Venezuela: Now or Never

Caption: Juan Guaidó is part of a brilliant group of self-sacrificing ex-student leaders. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Carlos A. Montaner, January 20, 2019 — The destiny of Venezuela is probably in the hands of Juan Guaidó. It involves a young representative of 35, linked to Voluntad Popular (Popular Will), a party founded by Leopoldo López. The presidency of the National Assembly came to him, which is something like winning a tiger in a raffle. As President of the Assembly he has turned into, de facto, the acting president of the country in the face of the total illegitimacy of Nicolás Maduro.

Venezuela, then, has two presidents. One legitimate and constitutional, which is Juan Guaidó, and the other absolutely fraudulent: Nicolás Maduro. In any case, in the fourteenth century the Catholic Church had three popes simultaneously. Two were declared antipopes. By that measure, in the future Maduro will be declared antipresident. continue reading

Those who know Guaidó tell me that he has the maturity and the common sense necessary for that job. By means of television he projects a good image. He is endorsed by Luis Almagro, Secretary General of the OAS, 13 of the 14 countries of the Lima Group (excepting the ineffable AMLO’s Mexico), María Corina Machado, Antonio Ledezma, and the US State Department. He has his back well covered.

On the table is even the possibility that Donald Trump’s administration continues buying the 500,000 barrels of petroleum daily from Venezuela, the only influx of fresh cash coming into the country, but with the condition that that money be deposited in an escrow account that only the National Assembly can access through its president. What sense would it make to pay it to an illegitimate government?

But who is this young politician? Guaidó is a graduate in industrial engineering from the Universidad Católica Andrés Bello, with postgraduate studies in public policy at George Washington University and IESA, a management school accredited in several countries.

Engineers have an advantage over lawyers: they’re used to incorporating the factor of time into the work they plan. They’re usually the best in “management by objectives,” something that is urgently needed in a country that has been thrown into such chaos as this one.

Guaidó, in short, has sufficient training and information to straighten out his country. At the end of the day, Venezuela has been devastated by Chavism ($300 billion was stolen) and, recently, by a half-idiot individual who talks to birds and doesn’t know where his right hand is. (Especially the right).

Guaidó is part of a brilliant group of self-sacrificing ex-student leaders that includes Yon Goicoechea, Juan Requesens, a political prisoner, Stalin González, and Freddy Guevara, protected since six months ago in the Chilean embassy in Caracas. They are the new generation. In 2017 the National Guard filled their backs and necks with shot. That is to say: they have risked their lives in the streets, something that is important in a society in which heroic gestures are valued.

Guaidó’s immediate task is about precisely that. He must assume the role of acting president. He must call on the people to demonstrate in the streets. He is also the natural chief of those in uniform. In theory, general Vladimir Padrino López, Minister of Defense, must stand at attention in front of him and accept his orders. Soldiers and minor officials are desperate for this to happen.

According to what viceadmiral Mario Iván Carratú told the Venezuelan journalist Carla Angola, the Armed Forces are demoralized, like the Portuguese army was when the Carnation Revolution happened in 1974. Soldiers are hungry and lacking medicines just like the rest of the country. If Maduro gives the order to attack the demonstrators, Carratú thinks that they wouldn’t comply.

And what would the Cuban Government do? Of course, it would recommend resistance to any change toward democracy and liberty, but the regime of Havana doesn’t have the power to rescue and sustain the dictatorship. It suffers from its own weakness. It would recall its troops and its personnel, much hated in Venezuela, and they would clear off for Cuba, perhaps offering asylum to a handful of their Venezuelan servants.

Can Guaidó promise Chavism something that gets the game unstuck? He cannot promise anything that the Constitution doesn’t allow for. Perhaps a referendum for the country to decide on a law that decrees an amnesty for crimes committed during these years of abuse and vile acts. Only that, but not as his own agreement or that of the National Assembly, but of the whole society.

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.

The "Deserters" of Mais Medicos Program Ask to Remain in Their Positions While Their Qualifications are Validated

Cuban professionals arriving in Brazil at the beginning of the Mais Médicos program.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, January 16, 2019 — Yury Leydi Durán Sánchez, a Cuban doctor who worked in the Mais Médicos program in Brazil and decided to remain in the country after Havana’s break with its agreement with Brasilia, has written an open letter to president Jair Bolsonaro to ask that he permit the return of her and her colleagues to the health system pending the validation exam.

“I believe that we have sufficient training to fulfill the ’more health’ program, this time with a just remuneration and without chains or bonds of slavery, until the relevant exams are done,” she argues in the missive. continue reading

The doctor, who says she speaks in the name of more than 2,000 doctors who decided not to return to Cuba, reminds that the Island’s professionals who have participated in Mais Médicos since 2013 have fulfilled the requirements that were asked of them upon joining.

These, she reviews in the letter, were to be certified in comprehensive general medicine, have international experience in two countries, basic knowledge of two courses of Portuguese, complete the welcome program, and proven knowledge of Brazilian health protocols, in addition to participating in a specialization course with a thesis and final exam. Added to this, she highlights, they had to be residents of Cuba, something that excluded “deserters” (as Havana describes them) from previous missions.

Durán Sánchez asks that, based on fulfillment of these requirements and the experience they accumulated serving in the remotest areas of the Amazon, they be permitted to continue working as before and refers to the norms of other countries that facilitate similar situations.

One such situation is that of Chile and Peru, “which agree to the authorized doctors working for a year under supervision until the validation exam is carried out.” Another case is that of Spain, which allows doctors who are pending authorization in their specialties to work in primary care.

The doctor appeals in her missive to the Brazilian people and to Bolsonaro himself, whom she personally flatters on several occasions. “Never before has a people, and much less a president, had the courage, like you and your people had, to defend our rights. And for that reason we are eternally grateful,” she maintains.

Additionally, she accuses the Government of Havana of taking away their certifications to punish them. “The Ministry of Health which once validated and authorized our documents, recognizes that…we are denied any certificate of our profession, to keep us that way, our hands muzzled and our freedom taken away.”

The letter has been shared on the Facebook page of the Associação de Cubanos Livres no Brasil (Association of Free Cubans in Brazil), which has worked since October 2017 to demand the rights it considers violated by the Cuban Government.

The doctors who did not return to the Island after the official call are sanctioned with the loss of their salary in national currency (CUP) that was accumulating in a bank account in Cuba and additionally with a penalty of eight years without being able to enter Cuba.

According to statements from Cuban president Miguel Díaz-Canel, 836 doctors did not return to Cuba out of the 8,471 professionals who were in Brazil participating in the Mais Médicos program.

 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.

Tens Of Thousands Of Cubans Abroad Don’t Know If They Will Be Able To Vote

At this point it’s still not clear in what conditions voters who are abroad will be able to vote, or even if they will be able to. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, January 17, 2019 — In a country with a high number of emigrants who have a vital influence in the support of their families on the Island, it’s inevitable to ask if Cubans who live or are temporarily abroad will have the right to vote in the February 24 referendum, a question that official institutions have not yet cleared up.

Per the effects of the country’s current migratory policy, there are three forms in which Cubans can find themselves abroad: those fulfilling an official mission, those who find themselves outside on a temporary basis for personal reasons, or those who, after remaining more than 24 months abroad, are no longer considered permanent residents of national territory. continue reading

The current Electoral Law only mentions the possibility of opening polling places abroad regarding referendums, but it doesn’t specify who will have the right to vote. The issue is a law preceding the migratory changes of 2013 that doesn’t consider the current diversity because it was conceived at a moment in which there were only two forms of being abroad: as “scum” with a permanent departure, without the right to vote, or on an official mission (athlete, merchant marine, and diplomatic).

Faced with the questions arising in the new circumstances, authorities have not helped to clear up what procedure will be followed in this case. Recently Ernesto Soberón, director of Consular Affairs and Cuban Residents Abroad of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, published on his Twitter account a “clarification” that, instead of providing answers, has sown greater confusion.

