From the National Highway to the Information Highway / Regina Coyula

Source: Wikipedia

Regina Coyula, 13 September 2018  — In the 1980s, when driving along the brand new highway pompously named Ocho Vías (Eight Lanes), one’s attention was drawn to the small sheds distributed along the way. It was then for coaxial cable, but it would be for fiber optics. The latest. Those little sheds promised (or seemed to promise, would be more accurate) modern telecommunications thanks to a fast and reliable technology, even in the face of storms and our traditional hurricanes.

But it was the ’80s, the country was pointed towards (and bolstered by ) the societal project of the New Man, and with the demise of that project a slow death has taken over what came to be constructed of the National Highway, which should have ended in Santiago de Cuba, but lurched toward and ended at the center of the island. The same fate must have befallen the other project of the small sheds, regarding which there is no news.

I was thinking about this on this weekend in 2018, when I tried to connect through the free test announced by Etecsa, the phone company, which was meant to allow us to connect to the internet via cellphones.

Translated by Jim

Prologue to “La Grieta”

La Grieta is a novel full of dramatic moments, it is not exempt from those tragicomic instants derived from the totalitarian context. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 15 September 2018 — A quarter of a century ago, when I met Reinaldo Escobar, there were at least two obsessions around which his life revolved. The first was to try to continue doing journalism despite having been expelled from the official media, and the other was this novel, a biographical exorcism that he wrote with an almost monastic discipline.

That process of typing, on his sonorous Adler machine, the experiences accumulated in more than two decades of working in the press controlled by the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC), was happening at a time when the country was falling into the abyss of the economic crisis after the collapse of the socialist camp. So the sheets were filled amid the blackouts, shortages and long hours on an empty stomach.

After his expulsion from the Juventud Rebelde newspaper, Escobar had tried all sorts of occupations – providing material for a second novel – on a downward slide that found its parallel in the fall being experienced on the island. He worked as a proofreader in the National Library, where they sent him as punishment for the critical insolence of his articles, texts that, read in the light of today, produce more shame than pride, he confesses. continue reading

In the library galleries full of volumes, the journalist found a long list of censored books, met other punished individuals, and even signed a letter of protest against the agreements of the Fourth Congress of the PCC. That new boldness cost him another administrative warning that convinced him to distance himself from any state workplace where he toiled with the volatile material of words and ideas.

Thus he became an elevator mechanic, the job he had when he wrote the first page of this novel starring his alter ego Antonio Martínez. Thus, that original text had all the traces of the appeal of a condemned man, of someone who feels that an unjust penalty has been applied to him and who hopes to be able to vindicate himself through his own version of the facts. He hoped that after reading it they would come to rescue him from his forced “pajama plan”*.

That original text had all the traces of the appeal of a condemned man, of someone who feels that an unjust penalty has been applied to him and who hopes to be able to vindicate himself through his own version of the facts

That character of accusation was lost as he added paragraphs where he verified, with each passage, that he, too, had been responsible for the construction of the mirage of the Cuban Revolution. Another conviction began to surface with each written syllable: the censors who had expelled him from the official press had given him the gift of a charter of freedom to do the journalism he had always dreamed of. Rather than suing them, he almost had to thank them.

Overcoming that first desire to display his innocence, Escobar concentrated on narrating the events that took him from a desk in the School of Journalism to a greasy cab where he adjusted the mechanism of an old elevator, while the neighbors shouted at him to get it working as soon as possible and a brigade leader looked with scorn on that reporter fallen into disgrace.

It was a journey from the summit to the abyss, from being a reliable compañero to a dissident. The descent from the cloud of privileges, to the stinking hole of the counterrevolutionaries. In short, letter by letter, he wove the story of the journey to the infernos of real socialism and the lowest of its circles, where the renegades wander, persecuted by insults and reprisals.

Escobar dispenses with the tricks of language; his is a prose indebted to journalism, devoid of ornaments and without metaphorical boasts. His intention was never to transform into literature the uneasy journey of a communicator, but to make the fiction boil over with objectivity and to bear a part of those words that he had not been able to sneak into the national press.

The writing of this journey from revolutionary faith to apostasy began when the Berlin Wall had already fallen and the Soviet Union had dismembered itself without even one of those proletarians of the red flag doing anything to prevent it. The events surrounding Reinaldo Escobar fit the predictions ventured by Antonio Martinez while listening from the press room, as the cracks of the Cuban system opened.

Escobar dispenses with the tricks of language; his is a prose indebted to journalism, devoid of ornaments and without metaphorical boasts

 Completing each chapter became a struggle against the clock, driven by the mistaken feeling that Castroism was living its final years and this novel must be finished before the system that condemned its author to ostracism expired. It was the little victory of the ousted journalist: to sketch some letters of what would be the collective epitaph of a chimera.

The exercise demanded more than bravery. He suffered so many interruptions, especially those stemming from the numerous friends who filled his apartment in search of a space of freedom in that suffocating Cuba of the nineties, that in order to concentrate on his work he locked himself in a room for weeks, leaving a warning sign the he needed “absolute tranquility.” The message was in vain, because in Havana, in 1993, peace was as scarce as food.

In this context, La Grieta (The Crack) – which at that time carried the significant title Pages from the Pit – had to deal not only with the obstacles imposed by a disintegrating everyday life, but also with surveillance. Reinaldo received frequent “control visits” from a State Security official who shared his name and who asked, insistently, if he was writing “any book.”

Finally that unwanted “guardian angel” learned from other sources that there was a novel under development, something that sealed the fate of that first version, typed without copies. In May of 1994, when the author traveled for the first time outside of Cuba, bound for Berlin, his name echoed on the loudspeakers of the José Martí International Airport. A uniformed man confiscated the novel he was trying to get out of the island.

All that Escobar has left from that seizure is an official document in which the General Customs of the Republic provides a receipt for having seized some “some sheets with writing typed by machine” (sic). Later, in front of the first computer he had touched in his life, lent to him by a friend in Frankfurt, he began the hard task of trying to remember the novel that had been taken from him. From this effort of memory, the current text was born.

Reinaldo received frequent “control visits” from a State Security official who shared his name and who asked, insistently, if he was writing “any book.”

With the need to, once again, put in black and white the book that had been finished, the author decided to reshape the whole plot. He applied the scissors with great daring, decided to use the real names of most of the characters which, in the first version, he had changed for discretion, and present the protagonist with less heroism and more guilt.

The rewriting of La Grieta took more than two decades. During this time, Escobar could not hang a “do not disturb” sign to fully immerse himself in his endeavor, but rather was battered by the hurricane winds of life. His work as an independent journalist, which began with a collaboration with The Guardian in January 1989, led to several unsettling situations.

The Black Spring of 2003 arrived and the author watched as several colleagues were condemned to long prison terms and Fidel Castro tightened the repressive screws of the system. At that time, not even a memory was left what had been experienced in the years when the winds of Glasnost were blowing over Cuba and many had opted to create a press more attached to reality.

