Intellectual Property in Cuba: Reprint, Reeducate, Reinsert, Rethink / Regina Coyula

Cuba’s Higher Institute of Art (ISA). (Source: notesfromthewest.wordpress.com)

Regina Coyula, 8 December 2017 — According to the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), intellectual property is “any property that, by mutual agreement, is considered to be of an intellectual nature and worthy of protection, including scientific and technological inventions, literary or artistic productions, trademarks and distinctive signs, industrial designs and geographical indications.”

The protection umbrella covers both the most traditional works and those associated with new technologies: multimedia productions, databases or computer programs. It is assumed that the protection of copyright encourages creativity and favors cultural and social development. The absolute character of this assertion is stubbornly defended by those who defend free culture. continue reading

We will leave aside trademarks, patents and everything related to the protection of industrial property to place the focus on the artistic creation protected by copyright. In particular, we will look at the way in which this creation is disseminated and/or shared, as this is a current issue that has peculiar characteristics in Cuba.

Cuba is a signatory to the Berne Convention amended in 1979. The Cuban copyright law dates back to 1977 with modifications through decree-laws that continue into the first years of the past decade. Intellectual property and copyright issues are taught not only in the School of Law, but in the Higher Institute of Art (ISA), the Higher Institute of International Relations (ISRI) and the School of Social Communication. The updating of the law is an imperative to adapt it to the changes of the digital age.

In practice, there is an exemplary zeal for the protection of Cuban intellectual property in the international arena, which contrasts with the laxness in respecting the intellectual property of others that has prevailed within our borders.

Restrictions on access to quality information in the scientific-technical field meant that in the 60’s publications such as Scientific AmericanScience or Science & Vie were reproduced without consultation to be sent to the archives of the documentation centers of different organs of the State including its education and research centers.

In the 80s, with the rise of videos in Betamax format, now obsolete, Omnivideo, a company affiliated with the CIMEX Corporation, sold unauthorized copies of film in hard currency stores. On the other hand, it is usual practice for Cuban television to reproduce materials while hiding the logo of the channel from which they were taken.

All these practices have tried to justify themselves ethically with the argument of “breaking the blockade,” but leave out the deeper discussion that reveals the illogical contrasts already discussed. Copyright is not only the protection of the right of the owners, it is also the creation of a favorable scenario for art, knowledge, science and culture to circulate. The legal framework should reflect that balance, a only then can a society exploit and take advantage of technological advances.

The rights of copyright holders and the fight against piracy

There are many groups that defend piracy for having been the instrument for knowledge, culture and science to be democratized. It is argued that the United States only became protective of copyright when it developed its own cultural industries after having widely pirated British works.

However, during the last decades, international treaties reflect a protectionist regulatory trend that pressures countries to strengthen their legal protection mechanisms. As Cuba enters into the logic of the market economy, record sellers, who fill their devices with all kinds of material protected by copyright, will be up against the awareness that they are encouraging an illegal activity.

It is important to recognize that, as in most underdeveloped economies, pirated discs and other digital media, both outside legal distribution networks, continue to be the largest form of access to recorded music and movies.

While the prices of legitimate CDs of Cuban music vary between 15 and 25 convertible pesos, the same CD in an alternative market costs no more than three. In the Cuban case, the knowledge of how The Weekly Packet works and is distributed , serves to understand the internal dynamics.

The internet is practically non-existent in Cuban society. Few people can have a home connection and public ones are irregular and still very expensive. This favors the coexistence of recorded discs, USB memories and portable discs due to the high number of CD/DVD players that still exist in the country.

Everything points to the fact that this model must change. If bilateral relations with the United States are regularized and/or the trade embargo laws against Cuba are weakened, the unrestricted use of protected material is put into perspective.

Those who manage the aforementioned Weekly Package, increasingly, have been including commercial advertising from the island’s the emerging private sector. This could allow them a relatively smooth fall when it becomes a punishable offense to transfer products protected by copyright, giving them the option of converting into cpmpanies supported by companies.

For those who sell discs, the road will be different. The desire to legitimize will generate initiatives such as agreements with local artists to function as distributors of their material. Thus they may become like their peers in Ecuador or Bolivia, former sellers of pirated production, many of whom reconverted due to the joint effort of the interested institutions and the Government, thus becoming merchants that pay taxes and pay national artists for sales. As a result, the costs of music CDs have been lowered and there is support for the promotion of the national market and a legal status of the vendor, previously nonexistent.

Cuba must start thinking about the transition. How can an internal market be supported by keeping the jobs and income that are being created and allowing the owners to receive income from the exploitation of their work? This is the commercial edge.

However, as in the rest of the countries, no legislation could foresee the change that the popularization of the information and knowledge through the Internet would bring, with both the positive and negative aspects it would entail. It is inevitable to rethink this given the new way in which information travels, while the right to access protected content is permeating popular consciousness.

Free Culture

The spread of knowledge that uses digital technology where the cost of reproduction is close to zero, translates into a jump in the level of access to information and culture never before seen in a proportion never imagined. It is inevitable that people affect others and are affected by the opinions and knowledge that, in massive quantities, are shared in social networks, and in digital publications 2.0, where anyone can leave a comment.

The internet, but above all the philosophy of free software, have led to the appearance of categories such as copyleft (a word game xpressing the opposite of copyright), or Creative Commons, both related to free culture . The popular Wikipedia is a collaborative creation par excellence.

This ability of the Internet and digital technology to widely distribute content clashes with the central premise of copyright, which requires asking to ask permission to use it. In the search for legal mechanisms that allow people to take advantage of these characteristics, the philosophy of free software that rests on copyleft licenses and modifies the effect of the legal model of copyright is reasserted.

In copyleft licenses, ownership is used to grant very broad permits to other people in the use of the protected material with only one condition: if what is done with the material is to modify it for a derivative version, the license must be maintained in the new material, so that the broad reuse effect is perpetuated.

Inspired by these ideas, Creative Commons licenses emerged at the beginning of the 21st century, presented as a series of six licenses, a kind of menu from which creators can choose, giving more or less permission to reuse their work.

The development and promotion by the state by these open licenses that are associated with the idea of free culture promotes a series of initiatives where the commercial aspect is displaced. Instead, the role is to take advantage of technology to widely distribute the contents. For example, open educational resources, an initiative of important educational institutions to share all of their teaching materials endorsed by UNESCO, has been adopted by many academic institutions and promoted by governments such as those of Poland or the USA.

On the other hand, at the economic and political peripheries, in this arena, piracy has a very well established role as a development strategy that facilitates the circulation of knowledge goods. Piracy also has a clear political role as a counterweight to the centralized control of information, either by the State or by private interests.

The flexibilities of copyright, science and culture

The issue of the broadest access to protected works cannot be left only to the will of the people. Copyright, in its own architecture, has weights and counterweights. As a balance mechanism for the privileges of those who create works, the copyright rules provide that, once the term of protection expires, the works enter the public domain and the author can no longer control commercial exploitation (moral rights are perpetual). Thus, anyone can reuse the works without asking permission.

Additionally, during the term of protection (in Cuba it is 50 years), the law recognizes exceptional cases. Given conditions that are often very restrictive, people can reuse protected works without asking permission, because the knowledge and culture of society is considered to navigate through them. That is why works can be “quoted, parodied or used for academic purposes.”

International treaties have effectively generalized the protection of owners, but have left it up to the States to legislate exceptions. This has led, especially in developing countries, to lists that tend to be limited and very restrictive. Contrast, for example, the United States, where, beyond closed lists, there is an open clause that allows courts to use broader criteria to analyze if the use of a work without authorization of the owner can be considered as fair, and, therefore, does not violate the copyright.

As Cuba enters the international market, the pressures will be to comply with the protections. If it does not do so in balance with the right of people, there will be serious problems of access to knowledge, science and culture, as well as other rights. Cuban law has very little flexibility and does not even meet the needs of the pre-Internet age.

Let’s look at a single example to demonstrate the problem. It is usual in the laws of copyright to contemplate exceptions to use current news without it being considered a violation of copyright. The news media in the world reproduce, for example, the images of the last terrorist attack without fear of being sued by the local newscast that obtained them. This is not possible in Cuba and forces information providers into illegality. Current information is exceptional and any law must recognize its use beyond copyright.

In sum, the debates about the limits between sharing knowledge and protecting intellectual property have only just begun. Discussing, analyzing local effects and proposing a balanced legal framework is an obligation that can not be postponed by the interested parties in Cuba.

Cuban Customs Can’t Keep Up With Cuban Ingenuity

A Cuban customs official scans a traveler’s belongings. (Customs)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miami, 7 December 2017 — Ernesto Machado will never forget a cold morning in 1968 at José Martí airport in Havana. A migration officer removed her parents’ gold wedding rings while annulling her passport. “This is the property of the revolutionary government,” the woman dressed as a soldier told her, before she left Cuba to never return.

