Trump and the Tweets of Wrath

Donald Trump (EFE)

14ymedio biggerAna Navarro, a CNN analyst, says that Donald Trump must stop behaving like a “mean girl.” She was referring to the president’s latest tweets against Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski, hosts of Morning Joe, a popular morning show on MSNBC. Trump called Joe a “psycho” with low audience ratings (which is false). He called Mika a “crazy” woman with a “low IQ” (also false) whose face bled after a recent plastic surgery.

This is not a question of Trump against the leftist press. Ana Navarro is a Republican analyst, a lawyer, raised in Miami, former ambassador of Nicaragua, her native country, on the Human Rights Commission in Geneva, where she effectively defended dissidents and persecuted citizens of Cuba and other countries. Later, she was hired by CNN to tell her point of view, always moderately conservative, clever and amusing vs. other democratic versions farther to the left.

Scarborough and Brzezinski, a couple on-screen and off it, are also close to the Republican world although Mika is a Democrat. Before being a TV host, Joe was a lawyer, elected four times to the U.S. Congress by the Republican Party, to which he still belongs. Mika is the daughter of the late strategist Zbigniew Brzezinski, a professor at Columbia University and czar of U.S. diplomacy during the Jimmy Carter administration. continue reading

In the Spanish theater of the Renaissance, the word “decorum” described the congruence between the post held by a character and the language or costume used onstage. The list of Republican leaders concerned by the lack of decorum shown by President Trump is impressive: Paul Ryan, Speaker of the House; senators Lindsey Graham, Ben Sasse and John McCain; representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, and I’ll stop writing names so as not to turn this article into a boring telephone book.

The argument made by Ana Navarro and numerous other Republican figures is that Trump’s behavior is not proper for a White House tenant. Just as, during the campaign, it was not proper to tack nicknames onto the names of adversaries or mock a critical journalist who suffered a neurological syndrome that produced spastic movements. That’s just not done. It’s something typical of yokels, not of true statesmen, even if it’s useful to gain the votes of a certain type of voter who lacks empathy.

In the 1950s there was a legend that the U.S. political parties might face off harshly, but when it came to National Security they acted in concert. Not true. It never was true. American parties are like other parties in the rest of the world and carry their conflicts everywhere.

Nevertheless, there is a fundamental difference in favor of the American experience. The legislators on the ruling benches in the U.S., both in the House and the Senate, are not obligated to obey the president when the time comes to vote. The idea of representative democracy in this country is that the politicians represent those who elected them, not the parties of which they’re members. For that reason, Trump — although he holds an absolute majority in both chambers — does not have the votes he needs to replace the health plan known as Obamacare.

I suspect that the conflict between Trump and the party that sponsored him will grow. That’s what a Republican congressman tried to say when he told me confidentially: “I can’t wait for the year 2020, when this nightmare will come to an end.” He was hoping that Trump will be a one-term president.

Translation from the Interamerican Institute for Democracy

Cuban Government Turns To New Forms Of Repression

Activist Jorge Cervantes Garcia was on a hunger strike for 39 days. (UNPACU.org)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 3 July 2014 — Last June, there were 198 fewer arbitrary arrests of Cuban activists and opponents compared to the same month last year, according to a report by the Cuban Commission on Human Rights and National Reconciliation, which recorded a total of 380 arrests in June 2017.

The number, however, is slightly higher than that recorded in May of this year, according to the report. “We documented four cases of physical aggression and 28 acts of harassment, attributable, without any doubt, to the secret political police and parapolice elements,” the report added.

The independent entity says that “in recent months there have been very visible efforts by the Castro regime to avoid the arrests of opponents.” The government has also avoided, in the Commission’s opinion, “the imposition of prison sentences to avoid criticism by international public opinion.”

“There are increasingly frequent cases of citations or threatening police visits, pressures on innocent relatives and other intimidating acts,” the report said.

The Commission notes that “at least four peaceful opponents have been on hunger strike during the past month” and mentions, in particular, the case of Jorge Cervantes Garcia, an activist with the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU) who did not eat for 39 days to protest his imprisonment, finally abandoning this form of protest last Saturday.

During June, “the highest number of violations of freedom of movement in many years” was recorded when authorities prevented at least 29 dissidents from traveling abroad. “Some were detained for hours and others were physically assaulted,” the statement said.

The Cuban Observatory for Human Rights (OCDH), based in Madrid, cited 410 arbitrary detentions in Cuba last month, of which 237 were against women and 173 against men, while “the number of blacks arrested was 138.”

The organization warns that although the arrest figures “are significantly lower than those for the same period in 2016, they are still scandalous, and the levels of repressive are the same or greater.”

For the Observatory, the decrease in the number of detentions “is not due to the existence of any positive change in the political will of the Cuban Government, but to the already denounced changes in its methods of repression.”

The new strategy against opponents is based on “short-term arrests” reinforced by “direct pressure and attacks on the children and relatives of activists, the confiscation or theft of personal property or the tools of work.” The report states that “the fabrication of criminal offenses is common” as is “impeding [activists] from leaving the country,” along with other methods.

The OCDH also warned about the fabrication of “false profiles on social networks,” allegedly set up by dissidents, and the “publishing of indecent content” on these profiles. These are “campaigns conceived by intelligence officers and launched in the environment of the University of Computer Sciences UCI and its subsidiaries,” the report said.

“The Government maintains intact and reinforces its ability to systematically and selectively violate its citizens’ exercise of universal rights and especially so in the case of activists and members of independent civil society,” it concludes.

