Stories of Life on the Border / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

A few yards from the border with Nicaragua, Costa Ricans reaffirm their solidarity with Cubans: Welcome Cuban Brothers. This is your house. In Costa Rice we respect: Work, The Right to Succeed, Freedom and Life. (14ymedio Photo / Reinaldo Escobar)
A few yards from the border with Nicaragua, Costa Ricans reaffirm their solidarity with Cubans: Welcome Cuban Brothers. This is your house. In Costa Rice we respect: Work, The Right to Succeed, Freedom and Life. (14ymedio Photo / Reinaldo Escobar)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar (Special envoy), Liberia (Costa Rica), 28 November 2015 — A uniformed policeman guards the entrance to the shelter in the church of Nazareth, in the Costa Rican region of Liberia. It is there to protect 70 Cubans who are waiting for the Nicaraguan authorities to allow them to continue their journey to the United States. Journalists are not allowed access, not least because most migrants prefer not to give interviews.

However, the Cuban accent opens all doors. Once inside, a young man from Pinar del Rio explains that his family does not know he is in that situation and he does not want to worry his mother. “She believed I was going around the stores in Quito to buy clothes and then sell them back home in San Juan y Martinez.” Something similar occurs with Maria, an enthusiastic and charismatic woman from Camagüey, who spurred by the emergency has become the voice of the group. continue reading

Maria is a little frightened to comment: “I don’t want, tomorrow, for the Cuban government not to allow me to visit my family.”

Maria is the representative of Cubans who are there. Nobody gave her that position, no one voted for her, but her way of expressing herself and showing natural leadership have led her to speak for those who prefer to remain silent. However she confessed to this newspaper that she finds it a little frightening to make statements: “I don’t want, tomorrow, for the Cuban government not to allow me to visit my family.”

The hostel recalls the Cuban schools in the countryside through which passed the Maria’s and the young Pinareño’s generation. The difference here is that they are not forced to work in agriculture, nor to listen to the tiresome ideological propaganda of the morning assemblies. They are free, but have one obsession: continuing the path to the “land of freedom,” they say.

Sioveris Carpio left on 3 September for Ecuador. He never imagined that his journey would be complicated in this way. He arrived in Costa Rica on 12 November when the border with Nicaragua was already closed. Now, when asked if he wasn’t tempted to turn around, he uses a slogan heard thousands of times from Cuban officialdom: “Pa’ tras ni para coger impulso*.” And he adds with a smile, “My objective is to get there.”

He is an amateur musician, finished the 12th grade, and had worked as an animator and audio operator in Trinidad, but he lives in Condado, a corner of Escambray where the alzados – the anti-communists – were active in the sixties. “I live near where there is a monument to Manuel Ascunce, the literacy teacher killed by the alzados,” he says, and immediately clarifies, “the fact that I am going to the United States doesn’t mean that I’m against the Revolution.” In the conversation there is only this reporter and the impassioned young man, but at times he speaks as if a thousand ears are listening.”

“I was born and raised under a Revolutionary roof, what is happening is that I am looking for an economic improvement,” says Carpio Sioveris

“I was born and raised under a Revolutionary roof, what is happening is that I am looking for an economic improvement,” he says. He repeats the litany of many about his decision, that he “isnot political”, but admits that he has chosen the United States” because it is a country where you can find an opportunity to prosper.”

If “things get bad” and he can not continue toward reaching his dream, he will stay in Costa Rica. “Right here,” he says and states that “people are good and we have the same language, but life is expensive and it is not easy to find work.”

In Cuba he left his entire family and says that his parents “are suffering a lot because they know I’m here.” His dream, however includes the goal of one day returning to Cuba. “Not now, because unfortunately there are no opportunities, wages are minimal to the point that if you buy a pair of pants you can not eat that month.”

Carpio is a skeptic of the economic changes that have occurred on the island in recent years. “The results will be seen only long term. We will have to wait a long time and I am almost 40.” The clock of his life has marked a critical time and he prefers to spend the rest of it in foreign lands.

“Here on the roof of my house I have an antenna for television and they tell me that in their country satellite dishes are prohibited,” says a Costa Rican

But Carpio is only part of this drama. The people of Nazareht have seen dozens of these migrants arriving on their territory and have come out to help them. Mauricio Martinez has lived, from birth, across from the Bethel church in the Nazareht neighborhood, although he is not a member of the church. Now he dedicates many hours of his time talking to the Cubans.

Mauricio Martinez has lived, since he was born, across from Bethel church in the Nazareht neighborhood (Photo 14ymedio / Reinaldo Escobar)
Mauricio Martinez has lived, since he was born, across from Bethel church in the Nazareht neighborhood (Photo 14ymedio / Reinaldo Escobar)

“I’ve never seen anything like what’s happening here today. At first we had some concern, but the people are very quiet and very well educated. They are very friendly,” he confirms.

The help that the community has given to migrants has been spontaneous. People bring clothes or food, “according to what everyone can because we are humble people,” says Martinez. “But we’ve realized what is thay are going through and so we are collaborating,” he reflects.

