Cubadecide Activists Arrested A Few Hours Before Rosa Maria Paya Arrives On The Island

Rosa María Payá’s self-selfie taken a few hours before boarding her flight to Cuba. (@RosaMariaPaya)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 8 May 2017 — Activist Rosa Maria Payá denounced Monday the arrest of three coordinators of the CubaDecide initiative in Matanzas. The opponents were arrested early in the morning as they headed to Jose Marti International Airport in Havana to welcome Payá, who is promoting the campaign for a plebiscite on the island.

The dissident, who lives between Havana and Miami, said that Sayli Navarro, his father Félix Navarro, and Iván Hernández Carrillo, were “kidnapped” by State Security agents when they left their homes in the Matanzas towns of Perico and Colón, respectively. continue reading

“At this time the whereabouts of the three kidnapped coordinators are unknown,” said a statement released by writer Orlando Pardo Lazo via e-mail. The text reports that Rosa María is returning to Havana with “a work agenda” and to campaign “for the realization of the binding plebiscite.”

The dissident said that three activists were “kidnapped” by State Security agents when they left their homes

Last February, Payá organized the presentation of the Oswaldo Payá Liberty and life Award, which bears the name of her father and to which she invited Secretary General of the Organization of American States (OAS) Luis Almagro, former Mexican President Felipe Calderón and former Chilean minister Mariana Aylwin, among others.

The Cuban government prevented two of the guests from taking flights to the country and denied the OAS leader a visa. The governments of Chile and Mexico demonstrated their disagreement with the measure taken by Havana.

Several activists associated with the event were arrested on the island, while the police restricted the movements of numerous independent journalists to prevent them from covering the ceremony.

Payá is not part of the Christian Liberation Movement founded by her father and is promoting the holding of a binding plebiscite for Cubans to decide on what system of government should govern in the country.

A Sip Of Electricity To Keep Driving

The number of owners of electric motorcycles has grown in Cuba since Raul Castro’s government authorized them to be imported. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Marcelo Hernandez, Havana, 8 May 2017 — The worst thing that can happen to Agustín is to have his battery go dead in the street. It is even more terrible than the failure of a headlamp or the lack of parking for his made-in-China electric motorcycle. The broken headlamp and the lack of a safe place to park can be solved with money, but the lack of energy requires more than a few banknotes slipped into the right hands.

The number of owners of electric motorcycles has grown in Cuba since Raul Castro’s government authorized them to be imported. The serious problems of transport that the island suffers have led many to choose to buy a motorina from the digital sites that ship them to the island for a price of around 1,600 CUC (roughly $1,600 US), and up to 2,500 CUC in the informal market.

However, after spending the amount, the owner must overcome other obstacles. Charging the bikes remains one of the biggest problems. Most of the service stations in the country do not yet offer the service of supplying electricity, and there are no outlets available in the streets for these purposes.

As a result, creativity explodes and entrepreneurs try to take advantage of the demand. In recent years cables have appeared to raise and lower products (and payment) from balconies, and now the sellers, instead of offering tobacco or rum, announce an hour of connection to their house’s electricity.

There are also plenty of merchants who take the opportunity to sell the thirsty driver everything from a fruit smoothie to a pizza to “recharge the human batteries,” the ones that are struggling to keep going at the controls of everyday life.

Dozens Of Ladies In White Arrested On The 100th Day Of #TodosMarchamos

Arrest of the Lady in White Ada López in front of her house and when she tried to reach the headquarters of the Movement in Havana’s Lawton neighborhood. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 8 May 2017 – At least 38 Ladies in White were arrested this Sunday in Havana, Matanzas, Guantanamo, Ciego de Avila and Santa Clara, during the 100th day of the #TodosMarchamos (We All March) campaign for the release of Cuba’s political prisoners.

The leader of the group, Berta Soler, was arrested along with three other activists outside the group’s headquarters in Havana’s Lawton neighborhood. The women carried posters denouncing the harassment against their movement, dissident Deisy Artiles told 14ymedio. continue reading

“The threats they are making against the activists and their families are serious, and many are being fined for simply evading the police cordon in front of their homes”

Soler was leaving the headquarters along with to Yamilet Garro, Aliuska Gómez and Sodrelis Turruella when they were intercepted and arrested by the police. Inside the house were Artiles, along with Ladies in White Zenaida Hidalgo and Cecilia Guerra.

The police also detained, in the vicinity of the headquarters, the former political prisoner Angel Moya Acosta and the activist Jose Oscar Sánchez.

“The operation started on Friday morning,” Artiles said, adding that “an act of repudiation was carried out [against Berta Soler] at the time of her arrest.”

Dissident Ada Lopez was also arrested outside her home when she tried to reach the headquarters of the movement. Her husband reported the arrest and managed to photograph the moment she was taken to a police car.

In Matanzas, at least a dozen of the movement’s women managed to reach the church to attend Sunday Mass, while 19 were arrested on the way to the parish.

“We have had an operation since Saturday in front of the houses of the Ladies in White,” said Matanzas activist Leticia Ramos Herrería.

The police “have been embroiled in trying to end our movement,” says the opponent. “The threats they are making against the activists and their families are serious. Many are being fined for simply evading the police cordon in front of their homes.”

In the town of Palma Soriano, in Santiago de Cuba, a dozen members of the group were arrested, while in Ciego de Avila the police violently arrested the dissidents Lucía López Rondón and Mayden Maidique Cruz.

Cuban Observatory for Human Rights (OCDH) issued a report in which it stated there were 1,809 arbitrary detentions in the island during the first four months of 2017

On Thursday, the Cuban Observatory for Human Rights (OCDH) issued a report in which it stated there were 1,809 arbitrary detentions in the island during the first four months of 2017.

Throughout the month of April the organization documented 467 arbitrary arrests, of which 335 were women and 132 were men. 147 of those arrested were black and ten of them were “beaten brutally,” according to the text.

The OCDH emphasizes that a climate of repression prevails “at a time when the Cuban Government has achieved important international support such as that from the European Union and the Government of Spain,” and warns that “in the coming months the political climate may be aggravated because of the government’s nervousness over the difficult economic and social situation that Cuba is facing.”