Civil Society and the Power of the Audiovisual in Cuba

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Eliecer Avila, Havana, 1 July 2017 – The Cuban revolution has been, above all, an enormous consortium of audiovisual production with global reach. Outside of the Island, this propagandistic flow competes with other products, but within, it roams freely, convinces some, confuses others and paralyzes the will of sectors indispensable to social change.

For more than half a century, officialdom has been preoccupied with the creation of emblematic songs, heavily ideological animated pictures; novels, ventures and series that spread their version of history, plus news and books geared towards maintaining the status quo.

That audiovisual machinery is so embedded in daily life that some barely notice its presence; but for a newcomer, it stands out.

A while back, a Peruvian journalist who had not been to Cuba insisted on researching why Cubans continue to live under a totalitarian regime when all of Latin America is democratic. continue reading

No explanation satisfied him, but the reporter travelled to the Island in order to report about the recently opened relations between Washington and Havana. During his stay he was able to watch television, listen to the radio, read newspapers and talk with people… After three days he called a friend in order to tell him – half-scared – that he now understood what was happening.

Cubans, with few exceptions, have peculiar ideas about world events and especially about their own reality, as that journalist learned. When questioned about the source of their “certainties,” the nationals invariably cite the official daily Granma, the primetime television newscast and the TeleSur channel.

The amazed visitor heard in the street that “the FARC are a group of revolutionaries that fight for social justice.” Meanwhile, others feel relieved because “there is a leader like Vladimir Putin who puts a stop to the excesses of the imperial Yankee” or assert that these days “the majority of Russians seek the return of Communism.”

In his time on the Island, the reporter heard people assert that “ISIS is an invention of the United States to encourage conflict in the Arab world and keep its oil resources,” while in Latin America “children die of hunger, without rights to health care or education.”

The man could not believe it when a citizen swore to him that “the internet is a weapon of the U.S. to spy on those who do not subordinate themselves to its designs,” that the Island is “more democratic than the U.S. and Europe” and that “human rights activists just want to leave the country.”

Although new technology has helped remove the rigid national mentality and diversified opinion about many topics, to underestimate the propagandistic apparatus of the Communist Party is a mistake.

The official media continues to have a monopoly on the reach, quantity, immediacy and depth of reporting, which is the key to understanding the country’s civic stagnation.

An example of this is the recently concluded broadcast of the latest jewel of national television, the series, The Other War, an adventure dedicated to the “fight against the bandits” in Cuba’s Escambray Mountains, a rebellion that took place in the first six-years after the triumph of the Cuban Revolution. The production achieved a wide audience, and afterwards many cried, reflected and reached conclusions “applicable to these times.”

Each chapter, featuring excellent actors of various generations, described the excesses of the “counter-revolution supported by the U.S.” and at the same time highlighted the values of patriotism, heroism, and commitment of the State Security and other government forces.

As a whole, the material was plagued with omissions, manipulations, and distortions of facts and characters. It disregarded that in that era excesses were committed on every side and that not only the “Batistianos” rose up in arms but also the rebels who made the Revolution and later saw how their path became twisted.

However, there are hardly any available audiovisual materials, and of good artistic workmanship, that effectively contradict this version.

While from exile each year millions of dollars are spent and ultimately dissolved in tangled bureaucratic ways, the creation of a film industry has not been stimulated to rival the totalitarian hegemony in the diffusion of content within the Island.

This situation is paradoxical considering that among the diaspora is found the immense majority of the best artists, musicians, actors, screenwriters, historians, and technicians related to film, television and audiovisual production.

Many private or institutional donors who want to contribute to the Cuban cause still underestimate the power of the media and prefer to bet on other methods. They forget that the Soviet hierarchies themselves once blamed Hollywood and Walt Disney for the debacle that the system suffered.

The idea of Cuba’s freedom needs a modern narrative, with means to amplify its reach and transmit democratic values. For more than five decades the Plaza of the Revolution has been using mass media to impose its version of history. That is why it is so important for the citizenry to have audiovisual content that combines quality and truth.

Translated by Mary Lou Keel

A Cuban Fight Against The Demons Of Machismo

All these stupid prejudices, which have hardly diminished on this Island, pave the shortest way to deprive us of women’s talents. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Generation Y, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 1 July 2017 — A man looks over my shoulder because I talk about cables and circuits. He grimaces in disgust when he sees my clumsy nails cut short and is annoyed because I reject his “compliments,” which I should accept with pleasure and gratitude. He does not say it out loud, but to him I’m just a creature who should look “pretty,” care for his home and bear his children.

It is an exhausting battle. Every day, every hour, every minute, Cuban women – and so many women in other parts of the world – have to deal with this accumulation of nonsense. “You can’t, let your husband do it,” is one of the more pleasant phrases we hear from them, although I have found others who insist that “women should only talk when hens piss*,” a coarse way of saying that we should be seen and not heard.

A journalist asks me in front of the camera how I combine being a mother with the task of running a newspaper. Although I try to lead the conversation down a professional path, he insists on referring to my ovaries. A political policeman mocks me because my hair is tangled. Probably my texts bother him more, but he feels a special pleasure in “attacking” my femininity. He is wasting his time.

At the end of the day, I have had to evade a thousand and one attempts to force me into a mold. That box where we must be silent and endure; smile and bear it; laugh with grace at the machistas** and act flattered by their repartee. A twisted mechanism that results in society losing out on our cores and being left only with our shells.

