Decree Law 349 and the Cuban State a€™s Cultural Politics in 7 Points / Cubalex

Cubalex, 15 August 2018 — The Council of Ministers, in Decree Law No. 349, on April 20, 2018 (effective on December 20, 2018) establishes sanctions for not complying with the cultural policies established by the Ministry of Culture, in relation to the suitability, professionalism and remuneration of artists, whether they are graduates of art education, general education or amateurs. The following 7 points summarize this policy:

1. Cuban artists, whether they are graduates of artistic education, general education or amateurs, in order to practice professionally, have to be qualified by the State.

2. Only artists who have been approved or enrolled in the Registry of Creators of Plastic and Applied Arts can exhibit, provide artistic services in public or have commercial space for their art. continue reading

3. Artists will be required to establish links with a State institution in order to receive remuneration for their work. Those who don’t comply with this policy can be subject to disciplinary measures by their work institution, including measures that affect their economic support.

4. Only institutions that are authorized by the Minister of Culture or the Cuban Institute of Radio and Television can establish work relations with artists and represent them to market their productions and artistic services in public.

5. Artists will not be able to benefit from productions or shows, or develop and expose their skills, talents and artistic attitudes in public without State authorization. Nor can they express their identity using national symbols. People who are not considered artistis are excluded from access to practices, benefits and cultural services.

6. State officials have it within their discretion to decide if a book doesn’t comply with ethical and cultural values; if audiovisuals, music or artistic presentations promote discrimination, violence or use sexist, vulgar and obscene language. Victims, affected groups, denunciations or guarantees of due process are not required for accusations.

7. State supervisors and inspectors will decide, at their discretion, if fines between 1,000 and 4,000 pesos or confiscation of goods are merited. Both measures can be applied to any person, organization, business, etc. “in places of State and non-State public installations,” which do not comply with the policy stablished by the Ministry of Culture. They also can suspend, immediately, any show or film and request cancellation of authorization for independent work activity.

Translated by Regina Anavy

Ángel Santiesteban: "Europe has left us alone to confront the dictators" / Amir Valle, Ángel Santiesteban

Angel Santiesteban

Deutsche Welle, Amir Valle with Angel Santiesteban, 18 September 2018 — Invited to the International Festival of Literature in Berlin, the Cuban writer Ángel Santiesteban speaks with Deutsche Welle (“DW”) and criticizes the passivity of the European Union and international public opinion in the face of the tragic situations in Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua.

Considered one of the most important Latin American writers at present, the Cuban writer Ángel Santiesteban was condemned to five years in prison for opening his blog in 2007, “The Children that Nobody Wanted” to give his opinion about the political and social disaster imposed by Castroism in Cuba. continue reading

Beginning from that moment, his life became a struggle against governmental censorship and for democracy on the island. In 2014, Reporters without Borders elected him among its 100 Information Heroes in the world. The Cuban Government prevented him from traveling outside the island for 10 years, but he finally was able to visit Berlin, in order to present the German edition of his book of short stories, Lobos en la noche (Wolves in the Night), published by the prestigious publisher, Fischer.

DW spoke with him, in his role as intellectual and dissident, about matters of relevance that mark his life and that of Cubans.

DW: “Europe has legitimatized the Cuban dictatorship” is a recurring phrase in your interviews. 

The Cuban writer Ángel Santiesteban, creator of the blog “The Children that Nobody Wanted.”

Ángel Santiesteban: Talking with a Regime that has shown for decades that it does not believe in dialogue legitimizes it. That’s undeniable. There have always been businessmen flirting with Castroism, but it’s understandable, since the only thing that matters to them is making a profit by being in Cuba. But to have a business based in a region that is struggling to establish what they call “the State of Wellbeing and Rights” is an enormous contradiction and, in many ways, shameless.

Since the European Union decided to sit down and talk with Cuba, the only thing we’ve seen is that it has had to cede time and time again to Havana’s demands, and that the dictatorship has repressed the opposition with more force, since it has seen that no one questions its violations. The same thing is happening in Venezuela, in Nicaragua. Europe has left us alone to confront the dictators. And that makes it responsible for our suffering and our dead.

As an opponent, in your blog, you were one of the most concerned with denouncing the responsibility of the Cuban Government for those social disasters that we see in Venezuela and Nicaragua. 

I believe that what’s called the “Free World” should once and for all condemn the Regime openly, and not just with timid sentences, for the moral support and advice in many areas that the Castros give to Maduro in Venezuela and to Ortega in Nicaragua.

Castroism has always been a parasitic government: first, the Russians and the socialist camp, then Venezuela. It’s a parasitism disguised as “the struggle for the rights of the poor in Latin America,” and now we know how many dead were the result of Fidel Castro’s promotion of the guerrillas in the region, not to mention that those guerrillas ended up being terrorists and narcotraffickers supported by the Cuban dicatorship.

Later, Fidel Castro and Chávez invented the poorly named Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA), supposedly to defeat the neoliberalism and impose 21st-century socialism: another failure encouraged only by Castroism. And now, with their plan of extending socialism throughout Latin America, they behave like what they are: dictators, because they know that the “Free World” will criticize them only with politically correct words.

As a protagonist of Cuban culture, you have demonstrated against the most recent Cultural Law, Decree No. 349. Is it really dangerous?

From the time he came to power in 1959, Fidel Castro knew that he had to keep a lid on freedom of creation and expression. But with the exception of Law 88 directed at journalism, which we opponents call the “Gag Law”, all artistic censorship has been based on the application that the cultural commissars made from those famous words of Fidel: “Inside the Revolution, everything; outside the Revolution, nothing.”

But now the censorship is law: among many other obstacles, it limits the freedom of creative expression, then criminalizes and punishes those who try to show their work in public without the approval of governmental institutions. But the intellectuals are gagged by fear, and very few have raised their voices against it. Only the independent cultural opposition movement is protesting against this legalization of censorship.

Many people don’t understand that a large part of the Cuban opposition supports the North American president who is the most controversial of the last 100 years: Donald Trump.

Although there were some timid openings in economic matters, increasingly, as far as achievements in human rights go, we know what a failure Obama’s politics were for opening a supposed “new era” between Cuba and the United States. We can today question Trump’s other measures, but his pragmatism makes him understand that you can’t have a conversation with someone who doesn’t want to listen.

People who criticize our support of Trump should go to Cuba and suffer  all the repression that has fallen on us since Raúl Castro saw that his eternal enemy, the United States, was ready to sit down and negotiate, and placed human rights last in the list of demands of the Cuban dictatorship. Trump, whatever you say about him, has leapt into first place in resepct to demanding that Castroism should grant human rights to Cubans.

Author: Amir Valle (CP)

Reproduced on Angel Santiesteban’s Blog

Deutsche Welle is the international network of Germany and produces independent journalism in 30 languages. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

THE END OF THE CASTRO ERA IN CUBA

1959 – The Triumph of the Revolution

The rebels, led by Fidel Castro, come to power after expelling the dictator Fulgencio Batista in January. The United States recognizes the new government. Soon “revolutionary laws” (such as agrarian reform) affect U.S. businesses. In December, Republican President Dwight D. Eisenhower approves a CIA plan to overthrow Castro in one year and substitute “a junta friendly to the U.S.”

