Cuban Opposition Deplores Secrecy of Cuba-EU Negotiations / 14ymedio, Mario Felix Lleonart

Conference on European Union-Cuba relations held this Tuesday at the European Parliament in Brussels (ALDE)
Conference on European Union-Cuba relations held this Tuesday at the European Parliament in Brussels (ALDE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario Felix Lleonart, Brussels, 1 June 2016 – Cuban representatives who participated in the conference in the European Parliament held last Tuesday in Brussels about relations between the European Union and Cuba were skeptical about the cooperation agreement that will be signed by both sides at the end of the year, or at the latest, at the beginning of 2017.

The Island’s delegation – Rosa Maria Paya, promotor of the Cuba Decides campaign; Pedro Fuentes Cid, spokesman for the Historical Center of Political Prisoners; and the author of these lines, a Baptist pastor and manager of the Cuban National Conference – lamented that civil Cuban society has not been taken into account in the negotiations for the agreement that will substitute for the European Union Common Position which, since 1996, has delineated relations of the twenty-eight EU countries with the Island. Continue reading “Cuban Opposition Deplores Secrecy of Cuba-EU Negotiations / 14ymedio, Mario Felix Lleonart”

Also present at the meeting, organized by the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE), were Ben Nupnau, official from the European Foreign Service Division for Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean, and Pavel Telicka, vice-president of ALDE.

Nupnau expressed Europe’s good intentions for the positive effects that the cooperation agreement could have on democratization and respect for human rights in the Cuba. Nevertheless, the Cubans present argued that the Island’s government had not given the EU any expectation of guarantees about human rights and democratic freedoms, given the persistent signs of verifiable repression in 54 Sundays of harassment of the Ladies in White and the monthly statistics of arbitrary detentions produced by Cuba’s Human Rights and National Reconciliation Commission.

The Island’s delegation pointed out the secret character that so far tarnishes the agreement and questioned the fact that neither European nor Cuban citizens had been able to express opinions about its contents.

The delegation also encouraged the EU, if it is in competition with the United States with respect to Cuba, to also compete in support of civil society. The panelists emphasized that, in spite of pressure by Cuban negotiators, the US had not given up doing so, while the EU only supports civil society as conceived of or endorsed by the government in Havana, the very one that has tried to muzzle it.

The EU, according to participants in the meeting, must be aware of the close relations that the Cuban government has with enemies of Europe and of democracy such as North Korea, Russia and Belarus.

The Cuban ambassador in Brussels, Norma Goicochea Estenoz, declined the invitation to participate in the meeting and sent an email to explain that she could not meet in the same place as “mercenaries.” The diplomat acted consistently with the intransigent position of the Cuban government, capable of sitting down to negotiate with the biggest powers, even when, as in the case of the United States, it has to do with its historical enemy, but refusing to engage in dialog with its own people, whom it thus insults and denigrates.

On Wednesday, the official presented a complaint to the European Foreign Service about the ALDE conference. Some supposed that it was going to make clear that its embassy had nothing to do with certain attendees who took advantage of public intervention time in order to question the legitimacy of the panelists, matching the views given in her email. It is supposed that those who suspect that may be right, given that the reason for her urgent visit to the European chancery was to again lash out against the panelists and, in turn, also against Telicka and ALDE.

Translated by Mary Lou Keel

Soldiers in Business: Bad Deal / Cubanet, Luis Cino Alvarez

Soldiers in the economy: A bad deal (photo EFE)
Soldiers in the economy: A bad deal (photo EFE)

cubanet square, Luis Cino Alvarez, Havana, 30 May 2016 – The survival of the Castro regime increasingly appears to be in the hands of the Revolutionary Armed Forces (FAR). And not only because of the generals who run some of the most important ministries but also because of the general-businessmen of the Enterprise Administration Group (GAESA).

GAESA, whose managing director is Colonel Luis Alberto Rodriguez Lopez-Callejas, father of one of Raul Castro’s grandsons, invoices more than a billion dollars a year. It has sugar plants, the TRDs (Hard Currency Collection Stores), Caribe and Gaviota, which impose abusive taxes on commodity prices, the Almacenes Universales SA, farms, mills, telecommunications and computer industry, trade zones, etc. And if that were not enough, having most of the hotel and marina capacity, it governs tourism, one of the country’s main sources of foreign income. Continue reading “Soldiers in Business: Bad Deal / Cubanet, Luis Cino Alvarez”

Some things borrowed from capitalism have functioned successfully in FAR’s enterprises.

At the beginning of 1985, after the shipwreck of the Economic Planning and Management System copied from the Soviet model, FAR implemented the Business Improvement System on a trial basis in the company “Ernesto Guevara,” in Manicaragua, Villa Clara, the largest facility of the Military Industries Union.

The experiment was supervised by General Casas Regueiro, who kept General Raul Castro, then FAR Minister, regularly informed about the matter.

Two years later, the experiment was extended to the military industries throughout the country.

The Business Improvement System (SPE), which Raul Castro called “the most profound and transcendent change to the economy,” copied capitalist forms of organization and administration: corporations, joint stock companies, management contracts and partnerships with foreign companies.

SPE permitted the Cuban army to ride out the worst years of the Special Period. If it was not introduced on a national level it was for fear of its consequences, which would have been worse than those of shock therapy.

In 1994, Fidel Castro, pressured by the deteriorating situation, agreed that a group of businesses from the Basic Industry Ministry would enter the SPE on an experimental basis. Later 100 more businesses were incorporated.

In 1997, the Fifth Congress of the Communist Party adopted the SPE as an economic strategy. After Raul’s succession, the extension of business improvement to the entire Cuban economy was conceived as a long-term strategy for preserving the status quo.

At the end of the last decade, when more than 400 businesses that implemented SPE were the most efficient in the country in terms of costs and results, it seemed that the Cuban economy was beginning to move to general application of that system. But it was a too-artificial model to extrapolate it to the rest of the national economy. To begin with, the unaffordable and disastrous enterprise system in Cuban pesos was not compatible with business improvement in dollars.

With SPE, the military men played the economy to advantage. Their businesses bore fruit in a greenhouse environment. They did not have to face labor or capital competition, they had unlimited access to state resources and benefitted from disciplined labor accustomed to obeying orders. Production factors, prices and marketing were at their disposal. Investments were provided by foreign businessmen prepared for unscrupulous deals in exchange for a minimum participation in the businesses.