The majority of those reporters, editors and photographers who, influenced by the Soviet Perestroika, had tried to publish on the national plane more critical reports, bolder columns or more daring images, had ended up emigrating, or had locked themselves in self-censorship or had made the leap to independent journalism where they played with their own freedom every day.

The story of Antonio Martínez took on other connotations in these new circumstances. It was no longer just about the troubles of a university graduate who wanted to apply in practice what the manuals had taught him in school, but of a survivor. A Cuban who had gone through the stages of fascination, and then doubt, to rejection. His life was a testimony of disenchantment.

The story of Antonio charged other connotations in these new circumstances. It was no longer just about the troubles of a university graduate who wanted to apply in practice what the manuals had taught him in school, but of a survivor.

The pressures of reality on the fiction he was writing shaped La Grieta as a map of disenchantment, which marked the path followed by a young man who hoped to make an authentically revolutionary journalism and ended up being labeled as an “enemy.” As they peruse its pages, readers will go through different stages with respect to the protagonist; sometimes they will be sympathetic and at others they will want to insult him for harboring so much naiveté.

The author has not wanted to misrepresent those illusions, nor to present himself as someone who always knew that the communist utopia was impracticable and that underneath the false slogans of a system for the humble, the hidden reality was the construction of a calculated totalitarianism. Instead of the cynical look that his later experiences might have given him, Escobar prefers to assemble Martinez’s character with his real elements of ingenuousness.

That gullibility, shared by millions of Cubans during the first years of the Revolution, is what leads the protagonist to want to use his journalism to show what is working badly, in order to fix and rectify it. At the beginning, he falls into the trap of thinking that the greatest problems were derived from an incorrect application of the doctrine and not from the system itself.

In his dreams, he imagined that he would run into someone from the nomenklatura to whom he could explain the damage that bureaucrats and extremists caused the Revolution by distorting its precepts when putting them into practice. He speculated that if he could manage to explain to the leaders the inconsistencies between the proposed goal and the path that was being taken to reach it, surely the course could be corrected.

An attitude that repeats in his romantic life, in which he tirelessly seeks a love that fits the ideal mold that has been shaped from the borrowing of verses from Vicente Huidobro, the opinions of his mother, and the idea of an inseparable compañera from official propaganda. That passionate fantasy also ends – at least in the novel – shattered against the sharp rocks of reality. 

In the style of a tropical Milan Kundera, Escobar is unveiling the successive masks worn by many of the characters to survive professionally and socially

In the style of a tropical Milan Kundera, Escobar is unveiling the successive masks worn by many of the characters to survive professionally and socially. Opportunism, indolence and even radicalism are some of the obligatory covers for the political carnival of which he is a part. Sometimes he can see the face beneath those masks and he feels the urgent desire to flee in terror.

Although La Grieta is a novel full of dramatic moments, it is not exempt from those tragicomic instants derived from the totalitarian context. One in which the dilemma of whether to put butter or mayonnaise on the bread of the workers’ snacks encapsulates the dilemma between the freedom of opinion and the militant discipline that the regime expects from its employees.

Untimely questions, misguided sincerity, excessive self-criticism and the desire to improve society from the pages of newspapers are setting Antonio Martínez apart. With keenness, the censors notice the danger that exists in an individual who has swallowed the speeches delivered from the podiums. His end is defined as soon as they recognize a true believer.

This novel, for all that, is a description of a professional and social suicide. The precise narration of how the flame of a utopia burned the wings of a generation of Cubans, with the consent and approval of many of them. Reinaldo Escobar, who burned in that fire, has had the courage to tell the story.

*Translator’s note: “Pajama plan” is a common Cuban euphemism for the status of public employees forced out of their positions for political reasons.

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

Cuban Government Demands More Fidelity and Less Ability From Journalism Students

The Faculty of Communication is one of the most demanded by students. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 14 September 2018 – High school students who aspire to enter the University to train as journalists will no longer have to demonstrate the high academic achievement required in the past. As of the next academic year, 2019-2020, simply passing the entrance exams and “aptitude test” will be sufficient, according to the official press.

René Sánchez, Director of Admissions and Employment Placement for the Ministry of Higher Education (MES) confirmed in a press conference that the candidates for a place in journalism programs will be “selected by a rigorous process that demonstrates the necessary skills for this specialty and commitment with the best traditions of that profession in Cuba,” the so-called “aptitude test” that has existed for years.

The novelty is that, after having succeeded in this peculiar examination which traditionally evaluated a knowledge of history, the ability to write and the ideological fidelity to the system; they will have “pre-earned the career, and they will only have to pass the entrance exams to register, that is, they will not fill out an application or compete for the major.” continue reading

The parameters that will be measured in the aptitude tests are outlined in a note recently published by Adelante newspaper in the province of Camagüey that promotes “exchanges” identified as “vocational training spaces” organized by the Cuban Journalists Union (UPEC) where applicants to the profession can study to pass the aptitude tests.

According to this provincial media the exchanges will take place from late September to mid-October in the Camagüey Press Center to train for three phases of the aptitude test called “general culture,” “writing and understanding” and “the interview,” with the understanding that the latter will not be the submission of a work of journalism, but an interview which the applicant will face to be accepted.

The president of the National Journalism Careers Commission, Maribel Acosta, told this newspaper in a telephone interview that the aptitude tests will be what establishes acceptance into the journalism department, according to the plan of places awarded.

“At the moment we are trying to clarify with the MES whether the aptitude tests are going to be centralized or decentralized,” Acosta added. In the latter case, each study center will hold its own exams, but if they continue to be centralized, they will be carried out by the Commission and will be the same day and at the same time throughout the country.

When the new measure takes effects, students who apply will not have to obtain outstanding grades in the entrance exams or have a high grade point average accumulated in three years of high school.

Over the last 30 years, the Bachelor of Journalism had been at the top of the pyramid of aspirations for university degrees, and for that reason and due to the ranking system based on the academic performance that has prevailed, only high school graduates with grades higher than 95 or 97 points could be admitted to this discipline, after having passed a supplemental proficiency test.

“This faculty has been considered as a kind of elite to which only the brightest high school graduates are admitted. Now the most docile, the most ‘politically correct’ will enter and that will be good news for those who direct the press in this country,” a young student of the first year of the Faculty of Communication of the University of Havana commented to 14ymedio on condition of anonymity.

Marlon, 16, a high school sophomore in Havana, considers the measure favorable because, in his opinion, “the materials that are measured in the entrance tests do not define the quality of a journalist, who must have more than skills for writing or oral expression.” The young person maintains that “this eases the way for many people who have journalistic vocation but who did not get good scores on the examinations.”

In other more sensitive careers such as medicine or teaching many young people have managed to enter with average grades and very low scores on entrance exams, because of the country’s urgent need for doctors and teachers, the first to sustain the government’s profitable business of selling their services abroad on the so-called “medical missions,” and the second to cover the deficit of teachers.

