New Skate Park Opens in Havana, 14ymedio, Marcelo Hernandez

Skating and skateboarding has gained followers in Cuba in recent years and also the attention of filmmakers, musicians and supportive friends. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Marcelo Hernandez, Havana, 16 March 2017 – Manolito spends his afternoons chasing buses to grab onto as he rides down the street on his skateboard, or rehearsing new stunts. The young man left school a couple of years ago and every day he spends fewer hours in the house in La Timba where he lived with his mother, his grandmother and his three brothers. Now, a few yards from where he lives, there is a new skate park.

An immense site, closed to the public for decades, was opened for skateboarding on Paseo Street and 31st, very close to the Plaza of the Revolution. With the opening of the new facility they no longer have to watch jealously as other boys do tricks on their boards. News of the opening of the new park spread rapidly among fans of the sport, who have always had to try to find their own place to skate, despite the prejudices.

This urban sport has gained followers in Cuba in recent years and also the attention of filmmakers, musicians and supportive friends. For years, the organizations Cuba Skate, based in Washington DC, has been sending materials to the island for these restless boys, including boards and spare skates. The lack of material is just one of the problems they face. So far the main “squeaky wheel” is that the urban sport lacks places where it can be practiced, leaving them only the plazas and other public spaces where they are definitely not welcomed by other users of the space.

Cuba Skate from Cuba Skate on Vimeo.

Total Uncertainty Among Families Of Cuban ‘Rafters’ Recently Arrived In The United States / 14ymedio, Mario Penton

The speedboat in which the Cubans traveled. (Miami Herald)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miami, 16 March 2017 — A call from Cuba finally let Yandry Perez relax. His aunt had alerted him through an interrupted phone call from the north of Villa Clara, that for two days the whereabouts of his mother and his two younger brothers had been unknown. Organized in absolute secrecy to facilitate their flight, fifty Cubans escaped last weekend in speedboats to Florida, even though they knew they were no longer welcome there.

“For days we have been waiting for news, in complete uncertainty,” says Perez, who two years ago crossed seven international borders to seek refuge under the wet foot/dry foot policy, cancelled in the last days of President Obama’s term. continue reading

“When we heard the news that they had caught two boats with Cubans, we breathed a sign of relief,” he adds.

Last Sunday, a 40-foot speedboat was intercepted by an operations team from the US Customs and Border Protection. It had more than 30 migrants on board

His mother, Marlenes Romero Leon, 47, along with his brothers Yusdiel and Kevin, 20 and 11 respectively, boarded the speedboat as a last option to join the rest of the family that was in the south Florida, in a reunification process that was initiated some years earlier but was frustrated when Romero was denied a visa to travel to the Unites States to reunite with the father of her children.

“On television I was able to see one of my brothers, so I know they are being detained,” says Perez, who only wants to know where his family is so he can hire an attorney to take the case.

“We believe that can ask for political asylum. On more they one occasion they arrested my mother [in Cuba]. They didn’t even let her get to beach so she couldn’t escape Cuba,” he adds.

“My brother is a child, at least they should let us take care of him,” he says.

Last Sunday, a 40-foot speedboat was intercepted by an operations team from US Customs and Border Protection. There were more than 30 migrants on board, five of them ran off into crocodile filled mangrove swamps to escape the authorities but they were caught.

A few hours earlier a small boat with seven Cubans on board was intercepted at Blackpoint Park and Marina, south of Miami-Dade. Another boat with 21 migrants was detained in the vicinity of Cayo Largo.

“We can not give any information about the case or those involved because it corresponds to an open investigation,” an official with the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) said.

Authorities are investigating the boat operators who transported the Cubans from the island. If it is proved that they are human traffickers they could face severely punished charges

Authorities are investigating the boat operators who transported the Cubans from the island. If it is proved that they are human traffickers they could face severely punished charges in the United States.

Since the press announced the arrival of the Cuban migrants, Julio Infante has not stopped seeking the whereabouts of his father-in-law, who allegedly traveled on one of those boats.

“I’ve gone to several places but they always tell me that they cannot give out information. We’re desperate because we do not even know if he’s alive,” he says.

The missing man is Wilber Hechavarría, 46, who left Cuba on Monday. The relatives were supposed to call to his daughter, Yoandra, who was waiting for the news.

“I wanted to be with her and leave Cuba. She always wanted to leave the country because people there have to steal to eat,” says Infante.

Brothers Kevin, 11, and Yusdiel, 20,, are among the fifty or so Cuban ‘rafters’ detained. (Courtesy)

“My wife came from Guatemala a year ago crossing borders. She arrived pregnant, we already have a family and we wanted her dad to be with us too,” he adds.

Although the migrants knew of the ending of the wet foot/dry foot policy, they ventured to cross the Florida Straits, confident that they would find some way to legalize their situation later in the United States.

For Infante, it’s all the same that the policy that facilitated the entry of Cubans to the United States is over.

“In the end, I would look for some way to legalize or be undocumented, but that will always be better than staying in Cuba,” he says.

When a rafter or any undocumented Cuban migrant arrives in the United States, he is obliged to appear before the authorities for processing

Immigration attorney Wilfredo Allen comments that when Cuban rafters arrive in US territory and do not surrender to immigration authorities, not only will they not be eligible for the Cuban Adjustment Act after staying in the country for a year, but they will not be able to obtain legal status even by marrying residents or citizens.

“When a rafter or any undocumented Cuban migrant arrives in the United States, he is obliged to appear before the authorities for processing. The migrant can apply for political asylum if he is persecuted and fears to return to Cuba,” says Allen.

“If your case is credible you have the right to fight for asylum before a judge and, if granted, you could then adjust your situation through the Cuban Adjustment Act.

