Translating Cuba English Translations of Cubans Writing From the Island Fri, 12 Feb 2016 03:07:34 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Gourriel Brothers Steal All the Bases / 14ymedio, Ernesto Santana Fri, 12 Feb 2016 03:04:15 +0000 Continue reading ]]> Baseball fanatics debating in a Cuban park cannot get over their astonishment. (14ymedio)

Baseball fanatics debating in a Cuban park cannot get over their astonishment. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Ernesto Santana, Havana, 9 February 2016 — Cuban baseball is absolutely astonished at its fall. And to make matters worse after the disaster in the recently concluded Caribbean Series, now brothers Yulieski and Lourdes Gourriel Jr. have joined the countless – and almost endless – list of Cuban baseball players who seek a better future outside their country, and in particular in the Major Leagues in the United States.

The news spread so quickly, both inside and outside of Cuba, that even the government media has had to acknowledge it. Of course, the two brothers are branded as deserters, seduced by the juicy deals that are intended to “rob Cuba of the talents it has worked so hard to develop.” An exception was the Havana Channel, which delivered the news without the derogatory adjectives.

Apparently, the most surprised were Cuba’s baseball managers in Santo Domingo, and even more the herdsmen of State Security, who tried to prevent the morning escape of two valuable captives, absconding to Major League Baseball. Even the ambassador rushed to the Dominican hotel to find out who was to blame for this double flight.

The Cuban government, absolute master of the country’s baseball league, again suffers a great loss, because the two Gourriels would certainly have been among the players to be turned into a source of millions of dollars when, finally, the government would have been able to make an advantageous agreement with the Major Leagues.

The Gourriel clan maintains very close relations with the Raul branch of the Castro clan – Yulieski, it is said, is married to the granddaughter of the general-president, and is a very close friend of Raul’s grandson-cum-bodyguard. So, perhaps those who believe that behind this event there could have been some kind of compromise between to the sides, in order to position themselves vis-à-vis the great baseball to the north, may be right.

The recent meeting with Lourdes Gourriel-the-father, with representatives of the Major Leagues in Miami, reinforces this hypothesis, which would explain the recent rejection by Yulieski Gurriel of a solo contract for three million dollars to play in the Japanese league; something seen as very suspicious by those who closely follow Cuban baseball.

Assumptions or logical deductions aside, it is clear that the Gourriels – especially Yulieski who is already 31 – were not willing to wait until the bridge finally opened between the elite of US baseball and the fiefdom of Cuban baseball, given that, like so many other novelties and reforms, such an opening could be too long delayed, according to the ”Raul principle” of moving to solve problems, “without pause, but without haste.”

A friend who works at the Cuban Institute of Radio and Television tells me about the hue and cry Monday morning when the news broke. “Now the three brothers will meet in the United States, because Yunieski is already in Canada,” someone said. “This is all arranged,” said another, “because the Gourriels are not going to do something like this behind Raul’s back.

Maybe. But many of those who have been allies of, or protected by, the Castro clan have also escaped, both in search of a more comfortable and a more free life or, simply, looking for a new world like so many Cubans scattered not only to the United States but all over the world.

The most natural thing would be to think that this remarkable flight could help the owners of Cuban baseball to undertake a renewal of the “national pastime.” Sports commentators and analysts, along with the “knights” of the Roundtable TV talk show, will criticize the players, the coaches, the technicians and even the commissioners themselves; but never the owners of the league, who will not give it up even when they pretend to do so.

It is clear that they will try to change everything that can be changed* so that everything remains the same. They have not done anything to keep the national series from declining or to keep our teams from sinking into the basement of world or regional baseball. They continue putting make up on the face of this sport, putting up a Victor Mesa or Roger Machado, setting the political police to watch the athletes so they do not escape.

But new star players will always emerge to bring some profit, especially if the Major Leagues finally fall into the old guerrillas’ ambush.

*Translator’s note: “Change everything that needs to be changed” is a throwaway slogan from Cuban Communist Party propaganda.

Caterpillar Is Preparing To Return To Cuba / 14ymedio Fri, 12 Feb 2016 02:10:07 +0000 Continue reading ]]> Machinery from the Caterpillar company.

Machinery from the Caterpillar company.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 11 February 2016 – Caterpillar, a United States company that manufactures construction equipment, has appointed the Puerto Rican company Rimco as the distributor of its products in Cuba, looking ahead to the lifting of the trade embargo on the island, according to a statement released by the company on Wednesday.

The relaxations on exports announced in Washington at the end of January do not apply to Caterpillar’s products, which include machines for construction and mining, as well as industrial and marine machines. However, the group believes that Cuba represents a good opportunity for expansion.

“We are pleased to be taking this important step with Rimco, our partner of many years,” said Philip Kelliher, vice president of the company headquartered in Peoria, Illinois. “Cuba needs access to the kinds of products Caterpillar makes and, after the relaxation of the trade restrictions, we expect to be able to bring essential equipment to contribute to the construction of infrastructure in Cuba. This momentous announcement is a part of our preparation for the lifting of the embargo on Cuba after 55 years,” added the person in charge of distribution services for the Americas and Europe.

Richard F. McConnie, president of Rimco, which currently is the distributor for Caterpillar in Puerto Rico and the eastern Caribbean, emphasized the “great affinity” between his country and Havana. McConnie stressed that for his company it would be “an honor” to operate in the Cuban market once trade relations are reestablished with the United States.