Eating Steak and Fries is a Luxury in Cuba / Iván García

Before 1959, in many Cuban households, eating fried steak for lunch or dinner, with white rice and fries was not a luxury. In the fast fried food places anybody could buy a steak sandwich with onion rings and Julienne potatoes. Taken by Casavana Cuban Cuisine.

Iván García, 2 May 2017 — On an afternoon like any other, an underground seller of beef, living in the southeast of Havana, bought flank steaks wholesale from a slaughterer, to then sell them to private restaurants and neighbours who could afford them.

He filleted the chops and started to offer them for the equivalent of three dollars a pound. “They flew off the shelf. By night time I didn’t have an ounce of it left. If  any red meat comes my way, I can sell it immediately. The thing is, Cubans like to eat a good piece of steak with fries, washed down with a glass of orange juice. But, my friend, that dish has become an extravagant luxury in Cuba,” says the vendor, who knows a thing or two about the ins and outs of the Havana black market.

Even though a pound of beef costs three days’ of a professional’s salary, you don’t always find it in the profitable black market. continue reading

In the island there is a network of butchers, slaughterers and sellers which makes sufficient money selling beef. “Everything starts when someone spots a bullock or a cow not properly protected in some odd corner in the Cuban countryside. That’s when they start to plan how get it to end up as stew (kill it) and transport it to Havana, which is where they can sell it for the best price. They can get between 1,300 and 1,600 chavitos (CUCs) for a 1,000 pound bull, and the slaughterer, the transporter and the sellers get a few kilos of meat free”, according to a cattle slaughterer, a native of the central region of the country.

And he explains that they will just as happily kill a calf, a grown up cow, or a horse, “whatever has four legs and moves, gets what’s coming to it. Of course, a slaughterer who knows what he’s doing takes care not to kill a cow which is sick or has brucellosis, because if the police catch you, along with the twenty years the District Attorney goes for on account of killing a cow, he adds another five or six on top for endangering public health.

In 2013, the Granma newspaper reported that more than 18,400 cattle were dying of hunger or disease in the province of Villa de Clara. In April 2014, the Communist party organ highlighted that something over 3,300 cows died in the first three months of that year in the province of Holguin, and another 69,000 were found to be under-nourished. The authorities blamed the drought and, according to Granma, 35 thousand head of cattle were receiving water from water tank trucks in order to alleviate the effects of the months without rain.

According to Damián, an ex-employee of a sugar mill, who now survives selling home-made cheese on the Autopista Nacional, “what has happened to the cattle here is irresponsible and those officials should be behind bars. But they carry on like that, carrying their Party card and talking annoying rubbish”.

Mario, a private farmer, says, jokingly, that “Cuba is an unusual mixture of Marxism and Hinduism. Seems like a religious prohibition on eating beef, which is what Cubans like to eat. Although the leaders carry on eating it — just look at their faces and stomachs; they look as if they are going to explode. If you gave them a blood test, their haemoglobin would be around a thousand”.

During the time of the autocrat Fidel Castro, when people wore Jiqui jeans, Yumuri check shirts and very poor quality shoes, all made locally, the old ration book which, in March 2017, had been in use for 55 years, authorised half a pound of beef every nine days for people born in the country.

“Then the cycle was lengthened to once a fortnight, then once a month, until it was quietly disappearing from the Cuban menu. Along with many other things like milk, fresh fish, prawns, oranges and mandarines”, recalls a butcher, who made plenty of money selling beef “on the side” for four pesos a pound in the ’80’s. In the 21st century he survives making money from selling soup thickened with soya.

In the last week of February, some “good news” was announced. Because of poor agricultural output, the state started to sell potatoes through ration books again.

“It’s one step forward, one step back. Five years ago potatoes were rationed. Until one fine day, the bright sparks in the government decided that, along with beans, they should be sold by the pound. So that, everyone was fucked, with potatoes becoming a sumptuary good. If you wanted to eat potato puree or fries, you had to wait in a queue for four hours and put up with fights and swearing just to buy a bag of ten potatoes for 25 pesos. And now that it is rationed once more, the news channel tells you that they will sell you 14 pounds a head, two in the first month, and six after that. But in my farmers’ market they don’t give you a pound any more. Five miserable spuds and you have to take it or leave it”, says Gisela, a housewife.

If you fancy a natural orange juice, get your wallet ready. “Green oranges with hardly any juice cost three pesos, if you can actually find any. A bag of oranges costs between 140 and 200 pesos, half the monthly minimum wage.  I keep asking myself why it is that in countries with a Marxist government, or a socialist one, as invented by Chavez in Venezuela, getting food has to be such torture”, says Alberto, a construction worker.

In Cuba, you can’t eat what you want, only what turns up.

Before 1959, in many Cuban households, eating fried steak for lunch or dinner, with white rice and fries was not a luxury. In the fast fried food places anybody could buy a steak sandwich with onion rings and Julienne potatoes. Taken by Casavana Cuban Cuisine.

Translated by GH

The ‘Little Packet’, A Clandestine Rival For The ‘Weekly Packet’

Activists who travel abroad and download material from YouTube or other social networks also contribute to the little packet. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 5 May 2017 — Uncensored, fun and with many varied themes — this defines the producers of the paketito (little packet), a new compendium of audiovisual material that aims to fill the gaps left by the popular weekly packet.

Unlike its predecessor, which is made and distributed publicly, the paketito lurks in the underground, so as to be able to offer materials that the organizers of the weekly packet don’t include in order to avoid problems with the authorities. This choice to play it safe annoys a growing number of viewers, who find the weekly packet “traditional,” “comfortable,” and “domesticated.”

Carlitos, who preferred to use a pseudonym in speaking with 14ymedio, is one of the managers of the paketito and proudly recounts the emergence and evolution of this initiative that its creators distribute with a determined content, but the users enrich it during its circulation. continue reading

The creators distribute it with a determined content, but the users enrich it during its circulation

The compendium was born just over three years ago, in an informal way when a group of friends began to exchange files. “From the beginning we passed censored material, such as documentaries and news,” he recalls. “We also included old Cuban publications that had been forgotten,” adds Carlitos.

The audio content included every week occupies 5 gigabytes of memory, although there are larger versions that may contain a much larger offering.