On coming to power in 1959, Fidel Castro’s government imposed severe measures to prevent money and valuable goods from leaving the country. Almost sixty years later, although the international situation is different, the customs controls remain rigorous on this issue.

“I travel to Cuba every 15 days and I take medicines, food and money to any part of the island,” says a Cuban who resides in Miami, whom we will call Juan to protect his identity. continue reading

In reality, those who constantly travel to the Island are the people who work for Juan. His mission consists of “capturing” Cubans with a Spanish passport or resident in the US but who maintain their “rights in Cuba,” that is they hold the status of permanent residents on the Island. Juan pays the traveler $300 and the traveler gives over his right — as a resident of Cuba — to pay taxes in Cuban pesos on imports of up to 100 kilograms.

“Everyone wins with this business, the person, because he goes to Cuba to see his family members or, if he lives on the island, he gets a little trip, and the agency because that is our business, sending things and money to the island,” he explains

In the case of money, an agency like Juan’s can charge up to 6% commission on amounts over 20,000 US dollars. He says that he makes several shipments a month because “there are many people buying properties in Cuba.” Areas like Old Havana and Miramar are quoting very well, he says.

On revolico.com, the largest online sales platform on the island, houses sell for from 10,000 or 20,000 dollars in popular areas, and for up to $270,000 in the Havana neighborhoods of Miramar and Siboney or in the colonial city of Trinidad.

Cuban laws stipulate that you can freely import up to 5,000 US dollars per person and that for larger amounts you must fill out a declaration in Customs, without this necessarily requiring the payment of taxes. In most countries you can import up to 10,000 dollars without having to give a statement.

Juan does not care about the origin of the money he sends to Cuba nor does he follow the mechanisms to declare that cash in Miami or Havana. “Normally we send it with several people, we distribute the money to stay under the $5,000 barrier, and sometimes I send some trusted person to take in a little more, taking a risk, of course,” he says.

A report published in the official press reported that, so far this year, the General Customs of the Republic has registered 384 violations of the entry and exit of foreign exchange.

The newspaper recounts some of the cases, like a woman who hid 5,000 Swiss francs in condoms inserted in her vagina, or a man who had 32,550 euros tied to his body.

Cuban customs display of confiscated items. (Customs)

“Many are beginners in this business or try to do things without helping others, you have to live and let live,” says Juan, who according to his own testimony frequently bribes customs officials.

“I have been in business for a long time, my people are always known because we share codes. Usually when someone arrives at the airport, they offer to help you and if you accept it, things will always go well for you,” he says.

“In Cuba, there are businesses that need to take money out of the country. It’s a secret to no one that most of the products bought by the paladares [private restaurants] come from the black market. If the owners fall [in a police operation] they want to have a little piece of land on the other side, to keep something,” he explains.

According to official data, this year Customs has seized 165,816 CUC (Cuban convertible pesos), 61,660 CUP (Cuban pesos), 875 euros, 15,150 rubles, 73,822 dollars and 386 valuables (crucifixes, coins and silver bars), which travelers were trying to get out of the country.

The Central Bank of Cuba (BCC) allows each person to freely take up to 5,000 dollars out of the country. For higher amounts, an authorization from the President of the BCC is needed after verifying that the money has been lawfully earned on the island.

Buying foreign currencies inside Cuba before traveling abroad is a complicated task, although the law allows it. The banks require the customer to show a visa and an airline ticket linked to the country of the requested currency and, even so, only small amounts of foreign currency are sold.

You can always resort to the informal market but there the dollar is sold at a price that ranges between 92 and 97 cents in CUC, well above the official rate of 87 cents. On the other hand, it is strictly forbidden to remove from the country any amount of CUCs, the so-called convertible peso, which in fact has no value outside the island. The Cuban peso also has no value abroad, but it is possible to take out up to 2,000 CUP.

A few weeks ago, the American blogger Jaime Morrison, travel correspondent for BravoTV’s digital site, was arrested by the Cuban authorities, who confiscated the approximately 800 CUC he was carrying when he was about to leave the country.

“I broke this rule and I almost got sent to jail, do not let it happen to you,” the journalist said, telling the story about her experience in Havana. After a long interrogation she was able to leave the country, but without the chavitos.

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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: The Black Market Never Sleeps / Iván García

Two street vendors selling garlic and onions along a road in Pinar del Río. Taken from Martí News.

Ivan Garcia, 15 December 2017 — In the papers, it appeared that El Encanto state pizzeria, in Havana’s La Vibora neighborhood half an hour by car from downtown Havana, sold around a dozen daily products: lasagna, cannelloni, five versions of spaghetti and pizzas, beer, entrepanes (sandwiches), guava, crab and empanadas, among other offers.

But the reality was different. The dining room remained closed and there was only a kiosk in the doorway that sold cigarettes, beer and bad quality pizzas. However, the administrative reports described a varied menu and exceeded the daily sales plan set by the Diez de Octubre municipality’s food service company.

Every Friday, between 1998 and 2003, José the administrator, and Julio the warehouse manager — both  currently reside in the United States — delivered an  envelope with two thousand pesos, equivalent to 80 dollars, to the driver of Eduardo Manzano, then director of the municipal food service company. continue reading

The cheese, tomato puree, oil, flour and other supplies — intended to be used to make the items on the menu — were sold in the lucrative Havana black market. Various people bought the items “wholesale,” and then resold them at supply-and-demand prices to the population.

“The business was a hit. You reported ghost productions and sold the raw materials. In those years, state food service centers were assigned products that they called ‘of the chain’, such as gouda cheese and imported foods. On the street they sold like hot cakes and at high prices. On a bad day, I earned a thousand pesos, equivalent to 40 dollars. A normal day, 150 dollars. And on a good one I pocketed 300 fulas. Even the police worked with us: they seized or confiscated the beef that was stolen from the slaughterhouses and then did not sell it at a good price. The key to robbery (where almost everything that is offered in the underground market comes out), is to have a good pen, an accountant or an economist that can mask the theft,” Julio said before leaving.

Currently, the El Encanto continues to be a supplier to the black market in the neighborhood, like other state cafes and restaurants in the area. It has always worked like this since  the beginning of the 1960s when Fidel Castro’s revolution began to generate scarcities and shortages throughout the country.

In the more than fifty years since then, there have been stages of ups and downs, depending on the amount of domestic or imported merchandise in the stores. Or due to certain economic circumstances, such as the so-called Special Period in the early 1990s — after the collapse of the Soviet bloc and the end of its subsidies for Cuba — when the little remaining in the storehouses had to be carefully distributed. Or unforeseen situations, such as hurricanes, when the State has to draw on its central reserves and control the donations.

In Cuba there are two types of black market. The one that is supplied by state institutions and the private one, supplied by ’mules’ with articles acquired abroad.

Igor, an economist, calculates that “the state black market moves billions of pesos annually. In the future, when they do a serious study, they will know exact figures.” In his opinion, in nine out of ten manufacturing, food service or tourist businesses, among others, state resources are stolen and later sold in the underground market.

And he emphasizes something to keep in mind: “Those who favor theft on a larger scale are the bosses. The worker usually steals a little tidbit, to consume or sell it. The administrators are the ones who steal by the truckload. Any director of a food or tourism company, in one year can buy a house and a car, keep two mistresses and go on vacation three or four times a year to an all-inclusive hotel in Varadero.

“Cyclically, the government mounts a campaign to stop the corruption caused by the black market and arrests several bosses. But it cannot stop the theft because this is how thousands of managers, officials and employees  improve their quality of life. The day theft from the state, corruption and the black market disappear, the revolution falls.”

Daniel, with a degree in political science, agrees. “The phenomenon of theft, the black market and diversion of resources in societies with Marxist ideology is symptomatic. In the former USSR and other communist countries in Eastern Europe, theft was common in companies and the proceeds supported businesses that were set up using raw materials stolen from the State. In socialism, prosperity does not come as a result of your talent, training and experience, but from loyalty to political power.”

Daniel believes that calling the means of production “the property of the people,” something so ethereal, makes people lose the sense of it belonging to anyone and everyone who can holds out their hand. “The top Cuban leaders know it. That is why the campaign against the black market is more publicity than anything else. When there are raids or arrests, it’s always the small fry who get caught. If it sometimes involves heavyweights, it’s more for a political issue than for complying with the law.”

According to Roger, “after a hurricane hits the island, police operations start up and you have to keep your head down. But that does not last long. Then things relax again. In this biz you should be well connected with high officials and every time you drop them a ’little gift’, in case one day you fall into disgrace, they will feel obliged to help you.