The arrival of the Cubans is also leaving a deep impression in the way many Costa Ricans see the world. “Knowing them has allowed us to learn a very different reality to ours and also different from what we could imagine,” says a solicitous neighbor. “Here on the roof of my house I have an antenna for television and they tell me that in their country satellite dishes are prohibited, and thus I realize what they are looking for in freedom” he says.

A vehicle from the firm Movistar is parked front of the shelter. Mr. Benavides, a sales agent, is satisfied with his success in selling phones, SIM cards and recharges to the Cubans. “Since we learned that the shelters were filled with these migrants we assumed that they probably wanted to communicate with their families.”

“I came here with my wife but I left my four children, two grandchildren and my mother,” says Julio Cesar, who operated a tire retreading machine

The employee says that “there is a commercial interest, but the first thing that got us here was the desire to help.” He adds, “It’s amazing how they know the brand names, they are modern people and are eager to prosper.”

It is not easy to win the confidence of those who have had to sneal across several borders and fear that what little money they have left will be taken away or that they will be deceived by traffickers, but some speak to this newspaper with the familiarity of old friends.

Julio Cesar Vega Ramirez of San José de las Lajas, is not afraid of anything. He left Ecuador heading to Colombia without knowing the way, then by boat to Panama and then to Costa Rica, where he was given a pass for seven days that has been extended for fifteen more. “With this visa we can move around the country freely,” he says.

The man says that “everyone here has helped us, the church’s neighbors, the organizations. They bring sacks of cassava or bananas without charging a cent. The Cubans living in San Jose have also brought donations. ” Although he has also had the support of his family in Miami. “They have sent me the money bit by bit because it is not advisable to walk around with a lot of money,” he explains.

Julio César operated a tire retreading machine. “I came here with my wife but I left my four children, two grandchildren and my mother.” He said his family was aware of what was going to do. “Although I said nothing at work for fear that someone would spill the beans and spoil the plan.”

His wife, Maritza Guerra, has a degree in nursing and a master’s degree in comprehensive care for children. For years she has been a nurse in the pediatric ward of the Leopoldito Martinez Hospital in San José de las Lajas. It is also pediatric intensive care nurse. “Here we communicate with our families and friends thanks to wifi zone they immediately established for us completely free. I would like to ask those Cubans in exile and on the island to help us, please, do something for us,” she clamors insistently.

In the afternoon, when the sun goes down, the trees are filled with birds. The noise they make is very different from the sparrows in the parks of Cuba, because there is a lot of variety and they all sing differently. Birds coexist with each other and fly freely from one side of the border to the other.

*Translator’s note: Para atrás, ni para coger impulso. Roughly: No going back, not even to gain momentum (for another charge).

A Matter of Law / 14ymedio, Miriam Celaya

Nicaraguan police guarding the border with Costa Rica to prevent passage to Cubans bound for the United States (Photo Álvaro Sánchez / EFE)
Nicaraguan police guarding the border with Costa Rica to prevent passage to Cubans bound for the United States (Photo Álvaro Sánchez / EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 24 November 2015 — The crisis that has led to a bottleneck of more than 2,000 Cubans on the border between Costa Rica and Nicaragua these last few days brings to the forefront the issue of the incessant flow of émigrés from Cuba to the US, creating a delicate collateral diplomatic situation between the two Central American nations.

Belatedly, as it is usual for the Cuban government to react to important situations that they would rather avoid, Cuba’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has published a statement attributing all the causes for the exodus to the Cuban Adjustment Act and the “wet foot/dry foot” policy that the U.S. applies to those who flee the Island.

In short, according to the official Cuban version, responsibility for the growing tide of migration from Cuba to that country belongs entirely to the US administration, which is jeopardizing the process of reconciliation and dialogue between the two governments which began in December, 2014. 

With rampant disregard towards its people, the power is, once again, ignoring the human drama of emigration

Here is a situation where a foreign power applies a law that incites in Cubans the irrepressible urge to embark on an uncertain and dangerous adventure. continue reading

This portrayal, attributed to hundreds of thousands of Cubans who emigrate to the US, or aspire to do so, depicts them with the regrettable inability to reason for themselves, and, paradoxically, calls into question the much-vaunted national sovereignty, since it assumes that a law established by a foreign power is a necessary and sufficient condition to cause what is becoming a gradual and constant emptying of the Island.

Meanwhile, the official press ventriloquists have been ordered to support their boss, so very astute comments from its analysts have started to appear on television news programs and in newspapers. For Castro-style journalism, all resources are valid, starting from the most rude and cynic comment, offensive to the Cuban people, that mocks the national misfortune that this never-ending escape represents: from “Anyone who has $ 15,000 to pay a smuggler is not fleeing from poverty,” was the comment of Oliver Zamora, a yeomen of the guard, on last Friday’s primetime broadcast of the National Television News; to the reductionist, untimely and manipulative “opinion” article – “The Cuban Adjustment Act. From the escape to the stockade” – by Ricardo Ronquillo, in Sunday’s Juventud Rebelde.