The young man believes that many of these magazines are not currently known due to “the lack of historical memory” on the island because of censorship. So the first editions of the paketito had copies of “those pages from [the magazine] Bohemia of 1959 in which Fidel Castro affirmed that he was not a communist.”

Along with articles from the national press from more than half a century ago, the producers of the selection decided to include “photos of our parents and grandparents from before the Revolution.”

Among the materials that circulated from the beginning were songs impossible to find in the stores or to listen to on official media, such as those of the Los Aldeanos duo and the punk rock group Porno para Ricardo.

Carlitos clarifies that his audio-visual extract is smaller than the weekly packet, but “brings everything” that is not included in the version circulated by his ‘first cousin’

The obstacles soon appeared. The restless transgressors were a little frustrated at first because they could not update their deliveries regularly, but since the beginning of this year they have achieved a weekly frequency. Carlitos clarifies that his audio-visual extract is smaller than the weekly packet, but “brings everything” that is not included in the version circulated by his ‘first cousin.’

Meanwhile, a great distance separates the paketito from its official counterpart, La Mochila (the Backpack), created by the Youth Club to counteract the influence of the weekly packet, and which, in its latest installments, included numerous materials about the late president Fidel Castro.

Unlike this institutional imitation, every week the paketito contains a folder with written press prohibited on the island. “We load the PDF or summaries of web pages such as Diario de Cuba, 14ymedio and Cubanet,” adds Carlitos. There are also cartoons, news, movies, documentaries and courses. The documents from decades ago also continue to have an important presence in the weekly compilation.

The information comes from many sources. Some of it is downloaded over the internet. “In our team some of us work in state institutions and we have internet in our offices and we download what we need there. Other files we download in the public wifi points.”

A new and growing source of information comes from people who simply send a video that they recorded with their cellphone somewhere, when a significant event occurs

A new and growing source of information comes from people who simply send a video that they recorded with their cell phones somewhere, when a significant event occurs. Activists who travel abroad and download materials from YouTube or other social networks also contribute.

The clandestineness with which the paketito is assembled affects the expansion of its distribution, which has been restricted to customers who are as ‘transgressive’ as it creators. Through USB memory sticks and external hard drives, the files pass from hand to hand.

The compilation circulated the film Hands of Stone that was not shown at the last Havana Film Festival because its director, Jonathan Jakubowicz, was in solidarity with Carlos Lechuga’s censored film Santa and Andrés. Right now, the paketito is offering this latter film, along with the also stigmatized chapters of Miguel Coyula’s documentary Nadie about the poet Rafael Alcides.

The paketito only appears through contacts within the distribution network that demand a lot of discretion, not unlike the challenges of buying shrimp or cheese on Cuba’s black market.

State Security Bars Belkis Cantillo From Leaving Cuba

Belkis Cantillo during an event in Miami. (UFL)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 4 May 2017 — State Security prevented Belkis Cantillo, the leader of the Dignity Movement, from boarding a flight to the United States on Wednesday afternoon. The activist explained to 14ymedio via telephone that State Security agents and immigration officials notified her that she was “restricted.”

Cantillo explained that she tried to travel for health reasons because for some time she has felt “badly in the kidneys.”

According to the Dignity Movement leader, the clerk at the American Airlines check-in counter in Frank Pais International Airport in Holguin told her that she had to follow her and led her to an office where officials from State Security and Immigration were waiting for her.

Although the activist did not receive any official documents that supported a travel restriction, the agents indicated that she should leave the airport at the end of the interrogation. On her way home, she noticed that the car in which she was returning to Santiago de Cuba was being “escorted” by the political police.

Cantillo, who lives in Palmarito de Cauto, in Santiago de Cuba province, denounced that since the emergence of the Dignity Movement, she and the other activists have had to resist the constant persecution of State Security.

Earlier this year, Cantillo was detained for four days and on January 14, the founding day of the Dignity Movement, she was expelled, along with a group of women, from the Shrine of the Virgin of the Charity of Cobre.

Since then, says the opponent, the “threats” have not stopped and several homes have been “raided” by State Security and police.

The Dignity Movement is demanding an immediate unconditional amnesty for all those currently imprisoned for “pre-criminal dangerousness” and the elimination of this “arbitrary” concept from the Penal Code.

Freedom House Rates Cuba Among the Worst Countries for the Practice of Journalism

According to Freedom House, the Government “could not prevent an improvement in the scope and quality of the information available.”

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 28 April 2017 — Freedom House has again placed Cuba among the worst countries to exercise journalism in and continues to assign the 91 points the American NGO gave it last year, according to its annual Freedom of the Press Report, published on Friday.

Every year the document evaluates the quality of the journalistic profession in 199 countries and territories analyzed on a scale of 0 to 100, where the higher the number the lower the press freedom.

According to the NGO, 31% of the countries have a “free” press, 36% have a “partially free” press, and in the remaining 33% there is no press freedom. continue reading

Thus, of the 66 countries in which Freedom House believes there is not a free right to information, Cuba is among the ten worse that have attained the highest scores. North Korea and Turkmenistan lead the “worst” list with 98 points, followed by Uzbekistan (95), Crimea (94), Eritrea (94), Cuba (91), Equatorial Guinea (91), Azerbaijan (90), Iran (90) and Syria (90).

“Although Cuba remains one of the most closed media environments in the world, several new news websites emerged on the island in 2016, and the more established outlets expanded their reach,” the NGO said. “In response, authorities stepped up arrests and intimidation of critical journalists, seizing their materials and preventing some from traveling abroad to trainings or conferences. However, the regime was unable to prevent an improvement in the range and quality of information available.”

In the breakdown of indicators taken into account for the preparation of the report, Cuba obtained 28 negative points out of 30 in the Legal Environment, 35 out of 40 in the Political Environment and 28 out of 30 in the Economic Environment, and, in addition, the report notes that the internet penetration index on the island is only 31%.

However, despite the low levels of freedom of the press on the island, Freedom House has warned that “Global press freedom declined to its lowest point in 13 years in 2016 amid unprecedented threats to journalists and media outlets in major democracies and new moves by authoritarian states to control the media, including beyond their borders.”

