The Government Paints an Idyllic Country for Foreign Investors / 14ymedio

14ymedio, Havana, 5 November 2014 — The documentation that the Cuban government has distributed among potential foreign investors for the purpose of capturing some 8.7 billion dollars for development projects on the Island highlights the country’s “favorable business environment.”

The Opportunities Portfolio and Guide, to which 14ymedio has had access, highlights the “restructuring of the country’s policies since the updating of the economic model,” even though the reforms promoted by President Raul Castro since 2007 have not solved the many problems that strangle the system.

The so-called Raulist reforms have not prevented the economy from growing at a slower pace than officially forecasted. According to government calculations, the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) will close the year with an increase of 1.4%. Nevertheless, independent analysts think that this figure does not reflect the real state of the economy.

Throughout 168 pages, the Opportunities Portfolio insists on the presence of a “regulatory framework and an updated foreign investment policy and incentives for investors.”

The document mentions the existence of a “secure and transparent body of law” and “promotional institutions at the service of investors” as well as a “climate of security for foreign personnel,” when a little more than a month ago the severe sentence imposed on Canadian entrepreneur Vahe Cy Tokmakjian was made known.

This case, often considered a test for those who plan to invest on the Island, concluded with the 15-year prison sentence for the President of Tomakjian Group for various corruption crimes. Along with him, another 14 Cubans were condemned to sentences of between six and 20 years in jail.

The Portfolio also praises the “high indicators in matters of education, social security and health of the population,” even though the island is going through a delicate situation from the epidemiological point of view. In recent months, the spread of dengue fever, cholera and chikungunya may have caused dozens of deaths throughout the country, although health authorities have not supplied reliable figures.

The document also celebrates the presence of basic infrastructure throughout the whole country, including railways and roadways, in spite of the fact that the bad state of the highways has caused more than 5,600 accidents in the first half of this year, with a balance of 347 deaths and more than 4,300 injuries.

 

Translated by MLK

Long faces and empty pockets / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 1 November 2014 – One of the distinctive features of the new era in Cuba is that it is no longer shortages but pricing that explains the difficulty of acquiring food grown on the island, but at bottom the issue is the same as always: lack of productivity.

For decades Cubans “got used” to the non-existence of certain agricultural products. Especially in the ‘60s and ‘70s when there was a stronger dependence on the ration market and consumers felt more like users than customers. The production plans were conceived to satisfy, barely, the rationing plan and there wasn’t even a way of marketing the excess.

Every time policies emerged that tended towards openings –such as the farmers markets of the ‘80s – fruits, vegetables and meats absent from the ration book reappeared on the stands, but along with the happy return of mamey, lettuce and malanga, also appearing were the long faces of those who didn’t even bother to reach into their pockets when they saw the exorbitant prices.

Then the righteous zeal of the Maximum Leader, his unbridled voluntarism, decided to prohibit these manifestations of mercantilism and beans, onions, and of course meat, were once again lost to us. Like the erratic gait of Ruperto, a TV comic character of our time, every two steps forward necessarily entailed one step back.

But the long faces of the “disadvantaged” still demand some Robin Hood to bring order to the Sherwood Forest. In letters from readers of the newspaper Granma or on the National Television program “Cuba Says” the indignant tear their hair out in the face of “the abusive prices that unscrupulous intermediaries impose to profit on the needs of the population.” It is recognized that the producers and the sellers are now sheltering under the law of supply and demand and therefore are authorized to set the prices they want, but others think that there should be “a limit” because consumer protection should come first.

On this topic, the commentator Talia Gonzalez said this week on the TV magazine Buenos Días, “We have to recognize that the experiment undertaken in the provinces of Havana, Artemisa and Mayabeque for the last year has enabled the expansion of supply and variety in the markets, but now there is another phenomenon: the products are there, but in many cases they are inaccessible…”

There has been an 18 percent increase in production over the previous year, but this isn’t reflected in prices

Officials in the Ministry of Agriculture affirm that there has been an 18 percent increase in production over the previous year, but this isn’t reflected in the prices because the supposed increases are destined principally to replace imports or to fulfill commitments to schools, hospitals and other social sectors, which are not always met.

The blame for the problem lies entirely in eminently subjective issues, such as the lack of control and demands, the arrears in payments or the failure to meet contracts, but there is something deeper, closely related to the nature of a system that, however much they try to update or perfect it, still has the same essence.

When a farmer realizes that 100 pounds of onions sold at 40 pesos a pound brings in the same as 800 pounds sold at 5 pesos a pound he has discovered, without needing to be an economist, sociologist or politician, that in Cuban society today for every economically favored consumer, there are eight who are not.

That is, if in Cuba there are approximately one and a quarter million people with sufficient purchasing power to absorb what little is produced, at the stated price, there will be no interest in increasing production, unless by some miracle the communist prophecy is fulfilled where work will become the first human need, beyond narrow material interests.

What a discovery! The system can’t function as long as it tries to maintain a policy of equity and justice, while aspiring to an efficient and sustainable economy. It is not that the producers have been given too much freedom, but rather not enough. At least as much as necessary so that, from the ruins of a proletariat forced into corruption to survive and a peasantry fearful of putting their prosperity on the display, an empowered and entrepreneurial middle class can emerge. But such an idea, so liberal, doesn’t fit in the straitjacket of the Guidelines of the 6th Communist Party Congress.