Resolution of this problem is in the hands of the Cuban authorities, also from a legal perspective, that is, revamping the laws in our country

Both pawns stick to the Master’s script that points to the Cuban Adjustment Act – enacted and in effect since 1966 – as the cause and continuation of the problem, and the government’s defense is sustained on that aspect, which motivates the challenge of debating from a legal perspective.

Thus, accepting that such a law affects the Cuban exodus to some extent, and mercifully leaving aside the element that one of its greatest beneficiaries is precisely the Cuban government, whose coffers swell each year with the merciless tax it imposes on contributions sent from emigres to their relatives in Cuba, it is unquestionable that the resolution of this problem is in the hands of the Cuban authorities, as well as from a legal perspective, that is, revamping the laws in our country.

The absolute power of the Cuban regime places it in a privileged position when it comes to legislating, since the General-President is not required to consult anyone nor to have the approval of any parallel power to enact laws at will. If Castro II wants to defeat the formidable power he attributes to the Cuban Adjustment Act, and if he wants to avoid the shameful humiliation that a foreign law has greater convocation capability for the Cuban people than does the Revolutionary discourse of over half a century, he should make deep legal changes in favor of the governed, so that they benefit from our laws and not from the laws of others.

For instance, the Foreign Investment Law could be revised to acknowledge the rights of Cubans to invest in their own country, given that, as Oliver Zamora has stated, Cubans are not fleeing poverty, since they have funds to pay traffickers. It is logical to offer them the opportunity of a better way to invest their money in their own country. Incidentally, tax laws could be relaxed to establish soft taxing for Cuban investors, offer them low-interest, long-term credit, and enact favorable import tariffs for to improve the performance of their businesses.

I am convinced that the new scenario that would appear in Cuba from this revamping would greatly discourage the disorderly stampede of emigrants to the United States

The labor codes could also be reviewed to grant Cuban workers the right to strike, the right to unionize, and the right to enter into contracts; a new agrarian reform could be enacted that places ownership of the land in the hands of producers who work it; the period of time that Cubans can remain abroad without losing the right to return to their home country when they wish could be declared unlimited; provisions that establish the loss of citizenship could be repealed and the full right of all Cubans residing in Cuba or abroad to enter and leave the national territory and to participate in elections could be recognized.

Other legal issues that are entirely dependent on the will of the Cuban government and not on that of the U.S. are those concerning the consecration of those rights intrinsic to democratic societies, such as freedoms of expression, of opinion and of the press, and the multiparty system, just to mention the most elementary.

I am convinced that the new scenario that would appear in Cuba from this revamping would greatly discourage the disorderly stampede of emigrants to the United States. The suitability of Cuban laws would eventually defeat the evil power of the Cuban Adjustment Act and acknowledge the Cuban establishment. It would ultimately become clear that, in effect, the Cuban emigration problem is only a matter of law.

IMO, Person of the Year in Cuba / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

A Cuban migrant navigating the internet on her cellphone from a shelter in Nazareht, Costa Rica (photo 14ymedio)
A Cuban migrant navigating the internet on her cellphone from a shelter in Nazareht, Costa Rica (photo 14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Generation Y, Yoani Sanchez, 28 November 2015 – December will soon be here and numerous lists of this year’s protagonists will be published in Cuba. A difficult task in a country that over the last 12 months was visited by a pope, a secretary of state and even by Mick Jagger. However, the person who takes all the palms is not a politician, a religious leader or a rocker. It is a mobile application with a short name and a profound impact on our reality: IMO.

With over 150 million accounts worldwide, this video-call tool burst into our daily lives mid-year to shorten distances and reunite families. With its simple interface and capacity to adapt itself to the low speeds of our internet connection, IMO has achieved what insularity and politics has limited for so long: contact with the world. continue reading

Headquartered in Palo Alto, the startup responsible for this tool for text chats, voice and video, was founded by one of the first ten Google employees, who says that he likes working “on challenging projects.” A maxim that has been extensively tested in Cuba, where despite the technological obstacles the app has spread virally through smartphones and tablets.

Anyone who says that technology distances us and locks us in solitude, can wander through the wifi zone on Havana’s La Rampa and see the tears and smiles this utility gives rise to when Cubans connect between here and there. The emotions are very much as if they were face to face. There is no coldness on the screen, nothing dehumanizing on the keyboard, when they are the only chance of encountering the people we love.

The corner of Infanta and 23rd, any Saturday. A lady enjoys the son she hasn’t seen for two decades, checks out his latest hair dye, while the emigrant’s sister has brought the dog who also participates in the moment. At their side, a young man no more than 20 insistently repeats, while holding the phone in front of his face, “Don’t delay, get me out of here.” Through IMO we have tackled, in recent months, our hopes and our despair.

Even prostitution with foreigners has become more technological through the new utility. Now “the merchandise” is evaluated before the customer arrives in the country. The other day a young girl swept a tablet with a camera over her whole body while, on the other side, someone with a German accent asked if it was true that she was over 18.

However, IMO deserves the title of Person of the Year above all because of the key role it has played in the migratory crisis facing close to 4,000 Cubans on the border between Costa Rica and Nicaragua. While the official media remained silent about these rafters-on-foot, this tool has kept their families on the island informed about the fates of their loved ones trapped in Central America.

