The Era Is Giving Birth to a Bicycle / Pablo Pascual Mendez Pina

DSC06967Faced with the debacle of urban transport, the Government will implement an emergency plan that includes the use of bicycles as an alternative for personal mobility, a measure that dusts off the bloody years of the “Special Period.”

In the Council of Ministers meeting held on Saturday June 29 in the MINFAR (Ministry of the Armed Forces), Vice President Marino Murillo Jorge analyzed the deterioration of the technical condition of the equipment and described the reordering of urban transport in the Havana as “unstable, insufficient and poor quality,” while recognizing “fare evasion on the part of the passengers, and stealing — with impunity — part of the fares collected by the transport workers.”

The Raul’s regime economic czar assessed as “poor” the efforts of the bus companies, including the boats that cross Havana Bay and the limited railroad employment, noting that the main inputs for this work — fuel and spare parts pp are acquired on the black market and the state system itself serves as its main supplier.

The members of the Council of Ministers, along with its president, proposed to redesign incentive systems with bonuses, tax exemptions and even subsidies to avoid price increases in transportation.

The meeting took place less than fifteen feet from a parking lot car crowded with the cars of the latest generation, intended for use by members of the presidential cabinet of Raul Castro.

Look at the street

In the capital, the vehicles are not in such great shape, modern Chinese-made Yutong buses, imported during the years 2005 and 2006, and parts of their bodies exhibit scorched by the rust while their exhaust systems give off black smoke from poor combustion.

The private vehicles used for passenger transport have been in use for more than thirty years. Many have been re-powered to use diesel fuel in order to travel more kilometers per liter, and in the case of the “almendrones” (cars from the first half of the twentieth century), most of their bodies have lost their lines as a result of adjustments to increase the number of seats.

The buses on the routes “P”, which provide better service in the state-owned “Metrobus,”can be up to 40 minutes late at the stops, while for others such as the routes 8 and 34 the delay can exceed an hour.

Requesting anonymity, a former official of the Ministry of Transport claims that the Government acquired more than 900 buses in the markets of China and Ukraine, whose wholesale prices were negotiated for the trifling amount of $30,000 each, despite their cost on the world market being about $100,000.

The Cuban side began defaulting on payments and the supply of spare parts was cut off by creditors. “Thus began the urban transport problems,” said the former official.

An example is that at interprovincial transport base Augusto Cesar Sandino, located at 20 de Mayo and Patria streets in the Havana municipality of Cerro, vehicles began to be idled for petty faults, such as oil filter exchange.

Soon the process of “cannibalism” began (extracting parts or pieces to repair other equipment) which ended up severely spoiling more than 70% of the fleet without it having fulfilled its useful life. “The paradox,” the source added, “is that Cuba has not yet paid for those buses.”

Glimpse into the past

Buenaventura Martinez is 86 years old and lives in Cerro municipality and was one of the drivers who worked for the Allied Bus Cooperative (COA) before it was nationalized.

He treasures a package of a yellowish papers with data from the company, which came to pay annually more than 20 million pesos to its approximately 12,000 employees.

He says the company was perfectly organized. Its leadership team created workshops for body and engine repair, and the transport sector contributions were destined solely to the Ministry of Public Works for the improvement of roads, as these ensured the maintenance of equipment.

In the 50s, the company renewed its fleet with the acquisition of more than 600 buses General Motors brand. According to experts, this generation of buses was the most modern and efficient that American industry had built. 600 bus in front of the 900 acquired more recently acquired, and Havana by then had a population of about 800 000 inhabitants, less than a third of today.

For a prosperous and sustainable bike-socialism

For Felix Chamizo, 57, an industrial electrician, who put down his pliers and screwdrivers to get behind a counter and sell churros on his own, the collapse of public transport and the proposed use bicycles as an alternative, means “the second part of the Special Period horror film will start shooting soon.”

He says that in 1992 they sold him a Chinese bicycle at his workplace and since then he’s used it to get around the city. However, it seems a mockery to him to make an aging population ride bikes again; 60% of Cubans are over 40.

Felix avoids the buses and rides his bike only now and again, as he’s already showing signs of prostrate inflammation. He suggests it’s necessary to eat well to have the energy required to pedal, which is a problem in Cuba given the scarcities and high prices of food.

And when informed that, according to studies by British scientists, the food deficit and excessive exercise Cuban population suffered during the bloody years of the “special period” decreased the risk of cardiovascular disease and overall health benefited population, Felix replied, “These scientists are sons of p …”.

From Diario de Cuba

13 July 2013

Why Not Just Dissolve the CDR? / Regina Coyula

Stewpot on the anniversary of the founding of the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution (MARTINOTICIAS)

Comments on the recent speech by General-President Raul Castro can be heard in a pharmacy line as well as in an almendrón.* People in general are pleased that the country’s top leadership is finally acknowledging the presence of the invasive social weed that until now seems to have been growing unnoticed. Cubans, with our ability to adapt and to forget, are happy that the government is now taking steps, as any recently elected government would, to address the problems inherited from its predecessors.

Many claim that the deterioration in our social values is no worse than in other countries, which probably is true. But they forget this laboratory was supposed to be the breeding ground for the “New Man” — someone who would be generous, honest and hard-working. By now, several generations should have given birth to this New Man, of whom so much was expected. But as in the Michael Keaton comedy Multiplicity, each new version was even worse than the last.

As we have seen, experimenting with cows can leave you without cattle, but when you experiment with instruction, the repercussions for society can be quite profound, as is evident today. The family itself has been a tragic protagonist in the Cuban social experiment as well. Nevertheless, neither official acknowledgement of the litany of social transgressions nor popular enthusiasm are enough to resolve a problem that has done nothing but grow.