“If migrants who illegally entered the United States do not present themselves to the authorities, they remain undocumented and it is very difficult for them to legalize their status later. They are subject to immediate deportation,” he adds.

Police Accuse Journalist Henry Constantin Of “Usurpation Of Legal Capacity” / 14ymedio

Cuban activist Henry Constantin. (Twitter)

14ymedio, Havana, 17 March 2017 – Journalist Henry Constantin, director of La Hora de Cuba (Cuba Hour) magazine and regional vice president of the Inter American Press Association (IAPA), was formally charged Friday with the crime of “usurpation of legal capacity,” he told 14ymedio.

Constantin received a subpoena for the third Police Station in the city of Camagüey where First Lieutenant Pacheco Seagnamillo informed him that he was accused of conducting interviews on the public right-of-way in which he “misrepresented reality.”

The police did not mention the names of potential complainants, but emphasized that he was not “empowered” to perform a reporter’s job. continue reading

The journalist could be prosecuted for violating Article 149 of the Penal Code which punishes whomever “performs acts of a profession for the exercise of which he is not properly qualified.” The sentence contemplates the “deprivation of liberty from three months to a year or a fine of 100 to 300 shares* or both.” The official told him that the independent journalist Sol García Basulto, correspondent of this newspaper, will also be prosecuted for the same crime.

In the next 60 days, Constantin will be subject to a precautionary measure yet to be detailed but at the moment he cannot leave the city. The reporter will not be able to attend an exhibition in Los Angeles, about the current situation of journalists on the island, nor the subsequent meeting of the IAPA in Guatemala.

Constantín was named last December as IAPA’s regional vice president for Cuba and pledged to spread “the reality of journalism” on the island. The organization has issued several press releases condemning the harassment and arrests of those who have been victims of attacks in recent weeks. It has urged the Cuban government to guarantee freedom of the press and expression throughout the country.

*Translator’s note: Cuban law sets fines based on “shares”; the value of a share is set separately and in this way can be changed, over time, without having to amend all of the laws that reference fines as a penalty.

Cuba Will Pay For 500 Former FARC Guerillas To Study Medicine / 14ymedio

Graduation of Pakistani doctors in Cuba in 2014. (Screen Capture)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 16 March 2017 — The Cuban Government will offer to Colombia one thousand scholarships to study medicine on the Island, of which 500 will go to former FARC guerrillas and another 500 to civilians without ties with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia.

The proposal was presented by the Cuban ambassador in Colombia, José Luis Ponce Caballero, to Iván Márquez and to the Commission for implementation, monitoring, verification, and resolution of differences of the Final Peace Agreement (CSVR). It is a contribution to the peace process and to the post-conflict phase.

The 1,000 grants will be distributed over five years and the first course will begin this coming September. Each year 100 grants will be awarded to the Government and 100 to the FARC for its management.

“The embassy of the Republic of Cuba will deliver to the Government of Colombia and the FARC a document detailing the offer, which is being prepared by the Cuban authorities,” Ponce said.

Iván Márquez, a former FARC guerrilla and leader of the peace process on the part of the guerrillas, thanked the Cuban government for the gesture. “To Army General Raúl Castro, our gratitude for filling Colombia with his love and solidarity He supports peace and offers us doctors,” he said.

The total price for a foreigner without a scholarship who wants to study medicine on the island is about $85,000 for six years of study.

Translator’s note: Foreigners studying medicine in Cuba attend the Latin American School of Medicine, which was established specifically to educate foreigners separately from Cubans.

It Appears He Is Right / Fernando Dámaso

!

Fernando Damaso, 17 March 2017 — According to his brother [Raul Castro], later endorsed by the docile National Assembly of People’s Power, the “historic leader” [Fidel Castro] ordered that there would be no public establishment, street, avenue, park or building named after him, nor any monuments erected to him.

At first glance it seems a gesture of humility and modesty at the end of his life after a lifelong display of a overwhelming ego. However, there was no order with regards to the media, perhaps betting he would stay alive in them.

At least that is what emerges from the monumental and interminable media campaign about his figure and thinking, initiated before his death and continuing “in crescendo” to the present. Spectacles of all type, conferences, festivals, dances, songs, documentaries, expositions, and every kind of thing in that sphere, dedicated to him, offer reliable proof.

Should there be any doubt, the Book Fair, which is now touring the provinces, has surpassed all signs of servility with a sick personality cult; colloquia, conversations, workshops, expositions and much more, all in his honor and, in addition, the presentation by different Cuban publishers of 24 titles by him and about him, including three comic books about his life. No world personality, including Cervantes and Shakespeare, has had so many books on the stands of the fair, in addition to the official presentations each and every one of which is filled with the usual words of praise.

A close friend told me, “We are ruled by a dead man.” It appears he is right!

Cuba: Directives for Cyber-offensive from the Ministry of Public Health / Juan Juan Almeida

Juan Juan Almeida, 15 March 2017 — The Cuban government is preparing an insightful cyber-offensive and to do so plans to increase the army of cyber-combatants where, in addition to the well-known guerrillas of cyberspace — that is the students at the University of Information Sciences and the pro-government bloggers — they will add to this new attack all the professionals and staff of the health services. Doctors, specialists, graduates, nurses, health technicians, radiologists, physiotherapists and the rest of the staff that deals with all types of health services and management inside and outside of Cuba.

To this end, they have issued a resolution dated January 31 and signed by Alfredo Rodriguez Dias, Director of Information Technology and Communications of the Cuban Ministry of Public Health (MINSAP). continue reading

In this document you can read, and I quote:

“At present, the use and presence of social networks has become a fundamental factor in the process of socialization, exchange and dissemination of our achievements, our results. Also it has become a symbol of belonging and sites where people and businesses share interests in common such as the news, images, and music among others.

