Mogherini’s Visit Coincides With Dozens of Arrests

The European Community, represented by Mogherini, has reiterated its support at the Plaza of the Revolution on this trip.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, September 11, 2019 — Dozens of activists arrested this weekend during the framework of Federica Mogerini’s visit to Cuba continue to be detained in bad conditions, their families report. This Monday night, Katerine Mojena, wife of the Carlos Amel Oliva, the youth director of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (Unpacu) , reported that he as well as the leader of the opposition organization, José Daniel Ferrer, were in the cells of the first police unit of Santiago de Cuba.

“No washing and in the same clothes from two days ago. With very little and disgusting water and food. They’ll be there for 5 days until it’s decided if they’ll go to prison or not,” reported Mojena on social media. Mojena, also an activist, who has seen the authorities arrest her husband twice in four days, has rejected the position of the European Union in its relations with Cuba, even more so as the arrests made coincided with the visit of its chief of diplomacy. Several of the detainees have already been released with fines from 500 to 1,500 CUP.

“Outrageous that the EU negotiates with a dictatorship that mobilizes its soldiers to stop its citizens from marching with a sunflower in hand,” lamented the opposition figure on Twitter. continue reading

In a video filmed by the Unpacu leader, José Daniel Ferrer, Oliva is seen walking on a street with a sunflower in his hand and a military vehicle abruptly arrives with several people in uniform. The live social media transmission was cut off after that.

According to what Mojena told this newspaper, Ferrer, Amel, Jorge Cervantes, and Carlos Oliva Rivery have all been in detention for 48 hours by now. In the case of Ovidio Martín it’s 72 hours, because he was arrested in a raid carried out on his home on the 7th. There are currently 23 activists who have not been released and it is unknown in which unit the majority is being kept. Additionally, the operation continues, more reinforced in the three homes that make up the headquarters of Unpacu in Altamira.

Ernesto Oliva explained to 14ymedio the circumstances of his arrest and that of his colleagues. “On the 8th, when we were leaving the José María Heredia cell of Unpacu to demonstrate, around six activists. About 10 officials from State Security were near the door and, when we went out, they made a circle to prevent us from reaching the street. There we started to demonstrate and they called for reinforcements.”

According to the activist, who was released within a few hours, some thirty minutes later about twenty more officials arrived, all in plain clothes, in a State truck. “There wasn’t a single one in uniform, neither police nor military, the method was out of the ordinary. The agents in civilian clothes put us in the truck. Some residents said that among them there were even police from the PNR (National Revolutionary Police) in plain clothes. They took us to the old school, Frank País teacher training, which is now a school for cadets, and there they split us up, sat us down at desks, and denied us food and water,” he reviews.

The Cuban Observatory of Human Rights (OCDH), headquartered in Spain, which in recent days has reiterated its petition to the EU to put an end to the Agreement of Political Dialogue and Cooperation with Havana, has called on Mogherini to condemn the arrests.

“You cannot remain silent. While a discussion on human rights is being staged, José Daniel Ferrer, Jorge Cervantes, Zaqueo Báez Guerrero, Ovidio Martín, Carlos Amel Oliva, and Carlos Oliva Rivery remain detained, all coordinators of the Patriotic Union of Cuba,” it expressed in a statement.

Also against the Agreement is the leftwing activist and ex-diplomat Pedro Campos, who believes that Mogherini “seeks the opening of Castroism to foreign capital and eliminating the internal blockade, to hide the true depths of the EU-Castro agreement,” which, he believes, is “to help the dictatorship economically and to burnish its international image of violators of the human rights of the Cuban people.”

Since the arrival last weekend of the high representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, the threats, arrests, and suspension of cellphone service have multiplied against activists to prevent a peaceful protest planned for Sunday.

Mogherini has made an official visit with an agenda filled with meetings and in which the absence of meetings with the opposition has bothered that sector. If someone was waiting for a shift in the European policy, nothing is further from reality, given that the community block has reiterated its support at the Plaza of the Revolution.

“We are available to the authorities and to the Cuban people to share our experiences and offer financial support,” declared Mogherini this Monday in Havana.

Translated by: Sheilagh Herrera

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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.

Police Take the Journalist Roberto Quinones to Prison

Roberto de Jesús Quiñones was taken to prison on September 11, 2019. (Cubanet)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, September 11, 2019 — The journalist Roberto Quiñones was arrested this Wednesday and driven to jail by the police, after he didn’t report on September 5 to the provincial prison of Guantanamo to complete a one-year sentence.

Three National Revolutionary Police (PNR) agents arrived at Quiñones’s house after four in the afternoon and arrested him, as his wife Ana Rosa Castro detailed to the information website Cubanet.

“Roberto was prepared. He had his things gathered, so they wouldn’t delay in taking him. They told him that he had the right to a phone call, that way he would give me the details of his exact location. Later they informed me that they took him to the provincial prison,” added Ana Rosa. continue reading

Recently, Quiñones had announced that he would not report voluntarily to the prison. “The president of the court that sanctioned me and the judges of the provincial court that did the other setup of a staging of a supposed act of justice, insisted that I am a dangerous citizen, I have thought that in that case the best thing is to wait for them to come arrest me in my own house,” he argued.

The independent journalist and contributer to Cubanet was sanctioned on August 7 for the crime of resistance and disobedience. He received a sentence of a year in prison substituted for correctional work with internment, during a trial held in the Municipal Court of the city of Guantanamo.

The journalist’s arrest occurred on April 22 while he was waiting to cover the trial against the pastors Ramón Rigal and Ayda Expósito, who refused to send their children to school and opted for the method of teaching known as homeschooling. According to their testimony they were beaten by officials during the arrest.

This month, the US government condemned the prosecution of the reporter. “We urge the Cuban regime to immediately release Mr. Quiñones and cease the abuse and mistreatment against him,” said the Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, in statement.

The Inter American Press Association (IAPA) also critized the Cuban Government and demanded that it suspend the punishment and “not continue trampling human rights.”

At the end of August Quiñones was awarded the Patmos Prize for Religious Liberty, which the Patmos Institute gives out. The organization recognized the Catholic layman because “in a very critical period for Cuban civil society in general, including for churches, where the majority prefer to remain silent (…), he decided to be the exception and live against the current.”

Translated by: Sheilagh Herrera

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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.

Jose Daniel Ferrer Arrested Along With Other Activists in Santiago de Cuba

The activist Katerine Mojena reported via Twitter the siege around her house.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, September 8, 2019 — An attempt to participate in the protest organized for this Sunday ended with ten activists arrested in Santiago de Cuba, among them the opposition figure José Daniel Ferrer. The dissidents were violently arrested outside the headquarters of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (Unpacu), as residents of the area reported to 14ymedio.

Ten people left the building around 10 in the morning, the hour scheduled to begin the protest organized by Unpacu and Cuba Decides in response “to the increase of repression against the peaceful opposition and the citizenry,” but outside the place a strong police operation prevented them from passing.

“There are black berets and a strong police operation in the entire neighborhood,” a neighbor who lives a few meters from the Unpacu headquarters, who preferred to remain anonymous, detailed to this newspaper. “They went down and they didn’t last even a minute on the street because they were on top of them,” he adds. Among the arrested was José Daniel Ferrer Cantillo, 16, son of the opposition leader. continue reading

 José Daniel Ferrer, Carlos Amel Oliva Torres and dozens of #UNPACU activists and advocates of #CubaDecide in several provinces of the country arrested. Zaqueo Báez disappeared in Havana. The dictatorship attacks demonstrators. 

pic.twitter.com/14RwyLrY7L — Katerine Mojena (@KataCuba) September 8, 2019  

A little earlier Ferrer, an ex-prisoner of the Black Spring had warned on social media of the possibility of being arrested. “If we don’t publish or respond to your messages, it’s because we are incommunicado. And at the latest at 10 AM, we will be arrested,” he wrote.

