Cuba’s Worst ‘New Man’: With a Luxury Car, a Powerful Surname and Little Education

Sandro Castro, Fidel’s grandson. (Instagram)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 2 March 2021 — He alternates his gaze between the road and the camera recording him. He smiles. He flaunts the luxurious vehicle that he drives at high speed and tosses phrases at a spectator he assumes must be salivating at such luxury. The protagonist of this scene could be any Parisian, New York or Berlin influencer, but he is a young Cuban who was born cocooned by the most powerful surname on the Island. He is Sandro Castro.

Few are surprised by the opulent Mercedes Benz driven by the grandson of the one who imposed on us, by force of slogans and economic offensives, austerity as a standard. Nor is the speedometer needle surprising, as it marks the excessive speed with which the tires cover the asphalt. None of the obscene attributes of power that the young man boasts about are shocking to a people who, for a long time, have known that the sacrifice their leaders proclaim from the platform are an entirely different thing than the wealth of their palaces.

The most unprecedented thing, then, is not the car nor the speeding, but the way the bully speaks behind the steering wheel. Each phrase he pronounces shows him to be a person consumed by consumption, fascinated by the material, with very little education, a minimal vocabulary, and a great need to flaunt his wealth. Is this the “New Man” incubated in the same clan that sent us to schools in the countryside, treated us like serious soldiers, and forced us to renounce our individuality? Is he the son of the son of the man who always loved us humble and obedient?

[Twitter text: This video of Sandro Castro comes while hunger is rampant in Cuba, after #PatriaYVida and the letter from the military officers.  Who leaked the video and why?]

Was everything they took from us dedicated to raising these arrogant beings, who have not even used their wealth to read books, to cultivate or expand their narrow referential horizons? Are the grandchildren of those who came down from the Sierra Maestra continuing to be like their great-grandfather, the peasant from Birán – despotic and conceited – but now with mansions in Havana, absolute impunity and privileges unattainable for other Cubans? Have they spent part of this country’s resources to support these capricious and rude brats? Was it all for this?

Children should never have to pay for the guilt of their parents, much less their grandparents, but each person exhibits in their behavior much of the ethical and moral values taught to them by their family. A person’s home  is noticeable in the first sentences, the education received – whether from the poorest of bricklayers or the most devoted of seamstresses – sprouts from every pore. What emanates from Sandro Castro allows us to see, as in a detailed X-ray, the skeleton of the Cuban regime, and it reeks.

The lineage that should have been the model to follow, proclaimed every day as the example, has only borne rotten fruits: empty-headed pimps.

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We the Prohibited

Several professionals signed a statement in which they ask the Cuban Government to remove both architecture and engineering from the list of 124 private activities that were recently prohibited in Cuba. (14ymedio)

14ymedio biggerCarlos Manuel’s grandfather was the owner of a funeral home in the middle of the last century; his upstairs neighbor founded a law firm in the 1950s; and his mother started out as a dentist in a private clinic. However, this 48-year-old from Havana will not be able to carry out any of these labors outside the control of the State. He had to live in a Cuba with greater restrictions for the self-employed worker than the one his ancestors knew.

For several days, a disturbing list has been circulating around the Island. The list contains the 124 occupations that the Government has vetoed from being exercised in the private sector. In most cases, these are professions linked to sectors that are a state monopoly and range from the private extraction of crude oil, to making sugar, to practicing as lawyers, architects, doctors and journalists on one’s own.

Carlos Manuel has kept his civil engineering degree in a drawer for a long time. He had the illusion that, with the deep economic crisis that Cuba is experiencing, the authorities would raise the flag and allow him to work privately in the profession that he is passionate about. Together with an architect friend and another designer, they fantasized about creating a company, medium or small, to offer their services in the construction and remodeling of hotels, private businesses and homes. continue reading

But instead of the expected opening, the three graduates were stunned when reading the list that excludes them from receiving a self-employment license to dedicate themselves to the trade they love. “In a country where it is urgently necessary to recover the architectural beauty of the cities, we have been excluded from being able to contribute with our own effort,” he wrote to a friend, as soon as he read the list. That same night, he called his brother who lives in Uruguay to tell him that “at the slightest opportunity” he would emigrate. Another professional who escapes, unable to fulfill his dreams here.

Several colleagues of Carlos Manuel have joined and signed a statement with the title “Independent architecture should not be ignored in Cuba”, in which they ask the Government to eliminate both architecture and engineering from the list of those 124 expressly prohibited activities. by the Ministry of Labor and Social Security. But they harbor little hope that the Plaza of the Revolution will back down from that decision.