The official assured that “all Cuban citizens above age 16 — in full enjoyment of their political rights and who are not included in the exceptions anticipated by the Constitution and the Law — who find themselves abroad, will be able to exercise their right to vote in #Cuba this February 24.” But his statement violates the laws of physics, since if those individuals are abroad it is impossible that they be “in” Cuba for the date of the referendum.

All Cuban citizens above age 16 — in full enjoyment of their political rights and who are not included in the exceptions anticipated by the Constitution and the Law — who find themselves abroad, will be able to exercise their right to vote in #Cuba this February 24 #SomosCuba (#WeAreCuba) pic.twitter.com/1fwnvwrzds

-Ernesto Soberón (@SoberonGuzman) January 15, 2019

The question is greater with those citizens who are temporarily and for personal reasons outside the Island, a figure that could reach hundreds of thousands of individuals if those who left the country after February 24, 2017 and haven’t yet returned are counted. In the case of those who have been abroad for more than 24 months, the current electoral law does not recognize their right to vote in any circumstance and it is unlikely that the Government will make short-term changes to expand their rights.

So far, Cubans who have been temporarily abroad have not been able to cast a vote to elect their district representative. Something that is understandable, since it would be necessary for consulates to handle hundreds of different ballots representing all the districts of those voters. Something similar happens with the elections for members of Parliament, given that the list of around 600 candidates is broken up into municipalities and electoral colleges from all over the country.

However, with the referendum everything changes, while it is the same question for the participants. Additionally, article 164 of the Electoral Law establishes that the National Electoral Commission, in coordination with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, must arrange “what is necessary to guarantee the casting of votes by voters who find themselves outside of national territory” the day that the election is held.

Precedents of Cubans participating in the constitutional referendum of 1976 only include, without a lot of precision in numbers, the votes that were cast in Angola, organized by the respective political sections of the military units which, at that time, were fulfilling “international missions.” They even ended up opening special ballot boxes on February 15, 1976 on the ships filled with soldiers headed for Africa.

This week the Government has announced that it will carry out a similar process with Cubans who are fulfilling medical and professional missions in Venezuela and one can hope that the initiative will be repeated in those countries where there are numerous delegations of nationals sent by the Government.

But authorities still haven’t publicized the procedure that those other Cubans who do not belong to official missions will have to fulfill in order to participate in the referendum without being bodily present in the national territory. If the Plaza of the Revolution intends for the process to enjoy a greater legitimacy, it must promote and facilitate that participation, especially that of those who have been abroad for less than 24 months.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs must avoid spreading confusing information that tends to discourage participation, and must detail, without ambiguity, how the rights of those Cubans who are temporarily outside the country will be recognized. Time is passing, and at almost a month until the referendum, any hold-up conspires against their participation and any delay is a violation of the Electoral Law.

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.

No, No, and No!

The definitive text of the new Constitution of the Republic of Cuba will go to a referendum on February 24. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luis Tornés Aguililla, Fort Worth | January 17, 2019 — Deep down, this Cuba will have been an intellectual aberration. I say that thinking about my long conversations in Berlin with German friends who lived 40 years of bitterness in the forever defunct German Democratic Republic (GDR).

They spent those four decades asking the only question that at that time seemed rational: “How is it possible that we can stand so much humiliation?” When the Wall fell, the odious mask of the freedom destroyers also fell, along with the pathetic mask of those who accommodated them, some more and others less, in order to survive in that inquisitorial hell. That collapsed in the blink of an eye. continue reading

In Cuba, ’the armed band’, ’the firm’, ’the little group’ or whatever they want to call themselves, at the end, will be defeated because it failed in every order and because the dialectic of any absolute power slides it toward the abyss by its own weight.

Cubans must take advantage of the referendum that the regime is organizing in February to send a clear message, even though we already know that the trap is set and well set. In such a way that “the inflamed majority of the revolutionary people will vote Yes.”

A massive No will be a strong signal to the terrified halberdiers who, within the same Castroist system, understand that the country is sinking at the hands of a small group of individuals intending not to answer for themselves in the face of that history that will absorb and forget them in a mix of hate and horror.

We know, it always happens that way, that practically all of the personal destinies of the vitrified pontiffs of the Soviet bloc countries disappeared from the world without weapons nor ammunition, if there were exceptions, they were those who were able to sell something to the enemy.

Cubans, vote NO! in the February referendum.

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.

The Triumph and Defeat of the Cuban Dissidence

Photo taken in the Combinado del Este prison, in Havana, during a visit made in 2013 by the national and international press on the Island. (EFE/Archivo)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Ariel Hidalgo, 14 January 2019 — The dissidence, as an organized civic movement, wasn’t born in Cuba until 1983. At the beginning of October of that year, I found myself in Combinado del Este prison, serving eight years for a manuscript critical of the political system, when I met a new prisoner: Ricardo Bofill had been active in the Youth of the Popular Socialist Party and had already been in prison in 1967 for the charge of “Microfaction” (expressing differences with the Party line). For several weeks, we exchanged impressions and ideas.

At that time I was worried about the subhuman situation of a friend in solitary confinement in the walled off cells and Bofill said he had connections with foreign press agencies to send them a complaint. He even offered to help me write it, but he maintained that we had to sign it with our own names so that it would have credibility, something that was until then inconceivable in political imprisonment. continue reading

We wrote it, on the back he wrote his name and underneath I put my own. To my surprise, at the end Bofill added: “Cuban Pro Human Rights Committee.” Then, next to his name he wrote “president” and next to mine, “vicepresident.” I didn’t attach any importance to that.

I didn’t make a note of the day as a memorable date. For me it was only about helping a friend, but when the information reached abroad, the headline wasn’t his case, but the creation, for the first time in Cuba, of a committee of human rights.

Right away, Bofill sent messages to Gustavo Arcos Bergnes, who had participated with Fidel and Raul Castro in the attack of the Moncada Barracks and who was isolated in a separate cell, and to Elizardo Sánchez, social democratic activist, who was in Boniato prison in Santiago de Cuba. Both responded positively. Three more prisoners in Combinado joined up.

The Committee was already created, but repression didn’t take long. Some were put in isolation, among them Bofill, who was then admitted to a room in the prison hospital. He remained there for a long period of time until they took him out for an unknown destination. We didn’t know if they had taken him to another prison, to his home in Cuba, or abroad, which is why in a meeting of the Committee members, I was elected, on a provisional basis, acting president.

Then began the development of a strategic plan. Prison became an immense laboratory, a model for what could later be the dissident movement throughout the country.

We helped to group together many political prisoners according to their activities: an association of writers and artists, another of religious figures from different churches, and the Liga Cívica Martiana [Martí Civic League].

The writers’ group created their own magazine, El Disidente, which we used to write by hand and came to number more than 60 pages, so perfect that it seemed printed. Various copies circulated around the prison, and some were even covertly taken out and circulated through the streets, others were sent abroad and some extracts were published in El Nuevo Herald in Miami.

Sometimes, State Security raided our cells and we had to start again, so we had to hide each page we produced really well. All the groups ended up working in such a united way in the interest of the prisoners that, one way or another, each and every one did some type of job, so that the authorities had to rely on us for any change in the criminal division.

That was how, more or less, we wanted it to be on a societal level. A support committee should have been founded from every social sector in defense of its interests: for journalists, for teachers, religious figures, artists, self-employed people, and so on.

When all these committees were strengthened with the support of their respective branches, they should have joined together in a federation of social self-defense to peacefully confront, in the name of all of civil society, the totalitarian power. We calculated that, carrying out this plan like we intended it, it would not take 10 or 15 years for the great changes that we desired to be made. And we were in 1985.

Our complaints led to an international scandal and the Government found itself obligated to allow the inspection of prisons by representatives of different international bodies.

