"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.

Is Fraud Possible in the February 24 Referendum?

The suspicion of a possible fraud has a demobilizing effect among the promoters of “No” in the Constitution referendum. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, January 2, 2018 — The possibility that some type of fraud could be committed to distort the results of the constitutional referendum, which will take place on February 24 in Cuba, is one of the most frequent worries in conversations among activists.

The suspicion of a possible fraud has a demobilizing effect among the promoters of “No.” The most effective antidotes to cancel out this paralyzing pessimism are: assume that possibility as a reasonable risk or trust that fraud will not be committed.

The most effective vaccine to keep this threat from dissuading voters from visiting the ballot box to vote “No” is arriving to the understanding that little is risked and much can be gained. continue reading

After all, what is being risked (in addition to wasting a few minutes in vain at the ballot box) is that the Government is able to show the massive participation of citizens as a great success and that the “No” vote remains defeated in face of the crushing majority of the “Yes.” But those who propose abstaining, in order to not play into the hands of the feared fraud, should reason that it is much simpler to doctor the figure of participation than the number of negative votes.

Articles 116 and 117 of the current Electoral Law introduce an element that favors the lack of transparency in information of voting results. In both paragraphs the law obligates the members of the electoral tables, after finalizing the count, to place in the public view “a sample ballot” with the result of the vote count that exhibits how many votes each candidate received. The ballot does not have space for other information.

It is at least as striking that in a country where models and plans proliferate for any procedure, it has never occurred to anyone produce a document to dump all the information resulting from the suffrage. As a consequence of this “paper saving,” the data about how many voters attended each polling place and how many abstained did not remain in public view, nor did the number of canceled or blank ballots.

Only those voters who are present at the moment of the vote count in each polling place will be able to know those numbers. But after that process it is no longer possible to visit all of a municipality’s polling places with the intention of collecting data and being able to contrast it with the official information that is usually offered at the end of the process, broken down by municipalities and provinces. Those who do it will only find a ballot put up, probably on the door of the place, with the numbers obtained for either “Yes” or “No.”

The possibility of manipulating these data at the provincial or national level thus remains in the hands of a reduced group of people of the utmost trustworthiness to the Government.

In the electoral processes carried out for district representatives and members of the National Assembly, it’s unlikely that the result of the vote count will be the product of a fraud committed in the polling place.

The image of members of an electoral table shamelessly marking blank ballots, or changing what the will of voters reflects in the presence of witnesses, is difficult to believe. The massive complicity necessary to carry out an act of this nature in the almost 25,000 voting sites that could be authorized on February 24 requires a number of discreet and absolutely trustworthy persons that the Government does not currently have in its ranks.

The citizens who carry out the work at the election sites at a basic level can be docile, obedient, and absolutely convinced that socialism is what is best for the country; they can be “Fidelistas” and vehement admirers of the current president, but that doesn’t automatically make them into a multitude of inveterate cynics lacking ethics and decency.

That type of fraud does not seem to have occurred to date in the elections for representatives and assembly members, among other reasons, because it has not been necessary. For this something more sinister was invented: pre-fraud consisting of the intimidating nomination process which is carried out by a public show of hands for candidates for district representatives and the existence of the Candidacy Commissions that make up the list of names that will appear on the ballot for members of Parliament, with one name appearing for each open position.

When those tricks were not sufficient, then the activists of the neighborhood met to discredit “uncomfortable” candidates and, if persuasion was not enough, then the agents of State Security came out from their quarters to arrest the most dangerous.

The Government’s propagandists contrast these elections, guarded by young pioneers — that is elementary school children — with those from before 1959 which, they say, had to be guarded by armed men to prevent a party from assaulting a polling place with its supporters and stealing the ballot boxes.

If in the next referendum the results of the count are put up outside each polling place using one of the remaining ballots, the real number of absentees will never be able to be collected, nor will the blank or nullified sheets — it will only say how many votes for “Yes” and for “No.”

With a little perseverance and a minimum of organization, if the activists cover on foot or by bicycle the polling places of each municipality and leave graphic proof of public information, it will be very complicated for the Government to doctor the sum of votes obtained in each municipality. They would only be left with the ability to change the mathematics if they intended to distort the provincial and national data.

