Translating Cuba English Translations of Cubans Writing From the Island Fri, 30 Sep 2016 12:13:06 +0000 en-US hourly 1 54629576 Omega and Odyssey Compete for ‘Weekly Packet’ Audience / 14ymedio, Luz Escobar Fri, 30 Sep 2016 12:13:06 +0000 Continue reading "Omega and Odyssey Compete for ‘Weekly Packet’ Audience / 14ymedio, Luz Escobar"]]> With names from the epics, the two parent companies of this unique alternative attempt to capture television audience.
With names from the epics, the two parent companies of this unique alternative attempt to capture television audience.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, 29 September 2016 – Two young men wait on the centrally located corner of San Lazaro and San Francisco in Havana, at the door of the private business Copypack. They have in hand a hard disk to get the ‘Weekly Packet’ without knowing that through this compendium of audiovisuals a discrete battle is being fought to monopolize the public’s preferences. Who chooses the compilation called Omega and who chooses Odyssey? That is the question.

With names from the epics, which seem straight out of video games and science fiction movies, the two great parent companies of this singular television alternative are trying to capture audience. They are the germ of the channels that the island’s TV viewers will enjoy in the future, without sneaking around or standing in line to make copies to take home.

“I realized that my ‘packet’ was Odyssey because I asked for some copies of Q’Manía TV and they told me that that material only came out on Omega,” said one of the customers waiting on the sidewalk. “I was surprised, because I had no idea of those details,” he said.

The two productions houses that copy, organize and distribute around one terabyte of material every week started offering movies, series, and foreign magazines, but they have been expanding and shaping their own content. While Omega is betting more on series delivered episode by episode, Odyssey is “best for finding music and videoclips,” say their followers.

Full Copy is a business with two locations in Havana, one in Vedado and another in Lawton, that offers the Omega packet every day from 7 in the morning, or a courier will bring it to your house for 1 Cuban Convertible peso. “Every week we sell more than a thousand copies,” says Javier, an employee.

The director and producer Rolando Lorenzo, who heads one of the leading programs in the Weekly Packet, explains that when he got the first deliveries of his production ready, dedicated to promoting the history of show business and advertising private businesses, the Omega managers gave him an “exclusive” space without paying “a single centavo.”

Entrepreneurial by nature, Lorenzo appreciated the gesture that helped him when his project was just starting out. The producer believes that “quality leads to power” and his program will help Omega develop even more and of course he pushes for Q Manía TV to grow its audience.

The director says that Omega “has its privileges” and proudly says that his program is available “in many places in the packet because it is in several folders,” especially in the first one, organized alphabetically, something that he calls “a luxury” and he pushes to keep his commitment to quality.

On 26th Street, in Havana’s Plaza of the Revolution municipality, is one of the most important places in the capital for the distribution of the Weekly Packet from Odyssey. Its employees explain to 14ymedio the “daily update,” unlike Omega, along with the variety of music and TV series.

“The real difference is in Odyssey’s musical selection,” says a young messenger who is responsible for distributing both packets on his bicycle and he says that “both have daily updates.” Laughing, he says that both firms behave like “Coca Cola and Pepsi Cola, which are more similar than they want to acknowledge in public.”

Odyssey is managed by Abdel, “The Essence,” a very well-known music producer on the island. Thanks to its wide selection, many of the artists that can’t show their videoclips on the popular TV show Lucas, thanks to censorship, find a space on this audiovisual compendium. The young man doesn’t hesitate to assert that in his hands is “the best Packet of the week.”

However, Omega is no slouch and recently has created alliances with musical promoters like Eje Record or Crazy Boys to expand its variety of songs, soundtracks and videos with national singers.

Both parent companies have evolved in content distribution toward the advertising business. From the work of an artist who is just starting out, to reports focused on private businesses, the private sector determines more and more the content of the Weekly Packet.

In a country where only ideological propaganda is permitted, promoted and disseminated by the government on national television, alternative networks of distribution have filled the commercial spaces that are missing on the small screen.

Elio Hector Lopez, “The Transporter,” known for being one of the managers of the Weekly Packet, announced some months ago his intentions to mutate his company toward advertising, and recognizes the need to evolve in this sense of be able to survive in the future.

The producers who manage the Weekly Packet have a view of the future and dream that their compilation of audiovisuals will shape morning television.

More Cuban Doctors Going to Venezuela and They Are Eating Iguanas / Juan Juan Almeida Fri, 30 Sep 2016 08:09:46 +0000 Continue reading "More Cuban Doctors Going to Venezuela and They Are Eating Iguanas / Juan Juan Almeida"]]>

Juan Juan Almeida, 19 September 2016 — Contrary to all expectations as well as to prior agreements, the Cuban government will temporarily double the number of its health personnel in Venezuela. The sudden decision, an emergency response, is an effort to halt widespread discontent among the Venezuelan people and to garner the gratitude of the rising number of impoverished sectors within the country by sending in an army of white lab coats to augment the social program Barrio Adentro (Into the Neighborhood), one of the Venezuelan ruling party’s flagship projects.

This very humanitarian social program, whose focus is helping those most in need, began as a wonderful local initiative with citizen involvement and grassroots leadership. It has importance today, having evolved into a political tool for rescuing the Venezuelan government.

A few days ago a meeting took place in Havana at the headquarters of Chief Medical Cooperation Unit (UCCM), the group which oversees compliance with the Cuban government’s international medical cooperation commitments. The goal was to plan and implement a government new strategy. It was one of a string of grueling meetings held behind closed doors and chaired by Roberto González (Marin), head of Cuba’s medical mission in Venezuela. Government representatives of both nations also attended.

According to the latest agreement, Cuban health care workers will fly to Venezuela in small groups from Monday, August 19 through August 30. After landing, their task will be to carry out a “strategic mission” in areas identified in the signed document and designated on a map as “high priority.” These areas are the states of Miranda, Yaracuy, Aragua, Capital District, Carabobo, Barinas and Apure.