It is historically proven that productivity grows not only when there are the necessary technological and scientific requirements to make the performance of the productive forces more efficient, but also when there is a need to increase production and that need is backed by the purchasing power of consumers. Otherwise the hungriest countries would be the most productive but, sadly, the opposite happens.

At every hierarchical, academic and political level they know that this serpent doesn’t stop biting its tale, but in the inaccessible premises where the great decisions are taken they are afraid to recognize that unviability is a regular part of the socialist system they learned as a catechism from the Soviet manuals. They will never recognize it, unless the dissatisfied with their long faces move beyond their irritations at the prices in the market stalls, and channel their anger and frustration where it belongs.

Abel Prieto Attacks The “Packet” and “Technological Nomadism” / 14ymedio, Rosa Lopez

Cuba Pavilion, where the Cultural Consumer Forum meets in Cuba: Art, Culture, Education and Technology
Cuba Pavilion, where the Cultural Consumer Forum meets in Cuba: Art, Culture, Education and Technology

14ymedio, Rosa Lopez, Havana / 1 November 2014 — Why do young people prefer video games to the high-flown revolutionary exploits that national television displays? Is the audio-visual “packet” displacing official programming? Those questions hang in the air – although without being directly enunciated – at the Forum on Cultural Consumption in Cuba: Art, Culture, Education and Technology, which is being held this weekend in the Mayo Room of the Cuba Pavilion.

Participating in the official event are Abel Prieo*, Raul Castro’s adviser on cultural topics, Miguel Barnet and other members of the Cuban Union of Writers and Artists (UNEAC) and the Saiz Brothers Brigade. The meeting of intellectuals takes a critical stance in the face of an avalanche of material – uncontrolled by government – that is circulating within the country, especially through the so-called “packet” or “combo” that is distributed by alternative means.

The manifest purpose of this event is to diagnose the ways culture is consumed in Cuba and accordingly “to create an alternative platform for art, education and new technologies and in this way reach a much wider audience.”

Abel Prieto stated in one of the sessions that it seemed to him “that the intellectual position of irrational rejection of new ways of consuming culture is as harmful as that of a post-modern relativism which accepts everything as good. That relativism brings us a blurring of precisely the objectives of a cultural policy, the objectives of the humanism that today is absolutely in bad shape.”

In the forum several references were made to the topic of video games, and Prieto himself judged it as “a complex and dialectical process,” to immediately add that “some are inoffensive, but others are essentially violent and become an addiction.”

Cuba thus seems to be peeping out to the great modern debates about violence and addiction to which video games may give rise, but for the moment it is only permitted to publicly discuss a portion of those involved in the possible problem. The government’s cultural policy tries to determine from above what each Cuban sees on his television screen and what is good or bad for his subsequent social attitude.

Abel Prieto also attacked the “packet” and “technological nomadism” through storage devices like USB memory. The ex-minister of culture opined that “one of the tricks of these new ways of consuming culture is that they give the idea that the person is choosing what he wants to consume, but he does it from the paradigms that are imposed on him. Democracy and diversity are hidden beneath a trap of the hegemonic agenda of the entertainment.”

As evidence that the ruling party surrenders before the existence of those phenomena, Prieto ventured that “we have to promote more diverse and inclusive packets.” The problem is that the greater part of the Cuban people are no longer willing to have officialdom make their audiovisual menu for them.

Tedium, low-quality production, excessive ideology and secrecy have for too long characterized the audiovisual products cooked up in the laboratories of the Communist Party Central Committee Department of Revolutionary Orientation (DOR), the entity that governs television programming and the content of all national press media.

However, the recent speeches in the Forum also hint at alarm. Abel Prieto asserted that “at no time will the State cede to private individuals the decision of cultural policy.” His immediate call “to not demonize new cultural consumption in an authoritarian manner” did not manage to erase the implicit threats in his prior words.

“Hopefully knowledge and cultural information will come into fashion,” concluded Prieto, but he failed to include in that sentence the adjectives “revolutionary” or “politically correct” which always hang over every audiovisual production promoted and encouraged by the ruling party.

Regrettably, culture continues to be governed more by political statements than by demands for education or personal growth.

This morning the Forum’s sessions will continue, missing the voices that defend video games, the “packet,” and the democratization of information.

*Translator’s note: After being ousted as Minister of Culture Prieto was given the title of “Cultural Advisor.”

Translated by MLK

Displaying Those Who Watched Us / 14ymedio, Eliecer Avila

National Memory Institute in Poland (14ymedio)
National Remembrance Institute in Poland (14ymedio)

14ymedio, Eliecer Avila, Warsaw, 23 October 2014 — Recently, a wide cross section of Cuban civil society and opposition has been invited to Poland. The program has included a broad array of activities; including a visit to a jail and the governmental palace, meetings with important political figures, debates and lectures.

What has struck me most was entering the archives of Polish Communist State Security. I had only seen such a degree of paranoia and meticulousness in movies, like the classic “The Lives of Others.”

