"We are not afraid of what might happen to us", says Melia Vice President

Escarrer, Meliá vice president, in his interview for Cubavisión

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana May 13th 2019 — The Executive Vice President of Melia Hotels International, Gabriel Escarrer, has dismissed “external pressures” and announced the strengthening of the hotel chain’s presence in Cuba, in an interview on Cubavision, picked up by Hosteltur.

The entrepreneur has rejected the Trump administration’s policy toward Cuba following the activation of Titles III and IV of the Helms-Burton Act, which recognises claims in US Tribunals by those affected by the confiscation of property after 1959.

“We are not afraid of the pressures which might be applied from abroad,” he explained, while detailing a forthcoming investment of several million euros. In 2020, the company hopes to get to 38 hotels and more than 15,000 rooms on the island. continue reading

“We have been very clear over the last 31 years: that our stake in Cuba is unconditional. We consider these measures to be totally unjust, and we are continuing with our chosen route. We will continue to work closely with the Cuban authorities in developing this country’s tourism industry, which I consider to be exemplary in every sense,” he confirmed.

“In company with our Miramar joint venture, we have approved an investment of about 200 million dollars, to be committed in the next three years, and we will be reforming and broadening out Melia Habana and adding in a large convention centre; and three hotels in Varadero: Sol Palmeras, our five-star hotel, which has given us a great deal of satisfaction, the Melia Las Americas, and Melia Varadero,” he explained.

The Melia CEO, who is in the island for the tourism fair FitCuba, said that the investment in these four hotels was around 200 million dollars, and that construction of the Melia Trinidad was under way, in this case, with another joint venture, Athos-Cuba, in which they will be investing approximately 60 million dollars over two years.

Escarrer considers that Cuba is able to not just exploit sun and beach tourism, but also its patrimonial and cultural offerings, in cities such as Havana, Trinidad, Cienfuegos and Camaguey.

“I would also mention some other aspects which should be developed, which we call the MICE sector, to do with congresses, conventions, and incentives. And I think there are some great possibilities there, because Cuba offers things which other Carribean islands don’t have. Among other thnigs, security, which is a fundamental basis for success in any important event”.

Escarrer also praises the professionalism of Cuban workers, and the character of the people, which provide a unique destination in the region.

“We are here to stay and to work hand in hand in the development of tourism in the country. For me, it’s a success story, and we have been delighted to be here these 31 years and we would hope for another 31, at least.”

Translated by GH

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

Why Do Independent Journalists Matter? / Cubanet, Luis Cino

Hundreds of Havana protesters gathered in the streets of the Diez de Octubre neighborhood after five days without electricity. (Facebook Andy Michel Fonseca)

Cubanet, Luis Cino Álvarez, Havana, 11 March 2019 — Oftentimes while traveling in other countries, independent journalists are challenged for, as some say, being “hyper-critical” and “lacking objectivity.” Thus, their dispatches are received with doubts and skepticism. But it turns out that the detractors of Cuban independent journalism do not harbor good intentions.

Among those most critical and skeptical can be found many of the foreign correspondents accredited in Cuba. This should not be so because they know, from their own experience, under what conditions and rules that they themselves – despite the immunity that they supposedly enjoy – are forced to comply with in order to practice their profession. They know that when they try to interview people on the street, these subjects act evasive and seldom really and truly say what they think.

Despite their press credentials, these reporters have little or no access to government functionaries, and they collide with laws that guarantee official silence. Besides, they are under the surveillance of State Security, informants for the CDR and rapid-response brigades – and even by their colleagues in the official press, who tend to provoke and lay traps for them. continue reading

So, why are these foreign press members so critical and demanding, for example, with respect to sources and official data cited by independent journalists who are doing their work under much more disadvantageous and difficult conditions than they?

The foreign correspondents accredited by Havana’s International Press Center (CIP) find it much more convenient and secure to ignore reports by independent journalists, and to quote Granma newspaper and Cubadebate when saying that the majority of Cubans voted “Yes” to the new Constitution, that the update to the economic model is proceeding full steam ahead, that Cubans are happy as clams with cuentapropismo [self-employment or entrepreneurship] – along with repeating the usual refrain about “the fragmented and State-Security-penetrated opposition” that “lacks convening power” and is “incapable of garnering the mass support of the population.”

For a long time, and not just from the official media, there were those who affirmed that the majority of independent reporters were unprepared, individuals of low educational level, who lacked a command of the rules of grammar and composition, and who confused political activism with journalism.

We made ourselves vulnerable to such attacks because of the paternal solidarity (a legacy of socialism’s false paternalism) towards individuals who regrettably demonstrated from the start that despite their great desire and enthusiasm, they would never be journalists. By tolerating ersatz practitioners in the ranks, all we gained was to be discredited. And also to be infiltrated by moles, like that dopey Carlos Serpa Maseira, who turned out to be Agent Emilio.

Not just anybody can be a journalist, just as not just anybody can be a physician. The profession deserves respect. But some of us long-time veterans cannot forget how we got our start in independent journalism. Reporters will always be needed to cover the activities of the opposition and to denounce human rights violations. It can’t all be political analysis, opinion pieces, and columns worthy of Tom Wolfe. We would run the risk of turning into a reduced and exclusive club of snobs. It appears that such a coterie is not what is most needed to win the struggle for democracy and freedom of information in Cuba.

Within the last decade, the quality of independent journalism has improved extraordinarily following the addition of bloggers who are outside of state control, writers who have broken with UNEAC and have joined CubaNet, journalism students, and journalists who have unleashed themselves from the official media to write for alternative sites such as El Estornudo and El Toque.

We independent journalists have no need to invent or exaggerate, to publish diatribes in the style of Granma – on the contrary: we write about what we live daily, not what people tell us or what we suppose.

The topic that the majority of foreign correspondents accredited in Cuba report on the most is the “flourishing private restaurant sector in Havana.” As if there were no blackmailing inspectors and obstacles of all kinds. It’s as if the exceptions were the rule. As if all paladar [private restaurant] owners had the good luck of the proprietors of La Guarida, the setting where some scenes in Fresa y Chocolate were shot and where various pop celebrities have dined.

Who cares about what we independent journalists – hypercritical and overly passionate as they accuse us of being – have to say, given that regarding Cuba, everything that needs to be said and should be heard is said by the international press?

Therefore at times we become discouraged. We know that, in our situation – lacking access to official, trustworthy statistics and relying on sources who will probably retract when facing State Security officials – it is very difficult for us to produce the great news reports we dream of writing.

There is no need to be so pessimistic. There are always subjects that are a few degrees beyond the grasp of foreign journalists and which are not covered in the magical statistics that they cite. We still have the stories about jineteras [female prostitutes] and pingueros [male prostitutes], the garbage dumpster divers, the transvestites who haven’t been coaxed by CENESEX to dance in their conga, the artists who oppose Decree 349, the palestinos who struggle to make it to the capital, the inhabitants of the peripheral shantytowns and the tenements of Centro Habana and 10 de Octubre. But there will always be those who consider these depressing stories to be fiction – and even those who opine that Pedro Juan Gutiérrez does it better in his novels. And then they will again seek in the foreign press the fable of the successful and prosperous entrepreneur, the administrator who is given to reforms, and the soulless and corrupt bureaucrats who hamper her efforts while never showing their faces.

luicino2012@gmail.com

Translated By: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

Fuenteovejuna: Lessons of a Leaderless March

Havana’s LGBTI Community carries out an independent march in favor of sexual diversity (Archival photo)

Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 20 May 2019 — Echoes of the peaceful independent march carried out last May 11th by Cuban LGBTI activists in Havana’s Central Park and along the Paseo del Prado, continue to move social networks with mostly messages of support and solidarity towards this historically victimized community, which has been discriminated against, and also – unfortunately – with the repression that was unleashed against the protesters during and after the event.