Alarm Bells on the Route of the Illegal Market / 14ymedio, Orlando Palma

Informal vendors of glasses, a product that comes into Cuba mostly through mules. (14ymedio)
Informal vendors of glasses, a product that comes into Cuba mostly through mules. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Orlando Palma, Havana, 27 November 2015 – Children’s clothes and sneakers were a part of the goods being called out by an illegal vendor this Thursday on Galiano Street in Havana. Although it is just four days until the migratory restrictions on Cubans announced by Ecuador take effect, alarm has already spread among merchants and “mules.”

The news of the new visa requirement for Cubans, starting on December 1, has fallen like a bucket of cold water, and not just among those who were planning to leave with Quito being the first step to their final destination: the United States. The bad news also affects a wide network in importing, distribution and sale of illegal goods that range from cleaning supplies to sophisticated appliances. continue reading

This Friday, when there are still no tangible effects of the change, the vendors already anticipate a drastic fall in their merchandise and customers fear the loss of variety in clothing and footwear now available on the illegal market. On the street, many speculate that the probability that prices will rise in the coming days and will trigger sales, especially so close to Christmas.

The mules who arrive in Havana on the Taca flight that landed shortly after five in the afternoon on Thursday felt fortunate. Coming from Quito, after a stop in San Salvador, the Cubans felt like shipwreck survivors and were received with relief by their families outside the airport.

The luggage belt was full of the so-called bolas – suitcases full of clothes, shoes and home appliances, wrapped in nylon in the airport of origin. The customs dispatch the bolas first and the passengers with suitcases have to wait behind the priority of the obvious freight traffic. Despite strict legislation approved in September 2014 on non-commercial imports, a whole network of corruption guarantees that the merchandise passes through the controls without major incidents.

A young man of 32, who asked to remain anonymous, was one of the fortunate ones who ended his trip to Ecuador without legal holdups. “We arrived just in time,” he told 14ymedio on his arrival at Terminal 3 at Havana’s José Martí International Airport, where he heard about the announcement of the new restrictions on Cuban nationals entering Ecuador. “There was a rumor there that they were going to close the door soon, but we never imagined it would be so soon,” he added.

The boy’s luggage contained everything from Christmas wreaths to a carpenter’s saw. “I should have risked bringing more stuff, because now I don’t know when I’ll be able to travel,” he lamented while his cousin helped him to push two carts full of bolas and boxes between which a flat screen TV also peeked out.

From now on Ecuador will apply the same restrictions as Panama, Mexico and the other nearby nations, which already require Cubans to have a visa to enter the country. Instead, holders of Spanish passports or Cubans with five-year visas to the United States will be able to travel freely, as before, to all those countries, including Ecuador. For informal traders, this path was a safe route despite the high ticket prices, which in the high season can exceed $1,000 US.

The buyers have also benefited from the use of this Ecuadorian trade route. The high prices of products in state sores push many families to buy their clothes and shoes in the illegal market, following an unwritten maxim often shared on this island: priority to individuals, rather than the State.

A pair of sneakers, which in the hard currency stores cost around 45 convertible pesos (roughly $45 US), can but got for half the price and of better quality. “You see these Adidas? You can’t find them here,” says Victor Manuel, a high school student who says he lives for clothes. “That’s what matters most to me,” he says.

The official press published a note this Friday on the new immigration rules for Cubans going to Ecuador. In the same issue, an article criticized the preference for foreign products among Cuban children and youth. The main reproach is directed directly to backpacks and accessories with the faces of Barbie dolls which are some of the products the mules import from Ecuador.

Despite the fears, some traders seem confident that the situation will be resolved. “We’ll find another way, we always have done,” assured the young man who arrived on the Taca flight. The bolas that he brought on his last trip from Ecuador barely fit in the family car that came to pick him up at the airport.

Cubans Propose Paying for Air Transport Out of Costa Rica / 14ymedio

A Cuban woman stranded in Costa Rica attempts to communicate by phone with relatives on the island. (Reinaldo Escobar)
A Cuban woman stranded in Costa Rica attempts to communicate by phone with relatives on the island. (Reinaldo Escobar)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 27 November 2015 — A group of Cuban migrants stranded in the Costa Rican city of La Cruz on the border with Nicaragua, have sent a letter to the country’s government in San Jose, and to other countries involved in finding a solution to the crisis, asking them to analyze the option of a “humanitarian corridor” by air, as revealed Friday in the Nicaraguan newspaper La Prensa.

Nearly 4,000 Cubans are in the north of Costa Rica where, as of November 14, Nicaragua has blocked their passage to continue on their way to the United States. The signatories of the document, some 200 people staying at the de La Cruz Night School assure that most of them have enough money to meet the cost of the flight. continue reading

“Today in La Cruz, Guanacaste province, there are a significant number of Cuban immigrants who are able to afford to travel without occasioning any government expenditures,” they say. They explain they sold their homes and belongings before the trip and they have the support of family and friends abroad.