But this time was different. We found ourselves face to face with 90 kilometers of documents, hundreds of thousands of records, operative cards, photos, video tapes, personal profiles, and information about collaborators and people under surveillance.

These records prove that in all the Russian communist colonies there existed similar repressive agencies that turned into the biggest and most sophisticated institutions of their time. The surveillance and repression of thought was the activity to which those countries devoted the most resources.

The National Remembrance Institute leads investigations to purge the responsibilities in thousands of crimes committed by State Security against Polish citizens, always under the guidelines of the infamous Soviet KGB.

The information that these documents hold even today can be vital for many people who aspire to occupy public office, now that new democratic institutions usually ask those in charge of the archive to investigate if in the past such-and-such a person collaborated with State Security.

Documents destroyed by State Security (14ymedio)
Documents destroyed by State Security (14ymedio)

The documents also reveal that practically no one escaped security surveillance. Priests, artists, intellectuals, diplomats, business owners, all foreigners and even the Communist leaders themselves were spied upon. To that end they used the most advanced techniques of the time, like steam machines to unseal and then reseal letters, microphones inside of homes, hidden cameras and personal tracking, among others.

Even Fidel Castro himself had his file in the archives of the Polish State Security

Even Fidel Castro himself had his file in the archives of the Polish State Security, even when cooperation was very tight between all the repressive bodies of the Soviet bloc, including Cuba.

In spite of all that Mafioso and apparently infallible machinery, the people knew how to find their way and free themselves from so much sick perversion and, in the majority of cases, undertake a road towards true development, with a foundation in a government of law and in open and democratic politics.

The gray days dominated by fear and sadness were left behind to give way to a multitude of colors in the plazas of cities like Warsaw and Cracow, converted into reference points for constant growth and improvement.

I am absolutely convinced that one day in the not-too-distant future we will show delegations from all over the world the archives and installations of State Security in Cuba. Officials and collaborators of the repressive apparatus will be like naked kings before the astonished gaze of new generations formed in pluralism and respect for others in order to rebuild the nation.

Translated by MLK

Cardenas Court tries providers of a Wi-Fi network / 14ymedio

14ymedio, Cardenas, 31 October 2014 – A strong State Security operation on Thursday prevented activists and independent journalists from attending a trial held at the Cardenas Municipal Court at 2:00 PM against five young people who installed an extensive Wi-Fi network in this town, according to a report to 14ymedio from independent journalist Leticia Ramos, who was expelled from the court and briefly detained.

The defendants, who were no older than 30, had been the object of a complaint by the Cuban Radio Company. They are accused of illegal economic activity, a crime under Article 228.1 of the Penal Code, facing a sentence of three months to one year imprisonment. If the aggravating circumstance of use of materials or means of illicit origin is proved, the sanction is one to three years imprisonment, in addition to confiscation of the property involved.

The prosecutor couldn’t prove that “any of the servers were stolen or had entered the country illegally,” a person who didn’t want their name published told 14ymedio. continue reading

The case had already been announced in the local paper Girón last 26 June, when there was great anticipation to know the results.

The defendants were arrested during an impressive police operation last June, when the network that received audiovisuals over the Internet and distributed them through a wireless network was dismantled.

At that time, Girón reported that an individual “behind the façade of a ham radio operator, installed several antennas in his home.” The official media report warned that this type of action fostered “the circulation and consumption of alienating audiovisual materials.”

Several people were caught taking notes and were expelled from the court. Sources close to the families of the accused reported that the prosecutor asked for high fines and the permanent confiscation of all the materials seized.

The trial concluded pending sentencing, with the expectation that the accused will receive communications about their sentences in the next few days.

Havana, the most expensive city for transportation in Latin America / 14ymedio

How much of your salary do you pay for transportation? Results of research of the Engineering Department at Diego Portales University, Chile
How much of your salary do you pay for transportation? Results of research of the Engineering Department at Diego Portales University, Chile

14ymedio, Havana, 31 October, 2014 – The Engineering Department at Diego Portales University in Chile has released a study that shows Havana as the city with the highest transportation costs relative to salary. The research looked at 20 capitals in the region and was published by the newspaper La Tercera and on Radio Cooperativa.

According to the report, the most costly city with regard to public transport fairs is Havana, whose “inhabitants spend 24% of their minimum salaries” on it.

The cheapest city is Panama City, where people spend only 1.7% of the minimum wage on transport

At the other end of the scale, the cheapest city is Panama City, where the inhabitants only spend 1.7% of the minimum wage on this budget item. In Chile, meanwhile, people pay 12.1% of the minimum wage to use this public service. continue reading

Now, if we look at the absolute numbers, the Latin American city with the highest priced transport is Brasilia. Although in relation to the minimum wage it is second highest, behind the Cuban capital.

Public Transport in Cuba has seen a price increase in recent years. Although the official price of most buses is forty centavos in Cuban pesos (CUP), many routes have a fare of 1 CUP. To this is added the deteriorating service and the long waits at the bus stops, which have made many opt for collective taxis—also known as almendrones*–whose fare is 10 CUP one-way.

With a minimum monthly salary of 225 CUP, Havanans were spending almost one-fourth of their income on transportation, according to this study at Diego Portales University.

