14ymedio, Havana, 22 September 2016 — A report from the European Union details that in 2015 Cuba continued “arbitrary and short-term arrests of opposition members, activists and human rights defenders.” This situation that has led the bloc to communicate “on several occasions” its concern to the authorities of the island.
The document, released Tuesday, collects details of the situation faced by human rights and democracy activists around the world. In the chapter dedicated to Cuba, the EU reports that last year it urged the Cuban government to ratify “the United Nations Covenants on Civil and Political Rights and on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.”
In particular, it underscores the EU’s concern about “discrimination and violence against women, freedom of expression and association” and calls on the Cuban government to give “more space to the activities of civil society” and to respect “freedom of movement” inside and outside the country. continue reading
EU member states have participated in “monitoring and have reported on the use of short-term detentions and violations of freedoms of association and assembly,” says the text.
The document refers to the first EU-Cuba talks on human rights that took place in Brussels on 25 June 2015, in which representatives of the island pledged “to conduct future talks with the EU based on universally recognized human rights.”
The EU and Cuba held negotiations for a Political Dialogue and Cooperation Agreement. On Thursday the European Commission has proposed to the countries of the European Union to support the Agreement and has requested that the EU’s Common Position on Cuba – which “encourages a process of transition to a pluralist democracy and respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms” – in force since 1996, be repealed.
The report explains that the EU representatives in Havana have continued to interact with “various representatives of Cuban civil society” and those contacts have contributed to the analysis and monitoring of the situation of “freedom of expression and association, freedom of belief and labor rights.”
However, the text acknowledges that “holding open meetings with leading government critics remained impossible, particularly for ministers and senior officials from the EU and the Member States on an official visit.”
The EU has maintained close contact with former prisoners of the 2003 Black Spring still residing on the island and has spoken with the Cuban authorities on the right of the activists to leave the country. Currently these former political prisoners are allowed to make only one trip out of the country.
The work of the European Union in Cuba also focuses on “strengthening the capacity of women entrepreneurs, preventing violence against women, [and] strengthening the capacity of organizations representing people with disabilities.”
Topics such as “sex education, support for private initiative and the entrepreneurial spirit in urban development, agriculture and energy” are also on bloc’s agenda with Cuba.
“The EU is undertaking an ongoing effort to expand the participation of independent civil society organizations in its political and cooperative work,” the report concludes.
14ymedio, Zunilda Mata, Havana, 21 September 2016 — On the shelves of the markets that sell goods in Cuban convertible pesos (CUC) prices have skyrocketed and shortages have become chronic. The problem in the state owned stores – which Cubans call “shopping,” using the English word – is aggravated by the lack of liquidity. In this situation the informal sales networks have found an ally in technology. An application for cellphones created by Cuban developers, facilitates access to the informal market. Its creators have called it, with a certain irony, La Chopi – a Cuban spelling of the word “shopping.”
Conceived for iOS and Android devices, the tool combines practical utility with an attractive and well-maintained design from the young computer expert Pedro Govea. The menu displays the classified ads by category, which range from home appliances to job openings in private businesses. continue reading
La Chopi, which is currently distributed free of charge through the Weekly Packet and can also be downloaded from its own website, has built on the experience of other classified sites such as Revolico, which help Cubans in the difficult task of acquiring scarce merchandise, goods that are banned or that aren’t sold in its retail network.
La Chopi’s offerings are some of the most diverse. Unlocked iPhones, masseuses who promise to “relieve stress and recharge your batteries for a hard day’s work,” and from wholesale acrylic nails, to products that have never been marketed in state networks, such as satellite dishes, visas to several Central American countries and Dalmatian puppies.
The application is like a show that goes from the sublime to the ridiculous, covering incunabula two centuries old or drugs to “strengthen muscles,” one more display of the consumer appetite that runs through Cuban society and their desire for the free market.
Most of the information contained in this unique online store comes from the digital site BacheCubano.com, but it also supports ads that come from users via email or text-only messages (SMS). The objective of its lead programmer, Ernesto Redonet has been “facilitating sales and the promotion of services in Cuba.”
In version 1.9, La Chopi also offers the ability for users to pay for placing advertising for their business or product, whether on the start screen of the application, in one of the categories of offerings, or as a featured ad. This is a trend followed, with fewer and fewer limitations, by classified sites and apps developed on the island.
“We’ve gone from being afraid of advertising, to everyone wanting to advertise,” says Yusiel Ruiz, a self-taught apps developer for Android who has worked on several projects in the Cuban market. “Cellphones are the technology of the moment, so we focus more on products for phones than for computers,” he says.
In the private audiovisual content market Copy Pack, in Central Havana, users acquire the popular collection of movies, telenovelas, shows and documentaries known as the Weekly Packet. In the packet there is a file that also contains the latest cellphone apps appearing in the market. “La Chopi is really popular,” one of the employees tells 14ymedio.
“Competition is strong because there are a lot of apps with classified ads and promotions for services, but the only ones that will survive will be those offering the most information and the most attractive design,” speculates Yasiel Ruiz, who is working on an app right now for blind dates that will use text messaging to connect possible partners.
With the advent of new technologies, the black market has gone from being a network where trust between buyer and seller was essential to one that is more public and easygoing, like Craigslist. The state has also wanted to participate in this battle for advertising, staring with the publication of a tabloid called “Offerings,” but independent digital sites are still preferred.
La Chopi also reinforces the trend of apps developed by residents of the island, particularly focusing on ones that work off-line, given the difficulty in connecting to the internet. It’s enough to copy the new database every week, also distributed in the Weekly Packet, for the user to get the latest ads.
“The future belongs entirely to the apps,” says Ruiz convinced that the advent of tools like La Chopi “make life easier for everyone.”
14ymedio, 21 September 2016 – Havana’s Malecon will become a Wifi zone before the end of 2016, according to an announcement from the Cuban Telecommunications Company (ETECSA). The coverage will be available, the company says, from the Prado to the entrance of the 5th Avenue tunnel, a distance of almost 5 miles.
