14ymedio (with information from agencies), Havana, 8 September 2016 – The Algerian state oil company will send crude to Cuba for the first time in the coming month, after a fall of 40% in the supply from Venezuela recorded in the first half of the year, according to information from Reuters on Thursday.
The sources consulted, which preferred to remain anonymous, revealed that they anticipated sending about 515,000 barrels of crude to the island in October and that Sonatrach could repeat the operation in November and December.
Cuba produces only 40% of the oil it consumes and imports between 200 million and 300 million dollars in oil products from Algeria every year, as well as maintaining an agreement for the supply of crude under an assistance program with Venezuela, which is experiencing the worst decline in production in more than a decade, because of its economic situation as well as low world fuel prices.
Although there are no official figures, Cuba is estimated to be receiving fewer than 80,000 barrels a day from Venezuela, far from the 105,000 that arrived during Hugo Chavez’s presidency.
On Monday, Cuban President Raul Castro asked Russian President Vladimir Putin for a stable supply of petroleum and its derivatives for the island.
14ymedio, Havana, 8 September 2016 — Every day around 250,000 connections are recorded in the 1,006 internet public access points enabled on the island, according to data the Telecommunications Company of Cuba (ETECSA) released Thursday to the newspaper Juventud Rebelde (Rebel Youth). Although the country has tripled the number of wireless access zones in parks and central streets in some cities, the density of service remains low for a population of 11.1 million people.
During the year, Cuba went from having 65 Wi-Fi zones to the current 200 in the month of September, according to ETECSA’s director of communications, Luis Dias. The provinces with the greatest increases were Havana (29 places), Pinar del Ril (19) and Granma (16). With the exceptions of Isla de la Juventud, Cienfuegos and Artemisa, the other provinces have installed more than 10 internet zones. The customers in the Wi-Fi zones complain about the poor infrastructure conditions in the parks and plazas for connecting, the congestion of users with the resultant slowing down of the access speeds, and the danger of being robbed of tablets, smart phones or laptops in public places. continue reading
Some 80% of the daily connections are made on a 2.4 GHz bandwidth, and barely 20% are made on the better quality 5 GHz bandwidth.
Cuba currently has 193 ETECSA navigation rooms, as well as 613 more located in different sites such as hotels, airports, Youth Computer and Electronic Clubs, Ministry of Health sites or Post Offices, among others, which account for about half the internet traffic.
Ana Maria Mendez Piña, senior specialist for Marketing Operations with ETECSA, told the official newspaper that in 2016 they have sold more than 590,000 Nauta permanent service accounts, plus 5.3 million hourly connection cards.
Cuba is one of the poorest countries in the rates of internet access. In 2015, 348 people out of every 1000 had Internet access, according to official figures, mainly due to the high cost of service (at two CUC* per hour), although Etecsa lowered its rates.
*Translator’s note: Two Cuban convertible pesos (CUC) is the equivalent of about $2 US, or as much as two days wages.
14ymedio, Miami, 8 September 2016 — The National Immigration Service of Panama has deported a total of 478 foreigners to their countries of origin so far this year, according an official statement from the service.
According to the statement, the immigration agency deported and ordered to be banned from entering Panama migrants who arrived in the country in an “irregular” manner, remained in it undocumented, or engaged in “conduct that conflicts with morals and good behavior.” continue reading
The main nationalities that top the list of those deported are Colombians, with a total of 213 people, and Nicaraguans with around 100.
Speaking to 14ymedio, the agency asserted that among those deported were four Cubans who were returned to the island after being detained in Panama for not carrying the necessary documents. It is presumed they are the same individuals that the Immigration Service detained outside the shelters of Caritas Panama, where dozens of islanders have taken refuge since they became stranded on their way to the United States.
“The citizen who is deported cannot enter Panama for a period of five to ten years, from the date of their deportation,” the statement declares. It also includes the information that 89% of the deportees are men and 11% are women. In comparison to the same period for the proceeding year, there were 78 fewer deportations.
Due to its geographical location Panama is an enclave for the transit of thousands of undocumented immigrants seeking to reach the southern US border. This year alone, the country has had to undertake two humanitarian operations to transfer of some 5,000 Cubans who were stranded in within its borders.
On May 9, Panamanian President Juan Carlos Varela closed the borders of his country to undocumented travelers to prevent human trafficking. After the avalanche of transcontinental migrants, Haitians and Cubans who entered from Colombia a few weeks ago coming through the Darien jungle, the country implemented the “Controlled Flow” operation to assist migrants as long as they continue on their way. The closure of the borders of Nicaragua and Costa Rica has complicated the operation and there are now hundreds of people who have been trapped within the country, unable to continue on their way.
In recent years Panama has dismantled 13 organizations dedicated to trafficking in persons in its territory and rescued more than 120 victims. This is considered a drop in the ocean of the transcontinental traffic which generates millions of dollars in profits.
14ymedio, Leonardo Rodriguez Alonso, Caibarien, Villa Clara, 8 September 2016 — Tragedy struck on the third day of the school year at the Nguyen Van Troi primary school in Caibarién when, at around two on Wednesday afternoon, the school’s principal, Amaury Herrera Mesa, was stabbed by an attacker in the presence of teachers and students. Terrified, the children took refuge in the bathrooms and classrooms, screaming for help.
The alleged killer was identified as a physical education teacher who had been fired by the victim during the last school year, accused of improper conduct at the school. continue reading
After learning of the incident, the school was surrounded by police and some children were taken to the hospital, after fainting or strongly affected by what happened. So far there is no official information about whether it was possible to capture the assailant.
The sculpture of a huge crab welcomes visitors to Caibarién, considered a quiet village on the north coast, just over 30 miles from the provincial capital of Villa Clara, with a population of about 40,000 people.
However the Wednesday attack at the school was followed by an attack on a driver, injured by a knife, a few hours later. In addition, a young psychologist was stabbed to death last Sunday in an area known as “the tree of terror.”
This type of violence is not new to Caibarién. In the middle of last year the sleepy village experienced a wave of armed robberies perpetrated by bands of robbers. Their target was essentially the causeway leading to the Keys, filled with hundreds of tourists every week.
In July 2015, the murder of a young upholsterer Roberto Medina, beaten to death with a hammer, set off alarms. The victim’s gold teeth were ripped from his mouth and he was robbed of all his money and property, including a motorcycle and several gold chains.
14ymedio, Reinaldo Esconar, Havana, 8 September 2016 — The news that starting in October personal income taxes will be introduced along with a Special Contribution to Social Security has raised all kinds concerns among workers in the Cuban state enterprise system.
Prejudices solidly grounded in tradition and personal experience have raised fears that, the less understandable the measure is, the more chances there are to make mistakes and, therefore, for injustices to occur. The most widespread complaint is that salaries already are not enough to live on and any deductions from them will mean a loss of vital benefits, that is food or personal hygiene supplies for one’s family. continue reading
The argument put forth by Meisi Bolaños Weis, vice minister of the Ministry of Finance and Prices, is that thanks to this contribution people “will receive direct or indirect benefit in the medium and/or short-term, through the Social Security System,” but this does not satisfy those so far have opted to work longer to receive direct benefits immediately.
The Special Social Security Contribution (CESS) consists of a fixed tax rate of 5%. It applies to all those working in the state enterprise system who earn more than 500 Cuban pesos a month (about $20 US), provided that this amount falls under one of the following: a) additional payment from enterprise’s budget, b) implementation of pay for performance, c) distribution of profits as a stimulus for business efficiency.
Anyone with a calculator handy will notice that a worker who earns 501 Cuban pesos in a month only receives 474.95 after the 5% for social security is taken out, a reduction of 25.05 Cuban pesos, for having earned 1 peso more than 500. In the event a person earns 525 Cuba pesos, they get 474 pesos and will be losing 26.25.
Obviously Cuban employees will be watching that their salaries don’t exceed these ranges, because, paradoxically, from now on to take home 500 Cuban pesos a person must earn at least 535 pesos.
In the case of other taxes on personal income (SIP), under the provisions of the Tax System Law 113 the proceeds will go to the budgets of the municipalities in which the companies are located, paying for healthcare, education, public lighting and other services.
Thus, if the worker does not live in the municipality where he or she works, as is common, especially in Havana, they will not benefit directly from their contributions. They will not enjoy the improvements in infrastructure and services that they have helped to pay for.
According to the official figure, the average salary in the state sector today is around 779 Cuban pesos a month, but the ISIP is only applied at approximately three times this figure, starting at 2,500 Cuban pesos, where the earner will pay 3%, while those making more than 5,000 Cuban pesos will pay 5%. All those contributing are subject to an additional 5% for the CESS.
It is notable that the application of these new tax collections are not explicitly reflected in the Guidelines of the 7th Communist Party Congress, where mention of the issue is limited to generalities relating to perfecting the tax system.
Now everyone is paying attention, because work hours and earnings of this month will be reflected in October, when the taxes will begin to be levied. The only good news is that to pay the taxes you will not have register on some site or stand in line at the bank, the company will kindly deduct the contributions on the day you are paid.
The emblematic Cuban ability to find a way to cheat for every new law will be tested with this new provision.
EFE (via 14ymedio) – The Cuban National Congress (ENC), which consists of 65 opposition organizations inside and outside the island, said today of the dissident Guillermo Fariñas, 54, who is on a hunger strike, that if the Cuban government “lets him die” it will have committed “premeditated murder.”
In a press conference in Miami to present the results of the ENC’s second meeting held in Puerto Rico last month, several members of the organization’s recently created Coordinating Board stressed that all their attention is focused on Fariñas, leader of the United Anti-Totalitarian Forum (FANTU), and they asked the international community to exert pressure to save his life. continue reading
Fariñas, a resident of Santa Clara in central Cuba, has been on a hunger and thirst strike for 49 days to demand that Raul Castro’s government end its repression of peaceful dissent and open a dialog with the opposition, according to reports from other opposition members.
“We need him alive for the future of Cuba,” Guillermo Toledo, ENC’s general coordinator for liaison representing Cuban exiles, said today.
Toledo, who lives in Puerto Rico, as well as Ramon Saul Sanchez and Julio Shiling, also members of the ENC Coordinating Board, stressed that Fariñas’ state is “serious” and could become “critical” at any time.
The Cuban government periodically gives Fariñas emergency rehydration treatment and returns him to his home a few hours later, opponents said.
“Fariñas needs intensive care in a hospital,” Toleda said, adding that the fact of having to move him every time he loses consciousness amounts to “premeditated murder.”
Given the situation, Alice Fariñas, daughter of the dissident, intends to launch an international “SOS” for her father on Friday.
14ymedio, Havana, 7 September 2016 – The P15 bus now begins its route at the Santa Fe Bridge and new routes with the letter A have appeared in Havana’s bus system as of the end of August. The changes in the route names and destinations has been the result of a proposal from the Planning Department in the Provincial Transport Agency to ease service problems, but bus riders have not embraced the changes.
The reorganization of the bus routes in the capital began on Sunday, 28 August, in the zone east of the city, but at the beginning of this month it was extended throughout the city. In many neighborhoods the changes coincided with the beginning of the school year, which caused real chaos among riders, who don’t know if the route they’re waiting for still comes to the same stops or if it has been renamed.
The changes were made following the recommendations of a study undertaken by the authorities about the mobility of Havanans and the network of routes circulating, but the deficiency in information has hindered its event. An attempt was made to eliminate parallel routes, the longest routes and the least direct routes, but the result has been confusion and a sense of making the problem worse.
“Before I never knew what time I would get to work, but not I don’t even know if a bus is going to come by here,” a woman waiting for the bus near the Monaco Cinema in the 10 de Octubre district of Havana said on Tuesday morning.
14ymedio, Jose Gabriel Barrenechea, Santa Clara, 5 September 2016 – A certain letter from Aristides Vega Chapu to the weekly Vanguardia, already quite old and that I believe I came into my hands in the middle of last July, set off a media frenzy last week. Knowing, as I do, that there is a lot going on beneath the apparent tranquility of Santa Clara’s intellectual media, my first reaction was surprise at the extraordinary resonance of this document in particular, as there had been previously with the similar reception of another in its time, from the young people of Vanguardia’s base committee of the Young Communists Union (UJC).
So I said to Aristides this Saturday, while trying to convince him to be interviewed by the newspaper, which he politely declined: “Gabriel, I already said what I had to say and where I had to say it,” was his response, and I understood, because he really did and has always been a powerhouse of the national culture. continue reading
This is not Aristides’ first letter, nor has he only denounced censorship in his letters. Not is it the first movement of intellectual concern from here. Not to mention that in the now distant nineteen-nineties, there emerged more than a few groups of challengers and even open opposition in the world of pilonga* letters.
The first movement I remember in those times of raulato was that led by a group of young authors back in 209: they demanded a less crazy tax framework, having suffered the anger of certain cultural officials, they managed to collect a number of important signatures in support of their petition. One of the most outstanding figures of this movement that soon transcended the limits of Villa Clara was the narrator Anisley Negrín, the best graduate of my course in the Onelio Literature Center, and winner of the 2008 David Prize**, someone who has apparently left our city, in the current move of the best of our writers to the United States.
Ultimately, the question is that some seem to have suddenly discovered this little corner “of the interior,” and avidly launch themselves on the first scandal they come across, with which they create the false impression that it is now Santa Clara that is moving. Thus they forget, in my mind, two complaint letters from Otilio Carvajal, one from Perez de Castro, another famous one from Aristides himself, denouncing the badly handled finances of certain cultural organizations here, and one from Pedro Llanes in which he complains about the discrimination against certain of his friends on the guest lists of the Provincial Book Fairs.
Nor do they take into account two posts demanding profound changes in the Cuban State that Ernesto Peña published on my blog, El Hidalgo Rural Cubano (The Rural Cuban Gentleman), and that as a result of the harassment he was then subjected to by the “compañeros” of State Security, he had a nervous breakdown. Or in the semblance of insignificant arm wrestling that, under the name of the baseball team from here, Lorenzo Lunar and Feliz Julio Alfonso have maintained for the last two years with none other than the province’s first secretary, in the egregious ears of whom a gray sportscaster and snitch with political police license plates never tires of dispensing accusations against those two as “restorationists” – that is supporters of capitalism.
That the literature in this city is in a keen state of restlessness is demonstrated by Otro Lunes (Another Monday) or Árbol Invertido (Inverted Tree), the two most serious Cuban cultural magazines edited from the opposition camp. What other city in the country, including Havana, has provided a similar number of collaborators? In what other city, besides the Havana of Voices, have the intellectuals dared to collaborate massively with a magazine with as few antecedents as Cuadernos de Pensamiento Plural (Notebooks of Plural Thinking)?
As for Vanguardia, the June issue is not the first clash in the last three years. In Ranchuelo Yandrey Lay Fabregat is now dedicated to narrative, and is perhaps one of the best cultural chroniclers of this region, to whom they have made it very difficult in Vanguardia, with the usual censorship in the country compounded by the abysmal mediocrity of those who lead or have led it in recent years.
In Santa Clara those who dedicate themselves to literature have worked in silence for a long time, without so much adherence to the tremendismos***. If you are not aware of this it is because you never had the opportunity to attend some of Aristides’ gatherings, especially the so-called “The Moment of Truth,” where more devastating truths than those of his letter of long ago have been heard.
Translator’s notes: *Pilongo/a is a term used to refer to someone from Santa Clara, Cuba. It is a reference to those baptized in the huge baptismal font – called a “pilón,” hence “pilongo” – opposite the Cathedral which was demolished in the 1920s. **The David Prize, awarded by the Artists and Writers Union (UNEAC), is one of the most important literary awards in Cuba (see Wikipedia). ***Tremendismo is a literary narrative technique developed in the Spanish novel in the 1940s which features violence, sordidness and direct, hard language (see Wikipedia).
14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 6 September 2016 – The word made me smile. I read Kaffeeweißer – coffee whitener – on the tiny envelopes near the coffee machine in a Berlin hotel, that promised to “whiten” that dark beverage that was relieving my jetlag. I had forgotten how direct and powerful the German language can be. For years, along with the Cuban Germanophile community, I had awaited the inauguration of the Goethe Institute on the island, but last week a report in Deutsche Welle poured a bucket of cold water on our aspirations.
The longed for opening of the center that would let us observe German culture was only a matter of time. In July of last year, the German Foreign Minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, made the first official visit of a German chancellor to our country since the fall of the Berlin Wall. In May of this year it was followed by a visit of Cuba’s Foreign Minister, Bruno Rodriguez Parrilla, to the capital city of bears and sausages. continue reading
Like a diplomatic dance, we waiting impatiently for a step here, another there and the prodigal handshakes for the camera. Meanwhile, we counted the days until the country of Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Herta Mueller and Gunter Grass would honor Havana with a center of the stature and quality of the Alianza Francesa.
I’ve never found a word that is better at expressing the breakage of something than the German word kaputt. To this, my language of dreams and nostalgia, I owe the force of the verbal sledgehammer that Spanish hides in sinuous constructions and compromises. This crack that means “broken,” and carries with it a sense of frustration, resonated in my mind this Saturday when I read the declarations of the president of the subcommittee on foreign policy for material culture, Bernd Fabius, about the possible causes of the sine die – the indefinite postponement – of the Goethe Institute among us.
“Cuba fears that with the Geothe Institute, which promotes the German language and culture in the world, Germany will encourage the counterrevolution,” said Fabius, noting that the refusal “shows how fragile the systems of such states perceive themselves to be.”
The Cuban government has preferred that the “German dose” come through its own educational institutions and under tight control. In the Faculty of Foreign Languages at the University of Havana there is a lectureship for teaching the German language, but the autonomy of a cultural center – managed directly from Berlin – is not in its plans for now.
A real shame in a country where it is calculated that around 30,000 Cubans studied or worked in the German Democratic Republic while many others have gone in recent years to live in this now united European nation and there is a curiosity mixed with empathy for the Teutonic culture, despite the distance and the marked differences in identity.
Bernd Fabius’s conclusion about the fears of Cuban officialdom are not too far from the real motive for freezing out the Goethe Institute’s project. Every place that is not under the strict rules of ideology, that offers literature not filtered by the island’s publishers, or promotes a view beyond the borders of political blindness and the sea that surrounds us, causes the Plaza of the Revolution to break out in hives.
Most instructive is that the German government has spent years “behaving itself” so that it might make a sign with the name of the author of Faust shine on a Havana street. More than five years of exploratory feelers, plugged ears, caution, and maintaining a great distance from any phenomenon that might upset the olive-green hierarchy. After all this time invested to avoid hurting feelings, the Bundestag has received a loud and clear nein, as can only be heard in the language of Nietzsche.
14ymedio, Havana, 6 September 2016 — Cuban dissident Guillermo Farinas, after 47 days on a hunger and thirst strike, was transferred on Monday afternoon to Arnaldo Milian Castro Provincial Hospital. The dissident was discharged hours later because doctors felt that he did not meet the “entry criteria for intensive care,” he told 14ymedio activist Jorge Luis Artiles Montiel.
Sources close to Fariñas detailed that the intake occurred at 2:45 pm after he lost consciousness at his home in the neighborhood of La Chirusa. Hours earlier, the daily report on his health issued by members of the United Anti-Totalitarian Forum (FANTU), reported severe pain in the “joints, knees, ankles and shoulders.” continue reading
The note also explains that Fariñas was experiencing “dizziness, weakness and fatigue” and said his weight was 151 pounds, according to Dr. Yorkis Rodriguez Cardenas.
The winner of the European Parliament’s Andrei Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought is demanding that Raul Castro “publicly state that he will put an end to the beatings of nonviolent opponents,” and that he will schedule a meeting with a member of the Council of Ministers and “representatives of the Cuban opposition,” to explain what the government’s strategy will be “to end the beatings.”
A dozen Cuban dissidents have released a letter in which they call themselves Fariñas’ “brothers in the struggle” and say they share his demands. However, they also state that they need him alive to continue with them “on this path” until they “achieve freedom.”
“We respect you and we are aware of your sacrifice, but we would ask you to put an immediate end to your strike,” says a letter from dissidents Félix Bonne, Eduardo Díaz Fleitas, José Daniel Ferrer, Iván Hernández Carrillo, Ángel Moya, Félix Navarro, Arnaldo Ramos Lauzurique, Vladimiro Roca, Martha Beatriz Roque and Berta Soler.
Since the beginning, Fariñas has reiterated that, in the event that “Raul Castro will not yield to the demands” he will continue the hunger and thirst strike “until the end.”
14ymedio, Madrid, 5 September 2016 — Marita Lorenz’s first kiss (1939) came from Fidel Castro. Daughter of a ship’s captain, she met the leader of the Revolution at age 20, at a dock at the port of Havana. After she showed him around the ship, the leader asked her where her cabin was and, once they were there he pushed her inside and kissed her. But Lorenz didn’t feel intimidated, “I was enthralled. Fidel gave off an enormous seductive power!” she said, in an interview with the French weekly Paris-Match, subsequently translated by YoDona, a magazine belonging to the Spanish daily El Mundo. In the interview, Fidel Castro’s ex-lover offers every kind of detail about the relationship they maintained in 1959, before she joined the anti-Castro ranks.
Almost six decades later, Lorenz says that Fidel Castro was the great love of her life, despite her claim that he wasn’t a good lover. “He was more interested during the caresses than during the sexual act itself. But dictators are all like that,” she says from experience, having also had a relationship with the Venezuelan dictator Marcos Perez Jimenez. continue reading
“Fidel was a narcissist. He loved to look at himself in the mirror while he stroked his beard. He lacked self-confidence, or rather, he needed adulation and pampering, like a little boy,” she told YoDona, denying that she feels any resentment toward the leader of the Cuban Revolution.
