There’s No Room, Wait Outside / Julio Cesar Alvarez

Gatehouse clinic in Central Havana. Photo courtesy of the author.

HAVANA, Cuba — Doctors working in the clinic located within the gatehouse of Central Havana Children’s Hospital refused medical treatment to a three-month-old infant named Alexander because his parents refused to comply with an internal policy of the hospital.

The policy allows only one parent to be present in an exam room. According to the doctor and nurse on duty the lack of space in the rooms is the reason for this policy.

According to Dr. Mario Lorenzo Medina, vice-director of health care at Central Havana Children’s Hospital, overcrowding in the consultation rooms was the reason why only one of the parents could be present.

“My doctors don’t have the room. They work in crowded conditions,” the director told the infant’s father. continue reading

For the parents — 25-year-old Yanela Durán Noa and Augusto César San Martín, an independent journalist — this policy violates the right of both parents to be present during an examination of their son.

The director of the hospital politely acknowledged this right but said that the policy would remain in effect until working conditions for his doctors improved. If parents refuse to comply, they are denied access to an exam room.

Dr. Giselle from the Coco and Rabí clinic in the 10th of October district is of the opinion that the rights of the parents trump any other consideration, especially a hypothetical lack of space.

The nurse who denied medical assistance. Photo courtesy of the author.

“The patient is always right. There is no significantly compelling reason to deny him care,” says Giselle.

For the father, not only was the directive an embarrassment, but so too was the treatment by the clinic’s medical and nursing staffs.

“They didn’t even ask why we brought the child in. The doctor and nurse refused to treat him. And when I asked for their names in order to file a complaint, they rudely told me that I was not the police,” says Augusto César San Martín.

Cuban doctors travel to inhospitable locations in order to provide medical care in very difficult conditions.

Photo: A dog sleeping in one of the clinic’s exam rooms.

While on these international “missions,” they work in open-air exam rooms under conditions of both sun and rain. They do this without objection and without a word of complaint. Even snakes pose no barrier to their work overseas.

The parents in this case consider denying them entry because of an alleged lack of space to be absurd since the policy is followed even when the rooms are empty.

Alejandro’s parents filed a complaint with the Ministry of Public Health almost two months ago. They have yet to receive a reply.

Cubanet, June 23, 2014, Julio Cesar Álvarez

State Security Summons Estado de Sats Members to “Warn” Them About “For Another Cuba” Graffiti

Campaign for Another Cuba. Graffiti Collective, #WeWantItNow, June 8 at 10 am, Wherever you are!!! For the ratification of the UN covenants/ (Estado de Sats)

Several members of Estado de Sats were summoned by State Security to a Havana police station this Saturday, to “warn” them about the Grafiti Colectivo Por otra Cuba, organized by the independent project for this Sunday, to support the campaign demanding that the Government ratify the United Nations covenants that it signed in 2008.

“They wanted (…) to threaten us, as always, and to say that they would not allow any type of action,” the visual artist Lía Villares told Diario de Cuba.

“I told them it was an international action, a global movement in support of the campaign, and that they couldn’t prevent what was happening in different parts of the world,” she added. continue reading

Two years since the start of the campaign, Estado de Sats has proposed “simultaneous and collective graffiti,” within and outside Cuba, of the For Another Cuba logo, created by the graphic artist and caricaturist Gustavo Rodríguez (Garrincha).

Also “to document the actions and post photos and videos on social networks, to make this ’collective graffiti’ a media success in support of the message For Another Cuba.”

In addition to Villares, also summoned were the photographer Claudio Fuentes, the writer and independent journalist Camilo Ernesto Olivera, and the activist Dixán Romero, who did not appear because of irregularities in the summonses.

“I went out wearing a shirt with the campaign logo and they were so upset, evidently so disturbed, that they talked to the logo, not to me,” related Villares, who was “warned” by two officials.

“I asked them why they don’t combat corruption, delinquency, why a person like myself sitting there at three o’clock on a Saturday afternoon (…) why they were doing this work while the country was falling apart. But that didn’t interest them, they wanted to deliver their threatening and intimidating message,” she added.

The Campaign for Another Cuba demands that Havana ratify the United Nations covenants on civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights.

Diario de Cuba, 8 June 2014

They Taught Us to Lie, Steal and Pretend / Gladys Linares

HAVANA, Cuba – Very often we hear the officials of the Ministry of Education stress our country´s successes in this field from 1959 onwards, and we ask ourselves how can they possibly talk about this without the slightest shame, ignoring the profound loss of values confronting Cuban society, when even Raúl Castro, on July 7, 2013 at the 1st ordinary session of the 8th Term of the National Assembly of Popular Power recognised that for the more than twenty years of the Special Period “there has been an acceleration of the decline of moral and civic values such as honesty, decency, shame, respect. honour, and an absence of sensitivity toward other peoples´problems.”

With these words he recognised that the destruction of Cuban society did not start in the Special Period. What happened is that, from the start of the totalitarian Castro dictatorship, Cubans have had to lie, be dishonest, distort childrens´ education and many other things in order to survive.

Now they say that the school and the family are fundamental in the development of the citizen, but for many years they have not cared about the training and care of the educators. In Cuba, before 1959, they had achieved great advances in public education, and although even more effort was needed to deal with the serious deficiencies in rural education, our schools were forming professionals capable of improving the culture and education of our people.

While it is true that the literacy campaign was an important event in the fight against illiteracy, not everything was wheat, because at the same time a difficult period was starting for Cuban teachers.

With the intention of imposing an educational system which would answer to the interests of the new government, they introduced the law nationalising teaching and set up a unitary educational system under the pretext that the schools we inherited were schools which tended to serve the “spurious” interests of imperialism. Those teachers who were against this were removed from education. The Kindergarten “Normal” Schools, as well as the “Normal” schools for teachers, disappeared, and distinct programmes started up for turning young people into a new type of teacher, like the voluntary teachers (who took intensive courses in the Sierra Maestra). the Makarenko teachers and, more recently, the emerging teachers.

In 1975, in view of the scarcity of teachers, they started the Teacher Training Schools, where 6th grade pupils entered, and which functioned until 1990. These schools started up again in the 2010-2011 academic year, now with 9th grade pupils. There are 22 in the country and this year will be the first graduation.

This is the way they improvised teaching: with kids, adolescents and young people without either the teaching experience, nor the necessary knowledge to carry out the complete activity of teaching and educating.

At the same time, the arbitrary programmes applied in the system, like the boarding schools in the country, where the students had to devote a part of their day to farm labour, separated the children and young people from their families at decisive stages in their upbringing, which accentuated the loss of values.

Also, during all those years, there was the continuous exodus of teachers, driven by the low salaries (no more than 400 Cuban pesos a month, less than twenty dollars U.S.), as well as the poor teaching methods, which impacted on their professional evaluation, and the very bad working conditions.

Nowadays the Cuban school is characterised by the absenteeism of pupils and teachers, by the inappropriate form of dress and way of addressing each other, and also some teachers frequently use obscene words to control the students. And we can´t avoid mentioning the deterioration of the state of the facilities.

As a result of all this, the recent scandal about fraud in the maths exams to enter higher education was no surprise, which came to light when the echoes of the previous case were still reverberating, in relation to the maths test for the eleventh grade the previous year. And the worst of it was everyone knows these weren´t the only incidents, just the ones which were made public. And, sadly, I would dare to say that they won´t be the last. I hope I´m mistaken.

Cubanet, 6 June 2014, Gladys Linares

Translated by GH

The Sewer Waters’ Phantom Truck / Gladys Linares

Many Havana streets barely have any pavement. The drains are clogged. With the rains the overflowing sewers allow sewage out. They try to justify these difficulties with the Special Period, everyone knows that the neglect began in 1959.

Cubanet, HAVANA, Cuba, June 13, 2014 — We residents of the capital have seen how the streets and avenues have been deteriorating for more than 50 years, arriving at the critical situation in which they are today. Although roads are an expensive activity, and the government says it has assigned millions to the rehabilitation of the capital’s main arteries, if a profound drainage restoration is not undertaken, the situation, which is critical, the problem of the floods, as well as the sewer water in our streets, will not be resolved.

The sewer system was designed for a certain number of residents, but Havana’s population has been growing by leaps and bounds, and this creates difficulties. A few days ago through the media it was announced that the government was engaged in improving the capital’s pipeline system.

Barely two years ago the official media released a lot of propaganda about the repair of the avenues, among them Calzada de Dolores, Lacret, Porvenir, Diez de Octubre. But, as is already customary, these jobs were not well done, and a few days ago it made headlines again that the avenues already need new repairs. continue reading

Today many city streets are practically back roads, full of dirt, because there is barely any pavement left. The drains are clogged, and as the sewage system networks are not rehabilitated, when heavy rains flood the streets, the overflowing sewers allow sewage waters to get out. Although there is an effort to justify these problems with the Special Period, everyone knows that the neglect dates from 1959.

Many Havana neighborhoods exemplify this reality. To just mention one, in Santos Suarez, Diez de Octubre municipality, in Rabi and Enamorados streets the situation is critical. But that is not the only place where this occurs. Today Ricardo, a young man who lives on Lagueruela street in Lawton, told me that his patio was full of dirty water that smelled like a grave, and that as the downpour got worse, more came out and ran through the halls towards the street. Also the neighbor, an older lady, called him, startled because water was coming out of her bath drain.

For some time, some people have been removing the drain covers when the streets flood. They think that this way the water will drain faster and so they will prevent the flooding of their houses. But as these grills almost always are in the middle of the streets, this constitutes a danger not only for the pedestrians who try to cross the streets, but also for vehicles like bicycles and motorcycles. Jorge, a neighbor, tells me that recently a man caught his attention and directed him to call the high pressure truck that extracts black water, and he looked at him mockingly and shot back: “Buddy, that truck is a ghost!  I’m tired of calling it and it not coming!”

Translated by mlk.

14 June 2014

Travelling by Tram / Fernando Damaso

Fernando Dámaso | La Habana | 1 Jun 2014 –- My generation used trams when we were kids and early adolescents. After that they disappeared, to be replaced by English Leyland buses, supplied by Autobuses Modernos, known as “nurses” because they were white with a blue stripe running along the bodywork, which looked like the white uniform with a blue cape, which nurses wore.

A Havana tramway token: “Good for one journey” (FD)

Taking a ride on a tram was a whole experience in itself, with its hard basket seats, its wooden windows which you could slide up and down, and the motorman and conductor – that’s what they called the fare collector – with their ’20’s style uniforms, trying to connect the end of the  trolley pole with the electric wires, pulling on two ropes, when the pole had become detached after going too fast around a bend. continue reading

The trams had platforms at the front and the back, at a lower level than the floor of the car itself, which you used to get on and off at the stops. The former had a grill, looking like a moustache which stuck out to push away possible objects on the road, the motorman had the use of a gadget located to his left which allowed him to regulate the speed in a range of between one and nine. If he needed to, he could put it in reverse, making the wheels turn in the opposite direction. The brake was a crank located at the front, which you operated by turning it. The right pedal was used, when going up or down hills, or when it rained, to drop sand on the rails from boxes over the wheels, improving the grip and avoiding skids.

There was also an iron lever used to move the points to change the direction of the rails.

A traffic jam of trams, when one of them had a problem, lasted some time, until the broken-down one was towed out of the way onto a siding. Opposite the stairway to the University, in San Lázaro Street, in the days of the student protests, the students put pieces of soap on the rails, and the trams, abandoned by their passengers, with the motorman trying to control them with their shiny bronze crank handles, shot off downhill, crossing Infanta at top speed, and often getting as far as Belascoaín, so long as they hadn’t derailed on the way. It was also very impressive going down the Loma de Jesús del Monte, where they got up to a high speed, until they arrived at Toyo.

The trams were made of wood and iron and were painted white with yellow stripes. On their front platforms, over the windows and on the right, there was a large letter which indicated the stop – V, Vedado: P, Príncipe; C, Cerro; S, Santos Suárez; and M and L, Jesús del Monte – followed by a number for the route or line, and, on the centre another number which was the vehicle series number.

Under the windows and above the grill, a flag with colours indicating the itinerary: Lawton-Parque Central, Víbora-Vedado, Cerro-Muelle de Luz, etc.

You paid with a special token showing an H in the centre, which had engraved on one side “Havana Electric Railway Co.” (the name of the company), and on the other side “Good for one journey”.

Crossing in a tram over the Puente de Pote, now called the Puente de Hierro, you could see the transparent and clear water of the Almendares River, which was not contaminated in those days. The El Vedado trams looked more elegant. The passengers got on them and got off again in a ceremonious manner at the different stops. It was a comfortable, slow, democratic and safe mode of transport, belonging to a world now gone. It had more to do with a straw hat than a cloth hat.

The Jesús del Monte stop, popularly known as the “The Viper”, was a hub, with cars entering and leaving, with all type of businesses around it. When the bigger buses came along, the traffic got worse: trams and buses crossing and overtaking with just a few centimetres separation, only avoiding scrapes by the expertise of the bus drivers, since the trams moved on fixed rails and couldn’t manoeuvre to one side.

When it was decided to take them out of service, most of them, after having the motors, bearings and trolley poles removed, were used as filling for new streets and avenues, principally in El Vedado and Miramar. Now they are lying under them. They removed the overhead cables and the tracks, some of which were simply covered over with asphalt. Sometimes they stuck out of the many potholes that existed. One of the last trams, converted into a cafe called “Desiree”, remained for several years on a site near the Fuente Luminosa.

The tramway was noisy, and open to the elements, the best way to enjoy it. When it rained, everyone ran about, trying to close the windows which, given their primitive system, they tried several times, and the conductor had to come and help the passengers. If the tramway was near the pavement, there was no big problem in getting on and off, but if it was far away, nearer the middle of the street, it was impossible not to get wet, apart from having to be careful not to be run over by any motor vehicle. There were lots of accidents like that. The tramways were part of an era, and disappeared when it did, leaving those of us who enjoyed it with happy memories

Translated by GH
8 June 2014

Women in Battle Dress / Juan Antonio Madrazo Luna

The drag queens warm up Havana with the steam of their bodies. Prostitution has been their lifesaver.

HAVANA, Cuba – Lolita, Alejandra, Samantha, Paloma, and África María are drag queens who stamp their feet on every Havana street corner during the night, while the city sleeps. Some with warrior faces and others as shy princesses patrol the streets and avenues of a broken Havana.

Lady Gaga is not the icon for them anymore. She has been replaced by Conchita Wurst, the “bearded Austrian” who won the Eurovision Festival. They don’t believe in political surgery or the “factory of genders” that the National Center of Sexual Education (CENESEX) proposes, after converting Adela, a transsexual from Caibarién, into the first delegate of Popular Power.

In the stories of these drag queens we find dysfunctional homes, school drop- outs, sexual violation by a relative, and above all, humiliation and rejection since childhood for being different.

As they consider themselves to be in the wrong body, they have transformed it with accessories, paper-mache tits, hormones, or surgery. The will to live has allowed some of them to work in hospitals, as hairdressers, or by singing in small clubs. For others, prostitution has been their lifesaver. continue reading

Africa Maria is an athletic “Negro” of 27 years. Her corn-blonde wig contrasts with her dark skin. With her spike heels and fleshy lips painted red, she goes out every night, from the male chauvinist district of Los Sitios in Central Havana up to the slums of Vedado. Her theater of operation is 23rd Street. Africa tells us, “We have displaced the hookers from the streets. They don’t consider us true women, because the men who look for us know very well who we are. They come in search of a repressed fantasy.

And she adds, “I came out of the closet when I was 17. I didn’t finish sports school since my father, an awesome solider with medals, who was ascending the ranks, kicked me out into the street. And since then I have not stopped selling my skin. And I’m proud, because in Cuba, to be black, gay, and a transvestite, you have to have big balls.”

Samantha, who considers herself one of the most sought-after transvestites of homoerotic Havana, agrees.

“We render a service, we relieve our clients’ tensions. And no one imagines the dangers we face. Cubans have forgotten the fear of AIDS, that we can get infected. But that’s not our greatest fear. The worst is the macho abusers who abuse us. We walk with a pocket knife or a scissors to defend ourselves. Similarly, a tourist or the police can hurt us. We gamble with life. Although sometimes we experience the tenderness of a desperate Negro, who searches in us for the fantasy of enjoying a white women, a pleasure, sometimes unattainable, because of the racial prejudice in our society.”

Lolita, Alejandra, Samantha, Paloma and Africa Maria warm up Havana, with the steam of their bodies. Every day they look at the sea, at the hope of the arrival of a cruise ship full of sailors. They don’t give up. They are “women in battle dress,” who don’t fear the night.

Friday, May 30, 2014, Juan Antonio Madrazo Luna

Translated by: Alberto and Regina Anavy

1 June 2014

Even Toilet Paper Is A Luxury / Lilianne Ruiz

That the State sells cheap products at high prices is a dreadful cynicism.

HAVANA, Cuba. — First there appeared the “SPAR” products.  Then, on a shelf of the Ultra store in Central Havana, we saw the unmistakable seal with the little red bird from “Auchan.”  Imported products from Europe, which is equivalent to saying, in political terms, from the European Union.

But the prices:

“Very expensive.  Are you looking?  Almost no one buys them,” says the grocer at a small neighborhood market that now displays, also, “SPAR” jellies, cans of bonito and tuna at astronomical prices (in comparison with the buying power in Cuba) and that people do not seem to see; committed as they often are to getting a little package of chicken thighs or some greasy alternative and so to complete the Cuban menu of more fortunate days, too distantly spaced on the calendar: rice, beans, meat, vegetables and the main course, that now cannot be fish or beef.

Everything that the State sells is so expensive that for ordinary Cubans any basic product becomes a luxury. continue reading

With toilet paper there are those who can give themselves the luxury and those who prefer to save it to buy something more urgent.

But that the State is selling “Auchan” at elite prices, a line of products for popular sectors, seems a dreadful cynicism. Because if these products have been leaked through the porosity of the Common Position it means that the Cuban people are thought of as the most affected by scarcity and need. The Cuban people are thought of as hostages to a policy that within the Island, with everyone and the Common Position, has remained immutable, in spite of any reformist makeup.

At the same time that the Cuban government tries to disguise from national and foreign public opinion its unquestionable violations of human rights, it cries, denouncing as meddlesome the position of the European Union and of the United States in defense of democracy for Cubans.

Presumably the European Union will be considering that in all these years it has not managed to benefit the population by the policy that it maintained with respect to the island’s government.

They begin to perceive the first signs of opening, changes must begin, first order products appear, by strict order of learned survival.  Because it is not the same to eat breakfast with cement-like bread and water as to make it with “SPAR” cereals.

But the Cuban government does not recognize liberties, it does not respect rights; which would also bring prosperity to Cuban homes, without exception!  Bent on its own survival, Castro-ism bets on squeezing the nut, and we Cubans pass by the shelf because those delicacies do not appear to have been made for us.

The Cuban government’s message for nationals and foreigners seems the same cynicism as always: “I keep collecting currency, I keep being the same extractor as always, the same parasite as always.”

It is clear. Human rights are the only engine for development, as much for an individual as for a country. You cannot give them up to eradicate poverty. In fact, you cannot eradicate poverty if you sacrifice human rights.

A government that hijacks freedoms should be made to change, especially when the people under its domination have been incapacitated from defending themselves after more than half a century of individual and collective denial.

May 29, 2014 / Lillianne Ruiz

Translated by mlk.

Where to Have Sex in Havana? / Camilo Ernesto Olivera Peidro

He who waits, feels desperate. Internet photo

Havana, Cuba. It happened in the Motel on 11th and 24th streets, near the iron bridge connecting Vedado and Miramar. In a room rented for two hours, the unpleasant whisper was heard: “Mami, you have a wonderful stench!” It was the 1980’s, Cuba was still receiving 5 billion in subsidy from the Soviet Union, the shortages of the Special Period were still far away, but vulgarities were emerging.

More than two decades ago those hotels where people go for sex* (or to make love) — Cubans call them posadas — were abolished in Havana. A cyclone was guilty. The wind and heavy rain left thousands of people in Havana without a roof, and the government, due to the lack of housing, sheltered them in these posadas.

It was a difficult solution for the sheltered ones: “We had to put up a sign at the entrance: ’This is not a posada anymore, families are living here, do not disturb,’” said a person housed there, in the old Venus posada, near the train station, and he added. “Couples would arrive, drunk, screaming, ’Desk clerk, give me a room we are dying to …!’ Imagine those vociferous vulgarities, where small children and old people were living. What a shame!’

The destiny of the posadas in Havana definitely changed after the so-called Storm of the Century, in March 1993. During that time the majority of them were under the control of the Popular Power. Some of them were in a state of disrepair, with leaks in the roofs and mold in the walls.

There are cities in the interior of the country, such as Holguin in the east, where posadas still exist. In that provincial capital, the government managed to set aside years ago a budget for basic repairs of old hotels in the urban area; the Majestic and El Turquino. These maintained payment for services in Cuban pesos (CUP).

In another inland city of Cuba, in Santa Clara, the two hotels, Modelo and América, received investments for repairs and were reopened with a grand pomp. The inhabitants of Santa Clara fixed them in order to have a room where to make love for two hours, which the desk clerks don’t report. Sweet deal.

These advertisements (rooms for rent by the hour, night and day) are often seen in the Malecon area. Photo by CEO.

In the capital, the price for one room — in private houses — corresponds with the facilities that offer, and the location. They charge more in Vedado, close to the zone of the Oncologic and the Calixto García hospitals. In Playa, the tenants, situated close to the Casa de la Música de Miramar, have regular customers. The prices range from 5 CUC per hour.  Depending on the quality of the room and the day of the week, the amount may be higher.

Near Havana’s Malecon — basically an area of prostitution — a lot of families rent their daughter’s room, or that of any family member, by the hour to prostitutes and pimps. One tourist said that, accompanied by a mulatto girl, he came to a house in the Laguna Street in Havana, where the family was watching the soap opera on TV and the father of the family said to one of his daughters: “Go wake up your grandmother, a couple is here.”

In the meantime, in the popular memory the remembrance of the posadas of  eastern Havana or of the Circunvalación, immaculate hotel rooms with air-conditioning, bathrooms with cold and hot water, clean sheets and bar service 24 hours, to which any couple could come by car, without being seen by prying eyes.

In today’s Havana you will find it difficult to find a safe, comfortable and clean room to have sex, if you can’t pay in hard currency or a pile of money; you can risk going down to the reefs, venture into the darkness of a park, although this is not recommended: bad guys are roaming there.

*Translator’s note: Because of the crowded housing conditions in Cuba and the fact that young people can’t afford to live on their own, nor do they own cars, privacy is hard to come by.

Cubanet, 20 March, 2014 | Camilo Ernesto Olivera Peidro

Translated by: AnonyGY, Michaela Klicnikova

“All discussion with the regime should be based on the issue of fundamental rights and freedoms” / Antonio Rodiles

Antonio Rodiles. (AILER GONZÁLEZ)

Pablo Diaz Espi: How do you read the current moment inside the country?

Antonio Rodiles: I daresay we are experiencing today the transfer of power from the “old guard” to their heirs, who are desperately seeking legitimacy and agreements. Facing a Cuba without their progenitors won’t be an easy task and they can’t wait for this time to begin establishing themselves inside and outside the Island.

Cuba citizens every day have to deal with a power that demands more obligations and which, in exchange, grants very few rights. Living conditions are degrading with special emphasis on the vulnerable sectors, such as old people. The so-called new entrepreneurs are swimming in a sea of corruption and the informal economy and the stampede to leave the country continues to be the objective of thousands and thousands of Cubans, especially the young. continue reading

The opposition scenario is clearly being realigned. The escape of talents and entrepreneurs has generated a sensitive vacuum in the group of social actors who should be pushing and supporting change. The impunity with which the State practices violence leaves little room for political groups to move, but the growing discontent generates increasing hotspots that are controlled with declining effectiveness.

PDE: A media intensive initiative asking President Obama to lift the embargo has just been released. What do you think about it?

AR: We should be very clear about what we want for our nation. We need, first and foremost, the reestablishment of basic rights and freedoms. The international pressure, which includes the American embargo, is very necessary to at least contain the impunity enjoyed by the totalitarian regime.

If Cuban citizens continue to be totally defenseless, the cost in political changes will be very high. Certain attitudes that border on masochism and that ask for complacency have been very visible lately and have devastated the country. Prominent figures of civil society have become too evasive and unclear about their political positions, which undoubtedly benefits the regime.

While it would be immature and a little cowardly to close all the doors, it would also be fatal to accept a complicit relativism without a base of principles or axioms that guide our actions.

For decades on our Island we’ve been ruled by lies and simulation, and it’s time for honesty and verticality to claim space in a nation that has been beaten down with regards to those principles.

I think that asking for changes toward the regime without demanding respect for our rights, is an act of contempt towards those of us directly confronting the Cuban dictatorship. Human decency implies verticality toward those who have been the executioners of our nation. Those who brandish the false discourse of tolerance and reconciliation and who hide their opportunism behind a call for plurality of opinions, don’t deserve my respect.

PDE: The regime’s attempts at rapprochement with the United States are increasing to the extent that the political and social crisis in Cuba is worsening. At times, the focus on bilateral relations gains prominence to the detriment of the internal situation in Cuba.

AR: The survival of the regime has always depended on its capacity to be a parasite. Cuba is a totally ruined country, without the least possibility of supporting itself, and Cubans outside the Island possess a power they are not using while allowing the regime to continue to benefit from emotional blackmail. Without the remittances from Miami on the island, we would be facing an even more extreme situation.

Today Cubans live on the remittances sent by their families, but these resources are not sufficient to support the bloated repressive apparatus. The capital required for this comes not from the European Union, nor China, nor Russia, that capital could only come from the “empire.”

Paradoxically, the “empire” is the key to the survival of neocastrismo and everything is focused on it. No wonder the battleground on the issue of Cuba has moved to Cuba-US relations, with the regime being the one showing the most interest in this movement. For the pro-democracy actors we have no alternative but to sustain that duel.

However, it is our responsibility to bring to the fore the inescapable issue of basic rights and freedoms. Any discussion should raise these rights as a condition for any interaction with the regime. The basic freedoms of Cubans should not be a negotiation point but a fundamental premise.

PDE: I understand that the campaign For Another Cuba is entering a new phase. What is that about? (Additional link)

AR: After a year and a half without any response to the petition delivered to the National Assembly of People’s Power, we are calling on every Cuban citizen within and outside Cuba to submit their own complaint demanding the ratification of the United Nations covenants (signed by the Cuban government in 2008), which requires a response by the State within a period of 60 days. It’s not the same to ignore responding to a citizen’s request, that thousands of citizens make this same request.

Moreover, we are anticipating a possible ratification maneuver without the required implementation. I believe the possibility of pushing the regime to ratify is high, we shouldn’t sit and wait for them to develop an evasion strategy, but rather as of right now we must prepare a response to this reality.

PDE: What has the campaign For Another Cuba accomplished so far?

AR: The campaign has had an unquestionable success in bringing to the forefront the ratification of the Covenants, which is essentially the issue of fundamental freedoms. The most notable example is the exhortation during the last Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) summit made by Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, for the regime to ratify them.

At the same time, a group of activists, professionals and artists has come together around the campaign, seeing this demand as a concrete and effective way of working for the democratization of the country. With the collaboration of dozens of activists, we have distributed among the population a ton of printed and audiovisual material. We can say that today, thanks to the campaign, a large group of Cubans know about their rights.

However, realistically, we know that the work is just beginning. The implementation of our fundamental rights entails a process of democratic transition and no one has to tell you how complicated this issue is after 55 years of dictatorship.

PDE: Some critics, or rather skeptics argue that the regime could ratify the Covenants and then not implement them.

AR: I believe that’s one of the most probably scenarios. The regime will see itself forced to ratify them at some not too distant time and will probably try to do so through reservations and still evade their implementation. However, the sole fact of seeing them forced to accept an opposition demand is a victory for us.

How to respond to a possible ratification if they try to use it as maneuver? Well we must have a package ready for necessary transformations in the legal framework and other orders to prevent the violation of the commitments assumed. We are working on identifying all possible violations of fundamental rights in current laws as well as the regulations and provisions arising from the totalitarian structure of the regime in which they violate the letter of these international conventions.

It’s important to clarify they these proposals would be specifically aimed at issues directly connected with the Covenants and not those that presume a possible democratic scenario. I think we shouldn’t lose ourselves in a range of future possibilities when we still don’t know what directions current conditions will take.

PDE: In the campaign, in the new phase you’re talking about, will there be specialized committees working on it? I know there is something about legal security and tax policy. Why start there? What is the current situation and what is the draft proposal about how they will work?

AR: The legal framework of a country establishes the rules that prevail in the dynamic society. Without a legal framework that guarantees fundamental freedoms the result of any process would be too hazardous, no one can guarantee the final destination in a society that works through political patronage, State violence, corruption and a lack of basic principles. We’ll have to find a way to restore basic concepts that govern modern societies.

Moreover, the creation of a legal basis for the emergence of a class of micro, small and medium entrepreneurs is essential. An efficient tax system is also a key to creating the foundations of a healthy state.

Our work has begun on the basic transformations that will have to be made in the Cuban Constitution so that Cubans will recover the minimum rights of citizens. The tax issue is now one of the damaging to Cubans.

PDE: Are there other areas you consider priorities?

AR: There are several areas that have to be reformed in the face of the possible ratification of these international covenants, and one of them is education. Ideology must be separated from education and parents must be able to choose the type of school they want their children to attend; there are old dreams and a demand that must be pressed with the greatest intensity.

The education system faces a terrible crisis, not only material but also one of corruption and a lack of a clear educational policy. Not to mention the disaster caused by the absence of the Internet and the free flow of information.

PDE: The interaction between the internal opposition and the organizations of exile have increased lately. Do you see as positive the new balance of work. What more could or should be done?

AR: I believe this interaction is vital. I can’t say that it’s always been for the benefit of the pro-democracy struggle. Some political actors in exile have tried to impose or stimulate visions barely anchored in the island, visions that presume a non-existent scenario, and far from helping a process of change they generate counterproductive situations.

The motives and interests are many, but it’s clear that several factors must undergo basic changes for the new impulses to prevail. Successes and failures are part of the maturation process that has to happen, the times demand substantial changes.

The joint work along all Cubans who feel a commitment to democratic change must be a sustained collaboration among actors inside and outside of Cuba, especially in the professional, or knowledge, arena. We have mentioned that you can’t think about the transition and the later reconstruction of the nation without a wide participation of the entire human capital today living outside the country.

It would be a leap into the void to ignore so much talent that has abandoned our little island. I dream of having my friends at my side working to create this country that has been missing for so many decades.

Pablo Díaz Espí | Madrid | 22 Mayo 2014

25 May 2014

Dissidents: “It implies an ignorance about how things work here.” / Manual Cuesta Morua, Antonio Rodiles, Jose Daniel Ferrer

Letter to Obama: The internal opposition questions that it doesn’t address human rights on the Island.

Manuel Cuesta Morúa, president of the Progressive Arc Party

“It is not very viable to address the proposal directly to self-employment in Cuba since it implies an ignorance of how things work here . It is the government which grants and takes away the license, which doesn’t allow loans from international banks, and which monopolizes the importation of goods and commodities. So the impact of these potential resources will always be limited.

“I find it interesting that this initiative is based in the United States and not Cuba. It is dangerous for Cuba, like the hug of a bear, because Cuba is very weak as a nation. Nor do I see in this letter a clear defense of human rights and freedoms, and that makes me a little suspicious.” continue reading

Antonio Rodiles, director of Estado de SATS

“This anti-embargo onslaught associated with the silence or support of political actors inside and outside the Island is shameful. Basic freedoms have never come from complacency with the executioners. Those who today are afraid that time is running out must hear direct words, based on the premise of respect for the rights and freedoms of citizens.

“There are times when we have to define the principles that govern us, the political chess should at least have certain basic principles. In our case, the demand for rights is elemental. Oxygen for the tyrants implies suffering for Cubans. If a blank check is given to the dictators, it does not bode well, the costs to become a democratic nation will be high.”

José Daniel Ferrer, executive secretary of the Patriotic Union of Cuba

“Every approach, every issue between whatever free country and Cuba, must have the forefront the situation of human rights. The Castro brothers’ regime is a flagrant and stubborn violator of human rights. At the point where we are today, it wouldn’t be ethical, nor politically wise, because the regime is condemned to disappear. It’s not good that people or institution, looking for economic benefits, want to approach.

“Given the current reality and the rules the Castros maintain, it would be impossible for self-employed workers or independent organizations to receive these credits or grants.

“For that to happen, Cuban must change the rules of the game. And they have to consider the organizations working for a political opening, freedom and democracy. Because as long as the regime maintains a political monopoly, the high taxes that affect every question related to the economy and the productivity of the nation will remain.”

Diario de Cuba | Havana | 20 May 2014

Editor’s note: A website with the letter to Obama is here, or you can download a PDF of the letter here.

The Two Mariels: Mega-Port and Ghetto / Polina Martinez Shvietsova

HAVANA, Cuba — The mega-port of Mariel and the impoverished town of Mariel are two sides of the “prosperous and sustainable socialism” — wealth and poverty — which Raul Castro promotes as a “solution” to Cuba’s problems.

The Brazilian company Odebrecht S.A. and Cuba’s Almacenes Universales S.A. — a subsidiary of the GAESA business group, run by the Cuban Armed Forces — make up the ZDEM business partnership. These two companies formed the Mariel Comprehensive Development Zone (ZDIM), which is managed by Almacenes Universales. Its mission is to provide services to the shipping companies that operate in the mega-port and use its container terminal. These facilities were built to meet the needs of Cuba and provide services to other countries in the area.

Brazil has agreed to provide 800 million dollars of credit subsidies to Cuba. The president of Brazil, Dilma Rousseff, and Raul Castro inaugurated the first phase of the port’s operation. continue reading

The town of Mariel covers 270.6 square kilometers and has a population of 44,597. It is divided into five people’s councils: Mariel Urbano, Boca Mojica-Henequén, Cabañas, Zayas-Ingenito y Quiebra Hacha. The average monthly salary for state workers not employed by the mega-port is 19.50 dollars.

“The town itself is in ruins,” a young pediatrician at the Orlando Santana Hospital tells us. “Why is it so neglected,” she asks, “when we have a multi-million dollar project like ZDEM so close-by?

Silence hangs over the House de Culture. A woman who works there, Consuelo, notes, “The art instructors keep giving lessons as best they can, but young people would rather go to the La Cañita nightclub where regaetton bands and some other son or timba groups play. They sell watered-down draft beer. People are always getting drunk and it leads to violence.”

Emblematic of Mariel is Motel La Puntilla. Built in the 1960s, it remained in operation until sometime after 2000. Now only a small private-event space remains open.

“You are not allowed to take photos as La Puntilla,” an employee who requested anonymity warns me. “Word has it that a company from Artemisa is going to renovate the motel, that a budget has been approved by the province, but no one knows when that will happen,” she adds.

We stroll around the abandoned motel. The swimming pools are empty but otherwise seem to be in good shape. The building, however, requires a significant capital investment.

If you have money you can find pork, beans, fruits and vegetables, but I have to pedal a lot just to eat,” says a bicycle taxi driver, who operates from one end of town to the other, adding, “A pound of pork cutlet is 40 pesos. A pound of rice costs 5 pesos. And you have to buy it from private sources because of shortages at the state-run markets. To give you an idea, a pair of shoes costs 20 CUC.

Leonel, another bicycle taxi driver, explains, “Public transport is a disaster. There is a bus that runs three times a day between Mariel and Havana and costs 2 pesos. A fleet of private taxis charges 30 pesos for the ride to Havana but not everyone can afford to pay that.”

An elderly man in his eighties noted, “They let us fish in the right side of the bay. And if we catch something one week, we reel it in. We can sell needlefish, emperor fish and marlin for 30 pesos a pound.”

In the town of Mariel only the main streets are paved, including the stretch where the Cuban Communist Party headquarters are located. The the rest are full of potholes, leaks, empty trenches and standing water. While its inhabitants look with hope towards the mega-port, there are rumors that foreign investors want to demolish the old Mariel and construct a new town around mega-port.

Cubanet, May 12, 2014,

12 May 2014

The Collapse of ETECSA / Lourdes Gomez

ETECSA (Telecommunications Company of Cuba) telephone office on Callejón del Carmen, in Santiago de Cuba

“The mobile phone you are calling is turned off or is out of the coverage area,” is the response Cuban mobile phone users commonly receive these days. As a result of the cellular blackout and lack of official information, rumors run rampant. All the blame has fallen on the Nauta email system, for taking over the lines.

Finally, on Thursday, April 24, on the national TV news, Hilda Maria Arias, the director of mobile services of ETECSA, the only Cuban telephone company, said: “The problem that most people have encountered is access to the base stations, which is the component of the mobile network closest to the user, through which the signal passes; and data transfers are consuming more resources of that network.” continue reading

The Cuban mobile phone system is the world’s most expensive, and users have no guarantee of receiving services: the monopoly on communication promotes the imposition of abusive prices but does not guarantee anything.

“You send an SMS and arrives the next day, it seems that ETECSA misjudged the mails and now we’re paying the consequences,” says Pedro Ramirez, a 34-year-old craftsman. “Most Cubans don’t have a landline, this service is essential even if its only texting and ringing.”

It certainly seems that they did not expect such a large influx into Nauta mail, opened on March 3: “100,000 new customers have come just for Nauta mail since the service opened, and we are talking about nearly one-third of what we envisioned for the entire year, “said the official. “For more than a year we studied and implemented the processes of needed investments, but did not calculate the fast pace of demand in the short time in which it showed up.”

Not only was the technological part of the business’s infrastructure not ready, but the social as well: access to the offices has become almost impossible due to the long lines for mail and internet.

In the main ETECSA office in Santiago de Cuba, located on Carmen Alley, a user waiting in line who requested anonymity, said: “I just came to pay the phone bill, and you get stuck here for an hour among internet users, those refilling their cell phones, and now the emails. I don’t know how they will do it, but this doesn’t work. They charge too much, don’t take complaints, and we have to put up with it because there’s no competition.”

The solution to network congestion, according to the official, will come within a “short time” because the investments have already been made. But the population does not believe it. The uncertainty continues. For many, the real solution would be to create another telephone company that competes with the outdated monopoly, but already on the TV Roundtable show dedicated to foreign investment it has been stated that telecommunications is not a priority.

So Cubans continue to dream of having normal connection services with the world, as the government makes fun of us, while charging us dearly.

Lourdes Gomez, Santiago de Cuba, May 1, 2014

From Diario de Cuba

6 May 2014

Rebellion Against the Moringa / Tania Diaz Castro

HAVANA, Cuba – Not that my neighbors would agree. It was purely coincidence. While the workers on the state payroll marched in the Plaza of the Revolution, my closest neighbors ran out of patience; they rebelled and demanded that I cut down my moringa tree.

It had been planted in November 2011, less than three years ago, when at the behest of Fidel Castro several trucks handed out saplings in polyethylene bags to the residents of Santa Fe, Cangrejera, Baracoa, Jaimanitas and the residential neighborhoods adjoining the Commander in Chief’s exclusive enclave, known as Ground Zero. continue reading

Along with the free saplings they also delivered a brochure printed for the occasion, explaining the properties of this plant, native to India, which according to the government is able to raise the dead and to nurture the living with protein, without the need of eating beefsteak, something the Commander forbade to us decades ago.

I got into the habit, I have to confess, of dropping its leaves into soup, for its spicy flavor and with the idea that it would infuse protein, as the Comandante recommended to us.

But the neighborhood refused to eat moringa. Pánfilo, a neighbor who repairs bicycle taxis, told me not to talk about it; what he wanted was a good steak. Pedro, the carpenter who had gone to prison for helping to kill a cow, said the same. Chicha and Sonia, their wives, would not even try the recommended infusion, and Angelito, the messenger, said that he was opposed to that nonsense. Even my neighbors the prosecutors, who in compliance with the “guidance from above” had dutifully planted one at the entrance to their condo, were never seen plucking a twig for the daily meal.

I can swear to you that I alone honored the moringa. Until yesterday, May 1st. As thousands of workers marched like migratory animals in front of the successor dictator of the Castro dynasty, some other workers, my neighbors, said that they were not going to put up with any more trash that blew off my moringa, invading walkways, patios, and kitchens. They were talking about the pods, seeds and leaves, which fell onto their food plates.

“Either you cut it down,” I heard them angrily say, “or we will.”

That’s how determined my neighbors were—Laima, a corporate accountant, Juan, a burglar-alarm technician, Yohanny a security guard, and several more.

I argued that it was a one of “Fidel’s trees” and they responded with outrage. They were also aggressive. I said that many had planted moringa in the patios of their homes and I hadn’t heard other protests and couldn’t understand their outrage. They all argued with me at the same time. And while they were doing so, I asked them why the hell they weren’t in the Plaza at the time, because it was May 1st.

Finally, at ten a.m. I gave up and, against my will, asked a friend to cut down the offending tree.

At dawn, when I looked out the window of my room, I saw its sawed off limbs. They seemed like dead skeletons. I couldn’t sleep, and battling insomnia I considered the exaggerated size that my little moringa had acquired, and especially the northerly wind gusts, which contributed to the daily defoliation and launched its thick, spiky seed pods left and right, at the head of anyone around

In addition I realized that, without being aware of it, perhaps because of a love for nature, I had become an accomplice in the last folly of the Maximum Leader of Cuba, when he sent a moringa to be planted at every house, because under his rule none of the workers who marched on May Day in the Plaza had the right to eat a steak, or to drink the glass of milk that his brother promised seven years ago.

May 6, 2014 – Cubanet

Translated by Tomás A.

Manuel Cuesta Morua Nominated for the Vaclav Havel Human Rights Prize

Manuel Cuesta Morúa. (EFE)

The Program for International Democratic Solidarity of CADAL, Democracy Bridge, has nominated Cuban dissident leader Manuel Cuesta Morúa spokesman for the Progressive Arch Party, to the Václav Havel 2014 Human Rights Award, according to their press release.

The award “aims to reward civil society action in defense of human rights in Europe and beyond. The candidates must have made a difference in the human rights situation of a determined group, have contributed to the exposure of large-scale systematic violation, or have successfully mobilized public opinion or the international community to review a particular case,” said CADAL (Center for Democratic Opening in Latin America), based in Argentina. continue reading

Cuesta Morúa founded the Progressive Arch with other dissidents in 2008, “with the intention of bringing together organizations of a social democratic nature, hitherto scattered in and out of Cuba,” said CADAL.

The opponent is also an activist for racial integration and against violence on the Island.

This last January he was arrested in Havana when he organized, along with CADAL and other organizations, a Democratic Forum on International Relations and Human Rights, to be held parallel to the Community of Latin American and Latin American States (CELAC) Summit.

The Cuban authorities accused him of “spreading false news against world peace.” Recently, the regime lifted a provisional release measure that obliged him to present himself to the Police weekly and blocked him from traveling abroad.

The Vaclav Havel Human Rights Prize is annual and is awarded by the Council of Europe in collaboration with the Vaclav Havel Library and the Charter 77 Foundation.

The award was created in memory of Havel, playwright, opponent of totalitarianism, architect of the Velvet Revolution of 1989, President of Czechoslovakia and then the Czech Republic, and “an enduring symbol of the opposition to the dictatorship,” noted CADAL.

From Diario de Cuba, 2 May 2014

You Don’t Remember the Parametracion*? / Victor Manuel Dominguez

Heberto Padilla

Havana, Cuba – If April was the cruelest month for the Anglo-American poet T.S. Eliot, for Cuban writers and artists it has always been a nightmare. Disqualifications, censorship, marginalization and prison for ideological, sexual and religious “deviations” turn the freedom of creation into a nightmare.

While the so-called “Words to the intellectuals” — Within the Revolution everything; against the Revolution, nothing — spoken by Fidel Castro signified a political corral for artistic and literary work in Cuba, the April diatribes transformed Cuban authors into docile sheep. continue reading

From the publication in Olive Green Magazine on 11 April 1965 of Ché’s book “Socialism in Cuba,” where he affirms that the “original sin” of the intellectuals was not having fought against Bastita, to the First Congress of Eduction and Culture, everything went from bad to worse.

With censorship of cultural projects, books, movies, “decadent” movies and works of dance and theater in place beforehand, the celebration of the Congress (23-30 April 1971) was a point of radicalization of the culture within the island, and a break with its followers abroad.

The Cuban Revolution, criticized by friends and enemies at the international level for imprisoning the poet Heberto Padilla, inaugurated during the Congress of policy of repression and intolerance that transcended the national atmosphere, and so as not to maintain the custom, established radical measures in April.

The celebration of a cultural exorcism or political farce staged in the midst of the Cuban Writers and Artists Union (UNEAC) so that Padilla (freed after 38 days in prison) would incriminate himself–in the best Soviet style–of being an enemy of the Revolution unleashed new criticisms in the final declaration and in Fidel’s speech.

The final declaration poured down like hot lead over the intellectuals present at the Congress, condemning all “forms of intellectualism, homosexuality and other social aberrations, any kind of religious practice, and affirms that art should be only at the service of the people.”

Moreover, in his closing speech Fidel railed against Western intellectuals (Sartre, Vargas Llosa, Rulfo, Cortázar, Moravia, Goytisolo, Octavio Paz, among others of the over thirty signatories of a letter published in Le Monde), and coined that “Art is a weapon of the Revolution.”

A year later came the parametración* which, born of the final declaration of the conference, dictated that “it is not permissible that through artistic quality homosexuals gain influence that affect the formation of our youth,” what was expressed legally and given criminal status in a Law.

More than three decades later, starting this coming Friday through Sunday, Cuba’s Palace of Conventions will host the victims and victimizers of a political culture subject to similar ideological and political bosses, who will make them cluck like broody hens the script written by power.

Tongues controlled and holding hands, many committed to the most despicable acts in the national culture, they will joing their voices in the VIII Congress of the UNEAC.

*Translator’s note: Parameterization/ parametración: From the word “parameters.” Parameterization is a process of establishing parameters and declaring anyone who falls outside them (the parametrados) to be what is commonly translated as “misfits” or “marginalized.” This is a process much harsher than implied by these terms in English. The process is akin to the McCarthy witch hunts and black lists and is used, for example, to purge the ranks of teachers, or even to imprison people.

Cubanet, 10 April 2014,

10 April 2014