Ferrer also explained that the whereabouts since Saturday of at least 30 activists from the organization are unknown. “We don’t know where they have them. The families don’t know their whereabouts. There will be more arrests as 10 AM gets closer. At that time we will go out to the streets in many places,” he announced.

For her part, the activist Katerine Mojena reported via Twitter the siege around her house. “I’m surrounded by soldiers. Alone in a house with my two little ones. They’re threatening to assault my home. That’s what the dictatorship fears, a mother who confronts them peacefully,” she wrote.

Other members of Unpacu also reported operations around their homes, threats, and suspension of their cellphone service since long before the scheduled time to carry out the protest, on the day dedicated to the Patron of Cuba, the Virgin of Charity of El Cobre.

The organizers had called for going out to the streets with a sunflower or a yellow article of clothing, symbols of Chachita, as the Charity of El Cobre is popularly known. This Sunday also coincides with the eve of the holding in Havana of the Joint Council of the Cuban Government and the European Union, which the high representative of foreign policy, Federica Mogherini, will attend.

In Miami, Rosa María Payá, leader of the Cuba Decides project, participated in a meeting in the Shrine of the Charity of El Cobre and alluded to the future of the Island, which she defined as “beautiful [because] it’s a Cuba that we are creating among all of us, not just activists and opposition figures,” the dissident told a group of people gathered outside the church.

 #Demonstration massive concentration of Cubans at the Shrine of Charity in support of #CubaDecide and #UNPACU pic.twitter.com/zb18D19D8K

— FNCA (@voiceofcanf) September 8, 2019

The two organizations who called for the protest also expressed their solidarity with the Ladies in White movement, independent journalists and artists, defenders of religious liberties, LGBTI activists, and all peaceful organizations.

Both Unpacu and Cuba Decides asked for an end to police abuses, prison sentences for political motives, violations of the right to enter or leave the country, bad treatment and torture in prisons, police raids on homes of dissidents, and violent arrests, in addition to the harassment of activists.

Translated by: Sheilagh Herrera

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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.

On A Hunger Strike to Denounce the Situation of the 150 "Regulated" in Cuba

The activist Guillermo del Sol decided to stop eating as a protest against the violations on freedom of movement. (Cortesía)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Ricardo Fernández, Camaguey | September 7, 2019 — Guillermo del Sol, 53, has committed himself to fighting against the Cuban Government’s arbitrary practice of “regulating” nonconformists by prohibiting them from leaving the country. Twenty-seven days ago he began to fulfill his promise with a hunger strike, which has made him lose 21 kilos, he says via videoconference from his home in Santa Clara.

“It’s not a matter of getting my own benefits,” clarifies Del Sol, who takes the opportunity to cite one of the most well-known verses of the Cuban national anthem of “dying for the homeland is living.” He speaks slowly, taking long pauses to take a breath and recuperate the little energy that the long fast is leaving him. Since he began the hunger strike, he assures, he has only consumed water.

He made the decision to stop eating on August 12 after Immigration officials at the Havana airport announced to his son, Adrián del Sol Alfonso, that he couldn’t board a flight to Trinidad and Tobago, where he was going to participate in an event on religious freedom. The young man found out that he was “regulated” after going to the airline’s counter and checking in his baggage; “regulated” is the euphemism used by the Cuban government that means a person is forbidden from leaving the country. continue reading

That same day, father and son carried out a peaceful protest in the terminal area, which ended with the arrest of both. They were brought to the National Revolutionary Police unit of the Boyeros municipality, where they were fined and later released.

“Indignation, that’s what I felt when I saw that they were treating my son like a terrorist at the border,” explained Del Sol to this media outlet. “Then I understood what so many young people, journalists, religious people, and people whose only crime is thinking differently from the regime are experiencing. It wasn’t only my son who was being humiliated. In front of me I was seeing that sector of Cubans who live according to their own principals and pay for that audacity with being prohibiting from traveling abroad.”

The practice of preventing activists, independent journalists, and political opposition figures from leaving the country has become more common in recent months as a form of repression. International organizations and human rights groups in Cuba have warned about the situation, but authorities continue arbitrarily denying freedom of movement to citizens.

Guillermo is a member of the Old Catholic Church, declared illegal by the Office of Attention to Religious Affairs, attached to the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Cuba. Additionally, he directs the independent press agency Santa Clara Vision. He knows that his health is delicate, because he suffers from diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, and respiratory problems, but he is determined to continue on the strike.

In more than three weeks without food, he has suffered considerable weight loss, a gradual fall in blood pressure, and pain in the kidneys, legs, and joints. With great difficulty he reads the Bible and converses with friends who visit him.

It’s not the first time that Del Sol has declared himself on a hunger strike. The most recent ended on May 20, 2017, after more than twenty days without food as a demand for him to have some film equipment that the police had confiscated returned to him. On that occasion he achieved his demand.

“The Cuban authorities are going to be silent until I’m dying, that’s if they don’t decide to let me die. But it depends on them,” he says, unhurried, sure. “The only one who comes is the doctor from the office who checks on me in the mornings and informs the agents from State Security about my health.”

In his current situation he tries not to make any physical efforts and his son helps him bathe, in addition to remaining seated until the exhaustion forces him to lie down. “I try to save energy because this is a matter of time.”

He explains that he has received the support of many opposition organizations but laments that “certain religious organizations that suffer from the regulations have not declared themselves.”

“I know that demanding an end to the arbitrary ’regulations’ of the 150 ’regulated’ people that we have been able to count seems like madness and that demanding only the reversal of that condition for my son would have been easier,” he recognizes, but “the world has to know that the Cuban government is trying to turn our borders into bars.”

On social media, that demand is expressed with the hashtag #Ni1ReguladoMás (Not One More Regulated), which helps to raise awareness in public opinion and pressure Cuban authorities to “lift this arbitrariness,” emphasizes Del Sol.

Translated by: Sheilagh Herrera

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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.

US Limits Remittances, But Not for Cuban NGOs or the Private Sector

The recipient of remittances cannot be an official of the Cuban Government. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, September 6, 2019 — Cuban-Americans can only send $1,000 every three months to their family members in Cuba according to the new rules announced this Friday by the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) of the Department of the Treasury of the United States. However, the restrictions will not be applied to NGOs nor to the Island’s private sector.

The amendments, which are added to the regulations on Cuban assets implemented in recent months by Donald Trump’s administration, had been announced in April and will go into effect on October 9.

The new measures also eliminate donations, which would permit American citizens to send money to friends living on the Island. continue reading

The recipient of the remittances cannot be an official of the Cuban Government, a member of the Communist Party, or a close family member of one of these, explains the statement, although OFAC doesn’t explain what mechanisms it will employ to verify the political or military links of each recipient.

On the other hand, the private sector and NGOs on the Island will not be subjected to those limitations.

The OFAC document stresses Washington’s political will to favor the growth of a private sector independent from the Cuban Government. For that reason there will not be restrictions on sending remittances to self-employed people and certain NGOs, like Churches.

The small Cuban private sector is made up of a little more than half a million people and is developing especially in the sectors of restaurants (“paladares”), tourist lodging, and transportation.

“We are taking additional measures to financially isolate the Cuban regime. The United States holds it responsible for the oppression of the Cuban people and the support of other dictatorships throughout the region, like the illegitimate regime of Maduro,” warned the secretary of the Treasury, Steven Mnuchin.