This Wednesday, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) also placed Cuba in 173rd place in its 2017 World Press Classification, where, according to the NGO’s cataloging system, the island is two places below last year, in the worst area of ​​the list (colored in black) and next to “the worst dictatorships and totalitarian regimes in Asia and the Middle East.”

Cuba is the only country on the American continent and the Caribbean that is in the part of the list very near to the end.

The analysis of the quality of freedom of the press in Cuba published by Freedom House and RSF contrast with the report Attacks on the Press published Tuesday by the Committee for the Protection of Journalists (CPJ), according to which “Cuba’s media landscape has begun opening up in recent years,” thanks to a timid increase in Internet connectivity and a generation of journalists” who are critical of, yet still support, socialist ideas.”

Camaguey Police Prohibit Sol Garcia and Henry Constantin From Exercising Journalism

Independent journalists Sol García Basulto and Henry Constantín Ferreiro. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 4 May 2017 — Journalists Sol García Basulto and Henry Constantín were summoned Thursday to Camagüey’s Third Police Unit, where they were threatened with having their homes searched and the equipment they use to do their work confiscated if they do not stop “publishing on social networks and in independent magazines.”

An official, who identified himself as Lieutenant Francisco Pacheco, reproached the young people for continuing to work as journalists and issued each of them a warning.

The official also accused Constantin of buying “200 bags of cement and a bathing suit” which he transported “in a yellow Lada car from Najasa to the city of Camagüey.” However, Constantin categorically denies the accusation and insists that he has not left the city because he is under a “restriction of movement” measure. continue reading

On March 23, both reporters were charged with the alleged crime of “usurpation of legal capacity,” a charge that is still active, according to Constantin speaking to 14ymedio a few minutes before the meeting with the police on Thursday.

If the charge goes to trial, they could be tried under Article 149 of the Criminal Code, which punishes those who “perform acts of a profession for which they are not properly qualified.” They would then be subject to a prison sentence of between three months and one year.

The reporters are part of the editorial team of the independent magazine La Hora de Cuba (Cuba’s Hour), which is distributed in digital format. In addition they collaborate with different independent media and García Basulto is a correspondent for 14ymedio in the province of Camagüey.

At the end of last year, Constantín was named regional vice president for Cuba for the Inter American Press Association (IAPA). Recently the reporter was not able to attend a conference in Los Angeles about the current situation of journalists on the Island, nor was he able to attend a later meeting of the IAPA in Guatemala, due to the restrictions of movement imposed on him by police authorities.

García Basulto was warned by the police again this Thursday, about her job of interviewing people and collecting information in public places. A task that she undertakes, according to the officers, to “misrepresent information and write against the government.” The police showed particular annoyance at an interview with the rapper Rapshela published in 14ymedio in March.

In November 2016, State Security prevented the 14ymedio correspondent from leaving her home in the days following the death of former President Fidel Castro, while the funeral procession transported his ashes to Santiago de Cuba.

At that time the young woman denounced the escalating repression against her, which began in December 2015 when she solicited opinions outside the Provincial Court of Camagüey where the trial was being held for the murder of musician Pedro Armando Junco, known as Mandy.

The IAPA believes that the accusations against the two journalists are contrary to international provisions that support “the right to seek, receive, disseminate information and express opinions.”

University Entrance Exams Begin With “Extraordinary Measures” Against Fraud

Most young people hope to get one of the 36,705 university slots in the regular day course. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Marcelo Hernandez, Havana, 4 May 2017 — Early Wednesday morning Karel wasn’t sleeping. He spent it turning somersaults in bed and solving math problems. Together with thousands of students across the country, the young man presented himself at the Mathematics entrance exam for higher education. “It was complicated, but I answered all the questions,” he said smiling to his mother as he returned home.

As of this Wednesday, high school classrooms are filled with nervous gestures and students who are playing with their professional future on a piece of paper. Most have been preparing for this moment for months, and many have had to pay for a private tutor who prepares them to successfully pass the tests.

“I’m a little anxious, but I feel safe because I’ve studied a lot,” said a twelfth grader from Old Havana minutes before the buzzer announced the start of the first entrance exam. My strength is geometry and I didn’t like the problems at all,” he confessed. continue reading

The Mathematics exam started off the admission tests for Higher Education throughout the country. More than 45,000 high school graduates took part, the young men after finishing their Active Military Service, and the girls who completed Women’s Voluntary Military Service.

Between 2010 and 2015 the number of university students fell by more than half: from more than 206,000 students throughout the country to 90,691

Other applicants take the tests through competition. All, without exception, set their sights on continuing higher education in a country where university diplomas are less valued every day.

Between 2010 and 2015 the number of university students fell by more than half: from more than 206,000 students throughout the country to 90,691. The causes for this decline are manifold and the specialists do not agree, but economic imperatives are among the incentives for an increasing number of young people to prefer to go to work as soon as possible.

The situation contrasts with the massive admissions to higher education that characterized national education for decades. Previously, tens of thousands of professionals graduated, many of whom are now engaged in occupations not related to their specialties.

Finding a chemical engineer working as a bartender in a hotel or a biochemist driving a private taxi has become a “normal anomaly” in the Cuban system.

“My family cannot afford for me to be in a classroom for five more years,” says Rodney Calzadilla, 18, a food vendor in Matanzas province. The mother of the young man has a degree in Economics, but she “always told me that the most important thing is to be useful, not to have a diploma hanging on the living room wall,” he says.

Of the 539,952 Cubans who worked in the private sector at the end of January of this year, or for themselves, more than 3,000 are under the age of 20

Of the 539,952 Cubans who worked in the private sector at the end of January of this year, or for themselves, more than 3,000 are under the age of 20.

At the conclusion of the exams this May, the list will be drawn up, which also takes into account the average of students’ grades in high school. Those with the best grades and test scores have priority to choose one of the 83,840 places in higher education that are offered for the 2017-2018 school year, of which the most desired by young people are the 36,705 in the regular day course.

But the entrance exams are complicated. In June 2014, a fraud scandal shook the most important tests in Cuban education. The incident involved five pre-university teachers, a provincial-level methodologist at the Ministry of Education, a print shop worker, and another citizen not linked to educational institutions.

