‘14ymedio’ Invites Readers to Join

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 14 November 2017 — Two fundamental premises have guided the work of 14ymedio since its birth more than three years ago: making journalism of higher quality every day and maintaining editorial independence. To achieve this we have opted for a strict financial autonomy that allows us to pronounce freely on any subject.

So far, our financing comes from the contributions of a small group of friends in a personal capacity, from alliances with private foundations and academic institutions, and from sponsorships, events, content sales and advertising.

Today we take an important step by launching a collaborative membership model that will allow readers to contribute to the financing of 14ymedio. Thus, we can devote more resources to journalistic investigations and maintain universal and free access to the content of our media, in addition to solidifying our editorial freedom.

Our readers can become members of 14ymedio by visiting our membership portal, where you can support us with a small financial contribution. In return, you will receive invitations to events and the opportunity to collaborate with ideas regarding the editorial content.

On this site there is all the information about the different levels of membership, about our work and the editorial team, as well as a detailed breakdown of our finances.

We are the first medium in Cuba to take a step of this nature and we intend to make this privileged relationship with readers the main source of income for 14ymedio, in a participatory and transparent manner.

This Tuesday begins a new stage for 14ymedio. We hope you will join us, just as you have done since the beginning.

Become a member of 14ymedio.

In Cuba, the Cold War Returns

While the political class bares its teeth and boasts of the holster on its belt, around the United States Embassy in there is nothing but long faces. (EFE)

Raúl Castro has not taken advantage of the steps taken by Barack Obama and has chosen to opt for caution rather than reform

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 13 November 2017 — It was too quiet to last. The diplomatic thaw between Cuba and the United States has failed and both nations are resetting their watches to the times of the Cold War. In recent weeks new causes of tension have arisen and political discourse returns to that customary belligerence so yearned for.

The link between the Plaza of the Revolution and the White House has taken several steps back from where it was on 17 December 2014, a date coined in Cuba as 17-D, when Barack Obama and Raúl Castro announced the normalization of relations. This leap into the past is motivated by the alleged acoustic attacks – sounds that resemble the singing of dozens of crickets – that caused nausea, dizziness and headaches in United States diplomats stationed in Cuba.

The official propaganda machine had slowed down during the reconciliation period and now tries to resume the rhythm that characterized it in the days of Ronald Reagan or George W. Bush. However, we can see the fatigue and in particular the apathy of a national audience more attuned to daily survival than to diplomatic squabbles. continue reading

Cartoons lambasting the US president have also returned to the pages of government newspapers, while the concept of anti-imperialism takes center stage in the agendas of government institutions, unable to articulate a less ideological discourse. These are good times for recalcitrants, opportunists and radicals.

Lacking their favorite target, the regime’s spokespeople had found themselves lost among so many hugs, conciliatory photos and delegations of American businessmen who came to the Island. Unable to deal with the calm, now they can fill their lungs with the air of storm. Only confrontation makes them important, only combat seems alive to them.

While the political class bares its teeth and boasts of the holster on its belt, outside the United States Embassy in Havana long faces abound. Every morning dozens of Cubans arrive in the neighborhood, distressed by being stranded in the middle of an immigration process due to the suspension of consular work at the embassy. Small businesses in the area that thrived on selling coffee, renting rooms to visa applicants traveling from elsewhere in Cuba, or helping people to fill out immigration forms, have descended into sudden bankruptcy. Uncle Sam stimulated the economy of thousands of families near the perimeter of the imposing building and now everything is on hold, impregnated with uncertainty.

The neighbors can only remind themselves of the image of August 2015 when US Secretary of State John Kerry participated in raising the American flag in the recently inaugurated US Embassy in Havana. It was “the best time in this area and the country,” says Paquito, a neighbor who made a living offering a consignment service for bags and cell phones to visa applicants. Today his room is empty and his greatest wish is that “the yumas,” the Americans, “will return as soon as possible”.

Throughout the country many fear that Donald Trump’s measures will go further and end up affecting the flow of regular flights between the Island and its northern neighbor, flights restored during the past administration. A cutback in the sending of remittances also populates the nightmares of countless families who survive thanks to the help that comes every month from el Norte.

Those who predict a worsening of relationships are right. The withdrawal of non-essential personnel after the acoustic attacks is just one more episode in a soap opera punctuated with hatreds and passions, bickering and wrangling that have dominated both countries for more than half a century.

The new episode has only added a new measure of mystery, spy stories and sophisticated aggressions to what was already the typical script of this “avoidance/approach” conflict, where the object of desire is both rejected and hazily desired.

The terrain for belligerency is fertile, and on such a fecund base sprout the most varied speculations about the perpetrators of the attacks allegedly suffered by the diplomats.

Supporters of the thaw point to an orthodox group within the Cuban government who saw the pact with the United States as a betrayal. A “Taliban” brotherhood well enough placed in the spheres of power to be able to undertake an action of such complexity.

Others speculate that a third country, such as Russia, Iran or North Korea, used Cuban territory to perpetrate an attack on its old rival. In that case, the island would have been merely the scene of a struggle of external powers with national intelligence not even aware of it. The latter is very unlikely in a country where surveillance has escalated to degrees of oppressive sophistication and intensity.

There are also those who point to Fidel Castro as the evil genius behind the acoustic attack plot. The only man with more power than Raúl Castro who would have been capable of organizing something of that nature emerges amid the speculations of those who remember his incalculable capacity to annoy Washington.