“This announcement will let the politicians know that we are ready to act once the embargo is lifted,” Matt Lavoie, head of corporate affairs for the company, told the Miami Herald this Wednesday.

Last June, representatives from Caterpiller, along with employees of other major United States companies such as Cargill and Procter & Gamble, supported lobbying efforts in Congress to lift the restrictions on travel and trade with Cuba undertaken by the organization Engage Cuba, which brings together Democratic and Republican advisers.

Despite the long years since Caterpillar products have been sold on the island, Cubans still associate the brand with powerful and efficient machines. In popular parlance the name of the company is used to classify those tasks that need to eliminate serious obstacles before beginning.

Cuba and the Phantom of the Internet / Jeovany Jimenez Vega Thu, 11 Feb 2016 19:02:40 +0000 Continue reading ]]>

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.

I’m bringing up the trite question again on this page, before the news that the representatives of both governments of Cuba and the U.S. have sat down to talk about the subject in recent days, as part of the thaw fostered after 17 December 2014 by the Obama administration and accepted by Raúl Castro, but only because Venezuelan President Maduro’s boat is going under.

But I certainly heard nothing new. “The blockade prevents the financing of any United States project to enlarge the infrastructure; it would be precisely to democratize the administration of the global network; that if cyber-security, that if the solar storms or the rings of Saturn” —  whatever excuse the censors could use to delay our right to unconditional access to the world highway.

Surely nothing was mentioned by the Cubans at this meeting about the three-quarters of the Venezuelan submarine cable that remained, deliberately, without exploiting its potential for almost a decade, and they dissimulated or evaded when any allusion was made to concrete proposals, on more than one occasion, by U.S. businesses to make investments in the island, which, in the short term, would make Internet service accessible for the average Cuban and would ostensibly improve telephone service.

Before every proposal by the U.S. or any other country on the matter, the Cubans have followed their usual strategy: find a problem for every solution. On this rough point the dictatorship has its eyes fixed on its only intent: maintaining, at all cost, until its last breath, the most absolutely possible iron control of information. Thus every U.S. proposal came up against this primordial interest, since the dictatorship knows that censorship is a vital matter.

When I walk through the streets of Guayaquil and see at every step announcements of a free Wi-fi signal offered by the city, and the posters from cyber cafes inviting you to use the Internet at a comfortable speed and without restrictions, for U.S.$1.00 for three hours of connection (!), and I see on every roof a parabolic antenna or a coaxial cable, I can’t help but contrast this reality with the Cuban government’s cynical policy and ETECSA’s*** monopoly on “free” Wi-fi service at selected points in drips and drabs.

They all have something in common: you pay $2.00 CUC (more than U.S. $2.00) for an hour with a very slow connection, in a country with an average monthly salary between U.S. $15 and $20. You get connected from a navigation room, outdoors in a park, or “accommodated” under the sun on a sidewalk, but never from your home, since such a service is available only for the Regime’s acolytes, and you always have to show your identification and personal data when you enter.

Furthermore, you should know that every click of the keyboard or every site you visit will be spied on, and you will find that all the sites that are inconvenient to the Government have been zealously censored.

For my part, beyond the fact that my blog, Citizen Zero, is not approved in Cuba — I didn’t have the occasion to try the “superb” Wi-fi service or ETECSA’s navigation room — I will never forgive the satraps of Havana who, by their cojones (balls), vetoed something as simple as a video-conference with my children. This is something that hurts and offends, and converts my conflict with the dictatorship into something personal.

As for their policy, however, there is inescapable evidence to take into account, which is the essential and last cause of the problem: the uncontainable and absolute terror of the Cuban dictatorship before the unsubmissive truths poured out on the Web, which it hides them from the Cuban people because the despots who dis-govern depend on this censorship to perpetuate their power. The Cuban dictatorship’s dilemma is as simple as that. This “menace” makes them lose sleep.

Translator’s notes:

*He defended Internet restrictions, saying, “The wild colt of new technologies can and must be controlled.”

**The old and new Ministers of the Interior.

*** La Empresa de Telecomunicaciones de Cuba S.A., Cuba’s one telecommunications company.

Translated by: Marlena (PL) and Regina Anavy

Switzerland Donates 150 Tons Of Milk Powder To Cuba For Social Programs / EFE, 14ymedio Thu, 11 Feb 2016 17:20:40 +0000 Continue reading ]]> In Cuba there is more rum than powdered milk (14ymedio)

In Cuba there is more rum than powdered milk (14ymedio)

14ymedio biggerEFE/14ymedio, 10 February 2016 — Switzerland donated 150 tons of milk powder to Cuba on Tuesday, which will be used for social programs serving children, the elderly and pregnant women, according to a report on state television.

The Swiss ambassador to Cuba, Anne Pascale Krauer Müller said that these donations of milk from her country have been made “for over twenty years” and are a part of Swiss humanitarian aid which has been broadly distributed, mostly in emergencies and natural disasters.

The donation will be distributed mainly in old people’s homes and nursing homes, children’s schools and to people covered by the system of family care in the five provinces in the eastern region of the island and in the west in Pinar del Rio and Matanzas, according to the broadcast on state television.

The representative of the World Food Program (WFP) in Cuba, Laura Melo, said the role of the UN agency is to “support the efforts of the Government of Cuba to ensure food security for the most vulnerable in the island, who are often the elderly, children and pregnant women.”

