Cuba: From Beacon to Firefly, But the Clock Is Ticking / Juan Juan Almeida

Back when I had hair and could comb it, someone from a certain group of commentators coined a popular phrase: If Moscow were Hollywood, the world would be communist and Cuba would be its Humphrey Bogart.

This did not make sense to me but years later I came to understand that the Cuban Revolution was not an isolated phenomenon that morphed into a “trending topic” by virtue its own talent. It was part of a process that arose in the midst of the Cold War.

Without trying to get into a detailed analysis of historical precedents because I don’t want to be tiresome and because I assume we are already familiar with them, let’s just say it evolved into an obedient patriotic-nationalistic movement. Continue reading

The Fall of an Untouchable / 14ymedio

José Antonio Fraga Castro. (Still from Vimeo)

José Antonio Fraga Castro. (Still from Vimeo)

Labiofam relieves José Antonio Fraga Castro, Fidel Castro’s nephew, from his post as president

14ymedio, Havana, 8 December 2014 — The company Labiofam will replace José Antonio Fraga Castro as president of the group. Last Thursday, during a meeting with the directors of the business group, included on the day’s agenda was the application of a sanction to the leader, Fidel and Raul Castro’s nephew. The company’s workers commented that the punishment was motivated by his participation in the decisions about the development and possible commercialization of the perfumes “Ernesto” and “Hugo,” inspired by the figures of Ernesto Guevara and Hugo Chavez, respectively.

Fraga, to avoid an administrative and labor sanction that would “stain his record” decided to announce his retirement. On Saturday the news was communicated to the workers, and in the coming days it’s expected that a new person will be designated to fill his job.

At the end of September, Fraga had to present his apologies to the families of Hugo Chavez and Ernesto Che Guevara, after the persistent circulation of rumors about the commercialization of some perfumes with their names. The president of Labiofam alleged that it was the result of an “ill-intentioned and distorted focus” in one of the company presentations at a congress this year. Continue reading

Choreography of an Interrogation / 14ymedio, Victor Ariel Gonzalez

Arrests at a gathering on Human Rights Day (14ymedio)

Arrests at a gathering on Human Rights Day (14ymedio)

“Sit down!” ordered ‘Number One.’

“I’m comfortable like this, thanks,” I responded.

14ymedio, VICTOR ARIEL GONZALEZ, Havana, 12 December 2014 — “But you didn’t come here to be comfortable,” he concluded, and for once we were in agreement on something, Number One and I: I was not comfortable. It was Human Rights Day, which in Cuba is a sad date, and a mob of agents dressed in civilian clothes had arrested me together with other journalists as well as dozens of independent activists.

I was taken by force from the bus on which I was returning to the editorial office after taking photographs in the middle of Vedado, and also stripped of my mobile phone from which they also erased information. They put me into a patrol car that was parked at the corner of 21 and L, where they transferred me to bus full of uniformed police officers at the park at 21 and H. From there, accompanied again by plainclothes agents, they took me in a private car and I came to stop at the Aguilera station, an old barracks from the Batista police era.

Obviously, no one feels comfortable if they are trounced like that. During my trip to the Aguilera cells they held me without handcuffing me, maybe hoping for some violent reaction on my part so they could beat me up right there or later insinuate that I am one of them and therefore “they were treating me well.” That’s how these State Security guys work, mine also spoke of “accidents” that have happened because of not handcuffing arrestees. “What I am committing is a violation of procedure,” said the man next to me, in the rear seat of the Greely. True: It is a violation that unknown perpetrators kidnap a free citizen. Continue reading

Havana: City of the “Marvelous” Unreality / Jeovany Jimenez Vega

By Jeovany Jimenez Vega

Jean-Paul de la Fuente, director of New7Wonders, the Swiss foundation behind the online contest to name the seven most marvelous cities of the world, is visiting the Cuban capital. Having been received by Marta Hernández Romero, president of the Havana Provincial Assembly of Popular Power, and Eusebio Leal Spengler, city historian, already De la Fuente takes on, from the moment of his arrival, the typical profile of the tourist who, from his birds-eye view, cannot perceive to what unsuspected point it is difficult for the average Cuban to live in his beloved city.