This letter is in addition to other statements shared through the Facebook page, “Let the Cubans pass.” In a post published this Thursday from Peñas Blancas, the migrants addressed the Nicaraguan people. “The decision of President Daniel Ortego not only promotes human trafficking, but creates a problem where none existed, putting political interests above human rights,” they write.

Just a day earlier, the Cubans sent their “heartfelt thanks” to the institutions and people of Costa Rica. “At no time has it been our objective to disturb your tranquility and daily routine, but given the current circumstances we have been forced to stay longer than expected,” they explain.

Cubans in Nazareht, Costa Rica / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

Pastor Gerardo Obando. (Reinaldo Escobar)
Pastor Gerardo Obando. (Reinaldo Escobar)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar (Special envoy), Liberia (Costa Rica), 27 November 2015 — The morning was warm and the Nazareht neighborhood had been listening for days to the distinctive Cuban accent. This point in the geography of Liberia, capital of Costa Rica’s Guanacaste province, is now one of the places where dozens of our Cuban compatriots are waiting to continue their journey to the United States.

At least 70 of them are housed in the premises of the Bethel Assembly of God Church. This newspaper spoke with Gerardo Obando, Costa Rican and pastor of the congregation, who detailed the current situation of the migrants in his care.

Escobar. Have you had any previous experience with migrants?

Pastor Obando. This is the first time that we have had this kind of emergency. When we were contacted by the authorities of the National Emergency Commission (CNE) we didn’t hesitate to say yes, to be able to help our Cuban brothers. My wife and I came from a tour of Nicaragua two Sundays ago and we couldn’t cross because the border was closed. We had to stay one more day on that side and it really bothered us, we were very sorry for the Cubans. continue reading

Especially thinking that there were children, older people, and because it was raining at the time. We were there, praying for them and it was a surprise when we arrived here the same Monday and the CNE coordinator contacted us to ask if we would lend our facilities.

Escobar. Is it a solitary task or are you being supported?

Pastor Obando. Several independent organizations and government institutions are involved, such as the Red Cross, the National Children’s Trust, the Lions Club and the national Ombudsman, among others. They have all been hand in hand here with us.

Escobar. Has there been any rejection by nearby residents to the arrival of so many Cubans?

Pastor Obando. People living here have reacted in a very humane way, there has been no opposition. They have been lending a hand, bringing any kind of assistance that may be needed here. Even some who do not come to the church have baked bread and brought it and milk for the Cubans.

Escobar. Are the migrants are being held here?

Pastor Obando. They are not prisoners here. They have complete freedom and can come and go. We only have a time when we close the gates, for reasons of security. On the other hand, they have visas and Immigration came yesterday and extended their visas for 15 days.

Escobar. Nicaragua officials have hinted that these people are criminals. Have there been violent incidents in the shelter?

Pastor Obando. We have not had any incidents. There is harmony and they are very nice people, well educated and very helpful. They have collaborated with us in fixing some things around the building, they are eager to work.

Nazareht shelter in Liberia, Costa Rica, home to some of the thousands of Cubans stranded in the country.(Reinaldo Escobar / 14ymedio)
Nazareht shelter in Liberia, Costa Rica, home to some of the thousands of Cubans stranded in the country.(Reinaldo Escobar / 14ymedio)

Escobar. Do they participate in church services?

Pastor Obando. Yes, many are participating. We are also praying for them that they may continue their journey to the United States.

Escobar. What have you heard them say they wish for most?

Pastor Obando. The biggest dream of all of them is to reach freedom. Many of them have dreamt since childhood of a freedom they have not had.

Henry Constantin Arrested at the Airport on His Return From Lima / 14ymedio, Luz Escobar

Henry Constantin. (14ymedio)
Henry Constantin. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 26 November 2015 — Journalist and activist Henry Constantin, director of the magazine La hora de Cuba (Cuba’s Hour), a member of the editorial board of the magazine Convivencia (Coexistence) and collaborator with 14ymedio, was arrested at three in the afternoon on Thursday at customs in the José Martí Airport, as he himself reported via text message. “They demand my laptop. And magazine. I respectfully refuse. They do not let me talk,” he said in his text.

Constantin arrived in Havana from Lima, Peru, where he participated in the Conference of Investigative Journalism (COLPIN), along with Amarilis Cortina Rey, Ernesto Perez Chang, Ignacio Gonzalez Vidal and Armando Soler.

Later, Inalkis Rodriguez said by telephone from Camagüey that Constantin was taken to the Boyeros police station, near the airport. However, Constantin confirmed to this newspaper that moments before getting into the car that was to take him to the police station, he was told he could go. According to his account, he was able to handle the pressure and remained in possession of his laptop. He then headed to Camagüey.

Meanwhile, Ignacio Gonzalez, director of En Caliente Prensa Libre (In Hot Free Press), said that he was also separated for a “routine examination” in the words of Cuban Customs officials.

They searched all his luggage, but after a while let him leave without further consequences.

