Clogged Toilets, Without Water, Filthy and Broken: The Bathrooms in a Havana School

Parents regret that their children must try to get through the entire school day without relieving themselves because of the filth in the bathrooms. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 18 January 2019 — Tired of raising the problem year after year, parents of students enrolled in the José Luis Arruñada school, in Havana, decided to report on social networks and other channels the unfortunate situation of the bathrooms. Clogged, without water, filthy and broken, the sanitary services are one of the many problems of the educational center.

For years the principal of La Arruñada, as the school is popularly known, asked for patience and a vote of confidence to repair the breaks that had toilets, sinks and urinals. But the justifications and promises accumulated without the solution appearing and the parents have had to finance cleanings and quick repairs, without the situation improving in the long term. continue reading

The school, which serves elementary and secondary students, has been deteriorating in the last six decades. It went from being a school run by the Catholic Brothers of La Salle to being part of the state network administered by the Ministry of Education. In all this time the large property, which occupies an entire block, has barely benefited from some paint and new school furniture. Two years ago they replaced the old pipes with new plastic ones, but that did not solve the problem either and the problems of clogged plumbing continued.

“How am I going to demand that my son wash his hands before eating if there is no water in the bathrooms and the sinks are all broken?” a mother asked at the last parent meeting held at the school last Tuesday. The question floated in the air, until another voice complained that her daughter “gets home every day of the school bursting” with the desire to urinate because during the eight hours that she spends in the classroom she does not dare to go to the toilets.

“Here there is always a story to justify things, but in the meantime the children are the ones who have to endure all day with the desire to relieve themselves because of the filth in those bathrooms,” the voice said with a hint of weariness, after waiting for many years an improvement.

Of the two bathrooms available for fourth, fifth and sixth grade, there is only one that works, and that badly. In the others, the colors of the old tiles of the floor can barely be made out because of the dirt, the toilets are clogged, and the doors of each cubicle were long ago were torn out and stolen.

Now, for the first time in decades, the images of deterioration and neglect come to light in social networks, but at least three generations of students have endured the stench that accumulates between those walls.

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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.

Wifi and Home Internet Service Restored in Cuba After Nationwide Outage

From early hours of Monday, the Wi-Fi zones and the connection from Nauta Hogar throughout the country are out of service. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 14 January 2019 — After an interruption that lasted more than six hours and affected the entire country, the Telecommunications Company of Cuba (Etecsa) restored the Wi-Fi service in public areas as well as “Nauta Hogar,” the company’s home internet service.

From the early hours of Monday, the Wi-Fi zones and Nauta Hogar connections throughout the country were out of service due to a technical “interruption.” Internet users could not access web browsing from their homes or in the public wireless areas, as confirmed by an Etecsa operator. continue reading

“Our specialists are already working to solve this problem,” added the employee of the state telecommunications monopoly, but she did not specify when the service will be restored. Internet access from mobile phones is not affected by the breakdown.

“There is no electricity, no Wi-Fi in the parks, no Nauta Hogar,” activist Iliana Hernández reported on her Facebook account. Similar testimonies have been published on social networks by users from other areas of the country.

Although customers can manage to capture the Wi-Fi signal distributed by Etecsa antennas in the wireless navigation zones, they can not sign on from the service’s user portal.

This time Etecsa did not issue a statement on its website or on its social networks to explain to its customers the nature of the problem.

This newspaper was able to verify that there were also difficulties when it came to reloading credit on cell phone or Nauta accounts through the Transfermovil application.

In 2015, the first Wi-Fi zones began to be installed in squares and parks on the Island and, by the end of 2018, there were 830. In addition, some 40,000 users (out of a population of over 11 million) are connected to the Internet in their homes, through Nauta Hogar.

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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.

Havana Receives an Order of 89 Chinese Buses to Shore Up Public Transport

The vehicles from the Chinese company Yutong are hybrids, which allows the reduction of polluting emissions. (ACN)

14ymedio biggerEFE via 14ymedio, 17 January 2019 — A batch of 89 buses from China arrived in Havana on Wednesday to reinforce public transport in the capital, which has been running a chronic deficit for many years, state media reported.

The buses from the Chinese company Yutong, were acquired through an agreement between the Ministries of Transport and the Economy and Planning and their counterparts in China, in order to progressively modernize the passenger transport fleet, according to information reported on the television news. continue reading

The news also reported that transport authorities said that the loan for this investment amounted to 16 million dollars, which is to be paid to the Chinese entities over a period not greater than 24 months.

Of the total of vehicles purchased, 50 are articulated and 39 are hybrids (running on both diesel and electricity), so they reduce the use of fuels.

Four Havana bus terminals will incorporate the new Chinese vehicles in the coming weeks to serve bus routes in Havana, where people take 1.2 million trips a day, 1.1 million of them in 7,600 bus trips, according to data from the provincial company of the sector.

At the end of 2018, Havana had about 700 buses in operation in the public transport system, distributed across 126 routes, a figure well below what is needed to meet the demand.

The alternative has been the private transport companies — mostly owners of almendrones* — but in recent months the licenses of more than 2,000 autonomous drivers of these shared fixed-route taxis have been revoked, according to the authorities, due to technical deficiencies, which has reduced the number of these vehicles in service.

*Translator’s note: “Almendrones” is a reference to the “almond” shape of the classic American cars of the 1950s (or even earlier) which are commonly used for this service. The drivers operate shared fixed route service, and fares are based on a zone system. See also: If you strike we will confiscate your car.

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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 "Deserters" of Mais Medicos Program Ask to Remain in Their Positions While Their Qualifications are Validated

Cuban professionals arriving in Brazil at the beginning of the Mais Médicos program.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, January 16, 2019 — Yury Leydi Durán Sánchez, a Cuban doctor who worked in the Mais Médicos program in Brazil and decided to remain in the country after Havana’s break with its agreement with Brasilia, has written an open letter to president Jair Bolsonaro to ask that he permit the return of her and her colleagues to the health system pending the validation exam.

“I believe that we have sufficient training to fulfill the ’more health’ program, this time with a just remuneration and without chains or bonds of slavery, until the relevant exams are done,” she argues in the missive. continue reading

The doctor, who says she speaks in the name of more than 2,000 doctors who decided not to return to Cuba, reminds that the Island’s professionals who have participated in Mais Médicos since 2013 have fulfilled the requirements that were asked of them upon joining.

