Amnesty International Denounces Increase in Arbitrary Detentions in Cuba / 14ymedio

Members of State Security arrest women from the Ladies in White organization (Ernesto Mastruscusa/EFE)

Members of State Security arrest women from the Ladies in White organization (Ernesto Mastruscusa/EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 24 February 2015 — Short-duration detentions increased considerably in Cuba in 2014, according to the annual report published today by Amnesty International. The human rights organization, with headquarters in London, emphasizes that the situation with respect to freedom of expression, association and assembly, infringed on by criminal prosecutions for political reasons, did not improve. Amnesty International expects, nevertheless, that the announcement of the re-establishment of diplomatic relations between the Island and the United States may help produce a significant change in the matter of human rights.

The report highlights the 27% increase in short-duration detentions last year, according to data from the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation, which counted almost 9,000 brief arrests. The Ladies in White organization suffers the most from this type of repression Continue reading

The Ordeal of Automated Teller Machines / 14ymedio, Rosa Lopez

Lines at Cuban ATMs grow on weekends (14ymedio)

Lines at Cuban ATMs grow on weekends (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Rosa Lopez, Havana, 23 February 2015 – The line reached the corner and was moving with agonizing slowness. They were not selling eggs or potatoes. It wasn’t even a line for seeking a visa. Those who waited just wanted access to the automatic teller, the only one working last Saturday afternoon near Havana’s Central Park.

A few days before MasterCard can be used in Cuba, many are asking how the Cuban bank network will deal with the increased demand for money if it can barely keep its service afloat for domestic users and tourists.

The congestion in front of the machines grows even though only 1.3 million magnetic cards have been issued in the country, and for the moment only retirees, customers with accounts in convertible pesos, businesses that have contracts with the bank, self-employed workers and international collaborators can get them. The rest of society continues to depend exclusively on paper currency.

“When the subject is money, people fume,” says a young man whose Saturday night hangs by a thread because of the congested ATM. Even though this weekend the temperature dropped in the city, no one seemed ready to leave before getting their cash.

The scene is repeated at most of the 550 ATMs (Automated Teller Machines or automatic tellers) of Chinese manufacture, of which 398 are in Havana. In 2013 200 new units were purchased in China, but the majority were to replace defective terminals and did not solve the serious deficit of tellers. Cash payment is still the most common method in Cuba for acquiring products and services.

The scarcity of terminals combines with the deficient functioning of the system, affected by electrical outages, frequent connection failures between the ATM and the bank and lack of cash

The terminals are only available in private businesses with great resources and obvious official backing 

Almost all the self-employed workers offer their services for cash payment. The use of point of sale terminals (TPVs) for card scanning and payment, also known as POS, is only available in private businesses with great resources and obvious official backing.

In state business networks, the landscape is different but not very promising either. Although there exist POS terminals in most big department stores and hard currency shops, their service is unstable and slow. “When a client comes to pay with a card, the line stops for minutes because sometimes the communication with the bank is down and you have to try it several times,” explains a cashier from the busy market at 70th Street and 3rd in Miramar.

In the provincial cities and above all in the townships, where they are practically non-existent, the ATM and POS situation is even worse. Tourists who travel deep into Cuba must carry cash with them, increasing the risk of theft and loss in addition to the demand for liquidity.

The problem hits natives and foreigners. “Why do they pay me on the card if in the end I have to go get the money at the bank because I can make purchases almost nowhere with this?” complains Marilin Ruiz, a former elementary school teacher who also was waiting in line on Saturday for the ATM near Central Park. The delay was so long that she wound sharing recipes for making flan without milk and knitting suggestions with another woman.

 “I have a pension of less than 200 pesos (about $8 US) and I spend up to two hours in line at the teller to collect it,” an old woman complained

Between the 4th and 6th of each month, Cuban retirees go to ATMs to collect their pensions. “I have a pension of less than 200 pesos (about $8 US) and I spend up to two hours in line at the teller to collect it,” explained Asuncion, an old woman of close to eighty years of age. Meanwhile, some kids scamper from one side to the other. They are the children of a couple waiting at the end of the line without much hope of getting money before nightfall.

“We are late for everything; when the world has spent decades using plastic, now it is that we are trying it,” laments Asuncion. The first ATMs, of French manufacture, were installed in Cuba in 1997, but after 2004 only Chinese terminals arrived.