Cubans Protest outside Ecuador’s Embassy in Havana / 14ymedio

Woman argues with uniformed Cuban agent in front of the Ecuadorian embassy in Havana
Woman argues with uniformed Cuban agent in front of the Ecuadorian embassy in Havana (EFE)

14ymedio bigger[UPDATED] 14ymedio, Havana, 27 November 2015 — Hundreds of Cubans, on Friday, demonstrated their dissatisfaction with Quito’s decision to require visas from he island’s nationals as of Tuesday, December 1.

The embassy, ​​located in the Miramar neighborhood, is currently cordoned off by a strong police operation preventing anyone from approaching. The agents assert that “last night several people tried to sneak into the embassy,” although the majority of those congregating on the corners were talking about the unreliability of the official version.

Many people are also gathered in front of the offices of the airlines that fly to Ecuador, to demand or change tickets. At the office of Copa Airlines in Miramar, people continued to gather despite an employee advising them, an hour ago, that there are no more tickets for Ecuador until April Some have stayed, despite the warning, hoping to be refunded the price of their ticket.

Copa Airline offices at the Havana Trade Center in Miramar where customers gathered this Friday to request tickets prior to December 1 (14ymedio)
Copa Airline offices at the Havana Trade Center in Miramar where customers gathered this Friday to request tickets prior to December 1 (14ymedio)

The Ecuadorian consul in Cuba, Soraya Encalada, took to the streets with other diplomats to explain that her government’s position is not to “obstruct” travel, but to “prevent human trafficking,” according to the press agency EFE. The diplomat said that the decision to require visas from Cubans was a “temporary situation,” which required everyone interested in traveling to Ecuador to enter their data into the embassy’s website in a “simplified” procedure to speed up the paperwork.

For years, Cubans who want to reach the United States have flown to Ecuador because it did not require a visa. The migrants would then continue their journey through seven countries (Colombia, Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala and Mexico), facing many difficulties and dangers on the way.

Tania Bruguera is With Cubans in Costa Rica / 14ymedio

Tania Bruguera, in Costa Rica, with Cubans stranded at the border. (Youtube / screenshot)
Tania Bruguera, in Costa Rica, with Cubans stranded at the border. (Youtube / screenshot)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 26 November 2015 — The artist Tania Bruguera heeded the call of some of the more than 3,000 Cuban migrants who have been stuck for more than ten days ago in the north of Costa Rica after the Government of Nicaragua prevented their continuing their journey to United States.

A group of migrants created a Facebook page called “Let the Cubans Pass” so that “the world will know their names, experiences and professions in order to contradict those who brand Cubans trying to reach the United States as criminals.”

“I want to show my solidarity by being there with them. I have no plan, I am not anybody who is going change any situation. But well, at least to be with them,” said Bruguera in an interview published by the Costa Rican online journal Socialism Today. continue reading

“A mechanism needs to be created for the people to hold the government accountable in a peaceful and legal way, without it being seen as a counterrevolutionary attitude” she stresses.

“I think the government is dedicated to lowering people’s hopes and what we are seeing today is that a year after [the restoration of relations with the US] people do not see a solution to their problems and prefer to sell their homes and leave their families and go to another country to seek their fortune rather than stay in Cuba to see what happens,” she says. “In Cuba there is no economic migration that is not political.”

Bruguera has also been affected by government limitations on movement when, between late December of 2014 and August of this year she was prevented from leaving Cuba. After being held on the island for eight months for organizing a performance in Revolution Square in Havana, the authorities finally returned her passport and she was able to take up a fellowship at Yale University.

The artist has worked previously on the subject of migrants, in particular when she founded the Immigrant Movement International, an art project conceived in 2006 and presented by Creative Time and the Queens Museum of Art. With this initiative she proposed to initiate a socio-political movement, so she spent a year working in the multicultural neighborhood of Corona, Queens in New York City.

President Solis Assures Cubans Of Costa Rica’s Support To Reach US / EFE – 14ymedio

The president of Costa Rica, Luis Guillermo Solis
The president of Costa Rica, Luis Guillermo Solis

14ymedio biggerEFE (published in 14ymedio), San Jose, Costa Rica, 26 November 2015 — The president Luis Guillermo Solis of Costa Rica, on Wednesday, guaranteed the thousands of Cuban migrants who have been stranded in his country since 14 November that his government will make every effort to help them reach the United States, their final destination. “We will do whatever is necessary for you people to get to your destination and while you are here to live with dignity,” said the president at a press conference in San Jose.

Solis said that, following Nicaragua’s opposition to allowing the islanders to pass through that country, Costa Rica is making bilateral contacts with other countries involved in the migratory path of these people, to find a solution.

The solution is to “establish routes that allow them to continue their journey. The conditions, time and number are details that we are refining, but in this situation it is clear that we will not have the cooperation of Nicaragua and therefore we must take other measures under consideration.” continue reading

President Solis said that Costa Rica will not abandon the Cuban immigrants, but warned that their trip to the United States will be a process that will take time.

“In Costa Rica we will facilitate their travel and this entails a great effort not only to conclude the final negotiations with each country, many of whom will announce measures in the coming days, but also to guarantee, as long as they are in our territory, that they are living in adequate conditions,” he said.