All these stupid prejudices, which have hardly diminished on this Island, pave the shortest way to deprive ourselves of the talents that we possess, not only as women, but – mainly – as human beings.

Translator’s notes:
*This expression derives from the fact that chickens do not urinate (as we know it).
**Male chauvinists.

Nominating Commission That Will Propose Replacement for Raúl Castro is Sworn In

Voters observe the electoral lists in Havana. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 30 June 2017 — The swearing in, today, of the National Nominating Commission (CCN) before the National Electoral Commission is a decisive step that makes it clear that the upcoming elections will be held under the provisions the electoral law of 1992 and not by the new legislation promised by Raúl Castro in 2015.

The Commission, composed of six “mass organizations,” is responsible for preparing the proposals for who will be members of the Provincial Assemblies, the National Assembly of People’s Power, and the Council of State, including its president. The existence of this entity has been one of the most criticized points of the current electoral law because it is believed that it hijacks the popular will to elect the president of the nation.

On this occasion the method of prefabricating a list of candidates is more sensitive because it is expected that at the conclusion of the February 2018 elections the country will have a new president whose most peculiar characteristic will be not carrying the surname Castro. continue reading

Article 68 of Law 72 states that “The Nominating Commissions are composed of representatives of the Cuban Workers Center (CTC), the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution (CDR), the Federation of Cuban Women (FMC), the National Association of Small Farmers (ANAP), the Federation of University Students (FEU) and of the Federation of High School Students (FEEM), designated by the respective national, provincial and municipal administrations.”

The members of these organizations, presided over by the engineer Gisela María Duarte, representing the CTC, took office on Friday and made a solemn oath of loyalty to the Constitution of the Republic.

The ceremony was presided over by the secretary of the State Council, Homero Acosta, who said that the representatives of these organizations “protect as a part of civil society the interests of the entire nation, the interests of the country, thinking of the commitments and the responsibility of those you will propose at the appropriate moment.”

The electoral process will begin this coming October 22 and 12,515 constituency delegates will be elected. From this group, the Nominations Commission will choose half of the candidates to the National Assembly of People’s Power, but this phase of the elections, where the candidates for the Provincial Assemblies will also be known, does not yet have a definite date.

Cuba’s current National Assembly is composed of 612 deputies representing the country’s 168 municipalities and is elected every five years.

Average Monthly Salary in Cuba is $29.60 US

The average monthly salary in Cuba, is 740 Cuban pesos, equivalent to just under $30 dollars US

14ymedio biggerEFE, via 14ymedio, Havana, 30 June 2017 – The average monthly salary in Cuba in 260 was 740 Cuban pesos (CUP), the equivalent of $29.60 in US dollars, although the figure is higher in sectors such as the sugar industry – where the best paid earn 1,246 CUP ($48.80 US), and falls in public administration, defense and social security, with a figure a 510 (CUP) ($20.40 US).

The figures come from the publication “Figures for Average Salaries in 2016,” released on Thursday by Cuba’s National Office of Statistics and Information, which includes average monthly salaries by province since 2007, and average monthly salary by economic activity type since 2014. continue reading

According to the report, the average salary in Cuban increased from 408 CUP ($16.30 US) in 2007 to 740 CUP in 2016.

By province, the highest salaries are earned in Ciego de Ávila, Villa Clara and Matanzas

By province, the highest salaries are earned in Ciego de Ávila (816 CUP / $32.60 US), Villa Clara (808 CUP / $32.30 US) and Matanzas (806 CUP / $32.20 US), while the lowest wages are paid in Guantánamo (633 CUP / $25.30 US), Isla de la Juventud (655 CUP / $26.20 US) and Santiago de Cuba (657 CUP / $26.20 US).

The highest paid sectors on the island are the sugar industry (1,246 CUP / $49.80 US), mining and quarrying (1,218 CUP / $48.70 US), financial services (1,032 CUP / $41.20 US), and agriculture, livestock, forestry and fisheries (991 CUP / $39.60 US).

On the other hand, economic activities with lower wages are: “Other communal services, associations and personal activities,” (503 CUP / $20.10 US); public administration, defense and social security (510 CUP / $20.40 US); Culture and sport (511 CUP / $20.40 US); and education (533 CUP / $21.32 US).

The low wages paid to state employees in Cuba, compared to the high cost of basic products—Cuba imports 80% of its food—are constantly subject to criticism by international organizations and also by opposition movements.

Health and education are universal and free in Cuba, and citizens receive some basic food from the state through the “ration book.”

But the rationing system, which decades ago covered much of the population’s needs—including underwear, shoes and children’s toys—has been reducing the quantities and types of subsidized products.

The rationing system, which decades ago covered much of the population’s needs, has been reducing the quantities and type of subsidized products

Currently, an adult Cuban receives monthly from the ration stores about 7 pounds of rice, 4 pounds of sugar, one pint of soybean oil, one packet of mixed coffee (that is coffee mixed with fillers such as dried peas), one packet of pasta, five eggs and small quantities of chicken. Children also get one quart of milk a day until they turn seven.

In 2011, Cuban President Raul Castro approved the authorization of new categories of self-employment (the term used in Cuba means “own account-ism”) as one of the key measures to compensate for the progressive reduction of 500,000 jobs in the state sector.

Another of the main distortions in the Cuban economy is the simultaneous circulation of two currencies—the Cuban pesos or “national money” and the Cuban convertible peso, or “hard currency”—that the Government recognizes needs to be changed, but for the system remains in force and there is no firm date to merge the currencies.

