14ymedio, Julio Blanco C., Managua, 27 September 2014 — I follow with eagerness – almost bordering on addiction – the news out of Cuba. I suppose that my nationality has a lot to do with that because probably no one better understands the reality of the Island (apart from Cubans) than we Nicaraguans.
Here we suffered a regime modeled on that of the Castros, which among other “pearls” imposed on us:
A terrible State security system, so that all we citizens were suspected of being traitors and counter-revolutionaries.
The rationing card, such an unpleasant memory.
Indoctrination of students at all levels of education.
The division of society into the good and the bad. Everything within the revolution and nothing outside it was the slogan. Whoever opposed the regime was a pariah, a subhuman, a stinker who deserved not the least consideration or respect. Those “elements” had to be persecuted, silenced, beaten, intimidated and ultimately annihilated.
The brutal and ruthless persecution of every communication media disaffected with the regime. This they could not completely achieve, maybe for lack of time, therefore some emblematic media like the daily La Prensa and Radio Corporacion survived the burning.
Bank nationalization and the forced socialization or transforming into cooperatives of all means of production, which involved a massive confiscation of private goods.
The list is much longer; I do not need to tell it to Cubans who have suffered first hand for so many years a tragedy so similar but at the same time much more extensive than ours.
My interest now is focused on the transition that Cubans are experiencing, because we went through something very similar, although here everything was quite fast due to the fact that it was not the same government that carried out the changes, but another one.
For the people of my generation who grew up in the midst of so many shortages and limitations, that period of the country’s “normalization,” above all that of the economy, was something almost magical.
The most irrelevant things were all eventful. I remember as if it were yesterday when we began to be happily flooded with junk food. First there was Pizza Hut, then McDonald’s returned after an absence of several years, then Burger King, Friday’s, Subway, Papa John’s and so many other chains that were little by little turning up in the country.
Big hotel companies like Best Western, Intercontinental, Hilton, Hyatt and others arrived, too.
And private national and foreign banks reappeared, and excellent customer attention again became a priority, not like when they were state-owned and little was needed for the employees to bite the unfortunate client.
And the private universities and colleges (these never disappeared) multiplied for every taste and pocketbook.
And many corrupt and inefficient state businesses were privatized and so many others disappeared. Maybe the most significant was Enitel, the embarrassing equivalent of Cuba’s ETECSA telephone company. The change was positively colossal, and soon came competition, and now there were other options for cable, telephone and internet.
Rationing and lines and product scarcity ended, and the giants of the food industry and commerce landed: Walmart, Pricemart, Cargill, Parmalat, Procter and Gamble, and there follows a very long etcetera.
And the first mall opened its doors with dozens of stores and modern movie theaters and its food court and its enormous department stores… but that was nothing, because soon there appeared others even better.
And refueling became a guilty pleasure because the convenience stores are as pleasant as small supermarkets and small restaurants, all in one.
And the public transportation payment system changed. You no longer had to carry a mound of coins, just recharge the electronic card.
And suddenly one day, a growing number of establishments began to offer free wi-fi; even the government installed it in some public parks in all the provincial capitals.
All this, which for us has been fascinating, is completely incomprehensible for someone who has not lived it and been systematically diverted by the State from everything that smells of progress and development however insignificant it might seem.
Maybe one day, sooner than later, Cubans can go through all this, too, and feel that strange satisfaction that is given by knowing “now we are like all the rest,” that we are no longer “different” in the more negative and abject sense of the word. In fact, they are already immersed in a stage of transition – very sui generis – but transition in the end.
Hopefully the weight of reality will finally make the regime understand that it can no longer contain the floodgates of “normality” because Cubans have made too many thousands of holes in the dam, and the waters of creativity and private initiative flow with increasing force.
* Julio Blanco C. is a lawyer in Diplomacy and International Relations. He lives in Managua.
14ymedio, ROSA LÓPEZ, Havana | October 10, 2014 – The mass exodus of teachers from the classroom has been, according to the official press, the theme of meetings between the Education minister, Ena Elsa Velázquez Cobiella, and her department heads. The official admitted that “there are questions that need to be addressed in our country, which will be resolved in due time when the right conditions are in place.” Her words do not placate the dissatisfaction of workers in the education sector with low salaries and poor working conditions.
According to data provided by Velázquez Cobiella, in the last school year, “427 education workers resigned because of disagreements with their evaluations; 166 because of the issue of proximity to their places of residence; 766 for failing to obtain a raise; 37 for dissatisfaction with the teaching methods; and 2,343 cited personal problems.” These statistics contrast with the widely-shared opinion that low wages are the principal cause driving teachers from the classroom.
“I told them I was leaving to care for my sick mother, but actually I just couldn’t stand the heavy workload and low salary any longer,” says Cristina Rodríguez, who taught elementary school for almost twenty years in the municipality of Cerro. Like her, many others have claimed family difficulties or health problems in order to free themselves from a burden they have found too heavy to bear.
“The highest leadership of the nation is aware of the problem and has the will to solve it, but this will be done in an orderly manner and when the country’s economy permits it,” said the minister. Her words were a bucket of ice water thrown on the education sector’s expectations for better compensation.
Around the middle of this year, public health professionals received a significant raise, which fanned the flames of hope for similar actions in other branches of service. However, the measure has not been extended to other departments.
A big unanswered question is: When can educators expect to be paid more decent salaries?
Among the criticisms that have emerged in discussions between the Education minister and other officials is the burdensome paperwork imposed on education workers. Every teacher is supposed to maintain files on incidents in the classroom, and others that include extracurricular information, such as family evaluations, community assessments, and those well-known reports that are more police-like in nature than education-related. The minister supported limiting such bureaucratic activities to the registry of assistance and evaluation, and to the students’ cumulative records.
There are approximately 10,366 educational institutions whose principal purpose is to stem the flow of teachers to other lines of work. “I will not return to the classroom if they don’t pay me a decent salary,” asserts Martha Vázquez, a special education teacher. Thousands of teachers echo this sentiment as they do other work across the country.