More than fifty years ago a grassroots organization was created, which later evolved into a non-governmental organization (though we all know this distinction is merely one of semantics): the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution or CDR. Its nation-wide framework stretched across the island’s geographic confines. It was designed from the ground up to “deal with” issues that encompassed, among other things, healthcare, education, sanitation, beautification, raw materials and, most importantly, surveillance. Inevitably, one has to ask: Where were the activists of this enormous organization — one which just concluded a nation-wide conference whose conclusions were overwhelmingly positive — while the bad behavior and criminal activity recently outlined by General-President Castro were proliferating?

In spite of many years of efforts, the CDR guards, the “My Happy Pretty House” activities, the Parents for Education movement, the anti-malarial campaign, the Clic Patrol and the drives to collect raw material have not been successful at molding the social clay we needed to create the twenty-first century man.

An apt example of something where we are instructed but not educated is the party to celebrate the anniversary of this mass organization. On the eve of September 28, surrounded by smoke and rum, people set up makeshift wooden stoves in the street to cook a hodgepodge broth with a lot of ingredients but little substance (usually provided by a pig’s head) which is eaten at midnight from plastic cups. Shirtless men, their tongues loosened by the alcohol, listen to reggaeton music at full blast while people feel forced to socialize so as not to appear apathetic. This celebration of “popular support” offers an all too obvious example, which often ends with neighbors feeling disgusted.

To control social disorder the government is faced with a dilemma. It can enforce the law with strong disciplinary measures by extending its repression beyond dissidents, white-collar criminals and petty thieves caught in the act. Or it can leave it to others — to fate, the church or the family perhaps — to eventually restore lost values.

If we are to rescue good social conduct (as we should) and favor education and good behavior, erroneously deemed bourgeois rather than correct, there is no reason to keep the CDR alive. It has become synonymous with filth and environmental contamination, with theft and embezzlement, with illegal construction, with alarmingly high crime rates and other problems which I leave for the reader to recall.

This has led to a decline in its prestige, a lack of interest from citizens, and a sense of resignation with which the corralled members of the Juventud (the Youth) and the Party accept their appointments. It is the natural result of placing the interests of the government over those of society, rendering the CDR obsolete and burdening the state budget with a bloated bureaucracy which is only partially self-supporting.

Social organizations that arise in a natural way and with natural leaders respond to the interests of their environment, they are the ones who should address these problems. And above all (and when we say all we mean all) the law, with a Defender of the People and a Court of Constitutional Guarantees that citizens can turn to with the confidence of not finding themselves unprotected.

Regina Coyula | La Habana | 20 Jul 2013

*Translator’s note: Cuban slang for a type of large, antiquated American car used as a private taxi.

Translated from Diario de Cuba

20 July 2013

Dangerous Friendships / Regina Coyula

’Comrade’ Mario Silva, from the Venezuelan TV show “La Hojilla” (The Razor)

More than any series on American television, Hojillagate* has me on tenterhooks waiting for new revelations. It’s not that surprising on a macro scale, but knowing some details reveals the depth of Cuba’s influence in the intricacies of Venezuelan politics. Comrade Mario Silva*, in his detailing of events, recalls his conversation with Fidel Castro in which the latter didn’t understand why Chavez did not eliminate bourgeois elections. Castro had already made similar suggestions to the Sandinistas, and had to swallow a bitter pill when his Nicaraguan pupils lost the election to Violeta Chamorro. The Dioscuri avenged the defeat with a maneuver known as the “piñata”; they were temporarily removed from power, but from that point forward, they were revolutionaries who were very much richer.

The Castro regime advice to seize power and adjust the institutions to remain in power comes as no surprise. Our non-bourgeois elections benchmark us to the former socialist countries; a similar model, with Caribbean and Latin American flavor, was applied in Cuba.

It is also the new method applied to the Asiatic electoral system in China and Vietnam, and in this thing called North Korea, which so little is known of, it’s not even applied. They are elections in which the citizen never vote for their president, a structure in which the “people power” is homeopathic, designed to chose distant beings with no ties to the masses.

This disdain is present in Comrade Mario Silva, concerned that the people can spoil his revolution. The comrade not original, it’s commonplace in totalitarian systems (or those that aspire to be) for leaders to always speak on behalf of the people; through this process manage to convince a more or less numerous group of what they are talking about because they interpret and embed it in the deepest popular thinking.

The director of La Hojilla dismisses the opportunity that these “bourgeois” elections have given the Latin American left to come to power, and has allowed large voting blocks in international conclaves when votes come up to the benefit of dissidents (Cuba, Venezuela).

And while Comrade Mario Silva contacts the Cuban official he reports to, the respected International Republican Institute (IRI) found in a survey of opinions within Cuba that citizens born and raised in the electoral system of indirect voting, the same citizens who are afraid to express their opinions, vote mainly for the desire to vote–forgive the repetition–for the office of president.

I think differently from Comrade Mario Silva and Fidel Castro. Much of what we know as civilization is concerned with bourgeois society and with values that have brought us this far. What breaks from that heritage is subject to trial and error and, in our case, elections are not only not bourgeois but have failed to demonstrate superiority over their predecessor. Not only are they far from perfect (which is perfectible), they have allowed failed and anti-democratic rulers their own periods of monarchy.

And as my thoughts are running in another direction, I’m convinced that we have to have a road to democracy, I believe citizens, working people, the masses, the plebes, whatever you call it, those who don’t know and make mistakes, have to be those who can throw out any politician with the last word at the polls.