Is it perhaps impossible that fraud be committed? No, it is not impossible, but the risk that it would be discovered is enormous and it is unlikely that they dare to carry it out, even in the absence of independent observers.

It was they who created a mechanism of voting and counting practically armored, based on the popular belief that every civic act is useless and that they have it entirely under their control.

It’s enough for each nonconformist voter to have the minimum courage required to mark a vote for “No” in the intimacy of the voting cubicle. Obligating them to commit a shameless fraud would also be a victory.

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.

There Were Close to 3,000 Arbitrary Arrests in Cuba in 2018, According to CCDHRN

The activist Hugo Damián Prieto Blanco was tried for the crime of “precriminal dangerousness.” (Courtesy)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, January 2, 2018 — In 2018 there were 2,873 arbitrary arrests counted in Cuba, some 240 each month, according to the report published this Wednesday by the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation (CCDHRN). The independent entity condemns the harassment of activists who only “tried to exercise elemental civil and political rights.”

The report also includes data from December and confirms “at least 176 cases of arbitrary arrests, generally of a short duration” during the last month. The majority of the arrested were peaceful members of the opposition.

CCDHRN additionally documents “49 cases of police harassment against an equal number of opposition members and two cases of physical aggression against anti-totalitarian activists, ordered or executed by agents of the secret political police.” continue reading

The entity publishes a partial list of political prisoners, between “130 and 140 people” interned “under cruel, inhumane, and degrading conditions” in some of the 150 prisons and internment camps on the Island, specifies the text.

“Every month they release a small number of political prisoners and intern a somewhat higher number of opposition figures,” reveals CCDHRN. For example, it details that in the last month of December the activists Hugo Damián Prieto Blanco, Carlos Rafael Aguirre Lay, Omar Portieles Camejo, Glenda Lovaina Pérez, and Edilberto Arzuaga Alcalá were imprisoned.

Amnesty International and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights have indicated that Cuban law punishes, with sentences of one to four years in prison, citizens for a supposed crime that they have not yet committed, according to articles 73 to 84 of the Penal Code.

According to the independent lawyer Laritza Diversent, the persons sanctioned under this legal concept “are not proven to have committed a crime [since] authorities, protected by subjective criteria and ideological parameters, judge that their conduct must be reformed.”

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 14 Events That Marked 2018

Thousands of doctors returned to the island after the cancellation of the Cuban participation of the Mais Medicos (More Doctors) program in Brazil. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, January 1, 2019

 

1. Return of the Mais Médicos doctors

The victory of Jair Bolsonaro in the Brazilian presidential elections will have economic consequences that are as yet unforeseeable for the Government’s coffers because of Cuba’s withdrawal from the program Mais Médicos (More Doctors), which has meant so much revenue for the Island since its beginning in 2013 under the mandate of former president Dilma Rousseff.

The export of Cuban doctors came to an end when the future Government of Brazil declared its will to change the current conditions of the agreement with Havana, among them stopping the paying of salaries to the Cuban State and paying the professionals directly.

Cuban authorities believed that the announcement harmed their interests and questioned the professionalism of their doctors and decided to break with the agreement by which more than 8,300 health workers provided medical assistance in the most remote areas of the country. The repercussions, additionally, affected migratory and legal aspects that will be defined in the new year.

2. Investiture of Miguel Díaz-Canel as president

The first secretary of the Communist Party of Cuba and former president Raúl Castro raises the arm of Miguel Díaz-Canel after his appointment. (EFE / Alexandre Meneghini)

On April 19, 2018 the naming of Miguel Díaz-Canel as president of the Republic of Cuba, the first without the surname of Castro in 50 years, was formalized. His predecessor, Raúl Castro, who saved for himself the general secretaryship of the Communist Party, declared that the election of the new president had not been “a product of pressuring nor of chance.” Previously first vice president, Díaz-Canel headed the nomination list put forward by the Commission of National Candidacy, which was submitted to a vote in Parliament. The new president received 99.83% of votes, 603 of the 604 representatives. Díaz-Canel has slightly modified the style of the Government (he travels more, uses social media, and lets himself be seen frequently with his wife in official acts). Ethics, on the other hand, seem to remain unchanged in regard to the Castro dynasty. continue reading

3. Constitutional Reform and the campaign for “No”

The bill to reform the Cuban Constitution has been debated for months and will be voted on in a referendum in 2019. (EFE / Ernesto Mastrascusa)

In 2018, after a long wait, the process of constitutional reform began. The principal changes of the draft presented to the citizenry were the elimination of the term “communism” and the acceptance of private property and incorporation of certain economic reforms of “Raulism.” After the citizen debates, the text has passed to the Communist Party and must be approved and submitted to a vote in 2019. Various organizations of the opposition promote the campaign to vote “No” to not legitimize a system that continues to lack multiple parties and public liberties for its citizens.