“Through these amendments, the Treasury is denying Cuba access to strong currency, and we are checking the bad behavior of the Cuban Government as we continue supporting the people of Cuba who are suffering so much,” says the official notice.

“These actions mark a continuous commitment to implement the president’s policy on Cuba,” adds the statement. Previously, in June of 2019, OFAC suspended permission for cruise ships and further restricted non-family trips to Cuba by prohibiting educational and so-called people-to-people trips.

Translated by: Sheilagh Herrera

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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.

More than Half of Artemisa Schools are in Bad Conditions as the School Year Begins in Cuba

The biggest constructive efforts regarding materials and labor have been concentrated in the construction of the province’s university. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Bertha K. Guillen, San Cristobal, September 4, 2019 — The enthusiasm to see classmates again and tell stories about their vacations has not prevented Artemisa’s students from seeing the deterioration of the schools to which they returned this Monday. The schools welcomed their students with an evident lack of paint, broken pipes, half-functioning toilets, and damaged school furniture.

The 2019-2020 school year has started in the province with 52.7% of facilities in poor conditions and a deficit of 1,347 teachers. The increase in number of students compared with the previous year, the exodus of teachers, and the limited quantity of graduates in education have aggravated the situation.

Educational authorities insist that they will try to reverse this situation with teachers contracted by the hour and with an increase in the teaching load and students per teacher, according to statements to the local newspaper El Artemiseño by the provincial director of Education, Caridad Cruz. continue reading

Combat High School in Rio Hondo. (14ymedio)

The parents of school-age children are worried because the problem is growing as the months pass and other teachers could leave the classroom, but right now, the priority is the problems with infrastructure in the schools.

Artemisa is in first place in terms of deterioration in schools. More than half of its facilities have been evaluated from fair to bad, double that in Matanzas (25.4%), Sancti Spiritus (25.3%), Havana (22.5%), and Holguin (19.7%), according to data provided by Francisco Navarro Gouraige, director of investment at the Ministry of Education.

The main damages are concentrated in the woodwork of windows and doors, the furniture, bathroom furnishings, sanitary and hydraulic pipes, electric work, and the lighting systems.

Despite everything, the school year began with 385 schools in the province taking in 80,215 students, 1,078 more than the previous year. The salary increase that went into effect in August brought back to the province around 500 teachers. However, the number of departures remains high. Meanwhile the number of graduates from education programs entering the workforce was only 46.

“I read in El Artemiseño that, with the salary increase, 102 of the 197 teachers who asked for leave at the end of last year changed their minds, but people are tired of the bad conditions in which we work, the strictness with which you have to follow orders that have more to do with politics than educating, and the indoctrination, so many leave, it’s just that those figures are barely publicized,” Magalis Rodríguez, a teacher with more than 38 years of experience who preferred to definitively retire, tells this newspaper.

“The biggest motivation to go back is the pension, with the salary increase the number is now a little higher than what we could get if we work for ourselves,” says Rosario, a primary school teacher who is trying to go back to teaching after five years of taking care of children as a self-employed worker.

With their eyes set on a pension according to the new salary scale, many teachers close to retirement age will stay for a short period in the classroom. “As soon as I have the possibility to retire with a little more money I’m leaving,” a teacher who preferred to remain anonymous tells 14ymedio.

The biggest deficit in educators is in high schools, especially in subjects like chemistry and mathematics. The latter is one of the subjects with an obligatory examination to enter any university in the country, which is why many parents have decided to turn to private teachers to complement what is learned in classes.

“Last year was chaotic, the lack of teachers almost cost the school year for a group of students. Of six classes per week in a subject they only give two, many teachers leave in the middle of the year to transfer to the Faculty of Medical Sciences, where they work less and the salary is the same. This year I’m already paying teachers [to tutor my child], we can’t risk failing the entrance exams for university,” says Felicia, mother of a twelfth-grade student.

Combat Urban High School, in San Cristobal, displays a devastating view, but not different from the rest of the municipality’s schools. More than half of the windows are totally destroyed, the perimeter area of the entrance is in bad condition, trash is accumulated in every corner, and students avoid entering the bathrooms.

Parents of the students, worried about their children’s continued stay in such precarious conditions, have taken on some of the maintenance work.

Ground level at the Faculty of Medicine. (14ymedio)

“They told us that each of us is responsible for fixing the desk and chair of our children. We have also had to coordinate to replace the missing slats on window blinds, bring in lightbulbs, paint the classroom, and try to make the environment a little nicer, because in these conditions no one studies,” explains Yusimí, one of the mothers who since Monday afternoon has already seen to these tasks.

In Artemisa, only 37 schools have been repaired, and the students of two schools have been relocated for a major repair. However, the greatest efforts regarding materials and labor have been concentrated in the construction of the province’s university and the pedagogic institutes that are opening their doors this September.

“The partial repairs have been left in the hands of the teaching staff of each school and the administration boards of each municipality, the province’s priority is educational,” insists a worker from Provincial Education.

“Without resources you cannot work. If there’s no cement, wood, or even the barest essentials to unblock the bathrooms, the brigade can’t do anything, nor the teachers, we’re not magicians,” stresses one of the brigade workers staying at Combat High in Rio Hondo.

The administrative staff tries to minimize the importance of the matter. A father worried about the situation received this response from an employee who tried to reassure him: “The school isn’t falling down.”

Translated by: Sheilagh Herrera

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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.

Unpacu and Cuba Decides Call for Going Out to the Streets to Protest on September 8

Organizers show their solidarity with the Women in White Movement who, as shown here, are “repressed week after week by the dictatorship.” (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, September 5, 2019 — The Patriotic Union of Cuba (Unpacu) and Cuba Decides have called on the Island’s population to demonstrate next Sunday, September 8, at 10 in the morning, according to a statement. “We will go out to the parks and other public spaces of our country,” reads the notice.

The announcement is these organizations’ response “to the increase in repression against the peaceful opposition and the citizenry” and for that reason they have chosen the day before the meeting of the Joint Council of the Cuban Government and the European Union in Cuba, which the high representative of foreign policy, Federica Mogherini, will attend on Monday.

Unpacu and Cuba Decides intend to denounce “the notable increase in repression for political motives and the violations of the rights of the Cuban people,” and show their solidarity with the Women in White Movement “repressed week after week by the dictatorship.” continue reading

The support also extends to “journalists and independent artists; the defenders of religious freedoms and the LGBTI activists who suffer persecution; and all peaceful persons and organizations” who promote respect for human rights and “change of the system toward democracy in Cuba,” reads the announcement.

The initiative’s organizers ask for an end to police abuses, prison terms for political motives, violations of the right to enter or leave the country, poor treatment and torture in prisons, police raids on homes of dissidents, and violent arrests, in addition to the harassment of activists.

The text which calls for a demonstration on Sunday includes a “repudiation of the implementation of an Accord of Political Dialogue, because it is not conditioned on concrete changes in the political-economic system of the country which guarantees the cessation of repression and respect for the basic freedoms of citizens.”

The document signed by both organizations urges “the participation of civil society and the opposition in any process of negotiation with the dictatorship.” According to both opposition groups, the EU should check “the implementation of the PDCA until the concrete reforms demanded of the regime are made clear.”

Among the petitions for reforms Unpacu and Cuba Decides indicate “the release of all political prisoners and the total cessation of harassment and violence of State Security and the police against human rights defenders and the citizenry.”

To this they add “the right to change the country’s political system in a binding plebiscite to allow the participation of the citizenry in free, just, and pluralistic elections for the first time in more than 60 years.”

The organizers of the call appeal “to the solidarity of the international community to check the impunity of the tyranny that means to attack our coordinators and activists with new assaults, robberies, violent arrests, and prison.” They hope that this time the voice of Europe is raised in the person of its high representative, Federica Mogherini, to support those who defend “the same democratic rights.”

