The Arrogance of Cuba’s Political Police

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Generation Y, Havana, 17 January 2020 — In the last decade there have been several recordings of police interrogations that Cuban activists have managed to make and bring to light. In many of them, State Security officers are heard intimidating, threatening and behaving themselves like the owners and lords of the whole country, above the law, above human life and above citizens’ rights. But the audio achieved by the photographer Javier Caso during an “interview” with the political police is invaluable as a testimony and as an X-ray of an entire era.

The Cuban, who lives in the United States and is the brother of the renowned actress Ana de Armas, recently visited the island and repeatedly contacted actress Lynn Cruz and film director Miguel Coyula. It was enough for him to meet with his friends of a lifetime to receive a summons from the Department of Immigration and Foreigners. Once there, a script was developed that was well known to dissidents, opponents and any independent journalist who has ever been summoned to this type of police trap.

The audio recorded by Caso, who by the mere fact of recording the voices on a device shows great courage, manages to convey the absurdity of the situation, the arrogance of the interrogators and that atmosphere where the individual is at the mercy of a surveillance device and control capable of ignoring the Constitution, the Criminal Code and whatever legal resolution there is on this Island. The young photographer met two men who personify the true power that controls Cuba, above deputies, ministers and presidents.

It is a grotesque and cruel face that springs from the impunity of a repressive institution that has been running freely for decades

The officials are ridiculous, they mouth barbarities such as that the Cuban police are the fifth best in the world or dare to decide who can be called an artist or not, although they themselves may not know one iota about creative expressions or contemporary art.

The great triumph of Caso is to take, with apparent naivety but with much intelligence, the conversation to a point where the seguros have to take off their masks and show the true face hidden under bureaucratic formalities and an apparent respect for order. It is a grotesque and cruel face that is born from the impunity of a repressive institution that has been running freely for decades and whose arrogance ends up opening it to ridicule in this conversation.

Since new technologies broke into the Island, there have been many testimonies (photos, audios, videos) that attest to the lack of a framework of rights in which we Cubans live, but this recording has a special merit. In addition to the quality with which one listens and the equanimity of the person being questioned to get the officials to expose themselves, this testimony causes an outrage that is not easily placated. The more we hear of it, the greater is a rage that grows and becomes a decision and a conviction: we cannot allow the political police to continue ruling Cuba.

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Yasel Porto and Cuban Baseball: The Messenger Must Always Die

Porto already had to defend himself against the accusations of Víctor Mesa, to whom he said he expressed his opinions “as long as possible, there, in the places where the decision makers will see them.”

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Ernesto Santana, Chicago, 11 December 2019 — The  “reappearance” of Yasel Porto on Cuban television, in what turned out to be just program re-broadcast, is revealed as a crude and typical trick of disinformation, but it is also a sample of the nature of the expulsion of the popular sports reporter and commentator, which is not just the result of a clash between a journalist and a senior sports executive.

Yasel Porto was removed after asking that the Cuban baseball manager Higinio Vélez be replaced, which made him suspect this was the cause for which he was punished. But it has not been essentially because of it, nor because he has expressed only an individual opinion. Maybe not even because he stepped over the red line. Simply, he was already classified as a target to demolish. His elimination had already been planned, and then the right time came along.

Among the notable aspects of this scandalous injustice is, above all, the fact that the suggestion the presidency of the Cuban Baseball Federation (FCB) should replace Vélez was made by Porto, in passing, and he immediately emphasizied that the determining factor was not to substitute one manager for another, but to make “radical changes” in Cuban baseball “because, if not, whoever comes will be in the same situation.” continue reading

It is well known that, although the depth of the changes requested by observers and specialists varies, the vast majority agree that the role of Higinio Vélez has been disastrous with regards to the results obtained in the national sport in recent years. So we have a message addressed to that majority: the only opinion that matters is that of those who control both the FCB and Cuban television.

It is noteworthy that, in the post-production of Bola Viva (Live Ball), Porto’s proposal will be preserved even if it did not coincide with the opinion of the sports newsroom that scripts the program. And the difference between a Rodolfo García, a former presenter, and the sanctioned journalist is abysmal — thanks to a decision that goes far beyond the administrative.