These, she reviews in the letter, were to be certified in comprehensive general medicine, have international experience in two countries, basic knowledge of two courses of Portuguese, complete the welcome program, and proven knowledge of Brazilian health protocols, in addition to participating in a specialization course with a thesis and final exam. Added to this, she highlights, they had to be residents of Cuba, something that excluded “deserters” (as Havana describes them) from previous missions.

Durán Sánchez asks that, based on fulfillment of these requirements and the experience they accumulated serving in the remotest areas of the Amazon, they be permitted to continue working as before and refers to the norms of other countries that facilitate similar situations.

One such situation is that of Chile and Peru, “which agree to the authorized doctors working for a year under supervision until the validation exam is carried out.” Another case is that of Spain, which allows doctors who are pending authorization in their specialties to work in primary care.

The doctor appeals in her missive to the Brazilian people and to Bolsonaro himself, whom she personally flatters on several occasions. “Never before has a people, and much less a president, had the courage, like you and your people had, to defend our rights. And for that reason we are eternally grateful,” she maintains.

Additionally, she accuses the Government of Havana of taking away their certifications to punish them. “The Ministry of Health which once validated and authorized our documents, recognizes that…we are denied any certificate of our profession, to keep us that way, our hands muzzled and our freedom taken away.”

The letter has been shared on the Facebook page of the Associação de Cubanos Livres no Brasil (Association of Free Cubans in Brazil), which has worked since October 2017 to demand the rights it considers violated by the Cuban Government.

The doctors who did not return to the Island after the official call are sanctioned with the loss of their salary in national currency (CUP) that was accumulating in a bank account in Cuba and additionally with a penalty of eight years without being able to enter Cuba.

According to statements from Cuban president Miguel Díaz-Canel, 836 doctors did not return to Cuba out of the 8,471 professionals who were in Brazil participating in the Mais Médicos program.

 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.

Tens Of Thousands Of Cubans Abroad Don’t Know If They Will Be Able To Vote

At this point it’s still not clear in what conditions voters who are abroad will be able to vote, or even if they will be able to. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, January 17, 2019 — In a country with a high number of emigrants who have a vital influence in the support of their families on the Island, it’s inevitable to ask if Cubans who live or are temporarily abroad will have the right to vote in the February 24 referendum, a question that official institutions have not yet cleared up.

Per the effects of the country’s current migratory policy, there are three forms in which Cubans can find themselves abroad: those fulfilling an official mission, those who find themselves outside on a temporary basis for personal reasons, or those who, after remaining more than 24 months abroad, are no longer considered permanent residents of national territory. continue reading

The current Electoral Law only mentions the possibility of opening polling places abroad regarding referendums, but it doesn’t specify who will have the right to vote. The issue is a law preceding the migratory changes of 2013 that doesn’t consider the current diversity because it was conceived at a moment in which there were only two forms of being abroad: as “scum” with a permanent departure, without the right to vote, or on an official mission (athlete, merchant marine, and diplomatic).

Faced with the questions arising in the new circumstances, authorities have not helped to clear up what procedure will be followed in this case. Recently Ernesto Soberón, director of Consular Affairs and Cuban Residents Abroad of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, published on his Twitter account a “clarification” that, instead of providing answers, has sown greater confusion.

The official assured that “all Cuban citizens above age 16 — in full enjoyment of their political rights and who are not included in the exceptions anticipated by the Constitution and the Law — who find themselves abroad, will be able to exercise their right to vote in #Cuba this February 24.” But his statement violates the laws of physics, since if those individuals are abroad it is impossible that they be “in” Cuba for the date of the referendum.

All Cuban citizens above age 16 — in full enjoyment of their political rights and who are not included in the exceptions anticipated by the Constitution and the Law — who find themselves abroad, will be able to exercise their right to vote in #Cuba this February 24 #SomosCuba (#WeAreCuba) pic.twitter.com/1fwnvwrzds

-Ernesto Soberón (@SoberonGuzman) January 15, 2019

The question is greater with those citizens who are temporarily and for personal reasons outside the Island, a figure that could reach hundreds of thousands of individuals if those who left the country after February 24, 2017 and haven’t yet returned are counted. In the case of those who have been abroad for more than 24 months, the current electoral law does not recognize their right to vote in any circumstance and it is unlikely that the Government will make short-term changes to expand their rights.

So far, Cubans who have been temporarily abroad have not been able to cast a vote to elect their district representative. Something that is understandable, since it would be necessary for consulates to handle hundreds of different ballots representing all the districts of those voters. Something similar happens with the elections for members of Parliament, given that the list of around 600 candidates is broken up into municipalities and electoral colleges from all over the country.

However, with the referendum everything changes, while it is the same question for the participants. Additionally, article 164 of the Electoral Law establishes that the National Electoral Commission, in coordination with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, must arrange “what is necessary to guarantee the casting of votes by voters who find themselves outside of national territory” the day that the election is held.

Precedents of Cubans participating in the constitutional referendum of 1976 only include, without a lot of precision in numbers, the votes that were cast in Angola, organized by the respective political sections of the military units which, at that time, were fulfilling “international missions.” They even ended up opening special ballot boxes on February 15, 1976 on the ships filled with soldiers headed for Africa.

This week the Government has announced that it will carry out a similar process with Cubans who are fulfilling medical and professional missions in Venezuela and one can hope that the initiative will be repeated in those countries where there are numerous delegations of nationals sent by the Government.

But authorities still haven’t publicized the procedure that those other Cubans who do not belong to official missions will have to fulfill in order to participate in the referendum without being bodily present in the national territory. If the Plaza of the Revolution intends for the process to enjoy a greater legitimacy, it must promote and facilitate that participation, especially that of those who have been abroad for less than 24 months.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs must avoid spreading confusing information that tends to discourage participation, and must detail, without ambiguity, how the rights of those Cubans who are temporarily outside the country will be recognized. Time is passing, and at almost a month until the referendum, any hold-up conspires against their participation and any delay is a violation of the Electoral Law.

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.

No, No, and No!

The definitive text of the new Constitution of the Republic of Cuba will go to a referendum on February 24. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luis Tornés Aguililla, Fort Worth | January 17, 2019 — Deep down, this Cuba will have been an intellectual aberration. I say that thinking about my long conversations in Berlin with German friends who lived 40 years of bitterness in the forever defunct German Democratic Republic (GDR).