The protest will coincide with the day of the patron of Cuba, the Virgin of Charity of El Cobre, a national symbol that had a big presence in the wars of independence and also in subsequent social movements. As a general rule, on that day in several parishes in the country pilgrimages are made in which thousands of people gather.

In recent years the day of Cachita, as the Virgin of Charity is popularly known, has meant forceful police operations, arrests of activists, surveillance around opposition figures’ homes, and arbitrary arrests.

Translated by: Sheilagh Herrera

________________

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.

Starting a Business in Miami: A Road With Difficulties and Rewards for Cubans

Madeleydis Mejía, a Cuban entrepreneur who opened her own restaurant in Miami. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yessenia Zevallos, Miami | August 29, 2019 — “Starting a business in Miami isn’t easy. It requires a lot of sacrifice, effort, and patience because the road is long,” says Madeleydis Mejía as she rocks the carriage of her newborn baby. This Cuban arrived in Miami seven years ago to fulfill the dream of her life: to become a business owner.

“Behind every one of these walls there are many hours of insomnia, of tears, of hardships, but also of satisfaction and achievement,” says Mejía, 32, as she looks around her recently opened restaurant.

La Gozadera Pizzeria Restaurant, located on one side of Coral Way, an important avenue in the residential area in Miami, specializes in Italian food, but also has a creole menu that includes classic plates like congri rice and roast pork, in the purest Cuban style. continue reading

An entree at the restaurant.

“Nothing is impossible when you make an effort and have faith,” explains Mejía, also the owner of Trendy Extension Salon, a hair salon located a few meters from her restaurant.

Both businesses are run by Mejía’s family. Her husband, Juan Carlos Blanco, also Cuban, is the chef at the restaurant and her younger brother is in charge of logistics. Her mother and several friends also collaborate.

“I came to this country with nothing. From the beginning it’s been difficult because no bank lends you money if you arrived recently, so you have to start with your own savings,” she explains.

With different tones of gray, and a design exclusively created by Mejía and her family, La Gozadera is a restaurant with a Cuban stamp that is seen from the sunflowers used as decorations to the Latin music that invades every space of the place. A broad mural recreates the Havana capitol and several decorative motifs recall Cuba.

“I called it La Gozadera for the hit by the group Gente de Zona, of whom I’m a fan and friend,” explains Mejía. “The construction of the place was done by a family member. All together we were knocking down the walls of an old pharmacy that was in ruins to build the restaurant,” she adds.

“Now the most difficult thing is to maintain it,” says Mejía. “Having a restaurant in Miami isn’t like having an ice cream shop in Cuba. Here there is a lot of competition and we small businesses have to work very hard to survive,” she adds.

Eduardo Álvarez Rivet, another Cuban who has lived in Miami for seven years, has managed to open a beauty salon. Álvarez, born in Guanajay, started out on his journey as a stylist in Pinar del Rio. There, he says, was born his passion for hairdressing and the desire to get his family ahead.

“I started the Rivet Salon so that my mother’s surname would prevail,” says Álvarez, 44.

Rivet Salon specializes in offering various esthetic services like haircuts, coloring, and ironing, among others, and according to its owner the decoration of the place, full of elegant crystals, was completely his idea. The salon is in West Kendall, a comfortable residential zone located to the southwest of Miami.

Before opening his own business, Álvarez worked for 10 years as a hairdresser for an employer, first in Peru and then in Miami. “Opening a business requires a lot more effort and more time,” says the now business owner. Álvarez hasn’t taken any type of classes on how to manage a business but he mentions that everything he learned came from practice. “In Cuba I learned what it was to work since I was little and in Peru I learned how to treat the client, how to be an administrator and strategist,” he explains.

This entrepreneur left Cuba for Peru in 2007 to be able to improve economically and professionally. Later he decided to migrate to the United States because he saw more opportunity to open his business.

“I have clients who emigrated from Cuba and now I find them in the salon,” he says with pride. Álvarez compares his country of origin with the United States and says that in the south of Florida he has more possibilities to develop his business.

“Having a business in Cuba is very different from having a business in Miami,” says Álvarez as he explains the difficulties that he had on the Island to get products. Starting a business in Cuba is very difficult in face of the lack of supplies and the government bureaucracy, excessive if compared with the limited legal documents to open a business in Miami.

“The most important thing is that I have the possibility to find fulfillment in my profession and that is what gives me more desire to do it,” he says, referring to many immigrants who cannot work in the area in which they specialized.

The main difficulties for this hairdresser have been adapting to the culture and language of the country. Álvarez misses Cuba a lot, but he says that here is where he has more opportunities to better himself.

“Don’t waste time because this country is very big. Keep going forward, with a lot of effort you can achieve your goals,” Álvarez advises anyone who wants to open a business in the US.

Prospera is a state-owned nonprofit organization specializing in offering bilingual assistance to Hispanic entrepreneurs trying to establish or expand their businesses, and has helped various Cuban new arrivals to Miami to start businesses.

“What I most admire about the recently arrived Cubans is that they have a great capacity for recovery, they don’t put off work, they have a desire to learn,” says Myrna Sonora, vice president of Prospera, who is also Cuban-American.

Sonora says that Prospera has served many recently arrived Cubans who want to move forward as mechanics, stylists, or teachers, among other professions. “In the last five years, 13% of Prospera’s users in the south of Florida were recently arrived Cubans and in the last fiscal year of 2017-2018, it went up to 14%.”

“There was a time in which we were seeing very few professionals, but now it has gone up again. We are seeing many doctors and different professions. Also Cubans who enter the United States from third countries,” explains Sonora, who has been working at Prospera for seven years.

The vice president of the organization says that she is “proud of the fact that despite any difficulty that they have had to put up with, that spirit of being successful, of working hard to prosper and achieve the American dream” remains present in her compatriots.

Translated by: Sheilagh Herrera

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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.

Wave of Repression Against Cuba’s Biggest Opposition Organization Continues

Photograph of the moment of the arrest of José Daniel Ferrer published by State Security and circulated on social media.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, August 29, 2019 — In the middle of an escalation in repression against the Patriotic Union of Cuba (Unpacu), this Wednesday the police raided the home of José Antonio López Piña, director of that opposition organization in El Cristo, a town in the province of Santiago de Cuba.

According to Carlos Amel Oliva, coordinator for Unpacu, the police action was carried out with “extreme violence” and López Piña was detained by the police force of the Songo la Maya municipality.

“Among other threats they told him that by continuing with his activism there only remain two paths for him: a long time in Kilo 7 prison in Camaguey, one of the harshest in the country, or he would have to leave Cuba,” said Oliva. continue reading

The raid happened a few hours after Amnesty International published a report recognizing five new prisoners of conscience on the Island and that the Police detained José Daniel Ferrer, national leader of Unpacu. Ferrer was freed that very Tuesday, August 27, along with another five activists.

According to Oliva, during the raid of August 27 repressive forces with assault weapons entered “three houses located in the Altamira area of Santiago de Cuba which function as headquarters of Unpacu.”

During the assault three laptops, two televisions, several mobile phones, and some tables that were used to provide a social cafeteria area were confiscated.

“José Daniel Ferrer was driven, handcuffed, to the third police station of Santiago de Cuba, known as the motorized one, and was released around noon. The rest of the activists were subsequently released,” he added.

Oliva explains that Ferrer was warned that the operation was carried out in response to commentaries that the Unpacu director had published and for what he has said on social media about “irregularities incurred by Lázaro Expósito, first secretary of the Party in the province, and for what he said related to the birthday of Fidel Castro and his tweets on the day of the anniversary.”