A year later they returned to the eye of the hurricane, when the Ministry of Education recognized that “the approach of the question 4 of the examination of Mathematics” was subject “to several interpretations.” Faced with the massive complaints from the students, the authorities were forced to evaluate only section A, discarding section B.

“This year we have taken extraordinary measures to protect the sanctity of examinations, ” a source at the Ministry of Higher Education told 14ymedio. The official, who requested anonymity, believes that “previous incidents have greatly damaged the image and confidence of students in this process, so we are committed to changing that impression.”

Next Monday the Spanish test will be administered and the calendar concludes on Thursday, May 11 with History, the most ideological subject in the curriculum

Next Monday, the Spanish test will be administered and the calendar concludes on Thursday, May 11 with History, the most ideological subject in the curriculum of the schools of the Island.

For the History exam the students are preparing themselves on this occasion on subjects related to the deceased ex-president Fidel Castro. “What goes, goes,” says María Julia, a teacher of the specialty that organizes private tutoring in Havana’s Playa district.

“The main question of the test almost always is related to some anniversary or historical figure that is important in the current year,” clarifies the teacher. “It’s clear there will be one or two questions about him, that’s for sure.” With a degree in History, María Julia has drilled her students in “the concept of Revolution” and Fidel Castro’s “biographical data.”

“For students who do poorly on the math test, the most difficult of all, it is possible to raise the average with History, which is easier,” admits the teacher. “For those who aren’t that comfortable with numbers, if they have a good grasp of politics, they have a chance on this test.”

Laritza Diversent and Cubalex Begin Their Life In Exile

Laritza Diversent (center) before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (Flickr)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario J. Penton, Miami/Havana, 4 May 2017 — The team at the Cubalex Legal Information Center and its director, attorney Laritza Diversent, have obtained political refuge in the United States following the intensification of repression against the nonprofit organization dedicated to legally advising Cubans.

Diversent, told 14ymedio, from a stop at Miami International Airport this Thursday, that this was a “very hard” time for her and her team.

“We are saddened that we can not continue to provide legal advice to people within Cuba, especially to many of the prisoners we helped, but since last September our work has not been safe in Cuba,” he said. continue reading

On September 23, 2016, agents of the Interior Ministry raided the Cubalex headquarters in Havana and confiscated their work equipment as well as two hundred files of people who were advised by the organization.

“We are saddened that we can not continue to provide legal advice to people within Cuba, especially to many of the prisoners we helped, but since last September our work has not been safe in Cuba”

One day before her departure from the country, the lawyer was summoned by the Attorney General’s Office to inform her of the legal proceedings brought against her by the authorities.

“It seems it is a new strategy to raid the headquarters of organizations. It already happened with Convivencia and with Somos+,” recalls the lawyer.

Diversent explained that she was accused of violating self-employment regulations.

“The State assumes that as we receive financing from abroad we hire people. As legal guardianship is not recognized as an activity to be carried out independently we are accused of violating the law,” she says.

She also reported that they had told a “string of lies” about supposed gifts given by her in exchange for speeding up procedures to legalize her home.

The Prosecutor’s Office ruled against a ban on her leaving the country, Diversent was able to verify. “They told me they knew I was working on the immigration process, and that they would allow me to leave, but that if I returned they would activate the investigation again,” she said.

“They threatened to accuse me of forgery and bribery if I returned to Cuba.”

The lawyer says that independent organizations such as hers are a direct target of State Security and are exposed to all kinds of harassment by the Government.

The lawyer says that independent organizations such as hers are a direct target of State Security and are exposed to all kinds of harassment by the Government

“State Security is aimed directly at us. The international community does not have a strong position with the Government, so we are subject to double discrimination: that of the State that calls us terrorists and mercenaries and that of international organizations and countries that do not support us because they seek to maintain good relations with the Cuban government,” she said.

Family reasons also carried great weight in this decision:

“I am a human rights activist, but I am also a mother. I have a son 17 and I don’t want anything to happen to him. In the case of women, the first thing they do is attack their children,” she said.

Diversent explained that she will be based in the state of Tennessee and that the rest of his colleagues will travel in three groups between May 25 and June 5.

The organization, based in the municipality of Arroyo Naranjo in Havana and founded in 2010, provides legal advice but is not legally recognized within the island, despite the numerous reports it has drafted for the United Nations and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, among other international organizations.

In July of last year the government refused to legalize Cubalex, after ruling that in Cuba no independent legal aid organizations are needed because “the State already defends the people.”

In July of last year the government refused to legalize Cubalex, after ruling that in Cuba no independent legal aid organizations are needed because “the state already defends the people”

Cubalex members, who have received refugee status, will be based in different states of the United States. However, the lawyer is confident that they will be able to meet at some point to restart the work. For now they have dismissed Miami as a possible site.

Two members of the group, Julio Iglesias and Julio Ferrer, must remain in the country because they are under criminal proceedings or in prison. Ferrer received a change of the precautionary measures against him this week.

“It really hurts me, what is happening to those in Cuba because of the commitment they have made to the people and the work they have done,” Diversent said.

The lawyer explained that for nine months they have been denouncing “violations of due process” in those cases but have not been able to do anything despite exhausting all the resources.

Following the raid on Cubalex’s headquarters, Amnesty International called for urgent action to “call on the Cuban authorities to allow members of Cubalex and other human rights lawyers and activists to operate freely without harassment or intimidation.”

“Cubalex will be legalized in the United States and will continue its work from here focused on supporting civil society organizations on the island”

Laritza Diversent’s trip to the US coincides with Thursday’s release of a communiqué from the Cuban Observatory of Human Rights (OCDH), which reports that there have been 1,809 arbitrary detentions in the first four months of 2017.

In April alone, the organization documented 467 arbitrary arrests, of which 335 were women, 132 were men and 147 were black people, ten of whom were “brutally beaten,” according to the activists.

The OCDH has stressed that a climate of repression prevails “at a time when the Cuban Government has achieved important international support like the European Union and the Government of Spain,” and warns that “in the coming months the political climate may be aggravated, as a result of certain nervousness of the Government before the difficult economic and social situation that is facing Cuba.”

Diversent agrees.

