The Habanos Company is Doing Well, While Cuban Tobacco Producers are Broke

It is not the first time that the authorities use the US embargo as the cause of the decline in production. (Cubadebate)

14ymedio biggerThe Spanish-Cuban company Habanos made $507 million in profits last year, 4% less than in 2019. The figure was provided by the company this Tuesday, at the inauguration of the virtual event Habanos World Days, which replaces the Festival del Habano, whose twenty-third edition was canceled due to the Covid 19 pandemic.  The official press is upset about the cancellation.

For the State media, the company “consolidated its international leadership in premium cigars (made entirely by hand)” and the 2020 revenues are quite an achievement “despite the circumstances of the pandemic and the ban on selling its products in the United States due to the laws of the economic blockade”.

It is not the first time that the authorities use the US embargo as the cause for the decline in production. They already did it a few days ago, at a time when dire forecasts were starting to be heard for the 2020-2021 tobacco operations, which began last October. continue reading

The 2020 revenues are an achievement “despite the circumstances of the pandemic and the ban on selling their products in the United States due to the laws of the economic blockade”

José Liván Font Bravo, first vice president of the Tabacuba Business Group, declared then that a portion of the plantations will not receive fertilizer “due to the brakes imposed by the ‘roadblock’,” in clear reference to the embargo.

However, far from the focal point of the propaganda provided by the festival, in which the State media declared that more than 5,000 companies from more than 120 countries around the world participate, and the justifications of the authorities, the peasants are clear that the main problems of tobacco production are rather the consequence of economic “mismanagement” and the implementation of the so-called Ordering Task*.

So thinks Nestor Pérez, from the Plantation La Isleña, founded at the end of the 19th century in San Juan y Martínez, in Vueltabajo** (Pinar del Río).

In a conversation with 14ymedio, Pérez explains that they have not had problems with fertilizer in his territory, and that the doses they have bought have allowed them and many producers to “develop the operation.” But in addition, the producer, who is 37 years old and has been working in the fields since he was 15, details: “The United States is not the supplier of fertilizer.” In his farm, for example, they use fertilizers from other countries, such as China or the Netherlands.

The producer concedes that Covid 19 and the weather had “adverse effects” on the operation. “In Río Seco, which is part of the tobacco chain that was quarantined for a long time,” he says, “entire plantations were lost.” Also, in November, “there was heavy rainfall” when the seeds were planted. However, these were not the primary pitfalls.

“There are a growing number of cooperatives in Vueltabajo that have been incurring debts from past periods, due to their mismanagement or company demands, something that affects the running of the same cooperatives with their resources and supplies,” he explains to this publication.

Added to the debts, he says, “is the deficient management of the seedbeds by the State,” a task that, though the producers are taking it on, “is still in the hands of the State, for the most part.”

In the midst of all this, he continues, comes the ‘Ordering Task’, which, for him, “is the most important point.” He says, “For the farmers, the so-called Day Zero was not Day Zero; we had not gotten a price ready, and a price was decreed without having the token cost” — that is the model where the data necessary to calculate the planned unit cost of a product or service provision is collected.

“For the farmers, the so-called Day Zero was not Day Zero; we had not gotten a price ready, and a price was decreed without having the token cost”

Pérez says that they were assured that prices would be established in about two months, but in January and February, when the peak of the harvest occurs, they were hit with them “without a token cost, without an extension of credit.” The main consequence was that the producers could not pay the workers “because they did not have the credit extension until the beginning of April.”

When they finally had the cost card, they saw that the credits were increased, but that the dry tobacco prices doubled, from 2,560 to 5,700 per metric quintal [one metric quintal is about 220 pounds].

The generalized increase in prices from the Ordering Task, he insists, was of great importance for the farmers. “There are the inputs, which increased 10 and 15 times their value and that cost was like a shock for the producers. They [the company] said they were going to make a new price proposal, but still nothing, it continues the same as they established at the beginning of the year,” he complains.

“In my opinion and that of many in this area,” he summarizes, the Ordering Task has been “disastrous” and “catastrophic,” since “it has led us to face the peak of the operation with credit based on previous prices, and 70% deficient.” He concludes that, as a result, “People were left without money, that is the biggest obstacle, not the blockade [US embargo].”

Translator’s notes:

*The so-called ‘Ordering Task’ (Tarea ordenamiento), is a collection of measures that includes eliminating the Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC), leaving the Cuban peso as the only national currency, raising prices, raising salaries (but not as much as prices), opening stores that take payment only in hard currency which must be in the form of specially issued pre-paid debit cards, and other actions. 

*Vueltabajo: Literally, the downward curve. Geographically situated at the westernmost end of Cuba, in the Pinar del Río province, it is the most important and best known of the five tobacco producing regions in Cuba.

Translated by Norma Whiting
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Cuban Authorities Exhibit Otero Alcantara in a Video as Proof of Life

The video was posted on Ifrán Martínez’s Facebook profile. (Screen capture)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 4 May 2021 — Dr. Ifrán Martinez Gálvez, who presents himself as head of the medical team that cares for the artist Luis Manuel Otero Acántara at the Calixto García hospital, in Havana, has published a video on his Facebook profile this Tuesday, in clear response to the demands for a proof of life from the artist’s friends demanded to the Cuban Government.

“The medical staff has been spectacular, beyond the fact that I am going to continue demanding my rights as an artist, but we cannot say that the treatment has been bad, you have to know how to differentiate the profession of doctor and other occupations such as that of the State Security,” Otero Alcántara is heard saying in the recording.

The doctor said, “We have a relationship of professional respect for the patient, (…) we will continue to fight for the recovery of our patient and our friend.” continue reading

Martínez presents himself as a first-degree specialist in Angiology and Vascular Surgery and surgical vice director at the Calixto García Hospital. “Since May 2, I have been in charge of the team of specialists that cares for the patient Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara, who was admitted three days ago for voluntary starvation.”

He affirmed that his phone “has received numerous calls and messages accusing me of being a repressor, a policeman and a Brazilian doctor,” which, he insists, “is uncertain,” and as a result of which he asked Otero Alcántara “to film this video together, with the help of our nurse Dorita, to show the reality. “

This Tuesday, relatives of Otero Alcántara told 14ymedio that they are taking turns taking care of him at the medical center. According to an aunt, “they are hydrating him, he is drinking milk and juices but he is not eating anything solid.” She also said that she did not know if the artist had abandoned the hunger strike, stating that “you can hardly talk to him.”

Alcántara was arrested eight times during the month of April by the political police to prevent him from leaving his home on Damas Street, in Old Havana. After a raid on his house, also the headquarters of the San Isidro Movement (MSI), State Security confiscated his works of art and destroyed part of them.

On April 24, the artist began a hunger and thirst strike to protest the repression. In November, Alcántara had already used this method together with other members of the MSI. On that occasion, the Police also broke into the headquarters of the group to forcibly take the strikers to a hospital, also arguing that there was a risk due to the coronavirus pandemic.

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The Chair of the Represser

Seeing on the lower floors of my building today, May 3rd, the chair of the State Security agent who prohibits me from going out every day, leaves a message that could not be clearer: she will return. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 3 May 2021 — There is a rickety and dirty wooden chair. It would only be a deteriorated object at the entrance of my building in Havana, if it weren’t for the fact that it represents power. It is a bulwark, the vantage point from which they frequently watch me to prevent me from leaving my home to practice journalism. On this World Press Freedom Day, that threadbare seat is a declaration of war.

When the State Security agent who watches over my building said to me this Sunday “Luz, you can’t go out” I already knew that another day of restrictions was going to be repeated to prevent me from putting the daily life of this Island in writing. “They don’t fear me, they fear reality”, I said to myself to avoid getting overheated by the repressor, a simple instrument of something greater.

In the long hours that these political police officers wait on the ground floor of my house, I have never seen them read a newspaper, review a magazine, scrutinize a book. Only, from time to time, they immerse themselves in their mobile phones and their screens reveal that they are absorbed in social networks, the same ones that their bosses assure them are “instruments of the empire to end the Revolution”.

