Translating Cuba English Translations of Cubans Writing From the Island Mon, 30 May 2016 19:08:20 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Away From “The Honey Of Power” Carlos Lage Focuses On Fighting Mosquitoes / 14ymedio, Zunilda Mata Mon, 30 May 2016 19:08:20 +0000 Continue reading "Away From “The Honey Of Power” Carlos Lage Focuses On Fighting Mosquitoes / 14ymedio, Zunilda Mata"]]> President Raul Castro with Carlos Lage, then vice president, when everything was still complicity. (EFE)
President Raul Castro with Carlos Lage, then vice president, when everything was still complicity. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Zunilda Mata, Havana, 30 May 2016 – Every evening he emerges with his briefcase from the place where he purges his fate of being ousted. Carlos Lage, former vice president of Cuba’s Council of State, works on the campaign against the Aedes aegypti mosquito at the 19 de Abril polyclinic. Seven years ago he was removed from office and accused by Fidel Castro of being addicted to “the honey of power,” but today he is an employee of the Ministry of Public Health and avoids talking about his past.

At 64, Lage barely practices the pediatrics that he specialized in after studying medicine. His activities as president of the University Students Federation (FEU) and subsequent responsibility as secretary general of the Union of Young Communists (UJC) left him no time to attend patients. After his political downfall, in 2009, he went through several minor administrative positions in which he has had little contact with the public.

Currently, the man who is also the former secretary of the Council of Ministers works in the Department of Hygiene and Epidemiology in a polyclinic that often receives visits from foreign delegations. More than once, in the hallways, he has run into former colleagues and diplomats who revered and honored him when rumors suggested he might become the first vice president.

The name of Lage was among the successors mentioned in the proclamation with which Fidel Castro announced his departure from power due to health problems, read out on national media on 31 July 2006. In paragraph six of that text Lage is called out for his accomplishments, such as being the “driving force of the energy revolution program” and the management of its funds. Off the Island, the vice president was seen as a civil figure with whom it might be possible to negotiate a future transition.

Between 1993 and 2009, from his high position, Lage represented Cuba at several Latin American summits, in speeches before the United Nations and at the inaugurations of numerous presidents. Popular humor baptized him as “the administrator of the madhouse,” for showing a certain sense in the midst of the political delusions that characterized those moments in Cuba.

However, rather than promote him to the position of first vice president, in February 2008, Raul Castro named the orthodox Jose Ramon Machado Ventura, thus sending a clear signal of strengthening the power of the so-called “historic generation” and avoiding potential reformers. A Reflection published by Fidel Castro confirmed the disgrace, when he accused Lage and Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque of having played an “undignified role.”

Now, every morning, el benjamín—the youngest son—separated from power imparts guidance to workers in the campaign against the mosquito that transmits dengue fever and chikungunya. The rest of the day he receives complaints from residents of Nuevo Vedado about the fumigators and medical personnel linked to the inspections for mosquito breeding sites.

Lage’s relations with the rest of the polyclinic workers are cordial, according to what several of his colleagues told this newspaper. Few dare to remind him of the times when his order was sufficient to appoint a director or remove an administrator. Often, after work, he offers a colleague a ride in his red-wine Russian made Lada, a replacement for the car he kept in his time in power.

In the corridors of the healthcare center he is called “the goodies bag man,” an allusion to his order at the beginning of this century that put an end to the bags with products like soap, frozen chicken and detergent that were distributed among healthcare personnel. Scornfully, his current compañeros remind him of that cut.

Not even in the domino games regularly organized at his home, where he invites other polyclinic workers, does Lage speak of that 3 March 2009, when Raul Castro removed him from his position as vice president. He was also dropped from the Central Committee of the Communist Party and lost his position as a deputy in the National Assembly of People’s Power.

“He will not mention his previous life,” an employee of the 19 de Abril laboratory told 14ymedio. “At first they maintained a visible surveillance operation” on him, said the employee, but “over time it has been lessened.”

An attempt to obtain statements from Lage himself received no response. “That man knows that silence is what keeps him alive,” commented his colleague.

Korea, That Distant But Nearby Country / Yosmany Mayeta Labrada Mon, 30 May 2016 06:50:31 +0000 Continue reading "Korea, That Distant But Nearby Country / Yosmany Mayeta Labrada"]]> The audience outside the Infanta Multicinema during the first day of the South Korean cinema week in Havana (14ymedio)
The audience outside the Infanta Multicinema during the first day of the South Korean cinema week in Havana (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yosmany Mayeta Labrada, Havana, 28 May 2016 — When Cuban children playing mention distant countries, they talk about Singapore, Burundi and Korea. But in the latter case, they do not think about the country controlled by Kim Jong-un, but the one on other end of the peninsula, where Samsung was born. With film production the same thing happens: the theaters fill up for productions coming from the land of Hyundai and remain empty if the films come from the country’s “eternal president.”

With all seats occupied and dozens of people outside the theater, the screening of the first movie of South Korean Film Week in Havana occurred this Thursday at the Infanta Multicinema. The event, which this year celebrates its third edition, was organized by Cinemateca de Cuba with the Cuba-Korea Exchange Association.

The audience that gathered in the centrally located theater turned out to be very diverse, especially considering that Cuba does not have diplomatic relations with South Korea and this Asian country lacks official representation on the island. Nevertheless, officials from the Cuban Institute of Cinematographic Art and Industry (ICAIC) attended, along with the very official Cuban Institute of Friendship with the Peoples (ICAP).

Also in attendance were South Korean students residing on the island and several diplomatic representatives of other nations, including the ambassador of the People’s Republic of China.

The founder of the Busan International Film Festival, Kim Dong-Ho gave the welcome in Spanish and said that a week of the films of his country would help with “understanding Korea” and “improving our relationship.” After he praised the cultural level of Cubans he closed with an emotional “thank you” that hastened the applause of spectators. Then came darkness and with it a point of light that widened on the screen.