“After Hurricane Irma, people were sensitized, thousands of families lost everything, and the authorities are hunting for those who sell mattresses, tiles or water tanks. But those who know the ropes know how and who to contact, so they do not get caught. The black market never sleeps.”

Roger, knows this better than anyone: he already has a buyer for two mattresses made in the Dominican Republic, supposedly destined for victims of the hurricane.

Carlos, a sociologist, affirms that “in nations with economic and political structures such as Cuba, where personal loyalty, friendship and connections prevails, the black market will never disappear. And the worst thing is: they form groups or gangs that end up transforming themselves into mafia cartels with huge amounts of money that can buy willingness and even lives. In a democratic future, if the island doesn’t send all that corruption to the bottom of the sea, it could be strengthened and reproduced, as happened in Russia.”

Corruption, bureaucracy and the black market have already taken root in the daily life of Cubans.

The regime controls the whole society and all the information and also aims to control the entire economy, including the private sector. Different institutional estates manipulate the retail prices of food and goods, obtaining great profits. There is no financial transparency with the hard currencies that enter the country. No official is accountable to the people. That opacity and secrecy propitiate the consolidation of criminal factions.

The culture of stealing from the State and the black market has become a kind of antibody that many citizens have in order to defend themselves against the gangster model that has been developing in the country for more than half a century.

Because in Cuba, Castro Corporation Inc. leaves very few loopholes to the rest of the population.

Let No One Paint Anything! Only the PCC Can Smear … / Somos+

Cuba is ours. I am Fidel.
Cuba is ours. I am Fidel.

Somos+, Alexei Games, 9 December 2017 — The laws in Cuba are written, but they are applied in a selective and discriminatory manner. These two images (there are thousands) show that on the walls of public entities and institutions of all kinds, one can paint or place insignias, advertisements, graffiti and whatever else occurs to the Cuban Communist Party (PCC) even if it does not comply with any urban regulation.

I tell you all this because, as a member of the Methodist church of Jagüey Grande, Matanzas, it hurts me that we can not put a sign on the front of our temple that says “METHODIST CHURCH.”

Several times our pastor has made efforts to get “someone” to authorize the sign. The last few times, in his visits to the physical planning office they dared to tell him, “Why do you want to put a sign on it if everyone knows that this is the Methodist Church of Jagüey?”

Another justification offered was that you can not paint directly on the walls, though it can be done on a signboard with some measures regulated according to the law of physical planning. However, it is impossible to legally obtain this signboard anywhere in Cuba, except on the black market,  but that is another subject.

However, this municipality is full of signs and posters everywhere and none of them complies with the law that our Church must comply with. If we paint the wall of the temple, it is very likely that some sanction will be invented and that surely the wall will have to be repainted so that the sign can not be seen. But … Who sanctions those who have smeared paint in Cuba in violation of its own law?

Translated by Alberto

Cuban Government Shuts Down Businesses of Son of Former Minister of the Interior / Juan Juan Almeida

José Raúl Colomé

Juan Juan Almeida, 6 December 2017 — José Raúl Colomé, son of former Minister of the Interior Abelardo (Furry) Colomé Ibarra, and Osmani Cisneros, son of the late leader Ángel Cisneros, both with extensive experience in food service and successful as private businessmen, are involved in a criminal proceeding that seems to lack logic.

Several establishments owned by them have been closed by the authorities, and the very busy Starbien restaurant, located on Calle 29 # 205 between B and C, in Vedado, has already been confiscated and repurposed as a children’s shelter. continue reading

“Even though the court has not ruled against them, the two self-employed people were subject to a precautionary measure without any justification,” a specialist in labor law who works for the legal department of the National Tax Administration Organization (ONAT) informed Martí Noticias.

As part of the government’s war against self-employment, another restaurant run by Colomé and Cisneros, El Chachachá, located in Monserrate between Tejadillo and Chacón, just behind the Museum of the Revolution, was also closed.

According to the lawyer, the restaurant Starbien offered an exquisite service at affordable prices and managed to stay among the first choice of Cubans and and international tourists for merging service and culinary innovation.

In a short time it went from a quiet but fashionable restaurant to part of a private entrepreneurial group with entrepreneurial leadership. The group bought parts of other restaurants, offered workshops on the use of social networks, financed projects for new entrepreneurs, fostered social works in their environment and distanced itself from many by adopting an aggressive strategy, such as seizing opportunities to expand trade within and outside the island.

The Ministries of Finance and Prices and of Labor and Social Security, along with ONAT, regulate the obligations of Cuban entrepreneurs, but in none of their many ordinances is it clear what the rights are, and what defense or protection is available to the self-employed with aspirations to multiply businesses.

The curiosity that this case arouses is understandable, because it involves one of the children of the once powerful General Colomé Ibarra.

The versions shared in the street accuse Colomé and Cisneros of crimes such as money laundering, drug trafficking, influence and others, but the record of the case fails to show any act of corruption, or alteration of the rules established for the private sector, according to reports obtained by Martí Noticias.

“The process that the authorities try to follow against these two entrepreneurs does not have legal logic. It seems to be a settling of accounts ordered by someone who wants to and can make use of the law at will, and also institutions and the national legal-normative order,” said the source.

The new strategy of the government — according to the source — is to turn the rifle of the state sniper towards another sector of those engaged in private initiatives, such as that of non-agricultural construction and/or production cooperatives.

‘Sputnik’ and ‘Russia Today’ Invade the Cuban Media

The references to ‘Sputnik’ and ‘RT’ are increasingly frequent in Cuba’s official media, which cites them among their main sources.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 13 December 2017 — While the accusations grow against Russia for using social networks to manipulate the Catalan crisis, the American elections and Britain’s Brexit, the Kremlin-financed press gains space in Cuba. The references to Sputnik and Russia Today, which is now called RT, are increasingly frequent in the official media, which presents them among its main sources.

The Russian state news agency Sputnik and its international television channel RT are mentioned every day in newspapers, and TV news and radio programs on the island. The content taken from both media ranges from scientific announcements, to information about Russia to international issues.

Without substantiating the veracity of the information provided, the analysts of the official press assume the points of view, the opinions and the assertions of those media, with the same complicity with which they once promoted information from the Soviet newspaper Pravda and the official new agency TASS. continue reading

Questioning the legitimacy of the West, promoting skepticism of democracy, doubting the future of the European Union, disseminating conspiracy theories about the powers that move the world, and denying the decision-making capacity of citizens in liberal systems are some of the ideas most repeated in those state media.

In support of this scaffolding are added “testimonies” and opinions to reinforce the idea of ​​the superiority of authoritarian regimes in comparison with the chaos that seizes parliamentary debates when approving new security measures or passing laws, in societies governed by the separation of powers.

The current closeness with Russian media contrasts with the attitude of the Cuban government towards Novedades de Moscú (a weekly newspaper published in Spanish) and Sputnik magazine in the years of Perestroika and Glasnsot in the Soviet Union, when the circulation of those publications was censored in Cuba.

The cult of personality around Vladimir Putin and Fidel Castro is also part of the recipe of this propaganda press, with more intentions to indoctrinate than to inform. Analysts warn that the average person does not know if what they see is propaganda or information, one of the keys to the success of these media, especially on social networks. In addition, RT and Sputnik also display a rampant absence of criticism towards any regime allied with the Kremlin or any enemy of the United States.

According to them, the launching of the missiles by the Kim Jong-un regime is the correct North Korean response to “the joint naval maneuvers of the United States, Japan and South Korea,” while the most recent Venezuelan elections represent the “greatest victory’ of Chavism and the “final defeat” of the opposition.

The information published by the official Cuban media on the Catalan crisis was mainly based on RT’s reporting. The support for the separatists reached its climax the days before the illegal referendum, which was presented as a democratic consultation in opposition to the position of the Spanish Government, which defended the constitutional legality but which was branded by the Russian media as “fascist” and an inheritor from the dictator Francisco Franco.

These official bodies of the Kremlin also have a political agenda when narrating the Cuban reality. Positive verbs such as “grow” and “develop” or nouns of a humanistic nature in the style of “solidarity,” “justice” and “collaboration” dot the information about Cuba, in which the supposed achievements of the Cuban health system, its sporting feats and official events are highlighted, while productive inefficiency, police repression or migratory exodus are silenced.

Both media fail to mention the political opposition within the country and, when they do, they repeat terms such as “internal enemies,” “counterrevolutionary” or “financed by the United States,” while presenting Raúl Castro’s government as having broad popular support and a proven diplomatic ascendancy in Latin America.

The worn-out formula of the small “revolutionary” David against the great “imperialist” Goliath fits within all of their content about the relations between Washington and Havana and the diplomatic thaw promoted by Barack Obama. Clearly, according to them, the economic problems faced by the island’s resident every day are the absolute fault of “the blockade.”