I cannot understand how anyone who knows at least something of the functioning dynamic of the Cuban capital can propose this city as a contender for such a prize, much less the inexplicable manner in which Havana ended up on the final roster alongside such urban centers as Barcelona, Chicago, London and Mexico City.

From there we can only presume that all these persons who voted to keep La Giraldilla‘s city among the final contestants for membership in that select group of urban marvels have one thing in common: none of them live in a shanty town in El Cerro, in a tenement in Centro Habana or in Marianao on the banks of the Quibú River, subsisting on a salary of 20 dollars a month for sustaining his whole family; none has suffered seeing his child drool over the inaccessible toy; nor does he know what an “un-ration” book is, nor has he asked himself, at five in the afternoon, gazing into his empty larder, “What the fuck are we going to eat tonight?” Continue reading

Matraka Productions regrets that the Associated Press “Revelations” damage the independent cultural sector / 14ymedio

14ymedio, 12 December 2014 – The independent promoter Matraka Productions expressed its regret in a statement about the damage the Associated Press has done to the unofficial cultural sector by linking the receipt of grants from the US to allegedly subversive actions. This Thursday the American agency published the results of an investigation, which claims that the Agency for International Development (USAID) promoted rap and hip-hop groups critical of the government.

USAID has played down the information from the AP and recalls that it is known that the agency “supports programs of civil society in Cuba and other restrictive environments” as part of the actions of the US government to promote democracy, a spokesperson told the EFE press agency. “Any claim that our work is secret or covert it is simply false,” he said.

The official press has published in its entirety the extensive AP investigation, as well as the documents in support of it, as they have also done with reports from the same American press agency on other USAID alleged covert operations such as ZunZuneo. Continue reading

Diario de las Americas Interview with Ivan Garcia


After participating in a workshop about investigative journalism in San Diego, California from November 10 to 14, Ivan Garcia spent four days in Miami. During his stay in that city a reporter from Diario de las Americas — a Miami-based Spanish-language newspaper for which he has been a contributor since January of 2013 — did an interview with him which was prominently featured in both the publication’s digital and print editions.

Ivan Garcia, an independent Cuban journalist who writes for Diario de las Americas from Havana, notes that “there has been a change in Cuba” in terms of the types of repression that government agents use against those who dissent from the official line.

Garcia, who covers the grittier aspects of daily life in his country, admitted that the strategy of the Cuban government with respect to the dissident community “is difficult to understand.” He notes, “Some such as members of Martha Beatriz Roca’s group, who live in the provinces and don’t even have enough to eat, are being repressed very severely. These are the worst cases precisely because they are less well-known.”

“But for people like Yoani (Sanchez) and me, who write for well-known publications, we cannot say that we are being repressed, especially not since 2013 when they started granting travel permits.” Continue reading

The Spell of Havana / 14ymedio, José Gabriel Barrenechea

The Historic Spanish Dance Society in Havana (BDG)

The Historic Spanish Dance Society in Havana (BDG)

14ymedio, José Gabriel Barrenechea, Havana, 9 December 2014 – One of my earliest memories is of my young self, singing, Set fire, set fire to the lock [of hair], while riding in a bus operated by Havana’s public transportation system. The other passengers around me laugh and a lady with sweet and mirthful eyes exclaims again and again, “That little blonde boy is a hellion!”

Havana at that time to me was that marvelous city which I would enter at dawn, riding through the tunnel, staying alert so as not to miss the fire station on Prado Street. Or it was that city which I would exit generally by train, at night, but not before stopping at la Casita de Martí [José Martí’s Little House]. All of this was in spite of the fact that my parents and I would go to Havana twice a year, in January and June.

Our agenda for our visits was always the same: the Aquarium and the 26th Avenue Zoo, with its little lead soldiers at the entrance, its bold squirrels that seemed not so much wild creatures as denizens of some tenement on Colón Street, the shit-flinging monkeys, the little train…and another day, to Lenin Park and the Botanical Garden. We would cover Old Havana by a route that invariably ended up in The Fort and its armories – at least until the day I stopped throwing tantrums to avoid embarking on the little Regla ferry, and then the tour would end with a slow cruise to park in that so-called “ultramarine town.” Then it was off to the Coppelia ice cream stand on any given day and later, in the afternoon, a stroll up and down the Malecón, re-enacting in the capital that small-town custom of zigzagging along the main street of Encrucijada. Such was the only way to pass the evenings in some innocent little town of the interior in those marvelous ‘70s.