Asuncion keeps in her wallet a Visa card that her son sent her from Madrid. “I use this only every three months when he puts a little on it for my expenses.” There are no public statistics about how many of the country’s residents might be making frequent use of debit or credit cards associated with a foreign bank account of an emigrated relative, but the phenomenon has grown in the last decade.

In the line several Chinese student also put their Asian patience to the test with the red and blue cards in hand from the Chinese banking conglomerate UnionPay. More than 3000 citizens of that country study or work on the Island, and they receive their family remittances through that channel. Also, in 2013 alone some 22,000 Chinese tourists visited Cuba.

“We Cubans and Chinese are good at waiting, but let the gringos arrive in great numbers, they are more desperate, they want everything fast,”

“We Cubans and Chinese are good at waiting, but let the gringos arrive in great numbers, they are more desperate, they want everything fast,” says Lazaro, a teen with tight clothes, to a friend with whom he waits in the line.

The alternative to the ATM, which might be the window of the bank branch, is not recommended. In Havana there are 90 branches of the Banco Metropolitano, but at the end of 2014 at least twelve offices were partially or completely closed because of problems ranging from leaks, sewer network blockages, danger of building collapse or other infrastructure issues. Insufficient attention and lack of trust in the banking system make many continue to prefer hiding money “under the mattress.”

The limited work schedule of banks and the scarcity of offices open on weekends cause long lines on weekends in front of ATMs. The more optimistic, however, manage to profit from the wait. Marilin managed to achieve everything by renting a room in her house to the Chinese students who must, of course, pay in cash.

Asuncion could not stand the pain in her legs and left without her money, while the couple at the end of the line had to buy some ice cream to pacify their restless children. Lazaro was luckier, and in addition to exchanging phone numbers with a French woman whom he met in the crowd, he managed to extract twenty convertible pesos from the ATM to spend that same night. At least this time the blue screen did not appear with the “out of service” announcement, nor was there a power outage and, yes, the machine had cash.

Translated by MLK

Why Do Cubans Continue To Be Spaniards? / 14ymedio, Ferran Nunez

Treaty of Paris 1898

Treaty of Paris 1898 (CC)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Ferrán Nuñez, Paris, 21 February 2015 — With the signing of the Treaty of Paris of 1898, Spain ceded or sold the last pieces of its former empire where, in the time of Carlos V, “the sun never set.” This treaty, as has already been proven by Pedro Albizu Campos, had several legal defects that made it invalid. Curiously, no Spanish politician has used these arguments to challenge it outright. This is due to two main factors: The first, ignorance, and the second, of equal weight, reality. Spain today, as it has been for the last 115 years, is not in any shape to oppose the “Pax Americana.”

However, today this legal fissure acquires an unexpected dimension. Spain, through various laws, decrees and circulars, has decided to re-establish the rights of nationality for many of its former citizens who lost their nationality for different reasons in the last century (and even earlier, as is the case of the Sephardic Jews). Over time this worthwhile path is going to turn out partial and incomplete because unfathomable depths of injustice Continue reading

The Malecon as Pier / 14ymedio, Orlando Palma

Image of the Cayo Hueso-Havana ferry taken 1951 (History Miami Archives and Research Center)

Image of the Cayo Hueso-Havana ferry taken 1951 (History Miami Archives and Research Center)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Orlando Palma, Havana, 21 February 2015 — Jose Manuel is 70 years old and has spent more than half his life fishing from Havana’s Malecon. For this retiree with leathery skin and eyes that have seen almost everything, it is a dream to catch sight again of that ferry that used to go to Florida and that he so liked when he was a child. “We kids used to pretend to say goodbye, and although I could never travel on it, my grandmother did every now and then.” Now, while the evening falls, the septuagenarian hopes that some fish will take the bait, and before him a sea without boats extends to infinity.

Maritime transport between Havana and Cayo Hueso came to be very common in the first half of the 20th century until it was suspended in August of 1961 as a consequence of the restrictions from the American embargo of the Island. Now, the ghost of a ferry Continue reading

“It Is State Policy To Misinform People” / Cubanet, Roberto Jesus Quinones

Leinier Cruz Salfran (photo by the author)

Leinier Cruz Salfran (photo by the author)

cubanet square logoCubanet.org, Roberto Jesus Quinones Haces, Havana, 13 February 2015 — Raul Castro’s government, in spite of rapprochement between Cuba and the United States, continues the work of keeping people from freely accessing the internet.