Eudes Monier Núñez, ETECSA’s head of the Department of Marketing and Communication for the Territorial Division, told the Cuban News Agency (ACN) that there is still no date for the start of the service, which will depend on “the progress of the installation, which will be complex due to the length of the most famous maritime promenade in Cuba.” However, the access points for mounting the new connection points have been identified, as has the technical equipment. continue reading
Monier Núñez said that the influx of people, especially young people who frequent the area, is one of the most important factors in making the decision to install this new internet access point.
Of the 30 Wifi zones planned for 2016, 17 have been installed. ETECSA says the rest will become available when the necessary equipment is available.
Iris Duran, company spokeswoman, said that all municipalities in Havana have at least one Wifi zone, and some of them, depending on their size and demographics, have up to five areas.
The most recent opened on 17 September with six new Wifi points in Marianao, Guanabo, Guanabacoa, Arroyo Naranjo, San Miguel del Padrón and El Cerro.
According to data from ETECSA, some 250,000 connections have been recorded at the 1,006 public Wifi access point in Cuba. Although the number of wireless access zones installed in parks and on centrally located avenues in some cities has tripled in 2016, the density of service remains very low for a population of about 11.1 million, with about one Wifi zone for every 11,000 people.
[CORRECTED] 14ymedio, 21 September 2016 – Brazil is seeking to be self-sufficient in healthcare services. The program Mais Médicos (More Doctors), recently renewed between the governments of Cuba and Brazil, which supplies doctors for Brazil’s most disadvantaged and remote areas, will be progressively reduced, according to Brazil’s Minister of Health Ricardo Barros in an interview this Tuesday.
“We appreciate the availability of the Cubans who help us, but our objective is not to permanently maintain this cooperation,” he said.
The goal is to reduce the participation of Cuban doctors in the program by 35%. Thus, the 11,400 Cuban personnel currently working in Brazil would be reduced to 7,400. In 2017 the ministry intends to offer 2,000 positions to Brazilian professionals, although if the slots are not filled they would continue to contract for Cubans.
Barros said that the program was responding to a transitional policy that intends to meet the needs of the population, but the objective would be to not do this with external contracts. Currently, it is estimated that 62.5% of the professionals in the program are Cubans.
The minister said that from now on wages will be adjusted in line with inflation and in 2017 will rise by 8.9%. The cost to Brazil for each Cuban health care provider is $4,385 US, of which the Cuban government keeps $3,070 and the medical professional is paid $1,315, for a year’s work. The “profit” to the Cuban government, therefore, is just short of 35 million dollars a year. The total cost to Brazil is 49.6 million dollars.
The Cuban government has never made public the figures for the income it earns through the export of doctors in this program, but “defectors” from the program have confirmed that the island’s governments keeps some 70% of the salaries that Brazil pays through the mediation of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO).
14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 22 September 2016 – He is a self-confessed “son of television,” but he also admits that Cuba “is a bit behind” in the last decades with regards to innovation and quality in this medium. To catch up, Rolando Lorenzo León has created an entertainment program focused on the lives of artists and private sector businesses that circulates on the “alternative” network known as the “Weekly Packet.”
This week he spoke with 14ymedio about Q Mania TV, the production that absorbs all his energies and dreams.
Luz Escobar. How did you get the idea for this alternative TV show?
Rolando Lorenzo León. Q Mania TV emerged in May of this year from Bola8 TV, a previous project I was working on as general producer and that was distributed in the Weekly Packet. The project only lasted a little more than a month, but it achieved a tremendous rating and then differences arose among the team and I left. After the split I decided to start my own project. I wanted to show that I could make a great program, a good product, with a few people who know what they’re doing and are professionals. continue reading
Escobar. What it is the focus of Q Mania TV and how often does it appear?
León. It took off from the idea of the “mania” Cubans have for knowing about what’s going on with artists. My mania, or the mania of my team, is to learn where our artists are going and about the international artists who choose to come to Cuba. The result is a product with a national identity, a good profit potential, and targeted to the Cuban customer, to the Cuban family.
It began as a fifteen-minute weekly project. So far it has had 10 episodes, and will have 12 this season. There are still two to be produced, which are already recorded, but I have had to spread my time among other projects… because I have to live.
Escobar. You chose the Weekly Packet as the main method of distribution.
León. Yes, to appear on that alternative channel that many fear, others hate and others enjoy. If Cuban TV paid me and there wasn’t censorship, I would have my program right now in front of 11 million Cubans on the national channel. It’s not about being reactionary or going against the current, but about profit, because television can’t be made on a few pesos.
Escobar. In addition to the artists you have a special emphasis on entrepreneurship.
León. I thought from the beginning about private businesses, also because the program needs to be produced and I’m not a millionaire. I wanted the program to show where to go to eat, get your hair done, starting from a limited production. Although Cuban entrepreneurs and cooperatives are not ready for stable advertising. People see the Weekly Packet as one source of advertising but advertising is everywhere.
Escobar. How much does the production cost?
León. An ideal program of 27 minutes needs to be able to raise about 1,000 CUC (roughly $1000 US) a week for production costs. Cuban television costs more than that for each episode of a regular program. We brought four months of shows to the air and spent a quarter of the cost of a program on Cuban television, which has no audience and is broadcasting into the void.
Escobar. Do you have an idea of your audience numbers?
León. We are seeing many people. Although I have pieces I did working on national television, I never had much of an audience. Cubans like the forbidden.
Escobar. What problems have you had during filming in state premises?
León. When we started there was a lot of conflict with the issue of the concerts in places like La Casa de la Música, where managers were afraid of us because we are a program on the Weekly Packet. What we did was to establish direct communication with artists and they recorded the concert for us and then passed us the images. Other managers understood that there was no harm in the project and that a noncommercial space doesn’t generate any dividends, so they facilitate things for us.
Escobar. Do you aspire to put this product in international markets?