Those who hold the hypothesis of the “poisoned will” of the Comandante say that the mysterious noises began before his death last November and also remember how he distanced himself from the diplomatic thaw. The eternal anti-imperialist must have liked nothing about his brother’s flirtations with the tenant of the White House, say those who support this conjecture.

The official press points out that the acoustic attacks have been just the pretext for Trump to implement a policy towards Cuba more aligned with those segments of the diaspora discontented with the thaw, as it downplays what happened and sows doubt that such aggressions even existed. However, it reiterates that the Government is willing to cooperate with the investigation.

The big loser in all these events is Raúl Castro. The main legacy of his mandate rested precisely on having achieved a rapprochement between both nations. Through the thaw, the youngest of the brothers made his own mark and stepped away from the shadow of the Comandante en Jefe, a contumacious agitator of the conflict between the Island’s David and the American Goliath.

The general, who until now has been unable to fulfill many of the promises of his mandate – such as monetary reunification, in a country fractured by the duality between the convertible peso and the Cuban peso – or returning to wages their lost dignity, sees how his government’s legacy is vanishing.

Diplomatic normalization is, without a doubt, a story of the failure of the second Castro, who did not take advantage of the steps taken by Barack Obama, preferring to opt for caution instead of reform. If he is not directly responsible for the acoustic attacks, then he is responsible for the negligence that allowed others to carry them out and for not having been able to prevent this incident from resulting in the current diplomatic confrontation.

In the end, the era of extended hands is over and the island is in the midst of an economic recession, suffering the effects of a powerful hurricane, facing diminished support from Venezuela, while the so-called”historic generation” is on the verge of biological obsolescence. The Cold War has returned, but the Cuba of those years no longer exists.


Editor’s Note: This text has been previously published by the Spanish newspaper El País in its edition of Sunday, November 12.

Shortages and Shady Dealings / Eduardo Martínez Rodríguez

Housing in Havana.

Primavera Digital, Eduardo Martínez Rodríguez, 1 November 2017, El Cerro, Havana. Some new phenomena are taking place, products of the state’s poor management and shortsightedness.

Dwellings are being repossessed by people who are buying them legally or illegally.

I occupy an apartment with three bedrooms, one bath, a living/dining room, a balcony, and a rear terrace. It should now be the property of my brother, now that my mother, the original owner–thinking of her very advanced age–transferred the title to her youngest son. continue reading

In this apartment live three people. Not long ago there were five of us. But my aunt and my father died when they were well into their 90s. Presumably, the next in line would be my mother, who is now past 80, and after her my brother, and then I, who am 60.

During the process of changing the deed and drawing up the new and complicated property contract now required by the government, we decided to assign ownership to the youngest son.

We were left speechless and disconcerted when the notary asked us who would be the next heir after we were all gone. My mother chose to name a granddaughter who does not live with us and is four years of age.

In the apartment next door lives an octogenarian lady who was recently widowed.

She is diabetic. Already there is a distant relative who has arrived on the scene and started to occasionally look after the little old lady–and who will surely inherit the property when she dies, for I have seen notaries coming and going over there.

Residential units are ending up in younger hands–legally or through many semi-legal tricks.

There are houses in good condition that remain empty and closed up because their inhabitants are away in other countries, probably trying to get settled somewhere. If it doesn’t work out, they’ll return. If it does, well, one or another of the owners will return to sell the house at a good price.

No longer does the government take over houses left behind by those who leave the country, as was the case until some years ago. Cubans may now continue to hold the title to their properties if they return for at least a few days within the first two years of living abroad.

Those who do not sell their houses leave them in the care of relatives who rent them out to foreign tourists and forward the fees to the owners residing in other countries.

In the upcoming 2020 census, or likely before then, the ration book will lose half of its consumer base for reasons of non-residency in Cuba.

The housing shortage is not lessening, however, despite the high emigration rate and many deaths, due to the government’s chronic apathy towards seriously investing in this sector, and not allowing others to do so.

The scarcity of medicines is worsening: even aspirin is hard to find. Many medicines end up on the black market.

Last week my brother found himself having to stand in line–in the sun, from 9 in the morning to almost 4 in the afternoon–at a drugstore just to obtain the medications, such as insulin, that my mother needs for her diabetes and blood pressure, as well as cotton, alcohol and syringes.

The aged neighbor lady cannot even think of going to the drugstore that is one km away, let alone stand in line. There are no couriers. She will simply die one day soon and the family doctor will come and declare her dead of old age, and that will be that. Her case will never be studied nor will be of interest to the authorities to determine whether she might have survived a few more years with better care and medications.

ETECSA, the state-owned telecommunications monopoly, with its painfully slow and inefficient processes, is facilitating another lucrative and illegal business opportunity: it has to do with sales of the new “Nauta Hogar” [Home Nauta] contracts. Following more than a year of providing these newfangled internet connections–initially in Old Havana only–ETECSA has approved a little more than 2,000 agreements for a population of nearly 12 million. The service is excessively slow and exorbitantly expensive for local income levels, but ownership can be transferred with no questions asked. Those blessed with these benefits are simply selling them right now at 1000 Cuban convertible pesos (roughly 1,000 USD). They’re on sale now on Revolico (Cuba’s “Craiglist”).

Similarly, the ownership of landlines are priced at that level on the informal market, for this system is maintained very cheaply, but for years now there has been no increase in the number of telephones distributed among the urban population, being that no new contracts are offered anymore.

Fidel Castro used to argue that mobile phones were a bourgeois luxury. Raul Castro authorized their generalized sale in 2008. Less than ten years later, more than half of the population utilizes this service, despite how extremely expensive it is.

