Evangelical Pastor Arrested During Demolition Of A Temple In Santiago De Cuba / 14ymedio

The evangelical pastor Alain Toledano. (Social networks)

The evangelical pastor Alain Toledano. (Social networks)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 5 February 2016 – The evangelical pastor Marilin Alayo was arrested today, Friday, during the demolition of a temple in the Abel Santamaria district in Santiago de Cuba, as reported to this newspaper by Pastor Bernardo de Quesada, founder of the Apostolic Move, a Christian movement that separated from the Cuban Council of Churches in 2003.

The demolition comes at a time when the church pastor and Alayo’s husband, Alain Toledano, is traveling in Miami. Continue reading

Yunior García’s Uncomfortable Questions / 14ymedio, Luz Escobar

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 3 February 2016 – In a recent interview, the young playwright and actor Yunior García Aguilera affirmed that he was “dissatisfied with everything.” A finalist for the Virgilio Piñera Prize for his work Sangre (Blood), and highly praised by critics for his piece Semen (Semen), this graduate of the National School of Art and the Superior Institute of Art (ISA) is now becoming a creative force in contemporary Cuban theater.

Aguilera lived several years in Havana during his studies and also lived some years in London where he worked with the Royal Court Theatre. Now he is back in Holguin, his birthplace, where he writes and directs for the Trébol Teatro (Clover Theater). He has had the good fortune of having some ten of his scripts staged by Cuban and foreign groups, including pieces such as Dancing Without Masks, All Men Are Equal, Shut Your Mouth and Blood.

However, right now the news of the young playwright comes not so much for his vocation in the theater but for his reputation for dissent. In an audio recording, which has already spread through the unexpected path of flash memories, he is heard to formulate some fifteen questions on which he reflects, in the style of The Silly Age, on the reality “of Cuba, of the country where we live.” Continue reading

“Periodismo de Barrio” (Neighborhood Journalism) / Regina Coyula

Regina Coyula, 5 February 2016 — With a low media profile, sidestepping the incomprehension of establishment colleagues and the suspicions of the independent press, Periodismo de Barrio has begun its journey. Meanwhile, journalism-in-praise-of-the-government on one side and of-criticisms on the other, has appeared in this digital space that in its almost monographic issues has given us an accurate picture of Santiago de Cuba four years after Hurricane Sandy to present a straightforward and effective account of the half-life of those people who never make the headlines, those we are given to call “average Cubans.”

I would like to talk with Elaine Diaz, the lead on this project and former professor at the Faculty of Social Communication at the University of Havana, about this experience. We don’t even have to agree that the excellent articles from her news site not only confirms the government’s inability to provide a prosperous and sustainable life for citizens in the name of whom they say — and should — govern, but they leave them very badly off. I look forward to meeting Elaine; meanwhile I welcome this new site.

Cuban Human Rights Group Denounces 1,414 Political Arrests in January / EFE (14ymedio)

Act of repudiation in front of the headquarters of the Ladies in White in Havana this January. (Angel Moya)

Act of repudiation in front of the headquarters of the Ladies in White in Havana this January. (Angel Moya)

EFE (14ymedio), Havana, 4 February 2016 — The dissident Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation (CCDHRN) reported Thursday that political repression continues its ascent on the island, where in January there were at least 1,414 political arrests, one of the highest monthly figures in the last decade.

This group, the only one keep an account of these incidents in the country, said in its monthly report on political repression that the number of arrests this January was surpassed only in November 2015, when 1,447 cases were reported.

The Commission, led by the dissident Elizardo Sanchez, said that in addition to the arrests, 56 peaceful dissidents were victims of physical assaults in January, three suffered acts of repudiation, and 68 cases of harassment and two of vandalism were recorded.

According to the CCDHRN, such acts are orchestrated by State Security police and other “repressive and paramilitary elements” present in Cuba, where the government “has exercised authoritarian power for 58 years.”