On 25 November, RT broadcast a program with the lead “One year after the death of Fidel Castro Cubans remain faithful to his legacy,” in which it delved into topics about the genius and charisma of the former president, in addition to interviews only with his eternally grateful supporters.

Last May, a few days after Donald Trump announced in a speech in Miami the change of course in the relationship between Washington and Havana, Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez offered an interview to the Russian network, one of the only two media that commented on the subject. The other was the Chavista channel from Venezuela, TeleSUR.

Several ideas were emphasized in the material presented: the US president develops a policy “typical of the Cold War”; the White House mutilates “the civil rights” of its own people; and any criticism launched by the occupant of the White House towards the Plaza of the Revolution represents the sin of “a double standard.” Three points from the Kremlin’s information booklet on Cuba.

These biased positions have been widely disseminated on social networks thanks to the island’s cyber soldiers who militantly share the content of RT and Sputnik. Both media also work to indoctrinate the Cuban audience through the Cuban press, thus Moscow influences the way in which the reality of the outside world is perceived by Cubans.

Unlike many European countries where alarms have been sounded over the new media war that is being deployed by the ex-official of the KGB who is now president of Russia, Havana willingly lends itself to all the manipulations of Putin and offers him, in addition, a captive audience of 11 million Cubans.

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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.

Brazil’s Supreme Court Rules Mais Medicos Program is Legal

The Cuban Government obtains between 8,000 and 10,000 million dollars every year for the work of its professionals abroad. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Miami, 1 December 2017 — The Supreme Court of Brazil decided on Thursday, by a vote of six to two, that the Mais Médicos (More Doctors) program, in which more than 8,000 Cuban doctors participate, is legal under Brazil’s Constitution.

The complaint against the program, started by ex-president Dilma Rousseff, was presented by the Brazilian Medical Association and the National Confederation of Regulated University Workers. Both institutions denounced the unequal treatment to access the program, since doctors in other countries are exempted from revalidating their degrees in Brazil, are hired through fellowships and, in the case of Cubans, most of their salary goes to the Cuban government.

Mais Médicos was created to increase the presence of doctors in the most disadvantaged areas of Brazil. According to official figures, 18,240 doctors currently participate, of which 47% are Cuban. continue reading

Marco Aurelio, one of those testifying in the case, told the Brazilian newspaper Folha de Sao Paulo, referring to the Cubans, that the lack of doctors in Brazil can not serve as a justification to avoid the commitment “to the fundamental rights of the human being.”

Some 200 professionals from Cuba are involved in lawsuits to be allowed to escape from the control of the Pan American Health Organization and to stop the Cuban government frm keeping two-thirds of their salaries. More than 2,000 doctors from the island have emigrated to the United States from Brazil and several hundred more have married Brazilian citizens since the program began in 2013.

Among Cuban doctors who await a favorable decision on their judicial processes to participate in the Mais Médicos program, the ruling has been seen as a defeat.

“Behind all efforts to prevent the Mais Médicos program from disappearing, we must always look to the Cuban Government. They will do everything possible to maintain that source of hard currency and deter doctors from escaping from the program,” says Ernesto, a clinician on the island who left the medical mission last year.

The export of medical services is Cuba’s main source of hard currency. According to official figures, the country receives between eight and ten billion dollars from this source. After Venezuela, Brazil has the second highest number of “Cuban health workers.”

The legal coordinator of the Federal Council of Medicine of Brazil, José Alejandro Bullón, told Folha de Sao Paulo that the hiring of foreign doctors without the proper revalidation of their diplomas violates national rules.

“We are creating two types of medicine: one for those who can pay for a doctor with a revalidated diploma and one for those who can not,” he said.

The Mais Médicos program allows doctors to work in the country for only three years. If the contract is extended for another three years, the doctor must revalidate his or her title.

The magistrates emphasized that some municipalities that did not have doctors managed to ensure minimum health care and, in the case of Cuban doctors, said that those who signed up for the program knew the conditions imposed by Cuba.

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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 Real Parents of the Weekly Packet / Cubanet, Augusto César San Martín and Rudy Cabrera

This video is not subtitled but the images will be interesting to all.

cubanet square logoCubanet, Augusto César San Martín and Rudy Cabrera, Havana, 24 November 2017 — Contrary to what has been affirmed to date, the “Weekly Packet” did not have a creator. The original idea was spontaneous, in the mid-eighties, with the arrival in Cuba of domestic technologies that supported Cubans’ need to avoid the official viewpoints of the two politicized TV channels.

The current digital collection of a terabyte of foreign TV content, software and digital magazines, began to displace Cuban TV when Betamax technology, which entered the market in 1975, arrived in Cuba.

Betamax became popular in Cuba shortly before disappearing, with a format that allowed 2 hours of recording. During its first years of its introduction in the country, few Cubans, outside the ruling elite, owned this home technology, which initiated the alternative circulation of films and documentaries in the U-matic format.

 The pioneers of the Packet and the antenna continue reading

It was through the governmental company, Omnivideo Corporation, located in the residential area of Siboney in Havana’s Playa municipality, that people began to copy, translate, classify, distribute on the island and sell abroad, movies that had been shown in the U.S.

A participant in the corporation, a former Interior Ministry official who offered statements on condition of anonymity, said that Omnivideo Corp. did more than pirate movies.

“The company was created by Tony de la Guardia and then absorbed by CIMEX to sell films in Cuba. Omnivideo not only sold movies, it also distributed to the country’s leaders, through cables, the channels that were captured with a group of antennas that were located in Siboney.”

The same source adds that, by means of a Panamanian citizen linked to the premiere theater circuit in Panama City, the films remained in Cuban hands for less than 24 hours.

“That Panamanian took the premiere tapes to the Cuban embassy, they sent them from there to Cuba, they copied them, and the same day they sent them back to Panama.”

Deep in the enjoyment of capitalism, the socialist leadership did not notice that the era of domestic technology had begun in Cuba. Their piracy formulas would soon be copied by others.

The films of Chuck Norris and Sylvester Stallone confronting Vietnamese communism invaded the island. Cubans eager to discover everything distant from Russian culture, embedded in the small screen, created small movie theaters around a Betamax to watch the films pirated by Omnivideo Corp. The point of no return of the pirating of foreign images between Cubans had started.

A great number of films not associated with the official piracy began to be added to the nascent popular video cassette exchange. The documentary “Nadie Escuchaba” (Nobody Listened) by Néstor Almendros (1987) was one of the films that had the privilege to come the black and white screens, which still coexisted with the Betamax in Cuban homes.

To compete with the avalanche of Hollywood programming, Cuban television introduced the “Saturday Movie” program, a “healthy” version of American cinema that ended up displacing Russian cinematography from the official collection.

VHS and DVD, the adolescence of the Packet

At the beginning of the 90s, the VHS format arrived in Cuba, which had been on the market elsewhere since 1976. The recording capacity of that stimulated the creation of movie rental banks.

VHS with a capacity of up to 10 hours, in LP mode (Long play), facilitated the compendium of foreign programs that the Cubans took advantage of to create clandestine independent businesses in the style of Omnivideo Corp. In Cuba the EP (Extended play)  format was used in NTSC (30 frames per second), the lower image quality.

The illegal Direct TV and Dish antennas were the alternatives that Cubans found to copy foreign programming. Popular among wealthy citizens, the so-called “Caciques” (chiefs) for years dominated the recording of programs, novels and movies that the film banks bought for a price, which according to how current or recently released they were.

Rogelio Reyes started his film bank that included the Betamax format. In an interview with CubaNet, he narrated his compendium experiences in the different formats, Beta, VHS, DVD.

“Beta lasted just a short time, although I remember that shows were already being recorded (…). In VHS I came to have almost five thousand cassettes, among them soap operas, films and documentaries.”

Rogelio remembers that the Caciques sold the compendium (VHS) for between 50 and 60 pesos. Once acquired, a classification process was carried out, perfected in the current Packet.

“In the bank I recorded in EP format to allow more hours of programming. Sometimes there were varied Packet of shows with soap operas, that was according to what you saw what the clients wanted (…). VHS was outdated the fastest, it did not last two years. Right after DVDs arrived (…) I had to give away all the VHS cassettes.”

The adolescence of the Packet was gaining strength with the format war. In the libraries of the film banks, the DVD with more content and better visual quality was imposed. The extinction of the VHS was extended due to the high cost of the first DVD players, that oscillated between 200 and 250 dollars, in the black market.

While the population updated with the new format, data storage devices appeared, popularized in Cuba during their second generation, launched at the beginning of this century.