How will the ancient rulers ever develop this country if a primary requirement of modern enterprise, be it state- or privately-owned, is efficient communication and data gathering–which Cuba is slow to adopt as official policy? An open Internet would be very harmful to what remains of Castroism. Imagine that this article could appear on the first page of the official Communist Party newspaper Granma, and that everyone, without censorship, could read works like it.


Translated by Alicia Barraqué Ellison

Canned Guarapo

The drink known in Cuba as guarapo, made with the juice of crushed sugar cane and a lot of ice, should be drunk immediately, because otherwise it “gets dark and smells bad.” (Gpparker)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Marcelo Hernandez, Havana, 10 November 2017 — “Whomever figures out how to sell guarapo in a can will get rich,” says Overti, a Villa Clara resident in Havana who is trying to open his own café in the capital. “I started by setting up the trapiche – the sugarcane crusher – but I never managed to maintain a supply of cane, so I wasn’t able to sell even the first glass,” he tells 14ymedio.

The refreshing beverage, made with sugarcane juice and a lot of ice, has to be drunk immediately because otherwise “it gets dark and smells bad,” says the merchant, referring to the tendency of the juice to almost immediately begin to ferment. In other Latin American countries, as well as in south Florida, guarapo is sold in glass bottles and even in cans, as Overti yearns to do, but these options haven’t yet arrived on the island.

Right now and until some local entrepreneur manages to squeeze the sugarcane juice into a container and preserve it to keep it fresh for the palate, the consumers of this beverage are going to have to satisfy themselves with the so called guaraperas – the stands where the juice is sold fresh – which are increasingly scarce in the Cuban capital.

The inability to solve the transportation problems to ensure the cane arrives on time every morning has forced many guaraperas to close, leading to a scarcity of the drink that is so popular and refreshing for pedestrians. “If it were up to me, I’d set up a guarapo factory and the people here would never drink water again,” Overti dreams, although right now he can’t offer for sale even a single glass.

The Headline That Ended the Career of the Director of ‘Granma’

“Raúl Gala presided over the historic event,” reads the unfortunate subtitle on the front page of this Wednesday’s Granma. Main headline: “October Revolution, One of the Most Important Events of the 20th Century” (Screen capture)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 10 November 2017 — In recent hours, in the absence of information about the reasons that led to the dismissal of the director of the newspaper Granma, many observers have set themselves to seek out some error that crept into the official organ of the Cuban Communist Party (PCC). They pour over the pages of the newspaper to uncover some proof of a blunder that annoyed those at the highest level and provoked the sudden exit of Pelayo Terry Cuervo.

After looking closely at each issue of the last week, some have detected a blunder on the front page of the edition from Wednesday, 8 November, which involves the name of the Cuban ruler. “Raúl Gala presided over the historical event,” it says, just under a huge headline in red ink that refers to the October Revolution. This time, the poor grammatical and journalistic practice of eliminating prepositions and articles to shorten sentences, played a dirty trick on Granma’s editors. continue reading

The newspaper, which since its founding in 1965, has been characterized by a sober tone and a marked cult of personality towards the country’s highest leaders, would have conveyed, with this error, “a major lack of respect,” according to some angry militants of the only party allowed in the country that were consulted by 14ymedio.

“It was not only because of this, but that there had been an accumulation of several errors that represented a lack of care,” says an editor close to the publication, who preferred anonymity. The professional recalls that the newspaper has had a history of lapses that have exposed it to “popular mockery,” such as “when, in 2009, they published on the cover a photo of the Cuban flag that lacked the star,” he recalls. At that time, Terry Cuervo “was not the director, but in the corridors of the newspaper we are still talking about that mistake.”

Putting only the first name of the Cuban president, to give feeling of ​​familiarity with readers, has contributed to aggravating this week’s error since the word Gala, in addition to a capital letter, seems to replace the family name of the first secretary of the PCC, a very serious thing when it is the name ‘Castro’ that is omitted.

Although in journalistic circles no one believes that it was only for this reason that Terry Cuervo was dismissed, according to a foreign correspondent with many years of experience: “For less than this Stalin would have sent him to the Gulag.”

In Guanajay, the Editors of a Magazine Dream of Publishing in Digital Format

Readers of ‘The Thinker’ recognize the difficulties that the publication has had to go through for two decades. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Bertha Guillen, Candelaria, 10 November 2017 — It has not remained seated like the famous figure of Auguste Rodin, but nor has it been able to walk as much as its editors would like. The magazine El Pensador (The Thinker) edited in Guanajay, Artemisa, is two decades old and its founders dream of being able to publish it on the internet one day.

This Thursday, the notes of the Guanajay Hymn marked the beginning of the celebration of 20 years of a magazine born in the lay community centered around the San Hilarión Abad Catholic Church. A time that has passed rapidly for some, but that others, like its director José Quintero Pérez, remember every moment of. continue reading

“Our first issue was released on 9 November 1997 and it was edited by hand, typed on a typewriter, then we cut out the articles and pasted them on a sheet, which we photocopied and that’s how it all began,” he tells 14ymedio.

On the island, publications linked to the Catholic Church filled a gap for decades that could hardly be filled by other independent magazines, due to the strict controls maintained by the Government on the distribution of printed material.

Vitral (Stained Glass) and Espacio Laical (Space Lay) were some of the most well-known magazines born from the interaction between the concerns of the church and contact with communities. However, despite institutional protection, they were also victims of censorship.

In 2010, a report by the ISP agency counted 46 bulletins and magazines plus 12 websites and seven electronic bulletins that reached four million Catholic readers on the Island and many other Cubans in exile. A phenomenon that has been enhanced with the emergence of new technologies in the country.