“There is much to be done in international human rights organizations. There is a lot to do with the organizations that are inside Cuba, to support them,” she explains.

“Cubalex will be legalized in the United States and will continue its work from here focused on supporting civil society organizations on the Island.”

If Venezuela Goes to Hell, Will Things Look Bad for Cuba? / Iván García

Protester in Venezuela

Ivan Garcia, 28 April 2017 — Soot covers the unpainted facades of buildings on Tenth of October Boulevard. Old American cars from the 1950s, rebuilt with modern diesel engines and now privately operated as taxis, transit across asphalt, leaving behind a trail of black smoke and the unpleasant odor of gasoline.

The noonday sun glimmers in the opaque windows of old clothing stores, which have been converted into low-quality jewelry and handicraft shops.

Tenth of October is one of Havana’s main arteries. Formerly known as Jesus of the Mountain, the boulevard immortalized by the poet Eliseo Diego is now a walkway of pedestrians carrying plastic bags past makeshift booths set up in the covered entryways of people’s houses. Vendors sell old books, photos of Fidel and Kim Il Sung, and knickknacks that are not longer fashionable. continue reading

Seated at a stool outside his butcher shop, Rey Angel reads a headline in the newspaper Granma. He has not worked in days. “There have been no deliveries of chicken or ground soy,” he says. He kills time reading boring articles by the nation’s press and watching women walk by.

Right now, news from Venezuela is a high priority for the average Cuban. “It’s like seeing yourself in the mirror. You don’t like to read stories about shortages and misfortunes similar to your own, although ours don’t come with street protests or repression and killings by the police,” says the butcher.

“But we have to follow the news from Venezuela,” he adds. “If it all goes to hell there, things won’t look good for us. There will be another ’Special Period.” The government is trying not to alarm people but according to the official press, the country produces only 50% of the crude it needs. The question then is: Where the hell are we going to get the money for the other 50% Venezuela gives us.”

The longstanding economic, social and political crisis in Venezuela also impacts Cuba, a republic that has been unable to control its own destiny. Hungry for power, Fidel Castro hijacked the country, making political commitments in exchange for a blank check from the Kremlin and later oil and credit guarantees from Hugo Chavez.

Like a baby, Cuba is still crawling. It won’t stand up and walk on its own two feet. “Whom should we blame for these disastrous policies?” asks a university professor before answering his own question.

“If we are honest, the answer is Fidel Castro,” he says. “Cuba a total disaster, except supposedly in the realm of sovereignty and independence. But these days we are more dependent than ever. In order to survive, we must depend on tourism, on the export of doctors who work under slave-like conditions and on remittances sent home by Cubans from overseas.”

Although Cuba’s government-run press and Telesur — a media company founded with petrodollars from Hugo Chavez — is trying to cover up the causes of the situation in Venezuela, to ignore other points of view and to manipulate the narrative of the Venezuelan opposition, people on the island can now compare their reporting with other sources of information.

“Whether it’s through the internet, an illegal antenna or family members returning from medical missions in Venezuela, people know that not everything reported in the national media is true. It’s not just the middle class that supports the opposition, as the state press would have us believe. If that were the case, the Venezuelan bourgeoisie would number in the millions. Maduro’s days are numbered. When another political party occupies the presidential palace, when the oil agreement and the exchange of doctors are over, the Cuban economy will experience a crisis , a period of recession the likes of which it has not seen for twenty-eight years. And even worse, all the turmoil in Venezuela coincides with Raul Castro’s stepping down from power” notes an academic.

Among the late Hugo Chavez and Fidel Castro’s longterm goals was the eventual unification of their two countries,” says a former diplomat. “ALBA* was just a first step. They hoped to later create a common currency: the sucre. In the halls of power it was jokingly referred to as ‘Cubazuela’. In their minds Castro and Chavez thought they would rule forever. They didn’t foresee themselves dying or anticipate the current catastrophe. In spite of all Maduro’s authoritarianism, there are still democratic institutions which could reverse the situation. But in Cuba? When Venezuela crashes, we’ll be up the creek without a paddle. We can perhaps count on rhetorical support from Bolivia and Ecuador but no one is going to write us a blank check or extend us credit. We will then will have to figure out where we are going and how to get there. If some future politicians manage to figure out a path forward, we’ll have to erect a monument to them.”

Hyperinflation, polarization and the socio-political crisis in Venezuela are all impacting the Cuban economy. In the summer of 2016 Raul Castro announced fuel cuts for the public sector, causing numerous government programs which do not generate hard currency to grind to a halt.

As people die and mass protest marches take place in Venezuela, officials and presidential advisers at the Palace of the Revolution in Havana are devising contingency plans to deal with the eventual collapse of the Chavez movement. It could take months, maybe a year or two, but it will happen.

*Translator’s note: Acronym for Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America, an organization founded by Cuba and Venezuela and currently made up of eleven socialist and social democratic member states. 

When The Abuser Is The Government

Karla Pérez González has been the victim of a new type of harassment, this time incarnated in a campaign of character assassination. (Courtesy)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Generation Y, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 4 May 2017 – I was in the third grade and the teacher chose the most aggressive girl in my class to be the room monitor. She was given carte blanche to control the other children. Later, the abuser rose to a position in the Federation of Middle School Students and joined the Union of Young Communists. Today she is an active part of a Committee for the Defense of the Revolution. She is corrupt and violent, but highly valued by the authorities in her area.

Cuba’s National Center for Sexual Education (Cenesex), led by Raul Castro’s daughter Mariela Castro, has launched a campaign against homophobic and transphobic bullying in schools. The initiative includes the family in order to “understand what it is about, to help the girls and boys, the teenagers, the young people, and all the staff of the school,” says the sexologist. continue reading

Mariela Castro says that the level of abuse in schools on the island is “fairly low,” an affirmation that demonstrates – at the very least – her lack of connection with the Cuban reality. Without reliable official figures, any investigation of the subject must appeal to the personal experience of individuals and this is when the stories and testimonies of bullying in the educational environment surface.