The government, according to the organization, is resorting more frequently to prolonged detention and provisional internment without trial, which often extends for long months, “a policy intended to wear down the opponents.”

“The number of prisoners is increasing unstoppably and in the huge prison system inhumane and degrading conditions of detention continue to prevail, while the government still refuses to accept the cooperation of the International Red Cross and other international NGOs,” laments the Commission.

Havana’s Metropolitan Bank Suspends Some Services Due To Technical Problems / 14ymedio

A man tries to get money from an ATM outside Metropolitan Bank this Thursday in Havana (14ymedio)

A man tries to get money from an ATM outside Metropolitan Bank this Thursday in Havana (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 4 February 2016 — Since Wednesday morning, customers of Metropolitan Bank Telebank have not had access to any transactions due to an interruption of services. The problems have extended to ATM and Point-of-Sale (POS) terminals that take magnetic cards in Havana stores, as reported Thursday in a statement by the bank.

Telebank service facilitates transactions such as paying land-line telephone or electricity bills, for users who have a magnetic card.

An employee of Telebank told 14ymedio that they are currently having problems with their electronic network. “It has to do with the magnetic cards, we can’t complete any kind of transactions with the cards.”

She added that at ATMs it is not possible to check your balance, and a customer “can only complete one transaction a day, withdrawing 200 Cuban pesos or 50 Convertible pesos.”

The employee said she did not know “exactly” how long the inconvenience will last, adding that “everyone is working on this because it is a difficult situation.” The interruption in service has also affected POS terminals that take magnetic cards to pay for services and for some operations at bank windows.

A note from Metropolitan Bank’s Department of Communication and Marketing says that “a contingency plan to minimize the effects on users” is currently being applied.

Bacardi Says Granting Cuba Rights To ‘Havana Club’ Name Is Illegal / 14ymedio

The legal battle over the rights to market Havana Club rum ended last month, in Cuba's favor, after two decades of dispute. (Havana Club)

The legal battle over the rights to market Havana Club rum ended last month, in Cuba’s favor, after two decades of dispute. (Havana Club)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio (with information from agencies), Havana, 1 February 2016 — The Bacardi company has asked for explanations from the United States government regarding the authorization to sell Havana Club rum in the country once the embargo is lifted, claiming that this January’s granting of the trademark rights to the Cuban government is “illegal.”

The company, based in Bermuda, directed a request with regards to the renewal of the trademark to the Treasury Department, and in a statement on Monday, accused it of violating “the language and spirit of US law.”

Eduardo Sanchez, Bacardi’s legal advisor, said “Americans deserve to know the truth of this sudden and unprecedented decision taken by Washington that reversed an international policy that protects against the acceptance of confiscations by foreign governments.”

The legal battle over the rights to market Havana Club rum came to an end last month after two decades of disputes, when the Patent and Trademark Office ruled that the Cuban state company Cubaexport is the lawful distributor of the iconic rum.

In 2006, Cubaexport tried to obtain a license from the Treasury Department’s Office of Control of Foreign Assets (OFAC) to pay $500 to renew the Havana Club trademark, but it failed to do so and its registration was declared invalid. The Cuban company had not given up and re-initiated its request earlier this year and was successful.

Prisons in Guantanamo / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

Protest action to demand the closure of the U.S. prison on the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base. (Amnesty International)

Protest action to demand the closure of the U.S. prison on the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base. (Amnesty International)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 4 February 2016 – To the shame of the United States justice system, the prison at the Guantanamo Naval Base is 14 years old today. Since 2003, 680 detainees have arrived there, though today there are fewer than one hundred. Several of them are on hunger strike and are force fed through tubes. Prestigious media such as The New York Times have published letters from the inmates denouncing abuses; international human rights organizations have exposed the use of torture at this prison compound where the laws of no country in the world apply. President Barack Obama has promised to end this atrocity. He has not succeeded.

