Chicken, Cuba’s National Obsession

Getting a whole chicken could take hours or even days in line. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, June 11, 2020 — Products such as pork, eggs and beef, frozen chicken may be in short supply but chicken is one of the few animal proteins that finds its way to the island’s tables. This has led to the bird becoming the great national obsession. Cubans wait in line to buy it, government ministers talk about and economists analyze it.

Amid the difficulties that the pandemic has made worse, the good news seems to be that the authorities have increased chicken imports from Brazil and the United States in recent months to supply the domestic market. According to official Brazilian data purchases from that South American country alone grew 87% between March and May of this year.

“Traditionally, Brazil has been Cuba’s second biggest supplier of chicken, normally well behind the U.S,” stresses Pedro Monreal, an economist who points out that Brazil exported 2,456 tons to the island in April while the United States exported 16,560. continue reading

Monreal explains that since February 2020 sales of the product internationally have increased “though still at levels lower than those of mid-2019, which explains the current scarcity.” The shortage has led to rationing, limiting how much customers can purchase even in free market stores.

With locally produced pork virtually nonexistent in retail shops and the black market for fish and seafood operating at half-capacity due to the suspension of inter-provincial transport, long lines form outside stores in Havana where there are rumors that chicken will soon be available. The average wait to buy a package is between five and six hours, although it can also go on for days.

Last April Cuban authorities took advantage of a lower prices for U.S. chicken to buy more from that country. In March 15,276 tons of chicken meat was delivered to the island at a cost of 14 million dollars; in April 16,560 tons were imported but cost less than 11 million dollars according to the charts released by Monreal.

“In April 2020 the price per kilogram of chicken meat exported from the US to Cuba had a sharp reduction of more than 24% compared to the previous month and was the lowest price in the last 12 months,” the economist points out.

However, among home-delivery businesses that are still open, few are offering chicken dishes. “We offer pasta, pizza, sandwiches and some pork when we can get it, but we can’t guarantee we’ll have chicken. Who could right now?” explains the chef of a privately owned restaurant who advertises on a well-known online shopping site.

“Right now we are putting together a Father’s Day menu and we’ve been able to get the ingredients for roast pork, baked fish and lasagna with ham, but we haven’t been able to get what we need for a chicken option because we’ve barely seen any at all,” he adds.

Many in the food service sector point out that it is not enough to increase poultry imports; it is important to get enough of the right parts. “The only things you find in stores are leg and thigh packages, which won’t work for certain recipes, though, of course, you could always try,” says the owner of a prepared food business which has gained a lot of customers during the pandemic.

“We sell food that is almost ready to eat. We prepare our empanadas, croquettes and fried dishes so that the customer can finish cooking them at home,” he explains. “Until recently, our popular item was breaded chicken cutlets, stuffed with cheese and ham or cut into strips. But we haven’t been able to offer those because there aren’t any chicken breasts or whole chickens to be found anywhere.”

The owner masterfully explains how to debone a drumstick or thigh “with a very fine knife and an attentive eye” in order “create a filet that can be used in more complex recipes.”He acknowledges, however that when he does manage to find thighs or drumsticks, he prefers to fry or roast them. “Customers practically grab them out of our hands.”

Classified pages have dozens of ads for “boxes of whole chickens.” This became a popular option in 2016 when packaged chicken in bulk was first promoted to retail customers, a trend that was reversed even before the pandemic began due to the island’s liquidity problems last year.

Domestic chicken production is very low. In 1989, the best year for which data is avaiable, 73,300 tons were produced. In 2018, however, the figure was just 8,200 tons.

Just over a year ago, it was considered an almost “plebeian” product. Fried chicken was the most common menu item at carnivals, state-run eateries and outdoor festivals, but in recent months its value and status have risen sharply.

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Medications Crisis in Cuba: Rationing vs. Reasoning / Miriam Celaya

Pharmacy in Cuba (EFE)

Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 12 June 2020 – Another hot summer day has barely dawned in the city, but dozens of people are already gathered in the vestibule at the Carlos III Pharmacy in Central Havana. The day before, the drugs were “unloaded” and since quantity and variety of the assortment never meets demand, exactly every ten days an anxious human conglomerate fills the area and its surroundings for several hours.

In the past three to four years, drug shortages have become an increasingly tricky topic at this medical powerhouse. The impact of the crisis is such that neither the pharmaceutical industry nor the importing companies -both monopolies of the State- are able to insure even those drugs assigned to patients with chronic diseases, acquired through the Controlled Medicines Acquisition Card, popularly known as “the big card”.

“I warn you that only part of the Enalapril arrived, and antihistamines or dipyrone, medformin, or psychotropic drugs didn’t arrive either, so those who come looking for this already know it, and don’t bother to line up!”, warns one of the pharmacy employees, who has come out to face the crowd like a gladiator before lions. The answer, in effect, is a kind of collective roar. Discontent spreads. continue reading

Moments later the same employee returns to the crowded vestibule to report, with the same subtlety, about the great “solution” that pharmacies are going to apply to the shortage of medicines: “Shut up and pay attention here, so you can’t later say that you didn’t know!” Right after that, he makes an announcement that only half of the dose prescribed by the corresponding doctor will be filled for each card. And he ends with an absolutely irrational warning: “So save [your medicines]!”

The supposedly altruistic idea is that with this rationing of what has already been rationed, a greater number of patients have the possibility of acquiring part of the medicine that is required to treat their ailment. The bad news is that, in practice – and by the grace of the authority of the administrators of destitution – what this achieves is the multiplication of the number of people who cannot duly comply  with what is indicated by a trained physician, and consequently, the risks of health complications that are derived, increase.  Numerous of these cases include extremely serious events, such as cerebral or cardiovascular infarctions, hypercholesterolemia, hyperglycemia and kidney problems, just to mention a few.

Thus, the alternative to these shortages ignores such a basic principle that can be stated simply and mathematically: consuming half the dose equals twice the risk for patients. Because it so happens that there are no half-hypertensive, half-cardiac or half-diabetic cases. Health problems cannot be adapted to the inadequacy of the medicine market.

If it were not for the highly vaunted benefits of a Revolution that leaves no one helpless, we could imagine that we are witnessing a scenario of neo-Malthusianism, where the excess of population added to the increasing scarcity of resources imposes an inevitable socio-demographic selection: the weakest, the old, the ones with lowest incomes and the sick will be the decimated sectors and only the most solvent, strong, young and healthy will survive without further damage, be it or not- or not necessarily-  a State policy.

It is obvious that, despite the accelerated aging of the population in Cuba and with that the increase in chronic patients with diseases related to advanced age, an effective government strategy was never devised to alleviate the stumbling blocks of the fragile national pharmaceutical industry or to protect the so-called “pharmacological groups by control cards”.

Going back in time and appealing to the long history of shortages on the Island, there are numerous drugs that have disappeared from the shelves since the 1990’s, never to return. Even those that were once available over the counter began to be sold by prescription only, a situation that remains to this day. Pharmacy supplies have never come close to what it was until 1989, despite frequent official promises for improvements or recovery of the industry.

Furthermore, the crisis has become so severe that eventually the official press has been forced to bring up the matter. Thus, for example, on 3 February 2018, the article On the Pharmacy Counter (by Julio Martínez Molina) appeared on the digital page of the State newspaper Granma, reporting that in 2017 dozens of shortages of drugs had been reported in throughout the country that year, and the persistence of “the absence of high demand pharmacological items” had been acknowledged, among them hypotensive, antidepressant, anti-ulcer medications and many more.

The BioCubaFarma association reported that the instability in drug deliveries was due to “the lack of adequate financing to pay suppliers of raw materials, packaging materials and expenses.” There was no lack of the favorite “blockade” among the causes for the pothole, which forced “the use of third countries to acquire equipment, American-made spare parts, chemical reagents, etc.”

Other data pointed to interesting figures: of the 801 drugs that make up “the basic picture” of Cuba’s drug demand, BioCubaFarma was responsible for 63%. In total, 505 medicines were produced by the National Pharmaceutical Industry and 286 were imported by the Ministry of Health (MINSAP); while of the 370 lines that were distributed to the pharmacy network, 301 were domestically produced and 69 imported.

Despite everything, explained authorities in the pharmaceutical industry, the critical situation “would change gradually” (would improve), up to the recovery of the production and distribution of medicines, which should take place around the first quarter of 2019.

But BioCubaFarma officials also suggested that the doctors carry some of the responsibility for not being sufficiently informed about the supplies of the drugs they prescribed to patients. “If the doctor has the correct information about the difficulties of a certain medicine, he should avoid prescribing it.”

The real problem, beyond this colossal simplicity, was, and still is, the almost absolute shortage of entire groups of medications, including antibiotics to fight infections or analgesics for pain relief which has caused many doctors – at the risk of being penalized – to recommend to their patients to arrange for their own medicines through family or friends overseas.

In 2018, during a presentation before the National Assembly, the then Minister of Public Health, Roberto Morales Ojeda, beckoned to “combat the misuse of medical prescriptions”, an exhortation that automatically led to the rationing of the doctors’ prescription books. After that, they would receive a limited number of these in order to tackle mismanagement among corrupt doctors and medicine smugglers, a business that had been confirmed for years and that grew in direct proportion to the decrease in supply in legal networks.

This was the rampant official strategy designed to eradicate the wide and deep hole of illegal maneuvers that let medicines slip through pharmacy networks, aggravating shortages and feeding the informal market. Simultaneously, a limit was also placed on the number of medications that could be indicated in each prescription, which – oh, paradox! – forced doctors to issue a greater number of prescriptions to each patient.

The result of so much nonsense was immediate: the drug smugglers diversified their strategies, but survived, while the insane rationalization of prescription books had a null, if not counterproductive effect, in the control of medications.

Meanwhile, more than two years after BioCubaFarma’s triumphant promises, and far from improving, the shortage of medicines in Cuba has deepened and is headed to getting even worse. Because at the end of the day it is not a medication crisis but a system whose disease has no cure.

Just around noon, the Carlos III’s Pharmacy had run out of medications. The line scatters, among whispers, complaints, and resigned faces. The curtain falls on a scene that will repeat itself in exactly ten days.

Translated by Norma Whiting

From the Gulag to the UMAP: Official History and the Control of Memory

The U.M.A.P: Where Work Makes the Man

Abel Sierra Madero, Hypermedia Magazine, 15 May  2020 — Yuri Brokhin, a Soviet filmmaker who defected in 1972 and settled in the United States, described his experience trying to purchase a Volga automobile in the late 1960s. In all of Voroshilovgrad, Ukraine, there were only twelve of these cars available for sale to the public, but they were already reserved for soccer players. One police commissioner, who wanted to “enter” History, told Brokhin that if he made a film about his department’s accomplishments, he could help him with the matter of the car.

“We must show the Soviet people…. what a modern correctional camp is like,” he recommended. [1]

Lights, Camera, Action…

Given the enthusiasm with which the police commissioner described it, Brokhin said, it was possible that the Soviets were choosing their vacation destinations wrongly. It was much more pleasant to go to a forced labor camp.

When the crew arrived at the Voroshilovgrad Oblast gulag, which was dedicated to building boilers for locomotives, they found at the entrance, tied to the barbed wire fence, a sign with the inscription: “Labor turned the Ape into Man – Friedrich Engels.” [2] The filmmaker was astonished, but his thoughts were only of his Volga. continue reading

Since the idea was to show the “miracle” of the forced labor camp, they filmed several detainees, including Sidorov, who was charged with armed robbery. In a colorful and romantic scene, Sidorov stopped working and greeted the commissioner with a warm handshake. Immediately, he and other inmates protested and asked why they had not received additional ideological materials to read, for example, the five volumes of speeches by Leonid Brezhnev, the leader of the Supreme Soviet, and more books by Marx and Lenin.

The film crew also took some shots of the residential area of ​​the camp. In these scenes, some barracks looked impeccable, its lawn green and freshly trimmed. It was likely, Brokhin reflected, that the facilities were in good shape because there were no political prisoners, or perhaps these were set for propaganda and public relations purposes.

In the film one of the wardens introduced on-camera the enthusiastic comrades, who spoke of the miracle of re-education. Among them was Savchenko, a.k.a. Pot, who was announced as an “ex-thief and active homosexual.” “Citizens, for the first time in my life, I understand what a collective is. Thanks to the collective, I have become a changed man,” said Pot. [3] According to Brokhin, several around Pot muttered, “Yes, yes, he’s changed from active to passive.” [4]

Other speakers criticized US imperialism and called to increase production levels. The film ends with the hymn, “The Party is our Guide,” by the Soviet composer Vano Muradeli. The police commissioner kept his word, and by the end of 1967, Yuri Brokhin was driving his Volga.

A still from Solovki, by director Aleksandr Cherkasov, Sovkino, 1928.

Yuri Borkhin was not the only one involved in the project of changing and exporting a positive image of the gulag, even Eisenstein himself participated as well as other artists, photographers, painters and writers, including Maxim Gorky.

In 1934, the playwright edited – along with S. G Firin (Semen Georgievich) and Leopold Averbach, a critic who was shot in 1938 – Belomor, The “Stalin” Channel Between the Baltic and White Seas: An Account of Its Construction. This was a volume commissioned by the secret police (GPU) to produce a positive memory of the gulag. Several writers and inmates participated in the project, which, in a tone of self-criticism, praised the policy of reeducation and the role of the political police.

But the representation of the gulag as a resort had already been attempted in Solovki, a 1928 picture directed by Aleksandr Cherkasov, whom the GPU had commissioned to produce a propaganda film. The material was part of a strategy to counter the allegations of Sergei Malsagov, who had escaped from the Solovki prison camp and was making statements to the English press.

The vision of Cherkasov’s film has nothing to do with horror. On the contrary, in it the filmmaker portrays a “model” camp, in which the viewer can appreciate comfortable accommodations, delicious food and even cultural attractions: theater, variety shows and concerts. The Solovki gulag portrayed in the film also boasted a museum, a newspaper, a school, and a library. And, of course, we can also see young people taking a dip in the lake after work or playing sports.

A still from Solovki, by director Aleksandr Cherkasov, Sovkino, 1928.
A still from Solovki, by director Aleksandr Cherkasov, Sovkino, 1928.

The Solovki, or Soloviets camp was located in the premises of a former cloistered monastery. At the entrance was a banner with huge letters, which stated a cordial welcome: “With an iron hand we will lead humanity to happiness.” [5]

Cherkasov’s film is at once pleasing and terrifying, with a clear, example-making message for the enemies of the Soviet state. The film narrates the tortuous and long cycle of rehabilitation. “Spies, speculators, thieves, bandits, those who disturb order, and counterrevolutionaries are sent to the Solovki Islands, in the White Sea,” explained the written narrative of the film. [6] According to Alexandr Solzhenitsyn, religious envoys, including Orthodox monks, prostitutes, and intellectuals – such as Dmitri Likhachov and Pavel Florensky – were sent to Solovki. [7]

The camp’s mission, as clarified on a poster, was to “create work habits and re-educate socially harmful persons to turn them into useful members of society.” [8] Some administrative details are given in the film. “Those who resist education through work are transferred to a punishment section on Sekirnaya Mountain,” it warns. [9] In a military-type formation or parade, inmates are ironically described as the “trash” of society, term proper to communist biopolitical jargon.

The scenes depicting the massive transfer on trains of people escorted by the military with long weapons are overwhelming. The choreography of inmates in a boot factory, the composition of machines, forges, lathes, and agricultural laborers picking and shoveling amid the speed and quietness of “silent” cinema, create an even more oppressive ambience. A herd of aligned pigs became the image of the inmates.

The UMAP We’ve Been Taught and the Control of Memory

In Cuba, the history of the Military Units to Aid Production (UMAP) has also been camouflaged and distorted by official narratives. But unlike the Soviets, who saw cinema and literature as instruments to wash the memory of the gulag, the leaders of the Cuban Revolution did not take such risk. The installation of those infamous forced labor camps, between 1965 and 1968, was managed as a state secret. But when the atrocities and abuses began to generate an international panic over the authoritarian symptoms that the Revolution was showing, the strategy changed. Then a policy of damage control was developed, aimed at constructing a different public memory of the concentration camp.

I will not dwell on the details of the structure, design and organization of the UMAP, nor on the punishments. This essay has a different objective. In 2016 I made a couple of contributions to the topic that readers can access. These are “Academies to Produce Macho Men in Cuba,” an article that was published by Letras Libres magazine, and “‘Work will make you men’: National masculinization, forced labor and social control in Cuba during the sixties”, a slightly longer essay published in issue 44 of the academic journal, Cuban Studies.

The government’s damage control policy toward the UMAP, was based on the construction of narratives about economic success and the “miracle” of forced labor camps as an educational model. Adelante, the newspaper of the province of Camagüey, was one of the platforms from which attempts were made to manage the memory of the UMAP. It was in that region that most of the units were installed.

The campaign began on the recommendations of Raúl Castro himself. On April 9, 1966, a few months after the camps were put in place, Castro visited Camagüey and spoke with some journalists. “I don’t know if you will have time to do a little reports on the UMAP out there.” [10] Immediately, a journalist alleged: “The problem is that there is no authorization to report about the UMAP.” [11]

In the photo, Captain José Q. Sandino, one of the officers in charge of managing the forced labor camps. Verde Olivo, Year VII, No. 23. Havana, June 12, 1966.

Apparently, the journalists received the authorization, because the “little reports” that Raúl Castro requested started coming out a few days later. On April 13, 1966, the journalist Luis M. Arcos published in the pages of Adelante a pamphlet in which he affirmed – using language typical of manuals of Marxist-Leninist philosophy – that the UMAP had a formative, educational character, and that they played “a very important role in the radical transformation of the nation.” [12] He also said that the camps had been created for the welfare of society, and that they were the subject of “continuous speculation by counter-revolutionary elements.” [13]

These contents, published in the state-controlled media, are far from a model of investigative journalism. They are generally written for propaganda purposes. The curation of the images and quotations tacitly support the official account.

The Revolutionary Armed Forces (FAR) and its press organs also sold the idea that inmates with high productivity in cutting sugar cane were rewarded with material goods. On October 30, 1966, Verde Olivo magazine published a note with some photographs, which gave the assurance that the “comrades” had been compensated with motorcycles, refrigerators, radios and watches.

It is likely that the awards ceremony was a staged as public relations event. The text quoted a short speech by José Q. Sandino Rodríguez, chief of the UMAP General Staff, in which he assured that the ceremony “once again disrupted the string of lies rolled out by the enemies of the Revolution”, who tried to present it as a “punitive institution”. [14]

In one of the passages in his book, After Captivity, Freedom: A Real-Life Account of Castro’s Cuba, Luis Bernal Lumpuy refers to the disguise exercise the guards carried out in the facilities of his unit, when they expected visits from the press. He also talks about the “performance” that they were forced to do every time this happened.

In the spring of 1966, Bernal Lumpuy wrote that they received a visit from Commander Ernesto Casillas, then head of the UMAP General Staff, who came with journalists and cameramen. They brought baseball gloves, bats and balls, and distributed them among the inmates. “They had such a hearty lunch that it later affected the health of the starving prisoners, and they prepared an event in the camp for the commander to speak.” [15] Casillas promised family visits, “as if that were a generous act of the Revolution, and he even lied when he said that we would be given permission to go to our homes that month, which did not happen until months later.”

They had arranged, concludes Luis Bernal Lumpuy, for the cameras to capture “the enthusiasm of some who lent themselves to the propaganda game.” A few days later “the press, radio, and national television showed groups of youth from the UMAP carrying Commander Casillas on their shoulders as though he were a hero.” [16]

As part of the campaign that I have been describing, the Army decided to choose some of the inmates and grant them military ranks. They were awarded the title of “corporals”. This strategy sought to establish in public opinion the notion that the UMAP were not concentration camps, but rather military units. According to the testimony of José Caballero Blanco, some commanders “were abusive in exchange for perks. This is nothing new, if you consider that there are jails that use some prisoners to repress their colleagues.” [17]

Indeed, in other concentration camp settings, it was very common for the wardens to use inmates to suppress their peers and do the dirty work. In Nazi camps, for example, there was the sad role of the Sonderkommandos: Jews put in charge of aiding the machinery to exterminate their own people. However, the category of Kapos (or Funktionshäftlinge), is more in line with the squadrons that were created in the forced labor camps in Cuba. In the gulag they were known as “foremen” (nariádchik).

Within the CENESEX, everything – against the CENESEX, nothing

I have explained this on several occasions, but I think it is necessary to say it again. For some years now, we have seen a series of mutations taking place in the Cuban regime aimed at guaranteeing the continuity of the system and erasing the past. I call this process of political shapeshifting, “State transvestism” and it consists in a readjustment of Cold War revolutionary rhetoric – using the notion of diversity in an instrumental way to offer an image of change for foreign consumption – when in fact very few changes have been made. [18] This strategy began to be tested a decade ago by the National Center for Sexual Education (CENESEX), directed by Mariela Castro Espín, the daughter of General Raúl Castro.

The notion of “transvestism” is based on a reading of the State as a porous, fluid body, and not as a rigid and immovable structure. I use it mainly to describe the masquerades, camouflages, and appropriations that official institutions make of the practices and “performance” of the transvestite and their milieu. “State transvestism” is, therefore, a project of de-politicization and assimilation, aimed at producing certain bodies and subjectivities, as well as controlling their political and cultural history.

This project, besides testing new modes of political control, promotes an amnesic transition, a washed-out national memory, and the rewriting of History. The idea is to rearrange and rewrite certain historical processes that connect the Revolution with discrimination and homophobia.

For decades, homophobia in Cuba was a state policy that legitimized the purges of homosexuals from institutions and the establishment of forced labor camps, designed to build the communist “new man”.

Mariela Castro has tried to minimize the scope and dimension of the UMAP in the History of the Cuban Revolution. She even promised an investigation on this topic. We are still waiting for it. Since then, the director of CENESEX has stated in many appearances and interviews that the UMAP constituted an isolated error and were not in any way forced labor camps.

Mariela Castro recently did it again and provoked in the midst of the novel coronavirus pandemic, multiple and bitter controversial reactions. It occurred during an online broadcast, where she used biopolitical terms and the language of animality against critics, calling them “cheap trinkets” and “tics”. One more term to add to the large repertoire of hate and intolerance discourses designed to attack and dehumanize those who dissent or think different.

Comments on social media exploded instantly. “Everything within CENESEX, nothing against CENESEX,” some answered, in frank allusion to the 1961 speech delivered by the late Fidel Castro, which became known as “Words to the Intellectuals”.

A few days ago, Mariela Castro was invited to La tarde se mueve [Afternoon Moves] a show hosted by Edmundo García on YouTube. The activist is known for his affection for the Cuban regime, even though he lives in Miami. It is not by chance that Castro Espín used this platform to talk about the UMAP. Her statements coincided with the fact that the documentary, Pablo Milanés, produced in 2016 by Juan Pin Vilar, became available to the public. The film was censored in Cuba and was restricted on Vimeo until now. There, Milanés talks briefly about the UMAP, where he was sent in 1966, when his musical career was taking off.

“Although there is no comparison, I can tell you that I was at Auschwitz and the facilities were better than those of the UMAP (laughs). The facilities were scary,” he said. Auschwitz is a superlative representation of horror that ex-UMAP inmates have used repeatedly. However, this analogy has produced serious consequences for the legitimacy of their narratives, because, among other things, there were no crematoriums or gas chambers at the UMAP. This exercise must be understood within a strategy aimed at locating their experiences within a universal story, on a global map of concentration camps.

In the film, Pablo Milanés says that while in the UMAP, he suffered from Stockholm syndrome. Along with the actor Ricardo Barber, a play was produced and performed in their unit. This is how he describes it: “We did a work that favored those who had sent us there and blamed ourselves for having gone there. We felt guilty, because every day they told us, ‘you are trees that have grown crooked’.” Apparently, the guards were pleased and proposed that we perform it in other camps. “Barber and I tore up the play and said we didn’t remember it and that we didn’t want to do it anywhere. We had been rendering tributes to those who sent us there,” he concluded. Ricardo Barber left Cuba in the 1970s and went to New York, where he died in late 2018.

For some time after leaving the UMAP, Pablo Milanés became one of the icons of the Nueva Trova movement. His songs, along with those of Silvio Rodríguez, among others, formed the soundtrack of the Revolution that influenced millions of people. Although in Cuba it was an open secret that Milanés had been sent to the concentration camps, Pablo waited several decades to discuss the matter.

Until Juan Pin Vilar’s documentary came out in 2016, the singer-songwriter had limited himself to giving just a few details to foreign journalists who interviewed him during his international tours. The few bites of information he provided regarding his experience in the UMAP always coincided with the promotion of his concerts in Latin America.

It is possible that the Stockholm syndrome of which Pablo Milanés speaks has affected him for a long time. In 1984, almost twenty years after leaving the UMAP, he wrote, “Cuando te encontré [When I Found You]”, a love song to the Revolution that advocates: “It would be better to drown in the sea than to betray the glory we have lived.” In addition, there are indications that in 1980 he participated, along with other members of the Nueva Trova, in a repudiation rally against his colleague Mike Porcel.

“The release of this documentary and the statements of Mariela Castro Espín in La tarde se mueve are connected. In what seems like a response to Pablo Milanés, the director of CENESEX tried to downplay the UMAP. To give it a little opacity, she said that the UMAP is an “exaggerated and distorted issue.” Although she acknowledged that “the process of arresting civilians was terrible,” she justified the settlement and installation of the forced labor camps: “There were people who were totally distanced from the country’s problems and did not want to do their bit.”

In addition, for obvious reasons, she blamed the raids and arrests on the Ministry of the Interior (MININT) and not on the Ministry of the Armed Forces (FAR), an institution that her father, General Raúl Castro, was then leading. “That was a job that was done from the Ministry of the Interior (MININT), it was not compatible with what the Armed Forces had decided,” she assured. This way, she not only deforms collective memory, but also exempts the culprits of the experiment from responsibility.

According to Mariela Castro, the experience of the inmates in the forced labor camps depended on the circumstances of each location. “At the UMAP there were “managers” [officers] who were not homophobic, and who treated their people well, and who were understanding,” she added. I will return to this later.

In another part of her remarks, the chair of CENESEX continued the practices of accommodating traumatic experiences and the falsification of History. She referenced the Escuela al Campo [Schools in the Countryside] program developed by the revolutionary leaders in the mid-1960s. “We went to Schools in the Countryside. Was going to a School in the Countryside the same as being in concentration camps? We certainly learned a lot and we had a lot of fun and we questioned everything. We had a great time…” she said sarcastically. If these discourses are accepted, it is possible that in the near future we will see the UMAP represented in school textbooks and in the public sphere as simple summer camps or vacation destinations.

As is known, the “Schools in the Countryside” program, begun in 1966, was connected to the project of creating the “new man”, and thousands of children and adolescents were sent to work in agriculture on a compulsory basis. While intensifying pedagogy of indoctrination, the state seized the workforce without providing any economic compensation. This policy was extended across the country for several decades, until the official press announced its end in the summer of 2009.

When I was a teenager I went to a School in the Countryside where I worked the fields and no, it was not a pleasant experience. I always saw it as an absurd, authoritative, and not at all fun imposition. Standards had to be met, and I often felt the hardship of hunger. There were consequences if I refused to work, and I immediately fell under suspicion. The allocation of scholarships or university admissions was subject to my performance as a farm worker.

Castro Espín’s comments try to connect that experiment to a field of affect. Within this logic, forced labor was a kind of carnival, a space of entertainment. We had already seen this type of gesture in the music of singer songwriter Frank Delgado. In the song “Maletas de Madera” [Wooden Suitcases] (2007), the Schools in the Countryside program is represented in a nostalgic dimension, and those years are made into an object of desire. This gaze has consequences for the memory it generates. The latrines, the red soil, and hunger, gained very positive connotations and depoliticized the experience itself. The catchy tune went something like this. “Vamos a formar, una conga, con maletas de madera, tomando agua con azúcar encima de una litera” [“Let’s make a conga with our wooden suitcases, let’s drink water with sugar on top of our bunk beds”].

The most problematic area of ​​Mariela Castro’s comments in La tarde se mueve has to do with her concept of History. According to Castro Espín, historians must stop “picking through the garbage with bad intentions.” This eschatological notion deployed by the director of CENESEX represents researchers as ill-intentioned “garbage collectors”, and History as a discipline that belongs exclusively to the past. It is aimed that the official History of the Revolution be established as a fixed and incontestable narrative. But as writer Reinaldo Arenas would say, Ah, how the shit sizzles when it is stirred. [19]

“The Hour of the UMAP”

State transvestism as a political strategy is also based on the creation of spaces for controlled criticism in which certain discourses are tolerated, as long as they do not endanger the hegemony of the State. These spaces are used systematically to promote certain narratives about the Revolution that guide how some complex historical issues, such as the UMAP, should be read and assimilated.

In November 2015, on the fiftieth anniversary of the installation of these forced labor camps, the Christian Center for Reflection and Dialogue-Cuba, an institution that seeks to reform the battered Cuban socialism, held a meeting in Cárdenas, Matanzas province, of ex-inmates from the UMAP to discuss the subject.

Several of those attending the event recounted details of their experiences in the forced labor camps and referred to the mistreatment and abuse to which they were subjected by the guards. “I felt disgust for my country,” said Moisés Machado Jardines then. [20] “Because of having been in the UMAP, I was marginalized from my old job and others that I tried to get when I got out, and I even lost my wife, who left with my two children.” [21]

Rafael Hernández, director of Temas, a Social Sciences journal that functions as a space for controlled criticism “within the Revolution”, also participated in the Cárdenas meeting. His contribution was aimed at accommodating and diluting the injustices of the UMAP within Cold War rhetoric. “It is not just about evaluating the justice or effectiveness of those measures, but remembering the historical context in which they were developed,” he said. [22]

Days later, in the Temas blog Hernández published: “The Hour of the UMAP: Notes for a Research Topic”, where he proposed a very particular reading of the forced labor camps in Cuba, and set forth how they should be investigated. For the intellectual, the UMAP were a sort of “re-education schools” – or at the least, “punishment camps” – but not forced labor camps.

At a certain point, he recognized that, given the structure and discipline implemented, the UMAPs were closer to prisons than to military units. At first, he adds, the camps were made up of “antisocial and habitual loafers of military age – that is, people with criminal records or considered pre-criminal.” [23] Here he reproduced the criminological jargon that justified, precisely, the persecution of citizens and the establishment of forced labor camps, without questioning in the very least the biopolitical nature of the Revolution.

By publishing this article in Temas, one of the very few academic journals on the Island, it gave the text an aura of legitimacy and independence from the State, which it does not possess. As I mentioned before, Temas is a space for controlled criticism and ultimately responds to government institutions. Hernández’s work falls within the official History of the Revolution rather than accomplished an investigation done with historiographic rigor and archival research. His text is designed, above all, to detract from the strength and scope of the testimonies produced by Cuban exiles about forced labor camps.

Rafael Hernández’s argument about the testimonies of Cuban exiles is ideologically biased. According to him, these accounts were exaggerated and described only “extreme situations”. On the other hand, those published in Cuba – by some evangelical churches – present a more unbiased and humanized vision.” [24]

Hernández uses as an example of this type of writing the book Dios no entra en mi oficina: Luchando contra la amargura cuando somos víctimas de la injusticia (2003) [God doesn’t come into my office: Fighting bitterness when we are victims of injustice]. This is an autobiographical book written by Alberto I. González Muñoz, a seminarian who was sent to the UMAP. Unlike religious exiles – who were seeking the denunciation of the Cuban regime for establishing the forced labor camps and to spark a debate on public memory policy – González Muñoz urges the reader to not take the book as an “accusation”, because, he suggests, ultimately the UMAP experience was not as horrific as other models of forced labor camps. [25]

The author tries to detach himself from the Auschwitz analogy, the most powerful representation of the concentration camp and totalitarian power, used repeatedly by Cubans who have decided to testify about their traumatic experience in the UMAP. Auschwitz is the image of horror, dehumanization, and perversity of biopolitical power to a superlative degree. The grisliness of that experience makes other models of concentration camps and forced labor, such as the Soviet Gulag, or the UMAP, seem not so terrible.

Alberto I. González Muñoz’s text is inscribed within this logic, it goes so far as to say that he felt “privileged” to have been sent to the UMAP, because he learned more about human nature and about himself. In this book, the design of the institution and the severe punishments appear as “errors” and not as systemic strategies of the apparatuses and control mechanisms established by the Cuban government at that time. [26]

When presenting Dios no entra en mi oficina as a model for “objective” writing, Rafael Hernández overlooks the fact that Alberto I. González Muñoz received privileges from the guards and corporals. As a result his experience in the UMAP was not so tortuous. This particular case cannot be used to minimize the hardship to which thousands of men suffered.

In short, just like Temas, Rafael Hernández’s UMAP text is part of the authorities’ exercises and political strategies aimed at producing certain frameworks of interpretation on the Cuban reality. It consists of a project aimed at erasing and assimilating collective trauma using specific languages and spaces of remembrance, in order to dictate what and how Cubans should remember.

These mechanisms, of course, have repercussions on spaces of memorialization of traumatic events. In literature, for example, it has had a great impact. We have seen how writers, even those who do not depend on Cuban cultural officials to be published, accommodate the past and treat certain events with the same tools of representation used by the State.

Totalitarian regimes tend to produce narratives that dilute repression to distort the scope of tragedy. Wipe the slate clean, some say. The Cuban model is not an exception. In this process, even the victims of the system themselves produce stories that try to accommodate the traumatic experience within a framework of political correctness and forgiveness.

With Dios no entra en mi oficina, Alberto I. González Muñoz constructs a story that in the end absolves those responsible for this atrocious experiment, while distorting, diluting and closing the debate of the politics of memory and the future administration of justice.

This book seeks not only to freeze the past, but also to establish a direct relationship between traumatic experience and the discourses of healing. At the end of the introduction, the author urges those who lived through that nightmare to channel their wounds, pain, and sense of loss through faith and hope. It is the “wisest and healthiest decision,” he says. [27]

Alberto I. González Muñoz insists that the history of his experience at UMAP belongs entirely to the past. “It is useless to raise accusations and condemn what no longer exists, precisely because in due course, it was recognized as wrong and was shut down,” he states at the beginning of his book.

In another passage he says that the closure of the UMAP “in itself was an act of social justice and thus must be historically recognized.” [29] It is worth clarifying that González Muñoz lives in Cuba. I have explained this several times: authors who write from the Island are very careful with their political positions.

The Ethics of the Witness

This accommodative approach is very problematic because of the type of memory it creates and promotes. It is a kind of “fetish memory”, as Isaac Rosa would say. That is, a memory articulated in the anecdotal, the sentimental, rather than one that generates an ideological discussion, a debate about responsibilities and justice. [30] However, at the same time it can be productive to think the different positions of subjects regarding an event, and the witness ethics – of which Giorgio Agamben speaks – when narrating an experience. This ethic is crossed by a kind of moral code that shapes the testimony into a constitutive relationship with politics.

González Muñoz’ witness ethic is based on what he claims as “objectivity”, regarding his relationship with one of the guards. The passage reads: “Listening to him, I comprehended that although he was part of the re-education machinery, he was also a victim like any of us.” [31]

At another point, the author goes further and says that some of the officers “showed sympathy, compassion and affection to the inmates”, to later add: “Many tried to be fair, humane and positive in the midst of the negative circumstance that enveloped them. The experiences with Rosabal, Concepción, Marrero, Zapata, Rojas and others, in addition to mitigating my anxieties in the Military Units to Aid Production, taught me lessons that I urgently needed. Lessons that gave a new dimension to my life”. [32] This statement raises several questions.

Are victims and victimizers in similar positions?

What are the consequences in the construction of public memory when oppressors are portrayed as victims?

What are the tools generated by this argument that can help future processes within the administration of justice?

Here, I consider it opportune to include Primo Levi’s ideas on the role of the witness and the representation of concentration camp wardens. In an appendix he added to the 1976 edition of If This is a Man (1947), Primo Levi clarified that he used the “moderate language of the witness, not the regrettable of the victim or the angry language of the avenger”. [33] The distinction between victim and witness is fundamental to this discussion. Levi thought that his word “would be more credible the more objective and less passionate it was; only in this way does the witness in a trial fulfill his function, which is to prepare the ground for the judge. The judges are you”, he concluded. [3. 4]

That position could be problematic, Levi knew, because the search for a more complex and encompassing “comprehension” of events somehow implied some justification. This is how he put it: “Perhaps everything that happened cannot be comprehended, or should not be comprehended, because to comprehend is almost to justify. I mean: ‘to comprehend’ a proposition or human behavior means (even etymologically) to contain it, to contain the author, to put himself in his place, to identify with him”. [35]

Although in Dios no entra en mi oficina there are no references to Primo Levi, the memory project in which Alberto I. González Muñoz is involved, leads me to think about the notion of “gray zone” outlined by Levi himself. The “gray zone” has to do, precisely, with the act of narrating the experience in an “objective” way. The intention is to “comprehend”, also, the position and subjectivity of the victimizers.

However, that process inevitably leads to the humanization of some of the oppressors. As is known, Levi came into contact with some of the officials of the Nazi extermination machinery when he began to publish his texts and become a public figure. One of them was Ferdinand Meyer. Thanks to the biographies by Ian Thomson (Primo Levi: A Life) and Marina Annissimov (Primo Levi: Tragedy of an Optimist), we know of the correspondence that Primo Levi established with Meyer. Levi made it very clear to him that although he did not feel hatred, he could not forgive either. This exchange allowed the witness to approach those who participated in the Nazi system, without being vile or infamous, as “gray” subjects. In this way, Levi tried to break the binary framework between “good” and “bad”, to assign full responsibility to the system and not to specific subjects.

This position earned him much criticism, including from some who suffered the same fate in Auschwitz, such as Hans Mayer, who wrote, under the name of Jean Améry, At the Mind’s Limits. According to Levi, Jean Améry considered him a “pardoner”, perhaps because his search for “comprehension” somewhat overshadowed the dimension of the tragedy and the responsibility of the guilty.

Miami and Resentment

Améry’s contributions to the debates on forgiveness are important to think the place of justice in the reconstruction of the past and in the imagination of collective memory. In At the Mind’s Limits, Améry states that those who forgive their victimizers, consent to the erasure of their individuality, and are capable of conceiving themselves as part of a collective. [36] That is, one who accepts himself “as a de-individualized and interchangeable piece of the social mechanism”, is diluting the traumatic experience and the figure of the witness, in a collective and accommodative narrative. [37]

For Améry, this process is part of the languages of the oppressor; hence the calls for reconciliation are always suspicious because they impinge upon History itself. He explained, “It seems logically senseless to me to demand objectivity in the controversy with my torturers, with those who helped them, and with the others, who merely stood by silently. The atrocity as atrocity has no objective character”, he explained. [38]

He positioned himself as a witness from a place of “resentment”. The oppressor has to be forced to face the truth of his crime. [39] In his argument, Jean Améry charged against the psychology that constructs victims as sick and disturbed subjects; also against Nietzsche, who in his Genealogy of Morals had spoken of resentment as a category tainted by revenge and lack of integrity. “Thus spake he who dreamed of the synthesis of the brute with the superman,” Améry replied. [40]

In the Cuban case, the notion of “resentment” has generally been associated with the languages ​​of exile. It is a category loaded with a pejorative sense. Within this logic, Cuban exiles are nothing more than spiteful beings, mobilized by revenge, because they have not been able to “overcome the past.”

However, as Améry demonstrates, the notion of resentment does not necessarily have to be associated with revenge, the affective sphere, or the psychological, but rather is, above all, a political and philosophical category. The challenge is to turn resentment into a productive space of memory and not into a repertoire of empty notions of the Cold War. The idea is to convert the act of resentment into a process of updating the past, making memory a space not only of archive, but of critical thought.

Translated By: Alicia Barraqué Ellison and others

Notes:

[1] Yuri Brokhin: Hustling on Gorky Street: Sex and Crime in Russia Today, The Dial Press, New York, 1975, p. 103. The translation is mine.
[2] Id.
[3] Ibid., p. 105.
[4] Id.
[5] Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn: Archipiélago gulag (1918-1956), Tusquets Editores, Barcelona, ​​2002, p. 321.
[6] Aleksandr Cherkasov: Solovki. Solovki. Campamentos de Solovki con propósito especial, Sovkino, 1928, minute 3:40. https://youtu.be/_IAthUIjJtk. I thank my mother, Noemí Madero, for the Russian to Spanish translations of this film.
[7] Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn: Op. cit., p. 25.
[8] Ibid., Minute 12:45.
[9] Ibid. minute 18:55.
[10] “Brief conversation with Commander Raúl Castro”, in Adelante, April 9, 1966, p. 1.
[11] Id.
[12] Luis M. Arcos: “UMAP. Donde el trabajo forma al hombre”, in Adelante, April 13, 1966, p. 5.
[13] Id.
[14] Juan Armas: “Premios en las UMAP”, in Verde Olivo, year 8, no. 43, October 30, 1966, p. 15.
[15] Luis Bernal Lumpuy: Tras cautiverio, libertad. Un relato de la vida real en la Cuba de Castro, Ediciones Universal, Miami, 1992, p. 62.
[16] Id.
[17] José Caballero Blanco: UMAP: Una muerte a plazos, Dhar Services, 2008, p. 65.
[18] Abel Sierra Madero: “Del hombre nuevo al travestimo de Estado”, in Diario de Cuba, January 25, 2014. https://diariodecuba.com/cuba/1390513833_6826.html
[19] Reinaldo Arenas: El Central, Seix-Barral, 1981, p. 87.
[20] José Jasán Nieves: “El silencio que no entierra a las UMAP”, OnCuba Magazine, November 30, 2015. http://oncubamagazine.com/sociedad/el-silencio-que-no-entierra-a-las-umap/
[21] Id.
[22] Id.
[23] Rafael Hernández: “La hora de las UMAP. Notas para un tema de investigación”. Temas. Cultura, ideología, sociedad, December 7, 2015. https://www.temas.cult.cu/node/2027
[24] Id.
[25] Alberto I. González Muñoz: Dios no entra en mi oficina: Luchando contra la amargura cuando somos víctimas de la injusticia (2003), ABG Ministries, Frisco, 2012, p. 12.
[26] Ibid., p. 21.
[27] Ibid., p. 22.
[28] Ibid., p. 12.
[29] Ibid., p. 13.
[30] Isaac Rosa: El vano ayer,  Seix Barral, Barcelona, ​​2004, p. 32.
[31] Alberto I. González Muñoz: Op. cit., p. 140.
[32] Ibid., p. 293.
[33] Primo Levi: Si esto es un hombre. Translated by Pilar Gómez Bedate. Muchnik Editores, 1987, p. 303.
[34] Id.
[35] Ibid., pp. 340-341.
[36] Jean Améry [Hans Mayer]: At the Mind’s Limits. Contemplations by a Survivor on Auschwitz and its Realities.  Translated by Sidney and Stella P. Rosenfeld. Indiana University Press, 1980, p. 71.
[37] Id.
[38] Ibid., p. 70.
[39] Ibid., pp. 67-68.
[40] Ibid., p. 147.

The Majority of Cubans Trapped in Moscow Can’t Return Home Because of the Cost of the Ticket

The Cuban authorities have announced the return of those stranded in Russia, but the volunteers maintain that they have not cooperated in the departure of the most affected (Cuban Consulate in Russia)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 4 June 2020 — The flight announced organized by Russia, by which Cubans stranded in the country could return to the Island, arrived in Havana last night, but only 23 of the 83 passengers who got off at José Martí International Airport were trapped tourists. The bulk of the group was made up of 43 Cuban students with scholarships in Russia and another 17 were civil servants. At least 60 people remain in Moscow without finding and solutions to return home.

The plane, which left this Wednesday from the Russian capital to Havana, later left for Sao Paulo, Buenos Aires and Santiago de Chile where it left the rest of the passage and picked up the Russians who remain in Brazil, Argentina and Chile.

Later it will return to Havana for the 70 Russians who are still stranded on the Island since the partial closure of the borders that came into effect on April 2 — as part of the measures to stop coronavirus infections.. The trip will culminate on June 6, with the aircraft landing in Moscow with 200 Russians on board.

The consul in the Russian capital, Eduardo Lázaro Escandell, said that a hundred Cubans requested to return but not all of them were able to pay for a ticket.

The price of 43,726 rubles (about $ 630) has been an insurmountable obstacle for many of those wanting to return home.

Russian Anna Voronkova and Pedro Luis García from Havana, already known as the angel of the Cubans in Moscow, mobilized to achieve the return of the islanders. “The Cuban authorities are not helping their citizens in any way. We are the volunteers, the Russians and foreigners, who are concerned about the Cubans,” Voronkova told 14ymedio.

The young woman contacted Veronika Birman, a Russian  businesswoman who works in tourism, with whom she tried to find help, but there was no collaboration from the Cuban consulate.

María Zajárova, spokesperson for the Russian Foreign Ministry, was the one who made her team available to the volunteers to advance their exit, according to Sputnik, and managed, after many efforts, to get three of the four humanitarian passages, at half price. They focused on people with chronic diseases and a pregnant woman.

Birman acknowledges that the support of the airline and Anastasia Dyumulen, director of the airline’s information and communications policy department, was essential.

“We tried to get those 4 and even more to go. The company and the Russian Foreign Ministry were willing to consider the possibility of giving some free humanitarian places, but it was not possible to coordinate in time due to misunderstandings with another party involved,” explained Voronkova to Sputnik.

But they still have at least 60 pending cases.

The Russian government sent a batch of 15,000 tests for the detection of the coronavirus to Havana to contribute to the fight against the pandemic, according to a statement from the Cuban Embassy in Moscow.

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Cuban Prisoners Defenders Accuses Norway and Luxembourg of Participating in the Slavery of Cuban Doctors

Medical collaboration between Cuba, Haiti and Norway dates back to 2012. (Cubadebate)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 4 June 2020 — The Cuban Prisoners Defenders (CPD) organization accuses Norway and Luxembourg of contributing to the financing of the slavery system of Cuban doctors who work on international missions and asks them to review their triangular collaboration agreements if they want to continue being an example in human rights to the whole world and not face a complaint before the European Union Court of Human Rights.

The NGO bases its accusations on the economic participation of both countries in two missions of the Cuban medical brigades, Haiti and Cape Verde. The NGO has investigated these missions in depth including what the health professionals were subjected to in the usual conditions, which can be considered trafficking in persons, slavery and forced labor.

In the case of Haiti, the brigade was established in 1999 and continues to today, with a total of 348 health workers, of which the total number of certified doctors is unknown. The Cuban Prisoners Defenders study emphasizes this point, which insists it has total respect for professionals and their level, but shows their surprise at the high number of people who practice without passing their degree. “80% of the Cuban doctors in Haiti declare that they do not have their academic degrees, among other things because they prevent them from taking any degree from the Island, just as they are not allowed to carry their current passport with them.” continue reading

Norway, a country that does not belong to the European Union (EU), although it does belong to the European Economic Area, has contributed a total of 2.5 million dollars through three agreements of this type (triangular) since 2012, to the support of the brigade in Haiti. The money contributed by Oslo was mainly destined to the construction of permanent medical infrastructure, but a around 800,000 dollars were planned for the Cuban brigade.

In Haiti, Cuban doctors earn $ 250 a month, less than the already poor salary of local doctors, who pocket about $ 400.

In the case of Luxembourg, which is a member of the EU, the cooperation is more recent. This March it signed an agreement endowed with almost half a million euros for the establishment of a contingent of Cuban doctors in Cape Verde.

According to CPD information, the group established in that African archipelago is made up of 79 collaborators who provide their three-years of services in different health areas, in addition to another 33 belonging to the Henry Reeve brigade, who arrived on April 22. Twenty of them are there exclusively to combat Covid-19 and are financed by a tripartite agreement with Luxembourg.

In the specific case of workers in Cape Verde, CPD cites an example of the surveillance to which the doctors are subjected, among other things. According to the report, on August 7, 2017, a communication between the office of the then Minister of Public Health, Roberto Morales, reached the embassy in Madrid, with a copy to the ambassador in Cape Verde. It was a request, by order of Colonel Jesús López -Gavilán, head of the Health Department of the Ministry of Interior, that an official from the diplomatic headquarters in Spain go to the Adolfo Suárez Madrid-Barajas Airport to supervise the stopover of five Cape Verdean physicians.

The direction was “to investigate and check the communication with family members abroad” since, according to the payer, one of them had shown “strong indications and intentions to ’desert’.”

CPD recalls that it has investigated the treatment of Cuban doctors abroad since 2018 and that in May 2019 it filed a complaint with the International Criminal Court and with the United Nations documenting possible crimes of forced labor, human trafficking and slavery.

For this reason, the CPD is warning Norway and Luxembourg, “where their citizens enjoy full rights and freedoms,” of the consequences that their actions may have “out of a misguided desire for solidarity.” And it asks both countries and the European institutions as a whole to confront this scheme through which the Cuban State profits.

The organization maintains that it is not against the provision of medical services in other countries, but claims the importance of it being done in terms that respect human rights and international labor law, in addition to the transparency due to the parties.

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Artists Otero Alcantara and Maykel Castillo Denounce a Police Beating

Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara and Maykel Castillo minutes after leaving the police unit. (Facebook / Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 12 June 2020 — The artist Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara and the rapper Maykel Castillo were released around seven in the morning on Friday after spending all night in police custody, according to reports on social networks.

Alcántara and Castillo were beaten by the police while handcuffed in an official vehicle, and they published photographs with injuries to their legs and arms. They say that those responsible for the beating were about ten police officers from the Cuba y Chacón unit in Havana, where they were taken on Thursday.

“Maykel was eating some bread on the doorstep of his house and I, who had gone to the corner for a moment, arrived and saw him debating with the police because they wanted to take him away,” Alcántara told 14ymedio. continue reading

“The day before, by the way, that same policeman had told him twice to put his shirt on. I told the policeman that Maykel had his facemask, not to take him, but they didn’t understand. That’s when I start filming. The policeman tells me that I can’t film it and that I have to go with them, also arrested.”

The artist continues: “In the patrol car I tell the police that he is a racist, a dictator, and when we get to the parking lot of the unit they leave us in the car. At that point Maykel’s phone starts ringing. One of the policemen says that we can’t touch the cell phone and he opens the door where Maykel is and begins to hit him.

“The moment I see that, there is another one who comes and opens my door and they start hitting me with a tonfa. He grabs me by the neck, they hit me on the head, they took me out of the car and threw me to the ground to hit me more. A little horse [motorized officer] comes and lifts me by the handcuffs, takes me out of there and takes me to the station.”

According to his account, they were in the dungeon part of the night until they were taken out for an interrogation with the State Security: “There we received the usual threats: prison. They told us that they would accuse us of an attack and that there would be a trial. There they also took my statement about what happened, took our fingerprints and took photos of the wounds.”

Alcántara says that they were also taken to the Tomás Romay polyclinic: “A doctor saw us there and filled out an injury certificate but we never got a copy of it. We asked for it but they told us no, that it would stay in the unit. At seven in the morning they let us go.”

Anamely Ramos, a curator and teacher expelled from the Superior Institute of Art, denounced to this newspaper that when she tried to enter the unit to get news of Alcántara and Maykel Castillo, an officer told her that she could not enter.

“I had the permission of the guard who was outside who had told me that I could enter but at the door of the unit an agent said no. At that moment, a police officer came and told me that I could not pass, that they had already explained everything to me. He pushed me, other policemen came, women and men, and one of them threw me against the floor and put me in a headlock to immobilize me. I had gone there because I had authorization and had said that I only wanted to clear up some doubts I had about the arrest of the artists. Finally, the officer in charge came and I was able to speak to him,” she explained.

Ramos also details that while she was outside the Cuba y Chacón police station she saw how some officers went out to photograph the patrol in which the artists had been taken to the unit and that “he did not have a scratch.” Both Ramos and Alcántara assure that they will file a complaint with the authorities about the actions of the police.

This week Alcantara called for a collective action to keep a minute of silence in solidarity with anti-racist protests in the United States after the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police became known.

The artist was released on March 13 after 12 days of arrest. The authorities announced a trial against him for “outrage against the national symbols”, but the oral hearing was canceled. Likewise, they accused him of “damage” to the property, but this case was shelved by the authorities until “new elements allow it to be carried out.

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A Group of Cubans Presents a Request to Repeal Decree-Law 370

Iliana Hernández, Esteban Rodríguez, Oscar Casanella, Héctor L. Valdés, Esteban Rodríguez, Maikel Osorbo, Camila Acosta and Ángel Santiesteban participated in the request. (Courtesy)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 8 June 2020 — This Monday a petition signed by more than 3,000 Cubans, 500 of them residents on the Island, was delivered to the National Assembly of People’s Power with a request to repeal Decree Law 370 “as unconstitutional.” The petition is addressed to Esteban Lazo Hernández, Miguel Díaz-Canel Bermúdez and other top officials, according to the independent journalist Camila Acosta, who spoke with 14ymedio.

“The only way we have to demonstrate that human rights and all international covenants and treaties regarding human rights are violated in Cuba, is by way of this petition, first appealing to the institutions within Cuba and then demonstrating it internationally. When a complaint is made, the first thing the international organizations ask is that all the legal resources that exist in the country have been exhausted. That is what we are doing, despite various institutions and international media having already spoken about what is happening in Cuba with this decree,” said Acosta.

The document was delivered simultaneously to the State Council, the Office of the Attorney General of the Republic and the People’s Supreme Court. Iliana Hernández and Esteban Rodríguez, Oscar Casanella, Héctor Luis Valdés Cocho, Esteban Rodríguez, Maikel Osorbo, Camila Acosta and Ángel Santiesteban Prats participated in the delivery. continue reading

“Although it is true that the Cuban Constitution is contradictory, that the laws in Cuba are made to crush citizens more, that is the Constitution that exists, that is the Government that exists and we have to demand that it respect our rights,” added the reporter, who was recently fined under this Decree Law.

The text is addressed to Esteban Lazo Hernández, Miguel Díaz-Canel Bermúdez and other high officials. (Courtesy)

According to a statement published on the Facebook pageNo to dictated laws, the signatories make this request protected by the right they have to “address complaints and requests to the authorities,” as recognized by Article 61 of the Constitution. They also put the demand to several Cuban officials who promote before the Assembly “the question of unconstitutionality of Decree Law 370.”

“It is very likely that they will not give us the answer we expect, but it is the next step, and then we can file the complaint with international organizations,” said Acosta.

In order to fine citizens and independent journalists, the authorities have relied on subsection (i) of Article 68 of the decree on “the computerization of society in Cuba.” This subsection involves a fine of 3,000 pesos and/or the confiscation of equipment for “disseminating through public data transmission networks, information contrary to social interest, morals, good customs and the integrity of people.”

According to the calculation of the fined activists, 27 Cuban citizens, independent journalists and activists from the Island have been fined 3,000 pesos under Decree Law 370 since January. Some of them have had their work equipment confiscated, ranging from computers to cell phones, and others have been summoned to the police units to receive the threat that if they continue with the journalistic work they may face the same fate and be fined.

On May 6, several organizations and the media published a statement denouncing that the Cuban Government annihilates freedom of expression on the Internet through Decree Law 370.

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Decoding the Message

On Tuesday 89-year-old Raul Castro reappeared, wearing a mask, to review a return to normalcy after the Covid-19 peak. (Granma)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, June 10, 2020 — Raul Castro appears in photo accompanying a Granma newspaper article about his most recent public appearance. Whether measured in pixels or centimeters, the image of the First Secretary of the Communist Party takes up barely two percent of the photo.

Although the headline states that it was the Army General who presided over a session of the Politburo, the article does not provide any actual quotes of the “clear directions” he gave. The editor is forced to resort to impersonal language, stating that “the work of our people was recognized” and reiterating” that “lack of discipline must be guarded against.”

A week after his 89th birthday, this half-hearted appearance only serves to feed rumors about Raul Castro’s inability to lead the country under the current constitution’s much disliked Article 5. continue reading

Keeping in mind the traditional suspicion with which Cubans read between the lines of whatever the official press has to say or not say, it is obvious that the decoded message should read as follows: Raul Castro will not be around ten months from now to announce his final retirement at the VIII Communist Party Congress.

Playing for time has been the younger Castro brother’s specialty. He called upon us to do everything “slowly but surely*.” He constantly warned that change will happen gradually, even when it seemed increasingly urgent to speed up reforms. This has allowed him to enjoy the irresponsible peace of mind of those who privately chose as their motto “after me, the deluge.”

If it were just about the fate of one person, this issue would be unimportant. But behind all the postponements the future has gone through on this island, there are the many cancelled dreams, aspirations and projects of millions of Cubans.

Translator’s note: The original phrase in Spanish is: “Sin prisa pero sin pausa” — literally: ‘without haste but without pause’.

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Cimex Closes All Its Virtual Stores In Cuba Due To "Customer Dissatisfaction"

Dozens of people in line at the Plaza de Cuatro Caminos to claim the products they bought weeks ago through the TuEnvío platform. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 10 June 2020 — The Cuban Government has surrendered to the evidence of the failure of its virtual stores and has ordered their temporary and staggered closure in order to restructure the sales. “Despite the different measures taken to meet customer requests, we recognize that we have not achieved the expected result and instead of decreasing, dissatisfaction has grown,” admits Cimex in a statement.

According to the commercial vice president of the state entity, Rosario Ferrer San Emeterio, the demand has overwhelmed a system unable to provide the service. In the future, stores will sell food and personal hygiene/cleaning modules for 10, 15, 20 and 30 CUC.

In November 2019, the TuEnvío virtual stores began to take off, going from 100 visits a day to between 6,000 and 8,000. According to official data provided this Tuesday by Héctor Oroza Busutil, president of Cimex, it went from processing 1,356 orders in February and 6,000 in March, to 73,386 in April. In the first fortnight of May, orders had already totaled 78,893. continue reading

The increased demand for food and hygiene products during the pandemic has collapsed the system. “Furthermore, the organization of the processes and the amount of trained personnel required is not in adequate for these conditions,” Oroza said on State TV’s Roundtable program.

Despite the recognition that the service was neither ready nor capable of withstanding the enormous increase in demand, Cimex only partially assumes responsibility and attributes the remaining blame to the United States embargo.

“Along with the country’s acute financial restrictions, which have significantly limited the supply of products in the network of stores, problems persist related to the performance of computer systems, inadequate completion and preparation of personnel, insufficient transportation for distribution, the problems in the areas to place orders, failures in the payment and return processes, among others,” the statement highlights.

When stores reopen, the number of modules to be put up for sale will be based on “processing and distribution” capacity, and when they run out, the service will shut down until the next day. These packs will be limited to one daily per customer and will be delivered in store or at home within a period of up to 10 days.

The official press has released a planned closure plan.

Amilkar Odelín Ante, commercial director of the Chain of Caribe Stores, also took stock of the situation in its stores. The manager explained that in the first quarter, in 5tay42 3,000 orders were placed, while in May the number rose to 24,000.

“These stores did not have the operational capacity to face this demand and at no time was the flow of order generation or the schedule to carry them out regulated. In addition, there is the underlying problem related to the availability of high-demand merchandise, which has led to delays when these items are ordered,” he recognized.

In Villa Diana the 1,100 daily orders were exceeded, an amount that could not be dealt with, according to Odelín Ante, causing great dissatisfaction among customers, which has forced the closure to be able to comply with the accumulated orders and solve the marketing problems.

In this case, the sale by modules and options will be based on availability and the minimum will be 250 CUP. Purchases are limited to one food and hygiene module per day in the combo mode, and home delivery is extended from 5 to 10 days. In the specific case of 5tay42, when it distributes the overdue orders, it will assume it can fill 500 daily orders.

Odelín Ante indicated that two telephone lines are planned for customer service for Villa Diana, in addition to an employee to deal with the complaint emails. “This weekend more than 3,000 orders were delivered and, with the calculated rhythm, Villa Diana will be able to restart their services on June 20,” he said.

The avalanche of protests has been so difficult to contain that not only has the service been stopped until the improvements have been resolved, but the official press dedicated extensive coverage on Wednesday to report various cases of customer discontent.

Among them is the story of Ana María, who after 23 days waiting for a package from Villa Diana, found that the products in the package did not match those on the invoice. Her attempts to contact Caribe stores through all channels were unsuccessful, but she was confident that her money would be returned. When it was not, she appeared at the offices, where she found a line of about 20 people waiting to make claims.

Customers lamented the “very poor attention” by the store staff, from the manager herself, and excepting “the decent, patient and pleasant doorman.” In addition, they denounce the alleged diversion of products — that is internal thefts all along the supply chain — as a cause of the lack of products in their boxes.

The report quotes a client who waited from eight in the morning until five-thirty in the afternoon on June 2 to claim her order and reported abuse by the business manager. During this time she saw packages of chicken arrive, which the website did not offer, and which were later “taken out of the warehouse by two workers.” She also claims that they replaced her detergent with cookies, when she herself could see, when a door opened, the warehouse full of detergent.

Neither of the two affected who went to make complaints in this case had their problems satisfactorily resolved. “Today I feel that my rights have been violated, not only as a customer, but also as a citizen, and I am very sorry that people like this manager behave as they do, and the work of Dr. [Francisco] Durán, the health care personnel and the State Council is tarnished,” say those affected, stressing the responsibility of employees — or minimizing that of the authorities.

The text quotes another customer, in this case of the store at 5th and 42nd, who went to the offices to demand a delivery that she had been waiting more than a month for. “The main problem, in addition to the delay, is the uncertainty of whether the products you bought will ever arrive,” she regrets, adding that as long as that purchase does not arrive, you have to figure out how to put other foods on the table, if you have the money to do so. Cubadebate tells the stories of several people in this situation.

Other stories speak of the problems with getting money returned, which is incomprehensible after the digitalization of the purchasing process announced by the managers of Cimex and Tiendas Caribe.

The text includes a multitude of substitutions in the products included in the combos. “How is it possible that the order is ready to deliver or pick up and in the end products are missing? Why, if the customers’ phones are in the account, do they not call beforehand to confirm what they are going to deliver? Why does an order placed after yours include an item that you ordered but did not receive?” protests a customer.

Technology is another of the trouble spots. Users spend hours on the web to get some of the most desired products, such as chicken, which forces them to shop at dawm. “I understand that demand is greater than supply. But this marathon only achieves that there are a lot of fractional purchases from the same home in order to guarantee necessary products before they run out,” says another Alamar client.

This way of supplying, also becomes a vicious circle, since users are waiting so long to see what is on offer, and they update the page so many times that the servers are overloaded “I wish you could put all the available products on the site and people could make their purchases,” says a computer scientist.

Other complaints related to this aspect is that the product is not removed from stock once it is selected by the customer, since sometimes it is not discovered until the purchase is closed that the selected item is no longer available because another user got it before you finished shopping.”

Logistics is another element that has not worked properly. “If each of these stores has different inventory, why not unify the one destined for virtual stores, in addition to checking that the integration of warehouse inventory and computer systems always works like a Swiss watch, reflecting the real amount of products,” questions the report, which adds that the poor quality of what is available generates many small orders resulting in a high delivery cost, with all that this implies (fuel, vehicles, human resources …).

Despite everything, the report continues to insist that electronic commerce has come “to stay” although it needs better management of resources.

“It is real that the products available to not meet the demand in the case of Cuba, and that part of the blame is borne by the economic problems of a country surrounded by the economic blockade of the United States (…). Added to that is the scarcity, or complete lack, of national production of many of those assortments that are marketed in the retail trade network,” says the newspaper. However, after all this commentary on the failed project, the text indicates that it is “worthwhile to recognize the political will to promote this commercial scheme.”

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Rosita Fornes, the Last Star of an Extinct Constellation

Rosita Fornés shone brightly in a constellation of stars during a time when television was becoming part of Cuban family life.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, June 10, 2020 — With just over two years to go before hitting the century mark, Rosita Fornés left the world of the living to enter the realm of legend.

My mother, who was born in 1917, always said, “Even when she was a child, she was a woman.” For people of my generation, who began adolescence by learning how to be anti-imperialists, we had already been conditioned to think of her as something akin to a Broadway star, alien to our cultural roots. For my son, who was born in 1995, everything she did just seemed really cool.

Against all odds, Rosalia Lourdes Elisa Palet Banavia was born in New York on February 11, 1923. She cultivated a legion of admirers who knew her simply as “Rosita.” Whether she was singing, acting or dancing, their devotion to her was the same. She did everything well but her professionalism was hardly a God-given talent. It was something that can only be achieved through hard work. continue reading

On television she performed in operettas, zarzuelas, comedies, musical shows, soap operas, short stories, and plays. She left an extensive body work on stage and film but it was among her fellow countrymen that she left her deepest mark.

She served as a model for thousands of girls who tried to make themselves more attractive by imitating the way she looked and smiled. Her critics noted a certain exaggeration in her bows to the audience at the end of a perfomance but, unlike other divas who came later, she never craved power.

Rosita Fornés shone brightly in a constellation of stars during a time when television was becoming part of Cuban family life. The names of those leading men with booming voices and the actresses who broke their hearts are remembered today only by the very old. Rosita defied time and enjoyed the longest artistic career to which one can aspire.

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

Pandemonium

He who becomes ill with serious symptoms is isolated from his family as soon as the symptoms manifest themselves. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Juan E. Cambiaso, Buenos Aires , 6 June 2020 — To those who already have seven decades of experience and who have lived through other pandemics, it is surprising that today we suffer the exaggerated perception of the impact of the number of infected and dead on the total population of the affected countries. Just under six and a half million infected and three hundred and eighty thousand dead compared to a world population of approximately seven billion eight hundred million inhabitants. These are small numbers no matter how great the pain of those reached by the disease.

What happens, it occurs to me, is that is has put an end to the certainty that these medieval episodes were not possible because science and medical instruments protected us against everything. With the victory against cancer, which sounded possible and close, we were going to be potentially eternal. Molecular biology should help a little. We are Homo Deus defeated and, therefore, scared to death. All because one day a Chinese man ate a bat and turned the world upside down. continue reading

That uncertainty reminds us in a shrill voice that we are going to die. A truism that increasing longevity was blurring. Someone always has a grandmother over a hundred years old who is perfect, and from the exception we derived the rule. The novelty puts us all in the position of the heart attack victim who has died in his sleep.

The recreation of images that could well have been from painters from the 15th and 16th centuries, such as Memling and Brueghel, has effects that we thought were foreign to our times: the neighbors rudely expel a brave doctor from his home for fear of contagion. The return of lynchings in the face of a panic that we judged from distant centuries.

As with the black plague, clerics pray and ask for prayers for the pandemic to pass. The Church never had faith in science and prefers incense. A curative treatment or a vaccine would not leave room for the miracle.

There is a tremendous novelty. He who becomes ill with serious symptoms is isolated from his family as soon as they manifest themselves. Sick, he suffers, if it touches him, he dies in solitude and is cremated without his loved ones being able to see him. He leaves his home at risk of evaporating. The subconscious is not indifferent to it.

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

In Times of Crisis Scams Multiply

As the shortages affect the network of state stores, many products are submerges in the informal market. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Marcelo Hernández, Havana, 8 June 2020 — “It was sugar water,” says a young man from Havana as he shows a container of bath gel he bought on the black market. “I contacted the seller by Telegram, we met at a corner and he showed me the merchandise of various types, with extract of melon, avocado and roses, but later the one I took was a fake.”

As the shortage runs through the state-owned store network, many products plunge into the informal market, where they are not rationed but can cost more and the customer is at risk of being scammed. These commercial operations, which are carried out illegally, are propitious terrain to deceive and cheat consumers.

It would turn around, a novelty: Since the arrival of Covid-19 on the island, the authorities have tightened controls against informal trade, which for decades has been a vital ally for the subsistence of many families. Every night the Cuban Television Primetime Newscast highlights exemplary court rulings to dissuade anyone and broadcasts images of surprise raids captured by hidden cameras that show sellers and buyers in some clandestine operation. continue reading

Sellers have found in instant messaging services a refuge from which they can establish initial contact, from WhatsApp and Telegram to the armored Signal, for the most cautious. But for customers, this pathway limits their ability to see, test, and evaluate merchandise, increasing the risk.

“Pork leg at 55 pesos a pound,” Randy read in a classified ad that referred to a Telegram account. Once in contact with the seller through that app, they agreed that the delivery of the product would be made on Saturday morning. “I don’t go into houses or climb stairs,” the merchant told him, and at the right time he would show up with two other men in an old Chevrolet car.

“The whole operation was done from inside the car and with a weight that he brought, but when I got home I realized that between the two legs I bought I had been cheated by like ten pounds,” says Randy. In other words, I lost more than 500 pesos and it did not even occur to me to take a picture of the license plate, not to mention that if I denounce him I might be the one who ends up in jail.”

According to the Penal Code, the crime of “reception” is committed by a person who buys property that “evidently or rationally suggests that it comes from a crime.” The contemplated sanction is “deprivation of liberty for three months to one year or a fine of one hundred to three hundred ’shares’* or both.” In times of crisis, authorities are much less tolerant of the black market, and the penalties for buying on the black market are multiplied by increased vigilance.

“I was on my motorcycle and a police patrol stopped me,” a young resident in the Havana municipality of Diez de Octubre tells this newspaper, preferring anonymity. “In the backpack I had a quarter of a bag of corn feed for the chickens that my mother raises in the yard. As I had bought it from a guajiro and had no papers, they took it from me and fined me.”

“I spent the whole night in a dungeon for a few pounds of animal food,” he explains. “Now I have to look for the product again, although I will have to hide it better to take it home.” His idea is to wait for a friend who has a vehicle with an official plate and who is moving personnel for the battle against the Covid-19 to transfer the feed in the trunk.

“But I have to have eyes in the back of my head because it’s not just the police, I already lost money a few weeks ago on feed that was sold to me and it was mixed with sand,” he explains. “People with a knife between their teeth cheating to get a few pesos from anywhere. When I got home and saw that, I wanted to go back and complain, but I didn’t even know what the seller was called.”

In the 1990s, the economic crisis of the Special Period not only sparked creativity to invent culinary recipes, but it was the scene of some scams that became true urban legends. Replace the tomato sauce fwithr a beet-based one, soak old blankets used to clean the floor for days in order to pass them off as breaded pork steak, and even the legendary cheese on a pizza that was actually a melted condom.

How many of those scams were real and which are the result of the imagination it is difficult to know, but the current circumstances that the Island is going through seem to be awakening some ghosts. Many adulterations are even carried out using state industry’s own infrastructure.

Among the most counterfeited products in the last half century in Cuba have been rum, cigars and tobaccos, beers — for which there are small, totally clandestine mini-industries — cleaning products such as detergent, tomato sauces and cold meats from private sellers. Among the latter, fillings with plantain or sweet potato are very frequent.

In December 2017, the authorities dismantled a network of adulterated medicines for child consumption. The counterfeit product was marketed in the island’s pharmacies under the brand name Ritalin to treat ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder). Several BioCubaFarma employees replaced the active substance, methylphenidate, with a placebo substance that is used to clean the machines after each production has been completed.

“They sent me to take antibiotics for several days so that I could get a tooth removed and I could only find the pills with a vendor that a friend recommended,” says Viviana, a Havana woman who got tired of asking the pharmacies for the arrival of the drug. “I paid for it and left for the house as excited as it was, but after three days the swelling and pain wouldn’t go away.”

Viviana decided to disassemble the capsules of the supposed antibiotic and inside what she found was baking soda. “Almost 20 CUC spent on bicarbonate and now I am left without money and in pain,” she complains. But she continues to look for a “good contact that sells medicines because that risk is preferable to doing nothing and waiting for the infection to go away on its own.”

At their home in Santiago de las Vegas, the García family — a fictitious name for this report — prepares a aromatic to clean bathrooms. The extract of the product is taken out of the factory where he works by the father, and once home they prepare it by adding large amounts of water and packing it. “The trick is to apply a little of the pure product to the mouth of the bottle before closing the lid, so when the client opens it to smell it, it feels pure.”

Beyond the initial scent, when the buyer starts using the scent, he will realize that it is “more water than anything else” and that the scent it leaves in the bathrooms is very faint and does not last long. “But when he figures that out, we will not be around because we are careful not to give out any data, phone numbers or names.” The family sells on the street and each day chooses a different neighborhood.

“Yesterday we were on El Canal in Cerro and we already know that we won’t be back there for a long time,” says the García’s father. “It is not that we are cheating, it is that even with a low quality product we are selling cheaper than the State does and we deliver it to the door of the house.”

*Translator’s note: The Cuban penal code does not set specific fines, it sets a number of ’shares’. In this way the amounts of the fines can be raised throughout the penal code simply be redefining the value of one share.

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

IACHR Describes Constitutional Reform as a Lost Opportunity

Photo: José Daniel Ferrer has been the most internationally prominent political prisoner for the past year. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 5 June 2020 — In a report on human rights in Cuba, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR)* expressed disappointment that the new constitution, ratified in 2019, has preserved the one-party regime that has ruled the island for six decades.

The organization, which has not issued a report like this in thirty-seven years, acknowledged that the new constitution is an improvement over the previous 1976 constitution with regards to some rights but notes that but it failed to take the steps needed for people to exercise them. IACHR also believes that giving the constitution legal precedence over international treaties was a missed opportunity and is disappointed that it failed to abolish the death penalty.

The IACHR points out that Cuba remains the only country in the Americas where there are no guarantees on the exercise of free speech and noted its concern over the serious limitations on freedom of opinion, expression, and the dissemination of information and ideas. continue reading

In the recent three-year period covered in its analysis, the IACHR determined that the Cuban state continued to impose serious limitations on political rights, first and foremost by failing to hold free elections but also by refusing to establish separation of powers.

Some groups, particularly human rights acitivists, have been victimized by the system through harassment by the security forces, which on many occasions act with impunity and are protected by regulations of questionable legality. Furthermore, since the judiciary is not independent, defendants have no guarantees to a fair trial.

The IACHR provided the government with a series of recommendations to ensure that rights and freedoms of political opponents and human rights activists are respected. These include guarantees on free movement, which is routinely violated through regulations that prevent individuals from traveling. The commission expressly requested that Cuban authorities issue “public condemnations of all acts of aggression” and provide “training and education to public officials, especially to police and security forces.”

The report also touches on problems of other vulnerable groups, suggesting special attention be paid to Cubans of African descent, women, the LGBTI community, minors and people with disabilities. It calls for the developing specific legal protections, collecting of statistics on the specific adversities they face and allowing them to exercise the legal rights they have on paper.

With regards to rights and benefits, the commission argues specifically for the right to decent housing, adequate supplies of food and water, proper sanitation, comprehensive health care, and freedom of thought in education.

The report also addresses the U.S. embargo, which the commission opposes. It does not believe, however, that the Cuban leadership is justified in consistently using the embargo as an excuse for its actions. “The IACHR has reiterated that the embargo must end because of the impact of economic sanctions on the rights of the Cuban population, while emphasizing that the embargo does not exempt the State of Cuba from fulfilling its international obligations, nor excuse its violations of the American Declaration,” the report states.

Between 1960 and 1983 the IACHR published seven reports specifically on Cuba. Since 1985 it has consistently included Cuba in its annual report after determining that fundamental conditions and institutions inherent to representative democracy do not exist in the country.

The report was prepared in spite of “the Cuban state’s lack of consent to an observation visit by the organization and because of disturbing information received about the serious human rights situation in the country.” In essence, it had to carry out investigations ex officio and rely on information gathered from fifty-five interviews with Cubans living inside and outside the country, focusing on the period from 2017 to 2019.

 *Translator’s note: The IACHR is an autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS). Where possible, quotes from its 2020 report of Cuba were taken directly from the English language version of the document mentioned in this article

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

Many Cubans Fear Western Union is "On The Brink…"

At dawn on Friday, the lines in front of Western Union were longer than normal and marked by uncertainty. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 6 June 2020 — On Thursday afternoon, two of the Western Union offices in Havana’s Plaza de la Revolución municipality had closed earlier than usual because they no longer had cash. At dawn on Friday, the lines in front of the premises were longer than normal and were marked by uncertainty.

After the new sanctions against the Island’s government announced this week by the United States, the level of concern among Cuban families has risen substantially due to the risk of cutting off the flow of remittances that allow them to eat or clothe themselves, among other expenses. Fincimex, the bank under the control of the Cuban military, has been blacklisted in Washington and this could affect money transfers through Western Union.

“My daughter, just in case, just sent me the remittance for this month and the one for July and August as well. If everything goes well for me, by September I might be traveling to Guyana to do the paperwork and be able to reunite with her, I am counting the days for that,” says a woman waiting in line at the Western Union office at Boyeros and Ayestarán. continue reading

There is no notice taped to the entrance but all customers ask the window clerk questions when it is their turn. With infinite patience and great kindness she invariably replies to them: “Don’t worry that until now we have not received any guidance to stop the service so we will continue to be open without problems.”

Caption: There is no notice taped to the entrance but all customers ask the window clerk questions when it is their turn.

“The Western Union has been here a lifetime, even in the middle of the Cold War there was the Eagle and Dragons office working, it was the only one, but hey, there it was. I don’t think they are going to close now, maybe there will be more limitations on the amounts that can be sent, but close, I doubt it,” says an older man in the middle of a small circle in the line.

If there aren’t, then it’s possible that the existing agreement between Western Union and Fincimex will be saved and everything will continue as before.

Most of the people in the line looked very pessimistic. “If they take this away from us, I don’t know what we are going to do. Thanks to my son’s help I can feed myself, if it weren’t for that I would be eating from the garbage, like many retirees nowadays,” laments a woman when she leaves the office with her money in hand. “The Western Union is on the brink,” she says.

“You see this money, now I will go and spend it on food, as that is what it’s for, not for anything else,” she said and and asked who was last in line at another line a few meters away at a small market.

The same scene was repeated in front of the Cuban Post Office on the corner of Infanta and San Lázaro, where there is another Western Union branch. This Friday there were dozens of people there, afraid that the arrival of remittances by that route could be cut in a few days.

The Cuba Post Office at the corner of Infanta and San Lázaro, where there is another Western Union branch. (14ymedio)

“This is the only thing that allows me to continue living in Cuba, because with my pension I could not even cover the expenses of one week,” explains Rebeca, a 75-year-old retiree who has considered “asking for family reunification” several times with her two children living in the United States.

“If this Trump measure is designed so that people are thrown into the streets, what I plan to do is launch myself into the reunification process with my children because without this assistance it doesn’t make any sense to stay here,” she says. In line, others reiterate the idea. “As soon as the airports open, I am leaving even if it is for Honduras,” a young man who has come to collect the money his sister sends to an aunt repeats several times.

There are also those who fish in the troubled river of sanctions. “Delievery of remittances in Cuba, the same day and with home delivery,” reads an announcement on a popular classifieds site for buying and selling. “We can deliver the money in convertible pesos or in American dollars,” adds the text which includes a Miami phone number to make the contact.

“It has been a long time since a large part of remittances arrive through routes other than the Western Union, so the only thing this new measure by the United States is going to do, if it is applied in its entirety, is to help those routes grow,” says a man who for more than a decade has dedicated himself to delivering dollars sent from the United States to families in Cuba.

“I have moved money that has ended up in medicines, house purchases, private businesses and even visas to leave the country,” says the commission agent. “There is no one who can stop it, neither Díaz-Canel nor Trump because here the people are used to these remittances and they are going to fight for them by any means possible.”

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

Cuban Families Prepare for "Long Vacations" From School

The children have been out of class since the end of March and some parents are desperate. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 5 June 2020 — “When I saw the news from the minister on the Roundtable program on TV I said to myself: uffff, it will be a long vacation.” Alicia Díaz, a resident of the municipality of Playa and mother of an eight-year-old girl, felt slightly dizzy when she heard the head of Education, Ena Elsa Velázquez Cobiella, announce on national television that the classrooms will not open until September, at the beginning of a new school year.

“Taking into account the epidemiological conditions, the need to evolve to an increasingly favorable state and the priority that students have for us, it is advisable to restart teaching activities in educational institutions from the month of September,” Velázquez said in front of the cameras.

Diaz is, in spite everything, among the parents who have best endured the difficult task of becoming teachers during quarantine, because her daughter, she says, is very responsible. continue reading

“My daughter gets up on her own and turns on the TV at class time. If she has any questions, she asks me and, of course, I always answer within my means. Also, we are lucky that her teacher has created a WhatsApp group to respond to all the concerns that arise along our way among the mothers of the classroom,” she tells 14ymedio.

Since the end of last March, when the classrooms closed to slow down the progress of Covid-19, parents, guardians and grandparents have assumed the task of maintaining the continuity of studies in most of the subjects at all levels of education with the support of teleclasses.

For Olga, who lives in a shelter in the Havana municipality of Plaza de la Revolución, the experience has been very different from Alicia’s. “My son is in seventh grade, he was following on the first days because I forced him to wake up early, but it became hell to get him to keep his attention on the television and I got tired, copying the directions for the work he has to complete and between the two of us we made some progress. What worries me the most is the mathematics, I see he is lost there and in that subject I cannot help him.”

According to her account, her son’s math teacher has telephoned all the mothers — the fathers are rarely engaged in these matters — to see if they have any doubts about homework or subjects, but she, “unfortunately,”  does not have a cell phone or a landline. “I wish I could communicate all the time with the teacher to clarify my doubts but no, I’m left with the doubt.”

Sitting a few meters away, on a patched and dirty wooden bench, a woman looks at Olga with a stern face and interrupts. “This has not been the same for everyone. I don’t know what you’re complaining about if your son is a saint and you just have one. I have to deal with my entire gang. I am about to shoot myself,” she says, pointing the two fingers of her right hand to her temple.

The woman gets up and unloads in a speech that leads three neighbors to look out the window. “You know tmine oare four: the little one, who is in third grade; the twins, who are in fifth grade; and the big one, who is in eighth grade. None of them have their heads in school right now and I am alone with them, I can’t multiply myself to watch all those Teleclases. At first I tried, but there are too many and my head can’t take it all in. Also, I don’t have time, because I also have to go out and fight for food. Right now, look at where everyone is,” she complains and points to the entrance to the shelter where the children gather around a speaking playing reggaetonat full volume.

The minister promised on TV on Tuesday that the teaching activities will continue for two more weeks through television channels, especially Educational and Tele Rebelde, and noted that the official website Cubaeduca and the application MiclaseTV host all the content that has been taught for free. But this is a Distant possibility for families with few resources.

“At the right time, students will also be able to enjoy a vacation period,” said Velázquez Cobiella, who added that the study plans for the 2020-2021 school year are already being modified.

A primary school teacher residing in Luyanó, who prefers to remain anonymous, says that she has the majority of her students “under control” via WhatsApp. “The Internet has been a great advantage in this situation. Every day there are Teleclases we talk in the group that I created about the directions that were given and the mothers can post their questions, some of which I have had to monitor by calling.

The latest coronavirus outbreaks detected in Havana keep the authorities on alert, with the numbers as of today including 2,119 cases and 83 deaths. Cuban PresidentMiguel Díaz-Canel noted that “although the country is already preparing the entire strategy for the recovery stage of Covid-19, it cannot be applied until we are very sure that there is exact control of the epidemic.” A long summer awaits the families, who already started it in March.

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