See here for more on the dual currency system:

Without Confidence in the Money, Reinaldo Escobar

What Purpose Did the Dual Currency System Serve, Miriam Celaya

Cuban General Who Oversaw the Downing of ‘Brothers To The Rescue’ Planes Dies

Eduardo Delgado also directed the espionage work in Miami of the Wasp Network, and was in charge of infiltrating five Cuban spies in the USA. (Cuban Television)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 29 June 2017 — On Wednesday, Brigadier General Eduardo Delgado Rodriguez died in Havana. He had supervised the intelligence operations that led to the downing of the Brothers to the Rescue planes in 1996, and as director of the Miami espionage work of the Wasp Network, he was in charge of infiltrating five Cuban spies into the United States. A brief note in the official press reported his death without specifying the cause.

The notice, which appeared in the Granma newspaper, briefly details his biography since joining “fight against the Fulgencio Batista regime” up to his presence as a military man in Nicaraguan territory during the 1980s. It also lists his many decorations. continue reading

However, the obituary published in the official organ of the Communist Party does not mention that Delgado served as head of the General Directorate of Intelligence of the Ministry of the Interior (MININT) for 20 years, a post he ascended to after his performance during the trial of “Cause No. 1” in 1989.

Eduardo Delgado was in charge of conducting investigations against Major General Arnaldo Ochoa Sánchez and three other military officers, sentenced to death for drug trafficking and abuse of power

In that famous proceeding, Major General Arnaldo Ochoa Sánchez and three other military officers were sentenced to death on charges of drug trafficking and abuse of power. At that time Delgado had the rank of colonel and presided over the investigations of the case.

In 1994 he was promoted to brigadier general and from his position as head of MININT intelligence directed the actions of the Wasp Network.

Delgado was in charge of the operation that compiled the information to bring down the planes of Brothers to the Rescue on 24 February of 1996. In 2013 he was replaced as head of Director of Intelligence, and became director of MINIT’s Eliseo Reyes Rodriguez Superior Institute.

At the time of his death, Delgado was retired. His remains were buried Wednesday afternoon in the Pantheon of the Firefighters of MININT, in Havana’s Colón Cemetery.

The Impossible Letter

“You will write a letter addressed to Fidel Castro thanking him for free education,” the center’s educator told the students. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Generation Y, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 29 June 2017 — “Today we are going to practice writing a letter,” announced the fourth grade teacher at a school in the Plaza of the Revolution district in mid-June. Immediately, Lucia, age 9, thought about writing a letter to her grandmother telling her about her latest acrobatics on skates, but the recipient had already been decided. “You are going to write a letter addressed to Fidel Castro thanking him for a free education,” declared the educator.

The girl froze. It never would have occurred to her to address a letter to a dead person, nor to anyone who wasn’t a friend or a member of her family. She scribbled the date on the top of the page and then stopped, with the pencil suspended in the air, not knowing what to do. “Lucia, you have to thank him for building schools and teaching Cuban children to read,” ordered the teacher. continue reading

The student remained paralyzed. “Come on, it is very likely that on the test they will ask you to write a letter to the Comandante and you have to practice.” The pencil didn’t move a fraction of an inch. “Look, I’m going to dictate some sentences to you and then you can continue on your own,” the teacher said, her tone increasingly irritable. “Fidel, without you I would have no shoes and no books and I would be illiterate,” she dictated. But the girl didn’t make a single mark.

When she got home the sheet of paper still had only the day and the month in one corner. So it was her mother’s turn to insist, “Think that you are writing another person and then later put ‘His’ name on it,” she proposed as a trick to get around the problem. Lucia imagined she was telling her grandmother about the games in the park, and thanking her for her affections and then signed it, squeezing in her name next to a drawing of a flower.

Last week the final exam included the request to write a letter. But this time it was addressed to the teacher and had to respond to the question, “What do you do to help your mom with the housework?” The girl stopped for several minutes with the pencil suspended over the paper without knowing what to do. No one came to dictate the sentences.

* This story is not literature, but absolute reality. The student’s name has been changed to avoid retaliation.

Soy Yogurt Will “Gradually” Return to Havana

After the announcement, hundreds of customers crowded outside the dairy outlets. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 28 June 2017 — This week the official media have fueled expectations among consumers in Havana with an announcement of “the return of soy yogurt,” a product of the rationed market that has not been distributed in the capital for nearly a year.

After the announcement, hundreds of customers crowded around outside the dairy outlets, but a national television report clarified that the distribution will be “gradual” until it reaches the 85,000 children in the city who are authorized to receive a share of this product. continue reading

During the last year, children between the ages of seven and fourteen have been receiving a powdered mix to make a dairy substitute shake, but it has been strongly criticized for its poor quality.

A national television report clarified that the distribution will be “gradual” until the it reaches the 85,000 children in the city

The interruption of the sale of soy yogurt was due to the technological deterioration experienced by Havana’s Milk Complex, especially the steam boiler, which has been in operation for more than 40 years.

The malfunctions forced production to stop for eight months in order to undertake a repair that included the importing of new boilers, and maintenance work on the cold storage facilities and the production rooms. In addition, the distribution service will now be made from a renovated truck lot.

However, many parents are wary about whether the renovations will last, and fear that the soy yogurt will disappear “gradually.”