The night gave way to “A Hard Day,” by South Korean director Kim Seong-Hoon. The thriller maintained its suspense until the end, with the avatars of Detective Gun-Su, trying to hide the body of a person he ran over. A standing ovation just as the credits started to roll confirmed that the organizers were right to choose this film to “break the ice” for the week.

Among those responsible for the careful film selection is Susana Molina, vice president of ICAIC, who told 14ymedio that “all the films in previous years have been good quality, but the curation of these was done by Tony Mason and also this edition presents a wider program.”

The programming for Korean film week will run until next Thursday. Stand outs among the films are titles such as: I’m a Cyborg But That’s OK, Moebius, 200 Pounds Beauty, Coin Locker Girl, and The Satellite Girl and the Milk Cow. Productions that deal with romance and survival in a world of violence, as well as police dramas and the conflicts of an obese girl trying to make it in the world of pop music.

However, few moments are likely to exceed those of opening night, when the cinema mixed diplomacy with a certain dash of showbiz. After the screening of the first film, the celebrations moved to the Bar Su Restaurante in Miramar, where the surprise of the evening was the presentation of young Cubans who sang in Korean and danced typical dances of the region.

From the tables nearest the stage well-known actors such as Enrique Molina, Isabel Santos and Luisa Maria Jimenez applauded and laughed, all spellbound by that distant but nearby country.

The “Little Witches” Arrived / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez Mon, 30 May 2016 04:31:54 +0000 Continue reading "The “Little Witches” Arrived / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez"]]> ”Little witches” (known is rail lilies in English) in the 14ymedio newsroom. (14ymedio)
”Little witches” (known is rail lilies in English) in the 14ymedio newsroom. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 14ymedio – There are those who believe that the pages of newspapers only have space for tragedy, armed conflicts and diatribes against politicians. In a world where the newspapers prioritize the extraordinary and the TV screens are filled with crises or shipwrecks, the little things, the common moments, lose narrative space. However, a good part of our existence takes place among the everyday, in the middle of a cycle that repeats itself over and over, like the seasons and the flowerings.

In the 14ymedio newsroom, 130 feet above the ground and amid the informational hustle, these “little witches” have been born. Known as “rain lilies” in English, no one planted them in a flowerbed, but they have arrived in the earth of some other plant and bloomed this summer. They are fragile and fleeting, but their simple presence convinces us that life continues, despite the problems, the fears, and the stubbornness of the leaders.

With their herringbone stems and ephemeral petals, these “little witches” have wrested a smile from the work team that reports a reality where there are few reasons for joy. One afternoon, just after a very long power outage, they sprang into bloom, on the same day that the political police browbeat one of our provincial collaborators. But here are these “little witches,” to remind us that being journalists is also narrating the diminutive, describing the ordinary and supporting freedom, like a plant, that returns to bloom again.

“I Am Prepared To Go to Prison Today,” says Berta Soler / 14ymedio Mon, 30 May 2016 03:55:07 +0000 Continue reading "“I Am Prepared To Go to Prison Today,” says Berta Soler / 14ymedio"]]> Berta Soler, leader of the Ladies in White, during the art exhibit by El Sexto in Miami, Florida. (14ymedio)
Berta Soler, leader of the Ladies in White, during the art exhibit by El Sexto in Miami, Florida. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 29 May 2016 – From early hours Sunday a major police operation surrounded the headquarters of the Ladies in White in the Havana neighborhood of Lawton, according to denunciations by several activists from that organization. At least “13 women and four opponents were brutally intercepted outside the house” and forced into police cars in the last 13 hours, dissident Luisa Ramona Toscano Kendelan said by telephone to 14ymedio.

The group that surrounded the property included, as has become customary, a conga line with music through powerful speakers and signs that use the opposition campaign slogan “We All March” together with the phrases “with Fidel,” “with the Revolution” and “with socialism.”

At several points in the city similar operations prevented the women who form part of the human rights organization from reaching Santa Rita Church. Several on-scene witnesses report that at least two Ladies in White had managed to reach the vicinity of the parish on the western periphery of Havana.

Minutes before her arrest and in statements to this daily, Berta Soler, leader of the Ladies in White, declared that she was ready to confront the risks of leaving her organization’s headquarters in order to exercise the right of “peaceful demonstration.” She explained that she was prepared to go “to prison to await the trial” with which they threatened her last week for a charge of resisting the authorities.

“I am prepared, I have my blood pressure monitor, my pills, shots, personal hygiene articles, flip flops … I carry it all. I am again going to commit the crime they accuse me of, so I expect to end up in the Manto Negro women’s prison.”

In the morning hours in the Matanzas province, Lady in White Leticia Ramos Herreria, who urged agents to take her directly to prison to await trial, was detained. Nevertheless, the State Security officers responded to her that “it was still not time.”

Translated by Mary Lou Keel

UNPACU Activists Denounce Raid On Their Homes / 14ymedio Sun, 29 May 2016 19:12:45 +0000 Continue reading "UNPACU Activists Denounce Raid On Their Homes / 14ymedio"]]> UNPACU Activists marching in protest. “We all march, for the release of political prisoners, for fair wages, for freedom for the Cuban people, for democracy, for decent housing, for respect for human rights. (UNPACU Archive)
UNPACU Activists marching in protest. “We all march, for the release of political prisoners, for fair wages, for freedom for the Cuban people, for democracy, for decent housing, for respect for human rights. (UNPACU Archive)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 28 May 2016 – This week has been one of surprises for several activists from the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU) who denounce that they have been victims of a raid on their homes and the confiscation of their belongings. The dissidents detailed that the political police raided three houses in the city of Santiago de Cuba on Saturday morning and a fourth in Havana on Wednesday.