A big unanswered question is: When can educators expect to be paid more decent salaries that keep pace with the cost of living? In the meantime, classrooms will continue to lose valuable teachers who will end up behind the counter at a cafeteria, or in the void of unemployment.
14YMEDIO, Havana, October 9, 2014 – The Baptist pastor Mario Felix Lleonart refused to sign the official warning he received yesterday morning as part of a police citation. Although the document does not explicitly mention his recent journey to the eastern part of the island to check the status of harassment of some pastors, officers who confronted him mentioned it verbally, according to the pastor.
Around 11 AM yesterday, a lieutenant colonel read Feliz Lleonart a warning notice, in front of two witnesses – supposedly civilians and found by the officers, who the pastor didn’t know – and another lower ranking State Security official.
The notice, according to the lieutenant colonel, is considered an aggravating circumstance in the context of a possible criminal prosecution, which the official described as “very likely.”
This is the third warning the pastor has received, the last of which was delivered on 25 January. In the notice he was warned that if he continues to have close ties “counterrevolutionary elements within and outside Cuba and counterrevolutionary radio stations,” he will be prosecuted.
The pastor, who lives with his family in the village of Taguayabon in the central province of Villa Clara, in recent years has engaged in a very intense activism. Among other actions, he denounced the police beatings of Juan Wilfredo Soto, which could have caused his subsequent death.
14YMEDIO, October 9, 2014 – Pedro Lazo Torres, leader of the minority Muslim community in Cuba, announced this Monday that the Government has rejected plans to build a mosque for the Islamic population in Havana, a gesture considered an offense against religious freedom on the Island. Lazo said that reasons aren’t related to the patron, the Turkish Religious Affairs Foundation, rather it is now the Government that opposes it, something unexpected as Russian has received permission to build an orthodox church.
The Muslim population in Cuba is around 4,000 faithful who lack a place of worship on the island.
Last April, Mustafa Tutkun, assistant director of the Turkish Religious Affairs Foundation, visited Cuba to manage permissions with the Religious Affairs Bureau of the Communist Party. He then explained that the mosque would reflect the design of the Mosque Ortaköy in Istanbul. The press secretary of the agency, Yuksel Sezgin, said: “We believe that the mosque fits perfectly with the European architecture of historic Old Havana.” The Island was assured that the building would be completed within one year, starting in the spring.
Religious freedom in Cuba is still an unresolved issue, However relations between the Catholic Church and the government have improved in recent years, even to the point where some confiscated properties were returned to the institution.
14YMEDIO, Havana, October 9, 2014 – Sixteen dancers from the Cuban company Pro-Dance of Laura Alonso, daughter of Alicia Alonso, deserted during a tour in Mexico. Five of them are already in the United States, according to information on the television Telemundo 51 this Thursday.
From Miami, Ricardo Gil, Yaimara Naranjo and Alfredo Espinosa, spoke in front of the cameras, expressing their happiness on having left Cuba in search of a better professional and personal future. Espinosa said he had already arranged new work as a teacher at an academy in Miami Lakes.
The flight of Cuban dancers is a steady drip. At the end of September, two members of the Cuban National Ballet fled, also during a tour in Mexico, following the steps of another nine dancers who stayed in Puerto Rico months earlier.
Laura Perez (age 25) went from Mexico to Houston, and Jvier Graupera Miranda (age 23) went to Florida to receive assistance from the Miami Hispanic Arts Center and the Cuban Classical Ballet, according to reports form the Spanish daily El Pais.
The director of the National Ballet of Cuba, Alicia Alonso, said in a statement to the Mexican press that the escape of some members of the group “will not cause her to lose sleep.”
14YMEDIO, Havana, September 25, 2014 – An important meeting of Cuban civil society took place this Thursday in Havana, involving 16 activists from across the country, including five ex-prisoners from the 2013 Black Spring. The meeting was not announced ahead of time, and several of the invitees were unable to attend due to other commitments.
The discussion centered around four minimum points that have gained strength among activists and dissidents in recent months:
Release of political prisoners
Ending of political repression
Ratification of International Covenants on Human Rights
Recognition of Cuban civil society within the Island and in the diaspora
Also emphasized was the need to strengthen civic institutions and to pay special attention to civic education. The importance of adding other voices to the debate was a theme repeated by many of those present.
Under the name Civil Society Open Forum, the meeting is intended to be help on a regular basis to discuss the issues of today’s Cuba. This is the fourth in a series of meetings, two of which were held in Madrid and two in Havana. Previously, in February of this year, the four points of consensus that summarize the demands of Cuban civil society were agreed upon.
In attendance were: José Alberto Álvarez, Eliécer Ávila, Manuel Cuesta Morúa, Reinaldo Escobar, Guillermo Fariñas, José Daniel Ferrer, Librado Linares, Mario Félix Lleonart, Yoaxis Macheco, Héctor Maseda, Félix Navarro, Jorge Olivera, Lilianne Ruíz, Elizardo Sánchez, Yoani Sánchez and Dagoberto Valdés.
14ymedio, LILIANNE RUÍZ, Havana |October 3, 2014 – Denia and Mayra met twelve years ago on a walk along the Malecon. In the zone of tolerance that begins at Maceo Park and ends at the 23rd Street fountain, where historically a part of the LGBTI community gathers in the Havana nights. After a 7-year relationship they thought seriously of raising a child, but they ran into an obstacle: according Ministry of Public Health protocols, the possibility of conception through non-traditional means is designed for heterosexual couples and treated as a pathology of infertility.
The two women began to seek voluntary donors among their friends. They knew other women in the same situation had managed to conceive by introducing semen into the vagina with a syringe. “In contact with mucus it can live up to 72 hours; in a syringe stored at room temperature it can last 48 hours,” they say.
