Cuba and the Phantom of the Internet / Jeovany Jimenez Vega

Free Internet, Mayor’s Office of Guayaquil (Ecuador). Image courtesy of photographer Julio R.B. for Jeovany Jimenez Vega.

Jeovany Jimenez Vega, 26 January 2016 — A ghost is haunting Cuba: the phantom of the Internet. All the forces of the old guard have joined in a holy crusade against that spectre: the Castros and Ramiro Valdes*, the censor, before ‘Furry’ Colomé Ibarra and now Fernández Gondín**, the radical communists and all the opportunistic cops … Thus begins the Manifesto of the Internet for the Cuban people, placed at a horizon so far away that it’s as elusive as everything else concerning connection to the outside world.

Walking through any park in Guayaquil, Ecuador, at every Metro stop, in many cafes and shops, in every mall, and at every corner, I find at each step an announcement of a free Wi-fi signal, and my thoughts fly to my closed little island.

Internet censorship in Cuba is a subject that has been brought up so many times it now stinks. The amply demonstrated reluctance of the Cuban Government to cede a bit of ground in its information monopoly has ended up putting our country at the bottom of the index of connectivity on the whole American continent, and in the select group of those who are behind globally. Continue reading

Discrimination Against the Poor, an Injustice in Present-day Cuba / Juan Juan Almeida

Juan Juan Almeida, 11 January 2016 — Racial and gender designations were fundamental in the dynamics of international politics, basically dominated by white men; but, fortunately, and like the rough action of a Russian-made Aurika washing machine, there are cycles with an expiration date.

Several penal codes in the world sanction racism, homophobia and whatever other ways to exclude human beings; and, disgracefully, there are people and groups that, clinging to outworn concepts, tarnish themselves by raising flags, at least in Cuba, that are shameful and unrestrained. Continue reading

It is Better to Run a Risk than to Shut Up / Angel Santiesteban

Correspondence between Toine Heijmans and Ángel Santiesteban-Prats

The renown Dutch writer and journalist, Toine Heijmans, a regular columnist for the national Dutch newspaper De Volkskrant, and who sponsored Ángel Santiesteban during his political imprisonment, published the correspondence they maintained during those two and a half years. He has dedicated four pages to it in the prestigious medium. Continue reading

Higher Education in Cuba: A Vision (Part 2) / Somos+

Somos+, Rolby Milian, 6 January 2016 — So I begin this second part of my comments remembering the announcement, this past September 6, 7 and 8, through the media of propaganda and creation of the Roundtable excitement, of new “innovative measures” in higher education.

The measures were announced and explained by the Minister himself, Rodolfo Alarcón Ortiz and a government team. It’s worth pointing out, that among other ideas presented by these gentlemen, is the legal reestablishment for the continuing training of professionals, the creation of a new educational level (“non-university higher education”), the requirement of English in order to graduate and the gradual reduction of the length of degree courses to four years.
Continue reading

Higher education in Cuba: A Vision (Part 1) / Somos+

Students at the University of Havana

Somos+, Rolby Milian, 5 January 2016 — Education has always been one of the propaganda bulwarks that the Havana regime has used to sell the image of Cuba as a perfect, paradise society. Like so many others, this has resulted in a lie of gigantic dimensions. But it’s no secret that lately the profound crisis in which the Cuban educational system is plunged has become more and more evident. Fraud, the selling of exams, poor academic results and the critical shortage of professors are some of the reasons that the system of Cuban education, so acclaimed, free and promoted, is in trouble.

Each one of the levels of teaching, by its intrinsic characteristics, suffers decadence in its own way. This time I propose to explain my vision of the problems that presently afflict higher education in our country. Articulating problems and blowing off steam is something that’s been done for more than 50 years; many of us Cubans know very well how to do it — some freely and where they like, and others in the context they consider convenient and comfortable. Continue reading

Clandestine Fight Clubs are Booming in Cuba / Juan Juan Almeida

Two officers of the People’s Revolutionary Police (PNR) in Cuba in a patrol car.

Juan Juan Almeida, 7 January 2016 — Tired of family conflicts, without a future, restless by today and without a better model for living, clandestine fights become a place where hundreds of Cuban adolescents believe they can fulfill the dream of becoming famous and earning “a lot” of money. It’s a shame that they receive little interest from the State and no sensitivity.

The phenomenon is already part of the underworld, a jungle that seems to combine sports, barbarity and human decadence; something that for the time being can’t be confronted, because it’s impossible to put the brakes on those who have nothing to lose.

A trainer and former member of the Cuban team that participated in the Sydney Olympics explained to me that “with only 5 CUCs (or its equivalent in national money) and the appropriate contacts, anyone can come to those closed and shady places to witness an interesting spectacle. Continue reading

Exodus, Cubans and the Law of Adjustment: the Beginning of the End? / Jeovany Jimenez Vega

Jeovany Jimenez Vega, 30 November 2015 — The present migratory crisis, unleashed by the Nicaraguan Government’s refusal to permit transit through its territory for Cubans walking to the United States, has brought to the foreground a drama that has been going on for decades.

Too many stories of suffering and death have spattered the dangerous route followed by tens of thousands of emigrants from the island going north through Central America. But what could have been a rapid solution of the problem at the meeting of chancellors of the Central American Integration System (SICA) which took place this week in San Salvador was frustrated by the intransigence of Daniel Ortega’s Government, obstinately opposed to permitting the caravan’s passing in spite of the good will shown by the majority of the governments in the region in handling the matter as a humanitarian problem rather than a question of national security. Continue reading

Discontent is Growing on the Island / Somos+, Sandy Perez

Somos+, Sandy Pérez, 7 January 2015 — Every day that passes, the Castro dictatorship loses more followers, which was demonstrated in the past elections for delegates to the Municipal Peoples Power Assemblies. The official press supervised by the regime published the results of the polling stations on April 25, in the Juventud Rebelde paper. It’s clear that the figures are made up but, even so, they reflect the growing popular discontent of the now-exhausted Cuban people.

Some 11.22 percent of the electorate didn’t bother to pass through the colleges where they were supposed to vote; that is to say, there are 850,314 people who don’t believe in the political system that has reigned in Cuba since 1959. If you add to that the 343,430 voters who left their ballots blank, and the 372,351 who made them invalid, there are now 1,566,095* non-conformist Cubans, a figure that should worry Castro.

There are several motives for the disinterest showed by the electorate: the very low salaries for workers and pensioners; the lack of housing for young couples and the impossibility of renting, which provokes instability in marriages; the deficiency of the basic basket (ration book) and the low purchasing power.

In the case of young Cubans, most of them are obliged to vote by their parents, who have been indoctrinated since they were little and implant the same fear in their kids. These days you hear things like: “You have to go vote or I’ll be fired from my job!” That’s the sad reality for Cuban youth.

*Translator’s note: The 2013 voting age population in Cuba was reported to be about 8.87 million, with about 8.66 million registered to vote.

Translated by Regina Anavy

Closed Game / Fernando Damaso

Fernando Dámaso, 29 December 2015 — The year 2015 ends, and stagnation seems to have sat squarely on the Cuban authorities. Entrenched in dogma and their absurd demands to the U.S. Government, shielded in the supposed defense of sovereignty and independence, something they forgot when they delivered the country to the Soviets for 32 years, they aren’t moving any political domino tiles, closing the game with the double nine.

The 12th Plenary Session of the Central Committee of the Cuban Communist Party and the work in the commissions, prior to the sessions of the National Assembly, not for the first time repeated the existence of the same problems presented in similar, previous activities, without the appearance of real solutions that would improve the country’s situation or that of its citizens. The talk is of multiple pretenses in all the sectors of production and services, which now form an habitual part of the content of these meetings, where the deputies unanimously approve all agreements without the least disagreement, giving an irrefutable demonstration of totalitarian unity.

The year 2016 is gloomy, with little hope for important changes, at least while the current historical leadership holds power.

Translated by Regina Anavy

A Glance at Cuba in 2015 / Ivan Garcia

Reading_Newspaper_Gerry_Pacher-_ab-620x330Ivan Garcia, 2 January 2016 — Joel Castillo, 19, passed from expectation to frustration in 12 months. After graduating in 2014 in electronics from a technology school south of Havana, he still hasn’t been able to work in his specialty.

“With the reestablishment of diplomatic relations between Cuba and the United States, I thought there would be better options for people. But things remain the same. And I haven’t gotten a job that fits my profile,” says Castillo.

It’s precisely the youngest who are the most disillusioned with the inertia of the olive-green Regime. A government with almost six decades in power and an executive faction whose combined age adds up to more than 300 years should have better policies for its youth. Continue reading

The Dollar Gains Strength in Cuba / Ivan Garcia

Photo: A branch of Western Union on Obispo Street, Old Havana. According to a manager of this company, 62 percent of Cuban homes receive remittances from the United States. Western Union has offices in 140 of the 158 municipalities in Cuba.

Ivan Garcia, 4 January 2016 — José Manual Cordoví keeps his savings in a rusty cookie tin. He runs a business forging windows, doors and iron in a suburb of low hovels in Arroyo Naranjo, a municipality 40 minutes by car from the heart of Havana.

Cordoví has no relatives or friends who are close to the olive-green mandarins who could give him information. But incessant rumors have encouraged him to change his savings in convertible pesos (CUCs) into U.S. dollars.

“I think that in December or January, those people (the Government) will unify the money and the Cuban convertible will disppear into thin air. They say they’ll respect the money that people have deposited in the bank. But those of us who do business under the table or keep our money under our mattresses could be screwed with a unification of money if it’s accompanied by a depreciation of the CUC,” says José Manuel. Continue reading

More “Counterrevolutionary” Artists Speak Out For Their Freedom (Part 3) / Angel Santiesteban

Screen capture — A Cuban filmmaker with the black tape of censorship literally covering his mouth.

Ángel Santiesteban-Prats, Havana, 21 December 2015 — In order to complete my personal impression about the G-20* assembly in the Fresa y Chocolate Cultural Film Center this past November 28, I must recognize the solidarity and support of the filmmakers for their colleague, Juan Carlos Cremata, who, through writing, like Enrique Colina among others, showed their disgust and rejection of the assault dealt by the State against the artist, restricting his thinking and his work.

The abuses and injustices committed by the officers and political police have been the last straw for the patience of the unionized filmmakers who — with new verve — have come together with their claims showing that they have matured as people, a society and artists.

The wolf, who for more than half a century has sunk his teeth into the sheep that don’t abide by the rules of the fold, has paused now to wonder why, for the first time, the job of making them submit has been made difficult, and he waits, hoping that they will show some weakness or divide themselves in order to make his job of the bogeyman scaring the children easy.

The dictatorship prefers us to be alone.

I was amazed at the existing cohesion among the constituents of the G-20*, the clarity of their demands, like the Film Law that is indispensable to them in order to continue creating, but, above all, how well disposed they are to continue struggling until they achieve what they demand.

They are not naive, they know that in the eyes of the dictatorship they have been converted into rebels who should be drowned, and if a crack exists, it would be inside one of the columns that integrate the group; and then, beginning with secret conversations with State Security, it would cede before the pressure and would begin to distort, scare, divide and misconstrue the objectives presented from the outset.

Let’s hope that intelligence reigns over fear and serves to save this force that conveys their demands as artists, converts itself into a national necessity and triggers a new pattern in the country’s history.

Their laudable, noble and courageous abilities are the preamble of a new era in which artists recover the dignity that has been lost for more than five decades, letting them be devoured and beaten by the totalitarian Regime for not receiving their punishment.

It is new times, and democracy is the only system possible for any government; now there’s no space for authoritarian regimes (totalitarian) as, for example, Argentina and Venezuela, countries in which the opposition has just won the elections.

Later will come those that are missing, and of course the Castro clan’s dictatorship will have no other option but to cede. With the arrival of freedom, Juan Carlos Cremata and all Cuban artists will recover the cultural spaces that they should not have lost through censorship and prohibitions. Juan Carlos Cremata deserves that space for his talent, strength and commitment.

Let’s hope that without more delay, the Film Law gets approved for the benefit of the seventh art.

Ángel Santiesteban-Prats

Havana, November 2015, under conditional “liberty.”

*Translator’s note: A group of Cuban filmmakers who demand the approval of a Film Law in Cuba. They defend independent production companies. At this meeting they debated censorship and analyzed the case of Juan Carlos Cremata, whose play “The King is Dying” was censored. Cremata was denied the right to stage another play in Cuba.

Translated by Regina Anavy

Nauta vs. Gmail, and the Stupid Strategy / Somos+, Javier Cabrera

Somos+, Javier Cabrera, 30 December 2015 — As a result of the Paris attacks, many governments have put growing pressure on the technology companies to have “backdoors” in order to access users’ information without needing a judicial order. In the U.S., the debate is at its highest point, openly, with the citizens aware of the fight and the technology companies giving their opinions. Such is the case with Apple and others that have announced they won’t deliver users’ data for an increase in security, and the government isn’t taking it easily.

China also is trying to take advantage of the debate, although with a focus a lot more twisted and behind the backs of its citizens, wanting to compel by law all the technology companies to give them whatever information they request, and threatening grave consequences for the economy and the competition. Continue reading

Cuba, One Year After December 17, 2014 / Ivan Garcia

Mujer-en-balcon-y-banderas-620x330

Ivan Garcia, 14 December 2015 — In a basement blackened by humidity and soot, Leonardo Santizo and two workers make cookies, candy and peanut nougat, as a private enterprise.

At the back of the room, piled up in nylon sacks, are hundreds of kilograms of unroasted peanuts, bottles of vegetable oil and all-purpose flour. On a damaged and dirty table, a thermos of recently-made coffee. While they work, they chain-smoke.

“We’ve been on our feet since five in the morning and we work until four in the afternoon. Every day we make 600 cakes, 100 packages of biscuits and 400 tablets of ground peanuts. The average pay is some 400 pesos daily. Sometimes a little more. We sell the cookies and sweets for the most part to private retail businesses,” says Leonardo. Continue reading

How to Lose Friends / Angel Santiesteban

Angel Santiesteban, Havana, 23 December 2015 — These days I’m immersed in the culmination of my next novel, which I should deliver in February for its possible publication; for this reason, I have dedicated the last two months, in a tireless way, to improving the prose, born from the heat and emotion of the most recent creation. I’ve barely taken time for cultural recreation, repressing — now that it’s possible — going to the theater, movies, ballet, among other spaces of my personal consumption, after having yearned for it for two and a half years, because the dictatorship that considers thinking differently to be dangerous, especially if it involves an artist, decided to send me to prison.

It’s indisputable — and the reason for this post — that I haven’t been able to visit and comply with the demands of some friends, brother masons and political activists, who would like to see me more frequently. Continue reading