Cuba’s Independent Artists Denounce the "State of Exception" They’ve Faced Since 1959

Yanelys Núñez, Nonardo Perea, Amaury Pacheco, Iris Ruiz, Luis Manuel Otero, Soandry del Río, and Michel Matos in a protest action against Decree 349. (Facebook)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana | 17 September 2018 — The group of independent artists who since July have been carrying out a campaign against Decree 349 reports that “since the triumph of the Revolution, in 1959, there has existed a state of exception when it comes to the freedom of artistic creation and expression” in Cuba and that a considerable number of “creators and cultural projects have flourished from their own will and creative capacity, but then been taken down by the powers and the official institutions that rule national life.”

The text is part of the San Isidro Manifesto, presented this past Wednesday by the group as one more of their actions against the rule that regulates artistic presentations in private spaces and against which they have been mobilizing since July. The document, which is circulating on media, is signed by Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara, Yanelys Núñez, Amaury Pacheco, Iris Ruiz, Michel Matos, Hamlet Lavastida, Soandry del Río, Verónica Vega, Lía Villares, Yasser Castellanos, and Tania Brugera, among others. continue reading

Its launch took place at the venue of the Museum of Politically Uncomfortable Art (MAPI), in the San Isidro neighborhood of Old Havana, and musicians, poets, writers, audiovisual directors, producters, and plastics artists joined the act.

Yanelys Núñez read the text, which invites “any individual who feels like part of this phenomenon that today we call ‘the independent'” to participate in the campaign aimed at the repeal of Decree 349, and urges a dialogue that will allow the review of cultural policies that the State institutions are attempting to impose.

Later, the attendees made a pilgrimage to the Malecon to ask the patron of Cuba, the Virgin of Charity of El Cobre, for the annulment of the law.

The manifesto mantains that the law “legitimizes the use of judicial action to punish the free creation and determination” that belongs to them as artists and individuals and says that it “stimulates corruption” through the creation of the figure of the supervisor-inspector “taking into account that inspectors are one of the most corrupt sectors of the regulatory apparatus of the State.”

On July 10 the Council of Ministers approved Decree 349, focused on “the violations regarding cultural policy and over the provision of artistic services” which will enter into full force in December.

The artists who defend the repeal of the law believe that this “is destined not only to control and intimidate artists and creators from various branches of the national culture, but also in the private business sector, to impede a natural and organic relationship inside the different spheres of Cuban society.” In addition, they believe that it “threatens with legal warnings, fines, and seizures of equipment or property used as a platform for the creation and dissemination of independent works.”

The decree grants to the “supervisor-inspector,” they emphasize, the authority to suspend immediately any performance or show that he understands to violate the law, having the ability to go to the extreme of canceling the self-employment license to practice work.

“We understand exactly that any nation in the world must regulate its internal activities, receive taxes if those become lucrative, just as they must safeguard internal order and peace,” point out the artists. However, in their view it is “inadmissable to accept the existence of a confusion of laws” that only aims to control the artistic sector and “punish it for its independent expression and action.”

The group of artists believes that the “only logical aim” this law appears to have is to maintain “the ideological primacy in a highly centralized state.”

Some of the artists complain that the official press has tried to distort the intention and origin of the campaign against Decree 349 and clarify that they are only asking institutions to listen to them and that they are not calling for “either neither anarchy nor confrontation.”

However, they maintain that these laws and rules are impossible to comply with because “they don’t adjust to the national reality at the present time” and because they are “abusive, disproportionate, and they violate international norms and agreements.” For this they direct their proclamation “to all men and women of good will” and invite their support.

“We are determined to come together as a group to begin a collection of sociocultural actions like this as calls for international attention to halt the imposition of a complex of laws that insults all Cubans,” they state.

On more than one occasion this group has suffered political repression for trying to carry out public acts to support and defend their campaign against the decree. On August 11 various artists who wanted to participate in a concert at the MAPI venue suffered the repression of police who showed up at the place along with officials from State Security to stop the action. On that day, which ended with the detention of several of the artists, neighbors from the San Isidro neighborhood went out to the street to condemn the conduct of those in uniform.

Translated by: Sheilagh Carey

___________________________

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 Exodus in Cuban Chess

Leinier Domínguez, who currently lives abroad, was expelled from the Cuban national team this spring. (Baku World Cup 2015/Susan Polgar)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Ernesto Santana, Havana | 17 September 2018 — The last movements in Cuban chess have been three great escapes—in consecutive years, Yuniesky Quesada, Leinier Domínguez and Lázaro Bruzón—something that could be called the “American exit.” The game is in check, but in reality it is in keeping with the logic of all Cuban sports, where emigration and decline don’t stop.

That the official declaration announcing his expulsion from the national squad contained lies, as Bruzón claimed, is nothing new. “A fabricated note to make them look like heroes and me like a villain,” wrote the chess player from Las Tunas in his response to the National Chess Commission. Rather, it’s normal that the authorities lie about their own responsibility and denigrate the athletes. continue reading

Bruzón wonders where these words full of “negativity and hate” came from. The higher-ups only know how to throw trash onto the lower floors, in INDER (The National Institute of Sports, Physical Education, and Recreation) and in the whole community. It seems that they have no other methods. The athletes who decide to emigrate are, for the bosses, deserting soldiers, not people who want to make a change in their lives.

The expulsions of the three best current Cuban chess players—among the most notable in Latin America—is a devastating blow for national chess. It is even the end of a kind of myth, of a pleasant legend: the rivalry between Leinier Domínguez, from Güines, and Lázaro Bruzón, from Las Tunas, has come to its end, at least inside the country.

Born a year apart—Bruzón in 1982 and Domínguez in 1983—the two were friends since childhood, when they threw themselves into the tough dream of triumphing in the world of chess. Soon they began to receive laurels in Cuba and abroad, and they passed from FIDE Masters and International Masters to become Grand Masters. 2002 was the year of the takeoff of the two friends and rivals. Fifteen years later, the one from Güines settled in the United States. Now the one from Las Tunas is doing it. The dream was lovely while it lasted.

But this “American exit” is not exclusive to the three best. Even as of several years earlier, the United States had become the destination for other good Cuban chess players. In fact, that country is the one that has received the greatest number of these born here in the 21st century so far, and there are already several Cuban Grand Masters in the American ELO ranking.

However, it’s not only there that the exodus of our chess players is aimed. In the field of this sport in the world, more than a few who manage to change their national federation, but it is notable that, for example, in 2014 alone, of the 37 transfers approved by FIDE, five were of Cuban players. Currently, in addition to the United States, dozens of Cubans compete in countries like Ecuador, Paraguay, or Colombia.

The authorities brag that they are continuing to train chess players, but it’s clear that, despite a lot of talent, the new ones don’t end up being included in the elite. This sport is in check, on the verge of checkmate. Unless those above—those always worried more about themselves than about the athletes, and who believe themselves more important than them, although they live off of them—adopt a more realistic attitude.

In chess it is easier—in comparison with other sports—to allow athletes to compete for Cuba even though they live in other countries. They must come up with a solution more or less like this. There is no other path. And they need to do everything possible so that the most promising chess players can raise their ELO. Is it so difficult to offer them internet service, essential for them, which the Government provides to any mediocrity?

The board speaks clearly: there are no more moves and time is up.

Translated by: Sheilagh Carey

____________________________

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.

