"You Are Not in Control Here," the Refrain that Silences Women

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 26 November 2017  — In the Havana neighborhood of La Timba a teenager loudly sings Latin trap song that causes a stir among young Cubans:  “You are not in control here, silence/Pay attention you evil woman.”  The rhythm is gaining ground on the Island with its lyrics charged with misogyny and gender violence.

Born in the United States in the ’90’s and censored in the Island’s official media, a good part of trap music glorifies drug use, casual sex, violence and criminal acts.  Its refrains have managed to displace the popular reggaton that from the beginning of this century dominated the Cuban music scene.

Trap has gone viral thanks to technology.  Many of its follower are under twenty and use bluetooth in order to send songs from one phone to another.  Mobile applications like Zapya and services like YouTube are the best record labels that the exponents of this catchy music count on. continue reading

The Colombian Maluma, the American Arcangel, together with the Puerto Ricans Bad Bunny and Ozuna, are the best known stars of the new phenomenon in Cuba.  Their lyrics are loaded with stories about slums where scheming, drugs and weapons are part of the day-to-day life.

In the trap music context women are often seen as property of the man and dependent on his whims.  Scenes of sexual assaults, young people drugged or tied to the bed and continuous infidelities are hummed by children and teens on the bus, in the classroom or on the sidewalks throughout the Island.

Some lyrics are pure dynamite in a region where gender violence indices are alarming.  A recent report by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and UN Women warns that Latin America and the Cariberrean have the highest rates of homicide against women in the world.  “The role of the media as transmitters and builders of cultural models” makes them allies or adversaries in the “fight for equality,” warns Amnesty International.

The image of women in the media is also included in the analysis of these acts of aggression.

Trap musicians defend themselves against accusations of misogyny by claiming that they simply hold a mirror to poor neighborhoods where machismo reigns. They make themselves out to be chroniclers of a daily reality wherein women are often used as bargaining chips between gangs or to settle disputes.

The Cuban authorities have reacted to the spread of trap music with an avalanche of articles in the official press, in which they accuse the genre of depicting women as mere objects of desire. The song, 4 Babys, by Maluma, has been censored from television and radio playlists.

Nonetheless, the Columbian’s voice can be heard frequently in recreation centers, school parties and on public transportation. “They always give me what I want / They put out when I tell them / Not one says no,” a dozen students could be heard chanting during recreation at a primary school in Centro Habana.

“I have forbidden my grandson to play those songs because nothing good can come from those lyrics, but there is no way to prevent it because it’s all over the place,” complains Lucinda, 72, a resident of the city of Santa Clara. “It’s not enough to tell him that he cannot listen to that music at home if they’re playing it even at school,” she laments.

Patriotic ballads are often alternated with the most raw reggaeton and trap. The thousands of teachers barely past adolescence who are staffing the classrooms of the nation, due to the personnel shortage in education sector, are avid fans of these genres.

“I want do do Fifty Shades of Grey to you, tie you to the bed with tape, start at 11 and end at 6,” says the song, 50 Shades of Austin, by the singer Arcangel–which is on the phone or tablet of every student in the Old Havana prep school.

“I don’t see anything wrong with it because it’s not real, it’s a story the singer made up to have a good time,” says middle school student Magela. “It’s not like we’re listening now to Arcangel and then are going to do what he’s saying. It’s like a video game, where you don’t really die,” she explains.

The discussions over the new style have reached the television studios. During a recent debate, Israel Rojas, the lead singer of the duo Buena Fe, was pointing to educational deficiencies in school and at home as the soil in which trap music takes root.

However, Joseph Ros, an A/V producer, warned against the dangers of censoring those themes and of a lack of dialogue over decisions about political culture in the country. The censoring of political or erotic content tends to feed the popularity of songs and videos.

During the 90s, the independent Association of Women Communicators, or Magín, convened more than 400 professionals, largely from the world of television and radio, with the objective of changing “women’s image in the media,” according to one of its founders, Sonnia Moro.

Magín members tried to “confront sexism, taboos and stereotypes,” and the messages that help reinforce “the patriarchal mindset,” but the group was quickly “deactivated” by the Central Committee of the Communist Party. “We were stunned,” admits Moro, who also points to “an absence of focus on gender” in Cuban education.

Last Friday in the WiFi zone on La Rampa, Melisa, barely 9 years old, was asking her mother to download the Soy Peor [“I’m Worse”] video. “Go on your way because I’m better off without you / Now I have others who do me better,” sings the Puerto Rican, Bad Bunny. “If I was a son of a bitch before / Now I’m worse, because of you.”

With a few clicks and no hesitation, the woman booted up the material that the girl would later share with her friends.

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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.

Translated By: Mary Lou Keel and Alicia Barraqué Ellison

The Cuban ‘Big Brother’ Seen by 57 Writers

About 90 people showed up at the bookstore Altamira Books for the presentation of the book ‘El compañero que me atiende.’ (14ymedio)

The book ‘The Compañero Who Watches Me’ was presented last Thursday in Coral Gables (Florida) and reflects its authors’ preoccupation with the omnipresence of surveillance in Cuba

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario J. Penton, Miami, 3 November 2017 — Writing a book can be like an exorcism, especially when trying to leave behind ghosts of the past. This is the case with publisher Hypermedia’s new book, El compañero que me atiende (The Compañero Who Watches Me), a compilation of fictional stories by 57 authors, collected by Enrique del Risco, about the omnipresence of surveillance in Cuban life. Something that marked the national literary output.

“This book is not a memorial of grievances, nor is it a book about repression. In the Cuban case, on the list of those aggrieved by a regime that is close to finishing its sixth decade, writers score rather low compared to other parts of society,” clarified compiler Del Risco. continue reading

The book, almost 500 pages long, was presented Thursday in the bookstore Altamira Books, a very welcoming place in the city of Coral Gables (Florida); the store’s purpose is to “foster knowledge and use of the Spanish language,” according to its owners.

Del Risco, the renowned Cuban poet and narrator Legna Rodriguez Iglesias, Abel Fernandez Larrea, Jose M. Fernandez and Luis Felipe Roja, journalist for Radio Marti, presented the book to almost a hundred people among whom were some of the best Cuban writers in exile.

