The Energy Crisis Forces Cuban Universities to Readjust

At the University of Havana, classes will end at 3:oo pm instead of 6:00 pm. (14ymedio)

14ymedio biggerEFE/14ymedio, Havana, 17 September 2019 — The fuel crisis that Cuba suffers, and that is affecting the daily life of citizens, has forced Cuba’s main universities to readjust their schedules, reduce class times, and even close departments for one or two days a week.

José Antonio Echeverría Technological University of Havana (Cujae), the country’s leading engineering and architecture school, will close its doors on Mondays and Tuesdays, so there will only be classes from Wednesday to Friday until further notice, as reported this Monday by the first vice minister of Higher Education, Martha Mesa.

Meanwhile, at the University of Havana (UH) classes have been suspended on Fridays, and on the rest of the working days their duration has been shortened and the faculties close at 3:00 in the afternoon instead of 6:00 as usual. continue reading

The official press reported new energy saving measures that are applied these days at the University of Matanzas and the Marta Abreu Central University de las Villas (UCLV) of Villa Clara.

With these measures, the Government tries to reduce the consumption of electricity and fuel for transport at a time when Cuba faces what could be its worst energy crisis since the 1990s, during the Special Period.

Cuban president, Miguel Díaz-Canel, has assured that the Island is not at the beginning of another Special Period and that the current crisis is a “temporary situation” caused by the resurgence of the US embargo and the restrictions of the Donald Trump Administration on Venezuelan oil shipments.

Cuba produces enough oil to cover 40% of its needs (mainly to generate electricity in thermal plants) according to government data, and the rest it receives mostly from Venezuela.

The arrival of diesel fuel in Cuba was interrupted last Saturday and no more ships will arrive until October, a situation that is affecting transport and industrial activities in the country, as well as generating fears of possible power outages.

On the street the effects have been noticed, with more people looking for transportation from the sidewalks, overflowing urban buses, a large share of the gas stations with closed diesel pumps and long lines at those which are still open.

The authorities assured that the supply of diesel for private cars will not cease, although urban and interurban public transport by road and rail has been restricted to minimum services.

Last Thursday, several ministers appeared on the Roundtable TV talk show, together with Miguel Díaz-Canel, to reassure the population and assure them that there would be no problems, and at the same time that they detailed all the reductions that will have to be faced as this situation is resolved and that will affect all sectors.

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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.

Imperialism or Twitter Trolls: Who’s to Blame? / Regina Coyula

Cubans connect to the internet in a park in Havana (Photo: Yucabyte)

Regina Coyula, 20 September 2019 — During a special appearance by Cuban president Miguel Díaz-Canel on the September 2019 broadcast of the talk show Roundtable, several Twitter users complained about a number of accounts which have been blocked on the platform. Many, though not all, were linked to the news media. The suspended accounts included those of Roundtable and its presenter, Randy Alonso Falcón, the official news website Cubadebate, the Cuban Union of Journalists (UPEC), Radio Rebelde, Granma Digital, Canal Caribe and the Ministry of Communications. The account of Oliver Zamora Oria, the Cuban correspondent for Russia Today, was also among those suspended.

The reaction was swift. Using hashtags such as #CensuraVsCubaenTwitter, officials, journalists and supporters of the ruling party — including Díaz-Canel himself —denounced the suspensions as an anti-Cuban operation orchestrated by the United States government. “The U.S. State Department’s Internet Task Force for Cuba issued recommendations last June which called for using the platform as a highway of subversion in Cuba,” read an official statement issued by UPEC regarding the suspended accounts.

It is paradoxical to see a campaign in which labels referencing freedom of the press and democracy are used by parties which despise both concepts and operate in ways counter to them. continue reading

Many of those protesting seem to ignore the fact that Twitter has terms of service, the violation of which carries a penalty.

The Computerization of Society initiative has increasingly given rise to what we might call the “cyber trench” in the Battle of Ideas*. A large number of public officials have opened Twitter accounts while journalists have increased their cyber presence and activity on social media. Many of them enjoy what in Cuba is popularly known as the “oil tanker phone,” a mobile device paid for by the institution to which an individual is affiliated and whose purposes include the “defense of the revolution.”

A review of most of these accounts reveals that an overwhelming number of posts by official news outlets, members of the Council of Ministers, the National Assembly, the president’s office and the president himself are retweets. These accounts produce very little original content or content related to the professional activities of these individuals and institutions.

In turn, all of these posts are replicated by an army of trolls, dubbed by Cuban users as cyberclarias. They generate massive numbers of fake profiles whose sole purpose is to spread the content of accounts a user follows.

It is a huge and varied scheme. Nearly all the trolls, if not all those I have listed, follow the account of President Díaz-Canel. They can then alternately follow those linked to Cuba’s vice presidents, government ministers, party secretaries, officials at different levels, directors of institutions, official media outlets and some foreign press outlets. They also tend to follow international politicians such as officials from the governments and institutions of Venezuela and Nicaragua, Bolivian president Evo Morales, and former presidents Lula da Silva, Cristina Fernández and Rafael Correa. Having done this, they then follow each other.

Although fake profiles are identified by specific professions, they generally do not follow other accounts related to the profession to which they claim to belong. They don’t sleep, they don’t work and some tweet at a frenetic pace, almost by the minute, retweeting thousands of posts from the accounts they follow. They use random images downloaded from the internet as a profile pictures without giving it too much thought. And a nice detail: they usually choose photographs that align with western standards of beauty.

Among the profiles created for ideological propaganda purposes are some which post original tweets with the goal of starting trends.

Such large scale, irregular activity should not have gone unnoticed by Twitter. Shortly after Díaz-Canel’s September 11 appearance on Roundtable the tweet storm began. It was probably then that Twitter decided to suspend many of these accounts.

Ultimately, almost everything will go back to normal and the real accounts will be reinstated, as happened in Venezuela. After a similar episode, many were restored.

I will put aside the questions I always ask myself when I stumble upon hordes of fake accounts: Why do those who defend the government create fake accounts? And why do they want to remain anonymous if they are defending the truth about Cuba and have the support of those in power?

Originally published on YucaByte.org on September 13, 2019

*Translator’s note: The use of the term “Battle of Ideas” was formalized by Fidel Castro as a ’stage’ of the Cuban Revolution in response to the case of the child rafter Elian Gonzalez. According to Ecured.cu, a Cuban government website, it consists of five major ’battles’ and around 200 programs.