“It is a new space of combat, where the spreading of news happens at great speed with the reach and impact that other means do not have.

“A global university where information is a decisive recourse in the political struggle, and becomes a matter of national security and it is necessary that to achieve a competitive advantage in these spaces to give visibility and credibility to our points of view and our values.

“They constitute privileged channels for the information offensive, counterattack campaigns and to construct alternatives for political expansion and to offer a unprecedented opportunity to activate and multiply the power of the Revolution.

“It is the mission of the activists and cyber combatants to be alert to the spread of news that could affect the Revolution and others that lie about it and denigrate it, so it is NOT prohibited to visit these counterrevolutionary sites, niches where the opportunists are entrenched to wage battle in the Social Networks.

“It is good to know what they are saying, how they think and how the enemy acts in order to be able to combat it. We know that lies are posted there; but there are also truths and we have to know their weaknesses to be able to fight them and where we still have failures. We do not have to fear knowing where we have cancer to be able to fight and eliminate it.”

The document in question includes a list of objectives that are listed under the honorable title of cyber-enemies, and there we find 14ymedio, Cubaenmiami, El Nuevo Herald, Caféfuerte.com, yusnaby.com, Cubanet, Martinoticias y Diariodecuba; and an extensive list of electronic addresses. Almost all well-known.

All this framework, this sniffing around the networks, is a common practice, so it should come as no surprise. The subversive if the maneuver.

Cuba: Government Affirms That There Is No Torture In The Country / Cubalex

Recent photos of Cuban human rights activists during and after their interactions with police and state security forces.

Cubalex, Havana, 16 March 2017 — In the two cycles of the Universal Periodic Review undertaken in 2009 and 2013, the members of the United Nations Human Rights Council recommended that the Cuban State ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture as soon as possible and without reservations, and pass laws to make it clear in national legislation that torture as a crime.

The Government took note of these recommendations, arguing that it ensured respect for the physical and spiritual integrity of persons and that it had effective national resources to ensure the rigorous implementation of the Convention.

It added that international investigations confirmed that people residing in its territory enjoy the fullest protection and enjoyment of the rights and remedies established by international human rights instruments.

It affirmed that there were no practices of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment in the country. Consequently, it did not consider it necessary, to assume obligations with procedures and instances of supranational jurisdiction, for the processing of individual petitions.

The treaty bodies responsible for interpreting and monitoring the application of international human rights instruments are not authorized to hear individual complaints from individuals with Cuban citizenship and residence. Cuba does not recognize their jurisdiction.

Cement Pottery / 14ymedio, Ricardo Fernandez

Victor Rodriquez engages in the specialized trade of creating ornamental cement pottery. (14ymedio).

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Ricardo Fernandez, Pinar del Rio, 14 March 2017 – They call it grey gold because it repairs damage, prevents divorce and builds houses. Cement is one of the most in-demand products in Cuba today where 39% of the housing inventory is defective or in a bad state, according to a report by the Housing authorities.

In the midst of pressing construction needs, a taste for the ornamental also is developing. A newly emerging class decorates its houses with friendly garden gnomes, pelicans with thin legs who appear at front doors and balusters in the shape of sexy women.

After a long period of block-shaped construction, made of pre-fabricated and undecorated pieces, many Cubans appear ready to make up for lost time. The “cement potters” industry, a self-employment occupation that is on the rise, has been made to bloom by the demand for façade decorations. continue reading

Victor Rodriquez lives in Pinar del Rio and considers himself an artist of concrete. His work day begins early when he gets the molds for the pieces that he assembled 12 hours earlier. His hands reveal panels, pedestal vases, mushrooms, lions, flowers, pine cones, pyramids, friezes and post corners.

The potter then moves to the stage of scraping, polishing and painting each piece with a solution of cement and water. He does it like someone who bathes and touches up a delicate baby. His small courtyard is crowded with the sculptures that will later adorn the homes of the province or some distant town.

Cement pottery is hard but profitable work, according to its artisans (14ymedio)

Victor has a loyal clientele, although the competition in the area is strong, and the number of self-employed workers devoted to these activities is growing. The craftsman stands out because he designs his own pieces instead of buying ready-made molds, a detail that many appreciate in an industry that lives by imitation and the repetition of motifs.

Each day, when he finishes his work near 7 pm, Victor bathes to leave behind that grey powder that covers him from head to foot. After eating, he dedicates himself to giving form to the clay that will serve as a sample for casting the cement molds. After polishing and painting, the prototypes are ready to produce new series of figures.

“It is more work, but I never liked to be anyone’s echo,” Victor proudly explains about his originality. “I have never been able to promote my business, and I live away from the city, but the clients themselves have spread the word, and the orders even come from other municipalities,” he explains to 14ymedio.

With the growing demand, Victor’s family became involved in his efforts. His wife polishes, retouches and paints, while his son helps him prepare the concrete and cast the pieces. “It is hard work,” says the young man, who decided to become a potter with his father. “But it pays, and I like it,” he concludes.

“Getting the materials is the most difficult part because there is no wholesale market,” complains the business owner. Most times he has to order from retailers who buy it from the suppliers and bring it to the house.

“Yes, I do demand receipts from them and quality products. In order to maintain my standards I only use pp350 cement, more expensive but also more durable.” The mixture also includes “artificial sand,” he points out.

The Cuban cement industry suffered with the fall of the socialist camp. Currently, the country has six factories that produce grey gold, and in 2016 they reached 1,494,000 tons of the product, of which some 400,000 were distributed in the retail market.

Cement pottery requires preparing the concrete, casting the pieces, polishing, retouching and painting, among many other things. (14ymedio)

However, they still do not produce “the volumes necessary to satisfy an ever-growing demand,” according to Cesar Revuelta, vice-president of the Construction Materials Group. Between 2014 and 2015, the amount of cement that the country had to import underwent a significant increase from 2,677 tonnes to 4,349.