The Death Throes of a Formerly Great Cuban Department Store

From the former glamorous Fin de Siglo, all that remains is a building with serious structural problems, empty and stinky. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, 28 June 2017 – The shit, not the metaphorical kind but the kind that stinks, makes it nearly impossible to read the name Fin de Siglo, End of Century, imbedded in the granite floor. In five decades, one of the most emblematic Havana stores has transitioned from glamor to abandonment, passing also through experiments in socialist distribution and the self-employment sector.

Founded in the long ago 1897 and located on the central corner formed by San Rafael Boulevard and Aguila Street, Fin de Siglo was among the most important commercial establishments in Cuba, along with La Época and El Encanto. In its place today, however, there remains only a building with serious structural problems, vacant and stinky.

During what Fidel Castro labeled with euphemistically the Special Period in Time of Peace – a time of great economic hardship after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of its financial support for Cuba – Fin de Siglo sold only to distinguished workers awarded “vanguard” status, and to newly married couples. A nice 1992 documentary, made by the Belgian Madelin Waterlet and the Pole Simon Saleski and named after the store, relates the surrealist moment. continue reading

During the so-called Special Period in Time of Peace the business sold only to the distinguished workers awarded “vanguard” status and to newly married couples

That form of the socialist marketing could not be sustained for long and with the gentle winds of economic reforms the ground floor of the building was set up for private sector retailers to sell sandals, household utensils, objects for religious rituals and clothing.

Many tourists also came to acquire an ashtray with the face of Che Guevara or canvases from which shone the skin of beautiful mulatas. But a month ago the sellers were reassigned among the soulless state stores.

The authorities justify the relocations with the deterioration of the building. However, private individuals who paid rent for space in the building insist that their contracts with the state Empresa de Comercio stipulated that 30% of lease proceeds would go to repairs, which were never made.

At the end of 2012, the sellers were informed that restoration work would begin on the building, but after a few weeks and the placement of wooden beams to prop up the top floor, the works did not continue.

In order not to lose their clientele, the vendors proposed that the local government allow them to become a non-agricultural cooperative (CNA), a form of economic management which, as of January this year, had 397 examples throughout the country dedicated to food, personal and technical services.

However, the initiative did not prosper and for several weeks now the retailers have been relocated in nearby stores such as Cancha, Florida and Sublime, smaller and more poorly located.

“I have lost a lot of money in this move and also this place does not have the minimum necessary conditions,” says a clothing saleswoman with a counter in the Cancha store who preferred anonymity. However, she acknowledges that “Fin de Siglo also had problems because of the heat, the lack of windows and the constant obstructions in the sewer pipes.”

The merchant believes that if they had let the tenants invest the conditions of the ground floor would have been improved, since each year the premises collected about 3 million Cuban pesos (roughly $120k US) in rent receipts. “Why didn’t they use part of that for reconstruction?” she protests.

The merchant believes that if they had let the tenants invest the conditions of the ground floor would have been improved, since each year the premises collected about 3 million Cuban pesos in rent

Some vendors have placed handmade posters in the windows of Fin de Siglo alerting customers to their new locations. There is no obvious construction work taking place in the building but all the outlets and the bulbs from the ceiling lights are missing.

Carlos Alberto, a young jeweler wants an explanation. “When someone finds out what they are going to do there, let them come and tell me.” The artisan doubts the official version and maintains that the building will be “remodeled to become a store selling in convertible pesos” – that is to the well-to-do and tourists – a speculation which the authorities of the municipality of Central Havana do not want to comment on.

At the Sublime establishment, a CD vendor predicts a worse future for the emblematic store. “It’s going to be just like the Duplex cinema, a block away, which one day was closed because it had a problem in the bathroom and today is a ruin,” he says.

Cuban Authorities Block Seven Activists From Traveling to Mexico for Democracy Action Meeting

Regina Coyula was not able to board her flight this Monday, like six other activists, to go to Cancun to a Forum on Democracy in Cuba. (Courtesy)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 27 June 2017 – Cuban authorities blocked at least seven activists from traveling to Cancun, Mexico this Monday, to participate in the 4th Forum on Roads to a Democratic Cuba, a meeting of the United Democratic Action Roundtable (MUAD) organized by the Konrad Adenauer Foundation (KAS), according to blogger Regina Coyula speaking to 14ymedio.

“When I arrived at the immigration window in Terminal 3 of Jose Marti International Airport, they told me to step back and wait a minute” said the activist. Then she was approached by an immigration official who, after asking for her documents, informed her that there was “a ban on travel abroad” in effect against her.

Coyula demanded explanations for the reasons she was prevented from leaving, but the agent would only say that she “had nothing to do with this” and told her if she wanted more information to visit the Office of Attention to the Population near the Plaza of the Revolution. continue reading

The other activists who were not allowed to board the plane are Rafael León Rodríguez, general coordinator of the Cuban Democratic Project; Hildebrando Chaviano, director of the Center for Analysis of Public Policies of Freedom and Development; Wilfredo Vallín and Amado Calixto Gammalame, members of the Legal Association of Cuba; Erick Álvarez, promoter of the CubaDecide initiative; and Alexei Gámez, activist of the Somos+ (We Are More) Movement.

The practice of preventing dissidents from leaving the country has become a repressive method of State Security in increasing use in recent months.

The practice of preventing dissidents from leaving the country has become a repressive method of State Security in increasing use in recent months.

In early 2013 a Migration Reform measure came into effect which eliminated the “exit permit” required for travel abroad. In the first ten months after the approval of the new measures, Cubans made more than 250,000 trips abroad. The opposition also benefited from this relaxation of controls.