The Higher Institute of International Relations (ISRI) and the Higher Institute of Art (ISA) are the other careers that require their applicants to take an aptitude test. In the case of the ISA, this test is related to the necessary skills that an artist must assume, for dance, theater, music or visual arts, but in ISRI and journalism the ideology aspect is of higher importance, such that the “aptitudes” tested are translated into “attitudes.”

These new measures is going to be applied after the last Congress of the Cuban Journalists Union (UPEC) and on the eve of a Press Law still to be enacted.

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

Prior Censorship, Decree 349 and the Constitutional Project of the Cuban Communist Party / Cubalex

Cubalex, 11 September 2018 — Decree 349/2018 sets up a system of prior censorship of cultural and artistic activities and other forms of expression, violating the freedom to carry out creative activities and the right to develop the human personality. It also offends against freedom of thought, belief and religion: and the right to hold opinion, to associate and to peaceful assembly.

In the Constitutional Project of the Cuban Communist Party, there is recognised, among other things, in relation to all citizens (although not all persons) the right to education, to culture, and its comprehensive development. Every person has the right to participate in the cultural and artistic life of the country. Men and women have equal cultural rights and obligations. Citizens should protect the natural resources and the cultural and historical heritage of the country. continue reading

The state recognises that the forms of artistic expression and artistic creation are free, but affirms categorically that its content must respect the values of a socialist Cuban society. This statement is a tacit recognition that prior censorship will be employed to supervise the content of the forms of artistic expression and artistic creation.

According to the Committee of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, in its General Observation 21: The right of every person to participate in cultural life (Article 15 paragraph 1(a)), and also the other rights established in the International Agreement on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, imposes on the states three types or levels of obligation:

a) the obligation to respect;

b) the obligation to protect, and

c) the obligation to comply.

The obligation to respect requires the Cuban state to refrain from interfering, directly or indirectly, in the enjoyment of the right to participate in cultural life, which includes the creation, individually, or in association with others, or in a community or group, which implies that the state should abolish censorship of cultural activities imposed on the arts and other forms of expression. In other words, it is necessary to repeal Decree 349 and provide a constitutional project which may be supported by all of us.

(1) Art. 43 of the draft Constitutional bill

(2) Art. 45 section 1) of Article 91 of the draft Constitutional bill

(3) Section h) of the draft Constitutional bill

Translated by GH

Animal Protection… Also for Oxen

The economic crisis has meant that for decades most work on the land is done with oxen. (A. Bielosouv)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Marcelo Hernández, Havana, September 13, 2018 — One of the subjects that has come up most frequently in the meetings where the reform of the Constitution is being debated is the necessity to have a Law of Animal Protection. The majority of the people who have launched the proposal are thinking especially about the infinite number of abandoned dogs and cats in Cuba’s cities, the violence they are victims of, and the irresponsible abandonment that they suffer at the hands of their owners.

The bad working conditions of thousands of horses used for passenger transport all over the country is also on the minds of many of those demanding an end to such bad treatment and the establishment of a law that prevents excesses. However, few think about the many oxen used for farming labor all over the country, made invisible as a matter of course, but in a situation many times worse than that of those horses who pull coaches packed with people or of abandoned pets.

The long economic crisis in the country and the lack of a market selling agricultural machinery has meant that for decades the majority of work on the land is done with these animals. Without the plow, with its corresponding yoke of oxen, it wouldn’t be possible to produce many of the products sold on the stands in markets. With the lack of tractors and mechanized combine harvesters, a large percentage of the harvest in rural areas rests on the backs of these animals. continue reading

In the Matanzas plain, Rigoberto takes care of his two oxen like they are the apple of his eye. He raised them from birth and they answer to the names General and Florentino. “Without these animals my family would be even worse off,” recognizes the farmer, who grows greens and vegetables. “I take care of them like they were my own children,” the farmer shares, although he recognizes that his story isn’t very common in the surrounding area.

“On the closest cooperatives and on the state-owned farms, these animals are exploited and so they have a short life, because they aren’t given time to rest nor the food that they need,” Rigoberto believes. “When a guajiro (Cuban farmer) is the one who has a yoke of oxen, he tends to take care of them more, because it is very expensive and it will take a long time to get others.” General and Florentino sleep under a roof in an improvised shed that Rigoberto made. “You need to have a veterinarian look after them and give them fresh grass along with enriched fodder,” he points out.

However, another view appears as soon as one leaves this Matanzas man’s farm. Ribs sticking out, snouts injured by a badly placed nosering, and workdays that never seem to end is the most common lot of the area’s oxen. Those that hope, along with dogs, cats, and horses, that legislation is passed in their favor.

Translated by: Sheilagh Carey

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

A Supposed Historic Right / Fernando Dámaso

Fernando Damaso, 15 August 2018 — The supposed historic right of the current Cuban Communist Party is fairly questionable.

In the first place, it is not the continuation of the Cuban Revolutionary Party (PRC), founded by José Martí to organize and carry out war against Spain for Cuba’s independence, which, according to its statutes, ceased to exist once that ended, leaving its militants free to found new parties, according to their economic, political, and social interests. Martí never demanded that the members abandon their political ideas to belong to it, but rather only that they desire and fight for independence.

The first Cuban Communist Party was founded on August 16, 1925 by Carlos Baliño and José Antonio Mella, on the base of the so-called Communist Association of Havana, founded by the former on March 18, 1923 with only fifteen members who later increased by organizing communist associations in other places. It was always a minority party. continue reading

Expelled from the party for not sharing some of its political aspects, when he was assassinated in Mexico in 1928 Mella was not fighting in it, but rather was a member of the Central Committee of the Mexican Communist Party.

Under the direction of Blas Roca, it turned into a party affiliated with the Third International, subject to its policies and those of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union under Stalin, which brought as consequences a complete gap from the situation at producing the fall of Gerardo Machado’s regime and the so-called Revolution of 1933, with calls for the occupation of the factories by the workers and of the central sugar plantations by workers and peasants, just like in the USSR.

To avoid chaos this erroneous policyhad to be repressed by the Ministry of the Interior (Antonio Guiteras) of Dr. Ramón Grau San Martín’s government, who turned into the target of the party, conspiring against the unity necessary at that moment to consolidate the revolution, assisting their own downfall and the rise to power of Colonel Fulgencio Batista.

In 1940, after the start of the Second World War, six of its directors (Juan Marinello, Blas Roca, Esperanza Sánchez, Salvador García Aguero, Romárico Cordero, and César Vilar) formed part of the Governing Coalition in the Constituent Assembly, selected to write the new Constitution of the Republic. They played their role, like those of other parties, among the 77 delegates to the Assembly, achieving the historic and never surpassed Constitution of 1940.

Later, the Communist Party formed part, along with other parties, of the so-called Democratic Socialist Coalition, which brought to power Fulgencio Batista, who ruled between 1940 and 1944. In this government Juan Marinello and Carlos Rafael Rodríguez participated as Ministers without a Portfolio.