In 1988 I accepted an offer of freedom on the condition that I left the country, a form of unofficial exile. On the afternoon of August 4, a little more than a month before a UN commission would enter Combinado del Esta, they took me out of my cell and I was brought to José Martí International Airport.

The Cuban Government was condemned at the United Nations. The movement spread all over the country and has been the only one in the opposition, in six decades, that has managed to remain without being destroyed despite threats, harassment, persecution, arrests, and long sentences.

This meant a great victory. The answer is that new dictatorships, whether they are communist or of the so-called socialism of the 21st century, prepare to confront their adversaries on a level of violence, but when faced with nonviolence, they are disoriented.

However, the movement failed in the most important thing: obtaining the support of different social sectors. What went wrong?

The main reason was a shift of discourse in many groups. Abroad, until the middle of the 90s, a great majority of exiles viewed the dissidence as a governmental trick to fabricate an easily manipulated opposition. Among the few who believed was the activist and actress Teté Machado. Together we founded the first center of support for dissidents, the Buró de Información de Derechos Humanos [Information Bureau for Human Rights] (Infoburo).

For several years Teté was the voice of the entire dissident movement at the most important conclaves all over the world. But when some dissidents overshadowed the leadership in exile, powerful political organizations offered material and media support to several of their leaders in exchange for support for their own demands, like supporting the embargo and opposing travel and remittances.

Those who accepted, by adopting a rhetoric totally contrary to the interests of the population, lost contact with her and were moved to social marginalization. Other groups, although they did not adopt that rhetoric, did not fully assume their social commitment.

So we arrived at a dead end: neither the Government was capable of exterminating the dissidence, nor was the dissidence capable of defeating the Government. Only those groups — very few — loyal to the original commitment, received large support and became the most numerous.

With these reflections I would like to invite others to make a critical analysis.

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.

"A Final Opportunity Is Being Opened To Ortega. There Won’t Be Any More Than That."

Vivanco believes there are the  votes to expel the Ortega regime because there is a consensus about its ” widespread and systematic abuse.”  (Johanna Zárate/Flickr)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Juan Carlos Bow, Washington, January 14, 2019 — The extraordinary session of the Permanent Council of the Organization of American States (OAS) on Nicaragua was closely followed by José Miguel Vivanco, director of the Division of the Americas at Human Rights Watch. He was in the same room with the ambassadors and representatives of the American countries, which this Friday carried out a “collective evaluation” as a first step to implement the Inter-American Democratic Charter to the regime of Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo.

For the expert, “an opportunity, a final opportunity, is being opened” for Ortega to redirect the course of Nicaragua. To “move from a dictatorial system to a democratic system,” before the OAS expels the regime from the regional body, for which – Vivanco believes – there are the 24 votes necessary, given that among the countries “there is a greater consensus” that the situation in Nicaragua is one of “impunity, brutality, and widespread and systematic abuse” against the opposition. continue reading

“If the Government doesn’t show signs of being ready to agree to the petitions that can be made within the scope of the OAS, then there will be no other solution than the definitive implementation of the Democratic Charter,” assured Vivanco, who spoke to [Nicaraguan digital outlet] Confidencial from his office in Washington.

Confidencial: What is your assessment of the extraordinary session on Nicaragua, in the Permanent Council of the OAS? Did they initiate the invocation of the Democratic Charter?

José Miguel Vivanco: It was really important because thanks to this meeting being held, the OAS initiates the implementation of the Democratic Charter to Nicaragua, to Ortega’s government.

The Democratic Charter demands in Article 20 that for it to be implemented, some sort of collective evaluation must be done of the conditions of human rights and public and democratic freedoms in any country of the member states of the OAS. That was precisely the objective of this meeting.

As of this session, political and diplomatic procedures can be carried out by member states, by the Working Group that currently exists for Nicaragua, and also by the secretary general of the OAS. For example, freeing political prisoners, putting an end to censorship and persecution of independent media outlets, reestablishing democratic order and public liberties, the independence of the judiciary, or a petition so that human rights bodies from the United Nations or OAS can be allowed access to the country.

If the Government doesn’t show signs of being ready to agree to the petitions that can be made within the scope of the OAS, then there will be no other solution than the definitive implementation of the Democratic Charter, for which 24 votes are required.

Confidencial: Do the political conditions exist to get the 24 votes in the OAS with the new position that López Obrador’s government in Mexico has adopted?

Vivanco: It’s not going to be easy for that quorum to be reached, but I don’t see it as impossible. I understand perfectly that Mexico has changed its position; that under the current government of Manuel López Obrador, which controls and guides Mexico’s foreign policy, is the principle of non-intervention in internal affairs, whether or not they violate human rights. Something that is really archaic, belonging to the principles of the last century. Mexico demonstrated it today (Friday) because it stood out by its absence, didn’t open its mouth, didn’t make the smallest comment. It was in total silence throughout the entire session.

I believe that despite the new position–lamentable, reactionary–of the current government of Mexico, the votes may indeed be there, because there is a greater and greater consensus that the situation in Nicaragua is one of impunity, brutality, and widespread and systematic abuse against those who don’t agree with the current regime.

Confidencial: How are the political terms of the OAS planned in relation to Nicaragua, if Ortega has made it clear that he has no political will to hold talks?

Vivanco: Indeed, Ortega in fact has demonstrated a dictatorial attitude, typical of a despot, that he is not prepared to exercise power in a manner respectful of legal values and of the obligations appropriate to the rule of law, to a democratic state.

Here an opportunity is being opened, I would say a final opportunity, there won’t be any more than that. Once again, they implement, in the OAS, the Democratic Charter to anyone.

The other country that is under the implementation of the Democratic Charter is Venezuela, in that case so far the quorum–that is, the 24 votes–has not existed, because of the pressure that Venezuela exerts on the countries of the Caribbean. But it is a country that is more and more isolated, discredited, and with less and less support.

Nicaragua is not Venezuela, it’s not an oil power. It doesn’t have the political muscle that Venezuela has so far shown, even in ruins. For Nicaragua, the road becomes more difficult.

Confidencial: Will a new commission be created or will it be the same Working Group of the OAS, which Ortega’s government refused entry, that carries out the diplomatic procedures in Nicaragua?

Vivanco: The OAS already created the Working Group for Nicaragua, made up of 12 member states of the OAS, including Mexico, which has not withdrawn from that group.

I don’t believe that a new group will be created, that one will arise. The Working Group for Nicaragua is precisely the one that has the mandate, the obligation, and the duty to continue reporting, to the rest of the nations of the OAS, the advances and setbacks experienced in political matters and human rights in Nicaragua.

Confidencial: The Interdisciplinary Group of Independent Experts (GIEI, for its Spanish acronym) concluded that “crimes against humanity” have been committed in Nicaragua. How can they be prosecuted if that country doesn’t accept the International Criminal Court?

Vivanco: It’s true that, not having ratified the Rome Statute, Nicaragua, unlike Venezuela, cannot be brought before the International Criminal Court, even if there is evidence that crimes against humanity have been committed, but there are other ways, like for example the Security Council of the United Nations, where a debate can be opened. I know that among the permanent members of the UN Security Council are Russia and China, which could serve to veto any effort against Nicaragua, but that remains to be seen. International relations, assessments that are made at a multilateral level, are always very complex and depend on innumerable factors.

I believe that GIEI’s report can be very useful before the Human Rights Council of the United Nations.

Confidencial: The resignation of the magistrate Rafael Solís from the judiciary and from the FSLN [Sandinista National Liberation Front] has surprised the leaders in power in Nicaragua. What international effect will this break have?

Vivanco: It depends on what the Supreme Court magistrate can provide. It’s necessary to understand that this is someone who until yesterday was part of the Supreme Court and who was in his position while atrocious acts were being done and committed in Nicaragua, and he continued participating as a magistrate of the Supreme Court.