Although they have had relatively modest success, there is not much to learn from the FAR businesses. And that is because a nation is not governed as if it were an armored division.* War is one thing, and managing a country’s economy efficiently is something else, although both things use bellicose language interchangeably.

FAR, dragging its old slogans and obsolete Soviet weapons, also reflects the system’s wear and tear and the distortions of current Cuban society.

Military men crammed into businesses can become problematic in the not-too-long term. Distanced from the interests of the people, they contribute to the system’s continuity. But they will always be stalked by temptation. Contact with foreign capitalists foments greed and corruption. This has been happening for some years.

When they feel their privileges and properties granted by the proprietary state threatened, their loyalty to the bosses or their successors will be put to the test. We will see what will happen then.

About the Author: Luis Cino Alvarez

*Translator’s note: An allusion to Cuba’s hero of independence José Martí’s words to General Maximo Gomez during the independence struggle: “A nation is not founded, General, as a military camp is commanded.”

Translated by Mary Lou Keel

“I Am Prepared To Go to Prison Today,” says Berta Soler / 14ymedio

Berta Soler, leader of the Ladies in White, during the art exhibit by El Sexto in Miami, Florida. (14ymedio)
Berta Soler, leader of the Ladies in White, during the art exhibit by El Sexto in Miami, Florida. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 29 May 2016 – From early hours Sunday a major police operation surrounded the headquarters of the Ladies in White in the Havana neighborhood of Lawton, according to denunciations by several activists from that organization. At least “13 women and four opponents were brutally intercepted outside the house” and forced into police cars in the last 13 hours, dissident Luisa Ramona Toscano Kendelan said by telephone to 14ymedio. Continue reading ““I Am Prepared To Go to Prison Today,” says Berta Soler / 14ymedio”

The group that surrounded the property included, as has become customary, a conga line with music through powerful speakers and signs that use the opposition campaign slogan “We All March” together with the phrases “with Fidel,” “with the Revolution” and “with socialism.”

At several points in the city similar operations prevented the women who form part of the human rights organization from reaching Santa Rita Church. Several on-scene witnesses report that at least two Ladies in White had managed to reach the vicinity of the parish on the western periphery of Havana.

Minutes before her arrest and in statements to this daily, Berta Soler, leader of the Ladies in White, declared that she was ready to confront the risks of leaving her organization’s headquarters in order to exercise the right of “peaceful demonstration.” She explained that she was prepared to go “to prison to await the trial” with which they threatened her last week for a charge of resisting the authorities.

“I am prepared, I have my blood pressure monitor, my pills, shots, personal hygiene articles, flip flops … I carry it all. I am again going to commit the crime they accuse me of, so I expect to end up in the Manto Negro women’s prison.”

In the morning hours in the Matanzas province, Lady in White Leticia Ramos Herreria, who urged agents to take her directly to prison to await trial, was detained. Nevertheless, the State Security officers responded to her that “it was still not time.”

Translated by Mary Lou Keel

The Language of the Enemy / Cubanet, Camilo Ernesto Olivera

One of the urinals is "clouse" (photo: Camilo E. Olivera)
One of the urinals is “clouse” (photo: Camilo E. Olivera)

Decades of stigmatization of the English language weigh on Cubans’ collective unconscious

cubanet square, Camilo Ernesto Olivera Peidro, Havana, 27 November 2015 – It was Saturday night at a restaurant located on the downtown corner of O Street and Avenue 23. The bathroom was closed but, at least not completely. A sign, placed on the door to one of the available toilets, announced that it was out of order. As the Hotel Saint John is very close by and the restaurant is in a tourist area, whoever placed the sign tried to write it in Spanish and English.

But where it meant to announce closed was written “clouse.”

Imperialism talked and sang in English

After 1972, the Russian language requirement became widespread at various levels of education.

For years, repression of Anglo music, especially rock, marked more than a generation of Cubans. According to the regime, imperialism spoke and sang in English. As a result, classics of Anglo Saxon rock and pop from the sixties and seventies were known in Cuba through Spanish versions by groups from Madrid and Barcelona. Or there emerged on the island musical duos like Maggies Carles and Luis Nodal, “translating” into Spanish songs that were originally from Britain or the United States. Continue reading “The Language of the Enemy / Cubanet, Camilo Ernesto Olivera”

Ten years later, in some urban schools and high schools, English classes were offered using the Spectrum manual. This coincided with the period that followed the first Cuban law of foreign investment in 1982. The 1990’s marked a radical change after the end of the Soviet Union. In the midst of the crisis, language schools were filled with Anglo Saxon language learners.

The Americans come. The Cubans go.

This time the US invasion seems to be serious. They are not the “assassin marines” that, like the famous “Coco” of the horror stories for children, the regime showed in its political cadre training schools. The blondes do not disembark with M-16 rifles; they arrive with sunglasses, cameras, dollars and an almost insatiable curiosity.

In the capital’s private inns and restaurants knowledge of the language pays well in order to cater to those potential visitors. Few reckon that, when the current US president leaves the White House – Obama has been the main promoter of rapprochement between the two countries – things could take another turn between the two shores. A Republican leader, winner of the November 2016 elections in the US, would have the option of reversing the current process of detente.

Nevertheless, the perspective plans for “Yuma tourism” grow in the minds of the small business owners. The closest thing to the fable of the shepherdess and her jug of milk.

Meanwhile, other Cubans offer to sell their homes, cars, bodies, whatever will bring them money. The first step is to fly to Ecuador, then begin the odyssey en route to the United States which, recently, has taken on dramatic overtones on Costa Rica’s border with Nicaragua.

Talk to me in English

English language proficiency is essential for entering the US labor market on good footing. Weighing over thousands of potential Cuban emigrants from several generations is ignorance of that language that opens doors and opportunities. Others reject it being in Cuba.

Arriving in the north, they need to double their effort in order to adapt to another way of life which includes the need to communicate in the language of the host country.

Misnamed a thousand times in Cuba as “the language of the enemy,” it is the most important commercial language in the world. The greater part of music, movies and popular culture in general that is produced and consumed at a worldwide level is of Anglo Saxon origin. Cognizance and observance of federal laws of the United States and of each state also require knowledge of English.