*Translator’s note: The word “almendrone” comes from the Spanish word for “almond” and is a reference to the shape of the 1950s American cars that are commonly used as privately operated shared-taxis.

An Unfamiliar Cuba in the “Era of Changes” / 14ymedio, Miriam Celaya

Covering Cuba in an Era of Change, Columbia University, New York
Covering Cuba in an Era of Change, Columbia University, New York

14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, New York, 19 October 2014 — If it weren’t because the mediations are in English, because of the discipline in the adhering to the schedules, because of the coordination and care of each detail and because the quality of the service, it could be said that the conference covering “Cuba in an Era of Change”, in which I am taking part as an invitee, could be taking place at an official Cuban venue.

However, it is all taking place at the Columbia School of Journalism, New York, though, on occasion, the debate and its members seem to be following a script designed to please even the most demanding Castro delegate, not because of its focus on issues of the lifting of the embargo–not just in the news coverage in a changing Cuba where, nevertheless, we continue to endure a shocking lack of freedom–but in the combined half-truths and warped fantasies that aim to lay the foundations of the futility of American policy towards the Cuban government.

There is no doubt about the need to implement new policies to clear the current impasse in US-Cuba relations, but it is incorrect to regard as null the effect of the embargo on the Cuban government, the same way that “it’s an excuse that allows Castro to stifle dissent” is a thesis that constitutes a candid remark, to put it delicately.

If indeed the embargo is harmless, how do we explain the repeated complaints of the ruling caste, qualifying it as “criminal policy”, especially after the fall of the so-called European real socialism, when the huge subsidies that allowed the implementation of social programs ended, yet still nurture the “Castro” legend in almost every forum?

As long as the image of “the kind dictatorship” prevails, the one that universalized health and education “for the people” (…) Cubans will, unfortunately, continue to be fucked.

But life for Cubans will not improve by reinforcing old myths. So long as the image of “the kind dictatorship”, the one that universalized health and education “for the people”, forgetting that the price paid was our freedom; while that strange fascination about Fidel Castro, the maker of the longest dictatorship in the western hemisphere, continues to exist; while we continue to fall into the vice of alluding about those who are considered adversaries without allowing them participation in the debate, or just while some lobbyists, perhaps too sensitive, leave the room when someone–with the moral authority conferred by being Cuban and living in Cuba–dares to reveal truths that they don’t want to hear; while the voices of those who are really suffering the ebbs and tides of the policies are absent, it will not matter whether there is an embargo or not. Cubans will, unfortunately, continue to be fucked.

These past few days I have been attending, perplexed, the debates of many speakers who think they know, perhaps with the best motivation in the world, what the Cuban reality is and what is best for us. I’ve heard the old version of Cuban History where Fidel Castro is heir to the Martí philosophy, and successor to the struggle for independence. I have heard many compliments about the fabulous achievements of the Cuban system in matters of ecology, social services and even in economics. I have discovered the Cuba which those who move public opinion in this country want to show.

The notable absentees are still the Cubans, not just the ones from Miami, who they generically include in a big sack in these parts, as if they were mere numbers to swell statistics and fill out surveys, who they consider equal to Haitians, who flee their country for purely economic reasons, but also the thousands who continue to emigrate by any means in an ever-growing and constant way, and the millions condemned to drag a life of poverty and hopelessness in our Island. But the most eloquent vacuum, except for my exceptional presence here, is that of the journalists and independent bloggers that do cover the day-to-day from the depth of the Island. Once again, the foreigners’ sugar-coated view has prevailed.

Privilege of the powerful, the media and politicians, for whom Cuba is only an exotic and beautiful island, long ruled by a genius-–perhaps a tad tyrannical, but who will have to die someday–and replaced, in dynastic order, by his brother. An island inhabited by the most cheerful and happy people in the world.

Translated by Norma Whiting

“My Most Fruitful and Difficult Experience Has Been Jail” / 14ymedio, Lilianne Ruiz, Antunez

Jorge Luis García Pérez, Antunez. (14ymedio)
Jorge Luis García Pérez, Antunez. (14ymedio)

14ymedio, LILIANNE RUIZ, Havana, October 25, 2014 — On leaving prison, it took Jorge Luis Garcia Perez, known as Antunez, some time to digest that he could go where he wanted without being watched. They had held him captive for 17 years and 37 days of his life.

Just as he learned to do in jail, today he devotes his efforts to civic resistance, inspired by the doctrine of Gene Sharp and Martin Luther King. His movement gathers dozens of activists who carry out street protests and civic meetings in several provinces of the country and in his native Placetas.

Lilianne: Let’s talk about before going to prison, adolescent Antunez. What did you want to be?

Antunez: In adolescence, a firefighter. I liked the idea of rescuing people, putting out fires. But before going to prison I wanted to become a lawyer. I believe that was my calling.

Lilianne: Jail is a survival experience. Do you think it hardened you?

Antunez: The most fruitful and difficult experience, as paradoxical as it may seem, has been jail. I never could imagine that jail was going to be a hard as it was, nor that I was going to be a witness to and a victim of the vile abuses that I experienced. I do not know how to answer you if it hardened me or not. When I entered prison I had a much more radical ideology, it was less democratic. But jail, thanks to God and to a group of people whom I met, helped me to become more tolerant, more inclusive, and to respect various opinions.