The popular Weekly Packet has, for more than two years, had a Christian section that is made up of Catholic and also evangelical materials. An independent television channel has also been born from the interaction between faith and the digital world.

El Pensador, still far from having even a website, “has been concerned to understand and be part of the construction of a better future for all Cubans,” says a faithful reader who participated on the anniversary this Thursday.

Thought bubble: “I dream of having water.” ‘El Pensador’ not only addresses religious and parochial issues but also addresses social issues of interest to the community. (14ymedio)

With a bimonthly frequency, the magazine issued its 119th edition this week to approximately 125 subscribers. Although it has not managed to position itself on the World Wide Web, the publication is well known in Pinar del Río and Artemisa.

“To say that it’s been easy would be to lie. They have called us a little newspaper, a little newsletter and a bulletin. We have had to adopt different formats, sometimes with more pages, sometimes with fewer,” recalls Ángel Mesa, one of its founders. “We have spent many sleepless nights to bring an issue out, but we have the support of our readers,” he declares.

With a majority of Christian topics, El Pensador also includes among its pages social issues ranging from criticism of the deterioration of popular festivities, to the serious ethical problems that surface on the island, a situation that the Government itself has had to recognize.

“We are happy because we have been faithful to the objective of communicating,” and in the pages of El Pensador there is no “exclusion of people,” points out Quintero Pérez.

Mesa reports that the name of the publication arose from the readings of Father Félix Varela’s texts where he invited people “to think first.” The initial team has had to train on the fly.

In these years, the editors have not been exempt from criticism, unpleasant situations with the authorities, and, from time to time, some have has felt an urgent desire to desist, but the group has remained fairly complete despite the difficulties, says Mesa.

“I want to congratulate El Pensador for daring, it is not easy to dare and it can become a problem, but this world has been changed by people who dare, who dared because they dreamed that things could be different,” says a Baptist pastor who participated in the celebration for the 20 years of the magazine.

The magazine “has dared to dream that Guanajay can be different, if we think about this we can make a good contribution to our country,” he added.

Flavia, one of the young readers, believes that the main challenge for the editors is to increase the number of contributors and to remain as an alternative space for the “forgotten exercise of thinking” to continue “questioning all things until the truth in them is found.”

Cuban Court Ratifies Three-Year Sentence Against Karina Gálvez

Cuban Court Ratifies Three-Year Sentence Against Karina Gálvez

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 10 November 2017 — The Provincial Court of Pinar del Río ratified the sentence of three years of deprivation of liberty against Karina Galvez issued last September. The economist was informed on Wednesday of the sentence on appeal and must spend the time of imprisonment under “limitation of freedom” at the home of her mother.

The Court also confirmed the confiscation of Gálvez’s home, which also functioned as a space for the activities of the Center for Coexistence Studies (CEC) in Pinar del Río. The activist described this decision as “unfair” but she assured 14ymedio that she expected it. continue reading

This Thursday Gálvez received a summons to appear before the judge on November 21, in order to “be instructed about the obligations and restrictions that have been established.”

On that occasion the judge will inform the activist about the conditions under which she will serve her sentence. For the time being, the Court ruled that the three years in prison are “replaced by limitation of freedom,” so she will not have to enter a penitentiary.

Official citation to Karina Gálvez. (CEC)

“In the citation it says that I must self-manage employment but I still do not know if it can work for myself,” explains the economist.

The case against Gálvez began on January 11 when she was detained for a week in the Criminal Investigation Technical Directorate of the province and her house was sealed by the police. The economist was prosecuted for the crime of “tax evasion” during the purchase of a home.

After the trial, the property was made available to the Municipal Housing Authority, subordinated to the Administration Council of the Municipality of Pinar del Río.

With the ratification of the sentence, Gálvez also is prevented from “the issuance of a passport and leaving the national territory until the sanctions imposed have been completed,” so she cannot travel abroad.

The economist denounced in recent months an escalation of pressures on the part of the authorities, which included numerous interrogations in the Department of Immigration and Immigration of the province, where they inquired about the motivations of her trips out of the island.

Other members of the CEC have been summoned by the police and have received warnings, among them the director of the publication, Dagoberto Valdés, who in October an official said that from that moment his life would be “very difficult.”

The CEC organizes training courses for citizenship and civil society and in a recent public statement its members assured that they will not leave Cuba or the Catholic Church and that they will continue to “work for the country.”

Resurrect the Obsolete / Fernando Dámaso

Fernando Damso, 8 November 2017 — In these days of November, in the absence of more important occupations, the Cuban Government has taken on the task of being the apologist for the October Revolution, something that even the Russian Government itself has not done.

Nobody denies that what happened in Russia in 1917 was not momentous or moved the world at that time, but soon it was shown that theory was one thing and practice was another: arbitrariness, repressions, impositions, crimes, genocides of entire populations, backwardness, misery, lack of freedoms and other evils were enthroned in the distant country, until the experiment disappeared seventy years later, for the good of the subjected countries of Eastern Europe and for humanity. continue reading

Today’s Russia, and the countries that formed the former Soviet Union, are something else entirely. The Russian Revolution is simply ancient history and lacks validity in the current era, except for the eternal dreamers of global communism.

It is striking, that official speeches and writings only refer to the so-called “heroic years” of the experiment, and say nothing about the many black years that were imposed on millions of citizens with arbitrary arrests, deportations, forced labor. and summary executions, all in the name of the “luminous communist future.”