Data storage, the maturity of the Packet

The ability to have greater storage capacity and the recopying of the content in the data devices (USB, hard drives), revolutionized alternative programming on the island. Until then the DVD, up to 4 GB, offered limited capacity without the ability to recopy.

The determining factor for the increase of those involved in the business was the arrival of computers, and with them, the television signal capture cards.

Mario Cabrera, who was part of this evolution, explained to CubaNet his participation in the chain of program copiers.

“I had antenna service of one channel. Since I had a TV capture card, I was hired by one of those who copied for the Packet (…) He suggested that I record two shows: Sábado Gigante and Belleza Latina. I remember that, when the program was over, a person would come by and pick up what I had recorded, and he would pay me 5 convertible pesos (CUC) for each program.”

This group paid tribute to a new formula that annihilated the hegemony of the Caciques: the head offices. They began to use computers, hard drives and finally the internet to download and organize the materials contained in the Packet.

Reloj Club (Club Clock) was one of the first head offices that identified the users, created by two young people known as Robert and Mayito.

Alexis Rodríguez Tamayo (known as el Nene), a graduate of the University of Computer Sciences (UCI), inherited Club Reloj when its founders left the country. The engineer who is currently the owner of the Omega house, told CubaNet about his experiences at the beginning of the current Packet.

“The Packet came from the movie banks. The computers opened the door, and the younger ones skillfully saw the way to supply the banks. It was not anyone in particular who created the Packet.”

Alexis Rodríguez recalls that among the best-known head offices were “Paquete de Lachy,” “Samuel” and “Joe PC,” who, in his opinion, “stole all the customers.”

“That boy revolutionized everything, when the novelas were not sold by episodes, he started selling them by episodes. We all had to sell them by episodes or we lost our customers. (…) After that, it shortened the frequency of the weekly collection, to a daily delivery.   There are distributors or head offices that do not wait for the end of the week, they buy the programming that is downloaded daily, to be more current.”

Alexis does not believe that technological advances can eliminate the Packet. About this, he said: “Now with the Internet, I think that when another six months pass, the clientele will weaken. But there are many who will pay for the information because they do not have internet at home, or do not have the time [i.e. cannot afford to pay for it] to download. (…) We download the movies as soon as they come out, the series are downloaded, the games are such large files that we download them in snippets, and if it’s not today, it’s tomorrow.”

 The Packet within the antenna or cable

Then, without the need to store the content, the Packet’s programming was inserted in SNet, an illegal wireless community. What nobody imagined is that this programming would return to the users through its origin: the clandestine service of the antenna.

The antenna or cable that began offering one channel for 10 CUC, now, for the same price, includes thirty-two channels in some areas of the capital city. This variety of channels makes Dish and Direct TV share their popularity in Cuba with channels designed by Cubans with the contents of the Packet. Through the WD Elements Play technology (multimedia hard drive), 2 Tb of programming are broadcast through the illegal antenna.

El Paketito (the Little Packet)

Since the beginning of the current Packet, the authorities of the Island have confronted it with a variety strategies. More variations of official television, creation of the Mochila (“Backpack” — the official packet), police operations and, according to the testimony of officers of the political police, the creation of a group named “Paqueteria,” specialized in spying on the whole chain of creation and distribution.

The country’s vice-president, Miguel Diaz-Canel, publicly expressed his concern: “We aren’t bothered by the Packet as an idea, but with the values, the culture and the ways in which it can be transmitted,” he said. Other government figures attack it as a degrading ideological and aesthetic concept.

To protect themselves, those who make the Packet make the decision to self-censor. They eliminate from the content any information — be it in soap operas, news or websites — that affect the image of the government.

The fill this gap El Paketito (The Little Packet) arose. A compendium of information that adds what is censored to the Packet.

Its creator broke, for the first time, its main rule: Do not offer an interview to the media. Under the condition of protecting his identity for fear of reprisals, he told CubaNet:

“The first thing is that, due to the censorship, the difficulties of accessing the Internet, the publications of independent media are greater abroad. The idea of the Paketito is to take all that censored information to its first consumer, the ordinary Cuban.”

Based on the idea of the Packet, the Paketito was created in February 2015 with a weekly frequency. Its content includes all the information from the platforms used by the independent press, television news programs, documentaries of political content, and animated series censored by the Packet, with radio programs and Cuban image archives.

“It has had good acceptance throughout the country, because it divulges the forbidden,” said its creator, adding. “Cubans want to know what happens on the other side of censorship and we respect that.”

The Indifferent: The Great Cuban Dissidence / Iván García

Source: CNN

Ivan Garcia, 4 December 2017 — Let’s call him Ramón, 65, a city bus driver. He says that one morning he realized that he had arrived in the third age when he couldn’t tie his shoelaces sitting on the sofa in his living room.

His sedentary lifestyle and a prominent belly prevented him from doing it. “Nature is wise. The body is sending signs of aging. And you have to pay attention. Societies are the same. And for ten years I knew that the system in Cuba and its leaders, besides aging physically, were entering a stage of decomposition. No one can stop it, “says Ramón, who for most of his adult life was an unconditional supporter of Fidel Castro and his revolution. continue reading

The bus driver confesses that he was an official with the Ministry of the Interior (MININT) and participated in an internationalist mission in Angola. “I was willing to give my life for the revolution. But my way of thinking changed. I no longer believe in these people (the regime). It’s getting more and more clear to me: they are only interested in power and getting rich. The problems of the people do not matter to them.”

A decade ago, for the first time he decided to leave his ballot blank in the imitation elections held on the island. In the last balloting, on November 26, he wrote on his ballot “The people want food and democracy.”

For this article he asked me to use a pseudonym. But as if it were an achievement, he tells his neighbors what he did, who, like Ramón, consider the Castro brothers’ regime outdated.

Mayra, a doctor, pasted a set of labor demands on her ballot: more economic freedom and free elections to choose the president of the country. “In a fit of bravery I decided to do it. The night before I wrote it on my computer, I printed it, and the next day I took it out of my wallet and glued it on the ballot.”

Neither Ramón nor the doctor are dissidents or political activists. They are people that we see daily in the streets, standing in line at the bakery or complaining about everyday hardships and the lack of a future.

It is a Cuban version of the “neither-nor” Venezuelans. They do not support the government, nor do they trust the illegal local opposition. Many of them, like Silvia, a clerk in a pharmacy, believe that nobody takes them into account.

“President Trump, announces measures that he believes will favor Cubans. The dissenters run their mouths when talking about the people, but very few approach the people to hear about our problems. And the government is increasingly disoriented from the true aspirations of the population,” says Silvia.

This is the perception among many ordinary citizens who consider themselves forgotten in this story. “In one way or another, everyone uses us for their interests. But nobody cares about us,” concludes Silvia, who, on the day of the insipid elections, did not go to vote and stayed at home watching the American serial Billionaires.

Any country in the world would accept 70 or 80 percent of voters as a good turnout. In the United States, little more than half of its voters go to the polls.

But in totalitarian societies, where the vote does not represent social, economic or political transformation, citizen participation is an act of loyalty to the regime. That is why in North Korea, China and Vietnam, in their electoral parodies, participation greatly exceeds 90 percent.

In Cuba it was the same until Sunday, 26 November 2017.

In the elections of December 22, 1992, the military autocracy reported the participation of 97.2% of registered citizens. On February 27, 1993, in the vote for deputies to the National Parliament, attendance was 99.62%.

On October 21, 1997, 97.59% of the registered voters showed up to vote. On February 13, 1998, 98.35% went to the vote. And in the referendum on October 27, 2012, attendance was 94.21%.

Comparative statistics from the electoral commission show that abstentionism, not voting, leaving the ballot blank or annulling it, grew between two and five percent between 1992 and 2012, if we believe the official statistics are reliable.

These statistics show that, in general, the western and central provinces have the lowest participation rates. Of these, Havana stands out, perhaps the most gusano*, with figures that hovered around 80 percent.

After Fidel Castro’s forced retirement due to health problems, abstention increased with each election. In the absence of statistics by province from the national electoral commission, it is already a fact that the last elections showed the lowest citizen participation since the regime began to distribute its drop-by-drop “democracy.”

What message does this increase in absenteeism send? I asked a university professor. “For a political system like Cuba’s, with a very strong ideological weight and one that boasts of the monolithic unity of the people with its leaders, it is worrisome. Take note. These figures are a set of many things. Of the obvious waste of power, that people are not happy with the reforms, that there is a sector that demands real democratic changes, that citizens are indifferent to the political project and of the exhaustion of the blank check that the government once enjoyed,” he answers.

And he adds, “”More than one million eight hundred thousand Cubans, in one way or another, either leaving the ballot blank, writing slogans, making demands or not going to vote, shows their dissatisfaction with the system. If we consider it as a movement, the movement of the indifferent, for example, it would be the largest party in Cuba today, because the Communist Party, the ruling party, has around 700,000 members.”