We’re still lacking information to better understand the role he played during those months. Whether or not there was an internal debate; he says that the decisions that affect the courts are made by the Executive, it would be good for him to provide more information that would serve to better understand the responsibilities of certain other authorities, other than Ortega and Murillo, who we obviously know are, in the end, the ones who control the country and run it as if it were their private estate.

Confidencial: The sanctions derived from the Nica Act and the possible authorization of the Democratic Charter can weaken the regime, but Ortega clings to power like Nicolás Maduro. Is the situation of Nicaragua comparable to that of Venezuela, to project that Ortega could remain in power until 2021?

Vivanco: The Nica Act, which is a kind of Magnitsky law dedicated exclusively to Nicaragua, allows sanctions of the corrupt and violators of human rights, where it turns them into practically toxic personages. That is to say, the sanctions can be really draconian, and we believe that many of those who make up part of this dictatorial regime deserve it, because of the responsibilities that they have for extremely grave violations and for covering up these acts.

It’s an extraordinary tool, that is not available for Venezuela, that is not available for other nations in the world. It has the support of Democrats and Republicans, here there is no doubt in any sector that we are facing a ruthless regime. In that way, I have great hopes that the Nica Act can serve to compel the regime to move from a dictatorial system to a democratic system.

Confidencial: So you don’t see a parallel between Nicaragua and Venezuela, do you see it as a possibility that Ortega can leave before 2021?

Vivanco: I don’t see any, there is no relation between one case and the other, except that the atrocities are similar. We are talking about two populist dictators, who they say are leftwing and who seek to remain in power at any price, where they are prepared to use brutal repression, if that is the only way to preserve power, and where additionally power is totally concentrated, there are neither authorities nor judiciaries nor democratic institutions to anticipate or sanction abuses.

But, they are two cases that do not have points in common, from the point of view of what are the strategies, and of what will be the future of these two dictatorial regimes and their relation with the rest of the world.

Translated by: Sheilagh Carey

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Editors’ note: this text was originally published by the Nicaraguan digital outlet Confidencial, which has authorized us to reproduce it here.

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 "Yes" Campaign Invades Cuba’s High Schools and Universities

The Government is seeking to attract Yes votes among the youngest voters for the February 24 referendum. Shown here: Young people in front of the famous steps of the University of Havana.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Marcelo Hernández, Havana, January 11, 2019 — Meetings, morning assemblies, and talks in high school courses and university faculties all over the country are some of the strategies that the Cuban Government has put into practice to promote the Yes vote among the youngest voters, especially those who, in the February 24 referendum on the new Constitution, will cast a vote at the polls for the first time.

Since classes resumed in January, after the end of year break, the official Yes campaign for the new Constitution has landed in upper secondary and university classrooms via conferences, discussion groups, and classes. Professors call for the ratification of the Constitution in order to “maintain the achievements of the Revolution” and “keep the country from falling into the enemy’s hands,” according to students’ testimonies gathered by 14ymedio. continue reading

The promotion of the Yes vote extends to activities organized by the Secondary School Students’ Federation (FEEM) and the University Students’ Federation (FEU).

Additionally, the subject has come up at school morning assemblies in all State institutions, where harangues and calls to “support the Revolution” with a Yes vote are abundant.

“They informed us of the new content of the Defense Preparation course last Monday at the morning assembly,” a 12th grade student in a high school program in Old Havana tells this newspaper. “We already had the first class and the whole time they talked to us of the importance of voting Yes because that was the only way to protect the homeland from its enemies and to be able to keep healthcare and education free,” he adds.

The teenager, who turned 16 in November, assures that the professor teaching the material asserted that “a No is counterrevolutionary” and those who “vote No want to destroy the country and all the achievements of the Revolution.” The class segment on this subject lasted 45 minutes and “the whole time was about the importance of attending the referendum and not letting oneself be influenced by those who are calling for a No vote.”

Other testimonies gathered in Santiago de Cuba, Villa Clara, and Sancti Spíritus confirm that it is a strategy at the national level of which the Ministries of Education and of Higher Education refused to give details to questions from this newspaper.

In Santa Clara, Jean Carlo, 16, has already heard two talks on the subject in his high school program. “At the first one a man dressed as a soldier came and joined the professor and said that from the United States they were financing counterrevolutionaries to promote the campaign for No,” he remembers.

“The other time it was taught by the history teacher and she explained to us that we are in a very important moment for the Revolution, and if it was the responsibility of some to attack the Moncada Barracks and of others to fight in Girón (the Bay of Pigs), it’s our responsibility to fight so that Yes wins in the referendum.”

In universities all over the Island, which in the 2018-2019 school year have some 240,000 students, the official Yes campaign has also begun in classrooms, even though until the last days of January, students in higher education take their final exams of the semester and only come to the institutions to do reviews or take exams.

“Every day they say something, in some review (for exams) or in some appeal from the FEU,” says Brandon, 21, who is enrolled in one of the faculties of the iconic University Hill in the nation’s flagship university in Havana. “The students listen but almost nobody asks or says anything, they only hear,” he emphasizes.

The situation recalls the so-called Battle of Ideas, an ideological turn of the screw that Fidel Castro pushed at the beginning of this century. The intense campaign included weekly public actions, known as Open Forums, the creation of a red guard of very aggressive young people, known as “social workers,” and more political activities in schools.

However, with Raúl Castro’s arrival to power many of those programs broke up for lack of resources. “It’s not that ideology has been relaxed in schools, much less in universities, but that there weren’t funds to sustain all that propagandistic machinery,” believes Katty, a recent graduate in pedagogy.

In the last week the Cuban Government has intensified its Yes campaign on national media and has placed advertisements for Yes at baseball games and in the news on national television. However, promoters of No or of abstention do not appear in any of these settings.

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.

Cuban Babalawos Predict a Bad Year for Agriculture

Babalawos gathered for the announcement of the Letter of the Year. (Facebook/Juan Blanco)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, January 2, 2018 — Cuban babalawos [Yoruba spiritual title for a Santeria priest] have again predicted a year of difficulties, especially in the agricultural sector, but also for natural phenomenons, venereal diseases, and migratory conflicts, according to the Letter of the Year published by the Yoruba Cultural Association of the Island (ACYC).

The prediction, which since 2016 the ACYC has made jointly with the independent Commission of the Letter of the Year, was shared this Tuesday after a foretaste was announced at the end of the year, and afterwards the babalawos met for the opening ceremony of 2019 that was presided over by the priest of Ifá Ángel Custodio Padrón. continue reading

The Letter of the Year, the series of predictions that priests of the Yoruba religion make every January, is much anticipated by practitioners of Santeria and by the population in general. This year it explains that the orisha Oshún–syncretized in the Catholic religion with the patron saint of Cuba, the Virgin of Charity of El Cobre–will reign. The deity will be accompanied by Oggún, who represents blacksmiths, wars, technology, and surgeons.

In the recommendations included in the text, the babalawos call for respecting elders and seeking religious training; avoiding problems with the law; making better use of agricultural resources; and avoiding confrontations and quarrels.

The Letter predicts an increase of sexually transmitted diseases, along with malignant diseases of the colon, and rectum, among others.

In January of last year an intense controversy was sparked after the publication of the Letter of the Year of 2018, for its calls to “not conspire” and to respect authority, something that various babalawos branded as taking the side of the Government.

The Free Yorubas Association, an independent group made up of priests of this religion, classified that Letter as “totally manipulated and keeping with the interests of atheist materialist tyranny” and labeled the babalawos who wrote it as lacking “moral religious authority to speak in the name of Yorubas and publish predictions that affect the present and future” of the country.

Letter of the Year 2019

Ruling Sign: Oshe Ogunda

First Witness: Ika Ogunda

Second Witness: Osa Kuleya

Prophetic Prayer: Osorbu Iku Intori Ogu.

