What Cubans Say About the Partial Closure of the US Embassy / Iván García

Cuban Custodian of the US Embassy in Havana directs a citizen who may not know that the diplomatic headquarters is partially closed since September 29, 2017 and will not issue visas indefinitely. Taken from Sputnik Mundo.

Ivan Garcia, 6 October 2017 — On Friday, 29 September, a light intermittent drizzle and overcast sky lent a mournful touch to the area around the United States Embassy in Havana.

The six-story building with tinted glass and stone-clad facade, where every morning hundreds of people line up for consular appointments and dozens of dissidents wait to connect to the internet for free, seemed abandoned.

A few cars with diplomatic plates were parked in a side street very close to the main entrance of the embassy. Hurricane Irma’s furious winds and flooding from the sea caused damage to the building and and visa interviews had been postponed. continue reading

But the food service businesses and those dedicated to filling out visa forms were still at work. Pedro, 78, residing in a nearby building, works advising those who travel to the United States.

He charges the equivalent of $23 USD for shooting photos, filling out the visa application form and then sending it online to the consular office. On Friday afternoon, when it was learned that the Trump administration would indefinitely suspend the issuing of visas, Pedro was in his living room helping Daniel, a client with plans to fly to the United States before the end of the year. “I hope that the sea will recede and the embassy will return to serving Cubans who emigrate under the family reunification program. So far nothing has been said that these agreements have been broken,” says Daniel trying to be optimistic.

Pedro, owner of the small ’legal’ business, is not as optimistic. “I sense that this diplomatic war has just begun. Behind it is the intent to end the 20,000 annual visas that, under an agreement with Bill Clinton, they began to issue beginning in 1994. Anyone who is knowledgeable knows that Trump and the Clintons are political enemies. Trump has gotten it into his blond head to bury the entire legacy of Obama. The guy is worse than a hurricane. I support my family thanks to this work. If the embassy closes, I will have to find something else to do.”

Several private cafes and food outlets were deserted. “Ninety percent of our clients are the people who are doing immigration paperwork with the embassy. If the Yumas now decide to close it, I will have to turn in my business license,” says David, owner of a paladar (private restaurant) near Rivero Funeral Home.

In the park on Linea Street at the corner of L Streed, near the Camilo Cienfuegos Clinic for foreigners, several people connected to the internet via the wifi available in the park openly expressed their concern. “Good grief. It’s always the same: . It always happens the same: the American government gets into with those people and it’s the ordinary Cuba who always loses,” said a loud Havanan, holding his smartphone in front of his face while chatting with a relative in Florida.

Danay, a high school student, after speaking with the father through the IMO application, told Martí Noticia his impressions. “My mom and I wanted to emigrate to the United States this past July. But my dad, who has lived in New Jersey for fifteen years, told me to wait until the end of the year, so when I get there I can start college. And now look at the bomb that Trump just dropped. ”

Since the immigration agreements agreed upon by Bill Clinton and Fidel Castro in 1994, nearly half a million Cubans have been able to emigrate in an orderly, legal and secure manner to the United States under the family reunification program.

After this temporary suspension, Cubans with plans to emigrate or visit their family in the North, began to generate unfounded rumors. “This was coming. Trump is the most anti-immigrant president in US history. Using the acoustic attacks as an excuse, they want to do away with 20,000 visas a year. Cuba was the only country in the world that had that privilege. First it was Obama, repealing the wet foot/dry foot policy. Now Trump. You will see that in the end they end up overturning the Cuban Adjustment Act. But even more to blame than Trump, are the Cuban-American members of congress who claim to defend the interests of the people on the island, but always end up fucking over the Cubans,” says Julian, self-employed.

For lack of detailed information, Cubans do not understand why the US government decided to temporarily close the embassy. The story of the acoustic attacks on a score of US officials reads like a script by John Le Carré.

“If the Russian weapons used by the Cuban armed forces are more than forty years old, where the hell is G-2 [State Security] is going to get an ultra modern sonic weapon. Nor do I believe the version that North Korea or Russia mounted that operation without involving the ’apparatus’ [State Security]. Nothing works here, but State Security has it all under control. That story is longer or parts of it are missing, things that have not been told,” says Livio, a retiree.

In a survey of 23 people (neighbors, friends, acquaintances and relatives), 12 responded that they believed the regime of Raúl Castro was not behind these acoustic aggressions, due to lack of technology; 6 said that if “Trump has taken these measures, it is because it’s some kind of trick,” and 5 said they did not know anything about it.

In the opposition, opinions are diverse. Manuel Cuesta Morúa, an academic, believes that “the Trump government has been quick to withdraw half of its diplomatic staff.”

Martha Beatriz Roque Cabello, an economist, believes that “it is a sovereign decision of the United States government, because the embassy is part of its territory.” The veteran opponent thinks that “this decision will affect air flights, trips of Americans to Cuba and the entrance of dollars into the coffers of the regime”. And she points out that the regime’s response could be more repression. “I was going to travel to the United States and the Cuban authorities did not let me.”

The opponent and former political prisoner Angel Moya, husband of Berta Soler, leader of the Ladies in White, agrees with Roque “that the United States has every right to protect its diplomatic officers who were subjected to a sonic attack,” he said, and added, “The Cuban population is very uninformed. Official sources have not reported that some Canadian officials were also affected. The reaction of the regime can manifest itself in several ways. One of them would be to repress even more regime opponents who are supporters of the Trump government.”

According to Juan González Febles, director of the weekly Primavera Digital, “The first beneficiary of the closure of the embassy is the regime. Now independent journalists and human rights activists cannot connect to the internet for free at the US embassy. It has also changed the situation for those who qualify for the family reunification program. A considerable part of Cubans, at some point, are planning to emigrate to the United States. Those 20,000 visas were an escape valve. With this measure, the most conservative wings of the dictatorship and exile won. And of course, the regime’s response will be to increase repression against the opposition.”

If they agree on anything, the dissidents interviewed agree that the decision to partially close the embassy is the first move of a strategy that could bring consequences in the political and repressive environment within Cuba.

The honeymoon between the Palace of the Revolution and the White House extended for two years. With the arrival of unpredictable Trump, analysts hoped that getting involved in the Cuban issue was not in his interest. But the reality has been different.

The US president has set out to reverse Obama’s policies. And Cuba was an important piece in that legacy. The feeling is that we are living the first chapter of a story that promises to be more extensive.

A battle in the style of Donald Trump. And waiting for the olive-green response from Raul Castro.

Darsi Ferret Dies in Miami

The Cuban dissident Darsi Ferret. (Courtesy)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 7 October 2017 — Cuban dissident Darsi Ferret, who has lived in the United States since 2012, was found dead Saturday in West Palm Beach, as confirmed to 14ymedio by his colleagues and family.

Ferret, 47, a doctor, was at a local television station planning to launch in that Florida city when he died in circumstances still unknown.

In 2006, the dissident was removed from the practice of medicine in Cuba for his political positions and he founded the Juan Bruno Zayas Center for Health and Human Rights. His work as an opponent was widely recognized, especially for leading a peaceful demonstration in front of the UNESCO headquarters in Cuba every December 10th, International Human Rights Day. These marches were severely repressed by the political police. continue reading

In 2009 he was arrested and sentenced to 11 months in prison for the alleged crime of buying building materials in the informal market to renovate his house. Half a year later Amnesty International declared him a “prisoner of conscience” and demanded that Raul Castro’s government release him.