In short, the list of prohibited occupations summarizes the fears of a regime that is known to be disadvantaged in offering its workers attractive wages, good working conditions and freedom for innovation or for the free expression of opinions within its institutions and companies. It senses that an independent lawyer will not tacitly accept the violation of his client’s rights; that a free publisher will not allow himself to be censored or that an independent reporter will not sweep uncomfortable news under the rug for power.

The Government also fears that allowing the private exercise of certain professions will not only unleash an exodus of employees from the state sector, but would mean a significant loss of political control over thousands of Cubans. They are not just people with degrees who will gain autonomy, but over whom the power will cease to have influence in such a decisive way as it does now.

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

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In Other Times…

Luis Robles Elizastigui, detained on December 4 for protesting with a banner on Boulevard San Rafael, in Havana, while citizens on the street tried to come to his rescue. (Screen capture)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sánchez, Havana, 22 February 2021 — What are the signs that predict the end of an authoritarian system? What symptoms does a despotic regime show as its decline approaches? These two questions have obsessed me in recent days, in the midst of unprecedented events that have been happening on this Island for weeks. Are they the clear death rattles of a dictatorship or just the rearrangement of a political model that refuses to die?

Protests in front of ministries, officials fighting back with an improvised and defensive discourse, massive solidarity against those stigmatized by official propaganda and an increase in social criticism, which no longer targets only the branches but goes against pillars of the system such as its leaders, its management of history and its management of national resources. Are these the agonies? Has the end already begun?

In other times, the audacity of those who now complain on social networks or outside an institution would have been answered more forcefully. The video clip Patria y vida, which has caused so much bitterness in Cuban officialdom, would have unleashed a fury of concerts in squares and parks throughout the country, to which the Government would bring its most faithful artists, in an endless and expensive show of “revolutionary reaffirmation.” continue reading

At the beginning of this century, the so-called Battle of Ideas was just that, a strategy to harness, through the channel of obedience, a society that had been ideologically “slackening” during the hard years of the Special Period. Those constant massive acts and the creation of social workers, red guards who responded directly to power, were some of the strategies used to tighten the political screw.

In the past, for every young person who stood in front of the Ministry of Culture this January, the Plaza of the Revolution would have mobilized another hundred – shouting slogans and waving banners – to  “crush” with numbers the daring ones who demand greater creative freedoms and the end of censorship. The morning assemblies in schools with visceral attacks on these “enemies” and the meetings of militants to start commitments to support the system would have multiplied to the point of paroxysm.

But those times are no longer. The pandemic has tied the hands of the authorities who know that any call to meet physically not only presents a danger of contagion, but will be highly frowned upon and criticized by the population, as happened with the Government-sponsored “Tángana [brawl] en el Trillo [Park]. Young people for socialist democracy,” which was an attempt to respond to the events of November 27. The event only generated more outrage at the irresponsibility of bringing together hundreds of young people despite the dangers of covid-19.

A system that needs the constant mobilization and permanent recruitment of individuals so that they feel that they are soldiers who respond to orders and not citizens who demand rights is weakened when it cannot summon, gather, and unite its troops in front of the leader.

The virus is not the only reason for the “lukewarm” official response that has been experienced in the streets. There is the lack of money. The ideological offensive at the beginning of this millennium was propped up with Venezuelan resources. That uproar was only possible because Hugo Chávez made the necessary oil available to Fidel Castro to finance his political excesses and delusions. Now, Venezuela is economically sunk and the Cuban state coffers contain only debts and cobwebs.

Without a single peso to squander on ideological displays, and on the ropes due to the rebound in the pandemic and burdened by the growing popular unrest, the regime has only been left with the use of national media and social networks to try to counteract so much rebellion. Hence the constant smear campaigns that air on primetime television and fill the newspapers. Where, before, we had the parade and the march, now there are only a few “hateful minutes” left on the screen.

But this is little, very little compared to what Cuban power would have done in other times. Is this inability to show ideological muscle, in reality, a sign of the end? Before dying, do dictatorships fade, losing the streets and squares?

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Prohibiting to Prohibit

More than half of the homes built in Cuba, between January and October 2020, were built by individuals; private architects remain expressly prohibited. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Generation Y, Havana, 11 February 2021 — The house is flat and ugly, with a makeshift structure because of the haste. To build it, its inhabitants could not hire a private architect, nor would they be able to in the future. The list of self-employed occupations prohibited in Cuba not only includes those professionals, but also journalists, film producers, lawyers, undertakers, scientific researchers, and vehicle manufacturers.