"Regulated Ones" on a War Footing

Since 2018 the strategy of informing activists of their “regulated” status at the moment of reaching the immigration counter has become more common. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, September 25, 2019 — The list of Cuban citizens whom the Government has labeled as “regulated” by now includes 150 people. This mechanism, with which the authorities arbitrarily restrict the free movement of activists, journalists, and opposition figures in general, has been consolidated in two years as a regular repressive method.

The free movement of persons is enshrined by Article 13 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as well as Article 52 of the Cuban Constitution. Although in both cases, and in all states, it is a right subject to regulations, the Government of Havana applies its regulations in an arbitrary manner, limiting the room for maneuver of those affected, which can sometimes make them face the judicial avenue and other times turn to activism.

That’s the case for the reporter from the magazine El Estornudo, Abraham Jiménez Enoa, who since June 2 of 2016 has been subject to a migratory regulation from the Ministry of the Interior. As appears on a document, this prohibition is valid until the same day in 2021. These five years are what the State considers he “owes” for having been part of the program of “inserted cadets.” The program allows cadets assigned to the Ministry of the Interior to attend (“be inserted into”) university programs in lieu of other duties. Jiménez Enoa was able to study journalism through an agreement for which he would afterward complete five years of social service, which is why he is not allowed to leave Cuba and has no option to turn to. continue reading

For the reporter, the mode in which the Government impedes “the free movement of individuals is worthy only of dictatorial and totalitarian systems” and he believes that it is “another proof that in Cuba the Government violates many human rights.”

“The idea is to punish and intimidate those who dissent, put the lash to their shoulders. If the internet has brought anything to us Cubans, it’s the possibility to show the Island that many people don’t know. An Island where, sometimes, they force you to remain trapped there for raising your voice and confronting the regime,” Jiménez tells 14ymedio.

Katherine Mojena, a member of the opposition organization Patriotic Union of Cuba (Unpacu), has been “regulated” since December of 2016.

“From then until now they have prevented me from leaving Cuba on more than five occasions. Just now I was selected to participate in a training program on how to confront and report on gender violence. It will take place in the United States and it’s directed by Washington’s embassy in Havana. When I went to ask, I was still ’regulated’,” says Mojena.

The activist assures that during several exchanges with State Security they have told her that “the condition” for letting her leave Cuba is that she remains “permanently” in any other country. “My husband Carlos Amel Oliva and I have categorically refused that. This is my country and they are the ’surplus’ ones,” she believes.

In her opinion, there are many factors influencing the Government’s decisions on a person’s movement.

“It’s not my goal to cause harm with this comment but, in our particular case, this long time with this restrictive measure of the dictatorship is a kind of recognition of how unyielding we have been with our activism. Peaceful but firm in favor of freedom, democracy, and respect for human rights in Cuba.”

Mojena believes that it is necessary to fight from within the Island, which is the path she has chosen and she will not accept conditions. “They can ’regulate’ me, arrest me, rob my home, like they have done, and even put me in prison. I’m ready to face them. Amel and I, and also the ’regulated’ activists from Unpacu, we prefer for Guillermo del Sol to stay alive and we recognize the great and exceptional sacrifice he is making in the interests of all the victims of this arbitrary measure.”

Guillermo del Sol, 53, has been on a hunger strike since August 12 and insists that he is determined to fight the arbitrary practice of the Cuban Government of “regulating” nonconformists.

Others have opted for the legal route. That is the case of the opposition figure Abdel Legrá Pacheco, for whom Immigration authorities suspended the prohibition on leaving the country after he brought a lawsuit before the provincial court of Havana.

The reporter Boris González Arenas also turned to the law to confront the prohibition on leaving that was imposed on him in June. “I already missed a trip to Panama, to Colombia, an invitation to participate in ASCE, in the United States, and finally, another to the United Kingdom, where I was invited by the British parliament,” he told this newspaper.

“I presented a request to Roilan Hernández, the legal person in charge of immigration. The current Cuban Constitution has a rudiment that isn’t habeas data [although it is similar], but through which one can ask the State about the information that it has about him. I asked Immigration to know the reason for my ’regulation.’ Of course there was no response. I went to the military prosecutor, to sue for Hernández’s abuse of authority, and it passed the case to the Attorney’s Office of the Ministry of the Interior, which has not yet answered me.”

In January of 2013 a Migratory Reform went into effect which significantly liberalized the processes for traveling outside of the Island, with the old “exit permit” being eliminated, but with the passage of years the list of opposition voices who cannot leave the country has been growing. At the beginning, State Security prevented dissidents from traveling via arbitrary arrests.

Since 2018, however, the strategy of informing activists of their “regulated” status at the moment of reaching the immigration counter has become more common.

After the modifications made by the Decree-Law 302 in October of 2012, immigration authorities have the capicity to deny certain citizens the issue of a passport or prevent them from leaving the country.

The law provides for various cases: being subject to a penal process, having an outstanding fulfillment of a penal sanction or security measure, being in the course of fulfilling Military Service, or being considered “a work force qualified for the social and scientific technical development of the country.”

However, where more discretion applies is in reasons “of public interest or of National Defense and Security.” The lawyer Eloy Viera maintained in an article published in El Toque that he opposes the use of vague concepts like Defense, National Security, or Public Interest to justify the limitation of rights by immigration authorities. They are variables “that are used with impunity to limit fundamental rights.”

Translated by: Sheilagh Herrera

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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.

“I Don’t Know If I Can Return To Cuba But I Have The Dream Of Seeing Her Free”

Norman del Valle was forcibly expelled from the Regional Museum of San Ramón of the University of Costa Rica for his criticism of Castroism. (Facebook)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 25 September 2019 — He answers the phone with a sprightly voice, as if he wasn’t 81 years old. Norman del Valle is on the other end of the line and I only know one image of him, that of an old man forcibly taken from the Regional Museum of San Ramón of the University of Costa Rica. But as he speaks, I get other snapshots. In one he is seen as an activist, in another an emigrant, a father, a dog lover; but in all of them it shows that he is a Cuban who carries the Island with him.

“I am calling from Havana,” I say with some shyness and he greets me like a neighbor of my whole life would do when we meet climbing the stairs of my building when the elevator is broken. In just a few seconds we are talking in front of a hypothetical cup of freshly brewed coffee and, the time, distance and vicissitudes of telephone communications from Cuba no longer matter.