There is a third force that asks to be heard. Even supposing that the 85.94% who voted unconditionally supported the government, in Cuba a current of dissatisfied citizens is fed up with the current state of affairs.

Fidel Castro took power with a disorganized army that initially consisted of 82 men. When they came down from the Sierra Maestra and added the forces of the 26th of July Movement, the army did not exceed four thousand people.

Believe me, then, that 1,869,937 Cubans, 21.12% of the electorate, is not a small number. And it continues to grow.

*Translator’s note: Gusano, or worm, is a term applied to “counterrevolutionaries” 

Note: After this article was written, and four days after the municipal elections were held, on Sunday, November 26, something happened that had never happened in Cuba: on Thursday, November 30, the online edition of the Granma newspaper published an official note from the National Electoral Commission, where the participation figure rose from 85.94% to 89.02%.

Photo: Taken from CNN

‘The Infinite Banquet’ Reflects the Violence and Corruption of Power

The play ‘The Infinite Banquet’, written by the playwright Alberto Pedro Torriente, premiered last Thursday, November 30 at the Teatro de la Luna. Tablecloth text: “Working Breakfast” (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, 4 December 2017 — Neither metaphorical nor allusive, but simply ruthless, the staging of The Infinite Banquet highlights everything insane, corrupt and violent that political power can be.

The play, written in 1999 by the playwright Alberto Pedro Torriente, premiered last Thursday, November 30, at the Teatro de la Luna in the Adolfo Llauradó hall, under the direction of Raúl Martín Ríos.

Yasel Rivero plays the leading role of two confluent characters: The Hierarch and The Paradigm. The first, an overthrown tyrant drawn in a monologue that serves as an opening to the drama; the second, a charismatic leader with a new social justice project, surrounded by a court of women called Virilefirst, Virilesecond and Virilethird. continue reading

Rounding out the cast are Averrara and Perogrullo. She, the voluptuous sentimental and erotic partner of The Paradigm; he, the infallible personification of the court jester, the organic intellectual, the opportune singer-songwriter.

Throughout two hours, intrigues and betrayals are cooked in a broth of human imperfections where pride, lust, gluttony, anger and greed stand out. The sin that is lacking, laziness, is reserved for those who do not want to work, identified with ‘the people’, that apparently invisible character who occupies the seats of the theater and who, here, is called The Conglomerate.

Supposedly all conflicts are unleashed in a 24-hour period, which is the time it takes The Paradigm to consolidate his power and to produce “the unmasking” of a face that “until now had to hide for strategic reasons.” The other pending issue is to decide what to name the process he wants to present to The Conglomerate.

In the play ‘The Infinite Banquet’ show the intrigues and betrayals linked to the rise to power.  Tablecloth text: “Working Lunch” (14ymedio)

The process is presented as “unique, original and virgin.” In the middle of the debate, the question of whether it should be called democracy or dictatorship jumps out. Perogrullo says clearly: “Despite the loss of prestige of both words, for The Conglomerate everything that is not democracy is still dictatorship.” Finally, a survey is made among the people to name it and the result is surprising.

The actress Yaikenis Rojas gives life to Averrara, a kind of First Lady who constantly reminds the leader of his commitments to “those below.” On the table, even below her, the sensual woman seems to find no end to her appetites. “I feel like eating a steak the size of my own stubbornness,” she declares discontentedly while collecting the leftovers from the banquet.

At the other extreme the actor Freddy Maragoto shines with refined force playing Perogrullo. Corrupted intelligence at the service of power brings to the aspiring dictator a precision in words and the charm of poetry. He sings a hymn to the epic that is a popular guaracha. At times he seems obliged by circumstances, but finally, when he gets a special place at the banquet table, he shows himself as he is, opportunistic and cynical.

The overflowing fantasy of Alberto Pedro borders on a surrealist hallucination in Virilefirst, a sinister, sweet and enigmatic character played by actor Roberto Romero. His militarized geisha costume represents all the creases and transvestitisms of human behavior.

Among the elements of the stage set, particularly notable are the enormous stairs that serve as platform from which to distribute bread to the people, and the rustic throne, symbol of the ambition for power. “This chair is mine,” repeats the model paradigm becoming a greedy hierarch.

The audience has fun and laughs, but surely they also reflect, faced with a representation that looks too much like a reality they know perfectly well.

The play can be seen until Thursday, December 14, if nobody in the heights of power prevents it.

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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.

Desiderio Navarro Dies, the “Lone Ranger” of Cuban Semiotics

The Cuban intellectual Desiderio Navarro. (CC)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 8 December 2017 — The essayist, literary critic, semiotician and translator, Desiderio Navarro, died Thursday in Havana, at 69 years of age as a result of cancer that, for the last year, had prevented him from appearing in public.

Navarro, born in Camagüey in 1948, was a renowned polyglot and poet, as well as a rigorous and coherent essayist. In Cuba, he excelled in the studies of semiotics, a discipline that he helped disseminate within the island and that served as a tool for much of his research.

Raised as a Catholic, in his first years in Camagüey he was considered an “uncomfortable” young person, as 14ymedio confirmed with his high school classmates. During that time, he participated in a dispute that turned into a fight in 1961. In that memorable event he allied himself on the side of the young Christians from private schools who led the student organization, against the self-styled “revolutionaries.” continue reading

Later he would settle in Havana and become a student of Marxism. His closest friends considered him more “Marxologist than Marxist” and he made a great contribution to the study of that ideology in Cuba by translating from Russian important theorists of Soviet Perestroika.

The researcher led a bitter controversy against the essayist and poet Guillermo Rodríguez Rivera, whom he accused of committing plagiarism, while the latter ended up denouncing him before the courts for the alleged crime of defamation. That confrontation is considered one of the most talked about disputes between Cuban intellectuals of the last decades.

Navarro founded and directed for 45 years the Criterios magazine and the eponymous theoretical-cultural center, which disseminated among the readers of the Island numerous theoretical texts, especially from Eastern Europe, due to his extensive knowledge of the languages ​​of that region.

The intellectual is also recognized for his meticulous analysis of the poetry of José Martí, Nicolás Guillén and Luis Rogelio Nogueras. Professor and critic Margarita Mateo says that he approached each analysis with “the rigor, dedication, intellectual honesty and ethical values” demanded by a researcher.

In 1986, he published an article in the Casa de las Américas journal that summarized a part of his semiotic work: “What I have written sometimes has the worn look of something already written by others, but also, much of what others have written bears my signature.”

At the beginning of 2007, the well-known Intellectual Debate or Little Email War broke out as a result of the appearance in the official media of several censors from the ‘Five Grey Years’Navarro actively participated in the organization of the discussion sessions that followed the email exchanges and prepared one of the most complete compilations of those texts.

Prominent among his books of essays are Culture And Marxism: Problems And ControversiesExercises Of OpinionThe Causes Of Things and Thinking About Everything: To Read In Context, as well as several theoretical and literary anthologies.

He won the Literary Criticism Award several times and the Ministry of Culture, along with the Cuban Book Institute recognized him with the National Editing Prize. At his death he was part of the National Council of the Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba and recently the University of the Arts awarded him the title of Doctor Honoris Causa.

His wake will be held this Friday, between 10:00 am and 3:00 pm at the Funeral Home of Calzada and K, in El Vedado.

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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.

Open Letter to Pope Francis / Ángel Santiesteban

Wednesday, 10 October 2017  Ángel Santiesteban

Havana, Cuba. Your Holiness: Now that your name is no longer so popular on the Island of Cuba, I have decided to write you these lines. I suspect that this decline in your prestige has to do with the scant companionship you have provided us, as well as with the distance that you have placed between yourself and the Cuban people. If I insist on threading these ideas it is because I am certain that your work as head of the Church–that is, of the Earth–is a far cry from the love, justness, and fairness that we knew from John Paul II, whom we Cubans remember with affection and devotion.

I want to tell you that there are many of us today who think that your appointment has not been good for this Island’s inhabitants, although I assure you that many were the Cubans who rejoiced when we learned that you would be the new leader of the Catholic Church. We were euphoric that a Latin American, who spoke our language, and who knew well what a military dictatorship means, would be in charge of the Church. continue reading

We happily believed that Your Holiness would take care of us just as John Paul II did but this was not to be. Your history was entwined with that of John Paul II. You knew that bloody military dictatorship in Argentina and the Polish Pope knew well what fascism and communism, which are so alike, signify. We had no doubt that you, Holy Father, would see the Cuban reality and would denounce it. But what actually happened was something else.

