“Check out how free this country is!” / 14ymedio, Victor Ariel Gonzalez

Presentation about the book ‘From Confrontation to Efforts at “Normalization.”  The Policy of the United States towards Cuba.’ (14ymedio)

Presentation about the book ‘From Confrontation to Efforts at “Normalization.” The Policy of the United States towards Cuba.’ (14ymedio)

14ymedio, Victor Ariel Gonzalez, Havana, 29 January 2015 — “In Vietnam, Yoani Sanchez would be in prison,” says Rafael Hernandez, editor of the magazine Temas (Topics), comparing the Cuban regime with the Vietnamese one. And he adds: “Check out how free this country is!” According to the official researcher, Cuban bloggers “are arrested and released, but they are not put in prison,” as occurs in the southeast Asian country, where these cyberspace activists receive “nothing but” jail for being “anti-government.”

The political scientist and essayist offered these observations last Wednesday at the Juan Marinello Center during the presentation about the book “From Confrontation to Efforts at ‘Normalization.’ The Policy of the United States towards Cuba,” by the publisher Social Sciences. One of the authors, Elier Ramirez, participated in the panel discussion held by the magazine.

Just reading its name, one deduces that the essay by Elier Ramirez and Esteban Morales – co-author – reflects the offical Cuban position about the rapprochement between the Island and its “historical enemy.” The word “normalization” in its title appears in quotation marks because, among other reasons, “the United States has always understood normalization from the position of domination,” says Ramirez. “There is no change in its strategic objectives [basically, regime change in Cuba, but] a profound tactical adjustment” behind the negotiations between Washington and Havana, according to the author.

This work had already been released, at least once, during the presentation of the volume “Back Channel to Cuba: The Hidden History of Negotiations Between Washington and Havana,” written by U.S. researchers Peter Kornbluh and William LeoGrande. But then, last October, the political situation was very different from the current one.

During Wednesday’s presentation about the book, the comparison between Vietnam and Cuba emerged in the context of what Rafael Hernandez considers a double standard in U.S. foreign relations which criticizes Cuba on questions like freedom of expression while not doing the same to other countries. “How do you [the American government] demand from me [the Cuban government] what you do not demand of the Vietnamese who put bloggers in prison?” asked the researcher who is also a moderator of the space Ultimo Jueves (Last Thursday).

Rafael Hernandez also referred to the case of the performance by Tania Bruguera last December 30. In order to justify the attitude of Cuban authorities, he gave as an example a hypothetical megaphone protest in front of the home of the British prime minister. “Before taking out the loudspeaker, they already told him off and got him out of there,” he said, referring to the imaginary protester. “What does that have to do with freedom of expression? What are we talking about?” he added, insisting on the supposed “double standard” of the western discourse with respect to that basic right.

Entering into a process of negotiations that both parties have deemed “historic,” one can no longer speak only of “a relationship between two governments” because now there is also “a relationship between two societies” declared Hernandez, who called for a realization that “there is a new game.”

The official analysts define this “game” as a “form of battle” for preserving the regime, different from all previous battles. This war, certainly is already taking place also in the symbolic realm where the most rancid nationalists have been contaminated by a certain foreign banality, especially American.

It is not strange that an official intellectual like Hernandez expresses himself thus about the rapprochement between the two countries. As far as his comparisons in matters of human rights, it is legitimate to ask what exactly the editor of Temas meant to say. There are three possible interpretations:

  1. Vietnam is a dictatorship.
  2. Cuban bloggers should be prisoners.
  3. We bloggers should feel grateful for the few handouts of freedom that the regime grants us and that it also can take from us at any time, imitating its “sister nation” from southeast Asia.

Translated by MLK

“I Live Happy Because I Live Without Fear” / 14ymedio, El Sexto

Map of the 4H Company in prison hand drawn by Danilo Maldonado, ‘El Sexto’

Map of the 4H Company in prison hand drawn by Danilo Maldonado, ‘El Sexto’

  • El Sexto tells of his incarceration in the Valle Grande prison

14YMEDIO, Havana, 28 January 2015 — Danilo Maldonado, the graffiti artist known as El Sexto, finished a month in prison this January 25. He was arrested while riding in a taxi whose trunk was carrying two live pigs. The animals were painted green and each bore a name written on his side. On one could be read Fidel and on the other, Raul.

