Nicaragua Was Freed From a Regime Modeled On That Of the Castros / 14ymedio, Julio Blanco C.

In the election of February 1990, Violeta Chamorro (center) defeated Sandanista commander Daniel Ortega (right)

In the election of February 1990, Violeta Chamorro (center) defeated Sandanista commander Daniel Ortega (right)

14ymedio, Julio Blanco C., Managua, 27 September 2014 — I follow with eagerness – almost bordering on addiction – the news out of Cuba. I suppose that my nationality has a lot to do with that because probably no one better understands the reality of the Island (apart from Cubans) than we Nicaraguans.

Here we suffered a regime modeled on that of the Castros, which among other “pearls” imposed on us:

  • A terrible State security system, so that all we citizens were suspected of being traitors and counter-revolutionaries.
  • The rationing card, such an unpleasant memory.
  • Indoctrination of students at all levels of education.
  • The division of society into the good and the bad. Everything within the revolution and nothing outside it was the slogan. Whoever opposed the regime was a pariah, a subhuman, a stinker who deserved not the least consideration or respect. Those “elements” had to be persecuted, silenced, beaten, intimidated and ultimately annihilated.
  • The brutal and ruthless persecution of every communication media disaffected with the regime. This they could not completely achieve, maybe for lack of time, therefore some emblematic media like the daily La Prensa and Radio Corporacion survived the burning.
  • Bank nationalization and the forced socialization or transforming into cooperatives of all means of production, which involved a massive confiscation of private goods.

The list is much longer; I do not need to tell it to Cubans who have suffered first hand for so many years a tragedy so similar but at the same time much more extensive than ours.

My interest now is focused on the transition that Cubans are experiencing, because we went through something very similar, although here everything was quite fast due to the fact that it was not the same government that carried out the changes, but another one.

For the people of my generation who grew up in the midst of so many shortages and limitations, that period of the country’s “normalization,” above all that of the economy, was something almost magical.

The most irrelevant things were all eventful. I remember as if it were yesterday when we began to be happily flooded with junk food. First there was Pizza Hut, then McDonald’s returned after an absence of several years, then Burger King, Friday’s, Subway, Papa John’s and so many other chains that were little by little turning up in the country.

Big hotel companies like Best Western, Intercontinental, Hilton, Hyatt and others arrived, too.

And private national and foreign banks reappeared, and excellent customer attention again became a priority, not like when they were state-owned and little was needed for the employees to bite the unfortunate client.

And the private universities and colleges (these never disappeared) multiplied for every taste and pocketbook.

And many corrupt and inefficient state businesses were privatized and so many others disappeared. Maybe the most significant was Enitel, the embarrassing equivalent of Cuba’s ETECSA telephone company. The change was positively colossal, and soon came competition, and now there were other options for cable, telephone and internet.

Rationing and lines and product scarcity ended, and the giants of the food industry and commerce landed: Walmart, Pricemart, Cargill, Parmalat, Procter and Gamble, and there follows a very long etcetera.

And the first mall opened its doors with dozens of stores and modern movie theaters and its food court and its enormous department stores… but that was nothing, because soon there appeared others even better.

And refueling became a guilty pleasure because the convenience stores are as pleasant as small supermarkets and small restaurants, all in one.

And the public transportation payment system changed. You no longer had to carry a mound of coins, just recharge the electronic card.

And suddenly one day, a growing number of establishments began to offer free wi-fi; even the government installed it in some public parks in all the provincial capitals.

All this, which for us has been fascinating, is completely incomprehensible for someone who has not lived it and been systematically diverted by the State from everything that smells of progress and development however insignificant it might seem.

Maybe one day, sooner than later, Cubans can go through all this, too, and feel that strange satisfaction that is given by knowing “now we are like all the rest,” that we are no longer “different” in the more negative and abject sense of the word. In fact, they are already immersed in a stage of transition – very sui generis – but transition in the end.