The symbolic handover of the donation took place in the comprehensive care day center for elderly people in Old Havana.

Standing Water Causes Dengue Fever Outbreaks In Arroyo Naranjo / 14ymedio, Yosmany Mayeta Thu, 11 Feb 2016 11:30:14 +0000 Continue reading ]]> Only in the central market of Carlos III is a bottle with less than 3.5 ounces of insect repellent available, and the price is 1.65 convertible pesos, the equivalent of the salary of two days wages. (14ymedio)

Only in the central market of Carlos III is a bottle with less than 3.5 ounces of insect repellent available, and the price is 1.65 convertible pesos, the equivalent of the salary of two days wages. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yosmany Mayeta, Havana, 10 February 2016 — Unexpected rains earlier this year have required the strengthening of anti-vector campaigns against the Aedes aegypti mosquito. In several areas of the Arroyo Naranjo district, in Havana, standing water has caused an increase in cases of dengue fever, according to public health sources.

Maria Mendoza, a doctor with the Mantilla Polyclinic, said that in recent weeks more than twenty people with fevers have been reported in the area, and others have gone to the doctor with symptoms characteristic of dengue fever. “The situation is quite serious,” the specialist added.

A doctor at Julio Trigo Hospital details that rooms for people with dengue fever remain full because “this municipality has several unhealthy neighborhoods and slums, many streets are unpaved and the sewers are not working.” The doctor fears that under such conditions “zika will come to the country and we’ll have a situation favorable to its propagation.”

The problem is worsened by the shortage of repellents and mosquito nets in the stores in the city. A search conducted by this newspaper in shops and markets in Havana, including pharmacies that sell products both in local currency and in convertible pesos, confirms the scarce supply of these products.

Only in the centrally located Carlos III market, in Central Havana, was it possible to find a bottle with less than 3.5 ounces of repellent, and the price was 1.65 convertible pesos (CUC), equivalent to two days’ wages. Mosquito nets, meanwhile, are only for sale in departments for newborns, at small sizes and prices that exceed 15 CUC (more than $15 US).

Cases of patients who are not reported to any health center are also increasing. Many prefer to endure the illness at home rather than in a hospital, where hygienic and supply problems abound. In the case of Lucia, who had “fever, headache, red spots all over my skin,” she declined to be admitted. “”I didn’t even tell my family doctor,” she said.

TV ads warn that when a person is infected with dengue and is bitten by the Aedes aegypti mosquito it acts as a bridge to transmit the virus to others. If the patient does not remain isolated under a net, the chances of infecting family members and neighbors increases significantly.

As a part of urgent measures to eradicate the infestation in the most affected areas of Arroyo Naranjo, family physicians have developed plans for educational talks in the neighborhoods with the highest rate of infestation. In Las Manzanas, with an increased number of identified cases, they have also increased fumigation and inspections for breeding sites and larvae.

Jorge, a vector campaign worker in the Fraternidad neighborhood, explains that “with these rains, the mosquito lays her eggs anywhere water collects and this is how the epidemic grows.” He also warns, “Another danger is the accumulated garbage on street corners and makeshift dumps that trigger outbreaks.”

For many residents in the district, the greatest danger in the area is no longer badly lit streets or the frequent robberies, rather it takes the form of a small mosquito that spreads the dreaded “Breakbone Fever.”

El Templete’s Ceiba Says Goodbye To Havana / 14ymedio Thu, 11 Feb 2016 02:00:09 +0000 Continue reading ]]> The site of the mythical ceiba tree at El Templete in Havana. (14ymedio)

The site of the mythical ceiba tree at El Templete in Havana. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 10 February 2016 – The most-visited ceiba tree in Havana is no more. It was sick and yesterday, Tuesday, it was cut into pieces and removed from El Templete – a monument in Havana to the foundation of the original town in 1519 – by a brigade from the Puerto Carenas construction company of the Office of the Historian of Havana. The workers spent the morning on the task, helped by a crane that allowed them to move the largest pieces of the tree.

Curious neighbors watched the extraction of this symbol of Havana, a tree with deep meaning for the syncretic cults of African origin practiced in Cuba. There was no lack of prayers and bad omens among those who watched the felling of the tree. Among other reasons, because this ceiba, located at the site of the founding of the city, was associated in the popular imagination with the good luck and prosperity of the Cuban capital.

For more than five decades, the tree that was removed yesterday was the center of the supplications of many who would walk three times around its trunk on the anniversary of the founding of the city, 16 November. Tradition said that the circuits should be silent, touching the wood and then dropping a coin among its roots and at the end and making three wishes.

But for quite some time the cieba has shown signs of disease due to termites. It began to lose foliage months ago and its branches appeared dry. The grayness of the trunk also announced the end of a tree that, in nature, can have a much longer life.

The original ceiba was removed by a decision of General Captain Juan Manuel Cagigal y Martinez, who served between 1819 and 1821. The other trees that came later also appeared not to have experienced natural deaths. Diverse theories about the saltiness of the area contribute to hypotheses about the trees’ early demise.

A few steps from the Plaza de Armas, the recently removed ceiba was visited every day by hundreds of tourists and passers-by who, yesterday morning, were stunned by the removal of the imposing tree. The official newspaper Granma published a brief note Wednesday on the incident, but had previously not reported on the tree’s disease or slow decline.