The list of private activities banned on the island was finally published this Wednesday and its content managed to exceed the most pessimistic forecasts. Not only does it expressly prohibit work that until now was done in the field of illegality, such as the management of private galleries or accounting, but it also strictly sets the limits that the State does not want private initiative to cross. It is, in short, a list of the fears of a political system that seeks to continue to control the main spaces of the lives of its citizens.

This list is proof of the backward mentality that governs decision-makers on this Island. They continue to think that they can prevent a musician from building a small recording studio in their bathroom to produce their records and those of other colleagues; they believe they will be able to prevent someone from taking wheels and casings to build vehicles; or to keep legal counsel from a defendant. They fantasize that they will be able to clip the wings of someone who lays out a book of poems, or who twists tobacco to sell on their own. continue reading

The list with these 124 banned occupations also reveals the arrogance that imbues those who wrote it, so much an arrogance that it is difficult to connect the image with that of an economically bankrupt regime

The list with these 124 banned occupations also reveals the arrogance that imbues those who wrote it, so much an arrogance that it is difficult to connect the image with that of an economically bankrupt regime with huge international debts, a chronic crisis of shortages, without the capacity to create wealth or to satisfy the demand for basic products. It is worded as if a great number of avenues to generate employment, prosperity and development could be allowed to be discarded, when they have brought the country to beggary and the brink of humanitarian crisis.

This is not a list made from an economic point of view, nor even a legal one: it is made from the desire to control. Perhaps the section where the ideological inspiration is shown most crudely, is the one entitled “artistic, entertainment and recreational activities.” The first condemned activity on the list is journalism, that thorn that for years has put into check the state monopoly on news dissemination, exposing innumerable events that the regime would want swept under the carpet and exposing the servitude of the press controlled by the Communist Party.

What can be expected from such a list? A dead letter or strict application? Witch-hunting against many economic phenomena that had been spreading under the shadow of illegality? A repressive slap that buries all those privately-run spaces now banned? Difficult to foresee what will happen. By now, it is clear that they have succeeded in uniting in outrage the film producer, the freelance reporter, the engineer and the frustrated architect who sees cities full of botched roofs and flimsy walls. They have just confirmed more than a hundred trades as enemies.

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When There Are No Classes There Is No Indoctrination

With the 27 November protest and its most recent follow-up, it has been shown that the political control of the universities is a vital element for the Cuban ruling party. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Generation Y, Havana, 1 February 2021 — They wake up after ten in the morning, the rest of the day passes between standing in lines to buy food, staring at the screens of their cellphones, or sitting in front of some video game console. They are older than 17 and younger than 25, but this February 1st they could not restart their university studies because the rebound of Covid-19 in Havana has prevented it. And freedom from face-to-face studies also saves them from ideological indoctrination sessions.

Karla, Mateo and Jeancarlo are in their first, third and fifth year of technical specialties and humanities in higher education centers in the Cuban capital. Long months have passed since they stopped attending classes, and that is noticeable not only in the quality of their spelling and their silent alarm clocks, which no longer wake them up early, but also in the disconnection from the ideological indoctrination mechanism that until recently marked the passage of their student life.

“I don’t watch anything on the television schedule,” confesses Jeancarlo. “If I don’t have to go to school, I’m not going to torture myself with the news,” argues Karla, while for Mateo it is clear that although there is nostalgia for his fellow students, “it’s a relief not to have to listen to the same political song every day.” All of them have left aside the official indoctrination that, until recently, was an inseparable part of their student lives. continue reading

With the November 27th protest in front of the Ministry of Culture and its most recent follow-on, two months after that initial date, it has been shown that political control of the universities is a vital element for the Cuban ruling party. The morning assemblies filled with slogans, the use of students as shock troops in the repudiation rallies, the public acts of supposed revolutionary vindication, and the demonization campaigns against critics that are deployed in the classrooms, all of these activities are “missed.”

Instead, the pandemic has forced a focus on reputation-killing campaigns against independent artists, activists and journalists in the official digital media, on national television and in pro-government social media accounts. The problem is that outside of the obligatory thought mechanisms that are imposed in the University, and with the students confined in their homes, they do not see the official channels.

“Nothing in the world can make me spend my time on that. If something good comes out of this quarantine, it’s not having to pretend so much,” admits Karla. With her friends, they communicate on WhatsApp, they talk about fashion, about new couples who, despite the distancing, have formalized relationships among their group of friends, about the music they are listening to, and the future. “A professor sends us some content via Telegram so we don’t forget entirely how to study, but who would think of reading a political communication there,” she jokes.

