Díaz-Canel and the Mask of the Modern President

Miguel Díaz-Canel has tried to present an image of a modern president close to the people.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 16 October 208 — The first months in the highest office of the nation have been frantic for Miguel Diaz-Canel. We have seen him touring industrial zones, visiting several provinces, dancing in New York and even establishing a Twitter account. All these actions are aimed at creating an image of a modern president close to the people, an illusion that ends as soon as he opens his mouth.

The man who in his teens sang songs by Silvio Rodríguez, who listened to The Beatles and earned a degree in a profession with a strong pragmatic foundation — electrical engineering — wants to connect with those generations of Cubans who have turned their backs on politics, tired of the immobility and the outdated thinking of the governing elite.

To achieve that connection, Díaz-Canel has turned to gestures that range from the simple to the grandiloquent. In some of them he is accompanied by his wife, going to receptions, events and meeting with Hollywood celebrities during his visit to the United Nations in the United States. For a people who, for nearly six decades, did not know – for certain – who the president’s wife was or whether he liked movies, this alone marks a difference. continue reading

Going from a vist to La Demajagua in Granma province, to the other end of the Island, in Pinar del Río, in just a few hours, is also a novelty. Our octogenarian leaders moved very slowly or did not move at all, as when Hurricane Irma devastated part of the north central coast and Raul Castro did not visit the affected areas but preferred to mask his absence with written and televised messages.

The opening of a Twitter account on October 10 also marks a new hallmark for Díaz-Canel, because he becomes the first Cuban ruler in more than half a century to have a direct channel, without intermediaries, with the population. In other words, if a resident of Central Havana decides to complain on that social network about the serious problems with the water supply and street paving that characterize that district, the president will no longer be able to say that he did not know about it.

Unlike the Castro brothers who could always argue that they were not aware of the difficulties that Cubans were experiencing every day, or the desire of our emigrants to recover all their rights as citizens, Díaz-Canel cannot claim that the information never got to him or that some undisciplined official did not pass on the details. He is on Twitter and cannot hide what he hears about.

Now, all those attempts to present him as just like us, or as someone who arrives with fresh ideas, collapse as soon as he speaks in front of a microphone. At that moment, a twentieth-century politician emerges, with stereotypical and outdated ideas, with a not at all modern vision of the world and, what’s worse, anchored to a series of commitments made with his predecessors that leave him little or no room to maneuver.

If, on the outside, he wants to show himself as a good-natured and understanding statesman, his words show that his entire discourse is built on a rancid intolerance. We have seen him, before being handpicked as president, rail against the independent press and threaten it with greater censorship; we have heard him denigrate private cultural productions and even affirm at the United Nations that his Government represents “continuity, not rupture.”

To top it off, he has filled his Twitter account with slogans and calls to end the US embargo in a boring singsong that can barely connect with anyone other than the forced workers of state media and other institutions that have been given the task of following the president’s timeline. In that social network the partisan positions and the militant language are immediately noticed and what is pure propaganda cannot be considered spontaneous.

Díaz-Canel is a man caught between the image he wants to project and the agenda his government follows. He wants to appear as a statesman who looks to the future and is capable of facing the arduous tasks that urgently need to be addressed in the Cuban reality, however, he can not contradict or criticize his predecessors even the slightest bit, because they are precisely the ones that have raised him to the power.

The new president must follow the course of the leaders of the Communist Party and accept it, or at least pretend to like it and agree. If he wants to maintain his position, he is obliged to wear a mask of fidelity and docility, delivering a demeaning discourse that is half a century behind. The problem is that when you wear a mask for a long time, it ends up becoming your face, the only skin that remains after years of pretending.

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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 Hurricane Mascot

Mayabeque’s baseball team mascot represents a hurricane, those crazy winds that in the cyclonic season hit the island. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Marcelo Hernandez, Havana, 15 October 2018 – The Mayabeque province baseball team is also known by their Hurricanes nickname, so the team mascot tries to represent those crazy winds that, in the hurricane season, hit the island.

His costume contains the yellow and red colors of the coat of arms of the province, one of the four that along with Guantanamo, Camagüey and Havana takes on an aboriginal name. The Taínos called cyclones “juracán” and represented this atmospheric phenomenon with a human face whose arms move in a spiral.

The ghostly mask that Mayabeque’s baseball mascot now puts on has the dual purpose of hiding the identity of the bearer of the symbol and bringing a certain terrifying air to the character. Both things are totally pointless, because by merely going on the field the fans of the team often shout the real name of the person who hides under the mascot accompanied by all the nice and atrocious things that occur to the public. continue reading

The bat looks like a toy, but he carries it with a lot of pride, as if he were brandishing a whirlwind like those of the aboriginal deity. There is no shortage of those who want to take a photo together with such exaggerated fury, nor those who wonder in a jocular tone who came up with this symbol, with the damage that actual hurricanes have done to Mayabeque.

In between the teasing and applause, the mascot of one of the youngest Cuban provinces is earning a place in the comments of the public that goes to the stadium to support their team.

Since January 2011 when Mayabeque province was officially established, the team’s performance this season has been the best in its brief history, which fortunately has not been highlighted so far in 2018, at least on the island, by the fury of real hurricanes.

Translated by Wilfredo Díaz Echevarria

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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.

Cuban Activist Tomas Nunez Magdariaga Released After Long Hunger Strike

Cuban activist Tomas Núñez Magdariaga.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 15 October 2018 — On Monday afternoon, after a 62-day hunger strike, Cuban activist Tomas Núñez Magdariaga was released from prison, according to government opponent Carlos Amel Oliva of the Cuban Patriotic Union (UNPACU), who spoke with 14ymedio.