León. We would like to, and I think that is part of the natural development of the historical moment we are living in right now. If you are opening the doors for music and human potential and it is one of the most important sectors of the Cuban economy, television should not leave this behind. I see a talent flourishing in this country that wants to say things and that doesn’t have to lose its identity and its roots.
However, if in order to appear on an international channel I have to adapt to what I do not think or believe, I will not be in any international media.
Escobar. Will you bring this program to national programming someday?
León. My horizon has no limits. I’m not against being on Cuban TV if it suits my way of doing and saying things. But it is more likely they would take my program and plagiarize me than that they would pay me, because there are people who are afraid to make room for a young person.
14ymedio, Havana, 22 September 2016 – “It’s on the penultimate page,” the employee of the newspaper kiosk in Havana’s Cerro district tells a young woman who is buying two copies of the newspaper Granma this Wednesday. The terse note from the Cuban Volleyball Federation about the five- year prison sentences for rape handed down in Finland to visiting Cuban athletes sparked particular interest among Cubans, when it appeared in the official organ of the Communist Party, although citizens had to look hard to find the information.
“If it had been a group of athletes from the United States who had raped a Finnish woman, the news would have been on the front page,” said one of the buyers of the official newspaper on hearing the vendor say where to find the article.
At the “sports rock” in Havana’s Central Park – a site of informal, but loud and vigorous, daily debates about everything sports, popularly known as “The Hot Corner” – baseball still stars as the most discussed topic. But today the poor showing of the local team, the Industriales, in the National Series has to share time with a lively discussion of the trial of the Cuban volleyball players in Tampere, Finland. continue reading
The sports fans complain about the lack of coverage in the official press about what happened and the lack of details about the judicial process.
“They don’t say hardly anything and you have to hear about it from the antenna (the illegal satellite dishes hidden around the city) or on the street,” explains Samuel, a follower of the sport who was sharing his opinions on Wednesday with the other regulars of the “rock.” “I found out because my aunt gets the signal in her house with the news from Miami, because here they have just given us drabs and drabs,” complained the young man.
Some of those assembled lacked confidence in the conclusion of the Finnish court. “This is a bed (a conspiracy) that they set up for these boys in order to harm Cuban sports,” insists Victor Zuñiga, a retired welder who remembers having seen “a lot of humbug like this against our people.”
No women participated in the “Hot Corner” debates this Wednesday, where the sports talk is traditionally engaged in by men. “It if were my daughter that had happened to, it wouldn’t matter whether they were top-flight athletes, I would want justice and would want to see them behind bars,” says Gretel, 49, who was nearby.
The Cuban Volleyball Federation merely communicated in an official note, in which it made no assessment of the facts. 14ymedio tried to contact the body, but in all calls made as of this writing it was only possible to communicate with an answering machine.
Mika Ruotsalainen, Minister-Counselor of the Finnish Embassy in Mexico, which handles consular affairs for all the Caribbean countries, told this newspaper that there are no extradition treaties between the Republic of Finland and the Republic of Cuba.
The diplomat said the Cuban athletes will have to serve their sentences in a Finnish prison.
The Pinkanmaa court imposed sentences of five years in prison for Rolando Cepeda Abreu, Abraham Alfonso Gavilán, Ricardo Norberto Calvo Manzano and Osmany Santiago Uriarte Mestre, and three and a half years for Luis Tomás Sosa Sierra.
14ymedio, Mario Penton, 20 September 2016 — Ramon Saul Sanchez, president of the Democracy Movement, said on Tuesday at a press conference in Miami that if American Airlines does not change, within 24 hours, its “policy of apartheid” against its Cuban-American employees, the organization would take action against it ranging from protests in the street to possible lawsuits.
“The Democracy Movement rejects apartheid on the part of AA by virtue of nationality against Cuban-American workers whom the regime will not allow to enter Cuba, and and other nationalities with American citizenship,” said Sanchez. continue reading
A Cuban exile himself, the president stressed that his organization has nothing against flights to the island. “This is not a campaign against the flights to Cuba, which we support and we believe are useful for family reunification,” he said, but he argued that the Cuban law preventing Cuban-Americans from entering the island on their United States passports is the real problem.
“We believe AA as a prestigious company, which should not discriminate against people simply because the government of Cuba does,” noted Sanchez.
With flights to Cienfuegos and Holguin on 7 September, the company began direct service to the island. These were the first of 12 daily flights to Cuba. The problem arose when, on a flight to Varadero, the crew needed to stay overnight in Cuba and the Cuban authorities refused Cuban-American flight members permission to do so because they did not have Cuban passports, according to the Miami Herald.
The company’s response was to withdraw the Cuban-American employees from the flight, although they were paid for the day. Ramon Saul Sanchez made clear that although AA decided to bear the cost of the paperwork required for Cuban-Americans to enter Cuba, so as not to upset the Cuban government, the campaign would continue.
Cuban law does not recognize the dual nationality of Cubans living abroad, and requires those who want to travel to the island to first obtain an expensive passport (about $450) that must be renewed every two years at a cost of $200. In addition, the Cuban Government reserves the right whether to admit its nationals to the island, which is enforced through an entry permit called a habilitación, which also must be paid for.
For the Democracy Movement, maintaining this law is a way to maintain its excessive charges to penalize the Cuban exile. “We are asking American Airlines to open a constructive and friendly dialog among everyone working to overcome this discriminatory practice,” said the movement’s president.
As a part of the actions the organization has already begun it sent a letter to Doug Parker, CEO of the company, in which it expresses its dissatisfaction with the measure. Sanchez said his movement has already planned a protest for Saturday in front of the AA Arena in Miami and will continue the pressure until the policy is changed.
“We know that the main discriminator is the Cuban government. To associate itself with the policies of apartheid by virtue of nationality that the Government of Cuba practices against its own citizens puts a shameful stain on the image of the company,” said Sanchez.