Much is said and excerpts from the book of the American communist writer John Reed’s “Ten Days That Shook the World” are published, where the “heroic stage” of the revolution is related, but it is not told what happened to the writer and his Russian wife, when they were forbidden to leave the country, although for political convenience their remains are located at the foot of the walls of the Moscow Kremlin.

It would be helpful, if one wanted want to know the true story of the experiment, to read “Doctor Zhivago,” the novel by the Russian writer Boris Pasternak, which tells the cruel reality of those difficult years, from the perspective of ordinary citizens.

The Art Of Turning Artists Into “Enemies”

Artist Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara on a park bench in Havana. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Generation Y, Yoani Sanchez, 10 November 2017 — He scribbled on a wall and they detained him for several months; he founded an opposition party and they accused him of buying some sacks of cement; he opened an independent media outlet and they denounced him for treason. Every step taken to be free ended with a disproportionate repression that can only be explained through the fear that the ruling party feels towards its own citizens.

The case against the artist Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara has once again exposed the fear that beats in the highest spheres and spills over onto everyone who leaves the assigned fold. The police officers who entered his house last Monday went in search of any evidence to incriminate him, because they are the executors of a punishment policy that is systematically applied against the system’s critics. continue reading

The sacks of construction materials are just a pretext to “show him the instruments” and to embroil Otero Alcántara in an infinite legal process. What is coming now is a movie we already know well: the trial at full speed, the sentence that allows him to be removed from circulation until after the date scheduled for the independent event and, meanwhile, a “good cop” who will whisper in his ear the advantages of emigrating and avoiding such imbroglios.

The artist will feel every kind of pressure. On the one hand, State Security will say that his call to participate in an independent event is a provocation that will not be allowed, and on the other hand the official artists’ guild will distance itself and its members from his proposals. Some of those who said “yes” to participating in the #Bienal00 will no long respond to the emails or will communicate that they will be unavailable due to an unforeseen trip.

Some will accuse him of wanting to attract attention, others will tell him he could have gone through official channels before throwing himself into organizing a parallel event. There will be those who will reproach him for having crossed the red line between art and activism, or for having dabbled in politics. The most caustic will whisper that now he can include his own face in the next Game of Thrones video he creates about the candidates for the Cuban presidency.

However, solidarity will also rain down upon him from those who, in recent days, have been expecting the imprisonment of the author of ¿Dónde está Mella?, a performance held in the former Manzana de Gómez, in Havana. His case will help show the world that Raúl Castro’s government has a similar modus operandi to attack opponents, artists and journalists.

The ruling party does not care if the “daring” report human rights violations, work with metaphors or investigate information. From up there, anyone who does not follow orders deserves only one word: enemy. Now, for them, Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara has fallen into that category.

A 16-Day Detention That Started With a Kidnapping

The activist Roberto Rodríguez Jiménez spent 16 days in detention. (Aulas Abiertas)

14ymedio bigger 14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 9 November 2017 — An arbitrary arrest is not the same if on the other side of the bars there is a family willing to ask questions or a friend who dares to investigate. Roberto Jiménez Gutiérrez believed that no one would notice his absence, which began on October 23 when the police crossed his path, but the reaction outside of Cuba surprised him.

“I was held incommunicado for sixteen days in the Technical Investigation Department at 100 and Aldabó,” the leader of the independent organization Juventud Activa Cuba Unida (JACU — Active Youth, United Cuba), which describes his arrest as a “kidnapping,” he tells this newspaper. “But the officers never told me where I was, I knew that from other prisoners,” he explains by telephone after being released last Tuesday.

In Jiménez’s mind, the days in the cell passed slowly without any logic. “Almost every day they interrogated me, but the most intense moments were the first 72 hours,” he recalls. continue reading

The opponent was on his way to José Martí International Airport, in Havana, to take a flight to Miami where he planned to participate in a dinner organized by the Legal Rescue Foundation (FRJ).

At dawn, police stopped the car in which he was traveling to the airport and told the driver to leave. “Everything that followed was very violent,” the JACU leader explains now. “I demanded that they show me a document that validated my arrest and then they hit me in the chest.”

After that the memories are confusing. Four policemen forced him into a patrol car and pushed him down in such a way that he could not even see the road the vehicle was traveling along.

“I am being accused of association, meetings and illicit demonstrations,” an offense for which one can receive from “three months to one year of deprivation of liberty.” The police also warned him, without showing him any papers, that he was going to be charged under Law 88, also known as the Gag Law.

The draconian legislation is the same as that which led to the imprisonment of 75 opponents and independent journalists in 2003, in a repressive wave known as the Black Spring. The dissidents tried in that case were sentenced to sentences as long as 30 years.

Under those rules Jiménez could be prosecuted for accumulating, reproducing and disseminating “information or documentation that goes against the Government.” The officers who interrogated him did not succeed in getting him to confess to the accusation. “They did not get anything, I held my position.”

That same day, the activist César Mendoza, director of the Center for Studies for Local Development (CEDEL), was also arrested. He was also going to participate in the meeting in Miami together with Jiménez, as well as be part of a panel at the recently concluded Cuba Internet Freedom meeting.

Mendoza saw him last Saturday when he was taken to another detention center, and cannot say where he is being held because he was moved in a fetal position. “They wanted to confront us with each other so we would implicate each other,” he explains. But neither of the activists confirmed the police hypothesis.

Now, Jiménez will have to go every Monday to 100 and Aldabó to sign a record and is awaiting a trial that does not yet have a date. “In the detention they confiscated a laptop, money and a tablet that were part of the things I was taking with me for the trip,” he adds.