When the State Security agent who watches over my building told me this Sunday “Luz, you can’t go out”, I already knew that another day of restrictions was going to be repeated.

But they don’t read the press, or so it seems. Down there, below, they serve as a barrier so that a reporter does not leave her house to walk the streets and look for news, but they don’t have a good informative argument with which to respond. They are orphans of a free press but they don’t even know it, they see the journalist as an enemy without really understanding what we are doing.

I hope that freedom of the press reaches all the media currently censored in Cuba and that my daughters can one day go to the corner shop to buy whatever newspaper they think best. I also want for whoever watches me to know at least what freedom to decide to read one piece of information or another is about. Or better yet, for no one to be sitting in that chair, rickety and dirty, which today, for me, represents a gag.

Translated by Norma Whiting
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When Anger is Not Enough / Jeovany Jimenez Vega

Jeovany Jimenez Vega, 14 April 2021 — The controversy is useful: there are recent high-octane videos circulating in the social network where we can hear certain activists, or rather another chorus of Habaneros (people from Havana), who rant and rave in the street, hurling insults at the police and at (Cuban president) Diaz-Canel himself, and every day we come across more YouTubers reaching a crescendo in spraying around comments featuring our extensive vocabulary of swear-words. Resulting from the commotion generated in the media, Estado de SATS (Cuban discussion forum, supposedly named after Scandanavian expression meaning the moment just before the curtain rises), has proposed a debate on “Civility versus vulgarity”, and the controversy is increasingly heating up between contributors about the validity of this kind of protest.

Trying to define my position in this matter, my memory drags up the diva of Neo-Castrism, Humberto Lopez, when, in the Cubavision National News, he vented his rage against one Luis Manuel Otero Alcantara who posed nude in front of the cameras recently installed by the political police a few metres from his balcony. It was very shocking to see this sourpuss clown of officialdom asking millions of Cubans if “that is the way the opposition want to debate”, when everybody knows that for decades the cowardly government has evaded all direct confrontation with the opposition and has never dared to expose itself to public debate.

It’s surreal to see how the heartless bastards who disrespect my people, in an olympic outpouring of cynicism, try to make out they are the defenders of decency. But, in defence of little Humberto, it has to be said that in many cases we made it very easy, although at the very least it served to confirm one more time the old Castrista killer tactic: delegitimise and slag off whatever message of vindication by alluding to the “vulgarity” of the messenger. continue reading

From this, we need to draw an intelligent lesson: Castroism, like an old sea-dog,  knowing a lot about the ocean of possibilities of manipulation, will always make us pay for any error and with vicious impunity will go for the jugular every time we try to take a shot.

While we are on this point, I would like to clarify something: everything I write here is from the point of view of conciliation of all parties, if I can. More than 60 years of outrage have caused still-bleeding wounds and left tracks in the psyche of my people, and so, in this controversy, whatever stinging reaction comes up is understandable.

I understand that in the face of this despotism there is an accumulation of  feelings of impotence and frustration which would make even Teresa de Calcutta lose it, but, just the same, I hope my position is understood to be valid and urgent because this is a big deal for our nation. If, with my tone, I offend against any sensibility, I excuse myself in advance, above all if my humble apology touches the heart of any brother passing sleepless nights over the liberty of my people.

Our political situation got more complex with the deepening of the irreversible social and economic crisis of the Cuban regime. Right now, there are visible and invisible factors interacting because of the eruption of the social media, adding their new dynamic. In this context it is clear that some people consider protesting is valid and that  the more insults you throw in per second the more patriotic you are.

This is a troubled world we are dealing with, where there is an absence of any civic proposals and where almost never does anyone propose a concrete way out of the crisis we are living through. In fact, either they avoid expressing themselves in political terms, or, alternating between naiveté and “prudence”, they end up claiming they don’t consider themselves to be the opposition, and they are only bursting with rage from their position of common indignation, as if that made any sense in a totalitarianism like Cuba.

Those who praise such spontaneous and visceral outbursts – no doubt sincerely – where all that can be heard is barren and boring, and therefore useless, rather than argument which is disruptive and coherent – thats to say, politically useful – supported by “traditional” Cuban opposition, whom they oppose, are opting for a path which is sterile and gets us nowhere. Doing this is just a marginalisation, which is seen as an end in itself, but simply shows ourselves to the world as naive, superficial and grotesque – remember, my friends, that, for good or ill, time rushes by, and all that is happening is that we are handing ourselves over on a silver platter, because that is the image of all the Cuban opposition as a whole which the opportunist government ideologues are trying to construct in the collective public imagination.

These ideologues, don’t forget, have their next congress in a few days and have made it known that they will, with the worst of intentions, review government policies regarding use of the internet. No-one should be in any doubt that they have noted and will refer to these eloquent examples, to clothe with legitimacy the escalation of censorship, and strengthening of the legislation against the “offences” associated with the “inappropriate” use of social networks.

History has shown us that wars – and this one is no exception – are not won by the just, but by the smart. Courage is not enough; the fight for the freedom of a people cannot be reduced to a matter of bravado, no matter how much frustration or rage is weighing down on our backs. There is evidence that marginalisation never opens the way forward for any people, but rather, totally cynically, the common enemy of our liberty uses this point of weakness to conceal its dagger, and we have to put up with them perfuming their guarantee of public spirit, which is an insult to us, and so the equation doesn’t stack up, and that is when we will recognise the sad reality: that we will have placed in their hands a formidable weapon which will be mercilessly turned against us, which is an inexcusable aggravation, an act of self-harm lacking any logic in the context of this rigorously ideological war.

It’s not just me saying that, but history has demonstrated it. We recall not only the exemplary struggles of Ghandi, and Mandela, Luther King and Walesa, but also poking around in our own rich patriotic ideology with its roots down with the precepts of Padre Valera, and way up to the heights of Jose Marti, as well as dispersed throughout many thinkers, creators and activists throughout the 20th century; don’t forget that the pen sleeps alongside the machete, because in the beginning is the idea, and that is what calls us. It is essential that we make no concessions in this epic struggle, so we don’t get wrecked because we didn’t avoid trivialising our fight with pointless and directionless shouting.

Although shouting is always better than keeping quiet, and with everybody fighting against the Castroist absolutism every grain of sand counts, I could never imagine Jose Julian Martí naked against the Spanish courts during his exile in protest against colonialism; and I really have not seen, nor can I recall one example of a world-class hero in the last hundred years who achieved civil rights, set people free or defeated empires throwing boxes of pineapples. What has freed people up to now  – without exception – has always been the energetic flow of ideas fermented groups of thoughtful people which then clearly pointed the way to go so that the people could rush forward.

Victories were never achieved by producing vulgarities, no matter how much empathy we have for the pain felt by the dispossessed. We have no reason to accept vulgarity, or to suppose that living in an era in which victimisation is fashionable it is best to sign up to the “humble” faction to go with the flow, just because “that’s the way we Cubans talk”, because its easier, or because we lack character, and get to the point of being the negation of the firmness of principle or spiritual elevation, to the point of accusing the “other opposition” of frivolity, when their capital sin is nothing other than defending with steely tenacity coherent proposals for opposing a ruthless common enemy  – an opposition which, let us not forget, has sacrificed all in the trenches.

The war cry of Osorbo (Cuban rapper) is not more authentic just because it is spontaneous of visceral, or because he he came from a modest home in San Isidro, than that of Antonio Rodiles (Cuban political activist) just because he comes over as more thoughtful in Estado de Sats (forum for debate on social, cultural, and political issues in Cuba) from a “chic” location in Miramar. It would be counterproductive to try to parameterise, when both messages have the same intention – expressed in different frequencies but on the same dial as far as all our sufferings are concerned – and when both are, in their different ways, authentic war cries.