Among their close friends they didn’t find a candidate that met all their conditions, above all that he was willing to renounce paternity and cede it entirely to the female couple. So after many discrete inquiries, they used the services of an OB/GYN at a maternity hospital in the capital who, in addition to artificially inseminating Mayra, was able to offer them a donor with the desired characteristics, including some resemblance to Denia. The insemination took place in the couple’s home, far from the vigilant eyes of the health authorities. Should it be divulged, the doctor would lose his profession.
The insemination took place in the couple’s home, far from the vigilant eyes of the health authorities
Denia sidesteps the question of whether they had to pay for this “under the table” service. According to other women in similar situations, the rates in the informal market for sperm vary between 100 and 300 Cuban convertible pesos (CUC).
“This has been the greatest joy of my life. The little girl calls me godmother,” Denia says. The two women consider themselves mothers of Paola, a beautiful five-year-old who attends preschool.
During the pregnancy and childbirth, Denia presented herself as a friend of Mayra’s. In their experience, if they had declared themselves the lesbian couple that they are, they would not have been treated the same. “In many places we found they don’t treat us like they treat a heterosexual couple. Sometimes they reject us. So we did what we did to keep up appearances.”
Denia tells how she gets up first in the morning to bring the baby to her mother’s breast. “Even though I’m not the biological mother, I feel like I’m also Paola’s mother. At times we argue lovingly about who’s going to do the cooking because the child likes my cooking more.”
They don’t kiss in front of the girl, not because they don’t want to promote their values of respect for sexual diversity and freedom of choice in front of her, but because they are worried that she might experience rejection at school. “We live in a society that has not adapted to a kiss as a gesture of love between a couple, and to the fact that couples can be made up of the same gender.”
Because of this, they believe that Cuba should legalize marriage between persons of the same sex, so that their rights are recognized in the Ministry of Health protocols, including the right of a lesbian woman to conceive with the help of science. “The same rights would make us more equal,” they say.
So far, however, there is no donor sperm bank in the Cuban health system, even for heterosexual couples. Nor are there statistics about the number of same sex couples with children. In a telephone call, the Legal Department of the National Center for Sexual Education (CENESEX) admitted it has taken no surveys and has nor information about it.
As often happens, the official world keeps its distance from what is happening in real life. It refuses to legislate and ignores the stories of different passions, with fruits and without patriarchs.
14ymedio, Eliecér Avila, Havana, October 2, 2014 — I saw the images of the Cuban students’ march in support of “the Cuban Five” and against “terrorism” and “subversion.” Telesur also echoed the news. I don’t know if any other television network has covered this topic. What I do know is that the participants believed they were giving an indisputable show of strength, principle and, possibly, valor.
So what did the nation gain from this audacity? Nothing – except many public expenses.
In contrast, I watch what is happening in Hong Kong, one of the most economically dynamic cities in the world, where thousands of students have been able to mobilize massive public sectors in support of their call for free local elections. The central government in Beijing opposes this demand.
Let us compare these two situations, both of which are developing in Communist territories.
In one case, protesters are taking to the streets calling for more democracy and for respect of citizens’ ability to elect their own representatives, against obstructionist government forces. In the other case – the one here (in Cuba) – the demonstrators travel comfortably to their site on buses, with snacks, slogan-emblazoned T-shirts, and security detail all included. All this to make a show of boldness geared to and directed by an agenda that has nothing to do with student demands or social protests in our country.
The students in Hong Kong get by with using social networking applications that make a joke of state censorship. When denied Internet access, they communicate directly with each other. The Cuban students use powerful megaphones to shout their “Long Live!” chants to those who are not allowed Internet access.
The apathy of Cuban university students towards the state of the nation does not cease to astound me.
The apathy of Cuban university students toward the state of the nation does not cease to astound me. If the young people of our country, with their vibrant health and energy, do not defend our elderly, our poor, our workers – our own selves – who will do it? —The state? —The bureaucracy? —The very causers of our problems?
Of what use is a march which forgets that we live in a country without the least shred of freedom of the press? Where the workers cannot afford even to eat adequately with the wages they are paid? And where the capital city is crumbling? What manner of respect can a youth and university movement inspire if it is incapable of empowering itself to recapture its autonomy and liberty?
It is clear that these marches are not initiated by the students themselves. We should also recognize that many who will read this article, and its author, took part at some time in similar marches – to break the monotony of our class schedules – to ride the wave that everyone says is the correct one – or simply to have a free day’s outing in Havana. When we grow up a little and leave the ideological bubble which our university system has become, reality punches us right in the face. We realize then the extreme manipulation to which we were subjected in order to defend the interests of a minority comfortably in power because we put them there. And this hurts.
We realize then the extreme manipulation to which we were subjected in order to defend the interests of a minority comfortably in power….
Being that nobody learns a lesson unless he learns it for himself, we will have to wait for the many Olympic champions of enthusiasm to graduate—and then face the challenge of maintaining their own households as citizens and workers.
But by then it will be too late. By then nobody will arrange buses and snacks to facilitate their expressions of nonconformity. Alternatively, if they go and do it on their own, they will discover a little-known aspect of the system, which will increase their frustration but will clarify much in their minds.
Some will decide to leave Cuba and will easily exchange their “Long Live!” megaphones for the steering wheel of the comfortable car that the ideological enemy will allow them to buy in exchange for their labor. Others will settle for eking out any kind of living they can and … “we’ll see what happens.” There will always be those others who are set on attaining positions from which they will have to convince a new generation of youths and students to march against the “historical enemy.” Their contribution will be the mental castration of the masses – an indispensable step towards constructing “The New Man.” These are the worst.
Still and all, I am convinced that this cycle of disempowerment and deception of the people cannot last forever. I feel that we are ever growing in number—those of us who in every corner of this country, including the universities, feel responsible for contributing to the profound and vital change that we need. All we have to do is agree to work together, as those demonstrators in Hong Kong are doing with such commendable maturity.
14ymedio, Ciego de Avila, Elvira Fernandez, 26 September 2014 – “This water will satisfy you for today. Jesus will satisfy you for eternity, do you accept him?” it reads above the two taps, in one of the most useful and widely appreciated places in Ciego de Avila today. It is the people’s filtered water service point opened by the Pentecostal Evangelical Church in its Voice of Jubilee Assembly of God Church in the La Guajira neighborhood.