Ermito Morán Sánchez, an UNPACU activist, confirmed to14ymedio that they “raided the homes of Carlos Oliva Torres, Yusmila Reyna and Karel Reyes where they seized printed materials, a camera, and other items in response to our activities to disseminate the reality of this country among the people.”

In a telephone conversation with 14ymedio, Yusmila Reyna said that at six in the morning, while her family was sleeping, there was a “knock on the door.” It was the police with “a search warrant for subversive activities.” An officer showed her a paper, but did not allow her to read it carefully or to take it in her hands. The incident occurred on 12th Street in the Mariana de la Torre neighborhood in Santiago de Cuba.

Reyna managed to read that the order specified that they came to “seize methods of communication, money, and any other means of counterrevolution.” A total of ten uniformed officers plus two in plain clothes, who supposedly came to witness the search (Cuban law requires two civilians to witness such a search), participated in the operation.

The raid lasted over an hour and ultimately they seized working notes, two laptops, an electronic tablet, two hard drives, a printer, a camera, “and even receipts for items acquired abroad,” according to Reyna.

The activist circulated a text where she says that “acts like these do not prevent us from continuing our work in defense of human rights and accelerating the process of democratization of our island.”

During the search of her house they also seized a number of issues of the magazine Coexistence, documents relating to the initiative Otro 18 (Another 2018)—in support of free multiparty elections—and documents relating to the Roundtable for United Democratic Action (MUAD).

“They took two staplers and the boxes of staples, and a hole-punch. They didn’t leave any document I was working on and warned me that any demand [for the return of the seized items] would have go to the ‘Confrontation Offices’ but that they were not going to return anything.”

Meanwhile the dissident Arcelio Rafael “Chely” Molina Leyva said that Wednesday morning the police arrived to search his home, which serves as the UNPACU headquarters in Havana.

“They came with several gentlemen in plainclothes and after a thorough search took three laptops, a battery to recharge cell phones, two mobile phones, office supplies, news from international agencies, printed civic material and digital backups,” Chely enumerated.

This is the fourth search of this nature by the political police on UNPACU’s Havana headquarters. As a part of the operation they arrested Carlos Amel Oliva Torres, who despite having a temporary residence permit for Havana was taken to the third station of the National Revolutionary Police (PNR) in Santiago de Cuba, where he is still under arrest.

Oscar Elias Biscet Says That Cuba Can No Longer “Bring Down” The Opposition / EFE (14ymedio) Sat, 28 May 2016 20:18:17 +0000 Continue reading "Oscar Elias Biscet Says That Cuba Can No Longer “Bring Down” The Opposition / EFE (14ymedio)"]]> Cuban dissident Oscar Elias Biscet. (EFE)
Cuban dissident Oscar Elias Biscet. (EFE)

14ymedio biggerEFE (via 14ymedio), Miami, 26 May 2106 — Cuban dissident Oscar Elias Biscet said Wednesday, on arriving at the Miami airport from Spain, that the opposition on the island is “well defined” and that the regime “can no longer bring it down.”

Biscet, who was happy to be in “land of freedom” for Cubans, told reporters that he would explain to the Cuban exile community in South Florida his civic political project to end the dictatorship and promote democracy, through a method of non-violent struggle.

The medical doctor said that the opposition is “very united” and that part of the opposition is his initiative, the Emilia Project, which has gathered the support of more than 3,000 signatures.

He noted that the signers are “brave people, who gave their names, who gave their addresses, their identity card data, saying they do not want more communism.”

Biscet, 54, was optimistic that this group would become “a crowd that would end the dictatorship in Cuba.”

He said his initiative seeks to “make change by shifting the superstructure” and he calls this “the revolution on non-violent human rights.”

The dissident was arrested in late 2002 and sentenced to 25 years in prison for being part of the so-called Black Spring, where a group of dissidents known as the Group of 75, were accused of conspiring with the United States.

Biscet was released from prison in March 2011 during the process of the release of political prisoners carried out by Raul Castro’s government after mediation by the Vatican.

The dissident, who visited Madrid to give a lecture and see friends, admitted this week in Spain that he is afraid of reprisals in Cuba when he returns.

Hollywood Conquers Havana with a Fistful of Dollars / Ivan Garcia Sat, 28 May 2016 14:47:50 +0000 Continue reading "Hollywood Conquers Havana with a Fistful of Dollars / Ivan Garcia"]]> Filming during Fast & Furious 8 in Havana. From Mundo Motorizado.
Filming during Fast & Furious 8 in Havana. From Mundo Motorizado.

Ivan Garcia, 7 May 2016 — A black helicopter hovers at low altitude over Havana Bay. Meanwhile, dozens of pedestrians on the streets below wave and try to capture the image on their mobile phones.

The aircraft makes an acrobatic turn and flies back towards the port. “Mijail, hurry up and try to get a photo now,” yells a girl almost hysterically to her boyfriend, who wastes no time activating the camera from his old Motorola phone.

At the bus stop near the cruise terminal in the old part of the city, everyone has a story to tell about filming in Havana for the eighth installment of Fast & Furious.

Adelfa, a peanut vendor, observes, “A friend of mine who collects empty beer and soda cans told me that — at the Hotel Saratogo, where the actors and some yumas (Americans) are staying — they were handing out twenty dollar bills to everyone who was in the Fountain of the Indian across the street. I missed out. Now I am trying to sell peanuts where people from Hollywood might be to see if they will give me something.”

A guy with the look of a government official says to several people, “The film producers paid forty million dollars to the local People’s Power administration for any inconvenience that might be caused.”

His comments open up a debate. “Would you happen to know what the government plans on doing with this money?” asks a man who says he has been waiting an hour for the P-5 bus. “Will they fix the houses that are falling down or buy new buses?”

