Another Prisoner Swap? / Mario Lleonart

Mario Lleonart, 30 October 2015 — Once again the name of Ernesto Borges Pérez returns to the public arena, generating new expectations about his release. He has served more than seventeen long years of the thirty to which he was sentenced, after his death sentence was commuted at the prosecutor’s request. Ernesto’s advance disclosure thwarted the illegal infiltration into the U.S. of twenty-six Cuban spies, of the hordes frequently sent there. But at the cost of seventeen unrecoverable years from Ernesto’s valuable life. Everything indicates that he is the bargaining chip long set aside to trade for the spy Ana Belén Montes.*

Ernesto may finally go free and benefit from his heroic action, which by any measure was invaluable, whatever the price paid. I hope that the answer to the prayers we have raised for so long finally arrives. Ernesto’s parents Yvonne and Raul, elderly and ailing, can still experience the greatest happiness of their lives. His brother Cesar, and Paola, his only daughter, in exile, can laugh again. And he, with his tremendous human virtues, strengthened in prison, can still be of great benefit to a world greatly in need of heroes like him.

*Translator’s note: The U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency analyst convicted in 2003 of spying for Cuba and sentenced to 25 years in prison. See, e.g. “New Revelations About Cuban Spy Ana Montes.”

Translated by Tomás A.

The Remake / Fernando Damaso

Fernando Damaso, 28 October 2015 — The Cuban authorities applaud the “victory” obtained in the vote for the lifting of the blockade-embargo at the United Nations. It’s actually their twenty-fourth Pyrrhic victory since 1992, when they lost the substantial Soviet economic subsidies, and began to be bothered by the blockade-embargo, which they previously didn’t care about and treated as a joke.

These 24 Pyrrhic victories have not advanced one iota the cause of ending the blockade-embargo because the resolution that was approved is not binding, that is, there is no mandatory compliance; the countries vote according to their current interests, so a vote in favor of ending it does not affect its relations with the United States, and a vote in favor of keeping it would affect their relations with the Cuban government. It’s all nothing more than sheer political opportunism, without much real significance. Continue reading

Shortages in Cuba: A Deliberate Strategy? / Jeovany Vega

Jeovany Jimenez Vega, 19 October 2015 — In Cuba the shortage of goods, including basic staples, has been a continuous phenomenon in all retail chains for decades, so repetitive that it seems  incorporated into the very genome of the regime, and has become one of the hallmarks of the laziness, inefficiency, and mediocrity of the economic and military dictatorship of the Castros.

Many alternative websites inside and outside of the island have warned about the phenomenon so constantly that, given its magnitude, even the official press has had no option but to recognize the severity of the problem on more than one occasion. It is not news to anyone that the official voices blame this disaster on the American embargo—which they have inexorably called a “blockade” even though right in front of their noses are windows adorned with goods coming from all four points of the compass. Continue reading

Building the Base for a Just Law / Somos+

Somos+, 14 October 2015 — Today the formal work began on the formulation of a Proposed Electoral Law, gathered from a political, generational, and regional diversity. The lawyers carrying out the initiative requested the presence of Somos+ at the table as part of the essential input from young people. Our national leadership accepted the collaboration immediately, as we are honored to seriously and responsibly participate in the construction of alternatives that can be presented to the people and advocated at all levels, from the activist movement to academic, legal, and intellectual spheres.

The first day focused on a thorough study of existing legislation at different levels, and an analysis of the cultural and historical context that determines its implementation and maintenance. This knowledge is key to avoid falling into superficiality, and to ultimately propose a result of a quality that is viable and that responds to the needs of the nation and the practical political modernity into which we must introduce ourselves. Continue reading

A democracy of course! . . . But how good? / Somos+, Kaned Garrido

Somos+, Kaned Garrido, 12 October, 2015 — We Cubans know that we want a democracy, and from now on we must chart the course for it to be one that we can be proud of, because not all democracies are of the same quality.

There are countries that hold elections to decide who will govern them, yet also suffer poverty, injustice and violence in the streets. Is the ability of the people to vote enough to make a nation great?

Many believe that because democracy coexists with hunger in poor countries, democracy is insufficient to solve the problems. The 2013 survey by Latinobarómetro* found that 19.2% of Latin Americans had no preference between a democratic or an undemocratic regime. Another 14.9% believed that in some circumstances an authoritarian government can be preferable to a democratic one. Continue reading

A Dubious Decision / Fernando Damaso

Fernando Damaso, 10 October 2015 — At a time when many Cuban youths, adults, and even elderly are choosing to  emigrate, it is noteworthy that a Cuban who has lived in Canada for a decade, with a wife and young child, posted on Facebook his decision to return to Cuba. Maybe he has been influenced by the ongoing process of improving relations between Cuba and the United States, or even the recent visit of Pope Francis. Hope springs eternal, but in this case, all that glitters is not gold. Cuba, a decade later, continues frozen in time.

The profound economic, political, social, and moral crisis persists, compounded by a climate of corruption and violence; wages continue at the poverty level, failing to  meet the minimum needs of citizens; prices of necessities are rising geometrically; the health system is fine for foreign tourists, and for exporting professionals to other countries, but is poor within the island, with deteriorated hospitals, lack of hygiene, a shortage of experienced doctors and nurses, and insufficient drugs; education is of low quality, carried out in inadequate teaching facilities, lacking maintenance and materials; and citizens lack the most basic rights, being subjected from cradle to grave with the most absurd ideological bombardment.

Everyone is free to decide what to do with his or her life, but when a wife and child are involved, you also have to think about them. To exchange Canadian security, development, and democracy for Cuban insecurity, poverty, and totalitarianism, is a very dubious decision.

Translated by Tomás A.

Quo Vadis* Francis? / Mario Lleonart

Those of us who lived through the repressive crackdown that took place in Cuba in 2012 during the visit of Benedict XVI have never received a response from the Vatican, although it was informed of the facts. Jose Conrado—the priest who is a maverick within the Catholic Church in Cuba, like a modern-day Father Bartolome de las Casas**—met with many of us on March 29, 2012, in the home of Ismael de Diego, to share experiences of what happened during the papal visit to Cuba, the police crackdown called “Operation Vow of Silence.” The priest expressed regret and personally delivered letters and videos to the Apostolic Nunciature. But they didn’t even give him the courtesy of a response. As a result of this crackdown some activists were detained for more than two years without even the formality of a trial. Continue reading

Two Lies and One Meddle / Rebeca Monzo

Rebeca Monzo, 5 October 2015 — Cuba’s government continues imposing three conditions to continuing the restoration and normalization of relations with the U.S.: the return of “illegally occupied” Guantanamo; the lifting of the blockade; and the end of Radio and TV Marti. These are two lies and one impertinence that could even be considered meddling.

First, it is good to clarify that Guantanamo Bay has never been illegally occupied by the United States, but that it is the product of an agreement between governments, signed in 1903 and ratified in 1934. The misnamed “blockade” is nothing more than an embargo, which has been weakening since the Carter days and that the Obama administration has further eased in recent years in Cuba’s favor, except for some portions of it such as those relating to bank loans. As for the requirement that Radio and TV Marti disappear, it is a broadcast station (like many others that exist in different countries, including our own) whose disappearance or continuation depends solely on internal decisions of the U.S. government.

These silly demands seem more like roadblocks imposed by the island regime to buy time so they don’t have to answer to the Cuban citizenry and the world for the absurd measures and the imposition of laws and decrees that plunged Cuba into a complete political and economic disaster, which the current president also participated in is responsible for.

It would be healthy to courageously confront our own successes and failures, to turn that page once and for all and not continue blaming others, to be able to advance the restoration and normalization of relations, which would greatly benefit the country and its citizens, preventing the stampede of escaping Cuban young people.

Translated by Tomás A.

The Mass and Repression in Revolution Square / Ivan Garcia

Papa-en-Cuba-Misa-y-represión-_ab-620x330Ivan Garcia, Havana, 21 September 2015 — Almost everyone in Cuba remembers what they were doing on January 21, 1998. Stephen, who works in a steel factory southeast of the capital, recalls that he walked more than nine miles to attend the Mass of Pope Wojtyla in Revolution Square, the sacred precinct of the olive-green regime.

“I come from a Catholic family, but when Fidel came to power they stopped going to church out of fear. John Paul II was a kind of personal liberation, the reunion with my church, God, and Jesus. Afterward, travel to the island has become fashionable for the Vatican. The visit of Benedict XVI, like that of Francis I, seemed quite bland to me. More media hype than anything else,” says Stephen, as he goes to Mass with a portrait of the Virgin of Charity, Patroness of Cuba. Continue reading

It Is Time to Demand Our Freedoms / Somos+, Richard Cores

Somos+, Richard A. Cores, 15 September 2015 — In a moment of reflection, I remembered the wise words of a great hero and civil rights leader in United States history, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He said “freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.”

I thought of all those Cubans who want to say publicly what they really think, and who cannot because of fear of being persecuted or punished by their own government. Those Cuban citizens who want to be free to express themselves freely, whether in words, in artistic works, and even in books, which germinate in their minds, only to wither and die when they are never published. These rights, which are enjoyed by most civilized people throughout the world, were also recognized by Cuba (at least at the United Nations headquarters in New York) on February 28, 2008, when the Cuban Foreign Minister at the time, Felipe Perez Roque, signed two international convenants on human rights. Continue reading

To the Diaspora / Somos+, Manuel Diaz Mons

”  . . we are a family, a team, our duty is to look out for each other . . . that is the only way to achieve the objective for which we struggle . . .”
Carlos, Somos+

Somos+, Manuel Diaz Mons, 9 September 2015 — I’m sure if Maceo and Agramonte had achieved this feeling during the Ten Years’ War, there would have been no need for a war in 1895, much less the political upheavals that followed. The lack of unity and the failure to gather enough support has cost many lives in this country. But today, despite everything we have lived through, there are those who indulge in dividing, marginalizing, and forgetting.

“Divide and rule” or “divide and conquer” is a control technique of the ruling class that has yielded excellent results in Cuba. The current government does it, Batista did it, and so did many before. This political tactic allows the central power, no matter how small it may be, to dominate millions of people very easily: just by creating disputes between factions a significant deterioration can be provoked between them, thus hindering alliances and and collaborations.

Born in Cuba and organized by Cubans, Somos+ is one of the social movements that has for a little while escaped the government’s virus of unfounded suspicion, and all because we Cubans here inside the island decided to remove the blindfolds from our eyes and reach out to those outside, to the diaspora that we had viewed as enemies, but who are mostly just young people who have learned from the mistakes of Maceo, who above all have read and understood the importance that Martí placed on unity, and who for a long time have been reaching out to us.

A diaspora willing to create, collaborate, and even to sacrifice everything in order to support those inside, a diaspora with modern names like Carlos, Nelson, Titina and Iliana. A diaspora that deserves the respect of all and that Felix Varela would be as proud of as I am.

Translated by Tomás A.

Palliative Treatments / Jeovany Jimenez Vega

Jeovany Jimenez Vega, 2 September 2015 — Several weeks ago it was rumored that the Ministry of Public Health of Cuba (MINSAP) has prepared a series of measures for the benefit of its professionals. Viewed as a whole, these proposals could be seen as a countermand to that other policy from several months ago of widespread reprisals, within the island and throughout the network, which amounted to a stupid and unrealistic frontal assault against those who decided to leave the country for individual contracts that were not part of any official medical mission.

Certainly the previous “circular” from the minister bet heavily on the hardline to discourage individual medical recruitment abroad by all possible means: he began ordering the disqualification of all those working in the sector who left without authorization from MINSAP to work abroad on their own; he shamelessly applied pressure on other governments, including through diplomatic channels, to prevent individual contracting; he even ordered punishment of those who decide to return to work in Cuba after working abroad, including the immediate withdrawal of their passport at Customs (as an official collaborator) upon returning to Cuba, among other crimes previously analyzed in my blog Citizen Zero. Continue reading

Reporters Without Borders to John Kerry: Isn’t it time for all Cuban voices to be heard? / Angel Santiesteban

Photo taken from the internet

Open letter to John Kerry: “Isn’t it time for all Cuban voices to be heard?”

Published Thursday, August 13, 2015.

On Friday August 14, 2015, Secretary of State John Kerry will visit Cuba to strengthen the restoration of diplomatic relations between the two countries. He is the first U.S. Secretary of State to make an official visit to the island since 1945. This is a unique opportunity to address the catastrophic situation for freedom of press and information in Cuba. RSF sent an open letter to John Kerry addressing these fundamental issues.

Paris, August 13, 2015

Dear Secretary Kerry,

On the occasion of your historic visit to Cuba this August 14th, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) asks that during your meetings with Cuban authorities you address the problem of freedom of press and information. As the first high-level American politician to visit Cuba since 1959, you have the duty, and the power, to positively influence Cuban policies.

Cuba ranks 169th among 180 countries in the World Ranking of Press Freedom published by Reporters Without Borders in 2015. The Cuban government maintains a monopoly on information and does not tolerate any independent voices: it prohibits the existence of free media. Only official media are authorized (and the list of them is very short). The media that do not have state authorization are deemed illegal and are censored. Moreover, Cuba is considered one of the countries with the least access to the Internet worldwide. Continue reading

Inter-American Commission on Human Rights Asks Maduro to Cease Harassment of the Media / Luis Felipe Rojas

Screen shot of the Venezuelan newspaper El Nacional.

Screen shot of the Venezuelan newspaper El Nacional.

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (CIDH) reacted with “profound concern” to the lawsuit filed by the President of the National Assembly, deputy Diosdado Cabello,against the newspapers El Nacional and Tal Cual, and the website It urged national authorities to “cease these acts of harassment that deepen the deterioration of the right to freedom of expression in the country and threaten the media and critical journalists in Venezuela,particularly in an election year.

The case that Cabello filed against the media, and the judicial decisions that several judges have rendered in it—like the one prohibiting 22 executives of the defendant companies from leaving the countryor the one last week seizing the headquarters of El Nacional—worry the CIDH, a body that is aware of the support that the Supreme Court (TSJ) gave the legislator last May when it described as “lacking foundationthe accusations that he was linked to drug trafficking, as had been reported in Spanish and U.S. media, in stories that were republished in the country by the defendants. Continue reading

U.S. Government Snubs the Independent Cuban Press / Ivan Garcia

Obama responding to the news media at the White House. Taken from Zoom News.

Iván García, Havana, 10 August 2015 — The U.S. Embassy in Havana, the State Department, and the administration of Barack Obama, have intentionally mapped out a strategy to prevent independent Cuban journalists from covering the visit of John Kerry and the official reopening of the diplomatic headquarters on Friday, August 14.

For the the four-day historic event, no independent journalist, dissident, or human rights activist has been invited to participate in the ceremony, or the press conference by Kerry.

Since July 22nd I have made a dozen calls to the U.S. Public Affairs Office in Havana to request a press pass that would allow me to cover the event for Diario las Americas, El Periodico de Catalunya, and Webstringers LCC, a Washington-based media communications company, and I have not received a response from any official. Continue reading