The artist’s intention was to release them in Central Park in order to recreate a rural tradition in which one tries to catch pigs with the added difficulty that their bodies are smeared with grease. His frustrated performance art was entitled Animal Farm, in Memoriam.

The light blue Lada that was transporting him was intercepted by three Revolutionary National Police patrol cars. The agents took away the identity cards of Danilo and the vehicle’s driver and took them to the Infanta and Manglar Station. Two days later, they transferred the artist to the Zapata and C unit where a prosecutor told him that he would be taken to trial. He stayed in those dungeons seven days until he was transferred to the central police station of Vivac de Calabazar, where he spent another seven days.

It happened that Vivac was the destination for dozens of arrestees accused of trying to participate in the performance announced by performance artist Tania Bruguera in the Plaza of the Revolution last December 30, which was interpreted by authorities as a counter-revolutionary provocation. Some of those arrested, who learned of his presence at the place, shouted, among other slogans, “Freedom for El Sexto.”

From the Valle Grande prison, where he is now, Danilo has sent us some jail anecdotes and a couple of drawings.

The Tank

When I arrived at Valle Grande they took blood samples for the lab, shaved my head and beard. They also photographed me. During my stay in Vivac, they had diagnosed me with pneumonia, for which reason I was carrying antibiotics with me, but they took them from me and have not seen fit to return them to me so far, nor has a doctor listened to my chest to find out if I am the same, better or worse than when I arrived here. To make matters worse, I am surrounded by smokers who do not care at all that I am sick and asthmatic. Continue reading

Institutional Crisis / 14ymedio, Fernando Damaso

Meeting of the National Assembly (Neo Club Press)

Meeting of the National Assembly (Neo Club Press)

14ymedio, FERNANDO DAMASO, Havana, 22 January 2015 — Among so many crises that affect us, little is said about that related to institutions. In the Republican era, there existed institutions that, without being perfect, worked. If it had not been so, the country would not have developed in the way that it did. When the new regime was put in place in 1959, instead of being perfected, most of the existing institutions were liquidated or their spheres of influence were reduced for the purpose of initiating other new ones on bare ground. Even the family, considered a principal and primary institution, did not escape, being dismembered and atomized to respond to political and ideological interests.

An institution can be many things. There exist formal and informal institutions and, in both cases, they are always social constructions. They must be efficient, that is to say, capable of functioning well, having legitimacy, being able to adapt to changes in the environment and anticipate changes besides demonstrating stability. These components must act together if they want to get results. In the Cuban case, stability has turned into a kind of brake that impedes the necessary changes, giving rise to ossified institutions. The majority of institutions established in the last fifty years suffer this infirmity, mainly the economic, legal and political ones. Continue reading

Strange, Like a Bear in a Havana Square / 14ymedio

The Buddy Bears in San Francisco Plaza.  (Luz Escobar)

The Buddy Bears in San Francisco Plaza. (Luz Escobar)

14ymedio, LUZ ESCOBAR, Havana, 17 January 2015 — “Where is the end of the line for a picture with the Cuban bear?” yesterday asked a youngster during the opening of the United Buddy Bears show in Havana’s San Francisco Plaza. The project, created in 2001 by Eva and Klaus Herlitz with the collaboration of Austrian sculptor Roman Strobl, promotes a message of tolerance and understanding among all peoples, cultures and religions of the world. The exposition has travelled across five continents with life-sized sculptures of bears that evoke the member countries of the United Nations.

With the participation of artists from each of the represented countries, these bears have visited cities such as Vienna, Cairo, Jerusalem, Buenos Aires, Montevideo, Paris, Hong King, Istanbul, Tokyo, Sydney, Warsaw and Rio de Janeiro. Since its first exhibition in Berlin in 2002 they have been appreciated by more than 30 million people. Now, they are in Havana, which highlights the signature sculpture of our country, made by Cuban artist Nancy Torres.

Oso-buddy-cubano_CYMIMA20150117_0010_12With a cigar in his mouth, a cigar band around his waist and a mischievous wink of his eye, the Cuban Buddy Bear is part of this diverse and plural group. His creator explained during the opening that she named him Siboney in homage to the first Cuban Indians Continue reading

The ‘Cabanuelas’ for Religious Freedom / 14ymedio, Mario Felix Lleonart

:  Children during a celebration of the Day of the Kings at Taguayabon Church (M. F. Lleonart Barroso)

: Children during a celebration of the Day of the Kings at Taguayabon Church (M. F. Lleonart Barroso)

14ymedio, Mario Felix Lleonart Barroso, 16 January 2015 – Cuban peasants have a tradition that they carry out at the beginning of year. They observe the first twelve days of January and complete the observation – in a countdown – with the following twelve days until they get to the 24th day. They have the idea that what happened in the natural environment on those dates can yield some insight on how the year will be.

If it rains on the third day, that means for the men of the field that the same thing will occur in the third month. This way they get an idea of whether the year will be rainy or dry, if there will be hurricanes, much heat or if it will feel cold in the limited winter. The farming traditions call these days that the farmers think of as a preamble to the months of the year cabanuelas.

For those of us who form part of the religious sphere in Cuba, the last year ended with new perspectives on the relations with our counterparts in the United States. After the announcement by President Barack Obama last December 17, there have been more than a few citizens from that country who have been interested in how they might help us in the most effective way, given the opportunities that are opening up. Continue reading

The Park of Lost Connections / 14ymedio, Yosmany Mayeta Labrada

Recreational Technology Center of Santiago de Cuba (14ymedio).

Recreational Technology Center of Santiago de Cuba (14ymedio).

14ymedio, Yosmany Mayeta Labrada, Santiago de Cuba, 16 January 2015 — “Happiness in the home of the poor is brief,” said a young man a few days ago who had been excited about connecting to the Internet through the WiFi network in a park in Santiago de Cuba. The Telecommunications Company of Cuba (ETECSA) denied this Monday the news that users could navigate the web from their phones, tablets or laptops in the new Recreational Technology Center of this city, as the official website Cubaperiodistas (Cuba Journalists) had indicated.

But a worker from the Center itself, who asked to remain anonymous, assures 14ymedio that there has been a change from the initial plan. “At first, the service that would be provided was wireless access to the internet, but after revealing the information and seeing the media coverage that it caused, the authorities decided that they will only supply a connection to the intranet without any cost.” Continue reading

Why Does Cuba Choke Charter Agencies And Deliveries to The Island? / Juan Juan Almeida

(April 2104) In Cuba, smoke doesn’t always mean fire. Often it is a stragegy to confuse.

This time the smoke comes to us from the Republic’s Customs Office, when last week, on its official website, it published an “updated” list of the entities authorized to make shipments to Cuba. Continue reading

Look But Don’t Touch / 14ymedio, Victor Ariel Gonzalez

At Sol and Oficios, there is a closed park and a dry fountain. (14YMEDIO)

At Sol and Oficios, a closed park and a dry fountain. (14YMEDIO)

  • As ancient buildings are crumbling, the vacant lots are transformed into parks that are always closed

14ymedio, Victor Ariel Gonzales, Havana, 9 January 2015 — A group of tourists stops at the entrance of the “ecological park” on Mercaderes Street, a few steps from the Havana Cathedral. The guide speaks to them about this vacant lot turned into a public space which would be nothing out of the ordinary except for being the only one of its kind that is kept open. Aside from the brief circuit designed for foreign visitors, the parks of Old Havana are always closed.

So functions the fiefdom of Eusebio Leal, Havana’s City Historian. As old buildings crumble, the now-vacant parcels are transformed into gardens to which are added benches, trash cans, shade trees and maybe even a fountain. But, along with all that, they also put a magnificent gate closed with chain and padlock. No one can enter these urban oases.