A vehicle with two State Security officers transferred Núñez Magdariaga from the Juan Bruno Zayas hospital in Santiago de Cuba, where he was hospitalized, to his home, although it is still unknown whether he will remain on house arrest or if the release is total.

According to Oliva, Major Granja, head of the Aguadores prison where the activist was imprisoned, went to the hospital and told Magdariaga “you have immediate release.” A doctor helped to make a list of directions for how he should start eating again and within a few minutes he was transferred. continue reading

UNPACU’s leader José Daniel Ferrer expressed his thanks via Twitter for the support received inside and outside Cuba. “There are many who have made this victory of good against evil possible,” said the former prisoner of the Black Spring of 2013.

#Cuba Thanks to all those who with their firmness and solidarity have made it possible for the Castro-communist tyranny to free our brother Tomás Núñez Magdariaga. Tyranny imprisoned him unjustly, tortured him and if there had not been so much solidarity, they would have killed him.

— José Daniel Ferrer (@jdanielferrer) 16 de octubre de 2018

Nuñez Magdariaga had gone on a hunger strike to denounce his sentence of one year in prison and in the last week he rejected the serums necessary to keep him alive.

The activist was accused of “threatening” an agent of the political police, but the person who made the accusation retracted it and claimed that he was blackmailed by the State Security to accuse the activist in exchange for a job and housing.

The archbishop of Santiago de Cuba, Dionisio García Ibáñez, visited the activist and, according to what Carlos Amel Oliva reported to this newspaper, the archbishop told him that Núñez Magdariaga “would be released in a couple of days because the case did not hold up.”

The US government also expressed its “serious” concern for the health of the opponent and called for his immediate release.

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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.

Bolsonaro and Cuba

Jair Bolsonaro, candidate for President of Brazil (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Carlos Alberto Montaner, Miami, 14 October 2018 – Jair Messias Bolsonaro could be the President of Brazil on October 28th. The Brazilians see themselves in the mirror of their Venezuelan neighbors and they are terrified. The most trustworthy polls give him a 75% chance of winning the elections … as long as he does not rest on his laurels. At the end of the day, he took a 17 point lead over Fernando Haddad, the man selected from prison by Lula da Silva. He won 46 to 29. Democracy is like that: it is often about choosing the least bad option.

Bolsonaro is full of prejudices. He says he prefers to have a dead son rather than a homosexua one. What a cruel stupidity! He says that if he sees two men kissing on the street he would be willing to assault them. Although his time in the Armed Forces was not exemplary — he spent 17 years there and only attained captain as a paratrooper and artilleryman — and although he dares to say that the mistake of the military dictatorship was to torture the detainees, when they could have killed them, his candidacy is better than that of Haddad’s. continue reading

Why? Because Bolsonaro does not mind contradicting himself. He says absurd things that will not have a practical result. He has also made deeply racist remarks, but chose as his vice president a mestizo former general.

The vulgarities that he has uttered against women were not expressed by a misogynist, but by a disrespectful and mouthy guy who has married three times and maintains an intense family life.

And because his homophobia clashes with a tradition of tolerance that makes Brazil one of the most open nations in sexual matters. One of the few that allows marriage between people of the same sex. Against that backdrop, fortunately, he will not be able to reject gays.

There are many reasons to prefer Bolsonaro. Lula presided over a cave of bandits, not a decent government. He has been the main culprit of the devaluation of the Brazilian political class. If the shameless actions of the usual suspects are very serious, those committed by a person of humble origin who promised to clean up public life and did the opposite are worse. What was expected of a labor leader who asked for the votes to face the rot is total honesty in the conduct of official affairs. In Dante’s Inferno there was a terrible place for the hypocrites.

His business transactions with the usual corrupt ones, as demonstrated in the Lava Jato (Car Wash) operation, is unforgivable. He let his ideological cronies from Cuba, Venezuela, Bolivia, Nicaragua, El Salvador and the Ecuador of Rafael Correa steal. His two governments and that of Dilma Rousseff were a cesspool. Presumably, he summoned Haddad to finish the job. First, the professor and former mayor of Sao Paulo would free him from the sentence of 12 years in prison and then the looting of the Brazilians would continue right away.

According to El Nuevo Herald, Cuba is horrified that Bolsonaro may be selected by the Brazilians. The former congressman has said that he is not in agreement with continuing to pay the Castro dictatorship — Fidel is still alive for ideological purposes — for the doctors Brazil rents.

This is a crime that contravenes the international agreements of the International Labour Organization signed by Cuba and Brazil. They are slaves in white coats. That rent is Havana’s main source of income and it looks like the disgusting business that slavers did in Cuba in the 19th century.

The Castros, who embarked on the most unproductive system in the world, make ends meet with the excesses that they charge their friends and accomplices for the hire of doctors, soldiers, sports coaches, spies and other species that they breed in their revolutionary nurseries.

They sell those services with the ignoble purpose of financing the idyllic life that is given to an oligarchy that perhaps reaches three thousand officers of the Armed Forces and the Communist Party, while the country falls to pieces.

It is very likely that Bolsonaro will put an end to this illegal trade in human beings. The function of this hiring is not to improve the health of poor Brazilians, but to subsidize the parasitic Cuban political leadeship.

We will see what happens on January 1, 2019, when Bolsonaro will begin to govern. That day, by the way, will mark 60 years since the beginning of the Cuban nightmare.