Last Saturday, Norman del Valle took an envelope with dozens of sheets where he compiled the armed presence and ideological intervention of the Plaza of the Revolution throughout the planet and especially in Latin America. Thin, gnarled and vital he went to participate in one of those calls that use the word “solidarity” or “peace” but spread the official Cuban propaganda abroad. continue reading

“They sent me the invitation to the event and I said ‘I am Cuban’ and I have to know what is happening there,” says this retiree, born in Santa Clara and now the executive deputy director of the Democracy Movement. Pending what happens in his land, Del Valle traveled to Costa Rica for the first time as a child and later had a business to export vegetables to the United States. “When I retired, I decided to stay here.”

On September 21, he arrived at the San Ramón Regional Museum, a building with a large central courtyard and rooms that are rented for conferences, conversations and other private activities. Upon entering, he was captured by the security operation that guarded the event, in which the Cuban ambassador to Costa Rica, Danilo Sánchez participated.

“As soon as I arrived, a man attached himself to me and started asking me questions,” he recalls. “He wanted to know if I knew Marco Rubio, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen or Mario Díaz-Balart.” To “mislead” the guard, Del Valle approached a woman who was handing out stamps with the image of Che Guevara to attach to one’s clothes and tried to put on the face of an Castro fan, but did not convince anyone.

The Cuban ambassador took the floor before an auditorium where there were barely fifty people. The event had that atmosphere of a carefully prepared presentation, loaded with slogans and with a very defined script. Del Valle’s cup of patience overflowed when Danilo Sánchez began to establish a line of union between the figures of Cuban independence that passed through Costa Rica at the end of the 19th century with the current Government of the Island.

“Just a minute, don’t compare those patriots with the tormenting people that govern Cuba today,” escaped from the exile’s throat in the middle of the event as he raised his hand to ask for the floor. Long faces, momentary paralysis in Sánchez’s gestures and an immediately activated expulsion operation. In a few seconds, the old man was dragged to the exit door by two individuals in civilian clothes.

In the video, which has gone viral, the voice of the Cuban diplomat is heard in the background, cut by the phrases of the Del Valle denouncing “the dictatorship” on the Island and noting the thousands of Cubans who passed through Costa Rica “fleeing from hell” from the arrival of Fidel Castro in power.

“They took away my right to free expression, because I couldn’t say what I wanted to say,” he denounces. “I’m a pacifist, I didn’t even use obscene words, I just wanted to talk.” So far no one from the Cuban Embassy in San José has approached Del Valle to offer an apology although the outrage grows on Facebook and Twitter over the treatment given to a senior citizen.

Despite the fact that the activity continued after his expulsion, the retiree does not believe that this type of official event can change the impression that many Costa Ricans have about the lack of freedoms on the Island. “The Costa Rican people are aware of what is happening in Cuba,” he says. He adds that he has received “mass support” after what happened and has also given numerous interviews.

When thinking about whether he will one day return to the Island, his voice cracks a little and does not seem as lively as when he answered the phone. The years begin to weigh too much when there is nostalgia and separation. “I don’t want to kill the memory I have of Cuba, of Santa Clara where I was happy as a child, where I skated and biked. I want to go to my grave with that memory.”

Although he also has a very personal prediction: “I do not know if I can return to Cuba but I have the dream of seeing her free.”

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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.

A Country Waiting For A Ship

It is enough for an oil tanker to be delayed for the whole country to be paralyzed. (Pdvsa.com)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 25 September 2019 — We have always been promised a Holy Grail. At the end of the 60s, the heart of all Cuba beat to the rhythm of the so-called Ten Million Ton Harvest, while in the years of the economic crisis known as the Special Period, hope focused on the Food Plan that would fill our plates and please our stomachs. Now, all the illusions of 11 million people cling to the arrival of fuel ships from Venezuela that will dock and unload their precious cargo on this Island.

The country is experiencing a new economic relapse that some consider simply a new symptom of the long illness of lack of productivity, dependence on foreign subsidies and the inability of the Cuban economic model to generate efficiency and well-being. The government calls for calm and has named the current circumstance “the conjuncture,” a word worthy of the new language to which the Plaza of the Revolution has accustomed us, which renamed the private sector as “cuentapropia*,” the unemployed as “available workers” and to the dictatorship as “democracy of a single Party.”

Beyond the names and phrases of public discourse, reality has its own vocabulary. The long lines at the bus stops, the shortages of basic products, the hours spent waiting to fill the gas tank in a service station, all of these are named in their own ways in popular conversations: “the thing is bad”, “this is for long “and” it is not easy “are some of the expressions that fill every corner of the Island. Nor is humor lacking, that escape valve from the frustration of a society that makes all kinds of parodies and puns from the “conjunctural” moment. continue reading

Despite the “Energy Revolution” that was undertaken at the beginning of this century, Cuba is now more dependent on fossil fuels than it was a decade ago. It is enough for an oil tanker to be delayed for the whole country to be paralyzed – paused – until the next ship arrives. The calamitous situation of the Venezuelan economy makes the arrival of these ships more random, to which is added the measures taken by Washington to prevent the black gold of that South American country from continuing to prop up Havana.

As so many other times in the nation’s history of the last half century, the crisis will not only be expressed in longer lines and sadder faces; in empty plates and more hopeless people… it will also influence an increase in the number of people who decide to pack and leave. In the last decades the escape and exodus have been an inseparable part of Cuban life. While the analysts discuss whether this moment is an extension or not of the economic collapse of the 1990s, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, we all agree on one thing: it is the same old flight, that prolonged escape, that we are already familiar with, like the crisis itself.

*Translator’s note: Cuenta propia literally translates as ‘on one’s own account’ and is used to mean ‘self-employed.’

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This text was originally published in the Deutsche Welle for Latin America.

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.

Cubans in the US: Richer Than Other Hispanics but Speak Less English

The foreign-born Cuban population living in the US has risen 50%. (Luigi Novi)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, September 18, 2019 — Cubans residing in the US in 2017 rose to 2.3 million, according to a study published this Monday by the Pew Research Center, which relies on data from the last available census in the country. The figure includes both those born on the Island and descendants of Cubans.

With this quantity, Cubans make up the third-largest population of Hispanic origin in the US, 4% of the total. Another significant figure that the data analysis reveals is their spectacular growth, from 1.2 million in 2000 to 2.3 million in 2017, an increase of 84%. Additionally, the foreign-born Cuban population living in the US has increased 50%, from 853,000 in 2000 to 1.3 million in 2017. The largest group in the country is Mexican, made up of 36.6 million, 62% of the Hispanic population.