Recent coverage of Cuba from DW

NO TO DECREE #349: AGAINST THE “CRIMINALIZATION OF ART” IN CUBA

One of the first decrees signed by the new Cuban President, Miguel Díaz-Canel, penalizes independent art on the island and denounces artists and activists. Their protests have been repressed by the authorities. (August 29, 2018)

POSADA CARRILES: HERO AND VILLAIN IN DEATH

While Cuba and Venezuela announce “A terrorist has died without paying for his crimes,” intellectuals and Latin American political exiles hope to one day know the true face of this man. (May 24, 2018)

BOOK FAIR IN HAVANA: LIGHTS AND SHADOWS

Although thousands of Cubans attend the book fair, Cuban writers and intellectuals say that the International Book Fair is no longer as important for Cuban letters as it was in the ’90s. (February 10, 2018)

THE END OF THE CASTRO ERA IN CUBA

Almost no one in Cuba can remember life without the Castros. Since April 19, there hasn’t been a Castro at the front of the State. For almost 60 years, the brothers Fidel and Raúl have governed the country with an iron hand. (April 18, 2018).

Translated by Regina Anavy

The Embargo Has Actually Accomplished a Lot / Ángel Santiesteban

Angel Santiesteban, 18 October 2018 — The embargo has actually accomplished a lot, and it’s that the Regime has not been strengthened. That leftist Obama discourse which suits the dictatorship, needs to be undone. Imagine if the embargo didn’t exist how much more pain the totalitarian Cuban Government would have imposed on us.

In fact, the first thing it would stop doing would be exporting guerrillas around the world because it wouldn’t have money, and the socialist camp, also under pressure, would have accepted not continuing to do it, nor would they be able to continue advising and protecting terrorists.

The Cuban Government never would have permitted the paladares (independent restaurants), rentals and the other businesses of independent entrepreneurs. Everyone knows that Fidel Castro accepted it because he had the noose around his neck. If it were up to the dictator, the “Cuban community in the Exterior” never would have been let in; he had no other option but to accept it in order to suck up the money they left. In his economic insanity, he didn’t want tourists either because they would bring the scent of freedom. continue reading

The proof is that in the two years that Obama ceded before the Regime, the population didn’t see any improvement. And when they began to taste tourism, which was going to have a strong economic impact, the response was to raise the price of permits for independent entrepreneurs, asphixiate them so that they would give back their “licenses” and the State could fill its retaurants, taxis and hotels. They wanted everything for themselves; the population didn’t matter.

This doesn’t count the harm done to the opposition by Obama’s recognition, which immediately raised the number of arbitrary detentions, kept the Ladies in White from marching on Fifth Avenue and prevented their going to church to attend mass, as well as encouraging their being beaten.

What Obama really didn’t want to see, hear or understand is that the only thing the Castro family dictatorship understands is force. He’s complicit, he perceives some benefit or simply doesn’t have the mental capacity to understand it because the history is there, fresh and at hands’ reach, collected in the history books and its testimony.

Nor would they accept a plebiscite or other variants. There is no dialogue with the dictatorship, and they demonstrated that yesterday in the United Nations. It didn’t have to happen to know what they are capable of doing!!! With what they have done up to now it’s sufficient to know their nature and what they would be capable of doing to stay in power. The best example of their intransigence is Venezuela and Nicaragua, which are their pupils in these matters of repression.

There is no other option with the Regime but international pressure. The rest is fallacy, stupidity or furtive work in favor of the Castros.

ACERCA DEL AUTOR

Ángel Santiesteban

ABOUT THE AUTHOR 

(Havana, 1966) Graduate of Film Direction, he lives in Havana, Cuba. Mention in the Juan Rulfo competition (1989), UNEAC national prize of the writers guild (1995). His book, Sueño de un día de verano (Dream of a Summer Day) was published in 1998. In 1999 he won the César Galeano prize. And in 2001, the Cuban Institute of the Book Alejo Carpentier Prize with his book of essays: Los hijos que nadie quiso (The Children that Nobody Wanted). In 2006, he won the Casa de las Américas prize in the short story genre with his book Dichosos los que lloran (Happy are Those Who Cry). In 2013 he won the Franz Kafka International Prize for paperbacks, convoked in the Czech Republic, with the novel El verano en que Díos dormía (The Summer when God Slept). He has publisihed in Mexico, Spain, Puerto Rico, Switzerland, China, England, the Dominican Republic, France, the United States, Colombia, Portugal, Martinique, Italy and Canada, among other countries.

Translated by Regina Anavy

Report: Prostitution a la Carte in Cuba / Luis Felipe Rojas

Luis Felipe Rojas, 8 October 2018 — Brothels in Cuba are within reach of anyone who wants to find them, as the Spanish newspaper El País described this Sunday in a report on the panorama of prostitution on the island.

The journalist Alvaro Fuentes interviewed women in Havana who dedicate themselves to “the oldest profession in the world”. Arlen, a 50-year-old who says she started in the profession at 13, told El País that times have changed. “Now having a prostitute at home is not seen as something bad, and their families support them even, since they bring a standard of living that is unthinkable for the rest of the population”.

In an interview for Radio Martí, the independent journalist Agustín López Caninó evaluated the social phenomenon. continue reading

Yanet, another of the women interviewed by the Spanish newspaper who looks for tourists near the Malecón around the Hotel Deauville, explained: “My father is a doctor; his monthly salary is some 50 dollars. I can earn that in an afternoon. It’s frustrating to think about the near future on this island.”

The Cuban Regime has never recognized the existence of prostitution. The U.S. Department of State, in its 2018 report on human trafficking, says that “the Castro government does not fulfill ’the minimum requirements’ for the elimination of the trafficking of people” although it recognizes that the Cuban authorities are making significant efforts to do so.”

Translated by Regina Anavy

Angel Santiesteban: "The Castros are professionals in the art of transformation." / Ángel Santiesteban

Angel Santiesteban”When I left the fold they settled the score because, in addition to their spiteful nature, the Castros needed to punish me so that other artists wouldn’t escape from the corral.”

Ángel Santiesteban-Prats (Havana, 1966) is one of the most prolific writers of his generation. Dichosos los que lloran (Happy are Those Who Mourn) (2006), Suerte que tienen algunos y otros cuentos (The Luck of Some and Other Stories )(2012), El verano en que Dios dormía (The Summer When God Slept) (2013) and El regreso de Mambrú  (Mambrú’s Return) (2016) are some of his most well-known works. The winner of several prizes inside and outside the Island, he is a member of the PEN Club of writers in Sweden. continue reading

In 1995 he won the prize for short story from the Writers and Artists Union of Cuba (UNEAC) with Sueño de un día de verano (Dream of a Summer Day), a harrowing look at the war in Angola, which was not the official version, and the book was banned until 1998. When he founded his blog, Los hijos que nadie quiso (The Children Nobody Wanted) (also the title of one of his most praised books, awarded the Alejo Carpentier prize for short story in 2001) in order to denounce the reality of his country, the response of the political police was to beat him, threaten him and fabricate a case of a common crime against him, in order to condemn him to prison.

Since then he has also become an independent journalist and dissident, one of the most hated and persecuted by State Security, for disarming and openly denouncing the farces and violations of the Cuban Regime, while most intellectuals remain silent.

Santiesteban-Prats gave an exclusive interview to Martí Noticias about Decree Law No. 349/2018, which implements a long list of new political crimes in the cultural sphere, increasing the dictatorship’s censure and control of artists on the Island. He also spoke about other subjects.

Why are these new censorship measures, outlined in Decree 349, coming precisely at this moment?

Santiesteban-Prats: They are trying to sustain a regime that is fading. They know it but don’t want to admit it; they think they can continue deceiving the international community. The Cuban people took off their blindfolds a long time ago but are still afraid. They fear reprisals to the point that they might even be killed, above all those opponents who aren’t visible on social networks, meaning that no one will raise the cry for them. After suffering and enduring unfair trials in the courts, which answer to State Security, they rot in prison. Cuban families can barely bring food to their tables, and it’s very difficult to feed a prisoner. In general, the families reject any rebel who comes up against the Regime, because they know the high cost they all will have to pay later, apart from being marked as suspect by Castro royalty. The Castros and their hit-men use terror to stay in power. It’s that simple.