It rains frequently here, but the city suffers a scarcity of potable water. People are afraid to drink the water from the aqueduct network because it is almost always contaminated with sewage waste, due to the abundance of cracks and leaks in the pipes. For the people, in addition, in an environment where hygiene isn’t front and center, this water is one of the few chances to prevent contagious diseases such as cholera, which seems to be here to stay.
The modern filtration equipment has been donated by an evangelical congregation in the United States, which is dedicated to providing this type of assistance to countries facing humanitarian crises, such as Haiti. In Cuba they keep about forty similar pieces of equipment running. In Ciego de Avila province there is another in the Pentecostal church in the Venezuela municipality.
The modern filtration equipment has been donated by an evangelical congregation of the United States
Four days a week (Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday) the doors of the side yard of the church open to all, believers and non-believers, between 2 pm and 11 pm. At first they came with small bottles, but most have already made tanks, tanks and big jugs because, with a single trip and after waiting so long, they are trying to accumulate the water for several days. And the lines are getting longer again. The people waiting when the sun shelter in the doorways all around.
The church can not cope and, lately with very little water falling in the tank, they have to pay for water from the Communal Company’s pipes. A woman carrying several bottles says: “I have two children and I feel very safe when I can be assured of this water. In my house, no one wants to drink any other. But I’m worried, what if this disappears?”
Given the shortage, the increasing demand and the difficulties, expands fear of a reduction in service. A new sign has appeared on the church gate has caused general concern, as it heralds drastic rationing:
“We have little water, but we want to continue helping with filtered water, therefore, during this situation, we can only give you 5 liters per person. We expect your cooperation, thank you. God bless you.”
14ymedio, Fernando Damaso, Havana, 1 October 2014 — The foreign policy of the Cuban government, which promised to start with democracy and freedom, soon showed its tendency to ally with authoritarian regimes when it suited the government’s interests.
From the first months of 1959 the Cuban government maintained close economic ties and a careful political deal with the Franco regime, although publicly it criticized it. In the case of Latin America, it interfered in the internal affairs of less like-minded countries and gave its political and logistic support to local guerillas, with the objective of weakening the influence of the United States in the region. Most of the attempts were defeated and failed, not receiving the hoped-for popular support, so it became interested in African countries, where it sent military advisors and even regular Cuban troops.
The African adventures were financed by the Soviet Union in the name of “proletarian internationalism” and with the objective of consolidating socialist influence on the continent. Over more than thirty years and at the cost of damaging its prestige, Cuba unconditionally supported Soviet policy in international forums, even when Moscow intervened militarily in Czechoslovakia in 1968 to liquidate the Prague Spring, or when it invaded Afghanistan eleven years later. continue reading
Whatever the “friends” and the friends of “friends” did received immediate support, and everything the “historic enemy”—the United States—and the friends of the “enemy” did was censored. In fulfilling this irrational principle, the Cuban government increased its support for dictatorial or totalitarian governments in Asia, Africa and even in Latin America. This context includes the strange alliance between Cuba and Argentina between 1976 and 1983, when the military was in power in Buenos Aires. Kezia McKeague, a political scientist specializing in Cuba, explains it in the 50th issue of the Bulletin of the Center for the Opening and Development of Latin America (CADAL).
In this context is the strange alliance between Cuba and Argentina between 1976 and 1983 when the military was in power in Buenos Aires
“While relations were not always optimal, despite the conspicuous ideological differences both governments approached each other regarding the sensitive issue of human rights and established a mutual support, to prevent violations of human rights in both countries being considered at the United Nations, specifically before the [Human Rights] Commission,” Kezia McKeague wrote. The Argentine dictatorship’s then ambassador in Geneva, Gabriel Martinez, described this relationship as “optimal” and “extremely close” adding, “The Cubans always, always supported us and we supported them.” As Cuba chaired the movement of Non-Aligned Countries in those years, it also played an important role in the defense this organization mounted for the Argentine regime, as well as serving as “interlocutor” between the Buenos Aires delegation and Eastern Europe.
In those years, Argentina was looking for support for its claim over the Falkland Island, and it and Cuba needed to prevent the issue of human rights violations from being taken to the United Nations Commission of Human Rights: here is the reason for this strange relationship which, ignoring the ideology and principles so often proclaimed, responded to simple short-term interests.
In later years, Cuban foreign policy has maintained the same course, introducing the practice of “solidarity” as well, through offering and sending specialists in health, education, sports and other areas, as well as awarding scholarships for study in Cuba, receiving in return political support in international forums. While, in Latin America Cuba tries to consolidate a common front against the United States, regardless of the different ideologies, politics, and economies of the countries—The Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) is the principle instrument—in the international arena it continues to maintain close relations with dictatorial governments and extremist movements, giving them its unconditional support: the dynasty that governs North Korea, some of the African countries with long-standing one-man regimes, the “family” regime in Syria, the totalitarian Belarus, or the Islamic Palestinian movement Hamas.
When voting in international organizations our government always starts from ideological principles
If we follow what is published in Cuba, our government and its representatives in international organizations always start from principles of an ideological character when it comes time to vote: supporting Russia in the annexation of the Crimea and condemning Ukraine for trying to defend its territorial integrity; condemning Israel for bombing Palestinian territory but not saying a word about the Palestinian attacks on Israel; sympathetic to Hamas terrorists and those they call patriots and freedom fighters, while accusing the Hebrews of genocide; opposing the bombing of the so-called Islamic State; applauding constitutional changes in “brethren” countries, where their presidents, intoxicated by the enjoyment of power, seek to be reelected indefinitely; they do not hide their sympathy for the Colombian guerrillas and, ultimately, they are against those who question and criticize, albeit respectively, and in favor of those who accept and applaud unconditionally.