However, any time it likes the Government may invoke certain subsections of article 25 of the new immigration regulations that prohibit departure “for reasons of public interest or national security.”

Travel bans are put into practice in a number of ways, including preventing opponents from leaving their home, intercepting the vehicles taking them to the airport, or notifying them at the immigration window at the airport that they are forbidden to leave, as happened on Monday.

These Are Good Times For The ‘Weekly Packet’

A Cuban accessing the Weekly Packet’ from his laptop at home. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Generation Y, Yoani Sanchez, 27 June 2017 — Official propaganda has been euphoric since Donald Trump spoke at the Manuel Artime Theater in Miami. The government discourse rages with an intensity that hasn’t been seen since the campaign for ‘The Cuban Five’, the spies serving sentences in the United States. Faced with this saturation of slogans, many opt to take refuge in the ‘Weekly Packet.’

The Cuban Government seems to be advised by its worst enemies in terms of content dissemination, in view of the excess of ideology and ephemeris of the national media. The result is the galloping loss of viewers who opt for the informal networks of distribution of audiovisuals, series and films.

Each line of the incendiary political tirades published in the written press equals more than one los reader, tired of so much rhetoric. It is easy to detect through the comments on the street how the ‘rating’ of the media controlled by the Communist Party is collapsing these days, especially among the youngest. continue reading

It is easy to detect through the comments on the street how the ‘rating’ of the media controlled by the Communist Party is collapsing these days, especially among the youngest

In the past, television viewers tired of so much empty talk had to watch anyway, in the absence of other options, but now Cubans live in the age of USB memory and external hard drives.

Now, while the national media rant against the United States president’s new policy toward Cuba, the informal market is awash in entertainment material that has nothing to do with politics.

A bad quality copy of The Mummy starring Tom Cruise, or Wonder Woman featuring Patty Jenkins, along with the eighth installment of Fast and Furious, grab the attention of the fans of the Weekly Packet, and offer nothing but a headache for the government propagandists who don’t know how to attract that lost audience.

It is significant that science fiction, fantasy and car racing triumph where politics loses ground. Cubans escape reality through fiction, they evade propaganda by choosing programming far removed from ideology.

Persecution Grows Against Independent Journalism In Cuba

Independent journalists Sol García Basulto and Henry Constantín Ferreiro. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miami, 26 June 2017 — Independent communicators in Cuba are victims of an escalating repression, according to a complaint filed Monday by the Cuban Observatory of Human Rights (OCDH), based in Madrid. The alarm sounded by the organization coincides with an increase in complaints from journalists on the island as a result of the government persecutions and obstacles they suffer when exercising their profession.

“Last June 20 Henry Constantín and Sol Garcia, journalists for La Hora de Cuba and contributors to 14ymedio, were not able to participate in an event in Miami because each of them has been indicted for the alleged crime of “‘usurpation of legal capacity’ [that is practicing a profession without a license to do so] and so under Cuban law they are not permitted to travel outside the country,” OCDH reported.

According to the non-governmental organization, the Cuban government had maintained a kind of “moratorium” with regards to repression against independent journalists, but the strategy seems to have changed in recent weeks with actions such as those carried out against Henry Constantin, Sol Garcia Basulto and Manuel Alejandro Leon Velázquez. continue reading

Both Constantín and García Basulto have been expressly forbidden to practice journalism on the island and the judicial process opened against them has been criticized from various international forums, including the Inter American Press Association (IAPA).

Human rights lawyer and activist Laritza Diversent explained that there are more than 300 items within the Penal Code to crack down on dissent and journalism on the island

The OCDH also denounced the arrest of journalist Manuel Alejandro León Velázquez, a contributor to Radio Martí and Diario de Cuba . Leon returned from a trip to Spain and has been accused of “usurpation of legal capacity, association to commit a crime and dissemination of false news,” according to the organization.

The accusations against the three communicators are based on Article 149 of the Cuban Penal Code, which punishes those who carry out “acts of a profession for the exercise of which one is not properly qualified.” If they are tried for this offense they could face a sentence of up to one year of deprivation of liberty.

In Cuba, all the media belong to the State, according to the Constitution of 1976. However, the absence of a Media Law has allowed the independent press to flourish with sites such as El Estornudo, El Toque, Cubanet, CiberCuba, Diario de Cuba, Periodismo de Barrio, On Cuba, among others.

In Cuba, all the media belong to the State, according to the Constitution of 1976. However, the absence of a Media Law has allowed the independent press to flourish

Human rights lawyer and activist Laritza Diversent, who recently became a refugee in the United States, explained to 14ymedio via telephone that there are over 300 items within the Penal Code to crack down on dissent and journalism on the island.

“State Security is looking for different strategies to prosecute all types of dissidents or critics in Cuba,” explained Diversent, president of the legal group Cubalex, who went into exile after a police and State Security operation against her.

“Both illegal economic activity and the usurpation of legal capacity are nothing more than resources to punish any type of activism within the Island. Legal insecurity is very high because both the criminal law and the criminal procedure law have been designed as tools of repression,” said Diversent.

Independent journalist Maykel Gonzalez Vivero, who was arrested last October in Guantanamo and suffered the confiscation of his tools of the trade while covering the recovery in Baracoa after the passage of Hurricane Matthew, confirmed the difficulties of practicing the profession on the island.