Any confrontation within the Cuban opposition which does not end in an embrace against the common enemy is senseless and is music to the ears of the dictatorship. But, look, it isn’t that both authentic cries have equal range. The main point here is not asking ourselves whether both are sincere claims – I don’t doubt that at all – but which of these two ways of understanding civic responsibility – different only in form, not content – is the more strategically useful in fighting against a dictatorship which has clung on through 60 years of terror. Which of them is realistically destined to help us reach our longed-for achievement of a Rule of Law? That, and nothing else, is the question.

To close these reflections, above all for those who are not yet convinced, I will just put one question: why is it that a propaganda machine as efficient as the Cuban Communist Party’s has never dared to publish a page or a fragment or any article or to transmit even 30 seconds of video of any criticism or civic proposal out of the mouth of Eduardo Payá or his daughter Rosa María Payá, or Antonio Rodiles, Coco Fariñas, Dagoberto Valdéz, José Daniel Ferrer, Reinaldo Escobar or Yoani Sánchez – from whom you have definitely never heard a bad word – but if any member of this new wave hurls any swear words, they rush to put out lengthy reports in the national chain which take up a good part of their news about whichever is the latest flunky mouthing off?

The answer is very simple: Castroism knows that its mortal enemy, with the potential to wipe it out, is a long-term proposition that avoids the ghettos and the tribalisms, and which advances arguments like punches in firmly denouncing at the right time so as to dissect and analyse the regime in all its cruelty and greed. The fight against the most  treacherous  dictatorship which we are living with is not a task for sprinters, but a long-distance race in which it is not worth wasting energy in senseless outbursts, because it is constancy, firmness and clarity of purpose, and nothing else, that finally define the guidelines for victory. Here the thoughtless guttural scream, no matter how emotionally justified, is born condemned to be extinguished, without ever having seen off the despot oppressing us.

True people are made from men who are the way they actually are, not the way they ought to be. These are the oxen who have to pull the plough; these are our drills and with them we will build the house, and a war cry emitted from the throat of a patriot will always be a good cry to shake up the tyrants, whether uttered from Miramar or San Isidro, but we have to keep in mind that to succeed in our main objective, and to work for our liberty, anger is not enough.

Translated by GH

Cuba: The Two Blockades and the Awakening of the People

According to many of those who criticized Obama’s policy towards the island, he made concessions without getting the same reciprocity from the Cuban government. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Ariel Hidalgo, Miami, 3 May 2021 — Cuban government officials lament that the current president of the United States, Joe Biden, does not want to return to the open policy towards Cuba of former President Obama, in effect at a time when Biden was vice president. Cuban officials forget that it was they who closed the process of rapprochement between the two countries after the then retired Commander-in-Chief (Fidel Castro) published his critical reflection El Hermano Obama (Brother Obama) and that, in general, the Party “toughs”  stopped that process and reversed many of the changes in recent years.

Now this whining reminds me of the laments of the last sultan of Spain at the loss of Granada which earned him this deserved reproach from his mother: “You do well to cry like a woman what you failed to defend like a man!”

The question that should be asked, then, is why they were frightened when, according to many of those who criticized Obama’s policy, he made concessions without having the same reciprocity on the part of the Cuban government. Or could it be that the Commander and the Party toughs were more insightful than the toughs on the opposite shore in realizing that this policy of rapprochement was more dangerous for them than a policy of tensions? continue reading

The crux of the question was probably not whether or not the Cuban regime made the concessions, but the impact that approach could have on the population. The fact that Obama was able to speak without restriction before the entire Cuban people and the cheers and other euphoric reactions of the population towards him, possibly was an alarm bell for them. It seems that now, with the rope around their necks, they are reconsidering the matter.

But the chances that Biden will return to that policy of rapprochement in the immediate term seem nil, not only because of his statements that Cuba is not a matter of immediate interest for his foreign policy, but because it is very likely that he wants to win back the Florida voters who denied him their votes in the last elections if he wants to win a second term. He knows that the decisive weight in that defeat was Cubans and, although he managed to win the White House, Florida continues to be of vital importance. A policy change could only be made after the next presidential elections. But it is evident that the Cuban situation cannot wait four more years.

The hard-line opponents, therefore, clap their hands, because they, especially those in exile, always bet on the policy of the pressure cooker: tighten and tighten the embargo and reduce travel and remittances as much as possible, until the people, out of desperation, take to the streets.

It is not very decorous, by the way, to encourage calamities from afar so that others are the ones to launch themselves into the fire. The writer never advocated that policy, not only so that no one, from within, would tell him: “Come and go hungry yourself, suffer calamities, and then take to the streets,” but because it seemed an unwise strategy to me. The reasons are many and in another era I enumerated them. But in case you have forgotten them, I repeat now the most important ones:

1. Because the regime justifies the disastrous effects of its internal economic policy by blaming the external enemy. Still many of the fanatics and opportunists who continue to support the regime continue to use the rhetoric about “imperialism.” If the embargo imposed by the United States did not exist, the regime would be completely unmasked before all the people and before the world.

2. Because it achieves the solidarity of international public opinion by diverting attention from internal contradictions with the myth of the heroic island resisting the siege of a voracious empire. Year after year, at the United Nations, the United States is condemned almost unanimously, with very few exceptions, for maintaining the embargo against Cuba.

3. Because it justifies the internal repression of critics and dissidents by accusing them of being agents of the powerful external enemy and, therefore, traitors to the homeland. When in 1996 it was clearly seen that the Helms-Burton Act, which would strengthen the embargo, was going to be defeated in the United States Congress, the Cuban government decided to assassinate four peaceful opponents in exile by shooting down two civilian planes, and as a result the law was passed. Hence, many called it, ironically, the “Helms-Burton-Castro Law,” because with that excuse, it allowed the regime to openly muzzle all internal dissent, dissolve a legal institution with reformist projects such as the Center for American Studies (CEA ) and imprison 75 leaders of the dissent.

4. Because the people in Cuba, pressed solve their immediate economic problems such as, for example, a mother who has nothing to put on her children’s plates, do not have the time or mindset to think about holding demonstrations in the streets, but only to wear out their shoe leather looking for food.

5. Because a policy is required that, on the contrary, strengthens the victims by making them economically independent from the State, and prevents the latter from exercising economic coercion ever them, which is why it is preferable to facilitate travel and remittances. When Manuel Moreno Fraginals, author of El Ingenio, already in exile, was asked why the Cuban people, who had previously been so heroic, did not rebel against the dictatorship, he replied: “Because the middle class, the main protagonist of those struggles, was totally suppressed.”

However, the deep crisis facing the country has not really depended on what the Government of any other country has dictated, no matter how powerful it may be. The insubordination of the people in the streets is not due to an external blockade but to the Cuban leadership’s own internal policy stubbornly maintained despite so many setbacks, and above all, to an awakening of the collective conscience. Today they regret that the powerful neighbor to the North does not advance towards a process that ends the external blockade, but they themselves insist on continuing to maintain an internal blockade against their own people.

They could get the country out of this crisis by allowing farmers to sell freely to whom they wish at market prices, lowering the cost of self-employment licenses, as well as abusive taxes, allowing investments by Cubans from abroad as well as aid to their relatives in Cuba so that they can freely promote new small businesses, among other economic measures, and allow artists and intellectuals in the country to express themselves freely to contribute their ideas in the search for a solution that can only come from the consensus of the whole nation in all its diversity.

But they do not, simply because their current policy allows them to maintain absolute power and continue a life of privilege, turning their backs on the growing precariousness of the population, with a blindness only comparable to that of Queen Marie Antoinette of France shortly before the outbreak of the French Revolution, who responded when told that the people were starving: “Let them eat cake.”

But that absolute power has begun to break down, and they must be aware that they can also absolutely lose it if they do not realize in time that the true revolutionary process is not the one they stubbornly claim to be leading, a revolution that ended already more than half a century ago, but the one that is already beginning in the streets and neighborhoods of man Cuban cities.

The people have already woken up, they have stopped believing the lies with which they have been deceived for more than six decades and have become aware of their rights, and since no one governs without the consent of the governed, if they do not obey, the governor leaves the government.