A regime that has needed to ideologically control the individual to maintain itself from very early on does not know very well how to act when people are distant, almost inaccessible. The poor attempts to regain that “revolutionary enthusiasm” included the calls to gather in various parks of the country to respond to the protest of the artists in Havana, but the popular rejection of the epidemiological risk that these mobs would represent must have made even the most fervent defenders of the partisan hubbub desist, because they have not been convened again.

In front of a video game screen, on the thread of a courier service, or splayed out on the bedsheets after having stayed up all night watching series and movies, little can be learned about history, grammar or science, but nor do these entertaining sites host ideological excesses. Due to the suspension of classes, these will be the young people who will have the most difficulties in the coming years doing mathematical operations, identifying an artistic style or specifying the date of a medieval battle, but they will also be more impervious to ideology. They have been away from this constant downpour of political indoctrination for too long and have become used to using umbrellas.
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Dentists, Lawyers, Journalists, in Cuba Everyone Wants to Work for Themselves

Dentists who graduated after 1959 cannot practice privately. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Generation Y, Havana, 29 January 2021 — Ana Laura is not her name but telling her story with her real identity would lead to incalculable problems, so better to be cautious. The living room of her house is nothing more than a domestic decoration to camouflage the small dental clinic she has in the next room. Passing the cat, the grandmother, and the family sofa, we emerge into a gleaming room, with a poster promoting good tooth brushing and an armchair with everything she needs to care for patients.

For years, Ana Laura has dedicated herself to providing her services as a dentist in an illegal and private manner, while at the same time continuing her work in a dilapidated state polyclinic and teaching several groups of students in Havana who are studying to become dentists. Her dream is to one day to be able to stop hiding, hang an advertisement at the entrance of her small clinic and “come out of the closet of the forbidden,” she says. Only a true economic opening could allow this excellent professional to practice autonomously.

“I would not be the only beneficiary,” recognizes Ana Laura. “I have two assistants and my husband would also take care of the purchase of supplies, so in this office there would be work for about four people,” the veteran dentist calculates. Until recently, most of her clients were foreigners visiting Cuba who found out about her services through an extensive network of houses rented to tourists, with which she maintains contact. The foreigners take advantage of their stay on the Island for a much cheaper repair than they can get in their countries of origin. But the pandemic has converted her clientele to almost only nationals, and has fueled her desire to be able to legalize the small practice. continue reading

As she obtained her university degree after 1959 and in a “revolutionary university,” Ana Laura is banned from private practice as a dentist. The situation is the same for doctors who graduated after that date, along with journalists, lawyers and a long list of professionals who survive on their bad state salaries amid the frustrations of not being able to start a business based on their vocations. This limitation has filled the streets of Cuba with surgeons who drive taxes, sociologists who mix the drinks in bars, and waiters who once graduated with a degree in chemistry.

Like Ana Laura, thousands of professionals in this country are waiting to be allowed to practice their professions privately. Lawyers who dream of opening their own law firm, architects who aspire to open a firm along with engineers and designers in a nation with a great deficit in real estate. All of them would not only provide much-needed services, but would help to hire a good share of those employees that the ailing state sector cannot absorb.

Recently, Marino Murillo warned that with the monetary adjustments of the “Ordering Task”*, it is likely that many state-owned companies will “end the year with losses.” Currently, in these dysfunctional entities there are “more than 300,000 people employed. And the solution is not unemployment, but nor is it financing inefficient companies for life,” insisted the “czar of reforms in Cuba,” as the foreign press calls him. At least some of these workers would have a better chance of finding a job if restrictions against the pursuit of professional service professions were lifted.

The will for change and progress is not a matter of burning headlines or slogans repeated over and over again. The intention to steer the country in a direction that provides well-being and prosperity for Cubans must be expressed in concrete deeds and actions, not in lengthy speeches, which we are already exhausted by. Decreeing, beforehand and with all the guarantees, that the self-employment sector can be joined by professionals working for themselves, exercising what they spent so many years studying for, this would be a sign.

Can we imagine that the editorial staff of the daily 14ymedio could come out of hiding? Hang a sign at the entrance, sell our newspaper at the newsstands, and hire reporters, photographers, designers and columnists in a transparent and open way? In this editorial team alone we could help more than a dozen Cubans earn a living legally, paying their taxes to contribute to the national coffers, and incidentally do what they like the most: inform, narrate the deep Cuba and report reality.

Legalize, legalize, legalize. Legalizing the professional private sector is essential to prevent tens of thousands of Cubans from being unemployed and unable to support their families. What are they waiting for?