“This book began as an idea and was written thanks to the enthusiastic response of the authors who are in Cuba and in the diaspora. We have stories by 57 writers who are not only in the United States but in different parts of Latin America, Canada and Europe,” explained Del Risco.

El compañero que me atiende collects for the first time passages by authors who speak of the surveillance work of the Cuban state and how this influences the Island’s literature. Del Risco told 14ymedio that the response exceeded his expectations. “We have writers of all ages. Censorship and surveillance is a national phenomenon that has happened at all social levels and is a common denominator in the whole revolutionary process,” he said.

“The book also helps those writers and artists who have been censored and surveilled feel part of a society that suffers that as a whole. It is not just something that belongs to intellectuals but workers, women, students, everyone has been a part of and victim of this phenomenon,” explains Del Risco.

Among the authors who live on the Island is the writer – recently released from jail – Angel Santiesteban, who presents his story The Men of Richelieu, part of an unpublished book entitled Zone of Silence.

Also from Cuba came stories by the actress and writer Mariela Brito, Raul Aguiar, Atilio Caballero, Ernesto Santana, Jorge Angel Perez, and Jorge Espinosa, among others.

‘El compañero que me atiende’ will be for sale on Amazon and in some Florida bookstores. (14ymedio)

The central idea of the anthology is to give voice to writers so that they can describe the surveillance atmosphere created by the totalitarian state as a consequence of the political system installed in Cuba after the 1959 Revolution.

Writer Jose M. Fernandez, who emigrated to the Dominican Republic in 1998, recalled that in his writings he had proposed the thesis that the Cuban political system, in spite of having declared itself atheistic, “was organized as a profoundly religious structure around a dogma.”

“It had its Christ and its martyrs, and the compañero who watched us was the ghost,” explains Fernandez.

Writing his story, removed from the politics but addressing the lurking danger of being heard in a country in which each person seems to be an ear of the state, “freed” him.

“I realized that it was like a salvation because the trauma accompanied me throughout my life. It was not caused by the censorship itself but because those who were my friends, my companions and those with whom I had to finish five long years of university lent themselves and caused it to happen,” says Fernandez who has had a prolific career in the Dominican Republic.

According to the author, although a good part of his story is fiction, there are some events that did occur in the city of his birth, Santiago de Cuba. On sharing his story with a friend, the response she gave surprised him: “As always happens in Cuba, the reality surpasses the fiction,” she told him.

Fernandez has planned to send a sample of the book “to the companion who attends him” with this dedication: “You fucked me over, but I immortalized you.”

Legna Rodriguez, for her part, said that a good number of Cubans do not realize how powerful the surveillance they are subjected to. “It is not felt or seen, but it becomes a sickness, an amorality, a cancer,” said the writer.

Luis Felipe Rojas remembered the long interrogations to which he was subjected by the authorities because of the passages that he published on his blog Crossing the Barbed Wire.

“I always thought that I should write about this, that I could fictionalize it, but it wasn’t until I left Cuba that all that flowed. Inside it would have been impossible,” said the communicator.

Translated by Mary Lou Keel

Clothing Store Clandestina Makes the Leap to Online Sales of its Designs

In spite of the difficulties of connecting to the web in Cuba, the business founded in 2015 by Idania Del Rio and Leire Fernandez has opted to distribute its products on the internet. (14ymedio)

The store gained international popularity after President Barack Obama’s visit to the Island in March 2016, when the leader ordered a t-shirt for his daughters.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 27 October 2017 – Clandestina, the clothing store that markets its own brand, this June became the first store of its kind on the Island to sell its products through the internet. Its creators emphasize the international character of their business, with clothing designed in Havana, sewn in Nicaragua and finished in South Carolina (U.S.).

In spite of the difficulties of connecting to the web in Cuba, the business founded in 2015 by Idania Del Rio and Leire Fernandez has opted to distribute its products on the internet. “We have barely had any internet this past week,” they say on their website. continue reading

Currently the store operates under the domain clandestina.co, but after November they will be able to move it to the better known “.com” which until now it has not been available.

Clandestina earned international popularity after President Barack Obama’s visit to the Island in March of 2016 when the leader mentioned the business in a televised interview and asked where he could find a t-shirt of that brand for his daughters.

All the products that will be sold on the web by by the small business are exclusive designs of the studio and can be acquired for 28 dollars.

The virtual store’s offerings includes six t-shirt designs, among which are some with the phrase “99% Cuban Design,” a slogan that defines Clandestina. Other more controversial designs show the face of an adolescent Ernesto Guevara labeled within the “revolutionary” category.

The virtual store offers six t-shirt designs, among which are some with the phrase “99% Cuban Design,” a slogan that defines Clandestina. (14ymedio)

With the new website, the small space located in the heart of Old Havana stands out among the private businesses that are using new technologies in order to promote their products on the Island.

So far, the presence of individuals on the web for business purposes has been limited to the vacation rental sector, as is the case with those who rent rooms in their homes to tourists through platforms like Airbnb or their own digital pages.

Some musicians, like the Singer Haydee Milanes, also have managed to sell their records on iTunes, and several app developers have placed their products in Google and Apple stores, but almost always with the help of some friend who lives abroad and can collect customers’ payments.

In Clandestina’s case, the fact that Fernandez has Spanish citizenship has permitted her to register the business in the United States in her name, and this opens “more opportunities for business.” Her idea is that “all the creation and art is done here and then produced in the U.S.”

The site sells products for delivery in the United States, Canada and Mexico, but its managers aspire also to hire a supplier in Europe to lower the cost of transporting merchandise to the Old Continent.

Clandestina intends to play with the image of international icons like Ernesto Guevara, from whom it has designed a youthful version. “It is a young Che . . . still a boy. He hasn’t done anything bad, he has not done anything,” says Fernandez, who nevertheless acknowledges being “tired of seeing Che on every street in Havana.”

Translated by Mary Lou Keel

Dissidence Museum in Havana Pays Homage to Poet Juan Carlos Flores

The artist Amaury Pacheco performed an artistic action in homage to the poet Juan Carlos Flores who committed suicide last year. (Dissidence Museum)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 22 October 2017 – Damas Street in Old Havana awoke Friday to the terrifying image of a man hanging from a balcony. After their fright passed, the residents realized that it was an artistic installation by Amaury Pacheco in homage to the poet Juan Carlos Flores.