Hopefully the weight of reality will finally make the regime understand that it can no longer contain the floodgates of “normality” because Cubans have made too many thousands of holes in the dam, and the waters of creativity and private initiative flow with increasing force.

* Julio Blanco C. is a lawyer in Diplomacy and International Relations. He lives in Managua.

Translated by MLK

A Simple Concern / Fernando Damaso

Photos Rebeca

After years without maintenance, abandoned to their fate and in a total state of disrepair, the authorities finally decided to “rescue” — the fashionable word — the building known as La Manzana de Gomez, a building finished by the Gomez Mena family in the year 1917, which occupies the space between Zuleata, San Rafael, Monserrate and Neptune streets.

According to reports it will be converted into a hotel and that is precisely where my concern lies, because this construction project does not answer directly to the Office of the City Historian, who is the only person who has been worried about respecting the identity of the city and its buildings.

To start, it’s announced that it will be called the Gran Hotel Manzana, eliminating the “de Gomez” in an absurd desire to erase at all costs of the Republican pasts. I don’t care much about that, as I am convinced that Havanans will call it the Gran Hotel Manzana de Gomez, exactly as has happened with so many other names they’ve wanted to change, which, however, remain, because traditions are stronger than voluntarism, orders and decrees.

What worries me is that in the granite floor of the property doorways, are embedded different logos of the original shops that occupied it, as well as the building itself–some of which I reproduce here–and it would be a serious mistake destroy them, they are part of the identity of the City of Havana, to build a modern floor, as happened with the neighboring Hotel Plaza, where the tile floors weren’t slippery, and were replaced by modern floors, which seem designed more for skating than walking.

Another negative experience was the replacement of the original floors where they built the nearby Hotel Central Park, and the destruction of the beautiful white and green sidewalks Granite Street San Rafael. All losses are irreparable due to the irresponsibility and ignorance of the authorities and citizen indolence.

If it proves impossible to repair and polish the original floor, due to its state of disrepair, they should at least save the logos and include them in the new floor to be constructed, as it would be an original detail that would give greater value. It would be desirable for the City Historian and other personalities to take timely action in this matter. We shouldn’t continue passively allowing them to destroy our city and erase its historic memory.

4 October 2014

“I will not return to the classroom if I am not paid a decent salary,” a teacher declares / 14ymedio, Rosa Lopez

First day of this school year (14ymedio)

First day of this school year (14ymedio)

14ymedio, ROSA LÓPEZ, Havana | October 10, 2014 – The mass exodus of teachers from the classroom has been, according to the official press, the theme of meetings between the Education minister, Ena Elsa Velázquez Cobiella, and her department heads. The official admitted that “there are questions that need to be addressed in our country, which will be resolved in due time when the right conditions are in place.” Her words do not placate the dissatisfaction of workers in the education sector with low salaries and poor working conditions.

According to data provided by Velázquez Cobiella, in the last school year, “427 education workers resigned because of disagreements with their evaluations; 166 because of the issue of proximity to their places of residence; 766 for failing to obtain a raise; 37 for dissatisfaction with the teaching methods; and 2,343 cited personal problems.” These statistics contrast with the widely-shared opinion that low wages are the principal cause driving teachers from the classroom.

“I told them I was leaving to care for my sick mother, but actually I just couldn’t stand the heavy workload and low salary any longer,” says Cristina Rodríguez, who taught elementary school for almost twenty years in the municipality of Cerro. Like her, many others have claimed family difficulties or health problems in order to free themselves from a burden they have found too heavy to bear.

“The highest leadership of the nation is aware of the problem and has the will to solve it, but this will be done in an orderly manner and when the country’s economy permits it,” said the minister. Her words were a bucket of ice water thrown on the education sector’s expectations for better compensation.

Around the middle of this year, public health professionals received a significant raise, which fanned the flames of hope for similar actions in other branches of service. However, the measure has not been extended to other departments.

A big unanswered question is: When can educators expect to be paid more decent salaries?