Regina Coyula | La Habana | 28 May 2013

Translator’s note:
Hojillagate: Mario Silva is a television personality in Venezuela with a show called “La Hojilla” — The Razor. A recording of Silva talking on the phone with a senior Cuban intelligence official, identified as Lt. Col. Aramis Palacios, was leaked on 20 May 2013, causing a great scandal. A brief summary in English can be read here.

19th Anniversary of the Massacre of the Tugboat 13 de Marzo / Julio Cesar Alvarez

Havana, Cuba, July,

The sinking of the tugboat 13 de Marzo, on the morning of July 13, 1994, with over 70 people on board, ordered by the dictatorship that governs us, does not appear in the nation’s list of anniversaries.

It is a taboo subject. It has been deleted from the official story, so they do not remember the infamy, but it is important to remember that it has been 19 years since the horrific slaughter that still remains unpunished and that those who ordered it to be perpetrated still remain in power, and now they are trying to pass the scepter to their chosen ones in order to “retire or die quietly”.

This murder has been written about many times, and many others have been read with horror. Survivors testified that they managed to cross the Morro and evade the pursuit seven miles offshore. Their captors surrounded the tug in which they were fleeing, and did them in them with their prows and water jets.

One day, without the repression of the government as a barrier, the Cuban people will go to the Malecon with flowers and remember those 41 children, women and men killed at sea in the horrendous summer of 1994.

The same way we used to remember a famous guerrilla* in elementary school. Although we did not understand why, we walked after the teachers to the nearest stretch of coast to throw flowers in the water in honor of a rebel commander** who disappeared at an uncertain point along the coast.

Teachers told us that they searched for this rebel commander by air, land and sea for many days, although it wasn’t know where his plane went down.

Even though the authorities knew from the start the exact place where, in an single onslaught, fanaticism and intolerance had sunk the ship in which 72 Cubans were fleeing the tyranny, the bones of those 41 men, women and children killed remain abandoned at the bottom of the sea.

Relatives of the victims were not allowed to bury their dead. The weak excuse that the government had no specialized divers to recover them. Perhaps what the government feared was a spontaneous and massive burial, in which the tears of a people would make injustice tremble.

Fidel Castro justified the murder in a speech: “The workers’ behavior was exemplary, you can not say it wasn’t, because they tried to stop them from stealing your boat. What can we say now, let them steal the ships, your livelihood? What will we do with those workers who do not want them to steal their boat, who undertook a truly patriotic effort, we could say, to stop them from stealing the boat? What are we going to tell them?”

Those words acquitted the murderers, and denied to the families of the victims their right to justice. Any future investigation was prohibited. Any accusation from the families fell on deaf ears in the complicit courts nationwide.

But as Fidel Castro himself said in his time, “There is always time in history to hold each person responsible for what they did.”

Meanwhile, the souls of the victims emerge daily and roam the coast of Havana, and pray that one day they can finally rest on land in an ossuary with flowers and an epitaph.

Translator’s notes:
*Che Guevara
**Camilo Cienfuegos

Friday, July 12, 2013 | By Julio Cesar Álvarez

Response to Ricardo Alarcon / Eliecer Avila

Eliécer Ávila (third from left) with friends during his stay in Sweden.

This morning I was awakened by a call from a friend to tell me that finally señor Ricardo Alarcón had uttered words referring to our encounter*. I immediately started to make arrangements to see where I could download this post, but nothing worked. It was already around 11:00 and curiosity made me make a sad decision: to spend the equivalent of several yards of plaster for my house on an Internet card at the Hotel Nacional.

Señor Alarcón:

I want to thank you, first, for directing yourself to me respectfully. It is time for someone to reciprocate this conduct.

I am compelled, however, to clarify some questions.

First: At the end of that encounter, I left by another door, almost in the arms of many of my compañeros, who invited me to eat pizza to celebrate, and to thank me for having represented them. You did not converse with me, I never saw you again.

Later, they tried to destroy me in many ways and if it weren’t for the vote and opinions of my compañeros, I never would have graduated. Among the reprisals they also denied me the possibility of living and working in Havana. Angry and upset about that, I went to talk to you at the National Assembly of People’s Power. Your staff did not allow me to see you.

Prof: I am amazed and surprised to hear you say that you were censored and that I had the advantage in the argument. I spent more than two years without any chance to talk, the Cuban media has never allowed me to express myself, with the exception of the material on Cubadebate when I thought it would be alright, and they needed me to deny what later clearly would be true.

You were the president of the Parliament. Anyone in the world holding a job like that could call the national or international press and make whatever declarations they wanted. In a second, your words would have traveled the globe. Who would not allow it? I’m glad to know that it wasn’t me.

On the other hand, I must say that I owe my travels to myself and, in any case, to the decent working Cubans who invited me, one after another, to visit with their families in different latitudes.

One of them, who offered me the main invitation, and with whose wife and children I spent the majority of my time, was expelled like a dog from here, his own country, and even his little one-year-old girl, just for visiting me in my little native village and spending time with my family. Nobody told you about that?

On another note, everyone who wants to, inside and outside of Cuba, has already seen the complete video of the event. Not only your words and mine, but also those of the other kids who participated. By the way, one of them, another guajiro from Baracoa, has experienced almost the same as me, including jail cells, and now he has created an organization to also oppose the management of this Government.

Returning to the video, according to what thousands of people have told me from those days, seeing a fragment or seeing the whole thing leaves the same impression…

I take advantage of these lines to give you a message from several Cubans with black skin who live in New York. They took me for a walk along Fifth Avenue to show me**; not only were they not expelled, but many of the owners of those stores are black or immigrants of the most dissimilar ethnicities and colors… The message of these Cubans was, “Please tell this gentleman not to offend us and to stop confusing Cuban youth.” (I have it in writing.)