4. Controversy over the inclusion of Article 68 in the constitutional reform

The LGBTI community will have to wait to see if the Family Code defines whether people of the same sex can marry. (14ymedio)

The draft of the Constitutional reform opens the door to marriage equality by modifying the definition of this type of unions, which would be between two persons rather than between man and woman. This change set off an important controversy between gay rights organizations and Christian churches. The Catholic church has positioned itself against it, but the evangelicals are the ones who have decided to mobilize more and start various campaigns and signature gathering to try to block this change. In the end, the draft will not include the planned change in the constitution, which establishes that marriage is a “social and legal institution.” The Family Code will be what establishes, in the future, who can engage in it.

5. The arrival of Alberto and Michael

Hurricane Michael caused visible damage in the province of Pinar del Río. (Radio Sandino)

In May, the subtropical storm Albert flooded the central area of the Island, causing four deaths and grave damages to infrastructure, homes, and crops. The provinces of Cienfuegos, Sancti Spíritus, and Villa Clara received the worst of the flooding that left cuts in communication and the evacuation of thousands of residents.

Months later, at the beginning of October, Michael grazed one end of Cuba as a category 1 hurricane on the Saffir Simpson scale. The Island didn’t have to lament a single death, although numerous material damages were recorded, particularly in Pinar del Río, where 87% of the population was left without electricity and tobacco harvests were severely damaged. The floods delayed the sowing of the plant in the province with the greatest tobacco production.

Isla de la Juventud also suffered the battering of the cyclone, whose rains flooded homes, infrastructure, and crops and caused electricity cuts. On its route toward the United States the impact was greater and Michael left 18 deaths in Florida and Georgia.

6. Cubana de Aviación flight crash with 112 deaths

The plane operated by Cubana de Aviación crashed when taking off from Havana airport when it was heading to Holguin. (EFE)

Fifteen minutes after taking off from José Martí International Airport in Havana en route to Holguín, Cubana de Aviación flight 972, operated by the Mexican airline Global Air, crashed with 113 occupants on board. Of the three initial survivors only one remains, young Maylén Díaz. The vast majority of the deceased were from Holguín, although also lost were the lives of two Argentineans, one Mexican, and two Sahara natives, one with Spanish nationality. The entire crew was Mexican. The company had been accused of various irregularities by some of its workers and the pilots’ union of that country. The causes of the accident are still to be determined and the investigation continues coordinated by Cuban, American, and Mexican authorities.

7. The controversial Decree 349

T-shirts against Decree 349 seized by Cuban Customs at the José Martí International Airport in Havana. (14ymedio)

Independent artists saw how their creative possibilities outside of State organizations were limited with the approval of Decree 349, which went into effect December 7 although pressures have obligated the government to not implement all the controls over the culture they were planning. Some of the artists decided to go to battle with protests that resulted in multiple arrests, but they had a small triumph when the minister of culture, Alpidio Alonso, announced a few days ago that the decree will be applied in an “agreed” and “gradual” manner.

8. Failure of the sugar harvest

The sugar distributed this September as a part of the basic market basket in the rationed market comes from France. (14ymedio)

The last sugar harvest produced a little more than a million tons of raw sugar, far from the 1.6 million that the sector’s authorities had suggested. The repercussions have not been small. Cuba, previously the sugar-producing country par excellence, has seen itself obligated to import this product from France for the basic market basket. The sector, whose weight was essential in the Cuban economy, has for years seen spectacular falls, remaining far behind revenues received from the export of medical services, remittances, and tourism.