Animal Protection… Also for Oxen

The economic crisis has meant that for decades most work on the land is done with oxen. (A. Bielosouv)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Marcelo Hernández, Havana, September 13, 2018 — One of the subjects that has come up most frequently in the meetings where the reform of the Constitution is being debated is the necessity to have a Law of Animal Protection. The majority of the people who have launched the proposal are thinking especially about the infinite number of abandoned dogs and cats in Cuba’s cities, the violence they are victims of, and the irresponsible abandonment that they suffer at the hands of their owners.

The bad working conditions of thousands of horses used for passenger transport all over the country is also on the minds of many of those demanding an end to such bad treatment and the establishment of a law that prevents excesses. However, few think about the many oxen used for farming labor all over the country, made invisible as a matter of course, but in a situation many times worse than that of those horses who pull coaches packed with people or of abandoned pets.

The long economic crisis in the country and the lack of a market selling agricultural machinery has meant that for decades the majority of work on the land is done with these animals. Without the plow, with its corresponding yoke of oxen, it wouldn’t be possible to produce many of the products sold on the stands in markets. With the lack of tractors and mechanized combine harvesters, a large percentage of the harvest in rural areas rests on the backs of these animals. continue reading

In the Matanzas plain, Rigoberto takes care of his two oxen like they are the apple of his eye. He raised them from birth and they answer to the names General and Florentino. “Without these animals my family would be even worse off,” recognizes the farmer, who grows greens and vegetables. “I take care of them like they were my own children,” the farmer shares, although he recognizes that his story isn’t very common in the surrounding area.

“On the closest cooperatives and on the state-owned farms, these animals are exploited and so they have a short life, because they aren’t given time to rest nor the food that they need,” Rigoberto believes. “When a guajiro (Cuban farmer) is the one who has a yoke of oxen, he tends to take care of them more, because it is very expensive and it will take a long time to get others.” General and Florentino sleep under a roof in an improvised shed that Rigoberto made. “You need to have a veterinarian look after them and give them fresh grass along with enriched fodder,” he points out.

However, another view appears as soon as one leaves this Matanzas man’s farm. Ribs sticking out, snouts injured by a badly placed nosering, and workdays that never seem to end is the most common lot of the area’s oxen. Those that hope, along with dogs, cats, and horses, that legislation is passed in their favor.

Translated by: Sheilagh Carey

____________________________

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.

A Supposed Historic Right / Fernando Dámaso

Fernando Damaso, 15 August 2018 — The supposed historic right of the current Cuban Communist Party is fairly questionable.

In the first place, it is not the continuation of the Cuban Revolutionary Party (PRC), founded by José Martí to organize and carry out war against Spain for Cuba’s independence, which, according to its statutes, ceased to exist once that ended, leaving its militants free to found new parties, according to their economic, political, and social interests. Martí never demanded that the members abandon their political ideas to belong to it, but rather only that they desire and fight for independence.

The first Cuban Communist Party was founded on August 16, 1925 by Carlos Baliño and José Antonio Mella, on the base of the so-called Communist Association of Havana, founded by the former on March 18, 1923 with only fifteen members who later increased by organizing communist associations in other places. It was always a minority party. continue reading

Expelled from the party for not sharing some of its political aspects, when he was assassinated in Mexico in 1928 Mella was not fighting in it, but rather was a member of the Central Committee of the Mexican Communist Party.

Under the direction of Blas Roca, it turned into a party affiliated with the Third International, subject to its policies and those of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union under Stalin, which brought as consequences a complete gap from the situation at producing the fall of Gerardo Machado’s regime and the so-called Revolution of 1933, with calls for the occupation of the factories by the workers and of the central sugar plantations by workers and peasants, just like in the USSR.

To avoid chaos this erroneous policyhad to be repressed by the Ministry of the Interior (Antonio Guiteras) of Dr. Ramón Grau San Martín’s government, who turned into the target of the party, conspiring against the unity necessary at that moment to consolidate the revolution, assisting their own downfall and the rise to power of Colonel Fulgencio Batista.

In 1940, after the start of the Second World War, six of its directors (Juan Marinello, Blas Roca, Esperanza Sánchez, Salvador García Aguero, Romárico Cordero, and César Vilar) formed part of the Governing Coalition in the Constituent Assembly, selected to write the new Constitution of the Republic. They played their role, like those of other parties, among the 77 delegates to the Assembly, achieving the historic and never surpassed Constitution of 1940.

Later, the Communist Party formed part, along with other parties, of the so-called Democratic Socialist Coalition, which brought to power Fulgencio Batista, who ruled between 1940 and 1944. In this government Juan Marinello and Carlos Rafael Rodríguez participated as Ministers without a Portfolio.

During the governments of the Authentic Party (1944-1948 and 1948-1952), the first with Dr. Ramón Grau San Martín and the second with Dr. Carlos Prío Socarrás as Presidents, the party, by now called the Popular Socialist Party, formed part of the opposition and centered its attention on dominating the unions, which in a large measure it achieved.

After March 10, 1952, when Batista carried out a coup, the party inserted itself in the political fight against him, but without participating in the armed fight, which it criticized until nearly the end of the fall of the regime, when it created a small group of gunmen in Las Villas under the command of Félix Torres and, at the same time, situated, both in the Sierra Maestra and the Sierra Cristal, some of its leaders in the respective guerrilla leaderships, but without direct participation in combat.

At the triumph of the Revolution, it participated actively in its consolidation, as in the formation of the Integrated Revolutionary Organizations, of sad remembrance because of its manifest sectarianism, creating problems with the 26th of July Movement and the Revolutionary Directory of the 13th of March, principal organizations in the fight against Batista.

Separately, Aníbal Escalante and his followers in 1963 formed part of the United Party of the Socialist Revolution (PURS) and later, in 1965, of the Cuban Communist Party, Blas Roca delivering the banner of the party to Fidel Castro as its leader.

Both in the pre-1959 stage as well as later, the Communist Party has shown signs of mistaken assessments of the situation and of enormous errors in economic, political, and social management, which have affected the country and the citizens, incapable, in sixty years of exercising absolute power, of achieving its development and solving old and new problems. The facts are too many and known by everyone, and it’s not worth repeating them.

All this invalidates it, from the so-called “historic right,” from setting itself up as “the superior leading force of society and the State.”

Translated by: Sheilagh Carey

The Original Sin / Fernando Dámaso

Fernando Damaso, 21 August 2018 — In the current project of the new Constitution one finds the original sin, which has been present in Cuba since the year 1959: confusing Homeland with Party and Nation with Revolution.

The bishiop of Santiago de Cuba, Monsenior Pedro Meurice, warned of this publicly during Pope John Paul II’s visit to that province in January of 1998.

The Homeland and the Nation are concepts that come up with nationality, and they hold up over time until its disappearance and, because of that, enjoy a long life. The Party and the Revolution are temporary concepts, corresponding to specific moments in the life of the Homeland and the Nation and, because of that, their life is limited. continue reading

Mixing them and manipulating them, with the dark purpose of prolonging the existence of the latter, and granting them a role and importance that they lack, only serves to confuse citizens and make them commit errors in assessment and analysis on the questions that concern the country and themselves.

Its application in Cuba demonstrates it: here the Party and the Revolution occupy the foreground and the Homeland and the Nation are simple catch-alls. Everything that is carried out, in any sphere, is an action or result of the Revolution, which prolongs itself indefinitely over time, while everyone knows that it is simply a temporary phenomenon, framed within a start and a finish (the time of transformations), which then gives way to the establishment of its precepts in a government.

Here nobody says “the government did such and such,” but rather “the Revolution did it,” adding, furthermore, “under the direction of the Party.”