The body that hung from a rope opened the exhibition Another Poet Commits Suicide, organized by the Dissidence Museum and the group Omni Zona Franca, in order to remember Flores and reflect on the “tradition of suicide that exists in Cuban culture,” as its organizers explain. continue reading

“Some time ago Luis Manuel Otero and Yanelys Nunez [managers of the museum] told me that they wanted pay homage to Flores but we did not encounter the moment and, now, the opportunity presented itself,” explained Pacheco to 14ymedio, minutes before the afternoon’s poetry recital.

Flores, born in 1962, committed suicide in the middle of last year at his house in the Alamar neighborhood after having struggled for several years with depression and psychiatric problems. Among his best known books are Group Portrait, Different Ways of Digging a Tunnel and The Kickback.

Pacheco, who belongs to the Omni Zona Franca Project to which Flores had close ties from its inception, added personal objects belonging to the poet to the exhibition. “I brought his manuscripts, clothes, the rope with which he committed suicide, and some of his other belongings to exhibit,” he explained.

The exhibit includes personal objects of the poet Juan Carlos Flores and the rope with which he committed suicide. (14ymedio)

“There were 20 years of friendship, and he embodied the poet his whole life, both in his imagination and in the social space,” emphasizes Pacheco, who believe that Flores’ verses “strongly touch on Cuban social reality.”

Yanelys Nunez, responsible together with artist Luis Manuel Otero for the Dissidence Museum, said that the title of the event is inspired by a text by Rafael Rojas about the death of Flores, an end that requires reflection about the incidence of suicide among Cuban artists.

Nunez recalled, before a dozen attendees, the end of Raul Hernandez Novas, Angel Escobar and “others who died in exile” like Guillermo Rosales and Carlos Victoria. To the list can be added also the writer Reinaldo Arenas and the painter Belkis Ayon.

Readings by poets Ariel Manzano, Cinecio, Osmel Almaguer, Irina Pino and Antonio Herrada began at six sharp in the small room, plus narrator Veronica Vega shared some remarks about the beginning of Omni Zona Franca in Alamar.

Poet Juan Carlos Flores was remembered with a poetry reading this Friday. (14ymedio)

Between coffee candies, cigarettes, water, rum and speeches, verses were read loudly in order to overcome the natural bustle of the Belen neighborhood.

For these artists, the homage to Flores is also “a way to rescue those poets important to Cuban history” but whom “the government or institutions render invisible,” Nunez notes.

The artist and curator thinks that these omissions are due to “cultural- or power-level intrigues.” Thus the exhibit Another Artist Commits Suicide permits retaking “those dark areas in Cuban culture.”

The poetry day this Friday, which began with the disquieting performance by Pacheco, closed with a hip hop concert headed by David D’ Omni and other guests. This Sunday the homage to Juan Carlos Flores will conclude with verses and questions, just as did his own life.

Translated by Mary Lou Keel

Civil Society and the Power of the Audiovisual in Cuba

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Eliecer Avila, Havana, 1 July 2017 – The Cuban revolution has been, above all, an enormous consortium of audiovisual production with global reach. Outside of the Island, this propagandistic flow competes with other products, but within, it roams freely, convinces some, confuses others and paralyzes the will of sectors indispensable to social change.

For more than half a century, officialdom has been preoccupied with the creation of emblematic songs, heavily ideological animated pictures; novels, ventures and series that spread their version of history, plus news and books geared towards maintaining the status quo.

That audiovisual machinery is so embedded in daily life that some barely notice its presence; but for a newcomer, it stands out.

A while back, a Peruvian journalist who had not been to Cuba insisted on researching why Cubans continue to live under a totalitarian regime when all of Latin America is democratic. continue reading

No explanation satisfied him, but the reporter travelled to the Island in order to report about the recently opened relations between Washington and Havana. During his stay he was able to watch television, listen to the radio, read newspapers and talk with people… After three days he called a friend in order to tell him – half-scared – that he now understood what was happening.

Cubans, with few exceptions, have peculiar ideas about world events and especially about their own reality, as that journalist learned. When questioned about the source of their “certainties,” the nationals invariably cite the official daily Granma, the primetime television newscast and the TeleSur channel.

The amazed visitor heard in the street that “the FARC are a group of revolutionaries that fight for social justice.” Meanwhile, others feel relieved because “there is a leader like Vladimir Putin who puts a stop to the excesses of the imperial Yankee” or assert that these days “the majority of Russians seek the return of Communism.”

In his time on the Island, the reporter heard people assert that “ISIS is an invention of the United States to encourage conflict in the Arab world and keep its oil resources,” while in Latin America “children die of hunger, without rights to health care or education.”

The man could not believe it when a citizen swore to him that “the internet is a weapon of the U.S. to spy on those who do not subordinate themselves to its designs,” that the Island is “more democratic than the U.S. and Europe” and that “human rights activists just want to leave the country.”

Although new technology has helped remove the rigid national mentality and diversified opinion about many topics, to underestimate the propagandistic apparatus of the Communist Party is a mistake.

The official media continues to have a monopoly on the reach, quantity, immediacy and depth of reporting, which is the key to understanding the country’s civic stagnation.

An example of this is the recently concluded broadcast of the latest jewel of national television, the series, The Other War, an adventure dedicated to the “fight against the bandits” in Cuba’s Escambray Mountains, a rebellion that took place in the first six-years after the triumph of the Cuban Revolution. The production achieved a wide audience, and afterwards many cried, reflected and reached conclusions “applicable to these times.”

Each chapter, featuring excellent actors of various generations, described the excesses of the “counter-revolution supported by the U.S.” and at the same time highlighted the values of patriotism, heroism, and commitment of the State Security and other government forces.

As a whole, the material was plagued with omissions, manipulations, and distortions of facts and characters. It disregarded that in that era excesses were committed on every side and that not only the “Batistianos” rose up in arms but also the rebels who made the Revolution and later saw how their path became twisted.

However, there are hardly any available audiovisual materials, and of good artistic workmanship, that effectively contradict this version.

While from exile each year millions of dollars are spent and ultimately dissolved in tangled bureaucratic ways, the creation of a film industry has not been stimulated to rival the totalitarian hegemony in the diffusion of content within the Island.