On Monday, January 19 Cubanet published a report about the detention of the young Guantanemero Leinier Cruz Salfran on Saturday, January 17 by State Security agents. The reason? Leinier was gathering together a group of young people outside of the Hotel Marti, connecting through his laptop to the building’s WiFi and sharing the Internet with the others present who had also brought their portable computers to the location.

We contacted the young man who agreed to grant us this interview:

Q: Leinier, why did State Security detain you?

Because according to them I was committing a crime of Illicit Economic Activity.

Q: What did you do?

I shared the use of the Internet with other people through Hotel Marti’s wifi Continue reading

The Honey That Used To Heal Us / Cubanet, Reinaldo Cosano

Where to find in Cuba that medicine that cured our grandparents?  (Internet photos)

Where to find in Cuba that medicine that cured our grandparents? (Internet photos)

cubanet square logoCubanet.org, Reinaldo Emilio Cosano Alen, Havana, 6 February 2015 – Bee venom is considered 500 thousand times superior to any antibiotic. But where to find that medicine and food, previously so abundant, older than mankind?

The sick man came to the clinic with a bad cough. The doctor diagnosed bronchopneumonia. She prescribed antibiotics. And issued the challenge: “If you find honey, don’t stop taking it.”

abejas-3After many inquiries he found a farmer who empties his hives, puts the honey into discarded rum bottles and sells them on the black market for 50 Cuban pesos (two dollars; a fifth of the average monthly salary) each.

It is not worth questioning the hygiene of the package or the quality of the honey, issues that are for the European Union and other importing countries. The Apicultural Research Center in Havana analyzes and certifies nine physical-chemical parameters for all honey for exportation.

“Here we check aspects like moisture Continue reading

Corruption, the Cancer of Cuban Public Transportation / 14ymedio, Ernesto Perez Chang

Photo by author

Photo by author

cubanet square logoCubanet, Ernesto Perez Chang, Havana, 7 February 2015 — More than a decade has passed since the first big purchase of busses from China and Russia was made in order to ameliorate the transportation problem in Cuba, and no improvement is in sight. Contrary to what was promised then, moving from one point to another becomes each day a greater agony for low-income citizens.

Although officials from the Ministry of Transportation continue blaming the economic embargo and the world crisis for all the difficulties they face, it is well known that there are other phenomena, many of them related to corruption.

In that sense, it is not surprising to encounter silence in the official media and in the statements by some officials in which they try to hide the million-dollar embezzlements that Continue reading

“I am a meddlesome peasant” / 14ymedio, Juan Carlos Fernandez

Eduardo Diaz Fleitas on his farm.  (14ymedio)

Eduardo Diaz Fleitas on his farm. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Juan Carlos Fernandez, Entronque de Herradura, 31 January 2015 – Entronque de Herradura is a little village in the Pinar municipality of Consolacion del Sur. I go there in search of Eduardo Diaz Fleitas, a Cuban with rapid speech, skill with the ten-line stanza and proven courage. He was among the 75 dissidents sentenced during the Black Spring of 2003, but not even a long prison stay made him lose his smile or wit.

Fleitas asserts that he is “just a meddlesome peasant.” In this interview he speaks of his life, his early activism and of that other passion, which is the land where he has worked as long as he can remember. Continue reading

“Check out how free this country is!” / 14ymedio, Victor Ariel Gonzalez

Presentation about the book ‘From Confrontation to Efforts at “Normalization.”  The Policy of the United States towards Cuba.’ (14ymedio)

Presentation about the book ‘From Confrontation to Efforts at “Normalization.” The Policy of the United States towards Cuba.’ (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Victor Ariel Gonzalez, Havana, 29 January 2015 — “In Vietnam, Yoani Sanchez would be in prison,” says Rafael Hernandez, editor of the magazine Temas (Topics), comparing the Cuban regime with the Vietnamese one. And he adds: “Check out how free this country is!” According to the official researcher, Cuban bloggers “are arrested and released, but they are not put in prison,” as occurs in the southeast Asian Continue reading

“I Live Happy Because I Live Without Fear” / 14ymedio, El Sexto

Map of the 4H Company in prison hand drawn by Danilo Maldonado, ‘El Sexto’

Map of the 4H Company in prison hand drawn by Danilo Maldonado, ‘El Sexto’

  • El Sexto tells of his incarceration in the Valle Grande prison

14YMEDIO, Havana, 28 January 2015 — Danilo Maldonado, the graffiti artist known as El Sexto, finished a month in prison this January 25. He was arrested while riding in a taxi whose trunk was carrying two live pigs. The animals were painted green and each bore a name written on his side. On one could be read Fidel and on the other, Raul.