This induced confusion of concepts has served to dismantle the characteristic public-spiritedness of Cubans, during the second half of the 19th century and the first of the 20th, that made them active subjects of society, substituting it with a fanaticism, also induced, responsible for the loss of values and the current civic passivity, waiting for the problems of the Homeland and the Nation to resolve themselves, worried only about surviving, whatever it takes.

Translated by: Sheilagh Carey

Panamanian Arrested for Transporting 10 Cubans Over the Border With Colombia

Cubans cross the Darien forest to reach Panama. (Courtesy / Archive)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Miami, September 10, 2018 — The Panama border police announced this Sunday the detention of a Panamanian who was transporting ten Cubans through a zone of the border with Colombia, in an alleged case of human trafficking.

The Panamanian, whose identity was not revealed, was driving a truck containing the ten Cubans, and was detained at the Agua Fría control post, in the province of Darién, bordering Colombia, the National Border Service (Senafront) reported this Sunday. continue reading

“It was coordinated with the Deputy Prosecutor’s Office of Primary Care for the corresponding procedures in this proceeding” after the arrest “of those involved in the alleged crime of international human trafficking,” added Senafront in a statement.

Illegal migrants who seek to reach the United States come from all over the world arrive in Panama, the doorway to Central America, after a route of thousands of kilometers, transported by international human trafficking mafias, in a business that generates hundreds of millions of dollars each year.

The massive arrival of Cubans a few years ago created a humanitarian crisis in Panama and Costa Rica, considered a consequence of the thaw in relations between Cuba and the United States and the end of migration benefits for Cubans in the US.

More than 100 Cubans have been expelled from Panama so far this year and 298 have been arrested for being in the country illegally, as the National Migration Service reported to 14ymedio. According to official statistics Cubans occupy the second place in the number of detentions, only behind Colombia and Venezuela, both bordering countries.

Translated by: Sheilagh Carey

__________________________

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.

"A Spaceship Fell in Our Neighborhood"

The Packard, with 312 rooms, has wide glass windows, sharp corners, and an entranceway that is integrated into the promenade. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Marcelo Hernández, Havana, September 11, 2018 — Gerardo Carbonell chews tobacco, seated in the doorway of a housing complex on Calle Prado, as he says that in his neighborhood “a spaceship fell.” The dazzling object in fact is identified and is no other than the recently inaugurated hotel Grand Packard, the second five-star-plus hotel in Cuba.

The facade shines under the September sun and although one does not yet see the coming and going of tourists, the accommodation is already causing a stir. “In the last few days many important people have come to see it and participate in the inauguration,” says Carbonell, although “they don’t move much, they don’t walk this way,” he laments.

The housing complex where this retired Havanan has lived for 60 years is only meters from the impressive construction but they seem two worlds apart. “This is like the sun and the moon, day and night,” he believes. “Now these houses are looking more deteriorated because in comparison with this new thing everything seems much older.” continue reading

By “old” Carbonell doesn’t refer only to the age of the colonial style building where he lives with his wife and three children, but also to its facilities. “On this site the pipes collapsed years ago and all the water that we consume has to be taken in buckets from the cistern or carried to the rooms by our own power.”

However, the least of their problems is carryong the water from one part of the complex to another, the most difficult is getting it to the complex. “We have a supply once a week, maybe twice. The rest of the time you have to pay for pipas (water trucks) or take care of your needs elsewhere,” he maintains.

The retiree points out the places in the area where he frequently goes to use the bathroom. “In the Hotel Inglaterra there are good bathrooms and they aren’t such a pain about it, also in the Parque Central they have a good supply of toilet paper, but in the Telégrafo you can’t even enter because the security is really strict,” he explains.

The Grand Packard, developed by the Spanish company Iberostar Hotels & Resorts, will not have problems with water. This Monday the water trucks supplied it very early, in a routine carried out by all the hotels in the area, which has among the worst water shortages in Havana.

With ten stories and an exceptional view, the accommodation promises its visitors the chance to get to know an historical and well-trafficked part of the city. The shopkeepers in the area hope to benefit from the clients who venture out to eat and have a few drinks outside of the hotel facilities at a time when the drop in tourism worries everyone.

“We are on the same sidewalk and we’ll get a slice of this cake,” predicts an employee at the nearby private cafeteria La Tatagua. The place, small and well designed, has a view of the Paseo del Prado and a wifi connection that clients can use as they eat. “Although the Packard has all types of luxuries, there are always those who want to touch reality with their own hands,” he adds.

Reality is a vague concept in one of the most touristy areas of the country. On one hand, there are the spectacular old cars, many of them convertibles, that offer trips through the most famous areas of the urban landscape, but a few meters away are buildings, miracularly still standing, in which dozens of families are packed.

The floor of the central promenade has recently been polished and this week various workers continued working on the streetlights that line the route. “The whole area has made itself beautiful for the occasion, especially the green areas just in front of the hotel,” assures one of the guards, in a perfect suit and tie, who watches over the entrance.

Property of Gaviota, the state-owned hotel business controlled by the Armed Forces, the Packard has come to underline the contrasts in a area where the hotel Manzana Kempinski was already viewed as “something fallen from the sky,” as Carbonell jokes.

“This was a ruin, because before that the Biscuit hotel was here, which was inaugurated in 1911 and which my grandfather told me was a marvel,” insists María Eugenia, who lives in another housing complex on the opposite side of the street “with a direct view of the new hotel. Now I wake up and when I look out the window I feel like I’m in another country,” she remarks ironically.

The Packard, with 312 rooms, has wide glass windows, sharp corners, and an entranceway integrated into the shady promenade, typical of the area. Its impressiveness and size — it occupies almost an entire block — have few rivals in the area.

The facade, however, has its detractors. “Although part of the original exterior structure has been preserved, the majority of the elements are modern and break with the dominant aesthetic in the area,” believes Laura Fumero, graduate in architecture, who works with a small private design firm.

“The height of the entryway seems to make the building look big, but my major concern has to do with the demand for energy, water, and other resources that this hotel will have when it is fully operational. It is not much use to have something so luxurious in a place with general infrastructure that’s over a century old,” she points out.

The architect goes further and calls into question the need for hotels of “high volume.” The decision “would be more accepted if we were experiencing a dramatic increase in tourism, but that’s not the case,” she specifies. “It’s also a matter of a type of accommodation aimed at high income visitors, but right now we’re experiencing a fall in the number of Americans who come and they are the ones who are, for the most part, most likely to spend more,” she believes.

In the first half of the year global tourism numbers, about 2.5 million visitors, went down more than 5%. Taking into account only American tourists, the drop in that time period was about 24%. Between January and March, 240 groups of Americans cancelled their reservations due to the new restrictions that Washington has placed on trips to the Island.

In June, the nearby Manzana Kempinski was down about 20% in occupancy, according to testimonies given to 14ymedio by various employees. “It’s a difficult gamble to make, because in this area there is already a large saturation of rooms and we are in a difficult moment,” confirms a tour operator who preferred to remain anonymous. Despite that, the general director, Xavier Destribats, assured that the Swiss hotel group that manages it has various other projects in conjunction with the state-owned Gaviota.

“Every inauguration increases the pressure and urgency to attract more tourism, but we don’t see another boom happening like what happened with the rapprochement of Barack Obama,” explains the specialist in reference to the diplomatic thaw between the two nations that began in December 2014. “It would have to change somewhat drastically for the number of tourists to reach what it needs to be,” he affirms.