A lady who works as a custodian in El Templete said yestersay that everyone who passed by wanted to take a piece of the ceiba home. She added that it was “an event” and “a lot of people were filming it and taking photos.” The woman also said that the tree that will be planted to replace it is already “in quarantine.”

Some of the curious said that the replacement should be planted quickly, because they cannot conceive of El Templete “without its ceiba.”

Havanans circling the tree on the 494th anniversary of the founding of the city. (Global Times)

Havanans circling the tree on the 494th anniversary of the founding of the city. (Global Times)

US Department Of Agriculture Anticipates End of Cuban Embargo / 14ymedio Thu, 11 Feb 2016 01:00:34 +0000 Continue reading ]]> The US Department of Agriculture has asked Congress $1.5 million to send five officials to Cuba. (USACC)

The US Department of Agriculture has asked Congress $1.5 million to send five officials to Cuba. (USACC)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 10 February 2016 — In anticipation of a future lifting of the embargo, the US Department of Agriculture has asked Congress for 1.5 million dollars to send five officials to Cuban to work on the logistics that will support increases in trade when Congress authorizes it, according to the Associated Press.

Commerce Secretary Tom Vilsack said Wednesday that this trip is “really important” and admitted that lifting the embargo will not be easy, especially in an election year. But, the secretary added, “at some point it has to end.”

The president of the U.S. Agriculture Coalition for Cuba (USACC), Devry Boughner Vorwerk, also considers the presence of US officials on the island a priority. “We need to be there permanently to start a dialogue with the Cuban government and with our counterparts on the technical aspects of trade and investment,” he said.

Vorwerk announced that the organization will send a mission to Cuba in April to establish an ongoing dialogue with their Cuban colleagues in the areas of bilateral trade, production, sustainability, distribution chains, investment and research.

The president of the organization – made up of thirty US agricultural and food companies in favor of ending the embargo – expressed disappointment at the continuation of the embargo but said he was “hopeful” for the creation of a bipartisan working group in the House of Representatives and the presentation of several bills when his group held a similar event in January 2015.

Despite the relaxations introduced by the White House since the announcement of the restoration of diplomatic relations in December 2014, US farmers are still faced with a prohibition on extending credit to Cuban government entities who want to import US products.

Last April Heidi Heitkamp, Democratic senator from North Dakota, and Arkansas Republican John Boozman presented a bill to allow American farmers access to financing for exports to Cuba.

#Otro18 Civic Platform Will Hold Forum On Citizenship And Multi-Party Voting / 14ymedio Wed, 10 Feb 2016 23:47:55 +0000 Continue reading ]]> The logo of the Civic Platform #Otro18 (Another 2018)

The logo of the Civic Platform #Otro18 (Another 2018)

14ymedio, Havana, 10 February 2016 – The group that manages the #Otro18 (Another 2018) Civic Platform has convened its first forum in early March in Cuba, under the slogan Citizenship Revisited, Multi-party Voting. Proposals ranging from reforms to the electoral law to a new law on associations will be presented at the meeting. Participants will include representatives from some 45 independent groups involved in the campaign, according to a statement from its organizers.

Participation in the Forum will be free and international experts on electoral and freedom of association issues have been invited as observers, along with representatives of the diplomatic corps. In the next few days a press conference will be held to define the agenda, date and place of the meeting. Since the Cuban government announced its intention to draft a new electoral law, different political and civil society actors have been encouraging the idea of gathering proposals from the public, with all the diversity and plurality of Cuban society.

Cubalex, an organization of independent lawyers, led the initial technical phase of this campaign in collaboration with lawyers from the Cuban Law Association and other institutions.

Political activists of various organizations such as the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU), the United Anti-totalitarian Forum, Somos+ (We Are More), Independent and Democratic Cuba, Cuban Solidarity Liberal Party, Liberal Party of Cuba (Azules), and the Center for Support of the Transition and Progressive Arc, as well as independent journalists, and community, civic and human rights activists, along with independent actors, participated in intense days both within and outside of Cuba.

With this event, #Otro18 completes the initial technical part in the first stage of its project, and initiates the policy and strong social and civic advocacy phase, ahead of the proposed reforms to the electoral law and the law of associations.

It Is Too Early To Say That Obama’s Cuba Policy Has Failed / 14ymedio, Pedro Campos Wed, 10 Feb 2016 22:17:00 +0000 Continue reading ]]> The American flag was hoisted last July in front of its embassy on the Malecon in Havana. (14ymedio)

The American flag was hoisted last July in front of its embassy on the Malecon in Havana. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Pedro Campos, Havana, 10 February 2016 — The Washington Post, international analysts, politicians committed to the discourse of the radical groups in Miami and individuals within the internal opposition in Cuba, all say that United States President Barack Obama’s policy towards Cuba has failed, because a year after the announcement of the restoration of diplomatic relations, little has changed in our country.

They argue, further, that the policy is not conditioned on advancement in the area of human rights, that the systematic arrests of dissidents continue, that the goal of empowering the private sector has not been met, and that Internet connections have not improved.

All these opinions are grounded in false expectations and a mixing of desires, not policies, with false time frames.

On 17 December 2014 both governments announced their intentions to normalize relations, but only on 20 July 2015 did they reopen their embassies. Therefore, it has only been six months.

Can a partial change – major restrictions of the embargo remain in force – in the policies of a world power lead to important transformations in another state — one with a model of ironclad domination established over many decades — in only six months?