The comparison of the data of the Cuban community with the Hispanic whole reveals other realities. Only 33% of the whole were born abroad, while among Cuban-Americans, it’s 56%. And 43% of the foreign-born Cubans have been in the US more than 20 years, and 58% of them are American citizens. continue reading

In the educational realm, 27% of Cubans over 25 have obtained a college degree, compared with 16% of Hispanics. Islanders also have a 38% probability of getting a college degree compared with 23% of Latinos.

Consequently, Cubans also have higher incomes, with a median of $28,000 annually compared with $25,000 for Hispanics as a whole. The amount rises to $35,000 for Cuban full-time workers, slightly more than the $34,000 for the whole.

The same outlook transfers to poverty, which affects 19% of Hispanics compared with 16% of Cubans, an average of the figures for those between those born in the US (14%) and abroad (17%).

The economic figures also impact home ownership, with a rate of 51% for Cubans and 47% for Hispanics. Cubans born in the US are homeowners at a greater rate than those born abroad (55% compared with 50%).

By concentration, the Cuban population is found mainly in Florida (66%), California (5%), and New Jersey (4%); and its average age (40) is older than that of Americans (38) and, especially, Hispanics, the youngest group of those assessed, with an average of 29 years.

Cubans born abroad marry more than Americans (49% compared with 37%), although without including place of birth, the number of married is 45%, less than Hispanic Americans, with 46%. In the same way, Cubans have lower rates of fertility than the Hispanic whole, with 5% compared to 7%.

Regarding language, Cubans seem less inclined to change it than the rest of Latinos. Around 70% of Hispanics in the US older than 5 only speak English at home or speak English at least “very well,” compared with 61% of Cubans.

Regarding adults, 64% of Hispanics are fluent in English, a quantity notably greater than the 55% of Cubans who have the same fluency.

Translated by: Sheilagh Herrera

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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.

The Memoir of a Great Figure of the Cuban Exile

Elena Gross and Carmelo Mesa-Lago during the filming of the documentary ‘Statistics and Chance’. (Courtesy)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 24 September 2019 — Carmelo Mesa-Lago is a known but enigmatic figure. An economist cited by both Tyrians and Trojans, with a father born in Guanabacoa and a mother from Regla, for decades we have seen him explain Cuba through his data and figures. Few know his informal, almost domestic side, in which he talks about his childhood, his daughters, his wife Elena or the moment he left the Island. The documentary Statistics and Chance  is an opportunity to approach the two facets of the man, public and private.

Mesa-Lago was one of those forbidden authors read by the sociologist Elaine Acosta while studying at La Colina Universitaria in Havana before emigrating, in the 90s on a journey that took her to Chile, Spain and finally Miami. Married to the audiovisual director Carlos Díaz Montero, a few years ago both decided to collect in a film of an hour and a half of the vital journey of the professor, 85, whom she had admired and read for decades.

The material, in which testimonies of other economists appear, such as Omar Everleny Pérez and Pavel Vidal, together with activist Dagoberto Valdés and academic Jorge Duany, has its greatest value in showing the vital journey of a man who graduated in 1956 from Law school, but who ended up falling in love with economics, in one of those surprising and random turns that have been so defining in his existence. The expert has been more determined by this eventuality and contingency than one might think. continue reading

This sequence of coincidences that gave shape to Meso-Lago’s professional and personal path is very well documented in the film through the testimony of the economist himself, but his stories are also drawn by others speaking about the moment they met him, how it influenced them and how decisive some reflection or publication from his hands was for the study of the Cuban economy.

The idea of ​​the documentary arose from Acosta and Díaz when she worked on research on care policies in Latin America and interviewed Mesa-Lago as an expert. “That interview ended up being a kind of methodology,” she says, and immediately proposed to collaborate to make a biographical documentary.

“We had it listed as an indispensable reference,” Diaz recalls. When they made the proposal to make the film “with the humility that characterizes him, he replied that it would be an honor.” During the first interview, the filmmakers realized that “chance plays a fundamental role in his life, hence the title of the documentary.”

But good intentions are not enough, nor is taking a camera in your hands to produce material of this nature and expanse. “Incredibly, despite Carmelo’s greatness as an academic and being one of the most recognized personalities of the Cuban exile, getting funds to carry out the project was not easy,” acknowledges the director.

“We were helped by the fact that we are a small team and received the support of Jorge Duany, director of the Cuban Research Institute at Florida International University, who sponsored the project. Olguita and Carlos Saladrigas together with the National Association of Cuban-American Educators and the University of Pittsburgh contributed in various ways to make it happen,” he says.

The solidarity of family and friends helped shape the initial idea. But the main contribution was, without a doubt, the testimonies of the interviewee himself and his infinite patience. “Carmelo and his wife Elena were very hospitable and attentive to us from the beginning. They, despite the years of exile, keep their Cubanness very close to their skin, they are straightforward and very authentic.”

Part of the motivation of the academic to relate his life in front of the lens was “the debt he feels to Elena. The presence of her in his life goes beyond support, is an essential part of his career, a vital piece in the gear of the life they have led together. Elena is not my support but rather my complement,” Diaz says.

“The documentary was derived in the vision of Carmelo the person and not the personality, something very difficult to demarcate. The man who suffers from exile, concern for his family, the relationship with Elena and their daughters, professional achievements and the always present Island.” The connection and trust between the filmmakers and the protagonist went so far that Mesa-Lago did not influence the post-production and “came to the premiere of the documentary without knowing what the final result was.”

In the presentations of the film, the reactions of the public have been diverse. “Those who make up the historical exile have shown empathy, nostalgia, have felt part of the history and have commented on the need to include passages of time omitted or little touched,” explains Díaz. The younger generations, for their part, have been grateful to have access to events “that were unknown to them and to hear from the protagonists the story they have learned from books or heard about.”

“What has been unanimous is the opinion that Elena steals the show. Her participation shows — in a diaphanous, sympathetic and perhaps less academic way — what it has meant to be Carmelo’s complement, the price of objectivity, the fears of exile, the pain of being torn from the homeland, the new dreams, the satisfaction for the path chosen by their daughters and the affable summary of their life in common,” recognizes Carlos Díaz.

On her side, for Elaine Acosta the value of the documentary transcends the figure of the professor. “The current Cuban and Cuban-American community in the United States is undergoing major changes. Rescuing their stories is urgent for several reasons,” says the sociologist. “First, because the generation of Cubans who arrived in the United States as adults, immediately after the triumph of the Revolution, is disappearing for obvious reasons. This may represent the last opportunity to register the memories of the pioneers of the community.”

