for those fleeing armed conflicts: the poor and the desperate. Like a river that starts with a thin trickle of water, the flow of those crossing the Central American isthmus grew and grew, swelled by thousands of Cubans who fear the repeal of the Cuban Adjustment Act and the benefits it offers them in the United States.

The drama takes place beyond the photographers’ lenses. The images of the boats filled with refugees coming from Myanmar and Bangladesh trying to get to Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand filled the newspaper headlines in the middle of last year, while the Darien hid its most terrible scenes. It barely appeared in the international press.

To those who boast of living in a hyper-connected world, with every inch already explored and with the eyes of satellites crossing it foot-by-foot, they would do well to visit this jungle. One of the last natural redoubts that terrorizes men, stops the most daring expeditions and seems to laugh at adventurers in the style of Indiana Jones.

A descent into the abyss of humidity and insect bites could shade the reading of news about space probes that reach distant planets and collect images of other galaxies. The region remains as stark as in the days of the Spanish Conquest.

The Pan American Highway, which runs from Alaska to Argentina, is interrupted here. A situation that has helped to preserve the natural diversity of the area but that certainly increases the deadliness of this stretch for migrants.

In September of this year, a family of three drowned in the Turquesa River. Fishermen in the area reported the body of a child not yet four years old floating in the water. Then they also found his parents. All had “foreign-features,” according to the Panamanian border service.

They are just a few of the many victims claimed by the Darien Gap. This jungle is so thick that not even screams escape it.


Editor’s note: This text was published on Sunday 23 October in the newspaper El País.