At the corner of Teniente Rey and Habana there existed until a few years ago a children’s park full of attractions that were never used. The attractions “were burned” in the sun, says a neighbor of the place who remembers the image of children asking why “their park” was closed.

Today, the slides now dismantled, the site remains inaccessible but at least seeks another function in the community. Talking about this is Justo Torres who brought from his native Isabel de Sagua an interest in gardening and urban agriculture. He works at Nelva Oasis, a small gardening business very nearby that coordinated the park’s management with the Historian’s Office – a kind of local government.

Very enthusiastically, Torres confesses to being full of ideas for this place: giving it a “social use,” practicing agro-ecology and vermiculture, among others. “It is a unique experiment,” he says and one that also aims to be economically sustainable. He trusts that, in time, authorities will continue supporting the initiative.

Nevertheless, the rest of the parks have not had the same luck and have no use beyond the visual . . . behind bars. The monument erected in honor of Cuban doctor Carlos J. Finlay at Cuba and Amargura cannot be seen up close. There is also the Las Carolinas park, administered by the modern dance company Retazos, and open only for its interest in “some workshop for children and teens,” according to a custodian.

The list goes on. At Sol and Oficios, next to the Office of Cultural Heritage, an enormous green space surrounds a fountain as dry as a desert, that is their park. And at Acosta and Damas they built a pretty reminder of the Jewish community that lived there, just for the pedestrians to pass by because of having nowhere to rest without jumping the gate.

One of the best examples of this closure of public spaces is the fountain at Plaza Vieja in the heart of Havana within the city walls. The uninformed find the bars that surround the water to be strange. They do not know that this area has so many problems with the supply of the liquid which has had neighbors bringing buckets and tanks to it. A spectacle that reflects the real Cuba, which is not seen on postcards.

Across from the Central Train Station – another decadent icon of the city – a park offers anything except an invitation to relax. Old steam locomotives rust behind bars next to benches that will never be used again either.

This situation forms part of a vicious cycle that is completed with vandalism. The primary idea is that the parks remain closed so that the neighbors – who are not foreigners, but seemingly “uncivilized” Cubans – do no damage to them, while the lack of contact and “entrance prohibited” could be making it difficult to create respect for the urban environment or a sense of belonging.

So Nercy Perez, who works at the previously mentioned garden at Teniente Rey and Havana, would like the area schools to integrate themselves more in the projects she and her colleagues promote. “If children learn from an early age to take care of things, then later it will be easier.” The woman is of the opinion that “people do not have the culture” of caring for things. Indeed, she had to interrupt the conversation to scold a student who passed by and just grabbed one of her plants.

Other neighbors complain about the lack of public spaces. “The children have nowhere to play. They have to be in the street. The old people have nowhere to sit,” criticizes Joaquin from El Cristo neighborhood. The plaza that carries this latter name has been closed by metal barriers for a long time. Its interior does not look anything like a place where generations of Havanans scampered.

Also closed to the public, the Plaza del Cristo faces one of the many interminable repairs that can be seen in Old Havana, between crumbling buildings and dirty streets. What is obvious, unfortunately for those who long for a pretty city, is that not so many tourists pass through here.

“The only option for children is to go to the Inflatable Toys Park,” complains Norma, mother of two little ones. She concludes: “Of course, since that does provide money [from entrance fees], they don’t close it.”

Translated by MLK

According to Washington, Cuba Has Freed the 53 Prisoners It Agreed Upon With the US / 14ymedio

Some of the political prisoners released (Enrique Figuerola, Yordenys Mendoza Coba, Bianko y Diango Vargas Martín, Alexander Otero Rodríguez, Haydeé Gallardo Salázar, Miguel Alberto Ulloa)

Some of the political prisoners released (Enrique Figuerola, Yordenys Mendoza Coba, Bianko y Diango Vargas Martín, Alexander Otero Rodríguez, Haydeé Gallardo Salázar, Miguel Alberto Ulloa)

  • The Island’s dissidence has insisted it has record of only 39 releases

14YMEDIO, Havana, 12 January 2015 — Cuba has released the 53 prisoners that it had promised to free in talks with the US according to an announcement Monday by the US ambassador to the UN, Samantha Power. According to these reports, the liberations of those prisoners who had been missing was completed this weekend, and the White House will send to Congress the complete list to then make it public.