The issue of my traveling to Sweden and not to Bolivia*** is really annoying and demonstrates the low level of whomever raises it. It’s obvious that I can’t go to an airport and travel wherever I want. I wish! When someone in Bolivia invites me and pays my fare, I’ll go with pleasure.

Look, I am going to be honest, I don’t like it very much when every step I take someone on the street says: “Kid, are you the boy with Alarcón?”

Outside of Cuba, every time a journalist would let me I said, “Could you do me the favor and not ask me the same questions about Alarcón?” I always feel more comfortable talking about what I think we need to do to have the country we desire. I have been the Cuban who has least offered an opinion about you, because believe it or not, I don’t like to take advantage of the mistakes of others, but to advance on my own merits.

I also see that you like souvenirs. If I’d had your home address, or your phone number, or your email or something… I surely would have sent as a gift one of the excellent books they gave me during my journey. Oh wait, sorry, I remember now: they took them from me at the airport… I don’t know who ordered them to take them from me. Would it have been the same if he’d talked to you? If you like, we can go together to claim them, who knows if they’ll listen to us…

But hey, here’s my telephone number so you can call me whenever you like and without any press interest we could have coffee and converse at length in an atmosphere of decency, culture and respect…

Eliécer Ávila Cicilia


Translator’s notes:
*The video of Eliecer Avila’s encounter with Ricardo Alarcon, which came to light in 2008, is available with English subtitles here.
**In the videotaped exchange with Eliecer Avila, Ricardo Alarcon says [starts at minute 30] that when he and his family lived in NYC, where he was serving as Cuba’s representative to the United Nations: “How many times [on 5th Avenue] did they throw us out of a store? Because we had a Latin accent or by our hair color they knew we weren’t Anglos, they didn’t want us in that store. Watching, ’get out’, how many times?”
*** In the exchange with Alarcon, Eliecer asks why Cubans can’t travel freely and says he would like to go to Bolivia to see where Che Guevara died.  In his current post about the exchange, Alarcon points out that when Eliecer got the chance to travel he went to Sweden, not to Bolivia.

17 July 2013

Citizen Diplomacy / Julio Antonio Aleaga Pesant

Cuba Today, El Vedado, Havana, (PD): Bit by bit some of the early activists who were able to cross the sea are returning; they were guests or sponsored by organizations or individuals the “outside world.”

I say some, because you must remember that under their inalienable right, there are friends who took the opportunity to stay “there”, and others, who even asked for political asylum.

In a very short time these compatriots went from being pro-democracy activists in Cuba to being the latest economic migrants to the northern neighbor. The worst thing projects they were responsible are left adrift, or at least without a visible face. I refer specifically to the Voices editorial project, and the Christian Liberation Movement.

These reflections come after an informal meeting in the home of Reinaldo Escobar and Yoani Sanchez, on June 28. There, gathering together, were the regulars of these libertarian meetings. Politicians, artists, independent journalists, bloggers, photographers, students, lawyers, Christian pastors and even the occasional diplomat, gathered around a theme, and interspersed with those who returned and those who did not leave.

That evening there were sympathetic anecdotes, deep thoughts, sharp questions and even the occasional vain folly of the islander who, having crossed the sea, believes that have crossed, like Julius Caesar, the Rubicon. But the important thing is that the meeting clarified, in silence, the inadequacy of leaving the foreign policy of the democratic opposition in the hands of others; and, once again, the lack of institutionalization.

Because a handful of brave people travel outside to tell their truth, is not enough to justify expectations or clearly establish what happened and what is going to happen, nor to establish ties to pressure, on our behalf, the military dictatorship. The so-called citizen diplomacy can’t be exactly this in our specific case. Our travelers, in this case and save exceptions, just competed with Uncle Traveling Matt, the character from Fraggel Rock, with regards to traveling to the outside world.

Unlike Uncle Traveling Matt, an adventurer with his own funds, our citizens went abroad thanks to the gracious decisions of strangers (?), who arranged the agendas of their guests. And even more important, they established the foreign policy agenda of the democratic opposition in Cuba. But also,they established distances and origins difficult to reconcile, in an archipelago marked by misery and deprivation described in Maslow’s pyramid of needs.

The patrons of the journeys highlighted once again the lack of funds among the democratic opposition in Cuba is not a sad page of our reality, but a timid Decalogue of our shame.

Among the unpardonable gaps among the dazzles is that most don’t offer a logical and visible strategy of how, after their return, they will open new doors in those countries for our transition. Leaving behind some pitiful complaints to take steps to work together: what we need to construct a true citizen diplomacy.

Off-the-cuff pronouncements, misplaced speeches, nonsense in front of the international press, ministers and politicians of the first level in foreign scenes, are anecdotes that those present ignored in favor of the harmony of the meetings, but they hang like a Sword of Damocles, over the consciences of those present. This also was a part of the tours of our illustrious friends and if we want to learn we can’t overlook our mistakes.

The closest thing we could do to realize a diplomatic alternative to the military dictatorship would be to use “paradiplomacy,” a neologism that reminds us that the actors of civil society also take the reins of international relations. This private phenomenon of postmodernism, where non-state actors play an increasingly significant role, must be our path. But to get there, first we have to strengthen our pro-democratic institutions.