Among the criticisms that have emerged in discussions between the Education minister and other officials is the burdensome paperwork imposed on education workers. Every teacher is supposed to maintain files on incidents in the classroom, and others that include extracurricular information, such as family evaluations, community assessments, and those well-known reports that are more police-like in nature than education-related. The minister supported limiting such bureaucratic activities to the registry of assistance and evaluation, and to the students’ cumulative records.

There are approximately 10,366 educational institutions whose principal purpose is to stem the flow of teachers to other lines of work. “I will not return to the classroom if they don’t pay me a decent salary,” asserts Martha Vázquez, a special education teacher. Thousands of teachers echo this sentiment as they do other work across the country.

A big unanswered question is: When can educators expect to be paid more decent salaries that keep pace with the cost of living? In the meantime, classrooms will continue to lose valuable teachers who will end up behind the counter at a cafeteria, or in the void of unemployment.

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

Fetus and Other Left-overs / Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo

MY REPLY TO “A man’s right to choose” by Dana Schwartz in The Brown Daily Herald.

“About a baby’s right to choose” by Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo, I.W.P. Visiting Fellow Writer, Department of Literary Arts, Brown University.

In her opinion column “A man’s right to choose”, Dana Schwartz, as in all legalist approaches to baby abortion, misses an elementary point: life is by no means a biological burden to life, despite supreme courts —that may come and go with the ages— gender gurus and the political correctness of the more or less fashionableft.

“Every woman should have complete control over her own body and the decision to become a mother.” I couldn’t agree more with Schwartz. But this doesn’t extend to someone else’s body. Unless that the soon-to-be-born baby is deemed devoid of any control over his or her body and, in turn, deemed devoid of the decisions that he or she will never take once medically annihilated.

Modern society seems to have forgotten that babies are also women and men —mothers and fathers of other mothers and fathers to come—, not just sterile statistics for civil vindications. “Reducing the number of unwanted infants” is as simple as reducing the number of irresponsible conceptions.

Schwartz should be consequent enough as to discuss if women, in order not to be forced to become unwanted mothers, should “have the right” to destroy a baby’s body after “it” is born, but being still a part of her body through that last burden called the umbilical cord.

We condemn adult violence in Ferguson. We foster it from the very beginning against our own fetuses.

Original written in English

10 October 2014

The Baptist pastor Mario Felix Lleonart appears before the police / 14ymedio

Pastor Mario Felix Lleonart with his family. (Source: Facebook)

Pastor Mario Felix Lleonart with his family. (Source: Facebook)

14YMEDIO, Havana, October 9, 2014 – The Baptist pastor Mario Felix Lleonart refused to sign the official warning he received yesterday morning as part of a police citation. Although the document does not explicitly mention his recent journey to the eastern part of the island to check the status of harassment of some pastors, officers who confronted him mentioned it verbally, according to the pastor.

Around 11 AM yesterday, a lieutenant colonel read Feliz Lleonart a warning notice, in front of two witnesses – supposedly civilians and found by the officers, who the pastor didn’t know – and another lower ranking State Security official.

The notice, according to the lieutenant colonel, is considered an aggravating circumstance in the context of a possible criminal prosecution, which the official described as “very likely.”

This is the third warning the pastor has received, the last of which was delivered on 25 January. In the notice he was warned that if he continues to have close ties “counterrevolutionary elements within and outside Cuba and counterrevolutionary radio stations,” he will be prosecuted.

The pastor, who lives with his family in the village of Taguayabon in the central province of Villa Clara, in recent years has engaged in a very intense activism. Among other actions, he denounced the police beatings of Juan Wilfredo Soto, which could have caused his subsequent death.

The government cancels plans to build a mosque in Old Havana / 14ymedio

Ortaköy Mosque in Istanbul. (14ymedio)

Ortaköy Mosque in Istanbul. (14ymedio)

14YMEDIO, October 9, 2014 – Pedro Lazo Torres, leader of the minority Muslim community in Cuba, announced this Monday that the Government has rejected plans to build a mosque for the Islamic population in Havana, a gesture considered an offense against religious freedom on the Island. Lazo said that reasons aren’t related to the patron, the Turkish Religious Affairs Foundation, rather it is now the Government that opposes it, something unexpected as Russian has received permission to build an orthodox church.