Not far away, on the road that runs from the provincial capital to the town of Jamaica, is Cuba’s Guantanamo Provincial Prison. It has the reputation of being the prison with the worst food in all of Cuba. Continue reading

People In Need Award Goes To Former Cuban Prisoners Of The Black Spring / 14ymedio

Martha Beatriz Roque believes that work to defend human rights "is becoming more difficult for the internal opposition," in Cuba. (14ymedio)

Martha Beatriz Roque believes that work to defend human rights “is becoming more difficult for the internal opposition,” in Cuba. (14ymedio)

14ymedio, Havana, 3 February 2016 — The Czech organization People in Need has given its Homo Homini Award for this year to the 11 former prisoners of the 2003 Black Spring who continue to live in Cuba, as confirmed to this newspaper by several of the laureates. The entity, focused on the defense of human rights, has recognized the work of those who have continued to exercise their peaceful activist for decades, despite the rigors of prison and political repression.

Last year the award celebrated two decades since its founding. The award is intended to honor individuals for their “dedication to the promotion of human rights, democracy and non-violent solutions to political conflicts.” Continue reading

Realism In The Future Of US-Cuba Relations / 14ymedio, Pedro Campos

The flags of Cuba and the United States waving as a lady on her balcony gives the “thumbs up.” (EFE)

The flags of Cuba and the United States waving as a lady on her balcony gives the “thumbs up.” (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Pedro Campos, Havana, 3 February 2016 – Last week President Barack Obama’s administration approved new measures to loosen the strings of the blockade-embargo on the way to normalization of relations between his country and Cuba. Presumably this will be the norm during what remains of his administration. Should the Democratic candidate win in the upcoming presidential elections, we can assume that this policy will continue.

But the same cannot be expected if any of the current Republican candidates wins, according to statements made by themselves and the opinions of prestigious international analysts. Continue reading

The End of the ‘CD Era’ / 14ymedio

Disc store with music, movies and TV shows, in the city of Camagüey. (14ymedio)

Disc store with music, movies and TV shows, in the city of Camagüey. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 3 February 2016 – the lifespans of technology are getting shorter. Less than five years ago the entire country was flooded with sales outlets for CDs with music, TV shows and movies, but now that moment has passed. Many sells of audiovisual materials have broadened their offerings to sell not only CDs and DVDs, but also copy material onto hard discs or flash memories.

The advantages are many: it lowers the costs for the self-employed sellers and for the users. The selection can be produced on demand, instead of opting for the so-called “combos” which are not offered on discs. For the price of two Convertible pesos (~$2 U.S.) you can get up to one terabyte of audiovisuals tailored to your own tastes.

It will not be unexpected, therefore, to see that with the same speed that the shelves were filled with discs with their flashy covers, smaller outlets will flourish where there will be just a computer and a catalog.

The School for Others / 14ymedio, Luz Escobar

Havana International School on 18th Street in Miramar

Havana International School on 18th Street in Miramar

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 2 February 2016 — She is not wearing a uniform, she is not carrying a bag with snacks, nor does she have a kerchief tied around her neck. However, at nine years of age, Malena is on her way to school, a learning center for the children of diplomats where she has been able to register with her parents’ economic means and a Spanish passport – a legacy from her grandmother.

Cuban education is no longer the same for everyone. There are classrooms where students enjoy unlimited internet connection, air conditioning and new furniture. In the dining halls, the menu is varied, vegetables are plenty and it is common to hear a child talk about how he or she spent the weekend at the exclusive Cayo Coco resort or that his or her dad got a new truck.

Founded more than forty years ago, the Havana International School was originally designed for the children of ambassadors and consular personnel. In the 1990s, the children of foreigners working for joint venture firms arrived, but as of a few years back Cubans who can afford the high tuition fees and show a foreign passport have appeared. Continue reading

Marking the Time Cards / 14ymedio

Workers’ time cards in a Havana polyclinic. (14ymedio)

Workers’ time cards in a Havana polyclinic. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 1 February 2016 — In many workplaces, throughout Cuba, the old time clocks that were used to record when employees arrived and left, have been breaking with age and lack of maintenance. The “clack” that used to be heard in the first hours of the mornings as workers punched in with their time cards is, in most of these places today, an echo of the past.