Although it is undeniable that, in recent times, the Cuban government has maintained a more pragmatic foreign policy, managing to establish relations with countries with different political, economic and social regimes, and abandoning costly and unproductive offshore military adventures, it has not yet been able to develop a serious and viable policy of normalizing its relations with its principal neighbor, the United States. This constitutes, without a doubt, its principal unresolved foreign policy matter.
14ymedio, Havana, Ignacio Varona, 30 September 2014 – Few expected a magnanimous gesture from the Cuban courts toward the Canadian businessman Vahe Cy Tokmakjian. After he was arrested in September 2011, this 74-year-old man was turned into a test case for those thinking of investing in the Island. “If Tokmakjian is judged too harshly, few are going to want to put their money here,” whispered many in charge of businesses at embassies and other market and capital professionals.
The 15-year sentence for the president of the Tokmakjian Group may now seem a gesture of strength on the part of Raul Castro, but the main outcome is the weakening of investor confidence and the withdrawal of capital from the island. The idea has gained strength in diplomatic and business cliques, who placed all their hopes… and their suspicions on the judicial process that started last June.
According to the prosecutor, Tokmakjian was tried for the crimes of bribery, acts to the detriment of economy and contracting activity, fraud, trafficking in hard currency, forgery of bank and business documents, as well as tax evasion. Two other Canadian citizens, managers in the same company,Claudio Franco Vetere and Marco Vinicio Puche, were sentenced to 12 and 8 years in prison, respectively.
The excessive sentences fell not only on the foreign defendants. Fourteen senior officials and Cuban executives were tried in the same process and received sentences of between six and twenty years. Nelson Labrada, former vice minister of Sugar, will spend the next two decades of his life in prison, according to the ruling of the Provincial Court of the Havana.
The main outcome is the weakening of investor confidence and the withdrawal of capital from the island
On learning of the sentences, relatives and defense attorneys let out a cry of horror that had been pent up for three years. The Ontario-based company has denounced “the lack of due process” and the CFO has confessed that the Cuban authorities have demanded some 55 million Canadian dollars from the group to let Tokmakjian walk the streets again.
Freedom has a price for this foreign businessman, although in the case of the Cuban defendants little can be done to lessen their sentences. If it is an act to make an example and stop corruption, as some say, the severity of the punishment was greater for those who don’t hold a passport from the other side of the world.
The sentence has been made public after months of waiting and tons of speculation. Some ventured that with the new Foreign Investment Law, which came into force last June, the Cuban government would “pass the case under the table” to avoid provoking fears among potential entrepreneurs who want to settle in our land.
Others believe that only an exemplary sentence against this group would make the rules clear and avoid future corruption. For those who believe that the accusations against Tokmakjian are substantiated, the law that has fallen upon him with its full weight will deter others from playing tricks with taxes, appealing to patronage and graft, or falsifying accounts.
This second line of opinion, which considers Tokmakjian guilty and deserving of a heavy penalty, ignores that similar actions are taken by figures from the government itself and the family clan that rules the destinies of the nation. “Do as I say, not as I do,” the generals and lieutenant colonels turned career businessmen seem to say. Not holding military rank is a dangerous condition for businesses on this island.
“Do as I say, not as I do,” the generals and lieutenant colonels turned career businessmen seem to say
Almost a quarter of a century’s presence in Cuba was useless to the Tokmakjian Group in making the prosecutor lenient. Their business group calculated some 100 million dollars of the company’s assets have been confiscated during the judicial process. On top of that, the prosecutor is about to demand some 91 million as compensation for the economic damages allegedly inflicted on the national economy.
Only the Canadian nickel company Sherritt International was ahead of the Tokmakjian Group with regards to commercial operations in Cuba. Specializing in construction and mining equipment, this latter does business worth up to 80 million a year and brings in many of the Hyundai cars that are still circulating in our streets. The niche market they took advantage of included replacement parts and engines for old transport vehicles imported from the Soviet Union.
One could say that Tokmakjian fished in the troubled waters of the lack of business rights for Cubans. He made his fortune when we couldn’t, although that’s not a crime but rather an ethical omission that allowed him to profit where nationals are banned. However, one day he upset someone, and the courts undertook to remind him who rules in this house.
Now, with their offices in Havana closed and sealed, the Tokmakjian Group is claiming in Canadian courts about 200 million dollars from the Cuban government. The case promises to be an interminable sequence of chapters where complaints, negotiations and gestures of clemency or arrogance play out. However, what happens there is beyond the fate of the 17 defendants who have just suffered firsthand the lack of autonomy of the Cuban courts and the regrettable absence of separation of powers.
The harsh sentences against Tokmakjian and the others who were tried is a direct signal to those who believe that they can make easy money in Cuba with the approval of the authorities. The reality is a world of snares: some are activated immediately and others take twenty years to close on the victim.
In 2010 the Canadian businessman stressed his full confidence in the Island’s authorities in an interview with Excelencias del Motor magazine.
14ymedio, Havana, 30 September 2014 — A year before his arrest in Havana in September 2011, for a host of crimes (bribery, fraud, trafficking in foreign currency, forgery, tax evasion, acts to the detriment of the national economy), the Canadian businessman Cy Tokmakjian, sentenced last week to 15 years in prison, made very positive statements about the business climate in Cuba.
In an interview published in January 2010 in Excelencias del Motor magazine, belonging to a Spanish group with representation on the Island, the owner of the Tokmakjian Group spoke of the success of his company and its projects after 21 years in Cuba.
At that time, the company was expanding with the opening of the technical facilities of Wajay (Havana), Camaguey and Moa (Holguin), which had helped increase the number of Cuban employees from 140 to 230 workers.
The Tokmakjian Group, according to its founder, intended to use Cuban specialists for trade with the rest of Latin America, especially Panama, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and the Dominican Republic. The businessman introduced high-tech equipment to manufacture products in Cuba, “to solve national problems quickly and export from this country,” through joint ventures.