Oliva also suspects that “the Government is very annoyed” by the inclusion of five Cubans on the list of prisoners of conscience that Amnesty International published.

“In response to the occupation of our media we do not rule out making the proper complaint once again. We know that going through these channels has never had success, it’s a long and fruitless process because it has never returned anything,” he added.

The secretary general of the Organization of American States (OAS), Luis Almagro, demanded on his Twitter account “the immediate release” of Ferrer and that “the regime’s repressive forces stop the intimidation and abuses against dissidents.”

In February of this year, in response to the campaign of the opposition organization against the referendum on the new Constitution, José Daniel Ferrer was arrested for more than five hours along with several members of Unpacu. The detentions occurred during the police raid of the organization’s headquarters and of homes of activists in Santiago de Cuba.

In the last five years the members of Unpacu have reported more than 40 assaults on their headquarters and other facilities of the activists of the organization, considered the largest opposition group on the Island and the one with the highest number of political prisoners.

In its latest reports the Cuban Commission on Human Rights and National Reconciliation (CCDHRN) calculated that there were some 120 political prisoners in Cuba.

Translated by: Sheilagh Herrera

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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 Royal Visit: Cuba, Spain, and the Political Blockade

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez, during a floral tribute in Havana. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Elena Larrinaga de Luis, Madrid, August 31, 2019 — Havana was founded in 1515 by Diego Velázquez under the name of San Cristóbal de La Habana. Years later, in 1519, the city became the colonial capital in 1589, found a definitive seat in the north of the western region of the Island, beside a beautiful bay, well sheltered and convenient for a port and human settlement.

In 1634 it was declared “Key to the New World and Safeguard of the East Indies” by royal decree, and in 1665, it was conceded the right to have its own coat of arms, in which were represented, with three towers, the fortresses (La Real Fuerza, El Morro, and La Punta) that defended the city. In 1982, Old Havana was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.

The city’s importance is unquestionable and its belated disengagement from the Kingdom of Spain in 1898, whose grave effects in some way remain currently in effect. It is thus commendable and desirable to recover a close and brotherly relationship with the old colony, necessary and productive for both parties. continue reading

“Spain’s political blockade threatens a visit by the king and queen to Cuba for Havana’s 500 years,” was El País’s headline on August 25. Not even a mention of what it means for the Spanish Crown, architect of the democratic system and of the 1978 transition, to back with its presence a dictatorial regime whose last constitutional reform has as its essence the subordination to “all” the dictates of the Cuban Communist Party.

That is to say that the courts of justice and their organs are controlled by this single party and that that same State that says that rights can be claimed judicially, suffocates through repression and exclusion their exercise and claim.

The news makes clear that what is not desirable is an uncomfortable photograph with the Venezuelan president Nicolás Maduro and the Nicaraguan Daniel Ortega, close allies of the Cuban regime, invited to the commemoration, but that the visit could indeed be made, in the preceding days.

Avoiding the photo with these leaders and taking them with representatives of the Cuban regime implies an immense slight against the Cuban people. Their responsibility is known to everything, once it takes place in these countries under the supervision of the hierarchs of Havana. Governments pass but people don’t, and as has been demonstrated throughout history, they have a memory.

According to international law, breaches of commitments by States before the United Nations and the ILO are violations of human rights. Cuba is a signatory of the Agreements of the United Nations and has ratified the agreements of the International Labour Organization.

The last report of the Cuban Observatory of Human Rights confirms that the Cuban government violates 20 conventions of the ILO (protection and confiscation of salary, forced labor, freedom to work, right to unionization and collective bargaining, among others). The export of medical services is a clear example, baptized by the volunteer workers themselves as a “slavery of white coats.”

The Cuban Government has announced structural reforms in the economy that it has not carried out and has paralyzed the growth of private work and toughened state control. Decree 349 which regulates cultural production has produced a wave of arbitrary arrests.

Not a single mention of what should be referred to by a newspaper, the “fixer” of the Spanish transition and aware of the importance of support and international solidarity in these cases. It vividly demonstrates its concern over the sanctions of President Trump and over the effect they could have on Spanish businesses: understandable but insufficient.

The Spanish Crown has had many opportunities to visit Cuba in these 500 years. We know that the throne of the King of Spain is waiting, but the ideal thing would be that the Spanish monarch not be committed in this visit, which will be without a doubt manipulated by the country’s government.

The message that the Cuban people will receive will be that the Spanish Monarchy approves and supports absolutist regimes and it will be in detriment to its image. Let us hope that the “blindness” of certain politicians does not cast a shadow over the image of the magnificent statesman that is the current king Felipe VI, whose defense of democracy has been clear.

El País’s headline should have said “The political blockade of the Cuban government threatens the visit of the King and Queen to Cuba for its 500 year anniversary.”

The visit of the current Spanish monarch should be made when Cuba takes the path the Spanish took in ’78. It would then be very important that King Felipe, with his presence, support that process.

Translated by: Sheilagh Herrera

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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 Southern Border of the US, Destination of Thousands of Fleeing Venezuelans

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Sonia Osorio, María Luisa Paúl, Mario J. Pentón, Miami, August 21, 2019 — First came the pressures and then the threats, until María, a fictitious name for this report, decided to escape Venezuela. Emigration became the only path that this lawyer found to avoid the reprisals of Nicolás Maduro’s regime, a sad fate she shares with thousands of compatriots.

María, her husband, and their daughter decided to travel to Mexico to reach the border with the United States. In Nuevo Laredo they registered themselves on a list to request asylum and went to a shelter with a single bathroom for 40 people, where they slept on a mat.

“At night when my husband went to buy food two coyotes intercepted him and offered to take us across the border for $800 each. The cold was really strong and desperation urged that we go with them,” relates María in an interview from Boca Raton, where she resides after entering the United States in July.

In Nuevo Laredo, authorities moved the family from the shelter to another place at the international bridge that connects with Texas and there they slept in the elements. “My daughter was turning blue from the cold and an official told us that they would give us access to the US,” she remembers. continue reading

María’s case is part of a growing trend: as living conditions deteriorate in their country, more Venezuelans opt to travel to the southern border of the United States to request political asylum.

Patricia Andrade, executive director of Venezuela Awareness Foundation, a human rights organization located in Miami, warns that “the problem of the majority of Venezuelans is that they embark upon the adventure without informing themselves of what is going to happen and how you must be prepared.”

On social media migrants exchange recommendations, advice, and some tricks for the crossing, but many minimize the risk.

“The thing is easy, the thing isn’t so difficult. Like, difficult is that they’re going to put you in prison. One has to go with the idea in mind that one is going to go there. That’s all. It’s the most legal thing there could be: requesting asylum. It’s the most legal thing in the world,” explains a Venezuelan via a WhatsApp voice message.

Andrade, via her program Venezuelan Roots, receives each week more than 20 messages from migrants who managed to cross and are in the south of Florida without work, without a home, and without resources to get a lawyer to help them present their asylum case to immigration authorities.

Fleeing from persecution

Angelina Estrada decided to make the dangerous crossing of the border between Mexico and the United States with her two-year-old son. Her desperation drove her to turn to a coyote who on a dark night became her blessing, but also her worst nightmare.

The 32-year-old journalist embarked on the journey from Maracaibo to flee the death threats she received after publishing several critical reports on the operations of the Bolivarian National Police and the poor functioning of the Administration Service of Identification, Migration, and Immigration.

Along with her son, a brother-in-law, and a niece, she traveled first by highway to Colombia, then flew to Cancun and arrived by land at Reynosa, in Tamaulipas, a violent state which from January to June of 2019 recorded 21,537 crimes, 721 of which were homicides, 306 sexual abuse cases, 292 rapes, and 21 kidnappings, according to figures of the Executive Secretariat of the National System of Public Safety of Mexico.