Lorenz lived in Suite 2408 in the Havana Hilton (the hotel where Fidel, Raul and Ernesto Che Guevara were also living) between March and November of 1959, a time when Fidel Castro still had not broken off relations with the United States nor become linked with the USSR.
“Fidel was a narcissist. He loved to look in the mirror as he stroked his beard. He lacked self-confidence, or rather, needed to be flattered and pampered, like a little boy”
Castro’s lover was aware that the relationship would not end in marriage. “I’m married to Cuba,” he told her. However, she was soon pregnant, and although her son was supposedly taken away from her, she met him in 1981: “I saw him when I visited Fidel the last time, after 20 years of separation,” she said. “They told me I’d undergone an abortion, but the gynecologist in New York told me I had given birth. What they said about an abortion was false. My pregnancy was almost full-term and my son was born when I was in a coma in Cuba. He is a boy. He grew up there and is called Andres Vazquez.”
It was during her pregnancy when she came into contact with the CIA indirectly through Frank Sturgis, an American who presented himself as an ally of Fidel, although in reality he was allied with Batista and defending the interests of the mafia in Cuban casinos.
“He said he could help me and, in return, asked me many things. To get rid of him, I ended up giving him documents that Fidel threw in the trash and that, in my opinion, were of no interest. But that seemed to satisfy him,” she recalls.
In October 1959, after a poisoning attempt she gave birth to her son and after a few months hospitalized in the United States she returned to the island at the end of the same year, having already become a spy.
During her convalescence, she joined the anti-Castro side motivated by her conversations with the FBI, which supposedly asked her to assassinate Castro in 1961. “Oh, my little German,” Fidel greeted her, knowing she was going to kill him. “He handed me his gun and I took it. Then, looking into my eyes, he said to me… ‘No one can kill me’ He was right I dropped the gun and I felt liberated.”
Despite not meeting their expectations – “They explained that if he had been killed would not have had to launch the Bay of Pigs operation” – Lorenz remained linked for years to espionage: “I came to know in Miami, at a meeting of those anti-Castro, Lee Harvey Oswald, who was implicated in the Kennedy assassination. But he was not alone, I’m sure there was someone else. In my view there was a plot to kill the president,” she believes.
At 76 years, the former spy lives in Queens (New York) in a semi-basement and wants to return to Germany to reunite with her son Mark, from her relationship with the Venezuelan dictator Perez Jimenez. “He has a job there, because he is going to run a museum devoted to the secret services.”
14ymedio, Dominique Deloy, Havana, 5 September 2016 — Sometimes I have the impression I’m talking to myself inside an aquarium: I can’t open my mouth without fear of drowning, no one wants to listen to me, my questions are never answered. Some, of course, consider me indiscreet, daring, even a comemierda (literally “shiteater”) as they say here, although I don’t know what this word is really meant to convey, untranslatable in French but pleasing to my ears: stupid, timid, naïve?
It is a fact that asking too many questions is frowned upon here. They often reply to me, “I don’t know, I haven’t asked,” implying that one has to be very strange to ask about such things, almost suspicious. continue reading
And it is not just when it comes to politics. Politics? Who talks about politics here? The word itself is… suspicious! How many people have said to me, “I don’t like to get into politics, it is of absolutely no interest to me.” To even talk about this here is like something obscene, unseemly. Pity the French returnee, who adores politics and likes to remake the world over and over talking with her friends! Almost a national sport! Shut your mouth, poor little fish-returned-to-her-native-waters, comemierda!
Politics? Who talks about politics here? The word itself is… suspicious!
But that’s how it is. The French returnee wants to know everything. Not only why the monthly salary of her aunt Candita, architect and head of Housing Services, isn’t enough to buy a pair of shoes. Also why Cuba still has two currencies: one called “national” and the other… what to call it, then? “Foreign” perhaps? And how to know when to pull out which one (when both the bills and coins are very similar)? Why is it that sometimes you can pay with either, making the conversion, and sometimes you can’t: when there are two different prices for the different currencies, one for real Cubans and the other for tourists, or “fake Cubans,” like me?
Yesterday I had to pay five CUC (Cuban convertible pesos, the “foreign” currency) to enter the Museum of Fine Arts – even though its magnificent roof is on the point of collapsing on the works of Courbet and Degas, and you can see the sky through it – while my companion paid one-twenty-fourth as much in national currency (CUP); with no explanation, as if the teller was deaf, looking at me in silence when I asked him why. Why, yes indeed, why? A real brainteaser.
It is fortunate that they do not charge me for my bread ration in CUCs, but I always go to the bakery with apprehension and a little shame, as if I was thief trying to steal bread out of the mouths of real Cubans. I feel the same when I travel alone in one of those fascinating machines, my hair blowing in the wind, my nose filled with the smell of gasoline and reggaeton thundering in my ears. I pay like the rest: 10 pesos in national money, but I feel “clandestine, illegal,” to quote Manu Chao’s song.
Yes, the French returnee wants to know everything. She likes unambiguous explanations, rational, direct words, clear
But it is not only the money, although this is the main topic of conversation (along with finding out where you can get yogurt or chicken today). I also want to know why the border between legality and illegality is so thin here. For example, why, in front of everyone, in a bakery with a French name, do they give me an open, half-empty package of cookies, and especially why, when I ask for an explanation, do they sneer at me instead of apologizing? It is the same for bottles of water and packages of pasta, where the eye can discern the subtle and clever slits used to remove a third of the product from its container while the price remains the same.