In June 2010, Ferret was released on parole and two years later emigrated as a political refugee to the United States. His wife at that time, Yusnaimy Jorge Soca, and his son Daniel, then 10, resided in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

“I left my homeland, friends and a people that is suffering greatly,” Ferret said when arriving in the US “but I keep alive the hope that Cuba will be free because the Cuban people are ever more committed to that freedom.”

In the United States, Ferret dedicated himself to spreading the reality of the island through his work as producer, reporter and event organizer in which several Cuban dissidents participated. Until his death he maintained a very critical position towards the Palace of the Revolution. An attitude emphasized last August on his Facebook wall when he said that “during almost six decades of absolute control of power on the island, the Castros have contributed nothing good or meritorious.”

Ed note: Ferret’s name has been frequently misspelled as “Ferrer,” including on his Wikipedia entry and in articles on this site (which we will correct). His family has confirmed that his name is Ferret, which is also correct on his Facebook.

Quebecois Arrested in Cuba for Bringing Hurricane Aid Without Going Through the Government

Cloutier says that his plan now is never to return to Cuba. (La Presse)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 3 October 2017 — Carl-Michel Cloutier, a Quebecois married to a Cuban and a frequent traveler to the island, plans never to return after his last experience. The Canadian was arrested, interrogated, had his belongings confiscated and was threatened with prison and never leaving the country, after coming to the island with humanitarian aid for the victims of Hurricane Irma.

The Canadian newspaper La Presse reported Cloutier’s story Monday, after his return to Montreal. In the article he said he had experienced an “ordeal” because of the Cuban authorities. “I thought I was going to end up in prison,” he said.

To avoid any problems, Carl-Michel Cloutier had informed the Cuban embassy in Canada of his intentions to bring aid to Cuba and asked that it be exempt from customs duties when he arrived in Havana on September 21. continue reading

Without offering any guarantees, Mara Bilbao Díaz, Cuban Consul in Montreal, provided him with a document stating that he was carrying 15 bags of 25 kg each with “a load of donations of clothing, toys and canned food for the victims of Hurricane Irma in the village of Isabela de Sagua, in the province of Villa Clara.”

“Mr. Cloutier was duly informed of Cuban customs regulations regarding passenger imports. Please use this document as an informative note,” the official wrote in the letter.

The Canadian arrived with a friend, Patrick Ménard, with 19 suitcases of aid to distribute, but he was only allowed to take nine of them with him, after paying 100 Cuban convertible pesos (roughly $100 USD) at customs. The other 10 suitcases stayed at the airport.

Cloutier’s wife’s family lives in the province of Villa Clara, near the village of Isabela de Sagua, where 70% of the buildings were destroyed by the hurricane on 9 September. In order to help the victims, donations were collected in Cloutier’s neighborhood, well as at the Albert Schweitzer School and Viajes LM, in Saint-Bruno-de-Montarville, Quebec.

Carl-Michel Cloutier and his friend distributed some of the donations last week in the village. “The devastation was extreme, the houses were completely flattened or destroyed by the hurricane,” he told the Quebec daily. “The families were trying to pick up what was left, people were sleeping in a bed with their children, in the middle of their house without a roof or walls,” he said.

“We have shared the donations and they have shared their stories with us. They were very grateful, but it was very difficult for Patrick and me to witness this human tragedy.”

The problem came during a traffic control stop, when the two men and Cloutier’s parents-in-law were arrested by police and taken to the police station where they confiscated their phones and cameras.

“A man in military uniform from the Department of Immigration and another in civilian clothes from State Security interrogated me for more than four hours about our visit and the assistance we had delivered,” says Cloutier. “They told me that it is illegal to make humanitarian donations without going through the government.”

As the Quebecois explained it, the atmosphere was very tense during the interrogation, which took place in a harsh tone. “They treated me like a criminal,” he says.

Expressing himself as best he could in Spanish, he managed to make his interlocutors understand that he had a document from the Cuban consulate in Montreal explaining his intention. They accompanied him to his in-laws’ house to look for it and after six hours he was released.

Still in shock, Cloutier and Ménard went quickly to Varadero, where there is a Canadian consulate, but a day later they received a call telling them that the police required them. They had to meet with the authorities or they could not leave the country and his in-laws were threatened with arrest.

“We had a lot of stress before Canada’s consulate staff confirmed, 24 hours later, that we would have no problem with the law,” he says.

Following this experience, Cloutier advises other Quebecois against traveling to Cuba. Some of them have apparently expressed their intention to come to the aid of the victims.

La Presse tried to contact the Cuban embassy in Ottawa to gather information on the incident, but the diplomatic headquarters ended the conversation by saying that all visitors to Cuba must comply with the rules. They never offered more details despite promising the newspaper they would.

A spokesperson for Global Affairs Canada wrote: “It is not advisable to travel to Cuba with donations without first making firm arrangements through an official partner. Cuban customs may confiscate any imported object that they do not believe to be for the personal use of the tourist and can impose high tariffs on luggage weighing more than 30 kilos or for medicines that exceed 10 kilos.”

The Department emphasized that the best way to help people affected by the tragedy is to provide cash donations to humanitarian organizations already active in the field.

Crime or Combat? The Death of Che

Ernesto Guevara shortly before his death in La Higuera, Bolivia, in 1967. (DR)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 5 October 2017 — Half a century after the death of Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara, the official narrative of what happened on October 9, 1967 in La Higuera, Bolivia has significantly changed.

After repeating for decades that Che was murdered in a school in that South American country, the Communist Party’s propaganda media, and in particular the official Party newspaper Granma, have rebaptized the event “The fall in combat of the Heroic Guerrilla.”

The variation is no small thing if one takes into account that dying during an armed confrontation, in addition to having a more heroic character, implies that the deceased was not a victim, but an active participant in a conflict. At the stroke of a pen, government propaganda has opted to discard the version of a crime and highlight the military epic, thus withdrawing blame from those who ordered the trigger to be pulled. continue reading

Had he not died in those bellicose circumstances, Guevara might have celebrated his status as a nonagenarian on June 14, although others say that he was actually born on May 14. Like every human being turned into myth, his biography is plagued with contradictions and dark areas, controversies and half truths. Even the dates of his arrival and departure from this world are under discussion.

Perhaps if he not died in La Higuera, the Argentine would have ended his days in the boring offices of some ministry or would have been ousted from power in one of the purges that took place over the last half a century. In any case there would not be so many legends about his life today, nor would any films have been made idealizing or stigmatizing it.

Without those rifle shots fired at 1:10 pm in that small classroom, the man in that emblematic photo where he is seen with long hair and a gaze lost in the distance would not have become a twentieth century icon. He would not fill the shelves of the souvenir shops or stare out from the shirts of so many young people.

With slight variations, all accounts agree that on October 8, 1967 Guevara was captured and one day later, without having been subjected to a judicial process, he lost his life at the hands of a Bolivian soldier who carried out the orders of his Government. He was unarmed and wounded.