We must recognize the courage and determination demonstrated both by the LGBTI in claiming their spaces, their identity and their rights, as well as other activists of the independent civil society that participated in the act in demonstration of solidarity and support.

Numerous have been the voices that have denounced the violence of the repression, reflected in the abundant graphic evidence provided by participants, press reporters and eyewitnesses, but despite the unjustifiable use of brute force, beatings and arrests against peaceful demonstrators, who only fostered messages of love and inclusion, the truth is that the march can be considered a success for the Cuban LGBTI movement and, by extension, for the entire civil society. continue reading

To objectively analyze the facts and understand the scope of a march that, in any other geographical context could be considered insignificant, it is necessary to divest the criteria of any prejudice or sexist, political-ideological or sectarian atavism. The ability to call and carry out an independent march in Cuba, in defiance of official regulations and without waiting for “permission” from the autocracy and its officials, constitutes a demonstration of legitimate citizenship on the part of a group of Cubans, beyond conditions and labels, which we should all celebrate and support, especially those who, from the time of the dissidence, are committed to the triumph of democracy.

Freedom of demonstration, then, should be understood as everyone’s right, not as a the property of anyone or any group, so that it would be healthy to abandon any hint of elitism, pedigree or “droit du seigneur”* and to ponder the facts for what was done, not for what some believe should have been done or said, which attitude – on the other hand – is typical of the Power that oppresses us all.

Some have criticized the demonstrators for not raising explicitly anti-government slogans – and needless to say that any movement, thought, or independent demonstration in Cuba is implicitly anti-dictatorial – or have reproached others for supporting the LGBTI march and (allegedly) “not showing solidarity” with some opposition groups. Fortunately, this reluctance to recognize the merit of the effort of others is a minority position.

A first relevant and peculiar element of the LGBTI march of May 11th is that it was not organized by a subject or by a personal leadership, but that it was developed in social networks from a group of activists that freely and spontaneously decided to express their determination to defend their rights to demonstrate peacefully in public spaces.

At this point, the effectiveness of social networks intelligently used for these purposes was demonstrated, even in a country where connections are precarious and excessively expensive in relation to income. Will and technology allied themselves, and the march was possible: an important lesson for all civic movement of these times.

At the same time, the “collective leadership” not only guaranteed the performance of the act by avoiding the usual limelight or egocentrism – which have caused so much harm to other civil movements and opponents in Cuba – but it also won the solidarity of other openly anti-government activists who demonstrated the respect and ethical stature of participating in it without trying to hijack the demonstration in favor of their own agendas or in pursuit of personal glory.

The horizontal perception of leadership, moreover, constitutes a strength because it dislodges the illogical traditional sense of the repressor, also accustomed to a strong vertical leadership in its own command structures. A collective leadership, on the other hand, has the advantage of relatively limiting the disarticulating and demoralizing effect of the political police in sectors of the independent civil society, since there is no individual or “ringleader” – as is usually referred to – to be located as mobilizing leader or generator of actions and proposals, whose movements can be constantly monitored or simply canceled, thus, the capacity of existence and growth of the independent group, the speed of organization of its actions, and the visibility of its proposals are enhanced .

It was not by coincidence that on May 11th, among the first detainees who were beaten by the repressive forces, were several well-known dissident activists – to whom, perhaps initially, the direction of the demonstration was mistakenly attributed – and it is not fortuitous that in the days following the march and until the moment in which this column was written, operatives and arrests have been carried out in the typical style of “kidnapping” of several participants, whose testimonies agree that their interrogators have insisted on the same recurrent point: “who organized the march?” “who is responsible?” Obviously, the regime needs a scapegoat and, most likely, in its absence, they will contrive one.

The concern and powerlessness of the Power are evident, and not only is such a disproportionate repressive effort against the managers of a demonstration perceived that, paradoxically and according to Mrs. Mariela Castro as the “maximum leader” of Cenesex, was tiny and did not represent anyone. The Roundtable, on Cuban TV on Monday, May 13th, in whose panel Mrs. Castro took part, devoted a not inconsiderable segment of its time on screen to disqualifying and trying to discredit both the march and its participants, a common practice of the regime, one which is increasingly less and less effective.

Without the slightest embarrassment, the members of the television panel lied about alleged funding received from the U.S. by the imaginary leaders of the march – although they conveniently omitted the financing that Cenesex receives from abroad – while they tried to minimize the number of participants and to distort the objective of the march.

Same as always, but different in that essential element: the regime desperately needs a guilty party, and a week after “the crime” the responsible party has still not appeared.

A little in jest, but very seriously, the situation evokes that piece by the famous Spanish Golden Age playwright, Lope de Vega, entitled Fuenteovejuna, in which peasants of that imaginary town assumed the collective responsibility for a revolt that ended the life of its abusive Knight Commander of the Military Order. Do the repressors want to know who organized the May 11th march? It was Fuenteovejuna. However, it is prudent to avoid anticipated triumphs, because the truth is that the Cuban dictatorship will definitively lose the game at the moment when all Cubans who aspire to live in freedom and democracy put aside our differences and we become exactly that: Fuenteovejuna.

*droit du seigneur: a feudal lord’s right to bed a servant girl

Translated by Norma Whiting

Venezuela and the Dangerous Nicaraguan Model

The head of the Venezuelan Armed Forces, Vladimir Padrino, with the ruler, Nicolás Maduro. (Twitter)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Carlos Albert Montaner, Miami, May 12, 2019 — They are about to put Juan Guaidó in prison. Nicolás Maduro and the Cuban services are weighing it. The detention of Edgar Zambrano, First Vice President of the National Assembly, is a dress rehearsal for the arrest of President Guaidó. They are feeling out the terrain. Maduro and Raúl Castro have come to the conclusion that it is not possible to control power with another source of authority loose in Venezuela. I don’t mention the Cuban “president” Miguel Díaz-Canel because he is an errand boy.

They intend to totally destroy the National Assembly, accusing it of “treason against its country.” For Maduro and his supporters, it doesn’t matter that nobody believes it. The game entails working out parallel alibis to “explain” the disaster. There is hyperinflation because of Venezuela Today, a web page managed by “enemies of the country.” There are shortages of food and medicine due to the embargo by the Americans. There are electricity cuts and lack of potable water because John Bolton decided it and personally directed the havoc. Venezuelans escape from the paradise confused by the siren song of the capitalist adversaries. Truth doesn’t matter. Only the story. continue reading

The Cuban regime is desperate, but devises its strategy to stay afloat. Raúl fears street riots stemming from the shortages. He needs the Venezuelan subsidy like Dracula needed the dose of blood from his victims. The intelligence “apparatus” of Havana believes, at this point, that Donald Trump is all bark and no bite. For that reason they treat him with kid gloves and save the bigger guns for Marco Rubio, Mike Pompeo, John Bolton, and Elliot Abrams. The hard core that backs Guaidó. Those are the enemies that must be hobbled. They are the “biters,” although they lack strength to use the weight of American arms.