“On the other hand, Cuban immigration is primarily responsible for the formation of the third largest concentration of Latinos in the United States and its contribution has been undeniable. With the latest waves, quantitatively more numerous, there is a generational and cultural change in the Cuban-American community.” Acosta believes that for the new generations “it is very important to have that previous story, with that road paved by several thousand Cuban men and women who preceded them.”

Among these emigrants “there have been different narrative and film experiences, in which a fundamentally political perspective predominates, centered on the opposition of the exiles to the Fidel Castro regime. Sometimes, film proposals do not always connect with the new generations.” That is why “oral history has the potential to provide a point of reference for social contact between different generations of Cuban exiles and their culture of origin and the society that receives them, as well as a means to show and preserve, for generations to come, the wealth of the Cuban heritage.”

For Acosta and Díaz, a dream that is still difficult to fulfill is that the film Statistics and Chance reaches theaters on the Island. But the director believe that is still missing because the “much-vaunted continuity is nothing more than trying to revive the belligerence of the 70s. The man designated to be the main face of the Cuban Government [Miguel Diaz-Canel] has proven himself to be a faithful heir of intolerance and the most radical dogmas.”

“I do not believe that they will allow a tribute to a person who does not agree with the political system imposed on the Island since 1959. Personally, I am not interested in official distribution, I am totally indifferent to it. I prefer it to be disseminated hand-to-hand. I think in this way it would be more worthy of Carmelo, that his history flies in the small democratic breezes that cool the totalitarian vapors,” adds Diaz.

“What I do expect is that, in the future, I don’t care if it is immediate or distant, when Cuban citizens enjoy essential freedoms, the Faculty of Economics of the University of Havana will the name of Carmelo Mesa-Lago,” she says.

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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.

Regretting the Absence of the Cuban State at a Human Rights Meeting in Washington

Lawyers, activists and reporters denounced, before the IACHR, the “serious violations of human rights” in Cuba. (IACHR)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 24 September 2019 — The absent voice at the hearing at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) on Monday was that of the Cuban government. During the session several activists residing inside and outside the island denounced the serious violations of freedom of speech and the press, according to Carlos Alejandro Rodriguez, editor of the magazine Tremenda Nota, speaking to 14ymedio.

At the September 23 meeting at the headquarters of the Organization of American States (OAS), in Washington, were representatives from the Institute on Race, Equality and Human Law, the Cubalex Legal Information Center and, also, representatives of several alternative media such as Diario de Cuba and Tremenda Nota.

The editor of Tremenda Nota, a magazine dedicated to minorities, was one of those who gave testimony in Washington. continue reading

Speaking to 14ymedio, Carlos Alejandro Rodríguez regretted that the Cuban State does not appear at these hearings. “We would have loved the Cuban State to appear at the hearing to refute our demands. We refer to undeniable facts — such as the imprisonment of Roberto Quiñones Haces — and we would have liked to know how the State would have justified the repression, beyond calling us mercenaries and agents of the empire. Unfortunately, the Cuban State does not offer information to the rapporteurs and commissioners, nor does it comply with the recommendations.”

“In recent months we have seen how repression against independent journalists has increased and is resorting to legal mechanisms against us to abandon our work,” he added.

At the meeting, Cubalex offered detailed information on the 171 arbitrary detentions of journalists counted between 2016 and 2018, and about 700 cases of restrictions on internal and external mobility applied by the Cuban authorities.

Carlos Alejandro Rodríguez denounced that the Government “blocks most of the alternative media outlets that it cannot control,” and specifically pointed out the case of the medium in which he works.

The editor of Tremenda Nota noted that Decree-Law 370, recently approved by the Council of Ministers, opens the door to the illegalization of Cuban websites hosted on foreign servers. “In Cuba we can be condemned for collaborating with or managing these media,” he said.

The independent reporter Luis Cino told 14ymedio that he denounced “repression of journalists, arbitrary detentions, interrogations, blackmail, threats and also travel bans,” suffered by those in Cuba who work in journalism on the sidelines of Government. “The commissioners of the IACHR were very receptive,” he said.

For Cino it is important to make these denunciations “because world attention is focused on Venezuela and they tend to see Cuba as a country that is changing and returning to normal. And in reality everything is getting worse.”

The protection of the Amazon in Brazil, the peace in Colombia and the Central American migration to the US are among the central axes of this session that the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights begun on Monday.

The organization’s executive secretary, Paulo Abrao, explained that the hearings will have the same spine: migration, asylum and attempts by states to restrict that right.

According to tradition, human rights defenders make complaints at hearings, governments try to justify their decisions and the IACHR gives its recommendations. In many cases, as in Cuba, this is the only opportunity for activists to ask the State for explanations.

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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.

Judge Grants US Asylum to Cuban Journalist from ‘Tremenda Nota’

Yariel Valdés left Cuba shortly after the Government blocked the ’Tremenda Nota’ page, where he collaborated. (Twitter)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 19 September 2019 — Yariel Valdés González, a collaborator withTremenda Nota and Washington Blade, has obtained political asylum in the United States, where he arrived last March by way of the Mexican border.

“I am very happy and extremely grateful to this country for giving me the opportunity to live in total freedom, far from the persecution of which I was a victim in Cuba due to my work as a freelance journalist,” Valdés told the Washington Blade.

Valdés, 29, entered the United States on March 27 and was transferred on May 3 to Louisiana from the Tallahatchee County correctional facility in Tutwiler, Mississippi. continue reading

The reporter appeared before Judge Timothy Cole of the Bossier Parish Security Center in Plain Dealing (Louisiana) on Wednesday, where he remains in the United States Customs Immigration and Control Center (ICE). According to the information in the US newspaper, it is unknown when he will leave this place and if ICE will accept or appeal the court ruling.

“My friend and colleague Yariel Valdés González has his second hearing this morning with an Immigration judge in Louisiana. He has requested asylum in the US for the persecution suffered in his native Cuba for being a journalist. His colleagues at the Washington Blade, Los Angeles Blade and I am with you. We look forward to the day when Yariel can live a better life, without fear, in this country,” wrote Michael K. Lavers hours earlier; Lavers is an editor and reporter for an American publication addressed to the LGBT community.

Lavers was rejected by Cuban immigration authorities last May, on the last of his many trips to Cuba. The journalist arrived on the Island from Miami on an American Airlines flight and, after landing at Havana’s José Martí International Airport, he was interrogated and searched after which he was told that he must return to the United States.

The day before the constitutional referendum on February 24, the Cuban government blocked the Tremenda Nota website. A month later, Valdés arrived in California.

“I can start my life again in this country,” the reporter told the Blade.