Solis’s involvement in the case of Cuban migrants even led to an exchange views with the Cuban singer Silvio Rodriguez through the artist’s blog. The Costa Rican president left a comment on a post in which the singer demanded solutions for the migrants and criticized Solis for advocating a humanitarian corridor to the United States only for the Cubans and not for other Latin American, knowing that “there is a special law that favors the arrival of our people with dry feet.”

Solis Rodriguez said that it is most urgent is to find solutions for those at the border who are not at fault. The president also added that Nicaragua and Costa Rica would be wrong to “insinuate the situation of the migrants into geopolitics.”

Costa Rican Minister of Communications Mauricio Herrera Ulloa also responded to the musician, saying that his government’s request is “more than politics, it is humanitarian.”

The troubadour thanked the minister for his comments and acknowledged having written his post without all the information and out of concern for his compatriots. But then, Rodriguez added: “In addition to the best intentions of the Government in which you are a minister, there is constant propaganda against my country.”

Meeting in El Salvador on Tuesday, the foreign ministers of the countries of Central America, the Dominican Republic, Cuba, Mexico, Ecuador and Colombia sought a solution to the current crisis and also a long-term solution to Cuban emigration.

However, Nicaragua was adamant in not allowing the entry of Cubans to its territory, and accused Costa Rica of causing a humanitarian crisis by “ignoring the responsibility of the United States in the issue of illegal migration” and demanded that the immigrants be withdrawn from the border area.

As of 14 November, Costa Rica has granted temporary transit visas to 3,600 Cubans who arrived at its border with Panama, and has set up 12 shelters to provide humanitarian aid in communities near the border with Nicaragua.

President Solis also said that resolving the crisis will require “slowing down” the flow of Cubans into Costa Rica from Panama.

On Tuesday the Costa Rican Foreign Minister Manuel Gonzalez accused Nicaragua of being “intransigent” and acting in “bad faith” in this matter and said the region intends to find a solution.

The immigrants left Cuba legally by air and flew to Ecuador, which does not require them to have a visa, and from there they traveled “irregularly” through Colombia and Panama to Costa Rica.

The Costa Rican government has attributed this migratory wave to the dismantling of a human trafficking network and the rumor on the island that the United States is going to repeal its immigration laws that favor Cubans.

Ecuador Will Require Visas From Cubans as of December 1st / 14ymedio

Cuban migrants at the border between Costa Rica and Nicaragua under the watchful eye of the Costa Rican police.(Natasha Cambronero / La Nación)
Cuban migrants at the border between Costa Rica and Nicaragua under the watchful eye of the Costa Rican police.(Natasha Cambronero / La Nación)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 26 November 2015 — Ecuador will require visas from Cuban citizens seeking to enter the country as of December 1, according to Deputy Foreign Minister Xavier Lasso speaking at a press conference.

This exception in the Ecuadorian immigration law is intended to discourage the Cuban migration, which has surged in recent months and has caused a crisis on the borders of Central America. “Our commitment is to human beings, to stop this migration trend is that puts men, women and children at risk,” said Lasso. “We are trying to control this type of migration, which is very risky.”

On the northern border of Costa Rica it is estimated that some 4,000 Cubans are stranded, waiting to cross the border. continue reading

The decision of Ecuador’s government comes less than a week after Cuba’s Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez visited Ecuador and Nicaragua to address precisely this issue.

As of November 14, Costa Rica has granted temporary transit visas to 3,600 Cubans who arrived at its border with Panama, and has set up 12 shelters to provide them with humanitarian aid.

Given the ease of emigrating to Ecuador, thousands of Cubans have traveled to that South American country in recent years. Most of them start from there on a long migratory journey of about 4,800 miles overland to reach the United States.

Ecuador’s deputy foreign minister said: “We are not closing the door to Cuba” but said his country “is committed,” along with the Latin American community, to avoiding this migratory flow.

A New Campaign For Marriage Equality Announced / 14ymedio, Orlando Palma

LGBTI Pride march in the Paseo del Prado in Havana in 2011 (Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo)
LGBTI Pride march in the Paseo del Prado in Havana in 2011 (Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Orlando Palma, Havana, 25 November 2015 — After forty years together, Roberto’s partner died this year from a respiratory condition, but he will not collect a penny of the widow’s pension because in Cuba same-sex unions are not legally recognized or protected. Situations like this are in the sights of several independent organizations that demand rights for the LGBTI community, and that have just launched a campaign for marriage equality.

“We also love,” is the slogan under which different civil society groups will demand a legal framework that allows unions between people of the same sex, and equality of rights between homosexuals and heterosexuals. The initiative was presented to the press this Tuesday and will go public on the first of December. continue reading

Among the groups involved in the project is Corriente Martiana (Current [José] Martí), which is working on this project in coordination with the Cuban Foundation for LGBTI Rights, led by Nelson Gandulla in Cienfuegos province, and which shares the lead in the new campaign with the Integration Project of the Gay Community in Cuba led by Navit Fernandez in Havana.

Other entities not directly related to the LGTBI environment have begun to get involved in the project after being invited to show solidarity, such as the Candidates for Change project.

