Corruption Versus Liberty: A Cuban Dilemma / Dimas Castellano

Dimas Castellanos, 18 November 2016 — The evil of corruption–the act of corruption and its effects–has accompanied the human species since its emergence. It has been present in all societies and in all ages. Its diverse causes range from personal conduct to the political-economic system of each country. In Cuba it appeared in the colonial era, it remained in the Republic, and became generalized until becoming the predominant behavior in society.

To understand the regression suffered we must return to the formation of our morality, essentially during the mixing of Hispanic and African cultures and the turning towards totalitarianism after 1959, as can be seen in the following lines.

The conversion of the island into the world’s first sugar and coffee power created many contradictions between slaves and slave owners, blacks and whites, producers and merchants, Spanish-born and Creole, and between them and the metropolis. From these contradictions came three moral aspects: the utilitarian, the civic and that of survival. continue reading

Utilitarian morality

The father of utilitarianism, Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832), said that utility is measured by the consequences that actions tend to produce, and came to the conclusion that all action is socially good when it tries to procure the greatest possible degree of happiness for the greatest number of people, and that each person has the right to be taken into account in the exercise of power.

That thesis of Bentham became a popular slogan synthesized in the phrase: “The greatest happiness for the greatest number.” Such a concept crystallized in Cuba as a creole variant of a utilitarianism that took shape in exploitation, smuggling, corruption, banditry, and criminality, which turned into the violation of everything predisposed as an accepted norm of conduct in society.

The gift of a plant by the sugar planters to the governor Don Luis de las Casas; the diversion of funds for the construction of Fortaleza de la Real Fuerza de la Cabaña, which made it the most expensive fortress in the world; the gambling house and the cockfighting ring that the governor Francisco Dionisio Vives had for his recreation in the Castillo de la Real Fuerza, whose government was known for “the three d’s”: dancing, decks of cards, and drinking, for which reason, at the end of his rule, there appeared a lampoon that said: “If you live (vives) like Vives, you will live!”; the mangrove groves; bandits like Caniquí, the black man of Trinidad and Juan Fernandez, the blond of Port-au-Prince … are some examples.

Utilitarianism reappeared on the republican scene as a discourse of a political, economic, and military elite lacking in democratic culture, swollen with personalismo, caudillismo, corruption, violence and ignorance of anything different. A masterful portrait of this morality was drawn by Carlos Loveira in his novel Generales y doctores, a side that resurfaced in the second half of the twentieth century.

Thus emerged the Republic, built on the symbiosis of planters and politicians linked to foreign interests, with a weak civil society and with unresolved, deep-rooted problems, as they were the concentration of agrarian property and the exclusion of black people. The coexistence of different moral behaviors in the same social environment led to the symbiosis of their features. Utilitarianism crisscrossed with virtues and altruisms, concerns and activities on matters more transcendent than boxes of sugar and sacks of coffee.

Throughout the twentieth century, these and other factors were present in the Protest of the 13, in the Revolution of the 30, in the repeal of the Platt Amendment, in the Constituent Assembly of 1939, and in the Constitution of 1940. Also in the corruption which prevailed during the authentic governments and in the improvement accomplished by the Orthodox Dissent and the Society of Friends of the Republic. Likewise, in the 1952 coup d’etat and in the Moncada attempted counter-coup, in the civic and armed struggle that triumphed in 1959 and in those who since then and until now struggle for the restoration of human rights.

Civic morality

Civic morality, the cradle of ethical values, was a manifestation of minorities, shaped by figures ranging from Bishop Espada, through Jose Agustín Caballero to the teachings of Father Felix Varela and the republic “With all and for the good of all” of José Martí. This civic aspect became the foundation of the nation and source of Cuban identity. It included concern for the destinies of the local land, the country, and the nation. It was forged in institutions such as the Seminary of San Carlos, El Salvador College, in Our Lady of the Desamparados, and contributed to the promotion of the independence proclamations of the second half of the nineteenth century, as well as the projects of nation and republic.

Father Félix Varela understood that civic formation was a premise for achieving independence and, consequently, chose education as a path to liberation. In 1821, when he inaugurated the Constitutional Chair at the Seminary of San Carlos, he described it as “a chair of freedom, of human rights, of national guarantees … a source of civic virtues, the basis of the great edifice of our happiness, the one that has for the first time reconciled for us the law with philosophy.”

José de la Luz y Caballero came to the conclusion that “before the revolution and independence, there was education.” Men, rather than academics, he said, is the necessity of the age. And Jose Marti began with a critical study of the errors of the War of 1868 that revealed negative factors such as immediacy, caudillismo, and selfishness, closely related to weak civic formation.

This work was continued by several generations of Cuban educators and thinkers until the first half of the twentieth century. Despite these efforts, a general civic behavior was not achieved. We can find proof of this affirmation in texts like the Journal of the soldier, by Fermín Valdés Domínguez, and the Public Life of Martín Morúa Delgado, by Rufino Perez Landa.

During the Republic, the civic aspect was taken up by minorities. However, in the second half of the twentieth century their supposed heirs, once in power, slipped into totalitarianism, reducing the Western base of our institutions to the minimum expression, and with it the discourse and practice of respect for human rights.

Survival morality

Survival morality emerged from continued frustrations, exclusions, and the high price paid for freedom, opportunities, and participation. In the Colony it had its manifestations in the running away and insurrections of slaves and poor peasants. During the second half of the twentieth century it took shape in the lack of interest in work, one of whose expressions is the popular phrase: “Here there is nothing to die for.”

It manifested itself in the simulation of tasks that were not actually performed, as well as in the search for alternative ways to survive. Today’s Cuban, reduced to survival, does not respond with heroism but with concrete and immediate actions to survive. And this is manifested throughout the national territory, in management positions, and in all productive activities or services.

It is present in the clandestine sale of medicines, in the loss of packages sent by mail, in the passing of students in exchange for money, in falsification of documents, in neglect of the sick (as happened with mental patients who died in the Psychiatric Hospital of Havana of hypothermia in January 2010, where 26 people died according to official data), in establishments where merchandise is sold, in the workshops that provide services to the population, in the sale of fuel “on the left” and in the diversion of resources destined for any objective.

The main source of supply of the materials used is diversion, theft, and robbery, while the verbs “escape”, “fight” and “solve” designate actions aimed at acquiring what is necessary to survive. Seeing little value in work, the survivor responded with alternative activities. Seeing the impossibility of owning businesses, with the estaticular way (activities carried out by workers for their own benefit in State centers and with State-owned materials). Seeing the absence of civil society, with the underground life. Seeing shortages, with the robbery of the State. Seeing the closing of all possibilities, with escape to any other part of the world.

Immersed in this situation, the changes that are being implemented in Cuba, under the label of Guidelines of Economic and Social Policy of the PCC, run into the worst situation regarding moral behavior. In this, unlike in previous times, everyone from high leaders to simple workers participates. A phenomenon of such a dimension that, despite its secrecy, has had to be tackled by the official press itself, as can be seen in the following examples of a whole decade:

  • The newspaper Juventud Rebelde on May 22, 2001 published an article titled “Solutions against deception”, where it is said that Eduardo, one of the thousands of inspectors, states that when he puts a crime in evidence, the offenders come to tell him: “You have to live, you have to fight.” According to Eduardo, neither can explain “the twist of those who bother when they are going to claim their rights and instead defend their own perpetrator.” It results in the perpetrator declaring that he is fighting and the victims defending him. The selfless inspector, thinking that when he proves the violation he has won “the battle,” is wrong. Repressive actions, without attacking the causes, are doomed to failure.
  • The same newspaper published “The big old fraud”, reporting that of 222,656 inspections carried out between January and August 2005, price violations and alterations in product standards were detected in 52% of the centers examined and in the case of agricultural markets in 68%.
  • For its part, the newspaper Granma on November 28, 2003, in “Price Violations and the Never Ending Battle” reported that in the first eight months of the year, irregularities were found in 36% of the establishments inspected; that in markets, fairs, squares, and agricultural points of sale the index was above 47%, and in gastronomy 50%.
  • On February 16, 2007, under the title “Cannibals in the Towers”, the official organ of the Communist Party addressed the theft of angles supporting high-voltage electricity transmission networks, and it was recognized that “technical, administrative and legal practices applied so far have not stopped the banditry. “
  • Also, on October 26, 2010, in “The Price of Indolence”, reported that in the municipality of Corralillo, Villa Clara, more than 300 homes were built with stolen materials and resources, for which 25 kilometers of railway lines were dismantled and 59 angles of the above-mentioned high voltage towers were used.

If the official newspapers Granma and Juventud Rebelde had addressed the close relationship between corruption and almost absolute state ownership, with which no one can live off the salary, with which citizens are prevented from being entrepreneurs, and with the lack of the most elementary civic rights, then they would have understood that repression alone is useless, that the vigilantes, policemen, and inspectors are Cubans with the same needs as the rest of the population.

In order to change the course of events, it is necessary to extend the changes in the economy to the rest of the social spheres, which implies looking back at citizens’ lost liberties, without which the formation and predominance of civic behavior that the present and future of Cuba require will be impossible.

 Ethics, politics, and freedoms

In Cuba, the state of ethics – a system composed of principles, precepts, behavior patterns, values and ideals that characterize a human collective – is depressing; While politics – a vehicle for moving from the desired to the possible and the possible to the real – is monopolized by the state. The depressing situation of one and the monopoly of the other, are closely related to the issue of corruption. Therefore, its solution will be impossible without undertaking deep structural transformations.

The great challenge of today’s and tomorrow’s Cuba lies in transforming Cubans into citizens, into political actors. A transformation that has its starting point in freedoms, beginning with the implementation of civil and political rights. As the most immediate cause of corruption – not the only one – is in the dismantling of civil society and in the nationalization of property that took place in Cuba in the early years of revolutionary power, it is necessary to act on this cause from different directions.

The wave of expropriations that began with foreign companies, continued with the national companies, and did not stop until the last fried-food stand became “property of the whole people”, combined with the dismantling of civil society and the monopolization of politics, brought as a consequence a lack of interest in the results of work, low productivity, and the sharp deterioration suffered with the decrease of wages and pensions. Added to these facts were others such as the replacement of tens of thousands of owners by managers and administrators without knowledge of the ABCs of administration or of the laws that govern economic processes.

The result could not be otherwise: work ceased to be the main source of income for Cubans. To transform this deplorable situation requires a cultural action, which, in the words of Paulo Freire, is always a systematic and deliberate form of action that affects the social structure, in the sense of maintaining it as it is, to test small changes in it or transform it.

Paraphrasing the concept of affirmative action, this cultural action is equivalent to those that are made for the insertion and development of relegated social sectors. Its concretion includes two simultaneous and interrelated processes: one, citizen empowerment, which includes the implementation of rights and freedoms; and two, the changes inside the person, which unlike the former are unfeasible in the short term, but without which the rest of the changes would be of little use. The transformation of Cubans into public citizens, into political actors, is a challenge as complex as it is inescapable.

Experience, endorsed by the social sciences, teaches that interest is an irreplaceable engine for achieving goals. In the case of the economy, ownership over the means of production and the amount of wages decisively influence the interests of producers. Real wages must be at least sufficient for the subsistence of workers and their families. The minimum wage allows subsistence, while incomes below that limit mark the poverty line. Since 1989, when a Cuban peso was equivalent to almost nine of today’s peso, the wage growth rate began to be lower than the increase in prices, meaning that purchasing power has decreased to the point that it is insufficient to survive.

An analysis carried out in two family nuclei composed of two and three people respectively, in the year 2014, showed that the first one earns 800 pesos monthly and spends 2,391, almost three times more than the income. The other earns 1,976 pesos and spends 4,198, more than double what it earns. The first survives because of the remittance he receives from a son living in the United States; the second declined to say how he made up the difference.

The concurrence of the failure of the totalitarian model, the aging of its rulers, the change of attitude that is occurring in Cubans, and the reestablishment of diplomatic relations with the US, offers better conditions than previous decades to face the challenge. The solution is not in ideological calls, but in the recognition of the incapacity of the State and in decentralizing the economy, allowing the formation of a middle class, unlocking everything that slows the increase of production until a reform that restores the function of wages is possible. That will be the best antidote against the leviathan of corruption and an indispensable premise to overcome the stagnation and corruption in which Cuban society is submerged.

Two Cuban Activists From #Otro18 Arrested

Lawyers Amado Calixto, Wilfredo Vallín and Rolando Ferrer during the press conference of the # Otro18 campaign. (14ymediate)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 26 April 2017 — Activists Arturo Rojas Rodríguez and Aida Valdés Santana were arrested at noon on Tuesday as they tried to reach the Justice Ministry in Havana. The dissidents planned to enter into the associations register the Citizens Observers of Electoral Processes (Cope) initiative, one of the branches of the #Otro18 (Another 2018) platform, which pushes for multi-party and democratic elections in Cuba in 2018.

Rojas, 51, was taken to the Santiago de las Vegas police station and Valdés, 78, was taken to the Zapata and C Station and then to Aguilera, where police threatened to prosecute her legally.

The woman was released on Tuesday at about 10 at night, but there is still no information on the whereabouts of Rojas Rodriguez whose telephone continues to be out of service. continue reading

Manuel Cuesta Morúa, speaking on behalf of #Otro 18, told 14ymedio that “actions of this nature make clear the government’s intention to prevent the free participation of citizens in the next electoral process, thus opening the way to delegitimizing it.”

“The narrative of the government consists in classifying what we do as counterrevolutionary activities, but we have to assume that the law is not only for revolutionaries, but for all citizens and precisely because of this we are within the law,” he added.

The #Other18 initiative collects citizen proposals for new electoral laws, associations and political parties. In addition, at the moment it is focused on obtaining the nomination of independent candidates for the next elections for the People’s Power.

Police Raid Rafters’ Homes Looking for a Boat Stolen From the Army

Solainy Salazar with her husband José Yans Pérez Jomarrón and their two children. (Courtesy)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miami, 26 April 2017 — Cuban police are searching for a boat stolen from the Revolutionary Armed Forces (FAR) and to find it they are raiding houses of former rafters, according to Solainy Salazar, whose husband tried to leave the island several times. That was the justification given by the authorities, including several State Security agents, who searched her home on Monday.

“I was resting next to my four-year-old boy when the neighbors called me and I discovered the officers who were searching my yard,” says Salazar by phone from San Miguel del Padrón in Havana.

“They came into the house and told me they were going to search everything because they were looking for an inflatable boat and that I and my husband were accomplices to the theft,” she adds. continue reading

José Yans Pérez Jomarrón, Salazar’s husband, has tried unsuccessfully to escape from Cuba six times, but has been intercepted by the Cuban Coast Guard or returned to the authorities of the island by its American counterparts. On his last voyage he took refuge, with some twenty Cubans, in a lighthouse 30 kilometers northeast of Key West.

José Yans Pérez Jomarrón, Salazar’s husband, has tried unsuccessfully to escape from Cuba six times, but has been intercepted by the Cuban or American Coast Guard and returned to the island

Although most of the rafters managed to be admitted a special program that gives them the opportunity to be relocated in a third country, because they were able to demonstrate “credible fear” of being persecuted in Cuba, for Pérez Jomarrón the outcome was different.

“When I finished my military service they offered me a job with the Ministry of the Interior (MININT). As an inexperienced boy I agreed and when the immigration agents in the United States learned that I had once belonged to that repressive organ, they returned me to Cuba,” explains the rafter-turned-entrepreneur who at the moment is in Guyana looking at the possibility of some business linked to his commercial activity.

Police and State Security agents accused Solayni Salazar of being an accomplice in the theft of the boat and described all the members of her family as antisocial and counterrevolutionary. “They offended me with their words as much as they wanted and when I threatened them with filing a complaint they were indifferent, because they know nothing is going to happen to them,” says the wife, age 31.

“They threatened to arrest me. But they never brought the witnesses (required by law) when they did the search and they never showed me a court order to enter my home. And they did all this in front of my little boy,” she says.

In addition, she says, she was told that her husband was in Guyana escaping from the law, an argument that Salazar considers “completely false.”

Salazar believes that the authorities are persecuting her family due to her husband’s multiple attempts to illegally exit the country and because of his opposition to the government

“I fear for what will happen to my husband when he returns from the trip. Surely they will try to arrest him or persecute him for a crime he has not committed,” she says.

Salazar believes that the authorities are persecuting her family due to her husband’s multiple attempts to illegally exit the country and because of his opposition to the government.

“They do not want to give me jobs in state institutions. It’s a way to persecute those who disagree with official politics,” says José Yans from Georgetown via telephone.

The situation is increasingly complex for the Cuban authorities. “Now not only do we have to pay for a ‘crime’ we didn’t commit but we are suspected of everything else that happens in the country.”

Alfredo Mena, a rafter who tried four times to leave the island, was also searched last Wednesday.

Alfredo Mena, a rafter who tried four times to leave the island, was also searched last Wednesday

“They came to my house and broke down the door without a search warrant. They took me to the police unit and accused me of having stolen a boat belonging to the FAR (National Revolutionary Police),” says Mena, nicknamed El Pelú, by the locals.

“The officers who were dealing with me asked me why we wanted to go to the United States, because there they killed people like us and another series of lies,” he adds.

Mena, 50, a native of Granma province, says he was threatened with being “deported” to the East, because he resides in Havana without having an address officially registered in the capital.

Mena was fined 2,000 pesos for the crime of “receiving” for buying supplies for his work as a welder. Although he swears he is innocent, those metal parts are an indispensable component in the manufacture of the makeshift boats used to emigrate.

“Nothing they took had anything to do with the supposed theft of the boat. The only thing they do with these things is to reaffirm one’s desire to escape from such garbage,” he adds.

3G Has Arrived In Havana

The arrival of 3G in Cuba fuels hopes for internet service on mobile phones. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Marcelo Hernandez, Havana, 26 April 2017 — The third generation (3G) of voice and data transmission via mobile phones reached all municipalities in Havana on Monday after it was launched earlier this month in several areas of Matanzas, Villa Clara, Ciego de Avila, Pinar del Río, Santiago de Cuba and Camagüey, according to the Telecommunications Company of Cuba (ETECSA).

Prepaid users in the capital are now experiencing a substantial improvement in Nauta’s e-mail service on their mobile phone, a relief after three years since the creation of this product, which has been a frequent target of criticism and complaints about its instability and slowness.

“I opened my mailbox and: abracadabra! I got all the messages at once,” a young high school student tells 14ymedio in amazement while standing in line on Tuesday to buy recharge cards at the ETECSA office on the lower level of the Focsa building. continue reading

The days are long gone when only resident foreigners and tourists could contract for mobile phone service in Cuba. One of the first measures implemented by Raul Castro when he assumed the presidency in 2008 was to allow nationals to contract for prepaid cellphone service.

Having the internet on your cellphone is normal for most people in the world, but here it seems like a dream

Since then, more than four million customers of the state monopoly have been looking forward to connecting to the internet through their mobiles. Enabling 3G coverage has set off speculation about the imminent arrival of that service to cellphones.

“They can’t wait any longer, because having the internet on your cellphone is normal for most people in the world, but here it seems like a dream,” complains Rodobaldo, an industrial engineer, 42, who travels frequently to Panama. “As soon as I get there and install my Panamanian SIM card I can surf and receive emails, but when I return to Cuba my phone doesn’t have that capability.”

In Latin America, 3G has given way to 4G, which has been available for years. Uruguay has this network in 84% of its territory, Bolivia in 67%, Peru in 61% and Mexico in 60%, according to data from the International Telecommunication Union (ITU). However, in Cuba having this functionality on the mobile network still seems like a science fiction movie.

Rodobaldo is hopeful that ETECSA will soon offer packages to connect to the web from cell phones. Recently there was the first pilot project to bring internet to some 700 families (of the 2,000 initially planned) through in-home ADSL in Old Havana, but the users complain about the high prices: according to the bandwidth chosen it cost between 30 and 70 pesos for 30 hours.

“Every day there are more foreign companies offering packages so that tourists who come to the island can surf the internet from their own cellphone accounts,” an official of the state company, who preferred to remain anonymous,told this newspaper. “We have roaming agreements in more than 150 countries,” he says.

Following the beginning of the diplomatic thaw between Washington and Havana, announced on 17 December 2014, Barack Obama’s administration authorized US telecommunications companies to operate in Cuba.

Verizon took the first step and offered services to its users visiting the Island, and was later joined by Sprint, T-Mobile and AT&T. However, the prices of browsing from one of these phones during a stay in Cuba are still very high, averaging about $2.05 per megabyte.

Surfing the web from a US cellphone is possible in Cuba, but it runs about $2.05 per Megabyte

Until the implementation of 3G, roaming services sent and received emails via Nauta and text messages using the General Packet Radio Service (GPRS) connection, an enriched Global System for Mobile (GMS) communications.

Now, to be able to take advantage of 3G in Cuba, “the customer must have 3G coverage on their cellphone with the WCDMA standard on the 900 MHz frequency, which is the international standard in several European and Latin American countries,” Luis Manuel Díaz, ETECSA’s Director of Institutional Communications told the official press.

Phones that technically do not have the ability to access the new network will continue to use the 2G that “coexists without difficulty,” the company’s representative told the official newspaper Granma.

A marketing specialist for the state monopoly, Óscar López Díaz, goes further and in addition to highlighting the improvement in the connection speed for the use of the Nauta mail brought by 3G service, he believes that its arrival will enable ” future access to other services such as the Internet on phones.”

Names and Brands / Fernando Dámaso

Fernando Dámaso, 29 October 2016 — Creating a brand name respected around the world requires resources, effort and time. In the colonial and republican eras certain Havana names became famous established brands over time.

Among retail department stores there were El Encanto, Fin de Siglo, La Epoca, La Opera, Filosofia, Sanchez Mola and Los Precios Fijos. Stores specializing in jewelry, fine china, and luxury giftware included Le Trianon, Riviera and Cuervo y Sobrino.

Confectioners included Potín, La Gran Vía, and Sylvain. Restaurants and cafes included La Zaragozana, El Castillo de Farnes, Floridita, El Emperador, Monseñor, El Castillo de Jagua, and Rancho Luna. continue reading

If other types of retailers are included, the list becomes almost endless. This was the case throughout the entire island.

Brands also repeated the phenomenon: Bacardí. Arechabala, Hatuey, Cristal, Tropical, Polar, Pilón, Regil, Jon Chí, Tío Ben, Bola Roja, El Miño, Nalón, Escudo, Catedral, Guarina, Hatuey, Regalías El Cuño, Partagás, H. Hupman, Competidora Gaditana, Trinidad, and many more.

Beginning in 1959 the new authorities changed the names and the brands, and allowed years of resources and serious work by many Cubans to be lost. It was a suicidal commercial policy, replacing established names and brands with absurd numbers and generic names.

So appeared the markets A-14, S-34, M-67, and others; cigarettes were all Popular or Soft; soaps were Nácar; soft drinks and deodorant were Son; cologne, shampoo, and other products were Fiesta.

Gone were the labels and containers that differentiated one brand from another, although they were made in different places. Names and brands to defend or to answer for ceased to exist, losing quality.

This still happens with some products, the most representative example being matches: they are called Chispa, although their producers are different and they are located in different provinces. Many beers, with different brand names, are produced in a factory in Holguín, closing the existing factories in Havana.

With the slow entry into the world market, some names and brands have been rescued and other new ones have been created.

As for commerce, the laurels go to the Historian of the City, who has restored the original names to many business of the historic district, although with some liberties regarding their locations: Cuervo and Sobrinos were in Águila and San Rafael and not in Oficios and Muralla, where they are located now. But hey, not everything can be perfect. The effort should be appreciated.

Hopefully the new private businesses being built on the sites of old shops will imitate him. Maybe this way in Havana and in other places in Cuba the lost historic continuity will be restored.

El Templete Has A New Ceiba, The Second In A Year

Havana’s El Templete has a new ceiba tree that replaces another that was planted a little over a year ago but did not thrive. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Marcelo Hernandez, Havana, 24 April 2017 — The place where the town of San Cristóbal was founded in Havana has a new ceiba tree, the second planted there in a little more than a year. The specimen comes from the road between Managua and Boyeros, south of the Cuban capital, and comes to fill the void left at El Templete by its predecessor, planted a few days before President Barack Obama’s arrival in Cuba.

On this occasion, the arrival of the ceiba was not surrounded by the excitement that marked the planting of the previous specimen. The 8-year-old, twenty-foot tree reached its final site at midnight last Friday, an hour that specialists recommended because it is cooler, and therefore less damaging to the newly transplanted tree. It rained while the neighbors watched a crane lift the imposing tree and plant it in the historical site of the city.

Now, the waiting period for this Havana symbol begins. Will this tree be able to adapt to its new habitat? Will it survive the salt air, the compaction of the soils of the area and the rigors of urban life? No one wants to risk predicting its future, but next November, which will mark 498 years after the founding of the Villa, Havanans will need a tree to perform the ritual of walking around its trunk and making a wish.

Independent Journalist Arrested For Investigating The Case Of Karla Pérez González

Maykel González Vivero was also arrested while working to cover the damages caused by Hurricane Matthew in Baracoa. (El Estornudo)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 25 Havana, 25 April 2017 — The independent magazine El Estornudo (The Sneeze) has denounced Monday’s detention of its collaborator Maykel González Vivero. The young journalist was detained at Marta Abreu de las Villas Central University, while reporting on the expulsion of journalism student Karla Pérez González.

The digital site asserts that the reporter “did not at any time hide” that he was investigating on the case. “He managed to interview Karla’s classmates who voted in favor of her definitive exclusion from Higher Education, including as Miguel Ángel Castiñeira and Ney Cruz,” the article said.

However, in the course of the investigation “a number of teachers tried to confiscate Maykel’s belongings and his tools of the trade.” He was subsequently “held in a university department until police took him to the State Security Santa Clara Operations Unit.” continue reading

At the Unit, the reporter was subjected to five hours of interrogation and his equipment was confiscated: a laptop, tape recorder and cell phone. El Estornudo clarified that the reporter “is not facing any legal charges, but his devices will be returned to have after the police penetrate (sic) them and check their contents.”

In October of last year, González Vivero was jailed for three days in Baracoa, Guantánamo, “for covering as an independent journalist the passage of Hurricane Matthew through the East of the country,” the article notes.

The reporter “is not facing any legal charges, but his devices will be returned to have after the police penetrate (sic) them and check their contents.”

El Estornudo said that the expulsion of the journalism student was arbitrary, as was the arrest of Maykel Gonzalez Vivero: “two unjustifiable abuses that the Cuban government commits, in a manner as shameful as it is ironic, through one of its centers of higher education.”

On Monday, Karla María Pérez González received the official ratification of her expulsion from the University and has ten working days to appeal the decision. The young woman was accused of belonging to the Somos+ (We Are More) Movement and “having a strategy from the beginning of the course to subvert the young.”

The case has aroused a wave of outrage and in her favor official voices have weighed in, such as the singer-songwriter Silvio Rodríguez, who wrote in his blog, “What brutes we are, for fuck’s sake, it’s been decades and we don’t learn.

“It is so clumsy and obtuse what has been done to this girl that inevitably this will draw attention to the group to which she belongs and the ideas it defends. I know that they will come out with lists of links of some of these groups calling them terrorists, etc. But the damage is already done, because such injustice can only arouse solidarity,” he said.

Lady In White Sentenced To Almost Three Years In Prison For Alleged Crime Of ‘Attack’

Lady in White Micaela Roll Gibert, 53 years old. (Martinoticias)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 25 April 2017 — On Tuesday morning the Court in Havana’s municipality of Diez de Octubre, confirmed the prosecutor’s request of two years and eight months in jail for Micaela Roll Gibert, 53.

The woman, a member of the opposition group Ladies in White, is charged with the crime of attack, alleging that she knocked down Luanda Mas Valdés, an official from the Ministry of the Interior (MININT), during an arrest. continue reading

According to Berta Soler, the leader of the women’s group who spoke with 14ymedio, the incident took place on May 1, 2016, when Roll Gibert left the headquarters of the Ladies in White.

“Roll was beaten by two cops. When they put her inside the bus to take her to the police station, one of the officers twisted her arm and knocked her down. As she fell, Roll took with her another police officer who was trying to repress her,” explained Soler.

Soler says that Micaella Roll Gibert’s 16-year-old daughter was expelled from the School of Nursing because of her mother’s activism and another of her children, a son, was fired from his job in retaliation against his mother

The officer who fell, Mas Valdés, did not appear in this Tuesday’s trial and according to Soler, they explained to those present that she was “nine month’s pregnant” and “has high blood pressure.”

“The trial was finally held without the presence of the officer making the accusation and instead the court accepted an affidavit, taken at the house of Mas Valdés moments before the trial,” adds Soler.

According to the opposition leader the trial was rigged, prepared by State Security.

“It’s one more woman they are going to send to prison,” says the activist, who notes that some time ago a State Security official proposed to Roll Gibert that she “collaborate with them.”

“When she refused him, they warned her that her life would become a nightmare,” Soler adds.

Soler says that Micaella Roll Gibert’s 16-year-old daughter was expelled from the School of Nursing because of her mother’s activism and another of her children, a son, was fired from his job in retaliation against his mother.

The Lady in White also denounced that other women from the movement are “still missing since early this morning.”

“We do not know where the Ladies Yolanda Ayala, María Josefa Acón and Gladys Capote are,” says Soler.

How Cuban State Security Intimidates Potential Informants / Iván García

“DSE” clearly identifies this car as State Security.

Iván García,9 April 2017 — They did not put a Makarov pistol to his head or torture him with electric prods. Let’s call him Josué. (The names in his article have been changed). He is a guy who wears American-made jeans, listens to jazz by Winton Marsalis on his iPhone 7 and is a diehard fan of LeBron James.

He used to work at a gasoline station. One day earned the equivalent of fifty dollars, enough to have some beers at a Havana bar with his buddies. “One of my friends was an opponent of the regime and two were independent journalists,” says Josué. “That wasn’t a problem for me. I had known them for years and they were decent, trustworthy people. We talked politics but, when we just hanging out, we usually talked about sports or our daily lives,” says Josué. continue reading

One morning two officials from the Department of State Security (DSE), dressed as civilians and riding motorcycles, showed up at his door. “They wanted to ’have a friendly chat’ with me. They asked if I would collaborate with them, if I would pass on information about my dissident friends. When I refused, they threatened to charge me with embezzling state funds.”

“’We know you are stealing gasoline,’ they said. ’Either you work for us or we’ll press charges.’ At first, I went along with it but only passed along false information or said that my friends didn’t tell me anything about their work activities. Then they suggested I infiltrate the dissident movement. I refused. In the end I quit my job at the gas station. So now they hassle me constantly and come up with any excuse to arrest and detain me at the police station,” say Josué.

For Sheila, an engineer, the modus operandi is familiar: “First, they tried to blackmail me, accusing me of having an extra-marital affair with a dissident. When I told them, ’Go ahead; do it,’ they changed tactics and said they were going to charge me with harassment of foreigners and prostitution because I have a European boyfriend.”

One of the objectives of Cuban special services is to “short-circuit” the connections that so many of the regime’s opponents, such as independent journalists, have with official sources. “They are in a panic over the possibility that dissidents and independent journalists are building bridges and establishing networks of trust with employees and officials at important state institutions. That’s why they are trying to poison the relationships dissidents and journalists have with relatives, friends and neighbors,” claims an academic who has received warnings from the DSE.

According to this academic, “The DSE will use whatever weapon it can to achieve its goals. These include blackmail, psychological pressure, a person’s commitment to the party and the Revolution, and threats of imprisonment for criminal activity, which is not uncommon given that some potential informants work in the financial or service sector and often make money by defrauding the government. State Security does not need to torture its informants. A system of duplicity, widespread corruption and fear of reprisal are enough to accomplish the objective: to isolate the opponent from his circle of friends.”

Yusdel, an unlicensed bodyshop repairman, recalls how one day an agent from State Security told him, “If you want to keep your business, you have to inform on your stepfather,” a human rights activist. “They’re pigs,” says Yusdel. “It doesn’t matter to them if you betray one of your relatives. If you refuse, you are besieged by the police.”

For Carlos jail is a second home. “Once, when I was a serving time at Combinado del Este prison, a guard asked me to intimidate another inmate, who was a dissident. ’Punch him, do whatever it takes. Nothing will happen to you.’ In exchange for this, they were going to give me weekend passes. I said I wouldn’t do it. But there are common criminals who are all too willing to do this shit,” says Carlos.

The pressure to become a “snitch” is greater when a government opponent or an alternative journalist is inexperienced. Because the dissident community is made up of groups of pacifists and because it operates openly, it is easy for counterintelligence to infiltrate it and blackmail dissidents, who can easily break down or crack under psychological pressure.

With eighteen years’ experience in the free press, a colleague who has known fake independent journalists such as the late Nestor Baguer and Carlos Serpa Maceira says that ultimately they became informants “because of pressure exerted on them by State Security.”

A professor of history who has been subjected to bullying by an agent believes, “The revolutionary/counterrevolutionary rhetoric was inspiring in the first few years after Fidel Castro came to power, when those who supported the revolutionary process were in the majority. Now, those who collaborate do not do it out of loyalty or ideology. They do it out of fear. And that makes them vulnerable and unreliable citizens. Not to mention that the professionalism of the current DSE officers leaves much to be desired. Some agents seem marginal and very intellectually unstable.”

To achieve its objective, Cuban counterintelligence resorts to extortion of would-be informants. And in the case of the opposition, to physical violence. If you have any doubts, just ask the Ladies in White.

The King, The President and The Dictator

Cuban President Raúl Castro receives the Spanish Foreign Minister, José Manuel García-Margallo. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 23 April 2017 — In the palace of the Captains General in Havana there is a throne awaiting its king. It was prepared when Cuba was still a Spanish colony and a monarch has never sat in its imposing structure. The visit of Spain’s King Felipe VI visit may end such a long wait, but the Island needs more than gestures of symbolism and protocol.

The king and the Spanish president, Mariano Rajoy, will arrive in the country a few months before Raul Castro leaves power. The official visit, long prepared for, has all the traces of a farewell. It will be like the farewell of the Mother Country to one of its descendants across the sea. Someone who began as leftist revolutionary and ended up being a part of a rigid dynasty.

The visitors will arrive in the middle of “the cooling off of the thaw” between Washington and Havana. The expectations that led to the diplomatic normalization announced on 17 December 2014 have been diluted with the passage of months in the absence of tangible results. More than two years have tone by and the island is no more free nor has it imagined to merge from its economic quagmire. continue reading

It will be like the farewell of the Mother Country to one of its descendants across the sea. Someone who began as leftist revolutionary and ended up being a part of a rigid dynasty

US airlines have begun to reduce the frequency of their flights to Cuba, discouraged by low demand and the limitations that remain on Americans traveling to Cuba as tourists. Castro has not withdrawn the ten percent tax he keeps on the exchange of dollars, and connecting to the internet from the island is still an obstacle course. All this and more discourages travelers from the country to the north of us.

The photos of building collapses and old cars fill the Instagram accounts of the Yumas (Americans) who tour the streets, but even the most naïve get tired of this dilapidated theme park. Cuba has gone out of style. All the attention it captured after the day Cubans refer to in shorthand as “17-D,” has given way to boredom and apathy, because life is not accompanied by a comfortable armchair to support this incredibly long move where almost nothing happens.

Last year tourism reached a historic record of 4 million visitors but the hotels have to engage in a juggling act to maintain a stable supply of fruit, beer and even water. Between the shortages and the drought, scenes of long lines of customers waiting for a Cristal beer, or carrying buckets from the swimming pool to use in their bathrooms are not uncommon.

Foreign investors also do not seem very enthusiastic about putting their money into the economy of a country where it is still highly centralized and nationalized. The port of Mariel, tainted with the scandals of the Brazilian company Odebrecht, and with activity levels far below initial projections, seems doomed to become the Castro regime’s last pharaonic and useless project.

But Donald Trump’s arrival in the White House hasn’t meant an iron fist against the Plaza of the Revolution as some had prophesied. The new US president has simply avoided looking toward the island and right now seems more focused on the distant and dangerous Kim Jong-un than the anodyne and close at hand Raul Castro.

The new US president has simply avoided looking toward the island and right now seems more focuses on the distant and dangerous Kim Jong-un than the anodyne and close at hand Raul Castro.

The Havana government lost its most important opportunity by not taking advantage of the opening offered by Barack Obama, who hardly asked for anything in return. Right now there hasn’t even been start on the drafting of the new Electoral Law announced in February of 2015. Was that news perhaps a maneuver so that the European Union would finally decide to repeal the Common Position? Fake news that sought to convince the unwary and fire up the headlines in the foreign press with talk of openings?

To top it off, they have increased the level of repression against opponents, and just a few days ago a journalism student was expelled from the university for belonging to a dissident movement. A process in the purest Stalinist style cut off her path to getting a degree in this profession that, decades ago, officialdom condemned to serve as a spokesperson for its achievements while remaining mute in the face of its disasters.

Take care. The visit of King Felipe and Queen Letizia is inscribed in times of fiascos. Failures that include the economic recession that plagues a country with a Gross Domestic Product that closed out last year in negative numbers, despite the usual make-up the government applies to all such figures. And the Venezuelan ally unable to shake off Nicolas Maduro, increasingly less presidential and more autocratic. The convulsions in that South American country have left Cuba almost without premium gas and with several fuel cuts in the state sector.

These are not the moments to proudly show off the house to visitors, but rather a magnificent occasion for the highest Spanish authorities to understand that totalitarianism never softens nor democratizes, it just changes its skin.

The Spaniard will have to spin a very fine thread not to turn the visit of the head of state into an accolade for the dying system. The royals will be surrounded by the attentions of officials who are trying to avoid, fundamentally, their stepping a single decorated millimeter beyond the careful preparations that have been underway for months. As was once attempted during the 1999 visit of Juan Carlos de Borbón to participate in an Ibero-American Summit.

The Spaniard will have to spin a very fine thread not to turn the visit of the head of state into an accolade for the dying system

On that occasion, and during a stroll with Queen Sofia through the streets of Old Havana, officialdom blocked access to the neighbors, emptied the sidewalks of the curious and worked the magic of converting one of the most densely inhabited areas of the city, with the most residents per acre in all of Cuba, into a depopulated stage where the royal couple walked.

Their successors, who will travel to the island “as soon as possible,” could do worse than to study the ways in which Barack Obama managed to shake off the suffocating embrace in March of 2016. The American president handled himself gracefully, even when Raul Castro – with the gesture of a conquering guerrilla, fists raised – tried to trap him in a snapshot. But the White House tenant relaxed his hand and looked away. A defeat for the Revolution’s visual epic.

Nor does Spanish Prime Minister Rajoy have an easy time. The official press does not like him and surrounds him always with criticism and negative news about his Party

Nor does Spanish Prime Minister Rajoy have an easy time. The official press does not like him and surrounds him always with criticism and negative news about his Party. He does not enjoy sympathies among the circles of power in Havana despite having reduced the degrees of tension that reached a peak during the term of Jose Maria Aznar. But on the island there are more than 100,000 Cubans who are nationalized Spanish citizens, also represented by that nation’s leader and who are, in the end, his most important interlocutors.

Felipe VI and Rajoy have in their favor that they will no longer be bound by the protocol to be photographed with Fidel Castro in his convalescent retirement. The king declined his father’s participation in death tributes for the former president last November in the Plaza of the Revolution. Thus, the young monarch managed that his name and that of the Commander in Chief do not appear together in the history books.

However, he still has to overcome the most difficult test. That moment in which his visit can go from being a necessary approach to a country very culturally familiar, to become a concession of legitimacy to a decadent regime.

Meanwhile, in the Palace of the Captains General, a throne awaits its king, and in the Plaza of the Revolution a chair awaits the departure of its dictator.

Editorial Note: This article was published in the original Spanish Saturday 22 April in the Spanish newspaper El País

Cuban Counterintelligence Plays Hardball with Journalists / Iván García

Headquarters of the Ministry of the Interior in Revolution Square. From Paseos por la Habana.

Ivan Garcia, 17 April 2017 — Money is no object. When it comes to thwarting, harassing and repressing intellectuals or journalists, there are always enough funds in military’s coffers to write a blank check.

Solid numbers are hard to come by but, according to conservative estimates, Cuba’s special services and armed forces account for roughly 35% of the nation’s paltry GDP.

There is never a shortage of fuel, guesthouses, vacation homes, medical clinics or surveillance equipment for monitoring alleged counterrevolutionaries. continue reading

It is mistakenly believed that the top priority of the Special Services is the fragmented domestic opposition, which can never turn out more than a few followers for any public gathering. Meanwhile, the brave fighters at the barricades are kept in line by punches, karate chops and detention in damp, filthy jail cells.

The real danger for the government, and for counterintelligence as well, are high-level officials. “They are like laboratory guinea pigs, always under observation. Their phone calls, internet traffic, contacts with foreigners, sexual preferences and personal tastes are monitored. They cannot escape electronic surveillance even in the bathroom,” says a former intelligence officer with experience listening in.

As in the German film The Lives of Others, people with meaningful positions in government, the armed forces, international trade and the foreign ministry are under tight scrutiny. The next most heavily monitored group of individuals — more closely monitored even than dissidents — are those in the world of arts and letters and the sciences.

“The method for dealing with outspoken opposition figures is to intimidate them, pressuring them with physical and psychological abuse, or simply incarcerating them. We know how they think. But individuals such as writers, musicians, scientists, researchers and government-employed journalists are like a knife with two edges. Many are silent dissidents. They often lead double lives. In assemblies, government offices and newsrooms they appear to be loyal to the system. At home they are budding counterrevolutionaries,” observes the former intelligence officer.

According to this source, agents are well-trained. “They focus on managers, officials and employees of important state institutions. Recent graduates of the Higher Institute of the Ministry of the Interior are assigned to dissidents and independent journalists. They are more adept at using physical and verbal violence than intellectual arguments.”

In my twenty-years working as an independent journalist, State Security has summoned me for questioning five or six times. On other occasions the interviews were more casual. A guy would park his motorcycle outside my building or near my house, as though he were a friend, and calmly chat with me or my mother, Tania Quintero, who now lives in Switzerland as a political refugee and who was also an independent journalist.

He said his name was Jesús Águila. A blond, Caucasian young man, he had the air of an Eton graduate. When he became annoying, as when he would call or visit us to discuss our case or would harass my sister at work, Tania would threaten him with a ceramic mug and he would flee the scene.

One afternoon in the late 1990s I was questioned at a police station by a high-ranking, rather refined official. Then, on an unbearably hot morning in 2010, I was questioned at a branch of Special Troops near the Reloj Club on Boyeros Avenue by officials from Military Counterintelligence.

The site where I was interviewed was an interrogation cubicle located in a holding area for inmates. I had written a couple of articles for the Americas edition of the Spanish newspaper El Mundo on meddling by senior military officers in businesses and corporations. According to my interrogators, the Cuban armed forces did not like the image these articles created of military institutions. In a hollow threat, they told me that I could charged with violating a law — I do not remember which one — against disrespecting the “glorious and undefeated revolutionary armed forces.”

But ultimately it only amounted to intimidation. For six years they did not bother me. They denied me access whenever I tried to cover something at which operatives from State Security were present but they never detained me. Then, three weeks ago, they questioned a few of my friends whom they suspected of being sources for my articles.

I wrote one piece in which I said that, if they wanted to know anything about me, they could call me in for questioning. Apparently, they read it because on April 4 they summoned me to appear the next day at a police station in Havana’s Lawton district.

There I encountered two pleasant, mixed-race and educated young men. I cannot say much else about them. I told them that what is needed — once and for all and by everyone — is open dialogue, to acknowledge the opposition and to try to find a solution to the national disaster that is Cuba today by following the path of democracy. While the officers did not promise tolerance, they did remain silent.

Three days later, one saw the flip side of the coin. As had happened for ninety-seven Sundays, a mob dressed in civilian clothes was incited by State Security to stage a verbal lynching of the Ladies in White House near the police station in Lawton where I had been questioned.

From January to March of 2017 the political police made 1,392 arrests and in some cases confiscated work materials and money from independent journalists and human rights activists.

They harass people with little rhyme or reason. A group of reporters from Periodismo del Barrio (Neighborhood Journalism), an online journal which focuses on environmental issues and vulnerable communities, or a neo-Communist blogger like Harold Cardenas are as likely to be targeted as an overtly anti-Castro figure like Henry Constantin, regional vice-president of the Inter-American Press Society.

With ten months to go before Raul Castro hangs up his gloves, the Special Services’ game plan is poised to undergo a 180-degree turnaround. Using its contacts, it could establish a channel of communication between dissidents and the government, which could serve as a first step towards the ultimate legal resolution of Cuba’s political problems.

But I fear that democracy is not one of the Cuban regime’s top priorities.

Castro Conquers Miami With Cannon Blasts / Luis Cino Alvarez

cubanet square logoCubanet, 4 April 2017, Havana, Luis Cino Álvarez — A friend was telling me, horrified, that last Friday at the Hard Rock Café in Hollywood Beach, Florida, Cuban reggaetoneros [musicians who perform the musical genre of Reggaeton]–from the Island and from ‘over there’, no way to tell anymore what with all the going and coming–put on a show. The lineup consisted of El Chacal, El Taiger (spelled just that way, not “Tiger”), Diván, Chocolate, Harrison, and Descemer Bueno (the only one of them whom I would classify as a musician).

This Cubatón (Cuban-style reggaeton, guachineo included) spectacle was aptly titled The Cannon Blast, as it was an explosion of “Made in Cuba” vulgarity and bad taste.  And there will be other such events, many more, in Florida. continue reading

To my friend it was all a joke (or a nightmare): The crème de la crème of the reggaetonero set–who would have to include also Yakarta, Baby Lores, Misha, Insurrecto, the detestable Osmany García, and Gente de Zona–profanely performing their low-class crudities, with their sinister appearance and annoying taca-taca beat, on a stage that has recently featured artists such as Don Henley, War, America, ZZ Top and Daryl Hall and John Oates.

No need to be surprised. This particular cannon blast and those yet to come are part of the none-too-slow colonization by the Castro regime of Miami and indeed all of South Florida.  They want to turn it into a type of Hong Kong, to exploit and emotionally blackmail it with nostalgia for fatherland and family. Not satisfied with maintaining their failed regime at the expense of remittances from emigrés and exiles, the Castroites also–in an effort to stir up problems, debase the milieu, and collect even more dollars–send over infiltrators from the G-2, scam artists, provocateurs, short-fused jokers, propagandizing academics, know-nothing cameleons del tíbiri tábara (from the back of beyond and staying out of trouble),TV shows, and…reggaetoneros.

For the record, it’s not that the head honchos of the regime are aware of the damage they do with the reggaetoneros, thus employing them in a macabre plan to penetrate the exile community and turn Miami into one big Hialeah, full of homeboys and every day becoming more like Marianao or Arroyo Naranjo. Save for the minister Abel Prieto, he of such exquisite taste, the top bosses don’t seem to mind the proliferation of reggaeton. On the contrary, their children and grandchildren, as lacking in good taste and class as their parents and grandparents, go crazy to the beat and enjoy it to the max.

Pertaining to music, the bosses export what they have. This is what there is.

My friend would ask himself what became of Cuban music. Little of worth is left in a country that produced Ernesto Lecuona, Sindo Garay, Rita Montaner, Celia Cruz, Benny Moré, and, post-catastrophe, Silvio Rodríguez, Pablo Milanés, Chucho Valdés, Polo Montañéz and Juan Formell. Regarding the few good musicians and singers who remain on the Ilsand, the big guns–with their shopkeeper mentality and proverbial bad taste, and their (anti)artistic promoters–believe it not worthwhile to send them to Miami because they wouldn’t sell enough tickets and, worse, might even get away and defect. It’s better that they remain home, making do as best they can (even though they are rarely featured on radio and TV), making music for “the most cultured people on the planet”–even though these people only want to tie one on and hear reggaeton.

Reggaeton is the perfect soundtrack to accompany the breakdown of a dictatorial system that has lasted too long and which, if not finally dissolving, is coagulating.

Vulgarity, bad taste and social alienation were imposed on Cuba. And this is reflected in the music that is broadcast the most. Reggaeton, the apotheosis of low class and degradation, came about at just the right time in the right place. It is the perfect music for the national chaos.

How was Miami to ward off reggaeton, what with so many recently-arrived homeboys who the only things they left behind were their ration books?

If, in the final analysis, we are all Cubans, whether here or there, we bear a common karma, and we must share our misfortune: portion it out, and see if we can reduce it.

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison 

The Fidel Castro Fair / Iván García

By Elio Delgado, from the Havana Times

Iván García , 21 February 2017 — The wood charcoal embers are slowly browning half a dozen kebabs with vegetables, pineapples and pieces of pork, while, on a shelf, the flies are hovering around the steamed corn cobs.

From very early in the morning, Jesús, a chubby mulatto with calloused hands, gets on with cooking chicken, pork fillets and sautéed rice, to sell later in his small mobile shop positioned in a large car park, at the main entrance to the International Book Fair in Havana.

A line of kiosks with aluminium tubes and coloured canvas tops offer local favourites, like bread with suckling pig, ham and cheese sandwiches, jellies, mineral water and canned drinks. continue reading

“My kiosk specialises in dishes from San Miguel de Padrón.  But the truth is that in this particular fair, sales are sluggish. Mainly because the organisers prohibited the sale of alcohol. You can forget about books and all that intellectual shit, you have to give Cubans beer and reguetón if you want them to feel happy – the rest is secondary”, says Jesús.

Thursday February 16th started off rainy in Havana. Idelfonso, a self-employed clown, looks up at the overcast sky and mutters, “if it starts raining again, they’ll have to take the circus and its tent away, because no-one will bring their kids in bad weather. This fair has been pretty bad for us. No-one has any money, and those who do prefer to spend it on books and food”, he says, in his bear get-up.

In different parts of the car park, private businesses rent out inflatable toys for fifteen pesos for the kids to bounce about for thirty minutes, and five pesos for a quick ride on a horse.

“Many families don’t come to buy books. They would rather their kids enjoyed themselves playing with the equipment. There are hardly any amusement parks in the capital”, says Rita, who deals with charging for the horses.

Families and groups of friends lay towels out on the grass and picnic on a hill from where you get a unique view of the city across the bay.

Gerard, a young man with tattooed forearms, feels uncomfortable. He tells his wife to go off with the kid to play with the inflatable toys while he complains about the lack of any beer.

“These people are really party poopers. Whose idea was it to stop selling lager and nips of rum? I can’t imagine it was because of Fidel Castro’s death, as the bloke has been pushing up daisies for over two months now”, moans Gerard, knocking back a lemonade as a temporary solution to the matter.

Dora and Germán come from El Cotorro, in south west Havana, with two enormous bags to buy “fifteen or twenty boxes of drink. We have a cafe and we buy stuff here for ten pesos and then we sell them there for twenty. If we have time, we buy a few books for our grandchildren”.

The Book Fair always was a good excuse for thousands of Habaneros to amuse themselves. Kids skipping classes looking over displays of foreign books, inveterate bookworms, pseudo intellectuals who take the opportunity to come over as writers, the peripheral catwalk of hustlers and pickpockets selling tourists fake Cohíba cigars made in shacks in deepest Havana.

But this time the organisers decided to put a stop to “sideshows which have nothing to do with reading”, says Idalia, a Editora Abril bookseller, who adds:

“The fair has been turned into a mess. Like a strip club. Hustlers who came to pull foreigners and people with money who have never read a book and were downing beers ’til closing time. The number of people coming here has definitely fallen, as nearly two million people came here two years ago. Now the numbers have fallen to less than half” says Idalia, who, in exchange for offering her opinions for Martí Noticias, asks me to buy some books.

“The thing is, we get commission on our sales. And we aren’t selling much”, she emphasises. From the books on display, I choose the biography of  Raúl Castro written by Nikolai Leonov, an ex high-up in the KGB and personal friend of the Carribean autocrat.

The book, which looks good, costs 30 pesos, equivalent to three times the daily minimum wage in Cuba. According to the official press, it is the best selling book of the year.  Idalia thinks differently.

“You can put any rubbish you like on paper. They give the book, just like they did with Fidel’s, as gifts to lots of people who attend events, and then they record them as sales. And, being prioritised by the printers, they have gigantic print-runs, and are on sale in all the bookshops in the country. But, I haven’t seen too much enthusiasm among Cuban readers for Raúl’s biography. Foreign lefties certainly do buy books dedicated to Fidel”, she tells me.

Although the present Book Fair is dedicated to Canada and the tedious state official Armando Hart Dávalos, the dead Fidel Castro is the prime actor.

There is no lack of sets of Fidel Castro’s speeches on the local publishers’ stands, a revised edition of History will Absolve Me and cartoon books eulogising the dictator from Birán.

“God help us! Fidel everywhere”, says a lady walking through the Mexican pavilion looking for a diary she has promised her granddaughter. The foreign publishers are the busiest, in spite of the high foreign currency prices.

They also sell pirate Leo Messi, Luis Suárez and Neymar teeshirts, as well as a collection of Barcelona and Real Madrid posters. A Mexican bookseller tells us that “We take advantage of the fact that Cubans like football, and so we push this merchandise”.

At midday St Charles Fort looks just like an informal flea market. A few serious readers sit down, leaning against the ancient cannons which protect the fort, in order to read George Orwell’s 1984 or a Gabriel García Márquez novel.

The less serious fill up nylon bags with books on spritual advice or magazines about fashion and cooking. Then they form a little queue at the exit from La Cabaña, to get the bus going to the centre of Havana.

Few visitors know the dark history of the fort, an ancient prison and location of hundreds of firing squads for Castro opponents. The thing is that in Cuba the disinformation, fear of knowing the truth, and amnesia help people live apathetic and apolitical lives.

Translated by GH

Tell Us, General, What’s Plan B?

Venezuela’s president, Nicolás Maduro and Cuba’s president, Raúl Castro. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 20 April 2017 — The Venezuela of “XXI Century Socialism” is wavering and threatening to collapse. It’s only a matter of time, soon, perhaps, as to when it will tumble. And since the economic and political crisis of the country has slipped from the government’s grasp, President Nicolás Maduro, in another irrefutable demonstration of his proverbial sagacity, under the advice of his mentors of Havana, has opted for the most coherent path with the nature of the regime: increase repression and “arm the people.”

Such a strategy cannot end well, especially when thousands of street protesters are not only motivated by the defense of democracy, but also by the reluctance to accept the imposition of forced present and future poverty for a nation that should be one of the richest on the planet. Decent Venezuelans will not accept the imposition of the Castro-style dictatorship that is trying to slip in their country. continue reading

Thus, “Maduro-phobia” has become viral, people have taken to the streets and will make sure that they will stand in protest until their demands are met, which involve the return of the country to the constitutional thread, to legality, to the rule of law, that is to say, without Maduro.

Maduro, allegedly elected by the popular vote, continues to accelerate his presidential metamorphosis into a person of the purest traditional Latin American style, capable of launching the army and hundreds of thousands of armed criminals against their (un)governed compatriots

As the Venezuelan crisis increases in its polarization, Nicolás Maduro, allegedly elected by the popular vote, continues to accelerate his presidential metamorphosis into a person of the purest traditional Latin American style, capable of launching the army and hundreds of thousands of armed criminals against their (un)governed compatriots who have decided to exercise their right to peaceful demonstration.

So if it is true that the terrible decisions of the Venezuelan government are guided by and directed from the Havana’s Palace of the Revolution, the intentions of the Cuban leadership are, at least, very suspicious. Such recommendations from the Cuba’s high command would drag the Chávez-Maduro regime directly down an abyss, and Venezuela toward the greatest chaos.

That is to say, if the Castro clan really ordered Maduro to radicalize a dictatorship and to cling to power against the will of the majority of Venezuelans, by applying repression and force to achieve it, even though this would mean the end of the “socialist” regime in Venezuela -with the consequent total loss of petroleum subsidies for the olive green cupula, as well as the income capital sources from health professionals services- would be a challenge to logic.

Such a strange move, in addition to Raúl Castro’s significant absence at the recent ALBA political meeting held in Havana as a show of support for the Venezuelan government, the official reluctance to directly accuse the US government of the popular expressions of rejection against the regime of Nicolás Maduro inside and outside Venezuela, the suspicious silence or minimization of the facts on the part of the Cuban official press about what happens in Venezuela, and the unusually circumscribed condemnation pronouncements “to the regional rightist coup” – which, in any case, have stemmed from the Cuban government’s political and mass organizations and other non-governmental organizations, and not directly from it –we can only speculate about the possible existence of secret second intentions on Cuba’s part.

It would be childish to assume that the Cuban government does not know the magnitude of the crisis of its South American ally, since it is known that it is widely infiltrated by Castros’ agents.

It would be childish to assume that the Cuban government does not know the magnitude of the crisis of its South American ally, given that – as it has been transcended by testimonies from authorized sources in various media over the years – both the army and the repressive and intelligence Venezuelan bodies are widely infiltrated by Castro’s agents, so it may be assumed that the regime’s political strategists have some idea of a solution, at least in what concerns Cuba.

One example is the case of Cuba’s aid workers, which are in Venezuela in the tens of thousands. We cannot ignore the serious danger faced by Cuban professionals in the health sector and in other services, who work in Venezuela as “collaborators” in ALBA programs, in the very probable case of a violent chaos in that country. How, then, would one explain the folly of advising, or at least supporting, the violent actions of the Venezuelan regime? Why don’t the official media offer more accurate information, specifically about the safety of our countrymen in Venezuela? What is the contingency plan to safeguard the lives of these Cuban civilians in case the Venezuelan humanitarian crisis is aggravated by the violence incited from power?

Cuba’s past history is disastrous. It is not wise to forget that the same person who occupies the power throne in Cuba today is the same subject that commanded the Armed Forces when thousands of Cubans were sent to fight (and to die) in Angola, Ethiopia, Nicaragua, Bolivia and other remote points of the world’s geography. Fidel Castro, who was never in a real war, was the one who had – at least de jure, not de facto –  the actions of the Cuban army when, in 1983, civilian workers were ordered to participate in the construction of an airport on the Island of Grenada who fought back the US Marines during the invasion of that small Caribbean country.

When one speaks of the profits of the Castro regime, one usually thinks in terms of money. However, the harvests of innocent martyrs have always brought the Cuban regime valuable political returns and allowed for a temporary respite. Now, when the glory years of the “revolution” have passed, when just a few naive ones believe in the discourse of the olive green big shots, and the predominant feelings of Cubans are disappointment, apathy and uncertainty, and when the very “socialist model “is only a sad compendium of failures and promises of infinite poverty, it would not be surprising that the Castrocracy is considering the possibility of nourishing its moral capital at the expense of the sacrifice of the helpless professionals who lend their services in Venezuela.

It no longer seems possible to mobilize the Cubans as in the days of the gigantic marches for “the boy Elian,” to cite the most conspicuous example, but neither should we underestimate the regime’s histrionic capacity and social control.

It would be particularly easy for the government to take advantage of several dozen Cuban doctors and technicians – the numbers are not important for the government leadership, as long as the people provide the corpses – that turn out victims of the violence of “the stateless ones who sold out to the empire” in Venezuela, to try to ignite some spark of the quasi withered Cuban nationalist and patriotic feeling and to gain some time, which has been the main goal of the power summit in Cuba in recent years.

It would not be unreasonable to consider this possibility, especially in a population that mostly suffers from a lack of information, which makes it susceptible to all sensory manipulation. It’s true that times have changed, and that, to some extent the penetration of a few information spaces -spread by the precarious access to technology – makes the consecration of the deception on a massive scale difficult. It no longer seems possible to mobilize the Cubans as in the days of the gigantic marches for “the boy Elian,” to cite the most conspicuous example, but neither should we underestimate the regime’s histrionic capacity and social control. Suffice it to recall the tearful and blaring spectacle displayed during Fidel Castro’s funeral novena.

In any case, and since the strategy of harvesting victims has often been applied successfully, perhaps the caciques are considering the possibility of taking advantage of the wreck of the Castro-Chavez ship. That’s how warped they are. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the narco-elite from Miraflores and their cohorts have made a pact with the Cuban honchos to escape to Havana in case they find it impossible to keep the scepter.

For now, it is a fact that the Cuban-Venezuelan soap opera is experiencing a truly dramatic escalation these days and nobody knows what the outcome will be. But in the midst of so much uncertainty, one thing seems irrefutable: what is currently being played out in Venezuela is not only the future of that nation, beyond the adversities of Nicolás Maduro and his cronies, buy the course of the next steps of the Cuban regime, which continues to be the absolute owner of the Island’s destinies. So, tell us, General Castro, what is Plan B?

Translated by Norma Whiting

Police Forces Raid Headquarters of ‘Captain Tondique’ Project in Matanzas

Members of the Captain Tondique Project prepare food for homeless people. (Courtesy)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 21 April 2017 — The headquarters of the Captain Tondique project in the municipality Matancero de Colón, was raided Friday by combined Police and State Security forces, according to a report received by this newspaper from Yelena Marrero Burunate, daughter of Caridad Burunate, the activist who owns the property.

The house, located at #163 Mesa Street, was raided from the early hours of dawn until one o’clock in the afternoon, Marrero explained. continue reading

“From seven in the morning they undertook a search, they came for the Tondique equipment and supplies, they took everything. The cauldrons, our food, everything. They did not explain anything to us, they took the benches we used. There were more than twenty people in here,” said the activist via telephone.

“We told them that without a search warrant they couldn’t come in and they were looking for it,” the woman explained.

Caridad Burunate and Francisco Rangel, the mother and uncle of Marrero are in custody. “Everything happened in the presence of my grandmother Raquel Gomez, an 88-year-old woman,” she added.

“The search lasted until one o’clock in the afternoon and they took away our cell phones.”

The community initiative Captain Tondique has working since April 2013 to help those who live on the streets and homeless people, offering them a plate of food every Thursday

The Captain Tondique community initiative has been working since April 2013 to help those who live on the streets and people who are homeless, offering them a plate of food every Thursday.

Felix Navarro denounced to 14ymedio that the search warrant alleged the crime of “illicit enrichment and abetting” and that Francisco Rangel’s home, a few yards from the project headquarters, at #125 Calle Pedro Betancourt, was also raided “at the same time.”

Navarro explains that the operation was carried out at a provincial level and included his home in Perico, which in the afternoon hours was still “surrounded by members of the State Security.”

According to the government opponent, when he tried to leave his house he was told by Officer Darío Torres Barrios that if he “went out” he would be arrested.

“Other activists of the province remain in their homes in the same situation of being under surveillance,” denounced Navarro.

The organization reported that on other occasions the political police have placed loudspeakers in the vicinity of the headquarters or closed the surrounding streets to prevent their work and intimidate the activists.