9. Increase of shortages in food and medicine

Customers at the pharmacies shout and shove each other in the face of the lack of medicines. (14ymedio)

Since the beginning of the past year the shortage of food and medicine has been worsening on the island. The lack of cash flow to buy raw material had a bearing on the lack of medicines in the network of state-owned pharmacies, especially those meant for chronic patients. Food products were also scarce and in the second half of 2018 flour, oil, and eggs were missing from the shelves of stores. Authorities blamed the problem on delays in imports and difficulties with infrastructure.

10. Stagnation of GDP

An old woman shows the ration card that every year has fewer products subsidized by the Government. (EFE)

The economy of Cuba, according to data released by the minister of economy and planning, Alejandro Gil, shows that the gross domestic product (GDP) has registered a growth of 1% in 2018, well below the 2% that was officially predicted. The Government attributes this poor result to the failure in export revenue, the high level of debt, the international context, and the weather, but independent experts think that the problems are deeper.

According to the Cuban economist Pavel Vidal, who lives in Colombia, “the shortage of basic products and the dynamic of prices of consumer goods match up less and less with the official statistics of GDP and of the Index of Consumer Prices.”

11. Arrival of internet to mobile phones

The Government fulfilled the promise to connect mobile phones to the internet in 2018, with barely 25 days left in the year. (EFE)

After years of waiting, on December 6 Cuba’s state communications company, Etecsa, fulfilled, almost at the last moment, its commitment to bring internet to mobile phones in 2018. During the summer various tests were done to check the functioning of the system, but it ended up being a fiasco that made people fear that the announcement wouldn’t meet the deadline. Although the price of navigation packages is rather high, 4 gigabytes of connection costs around 30 CUC, the equivalent of a monthly salary, the new functionality opens up a new path for activism and entrepreneurship.

12. Continuation of the “sonic attack” controversy

Lines have become common around the United States Embassy in Havana, due to the reduction in personnel staffing because of the alleged sonic attacks. (EFE)

The United States and Cuba remain entangled over the matter of the supposed “sonic attacks.” Throughout the year and after several investigations in both countries, the cause of the harm (which in fact was proven) suffered by various diplomats stationed in Havana between 2016 and 2017 has still not been able to be determined. Also this year complaints of affected Canadians have come to light, and the Canadians have lamented that their Government has not given them a treatment equal to that of Washington to its officials. The last episode of this crisis has been the closure of consular services in the US embassy on the Island, which have now come to be processed mainly in Guyana.

13. Visit of Pedro Sánchez

Pedro Sánchez and Miguel Díaz-Canel shake hands after the signing the memorandum for holding meetings that will address, among other things, human rights. (EFE / Juanjo Martín)

On December 22 and 23, Pedro Sánchez, president of the Spanish Government traveled to Cuba on an official visit, the first of this level from a leader of his country in 32 years. Although economic relations between both countries have been the best — under the mandates of José María Aznar, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, and Mariano Rajoy — political ties have been limited. In Cuba Sánchez had meetings with the president and authorities as well as with Spanish businessmen and part of civil society, but he did not meet with anyone from the opposition. Both parties agreed to meet annually to go over cultural cooperation agreements and bilateral reviews. Among the principal deals reached, the installation of farms to provide chicken to Cubans was one of the most discussed.

14. Historic agreement of the Cuban Baseball Federation with the Major Leagues of the United States

The U15 team fell unexpectedly and in a very bad performance against Panama, the United States and Taiwan. (Newspaper 26)

In the middle of December it was announced that the Cuban Baseball Federation (FCB) and Major League Baseball (MLB) signed a historic agreement so that the Island’s ballplayers could be signed in the United States. The agreement opens the doors so that athletes who play in the National Series and other local circuits can join the 30 teams of the MLB, and arrives during a year of disastrous results for Cuban baseball.

In 2018 Cubans won only a bronze in the Panamerican U-12 and a silver in the Games in Barranquilla. In U-15, Cuba came in fifth place. In the Caribbean Series, the Alazanes fell in the semifinals. In U-18 they didn’t manage to pass the super round of six in the Panamerican series and Cuba will not be in the next World Cup.

All the same, the public has attended with astonishing interest the National Series, filling the stadiums despite the apathy. On a more human level, sanctions and conflicts because of the bad conduct of some players and managers have not at all helped the image of the game.

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.