During the governments of the Authentic Party (1944-1948 and 1948-1952), the first with Dr. Ramón Grau San Martín and the second with Dr. Carlos Prío Socarrás as Presidents, the party, by now called the Popular Socialist Party, formed part of the opposition and centered its attention on dominating the unions, which in a large measure it achieved.

After March 10, 1952, when Batista carried out a coup, the party inserted itself in the political fight against him, but without participating in the armed fight, which it criticized until nearly the end of the fall of the regime, when it created a small group of gunmen in Las Villas under the command of Félix Torres and, at the same time, situated, both in the Sierra Maestra and the Sierra Cristal, some of its leaders in the respective guerrilla leaderships, but without direct participation in combat.

At the triumph of the Revolution, it participated actively in its consolidation, as in the formation of the Integrated Revolutionary Organizations, of sad remembrance because of its manifest sectarianism, creating problems with the 26th of July Movement and the Revolutionary Directory of the 13th of March, principal organizations in the fight against Batista.

Separately, Aníbal Escalante and his followers in 1963 formed part of the United Party of the Socialist Revolution (PURS) and later, in 1965, of the Cuban Communist Party, Blas Roca delivering the banner of the party to Fidel Castro as its leader.

Both in the pre-1959 stage as well as later, the Communist Party has shown signs of mistaken assessments of the situation and of enormous errors in economic, political, and social management, which have affected the country and the citizens, incapable, in sixty years of exercising absolute power, of achieving its development and solving old and new problems. The facts are too many and known by everyone, and it’s not worth repeating them.

All this invalidates it, from the so-called “historic right,” from setting itself up as “the superior leading force of society and the State.”

Translated by: Sheilagh Carey

The Original Sin / Fernando Dámaso

Fernando Damaso, 21 August 2018 — In the current project of the new Constitution one finds the original sin, which has been present in Cuba since the year 1959: confusing Homeland with Party and Nation with Revolution.

The bishiop of Santiago de Cuba, Monsenior Pedro Meurice, warned of this publicly during Pope John Paul II’s visit to that province in January of 1998.

The Homeland and the Nation are concepts that come up with nationality, and they hold up over time until its disappearance and, because of that, enjoy a long life. The Party and the Revolution are temporary concepts, corresponding to specific moments in the life of the Homeland and the Nation and, because of that, their life is limited. continue reading

Mixing them and manipulating them, with the dark purpose of prolonging the existence of the latter, and granting them a role and importance that they lack, only serves to confuse citizens and make them commit errors in assessment and analysis on the questions that concern the country and themselves.

Its application in Cuba demonstrates it: here the Party and the Revolution occupy the foreground and the Homeland and the Nation are simple catch-alls. Everything that is carried out, in any sphere, is an action or result of the Revolution, which prolongs itself indefinitely over time, while everyone knows that it is simply a temporary phenomenon, framed within a start and a finish (the time of transformations), which then gives way to the establishment of its precepts in a government.

Here nobody says “the government did such and such,” but rather “the Revolution did it,” adding, furthermore, “under the direction of the Party.”

This induced confusion of concepts has served to dismantle the characteristic public-spiritedness of Cubans, during the second half of the 19th century and the first of the 20th, that made them active subjects of society, substituting it with a fanaticism, also induced, responsible for the loss of values and the current civic passivity, waiting for the problems of the Homeland and the Nation to resolve themselves, worried only about surviving, whatever it takes.

Translated by: Sheilagh Carey

Panamanian Arrested for Transporting 10 Cubans Over the Border With Colombia

Cubans cross the Darien forest to reach Panama. (Courtesy / Archive)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Miami, September 10, 2018 — The Panama border police announced this Sunday the detention of a Panamanian who was transporting ten Cubans through a zone of the border with Colombia, in an alleged case of human trafficking.

The Panamanian, whose identity was not revealed, was driving a truck containing the ten Cubans, and was detained at the Agua Fría control post, in the province of Darién, bordering Colombia, the National Border Service (Senafront) reported this Sunday. continue reading

“It was coordinated with the Deputy Prosecutor’s Office of Primary Care for the corresponding procedures in this proceeding” after the arrest “of those involved in the alleged crime of international human trafficking,” added Senafront in a statement.

Illegal migrants who seek to reach the United States come from all over the world arrive in Panama, the doorway to Central America, after a route of thousands of kilometers, transported by international human trafficking mafias, in a business that generates hundreds of millions of dollars each year.

The massive arrival of Cubans a few years ago created a humanitarian crisis in Panama and Costa Rica, considered a consequence of the thaw in relations between Cuba and the United States and the end of migration benefits for Cubans in the US.

More than 100 Cubans have been expelled from Panama so far this year and 298 have been arrested for being in the country illegally, as the National Migration Service reported to 14ymedio. According to official statistics Cubans occupy the second place in the number of detentions, only behind Colombia and Venezuela, both bordering countries.

Translated by: Sheilagh Carey

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

"A Spaceship Fell in Our Neighborhood"

The Packard, with 312 rooms, has wide glass windows, sharp corners, and an entranceway that is integrated into the promenade. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Marcelo Hernández, Havana, September 11, 2018 — Gerardo Carbonell chews tobacco, seated in the doorway of a housing complex on Calle Prado, as he says that in his neighborhood “a spaceship fell.” The dazzling object in fact is identified and is no other than the recently inaugurated hotel Grand Packard, the second five-star-plus hotel in Cuba.

The facade shines under the September sun and although one does not yet see the coming and going of tourists, the accommodation is already causing a stir. “In the last few days many important people have come to see it and participate in the inauguration,” says Carbonell, although “they don’t move much, they don’t walk this way,” he laments.

The housing complex where this retired Havanan has lived for 60 years is only meters from the impressive construction but they seem two worlds apart. “This is like the sun and the moon, day and night,” he believes. “Now these houses are looking more deteriorated because in comparison with this new thing everything seems much older.” continue reading

By “old” Carbonell doesn’t refer only to the age of the colonial style building where he lives with his wife and three children, but also to its facilities. “On this site the pipes collapsed years ago and all the water that we consume has to be taken in buckets from the cistern or carried to the rooms by our own power.”

However, the least of their problems is carryong the water from one part of the complex to another, the most difficult is getting it to the complex. “We have a supply once a week, maybe twice. The rest of the time you have to pay for pipas (water trucks) or take care of your needs elsewhere,” he maintains.

The retiree points out the places in the area where he frequently goes to use the bathroom. “In the Hotel Inglaterra there are good bathrooms and they aren’t such a pain about it, also in the Parque Central they have a good supply of toilet paper, but in the Telégrafo you can’t even enter because the security is really strict,” he explains.

The Grand Packard, developed by the Spanish company Iberostar Hotels & Resorts, will not have problems with water. This Monday the water trucks supplied it very early, in a routine carried out by all the hotels in the area, which has among the worst water shortages in Havana.