At the end of 2015, the Mexican business Cemex, one of the leading worldwide cement producers, showed its interest in returning to the Island, whether through the sale of cement or the installation of a plant. However, the establishment of an industry on Cuban soil has still not materialized.

But not only the materials shortage can damage the work of these craftsmen. “Sometimes the sculptures are ruined because the molds are badly assembled,” explains Victor. “It has happened to me when I am stressed, that’s why I try to stay focused on the work.”

The pieces made by the Pinareño have had great reception not only because of their unique designs but also because of their quality and durability. But the business of cement ornaments also is rife with swindles and tricks.

“There are no quality controls for concrete construction materials, generally the only inspection carried out for individuals in that line of business is of a fiscal character,” explains Alexander Morejon, official with the National Office of Tax Administration (ONAT), in Pinar del Rio.

There have been cases of manufactured balusters incapable of supporting weight or pieces eroded by humidity and saltpeter. “I ordered some vases to place on the balcony but they have fallen to pieces,” says Monica, owner of a recently remodeled dwelling in San Jose de Las Lajas.

The woman believes that in her case the artisan used “a mix with sea sand, and the cement was overcome. Placing the decorations on the upper story of her house has caused problems, and “it is dangerous because pieces fall, and children play just below.”

However, Victor’s clients attest the quality of his products. “My statue-shaped balusters have been at the doorway more than seven years and look like the first day,” Angel Izquierdo, from the Brione Montoto village, tells this daily when he shows up at the potter’s home for the purchase of patio tiles, another of the products that he offers.

“I am about to finalize a machine to make floor tiles with different mosaic designs,” says Victor as he shows the pieces of a rustic press with which he hopes to increase his earnings.

Translated by Mary Lou Keel

The Day Castro Buried Capitalism / Cubanet, Tania Diaz Castro

Fidel Castro

Cubanet, Tania Diaz Castro, 13 March 2017 – This 13 March is the 49th anniversary of the Great Revolutionary Offensive, that economic project that emerged from the little brain of the “Enlightened Undefeated One,” to ruin the Cuban economy even further.

Although each year the so-called Castro Revolution was a real disgrace for all Cubans, the worst of all was the day that Fidel Castro did away with more than 50,000 small private businesses: establishment where coffee with milk and bread with butter was served, high quality restaurants mostly for ordinary Cubans; expert carpentry workshops; the little Chinese-run fritter stands; fried food stalls which, for those who don’t remember, used prime beef; shoe shiners who plied their trade along the streets; people who sold fruit from little carts; milkmen who delivered to homes, etc. A project that caused unemployment among workers with long experience and that upset people. continue reading

Under the slogan of creating “a New Man,” something that today inspires laughter, the Great Revolutionary Offensive is no longer mentioned. Not even one more anniversary of that nonsense is mentioned in the media, as if nobody remembers the great mistake of the Commander in Chief.

The “New Man,” proposed as a part of this, ended up losing his skills and trades forever: cabinetmakers, turners, gypsum and putty specialists, blacksmiths, longtime carpenters, tailors, seamstresses, book restorers and many others, were forced to give up their work and take up screaming “Homeland or death, we will win!” Over the years, between the invasive marabou weed and the “magic” moringa tree, they were converted into the now well-known undisciplined, lazy, lethargic, absent, stealing in their workplaces and dreaming of working outside their country. A kind of worker who, it is true, thanks to the crazy economic juggling of Fidel Castro, is inefficient even faced with cutting-edge technology.

A recent example has been widely commented upon by Havanans: two hundred Indian workers have been hired for the construction of the Gran Manzana Kempinski Hotel, under the argument that Cuban workers cannot deliver the same performance.

Those who ask whether this is appropriate, seem to have forgotten that Cuba still suffers the great drama of lost trades.

The elders of today, who analyze everything through the great magnifying glass of time, come to the correct conclusion that these workers have been not only victims of the economic disaster that the country suffers, and then converted by force into members of a first opposition against the regime, an opposition that has done a lot of damage and the result of which has been to live in a country lacking development and technology for decades and, therefore, instead of good pay they receive alms, as a punishment to shame them.

Raúl Castro said it recently: “We have to erase forever the idea that Cuba is the only country in the world where it is not necessary to work.” Would it not have been more accurate to say: “the only country where people do not want to work, so that the socialist dictatorship will end?”

That would be the real solution.

If Raul does not say it, it is because he is afraid to be sincere. Miguel Díaz Canel, his first Vice-President, may say it through his always lost looks, as lost as those trade that reigned in a Cuba that was not Fidel’s.

The Taliban Has Returned / Cubanet, Luis Cino Alvarez

Hassan Pérez Casabona

cubanet square logoCubanet, Luis Cino Alvarez, 15 March 2017 – At the beginning of the last decade, when Fidel Castro would call a “march of the fighting people” for any reason whatsoever and the multitudes who seemed to have arrived from Pyongyang would chant slogans and wave little paper flags, prominent for his impetuous verbiage was a young man called Hassan Perez Casabona.

Gesticulating like a dervish, with a crew cut, camouflage trousers, and huge Russian military boots that seemed suitable for kicking any dissenters, Hassan Perez, who at that time was the second secretary of the Union of Young Communists (UJC), was the most Taliban of the Taliban of the so-called Battle of Ideas, Fidel Castro’s personal version of Mao’s cultural revolution. In this “battle,” young men like the bellicose Hassan, indoctrinated to the core and supposedly immune to the corruption, were called to play the role of the Red Guards. continue reading

Hassan Perez, who improvised his leftist militant teques* of the barricade with the ease of a Candido Fabré, seemed to have no brake. Nothing contained his quarrelsome and intolerant eloquence. When in 2002, in the Aula Magna of the University of Havana, the former American president Jimmy Carter referred to the Varela Project, quickly and aggressively Hassan Pérez requested the floor to refute him, in the presence of the Maximum Leader, who observed him pleased, although ready to stop his jackal if he let his passion run away with him.