Other versions directly or indirectly blame the CIA, especially the Cuban Félix Rodríguez, alias El Gato.

At the Summit of the Americas held in Panama in April 2015, Cuban official media reported that Rodríguez was there to meet with some of the island’s opponents who attended the event. Among other insults from the ‘shock troops’ organized by the Plaza of the Revolution at the Summit, Cuba’s human rights activists were accused of having traveled there “to embrace Che’s murderer.” Now this individual appears to have been exonerated from homicide by the grace of the pro-government press.

Cuba continues to insist on commemorating the death of Guevara on October 8, as Fidel Castro mentioned in the first official information about his death. That is the reason why this Sunday a common program with symphonic works, poems and songs will be presented in several concert halls of the country.

In the city of Santa Clara, where the memorial is located with the remains of the other Cubans who fell in the guerrilla war in Bolivia, recalling the date will be the central act. None of those present will dare to question the significant change in the official version of events surrounding the anniversary.

Cubans Outraged to Learn they Will Not be Reimbursed for US Visa Interview Fees

Cubans who spend more than 24 months outside of the country need permission to return, even to visit. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar/Mario Penton, Havana/Miami, 5 October 2017 — A few days after the US authorities announced the suspension of the issuance of visas at its embassy in Havana, the State Department has confirmed this Thursday to the Nuevo Herald newspaper that it will not reimburse the money Cubans paid for the visa process.

The 160 dollars (about six months average wages in Cuba) paid for the interview for a tourist, business or family visit visa will not be returned. The amount paid also cannot be credited to an application for a visa in the consulate of another country, but will remain valid for one year should the current diplomatic conflict between Cuba and the United States be resolved, according to the South Florida newspaper.

This Thursday’s news increases the despair among Cubans on both sides of the Florida Straits, who are already upset because, last Friday, the United States announced a 60% reduction of its personnel in Cuba and an indefinite cancellation of consular procedures. continue reading

“Okay, there are no visas, but they have to return the money to my family,” Cristina, a retiree waiting outside the Embassy to try to talk to an official, complained angrily.

Cuban citizens can “apply for [United States] visas at any [US] embassy or consulate in the world but must be physically present in that country,” the State Department said in a statement.

However, that option raises doubts on the island. “Who will give us a visa for another country?” asks Cristina. “In addition, that will cost me an arm and a leg between the plane ticket and the accommodation while I wait for the consulate to stamp my visa.”

In a note published on the US Embassy’s Facebook page, it is clarified that they are “delivering passports, visas and travel packages that have been previously issued,” but it does not give details on what will happen with the family reunification program and other visas to emigrate to the United States.

Moisés Salazar, a young American whose girlfriend is in Havana, is also mired in uncertainty. He cannot believe that after spending so many months in the process for his girlfriend to get a fiancé visa this misfortune has happened.

“I call the US Embassy in Cuba and I do not get information. I call the Cuban Embassy in Washington and I always get an answering machine and they never return the call. This is very ugly and very sad,” he says.

Salazar, who lives in North Carolina, has been in a two-year relationship with his Cuban partner and has visited the island many times. “I suffer from what I see happening. I love the Cuban people even if they are not my people and I know that this is going to be a very hard blow for all of them because it will take away the tourism that is an important source of income,” he laments.

The suspension of visas jeopardizes the migration agreements between the two countries that have been in force for more than 20 years, which require that at least 20,000 immigration permits be granted each year.

Miguel Ramón Salas from Las Tunas has lived in the United States for five years. From the distant state of Arizona he expresses his frustration with the political events that distance him from his wife and daughter on the island.

“From Cuba you can expect anything to happen, but not in this country. I paid for a service and if I cannot bring my family I will sue the State Department if necessary,” he says indignantly.

“In Cuba I have my wife and two children and I have invested a lot of money in bringing them to be here with me. The medical checkups alone cost $1,015, plus the formalization of documents and a lot of things that are necessary for them to leave the island,” he adds.

“My wife had an interview scheduled for the 18th and they changed it to November 27, supposedly because of the cyclone. The truth was they knew this was going to happen and they have been stringing us along,” he says.

Salas is disappointed by Florida politicians such as Senator Marco Rubio, who is of Cuban origin. “Politicians do not represent us. If Rubio had his family in Cuba he would not be so fervently supportive of the closing of the Embassy. Most of the Cubans who recently arrived have people on the other side and we want to reunite with our relatives,” he adds.

The social networks are filled with messages of anguish and the Embassy’s Facebook page is full of complaints from relatives who can’t get over their stupor at what happened. “I became a US citizen five years ago and now I want to know why they prevent my mother from coming to visit me,” commented an angry internet surfer.

Sandra Pino, who was waiting for her brother on the island to visit her soon, says it is important to remember that the US decision was made after several Embassy officials “became ill from unknown causes.”

“Some will be permanently damaged, so they will not be able to exercise their professions and will lose the ability to put food on the table,” she laments.

However, she believes that the US must reimburse the visa fees because “this is not Cuba and if you pay for something thay have to give it to you or give you the money back.”

“They Accused Me Of Being A Mercenary In Front Of My Neighbors”

Aimara Peña, a spiritual activist who will stand as a candidate for the elections. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 6 October 2017 – Last Tuesday was the day Aimara Peña had been working for more than a year, but nothing went as planned. The young activist was detained and threatened by State Security to prevent her being nominated as a delegate in Las Tozas, Sancti Spíritus. In addition, she was accused in front of the assembly of being a “mercenary,” who “does not represent the people of Cuba, but rather of the United States.”

Peña, 27, was arrested Tuesday afternoon as she walked home. “I was taken to the provincial unit of the Interior Ministry in the city of Sancti Spiritus,” she tells 14ymedio. During the arrest, three individuals – one in uniform and the other two in civilian clothes – warned her of the negative consequences if she persisted in her candidacy.

The young woman was informed by the three men that they would accuse her in front of her neighbors of “being in the service of an enemy plan,” threats that ended up being fulfilled. continue reading

In a recent interview with this newspaper, Peña spoke about her affiliation with the Network of Electoral Facilitators, formed by activists from different organizations whose main objective is to manage to get citizens with the intention of representing the interests of the population to occupy positions in the base structures of the Popular Power.

The tension around Peña grew as October 3rd approached, the date planned for the nomination assembly for candidates to be delegates to the People’s Power in district 34 of the municipality of Espirituano, scheduled for 8:00 in the evening. The presidents of the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution (CDR) took care of calling the voters to the meeting but never knocked on her door.

The announcement of the meeting was made only one day in advance and only verbally, hence the attendance at the Assembly ended up being poor: only 57 people out of the 150 with voting rights showed up. The meeting was attended by about twenty “guests” who interacted with the Communist Party (PCC) militants in the area and looked at Peña as if she were “a dangerous enemy,” she reports.

The young woman had dreamed for months of “helping to see the role of the constituency delegate as something truly important” because “at the present time, its functions are very limited.” In that interview, Peña had no doubt that her name would make it to the ballot. “All that I have worked for will bear fruit,” she confided.

Instead of her dreams, starting hours before the assembly met police were stationed at several points of Las Tozas and two patrol cars blocked the entrance to the community. The atmosphere was oppressive and “the comings and goings of strangers in the streets was threatening,” Peña says. However, the activist decided to go ahead, although two neighbors who supported her candidacy were visited by State Security who threatened them, telling them not to attend the meeting.

The assembly began with an audio of Fidel Castro’s voice describing his concept of Revolution, and the organizers referred to a “political scenario in which the current elections for the Popular Power should be taken as a “revolutionary commitment.”

Before the small quorum, the name of Aimara Peña was the third of the five proposed when the nomination process was opened. Immediately after being mentioned, a PCC activist argued that the young woman could not be nominated because she was a “mercenary,” who “represents not the people of Cuba, but rather of the United States.”

Several PCC militants, including an uncle of the young woman, demanded a show of hands to decide if Peña could exercise her right to be voted on by the district’s voters. This action violated the Electoral Law, which does not contemplate submitting the right to be nominated to a vote.

Eight neighbors refused to raise their hand for that aberration, but the rest seconded the proposal of the militants in complicity with the violation of the electoral rules.

The act did not even record Peña’s proposal as a candidate. At the end someone shouted Viva Fidel! and the secretary who prepared the record refused to give her a copy.

One Site, Many Voices (or How the Hurricane Was Followed from Social Networks) / Regina Coyula

Líber Barrueta’s Facebook Page — Click on image to connect

Regina Coyula, 26 September 2017 — It is an era of false news and Líber Barrueta, a Cuban-Swede based in Miami has a website of this fake news where he sarcastically refers to the way the press tackles the news. But neither the construction of an underground transport system in Havana, nor Tony Castro talking about the uniforms of the baseball team, nor even the new customs regulations that have been the subject of so much ink, have generated as much traffic for Líber as he has had in his personal account on the social networks between the days of the 9th and 10th of September.

Those were days Cubans will not easily forget. Irma would remind us of what a powerful hurricane is capable of. Líber, who has a large number of friends on Facebook, where he creates and shares motivational videos, began to share information on the weather phenomenon on his wall. continue reading

But the information was always delayed, waiting for the television or radio to say something. On seeing his updates, a friend residing in another state called him and recommended the Windy.com app, which allows you to follow the weather events in real time.

When he saw how complete the information was, Líber installed the app on his computer and on his phone and began to study it, because his knowledge of meteorology is that of any ordinary Cuban who has watched Doctor Jose Rubiera on television. Necessity led him to understand graphics, translation speeds, path models, and how to interpret the hectopascals (units of pressure); a five minute intensive and self-managed course of meteorology.

When Irma began her scourge over the territory of Cuba, Líber transmitted uninterruptedly for four hours supported by Windy and specialized bulletins. And this produced a reaction that illustrates the measure of the power of social networks: from different parts of the world, Cubans and foreigners began to interact on Líber’s wall, either to ask specific questions about the storm, to inquire about places and people threatened by the hurricane or to share images of the affected areas. From points as dissimilar as Scotland, Russia, Angola, and from Cuba itself, they went to Líber’s wall to construct, in this informal but detailed way, the vicissitudes of the event.

After a break he transmitted for four more hours, then slept a bit, and then transmitted for another two hours until he found himself without electricity or an internet connection. Maybe he did not have too many “thumbs up” (likes), because the moment was not for that, but he received more than 50,000 visits, 1,000 comments, and stopped counting after 300 private messages. New friend requests coming after this experience exceeded Facebook’s capacity for a personal account.

Still touched by the scare by the cyclone and the astonishment over the reception of his reports, this Bachelor in Education in the specialty of Philosophy and History, confesses that he had never felt a special interest in meteorology, other than living in an area marked by tropical cyclones, but after the extraordinary experience of Irma, which began with an eagerness to keep his friends at all latitudes informed with  fresh and real information continuously updated for 10 hours, he has become motivated to know more about this subject. Líber is aware that many of those who visited his wall were not able to receive real-time information from Miami and much less from Cuba.

Líber Barrueta states that without the help of his partner Katya Moreira and without the support of her family it would have been impossible to report, comment, connect, answer, all at the same time at a frenetic pace. His mother-in-law, who at first did not understand what he was doing, became a collaborator. It does not matter that in the family they believed that, not being a specialist, it would not be possible to do it well. “People are used to it,” he says, “and this is a very widespread idea, that only what the traditional press publishes is valid, and that is the case in many countries. Little by little they understand that a vote of confidence must be given to the citizen.”

Sale of Mattresses Begins for Hurricane Irma Victims in Havana

Distribution of mattresses and household products in Havana to the victims of Hurricane Irma. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 4 October 2017 — This week the government began the sale of mattresses and household supplies for those affected by Hurricane Irma along Havana’s coastline. At least two points in the city, one for the municipality of Centro Habana and another for Plaza de la Revolución, offer the “module for victims” for a price close to 900 Cuban pesos (CUP).

At the El Castillito recreation center, near the Malecón, a package is sold including towels, sheets, an electric coffee maker, casseroles and an induction cooker at a price of 453 CUP. A double foam rubber mattress is also distributed for a cost of 454 CUP.

Prices, although much lower than in stores that sell in convertible pesos (CUC), are still inaccessible to retirees or those living only on their official salary, which in Cuba is about 740 CUP per month, according to the National Bureau of Statistics and Information (ONEI). continue reading

The basic products that are on sale for those affected are offered at a 50% price reduction, according to recent announcement in the official press. The merchandise that is sold in the capital comes mostly from the warehouses of the national currency (CUP) stores managed by the Ministry of Internal Commerce (MINCIN).

The mattresses lack branded labels or logos, but a vendor assured this newspaper that they have been manufactured by the Dujo Copo Flex joint venture, which has operated since 2001 on the island and allocates more than 50% of its production to the tourist industry.

This Wednesday dozens of people crowded into the ground floor of El Castillito to buy some products that are only sold to those who were previously placed on the registry of victims. “This list was prepared by social workers in the affected areas,” says a worker who distributes the goods.

“The affected people come here with their identity cards and we check that they are on the list. If they are, then they can buy the modules,” the employee says. “Many have come today to say they lost their mattresses but we are prohibited from selling anything to anyone who does not appear on this list,” she added.

Given the extent of the damage to the north coast of the capital, many residents in the area lost their appliances, some of their furniture or suffered serious damage to the structure of their homes. Across the country an estimated 158,554 homes were affected.

The powerful Hurricane Irma, which struck the Cuban north coast from September 7 to 10, left a toll of ten dead along with heavy damages in infrastructure and agriculture.

Carrying a mattress off the specially scheduled bus for hurricane victims. (14ymedio)

Among those in line at El Castillito the restlessness is great. “I hope I get in because I’ve been sleeping on the floor since the hurricane ruined my mattress,” says Roxana, a mother of two children and a resident in the vicinity of the Cohíba hotel. The woman says she “collected money” from several members of the family to buy the modules.

“The price is difficult to pay for people who have been left with nothing,” complains an elderly woman who also waits in line. The retiree believes that “this should be given away or given free to families with fewer resources,” because “many of the things coming into the country are donations.”

An employee monitoring the line rushes to correct the lady. “What is being sold here has nothing to do with donations,” he says. “These products were already in Cuba before Irma happened or they are assembled here like the induction cookers.”

The manager of the Alba store on Infanta Street confirms this version by telephone. “Right now we do not have mattresses available because they have taken them all to sell to the victims,” s​​he explains via telephone to this newspaper.

The Government has scheduled buses to leave from some points in the area to take the victims to El Castillito and later bring them to their homes with the purchased modules.

However, some lament that the route is not flexible enough and in many cases leaves them far from their homes.

Cuba has received donations and humanitarian aid sent by governments, friendship associations, companies, non-governmental organizations, universities, and religious institutions, according to a statement released last Friday by the National Defense Council.

Venezuela, the Dominican Republic, Japan, Spain, Suriname, China, Bolivia, Colombia and a number of United Nations agencies have sent material aid, mainly food, construction materials and hygiene, as well as cash.

The Cold War Returns to Cuba / Iván García

Lining up in front of the US embassy in Havana. See note below.

Ivan Garcia, 3 October 2017 — “The worst thing after a hurricane is that the food is lost,” says high school teacher Liana, 37, after making the rounds of several farmer’s markets and stores in the old part of Havana.

“There are no eggs in the whole city, not even a package of hotdogs. More then 100 medications are missing from the pharmacies, and to top it off, Trump orders the closure of the embassy. Those of us who have plans to emigrate to the United States, we see Cuba as a mousetrap,” she says, summarizing her frustrations.

It seems that a lot of time has passed since that historic afternoon of 17 December 2014, when both nations emerged from the trenches they dug during the Cold War. continue reading

At supersonic speed, people went from the greatest optimism to the deepest indifference. The Castro autocracy, with its pathological fear of authentic reforms that would favor the people, did not undertake structural changes in the economy, nor did they accept Washington’s gifts to private entrepreneurs.

The military junta that rules Cuba did not disconnect the chip of confrontation and was convinced that Barack Obama’s strategy was to annihilate with white gloves the ineffective communist system.

The White House’s new strategy had more friends than enemies. Although a segment of Cuban exile and local dissidence considered that Obama gave much in exchange for nothing. That on the island a dictatorship still prevailed and the repression against those who think differently was increased.

“Cuba does not have to change, Cuba has already changed with Fidel Castro’s Revolution in 1959,” said Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez. Raul Castro’s game was to buy time and accept from the United States only those businesses that favored the capitalist corporations of the State. Zero deals with Google, “because they affect our digital sovereignty.”

Private workers can not be allowed to receive Yankee credits, because if they get rich, they can endanger the state of affairs. Authorize ferries? No way, because then Cubans living in the United States would enter Cuba with more than 200 pounds of stuff and the “hard currency collection stores” (as they are officially named), with prices at the level of Qatar, wouldn’t be able to sell so much as a single screw.

The regime only accepts cash. The strategy is to spend dollars on the island and benefit the olive-green (military) business network that runs all the businesses that generate hard currency.

If Raul Castro had been reasonable and taken advantage of the opportunities offered by Obama, the electoral victory of Trump would not have caught him with his pants down. He misplayed his cards. He thought he would continue floating in the cloud of the gatopardismo* with the imminent triumph of Hillary Clinton.

But Trump, the unpredictable New York tycoon, surprised both Tyrians and Trojans. And now, the regime of Castro II is forced to play on the defensive. With nothing to grab on to.

Russia, is no longer the Soviet Union. China is communist only in theory: in practice it wants business in exchange for money. Venezuela is on fire. And in America First by Donald Trump, Cuba does not offer profitability.

Trump, a leader who uses Twitter as a hunting rifle, a priori is winning the game against Castro. And, incidentally,he kills two birds with one stone.

He is pleased with the conservative wing of the Cuban exile and puts a stop to the immigration blackmail of his late brother, who in 1994 forced Bill Clinton to sign an agreement with Cuba for 20,000 annual visas in exchange for curbing the illegal exodus of the rafters.

The Cuban people, as always, are the losers. It is true that it is a sovereign decision of the United States to protect its officials. But the plot of “Ear-gate” sounds like a lousy Cold War espionage movie.

There are too many unanswered questions. Aurelio, 28, who was hoping to emigrate to Miami under the family reunification agreement, feels that the Trump government has betrayed him.

“We Cubans are alone. I really did not imagine that Marco Rubio and the Cuban-American members of congress were going to forsake those who were legally immigrating. An agreement is an agreement. I hope Trump will reconsider, “says Aurelio.

I doubt it. Because Trump sees that Clinton agreement, like Obama’s legacy, as a bad agreement. The US president believes he can make a better deal.

Cubans on the Island are hostages of a military autocracy that will not unleash the country’s internal productive forces, puts the brakes on private work on a large scale and transforms citizens into zombies.

He is also a hostage of the most conservative wing of the Cuban exile, who from their seats in the Capitol, as a weapon of pressure to overthrow Castroism, utilize a set of prohibitions that affect Cubans on the island who must drink their coffee without milk, while six decades of history has verified that these pressures have not contributed to bringing democracy to the country.

They are constantly shooting themselves in the foot. Neither the Obama formula nor Trump’s prescription will prevent the repression of dissent. In a rapture of civility, Raul Castro will not bet on democracy.

The pressure cooker theory will not work by remote control. Cubans are more likely to throw themselves into the sea on anything that floats, than they are to go out into the streets to shout freedom. Dictatorships have complex dynamics. Congenital inefficiency corrodes them like cancer. They fall by their own weight.

The dream of the hardline exile, of an indignant sea of people taking the Palace of the Revolution by storm, while on the other side of the puddle the professional political agitators celebrate with champagne, is just that, a dream.

Most ordinary Cubans are tired of everything. Since they have no vocation to martyrdom, they choose to emigrate. And watch from Miami, in colors and high definition, the longed for “riots in the streets of Havana.”

Cubans can be accused of being cowards. But not fools.

Photo note: Every day, from Monday to Friday, a line similar to the one in the photo forms as Cubans line up for consular procedures related to temporary trips for personal reasons or work in the United States or be permanently reunited with their families. But from the measures taken on September 29 by the US State Department, for an indefinite time the granting of visas is stopped and the current number of US diplomats and officials accredited in Cuba will be reduced by 60 percent. To those drastic measures is added an alert so that citizens of the United States will not travel to the Island. The new tightness or cold war on this occasion was motivated by alleged acoustic attacks that between 2016 and 2017 have damaged the hearing of and caused other health problems for US and Canadian diplomats in Havana. Although the United States is investigating what has happened and has not formally accused Cuba of being behind the mysterious sonic aggressions, nor has it shown any evidence, it decided to take measures that will affect the families of the almost two million Cubans living on the other side and, in general, to the march of relations between Cuba and the United States, reestablished on December 17, 2014 (Tania Quintero).

*Translator’s note: “Gatopardismo” is a term that means “changing everything so that nothing changes.” The term comes from the novel “Gattopardo” by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa.

Thousands of Cubans Despair Over Suspension of Visas to USA

Older people came to the embassy looking for news. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Zunilda Mata, Havana, 3 October 2017 — Communicating by phone with the US embassy in Havana has become an impossible task. From all parts of the island thousands of people are trying to find out what will happen to the consular interviews they had scheduled before the indefinite suspension of the issuing of visas by the embassy in Havana.

María Encarnación, known as Caruca, sunk into hopelessness when her daughter called her to give her the news. “My blood pressure went up because I had my consular appointment scheduled for October and now no one knows how to give me an explanation,” this retired 67-year-old tells 14ymedio.

After several hours of attempts, Caruca managed to speak with an employee of the US consulate, which upset her state of mind still further. “All operations are canceled until further notice,” the voice warned on the other end of the phone line. “This could be solved in a week or it could take years, we do not know,” she was told. continue reading

The cancellation of consular activity returns the imposing building that houses the embassy to a condition similar to that before 1977, at which time an agreement between Fidel Castro and Jimmy Carter allowed it to function as a US Interests Section in Havana. Since then, tens of thousands of people have applied for visas at its windows.

During the 2016 fiscal year, the United States approved visa applications for 14,291 Cubans, who took trips related to family, business, exchange or cultural and sporting events, among other categories. A much lower figure than the 22,797 visas granted in the same period of 2015 and the 41,001 in 2014.

A spokeswoman for the State Department explains the drastic reduction as an effect of “the extension, from six months to five years of the validity of the B2 visa for Cuban nationals.” However, since last January, when Barack Obama eliminated the wet foot/dry foot policy – which allowed Cubans who arrived on US soil without or without a visa to stay – many feared visa restrictions were imminent.

“I almost fell over when I heard what they told me on the phone. So I decided to come to Havana because I’ve been thinking that something like this would happen,” explains Caruca. She borrowed money, rented a private car from Los Palacios, in Pinar del Rio, where she lives with her husband and her son who remains in Cuba, to get to the capital as soon as possible.

“I was outside the embassy at dawn to wait for someone to come out and show their face,” she said Monday, in the small park where visa applicants have congregated for years. The place, still showing the traces of the wreckage left by Hurricane Irma, is no longer an area where hope and advice are offered “to succeed in the interview.”

Now, those who wait have a distressed look, trembling voices and their mobiles ringing constantly with calls from Miami, New York or Houston. “What do you want me to do mi’ja, if it can’t be done it can’t be done,” a man who said he had traveled from Jatibonico, in Ciego de Avila, shouted into his cell phone.

“It says that we have to check the website of the embassy, ​​that all the information will be there,” he says, his voice getting even louder. The sun burns and some of those waiting take shelter under the shade of the trees, others take off their shoes while sitting on the benches. “This is going to be a while so better get comfortable,” he says.

After eleven o’clock in the morning, a Cuban official leaves the US consulate and is surrounded by people anxious for news. “All the interviews are canceled,” she repeated emphatically. A man wants to explain that his case is urgent because his brother has been admitted to a Texas hospital and this is perhaps his last chance to say goodbye.

The cancellation of the interviews puts at risk the number of visas that the consular section is supposed deliver each year in the Island. According to the migratory agreements signed between both countries in 1994 and 1995, the US must stamp 20,000 annual immigrant visas for Cuban applicants.

“Don’t you guys listen?” the employee repeats. The phrase makes Caruca’s blood pressure shoot up, while the most equanimous of the group start to sweat and the voice of a woman breaks as she just tries to say, “No, it can’t be like this, there has to be a mistake.”

One woman, who has arrived from Havana’s Marianao municipality and had an interview scheduled for Monday afternoon, complains, “I want to know if they are going to give me back the money,” demanding repayment for the appointment fee paid by her family in the United States, but the official has no answers and again recommends to consult the web.

A small business that will fill out the visa application forms. (14ymedio)

For the surrounding businesses the news has been a blow. “We have gone out of business overnight,” says Diosdado, who helps his wife and daughter fill out the complex visa application forms. “Normally it was non-stop here, one customer after another and now nobody is coming,” he protests as he gestures to his empty room.

Some families in the area also subsisted on renting rooms to visa applicants. Some of their customers continue to arrive as they come to find out the status of their visa applications, explains the owner of a house with two rooms for rent, but “soon no one will come.”

Others have taken advantage of the stampede of Americans leaving to upgrade their furniture, appliances and food supplies. US officials returning home have held ‘yard sales’ in their homes offering all kinds of goods, with news of the events spread by email between Cuban employees of the US embassy and their friends and acquaintances.

“I bought a drill and a refrigerator,” says an embassy maintenance worker who learned of one of the sales in a mansion of Miramar. “I also managed to buy some chairs for the dining room and a battery lamp for when I don’t have electricity.” Although everything was acquired at a good price, the man regrets that now he will be out of work.

“Working with the yumas was good because they are very respectful, they give away many things and also the conditions of work were excellent,” says the employee who preferred anonymity and who says that his work helped him to get a visa when he wanted to and spend some vacation time in Orlando, Florida.

Now, the building where he worked for more than a decade has slowly been vacated. “Before the announcement on Friday many officials had already gone and this week the stampede will be great,” he says. “The consulate is one of the areas with the greatest reduction in staff and very few want to stay until everything is clear.”

The Cuban government says it has nothing to do with the acoustic attacks suffered by 21 US diplomats. In the official media the issue has been handled as something of minor importance, although on the street people aren’t talking about anything else.

A coffee vendor approaches the park a few yards from the Embassy and offers his merchandise in small plastic cups. “For the moment I keep selling because a lot of people are coming to find out about their interviews, but I do not know how long this will last.” A few yards away, the Cuban policemen who guard the diplomatic headquarters seem more tense than normal.

“They are afraid that this area will fill up with people complaining and protesting,” says the coffee vendor. “There is nothing that annoys a Cuban more than a cancelled trip,” he says. “Cubans can pass on quiet needs, lose their home in a hurricane and remain silent, but when it comes to a visa, they shout,” he reflects.

A woman of 60 asks for two coffees. She grabs them and relates that she has travelled 14 hours from Manzanillo, in Granma province. She had an interview scheduled on Monday for a residence visa for reunification with her son. Her plans have been ruined and her son insists to her, on the phone, that she approach the Embassy. “They don’t let you, I can’t,” she answers in a sob.

Afternoon falls and some are ready to stay until they receive a response. The people in the park, once envied for being close to a trip abroad, are now a bundle of frustrations and fears.

Havana’s Malecon Returns to Life

People and cars return to the Malecon. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Marcelo Hernandez, Havana, 2 October 2017 — After 23 days of closure, Havana’s Malecón has reopened to the passage of pedestrians and vehicles. The “longest bench in the world” was filled this Sunday with hundreds of people eager to recover a routine interrupted by Hurricane Irma. The coastal stretch has seen some private restaurants reopen and informal businesses return.

Richard Consuegra, a traveling musician, has returned “the soul to the body.” He approaches the wall with his guitar and improvises all kinds of songs, from the classic Dos Gardenias by Isolina Carrillo, to some lighter ballads by Roberto Carlos. But tonight the musical theme that everyone wants to hear goes through other channels. continue reading

“Ah ah ah ah until the Malecón dries up,” chant a group of young people near the corner where the oceanfront promenade meets 23rd street. The chorus is somewhat sarcastic, because instead of the ocean retiring, what happened in early September was the sea’s invasion of the city, but that does not stop the young people from repeating the refrain from Jacob Forever.

The vast majority of those arriving after sunset see the reopening of the area as a reunion with an old friend and celebrate being able to relieve the heat with a fresh breeze coming off the sea. Abundant drinks, fans, complete families and vendors of goodies abound.

“Peanuts and popcorn,” a lady proclaims with a grocery cart crammed with groceries and bags. The wheels of the improvised commercial vehicle are getting stuck in some cracks still evident on the sidewalk. “I hope the cement has not been stolen,” the woman points out, referring to the diversion (i.e. theft) of resources that affects many state construction projects.

Fortunately, sitting on the wall is still free in a city where everyday prices for entertainment diverge more and more from wages. “People said that now that it was repaired they would not allow anyone to sit there, but I see that is a lie,” shouts a young man with a glass of rum in his hand, fully determined to stay facing the waves until dawn.

Tourists have also returned and behind them a whole network of businesses. “Do you want to eat in a good restaurant ?” a man asks a European couple in English as he offers business cards from a nearby site, one of the few private coastal restaurants that has managed to rebuild after the devastation of the hurricane.

The insistent promoter shows them some pages with images of the dishes, announces enticing prices and accompanies the couple across the avenue to the restaurant. The traffic has returned in full force, as if every vehicle in Havana had been waiting for this day to drive along the Malecón, forcing the group to wait several minutes to reach the other side.

San Lazaro Street, which until Sunday afternoon was a continuous traffic jam, looks more relaxed. “We couldn’t deal with it here even in the middle of the night,” says a neighbor who lives in the block between Belascoaín and Gervasio. “No one could cross this street because all the Malecon traffic came here.”

She complains not only about the days of traffic jams. She fears that the speed in repairing the coastal avenue and its wall will not be echoed in the reconstruction of the private homes affected by the floods. “In the news, they said the initial schedule was two months but they reduced it to 23 days,” she says.

“Now we have to see if those of us who have lost even the floor under our feet are going to see such efficiency,” she says, as she walks inside a house where water traces on the walls still recall the drama experienced and where the floor tiles are missing in several places.

In the block of Primera Street between C and D in the Vedado district, the panorama is not very different from the one left by Irma in Centro Habana. In recent years several restaurants and private clubs flourished there, enjoying the privilege of being located in front of the famous waterfront wall: El Tablazo, El 3D de Robertico and Las Baucherías.

Now, with their awnings missing, their windows broken and suffering the aftermath of the invasion of the sea, they are trying to recover in the midst of this “dead time” without customers. “The most difficult thing is to get the materials,” laments one of the employees who has gone from being a waiter to being a carpenter and mason.

Around the corner, the restaurant Mar Adentro is one of the few that was able open after 19 days of being closed for repairs. “We lost some pictures that were on the wall when the water rose to five feet,” says the employee who welcomes customers at the door. “We have not yet taken account of the losetbusiness, but here we are, fighting.”

A few blocks from that area, the state has improvised kiosks with light foods at low prices. Bread with ham and cheese or with roasted pork, little boxes with chicken, as well as soup and rice with sausage. The lines move quickly.

Candido, 78, waits to buy some food. “I’m throwing the last few pesitos that I have left on this,” he tells 14ymedio. “In my house we still can’t cook because the whole kitchen was damaged and we have spent all this time buying prepared food,” he says.

The retiree feels like a light has opened at the end of the tunnel of his anguish. “The Malecon is already open and that is my main source of sustenance,” he says. “Tomorrow, as soon as the sun comes up, I’ll go with my fishing rod and catch something, for sure.” The wall that provides some with customers and others with entertainment, gives Candido food.

Waiting For Answers

Given the seriousness of these incidents and their repercussions, a detailed public statement from the Cuban authorities is urgent.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio Havana, 2 October 2017 — In recent days Cubans have struggled to take in the news of the reduction of US embassy staff in Havana and the indefinite suspension the processing of visas for Cubans desiring to travel to that country. The diplomatic thaw announced in December 2014 by both governments is currently experiencing a glaciation that could worsen in the coming days with new measures from Washington.

The decisions taken by the administration of President Donald Trump respond to the acoustic attacks that severely affected 21 American diplomats, incidents that Cubans are aware of only through scattered phrases spoken by some officials and speculation generated by information filtered through the press. Cubans are waiting for the Plaza of the Revolution to provide clear answers regarding the responsibility for what took place. continue reading

So far, Raúl Castro has not addressed the Cuban people directly to explain what occurred on the island targeting those Americans. In a country where excessive surveillance violates citizens’ freedom and large resources are allocated from the national budget to State Security, it is difficult to believe that something like these acoustic attacks took place without official knowledge.

Washington has reminded Havana that, under the Vienna Convention, Cuba is responsible for the security of diplomatic and consular personnel deployed in its territory.

Given the seriousness of these incidents and their repercussions, stranding thousands of families on both sides of the Florida Straits pending the resumption of the issuing of visas, the Cuban authorities are urged to provide a detailed and public statement.

In a democratic country the media would have turned all their efforts to the search of those responsible for these acts of extreme gravity. Here, in the face of the silence of the Government, it is unlikely that the official press will provide truthful and realistic answers about what happened and put an end to the mystery about the origin of these attacks.

It is striking that, so far, official newspapers have merely repeated the official statements of Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez while ridiculing the articles appearing in the foreign press about the saga of acoustic attacks. Despite the high number of engineers who have graduated on the island in the last half century, none has given an expert opinion on these sonic aggressions.

This time, the Cuban government will not be able to make the news go away in time as it did with the ship Chong Chon Gan, which was intercepted in Panama in 2013 while transporting a hidden arsenal from Cuba to North Korea, violating the restrictions imposed by United Nations.

Times are different now and Cubans expect answers.

State Security Threatens To Prosecute Instigators Of A Protest

Members of the Pedro Luis Boitel Party for Democracy. (@felixncuba)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 29 September 2017 — State Security cited and threatened three opponents they the would be charged with the crimes of instigation to commit crimes and public disorder after participating two weeks ago in a protest in Carlos Rojas, a town of about 6,000 inhabitants located in the municipality of Jovellanos, in Matanzas province.

Armando Abascal Serrano, Dianelis Moreno Soto and Aloy Betancourt Méndez, belonging to the Pedro Luis Boitel Party for Democracy, were cited on Thursday to appear at the police station.

The activists were questioned by several officers, including captain Miladys Sotolongo Martínez, and State Security officers, Dario Torres Barrios and Dayron Rivera. continue reading

According to what Lady in White Dianelis Moreno Soto told 14ymedio, at the Jovellanos station the officials told the opponents that they were “opening an investigative process” and they would be prosecuted for “being repeat offenders.”

The protest occurred on Friday, September 15, when about 500 people demonstrated in the park of the town of Carlos Rojas to protest because they had no water or electricity in the days following Hurricane Irma.

Dianelis Moreno explained that the spontaneous demonstration “lasted just under an hour and there were no arrests or police presence.” She says that her name reached State Security through the denunciations of other neighbors, although the presence of the opposition members was also widely reported in independent media.

The demonstrators say that after the protests that night, the electricity service was restored in the community.

Aloy Betancourt Méndez, Dianelis’s husband, told this newspaper that the police summons was received one hour in advance of the time she was ordered to appear, and that other protest participants will be summoned “soon.”

Betancourt said that in the interview the officials insisted that the three summoned sign a statement and said they would be prosecuted. “However, they did not give us any official paper so it is a threat, but we will have to wait and see what happens,” he says.

“The Man With the Flag” Marks Five Months Detention

Daniel Llorente has been detained for five months since being arrested during the May 1 parade in Havana. (Courtesy)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 1 October 2017 — To avoid losing his sanity, Daniel Llorente sweeps the floor of the psychiatric hospital in Havana with a broom. Llorente trained in automotive mechanics in East Germany, and five months ago the activist was arrested while waving the American flag in the May Day parade in the Plaza of the Revolution. Even today, neither the court nor the doctors dare to confirm the date on which he will be released.

“Cleaning allows me to occupy my mind with something,” comments the “man with the flag” about the work routine that he performs in the Commander Eduardo Bernabé Ordaz Hospital, known as Mazorra. “They do not let me leave this small area or throw out the garbage,” he laments. The spontaneous activist fears for his safety in the Giralt room, intended for the convicted, and where he says he has seen “everything.” continue reading

After an onerous arrest in front of the platform where Raul Castro was waiting for the workers’ parade, Llorente spent a month in the detention center known as 100 and Aldabó. On May 30 of this year he was transferred to the psychiatric hospital under an alleged “post-criminal measure” issued by a court and is awaiting trial.

His only way to communicate with the press has been by phone. His son, Eliezer Llorente, visits the hospital twice a week and has become his only contact with the world.

“They tell me here that my situation is in on ‘stand by’ because my case is being reviewed,” he tells 14ymedio. So far Llorente has not been accused of any crime and claims to have signed a document where he was exonerated of charges of “public disorder and resistance” for the May 1 incident.

The “independent opponent” promotes the diplomatic rapprochement between Cuba and the United States, but in recent weeks relations between Washington and Havana have gone downhill. This Friday the administration of Donald Trump announced the indefinite suspension of visas from the US embassy in Havana and the exit of 60% of the personnel.

It is bad news for Llorente, who asked last June to “be immediately expatriated” to the US, a demand driven by his desire to live in the country he considers “the greatest defender of human rights, hope, freedom, justice, brotherhood and the pursuit of happiness.”

He had already shown his sympathy for the nation of the north in May of 2016 when he made a similar protest to celebrate the arrival of the Adonia Cruise Line to Havana. At that time he was also arrested and detained for 24 hours.

On his hands, Daniel Llorente has tattooed the flags of Cuba and the United States. (Courtesy)

Although the US government denounced his latest detention, the case has been losing its prominence in the media as other priorities have displaced it, such as the acoustic attack on dozens of US diplomats.

More than two months ago, the doctor who attends Llorente announced that he could leave the psychiatric center on weekends. The news filled this man who worked as a private taxi driver before his arrest with enthusiasm. Shortly afterward, the psychiatrist told him that “these people” warned her not to give him a pass, a reference to State Security.

The specialist has assured Llorente that he does not suffer a mental illness and there is no reason to keep him hospitalized. Neither has he received any therapy or drugs for his alleged psychiatric disorder.

In an attempt to assert his rights Llorente has held several hunger strikes in the hospital and has written letters to political and religious leaders to denounce a situation that he calls “unjust.”

For the moment and until the hospital and the court agree, Llorente seems trapped in the script of a horror film. “All it takes is a hospital paper that says I’m fine to be able to dictate the end of this [detention] measure,” he says. While anxiously awaiting this document, he dedicates himself to sweeping the floor of the psychiatric hospital in Havana.

US Suspends Issuing Of Visas In Havana And Withdraws 60% Of Its Embassy Staff

Note: Our apologies for not having a subtitled version of this video

EFE / 14ymedio, Havana, 29 September 2017 — On Friday, the United States suspended indefinitely the issuance of visas to Cubans from its embassy in Havana and asked Americans not to travel to Cuba, insisting that it can not guarantee their security after the “attacks” suffered by at least 21 Americans stationed in the Island.

“Routine visa operations are suspended indefinitely,” at the US embassy in Havana, a senior State Department official, who asked to remain anonymous, told reporters.

Another spokeswoman for the State Department said that the family reunification program will also be affected, as the issuance of immigrant and nonimmigrant visas will be suspended.

The announcement by the US government has caught both Cubans living on the island and those living abroad by surprise. “No one understands what is happening,” says Adrián Núñez, a Cuban who arrived in Miami only two years ago and was engaged in the process to apply for a visa for his mother who lives in Cuba. continue reading

“We are looking at the possibility that people will be able to apply for visas at the embassy or consulates outside Cuba in other countries, but we have not made the final preparations yet,” said the State Department official.

The measure is a consequence of the State Department’s decision to withdraw all of its non-essential personnel from its embassy in Cuba, which accounts for “more than half” of its officials there, in response to alleged “acoustic” attacks on some of its diplomats on the island, for which the responsible party or parties are still unknown.

“Given that the safety of our personnel is at risk and that we can not identify the cause of the attacks, we believe that US citizens could also be at risk and warn them not to travel to Cuba,” said the official, who said some the attacks have occurred in hotels.

Despite this measure, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Friday that the United States will continue to work with the Cuban government in the investigation into the “attacks of unknown nature” suffered by its diplomats in Havana after announcing the withdrawal of more than half of its personnel in Cuba.

“Cuba has told us that it will continue to investigate these attacks, and we will continue to cooperate with them in this effort,” Tillerson said in a statement.

However, on Friday the Cuban government called the decision of the US administration “precipitous” and Josefina Vidal, Director General of the Department of the United States at the Cuban Ministry of Foreign Affairs told the official media that the decision will affect the bilateral relationship, but said at the same time the Cuban Government will continue to engage in “active cooperation between the authorities of both countries.”

“For full clarification of the facts, it will be essential to have and to be able to count on the participation and effective involvement of the US authorities,” said Vidal, who broke the silence that the Cuban authorities maintained throughout the day in response to the decision announced by the US Department of State.

According to Tillerson, the decision to reduce the presence of officials in Havana has been taken to ensure the safety of the personnel, while maintaining that diplomatic relations with Cuba and the work done by the United States on the island will continue to be guided by the national security interests and foreign policy of the United States.

“Until the Cuban government can guarantee the safety of our diplomats in Cuba, our embassy will be reduced to emergency personnel, to minimize the number of diplomats who risk being exposed” to possible attacks, said the diplomatic chief.

Due to the reduction of personnel, the services provided by the US embassy in Havana will be limited to those that are “urgent,” according to the US administration.

The State Department has also decided to limit the travel of its officials to Cuba to “those involved in the investigation” of “attacks” on diplomatic personnel.

“The United States will not send official delegations to Cuba or schedule bilateral meetings in Cuba at the moment,” said the official, who added that meetings with the Cuban government could be scheduled in the United States.

Those measures will remain “until Cuba can guarantee the safety of US personnel” on the island, he added.

The United States does not directly blame the events on the Cuban government, at least for the moment, but it does believe that it is the responsibility of the executive, Raúl Castro, “to take all appropriate steps to prevent attacks” on US diplomats on the island.