By Julio Antonio Aleaga Pesant

Photo: Joisy García

11 July 2013

Laritza Diversent Reports from Geneva / Laritza Diversent

Photo: In the background on the right, Laritza Diversent and Yaremis Flores

Introduction by Tania Quintero

On December 10, 2010, without resources, publicity, or fanfare, attorney and freelance journalist Laritza Diversent founded a modest office in her home to provide free, independent advice to Cubans and foreigners on national and international legal issues and human rights. She established the Cubalex Legal Information Center. Over time she was joined by other lawyers, such as Yaremis Flores and her husband Veizant Boloy. These three young people are of Afro-Cuban origin and humble backgrounds. Cubalex also investigates and reports to international and regional organizations regarding individual complaints of human-rights violations on the island. It is located at the corner of 169 Lindero and Angeles, El Calvario, Havana, Cuba 13900. Telephone: (0053) 5-241 5948 (Laritza’s cell). Email: Any help is welcome.

On Cubanet you can read the two reports presented by Cubalex in Geneva, at the 55th meeting of the Committee for the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), which on July 8 and 9 was dedicated to analyzing the situation of Cuban women. The following is the report of Laritza Diversent.

Report from Laritza Diversent

Cubalex presented a “shadow” (alternative) report to CEDAW. Yaremis Flores and I, representing the Cubalex office, participated in the meeting of the experts with NGOs from the countries that were studied at the 55th session, including Cuba.

On Saturday, July 6, we traveled to Switzerland, coincidentally sharing the flight with some members of the official Cuban delegation that participated in the examination. Upon arrival at the airport in Geneva, there were other members of the delegation. One of them, after talking on the phone and looking at us repeatedly while we were waiting for our luggage, came over and took our photo without our permission.

He said it was “so we would look beautiful in the press” and sarcastically welcomed us to Geneva. We told him we were prepared to be photographed by State Security. Then he said he was from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, that he had studied at the Law School, had graduated in 2004, and knew us both. A pity that we didn’t remember him. If he publishes our photo, we will post his, when giving messages to the members of the Cuban delegation.

On Monday the 8th we turned up early at the United Nations headquarters for the process of accreditation; we had previously requested this and had received confirmation that we were accredited. Yet strangely, our registration did not appear in the database. We had to wait two hours for the confirmation of our accreditation.

After verifying the location of the private meeting with the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), we made sure to contact the International Women’s Rights Action Watch (IWRAW), an NGO that organizes the private meetings between the Committee and NGOs from the countries that are being examined, to confirm our presence.

Representatives of this organization were surprised that an NGO based in the island presented a report critical of the situation of Cuban women, because the rest of the national organizations, including the National Union of Jurists, and the Cuban Association for Animal Production, supported the state report.

Earlier that morning, NGOs recognized by the Cuban government had presented themselves there to confirm their participation. Strangely, they asked if there would be other participants. Until then, IWRAW was not aware of our presence in Geneva.

We returned to the room where the meeting would take place and found the supposed lawyer for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. We then learned that our presence had caused problems in the Permanent Mission of Cuba in Geneva. They thought we were going to pull out posters and yell anti-government slogans.

As a precaution, we stayed in the meeting place and waited until it started, to head off any manipulation or government action. After the presentations, the NGOs recognized by the regime, instead of speaking privately with the Committee about the problems of Cuban women, devoted their efforts to discrediting us.

They claimed that Cubalex consisted of only five members, who responded to the interests of the United States, a country which for more than 50 years had imposed a “blockade,” the main cause of violence and discrimination against women in Cuba. They also said that our report lacked objectivity, had little technical rigor, and manipulated the information.

Among other insults, they categorized us as amateurs. They questioned the financing of our trip, claiming that they had to seek help from UN agencies. The Committee had to ask them to stop their attacks and concentrate on the problems of Cuban women.

But they were unable to answer direct questions from the Committee about prostitution, civil unions, and whether a woman who was a victim of violence could be represented by a lawyer. They sowed confusion and wasted time on political speeches, preventing the Committee from clearing up its doubts on these subjects.

For our part, we raised these issues, which we consider the most alarming about the situation of women in Cuba. We warned about recent amendments to the Criminal Code and how it might affect women as victims.

The strategy of these government NGOs, both in the private meeting and at the meeting of the Committee with the NGOs from the countries to be examined, was to consume the time allotted to the country, to prevent us from speaking. They repeated everything that was in their reports, supporting the government. A position that was also requested by the Committee.

At the meeting with NGOs in the countries to be considered at the 55th session (Cuba, Dominican Republic, Afghanistan, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Cape Verde, Democratic Republic of Congo, Northern Ireland, and the United Kingdom), one of the experts directed a question to Cubalex, and members of the official Cuban NGOs consumed all the time, and we could not answer. That position was requested by the Committee Chair, who asked us to present additional information in writing, which we did the following day.

Our perception is that the quasi-state NGOs and the Permanent Mission of Cuba in Geneva were nervous and undiplomatic in the face of our unexpected presence. The person who said he was from the Foreign Ministry accosted us at our arrival and tried to intimidate us, hostilely taking our photos without our permission. The NGO officials showed a lack of education and respect.

As independent lawyers based in Havana, we are pleased with our first experience at the United Nations. We were able to take the opportunity to criticize the Cuban government in a setting where it had never been confronted by an NGO that it does not recognize.

Despite the pressures and provocations, we maintained our equanimity, always respecting the place (Palace of the Nations, the main UN headquarters in Geneva), and the honorable members of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).

Before, it was very comfortable for the so-called Cuban NGOs to beguile with many words, without saying anything and without fear of contradiction. The Members of the Committee members felt uncomfortable about the hostility and lack of diplomacy that the Cuban delegation showed toward us.

Translated by: Tomás A.

11 July 2013

Cholera in Havana with Fatalities / Dania Virgen Garcia

HAVANA, Cuba, 9 July 2013, Dania Virgen García/ For several days there has been an increase in the cases of cholera in the provinces of Havana and Guantánamo.

