“I Live Happy Because I Live Without Fear” / 14ymedio, El Sexto

Map of the 4H Company in prison hand drawn by Danilo Maldonado, ‘El Sexto’
Map of the 4H Company in prison hand drawn by Danilo Maldonado, ‘El Sexto’
  • El Sexto tells of his incarceration in the Valle Grande prison

14YMEDIO, Havana, 28 January 2015 — Danilo Maldonado, the graffiti artist known as El Sexto, finished a month in prison this January 25. He was arrested while riding in a taxi whose trunk was carrying two live pigs. The animals were painted green and each bore a name written on his side. On one could be read Fidel and on the other, Raul.

The artist’s intention was to release them in Central Park in order to recreate a rural tradition in which one tries to catch pigs with the added difficulty that their bodies are smeared with grease. His frustrated performance art was entitled Animal Farm, in Memoriam.

The light blue Lada that was transporting him was intercepted by three Revolutionary National Police patrol cars. The agents took away the identity cards of Danilo and the vehicle’s driver and took them to the Infanta and Manglar Station. Two days later, they transferred the artist to the Zapata and C unit where a prosecutor told him that he would be taken to trial. He stayed in those dungeons seven days until he was transferred to the central police station of Vivac de Calabazar, where he spent another seven days.

It happened that Vivac was the destination for dozens of arrestees accused of trying to participate in the performance announced by performance artist Tania Bruguera in the Plaza of the Revolution last December 30, which was interpreted by authorities as a counter-revolutionary provocation. Some of those arrested, who learned of his presence at the place, shouted, among other slogans, “Freedom for El Sexto.”

From the Valle Grande prison, where he is now, Danilo has sent us some jail anecdotes and a couple of drawings.

The Tank

When I arrived at Valle Grande they took blood samples for the lab, shaved my head and beard. They also photographed me. During my stay in Vivac, they had diagnosed me with pneumonia, for which reason I was carrying antibiotics with me, but they took them from me and have not seen fit to return them to me so far, nor has a doctor listened to my chest to find out if I am the same, better or worse than when I arrived here. To make matters worse, I am surrounded by smokers who do not care at all that I am sick and asthmatic. continue reading

I am in Company Four. They call this place “the tank,” and there are all kinds of people. I met four dissidents from Alturas de la Lisa. Yorlay Perez, Yusel Perez, Santiago Perez and Hanoy.


One day a boy came into the tank who said he knew me from the park and that he followed my work on the streets. This swarthy young man of small stature surprised me when he took off his pullover revealing on his back a tattoo of the face of Fidel Castro. I explained to him that I am an opponent of the Castro regime and that the gentleman he wore engraved on his skin was the one responsible for me being a prisoner.

He responded that he had no family and that he was a “son of the fatherland,” for which reason Fidel had given him a home, and that was not happening anywhere else in the world. I told him that was true, that if he had been born in another country no one would have given him a home, but maybe he could have sought it for himself and that really he owed nothing to Fidel. I told him of the case of Amaury Pacheco, who with a family of six children was harassed into an eviction from an abandoned house in the Alamar suburb, where they had gone so far as to refuse him water and electric service.

Later I found out through another boy, whom I met in Vedado, that it was said that he was with State Security and that he always had a pistol under his shirt. His acquaintances nicknamed him the Hoarse One, but I called him Fidelito.

This son of the fatherland was prisoner for falsification of documents, something he had done in order to leave the country. In a single night he tried to hang himself twice.

Yusel, the Opponent

In one of the constant inspections that they carry out here, a major and a second lieutenant thought that the fingernails of one prisoner were too long and that he had to cut them. He explained that he had no nail clippers, much less scissors. The major took a knife from his belt and threatened to cut his nails by force. The boy resisted and then the major told him that he had to bite them off.

Bunks. (El Sexto)
Bunks. (El Sexto)

When they passed by the place where the opponent Yusel was, they noticed that he wore a white bracelet with the word Change on one of his wrists. As he did not obey the order to take it off, they forcibly snatched it from him. Then Yusel started yelling, “Down with the Castros, down with the dictatorship.” The second lieutenant cornered him against a bed to beat him but the rest of the prisoners got in the middle and prevented it. Things got hot but did not go further because the major started screaming that they were not going to beat him. Only then did the prisoners relax. Yusel was in a punishment cell for four days, but they did not beat him.

‘The Cigar’ that urinates

The Cigar arrived without a noise. Strong, tall, he must be between 60 and 70 years old, and he does not sleep. He said that he was a prisoner because he had threatened with a screwdriver some teens who were throwing a ball against the wall of his house. No one got close to him because he did not bathe. One day he urinated in the middle of the hallway, which was understood as “blackmail” for the other prisoners who would have to clean his filth. When they demanded that he wipe up that puddle, he said that he would do it with his clothes but they did not let him because that would mean enduring an even greater stench from him. We understood that he was going crazy the day that they read out loud the cards where our names and crimes appear. Then we learned his case: child sexual abuse.

To my Facebook friends and blog readers

I want to tell you that I really miss finding out about your trips and other events that are reflected in your accounts. I would also like to thank everyone who supported my cause and confess that none of my crazy things would have been possible if I had not known that I was not alone and that I count on the support of many of you. It is possible to fill hearts with hope. Evil will never overpower good. Retrograde minds will never overcome free minds. Violence will never overcome art and reason. Death will never overcome life and love.

I am going through an ordeal that has only been the legitimization of a good work and the confirmation of an iron dictatorship, which must be combatted with wit and cunning.

Believe me, sometimes I laugh alone in this dark place of 18 by 100 feet with 37 triple bunks, that is to say between 118 and 190 people plus those who sleep on the floor. I laugh even though the toilets are stuck next to each other without any privacy. I live happy because I live without fear and, although they persecute and harass my family, they will never manage to make a dent in my creativity. This time I believe they have been ridiculed like never before by anyone. Although they kept the pigs from getting to Central Park, all of us who have an imagination can see them running with their names engraved and people behind them like a true Animal Farm.

Ha, ha, ha. Hugs to all, and I wait to be able to read you.

Danilo Maldonado Machado

Translated by MLK

The spy who never wanted to be one / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

The journalist Jose Antonio Torres.
The journalist Jose Antonio Torres.
  • The unusual story of ‘Granma’ journalist sentenced to 14 years in prison

14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Santiago de Cuba, 27 January 2015 — Just outside the building, a ditch carries sewage down the street. Several children jump from side to side of the stinking canal which later runs through Micro 7, a neighborhood in the José Martí district of Santiago de Cuba. For a few years now the neighbors have pointed to number 9 on one rough block and said, “That’s where the Granma newspaper journalist lives.” Today the family bears the stigma of a journalist who is in prison, where he is serving a sentence for espionage.

The steps are rough and uneven. At the top improvised bars cover the door to the house. I knocked for long minutes, but no one answered. Mayda Mercedes, José Antonio “Tony” Torres’s wife, only received me another day, with a certain tremor in her voice while looking up and down the street. There I managed, for the first time, to see the court ruling that twisted the fate of this man, as a bolero says, “like a weak tin rod.” continue reading

The official government reporter never imagined that on his 45th birthday he would be behind bars. After graduating as a journalist in 1990, he’d known nothing but success in his career. He served as deputy director for Tele Turquino, correspondent for the National Information Agency, for the National News, and later for the newspaper Granma. He was a sports commentator, secretary general of the Communist Party’s Santiago de Cuba Correspondents unit, and his work was even praised by Raul Castro. Everything pointed to rising to professional heights closer to power and to better remuneration.

All this ended, however, on 8 February 2011, when they arrested him and – after three months in State Security’s Villa Marista prison and transfers to other prisons and exhausting interrogations – a court sentenced him to 14 years in prison for the crime of espionage. In the file of Case No. 2 of 2011, it says he is accused of having written a letter to Michael Parmly, who was then the head of the United States Interests Section in Havana (USIS). The document also states that the accused wanted “to get a personal interview with this person to provide him (…) sensitive information (…) that could endanger national security.”

Tony says that the idea of writing this letter was the child of spite. His wife had been a victim of injustice at work and, according to the journalist, he decided to get revenge on the authorities. A revenge that consisted of pretending to have secret data that would destabilize the Cuban government. His defense attorney said later that there was “no real danger to State Security,” and Torres confessed that he “made everything up.”

A scaffolding of lies that ended up falling on him, because the crime of espionage in the Cuban penal code includes “anticipated completion.” The mere suggestion to a foreign state of sensitive information carries a sentence.

From late 2005 until January 2007, he wrote a long text on a neighbor’s computer in which he claimed to have sensitive information about “the Elián González case (…), classified materials of a military character (…), information about government corruption (…), scandals in the ranks of the Communist Party (…), original documents from the five spies (…), defaults on economic contracts with China” and much more. An explosive list of topics, to which he added his own resume as a journalist to give the matter greater credibility.

With a meticulousness unusual in these parts, he also devised a complicated code of passwords and keys that included “half of a moneda nacional one peso note,” that Michael Parmly could only complete when the two of them were face-to-face. A postcard of the Casa de la Musica in Miramar, also cut in half, would reaffirm the identity of each party. On the brightly lit scrolling ticker across the top of the US Interests Section building in Havana where headlines and news were displayed, after the receipt of the document the US was to display the code “Michael 2003” if the official accepted Torres’s full proposal, and “Michael 6062” is there was only interest one a part of it.

Reading, today, about this methodical system of alert and verification, it’s hard not to smile at this apprentice James Bond, who ended up a victim of his own cleverness. But Tony didn’t seem to calculate the seriousness and danger of his actions. So in early 2007 he asked his brother to travel to Havana and put an envelope containing two diskettes with copies of the letter along with the halves of the peso and the postcard, in the Interests Section’s mailbox. The countdown that would end in his disgrace had started to run, but he wouldn’t know it until four years later.

In a cell in Boniato Prison, one of the Cuban prisons with the worst reputation, Torres has nurtured for years now the illusion that some journalist to whom he could tell his story would visit him. He has refused to despair because someone will shed light on his situation. In the middle of last year he added my name to the list of those who could visit him in prison, to personally narrate for me his version of a story that at times seems taken from The Secret Agent by Joseph Conrad, and at others from The Joke by Milan Kundera.

So far the meeting hasn’t happened. The political police monitored the calls and “accidentally” lost the list with my name on it to visit him this weekend. So, after a long journey, I found myself in Santiago with no opportunities other than to reconstruct the “Torres case” through court documents, the testimonies of those who knew him and the letters that he regularly sends me from prison. A jigsaw puzzle, which at times seems more literary than credible.

Tony is punctilious when he tells his story over the telephone, his job as a reporter shows in every detail. He has tight handwriting that fills pages and pages that he dispatches here, there and everywhere. He soon turned me into a recipient for his desperate writings. Phone calls crossing the Island’s geography ring in my fourteenth floor. “Sometimes I have to buy access to the phone with cigarettes,” he tells me.

The former official spokesperson is now clinging to independent journalism and the opposition like the shipwrecked to a precarious life. He has left behind the opinions expressed in an allegation that he never read before the trial court and in which he claimed that he had requested money for information that he would supply the United States to make them believe he was an agent in the service of a foreign government because “no counterrevolutionary is respected if he doesn’t look for or use the path of that conduit of dollars.”

The rigors of prison later lead him to seek the support of the Patriotic Union of Cuba and its leader, Jose Daniel Ferrer. His disappointment in the system of which he was a part has also been felt in his writings. In the middle of last year, in one of his letters, he described the Cuban people as “wounded by the disappointment, with their patience exhausted, sick and tired of scarcities, badly fed, with a ton of postponed demands, crammed into the eternal limbo of unkept promises. 

Last week, his despair led him to write a letter to Barack Obama and another to Pope Francis, asking them for help

Last week, his despair led him to write a letter to Barack Obama and another to Pope Francis, asking them for help. The letters have already begun their journeys to their destinations, but this time they do not carry keys nor currency cut in half. The prisoner hopes, at least, to see his name on the list of political prisoners of conscience, which several groups among the Cuban dissidence have drawn up. However, his case “is difficult to defend,” say several human rights activists, while others reproach him for his long official past.

On the morning when they began the release of the activists derived from the secret talks between Washington and Havana, my phone rang early. “Do you know about the releases,” inquired the pompous voice of a television announcer. I took a deep breath, and provoked him, “They are going to release a spy who served the United States for years, but it’s not you… it will be Rolando Sarraff Trujillo.” His scathing laugh barely let me finish the sentence.

Ironically, when José Antonio Torres demands to be considered innocent and not to be classified as an American intelligence agent, he is also distancing himself from the possibility of being included in a spy swap. His main argument in defending himself, and with which he demands justice, could also be the greatest challenge to achieving his release in the near term.

While I was knocking and waiting for Mayda Mercedes to open the door, a neighbor climbed the stairs carrying a bucket of water. She walked carefully and slowly, as if she was carrying a newborn in her hands. In July 2010, Torres had written an extensive report for the newspaper Granma where he denounced the irregularities, the “negligence” and the “bad job” being done on the repair work of Santiago de Cuba’s aqueduct. The city was full of holes and broken streets, but the delivery of water still hadn’t stabilized after months of work.

“The gagging is so strict that we have converted a force of pressure into innocuous prisoners of repetition and compromise”

A tagline from Raul Castro was published along with the painstaking report, in which the general affirmed that he “disagreed with some of the focus,” but did “recognize the Santiaguan journalist for his persistence in following the work.” In government journalism circles it is still rumored that it was that article, and not Torres’s masquerade as a spy, that marked the severity of the subsequent conviction against him.

While the world read the article as if it were a signal of information glasnost in Cuba, State Security already had surveillance on the journalist’s house from four different angles. By then, Torres was repenting of his absurd action and believed he would never be discovered. Everything indicates that it was in that moment that the act of revenge conceived by the writer of that missive in the past ran smack into the vengeance of others. The journalist would have no chance to walk out with an acquittal.

A couple of years later, from prison, Torres would analyze the official press with the self-criticism that has been part of an artifice for a long time. “In this country (…) the press doesn’t know, nor do its duty. The gagging is so strict that we have converted a force of pressure into innocuous prisoners of repetition and compromise,” he wrote in a letter that managed to make it out of Boniato, when his hopes for release were at their lowest.

Antonio Torres's diploma in journalism
Antonio Torres’s diploma in journalism

The arrest occurred on a February morning. His youngest daughter was crying while they conducted a thorough search of the house. They took video cassettes, notepads filled with his precise handwriting, eight sheets detailing the work on the Santiago de Cuba aqueduct, a work notebook on the balance of the public health sector, weather reports, documents with ideas delivered to the military sectors during Bastion 2004, photocopies of letters from the spy Antonio Guerrero to his son, two letters from Torres to Raul Castro, among other materials.

His belongings didn’t exceed what any journalist would have in his files. None of the data collected by the court points to his possessing “State secrets.” According to what was shown, he didn’t even have the letter where he offered his services as an informant. It’s not clear how the letter “appeared” in a garbage can outside USIS and not in the mailbox where Torres’s brother had supposedly placed it. A prosecution witness, an agent from the Specialized System of Protection S.A. (SEPSA), said that he found the envelope there with the diskettes.

He didn’t even have the letter where he offered his services as an informant

Torres tried to base his defense on the inviolability of diplomatic correspondence, but the court focused the accusation on the “sensitive information of interest to the enemy.” Even today, the journalist appeals that his act was only an attempt that would never have transpired if the USIS mailbox was not “under observation by the Cuban intelligence services.” His self-defense does not claim innocence, but poor procedures in obtaining evidence. But the appeal to reassess the sentence was declared “without merit” in late 2012. A bucket of cold water fell on his hopes of seeing a reduced sentence.

In Section 4 of the Boniato prison they call him “The Thermometer.” The prisoners have given him this nickname because he “is always hot” because of the fights between the inmates and the violence that prevails in the place. In the midst of this, a man who talks like a TV anchorman now spends his days. Once, long ago, he narrated the socialist paradise – and the stains that should be eradicated to perfect it – with his voice and his writings.

At night, when the guards turn off the light and call for silence, he places under his mattress the sheets filled with tight handwriting that will later be put in improvised envelopes. On this passion for writing letters from prison, he now hangs all his hopes of being set free.

The New Scenario / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

Roberta Jacobson at a press conference at the residence of the head of the US Interests Section in Havana (Luz Escobar)
Roberta Jacobson at a press conference at the residence of the head of the US Interests Section in Havana (Luz Escobar)

14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, 23 January 2015 – The possibility that some day the dispute between Cuba and the United States would ever be solved, the discussion about how to accomplish it having been successively postponed, seemed so remote.

If we were to identify in a simple form the background of the disagreement between both contenders, we would have to say that it can all be reduced to the intention of the Cuban government to implant a socialist regime with a single party and without private property, in the face of the geopolitical will of the United States to maintain in the region a homogenous system of representative democracy and market economy.

The fact that Cuba became the first socialist country in the Western hemisphere sustained the dream of Nikita Khruschev to some day see the hammer and sickle flag waving over the Capitol in Washington. Perceived from afar, the problem qualified as one element of the contradictions of the Cold War. continue reading

But, observed from within, the conflict could not be reduced to a brawl between Cubans and Americans replicating the East-West conflict, rather it starred Cubans with different ways of thinking. The imposition of the Marxist ideology provoked an internal schism in Cuban society and in the Cuban family. Under the guise of a growing class struggle, appeared victims and victimizers, and an enormous quantity of silent witnesses.

To those who proposed to align the Island with the countries of the Socialist Camp, it wasn’t enough to confiscate all American-owned properties, in addition, in less than a decade, they swept away the last vestige of private property. They implanted a ferocious “scientific atheism” and prohibited any political or ideological display that didn’t maintain absolute fidelity to the principles of Marxism-Leninism.

The enemies that process engendered, inside and outside, ended up joining forces. There were armed landings, groups in the mountains, bombings and sabotage. The prisons filled with political prisoners, and the terror of suffering the consequences of dissent brought faked obedience. The great majority of victims of the Revolutionary laws left for exile, while socialism in Cuba continued to produce the dissatisfied.

One fine day, McDonald’s arrived in Moscow before the flag of the proletariat was hoisted in the capital of the empire, and as a consequence, the construction of pure hard socialism on the Island ceased to seem a Utopia to reveal itself as an absurd aberration. A Special Period that nobody dares to put an end to, the uncertainty about whether the leadership is a delirious dying man or a pragmatic conservative, the inability to produce, the insolvency to buy, the lack of an attraction for interested investors, the absence of an understandable definition of the way forward, the total exhaustion of old slogans, a crisis of values never before seen, an unstoppable emigration, the decline and aging of the population, the insecurity that Venezuela will continue its support with energy and financing, and a thousand more reasons, have placed before the Cuban government the need to sit down and talk with its oldest adversary.

These talks have found enthusiastic defenders, enemies and skeptics. These tendencies, with all the imaginable gradations and with greater and lesser visibility, are present in all environments: at different levels of power in the United States, in the apparent unanimity of the Cuban Government, in the exile, in the internal exile and, of course, in the gagged protagonist that is the Cuban people.

The enthusiastic defenders can be localized easily in that group of people on the Island who have as a priority achieving material prosperity and being legitimated as an emerging middle class. In the exile, there are those who would like to invest with guarantees in the innumerable niches that can be opened; from government positions, those who dream of recycling generals into managers; and from the environment of the opposition, the few with the healthy naivety to believe that, as a consequence of dialog, political dissent will be decriminalized and they will soon be seated in parliament after winning the votes of their constituents.

The enemies of the rapprochement are found among the hawks of the U.S. military sector and in that part of the exile that dreams of violently overthrowing the Cuban Government and making them pay with blood for their multiple and unpardonable crimes. They can be seen emerging in the internal opposition among those who suspect that if the government is sitting down to negotiate with the Americans, they will no longer have to talk to them.

They argue that their demands, their just demands, particularly with respect to Human Rights in Cuba, will fade into the background relative to the claims prioritized by the American executive branch. In addition, there is the group of those who aspire to be included in the refugee program, or to be beneficiaries of “help” from the North, and fear that all of this will disappear before the flowers that today adorn the negotiating table wither.

Paradoxically, those in the Island’s power structure who totally reject the reestablishment of relations appear to be at the controls of the repressive bodies; those who would be left without work and, still worse, without privileges, on the day that, by virtue of the presumed dismantling of the exterior harassment, Cuba can no longer be considered besieged and, in consequence, dissidence ceases to be treason. Along with this troop, are the gallant combatants who refuse to abandon their trenches, the ones where they won their medals and merit points that one day served to get a house, a car, a job and even public prestige.

Skeptics lack confidence in anything that some group of anonymous negotiatorss have agreed to in secret. There are abundant reasons to believe that the only thing the American government wants is to regain its hegemony in the region, or that the only purpose of the Cuban ruling elite is to save their heirs. They are everywhere, though they don’t speak up, or do so with due caution.

The issue of the reestablishment of relations, with everything that rests on it, will be an election issue in the campaigns of Republicans and Democrats; it could lead to political purges in the Communist Party, the government and the parliament; it could rearrange alliances in the exile; and delineate with greater precision the divisions in the internal opposition. But it will be a reason for hope in the crowded buses, in the lines for “chicken for fish,” in the private taxis and private restaurants, and among all those who have a relative on the other side.

We Cubans should never find ourselves in this extemporaneous and foreign dilemma. The real problem continues to remain unresolved and it is the dispute between the people and its government.

Neither optimistic enthusiasm nor sterile skepticism is any use, much less the intention to reverse what seems inevitable. The script is written for four hands by those who are already quantifying gains and losses. The only certainty is that there will be a new scenario where new rules will come into force and every actor must rearrange his or her strategies.

2015 Partial Elections: an Old Woman Wearing Rouge / 14ymedio, Miriam Celaya

Billboard for the 2008 parliamentary elections. "Cuba in elections: without masters, without impositions"
Billboard for the 2008 parliamentary elections.
“Cuba in elections: without masters, without impositions”

14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 19 January 2015 – Next spring, Cuba will hold the first election process after the announcement of the restoration of relations with the imperialist enemy. Everything indicates that the authorities of the Island are ready to stand the test of what the democratic makeup should look like to create an impression of positive change. For this reason, they are rushing to create their own mechanisms for “approval” with the democratic systems in the region.

If the US President wants to see democratic change in Cuba, the regime’s double-dealers are working on it. After all, the old adage has already stated it: “It is not enough to be Caesar’s wife; it is a must, in addition, to appear so.” Though we Cubans are aware that the innovations brought about by the hand of the same government that curtailed civil liberties are only imitations of those dilapidated and unkempt old buildings in order to prolong their existence, and that, in the popular jargon we refer to as “an old woman wearing rouge.” continue reading

Last January 5th, the official Cuban press published a call of the State Council to the midterm elections, “as established in the Constitution of the Republic and Law #72 of October 29, 1992” in which delegates to the municipal assemblies of the People’s Power will be “chosen” for a “mandate” of two and a half years, subject to revocation.

The next day, the 17 members of the National Electoral Commission took up their positions and received appropriate accreditation. They must “organize, manage and validate the electoral acts”.

Granma newspaper reported the start of a “political and strengthening process on the 55th Anniversary of the CDR [Committees for the Defense of the Revolution]”, at the municipal level, as part of which  “assemblies at the popular board level” were held on January 8th, and on the 12th, they were held “at all zones of the CDR’s.” Such assembly process sought to “improve the functioning of the leadership structures of the CDR” from the grassroots level –on each city-block up to the municipal and zone-specific committees, and at the same time the “conditions of individuals who occupy charges at different levels of management” were evaluated. According to the national CDR coordinator, Carlos Rafael Miranda Martínez, this process ensured, among other objectives, “to help support the election process and the incorporation of young people.”

Election campaigns and political parties are expressly prohibited, but the PCC really runs the election process de facto

The first round of the process will take place on April 19th, 2015, the second round, “at those constituencies where none of the candidates have obtained more than 50% of the valid votes cast,” on the 26th.

The current Electoral Law in Cuba states that any citizen can be nominated as a candidate for delegate by a show of hands in the assemblies of each constituency, and subject to popular vote at the polls to exercise that capacity. Election campaigns and political parties are expressly forbidden, so it’s not a requirement that delegates and deputies belong to the Cuban Communist Party (PCC), but the PCC really runs the election process, plus governs the country de facto. Therefore, all levels of government of the popular power are subordinate to the PCC. In fact, party militancy is often a relevant qualification when proposing a candidate for delegate.

In the succinct proposal process, selection of the candidates and voting for the delegates of the electoral districts, all “democratic possibilities” are exhausted. Cubans are deprived of their legal capacity to choose, not just a President to rule the country for a reasonable defined period, but they won’t be able to opt directly for governor of their municipal district, city, or the province where they reside.

The “delegate” thus embodies the living exponent of the beginning and the end of the (popular) citizen power in Cuba. In this way, from the actual implementation of the first revolutionary electoral system, established in 1976, Cubans have strictly voted for a district representative – barely a portion of a neighborhood – whose function is mainly centered on receiving complaints from his constituents and passing down to them the decisions or guidelines emanating from the Municipal Assembly. That’s where the functions and powers of electors and elected at the grassroots level cease.

A possible ban on using the Little Pioneers as agitators often sent by the presidents of polling stations to citizens’ homes to go to the polls

A few days after the decree for partial elections in April 2015, seminars have begun to be taught in the capital to those called “trios” – composed of three individuals, members of the Communist Party, subject to the municipal committee of the PCC – who are responsible for driving and controlling the grassroots electoral process.

At these seminars, the trios are being instructed in the new guidelines that will begin to be applied to Cuban elections, whose main component is the addition of two new figures: the observer and the supervisor. This information has not been published in the official media. Also not published to the seminar attendees is what organizations will be in charge of watching and supervising the elections in order to validate their transparency.

At this point we could only speculate that the Cuban government requested the presence of observers from allied organisms as the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) or the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA), since Cuba is not a member of the Organization of American States, an institution that has its own mechanisms for such effects. This will allow the Cuban government to evade the direct supervision of those entities more discerning in matters of democracy.

Another detail of these elections will possibly be banning the use of the Little Pioneers (i.e. children) as agitators, who are often sent by the presidents of the polling station to citizens’ homes to get them out to the polls, a practice guided by the directorate of the municipalities of the PCC to each electoral table, which has been in effect since the establishment of the system.

“In these elections, voters will not be able to be pressured to go to the polls so that election stations may close early,” an instructor of a seminar directed a large group of trios at the Centro-Habana municipality. He also made implicit reference to the coercion that has been exerted on the electorate – who sometimes vote as to “not stand out,” so their own will not be harmed, or with lesser knowledgeable sectors who might believe that voting is a mandatory exercise – when he stated that a voter may show up when he decides to do so, and that they should not be pressured into being forced to come out and vote. If 10 show up, then it will end up being 10. Whatever. Nobody is required to vote.”

Translated by Norma Whiting

Yes to Regulation, No to Control / 14ymedio, Henry Constantin

Filmmaker Fernando Pérez during the interview with Henry Constantin
Filmmaker Fernando Pérez during the interview with Henry Constantin

14ymedio, Henry Constantin, Camagüey, 21 January 2015 — I interviewed Fernando Pérez in a small room of that little movie theater is still left in Camagüey one day after the premiere of his latest production, La pared de las palabras (Wall of Words), a stellar film about which I didn’t ask a single question. I decided not to interview the film director and instead question the intellectual, the public figure who contributes more than just his works to the daily life of Cuba.

Fernando Pérez deserves, and can handle, any difficult question one can think of. His films, never boring and with noteworthy depth, reveal a certain level of social nonconformity and demonstrate high cinematographic and intellectual capacities that transform the slim and modest man into a very serious subject. Despite being thoroughly deserving, the cinematographer isn’t inflated with the airs of a great artist or a prominent public figure and treats with kindness both his public and the press. continue reading

I had to ask him a complicated or daring question in the scarce minutes of my interview because there was little I hadn’t heard following his eloquent speeches before the camagüeyano audiences that had welcomed him in various places throughout the day.

Constantin. Following the prohibition of privately owned movie theaters, do you, cinematographers, still include in your proposals for the Cinema Law the independent distribution and showing of films?

Peréz. We’ve advanced a proposal that, of course, includes the distribution, showing, and preservation of our patrimony.

Regarding showings, there are very few venues that meet the requirements of a real movie theater. There are generations of youths that don’t know what a real movie theater is, even in a moment where the ways of showing and distributing films have diversified, for better or for worse. Rescuing the quality of movie theaters is fundamental. I can watch a movie in a smaller screen, on a laptop even, I don’t oppose that, but its true place is in a movie theater, not because it’s dark or because it is projected on a larger screen, it’s because of the energy generated from watching it alongside a live audience. It’s as if you were living within another movie altogether. Our movie theaters have either lost their intended purpose at the expense of other varied activities or, due to decay, have ceased to operate completely.

“Personal initiative would generate better results than having to wait for centralized decisions to be passed down.”

On the other hand, distribution is still centralized within The Cuban Institute of Cinematographic Art and Industry (ICAIC). We need to debate an editorial policy that is concrete and safe because there are national works – and I’m not talking about the international ones – that are not shown due to an editorial policy that is unclear. That needs to be regulated as well; it can’t be subjected to circumstantial or temporary decisions.

Q. Does your proposed Cinema Law conceive the ICAIC as the sole entity charged with distributing and showing films in Cuba?

A. Not exactly, although we don’t have all the answers, but distributing and showing is an extensive process that depends on a financial framework that we neither manage nor will. But, we are considering and analyzing the possibility of a breakup, a decentralization of many of these activities, where independent initiatives, regulated but not controlled, can generate improvements and also experience a more dynamic growth themselves.

I think that beyond Cuba’s audiovisual industry, having a centralized pyramidal social structure has caused many aspects of our reality to be plagued by processes that delay, that don’t find solutions, that aren’t dynamic, and that are bureaucratized because they depend on centralized decisions that cannot respond to everything. More freedom to operate and act would facilitate personal initiative, and personal initiative would generate better results than having to wait for centralized decisions to be passed down.

This structural relaxation has to somehow be envisioned as part of the system we would like to have. I can’t give you concrete solutions because we are, in fact, debating. We don’t want them to come only from us; we want to explore them with other regulatory entities in our country. Not everything will be feasible immediately.

We feel like that policy is not yet outlined, or like we don’t know where it’s going, or that it’s too centralized, that it starts on a routinely straight line that is very difficult to divert.

“Maybe Tania foresaw that it wouldn’t happen and that was the real performance, none at all.”

Q. From what I’ve seen within your work, you strike me as a person who believes that art can serve to change the world you live in. How do you see the relationship between art and politics?

A. Art needs to relate and mingle with life and also have its own discourse within that relationship, holding the person at the center of it all. While politics delves into the general, art targets the particular. Politics can serve art, by always upholding the freedom of expression that art needs, and art can serve politics, by rendering its reality more complex without becoming propaganda. If art becomes political propaganda, its reach becomes limited.

Q. I asked you that question because I was interested in knowing your opinion regarding Tania Bruguera’s performance and all that occurred around it.

A. Tania Bruguera’s situation has been very, very, very complicated. I think that it is possible that at some point an open microphone can be placed on Revolution Square. What happened was that Tania proposed it at a time when she knew it wasn’t possible. For a performance to have a deliberate result, it needs to account for its possible reach. Maybe Tania foresaw that it wouldn’t happen and that was the real performance, none at all. So, the performance was the whole process, the waves of detentions, censorship… it wasn’t the microphone for people to speak through. That will happen someday, but not now.

Translated by Fernando Fornaris

A Letter to Fidel Castro from ‘A Revolutionary Cuban’ / 14ymedio

Fidel Castro billboard: "Fight against the impossible and win"
Fidel Castro billboard: “Fight against the impossible and win”

Dear Fidel,

I know you’re dead. Despite their attempts to hide it from me, to deny it or to lie about it with false letters bearing your signature, I am convinced of your death.

I don’t believe you capable of abandoning us now, at the moment when we need you most, because that’s not what you have accustomed us to. I can’t imagine you sitting back on your recliner enjoying a good book, listening to music or eating your favorite dishes knowing that the course of this country is changing at a vertigo-provoking speed that we are not used to and that we are now faced with the impossible task of writing a new chapter in our history without a leader. I can’t picture you oblivious or indifferent, absent as if you were roaming on an adrift cruise ship, or wandering some faraway lands, ignoring what happens on this island that gave you life, that gave you glory, and made you universal. I also know that you would never cower like an ostrich or a rat before the dangers that stalk us.

I know that if you were still alive you would be, right now, exhorting us to defy these dangers like you always have. You would be warning us of the threats that, invisible to us, only you are capable of seeing. If you were alive, we would have seen you, filled with emotion, embrace your Cuban Five, your heroes, for whose freedom we rallied behind you in every campaign, march, parade, and act. If you still held on to life, you wouldn’t allow the threat of the empire to fly again over our heads, except this time closely, too closely, and with new arms and combat tactics for which we are unprepared. You wouldn’t allow savage capitalism to return to Cuba nor for those whom we once vanquished by simply throwing eggs at them to come back as proud victors. continue reading

If even a drop of life were to still inhibit your body, you would give your people a dignified goodbye, that people that has supported you in everything: in the liberation war, by cleansing the counter-revolutionary threats that hid in the Escambray Mountains, working the arduous sugarcane zafras, repudiating the “worms”, the “antisocials”, and the “scum,” betting our lives in Angola, Nicaragua, or Venezuela with rifles, notebooks and pencils or white coats, on volunteer work, giving what little we had to others and receiving nothing in exchange, and battling today, defenselessly, your most recent detractors. Right now, it’s your obligation to stand with us and you know it.

You surely haven’t forgotten (I haven’t) your favorite slogans, like “Homeland or Death” and “Socialism or Death”, those that you pronounced at the end of every speech in a firm tone, and that we followed with cries of “We will be victorious” before we applauded you in passionate approval while exclaiming “Long live Fidel” and “Long live the Revolution.” If neither the Homeland nor Socialism interest you any longer, the only logical explanation is that death has won against you in that final battle and we should not be kept in the dark, we should know, if at least out of respect for those that have supported you unconditionally, so that we may grieve you and honor you with a humble but heartfelt tribute.

And if your death not be true, excuse my sincerity Comandante, I’d rather continue thinking you’re dead because it’s simply the best option I have to keep my faith as a Revolutionary.

A Revolutionary Cuban, January 16 2015

3 and 25 p.m.*

*Translator’s Note: Fidel Castro signs his writings with the time expressed in this way.

Translated by Fernando Fornaris

14ymedio, 23 January 2015

“To remain entrenched” / 14ymedio, Victor Ariel Gonzalez

Cuban and US Delegations at the Convention Palace in Havana (kkkk)
Cuban and US Delegations at the Convention Palace in Havana (Fotograma)

14ymedio, VICTOR ARIEL GONZÁLEZ, Havana, 24 January 2015 — We didn’t have to wait too long for an answer. “Yes, we have an enemy” was the title of an opinion article published some days ago by Pinar del Río’s Guerrillero, perhaps in honor to the provincial newspaper’s bellicose name. In any case, this was how the spokesman of the only political party in Cuba’s westernmost province appraised the country’s rapprochement to the United States, which started on December 17: “when the enemy is in your home, he becomes even more dangerous.” continue reading

However, today the Island seems committed to dialogue with the United States regardless of how “dangerous” it might be. On Thursday, a first round of talks regarding the reopening of embassies and “other topics of bilateral interest” took place in Havana. That same day, Granma, the country’s official newspaper, dedicated almost an entire page to an analysis of the current diplomatic process, noting that “diverse are the tendencies that can be observed; from the slightly naïve views of those that think that with it all our problems will be solved, to those that frown upon the recent developments and prefer to remain entrenched.”

Looking back, it turns out that less than two weeks after the local newspaper Guerrillero called for “a new kind of confrontation” with the United States, Granma would publish several lines calling for moderation. That some Cubans prefer “to remain entrenched” does not sound like a positive attitude.

It certainly is not. What’s interesting is that it be recognized as such by a generally intransigent medium like Granma. At risk of seeming infected with the current excessive enthusiasm, I would even say it is a good precedent. Yes, it’s time to be moderates, because this attitude is the only way of negotiating solutions.

Even government officials have recognized certain adverse conditions in Cuba’s quest to resurface undefeated – that is to say without needing to make any concessions – from dialogue with the United States and therefore to remain exactly as we have known it. Among the difficulties are “years of material scarcity, certain weaknesses in the social formation of younger generations, and the loss of some values.” But, the greatest challenge is not a return to a “dependent relationship” with our Northern Neighbor; it is redefining the concept of enmity. And, alongside that, controlling the hope generated by the easing of political tension without seeming a spoilsport.

“There have been and there continue to be deficiencies in the social formation of our children and youths,” says Granma. However, even for those who “are not so young anymore” it seems that “the past no longer exists” and that’s the biggest worry for an ideology that, faced with limited perspective, clings desperately to its past, invoking a disagreement that has lost it followers. In any case, “the reserves of our identity” should save us against those disadvantages.

Both the solitude and fatigue of the Island’s rulers become more tangible with each passing day. The character of the Cuban government has cost it many friends; but currently, as dialogues with the United States unfold, it seems that the regime will also lose its most valuable enemy, the wild card it used to excuse its – many – failures. To remain entrenched is the instinctive response of those who are afraid, even of their own shadows.

Translated by Fernando Fornaris

“It is up to Cubans decide their future” / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

Roberta Jacobson at 14ymedio’s offices
Roberta Jacobson at 14ymedio’s offices

14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, 24 January 2015 — In October of 2013 I had a conversation with Roberta Jacobson, via a Google hangout (videodebate), on democracy, technology and the role of women in activism. On that occasion, we interacted through a screen in the company of internauts interested in our chat. Now, we talked with a few inches between us, in a visit of the Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs made to our independent daily, 14ymedio, in Havana.

Proximity has allowed me to confirm what I had already felt in our previous conversation, that this loquacious woman with an attentive gaze has a profound knowledge of the Cuban reality. It is no wonder that she has led the first round of conversations between Cuba and the United States after the December 17th announcement about the reestablishment of relations between both countries.

Several members of our editorial board along with some collaborators met with Jacobson on the 14th floor of the Yugoslav-style building where our headquarters are located. Following is a transcript of a conversation, where we tried to address a wide spectrum of topics.

Yoani Sánchez: Do we have reason to worry that pragmatism and the politics of rapprochement prevail above all else, and that the issue of human rights and civil liberties will be relegated to the background? continue reading

Jacobson: The goals of our policy are exactly the same as before. It focuses on achieving a free country, where Cubans have the right to decide their future. The most important thing is how to get to that point, and we are aware that we have not been successful with the previous strategy. So we’re trying to use a new policy of having diplomatic relations because we – and especially President Obama and Secretary Kerry – feel that it is important to have direct contact with the government.

The most important thing is how we can empower the Cuban people in a more effective way and offer you more telecommunications opportunities to modernize your computer systems, to have access to information and to be part of the connected “global village.” It is a complex process, that is going to take time, but we are not going to set aside the issue of human rights and of democracy because they are in the center of this new policy as well.

Reinaldo Escobar: The Cuban government has so far only put on the negotiating scale the release of 53 people – and I emphasis “release” because they are not liberations, because the majority have only been placed on parole. Can we expect new releases derived from these conversations?

Jacobson: That was part of the conversation where we showed an interest in several people in Cuba. What was agreed in this process was the exchange between intelligence agents, one who has traveled to the United States and three who have returned to Cuba. The rest have been policies of each side, gestures, of self interest. We are going to continue implementing policies according to these interests, which we believe support the Cuban people.

Reinaldo Escobar: We have learned that in Cuban prisons some of the prisoners who are on the list of political prisoners but who haven’t yet been released are promoting a hunger strike. Should they have any hope?

Jacobson: I want to say something more: In the discussions of recent days, we have agreed to hold dialogs of many kinds. About cooperation, about the environment, anti-narcotics, etcetera, including the issue of human rights which was proposed by Cuba last year and which has now been accepted by us.

We have different conceptions of this dialog and participating for us will be the experts on those issues, but we have said several times that we have never thought that after more than fifty years of this problem, it would be resolved overnight. We know that there are more people in the prisons and there are more elsewhere fighting for their rights.

Eliezer Ávila: Some media have shown that in these conversations the formula is human rights versus economics. However, I understand politics as the mechanism for people to live more freely and to live well, so I see no conflict between one subject and another. Do you share that view?

Jacobson: We totally agree that they are, not only complementary, but are essentially linked. We have talked, and we have heard the president, Secretary of State Kerry and Vice President Biden talk, about reaching a democratic, free, secure and prosperous hemisphere.

Those are things that are all linked. How can we talk of a hemisphere that is prosperous, but does not have freedom? Or that has freedom but has nothing to eat? Or where there is plenty to eat and freedom but you can’t walk the streets because of insecurity and other dangers? These are things that are linked, but some are the responsibility of the governments to protect their citizens and to guarantee their fundamental rights, and others have to be met by the citizens themselves, but in a civilized society we have to talk about all these things.

Eliezer Ávila: Hence also the importance of access to telecommunications and information…

Jacobson: Yes, citizens must have access to information not only on issues of freedom and rights, they need access to information for their economic life. It is very important and this is one way in which they can have greater prosperity. So we are in total agreement that the economy and human rights are closely linked. There is no contradiction between them, none at all.

Dagoberto Valdés: From January 21-25, 1998 we had the historic visit of Pope John Paul II to Cuba. For Cubans it was a visit of expectations and yours now is also. What do you think is the role of the Catholic Church as a mediator in the dialogue not only between the governments of Cuba and the United States, but the important dialogue that must take place ​​between civil society and government of Cuba?

Jacobson: First I want to say that the role of Pope Francis and the Vatican was instrumental in our process with the Cuban Government. We know that the Vatican is always important in a process like this, but I would add that this pope is special to this region… “We are all Argentines at this moment…” So we appreciate the role of the Church.

In the future, I think the role of the Church in Rome as well as the Church in Cuba will be very important. I had a conversation with the Cardinal and there are several initiatives by the Cuban Church in several areas, aimed at changes in economic, educational and other areas. In the Church, as in the field and the media, it is for Cubans to decide, not Americans.

Yoani Sánchez: Thank you for your visit to our editorial offices. We deliver a printed version of 14ymedio with a weekly selection, which we do to circumvent censorship. We hope that one day our newspaper will be on newsstands nationwide.

Roberta Jacobson: Thank you, I have felt very comfortable here, like with family.

Humanitarian proposal from the Human Rights Commission / 14ymedio

José Daniel Ferrer, Elizardo Sanchez and Hector Maseda at the news conference. (14ymedio)
José Daniel Ferrer, Elizardo Sanchez and Hector Maseda at the news conference. (14ymedio)

14ymedio, 23 January 2015 — The Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation (CCDHRN) convened a press conference at its headquarters to unveil an initiative to release, on humanitarian grounds, a total of 24 prisoners who have spent more than 12 years in Cuban prisons.

Presenting were Elizardo Sanchez, Jose Daniel Ferrer, leader of the Patriotic Union of Cuba and Hector Maseda, president of the Liberal Party of Cuba, who also promoted the Four Points of Consensus of the Cuban Civil Society, ratified and updated last December 22 in a meeting of the Cuban Civil Society Open Forum.

One of the aspects most discussed today among the internal dissidence on the Island, is the issue of who should be on the list of possible prisoners to be released. Debated is whether there should appear, among those who should receive this benefit, those accused of acts of terrorism, hijacking of planes, or other armed actions.

The group proposed by the CCDHRN includes people incarcerated for similar reasons, but it is argued that they are one the list for humanitarian reasons, which does not justify the acts committed.

A Question for Roberta Jacobson / 14ymedio, Clive Rudd Fernandez

Roberta Jacobson (From  Marti-Noticias)
Roberta Jacobson (From Marti-Noticias)

14ymedio, Clive Rudd Fernandez, 22 January 2015 — In July of last year, when I talked to some of the victims of the “Marzo de 13” Tugboat massacre in the Bay of Havana, I found a list of horrifying statistics.

Two of them would make any halfway decent human being shudder: the bodies recovered from the sea as a result of the sinking of the boat were never returned to the families, and there was never an independent investigation into the massacre in which 41 Cubans lost their lives. Ten of them were minors.

What was so shocking about these events was not just the impunity of those who perpetrated the atrocity on Cuban soil, but that what happened on 13 July 1994 is a pattern that has been repeated almost since the Revolutionary government took power in 1959.

The violent deaths, on 22 July 2012, of Oswaldo Payá, winner of the European Parliament’s Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, and Harold Cepero, young leader of the Christian Liberation Movement, followed the same path of an absence of justice and the utter helplessness of the affected families. Although in this case the bodies were handed over to the families, neither Payá nor Harold were given an autopsy or an independent investigation.

With the policy changes of the Obama administration and the Havana dictatorship, some voices have begun to ask for independent investigations of the violent deaths, especially where it is known that the authorities had some participation.

Some voices think that these “problems” have the potential to point the accusing finger at the face of the government in Havana and that “this is not the opportune moment to talk about accusations, but rather about the issues that bring both nations closer,” like an independent blogger on the Island told me.

Oswaldo Payá and Harold Cepero
Oswaldo Payá and Harold Cepero

The international media ignores the issue to the same extent. The saddest thing isn’t that they don’t emphasize these presumed assassinations, but rather that the majority of us, Cubans inside and outside the country, don’t consider it one of the most important issues to address.

An independent investigation into the deaths of Osvaldo Payá and Harold Cepero protects all of us Cubans.

The alleged “accidents” and “careless doctors” who allegedly caused the deaths of Laura Pollán, Oswaldo Payá, Harold Cepero and many other Cubans are today the extrajudicial execution that hang like the Sword of Damocles over the heads of all Cubans living on the Island.

Those who dare to dissent and openly criticise the Government have felt the danger much more closely. Many of them have received death threats from members of State Security, who act with total impunity, as they well know that there will be no legal consequences for them.

Rosa María Payá
Rosa María Payá

Last night I heard that Rosa María Payá met Robert Jacobson on a plane, when the daughter of the Cuban dissident was returning from a short trip to Washington, where she had the privilege of being the guest of Senator Marco Rubio at the State of the Union.

The Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs was on her way to Havana to meet with officials from the Cuban Government in one of the meetings between the two nations at the highest level since the Jimmy Carter administration.

In this short encounter, Rosa María Payá asked whether the investigation into the death of her father would be on the negotiating table. The answer, as politically correct as it was evasive, was, “This is always a point that we raise”. 

Maybe I’m wrong, but judging by the response, the issue of the unexplained deaths of opponents like Oswaldo Payá and Laura Pollán will remain unaddressed and, with them, the fear every Cuban has of being murdered at any moment, without consequences for the executioners, nor for those who give the orders.

*In English in the original

“This is your country, and no regime can take it from you” / 14ymedio

A World Heritage site, the Colón (Columbus) Cemetery in Havana has more than 500 mausoleums, chapels and family vaults. (Photo: Marius Jovaisa)
A World Heritage site, the Colón (Columbus) Cemetery in Havana has more than 500 mausoleums, chapels and family vaults. (Photo: Marius Jovaisa)
  • The photographer’s work was the pretext that Havana used to suspend negotiations with the European Union

14ymedio, Ernesto Hernandez, Miami, 23 January 2015 — Marius Jovaiša is a Lithuanian photographer, 41, who has spent much of the last five years taking photos of Cuba from a perspective never before seen: from above. He started the project in 2010 thinking that, being a foreign artist far removed from politics, it would be quite easy to get permission to take aerial photos. However he quickly realized that he would have to navigate against an extremely slow bureaucracy, invest a great deal of resources, be patient, and understand that the freedom to do things is very limited on the island.

Unseen Cuba, a collection of more than 300 ariel photos of the island, taken from an ultralight 300 feet above the surface of the earth, was published in 2014. The exhibition of the images in Washington and Brussels caused problems with the Cuban authorities, who came to use his work as a pretext to suspend their dialogue with the European Union last November.

Question: Why did you decide to write a book about Cuba?

Answer: After the publication of my book of ariel photos of Lithuania, I realized that I was doing something that I enjoy, that appealed to the public, and that could also be a profitable project. With this new project I could combine my passion for photography with the adrenaline that one feels when flying in an apparatus that is open as an ultralight. It was like I was flying in a chair and, at the same, time taking incredible photos. continue reading

First I did Unseen Belize to see if the model would work in a foreign country and then I thought about Cuba, because there had not been a work of this kind in the country, and also because the island and Lithuania share a piece of history through the Soviet influence. Cuba was like a secret country and it would be a great challenge for me to develop the project. I love challenges.

Q. Do you expect to hold an exhibition in Havana next?

A. I would love that. There were already two exhibitions last year, one in the Lithuanian embassy in Washington and another with the support of the European Union in Brussels. Both caused problems with the Cuban authorities. Unfortunately, my work found itself in the middle of a political problem. Last May, our ambassador in Washington invited to the exhibition several Cuban-American members of Congress, who made very strong political statements, and the Cuban diplomatic mission reported what happened to Havana

The person responsible for Latin America at the European Union is Lithuanian and she invited me to show my work. Cuba and the European Union had begun their rounds of talks, and she thought the show would be an opportunity to educate the diplomatic community about the culture of the country.

Someone in the embassy in Brussels realized that it was the same exhibition that had created so much conflict in Washington and asked that it be canceled, but the European union refused. The Cubans boycotted the exposition, as did other Latin American ambassadors, and at the same time they suspended the talks. Many said that my exhibition was just an excuse for the cancellation and not the main reason, but that is what happened.

Q. What do Cuban authorities think of your book?

A. I sent it to them last November. I hadalready reported by telephone that on page 77 there is a picture of a lighthouse with what appears to be a soldier patrolling, from above. Although you cannot see the soldier very well, in Cuba there are regulations that prohibit photographing the military.

I was also told that there is a picture of my children with some Cuban children that they did not much appreciate. They said: “We do not want to show our children to the world in this way, they appear to be poor little savages. I am still waiting for a global response, but if there is nothing that would harm my artistic work, I am willing to publish the book in Spanish for sale in Cuba.

Q. Who were the first people you met with in Havana?

A. I met primarily with Ministry of Culture and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. One of the entry points for me was the Antonio Núñez Foundation for Nature and Humanity. Its director, Liliana Nunez Velis, fell in love with my project and took me, literally, by the hand to the Ministry of Culture. She wrote a letter of recommendation on behalf of the Foundation saying that my project presented an opportunity to promote Cuban culture in other countries through its geography and landscape.

Then, in my meetings with the Department of International Relations within the Ministry of Culture, I worked with the department director, Pedro Monzón Barata. I was always talking with officials from each ministry separately, but I realized that each of them was coordinating everything with the military. The Government also designated me as a trading company of the Ministry of Culture to coordinate the initiative, Paradiso. Through them, money was sent from Lithuania to Cuba to develop the project.

Q. At any point do you think that it would be better to abandon the project?

A: I thought of quitting many times because the bureaucracy did not do its work and delayed decisions, it was exhausting. Something would be agreed on in the meetings, and afterwards it wouldn’t happen. On my first visit to Havana I managed to open doors and even to fly, and I committed myself totally to the project and believe that it would be possible possible to do it. On this first trip I received many compliments, everyone told me, “Relax don’t worry.”

I come from a country that belongs to the Soviet Union, I knew some things would be achieved through under the table negotiations, sidestepping the rules a little bit. I knew I would find some way to navigate through the labyrinth of regulations. Then when I felt like giving up the project, I thought about the flight that I managed on my first trip. Perhaps if I hadn’t taken this flight I would have lost interest in the project.

Q. Do the Cuban authorities feel threatened by your book?

A. I don’t think so, not at all. The problem is they expected it to be done much more slowly, and that the captions on the photos would be written by the Cuban historian and geographer assigned to the project. But they weren’t doing the work and I went ahead.

Q. In April 2014, you received a visit from the Interior Ministry. The authorities claimed that they were not aware of the project and had received complaints that “a foreign spy” was taking aerial photos of Cuba. What did they ask you in the interrogation?

A. It wasn’t an interrogation as such. They asked me several questions about the work I was doing. I do not think it was an order from above. It was rather the local police who were trying to show their spirit of initiative and were doing their job.

Q. Why initially could you not take pictures of the cities?

A. I thought it was for security reasons, but they never explained it to me. I always hoped they would let me take photos of cities, though perhaps I would have to do it in a military plane and not in my ultralight, but that was not the case. I was very surprised when they let me do it, because in other places it is not allowed.

Q. How much did the project cost?

A. The whole process – travel, events, presentations, production of the book, et cetera – has cost close to $1 million. I still haven’t finished the process, there’s a lot to be done in terms of promotion and sales, so the costs continue to rise

Q. What impressed you about Cuba?

A. When I started to visit places outside Havana – Trinidad, Santiago and so on – I realized how big and long Cuba is. The roads were very narrow and the transportation very limited. I realized it would be a complicated job.

Marius Jovaisa in in his ultralight (Marius Jovaisa)
Marius Jovaisa in in his ultralight (Marius Jovaisa)

I had a lot of contact with Cuban artists. Before the project I organized a series of seminars and presentations about my work and my experience with photography. The island’s photographers are very talented, expressing in their work, in a way, the same pain and the same sensitivity that existed in Lithuania in Communist times.

The Cuban people are strong. Their feel love for their homeland. It is very difficult to live in Cuba without access to simple things, without a free market, unable to express their creativity. It reminded me a lot of Soviet times in Lithuania.

I also met many Cubans outside the island, dreaming of the day when they could return. I stayed in B&Bs in private homes, I visited with Cubans who welcomed me like a member of their families. My kids played with their Cuban friends. Cubans are a very welcoming, they give you a unique friendship. They don’t see you as a commercial object. I was always asked about my family and not about my professional life. They improvise a lot, they have an incredible creativity.

Q. What do you want to accomplish with your book?

A. One effect that this book will have is to awaken a certain national pride in Cubans. It’s like saying: this is yours, this is your country, it was created before any revolution and political system, and it will also survive long into the future. No regime, whatever it might be, can take it from you.

These pictures evoke a sense of belonging to a single Cuba for Cubans living both inside and outside the island. I know it will be very difficult for my book to be in the homes of every Cuban on the island, but my hope is that Cuban-Americans can buy the book and share with their families inside Cuba.

For those who are not Cuban, I hope my book will serve to show the beauty of the country. Cuba is a place that is recognized throughout the entire world and I hope that this book will allow many people to see Cuba from a new perspective.

‘Unseen Cuba’ presented in Miami on Friday, January 23, 7:30 pm, at Books & Books, 265 Aragon Ave., Coral Gables. (305) 448-9599

“Cordial and very positive” meeting with Roberta Jacobson, say several activists / 14ymedio

L to R: Miriam Leiva (back to camera), Roberta Jacobson, Guillermo Fariñas, Marta Beatriz Roque, Antonio Rodiles

14ymedio/EFE, Havana, 23 January 2015 – Friday morning the US Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, Roberta Jacobson, met with a broad representation of Cuban activists. The meeting had the character of a working breakfast and the main objective was to hear from dissidents and opponents with regards to the negotiations for the reestablishment of relations between the United States and Cuba.

The meeting was held at the residence of the Chief of Mission of the US Interests Section and, on the Cuban side, attended by members of various civil society groups such as the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU), the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation (CCDHRN), and the opposition group Estado de Sats (State of Sats).

José Daniel Ferrer, UNPACU leader, said, “The meeting was very fraternal, frank and positive.” According to the activist, the American side was very receptive and “reaffirmed their interest in maintaining a commitment to the demand to respect human rights, the current point of greatest concern among Cuban civil society.” The majority of those present, according to Ferrer, “focused on detailing their concerns about the future of Cuba,” and also on the concern “that the decision about the future of Cuba must rest with the Cuban people.” continue reading

Some activist expressed their concerns that the government of the United States had already made too many concessions in the process of negotiations, while the Cuban government had only released 53 prisoners.

Elizardo Sanchez, president of the Cuba Commission on Human Rights and National Reconciliation, said that “the meeting was marked by cordiality and human closeness. With this invitation and with the reception to be held tonight, the US delegation wanted to give a clear message of appreciation to the peaceful efforts of civil society.”

One of those absent from the meeting was the leader of the Ladies in White, Berta Soler, who explained to EFE today that she decided not to participate because she considered that the guest list was not balanced.  Soler, who has expressed her opposition to US diplomatic approach towards Cuba and to the measures easing the embargo announced last week in Washington, expressed her dissatisfaction, saying “the selection” did not take into account “the diversity” of positions and opinions that exist in the internal dissent on this issue.

In a press conference after the meeting, Jacobson said the purpose of the change of policy toward Havana is to promote a “greater openness” in Cuba, with more rights and freedoms and “to empower the Cuban people.” According to the US diplomat, the issue of human rights and democracy is “crucial” for the United States, although she recognized that there remain “profound differences” with the Cuban government on this question.

Several activists have called a press conference at the headquarters of the CCDHRN to summarize the meeting and present their views on the process of restoring relations between the two countries. The conference will be held at 1:00 PM, at 3014 21st Street between 30th and 34th streets, in the Playa neighborhood.

The Unknown of the Diaspora / 14ymedio, Eliecer Avila

14ymedio, Elicer Avila, 13 January 2015 – Cuban civil society is often questioned, as are opposition groups, due to their apparent inability to join the masses and pressure the government for necessary changes.

All of these questions are not without some truth, and a doubt comes to mind that I would like to share. I am referring to the fact that the two million Cubans (between emigrants and descendents) who live outside the country have not found an effective way to participate in the politics of the nation.

In theory, this group of Cubans has everything that the internal opposition lacks in order to have a major influence: full access to communications and information, freedom of movement, the right of association and assembly, and, above all, it has an economic power that could compete with that of the government itself.

On the other hand, the remittances that the Cuban migration sends to the country every year constitute one of the top three sources of the gross domestic product. If we accept the maxim that “He who holds the purse strings holds the power,” then it would correspond that those living abroad should have a wide representation in the parliament for being the most efficient and productive workers in the system, as well as for being the largest union. Thus, we could at least say, “He who brings, participates.” But this is not the case.

Quite the contrary, the measures usually taken by the government tend to directly affect the interest of the emigrants, and at times don’t help their families. The new customs regulations, the cost of the paperwork to enter the country, and the treatment that often borders on disrespect, are some examples of this.

To make matters worse, the new Foreign Investment Law* also excludes them, depriving them of the opportunity to contribute with their investments and their talent to the development of the country. And it is a tremendous shame. I know that outside the country there is human capital of incalculable professional value, with experience in every kind of business and, above all with immense desires to see their native land move towards progress.

How is our emigration organized to defend its natural rights in this new scenario? Will it support in a major way a civil society and a responsible opposition that has a more inclusive vision of the nation? For me, this remains an unknown.

13 January 2015

The French Company Orange Signs Agreement to Operate Internet in Cuba / 14ymedio

Headquarters of the French company Orange in Paris
Headquarters of the French company Orange in Paris

14ymedio, 21 January 2015 — Last July the French telecommunications company Orange, chaired by Stéphane Richard, signed a confidential agreement with the Cuban state telecommunications company ETECSA to develop communications in Cuba, according to the French weekly L’Express.

According to the information this newspaper had access to, the contract stipulated that Orange would offer its services, products, and rates (telephones and equipment) to Cuba’s only local operator, and share its knowledge. The French company also committed to create an institute in Cuba dedicated to training in technologies and services for Latin America and the Caribbean.

L’Express explains that the new measures announced by Barack Obama and the easing of the embargo put the agreement with the French Telephone Company at risk. The weekly notes that Cuba continues to be a backward country with regards to access to the Internet and services are offered at prices prohibitive for the population, which makes it an El Dorado for those who want to develop this industry on the island.

Thus, L’Express comments, the agreement signed with Orange adds to the interest shown by the United States in the technological advancement of Cuba, initiated last June by Google, whose executives visited the island to promote free Internet.

Cuba’s ruling party and the Havana visit of Roberta Jacobson / 14ymedio, Victor Ariel Gonzalez

Roberta Jacobson, Assistant Secretary for Latin America for the US State Department
Roberta Jacobson, Assistant Secretary, Western Hemisphere Affairs, US Department of State

14ymedio, Victor Ariel Gonzalez, Havana, 21 January 2015 – The opinions broadcast on Cuban Television spaces such as the National News or the Telesur channel show points in common, although there are also contradictions, with regards to the Havana visit of the Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs from the US Department of State, Roberta Jackson. There are “great expectations,” says the journalist Cristina Escobar; while the analyst Esteban Morales says, “We don’t have many illusions.”

However, everyone recognizes that the negotiations on Thursday will mark a “historic” event, because they will address the reestablishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries. In short, the Interest Sections in Washington and Havana will be transformed into embassies.

On Tuesday’s National News it was reported that at the high-level meeting Havana “will discuss the banking situation of the Cuban Interest Section in the American capital, which has gone a year without offering normal services because no bank wants to offer them services due to the regulations of the blockade.” continue reading

It was also announced that, “There will be no lack (…) of issues like the fight against narcotrafficking, human trafficking, oil spills, search and rescue, counterterrorism, and confronting epidemics.” According to the official commentary, this information was provided by “a source from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs” on the Island.

Cuba is also anxious to be removed from the United States’ list of states that support international terrorism. That decision depends on President Obama.

Within the current political détente, the official media highlighted the current embargo. “Is the blockade over? Absolutely not,” concluded journalist Cristina Escobar in an analysis before Jacobson’s arrival. The journalist added that “the blockad will end the day that financial transactions between the United States and Cuba are not regulated by Congress,” which will be “a long and complex road.” Coincidentally, a few hours later, during his most important speech of the year, the US president asked Congress to end the Cuban embargo.

As was expected, one of the most fortified trenches on the Cuban side has been nationalist ideology. The regime will talk about human rights, democracy and individual freedoms – “the most difficult issues,” according to Esteban Morales on Telesur – with emphasis on “no interference” from outside and “sovereignty.” Morales argued that the US should not “demand that we follow a direction ordered [by them], in terms of organizing our democratic system and our individual liberties,” and there should also be a willingness to “throw on the table the problems of democracy, human rights and individual freedoms that exist in the US.”

The Cuban analyst does not think our northern neighbor “has renounced a political strategy to regain control of Cuba,” but now our country would have “the possibility of developing a much more positive activity” thanks to the existence of the embassies. Thus, “there will be a much more organized dynamic.”

Another concern of the ruling party is that the final lifting of the embargo might be postponed beyond the Obama administration, because the question would “depend a lot on whether we have a future administration that will stick to this idea.”

While the emphasis of the high-level meeting is diplomatic rapprochement, one agenda item that will be discussed on Thursday that does not go unnoticed is that this Wednesday will be the 28th meeting between the two governments on migration issues. Havana will take the opportunity to discuss the Cuban Adjustment Act, the “wet foot dry foot” policy, and “an interpretation of the document that could change.”

The Cuban side is most likely to oppose a resolution that benefits all those on the Island who emigrate to the United States, a legal phenomenon that creates certain contradictions in this country with regards to migration reform. Paradoxically, those Cubans who are capable of establishing themselves in the United States – thanks largely to the Cuban Adjustment Act – constitute one of the principle sources of income to the regime’s economy.

Turning to the meetings on diplomatic relations, the previous scenario had to be reconfigured in record time. In little over a month, the United States announced the rapprochement with our country, started to implement the legal measures relating to it, and its president asked a Congress dominated by the opposition party to end the half-century embargo. The speed of events is excessive for those who do not usually deal with politics in a timely fashion: the Cuban leaders.

Beyond the expectations and mistrust generated among the Island’s authorities by Roberta Jacobson’s visit, there is a notable sense of consternation. Basically, what the regime is hoping for is that things will proceed slowly, so that they will not have to deal with the consequences of an excessive enthusiasm.