“We have to maneuver carefully not to lose the investment, the support and the confidence we have in Cuba”
Cy Tokmakjian showed no fear, faced with the ravages of the global economic crisis. “I’ve been in Cuba 21 years, I know the current situation in the country. During the years 1991 and 1992, the situation was no better, we are ‘accustomed’ to working in difficult times,” he explained. “The parent company in Canada trusts Cuba and the Cubans, which allows flexible receipts and payments; we expect Cuba will recover; we will continue doing business. However, we have to maneuver carefully, not to lose the investment, the support and the confidence we have in Cuba. We are all working on this together, Canadians and Cubans,” he added.
“Cuba greatly appreciates the foreign companies that continue to work in Cuba through difficult times. Together, Cubans and Canadians, we maintain an ethic, a principle, and mutual assistance,” he revealed.
14ymedio, Havana, N. Mell – 29 September 2014 – Since an official statement published in the newspaper Granma last Saturday, rejecting the planned marketing by the Cuban company Labiofam of perfumes named after Ernest Guevara and Hugo Chavez, the controversy about who is really responsible for this “grave error” continues to animate conversations.
The omissions in the statement from the Council of Ministers are very significant. For example, there is no mention that this business group, responsible for the production of biopharmaceuticals and chemicals, is under the Ministry of Agriculture. Instead, it is treated as an organism of the central state administration. More surprising is the hiding of the fact that this isn’t the first time they have announced the creation of perfumes named after personalities connected to the Revolutionary epic.
In its previous Congress, held in September 2012, Labiofam recalled that “with the objective of diversifying its production and satisfying the demands of the market,” they had created, in 1994, “the colognes Alejandro*, Celia and Havana.” The company statement added, without beating around the bush, “The first two are products with the allegorical names of figures of the Revolution” (Fidel Castro and Celia Sanchez). Years later, Labiofam created another cologne named Lina, in honor of the former president’s mother, Lina Ruz, who was also the grandmother of Jose Antonio Fraga Castro, CEO of Labiofam.
Fidel and Raul Castro’s nephew has ruled the company with the same voluntarism that his uncles have ruled the island
Fidel and Raul Castro’s nephew has ruled the company with the same voluntarism that his uncles have ruled the island. There is nothing in the company that hasn’t been thought up, or at least approved, by him, including the weekly menu in the workers’ cafeteria. And, even though the company has fallen short of its planned performance for the last five years, it has been presented as a model institution of modern times and its hierarchy as untouchable beings.
It hasn’t been disclosed if the disciplinary measures announced by the Council of Ministers Executive Committee will seek a scapegoat to save the reputation of the CEO, or if the flames will reach the top of the pyramid. There are many threads behind the intrigue, each one pulling in a different direction.
The ideological and emotional argument that “symbols are sacred” convinces almost no one, especially in a country where the face of Che Guevara himself appears tarnishing the national flag in ashtrays where cigarettes are crushed to extinction. Maybe Labiofam believed that an independent company is governed more by the rules of marketing than by the designs of the Party, or maybe the time has come to end a feud over whose “remains” new interests already have their eyes on.
*Translator’s note: Fidel’s middle name is Alejandro
An official with the Housing Institute denounces corruption and privileges, as well as reprisals taken against his family.
14ymedio, September 24, 2014 – Before leaving Cuba in October, 2013, the author of this accusation occupied an important post at the Housing Institute and, as a jurist, saw firsthand the intrigues perpetrated by high-level officers of the agency to illegally grant properties to elites and friends. As is shown in the accompanying photos, Juan Carlos Gálvez Migueles was an active participant in the political life of the Island. On December 14, 2008, Gálvez was elected to the national secretariat of the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution, and ratified as a member of the executive committee of that organization.
A lawyer by profession, Gálvez worked as a counterintelligence officer following his studies at the Eliseo Reyes Rodríguez “Capitán San Luis” Advanced Institute of the Interior Ministry. His problems started when he refused to collaborate in the legalization of mansions belonging to the children of ex-President Fidel Castro.
“I was disappointed in many things about the system that were drummed into me and that I was taught to defend. The blindfold fell from my eyes when I saw the problems of daily life in the real world of the average Cuban,” Gálvez told 14ymedio in an email exchange. “That system is not made for honest, sincere, hardworking people like me, where the more corrupt one is, the better.”
My Duty is to Denounce – I Am Not Afraid
by: Juan Carlos Gálvez Migueles
By these presents I wish to make a public statement about the violation being committed by officials of the Cuban State who represent the Provincial Housing Administration of Havana, against three women and a girl of just one year of age, with the intent of evicting them from the property located on 3rd Street, Building 15022, Apt. 10, between 7th and N streets, Altahabana neighborhood, Boyeros municipality. These women are: Sara Elvira Migueles Velo, 47-years-old; Rosaima Rodríguez Migueles, 17-years-old; Marinelvis Martínez Migueles, 24-year-old, mother of a one-year-old girl, named Aynoa. They are, respectively, my mother, sisters and niece.
The property from which the authorities want to remove them was acquired by this writer in May, 2012, when I was appointed Principal Specialist of the Havana Provincial Housing legal division, while in process of being named assistant legal director of this agency.
In August of 2013, I was accepted to participate in an advanced public administration course at the University of Extremadura, Spain. However, the Spanish embassy did not grant me a visa because I missed the deadline to submit some required original documents. At that point I decided to leave Cuba for good, due to various reasons that at present I don’t believe it opportune to divulge.
To facilitate my departure I took advantage of the opportunity provided by this course and requested authorizaton by the Provincial Housing Director, Liudmila Mejias Ocaña, to approve my attending this course. In reality, I was leaving for another country but I could not say where I was going, because right away my family’s home would be taken away, as is happening right now. Besides, I also could not disclose what I was up to, because I had been a member of the Interior Ministry and had ties to high-level officials stemming from the duties I carried out.