This situation is paradoxical considering that among the diaspora is found the immense majority of the best artists, musicians, actors, screenwriters, historians, and technicians related to film, television and audiovisual production.

Many private or institutional donors who want to contribute to the Cuban cause still underestimate the power of the media and prefer to bet on other methods. They forget that the Soviet hierarchies themselves once blamed Hollywood and Walt Disney for the debacle that the system suffered.

The idea of Cuba’s freedom needs a modern narrative, with means to amplify its reach and transmit democratic values. For more than five decades the Plaza of the Revolution has been using mass media to impose its version of history. That is why it is so important for the citizenry to have audiovisual content that combines quality and truth.

Translated by Mary Lou Keel

Private Carriers in Santiago de Cuba Complain About Inspections

Inside a truck retrofitted for passenger transport that circulates through Santiago de Cuba

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 12 June 2017 –Authorities have taken a firm stand with private transportation in Santiago de Cuba and have begun to demand exhaustive proof of fuel purchases from the state gas stations to verify that they are not from the black market.

“Last Friday there was a massive operation, and four drivers were detained in the Micro 9 unit,” says activist Jose Antonio Lopez Pena, who closely follows the transportation issue in the eastern province. At least one of them had to sign a warning, to which this daily had access, in which they confirm that he cannot operate as a carrier if he does not buy fuel in the state gas stations. continue reading

The warning is issued by the Ministry of Transportation and signed by Wilfredo Ramos, an official with the province’s State Traffic Unit (UTE).

The application of the rule, which was already widespread in Havana and in the west, has been extended to the eastern zone since the end of May and deeply disturbs the carriers who resort en masse to the black market to buy fuel. Most of that gasoline comes from diversions from the state sector.

“The police and inspectors know that we can’t make a living if we buy oil and gasoline from the State,” explains Ramon, who drives an old truck from the middle of the last century to make the route between several Santiago municipalities.

Warning which confirms a private carrier cannot act as a driver if he does not buy fuel in the service centers.

The private carriers complain about the large sums of money they spend on licenses, taxes and vehicle repairs, so they try to make money by acquiring fuel on the black market at a lower price than the official rate.

During recent months instability in the petroleum supply from Venezuela caused significant cuts in distribution within the state sector. This situation triggered the price of the product in the informal market which is fed by diversions from businesses, entities and personal allotment that is given to some professionals like doctors.

From eight Cuban pesos (CUPs) per liter, petroleum suddenly rose to 15 on the so-called black market, while in the state service centers the equivalent is sold for 24 CUPs per liter (roughly 1$ US, or about $4 a gallon).

The government has responded by setting prices for private transportation in some places like Havana and also started a cooperative that tries to compete with individuals. However, the vintage taxis and trucks managed by the self-employed continue to be one of the most popular forms of transportation among the municipalities and provinces.

The carriers guild is quite big in the country but lacks its own union which could press for an improvement in work conditions. More than 80% of self-employed workers, according to official data, belong to the official Workers Center of Cuba.

Translated by Mary Lou Keel

The Ministry Ratifies the Expulsion of Professor Dalila Rodriguez from the University of Las Villas

Dalila Rodriguez, ex-professor for the Central University of Las Villas, whose dismissal has just been ratified

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 3 June 2017 – The Ministry of Higher Education (MES) ratified the expulsion of Professor Dalila Rodriguez from the Marta Abreu Central University of Las Villas. A letter dated May 9 and delivered this Friday to the academic, responds to her earlier appeal and confirms the revocation of her teaching status, as Rodriguez explained to 14ymedio.

The document is signed by the MES legal advisor, Denisse Pereira Yero, and by the chief of the Legal Department, Jorge Valdes Asan. The officials will not consider an appeal by Rodriguez because “an infraction of Article 74 Subsection (d) suffices to lose Teaching Status directly.”

On April 11 the professor received an order of dismissal from her position on the Humanities Faculty, issued by the dean Andres Castro Alegria, and it invoked Article 74 of the Regulation for the application of the Higher Education Teaching Categories. continue reading

The argument put forward to justify the expulsion was that the professor had not managed “to rectify a set of attitudes that deviate socially and ethically from the correct teaching activity that her teaching status demands, and that can affect the education of students.” Rodriguez received the news with surprise.

The philologist, 33 years of age and a resident of the Villa Clara township of Camajuani, was, until her expulsion, studying for a doctorate in Pedagogical Sciences after having obtained a master’s in Linguistics and Publishing Studies. She was active in the union and in February received an excellent evaluation.

From the beginning of 2015, the academic experienced pressure from State Security. Several agents interviewed her in order to find out if she had contacts with the activist and evangelical pastor Mario Felix Lleonart. There were also interested in knowing about relationships of her father, Leonardo Rodriguez Alonso, coordinator of the Patmos Institute, an independent organization that defends religious rights in Cuba.

Dalila Rodriguez asserts that she does not belong to any dissident group, nor does she even attend events convened by independent entities on the Island. “They have done all this to make my father feel guilty,” she says.

Dissident Leonardo Rodriguez, father of Dalila Rodriguez. (Courtesy)

When they told her of her dismissal, the first vice-dean, Ossana Molerio Perez, and the legal advisor also informed her that she would not be allowed to appeal via the union, and they warned her that she must not “set foot” again in the University.

The dismissal process was plagued by irregularities, Rodriguez complains. According to regulations, her case should be reviewed first by the commission in charge of teaching categories and she should be offered seven days to appeal. Nevertheless, the dean made the decision directly and without respecting deadlines.

Rodriguez then decided to write to the Minister of Higher Education, Jose Saborido, but the answer received this week asserts that in her case, “there is no violation” because “it does not involve a disciplinary process but a special administrative proceeding.”

In a phone conversation with 14ymedio, the professor called it “incredible” that, shortly after having been evaluated with the highest marks in her work, she has turned into someone “with serious ethical and social problems who damages the education” of students.

She said she felt “totally helpless after working for 11 years in that university,” and she said that the teaching authorities “have not been able to show any evidence against her.”

Journalism student Karla Perez Gonzales was expelled a few days later from the same university after being accused of belonging to the Somos+ Movement and “having a strategy from the beginning of her studies to subvert youth.”

Her case inspired a wave of indignation, and official voices spoke in her favor, like that of singer-songwriter Silvio Rodriguez, who wrote on his blog: “What brutes we are, fuck, decades pass and we don’t learn.”

Translated by Mary Lou Keel

Another Friday Without Water for Thousands of Havana Residents

The new pipes will allow a smaller volume of water to run than before.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 2 June 2017 – The water supply pipe from the South Catchment area that suffered a rupture a week ago began to operate on a trial basis Thursday morning, according to a report by the Havana Water enterprise. Nevertheless, service has still not been re-established in all of the capital’s municipalities as 14ymedio was able to confirm.

Three tanker trucks supplied water Thursday afternoon to the Tulipan Hotel which housed the deputies who attended the last special session of Parliament. The scene of trucks and people moving buckets or tanks was repeated in the streets and avenues of the capital’s most populated zones on Friday morning.

Industry authorities assured the official press that the connection of 1.2 kilometers of the first two lines of high density polyethylene was concluded in the stretch where the rupture occurred. But the replacement pipes have a smaller diameter and will only gradually allow the transfer of some 1,300 liters per second. continue reading

This volume is half that which flowed through the original conduit, built 60 years ago and whose central, 36-kilometer line is composed of pipes two meters in diameter.

During the first six days after the break, the number of those affected exceeded 800,000 people throughout the city. The price of water shot up on the black market, and a medium-sized “pipe” doubled in price to more than 50 Cuban convertible pesos (CUC).

As of a week ago, more than one hundred construction workers from the Institute of National Water Resources and from the Ministry of Construction worked in order to repair the breakdown, which affected 50 meters of the South Catchment area in the Quivican municipality of Mayabeque province. It is estimated that the investment to repair the pipes is about five million Cuban pesos (roughly 200,000 CUC/US$).

The tests are targeted to fill the Palatino central tanks in the neighborhood of Cerro, which supplies water to the municipalities of Habana Vieja, Centro Habana, Plaza de la Revolucion, Cerro, Diez de Octubre and part of Boyeros.

Translated by Mary Lou Keel

Activist Joanna Columbie Deported to Camaguey

Joanna Columbie last Monday afternoon in Vivac when they were taking her to receive a visit. (Somos+)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 2 June 2017 – The principal of Academy 1010 and Somos+ (We Are More) Movement activist, Joanna Columbie, was deported Friday from the Vivac detention center in Havana to Camaguey province, as reported to 14ymedio by the leader of the Somos+ organization, Eliecer Avila.

“Joanna called from Vivac to say that she was going to be taken to Camaguey on a bus along with other detainees,” the dissident added. “The police have mounted an operation around the bus that looks like they are transporting dangerous criminals,” he said sarcastically.

“They have given her a warning about subversive activity and enemy propaganda,” he added. continue reading

The crime of enemy propaganda can carry “a sanction of incarceration from one to eight years” according to the Penal Code. It applies to those who prepare, distribute or possess “oral or written propaganda” that “incites against the social order, international solidarity or the socialist State.”

At the time of her arrest the opposition leader was carrying with her several compact discs “with material about Academy 1010,” says Avila.

Columbie was arrested a week ago in the Arroyo Naranjo township by State Security just two days after her temporary permit for residence in the capital had expired.

The activist’s permanent residence is in Cespedes, Camaguey where she was a victim of a robbery at the beginning of the year, but the police so far have arrested no perpetrators.

Joanna Columbie’s arrest and deportation add to a series of repressive actions against Somos+ in recent months. The expulsion of journalism student Karla Perez (member of the independent group) from the University of Las Villas and the raid on the home of Eliecer Avila are some of the most recent actions by State Security against this opposition group.

Translated by Mary Lou Keel

Breakdown Affects Almost a Kilometer of One Havana’s Main Water Conduits

Residents of the affected areas keep all available containers full of water while they are able in preparation for the looming arrival of the worst part of the shortage

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 29 May 2017 — Four days after the rupture of Havana’s main water conduit, authorities are trying to alleviate the shortage by servicing some parts of the city with tanker trucks. As of this Sunday, according to a director for Water Resources, they had made 1,315 trips with 117 water trucks that are now “guaranteeing” the supply. The greatest effects are felt in the municipalities of Plaza de la Revolucion, Cerro, 10 de Octubre, Habana Vieja, Centro Habana and in some areas near Boyeros.

The rupture has caused the loss of 3,000 liters of water per second from the network, as officials from the area confirmed on the news Sunday. Although they are confident that the situation can be partially overcome with “new distribution plans,” the failure is very complicated because it affects almost a kilometer of the southern catchment area’s conduit. It is not expected that the problem will be resolved before next Thursday. continue reading

Brigades under the direction of Havana’s provincial Water Resources have worked “continuously,” they assert, in order to remedy the malfunction, but it is necessary to replace a total of 400 meters that are obstructed, which complicates even more the work that they are carrying out.

One of the area’s managers asserted that they are trying to restore the prior conduit and that they have already put in place “a kilometer of 900-millimeter pipe and four welding machines that are soldering “full time.”

Engineer Javier Toledo, Provincial Delegate for Water Resources, said that they can say that “on Thursday morning” it is “very possible” that the first supply lines may be opened. Thus they will be able “to slowly begin to re-establish service.”

With the first two lines’ entry into service, a greater water level may be counted on to reach the People’s Council areas which continue to experience supply problems, as the expert explained.

Toldeo thought that, as far as distribution, “the most difficult moment” has been overcome and “the cycles, services and delivery of services to the people” are now balancing out. Also, he asserted that “every day” they are determining “place by place” the best way of distributing water in order to guarantee that it arrives “equitably” and that there is no area that does not receive it “by networks” or tanker trucks.

Water Resources daily decides and projects the capital’s water supply service’s cycles. The strategy is designed after evaluating “current conditions” and based on calls from users.

The capital’s most important hotels are located in several of the affected municipalities, like Habana Vieja and Plaza de la Revolucion, in the midst of a busy tourist season. These establishments, along with schools and hospitals, are being prioritized for supply by tanker trucks.

Cuba is experiencing its most intense drought of the last century, a situation that has been aggravated by the few rains that the wet season has so far contributed. On the other hand, due to the failures and leaks, the country is losing more than half the water it pumps.

Translated by Mary Lou Keel

Canada Studies A Petition to Award Refuge to Cuban Migrants

Democracy Movement leader, Ramon Saul Sanchez (El Nuevo Herald)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Miami, 13 May 2017 – The Canadian government has responded to a request for refuge made by the Democracy Movement on behalf of thousands of Cubans who were stranded at several locations in the Americas after the decision by the United States last January to end the wet foot/dry foot policy.

The response letter, released this Friday by the president of that Cuban exile movement in Miami, Ramon Saul Sanchez, assures that the petition has been carefully reviewed and forwarded to the Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, Ahmed Hussen, for his consideration. continue reading

Letter sent by the Canadian government to the Democracy Movement, acknowledging receipt of the asylum petition for stranded Cubans. (Courtesy)

On February 1, the Democracy Movement had asked the Canadian government to welcome thousands of Cubans who were stranded in Mexico and Central and South America after the sudden cancellation of the wet foot/dry foot policy that used to allow them to enter as refugees upon reaching U.S. soil.

Canada each year offers thousands of refugee visas to people who suffer persecution on the basis of politics, race, religion, nationality or gender.

Since January of this year, the Democracy Movement, together with other groups from Cuban civil society in the United States, have been organizing food shipments for their compatriots stalled in Mexico.

Translated by Mary Lou Keel

Residents Thank The Rain That Put Out The Year’s Biggest Fire

The provinces at greatest risk for fire are Guantanamo, Pinar del Rio, Matanzas, Camaguey, Las Tunas, Holguin, and Isla de la Juventud. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 19 April 2017 – When the wind blows, the odor of burning overwhelms the town of El Guay, in the municipality of Mella (Santiago de Cuba). It is an odor that sticks to clothes, hair and food. Last Sunday a downpour put out the forest fire that burned 5,000 hectares in the eastern part of Cuba, but the worst could be yet to come.

The columns of smoke warned the community’s residents that something was happening. In the neighboring province of Holguin, the flames began April 9 and devoured everything in their path. “Nothing was said on radio or television,” Ruberlandy Avila, 35 years of age and resident of El Guay, tells 14ymedio. continue reading

Surrounded by cane fields and vegetation, the neighbors saw the tongues of fire on the horizon as they approached. When night fell, they looked daunting and ever closer to the houses. “The entire town was affected by the smoke, many parents fled with their children without knowing what to do,” recalls the young man.

News of the fire was broadcast on national media only after a timely rain put out the last flame. The official statement blamed the disaster on the August 6th Cattle Company from the town of Biran. But the later disorganization among the forces charged with controlling it did the rest.

The fire spread through the Sierra Cristal range until arriving at the Pinares de Mayari area. According to Avila, Civil Defense authorities later reported that several local administrators had not authorized delivery of the fuel necessary for getting the tanker trucks underway to the affected zone to put out the flames.

In El Guay the residents saw the fire approaching which also fed on the branches and trees that fell after Hurricane Sandy in 2012. The combination of the dry wood and the disorganization produced conditions favorable to the fire’s spread. “We thought nothing could put out such a strong fire,” recalls the resident of Santiago.

Engineer Raul Gonzalez, head of the Fire Management Department for the Forest Rangers, warned last February that this year the Island could suffer between 400 and 450 forest fires, damaging some 4,000 hectares. The figure was easily exceeded by the 5,000 hectares of pastures, forests and oak that just finished burning in Holguin.

The fire destroyed more than 5,000 hectares of fields and forests in Holguin. (Archive/Telesur)

Not only dried branches and fallen trees were lost. Environmental specialists from the area classify as “sensitive” the damage caused to flora and fauna of the municipalities of Cueto and Mella. “There are no bird nests or butterflies left, and even lizards are damaged,” commented one resident of the Cueto municipality to 14ymedio.

Leonel Sanchez, Agriculture subdelegate in the Santiago de Cuba province, reiterated in the local press that most of these fires occur “in crop rows, livestock areas, areas where the elimination of the invasive marabou weed is underway, uncontrolled burning and non-use of spark arrestors in cars.”

Between January and May the conditions are most favorable for fires to start and for the flames to spread. Between the beginning of the year and the beginning of February, some 40 fires were reported, more than one per day.

The provinces at greatest risk are Guantanamo, Pinar del Rio, Matanzas, Camaguey, Las Tunas, Holguin, Granma and Isla de la Juventud. The human factor is the trigger in 90% of the cases.

Far from El Guay, at the other end of the Island, tobacco planter Nestor Perez also watches his cultivated fields with worry. “In this time of year forest fires are more likely,” and in Vueltabajo the farmers try to “have clean surroundings for tobacco curing houses in order to prevent those accidents.”

The Pinareno farmer recognizes that many do not complete these tasks and “that is why sometimes fires occur” because “the grass itself at this time is very dangerous.”

For Avila and his family, the drama they experienced is still very real. The days passed, the air became almost unbreathable, and in the middle of last week helicopters and small planes began to arrive to control the flames, but the situation seemed to be out of control.

A “huge downpour” came to the aid of the residents. The day that the first drops fell many watched the sky gratefully. This Monday it kept raining in Mella, a municipality that, like the rest of the Island, is suffering the worst drought since the middle of the last half century. For the moment, the residents of El Guay breathe with relief, but they know that many hard months lie ahead.

Translated by Mary Lou Keel

Censored at the Camaguey Festival, Rapper ‘Rapshela’ Denounces “Fear of Liberty” / 14ymedio, Sol Garcia Basulto

Cuban rapper Rashel Cervantes, “Rapshela,” could not appear at the Trakean2 Festival because of not receiving authorization to reside abroad (Facebook)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Sol Garcia Basulto, Camaguey, 22 March 2017 – Hip Hop has become that redoubt of rebellion that other musical genres, like rock and roll, used to embody. The Trakean2 Fesitval, which ended Monday in Camaguey, gave voice to performers who sing as if they were shooting truths at the public, but censorship against Cuban rapper Rashel Cervantes – known as Rapshela – who lives in Spain, overshadowed the event.

Also missing were rappers who sing their lyrics in marginal neighborhoods where the genre enjoys the greatest vitality. But that is what was decided by the Brothers Saiz Association, who organized the ninth edition of the event with 40 participating rappers, including MCs (Masters of Ceremony), breakdancers and graffiti artists. Cockfights, the improvised verbal confrontations between musicians, were the moments most appreciated by the public.

Rapshela could not appear before the public in spite of having travelled to the Island for the occasion. Problems with her cultural visa and reproof by the organizers prevented it. continue reading

After spending her own money for the plane ticket from Barcelona, where she lives, Rapshela ran into the cancellation of the presumed institutional promise to pay for her travel from Havana to Camaguey. She managed to arrive nevertheless, but the obstacles had not ended: as a resident abroad she did not receive authorization to appear in time.

Festival Trakean2, which ended Monday in Camaguey, gave voice to rap, hip hop and other urban genre singers. (14ymedio)

“As soon as I arrived I went to the AHS, and the organizer [Eliecer Velazquez] told me that I could not sing because I was living abroad,” she tells this daily. Nor was the artist included in the lodging and food options that other guests enjoyed. A situation that she regrets “after four months of speaking” with the event promoters.

In a gesture of solidarity, Los Compinches, a group from Pinar del Rio, invited Rapshela to accompany them to the stage. But when the artist began to sing, the Festival organizers ordered the microphone sound lowered. A little later the spectacle came to an end.

The event generated an intense debate when other musicians and the public clamored for her to be permitted to sing, but the organizers proved inflexible. Although they declined to give their version of what happened, Eliecer Velazquez justified himself to the artist, arguing that it was the first time that he had organized a festival, and he did not know “that there was so much paperwork to do.” The promoter explained to the singer that she sought the cultural visa too late and that is why they did not grant it.

Among the attendees, many considered it absurd that a Cuban had to wait for a cultural visa to appear in the city where she was born, so they saw what happened as censorship masked in bureaucratic delays.

The organization also had disagreements with some lyrics by the group Los Compinches, in which marijuana consumption is promoted and Cuba’s economic situation is criticized.

Before the microphones went mute, the spectators had shown great enthusiasm and repeated choruses like Don’t step on the herb, smoke it. A second song increased nervousness of the authorities when the singer explained that the video clip that accompanied the lyrics had been censored.

Joaquin Corbillon Perez, member of the group, does not explain what they did wrong although he argues that the Brothers Saiz Association is not responsible for the situation. “The guilty ones are much higher and are the ones who prohibit it,” he said.

The AHS director from Pinar del Rio, Denis Perez Acanda, also a member of Los Compinches, defended the lyrics of his song and characterized as an “act of repression” the fact that the organizers did not let Rapshela sing.

For Rapshela the problems that she suffered transcend the music scene. “The Cuban people are censored,” she says. In her opinion “rap is a weapon for expression” and “a window to liberty, but here they are scared of liberty.”

The organizer of the Havana female rap festival and manager of the Somos Mucho Más (We Are Much More) project, Yamay Mejias Hernandez, known as La Fina (The Fine One), showed her solidarity with Rapshela because “she is Cuban, Camagueyan, and has never performed in her land. What she wanted was to introduce herself and for her people to hear her.”

Mejias Hernandez, also a feminist activist, told 14ymedio about the festival’s other problems. “It needs a little more organization, maybe more coordination in the places where they hold the concerts at night.” She thinks that Cristo Park, a site intended to offer concerts, did not meet the requirements for nighttime performances.

“There have to be more theoretical events like discussions, meetings, book readings,” adds Mejias Hernandez. “They need more female presence because at this event only two female rappers appeared.” The singer asserts that throughout the Island there are many females who are connected to the genre.

Translated by Mary Lou Keel

Cement Pottery / 14ymedio, Ricardo Fernandez

Victor Rodriquez engages in the specialized trade of creating ornamental cement pottery. (14ymedio).

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Ricardo Fernandez, Pinar del Rio, 14 March 2017 – They call it grey gold because it repairs damage, prevents divorce and builds houses. Cement is one of the most in-demand products in Cuba today where 39% of the housing inventory is defective or in a bad state, according to a report by the Housing authorities.

In the midst of pressing construction needs, a taste for the ornamental also is developing. A newly emerging class decorates its houses with friendly garden gnomes, pelicans with thin legs who appear at front doors and balusters in the shape of sexy women.

After a long period of block-shaped construction, made of pre-fabricated and undecorated pieces, many Cubans appear ready to make up for lost time. The “cement potters” industry, a self-employment occupation that is on the rise, has been made to bloom by the demand for façade decorations. continue reading

Victor Rodriquez lives in Pinar del Rio and considers himself an artist of concrete. His work day begins early when he gets the molds for the pieces that he assembled 12 hours earlier. His hands reveal panels, pedestal vases, mushrooms, lions, flowers, pine cones, pyramids, friezes and post corners.

The potter then moves to the stage of scraping, polishing and painting each piece with a solution of cement and water. He does it like someone who bathes and touches up a delicate baby. His small courtyard is crowded with the sculptures that will later adorn the homes of the province or some distant town.

Cement pottery is hard but profitable work, according to its artisans (14ymedio)

Victor has a loyal clientele, although the competition in the area is strong, and the number of self-employed workers devoted to these activities is growing. The craftsman stands out because he designs his own pieces instead of buying ready-made molds, a detail that many appreciate in an industry that lives by imitation and the repetition of motifs.

Each day, when he finishes his work near 7 pm, Victor bathes to leave behind that grey powder that covers him from head to foot. After eating, he dedicates himself to giving form to the clay that will serve as a sample for casting the cement molds. After polishing and painting, the prototypes are ready to produce new series of figures.

“It is more work, but I never liked to be anyone’s echo,” Victor proudly explains about his originality. “I have never been able to promote my business, and I live away from the city, but the clients themselves have spread the word, and the orders even come from other municipalities,” he explains to 14ymedio.

With the growing demand, Victor’s family became involved in his efforts. His wife polishes, retouches and paints, while his son helps him prepare the concrete and cast the pieces. “It is hard work,” says the young man, who decided to become a potter with his father. “But it pays, and I like it,” he concludes.

“Getting the materials is the most difficult part because there is no wholesale market,” complains the business owner. Most times he has to order from retailers who buy it from the suppliers and bring it to the house.

“Yes, I do demand receipts from them and quality products. In order to maintain my standards I only use pp350 cement, more expensive but also more durable.” The mixture also includes “artificial sand,” he points out.

The Cuban cement industry suffered with the fall of the socialist camp. Currently, the country has six factories that produce grey gold, and in 2016 they reached 1,494,000 tons of the product, of which some 400,000 were distributed in the retail market.

Cement pottery requires preparing the concrete, casting the pieces, polishing, retouching and painting, among many other things. (14ymedio)

However, they still do not produce “the volumes necessary to satisfy an ever-growing demand,” according to Cesar Revuelta, vice-president of the Construction Materials Group. Between 2014 and 2015, the amount of cement that the country had to import underwent a significant increase from 2,677 tonnes to 4,349.

At the end of 2015, the Mexican business Cemex, one of the leading worldwide cement producers, showed its interest in returning to the Island, whether through the sale of cement or the installation of a plant. However, the establishment of an industry on Cuban soil has still not materialized.

But not only the materials shortage can damage the work of these craftsmen. “Sometimes the sculptures are ruined because the molds are badly assembled,” explains Victor. “It has happened to me when I am stressed, that’s why I try to stay focused on the work.”

The pieces made by the Pinareño have had great reception not only because of their unique designs but also because of their quality and durability. But the business of cement ornaments also is rife with swindles and tricks.

“There are no quality controls for concrete construction materials, generally the only inspection carried out for individuals in that line of business is of a fiscal character,” explains Alexander Morejon, official with the National Office of Tax Administration (ONAT), in Pinar del Rio.

There have been cases of manufactured balusters incapable of supporting weight or pieces eroded by humidity and saltpeter. “I ordered some vases to place on the balcony but they have fallen to pieces,” says Monica, owner of a recently remodeled dwelling in San Jose de Las Lajas.

The woman believes that in her case the artisan used “a mix with sea sand, and the cement was overcome. Placing the decorations on the upper story of her house has caused problems, and “it is dangerous because pieces fall, and children play just below.”

However, Victor’s clients attest the quality of his products. “My statue-shaped balusters have been at the doorway more than seven years and look like the first day,” Angel Izquierdo, from the Brione Montoto village, tells this daily when he shows up at the potter’s home for the purchase of patio tiles, another of the products that he offers.

“I am about to finalize a machine to make floor tiles with different mosaic designs,” says Victor as he shows the pieces of a rustic press with which he hopes to increase his earnings.

Translated by Mary Lou Keel

Growing Old in Cuba: Luck or Misfortune? / Cubanet, Ana Leon

Jose Vargas (Photo by author)

cubanet square logoCubanet, Ana Leon, Havana, 3 March 2017 – Jose Vargas is 85 years old and a retired musician. He lives alone in a room in a tenement in Old Havana, depending on a monthly check of 240 Cuban pesos (eight dollars U.S.) and whatever help his neighbors can offer.

For two years this old man has waited for cataract surgery in both eyes. He was “given the run around” without the least consideration at the League Against Blindness; at Dependent Hospital, the operating room ceiling collapsed, causing the indefinite postponement of the surgery; and at Calixto Garcia Hospital there were no doctors available.

In spite of Vargas’ ordeal, the official press speaks with pride of the aging population that today comprises 18% of the Cuban population. It argues that this longevity is an achievement of the socialist system and optimistically describes it as a “challenge” for the near future. But at the current juncture, the free health benefits that the Island’s high officials preach so much about in front of international agencies are not perceived. How can you plan to confront the “challenge” if a helpless old man has to wait two years for a cataract operation? continue reading

Disabled by partial blindness and diabetes, Vargas began to experience hunger. He suffered hypoglycemia more than once from not eating for long hours. Rosa, 68 years old, is the only neighbor who, in accordance with her means, has dealt with feeding him and washing his clothes. “It hurt me to see him so dirty and hungry (…) I have seen him eating things that are not good for an old diabetic,” the lady told CubaNet.

Nevertheless, Rosa could not take on that responsibility for long given that she herself is retired and has health problems; so she tried to seek help.

Trusting in Christian charity, she went to the New Pines Evangelical Church – very near the tenement where Vargas lives – which distributes food daily for some elderly loners. But what a surprise when a woman responded to her, without the least sign of compassion: “That is not our problem. Go see the delegate [to the local People’s Power], the Party and the Government.”

Rosa explained Vargas’ case to Old Havana’s Municipal Government and sought a food quota and social worker services from the Family Attention Centers. Reluctantly, they gave her written authorization that would permit Vargas to carry home, twice a day, a bowl with rice, peas, scrambled eggs and jam; all poorly made and without the necessary caloric content.

As if that were not enough, Vargas had to walk a kilometer a day or pay 30 Cuban pesos (a fifth of his pension) for a bicycle-taxi in order to collect the food. The social worker who should have taken care of this task never showed up.

Behind the suffering of a forsaken old man there is so much administrative corruption and human sordidness that right now the prospect of growing old in Cuba is terrifying. The State does not have the institutions or the specialists equipped to confront the wave of aging that is approaching. The old age shelters – with a couple of exceptions – are worse and do not accept old people with dementia, advanced Alzheimer’s or any other illness that requires care around the clock.

At the beginning of the century Fidel Castro dedicated many resources to graduating thousands of social workers who only served to squander public funds in that crazy “Summer on Wheels” campaign, where the same young people charged with regulating fuel consumption in order to protect State property wound up stealing it. The government spent millions of pesos, awarded college degrees to a gang of delinquents and today cannot even harvest the humanitarian benefit of the investment planned on the basis of political volunteerism and a lack of common sense.

In Cuba today there are not enough social workers, geriatric specialists, adequate food or medicines. Many unfortunate old people live in dwellings that are in a deplorable state. Vargas himself is in constant risk of slipping on the mold caused by leaks in the tenement’s cistern; or being killed by a piece of loose brick from the eaves and balconies of the building whose century-old structure is in an advanced state of deterioration.

In the face of official indifference, people who don’t have a place to live enter “the mansion” in an old folks’ home, to be “cared” for in exchange for staying with the living instead of the dead. While death approaches, who complains of mistreatment? Who can say if the old person accepts his new situation or is feeling threatened?

A country that does not concern itself with old adults leaves them to the mercy of bad people. That is the future that awaits Cuba, given that the State wants to subsidize everything, and it is not possible. Families have fragmented because of the exiles, and not even the Church can be counted on. It is no wonder that the number of suicides by elderly people has increased, although the government hides the statistics.

Translated by Mary Lou Keel