Last April, Democracy Movement organized a demonstration outside the headquarters of the shipping company Carnival for a similar reason. The cruise company did not allow Cuban-Americans to book passage to Cuba because of a ban by the Cuban government on their entering the country by sea.
“At the time Carnival Cruises said they would not continue service to Cuba if Cubans were not allowed to enter. We urge American Airlines to cancel their trips to the island if the Cuban government does not change its policy,” Sanchez added.
14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 31 August 2016 — Passing through Havana to record a CD in the EGREM studios in Miramar, along with several singers, the troubadour Roland (Roly) Berrio spoke with 14ymedio about the beginnings of his career and health of Trova in Cuba.
Luz Escobar. Together with other troubadours you are currently working on an album that pays tribute to La Trovuntivitis project. How did that project arise?
Roly Berrio. The city of Santa Clara was left quite bereft in terms of music in the hard years of the Special Period, so it all began with the desires of students to do something on a stage with many shortcomings. So at that time there was a flourishing of projects, peñas – weekly shows – and the troubadours.
We started singing in several places in the city until one night El Mejunje opened its doors for us alone, we were five or six troubadours: Diego Gutiérrez, Alain Garrido and the Enserie trio. We are all included in La Trovuntivitis, which is a generic space for our own music, for music that has certain pretensions, social, aesthetic, risky. We have been singing there for 20 years now. continue reading
Escobar. In other provinces troubadours do not have their own spaces.
Berrio. Santa Clara has had the good fortune to have leaders, both political and cultural, who have given a lot of freedom and support to the projects of young people. Without much hesitation, without fear. This has helped this movement to exist, but also in fine arts, in literature and in almost all its manifestations. Unlike in other provinces, where there are musicians and artists with talent, but when it comes to joining together and having institutional support it has been difficult to create a movement.
Of course, we also had a very bad stage in terms of political and cultural leadership. That led to a falling-out and artists rebelling. It was a moment of rupture.
Escobar. What role did Ramón Silverio play in the birth of La Trovuntivitis?
Berrio. Everything. Like our Bartolome de las Casas. He has been the doer, an example of freedom and inclusion. A project he presents, he understood the project as his own.
Escobar. What was the effect on you of your time with the Enserie trio?
Berrio. The trio was part of my beginning, my musical and intellectual training. I continue to compose songs in three parts. I bring three ways of addressing the theme that I’m dealing with, three ways of looking at it, three ways of presenting the song.
Enserie was unusual because the composition was made among three people, the lyrics and music. It was a kind of workshop, we didn’t know the rules, it was entirely empirical. We wanted to give strength to a song that experienced the most critical years, in the nineties the media in the country – and therefore much of the public – completely dismissed the singer-songwriter.
Escobar. Are you planning a concert in the coming months?
Berrio. On September 10 I will appear at the Museum of Fine Arts with themes from an upcoming album of single songs. It still has no name and I am going to record it France.
Escobar. Do you feel that you are a chronicler of reality?
Berrio. Art can achieve awareness without having to dictate a sentence that says what you have to do. Some of the rejections to the music of the Nueva Trova movement were, in my opinion, very judgmental. There was a lot of “thou shalt do this” or “you have to be the New Man.”
My song seeks pick up the pieces that were broken and that are still somewhat scattered in the society, in the country.
Escobar. How do you assess the health of Trova?
Berrio. Trova has not had, beyond the moments it had in the eighties, much impact on the broader plane. What happened is that people like an individual of some genre, and not the genre as a whole. In the eighties, whether or not you knew the person who was going to sing, if Trova was announced the venues were full and people came to know there was a curiosity that then began to disappear.
14ymedio, 20 September 2016 — The Democracy Movement called a protest against American Airlines (AA) for Saturday 24, in response to the company’s apartheid towards its Cuban-American employees
The airline, according to information published in recent days, does not allow its workers who emigrated from Cuba after 1970 to serve on the crews of its flights to Cuba, because the Cuban government is requiring that they present, along with an American passport showing that they are US citizens, the Cuban government’s own paperwork that authorizes them to enter the country.
Ramon Saul Sanchez, president of the Democracy Movement, in statements to Diario Las Americas, said that this exclusion is applied to Cuban-Americans “with the deliberate intention [by the Cuban government] of receiving an additional income of 400 or 500 dollars [the cost of the paperwork] for each person traveling to Cuba.” continue reading
The leader of the organization said it has requested permission for the protest, to be held in front of the American Airlines Arena in Miami, since the airline “is allowing the Cuban government to practice a kind of apartheid against its own employees who are Cubans nationalized as Americans.”
“Many voices joined the campaign, and Carnival changed its position. In the end, the company said that if it could not carry Cubans it would not sail to Cuba. That led the regime to overturning the old policy,” said Sanchez.
The exile told the media that their lobbying strategy includes dialog with the airline’s management in the coming week, the protest scheduled during a Disney event at the American Airlines Arena, and possible legal actions being studied by the organization’s attorneys.
“We are also asking AA to adopt the Sullivan Global Principals [whose aim is that companies and organizations of every size, and a broad spectrum of industries and cultural entities, work to achieve common objectives in human rights, social justice and economic opportunity] which worked in South Africa, and that they not associate themselves with the apartheid practiced by the Cuban government,” he added.
The Democracy Movement is not opposed to commercial flights to Cuba, “because they have brought a drop in prices and tariffs and now the Cuban regime earns less because of the competition.”
14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miami, 18 September 2016 — “With the money from the sale of my mother’s house, we bought the death of my brother.”
Spoken with indescribable bitterness, these were the words of Edgardo Nordelo Sedeño, brother of Dunieski Eliades Lastre, age 25, murdered in Colombia on 8 September along with the young woman Edelvis Martínez. Both were Cubans and were trying to sneak through the jungles and borders that separated them from their goal: the United States and their dream of a free life.