In October, 2013, I left Cuba, keeping my new home base a secret, until January, 2014, when it becomes known. It was then, in a gesture of cruelty and bad faith, that the Provincial Director of Housing and Assistant Legal Director, Marbelis Velázquez Reyes, imposed a disciplinary measure on me of final separation from the agency for unjustified absences. This is a measure that violates Decree 302 of October 11, 2012, which in turn modifies Law No. 1312, “Migration,” of September 20, 1976, given that what should have been applied in my case was a leave of absence from my position.
But her objective was to take revenge because I had already been selected as assistant provincial legal director. Therefore, she had to attack my family, declaring them illegal occupants without right to relocation, knowing that they had no place of origin. Then, where will they be taken to live? On the street, to a temporary community shelter? I don’t believe this is just or honorable.
Therefore, I am bound to make this accusation:
I was asked to work on the legalization of the houses owned by the children of ex-President Fidel Castro Ruz, all homes that consisted of more than 500 square meters of living space, comprising more than 1000 meters of total lot space, surrounded by hundreds of meters of addition land. I refused to do this, based on it being in violation of the current General Housing Law No. 65, which only recognizes properties up to 800 meters in size.
I was asked to work on the legalization of the houses owned by the children of ex-President Fidel Castro Ruz, all homes that consisted of more than 500 square meters of living space.
These individuals, by virtue of being offspring of a leader, have more rights to a good home than my family. I ask: What do they contribute to society that I haven’t? In what war did they serve? What have they done that is special? Why do these citizens have to have an interior ministry official representing them in their legalization proceedings?
Are they different from other Cubans? Can they not go to the municipal housing administration like other citizens? Could it be that they cannot wait in line? Can they not observe the waiting period established by law? Are they subject to a different law that I was not taught at the Advanced Institute of the Interior Ministry, when I was pursuing my degree in law and operative investigation of counterintelligence? Where is the equality that we so proclaim to the world?
Another case is that of Marino Murillo Jorge, vice-president of the Council of Ministers, to whom was granted a grand residence – or rather, a mansion in the Playa district, in return for an apartment he owned in Cerro municipality. But the irony is that the property Murillo was granted was assigned to the Ministry of Education and, with supposedly just the authorization of Raúl Castro Ruz, it was transferred to the ownership of this citizen without any disentailment process and, hence, no discussion.
Perhaps this citizen, for occupying a high post in the Cuban government, has more right to a dignified home than my family? What merits does he have that hundreds of thousands of Cubans, as educated as he or more so, do not?
I can also speak to the favors granted to officials of the National Housing Institute such as the house that was exchanged for the president of this agency, Oris Silvia Fernández Hernández, a grand property, which originated in a confiscation. Could it be that she has more rights than my family? Does the legal director of the National Housing Institute also have more rights than my family, a corrupt individual who has been sanctioned and yet remains in his post? I could go on naming any number of high State officials.
The granting of housing is decided in the office of the Provincial Director in favor of individuals who pay up to 5000 CUCs.
I denounce how thousands of families live in unhealthy conditions in temporary community shelters. They are not granted public housing, this being a responsibility of the Provincial Housing Director, Liudmila Mejías Ocaña, who does not control the administration of the Provincial Housing Commission. The granting of housing is decided in the office of the Provincial Director in favor of individuals who pay up to 5000 CUCs, friends who give gifts, as well as high-level officials, and relatives and lovers of high-level officials. All of this is public knowledge and has been condemned on various occasions but, as there is so much intrigue that involves high-level officials, nothing happens.
I denounce how legal documents are worked up in the Provincial Housing Office to favor these same people, all under the Thirteenth Special Ruling on Law No. 65 (General Housing Law), being concluded in record time, while the documents in other cases go to eternal rest. Those responsible are the Provincial Director, and the Assistant Legal Director, Marbelis Velazquez Reyes. The latter owns a fine house that was disentailed to her after seven years, very well furnished and equipped, while she earns a monthly salary of only 500 Cuban pesos.
I denounce how my family, on September 17, asked to be seen at the Council of State of the Republic of Cuba to present their case and were refused attention, the officials alleging that only letters are accepted at that location and nobody is seen in-person – an unheard-of and ill-intentioned assertion. This is not the democracy promised by our rule of law.
In similar fashion, they went before the Provincial Party Committee of Havana and the officials who saw them during a public hearing told them to go before the Municipal Administrative Council of Boyeros and, if their problem was not resolved there, they should go before the Provincial Administrative Council of Havana. As we would say in Cuban, it was a ball game, back and forth.
I should ask, why not lease the property to my family? For whom is this property being reserved? It could be that this apartment is already sold, or is being set aside for a friend.
Surely when this accusation comes to light, they will begin to question me about where I obtained the money to leave Cuba. Well, it was from the sale of the deplorable house that my mother owned and a landline telephone that I had in my name, money that I supplemented with funds from a friend who was my older sister’s boyfriend.
I ask that the right of my family to live in a decent home be respected, that events will not be repeated like those we endured when for more than 10 years we lived in a wooden building that was falling apart, where we would bathe in the kitchen, and defecate in nylon bags because we had no toilet. At that time I was a delegate to the Municipal Assembly of Popular Power of San Nicolás de Bari, today Mayabeque province.
My neighbors there and those who voted me in can attest to this. That was also the time that I served as Municipal Housing Director and never did I take even one concrete block for my house – a fact that my employees can corroborate. What did I gain from being so humble, so honest, that now my family should be treated in this manner. For all of this I decided to leave my homeland.
I declare that today I fear for the lives of my family in Cuba, for possible reprisals against them, resulting from this accusation and others that I may be forced to make to defend our rights. By the same token I fear for my life in this country where I reside, for having information about officials, for having been myself a member of the Cuban counterintelligence and someone who knows the methods they employ.
14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 18 September 2014 — Lately, the Cuban personnel contracted by the Venezuelan Embassy in Havana are in the doldrums: there will be cutbacks among the long list of employees and no one knows exactly how many or who will end up “damaged.” It is rumored that when diplo-bureaucrats drop the guillotine–probably with the recommendations of the sinister Cuban advising commissioners–there will be a lot of Cuban workers “available.”