“I hope to continue my career as a journalist from here and continue the fight for a more democratic Cuba for the 11 million Cubans who have resisted and resisted this dictatorial regime that has been in power for six decades,” he added.

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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.

Judge in Miami Grants Political Asylum to Cuban Stowaway

Yunier García, 26, told local media that he feared for his life if he was repatriated to Cuba. (Capture)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 24 September 2019 — On Tuesday a judge in Miami granted political asylum to the young Cuban Yunier García Duarte, who arrived in the United States hidden in a Swift Airlines plane that departed from Havana’s José Martí International Airport for Miami on 15 August.

“Asylum granted, Government appeals,” immigration lawyer Wilfredo Allen briefly informed several media outlets and said that due to the appeal it is very likely that the young stowaway would remain in detention.

Political asylum is the only option the stowaway has to stay in the United States, where he has several relatives. continue reading

In his first interview with the US immigration authorities, Garcia had demonstrated a “credible fear” if he was sent back to the Island, a legal requirement to apply for political asylum in the country. The young man told local media that he feared for his life if he was repatriated to Cuba, where he escaped by way of the hold of an airplane.

“I risked my life, I hope you receive me. I strongly ask you to value my case. I came here because this is a country of human rights,” he told Telemundo.

“He who does not risk does not win,” added the young man who said he got on the plane because the United States is a law-abiding country. “If they deport me, they will torture me to see if I had accomplices.” “I did it alone,” he added during a phone call from the Krome Detention Center, in a conversation with the television station.

“Don’t come back son, because I don’t know what would happen to you,” Daysi Duarte, Garcia’s mother, told the cameras in Havana, in an emotional video released by Univisión 23. Between tears, the woman, who has severe heart disease, sent a message to her son assuring him that she would resist. “Let him know that I am strong,” she said.

The young man said that the trip had been very difficult and that he could barely breathe in the hold of the plane. The stowaway worked in the luggage department at Havana’s José Martí International Airport when he siezed the opportunity to hide in the hold of a Swift Air plane.

Upon arriving in Miami, Garcia was dressed in a shirt with the logo of Ecasa Cuba, the island’s airport and aeronautical services company.

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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.

Hunger Striker Guillermo del Sol Taken to Hospital

After 40 days on a hunger strike, Guillermo del Sol has been taken to the Arnaldo Milián Castro hospital in Santa Clara. (Facebook/Iliana Hernández) 

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, September 20, 2019 — After 40 days on a hunger strike, the journalist and religious activist Guillermo del Sol was taken this Friday at midday to the Arnaldo Milián Castro hospital in Santa Clara, where he lives.

Del Sol is in critical condition after 40 days without consuming food, as his son Adrián del Sol Alfonso informed 14ymedio. “We just got to the hospital because he had a relapse, almost a faint, now he is under observation but they haven’t yet given him anything, neither serum nor any other treatment,” he pointed out.

This Thursday an official from State Security visited the family’s home, in Santa Clara, but “came not to negotiate but rather to harass,” he notes. continue reading

Del Sol made the decision to stop eating on August 12 after Immigration officials at the Havana airport told his son that he couldn’t leave the country. The activist then began a hunger strike to demand an end to the arbitrary actions against 150 “regulated” dissidents. (“Regulated” is the term the government uses to define those forbidden from traveling outside the country.)

“Last night my father didn’t sleep well, in the last 72 hours he has gone into a complicated state due to the deterioration of his health, by now it’s 40 days of starvation, on hunger strike,” explains his son. “His parameters are completely unbalanced, the doctor is coming every day now.”

“Yesterday he spent the night wanting to vomit, it’s difficult for me to communicate with him, he is no longer articulate, sometimes I ask him something and he doesn’t respond.” The young man explains that Del Sol remains in bed and awake. “I’m very worried about his situation and his health,” he reiterates.

In an interview with this newspaper the activist had predicted that the Cuban authorities would remain silent until he was dying. “That’s if they don’t decide to let me die. But it depends on them,” he argued. A situation that appears to be happening.

The official from State Security who visited him on September 19 came in civilian clothing. “He came to criticize, to reproach the actions that we are taking,” says Adrián del Sol Alfonso. In the first 27 days without eating food, the activist lost 21 kilograms in weight.

It’s not the first time that Del Sol has declared himself on hunger strike. The last one culminated on May 20, 2017, after more than twenty days without eating food as a demand that he be returned some film equipment that the police had confiscated. On that occasion, the independent journalist and Evangelical pastor achieved his demand.

“I know that demanding an end to the arbitrary regulations of the 150 ’regulated’ people that we have been able to count seems like madness and that demanding only the reversal of that condition for my son would have been easier,” assured Del Sol a few weeks ago, but “the world has to know that the Cuban government is trying to turn our borders into bars.”

This Friday, the activist obtained a victory by achieving the objective of a petition that he started on the platform change.org to collect signatures supporting the removal of the director of Radio and TV Martí, Tomás Regalado, who just resigned. Del Sol assured that many Cubans lamented that the broadcaster was no longer fulfilling its real function but was rather dedicating itself to placating “personal questions” of its director.

In recent years Cuban authorities have used travel restrictions as a repressive strategy against activists, opposition figures, and independent reporters. The Cuban Commission on Human Rights and National Reconciliation has denounced this practice, and on social media the demand is expressed with the hashtag #Ni1ReguladoMás (Not One More Regulated), which helps to raise awareness in public opinion and pressure Cuban authorities.

Translated by: Sheilagh Herrera

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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.

Selling Purified Water Prohibited in Santa Clara

EcoFinca was founded in 2016, but its project for purified water has been put on hold by the bureaucracy.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio/Mario J. Pentón, Havana/Miami, 23 September 2019 — Getting access to potable water in a big city like Santa Clara is no easy matter, but even more difficult still is getting purified water, which is highly beneficial for patients diagnosed with cancer or other diseases that weaken the immune system.

EcoFinca, a project headed by Ana Rosa Cardoso Gomez, began to pruduce purified water by means of reverse osmosis technology and market it to the general public. The resulting revenue allowed them to distribute this product, free of charge, to around 70 patients “with liver or oncological conditions.” Nevertheless, they did not foresee that a mess of regulations would derail the business.

A source close to the family, who wishes to maintain their anonymity for fear of the authorities, recounts that EcoFinca spent three years battling with the state to allow them to continue carrying out their mission. continue reading

“We made an ecological farm from a sun-beaten wasteland. We teach farmers how to cultivate the land, we research solutions for blights, and turn the wasteland into a productive garden. Fruits, vegetables, leafy greens. We produce everything that is scarce in this country. We even implemented a ’Green Sunday’ to educate new generations on how to protect the environment,” the source commented.