The conclusion that Cuban intelligence has reached regarding Trump has a certain logic. If he wants to withdraw from the Middle East, what sense would it have for him to put troops in Venezuela? If he is capable of weakening NATO or the European Union, because he is persuaded that his country pays the lion’s share and doesn’t benefit from it at all, why in Latin America would he play the role of “leader of the free world” when the main people affected are Latin Americans themselves? If the chubby guy from North Korea is sometimes rocket man and other times is a trustworthy guy, why fear the tenant of the White House? They already know that they are facing a salesman who says anything, and threatens and makes a fuss, but doesn’t resort to the stick.

However, Nicolás Maduro smells of the past. That Cuba understands. He was smuggled into power. At the beginning of 2013, when Hugo Chávez died, the Cuban regime chose him not for his virtues, but rather for his weaknesses. It was Diosdado Cabello’s “turn,” but he was a rogue who was too independent and didn’t follow anyone’s orders. Maduro, on the other hand, was obedient and would keep in force the only thing that interested Havana: the supply of oil and the crooked money that the nomenclature of both dictatorships gave out, like that glorious “business” through which a Cuban “company” rented for a million dollars a day to PDVSA a platform to extract petroleum from the Maracaibo lake. The real bill was half a million all of God’s days, but upon being triangulated from Havana the costs magically doubled.

Maduro has to get out of the game to save Cuban interests. Maduro agrees. Everyone knows by now that Cuba’s new man is General Vladimir Padrino López, head of the Armed Forces, and the person who foiled the coup of April 30 and deceived the enemy intelligence services. But how to make the switch? One possibility is to convince the Lima Group, the United States, and the opposition itself of the necessity of solving the crisis via the “Nicaraguan model.”

What is that? In 1990 the Sandinista dictatorship submitted to elections thinking that they would win them, like all the polls were showing, even those ordered by Washington. But the unthinkable happened: Violeta Chamorro won by an enormous margin, as D. Oscar Arias had predicted to me after seeing the poll by Borge and Associates, a modest Costa Rican company that got it completely right.

At that point, the Sandinistas had against them the majority of the population and the United States, but they still had the military apparatus, so they made an unseemly proposal that everyone ended up accepting to get out of that wasps’ nest. The Sandinistas would admit defeat at the ballots in exchange for remaining at the head of the Armed Forces without the new government being able to control them. In the period prior to the taking of possession they would eliminate the worse adversaries. It was then that they assassinated dozens of “Contra” chiefs.

Havana thinks that the exit of Maduro can happen in the same manner with a variation: impeccable elections in which Chavismo would certainly be defeated, but Padrino López would remain at the head of the armed forces and the agreement of oil for doctors, vital for Cuba, would be respected, and a return to the sweet climate between the two countries of the Obama era, at the risk of unleashing on the United States another Camarioca, another Mariel, another “raft crisis,” given that the Island has more than enough prospective emigrants anxious to get to the United States and the economic crisis worsens with each turn of the screw of the Helms-Burton law.

Hopefully that does not happen and the Venezuelan democrats do not allow it. It’s bread for today and hunger for tomorrow. Thirty years after the 1990 elections Daniel Ortega and the Sandinista movement continue to loom over Nicaragua, while the 21st Century Socialism remains in that country, in Venezuela, and in Bolivia orchestrated by Havana. Padrino is not only the head of the Armed Forces, like the general Humberto Ortega was in Nicaragua. He is the protector of a narco-state allied with the terrorists of the Middle East. The problem is not solved with stopgaps, but rather with drastic measures. It’s time for the “iron surgeons,” not “bandaids.”

Translated by: Sheilagh Herrera

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

"For That Price Nobody Here is Going Anywhere"

The majority of the vehicles of the state-owned company Cuba Taxi must use the meter, but their drivers hardly ever turn it on. (Nycecile)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Marcelo Hernandez, Havana, May 14, 2019 — The rearview mirror is too long and hides the meter that marks the price that the customer must pay at the end of the trip. Confused and disoriented, the tourist, recently arrived in Cuba, will attempt to look for those universal red numerals that increase as the vehicle goes forward, but he will not succeed. “It’s 10 CUC,” the driver will tell him tersely before he gets out.

In recent years the practice of agreeing on a price for the section traveled and not using the meter has been extended among the taxis of the Cuban state-owned sector. Unlike privately managed cars that traditionally do not have those measuring devices, the vehicles associated with the Taxis Cuba Company still have them and the regulations require that they be supplied with a meter or a visible official pricing.

However, reality is far from what the law says. In practice, the yellow cars with white roofs that offer services in convertible currency, along with the friendly Cocotaxis that make trips inside cities and the olf Russian-made Ladas that are still taking passengers in national currency, hardly ever use that device to establish their prices. continue reading

“They’re as likely to ask you for 8 CUC to go from Parque Central to Ciudad Deportiva as they are 10,” complained a customer who this Sunday was trying to get a bouquet of flowers to his house to celebrate Mother’s Day. “I’ve spent more than an hour looking for a taxi to take me but when I ask them if they are free and can take me, right away they tell me a price for the trip and they are not going to turn on the meter.”

A situation that, according to what 14ymedio was able to confirm, is the same at most of the taxi stands for those popularly called Panataxis, continuing the use of the official name with which they appeared when the arrival of thousands of foreign visitors for the 1991 Pan American Games in Havana obliged Cuban authorities to create a transportation system in hard currency.

“When we began, one of the premises of the service was precisely that the customer could see at all times the price [up to that point] that was being shown on the taxi meter,” recalls now Raquel Villanueva, who for more than two decades worked for the Panataxi company. “That was very important because shortly after that the circulation of the dollar was allowed and it was important that the passenger knew how much he was spending.”

“I remember that several times I had Cuban or foreign clients who would tell me a destination but would ask me to let them out before because they realized from the meter that they weren’t going to be able to pay the full price to get to the end,” she remembers. “All that was lost and relaxed until we arrived at the current situation where it’s really rare to find a taxi that regulates the price by kilometer.”

On trips within the city, these cars in have currency have prices by mileage that vary between 0.45 and 0.76 CUC per mile depending on the comfort and size of the vehicle, among which even minibuses are included. On round trip highway journeys, the fare goes from 0.45 CUC to 0.50, while an hour’s waiting time is charged at between 7 and 8 CUC.

Villanueva attributes the current situation to several factors, but especially to the new system in which these drivers are working. “Now those taxis are under a leasing concept and the driver has to take care of everything, from paying for the parking to covering repair costs,” explains the ex-employee of Taxis Cuba. “For that reason, now they are the ones who decide how they are going to charge the customer and even though it is still required for them to do it by the meter, the Government doesn’t enforce that.”

For several years state-owned taxis have been on a leasing system and the drivers must take care of repairs. (14ymedio)

An administrative resolution in 2018 confirms Villanueva’s statements. “The taxi drivers’ vehicles, owned or leased, must have a taxi meter or official price list, the Taxi badge and sign or a sticker that authorizes them to provide services and use the taxi stands that the corresponding public administration authorizes for this end,” specifies the text of the law.