Sometimes, in January, there might also be a visit to El Cerro Stadium, as our friend Ñico Rutina insisted on calling the Latin American Stadium, for my father and me to watch a baseball game. It didn’t matter who was playing whom, what my old man cared about (and still does, at 83) was enjoying the game, not being fanatical about a particular team. Our day trip would then conclude with the aforementioned visits to about a hundred of my parents’ relatives and close friends. All this to say – considering that we would alternate our stays among my Aunt Leopoldina’s house in Párraga; my Aunt Emilia’s house in the Little Cave of San Miguel de Padrón; or that of my Great Aunt Victoria in La Víbora – it can be seen that, at least on the east side of the Almendares River, very little of Havana escaped our routine itineraries for visits and outings.

Already by then, I could not escape the spell of Havana. Where people talked, walked, looked, breathed, and loved with ease, and “right” was “rye” [Translator’s Note: Habaneros are known among Cubans elsewhere on the Island for their rapid speech and lazy pronunciation of consonants]. Where defiant mulattos grew their sideburns long and dressed in the manner of their great-great-grandfathers, flashy black men in the days of the fleets. When from time to time could be heard, along some parallel street, the slow-moving cassock of one of the few remaining priests on the Island. When the stray cats were fat, not like those puny ones on Encrucijada Street, and actors in the latest adventure films might surprise you on any street corner.

“Where will all these memories go when I die?” I ask myself at times, like the android in Blade Runner. “Will that moment disappear with me when, for the first time, I watched a ship enter Havana Bay from the Point, while two other vessels lying at anchor waited their turn?” Or, fast-forwarding almost 40 years, there is an eternity in which I will always live in the entire night I spent with Her in a room on L Street, almost touching the sea, and at times would be surprised by the murmurs of another woman: Sleeping Havana?

I cannot answer these questions. I only know that upon learning of Havana having been selected as one of the Seven Wonders Cities of the World, all those memories have rushed to my throat. In any case something will remain, as today persists in our culture that spirit of the Athens of 500 BC, when a boy hand-in-hand with his father, regarded on a certain clear morning of the splendorous Mediterranean summer the road to Piraeus.

Because Havana, more than an obvious ruin, is a spirit, a soul, a mature woman with miles on her but still more beautiful than any 20-year-old. A certain something will persist when the tyrants and their henchmen no longer occupy more than a couple lines in the annals of history. A certain something to which all of us Cubans are joined in greater or lesser measure, and which provides the measure to explain why we love to exaggerate, to say that we Cubans “We Cubans are the greatest thing God ever conceived in this great wide world.”

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

At Least 34 Activists Detained In Cuba on Human Rights Day / 14ymedio

Ladies in White put in police cars. (14ymedio)

Ladies in White put in police cars. (14ymedio)

14ymedio, 10 December 2014 — At least 34 activists have been detained so far in various locations of the country on the occasion of the celebration of Human Rights Day this Wednesday. In Havana are reported some 20 arrests of opponents who tried to reach the meetings opposite the Yara room, one of the headquarters for the Havana Film Festival, which started six days ago. Among those are at least 18 Ladies in White and members of the New Republic movement, intercepted when they headed towards Vedado in order to participate in the announcement by Berta Soler and driven to the Calabazar zone. Before the arrests, some activists yelled, “Down with the dictatorship and long live human rights!” After the first arrests, dozens of Government partisans approached the place, yelling, “Long live Fidel, long live Raul!”

A reporter from 14ymedio, present at the location of the incidents, could confirm the detention of several Ladies in White who began to arrive, separately, to the well-known corner. At first, only civilians were seen, the so-called enraged people, awaiting the activists. However, as the time of the announcement approached, there appeared several uniformed officers and police cars. One of the women from this human rights defense group who managed to get to the place was forced into one of the cars.