*Translator’s note: The so-called “Ordering Task” (Tarea Ordenamiento) is a series of measures that include ending Cuba’s dual currency system and resetting wages and prices.

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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 Dismal Soap Opera of Slander

The list of independent artists, activists and journalists mentioned last Wednesday on the primetime newscast on National Television. (Screen capture)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sánchez, Havana |15 January 2021 — The screen was black and white, the television was Russian-made, and the girl who was looking at the images was barely ten years old. The announcer spun expletives against a Cuban opponent, while an eagle in a threatening posture, the initials CIA and a crowd of raised fists also gathered on the scene. More than 30 years later, that girl — now an adult — would be one of the protagonists of another broadcast of such a crude program.

As in a never-ending series of terrible production, national television has broadcast new episodes of defamation against activists and dissidents in recent weeks. The history of these reputation-killing broadcasts is woven into the very origins of the prevailing political system on this Island, accustomed to vilifying its critics without offering them the right to reply.

Although these libels against opponents are part of the genome of Castroism and have barely changed their tricks and insults, the audience has changed a lot in the last three decades. From a captive audience “forced to believe everything the official media said,” we have moved to a country where the number of people who barely watch nationally broadcast television and prefer to consume content on demand is growing. continue reading

The way these smear campaigns were received internationally is also different. The repeated formula of the victimhood of a regime, one that always blames supposed foreign forces for the existence of critical voices in the country, no longer convinces and generates more indignation than support. In addition, these attacks against dissidents feed the denunciations of global organizations and provoke solidarity campaigns towards the victims.

But perhaps the most negative effects for the ruling party are those that are generated in the Cuban population itself after the broadcast of these capsules of hatred aimed at demonizing individuals and groups. The reactions, even those that are more in tune with the Plaza de la Revolución’s version, can be absolutely counterproductive for the objectives sought by Power.

“If they do all the things the television says they do, what they have to do is imprison them,” shouted a retiree in ragged clothes the following morning when more than a dozen faces appeared on the Primetime News as a cartography of the new enemies of the homeland. A woman close to the retirement home replied in a lower voice: “Ah, that television is a show, nothing more, to entertain,” and a laugh spread in the line for the frozen chicken.

For the most recalcitrant militants of the Communist Party, it is inconceivable that these alleged “agents of a foreign power” walk the streets, transmit their ideas through social networks and even work in independent journalistic newsrooms within the Island. Thus, the reiteration of these smear campaigns spreads the idea that the Power is weak and all that is left to it is insults and “TV programitas,” a popular epithet.

There are also other unexpected results, such as the conviction that as the economic crisis deepens, political propaganda becomes more aggressive and raucous. Many remember the harsh years of the Special Period – after the collapse of the Eastern European bloc and the loss of the Soviet subsidy – when the shops were emptied and the streets filled with billboards filled with ideology. “This is to cover up that there’s not even any rice,” said a young woman after listening to the first seconds of the television tirade last Wednesday, just before turning off the set.

Not to mention the free publicity these shows bring to the faces and phenomena vilified. Several of the defamed have enjoyed displays of popular support after being accused in the news, with messages of solidarity and even the emotional gesture of being invited by some stranger to cut in front of them in the line to be able to buy some scarce product, a true sign of friendship and altruism in these times of scarcity.

So, if the audience no longer passively swallows this defamatory “porridge,” and the image of the Government is devalued worldwide every time it spreads it, while popular reactions range from indifference to empathy with those attacked, it is worth asking why the Cuban regime continues to appeal to such formulas. What reason drives the Communist Party to bet on methods with little or even counterproductive results.

The answer is simple: the ideologues of Castroism do not know how to do anything else. Their way of acting and handling propaganda remains the same as that widely used half a century ago. Those who decide, up there, how to treat critics continue to think about the formulas that gave them some returns decades ago. The girl in front of the TV grew up and broadened her horizons, but the system is fossilized.

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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 Dangerous Strategy of Advance and Retreat

Since January 1, rationed bread has been sold at one peso in Havana, twenty times last year’s price (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 9 January 2021 — She turns around and leaves empty-handed. The old woman has approached the employee of a state bakery on a crowded El Cerro street to ask her, almost in a whisper, if she can sell her the bread at half price, but the clerk is inflexible. “They are watching us, my dear,” she tells her and behind her shoulder a sign indicates that the rationed product now sells for one peso as of January 1st, twenty times the value it had until last year.