Yes, the French returnee wants to know everything. She likes unambiguous explanations, rational, direct words, clear.
Furthermore, in her aquarium, the returnee is deaf: there is no internet here or very little. A few incredibly expensive minutes in a wifi zone, as long as it hasn’t crashed, in which case you can never know for how long or why. It’s clear you can’t use the internet to be informed. And don’t even talk about the press… which says whatever it wants whenever it feels like it. There’s nothing left but Radio Bemba – Big Lip Radio – word of mouth. So here you never know anything. The returnee is obliged, therefore, to ask without any answers, to open and close her mouth in her aquarium. With no results.
14ymedio, Yosmany Mayeta Larada, Havana, 4 September 2016 – After the heavy rains that have hit western Cuba in recent days, many residents of the capital fear an increase in the number of building collapses. Denise Rodriguez Cedeño, 54, a resident Luz Street, between Egido and Curacao, in Old Havana, placed her family’s belongings in the street after part of the roof of her house caved in on Saturday.
Those who pass through the busy street, in the heart of the historic center, can see the bundles with clothes piled up outside the building, along with kitchenware and a fan. The Rodriguez Cedeño family made the decision to spend their hours outdoors, in protest against the lack of response from the institutions charged with distributing materials for home repairs. continue reading
The already poor state of her home worsened with the storm that brought heavy rains, linked to the ninth tropical depression of the hurricane season, a weather phenomenon that caused intense rains in the west and center of the island and moderate flooding in the coastal town of Surgidero of Batabanó.
Rodriguez Cedeño works for Community Services and has lived in her home for more than 35 years. The resident told 14ymedio that her housing problems began in 2003, but she has not yet received a reply from anyone. Right now her situation is desperate.
“For 13 years I have been asking for repairs to my house, but but always tell me there are no building materials”
The anguish has led her to also pressure the authorities with the warning that she is not going to send her grandchildren to school this Monday, when the new school year begins nationwide, because she does not have the conditions to guarantee them a “home.”
“For thirteen years I have been asking through a technical report for repairs to my house, but they always tell me there are no building materials,” she says. On other occasions, Rodriguez Cedeño has chosen to “make repairs with my own resources,” but the deteriorating economic status of the family, made up of “four women and two little girls who have chronic asthma,” has prevented her from being able to make the arrangements to do it herself.
After several hours in which the women stayed with their belongings in the open street, the authorities of the Council of the Municipal Administration (CAM) of Old Havana arrived, to learn what damage occurred in the house and to call for calm. Dozens of people, especially foreigners passing through the city, were filming what was happening.
The directors of CAM explained that the family would be located in a Transit Community (a shelter) for about seven days and then taken to inhabitable housing in another community for people whose homes have been declared uninhabitable or have collapsed.
Rodriguez Cedeño had spent the whole night between the street and the half-ruined house, waiting for the authorities keep their word this Sunday. She warned that they would “plant themselves in the street again” if they didn’t provide a permanent solution to her case.
These residents of the Old Havana have become part of the 33,889 families across the country who need a home
In their current situation, these residents of the Old Havana neighborhood have become part of the 33,889 families (132,699 people) across the country who need a home, many of whom have spent decades living in shelters for victims. The population census of 2012 showed that 60% of the 3.9 million existing housing units on the island are in poor condition.
During the last session of the National Assembly of People’s Power, in July, the deputies met in the Standing Committee on Industry, Construction and Energy, and agreed that “the housing problem is the number one social need in Cuba.” The parliamentarians criticized “lack of coordination, integration and priority” at the municipal level in managing the demands of the population in terms of applications for materials and construction permits.
In the first half of this year, at least 90,652 people who have received subsidies for construction work have gone to the stores selling materials. However, only 52,000 have been able to buy all of the materials they were assigned, due to shortages of key products such as steel, cement blocks, bathroom fixtures, tiles and roofing.
14ymedio, Eliecer Avila, Yangon, Myanmar, 2 September 2016 — During his visit to Cuba, US President Barack Obama mentioned the changes in Burma (now Myanmar) as an example of the most recent democratic transition from a fierce military dictatorship that lasted over half a century.
Since then, the idea of an exchange between the opposition and Cuban civil society and their counterparts in Myanmar was developed. Today this political and cultural contact is a reality full of very valuable lessons that can only be appreciated by seeing how changes take place and are managed in real time, the interactions between contending forces and their interests, the pros and cons, the alliances and the ruptures, the shared joys and disappointments of a frustrating process, which many say, is just beginning. continue reading
From the air, the tremendous difference in infrastructure and development in Myanmar and, for example, its neighbor Thailand, is remarkable. It is like when you leave Miami and then fly over Cuba. It is clear that this country was left out of the democratic, educational and technological changes that catapulted the so-called Asian Tigers.
At a time when those countries focused on global integration with millions of young people ready to conquer the art of creating products and services on a grand scale, Myanmar’s military dictatorship chose total ostracism, shutting off the country like a strongbox to avoid any “foreign influence.” It always tried to keep the county semi-enslaved in the service of an army that, like an octopus, controlled the social, economic and spiritual life of this nation, located exactly on the other side of the world.
Going through immigration is somewhat tense because the military is not yet entirely accustomed to looking at tourists as ordinary people.
At the airport, going through immigration is somewhat tense because the military is not yet entirely accustomed to looking at tourists as ordinary people. To alleviate this problem they have thoroughly replaced all possible customs and immigration clerks, placing in these positions young people who are a lot more open and unprejudiced, and who even smile.
Myanmar currently receives just over a million tourists a year, an insignificant figure not only compared to its neighbors, but in proportion to its nearly 60 million inhabitants. This figure, however, is growing due to democratic changes, which in turn attract many investors.
Currency exchange offices accept the US dollar, the euro and the Singapore dollar, but in order to pay for anything in any one of these currencies, you have to be sure the bill is not the least bit wrinkled, because they won’t accept it. And don’t panic if you see people spitting out a red substance on the street. It is not blood, but rather a pigment that comes from a mix of herbs and is constantly chewed, as in Bolivia.
On the streets of Yangon there are no motorbikes. Here superstitions are very important even when making policy decisions. In a nearby country it happened that there was a wave of crime in which the criminals used motorbikes to move around and perpetuate attacks, so the military junta completely banned them in the capital “just in case.”
Myanmar currently receives just over a million tourists a year, an insignificant figure not only compared to its neighbors, but in proportion to its nearly 60 million inhabitants
In Myanmar men wear a kind of wide skirt that is adjusted through a knot just below the navel, without underwear. Women are often seen adjusting the typical costume that covers them from the ankles to the neck, an elegant garment emphasizing the sensuous curves of a perfect waist, as described by George Orwell in his novel Burmese Days.
They are as thin “as sticks” with shapely legs and smooth hair that falls in perfect shapes… no thanks to the gym or expensive treatments, but from a traditional diet based on vegetables, plus genetics and a life marked from childhood by hard work.
Incredibly decent and helpful, one and all, the citizens of Myanmar grab your heart with their extraordinary mixture of simplicity and nobility, probably a reflection of the basic teachings of Buddhism, among which one stands out in particular: “We must live to give love, not only to our friends, but also to our enemies.”
Although the country is an infinite melting pot of ethnicities and religions, Buddhism predominates as a belief, significantly influencing the moral base and value system that rules society. The presence of the monks and their temples (pagodas) is everywhere. You cannot touch the monks and much less can they touch a woman. They, however, can touch you at will.
The monks are greatly venerated and were the protagonists in several of the largest protests against the abuses of the military power and in support of changing the terrible economic situation of the country. The majority of these demonstrations were held in the late eighties and were called the Saffron Revolution, after the color of the monks’ clothing. Many of them were sent to prison and served long sentences as political prisoners.
In general, those who were young students in 1988 are called “Generation 88,” in memory of the heroic attitude that many of these boys, some of them mere children, assumed in defense of their country and their rights, paying a high cost in innocent lives at the hands of the armed forces.
That sacrifice laid the foundation for the process that is happening today in the country, overthrowing for the first time the one-party military rule in that year. There then emerged 235 political parties, which were more or less consolidated into 91 ahead of the 1990 elections, the first competitive elections since 1948.
The National League for Democracy (LND), which already had more than three million members (of which, one million are women), swept the elections getting a historic triumph that gave them the capacity to govern, but the defeated military didn’t go along, they broke the rules, ignored the election results and imprisoned the leaders of the winning party, among them its leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
With this coup, the military frustrated the aspirations of the whole nation for freedom and progress, but that would be temporary.
In 2011, after the release of Aung San and thousands of political prisoners, new elections were called, but several of the most influential parties chose not to participate, citing the obvious lack of confidence in the military and demanding a change in the Constitution to offer real guarantees to civil parties.
The constitution is the legal instrument that guarantees the supremacy of the military class, still today. The constitution establishes that 25% of the seats in parliament are reserved for the military, regardless of the results of the election. The trap closes completely with the provision, in addition, that the constitution can only be changed with more than 75% of the votes, so it is mathematically impossible to modify anything, no matter how small, without the consent of the military.
Not satisfied with this, the constitution gives the military permanent control of the country’s most important ministries: Borders, Armed Forces and the most strategic, Interior. This latter entity, in addition to the usual functions of controlling order, in Myanmar also controls all public administration, a great part of the economy, and also education. The decisions of the military in these institutions are virtually autonomous and unquestionable.
For these reasons, although the country is very happy with the second victory of the NLD in 2015 and the rise to power of Aung San, many believe that as long as the military holds on to all that power they will not have a true democracy.
It is mathematically impossible to modify anything, no matter how small, without the consent of the military.
Aung San and her party assumed from the beginning a conciliatory attitude, trying to reach agreements with the military leadership that will directly benefit citizens, and working so that the country can begin to emerge from its deep poverty, making it easier and offering guarantees for both foreign investment and internal trade.
These negotiations have been possible in part because the current top leader of the military and Aung San have a certain personal empathy and have maintained a constructive dialogue. This aspect was strongly criticized by other political parties and many civil society organizations, who demand clarifications and that the military take responsibility for its crimes, as well as the release of political prisoners who remain in jail.
Many of these prisoners were sanctioned for “resistance” against attempts of certain members of military or their associates to take away all or part of their land.
Beyond these issues, thorny and inconclusive, there are hundreds of examples of positive transformations that quickly began to empower people, especially young people. In 2012, a SIM card for a cellphone cost about $1,000. Today you can buy one for just $1.50 and it provides completely free access to the internet, creating overnight more than 10 million internet users ravenously exploring the web, creating new ways to organize and discuss issues that previously didn’t exist. In Myanmar, as in Cuba, meeting with others without permission from the military junta was prohibited.
Another important change was to eliminate the tax demanded by the military of 100% on the purchase value from anyone who acquired a vehicle. This was reduced to between 3% and 5%, which has facilitated the importation of millions of light trucks and buses for public transport. This measure represents an accelerator for the growing economy that is trying to flourish, but which in turn poses great challenges of infrastructure, because at certain times the city collapses in traffic jams of a size never expected or imagined.
Impressive and positive is also the great work being done in the country through hundreds of supportive organizations and NGOs
Impressive and positive is also the great work being done in the country through hundreds of supportive organizations and NGOs which, along with the new authorities, are contributing their experience on issues of all kinds: entrepreneurship, agriculture, digital commerce, the broad-based development of women, political participation, mediation in ethnic conflicts, issues of sexual orientation and gender identity, water purification and conservation, etc., through training in systems provided not only in the capital but in the most remote villages of the 14 states that make up the vast territory of the country.
All this cooperation has also contributed to statistical studies, surveys and research to bring to light for the first time in history the true picture of the country in very sensitive areas such as human trafficking, the sex trade of children, drugs, discrimination, recruitment of children by ethnic guerrillas, etc., so that from this information the state can implement programs and make decisions to improve the situation.
The media, now much more free, foster discussions of all these issues and put pressure on the authorities from their platforms, both physical and digital. The young people working on a Yangon newspaper talk about the official media after the change, saying “nobody recognizes them,” because “they changed their stale and censored discourse for another kind of more dynamic journalism, objective and real; they are now becoming real competitors for us.”
This shows that journalism’s heart was always beating, but it was subjugated by a regime that annulled it and appeared more before the people.
The young Burmese man who acted as my translator said, “For me, the most important thing is that people are no longer afraid, they laugh now, before they were serious, now they dream of work and prosperity; before, most young people regretted being born here… For myself, I’m not going anywhere now!”
14ymedio, Carlos Alberto Montaner, 3 September 2016 — It may have been the largest march in Venezuela’s history. Did it serve for anything? We’ll get to that. I begin my analysis with a view of the government.
Maduro and the Cuban DGI agents, who actually rule the country, faced a dilemma: in the face of a giant demonstration, should they remove the fragile democratic mask they still wear sporadically, declare martial law, suspend constitutional guarantees and dissolve the National Assembly on the pretext they were impeding a coup planned by Washington’s perfidy, or should they obstruct the demonstrators, arrest the leaders and cause the demonstration to abort by disrupting the march at various spots in its course?
They opted for the second. They believed that they could do it. That’s what the authorities do in Cuba. They arrest, disperse, infiltrate, harass the opponents, pit them one against another with a thousand intrigues and prevent them from seizing the streets. The streets belong to Fidel. That’s the task of the vast and secret body of Cuba’s counterintelligence (55,000 to 60,000 people), the regular police (80,000), plus the rough-and-tumble mob of the Communist Party, while the three regular armies remain on standby in case they need to join combat. Total: 350,000 rabid dogs, not counting the Communist Party, to bring to bay 11 million terrified lambs. continue reading
They were wrong. The social control is not the same. In Cuba, the opposition was liquidated by gunfire in the first five years of the dictatorship. There was resistance, but the authorities killed some 7,000 people and jailed more than 100,000. Two decades later, in the late 1970s, when the cage had been hermetically shut, they began to release them. The Castros have held Cuban society in their fist for half a century now. The Soviet KGB and the East German Stasi taught them how to lock the padlock. Today, Raúl has perfected his repressive strategy. It was the one the Chavists futilely tried to use in Venezuela.
The Venezuelan opposition holds on precariously in a virtual zone of the state apparatus. They are mayors, governors or deputies. They hold posts but neither power nor a budget. Chavism has deprived them of resources and authority, although, because Chavism emerged from a democratic setup, it has not been easy for it to build a cage. According to surveys, the Chavists are opposing 80 percent of the population, including a good portion of the D and E sectors — that is, the poorest.
They are an undisguised gang of inept caretakers engaged in larceny. To hide and disguise reality, they bought, confiscated or neutralized the media, except for a couple of heroic newspapers, but the country’s situation is so catastrophic that there’s no human way they can hide the disaster.
Nevertheless, the opposition lacks the muscle needed to force Maduro’s overthrow and the system’s replacement. In general, the oppositionists are peaceful people, trained for 40 years in the sweet exercise of electoral democracy. What could they do? They could march. Bang on pots and pans. Stage peaceful protests. It was the only way to express their opposition in the desperate situation in which they found themselves.
They could fill the public squares in the manner of Gandhi and Martin Luther King, but against an adversary much more unscrupulous than the Anglo-Saxons. They have done so, dozens of times. It was a civilized way to confront totalitarian harassment. The people who kill, the scoundrels, the organized criminals are on the side of Chavism. The armed forces have been taken over by the Cubans and the top leaders are knee-deep in drug trafficking. Letting the army brass dirty their hands was a clever and vile way to tie them. Today they are not united by patriotism but by crime and the fear of the United States’ Drug Enforcement Administration.
In the end, do marches and peaceful protests serve a purpose? Of course they do. The Poles and the Ukrainians demolished their dictatorships marching and shouting slogans. It’s a matter of persistence. He who tires, loses. But there is a very important physiological factor. Participating in a common cause that expresses itself physically — marches, slogans — provokes an exceptional secretion of oxytocin, the hormone of affective linkage produced by the pituitary gland.
That’s the feeling of unity, of bonding, experienced during military marches, sports competitions or the innocent crowd gatherings to listen to popular musicians. That’s the substance that generates “esprit de corps” and permanent loyalties.
The opposition feels fraternally united in these street demonstrations. There’s a burst of trust in the coreligionist and hope in the resurrection of the homeland. That’s all that Venezuelans desperately need to find themselves again in a close and brotherly embrace, because their country in fact is dying. It’s being killed by Chavism.