Further from the worries of architects and tour operators, the Grand Packard hotel’s closests neighbors, like María Eugenie and Gerardo Carbonell, fear that the building’s demand for resources will harm their delay routines.

“We will have to get used to the noise of the water trucks from early in the morning and the coming and going of supplies, security in the area area will increase and that will affect the black market,” he points out.

“Many people are afraid that this way of opening luxury hotels will continue and that Calle Prado will end up completely dedicated to tourism,” she warns.

Above their heads, on a brilliant terrace filled with attractive offerings, the first curious people look toward the horizon and once in while turn their gazes down.

Translated by: Sheilagh Carey

______________________________

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 Work of the Century" is Now a Ghost Town in Cienfuegos

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Justo Mora, Cienfuegos, August 30, 2018 — Pedro Albaladejo arrived in Juraguá 31 years ago. At that time he didn’t have as much gray hair as he does now, nor did he let his beard grow more than five days. He was a strong young man, with a tanned complexion, who at 35 made his living as a builder.

One day he received an offer to be part of the group that was going to build “the work of the century” in Cuba: the nuclear power plant that would provide electricity to the industrial center of Cienfuegos. He exchanged his ranch in Las Tunas for a temporary hostel and ever since has lived in the vicinity of what the locals call the CEN, the ruins of the mammoth project of the National Electronuclear Plant.

“Before, this place was full of people who came to work. Trucks never stopped arriving. It was another time. The Soviet Union supported us and here there was hope that life would get better,” he says as he pastures a herd of goats among abandoned blocks of concrete. continue reading

“So many people without houses in this country, and here they have left a ton of apartments unfinished. That’s a crime, boy,” a neighbor laments. (14ymedio)

$1.1 billion was invested in the construction of the reactor, and more than 10,000 workers, engineers, and architects worked on the project. Dozens of Russian specialists worked together with the Cubans on the projects of the Nuclear City.

Fidel Castro made an agreement with the Soviets in 1976 to build two nuclear reactors of the VVER-400 V316 type, but the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in 1986 slowed down the Russian nuclear program, and the end of Soviet subsidies to Cuba ended up paralyzing the project in 1992.

The first houses in the Nuclear City, developed in the Soviet style, were turned over in 1981. “We built these buildings ourselves,” says Albaladejo, pointing out a block of five-story apartments. Empty. “So many people without houses in this country, and here they have left a ton of apartments unfinished. That’s a crime, boy,” he laments.

Around him are the ruins of what in the past were hostels, warehouses, offices, dozens of buildings abandoned and cannibalized by the “stonepickers,” as the locals call the people who devote themselves to pulling out blocks, rods, and slabs from the ruins.

“Homeland or death! We will win! Socialism or death! Resist and win!” The old slogans painted on the buildings and the portraits of Fidel Castro and Che Guevara resist the passage of time. A completely abandoned 18-story building and various apartment blocks without doors or windows remind one of Pripyat, the nuclear city that the Soviets built nearby Chernobyl which was evacuated and abandoned after the explosion of a reactor on April 26, 1986.

“No one wants to live here. Young people leave for Cienfuegos or abroad because there’s only work here as a guard, in the private hospital, or as a teacher. There’s almost never water and in the buildings it rains more inside than out because of all the leaks,” he laments.

In the Nuclear City and its vicinity around 9,000 people live, according to the most recent official figures. After the disaster of the atomic plant, the Government created a tobacco factory and promoted agriculture as a source of jobs.

“A while ago the Government built a hydroponic facility here. They figured that we would be able to eat vegetables from there at low prices. The only thing remaining from the venture is the name because there’s not even a plot, no way,” says Albaladejo.

Yasniel was born in the Nuclear City and has never left the province. He’s 13 and has the look of someone who has already lived a lot, despite his young age. In the afternoons he goes out to fish with two friends on the pier. He dreams of having his own boat when he’s an adult, but the prices are through the roof, he says.

Yasniel was born in the Nuclear City and has never left the province. He’s 13 and has the look of someone who has already lived a lot, despite his young age. In the afternoons he goes out to fish with two friends on the pier.

“I sell the fish to other fishermen, and they resell it in Cienfuegos. The truth is that there’s not much to do here. Sometimes at night I go to the Circle (a recreation center) to listen to music.”

His school is destroyed. After Irma, the last hurricane that affected Cienfuegos, pieces of windows and part of the structure are on the ground. “It [the school] is a disaster. There aren’t even teachers,” he says. Where there used to be laboratories and classrooms, there are now only piles of debris.

Yasniel says that he would like to be like the Olympic boxing champion Robeisy Ramírez, native of the Nuclear City. “That kid was a great boxer, but here they don’t give life to anyone. He did well to stay in Mexico.”

When he gets together enough money, Yasniel takes the opportunity to connect to the internet in one of the City parks.

“There’s nothing else to do around here,” he says resignedly. “Whenever I can, I chat with friends on Facebook. A bunch of people from the CEN live in the US and some were friends of mine before they left.”

Translated by: Sheilagh Carey

_________________________

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.

Much More Damaging Than a Hurricane: Expropriations Without Compensation

House destroyed in Caibarién by Hurricane Irma. (Pedry Roxana)

The Cuban Economy, Elias Amor Bravo, 27 August 2018 – Someone asks a naive question in Granma today: “Can a policy be more harmful than a hurricane?” The answer is yes, of course a policy can cause irreparable damage to a society by its application.

The most obvious example is the policy practiced by the Cuban communist regime against its people. Don’t look at “the blockade or the US embargo,” because however many measures one can cite of concrete cases of the application of that legislation, the harm caused by communist policies is infinitely worse. One in particular, the worst of them all: expropriations without compensation.

In any case, as has already been pointed out on this blog on numerous occasions, the matter of the embargo has an easy fix: pay what is owed by the Cuban regime. When one of the parties is unwilling to assume its responsibilities in a dispute, normally the other one will not make a move either. continue reading

It has been almost 60 years, certainly, but many more could pass, because I insist that the damage that the poorly-named ’blockade’ causes the Cuban economy is miniscule compared with the waste, lavish spending, nonsense, and accepted bankruptcies over six decades of the Castro regime.

Cuba has done business, received investments, obtained credits and loans over decades, without any limit, but nevertheless, that did not mean an improvement in the living conditions of Cubans, but rather the complete opposite. It’s time that demagogy be set aside once and for all, and that they begin to assume responsibilities for the many votes that they obtain from the countries of the United Nations.

Even a hurricane, as the Cuban residents of south Florida well know, with all its destructive force, can still create economic opportunities in recovery that over the long term end up being positive. To this end, it is the financial sector, savings and insurance, whose development on the island is practically nonexistent. The Castro blockade of an activity essential for the functioning of an economy, in terms of connection to disasters, is an example that confirms the terrible quality of the economic policies implemented on the island.

Playing dominoes in Cuba after Irma.

In Cuba, cyclones are devastating, among other things, because there is no space for private or public savings. Basically, because Cubans scrape by on the lowest salaries in the world, incapable of saving for old age and with a notable suspicion and distrust toward the banks belonging to the state, which on occasions have shown that, when the time comes to defend interests, they never put first those of their depositors, but rather those of the ones in charge. The Cuban economy has neither the rigor nor the confidence necessary for the damages of a hurricane to be fixed as happens in any other country in the world. To that end, the consequences are bigger and it takes much more time to return to the levels of prior to the natural disaster.

History is what it is. After the property confiscations decreed by the communist revolution at the beginning of the 60s and until the “revolutionary offensive” of 1968, the hereditary private capital of Cubans passed to the hands of the state without any compensation.

A hurricane of massive destruction. It’s possible that the Granma columnist doesn’t know it, or that the report that is sparingly made every year for the United Nations doesn’t want to refer to it, but those uncompensated expropriations by the state from their legitimate owners (many of them citizens of the US whose government sees itself as entitled to defend their interests) meant the absolute impossibility of every again reaching their prior levels of income and wealth and, for this reason, they ended their days in the most absolute misery.

Perhaps it doesn’t matter to the communists what could happen to these people, their assets, and their companies, but what they had to endure as a result of these “revolutionary” actions was much more destructive than the worst of hurricanes: exile, rupture, the loss of family ties, or simply fleeing abroad in search of freedom.

What Granma calls “the economic, commercial, and financial blockade imposed by the United States against Cuba” is a joke compared with the harm caused by that communist greed to change the structure of property in the Cuban economy. The impact of this was well over $140 billion. In practical terms, this is the total value of all the homes and savings that were expropriated suddenly in two or three neighborhoods in Havana. If what they want is to compare, let them do so.

I insist again. The “blockade” has an easy fix. Pay. Once done, let’s see if it’s true that the Cuban economy can straighten itself out. I greatly fear that it won’t be possible if one considers the design created in the so-called “constitutional reform.” One step forward, but two steps back. This is the real check on any real advance in the Cuban economy and in the improvement of the population’s living conditions.

For a responsible government, throwing a stone and hiding the hand isn’t the most appropriate conduct. If the communist regime wants to normalize economic, commercial, and financial relations with the United States, it knows well what it has to do.

I don’t see the US government especially interested in maintaining a policy whose sole responsibility belongs to someone else. The recent toughening of sanctions by president Donald Trump in 2017 is a good point in the game to try to put a definitive end to the dispute. Above all because it means not accepting a Castro “snub” from which US citizens and companies never should have suffered.

The United States does well to defend its’ people’s interests. It’s a message that, transferred to the rest of the world, has a very clear and valuable meaning, possibly quite superior to that given by other countries to their citizens who are victims of communist expropriations.

History is there to be told. Frequently, the communist regime in Havana tends to create a history that never existed, or to cut from it scenes that by now turn out to be unviable, like the arguments offered to oppose a democratic and pluralistic multiparty system. This is typical of authoritarianisms, because they only want one culture, one economy, a political system based on one ideology: socialist or communist, it doesn’t make a difference.

If the General Assembly of the United Nations really wanted to help in this matter, it would be easy. Maybe in Havana they are more interested in permanent harassment of their neighbor to the north. Maybe they want it to continue this way for another 60 years.

Translated by: Sheilagh Carey

More Than 20 People Tried for Alleged Falsification of Internal Migration Documents

The trial against the alleged network began this Tuesday at the Provincial Court of Havana. (tsp.gob.cu)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, August 29, 2018 — This Tuesday at the Provincial Court of Havana, the trial began against more than 20 people accused of participating in an alleged network of migration document falsification so that provincial residents would be able to reside in the capital of the island, Diario de Cuba announced today.

The network, which allegedly operated between 2013 and 2016, “was centered around the Housing Office of the municipality of Cerro, according to the official record of the case,” said the independent medium in the statement.

According to authorities, this group’s procedure consisted of identifying individuals who needed to go through the process urgently and who were exhausted by the bureaucracy necessary to complete it. “Many people arrived at the workplace of the accused officials and agreed on an amount that, in general, would be paid in two halves: the first at the beginning and the second once the required Resolution was delivered,” explains DDC. continue reading

The main defendents, Sonia Milagro Barban, a lawyer at Cerro’s Municipal Housing Department since 2012, and her friend, Iluminada Machada, ex-employee of the Havana Provincial Administration Council, allegedly charged between 40 and 150 dollars, mostly to young people seeking to reside permanently in the capital or who needed an address change to be hired for a State job, as is required by law.

Both women face sentences of between 8 and 15 years in prison for the crimes of falsification of public documents and bribery. Another five accused, “among them office workers and citizens who allegedly benefitted economically from the group engaged in corrupting documents,” may also be sentenced to 3 years in prison, in addition to being disqualified from future employment in public administration.

According to the Attorney General of the Republic’s report, Machado and Barban joined together “with the purpose of making an illegitimate profit, with Barban taking advantage of the power of the position which she held.” In this way, the applicants, some of whom are also accused in the trial, arrived at the workplace of the officials facing trial in order to settle the process.

A third member of the alleged plot, a technician withTerritorial Planning Marily García, could not be tried, as she committed suicide in Havana in November of 2016, a few days after being notified that she would be subject to an inestigation regarding the internal migration records that she managed.

The fall of this group was preceded by complaints of irregularities by officials of the Offices of Housing Processes and supervisors of the Offices of Identity Cards in the municipalities of Regla, El Cotorro, San Miguel del Padrón, La Lisa, and East Havana.

Additionally, according to the case file, the quality of the falsifications was poor, due to having been made on household printers, without the reliefs or special inks required for the official emblems. Finally, the criminal expert’s report was able to confirm that the network had made at least more than twenty false change of addresses, but according to a lawyer consulted by DDC there could have been more, given the high demand for this process.

According to the Population and Housing Census conducted in 2012, 11.2% of the Cuban population is made up of interprovincial emigrants and almost half of those are settled in Havana. 24.8% of the Cuban capital’s population is made up of immigrants from other parts of the country.

Since 1997 a Legal Decree has established internal migratory regulations for Havana that prohibits Cubans who come from other areas of the country from establishing residence or living permanently in the capital without authorization. The strict legislation has created a framework of marriages of convenience, false work permits, and bribes to get identity cards with Havana addresses.

 Translated by: Sheilagh Carey

___________________

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 Cuban Economy is Not Taking Off, According to Cepal

Vendors at the Vedado Farmers’ Market in Havana (El Nuevo Herald)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, August 29, 2018 — Cuban experts consulted by 14ymedio agree that the predictions of Cepal (the UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean) confirm the stagnation of the national economy. Some even doubt that the growth of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) reaches the 1.5% announced last week by this body of the United Nations.

According to Cepal’s report, GDP will grow an average of 1.5% on the whole continent, far from the 2.2% that it predicted in April.

“Instead of surpassing 2017 figures, Cuba is stagnating,” says the economist Elías Amor Bravo, who also points out that the Cuban government itself has set 3% as the necessary growth to overcome its external and internal structural problems. continue reading

For Amor Bravo, president of the Cuban Center for Human Rights (OCDH), based in Madrid, there are two causes that have led the Island to have one of the lowest prospects of growth in the region: on one hand, there is deficient investment in infrastructure, communications, energy, or housing, and on the other, there is a high public deficit, more than 11.5% of the GDP in 2017.

The Cuban researcher Pavel Vidal, professor at the Universidad Javeriana de Cali (Colombia), warned during a conference in Miami that the decapitalization of the Island’s economy and the fall in productivity have opened a “breach” with Latin America that can only be closed with a raise in the investment rate to around 10-15% of the GDP. This figure is far out of reach according to Amor Bravo, who maintains that the prominence of investments in the Island’s GDP has been only around 9% between 1995 and 2017.

2018 has been a difficult year for the Cuban economy, especially due to a 6.5% fall in tourism in the first half of the year, attributed by the Government to the fall in trips from the United States because of the restrictive measures of Donald Trump’s Administration, especially the restrictions on American nationals staying in hotels managed by the Armed Forces.

In contrast, the number of visitors arriving on cruise ships has grown, but this is a tourism that generates little income in the country. If, in 2016, a foreign tourist spent on average $765, a cruise passenger would spend only around $50, according to a report from The Havana Consulting Group.

“This year is going to be very negative for Cuba, especially when you start to notice the fall in oil shipments from Venezuela, in remittances, and especially a very bad tourist season. Combining all these factors, the Cuban economy is going to experience a growth that is practically nothing, or maybe even negative,” predicts Amor Bravo, president of OCDH and also a university professor in Valencia (Spain) and author of the blog Cubaeconomía.

Nor will the sugar harvest be able to help improve the battered national economy, now that it can’t manage to overcome the downhill slope it has been traveling for years. In the sugar harvest of 2017-2018 the Island produced a little more than a million tons of raw sugar instead of the expected 1.6 million, a steep drop from the all-time high reached in the last century of 8 million tons (plus or minus).

For the economist Jorge Sanguinetty, who directs the Latin American Program in Applied Economics at American University and currently resides in Miami, the prospect of 1.5% growth for the Island is a realistic figure even though Cepal uses data provided by Cuban institutions to make their predictions.

“In any place where there are economic statistics, you know where your data is coming from and how it is calculated. In Cuba that is not the case. They only have large-scale estimates,” says Sanguinetty. This statement is shared by Amor Bravo, who points out that the Island does not have data to predict the behavior of the economy in the short term, which makes it difficult to make accurate predictions.

“Whatever the growth of the economy may be doesn’t mean that it is a growth in consumption. The economy can grow by 10% and the spending of the Government can absorb all the growth so that it is not reflected in people’s lives,” says Sanguinetty.

From Pinar del Río, where one must face the difficulties of real life every day, the independent economist Karina Gálvez confirms this perception: “The GDP is not just a number, it’s basically an indicator that should be reflected in the economy of families and should mean something in everyday life in people’s pockets.”

And, “with nominal salaries that leave people practically destitute,” adds Amor Bravo, private consumption, which is key to economic growth, cannot be stimulated.

Translated by: Sheilagh Carey

_____________________

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.

Extrajudicial Executions Are Still Happening on the Island, According to Cuba Archive

Alejandro Pupo Echemendía, presumed killed by Cuban police officials (courtesy)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario J. Pentón, Miami, August 27, 2018 — The NGO Cuba Archive claimed this Monday that extrajudicial executions are still happening on the island, and they cited as an example the case of Alejandro Pupo Echemendía, 46, “killed by officers at a police station” in the city of Placetas (Villa Clara).

Pupo Echemendía died on August 9, two days after being detained for an offense of illegal horse racing. According to Archive Cuba, citing Abel Santiago Tamayo, another detainee, as a source, Pupo Echemendía “was demonstrating a strong attack of nerves when a police officer handcuffed him and others proceeded to beat him with sticks, canes, kicks, and crashes against the floor.” continue reading

The human rights activist Jorge Luis García Pérez, known as Antúnez, was the one who denounced the alleged murder of Pupo Echemendía via social media. Various photos published on the activist’s account show signs of violence on the corpse. Pupo Echemendía’s wife as well as other family members testified to the state in which they received the body in the morgue.

Cuba Archive claims that this case is barely the “tip of the iceberg.”

“It’s only a window into the systematic killing in Cuba’s dungeons for nearly six decades,” adds the report published on their website. Cuba Archive asserts that it has documented some 509 extrajudicial executions, 22 deaths from hunger strikes, 312 deaths from lack of medical treatment or health reasons, and 107 suicides or supposed suicides, some of which may hide other executions.

“The vast majority of prisoners’ deaths are not reported, but it is thought that the victims add up to hundreds every year. The conditions in Cuban prisons are horrifying and they don’t permit monitoring or access for independent human rights organizations, they silence witnesses and victims’ family members, and they persecute human rights defenders,” adds Cuba Archive, which says that among the cases that it has documented are those of women and children.

Cuba keeps secret the number of prisons in the country and the number of people locked up. Cuba Archive estimates that there are more than 500 prisons, not including work camps, reformatories, and facilities for minors.

The NGO, based in Miami, claims that State Security is currently developing a campaign “of threats and intimidation to cover up the murder of Alejandro Pupo.”

On August 21 Abel Santiago was threatened by the authorities and forced to record a video where he declared that “he had been manipulated.” On August 22, Pupo’s niece and her husband were detained, threatened by State Security, and forced to sign a declaration denying the events. Various human rights defenders from Placetas, including Antúnez, Arianna López Roque, and Loreto Hernández García, are being harassed and threatened by the authorities, says Cuba Archive.

The report also accounts for the death of Daniela Ramón Rodríguez, 4 years old, who died on March 26, 2013 in Juan Manuel Márquez Hospital in Havana “after a health crisis caused by police mistreatment.”

According to Cuba Archive, the girl was forced to remain with her parents who had been detained by police, accused of the crime of burglary.

“The police threatened them and insulted them in front of their daughter. Two days after the traumatic incident, the health of Daniela [who had had an open heart surgery and suffered from congenital heart disease, an enlarged heart, and aggressive pericarditis] suddenly worsened; she was in intensive care until she died two months later,” adds Cuba Archive.

“This is the Cuba hidden from the world that we must continue to make known,” concludes the document.

 Translated by: Sheilagh Carey

_____________________

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.

From State Homophobia to Marriage Equality in Cuba

The acceptance of unions between two people of the same sex owes more to “State transvestism” than to pressure from the LGBT community (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Abel Sierra Madero, New York | August 28, 2018 — For the past few years the Cuban regime has been producing some sudden changes meant to guarantee the continuity of the system and to erase the past. I called this process of “gatopardism” (a political strategy of changing things so that everything remains the same) “State transvestism.”

It is a readjustment of the revolutionary rhetoric of the Cold War that uses the notion of diversity as a method to offer to the outside world an image of change, but with hardly any tweaks. State transvestism is also a policy that uses new means of managing political control and (self) transition being brought about by the old Cuban political elite.

This strategy started to be tested a decade ago by the National Center for Sexual Education (CENESEX), directed by Mariela Castro Espín, daughter of General Raúl Castro. From 2007, Mariela dominated the headlines when, to the party rhythm of the conga, she started to parade through the streets of Havana surrounded by gay people, insisting that sexual diversity formed part of the Revolution and “in a revolutionary manner.” continue reading

In 2008, CENESEX got the Ministry of Public Health to approve a resolution that authorized sex change operations, which regenerated great affection on the international level as well as on the island. At that time, the institution proposed a new family code and a law of gender identity.

The issue remained silenced for years, until a few days ago, when the Cuban National Assembly — totally controlled by the regime — approved, unanimously and true to the old Soviet style, a new Constitutional text prepared in secret which even Raúl Castro himself helped to edit. They say that it will be submitted very soon to popular consultation, although the general clarified that the consultation would consist of a debate supervised by the Communist Party.

Cosmetic and semantic politics

The project of the “new” constitution is getting tangled up at the same time with cosmetic and semantic politics. It says that private property will be recognized and that the construction of Communism will be renounced, although the Communist Party will continue togovern the destinies of the nation. It assures that socialism is irreversible, but behind the curtain the socialist model is being supplanted little by little by a neoliberal capitalism of the State, which concentrates power in a military elite and more and more cuts the budgets of state services like public health and education — areas on which the Cuban government has rested its legitimacy.

However, the paragraph that most stirred up the media and caused an explosion on social media was Article 68, which considers the “officially approved voluntary union between two persons with the legal capacity for it.” No longer is it limited to a man and a woman, as it was up until now. This simple change can open a pathway to the recognition of gay marriage in Cuba.

Marriage equality has its supporters and its detractors. In the United States and Europe, for example, it has been criticized by queer theorists and activists for the demobilization and the depoliticization it has generated inside these communities, which have seen marriage as the end of a historic agenda to fight for. But that is another discussion.

In Cuba, supporters will say that the approval of equal marriage signifies a step toward the recognition of individual rights, historically diluted in the impersonal and collective mass. To a certain extent they are right. I am in favor of all laws that favor groups that are vulnerable, whether for reasons of race, sexuality, gender, or politics. However, I cannot help pointing out the logic on which the recognition of marriage equality on the island is set up, and the consequences that it could have, thinking about the future and the history of the Revolution itself.

Marriage equality responds to assimilating policies that are being tried out by the State to create politically docile identities. Finally passed, marriage equality would create a protective framework basically circumscribed by the patrimonial one. For years we have seen many people stripped of the goods and properties of their partners, because they did not have the legal protection to inherit. But at the same time, it turns into a device, an instrument aimed at assimilating and canceling out a more comprehensive democratic discussion, not circumscribed to the specific issue of sexuality.

With the way things stand, marriage equality seems to be turning into another space of controlled diversity created for public post-revolution relationships. “With this proposed constitutional regulation, Cuba places itself among the countries at the vanguard of the recognition and guarantee of human rights,” pointed out Mariela Castro. In this way, marriage equality turns into an instrument of propaganda over human rights, an area in which the government has come under harsh criticism.

So, can a country which every year registers high numbers of arbitrary arrests for political motives be considered “at the vanguard” of human rights? A country that considers dissidents or opponents as mercenaries at the service of foreign powers or as traitors to the homeland? A country where freedom of expression, of association, among others, is practically prohibited?

Yesterday’s False Hope

Some activists from the LGBTI community in Cuba have claimed this change as a result of the pressure they have exerted on the institutions. However, this conjecture doesn’t have much support if we take into account the strong pressure that opponents, the Cuban diaspora, the exiles, and international organizations have exerted for decades for the government to recognize other liberties and rights, while those who pull the strings of power haven’t moved a muscle.

Without discounting the agency or the importance of the work of activism, I must say that marriage equality is anchored to this “State transvestism” of which I spoke at the beginning. This policy, in addition to trying out new means of political control, promotes an amnesiac transition, the washing of national memory and the rewriting of history. It is a matter of reaccomodating or rewriting certain historical processes that connect the Revolution to discrimination and homophobia.

For decades homophobia in Cuba was a policy of the State that legimitized purges of gay people from institutions and their internment forced labor camps, like the infamous Military Units to Aid Production (UMAP), aimed at the construction of the Communist “New Man.” The washing of memory and the rewriting of history began in August of 2010, when Fidel Castro told La Jornada that he recognized his historical responsibility in the implementation of these forced labor camps.

A few months later, Mariela Castro, in an interview with the Swiss Institute for Cooperation (COSUDE), embarked on a damage control campaign where she ended up saying that “Fidel didn’t even know about UMAP. He was concentrating on the survival of the Revolution and on the changes that they were making in politics, the laws in favor of the rights of the people, amidst complex and tense international relations.”

Mariela Castro has tried to minimized the scope and scale of UMAP in the history of the Cuban Revolution. She even promised an investigation into the matter; we are still waiting for it. Since then, the director of CENESEX has said, in every forum she has appeared in or every interview that she gives, that UMAP was an isolated error and that they were by no means forced labor camps.

Mariela is not the only one engaged in this effort, other cultural commissioners are also trying to reproduce and export this version. If these speeches manage to take root, it’s possible that in a not too distant future, we will see UMAP represented in textbooks and in the public sphere as mere summer camps.

In Cuba I see many of the elements that Isaac Rosa pointed out in his novel Yesterday’s False Hope (2004). Rosa called attention to the existence in Spain of narrative forms that tend to tame and anesthetize the past, while offering a placid image of the Franco dictatorship.

One of the passages reads: “Consciously or unconsciously, many novelists, journalists, and essayists (and filmmakers, let’s not forget) have transmitted a deformed image of Francoism… By doing so they construct a digestible impression of the banana republic in front of the reality of a dictatorship that applied, in detail and until its last day, refined techniques of torture, censorship, mental repression, cultural manipulation, and the creation of psychological ways of thinking that even today we have not managed to completely get rid of.”

On the island, this type of representation goes back to the 90s. Let’s not forget conciliatory exercises like the film Strawberry and Chocolate (1993). “Fidel, with this film, assumed, and with nothing to say, we close internationally that horrible moment that some call a Chapter and that I prefer to call a “digression” that was the UMAP,” wrote the then-director of the Cuban Institute of Art and Film, Alfredo Guevara, to the comandante.

Finally, with the passing of marriage equality, Cuba would take an important step toward becoming a gay-friendly State, which can create large businesses in areas like tourism and sex change operations. Until now, the principal market for these surgeries is in Thailand, but the scene could change because Cuban doctors are now carrying out these procedures, after having received the know-how of European specialists for several years, as part of the CENESEX program.

In recent days, Grupo Gaviota, a corporation belonging to the Cuban military — yes, the military — signed an agreement with the European chain Muthu Hotels & Resorts to manage a hotel in Cuba aimed at the LGTBI community. The company made the announcement with great ceremony on its Twitter account.

The police raids and underground spaces, the forced labor camps and the state-sanctioned homophobia, will remain in obscurity. Celebrities of the gay world can marry in Cuba without fear of being arrested. Now more than ever we need a policy of memory that is not aimed at the clinical space of healing, but rather at justice and compensation for the victims of this harmful policy. It is the only way to ensure that the past not be that “yesterday’s false hope” of which Isaac Rosa spoke.

Translated by: Sheilagh Carey

______________________________

Editors’ Note: Abel Sierra Madero (Matanzas, Cuba, 1976) is an essayist, researcher, professor, and critic. With the author’s permission we are reproducing this text which was previously published in the Mexican magazine Letras Libres.

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.

Currency Duality Splits Havana Carnivals in Two

The division by currencies is a reminder of the first years of the Dollarization of the Cuban economy in the 90s. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Zunilda Mata, Havana | August 27, 2018 — The long lines this Sunday announced where beer was being sold at Havana’s carnivals, the most sought-after product for clients of few resources. On its last weekend, Cuba’s dual currency system made itself strongly felt at the most important festival for the people in the Cuban capital.

“National money is not accepted,” read a sign at a kiosk with canned beverages, some imported and others local. The authorities have preferred to keep sales divided based on the currency used (Cuban pesos, also called national money and abbreviated CUP, or Cuban convertible pesos, abbreviated CUC), a decision that created multiple inconveniences.

“It was a decision of the Management of the Carnival and the Provincial Cultural Administration of Havana,” explained an employee of a kiosk named after the neighborhood of Mantilla. “We only do what they tell us and here we can only sell in Cuban pesos.” continue reading

“I had to buy fried chicken in one kiosk and beer in another because one was in national money and the other in convertible pesos,” lamented Sandra, a 37-year-old Havana resident who spent years “without stepping foot in the carnival because it isn’t worth it.” This Sunday she decided to venture out even though the event ended up being dangerous.

