Translating Cuba English Translations of Cubans Writing From the Island Thu, 11 Feb 2016 01:00:34 +0000 en-US hourly 1 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.

Year of the Monkey in Chinatown / 14ymedio Tue, 09 Feb 2016 00:18:22 +0000 Continue reading ]]> Festivities for the Lunar New Year in Havana’s Chinatown. (14ymedio)

Festivities for the Lunar New Year in Havana’s Chinatown. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 8 February 2016 — Colorful costumes, dancing and lots of rain characterized Sunday in Havana’s Chinatown with the celebrations for the arrival of the Lunar New Year this February 8. Despite the inclement weather, the festivities lasted until late at night and included dances typical of China and martial arts demonstrations.

The beginning of the Year of the Monkey was celebrated by the residents of Chinatown, descendants of the Chinese who lived around Zanja and Dragones Streets, as well as tourists. Some private businesses decorated their interiors with references to the restless animal, the ninth of the twelve that make up the Chinese horoscope, which won’t repeat until 2028.

There is no lack of sellers taking advantage of the holiday to sell stuffed or plastic monkeys as well as culinary offerings tied to the occasion. The main street in the neighborhood was a hotbed of the curious and diners who were attracted by the spectacle and the chances of lower food prices.

The activities had begun 15 days before the advent of the so-called Spring Festival and were organized by the Confucius Institute, the Cuban School of Wushu, the House of Art and Chinese Traditions and the Chung Wah Casino Federation, the principal Chinese community center in Cuba. Some places that sell food also had their own celebrations.

The Sunday program began with a craft fair on Saint Nicholas Boulevard and various traditional games. For kids there was a show of skills in calligraphy and paper cutting, typical of this ancient culture. Roberto Vargas Lee, director of the Cuban School of Wushu, delivered opening remarks and thanked the parents who had brought their children in spite of the rain.

Traditional dragon and peacock dances were the most anticipated because of their colorfulness and the skill of the dancers, although many participants agreed on the weakness of the celebration, in which limited resources and organizational problems marred the important date.

Cuba’s Phone Monopoly: Between Capitalism And Paternalism / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar Mon, 08 Feb 2016 22:14:43 +0000 Continue reading ]]> Users in the current wireless area of Holguin. (Fernando Donate Ochoa)

Users in the current wireless area of Holguin. (Fernando Donate Ochoa)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 8 February 2016 — Applying the toughest rules of the market on the one hand and presenting itself as paternalistic on the other, is a game well played by the Telecommunications Company of Cuba (ETECSA). While the benefits to its customers arrive drop by drop, the rates are applied strictly to the letter, without the least compassion and with no relationship to Cuban wages.

The new Wifi zones that will be opened this year, along with the timid beginning of installing internet in private homes, barely silences customer complaints over the high costs of cellphones and the deficiencies in the service. The news that five Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC) recharges will get a bonus of 10 extra minutes and 20 domestic text messages, does not appease the company’s critics. [Ed. note: 5 CUC is more than $5, while wages for state workers generally don’t exceed $20 a month.]

During a press conference, Tania Valezquez, ETECSA’s direction of sales and marketing, repeated that they are doing nothing “to arbitrarily lower prices… (without) the infrastructure to support and respond to the increase in demand that would occur.” An affirmation that raises the question, “And what have you done with all the money you’ve earned over the last decades?”

The confessions of this functionary make it clear that the “principles” that the government appeals to when they ask private sellers to lower the prices of farm products, do not apply in the case of phone service. If the state company does not have the real capacity to improve the levels of traffic, it regulates consumption through high prices.

What the functionary did not say, or was not allowed to say, is that this service is not intended to benefit workers who earn 500 Cuban pesos (CUP) a month, because they would have to spend a quarter of their monthly salary — a full week’s wages — to buy the cheapest recharge card.

Nevertheless, the number of cellphone customers in Cuba is increasing, with more than three million mobile lines in service at the end of 2015, tangible proof that the amount of money in the hands of the citizenry is not directly tied to the system of wages. But ETECSA just can’t understand that these are customers, not beneficiaries of a giveaway, who complain that they do not receive a quality of service that corresponds to the high rates they are paying for it.

It is time for the country’s only telephone company to set aside the contradictory discourse of presenting itself as a company that is doing a great favor to Cubans by installing a dozen Wifi zones across the whole country. Its extortionate prices and its status as a monopoly place it squarely  the worst of savage capitalists that the Cuban authorities claim to abominate.