Estrada registered on the waitlist to present her case, they assigned her number 203, and she waited at a shelter run by a religious group. “I waited a month and they never called me. Afterward the US government made that law that you had to stay in Mexico and that affected me a lot,” she adds.

Recently Washington implemented the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP), which establishes that people who arrived at or entered the US via Mexico must be returned to that country while their immigration procedures last.

“Sending asylum seekers to Mexico and making them stay in Nuevo Laredo is an unacceptable policy, which puts them in areas controlled by criminal organizations who view migrants as merchandise and a source of income,” believes María Hernández, a member of the Doctors Without Borders team in Mexico.

“This action is made in response to the illegal immigration crisis confronting the United States at its southern border. Throughout the last five years there has been a 2000% increase in asylum requests,” says the US embassy in Mexico. But “nine out of every 10 asylum requests are rejected by an immigration judge, for not meeting the requirements.”

After learning that other migrants at the shelter crossed the Rio Grande, Estrada decided to try it with a coyote who charged her $1,500 and she left alone with her son. A woman drove her to a house where they gave her food and where she waited until a night when the police presence in the area diminished.

“They took me through the back part of a house, and very close by was the Rio Grande, bordering the United States. The area was very dark. They gave me an inner tube (of a tire) and a plastic bag so that my things wouldn’t get wet. The baby got scared and began to cry, I told him to keep ’quiet because the fish were sleeping’ and he calmed down,” she relates.

Estrada and her son got on the inner tube and the coyote pulled it, submerged up to his chest in the water. After reaching the United States bank the man looked very scared, walked about two minutes, instructed her to continue straight until she saw a wall or a bridge, and disappeared, leaving her in absolute darkness.

The Venezuelan took the wrong path and ran into dense vegetation, and there were moments when she fell with the boy in her arms. Dawn came and no matter how far she walked she didn’t make out the bridge, until she heard the sound of a motor and she came out of the undergrowth. She asked for help and fortunately they were Border Patrol agents of the United States.

“I cried like I’ve never cried in my life, I thought that I was going to die there.” One of the officials gave her water and brought her to a transit center where she was interviewed and two days later they let her go. Two and a half months have passed since the crossing and she shudders to remember it.

Estrada can consider herself fortunate. Stories of kidnappings and assaults against migrants are heard everywhere. Many, after passing through that torment and managing to cross the border, are returned to Mexico by American authorities.

Wilfredo Allen, a lawyer specializing in immigration, believes that the desperation and lack of information is a common denominator among migrants. “It’s not the time to go to the border,” he warns. “During this government, going to the border is suicide because the people passing are very few and it’s a schizophrenic system.”

“So there’s no pattern one can follow to determine how people enter through the border. There’s no pattern, it’s chance,” says Allen.

In Reynosa, a Venezuelan couple waits to enter United States territory again after being deported along with their small daughter. Their future is a big question mark, but they insist that they will not return to their country. They were forcing the young man to enlist as a soldier to “defend the homeland and Maduro.” But he insists that he is a cook and that he knows “nothing of arms.”

Editors’ note: This article is part of a project carried out by El Nuevo Herald/Miami Herald, the newspaper 14ymedio, and Radio Ambulante with the sponsorship of the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.

Translated by: Sheilagh Herrera

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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.

Globalization Against Corruption

The Brazilian giant Odebrecht, which with its corrupt practices influenced a goood many Latin American Governments. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Carlos Alberto Montaner, Miami, August 18, 2019 — Fighting globalization isn’t just counterproductive: it’s useless. It’s counterproductive, because one of the unforeseen consequences of globalization is the beneficial battle against corruption. Globalization leads us to behave better. When countries were isolated, it really mattered little if country A or B was corrupt. Today, now that they are joined in large circuits, the corruption of the other harms us much more directly.

His majesty the Internet and social media reign. Everything is known instantly and there is an electoral cost for shamelessness. Within the European Union, and within every society, there is less and less patience with nations like Greece, Romania, Italy, Portugal, and Spain that have corrupt practices. Meanwhile, for years the figure of “conflict of interests” has been in the penal code. Until relatively recently German companies could deduct bribes from their habitual costs of doing business. That is no longer possible.

The trend, then, set by globalization is favorable. There is no longer glamour in corruption. In Cuba, when I was an adolescent, there did not exist a moral sanction against dishonesty in the administration of public resources. Jokes were told about thieving politicians and many people aspired to be a “tax inspector” or anything with the object of “making a killing.” That attitude, present in almost all of Latin America, is no longer acceptable. It exists, but it has a social cost. At least it’s a start. continue reading

Roughly speaking, in the world there are 180 nations who deserve to be called nations. Approximately 150 are fundamentally corrupt. It has always been that way. Economic power feeds big shots and big shots increase the resources of economic power. They are two social spheres that complement and mutually reinforce each other. This happens in dictatorial regimes and in the planet’s imperfect democracies.

Corruption does a lot of damage. It generates a growing atmosphere of cynicism. It belies the principle that all citizens are equal before the law, which is fatal for democracy. It hinders competition. It discourages personal effort: why study and do things well if economic success depends on relationships? It raises prices. All are problems.

The most honest countries, according to Transparency International, are the Scandinavian ones and those spawned by Great Britain: New Zealand, Canada, Australia, the United States, and Ireland. The countries of northern Europe are also on the list of the best, although on a second tier: Holland, Germany, the Baltic states.

At the head of the most honest pack is the kingdom of Denmark, but very close to it is Singapore, which contradicts the hypothesis that it is a question of culture. Within Europe, the nations of “Latin” origin are the most dishonest: Spain, Portugal, Italy, Greece, Romania. Even France.

But it’s necessary to go further. It’s not only about “moral rearmament” or the elimination of North American or European visas. That’s not sufficient. It is important to place legal barriers against corruption. In Denmark, for example, the commission that studies and assigns auctions is constituted of experts who have no access to those who offer their services and vice versa.

Antonio Maura Montaner, an honest Spanish politician at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th, spoke of his country’s necessity of “broad daylight.” Today he would have recommended the Internet. Every public action should be recorded on a web page so that any citizen can find out what is done with taxpayers’ money, with their money, including auctions.

It is necessary to create barriers between corrupters and corrupt. There’s no need to prevent lobbies from existing, but they must exhibit their comparative advantages via the Internet and not in dark meetings with those who can use their services or products.

In Spain they used to speak, jokingly, of “envelope-taking” journalists. Corrupters would hand them an envelope and they would pocket it with a smile. The Internet, mobile phones, and international circuits — all instruments of globalization — have wiped them off the map. Magnificent.

Translated by: Sheilagh Herrera

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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.

Speaking of Cowards

It is unjust to speak of cowards, especially when to be brave can turn out to be excessively costly.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, August 16, 2019 — “Of cowards nothing has been written” is very unjust. In addition to inaccurate it is unjust, especially when to be brave can turn out to be excessively costly.

Many times in the commentaries of various texts that are published in the independent press there appear those whom they describe as “servile eunuchs, obedient scabs, accomplices of the dictatorship,” all those who do not dare to speak out publicly in face of the abuses and arbitrary actions of the Government. It’s necessary to point out that they are speaking about the majority, about millions of people, parents of families who every day have the obligation to bring home bread to their children.

One must exclude from that list the true believers, who have the foolishness, the stupidity, and why not, the nerve, to continue defending the current state of things in the country. It’s not worth venturing numbers on both sides of the scale to determine if those who don’t protest one way or another stand on the side of those who believe or in the group that pretends. continue reading

The magnitude of cowardice in Cuba is not a sign of the lack of humanity of its inhabitants, but rather an indication of the degree to which repression has reached.