Some opponents have sacrificed themselves, and the best have managed to show the rest of the people that the sacrifice is valid, that it is possible to confront Power even when it slaps them in the face. Thanks to those who have endured punishment and have duplicated their opposition in response, many have decided to join the struggle. Every time, people speak more openly, say what they think, which before was unthinkable. Things have changed, and who knows it better than Alejandro Castro, the power behind the scenes, and he needs to keep hold of the reins and try to control his puppet, Díaz-Canel. They are sacrificing him like a pig, without minimum consideration. He will be there as long as he fulfills his orders; when he no longer complies, he will have a fatal illness, committ suicide or simply be charged with corruption or treason, and he will leave the scene.

How important is it for the Regime to control cultural expression, which has so much to do with the freedom of expression?

Santiesteban-Prats: In general, dictatorships fear journalism and art. From experience, they know that artists and journalists drive public opinion, and it’s the last thing they need now when it’s so easy for anyone to give an opinion or put the news on social networks. So they try to gag the independent voices. It’s a gesture of desperation in order to delay the tsunami that will come without fail.

When I left the fold they settled the score because, in addition to their spiteful nature, the Castros needed to punish me so that other artists wouldn’t escape from the corral. Since then, the intellectuals have learned the lesson, and after me, no one who is established in Cuban culture, like I was, has opposed them with the force and decision that I did.

They always need to close off any opening so the truth won’t come out. Thus they now are implementing new measures and more censorship, counting on their Stalinist way of doing things; maybe they think it’s the only way to stay in power a little longer. They are betting on that. The Castros don’t want to loosen their grip on the family estate. They are convinced that it belongs to them and they will hang onto even by their fingernails.

What is the concrete objective of these regulations that affect freedom through economics?

Santiesteban-Prats: To slow down the freedom that we will have in our lives sooner rather than later. While they test out who can continue Fidel and Raúl Castro’s work, which isn’t anything other than an outrage for the Cuban people, continuing to make them live in total misery. They don’t want any Cuban, whom they consider their slaves, to empower themselves, be independent, live without the “charity” of their dictatorship. It’s like that anecdote of the featherless chicken in the snow that always ran between Stalin’s boots in order to get warm.

How do you think most creative people will respond to this? 

Santiesteban-Prats: With silence. Most who are established are busy begging to be allowed to travel in order to survive. They will not sacrifice what they’ve won when they are convinced that it won’t solve anything and that they would be crushed like cockroaches. And those who still haven’t managed to establish themselves push, lower their heads and pretend that nothing matters to them, the only important thing is their work, art, while they wait for their scrap to fall from the sky. They believe that if they move away from power, they will freeze, like the chicken, and they prefer to be sheltered between the boots of the master. They believe that by publishing their books, singing their songs, or having their work shown in theaters, they already have enough. Although they know that things could be worse, and thinking of me in jail is enough for them to do nothing.

Let’s continue speaking out so we can deal with our fears together, until they take us out or lose power. We can’t count on the artists in the National Writers and Artists Union of Cuba (UNEAC). They have something more important to do: protect themselves. Don’t forget that, in spite of everything, the artistic sector gets the most benefits, so they feel lucky about surviving the calamities when they look around and see the rest of the people.

What artistic expressions are the most affected by the new censorship regulations?

Santiesteban-Prats: Everything in general, but mainly those who deal in words. I think they’re the most fearful because they permeate more in the population, at least in the professional sector, through scripts for movies, television, theater and literature. Don’t forget that many of these creative people write for alternative, independent media, far from the Castro umbrella.

How is Díaz-Canel seen in Cuban artistic circles?

Santiesteban-Prats: For what he is, an innocuous man. There are no “revolutionaries” left in the cultural sector, maybe some fidelistas: but at this point in the game they feel deceived, even by that man who hauled them out of poverty in order to ultimately steal the lives of several generations. Every Cuban knows that Díaz-Canel doesn’t represent anything. He doesn’t occupy any particular post in the cupola. He’s a carnival toy that you can throw balls at to try to knock off his hat. Every time that happens and it falls off, the owner – meaning the Castros – put it back in the same place or substitute another toy. Thus, successively, while the international community allows it or the desperate people throw themselves into the streets and are massacred like in Venezuela or Nicaragua.

What does Díaz-Canel have to do with these new regulations that intensify the censorship?

Santiesteban-Prats: He also is busy praising the Regime while fulfilling the Castros’ orders. He assumes his role of overseer of the slaves and plays it without protest. But as far as making decisions, it’s clear they don’t come from him. He only has to show his face, pretend that he’s the “President” and Raúl and his children, Alejandro and Mariela, will take care of the rest.

The Regime sold Raúl Castro as a supposed reformer. Then it designated Díaz-Canel to succeed him. What do these successions mean for the System and what do they mean for the people?

Santiesteban-Prats: Pure makeup, a cosmetic display. Fooling international public opinion, like they’ve done with the European Union. They pretend to make decisions that will gradually lead to democracy, but it’s nothing but great theater. The Castros are professionals in the art of transformation. They change every time they feel pressure, the possibility of losing power. They’re professionals of illusion. They spent decades making a large part of the population believe in accomplishments that they couldn’t feel. Intangible projects where millions of Cubans got involved so that the final result would be catastrophic. One project after another, and on like that for six decades. These successions mean nothering for the people because nothing will be resolved for them, while for the System they mean another breath, gaining time while they wait for better times to arrive, sips of oxygen that will permit them to remain in that imprecise space, but definitively, staying in power is the only thing that interests them. Now that family doesn’t know how to live without it, and they aren’t ready to cede power peacefully.

What should independent artists do in this new context?

Santiesteban-Prats: Not abandon the struggle. Don’t give up even if it’s all we can do. Don’t leave Cuba. Staying inside the archipelago now is a challenge to the Regime. I’m one of those who has exercised freedom of creation, and now that I’ve done it, I don’t know how to live without that divine grace. As long as artists don’t taste freedom, don’t remove their fear of writing, they will never know the satisfaction of being an artist with full integrity.

Luis Leonel León

Luis Leonel León

Journalist, writer, director of radio, film and television. After living in Venezuela and Colombia, he went into exile in the United States. His weekly column appears in Latin America media (El Nacional), Spain (Disidentia) and the United States (El Nuevo Herald, Infobae, HispanoPost), among others. Previously he wrote for Diario las Américas. Among his prize-winning documentaries are Habaneceres, La gracia de volver and Coro de ciudad. He has produced entertainment, opinion and debate programs for Florida television. His texts have been published in books and journals. He founded the publishing house Colección Fugas, dedicated to the writing of the diáspora. He is a member of the Interamerican Institute for Democracy, for which he has made documentaries, feature reports and interviews about freedom, democracy and their institutional framework in the Américas. His web page is luisleonelleon.com. Follow him on Twitter: @LLLeon_enMarti.

Translated by Regina Anavy

Embracing a Brother After 12 Years / Ángel Santiesteban, Amir Valle

Ángel Santiesteban-Prats with Amir Valle in Berlin. Photo by Anna Weise.

Amir Valle, September 16, 2018 — Embracing a brother after 12 years of separation imposed by a dictatorship is a special, unforgettable moment. We both have advanced in our literary and civlc careers: Ángel from Cuba, as an intellectual opponent, and I from the exile into which I was forced in 2005. But nothing has managed to destroy all the things that unite us like brothers since we knew each other from the time we were kids and had the luck to read each other’s first stories. More than half our lives together, in good times and bad, and now we rediscover each other in Berlin. Here we are together, in a photo taken by a friend, the German photographer Anna Weise.