Only a few weeks ago we could see on the internet a brief interview by Porto of Camilo Rodríguez, the catcher ejected from a game in Havana’s Latin American Stadium, which seems an international record. The expulsion of the uncomfortable is a norm at all levels of the country, although here it is an extremely annoying case for the upper hierarchy.

For several years, Porto has been dedicated to advocating for a unified team with the best of Cuban baseball from outside and inside the country, for demanding honesty and transparency from sports officials and for broadcasting Major League games on television.

He has also promoted the meeting of Industriales players on both shores, has conducted interviews with our stars in the Grand Tent — only published on social networks — and, on top of everything, has related to important major league figures and has produced important audiovisuals with economic independence from the country’s authorities.

Everything, of course, in favor of the glory of national sport, as evidenced by the usual and always awarded Baseball program, where he has dedicated himself to rescuing forgotten facts and figures from our ball with the support of such outstanding and endearing connoisseurs as Ismael Sené.

Just over a year ago, before the accusations from Victor Mesa in Miami, Porto published a reply on his Facebook profile where he detailed the principles of his work and declared that he was “living for baseball and not from baseball.” In addition, he said he expressed his views “as long as possible, there, in the places where the decision makers will see them.”

“For some I am a communist, for others a gusano [’worm’], but luckily, for most, a Cuban who tries to contribute to his country’s baseball,” he continued, claiming to defend his truth over personal relationships and ideological differences. In fact, he described his friends as “very diverse because of their political positions.”

As we see, there are no lack of reasons for him to become a target of the powerful. And not only because he is the opposite of a Vélez who lives at the expense of the players and watches out more for the interests of the Government than for those of baseball, or the opposite of a sports journalist like Rodolfo García himself, so reverent with the political hierarchy.

Yasel Porto became, for that hierarchy, a terrible example for all of official journalism. His colleagues have perfectly understood the lesson. Only one of his colleagues in the sports newsroom of television, Renier González, has supported him through his social networks. “Cuba needs people like Yasel Porto, who are not interested in positions or welfare, people who do things for the good of society,” he wrote. The rest are silent.

Although none of the sessions of the popular consultation on baseball throughout the country has been disclosed, it has been leaked that there is a broad rejection of the permanence of Higinio Vélez at the head of the FCB. But not even if this repudiation was paid attention to would it mean that popular opinion had been taken seriously.

Porto would hardly be vindicated if Vélez were replaced, because one of the journalist’s sins has been precisely to become a spokesperson for a majority. That, in the logic of social control in Cuba, requires severe punishment so that others learn and journalism does not become what it should be, a vigilant and critical entity with power.

Some believe that the messenger has been killed by mistake, despair or injustice, and they do not understand the real point. No message is wanted and this is the premise: the messenger must always die.

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Cuban Regime Has Changed its Repressive Tactics

Since 2018, the strategy of informing activists about their “regulated” status — that is they are not allowed to travel outside the country — at the time of passing through the Immigration window has become more common. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 17 December 2019 — The methods of the Cuban Government to repress the opposition have grown in subtlety in recent times, as has been denounced on multiple occasions. The most recent organization to call attention to this fact is the Foundation for Human Rights in Cuba (FHRC), which released a statement on Monday that warns of this change and launches a battery of recommendations to address it.

For the FHRC, the new formulas consist of blocking the exits or trips abroad of people critical of the Government (the government defines them as “regulated”), the increase of administrative measures against non-militant critics, the immobilization of activists in their homes to cancel their meetings and activities, and the fabrication of common criminal cases to justify prison sentences. On the upper end of the scale is the ultimatum to leave the country with the threat of more serious measures if they decide to stay.

To address this new strategy, the FNRC is asking the international community and NGOs to readjust the methodology used to collect repression data in order to include these cases that could be omitted: recording house arrests, “regulated” status, accusations of “pre-criminal dangerousness,” and administrative sanctions, in addition to providing a complaints channel for the injured. continue reading

Other suggested measures are the establishment of databases of the individual repressors that include all types of personal and professional data, as well as the accusations they make against citizens; the application of international sanctions on them and their families, which may consist of denying them visas or prohibiting the sending of remittances to them from abroad; and facilitating telecommunications for citizens who show their interest in reporting.

The Foundation for Human Rights in Cuba admits that the arrests have clearly dropped, from 9,942 in 2016 to 2,873 in 2018, according to data from the Cuban Commission on Human Rights and National Reconciliation, whose activity has ceased but whose data gathering been assumed by the Cuban Center for Human Rights.