With ten stories and an exceptional view, the accommodation promises its visitors the chance to get to know an historical and well-trafficked part of the city. The shopkeepers in the area hope to benefit from the clients who venture out to eat and have a few drinks outside of the hotel facilities at a time when the drop in tourism worries everyone.

“We are on the same sidewalk and we’ll get a slice of this cake,” predicts an employee at the nearby private cafeteria La Tatagua. The place, small and well designed, has a view of the Paseo del Prado and a wifi connection that clients can use as they eat. “Although the Packard has all types of luxuries, there are always those who want to touch reality with their own hands,” he adds.

Reality is a vague concept in one of the most touristy areas of the country. On one hand, there are the spectacular old cars, many of them convertibles, that offer trips through the most famous areas of the urban landscape, but a few meters away are buildings, miracularly still standing, in which dozens of families are packed.

The floor of the central promenade has recently been polished and this week various workers continued working on the streetlights that line the route. “The whole area has made itself beautiful for the occasion, especially the green areas just in front of the hotel,” assures one of the guards, in a perfect suit and tie, who watches over the entrance.

Property of Gaviota, the state-owned hotel business controlled by the Armed Forces, the Packard has come to underline the contrasts in a area where the hotel Manzana Kempinski was already viewed as “something fallen from the sky,” as Carbonell jokes.

“This was a ruin, because before that the Biscuit hotel was here, which was inaugurated in 1911 and which my grandfather told me was a marvel,” insists María Eugenia, who lives in another housing complex on the opposite side of the street “with a direct view of the new hotel. Now I wake up and when I look out the window I feel like I’m in another country,” she remarks ironically.

The Packard, with 312 rooms, has wide glass windows, sharp corners, and an entranceway integrated into the shady promenade, typical of the area. Its impressiveness and size — it occupies almost an entire block — have few rivals in the area.

The facade, however, has its detractors. “Although part of the original exterior structure has been preserved, the majority of the elements are modern and break with the dominant aesthetic in the area,” believes Laura Fumero, graduate in architecture, who works with a small private design firm.

“The height of the entryway seems to make the building look big, but my major concern has to do with the demand for energy, water, and other resources that this hotel will have when it is fully operational. It is not much use to have something so luxurious in a place with general infrastructure that’s over a century old,” she points out.

The architect goes further and calls into question the need for hotels of “high volume.” The decision “would be more accepted if we were experiencing a dramatic increase in tourism, but that’s not the case,” she specifies. “It’s also a matter of a type of accommodation aimed at high income visitors, but right now we’re experiencing a fall in the number of Americans who come and they are the ones who are, for the most part, most likely to spend more,” she believes.

In the first half of the year global tourism numbers, about 2.5 million visitors, went down more than 5%. Taking into account only American tourists, the drop in that time period was about 24%. Between January and March, 240 groups of Americans cancelled their reservations due to the new restrictions that Washington has placed on trips to the Island.

In June, the nearby Manzana Kempinski was down about 20% in occupancy, according to testimonies given to 14ymedio by various employees. “It’s a difficult gamble to make, because in this area there is already a large saturation of rooms and we are in a difficult moment,” confirms a tour operator who preferred to remain anonymous. Despite that, the general director, Xavier Destribats, assured that the Swiss hotel group that manages it has various other projects in conjunction with the state-owned Gaviota.

“Every inauguration increases the pressure and urgency to attract more tourism, but we don’t see another boom happening like what happened with the rapprochement of Barack Obama,” explains the specialist in reference to the diplomatic thaw between the two nations that began in December 2014. “It would have to change somewhat drastically for the number of tourists to reach what it needs to be,” he affirms.

Further from the worries of architects and tour operators, the Grand Packard hotel’s closests neighbors, like María Eugenie and Gerardo Carbonell, fear that the building’s demand for resources will harm their delay routines.

“We will have to get used to the noise of the water trucks from early in the morning and the coming and going of supplies, security in the area area will increase and that will affect the black market,” he points out.

“Many people are afraid that this way of opening luxury hotels will continue and that Calle Prado will end up completely dedicated to tourism,” she warns.

Above their heads, on a brilliant terrace filled with attractive offerings, the first curious people look toward the horizon and once in while turn their gazes down.

Translated by: Sheilagh Carey

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

History of a Botched Job

The most sagacious inquire why the same section of the conduit is broken again and again, as it is not even located on a busy street with heavy vehicles. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Generation Y, Havana, 11 September 2018 — The neighbors who pass in front of the huge crater scratch their heads, confused by the impression that they are suffering from déjà vu. Reasons for this estrangement are not lacking because the waterworks rupture that forced the closure of Conill Street, very close to the Avenida de la Independencia (Rancho Boyeros), has been repaired four times in a period of less than three years.

The current pit has been dug by the Havana Water Company, which is in charge of the supply of drinking water, the maintenance of the sewer system and the sanitation and storm drainage in the capital. On this entity falls a good part of the popular mockery and insults, for its remarkable inability to offer stable quality service.

With a bulldozer and an exasperating slowness, workers have unearthed on Conill Street a broken pipeline which, with its successive repairs, has become part of the landscape of this area of ​​Nuevo Vedado which is full of tall buildings constructed during the days of the Soviet subsidy. The deteriorated conduit has become a well-known character in these parts as well as an unwanted “neighbor” who, time after time, reminds us of his presence with a leak. continue reading

“It’s because the pipe was damaged,” the head of the works repeats with little enthusiasm this week, every time a concerned resident asks about the repairs that have affected the water supply to several surrounding blocks. The most sagacious inquire why the same section of the conduit is broken again and again, a section that is not even located on a busy street congested with heavy vehicles, but the man avoids answering.

The key to understanding the recurrence of the breakage is to recognize the degree to which most public works in Cuba are botched. “Every time they fix it, they don’t reinforce the area between the pipe and the asphalt, so the passing of the cars ends up damaging it,” says a neighbor who has not studied engineering or led a hydraulic repairs brigade, but who knows his own neighborhood well.

Others have been indirect accomplices to the bad practices suffered by this stretch of pipe. “The last time they stole some of the materials and there was even someone who paved the entrance to his private garage with what he diverted from that work,” says another resident nearby. “They filled the hole as well as they could and two weeks later there was another,” he says.

The hole in the street started as a slight drop, but over the months it turned into a dangerous cavern. Vehicles from the nearby Ministry of Agriculture had to drive around to avoid it and after the rainstorms it flooded for several days. In the end, the story repeated itself and the pipe that was underground ended up giving way.

“We have paid four times for this repair,” says a self-employed neighbor who sells pizzas a few yards away. “And I say we have paid because this comes out of our taxes, which are quite high.” The worried taxpayer passes each morning in front of the hole and wonders if there will be a fifth time. “Is this a curse?” He asks himself. But the Havana Water Company has no answers.