The government repressors still do not understand why JACU works in the training of young people and “everything is done without profit and rests on the basis of human rights and democracy so that they can direct their actions and define their future.”

The activist recognizes that lately they have had to change the places where they meet “due to the pressures from State Security.” His arrest was one more drop in a cascade of arrests, threats and seizures.

“I do not have a family and they took advantage of that,” Jiménez laments, but in the days after his arrest a whole hosts of relatives materialized. The human rights organization Freedom House publicized his case and social networks filled with demands for his release.

When Roberto Jiménez Gutiérrez returned to walk through the streets of Havana his phone did not stop ringing. A new family had emerged during those 16 days of confinement.

More Than 300 People Sign a Petition for the Release of Artist Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 9 November 2017 — The arrest of Cuban artist Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara has unleashed a wave of solidarity on the internet. The artist Tania Bruguera launched a solidarity campaign that as of Thursday exceeded 300 signatures to demand the release of the young artist.

The declaration states that the government’s reaction towards the artist has been disproportionate and that the response is aimed at “blocking the organization of the independent Art Biennial of 2018 led by” Otero Alcántara.

The artist was arrested by police on Monday and will be tried tomorrow, Friday, accused of the crime of receiving stolen goods for having in his house several bags with construction materials that police say are of “dubious origin.” continue reading

The Cuban Penal Code sanctions this crime with “deprivation of liberty from three months to a year” or “a fine of one hundred to three hundred quotas* or both.” However, after Hurricane Irma cases against hoarders or people who diverted state resources have been judged more severely. The campaign describes Otero Alcántara as an artist who has developed “a work inspired by the reality of his country and that puts on display it contradictions.”

The text describes Otero Alcántara as an artist who has developed “a work inspired by the reality of his country and the pointing out of its contradictions”.

In the declaration that accompanies the petition for signatures, designated as “co-responsible” for what happened are Abel Prieto Jiménez, Minister of Culture, Miguel Barnet, president of the official Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba (UNEAC), and Lesvia Vent Dumois, president of UNEAC’s Association of Plastic Artists.

When Otero Alcántara announced the initiative to hold an independent Biennial in May 2018, UNEAC circulated a note warning its members that “some unscrupulous people” were trying to organize a parallel event.

The artists ask for “his immediate freedom and without accusations of any kind” against Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara and “the return of their property”, in addition to ending “the obstruction of the realization of the independent Biennial.”

Yanelyz Nuñez, another of the organizers of the #00Bienal de La Habana, explained to 14ymedio that “many friends have called to see what they can do and how the whole process is going.”

On the reaction within the Island, he said that “among the artists who live here the disconnect is important” and that they often ignore that these things happen. On Tuesday, the exhibition Nada Personal at the D’Nasco Studio was inaugurated, which included the work of Luis Manuel along with other artists, and most of the people there did not know what had happened.”

Núñez considers that the greatest pressure for the artist to be released is coming “from the web” and says that they have received a lot of support.

Núñez explained that Otero had been transferred to the detention center known as the Vivac as of Tuesday night and his family has hired a lawyer for his defense.

In a text signed by this young graduate of the History of Art, it is emphatically stated that “in the conviction that the realization of this project is important” they will continue with the next stages and that they are not afraid.

*Translator’s note: Cuban criminal law specifies fines in “quotas” rather than specific amounts so that all the fines can be updated by changing the value of a quota.

Director of Cuba’s Communist Party Newspaper Fired for his “Errors”

Prior to ‘Granma’, Terry Cuervo directed the newspaper ‘Juventud Rebelde’, the second most important in the country. (@pelayoterry)

14ymedio biggerThe director of Granma newspaper, Pelayo Terry Cuervo, was “liberated” from his post by the leadership of the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC), due to “errors committed in the fulfillment of his responsibilities,” a brief note published on Thursday on Granma’s website announced.

“Until the new director is appointed, the current deputy director Oscar Sánchez Serra will assumes these functions,” explains the announcement, which does not add details about the faults committed by the previous holder of the position.

The note also does not provide information on the future functions that the dismissed official will have, a sign that his departure has been on bad terms. The use of the word “liberated” to announce the firing is also a sign that the journalist did not leave in good standing. continue reading

Terry Cuervo, with a Bachelor of Journalism earned in 1988, had been appointed head of the Granma newspaper in October 2013, when he was described as having “an upward trajectory as a journalist, war correspondent in Ethiopia” and having occupied “different managerial positions in organs of the written press.”

Prior to Granma, Terry Cuervo directed the newspaper Juventud Rebelde (Rebel Youth), the second most important in the country, which is also controlled by the Revolutionary Guidance Department of the Central Committee of the PCC.

The former director was seen among his colleagues as a discreet man, far removed from the harsh public positions of his predecessor, the journalist Lázaro Barredo, who combined his work as head of the main official media with his presentations in the program La Mesa Redonda (The Roundtable).

Terry Cuervo was interested from his first days at the head of Granma in updating its approach and promoting the use of the internet and social networks. He came to manage a blog under the name of CiberEditor.

In April of this year, the Revolutionary Armed Forces handed Terry Cuerdo, along with other cultural personalities, a replica of the Mambi Machete belonging to Generalísimo Máximo Gómez.

His most recent public appearance was during the visit to the Granma newsroom of a delegation of editors from the newspaper Nhan Dan, official organ of the Vietnamese communists.

In an interview with the BBC, the journalist confessed that “Granma still fails today, as a newspaper, to get even closer to the reality of the country,” and he believed that he had not yet succeeded… but didn’t believe that he wasn’t trying.” He also noted that there were critical voices within the newspaper, which included himself, and that “they were trying to improve it.”