“Fewer people are leaving for Venezuela every week. These days we are only sending replacement personnel. Caracas pays daily for this service and other Cuban exports at fixed price in hard currency based on the price of a barrel of oil at the time the agreement was signed. But now there is a big difference between that price and the current price of oil. In other words, the workforce has been reduced considerably. This big new group of doctors, nurses and healthcare workers is only temporary. It’s there to support Maduro. It’s not part of the agreement. It’s what we call solidarity aid. These people must return to Cuba as soon as the crisis ends,” explains a Havana official from the Ministry of Health.

“Look, this could just be a convenient political move during a time of confusion. But I doubt it will work. What’s the point of sending more colleagues from our CDIs (Comprehensive Diagnostic Centers) when the equipment there is dilapidated and there is a shortage of drugs?” asks a Cuban healthcare worker who has been on a medical mission to a rural area.

“What Venezuela needs right now,” he adds, “is food. My CDI colleagues have to hunt iguanas in order to survive. You only have to look at our Facebook profiles to see. And it is not because we are hunters. It’s because the grocery stores where Cubans shop only have rice, nothing else from the main course.

As the number of Cuban physicians in Venezuela increases, their diets are being supplemented with iguana meat, which they hunt.

The Challenge of Living Without Dollars in Cuba / Iván García Fri, 30 Sep 2016 02:09:48 +0000 Continue reading "The Challenge of Living Without Dollars in Cuba / Iván García"]]> Woman buying food
Woman buying food. (Source: Panamerican World.)

Iván García, 19 September 2016 — Let’s get to know Osmel, born in Havana, in 1968. You can smell his body three yards away. He’s a carrier of HIV; he drinks alcohol and makes trouble seven days a week and doesn’t have any known residence.

He sleeps on top of some cartons in a building that threatens to fall down. He eats little and poorly and makes some money collecting old things in the dump at Calle 100, west of the capital.

His skin looks scorched, and every morning he tries to sell things on the outskirts of the Plaza Roja in La Vibora: a pair of used shoes, pieces of second-generation computers or a collection of old Bohemia magazines.

He says that Social Security “because of my advanced diabetes helps me with 140 pesos (7 dollars) a month, which more or less allows me to get what I need from the store and buy meat and medicine.”

Undoubtedly, Osmel would like to have a family, sleep in a bed and have a daily bath. “I dream about this all the time. To eat hot food, have a wife and watch television with my kids. But how can I get that if what I earn in a month by selling old junk or cutting stone doesn’t cover my needs?” he asks, and he answers himself:

“So that’s why I have to get drunk. The money left to me goes for that. Maybe it’s the fastest way to kill myself,” he says and takes a sip of murky alcohol from a plastic bottle, filtered with industrial carbon.

Like Osmel, hundreds of indigents wander through the streets of Havana, trying to survive in “the revolution of the humble, by the humble and for the humble,” as Fidel Castro once described it, which in practice has been transformed into an incipient military capitalism that benefits very few.

The Cuba of the Castro brothers happened to have a functional Social Security, sustained by the blank check that the Kremlin provided, for limited aid to retired and sick people, among others, who receive a handful of pesos that isn’t even enough to cover a third of what they need.

The big losers of the tepid economic reforms undertaken by General Raúl Castro are the old people and those at risk of social exclusion. Not all of them are beggars without a roof, like Osmel, but many are obligated to sell newspapers, nylon bags, single cigarettes and cones of peanuts in the streets, or become night watchmen for private companies or State businesses to earn some extra pesos.

The worst isn’t the present; it’s the future. Keep in mind this date: In 2025, more than 30 percent of the Cuban population will be over 60 years. With emigration soaring, finances in the red and a lack of coherent politics that offers net benefits to women and men of the third age [retired], it’s evident that Cuba will not be a good place for old people to live.

Although the old are the most affected by the new economic direction, according to Argelio, a sociologist, “almost 40 percent of the citizenry lives below the poverty line accepted by international agencies, which is measured by those who earn less than one dollar a day. For those in extreme poverty, the figure on the Island hovers around 15 percent.

Specialists consulted consider that there are many reasons for the steep fall in the level of life in Cuba. “The prolonged economic crisis, which now has lasted for 27 years, an economy with ineffective structures, sluggishness in applying efficient models of business management, the circulation of two monies, low salaries and a decrease in productive and export capacity. Except for the sale of services and tourism, in most indices, Cuba has gone backwards,” says Jorge, a professor of political economics.

Raisa, an economist, blames the disaster on “poor governmental management, the decapitalization of the country by the dual currency system and low salaries, which distorts transactions, real productivity and the buying power of the population. There are three or four types of monetary exchanges in the export business and non-agriculture cooperatives that affect economic performance. Raising salaries without a productive base is counter-productive, but earning poor salaries is even more so. The dual currency should be repealed now, although it brings with it associated short-term phenomena that could trigger social conflict.”

In October 2013, the Havana Regime announced the unification of the dual currency and put into play a group of measures that would progressively culminate with the withdrawal of the Cuban Convertible peso (CUC), leaving only the Cuban peso (CUP). But the slowness and the new state of austerity made the autocracy think twice before initiating an in-depth monetary reform.

With an average salary that doesn’t exceed 27 dollars/month, the average Cuban must get by as well as he can to have one or two hot meals a day, get soap, deodorant and detergent and buy clothing and shoes. To reach a decent standard of living, Cubans need the equivalent of 20 minimum salaries of 300 Cuban pesos a month, which would add up to the equivalent 280 dollars per capita.

And probably this isn’t enough, since the accumulation of material hardships and lack of maintenance in the homes triple these figures. Although the Government doesn’t talk about the camouflaged inflation that affects, above all, the State workers who earn in Cuban pesos, the prices in the hard-currency shops — that require Cuban Convertible pesos — reveal the real state of the situation.

Three examples: If a worker wants to buy a flat-screen television, he needs a  salary of a year and a half. To furnish his house, a salary of five years. And if he dreams of owning a modern car, at the present price in State agencies, he needs a salary of 180 years.

If this isn’t inflation, let someone show me otherwise.

Diario Las Américas, September 9, 2015.