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

"I Loved a Government That Today Deceives Me"

Elisa Silva  on the program “Tonight” where she denounced the arrest of her brother, accused of terrorism. (Confidencial)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Maynor Salazar, Managua | 10 September 2018 — Elisa Silva Rodríguez feels deceived. The illegal detention of her brother, Carlos Humberto Silva, destroyed the trust and credibility she had towards “her president,” Daniel Ortega. Elisa was a faithful militant and supported “her party” in all elections, however seeing her brother on Channel 6, accused by the National Police of being a terrorist, annihilated the devotion she had towards the Sandinista ruler.

“It scared us to see my brother in clothes not hisown, and being exposed as a criminal, terrorist, and we are not terrorists, others are terrorists, but my brother is not. Is it to be a terrorist to think differently?” said Elisa in an interview on the TV show Esta Noche.

Silva was arrested on August 25 when he had just finished playing a basketball game at Luis Alfonso Velásquez Park against a team from the Mayor’s Office of Managua. His only crime was to proclaim: “When we win, we are going to change the name of this park.” Then a police officer arrested him. continue reading

“We learned about it because a friend told us that he had been arbitrarily arrested. They said a policeman came and told him ‘we are going to take you’. My brother asked him ‘why are they going to take me?’ The agent responded, ‘We’re going to take you away,’ and Carlos turned around and they handcuffed him,” Elisa said.

That night Elisa and Carlos’s other relatives went to the National Police districts one, two, three and four. In none did they get an answer. When they arrived at El Chipote, the officer on duty denied them information. Again they made another tour of the police stations, ending again in the cells of the Directorate of Judicial Assistance (DAJ), where this time they confirmed that her brother was there.

“I did not look for any media to denounce what happened, I did not look for anyone, I still believed in justice, because I defended, I defended the vote of my commander Daniel Ortega, I was dying to go to the square, to be in an activity, because I believed that everything was fair, but today he is hurting a person who served him,” said Elisa.

Charged by the Police 

After eleven days detained in the cells of El Chipote, the National Police charged Silva on Tuesday and accused him of being the leader of a terrorist group “that maintained traffic barriers in the vicinity of the National University (UNAN) in Managua.” Senior Commissioner Farle Traña, second chief of the DAJ, added that in addition to being accused of terrorism, he “caused” damage to public property, used homemade weapons, industrial weapons, molotov bombs and launched mortars.

The Police “investigation” says that on May 11, at the Rigoberto López Pérez roundabout, Silva burned the chayopalos* installed there.

“I went to Channel 10 to tell the commander that I was willing to kiss his feet, because my brother is an innocent man. How can he repay me today by accusing him of being a terrorist, is there justice in this country? I want them to give me proof of the paraffin because my brother didn’t so much as light a match,” said Elisa.

Silva’s sister explained that her brother supported the barricaded students of the UNAN-Managua, bringing food so that they had something to eat. When her brother found out that a student was dying, he cried bitterly. And if he heard they were attacked, he would come out with an aluminum pot to bang and make noise in the neighborhood. Of course, he was never on the university campus.

“That was his way of protesting, but my brother was never a ringleader and he did not know the students, how is it possible that you do this to Daniel? Do not keep destroying our families, President. I honored you, I did not believe in any other channel more than in what the president said, and today I’m slapped in the face, that’s why I denounce you,” said Elisa.

She added that, “He (Daniel Ortega) knows very well that I was out there, supporting him faithfully in the elections, with that much I want to tell him, because I gave my life for the ballot box, because they would not take a vote from my president. I am not a politician, but I defended your vote, I ask you for justice for my brother.”

Illegal detention

As with other citizens, the detention of Carlos Silva occurred within the framework of illegality. Vladimir Miranda, the lawyer who leads the case, explained that until Tuesday, September 4, there was no accusation against him in the courts of Managua.

“Arrest is for a serious crime or by judicial order. And we have a more than clear understanding that neither of these exists in the case of Carlos, which is why we talk about kidnapping. No charges have been filed in the courts of Managua. Eleven days have passed. We were expecting the order of the judge within 48 hours, and that was not the case,” said Miranda.

The lawyer explained that the family of Carlos Silva has a judicial record dated August 29, which indicates that Carlos has no legal precedent, which proves that he was illegally detained.

“We used all the legal avenues mandated by our law, we filed an appeal, an judge was appointed, we went to El Chipote, we met with the judge and they did not even let him in. From the legal point of view, there is no alternative for these people. It is more than clear that the rule of law in Nicaragua is weak, even if you have all the resources, what the law orders you to do, everything that the law dictates at this time, isn’t worth the paper it’s written on,” lamented Miranda.

The lawyer added that the citizens are being unfairly accused and there is no option that will enforce their rights. He said that the Prosecutor’s Office, the Public Prosecutor’s Office, the Police, the judges, are in collusion.

“I’m not the one to say if you leave or if something is going to happen to you or if you want to die. That’s your problem, you’ll know how you’re going to defend yourself, but I defended you one day, and I fought because I thought you were the best candidate, and today I feel deceived,” insisted Elisa, speaking of Daniel Ortega.

Elisa said that she never received any privileges from the government party and that her fidelity was not bought by a piece of land or two hundred cordobas. Neither with food nor a political position.

“I did believe in Daniel Ortega, and I say it in a different channel, and I believed with all my honor. And it hurts me that they are not speaking the truth about my brother. I worked for this government, Ortega knows that I did that work out of love Because I did not receive a payment from the Council. I did it out of love, because I liked my Government. I ask my brother’s forgiveness for having loved a government that today deceives me, “Elisa concluded.

*Translator’s note: “Chayo palos” are ornamental tree-like sculptures, also known as “trees of life” installed at enormous expense (reportedly $25,000 each) under the direction of Nicaragua’s first lady Rosario Murrillo, who is nicknamed “Chayo.”

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Editor’s note: This article has been published in the Nicaraguan newspaper Confidencial which authorizes this newspaper to reproduce it.

The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

Professor Expelled from Las Villas Central University Also Forbidden to Leave Cuba

University Professor Dalila Rodríguez González. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 10 September 2018 — Professor Dalila Rodríguez González of Villa Clara was prevented from leaving the country this Sunday, she told 14ymedio by phone. The young woman is the third member of her family to be restricted from traveling abroad.

Rodríguez, a philologist who was expelled from Central University of Las Villas  and forbidden to teach because of her closeness to groups that promote religious liberty, said that she had been invited to Argentina by the Center for the Opening and Development of Latin America (CADAL).

“An official from the Ministry of the Interior at the Santa Clara airport asked me to wait to be called again when I tried to pass through migration,” said Rodriguez. continue reading

A few minutes later, she was taken to a room where an official informed her that she was under a travel ban. As has happened with other activists and human rights defenders on the island, when trying to investigate the causes of their travel ban, immigration officials explained to Rodriguez that they could not provide more information.

“It was almost an interrogation,” said Rodriguez, a member of the Patmos Institute, an evangelical group that promotes religious freedom and respect for human rights on the island. “They did not notify me in advance, looking to do double damage,” Rodríguez adds.