Among the facilities these vehicles receive is the ability to buy tires, batteries, lubricants, and other parts in state-owned stores at preferential prices. But many drivers complain that at those places the most in-demand parts are in short supply and that the majority of the spare parts have to be acquired on the retail or black markets.

“In Havana we have fixed fares established from the airport, which go between 25 and 30 CUC, depending on the place in the city where the passenger is going,” says Ricardo Pajés, driver of one of these state taxis who drives under a leasing scheme. “That makes things a lot easier because the majority of clients who arrive already know — because they looked it up on the internet — how much they have to pay.”

Pajés believes that not using the taxi meter is not an “irregularity.” “These cars operate however the driver chooses, and I can even decide I don’t want to out to work one week,, although in any case afterwards I will have to pay the State for the lease which is almost 50 CUC daily.” For that reason, “with that much money that we have to pay daily, we are almost forced to agree on fares verbally.”

The leasing rates that each driver has to pay have been established according to demand for taxi service in the territory where they operate. The legislation determines that there is a high demand in Havana and Matanzas; medium in Pinar del Río, Cienfuegos, Villa Clara, Sancti Spíritus, Ciego de Ávila, Camagüey, Holguín, and Santiago de Cuba; and low demand in Artemisa, Mayabeque, Las Tunas, Granma, Guantánamo, and the special municipality Isla de la Juventud.

“Nobody can drive one of these taxis, pay for the lease, and have enough money left if they go by what the taxi meter says,” a driver who works frequently at the taxi stand outside the Inglaterra hotel affirms categorically. “We have to be on the safe side on each trip because if we don’t make enough money we lose the lease,” he laments. The taxi driver says that he works “between 14 and 16 hours daily and often at the end of the day I haven’t made even half of the money needed to pay the State.”

Outside the Central Train Station several yellow taxis wait for customers who want to go to the beach. “From here it’s 15 CUC to Santa María and 20 CUC to go to Guanabo,” Maykel, a young man who has been leasing a state vehicle for more than a year, tells this newspaper. “It’s mostly foreigners who want to get quickly to the beach who contract this service.”

The same trip measured by the taxi meter would be below 12 for the former and 15 for the latter, recognizes the driver, but he warns, “for that price nobody is going anywhere here because we are offering comfort, air conditioning, and security, that has a price.” None of the cars waiting for a tourist has a meter visible.

“That is no longer used, it’s there but it’s as if it weren’t there. Very few customers get difficult and demand to see the meter because by now almost everyone knows how this works,” Maykel points out. “Whoever wants to see numbers can take the bus, which has a number on the outside.”

Translated by: Sheilagh Herrera

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

The Spanish Government Closes the Door on Property Claims Between States

This house in Havana was the property of the Spaniard Raúl Lesteiro, according to his relatives, who are making a claim from Spain for its loss. (D.R.)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Madrid, 13 May 2019 — The Spanish government closes the door on claims between states in relation to properties seized by Castro after the Revolution, and says that they should be dealt with on an individual basis, according to this Sunday’s ABC newspaper.

Sources in the Ministry of External Affairs, quoted in the newspaper, indicate that the proposal by the United States administration, “imposing an extra-territorial law cannot be reconciled with the European approach.” As far as Spain is concerned, the matter was agreed in 1986 and there is no case for reopening it.

“Cuba and Spain signed an accord between the two states in 1986, which established a compensation scheme, for those people affected, and reopening it would be out of the question,” said ABC´s source, adding that “any claim which may be lodged would have to be solely on a private basis.” continue reading

Spain and Cuba signed an agreement on 16 November 1986, through which Havana would pay Spain 5,416 m pesos (some 32.5 m Euros, in current terms) “as final compensation and settlement for all properties, rights, actions and interests of Spanish private persons and companies affected by laws, regulations , and measures ordered by the Cuban government from 1 January 1959, up to and including the signing of the present agreement,” of which a third part is to be paid in cash, and the rest in kind.

At that time, many of the potential claimants rejected the agreement, considering that the amount fixed was hardly a fifth of the true value of what had been confiscated. Others did not claim because they had no knowledge of the pact.

Two decisions of the Spanish Supreme Tribunal supported the accord although they added that it did not affect the “hypothetical right of any individuals to reclaim confiscated property, or receive fair compensation, either from the present, or a future Cuban government.”

According to ABC, there are some 450 Spanish families forming the 1898 Compañía de Recuperaciones Patrimoniales, who hope to recover what was stolen.

Translated by GH

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

The Government Invokes “International Tensions” to Cancel the Annual Conga Against Homophobia

The conga had become one of the fixed events of the program of activities against homophobia. (EFE/Archive)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, May 7, 2019 — The National Center of Sex Education (Cenesex) announced this Monday that the conga against homophobia that is organized every year was canceled “by order“ of the Minister of Public Health.

The communication of the institution, headed by deputy Mariela Castro, justifies the decision by some “determined circumstances that are not helping successful development,” neither in Havana nor in Camagüey, where the marches were programmed for May 11 and 17, respectively.

“New tensions in the international and regional context directly and indirectly affect our country and have tangible and intangible impacts on the normal development of our daily lives and the implementation of the Cuban State’s policies,” said the note about the ministry’s reasons, which were published on Cenesex’ Facebook page. continue reading

According to Cenesex, this change in the program doesn‘t mean the suspension of the rest of the planned activities, like the academic forums.

The conga has taken place since the beginning of these celebrations, which now are 12 years old, always in the context of the Cuban Day against Homophobia, held in May.

The LGBT activist and official journalist, Francisco Rodríguez, known also for his blog Paquito el de Cuba, responded to the abrupt cancellation with a post entitled La Conga va pro dentro o Nadie nos quito la bailado y por bailar (The Conga will happen inside or No one takes away the dancers and our right to dance), in which he requests that “such a setback“ not spoil the party.

“The conga burst upon the scene as the initial activity of the first days, and its percormance has become a whole tradition, as the main moment of visibility for LGBT people in Cuba,” he said.

The announcement of the cancellation sparked reactions on the activist social networks of the LGBT community.

The independent journalist and director of the digital magazine Tremenda Nota, Maykel González Vivero, lamented the briefness of the note and the fact that it ”doesn’t offer a clear argument” for the cancellation.

The activist and general coordinator of the Alianza Afro-Cubana, Raúl Soublett López, wonders why they didn’t cancel the May 1 parade and sees an excuse in the allusion to international tensions because “they’ve always been the order of the day,” he adds.

For his part, the activist Adiel González Maimó wonders if the measure is the result of  pressure brought by the religious community against equal marriage rights. “What happened? Did the fundamentalists get afraid?” he asks. “This is unforgivable, a lack of respect. I don’t understand why they didn’t also suspend the May 1 march. . . . It‘s for this reason that LGBT activism in Cuba can’t be linked anymore with the State. It can’t be.”