Amir Valle

Translated by Regina Anavy

The Lynching of Mauricio Rojas*

The President of Chile, Sebastián Piñera, greets Mauricio Rojas in the Moneda Palace.
(La Tercera)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Álvaro Vargas Llosa, Santiago de Chile, August 20, 2018 — It is not easy to assimilate that what just happened to Mauricio Rojas occurred in Chile at the height of 2018, after less than a fifth of the 21st century.

Almost one century after the trials in Moscow, the Chilean intellectual has been submitted to an attempt at destruction of personality, a negation of a whole life trajectory, a traumatic deformation of his thought and actions, a stripping of all dignity and humanity, with the purpose that such a condemnation—so empty of content, so morally and psychologically ruinous, a death sentence (in this case expulsion from the city, to use the classic formula)—be something that the condemned man himself demand of his judges, convinced that his existence is useless. The only thing missing, to complete the Stalinist montage, was that Rojas beg of Chile: Shoot me, I am, in effect, a non-person, a non-man. continue reading

The Right and the Left have killed many people throughout history, and it’s hard to make a definitive accounting of who has killed more, but the Left has an overwhelming advantage in moral destruction, dehumanization by way of personality assassination of the real or supposed adversary. When the Right massacres someone, it gains moral standing, because the right is the incarnation of evil; when the Left massacres someone, it is freeing humanity of an enemy. Mauricio Rojas was the enemy from whom the Left had to liberate public life and the Chilean State.

The essential campaign against Rojas consisted of attacking his strength, which is his moral authority. That moral authority came from two things. First, his former militancy in the Revolutionary Left Movement, the violent MIR of the ‘60s, and his later conversion to liberalism, a process derived from experience, the most powerful thing that can cause someone to come to a conviction and then communicate it to his fellow human beings. To this was added a second source of moral authority: his denunciation, in the name of freedom, of all forms of political violence, abuse against human rights and authoritarian or totalitarian regimes. His books, articles and conferences have been for decades a denunciation against dogmatisms of the Left and the Right, against ideologies that justify vile methods with the pretext of accomplishing noble ends. His texts are available for anyone who takes the time to go to a bookstore, search on Amazon or look them up on the Internet.

This double source of moral authority made Rojas a problem. It was very difficult to throw away his reflections on the contribution of the fanatic Chilean Left of the ‘60s and ‘70s, or on the 1973 Military Coup and the bloody dictatorship and, thus, his present criticism of the dangerous radicalization of the Chilean Left in recent years. After all, this criticism came from the experience and the confession of a convert to liberal democracy, not from a Pinochet supporter.

It’s not difficult to understand why Rojas’ history, his life adventures as well as his discourse, profoundly offended the New Left, which looks very much, mentally, like the Left of the ‘60s and ‘70s, and which contributed much less than what Rojas contributed, between the end of the ‘80s and the decade of the 2000s, to making Chile the most successful country in Latin America.

Once he was named the Minister of Culture, it was essential to destroy his moral authority, that intellectual solvency that stemmed from his personal testimony and his intransigent liberalism in the face of the excesses of the Right and the Left. He only had one way to end the insolence of that nomination that the Executive Power enthroned, and in a position of high visibility to such a dangerous enemy for the strategy of the Chilean New Left. That way was to destroy his moral authority by distorting his double history—his life and his discourse—and converting it, literally, into the opposite of what it really was, into self-negation.

A quotation taken out of context about the Memory Museum was converted into a perfect casus belli for this operation. Anyone who would have taken the trouble to read Dialogue of the Converts would have understood that Rojas himself qualified what Pinochet did as “State terrorism,” and he affirms that nothing justified what happened. Anyone who would have deigned to make a few “clicks” on the Web would have obtained flagrant proof of what Rojas was thinking and continues to think about Pinochet. Among the many texts that would have appeared on the screen is, for example, his article, Revolutionaries and September 11, published 40 years after the Military Coup. There, once again, he speaks of the “horrors of the crimes of the dictatorship.”

If anyone had made a minimum effort to be informed about what the Chilean intellectual thinks about the Memory Museum it would have been enough to prove that his criticism had nothing to do with denial, since on various occasions he made it clear that the brutality and cruelty of the dictatorship that is plotted in the museum reflect facts that truly happened and should never be repeated. It would have informed anyone, also, of the true nature of his criticism of the museum, that can or cannot be shared, and that doesn’t emerge from the negation of the crimes that he himself fought from the first day and that he continues repudiating. At his trial, there was an incomplete version of that black period in the country’s history, because it left out a fundamental teaching that every new generation should learn: in the destruction of democracy, the radicalization of the Left played a decisive role, with its scorn for democratic institutions and the rule of law.

Saying and thinking similar things does not mean justifying Pincochet or that Rojas prefers the crimes of the Right to those of the Left, but rather to work so that never again will such a traumatic, painful and bloody experience be possible, such as what that dictatorship represented. If the antecedents and context of what happened in 1973 are put aside, it is, in the opinion of Rojas, dangerously mutilating the story of that historic stage. To argue this is a form of patriotism, in addition to being an exercise of high intellectual honesty on the part of a man who confesses to having contributed to that state of things from his own ideologization and acceptance of armed struggle as an instrument of justice. Why patriotism? Because he understands that it’s the best way for future generations to free Childe from the bitterness, the polarization and the hatred that led the country to a sinister Military Coup, which in another context surely would not have been viable.

I hope that those who attack the museums of memory in other countries do it in this civilized, reasoned and solid form. In Péru, for example, those who vilify the Museum of Memory are all sympathizers and, at times, servants of fujimorismo, and they do it from denial. For these critics there was no systematic violation of human rights; the figures of deaths are invented; and the story of State violence is an ideological lie of the Left.

Is there any book, article or conference of Mauricio Rojas that has ever argued the monstrosity that Pinochet’s crimes didn’t exist, that the State didn’t violate human rights during the military phase and that the falsity of the Left’s narrative consists in inventing abuses that didn’t happen? I spent many years hearing him speak before different audiences (we often met frequently at public events), and he never argued or even joked about such an imbecility.

Do his critics know this? Of course they do. Those who didn’t know were those numerous Chileans for whom Rojas wasn’t yet a household name, a public man fully recognizable, or he was someone whom they vaguely knew about. Because this easily manipulated public didn’t have an educated idea about Rojas, his detractors tried to convince them that he was aligned with State crimes. And something more: that he was an imposter who invented his biography for convenience.

It wasn’t enough to fabricate the idea that his thinking was like Pinochet’s in order to destroy his moral authority. It was also necessary to reveal his imposture, to convince themselves and outsiders that his life was a farce from beginning to end. Thus, one or another MIR figures were paraded through the press who insisted that Rojas never served in that organization. It didn’t matter that those who said this had responsibilities in the MIR much later than when Rojas was involved, or that many young Marxists of the ‘60s were close witnesses of his ideological radicalism and adherence to the MIR, because, after all, it wasn’t a matter of verifying the truth. The important thing was to advance the lie that then would make any contrary testimony unbelievable.

His detractors didn’t exhaust their methods in this operation. It was indispensable that they assure themselves that, if President Piñera decided against all odds to give Rojas tenure, his performance in that role would be impossible. He had to disavow his representative as a high-level member of the State and reject him as a player. It didn’t matter that Rojas would have announced that one of his great missions was to “democratize culture” to bring it everywhere, including to the poorest and most vulnerable, something that if the Chilean Left had been tolerant, they would have recognized as a goal in tune with their own aspirations (the Left used to talk about democratizing everything: property, credit, services and, horror of horrors, culture, precisely so these things wouldn’t be privileges of an elite).