In a statement issued by Cadal on Sunday, the organization referred to Article 13, paragraph 2 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which recognizes that, “Everyone has the right to leave any country, including their own, and toreturn to their own country.”

On this trip the academic was going to participate, between September 12 and 14, at the Sixth Latin America Think Tanks Summit, the theme of which is Think Tanks: a bridge over stormy waters and turbulent times.

At the event, which will take place in Montevideo, Rodríguez had planned to be a member of the panels New Faces and Ideas: Diversity of Think Tanks and Innovation and Think Tanks and the Media.

As part of her agenda in the Uruguayan capital, the academic was going to hold meetings with José Gabriel González Merlano, a specialist in religious freedom at the Catholic University of Uruguay and, in Buenos Aires, with authorities of the Argentine Council for Religious Freedom.

Dalila Rodríguez González has a degree in literature and a master’s degree in Spanish linguistic-editorial studies. Since 2006 she has been a professor of Spanish and Scientific Communication in the Department of Foreign Languages of the Faculty of Humanities of the Martha Abreu Central University of Las Villas until she was expelled last year.

The argument put forward by the university to justify her expulsion was that the professor had not been able to “correct a group of attitudes that differ in the social and ethical aspects from the correct educational teaching required by her status as a teacher, and that can affect training of the students.”

In April of this year she participated in activities with Cadal in Argentina, Chile, Peru and Uruguay, as well as attending the alternative conference to the VIII Summit of the Americas, presenting The Right to Democracy in Cuba. She offered a talk at the Institute of Liberty and Development in Santiago, Chile on Cuba Before the Third Universal Periodic Review before the United Nations Human Rights Council, along with the Chilean deputy Jaime Bellolio.

On Sunday, Cadal denounced in a statement that “Cuba is the only country in Latin America and one of the few in the world that arbitrarily prevents people from leaving the country.”

In the statement, the organization asked the governments of Latin America and the European Union to express their concern to the Cuban government “for the violation of this fundamental right” and to “call for an end to this arbitrary practice, especially in the case of a country that will serve twelve years as a member of the UN Human Rights Council.”

What happened on Sunday is part of the tactic used by the government against activists on the island. The arrests, the surveillance, the confiscation of personal belongings, the raid of their homes and the imposition of judicial charges and to all this is added, more and more often, a travel ban under any pretext.

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

The Desired Constitution / Fernando Damaso

Fernando Dámaso, 7 August 2018 — The draft of the new Cuban constitution introduces some changes to the previous Stalinist constitution of 1976 in regards to economic, social, structural and organizational considerations as they pertain to the operations of the state and government. It is simply an acknowledgement of the current situation, with the Cuban communist party continuing to exercise absolute power over the republic and the constitution, whose own text defines it as the “superior guiding force of society and the state.”

At the Constituent Assembly which drafted the 1940 constitution, Dr. José Manuel Cortina, president of the Coordinating Commission, addressed tensions that arose by delivering the historic words “Political parties out; the nation in!” The current commission seems seems instead to be saying “the party in; the nation out!” continue reading

Among the striking features of the new document are the abandonment of communism as a goal and the ratification of socialism as “irrevocable,” the acceptance of dual nationality, marriage between two people regardless of gender, acceptance of various forms of private property (while favoring socialist property), limitations on property (though not on wealth that is legally obtained), and the reestablishment of the offices of President of the Republic, Vice-President and Prime Minister as well as provincial governorships and city mayors. Compared to the previous constitution this is a clearly a step forward though not as significant as Cubans would like.

In order for this constitution to be the constitution for all Cubans and not just for one political party, it must undergo some changes:

• Eliminate wording from Article 3 that mandates the irrevocability of socialism and socio-political system that has existed since the revolution. No constitution should define as irrevocable or untouchable certain articles since all are subject to change with the passage of time and under new socio-political considerations.

• Eliminate wording from Article 5 stating that the communist party “is the major guiding force of society and the state.” If the constitution is the “law of laws,” no political party can be above it, not even the so-called “sole party.” No party can put itself above the nation unless those who created it believe it to be a religion on par with Christianity, Islam or Buddhism, which would be absurd. And if, as Article 97 states, “the National Assembly of People’s Power is the supreme organ of state power,” it is contradictory that the sole political party, which represents only a minority of the Cuban people, should be the guiding force of society and the state as Article 5 states.

• Establish in Article 14 unrestricted political pluralism and legalize all manner of organizations, not just those which are organized and controlled by the state. A political party is no more than an organization in which citizens, to a greater or lesser degree, join together out of common economic, political and social interests with the goal of putting them into practice through the exercise of power achieved through free elections in which a majority of voters express their will.

• Grant in Article 21 private property the same status and rights as state property.*

Discussion and analysis by the population of the already approved constitution will be more or less democratic; the same cannot be said of its drafting.

 *Translator’s note: Article 21 of the proposed new Cuban constitution identifies six forms of property ownership, including “socialist” and “private.” The former allows for very broad control of the means of production. While ownership of private property also allows for such control, it has traditionally been much more severely limited, typically to very small private businesses.

Miss Glamour Holguin 2018 Defies Homophobia

The Miss Glamor Holguin 2018 competition saw the best of transvestism on the island, in its fifth edition. (Leonardo del Valle / 14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio,  Leonardo del Valle, Holguín | 7 September 2018 — In the heart of Hoguin, Tuesday and Wednesday nights were filled with sequins before the astonished looks of the security guards at the Bariay Cultural Center. The 2018 Miss Glamour Holguin contest saw a parade and the best transvestism on the Island in the fifth edition of some awards that are still controversial in the conservative society of Holguin.

“If they are like this now, what will we see when they can marry?” said one of the guards at the state venue where the event took place, under the auspices of the LGBTI Cuban and Cuban-American community. To see men holding hands is still taboo in many parts of the Island. Despite the work on the part of the State and civil society to erase homophobia, centuries of machismo remain in the core of national culture. continue reading

Transvestism is considered an art and is not only linked to the LGBTI community. There are many heterosexuals who enjoy changing their appearance and interpreting characters. Long dresses, extremely high heels, wigs with hair below the waist and flawless makeup enhance the beauty of these ladies of the stage.

The eight contestants performed in playback songs of Juan Gabriel, Céline Dion, Isabel Pantoja and Rocío Jurado, among other artists, during a spectacle that overflowed with passion, strength and style.

The young Manuel Yong, presenter of the magazine Mi Habana TV, and the charismatic Margot, a Havana drag queen of vast experience, conducted the show which, during its first day ended at the stroke of two in the morning, long before the second, the great award night.

The crown of Miss Glamor Holguín 2018 went to Huma Rojo, who off stage is Ángel Boris Fuentes, a 25-year-old man, director of the Ciego de Avila dance company ABC Danzares and a third-year ballet student at the University of the Arts. The second place was taken by Adriana Brown, from Havana and the third place medal was won by Miracles, from Matanzas.

Also awarded were prizes for Miss Sympathy, Miss Public, Miss Photogenic and Miss Social Networks.