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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 State Security Breaks into Otero Alcantara’s House and Takes Him to the Hospital

Otero Alcántara was transferred to the Calixto García Hospital, in El Vedado. (Screen capture)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 2 May 2021 — Cuban State Security broke into the home of Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara, in Old Havana, at dawn this Sunday, and transferred him to the Calixto García Hospital, in El Vedado. An official statement confirmed that the artist was taken from his home, a week after starting a hunger and thirst strike.

The artist’s uncle, Enix Berrio, explained to 14ymedio that they did not notify any family member of the transfer to the hospital. He also stated: “I don’t tell lies, I know how I saw it, it was wrong.” Berrio says that Otero Alcántara’s sister arrived this Sunday morning at number 955 Damas Street “with a friend who is a doctor” and without knowing anything about what happened at dawn. “A new padlock was found on the door and a bar,” he said.

The information about the transfer of Otero Alcántara to a hospital, of which there was only conjecture on social networks during the first hours of May 2nd, was released through the poet Katherine Bisquet, who, despite being surrounded by State Security in her home, maintains contact with residents of Damas Street in Old Havana. continue reading

The activist wrote that she was able to confirm with the neighbors of Alcántara that State Security took the artist around 5:00 in the morning. “The neighbors found the door locked from the outside with another type of lock,” although the details of how the artist was taken from his home are still unknown.

A note published this Sunday signed by the management of the Calixto García hospital, said that he arrived at the health center “in medical transport, in a conscious state, and walking without difficulty.” The text explains that the patient’s diagnosis was “voluntary starvation.”

“The physical examination did not reveal signs of malnutrition, with the presence of normal clinical and biochemical parameters,” the note adds. “As established in the medical care protocol for Covid-19, an antigen test was performed, with a negative result, and PCR samples were taken, pending the result.”

According to the hospital authorities, “since his arrival at the institution, and throughout the process he has remained cooperative with the health personnel who attend him.” The note also explains that “the patient maintains a stable evolution. The corresponding medical actions are continued by the group of specialists.”

However, the statement does not specify if the artist has received any type of serum or supplement to recover from dehydration after seven days without drinking water or other liquids. “He is kept under observation based on the aforementioned reasons that resulted in his arrival at the institution,” concludes the brief note.

As of 10:00 am this Sunday morning, the patient had not communicated by phone with family or friends since he was transferred to the hospital.

Otero Alcántara went on a hunger and thirst strike last Sunday to demand that the Government end the police siege of his home and compensate him for the works of art that State Security stole from his house without showing a search warrant and without drawing up the legally required record of seizure.

The break in this Sunday at the house of Otero Alcántara is the third illegal entry carried out by the political police. The first occurred last November when a group of artists was violently evicted from the headquarters of the San Isidro Movement where they were on a hunger strike to demand the freedom of Denis Solís.

The second raid took place on 14 April. Several State Security agents arrested the artist along with rapper Yenisleidys Borroto AfrikReina BV. In the operation they destroyed some of Otero Alcántara’s works of art.

These violent acts almost always occur at night and are accompanied by interruptions of Internet services on the island, with the aim of preventing the images and denunciations of the arbitrariness committed by the regime being disseminated on social networks. In addition, dozens of artists, journalists and activists have been arrested, or are being kept under surveillance and confined to their homes to silence their support for Otero Alcántara.

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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.

Dozens of Activists Demonstrate in Old Havana, Shouting “Patria y Vida” (Homeland and Life)

Demonstration this Friday in Old Havana in protest of the repression of and in solidarity with Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara. (Collage)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 30 April 2021 — Dozens of activists were repressed in a protest in the park on the corner of Obispo and Aguacate, in Old Havana. The protesters were trying to reach the home of Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara, only a few blocks away. The artist is on his sixth day of a hunger and thirst strike to end the siege to which he’s been subjected by State Security.

In a broadcast by Mary Karla Ares, some activists, such as Thais Mailén Franco Benítez and ADN Cuba collaborator Esteban Rodríguez are seen sitting together demanding to see Otero Alcántara. Some of them were handcuffed and violently detained in front of dozens of people who were filming with their cell phones, and others showing support.

The complete list of those arrested in the protest, compiled by Cubalex, is, as of now: Mary Karla Ares González, Thais Mailén Franco Benítez, Esteban Lázaro Rodríguez López, Leonardo Romero Negrín, Félix Modesto Valdés Díaz and Douglas Batista Savigne.

Moment when the repressive forces try to take some of the activists into custody. (Capture)

Carolina Barrero, Joeluis Cerutti Torres and Maykel Castillo Pérez were arrested as they left their homes when they tried to get to Old Havana. continue reading

“Homeland and life”, “down with the dictatorship”, “Luis Manuel is dying”, “there are no medicines”, “there is no food”, were some of the demands that Franco Benítez shouted, to which a whole chorus responded “Homeland and life! Homeland and life!”, the title of the song by Yotuel Romero, Gente de Zona, Descemer Bueno, Maykel Castillo and El Funky, which has become the motto of the opposition inside and outside Cuba. 

The police, unlike during other occasions where they acted by beating activists, were visibly fearful of executing the arrest operation with violence in front of the cell phones that were recording

The activists also shouted “down with repression” and “down with communism”, while the police and State Security agents became increasingly violent against the activists while trying to take them away. The protesters’ demands were chanted by dozens of Cubans who gathered around them.

The well-known repressor who calls himself “Lieutenant Colonel Camilo.” (Collage)

During Ares’s live broadcast, the moment when the activists held each other’s arms, to avoid being taken away, was recorded.

The police, unlike during other occasions where they acted by beating activists, were visibly fearful of executing the arrest operation with violence that cell phones were recording and transmitting live.

Neither were there rapid response brigades in the crowd, shouting slogans in favor of the Government, and only one woman exclaimed: “Viva Canel!”, a shout that was extinguished by the chorus of “Patria y Vida”.

People were able to recognize “Lieutenant Colonel Camilo”, a well-known repressor who led an operation against Yoani Sánchez and Reinaldo Escobar a decade ago and has been singled out by activists, such as the Ladies in White. He had been absent for a few years.

Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara, the most visible face of the San Isidro Movement (MSI), is still surrounded by a police cordon, preventing his friends and some religious authorities who have tried to enter from getting through.

This Friday morning, he told 14ymedio that he was unable to speak. “I’m exhausted, I don’t even have the strength to talk,” he texted to this newspaper via SMS.

Poet Amaury Pacheco, a member of the MSI, stated on his Facebook wall that Otero Alcántara’s uncle, Enix Berrio Sarda, was able to visit the artist in Old Havana and report on his health. “He can no longer stand up, his skin and mouth are cracked, he no longer urinates and cannot speak, his throat is swollen,” said Berrio. He further said that he “is maintaining his demands and will continue his hunger strike until the end”.

“He can no longer stand up, his skin and mouth are cracked, he no longer urinates and does not speak, his throat is swollen”

According to a report this Friday afternoon by journalist José Raúl Gallego, a resident of Mexico, several people, including members of the Catholic Church, are gathered in front of the Infanta and Manglar police station, in the El Cerro neighborhood, to get news of the detainees during the protest.

The Cuban Observatory for Human Rights (OCDH) expressed disapproval of “the repression by the Government of Miguel Díaz-Canel and General Luis Alberto Lopez-Calleja” against protesters, and it pointed at them as responsible for the “physical integrity of the detainees”.

“We urgently call on the European Union and Michelle Bachelet, High Commissioner for Human Rights, to condemn the repressive escalation, and to abandon their complacency with the Cuban Communist Party, which not only represses those who exercise their rights, but has also plunged the entire Cuban people in misery”, added the OCDH.

Translated by Norma Whiting

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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.