The high schools in the countryside, promoted by former president Fidel Castro, were a reservoir of these abuses, many of them carried out under the impassive eyes of the teachers

The high schools in the countryside, promoted by former president Fidel Castro, were a reservoir of these abuses, many of them carried out under the impassive eyes of the teachers. Suicides, rapes, systematic robberies of the most fragile, accompanied by power structures more typical of prisons than an educational institution, were the daily bread of those of us who attended these schools.

I remember the spring of 1991, when a student threw himself off the water tower of the People’s Republic of Romania High School in what is now Artemis province. He had been harassed by the taunts and pressures of several classmates. We were all crowded together in the central hallway during the evening’s recreation hour when we felt the thud of his body landing on the concrete.

His harassers never paid for that death, it never became a data point in the statistics of student victims of bullying, and a family had to bury a son without being able to put a name to what had happened to him: abuse. In the weeks after that death another student slit his wrists – fortunately he didn’t die – and a group of twelfth grade students beat up a tenth grader for “having feathers,” i.e. being effeminate.

However, abuse in the schools doesn’t end there. There are many ways to harass a student and not all of them come from his or her classmates, nor are they motivated by sexual stereotypes, strict gender roles or group bravado. Ideological violence, exercised by power and with the consent of the school administrators, is another way to inflict psychological damage.

A few weeks ago, a journalism student at the Central University of Las Villas was the victim of institutional abuse that will leave permanent psychic and social scars on this young girl, just 18. To make matters worse, it was the leaders of the University Student Federation who behaved toward Karla Perez Gonzalez as the school abusers, like the leaders of a gang or the thugs of the hour.

The former student has been the victim of a new type of harassment, this time embodied in a campaign of character assassination that would be laughable if it weren’t aimed at destroying her self-esteem and turning her into a non-person

Since her expulsion, the former student has been the victim of a new type of harassment, this time embodied in a campaign of character assassination that would be laughable if it weren’t aimed at destroying her self-esteem and turning her into a non-person. To do something like that to a student of such a young age is an act of rape from power, persecution dressed up in the robes of school discipline.

The abusers, protected from above, end up feeling that they can destroy lives, denounce innocents and beat others as long as they are protected by an ideology. A system that has fomented political thuggery in its schools and its streets cannot confront bullying in all the complexity that the problem presents.

Noisy campaigns to fill foreign media headlines and the collection of large funds from international organizations is not the solution for all the Cuban children who have to deal, right now, with the physical blows, the ridicule of their classmates or partisan indoctrination in their schools.

Neither CUPs nor CUCs, It’s Bucks That Reign in Cuba

The official change that governs the US currency is very unfavorable. In exchange houses, each dollar is traded at 0.87 cents CUC. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Zunilda Mata, Havana, 3 May 2017 — The guard looks at him and dismisses him as an undercover cop. “Are you coming to change dollars? I’ll pay you at 90 cents,” he tells the customer while turning his back on the security camera at the Currency Exchange (Cadeca). At the window, that same dollar is exchanged by the government for 0.87 Cuban convertible pesos (about 87¢ US).

Possessing hard currency was heavily penalized for decades. Until its authorization, in 1993, having foreign currency in your pocket could lead to a sentence of up to four years in prison.

The new monetary policy drastically changed the economic reality of the country and the bills with the faces of Lincoln, Franklin and Washington gained prominence in everyday financial operations. The “socialist paradise” worked with “the money of the empire,” some said wryly. continue reading

A decade after that decision, the authorities decreed that commercial transactions in the island could not be made in dollars, but only in Cuban pesos (CUP) and convertible pesos (CUC), the latter known popularly as chavitos.

However, “the currency of the enemy” remains an important reference point in the informal market.

The new emerging class hordes its savings in dollars while waiting for uncertain unification of Cuba’s two currencies

Entrepreneurs, artists who sell their works in the international market and Cubans who travel abroad are some of those who prefer the greenbacks. The new emerging class hordes its savings in dollars while waiting for the uncertain unification of Cuba’s two currencies.

The official exchanger rate that governs the US currency is very unfavorable. In exchange houses, every dollar is traded at 0.87 cents CUC, a price that has not changed for years and that especially affects those who receive financial assistance from their relatives abroad, a not negligible figure for the national economy.

Remittances sent to Cuba reached a record $ 3,354 billion in 2015, according to The Havana Consulting Group (THCG). The diplomatic meltdown between the two countries and the easing introduced by the Obama administration boosted the shipment of money and with it the upsurge of the informal currency market.

In March 2016, days before the visit of President Barack Obama to the island, the Cuban government announced the end of the 10% tax it had imposed on the American currency, a decision that excited much of the population.

Days before the visit of the President Barack Obama to the Island, the Cuban government announced the end of the tax of 10% it had imposed on the American currency

However, a year has passed since that announcement, and the measure has not been implemented. The authorities of the island justify the delay by asserting that they cannot yet conduct foreign trade operations with US currency as a result of the embargo.

In the banks and tourist businesses the buying and selling of Uncle Sam’s currency proliferates, parallel to the official networks. Many state employees are the bridge between foreigners and the underground market where the currency of the “empire” is sold.

Airports, despite strict surveillance, are the ideal site for this trade. Tourists arrive, the lines to exchange money are long, and individuals carrying bulging wallets wander among the travelers whispering the service they offer.

The guards and the banks themselves are linked to the black market. They earn a commission and keep a steady stream of dollars flowing into the illegal networks.

The dollar is also king in the monetary operations of those who want to get money out of the country. The currency is especially desired by mules who travel to countries in the region, such as Panama, the United States and Mexico, to import products such as footwear and clothing.

“This is a circular business,” says Henry, an informal entrepreneur who trades dollars. “The customer earns more than if he makes the exchange at the Cadeca and we get quantities of foreign exchange that you cannot go and buy from a bank,” he says.

The sale of foreign currencies in the country’s banking network is authorized but it is a complicated process. “Today I only have 120 dollars in the box so I cannot sell you any more,” a cashier from a Metropolitan Bank on Ayestarán Street in Havana told a client in need of foreign exchange.

In some bank branches they ask the customer to show an airplane ticket that justifies their need to acquire foreign currency for a trip. “I have walked through several banks and they tell me that they cannot sell me dollars or euros because they do not have them,” a resident of Havana’s Playa municipality complained last Friday, looking for dollars for a trip to Cancun.