A black youth who is listening to music removes his ear buds and replies, “You want me to tell you what I think they will do with the money? They will put it in a bank account in an overseas tax haven for Daddy’s kids: Antonio or Mariela Castro.”

Some of those present cast sideways glances, an instinctive gesture in Cuba denoting fear, to see if someone from the “apparatus” (political police) have heard the young man’s outburst.

On Wednesday, April 20, rehearsals began and on Friday, April 22, they started shooting. From then until Thursday, May 5, when filming is scheduled to end, several streets of Central Havana and Old Havana were closed to traffic, forcing people to walk or take long detours to reach homes or workplaces in those areas.

Production trailers, parked on the corner of Infanta and San Lazaro streets, are surrounded by local residents and curious onlookers. Cuban security personnel hired by the studio are harsh with people taking photos and recording cell phone videos.

“It’s what the producers ordered,” a security guard, justifying this behavior. “They claim that anyone can film a bit of something and then post it on the internet. These people pay a lot and pay well but they always want to control the rights to the film. In Cuba we don’t know anything about this.”

Rumors about Fast & Furious producers handing out money by the fistful are spreading throughout Havana.

Osvel, a driver for a taxi collective who works the Vibora-Vedado route, notes, “They gave ONAT (the government agency that regulates self-employment) three hundred dollars to give for every private-sector worker in the area where they are filming. But the workers only got forty convertible pesos apiece. They’re taking a big cut.”

Arianna, a secretary for ONAT, says, “I cannot confirm how much producers paid. My bosses have not said anything about that, but I do not think the government got that much, as always turns out to be the case with these things.”

As usually happens when it comes to the subject of money in Cuba, the government has remained silent, which has only fed the rumor mill. Getting anything out of a movie studio spokesperson is a mission impossible for a independent journalist.

“When filming is complete, there will be a press conference,” says a man with a Universal Pictures badge. Not even the United States embassy in Havana knows what the studio’s plans are nor anything about a hypothetical press conference with the actors and director.

“Private companies do not necessarily have to contact the embassy to carry out their work. We only have access to governmental agencies,” says an embassy spokeswoman.

Nor can she confirm various Fast & Furious rumors circulating through the city. It is said, for example, that old car owners were paid eighty thousand dollars for the use of their vehicles in collision scenes and that extras were paid fifty dollars an hour.

The fact is that not since Fidel Castro’s revolution has Cuba seen so much Hollywood paraphernalia or such a waste of money.

“The last time Americans filmed here was in the mid-1959s when they shot Our Man in Havana. They paid me ten dollars to play a fruit vendor,” says Ramon, a seventy-six-year-old man who, six decades later, sells corn tamales corn from a bucket of hot water.

The movie, starring Alec Guinness and Maureen O’Hara and based on novel by Graham Greene, won a Golden Globe in 1960.

But the street vendor was mistaken. Our Man in Havana was not an American film; it was British. To Cubans all English speakers look alike.


Cubans Demonstrate In Front Of The US Embassy In Quito / 14ymedio, Mario Penton Sat, 28 May 2016 00:30:21 +0000 Continue reading "Cubans Demonstrate In Front Of The US Embassy In Quito / 14ymedio, Mario Penton"]]> Cubans demonstrating in front the US embassy in Quito, Ecuador, on Friday. (14ymedio)
Cubans demonstrating in front the US embassy in Quito, Ecuador, on Friday. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miami, 27 May 2016 — Hundreds of Cubans, more than a thousand according to organizers, marched this Friday morning in front of the United States embassy in Quito, to ask for Washington’s intervention in the negotiation of an immigration agreement that would allow more than 5,000 migrants reach the US border.

“They didn’t let us go past the embassy. The Ecuadorian police blocked the way,” said Peter Borges, who leads the protests along with Fernanda de la Fe.

According to the activists, it was a peaceful demonstration intended to deliver a letter to the ambassador to ask him to mediate with the Ecuadorian government for the passage of thousands of Cubans who want to emigrate to the United States and take advantage of the Cuban Adjustment Act. Since 1996, the Act has given special treatment to the island’s citizens who are able to reach US territory with regards to emigration.

“Cubans do not want to leave here, we spent several hours in the demonstration,” said the activist.

The letter, which they were not able to deliver, denounced the “horrendous episodes of extortion, rapes, murders and the disappearance of entire families,” which the migrants have suffered on their journey as undocumented emigrants across the continent with the objective of “reaching the freedom and well-being permitted by the generous United States government.”

The purpose of the missive is “to seek help to avoid further loss of human lives.” The letter also states that Cubans living in Ecuador are worried because “the Ecuadorian government has implemented a document review process for a large group of ‘irregular’ Cubans who make their lives here on the occasion of this crisis and as a form of retaliation.”

The demonstration comes after the Mexican government rejected a similar request on 18 May. On that occasion, Jaime del Arenal, Mexican ambassador in Ecuador, explained in a communication that the Cubans, many of whom have not been able to regularize their immigration status in the country, “do not qualify for the granting of visas.”

According to the organizers, the initiative also seeks to avoid adding to the number of Cubans who are stranded in Turbo, Colombia, after Panama closed its border to the passage of undocumented migrants. Panama recently transfered more than 3,800 Cubans to Mexico as the result of an an exceptional migratory agreement.

Following the restoration of diplomatic relations with the United States and the worsening of living conditions on the island, tens of thousands of Cubans are trying to reach the US border for fear that the Cuban Adjustment Act will be repealed. In the current fiscal year alone, between October 1 and April 30, 35,652 Cubans had been accepted under the special “parole” program available to them in the United States. It is expected that more than 60,000 Cubans will arrive in the United States this year.