Translated by Wilfredo Díaz Echevarria

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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 United States Will Launch an Initiative in Favor of Cuban Political Prisoners at the UN

The UN states that there are approximately 130 political prisoners detained by the Cuban government. (Video capture)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Miami, 13 October 2018 – The United States Mission to the United Nations and the Office of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor will launch a campaign on behalf of Cuban political prisoners, according to a statement from the US State Department.

’Imprisoned for what?’ Will be the title of the speech by Ambassador Kelley E. Currie, United States Representative to the UN Economic and Social Council next Tuesday, on the difficult situation faced by the island’s political prisoners.

“The approximately 130 political prisoners detained by the Cuban government are an explicit sign of the repressive nature of the regime and represent a flagrant affront to the fundamental freedoms that the United States and many other democratic governments support,” denounced the text. continue reading

Washington asserts that the situation of human rights in Cuba forms part of the priorities of the current Administration.

After Ambassador Currie’s speech, Ambassador Michael Kozak will speak, moderating a discussion that will also include the Secretary General of the Organization of American States, Luis Almagro.

The event will be open to the press and will be broadcast live through this link.

In June of this year, the independent Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation (CCDHRN) denounced that there were around 120 political prisoners on the island at the time. The independent entity said that this figure “is very difficult to arrive at as the government of Cuba does not cooperate” with international organizations.

In March 2016 during the visit of US President Barack Obama to Cuba, a foreign journalist questioned Raúl Castro at a press conference about the existence of political prisoners on the island. “Give me the list of political prisoners right now to release them. Mention it now,” the ruler responded.

Castro, who traditionally did not answer questions from the national or international press, was visibly annoyed by the question from CNN reporter Jim Acosta.

Amnesty International argues that the Government of Havana uses ambiguous legal terms to punish dissidents.

“The laws that typify ’public disorder’, ’contempt’, ’lack of respect’, ’dangerousness’ and ’aggression’ are used to prosecute or threaten to prosecute, for political reasons, opponents of the government”, Amnesty International indicated in a report on Cuba.

Translated by Wilfredo Díaz Echevarria

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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.

La Demajagua, 150 Years of Struggle and Waiting

Unfortunately this video is not subtitled but many of the comments are summarized below.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 10 October 2018 — The batey (sugar workers’ town) La Demajagua has barely 400 inhabitants. In the interviews they do with Cuba’s official media, all of them, without exception, feel great pride to live in one of the most important sites in Cuban history, where, on 10 October 150 years ago the wars of independence against Spain began.

A little more than six miles from the city of Manzanillo, the town’s center of gravity is a leafy Jagüey tree, born among the ruins of the old sugar mill. The tree’s roots have engulfed a huge cogwheel of the industry, destroyed by cannon fire a week after Carlos Manuel de Céspedes began the conflict there.

Retired senior citizens, teenagers and preschool children clarify to the visitor that the tree that is now admired is the son of the original, which died in 1998 despite efforts made to save it. They explain that the bell that today presides over the National Park was forged in 1859 in Normandy, France, and brought to Cuba in 1860. continue reading

Residents also relate that the bell has been bought, stolen, rescued and taken down from its seat on several occasions as an object of manipulation by politicians. They know everything about history, dates, the ancestry of surnames, and about small and large disagreements among their leaders.

What they can not explain clearly to the visitor is why the roads that reach the site are almost impassable, what is the reason for the dilapidated state of their homes, what is the cause of the malfunction of the water distribution network, and why there are so many difficulties supplying markets and providing electricity service.

Nothing in the daily situation of their lives is consistent with the historical importance of their homeland, a place with bold headlines dedicated to it in the press when historical dates approach.

Despite their town’s having been declared a National Monument in 1978, residents complain that it is only remembered when 10 October approaches, especially in the years that the bureaucrats of history like to call “closed anniversaries” because the number of years ends in a zero.

Thus it was on the centenary, which had its apogee with an act presided over by Fidel Castro in 1968, when Fidel took the opportunity to proclaim that he and the other members of his generation were successors of those patricians “because the Revolution is the result of a hundred years of struggle (…) because in Cuba there has only been one revolution, the one that was begun by Carlos Manuel de Céspedes on October 10, 1868 and that our people carry forward in these moments.”

Now, half a century after that commemoration, a popular phrase inspired by “the historical statements of the maximum leader” is still being repeated and even updated, and it is thrown at those who get too vocally upset in the face of problems. “Don’t pick a fight, remember it’s already a hundred and fifty years.”

For years, slogans have drowned out the voices of the people who live in La Demajagua. Like Carmen Barreras, who regrets that they have never seen any Government figure or local authorities show any concern about the town. “Neither about how we live, nor about our situation when the evening comes, sometimes, and we have nothing (…) and nothing to sell.”

As this October celebrates a round anniversary of that uprising, the current Cuban president, Miguel Diaz-Canel, visited La Demajagua last June to show interest in the work aimed at giving greater splendor to the historic place.

There, ten royal palms have been planted in representation of the tenth day of the tenth month in which the events took place, and 12 flagpoles have been placed on the mount of flags that symbolize the number of men who continued fighting with Céspedes after the first military failure of the attempt to take the town of Yara.

Among the renovations now underway are included: new lights, the restoration of all the park’s plantings, an internet room, a cafeteria and a cultural goods store. The rooms of the museum will also be enlarged with the purpose of setting up new showcases, exhibiting numismatic objects allegorical to the date, and photos and documents of the time.

However, the residents insist that more effort should be made to solve people’s problems rather than a continued investment in historic facilities. “Our little houses that they said they were going to fix, they came, they measured everything, but it is one of things they say they are going to do and then they don’t … I do not understand how they carry on like this,” another resident denounces to 14ymedio.