With the retirement of Fidel Castro in July 2006, the Battle of Ideas was fading away, and the Taliban, who with their supra-institutional nonsense represented a nuisance to the succession and the Raul regime reformers, were removed from the scene.

In 2008, in an extraordinary meeting, the National Communist Youth Bureau agreed to work with Hassan Pérez and send him as a professor to a university of the Revolutionary Armed Forces. Although they acknowledged his work as a youth leader, first in the Federation of Middle School Students (FEEM) and later with the University Student Federation (FEU) and Communist Youth, this was interpreted as a setback. Especially given that, shortly before, at the Fifth Congress of the UJC, he had not been elect, as expected, first secretary of the organization.

From that point Hassan Perez lectured in full military uniform – which must have been to his liking, in view of his fondness for military attire – as a lieutenant, in the classrooms of the Military Technical Institute (ITM) teaching history classes.

For almost eleven years there was no mention of Hassan Perez. He only saw himself on TV, dressed in uniform and in his delegate’s chair, during a meeting of the National Assembly of People’s Power, where he voted unanimously in favor of everything that was put before him.

But now, the entrenchment of immobile orthodoxy is generating a neo-Stalinist reflux that has once again brought Hassan Perez to the fore. He is now an assistant professor at the Center for Hemispheric Studies and the United States at the University of Havana and his extensive and bizarre articles appear in the official press.

It seems that Castro’s monks do not have too many better options to choose from if they have had to dust off and get to grips with the annoying Hassan Perez. In short, if it is a question of becoming intolerant and frightening in the discourse toward the sheep who want to go astray, the boy does the job well. And in the years that he spent in professorial penance he is assumed to have overcome the immaturity that he was previously reproached for.

*Translator’s note: (Source: Conflict and Change in Cuba, Baloyra and Morris) “El teque is Cuban slang for the unrefrained barrage of official rhetoric that emanates from the state. I is the old, the formal, the staid, that which has become meaningless through repetition. El Teque is the officialese, the discourse of a revolution that is no longer revolutionary.”

Cuban Journalists Demand Greater Access To Sources / 14ymedio, Luz Escobar

In Cuba, where only the circulation of the official press is allowed, the illegality in which the alternative media exists makes its work difficult. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 14 March 2017 – Whether they are independent or official, reporters share the same complaint against institutions, which they accuse of hindering access to information and hiding data. And for this reason all informants have the same requirement: greater access to sources.

Gabriela Daihuela studies journalism and dreams of dedicating herself to investigative reporting, a specialty she considers missing in Cuba’s current press. Every day she likes her career more, she says, because “there are many issues that are worthy of being addressed that are not addressed.”

The student is currently preparing a reporting piece that has taken her to the Ministry of Education. “They have given us a huge runaround,” she confesses. “When we go to the institution, which is in charge and we know they should be able to tell us what we want to know, they say there is no data or they can’t share it or they can’t find it,” she complains. continue reading

Daihuela believes that “the press should have more freedom,” not only “at the time of writing” but also to investigate. “They are closing the doors to us, and given that we are students, I imagine that for a journalist already graduated and recognized it must be much worse because they must be afraid.”

In the middle of last year, a group of young journalists from the newspaper Vanguardia in Villa Clara published a letter expressing their concerns. They complained that media bosses argue that the ideas expressed in their articles “do not suit the interests of the country at the current time,” or that their reports and comments are “too critical.”

The reporters believe that “so many decades and so many uncritical media dedicated to presenting triumphalist visions of events have provoked a hypercritical avalanche in Cuba.

For independent journalists the picture is even more complicated due to the illegality in which the country’s alternative media exist

For independent journalists the picture is even more complicated, due to the illegality in which the alternative means exist in a country where only the circulation of the official press is allowed.

Freelance reporter María Matienzo agrees with other colleagues in the independent press that journalism is “a high-risk sport.” The most common obstacles she points out are the confiscation of the tools of the trade – such as phones, recorders, computers and cameras – interrogations and surveillance. “It’s a huge psychological pressure [but] we have to overcome it.”

“Losing friends and winning others” is also part of the side effects of the work of informing. “It’s the classic profession to be declared a pest in certain places.” Always try to approach ” the primary source as much as possible,” and “confirm by all possible means.”

The demand for a Press Law has risen in recent months, among journalists linked to both official and alternative media, but no legislative changes have been announced at this time. At the next congress of the Cuban Journalists Union (UPEC), convened for 2018, there may be an answer.

University professor Graziella Pogolotti was quoted in Juventude Rebelde (Rebel Youth) saying that the new law “will establish, with mandatory regulations, the institutional commitment to provide journalists with quick and pertinent information.”

In independent audiovisual media, Ignacio González has won a place with his space En Caliente Prensa Libre (Free Press in the Heat of the Moment). The reporter denounces the “ideological filter” that is applied to students applying to be admitted the faculty of Journalism, a requirement that prevents many interested people from becoming journalists. 

New technologies have made it possible to bring activism closer to social networks. 

Autonomous journalists exist in a scenario that makes it “difficult to investigate.” In addition, they are not issued “credentials or permits” to access official events and “cannot knock at the doors of any official,” he laments. Arbitrary arrests and the confiscation of the tools of the trade also add to the challenges they must overcome.

However, Gonzalez feels gratified when he does a report that ends up solving problems. In his opinion, the population “has begun to understand the importance of audiovisual journalism.” However, he must sometimes mask the face of an interviewee to avoid possible reprisals from the authorities.

New technologies have made it possible to bring activism closer to social networks. Kata Mojena is a member of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU) and disseminates different information through Twitter and YouTube, ranging from the activities carried out by the opposition organization to social problems suffered by residents of eastern Cuba.

“Twitter is a way to make complaints with immediacy so that the media can then broaden and corroborate the information,” says the reporter. UNPACU’s structure, which is “made up of cells,” facilitates “confirming the veracity of the information received,” she explained to this newspaper.

She also laments the continued telephone hackings she suffers in order to prevent her from publishing content, and the difficulties in accessing official sources to obtain their version of any event. Ultimately, her demands do not differ much from those of a young journalist sitting in newsroom of a state-owned media outlet.

The Official Press and the Art of “Sweetening The Pill” / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

The art of “sweetening the pill” has been a characteristic of the official press for years (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 14 March 2017 – After contemplating several ideas of what to write about on this Day of the Press in Cuba, I decided to share with my readers an extract from an unpublished autobiography where I relate the vicissitudes of a journalist in the late eighties of the last century .

It is the best testimony I have on hand to illustrate the art of “sweetening the pill” that for years has characterized the official press and that causes so much damage to our profession. I hope you enjoy it and that it will help you better understand why I decided to assume the risks of being an independent journalist.

The complicated task of telling the truth

Before leaving for the factory, the journalist was warned by the editor-in-chief of the Government’s interest in having the magazine Cuba International write about the quality of the batteries that were produced on its assembly line.

When Antonio and Juan Carlos, the young photographer, announced their presence at the factory, the guard on the door made two calls. The first one to the Director and the second one to a colleague to warn him: “Hey, tell Cuco that the journalists are here, hurry up…” continue reading

A short time later an employee appeared and asked them to accompany him to the director’s office. Cuco also arrived, and in a trembling voice addressed Antonio:

“Journalist, I am the union’s representative: I want you to talk to us before you leave.”

“Of course,” said the reporter.

The administrator exchanged a hard look with the union leader and emphasized to the newcomers the gesture of “follow me.”

The office they entered had a model that reproduced the whole installation. In front of it the director waited for them, and introduced an engineer with a pointer in his hand, who explained the industrial process.

Juan Carlos took a couple of photos of the small scale model and others of the showcase with the types of batteries that the factory was able to produce. The engineer announced that they would visit two sections: the laboratory and the assembly line.

“We also want to go through the area of ​​chemical components and the warehouses,” Antonio said.

“We do not have authorization for that,” said the engineer.

When they arrived at the laboratory they saw a range of sophisticated instruments that could diagnose of the quality of the products and the conditions of the raw material.

At the request of Juan Carlos, two smiling girls stood in front of the devices as if they were handling them. Minutes later they went to the assembly line to organize “a cover photo.”

Juan Carlos chose an angle in which the nozzle of the plastic packing and the conveyor belt with the finished batteries could be captured. In the background, a forklift, frozen for the snapshot, filled a container.

“What do you think?” he asked the reporter.

Everything was perfect, clean and in order. The image offered an obvious sense of efficiency and modernity, but Antonio realized that there were only two batteries on the conveyor belt.

“Can we put some more there?” he asked the engineer.

“The number of finished pieces is an index of our productive rhythm,” said the specialist.

“And what would be the optimum?” inquired the reporter.

“Someday we’ll have between four and six examples on this same stretch,” he replied in response.

“Can we put five?”

“Yes,” said the engineer, “up to five.”

After the photo shoot, Antonio inquired about Cuco.

“He works in the area of ​​chemical components and we cannot go through there, but I’m going go look for him.”

The union leader arrived more calm than he had been earlier.

“Ten minutes to lunch,” he said. “Would you accept an invitation to join me in the dining room?” he asked, so we talked.

The first surprise was to see that the workers did not eat where the engineer had indicated with the pointer on the model, a place he described as “a large, bright and ventilated room with comfortable tables and chairs,” but rather in a closed area, originally intended to store the finished products.

Cuco began without beating around the bush.

“I don’t know if you know that this factory was started 11 years ago. One night a caravan arrived with a large crane and unloaded the machinery. They left it outside, because there wasn’t a single place with a roof.

“It sat out there for three years and the boxes were taken away by the neighbors. They started with the clocks, the light bulbs, the electrical cables, and nuts and screws. They didn’t leave a single ball bearing, because everything ended up in strollers, water pumps or old cars.

“One day the order came to finish everything in six months. Two hours before the opening, volunteers from the Communist Party Municipal Committee hid all the debris and planted a garden as fast as they could. Among them were several of the predators who had made off with the machines when it appeared they had been abandoned.

“The artist who painted the portrait of the martyr, whom the factory is named for, spent 14 hours without getting down from the scaffolding. That’s why the portrait looks cross-eyed and with a mustache tilting to the left. The hero’s mother was about to cause a scandal because of what her son looked like.

“In the haste, they didn’t build the workers’ bathrooms, they didn’t finish the dining room and they didn’t put the fans in the areas where chemicals are used. Nor did they complete the tank for processing toxic waste and now they dump it in a lagoon where before there were fish but now there aren’t even mosquitoes.”

Antonio listened to the story in silence.

“All that data you copied into your notebook is real, but I bet you anything that they never told you what was produced, just what the factory is capable of producing. You will only have heard of the possibilities, not of the results achieved.”

Antonio opened his notebook. Indeed, before each figure appeared formulas of the kind: “When the installation is in full operation it can reach …”, “We are designed to produce …”, “The line has a maximum capacity of …” but not a single word of what was being produced.

“And what is the reality?” I ask.

“What is being completed in a month is what the factory should produce in a week. We should make at least six models and we are only making two.”