As a prisoner, I went to the most severe regime in Cuba. The gloomy prison of Kilo 8 in Camaguey, commonly known as “I lost the key,” where the most sinister repressors are found. Torture forms part of the repressive mentality of the jailers in a constant and daily way. It was there where a group of us political prisoners came together and founded the Pedro Luis Boitel Political Prisoner’s Association, in order to confront repression in a civic way. Thus, I tell you that prison did not harden me, because if it had, I would have emerged with resentment, hatred, feelings of vengeance, and it was not so.

Lilianne: What is your favorite music?

Antunez: I like romantic music, Maricela, Marco Antonio Solis, Juan Gabriel. But I also enjoy jazz, although I am no expert. The music to which I always sleep is instrumental.

Lilianne: Will you share with us your personal projects?

Antunez: There is a saying according to which a man, before he dies, should plant a tree, write a book and have a child. Fortunately, there is already a book, titled Boitel Lives; CADAL published it in 2005. I have planted many trees, because I am a country peasant. I only need to have a son with the woman I love, Iris Tamara Perez Aguilera, so here I am now telling you one of my goals I am aiming for.

Lilianne: You know that a growing number of dissidents and activists have identified four consensus points. What do you think?

Antunez: I believe that they are standing demands that concern all members of the opposition and all Cubans wherever they are. I wish that more fellow countrymen would adhere to these four points. I believe that they represent the sentiment of all good Cubans: to free political prisoners, for the Cuban government to ratify the human rights agreements, recognize the legitimacy of the opposition and stop repression. Everything that is done for change, to free us from the communist dictatorship that oppresses us, is positive.

Lilianne: Why does Antunez not leave Placetas?

Antunez: Not everyone wants to go to Havana. I know many people who keep their rootedness. I would say that, more than roots, it is a spiritual necessity. I leave Placetas three or four days and I begin to feel bad. And that sensation that I have when I come up the heights, coming from Santa Clara… that is something inexplicable. The motto that I repeat, “I won’t shut up, and I’m not leaving Cuba,” means also: “I won’t shut up and I’m not leaving Placetas.”

Translated by MLK

Nightmare in Mexico / 14ymedio, Carlos Malamud

The protests continue in Chilpancingo, capital of Guerrero. (Francisco Cañedo/ SinEmbargo)
The protests continue in Chilpancingo, capital of Guerrero. (Francisco Cañedo/ SinEmbargo)

14ymedio, Carlos Malamud, October 20, 2014 — The regrettable events of Iguala and the disappearance (probably slaughter and disposal) of 43 student teachers (school teachers) again have Mexico facing its greatest scourge of the 21st Century: violence. The triumph of PRI in the elections of 2012, Enrique Pena Nieto’s ascent to power and his reformist program seemed to have redirected the country on a different course than the six-year term of Felipe Calderon (2006-12) and his war against drug trafficking.

Suddenly the dam has burst, and Mexicans have been newly submerged in a black nightmare. Everything is again in question, like governability, the burden of drug trafficking, corruption and civic coexistence. Pena Nieto does well to worry because in this wager an important part of his government and of the memory that he leaves future generations is at play. The worry should reach the whole range of national politics and all levels of government, beginning with the federal, but also the municipal and state.

It is not an easy or a simple problem as proven by the recent history of Colombia, where the mixture of political violence and narco-trafficking aggravated the situation. But in Mexico things are no simpler. The proximity of the United States implies not only a vast market for drugs but also a relatively simple path for arms procurement. Political violence is quite residual and absolutely comparable to the Colombian, and at the moment stable ties have not been established with the cartels.

Its current fragmentation complicates even more the fight by state forces. The fierce fight that the gangs maintain to impose their territorial control increases the violence, the number of victims and the sense of danger that they transmit. In order to achieve their objectives, not limited to narcotics trafficking, they try to tie themselves increasingly to local power, corrupting it to the roots where they can. continue reading

The mayor of Iguala, Jose Luis Abarca and the governor of Guerrero, Angel Aguirre, both belong to the PRD (Democratic Revolutionary Party)

Their work is facilitated in those states, like Guerrero, where inaction or a certain complicity by governors aids the criminal objectives or does nothing to eradicate the cancer of corruption and the ties between the drug traffickers and the local police. This is only the beginning. The weakness of some institutions such as the justice or incarceration systems favors greater territorial implantation of organized crime.

The case of Iguala affects all Mexican political classes and the main national parties, beginning with the PRD (Democratic Revolutionary Party) which both the mayor of Iguala, Jose Luis Abarca — who has skipped town with his wife — and the governor of Guerrero, Angel Aguirre, belong to. It is necessary to involve the three major national forces (PRI, PRD and PAN) in order to establish the basis for a deep civic regeneration. Some think that by not taking significant steps in this sense there would be unpredictable consequences. At the moment conditions for a widespread explosion in calls for greater security are not seen, in spite of there being a very extensive social demand, especially where the scourge of crime and narco-trafficking is greatest.