Cooking Oil Donated by the World Food Program Being Sold in Cuba

Photos of the bottles posted on Facebook drew strong criticism. (Collage)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, May 1, 2021 — Cuba’s Ministry of Domestic Commerce responded on Thursday to the complaints about the sale of vegetable oil donated by the United Nations World Food Program (WFP). The product will “be replaced” in stores selling rationed goods when the disruptions in domestic production are resolved, the ministry said in a statement.

The response came after images were posted online of one-liter bottles of Russian-made cooking oil with a label sale indicating their sale was prohibited. The bottles were part of a lot donated by the WFP.

Photos of the bottles posted on Facebook drew strong criticism and calls for the United Nations to issue a statement on the sale of a food intended to be distributed free of charge, regardless of the ministry’s statement that the sale was justified due to technical problems at Cuban factories. continue reading

According to the ministry’s statement, packaged goods intended for sale in the rationed market “suffered disruptions” and, faced with the prospect of not being able to provide these items for the so-called “basic basket” of essential goods, “devised alternatives that will allow deliveries to be made.”

The statement adds that the one-liter sized bottles of oil had come from the World Food Program’s stockpiles in the country, adding they will be “replaced” once domestic production has been restored.

During the months of May and June, the oil will be sold in Cotorro, Arroyo Naranjo, Boyeros, Guanabacoa, San Miguel del Padrón and East Havana.

The ministry did not indicate when the WFP made its donation nor the reason the product has not been distributed to the public until now.

At the end of April the Russian government donated to Cuba, through the WFP, several tons of food valued at more than a million dollars. The event was marked by a ceremony attended by the Russian ambassador to Cuba, Andrei Guskov, along with several government officials.

It is not the first time accusations like this have come to light. After Hurricane Irma slammed the island in 2017, several foreign governments, non-governmental organization and UN agencies sent donations to alleviate shortages of food, medicine, water and construction materials. Several flood victims later complained that the state had charged them for mattresses, stoves and even coal.

In response to the criticism, the government passed a law stipulating that any disaster relief from overseas is to be provided to the Cuban population free of charge. However, recipients will still have to pay for distribution and transportation costs according to Resolution 645, adopted by the Ministry of Finance and Pricing.

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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.

State Workers Called to Participate in ‘Operation San Isidro’

Police near the headquarters of the San Isidro Movement, where Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara continues his hunger strike. (Facebook/Anamely Ramos)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, April 29, 2021 — Workers at state-owned restaurants and bars in Old Havana, most of whom are at home due to the pandemic and the drop-off in tourism, were summoned to join surveillance and “confrontation with the counterrevolution” operations in the San Isidro neighborhood. There, at 955 Damas Street on Thursday, the artist Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara is marking his fifth day of a hunger strike in protest of repression by State Security.

“I haven’t worked for months because the bar is closed,” says one employee of an establishment that sells drinks a few yards from the entrance to Havana Bay, “so when they called me to come to a meeting, I was surprised because there aren’t any tourists around and, since normally all we sell are drinks, we can’t offer food for takeout.”

When he got there, the worker — a member of the Old Havana Municipal Retail and Food Services Company — was surprised by the reason for the meeting. “It didn’t have anything to do with work. It was to ask each one of us if we were going to participate in police operations in San Isidro, especially around the house of  Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara,” he explained. continue reading

“They told us we could just dress in civilian clothes and help the police but that we might also have to take part in a ’repudiation’ demonstration.” he added. “Some people got up and left before the meeting was over because they were irritated, thinking they had been called for something else.”

A maintenance worker at one of the many hotels closed for lack of tourists gave a similar account. Located in the historic city center, the hotel has not had any guests for almost two years, which has allowed the management to make repairs and layoff some of staff.

“They called me on Monday and told me I had to be at the hotel early on Tuesday. From there I would go to Damas Street to help keep an eye out for anyone trying to enter the house of that dissident who is on a hunger strike,” he said. “I didn’t go and now I’m afraid I’ll lose my job but at this point I can’t get involved in stuff like this. No job is worth the hassle.”

It is not the first time something like this has happened. Last year 14ymedio reported that on October 10 employees and partners of the Old Havana Municipal Administration participated in an “act of repudiation” in response to “some counterrevolutionaries who were badmouthing Cuba on social media.” According to several sources who spoke to 14ymedio, the event had been billed as a day of “cultural enrichment.”

Nevertheless, Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara remains committed to his hunger strike. He is demanding and end to the round-the-clock police cordon, compensation for artwork stolen and destroyed by State Security and a public apology from the authorities.

The 33-year-old artist told 14ymedio on Wednesday that he has not eaten or drunk anything since Sunday, which has left him with stomach pains.

In a live broadcast on Thursday, made possible by help from friends and neighbors who provided him with internet equipment — his cell phone’s mobile data had been cut — he asked all Cubans to stick together: “I’m fine, I’m going to hold out until the last minute, thanks for all the support, we have to be united.”

At the same time, he reiterated that he will continue in his endeavor, since he prefers to die rather than continue to live without rights. “I don’t want to be afraid,” he said. “This decision is about life, not death. It is a decision about homeland and life, but a dignified life.”

He added, “If I cannot fight for my rights, then I cannot fight for anyone else’s rights.”

Artists and activists who have expressed support for Otero Alcántara are being harassed by the security forces. On Thursday, Tania Bruguera, Iris Ruiz and Amaury Pacheco were arrested upon leaving Bruguera’s house in El Vedado. “Tomorrow at 10 a.m. we all leave our houses,” she wrote a few hours earlier on her social media page.

The same thing happened to musician David D. Omni, who tried to cross the police cordon surrounding Otero Alcántara’s house.

Art historian Carolina Barrero, rapper Maykel Osorbo, activists María Matienzo and Kirenia Yalit Núñez, 14ymedio reporter Luz Escobar and CiberCuba contributor Iliana Hernández all woke up to find themselves under surveillance, which in Barrero’s case has been lasted for a full month.

On Thursday evening the 27N movement issued a public a call for help, hoping to bring international public opinion to bear on Otero Alcántara’s situation.

“Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara is dying and with him the freedom that he symbolizes is dying too. We want him to stay alive. We need him and his light to help us build the Cuba that awaits us,” the statement reads.

“We urgently need support from news outlets, non-governmental organizations and any person or institution inside Cuba or anywhere in the world which can help us find a peaceful solution to this conflict,” it notes.

From Miami, several human rights organizations — Archivo Cuba, Cuba Decides, the Foundation for Human Rights in Cuba and the Foundation for Pan-American Democracy — asked the European Union on Thursday to suspend the Agreement on Political Dialogue and Cooperation with Cuba until the island’s government “takes irreversible steps towards the recognition of human rights and democratic transition, and the European Union can evaluate such progress.”

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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.

Camilo, a Repressor “Disqualified by History”

The agent Camilo was also involved in the act of repudiation against Reinaldo Escobar at the corner of 23rd and G streets, in 2009. (Collage)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Generation Y, Havana, 1 May 2021 – A long history of repression accompanies the State Security agent who calls himself “Camilo” (the lack of creativity in the use of pseudonyms is inherent in the type of person who works for the political police). He was and has been one of the most active repressors against the alternative blogosphere on this Island, especially against the journalist Reinaldo Escobar and this servant.

In the distant year 2008, he summoned us to threaten us in a station in Havana’s Vedado district. Now (with more gray hair, more belly and less modesty) we have seen him repressing the young people who protested this Friday on Obispo Street in the Cuban capital. He was also at the act of repudiation against Reinaldo Escobar on the corner of 23rd and G streets, in 2009 and again when we were arrested in Bayamo in 2012. Just by looking at his image I can feel his knuckles on my skin and the strong odor of his sour sweat stuck to my face.

Oh… Camilo… Do you remember when you told my husband and me that we were “disqualified for dialogue”? What “dialogue” were you talking about? The conversation that is established between one who screams and another who is gagged? Of the cackle of one voice? Of the uniform chorus that flows from a single throat? Oh… Camilo… you will be “disqualified by history” that will only give you the place you deserve: that of an instrument used and discarded by his masters.