Nor does it matter that, in the last five months, since his appointment as Presidential Assessor, Rojas had worked to bestow more social sensitivity on the Chilean Right and limit its rough edges. Today these qualities make him someone even more dangerous. The world of culture denies him the possibility of doing his work by using a systematic boycott against him and converting him into a non-person. It is not a lesser irony that, in its actions, the Left thoroughly gives Rojas justification for revealing that it is acting in the dogmatic spirit of the ‘60s and ‘70s.

His detractors think they’ve won the war against Rojas. In reality, they have won only one battle. Like so many converts of the last century (Carlos Alberto Montaner has recalled, speaking of himself, Malraux, Koestler, Semprún and Paz), he is much closer to the truth than his enemies. This should give him, in this moment of ingratitude, strength to win future battles.

(Published previously in La Tercera, one of the major newspapers in Chile. It is reproduced here with the author’s authorization.)

*Translator’s note: Minister of Culture, the Arts and Patrimony of Chile August 9, 2018 – August 13, 2018. He was fired for criticizing the Museum of Memory, commissioned by former President Michelle Bachelet after the Country’s Truth Commission issued a mandate to “account for human rights violations” committed during Pinochet’s dictatorship. In Rojas’ youth he was part of MIR, a revolutionary left-wing movement, and he was exiled to Sweden. He has since become more conservative. In an interview in 2016 with CNN, Rojas said the Museum of Memory gave a false version of history. Francisco Estevetz, the Executive Director of the Museum, says its creation was necessary to guarantee that the abuses suffered under Pinochet will never happen again.

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

The Time Has Come To Defend Freedom

The Venezuelan Supreme Court in Exile condemned Nicolás Maduro to 18 years in prison. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Carlos Alberto Montaner, Miami, 19 August 2018 — The Venezuelan Supreme Court in exile condemned Nicolás Maduro to 18 years in prison. Great. He would have to serve his sentence in Ramo Verde.** Excellent. That’s where he detained Leopoldo López and other political enemies. In addition, he must pay a fine of 25 million dollars and compensate the State for 35 billion dollars in bribes and surcharges received or paid to Odebrecht.

Odebrecht is a malignant and efficient Brazilian bandit. Tired of the inability to commit crimes like the dishonest Latin American politicians, it organized robbery on a grand scale in a dozen countries (that were not maimed, of course) and, perhaps, in the south of Florida, which has among the largest number of Latin Americans in the U.S.

That’s all well and good. The Supreme Tribunal of Justice (STJ)*** of Venezuela is entitled to act the way it did it. The Organization of American States (OAS) and the European Parliament recognize the failures. It accused the Attorney General, Luisa Ortega, a convert to democracy with a cloudy past of persecutions to which the opposition, intelligently, has given a welcome, perhaps because there are not many Venezuelans free of the original chavista sin. continue reading

The 33 magistrates of the STJ were named by the National Assembly, as mandated by the current Constitution. The problem is that they all have gone into exile. The Constitution, which Chávez called la Bicha (the “Bitch”), and insisted was the best Constitution on the planet, did not specify where the STJ should be located.

Logically, if there had been an earthquake in Caracas, the STJ would have to hold its session somewhere else. In Venezuela, a political earthquake has occurred that swept away everything. Understandably, the STJ left for other sites (Colombia, Chile, USA and Panama). Fortunately, the Internet exists, and the magistrates can hold a session periodically by showing their faces on Skype.

Maduro, obviously, will laugh at the sentence and say something stupid about it, although in his heart he feels chills. As we do when we discuss with an undertaker whether our relatives will see us in our present bodies, with makeup and glasses, or if they will cremate us and return us to the family in a box with a kilo and a half of ashes from our bones, after explaining that the meat, viscera and soft parts, including the eyes, went up in smoke. Of course, the 14 countries that constitute the Lima Group will look very favorably on the STJ sentence, but that isn’t sufficient. They will have to take action if they want to free themselves from the dictatorships of the Socialism of the 21st Century: Venezuela, Nicaragua and Bolivia.

They must do it, given that these nations try to metastasize and conspire with their local comrades in order to destroy the fundamentals of democracy.

The Lima Group should base their actions on the Democratic Letter signed, precisely, in Lima in 2001, in a solemn convocation organized by the OAS. They have a lot of work to do. Those three regimes, all signatories of the agreement, want to appear as if they are democratic. They twist the laws so the caudillos can remain in power indefinitely. They kill, imprison and send their opponents into exile, accusing them of being terrorists.

Cuba directs the group from behind the scenes, but the Island of the Castro Brothers is a tyranny that is consolidated and (vilely) accepted by everyone. It didn’t sign the Democratic Letter and has refused to be reincorporated into the OAS, an invitation that, incomprehensively, Mr. Insulza sent them.

Cuba doesn’t pretend to present itself as a democracy, but rather proudly exhibits its condition as a one-party satrap in which individual rights are subject to the ultimate goals of the State, and these are defined by the Communist Party. Thus, there is neither hypocrisy nor fundamental contradiction between law and practice. It’s Stalinist crap and has been for almost 60 years. It’s 20th century socialism, which has cost 100 million lives, and it comes directly from Leninism.

What can the Lima Group do, excepting Mexico, which finds refuge in the paralysis of the Estrada Doctrine?**** It can break or dilute the hierarchy of diplomatic relations. It can explain that laws and tradition justify the use of force when democratic avenues have been closed. It can arm opponents, so they can defend their freedoms. What would be suicide is to remain complacent.

*Translator’s Note: The Lima Group was established by the Lima Declaration, August 8, 2017, when 14 countries met in Lima to discuss the crisis in Venezuela. The group demanded the release of political prisoners, called for free elections, offered humanitarian aid and criticized the breakdown of democracy in Venezuela. Member countries are Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Guyana, Honduras, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Peru and Santa Lucia.
**Prison in Los Teques, Venezuela.
***The highest court of law in the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela.
****Mexico’s foreign policy from 1930 to the early 2000s, which claims that foreign governments should not pass judgment on other countries’ governments. It was based on principles of non-intervention, peaceful resolution of disputes and self-determination.

Translated by Regina Anavy

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

The Essence of Decree 349/2018: subparagraph a) of Article 2 / Cubalex

In the foreground, Vice President Miguel Díaz-Canel. Beside him, Miguel Barnet, president of UNEAC, and Abel Prieto, Minister of Culture (Photo: Leyben Leyva / Juventud Rebelde)

Cubalex, 27 July 2018 — Details of Decree 349/2018, dictated by the Council of Ministers, which establishes the “Violations of the regulations in respect to the cultural policy and concerning the provision of artistic services”: In accordance with subparagraph a) of Article 2.

Possible behaviors that violate this provision: 

That you approve or permit the realization of artistic service without said service having been approved and contracted for by the cultlural institution responsible for that artistic service.

That you approve or permit the realization of artistic service with the use of media and installations belonging to an entity, without said services having been approved and contracted for by the cultural institution responsible for that entity. continue reading

That you approve or permit the realization of artistic service with the use of those associated with the commercial activity which has authorization, without said services having been approved and contracted for by the cultural institution responsible for its authorization.

Applicable sanctions:

These behaviors are considered very serious and the amont of fine imposed is 2,000 Cuban pesos.

If in the period of one year the same person incurs more than one violation or is warned, this is considered another incident and a single fine of 4,000 Cuban pesos is imposed.

In addition they can seize the equipment, computers, fixtures and other property, suspend immediately the performance or the showing of material.

They also can cancel the authorization to show it, based on self-employed work activity.

Commentary and doubts: 

The non-specified norm that is understood by artistic services allows a wide margin of discretional activity to those charged with its execution. It’s a form of advance censorship because it doesn’t allow the realization of artistic activity without authorization from the Ministry of Culture.

You have to be approved and contracted by a cultural institution, but not just any, only the one responsible for the provision of artistic services. Can’t they give an example of the cultural institutions that provide artistic services?