“We do not have a law that supports us and protects the exercise of journalism, we are at the mercy of the arbitrariness of the authorities”

“We do not have a law that supports us and protects the exercise of journalism, we are at the mercy of the arbitrariness of the authorities,” he said. On that occasion, a team of correspondents from Periodismo de Barrio suffered the same fate as Gonzalez Vivero.

Other independent publications, such as Convivencia magazine, have been harassed during the last year with the arrest of members of its editorial team and threats by the authorities against its contributors. Foreign correspondent Fernando Ravsberg has been threatened with expulsion from the country and even with “having his teeth broken” for the critical entries he publishes in his personal blog Cartas desde Cuba.

Last year the IAPA emphasized, however, the timid rebellion of some official journalists against the information policy directed from the Communist Party. Among the examples cited by the IAPA was a letter signed by young journalists published by the Villa Clara newspaper Vanguardia, in which they claimed their right to collaborate with other media.

The IAPA also recalled the case of a Radio Holguin journalist Jose Ramirez Pantoja, expelled from the profession for five years for making public the remarks delivered at a conference where Karina Marrón, deputy editor of the official daily Granma, compared the country’s situation to that of the 1990s when massive protests occurred in Havana, which came to be known as the Maleconazo.

“We Exist Between Illusions And Fears”

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario Penton, David (Panama), 23 June 2017 — The green seems to fill everything in Chiriquí, in the western Panamanian province where the government hosts 126 undocumented Cubans in a camp in the region of Gualaca. The stillness of the morning in the middle of the huge pines that grow in the foothills of the mountains is only interrupted by the bites of insects, a true torture at dawn and dusk.

“This place is beautiful, but everything gets tiring, being in limbo is exhausting,” says Yosvani López, a 30-year-old Cuban who arrived in Gualaca in April after spending three months in the hostel set up by Caritas for Cuban migrants in Panama City.

“Sometimes we sit down and talk about what we would do if we could get out of here and get to another country. Some relatives tell us that they are preparing a camp in Canada to welcome us, others tell us that they have everything prepared to deport us. Illusions and fears,” he laments. continue reading

The camp that houses the Cubans was built by the Swiss brigades which, in the 1970’s, built the La Fortuna dam. It is 104 acres, occupied mostly by forests and a stream. One hour from the nearest city, the humidity is such that mushrooms and plants establish themselves even in the fibrocement roof tiles.

A day in the migrant camp for Cubans stranded in Gualaca, Panama (our apologies for not having this video subtitled).

Along with the wooden buildings, deteriorated by the passage of time, there are still satellite antennas, electric heaters and, according to the migrants, from time to time they find foreign currencies buried in the vacant land.

López was born in Caibarién, a city on the north coast of Cuba. Although he had the opportunity to emigrate using a speed boat to cross the Florida Straits, he preferred the jungle route to avoid the seven years moratorium on being able to return to Cuba that the government imposes on those who leave Cuba illegally.

“I wanted to go back before 7 years was up. I have my mother and my sisters in Cuba,” he explains.

He worked as a chef specializing in seafood at the Meliá hotel in the cays north of Villa Clara, earning the equivalent of $25 US a month. With the money from the sale of his mother’s house he traveled via Guyana and in Panama he was taken by surprise by the end of the wet foot/dry foot policy that allowed Cubans who reached American soil to stay.

“Here we pass the hours between chats with our relatives in Cuba and the United States, and searching the news for clues that will tell us what is going to happen to us,” he says.

The migrants in Gualaca not only do not have permission to work, but they can only leave the camp one day a week to go to Western Union, with prior notice and accompanied by presidential police officers, who are guarding the site.

Some, however, have improvised coffee sales and even a barbershop. The locals also set up a small shop to supply the undocumented immigrants with the personal care products and treats, which they pay for with remittances sent by relatives from the United States.

Some migrants have taken the opportunity to develop their talents, such as this young man who set up a barber shop in the Gualaca camp. (14ymedio)

The authorities gave themselves 90 days to decide what they would do with the 126 Cubans who accepted the proposal to go to Gualaca. Two months later, the patience of the migrants is beginning to wear thin. At least six escapes have been reported since they were moved there. The last one, on Monday, was led by four Cubans, two of whom have already returned to the camp while two crossed the border into Costa Rica.

Since dawn, Alejandro Larrinaga, 13, and his parents have been waiting for some news about their fate. Surrounded by adults, Alejandro has only one other child to play in the hostel, Christian Estrada, 11. Neither has attended school for a year and a half, when they left Havana.

Alejandro spent more than 50 days in the jungle and, as a result of severe dehydration, he suffered epilepsy and convulsed several times. “It was difficult to go through it. It’s not easy to explain: it is one thing to tell it and another to live it,” he says with an intonation that makes him seem much more adult.

“We had to see dead people, lots of skulls. I was afraid of losing my mom and dad,” he recalls. But, although tears appear in the eyes of his mother while he recalls those moments, now he says he feels safe in Gualaca and spends his days playing chess.

“I want to be a chess master, which is more than a champion. Someday I will achieve it,” he says.

His mother, Addis Torres, does not want to return to the Island where she has nothing left because she sold their few belongings to be able to reunite with Alejandro’s grandfather, who lives in the United States. Although they have a process of family reunification pending at the US Embassy in Havana, the family does not want to hear about returning to Cuba.

They eat three times a day and even have a health program financed by the Panamanian government, but for Torres “that’s not life.”

“Detained, without a future, afraid to return to Cuba. We need someone to feel sorry for us and, in the worst case, to let us stay here,” she says.