In case there is any doubt, not a single one of them is ever late or absent, though they were once the beneficiaries of all the Venezuelan petro-extravagances. All of a sudden, all personal problems, the irregular attendance, the requests for early leaves to attend parent-teacher conferences or doctors’ appointments ceased. As if by magic, discipline in the workplace has improved tremendously. No more playing computer games, gossiping about current TV soap operas which relieved the afternoon office boredom, and no more long telephone calls on the account of the Venezuelan exchequer.
The impending readjustment, however, should not surprise anyone. In recent months there were already signs that augured hard times: wages have been cut, lunches have lost their quality, size and variety, the “stimuli” and other benefits became more scarce, until they disappeared, as did the gargantuan parties for whatever reason, with eating and drinking galore, the ones that were attended by everybody, even the cat. Because, in the very Chavez and Bolivarian Embassy everybody was a big, happy family regardless of their rank and occupation, as befits genuine popular revolutions. continue reading
In Miraflores there is an alarming depletion of the “people’s” coffers and the time is now to limit the distribution and to cut the ribbons off the piñata
Everything points to an alarming decline, in faraway Miraflores, in the “peoples” coffers, and the time has come to limit distribution and cut the ribbons off the piñata so that only the highly anointed can reach them.
The cutbacks that the Venezuelan Embassy is applying in Havana are just an insignificant echo of a general strategy of patches and ineffective improvisations with which President Nicolas Maduro is trying to stop the most significant economic collapse that this rich nation has suffered in decades, which also include such draconian measures as a digital ration card–because poverty must keep pace with technological advances–an ill-advised policy of “fair prices” that triggered smuggling and corruption, as well as shortages of food and other staples in the markets, and also the irrational multiplication of the government’s bureaucratic apparatus to “control” the holes through which both capital and loyalties are escaping.
Preaching Poverty (of others)
The governments of democratic nations congratulate themselves when the standard of living rises under their administration. That said, any individual with a modicum of common sense should mistrust any government that declares that poverty is a virtue, and, as a consequence, a support for that country’s socio-political system. Such logic suggests that what that government will do then is foment poverty, since the more poor people there are, the more political capital there will be, and the more support the rulers will be able to count on.
In contrast, those who say they govern “for the poor” declare, as one of their main objectives, “to combat poverty”. However, in practice, they increase it and make it more acute, while they get richer. It’s axiomatic. One of the more conspicuous examples of this is the Nicaraguan Daniel Ortega, who had a meteoric metamorphosis from guerrilla to millionaire in his first term, when that “poor Nicaraguan people’s” revolution won out. However, poverty must have its charms, as Ortega was re-elected to the presidency in Nicaragua while Chavez, on his own time, was re-elected in Venezuela and, more recently, his disciple, Nicolas Maduro, was elected, though with a questionable margin. Meanwhile, the Cuban poor are so busy trying to survive poverty that for over half a century they have had no idea what presidential elections are.
These marginal and raucous sectors, prone to violence, are used by dictatorial regimes to suppress the disaffected.
Thus, the comment by Mr. Tarek el Aissami’s, governor of the state of Aragua, that loyalty to Chavez is greater the poorer the individual, follows the same principle of all “socialist” revolutions but it is not accurate: he did not refer to “the poor” as people of low income and few opportunities, but these marginal and raucous sectors, prone to violence, that are used by dictatorial regimes to intimidate and repress the disaffected. Afterwards, the Bolivarian project aims to sustain itself politically, not with the support of the poor–a growing sector–but with the terror imposed through these groups of thugs who have been sanctioned by the authorities to trample any civil complaint with impunity.
Because the truth is that, while the standard of living of Venezuelans has been falling hopelessly in recent years, particularly since the coming to power of Comrade Maduro, instead of Chavez’s supporters growing in numbers, protesters and anti-government protests have been increasing.
A bottomless barrel is not a barrel
It’s a given that every regime that tries to politically anchor itself on populist bases takes over the national and the private treasuries, not only as their own, but as if they were inexhaustible. Thus, they regard the coffers of the State to be bottomless barrels. Castro’s regime in Cuba is an old example of this, and Chavez’s Venezuelan regime today constitutes the most shocking paradigm if one takes into account the magnitude of wasted assets and the looting that have undermined that nation’s vast oil wealth in just 15 years.
Uncontrolled expenditures of the country’s wealth so it can develop “solidarity” programs with regimes akin to its ideals in the region, in an attempt to expand the old “socialist-imperialist” epidemic, expensive and unsustainable social programs, the squandering of public assets by the so-called Bolivarian bourgeoisie and its partners, among other bunch of nonsense, were not Maduro’s [In-Mature] initiatives but policies developed by him have precipitated and exacerbated their effects.
Thanks to the massive raid of Venezuelan oil treasure, we have witnessed the artificial extension of our vernacular dictatorship for almost 15 years
Today, when the economic absurdity of the Chavez project is reaching its highest point, and Venezuela, at the height of inefficiency and administrative corruption, is forced to turn to the international market to import the light crude needed to process its own oil, Nicolas Maduro’s fatal historical destiny emerges ever more clearly: the heir, by the will of the messianic departed, of authority that exceeds his meager capabilities, will end up assuming, all alone, the responsibility that should rest primarily on the founder of the madness, his mentor Hugo Chavez, now transmuted into an innocent little bird.
Thus, when the Chavez vessel eventually sinks in the waters of its own failure, its founder–who did not live long enough to pay the price of that hallucination he once termed “XXI Century Socialism”–will remain etched in the memory of millions of Latin American zombies as the philanthropist, the illustrious leader who plotted the itinerary; while Nicolas Maduro will pay the piper for a feast that will continue to cost today’s and tomorrow’s Venezuelans dearly.
Nice Cubans have much to feel sorry for in this regard, since, thanks to that massive raid of the Venezuelan oil treasury by the Chavez elite, we have been aided in artificially prolonging our vernacular dictatorship for almost 15 years.