In Havana, where there are reports of more than 40 children admitted to the hospital, the municipalities most affected are Diez de Octubre and Cerro.

In Cerro pediatric hospital there are more than 37 children; in Accion Medica hospital, at Coco and Rabi, Santos Surez in the municipality of Diez de Octubre, on July 5 four cases were transferred to Cerro pediatric hospital.

At Pasteur Polyclinic, on Santa Catalina Street, also in Diez de Octubre, on the 5th, a three-year-old boy, Abel Lizuela Martinez, was transferred in a delicate state to Cerro Pediatric

From Guantánamo, at the opposite end of the country, Niober García Fournier of the Cuban Youth Movement for Democracy, reported another death from cholera: that of José de la Cruz Castillo, 42 years old, resident in 12 Sur, between Santa Rita and San Gregorio, on July 1. He was in Room 12 Bed 3 in Agostino Neto Provincial Hospital. His wake was held for six hours. The health authorities barred the family from access to the interior of the funeral home, so they had to hold the wake for him in the street. The deceased worked in the provincial Meat Company.

Also, in Guantanamo prison there is a quarantine for cholera. Visits and the bringing in of articles to meet the basic needs of the inmates are restricted.

10 July 2013

Cuban Hospitals Are Falling to Pieces and If They Repair Them, It’s With the Patients Inside / Lilianne Ruiz

Havana, Cuba, July 2, 2013 Lilianne Ruiz/ —  Ruben Benitez is not his real name. His real name is not used because he is a father and family man and afraid of losing his job. Doctor by profession he remains disconcerted by the death of his father which occurred in the Calixto Garcia hospital.

According to which he himself said, upon arriving at the Intensive Care ward, the words of the nurse who helped him were:

“What’s going on here?  Is it raining?”

The ward was filled with water puddles due to a broken air conditioning pipe.

Dr. Benitez knows the rules especially when it comes to requiring an admittance, and added:

“Me, clearly, and that’s it, because I wanted to solve my problem.”

He assures it was not for lack of medications. “Nor for lack of attention from medical and nursing staff, despite all situations of indolence and some other abuse on finding his too demanding companion uncomfortable. It was because the hospital was so filthy,” he said.

“The medical staff doesn’t say so, apparently, but in a hospital where the same elevator carries the construction workers, the doctors, and even the trash, you can’t carry a seriously ill patient because that’s taking an infection from the mouth right to the lung.”

Doctor Benitez’s father was admitted for chest pain and he developed complications ending up with hypostatic pneumonia, which killed him.

The doctor looked at me with surprise when I asked if he thinks you shouldn’t transport a seriously ill patient in an elevator with other people. On asking him I remember my father being admitted to the hospital and the number of times I went up with him lying on a gurney, trying to protect him from the man who was carrying the trash, in the presence of doctors talking, which forced me to see that situation as “normal.”

“You can’t be doing construction in a hospital with patients inside. The floor is cleaned every day and within the ward (after fixing the air conditioning) apparently it’s cleaner. But outside, it’s not what you see, it’s that you can run a finger over the floor and it’s covered with cement dust, because they’ve been doing construction in the hospital for many years,” the doctor commented.

“It’s very depressing to see a family member in this situation and not be able to do anything,” he said. “He died of hypostatic pneumonia, but it can’t be determined if he contracted it simply by lying flat, or whether it was the result of an infectious environment that should have been avoided.”

He says he rejected the idea of an autopsy because it mean extending the suffering without resolving anything, no power to sue anyone.

According to Dr. Benitez, in his role as a companion, the most shocking was the sum of all these terrible conditions of life there, from the disruption of the builders to the sewage water running in front of the ICU room, when the first downpour of the season.

“When you don’t know the topic it’s very easy to fool you, but when you’re a doctor, not so much…”

In Havana, a few years ago it was said that the director of the Cancer Hospital had forbidden their workers to talk about the relationship to talk about the construction of the hospital and the number of deaths:

“Because it’s logical that there is a greater risk death for patients who are receiving expensive chemotherapy treatment (which normally causes immuno-suppression) and who ingest dust,” the doctor pointed out.

When he was a student, in 2004, in the Fajardo hospital, on a visitor’s pass, it could have been the same builder shouting over a running drill. “Even though it was on another floor, the reverb didn’t let you talk.”

Repairs with intensive care patients

At least ten years ago they started the repair work on the capital’s hospitals. What I could never understand, neither the doctors nor the patients, is why they all have to be restored at the same time.

Some, like the Cardiovascular Institute or the Fajardo Hospital, have been declared “terminal.” Others seem to have stalled, like Calixto Garcia. The Clodimira Acosta obstetric-gynecological appears to be a lost building, despite having started on the reconstruction work.

Statistics reveal that the number of deaths by infections in hospitals being repaired have tripled.

There are no alternatives but to go, when you get sick, to the same dirty and dilapidated hospital we’re talking about.

Only those with a high level of personal relations are allowed to receive medical attention in the elite places like CIMEQ or the Cira Garcia International Clinic.

The experience in the “hospitals for the people,” make Cubans repeat, as a collective consciousness, that “What you can’t do here is go to the hospital.”

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

6 July 2013

Categories of Human Beings / Rosa Maria Paya

Where are the documentaries about the Bahamian concentration camps where there are school-age children and women with their lips sewn shut?

It has been a few weeks since South Florida’s media and social networks have been denouncing the systematic abuses to which refugees from Cuba and other nations are subjected in the Bahamas. The trigger was a series of clandestinely made cellphone videos that showed officers kicking people and subjecting them to different tortures. Those who made the videos public assure these were taken in the refugee detention camps in Nassau, and even when people have recognized their friends and relatives in the videos, the Bahamian Chancellery has denied that these are authentic.