However, this decrease in arrests is not due, the organization said in its statement, “to the fact that the authorities have become more benevolent, but to the greater effectiveness of the complaints of more and more citizens with access to digital technologies joined with the creation of customized databases abroad with information on repressors, which has already led to international convictions and sanctions.”

According to the FHRC, since the international rejection sparked by the Cuban government’s actions in the Black Spring of 2003, repressive methods have been blurred to lessen criticism while maintaining levels of coercion.

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Challenging Her Dismissal from the Historians Office to Denounce "Arbitrariness"

Genlui is prohibited from entering the office if she is not accompanied by the administrator or a specialist. (Cubanet)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 10 January 2020 — Claudia Genlui Hidalgo, a worker at the Office of the Historian, was fired at the end of December after giving a talk on independent art at the Embassy of the Czech Republic. Genlui filed an appeal with the Attorney General’s Office this week despite her distrust of the usefulness of the process.

“I do not believe I will get my job back and much less the position that I had within the Office of the Historian. They were very clear and it goes beyond whether or not I committed an infraction. It has long annoyed them that I was in that position. When, in April, I commented on the arrest during the Biennial of Luis Manuel Otero, who was arrested supporting Daniel Llorente, there was already pressure placed on my to step down, but I decided I would not,” she tells 14ymedio.

As she recalls, at that time the pressure also came from her boss, who sent her a message saying she should ask to leave the workplace because she came out in defense of the artist, who is also her partner. “It didn’t seem fair and I didn’t ask to leave. I stayed there, but it generated a lot of tension,” she adds. continue reading

Although Genlui does not have good expectations fpr the outcomes of the process she has started now, she argues that she has decided to carry it out “to give visibility to the process” and to expose “all those cracks and arbitrariness that they have committed and are committing.”

For the curator there are many intellectuals and people who “were once linked to a position within the institutions as workers and, for thinking differently or relating to people who think differently, were subjected being fired from their workplace or other sanctions, as is the case with Oscar Casanella.”

Now the Prosecutor’s Office has a maximum period of 60 days to respond to the art historian, who handed them a copy of the legal document sent by her lawyers on December 30. “In that appeal the facts are narrated as they happened,” she claims.

The workers of Factoría Habana, the art gallery from which she was expelled, reject the measure imposed on her, according to her version. “One of them protested because in the meeting that was held to talk about my expulsion he was not allowed to be present while he was on vacation and only found out about it through the networks. Upon returning he made his position clear, as did my other two colleagues. Even the administrator has supported me at all times,” she says.

Despite this, Genlui is prohibited from going to the office if she is not accompanied by the administrator or a specialist. “The other day I wanted to go up to pick up some things that I had left. The fact that they wouldn’t let me pass was shocking to me, but it’s the order they have been given,” she explained. “Concha Fontenla, my director, neither defended me nor condemned me, just simply sent me a message to tell me that she wished me luck and, more recently, another to wish me a Happy New Year.”

The historian says that the fair thing would be for there to be a trial in which she can state all the reasons why she considers the measure unfair and where she can learn the true reason that she has been permanently fired from her job.

Before being fired Genlui held the position of principal specialist of Factoría Habana, which, in practice, made her director of the institution. In addition, she is part of the San Isidro Manifesto and has carried out several works related to independent art and curatorships such as the Luis Manuel Otero Alcantara project, The Flag Belongs to Everyone.

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The UN Expresses Concern for Working Conditions of Cuban Doctors on Missions

Cuba negotiates with third countries for payments for its doctors and then gives the doctors themselves a small portion of that pay. (United Nations)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, January 6, 2010 — The United Nations expressed concern for the working conditions of Cuban doctors sent on medical missions, according to a document made public and sent to the Island last November. The Cuban Government did not respond.

Urmila Bhoola, Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, and Maria Grazia Giammarinaro, Special Rapporteur on human trafficking, sent a letter to the Cuban Government expressing concern after the complaint by Cuban Prisoners Defenders, a European NGO, that accuses the authorities of human trafficking and slavery through its medical missions.