Brawls are frequent at Havana celebrations, which have gained a reputation for being troubled and risky, despite the strict security and the rules prohibiting the carrying of knives. In recent years the presence of families with children has notably lessened as a consquence of the violence.

Unlike canned, beer on tap, the cheapest beverage for sale, was sold in Cuban pesos at a price of 9 CUP for a glass. (14ymedio)

The division by currencies is a reminder of the first years of the Dollarization of the Cuban economy in the 90s, when popular celebrations were split between the poor offerings available in CUP and the more varied in dollars or convertible pesos. Over time, however, sales were united and at recent carnivals one could pay without distinction at the exchange of 1 CUC for 24 CUP.

The measure of separate sales between CUC and CUP contrasts with the progressive advance of the acceptance of both currencies in the network of retail stores. “In almost every store you can pay in one currency or the other, but when you come to the carnival it works another way, here no one understands it,” lamented a frustrated customer.

Unlike canned, beer on tap, the cheapest beverage for sale, was sold in Cuban pesos for the price of 9 CUP for a glass. “It’s the only chance to have a beer at this price because the rest of the year they don’t sell it on tap in CUP anywhere,” Sandra points out.

The security forces cut access to the Malecon in many places for a good part of the journey. (14ymedio)

Criticisms were also directed at the little variety in the food for sale. “In all the kiosks it’s the same, roast pork, fried chicken, or roast pork sandwiches,” explains Randy. “If you’re lucky you can find corn on the cob but nothing else, this carnival doesn’t evolve in terms of food, it’s always the same.”

Near Randy, a few foreigners tried to explain to a vendor that they wanted a little hot sauce to put on some skewers of pork cooked over charcoal and stuck on a thin piece of pine wood. “No, we don’t have any sauce, hot sauce or otherwise,” the employee responded sharply.

The lack of places to sit and enjoy the celebrations was also one of the most-criticized points. Only the area of the stands and the boxes had seats. Unlike other years, where cafeterias or food areas with tables were also installed, this time all consumption of drinks and food happened at kiosks and bars.

In the Maceo Park area families had benches, but in other areas participants had to remain standing the whole time. “For a good part of the way there is no access to the Malecón wall because they have put kiosks there or put up bars so that people can’t pass,” a retiree explained to 14ymedio.

In some places they did not accept the CUP as currency, in others they did not accept CUC

Security guards justified the measure as a way of “better controlling the situation in one area,” specified an agent. “It’s not the same to have people on both sides of the street where floats and carnival troupes are parading, than to be able to keep them on one side.”

The unusual scene of a Malecón wall completely empty repeated itself in the area around Calle 23, a very crowded area with various food and drink kiosks.

A few private vendors ventured there with their tidbits especially for children. “There are many controls to stop us from selling in these areas because they say that we are creating competition for the state kiosks,” explained Michel, a vendor of popcorn and toasted peanuts.

A few meters from his sales cart, in an alcove of Avenida Malecón, dozens of police officers prepared to enter the festivities. Around 7:00 PM each received a carboard box with some rice, a piece of pork, and French fries. “Eat quickly because the sun is already setting,” yelled an official.

The uniformed officers rapidly devoured the food and went in groups to the zone of the festivities, where in large lines in front of the kiosks people kept asking if this was a line to pay in CUP or in CUC.

Translated by: Sheilagh Carey

______________________

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: Exploring Civic Opinion Under the Government of Diaz-Canel / Somos+

Ask us anything about Cuba We specialize in market studies. When you need data, you’re not alone.A project of Cubadata. (For more information visit http://www.cubadata.com.es)

Somos+, 15 August 2018 — Cuba is finding itself in a moment of great changes. Constitutional reform and the legitimacy of new leaders, together with a lack of rights and the prolonged socioeconomic crisis, are the elements combining together over growing social uncertainty.

The survey that we are presenting today — probably the biggest independent public opinion study carried out on the island since the triumph of the Revolution in 1959 — focuses on measuring the aspirations, perceptions, and evaluations of Cubans in various spheres: their economic rights and the effectiveness of reforms, political institutionalization, freedoms, and the functioning of social services.

Do you believe that the Constitution should change to permit direct presidential elections? Yes: 61.4% No: 17.0% I don’t know: 21.6%

continue reading

Does the Cuban state media represent the diversity of opinions present in Cuban society? How would you rate the quality of education in Cuba? (Blue: Very Good. Red: Good. Yellow: Regular. Green: Deficient. Purple: Very deficient. Turquoise: Don’t know.)

Carried out between June 4 and 11, 2018, the survey covered a sample of 2,287 people, with individual and verifiable profiles, who agreed to respond voluntarily via the online tool of CubaData.

The results, analyzed by a team of specialists from academic centers in the United States, Mexico, and Venezuela, were compared with the main surveys carried out in Cuba and other countries of interest. Showing a diverse country, with concrete questions of a dissimular nature, that reveal the opinions of a society that is reconfiguring itself and that by this time does not allow black and white readings.

We highlight here the most relevant aspects of the survey.

In the field of economic reforms:

– 83.4% of those polled believe that foreign businesses on the island should be able to hire Cuban workers directly

– 81.9% understand that the government should not control a monopoly over imports and exports

– 87.6% believe that Cuban professionals should be able to start businesses and companies within their professions

In the field of social services:

– 62.9% think that Cuban public health is not good, qualifying it as “regular” (33.3%), “deficient” (18.9%), and “very deficient” (10.7%)

– 61.7% have had to pay or give a gift to a doctor at least once to be seen or to get a consultation more quickly

– 64.7% believe that the quality of education is “regular” (35.4%), “deficient” (18.6%), or “very deficient” (10.7%)

In the field of freedoms:

– 65.6% do not believe that Cubans can say what they think in public places, forums, or communication media without the fear of suffering reprisals

– 58.9% do not believe that the state media reflects the diversity of opinions present in society

– 84.4% believe that Cubans do not have sufficient internet access

In the field of Constitutional reform:

– 38.2% do not know if the article that declares the irrevocability of socialism should be eliminated, while 34.8% say yes and 27% no

– 45.7% believe that political parties other than the Communist party should be permitted, while 28.9% do not know and 25.4% oppose the idea

– 61.5% believe that presidential elections should be direct, while 21.6% say they don’t know and 17% oppose them

Finally, in the field of the biggest worries of Cubans, the surveyed give priority to income (26.6%), food (21.2%), and public services (13.9%), while they find themselves very divided over the possibilities that the new president, Miguel Díaz-Canel, can manage to change and improve things in the country. 46% of the responses believe that Díaz-Canel has little chance of achieving change, while 35% seem more optimistic. The indecisive find themselves in the middle of these two groups.

See the survey (http://www.cubadata.com.es)

The results were analyzed by the specialists: Armando Chaguaceda (Universidad de Guanajuato), Elaine Acosta (Florida International University), Juan Manuel Trak (Universidad Católica Andrés Bello) and Rodrigo Salazar-Elena (FLACSO México), who presented a detailed report on the matter.

The CubaData survey is based on a non-probabilistic sample of 2,287 users of mobile apps with identified profiles and access to email. The reported conclusions are not intended to be representative of the totality of the Cuban population, but rather solely those of the group of subjects who answered the questionnaire. Subjects who, for the diversity of their identities, express real tendencies of Cuban society. Given the restrictions in carrying out surveys in the field or via the internet, the data of this study are a first approximation of the scope of Cuban opinions.

In the immediate future, we will continue extending and perfecting the reach and the representation of this type of study.

Translated by: Sheilagh Carey