Although Forensic Medicine has ruled out for the moment the alleged rape of Edelvis Martínez, the prosecutor has revealed gruesome details in the tragic ends of these young migrants trying to reach the United States. continue reading
Edelvis Martinez Aguilar was an accountant for a paladar, a private restaurant in Havana. She left with her boyfriend Liover Santos Corria, 35, heading to Guyana. After crossing Venezuela and Colombia they met up with Eliades Dunieski who apparently traveled to Capurgana to get to the Darien jungle. That day, two of them were killed in a Colombian swamp.
“We can not say that Martinez had been raped, at least there is no macroscopic evidence of that. Forensic Medicine did the research, collected samples from the body and are undertaking a conclusive analysis of the issue,” an official with the Columbian Attorney General’s office told 14ymedio, who asked to remain anonymous.
“We have found clear signs of torture in both victims before the murder,” he added.
The alleged perpetrators were identified as Johan Estiven Carreazo Asprilla, alias ‘Play Boy’, age 20, and Carlos Emilio Ibargüen Palacio, age 26. According to Santos, the only survivor, the Cuban migrants paid $1,500 to be taken to Panama, but once they arrived at the Gulf of Uraba the smugglers demanded more money. When the Cubans explained that they had no cash, the boaters murdered them with knives and hid their bodies tied to a tree trunk at the bottom of the Matuntugo Swamp. Santos saw his girlfriend beheaded after she was raped, he says, but he was able break loose and escape from the crime scene.
“The young man is under protection on a Navy ship because we fear for his safety,” said the source in the Colombian Attorney General’s office. According to the investigator, it is very likely that there are more people involved in the murder of the Cubans so it is necessary to protect the main witness.
“The boatmen pleaded not guilty, but the prosecution has sufficient evidence to incriminate them,” the source explained.
Following the arrest of suspects involved in the crime, a search of the travel backpacks of those killed found cell phones, cash and clothes. Also seized were a firearm, a smoke grenade, several pieces of clothing related to the crime scene and a wooden boat in which was one of the shoes of the murdered woman.
The identity of those murdered was corroborated by Cuban authorities. According to what this newspaper has been able to confirm, the United States embassy in Colombia has taken up the issue and expressed interest in granting asylum to the survivor.
Although the Cuban consulate in Bogota declined to comment on the matter, the Colombian Foreign Ministry said they have been in contact with the relatives of those killed through diplomatic representatives in Miami to advise them on the procedure to claim the bodies.
“Colombia will provide all the help needed for repatriation, but this is a matter for the family or the Cuban Embassy. Family members can delegate power to the embassy or manage the process independently,” said the Foreign Ministry.
14ymedio spoke with the relatives of the victims in Cuba and in the United States. For Maria Isabel Aguilar, the mother of Edelvis Martinez, her main concern is that so far she doesn’t know what the process is for repatriating the body of his daughter.
“We went to MINREX (Ministry of Foreign Affairs) but there they told us to wait for the authorization of the Colombian government to bring the bodies. We don’t know how to bring my daughter. I only want her here with me,” she said.
Dunieski Eliades Lastre’s brother, Edgardo Nordelo Sedeño, said that the cost to repatriate the bodies is around $3,000 each. The family members who had to privately arrange the trip to MINREX explained via a telephone call that although the Cuban government authorized the entry of the bodies, they will not pay for the costs of bringing them home.
“Dunieski was my younger brother, my mother’s delight. So much so she wanted to sell her house to be able to pay for the ticket so he could have a better life,” explained Nordelo, who arrived in the United States last February by way of Ecuador.
“I don’t understand the motive for the murder. The other boy … told me that my brother told them, ‘Don’t kill me, I’ll give you the number of my brother in the United States so he can send you money. It wasn’t for money. I don’t understand why they did it,” he said.
Eliades Lastre managed to make the crossing from Guyana to Turbo in one week. According to his relatives he had a good trip until he reached the Colombian coast.
“Because of the bad weather they couldn’t take them to where the other coyote was. They returned to the home of a guide and a few minutes before leaving the house where they were hiding, he wrote me to tell me. That was the last time we communicated,” recalls Edgardo Nordelo.
“The blame for the death of our family members belongs to those who pushed them to the jungle and made them seek out coyotes to achieve their dream of freedom,” he said.
14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 19 September 2016 – The summit of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) ended this Sunday on the Venezuelan island of Margarita with commitments to the sovereignty of each country and a call for unilateral corrective measures. The work of the meeting urged the elimination of “weapons of mass destruction” but avoided admonishing North Korea for its recent nuclear tests.
With little political influence in the international arena, the NAM has crossed the threshold of six decades of existence with its importance in check. Born at a time of strong geopolitical and ideological conflicts, in the midst of the Cold War, the bloc has failed to maintain its intended neutrality and several of its nation members have ended up developing economic and political alliances with more than one “superpower.” continue reading
However, the biggest setback for the organization, which includes half the world’s population, is having turned a blind eye at several transcendent moments in its history. The most notable of these was not strongly condemning the Soviet Union’s armed intervention in Afghanistan, which joined NAM in 1961, early in its existence.
This oversight was most striking during the 6th Summit, held in Havana in 1979, when Fidel Castro was named president of the movement. The presence of occupation troops from the Kremlin continued to 1989, but the leader of the organization never made any gesture of disapproval.
This September the silence has been repeated, in complicity with one of NAM’s most fractious members. At the summit, held in the Venezuelan Caribbean to which 120 member countries were invited, no pronouncement was made on the nuclear test recently conducted by the Pyongyang regime.
The Non-Aligned Movement has not only looked the other way as famine and lack of rights has affected the North Korean people, but has also been silent about the danger posed by the more than 20 nuclear bombs and almost a thousand ballistic missiles of different types that have reached the hands of Kim Jong-Un. The Movement did not make a forceful statement against the only country that has tested weapons of mass destruction in this millennium, though it dedicated considerable time demanding “peaceful settlement of disputes and refraining from the threat or use of force.”
NAM now proposes a “refounding” of the United Nations that seeks to expand the Security Council and to transform of the workings of the international organization. But with such oversights and its history of double standards it is difficult to promote a more democratic global and effective entity.