Orula Onire: Adimu (a yam cut into two halves and rubbed with red palm oil, along with a coconut split in two and two candles)

Otan Onishe Ara: Sarayeye with a chicken and it is given to Oggun, with the other ingredients and it is bathed with herbs of Paraldo.

Otan deity that rules: Oshun

Accompanying deity: Oggun Otan

Flag: Yellow with green borders

Ebbo: 1 kid (for Elegba), 5 small gourds, to which is added indigo, honey, palm oil, bone breaking stick, and blood of the goat, and it is hung on the door, and the other ingredients.

Other ingredents: (Later bathe with ewe still alive)

Governing divinity: OCHUN.

Accompanying deity: OGGUN.

Flag of the year: Yellow with green borders

Sayings of the Sign:

– It is not finished with the same knife.

– The arrow is not let fly without first going to the battlefield.

– What is left is not returned to and collected.

Illnesses which increase in rate:

-Illnesses of the stomach and intestines

-Increase of the rate of sexually transmitted diseases

-Impotence at a young age, as a consequence of prostate problems in men

-Malignant diseases of the colon and rectum.

Events of Social Interest:

-Problems will continue in the agricultural sector fundamentally in the production of food, produce, and vegetables as a consequence of the poor fertilization of the soil.

-Incursions of seawater that can produce floods and landslides. Increase of migratory conflicts.

-The danger and threats of natural catastrophes of all types will continue.

Recommendations:

-Sign that warns of the danger that wastefulness can cause.

-It is recommended to avoid the poor utilization of chemical products in agricultural production.

– Caution with epidemics and illnesses.

– Avoid confrontations and quarrels.

– It is recommended to maintain an adequate religious ethic.

– It’s necessary to seek cooperation and help one another to achieve the outlined objectives.

– Respect elders and seek religious training.

– Avoid problems with the law.

– Increase of venereal diseases as a product of sexual debauchery.

– Make better use of agricultural resources.

– An equilibrium is recommended in all spheres.

– It is recommended to strengthen oggun. (look to godparents for this).

– It’s necessary to be careful with excessive consent of parents with their children.

– Parents must pay careful attention to the care and education of children.

– Self medication is prohibited.

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.

A Constitution to Institutionalize the Dictatorship

More than three million copies of the constitutional text are for sale. The referendum will be held on February 24. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, January 10, 2019 — A close reading of the final version of the new Constitution of the Republic, which will be submitted to a referendum on February 24, allows the conclusion that none of the 760 changes made by the drafting commission does anything to alter the negative opinion that was held of the draft.

Perhaps the best example was the change suffered by Article 5 and not just because of the return of the concept of communism that generated so much discussion, but the mocking introduction of the conjunction “and” to substitute the hyphen in the word “Marxist-Leninist.” According to the explanation, “in the opinion of various academics it was a formulation with a Stalinist tinge.” continue reading

In second place is the balancing act performed to make the controversial Article 68 disappear and in its place introduce similar precepts in Article 82. The celebration that the most conservative anticipated for the supposed victory was frustrated upon realizing that the door that would open the path to marriage equality had only changed places.

However, for the LGBT community the new article also has a bittersweet flavor since it sets a period of up to two years to define who can get married. This postponement evidently seeks to prevent a negative vote in the referendum from those opposed to these unions.

Another change that has passed unnoticed is that regarding legal rights (Article 49), which previously indicated that “no person can be obligated to testify against himself, his spouse, or relatives up to the fourth degree of consanguinity and second of affinity,” while now (Article 95) “common-law partner” is included.

In Article 95 itself the order is expressed that in a penal process, persons can have access to “legal assistance from the beginning of the process.” This has perhaps been one of the most-exhibited aspects as a demonstration of the respect toward rights in the future, but it shows the lack of due-process guarantees from which numerous citizens have suffered since that precept was eliminated.

It would be worthwhile to do a study of the ups and downs that the concept of “concentration of ownership” has been subjected to. Since its appearance in the guidelines of the VI Congress, passing through what was added in the VII Congress’s version and later in the Conceptualization of the Model project, the topic arrived at the final version of the Constitution rather decaffeinated.

Article 22 of the draft said: “The State regulates that no concentration of ownership exists in legal persons or non-state entities, in order to preserve the limits compatible with the socialist values of equity and social justice.”

In the new version Article 30 says this: “The concentration of ownership in legal persons or non-state entities is regulated by the State, which additionally guarantees a more and more just redistribution of wealth in order to preserve the limits…”

Having maintained the concept of the irrevocability of the socialist system and the position of the only Party as the ruling political force justifies the assessment that the main thing that should have changed has not changed.

With the validity of those two pillars any attempt to compare the draft submitted to debate with the final version approved by Parliament is a true waste of time, even when one has the noble intent of itemizing the details that can be considered positive to contrast them with the negative. In addition to a sterile exercise it can be considered a pernicious habit.

The truly useful thing seems to be using space, energy, and talent to find a way to prevent the definitive insitutionalization of the dictatorship. There remains little time and it’s necessary to hurry up and settle on a consensus so that Cubans don’t suffer the same fate as the unsuspecting rabbits from the fable, who wasted their precious opportunity to save themselves debating over the breed of the hunting dogs drawing near.

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.

Substituting Yam, Yucca, and Cuban Ingenuity for Flour

Caption: Rationed bread sold in the neighborhood of Cojímar, east Havana. (Iliana Hernández)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 4 January 2019 — The old recipes from the Special Period are back in fashion. The lack of flour has led state-owned bakeries to turn to yams, private confectioners opt for recipes with yucca, and more than one family invents some substitute in order to have breakfast.

The shortage of flour has worsened in the last two months despite official promises of a prompt improvement. Cubans have become imbued with the spirit of Nitza Villapol, a well-known chef who, in the 90s, had to improvise dozens of dishes with few resources in front of the cameras of national television.

“For the end of the year we would like to make a panetela (cake) topped with meringue, but we have neither flour nor eggs, so we prefer some yucca buñuelos (fritters),” Silvia Domínguez, a Havana woman of 62 who fears that “the hard years” have returned, tells 14ymedio. The recipe for the dessert that the family finally made took an egg, at least, although they had to add a bit of vinegar with baking soda so that “it would be perfect.” continue reading

Croquettes have been one of the classic appetizers in the New Year’s Eve dinner of the Domínguez family, but this year they had to change the flour base for a puree of instant potatoes that they received from an emigrant relative. “When we don’t have it, we have to invent, and in the end we had a nice time at the celebration, but it’s very tiring having to do this every day,” she laments.

The national recipe book of recent decades has been marked by necesssity and it’s habitual that every Cuban knows how to fry an egg without oil, reach the consistency of a flan with half the eggs, or color a yellow rice with multivitamins bought at state-owned pharmacies. But in the case of flour, an ingredient included in many recipes, substitution is more difficult.

Leticia Romero doesn’t like the bread sold on the ration book and prefers to buy it in private bakeries in her neighborhood of Vedado or from unrationed sales at State-owned places, but since November both options have been difficult to find and this 56-year-old woman, who lives with her mother and her sister, has had to settle for the rationed product.

“When they first put it out for sale in the morning there are enormous lines and it’s a lot of work for me to stand in line, because I have to run to get to work,” laments Romero. Two months ago she always bought bread in the afternoons, when she was returning home, but now it’s impossible. “At that time the bakery is a desert and there’s nothing,” she explains to this newspaper.

After experiencing a severe crisis in bread sales at the national level in November and December, Havana has slightly recuperated production of this product in the bakeries of the rationed market and in those of the Cuban Bread Chain it’s possible to buy it at limited hours, although the supply is still not stable and the shortage of flours in stores persists.

In many of the bakery and confectionary businesses of the private sector in the capital, what’s available for sale has diminished. Outside one of them, close to Avenida 26, a customer says that now the only thing there is sweet and salty cookies. “Bread goes fast, those who have private cafes or restaurants take it by the box,” she insists.