The United States has not only been the refuge for those who flee the Cuban regime but also a challenge to creativity and self-improvement for those who arrive from the Island. And the English language forms a logical part of that necessary challenge.

camilo-ernesto-olivera.thumbnailClick name for author bio: Camilo Ernesto Olivera Peidro



Translated by Mary Lou Keel

Any Day Is A Bad Day To Die Alone / 14ymedio, Orlando Palma

Cuba could become the most aged country in the Americas
Cuba could become the most aged country in the Americas (14ymedio, Luz Escobar)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Orlando Palma, Havana, 23 October 2015 — The National Funeral Home, nine at night. In one of the rooms only one person is found. A woman is rocking in the chair furthest from the coffin. She’s filing her nails. “Who was the deceased?” asks someone from the doorway. “I don’t know; I’m here waiting for my daughter who went to the bathroom,” she answers. When she gets up and leaves, the casket is left alone. No one has come for the final goodbye.

The image of a society where families take responsibility for grandparents until the end of their days has shattered in recent decades in Cuba. The aging population, economic problems and high rates of migration among the young are some of the reasons that many elderly people find themselves without family support or company. Continue reading “Any Day Is A Bad Day To Die Alone / 14ymedio, Orlando Palma”

“You can plant a tree, raise a child or write a book, but that does not mean you won’t be alone when the reaper comes,” says Manolo, 81 years old, who lives in a rooming house in the Los Sitios neighborhood of Havana. A retired engineer, he has lived alone for more than 20 years since his son left for the United States during the rafting crisis. Among his greatest fears are dying with no one nearby and “that they find me because of the stench,” he says ironically.

According to official figures, 18.3% of the Island’s 11.1 million residents are over age 60, and by 2025 it is estimated that the elderly will exceed 25%. Cuba could become the most aged country in the Americas. The situation presents not only a challenge for the health care infrastructure and social security system, but also for family organization and humanitarian agencies.

Although it is still common to find grandchildren, parents and grandparents under the same roof given the serious housing problems, the cases of old people who live alone also have increased in recent years. According to the 2012 census, in 9% of Cuban homes at least three generations live together, but in 12.6%, old people live alone.

Every day, those people have to overcome the obstacles of solitary old age. Low pensions or lack of family affection are among the reasons that they do not spend their last years in the material comfort and affection that they always dreamed of. Instead, they have to take care of themselves, appealing to neighbors in search of support or asking for help from humanitarian organizations.

Laura, 64 years of age, is one of more than 3,000 volunteers from Caritas who assist some 28,000 people, especially the elderly, throughout the country. There is a lot of work given the increase in the number of people who are growing old alone. She believes that in a few years she, too, will need help because she never had children and she was widowed five years ago.

“I give food to some because they have problems getting around, while others I keep company on one afternoon or another, and I talk to them,” explains this retired teacher who lives on the outskirts of the city of Ciego de Avila. Based on her experience, “there are more old people living alone because many of their children have left the country.”

Across the hall of the rooming house in Los Sitios, where Manolo lives, an old woman has just been taken to the hospital. “Her daughters do not know, because we have to wait for them to call from Spain in order to give them the news,” he says. Nevertheless, the man believes that once admitted she is going to be more careful because they cannot keep taking care of her.

Bedridden, the woman needed her neighbors to help her bathe and eat. “Everyone living here is old, and we can no longer carry her to the bathroom,” the old neighbor worries. “The daughters send money for disposable diapers and skin cream, but they are not here to help day in and day out,” says the old man.

However, the Public Health system does not seem to be prepared to deal with the marked aging of the Island’s population, either. Of the more than 83,000 doctors in the country in 2013, only 279, some 0.33%, were specialized in Geriatrics and Gerontology.

In rural areas the phenomenon of old people living alone seems to occur less often, but it is still worrisome. “The youth don’t want to learn about the countryside, and they leave, so that this has turned into a town of old people,” says Maria Antonia, 69 years old and resident of Vertientes, Camaguey. One of her sons is working in Veradero in a construction crew, and the other “joined the military, and they gave him a house in Havana,” she explains.

The woman has a surprising routine for someone her age. “I get up before five to brew the coffee that I later go out to sell in some places.” She can be on her feet three or four hours in the morning to offer her merchandise. “When I return home, I am in a lot of pain,” she says. “But what am I going to do?” she asks resignedly.

“I only have neighbors when I am in pain and need to go to the doctor,” explains Maria Antonia, who suffers from heart disease. Nevertheless, she says she prefers her current situation of solitude to ending up in a nursing home. “No, that would kill me; I need to be active,” she says. For months she has not been able to clean because of arthritis in her hands, and she pays a woman to clean her house. “I’m fading little by little,” she explains uneasily.

More than 142,000 senior citizens reside in Camaguey province, but there is a capacity of only 911 beds in 13 nursing homes plus 24 daycare centers for the elderly. In statements to the local press, Doctor Jesus Regueira, head of the Elderly, Social Assistance and Mental Health section of the Provincial Public Health Department, has lamented that the availability of beds does not correspond “to the potential demand.”

However, most of the elderly consulted for this article say that the lack of family affection is the greatest problem of living alone. “Sometimes I spend days without talking to another person,” says Maria Antonia. “What I fear most is leaving this life without anyone knowing; it scares me that there is no one to close my eyes.”

Translated by Mary Lou Keel

Laughing at the Castros, a Mortal Sin / Cubanet, Victor Manuel Dominguez

Eleuterio, character in the play “Crematorium” (archive photo)

For the Cuban government, when satire is against the “enemy,” it is useful and refreshing. Otherwise it is subversive

cubanet square, Victor Manuel Dominguez, Havana, 15 October 2015 – In a country where joking, sarcasm, satire, mockery, in sum, any kind of humor, are more daily than our stunted, acidic, furry and greenish daily bread, the authorities become tense and wage war on any joke large or small that unleashes laughter.

Apparently, political and economic control, leftovers for citizens and other deeds by a Revolution in power, prevent them from chuckling, laughing or even cracking a smile that allows them to resemble a human being and not the miserable lout who fears a raspberry more than the Devil on the cross. Continue reading “Laughing at the Castros, a Mortal Sin / Cubanet, Victor Manuel Dominguez”

According to the article, A Very Serious Joke, published in the State newspaper Granma by Sergio Alejandro Gomez, the Office of Cuban Broadcasting (OCB) from the United States, is prepared to finance an act of subversion in Cuba, in the form of a satirical program.