“The working conditions reported could be considered involuntary servitude, according to the indicators established by the International Organization of Labor. Involuntary servitude constitutes a contemporary form of slavery,” the reporters wrote to the Cuban Government, which still has not responded to the missive. continue reading

Cuban Prisoners Defenders, in its denunciation, gives details about the conditions in which thousands of Cuban doctors and professionals work in the rest of the world. More than 75% of their salaries goes into the hands of the Cuban Government.

The exportation of services is the principal source of income for the Cuban economy and has averaged more than 11 billion dollars a year in the last decade, according to official sources.

The Cuban medical missions in the region are controversial. The New York Times reported that medical attention in Venezuela was used to get votes for the Government. Bolivia and Ecuador ended their contracts with Cuba after turbulent incidents, and the government of Jair Bolsonaro, in Brazil, pushed for the removal of the doctors, considering the agreement with Cuba a form of “modern slavery”.

The Cuban Government contracts directly with third countries for payment for its doctors but gives the doctors themselves a small fraction of the pay. The pay goes into their accounts in Cuba, and the funds are frozen to ensure that the doctors will fulfill their three-year contracts. In case of defection from the mission, their pay passes to the Government.

There are no legal work agreements, and Cuban Prisoners Defenders has documented working shifts of 62 hours per week, restriction of movement and surveillance by the supervisors of the program.

“Many professionals reported receiving threats regularly from Cuban State officials in the countries where they are sent, and women doctors have suffered rape while participating in international missions,” says the document published by the United Nations.

The U.N. is also concerned about the punishment for doctors who decide to abandon the missions outside Cuba.

“Doctors considered deserters will not be able to return to Cuba for eight years, and the families who remain in Cuba will be subject to stigmatization and repercussions from government entities,” explains the text.

In the letter, Cuban Prisoners Defenders says that other professionals—teachers, engineers or artists—will also be submitted to similar work conditions and lives.

The U.N. asked Cuba for an explanation about the conditions related by the NGO, but the government of Miguel Díaz-Canel didn’t respond. Cuba has denounced what it considers a U.S. “campaign to discredit” the work that its doctors are doing in the Exterior. Cuba says it uses the doctors’ earnings to sustain the national health system.

Translated by Regina Anavy

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

Police Search Home of Reporter Iliana Hernandez

Activist Iliana Hernández has spent several years confronting authorities, who submit her to strict control with frequent brief detentions. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, January 8, 2020 — The police began a search of the home of reporter and activist Iliana Hernández in the early hours this morning in the town of Cojimar, east of Havana, according to a report from CiberCuba.

“A group of people appeared suddenly at the home of the activist, and the spokesman was an official who identified himself as ’captain Lázaro Zamora,’ police investigator,” reported the website to which the activist also contributes.

“Good morning, first of all turn off the phone,” the police official told Hernández when the reporter inquired about the reasons for the search. “The police proceeded to snatch away her phone and cut off communication,” adds the note. continue reading

The activist has spent several years confronting authorities, who submit her to strict control with frequent brief detentions. On May 11 she was arrested during the march organized by the LGBTI community in the central Paseo del Prado in the direction of the Malecon.

On that day, several activists, among them Hernández, were intercepted and violently arrested by police and State Security agents.

A month later she was detained again when she was heading to celebrate her 46th birthday, and a week after that, again, for organizing protests demanding a reduction in the prices charged by Etecsa, the state telecommunications company.

The activist has been one of the people most involved in these campaigns that in summer kept the authorities in suspense about the number of people joining them by getting the topic trending with the hashtag #BajenLosPreciosDeInternet (Lower Internet prices).

Police searches and raids on the homes of opposition figures, activists, and independent journalists have been a frequent repressive tactic in the past half century in Cuba. As a general rule, officials seize literature, work materials, electronic devices, and mobile phones.

Translated by: Sheilagh Herrera

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14ymedio’s Faces of 2019: Alexander Otaola, "Youtuber"

Lately through his YouTube program, ¡Hola! Ota-ola, Alexander Otaola has led the initiative known as the “January halt”.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, December 26, 2019 — The Cuban presenter and influencer Alexander Otaola Casal had a meteoric rise in 2019 through his program, ¡Hola! Ota-ola, where he mixes humor, interviews, political activism and entertainment. Born in Camagüey in 1979, Otaola took his first steps as an actor at age 10 in school performances and soon after joined a group of theater aficionados in the Casa de la Cultura in the city.