Translated by Regina Anavy

Ethics Committee Hears Appeal From Expelled Holguin Journalist / 14ymedio, Mario Penton Thu, 29 Sep 2016 20:47:18 +0000 Continue reading "Ethics Committee Hears Appeal From Expelled Holguin Journalist / 14ymedio, Mario Penton"]]> Journalist Jose Ramirez Pantoja. (Facebook)
Journalist Jose Ramirez Pantoja. (Facebook)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miami, 29 September 2016 – Today the National Ethics Commission of the Cuban Journalists Union (UPEC) will finally hear the appeal filed by Cuban journalist Jose Ramírez Pantoja, who was fired from his job at Radio Holguin last August.

Ramírez Pantoja was accused at that time of republishing on his personal blog, Verdadecuba, comments from Karina Brown, vice president of the official newspaper Granma, who had spoken publicly about the country’s situation and the possible outbreak of another ‘Maleconazo‘ – a 1994 protest that holds the record for the largest street* protest in the 60 years since the Castro brothers took over the Cuban government.

The trial was scheduled for last week, but for reasons that were not clarified by the Court of Ethics it was postponed. After the hearing, which will pass “a moral judgment on the performance of the journalist,” according to a source who spoke with this newspaper, the commission will have 10 days to issue a ruling.

According to UPEC’s on-line site,, Luis Sexto, president of UPEC’s National Ethics Commission, traveled to the eastern province on 7 September to conduct an “in person” interview with Ramírez Pantoja. On that occasion, Sexto stated that despite the Provincial Ethical Commission’s having prepared a “substantial record” on the fired journalist, “the National Commission receives, analyzes, supervises, authorizes and modifies the measure taken at the provincial level.”

The president of the national commission said he was “encouraged by the spirit of justice inspired by UPEC and its Code of Ethics.” He also said he was traveling to Holguin “in a constructive spirit” and not as a “destroyer.”

Speaking to 14ymedio, Ramírez Pantoja said he did not want to make a political show of his case. However, his dismissal opened a Pandora’s Box and hardened the positions between those who defend swashbuckling journalism mentored by the Communist Party and information professionals seeking more freedoms.

Since the ruling, Aixa Hevia, UPEC’s vice president, accused Ramirez Pantoja of trying to position himself to move to the Miami media, and hinted at the possibility of expelling from the country Uruguayan journalist Fernando Ravsberg, a known sympathizer of the Cuban Revolution, who runs the alternative blog Letters from Cuba and who came to the defense of the fired professional.

The official press also lashed out in recent weeks against those media “who want to present themselves as alternatives,” in reference to the multitude of alternative sites to the official press that have arisen, especially on the initiative of young journalists who cannot find a place in the old areas controlled by the government, or who seek to augment their meager incomes. Iroel Sanchez, one of the journalists who staunchly defends communist orthodoxy, challenged professionals who in a “Cuban medium” paid homage to Che and shortly afterwards disrespected him “where they pay better.”

According to Ramirez Pantoja, the injustice committed against him led him to consider the need for a journalism that is more serious and committed to the needs of the people.

The journalist expressed his appreciation through social networks to people who have supported him in the process. His presence on social networks, however, has waned since he lost the privilege of connectivity that is granted to some official Cuban journalists.

During the two months of the impasse, waiting, the reporter has had to make a living through self-employment. He works “loading the Weekly Packet onto flash drives,” as confirmed by source close to him, and “he has also been working with a the company Codanza, on the production of the third North Atlantic Vladimer Malakhov Grand Prix Dance Contest.”

Ramirez Pantoja’s hearing takes place within a few hours of that of a complaint against another former official journalist, Maykel Gonzalez Vivero, who was expelled from Radio Sagua in Villa Clara “for collaborating with private media.”

If he loses in front of the National Ethics Commission, Ramirez Pantoja can appeal to the UPEC Congress or request an appeal to the Supreme Court.

*Translator’s note: Arguably the largest protest of all kinds by Cubans against their government is that of the hundreds of thousands of Cubans who have left the country.

Laritza Diversent, Devastated by the Police Operation Against Cubalex / Iván García Thu, 29 Sep 2016 10:09:45 +0000 Continue reading "Laritza Diversent, Devastated by the Police Operation Against Cubalex / Iván García"]]> Laritza Diversent (Ivan Garcia)
Laritza Diversent (Ivan Garcia)

Ivan Garcia, 28 September 2016 — After passing the crossing of La Palma, two kilometers from the old bus stop of Mantilla, El Calvario is found nestled, a district of one-story houses, roads without asphalt and a multitude of dogs without owners.

At the end of a narrow alley the Cubalex Center of Legal Information headquarters is located, a two-story house constructed from private resources, that also serves as the waiting room for the public on the lower floor and housing on the upper floor.

There, in the summer of 2011, the lawyer, Laritza Diversent Cambara, 36 years old, founded a law office to give legal advice to citizens without charging anything nor caring about the person’s ideological position.

“The last year we dealt with more than 170 cases. Most of the people were poor and without resources, and they felt helpless because of the State’s judicial machinery. We advised on homicides, cases of violence against women, drugs, prostitution and also for any dissident who needed it,” indicated Laritza, seated on a small roofed patio at the back of her house.

The judicial illiteracy in Cuba is lamentable. Very few know the Fundamental Law of the Republic or the proceedings that the police force must fulfill during arrests, confiscations or when they give a simple citation.

Since 2009, lawyers like Laritza Diversent has given lectures to bloggers, independent journalists and the opposition, so they would know how to act at the moment of an arrest.

But the laws in Cuba are an abstraction. They are a set of legal regulations that supposedly should be respected by the authorities. But the repressive forces are the first to violate them.

What occurred on Friday, September 23 is an example. Lartiza says that “several neighbors had warned us about an operation that State Security was preparing. About 20 uniformed agents presented themselves in the office, some with pistols in their belts, as officials of several State institutions. They brought a search warrant that didn’t comply with the requirements established by law. When we let them know it, they resorted to force and invaded the entrance of the Cubalex headquarters, which at the same time is my home.”

They destroyed the door to the patio and came into the living quarters after forcing the kitchen door. Now inside, they took away five computers, seven cell phones, a server, six security cameras, three printers, digital media, archives and money.

“They acted with total impunity and arrogance. The authorities assume they are above the law. They filmed everything. Then they stripped us one by one and body-searched us in a degrading way. It was really humiliating,” said Lartiza.

They took away and detained the lawyer, Julio Ferrer Tamayo, and the activist Dayán Alfredo Pérez, whom they freed 12 hours later. Ferrer was confined in the Zanja and Dragones police station, very close to the Chinese Quarter of Havana.

Laritza assumes that the olive-green Regime could send Julio Ferrer to prison. “From his family we found out that in a couple of days, Julio will be presented in the Second Chamber of the criminal court. We will do everything we can to prevent this.”

Ferrer Tamayo, perhaps one of the best prepared Cuban jurists, was a prosecutor in Guanabacoa and later a defense attorney. He knows like few do about the corruption, nepotism and trafficking in influence in the sewer of the legal system.

He has proof that points to several judges. When he decided to become an independent lawyer, he suffered all kinds of harassment from State Security. And in an underhanded legal plot, they sentenced him to three years in prison. But his legal knowledge obliged the olive-green autocracy to free him, without completing his sentence.

Now, everything indicates that they are going to prosecute him and incarcerate him again. The coercion of Special Services has no limits on the Island. Marienys Pavó Oñate, herself a lawyer and the wife of Ferrer, has been confined since 31 July 2012  in the women’s prison, Manto Negro, in a case that he considers a conspiracy.

Cubalex, like other law offices and groups on the State’s margins, operate in a real judicial limbo. In one form or another, they have tried to enroll in the Ministry of Justice Association’s registry. But either they haven’t received a response, or they have been denied the right to associate themselves legally.

In that regard, Laritza says that this indefinite or semi-clandestine status was the perfect pretext to launch the violent operation against Cubalex on Friday, September 23.

“At the head of the search was Lieutenant Colonel Juan Carlos Delgado Casanova and the prosecutor, Beatriz Peña de la Hoz. But to give it a veneer of legality, other officers participated, like the ones from the Institute of Physical Planning, the National Office of Tax Administration and the Integral Direction of Supervision, a body of inspection that forms part of the Council of Provincial Administration,” points out the lawyer from Havana.

The Cubalex team is worried about the legal actions that the State can take against Jorge Amado Iglesias, a collaborator of the office, since he has a license to work for himself and they can fine him 1,500 pesos. For her part, Laritza suspects that Physical Planning initiated a process in order to confiscate both the headquarters and her own home. Since it’s a process of investigation that can last for months, Cubalex cannot take on any cases.

Laritza Diversent is devastated. She believes that the operation suffered by the office, added to other cases of detentions and confiscations against opponents and alternative journalists, could be the beginning of an imminent repressive wave against the dissidence on a national level. “I never thought that by defending human rights I would have to go through all this,” she says.

And that new turn of the repressive screw brings back memories of the Black Spring of 2003. The only thing different in the modus operandi is the season of the year. To make it true, it would have to be in the fall.

Note: The photo of Laritza Diversent in her office was taken by Iván on Monday, September 26, three days after the police operation against Cubalex, which took place on the first floor of her house. In 2009, Laritza began writing as an independent journalist on the blog, Desde La Habana (From Havana). Her works from that period can be read in the folder entitled Las Leyes de Laritza (Lartiza’s Laws).

Translated by Regina Anavy

Cuba Forbids Opposition Observers from Traveling to Columbia Because President Raul Castro “Is Visiting There” / 14ymedio Wed, 28 Sep 2016 22:23:49 +0000 Continue reading "Cuba Forbids Opposition Observers from Traveling to Columbia Because President Raul Castro “Is Visiting There” / 14ymedio"]]> Ada Lopez, a Cuban opposition activist and member of Otro18, and also a member of the independent library movement. (Source: Notes from the Cuban exile quarter)
Ada Lopez, a Cuban opposition activist and member of Otro18, and also a member of the independent library movement. (Source: Notes from the Cuban exile quarter)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 28 September 2016 – The reason put forth by the Cuban authorities to block travel to Colombia by opposition members called to be observers in the plebiscite on the that country’s agreement with the FARC, is “national security,” because “the president is already there on a visit.”

This is what a security agent, who identified himself as Ronald, told the activist Agustin Lopez, brother of Ada Lopez. The opponent described his arrest to 14ymedio, after he was detained at three in the afternoon on Monday when asking the police surrounding his house why they were there. He was released at 6:40 PM on Tuesday.

His sister, the activist Ada Lopez, had denounced a police operation around her house in Havana from the early hours of Tuesday, to keep her from going to the airport. She was due to travel to Colombia that afternoon to also participate as an observer in the plebiscite for peace that is to be held on Sunday, 2 October, but she was arrested when she left for the airport.

Ada Lopez, who is also a member of the independent library movement, received an invitation to visit Colombia as a part of the Otro18 project (Another 2018) an initiative focused on promoting new laws regarding elections, free association and political parties in Cuba.

“I was leaving my house with a suitcase to try to get to the airport,” explained Lopez, adding that the independent journalist Arturo Rojas Rodriguez, who was scheduled to travel with her, “was arrested yesterday, taken to a police station in the Capri neighborhood and subsequently transferred to a station in Cotorro, to prevent him from traveling.”

Hours later, Ada Lopez’s husband, Osmany Díaz Cristo, reported that she had been arrested the moment she left her house headed to the José Martí Airport’s Terminal Three in Havana. “The suitcase she was traveling with was thrown to the ground and she was dragged to the police car. Right now she is at the police station in Regla,” across the bay from Old Havana, he added.

Both activists were invited to participate in the plebiscite by the Election Observation Mission of Colombia (MOE), as confirmed by 14ymedio through the opponent Manuel Cuesta Morua, one of the main promoters of Otro18.

Last Sunday, Cuban President Raul Castro traveled to the city of Cartagena de Indias for the signing ceremony of the peace agreement between the Colombian government and the FARC-EP.

Cuban Writer Wendy Guerra Honored With France’s Order of Arts and Letters / 14ymedio Wed, 28 Sep 2016 21:17:16 +0000 Continue reading "Cuban Writer Wendy Guerra Honored With France’s Order of Arts and Letters / 14ymedio"]]> The writer Wendy Guerra. (EFE)
The writer Wendy Guerra. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 28 September 2016 – Cuban writer Wendy Guerra has been named an officer of the Order of Arts and Letters by France’s Ministry of Culture. The recognition in one level higher than the Order’s knighthood, which she was awarded in 2010.

“France is my second home and the place where my voice resonates with great force despite the silence I suffer on my beloved island of Cuba,” said the novelist in her Facebook account.

Guerra is the author of several novels, including Todos se van (Everyone Leaves), 2006; Nunca fui Primera Dama (I was never First Lady), 2008; Posar desnuda en La Habana (Posing Naked in Havana), 2010 – an apocryphal diary of Anais Nin – Negra (Black Woman), 2013; and her most recent, Domingo de Revolución (Revolution Sunday).

Upon receiving news of the award, the novelist thanked her “readers, editors, translators, critics and colleagues” in France, a nation which she described as “wonderful, cultured, passionate.”

Among the Cubans who have previously received the Order of Arts and Letters, are the poet and essayist Nancy Morejon, Cuba’s Minister of Culture Abel Prieto, the writer Zoe Valdes and the novelist Leonardo Padura.

Committee to Protect Journalists Invites Journalists in Cuba to “Cross the Red Lines” /14ymedio Wed, 28 Sep 2016 20:38:00 +0000 Continue reading "Committee to Protect Journalists Invites Journalists in Cuba to “Cross the Red Lines” /14ymedio"]]> A person reading the official daily Granma. (EFE / File)
A person reading the official daily Granma. (EFE / File)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 28 September 2016 – Dismantling the legal framework for the press and eliminating all barriers to individual access to the internet are key factors to promote a more open information environment in Cuba, according to the report Connecting Cuba: More Space for Criticism but Restrictions Slow Press Freedom Progress, published this Wednesday by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). However, the organization with headquarters in New York, highlights the progress made and suggests that “the foundations of a free press already exist” in the country.

Among other positive factors, it emphasizes the existence of “A lively blogosphere, an increasing number of news websites carrying investigative reporting and news commentary, and an innovative breed of independent reporters who are critical of, yet still support socialist ideas.” This transformation, it adds, means that it is possible to delve into issues that for a long time were treated superficially or ignored by the official press, making visible, for example, gay rights or allegations of corruption and poverty.

The report assesses the development of projects such as the site of narrative journalism El Estornudo (The Sneeze) and the in-depth articles on local issues in Periodismo de Barrio (Neighborhood Journalism), as well as “the sustained quality of 14ymedio, which provides readers with stories and perspectives that they can’t find anywhere else.”

“Space is opening up. Things are moving and the status quo is cracking,” Miriam Celaya, a contributor to 14ymedio, told CPJ. “But Cuba hasn’t changed as much as we would like.”

“The Cuban people deserve answers to numerous pressing questions,” said the organization, adding, “It would be foolish to expect that substantive answers to these questions will be forthcoming anytime soon. But they would become significantly harder to ignore if more Cuban journalists were asking them. For the sake of their country’s future, it is hoped that more Cuban journalists will decide to join those who have already crossed red lines.”

CPJ lists among the elements that hamper the progress of press freedom in Cuba “harassment and intimidation from authorities, a legal limbo caused by outdated and restrictive press laws, and limited and expensive access to the internet.”

In addition, arbitrary arrests and citations for independent journalists, according to the report, remain common despite recording a decline in recent years. “Fears of similar action or arrest prompt many independent journalists to self-censor,” journalists interviewed for the report told CPJ.

The organization believes that the restoration of diplomatic ties between Washington and Havana has made it difficult for the Cuban government to justify censorship of the press as a means to protect the country from US aggression.

The main obstacle to the development of a free press, according to CPJ is limited access to Internet, as broadband connections are not available in most Cuban homes and the service is expensive. The low internet penetration in the country (Cuba has one of the lowest rates of internet access in the Western Hemisphere) means that the audience for new media is concentrated essentially in the US and Europe, while access to independent news sites such as 14ymedio is blocked, leaving island residents to seek alternative solutions such as the Weekly Packet.

“Despite facing many obstacles, Cuba’s journalists and bloggers have found innovative ways to distribute content, including using flash drives and underground computer networks, and sending articles via the state email system,” the report said.

The study reports that the use of Nanostations, a device that helps extend wifi signals and that is available on the black market, is also spreading.


The report concludes with a series of recommendations to the Cuban Government, among which are requests for changes in the constitutional and legal framework to ensure that journalists can carry out their work without fear and can create private or cooperative media, the promotions of a critical state media, and better access to the Internet. In addition, the organization demands an end to arrests and practices of intimidation, and asks that the UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression be allowed in the country

The CJP asks, in addition, for the Organization of American States (OAS) to act as mediator for the visit of the Rapporteur and to consider the Cuban government’s history on human rights in its work.

Deciding to Change / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar Wed, 28 Sep 2016 05:08:07 +0000 Continue reading "Deciding to Change / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar"]]> Brochure with the content of the Cuban Constitution of 1940. (Manuel Diaz Mons)
Brochure with the content of the Cuban Constitution of 1940. (Manuel Diaz Mons)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 25 September 2016 – If there is something it is difficult to disagree with the Cuban government about, it is the permanent defense of the people’s right to decide the economic, political and social system that suits them. This principle is put forward in every international forum attended by official representatives from the island, and is shared by the majority of civilized nations.

In parallel, above all within Cuba, there is an intense campaign to fight any intention to change the existing regime in the country. Clearly, if the intentions to change “the existing regime” come from another nation and are contrary to the legitimate interests of the people, resistance to change is absolutely valid.

The question is whether that sacred right of the people “to decide” includes the option to “change” the system, regardless of whether the proposed changes coincide partly or completely, with some external proposal.

The first historical example in the case of Cuba was the change that occurred in the early twentieth century when we replaced the colonial regime, which subjected the people’s will to the will of the Spanish metropolis, to a new system in which the island became a Nation, established as a Republic. That change, imperfect, incomplete, truncated, responded on the one had to the popular will and on the other hand to the interests of a foreign nation, the United States of America.

The second example was the regime change proclaimed in April of 1961 when Cuba became “the first socialist country in the Western Hemisphere.” That substantial modification, which had not appeared clearly indicated on the revolutionary program that overthrew the brief dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista, was only submitted to citizen consultation, through a vote, 15 years later, when there was no private property left in Cuba, no entity of civil society, no independent press media and only one permitted political party.

The millions of Cubans who, with their secret and direct vote, approved the 1976 Constitution, where the new social regime was enshrined, which also coincided with the interests of a foreign nation, the Soviet Union, to support the presence of socialism “under the noses of imperialism.” The USSR did not hesitate to offer everything: food, arms, troops, oil, credits and whatever diplomatic and political support needed.

At the turn of the years to socialism in Cuba, the Republic passed away. Although no one had baptized it pseudo-socialism or mediated socialism, it has been necessary to add an “our,” at the risk of committing the revisionists’ sin.

That system approved by popular vote 40 years ago does not greatly resemble what is described today in successive guidelines issued by the only legally permitted party, but the changes introduced have only been discussed with the party membership and other representatives of certain previously chosen institutions.

Among the possible commonalities between the Party Guidelines and the interests of foreign nations, say China or the countries of the ALBA bloc, could be a sterile exercise of political speculation, especially in a globalized world where almost no country enjoys total freedom to dictate laws while turning its back on the interests of the rest of the planet.

The right of Cubans to maintain the regime is only legitimate if their right to change it is also recognized. The desire for uniqueness, the obsessive vocation of not resembling the other, of not coinciding with the interests of anyone, would be a difficult caprice to satisfy and an impossible one to pay.

Addressing regime change now, introducing changes to the regime or leaving everything as it is, requires a prior exchange of opinions and a subsequent approval. Only if there is freedom to debate and guarantees of a free vote, would it respect the sacrosanct right of the Cuban people to decide which system they wants to live under.

Internet in Cuban Homes? More Heat Than Light / Juan Juan Almeida Wed, 28 Sep 2016 00:09:53 +0000 Continue reading "Internet in Cuban Homes? More Heat Than Light / Juan Juan Almeida"]]>

Juan Juan Almeida, 26 September 2016 — Although the Cuban press confirms and reiterates that the country will expand access to the internet as a public service, an untimely meeting — they call it a broad council — held on the 6th of this month, attended by the vice-ministers of the central organs of the state, put an unexpected brake on the process of computerizing Cuban society.

As a part of a strategy that pursues gimmicks rather than effectiveness, the Cuban government emphasizes that it is investing invaluable resources and unlimited efforts to bring the internet to more Cuban citizens. But an email sent by the engineer Jorge Luis Legrá, director of ETECSA (the state-run telecommunications company) Strategic Programs, addressed to Mr. Alfredo Rodriguez Diaz, a specialist in artificial intelligence and national director of Informatics and Communications of the Ministry of Public Health in Cuba, shows the opposite.

Official media say that in the project of computerizing society, the priority of the country is to extend connectivity to residential areas, and that the number of users in the Health and Education sectors with access to the internet in their homes will significantly expand.

The will may exist, although in reality I doubt it, because in this electronic missive that with ingenuity and great effort landed in my laptop, one can clearly read that at the important meeting held at the beginning of the month, where the majority of Cuban vice-ministers attended, Wilfredo Gonzalez Vidal, Vice-Minister of Communications of Cuba, reported that his entity will continue working on broadening access to the internet in navigation rooms, in the incorporation of new public sites for wifi service, in the joint development of a telecommunications law that suits the new technologies and puts an end to the current regulations and legal framework.

He also said that work was underway on internet access through cellphones and in the expansion of connectivity to national entities such as MINSAP, MININT, MINFAR, MINJUS, MES, MINED, MINCULT, MFP, MINTUR, MINAG, MITRANS, ICRT, MINREX, etc.  But he also made clear that as of this last July, an “all-powerful” decision red-lighted the much publicized plan to install ADSL to bring internet to Cuban homes, including those of health and education professionals for whom it has already been authorized.

Faced with such inexactitud, I can’t fail to mention my illustrious grandmother and her wise sayings… “lots of heat, little light,” or even better, “You can catch a lie faster than you can catch a cold.”

Scholarships, Fears And Attractions / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez Tue, 27 Sep 2016 19:07:25 +0000 Continue reading "Scholarships, Fears And Attractions / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez"]]> World Learning's scholarships are targeted to 16-18 year old students in Cuba.
World Learning’s scholarships are targeted to 16-18 year old students in Cuba.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Generation Y, Yoani Sanchez, 27 September 2016 – The woman approaches without fear or hesitation. “How can my son apply for one of the scholarships mentioned on television?” she asks me abruptly. It takes me a few seconds to realize what she’s talking about, for the images to come to mind of young Cuban students engaged in demonstrations called by the government to reject the programs of the World Learning organization.

She waits a few minutes, standing next to me, eager to have an email address she can write to, a bridge for her child to learn another reality. The slogans against the US NGO launched by officialdom don’t seem to have swayed her. When I ask her if she is aware of the government campaign attacking this program, which is targeted to Cuban youth between 16 and 18, she responds with a very popular phrase: “In this case, it’s all the same to me to me to be the pedestrian, or the driver who runs over him.”

Fear no longer works as it once did. A few decades ago, it was enough for any phenomenon or person to be demonized on television for the circle of silence and fear to close around them. Now, the volume at which the extremists shout is inversely proportional to the interest in the object of their animosity. Without realizing it, the Party propaganda of recent days is helping to advertise the existence of some scholarships that were known to only a tiny part of the island’s population.

The woman is not afraid. She sticks close to me for help in some details that will allow her son “to breathe other air.” Like her, thousands of parents throughout the island watch their children leave for school, where in morning assemblies they shout their rejection of the new “manipulations of imperialism.” At home, the adults move heaven and earth to inscribe their children’s names on the list for the next round of scholarships.

Cuban Government Lashes Out At Scholarships For Young Cubans In The United States / 14ymedio, Zunilda Mata Tue, 27 Sep 2016 18:02:11 +0000 Continue reading "Cuban Government Lashes Out At Scholarships For Young Cubans In The United States / 14ymedio, Zunilda Mata"]]> Logo of the advertising campaign for World Learning’s program for Cuban youth. (14ymedio)
Logo of the advertising campaign for World Learning’s program for Cuban youth. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Zunilda Mata, Havana, 25 September 2016 — The ideological battle of officialdom has a new enemy: the scholarships offered by the American organization World Learning to young Cubans between 16 and 18 years of age. In Cuban secondary schools and universities in recent days, the morning assemblies have “condemned and protested strongly” against what the state media describe as an “imperial maneuver.”

National television has provided extensive coverage of acts of “revolutionary reaffirmation” in which it criticizes the summer program offered by the US non-profit organization for citizens living on the island. An ideological onslaught of a kind that hasn’t been seen since the campaign for the release of the five Cuban spies who were imprisoned in the United States.

For two years, World Learning has offered four-week scholarships, between July and August, for Cuban secondary and university students. The organization aims to develop young people’s “skills in areas that include public speaking, teamwork, business, developing consensus, conflict resolution, defending their own rights, and problem solving.”

An agenda that Cuba’s officialdom has called “hostile and interventionist.” The president of the Federation of Students in Intermediate Education (FEEM), Suzanne Santiesteban, called for acts of repudiation against the program in secondary and higher education schools across the country. In the coming days 460 of these rallies will be held.

During its two years of existence, the scholarship program has become very popular among Cuban teenagers and the call for applications for the 2016 session was widely distributed by alternative information networks. “Everyone talked about it in the hallways and between classes,” says Fabian, a 17-year-old high school student in the city of Pinar del Rio.

“People were very excited, because it was a chance to travel with all expenses paid and to learn about another reality,” the young man commented to this newspaper. Although he explained that he decided not to apply for a scholarship because his father is a member of the Communist Party and in meetings of the party base “they are warned them that they could lose their membership card” if they allowed their children to travel to the United States through World Learning.

Now, the official condemnation has emerged from the Party circles and extended to the classrooms, where potential applicants for the scholarships are studying. In an effort to cut short the enthusiasm about the program, Suzanne Santiesteban charges that the organization receives financing from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), which she classifies as a “known tool of subversion.”

“We can sense their annoyance in the air,” said Yadira Machado, mother of a 16-year-old who wants to take advantage of the scholarship next summer. “I told my son to turn a deaf ear to all that, because it is the opportunity of his life,” said the woman, who lives in Havana’s 10 de Octubre district.

However, not everyone in Machado’s house shares her opinion. The young man’s grandfather believes that the US NGO is “pulling in kids to turn them into counterrevolutionaries.” An opinion consistent with the warnings from the authorities, which calls the World Learning initiative a “new strategy” by the White House focused on the younger generation.

The rejection of scholarships for young people has come with several articles in the official press that also attack Cuba’s new independent media. The “new counterrevolution needs a new press,” a well-known State Security agent declares. The ideological onslaught appears to just be getting underway.

They Married Us to a Lie… / Rebeca Monzo Mon, 26 Sep 2016 21:10:22 +0000 Continue reading "They Married Us to a Lie… / Rebeca Monzo"]]>

Rebeca Monzo, 26 September 2016 —  It is a sign of lack of civility and decorum on the part of the Cuban regime to blame to the so-called US blockade for the shortages and difficulties, whose real cause is the inability and mismanagement of the economy, wealth and and riches of our country, by the leadership of the island. It is extremely well-known that they have “thrown everyone overboard,” dedicating their efforts and money to propaganda and proselytizing abroad, to present a completely untrue image of the internal situation.

When the Soviet “pipelines” were open to Cuba, in the media here, especially on television, there was an abundance of caricatures and ads where a popular character mocked the blockade, throwing all kinds of taunts at it.

Why now this exhausting campaign against the blockade, that exceeds all limits of popular assimilation and acceptance? Why not have the civility and honesty to recognize the inability to lead and the squandering of the income obtained from the government’s share of the family remittances from the United States and the huge business established by the government to “rent out” doctors and professionals to other countries, which bring juicy dividends to the regime and from which our doctors and specialists receive only a pittance?

In the face of this so-called “solidarity” it is the people who suffer the consequences of the lack of medically qualified professionals and specialists remaining in Cuba, in schools and hospitals. “Candle in the street, darkness in the house,” as the popular saying goes. That is, we put on a big show for the outside, while we lack everything at home.

They married us to a lie… and forced us to live with it all these years.

 Translated by Jim

Laritza Diversent: “We Have The Right To Participate In The Social And Political Life Of The Country” / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar Mon, 26 Sep 2016 20:10:23 +0000 Continue reading "Laritza Diversent: “We Have The Right To Participate In The Social And Political Life Of The Country” / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar"]]>

Video: Police search of Cubalex: breaking open the gate.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 26 September 2016 – The headquarters of the independent legal group Cubalex, this weekend, lacked the hectic bustle of the many users who normally flock to the site for legal advice, especially the families of inmates who come with thick folders of documents, appeals and demands.

When the attorney Laritza Diversent received us for this interview, the furniture had not been put back in place after an intense search that left everything “upside down” and, on the table, lay the shattered remains of a door latch, as physical proof of forced entry.

See also: Police Burst Into Cubalex Headquarters and Cuban Police Seize Legal Center’s Work Equipment

The psychological scars are fresh among team members of this organization, threatened with a legal process and forced to strip naked during the search. However, on Sunday the legal work resumed its course, thanks to the solidarity of other members of civil society who provided two computers. A few papers comprise the first evidence of a case that will demand time and expertise from Cubalex: their own complaint against the authorities who seized their belongings but could not stop their work.

14ymedio. What was the point of the raid against Cubalex?

Diversent. There were parallel purposes. On the one hand there were the architectural changes made on this house, where they were looking for the slightest violation of planning regulations. For example, they fixated on a bathroom that we put under the stairs as a service to the public. At the same time they wanted to monitor our work as an organization that provides legal services to the population.