To the housing problems are added La Demajagua’s other chronic ills, those things that cause its young people to turn their eyes to another part of the national geography, or abroad, in search of new horizons.

“Here most of the people were left out of the cooperative, here the people do not have a job more than once a year,” regrets Mayelín Aguilar. To the drama of unemployment are added the scarce supplies in the area’s only market of rationed products “There is no rice now in the bodega, and so people are hungry,” she warns.

This Wednesday, once again the residents of the area will listen to historians speak about the latest details discovered in research about the past, it will be discussed again if the correct name of the site is La Demajagua or just Demajagua, due to the proliferation of the blue Majagua tree, whose woods are used to make doors and furniture.

When the celebrations are over, the television technicians, the journalists, the Communist Party officials and the Government will leave this place that many call “The altar of the Fatherland.” The demajagüenses will remain with the hope that by the next anniversary their demands will be met. And as for that wait, some recommend not to get too upset because it’s already been 150 years of struggle and you have to take it easy.

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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.

Young Ball Player Leaves His Future Behind to Return to Cuba

The seventeen-year-old boy chose to abandon his dream just as it was about to come true and returned to his small town of Batey Colorado. (YouTube)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Ernesto Santana, Havana, 10 October 2018 – The pitcher Roberto Hernández Navarro broke his contract with the Cleveland Indians for a chance to join the Sancti Spíritus Roosters. In an example of truth being stranger than fiction, the seventeen-year-old boy chose to abandon his dream just as it was about to come true and returned to his small town of Batey Colorado.

At age fifteen, after playing in a game in which the Cuba’s national youth team beat its U.S. rival at the Pan American Games, Hernández Navarro decided to help his family. With his sights set on the Big Top, he legally left the country with his father, traveled to the Dominican Republic and spent a year and three months training in the provincial capital of Bonao.

“The scouts saw me, followed me, did speed tests, took videos, saw my results and signed me with the Cleveland Indians,” says the pitcher. With a $320,000 contract the plan was to develop him and get him into the Major Leagues as soon as possible. They even compared it with José Fernández. continue reading

More than thirty Cuban ball players have returned home because they were not offered a contract or because the adventure did not turn out as they had hoped. But that was not the case with Hernández Navarro, who was able to enroll in the Chiki Mejías Baseball Academy, where he received proper nutrition, lodging and daily training.

He even played a season in the Dominican Republic and earned a spot in the All-Stars. “In that game I pitched four times in one inning. That’s incredible there. In Cuba I was pitching at ninety miles. Ninety to ninety-two.” After signing his contract, the prospects were simply spectacular.

But not having anyone to talk about his achievements at the end of the day was hard. He missed his family, especially his grandmother, who had always been very supportive, and his little brother. He longed to hear the river, play dominos, go where he wanted. “There’s no place else with freedom like Cuba,” he now says in an interview.

Roberto Hernández met with the team’s management and explained his situation. Contrary to what he was expecting, they let him keep the money and only advised him to take care of his arm and to continue playing baseball in Cuba because he had a great future. His return home was very emotional.

Also contrary to what he was expecting, Cuban baseball officials have let him train in their facilities, have not chastised him for anything and will very likely allow him to join the Roosters, who have had a difficult season and would benefit from the addition of a pitcher like him.

What has been almost impossible is convincing people he is not crazy for turning his back on fame and fortune. “I cannot get into their heads and open their minds,” he says, although he understands. He admits too would think the same thing if he had not “had to face reality,” did not know himself so well and had not decided to take this difficult step backward.

But it is not easy for many to respect his decision. Some feel he is too young and will later regret it, or that he will leave baseball. They believe a high performance athlete must make sacrifices and does not have time to swim in the river, play dominoes, spend time with family or go for a walk whenever he wants.

Others say that, though he came back with a third of a million dollars, it will not last forever. They question if he will feel the same way after the sport’s bosses take their cut and family expenses take their toll. He also still does not know what the life of a high-level Cuban player is like.

To other fans the case of Hernández Navarro is just an exception that proves the rule. There are many players still willing to try their luck in the big leagues and, until current conditions change, those who are successful will not return to Cuba, where they would not even be able play for the national team.

Some people think that a boy who is unwilling to sacrifice everything for a big league career simply does not have enough ambition to be a ball player. Others believe that, if Robertico — as they call him — had been the son of a Victor Mesa or a Lourdes Gurriel rather than a humble Cuban, his destiny would have been different.

Many laugh at his claim about freedom in Cuba but still want him to be happy after reality sets in and he has a change heart. Or when his son one day criticizes him for having condemned them to life in a country with no future.

In any event, the worst aspect of this odd case is the official statements. Robertico has done well in deciding what he thinks is best, but it is disheartening to see TV journalist Reinaldo Taladrid blaming the US embargo on the current relationship between Cubans in the Major Leagues and the authorities here.

Even more disconcerting is how this “great connoisseur” of baseball defends “a human being’s sacrosanct right to personal freedom to live where he most wants.” How nice that would be…

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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.

Journalist Serafín Morán Receives Political Asylum in the US

The reporter had to overcome a long judicial process to prove that his life was in danger inside the Island. (Courtesy of  Serafín Morán Santiago)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana | October 12, 2018 — US authorities have granted political asylum to independent journalist Serafín Morán after six months in a detention center in Pearsall, Texas, according to Cubanet. The reporter had to overcome a long judicial process to prove that his life was in danger inside the Island.