It is detected in the workers of the state sector who work under difficult conditions without complaining; in those who accept the plunder of their salary in joint ventures, where the state employer is left with the majority of what the foreign investor pays for that scheme; in the thousands who leave to carry out international missions, sometimes at the risk of their lives, and meekly accept that the State will keep 70% of the value that is paid for their work.

Cowardice appears among the workers of the non-state sector who continue suffering the absence of a wholesale market, the pack of inspectors who hound them, the taxes that bleed them dry, the abuse of capped prices, the permanent dismissive insults of the official media sources that demonize them, the hypocritical stance of the officials who one day describe them as indispensable and another reduce them to a complementary part.

Cowardice is sensed in that false unanimity of members of parliament, in the massive marches on May 1, in the simulated fighting spirit of those who participate in a repudiation rally or in the silence of those who witness it. In those who inform on their friends or family members.

Cowardice shines in the journalist who doesn’t dare to stake his position on asking an official the uncomfortable question that everyone is waiting for, in the artist who withdraws a picture from his exhibition, the playwright or the filmmaker who deletes a scene, the writer who tears out a page from his original work to get it printed, the singer-songwriter who gets rid of his controversial songs so that his concert is allowed, the comedian who chokes on his best joke because he wants to continue hearing applause…

What causes the most pain is seeing how the brave crack.

Sometimes “showing them the instruments” is enough. Nobody can validate the certainty of the legend of Galileo murmuring “and yet it moves,” what is indeed historically confirmed is that Giordano Bruno burned at the inquisatorial stake for not renouncing his “heresies.”

But who is going to ask a university professor to dare to tell his students something that contradicts the dogma, or a last-year student to renounce the golden dream of his degree defending that classmate who is going to be expelled for not being a revolutionary?

It hurts a lot to see how the brave crack.

All of the aforementioned examples are common knowledge for anyone who lives in Cuba. They are not exaggerations; the cruelest tools aren’t even mentioned.

This Saturday, in front of the Ministry of Communications the most likely thing is that they suspend the protest, let us say the presence, of the young people who had gathered to show their dissatisfaction, let us say their opposition, with the elimination of the SNet network. Very few will go and those who try will not be allowed to get there.

Throughout this week a group of State Security officials trained in the sophisticated techniques of frightening decent people have been put in charge of dissuading leaders and threatening enthusiasts. They have resorted to everything.

Nobody should condemn these kids for cowardice, none of them has any reason to feel cowardly. The accusing finger should be pointed elsewhere.

Translated by: Sheilagh Herrera

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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.

‘Maleconazo’ Turns 25 Between Legend and Oblivion

Caption 1: The popular uprising begagn on Avenida del Puerto and many people joined it along the Malecón. (Karel Poort)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Zunilda Mata, Havana, August 4, 2019 — “This was one of the places where more people joined,” remembers Loipa, a resident of Malecón and Escobar in Central Havana. Twenty-five years after the Maleconazo*, the events of that day have taken the form of an urban legend that older people tell and younger ones don’t know. “That fifth of August in 1994 it seemed that everything was ending,” stresses the woman.

The area has changed a lot since that social explosion that put Fidel Castro on the ropes. Calle San Lázaro near Maceo Park now has a quarter century more of deterioration, in several places entire buildings have collapsed, and “the majority of those who experienced that moment have left or have died,” says Loipa.

“I was a nurse at Hermanos Ameijeiras Hospital when everything happened,” she remembers of that Friday. “We started the day with no light and I didn’t have to work that day but I had gone out to look for some food because in the house we’d gone a week with only rice and a sauce that my mom invented with lemongrass and oregano from the ground.” continue reading

The crisis, which the government had baptized with the euphemism of Special Period, had been dragging on the lives of Cubans for several years. After the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union, the economy of the Island sank from the lack of fuel, the abrupt cutting of imports, and the lost of Soviet support that turned out “brutal,” according to the economist Carmelo Mesa-Lago.

On August 5, 1994, the Cuban seaboard was witness to a popular revolt known as the Maleconazo. (Karel Poort)

That fifth of August, Loipa was unaware of what was brewing near her house. For days tension had been growing after authorities intercepted several boats sailing toward the coast of the United States. A rumor began to gain force on the street: that the Government was going to permit the arrival of boats from Florida to seek family members on the Island, just as had been done in 1980 during the exodus of the Mariel Boatlift.

“That morning my son came in the house and told us he was going,” remembers Fernando Soriano, a retiree who lives in a neighborhood “with a view of the sea,” as he likes to call it. On the avenue of Malecón and near the corner with Campanario, the now retired man is in the business of collecting beer and soda cans from businesses in the area to sell them in raw material centers and augment his pension.

A few months earlier, in an attempt to relieve the social pressure cooker, Castro had promoted self-employed work by permitting some licenses for the private sector. Thus were born the first private restaurants, the first small shops in decades that sold sweets, fried food, and pizzas in a legal manner, but the economic situation remained at rock bottom for the great majority of Cubans, trapped in a suffocating cycle of survival.

“Many people like my son went to the boat launch on the Regla wharf to see if they could go on the boats that were going to arrive,” remembers Soriano. “That filled up but the police already had surrounded the place because the residents of this area kept going down through all the streets to get to the Malecón wall in case the boats came.” In one moment the frustration erupted.

The area has changed a lot since that social explosion that put Fidel Castro on the ropes. (Karel Poort)

“The Malecón turned into a death trap, when the people came to realize that they weren’t going to let them go, the shock troops were already here,” he explains. Soriano points out the intersection of Calle San Lázaro and Belascoaín. “The Blas Roca construction contingent entered through here, with helmets and rebar in their hands, dealing out blows on all sides.”

Soriano believes that the protest didn’t turn into more because “it lacked leadership and they chose the route poorly.” He believes that “had they placed themselves in Central Havana and Old Havana and moved outward, thousands of people would have joined and then everything would have been different because it’s not the same thing to suppress a handful versus a sea of people.”

Castro had the skill of setting civilians against each other to avoid the image of uniformed soldiers hitting the population. “No one knew who was who, although I remember that those who were demonstrating looked skinnier and with more raggedy clothing,” says this Havanan.

Mesa-Lago believes that the worst year of the crisis that led to the Maleconazo was 1993, “but the crisis began in 1991,” he specifies. What was lost was not a small thing, between 1960 and 1990 the USSR injected around $65 billion into the Island’s economy. In the decade of the 80s that bulky subsidy generated a “golden” age of Cuban socialism that some still remember today with nostalgia.

After the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union, the economy of the Island sank. (Karel Poort)

Ernesto was born a year after that popular revolt and now he operates a pedicab in the vicinity of where on that day his father joined a group of those who were yelling and demanding that they be permitted to leave the country. “The old man has told me some things but he doesn’t like to talk about that day because the police arrested him and put him in jail.” Years later and after leaving prison, Ernesto’s father managed to get political asylum in the United States.

“Here almost nobody talks about that, although everyone still has the same desperation to leave,” reflects the bicycle-taxi driver. “People no longer go out in the street [to protest] because it was already seen that nothing is achieved, but the Maleconazo of today is outside of the embassies,” he believes. The event has been erased from official history and every August, the media praises the birthday of Fidel Castro, on the 13th, while they silence that other day that marked so many lives.

Castro had the skill of setting civilians against each other to avoid the image of uniformed soldiers hitting the population. Fidel Castro is in the green army cap center left. (Karel Poort)

The Rafter Crisis [Crisis de los Balseros] that erupted after, in which tens of thousands of Cubans embarked upon the sea, has also been erased from the anniversaries that are studied in schools and broadcast on national media.