Translated by Regina Anavy

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

Mexico Repatriated More Cubans in Two Days Than in All of 2018

In just three days Mexico deported more than double the Cubans deported in all of last year. (Granma)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, May 6, 2019 — In only three consecutive days in May, Mexico repatriated a total of 228 Cubans, spread out in a first group of 93 on Thursday, 77 on Friday, and 58 on Saturday. In barely three days the figures for all of 2018 were surpassed, according to statistics from the National Migration Institute (INM) gathered by the newspaper La Razón.

In the five months of 2019, the López Obrador administration has repatriated 541 people by air to Cuba, triple that of the entire last year. Excluding the massive deportations of this May, the figures had already been elevated since March. Although between January and February only eight people were deported, between March and April the expelled added up to 305 people, meaning an average of 78 per month, some 500% more than the monthly average of 2018.

This Saturday, after the deportation of 58 Cubans, a new escape happened at the Tapachula station, on the southern border of Mexico, from which at least 90 islanders managed to escape after forcing a metal barrier and assaulting the Federal Police. continue reading

The escape occurs one week after a similar one in which a thousand migrants left the station, known as Century XXI, encouraged, according to Mexican authorities, mainly by the group of Cubans.

The Mexico Commission of Help for Refugees (Comar), La Razón points out, placed 796 Cuban applications for asylum in

Trumpa€™’s “Pressure Cooker” Policy

Caption: Cuban demonstrators in the spontaneous protest known as the maleconazo in 1994. (Karl Poort)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Ariel Hidalgo, Miami, May 4, 2019 — The comings and goings of Trump officials in Florida lately to meet with exiled Cubans and Venezuelans, and the measures taken against the Maduro dictatorship and Castroism, clearly have an electoral interest, which is very common.

All politicians, Republicans and Democrats, have always done the same thing. What is new is the application of Titles III and IV of the Helms-Burton Law, which no president, since Clinton and Obama, has dared to apply before now, because it would affect the interests of many allies—above all, in Europe.

Now this extreme step has the tinge of a last resort, because the possibilty of presidential reelection seems less clear, especially because the Democrats now have a majority in the House. And Florida, as we know, will determine whether Trump gets a second term. continue reading

Limitations on trips and remittances were added, supposedly to reduce what reputedly is the principal source of the Havana Regime”s hard currency. And, as if this weren’t enough, Trump threatens a “total embargo,” all part of a repressive policy that has failed for more than half a century.

The theory of many defenders of the hard line is based on thinking it will work this time, because the measures would be added to the profound economic crisis that, according to clear indications, will give rise to a new Special Period of calamities in what was once called the Pearl of the Antilles, and that the country would not be able to withstand a sequel.

And maybe they’re right, not only because “sequels are never good” but also because since that time the citizens have advanced in many ways, as much in frustration at so many false expectations and unfulfilled promises as at lack of access to new communication technologies. The final objective of this policy has always been to do whatever explodes the pressure cooker, so that the multitudes throw themselves into the streets against the dictatorship until it bursts.

As it is offered—like many other times—on a silver platter to the octogenerarian leaders as an opportunity to make “the Empire” responsibile for all of Cuba’s economic problems, they repeat the illusion that the main problem of Cubans is the contradiction between a great power and the small, heroic country that it wants to subdue. By this logic, it’s possible that people might actually take to the streets, but I don’t know if many would do it to demonstrate against the dictatorship or to curse Trump and imperialism. And although this reaction might seem logical, I suspect that the result would be worse than the illness.

A maleconazo multiplied by ten or twenty not only would provoke a devastating destruction but also would be accompanied this time by an incalcuable number of wounded and dead. Examples, although perhaps on a minor scale, can be seen in the demonstrations in recent years in Venezuela and Nicaragua.

Did anything good come of them? The only good thing has been the experience of what shouldn’t be done. It appears that the Venezuelan opposition has assimilated this very well, and Juan Guaidó’s message has been clear: no violence, although it can’t be avoided that there are those on the periphery of the movement who didn’t get the message.

Furthermore, the main people affected will be employees, private entrepreneurs, retirees, everyone. But none of these people have the right to vote in elections in Florida.

One day, someone asked Manuel Moreno Fraginal why such a rebellious and heroic people as the Cubans weren‘t rebelling against the dictatorship, and the prestigious author of El Ingenio answered: “Because in Cuba for some time there has been no middle class, which has always been the leader in these events.” It’s true. The middle class has nothing to lose, nor any economic strings attached.

This class has begun to emerge in Cuba for some years with private entrepreneurs, the black market, artists, bloggers and independent journalists who don’t have ties to the State. They could lead a broad, peaceful movement in favor of change, like the pre-revolutionary Third Republic in France. But now, with the Trump administration’s policy, this process might come to a halt.

If the President is removed by a political trial because of his blunders or loses the election, since many voted for him only to oppose the “Establishment” and, in particular, the politicians, these measures probably won’t last, but if he wins, we’ll have them for a long time.

But with or without Trump, the historic leadership of Cuba will be involved in the dilemma of having to make major concessions like what has happened up to now, if it wants to avoid grave dangers and the headaches that follow. Cuba could rise and thrive in very little time.

It would be enough to liberate and stimulate the creative forces of Cubans. But that would mean renouncing the monopolistic control of the rich. If the leaders don’t do it, others will have to, and those others won’t be just the dissidents but all of civil society: academics, professionals, students, independent journalists, bloggers, writers, film makers and other artists, agreeing to draw up a joint, agreed-upon program of necessary changes and raising their voices high.

This is not a wish or a whim but an emergency and a duty for all Cubans if they want to avoid the tragedy that is approaching.

Translated by Regina Anavy

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

The Doctor of Cubanness / Fernando Damaso

Ramón Grau San Martín. Source: Wikipedia

Fernando Dámaso, 15 April 2019 — Dr. Ramón Grau San Martín was the seventh President of the Republic. He governed from 10 October 1944 to 10 October 1948. During the very month he took office, a fierce hurricane struck the Island, causing great destruction. For many citizens, this natural phenomenon constituted an important omen: the Grau government was kicking off with stormy winds — and a stormy government it would be, despite being established amidst the prosperity produced by World War II, when sugar came to achieve a high price on the world market.

Grau, who promised to achieve a “government of Cubanness,” and who liked to say, “Cubanness is love” — and that, besides, in his administration, women were “in charge” — promulgated the Law of the Sugar Differential to benefit the industry’s  workers, fixing the producers’ share of the final molasses (a statute of indisputable social utility).

He also launched a vast Public Works Plan that notably improved many neighborhoods in the city of Havana — despite some projects being so poorly constructed that they eventually had to be demolished and rebuilt. He established the compulsory licensure of degreed and non-degreed professions, a summer schedule for businesses, a lawyers’ pension, and retirement funds for workers in the textile, sisal and tobacco industries, among others. continue reading

From the start of his administration, Grau tried to associate it with the “hundred days” (9/10/1933-1/15/1934) and lend it continuity via social measures — although many contained a high dosage of demagoguery, so much that he became popularly known as “the Divine Gallimaufry.”

At the same time, in a moment of weakness, he allowed certain armed groups (remnants of the 1933 Revolution’s action groups who had been unable to insert themselves normally in the subsequent political process, and who practiced violence and carried out shady dealings) to roam the streets, primarily, of Havana.