Problems with authorities began in 2017 when EcoFinca began to sell purified water with a food vendor’s license. “Through reverse osmosis, with the help of imported equipment, we produce a product that is 100% free of bacteria, viruses, salts and dozens of other harmful agents,” the source explained.

The Ministry of Public Health granted the organization a sanitary license for the consumption of purified water, which they sold for 60 Cuban pesos from their doorstep, while the state sells it at a price of 2.75 CUC (69 Cuban pesos) in state stores. With the money produced from the sale of purified water to the public the organization was able to give the same product free of charge to a group of patients at the Jose Luis Miranda pediatric hospital and the Mariana Grajales gynecological-obstetric hospital.

However, the law prohibits the sale of water bottled by self-employed individuals as it considers “the access to potable water [to be] a human right that is the responsibility of the State.”

Ines Maria Chapman Waugh, then the president of the National institute of Hydraulic Resources and the current vice president of the Cuban Government, wrote a letter to the authorities of Villa Clara, cited by the weekly paper Vanguardia, where she noted that “the sale of water cannot become a medium for profit.”

According to officials, the business violates measure No. 58 of 2017, issued by the National Institute of Hydraulic Resources, which prohibits the sale of bottled water by native persons.

“In our country water is sold at subsidized prices, in such a manner that everyone can afford it,” the official explained.

A water vendor’s license exists in Cuba, though it does not include purification and bottling, only transport from one place to another. EcoFinca attempted to obtain a license to sell water but was unable to, even though they have their own well. When the State prohibited them from bottling they continued to deliver in bulk, but in the last months the authorities of Villa Clara have pressured them to stop their distribution completely.

“It is free for all patients and customers with an illness, small children and senior citizens with disabilities, but they have to come pick it up here at EcoFinca,” the source reiterated.

“The equipment that we use to purify water is imported from the United States. They have threatened to confiscate it. Filters, turbines, replacement parts…we bought all of this through a lot of sacrifice,” they added.

For Felicia, one of the beneficiaries of the purified water produced by EcoFinca, the regulations “don’t make sense.”

“The president [Miguel] Diaz-Canel has spent his life talking about replacing imports and producing more. Here in Santa Clara there is a family that is producing, that is thinking as the country does. What do the leaders do? They suffocate them. This is why we make no progress, because we are hindering ourselves,” she said indignantly in a telephone call.

Felicia says that the water that comes from the taps of Santa Clara sometimes looks like chocolate because of the amount of dirt in it. “A sick person cannot drink that water. There are times when I don’t even know if I am washing myself or getting myself dirty when I shower,” she adds with irony.

For Erick Perez Tadeo, subdelegate of the State Inspector of Hydraulic Resources in Villa Clara, in contrast, the problem is clearer than water. “They [the workers of EcoFinca] consider water as a foodstuff as they say that they process it. I could say that this water could be considered a foodstuff when they are preparing a refreshment or another kind of sustenance. The water they provide from the Aqueduct Network is a natural resource,” he said to the weekly newspaper Vanguardia.

“If you want to give water to someone with health issues, there is no problem; what you cannot do is market a single liter, you cannot profit from goods of the State,” he concluded with all the authority granted by his post.

Translated by: Geoffrey Ballinger

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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.

Dozens of Journalist Sign Statement Demanding Freedom of the Press in Cuba

The statement comes at a time when the independent press perceives an increase in repression. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 17 September 2019 —  More than fifty journalists, editors and professors have joined in a statement that denounces violations of press freedom in Cuba and demands a framework of respect for those who work in the independent information sector. “We cannot allow another Black Spring to occur as in 2003,” the signatories of the text warn.

The document denounces an increase in “physical, legal and psychological repression” against people linked to non-governmental media. “Arbitrary detentions and imprisonment, raids and searches of private homes, seizure and confiscation of equipment, interrogations, prohibitions on leaving the country,” are some of the reprisals suffered by reporters.

In addition to these obstacles, there are “the sieges around homes to prevent news coverage, defamation campaigns, physical and digital harassment, hacking of personal accounts, blocking and cyber attacks against digital sites, threats of imprisonment, intimidation of family members and social stigmatization,” says the text. continue reading

The publication of the letter and the diversity of the signatories marks a historical point in the independent press on the Island, frequently distanced from each other by thematic or ideological differences. However, this time the signatories represent a wide variety of media, from cultural or technological to the more political.

“The argument usually made by the representatives of the Government and the Party to justify the restrictions of civil and political liberties… has been based on the idea that Cuba is a nation at war with the United States,” the signatories note with regret. “The mentality that has governed our system has responded more to military logic than to a democratic one,” they add.

The text is published in a context of growing official hostility towards the independent press, which this September has been marked by the conviction and imprisonment of journalist Roberto Quiñones, a case that “urges us to stay alert,” warns the document.

Nor does the text spare criticisms of an official press that is nothing more than an organ of the Party. “The agendas and productive routines of state media are permeated by political power and are frequently intervened in by its officials, which constitutes an inexhaustible source of conflicts of interest in which the balance always leans in favor of the interests of the political power and not the interests of society.”

“Our decision to exercise journalism independently reflects our understanding of it as not only as a human right but also as a professional duty. We do not believe that we can produce a rigorous journalism, committed to Cuban society and the search for truth, within the margins of a partisan state press model.”

The text recalls the repressive coup of March 2003, which came to be known as the Black Spring, “when the Cuban State arrested 75 citizens, including independent journalists and human rights defenders, and imposed sentences of up to 20 years of deprivation of liberty.” A danger that could be repeated because “the legal instruments that were used to judge them are still valid.”

Journalists consider that “the Law on the Reaffirmation of Cuban Dignity and Sovereignty (Law 80), and the Law on the Protection of the Independence and Economy of Cuba (Law 88), of 1996 and 1999, respectively, constitute the most serious threats” to the independent press sector on the Island “by criminalizing the exercise of human rights.”

“As long as we do not understand that the repression of journalists, bloggers and communicators has to do with society, because there are stories and approaches to the stories that the Power does not want us to know, we will not be able to implement the changes that journalism needs,” they denounce.

“When we allow a country’s story to be constructed from a single point of view, we lacerate its historical memory and, in the long term, its cultural identity.”