Here it’s not clear to whom this rule is directed, to the owner of a business or a director of an entity belonging or subordinated to the Ministry of Culture? Please inform us if you know of any business that can be affected by these rules.

Is the fine of 2,000 pesos commensurate with the income artists receive?Make this calculation taking into account that many times their works require investment in raw material or high-cost equipment, in specific markets.

Comment and share! Send your responses to info@cubalex.org.

The entry The essence of Decree 349/2018: subparagraph 2) of Article 2 first appeared in Cubalex.

Translated by Regina Anavy

Cuban Phone Company’s ‘Comprehensive Repair’ Affects Email and Internet Services

The interruption also affected Internet navigation on WIFI access points (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14YMEDIO, Havana, July 20, 20108–Another interruption in Cuba’s Nauta email and Internet services left thousands of users without communication on Friday. The failure is the second in less than three weeks that affected several official digital sites, like the newspaper Granma, the national email Nauta, and the WIFI zones of Internet connection, according to 14ymedio.

“They’re doing a comprehensive repair on the whole cellphone service to improve the network,” an employee of the state communications company Etecsa explained to this newspaper. “Many clients have called because they’re having problems, and we’re asking that they don’t try to access the WIFI network for the moment to avoid leaving the session open and continue consuming their balances without really being connected,” he added. continue reading

According to the employee, “The repair work started on Friday morning and is expected to take up to Monday night,” although the only telephone company in the country didn’t issue a notice to alert its clients nor did it apologize on social media for the inconvenience.

The interruption in service has unleashed a barrage of criticism of the State monopoly and also has generated some hope that the repairs are related to preparations for cellphone Internet service.

Cuba is one of the most backward countries in this hemisphere as far as Internet connectivity is concerned. Only 4.5 million citizens, around 40 percent of the population, can access the Web, according to official data, and independent experts find even that figure very questionable.

This past July 3, another Etecsa failure left the country without the company’s Nauta email service, and technical problems also affected the official newspapers, Granma, Trabajadores and Juventud Rebelde, which are hosted on national servers.

At this time the company is not clarifying what kind of problems they are confronting, but technical failures in the State monopoly are common, although it’s not often they affect newspapers like Granma, the offiicial voice of the Communist Party.

One week earlier, a fire in an Etecsa building caused a blackout in mobile telephone service in the provinces of the center of the country and Pinar del Río. More than 1.5 million cellphone lines remained sithout service after the disaster in Santa Clara.

Translated by Regina Anavy

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

Internet from the Shore / Regina Coyula

Regina Coyula, 16 March 2018 — (Text published in the bulletin of the 2018 Internet Freedom Festival) Cell phones have been used commercially in the world since 1995, but we Cubans couldn’t have our own cell phones until 2009. Internet access through prepaid cards in public places dates from 2015. In Cuba, the year 2017 will be remembered for the introduction of 3G technology and access to the Internet for the first time from home via ADSL-fixed telephone lines.

The only telecommunications business that operates in the country announces an increase in access, but it comes at the cost of high prices, censorship of pages critical of the Government and self-censorship, with the user suspecting that all navigation is traceable. continue reading

I learned about the Internet in 2009, during a trip to Spain, and it was love at first sight. When I went back to Cuba, I decided to open a blog, and I asked my neighbor, the blogger Yoani Sánchez, for help. I spent months posting blindly thanks to friends abroad who uploaded the contents from content I emailed to them.

My first time on the Internet in Cuba, I wasted a prepaid card that gave me an hour of connection from a hotel, since I was so nervous and inept that I forgot the password and spent an hour of virtual onanism rereading my posts, discovering the comments…and nothing more.

I had to learn how to swim in those waters, as they say. I had to “empower myself” to be not just someone who reads email and opens a page on Facebook. Studying came to me easily because it encourages the illusion that I’m not getting Alzheimer’s like I feel with my son (I have to say that I came to motherhood late) when we’re discussing applications and programs.

And together with this familiarity that I established with the Internet, I became conscious that it’s a tool that is too powerful to be left in the hands of governments and/or businesses. As a Cuban, I feel that they have denied us entrance into the 21st century, that this digital divide is difficult to remedy and is even more serious in a literate population with a high rate of middle and higher education, which, in addition, is growing old.

We can’t blame our technological backwardness on the Blockade-Embargo (what it’s called varies according to one’s viewpoint) alone or to the long dispute between the governments of Cuba and the United States, although it has its part.

Beyond the material limitations that it supposes, there exists a domestic political will to keep us isolated and uninformed. José Martí, our greatest thinker, said it simply: “Don’t believe; read,” but we Cubans don’t want to be spoon-fed bits of information seasoned by the governmental point of view. That day when I forgot my password, I decided not only to swim, but also to help others who look out from the shore.

Translated by Regina Anavy

No More Appointments For Visas To Panama Until The End Of May

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario Penton, 17 March 2018 — The website of the Panamanian Government for visa procedures has collapsed due to extremely high demand, especially from Cubans and Venezuelans. Javier Carrillo, the Migration Director General, has confirmed this to 14ymedio.

“We set up this site to offer 50 daily appointments in our Havana consulate, but demand is very high and the system shut down as soon as we ran out of availability,” said Carrillo by telephone from Panama City. continue reading

The Panamanian authorities created the website in the middle of last year after doubling the number of visas for Cuban citizens to 1,000 per month. Eight thousand residents of the Island benefited from the new measure in 2017.

“We already have the whole month of May full. We post the dates two or three months in advance so people have time to get their papers,” explains Carillo. “In one hour we ran out of appointments, leaving a lot of people hanging. In April we’ll open up to take care of the next two months.”

Number of Cubans traveling to Panama. Source: Panama Migration Service

When the appointment dates run out, the system automatically eliminates the button “fill in the form” and only the words “reprint appointment” appear.

The electronic system allows someone to ask for an appointment to get a “stamped” visa in the Panamanian consulates in Cuba, Venezuela and China. In the case of Cubans as well as Venezuelans, it’s very difficult to get an appointment because the quota fills up. This doesn’t happen with China, which has much less demand.

Screenshot of the Panama Migration page without the button to fill out the form. (CC)

On average, by year, more than 10,600 Cubans have visited Panama. In 2017 there were more than 71,700 Cubans who chose Panama as an option for tourism or purchases, while in 2010 there were barely 6,000. Cubans who live in the U.S. or who have European citizenship don’t require a visa to travel to Panama.

Panama was a country of transit for thousands of Cubans who left for the U.S. during the last migratory crisis. After the end of the wet foot/dry foot policy in January 2017, more than 300 Cubans remained stranded there, and they received material support from Panama to return to Cuba.

For Zenia Escalona, the possibility of getting an appointment online to be interviewed in the Embassy of Panama in Havana is a great advantage. Zenia, 52, tried for more than six months to schedule an appointment by telephone, but was unsuccessful.

“On Thursdays, the phone was always busy. Half of Cuba was calling. It was terrible,” explains Escalona, who lives in Trinidad and wants to go to Panama to make purchases in the duty-free zone of Colón. Before the online platform existed, the Embassy of Panama in Havana scheduled appointments only by telephone on Thursdays at a certain time.

Ed. Note: Our apologies for not having subtitles for the two videos in this article.

Escalona got her passport last year to take advantage of the benefits of importing in the national money that Cubans who live on the Island have. “Customs allows you to bring back 100 kg of non-commercial imports by paying the taxes in Cuban pesos. That’s the advantage we who live here have. You leave, you buy clothing, shoes, televisions and air conditioners, and then you can resell them and make a little money,” she explains.

Although connecting to the Internet on the Island is generally complicated, because it’s done in public spots, Escalona says that “it’s worth the trouble” to pay a dollar to try to access the Panama Migration page.