Morán Santiago had been detained in the US since April after requesting political asylum at the border with Mexico, claiming that he was the victim of constant repression in his country for his journalism work. In August, an immigration judge denied bail to the reporter, who had to wait in the Office of Detention and Deportation (ICE) for the hearing where his case was heard this October.

During the months of waiting, Fundamedios and Reporters Without Borders (RWB) expressed their concern about the eventual deportation to Cuba of the 40-year-old reporter. Both organizations feared an increase in the “persecution by the government of the island against him,” said María Fernanda Egas, a journalist with Fundamedios, an organization that defends press freedom in the United States. continue reading

Margaux Ewen, the director of RWB North America, emphasized at that time that “deportation to Cuba (for Morán Santiago), where independent journalists are threatened and harassed by the authorities, is not an option.” Ewen explained to this newspaper that the reporter had demonstrated “a credible fear of returning to Cuba.”

In May of 2017 Morán Santiago was summoned to appear before the Municipal Court of Arroyo Naranjo, in Havana, accused of “simulation of crime,” that is, making a false accusation. The accusation was related to a denunciation made by the reporter against the police officers who allegedly detained him when he got off a bus in Havana.

The journalist said he was arrested by the State Security in the province of Sancti Spíritus on June 3, 2016, and transferred to Havana in a bus “after seven hours of detention.”

In July of the following year, Morán Santiago managed to enter the Psychiatric Hospital of Havana and interviewed Daniel Llorente, the activist who displayed a United States flag during the parade on May 1 (International Workers’ Day) in the Plaza of the Revolution.

Last April, Reporters Without Borders ranked Cuba 172nd out of 180 nations, in terms of press freedom, the worst rating on the continent.

Translated by Wilfredo Díaz Echevarria

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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.

Cuban Activist Tomas Nunez Magdariaga Rejects Serums That Keep Him Alive

Tomás Núñez Magdariaga remains in the hospital of Santiago de Cuba and is hardly allowed to receive visits from relatives.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 12 October 2018 — Patriotic Union of Cuba (Unpacu) activist Tomás Núñez Magdariaga, on a hunger strike to denounce his sentence of one year in prison, for several days has rejected the serums necessary to keep him alive, according to his brother Óscar Núñez, who visited him on Tuesday.

Núñez Magdariaga is in the prison ward of Juan Bruno Zayas Hospital (Santiago de Cuba), where he was able to see his brother for a few minutes. On the other hand, the authorities did not allow Unpacu activist Yenisey Jiménez to visit.

“I saw him in very bad shape, he said he would not eat if he was not freed and that he is unjustly imprisoned and they were humiliating him,” the brother told 14ymedio on Tuesday. Oscar Núñez is on his way to the capital of the island to take several efforts legal issues related to the case. continue reading

“I’m crazy to get to Havana to go to the prosecutor’s office because in Santiago they told me that Tomás’s file had been sent there and I’m going to look for an answer,” he said. Currently, as he was informed in the hospital, the case was in the hands of the Attorney General of the Republic, who was reviewing it and who could make a decision on the sentence at any time.

The activist was accused of “threatening” an agent of the political police, but the agent later retracted and claimed that he was blackmailed by State Security to accuse Núñez Magdariaga in exchange for a job and housing.

On Wednesday, Yenisei Jiménez, also an Unpacu activist, returned to the hospital with the intention of personally speaking with Núñez Magdariaga, but was not allowed to see him because, as they explained to him, they “could no longer give out any information about the activist.” The nurse in the prison ward informed him that he again refused to be treated by the doctor and put on serums. “He does not want anyone to touch him,” she told Jiménez.

The archbishop of Santiago de Cuba, Dionisio García Ibáñez, visited the activist last weekend and, according to what Unpacu member Carlos Amel Oliva reported to this newspaper, the archbiship was told that Núñez Magdariaga “would be released in a couple of days because the case [against him] did not hold up.”

“It’s been four days or five days and nothing,” said Amel Oliva.

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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.

Food Markets Without Refrigerators

Most of the agricultural markets in Cuba lack equipment to refrigerate meats. (Bryan Ledgard)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Zunilda Mata, Havana, 11 October 2018 — The image of flies perched on a hind leg or hovering around some ribs is familiar to all customers of the so-called agros, where refrigerators to preserve the meat are scarce. Instead, the cuts are exhibited outdoors on pallets from where the sellers pick them up with their hands, without any protection, to weigh them and sell them.

The product that finally reaches the homes of consumers has been without refrigeration for more than 12 hours, because the animals slaughtered the night before and brought to the markets in vehicles that also lack any equipment to preserve them. If the cusotmer is lucky, nothing will have happened and the meat will be tasty, but many times the food already shows a certain degree of deterioration. continue reading

“The color was a little weird, but I thought it was nothing,” a customer at the 17th Street Youth Labor Army market in Havana tells 14ymedio. “When I got it home I realized that part of the meat was in poor condition and a piece of the bone had a greenish tone.” The result was the loss of 250 CUP (Cuban pesos), half of her monthly salary.

The complaints are constant and, although there are rules that regulate the handling of food in Cuba, the State has a hard time controlling the problem which also extendes to the network of butchers and dairies in the rationed market. “When the chicken arrives, consumers have to buy it in the first hours, because the fridge is broken,” says an employee of a state-owned store in La Timba neighborhood.

World Health Organization reports that one of the factors that lead to the diseases transmitted through food is, precisely, “the failures in the cold chain” during the transfer and storage of these products.

Need, and a demand that far exceeds the available supply, means that traders end up selling their meats despite the obvious signs of their not having been adequately preserved.