Obama’s policy is not more advanced because of the opposition of Republicans and Cuban-Americans in Congress, who do not want to lift the terms of the embargo-blockade and who block banking, business and financial measures. Keeping these laws codified by Congress allows the Cuban government to argue that “the imperialist blockade remains in effect” and to continue using this as an excuse to try to justify the economic and social problems caused by the absurd and anti-socialist centralized state model of wage exploitation and political authoritarianism.

Is it not inconsistent to block a policy and then declare it has failed?

If the opening was not conditioned on advances in human rights, how can they be demanded now? If rapprochement had been thus conditioned, the Cuban government never would have allowed it. Resolving the internal problems of democratization is a matter for Cubans alone.

Whomever expects the United States to resolve the issue of human rights in Cuba is playing the game of the communist government, divorced from the nationalist sentiment of many Cubans, and supporting the negative image of their political strategies being subordinated to the U.S.

The United States has the right to be concerned about human rights in Cuba, which are systematically violated, just as the Cuban government has the right to criticize U.S. abuses against its own people who are black, immigrants, old or otherwise vulnerable.

But it is something else entirely to condition relationships of every kind on the solution of these problems.

The largest United States interest in Cuba is related to national security and policies must be subordinated to this, ahead of the wishes of interest groups. Stability in Cuba, the peaceful nature of any internal change and regional bilateral security agreements all correspond to this interest.

The democratic changes that Obama is seeking in Cuba are longer term and related to previous transformations relating to nationalizations, the structure of production, property, social classes and the empowerment of entrepreneurs, points that coincide in part with the policies approved at the Cuban Communist Party Sixth Congress and subsequently slowed down by the Cuban government itself.

Changing the failed politics of half a century was also necessary to improve relations between the United States and Latin America as a whole.

Arrests of government opponents related to the #TodosMarchamos (We All March) campaign in Cuba have increased and some of the organizers of this campaign oppose Obama’s policies. Such repression is reprehensible, violates the right to freedom of expression and is not less unjust because it is expected. But long detentions without due process have declined and during the visit of Pope Francis to Cuba several hundred prisoners were released, some of whom were political prisoners.

With the increase in tourisms and remittances – from Cubans abroad to their family members in Cuba – private business including restaurants, and the rental of houses, rooms and cars to tourists have grown.

The Cuban government, after just six months of relations with the United States, has not completely opened the internet. First it needs to forget its fear, but internet service, too, has advanced. There are now Wifi zones open serving 150,000 connections a day, the price of one hour of internet has been reduced from 4.50 dollars to 2.00 dollars, and the state cellphone company, Nauta, has established a system of international email with modest reductions in the cost of some services. All insufficient.

Despite the obstacles from Republicans and the Cuban government, Obama’s policy is already creeping forward and is under development. At the six-month mark of an actual relationship, it is too early to say that it has failed.

A Swede in Burundi, a Uruguayan in Cuba / 14ymedio, Regina Coyula Wed, 10 Feb 2016 20:42:17 +0000 Continue reading ]]> The journalist Fernando Ravsberg.

The journalist Fernando Ravsberg.

14ymedio, Regina Coyula, Havana, 10 February 2016 – The Uruguayan journalist Fernando Ravsberg has spent years living in Cuba. But after reading his article Uncle Sam’s Cuban Cousins, and pondering it, I think what happened to Ravsberg in Cuba is the same thing that happened to the “disoriented Swede in Burundi” he references in his article.

One finds errors in his article that are the fruit of original sin, because the journalist, despite his close following of national events, speaks of the opposition as a whole; it is never appropriate to speak in phrases such as, “this group,” or “the project opponents.” This is serious because Ravsberg’s blog is not censored in Cuba, many subscribe to it by email, and a reading of the article in question gives the false conclusion that the entire dissidence acts under the umbrella of the United States government although, according to his own words, this same dissidence, in a total contradiction, is trying to boycott the normalization of relations promoted by its master.

The whole article conveys the desire to see one part of the whole. The author’s antipathy toward the dissidence would not worry me if it were not that, as a communicator, he contributes with his opinions to confusing an already badly informed populace.

The journalist says that, “To sit at the negotiations table with the government, one needs be a real political force.” He does not recognize any dissenting voice as having rights, and ascribes to them a lack of legitimacy for supposedly acting as scribes for Washington. But Ravsberg is not candid and must know that no dissenting voice has been able to make itself heard, even when it respects legally established procedures.

When Oswaldo Paya tried to move forward the Varela Project – respectfully, autonomously, following the law, visible thanks to Jimmy Carter mentioning it in the Great Hall at the University of Havana, live and to the press – the government’s response was to ignore the initiative submitted to Parliament and, with an open collection of signatures under its own sponsorship, to modify the Constitution to make socialism an eternal system. But also eternal was its friendship with the Soviet Union and, like that one, there are other eternities that come to an end.

Most of the dissidents are not old enough to dream, as Ravsberg suggests, of “an invasion by the Marines,” nor suicidal enough to support “a blockade that would bring their compatriots to their knees through hunger.” I don’t know a single person who sympathizes with terrorism, but it seems inconceivable to me that a journalist who pretends to be knowledgeable about Cuban issues doesn’t know that even the “enemy” press has been cited on the Roundtable TV program in talking about the scandal of the misuse of money to “buy democracy in Cuba,” those 20 million dollars the author mentions in passing to make the unaware reader believe that this hard cash comes to Cuba year after year.