Cuban Migrants Criticize The High Prices Of Airfares To Mexico / 14ymedio, Mario Penton Fri, 27 May 2016 21:12:25 +0000 Continue reading "Cuban Migrants Criticize The High Prices Of Airfares To Mexico / 14ymedio, Mario Penton"]]> Cuban migrants stranded in Mexico wait to buy airplane tickets to Mexico
Cuban migrants stranded in Mexico wait to buy airplane tickets to Mexico

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miami, 6 May 2016 — Accustomed to standing in long lines on the island, thousands of Cuban migrants stranded in Panama were waiting for hours Friday to buy an airline ticket to Mexico. Among these “middle class rafters” criticism was rising over the high price of airfares which has reached $805 for an adult ticket.

José Antonio Quesada and his wife, both lawyers, are among those who were waiting in the sun today to get tickets. As of May 5, the Panamanian Government authorized the sale of airline for Cuban migrants and at least 800 of them have already purchased their tickets to continue their journey.

The two attorneys spent 1,669 dollars in tickets, including the trip by bus to the airport, the equivalent of more than five years wages for a in Cuba. Both have managed to raise the money with the help of relatives in Miami, but they are concerned because they have no more cash for when they reach the U.S. border.

Quesada and his wife traveled from the island to Ecuador with the intention of settling there and improving their economic condition. However, the obstacles to legalizing their residence and finding jobs pushed them to make a difficult journey through Colombia and the Darién jungle. They departed with the hope of taking advantage of Cuban Adjustment Act which grants immigration benefits to all residents of the island who reach United States.

Now the two professionals are among the lucky ones who have been able to purchase a ticket for flights starting next Monday to the city of Nuevo Laredo in Tamaulipas State, Mexico. The cost of the trip by plane for a child between 2 and 11 years is $332 whereas for a child under a year the amount drops to $160.

The sale of tickets has been marked by the absence of official statements from the Panamanian president’s office, which arouses suspicions among migrants, who fear shady dealings with regards to prices or lack of transparency in the process. “The Government does not give us information,” complains the Cuban Elizander Roque.

As of noon this Friday hundreds of migrants from the island had undertaken, on their own, to travel to the David’s Mall, 25 miles from the shelters where they are staying in Los Planes, Gualaca, to buy tickets.

The prices have surprised Sisleydis Moret, a 25-year-old Cuban who says she feels “desperate” at not having enough money to buy them, due to the expenses of supporting herself during her stay in Panama.

The ticket from Panama to Mexico costs $805 per each adult. (Courtesy)
The ticket from Panama to Mexico costs $805 per each adult. (Courtesy)

Her companion in the hostel, Keily Arteaga, age 29, is in a similar situation. “The news was like a bucket of cold water,” she says and comments that, “now we don’t have the money they are asking for.”

Arteaga, who resides in a house in San Isidro, left Ecuador because she was not able to legalize her immigration status. She had “a good job” but she was illegal, which mean that “all the doors” were closed to her, she explains. She says she has taken advantage of “all of this turmoil” of the immigration crisis in Central America to reach Panama.

Those who travel accompanied by several family members experience the most delicate situation. Isleyda Lelle said she was glad to hear that tickets sales had begun to Mexico, but now she needs to wait for her mother, resident in the United States, to help her “complete” the cost of the trip for her, her brother and her sister-in-law.

For Andy Llanes, the situation is more difficult because he says that he does not have “a single dollar” to buy the ticket. “My journey was very hard, we were attacked along the way and they stole from us all that we had.” In the trip to Panama he details that his partner “was raped and now the poor woman is pregnant from the Coyote who abused her.”

Llanes says the only thing he owns is the “flip-flops” he is wearing and says that if he cannot continue the trip, he will stay in Panama because “I won’t return to Cuba even if they threaten me with death.”

Alfredo Córdoba, regional head of the National Migration Service in the Chiriqui province told 14ymedio that he still does not know what will happen to those Cubans who cannot afford the airfares.

An official source who requested anonymity explained that Cuban migrants found in Puerto Obaldia have not received their passports yet and so far there are no specific directions about whether they will or will not be part of the humanitarian program.

This newspaper has gotten in touch with both the Panama National Migration Service and the country’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, but so far we have not received answers to our questions.

Ed. note: Since this article was written the price of the airfare was lowered and then the sale of tickets was cut off altogether. Translations of articles detailing these subsequent events will follow.

Translated by Alberto

Cuba: The Return of the Power Cuts / Ivan Garcia Fri, 27 May 2016 20:05:41 +0000 Continue reading "Cuba: The Return of the Power Cuts / Ivan Garcia"]]> Black out in Cuba (Cubanet)
Black out in Cuba (Cubanet)

Ivan Garcia, 27 May 2016 — As of three weeks ago there have been power cuts of up to three hours in different parts of Havana. Sometimes longer.

“Friday, April 29 in Altahabana (a neighbourhood in the southeast of the city), the power was cut off from eleven at night until four-thirty in the morning. Because of the heat, I spent the whole night waving a fan over my eight-month-old baby. Two days earlier, there was a three-hour outage in the afternoon,” I was told by Magda,  who works at Comercio Interior.

In the central and eastern provinces, the power cuts started in the middle of March. According to Reinaldo, who lives in San Pedrito in Santiago de Cuba, 550 miles east of Havana, the blackouts aren’t the only problem.

“In some parts of Santiago we get water every eight or nine days. People store it in buckets, bowls and improvised tanks, which increases the chance of mosquitos transmitting dengue, zika and chikungunya. You can add to that the countless earthquakes you get in the months of December through March. Many families sleep in the parks because they are afraid their roofs will collapse. The power cuts in Santiago are frequent. Sometimes half an hour, and other times up to five hours,” Reinaldo told me.

In Remedios, a town in Villa Clara province, 180 miles from the capital, Odaisi, an intensive care assistant, tells me that the cuts have become worse since the end of April.

“There are two or three a week, and sometimes up to five hours, or all night. People go out in the street because of the dreadful heat. Lots of people phone the electric company but they get no reply,” Odaisis said.

Esther, who works in a substation on the outskirts of Havana, is sure it isn’t because of a fuel shortage, which is what many people think. “Fifty percent of the electricity generated in the country uses Cuban diesel. And there are new plants which run on gas. The problem is unexpected breaks in the cables, which, together with maintenance to the power stations in Matanzas and Holguín, have created power shortages in peak hours.”

A power company official, who preferred to remain anonymous, didn’t think that the present cuts will get as bad as the ones in the years of the Special Period [a time of severe crisis after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the elimination of its aid to Cuba].

“No way. The country is much better prepared to deal with electricity supply. Thousands of kilometres of cable have been replaced, transformers and connections have been renewed, and power distribution losses, which got to thirty percent, have fallen to five percent. There is also more modern equipment in the power plants, and we have a contract with Russia to build two new power stations and modernise four others. Our present problem is due to breakages, but we will sort them out in the month of May,” the official assured me.

But Noel, who works at CUPET, the initials of the Cuba Petrol Company, is doubtful. “Out of the 105 thousand barrels a day we were receiving from Venezuela two years ago, now we only get sixty thousand, and my bosses tell me that they expect it to reduce further down to forty thousand or fewer barrels. In Venezuela, because of the drought, and the bad technical state of their power stations, there are constant power cuts outside of Caracas. To that you can add the economic crisis and the fact that oil exports represent ninety-five percent of their income.”

Although a barrel of oil has fallen from over a hundred dollars a barrel a few years ago to a little under thirty dollars on the international market, Orelvis, an economist, believes that the Cuban government doesn’t have enough money to buy fuel.

“Bartering with Venezuela is the perfect business deal. Medical services in exchange for oil, and part of the oil gets re-exported. Now electricity generation in the country has increased. More hotels and private businesses consuming more, and some of the people with money to buy things have air conditioning and electrical appliances in their houses. I think there has been a setback in electricity production, but I don’t think that the situation can be as serious as in the 90’s, and the Special Period, but people need to be ready for programmed blackouts in the coming months,” he thought.

Raisa, a technician in the electric company sees the problem differently. “Every province and town in the country has an assigned level of fuel consumption, and, for various reasons, most of them are consuming more. That, plus the recent breakdowns, are the cause of the latest outages.”

But it’s difficult to convince the Cuban in the street with technical arguments. There is nothing they like less than a power cut.

“It’s one damn thing after another. A screw-up getting any food. Salaries which are too low, not enough public transport, and now they are telling us that if the drought continues, the water supply will be cut in Havana. And, the cherry on the cake, more power cuts. It’s too much. We have had these problems for nearly sixty years, and they have never come up with a definitive solution,” complains Adelberto, a pensioner.

The electricity cuts in Cuba are cyclical. For one reason or another, they always recur. It’s one of the pernicious legacies of Fidel Castro’s revolution.

Translated by GH

“I’m Going to Set Fire to It and See What Happens” / Anddy Sierra Alvarez Fri, 27 May 2016 01:05:38 +0000 Continue reading "“I’m Going to Set Fire to It and See What Happens” / Anddy Sierra Alvarez"]]>
Man throwing trash into the dumping ground. (Photo: Anddy Sierra)

Anddy Sierra, Havana, Cuba, 30 April 2016 — The battle by Lumumba residents against the dumping of solid waste in the neighborhood is all but lost. The garbage dump, established three years ago, is bigger today and includes debris from roadwork done in the area.

According to residents, there were initially only twenty meters of trash, but today it covers more than a hundred. Local residents point to Comunales, the company in charge of collecting the solid waste, as the main cause for what is happening.

“They blame us for creating this dump but it’s not our fault. In this borough (Arroyo Naranjo) it’s Comunales; they are the ones responsible for all the waste here,” said Amelia Corrales, a resident of Lumumba.

“The problem is that we are black and that makes us scapegoats,” notes Yaima Lombillo, a resident of a neighborhood that is predominately dark-skinned. We either have to put up with it or set the trash ablaze to get the firemen to come, as happened three months ago.”

Enrique Peña, a worker at the local headquarters of the company, says that every three months they pick up all the refuse. “We come with a six-person brigade, two trucks and a bulldozer to collect the debris left there by residents. It takes us three hours and in the end everything is clean,” he said. Pity.

He continues, “We don’t throw our trash there but neither do we make sure that some of our workers aren’t dumping garbage there instead of going someplace further away.”

But the problem is that residents do see company workers dumping their trash.

“I passed there three times yesterday and there was a worker throwing garbage there instead of picking it up. When I returned, there was another one doing the same thing. We will continue living in filth and breeding more Aedes aegypti mosquitoes [carriers of dengue fever and the zika virus],” said Miguel Borroto, an area resident.

Local authorities have not responded to the problem. Attempts were made to speak to the local representative but he refused to discuss it. “I am very busy and am not going to my waste time talking to you,” said Alejandro, the area’s representative, when I asked him about the Lumumba dump.

Residents will have to make due with Comunales’ three-month schedule for cleaning an area which apparently its own employees are trashing. “I am not expecting much,” says Yaima Lombillo, “so I am going to set fire to it all and see what happens.”

A Dead End / Fernando Damaso Thu, 26 May 2016 10:05:22 +0000 Continue reading "A Dead End / Fernando Damaso"]]> Fernando Damaso, 24 May 2016 — Historically, Venezuela has been a country of dictators, as have others in Latin America: Simon Bolivar was one, regardless of his merits as the Liberator of America from the Spanish yoke;  and then the Monagas brothers were (1846-1858); followed by Guzmán Blanco (1870-1888), Cipriano Castro (1899-1908), Juan Vicente Gómez (1908-1931), Delgado Chalbaud, Marcos Perez Jimenez (1950-1958), Hugo Chavez and now, in the process of learning, Nicolas Maduro.