Until now Pena Nieto has not been greatly affected by the events. After a certain initial delay in taking a more pro-active posture to resolve the case, he has moved with a certain ability. The dispatch of the Gendarmeria – a division of the national police – and the capture of Sidornio Casarrubias, chief of “United Warriors,” presumed responsible in complicity with the municipal authorities and police for the kidnapping of the teachers, are points to his credit.

The Mexican criminal justice system must be reformed. Its labyrinthine intricacies are the best guarantees of impunity

But a good part of Pena Nieto’s future will depend on the path that he follows going forward, especially when the teachers’ cadavers appear. This is a golden opportunity to promote a deep reform of institutions tied to security and the fight against drug trafficking. In spite of dealing with a complex and slow process, it is urgent to finish the commissioning of the Gendarmeria and the purging of many police agencies. At the same time, the Mexican criminal justice system must be reformed. Its labyrinthine intricacies are the best guarantees of impunity for criminals, especially those who can pay good lawyers.

The work is not easy. There are many who profit from the status quo or try to take advantage of the difficulties of the system, as much among the accomplices of the drug trafficker as on the extreme left. But the moment demands conclusive answers. A common expression among youth close to the drug traffickers says: “Better to live five years as a king than 50 years as an ox.” Five years is the life expectancy for the henchmen close to the cartels. The Salvadoran and Honduran gangs are too close to forget their example. If this spreads, Mexico’s future will not be quite as promising as it appears today.

Editor’s note: This analysis has been previously published on the site infolatam. We reproduce it with the author’s permission.

*Carlos Malamud is a researcher for the Elcano Institute of International Studies and Strategies.

Cuba and Ebola: Business or Solidarity? / 14ymedio

THE NEW YORK TIMES: “Only Cuba and a few NGOs are offering what this major emergency needs: professionals prepared to treat patients.”

VS

THE WASHINGTON POST: “The export of medical services will net Cuba 8.2 billion dollars in 2014, according to a recent report in the [Cuban] newspaper Granma.”

14ymedio, 23 October 2014 — Days after publishing an article entitled “Cuba stands at the forefront of the fight against Ebola,” the Spanish daily El País goes a bit further with a discussion of the issue. “The landing of white coats in countries decimated by scarcities allows Cuba to generate prestige with its international presence, to reset its conceptual discourse about fundamental human rights, and to promote government alliances in a good part of Africa, Asia and Latin America… where its vaccines and bandages are appreciated more than the Western powers’ exhortations for democracy,” writes Juan Jesus Aznarez. In addition, the newspaper echoes the news that doctors who travel to West Africa and contract the virus will not be repatriated.

“Although the United Station and other countries have expressed willingness to contribute money, only Cuba and a few NGOs are offering what this major emergency needs: professionals prepared to treat patients,” says an editorial in the New York Times praising Cuba’s involvement in sending human resources.

In August, the World Health Organization (WHO) developed a roadmap to address the crisis caused by the epidemic. Since then the needs of all types required by such an outbreak have been specified. So far 4,877 people of the 9,936 reported cases (almost all in West Africa) have died. Among the affected, there are 443 health workers, of whom 244 died. continue reading

WHO needs financial aid of some one billion dollars to pay for the salaries of professionals, materials, courses and information campaigns. The collection so far has reached only one-third of that and, if the outbreak behaves according to the agency’s predictions, financial needs could soar to 20 billion.

But WHO has run into a serious funding problem: the shortage of human resources. “Money and materials are important, but those two things alone can not stop the transmission of the Ebola virus. Human resources are clearly our most important need,” said its director, Dr. Margaret Chan.

Cuba is an economically failed country, with a per capita income of just $ 6,011 (2011 data), but it has one of the highest rates of physicians per 10,000 people: 59. Havana has turned its medical power into a huge business, according to the official newspaper Granma, receiving more than eight billion dollars a year for services provided abroad. The government sells the labor of health workers at a high price and pays them low wages (e.g., Brazil pays $4,300 for each Cuban doctor; the doctor actually receives only $1,000).

Who will pay the expenses and salaries of the 461 doctors and nurses Raul Castro’s government has committed to fight Ebola in Africa? This information was not revealed, and the WHO director, normally very talkative about the exploits of the Cuban regime with regards to public health, has not said a word about it.

“Critics have complained that Cuba has begun to sacrifice the health of its citizens at home to make money sending medical workers abroad, and the conditions for these medical workers themselves have been criticized,” said an editorial in The Washington Post. The text, entitled “In the medical response to Ebola, Cuba is punching far above its weight,” was complimentary overall, and so was reproduced in Cubadebate.cu, a government run website, but with a few corrections added, including: “The country has undertaken a comprehensive plan to repair its health facilities and perfect its patient care system, based on the recognized dissatisfactions with the services.” It remains to be seen if these will materialize.

Users Bothered By Increase in Internet Prices at Presidente Hotel /14ymedio

14YMEDIO, Havana, 24 October 2014 — Jorge Suarez has been connecting to the Internet for six months at the Presidente Hotel. In recent weeks he has seen an increase in the number of clients who use the wireless connection of the central Havana lodging. Nevertheless, some days ago he got a bitter surprise when the employees informed him of an increase in the price of the service. The measure was not due to a regulation by the Cuban Telecommunications Enterprise (ETECSA) but due to a decision by the management of the place.