John Paul II was acquainted with fascism’s outrages, he denounced them and never left the world’s downtrodden to suffer the horrors of a communism that still persists in certain places on the planet. Holy Father, today I am certain that your visit to Cuba served only to leave behind the bitter memory of futility. Now, in the wake of your departure, many are reminded of the incarcerations suffered by those who never believed in the premises of a communist government.

While you were flying back to Rome, many Cubans were put behind bars, and I have not heard of an energetic comment coming from your mouth. The very same government that segregated Catholics in Cuba, that expelled the faithful from the universities, that imprisoned them in those concentration camps known as the UMAP, once again repressed those who thought differently, who were not willing to commune with a dictatorial regime.

We Cubans were waiting for some vigorous response from your mouth, from the mouth of Cardinal Jaime Ortega, but all encountered was a wall of silence. And as we already know, “he who is silent consents.” I suppose that you, and that cardinal who so much recalls a Communist Party militant, were much more interested in maintaining good diplomatic relations with the government than with being close to the long-suffering Cuban faithful.

Supreme Pontiff, I wish to remind you that during your visit to the Island, a desperate young man lunged towards your vehicle as you were traveling before a multitude whose members had, for the most part, been selected by the political police. That young man begged for your attention, that young man tried to direct your eyes to the injustices that the Cuban regime commits daily.

And what did you do, Holy Father? You left him to fend for himself, and the faithful the world over could see on their televisions how you continued on your way without so much as a glance backward. Did you ever learn of the ordeal which, from that moment on, that young man began to suffer? Did you discover how the regime responded to someone who wanted to get your attention? Do by chance realize that every visit by a world leader to this Island is a boost to the Castros’ communist regime? In a situation like that, the most honorable action would have been to step out of your automobile and offer protection to that faithful young man. But the opposite occurred: you abandoned him, you left him in the hands of assassins, who are in no way different from those you knew in Argentina.

Vicar of Christ, I dare to remind you that there exist on this Island some women who are called the Ladies in White. They keep with great devotion a photo showing one of them standing next to you in a plaza of the Vatican. It was during this meeting when Berta Soler, the leader of these Ladies, gave to you–besides her pleading words–certain documentation that serves as proof of the many injustices committed against them and against Cubans in general.

I wish to inform you if indeed you do not already know, that these women can no longer attend Mass and that they are arrested every Sunday and thrown into dark cells. And, although it may seem strange to you, this is for me a proof of God’s existence. It turns out that six days are sufficient for these brave women to recover from the beatings, and they once again sally forth with renewed strength; six days are enough for the Ladies to re-energize their will, to forget their bruises, to overcome their physical and spiritual fractures. These women, Holy Father, again go out the following Sunday. But the Church that you represent maintains absolute silence regarding them.

I will tell you that the photo of you and Berta graces the entrance to the Havana headquarters of these women’s organization. I will tell you that alongside that image are displayed others, those of many activists who have paid with their lives for daring to confront the dictatorship. I love the contrast in that picture of your pure white cassock with the blackest black skin tone of that woman in your company.

Please also know that, next to that photo that those ladies gratefully exhibit, rude words are scrawled on the wall, abusive comments intended to disparage them. And why does such a thing a occur? Because they make visible their discontent with a vulgar and dictatorial regime. And know that those who so denigrate them also hurl chemicals onto that photo. Know that these responses are ordered by that government that received you in Havana. Know also that nothing subdues those women–that once the attacks are over, they meticulously clean their areas with the intention that the environment surrounding that picture be as white as your cassock.

We Cubans, the Catholic ones, know that you favorably influenced the rapprochement between Cuba and the US and the reopening of the embassies. But I do not know if you are aware that since this conciliation, democracy moved further away from our reach, and there were more arrests and beatings of opponents and deaths occurring under mysterious circumstances. I assure you that your parting left a shroud of sorrow upon the Cuban people.

Unfortunately, it has also become notorious how this government which you helped tried to damage the health of US embassy personnel. Have you weighed-in on this matter, Holy Father? If so, we have not heard it. And your silence pains us, your apathy vexes us. And what would you have done if things had been reversed? What would you have said if the US had been the aggressor?

Please know that many of your flock are frightened at your cordiality towards the dictatorships of Cuba and Venezuela–and towards the Colombian guerrilla force. So much so that already there are many who believe you to be very close to the leftist forces in the region. Unjust or not, what is certain is that your actions have been very aligned with those “diplomats,” so much so that you are now called “the communist Pope.”

You represent the Catholic Church today, but tomorrow–when God wills it–another will do so, and in each case, the individual should be a mediator of truth, in solidarity with our pain, not causing more pain. We, the opposition in Cuba, are also your flock, flesh of your flesh. And I do not believe that the dictator, his family, and every one of his henchmen who have directed so much hate towards God and the Church during these 60 years of iron-grip dictatorship, deserve your attention and friendship.

Father Francis, who was able to deceive you so? Who made you believe that the dictatorship could dialogue sincerely with the Church? How could the Church forget the persecutions that the Cuban government unleashed on Its priests and faithful? Who convinced you that the embargo was more hurtful to the people than to the dictatorial government? Two years of restored relations with the US leave it clear that this friendship empowered the regime even more.

Holy Father, it was all a ruse, a smokescreen to fool you. We Cubans desire–before food–liberty, rights, democracy. Messenger of God, cease from appearing cold, stop looking away when this archipelago begs you to intercede for our liberty. Know that the young man who during your visit clung to your vehicle, even today is continuing the fight, and he alternates his theaters of action: sometimes on the streets, sometimes in the prisons. And do not be surprised if someday you learn that he was found to suffer from an unexpected and rare “illness,” or that an “accident” took his life.

Those who are assassinated by the regime do not mourn their own deaths, those assassinated by the regime believe that death is a worthy price for obtaining what belongs to us. Those who in the jails go on hunger strikes do not clamor anymore for your attention, perhaps anymore they see you as a ghost. Their prayers go to Christ, He who forgets not the pain of those who suffer on the Earth.

Holy Father, see our reality–although I believe that it would be better for you to keep your distance because every time you have glanced our way, you have ended up harming us. Perhaps what we ask is your silence–that same silence you offered, in Argentina, when one of your priests was arrested.

Father, this letter is not intended to obtain a pronouncement by you in support of victimized Cubans, of those who are robbed of their most basic right, of those whom you well know. We know too well that you will never be the agent of a miracle.

About the Author

(Havana, 1966). Graduate in film direction. Resides in Havana, Cuba. Honorable Mention in the Juan Rulfo Award (1989); National Prize awarded by the writers’ union UNEAC (1995). Book, “A Summer’s Day Dream,” published in 1998. In 1999, won the César Galeano Prize. In 2001, the Alejo Carpentier prize awarded by the Cuban Institute of the Book for the short story collection, “The Children That Nobody Wanted.” In 2006, won the Casa de las Américas prize, short story category, for the book, “Happy Are Those Who Weep.” In 2013 won the Franz Kafka International Prize for Novels from the Drawer*, convened in the Czech Republic, for “The Summer When God Slept.” Has been published in Mexico, Spain, Puerto Rico, Switzerland, China, UK, Dominican Republic, France, US, Colombia, Portugal, Martinique, Italy, Canada, among other countries.

*”Novels from the Drawer” is a phrase used to describe literature written under censorship; because the novel cannot published, the writer puts it in a drawer ‘for later’.

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

The Human Rights That Are Missing In Cuba

The Ladies in White suffering repression during one of their protests. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 11 December 2017 – Until a few years ago the concept “human rights” was frowned upon by Cuba’s ruling party. The mere mention of these two words together automatically labeled a citizen as on the opposing side and there was no lack of acts of repudiation against dissidents in which slogans were shouted in the style of “Down with human rights!”

Over time, the island’s government understood that it was better — and less scandalous — to adopt not only the language alluding to this concept but also the commemorations around December 10, the day that celebrates the United Nation’s adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

In the last decade, the authorities have filled the official media and the squares of the country with slogans alluding to all the rights allegedly enjoyed by Cubans. In those avalanches of benefits the collective rights are always mentioned, while the individual ones are ignored. continue reading

On this day, the Plaza of the Revolution extols the right to education and public health, while avoiding reference to the rest of the conditions that must surround human existence such as freedom of expression or conscience, the possibility of choosing a religion without restrictions, or freedom of association.

While controlling activists and opponents so that they do not demonstrate on this day, the government of Raul Castro monopolizes the headlines of the national media with orchestrated demonstrations to show a strong adherence to its policy. Thus, they hijack the date.

However, the apparent dichotomy that places citizens in the dilemma of having to renounce a good part of their individual rights to enjoy the collective ones is a result of the blackmail to which the rulers subject the ruled for the purpose of perpetuating themselves in the power.

Nothing guarantees that the human being can enjoy adequate public health services, a quality education or a satisfactory and sustainable social security, if the authorities can not be questioned about the fulfillment of their obligations, and if each individual does not have the right to protest.

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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.

Online Payments Come to Cuba Two Decades Late

Online site of Bank of Credit and Commerce in Cuba. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Ricardo Fernández, Camagüey, 8 December 2017 — The first online financial transactions have been delayed for two decades in Cuba. The new service, called Kiosco, allows the payment of electricity and telephone bills, in addition to the repayment of bank loans, but is not exempt from technological setbacks and has not yet managed to gain the trust of customers.

There was an empty chair in front of the Kiosco computer this Thursday at the Avellaneda Street branch of the Bank of Credit and Commerce (Bandec) in the city of Camagüey, where electronic payments can be made through a “self-service terminal.” continue reading

“So far no one has tried it and everyone is still standing in line for the tellers,” laments a worker, confirming that people who enter the bank prefer to interact with an employee, partly because they are not familiar with electronic transactions.

The Island’s poor internet penetration makes electronic payment a novelty. Among the 5.7 million savings accounts in the country as of the middle of last year, at least 50% have a magnetic card, but only a small share of account holders have had experience with electronic payments.

To use Kiosco you need to have a multi-bank card, which can be obtained at the same branch as your debit card. There is no bank in Cuba that issues credit cards for private customers.

“I do not want my money to evaporate because I do something wrong and send it to somewhere where is disappears,” says Monica Salgado, a retired teacher from Santa Clara, another province where Kiosco also operates. The woman receives her pension through a magnetic card that she refuses to use in the new service because she wouldn’t receive cash.

In the beginning, the service was offered exclusively to companies, but this year it began to offered to private users, although it cannot be used to buy products in the country’s stores, pay for an interprovincial bus ticket or book a room in a hotel.

The new service can also be accessed through an internet connection in the Wi-Fi zones that the Telecommunications Company of Cuba (Etecsa) has installed across the island over the last two plus years, places where one hour of internet time costs one Cuban convertible peso, the daily salary of a professional.

However, as soon as you enter Kiosco’s digital site, the navigator gives you a warning: “This connection is not private, it is possible that some attackers may try to steal your information.” This message demonstrates that there is a problem with the certificate of authenticity, something common in national sites.

After entering the access data, the internet user accesses a private area where they can check the balance and transfer money to other accounts in the same bank. They can also download the Mobile Transfer application, designed for the Android operating system, which allows several operations through USSD codes.

“It’s not much yet, but soon we may be shopping at Amazon,” says Roberto Carlos, a 16-year-old who was with his mother at a Wi-Fi hotspot in Havana on Friday. The young man dreams that in the near term “we can buy applications in Apple stores and Google Play with this system.”

Electronic banking works through different payment channels, such as ATMs, POS terminals, the digital site of the application or mobile applications.

Beyond technology, Pinar del Rio economist Karina Gálvez, from the Center for Coexistence Studies, comments that “the environment and infrastructure” in Cuba which surrounds everything related to electronic commerce or virtual payments. “I think you have to give it time to see how it works,” she advises.

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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.

In Camaguey Coppelia’s Neighbors Live with Ammonia Leaks

The factory was built before 1959 and its owner placed it on the outskirts of the city, but over the years the neighborhoods grew and surrounded the facility. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Ricardo Fernandez, 4 December 2017 — Five days after an ammonia leak that kept some people in the city of Camagüey in suspense, the neighbors of the Coppelia ice cream factory fear that the consequences of the spill will be more serious than what has been announced, and they are reproaching the authorities for not having given them a warming and evacuated the residents.

In the local media the leak was attributed to “a mistake by the shift operator in the engine room” and they timed the moment of the spill between 6:20 and 6:30 on Wednesday morning. At that time, most of the families residing in the Las Mercedes district were asleep or preparing to leave their houses.

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The strong smell of the chemical substance reached the Casino Campestre, about a mile from the place where the plant is located, according to witness statements collected by 14ymedio. “We began to fear that something had happened when we sensed an unpleasant and very strong smell,” says Dinora, a nurse and neighbor of the Coppelia plant.

Close to the historic center, the factory was built before 1959 and its owner located it on the outskirts of the city, but over the years the neighborhoods grew and surrounded the facility. Along one of its sides the railway line runs and the streets surrounding it are very busy.

Residents in the vicinity regret that on the day of the accident they did not evacuate the closest families, nor was there a broad dissemination of information about the incident to warn people of what had happened and avoid damaging their health.

Although firefighters and police arrived at the scene quickly, many thought it was a fire or other type of emergency inside the factory. Only when they sensed the strong smell did they realize that a chemical leak had happened.

“In high concentrations the gas irritates the throat, inflames the lungs, damages the respiratory tract and the eyes,” Dr. Alejandro Torres explained to this newspaper. “As the concentration increases, it can produce pulmonary edema.”

The doctor believes that the biggest risk in the escape of ammonia from Coppelia was to the “factory workers because they are exposed to higher concentrations of the chemical.” However, the authorities insist that the leak was insignificant and that there is no risk to the lives of the workers.

“It is not the first time that there has been an ammonia leak in the Coppelia factory,” Ivis Regueiro, a local resident told 14ymedio. “What did surprise me was the deployment of the police and firefighters, that had never happened before.”

Many families in the area have wells in the backyards of their homes, as a way to guarantee a water supply in a city that has been seriously affected by the problems created by the deteriorated hydraulic infrastructure and a long drought.

“No one has told us if we can continue taking water from our well or not,” laments a neighbor a few yards from where the leak occurred. “No one explains the harm to our health and if the spilled ammonia has contaminated the waters of the area,” she complains.”The news they have given us is that everything is controlled, but people do not believe it.”

Jesús Tejeda Jorge, production manager of the Dairy Products Company, assured the local press that the liquid ammonia used in the refrigeration process, once spilled, “instead of going to the atmosphere, is siphoned away through the drains.”

Tejeda acknowledged that the factory does not have every method of protection, despite having requested them from the Dairy Products Company. In the engine room where the ammonia leak occurred, “there is only one isothermal suit for the shift operator,” he explains.

The pipes with sewage from the factory are also joined to those that carry the sewage waters of the area and end up in the Hatibonico River, which is very polluted at present.

The environmental activist Inalkis Rodríguez has repeatedly denounced the government’s indolence in the face of the Hatibonico situation. In her Twitter account, three years ago she published an image accompanied by the following sentence: “All the rivers in the city of Camagüey are in these terrible states of contamination.” Since then the situation has worsened.

A study carried out by specialists of the Faculty of Chemistry of the University of Camagüey warned of the effects that wastewater discharges, without an effective treatment, were causing in the river. The Hatibonico is severely contaminated with organic matter, nutrients and heavy metals, the researchers say.

One of the academics who carried out the study spoke with this newspaper under anonymity to report that “contamination by ammonia will have a very negative impact on the Hatibonico River, […] which already had experienced deterioration in its basin, where part of the natural life has lost the battle against industries and sewage waters.”

“The accident was foreseeable because the factory is greatly deteriorated and workers must deal with many problems every day to keep the industry producing,” the engineer adds. “It’s a miracle that this does not happen more often and in more dangerous volumes.”

The academic points out that every day thousands of pollutant residues end up in the river and that the responsible industries do not apply the waste treatment protocols called for in the reports of the University of Camagüey.

Camagüeyans not only have a polluted river converted into a narrow greywater stream for decades, but they have also had to learn to cope with frequent industrial discharges. What happened in the Coppelia factory is nothing new for them, although they see the publication by the official press of a type of incident that normally does not appear in the media as unprecedented.

The Tínima Beer Factory, on the northern beltway of the city, is a frequent scene of this type of accident. The incidence is so high that the students of the nearby Máximo Gómez Báez High School Vocational Institute of Exact Sciences have an emergency protocol that they must practice several times a year, as 14ymedio confirmed with numerous students.

In the nearby city of Nuevitas, the Ammonia Receptor Base is located, the only one of its kind in Cuba, whose frequent breaks sometimes result in gas spills. The inhabitants of the surroundings are protected only with cloths over their nose and mouth, or take refuge in the homes of relatives.

In September of this year, another ammonia spill occurred when the driver of a tank car for the Trucks Union of Cuba in Guantanamo did not correctly calculate the height when entering the warehouse of a meat company and the discharge pipe was broken when it hit a roof beam. For about 15 minutes there was a leak of ammonia in the form of gas.

In 2008, about 50 people received medical attention for respiratory and skin disorders of a mild nature, and between 4,000 and 5,000 were evacuated after a leak of ammonia in a refrigerator in the free zone of Berroa, in the outskirts of Havana.

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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.