The new director, Oscar Sánchez Serra, has excelled in sports journalism and coverage of several baseball events in which the Cuban team has participated. He has also published numerous journalistic works of historical importance, aligned with the official line of the PCC.

In an interview at the end of last year, Sánchez Serra said that the responsibility of the Granma newspaper was “the most sought after, the most criticized, and the national and international touchstone constitutes a high responsibility.”

The Traces of Russia in Cuba: ‘Bolos’, Kamaz, ‘Polovinos’

“At one point we were everywhere in Cuba, but now you have to look hard to find a Russian,” ironically Valentina, with a vocabulary full of Cuban twists. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Marcelo Hernandez, Havana, 7 November 2017 — “Sometimes I dream that I’ve returned to Moscow but the contours of the buildings look blurry,” confesses Valentina Rodriguez, 72. She married a Cuban who studied at a university in Moscow in the ‘80s and who lived for many years in Havana until she emigrated to the United States.

Valentina has two sons from that marriage, one of whom still lives in Ciego de Avila, in the center of the island, and the other who also emigrated to the US. They are called polovinos, which in Russian means the half of something because they look like “warm water, with a little Russian chill and some Cuban heat,” she explains. continue reading

“I never thought I would end up living in the United States,” she confesses in a recording she sent to 14ymedio.

“At one point we were everywhere in Cuba, but now you have to look hard to find a Russian,” Valentina says, with a vocabulary filled with Cubanisms. The official data confirm this perception: according to the Russian consulate on the island there are just over 1,000 nationals, although this figure is tripled if descendants are included.

Lately, as the centenary of the Russian Revolution approached, the official press has remarked on the friendship with Russia since 1973, when Cuba joined the Council of Mutual Economic Assistance (CAME), which led to the presence of the “comrades” dispersed throughout the country. “In most of the ministries there was a Soviet adviser who reported directly to Moscow and could intervene in the decisions,” says Valentina.

Such intense contract highlights that there are no more traces left in gastronomy, popular speech or cultural tastes. Perhaps because the differences were so many, in the words of an academic and writer, “Cubans and Russians beat on different wavelengths,” and sometimes they simply do not agree on anything.

“They welcomed me with affection but also there was some conflict from time to time because I had a very different way of looking at life and confronting problems,” recalls Valentina. “For me, my first months were marvelous, but with time it was a daily struggle with my Cuban family, the neighbors and even on the street.”

Not only were the Russians everywhere, the emblems and symbols of the Soviet Union filled the Cuban reality for more than three decades. Thousands of Lada cars were passing through the streets alongside the noisy Kamaz trucks, devourers of huge amounts of fuel, but strong as war tanks.

In Cuban homes, there were Aurika washing machines and Orbit fans while Krim TVs, all arriving from the distant country, played an infinity of cartoons and films made in the USSR. After the fall of the Soviet Union these appliances were replaced by others from China, South Korea and even the United States, while Hollywood productions filled the television schedule.

“They were ugly but long-lasting,” a home repairman who specialized in repairing Soviet washing machines told 14ymedio. “I have many customers who continue to use them.” The technician thinks that Cubans never valued the things that came from the Soviet Union because they cost very little and in addition were seen as rough or ugly. “But they were very good,” he says.

The nickname received by the Russians during their presence on the island and which is still in use today refers precisely to that rough image that the nationals captured in them. They were called bolos – bowling pins – in reference to their lack of sophistication and their tendency to prioritize operations before the aesthetic details.

While the political discourse was filled with phrases that spoke of sovereignty and national independence, behind the scenes the Soviets supported the entire economy of the island. Fidel Castro received more than 4 billion dollars a year from the USSR for his revolutionary project. the facilities of payment and trade with other nations of the socialist camp.

The country received some 200 million dollars that Russia paid each year for the rent of the Lourdes Radar Center, in the province of Pinar del Río, a military enclave that some voices within the Committee of Defense and Security of the Council of the Russian Federation is asking to be reopened.

The economist Óscar Espinosa Chepe, who died in 2013, was very clear about the economic weight that the Island represented for the USSR: “Actually, it was not Gorbachev. Cuba put an end the Soviet Union!” he told the Spanish press six years ago. “In unpaid credits alone the Russians estimate that they lost about 20 billion dollars over the time.”

The aid sustained the systems of health and education of which the Cuban government boasted for years in international forums. “But it did not help to develop the country, neither the countryside nor industry survived the collapse of the Soviet Union,” added Espinosa Chepe.

The economic support of the Kremlin diminished towards the end of the 1980s and stopped soon after, triggering the so-called Special Period on the Island, an unprecedented economic crisis. Cuba was then left with a debt of 35 billion dollars to Russia, which the Government of Vladimir Putin later canceled 90% of.

In the last edition of the Havana International Fair, last week, the Russian presence was again remarkable, but this time under other rules. Both countries made progress in the negotiations for the reconstruction of the rail network, a project that covers more than 680 miles of railway track, and also for the supply of construction, road and transportation equipment.

Polina Martínez Shviétosova, a writer of Russian origin living in Havana, believes that in recent years “the Russians have returned, they have been coming as entrepreneurs and it would be good if more came.” Although the ideal, she thinks, is that Cuban entrepreneurs, as individuals, could present a portfolio of business without state interference.

However, she acknowledges that this moment seems distant and that for now the greatest commercial relationship between the people of both countries is marked by the trips of the ‘mules’ who “go to Russia to buy the many products that are missing here.”