Mocked Mockers

For the information and serenity of the “de-humarized” spokesman, if “humor is the gentler of despair,” as Oscar Wilde said, we Cubans are the friendly gentlemen of the joke, the courteous knights of mockery, and the attentive guests of parody, in a country where one laughs in order not to cry.

And if not even Jorge Manach himself, with his Investigation of Mockery, could prevent us Cubans from laughing at ourselves, still less will a bitter dictator be able to do it, a lap dog with an anemic smile or anyone who publicly censors humor because of fear and locks himself away in order to laugh.

Besides, there is no one like the Cuban authorities for inciting mockery as long they are not mocked. From the beginning of the Revolution, the magazine Mella and the Juventud Rebelde supplement, El Sable, began to satirize the American people, their government and their way of life.

Marcos Behmaras, in his Salacious Stories from Reader’s Indigestion and Other Tales mocked them with “a fresh and suggestive humor, a tone in keeping with our character, but always provoking reflection by means of accurate, witty satire through a sense of humor that always attacks deeply, not remaining on the surface,” according to “joke-ologist” Aleida Lilraldi Rodriguez.

Which is to say that when satire is directed at the other, the enemy, it is useful and refreshing. Otherwise, it is subversive. If Marcos Behmaras had trained his satirical guns at olive-green prudishness and excessive modesty, the salacious stories would have fallen on him like a flood of party membership cards.

His brilliant satirical articles Is It Worth It Having Money?, Those Happy Ones Dead from Hunger, by “Miss Mona P. Chugga” Eisenhower’s Trip: Failure or Triumph? by “Mary Wanna,” or Are You a Potential Psychopath? by “Doctor John Toasted” would have gotten him condemned to death for joking.

A Hanging Offense

To illustrate even further what a joke, satire or any other kind of humor costs when it is aimed at a totalitarian regime, let’s remember, incidentally, that The Joke (1961), a novel by Czech writer Milan Kindera, was described as “the Bible of the counter-revolution.” Another of his works, The Book of Laughter and Forgetfulness, got him stripped of his nationality. Tolerant, no?

But Cuban rulers do not lag far behind. Like imitators of any system or religion, they consider laughter a relaxation of good customs, a lack of seriousness and from other priestly poses that bring on death by boredom, they contribute their grain of bitterness against humor.

In the 1960’s, the comedy duo Los Tadeos was expelled from Cuban television and exiled for the simple crime of asking on a live program: “What is the crowning achievement for a president?” and answering: “Starving people to death and giving them a free burial.”

Around the same time, but in the Marti Theater, a comedian as great as Leopoldo Fernandez (Three Skates), in a scene where he had to hang several paintings of famous figures on the wall, on seeing that one was the image of Fidel, he pointed at it with his finger and said: “Look, I hung him.” It was the last straw.

That joke sufficed to have him shut out of the theater, and the humorist had to leave for exile or starve at home. And although other cases right up to today attest to the rulers’ fear of mockery or satire, none remained in the popular imagination like those.

All except for a popular and prescient joke that was attributed to Cataneo, a singer with Trio Taicuba, who on seeing the Caravan of Liberty with the bearded ones pass along Havana’s Malecon on that distant January 8th of 1959, he was said to say: “Only those who know how to swim will be saved.” And so it was.

Translated by Mary Lou Keel

Another Sunday of Repression of Activists Throughout the Country / 14ymedio

The Ladies in White on their walk this Sunday in Havana (photo Juan Angel Moya)
The Ladies in White on their walk this Sunday in Havana (photo Juan Angel Moya)

14ymedio, Havana, 12 October 2015 – A new round of repression against activists was experienced in Cuba this Sunday. The arrests began in the early morning hours in order to prevent dissidents from participating in the march on Fifth Avenue in Havana, which on this occasion included a tribute to the late leader of the Ladies in White, Laura Pollan.

The march through this downtown street was joined by 57 Ladies in White and 21 human rights activists, in addition to the mother and grandmother of artist Danilo Maldonado, El Sexto. The walk began in Gandhi Park, next to the Santa Rita Parish in the Miramar neighborhood. Later several dissidents were arrested, among them the blogger Lia Villares and dissident Antonio G. Rodiles.

Activist Arcelio Molina Leyva reported to 14ymedio that “the headquarters of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU) was raided, and they stole everything they could,” besides detaining “those who were there.” The dissident detailed that among those arrested were Jose Daniel Ferrer Garcia, Ovidio Martin Castellanos and Yriade Hernandez Aguilera. Continue reading “Another Sunday of Repression of Activists Throughout the Country / 14ymedio”

UNPACU had called for a demonstration this Sunday for the liberation of three of its members who were arrested after approaching Pope Francis before his mass in Revolution Plaza. Activists Zaqueo Baez Guerrero and Ismael Bonet Reni continue in custody and presumably on hunger strike, according to members of their organization.

At least twenty activists from UNPACU were driven by police to the Third Police Unit in the city of Santiago de Cuba. The number of arrests throughout the country has been calculated by opposition sources at more than 200 people.

Hours after his arrest, opposition leader Jose Daniel Ferrer was freed.

Translated by Mary Lou Keel

Chronicle of a Free Man’s Arrest / Cubanet, Roberto Jesus Quinones Haces


They do not show me the arrest warrant. My mother begs me to go; I hug her and leave with them for the police station., Roberto Jesus Quinones Haces, Guantanamo, 8 Cuba 2015 – Five thirty-five in the morning on Monday, October 5, 2015. I get up, go to the bathroom, brush, put the coffee pot on the electric burner. The day seems like any other until some harsh knocks on the door tell me that I may be wrong.

I open the door. A group from the Ministry of the Interior (MININT) is in the doorway of my home. Between uniformed and plainclothes officers there are 19 people, not counting those remaining in the surrounding area where there are also special troop members, as I will later learn.