The Muslim population in Cuba is around 4,000 faithful who lack a place of worship on the island.

Last April, Mustafa Tutkun, assistant director of the Turkish Religious Affairs Foundation, visited Cuba to manage permissions with the Religious Affairs Bureau of the Communist Party. He then explained that the mosque would reflect the design of the Mosque Ortaköy in Istanbul. The press secretary of the agency, Yuksel Sezgin, said: “We believe that the mosque fits perfectly with the European architecture of historic Old Havana.” The Island was assured that the building would be completed within one year, starting in the spring.

Religious freedom in Cuba is still an unresolved issue, However relations between the Catholic Church and the government have improved in recent years, even to the point where some confiscated properties were returned to the institution.

A group of 16 Cuban dancers defect while on tour in Mexico / 14ymedio

The dancers Ricardo Gil, Yaimara Naranjo during the interview with Telemundo 51.

The dancers Ricardo Gil, Yaimara Naranjo during the interview with Telemundo 51.

14YMEDIO, Havana, October 9, 2014 – Sixteen dancers from the Cuban company Pro-Dance of Laura Alonso, daughter of Alicia Alonso, deserted during a tour in Mexico. Five of them are already in the United States, according to information on the television Telemundo 51 this Thursday.

From Miami, Ricardo Gil, Yaimara Naranjo and Alfredo Espinosa, spoke in front of the cameras, expressing their happiness on having left Cuba in search of a better professional and personal future. Espinosa said he had already arranged new work as a teacher at an academy in Miami Lakes.

The flight of Cuban dancers is a steady drip. At the end of September, two members of the Cuban National Ballet fled, also during a tour in Mexico, following the steps of another nine dancers who stayed in Puerto Rico months earlier.

Laura Perez (age 25) went from Mexico to Houston, and Jvier Graupera Miranda (age 23) went to Florida to receive assistance from the Miami Hispanic Arts Center and the Cuban Classical Ballet, according to reports form the Spanish daily El Pais.

The director of the National Ballet of Cuba, Alicia Alonso, said in a statement to the Mexican press that the escape of some members of the group “will not cause her to lose sleep.”

The elections we didn’t have / Reinaldo Escobar

1948 Election Propaganda : "The wise distinguish"

REINALDO ESCOBAR, Havana. 6 October 2014 – This Sunday news agencies around the world, especially in Latin America, awaited the results of the first round elections in Brazil. The question of whether Dilma Rousseff will remain president of that vast country, simply the question, will be one of concern and anxiety to many people in Cuba and I’m not just referring to those in the offices of the Plaza of the Revolution who could see this or that project at risk, should the continuity be broken.

The actual experience of political change is a phenomenon alien to our country for the vast majority of the people. In fact the “youngest” Cubans who ever exercised the right to choose between one president and another, are now 88-years-old, because they would have had to be 21 in 1947, which would have allowed them to choose between three candidates: Eduardo Chibás, from the Cuban People’s Party (known as: Orthodox); Juan Marinello, for the Peoples Socialist Party (Communist); and Carlos Prío Socarrás, from the Authentic Party, who was ultimately the winner of that last contested election.

In 1976 citizens were led to believe they would become voters

Since then the concept of elections has become fuzzy, especially since 1976 when citizens were led to believe they would become voters, because they could approve a slate of candidates created by the will of those who were unwilling to relinquish power.

What is curious is that the commentators of whatever media, privately owned by the Communist Party, will speak with the greatest naturalness of the matter of 26 October, when the mystery of the Brazilian second round elections will be cleared up. They will address the subject without daring to say a single word that would make their readers wonder why Brazilians and other Latin Americans have that right and we do not.