They spent those four decades asking the only question that at that time seemed rational: “How is it possible that we can stand so much humiliation?” When the Wall fell, the odious mask of the freedom destroyers also fell, along with the pathetic mask of those who accommodated them, some more and others less, in order to survive in that inquisitorial hell. That collapsed in the blink of an eye. continue reading

In Cuba, ’the armed band’, ’the firm’, ’the little group’ or whatever they want to call themselves, at the end, will be defeated because it failed in every order and because the dialectic of any absolute power slides it toward the abyss by its own weight.

Cubans must take advantage of the referendum that the regime is organizing in February to send a clear message, even though we already know that the trap is set and well set. In such a way that “the inflamed majority of the revolutionary people will vote Yes.”

A massive No will be a strong signal to the terrified halberdiers who, within the same Castroist system, understand that the country is sinking at the hands of a small group of individuals intending not to answer for themselves in the face of that history that will absorb and forget them in a mix of hate and horror.

We know, it always happens that way, that practically all of the personal destinies of the vitrified pontiffs of the Soviet bloc countries disappeared from the world without weapons nor ammunition, if there were exceptions, they were those who were able to sell something to the enemy.

Cubans, vote NO! in the February referendum.

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.

Cubans Abroad will March for Their Rights and the "No" Vote in the Constitutional Referendum

Several organizations of Cubans living in other countries have decided to embrace the call to protest at the diplomatic offices in the countries where they live. (Youtube)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, January 16, 2019 — A group of Cuban opponents, including Eliécer Ávila, have convened a march for Saturday, January 26, in front of the Cuban embassy in Washington to request a No vote in the constitutional referendum of this coming February 24th. Several organizations of Cubans living in other countries have decided to embrace the call to protest at the diplomatic offices of the countries where they live.

The organizers believe that it is important to “send a loud and clear message (…) with sufficient time in advance about the need to vote No in the upcoming constitutional referendum” Ávila explains to 14ymedio. continue reading

It is not the only demand of the call for a public protest with the motto Protest for all the prohibitions, which attempts to reclaim the freedom of entry and exit to/from the Island “without restrictions, nor black lists.” In addition, the organizers demand “having a passport at an accessible price for all,” dignified treatment in the ports and airports, and the right of Cubans to invest in Cuba with full legal guarantees. Under current law foreigners can invest in Cuba but Cubans cannot.

Added to this list are the petitions for several political rights such as the right of Cubans abroad to vote in all elections and popular consultations that take place in Cuba, the direct vote for the Presidency of the Republic and the claim for a plural and democratic constituent process, in which a Constitution is written that represents, protects and inspires all Cubans.

The call to gather was created by Lucio Enriquez Nodarse and, according to Ávila, has two fundamental slogans: #YoVotoNo (IVoteNo)and #NoMásProhibidos (NoMoreProhibitions). Although the day chosen for the rally was January 28, the anniversary of José Martí’s birth, it was moved to the 26th which is on the weekend. “The birth of the Cuban apostle who dedicated his life to uniting his people seemed inspiring to us to conduct the protest,” he explained.

Some Cubans living in Europe have organized an encounter at the Cuban Consulate in Madrid and another in front of the UN Human Rights Commission in Geneva. Eliécer Ávila introduced on his Facebook profile two of the young Cubans who will be “volunteers” organizing the marches: Osneir Fonseca in Santiago de Chile in South America, and Grette León in Europe.

Ávila points out that the invitation is aimed above all to Cubans themselves in order to “gain self-confidence and raise morale in a struggle that sometimes requires injections of energy.” The event can be, in his eyes, a “very powerful” message for their families in Cuba and “to the dictatorial government that does not believe we are capable of organizing and acting together.”

However, the lack of wherewithal means the march depends on the will and efforts of those involved. “The modest sums that we receive as personal donations only cover 15% of the preparations in other areas. So we spoke very clearly and, to our surprise, personal initiative has been the main protagonist of this call to action. Each individual has given a bit of themselves and we already have hundreds of confirmations of travel by bus, train, family cars, plane, etc. The total opposite of a May 1 in Havana. Here it is not the State nor the Party that is responsible for the expenses, each citizen takes action via his own ideas and resources,” explains Ávila, who foresees a four-hour duration for the event.

Among the organizers of the march in the United States are, among others, the presenter Alex Otaola, the exiled Amaury Almaguer and Siro Cuartel, author of the political satire blog El Lumpen. In addition, Ávila adds that several artists have confirmed their presence, such as Michel Marichal, Randy Berlanga, Dayana Elías and Erich Concepción.

Eliécer Ávila has resided in the United States for more than a year, but has not yet exceeded 24 months abroad, after which Cuba requires additional formalities from its citizens wishing to return to the Island. However, he considers that he must mobilize as if he were affected by the problem. “They have forbidden too many things to me, too many rights. And to my family as well. So that one prohibition more or less  does not make a difference,” he argues.

On the day of the march those present will include “many people who habitually travel to Cuba, but can’t invest, vote, nor have reasonable costs and treatment for their paperwork. The motives are many and each Cuban has them to some extent.”

Translated by Wilfredo Díaz Echevarria

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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.

Cubana de Aviacion Resumes Flights to Martinique and Guadeloupe

The airline Cubana de Aviación halted its flights in May 2018, due to an aircraft availability problem. (Captura)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, January 16, 2019 — Starting next Monday, January 21, Martinique and Guadalupe will be reconnected with Cuba via airplane travel. The company Cubana de Aviación has just announced the resumption of flights between the three islands.

The rotations will be made once a week, every Monday with a Boeing 737-300 that has a capacity of 148 seats.

Departure from Martinique is scheduled for 12:40 p.m. from Fort-de-France with arrival in Havana at 6:05 p.m., while the return flight will leave Havana at 8:00 a.m. and arrive at Fort-de-France at noon. continue reading

In the case of Guadalupe, the departure will be at 3:25 pm from Pointe-à-Pitre with arrival in Havana at 6:05 pm. The return flight from Havana will take off at 8:00 am and will land at 2:25 pm in Guadalupe.

An official of Cubana de Aviación informed this newspaper that those interested should purchase the tickets at the office of the airline on the corner of 23rd street and the Malecón. As he explained, the current price for the round trip ticket for both Martinique and Guadeloupe is 585 CUC (Cuban convertible pesos, roughly $585 USD). He also confirmed that the plane that Cubana will use to cover these destinations is one of two Boeing-737s that “were rented from another company,” whose name he said he did not know.