The management of the Presidente Hotel has decided to increase the service to 8.50 convertible pesos since it has required a minimum purchase of 4 CUC in the cafeteria of the place, to which is added the price of an hour of Internet connection which is 4.50 CUC. The decision is aimed at decreasing the number of people who show up daily to their facility to navigate the web or check their email. “These people were filling us up, and that is not good for tourists,” says a cleaning lady who prefers to remain anonymous.

While most places that offer the navigation service keep the cost at 4.50 convertible pesos per hour, the Presidente Hotel has invoked the “discretionary” rate. Clients confirm that before the increase in connection costs, the service had been deteriorating, and most of the time at the desk they said that “there were no internet cards to sell.”

Jorge Suarez tells how he was losing confidence in being able to access the network from the well-known hotel establishment. “I knew that they were going to do something to hinder the connection, because every day the workers in this place looked with harsher faces at those of us who came and sat on the terrace or in the lobby with a laptop or a tablet,” he explains. “They told us that we had to make a purchase to be able to be here, but the prices of everything in this place are through the roof.”

The young man, a civil engineering graduate, has no other means of viewing digital sites or answering his email. “I would prefer internet in my home, I only come here because I cannot access a home connection.” The measure implemented in the Presidente Hotel leaves him without any options. “The price before already seemed expensive to me, but the new one is simply beyond reach,” he says with frustration.

According to official statistics in Cuba – with a population of more than 11 million inhabitants – there are 1,014,000 computers and more than 2.9 million internet users. The figure, nevertheless, has been questioned by those who assert that as “internet users” the government includes people who only have access to a national intranet with health or cultural content.

Cuba is the least connected country in Latin America, in spite of the fact that in February 2011 a fiber optic cable was installed between Venezuela and the east side of the island, which at first was announced as the best option for guaranteeing the highest connectivity in the country. Three years later, the government has only opened something more than a hundred public navigation places and offered an email service via mobile phones.

Cubans like Jorge Suarez keep waiting to become web surfers.

Translated by MLK      

Fear Has Seized the Artistic Community of Pinar del Rio / 14ymedio, Juan Carlos Fernandez

The strange ramblings of Utopito, Pedro Pablo Oliva. (Source: Web Utopias and Dissent)
The strange ramblings of Utopito, Pedro Pablo Oliva. (Source: Web Utopias and Dissent)

14ymedio, Juan Carlos Fernandez,Pinar del Río, 25 September 2014 — The artists’ guild in Pinar del Rio is living in distressing times because of the cancellation of the exposition by Pedro Pablo Oliva, “Utopias and Dissidences.” Talking about the most famous of the Pinareno painters has turned into a sad argument by Tyrians and Trojans, some in favor, almost in whispers, and others not so much, also in a quite low tone. But what the whisperers have in common is that they are living a fear that is corroding them and brings up the miseries and limitations that we humans all suffer, but that situations like this multiply.

The way in which the machinery of creating enemies can be efficient and dissuasive then becomes the model, the perception of real danger has been the offering of a local artistic community that shows its solidarity by emulating Nicodemus: they do not want to be seen or heard. They have given to the victim their absence and silence. They have been simple spectators, once again, of the crime of exclusion and disqualification. Listeners at a trial in which they themselves have been condemned although they may only have attended as the public.

The inquisitors of Pedro Pablo Oliva have known how to stimulate in the neurological systems of many Pinareno creators the amygdala situated in the temporal lobe which fires that feeling that we call fear. Although a scant minority has risked and has stood out in spite of also admitting its fears. These last have revived the artistic brotherhood in Pinar; some few carry the decorum of many; someone said one day, those few have meant a breath of hope in the middle of so much impoverishing hate against someone who only has sown love and has been consistent with himself. That is the price of honesty.

The others, the majority, are captivated by reforms that award airplane trips and trips for compensation that rot the soul and ruin the brush.

On the other hand, the common people possess an intuitive intelligence, flavorful and uninhibited and tell you to your face what they think. Overall, they do not plan to fly or exhibit in halls of the elite. Without any ambiguity that take sides with Pedro Pablo, both as a person and an artist, and lament the fear of his fellow painters, according to rumors.

That’s why I think that, although what has happened has been a sovereign injustice, it has served to put on the table who is company for cocktails, galleries and inaugurations and who accompanies you on the road overcoming their fears and discarding the complicity of silence and pretense.

It has been painful for Pedro Pablo, his family, work team and all of us who love him as a friend and national treasure, but instructive. Although it may seem utopian, I think that the night we are living today will not have the last word. It only serves as the anteroom for the light of day.

Translated by MLK

Burma is closer than we think … / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

The Burmese activists Nay Phone Latt (left) and Soe Aung (right). (14ymedio)
The Burmese activists Nay Phone Latt (left) and Soe Aung (right). (14ymedio)

14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Prague, 15 October 2014 – A few years ago, when I was overcome with despair about the situation of my country, I thought about those who were in worse shape with regards to the lack of freedoms. Two nations invariably came to mind: North Korea and Burma. The first of these still tops the list of places where few want to live, while Myanmar (Burma) has undertaken a slow and imperfect process of opening.
In Prague I just met two Burmese who are contributing to these small changes, the blogger Nay Phone Latt and activist Soe Aung.