Seven hours later, the same worker gathers up a good part of the day’s bread which has remained unsold because many of the residents of the neighborhood cannot or do not want to pay the new price for a product of poor quality and small size. A woman takes the opportunity to comment to another that “if things continue like this they will also have to back down on this measure and lower it a bit,” as the authorities did with the electricity rates and the price of a scoop of ice cream at the country’s iconic Copellia ice cream parlors.

A few years ago, it was unthinkable that a measure taken by the government would be adjusted or lowered shortly after it was announced. In the years when a man with a beard and extreme voluntarism dominated the public scene of this country, the decrees were strictly applied and the decisions taken in his office were put into motion with an obstinacy that led the country over several precipices with their correspondingly traumatic falls. continue reading

Now, perhaps due to opportunism or as a way of appearing to listen to the population more than they really do, Cuban leaders have been given to announcing second rounds or revisions for decisions previously presented as highly studied and impossible to postpone. The most skeptical point out that this attitude displays the same cynicism of the executioner who comforts the victim by assuring him that he will only deliver one cut to the neck with his sharp ax, instead of two or three.

So, in recent days we have seen how the kilowatt went from the new price of 0.40 pesos to down 0.33 for the consumers with the lowest overall usage, and how a scoop of ice cream at Coppelia shot up to seven pesos and then was readjusted to five. Such ups and downs have not gone unnoticed by anyone. In every line and on every corner, there are those who declare themselves aware of these official tricks, knowing in advance that the reported rate was just a ruse and they are proud to have warned their acquaintances that it was all a maneuver so people would end up rejoicing in a reduction that was actually an increase.

Could be. Deciphering a Power that has based part of its management on a lack of transparency and secrecy is like trying to ask the stars what will be the price for a pound of sweet potatoes at the end of this year.

If it was all a ruse to test how far the population could endure this neoliberal package, this trick is creating a very dangerous side effect for the regime. Like a disused muscle that one day begins to exercise and tries challenges for its new strength, Cubans have also read these readjustments as backward steps that officialdom has had to take after the avalanche of complaints from citizens. In other words, many have interpreted it as a fear of losing power among the men at the helm of the national ship, leading them to adjust their course a few millimeters to please their tired and emaciated sailors.

“We are going to complain on the social networks, we are going to stop buying bread at that price so you’ll see how, next week, they’ll announce on the Roundtable program that the price has been lowered,” a resident of the El Cerro neighborhood told her friend, when she asked why there was so much bread left right now in the state store at the corner by her house. “The child who doesn’t cry, no mama,” her friend reminded her.

When the protest muscle begins to warm up, the demands grow and, finally, there is no one who can stop it.

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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.

2021 in Cuba, Goodbye to the Revolutionary Mask

Many lost patience to invest, prosper, and chart their dreams in Cuba. A quarter of a century lost for true change. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Generation Y, Havana, 31 December 2020 – Cuba is going through a very difficult time. This problem of this December lies not only in the economic crisis expressed in an 11% fall in the gross domestic product, nor is it entirely due to the confinement and pain imposed by the pandemic. The year 2020 says goodbye in dark hues for the Island, particularly in the uncertainty, the inability of its 11 million inhabitants to make plans for their near and medium term future.

In the face of this description, some will respond that there have been worse moments in our recent history. However, in the so-called Special Period of the 1990s — when the cutting off of the Soviet subsidy was followed by long blackouts, cuts in transport and food shortages — there were reserves of change that gave hope to the reformists and nurtured citizens’ dreams. In the midst of the collapse, there was a feeling that some political decisions taken in high places could unblock the productive forces and bring material relief to the people. There were even those who fantasized about a popular revolt that would finally bury, once and for all, the authoritarian model.

Although the only insurrection that occurred was that of thousands of desperate Cubans who tried to escape from the island during the day of the popular uprising known as the Maleconazo, those who bet on the long-awaited economic easing were not wrong. When the situation reached rock bottom, some of these transformations were a bitter pill that the ruling party had to accept: the dollarization of trade, the permission for agricultural markets to exist outside the ration system, the authorization to exercise private work, and the opening to foreign investment. For the first time in a long time, onions were once again seen on the market stands, private taxis filled the streets, and in restaurants run by the self-employed, known as paladares, some lost recipes from the national cuisine were recovered. continue reading

Now, unlike then, the capacity of Castroism to transform itself without breaking completely is very limited, almost nil. The system reaches 62 years of existence fossilized in its political core, lacking ideological magnetism to attract new followers and having wasted its wealth of reforms in half-done modifications, lukewarm transformations and steps that once looked forward but had to be turned back. In the time that separates both crises, the one caused by the collapse of the socialist camp in Eastern Europe and the current one, many lost the patience to invest, prosper and chart their dreams in Cuba. A quarter of a century lost for true change.