Instead, it could bring to the United Nations the same convenient blindness that it has been practiced for decades.
14ymedio, Marcelo Hernandez, Havana, 19 September 2016 — A sign announces the sale of an apartment in Havana and stresses, in capital letters, that the “water never runs out” in the area. Not far away, another sign alerts neighbors of a multifamily building: “Starting today, the water-pump will only operate for one hour.” In the last three years, Cubans have lived with drought and water shortages, and forecasts suggest that the situation will not change in the coming months.
According to a recent report released by the engineer Abel Salas García of the National Institute of Hydraulic Resources (INRH), 48 of the country’s sources of supply are completely dry. Another 200 show partial affects, which means that more than 790,000 people receive water right now on a different cycle than what they were used to, and more than 50,000 receive their supply through tanker trucks. continue reading
To talk about the cycle “they were used to” alludes to the fact that in many places citizens have become accustomed, as a normal situation, to water only flowing to their homes every other day, or sometimes only three times week.
The areas with the highest cumulative rainfall between January and August were Artemisa, Isla de la Juventud, Pinar del Rio and Havana. At the other extreme, the least favored regions are Santiago de Cuba, Ciego de Ávila, Villa Clara, Sancti Spiritus and Cienfuegos.
In the specific case of Ciego de Avila, as detailed in the INRH report, of the 14 groundwater basins in that largely agricultural province, six are in critical condition.
In January, the reservoirs were filled to around 53% of their volume and, although up to August rains were close to the historical average in the three regions (eastern, central and west), at the end of August this rate was only 52%. In absolute terms, the country had 653 million cubic fewer meters of stored water than is usual for August.
According to experts, rainfall in the Cuban archipelago has been decreasing by around 1.6 inches annually, which they attribute to climate change and other environmental factors caused by the hand of man.
A lack of water caused by erratic rainfall is exacerbated in Cuba by wasteful leaks in the pipes, in over-wide pipes that bring more water to leak out, and in unstoppable domestic drips caused by lack of maintenance in homes where, given the high price of faucets and plumbing supplies, people find it cheaper to let the water flow uncontrolled than to fix the plumbing.
14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 17 September 2016 – “This was my house,” says Elena, a Cuban-American who returned to the island this week and visited the place where she spent her childhood. In Tarará she took her fist steps, but the place barely resembles the residential neighborhood of her memories. In five decades it has passed from being an enclave of rich people to hosting a teacher’s training school, a Pioneers camp for schoolchildren, a sanatorium for children affected by radioactivity, and a tourist’s villa.
In the town, located east of Havana in a beautiful coastal area, the city’s crème de la crème settled in the middle of the last century. None of the residents of the 525 houses of this little paradise could imagine that soon after the titles of their homes were released, only 17 families would remain there and the rest would emigrate or lose their property after Fidel Castro’s coming to power. continue reading
“My father bought the parcel with great enthusiasm, he always said that he would live his last years here,” recalls Elena now. She walks around the house that has lost all the wood of its doors and windows. Weeds have taken over the terrace area and on the floor of the main hall there is evidence of the many bats that sleep in the room every night.
A man sweeping the street asks the newcomer if she passed through “the entry gate” control where visitors must pay for access to Tarará. For five convertible pesos Elena has returned to the place of her nostalgia, with “lunch included” in a solitary cafe by the sea.
She heads in that direction, but not before crossing herself before the lonely church dedicated to Santa Elena, which had gotten its cross back a few years earlier, after its having been removed during the decades when the most rabid atheism ruled the place. “They baptized my littlest sister here,” recalls the woman in front of the chapel.
In the bar of the local restaurant the waiter tells her that during elementary school he spent several weeks in Tarará. Although they swap stories about the same piece of Cuban earth, they seem to be talking about opposite poles. “I liked coming because they gave us yogurt at breakfast and lunch, and in one of the houses I saw a bathtub for the first time,” explained the man who is now over 40.
His memories correspond to the days when the once glamorous villa had been converted into the José Martí Pioneers City. The camp hosted thousands of school age children every year, “they were like vacations except we had to go to school,” explained the man.
The Soviet subsidy supported the enormous complex which included a cultural center, seven dining rooms, five teaching wings, a hospital, an amusement park and even an attractive cable car crossing between the two hills over the Tarará River, which is now a mass of rusted iron.
Elena, meanwhile, recalls the backyard fruit trees, the squash court, and the softball field that filled with families on the weekends. However, her fondest memories relate to the drive-in theater located at the entrance to the village, which is now converted into a parking lot. Between her memories and the waiter’s are 30 years, and a social revolution.
“Now the only people who can enter are those with reservations in the few houses rented to tourists in this neighborhood,” explains the employee. They belong to the families who resisted leaving despite all the pressure they received. “Overnight the village filled with young people who came to the countryside to study dressmaking,” he explains.
The few residents who didn’t leave “went through hell” the sweeper says. “They had to travel miles to find a store and all around the houses were places for dancing and checkpoints,” he recalls.
A few years ago the state-owned tourist corporation Cubanacan rehabilitated 274 houses and another state-owned entity, Cubalse, did another 223. However, the projected tourist center hasn’t taken off. “This place lost its soul,” commented the sweeper while gathering up leaves from a yagruma tree that have fallen on the sidewalk. The plaque marking the pier where Ernst Hemingway docked his yacht can barely be discerned in the midst of the undergrowth.
In the nineties, Tarará was the epicenter of a program sponsored by the Ministry of Public Health for children affected by the Chernobyl nuclear accident. They came from Moldovia, Belaruss and Ukraine, shortly after the economic crisis – sparked by the loss of the Soviet subsidy after the breakup of the Soviet Union – had put an end to the Pioneers camp.
The official press explained, at the time, that Cuba’s children had donated their “palace” to those affected by the tragedy, but no one remembers a single meeting at the school announcing the transformation the villa would undergo.