On digital classifieds sites, there are many offers for the sale of dollars. Most advertisers prefer quantities that exceed of $ 1,000 and 50 or 100 dollar bills

On digital classifieds sites, there are many offers for the exchange of dollars. Most advertisers prefer amounts that exceed $1,000 and 50 or 100 dollar bills. “Selling at .96 cents a dollar,” one of these makeshift bankers says in an advertisement, promising “seriousness and reliability.”

“I have a house with five rooms and aterrace in the city of Cienfuegos, I want 50,000, half in convertible pesos and the other half in dollars,” says another classified in the popular portal Revolico. The practice is becoming more and more widespread.

“I do not want my money in these little colored papers (convertible pesos),” a musician, who performs in venues with a mostly foreign audience such as Dos Gardenias and La Casa de la Música de Miramar, explains to 14ymedio. Customers tip him “almost always in euros or dollars” and what he gets in CUCs he changes for “real money.”

His goal is to save enough to “spend a three-week vacation in Moscow and bring home things and clothes for the kids.” Spare parts for his Russian-made Lada car and a one-ton capacity air conditioner complete the dreams he wants to achieve with the green bills he keeps under his mattress.

The musician worries that “even tomorrow they could announce the monetary union and I would end up losing money” if it’s in one of the two national currencies. “The US Federal Reserve is there, it has several centuries of existence and gives me more confidence than the Central Bank of Cuba.”

Lia Villares Finally Makes it to the United States

Lia Villares is considered a “persecuted political” who is “under paramilitary harassment”. (Facebook)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 3 May 2017 – The independent activist Lia Villares finally traveled to the United States on Wednesday, as confirmed to 14ymedio by the dissident musician Gorki Aguila.

On Tuesday, Villares was not able to board her flight to the US, after being detained by the police on her way to the airport. The activist called the action a “kidnapping” and “forced disappearance” in a post that she published on her Facebook page hours after her arrest. continue reading

Villares explained that she took a taxi from the door of her home with the intention of traveling to the airport, in order to attend the concert of her friend David D Omni ZF at the New Orleans Jazz Festival. A few blocks from her home, a State Security agent who identified himself as “Jordan” stopped the car and forced her into a National Revolutionary Police (PNR) car, according to her note.

Villares says she was taken to the Tarara detention center (east of Havana), a very long way from her home in Vedado, and the agent insisted that she hand over her cell phone. “They left me for three hours inside the police car, waiting for the time to pass so I would miss my flight,” she denounces.

The activist said that she remained “silent” in response the questions of the agent who, before leaving her at home, pointed out that from that moment on he would become her shadow

The activist said that she remained “silent” in response the questions of the agent who, before leaving her at home, pointed out that from that moment on he would become her shadow.

According to her testimony, this is the same officer who had been monitoring her home on Saturday April 15, coinciding with the screening of the documentary Nadie, by Cuban filmmaker Miguel Coyula, which was supposed to have been screened at the El Círculo Gallery, a venue coordinated by Villares.

After being released, Villares asked about her legal situation and demanded to know why she had been prevented from taking the trip she had scheduled, but the agent only replied, “Why not.”

“This impunity enjoyed by agents and officers who lend themselves as accomplices [to the regime] can not pass unchallenged,” says Villares, who is considered a “persecuted political” and is “under paramilitary harassment.”

A Candle Lit by Assef and His Poetry / Francis Sanchez

Francis Sanchez, 6 April 2017 – A group of people who loved him, met this April 5 to remember the poet Pedro Alberto Assed, who recently died. In the library of his city, Ciego de Avila, Cuba, the young writer Heriberto Machado called us together, and I had the opportunity to speak from my emotion and memory about a great poet and friend, remembering how for so many years his house was the gathering place in the center of this city.

His aunt Lourdes told us about her “most beloved nephew,” and from her we heard anecdotes about a special child, his training, his love for his son Astor, and how loneliness and anguish shaped his temperament from when he suffered, at an early age, the divorce of his parents. continue reading

We heard him recite his poems, thanks to the fact that I had recorded him back in 1998, with his reflections on the need to write poetry to “try to slash loneliness.” José Gabriel Quintas, Mayda Batista and Pedro Evelio Linares (writers of different generations) also related with gratitude what Assef meant in their lives, because he was “an essential poet, of tormented solitude,” which he expressed himself as such at all times and conveyed his passion for poetry.

Pedro Evelio described his current goal of collecting Assef’s work, published and unpublished, and requested collaboration from those who have copies of his texts, especially those written or published outside Cuba.

We review the poems that we liked. Ileana Alvarez read “This book is not mine,” a text that is impossible not to read a posteriori as a testament, in which the poet speaks of death flourishing through him, solitude, and explicitly dreaming of the desire to finally merge with the sea:

I am at the edge of the sea and of night.

My eyes are cold and my hands are icy.

Loneliness has made me an animal,

a skinless bird with a wounded memory.

Whom do I tell

That death is born in me,

With whom the shock of

the strange flower that juts from my mouth.

[…]

I’m already the sea

And I return to be the sea

When I finish this poem.

This gathering, in the Literature room of the Provincial Library, finally made us become more aware of the vitality of the poetry of Assef, a Cuban poet, universal, and we remember him in the words of the essayist Luis Álvarez Álvarez, quoting from the prologue of the poetic anthology Interior Station (2003) that I prepared when he was already living in the United States:

“The poetry of Pedro Alberto Assef appears concentrated, written, if I am forgiven the brutality of expression, about himself, as if there was no paper capable of the sharpness, tormented loneliness that, like a last confidence, is confessed in each one of his pieces. Accomplice of this intense intonation, it is the verse that perhaps could not be described but by an overwhelming word of another era: burnished, polished with rough cloths over and over again, foolish, vain, as an imitation of a gasping and content Sisyphus. Hence his work with verse and traditional lyrical forms, integrated into a contemporary expression, at times colloquial and irreverent. […] It is a poetry of anguish, of the impossible submission to solitude, which leaves in macerated pulp the fundamental inquiry of the poet, his confession of loneliness of flesh and spirit.”

Note: Pedro Alberto Assef (1966-2017) died in Texas on 17 February of liver cancer.