“To lose touch with reality can prove catastrophic in politics,” Ravsberg warns us. No sir, it IS catastrophic. For journalism as well, but that often happens in countries like ours when you don’t ride the bus, when you have someone who does your shopping for you, and you live in a bubble of functionaries, artists, entrepreneurs and other characters who always know someone who knows someone…

On the other hand, offering the Cuban government solidarity and support for 40 years, or for 25, is to ignore the harvest of failures, the mismanagement and corruption that has nothing to do with a “blockade” or an imperialist threat, but rather one that has left a people exhausted and unbelieving and led to an emigration among young people higher than ever recorded.

Not all dissent is manifested by marching in the street or opening a blog; the visa lottery, crossing the Florida Straits and the immigration crisis in Central America are other forms of dissent, and the most popular, of course.

Reading Uncle Sam’s Cuban Nephews leaves me curious to know how the author believes the opposition to an authoritarian government should behave, when even civil society associations for protecting animals or the environment are suspect if they are not sponsored by the State, and promoting opposition candidates in the neighborhood Assemblies of Peoples Power unleashes an enormous operation by State Security.

Barack Obama will decide to meet with all, or with a part, or with no opponents to the government, but I am sure that he will come with a clearer idea of the Cuban dissidence than that held by Fernando Ravsberg.

Tobacco In Cuba, Between Pests And Mud / 14ymedio, Juan Carlos Fernandez Wed, 10 Feb 2016 03:02:38 +0000 Continue reading ]]> Justo García Hernández working in his tobacco field. (14ymedio)

Justo García Hernández working in his tobacco field. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Juan Carlos Fernandez, Pinar del Rio, 9 February 2016 – The sun has barely risen and boots are sinking into land that is pure mud. In the furrows, a group of men is trying to revive the planted tobacco, but nature is working against them. Hundreds of producers in Pinar del Rio are struggling against the rain and the pests to save a tobacco crop which promises to be among the lowest in decades.

Prior to 20 January, 42,000 acres of land were planted throughout the province of Pinar del Rio, but only some 34,000 have managed to survive, and of these, some 5,000 are seriously affected. The excess moisture has also encouraged the emergence of the dreaded blue mold disease that devastates the crop.

A descendant from immigrants who came from the Canary Islands, Justo Garcia Hernandez hasn’t quit working, even at 73. He moves between the plantations and the tobacco house where the women of the family are busy hanging the leaves. In the five acres this farmer has leased under usufruct, he experiences the failed harvest with special intensity.

This year “the climate is a disaster,” complains Justo. The continuous rains in recent weeks have ruined countless fields like his. “The current weather conditions favor the appearance of fungi, bacteria, viruses and other diseases,” declared the provincial director of Plant Protection, Ariel Castillo Rodriguez.

The land that Justo and his family work belongs to the Carlos Hidalgo Credit and Services Cooperative, at Kilometer 5 on the San Juan Highway. The space allows him to plant up to 80,000 tobacco plants, but this year many of the plants will have died “having barely emerged from the ground,” says the farmer.

Still, he says he feels fortunate because his land “has not been affected by black shank or blue mold,” thanks to his having fumigated. The situation has been most difficult for the farmers in Vueltabajo region of Pinar del Rio, particularly in the towns of Con­solación del Sur, Pinar del Río, San Juan y Martínez and San Luis.

The problems started right at the beginning of the harvest. Virginio Morales, acting director of the Provincial Tobacco Group, reported to the local press last week that the combination of high temperatures and the excessive rainfall associated with the El Niño phenomenon, has caused the loss of “83,500 seedling beds, and another 27,000 have been affected.”

Tobacco farmer William Delgado shows the effects of the disease known as "black shank." (14ymedio)

Tobacco farmer William Delgado shows the effects of the disease known as “black shank.” (14ymedio)

The constant rains have greatly affected Justo’s plantings. “It’s the greatest damage my harvest has had, the tobacco is drunk, the plants remain tiny, it doesn’t grow because of the excessive rain.” More than 40% of the harvest has been lost for this reason and the only solution is “replant, even though it is not the season.”

The optimum time for planting is already over, but hundreds of producers are going to plant tobacco, even to the end of March, to make up for the damage the rain has caused to the crop. The bad news is that it is still raining and the new shoots are also starting to be damaged.

The downpours “leave the leaves without their natural fatness,” comments Justo, a man who has lived his whole life around the tobacco fields. As an example, he tells how he has harvested tobacco from very early in the morning, and “it’s four in the afternoon and I have clean hands, if the tobacco was good, I would have had to wash my hands ten times.”

Justo, like many tobacco growers in the area, does not believe that the crop insurance will repay for what was damaged. Last year he lost 16,000 plantings and they only paid him 2,200 Cuban pesos (less than $100 US).

In the Hoyo de Monterrey in San Juan y Martinez, a place where many say the best tobacco in the world is grown, Luis Brito Ajete concludes, “The tobacco is bad.” In the five acres he cultivates with his son, “the plants have leaves like tissue paper,” he complains.

The same thing is happening in Rio Feo, in the town of San Luis. William Delgado Rodriguez plants tobacco on 7 acres and, although he says he’s had a “good harvest” in other years, this one “is bad, bad.” On his land he planted 100,000 sets. “But between the water and the black shank disease, it’s making me crazy.”