“Doing an event of this kind is a very difficult task, especially when you feel that many see it as something exclusive to the gay community, something that only matters to us and is supported by us,” Mikeli Peña, contest director and president of the central jury, tells 14ymedio.

The cost of a ticket to see the show is two CUC (roughly $2 US), the average salary of an engineer for two days of work, which goes to the State for allowing use of the Bariay facilities for the contest. The resources for the show are obtained through sponsors on the island and in the United States, explains Peña.

The show, which overflowed with passion, strength and style, could be seen for 2 CUC. (Leonardo del Valle / 14ymedio)

“Thanks to them we can deliver the prizes and assume most of the expenses incurred by the event such as lodging, food and transportation for the guests.” The Cuban gay community affirms that this is the best competition among its kind in the country, and that beyond the recognition “it is an immense responsibility,” Peña adds.

The notes of a song sound from the dark stage that suddenly lights up to unveil Shanaya Montiel, Miss Glamor 2017, received with applause. The queen, of exceptional beauty, opens an imaginary door and, after her, parade across the stage not just transvestites who double as musical successes, but true artists delivered body and soul to their profession.

“Many people do not even know that the contest exists, maybe it’s our fault, maybe we do not give the event the promotion it deserves, but sometimes it’s difficult to access the media for this type of activity. We would like radio and other media to participate but they don’t and it is not because we do not invite them in. The point is that it is very difficult for them to join us,” says Roberto Oro, coordinator of the Provincial Network of Men who have Sex with Other Men.

The swimsuit parade, as well as the fantasy and well-dressed parades, are the three main moments of the competition and alternate with colorful shows starring the invited guests, both from Cuba and Miami.

“Female impersonation is a very expensive art. They are very ingenious. What I can buy in store in Miami, they have to make with their own means and creative talent, and that’s why the recognition is double,” adds one of the guests arriving from South Florida.

During the two days that Miss Glamor 2018 lasted in Holguín, there was no talk of anything else. In horse-drawn carriages, guaguas (buses), bodegas and policlinics, detractors and defenders of equal marriage, which could be approved after the constitutional reform, did not hesitate to offer opinions.

“They say that in the Bariay that is disgusting, homosexuals disguised as women, they want to be more female than one, what are the children going to think? And now if they give them wings they will be able to marry, and no one knows where it will end,” said a lady just minutes after the show ended.

Meanwhile, inside, Miss Glamor 2018, dressed in an elegant white dress, was enthusiatically thanked with applause.

“I am going to wear this crown that is not from Ciego de Avila or from Holguín, it is from all over Cuba, a crown of the entire Cuban gay community that I hope will serve to change the minds of those who still discriminate against us, so that they know that behind a dress, a wig and exquisite makeup there is a person with values who loves and feels.”

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

Residents of 505 Zulueta Street Carry on Without Institutional Respect

This video is not subtitled but clearly shows the state of the building at 505 Zulueta Street

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Marcelo Hernández, Havana, 8 September 2018 — If it rains, bad; if the sun shines, the same. For the residents of the half-ruined building at 505 Zulueta Street in Havana, there is no peace treaty with the climate. The hurricanes make them nervous and the long dry periods make the whole structure creak. After more than two decades living among the ruins without any institutional response, their patience is exhuasted.

The former GranVia Hotel is currently inhabited by eight fmailies, eight of them on the upper floors. The problems started 40 years ago, when in 1978 the building was declared uninhabitable, but the situation worsened at the beginning of the 90s. The structure began to lean and collapse at different corners.

While waiting for state institutions to offer them alternative housing, a few of the residents resist from within the building. “Almost half of it has completely collapsed,” explains Miroslaba Camilleri, one of the residetns, to 14ymedio. continue reading

Recently, an apartment on the first floor collapsed, leaving all the residents without a water tank, which the building collapses onto. Now they have to carry water from neighborhing buildings, a labor that us very complicated because of the damage to the stairs.

“Since the 80s they needed to evacuate it to make repairs, but in the 90s children were born in the building who are already men and women who have children themselves are still here,” complains Ricardo Fromenta, anoth of those who risk their lives every day living in the ruins.

Most of the residents suspect that the authorities are waiting for everyone to abandon the building, “to repair it and convert it into a hotel.”

“They don’t want to invest all the resources it takes to repaid it if its for families to live in,” laments one of the residents, who asked to remain anonymous.

The City Historian’s Office has included the former Gran Via Hotel among its future projects, but no employee of the Office, led by Eusebio Leal, could tell this newspaper if the building willonce again function as a residence, or be dedicated to tourism.

Over the years the family have had to deal with the holes, the wooden posts that hod up part of the roof and keep the stairs from falling Accidents and injuries have not been missing, but, fortunately there have been no victims to lament, but many fear that their luck will run out at any moment.

A few months ago, the residents met with representatives of the municipal and provincial government along with officials from the Historian’s Office, says Liubus Garlobo, another of the residents. “No one has given us an answer, they’re not telling us if they’re going to let us be killed here,” she complains.

The residents’ last hope is in a letter sent to the National Assembly, but the answer may take up to two months, a timespan Miroslaba Camilleri believes might be longer than the building will remain standing.

“No one has showed up here to show any concern,” laments Garlobo, who stresses that many buildings are being built in Old Havana, most of them for tourists. The only alternative offered by the authorities has been to invite residents to stay in the House of Culture, which they have rejected, believing that this measure would be like the concept of a common shelter, without privacy or divided spaces.

Last May, during the intense rains of subtropical storm Alberto, the family living on the ground floor of the dilapidated building moved a crib, a large bed and a baby carriage out into the portico, for fear that the roof would collapse on them while they sleep. They spent several days in the open air, but had to return to their apartment because of the lack of alternatives.

“This building has had 23 partial collapses. Eight families live above our apartment, although some have gone to shelters,” Iraida Alberto, the grandmother of a four-year-old girl and another of two months who live in former Gran Via told this newspaper.

In 2009 a large part of the place collapses and the authorities offered the families a place on Muralla Street where they could build their own homes with their own labor. Initially the work would have lasted just 18 months, but after 8 years they have only managed to obtain housing for those who gave up their jobs and were able to dedicate themselves body and soul to building their new homes.

The remainder, especially the families with divorced mothers and elderly people without children, had not choice but to remain at 505 Zulueta, where they are still waiting for a soluiton.

Cuba has a housing deficit of more than 800,000 homes. Of the 3.8 million residential units on the island, at least a third are in “regular or bad” condition according to official data.

When a family suffers the loss or collapse of their housing they are often relocated to a shelter, an option rejected by the residents of the old Gran Via Hotel. The length of stay in a shelter is on average 20 years, and in the 120 of these shelters located in the capital, the majority of them are old motels or industrial warehouses, there are more than a 126,00o people crowded in, while another 34,000 struggle to get a place in one.

For the authorities, it’s as if none of these buildings existed,” says another resident of the property where, every night, the residents are alert to every sound of creaking that comes from the roof.

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