The airline Cubana de Aviación halted its flights in May 2018, due to an aircraft availability problem. Now, thanks to the fact that the company has contracted for  two Boeing aircrafts, it can resume flights to the Antilles.

The national airline crisis worsened after the May 18 accident involving a Boeing 737-200, leased from the Mexican company Global Air, which crashed shortly after taking off on a flight between Havana and the city of Holguín. 112 of the 113 people on board died.

In the middle of last year, Cubana de Aviación suspended most of its domestic and international flights for several months. At that time, the state airline said that the decision to cancel those flights was the result of “problems that have been accumulating,” among which it indicated was lack of spare parts and “not being able to make repairs to some aircraft.”

Translated by Wilfredo Díaz Echevarria

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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.

Che’s Widow Justifies La Cabana Firing Squads

Aleida March’s book was published in 2007, but Cubadebate has reopened the controversy by publishing the part that justifies the executions in La Cabaña. (Cubadebate)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 16 January 2019 — The official government media Cubadebate has started a controversy with the publication of some fragments of the book Remembering Che: My Life with Che Guevara (its title in the English translation), in which Aleida March de la Torre, Ernesto Guevara’s widow, describes the executions by firing squad in La Cabaña fortress as “an act of legitimate revolutionary justice.” The execution of hundreds of people, allegedly linked to the regime of Fulgencio Batista, was one of the most darkest and criticized pages of the Cuban revolutionary process.

The volume was published in 2007, but this Monday the official media published some passages of the text under the heading History. In the passages the author talks about the first days of Guevara in Havana and the short period in which she was in charge of La Cabaña, that “great training school” in which “small factories were created.” continue reading

“In January (of 1959), the Revolutionary Courts were organized and the first trials of the henchmen of the tyranny began, based on the work carried out by a Purification and Investigation Commission,” she writes. “This has always been a controversial issue and distorted by our enemies, even though it represented a legitimate act of revolutionary justice,” adds March.

The narrative contrasts with the data compiled by the Archivo Cuba project, which has documented 79 executions ordered directly by Guevara. The organization counts 954 executions of this type in Cuba in 1959, of which 628 occurred from January to June, 58 of them in La Cabaña. In addition, the project denounces the lack of due process.

The painter and writer Juan Abreu, who has put on canvas the faces of many of those executed, believes that the executions are “an untold story. Not only untold, but also they have tried to hide it, and when they have spoken of it, the effort has always been to discredit the protagonists, branded as outlaws or murderers.”

In Abreu’s opinion, “These accusations lack any kind of historical evidence. They were people who rebelled, the same as Fidel Castro rebelled against Batista, they rebelled against Fidel Castro.”

However, for March de la Torre “the rules of due process were followed in these cases” and she insists in her book that the Argentine commander did not participate in the hearings, nor in the executions.

“I remember that Che, although he did not attend any of these trials, nor did he witness the executions, he did participate in some appeals and interviewed some relatives who were going to ask for clemency.” March consider that gesture was due to his “humanistic and respectful action towards the enemy, before a decision that, although fair, could not fail to be unpleasant.”

The writer and academic Jacobo Machover, who supports another thesis, in December 2017 asked the mayor of Paris to withdraw an exhibition in homage to the figure of Che Guevara due to his involvement in these executions. The Cuban exile mentioned the Argentine’s participation in the “revolutionary courts” and his responsibility in an appeal commission that “never commuted a single capital sentence” as a reason to reject the event.

“He himself attended the shootings carried out in the fortress of La Cabaña in Havana, broadcast on television and by newsreels,” said Machover, who managed to collect dozens of signatures to support his complaint.

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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 Triumph and Defeat of the Cuban Dissidence

Photo taken in the Combinado del Este prison, in Havana, during a visit made in 2013 by the national and international press on the Island. (EFE/Archivo)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Ariel Hidalgo, 14 January 2019 — The dissidence, as an organized civic movement, wasn’t born in Cuba until 1983. At the beginning of October of that year, I found myself in Combinado del Este prison, serving eight years for a manuscript critical of the political system, when I met a new prisoner: Ricardo Bofill had been active in the Youth of the Popular Socialist Party and had already been in prison in 1967 for the charge of “Microfaction” (expressing differences with the Party line). For several weeks, we exchanged impressions and ideas.

At that time I was worried about the subhuman situation of a friend in solitary confinement in the walled off cells and Bofill said he had connections with foreign press agencies to send them a complaint. He even offered to help me write it, but he maintained that we had to sign it with our own names so that it would have credibility, something that was until then inconceivable in political imprisonment. continue reading

We wrote it, on the back he wrote his name and underneath I put my own. To my surprise, at the end Bofill added: “Cuban Pro Human Rights Committee.” Then, next to his name he wrote “president” and next to mine, “vicepresident.” I didn’t attach any importance to that.

I didn’t make a note of the day as a memorable date. For me it was only about helping a friend, but when the information reached abroad, the headline wasn’t his case, but the creation, for the first time in Cuba, of a committee of human rights.

Right away, Bofill sent messages to Gustavo Arcos Bergnes, who had participated with Fidel and Raul Castro in the attack of the Moncada Barracks and who was isolated in a separate cell, and to Elizardo Sánchez, social democratic activist, who was in Boniato prison in Santiago de Cuba. Both responded positively. Three more prisoners in Combinado joined up.

The Committee was already created, but repression didn’t take long. Some were put in isolation, among them Bofill, who was then admitted to a room in the prison hospital. He remained there for a long period of time until they took him out for an unknown destination. We didn’t know if they had taken him to another prison, to his home in Cuba, or abroad, which is why in a meeting of the Committee members, I was elected, on a provisional basis, acting president.

Then began the development of a strategic plan. Prison became an immense laboratory, a model for what could later be the dissident movement throughout the country.

We helped to group together many political prisoners according to their activities: an association of writers and artists, another of religious figures from different churches, and the Liga Cívica Martiana [Martí Civic League].

The writers’ group created their own magazine, El Disidente, which we used to write by hand and came to number more than 60 pages, so perfect that it seemed printed. Various copies circulated around the prison, and some were even covertly taken out and circulated through the streets, others were sent abroad and some extracts were published in El Nuevo Herald in Miami.

Sometimes, State Security raided our cells and we had to start again, so we had to hide each page we produced really well. All the groups ended up working in such a united way in the interest of the prisoners that, one way or another, each and every one did some type of job, so that the authorities had to rely on us for any change in the criminal division.