On the same corner of Malecón y Belascoaín, one of the epicenters of the protest, now there is an esplanade where children play and at night groups of young people gather to share their dreams and a lot of rum. The adjacent building has some columns that look out on the sea, they have tried to hide the cracks with some paint.

A man rocks in a chair in the doorway while he sells paper cones of peanuts. He says that he doesn’t remember much of that day but that in the stairway of the entrance of the building “some children hid, one of them covered in blood because they had split his head.” The neighborhood of San Leopoldo, in Central Havana, was one of those that took the worst part of the suppression against the demonstrators on that fifth of August.

Cubans launched sticks and stones against Hotels like the Deauville and stores like La Época. (Karel Poort)

Propelled by frustration and rage, some of them began to break the glass windows of state-owned businesses and vandalize trash containers. “Here almost every family had a child beaten that day or who later left on a raft,” believes Soriano.

Official media broadcast the arrival of Fidel Castro to the area, like a sign that the revolt had been pacified and the Government had emerged victorious. “He only arrived when everything was already calm and the truth is that that wasn’t a happy day for anybody in this neighborhood,” says a resident of San Leopoldo who prefers anonymity and who was surprised by “all that” on the street.

But behind the official silence, the wound remains open. “I handed in my Communisty Party card a little after that, I had stopped believing in everything when I saw the builders splitting heads open and dealing out blows,” the woman makes clear.

*Translator’s note: In Spanish “azo” is an ending used to coin words and implies concepts such as “blow and hit, and also big.” In this case, added to “Malecon” it means the explosion/riot on the Malecon.

Translated by: Sheilagh Herrera

Maleconazo Photographer Shares Links / Karel Poort

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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.

An Entire Day Dedicated to Buying a School Uniform

Some parents had problems with illegible papers or errors. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, August 6, 2019 — Enormous lines and annoyance among parents marked this Monday the beginning of the sale of uniforms in the majority of municipalities in the capital. After days of waiting, uncertainty, and misinformation, Plaza de la Revolución, Centro Habana, La Habana Vieja, Regla, La Habana del Este, Guanabacoa, Cerro, and Marianao finally joined the communities of San Miguel del Padrón, Diez de Octubre, La Lisa, Boyeros, Arroyo Naranjo, and el Cotorro, which began the operation last Thursday, and Playa, which was added on Friday.

In a store called La Gloria, chosen for students from Plaza de la Revolución to buy their uniforms, the line began to form on Sunday at four in the afternoon.

“This was madness. Here in the front door of the store there was a little group that had the list. They were drinking rum and making a huge uproar. The parents who were arriving put their names down on the list, got their number, and left, but early in the morning there was even a knife fight and we had to call the police,” says a resident who everyone calls Nena and who carries a thermos of coffee in her hand from which she sells cups to others. continue reading

They had to keep the store open until midnight, due to the large number of people who had piled up on this first day in part of the capital. (14ymedio)

At eight in the morning, an hour before the opening of La Gloria, a crowd was gathered around the building. The list that had been made the previous day included the first hundred people in the line who had in their hands a ticket with a number. As the others arrived they asked “who’s last”* in the line for those “without a ticket” as they arrived.

There are hardly any children in the long line. The majority of the parents have chosen to bring a garment of their child to figure out the size and avoid a bad experience for the children. Those who couldn’t avoid bringing them, on the other hand, passed the time running around, sometimes desperate, going from one side to the other, or asking for water and food.

A slim woman comes in high heels, a business skirt, and a pearl necklace. After five minutes of waiting, leaning on a column, she takes some sandals out of her purse, puts away the heels, takes off the skirt, and remains with some shorts that she was wearing underneath. “Now I’m ready for this,” she says, and she takes off to rest against one of the walls surrounding the front door of the store after putting down a little nylon bag that she takes out of her purse. She gets comfortable, and now she is ready for a long wait.

A few minutes before nine in the morning, the manager of the store arrives and explains in detail the necessary requisites to make the purchase and all of its peculiarities. She warns that they are not yet selling high school uniforms for boys and that the voucher cannot having any corrections. She also asks the parents to carefully read the list of schools that shop there to avoid waiting in line in vain, a moment in which all of the parents check their papers to make sure.

One of the mothers is worried because the part of the voucher that indicates the sex of the student wasn’t very legible. “Here you can see that they wanted to turn an M into an F, so nothing is understood. We can’t accept that this way here,” the employee tells her. “Now you have to go to the municipality education office which is on H and 21 and get another,” she adds, to the annoyance of the woman.

The mother leaves after calling her husband, who picks her up on a motorcycle to right the wrong. She had arrived at the store at five in the morning and was among the first hundred in line, so she didn’t want to lose the opportunity. “There I had to make a big fuss for them to pay attention to me, because nobody is doing anything, but in the end I got a promise from an employee that they would send someone here with new vouchers to exchange,” she says upon returning.

An official from the Ministry of Education finally arrived, in a car and with a folder of papers, as a savior of the parents and not only gave a new voucher to that family but also to others in a similar situation. “They didn’t accept my voucher because it’s written in two different inks, imagine. The teacher’s pen ran out when she was filling out the information and I gave her mine to finish it,” explained a grandmother to the woman from the municipality. “Who would think of making a demand like that?” she complained.

Despite the incidents, the sale began punctually, at nine in the morning. At two tables, placed at the entrance to the store, workers took information from parents, who then passed inside to make the purchase. At the counter two very young girls, with white t-shirts with the face of Che, were in charge of sales, while a boy helped to take out and organize pieces from the storeroom.

At a rate of five minutes per person, at midday some 40 people had already made their purchases. However, the feeling was that it wasn’t advancing, and only after two in the afternoon were they able to organize the second part of the line, those who had no ticket. One of the mothers got everyone in a line and handed out a hundred new numbers to guarantee order and prevent cutting.

The list that had been made the previous day included the first hundred people in the line who had in their hands a ticket with an identifying number. (14ymedio)

At four in the afternoon, after eight hours of waiting, a grandmother sadly came out of the store. “I wasn’t able to buy anything because my grandson is starting first grade and she says that it’s only for the first ones,” explained the woman, who had missed the moment in which the manager had warned of that detail.

“You wait there, that is outrageous, why couldn’t they make an exception for you, an older woman? Now you have to come another day and wait in line, that cannot be,” yelled an older man who was accompanying his son. “I can’t sell to her on that voucher, because later when they do the audit, I’ll be the one with the problems,” explained the manager to the man who, despite everything, managed to extract from her the promise that, when sales to the second group begins, the woman will not have to wait in line again.

After an entire day in line, some parents began to sketch out ideas to solve the yearly disaster in sales of school uniforms. “The best thing would be to get rid of them, let each student come in dark pants and a light sweater and the problem is over,” said a mother. “I’m 41, and in my high school they gave out the uniforms in the school’s storeroom, where they gave you your books. And there were never problems, if they were missing a size they asked for it and it’s done, if they did that now they would get rid of a few problems,” says another.

At eight at night the parents who had come at eight in the morning were coming out with their purchases, although some no longer found the size they were looking for. Those who had arrived at nine or ten in the morning still had two hours of waiting ahead of them. The store was selling up until a few minutes before midnight. Today, in front of the store, the view is the same, hundreds of parents waiting to buy school uniforms for their children.

*Translator’s note: In Cuba people join lines by asking “who’s last” and then they know who is the person ahead of them. Once the next person comes and they identify themselves as “last” they can wander off, sit down, visit with friends and so on without losing their place.

Translated by: Sheilagh Herrera

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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.