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

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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.

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

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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.

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 minimize 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

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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

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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: 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%

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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

Artists Denounce Decree 349 for "Criminalizing Independent Art"

Addressed to President Miguel Díaz-Canel and Minister of Culture Alpidio Alonso, the letter insists that the decree “not present a vision of the future of culture in Cuba.” (Facebook)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana | 27 August 2018 — A group of artists who have been promoting an intense campaign against Decree 349 since July are continuing to pressure the country’s authorities not to implement this law that demands that “commercial spaces for plastic arts” have prior authorization and be registered in the Creators’ Registry.

Last Thursday a representative of the group presented a letter with their demands to the office of the Attorney General and the National Assembly of People’s Power, as reported to 14ymedio by Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara, one of the visible faces of this initiative. The text, which details several demands and the reasons they are against this regulation, was sent as well to the Council of State and the Ministry of Culture.

Addressed to President Miguel Díaz-Canel and Minister of Culture Alpidio Alonso, the letter insists that the decree “not present a vision of the future for culture in Cuba.” It also denounces the law for “criminalizing independent art” and limiting “the ability of defining who can be an artist to a State institution.” continue reading

Another criticism made by the group of artists to this new law, which will enter into full force in December, is that creators weren’t consulted during its development and that they won’t have the ability to access “resources” or “independent arbitrators” in the case of a legal dispute.

The conceptual vagueness of the text is another point addressed in the letter, a matter that has worried the artists since they learned the content of the law after its publication in the Gazette Special Edition on July 10. One of the examples cited is the expression “contents harmful to ethical and cultural values,” a point that can take different interpretations that are not made explicit in the law. In response to this, the letter insists that art history demonstrates that “questioning the established systems of thought is the driving force of aesthetic development.”

They also mention that the government has dedicated itself to demonizing different mechanisms of independent art financing like crowdfunding. “The fact that a Cuban artist can finance his creations by his own means does not make him an opponent,” and they urge that the state to stop “confusing these platforms with the direct financing of a hostile organization or government.”

The document also announces that Decree 349 “authorizes the Ministry of Culture to designate inspectors” with the ability to “censor and suspend artistic performances, as well as impose fines and confiscate instruments, equipment, self-employment authorization, and goods like property from the house.”

According to the artists, the aim of Decree 349 “is the impoverishment of Cuban culture” and they warn that culture and art “can exist without a ministry, but the Ministry of Culture and the nation cannot exist without the creativity of its citizens.”

The letter that the group has delivered to these institutions is the same one attached to a petition that they are promoting on the platform avaaz.org, which already has 777 signatures. Among the artists who presented the letter are Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara, Yanelys Nuñéz, Iris Ruiz, Nonardo Perea, Amaury Pacheco, Soandry del Río, Yasser Castellanos, and Michel Matos.

Otero Alcántara makes clear that they were “well looked after” and that they received an acknowledgment of receipt but he emphasized the scarce information they received after the delivery of the letter and that only the Council of State communicated to them that the term to receive a response in this case is 60 days. “In the Capitol they told us that there were only three people working and that they didn’t know when they would have a response to give us because there were many cases pending,” he said.

The organizers of the campaign against the decree have claimed that this law is directed toward eliminating the work of independent artists who in recent decades have gained their space working at the margins of institutions.

The campaign #NoAlDecreto349, which has carried out various public actions to make the situation visible, has had the solidarity of numerous Cuban artists on social media, both on and off the island, who practice different artistic disciplines such as cinema and music. Writers, actors, and well-known plastics artists have also shown their support.

On at least two occasions the artists of this group were suppressed by force by State Security agents and the police during public protest acts. The most recent took place when they tried to hold a concert at the venue of the Museum of Politically Uncomfortable Art. Previously they tried to hold a performance on the steps of the Capitol.

Translated by: Sheilagh Carey

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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.

Court in Cienfuegos Sentences Two of Leidy Pacheco’s Murderers to Life in Prison

Leidy Maura Pacheco Mur. (5 de Septiembre newspaper)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Justo Mora/Mario J. Pentón, Cienfuegos | 23 August 2018 — Justice came to Cienfuegos but in the deepest silence from the Provincial Court, which has kept secret the sentence of life imprisonment for two of the three men accused of raping and murdering Leidy Pacheco Mur, 18 years old and mother of a 10-month-old baby.

The information came to the public light this Thursday because the victim’s family told the local weekly 5 de Septiembre that Enrique Campos, 32, and Darián Gómez Chaviano, 25, had been sentenced to life imprisonment. The third man involved in the crime, Henry Hanoi Tamayo Hernández, 19, was sentenced to 30 years in prison.

The trial lasted two days, August 7-8, during which the population gathered in front of the court, which was protected by the police. The crowd rebuked the men with cries of “To the firing-wall” and “murderers.” continue reading

The sentence of the court can be appealed to the People’s Supreme Court.

“The truth is that those men got off easy. They should be shot after causing so much pain,” Margarita Fuentes, resident of the Junco Sur suburb on the outskirts of the city, told 14ymedio.

Yesenia Oliva, who planted herself outside the court during the trial, says that it’s an “exemplary sentence.”

“People don’t realize that there is a moratorium on the death penalty. The most that they can do is give them life imprisonment. The prisoners in Ariza will take care of those bastards,” she added.

Leidy Pacheco Mur was murdered September 26 of last year. At 2:56 PM, when she was a block from her home, she called her husband so that he wouldn’t worry about her, but she never arrived.

Enrique Campos, Henry Hanoi Tamayo, and Darián Gómez covered her mouth, took her to Plan Mango, a grove on the outskirts of Cienfuegos, raped her, killed her, and buried her at the bank of a small dam, according to the testimony of her father, Pedro Valentín Pacheco Alonso.

The three murderers lived in the same neighborhood as the victim. The next day the family notified the authorities of the young woman’s disappearance.

Family members, neighbors, and even one of the rapists participated in the search for the young woman, which lasted six days.

The death of Leidy Pacheco moved Cienfuegos, a city that in barely a year has suffered various murders. On February 14 Luis Santacruz Labrada was murdered with a knife and in May a double murder of women shocked the city, which in the past counted safety as one of its biggest appeals.

Translated by: Sheilagh Carey

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