These detention centers seem to be the scene of systematic human rights violations, but they are not a new phenomenon. The oldest data I know of refers to the New York Times of August, 1963, which discusses the intervention of Cuban air and naval forces in the former British island during which 19 refugees were kidnapped and taken back to Cuba. But even more astonishing is the reaction of the international community before a situation that has been taking place for years, and for which there are not many echoes beyond the modest ones from the voices of Cubans and Cuban Americans.

In the past 20 years, there is no trace of these events in two of the most important American newspapers, even when the Interamerican Human Rights Commission (IACHR) has issued reports thereon from allegations dating from 1998. For its part, the Spanish newspaper El País lists the names of the two Caribbean islands when it comes to hurricanes while other Iberian newspapers only mention them to highlight the progress of the oil drilling carried out in collaboration with Cuba.

The reaction is different when it comes to the equally unjust humiliations suffered by the prisoners at the U.S. Naval Base in Guantánamo. The acts of condemnation in this case reach high political dimensions including the Human Rights Commission of the Russian Chancellery, the Swiss President of the International Committee of the Red Cross, the United Nations, the American Catholic Church, some leftist French party and thousands, perhaps millions of people from around the word who are in favor of the closing of this prison in the easternmost end of Cuba.

However, curiously enough, in that very end of my country the Provincial Prison of Guantánamo, run by Cuban authorities, is known for its inhumane treatment, the lack of hygiene, a poor diet and occasional beatings to which the people who are surviving there are subjected to. Most of the country’s prisons are run in similar conditions.

It would seem as if the men in orange uniforms held at the naval base belonged to a different category from that of the non-uniformed emigrants of the Caribbean. One hypothesis could be that the people of the Middle East evoke greater sympathy or compassion than the Caribbean people, but since it is precisely in that region where countless human rights violations have been committed in the past and continue to be committed to this day by the authorities of those countries, and the international condemnation has historically suffered its ups and downs, this argument doesn’t hold water. It would be scandalous if the level of the scandal was related to the category of the oppressors.

It is not the US Marines who are torturing Cubans and Haitians in the Bahamas; it is not “the Yankee empire” against “the oppressed people of the world.” Therefore, the perception is that the abuses committed by the authorities of the Commonwealth of the Bahamas are less attractive to the international community.

I cannot help questioning the motivations of the forces behind these reactions. If it is not compassion for those who are suffering, a sense of justice and respect for international treaties, could it be that the level of solidarity is determined by the unpopularity of the oppressor? Doesn’t the Universal Declaration of Human Rights proclaim that all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights? A world in which lobbies have the last say and pressure groups have more interests than convictions is scary.

Who is lobbying for our brothers whose rights are violated with the same impunity in Havana and Nassau? Where are the documentaries about the Bahamian concentration camps where there are school-age children and women with their lips sewn shut? Where is the absolute condemnation for the humiliations that these people who emigrate suffer from, which are not subjected to any accusations? Why throughout the 20 years this situation has been taking place has it not become popular among youth to favor the closure of the prison camps in the Bahamas?

Apparently, the sense of impunity is contagious, and the Bahamian officials feel they can beat Cubans in the same way in which the repressive bodies of the State Security in the Largest of the Antilles have no mercy toward opposition members. Each of them should know that impunity is not sustainable over time, and that time is running out.

Rosa María Payá

Translated by Chabeli

6 July 2013

How Much Does It Cost to Have a Child in Cuba? / Fabian Flores

Cuban children playing.

HAVANA — For the second year in a row the London-based organization, Save the Children, has identified Cuba as the best country in Latin America to be a mother. I suspect that the author of this report visited a Cuba on another planet rather than the one in which the mother of my children has to get up every morning.

Millions of Cuban mothers, having embarked on the heroic task of raising their children in a country in ruins, will celebrating Mother’s Day this Sunday. Thinking about this, I decided to investigate how much it really costs to bring a child into the world in the Caribbean’s largest country.

The findings explain in part why the Cuban population remains almost unchanged at around 11,000,000. The annual growth rate in 2011 was 0.6%, the first increase since 2006 according to figures from the National Office of Statistics and Information (ONE). Projections indicate that the population with continue to decrease and that by 2025 the island’s population will still be under 12,000,000.


A woman can count on regular medical attention from the moment her pregnancy is officially confirmed. Each expectant mother receives a daily dose of iron along with a vitamin supplement called Prenatal.

However, a prescription for these vitamins is usually not issued until after the second trimester of pregnancy rather than before. This is the opposite of what is customary in the world’s most medically advanced countries. Physicians themselves advise, “If you get prenatal medications from abroad, throw out the ones you were given here,” casting some doubt on the quality of the tablets Cubans receive. continue reading

A ration book or ration card will indicate that pregnant women are “entitled” to three or four pounds of beef a month as well as an equal quantity of fish.

The deterioration of medical facilities throughout the country makes childbirth a nightmare for most women.

Last year I was surprised to read a comment that got through the filter of an official website, Cubadebate, in response to an article from Save the Children praising Cuba. A respondent, identified as MG, wrote:

“Has anyone visited the maternity hospital ’Fe del Valle’ in Manzanilo, Granma Province??? Because anyone has been there, anyone who has had to put up with its conditions, anyone who has spent any time in childbirth would realize that this article makes absolutely no sense.