Early in this century 32,048 patients from Central and South America and the Caribbean passed through Tarará in the noted Operation Miracle, funded by Venezuelan oil. They came with different eye diseases such as cataracts and retinitis pigmentosa. They found a haven of peace in the place where only Cuban personnel working with patients and the few remaining residents were allowed to enter.
A decade ago 3,000 Chinese students came in turn to study Spanish and a police school was established in the neighborhood; its classrooms are often used to hold members of the Ladies in White when they are arrested on Sunday after leaving Mass at Santa Rita Church, on the other side of the city.
“This looks like a ghost town,” says Elena loudly as she walks the streets. Successive “programs of the Revolution” that filled the neighborhood have ended and now all that’s left is a development of numerous abandoned houses and others were a few tourists take the sun on the terraces. The beach where the visiting Cuban-American found her first snails is still there “as pretty as ever,” she says.
14ymedio, Zunilda Mata, Havana, 15 September 2016 — At night the corner is illuminated and the new awnings surprise passersby. The Casa Potín restaurant, for decades, embodied the decline of state services, but now it is experiencing a rebirth in the hands of the cooperative. So far, as a cooperative, it has managed to increase the prior monthly salaries of 300 Cuban pesos (about $12 US) by ten times. However the managers of the establishment feel that the lack of a wholesale market and the high costs of renting the site are obstacles to the development of the business.
Located on the corner of Linea and Paseo Streets in Havana, Casa Potín has passed through several stages since its days of excellence early in the last century when it was privately run. Many years after being nationalized, and with the arrival of the so-called Special Period, the place declined due to limited menu, lack of hygiene and the poor professionalism of its employees. continue reading
Three years ago, when it was converted into a non-agricultural cooperative and received bank credits equivalent to one million CUPs, it began to climb out of that hole. Most of the money was invested in refrigeration equipment, furniture and restoring the premises. In addition, the members of the cooperative worked to form a unique opportunity to try to recover the singular menu and the lost prestige.
The centrally located establishment is one of the 189 dining cooperatives that have been approved in recent years in Cuba. At least 80 of them are already operating and the rest are in the midst of making repairs and applying for credit before opening to the public.
“This place has changed, there was a time when it was in trouble and had a very limited menu,” says Ramon, 72, a neighbor of Casa Potín. The retired engineer is a self-confessed “devoted customer” of the place, which he has seen transformed from “disaster to glory.” However, he believes that the prices “are not within the reach of many pockets and continue to be high.”
“When we took over the management of this restaurant through this new method [government permission for non-agricultural cooperatives], the place had been closed for months because the previous management had accumulated a debt of half a million [Cuban] pesos and we had to assume that,” said a member of the cooperative who requested anonymity. The woman is optimistic and added, “If everything continues as it is now, we will pay off the debt at the end of this year.”
The reason for the large amounts of imported products consumed in the restaurant is the absence of a wholesale market where the products can be bought, according to Casa Potín’s managers. “We were very excited when the Zona+ wholesale market [owned by Cimex, a government entity] opened in Miramar, but in reality there is no difference between the costs of buying there and at the other market,” said a waitress at the restaurant.
The legislation allows this state entity to raise the prices of some products sold in the dining network cooperatives, a sword of Damocles under which they must work. Similar measures applied to the agricultural markets and private transport have contributed to shortages and loss of quality in goods and services.
“We have had problems the whole summer with supplies from the Beverages and Soft Drinks Company,” says one of the cooperative’s employees, “so we can’t guarantee a stable supply of domestic beers or malts.”
Cooperatives have the prerogative to import equipment for commercial purposes through the Cimex Corporation, something that is still closed to self-employed workers.
Not only is it an uphill battle for the managers of Casa Potín to get basic supplies. Of the 18 initial workers who initially became part of the cooperative, only three remain at the forefront of the management of the restaurant-bar.
“People think that this is something where you don’t work very much and earn a lot, but that is not the case, we sweat it every day, making the numbers at the end of the month is not easy,” adds the employee, who acknowledges that when the place was managed by the state many products from the warehouse “were lost” and “there was a lot of diversion of resources.*”
The transformation into a cooperative has not changed the ownership of the property which remains with the state and each month the Havana Restaurants Company charges about 13,000 Cuban pesos (CUP) for rent. “It’s hard, very hard, but we have more autonomy and many customers are returning to Casa Potín.”
*Translator’s note: “Diversion of resources” is an all-encompassing term used in Cuba for what is generally theft by employees.
14ymedio, Rolando Polea, Caracas, 15 September 2016 — It’s 6:00 am on June 28, I drive slowly along the Panamerican highway, my view lost before the long line of people in shelters between the fog, the drizzle and hunger. Pressing up against each other as if for warmth. Almost a mile separates the last person in line from the entrance to the supermarket. It is the same image as the previous day. Everyone is waiting for the store to open so they can buy any regulated product that arrives, no one knows what, nor do they know how many they will be able to buy, much less if any product will show up at all.
And the agents of Venezuela’s “Bolivarian” National Guard have arrived, dressed in their usual olive-green uniforms and some Robocop protectors, who with rifles, helmets and shields, monitor the line. continue reading
I step in front of the closed door of the supermarket, flanked by the big truck of the anti-riot troops, only to notice that on the other side, extending for about 700 yards, is another line made up of the elderly. Many young people among them, these are the “liner-uppers,” family members, grandchildren, children and people who hold other people’s places.
It’s hard to get rid of that metallic taste left by the “shedding” of dignity.
Suddenly my mind, which strives to focus on the road and the radio to forget the tastelessness, is dejected by a call to the radio station, a complaint, from a lady who speaks, more words, less words, warning about the irresponsible favoritism of the officials charged with the sale and control of regulated products, allowing certain categories of public officials – like firefighters, doctors or security agents – to go ahead of the other public employees, a situation that doesn’t seem fair.
Almost immediately a “public official” calls the radio station, specifically a firefighter, to call the lady’s attention to the fact that his work saving lives and the long shifts make it impossible “to stand in line for 10 hours” to buy the regulate products of the basic market basket, and he demands that the woman complaining have some “understanding and civility.”