14ymedio. Who participated in the police search?

Diversent. The prosecutor Beatriz Peña of Oz, the Attorney General of the Republic, at the head of about 20 people. Among them, a doctor, an employee of the prosecutor, Lt. Col. Juan Carlos, who led the operation from his status as an officer of the Ministry of the Interior (MININT), another prosecutor of the province and an instructor called Doralis, who made the list of the equipment that was seized.

They also brought experts who took photos, a videographer who was filming everything, and other computer experts. They had several officials from State Security, two uniformed police officers and other MININT officials wearing the uniform typical of prison guards; a representative from the National Tax Administration Office (ONAT), another of the Institute of Physical Planning and another from the Ministry of Justice.

Laritza Diversent (Source: Cubalex)
Laritza Diversent (Source: Cubalex)

14ymedio. Why was there a representative of the ONAT present?

Diversent. It was justified with the assumption that we are undertaking an activity defined as ‘self-employment’, that we are providing a service for which we are supposedly charging people, without having the necessary permit. We explained to them in every possible way that we are a non-governmental organization (NGO) that provides a free social service, but they acted as if we hadn’t made that clear.

14ymedio. Why a repressive act of this nature at this time and against a peaceful group?

Diversent. It is very difficult to find the reasons for this action, which can be described as unconscionable. But it can be attributed to what we have done. First, our attempts to achieve the legalization of our organization, Cubalex. We have also filed complaints against official institutions such as the General Customs of the Republic, saying that books and other belongings have been seized from us at the airport without justification. That complaint we have taken to court. We have also made a policy proposal to the Communist Party of Cuba to change the electoral law.

14ymedio. So you think that is a response to these actions?

Diversent. You would have to ask them. As citizens we believe we have the right to make proposals and we have the right to participate in the social and political life of the country in which we live.

14ymedio. Did you resist the police officers who were entering the premises?

Diversent. The “resolution to enter the home” – the warrant – to undertake the search said that they were looking for “objects of illicit origin,” but it didn’t specify which ones. The law establishes that this detail must be clarified, so I denied them entrance and invoked the right to inviolability of one’s home. However, they broke the lock on the outer gate and also the one on the main door to the house.

The doorknob and lock to Cubalex headquarters which was destroyed by the police to enter the premises.(14ymedio)
The doorknob and lock to Cubalex headquarters which was destroyed by the police to enter the premises. (14ymedio)

14ymedio. The law also specifies that the search must be made with at least two members of the Committee for the Defense of the Revolution [local watchdogs] as witnesses. Was that requirement met?

Diversent. The witnesses were two members of the party nucleus in the zone, who did not behave as impartial witnesses, but as partners in the operation. To the extent that they sometimes suggested to MINIT officials where they needed to search, and they constantly used the term “we” with the sense of being a part of the operation, far from their supposed function as impartial witnesses. One of them was more than 85-years-old and boasted of being an unblemished revolutionary.

14ymedio. What was the final outcome of the search?

Diversent. They seized four laptops and five desktop PCs, including a server, and three multifunctional printers. In addition they took hard drives, memory sticks, cameras and all the cell phones were taken.

14ymedio. What has been the reaction of other independent groups to this search?

Diversent. Almost all the entities of civil society have expressed their solidarity.

14ymedio. Could the information seized pose a risk to you?

Diversent. More than 200 case files that we are working were taken, many of them regarding inmates anxious to see some improvement in their status as prisoners. There is a risk that these people, in exchange for any advantage in their prison regimen, might declare something that hurts us, such as that we charge for our services. But that is in the realm of speculation.

14ymedio. What is the worst thing that could happen?

Diversent. We are very concerned because they have made specific threats against us, such as that so far this is an administrative matter but that it could become another type of process.

14ymedio. Are you thinking of not continuing the work you have been doing?

Diversent. No. Rather, what happened encourages us to keep doing what we do.

Vicente Botín, the Spanish Journalist Who Can’t Get Cuba Out of His Mind / Mario Lleonart Sun, 25 Sep 2016 21:00:23 +0000 Continue reading "Vicente Botín, the Spanish Journalist Who Can’t Get Cuba Out of His Mind / Mario Lleonart"]]>
At either edge of this photo, Mario Félix Lleonart and Yoaxis Marcheco; in the center, María Werlau, between Vicente Botín and his wife.

Mario Lleonart, 24 September 2016 — During this past July 28-30, I had the opportunity to participate in the 2016 meeting of the Association for the Study of the Cuban Economy, held in Miami, as part of the panel discussion,”Transitional Justice and the Longed-For Cuban National Reconciliation.” My paper was on “The Longed-For National Reconciliation: Challenges, Realities and Hopes.” However, it is not my paper to which I will refer here.

During this timeframe, on Friday, July 29, a special luncheon took place that provided a pause in the midst of the 18 interesting panels and their debates. For this occasion, the Spanish journalist Vicente Botín, who also served as the special guest commentator on the panel in which I took part, gave a talk that was thought-provoking for all present.

Botín is a journalist and writer who specializes in international politics, particularly in Latin America. He has produced numerous documentaries in many countries as the managing editor of a well-known television program, including one in Cuba for which he interviewed Fidel Castro. He served as a correspondent for Televisión Española from 2005-2008, and later published two books about Cuba: “Castro’s Funeral,” followed by, “Raúl Castro: The Flea That Rode the Tiger.” Today he is a columnist for El País, El Mundo, and other Spanish newspapers, and resides in Madrid.

His words made so much sense to me regarding the Cuban reality that, upon the conclusion of his remarks, I congratulated him and sought his permission to post them on my blog–receiving from him a most cordial assent–but which unfortunately I have been unable to do until now because of technical problems on my blog which I have only recently been able to resolve.

But, because Botín’s voice still resounds so vibrantly in my mind, with words that have not lost one iota of their relevance–quite the opposite–I share them now with great pleasure so as to place in cyberspace these thoughts which are so sympathetic to the catastrophe of the Cuban people, by someone who also has been directly immersed in our reality, and who cannot get us off of his mind, nor out of his heart.

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison