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

Cuba Commissions China to Fabricate a Prototype Marabou Harvester

Sacks stacked with marabou coal after the disassembly of the oven. (14ymedio)

14ymedio biggerEFE, via 14ymedio, Havana, 9 February 2018 — Cuba has commissioned China, one of its principal economic allies, to fabricate a prototype harvester for marabou, an invasive plant also known as sicklebush which is seen as a plague on the Island’s fields, so it can be used as raw material for vegetal coal and be exported to the U.S., Europe and other countries.

The model was designed by Cuban engineers and will be constructed in a Chinese industrial park, based on an evaluation of three different machine technologies, tested in the central provinces of Camagüey and Ciego de Ávila. continue reading

After a period of testing, the definitive version of the harvester will be assembled in a factory in the east of the Island, according to the state news agency Prensa Latina.

The Director of Agricultural Engineering for the Cuban Ministry of Agriculture, José Suárez, explained that local engineers also are working on the installation of a group of processing plants for the drying of rice, beans and corn.

The Island’s aspiration is that its industry can produce all the equipment and construct the different facilities that the agricultural sector demands.

It’s estimated that 20 percent of the cultivable land of Cuba is covered by marabou (Dichrostachys cinerea), an African species that was introduced in the middle of the nineteenth century. It propagated rapidly since there was no disease to curb its spread, and it is very resistant to drought and high temperatures.

Now considered “the thorny gold of Cuba,” marabou has stopped being a threat and is seen as an opportunity for export, a source of clean energy and raw material for bioelectric plants.

The fabrication of vegetal coal is not a factor in deforestation, and its processing begins in private agricultural cooperatives that cut down the marabou and process it in handcrafted ovens in a natural way.

Cuba exports annually some 80,000 tons of marabou vegetal coal, principally to European countries like Greece, Spain, Portugal, and also to Saudi Arabia, Syria, Turkey and Israel.

This product was the first one to be exported to the U.S. in more than 50 years, after the official resumption of diplomatic ties between both countries, with a first shipment in January, 2017, of two containers with 40 tons of vegetal coal.

Last November, the State business CubaExport signed a new contract with the U.S. company, Coabana Trading LLC, for the export of another 40 tons of the product.

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.

Thousands of Venezuelans Flee to Colombia to Escape From Hunger

Hundreds of Venezuelans earn their living in the streets of Cúcuta carrying suitcases for their compatriots who leave Venezuela. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario J. Pentón/Antonio Delgado — Tens of thousands of Venezuelans cross the border with Colombia every day in search of food and work. They sell candy, bread, chewing gum and contraband gasoline. They prostitute themselves or simply ask for handouts on corners. They are the new faces of the Venezuelan migration in the Colombian city of Cúcuta, the epicenter of a humanitarian crisis triggered by hunger in the neighboring country.

“The children come alone. They don’t want to speak or say anything. They are very tight-lipped about their family history,” says Whitney Duarte, a 24-year old social worker who was helping two orphans, Henry and Steven, in a social center where they come every day to have lunch. continue reading

Duarte has been volunteering for two months in the Casa de Paso Divina Providencia, a Catholic Church home in Cúcuta that shares more than 1,000 meals daily with children, women and old Venezuelans who wander through the streets of the city.

The oldest of the orphans is 15 but has the physical build of a child of eight. To help his two little brothers, who are about five years old, he works as a cart-pusher fetching and carrying suitcases for people who cross the border.

“We know they are orphans. They come from San Cristóbal, in Venezuela. They spend the day playing in the streets of Cúcuta and, of course, they don’t go to school,” relates Duarte. The children are fed thanks to the charity of the Colombians. Steven says they escaped from Venezuela hidden in a mini-bus.

“They don’t want to speak about their family history because they fear they will be separated or returned to their country,” explains Duarte, who believes that, like the rest of the immigrants, they are “very emotionally damaged.”

Henry is thin and brown-skinned. He never smiles. He says it pays about 2,000 pesos (70 cents) to carry suitcases from Venezuela and that he feels responsible for his little brothers. Steven has six brothers, but only three crossed the border. He likes to play soccer but won’t say what he wants to do when he grows up.

“The tragedy of the parents who see that their kids have to sleep on the ground and barely have enough money to bring them a mouthful of food is terrible. There is a lot of frustration and anger among the Venezuelans,” says the social worker. The Colombian government offers protection to 23,314 Venezuelan children and adolescents.

Casa de Paso Divina Providencia distributes more than 1,000 meals a day to Venezuelans, especially migrants who are passing through, elderly people, women and children. (14ymedio)

The Casa de Paso is nothing more than a back patio rented by the local Catholic church where some barracks were constructed to provide food to more than 500 migrants every day. A group of volunteers cooks the food (pasta and soup) with firewood on one side while others distribute the food and clean utensils.

“Padre, padre, come here, he collapsed,” yells a woman. On the dirt floor lies a man of 30 who can’t even stand up. Dozens of people around him are saying that “his blood sugar dropped” from lack of food.

Jesús Alonso Rodríguez, a deacon of the local church who shares lunch with the Venezuelans, explains to 14ymedio that situations like this are common in Cúcuta: “Finding Venezuelan brothers sleeping in the streets, below bridges, at the foot of trees, sometimes with a cardboard box or something to cover themselves with — this is something you see every day.”

Alonso considers that the overflow of Venezuelans in the border areas is “out of the hands” of the local authorities, who await the arrival this Thursday of the President, Juan Manuel Santos, to help them manage a situation that becomes more difficult every day.

“Last year, the cucuteña church distributed more than 300,000 plates of food in eight locations in the city to take care of the hunger of the Venezuelans,” she says. The Casa de Paso Divina Providencia is sustained thanks to the aid the church receives from the local worshippers.

Relations with the local population have occasionally been very tense. Paola Villamizar, a young Colombian of 24 who works as a volunteer in the Casa de Paso, says that the neighbors have tried to close the center. “They accuse us of filling the place with scum and say it’s our fault that hundreds of people are hanging around, looking for food. We’re only trying to help,” she laments.

In a report presented last month in Bogotá, the General Director of Colombia Migration, Christian Krüger, estimated that there were more than 550,000 Venezuelans in the country, 62 percent more than last year.

More than 50 percent of the Venezuelans who emigrate to Colombia or use this country as a transit point to third countries come across the Simón Bolívar International Bridge, in the department of Norte de Santander, and, also, more than half are undocumented. Some 58,000 Venezuelans live in the streets of Cúcuta. Deacon Alonso believes that the official figures are too low.

An elderly Venezuelan at Casa de Paso Divina Providencia, in Cúcuta, Colombia. (14y medio)

“In Cúcuta there are between 80,000 and 100,000 Venezuelans. It’s a situation without precedent in the country,” he explains.

Many local businessman take advantage of the difficult conditions in which the migrants find themselves to hire them for half the minimum wage. This situation has shaken loose the phantoms and fears of immigration among some of the town’s workers.

“In Cúcuta, there’s not even work for the locals, much less for the Venezuelans. In the last months, crime has increased, and there are many Venezuelans who take over zones of the city to live,” says Francisco, a local taxi driver.

According to official statistics, Cúcuta ended 2017 with an unemployment rate of 14.3 percent, the highest in the country, and an indication of illegal workers at around 70% of the labor force.

Along the highway that connects the regional capital with the village of La Parada, adjacent to the Simón Bolívar International Bridge that is shared by both countries, dozens of people brandish a plastic tube in the form of a gas pump to indicate that you can buy contraband Venezuelan fuel there.

“Gasoline costs between 4,000 and 5,000 pesos a gallon ($1.50). In Venezuela it’s cheaper to buy gasoline than water. They pass it to Colombia on trails (hidden steps in the more than 2,000 km of terrestrial border that both countries share),” explains Francisco.

Carolina Sánchez is a traveling vendor. She is 33, and her skin is burned by the tropical sun. In her hands she holds six bags of bread baked in Venezuela, which she waves every time she sees a car pass by.

“I have to go out and struggle for my kids,” she says between tears. With what she sells in Colombia, she buys food for three boys who depend on her in Rubio, on the other side of the border. “It’s hard, but God has to have pity on us,” she says while regaining composure. The Colombian police already have expelled her more than once from the highway, but she keeps coming back. “They don’t let us sell because we don’t have permits.”