Liuber Pérez Expósito is a guajiro from Velasco, a town in Holguín where he grew garlic and corn. After the legalization of self-employment by the Cuban government, Pérez began to engage in trade and intended to improve things by going to the US.

The presidential police and Panama Immigration officers guard the entrance of the camp Los Planes, Gualaca. (14ymedio)

In Gualaca he feels “desperate” to return to his homeland, but he has faith that, at least, he will get the help promised by the Panamanian Deputy Minister of Security, and leave a door open to engage in trade.

“I am here against what my family’s thinking. There (in Cuba) I have my wife, my nine-year-old son and my parents, they want me to come back and pressure me but I am waiting for the opportunity to at least recover some of the 5,000 dollars I spent,” he says.

His mother-in-law, an ophthalmologist who worked in Venezuela, lent him part of the money for the trip. Indebted, without money and without hope, he only thinks of the moment he can return.

“During the day we have nothing to do. Sometimes we play a little dominoes, we walk or we go to the stream, but we have 24 hours to think about how difficult this situation is and the failure we are experiencing,” he says.

Liuber communicates with his family through Imo, a popular videochat application for smartphones. “They recently installed Wi-Fi in Velasco and they call me whenever they can,” he adds.

“Hopefully, this nightmare we are living will end soon. Whatever happens, just let it end,” he says bitterly.

——

This article is a part of the series “A New Era in Cuban Migration” produced by this newspaper, 14ymedioel Nuevo Herald and Radio Ambulante under the auspices of the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.

The Lethargy Of A Coastal Town In Camagüey

Many houses are empty and uninhabited because their owners have moved to other towns in search of greater economic development. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Florida, Cuba, 26 June 2017 — “The sea water cleans everything,” Agustin reflects as he calls out his merchandise. This 74-year-old forensic assistant now works renting inflatable boats for the fishermen of Playa Florida, in Camagüey, a coastal strip where tourists rarely come and the economic crisis is strongly felt.

“I came here to escape the odor of death, and I did,” jokes the worker, one of the few residents in the unpopulated streets on Friday. On every side many of the few houses that do not seem vacant exhibit a “for sale” sign. “All of Playa Florida is for sale but no one wants to buy it,” a resident jokes. continue reading

Lacking the natural beauty of the north coast, with no functioning industries and no important crops, the area is experiencing times of hardship that have worsened in recent years. On the entrance road, a rusted out anchor gives visitors a preview of the lethargy they will find here.

Only 24 miles separate the fishermen’s village from the municipal center, but it takes between four and six hours to cover the route due to the poor state of the road and the lack of public transport. On both sides of the road, the invasive marabou weed rises defiantly.

“Without tourists there is no money,” says Bururu, an informal realtor. 

Lack communication characterizes the village. Nowhere among its crowded streets has a public telephone been installed and cell phones only manage to pick up a signal near the medical clinic, due to the poor coverage of the area.

The lack of mobility also sinks the area’s small businesses. The private restaurant Comida Criollo barely survives after being opened five years. Alfredo, the paladar’s chef, says that “from time to time a foreign tourist arrives.” People who “explore every corner with a map in hand,” but they are fewer and fewer.

Of the 4 million visitors who arrived in Cuba last year, only a few dozen came to this coast without white sands or crystal clear water, where to take a dip the bather must wear shoes to avoid the mud, stones and mangrove roots.

“Without tourists there is no money,” Bururu, an informal realtor, tells 14ymedio. The high number of homes for sale has caused a collapse of prices in the area. “A two-room house with a covered porch, cistern and garden can cost less than 1,000 CUC (roughly $1,000 US),” he says.

“People do not want to stay because there is nothing to do here”

“They put a jacuzzi in the bathroom and all the furniture inside is from the mall,” says Bururú while pointing to a newly painted building. The dealer takes his time to describe the characteristics of each house, hoping to make at least one sale.

“People do not want to stay because there is nothing to do here,” he explains to the 14ymedio. The man blames the stampede on the fact that “there are no recreational options and also nowhere to work”. “[The fishing] is not as good as in other places, so it gives you something to eat but not enough to make a living,” he emphasizes.

Near the coastline, a fisherman removes the scales from a sea bass he caught that morning. “I promised it to a family that wants to celebrate the birthday of their youngest son,” he tells a woman who inquires about the price of fish.

“The fishing is very affected since they built the embankment,” says the fisherman. “This area used to get a lot of oysters, but that has decreased a lot,” he adds.

The coast has also been affected by rising sea levels, to the extent that rumors of relocating the village have increased in recent years

The narrow and rugged access road divides the wetland in two and it has lost a part of the mangroves in its southern area. “Experts came here to research it and said that cutting the flow of water had increased the salinity and that is killing the mangroves.”

In 2009 the United Nations Small Grants Program provided more than $40,000 in funding for ecosystem recovery, but eight years later the damage has hardly been reversed. “The sea water has entered the river Mala Fama inland,” says the fisherman.

The coast has also been affected by rising sea levels, to the extent that rumors of relocating the village have increased in recent years. Wooden palisades are trying to slow down the push of the waves during hurricanes, but they seem like ridiculous chopsticks in the face of the immensity of the Caribbean.

The picture of deterioration is completed by the Argentina Campsite. where for months there has been neither electricity nor water. Julia, the guard who watches the entrance of the abandoned place, is categorical. “Here in Florida Beach, the only thing that is abundant is gnats and mosquitoes.”