Maduro’s pedantry, his attempt to be Chavez’s “designated” successor, his accelerated loss of popular support, the unassailable triumph of the opposition in achieving a majority in the National Assembly, the systematic setbacks of his operation and, now, the overwhelming number of signatures collected to proceed with a midterm recall referendum, plus his economic failures, have made him hysterical, inventing conspiracies, economic wars, interventions and other absurdities, products of his fevered mind and those who guide him from inside and outside the country. As Uruguay’s former president Mujica said, “He is madder than a goat.”

To this is added the environment around him which is not favorable: Argentina without Cristina Kirchner and with Macri, Brazil without Dilma Rousseff and with Temer, Evo Morales unable to be reelected, Correa responsibly dedicated to the his country’s recovery from the earthquake, and Cuba getting worse all the time.

As if that were not enough, the institutions and organisms created by the Latin American Left (UNASUR, ALBA, CELAC and others) in the years of splendor, for their mutual support and to maintain themselves in power, ignoring those existing previously, are in the doldrums, having lost their main sources of economic support, and very little has been done, other than some passing some generic declarations, more formal than real, to make it clear that they are still breathing, although they are in intensive care.

Maduro blames the opposition, the “empire” the OAS, Uribe, and the many who criticize the problems in Venezuela, but forgets that it is, above all, he and Chavism that is to blame. With Maduro and those who sustain him in power, Venezuela will not emerge from the political, economic and social crisis in which it finds itself.

Internet Domains, Sovereignty And Freedom / 14ymedio, Regina Coyula Thu, 26 May 2016 02:18:31 +0000 Continue reading "Internet Domains, Sovereignty And Freedom / 14ymedio, Regina Coyula"]]> Of the approximately 7.4 billion people living on the planet, only 3.2 billion are connected to the Internet. (CC)
Of the approximately 7.4 billion people living on the planet, only 3.2 billion are connected to the Internet. (CC)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Regina Coyula, Havana, 25 May 2016 — For Cubans who update their domestic entertainment weekly with the now famous, private and anonymous “Weekly Packet,” a subtitle in bright greenish-yellow letters at the beginning of movies has become familiar. It is the ever present, which appears so frequently that it spurred my curiosity: I found it impossible to recognize what country corresponded to the extension “.nu” so I turned to the always useful Wikipedia.

Surprise. The country where all the movies we watch at home are pirated is Niue, an atoll with the pretensions of a little island, attached to New Zealand. In 1996, an American (who of course doesn’t live in Niue) took the rights to “.nu” and in 2003 founded the Niue Internet Society, and offered to the local authorities to convert the quasi-island into the first wifi nation of the world. The offer was rounded out with a free computer for every child. Nothing spectacular; we’re talking about a population of barely 1,300 people.

The irony is that while “.nu” generates enormous profits, the inhabitants of Niue who want to connect from home and not from the only internet café are obliged to pay for installation and service.

So I find another curiosity: the second most used internet extension after “.com” corresponds to another little place in the corner of the Pacific, also unnoticed, a group of islets of roughly four square miles. Tokelau is the name of this place whose domain “.tk” hatched in 2009 and was free, and today it is the virtual home of hundreds of thousands of sites of dubious probity.

The way in which the territorial domains of each country (ccTLD, which stands for: country-code-top-level-domain) are managed is very different. The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) has left the who and how to the discretion of each country. Many countries have privatized it either in the hands of institutions or companies created for that purpose, while in others it is done by an entity attached to a stage agency.

The two ways of operating ccTLDs have advantages and disadvantaged. Deregulating the extensions tips the balance toward the more profitable companies to the detriment of the agencies, NGOs and social and cultural institutions. Decreasing the influence of governments, can weigh heavily on the sovereignty of countries with fragile economies or small and young countries.

As a counterpart, state-regulation administration tends to protect social and cultural interests, a successful management style that can lead to gains that positively impact national life. It can also happen that the process for buying a ccTLD are restrictive or discriminatory, sheltering under deliberately vague rules to be applied at their discretion, as is the case with Cuba’s “.cu”.

In Latin America, Argentina is the only country that offers a site for free; hence the millions of sites with the extension “.ar”. This gratuity is about to change because a way to collect payments is being studied. In Chile and Nicaragua domains are administered through public universities. In Guatemala it is also done through a university but in that case a private one.

State regulation occurs in Venezuela through the National Telecommunications Commission (Conatel), and in Cuba through the Information Technologies and Advanced Telematic Services Company (CITMATEL).

Colombia, and without going into details about its antecedents, is a reflection of a similar debate ongoing in many countries. A private company owns its ccTLD and they believe that the fact that 89% of the owners of a “.co” site are foreigners living outside the country, far from violating national identity, internationalizes Colombia and brings its brand to the entire world. What underlies these debates is that the market is imposed on cultural values and little can be done in the defense of an intangible patrimony.

But ultimately, who governs the Internet? Any observant newcomer claims that the United States governs it. On its territory are the institutions and the majority of the servers intended to organize what would otherwise be chaos.

The now well-known ICANN assigns domain names (DNS) to IP addresses, has a contract with the government and is located in California. Very influential internet companies such as Microsoft, Google and Amazon are also American. By September there will be news of a change; simply that ICANN will be independent of the United States Department of Commerce.

In this asymmetric influence are counterpoised the interest of other parties involved and also of the internet. International organizations such as those dealing with trade (the ITO), intellectual property and the International Communications Union have been involved in conjunction with ICANN. Virtual space modifies the notion of sovereignty, with added risks to equality and diversity; so the term governance has gained importance in the design of policies, where governments, civil society, business, academic and technical innovators come together.

In the same way that innovative technicians have placed in our hands the protocol that ensures open access to the internet from any type of device, it behooves governance to establish policies, even if they are not binding, to guarantee freedom of expression and information, full access and limits on control.

Shameful Friends / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez Wed, 25 May 2016 20:44:47 +0000 Continue reading "Shameful Friends / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez"]]> Alexandr Lukashenko has been in power in Belarus since 1994. (CC)
Alexandr Lukashenko has been in power in Belarus since 1994. (CC)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Generation Y, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 25 May 2016 – People with whom we share sorrows and joys are a reflection of ourselves, however different they may appear. As friends we choose them to accompany us, but also to complete us, with the diversity and continuity that our human nature needs. The problem is when our choices of coexistence are not based on affinities and preferences, but on interests and alliances focused on annoying others.

In the same week, the Cuban executive has embraced two deplorable authoritarian regimes. A few hours after Cuban Vice President Miguel Diaz-Canel Bermudez met with government functionaries in Belarus, Havana’s Plaza of the Revolution hosted a meeting between Raul Castro and a special representative from North Korea’s Workers Party. Disgraceful comrades, shamelessly embraced and praised by the island’s officialdom.

In a world where civil society, calls for the respect for human rights, and movements that promote the recognition of rights are making themselves heard ever more loudly, it is difficult for the Cuban government to explain his good relations with Europe’s last dictator and with the cruelly capricious grandson who inherited power through his bloodline. What united the island’s authorities with similar political specimens?

The only possible answer is sticking their finger in the eye of Western democracies and the White House. The problem with this attitude lies in the demands from these fellow travelers for commitments and silences. Diplomatic friendship is converted into complicity and the comrades end up defining the nature of those who have chosen their company.

‘El Sexto’: “Myths are very dangerous, but an idea can break them.” / 14ymedio, Maria Tejero Martin Wed, 25 May 2016 20:09:00 +0000 Continue reading "‘El Sexto’: “Myths are very dangerous, but an idea can break them.” / 14ymedio, Maria Tejero Martin"]]> Danilo Maldonado – known as El Sexto – at the Oslo Freedom Forum. (OFF)
Danilo Maldonado – known as El Sexto – at the Oslo Freedom Forum. (OFF)

14ymedio biggerEFE (via 14ymedio), Maria Tejero Martin, Oslo, 24 May 2016 – Danilo Maldonado is known as El Sexto the name engraved in ink on his skin and that he paints on the walls of Havana to plant an idea of freedom in his compatriots, like a seed that flourishes and breaks the “dangerous myths” that, he says, surround Cuba.

When he was nine he caused his mother grief when he drew Fidel Castro in his military uniform but with the head of a monkey; by his twenties he had decided to turn himself into the antihero El Sexto (The Sixth), in response to the regime’s campaign to free Los Cinco (The Five), Cuban agents arrested in the United States.

In his thirties, after the United States initiated contacts with Cuba after years of the embargo, Maldonado “knew I would go to jail” he told EFE, when he was inspired to paint the names “Raul” and “Fidel” on the backs of two pigs for a piece of Orwellian inspired performance art which he was unable to carry out.

“The worst thing is that I never got to release them, but I went to jail, I went to jail for something that never existed, without cause or role,” explained Maldonado, who was declared a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International.

His incarceration prevented him from collecting the Vaclav Havel Prize for creative dissent a year ago in Oslo, and today he is in the Norwegian capital for the first time, where he is participating in the Oslo Freedom Forum, although he says that he has already attended this annual forum of activists and defenders of human rights “in conscience.”

This is a basic word for this artist who considers himself a “prisoner of conscience” who seeks to “awaken” the conscience of Cubans and open the eyes of foreigners whose romanticism prevents them from seeing that the vintage cars that circulate around Havana “means that we are stuck in time.”

Meanwhile he draws on a page, showing the Little Prince that he carries on his long lean arm. And if, as Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s character would say, “the essence is invisible to the eyes,” Maldonado feels that his mission is to attack just there, on the plane of abstract consciousness, where he “works with things that don’t exist to make them a reality.”

Like freedom in Cuba, he laments, although he is “sure” that art will first bring rights to the island and later allow them to become reality, in the same way, he explains, that he conceived the hunger strike he undertook in prison as a work of art titled “Mao’s awakening.”

“I said that if consciousness could change what is, it should save me from there, I would die because I would have been talking complete shit. The bars have to opened by the hands of the repressor himself, only in this way will art exist. And so it happened,” he affirmed.

Maldonado believes that art can serve as a catalyst for any change, like a predecessor, and says that “an idea can destroy what exists.” Even the regime.

“I want to bring down a dictatorship that has lasted for a very long time in my country, demystify it and demystify the false canons it was selling, like that of Che Guevara,” says El Sexto.

“Often it sold [the idea] that wearing green and roaming the world with weapons was cool. And it is not cool. Cool was a guy like Martin Luther King, Mahatma Gandhi or Christ. But cool is not the type of people who believe they are rebels and what they are is a murderer who wants to impose his idea,” he added.

Maldonado does not mince words, either to defend the caricatures of Muhammad or to charge his followers who have spent centuries killing in his name.

“That is what I don’t want to have happen in my country, that I die and that fucking nutcase passes as a savior. What I want is that my art demystifies and destroys him, leaves his essence in the base and that people understand he is not good,” he says, referring to Castro.

For him, he is confident that “art can do anything,” even with some “very dangerous myths.”

“They manage to go on for so long that if people don’t chip away at them they are more dangerous dead than alive. But an idea can destroy and undermine anything (…) That is why they fear me and follow me. They took me prisoner because they know of this influence,” says the artist, who says he will continue living in Cuba and will give his life for what he considers his duty: “Awakening” consciences.