Selection of posts relating to ‘Camilo’

Paramilitaries

The Reprimands of Wednesday

Continued Wave of Kidnapping Regime Opponents From Their Homes

Human Rights Defender Kidnapped in His Home

Kiss of the Tiger

Journalist Missing

My Interrogator Didn’t Come Because He Had No Gas

Report on Government Actions and Repression in Cuba

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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.

‘My Father’s Two Great Mistakes: The 1952 Coup d’état and Freeing Fidel Castro in 1956’

14ymedio biggerRoberto Batista, one of the sons of Fulgencio Batista and author of ‘Son of Batista’ (Verbum). (Courtesy)14ymedio, Yaiza Santos, Madrid, 25 April2021 — Lawyer Roberto Batista (b. New York, 1947) did not pay much attention to his friends at first, when they told him that he had to write a book. “I, who had not written since high school, would say: but write what and about what? Who would be interested in my life?” he tells 14ymedio. His friends replied: “Your last name is part of Cuban history and your testimony is necessary for future generations; you have to do it out of historic duty.” Sometime later, his book, which ended up being called Son of Batista (Verbum), developed by itself, “with a lot of pain and a lot of grief.”

In it, he faces, with unresolved doubts, the figure of Fulgencio Batista, for whom he asks a fair trial. “My father, a politician, had his virtues and his mistakes,” writes his son in a passage. “He came out of nowhere and, with enormous efforts, knew how to excel to reach unsuspected heights and, without a doubt, had to make decisions and execute debatable and disputed actions.”

For this reason, he reflects, “there is no choice but to obey the constitutional writings. This is where the political maturity of the peoples is demonstrated. My father failed to fulfill this purpose and his error took a heavy toll.”

Batista’s Son shows, he acknowledges, “an open wound.”

Yaiza Santos: Far from being your father’s exoneration, you critically question him in the book. At some point you refer to “his Greek tragedy”: having before him “an extraordinary father figure confronted with the public man who, from the highest acknowledgements, at any given point, he damaged by seizing power unlawfully.” Where was Batista’s mistake?

Roberto Batista:  I can tell you the two great mistakes, the only ones that matter to the history of Cuba: the first, the 10 March 1952 coup d’état, and the second, freeing Fidel Castro from the Isla de Pinos prison in 1956. continue reading

My father’s government, in its last stages, turned Cuba into the third economic power in America at that time, that must be acknowledged

Yaiza Santos: Regarding these issues, you make it clear in the book, you did not discuss them with your father, despite the fact that he died when you were already a 26-year-old adult.

Roberto Batista: Since I left Cuba on that fateful night of 30 December 1958, which I describe in the book, I suffered a shock that prevented me from talking about Cuban issues until 1998. And I remember this date: it was a night I stayed working until very late, and it came to me as an inspiration: why can’t I talk about Cuba, why can’t I learn about my country, why can’t I review the history of those turbulent years? My father did try to tell me things frequently, but I did not respond to his desire to continue the conversation.

He did tell us one thing very clearly: that he had written the books he wrote in exile for a reason, because those books pick up truths and historical facts, many of them based on international statistics. My father’s government, in its last stages, turned Cuba into the third economic power in America at that time, that must be acknowledged.

In my eyes, my father’s government had two stages: from 1952 to 1954, after the coup, he was a dictator with absolute power. However, in 1954 they elected him president, and although it is true that the opposition did not participate in the elections, there were senators and representatives of the opposition in the Cuban Chambers, and he reestablished the Constitution of 1940 with all the necessary guarantees. That is acknowledged. It was in this very fruitful period that he launched Cuba into its greatest known prosperity.

Yaiza Santos: You do not shy away from controversy. For example, regarding Batista’s alleged corruption, you concede: “Did he abuse power so much, embezzle public money? Corrupt, tyrant? My son’s heart makes me think that, at home, he was a great father, understanding, home-loving and very tender.  However, his inner strength could have played a trick on him and he perhaps went beyond the limits of what was constitutionally allowed.”

Roberto Batista: My father was a born entrepreneur, a man of great inner strength, and this led him to commit that coup. Sometimes the boundaries were crossed, but it must be taken into account that, in that Cuba, there were very disturbing elements, sabotage in the cities, attacks, an opposition that continuously advocated against the Government, so a completely desperate public order was created. In a Cuba that had practically already entered a civil war, outrages were committed on both sides. But it was never true, as Bohemia magazine went on to say and later denied, that my father had caused 20,000 deaths. Between one side and the other, no more than a thousand deaths were caused, and that too is proven.

The public figure of my father has been 80% or more a product of Castro’s propaganda. Therefore, there are lots of lies

Yaiza Santos: You are also very emphatic about the accusations of collusion with the mafia. You say: “There is no evidence.” But of course, there is the image installed in the collective imagination, to a great extent by films like The Godfather.

Roberto Batista: My father’s public figure has been 80% or more a product of Castro’s propaganda. Therefore, there are lots of lies. What’s more, there is academic work by a history professor at a New Jersey university that proves that Batista had nothing to do with the mafia. This Hollywood fiction gave rise to interpreting my father in a way that suited them, because Castro’s propaganda was very good at creating the image of Batista the mobster. It is another fallacy of the many that have been alleged about my father.

And you see, I am not a son who says “my father was perfect”; he was a president, a politician, a military man who had lights and shadows, and who, in his family environment was a didactic, noble, affectionate, sweet father, and who also knew how to command. He would look at you and you already knew perfectly well what you had to do; he didn’t need to raise his voice or wave his hands or anything like that. Quietly, one look, and everyone at peace.

Yaiza Santos: You tell of a happy childhood until the night you had to leave Cuba. From that point, it is very well described, it was a shock for an 11-year-old boy to receive attacks that he did not know how to interpret very well. The deterioration is reflected very well in this phrase: “We must remember that, at that time, people were not speaking to us.” How long did you have this feeling in exile?

Roberto Batista: Quite a long time. In the confusion that was that departure from Cuba, which my father had planned only two or three days before but that very few knew about, people turned against us, and many, who were our supporters or friends, even very close friends, turned their backs on us. Those who previously organized banquets or tributes to my father as good friends, would later meet my mother in the elevator of a New York hotel and not greet her. That anguish stayed with me in my late teens and youth for many, many years. About ten years after leaving Cuba, things began to soften and people treated us differently. For example, when we arrived in Spain in the sixties, although I suffered a lot, we could enjoy a more acceptable life. But it is a wound that never healed and will remain there until I die.

Those who previously organized banquets or tributes to my father as good friends would later meet my mother in the elevator of a New York hotel and not greet her

Yaiza Santos: The trauma affected your most intimate life. Exposing that masculine frailty, the way you do in the book, is not typical of men, in general.

Roberto Batista: It is very painful for me to have to verbalize what you are mentioning. I better refer you to Son of Batista, where it is well described.

Yaiza Santos: Going back to your life in Madrid, it will shock people that even in Franco’s Spain you suffered from finding hostility towards your surname, especially at the university, where you even avoided certain professors who were communist sympathizers.

Roberto Batista: I was not a run-of-the-mill student: I had a political surname, in addition, adulterated, well-worn and threadbare, exposed to all kinds of lies. I also have to say that, at the Law School [of the Complutense University] I made great friends, and also at the Pre-university before then, and they had the sensitivity and respect not to mention the subject of Cuba. Because any Cuban accent on the street, any question about Cuba, threw me into a state of mind and physicality that sometimes even made me shake. For the rest, I have many anecdotes from that time. A very curious one that no one knows and I did not include in the book is the one when we were just onlookers at a university protest, in the second year of my degree studies, a friend and I ended up being arrested by The Grays (Franco’s police) and were held in the dungeons of La Puerta del Sol*.

 Yaiza Santos: And how did you get out of there?

Roberto Batista: It so happens that my friend had relatives at that time who were close to the ministerial leadership – I am saying it as best I can so as not to compromise anyone – who showed up and took us out after midnight. We had been there since one in the afternoon.