That was how, more or less, we wanted it to be on a societal level. A support committee should have been founded from every social sector in defense of its interests: for journalists, for teachers, religious figures, artists, self-employed people, and so on.

When all these committees were strengthened with the support of their respective branches, they should have joined together in a federation of social self-defense to peacefully confront, in the name of all of civil society, the totalitarian power. We calculated that, carrying out this plan like we intended it, it would not take 10 or 15 years for the great changes that we desired to be made. And we were in 1985.

Our complaints led to an international scandal and the Government found itself obligated to allow the inspection of prisons by representatives of different international bodies.

In 1988 I accepted an offer of freedom on the condition that I left the country, a form of unofficial exile. On the afternoon of August 4, a little more than a month before a UN commission would enter Combinado del Esta, they took me out of my cell and I was brought to José Martí International Airport.

The Cuban Government was condemned at the United Nations. The movement spread all over the country and has been the only one in the opposition, in six decades, that has managed to remain without being destroyed despite threats, harassment, persecution, arrests, and long sentences.

This meant a great victory. The answer is that new dictatorships, whether they are communist or of the so-called socialism of the 21st century, prepare to confront their adversaries on a level of violence, but when faced with nonviolence, they are disoriented.

However, the movement failed in the most important thing: obtaining the support of different social sectors. What went wrong?

The main reason was a shift of discourse in many groups. Abroad, until the middle of the 90s, a great majority of exiles viewed the dissidence as a governmental trick to fabricate an easily manipulated opposition. Among the few who believed was the activist and actress Teté Machado. Together we founded the first center of support for dissidents, the Buró de Información de Derechos Humanos [Information Bureau for Human Rights] (Infoburo).

For several years Teté was the voice of the entire dissident movement at the most important conclaves all over the world. But when some dissidents overshadowed the leadership in exile, powerful political organizations offered material and media support to several of their leaders in exchange for support for their own demands, like supporting the embargo and opposing travel and remittances.

Those who accepted, by adopting a rhetoric totally contrary to the interests of the population, lost contact with her and were moved to social marginalization. Other groups, although they did not adopt that rhetoric, did not fully assume their social commitment.

So we arrived at a dead end: neither the Government was capable of exterminating the dissidence, nor was the dissidence capable of defeating the Government. Only those groups — very few — loyal to the original commitment, received large support and became the most numerous.

With these reflections I would like to invite others to make a critical analysis.

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.

Cuba’s Agricultural Markets Can’t Keep Up After the End of the Year

Empty pallets or ones with only a single product have become a frequent scene in Cuban agricultural markets. (Klaussi)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Marcelo Hernandez, Havana, 14 January 2019 — The lack of goods in Cuban agricultural markets after the year-end celebrations is almost a Christmas tradition, but this time, the recovery is slow in coming. The Ejército Juvenil del Trabajo (EJT / Youth Labor Army) market on 17th Street in El Vedado is one of more than 170 places that sell agricultural products in the capital that has for the past two weeks lacked adequate stock.

“A combination of several factors are affecting us a lot in obtaining provisions,” Gerardo Gómez explained to 14ymedio; Gómez is a private truck driver who supplies merchandise to the market on San Rafael Street, one of the most important in Havana after the closure of Cuatros Caminos. continue reading

“There is always, at the end of the year, a reduction in the offerings, because there is little work done in the fields and the truck drivers also do not like to transport during the holidays,” adds Gómez. “But this year we have the additional issue of problems with transportation because police controls have increased at the access roads to the city.”

In recent months the authorities have stepped up inspections of cargo vehicles entering the capital to reduce the arrival of products in the informal markets. The controls also seek to reduce the consumption of fuel stolen from state companies that often ends up in the hands of private carriers.

Last December, a series of measures came into play that regulate the consumption of gasoline and diesel for private transportation owners destined for the transfer of passengers. “That is affecting us a lot because there was a lot of merchandise that also came in via the almendrones (a name that refers to the ’almond’ shape of the cars from the 1950’s used in this service) or the trucks that transport people (many trucks in Cuba are used for passenger service),” said the driver and mentioned smaller products such as onions and garlic.

Gómez adds that this situation is worsened because “there is a serious problem with animal feed and that is why very little meat is coming to this market”. On the premises at San Rafael Street the price of a pound of boneless pork reached a historical record at the beginning of January, when it rose to 60 cuban pesos, the equivalent of three days’ salary of a professional.

In a small paladar (private restaurant) near the market, the owners juggle to provide salads. “We were able to find fresh lettuce and cabbage but we had to buy canned pepper and beans from the stores,” says Carmina, who works at the Sabor Criollo restaurant.

The canned vegetables that Carmina acquired came from Spain. “They are expensive but what else are we going to do if we do not find the product in the agricultural markets,” laments the woman. Cuba spends more than 2 billion dollars every year importing food and more than 80% of the food consumed on the Island comes from abroad.

“Even the carrots we had to buy in cans because the supply in the markets is very unstable, sometimes they have it and sometimes they don’t. Now we have to go very early to the markets to obtain something because there is little merchandise and it runs out quickly,” she laments.

On December 25, Cuban first vice-president, Salvador Valdés Mesa, visited the Villoldo complex, in the municipality of Arroyo Naranjo, where the state agricultural market La Palma is located. His presence was reported in the official press — which also tweeted the news with a link to the article and photo of Valdés Mesa — and this generated an avalanche of criticism from readers because the photo showed him standing in front of displays full of products.

Now, the market shown in the images as overflowing with products, is also suffering  from the reduction in supply. “What we have right now is plantains, green tomatoes and some very small eggplants”, one of the workers of the place tells this newspaper by telephone. “We do not have pork for sale but perhaps by the weekend we will get a supply,” he concludes.

Employees and customers are hoping the situation improves. “We are giving it time to see if sales pick up,” says Luisa, 72, who goes the Tulipán Street EJT market. “It is true that at every year-end many products are unavailable but we are almost to the middle of January and the supply has not improved”.

The retiree says she is hopeful about the application of the new tax on idle land that took effect earlier this year in the provinces of Artemisa, Mayabeque and Matanzas. “There are many people who have land and are not using it to plant food,” laments Luisa. “This can push them to produce.”

However, Carmina believes that the problem is more complex than unproductive lands. “The entire supply chain is damaged, because of the lack of feed for the animals or fertilizers for the crops, the transportation does not work efficiently and the prices are very high,” she summarizes.