The exodus of Venezuelans has been taken advantage of by some bus companies, who relocated their branch offices directly to the immediate vicinity of the Simón Bolívar International Bridge. The destinations vary: Bogotá, Quito, Lima, Santiago de Chile or Buenos Aires. Everything depends on the amount of money the Venezuelan is ready to pay, always in dollars or in Colombian pesos.

Gabriela and Alexander, a young married couple, share the rent of their room with 20 other people. Hoping to find a way to get ahead, they left Venezuela less than a month ago. (14ymedio)

“A trip to Buenos Aires costs 490 dollars. If you want to go to Bogotá, it’s 125 dollars, and if you go to Peru, 230 dollars,” says one of the ticket sellers who waits for Venezuelan clients on the Colombian side of the bridge.

After waiting 24 hours near the bridge, several Venezuelans start to protest because the bus line requires patience, and they will have to sleep on the ground under a tarp. “I had to buy every dollar at 270,000 bolivars before leaving Venezuela,” says Neyla Graterol.

“Venezuela’s economic model has collapsed. We’re worse off than we were 30 years ago. The politicians are the only ones who live well while the people are dying of hunger. The only thing left for us is to get out,” laments an engineer while she waits for the transport that will take her and her family to Chile, far from the hell that her country has become.

The low price of Venezuelan oil, which has contributed to worsening the crisis of Nicolás Maduro’s government, has affected those who depend on it directly. This is the case of Renzo Morales, 33, who is “fleeing the country” to go to Peru.

Morales hopes to be able to travel with another five Venezuelan businessmen who, like him, supplied jackhammers to PDVSA (the Venezuelan state-owned oil and natural gas company), but the defaults on the part of the State petroleum business hit his business hard.

“We were broke because we were contractors for PDVSA, and the Government takes almost three years to pay us, and it’s in a currency that is being devalued day by day,” explains Morales.

The migrant hopes to make money to send to his family so they can leave the country. “I left my heart in Venezuela.” The old guys and Maduro are the only ones who can stay there,” he says, speaking fast and with the conviction that the end of chavismo is near. “This Government is going to fall. We’re coming to the end. What’s sad is that we’ll need many years to reconstruct what they have destroyed,” he says.

The most varied businesses are accommodated in Cúcuta. “I buy hair, I buy hair!” yells Javier Yoandy, 16, toward the flux of people who are coming from Táchira and crossing the bridge.

“My job is to bring Venezuelans who want to sell their hair to wigmakers,” explains this intermediary who earns a commission for his services. “The price for a good head of hair runs between 25,000 and 60,000 pesos (from nine to 25 dollars).”

The adolescent carries a border mobility card authorized by the Colombian State to regulate the situation of Venezuelans who cross the border every day for work.

A Venezuelan migrant gets rehydrated after spending hours in line to legally enter Colombia in Cúcuta. (14ymedio)

Veronica Arrocera, 23, has dark skin, mistreated by the sun, and bags under her eyes that make her look older. She says that the situation in her country dragged her into prostitution six months ago, so she could get some pesos and help her family in Venezuela, like so many other compatriots.

“I studied business administration. There are many whores here who are educated: nurses, businesswomen, teachers, everything,” she says. She doesn’t want her face recorded because she’s ashamed of her situation. Veronica earns 10,000 Colombian pesos, less than three dollars, and between 10 and 100 times less than a Colombian woman, for the same thing.

To Arrocera, the Colombian authorities act xenophobic toward them. “They hit us with pistols, they jump in aggressively. They even have hit us with hoses, and they only do that with Venezuelans,” she reports.

A few yards from the corner where Arrocera works, a closed police truck is taking away a half-dozen Venezuelans. “Here they come again. Every day it’s the same shit. We play cat and mouse until they catch me; they deport me, and I come back,” she complains.

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.

Trump, UN and OAS Asked To Not Recognize Transfer of Power In Cuba Without Free Elections

Activist Rosa María Payá in front of the new Cuban Embassy in Washington. (Twitter)

14ymedio biggerEFE via 14ymedio, Miami, 7 February 2018 — On Tuesday, February 6, the Miami-Dade County Commission requested that the United States Government, the Organization of American States and the United Nations not recognize a possible transfer of power in Cuba if it is not the result of free elections.