The artist’s intention was to release them in Central Park in order to recreate a rural tradition in which one tries to catch pigs with the added difficulty that their bodies are smeared with grease. His frustrated performance art was entitled Animal Farm, in Memoriam.

The light blue Lada that was transporting him was intercepted by three Revolutionary National Police patrol cars. The agents took away the identity cards of Danilo and the vehicle’s driver and took them to the Infanta and Manglar Station. Two days later, they transferred the artist to the Zapata and C unit where a prosecutor told him that he would be taken to trial. He stayed in those dungeons seven days until he was transferred to the central police station of Vivac de Calabazar, where he spent another seven days.

It happened that Vivac was the destination for dozens of arrestees accused of trying to participate in the performance announced by performance artist Tania Bruguera in the Plaza of the Revolution last December 30, which was interpreted by authorities as a counter-revolutionary provocation. Some of those arrested, who learned of his presence at the place, shouted, among other slogans, “Freedom for El Sexto.”

From the Valle Grande prison, where he is now, Danilo has sent us some jail anecdotes and a couple of drawings.

The Tank

When I arrived at Valle Grande they took blood samples for the lab, shaved my head and beard. They also photographed me. During my stay in Vivac, they had diagnosed me with pneumonia, for which reason I was carrying antibiotics with me, but they took them from me and have not seen fit to return them to me so far, nor has a doctor listened to my chest to find out if I am the same, better or worse than when I arrived here. To make matters worse, I am surrounded by smokers who do not care at all that I am sick and asthmatic. Continue reading

Institutional Crisis / 14ymedio, Fernando Damaso

Meeting of the National Assembly (Neo Club Press)

Meeting of the National Assembly (Neo Club Press)

14ymedio, FERNANDO DAMASO, Havana, 22 January 2015 — Among so many crises that affect us, little is said about that related to institutions. In the Republican era, there existed institutions that, without being perfect, worked. If it had not been so, the country would not have developed in the way that it did. When the new regime was put in place in 1959, instead of being perfected, most of the existing institutions were liquidated or their spheres of influence were reduced for the purpose of initiating other new ones on bare ground. Even the family, considered a principal and primary institution, did not escape, being dismembered and atomized to respond to political and ideological interests.

An institution can be many things. There exist formal and informal institutions and, in both cases, they are always social constructions. They must be efficient, that is to say, capable of functioning well, having legitimacy, being able to adapt to changes in the environment and anticipate changes besides demonstrating stability. These components must act together if they want to get results. In the Cuban case, stability has turned into a kind of brake that impedes the necessary changes, giving rise to ossified institutions. The majority of institutions established in the last fifty years suffer this infirmity, mainly the economic, legal and political ones. Continue reading

Strange, Like a Bear in a Havana Square / 14ymedio

The Buddy Bears in San Francisco Plaza.  (Luz Escobar)

The Buddy Bears in San Francisco Plaza. (Luz Escobar)

14ymedio, LUZ ESCOBAR, Havana, 17 January 2015 — “Where is the end of the line for a picture with the Cuban bear?” yesterday asked a youngster during the opening of the United Buddy Bears show in Havana’s San Francisco Plaza. The project, created in 2001 by Eva and Klaus Herlitz with the collaboration of Austrian sculptor Roman Strobl, promotes a message of tolerance and understanding among all peoples, cultures and religions of the world. The exposition has travelled across five continents with life-sized sculptures of bears that evoke the member countries of the United Nations.

With the participation of artists from each of the represented countries, these bears have visited cities such as Vienna, Cairo, Jerusalem, Buenos Aires, Montevideo, Paris, Hong King, Istanbul, Tokyo, Sydney, Warsaw and Rio de Janeiro. Since its first exhibition in Berlin in 2002 they have been appreciated by more than 30 million people. Now, they are in Havana, which highlights the signature sculpture of our country, made by Cuban artist Nancy Torres.

Oso-buddy-cubano_CYMIMA20150117_0010_12With a cigar in his mouth, a cigar band around his waist and a mischievous wink of his eye, the Cuban Buddy Bear is part of this diverse and plural group. His creator explained during the opening that she named him Siboney in homage to the first Cuban Indians Continue reading