Security agent Carlos Serpa Maceira, present at the location, has threatened Luzbely Escobar, one of the reporters for this daily, who took photographs of the arrests. After a three-hour detention, the journalist has been set free. Security agents, especially bothered by her participation in the Havana Film Festival and her credentials for press conferences, have warned her that she cannot “present herself as 14ymedio at official sites.” Another 14ymedio reporter, Victor Ariel Gonzalez, was also arrested on this day and freed on Wednesday night.

The downtown Havana corner of 23rd and L has dawned between expectation and the most absolute vigilance. The announcement several days ago by the Ladies in White to meet at this point of the city to commemorate Human Rights Day made the government activate all its machinery to prevent it. Last night a children’s activity at the Coppelia ice cream stand was announced on national television, a frequent practice used by authorities to neutralize dissident gatherings.

In the Calixto Garcia township in Holguin, some 20 Security agents do not let pass anyone who wanted to enter an activity about human rights.

In Puerto Padre, Las Tunas, only a dozen activists have managed to get to the place they had given as the location for celebrating Human Rights Day, while at least ten others have been arrested.

In Tunas Park, two dissidents have been arrested and many others have not been allowed to get to the house of David Gonzalez, where an event was going to be held in commemoration of the date.

At this time in Guantanamo, there are 35 activists at the headquarters of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU) and one detained. Some special troops from the Ministry of the Interior since last night have surrounded the Altamira neighborhood in Santiago de Cuba, where the headquarters of the organization is. Nevertheless, in the morning hours some activists have managed to get to the most important market of the city to share statements about human rights among attendees at the site and also were able to hold a brief ceremony in reference to the subject. In Altamira, barely five activists have been able to participate in an event by the organization because the police will not permit them to pass.

Gathering in Havana on Human Rights Day. (14ymedio)

Gathering in Havana on Human Rights Day. (14ymedio)

The foreign press was also present at the site, and several activists have loudly denounced surveillance around their homes. In Palmarito de Cauto, the meeting will be in the afternoon, but Security forces have been present since early in the day, since the Communist Party has organized a “people party” with beer provided, and no passage allowed, in order to occupy the dissident meeting places in the area. The officials have gathered several people across from the headquarters of UNPACU and threatened that if they do not remove posters alluding to the date, there will be reprisals like those of last Friday where there was much violence.

Several activities are planned for the next hours. On the Island of Juventud, in Nueva Gerona, an event will be held at 2 pm.

In Mella there is also found a strong police operation even though there are no activities scheduled.

Translated by MLK

Note: This is and updated and expanded version of information reported in a previous article published earlier in the police operation. 

The Counterrevolutionary Activities of the Associated Press / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 11 December 2014 — After reading the latest investigation published by the Associated Press involving Cuban musicians, I no longer have the least doubt that the AP is developing the most subtle and treacherous counterrevolutionary campaign of all time. Obviously I don’t have the documents that certify the identity of those who are financing this investigative journalistic project, but at least I know they are not doing it for free and that money must come from some fund.

The atmosphere related in their dispatches – government control over artistic creation, the circulation of information, and the ability of people to gather together – gives the impression that there is a police state in Cuba, where agreement is synonymous with conspiracy and where information is necessarily an arm in the hands of the enemy of the country.

In the latest link in the long chain of articles focused on this secret mission, the Cuban government is compared with that of Slobodan Milosevic and they do it with the ingenious recourse of matching the methods used to overthrow this disgraceful regime with the activities which, from within, are undertaken by some other discontented who, according to the AP, have similar objectives.

What I cannot understand is how the clever State Security agents and the talented members of the editorial board of Cubadebate don’t realize that they are playing into the game of this sophisticated smear campaign, surely generated at those American Intelligence sites that don’t even leave traces of their plans, as USAID and other entities have.

Soon we will see the effect of this work when, in front of television cameras, several Cuban artists will admit their panic, their willingness to betray and offer their expressions of regret. The worst is that the senior officials of State Security will be very pleased with these results, without suspecting that in some nameless office their worst enemies will be toasting to the success achieved.

How we are going to laugh when everything is declassified!


