Cancellation of the B2 Visa: Another Parting of the Waters Between Cubans

Photo taken from the Internet

Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 21 March 2019 – The recent announcement by the US authorities of the cancellation of the five-year visas (B2) for Cubans, as of March 18, 2019, has fallen like a pitcher of ice water on those who have, so far, benefited from this type of visa that grants to those who wished to obtain it stays of up to six months in the US and the possibility of multiple entries.

It is not surprising, then, that almost everywhere these days this has been the unavoidable subject in Cuba: bus stops, shops, queues, work centers or the usual groups of friends and acquaintances. The impact of the news for the common Cubans far exceeds any other event that has taken place in recent times, including the very controversial constitutional referendum on February 24th, and it seems to have produced a desolation effect similar to that caused by the tornado that devastated a large swath of the Cuban capital just several weeks ago.

Once again it has become clear that the dispositions and the policies dictated by our Northern neighbor with respect to Cuba weigh more on the national mood and cause greater effects on the life of Cubans than any guideline that comes from the dome of power inside Cuba. continue reading

In spite of the so-called “independence and sovereignty”, after six decades of “communist” dictatorship, only the opposite results has been achieved: today  ̶ and increasingly ̶  the survival of a large part of the inhabitants of this island depends in some way on the US, either because of the family ties that intertwine both shores, because of the life-saving remittances, because of the flow of the kinds of articles that are scarce in Cuba and that reach Cuban families through the parcel agencies that proliferated as a result of the thaw of the Obama era, or because the US is an important source of supply for small businesses and the supporter of informal commerce, through the constant trips of an entire army of “mules”.

From now on, instead of the B2 visa, Cubans will be able to apply for a visa valid for only three months of stay in the US, which they can use for a single entry, which significantly increases the formality of the paperwork and visa payments for frequent travelers  ̶  that must necessarily be made through a third country since the closure of consular services at the American Embassy in Havana in response to the “acoustic attacks” on embassy personnel ̶   adding additional expenses for tickets, accommodations, food, etc.

This leads directly to the consideration of other possibilities that will begin to emerge in the new scenario going forward, such as greater number of Cubans who might decide to stay in US illegally, once their legal three month stays expire, until they reach the time needed to apply for status under the Cuban Adjustment Act and, eventually, obtain a permanent residence permit.

Another consequence will be the impact on ticket sales of the airlines that offer regular flights between Cuba and the US, of which a good part of the customers are Cuban residents on the Island. It is expected that, in the short term, by decreasing the number of travelers, the cost of these fares will become more expensive, directly affecting the Cubans who reside in the US who commonly pay for the trips of their relatives who live in Cuba. Logically, the shipment of parcels to the Island will become more expensive as well.

Despite this new thrust, and leaving aside the March 16th Cuban Ministry of Foreign Affairs hypocritical statement, where the authorities reject what they cynically consider “an additional obstacle to the exercise of the right of Cuban citizens to visit his relatives in that country” since, among other issues, “it also imposes high economic costs on family trips and exchange in multiple areas”, it is surprising the virulence and the merriment with which not a few Cuban emigrants living in the US have applauded a measure that so much affects their compatriots on both sides of the Straits of Florida.

“It’s good,” some say, because that’s how the dictatorship will stop the influx of dollars, the flow of snitches and State Security agents who have been entering the US, and the internal pressure on the Island will increase until a social explosion takes place that overthrows the puppet Díaz-Canel. They do not seem to care about the cost of family separation between parents whose children emigrated, between close relatives and close friends, a heartbreak that they themselves had to endure in the past.

“They get what they deserve”, others affirm, who feel chemically pure and politically enlightened, although there is no lack among them of those who participated in marches, were members of the Committee for the Defense of the Revolution (CDR), the Young Communist Union (UJC) or the Cuban Communist Party (PCC), those who felt afraid to express themselves freely and even applauded at the Plaza de la Revolución.

Both do not seem to be disturbed by the material needs of their compatriots inside Cuba. The grudges accumulated by their own pain have degraded their souls, and in response to so much inexplicable sense of revenge, many Cubans on the Island respond with distrust. Are these “paladins of absolute truth” those who pretend to trace the common future? Do they feel so elevated that they will be an imitation of the Castro leadership, from the antipodes? No, thanks.

Obviously, the anthropological damage that the well-known Cuban intellectual Dagoberto Valdés defined so clearly does not limit itself to Cuba’s territorial boundaries, but rather – like a plague that corrodes the spirit of solidarity that should exist between nationals – extends beyond a large part of the exile community.

Because, while it is true that the US government and its institutions have the sovereign right to decide and dispose of what they consider best or more appropriate to their interests, although the laws of that country have no obligation to look after foreign interests  ̶ in this case those of Cubans ̶  and if, indeed, the (un-)government of Castro-Canel is the one responsible for the national crisis and the only one from which we must demand accountability and demand rights, it speaks much and very badly of us as a Nation and as fellow citizens that we should rejoice at the misfortune of one or the other.

Personally, although my condition as a “cubañola” (Cuban of Spanish citizenship) did not harm me in particular with regards to visa issues, I feel a real embarrassment before the witches coven unleashed on the networks, pitching Cubans against Cubans, with ridicule, hatred, contempt and resentment, as if we were not already sufficiently fractured and divided, as if we had not consumed enough tons of hatred inculcated from the dictatorial power. And there are still arrogant people who dare to call out Cubans living in Cuba because of our spiritual miseries and the loss of values that, according to them, we all suffer from!

We definitely a lot of growing to do as Cubans and as human beings before we can overcome the trauma of the Castro regime and find the good and the kind that should unite us beyond our differences … Or we will simply be condemned to disappear as a Nation.

Translated by Norma Whiting

Rosa Maria Paya Meets With Jair Bolsonaro in Santiago de Chile

Opposition leader Rosa María Payá (right), with Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro (2nd from right). (Twitter)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 24 March 2019 — Cuban opposition leader Rosa Maria Payá met Friday with Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro in Santiago de Chile. The promoter of the initiative Cuba Decides asked the president for “support for the Cuban community in Brazil,” which is facing a difficult time after the end of the Mais Médicos (More Doctors) mission.

Also attending the meeting were the Brazilian Foreign Minister, Ernesto Fraga Araújo, who participated with Bolsonaro in the official launch of the Forum for the Progress of South America (Prosur), a regional body that seeks to replace the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR), currently in crisis after the departure of several governments.

On Twitter, Payá described the meeting with Bolsonaro and his foreign minister as an “intense meeting,” especially in relation to “the specific actions that Brazil and PROSUR can take in support of the Cuban people in their struggle for democracy.” continue reading

Intense meeting with President @jairbolsonaro and chancellor @ernestofaraujo on the specific actions that #Brasil and #ProSur can take in support of the Cuban people in their struggle for democracy. 

Thanks for the solidarity. #CubaDecide #Ni1Más (Not 1 More) 

– Rosa María Payá A. (@RosaMariaPaya) March 23, 2019

“We talked about the conditions of semi-slavery of health professionals sent abroad by the regime, I appreciated his actions to end the abuse of Cuban doctors and requested support for the Cuban community in Brazil,” Payá added.

Last November, Bolsonaro, then president-elect, said that the Cuban physicians who worked for Mais Médicos were “slaves” of a “dictatorship,” words that triggered a rapid response from the Government of Cuba which began to withdraw the more than 8,000 health professionals it had working in the South American country. Some 2,500 doctors decided not to return to the island and accepted an asylum proposal from Bolsonaro.

I held a conversation with the Cuban Rosa Payá @RosaMariaPaya. She tells truths that I have never seen anywhere about the new Cuban constitution and the lifestyle of the people living in the Castro dictatorship. Socialism kills! [Video here of RMP speaking with Eduardo Bolsonaro, Federal Deputy and son of Jair Bolsonaro]

– Eduardo Bolsonaro (@BolsonaroSP) March 23, 2019

Since then, these health professionals have been in limbo with regards to employment and have repeatedly demanded that they be allowed to revalidate their credentials and have access to jobs.

Last February these doctors sent a letter to Senators Marco Rubio and Bob Menéndez asking for support to restore the Cuban Medical Professional Parole program, repealed by former President Barack Obama in 2017, which grants US visas to health professionals who leave Cuba’s international missions.

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

The Final Act of “Cubazuela”

The then presidents of Venezuela, Hugo Chávez, and of Cuba, Fidel Castro, both now deceased.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Carlos A. Montaner, Miami | 23 March, 2019 — Carlos Lage, in December 2005, said in Caracas that Cuba had two presidents: Hugo Chávez and Fidel Castro. “Cubazuela had emerged.” At that time, Lage was vice president of Cuba’s Council of State and the Council of Ministers. He was the number two man in Cuba by appointment of Fidel. The Commander had ordered him to release that pearl among the Venezuelans. The idea was, as always, Fidel’s, but Chávez agreed. Lage obeyed.

That meant, also, that Venezuela had two presidents: Fidel Castro and Hugo Chávez. Fidel was the primus inter pares. Fidel had molded Chavez. He had spawned him. When he received him in Cuba, in December of 1994, Chávez was a failed coup leader under the influence of Norberto Ceresole, an Argentine fascist Peronist, passed through the Libyan desert by the hand of Gaddafi.

As Chávez’s political muse was totally promiscuous, Fidel impregnated him with four Marxist slogans and dismissed Ceresole without hesitation. El Comandante was not a theoretician, but a strategist and a tactician who, at age 18, was persuaded that he had been endowed with a Greek profile as a premonition of nature, and exchanged his middle name, Hippolytus, for Alexander, after Alexander the Great. It was his first step towards the conquest of the planet. Something that was impossible to do from poor Cuba, so far from Marx and so close to the United States, but possible with the enormous wealth of Venezuela, especially with a barrel of oil around one hundred dollars. continue reading

Then Cuban chancellor, Felipe Pérez Roque, was entrusted with another task for Venezuelans: explaining why Venezuela and Cuba should be allied. He did it at the Teresa Carreño theater in Caracas. Fidel formulated the script, carefully read the speech, and made a few suggestions. No important detail escaped his meticulously manipulative temperament. The task that lay ahead was gigantic. Replace the vanished and treacherous USSR in the defense of the oppressed of the world. Fight and defeat the American neighbor, huge, powerful and foolish.

Raul Castro did not appear in the equation. He was the neat and loyal boy to run errands, but without greatness. Fidel fabricated his biography. He dragged him to attack the Moncada barracks, to the Sierra Maestra and to the Ministry of Defense, but he did not respect him. He pegged him as a mediocre guy, unable to read a book, someone to leave in front of the armory, but nothing more.

He didn’t like Hugo Chávez either. Actually, he couldn’t stand him. Chavez was just a gun to assault the sky. The ordinariness of the Venezuelan bothered him. His “parejería” (conceit), as the Cubans call the unfortunates who want to become “equal” to the boss.

In one of Chávez’s frequent phone calls, Fidel explained that, “sadly,” he had to hand over the relationship to his two trusted men, Lage and Pérez Roque, because the Revolution, due to lack of time, demanded the sacrifice of ties that I really appreciated.” Chavez, impervious to rejection, began to constantly annoy the other two characters.

In 2009, Raúl Castro, with the fatigued consent of Fidel, dismissed Lage and Pérez Roque, turned them into non-people and they left the game accused of being ambitious and disloyal. On December 30, 2012, Hugo Chávez died in Havana because of his audacity in having his cancer treated in Cuba, although they didn’t disconnect him until March 5, 2013, exactly 60 years of Stalin’s death.

As Alexander the Great was surprised by death at the age of 32, and shortly afterwards his Greco-Macedonian empire was undone, Fidel Castro almost died as diverticulitis took him down at the end of July 2006, a few months after he deployed his strategy in Caracas, and they immediately began to demolish his fantasies, although he remained (more or less) alive until November 2016.

Nicolás Maduro, the replacement imposed by Cuba, is drowning because of his plunder, incapacity and stupidity. Raul Castro, old and tired, has gone all out to save him, but, as is often the case, the two are about to suffocate in the turbulent post-Communist swirl.

Everyone knows that the puppeteer is Raúl Castro. They have been abandoned by the artists who came to sing to Juan Guaidó, Michelle Bachelet, the OAS, the Italian Federica Mogherini, Heinz Dieterich, Noam Chomsky and the sursum corda. All that’s left are some deeply brainless men without the least prestige.

The image of Venezuela is terrible and is leaving the Cuban regime without friends or lifesavers. The irony is that they conquered Venezuela by swallowing Chávez and Maduro and now they have become indigestible, as historians say happened to Alexander the Great after a banquet.

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

From the Left Wave to the Right Tsunami

The Latin American left continues to crumble, in the image above one is still president and another has been able to leave a faithful successor. Left to Right: President Morales (Bolivia) and former presidents Chavez (Venezuela), Castro (Cuba), and Lula (Brazil)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mauricio Rojas, Santiago de Chile | 23 Marzo 2019 — Ten years ago the Latin American left was in a situation unparalleled in the history of the region: never before had it been as influential or controlled as many governments as it did then.

Hugo Chávez in Venezuela, Lula da Silva in Brazil, Cristina Kirchner in Argentina, Rafael Correa in Ecuador, Michelle Bachelet in Chile, Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua, Evo Morales in Bolivia, Alan García in Peru, Tabaré Vázquez in Uruguay, Mauricio Funes in El Salvador and Fidel Castro in Cuba were part of a broad and diverse political family that seemed unstoppable.

By that time, very few could have imagined that just a few years later this great family would be in ruins and even less that a true right-wing tsunami could become the most transcendent legacy of the leftist wave.

It’s the economy, stupid

The fundamental explanation of the rise and fall of the Latin American left is relatively simple and can be summarized with the help of Bill Clinton’s famous saying: “It’s the economy, stupid.” The beginning of its meteoric rise was the triumph of Hugo Chávez in the Venezuelan presidential election of December 1998, and its context is given by the difficult times that Latin America experienced from the collapse, at the beginning of the 80s, of the model of “inward-directed development” that the region had followed since the 1930s. continue reading

The successes of the left were consolidated during the first decade of the new millennium with the help of the enormous abundance of resources generated by the export boom that began at the beginning of 2000 and ended during the first half of the decade of 2010. Then came the economic crisis, the scandals of corruption, the great electoral defeats and, in certain cases, like Venezuela, the dictatorial abyss and the humanitarian catastrophe, but also the emergence of leaders, such as Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil, with a political domicile located at the antipodes of 21st century socialism and other variants of Latin American leftism.

The background of the leftist surge must be sought in the 1980s and 1990s, when the region experienced the harsh consequences of the collapse of the type of economy that prevailed for half a century inspired by a development strategy based on import substitution, protectionism and extensive state intervention.

The failure of this strategy, theorized and disseminated in the post-war period by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (CEPAL by its initials in Spanish), became evident not only because of its inability to meet the demands of progress of the great majorities of the region, but also because of recurrent economic instability and ever greater dependence on traditional exports that increased the vulnerability of a development model that, paradoxically, had the great goal of reducing this dependence and the vulnerability it produced.

The debt crisis in the early 1980s resulted, first, in long economic recessions and then in painful attempts to restructure what were “greenhouse economies” dominated by patronage, privilege and connivance with politics. The consequences were dramatic: poverty increased from 134 to 225 million people between 1980 and 2002. In addition, that year recorded record levels of economic inequality: the regional average of the Gini coefficient reached 0.55 and the richest 10% of Latin Americans had income that was 14.4 times higher than the poorest 10 percent (data from CEPAL).