This infinite tolerance for gangsterism revived the anarchic episodes of that prior period — which, during the previous administration, had seemed a thing of the past — thereby demonstrating the terrible current state of relations between the Executive and Legislative powers, which had suffered a great decline.

Grau abandoned the semi-parliamentarism instituted by the previous adminisration and went back to a presidentialist style of government, ignoring what had been established by the Constitution of the Republic in this regard.

In addition, his presidency was characterized by some picturesque, even extravagant, successes that reduced his credibility and respectability — such as the strange disappearence of the diamond embedded in the floor of the Capitol (which, some time later, one fine day, with no coherent explanation, appeared on the table in his office, and which he nonchalantly returned to its rightful place as if nothing had happened, without revealing who had masterminded such a misdeed).

Among the tragic events occurring in those years, one that merits pointing out is the so-called “Battle of Orfila,” more like a slaughter, wherein the two most important action groups that operated in the city of Havana vented their personal and business rivalries with bullets, resulting in a great number of dead and injured.

On the international plane, Grau allowed the formation of a clandestine army – the so-called Legion of the Caribbean — which established its base of operations in Cayo Confites and was aimed at overthrowing dictatorships in the region, in frank violation of international laws in force then.

Notwithstanding all these errors, which discredited the government as well as the President himself (turning him into a cartoon-like figure), there was always an absolute respect for civic liberties and freedom of expression — and, as he liked to say, in his government, all Cubans “had five pesos in their pockets.”

Grau was a President subjected to great opposition — not just the traditional kind, but also that of Dr. Eduardo R. Chibás, dissident leader of the Partido Revolucionario Cubano-Auténtico (PRCA), who went on to head it when he was not selected by Grau as the party’s candidate for the upcoming presidential election.

Chibás, a charismatic and populist politician who had directed Grau’s campaign during the so-called “glory days” that had swept him to power in 1944, felt discriminated against, and he became Grau’s most fierce critic and impugner — with and without cause.

On 6 January 1948, general elections were held in which the following candidates participated: for the PRCA, Drs. Carlos Prío Socarrás and Guillermo Alonso Pujol; for the Coalición Socialista Democrática, Drs. Emilio Núñez Portuondo and Gustavo Cuervo Rubio; for the Partido del Pueblo Cubano-Ortodoxo, Drs. Eduardo R. Chibás and Emilio Ochoa; and for the Partido Socialista Popular, Dr. Juan Marinello.  The winning ticket was that of the PRCA.

President Ramón Grau San Martín, a popular figure who aroused great hopes in the citizenry (as much for his support of culture as for his performance during the government of the “hundred days” following the overthrow of Gerardo Machado’s dictatorship), who assumed the presidency with a great majority of the population in his favor — little by little, due to his political weaknesses, began to lose prestige and turn into more of a folk character than a head of state.

As a result, even with the prevailing economic boom during his six years of governing and the many constructive works accomplished with the objective of improving our towns and cities, the people did not feel totally satisfied. A monument or bust was never erected in his memory.

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

It’s Forbidden to Say the Word "Crocodile" on Cuban Television

The actor Luis Silva, who incarnates the character of “Pánfilo,” denounces censorship in a program where bread in the form of a crocodile was shown. (Luis Silva/Facebook)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 2 May 2019 — The popular actor, Luis Silva, known for his comedic character, Pánfilo, reported this Wednesday that one of the episodes he had recorded in January for the program Vivir del Cuento (Living by One’s Wits) wasn’t put on the air because of a joke about bread in the form of a crocodile.

“Because of bread in the form of a crocodile, this episode wasn’t released on Monday. You can’t mention a crocodile, a hutia, or an ostrich. Worst of all, this episode had been recorded in January,” the actor wrote on social media.

The censorship is related to a declaration made by a  comandante of the Revolution, Guillermo García Frías, on the program Mesa Redonda (Round Table). The military nonagenarian, in charge of the National Enterprise for the Protection of Flora and Fauna, said that the meat of the hutia, a type of large rat found in the fields of Cuba, has more protein than “all the meats” and a “high quality” skin. continue reading

García also praised the ostrich and said it produced more meat than a cow. After his declarations, the words “crocodile”, “hutia” and “ostrich” trended on social media, where a multitude of memes and jokes about these animals circulated.

However, Luis Silva didn’t mean it as a joke and said the bread that appeared on Vivir del Cuento was a gift from the people of Triunvirato, a small town in Matanzas Province. “I decided to show it on the program as an expression of gratitude to the town. Draw your own conclusions. Friends of Triunvirato; I tried.” added the comic.

After publishing his first post, the actor qualified the situation and added that “the episode will be shown, surely. But with that scene cut.”

Comments weren’t long in coming. “What a shame that a comedian can’t mention it, and a high official of the country robs a comedian’s work and makes himself a national laughingstock,” said one user identified as Claudio Cabrera. For Idalia Quintana, “We Cubans are the only ones on planet earth who laugh at our misfortunes.”

Another “internaut” thought it ironic that the icon of Matanzas’ baseball team is a crocodile and suggested that they “change the name to a lizard.”

In comedy programs on Cuban television, jokes about the bureaucracy, the absurdities of the socialist state enterprise and intolerant ideologues are frequently included, but jokes against the Communist Party or the revolutionary leaders are still taboo.

Vivir del Cuento is one of the few programs that has survived on Cuban television with a critical script that focuses on everyday difficulties, the hardships experienced by retired people and the problems in buying food.

Translated by Regina Anavy

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

Political Snobbery or Consensual Propaganda

The truly surprising thing about this modest little hostel is the strange display hanging from its balcony. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger

14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 19 April 2019 — As Cuba sinks into a new period of crisis, the absurdity of existing in parallel planes has been imposed as the norm in the daily lives of its inhabitants. Submerged in the desperate search for subsistence, a growing number of Cubans choose to ignore other signs of reality that reveal alarmingly the alienation that attacks us at a spiritual level from public spaces without the majority being aware of it.

This kind of social blindness prevents perceiving the flagrant rupture between the official discourse and the social practice, as well as the divorce between the real life of ordinary people and the performance of the earthly paradise offered to foreign tourists – that privileged Pleiad of occasional visitors that later leave, pleased to find so much charm in the midst of general decadence – in a Cuba of props that looks less and less like itself and its inhabitants.

In this idyllic representation made for the foreign guest, certain successful private hostels play an important role, which – contrary to the semi-deserted hotels of mixed state capital and foreign investors – usually keep their rooms full throughout the year. continue reading

In this idyllic representation made for the foreign guest, certain successful private hostels that usually keep their rooms full throughout the year play an important role

The historic center of Old Havana stands out among all the areas of tourist interest, not only for its architectural values, its old buildings, its old churches and stone palaces and its colonial squares, but also for the emergence of many small private investment spaces – lodging, restaurants, bars, coffee shops, sale of handicrafts, art galleries, among others – that began to proliferate everywhere in recent years in that compact and unique urban geography.

The interior of a hostel is a world apart that hides from prying eyes what is not within the reach of ordinary Cubans: comfort, quietude, the warm friendship of the owners, the abundance of a good breakfast, the cordiality of the employees.