At the paladar where she works, they are seriously considering “removing some dishes from the menu because they can’t guarantee their availability with this lack of supply”.

Translated by Wilfredo Díaz Echevarria

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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.

Dozens of Employees of the Company in Charge of Cleanliness of Havana Detained

Some of the managers of the company in charge of collecting and treating waste in Havana are in provisional detention. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 14January 2019 — A hundred employees of the Communal Resources of Havana Company are involved in a new case of financial fraud and face charges of embezzlement, falsification of documents and “spread of diseases” as published this Monday in Cubanet, which cites sources linked to the state agency.

Some managers of the company in charge of collecting and treating waste products have been in provisional detention as of the end of 2018, when the Prosecutor’s Office of Havana opened an investigation of more than a dozen high-ranking officials as a result of inspections and audits ordered by government. continue reading

The authorities detected anomalies in the records of several units, especially those in charge of the collection of solid waste.

“There is talk of payments higher than 20 or 30 Cuban pesos per cubic meter of garbage pick-up when the standard should be between 10 and 15 pesos (…), the volumes of trashed collected aren’t what they should be. According to the figures that exists today in the records, there shouldn’t be a single piece of paper thrown in the streets and on the contrary, what you see is a horror,” a source from the Municipal Administration of Finance of Arroyo Naranjo told Cubanet.

The same source states that there are other irregularities such as employee numbers and inflated wages or fraud in hiring.

The official press has not mentioned the investigation, which is ongoing. The Prosecutor’s Office could request sentences of up to 10 years, like in prior cases, Cubanet affirms.

In 2009, the Government created the Office of the Comptroller General of the Republic to stop corruption and the diversion of resources. In 2017, in the 361 entities supervised by comptroller Gladys Bejerano Portela, economic losses amounting to more than one million pesos and 47 criminal acts were detected, implicating 1,265 individuals.

In 2011, Raul Castro asserted that “corruption is today one of the main enemies of the Revolution, much more harmful than the subversive and interventionist activity of the United States Government and its allies inside and outside the country.”

Translated by Wilfredo Díaz Echevarria

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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 Final Opportunity Is Being Opened To Ortega. There Won’t Be Any More Than That."

Vivanco believes there are the  votes to expel the Ortega regime because there is a consensus about its ” widespread and systematic abuse.”  (Johanna Zárate/Flickr)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Juan Carlos Bow, Washington, January 14, 2019 — The extraordinary session of the Permanent Council of the Organization of American States (OAS) on Nicaragua was closely followed by José Miguel Vivanco, director of the Division of the Americas at Human Rights Watch. He was in the same room with the ambassadors and representatives of the American countries, which this Friday carried out a “collective evaluation” as a first step to implement the Inter-American Democratic Charter to the regime of Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo.

For the expert, “an opportunity, a final opportunity, is being opened” for Ortega to redirect the course of Nicaragua. To “move from a dictatorial system to a democratic system,” before the OAS expels the regime from the regional body, for which – Vivanco believes – there are the 24 votes necessary, given that among the countries “there is a greater consensus” that the situation in Nicaragua is one of “impunity, brutality, and widespread and systematic abuse” against the opposition. continue reading

“If the Government doesn’t show signs of being ready to agree to the petitions that can be made within the scope of the OAS, then there will be no other solution than the definitive implementation of the Democratic Charter,” assured Vivanco, who spoke to [Nicaraguan digital outlet] Confidencial from his office in Washington.

Confidencial: What is your assessment of the extraordinary session on Nicaragua, in the Permanent Council of the OAS? Did they initiate the invocation of the Democratic Charter?

José Miguel Vivanco: It was really important because thanks to this meeting being held, the OAS initiates the implementation of the Democratic Charter to Nicaragua, to Ortega’s government.

The Democratic Charter demands in Article 20 that for it to be implemented, some sort of collective evaluation must be done of the conditions of human rights and public and democratic freedoms in any country of the member states of the OAS. That was precisely the objective of this meeting.

As of this session, political and diplomatic procedures can be carried out by member states, by the Working Group that currently exists for Nicaragua, and also by the secretary general of the OAS. For example, freeing political prisoners, putting an end to censorship and persecution of independent media outlets, reestablishing democratic order and public liberties, the independence of the judiciary, or a petition so that human rights bodies from the United Nations or OAS can be allowed access to the country.

If the Government doesn’t show signs of being ready to agree to the petitions that can be made within the scope of the OAS, then there will be no other solution than the definitive implementation of the Democratic Charter, for which 24 votes are required.

Confidencial: Do the political conditions exist to get the 24 votes in the OAS with the new position that López Obrador’s government in Mexico has adopted?

Vivanco: It’s not going to be easy for that quorum to be reached, but I don’t see it as impossible. I understand perfectly that Mexico has changed its position; that under the current government of Manuel López Obrador, which controls and guides Mexico’s foreign policy, is the principle of non-intervention in internal affairs, whether or not they violate human rights. Something that is really archaic, belonging to the principles of the last century. Mexico demonstrated it today (Friday) because it stood out by its absence, didn’t open its mouth, didn’t make the smallest comment. It was in total silence throughout the entire session.

I believe that despite the new position–lamentable, reactionary–of the current government of Mexico, the votes may indeed be there, because there is a greater and greater consensus that the situation in Nicaragua is one of impunity, brutality, and widespread and systematic abuse against those who don’t agree with the current regime.

Confidencial: How are the political terms of the OAS planned in relation to Nicaragua, if Ortega has made it clear that he has no political will to hold talks?

Vivanco: Indeed, Ortega in fact has demonstrated a dictatorial attitude, typical of a despot, that he is not prepared to exercise power in a manner respectful of legal values and of the obligations appropriate to the rule of law, to a democratic state.

Here an opportunity is being opened, I would say a final opportunity, there won’t be any more than that. Once again, they implement, in the OAS, the Democratic Charter to anyone.

The other country that is under the implementation of the Democratic Charter is Venezuela, in that case so far the quorum–that is, the 24 votes–has not existed, because of the pressure that Venezuela exerts on the countries of the Caribbean. But it is a country that is more and more isolated, discredited, and with less and less support.

Nicaragua is not Venezuela, it’s not an oil power. It doesn’t have the political muscle that Venezuela has so far shown, even in ruins. For Nicaragua, the road becomes more difficult.