In Venezuela, to give just one example, per capita income fell by 28% towards the end of the 1980s compared to the level reached a decade earlier. In turn, poverty came to be estimated among more than half of the country’s population, something that is hard to imagine in the country that in the ’50s was not only the richest in Latin America, but one of the richest in the world.

The most visible and dramatic result was the so-called Caracazo, an unprecedented social outbreak that began on February 27, 1989 and lasted for a week throughout Venezuela, leaving hundreds or perhaps thousands dead in its wake, an impressive material devastation. No wonder Moisés Naím has said, referring to February 27 and its impact on the government of Carlos Andrés Pérez and the democracy that Venezuela had experienced since 1958: “That day Pérez fell and democracy fell.” And it can be added that, also that day, the winding road began that led first to the failed coup of then-Lieutenant-Colonel Hugo Chavez in February 1992 and then to his overwhelming electoral victory in December 1998.

From bullets to votes

The statistics and events just referred to give us the context in which the leftist wave emerges, particularly in its more populist and radical versions. The potential demand for leaders and movements that promised a rapid reduction of poverty and inequalities through redistributive policies was great.

In this sense, the charismatic leadership of Hugo Chávez came to give a face to a widespread desire to achieve better living conditions and more social justice without delay. The fact that the “eternal commander” could have practically unlimited resources, thanks to the nationalized oil already in 1976, to carry out his policies made him enormously popular, creating the illusion that it was enough the will of a messianic leader to liberate the poor of their painful condition, without putting the old elites in their place and challenging the power of the United States.

In this way, Chávez was able to occupy the place of redeemer and display the powerful attraction once enjoyed by Fidel Castro. Thus, the radical left could go on the offensive throughout the region, coordinated by the Sao Paulo Forum and financed by the petrodollars that Chávez used at will.

One of the most significant effects of Hugo Chávez’s rapid rise to Latin American left-wing stardom was a change in strategy by the region’s militant left. Instead of considering a guerrilla war or a revolutionary coup as a way to get to power, they now turn to the use of democratic electoral mechanisms. The means change, but the ends are maintained. And the result was undoubtedly much more encouraging than that obtained by Castro’s strategy during the 60s and 70s, at least while maintaining the large flow of income from what would be the largest export boom in the history of Latin America.

The leftist wave initiated by Hugo Chávez would consolidate with a series of important electoral victories. In this way, Lula da Silva and Néstor Kirchner came to the presidency of Brazil and Argentina in 2003, Evo Morales to that of Bolivia in 2006, Daniel Ortega and Rafael Correa to that of Nicaragua and Ecuador in 2007, and Mauricio Funes to El Salvador in 2009. To this wave of successes must be added, although they belong to a much more respectable and quiet branch of the leftist family, the victory of Ricardo Lagos in the second round of the Chilean presidential election of January 2000 and the one of Tabaré Vázquez, at the head of Frente Amplio, in Uruguay in November 2004.

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times

During this time — the first decade of 2000 — the export boom was taking off and poverty decreased throughout the region as a result of the economic growth generated by the export plethora combined with various redistributive policies. For the year 2011, CEPAL statistics report a decrease of 44 million poor compared to the figure for 2002.

In countries such as Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Peru and Uruguay, poverty was reduced by half between 2002 and 2012, while in Venezuela the percentage of the poor fell from 49.4% in 1999 to 25.4% in 2012, that is, during the last full year in which Hugo Chávez governed. The distribution of income also became more egalitarian and the Gini coefficient fell below 0.4 in Uruguay and Venezuela, which is something very unusual in the history of Latin America.

The extraordinary magnitude of the export boom was the engine of this rapid but, as it would soon be demonstrated, fragile progress. To look again at the example of Venezuela, it can be pointed out that the value of its exports increased 5.5 times between 1998, the year before Hugo Chávez came to power, and 2012.

This implies that during his 14 years as president Chavez had an income surplus of more than $530 billion compared to the average income of Venezuelan oil exports during the decade prior to his government. This was the abundant manna from the sky that Chávez used to consolidate his increasingly personalistic and authoritarian government, as well as to subsidize the decrepit economy of Cuba and spread the Chavista doctrine, 21st Century Socialism, throughout Latin America.

Then came the fall into the abyss: the value of Venezuelan exports decreased by 75%, some 70 billion dollars between 2012 and 2016. But this fall and the consequent collapse of the Venezuelan economy under the government of Nicolás Maduro was due not only to the reduction of oil prices. Of equal importance was the disastrous economic management that has burdened all sectors of the Venezuelan economy, including the production of oil that today is at pitiful levels.

Among the most dramatic consequences of the economic disaster have been thousands of perfectly preventable deaths, a poverty that according to the latest estimates of the Survey of Living Conditions (Encovi), carried out by three prestigious Venezuelan universities, totals around 90% of the population, and a wave of emigration never before seen in the region that already exceeds 10% of the inhabitants of the country and that, according to the United Nations, could reach 5.3 million people by the end of 2019.

The evolution in other Latin American countries was similar, but without reaching the extremes of Venezuela. In the case of Brazil, the income generated by exports multiplied 5.3 times between 1999 and 2011, and then, between 2011 and 2016, fell by a third. This was enough to lead Brazil to a serious economic crisis that reduced per capita income by 9% in 2015-2016 and put an end to the long cycle of governments of the Workers Party, which continued from the time Lula da Silva assumed power, in 2003, until Dilma Rousseff was deposed in mid-2016. In Argentina something similar happened and in December 2015 ended the long era of the Kirchner spouses that started in 2003.

Other leftist populist leaders, such as Evo Morales in Bolivia and Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua — countries that experienced export booms comparable or superior to what happened in Venezuela or Brazil — have refused to relinquish power in the face of growing popular resistance and take the path of turning their countries into open dictatorships. In another case, that of Ecuador, the revolt against the populist authoritarianism of Rafael Correa came from within his own movement, the PAIS Alliance, and was headed by the current president Lenin Moreno, making Correa a fugitive from Ecuadorian justice for abuse of power.

In this sad way, in the midst of deep economic crises, serious corruption scandals and the rise of rampant dictatorships, the democratic path towards authoritarianism exhausted the capacity of the populist left to win elections by distributing donations generously financed by exports. Democracy was no longer useful and to preserve power and stay out of jail, only repression remained.

First comes morality, then food

The Latin American left is today, with few exceptions, in the greatest possible discredit. The kingdom of abundance and social justice it promised vanished when the vast resources of exports were exhausted and none of the great problems of Latin America was solved, quite the contrary. This refers in particular to the already traditional fragility of its institutions, which has been one of the great obstacles to achieving sustainable development. It is about the most basic thing: to be able to trust the authorities, the existence of the rule of law, protection against crime and violence.

The great resources generated by the export boom were used, to a significant extent, to further undermine an already fragile rule of law, distort democratic institutions and pay for the emergence of huge networks of corruption and crime.

These are the circumstances that today decisively mark the political course of Latin America, generating an increasingly broad demand for the restoration of those essential pillars of all civilized life: legality and decent codes of moral conduct. More and more Latin Americans have understood that things are exactly the reverse of Bertold Brecht’s famous phrase of  in the Threepenny Opera: (“Erst kommt das Fressen, dann kommt die Moral”; “First comes food, then morality”); first comes morality and then food. Without respect for basic moral norms or the law, there is no food on the table or any security to stay alive. Law and order is today the popular cry most heard south of the Rio Grande. It is not really about the left or the right, but about something much simpler and more vital: establishing the foundations of a civilized life.

The recent elections of Andrés Manuel López Obrador as president of Mexico (July 2018), of Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil (October 2018) and of Nayib Bukele in El Salvador (February 2019) have dealt with it. The rhetoric may have been left or right, but in all these cases their great victories have had a common source: a massive protest against the corrupt elites and a desperate demand for protection in the face of the dramatic escalation of violence, illegality and crime these three countries experience. Triumphant candidates have been seen as outsiders uncontaminated by the existing corruption, and their great promise has been to restore order and the foundations of civility. Everything else has been less important.