Needless to say, every successful host is, or at least appears to be, “politically correct” according to the official canons: revolutionary, socialist, Fidel-fanatic and integrated into the system, which allows him to take certain rare liberties. This seems to be the case of the Colonial Casa Tali Hostel, located at 406 Lamparilla Street, a few steps from the Church of Santo Cristo del Buen Viaje and the square of the same name, in the inner area of Old Havana.

The house in question is not really a colonial building, but a typical construction of the first third of the twentieth century, although it exhibits colonial elements, with arches, columns, high ceilings, balcony with wrought iron railing on the façade, and French louvered window-doors, an architectural style quite common in any of the oldest areas of the city.

The Colonial Casa Tali Hostel is located at 406 Lamparilla Street, a few steps from the Church of Santo Cristo del Buen Viaje and the square of the same name. (14ymedio)

However, what is really surprising in this modest inn is the strange display hanging from its balcony: at one end the multicolored gay flag, at the other, the Cuban flag, and between each one of them, cloth banners written in English, one of they with a big sign that says: “Free Assange”, while the other one – which is even more enigmatic and inexplicable – sends the following message: “Lee Harvey Oswald where are you now? The world needs you more than before.”

For an American it would be unthinkable to place a petition to Lee Harvey Oswald on his facade

For any foreigner, both posters can be proof of the freedom of expression that Cubans enjoy. In fact, for an American it would be unthinkable to appeal to Lee Harvey Oswald on his facade.

But the citizens of Cuba know that, in this country, publicly and freely displaying a poster with political content, and written in Spanish constitutes in itself a very touchy problem for any artist or sign painter, and it is at least suspicious for a private entrepreneur to allow a similar audacity.

Furthermore, asking for freedom for the famous Australian hacker is to go one step ahead of what the official press monopoly has ventured to express; but to openly invoke the memory of Lee Harvey Oswald, presumed guilty of the 1963 assassination of John F. Kennedy, the then U.S. President, as subject of “the world needs more than before,” is not only an act of inadmissible insolence, but also a gross incitement to violence that contradicts, head-on, the overhyped will for peace speech of the Cuban Government.

Isn’t the owner of this business clearly suggesting that a new assassin is needed to shoot dead the U.S. president? What scruples do the Cuban authorities employ to condemn the alleged assassination attempts of their ally, the usurper Nicolás Maduro, and at the same time allow the display of this type of message? Are there good murders and bad murders?

Perhaps we will never know exactly if this is a case of naive political snobbery motivated by the excess enthusiasm of the owner of the hostel or a not very subtle propaganda the authorities have consented to. The truth is that most of the Havana inhabitants who move about under that balcony may not pay too much attention to the banners, or do not understand the message, written in English.

It is also more than likely that many of them don’t know who Lee Harvey Oswald was, or that they have only heard in passing in the official media the name of the arrogant hacker who has published so many secrets affecting the American Government.

This may be the case, so the hostel propaganda is tolerated or allowed precisely because both messages contain a deep anti-American sentiment

But that may be the case, and the hostel’s propaganda is tolerated or allowed precisely because both messages contain deep anti-American sentiments, the quintessence of the Castro regime.

It would be very different if another entrepreneur were encouraged to place on his balcony, even if written in Mandarin Chinese, a petition to free the artist Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara, arbitrarily kidnapped by the political police to prevent him from carrying out a performance within the framework of the Havana Bienial, where the American flag was used as motive.

We would also have to see what would happen to private hostel operators or any anonymous citizens if they placed posters in their balconies demanding freedom for Dr. Eduardo Cardet or for all the Cuban political prisoners. These banners would, without a doubt, unleash all the repression demons. And if someone questioned it, here’s the challenge: try to do it and you’ll see who and how establishes the limits to freedom of expression in Cuba.

Translated by Norma Whiting
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An Activist and an Independent Journalist Recently Freed

The Inter-American Press Association, during its most recent meeting, revealed that freedom of expression and of the independent press are becoming “criminal behavior” according to the Cuban Constitution.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 27 April 2019 — In recent hours journalist Roberto Jesus Quinones Haces and activist Hugo Damian Prieto were set free.  The reporter had been arrested last Monday when he tried to cover the trial of two evangelical pastors while the dissident was sentenced in December of 2018 for the supposed crime of “pre-criminal dangerousness.”

The liberation of Prieto, leader of the Orlando Zapata Civic Action Front (FACOZT), happened this Friday night.  The dissident was freed from the prison known as the Toledo II Unit in Valle Grande municipality La Pisa, Havana, where he was transferred after the December trial in which he was sentenced to one year of deprivation of liberty.

“They gave me a letter of freedom that says suspension of security measure,” explained Prieto to this daily.  “The two agents from State Security who gave me the document searched me in prison and took me to a house for an interrogation.”  The officials threatened the activist with surrounding his house so that he will take no opposing action during the May 1 Workers’ Day. continue reading

Prieto complains of the bad conditions in the jail where “there is no transportation for prisoners if they have an emergency, everything is full of bed bugs and poor sanitation,” he says.  The dissident spent a good part of his incarceration in a makeshift medical post in the dining room, given the precarious state of his health, especially due to his cardiac problems.

“In the last month they did not give me the medications needed for my heart ailments and previously I had missed some,” he says.  In spite of the hard months he endured, Prieto reaffirms his decision to continue his civic activism and his street actions.

For his part, journalist Roberto Jesus Quinones Haces, a contributor to CubaNet who was detained at the beginning of the week by agents of the political police in Guantanamo, was set free this Saturday.

Before leaving prison the reporter received a citation to appear next Tuesday in the provincial Military Tribunal where he must be informed about the supposed crimes of “contempt” and “attempt” of which he was accused when he was arrested.

During the almost five days that the arrest of Quinones lasted he did not have access to water for personal hygiene.

The journalist was arrested in the afternoon last Monday at the entrance to the Guantanamo Municipal Tribunal when he tried to cover the trial that took place there against Ramon Rigal and Ayda Exposito, an evangelical couple sentenced to prison for refusing to send their children to school in order to have the opportunity to home-school them.

Before being arrested Quinones Haces managed to make a phone call to his wife, Ana Rosa Castro, from the police patrol car and tell her that he had been beaten, especially in the face, as she was able to prove after she visited him Tuesday at the National Revolutionary Police (PRN) station where he was detained.

According to Castro, Quinones Haces had trouble hearing from his right ear, swelling of his mouth, lacerations to his tongue, a fracture of his right thumb, and extreme difficulty swallowing solid foods,” she detailed in a note to the Pro-Freedom of the Press Association (APLP).

After the detention, several politicians from the United States such as Cuban-American Senator Marco Rubio and Assistant Secretary of State in the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, Kimberly Breier, demanded that the Cuban government immediately release Quinones.

The Inter-American Press Association (SIP), during its most recent meeting in Cartagena de Indias, presented a report in which it complained that freedom of expression and of the independent press are becoming “criminal behavior” according to the Cuban constitution.  The SIP adds that Article 149 of the Penal Code maintains the crime of “usurpation of legal capacity” [i.e. practicing a profession without a license] which is used to punish independent journalists.

Translated by Mary Lou Keel.

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

Dozens of Congolese Tightly Guarded in Havana Await Repatriation

Police surround the outskirts of the Embassy of Congo in Havana (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, April 27, 2019 — Dozens of Congolese students who are studying medicine in Cuba find themselves being detained and guarded in a place close to the international airport in Havana, waiting to be repatriated to their country, according to several students who managed to remain in the Salvador Allende Faculty of Medicine in the Cuban capital.