The petition was contained in a resolution supported by Commissioner José Díaz on the occasion of tribute paid by the Miami-Dade Commission to the Cuban dissident, Rosa Maria Payá, for her work as the founder and coordinator of the Cuba Decide campaign. continue reading

The campaign is aimed at mobilizing the Cuban people to organize a binding plebiscite in which citizens can decide on the political system they want, according to an official of the Miami-Dade Commission.

In the resolution, which was unanimously approved, the Commission adopted Rosa Maria Payá’s call for the United States Government, the United Nations and the Organization of American States to “not recognize any succession of power in Cuba without free and multiparty elections that restore the self-determination of the Cuban people.”

Since Raúl Castro announced his intention to step down from the presidency, it is expected that his successor will be elected in a vote without opposition candidates on the electoral ballot.

“The Cuban people deserve the right to decide their own future in free, open and multiparty elections, not by a simulated vote orchestrated by the Communist regime,” said Commissioner Díaz.

Payá, the daughter of the dissident, Oswaldo Payá, who died in an automobile crash that his family believes was provoked by Castro agents in 2012, said that Cubans “need” the international community to support them in order to prevent a “dynastic succession” in Cuba.

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.

Authorities in Cabaiguan Suspend More than 50 Cart Vendor Licenses

The Municipal Administration Council (CAM) also encourages buyers to denounce operators who break the rules. (DC)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havna, 23 January 2018 — The local authorities in Cabaiguán, Sancti Spíritus Province, have become serious about sales from ambulatory cart vendors. Since the end of last year, more than 50 contracts with the carretilleros have been rescinded for violating the regulated prices imposed by the State, according to the official press. In addition, the carts that have remained have been moved away from the State’s “Red Tent” farm market, and an undetermined number of pounds of merchandise for sale (“not just a few,” according to the press) has been confiscated.

The newspaper Escambray put on the table, in its notice this Monday, the complaints of the carretilleros, who argue that it is impossible to sell at the regulated price if they want to earn something, contrary to the municipal authorities, who claim nonpayment to the State business, Acopio, for stolen produce or abuse of the consumer. continue reading

According to the local publication, in spite of efforts to control the imports of basic foods, the laws have been continually violated in the face of the laxness of the authorities and the citizens. For this reason, the Council of Municipal Administration (CAM) also encourages the buyers to denounce the carretilleros who break the rules.

“In December we made the decision, coordinated with Urban Agriculture, to not have any more contracts with the mobile points of this organism and to leave only the fixed points that have been a local investment. This was owing to price violations, fundamentally, and because they weren’t complying with the regulations of Urban Agriculture, which establish that they are mobile cart vendors, who can’t be within at least 200 meters of a State entity — and they were in front of the Red Tent — and that they should be linked to an organopónico*, because their purpose was to sell the production from those places,” Carlos Puentes Molina, Vice President of the CAM that manages the distribution of goods and consumption, told Escambray.

The text also said that they took measures against the ambulatory vendors who violated “the scope of the activity,” meaning that they cannot eastablish themselves in a fixed area. “Just in this area there were six who were reprimanded and preventive measures were taken,” says Elianni Silot López, municipal director of Work and Social Security.

The official press maintains that when the food was at the market in Cabaiguán, “at payable prices” (i.e. regulated), it sold in barely one hour. In addition, the police intervened in three stores and confiscated enough merchandise to fill two trucks.

The local police continue to monitor “every Sunday at the fair (…) to verify that it is selling in accord with the list of prices.”

In the whole province, the Integral Supervision Direction had imposed, at the end of 2017, 84 fines for price violations (a total of 9,000 pesos) and collected another 25,000 pesos in sanctions against cuentapropistas, self-employed persons, who were engaged in business without a license.

Since the end of 2016, the enforcement of controls on prices was extended from the province of Artemisa to the rest of the Island. Most consumers celebrated the much lower prices, but now they lament the decrease in quality and supply after the arrival of regulated prices in the markets.

The measure, which put producers and intermediaries on alert, was taken after a session of the National Assembly that took place in December 2016, in which the subject of the price of food provoked numerous discussions. In answer to the claim by several deputies, Raúl Castro said that measures would be taken to close the gap between prices and salaries.

Translator’s note:

*Cuban system of urban agriculure using organic gardens. It first arose as a community response to lack of food security during the Special Period after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

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.