Of course, it is not the first time that an outsider comes to power in Latin America through major electoral victories and promises to put the house in order and end the corruption of political or economic elites. It is about the classic ingredients of the figure of the populist leader: presenting himself as the true voice of the people who stands up against the selfish and dishonest elite. This has been the case, just to mention some examples, of Juan Perón in Argentina in 1946, Alberto Fujimori in Peru in 1990, Hugo Chavez in Venezuela in 1998 and Jimmy Morales in Guatemala in 2015.

Now, the result of the exercise of power by these outsiders has not been at all encouraging, tending towards an authoritarian personalism that has seriously damaged or simply made democracy disappear. In the end, the remedy has been worse than the disease and in the present cases nobody should underestimate the risk of something similar happening. We will see what happens with time, but there is no doubt that Latin America is living more and more in the era of desperate hope or, to put it another way, in the era of the electoral lottery where no one knows for sure what he is choosing or what it will mean for the country.

From the left populist wave to the right tsunami

The most surprising thing in this context is the emergence, as a reaction to the economic and institutional devastation produced by the wave of the populist left, of a radical right led by an outsider who learned to use populist rhetoric against the populists and does so with total disregard for the prevailing political correctness. This is the new president of Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro, who comes to give a continental resonance to the political style of Donald Trump and who will have, given the enormous weight of Brazil, a decisive influence on the future of South America.

What has remained evident after the disastrous left-wing populist experience is the total collapse of the moral superiority and democratic legitimacy that the Latin American left achieved as a result of the violence and human rights violations of the region’s right-wing military dictatorships against whom they prevailed during the final decades of the Cold War. Today this is history.

The pro democracy and human rights farce has been unmasked by the dictatorial violence exerted by the leftist regimes in Venezuela and Nicaragua with the active or passive complicity of almost all the rest of the Latin American left. Today it is evident to all that they were against the dictatorship and against human rights violations as long as they were not themselves the ones who exercised violence in the name of socialism.

Moreover, the corruption scandals that have resulted in many of their great leaders ending up in prison or at the prison gates do nothing but complete the picture of a complete moral and political debacle. Behind the masks of populist rhetoric and the fiery proclamations of the Forum of Sao Paulo was hidden a multitude of despicable tyrants and thieves. They deservedly won generalized opprobrium and it only remains to hope that they do not cause even more damage than they already have, and leave the peoples of Cuba, Venezuela, Nicaragua and Bolivia to live in freedom.

At the end of the day, the result of the leftist wave seems to be one of those clever stories that Hegel told us that lead to an outcome that is the absolute opposite of that imagined by its protagonists. In this case, the most important legacy of the leftist wave initiated by Hugo Chavez in 1998 can end up being a tsunami of continental magnitude of a new radical right.

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Mauricio Rojas is a researcher at the Faculty of Economics and Business at Chile’s Universidad del Desarrollo and a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Progress

The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

Requiem for Havana / Fernando Damaso

Fernando Dámaso, 19 March 2019 — That Havana is falling to pieces is hardly news. The institutional neglect, apathy and general irresponsibility, which has affected the city, over the six decades since the “tornado” hit in January 1959, has totally destroyed it. November will be the 500th anniversary of its foundation and it is expected that the authorities will do it up a little, that’s to say, apply a bit of makeup, so that it looks a bit better and more presentable, at least for the foreigners who have been invited to attend the celebration.

As usual, there is more talk than action, and everywhere you look they are announcing the date with the slogan “Havana is the greatest”.

Nevertheless, what they are doing, with one or two exceptions, is slapdash, poor quality, with the worst productivity and even worse control. As an example of poor work, just look at  Calle Línea in El Vedado, with power cuts which hold up the traffic and pedestrians, and which has been going on for months, without anybody doing anything about it. And also Parque Acapulco in Nuevo Vedado, with bits demolished, rebuilt, and torn down again because of poor workmanship, and which has also been going on for months.  If that’s how it is in just two examples, it seems to me they won’t get much done in time for the celebration.

We all know that you can’t sort out a situation which has deteriorated over decades in a few months, but, at least whatever they do should be done properly.

Translated by GH

Journalist Jorge Enrique Rodriguez Continues to be Missing 24 Hours After His Arrest

Jorge Enrique Rodríguez, a journalist for Diario de Cuba, remains unaccounted for after his arrest. (Facebook)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 22 March 2019 – Some 24 hours have gone by since the Diairo de Cuba journalist Jorge Enrique Rodríguez was arbitrarily arrested, and he remains unaccounted for, his whereabouts unknown.

The reporter Manuel Alejandro León announced that he received a text message from Rodriguez saying he had left on Thursday in an bus from the Víazul company heading to Guantanamo, but at 4 o’clock in the afternoon he was arrested at the police checkpoint at the exit of the capital.

According to Rodriguez, his colleague told him that he was able to make out in the patrol car that stopped the bus the State Security officer who calls himself Camilo. After that message nothing more has been heard about his whereabouts. His phone responds with a recording saying that the number is “off or out of the coverage area.”

Given the poor state of telephone lines and the poor coverage on highways and roads, that message may appear even when the user is really available, but given the time between now and when he sent his text, the journalist should have reached his destination in Guantanamo or be back in Havana.

Arbitrary arrests of independent journalists are common and are aimed at preventing or making it difficult for the reporters to carry out their work. This practice has been denounced by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (CIDH) and the Inter-American Press Association (SIP).

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

Five Cuban Rafters Escape the Police on Reaching the Beach in Miami

An upturn in illegal arrivals is now expected because of the worsening of the crisis on the island due to the collapse of Venezuela, Cuba’s main ally. (Archive photo. Coast Guard)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 20 March 2019 — A group of Cuban rafters arrived on the coast of Florida at Sunny Isles on Wednesday, according to a statement from the Coast Guard. At least five rafters managed to escape the authorities as the abandoned the precarious boat which brought them to the U.S. coast.

A witness to the arrival recorded the boat bringing the rafters, from 162nd Street and Collins Avenue. When the authorities arrive the rafters had already escaped, so all they could do was inspect the boat and remove it from the beach.

According to the Border Patrol, the crew of the makeshift craft was made up of five people. Authorities have said they are investigating the incident and as of now they do not know the whereabouts of the rafters.

Since January of 2017 when President Obama put an end to the wet foot/dry foot policy that allowed Cubans who reached US soil to be welcomed as refugees, the number of arrivals on boats from Cuba has dropped significantly.

However, an upturn in illegal arrivals is now expected because of the worsening of the crisis on the island due to the collapse of Venezuela, its main ally. In January a group of 20 rafters arrived in the Florida keys.  All were processed and repatriated to Cuba.

In February, eight rafters who launched themselves into the sea from the south of Havana disappeared, according to complaints from their relatives to the independent portal Cubanet, while just a week ago, the Coast Guard rescued 26 Cubans in a raft that was about to be shipwrecked near the Keys.

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

From Engineer in Havana to Magazine Director in Kentucky / Ivan Garcia

Luis David Fuentes with a copy of El Kentubano magazine. Taken from Insider Lousville.

Iván García, 5 March 2019 — Twenty-five years ago, Luis David Fuentes pedaled 17 kilometers a day on a rough Chinese bicycle through the dark and dilapidated Havana streets towards the CUJAE, today José Antonio Echevarría Technological University, located in Marianao, a municipality in the south of Havana, where he studied mechanical engineering.

Those were the hard years of the Special Period. The people ate little and badly. The blackouts lasted twelve hours. And hunger caused people to replace the usual animal proteins by eating cats, pigeons and sparrows. Fidel Castro had a Plan B in case the famine worsened. It was called Option Zero. Military trucks would distribute food in the neighborhoods, escorted by armed soldiers. It did not reach that extreme. Luis David still remembers that every day he pedaled as if he were a professional cyclist with a piece of dry bread and a glass of water with brown sugar for breakfast.

“It was a difficult stage. I went from El Vedado to CUJAE on that bicycle with hardly anything in my stomach. When I could, I drank a little jug of powdered milk. I returned home after eight or nine hours without tasting a bite. I do not know how I survived and became an engineer. Like most Cuban homes of that time, my parents were integrated in the process, especially my father, a hard-working man, a fidelista who believed to the core the story that utopian socialism would one day arrive. continue reading

My mother was always very clearheaded, but out of respect for my father, she just taught us to believe in God and we knew of the injustice that the Revolution had committed with her father, a Galician emigrant who arrived empty-handed and based on hard work managed to have land, livestock and property. Everything was expropriated by the agrarian reform. My grandfather did not survive that shock and the next year he died. After so much sadness and agony, after a while my grandmother also died. I did not know them in life,” says Luis David by email from Kentucky in the United States.

Very young he began to question the olive green totalitarianism and the economy of barracks implemented by the Castros. “I did not like that the double morality caused by the fear that prevented you from expressing your opinions with sincerity, nor the hypocrisy of the leaders: they preached as if they were proletarians and lived as bourgeois.

I never thought about leaving Cuba. When I graduated, I did my social service of two years in the National Institute of Normalization, an agency where bureaucracy and servility to the ideas of the Communist Party reigned, without the basic resources to work. The salary was 198 pesos a month (8 dollars). I was an engineer, but I felt miserable, with that salary I could not help my parents in the maintenance of the home. That reality made me change my mind and I decided to emigrate.”

He tried first in Venezuela and Colombia. In 1996, finally, he was able to travel to Chile, where before getting a job as an engineer, he was a door-to-door salesman and a doorman in a nightclub. In 2000 he traveled to the United States. Contrary to the vast majority of Cubans, who settle in Florida, because of the weather, to be able to speak Spanish and to see the same sea that bathes the northern coast of Cuba, Luis David, settled in Kentucky, in the southeastern center of the United States. For eleven years he worked as an environmental engineer-specialist in the Kentucky government.

In August 2009, faced with the need for information and publicity from the growing Cuban community, Luis David founded El Kentubano. “It was done with own resources, without external help. Something new for me, because I was not an entrepreneur or a journalist. I did it from nothing. I was learning along the way. The publication is supported by advertisements, one part is distributed free and another by subscriptions.

In the beginning, the money obtained was barely enough to pay the cost of production, printing, distribution and marketing. Many times I had to spend my income to continue putting out El Kentubano. At that time, except for the design, I was the one who wrote, did interviews, looked for sponsors and distributed the magazine, but now I have a team mde up of Yany Díaz, journalist, and Elizabeth Alarcón, designer,

“The digital era has decimated printed publications, but in the case of publications aimed at a specific group, be it health, sports or emigration, far from being extinct they have prospered. And in recent years, thanks to the increase in the Cuban community and new businesses, the magazine’s life was guaranteed. Sponsors contributing this include companies such as Humana, Kroger, Sprint, American Airlines, Toyota and McDonald’s, among others, have seen in The Kentubano a marketing tool and advertise in it. In 2009 a thousand copies of 20 pages per month were printed, today the magazine has 90 pages and 10 thousand copies are printed monthly.”

The Kentubano has color photos on its front and back cover. On the inside pages of the gazette paper, you can see photos and ads in color and black and white. Some of his texts are taken from Cuban digital sites. And in between the ads are interspersed advice to newcomers, interviews with relevant Cubans in Kentucky or recipes for traditional sweets. The business model of digital journalism is under construction. Newspapers like The New York Times already make a profit thanks to their 3.6 million subscribers on the internet. Other media implement proactive strategies and raise money among their readers by asking them what kind of stories they want to read.

“Taking the magazine forward was a titanic task. Two years ago I decided to take a break as an engineer and dedicate more time to my family, to the community through El Kentubano, the Capítulo Kentucky José Martí and the Cuban American Association of Kentucky (ACAK), a group created a year ago and whose members, selflessly, with their own resources, represent and defend the interests of our community under the José Martí motto Helping those who need it is not only part of one’s duty, but of happiness,” says Luis David proudly.

When Luis David arrived in Kentucky in 2000, the number of Cubans did not exceed 500. In 2006 there were already about 5,000 Cubans, currently there are more than 25,000 in Louisville alone, the largest city in the State. “Almost all of them come directly from Cuba and although their knowledge of economics is limited, they have managed to become a thriving and enterprising community that has managed to deal with the cold, language and customs that are so different.

The result of their integration into society is translated into the large number of shops, restaurants, consultancies and small businesses in Louisville. Also important has been the role of doctors, dentists, engineers, lawyers, computer scientists and police officers of Cuban origin, among other professionals with prominent positions in large companies and state offices.

Luis David had to pound the streets of Louisville to get sponsors. “At the beginning, it was difficult to convince Cuban business owners of the importance of advertising. The Cuban of the Island has no idea what marketing is. The only thing they had seen was a bodega manager writing out his accounts on the cash register paper. When you convince the first one, the others followed along, little by little.”

In his opinion, “after Florida, the Cuban community of Kentucky is one of the most prosperous in the United States and it is, per capita, where the largest number of small Cuban businesses exists in the world.” In 2018, Governor Matt Bevin received in his mansion about 200 Cuban leaders and entrepreneurs, a recognition of that community’s contribution to the economy and culture of Kentucky. Luis David has received several awards.

In the wake of the January 27th tornado that killed and wounded many and caused enormous material damage in five municipalities of Havana, Cubans from Kentucky raised $ 6,410. A member of the community traveled to one of the affected areas and personally delivered the donations. Words of thanks from the victims can be seen in this video uploaded to Facebook.

Luis David is married. Yamilet, his wife, is also Cuban and works as an interpreter and translator for the Kentucky government. They are the parents of two children, Fernanda, 15, a high school freshman, and Luis Manuel, 12, a 7th grader. Claudio Fuentes, a prominent photographer and dissident, is his cousin.

Despite having been away from Cuba for more than two decades, he is still passionate about Cuban music. “In 1996 I left for Chile with a suitcase with two changes of clothes. in one hand, a bag with my collection of vinyl records by Benny Moré and in the other my bongo, an instrument that I learned to play in my hometown. My professor was Arturo Linares, El hueso, bongocero by Joseíto Fernández.” Besides dancing salsa and rumba, he likes to drink coffee, smoke tobacco, have a drink of rum and play dominoes. He professes a deep respect for the hero José Martí.

Now established in Louisville, Luis David undertook the task of locating a bust of the Apostle, as Cubans call José Martí, given in 1955 to Kentucky by the Cuban government of the time, as a tribute to the brave Kentuckians who fought for the freedom of Cuba in 1850 and who had been missing for years. The makers of the magazine El Kentubano created a project named Facing the Sun, with the aim of replacing Martí’s bust in the Shively Park in Louisville. With the twelve thousand dollars collected, they were able to restore it and unveil it in a ceremony held on July 21, 2012.

Every 28th of January, that place is a meeting point for the Kentubanos, a name created by Luis David Fuentes, who at age 47 confesses that he does not know where life will take him tomorrow. “I never imagined living in Kentucky, it’s already been 19 years and I do not think I’ll return to the Island when things change. Yes I would like to contribute with my experience, do some business, maybe a magazine, be able to travel to my homeland. But the United States has adopted me as a son, here I have created a family, I have many friends and responsibilities in this society.”

As the Cuban poet Eliseo Alberto wrote, Cuba is a distant piano that someone plays behind the horizon.

Declaration of the “Revolutionary Government”: Late, Murky and Mendacious

Raúl Castro and Miguel Díaz-Canel. Archival photo

Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 18 March 2019 — Under the strident title of “Cuba condemns terrorist sabotage against the Venezuelan electric system”, the monopoly of the Castro press disclosed on Monday, March 11th, an official declaration of the “revolutionary government” where it directly accuses the US government of unleashing “an unconventional war” against the government of Nicolás Maduro.

Needless to say, in the 20 tedious paragraphs that make up this statement, although there are many accounts based on the official mythology of the last 60 years of Cuban history, as well as the disqualifying epithets against many current and bygone figures in American politics, the official declaration does not offer proof or a single piece of evidence that the colossal electrical failure that began in Venezuela last Thursday, March 7th, whose effects continue as I write these lines, is the result of “terrorist sabotage”.

And they could not provide any evidence, because as far as several highly experienced electrical engineers have assured – including some who are very familiar with the “sabotaged” installation and the system that produces electricity for 85% of the entire Venezuelan nation – there isn’t the least chance of hacking the Venezuelan electrical system because it is not digital but analog; and on the other hand, the damage that caused the service interruption took place within an area strongly protected by the army and the chavista special security forces. continue reading

This means that no external agent could have been the cause of the disaster and that the Cuban government has no basis to describe terrorist sabotage as an event that, according to Nicolás Maduro himself and other vociferous roosters in his corral, is still under investigation, though they already have some “guilty” detainees and, in the days to come, there will be no shortage of “confessions” and accusatory fingers for sure, pointing against the usual villains.

However, the aforementioned statement by the Cuban government wouldn’t have been so outrageous if it were not for its shocking clumsiness and the fear and concern that transpire throughout its lines. The text is confusing, hazy, and obviously mendacious. It is clear that no preacher or druid of the Palace of the Revolution inherited Castro I’s twisted talent; it is fair to acknowledge that in his glory years he was master among masters in the questionable art of lying convincingly about any event and manipulating the crowds at his whim.

To this should be added that different times and different popular moods are now circulating. Many Cubans today question the double standard of the official discourse that is made clear in the Declaration. How can the Cuban authorities justify accusing the US government of “lying” in the case of the sonic attacks on Cuban officials in Havana because “they do not present evidence of this”, but in turn allow themselves to denounce a “terrorist sabotage” led by the US government against Venezuela, without providing evidence to prove it?

How to explain the selective amnesia of the Castro leadership and its spokesmen, capable of enumerating a multitude of historical examples of Yankee interference in the world and accusing the United States of meddling in the internal affairs of Venezuela, while conveniently forgetting also the numerous military intromissions of Cuba in armed conflicts in Latin America and Africa, as well as the Cuban interference in Allende’s Chile or in the Venezuela of Chávez and Maduro, just to mention well-known and documented examples?

But, returning to the official text, it is obvious that the current scribes of the “continuity” of the Castro sign are emotionless, lack conviction, are dull and forget that more and more Cubans have some access to other sources of information and social networks and, as if all this were not enough, the officials can’t express themselves in writing, as evidenced by this indigestible bundle of useless paper – i.e. “declaration” – where events and characters from different periods and from the most diverse world geographical points are mixed chaotically, and where, in an angry jumble, one sentence attacks Juan Guaidó and in the next, Cuba’s “solidarity” with Venezuela is extolled, the American military bases in the region are enumerated, the participation of Cuba in the operations of the Venezuelan National Armed Forces and in its Security Services is denied (which, paradoxically, seems to reaffirm it) and – as is inevitable – unfeasible figures are mentioned about the achievements of Cuba’s medical services in Venezuela, while inflating those of the victims of the evil US interference in the entire planet.

Obviously, the lords of the cupola look down on Cuban intellect. It would seem that they are writing for that amorphous and hypnotized mass, isolated from the world, uninformed, grateful and credulous, that decades ago applauded the false Messiah, convinced and happy, and not for the people we are today: disenchanted, unbelieving, cynical, irreverent and deeply frustrated. The lords of the power caste do not understand that the corrosive effect of 60 years of deceit makes us distrustful and sarcastic—if not with calculated indifference—of everything that comes from the summit.

So, reading in reverse, now it has been confirmed from the huge Castro press monopoly that the days of Maduro at the Miraflores Palace could be numbered. If something we’ve been taught by these six decades of informative obscurantism is that when the whistles and cymbals of the Plaza de la Revolución replace triumphalist slogans and bravado with warnings and accusations it is because they are already giving up the battle. More than a denunciation, the declaration of the Cuban government tastes like an obituary. Soon or later, Maduro will fall, and, with him, the Cuban dictatorship will lose its main energy sustenance and who knows what and how many other revenues. Diaz Canel’s bad luck is past being a simple streak … and there is more to come.

United States Eliminates Five-Year Visa for Cubans

This change is a heavy blow for Cubans who use the five-year visa to travel to Latin American countries as well. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 16 March 2019 — Cubans will no longer be able to obtain a five-year multiple-entry visa for the United States; rather when they travel from the island to visit relatives they will only receive a visa for three months and a single entry, as announced on Friday by Mara Tekach the Chargé d’Affaires for the US Embassy in Havana.

The official emphasized that the measure has its origin in questions of “reciprocity,” given that Cuba only grants Americans visas of two months, extendable for one month and a single entry.

The measure will take effect on March 18 and especially affects B2 category visas for family visits, medical consultations, trips for tourism and shopping; these visas were previously granted for five years and allowed multiple entries. continue reading

This change is also a serious blow for Cubans who use the five-year US visa to travel to countries in Latin America as well, and especially Central America, which do not require a visa of their own to those who have the US B2 visa stamped on their passport. These countries include Mexico, Panama, El Salvador and Costa Rica, among others.

According to a press release from the US embassy in Havana issued a few hours later with regards to Cubans who already hold a B2 visa, “the five-year, multiple-entry B2 visas remain valid until their expiration date.”

Relations between Washington and Havana have deteriorated since Donald Trump’s arrival to the White House, as he has taken steps in the opposite direction from his predecessor, the Democrat Barack Obama, who pushed a historic diplomatic thaw between the two nations beginning in December 2014.

In January of 2017, just days before the end of his term, Obama put an end to the wet foot/dry foot policy that had granted migratory preferences to Cubans who managed to reach US territory, a measure that was met with harsh criticism within the Island.

In recent months, relations between the two countries have become even more tense due to a series of health incidents suffered by 26 US diplomats in Havana, an episode that the Plaza of the Revolution emphatically denies having organized.

After learning of the so-called “sonic attacks,” the US withdrew most of its staff from its Embassy in Havana and canceled most of the consular procedures. Cubans interested in traveling to the United States must now process their visas in third countries, which has greatly complicated the process.

In recent weeks the tension has escalated even more between both governments due to Havana’s support for Nicolás Maduro, a proximity that Washington considers interference. The Cuban chancellery has responded by standing firmly behind the Chavista regime and accusing the US of planning an armed invasion of the South American country.

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

‘The New York Times’ Responds to Díaz-Canel on Cuban Doctors in Venezuela

‘The New York Times’ responded to Miguel Diaz-Canel on Twitter, insisting that it backs the report published by its reporter Nicholas Casey. (Collage)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, 19 March 2019 — The Cuban government harshly criticized a report published Sunday in The New York Times where 16 Cuban doctors spoke about how they were used in Venezuela to pressure patients and push them to vote for Nicolás Maduro in the May 2018 elections.

Miguel Diaz-Canel published a tweet Tuesday where he asserted that Cuban doctors “can never be defamed.”

Cuban doctors can never be defamed. Their
extraordinary humane work in lands that the empire calls “dark 
corners of the world,” belie the #NYT and its reporter Casey. 
Feeding Marco Rubio’s war of hatred against #Cuba and #Venezuela is a crime. #SomosCuba  pic.twitter.com/AX5TIjLpID

– Miguel Díaz-Canel Bermúdez (@DiazCanelB) March 19, 2019

The New York Times responded to the president on Twitter, claiming that they support the article published by their reporter Nicholas Casey. “This type of rigorous journalism is the core of our work,” insisted the New York newspaper. continue reading

In addition, The New York Times  published another tweet reminding Díaz-Canel that the report contained the stories of 16 Cuban doctors who had left the island’s missions “who described a system of political manipulation in which their services were used to obtain votes for the ruling party.”

Cuba maintains more than 24,000 doctors in Venezuela who were joined by another 2,000 who were forced to leave Brazil after Cuba decided to suspend its participation in that country’s Mais Medicos program, after the election of Jair Bolsonaro to the Brazilian presidency, a candidate not liked by Havana.

Since the publication of the report in Spanish and English, the Cuban official press has launched a propaganda campaign on the activities of doctors in third countries.

This Tuesday, the Communist Party owned newspaper Granma  ran an article with the title “The truth or the visa?: The New York Times lies against Cuba and Venezuela. The article insinuates that the doctors who participated in the New York Times report are seeking to emigrate to the United States, which was subsequently denied by some of the doctors.

According to the official press, The New York Times  was preparing the ground for the reactivation of the Cuban Medical Professional Parole, a special program that granted refuge to Cuban doctors who escaped from missions abroad. The program was repeated by President Barack Obama in 2017. Under this program more than 8,000 Cuban health professionals emigrated to the United States.

“The perverse report from The New York Times only shows the photos of two of the 16 supposed doctors who informed the journalist (one living now in Chile and one in Ecuador),” said Cubadebate, another news site run by the Cuban government.

This Tuesday Cubadebate dedicated a Facebook Live broadcast to supposedly explaining live “why the NYT lies.”

Another official newspaper Juventud Rebelde (Rebel Youth) also published “a set of works” about “the real work” of Cuban doctors in Venezuela “as opposed to the media manipulation issued by the American newspaper The New York Times.

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

Cuba Rejects US Decision to Eliminate 5-year Visa for Cubans

Cuba’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Bruno Rodríguez. (EFE)

14ymedio biggerHavana, 16 March 2019 — This Saturday, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Minrex) rejected the United States’ decision to reduce the duration of the B2 Visa (for tourism and family visits) from five years to three months for Cuban citizens. The decision was announced this Friday by the US Embassy in Havana.

According to the Foreign Ministry, “this decision constitutes an additional obstacle” for Cuban citizens wanting to visit their relatives in the neighboring country. The Ministry added that this decision “is in addition” to the closure of the consular services of the United States in Havana and to the “unjustified interruption” of the granting of visas to Cubans, who must travel to third countries to apply for a visa.

According to Havana, the reduction of the validity period of the visa “imposes high economic costs on relatives for exchange in multiple areas.” The United States adduces a criterion of “reciprocity” for this change, since US citizens require a visa to travel to the island and the document is only valid for two months and for a single entry. continue reading

The Cuban Foreign Ministry nevertheless believes that “it is not true” that a criterion of reciprocity applies to this measure. “Cuba offers all the facilities for US citizens to obtain a visa to travel to Cuba, which is issued at the time of travel,” explained the Minrex.

The Trump administration decided in 2018 to evacuate the vast majority of diplomatic personnel from the US embassy in Cuba in light of mysterious acoustic attacks suffered by over twenty officials. Former leader Raúl Castro and Miguel Díaz-Canel have denied the implication of Cuban intelligence services participation in the attacks, but Washington asserts that the island didn’t do enough to protect the diplomats.

“If the United States genuinely wishes to apply a policy of reciprocity, it should immediately reopen its Consulate in Havana,” adds the Ministry, which also calls for “resuming the process of granting visas and eliminating the prohibition of US citizens from traveling freely to Cuba.”

Since Trump’s arrival at the White House, relations between both countries are under strain. The United States has failed to comply with the migration agreement signed with Cuba in 1996, guaranteeing the delivery of 20,000 visas annually. Furthermore, the US has toughened the travel ban on the island for its own citizens, occasioning a steep delcine in the volume of visitors from that country to Cuba.

Trump has also threatened to fully activate Title III of the Helms-Burton Act, which would allow suits in US courts for companies that “traffic” with properties expropriated by Fidel Castro in the 1960s, and has blamed Cuba for its role in the Venezuela crisis.

Translated by Carly Dunn

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

René, the Mattress Magician

Some mattress repairers have built electric machines that allow them to renew the wadding to fill the mattresses. (Revolico)

14ymedio bigger

14ymedio, Zunilda Mata, Havana, 19 March 2019 — His hands move with agility, looking first for the scissors, then the thread and finally the needles to close the long cut made on one side. He is not a surgeon or a tailor, but a mattress repairman who, in the middle of a Havana roof, repairs that soft surface where later a couple will be sleep in peace, a child will romp or a grandmother will rest.

“There are two places in life where we deserve a good rest: the mattress and the coffin,” René Puerto reflects philosophically, like the mattress repairman with more than ten years of experience that he is. “In the coffin we do not realize it but a mattress can help us really get our rest, or it can be an ordeal.”

Puerto travels the Havana neighborhoods of El Cerro, El Vedado and Nuevo Vedado announcing his services. “I repair all kinds of mattresses.” He has in a small truck with two assistants and they bring with them all the tolls necessary tools for their work. “We know people’s embarrassments,” he says. continue reading

“Most of the mattresses that I have to repair are over 40 years old but I have been faced with some older than 70,” Puerto explains to 14ymedio, Before making the switch to this particular job he  was employed by a subsidiary of the Ministry of Domestic trade.

Ten years ago he obtained a license to practice as a mattress repairman on his own and he no longer imagines doing anything else other than straightening springs, placing a lining, and stitching and distributing the filling to make the mattress firm and fluffy.

Puerto charges about 50 CUC for repairing a mattress and claims to be able to do it in less than three hours. “That’s if I do not find surprises like too many broken springs or part of the outer wire frame split,” he clarifies. “This work requires patience but you also have to be very clever to solve problems that arise.” He considers that “each mattress is a mystery until it is opened.”

“I was always skillful with my hands and during the Special Period I dedicated myself to upholstering furniture but immediately I realized that if repairing a sofa is almost a luxury, repairing a mattress is a necessity and even people with less money are willing to spend a little bit to sleep better.”

Puerto’s team works on the most common models and types of mattresses in Cuba: bed, cradle, the so-called “three-quarters” and the enormous imperial ones. “We can repair the ones filled with wadding as well as those that are partly foam.” Although he says he prefers “the old mattresses with good springs that are no longer sold in the stores.”

“The most important thing is the mattress framework because the rest is the filling and what happens is that those they’re selling now look very nice but they do not last half as long as that mattress that my parents bought when they got married a lot of years ago,” says Puerto.

During the 70s and 80s, buying a mattress in Cuba was an almost impossible task. Through the rationed market, a few units were sold for newborns and couples getting married, but it was such a small number that it could not meet the demand. With the opening of stores in hard currency, in the 90s, the sale of mattresses reappeared.

Currently bed mattresses are for sale  in the network of state stores at about 250 CUC (the equivalent of well over half a year’s salary for the average worker). The price in the informal market can fall by half but scams and adulterations are frequent. For many families, repairing an old mattress is the only affordable way to sleep more comfortably.

Juan boasts that he has taken the mattress repair business to a “higher level,” he tells 14ymedio. “Before, I used to do it on the sidewalk, in a parking lot or on a rooftop, but since I put an ad in Revolico — an online ad site similar to Craigslist — to work in peoples’ homes, I’m doing better and with fewer risks.” Before, he says, the police bothered him a lot because although he has a license “most of the raw material that is needed can not be bought legally.”

“Strong fabric for the lining, steel wire for the springs to be replaced and the wadding itself are not for sale anywhere,” he complains. “We do not have access to a wholesale market and we have to recycle and recover everything we can so as not to waste new materials, but in any case we lack the resources to be found on the street.”

In more than 20 years dedicated to the trade, Juan says he has seen everything. He relates that once a couple getting a divorce asked him to separate a mattress to make two personal mattresses. “The most difficult thing is when we have to work with mattresses where an old man or a sick person has been bedridden because then it has spots or smells bad.” Although Juan knows that in these cases the mattress can be a health hazard, he does not hesitate to repair it if he is paid.

“The day I suffered the most was when I visited my brother in Miami and several times I saw mattresses thrown in the trash, almost new,” he recalls. “I wanted to take them all and bring them to Cuba but I could not.” His brother, as a family joke, sends him pictures every now and then of other mattresses that he sees being thrown out on the streets of that city.

Other times unforeseen events are not so negative. “Once we bought an old mattress very cheap to get the springs and when we took it apart in the workshop we found more than 1,000 CUP in a roll.” The practice of keeping money under or inside the mattress (shoved through a gap) is common on an island where many continue to distrust state banks.

“We couldn’t even return the money because the mattress had reached us through several intermediaries and when we started asking nobody knew who the original owner was.” With that unforeseen treasure Juan bought a good electric motor to fulfill an old dream.

“Between my son and I, we created an electric machine that helps to renew the wadding, which helps a lot with the old mattresses where the stuffing has gotten hard in places,” he explains. “We give a one year guarantee and the customer can stay close by the whole time to see what we do and what materials we use, there is no cheating.”

Scams are very common in that sector, which is why Juan likes to act with transparency. “I had a good mattress that I inherited from my mother, she needed to change the outer fabric because it was stained and fix a couple of springs but nothing else,” says Marilú, a client who was the victim of a hoax.

“I made the mistake of not looking at what they were doing in the parking lot of the building, which was where they were repairing my mattress,” she recalls. “The first night everything went fine but then some balls started coming out and when I couldn’t take it anymore and I opened it up I realized they had exchanged all the original stuffing with sacks of dried grass and jute sacks,” she laments.

Now Marilú is saving to buy a mattress in the stores in convertible pesos and insists that she will try to take good care of it to avoid having to resort later to the repairers. “These people are like magicians: they can  turn an old mattress into a wonder; or they can change it into a pile of garbage.”

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

Conflicts of Interest in the Cuban Communist Party’s Constitutional Project / Cubalex

Center: Cuban president Miguel Diaz-Canel

Cubalex: Article 116 of the Cuban Communist Party’s (PCC) constitutional project establishes that “the Council of State may not admit members of the Council of Ministers, nor the highest authorities of the judicial or electoral institutions, or those of state control.”

The president of the republic has not joined either of the two entities but participates in both their meetings. The highest ranking officer of state can participate in his own right in meetings of the Council of State and summon them whenever he wishes; and may also preside over meetings of the Council of Ministers and its Executive Committee [art. 123 parts (u) and (v)) of the constitutional project of the PCC].

This is a meaningless prohibition, because it does not prevent members of the body which is charged with executing the laws being present during the process of adopting those same laws. Neither the Members of the Council of Ministers nor the highest-placed officials of the organs of the judiciary, or electoral bodies, or those of state control should be able to act as representatives.

Neither should the president be able to attend meetings of the permanent body of the National Assembly (the legislative body which spends nearly the whole year in recess) nor be a representative. The avoidance of conflicts of interest is one of the prime reasons why this position should be held by a political representative directly elected by the people.

Art. 129 of the PCC constitutional project establishes that “the Secretary General of the Workers’ Union of Cuba (CTC) participates in his own right in the sessions of the Council of Ministers”. What happens if the Secretary of the PCC is a Member of the Council of State? How are interests to be reconciled if he is a state functionary (Member of the Council of State), political representative, party leader ( Member of the Political Bureau of the PCC), and leader of civi society (Secretary General of the CTC)?

 Translated by GH

"The Person Who Fought the Hardest to Get the Building Fixed Died"

The shared dream of the neighbors is that by demolishing the building right there the new one is raised but most are already aware that this will not be the case. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 15 March 2019 — The residents finish removing their belongings from the apartments at the far end of the building on Rancho Boyeros Avenue that collapsed on Thursday, at the corner of Cerro and Colon Streets. They have been told the property is going to be demolished and that for their own safety should not stay a minute longer.

The decision came too late, after the building located in the Cerro neighborhood is already a mess of ruins and one of the 36 residents who lived in the ten affected apartments was crushed to death. Before the tragedy the authorities had decreed that these housing units did not meet the minimum security conditions and had to be destroyed.

“We had been asking the Government for more than fifteen years to repair the building but nothing, nothing happened with our complaints, we wrote to the newspapers, we went to all the offices that handle these cases but there was never a solution,” laments Julio, who is about 70, while talking to his neighbors this Friday under the shade of a mango tree.

The residents of the collapsed building try to rescue their belongings before the total demolition. (14ymedio)

Julio remembers that at dawn on Thursday he sensed a noise similar to the crashing of two trucks but when he looked out on the street he did not see anything unusual. “Suddenly I heard screams, ‘get out! get out! everyone!’, and when I opened the door of the apartment to go to the staircase, that was when I realized that I was looking at the sky and a few yards from my apartment everything had collapsed. I ran out and at that moment my only thoughts were for my daughter and my grandchildren who ten minutes earlier had left for school.”

Julio’s apartment suffered a deep crack months ago, big enough to put his hand in, he said. He called the government and they sent him to a specialist who “looked at everything and wrote a lot on some papers” but there was no further news of the matter.

“The person who died was my neighbor, a man who lived with his daughter and granddaughter, but who was alone yesterday. We were buried in the rubble.” The firefighters were slow to find us and I just asked Jehovah to get me out of there alive with my husband and my son,” Aydelin Medina tells 14ymedio while the firemen are removing her belongings from the rubble with a crane.

“We have been waiting for them to tell us something for a long time, to move us, but waiting and waiting and the building fell,” she adds. Yesterday, Medina slept in the house of a neighbor, although she says that the authorities have told them that they will give them some kind of accommodation.

In the group of neighbors who are waiting for the truck that the Government has sent to move their belongings to another place, there are only adults, including elderly people, since the children are in school at the time. In boxes and bags they have been taking everything out to the street, a small table, armchairs, fans, refrigerators, food. In all the coming and going a bag of sugar breaks and what spills to the ground serves as a snack for a stray dog.

The collapse of the property occurred near six in the morning, while the families on the second floor slept. (EFE)

The least affected apartments are those that face Colón Street but their occupants must also abandon them. A woman complains loudly in the face of pressure from the authorities to evacuate the property. “They are trying to shove us out of there, saying we have to leave now, but it is not easy to dismantle a house from one day to the next,” she says, while another neighbor answers her that at least her life was saved.

A girl arrives with tears in her eyes hugging the neighbors one by one. She is the daughter of Santiago, who died because of the collapse. Minutes before, they had been commenting that he was the person “who fought the most to get the building fixed.”

Julio explains to 14ymedio that on Thursday night they were taken “to a place beyond La Monumental where there is a villa with some small shacks.” He says that the authorities have informed them that they are to stay there “on a temporary basis” while somewhere else, they were assured, “they will build new houses” for all of them.

On Colon Street a group of neighbors waits for a truck the Government has sent to move their belongings to another place. (14ymedio)

Julio is worried about the fate of his family. “It’s very sad, we’ve always lived here, my grandchildren are in the neighborhood school and now how are we going to come and go from so far, but also other people who were there in the neigborhood, in the same conditions as us, they told us that there is nothing available there quickly, that all this takes years until it is resolved.”

The shared dream of the residents is that the building will be demolished and a new one built in the same place, but most are already aware that this is not going to happen. “Yesterday the authorities came here and they explained to us that at the moment they are looking for the place to build our houses but that there is no chance will it be here,” Julio says with great sadness.

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.