In the province of Santiago de Cuba the supply of sweets and breads also improved during the past week, especially the unrationed sale. The government took great pains to improve the supply in the city where the principal ceremony for the 60th anniversary of the Cuban revolution was held. Now, Santiago residents, who also complain of the quality of the rationed product, fear that with the festivities over the supply will collapse.

Katherine Mojena, resident of the Altamira neighborhood, says that the rationed bread has a dark color and a bad flavor. “Those who know say that it’s made of flour from yams. The unrationed bread is not like that. At least not in the most central bakeries. There are almost never bread rolls which are the cheapest. The bread they do have is 3.50 CUP, which is bread with a hard crust, oval-shaped, which here for years we have called ’special’ bread. In convertible pesos there are some wonderful bread rolls: white, soft, a delicious flavor, and an excellent quality.”

In the bakery of Antilla, in the province of Holguín, a sign placed on the door reads: “There is no flour, Happy 2019.” Roberto Santana, a resident of the municipality who shared the image on social media, condemned the situation. “What happiness can there be in a town when the only bakery that sells unrationed bread puts up a sign like this at the beginning of the year? I don’t know whether to call it ignorance or blackmail of the people.”

“If the Government doesn’t pay providers and if they don’t lack bread on their tables, what do you call it? Surely it’s not social equality. This, my friends, is not socialism. There is no happiness without food,” added Santana.

An employee of the bakery, tired of having to give the same answer again and again to customers, explained this Friday via telephone to 14ymedio that the place is not offering any products because it lacks raw material. “Maybe it will come later,” she suggests.

Heriberto Núñez, a candy maker who distributes his merchandise in the municipality San Miguel del Padrón from an old Soviet-era bicycle, resists stopping his business because of the lack of flour. “I’m getting old bread from a state-owned canteen and I process it to make pudding,” he says. “I only need some grated lemon rind, powdered milk, and sugar to make a tasty product.” He doesn’t add eggs “because there aren’t any, not even in spiritual centers.”

Núñez assures that he has a long experience of substituting ingredients. “I worked many years selling tomato sauce the least of which was tomato, because I made it with beets, yams, and coloring,” he remembers. “I’m practiced in this, but if we also lose the old bread, then I don’t know what I’m going to do.”

In the plastic box he carries attached to his bicycle, this Wednesday he was transporting caramel coconut balls, peanut nougat, and yucca fritters. “Nothing with flour, and much less puff pastry sweets, which need quality ingredients. This is the time for sweets in syrup or sugared fruits, but for filled pastries we will have to wait.”

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.

Etecsa Charges for But Then Blocks Messages for the "No" Vote and Abstention in the Referendum

Text messages with the phrases “YoVotoNO” (ImVotingNo), “YoNoVoto” (ImNotVoting), or with the word “abstention” are charged for by Etecsa but do not arrive to their destination. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 7 January 2019 — The battle to win the constitutional referendum of February 24 has led the Cuban Government to take all types of actions. Along with advertisements for “I’m voting Yes” at baseball games and the avalanche of messages of support on social media, it has opted for censorship of text messages that include calls to vote No or to abstain.

Mobile phone customers who have sent a text message with the phrases “YoVotoNo” (ImVotingNo), “YoNoVoto” (ImNotVoting), or with the word “abstention” (with or without the accent in the Spanish spelling) are indignant because the text never reached its recipient. 14ymedio has confirmed this situation with a test that included more than fifty users in ten provinces. continue reading

That test showed that combinations that include the numeral symbol, in the manner of hashtags on social media (#YoVotoNo and #YoNoVoto), are also “clipped” by the Telecommunications Company of Cuba (Etecsa), a state-owned monopoly that in the past has seen itself involved in other cases of censorship and of blocking telephone services against activists.

The contract that every user of Etecsa’s mobile network signs upon purchasing a mobile phone line includes a paragraph in which it makes clear that among the causes for the termination of service is that it be used for a purpose “that threatens morality, public order, the security of the State, or aids in committing criminal activities.”

However, no customer has been warned that messages will be submitted to a content filter or that part of their correspondence will be blocked if they mention the name of opposition figures, spread slogans uncomfortable for the government, or promote an electoral stance different from that of the government.

The current censorship of words and phrases does not extend to messaging services like WhatsApp, Telegram, or Facebook Messenger which the government cannot intercept in as easy a manner as it can control the text messages sent via Etecsa. For that reason many activists promoting “No” in the referendum or a voting boycott have moved toward these tools.

“I realized that something was happening because I went to send my sister who lives in Havana a message with the comment that a friend of mine made on Facebook about the referendum,” a cellphone user who wished to remain anonymous told 14ymedio. The text included the tag #YoNoVoto and never arrived to its destination, although the 0.9 CUC for the delivery was subtracted from the sender’s cellphone credit.

“After that I sent her various combinations of that same phrase and it was only delivered when I changed the ’o’ to a zero and I substituted the final vowel with a period,” says the source. “I spent the early morning hours checking with other friends and the result was the same,” the source concludes.

After that first claim, this newspaper communicated with the service number for Etecsa (118) to investigate what happened. The employee who answered the call insisted that there hadn’t been previous reports of problems with text messaging and emphasized that “Etecsa is not currently doing any maintenance work, so all messages should arrive on time.”

When asked directly about a possible censorship of text message content, the state-employed worker declined to respond and said she knew “nothing about that matter.” Other calls, made at different times this weekend, produced similar results.

It’s not the first time that Etecsa has censored messages based on content. In September this newspaper revealed in a comprehensive report that all text messages that contained references to “human rights,” “hunger strike,” “democracy,” “repression,” or the names of the most well-known activists in the country, were never received even though they were charged for.

At that time, 14ymedio did tests from accounts of very dissimular users, who ranged from opposition figures and activists to people with no links to independent movements. In all cases, messages that contained certain expressions were lost along the way.

Arnulfo Marrero, second in command at the Etecsa plant at 19 and B in Vedado, Havana, appeared at that time surprised by the complaint presented by two reporters from this newspaper. “We don’t have anything to do with that, you should address the Ministry of Communications (Micom),” explained the official.

“Micom is who governs the communications policy, because we here have no say. The only thing I can do is report this,” warned Marrero.

With more than five million cellphone users, Etecsa does not seem prepared to give in on the ideological control of the messages circulating on its network and continues to expand its extensive history of text message censorship via a “list of key words.” Now new terms have been added to that list of phrases and terms that, it seems, will continue to grow in the future.

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.

The "No" Campaign Gains Momentum Among the Opposition

Kiosks have begun to sell the text of the new Constitution. Here in Calle 23 in Havana’s Vedado neighborhood. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, January 8, 2019 — Mobilization for the “No” vote in the referendum called for February 24 to approve the constitutional reform continues gaining momentum in the ranks of the opposition.

This Monday, the leader of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (Unpacu), José Daniel Ferrer, insisted that a “No” vote “is the option championed by a wide number of opposition organizations, defenders of Human Rights, and other members of Independent Civil Society both within and without domestic territory” via a message published on his personal Facebook account.

Ferrer recognizes that none of the voter’s options on the referendum — Yes, No, abstention or a null vote — is going to democratize Cuba on its own, but he believes that authorities “would prefer a broad abstention” over “a broad turnout at the polls that gives rise to a massive and conclusive No, which can be demonstrated.” continue reading

José Daniel Ferrer, leader of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (Unpacu).

Ferrer counters those calling for boycotting the referendum via a massive abstention with the argument that in a dictatorship people don’t participate in elections and reminds his audience of five cases in which an electoral process derailed a regime, among them Augusto Pinochet’s Chile and communist Poland.

“For someone who is very knowledgeable about the Cuban — and international –reality, it’s not the most effective option [abstention],” believes Ferrer, “unless those who champion it as the only valid form have the ability to mobilize, and demonstrate that they did it, with more than 50% of Cubans with the right to vote.”

The opposition figure called on those supporting abstention to join forces and work together with those who promote voting No, although he also warned that “with those who hold paralyzed and sectarian positions, because of orders or malice, no understanding can exist” and he branded them “very good allies of tyranny.”

The Unpacu leader also calls in his message to “together defend the right of Cubans of the diaspora to participate” in the referendum and “in any question of interest for the country.”

Furthermore, the Cuban Observatory for Human Rights (OCDH) has asked the European Parliament, United Nations, and the Organization of American States (OAS) to send observers to supervise and give guarantees of the process, according to a statement published this Monday by the organization.

OCDH, headquartered in Madrid, has recommended that the three international bodies “supervise the process and prevent fraud by Havana’s regime” so that “the regime doesn’t have a free hand to change popular will,” says the letter sent to Antonio Tajana, president of the European Parliament.

The petition was also sent to members of European Parliament Antonio López Istúriz, Beatriz Becerra, María Teresa Giménez Barbat, Javier Nart, Pavel Telicka, and Dita Charanzova, among others.

The letter to European Parliament asks that the behavior of Cuban authorities be taken into account “at the time of examining whether to maintain or suspend the Agreement for Political Dialogue and Cooperation with the Island.”

In December 2016 the European Union and Cuba signed their first bilateral agreement, for political dialogue and cooperation, that put an end to the European Union’s “Common Position,” which, as of 1996, imposed on the bloc a unilateral and restrictive relationship with the Island.

Although Cuba is not part of the OAS, OCDH sent a similar missive to Luis Almagro, secretary general of the body, seeking for “the region’s nations to send delegations of impartial observers” to the Island. “The drafting and review process of the new Constitution of the Republic of Cuba has been exclusionary, conceived by and for the Communist Party of Cuba, which has written and imposed its version of the Law that will rule the destiny of the Cuban nation,” reminds the text.

In the petition directed to Michelle Bachelet, United Nations High Commissioner ofor Human Rights, OCDH underlines the importance of what will happen on February 24 when “the Cuban people are called to approve, or not, a proposal that could jeopardize their future.”

The Observatory, which along with other organizations supports the #YoVotoNo (#ImVotingNo) campaign, warns that that will be “a day of mobilization, complicated and tense.”

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.

Havana Grabs Onto The Cricket Theory To Discredit The "Acoustic Attacks"

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, January 8, 2019 — The audio disseminated in October of 2017 by the Associated Press agency which supposedly reproduces the strange sound heard by the staff of the American embassy and which presumably caused brain damages in almost forty officials of Washington and Ottawa, matches the calling song of the short-tailed cricket, according to a study published by scientists from the University of California at Berkeley. The official press didn’t take long to echo the news and published the results of the study on Saturday.

The study, which is not intended to settle the damages caused nor the supposed attack, focuses on analyzing the sound, and determines that there are up to six lines of evidence that it is the noise produced by this insect typical of the Caribbean and common on the Island, whose scientific name is Anurogryllus celerinictus. continue reading

The academics Alexander L. Stubbs and Fernando Montealegre, from the Biology Department and the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology of the California university, say that “the calling song of the Indies short-tailed cricket of the Caribbean matches, in nuanced detail, the AP recording (…)” in terms of “duration, pulse repetition rate, power spectrum, pulse rate stability, and oscillations per pulse.”

The study’s conclusions may call into question the origin of the audio or its possible relation with the injuries caused to the diplomats, although they do not question whether these occurred.

“This provides strong evidence that an echoing cricket call, rather than a sonic attack or other technological device, is responsible for the sound in the released recording. Although the causes of the health problems reported by embassy personnel are beyond the scope of this paper, our findings highlight the need for more rigorous research into the source of these ailments, including the potential psychogenic effects, as well as possible physiological explanations unrelated to sonic attacks,” maintains the study.

“The line of evidence supports the conclusion that the sound recorded by US personnel in Cuba is of a biological origin and does not constitute a sonic attack. The fact that the sound in the recording was produced by a cricket does not rule out the theory that Embassy personnel were victims of another type of attack,” adds the document.

The mystery of the sonic attacks, as the US refers to them, thus continues without being solved. American authorities maintain that at least 24 members of their staff stationed in Havana suffered migraines, nausea, and brain damage between the end of 2016 and August of 2016, which were, in their view, caused by advanced acoustic devices.

One of the most recent and elaborate scientific theories published was that provided in March 2018 by Kevin Fu, an expert in computer science at the University of Michigan, according to which the health problems of the officials had no relation with exposure to an acoustic attack, but rather with interferences caused by electronic devices.

Fu, in collaboration with professor Wenyuan Xu and his doctoral student Chen Yan at the University of Zhejiang (China), provided this theory based precisely on the audio of the Associate Press.

The frequency of that sound reached 7 kilohertz (kHz), far from the range of between 20 and 200 kHz typical of ultrasound frequencies, which are inaudible and which at an early stage were believed to be the causes of the intriguing event.

Through a series of simulations Yan showed that an effect known as intermodulation distortion could have caused the sound that was heard on the recording and that the Berkeley scientists now categorically affirm is crickets.

Intermodulation distortion is a phenomenon that occurs when two signals of different frequencies combine to produce synthetic signals.

Chen used two ultrasound speakers: one of 25 kHz and the other of 32 kHz. When he crossed the signals of both devices it produced a sharp sound of 7 kHz, which matched the difference in frequency between the two devices and which was the same that was heard in the AP audio.

“If ultrasound is the culprit, then a possible cause is two signals that accidentally interfere with each other, creating an audible secondary effect. Maybe there is an ultrasound blocker in the room and an ultrasonic transmitter,” suggested Fu in an alternative that led to the consideration that the devices that reacted to each other were microphones.

ProPublica had affirmed in February of 2018 that all the hypotheses dealt with until that point were ruled out except for the Russian clue. The digital outlet gave a detailed account of the events after listening to the testimony of various American officials. At the time the sound was heard, the possibility was mentioned that it might have an animal origin, but those affected were divided on the matter.

“I’m very sure that they’re cicadas,” said one of the officials. “They’re not cicadas,” responded another. “Cicadas don’t sound like that. The sound is too mechanical.”

The sounds were described as sharp and disorienting and the diplomats thought, initially, that they were usual episodes of surveillance or harassment that their compatriots have denounced since the United States Interests Section opened in 1977.

What appears beyond all doubt is that there are dozens of diplomats affected by a cause yet uknown but that the United States attributes to a sonic attack.

The options most used in cases of this origin are ultrasonic weapons, those of ultrasound and microwaves, although the first have been imposed because of their matching the symptoms described by the victims.

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.

Despite its Shortcomings and High Cost, Cubans Celebrate the Arrival of Internet to Cellphones

On December 6 the Telecommunications Company of Cuba (Etecsa) enabled web browsing on cellphones. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 6 January 2019 — A month into Cubans’ ability to connect to the internet from their cellphones, users are complaining of the high prices of the service and the shortcomings of the 3G but, at the same time, many appreciate the advantage of being able to connect from anywhere.

On December 6 the Telecommunications Company of Cuba enabled web browsing on cellphones. However, a considerable number did not get the capacity because of the incompatibility of their devices, lack of 3G coverage, or the high cost of the packages.

Yordanys Labrada, resident of Songo La Maya, is one of those to whom the technology dealt a raw deal. With a very modern phone, made in 2018, this young Santiago native laments that the device cannot connect at the frequency of 900 Mhz, that chosen by Etecsa for sending and receiving web data. “My phone works in 2, 3, and 4G, but with the problem of the frequency I can’t do anything,” he explains to 14ymedio. continue reading

Now, to connect, Labrada has to keep visiting the wifi zones that began to be installed in plazas and parks all over the Island beginning in 2015. One of the most evident signs that internet has come to mobile phones is, precisely, the lack of crowding in these areas, traditionally full of customers wanting to check the worldwide web.