Dissident groups such as the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation (CCDHRN) and the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU) have insisted that they have until now only confirmed 39 releases since last Wednesday. “We will see what happens in the coming days,” Elizardo Sanchez, spokesman for the CCDHRN, has said.

Power has admitted that there were differences in Congress about the way to act, but has assured that there is a common will to advance the rights of the Cuban people. Continue reading

Drug Consumption Increases in Cuba / 14ymedio, ORLANDO PALMA

Screen capture from the TV report issued by Primetime News about customs work against drug trafficking

Screen capture from the TV report issued by Primetime News about customs work against drug trafficking

14ymedio, Orlando Palma, Havana, 8 January 2015 – The seizure in 2014 of close to 40 tons of drugs in Cuban ports and airports belies the old official line that for decades presented narco-trafficking as a foreign phenomenon, a characteristic of the “corrupt capitalist world.” The official press boasted that the Island was not used as bridge for the introduction of narcotics into other countries.

Nevertheless, as early as the nineties, some academic studies and journalistic reports began to speak in more realistic terms about national addiction and consumption of prohibited substances. Continue reading

Twelve Dead in a Shooting at the Headquarters of the French Satirical Weekly ‘Charlie Hebdo’ / 14ymedio

Caption:  Cover of the special edition published in 2006 by ‘Charlie Hebdo,’ the first incident with radical religious Muslims.  In the vignette, Mohammed says, “How hard it is to be loved by imbeciles!”

Cover of the special edition published in 2006 by ‘Charlie Hebdo,’ the first incident with radical religious Muslims. In the vignette, Mohammed says, “How hard it is to be loved by imbeciles!”

14YMEDIO, Madrid, 7 January 2015 — The three presumed perpetrators of the attack against the satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo that claimed the lives of twelve people this Wednesday have already been identified, according to several French media outlets. The attack left at least 10 wounded and 12 dead, eight of whom were journalists. Among them are the editor of the publication, Stephane Charbonnier Charb, and another three long-time cartoonists, Cabu, Tignous and Wolinski, besides two police officers. The chief editor of the weekly, Gerard Biard, was in London, which saved him from the attack.

The daily Metronews website explains that the suspects are three men aged 34, 32 and 18 with histories of cooperating with jihadist networks. According to this outlet, they would be brothers Said K. and Cherif K. of French nationality, while the younger would answer to the name of Hamyd M., but his nationality is unknown. The latter was enrolled last year in secondary school in Reims (northern France), according to these reports, which have not been officially confirmed. Continue reading

Here Comes the Packet, Knock, Knock / 14ymedio, Orlando Palma

  • Pinar-Rio-JUAN-CARLOS-FERNANDEZ_CYMIMA20150105_0015_16Research shows that among the main forms of cultural consumption in Cuba are television, visiting with friends and listening to music

14ymedio, ORLANDO PALMA, Havana, 5 January 2015 — A Cuban television special this Sunday entitled “They Call Me Cuba” addressed issues of “cultural consumption in the 21st century,” with special emphasis on the well-known weekly packet of audio-visual material that is distributed illegally throughout the country. Some specialists answered questions ranging from musical tastes to the need to impose cultural policy on the private and tourist sectors.

The results of an investigation carried out by the Juan Marinello Center have revealed that among the main forms of cultural consumption in Cuba are “television, spending time with friends and listening to music.” Pedro Emilio Moras, a researcher for that entity, said that, “The main way for the Cuban population to participate in culture is as the public, as the beneficiary of offerings, actions organized by cultural institutions.” Although he also asserted that, “We recognize that the houses where we live (…) are ideal scenarios for the cultural development of people, even our reality is the space par excellence.” Continue reading