As a teenager, Otaola hosted a provincial television program, Mundo de Fantasía (Fantasy World), and he also was on Radio Cadena Agramonte. For three years he was part of a group of radio actors and interpreted several childike characters. At the age of 15 he wrote two screenplays.

In 1992 he was chosen to be part of the cast of ¡No!, an adventure series, and after a year of recording in Havana, he returned to Camagüey to finish his media studies with a specialty in acting. In 1997 he joined the Conjunto Dramático de Camagüey, where he interpreted several classical characters, and two years later he decided to live permanently in Havana, where he worked at Radio Progreso and Radio Arte. continue reading

Otaola performed in several series and telenovelas, and in 1998 he requested a visa from the U.S. lottery and arrived in Miami in 2003. He worked as a waiter for five years, then a baker and had other jobs until he resumed his career in 2008, acting in soap operas and shows on Spanish television. In 2010, Otaola received an award for Best Theater Monologue of the Year, and in 2011 he obtained recognition as Best Monologue Actor in the International Festival of Short Works.

Lately, and through his program ¡Hola! Ota-ola on YouTube, he has led the movement known as the “January Halt”,  which promotes cutting off remittances, telephone recharges and trips from the exile community to the Island. His audience in Cuba grows every day, and the official press avoids mentioning his work, since he is a harsh critic of the Regime in his show.

In April 2019, the program ¡Hola! Ota-ola had been on the air for two years, and according to data, more than 9,000 people were watching it every day.

Translated by Regina Anavy 

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Researcher and Essayist Tato Quinones Dies in Havana

Throughout his life, Serafín ’Tato’ Quiñones dedicated himself to defending the values of Afro-Cuban culture. (Facebook)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, January 12, 2020 — The researcher and essayist Serafín ’Tato’ Quiñones passed away in Havana this Sunday afternoon at age 77. Considered an expert in Afro-Cuban matters, the also-historian published several studies on racism in Cuban society and the Abakuá fraternity.

Born in Havana in 1942, Quiñones worked as a history professor and journalist, and was also the founder of and a contributor to numerous publications, carried out several socio-cultural investigations, and worked as a screenwriter for television programs.

Self-educated, controversial, having a deep knowledge of diverse religions and practices of African origin, Quiñones leaves a hole that is difficult to fill in the national culture. continue reading

Several of his stories, compiled under the title Al final del terraplén, el sol (At the end of the embankment, the sun) won the David Prize in 1970 and his volume A pie de obra (1990) showed his maturity as a narrator. One of his most recognized books is Ecorie Abakuá: Cuatro ensayos sobre los ñáñigos cubanos (1994), which consists of four essays of short length.

Throughout his life, Serafín ’Tato’ Quiñones dedicated himself to defending the values of Afro-Cuban culture and the participation of ñañigos and abakuá in the wars of independence. He made several documentaries that highlight the syncretic particulars of Cuban santeria, among them La magia del tambor in reference to the Batá drums.

In his book Afrodescendencias, he mixed genres like chronicle, interview, storytelling, legend, and essay to tackle the link between blackness and race, oral tradition and slavery, racism and society. A volume with a relaxed but critical tone which includes testimonies from Cubans whose activism or participation in secret societies, like abakuá, put them face to face with social and political prejudices.

After learning of his death on Sunday, on his Facebook wall, the professor and essayist Julio César Guanche published a message in homage to Quiñones. “The most learned babalawo of Cuba has died, the most complete historian of the Abakuá fraternity, a champion of the popular world.”

For his part, the professor Esteban Morales lamented the death of this “man of pure heart and commitment to the homeland… We lose him when we need him most for the decisive battle that we must fight against racism.”

One of his last public presentations happened in September when he gave the conference Addodis and Alakuata: A brief attempt to broach homosexuality seen from the Cuban popular religion of the Orishas.

His wake will be held at the funeral home at Calle 70 and 29th in the Havana municipality of Playa.

Translated by: Sheilagh Herrera

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14ymedio’s Faces of 2019: Beatriz Batista, Protecting Animals

Beatriz Batista studies social communication.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, December 25, 2019 — Beatriz Batista, a young woman of 21 years, is a student of social communication, and she gained popularity in 2019 as the principal organizer of the first demonstration for animal rights in Cuba, held in April. The demonstration took place on calle 25 in Vedado, Havana, and went from Quixote Park up to the Colón Cemetery. It was the first independent demonstration in the last half-century where signs were allowed to be carried.

Unexpectedly, the demonstration brought together more people than expected, and Batista appeared hopeful. She said this would mark a before and after in the struggle to end violence against animals.

Months later, in November, the young woman again mobilized in favor of a law to defend the rights of animals, motivated by the visit of the Spanish Royals for the 500th year of the founding of Havana. The authorities carried out massive sweeps of street dogs and killed them in order to keep the streets “clean”. Batista, together with other animal rights supporters, organized a protest in front of Animal Control and was able to get a meeting with the authorities to discuss the subject. Both parties were satisfied with the advances achieved, and in spite of slow results, already some significant commitments have been made by the Government.

Translated by Regina Anavy

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Mexico Wants to End the Lines to Apply for Visas in Havana

The Mexican embassy has not yet shut down the previous appointment website, although it has already explained its future mechanism.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 10 January 2020 — The Mexican Embassy in Cuba is preparing a new system to apply for visas that will come into force soon, although it has already detailed how it will be done. Online appointments will put an end to the lines, as well as the ’business’ that some make out of the current system, hence the announcement boldly highlights the phrase “Remember that obtaining times and appointments are free.”

The new formula, Citas Cuba (Cuba Appointments), will require entering a page not yet available and the link to which will be provided to a registered user with passport data. The holder must select the procedure that he wishes to perform once he has accessed his space and there he will be assigned a turn from the list that has been digitally created.

The user will receive their turn by email and must appear on the day and time assigned with the documentation required for the procedure and the printed appointment. If they have not received it, they can enter the system and find out when the last appointment was.

In Cuba, the slowness and lack of digitalization of most procedures generates long waiting times and lines. Many people who do not have the time available to lose it in these procedures are willing to pay to save their time, which has resulted in an informal business usually covered by retirees who supplement their low pension selling places in line.

The previous mechanism to obtain a consular appointment at the Mexican embassy was harshly criticized and accused of mishandling. The applicants complained that the online registration did not work and the appointments were sold out a few minutes after each month’s places for interviews were announced.

This created another informal appointment buying system, which cost between 300 and 500 CUC (roughly the same in dollars). The digital classified sites offered the possibility of obtaining “an appointment at the Mexican consulate, without lining up and with guaranteed success.”

Outside consular headquarters, located on 12th at the corner of 7th in Miramar, west of Havana, it was also common to find people who were loitering and offering “a quick appointment for next week,” a phenomenon that was further enhanced when Mexico introduced 10-year visas and multiple entries, much requested by the mules, who travel especially to the Cancun area, with short and cheap flights.

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

Cubans Must Wait Days To Take Cash Out Of Their Dollar Accounts

The authorities warn that because dollars aren’t being released by the Central Bank of Cuba, their availability in branch offices may vary. (Flickr/Maxence)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, December 26, 2019 — Clients who have dollar accounts, which were announced with great fanfare this past October, have to wait several days to withdraw their dollars from the banks “in accordance with existing availability,” according to an announcement by the Central Bank of Cuba in the official press.

“The bank is not establishing limits for the withdrawal of cash; the amount will depend on the balance that exists in the account,” says the notice. It states that “it is not possible for the banks to pre-establish an exact date when the requested U.S. dollars can be delivered.” These limitations are also applied to other forms of hard currency associated with debit cards, like the euro, the Canadian dollar or the Mexican peso.

“Because no money is being released by the Central Bank of Cuba, availability in bank branches may vary.” However, “the bank will always try to respond to requests in the least amount of time possible,” the information says, which comes in the middle of an increase in complaints about how hard it is to withdraw cash. continue reading

For months, this problem has affected the bank accounts in hard currency that existed in the country before the opening of the new chain of shops in foreign money. Many Cubans deposited this money, fundamentally, to meet the conditions of the the consulates of several countries, which require Cubans to be able to show a bank account with hard currency in order to apply for a visa, with the amounts required varying from country to country.

But since the middle of October, and with the opening of dollar accounts associated with debit cards to use in the new hard currency shops, the difficulty of withdrawing the money, known as fulas in popular slang, has increased. This has been accompanied by an increase in the informal market of U.S. dollars due to the uncertainty that surrounds the convertible peso (CUC).

On the black market, where transactions between individuals take place, a dollar can buy 1.20 CUC, much more than the 0.95 rate that it had at the beginning of the year. The rise has motivated many clients to take their dollars out of the bank and resell them on the informal networks where they can get CUCs to resell to tourists from countries like Panama or the U.S.

Hard-currency accounts can be opened without making an initial deposit and don’t have a minimum balance requirement. They don’t earn interest nor charge a commission, explain the employees of the Central Bank. “It’s a method of payment issued by the Cuban banks, which gives them access to purchases in the authrorized stores for the sale of merchandise in U.S. dollars.”

In addition to being used in the hard currency shops, the debit cards associated with these accounts can also be used in the convertible peso shops or to take money out of the ATMs in convertible pesos or Cuban pesos.

Translated by Regina Anavy

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

14ymedio’s Faces of 2019: Guillermo Garcia Frias, Commander

Guillermo García Frías is a Cuban soldier, politician and commander of the Revolution

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, December 25, 2019 — Born in Pilón on February 10, 1928, of peasant origin, García Frías was a muleteer for Crescencio Pérez, a peasant who collaborated with the rebels on their expedition through the Sierra Maestra, and who asked the young García Frías to do the same, guiding Castro’s men. Thus he rose through the ranks of the army, and in 1959 became a Commander of the Revolutionary Armed Forces.

He has been the head of the Western Army, Vice President of the Council of State and Ministries and the Minister of Transport and was decorated as a Hero of the Republic of Cuba. Presently he is the head of the National Enterprise for the Protection of Flora and Fauna.

In 2019, he became the focus of one of the most popular posts on social networks when he appeared on the state TV show Mesa Redonda (Roundtable) and said that the meat of the hutía, a large rodent found in the countryside, has “more protein than any meat” and a skin of “high quality.” He also praised the ostrich and said it produced more meat than a cow. These statements made him a focal point of national humor, and the words “crocodile”, “hutía” and “ostrich” started trending on social media, where an infinity of memes and jokes circulated.

Translated by Regina Anavy 

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

Crucifixes and Yoruba Bracelets Enter Cuban Schools, But Jewish Symbols Do Not

The Tejada family was warned of the possible consequences of not bringing the child to class. (Jerusalem Post)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, January 8, 2020 — Monday, January 6, the first day of classes after the brief end of year vacation, was the deadline of the ultimatum given by the District Attorney’s office of Nuevitas, in Camaguey province, for two Jewish students to agree to take off the kippah to be allowed to go to school, a requirement in line with the rules, according to the school.

The school rule relies on a 2015 resolution from the Ministry of Education that “prohibits the use of garments, adornments, accessories, and other elements not in accordance with the school uniform” but does not specify that the prohibition extends to religious symbols.

In fact many students wear crucifixes, medals with Catholic saints, and bracelets from the Yoruba religion. The head provincial education inspector in Camaguey told Olainis Tejeda, the child’s father, that “those were violations that were being committed against the school rules, but were being rectified little by little,” when he asked about the different treatment. continue reading

Tejeda has spent three years trying to make school authorities understand that his children have the right to wear this religious symbol whose use, in the case of the older son, has also been the cause of bullying from other children, without proper measures having been taken to stop it.

After a long process of complaints and appeals the “solution” was reached when the municipal District Attorney’s office warned that if the parents persisted in their intention they could commit the crime of “acts contrary to the normal development of the child” anticipated in article 315 of the Penal Code.

This article obliges parents not to neglect the support and education of their children and in its third section specifies that whoever leads a minor to “miss school, reject the educational work inherent in the national education system” can be penalized with prison from “three months to a year or a fine of one hundred to three hundred shares* or both.”

Tejeda said that the children’s maternal grandmother has also been threatened and that in the final days of the last year a State Security agent warned her that when the children’s parents were imprisoned she would have to take care of them. The official said that if she insisted that her grandchildren wear those symbols, she would also go to prison.

Tejeda argues that he is not refusing for his sons to attend the school, but rather demanding the right for them to wear their religious symbols there. “The school is the one preventing them from entering if they don’t take off the kippah,” he explained to 14ymedio.