If the multi-party system is that “multi-trash” system that renamed the only ex-president still alive, the re-election of Dilma Rousseff should also be considered illegitimate. If Aécio Neves emerges as the winner, they will have to turn to one or more psychiatrists to explain, with the “maneuvers of imperialism,” the irrevocable decision of a free people.

Activists gather around four points of consensus / 14ymedio

activistas_CYMIMA20140925_0004_16

Activists meeting in Havana (14ymedio)


14YMEDIO, Havana, September 25, 2014 – An important meeting of Cuban civil society took place this Thursday in Havana, involving 16 activists from across the country, including five ex-prisoners from the 2013 Black Spring. The meeting was not announced ahead of time, and several of the invitees were unable to attend due to other commitments.

The discussion centered around four minimum points that have gained strength among activists and dissidents in recent months: the release of political prisoner, the ending of political repression, ratification of International Covenants on Human Rights, and recognition of Cuban civil society within the Island in the diaspora.

Also emphasized was the need to strengthen civic institutions and to pay special attention to civic education. The importance of adding other voices to the debate was a theme repeated by many of those present.

Under the name Civil Society Open Space, the meeting is intended to be help on a regular basis to discuss the issues of today’s Cuba. This is the fourth in a series of meetings, two of which were held in Madrid and two in Havana. Previously, in February of this year, the four points of consensus that summarize the demands of Cuban civil society were agreed upon.

In attendance were: José Alberto Álvarez, Eliécer Ávila, Manuel Cuesta Morúa, Reinaldo Escobar, Guillermo Fariñas, José Daniel Ferrer, Librado Linares, Mario Félix Lleonart, Yoaxis Macheco, Héctor Maseda, Félix Navarro, Jorge Olivera, Lilianne Ruíz, Elizardo Sánchez, Yoani Sánchez and Dagoberto Valdés.

“My mom has a girlfriend” / 14ymedio, Lilianne Ruiz

Denia and Mayra don't kiss in front of their daughter because of concerns she would be rejected at school.

Denia and Mayra don’t kiss in front of their daughter because of concerns she would be rejected at school.

14ymedio, LILIANNE RUÍZ, Havana |October 3, 2014 – Denia and Mayra met twelve years ago on a walk along the Malecon. In the zone of tolerance that begins at Maceo Park and ends at the 23rd Street fountain, where historically a part of the LGBTI community gathers in the Havana nights. After a 7-year relationship they thought seriously of raising a child, but they ran into an obstacle: according Ministry of Public Health protocols, the possibility of conception through non-traditional means is designed for heterosexual couples and treated as a pathology of infertility.

The two women began to seek voluntary donors among their friends. They knew other women in the same situation had managed to conceive by introducing semen into the vagina with a syringe. “In contact with mucus it can live up to 72 hours; in a syringe stored at room temperature it can last 48 hours,” they say.

Among their close friends they didn’t find a candidate that met all their conditions, above all that he was willing to renounce paternity and cede it entirely to the female couple. So after many discrete inquiries, they used the services of an OB/GYN at a maternity hospital in the capital who, in addition to artificially inseminating Mayra, was able to offer them a donor with the desired characteristics, including some resemblance to Denia. The insemination took place in the couple’s home, far from the vigilant eyes of the health authorities. Should it be divulged, the doctor would lose his profession.

 The insemination took place in the couple’s home, far from the vigilant eyes of the health authorities

Denia sidesteps the question of whether they had to pay for this “under the table” service. According to other women in similar situations, the rates in the informal market for sperm vary between 100 and 300 Cuban convertible pesos (CUC).

“This has been the greatest joy of my life. The little girl calls me godmother,” Denia says. The two women consider themselves mothers of Paola, a beautiful five-year-old who attends preschool.

During the pregnancy and childbirth, Denia presented herself as a friend of Mayra’s. In their experience, if they had declared themselves the lesbian couple that they are, they would not have been treated the same. “In many places we found they don’t treat us like they treat a heterosexual couple. Sometimes they reject us. So we did what we did to keep up appearances.”