 It was very painful for him to ponder how that country, which could host so many people of ideology contrary to American democracy, would not grant him the respect he deserved

Yaiza Santos: Another funny anecdote is that you had to renounce your American citizenship to avoid being drafted and sent to Vietnam in 1966.

Roberto Batista: It wasn’t remotely funny, but very painful for me. After that, I was stateless for many years, something that differentiates you from ordinary mortals.

Yaiza Santos: How many years were you in that condition?

Roberto Batista: Until 1975, when I acquired Cuban citizenship for a few years. Later, I became a Spanish citizen in 1985.

Yaiza Santos: It is often said that “Fulgencio Batista was a puppet of the United States,” but he died without the United States granting him a visa.

Roberto Batista: A person who not once, but twice, was received by President Roosevelt, in ’38 and ’42, and who, throughout his entire political career, sided with the United States, without allowing, however, for them to have interference in Cuba… It was very painful for him to ponder how that country, which could host so many people of ideology contrary to American democracy, would not grant him the respect he deserved.

Yaiza Santos: What would the Cuban exile have to do to help Cuba to have democracy?

Roberto Batista: You ask me a political question and I am not a political scientist, although I try with all my might to follow Cuban news as frequently as possible. It is already known that the exile today is not the exile of 1959 or that of the 70’s, 80’s or 90’s. It is a very different exile, with very conflicting tendencies, and I do not see that it is a political force important enough to achieve change in Cuba.

I believe in the new Cuban generations, and I hope that those who have remained after this “geriatric” congress, as Yoani Sánchez aptly named it, will be brave enough to lead Cuba to a reform

I believe in the new Cuban generations, and I hope that those who have remained after this “geriatric” congress, as Yoani Sánchez aptly named it, will be brave enough to lead Cuba to a reform. The new generations have bravely faced power, and the power ignores them, but at least they have had no choice but to listen to them.

Yaiza Santos: You refer to the San Isidro Movement, to the 27N

Roberto Batista: Of course, of course. I have great faith in the new generations, and I believe that the San Isidro Movement is very important, just like the Patriotic Union of Cuba, with its hunger strikes. They all deserve my highest respect, my sympathy and my support for the great heroic work they are doing.

Yaiza Santos: Why is communism still being respected?

Roberto Batista: That is believed by fools. After seeing the horror of Cuba, 62 years of a totalitarian, repressive and cruel dictatorship, plus Maduro’s Bolivarian Bolsheviks, who can believe that communism can be something beneficial for a country, since the only thing it brings is misery and lack of respect for others? As much as they camouflage things, at the moment of truth they are regimes called to the most absolute failure.

 Yaiza Santos: Would you go back to Cuba?

Roberto Batista: Only when the time comes, when human rights are respected and there is a liberal Constitution based on democratic principles, with its separation of powers, executive, legislative and judicial. If there are guarantees to return, I would return with great pleasure. I am looking forward to doing it, and so are my children.

*Translator’s note: La Puerta del Sol (Gate of the Sun) is a public square in Madrid, one of the best known and busiest places in the city, Kilometer 0 of the radial network of Spanish roads.

Translated by Norma Whiting

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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.

Otero Alcantara’s Health Deteriorates, But He Remains Firm in Continuing His Hunger Strike

Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara during his previous hunger and thirst strike, in November 2020. (Facebook / Alcántara)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 28 April 2021 —  After three days on a hunger and thirst strike, the artist Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara is beginning to feel the first signs of weakness in his body. The dancer Chabelly Díaz told 14ymedio that she was able to speak with him and conveyed his determination to continue with the protest.

“Communication with ‘Luisma’ [as Luis Manuel is called by friends] is more emotional every day. Today, on the third day of the strike, his voice begins to sound more tired and there are some flaws in his writing, because his eyesight is affected and the conversations are shorter. The only thing that does not decline is his determination, his thirst for justice and his conditions,” says Díaz.

The dancer plans to visit him this Wednesday, hoping that she will be allowed. “I am determined to enter, I hope they do not stop me like the last time, but if it happens, I will make my rights heard. I need to see with my eyes how he is, to ease the loneliness and offer affection, to be able to convey the message that is going out on the social networks and that he has not been able to see,” she declared. continue reading

Archivo Cuba (Cuba Archive) was also able to speak with him, and warned of the opponent’s worrying state of health. “I am ready to leave my body as this mass of prey mass that the Cuban regime can threaten, can hit, can even prevent it from painting a picture, and even prohibit being an artist,” Otero Alcántara told the NGO.

“We want Otero alive and waging the peaceful battle for freedom in Cuba,” said Archivo Cuba, noting that the hunger strikes “have claimed the lives of too many Cubans who tragically feel that this form of radical protest is what remains to them to defend their fundamental rights. “

The organization has asked foreign correspondents in Cuba to “circumvent censorship” and cover this matter with “justice in order to make known to the world the situation of Otero Alcántara and the lack of freedom of expression” on the island.

The San Isidro Movement (MSI) has demanded that the authorities allow access to the home of Otero Alcántara for his relatives and friends to verify his situation. “Since the early hours of the morning his condition is unknown and we need to know what condition he is in,” they denounced this Tuesday.

Sources close to the artist said that all the access points to the house on Calle Damas in Old Havana, where Alcántara is staying while on the hunger and thirst strike, are under surveillance by State Security and the police. The cause of the protest is precisely this, the police cordon that prevents him from moving freely, in addition to the arrests, fines and confiscations that those who try to get to his house have suffered.

In addition to the lifting of the police siege, Otero Alcántara demands the return of the works of art that were seized by State Security agents, a material compensation of $500,000 and that respect for the exercise of artistic freedoms be fully complied with.

On Tuesday, the police took Manuel de La Cruz from his house and held him under arrest at the Cotorro station until after twelve on Wednesday with the excuse of a summons scheduled for one in the afternoon. The young man has been harassed by the authorities since he was arrested and expelled from his workplace after leaving with Otero Alcántara to distribute candy in San Isidro to celebrate a children’s party dressed as the Desparpajo clown.

The artist Alexis Valdés, who lives in Miami, once again expressed solidarity with Otero Alcántara, whose strike, in his opinion, “symbolizes the despair of many people who cannot find a way out.”

“His desperate act is the reflection of a desperate time in my country. And one says to oneself: What a shame! What a sadness for the country. To continue risking the lives of people with talent and heart. Why can’t we have a country of dialogue, of tolerance, of encounter, of differences, acceptable? Why a country of imposition?” Valdés wrote on his Facebook profile.

Other supportive reactions were that of PEN America, which issued a statement condemning the continuous harassment against Otero Alcántara, and the Patriotic Union of Cuba (Unpacu), whose leader, José Daniel Ferrer, launched a campaign from Santiago de Cuba. For her part, Berta Soler, leader of the Ladies in White wrote on her social networks: “we stand in solidarity with Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara (…) Luisma, you are not alone,” speaking on behalf of his organization.

The members of the MSI in Miami held a vigil through the Zoom platform to support the demands of Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara and show their solidarity “towards him, the besieged people and the political prisoners.”

The poet Katherine Bisquet, the reporter for this newspaper Luz Escobar, and the visual artists Camila Lobón and Julio Llopiz-Casal, among others, had State Security surveillance this Tuesday that prevented them from leaving their homes.

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The London Club Offers the Cuban Government a Lifeline with Debt Relief

Loans to Cuba, which are rarely traded, now trade at about 10 cents on the dollar. (Flickr / Maxence)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Madrid, 27 April 2021 — CRF I Ltd., the London Club’s main creditor of Cuban debt investment fund, has offered the Government of Miguel Díaz-Canel to convert 1.4 billion dollars of the securities Cuba owes into a zero coupon bond with no payments until 2026, an offer that would allow Cuba to return to international markets, according to Bloomberg.

The economic agency had access to a letter addressed to the Cuban president containing the offer and that was sent on March 18, just before the Eighth Congress of the Communist Party, although the messages sent to Cuban diplomats and the president’s office did not were returned.