Today, up against the ropes, the authorities have proposed a package of measures to try to re-float the country in 2021, but so far the announced decisions are oriented more to the loss of subsidies and the cutting of budgets than to the deployment of formulas that promote entrepreneurship, trim nationalization and remove partisan politics from central decision-making. Because to do any of those things would seriously endanger the continuity of Castroism, although not doing them is also anticipating the date for its funeral.

Reactionary and immobile, fearful of news and distrustful of everything that has not come out of the laboratories of the Communist Party, all that remains to the current Cuban model is to repress. For the coming year it will finally set aside its mask of revolution and social justice to show itself as it is: a twentieth century dictatorship that geopolitics, chance and fear have allowed to get this far. Without results, all it has left to show is its teeth, and that further complicates any prognosis.

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

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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.

Internet in Cuban Homes: A History of Failures

The Etecsa office in Candelaria, where Nauta Hogar is sold. (1ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sánchez, Havana, 17 December 2020 — “They are already going down Tulipán Street, in a few months the whole neighborhood will be connected,” a neighbor told me excitedly three years ago, as he counted the days until the arrival of the Nauta Hogar* service to our building. In the intervening time, the candid dreamer ended up emigrating to the United States and in-home internet connections still has not reached this 14-story apartment block.

Web browsing from Cuban homes has experienced the same fate as many other official campaigns, which generate a lot of initial noise and few effects in the medium and long term. But despite the failure, this December the official press, with great fanfare, has announced, that 4.73 out of every 100 houses on this island already have an internet connection.

The number looks even more insignificant when balancing it against the more than 3,885,000 households reported in the 2012 census, of which 183,000 now have the ability to access the World Wide Web through ADSL technology. The pilot test with 2,000 houses, carried out at the end of 2016 in Old Havana, now seems like a story told by the Cuban Telecommunications Company (Etecsa) to put the gullible to sleep. continue reading

However, it is not only about the baby steps that the installation of the service has taken, but about the constant criticism that has surrounded its operation. Customers complain about drops in speed, the absence of a flat rate, and the high costs of hourly packages. What seemed like the perfect solution for professional work and entrepreneurship has been a source of dissatisfaction.

Not even this pandemic, which has kept us in check for more than nine months and forced millions of Cubans to work from home, has functioned as a spur for the expansion of a type of broadband connectivity that is already common in much of the world, even as it is being overtaken by more powerful and faster infrastructure. In this matter of access to the great World Wide Web, as almost always in everything, we are lagging behind.

Is this slowness the product only of the country’s economic problems and the often-repeated official argument that it is due to the US embargo? These kinds of explanations are not convincing and they sound more and more ridiculous, especially since it is known in many neighborhoods that the cables to offer the service have been installed for years now, and the only thing lacking for the data to run through them is the official will.

This little progress in the number of household connections points in another direction: the growing fear that the Cuban government has of the social and political implications of having a society that is increasingly onlineThe slowdown at Nauta Hogar seems to be based more on ideological reasons than technological ones, more on repression than on material resources

With access to the internet on mobile phones, the authorities on this island have verified that civic complaint can hardly be contained and the voices of its critics are loudly heard inside and outside national borders, while mockery and derision against officials and leaders grow by the minute.

On cell phones, the customer only has to buy a data package to surf, but at home internet requires a contract, the purchase from the state telecommunications monopoly of an ADSL modem, and family – not individual – use of the service.

*Translator’s note: “Nauta Home,” a service offered by the State (and only legal) telecommunications company in Cuba, ETECSA.

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The Strength of the Voice

The podcast Ventana 14 is celebrating its second birthday.


14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sánchez, Generation Y, Havana, 13 December 2020 — “Bitter and always necessary,” I repeat every morning from Monday to Friday while stirring a coffee that on occasion is strong, often watery, and other times simply hot water passed through beans already used many times over. It matters little, the sip is just a pretext, but the fuel is the news about the Cuban reality. It’s called “cafecito informativo” and is two years old.

In December of 2018 access to internet services took its first steps on Cuban cellphones. Although it took several months for the connection to stabilize in the neighborhood where I live, the direct broadcasts via Facebook or Periscope were not economically sustainable, given the elevated cost of each kilobyte sent, nor could I enjoy a smooth flow, thanks to the continuous cuts.