Brazilian Odebrecht Group Expands Its Presence In Cuba / 14ymedio Sun, 07 Feb 2016 23:30:55 +0000 Continue reading ]]> Container terminal at Mariel Special Development Zone. (

Container terminal at Mariel Special Development Zone. (

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 3 February 2016 — The Brazilian Odebrecht Group will expand its presence in Cuba with two contracts in the sugar industry and in civil aviation, according a report from the Prensa Latina agency. On January 13, the company also received authorization to operate in the Mariel Special Development Zone (ZEDM) over the next 15 years to provide engineering and construction services to potential foreign investors through its Works and Infrastructure Company (COI).

A representative of Odebrecht, Mauro Augusto Hueb, told Prensa Latina that the business potential is enormous and that COI is studying the possibility of asking the Cuban authorities for another permission to invest in a plant producing plastic packaging located in Mariel.

The Brazilian company has signed a management contract with Azcuba, Cuba’s state sugar company, for the September Fifth Sugar Mill in Cienfuegos. “Our work will include loan structuring, modernizing the plant, improving the agricultural side and central administration, with a guarantee of maximum power generation from the cane bagasse,” said Hueb. He said that the first action will be to increase sugarcane plantings and efficiency per hectare.

Hueb praised the “high educational level, sense of discipline and impressive ability to learn” of Cuban workers and said that on the island the company found “a great potential for permanence in perpetuity.”

In Cuba, Odebrecht built the container terminal at the Port of Mariel, a one billion dollar project, most of it financed by loans from the Brazilian government. Its Works and Infrastructure Company is responsible for the modernization and expansion of Terminal Three at the José Martí International Airport in Havana. The group expects the new facility will be operational within two years and “will double the airport’s capacity to respond to the growth in international tourism.”

The company is convinced that the country offers “security for investors.” Hueb added, “When we first came, we found it notable that the economic guidelines approved by the government arose from a joint effort with the population… There is a clear vision of the direction that Cuba wants to follow to develop, and this provides security for investors.”

Hueb acknowledged that many foreigners who come to the island express concern when it comes time to invest. “Whenever I have the opportunity, I tell them about my experience in the implementation of the container terminal in Mariel: some 6,000 Cubans were involved in that, and for us the employment company [the Cuban government] was never an obstacle, its involvement was feasible, beneficial, economical and efficient,” he said.

Odebrecht is being investigated in Brazil along with 26 other firms for their alleged involvement in a corruption network entrenched in Petrobras which, over the past decade, according to the oil company’s own admissions, illegally appropriated two billion dollars. The president of the group, Marcelo Odebrecht, was arrested last June as part of the investigation, accused of fraud.

Construction Materials / 14ymedio Sun, 07 Feb 2016 22:30:21 +0000 Continue reading ]]> Construction materials outside a building in Havana. (14ymedio)

Construction materials outside a building in Havana. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 5 February 2016 – Building or repairing a house in Cuba is a road strewn with obstacles, which begin with getting the permits, finding labor and buying materials. Despite the new programs to locally produce aggregates and blocks, the providers can’t keep up in the face of the high demand in a country where more than 60% of housing units are in fair or poor condition.

Sales of construction materials are also marked by the so-called “diversion” (i.e. stealing) of resources, mismanagement, the arbitrary behavior of prices and the shortages of products in greatest demand: cement, iron bars, and cement and zinc tiles.

At places where these products are sold in Cuban pesos, often missing are doors, windows, bathroom fixtures, paint, plastic parts for piping and hydraulic and sanitary fittings. The situation becomes even more critical with mosaics and tiles, concrete joists and water tanks.

Fidel Castro Elected As A Delegate To Cuban Communist Party Seventh Congress / EFE, 14ymedio Sun, 07 Feb 2016 21:30:39 +0000 Continue reading ]]> Former Cuban president Fidel Castro, in January 2014.

Former Cuban president, Fidel Castro, in January 2014.

14ymedio biggerEFE (14ymedio), Havana, 4 February 2016 – Former Cuban president Fidel Castro was elected as a delegate to the Seventh Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba (the country’s only party), to be held this coming April, as reported by the island’s government-owned media.