“Cuba may go from being in default with commercial creditors to regaining access to willing lenders in global financial markets,” says the letter from David Charters, president of the firm. continue reading

With this offer, 60% of the net present value of the debt that the Island has with CFR would be amortized, approximately four billion in loans and other securities.

The London Club, made up of the Stancroft Trust, Adelante Exotic and CRF funds, has been making offers of various kinds to Cuba since 2018 in order to collect the money owed.

In 2018, relief of an unknown amount was offered, described as an “opportunity to reach an amicable agreement” by Rodrigo Olivares-Caminal, coordinator of the Club.

Raúl Castro, who reversed his brother Fidel’s policy of not paying the debt, said that 2018 would be a “complicated year for the nation’s external finances,” but he was inclined to comply with the agreements made in the previous years with other creditors such as Russia and the Paris Club, which encouraged the British to make offers.

However, the lack of receptivity on the part of the Cuban side led CRF to file a lawsuit for non-compliance in a London court in February 2020. “The CRF board made it clear that the ongoing legal process will not stop unless there is a previously negotiated and satisfactory agreement with the Cuban government,” the company said in a statement.

After 30 years trying to collect the debt, Charters said: “We are losing patience. If [Cuba] wants to regain access to the international financial market, it has to fix this.”

The pandemic and the consequent worsening of the island’s economic situation make it difficult for the Government of Havana to be in a position to accept the offer, but, according to Bloomberg, if it is done, it could send a good signal to other investors and the Biden Administration.

“We urge you not to let this historic moment pass again, we expect a positive response and a commitment from you,” says the CRF letter.

During the time of the thaw with the United States during the Obama Administration, Cuba’s debt, including CRF values, recovered to 36 cents on the dollar as of the end of 2016. Today, however, loans, which are rarely traded, are now trading at about 10 cents one the dollar.

Cuba received significant relief in 2014 with the cancellation of 90% of its debt of 35 billion dollars with the former Soviet Union, of which the Russian Federation was the legate. Havana pledged with Moscow to invest the remaining 3.5 billion in joint projects on the island.

In 2015, the Paris Club and Cuba reached an agreement by which they forgave the Island 8.5 billion of the 11 billion dollars that it had accumulated in debt and interest since 1986 on the condition that Havana pay the remainder with a cap in 2018.

However, the agreed restructuring schedule has been breached as Cuba stopped paying some 85 million dollars in the last year and, although its creditors accepted a moratorium, they are considering imposing sanctions.

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Tourism in Cuba Falls to Historic Lows in First Quarter of the Year

Due to Covid-19 the Island has restricted flights from most countries. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 26 April 2021 — The worst tourism forecasts for the island are already a reality. According to figures published Monday by the Cuban Statistics and Information Office (ONEI), between January and March 2021, 76,913 travelers arrived, representing only 6.2% of those who arrived in the same period last year (1,230,934), more than one million fewer.

Due to the covid-19 pandemic, the Island maintains flight restrictions for most countries, especially Mexico, the Dominican Republic, Haiti and the United States, places from which the Cuban community abroad travels to Cuba.

Tourism, Cuba’s third highest source of income, behind the sale of medical services and remittances, had already suffered a decline due, in part, to the United States sanctions. The year 2019 saw 436,000 fewer tourists compared to 2018, according to official figures, and the hundreds of hotels in the country, controlled by the military, had six out of ten beds empty during the year. However, tourism still represented a reported 2.6 billion dollars in income to the Island. continue reading

Despite the adverse figures this year and the coronavirus pandemic, which has reduced tourisms to the Island and to most destinations worldwide, Prime Minister Manuel Marrero said in a meeting with executives that Tourism will continue to be the locomotive of the Cuban economy.

To try to reactivate the sector, the Cuban government opened two of its tourist destinations to Russian tourists, a decision criticized by citizens. Russia is one of the countries with the lowest vaccination rate against Covid-19 worldwide (not even 5% of its population is vaccinated, according to official figures).

The majority of international travelers who have arrived on the island this year have come from Russia (21,467 visitors), followed by 7,313 Cubans residing abroad and 4,026 Germans, among whom the German parliamentarian Karin Strenz stands out; she died a few weeks ago on a flight originating from the Varadero resort.

To travel to Cuba, tourists must provide printed negative results in the PCR test dated 72 hours before arrival, and once they land on the island, undergo other similar tests.

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Giving Voice to the ‘Self-Criticism’ of Cuban Poet Heberto Padilla, 50 Years Later

The writer Néstor Díaz de Villegas, in a moment from the reading in ’the Shadow of Heberto Padilla’. (Screen capture)

14ymedio biggerEFE (via 14ymedio), Miami, 27 April 2021 — The well-known public confession of the Cuban poet Heberto Padilla (1932-2000), which shocked the literary world 50 years ago because it was a manipulation of Castroism, has been staged in a new choral reading, with English subtitles. [See English transcript here.]

About twenty Cuban artists and intellectuals read this Tuesday, from different countries, including the island, the famous document known as “Padilla’s confession,” which the poet possibly staged in 1971 after being detained and interrogated for dissenting against communism.

In this “public blaming ritual” Padilla accused himself, his wife (also a writer, Belkis Cuza Malé) and several close friends of being “counterrevolutionary.”

The reading of the document, organized by the artist Coco Fusco from New York under the title La sombra de Padilla (The Shadow of Padila), includes voices from Cuban civil society grouped in the San Isidro Movement and the 27N (27 November).

The nearly three-hour audiovisual is presented on the internet and on the web portals of the Showroom in London, the Kunstlerhaus Bethanien in Berlin, the Herberger Institute in Arizona, the Pérez Museum in Miami and the Franklin Furnace in New York and the Artists at Risk Connection. continue reading

“I wanted many voices to come together as one. Cubans have many different voices, many points of view and many homes in the world. But there are stories and experiences that are shared, and this is one of them,” Fusco told EFE speaking about the audiovisual.

In the video, which, according to a statement, “commemorates the 50th anniversary of one of the decisive moments of the Cuban Revolution with regard to freedom of expression,” almost a score of Cuban intellectuals and writers from the United States and Europe present.

“Padilla’s confession shocked the international literary world. Although the Cuban government tried to use his self-flagellation as proof of his guilt, his friends from outside the island understood the act as a Stalinist-style show-trial,” says Fusco, a Professor of Art at The Cooper Union School of Art in New York.

According to the Cuban artist, born in 1960 in New York, “prominent public intellectuals such as Susan Sontag, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Mario Vargas Llosa spoke in his defense (of Padilla) and dozens of other literary figures signed public letters to Fidel Castro.”

“Many chose to distance themselves from the Revolution as a result of the issue, ending the golden age of Cuba as a favorite destination of globetrotting leftist intellectuals,” adds the artist.

The public confession of Padilla, who managed to go into exile in 1980 and died in Alabama (USA) at the age of 68, “was a harbinger” of the period known as the Five Gray Years.

During those five years (1971-1976), dozens of Cuban artists and writers were separated from public life.

“The Cuban government’s treatment of Padilla made visible the methods for treating intellectuals and artists, and has functioned since then as a warning to those who seek to challenge state authority,” the statement said.

The literary critic Carlos Aguilera, speaking to EFE from Berlin, said, “The part that I have to read is the one where he talks about the goodness of the Revolution, and his patience with all those who do not understand it, and he ’denounces’ (the writers José) Lezama (Lima), Norberto Fuentes, César López, among others.”

According to Aguilera, the so-called Padilla Case “officially” opens the “hardest period of Castro’s necropolitics, in which no dissent was allowed.”

“The fact that Padilla has parodied or dramatized similar purges that occurred in the worst Soviet moments helped a lot, since it brought to the fore the horror of Castro’s communism and its attempts to silence an entire society through manipulation, applause and the punishment,” he said.

According to Cuban writer Antonio José Ponte, “several cameras from the official film institute (ICAIC) filmed Heberto Padilla’s speech of self-criticism,” but the film “is not shown publicly.”

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