“And the ones in the showcase?”  the reporter asked.

“Those came as a sample along with the machinery.”

Cuco continued.

“You want to help us? Then publish the truth. Your article could play a very important role in improving our working conditions,” said the trade unionist.

“Our magazine has been commissioned to produce a report to attract buyers from abroad,” justified the reporter. “I can only speak about the bright side.”

Cuco looked at his watch. He had no desire to ask Antonio if he knew a journalist who was paid to tell the truth, but intuited his lack of guilt in the matter and only managed to say goodbye with a phrase:

“Do not look for trouble for us, journalist, and I hope you can sleep easy.”

Antonio would have preferred to be insulted. He would have liked to say that he preferred to breathe poison in the area of ​​chemical elements rather than sweeten the reality that the union leader had tried to denounce.

But it was false. They paid him for “sweetening the pill” and they not only paid well, they demanded only three or four articles a month. He received food and cash allowances for transportation. His position also served to develop relationships in many places and to gain prestige among those who considered the magazine Cuba International an enviable place for a journalist to work.

I did not work in that publication to tell the truth, but to contribute to making it up.

Ecuadoreans Are Gambling With Their Freedom / 14ymedio, Carlos Alberto Montaner

Ecuador’s President Rafael Correa and presidential candidate Guillermo Lasso (Ecuadornoticias.com)

14ymedio, Carlos Alberto Montaner, 11 March 2017 — They are five: Cuba, Venezuela, Bolivia, Nicaragua and Ecuador. That’s the main nucleus of the 21st-Century Socialism countries. They have different economic structures and their governments manage the productive apparatus in diverse ways, but their rulers coincide on an essential aspect: they attained power so they could keep it permanently. Alternation in the tasks of governance seems to them a bourgeois foolishness to which they’re not willing to submit, even if they have to twist the laws or commit some form of fraud.

The Cuban dictatorship, which 58 years ago seized the country at gunpoint, declared in its Constitution that the Communist Party is the only institution permanently authorized to organize society — period. There is nothing to debate. Any vestige of pluralism is illegal and those who express their disconformity with that unnatural uniformity are worms at the service of imperialism who can — and should — be extirpated. That’s why they murdered Oswaldo Payá. continue reading

The other four countries, obligated by the peaceful and electoral manner in which they acceded governance, pretend to be liberal democracies with freedoms, separation of powers and periodic elections. But they don’t believe in those elements either, and are willing to turn a blind eye to these minor “formalities” or to convert the institutions of democracy into instruments of tyranny.

That’s what just happened in Ecuador. The first unsavory trick was to set the majority at 40 percent of the vote. They did that to adapt the balloting to the ceiling of the party in power and not to take a chance on a second round or runoff. Unless Pythagoras was pulling our leg, a majority is one-half-plus-one of the votes cast. Anything that disagrees with that way of counting is a subterfuge counter to decency and common sense.

But, because resistance to Rafael Correa is in crescendo, because more than half of the country is tired of his bullying, and because Ecuador’s economic situation gets worse each passing day as a consequence of the corruption and the exponential increase in public spending, it became evident that the government would not garner 40 percent of the vote, which meant that there would be a second round.

It was at that point that Rafael Correa and his Defense minister, Ricardo Patiño (Cuba’s man), decided to alter the results to exceed the dishonest percentage of 40. To that end, they took best advantage of their revolutionary rhetoric. The value of the Revolution and the glorious destiny of the socialist motherland rose above the petty will of a temporary majority that, in the future, would be grateful to them. How important was to alter a few tenths of a percentage when the fate of the Revolution was at stake?

Fortunately, they could not perpetrate their plans thanks to the vigilance of Gen. Luis Castro Ayala, inasmuch as the Constitution makes the Armed Forces the guarantors of any election. When the so-called “chain of custody” was lost (the transfer of votes to the National Electoral Council), the general realized that fraud was in the making, refused to be complicit to that shameful act and stood up to the plotters.

Castro Ayala saved the people’s will and went into history as a man of honor, but lost his post. Correa — despite alleging his friendship with the general and proclaiming, with some cynicism, his “deep sorrow” over his action — called for his resignation and placed at the head of the Armed Forces some officers who responded to his ideological line, which is also Patiño’s.

The Ecuadoreans will return to the ballot boxes. To win, and to make sure the election is not taken from them, they must count on two basic factors. First is the unequivocal and enthusiastic support of all democrats to the candidacy of opposition candidate Guillermo Lasso. Second is their willingness to defend their votes tooth and nail because 21st-Century Socialism is capable of any foul trick to cling to power.

One final and melancholy observation. Those socialists — who are totally unlike European social-democrats — are willing to commit any abuse in order to prevail. If they do prevail by hook or crook, they will speed their race toward tyranny, as happened in Maduro’s Venezuela. The Ecuadoreans are not just betting on a change of government; they’re gambling on their very freedom. In that country, democracy has an expiration date: April 2. After that date, night might fall forever.

Note: English translation from Montaner’s blog.

Scooters Ease The Problem Of Public Transport / 14ymedio, Yosmany Mayeta Labrada and Mario Penton

Scooters do not require registration and the only license required is one to drive light equipment. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yosmany Mayeta Labrada and Mario Penton, Havana/Miami, 8 March 2017 — Carlos began to travel to Ecuador when Cubans did not need a visa. He brought back clothes and appliances to sell in the informal market, until he discovered a more lucrative business: the import of electric scooters, the flagship product of those who do not want to wait hours for a bus or pay the fares charged by the fixed-route shared taxis known as almendrones (after the “almond” shape of the classic American cars widely used in this service).

At first, he sold these light vehicles discreetly from his garage on 23rd Street, centrally located in Havana’s Vedado district, he told 14ymedio. He asked between 2,500 and 3,000 Cuban Convertible pesos* for each bike, three to four times his investment. It was a “solid business,” he confesses.