On La Rampa in Havana the number of internet users has decreased in the past month. “Even though it can be a lot more expensive connecting on mobile versus on wifi, people really value being able to do it in the peace and privacy of their home,” believes Jean Carlos, a young man of 21 who says that since the beginning of the service for cellphones he has used two packages of 2.5 gigabytes, for a total of 40 CUC, the equivalent of an engineer’s monthly salary.

Browsing on cellphones is sold through data packages and its price goes from 7 CUC for 600 megabytes up to 30 CUC for 4 gigabytes. Jean Carlos can afford those expenses because he works as a ’mule’ bringing merchandise to the Island. “Via email and WhatsApp buyers tell me what they want me to bring them.” His informal business depends on being connected the majority of the time.

For Lorena Rodríguez the view is very different. The high school student describes the price as “still very expensive” and she became sad when the first package of 1GB that she purchased ran out in two days in which she only used Imo, Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp.

Others lament that there are areas of bad or no coverage. Yusef Hernández complained on Twitter because in Cárdenas (in Matanzas province) the connection “is very bad and it’s a lot of work to access the internet.”

Something similar happens on Calle 14 near the centrally located Avenida 23, in Havana, where the residents insist they are in a “zone of silence.” Some of them have commented ironically on social media about the nearness of the cemetery and the “dead spot” of connectivity in which they live.

Other criticisms arise from the ineffectiveness of the additional voucher for 300 megabytes which allows users to browse only on domestic sites, and comes with the purchase of any package. Technical difficulties and little interest in visiting these websites, all in the hands of the government, mean that the option has not had a great popularity according to what this newspaper was able to confirm after investigating among numerous customers.

“I’m still using the principal data package even when I visit a .cu website,” complained a reader of the official newspaper Granma. The response he received from Etecsa officials boils down to the fact that, even though Cuban pages are housed on domestic servers, they have elements or modules inserted that come from foreign services.

“The majority of the people I know don’t use this service to visit any domestic website, but rather to interact on social media and look up information from other independent or foreign media,” 14ymedio is told by a young man who has found a business gold mine in configuring Access Point Names (APN) in mobile phones.

“The customers who come also want me to set up their Facebook accounts, help them understand how messaging or chat services work, or install some application to control data use,” says the computer specialist, who has a small mobile phone repair place on Calle San Lázaro in Havana.

“Mainly older people come because young people know how to do all this on their own,” he explains. “Now with internet on cellphones, many people over the age of 50, who before lived with their backs turned to new technologies, have realized that they need to learn in order to communicate with their children or with other family members abroad.”

In the first week Etecsa recorded “up to 145,000 simultaneous data connections from the mobile network.” Although there have not been new updates of those figures, on social media a larger volume of posts coming from the Island is noted, as well as a greater immediacy in response or interaction times.

In the last three weeks almost all of the ministers and members of the Council of State have opened Twitter accounts after the head of the Government did so. But the officials still seem awkward on social media and merely repeat slogans or retweet news from official media.

The arrival of internet service has coincided with a worsening in shortages of basic products, like flour and eggs. From their cellphones internet users have discovered that they could denounce the absence or poor quality of rationed bread and show the empty shelves in stores.

The referendum on the new Constitution, on February 24, is also material for the Net. The government has determinedly thrown itself into promoting the vote for “Yes” on all its digital sites and on the social media accounts of its officials. The supporters of the “No” vote and of abstention have done likewise, lacking access to mass media within the Island.

The ideological battle experiences moments of commotion on the internet and connections from mobile phones seem to have contributed to heating up the debate.

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.

Wealth Doesn’t Only Come From Work, There’s More

In their analysis of the economy, Marxists spurn human motivation as an element in the creation of wealth. (Archive)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Elías Amor Bravo, Miami, January 6, 2019 — The communist newspaper Granma devotes an article in today’s edition to the economy, and specifically, does it with an untruthful title: “Wealth will come from work.” I have nothing against the journalist who wrote this pamphlet because certainly it will have been dictated to her. But since it commits some very serious errors of elemental economic analysis, this blog will dedicate its first entry of 2019 to commenting on its contents.

To begin, since many years ago, so many that memory doesn’t reach so far back, economic science has known that work, as a factor of production at the macro and micro level, is fundamental for a productive system. But obviously it is not the only factor capable of creating wealth, and with time, economists have stopped speaking of work, homogenous and generic, typical of Marxist teachings, and have started to establish talent as the most adequate measurement of contribution to productivity and wealth.

They are different things. For example, the article assumes a grave error, and I cite from the text: “having more resources, including monetary, for the sake of satisfying growing needs and more quality of life (…) will only come from work, and from individual and collective efforts being directed toward developing the economy.” continue reading

False. This only happens in economies of societies of poverty, of subsistence, in which salary only exists as income, and the population does not have alternative assets that would permit them to generate wealth.

In modern economies, the means that allow people to enjoy a greater standard of living come from work, but not only from work. Above all, of all that can be gained by capitalizing on work, an effort to save, identifying opportunities and risks, and taking positions for the future.

It’s not difficult to observe that in Cuba “activating all the potentials to produce more and with efficiency,” is unthinkable with the current model, because it lacks a fundamental element for that: human motivation.

In their analysis of the economy, Marxists spurn human motivation as an element in the creation of wealth. For them, social uniformity is the priority. Social justice focuses on lowering aspirations, reducing individual motivations in favor of certain collective objectives that are difficult to measure and assess, but scarce and limited. And in this postulate resides the failure of the model. On the other hand, people are driven by incentives that guarantee them the ability to access a better standard of living, to fulfill their dreams, to see realized a better future for their children and grandchildren. That is the motivation.

And so, in addition to the fruits of labor, although only a small part is saved, the fruits of those resources allow access to other goods and services, or supplemented with bank credits they allow investment in one or several homes, in land, buildings, machines, patents, etc, any lawful thing that allows more wealth to be generated.

The capital factor, in Cuba harassed and extinguished by the communist regime for 60 years, hasn’t been used to fulfill its important role in the generation of wealth. Cubans have to flee from Cuba to establish that economic reality, in Miami, Madrid, or wherever destiny takes them.

Economists know that the life cycle of human consumption is conditioned by human wealth, which comes from work throughout one’s life, and non-human wealth, which has to do with the property rights that people have over certain assets, like land, homes, plots, savings, investment and pension plans, etc.

In advanced economies, work is just one factor of the many that generate income and wealth, and governments know that for a country to get out of underdevelopment and firmly direct its evolution toward prosperity, it is necessary not to place obstacles in the way of factors associated with non-human wealth, as happens in Cuba.

Additionally, the article in Granma doesn’t take into account the fact that we live in a global world, in which technologies associated with the fourth industrial revolution are changing the forms of producing, consuming, investing…of working. By now work is not respresented by those gray and uniform human masses of the Europe of the Iron Curtain, Soviet Russia, or the Chinese of Mao’s Cultural Revolution.

Work in this new century is measured in terms of talent and skill, which is nothing other than a measurement of the quality of the work. Fidel Castro once spoke of rewarding work according to its quality, and there is his legacy: Cuban salaries, some 30 dollars per month, are among the lowest in the world. Without skill businesses cannot function, and for that reason they fight over talent and pay elevated wages to those workers who provide that distinguishing element of competence.

Unskilled workers have to make an effort not to miss the train of the future and opt for a strategy of learning throughout life that, in many cases, encourages businesses to be more productive and efficient. Educational and training systems must be reoriented to contribute in a decisive manner to this process, demand less social prominence, and opt for professional skill.

The problem is that the world has changed — a lot — and the communist regime of the Castros has remained in an artificial bubble since the 1950s, and the worst thing is that they want to make us believe that they are right. An absurd disaster.

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.