In the space of hardly a breath, the newscaster takes another call in which a “public employee” takes the firefighter to task, insisting he recognize that the difference between “officials” and “public employees” is governed by an internal scale in the government structures, but that eventually “everyone has the same right”…
The diatribe ends with the silence of the newscaster, and then a brief, “There you have a complaint for the authorities to consider,” followed by music, just music. What more can be added.
I think that in the midst of this whole string of unhappy complaints it’s worth remembering the public employees who, while a firefighter, police office or even a Bolivarian National Guard, work long and arduous shifts, whether saving us or repressing others, they simply, for the most part, “suck lives.”
Amid the government inefficiencies, there are some few employees or officials whose mystique and honesty are shrunk in the morass of corruption and bureaucracy. My acknowledgement, congratulations and honor to those heroes who survive that oasis in a desert of the convinced.
How far did the class struggle go… destroying the historical materialism of Marx and the classes in the productivist terms of Max Weber, the founding fathers of modern sociology, they should be appalled, the war of the proletariat.
What was heard had to have deep roots in the thinking of modern Venezuela, the misery of the totalitarian state, in which, after the ruin and disappearance of virtually all private initiative, is all that’s left standing.
Its inefficiency has plunged the country with the largest oil reserves in the world, one whose oil industry was considered one of the most efficient in the world, into a war economy, and achieved an equalization of misery, using the control of hunger and terror as weapons of social dominance.
While launching international campaigns to sell the wonderful utopia of “21st Century Socialism,” we Venezuelans die of poverty and famine.
At last, I have arrived at my job. The everyday job, the one that pays taxes, creates employment and whose productivity is seen in the results. The effort of private initiative, the only kind not stopped after the presidential decree, a decree that reduced the working hours of public employees to a half day, from 7:30 AM to 1:00 PM starting in late February this year, in order to address the energy disaster caused (for the second time) by the El Niño phenomenon, for which they never made provisions.
I am part of the private effort that continues to work a full day and that doesn’t shorten the workweek to two half-days, which the parasitic government decreed at the end of April this year, with its announcement that public employees would work only on Mondays and Tuesdays.
I’m part of one of the lowest classes in “21st Century Socialism.”
The society is divided into two blocks, consisting of castes:
Bolibourgeois: The highest framework of political, economic and military power, privileged and amalgamated under a corrupt system in which one has to have to have “wet hands” to belong and not represent a danger to the rest. For them there is no humanitarian crisis nor shortages and they are the ones who do not understand why those below “don’t eat cake, when there is no bread.”
Businessmen survivors: Simply entrepreneurs who are committed to working in Venezuela, whose lives abroad are assured, as are their possessions and in many cases their families. However, they are still here and on them depends a large number of direct and indirect jobs and they support virtually the entire weight of the low production and taxes.
Political opposition: Formed by the union of old and new leaderships, which are determined to return the democratic spirit of the nation through constitutional means. Enemies of the status quo, traitors to the “Bolivarian” ideal, political prisoners.
Public officials: Those whose activities cannot be cancelled. Important people in the areas of healthcare, control, repression or “protection.” They are the first to get food…
Public employees: Those employees whose activity can be cancelled without stopping the running of the country. I offer as proof, months of no activity and everything is working. They are second in line for food.
Elderly: Older adults, some pensioners, other survivors, must stand in line or they simply don’t eat.
Bachaqueros: (a word derived from bachaco, a voracious ant-like insect) A criminal class that plays on the hunger and health of its peers, new proprietors whose networks are fed by the bolibourgeois, the “connected,” the corrupt or the Local Committees of Supply and Production. I don’t know exactly where to put them because they move like mafiosos, in the shadows.
Paramilitaries and Colectivos: Criminal fiefdoms, charged with extrajudicial state security. Official paramilitaries susceptible to extermination when they try to take private initiatives. Generally, they are the best armed in the country. They gather in mega-bands with specific territories and strategic alliances.
Us: Those of us who continue to work every day, who sign, validate, provide the masses for the opposition marches, the nonconformists, those who have no time to stand in line because if we don’t work the country stops, the employees of small initiatives, small businesses and merchants, artisan producers, service-oriented microenterprises. Those of us who use the weekends to get whatever food we can find.
Others: Survivors, the needy, those who rise at midnight to get two bags of rice and two packages of flour, to feed seven or eight people, because they cannot afford produce, those who die of scarcities because they can’t get or can’t afford medicine. Those who die in a hospital for lack of a catheter. Those who stand in line with their children who no longer attend school because they can’t feed or clothe them properly. Those who go through the trash of the supermarkets looking for an onion or a tomato they can eat. Those who are angry because they feel cheated. Those tossed out of the public administration because they were denied their right to claim indemnization on penalty of losing their money forever, or who don’t have the power to work in a public institution. They were fired for signing petitions against the government or for having different political preferences, simply because being a public official or employee requires submission to the one-party government.
The Others are the growing rage of a society devoid of values. The Others are the silent society, the timebomb of a savage revolution, without ideology or principles. Because they are the ones with their education and their human condition snatched from them, the ones who fall back on their instincts, return to the jungle.
I should also mention, without downplaying their importance, those who left, escaped, found asylum, dreamers and hopers who survive, the majority, in a diaspora spread across the planet. They are the displaced, part of a refugee and nomadic humanity, so much in vogue these days.
And to think that the food and medicine that is still gotten and shared is produced by the surviving Businessmen and by Us.
I should also mention without downplaying Those, those who left, escaped, asylees, and hopeful dreamers, who survive, most in diasporas spread across the globe. They are displaced, part of a refugee and migratory humanity, so fashionable has set.
And to think, that food and medicines and still get spread, are produced and carried by survivors Company and Us.
Venezuela is more than this. We Venezuelans must be more than this. But the mass seems to prefer eating crumbs forever, rather than rising up and changing, to make a change.