And then I returned to my voice, the original one. Only the sound that came out of my mouth would be the protagonist, the other could be recreated: a place, a freshly poured cup of coffee, a close conversation between someone who lives on this island and another who is far away or around the corner. Thus was born the podcast Ventana 14 – 14th Window – which today is blowing out the candles for its second anniversary. Broadcast on several platforms, the program has opened, for me, a different audience than the one I have through my blog Generation Y, or when I publish in the newspaper 14ymedio.

Although in two years there has been no lack of friends and listeners who have asked me to open a video channel through YouTube or Facebook to comment on the news, I have preferred to remain only in sound for obvious reasons in a country with such little connectivity to the web: I want to reach people who live in the heart of Cuba, either directly through the audio – with about three megabytes – which I send out Monday to Friday, or forwarded as so many users do through Bluetooth or wifi.

My goal is to catch the ear of the farmer in a field in Alquízar, or the self-employed who tries to keep his business open despite so many obstacles in Sancti Spíritus, or the housewife in the Havana neighborhood of Cayo Hueso who is torn between eating the bread she got on the rationbook, or saving it until the next day for her child to take to school for a snack. These are my main audience.

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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.

And Them? Were They ‘Mercenaries’ Too?

In April 2003 – during the so-called ‘Black Spring’ — 75 opponents were arrested in Cuba, many of them journalists, for allegedly acting “in the interest of a foreign state.” (Archive)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sánchez, Havana, 6 December 2020 — I have several friends who have not slept for days, glued to the phone or having conversations in front of the mirror, with their pillow or in the shower. They are some of the artists who were in front of the Ministry of Culture on November 27 and who now are the target of a smear campaign. Several of their names have been singled out in the official media, and they have been accused of being “mercenaries,” “financed by the Empire,” and “terrorists.”

With the first insults, several of them told me in an incredulous tone “surely it is a mistake.” By the third day, they already knew that it was not confusion, because on television they continued to be associated with acts of vandalism. Then they called me to explain that as soon as the authorities reviewed their biographies more carefully, everything would be fine. After all, they are from the “left,” “from revolutionary parents,” they were “once members of the Union of Young Communists” and the only thing they have done is “love Cuba.”

There are few things as difficult as to snatch from a person who is the victim of the execution of their reputation the illusion that it is a mistake that will be corrected and they will be vindicated. Few listen when it is made clear to them that the system is designed to respond with that script to critics and that the current defamation bullets are calculatedly targeted and could soon become true fragmentation grenades against their prestige. continue reading

By the end of this week, on the other end of the phone the tone of the calls had changed and some voices were beginning to give way to anger and profanity.

“How are they going to say that about me if I have a drawer full of certificates for volunteer work?” an old acquaintance told me, someone who had been in front of the Ministry that night and  is now overwhelmed by the Manichean reports that seek to link the San Isidro Movement and the events of ’27N’ [27 November] with sabotage and violence. In about 40 minutes of conversation, he repeated his biography to me: schools in the countryside, exceeding targets, art works donated to hospitals…

As I spoke, I remembered the first time I was called “mercenary” and “enemy” of my country. I was so thin-skinned in the face of this slander that, like my friend, I tried to show that this had to be a colossal mistake. I also tried to show my selfless academic record, my good grace for dialogue, my inability to hurt an ant, my ignorance of any training in “cyberwar,” and that love for the Island that keeps beating between my chest and my back. It was useless, just as now it will not serve those most recently vilified now.

It is useless to defend oneself against such accusations or to think that they must be a mistake on the part of some official, because these insults do not seek to be believed but to be feared. They are not aimed at the victim of the smear campaign but at passive viewers of the tirade, so that they know what to expect if they dare to move from applause to questioning. In that case, it awaits you to see their faces on the primetime news surrounded by the worst adjectives, the threats to their families, the rewriting of their resumes to adapt them to the interests of the story that Power wants to tell, the insult of those who swallow such pseudo-informative mush. In addition to some act of repudiation and the inclusion of one’s name in articles, pseudo encyclopedias and morning assemblies at schools, wherever an enemy is required.

But, after crossing that desert, my friends will feel their souls lightened and their skins toughened against the injury, they will stop trying to explain who they are and they will care little about the thoughts of people who take it at face value, don’t look into it further, and accept a version without question. In addition, one question will forcefully come to mind for them. “If what they are saying about me is a lie and I know well it is, then when they said it about others previously, was it also false?”

It is at that point that the entire scaffolding of slander falters, the insults stop working and we come face to face, close and understanding each other, the accused of half a century ago, the harassed of three decades ago, the one tainted from the beginning of this millennium, the denigrated of the past five years and the ones blamed today. What system can crush the collective conscience of so many defamed?

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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.

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.”

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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.

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

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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.

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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.