Denia tells how she gets up first in the morning to bring the baby to her mother’s breast. “Even though I’m not the biological mother, I feel like I’m also Paola’s mother. At times we argue lovingly about who’s going to do the cooking because the child likes my cooking more.”

They don’t kiss in front of the girl, not because they don’t want to promote their values of respect for sexual diversity and freedom of choice in front of her, but because they are worried that she might experience rejection at school. “We live in a society that has not adapted to a kiss as a gesture of love between a couple, and to the fact that couples can be made up of the same gender.”

Because of this, they believe that Cuba should legalize marriage between persons of the same sex, so that their rights are recognized in the Ministry of Health protocols, including the right of a lesbian woman to conceive with the help of science. “The same rights would make us more equal,” they say.

So far, however, there is no donor sperm bank in the Cuban health system, even for heterosexual couples. Nor are there statistics about the number of same sex couples with children. In a telephone call, the Legal Department of the National Center for Sexual Education (CENESEX) admitted it has taken no surveys and has nor information about it.

As often happens, the official world keeps its distance from what is happening in real life. It refuses to legislate and ignores the stories of different passions, with fruits and without patriarchs.

Constitutional Consensus Makes Noise / Lilianne Ruiz

Constitutional Consensus advances from below, from those who know the least. Deep within the Island citizens, or rather those who aspire to be, join the project with misspellings, in the midst of smoke and sweat, fixing old bikes that deserve to be abandoned, and plowing the earth with one eye on the cow that needs to be watched.

What is happening is unusual at one point. None of the activists who run the initiative tells these people, forgotten and persecuted by a troop of fine collectors, what they should say. Like the plow, the pliers or the pastry flour, they just offer another instrument for them to express what they want in the laws to defend and how they want them to be written.

An activist, Marthadela, never tires of walking and pushing these tools to get answers, any answers, the come to the common people in the spirit of the new laws. And to her surprise, the result is immense and multiplying.

If you started sweating with one farmer in his bar on the ground, four farmers have already approached you do see if they can protect their cows from the voracious greed of the State.

Another activist, Carmelo, makes it so that at a Constitutional Initiative Discussion an apparently exhausted and lost citizen speaks up to say that the only thing he knows is that no one, not those above and not those below, should be above the law, which has occurred in Cuba since the first day of 1959. An idea worth its weight in gold because it took several centuries to give birth to it.

All this gives us confidence. If these ordinary men and women assume that the law and its defense is worth the trouble it means we come together again in a civilized way one of these days. But what is likely happening is common sense is the best soil for the sense of rights.

Constitutional Consensus moves forward with these people.

7 October 2014

New Customs Restrictions in Havana: Another Turn of The Screw / Jeovany Jimenez Vega

By Jeovany Jimenez Vega

I avert my gaze with disgust from the broadsheet of troubling portents that the newspaper Granma has become. Recently, the newspaper published new customs regulations the Cuban government has imposed on its own people. In essence, they amount to a significant reduction — now significantly less than 120 kg — in the weight of non-commercial goods allowed to be brought into the country by the average citizen.

There is also a significant reduction in the value of merchandise allowed to be brought in, from 1,500 pesos beforehand to 1,000 pesos now. Everything determined to be above this limit is to be confiscated. Additionally, there is an ominous decision by the Ministry of Finance and Prices to raise the duty on merchandise received by mail from 10 to 20 CUC — some 500 pesos, the equivalent of a month’s salary — on each kilogram above the initial 1,500 grams.

Like a soothsayer looking into his crystal ball, I can clearly see the inevitable consequences of these measures. Without much effort, I can spot the corrupt customs officials in every Cuban airport rubbing their hands and growing increasingly rich, charging the helpless traveller ever juicier extortion fees, enriching themselves with impunity with millions stolen under the impassive gaze of all the political and government authorities gathered around the feast. Continue reading