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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.

Cojimar, Hemingway’s Village in Cuba, is Full of African Snails

Giant African Snail in Cojimar, Cuba. (Courtesy)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 11 October 2018 — Cojímar, the town east of Havana that has been linked in literature and the collective imagination to the name of Ernest Hemingway, is now experiencing its own battle against the Giant African Snail. The invasive species, which has been spreading throughout the Island for the last four years, has found in this coastal community an ideal place for its spread.

“They are in almost every patio and when you see them most is at night,” Carmen tells 14ymedio. She is a resident who has watched the greenness of her garden diminish before the voracity of snails that “eat everything they find.” continue reading

When the first specimens showed up they seemed nice, “almost funny,” she remembers. Then, as they began to multiply faster, the worry began. “We had heard on the Internet about their arrival in Cuba several years ago, but we never thought that they would arrive here,” says Carmen.

“We have tried everything and they are very resistant,” she adds. “Some people throw salt on them and say it leaves them half stupefied but I can’t waste the little salt they give me at the bodega on that.” The woman regrets that in addition to the warnings and some Public Health technicians who have passed through the place, no one has come to tell them how to eradicate them.

On the morning TV show Buenos Dias, on Thursday, the warnings about the snail increased in tone. “It is recommended not to touch them and to wash with potable water any vegetables before eating them, and do not use them as food or pets or decorations.” Those who see a specimen were urged to go to the nearest health center,” and the spread of the snails on the Island was classified as a “dangerous plague.”

In recent weeks there have been reports of the presence of the snail in Placetas, Cabaiguán and Sancti Spíritus. Even the official press, reluctant to publish information that generates alarm among the population, has confirmed the advance of the African snail, but without specifying any approaches to deal with it.

In July 2014, this newspaper uncovered the arrival of the invasive species Achatina fulica in Cuba. The alarm was raised by a citizen of the municipality of Arroyo Naranjo in Havana. The farmer, when inspecting his plantings, spotted snails between 5 and 10 centimeters long on his crops and called the institutions responsible for public health to inform them. Days later the state press confirmed the story.

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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.

Private Sector Courier Beats Cuban Postal Service

Cubans can now enjoy home delivery (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Zunilda Mata, 6 October 2018 — “We deliver products from stores to your home,” reads an advertisement for one of the most popular classified ad sites in Cuba. “No work, no walking no sweating,” the text adds in a jocular tone. In a country where access to Amazon is non-existent and most stores do not offer home delivery, the novelty of consumer products arriving at a customer’s front door is becoming more common.

Marieta and Carlos, aged 23 and 28 respectively, have been working together for more than a year on what they call “specialized courier services.” They began with a friend, selling appliances and construction materials that they delivered to wherever clients wanted them. “But we later realized that it was really a business that could deliver anything at all to your home,” says the young woman.

Thus began CHL, a small business whose initials recall those of the famous courier service DHL, “but with a C for Cuba,” notes Marieta. “We transport everything, from letters to refrigerators. And if someone wants us to buy something for him and bring the product to him, we’ll do that too.” Prices vary based on distance but, within Havana, “a combination store visit and home delivery costs between three and five CUC [convertible pesos] depending on the volume.” continue reading

“For those who are very busy or for people with mobility issues, it’s a godsend,” says Carlos. “The packages and products we transport are very well protected. Our boxes and containers will prevent even an egg from getting broken.” They note that in recent months their clientele has doubled, which they credit to “word of mouth.”

Unlicensed businesses hire them to provide delivery services to their customers. “They take care of sales and we take care of delivery, which leaves them more time for business,” explains Carlos. “It works like a chain, from classified ad to vendor to us.”

The two young entrepreneurs’ business operates on the legal fringes but fills an unmet need on the island for courier, parcel and express mail delivery services.

Correos de Cuba, the state-run postal service known for its slow delivery and damaged packages, has an abysmal reputation. At least two generations of Cubans have known since childhood not to trust it and avoid dropping letters and post cards in its mail boxes.

Nevertheless, although the state of crisis in the nation’s postal service can be a headache for some, others have decided to take advantage of its shortcomings. “We realized that many people want to send a package, a letter or a bouquet of roses but don’t trust the service offered by the Ministry of Communications,” says Abelardo, who worked as an engineer for two years before deciding, at age thirty-three, to get into the unlicensed courier business.

“My customers are mostly embassies, small private businesses and foreigners living in Cuba who want to make sure something gets to where it is supposed to go,” he explains. “We have a wide network of couriers in every province and we use Viazul or Astro buses to transport the packages.

One of Abelardo’s colleagues waits at the last bus stop, receives the package and takes it to its final destination. “In less than 48 hours the person has the shipment in his hands, almost miraculously,” boasts the engineer, who dreams of “having a fleet of vehicles, to keep growing and to one day have a plane. Why not?”

Abelardo has specialized in creating a network of buyers and “mules” who import merchandise into Cuba. He also works closely with unlicensed courier agencies who send packages packed in travelers’ luggage to their family members on the island. In this regard he is much more efficient than the state-run service.

According to Correos de Cuba, “once a package arrives by mail in Cuba, it takes seven to fifteen days to reach the provinces. In Havana it takes five days to reach the distribution center.” Abelardo boasts he can deliver a package within the capital in less than three days, or four if the package is going to the provinces. “Careful handling and secure shipping are guaranteed,” he says.

“If a customer wants us to buy something for him, we take the sales voucher to the store. And as an extra we include the ‘weekly packet.’* Those who have been with us for a while now pay a fixed monthly rate,” Abelardo says. “This is how Alibaba, the Chinese e-commerce portal, was born. So no one should be surprised if in a few years this small business is taking everything everywhere in Cuba.”

Abelardo knows that “the law does not permit [people like him] to own medium-size and large businesses” but hopes that the new constitutional reforms “might finally allow entrepreneurs to grow because all of us would benefit.” After being interrupted by a phone call, Abelardo begins planning his next order: delivering a Dalmation puppy to someone’s home.

*Translator’s note: The paquete semanal, or weekly packet, is a compilation of largely foreign information and entertainment programming distributed clandestinely and for a modest price on USB devices throughout 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.

Bus Overturns in Cienfuegos and Leaves 20 Wounded

The injured in the Provincial Hospital Gustavo Aldereguía Lima waiting for relatives. (Juan Carlos Dorado / September 5)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio (with information from agencies), Havana, 9 October 2018 – A bus overturned on Monday in the city of Cienfuegos injuring 20 people, state media reported.

The injured were treated at the Gustavo Aldereguía provincial hospital in Cienfuegos, where none of them were reported seriously hurt, but will remain under observation for a few hours waiting to be evaluated by a medical panel to determine their progress, according to the local newspaper 5 de septiembre.

One of the injured was assessed code “red”, because he suffered post-traumatic stress caused by the accident and a heart condition, hospital sources indicated. continue reading

The accident occurred in the vicinity of the fishing port, when the bus was returning from its usual route between the psychiatric hospital and Villuendas Park. According to a preliminary ruling, the vehicle was traveling on the wet pavement with excessive speed and skidded, went off the road and, when the driver tried to get back on it, overturned.

According to the account of the bus driver, Ramón Vallejo, on state television, the incident occurred when he was passing through an area where there are a lot of potholes. “Before reaching a curve the bus slid on me, the steering got hard and at that moment I felt the bus starting to twist around,” he said.

The vehicle was taken from the scene of the accident and is currently being examined by police experts investigating the causes of the incident.

Traffic accidents are the fifth leading cause of death in Cuba, where last year there was an accident every 47 minutes, averaging one death every 12 hours.

In the first quarter of this year, the number of mass accidents has soared alarmingly in the country and more than 4,400 deaths have been reported due to this cause since 2012, according to official data.

The problem of the numerous traffic accidents that occur on the island was addressed by President Miguel Díaz-Canel during a meeting with the Council of Ministers last July, in which the president urged all to be concerned about the “significant number of deaths and injuries” caused by these events.

On that occasion, the Minister of Transportation, Adel Yzquierdo, cited “social indiscipline”, inadequate signaling, detiorated roads and the operation of vehicles without current inspections as the main causes of accidents.

In 2017, 11,187 traffic accidents were recorded in the country, leaving a total of 750 dead and 7,999 injured, according to reports from the National Road Safety Commission.

Translated by Wilfredo Díaz Echevarria

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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.

"We Are Going to Paralyze Havana"

The ’boteros’ (’boatmen’ i.e. taxi drivers) play a critical role in Havana’s passenger transport system. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger

14ymedio, Marcelo Hernandez, Havana, 9 October 2018 — “Post online that this is the last almendrón* that you will see in many days,” joked the driver of an old Chevrolet that makes the route between the Parque de la Fraternidad and Santiago de Las Vegas, in Havana on Monday.

This Monday, the Council of the Provincial Administration initiated an “experiment” that includes new regulations, along with economic and fiscal incentives for the self-employed workers — popularly known as boteros (“boatmen”) — dedicated to passenger transport. The measures have already aroused more distrust than hope among customers and drivers, who are beginning to join forces in the face of the situation.

As of October 8, drivers have had to go to the municipal offices that manage work permits for the self-employed and request a new operating license. To obtain it, the drivers are required to present a contract with the state entities to acquire their fuel and proof of a bank account. continue reading

After this process, drivers can purchase tools, parts and accessories for their vehicles in a wholesale market at 20% lower prices, but a good share of the boteros consulted by this newspaper do not have faith that the state-owned stores can provide the parts they need for their automobiles, most of which are manufactured in the United States.

The official press has detailed that the experiment in Havana’s transport will be developed over four months and that, currently, the participation of operators with cars, vans and minibuses with capacity for between 4 and 14 passengers is voluntary.

Anger has motivated many boteros, who lack unions that can help them stand up to the Government and who fear losing their licenses, to decide to start a discrete work stoppage on Tuesday. However, the heavy rains in the west of the island due to Hurricane Michael will make it difficult to be clear about which ones did not go to work as a protest and which ones failed to show up because of the weather.

In the last few hours passengers hurried to board one of these vehicles — commonly more than half a century old and with innumerable patches. “I caught the last one heading for La Víbora,” this newspaper heard from Teresa, a Havana housewife who managed to travel as the sun went down while the rain did not let up.

The new measures seek to create a balance between “the interests of the population, associated with more affordable prices and safety,” and those of the carriers, “so that they do not see their incomes diminished and have access to facilities” to buy parts according to the vice minister of Transport, Marta Oramas, but customers also have their doubts.

Passengers argue that the prices of private transport are very high, although they also do not trust that the regulations will improve the situation. Sign reads: “If you don’t pay you have to get out.” (14ymedio)

“Each time they implement one of these measures, two things happen: either we the passengers pay for the ’broken dishes’ or in a short time no one respects the rules. Are we going to see what will happen in this case?” said a retiree waiting for an almendrón in Reina street. “Prices can’t continue as they are because the situation can’t be that I pay the botero more for a ride than I get from my pension for a day, but the State doesn’t manage it any better,” he protested.