Cardinal Bertone returns to Cuba / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

Tarcisio Bertone with Felipe Perez Roque in Havana in 2008. (Reuters)

Tarcisio Bertone with Felipe Perez Roque in Havana in 2008. (Reuters)

14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 12 December 2014 — Six years ago Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone came through the front door to Cuba. This December, however, he has returned on a private visit which is evidence of the discrete recognition of failure. For the former Vatican Foreign Minister, the time between one stay and another has been filled with missteps. This is a man who returns in disgrace. Just like what has happened with the “Raul reforms” that he validated with his presence.

Cardinal Bertone has arrived on the Island to mark the Feast of the Immaculate Conception of Mary, but on this occasion, far from the cameras and the presidential palace. The man who helped to coordinate the visit of Pope Benedict XVI to our country, has participated this week in the consecration in Santa Clara of a sanctuary to the Virgin of Charity del Cobre, Cuba’s patron saint.

Now, he prefers the ecclesiastical circles and has returned to the Cobre Sanctuary, where he said mass. The context today is very different from his previous stay, a few days after the installation of Raul Castro as president, which the prelate described as a “special, extraordinary moment.” In that February, he also asserted that the General “will continue (…) with a vision, if at all possible, of development.” However, the reality on display this December is stubbornly to the contrary.

The Cuba he is returning to is far from the hopes that some sheltered with the coming to power of Fidel Castro’s brother. Part of the Cuban population imagined the possibilities of an economic and political opening. However, the economic flexibilities ended up untying some knots only to tie others, and civil liberties never arrived.

Six years ago, Bertone said that he would have a conversation with “clarity, sincerity, an exchange,” with the new president, but the president seems not to have listened. The price paid by the former Vatican Foreign Minister for this family photo with the Government was high. While officialdom protected him, the most critical sector of the Catholic Church doesn’t look kindly on that embrace between the sickle and the cross. Excluding the dissidents from any possible dialog with the Cardinal, also signaled the bias of his point of view.

Accustomed to moving influences and cooking up agreements, the Vatican number two thought he could unstick the wheels of change. He met with Cuba’s Foreign Minister, Felipe Perez Roque, who a few weeks later would be ousted and accused by Fidel Castro himself of having become addicted to “the honey of power.” Those faces that once welcomed him with smiles, today are no longer here or are in hiding.

Bertone, who was also the Secretary of the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (the Holy Office), came six years ago to teach at a conference in the Main Hall of the University of Havana. Even the newspaper Granma had something of the odor of incense in those days and published a communication from the Cuban bishops, in which they called on Raul Castro to take “transcendental measures” to satisfy the “anxieties and concerns expressed by Cubans.”

Bertone already saw his name in the history of Cuba. The mass that he celebrated in Havana Cathedral focused on the search for larger spaces for the Church within Cuba. In exchange for the ability to gain this space, he accepted all the concessions required. He adopted the official discourse against the “American blockade,” he didn’t meet with regime opponents, and he validated the flexibilizations offered by power as the path to the dreamed of country.

Today, Bertone is not who he was… nor is Cuba what he predicted. Said to have mismanaged influence, now separated from the epicenter of Vatican power, and touched by the scandal of the letters revealed by Benedict XVI’s butler, the man who has come to this Island is a shadow. But the Raul regime reforms are also shadows. Economic relaxations that haven’t managed, after more than five years since they began, to allow Cubans to live in dignity, nor have they provided larger spaces of freedom.

Chance or destiny – who knows? – this time the Bertone’s mass at El Cobre coincides with International Human Rights Day. A few kilometers from the sanctuary where he addressed the congregation, dozens of activists have been confined to their homes, threatened, and some of them have been arrested to prevent their participating in events planned to celebrate this date. The Cuba he did not want to see on his previous trip is knocking on the door with a call that combines desperation and reproach.

Requiem for the 10th of December (International Day of Human Rights) / by Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo

Raul Castro with his son  Alejandro and his grandson-bodyguard Raúl Guillermo. (MARTINOTICIAS)

Raul Castro with his son Alejandro and his grandson-bodyguard Raúl Guillermo. (MARTINOTICIAS)

The 10th of December is one of the saddest days. That day the political police – the only source of governance in our island – brings out all of its henchmen to suppress dissent. Many are dressed with their olive-green monkey-like Ministry of the Interior uniforms – most are in plain clothes. And you never really know which is worse, because street clothing in Cuba is inherently cruel. This is how the violence of our State Security disguises itself as a “counterrevolutionary rapid response” by the loyal and “uniformed people.” Plebeian and power are two words that become one in our own tropical brand of nationalistic despotism.

This mafia-like behavior is the real engine that drives the Revolution of the Castros; firing squads and faith in a better future; jail for non-conformists and ration-books for the faithful; repression of private life and exile for those who escape. This is how the Communist Party has hijacked our nation, whose sovereignty has been a myth since 1959, when the island fell into the hands of a group of populist militants. In this respect, it is important to note that neither a domestic rebellion nor the so-long-awaited Yankee invasion would ever be a violation of sovereignty when the very essence of the Castros’ rule has been to ignore the will of the Cuban people.

Meanwhile, notwithstanding the continuing existence of the family’s octogenarian hegemonic brothers, the heirs of the family clan – the pentarchy of Alejandro, Mariela, Antonio, Raul Guillermo and Deborah – prepare themselves for a fake transition of power that ignores the more than 25,000 signatures of the Varela Project (an independent civic-democratic movement within Cuba) that clamors for democracy.

The success of this fake transition depends on the complicity of the democratic governments of the European Union and of certain opportunistic groups within American society, pressured by big-money interests, that wish to obtain their share of the spoils derived from a Cuban workforce with no rights, all while paying off and manipulating American media, where it is proclaimed that our country is a proletarian paradise where “fatherland” is pronounced as “gallows.” Never has the annexationist tradition in our island had such success as it does in the current context; Cuba’s present neither includes nor involves ordinary Cubans; our future is molded from Strasbourg, Brussels, Washington, Moscow, Beijing, and Caracas in a much worse manner than in 1898, because this time our government is being invited as the guest of honor.

Many leaders in Cuba’s civil society have been threatened, harassed, subjected to acts of repudiation, beaten, and even jailed without cause on the 10th of December. On this day, independent artists are impeded from working on their projects – in my case, for being a blogger independent from any official institutions, a police detachment at my doorstep prevented me from leaving without being arrested – or even receiving visits. All of this on the 10th of December… a day that happens to also be my birthday.

This 10th of December, the rapper Angel Yunier Remon aka “El Critico,” remains sentenced to five years for his independent and libertarian brand of music. The novelist Angel Santiesteban suffers a similar sentence since the beginning of last year. Various human rights activists are not allowed to travel freely within or without the island. Government-controlled mobs continue their aggressive harassment of dissidents, among many other abuses that include spying on the private lives of activists.

These are the exemplary results of “Raulpolitiks”, our very own brand of Putinism of a reactionary type that hurts no one buts its victims. We are alone, and Cubans abroad are unwilling to raise a single cent for the cause of liberty. In fact, our exile community donates billions of dollars each year simply so that we can be treated as worse than traitors by our own government.

When democracy one day reaches Cuba, either tomorrow or in another 56 years – it will arrive in spite of the international leftist movement– when the men and women of my country recover the life in liberty and truth that our dictatorship reduced to a mere ideological battleground for Socialism – when Castroism finally becomes a thing of the past and its perpetrators are finally condemned so that they never bring back Communism in our island (an occasion that will include not only the enshrinement of the separation of powers, but also the banning of anti-democratic parties) – still the 10th of December will be a sad day of remembrance for my countrymen.

This day, for generations and generations will continue to remind us of the impunity with which our State Security treated us; an army dressed in the color of silence that applauded and assassinated without consequences; that was willing to combat Ebola in Africa while it nurtured the virus of violence at home; that created false and imagined enemies for purposes of its creepy theatrics. This day shall be for us to never forget the hate that Castroism engendered for its fellow countrymen, and for us to never forget the historic humiliation we suffered under the watchful eye of our very own Big Brother; a day in which for us to open our hearts for the needed reconciliation will be even less easy.

These December 10ths hurt, more than the ever-faster approaching double funeral (of the Castro brothers) ever will. The 10th of December ignores all notions of oblivion. There is no victim who is not expecting to face his abuser if we are to live in truth one day. The fight of the Cuban people against Castroism is the fight of memory against memory.


Originally published in Spanish in Diario de Cuba

Translated by Roberto Alba-Bustamante