“My twin daughters were born last October in this HOSPITAL. There wasn’t enough bed space so they put TWO pregnant women in the same bed (I know that people won’t believe me, but it’s true). There are no washbasins to rinse your mouth in the morning. You have to drain the bathtubs by carrying buckets of water because the toilets are not connected to a drainage system. Just looking at the bathrooms makes you nauseous. The lobby and dining room have been converted to hospital rooms due to  lack of capacity. For those accompanying women having Caesareans, there are no chairs in the recovery area in which to rest, so they have to stand during the entire six-hour recovery period.”

The gift basket

Mothers-to-be are considered “worthy” of a basket of baby goods which include a sheet, and a handful of products. A typical basket consists of three pillow cases, two medium-sized towels, two baby bottles, two little rubber toys, a pantie, a pullover, four bars of soap, an eau de cologne, one tube of cream, one bottle of baby oil, ten muslin diapers, ten yards of sterile diaper cloth and some socks, all for around 85 Cuban pesos (CUP).

A basket of goods provided by the Cuban state.

If you work at a location affiliated with the official trade union, the Cuban Worker’s Central or a government ministry, these organizations will provide you with a more “enhanced” basket on a specific date if it is your first child.

How does one acquire all the products that are needed for a baby’s first year? The average monthly salary in Cuba is around 455 CUP, the equivalent of $20 or 20 CUC (convertible pesos).

Prices for the two most important items — diapers and milk — are exorbitant. Disposable diapers are not produced in Cuba and the purchase price in dollars — between four to twelve dollars a package — makes this product unaffordable for the vast majority of Cubans.

Baby formula is only sold to women whose doctors have confirmed they are unable to breast feed. In hard-currency stores a jar of the baby formula Nan costs a little more than 4 CUC. Other brands sell for 5 CUC.

 Exorbitant prices

In the network of government-owned stores, very few of which sell only baby-related goods, prices greatly exceed the average monthly salary.

“Most people do not buy baby articles in the state-run stores. Instead they get baskets sent to them from overseas,” says Marianela Frómeta, a housewife from Central Havana.

In government-run stores a sheet for a crib costs between 8 and 10 CUC while the crib itself varies from 100 to 120 CUC. A mattress to go with it will add about another 50 CUC. The cost of a stroller varies between 50 and 180 CUC, depending on the features.

But it is not just the “heavy artillery” that is costly in Cuba. Onesies (one-piece outfits called enterizos in Cuba) cost between 3 and 7 CUC. Underwear for either sex costs the same but can go for as much as 10 CUC.

A parent’s stress increases as a baby’s first birthday approaches. Baby shoes alone can cost up to 20 CUC, depending on the size and brand.

“In my case I put together my own basket with things from private stalls combined with what they gave me. I also had seamstresses sew things for me. It was the only way we could afford it,” says Marlom Silvera, a worker at an ironworks factory.

 A parallel market

One of the best sources for acquiring a newborn’s necessities at lower prices is the parallel market. One of the most reliable is a place in Havana on 21st Street between 4th and 6th in Vedado. A private establishment with a wide range of products at more reasonable prices than the chain of state-run stores, it is still expensive for the average Cuban.

“We get most of our products from people who don’t need them anymore and/or who want to sell them, as well from traders who bring thing from Ecuador, the United States or Venezuela. We also have seamstresses who supply handmade items which are much in demand,” says the owner of the business, who does not want her identity made public.

As the owner explains it, the advantages for her customers are considerable.

“In the state-run stores a baby bottle costs between 1.50 and 5 CUC. Here they’re all 2 CUC. That’s why we have more customers. We also have items that you normally cannot find, like pacifiers, playpens and other accessories,” she says.

In the interior of the country mosquito nets are sold in the parallel market for 300 pesos (12 CUC) and muslin diapers for 6 pesos apiece.

The drama of food 

This is one of the most critical subjects during a baby’s first months of life. The cereal supply is limited in the extreme and, when it is available, costs between 5 and 10 CUC a box.

“I think the most expensive thing about having a child is Cuba is his feeding. Produce and meat quickly eat up a month’s salary,” notes Joel Gutiérrez, a self-employed worker.

“At the local store they give you milk that is not of very high quality and some baby food that I it pains me to feed him,” he adds. “Sometimes you’ll get an imitation cereal called Fortachón, but it’s not enough. When will it all end?”

A similar opinion was echoed in remarks by the respondant “MG” in Cubadebate. He writes, “I am the father of twin girls and earn a basic monthly salary of 432 pesos. Do you know how much Nan-Pro baby formula costs? In the hard currency store one can sells for almost 5 CUC. That’s 125 pesos. When the girls were born they were not getting the formula they needed because in all of Granma (Province) this product, which is sold in pharmacies, was in short supply. The girls’ mother recently graduated, does not work and does not earn a salary. Do they think I can support two girls on my salary alone? You’ll spend an entire month’s pay on food for just one child in one or two weeks.

Adding up the prices for a baby’s basic necessities after visits to various stores, we were able to calculate that the initial costs for raising a child in Cuba in the first six months of life vary from 700 to 750 CUC (depending on the prices individual stores charge).

Other prices in state-run hard currency stores:

Mosquito net: 30-40 CUC

 Wash basin: 5-12 CUC

Walker: 18-25 CUC

Baby bag: 20-25 CUC

Baby wipes: 1-3 CUC

Large towel: 10-12 CUC

Gerber baby food: 0.80-1.20 a jar

Nestlé cereal: 3-5 CUC

 Toys: 5-30 CUC

 Baby powder: 2-6 CUC

Playpen: 15-20 CUC

Infant medications from international pharmaceutical companies: 9-15 CUC

This article is the result of an investigation lasting more than six months and carried out in collaboration with the editors of Café Fuerte.

Translated from Café Fuerte. Originally posted 11 May 2013.