At the end of December Liusdán missed the opportunity to take the test for Artistic Education because he was denied entry. “On top of that, they counted that day and all the others that he wasn’t able to enter as unjustified absences,” says the father.

There is no permanent rabbi in Cuba so there is no Jewish community, strictly speaking, only associations. This religion lacks an interlocutor recognized by authorities, just as nobody has the power to “officially register” belonging to Judaism.

In the 50s the Jewish population on the Island was around 15,000 people, the majority of whom lived in the capital. After 1959, 90% emigrated, mainly to the United States. Currently the number of Jews living in Cuba is approximately 1,500.

Among the main Jewish institutions currently present on the Island are the Adath Israel Hebrew Religious Community of Cuba, the Sephardic Hebrew Center of Cuba, the Chevet Ahim Hebrew Union, and the Home Board of the Hebrew Community of Cuba. Camaguey and Santiago de Cuba have synagogues.

Olainis Tejeda explains that his grandfather, of Galician origin, whom he only knew by references, was his main influence to practice this religion. “My aunts would tell me that he would recite in a language that no one understand. Later I found out that they were fragments of the Torah recited in Hebrew.”

When John Paul II made public the processes of the Holy Inquisition he was able to read about the subject “out of pure intellectual curiosity” when he saw his surname could be of Jewish origin and he continued investigating. He thus confirmed himself in that faith, identifying himself with the Bnei Anusim branch, who are the descendants of those Spaniards whom the Inquisition forced to convert to Christianity in the 15th century.

“I’ve heard that when a Jew enters a place where he can wear a kippah, he knows that he is in a safe place, if he has to take it off then that place isn’t safe for a Jew,” says Tejeda, who adds: “Sometimes I have the impression of feeling the same as our ancestors, with the difference that this time they are trying to convert us to atheism.”

*Translator’s note: The Cuban penal code defines fines in terms of “shares” with the value of a share identified in a separate section. In this way, all fines can be changed simply by changing the value of a share, without editing the entire code.

Translated by: Sheilagh Herrera

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

14ymedio’s Faces of 2019: Camilo Condis, Entrepreneur

Camilo Condis questions the authorities about their exercise of power through Twitter.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 29 December 2019 – An industrial Engineer from the Technological University of Havana (CUJAE) with a Master’s degree in Business Administration from the San Antonio de Murcia Catholic University of Spain, Camilo Condis is an entrepreneur and a community activist. He has worked on the Catholic magazine Espacio Laical (Lay Space) and the CubaEmprende Project, which seeks to train and support those who decide to make their way in the private sector.

Since 2011 he has worked with Artecorte, a non-profit community organization for which he serves as general administrator. Condis advocates the development of the self-employed sector in Cuba and resides in Havana.

In 2019, along with two other Internet users, he started the Radio Enjambre podcast, discussing the universe of Twitter in Cuba and other current issues. From that platform, Condis has stood out for questioning public officials about the performance of their duties, highlighting the importance of new technologies and addressing entrepreneurship issues.

See also:  14ymedio’s 14 Faces of 2019

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

14ymedio’s Faces of 2019: Ricardo Fernández Izaguirre, Journalist

Independent reporter Ricardo Fernández Izaguirre was arrested twice in 2019. (14ymedio)

14ymedio biggerThe contributor to La Hora de Cuba and 14ymedio Ricardo Fernández Izaguirre (born Camagüey, 1983), who is also a prominent Christian activist, met all the necessary conditions to raise the Government’s anger; and so it happened in 2019.

In July, he was arrested in Havana when he left the headquarters of the Ladies in White when he was going to the bus station to return to his province of residence. The police kept him nine days under arrest and finally released him with a warning letter for an allegedly illegal stay in the capital that Fernández could prove was not, because he had travel tickets to Pinar del Río.

In November, he was arrested again, this time for 29 hours, during which he was interrogated on numerous occasions by State Security agents who warned him that this was “a lesson” while the legal process was being settled by an investigation. The police intend to take him to court for “usurpation of legal capacity” – a term they apply to individuals whom they consider to be exercising a profession without the legal right to do so. In Fernández’s case the government claims that he cannot exercise journalism; an accusation that derives from the interrogations of several people interviewed by the reporter for an article he wrote about the town of Nuevitas.

See also:  14ymedio’s 14 Faces of 2019

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.