To demonstrate the situation, William pulls up a fragile-looking plant and shows the damage caused by the disease on the lower stem. In the area where his farm is nestled, in the Ormani Arenado Cooperative, the plantings have stood up a little better, but in other areas “the farmers have had to pull up the entire harvest for replanting.”

The young man noted that, right now, he has very little tobacco in the drying house and knows cases of other peasants whose tobacco has rotted after harvesting because of the dampness, so he is not expecting big profits from the current harvest. “For a 220 pounds, we are paid 1,950 Cuban pesos, and the quality of the leaf here will be very low,” he predicts.

From a small battery-powered radio comes the contagious rhythm of Bob Marley singing “No Woman No Cry” and the farmer takes advantage of it to say, “well, this is the harvest of tears.”

US Announces Plans To Replace The Office Of Cuba Broadcasting / 14ymedio Wed, 10 Feb 2016 01:10:21 +0000 Continue reading ]]>  Radio Marti studio. (archive)

Radio Marti studio. (archive)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 9 February 2016 — The United States government on Tuesday announced plans to replace the Office of Cuba Broadcasting (OCB), which runs Radio and TV Martí, with a “Spanish language concessionaire.” The Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) did not elaborate on the proposal.

“The BBG requested authority to establish a new non-federal Spanish-language media organization, which will receive a grant from the BBG and perform the functions of the current Office of Cuba Broadcasting,” the document explained.

The closing of the operations of Radio and TV Marti is among the requests of the Government of Cuba in the process of the thaw between the two countries that began in December 2014.

The broadcasts to Cuba started under the administration of President Ronald Reagan in the eighties, to offer information different from that offered by the Cuban media controlled by the Havana government, and so contribute to eroding Fidel Castro’s regime.

Last December a new OCB direction was named; the Puerto Rican lawyer Maria Malule Gonzalez replaced Carlos Garcia-Perez, who had led the agency since 2010.

No changes in the content of the programming or the operating budget – amounting to over 27 million dollars annually – were announced at that time.

The news on Tuesday has provoked alarm among the more than 100 employees of Radio and Television Martí, whose studios are in Miami, according to a report in El Nuevo Herald. The newspaper reported that an employee, who requested anonymity, said he was concerned about “losing federal benefits” with the “privatization of operations.”

BBG’s executive director John F. Lansing said in a conference call that the change seeks primarily to save on operating costs and increase the “flexibility” of the office.

“Nothing in this proposal changes the mission of OCB which will remain as it is now, dynamic, important and crucial,” said Lansing, who does not predict big changes immediately and warns that any transformation must go through Congress.

“The mission of OCB would not be affected, it would be exactly the same mission at the same level of funding, nothing would change that,” he said. “Secondly, any change, any defederalization of OCB, would still be subject to a legislative process, where it may or may not occur, and thirdly, the effect would depend on whether it takes place, and if, indeed, it does takes place, how it would be designed at some point in the future.”

Castro Regime Censors Blog Calling Raul Castro Responsible For UMAP* / Diario de Cuba Wed, 10 Feb 2016 00:21:57 +0000 Continue reading ]]> From the documentary: Mariela Castro’s March: Cuba’s LGBT Revolution (From Havana Times)

From the documentary: Mariela Castro’s March: Cuba’s LGBT Revolution (From Havana Times)

diariodecubalogoDiario de Cuba, Havana, 9 February 2016 — A blog on sexual diversity, Proyecto Arcoiris (Rainbow Project), housed in the government-run blogging platform Reflections, has been censored by the regime after addressing UMAP and publishing a text attributing the responsibility for it to Raul Castro, according to the Global Voices international network of bloggers.

Those responsible for censorship alleged that the blog broke the rules for participation on the site and that the text “defamed the Revolution,” explained blog author Yasmine Silvia Portales Machado to Global Voices .

The censored paragraph from the Rainbow Project blog that refers to the Military Units to Aid to the Population (UMAP) is hosted here; but currently readers get a message that says “This site has been archived or suspended.”

The fragment is part of the text “Cuba’s Mariela Castro and Historical Reparations,” published in December in Havana Times by activist and member of the Rainbow Arc Jimmy Roque Martinez.

Roque called on the General Raul Castro to apologize and accept responsibility for the internment of homosexuals in the UMAP camps.

From his point of view, not accepting responsibility and not apologizing for such acts “are proof of the homophobia” of the current leaders of the island and a sign that they are not repentant.

In the article, the activist says the General and others who are “still alive” as “those maximally” responsible for the camps where dissidents, religious and gay people were defined.

“It’s been 50 years since the creation of UMAP said Roque and not a single official has apologized to the people.”

He also said that “the minister of the Revolutionary Armed Forces (FAR) from that time is now the country’s president,” referring to Raul Castro.

“It is now time for them to apologize for that act of penalization, exclusion and punishment to which they subjected thousands of homosexuals and Cubans with ‘improper conduct’,” said the activist.

Roque demanded that “those responsible, every single one of them, must recognize their error, and ask for a real apology directly to the victims and their families, as the only way of historical reparation.”

The state platform Reflections groups blogs written from the island and is the only one from the island that provides this service. It is managed by the Youth Computer and Electronics Clubs (JCCE), under the Ministry of Communications.

Reflections is accessible from abroad, although it is not possible to create a blog from outside the island, nor to manage it from abroad even if it was created in Cuba. Operating a blog on Reflections requires that the blogger access the blog from a JCCE site.