Martínez Shviétosova dreams of returning to live in Russia. “I wish my passport were an airplane,” she says. The writer prefers not to be pigeonholed into a nationality. “I want to be free of the idea that I’m Cuban or that I’m Russian,” but she likes to call herself polovina.

The writer recommends some places in the Cuban capital that offer Russian dishes. TaBARich opened its doors in October 2013 and its manager, Pavel, assures that it is “for the Russian community that lives in Cuba and also the nostalgic Cubans of the Soviet era.”

Last week, a cycle of Russian films was screened in a Havana cinema. “They are not like before,” warned a newspaper seller at the entrance to the theater. “They do not make me cry so much,” he joked. “They are not Soviet, they are Russian,” he repeated several times while only about four people bought tickets for the evening showing.

Russia Considers Reopening Military Bases in Cuba and Vietnam

In 2008, the ‘Almirante Chabanenko’ submarine hunter destroyer opened a new era by landing in Havana for the first time since 1991. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger 14ymedio/EFE, Havana, 6 November 2017 — Viktor Bondarev, head of the Russian Defense and Security Committee of the Federation Council, said on Sunday that Russia should consider restoring its military presence in Cuba and Vietnam to protect “the interests of national security” due to an “intensification of American aggression,” according to Sputnik, the Russian state portal.

The statements of the politician came hours after the announcement that Russia will “put all its efforts” into reestablishing its base in Cuba in response to the hostile activities of the US and NATO. continue reading

Russia maintained its military presence on the island until 2002 through the Lourdes electronic radio station, located near Havana, which was used to spy on communications in the US since its establishment in 1967. Its closure by President Vladimir Putin disturbed Russian military circles.

According to Bondarev, the Russian military presence on the island allowed it to contain a possible US expansion into Cuban territory, considered strategic for Russia.

“We should also think about the return of our Navy to Vietnam,” Bondarev added, speaking to Sputnik. As in the case of Cuba, the stay of the Russian fleet in the Asian country ended in 2002 after 23 years of military presence that began after the war between China and Vietnam in 1979.

“Everything has to be agreed with Havana,” said Bondarev, adding that, in the case of Vietnam, the creation of a military base also requires the permission of the authorities of that country.

This is not the first time, recently, that Moscow has raised the idea of restoring its military presence on the island. Last October, Deputy Defense Minister Nikolai Pankov announced that the Russian government was considering reopening military bases in the territories of its two former allies.

According to the EFE news agency, four years ago Moscow also announced that it intended to recover its naval bases in Cuba and Vietnam; and, according to Sputnik, in April 2016 Valeri Rashkin and Sergei Óbujov, deputies of the Duma, the Russian Parliament, asked Putin and the Minister of Defense, Sergei Shoigú, to restore the Russian center in Lourdes in Cuba, “in response to the plans of USA to deploy Himars missile launchers in Turkey.”

In December 2008, a Russian flotilla led by the ‘Almirante Chabanenko’ submarine hunter destroyer opened a new era by landing in Havana for the first time since 1991.

Poor Memory? / Eduardo Martínez Rodríguez

Cover of “God Does Not Enter My Office”

Primavera Digital, Eduardo Martínez Rodríguez, El Cerro, Havana, 6 November 2017 — I’ve just finished reading an eBook (which has never been published in Cuba) written by someone who was detained in Cuba’s infamous “Military Units to Aid Production” [known by their acronym in Spanish as UMAP], who endured all of the bloody sordidness of those grim Nazi-Castroite concentration camps. The book is a testament of those days written by Alberto I. González Muñoz in 1994-95, titled God Does Not Enter My Office. It was first published by Baptist Publishing in 2003 and has been updated periodically up to its seventh edition, in 2015, of which we speak here.

The author alleges in the introduction that he does not want this material to be interpreted as an indictment of the Castros’ regime. However, one need only read it to be outraged at the many atrocities and injustices that they committed, causing grave damages to Cuban society up to the present day. continue reading

The book recalls testimonies written about Nazi extermination camps, even though there were no crematoria or gas chambers in the UMAP.

The UMAP were intended to effect, through forced labor, an obligatory change in religious persons, homosexuals, and all who were considered hindrances to the Revolution. The UMAP were in operation, to the horror of many, for more than two years–between 1965 and 1967–in remote locations in Camagüey.

In the pages of this book can be found the names of various religious persons who were sent there, subjected to humiliations, officially classified as social blights because of their beliefs, mistreated, and made to labor 16 or more hours daily cutting sugar cane.

It amazes me that personages such as Cardinal Jaime Ortega Alamino, so careful of and complaisant towards the regime as he is–and who a few years ago ordered the forced removal of peaceful protesters from a Havana church–was among the Catholics who endured kicks to the backside and pushing and shoving for the mere reason of being religious.

There is also the case of the Rev. Raúl Suárez, who is seen often in the company of government officials, a gracious host to the delegations from the Pastors for Peace, and who has founded an authorized emporium on 100 and 51st Streets, in Marianao.

Raúl Suárez was in the UMAP–sleeping at night, alongside many other religious persons, on a hard dirt floor, later in hammocks, and after a few months in beat-up bunks–rising at 4:30am, still exhausted from the previous day’s labor, only to be dragged to the work camp, where they would remain sometimes past midnight, cutting and hauling sugar cane by hand.

Could it be they have a poor memory, or is it rather that they fear losing all that they have gained?

Nothing justifies the barbarity that was the UMAP. Crimes against humanity are never defensible. There will come a time when we will be in a position to hold the perpetrators accountable. We do not forget.


Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison