Tania Bruguera Brings Viewers to Tears With Her Work on Immigration in the Tate Modern

The exhibition takes place in the Turbinas room of the Museum of Contemporary Art in London. (Tate Modern)

14ymedio biggerEFE via 14ymedio, London, 1 October 2018 — Tania Bruguera brings her viewers to tears with her work about the victims of the crisis of immigration that opened this Monday at the Tate Modern in London. it will be on until 24 February 2019. The work of the artist, who lives between Havana and New York, has many surprising elements and tries to make people think about the migratory crisis through several “furtive interventions” that the visitor finds when walking through the Turbinas room of the contemporary art museum.

The title of the work is the number of immigrants who traveled from one country to another in the last year, plus those who have died to date, a changing figure that will not be displayed on the event posters, but will be stamped daily on the wrists of the visitors to the gallery. Today’s number was 10,142,926.

Other “actions” aimed at provoking reflection include a room in which visitors are brought to tears when they come into contact with an organic compound that irritates the eyes, with which the artist wants to force “an emotional response.” continue reading

Bruguera has also arranged the portrait of a Syrian immigrant on the floor of the Turbinas room, which is only activated through the heat generated if several people touch it at the same time.

The artist has involved the activist community of the London neighborhood where the Tate is located for this work, and their names will appear for several months in one of the rooms in the center of London.

The work presented today also has some sound effects, made in collaboration with the artist Steve Goodman or Kode9, which give the visitor a feeling of uneasiness or the sense that something is about to happen.


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Fifty Years Ago, the Cuban Government Was Silent Before the Tlatelolco Massacre

This October 2 marks the 50th anniversary of the Tlatelolco massacre. (EFE / File)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 2 October 2018 — 1968 was a tumultuous year in Cuba. The Revolutionary Offensive that had swept away the last vestiges of private enterprise was followed by Fidel Castro’s support for the Soviet tanks in Prague and the complicit silence of the Plaza of the Revolution in the face of the Tlatelolco massacre in Mexico, half a century ago this 2 October.

For many Mexicans who were activists on the left, this silence led them to distance themselves from the Cuban model. The disappointment was stronger among those whose admiration towards the young Revolution had prevented them from seeing the close ties that connected the Cuban Government with Mexico’s Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI).

After the massacre, the Cuban official press avoided any headlines that discomfited members of the PRI and no diplomatic condemnation came from the leaders’ lips. Nor was single report published in the Cuban press about the people who were machine-gunned, detained or disappeared through the violence of the police and the Mexican army. Long years had to pass before the universities of the Island were able talk about what happened. continue reading

The omission was full of irony if one takes into account that many of those university students took as a reference point during their youth mobilizations not only what was happening in France, Czechoslovakia, Italy or the US, but also what was happening in Cuba. Their ideology even highlighted figures such as Fidel Castro and Ernesto Che Guevara, who had died in Bolivia a year earlier.

With information censorship and diplomatic muteness, the island compensated the Mexican government for its support and for its repeated denunciation of the expulsion of Cuba from the Organization of American States (OAS). The Aztec nation had also used international forums to demand an end to the US embargo and continued to maintain commercial ties with Havana.

At the end of the 60s, Castroism had already entered a stage of ideological radicalization, in which many of the leftist movements that gained ground in Europe and Latin America were seen as revisionists and removed from the manuals of the strictest Marxism. The consolidation of that stage was marked by repression, with greater control and vigilance over society.

And it was precisely in 1968 when the screws of Cuban authoritarianism were tightened. The state gained hegemony and the figure of Fidel Castro accumulated much more power, sweeping away opponents within the party’s own ranks and imprisoning anyone who seemed to be a dissident. The nuances ended and one could be only a “revolutionary” or “counterrevolutionary.”

The Soviet model, marked by Stalinism, gained ground on the island. In the midst of that scenario, any show of solidarity by the Castro regime for the thousands of young students who took to the streets in Mexico demanding greater liberties, would have been like shooting themselves in the foot. By then, any university autonomy had been dismantled on the island and street protests had been banned.

That movement in Mexico, which culminated in a bloody attack and in which professors, intellectuals, workers and housewives also participated, was a terrible example for the docile society Castro sought to have on the island.

Still today, in Ecured, the official version of Wikipedia, that should explain the slaughter of Tlatelolco appears empty and the event that is only mentioned in passing in the entries dedicated to personalities related to it and in the general description about Mexico. Twelve words* seal what happened and try to repair, with their bare presence, a half century’s silence.

*Translator’s note: 13 words in English translation: “In 1968, it was the scene of the massacre of the Tlatelolco demonstrators.” 


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Artemisa, The Clandestine Dairy of Cuba

The transportation of fresh milk becomes difficult for many. (S. Cipido)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Zunilda Mata, Havana, 1 October 2018 — The train arrives in Havana from San Antonio de los Baños and dozens of passengers disembark with boxes, briefcases and plastic bags. Among them are sellers of cheese, yogurt and fresh milk for the capital city, foods that are tightly controlled by the government and that will have been sold door to door before the sun goes down.

Artemisa province is the principal supplier of dairy products to the black market in Havana. From the glass of milk that many families have for breakfast to a good portion of the cheese used by private pizzerias, it all comes from that vast plain of red earth that has been called the garden of Cuba because of the fertility of its soils.

Osmani Cepero, 32, who lives in Artemisa, is considered a “master cheesemaker” after two decades of experience in the production of that much desired food. “I started together with my father and I have already trained my own children in these tasks,” says the producer, who every month manages to extract from his kitchen a dozen cheeses “some fresh and others more cured,” he says. He sells most of of them to restaurants, coffee shops and private homes. continue reading

“The problem is that cheese is a product with high demand but it is only sold in stores in hard currency or in some state stores in Cuban pesos,” says Cepero. “The farmers are strictly forbidden from selling it because it is a monopoly of the State.”

In the network of Cuban stores, one kilogram of Gouda-style cheese, imported from Poland, Germany or Canada, can cost up to 9 CUC (cuban convertible pesos, worth roughly $1 US each), while the product that Cepero manufactures is sold at 2 CUC per kilo. “Of course, the difference is brutal and that is why many self-employed people prefer to buy from us.”

However, the State has established strict controls over milk production in the area and the farmers are obliged to sell most of their milking to the government. “We’re just supposed to keep the amount we need for our own consumption,” Cepero says.

At the end of last year there were just over 4 million head of cattle in the island and, in 2016, 425 million liters of milk were produced, 12% more than in 2015 but still far from the figures needed to relaunch a sector that suffered hard with the fall of the socialist camp and the economic crisis of the 90s.

Last August, while transporting five cheeses hidden in several boxesin a cart, a police officer stopped Cepero and asked for an explanation. The encounter resulted in a fine and the confiscation of the cheeses. “I lost weeks of work but I came out of it OK since they did not search the house to take the rest away.”

In San Antonio de los Baños the yogurt production business has turned into a real industry of preparation, gathering of packaging, transportation and sale.

The entire family of Ernestina, 58 years old, works in the alternate production of yogurt. “We begin by collecting the liter and a half bottles, those that people call cucumbers, and in which we package the product,” she explains to this newspaper. “Before, we also sold fresh milk but the yogurt stands up better to transport.”

Ernestina’s clients are, for the most part, residents of San Antonio de los Baños and Havana with small children or elderly people in the family. “This helps them complete breakfast or have a snack,” she explains. “We have many buyers who are parents of children over 7 years of age who are no longer given milk by the rationed market.”

The milk that is distributed to the smallest ones comes, for the most part, from the private producers of the area and also from the state dairy farms. The island has about 120,000 ranchers, but their work is hampered by inclement weather, such as hurricanes and drought, instability in the supply of feed or technical problems such as poor refrigeration, which causes much milk to be lost between the producer and its arrival at the dairies.

Artemiseños complain that the rationed milk “each time it comes, it is more watered down because the owners of the cows adulterate it to meet delivery quotas but keep a bit for private business,” assures Ernestina. For a liter of milk, the State pays a producer a price that ranges between 0.15 and 0.18 CUC, while in the black market  the same amount can sell for approximately 0.50 CUC.

Next to the road that leads to San Antonio de los Baños, a young man holds in his hand a large cheese of about five pounds. “This is quite cured and has a lot of demand among people who make pizzas,” explains the artemiseño. Resident of a nearby farm, the family is totally dedicated to this production.

“In this area you live off the cheese, the yogurt and the guava bars that are offered at the edge of the road,” he explains. “Those who have more luck have already made contacts to sell their goods directly to the owners of restaurants.” Others “get on the train once or twice a week to sell in Havana.”

The train can be a real rat trap in the days of police operations. “There are many controls and when the guards see someone with very large briefcases, they quickly search them,” says the young man. “Of every ten cheeses that we make, we are losing two or three because of confiscations.”

Neverhteless, despite the risks, countless pounds of cheese, bottles of yogurt and liters of fresh milk arrive daily in the Cuban capital. “Artemisa is the dairy of Cuba,” says the young man, “a clandestine dairy, but a dairy.”

Translated by Wilfredo Díaz Echevarria


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Prestigious Ecuadorian Surgeon Opposes Cuban Medical Mission in His Country

A Cuban doctor attends an Ecuadorian patient as part of the collaboration agreements between both countries. (Cuban Mission in Ecuador)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario J. Pentón, Miami, 29 September 2018 —  Bernardo Sandoval Córdova, a surgeon who is dean of the Faculty of Medicine of the International University of Ecuador, has raised the controversy over the permanence of the Cuban medical mission in that South American country.

In an opinion column published in the official government newspaper El Telégrafo, Sandoval Córdova denied that Cuban doctors are needed in Ecuador and described as “inconceivable” that a government that called itself a defender of labor rights “has exploited Cuban doctors, who are given a tiny fraction of their salary*.”

Sandoval Córdova’s statements provoked a reaction from the Cuban ambassador in Quito, Rafael Dausá, and from hundreds of Cubans and Ecuadorians on social networks. Dausá published a statement describing the article in El Telégrafo as “false and malicious.” continue reading

“Cuban doctors who work in Ecuador as part of bilateral agreements do so voluntarily. These are highly qualified specialists with long careers, who receive not only remuneration in Ecuador, but also their salary in Cuba, for the time they work in Ecuador,” the Cuban ambassador wrote.

Dausá also noted that the Government covers the cost of accommodation, vacations, transportation, health insurance and housing. “Cuban doctors do not displace Ecuadorian personnel. All the places and specialties covered by Cuban doctors are those in which there are not enough Ecuadorian professionals to meet the needs of the country,” said the diplomat.

In a telephone conversation with 14ymedio, Sandoval Córdova refuted the reply of the Cuban ambassador. According to the surgeon, as of 1970 there has been a law in Ecuador that forces new graduates to perform a social service in the field.

“In Ecuador there are 4,000 new doctors per year and there are no more than 3,500 rural health posts. Obviously there is total coverage with national doctors even in precarious conditions,” explained Sandoval Córdova. The doctor also accused the Ecuadorian government of not knowing how to manage public health and neglecting the field.

“Correa’s government wanted to support the Latin American school of medicine in Cuba from which many Ecuadorian doctors graduate. Correa wanted to get as close as possible to Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua. Obviously the arrival of Cuban doctors responded more to a political imperative and is without any technical or scientific purpose. I hope that today’s Government will take action on the matter,” he said.

Although the current Ecuadorian government, headed by Lenin Moreno, has not ruled on ending the Cuban medical missions promoted by his predecessor, many Cubans do not dismiss the likelihood that the president will displace Cuban professionals to offer these jobs to the local doctors.

Cuba maintains more than 700 health professionals in Ecuador. The beginning of the Cuban medical presence dates back to 2006 when Rafael Correa’s presidency inaugurated the first three ophthalmological centers of Operation Miracle, a program against blindness which was financed from Venezuela.

Under the scheme of internationalist missions, which is the main source of income for Cuba (according to official figures it brings in more than 11.5 billion dollars annually), the Cuban government keeps about 70% of the salaries paid for its specialists based in Ecuador.

Of the 2,641 dollars monthly salary agreed upon for each specialist, Havana only gives the doctors between 700 and 800 dollars for their living expenses.

Responding to Dausá, Duniel Medina Camejo, a doctor and a resident of Ecuador, said, “As always, the manipulations of the defenders of the indefensible are outrageous. Mr. Ambassador, we, the doctors that make up the community of Cuban emigrants in Ecuador and the free Cubans with whom we share our fate in half of the world, do not agree with the permanence in Ecuador of modern forms of slavery.”

Medina Camejo also noted that Cuban doctors who dare to leave their missions are punished by being denied the right to enter their own country for eight years: “They are neither volunteers nor free to choose, do not deceive our Ecuadorian brothers with that cheap speech.”

*Translator’s note: The doctors’ salaries are paid directly to the Cuban government from which they receive only a small share of the total.


The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

Ex-Attorney General Juan Escalona Dies in Havana

The ex-attorney general of the Republic, Juan Escalona

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, September 30, 2018 — The ex-attorney general of the Republic, Juan Escalona, known for the high-profile trial of General Arnaldo Ochoa, died Friday in Havana of bronchopneumonia. Escalona was 87 and found himself retired eight years ago when he was “liberated from his position” after more than 20 years as Attorney General.

State television reported his death and emphasized his “example of modesty, honesty,” and “complete dedication to his profession,” as well as his “infinite loyalty” to ex-ruler Fidel Castro. However, dissident political movements and human rights activists remember him for his determined persecution and the criminalization of the opposition.

Escalona was the prosecutor in the trial against Arnaldo Ochoa in 1989, [see subtitled video below] where the general and three other service members were sentenced to execution by firing squad for drug trafficking. The prosector concentrated all of his efforts in safeguarding the figures of the Castro brothers, supreme leaders of the State and the Army. continue reading

“Years ago I learned that the fundamental thing is the Revolution. I’m a little piece in this process and at the end one feels sorry for in any case being capable of carrying out a mission as delicate and disagreeable as this one,” said Escalona in an interview with the official newspaper Granma on the trial against Ochoa.

Escalona was considered one of the “historic ones” in power. Born in 1931, he joined the Frank País Second Eastern Front, commanded by Raúl Castro in the mountains of the east of the country. Escalona, a notary in those years, was charged with marrying Raúl Castro to Vilma Espín in the mountain range. In 1959 he was Raúl Castro’s adjutant at the head of the Army and was named chief of the Military Staff of the Western Army.

Before assuming the post of Attorney General, Escalona was Minister of Justice from 1983 to 1990. He also acted as president of the National Assembly of Popular Power from 1990 to 1993. During Fidel Castro’s African campaigns, Escalona played an important role at the head of the leadership of the General Military Staff from Havana.

The Brigadier-General traveled on numerous occasions to Moscow and to socialist countries seeking support for the African campaigns. He was also charged with negotiating the opening of an airport in Guyana for the Cuban army, once they were displaced from the island of Granada.

Part of the legacy of Escalona, which many knew as “pool of blood,” is the law of Obligatory Military Service, imposed in 1963 and valid still today. Escalona also left his mark on the laws of the popular tribunals, the notary profession, associations, civil registries, the new Civil Code, and Decree 87, which permitted the review of the tribunals’ sentences.

Of orthodox thought, he was identified as part of the “hard line” of the Communist Party. During his term as Attorney General he lamented in an interview with the official press that “some comrades” placed in positions with access to hard currency, changed “even the way they dressed.”

“I’m of the opinion that there are some people who don’t believe this process can continue forward much longer and who are creating the personal conditions to get out of this world. We’ve had to confront, and we are still processing, some cases in the famous fight against the rich,” he added.

As state television reported, he received varied honors “for his contributions to the defense of the homeland, his career and loyalty to the revolutionary cause.” At the time of his death he was a member of the Communist Party, whose Central Committee he was a part of from 1980 to 2011.

Note: Escalona is prominent in the subtitled video below. Skip to minute 34 to watch an exchange between him and Arnaldo Ochoa. 

Translated by: Sheilagh Carey


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Official Journalist Boris Fuentes Stars In Another Episode Of "Revolutionary Foolishness" In The US

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, September 30, 2018 — The official journalist Boris Fuentes starred in another episode of what is by now known as “revolutionary foolishness.” While Mario Vallejo, a journalist for Univisión, was covering a demonstration against the embargo in New York, Fuentes tried to snatch his phone and threatened to smash his face in for filming him.

The altercation began when Vallejo approached a group of demonstrators who were protesting against the embargo and started filming with his cellphone. Journalists from the official Cuban media outlets began to set upon Vallejo with the cameras. “Can’t you see me well enough? So why are you filming me?” Vallejo asked Fuentes.

The official journalist answered that it was the cameraman who was filming and asked him why he was there. Vallejo answered that he was doing his job as a journalist. continue reading

“You’re also telling the story badly, so that’s why we are here,” Fuentes told him.

Vallejo told him that Cuban television is introducing Miguel Díaz-Canel as a president-elect. “When was he elected?” he asked.

When Fuentes realized that he was being filmed, he tried to snatch away the phone.

“I’ll smash your face in,” Fuentes spat, and he accused Vallejo of having come to “provoke.”

After receiving various insults, Vallejo withdrew and published the video on Facebook, which has generated more than a hundred comments and has been shared hundreds of times.

“What a lack of respect in the land of liberty. And this poor man doesn’t know the meaning of that word,” said one of the commenters.

Another said that the official journalist thought that he was in Cuba, “where they can’t even record.”

“It’s a shame that they give visas to these imbeciles, while those who really deserve one have to go to another country to apply for one and often aren’t accepted,” added the commenter.

Last Wednesday several journalists from American media outlets were denied entry to Riverside church, in New York, where the Cuban president Díaz-Canel and the Venezuelan president Nicolás Maduro were scheduled to give a speech. Reporters from Univisión, Telemundo, and the New Herald were removed by security personnel and in a video spread by the journalists one can hear how the officials asking them to leave accused the media outlets from south Florida of trying to “instigate people.”

Mario Vallejo was the same journalist who, in 2015, interviewed Sucelys Morfa González in Panama during the Summit of the Americas. Morfa, later promoted to first secretary of the Union of Young Communists, was part of the Cuban delegation that with shouts and blows prevented several events from being held.

During the interview with Vallejo, visibly exacerbated, Morfa insisted that she was a graduate in psychology, that the Cubans were “rich,” and that the delegation had paid for their tickets to protest at the summit. The video of the interview went viral and ever since the leader has been known as the “millionaire psychologist.”

Translated by: Sheilagh Carey


The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

Regulations Against Horsecarts Aggravate Transport Problems in Artemisa

In several municipalities of Artemisa the horsecarts and pedicabs are not allowed to use the main thoroughfare. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Bertha K. Guillén, Candelaria, 15 September 2018 — While horse-drawn carriages are a tourist attraction in the streets of Old Havana, in the municipalities of Candelaria and San Cristóbal, in the province of Artemisa, the authorities impose strict regulations on this popular transport, controls that are worsening the already tense situation of passenger transport.

For more than a year drivers have been forced to travel away from the main avenues, and instead make their way through unmarked alleys in poor condition. Now they must carry out their work almost “secretly,” several of them have reported to 14ymedio.

The thousands of customers who use this form of transport every day also feel that they have gone underground. In a province where very few buses travel the streets, most Artemiseños interviewed say they use these animal-drawn vehicles at least three times a week. continue reading

In 2016, the director of the Provincial Transport Company, Juan Carlos Hernández, said that 150 public transport vehicles covering 143 routes circulated in the province, but two years later many of these vehicles have deteriorated or gone out of circulation, according to sources from the company speaking to this newspaper.

Along with this deterioration, the authorities of the area have launched a crusade against horsecarts under the pretext of avoiding bad smells and traffic accidents. The Provincial People’s Power bodies, together with the National Revolutionary Police, also want to avoid having crowds of people waiting to board these vehicles.

Among the measures adopted, carts and pedicabs have been prohibited on the Central Highway, a decision that pushes the carriers and their passengers to explore alternative routes. “What should have been something to improve the quality of life of the residents, actually has become a headache,” laments Yaima, who on Monday uses the carts to get to the polyclinic where she works.

The young woman pays three Cuban pesos (CUP — about 12 cents US) for each trip, which means a monthly cost of about 120 CUP alone in transportation to reach her job; a significant share of her monthly salary which is around 900 CUP. “If I do not travel that way, I do not arrive on time because public transport can not be trusted, it comes along when it feels like it,” says the nurse.

“The measure to kick us off the Central Highway was taken about a year ago” Eugenio, a coachman in the area, tells this newspaper. “Since then people complain because they have to walk more to get to the carts and because the prices went up because now many segments are longer and the streets where we are traveling are in worse condition.”

In the province of Artemisa some 4,567 animal-drawn vehicles have been documented so far, most of them dedicated to passenger transport, according to official sources. However, this figure only reflects those who have a license to exercise this service, while an increasing number of vehicles circulate illegally.

For their part, the self-employed workers who are licensed to work in the sector complain that their needs are not taken into account. “They almost always make us look like the bad guys in the film by charging three pesos for each segment, but nobody calculates the cost of keeping the animal fit,” adds Eugenio.

The coachman regrets that there is no state workshop to fix this type of vehicle, or a market to “buy tires and other spare parts” at a price that is within reach of their pockets. “They ask a lot of us, they control us everywhere but when we demand our rights they do not listen to us.”

So far this year, the Candelaria Municipal Administration Council together with the traffic police and other authorities have had at least two meetings with these workers to analyze their complaints and also those expressed by their passengers. In each meeting, the parties have not been able to reach an agreement.

“They claim that because they’ve eliminated the payment of 10% of revenues at the end of each month, we can charge less to passengers, but they still do not take into account the prices we pay to keep these vehicles rolling,” says Sergio Martinez, another Artemiseño coachman artemiseño.

These self-employed carriers must pay about 186 CUP to obtain the license, to which is added the transit and veterinary permits that are paid monthly. The purchase of a horse cart can come to about 10,000 Cuban pesos and each year the drivers must pay their personal income taxes.

“It does not matter if it has been a bad season, the authorities assume that someone in this job earns a lot and when the tax return is filed many of us get the fines for alleged tax evasion,” laments Mario Nordelo, with more than two decades in the guild.

Earlier this year the National Tax Administration Office (Onat) reported that it will perform 5,500 “in-depth” control actions, including tax audits, in order to detect tax evasion, and to determine with “greater rigor” the debts and penalties and request the application of administrative and criminal measures.

In 2017, Onat detected that more than 60,000 taxpayers — 35% of those who paid self-employment taxes — reported and amount lower than their actual earnings on their personal income tax declaration for a total amount of some 563,000,000 Cuban pesos (CUP).

“Taxes and fines do not let us live,” says Nordelo. “I know coachmen who have had to pay up to 15,000 CUP in fines in a single year and others who have suffered the confiscation of their vehicle and their animal.” The self-employed transport provider thinks that “although many times the responsibility falls on the coachman due to some imprudence, what the authorities are trying to do is to end this service.”

In San Cristóbal, Arsenio Ramírez repeats his routine several times each day. He arrrives at the stop where the customers wait and there he waits until ten people get into the vehicle. “Many people depend on me to arrive on time,” says the coachman in front of a row of teenagers in school uniforms and several doctors in white coats. Four primary schools, a high school and a nursing faculty are located on his route.

“When they made us travel about five blocks away from the Central Highway, we created a union to complain to the Communist Party, but they threatened us with the police and we had to give in,” Ramírez told 14ymedio. “We have organized to clean the area where we park and avoid the urine of the horses being an annoyance, but the police always have a reason to bother us,” he complains.

In recent years there have been numerous strikes and protests by coachmen throughout the island. In all cases the drivers have demanded an improvement in working conditions, tax reductions and permission to travel through the more central streets.


The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

Canadian Producer Brings the Story of the “Idealism and Altruism” of Cuba’s “Five Spies” to the Big Screen

After denying for three years that the five spies were Cuban agents, in 2001 the Cuban Government acknowledged its control over the Wasp Network and led an international campaign for their liberation. (Juventud Rebelde)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario J. Pentón, 12 September 2018 — The story of the five Cuban spies sentenced to prison in the United States will arrive on the big screen very soon, and twice.

A year after learning that the Frenchman Olivier Assayas had adapted Brazilian writer Fernando Morais’ book The Last Soldiers of the Cold War, the Canadian Pictou Twist Pictures and Picture Plant have partnered with the state-run Cuban Institute of Cinematographic Art and Industry (ICAIC) to bring Los Cinco (The Five) to movie theaters. The film will narrate an “inspiring story of idealism and altruism,” according to Terry Greenlaw, one of the producers, speaking to Variety magazine.

“The Five handed over the rights to their story to the Cuban Institute of Cinematographic Art and Industry (ICAIC), and Pictou Twist, Picture Plant and Conquering Lion Pictures acquired them,” a spokeswoman for those producers said in a statement to 14ymedio. continue reading

The same source told this newspaper that none of the five spies living in Cuba will receive payments for the rights. After their return to the Island (three of them after being pardoned by former President Barack Obama in 2014), the spies became government officials and members of the National Assembly.

In 2014, Obama exchanged the three agents, who had been sentenced to life imprisonment for conspiracy to commit murder, for a US intelligence officer imprisoned on the island. The gesture was accompanied by the restoration of relations between the two countries.

The Cuban-Canadian co-production, with a budget of more than seven million dollars, was inspired by the book What Lies Across the Water: The Real Story of The Cuban Five, by Canadian journalist Stephen Kimber. The film will be shot mainly in Cuba, but also in Colombia and Miami, and production will be finished next year.

Kimber, a fierce defender of the innocence of the five spies, wrote the book after a trip to Havana where a Cuban friend told him that “nothing will change between the United States and Cuba until they solve the problem of ‘The Five’.”

The journalist traveled to Miami, Washington and Havana to gather information about the spies. He also began to meet with them in prison and participated in meetings and conferences in favor of the freedom of the five spies in the United States.

“Receiving Stephen’s letters in prison in 2010 was encouraging for us because we knew he would tell our truth, which we believe he has done through his book,” says René González, one of the five spies.

“We believe that Stephen’s is the best book about The Five, Canadians have become our great friends and we can not think of better partners to help share our history, through cinema, with the world,” he added.

In Miami, however, the reactions to the movie have not been as warm. Orlando Gutiérrez Boronat, president of the Democratic Directorate, a group of anti-Castro organizations, said it was “an infamy.”

“You can not rewrite history that way, the real heroes were the four boys they helped to kill,” Gutierrez said in reference to the four Brothers to the Rescue pilots killed by the Cuban military as they patrolled international waters to rescue Cuban rafters.

“You have to read the transcripts of these individuals with their bosses in Havana to realize that there is nothing heroic about them, they are terrorists, of course, and the objective of that group was to commit violent actions against nonviolent opponents of that regime,” adds Gutiérrez Boronat, who was a part of the Cubans in exile who were under surveillance by Cuban intelligence agents.

The second film dedicated to the five spies will be called Wasp Network and will be directed by the Frenchman Olivier Assayas. The film will feature the performances of the renowned artists Gael García Bernal and Penélope Cruz.

Morais, a journalist and author of the book on which the film is based, investigated the case of the five Cuban spies and published his book in 2012. From the beginning he tried to show an independent perspective of Havana that included not only ‘The Five’ but also to other nine characters of the Wasp Network who collaborated in the United States and some of whom fled to the Island.

Morais has complained that his relationship with the government was not fluid and that he was not always able to interview or access the people he needed for his book.

However, in 2013, surrounded by Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, then president of Brazil and a close ally of Havana, and Armando Hart and Ricardo Alarcón, Morais presented a translation of his book in Spanish at the Third International Conference for the Balance of the World, a kind of gathering of the internation left in Cuba. At that time, Morais said he hoped to “celebrate the return of The Five to Havana soon.”

“The trial against the spies lasted several months with an irrefutable amount of evidence,” said Mario de la Peña, father of the pilot of the same name who died after the downing of his plane in international waters. “They try to justify sending the spies because they supposedly protected them from violent actions on the part of the exile,” he said.

“Those spies tried to infiltrate American bases and penetrate peaceful organizations of the exile whose only sin was to be against the Castro brothers’ regime,” he added.

“Gerardo Hernández and the others were convicted not only for espionage, but for conspiracy to commit murder. They can write whatever they want now, but the evidence that they are murderers is there,” said De la Peña.


The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

Apples of Discord, Corruption and Selective Punishment / Miriam Celaya

Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 28 September 2018 — For some unknown reason, apples have had an extraordinary role in the cultural imagination of the West. For better or for worse, this fruit has marked milestones that have transcended the passage of time and geographical borders.

For example, in Greek mythology, a golden apple sowed discord between the goddesses Pallas Athena and Aphrodite, a discrepancy that would dramatically influence the Trojan War. For its part, in biblical mythology, an apple was the temptation that drove Adam and Eve to the original sin, for which we have all been punished (blessed sin!).

An old Swiss legend tells that the national hero William Tell had to skewer with an arrow, accurately shot from his crossbow, an apple placed on the head of his son by the tyrant oppressor of his people; while another fable explains how the wise Isaac Newton discovered the law of universal gravity, one of the most important physical-natural phenomena, thanks to an apple that fell directly on his head. continue reading

The apple is a kind of cult object sown in our consciousness since earliest childhood. What child did not know Snow White’s apple? And, as adults, who has not dreamed of visiting that other “Big Apple”, New York, at least once in his life?

The surprising thing is that in XXI Century Cuba these fruits again have become not only central characters, but in the body of the sin of one of the many sagas of corruption that cross Cuba’s harsh daily reality. In recent days, the sweet apple, or to be more exact, 15 thousand apples, have evolved into a temptation much more dangerous than that in the Holy Scriptures.

The case has been sufficiently disseminated by the official press, but it is appropriate to briefly summarize the facts. It is about the allegedly illegal sale, in a retail market in Havana (La Puntilla market in Miramar), of a large number of apples (15 thousand) to “a group of tough youngsters” – according to an aggressive commissioner (allegedly “an exemplary revolutionary journalist”, in the words of the hand-picked President) which aroused the suspicion of the referred to writer, who, unfortunately for the offenders, personally witnessed the transaction.

For a greater sin, “a good part” of these young people were “uniformed” with the American flag. It would have been better if they wore fig leaves, like the primal sinners of the earthly paradise. The President’s favorite journalist was not going to stand for an insolent provocation, such as that of displaying a symbol of the Evil Empire.

That might explain, far from facing the youths to give them an educational talk and prevent the “hoarding” and “the misuse of state resources”— since the buyers bribed the driver of a state minivan to transport their merchandise – this intransigent revolutionary spied on their movements, followed them, carefully pointed the license plate number of the vehicle that transported the 150 boxes of apples “at 100 CUC (roughly $100 US) each box” (what grief this detail caused the combative reporter!), and demanded a copy of the receipt as proof of purchase from the store clerk. Both photographs, the minivan and the copy of the receipt, were published on his personal blog. (“The …something…pupil”), where “someone is watching” becomes evident).

As a result, sanctions proliferated. Two employees of the store were fired as an administrative measure. Their names were published in the press though they were not subject to criminal sanctions. Some were lectured, and all other members of the collective were warned and reprimanded. As far as some of the aforementioned young apple addicts, they have been accused of “illicit enrichment”, among other causes, have been arrested and must face court trials.

The case is not exactly a novel incident, and it’s not less true that corruption is a scourge which must be fought, has metastasized throughout Cuban society, and now covers all areas of daily life. Corruption has reached such colossal dimensions in Cuban society that it not only touches all of us in some way, but it’s an indispensable part of survival. Given that the system itself generates and replicates it, it’s not possible to eradicate it by attacking its effects, but by eliminating the cause: the system, which is essentially corrupt. Ergo, it’s a problem with no solution.

However, what is more alarming is that the scapegoats are always anonymous people, opportunistic peddlers, marginals of all sorts, mules, the self-employed, or any propitious victim of the social subsoil that the authorities deem handy to use to intimidate the population through a collective lesson.

What the official press does not publish is the most dangerous of the chains of corruption thriving under the protection of official institutions, in particular those responsible for ensuring compliance with the laws: the bodies of inspectors, the national police (including the “revolutionary” also, let it be known) and a bunch of officials available at various prices.

So it goes that, curiously, also around the days of the apples of discord there has been a case of police corruption that, despite the silence of the government press monopoly, is circulating informally through some neighborhoods of the Cuban capital. According to rumors, a policeman arrested one of the many Venezuelan bachaqueros*, who swarm with relative impunity, especially in Old Havana. The policeman seized his merchandise, a backpack loaded with flip-flops. It is worth remembering that in Cuba almost everything is marketable and profitable.

The “cheating” agent, like so many of his colleagues, decided not to report confiscation of the merchandise, appropriating it instead to profit from it himself. However, also like most, he did not have enough smarts to secure his booty. The Venezuelan, meanwhile, feeling injured – or perhaps appealing to the protection he enjoys in Cuba – decided to complain at the Calle Zanja police station, so that when the superiors ordered a review of the agent’s belongings, not only did they find all the seized merchandise in the backpack, but an additional unexpected find: a bundle of marijuana. That sealed the fate of the clueless agent.

According to an informal source and unconfirmed rumors, the Office of the Prosecutor is asking for 25 years in prison for the agent – it has not been made clear if for being an idiot or for being corrupt – and it has not transpired if the Venezuelan involved has received any punishment or if he has been deported to his country.

Very likely, these rumors may contain part truth and a lot of fantasy. But, in any case, the national experience of decades of fraud and corruption, and knowing the administrative mechanisms and government press monopoly’s lack of transparency, everything points to much more reality than fable in this matter.

I have been visiting the blog of the President’s zealous journalist, so combative, so revolutionary, to see what he thinks of such an audacity, but for some mysterious reason he has not published anything about the matter. It must be because the police are also supposed to be a body of “revolutionaries” and one does not air our dirty laundry among members of the brotherhood…

*bachaquero Venezuelan slang meaning hawker of goods bought at government-set prices

Translated by Norma Whiting

The Remains of the Energy Revolution

A sign outside an appliance repair shop clarifies that it does not accept televisions or refrigerators with “adaptations.” (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Zunilda Mata, Havana, 27 September 2018 – The TV in the  living room arrived 13 years ago at Carlota’s house, during the same days that her youngest grandson was born. Now, the teenager has a girlfriend, but the old Panda brand device sometimes turns on and sometimes not. “It’s a headache  because very few workshops have parts,” laments the retired woman, who at the beginning of this century benefited from one of the last campaigns promoted by Fidel Castro, the Energy Revolution.

During the years that the offensive against high-consumption household appliances lasted, the government distributed, with installment payments and bank credit facilities, refrigerators, energy-saving light bulbs, Chinese-made air conditioners and televisions. “I spent more than five years paying for it and although it was a great sacrifice I managed it”, says Carlota, while recalling that time when “it seemed that the country was going to progress quickly”. continue reading

Beginning in 2005, the Energy Revolution mobilized thousands of people to inventory all the equipment that consumed kilowatts excessively. The social workers, a shock troop created by Castro himself and responding directly to his orders, joined the task and listed old American-made refrigerators that had conserved the food of hundreds of thousands of families for more than half a century throughout the Island.

At least 2.5 million refrigerators were replaced and few incandescent bulbs were saved from that offensive, in which most were replaced by compact fluorescent lamps (CFL). The authorities assured that this change meant an annual saving of 354 million kWh, equivalent to between 3% and 4% of the total electricity consumed in Cuba.

The fans also got their turn. The Electric Union (UNE) reported that 1.04 million of these devices were exchanged, especially those that were the fruit of popular ingenuity that, in order to cool a room, were adapted from old Soviet washing machine motors by attaching blades, a device which could waste more than 100 watts to run, almost triple what a modern device consumes.

The televisions became a symbol of that technological renovation and Carlota felt proud when she went to buy hers. However, shortly thereafter flat screen devices came to the black market and stores that accept convertible pesos and “these devices were devalued,” she acknowledges. The daughter of the pensioner bought a more modern TV for her room and Carlota’s Panda began to break frequently.

Private repairmen kept changing the parts of the apparatus. Many patches were made so it could still be watched but left the TV “rejected by the state workshops where they do not accept those that have ’adaptations’, laments the woman. The last time she tried to have it repaired, a technician sarcastically told her she should “throw away the Panda and buy a Samsung.” Although for that Carlota knows that she will have to pay “in cash with convertible pesos and without any little poster of the Energy Revolution”.

Translated by Wilfredo Díaz Echevarria


The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

Cuban Bishops Will Publish A Pastoral Letter On Constitutional Reform

Cuban bishops will give their official opinion on constitutional reform (COCC)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, September 28, 2018 — The Catholic Church in Cuba is preparing a pastoral letter to make clear its position on the constitutional reform promoted by the Government. In a telephone conversation with this newspaper, Wilfred Pino, archbishop of Camagüey, explained that for the moment each diocese (administrative unit of the Church) is doing its own reflection on the document.

“Each bishop has been saying what he believes on the matter in his diocese. As a Conference we are going to declare ourselves, but it’s not something to be rushed because the consultation process and the referendum are planned for February of next year,” indicated the religious figure.

Pino, 68, added that he has been pleased to see that the people are expressing themselves in a spontaneous manner without fear of reprisals in the meetings that the Government has organized to debate the reform proposal, which includes controversial subjects like marriage equality, the recognition of private property, the elimination of the term Communism, and term limits for the Government. continue reading

“People have talked about salaries that aren’t enough and many have expressed their doubts about marriage equality, which is something that is being talked about for the first time in Cuba,” he added.

The archbishop published this week a letter titled My modest opinion where he suggested that the word “marriage” not be used to define the legal union between persons of the same sex. In the text, Pino used as an example several countries in the European Union where some type of legal union is recognized without using the word “marriage,” with the goal that both persons have the same rights before the law.

Remembering the words of John Paul II, who asked Cubans to take care of families, Pino reviews “the anti-birth mentality” prevalent in the country. He also goes over timely matters like low salaries (the average salary is $30.60 per month) and gives concrete examples on how this affects the stabilities of families and the country.

In ten exclamations the archbishop points out matters that worry the country, like the low birthrate, corruption, the constant exodus, overcrowding in homes, prison overpopulation, drug addiction, and alcoholism.

“I think that each one of us Cubans must express our opinion on what is being debated. And when the day of the vote comes, vote Yes or No according to the dictates of one’s own conscience,” adds Pino.

Pino’s position seems much more flexible regarding marriage equality than that of his fellow churchman, Dionisio García, archbishop of Santiago de Cuba.

García published at the end of August a document where he said that “to ignore what nature has given us or to go against the laws and written processes always brings lamentable consequences.”

The prelate insisted that the idea that rejecting gay marriage comes only from Christians is “simplistic and false” and branded the desire to reform the Constitution to permit it as “cultural imperialism.”

Article 68 has provoked controversy as well among evangelical churches, some of which even signed a document rejecting marriage equality, arguing that it was not in accordance with the ideals of communist countries.

A good part of the Cuban opposition has reported that the argument around Article 68 may eclipse more important matters like political liberties, the perpetuation of the Communist Party in power, and the human rights situation.

Wilfredo Pino said that the Catholic Church would continue its reflection on the political and civil rights of the Cuban people. The archbishop of Camagüey confirmed that the document being prepared will also deal with those matters.

Translated by: Sheilagh Carey


The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

Cancun, a New El Dorado for Cubans

It’s not difficult to find stores with rum or tobacco in Cancún. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario J. Pentón, Cancún, México | September 28, 2018 — The wind was barely blowing and the humidity was unbearable. Outside Terminal 2 of Cancún’s international airport, Juan Ernesto waited for his brother, who was arriving aboard an Aeroméxico flight from Havana. It was Jonathan’s first time abroad. His purpose: to buy some basic essentials in order to resell them on the Island.

“What Cuba is most lacking right now is hygiene products. Basic essentials like disposable diapers, soap, toothpaste, shampoo, and conditioner,” explains Juan Ernesto, who asks for his surname to be omitted out of fear that authorities will confiscate his purchases.

Traveling as a mule to supply the growing underground market on the Island is not legal. Cuban customs has begun an intense campaign against those bringing products to resell them. Even so, Cuban travel to countries like Mexico, Panama, Russia, and Guyana is increasing. continue reading

According to statistics provided to this newspaper by Mexico’s Tourism Ministry, in the first half of this year the number of Cubans landing in that country grew by 60.5% compared to the first half of the previous year. As of July of this year, 69,105 arrivals to Mexican airports were recorded, 26,050 more than in the same period of 2017.

Cubans traveling to Mexico by air. Left: Number of trips per year. Right: Number of trips in first semester of 2017 (left) and first semester of 2018 (right)

In 2016, there were slightly more than 100,000 entries of Cubans because of the migratory crisis. With the end of the wet foot/dry foot policy decreed by the United States at the beginning of 2017, the flow decreased but remained above 83,000.

“Getting a Mexican visa is difficult,” explains Juan Ernesto. Among the requirements set by the Mexican consulate in Havana is having a bank account that demonstrates economic solvency, a property title belonging to the interested person, and filling out a visa request online.

“Most of the time the website where you arrange the appointments isn’t working. Our visas cost around $3,000. Corruption is the order of the day in Mexico just as much as in Cuba,” he adds.

At the airport’s exit various taxi drivers offer their services. “Minivan! Minivan for 100 pesos!” yells one in the direction of a group of Cubans.

A network of businesses has been developed to serve the numerous travelers arriving from the Island. Low-cost hotels, stores that accept dollars, Mexican pesos, or Cuban convertible pesos, shipping agencies, and even job offers can be found in the Benito Juárez municipality, which the city of Cancún belongs to.

“Here there are a bunch of stores with Cuban owners where many people from the Island work. You can find anything they sell in Cuba there: clothes, electrical appliances, medicine, hygiene products,” Juan Ernesto explains to his brother.

“Right now in Cuba deodorant is hard to find. Here we buy Gillette tubes for 3.50 and we sell them there for double. Little perfumed balls for clothing cost 255 Mexican pesos (about $14) and you can sell them for up to triple,” explains the young man.

Right now in Cuba deodorant is hard to find. Here we buy Gillette tubes for 3.50 and we sell them there for double. (14ymedio)Jonathan is 25 and is finishing an engineering degree. His trip to Mexico is only for a weekend. He wants to follow in his brother’s footsteps, who thanks to the constant trips to resell products and to the self-employed work that he carries out on the Island, has a greater purchasing power than the average Cuban.

“In Cuba the Government doesn’t realize the opportunities that are being lost. It goes after self-employed people and is dedicated to a model that doesn’t work. Each of the Cubans who comes to Cancún brings at least $1,000 to spend here. That’s money that businesses on the Island are losing out on,” he says.

The young man laments that an engineer’s salary barely surpasses $30 a month, while a reseller can pay for an airplane journey and leave the country.

But it’s not going so well for all self-employed people. Some even opt to try their luck in countries like Mexico, where the daily salary is well over what they would make in Cuba in a month.

Annia is a young Cuban woman of 26 who lives in Cozumel. After various trips to Cancún, where she would buy products to bring to Matanzas, she decided to stay to work as an undocumented person.

“In Cuba I was working as a hairdresser, but with that I couldn’t get ahead. Everything that I earned went to the high cost of products and to paying bribes to inspectors,” she says.

When she had the opportunity to visit some relatives who live in Cancún, the young woman decided to remain with them. Since then she has lived in this city for three months and has worked as a waitress, salesperson in shops for Cubans, and street vendor.

A network of businesses has been developed to serve the numerous travelers arriving from the Island. (14ymedio)

“Right now I’m applying for my Mexican residency. It has cost me several thousand dollars but it’s worth it,” she says. According to Annia, the owners of the restaurant where she works are delighted that she is Cuban because it specializes in the cuisine of the Island. In addition they sell tobacco and rum.

“I haven’t felt discriminated against at all, just the opposite. People here know that we Cubans work hard,” she adds. Annia earns about eight dollars a day in her position as waitress, and she is happy because she has more opportunities to better herself than in Cuba. “At the beginning it’s always necessary to make sacrifices. I work nights and early mornings so that the immigration police don’t find me and I live with a friend to pay half the amount in rent ($150), but it’s worth it.”

“When I have my papers I will be able to work in a hotel like the other Cubans do or start my own business. I’ve already been able to send some money to my family and in the future I hope to bring them here to live with me,” she says hopefully.

Translated by: Sheilagh Carey


The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

Daniel Ortega in the Prison of a Book

Daniel Ortega has kept a low profile with regards to what is exposed of his private life in the media.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, September 26, 2018 — In the middle of the acute political crisis that is happening in Nicaragua, the Nicaraguan journalist and writer Fabián Medina Sánchez has released the book Prisoner 198, a biography of Daniel Ortega where the author has set out to speak about the facts without trying to convince anyone of whether the character is a good or bad person.

Despite having been one of the most influential politicians in the Central American country in the last fifty years, including four terms as president, Daniel Ortega has kept a low profile with regards to what is exposed of his private life in the media. A notable exception is an interview that he gave in 1987 to Playboy magazine where he confessed: “It was like the cell was always with me.” continue reading

In the portrait of the controversial commander-become-president, sketched in this book it seems like Ortega has not managed to get rid of the overwhelming sensation of being incarcerated. According to Fabián Medina, this condition “has marked his whole life, from family and romantic relations, to his vices, manias, and form of exercising power.”

For five years the author undertook an investigation that not only included checking journalistic texts, books, and historical documents, but also interviews with hundreds of people close to Daniel Ortega who shared with him prison, war, conspiracies, and power.

Among these testimonies one that stands out is that of Carlos Guadamuz, a childhood friend who later was murdered in still-unclear circumstances. The author also relied on a pair of interviews that he was able to carry out with Ortega during the years that he was away from power, but he never received a response to a request for a new exchange by the time he had plans to write this biography.

The number 198 identified Daniel Ortega when he entered the Modelo prison at the beginning of 1968, where he remained for seven years after being found guilty of robbing a bank. He remained there until he traveled to Cuba as the result of a rescue operation carried out by a commando group of the Sandinista Front.

The first murder that he committed, the tortures he was subjected to, his quarrels with other leaders of the Sandinista Front, his maneuvers to remain in power, and his relationships with diverse women are narrated in this work with a journalistic, pleasant, and precise style.

The figure of his wife Rosario Murillo accompanies Ortega in these pages with the full weight of her influence. Perhaps a character of great complexity who deserves a separate book.

The milestones in which the reader can immerse himself most deeply in the life of Daniel Ortega are the electoral defeat of 1990, the heart attack he suffered four years later, the charge of sexual abuse made by his stepdaughter Zoilamérica, and finally the popular rebellion initiated in April of 2018.

Among the situations in Daniel Ortega’s life that are not investigated deeply in Prisoner 198, his relationship with Cuba deserves mention. In this country he not only received military training, as mentioned in the book, but he also found support to oust Somoza and become the key figure of the Sandinistas because he was Fidel Castro’s favorite in that movement.

Obviously the final destiny of Daniel Ortega does not appear in this biography because in real life it still remains a matter to be decided. Many in Nicaragua would like to see him subjected to a judicial process and finally imprisoned, but justice sometimes comes late. At least in these pages he will remain locked up to be judged by readers.

Translated by: Sheilagh Carey


The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

Cuba’s "Slaves Without Rights" of the Youth Labor Army

EJT (Youth Labor Army) market on Calle 17 and K in Vedado (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Marcelo Hernández, Havana, September 26, 2018 — Rigo, Suandy, and Alberto arrive each morning at a corner in the Capdevila neighborhood in Havana, with the order to look for breeding places of the Aedes Aegypti mosquito. Barely 17 years old, they are part of the Youth Labor Army (EJT), an unarmed version of Active Military Service (SMA) that is also being questioned in the constitutional reform debates.

Founded in August of 1973 by Raúl Castro, thousands of young people under the age of 20 have ended up in the EJT over the past four decades. Their labors have concentrated fundamentally in agriculture, construction of houses, and the repair of railroad tracks. But the hard work conditions and the low compensation have put it at the center of the criticisms. continue reading

“Every day my son works for more than eight hours in a furrow producing vegetables and foods that are then sold in the Youth Labor Army markets at a much higher price than he and his companions receive for so much work,” Xiomara, a resident of the Boyeros municipality, lamented last week at a meeting to discuss the reform of the Constitution.

All over the country, and especially in the Cuban capital, the farmers’ markets managed by EJT have displaced in space and in the amount of offerings others that were privately or cooperatively administrated, which opened following the economic reforms of the 90s. Although they have slightly lower prices than their competitors, the quality of the merchandise in these businesses doesn’t please all their consumers.

“They’re an unspecialized workforce and that shows in the deterioration of production, but also in the numerous injuries that they suffer when they have to work in the fields or on railroad lines,” adds Xiomara, while at the table that presided over the debate a man punctually wrote down each phrase.

Young people who complete high school and earn a place at university are only required to spend a year mobilized in the SMA and, as a general rule, are placed in the EJT, where they only receive military training in the so-called “preliminary,” which lasts a few weeks.

Then they are relocated to EJT units, many of them without dormitories and from which they can leave every afternoon to sleep in their homes. However, their members are considered active military members and during their time in the Army they must comply with a chain of command that functions under the rules of that institution.

“Although I am happy that my son doesn’t have to have a gun, I believe that the new Constitution should offer more work options to the conscripted young people, including other tasks that they might be better at, like social work or incorporation in industrial production,” pointed out the woman.

Xiomara’s point of view was backed by various residents with adolescent children who lament that the EJT has turned into “a lucrative business where young people work hard in horrible conditions and receive salaries that aren’t enough for anything,” according to another of the meeting’s attendees.

“At least they no longer have to go to Angola as soldiers, but it’s necessary to dignify the work of these young people, because what they earn doesn’t even mean 15 CUC (Cuban convertible pesos, roughly $15 USD) each month, let alone 20, but in the EJT markets they raise much more. Where does that money end up?” asked the resident. The Revolutionary Armed Forces (FAR) don’t report their resources and rarely publish the amounts of the profits earned with the work of their conscripts.

In 2009 thousands of young people in the EJT were assigned to the repair and maintenance of railroad lines, work for which it is difficult to find a voluntary labor force due to the difficult conditions in which it takes place.

On the outskirts of Bayamo, in the Sakenaff camp, Ruadny was one of the many young people in the area who held for the first time in his life “a pickaxe and shovel to lay a railroad tie,” he recounts now. “I wasn’t even 18 when they sent me to that unit and the truth is that after one week there I would have preferred to go to a military company,” he assures.

Demobilized two years ago from the EJT and with his sights set on emigration, the young man has no qualms in assuring that, at moments, he felt like “a slave without rights.” Ruadny remembers that they received a short training from the Eastern Railroad Company but that they arrived at the field “with very little knowledge of the work.”

“We had many cuts because, of course, the majority of the kids had never handled a pickaxe in their lives and I don’t remember that there was a union structure to protect us,” he laments. Ruadny came to make more than 500 Cuban pesos monthly for his work, less than $25. “I’m a musician, what I love most is the guitar and after that I couldn’t even play a note because my hands were so destroyed.”

The Government has deployed EJT conscripts to all those areas where the workforce fails because of the bad work conditions or low salaries. They can be seen in the coffee harvest, in clean-up operations after hurricanes, and in the building of state-owned facilities, but also in the sugar harvest, the maintenance of highways, and the remodeling of dams. The so-called “antivector” campaign, agriculture, the setup of electric lines, and communal services round out their tasks.

In 1999 a report made public during the International Work Conference in Geneva required Cuban authorities to be more transparent about the mechanism by which Cuban young people can opt to be part of the EJT and “to choose can constitute a useful guarantee.” The body reminded the Island that it needed to suppress “the use of forced labor as a method of using the workforce with the goal of economic promotion.”

For Ruady the deficiency of that right remains. “It’s true that now you can spend your military time far away from shrapnel, but they are still treated like soldiers, whoever doesn’t obey goes to the dungeon,” he assures.

Translated by: Sheilagh Carey


The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

At Least Four Students in Cuban School Wounded with Knives

Students of professional technical education in Cuba. (Twitter)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, September 17, 2018 — This Monday morning at least four students were wounded at the Olo Pantoja Technological Institute in the La Lisa municipality in Havana. As an employee confirmed to 14ymedio, four people entered the school, opened the classroom doors, and “started stabbing,” explained the source.

According to the testimoney of this employee, who preferred to remain anonymous, at least six students were wounded, five males and one female, by knives. The Pediatric Hospital of Marianao confirmed that four adolescents received emergency treatment, among whom one had cuts in the face.

“Of the four treated only one remains hospitalized for a previous injury,” said a spokesperson from the hospital. continue reading

The wounded were transferred first to the Cristóbal Labra Polyclinic, near the center, to receive first aid. A school employee said that once in the clinic an individual tried to attack the students again, but was detained by police. According to this source three of the four attackers have already been detained.

14ymedio tried to speak with the police station of La Lisa but did not receive a response to multiple calls. Official media sources have not reported on the incident.

“The school’s problem is that it has no security. People enter without being asked for identification,” said the employee by telephone.

The center’s administration has asked parents to come collect their children because the school is “being evacuated.” Classes have been suspended until next Monday. According to one of the employees who spoke to this newspaper, various parents have said they will ask for “the removal” of their children from the school out of fear that violent events like this Monday’s will be repeated.

The Olo Pantoja school is located on Avenida 51 and Calle 222 and offers technical vocational training in construction with specialties in carpentry, brickwork, and others. Its name is an homage to Orlando Pantoja Tamayo, one of the men who accompanied Ernesto Guevara in the guerrilla war in Bolivia where he died on October 8, 1967, one day before the death of Che Guevara.

The Government maintains a strict censorship over the violent or criminal acts that occur in schools and the official press rarely addresses these topics. The few reports on school violence, prostitution, and bullying are done by the Island’s independent press.

At the beginning of the year it became known that a hidden shelter at a high school in Camagüey was being used as a meeting and leisure area by a group of young people aged between 13 and 23 that have been involved in a case of corruption of minors and drug use.

Six girls and one boy between 13 and 15 years old would meet in the shelter with young people between 16 and 23 years old to allegedly drink alcohol and take controlled medications like Carbamazepine and Dyphenhydramine.

Cuban education, considered for decades to be one of the principal banners of the Government, has not escaped the crisis experienced by the nation since the end of Soviet subsidies at the beginning of the nineties. The exodus of teachers and the low qualifications of personnel have forced massive recruitment of young people in training programs for teachers.

In 2008 a 12-year-old student died after being hit by a school chair by his teacher, who was 17. The murder, which happened in the Domingo Sarmientos high school, in Lawton, received no coverage in the official press.

Translated by: Sheilagh Carey


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