Gang Warfare In Havana / 14ymedio, Eliecer Avila Tue, 09 Feb 2016 03:03:19 +0000 Continue reading ]]> Gangs are usually made up of children, often under age 14 (Frame / ARTE)

Gangs are usually made up of children, often under age 14 (Frame / ARTE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Eliecer Avila, Havana, 8 February 2016 – A few nights ago my wife and I arrived in an almendrón [old American car in use as a shared-taxi] at the Ceiba little park just before the traffic light at Via Blanca and Lacret, in Havana. We we usually get off there when we are going home from El Vedado, in a line of collective taxes headed to La Vibora.

The unwelcome surprise that night was to find ourselves almost in the middle of a pitched war at 1:00 in the morning. At Bella Vista and Via Blanca two gangs of children – for the most part; many of them weren’t even teenagers – were facing off with stones, sticks, bottles, and some carried machetes nearly as big as they were.

Some amorous couples in the park ran away to avoid being hit by the rain of objects of all kinds from all directions that these little pioneers were throwing at each other with an eerie chill. In the midst of the hullabaloo, a voice from Santos Suarez shouted, “I’m done, assholes!”

A boy among those who were “shooting” from the Cerro side apparently tried to take the other side by assault and fell in the middle of the street from a stone to the head right in front of a huge truck that slammed on its brakes so as not to crush him and almost flipped over with a container on its trailer. Several light trucks had to brake quickly and honked their horns, but the contenders didn’t seem to hear anything.

The dispute continues and there is already a line of cars waiting, fearing to pass in the midst of the artillery and lose, at the very least, a windshield. Two “rescuers” from the Cerro side ventured out to retrieve the fallen one who was trying to stand up but couldn’t. His companions covered them, raining fire down from a hill of trash next to the daycare center that was serving as a shield and a park at the same time.

The operation is successful but the counteroffensive is unexpected. From the Santos Suarez side they take advantage of Cerro’s casualty to try to cross Via Blanca to launch an attack that extends to the intersection of Bella Vista with San Salvador Avenue. The Cerro side manages to escape towards the depths of Canal and the invaders don’t dare to continue advancing because they are already deep in hostile territory.

The tallest one, a skinny bare-chested guy with Mohawk-like hair styled after the singer El Yonki, shouts, “Next time we’re gonna kill you, monkeysssss! Let’s go!” The troop retreats with the discipline of a professional army but not before dispersing through several routes so as to avoid attracting the attention of the neighbors, who have gotten out of bed to see what’s going and who have almost certainly called the emergency number, 106.

Indeed, ten minutes later, two police cars appeared, sirens blaring, tires squealing, looking unsuccessfully for “the brawlers.” They question the neighbors who are cautiously doing damage control, but no one answers. Better not to risk that an indiscreet cop could reveal the name of an informant, or that from the shadows someone might see them giving information and take reprisals.

The next day in the morning, all the talk in the line to buy bead is about “what happened last night.” In the street and along the facades that was the battleground, are the marks of the impacts of the stones, glass bottles, and even the broken windows of a Russian-made Lada that was parked in front of the bakery last night (wrong place, wrong time).

This is a faithful description of what happened that night and what is happening ever more frequently not only in the Cerro neighborhood, but in many Havana neighborhoods, where often there is mourning for some victim who dies.

It is noteworthy that these gangs are made ​​up of children who are often under 14. These aggressive boys have a very strong sense of identity with and commitment to their group, which revolves around two or three older leaders with experience in the art of street fighting. In our areas we now have gangs that everyone knows, such as the one that calls itself “The Lawless” and an even more popular gang made up of girls who identify themselves as “The Apululu.”

What would happen if for some reason these groups came to be armed? How much power could they get? Would we have the self-employed paying them protection money as happens in other Central American countries?

All this and more can easily come to pass if the already terrible economic situation and the quality of education continue to deteriorate and there are no incentives or direction for teenagers and young people; but especially if it continues to be the priority of the State to invest its scarce human resources and materials in repressing those of us who want to confront the real problems and take steps to resolve them.

Four Questions For You, President Obama / 14ymedio, Yuslier L. Saavedra Tue, 09 Feb 2016 01:00:35 +0000 Continue reading ]]> The US president, Barack Obama talks with his Cuban counterpart Raul Castro. (White House)

The US president, Barack Obama talks with his Cuban counterpart Raul Castro. (White House)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yuslier L. Saavedra, La Salud (Mayabeque Province), 8 February 2016 — Mr. President, I am a young Cuban woman who lives in Cuba and I do not want to leave. Exile hurts and I lack the courage to miss my homeland. I want to stay in Cuba and the reality of my people leaves me with many questions. I think it is up to Cubans alone – all of us without exception – to resolve our problems; peaceful change toward democracy is ours and is in us. I dream of a sovereign people, with self-determination because we have a voice, rights and freedom. I dream of an independent, democratic and sovereign Cuba, where there is a genuine Rule of Law and Democracy, the indispensable foundations for Cubans to be able to achieve prosperity and well-being.

You have said you want to help Cubans to improve our quality of life, which leads me to ask you some questions:

  • What has improved in Cubans’ quality of life since 17 December 2014?
  • You have called Raul Castro ‘president’; does this mean you consider him your counterpart?
  • Can a dictatorship turn itself into a democracy?
  • Do you believe that the dignity of the human person, as well as his or her well-being and quality of life starts with rights?

Thank you for your time.