A young military officer who introduces himself as Captain Gamboa informs me that they have come to carry out a search. I ask for the warrant, and he shows it to me at a distance. I try to read it but he quickly withdraws it. Nevertheless, I manage to see that the objective is to find objects related to my “subversive activity.” That’s what they call my work as an independent journalist. Continue reading “Chronicle of a Free Man’s Arrest / Cubanet, Roberto Jesus Quinones Haces”

In my room they find my personal calendar and some books, a broken cell phone and one that works, a Canon camera that I have not used for lack of a USB cable and a laptop that my brother who lives in the United States sent to me. In my work room they find a desktop personal computer, property of the Catholic Church of Guantanamo, which my wife, my nephew and I call “the tractor” due to its years of use.

They also confiscate some twenty CDs, four flash drives – among them one of my mother’s, which contains several episodes of “Case Closed” and dozens of chapters of a Mexican soap opera – a music record by Compay Segundo and another of jazz, an issue of the magazine Cuban Culture Encounter and another of Coexistence, a magazine managed in Pinar del Rio by Dagoberto Valdes. Added to the list of ‘subversive objects’ are 700 dollars that I have been saving to repair my house.

At eleven thirty in the morning, they finish. Then I discover that the search warrant is not signed by any prosecutor, but it is already too late; I made the mistake of letting them enter.

The arch-bishop of the dioceses arrives, Monsignor Wilfredo Pino Estevez, and witnesses the moment when I ask Captain Eyder to show me the arrest warrant. He answers that if I want an arrest warrant, he can make it right then. I protest. My mother, a 77 year-old woman, gets nervous. The officer says that if anything happens it will be my responsibility. She begs me to leave, I hug her, and I leave with them for the police station. The street is full of onlookers.

At MININT’s Provincial Operations Unit they bring me prisoner garb and assign me number 777. I tell Captain Gamboa that I am not a number but a human being and that if they call me by that number, I will not respond. “Then we’ll get you,” he says.

In 1999 I spent 49 days in one of these cells. I see that nothing has changed except that now a young nurse takes my blood pressure and asks several questions about my health. Then they take me to the cell that has no water and is equipped with cement beds and a hole for defecating in view of the four inmates who welcome me.

They call for lunch. I do not go. I manage to sleep some. At about five in the afternoon a guard opens the door, looks at me and says: “You, come.” I leave. They photograph me and take my fingerprints. Captain Eyder receives me in the interrogation room. He accuses me of publishing news containing truths but also lies, that I am not a journalist. Later Captain Gamboa and Colonel Javier will tell me the same thing. I answer that between 1986 and 1990 I published film criticism and cultural articles in the Venceremos newspaper, an official publication of the Communist Party in Guantanamo, and no one said then that I was not a journalist, that Cuban cultural history demonstrates that hundreds of writers practiced journalism.

They threaten me with another jail and show me Complaint 50 from 2015 in which I am accused of Dissemination of False News against International Peace because, according to them, my articles seek to disrupt relations between Cuba and the United States. I did not know I was so important.

At one point in the interrogation they assure me that they are not going to return some of my items of property, that it depends on my behavior and that thanks to the generosity of the Revolution, they are going to set me free.

At about eleven at night they give me a Warning that I do not sign because they do not give me a copy. For the same reason I did not sign the Registration Record or the other documents.

I return home. My mother is sleeping under the effect of a sedative but awakens. I feel great pain when she hugs me and cries. Some moments later she asks me: “Did you eat?” and goes to the kitchen.

My children and siblings who live in the United States, where my wife is travelling, call me. They tell me that they learned what happened on the news. They ask me not to continue. I want to tell them that the only thing that sustains me is this freedom, but I remain silent. Such confessions can sound pompous.

Then everything is silent. The day ends as if my routine had been completed.

About the Author

Journalist Roberto de Jesus Quinones

Roberto Jesus Quinones Haces was born in the city of Cienfuegos September 20, 1957. He is a law graduate. In 1999 he was unjustly and illegally sentenced to eight years’ incarceration and since then has been prohibited from practicing as a lawyer. He has published poetry collections “The Flight of the Deer” (1995, Editorial Oriente), “Written from Jail” (2001, Ediciones Vitral), “The Folds of Dawn,” (2008, Editorial Oriente), and “The Water of Life” (2008, Editorial El Mar y La Montana). He received the Vitral Grand Prize in Poetry in 2001 with his book “Written from Jail” as well as Mention and Special Recognition from the Nosside International Juried Competition in Poetry in 2006 and 2008, respectively. His poems appear in the 1994 UNEAC Anthology, in the 2006 Nosside Competition Anthology and in the selection of ten-line stanzas “This Jail of Pure Air” published by Waldo Gonzalez in 2009.

Translated by Mary Lou Keel

“They Want To Frighten Me and Other Independent Journalists” / 14ymedio

Journalist Roberto de Jesus Quinones
Journalist Roberto de Jesus Quinones

14ymedio, Havana, 7 October 2015 – The Cuban political police intend to prosecute lawyer and journalist Roberto de Jesus Quinones for a crime called “spreading false news about international peace,” according to what the independent journalist told this daily a few hours following his release after having been arrested October 5.

Monday a group of almost 20 people entered Quinones’ home in Guantanamo, presenting a search warrant that authorized the seizure of “means for subversive activities.”

The independent journalist was arrested, and they informed him that a file is being prepared where there appears a complaint against him based on the crime listed in the fifth section of Chapter III of the Penal Code, “Crimes against International Peace and Law.” Continue reading ““They Want To Frighten Me and Other Independent Journalists” / 14ymedio”

The rule stipulates that “whoever spreads false news for the purpose of damaging international peace or endangering the prestige or credit of the Cuban state or its good relations with another State, incurs a sentence of imprisonment of one to four years.”

“They told me that they are going to analyze any evidence they find in the confiscated objects: a laptop, a tablet, my cell phone, several books, my schedule, my phone book, the calendar where I write what I have to do, several documents and some 60 discs with films or installation programs, so that after they analyze their contents they will decide what course the process will take,” said Quinones.

As a lawyer, the reporter is also a member of the organization Corriente Agramontista. “They were always telling me to stop writing for Cubanet if I did not want to get into trouble,” he explains. “That makes me think that the basic point is to scare me and by extension other independent journalists,” he adds, although he says he has the impression that “the current political context is not favorable for them to imprison anyone for political reasons.”

According to Quinones, there is now in his neighborhood “a very unfavorable opinion towards the political police,” because he maintains that he has “a lot of prestige in the neighborhood, and the arrest operation was outrageously disproportionate.”

“What I have written and published is that I think that in any kind of negotiation, both sides must make concessions and that the United States has not demanded compliance on the part of Cuba with respect to rights and democracy,” he says regarding his opinions about the re-establishment of relations between the two countries.

Nevertheless, he explains: “Of course I cannot oppose the improvement of the condition of the Cuban people, but I believe that the United States, as a democratic power, cannot economically favor a Government that subjects its people the way the Cuban government does.” Because of opinions like that, “they tell me that I am systematically discrediting the Cuban government, and currently that works against foreign relations.”

In December 2006, Quinones finished a sentence of three years for falsifying documents in the process of buying and selling a home, although, in his opinion, the true cause was that he was practically the only lawyer in the province who dared to defend dissidents. After that time, he was no longer admitted to any collective firm, and they also discriminate against him in the Cuban Writers and Artists Union (UNEAC), an organization to which he belongs in his capacity as a writer and art critic.

He adds that on five occasions he has sought membership in a law firm, and they have not even answered him. Moreover, he says he recently told the president of the Writers Association that if he does not convene a meeting to explain the discrimination to which he is subjected, he will submit his resignation from UNEAC.

The journalist expresses strong determination: “I told my interrogators that I would continue writing for Cubanet. I cannot let them frighten me.”

Translated by Mary Lou Keel

“Wave of Political and Social Repression” in September, according to CCDHRN / 14ymedio

Ladies in White during their march this Sunday (Angela Moya)
Ladies in White during their march this Sunday (Angel Moya)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 5 October 2015 – This September there were at least 882 arbitrary arrests for political reasons, according to a report by the Cuban Commission on Human Rights and National Reconciliation (CCDHRN). The figure is the highest in the last 15 months, says the independent entity which also warns about an increase in “physical assaults against peaceful opponents by police agents and their collaborators.”

The cases of physical violence reported and verified y the CCDHRN reached 93, “while there were 21 in August.” The Commission, chaired by human rights activist Elizardo Sanchez, points out that “September did not lack many acts of harassment and vandalism, either.” These include “house arrests and extrajudicial bans on movement,” says the text of the report.

As “a true wave of political and social repression” there were “353 arrests of peaceful dissidents to prevent them from participating in massive gatherings” with Pope Francis.

The opposition sector was not the only one that suffered police raids, and the CCDHRN reiterates that “an undetermined number of beggars, panhandlers and other homeless people who seek alms on the streets or search for food or anything else in trash dumpsters were interned without judicial order.”

The case of the three from the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU) who “managed to breach the police cordon and approach Pope Francis” in Havana’s Revolution Plaza, is singled out with interest in the report. Zaqueo Baez, Maria Anon and Ismael Bonet “have been jailed for 15 days, under subhuman conditions, in the hands of the secret political police, without access to defense attorneys and without formal charges.” The CCDHRN “is prepared to propose that they be internationally adopted as possible Prisoners of Conscience.”

Translated by Mary Lou Keel

Raul Castro Tells UN that Human Rights Are ‘a Utopia’ / Diario de Cuba

Raul Castro on Monday, September 28 at the UN General Assembly in New York (MINREX)
Raul Castro on Monday, September 28 at the UN General Assembly in New York (MINREX)

The general stands in defense of Latin American populist governments and criticizes democracies with parties “alien and distant from the aspirations of the people.”, New York, 28 September 2015 – General Raul Castro affirmed this Monday, in his speech before the General Assembly of the UN, that the enjoyment of human rights is “a utopia,” and he criticized the fact that, according to him, “their promotion and protection is distorted.” “They are used as a selective and discriminatory way of imposing political decisions,” he remarked.

The ruler began his speech with reference to the “unacceptable militarization of cyberspace and information technology.” And he lamented that since the emergence of the fundamental charter of human rights, there have been “constant wars and interventions, forcible overthrows by government forces and soft coups.”

In this sense, he defended the freedom of countries to choose their own political, economic, social and cultural system, and he explicitly defended the governments of Nicolas Maduro and Rafael Correa, respectively. Continue reading “Raul Castro Tells UN that Human Rights Are ‘a Utopia’ / Diario de Cuba”

The general asserted that the cause of the conflicts is found in “poverty,” originating, according to what he said, “in colonialism first and imperialism later.”

“The commitment assumed in 1945 to promote social progress and elevate the standard of living for people and their economic and social development is still a chimera,” he emphasized, pointing out that “795 million people suffer hunger, 781 million adults are illiterate, 17,000 children die every day of incurable illnesses, while military expenses are 1.7 trillion dollars worldwide.”

The ruler indicated that “with only a fraction of this amount they could solve the most pressing problems that afflict humanity.”

Castro also asserted that “even in industrialized countries social welfare states have practically disappeared” and added that “the electoral systems and parties depend on money and publicity.” They are, he said, “increasingly alien and distant from the aspirations of the people.”

Part of his address focused also on warning of the ravages of climate change and particularly the serious consequences for “small island nations.”

Castro also spoke of migration problems without reference to the Cuban problem. Instead, he appealed to the European Union to “assume its responsibilities” in the current humanitarian crisis “that it helped to create.”

As on previous occasions, Castro reminded us that the normalization of relations between the United States and Cuba will be completed with the end of the embargo, the end of broadcasts by Radio and Television Marti, the return of the Guantanamo naval base, and reparations for damages caused to the Cuban people by sanctions. He also asked for the end to “subversion” programs directed at promoting changes on the Island.

Translated by Mary Lou Keel

Repression of Science

Oscar Antonio Casanella Saint-Blancard, bio-chemist, researcher for the National Institute for Oncology and Radiobiology, speaks of how he is pressured and prevented from fully carrying out his work because of his friendship with dissidents.
Oscar Antonio Casanella Saint-Blancard

Oscar Antonio Casanella Saint-Blancard, bio-chemist, researcher for the National Institute for Oncology and Radiobiology, speaks of how he is pressured and prevented from fully carrying out his work because of his friendship with dissidents., Waldo Fernandez Cuenca, Havana, 25 September 2015 — It all started because of a party for his best friend, Ciro Diaz, at the end of 2013. Ciro Diaz, besides being a graduate in Mathematics from the University of Havana, has just one remarkable characteristic: He is a dissident and member of the band Porno for Ricardo. Soon came the threats from State Security to make him a prisoner if he engaged in the activity.