Punctuality has evolved into a somewhat elastic concept in Cuba and workers blame their frequent tardiness on buses that are slow or don’t arrive at all, the rain, electrical outages in their neighborhoods or a drop in the temperature to below 68 degrees Fahrenheit. Any justification seems to serve, especially if one considers that the average salary doesn’t exceed the equivalent of $25 a month.

Lacking accurate mechanisms to register if someone arrived on time for their workday, there are improvised systems where the employee must put their cards when they arrive and when they finish their work. This photo shows a polyclinic in Havana, where it is common for nurses and doctors to help out by ‘marking’ the cards of the stragglers.

Produce Vendors in Pinar del Rio Worried After Police Raids in Havana and Artemis / 14ymedio

Yosvel, a self-employed produce vendor on Rafael Ferro Avenue in Pinar del Río. (14ymedio)

Yosvel, a self-employed produce vendor on Rafael Ferro Avenue in Pinar del Río. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Juan Carlos Fernandez, Pinar del Rio, 1 February 2016 – The fragile commercial network in the city of Pinar del Rio is living in fearful times. The news of the police raids on vendors who sell fruits and vegetables from mobile carts in Havana and Artemisa has been enough to keep many of Pinar del Rio’s vendors from going out, for fear of being the next on the list for confiscations and fines.

Earlier this year an experiment was launched in the province of Artemisa to impose price controls. The measure has also been implemented in dozens of markets in the Cuban capital and threatens to be implemented nationwide, and although some are relieved, others are suspicious. Continue reading

Havana’s Beach 16 / 14ymedio

Playita 16 in Havana. (14ymedio)

Playita 16 in Havana. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 2 February 2016 — There has never been a beach, but a piece of coast full of pieces of concrete. However, this part of the Havana coastline that everyone calls “Playita 16” (Little Beach 16) is a place filled with memories for several generations of Cubans. Free, ugly, and lacking food services and bathrooms, this conjunction of rock and sea has witnessed rockers, frikis, emos, the poverty-stricken and countless couples in love.

At a time when most of the social centers along the western coastline were for the military or people associated with institutions, this was a place for teenagers looking for a little piece of freedom they didn’t find at home or at school. There were frequent police raids and the vans “loaded with people” heading to the closest police stations. It was also a departure point for dozens of rafters during the Rafter Crisis of August 1994.

Today, despite competition from other meeting sites such as G Street and the emergence of a nice scene beyond the state establishments, Playita 16 has managed to preserve its status as a “place for everyone.” Nothing in it infrastructure has improved and at night, the regulars complain, “you can’t see your hand in front of your face.” But none of that discourages those who frequent it. Of course, to swim there you have to wear shoes, taking care at the edge of the reef, and keep a sharp eye on your towel because of the ever-present thieves.

Cuba, Burma and Obama / Antonio Rodiles

Martin Luther King Jr.: This “wait” has almost always meant “never.”*

Antonio Rodiles, 1 February 2016 — More than a year after the announcement of the restoration of relations between the United States government and the Havana regime, the direction that the political and economic landscape of our island will take remains uncertain.

The administration of President Barack Obama has outlined and is delivering a broad agenda full of concessions to the regime without asking for or receiving anything in return, either for the United States or for the Cuban people.

It is important to note that the violation of the freedoms and political, civil, economic, social and cultural rights of Cubans is provided for in the existing judicial and legal system, which limits, by law, the implementation of any measure that could work to our favor.

The United States government has validated the Castro regime as a political actor, and expects that internal and external sectors, including the opposition, accept this premise and develop strategies based on it. Continue reading