Those who signed the declaration demand “the cessation of repression against those who exercise freedom of the press and expression in Cuba; the elimination of legal recourses that restrict and criminalize the exercise of such freedoms; the establishment of legal guarantees to exercise them, which shall include laws on transparency and protection of sources, and the immediate release of Roberto de Jesús Quiñones Haces.”

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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 President Diaz-Canel Receives the Argentine Grandmothers, But Not the Ladies in White

Estela de Carlotto, president of the Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo. (EFE / Archive)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio/EFE, Havana, 18 September 2019 — Cuba’s Head of State, Miguel Díaz-Canel, received Estela Barnes de Carlotto, the president of the Argentine association Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo, in Havana this Tuesday.

The treatment offered to the Argentine activists contrasts with the systematic repression that the Cuban Government exercises against Cuba’s Ladies in White, who are harassed by State Security when they go out to demand the freedom of political prisoners.

Claudia Susana Carlotto, daughter of Estela Barnes, along with Daniel Ricci and Juan Carlos Barroso, representatives of university organizations, also participated in the meeting between the Cuban president and the Argentine human rights activist, according to a note released by the state-run Cuban News Agency (ACN). continue reading

The president of the Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo was invited to make this visit to the Island by the Federation of Cuban Women, whose head, Teresa Amarelle, was present at the meeting.

Barnes, whose daughter Laura Carlotto was arrested and killed during the Argentine military dictatorship (1976-1983), in 1978 joined a group of women in the organization struggling to locate each of the missing grandchildren*.

In her case, the encounter with her grandson Guido, born in captivity when his daughter Laura was a prisoner, was possible after 36 years of searching, on August 5, 2014.

The Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo estimate that more than 400 children have been registered as missing and deprived of their identity, their right to live with their family and other rights recognized nationally and internationally as universal human rights.

*Source Wikipedia: “Children were either kidnapped or seized at birth from women in detention during the Dirty War. The vast majority were given or sold to adoptive parents, including numerous perpetrators and accomplices in the murder of their biological parents.”

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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.

Normality

Playing dominoes under a battery powered lamp during a blackout in Cuba.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 23 September 2019 — As of the beginning of next year, Cuba will have spent more time under the rules of the Special Period in Times of Peace than it did trying to comply with the fundamental laws of the so-called Real Socialism.

To date, there has been no reversal of the principal measures taken at the beginning of the decade of the ’90s to implement the Special Period, or, and it’s the same thing, to interrupt the construction of socialism. Even those that were considered temporary concessions remain in force and have even been strengthened.

We discuss the date of this proclamation. On 29 August 1990, the State newspaper Granma, referring to the decline in trade with socialist countries — an inevitable side effect of the fall of the Berlin Wall and the coming collapse of the Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc — warned: “These events that are taking place are beginning to transform the life of our country from a normal situation to a special period in peacetime. We have to be prepared for it.” continue reading

One of the fundamental causes that led the Cuban Government to proclaim the Special Period was the Soviet decision that, as of January 1990, bilateral trade relations with Cuba would no longer have preferential treatment, but would be normalized, on the basis of World market prices and convertible currency.

That decision would affect 98% of fuels, 86% of raw materials, 63% of food and 80% of machinery and equipment that the country imported from the socialist countries, members of the Council of Mutual Economic Aid (CAME), to which Cuba had belonged since 1972 and which was dissolved at the end of June 1991.

Cuba’s Official Gazette of 1993 announces the decriminalization of convertible currencies. (14ymedio)

But it was not until July 26, 1993 when Fidel Castro announced the fundamental measures to confront the crisis, including the decriminalization of the possession and use of hard currency in the country and new laws to facilitate foreign investment. What was understood as “the dollarization of the economy” was formalized in Decree Law 140 that Fidel Castro signed on August 13, just as he celebrated his 67th birthday.

The decriminalization of hard currency was not presented as an opening reform but as something that was done “under the conditions of the Special Period and because of the economic difficulties that the country is going through.” It was also justified on the grounds that the measure would contribute to “reducing the number of acts characterized as punishable, which will alleviate and favor the work of the police and the courts of justice.”

That year, before the end of September, the corresponding decrees had been issued that reauthorized self-employment and converted part of the state’s land into the property of cooperatives.

The stores that sold industrial products under the rationing system became baptized as las shopping, where remittances from emigrated relatives began to be used to buy merchandise, in many cases for twice its usual commercialization price.

This was the Special Period. Prolonged blackouts, food shortages, lack of transportation and factory closures were the problems that forced the Government to decree these measures.

The Special Period did not end when those problems diminished and even disappeared, and will not end until the country returns to operating under the strict rules of Real Socialism or its leaders declare that they will no longer comply with those rules and honestly admit the unfeasibility of the system.

The difficulty for the former option is that the Soviet Union would have to be resurrected and Cuba’s status as a subsidized appendix of the once socialist camp would have to be restored. For the latter option, new political actors would have to be involved, something very unlikely.

If, in almost 30 years, no one has dared to formally terminate the Special Period it is because those who rule are at a crossroads between the impossible and the unacceptable. They have passed up the opportunity to formalize the termination of the Special Period in three Party Congresses and in the proclamation of a new Constitution of the Republic.

Now there is a new situation, caused by the difficulties of Venezuela and the resurgence of economic and trade restrictions imposed by the United States Government.

Now we fear the return of the same problems that led to the measures of the Special Period (prolonged blackouts, food shortages, lack of transport, factory closures) but the solutions from that time have exhausted their effects, and even created new problems, like those derived from the dual currency system. Now we should go further in the unequivocal direction of reforms that create openings, and never retreat from them.

While it is true that in comparison with the 80s and 90s the economy has diversified and the country has income from tourism, remittances and the export of skilled labor — most significantly healthcare workers — a subjective element must also be taken into account: the human factor.

A population that escapes more and more from the informational and cultural monopoly generated by the Communist Party, the absence of convincing leadership, and the weight of the accumulation of problems in basic issues such as housing, transport and shortages, result in widespread discontent and in the decline in “revolutionary enthusiasm,” which has provided the only support for the will to endure difficulties without protesting.

In Cuba, nobody knows for sure what normality is, but there is a perception that it is incompatible with the system that governs the country. Both the Special Period that began in the 1990s, and the recent so-called “current situation” arise precisely when subsidies are interrupted, whether Soviet or Venezuelan, subsidies that maintained an artificial standard of living in Cuba. And the lack of normality in relations with our powerful neighbor to the north further complicates matters.

As the Island cannot move to a different planet or return to the past, all that remains is to make changes. Nothing from another world, simply move to normality.

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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.