Among the carrots the the Government is offering to encourage the boteros to accept the rearrangement of the routes and the taxi-stands is the sale of fuel at lower prices, between 2 and 66 cents per liter according to the type. The offer seeks to put an end to the extensive informal market that feeds on fuel stolen from state entities.

Private carriers must also comply with minimum and maximum fuel consumption standards according to the type of vehicle, its capacity and the type of fuel it uses. The calculation of gasoline or diesel will also take into account the variable of the route they have previously contracted with the state transport company to operate.

Since Monday, 26 terminals and 23 associated routes have been established, outside of which the boteros can not operate. “That takes limits mobility and autonomy, without a doubt,” laments Abigail Pacheco, 56, with 16 years in the arena of passenger transportation. “Now it will be an infraction if we go down a street that is not established or if we use a fuel that is not the one that the State sold us,” she laments.

In an unusual informative gesture, the government TV program ’Roundtable’ alluded last week to the informal call for a work stoppage, based on the comments of a viewer. However, the presenters avoided mentioning that in Cuba labor strikes are prohibited and that in more than half a century the Central Workers’ Party of Cuba (CTC) has never called a strike.

In a city with chaotic public transport, which has failed to overcome the blow represented by the end of Soviet subsidies with the demise of the USSR, and where it is normal to wait more than an hour at a bus stop, the almendrones are key to moving millions of passengers every day who need to get to their jobs, homes or schools.

“We have to stand up for ourselves because the government treats us as if we were a necessary evil, but we are the wheels of Havana, without us it stops,” says Osmel, a 38-year-old driver who decided on Tuesday to participate in the strike “with arms folded.”

“Not everyone has joined the call and the truth is that we have not been able to disseminate everything we would have liked, but at each taxi-stand the drivers know that if we continue to give way we will all end up as state workers, with a fixed salary and a boss to tell us where we must go,” he predicts.

Now, the carriers are trying to take on the fight to regain the autonomy that they have achieved since self-employment was authorized in the mid-1990s.

The measures are part of a package of 20 decrees, resolutions and rules that will come into effect on December 7, which, according to the authorities, seek to “reorder” the private sector, but entrepreneurs perceive them as a brake on the economic openings promoted by Raúl Castro.

*Translator’s note: “Almendrone” relates to “almond” and is used as a name for the classic American cars still in use in Cuba, in reference to their shape. Specifically, “almendrones” are used in the shared fixed-route taxi service widely used by Cubans whose needs are not met by regular bus service and do not own cars.

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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.

Havana Begins Experiment in Restructuring Private Transport

In Havana, around 90% of self-employed workers with a license to provide transport, engage in passenger transportation.

14ymedio biggerEFE via 14ymedio, 9 October 2018 —  The private transport of passengers in Havana, where mobility is an important problem, will be the subject of an “experiment” as of Monday, that includes new rules and economic and fiscal incentives to restructure a sector that has been unable to meet demand for decades

A total of 6,119 private holders of transport operation licenses have been summoned to take part in the experiment, which establishes a new classification of routed shared taxi service — unregulated and high-comfort — versus the “classic” mode, according to the authorities in charge of implementation.

In Havana, around 90% of self-employed workers with a transport license dedicate themselves to passenger service, which is recognized as “complementary, alternative and necessary” to the service provided by state-owned companies. continue reading

For years, public transport provided by buses in the capital has been insufficient for the daily movement of hundreds of people, who must turn to private drivers, in a country where buying a vehicle is a luxury available to very few.

Private carriers, mostly owners of US-made cars from the ’40s and ’50s popularly known as “almendrones” — after the ‘almond’ shape of that era’s vehicles — have been summoned as of Monday to appear at the municipal offices that oversee these license holders.

To obtain a license to operate transport, the license holder is required to have a contract to acquire fuel and to have a bank account.

Among the main incentives is that the contract allows the purchase of fuel at lower prices — a savings of between 2 and 66 cents on the dollar per liter depending on the type of gasoline. The requirement also is intended to stop the black market purchase of stolen state fuel.

Another advantage offered to the private carriers that benefit from this initiative is the ability to acquire tools, parts and accessories for their vehicles in a wholesale market at 20% lower prices.

With regards to regulations, private carriers will be required to comply with minimum and maximum fuel consumption volumes according to the type of vehicle, its capacity and fuel class, and also according to the route contracted for with the state transport company

The new system, which establishes 26 terminals and 23 associated routes, will be developed over a period of four months in Havana and will involve license holders with cars, SUVs and minibuses with capacities of between 4 and 14 passengers.

Later, the experiment will be extended to the western provinces of Artemisa and Mayabeque and within a year to the rest of the island. Vehicles of greater size and capacity will also be incorporated, in accordance with what has been explained by those responsible for the scheme.

The Deputy Minister of Transport, Marta Oramas, said recently that the measures taken seek a balance between “the interests of the population, associated with more affordable prices and safety,” and those of the carriers, “so that they do not see their incomes diminished and lose access to facilities,” for fuel and tools, parts and accessories.

“The State must guarantee a stable, orderly and quality service,” said the official.

These regulations are part of a package of 20 measures ordered by the Cuban government that will go into force on December 7 to “reorder” the growing private sector, with the aim of grouping and expanding the profile of permitted activities, as well as restarting the issuing of licenses, which has been on hold since August of 2017.

As of August, more than 593,000 private workers were registered in Cuba, a figure that represents 13% of employed persons, according to updated data from the Ministry of Labor and Social Security.

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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.