”They took them in a bus on April 18, and at first we thought it was for a meeting where they were going to explain things, but they never came back,” one of the students who remained on the university campus said, under condition of anonymity. “They’re not letting them speak with anybody, but we’ve learned that they are holding them in a well-guarded place to send them back to the Congo.”

“They carried out a raid at the Faculty of Medicine and put them on a bus,” the neighbors confirm. “All of us in the neighborhood thought that finally the situation was going to be managed because later we saw only a few buses return,” they add. continue reading

This newspaper can’t confirm if repatriation of the students has begun, but several sources said that they are awaiting “a response from the Congolese.”

Last Monday, an opposition group in this African country, in a comminication, had denounced the fact that the students were called to the Embassy of Congo in Miramar under the pretext that they were going to receive part of their overdue stipends. “Actually, the Cuban and Congolese authorities laid a trap for them,” the opponents explain.

“Shortly after they arrived, the students were separated into groups, and more than 200 were forced, by Congolese and Cuban agents, to get on the bus, supervised, and then were taken to an unknown stop. Other students waited more than 6 hours for their friends, without success. The telephones of the detainees had been out of service this whole time,” explains the text.

New images have come to light of the violent repression against students from Congo by the Cuban police. The student interns were protesting because of the delay of two years for their stipends and the poor conditions in which they are living on the island. Images here

— Mario J. Pentón (@marijose_cuba) April 9, 2019

The detention was also confirmed on the Facebook page, “I’m not returning without my diploma,” created by Congolese students to demand back-payment of 27 months of their stipends. On this platform, the students clarify that the protests that began at the end of March aren’t the work of a leader manipulated by “dark forces” as claimed by the Congolese Government.

The group of medical alumni also said that they presented legal remedies in agreement with Cuban law, and they launched a petition to the authorities on the island to allow release and academic reinstatement of the detainees.

After this happened, the Chancellor of Congo, Jean-Claude Gakosso, went to Havana, where he met with Miguel Díaz-Canel and presented him with a letter from the Congolese President, Dennis Sassou Ngueso. However, the official press only mentioned the visit as an opportunity to strengthen commercial and political ties.

Junior Bokaka, a Congolese student of epidemiology, who has been featured as one of the protest’s spokesmen, said on Facebook that the complaint about the stipends for the Congolese students has “nothing to do with the Cuban Government.”

Bokaka took advantage of the opportunity to point out that, contrary to what some press media have said, he is a simple student who reported the situation on his Facebook account, but he doesn’t consider himself a leader of the demonstrations nor a student representative.

Translated by Regina Anavy

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

The New Castro Constitution and the Economic Crisis: Born Twins

Hunger in Cuba: A people living on croquettes. Photo file

Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 18 April 2019 — Only a few days have passed since the proclamation of the new Castro Constitution, but nobody is talking about it on the streets of the Cuban capital. Of the entire boring speech by the Army General, the central character of the announcement and of his shiny new work, only one sentence –as lapidary and ominous as the last nail that seals a coffin — stuck in the minds of Cubans, and that was when the head of the geriatric power elite made public what was already an open secret: we must “prepare for the worst variant” of the economy. Officially, the feared ghosts of the “Special Period” of the 90’s, which have been circling for the last year, and which the most deluded considered over and done with, have become reality.

Leaving aside the very questionable exceptionality that makes Cuba the only country in the Western world where a new Constitution and a new economic crisis are announced at the same time and on the same stage, the most contradictory fact is that the aforementioned ‘Magna Carta’, Far from adapting to current times and promoting changes that help oxygenate the economy, is designed to consecrate precisely all the elements that guarantee a state of permanent and irremovable crisis, with the sole objective of perpetuating a class in Power.

By keeping the economy strongly centralized, with state ownership and the inefficient management of the State as its main economic pillars, by refusing to open up to a market economy, and by limiting the minimum expression of citizens’ private initiative and economic freedoms and civil rights — not to mention their political rights — it is more of an epitaph than a Constitution. continue reading

Before the total lack of will to make changes, and given that no miracle or saving source is seen on the horizon to subsidize the unquestionable failure of the system, Cubans have been plunged into the critical phase of the battle for survival in the midst of shortages, extreme rationing and hordes of people in the few markets where some foods in high demand are still marketed, especially oils and meat.

The shopping center Plaza de Carlos III, in the Havana municipality of Centro Habana, is one of a few favored markets enjoying what we could call “the assortment grace” and, consequently, a habitual scenario of that silent battle. Despite the small and limited variety of the supply of increasingly scarce products, in the meat department of this shopping center — as in the other regular city markets, including the one at 3rd and 70th, in the privileged neighborhood of Miramar — the supply of some of the most popular products has sustained relative regularity, so far.

As a result, there are daily swarming crowds at the Plaza de Carlos III, jam-packed for hours before the gates open that give access from the parking lot, which has been exclusively assigned for individuals who want to do their shopping at the butcher shop. The long line crosses a good part of the parking area, particularly on weekends, when many people also come from the provinces near the capital, or even from more distant places, where the shortages are atrocious.

It is generally unknown which products will go on sale each day, but the feeling of urgency and the need to bring food home does not allow most people viable options. Day after day, the same scene is repeated throughout the opening hours of the market: a constant human tide, forced to dedicate hours of their daily lives carting around food at prices that do not correspond to Cuban wages.

And while hardships are becoming the norm, the exclusions are growing at the same time. At the end of March, the directors of the Gastronomy and Services Company of Centro Habana, in a meeting with the directors of each establishment, reported that it is strictly forbidden for them and their subordinates to even mention the phrase “Special Period.

At the same time, the employees of the shopping centers that operate in foreign currencies received the same orientation. “Special period,” “crisis,” “shortages,” are some of the terms that have swelled the extensive list of subversive words, as if the terminology — and not the bad performance of the country’s administration — was the cause of the economic setback that dooms Cubans to a state of poverty.

Meanwhile, the regime has been oiling the mechanisms of repression and controls. The National Bus Company has recently begun to apply strong restrictive rules to control the contents of passengers’ baggage. Each traveler can transport up to two liters of edible oil to the interior provinces. There have also been drastic limitations on the allowed weight, with significant added fees for excess baggage.

Other food and hygiene products — such as bath soap, toothpaste and detergent — are also being restricted in baggage. According to the officials in charge of these controls, these measures seek to avoid speculation and smuggling on the black market, but this regulation also affects families who are forced to get their supplies in the capital city, all those necessities that have practically disappeared from the villages in the interior of Cuba.

“And that’s nothing, the worst is yet to come!” predict the most famous who lived through the unspeakable hardships of the 90s as adults, and know that, this time, the situation in the interior, as well as at the regional and international level, is a lot more complex than it was then, and doesn’t leave any room for extemporaneous optimism.

At any case it is a sentence much more realistic than all the unfulfilled promises of the Castro regime through more than 60 years, and more realistic than the Constitution, whose birth, on April 10th, was announced with all the solemnity and fanfare along that of its twin sister: the new Castro economic crisis, maybe the worst of all.

Translated by Norma Whiting