“So we had several months until things went bad,” he recalls, referring to the visa controls that the government of Rafael Correa imposed on Cubans at the end of 2015. continue reading

The visa waiver Cubans had enjoyed in Ecuador since 2008, along with the immigration reform approved by Raúl Castro in 2013, led to an “airlift” with thousands of trips made each year by private individuals, allowing them to supply the Cuban informal market with products from the Andean nation. As the Ecuadorian door closed, there were other shopping destinations, including Russia, Guyana and Trinidad and Tobago.

For Yamilet García, a Cuban based in Miami, the ‘motorinas’, as they are called, are ‘a blessing’

“It is now more difficult” to find customers who are willing to pay what he was formerly able to charge for an electric scooters, explains Carlos. “There are a lot of people traveling,” so the number of “scooters of different brands and colors” has soared.

In South Florida, where the largest concentration of Cubans outside the Island is located, this business opportunity did not go unnoticed.

Yudelkis Barceló, owner of the agency Envios y Más based in Miami, explained to 14ymedio that for the last three years they have been in the business of shipping electric scooters to Cuba.

“The customer acquires the product and in a period of six to eight weeks they can pick it up at the Palco agency, west of Havana. Payment is made in Miami. The company offers Voltage brand bikes of 750 Watts and 1,000 Watts, which cost $1,450 and $1,600 respectively, plus customs costs (70 Cuban Convertible pesos (CUC) plus 400 Cuban pesos (CUP) in the first case; and 170 CUC plus 400 CUP in the second case).

There are also other models of scooters: the Ava Aguila costs 1,950 CUC, the Hornet is 1,850 CUC and the Mitshozuki is 1,750 CUC.

Barceló notes that the shipment of this equipment is intended for personal use only, so his company does not violate the US embargo. Shipments are made by sea.

Another circumstance that favors scooters is that they do not have to be registered and can be driven with a license to drive light equipment

For Yamilet Garcia, a Miami-based Cuban, the motorinas, as they are called, are “a blessing.”

“Everybody knows what transportation is like in Cuba. I sent one to my brother who lives in Cotorro and he’s happy because he doesn’t have to wait for the bus or take the shared-taxis,” he says.

The Caribbean Express agency is another company that sends motorinas to the Island.

“They are taking four to five months” to be delivered, explains one of the sales agents who for protocol reasons prefers not to be identified.

“Only the Palco agency receives this type of product because it has the scanner to analyze them, so there is a delay,” he adds.

Another popular article among relatives who send products to Cuba are electric bicycles, much cheaper than scooters and with speeds of between 15 mph and 30 mph.

The deterioration of public transport, which has intensified in recent months, has contributed to a rebound in orders

On the Island you can buy the 60 volt LT1060 model with a three phase 1000 watt motor that the Angel Villareal Bravo Company of Santa Clara assembles from components from China.

These are higher powered bikes compared to those previously produced by that factory, and they are capable of reaching speeds of up to 30 mph. They have hand controls to activate the horn, digital screen and disk brakes, among other features.

This model “has characteristics similar to those currently imported by many individuals” and will be sold in the government chain of “TRD stores at a price of 1,261 CUC,” Elier Pérez Pérez, deputy director of the factory explained to the government newspaper Granma, saying they expect to produce 5,000 units by the end of the year.

The deterioration of public transport, which has intensified in recent months, has contributed to a rebound in orders.

Many motorists and passers-by complain, “If anybody hits you, they flee and you can not even see a license plate to complain about it”

Another circumstance that favors scooters is that they do not have to be registered and can be driven with a license to drive light equipment. A condition that many riders do not meet.

However, many motorists and passers-by complain, “If anybody hits you, they flee and you can not even see a license plate to complain about it,” says Pascual, a driver of a state vehicle.

“I’ve even found children under 16 driving these things,” he complains.

“I take care of it like it’s my child and the truth is that it has saved me from a thousand problems,” says Maikel, a computer engineer with a Voltage Racing bike.

His problems go in another direction. “There are few parking lots where I can feel safe leaving the bike and the cars don’t show me any respect on the road,” he complains.

However, he says that the motorina has totally changed his life by giving him a freedom of movement that he did not have before.

*Translator’s note: Cuba has two currencies. Cuban Convertible pesos are officially worth one US dollar each, although transaction fees raise the cost for foreigners converting money on the island. Cuban pesos are worth roughly 4 cents US each.

Mexico Deports 49 Cuban Migrants / 14ymedio

Hundreds of Cubans have been stranded in various countries of Latin America on their journey to the United States. (Archive)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana. 13 March 2017 – Mexico’s National Institute of Migration (INM) reported in a press release that on Monday morning it repatriated 49 Cubans who were in the country in an irregular situation. At 7:30 a.m. (local time) they were sent on a Federal Police plane from Quintana Roo to Jose Marti Airport in Havana.

The migrants – 40 men and nine women – had arrived in Mexico on different dates and were waiting to obtain a transit permit that would have allowed them to reach the US border.

Since the ending of the previous US wet foot/dry foot immigration policy, the Mexican government no longer gives Cubans without visas trnsit permits, which allow foreigners without recognized nationality to legally travel for 20 days through the country.

In contrast, Mexican authorities have since implemented a bilateral agreement with Havana, which allows the return of citizens of the Caribbean country, if the Cuban consulate in Mexico recognizes their Cuban citizenship.

According to the official Cubadebate newspaper, between January 12 – the end of the previous US immigration policy – and February 15, 264 Cubans were deported by the Mexican INM following the same procedure.

As of February 18, a total of 680 migrants were repatriated to the island from different countries, mostly from the United States.