Then came the accusations at work of his being “mercenary” and “annexationist*.” But at no time was this young man, a bio-chemist by profession, intimidated, and he resisted the wishes of his oppressors. Oscar Antonio Casanella Saint-Blancard has kept his ties of friendship with Ciro and other opposition figures.

Casanella made his case known to the independent project Estado de Sats and was also arrested during the wave of repression unleashed by the performance by activist and artist Tania Bruguera at the end of last year. Since that time his harassment by State Security has continued, principally at his place of employment: The National Institute for Oncology and Radio-biology (INOR) where he serves as a researcher. Continue reading “Repression of Science”

We talked about his current work situation and the plight of the Cuban health system. In spite of the difficulties he has lived through, Oscar has never lost his smile, and he maintains the same composure as always, which has lead to his repressors to try to corner him.

What situation are you in right now?

Right now I am subjected to psychological warfare in the workplace. Not just me, but also my co-workers, and it hurts me more for them than for myself because I have already overcome my fear, but my colleagues have not.

What does the psychological warfare consist of?

The doctor and deputy director of research for INOR, Lorenzo Anasagasti Angulo, has been pressuring and coercing my co-workers, above all the laboratory managers, to not let me into the various labs of the Center. He explains that there is a labor rule that says that access to these places is restricted, and that is true, but it only applies in my case, because the other researchers enter and exit the various labs without any restriction, while my access is impeded. I think I am treated very differently and discriminated against.

That is not the only thing that has happened to you…

Before this, in June of this year, I prepared a course on Bio-computing for students at the University of Havana and researchers from the INOR, and after my immediate boss had approved it, even though teaching personnel had reserved a hall for me to teach the classes, when this was all coordinated with the Biology Faculty so that students of that school could receive this training, this gentleman, Lorenzo Anasagasti Angulo, did not give me the authorization to teach the class.

But it did not stop there, he also coerced many employees of the Oncology Institute to not attend the course, and he has told them on more than one occasion not to talk to me. All these actions were not enough for him, and he told me: “Oscar, get this into your head; I am going to make sure that you have no future in this institution and I am going to make everything as difficult for you as I can.”

This gentleman, together with a member of the Communist Party from the Pedro Fernandez Cabezas Institute, has threatened to expel me from the Center just because of my ties with opposition figures. Also, Anasagasti has pressured my colleagues to deliver the copy of the lawsuit and letter that I sent to Raul Castro where I reveal the articles and laws so violated by the State Security officers, agents of the PNR and members of the PCC and where I demand the President of the country leave me in peace.

The deputy director asked my colleagues to destroy all this documentation and said that it was “enemy propaganda.” So, to demand adherence to Cubans laws is, according to Doctor Anasagasti, “enemy propaganda.”

As if that were not enough, just a month ago Lorenzo Anasagasti appeared with two State Security officers at the home of Doctor Carlos Vazquez, head of the Board of the Oncological Tumor Devices, in order to sound him out and tell him in a threatening tone: “We’re checking up on you.”

Lorenzo Anasagasti is a collaborator with the repressors, which makes him another repressor who occupies a job at the Institute of Health which has nothing to do with these issues. This is a person in service to the Cuban political police and for him that function is more important than the professional development and education of the INOR. This gentleman has demonstrated that he prefers no thesis be carried out if I participate in the statistical analysis of an academic project in the Institute.

I also am a Molecular Biology teacher for a module that is taught to doctors who are specializing in Oncology, and I have to interact with a person who coordinates that course, but Anasagasti has demanded that person prohibit me from accessing his laboratory and pressured him to not even talk to me. In this way the interaction between researchers and workers, so necessary to offering high quality training for the country’s future oncologists, is made more difficult. The development and quality of teaching are sacrificed for the sake of repression.

Some foreign mission doctors are familiar with the dispossession of their fees by the Cuban government, and they justify it on the grounds that the country invests that money primarily in oncology resources. What is your opinion of this matter? Do you believe that is really so?

It is true that cancer treatments are expensive anywhere in the world and that, for being an underdeveloped country, the country’s situation is not one of the worst. But really the duties that the doctors, researchers, nurses and service personnel perform does not correspond at all with the wages that they earn and the conditions under which they work.

Currently the volume of patients seen in Cuba by a single doctor is abusive. It is a situation that affects the doctor as well as the cancer patient, who has to wait long hours to be seen, and now the quality of the attention and treatment is not the same. This is mainly due to a stampede, a very big exodus of professionals to the outside, and this causes a work overload for those who remain, although those from the INOR who emigrate the most are the recent graduates, not doctors, who barely stay two years between their graduation and their exit abroad.

I worked some years ago on research about brain tumors and, of the specialists who carried out the research with me, all left the country. There was one point when INOR had no neurosurgeons or neurologists. Another interesting element is that when I started to work at the Institute in 2004, there was free internet access for all researchers, and the situation, 11 years later, is very different. In my department I do not have access to the internet, and I work in Bio-computing. They have restricted access to the internet only for department and laboratory heads, but there is less access than there was 11 years ago.

In spite of the promises that the Government has made to doctors about economic improvements like better wages, the chance to buy a car, a laptop, etc., several of the doctors at my workplace are very pessimistic, because they listened to the words of Chancellor Bruno Rodriguez Parrilla at the press conference about the embargo on September 16, which confirmed that Cuba was not going to change its internal politics. “Maybe I improve my life, but my relatives who are not doctors are going to continue with the same deprivations,” one of them told me. That’s why they have decided to abandon the country at the first opportunity that is presented.

*Translator’s note: An “annexationist” is someone who advocates Cuba becoming a part of the United States.

Translated by Mary Lou Keel

Education Launches a New Offensive against the “Weekly Packet” / 14ymedio, Orlando Palma

A Cuban accessing the “Weekly Packet” from his laptop at home (14ymedio)
A Cuban accessing the “Weekly Packet” from his laptop at home (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Orlando Palma, Havana, 25 September 2015 – Under the name To Educate Yourself, the Ministry of Education announced Thursday a collection of documentaries, films and music that it will begin distributing monthly in its learning facilities during the current academic year. In open competition with the illegal weekly packet of audio-visual material, this official rival seeks to establish itself as “an attractive offering of Cuban education” through content of “good taste.”

The compendium is aimed at those among whom the weekly packet is a hit. The majority of Cuban children and teens frequently watch cartoons, video clips, series and films that are distributed on the black market. In order to compete with those materials, the Ministry announces that its offering has “a search engine so that the user is not lost searching among more than a terabyte of data.” Continue reading “Education Launches a New Offensive against the “Weekly Packet” / 14ymedio, Orlando Palma”

The new product will include courses and tutorials for the self-study of foreign languages, computation, agriculture, and masonry, as Barreto detailed. Some materials will be accompanied by animated graphics and a tool to display video, text and photos at the same time, reported the official.

However, the official announcement did not address how copyrights will be managed on To Educate Yourself. Cuban television and national media frequently overlook payment for rights to films, concerts and musical recordings, especially those coming from the United States, which are the majority.

Divided into folders, like its rival alternative, the file will contain a section called Learn to Look with “expert commentaries and interesting facts so that the young form critical judgment about what they are watching,” Barreto specified.

The Cinesoft manager added that a second packet aimed at teachers and entitled The Teaching Library will also be distributed every fifteen days and will consist of books, articles and theses.

Given the serious material problems which plague labs in many of the country’s learning centers, To Educate Yourself will include a collection of virtual labs for Physics, Chemistry and Biology so that “when [the students] truly perform the exercise, there will be less risk that they will break some implement or spill a substance.”

This is not the first time that the government has tried to compete with the weekly packet. Distribution in Youth Clubs of the Backpack, a collection of audio-visual materials, began in August 2014; so far it has had a poor popular reception.

Translated by Mary Lou Keel

3,522 Pardoned in order to Cover Up Cuba’s Sad Reality / 14ymedio, Marlene Azor Hernandez

Map of prisons in Cuba drawn up by the Cuban Human Rights Observatory
Map of prisons in Cuba drawn up by the Cuban Human Rights Observatory

14ymedio, Marlene Azor Hernandez, Mexico City, 18 September 2015 – The pardon of 3,522 ordinary prisoners in Cuba is excellent news, above all for their relatives. At the beginning of July something similar occurred when the Pope visited Bolivia, Ecuador and Paraguay. In the first two countries, the governments also took the measure with respect to the incarcerated, but it was not of this breadth. In Ecuador 24 inmates benefitted from the measure; in Bolivia there were no pardons, but hundreds of the more than 5,000 prisoners in the most populous jail in the country, Palmasola, would finally be sentenced and be visited by the Pope in his tour of the country.

Ecuador has more than 16 million residents, a penal population of 21,000 prisoners and 24 penitentiaries. In Cuba, for a population of 11 million residents, there are at least 200 jails, and the penal population is estimated at 70,000 prisoners. It seems that the elevated number of pardons is due also to prison overcrowding on the Island. Continue reading “3,522 Pardoned in order to Cover Up Cuba’s Sad Reality / 14ymedio, Marlene Azor Hernandez”

The Cuban government has staged “a positive coup” in international politics, above all with respect to those countries and institutions that need gestures from Havana in order to be able to give it their support. For a curious observer, the pardon figures raise other questions in the wake of the announcement.

In Bolivia, Ecuador and Paraguay, there are no political prisoners because public demonstrations in the street and freedom of association, movement and expression are guaranteed. That is not the case in Cuba where the dissenters suffer long jail sentences, beatings, and moral stonings on Cuban television.

The Cuban Penal Code, like that of the Soviets in the 1930’s and perhaps the North Korean one, punishes “illegal” exit from the country, contempt (resisting warrantless arrest) and the so-called “pre-criminal dangerousness,” that aberrant legal concept that is applied to crimes not yet committed. The gag law also remains in effect (Ley 88) which penalizes the mere fact of speaking against the government or publishing in the international press (as happened in the Black Spring of 2003 when 75 people were sentenced to 20 and 25 years in prison). None of these criminal laws exist in Bolivia, Paraguay or Ecuador, although censorship of the non-government press does exist.

In the Cuba that Pope Francis will visit there are today some 60 political prisoners according to the Cuban Commission on National Human Rights and Reconciliation (CCDHRN), and civic and political activism is prohibited. The pardon of the 3,522 prisoners will try to cover up this sad reality.

Translated by Mary Lou Keel

“El Sexto,” on a Hunger Strike and in a Punishment Cell / Cubanet, Camilo Ernesto Olivera

Maria Victoria , “El Sexto’s” mother (photo by the author)
Maria Victoria , “El Sexto’s” mother (photo by the author)

The artist’s mother denounces her son’s treatment, Camilo Ernesto Olivera Peidro, Havana, 17 September 2015 – Danilo Maldonado, “El Sexto,” is being held in a punishment cell, and his hunger strike continues. His mother, Maria Victoria Machado, managed to visit him on Wednesday afternoon in the Valle Grande Prison, located on the outskirts of the Cuban capital.

During these days when the temperatures in Havana get very high, “the jailers give him water only twice a day,” said Maria Victoria to Cubanet. The artist’s mother says that “eight days after the beginning of the hunger strike, Danilo has spent four in the punishment cell. They hold him incommunicado wearing only underwear. He has refused to put on the prisoner clothing.”

“I have no reason to put it on because I have no reason to be a prisoner,” responded Danilo to the officer who informed him that he had to wear the uniform, according to Maria Victoria’s account.

On Tuesday afternoon, two State Security officers visited her. Their objective was to convince Maldonado, using her, to abandon his strike. Maria Victoria’s answer was that “she supports her son and stands firmly by him.”

The agents told her “that he just played into the hands of ‘the enemy’.” But Machado told them that “those whom you label that way, they are the only ones who have helped me in all this time that my son has been a prisoner.”

According to Maria Victoria, her son told her that the hunger strike is “to the end.” He said that he is prepared physically and mentally to sustain it until they give him “an immediate release, because the only other option is death.”

The performance and graffiti artist Danilo Maldonado Machado, “El Sexto,” has been a prisoner since last December 25. Police arrested him that day when he was headed to Havana’s Central Park. He was carrying two pigs with the names Fidel and Raul painted on them. His intention was to release them in that central location as part of a performance entitled “Animal Farm.”

His case file was “lost,” according to the prosecution. However, they notified his mother three days ago that the document had been “recovered.”

They accuse Danilo of the supposed crime of “contempt” against public figures of State power.

Translated by Mary Lou Keel