The trips of Cubans to the duty-free zone of the Panama Canal and to other popular destinations like Cancún to buy things has flourished since the Cuban Government, in 2013, passed a law that eliminated the exit permit, which for decades prevented Cubans from traveling freely.

Faced with the absence of a wholesale market for the private sector in Cuba, many entrepreneurs pay the passge for mules to buy merchandise they need for their businesses at an affordable price.

Translated by Regina Anavy

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

Cuba: Private Enterprise Could Be the Solution / Iván García

Designers in the shop, Clandestina, Old Havana. Taken from The “Revolution” of the Entrepreneurs, Cubanosomos, February 4, 2018.

Iván García, 19February 2018 — Pescao Designs, a project that is intended to offer decorative solutions to foreign businessmen, state-owned operations and small private businesses, began operation five years ago in the house of the founder, on Carmen 16 Street, in La Víbora, a neighborhood 30 minutes by car from the center of Havana.

Their initial equipment was technologically backward, but indispensable. Equipment that gave the impression it was antediluvian. The boss, Carlos, a 41-year-old automation engineer, seemed a lot like an orchestra conductor. He operated the machinery and looked over new contracts, which he organized at night, and he cleaned the garage that served as his office. continue reading

A family loan and a credit from the State bank, Metropolitano, were the capital with which he began to operate. “In the modern world, design is fundamental in all facets of life. Any design project in the U.S. or Europe counts on an investment of a million dollars or euros. I began with less than 20,000 dollars, which is nothing for this type of business. I learned along the way, and I substituted creativity for money.”

In spite of the olive-green Regime’s restrictions on small private business in Cuba, his business enjoys fame, credibility and good financial health. Carlos built an attractive air-conditioned office in a large house adjacent to his home. He has 12 workers on his staff. They were in charge of designing popular television programs, like Sonando in Cuba (Dreaming in Cuba), En Familia (In the Family) and La Colmenita (The Little Beehive). Also, he designed the stands for Havana Club and other businesses in the International Fair of Havana. Dozens of bars, cafeterias and private restaurants request his design services, for interior decoration up to menus and employee uniforms.

However, because of the restrictions and prohibitions on imports, equipment, state-of-the-art machinery, raw material and supplies are more expensive for private businessmen.

“Any piece of last-generation machinery costs more than a quarter of a million dollars. You have to buy the ink cartridges, 3-D design equipment and other material  from middlemen who charge very large commissions. The ideal would be to import it directly from the wholesalers in Panama or Mexico, at much lower prices,” says Carlos.

When you chat with private businesses, one of their demands is authorization from the Government to import equipment or to accept credit from foreign banks.

Another problem to solve, considers René, the owner of a shop that offers software applications and computer equipment repair, is to eliminate “the stupid prohibition on allowing professionals to open their own business. It obliges many entrepreneurs to make false declarations on their taxes or to open a business under a license that isn’t theirs. In practice, in spite of the prohibition, thousands of professionals are working for themselves under the table. And they aren’t paying taxes.

“The most intelligent thing to do would be to legalize the whole framework, because it brings a value-added that the businesses of lodging, home restaurants and other services don’t generate. It’s absurd that the Government is putting brakes on progress. They should give up the primitive idea that being rich is a perverse crime. The State should combat poverty. And the function of the private sector is to create wealth.”

Since professionals don’t have the Regime’s consent to open a business, those that exist function in a judicial limbo, or illegally. Sahily, a lawyer, dreams about having a law office that advises foreign firms and private business owners and helps them to negotiate the bureaucratic process.

“The Government must understand that it cannot be both judge and defendant. Foreign businessmen don’t trust the State to handle legal matters. They prefer private law firms to advise them. But right now, the Government hasn’t figured out that if they want to see foreign investment grow, they have to change the law and permit the participation of private individuals, if they really want to interest company owners in establishing businesses in Cuba.”

Enrique, an architect with 10 years of experience, thinks that “now is the time for the State to permit architects and designers to create their own firms. We need a master plan for construction. There are Cubans who can now afford designs for their houses and businesses. This way a better quality would be guaranteed, and it would overcome the improvisation and present sloppiness in housing construction in the hands of private workers without a professional adviser.”

In December 2016, a group of private businessmen had a meeting with officials at the National Office of Tax Administration, the institution that governs private work in Cuba.

A well-informed source told Diarío Las Américas that “all the limitations by the Government that presently exist were considered, and innovative proposals were presented. If the private sector has shown anything, it’s that in services like consulting, among others, it functions better than the State. In the last seven years, we have never stopped growing. It’s calculated that more than 1,200,000 Cubans  work in non-agricultural cooperatives or in private businesses. I believe we have earned the right to have the Government listen to us. In this first meeting, there were no commitments, but the Government officials took notes.”

As in any facet of life, private workers aspire to grow in quantity and quality. They think that private business isn’t the problem; it could be the solution to things that don’t function in Cuba.

Translated by Regina Anavy

Maduro Invites Himself To The Summit And Cuba Calls His Exclusion "Unbelievable"

14ymedio bigger14ymedio (with information from news agencies), Havana, February 15, 2018 — The President of Venezuela, Nicolás Maduro, said this Thursday that he will be attending the next Summit of the Americas, which will be celebrated in Lima on April 13 and 14, “come hell or high water,” in order to, he added, tell “the truth” about his country.

“They don’t want to see me in Lima, but they’re going to see me. Because rain or shine, by air, ground or sea, I will arrive at the Summit of the Americas with the truth about Simón Bolívar’s fatherland,” Maduro affirmed in a press conference with international media. continue reading

Perú, as the host country, announced this past Tuesday that the presence of Maduro at the Summit “will not be welcome,” a decision supported by those known as the “Lima Group,” which encompasses several countries of the region.

Faced with this measure, on Thursday Cuba “categorically” rejected the Peruvian Government’s decision to exclude the Venezuelan President from the Summit and reaffirmed Cuba’s “unwavering” support for its principal political ally in Latin America.

In a declaration by the Foreign Minister, published on the front pages of the official newspapers, Granma and Juventud Rebelde, the Island also “energetically” condemned the Lima Group’s statement, which demanded that Maduro set a new electoral time table in rejection of the official presidential elections organized by the ruling party.

For the Island, it is “unusual and unbelievable” that a supposed unconstitutional rupture in the democratic order in Venezuela be used as a “pretext” when this country “has just convoked presidential elections, like they were demanding.”

Cuba, which was invited for the first time to the Summit of the Americas in 2015 after its expulsion from the Organization of American States (OAS) in 1962, still has not confirmed its attendance at the conclave in Lima.

The decision to leave Venezuela out of the Summit is based on the Declaration of Québec of 2001, “that indicates that the breakdown of democracy constitutes an insuperable obstacle for the participation of a state in the Summit of the Americas,” as the Foreign Minister of Perú, Cayetana Aljovín, said then.

Faced with this, the Chief Executive of Venezuela has stated that he received from his Peruvian counterpart, Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, “several letters,” the last one “yesterday at 4:00 in the afternoon…inviting me to the Summit of the Americas.”

The President showed the attending media the letter that he said arrived yesterday afternoon, in which it can be read that Kuczynski extended the invitation to Maduro to participate in the Summit of the Americas in a missive dated November 11, 2017.

“It’s a group that exists and doesn’t exist. That brings out comunications and pretends that they are orders that we fulfill. In Venezuela we command ourselves, not Kuczynski nor (the Colombian President, Juan Manuel) Santos,” he added.

“Venezuela doesn’t depend on the Lima Group for anything. Thank God, we have a country that is totally and absolutely independent,” he said.