Confidencial: Will a new commission be created or will it be the same Working Group of the OAS, which Ortega’s government refused entry, that carries out the diplomatic procedures in Nicaragua?

Vivanco: The OAS already created the Working Group for Nicaragua, made up of 12 member states of the OAS, including Mexico, which has not withdrawn from that group.

I don’t believe that a new group will be created, that one will arise. The Working Group for Nicaragua is precisely the one that has the mandate, the obligation, and the duty to continue reporting, to the rest of the nations of the OAS, the advances and setbacks experienced in political matters and human rights in Nicaragua.

Confidencial: The Interdisciplinary Group of Independent Experts (GIEI, for its Spanish acronym) concluded that “crimes against humanity” have been committed in Nicaragua. How can they be prosecuted if that country doesn’t accept the International Criminal Court?

Vivanco: It’s true that, not having ratified the Rome Statute, Nicaragua, unlike Venezuela, cannot be brought before the International Criminal Court, even if there is evidence that crimes against humanity have been committed, but there are other ways, like for example the Security Council of the United Nations, where a debate can be opened. I know that among the permanent members of the UN Security Council are Russia and China, which could serve to veto any effort against Nicaragua, but that remains to be seen. International relations, assessments that are made at a multilateral level, are always very complex and depend on innumerable factors.

I believe that GIEI’s report can be very useful before the Human Rights Council of the United Nations.

Confidencial: The resignation of the magistrate Rafael Solís from the judiciary and from the FSLN [Sandinista National Liberation Front] has surprised the leaders in power in Nicaragua. What international effect will this break have?

Vivanco: It depends on what the Supreme Court magistrate can provide. It’s necessary to understand that this is someone who until yesterday was part of the Supreme Court and who was in his position while atrocious acts were being done and committed in Nicaragua, and he continued participating as a magistrate of the Supreme Court.

We’re still lacking information to better understand the role he played during those months. Whether or not there was an internal debate; he says that the decisions that affect the courts are made by the Executive, it would be good for him to provide more information that would serve to better understand the responsibilities of certain other authorities, other than Ortega and Murillo, who we obviously know are, in the end, the ones who control the country and run it as if it were their private estate.

Confidencial: The sanctions derived from the Nica Act and the possible authorization of the Democratic Charter can weaken the regime, but Ortega clings to power like Nicolás Maduro. Is the situation of Nicaragua comparable to that of Venezuela, to project that Ortega could remain in power until 2021?

Vivanco: The Nica Act, which is a kind of Magnitsky law dedicated exclusively to Nicaragua, allows sanctions of the corrupt and violators of human rights, where it turns them into practically toxic personages. That is to say, the sanctions can be really draconian, and we believe that many of those who make up part of this dictatorial regime deserve it, because of the responsibilities that they have for extremely grave violations and for covering up these acts.

It’s an extraordinary tool, that is not available for Venezuela, that is not available for other nations in the world. It has the support of Democrats and Republicans, here there is no doubt in any sector that we are facing a ruthless regime. In that way, I have great hopes that the Nica Act can serve to compel the regime to move from a dictatorial system to a democratic system.

Confidencial: So you don’t see a parallel between Nicaragua and Venezuela, do you see it as a possibility that Ortega can leave before 2021?

Vivanco: I don’t see any, there is no relation between one case and the other, except that the atrocities are similar. We are talking about two populist dictators, who they say are leftwing and who seek to remain in power at any price, where they are prepared to use brutal repression, if that is the only way to preserve power, and where additionally power is totally concentrated, there are neither authorities nor judiciaries nor democratic institutions to anticipate or sanction abuses.

But, they are two cases that do not have points in common, from the point of view of what are the strategies, and of what will be the future of these two dictatorial regimes and their relation with the rest of the world.

Translated by: Sheilagh Carey

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Editors’ note: this text was originally published by the Nicaraguan digital outlet Confidencial, which has authorized us to reproduce it here.

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 Revolution Does Not Want To Be Tweeted

María Hergueta

Yoani Sanchez, New York Times, Havana, 13 January 2019 — A young man posts images of a flood in Centro Habana on social networks. From the internet come complaints from neighbors who are clamoring for an official response and for repairs to the sewer network. Sixty years after the triumph of the Revolution, Cubans are prohibited from expressing their dissatisfaction in public plazas, but take advantage of virtual spaces to call out the government.

On 6 December, the more than eleven million people who inhabit this island began to travel a new path. Like the day we gave birth to a child, or a close relative died, or we learned of the death of Fidel Castro, all Cubans remember what we were doing at the moment that web browsing service burst onto our cellphones.

A package allowing 4 gigs of navigation costs 30 dollars a month, the equivalent of the entire monthly salary of a professional. The high prices leave a good part of the population unable to access the service. Many Cubans face a dilemma; connect or eat; chat with a friend or replace a light bulb; watch a video on YouTube or pay a shared taxi to get to work. This is the new “capitalism.com” of a Revolution that fears being tweeted for lack of news to talk about or results to show. continue reading

We all know how and when this new stage of connectivity began, but few venture to predict how far it will go. To imagine that scenario, right now, must be the worst nightmare for the Plaza of the Revolution.

It is an irony that a large part of the internet surfers’ phone bills are paid by the emigrants who want to maintain contact with their families. Those who were criticized by the official discourse for not staying to build the utopia are now the main economic support of those who remained here. Popular humor has not missed the contradiction and portrays the exiles with a play on words: “De traidores a traedólares” – from traitors to dollar-bringers.

With the passing years the pressure has been growing from these Cubans all over the world, together with the pressure from within, to be able to access the web and maintain greater communications between both shores. In 2015, when the first wireless connection zones opened in Cuba’s plazas and parks, thousands of customers filled those spaces to chat, connect with relatives who have emigrated, and enjoy the vertigo of connectivity.

This image of collective euphoria contrasted with the first internet rooms that opened at the beginning of this century and offered services exclusively to tourists or foreigners living on the island. From one of those sites, located in emblematic Havana Capitol, in April of 2007 I published the first text in my blog Generation Y.

Wearing sandals and the astonished look of someone who had just landed on the island, with enough sunscreen to make the security guards believe I’d arrived from far off Europe, I mumbled some words in a mix of clumsy Spanish and harsh German which allowed me to buy my first card to sit in front on a state computer and upload the post of my baptism as a blogger.

Those were the years in which an army of cyber-combatants was created, ready to fill the comment sections of critical sites with revolutionary slogans, attack opponents using pseudonyms, and spread doubts about the morality of the dissidents, with the high level rage of a real “reputation assassination,” but this time without going through the courts or needing bullets: a blistering attack purely by tweets.

A figure who stood out in those moments of fierce ideological battle against new the technologies was the revolutionary commander Ramiro Valdés, who defined with harsh words the relationship of the historical generation with the new phenomena that arrived with cellphones, USB memories and the computers Cubans assembled from spare parts they bought on the black market.

The internet is a “wild colt” that “should and can be tamed,” said the feared soldier, when he served as Minister of Information Technology and Communications. That premise of confronting information technologies as an enemy and seeing digital spaces as a place to conquer dominated the government’s attitude to the network for more than a decade.

The pioneers of independent blogs were plagued by accusations that we were “cybermercenaries” trained by the US Central Intelligence Agency, and in the University of Information Sciences, Operation Truth was created to bring the influence of the official version to forums and virtual debates. National television presented us, the first Cuban tweeters, as the new outpost of the United States to attack the Revolution.

From that fierce battle for digital expression I came away with some personal and social scars.

Now I do not have to speak with a fake accent to connect to the Internet, but the official intolerance towards free expression has changed little and the work of independent reporters remains a central focus of the attacks of the political police. The “digital plaza,” that section of cyberspace made up especially by social networks where Cubans who can not meet physically express their political ideas, has helped us to narrate the reality of deep Cuba from all its diversity.

Access to 3G telephony has allowed many Cubans to use the Internet to ask for a No vote in the referendum on the new Constitution, to denounce Decree 349 – which restricts artistic expression – and to question the method by which Miguel Díaz-Canel was installed as president. But in parliament, public spaces and centers of power one still hears a single discourse.

Without his own political agenda, Díaz-Canel wanted to mark a difference, at least aesthetically and technologically, from his predecessors. The first man who does not have the surname Castro in the presidency of the country for more than half a century, he opened a Twitter account and has ordered all cabinet ministers to do the same. But the 58-year-old engineer, handpicked by Raúl Castro and the few remaining octogenarians of the historical generation, only use the networks to reaffirm the continuity of the political model, to repeat the official phraseology and to attack their ideological adversaries.

The new president uses the old discourse and the worn out oratory of the Castros in new clothes: HTML code. But despite that, his presence on the Internet can hardly help the oxidized lungs of a twentieth century revolution come alive, through breathing the oxygen of new technologies.

Young people who complain about the quality of the bread on the rationed market, dissidents who record a violent arrest, passengers of a bus that can’t provide service to a huge crowd bothered by the poor state of public transport, and the objections on Facebook walls to every word pronounced by the deputies of the National Assembly, are some of the phenomena that are being seen since the internet reached Cuban cellphones.

In fact, the cost of connectivity is passing a very negative bill to a government that has been unable to get on the bandwagon of modernity.

Activism will grow with connectivity, although opponents and independent journalists must continue circumventing the censorship. Greater access to the Internet will allow for the reconciling of positions and a coming together – at least digitally – in a country where the right to free association is restricted. But, above all, it will weaken control over information by a system that began by trying to change everything and that, today, fears any novelty that offers the slightest change.

El Triunfo Bridge in Sagua La Grande is About to be Defeated by Apathy

The state of the El Triunfo (Triumph) bridge has deteriorated with the passing of decades and the lack of maintenance. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Julia Mézenov, Sagua la Grande | 9 January 2019, 2019 – With its rusty structure and missing stretches of rails, the El Triunfo (Triumph) bridge in Sagua la Grande has become a source of concern for the population. The local authorities have not fulfilled their promises to maintain the symbol of this city in the province of Villa Clara.

This work of enginnering, which has lost its former splendor, connects Centro Victoria with Barrio San Juan. Thousands of people pass through it every day, including students from the elementary and middle schools and the only high school in Sagua la Grande.

The importance of this bridge in the daily life of the Sagüeros is such that the majority have expressed a desire in the new year for the repair of El Triunfo that combines safety and functionality with its lost beauty. continue reading

However, it does not seem to be a priority for the local powers that be. The neighbors consulted by 14ymedio lament that for more than five years the authorities have promised capital improvement, but nothing has happened.

To alleviate the flow of people, bicycles and motorcycles (which to cross El Triunfo must be pushed by hand) the so-called “floating bridge” was enabled. In mid-2018 after the heavy floods caused by the subtropical storm Alberto, the old bridge was reopened due to the need to channel the influx of passers-by, since most of the businesses, welfare and work centers are located on one of the banks of the Sagua la Grande river. However, the bridge — one of the few with the Pratt beam technology (one of the most modern of its time) that remains on the Island with its original infrastructure — was reopened without having any improvements made.

“When a disaster happens, then they will begin to take measures,” explains Olguita González, a neighbor of Sagua la Grande who has been crossing El Triunfo every day for more than 40 years. “One day it will not hold up anymore, because, although the passage of trucks is prohibited, that does not guarantee anything, it is very old.”

Located in an area declared a national monument in 2011, El Triunfo was the scene of exciment when the victorious troops of General José Luis Robau passed through it after the end of the War of 1895 against Spain. At that time the bridge, which was then made of wood, was renamed, and, years later, in 1905, the structure was changed to the current one, made of iron.

“If Robau came back now, he would fall into the river,” says Gonzalez ironically, worried about the number of children and elderly people passing through.

With the rising waters of the Sagua la Grande River, thousands of people from the Popular Council of San Juan-Finalet are left practically incommunicado. The deteriorated bridge is the only link when there is a slight flood in the area, since the Carrillo bridge floods and the Clara Barton bridge disappeared, submerged by the waters in 1996.

The last announcement about a possible repair was made in February 2018 in the local press. Elvis Perez Casola, then head of the Investment Department of the Resources of Communal Services Unit, assured that the technical and material means to undertake the work were secured, but nothing else has been said and the neighbors are still in doubt about when the longed for repairs will occur.

That frustrating promise was already déjà vu to another that an official made two years ago when he said: “The subordination of local investments are 100% fulfilled in anticipation of the payment to the builders of the El Triunfo bridge. The rehabilitation work has not started to date due to difficulties of the construction company.”

Since then it has rained, the waters of the river have risen several times, rust and deterioration have continued their advance and the defeat of El Triunfo becomes even more humiliating.

Translated by Wilfredo Díaz Echevarria

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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.