14ymedio Faces of 2018: Maykel Gonzalez Vivero, the Fearless Journalist who Founded ‘Tremenda Nota’

Maykel González Vivero was also arrested when he was working covering the damages caused by Hurricane Matthew in Baracoa. (El Estornudo)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, December 29, 2018 — Maykel González Vivero has had a hectic year. In the last twelve months he took the first steps on the difficult path of directing an independent publication, fought a tough battle on social media for marriage equality, and his name was definitively inscribed on the Government’s list of “enemies.”

Although at first this young man, born in 1983, thought of becoming a philologist, he ended up graduating in 2012 with a degree in Sociocultural Studies and entering journalism. His first steps in the profession were as a reporter at the radio station of his native Sagua la Grande, Villa Clara, where he learned the rudiments of the press but also saw firsthand the face of censorship.

In 2016 this journey through the official editorial offices ended abruptly when authorities annuled his contract for collaborating with independent media. From then on his signature became common on various alternative digital sites, but González wanted to go further and form a new publication, where he could combine his two passions: the press and LGBTI activism. continue reading

Thus in December of 2017 Tremenda Nota was born, a publication that he directs and describes as “the magazine of minorities in Cuba,” which they produce in the difficult setting of a province, far from the capital. From there, and along with his team of reporters, he has covered controversial subjects like discrimination and racism, opted for graphics to accompany the most complex issues, and managed to become a reference in the extensive ecosystem of independent media.

Tremenda Nota also devoted wide coverage to the controversial Article 68 in the draft of the constitutional reform project, which would have opened the door to marriage equality and which, ultimately, was withdrawn. A monitoring done with journalistic quality and without fear. On balance, Maykel González Vivero has paid all the social and professional costs possible for writing. Arrested for his work during Hurricane Matthew, vilified by his former colleagues, and watched by State Security, now he does journalism without a gag, as he likes it.

See also: Orbiutes

See also: 14ymedio Faces of 2018

Translated by: Sheilagh Carey

__________________________

The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

14ymedio Faces of 2018: Yanelys Nunez, the Artist Who Stands Against Decree 349

Yanelys Núñez, independent artist publicly confronts the Government over Decree 349. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, December 27, 2018 — A graduate in Art History in 2012, Yanelys Núñez Leyva (b. Havana, 1989) has this year been one of the most visible faces on the independent art scene of the Island.

Along with Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara and another group of artists she defied the country’s cultural authorities by inaugurating the #008Biennial of Havana. Núñez was one of the principle curators and organizers of the independent event that took place at the headquarters of the Museum of Dissidence, a project for which she was expelled from her position at the magazine Revolución y Cultura.

Through the Museum of Dissidence, Núñez sought to define via art the term ‘dissident’, also leaning on the meaning that the Royal Spanish Academy grants the word. In the same place, the curator mixed personalities from the history of Cuba, in the style of Hatuey, José Martí, and Oswaldo Payá. The project, which initially functioned in a digital format via a webpage, materialized between the walls of a house at 955 Calle Damas, Old Havana. continue reading

The place has also served as a headquarters for the festival Endless Poetry, the presentation of Enrique Del Risco’s book, El compañero que me atiende, and even a reading of censored authors, which was scheduled to happen in parallel with the Book Festival and was boycotted by State Security.

Since Decree 349, which regulates artistic dissemination, was published on July 10 in the Gaceta Oficial, Núñez has been an active part of the San Isidro group, which took a stand against the Government to ask for its repeal. The Decree lists up to 19 violations of the law, many of which directly affect the independent scene, like organizing cultural events without the Government’s authorization or disseminating contents that are “violent, pornographic, discriminatory, or offensive toward national symbols.”

The campaign against the law used texts and artistic actions to condemn its exclusionary character and reported that it had been written without previously consulting artists. Núñez headed a protest against the controversial text in front of the Capitol of Havana, covering her body with human excrement while she demanded respect for free art.

Although the decree was meant to go into effect on December 7, part of its contents has been suspended while a dialogue process has been opened up with pro-government institutions like the National Union of Writers and Artists (Uneac) and the Saíz Brothers Association (AHS) in which the writing of some complementary laws for its future implementation is being discussed.

The organization Amnesty International as well as the State Department of the United States have declared themselves against Decree 349, believing that it contravenes the right to liberty of expression and could be used to censor content.

See also: 14ymedio Faces of 2018

Translated by: Sheilagh Carey

_____________________

The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.