The Lima Group is composed of Argentina, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Brazil and Costa Rica, plus the recent additions of the United States, Guyana and Santa Lucia.

This group was created in August 2017, faced with the impossibility of approving resolutions on Venezuela in the OAS, because of the blockade on the part of the Caribbean countries.

Translated by Regina Anavy

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

Luis Manuel Otero: From Athlete to Dissident Artist / Iván García

Iván García and Luis Manuel Otero, photo by Yanelys Núñez

Ivan Garcia, 15 February 2018 — He’s like a character out of a dark novel by Pedro Juan Gutiérrez. He turned 30 on December 2, 2017, and the life of Luis Manuel Otero has been marked by survival.

He still remembers the 12-hour blackouts when he was a kid, in the middle of the Special Period. The empty, grimy pots and the unmistakable color of El Pilar, his neighborhood in the Havana municipality of Cerro.

The section of Romay Street, from Monte to Zequeira, doesn’t even go 100 yards. It’s narrow and unpaved. The houses are one-story. The only building that had three floors collapsed from lack of maintenance. continue reading

The house of the Otero Alcántara family, at number 57, is typical of early 20th century construction, with tall pillars and large windows. Throughout the night, women are sitting in the doorway, gossiping, while the men take up a collection to buy a liter of bad rum, steal detergent from the Sabatés factory or kill the boredom with a game of baseball in the old Cerro Stadium.

Luis Manuel grew up there, on a poor block full of tenement housing, where drugs and psychotropics are a rite of passage, the young people are abakuás (devotees of the African religion) and problems are solved with guns or machetes.

His father, Luis Otero, used to be a dangerous guy. He always was mixed up in legal problems, and jail became his second home. In prison he became a welder, and the last time he left the Combinado del Este prison, he promised he wouldn’t return.

María del Carmen, the mother of the artist and a construction technician, is a “struggler,” like most Cuban women. When she was pregnant with Luis Manuel, his father was in jail.

“Let’s see what happens,” she said to herself. She acted as mother and father for a long time. Perhaps because of maternal overprotection, she opted to bring him up behind closed doors at home.

Luis Manuel Oteros, a mulatto with an adolescent expression, gestures with his mouth and mentions that to escape from that reclusive life, “I made my own wooden toys. I had this gift from the time I was little. I don’t know who I inherited it from, because there’s no other sculptor or visual artist in my family. I spent hours and hours talking alone. I created scenes and imaginary characters. And from childhood, I vowed to be someone in life,” he said, seated on a wooden stool and leaning against the wall of his studio on San Isidro in Old Havana.

Then he went to school. “I spent primary at Romualdo la Cuesta and secondary at Nguyen Van Troi. I always had a piece of wood in my hands. My grandmother was working in Viviendas, and this was during the years when Cubans decided to emigrate. The State confiscated their property, and many people gave her things, used clothing and household appliances. So we had a washing machine, but I hardly ever had shoes, only one pair that almost always was torn. I went to school wearing hideous boots or plastic shoes,” remembers Otero, and adds:

“I was nine or 10 years old, and like all the kids in the area, we were looking for a way to make money to help out at home, to buy things or go to parties on weekends. A friend and I from the neighborhood decided to remove bricks from buildings and abandoned houses. At that time, recycled bricks were selling for three pesos on the black market, but we sold them for two. One afternoon, my mother caught me doing this and beat me with a rope all the way home.”

Before getting involved with visual arts, Otero spent four or five years training as a mid-distance runner on a clay court at the Ciudad Deportiva.

“I wanted to get ahead. I appreciated the discipline and commitment of sports. I ran the 1,500 and 5,000 meter-dash. I had prospects. I was training hard to reach my goal: to escape from poverty. But in a competition in Santiago de Cuba, in spite of being the favorite, I came in fourth. I wasn’t programmed for losing. So I decided to study and try sculpture and the visual arts.”

In his free time, he and a friend sold DVDs for three convertible pesos in the streets of Nuevo Vedado, and he made wood carvings. “A cane that I made ended up at a workshop that Victor Fowler had in La Vibora. I was 17 and started to become serious about sculpture. I attended many workshops. I always had a tremendous desire to learn, study, better myself. I’m a self-taught artist and a lover of Cuban history. I also slipped into the courses offered by the Instituto Superior de Arte. It was an exciting world.

“When I went home, I went back to reality. Mediating the fights and blows between my father and mother or the problems that my younger brother had,” remembers Luis Manuel, leaning on an ancient VEF-207 radio of the Soviet era, dressed in mustard-colored pants and a white pullover with the faces of the Indian Hatuey, José Martí, Fidel Castro and the peaceful opponent, Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas.

Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara had an exposition for the first time in a gallery in Cerro, on the Avenida 20 de Mayo, in 2011. “I called it, ’Heroes are no burden.’ It was wooden statues of men from the trunk up, without legs. I dedicated it to the soldiers who were mutilated during the war in Angola. I personally invited a dozen combatants who had been in the struggle. I was tense, waiting to see what the reaction would be, but the show was very well received.”

The statue from which the “Heroes are no burden” exposition took its name (Havana Times)

He had already begun his political activism by then. “I had too many questions without answers. I saw that the expectations of society were not taken into account. I had no way out. Everything was a bunch of blah, blah,blah, speeches with no meaning. In private, the majority of artists recognized that things should change. Cuba is crazy. It’s also true that there’s a lot of opportunism in the artistic world. Hustling is normal in this environment. I saw that something should be done,” commented Otero, in a deliberate tone.

And he decided to work on his art with a new focus. December 17, 2014 was a date to remember. “That noon I was amazed to see Raúl Castro and Barack Obama on television. I felt that a new epoch was beginning. That the worst was behind us. That a stage of reconciliation and national reconstruction would begin. That was the feeling among most people: that there would be more negotiations, that finally we would have a better level of life. People had tremendous hope. It was a dream that was contagious.”

But the Regime put obstacles in the way. The greatest optimism passed to the worst pessimism. The resumption of diplomatic relations between Cuba and the U.S. was purely an illusion. More press headlines than concrete initiatives that will improve the quality of life of Cubans.

Luis Manuel Otero remembers that Rubén del Valle, the Vice Minister of Culture, “said, and no one told me, I was still here, that they were going to need several shiploads to be able to sell all the works of Cuban culture. The feeling that many artists had was that in the biennials and events, Americans would start buying valuable artistic pieces. I wanted to make something, to be in fashion. My sin was in being naive.”

Barely one month before, on November 25, 2014, Otero performed downtown on Calle 23, on the Rampa, which was noted in the international press. “At that time I had an American girlfriend. The intention of the performance was to ask her to marry me at a wifi site that had become popular, with no privacy and people screaming and asking for money and other things from their families. I did a stripper act on the corner of L and 23, accompanied by two mariachis. On that occasion, perhaps out of surprise, State Security didn’t interrupt me.”

A little after this, he broke up with her and started courting Yanelys Núñez, who had a degree in art history, and a main piece in her present project at the Museum of Dissidence. Otero is like a box with push-buttons: hyperactive, suggestive and creative. In the middle of a conversation, an idea of his next performance came to him.

“Sometimes I take two or three days tossing around an idea for a work. And it’s in the middle of the night that a concrete idea comes to me. Then I wake up Yanelys and we go to work. With the last one, the Testament of Fidel Castro, it was more or less like that. The George Pompidou Center in Paris asked me for a sample that I was going to make. What occurred to me was the testament of Fidel inside a bottle of Havana Club rum. I implied that at the end of his life, he repented of all the harm he did,” emphasizes Alcántrara.

Right now it’s not at all clear to him. But perhaps before, during or after the succession directed by Raúl Castro, he will start a new project. April, Luis Manuel speculates, could be the month he gets lucky.

Translated by Regina Anavy