Fidel Castro, 89 and retired from power since 2006, will be a delegate to the Communist conclave for the city of Santiago de Cuba, where 306 leaders of the José Martí district committee designated him by acclamation.

As reported on the front page the newspaper Granma, Fidel Castro “embodies the highest principles of a revolutionary” and is a “man of deep convictions and visionary ideas” who founded the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC) and became its first secretary from the date of the creation of its Central Committee in 1965, to its last conclave, in 2011.

At this last Congress, Fidel Castro was replaced in the post of first secretary by his brother Raul, who took control of the country when the leader fell ill in 2006 and was ratified as president in 2008.

At its last congress, the Cuban Communist Party approved the plan for the “updating” of the country’s economic model, undertaken by Raul Castro in his mandate.

The appointment of Fidel Castro as a delegate to the 7th conclave of the Cuban communists is part of the pre-congress process; the meeting that will convene on 16 April 2016.

For A Real Battle Of Ideas in Cuba / 14ymedio, Regina Coyula Sun, 07 Feb 2016 19:53:47 +0000 Continue reading ]]> Sign on a street of Havana. “The Revolution is Invincible” (EFE)

Sign on a street of Havana. “The Revolution is Invincible” (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Regina Coyula, Havana, 7 February 2016 – Whether it is a Cuban government presided over by a member of the Communist party, or by someone else elected by the direct and secret vote of the citizenry, the challenges that lie ahead for this future government are immeasurable. In an environment with a free flow of information, where stating an opinion is no longer perceived as a punishable activity by some, or potentially dangerous by others, Cuba, as unanimous as it seems to be, will become a tempestuous stage for disparate opinions.

The workers, who today serve the goals and wave the flags of the collective vanguard, will demand rights and organize strikes. This country that seems so quiescent today will become a Tower of Babel. That is why it is so important that the different visions of Cuba not ignore each other, and above all that the government does not ignore them all. Even common sense suggests that within the ranks of the apparently monolithic ruling party, there are opinions far removed from the party line and that it is thanks only to the mortar of so-called democratic centralism that they are not noticed.

Among citizens, anyone who wishes to engage in serious politics, if they want to attract interest and get votes, must be explicit and convincing with respect to preserving a system of healthcare, education and social security that covers everyone, although these activities do not have to be exclusively free. The inequalities that are currently shamelessly on display, are precisely in schools and health centers.

The lack of a sense of ownership and the feeling that “everything belongs to everyone, so nothing belongs to anyone,” has had disastrous results. Different forms of ownership have not been implemented except on an exceptional basis. Faced with limited private property (home, auto, cemetery vault, furniture, personal belongings, farmland), the rest has been overwhelmingly state-owned, not owned in common, however much they try to explain otherwise.

The economy needs to be renewed. It is urgent to modify the timid Investment Law so that the most motivated (Cubans, regardless of their geography) can participate. The state must become an efficient administrator and coordinator and must reform its bloated and unwieldy structure. Not making the necessary layoffs to pare the state structure is a political decision with an economic burden that also affects the lack of equality.

Fiscal policy (fair, based on production and productivity) should finance social policies and the strategic development of the country, but with full transparency about the uses of this money. It is disrespectful to taxpayers to force them to support an enormous and inefficient state apparatus. Planning must be realistic, and set aside volunteerism, historical anniversaries or “tasks handed down from above,” and should be a natural part of the autonomy of these businesses.

The market can no longer be subordinated to politics; in any event it must be subordinated to social interests. State intervention in the prices of agricultural products is viewed with suspicion and the critics didn’t take long to appear.

To articulate democratic participation and obedience to the law without exceptions are the greatest challenges, and we should not fear a real battle of ideas. If citizens feel their participation is truly voluntary and that they are honestly informed, their participation will be massive and spontaneous.

A good plan for the future should be based on José Martí’s idea of a republic for all and for the good of all. In a project like this there is room for all Cubans, on the island and abroad, ready to debate and to respect what is decided at the polls, and there is a great deal that will need to be voted on in the coming years.

As in any joint venture, no one will emerge the total winner. Negotiations will be open, as the development of a plan for the future must be open if it is to succeed after the secrecy of all these years. And citizens, through their votes, must have the last word.

We are not inventing anything. There is a wealth of experience in our history and in history in general about how to do things that come out better, versus worse. Personally, I have many doubts about how it should be, but I have none about how it should NOT be.