Question: Nay, you are just 34-years-old and you were arrested for spreading information about the 2007 protests in your country on the Internet, and then convinced of the alleged crime of violating the electronic law. Do you think that now the access to information is more free?

Nay Phone Latt: Right now there is less censorship in the media, it is not as strong as before. I’m speaking not only of digital media, but also of the written press that is subject to fewer controls on the part of the government. The problem we still have is that some of these media are in the hands of the ruling party and the others, which are private, belong to people who have very good relations with the military, so many are corrupt. However, there are always some who try to be independent.

There are still very clear limits on what you can write and what you can’t. For example if someone posts an article criticizing the Government and uncovering a corruption scandal, they can get into serious trouble and even end up in jail.

“There are still very clear limits on what you can write and what you can’t”

Q. How has the situation changed since the election in 2012?

Soe Aung: Currently in Burma we have a Parliament whose majority is still made up by the military. The Constitution reserves a quarter of the seats in parliament and 56 of the 24 Senate seats to the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party. Meanwhile, the opposition National League for Democracy (LND) has barely 43 seats. Thus, it is every difficult to promote changes, becaue this isn’t a real democratic process.

Q. The Nobel Peace Prize winner, Aung San Suu Kyi is the most visible face of dissent in Burma What other opposition groups are calling for changes?

Soe Aung: There is the movement known as Generation 88, because there was a popular protest in 1988 against the military junta. These demonstrations, composed mostly of students, were brutally repressed. Currently the group is still very strong in Burmese society and demands a democratic and open society.

Q. What are the main problems for the Burmese people now?

Nay Phone Latt: First, the lack of trust in institutions, in the police, the judiciary and the government. People have a lot of disbelief, they are very skeptical. The whole society has lost trust in the military regime. We have lost the ability to believe.

Aung Soe R.: In my opinion, our biggest problem is still poverty. We still have very poor people in our country who do not even have a piece of land to grow their own food. We have experienced an economic opening but the big winners are the military and the people close to them who have become very rich.

Artist El Sexto Will Face Trial in a Few Hours / 14ymedio

Daniel Maldonado, "El Sexto"
Danilo Maldonado, “El Sexto”

The trail of the independent artist Danilo Maldonado, known as El Sexto – “The Sixth” – has been set for tomorrow at 8:30 AM in the Plaza of the Revolution municipal court.

The cartoonist and creator of numerous graffiti is accused of the alleged crime of threatening his wife, which could mask political retaliation. The complaint was made by Danilo’s wife’s father, who was also present as the main prosecution witness.

Friends and colleagues fear that the court hearing is a way of settling accounts with this uncomfortable “king of the spray can.” In statements to 14ymedio, El Sexto has demonstration his dissatisfaction with the legal process and has confirmed that his wife was present during the session to “state what occurred.” Right now the couple is living under the same roof together with their small daughter and hope that “the charges won’t go forward.”

With regards to tomorrow’s trial, Maldonaldo believes, “There won’t be any problems, although there is always the pressure. Just for the simple fact of thinking differently, I feel exposed in front of them.”

In recent decades it has become a frequent practice to bring common crime charges against activists and artists who undertake work critical of the government. In a similar situation right now is the writer Angel Santiesteban, condemned and sentenced to prison on alleged charges of violation of domicile and injury.

Gorki Aguila, the famous singer and leader of the punk rock band Porno para Ricardo is also on the list of those awaiting trial, accused of alleged “drug abuse.”

As a general rule, people critical of the government are not judged on political reasons but for “common crimes” with the aim of limiting solidarity and international pressure.

Official citation of Danilo Maldonado
Official citation of Danilo Maldonado

Berta Soler: They Must Put An End To This / 14ymedio, Victor Ariel Gonzalez

Berta Coler, Leader of the Ladies in White
Berta Soler, Leader of the Ladies in White

14ymedio, Havana, Victor Ariel Gonzalez, 21 October 2014 — Berta Soler, leader of the Ladies in White, has called for a vigil this October 21 in front of the Diez de Octubre Municipal Court in Havana. The reason is the new suspension of the trial of Sonia Garro.

Soler explained that there are “dubious things” in the way the authorities have handled this latest extension. “Sonia called to tell me that a captain had told her that the trial was suspended, but she did not believe it.” The activist also said that Sonia Garro’s defense lawyer “was unaware” of the decision. The new date for holding the criminal trial has been set for next November 7.

“We do not trust the Cuban Government, therefore the vigil goes on,” the leader of the Ladies in White told this newspaper. Soler does not rule out that “all this supposed suspension is for the purpose of demobilizing the people.” So, “we are going to be there anyway,” she announced.

There will also be a vigil in the interior of the country because it is expected that in front of the courts of Santiago de Cuba and other cities peaceful demonstrations similar to that in Havana will take place. The Diez de Octubre municipal court is at Juan Delgado and Patrocinio, and Berta Soler says that “the plan is to begin at 8:00 a.m. and last until noon. It depends on whether they let us or not.”

The activist also reported that “since this Saturday, State Security has reinforced vigilance over the Ladies in White.” This is the third time that they have suspended the trial of Sonia Garro. “They must to put an end to this,” she demands.

Translated by MLK