The organizers have developed several initiatives. including the presentation of a written request to the People’s Power delegates during weekly office hours they have with their constituents. Each of the activists should ask for a receipt that gives evidence of the request and that will accompany the collective petition that is finally delivered.

Moises Leonardo presents the campaign for marriage equality
Moises Leonardo presents the campaign for marriage equality in Cuba

The collective petition will be delivered to the National Center for Sex Education (CENESEX) and the Cuban Parliament, Moises Leonardo, spokesperson for the Corriente Martiana, explained to 14ymedio.

“First we will present it in municipal assemblies, then in the provinces and finally to the National Assembly of People’s Power. We will seek the support of artists and personalities of our culture, as well as a number of independent civil society organizations that want to join us. The campaign starts the first of December and will last six months, but even when that date has passed it will be ongoing.”

This campaign seeks to protect a couple’s rights, such as inheritance or insurance payments with respect to accidents at work, as well as obtaining legal protection for the distribution of property in the case of a separation.

“The intention is to climb one more step in the defense of human rights for a sector of the population. Practice tells us that the LGBTI community is very united in defense of their rights, and that encourages us a lot,” added Leonardo.

The Exodus Is Due To The Lack Of Freedom / 14ymedio, Pedro Campos

The Red Cross helps Cubans stuck at the Costa Rica/Nicaragua border since last weekend. (La Nación)
The Red Cross helps Cubans stuck at the Costa Rica/Nicaragua border since last weekend. (La Nación)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Pedro Campos, Havana, 25 November 2015 — The current immigration crisis created by the presence of thousands of Cubans in Central America in transit to the United States has put the issue of human rights in Cuba back in the international arena, in particular the civil, political, social and economic rights of Cubans.

The government of General Raul Castro and a part of the international press emphasize the idea that it is a legal issue, related to the Cuban Adjustment Act. The Cuban government also links it to the maintenance of the blockade-embargo, which analysts say is an attempt to pressure the US government to repeal both laws. continue reading

However, it is not possible to hide, behind the Cuban exodus, the fundamental problem in Cuba: the dissatisfaction of hundreds of thousands of Cubans with the economic and political situation in our country, which remains essentially unchanged thanks to decisions taken by the government — which has been in power for more than half a century – in the name of socialism, which has never existed.

No, we Cubans are not starving, because really there is no generalized crisis of that type in Cuba. Although for many nutrition is precarious, the fundamental appetite Cubans have is for rights and freedoms, for democracy, because the “dictatorship” – supposedly of the proletariat – established in Cuba and always led in the same direction by the Communist Party, continues to insist on its political and economic model of monopolistic State capitalism; by its nature anti-democratic, exclusive and retrograde.

Despite the public discourse of an “opening,” in reality economic activity outside the State is constantly limited by laws, regulations and provisions at all levels and by high direct and indirect taxes. Autonomous work, or self-employment, continues to be restricted to a group of activities and cannot be exercised by professionals in medicine or law, for example. To establish a cooperative requires permission from the Council of State.

But above all, State monopolies in domestic and foreign trade and the limited access to international communications networks, hinder non-State economic activity.

But what most oppresses Cubans, along with the daily problems of housing, transportation or poor-quality food, is the repressive philosophy of the State that impedes the freedom of expression, of association and elections, which obstructs any democratic alternation in power of forces and figures different from the governmental clan, forces and figures that could bring another focus to politics and get the country out of the stagnation in which it finds itself.

This is definitely a massive and flagrant violation of the civil, political, economic and social rights of the Cuban people, by a government that has spent more than half a century in power, with the methods and mechanisms to guarantee its indefinite existence. And this is the real cause of the exodus and of the current crisis.

It is true that the internal problems of Cubans must be resolved by Cubans ourselves, but when these problems affect other nations it is logical that they would take action in the matter and try to influence events through international means established by multilateral institutions recognized by the States.

The Central American community has met to discuss the crisis, but it should go beyond the legal and border problems involved and evaluate it in its entirety. The Inter-American system should also take action on the issue and the United Nations itself should involve itself, because as long as there is no resolution to the internal problems in Cuba, the system imposed by this “eternal Government” is going to continue to generate regional tensions related to immigration, be it in Central America, South America or the Straits of Florida.

Some believe that the current immigration crisis caused by the presence of thousands of Cubans in Central America is a land version of the Rafter Crisis of 1994. Any attempt to put a plug in the Cuban exodus across the continent could lead to a situation like that one, if democratic changes that loosen tensions do not come to pass in Cuba

‘La Joven Cuba’ Blog Questions Official Position on the Cuban Adjustment Act / 14ymedio

Cuban rafters
“Cubans who reach the United States without the Adjustment act will have to submit to the exploitation that other illegal immigrants are subjected to,” says the blog: La Joven Cuba

14ymedio, Havana, 25 November 2015 – In an unusual gesture of criticism toward an official position, the blog “La Joven Cuba” (Young Cuba) published a post on Tuesday that challenges the Cuban government’s approach to the Cuban Adjustment Act.

The site, run by graduates of the University of Matanzas, stresses “the need to of more than a few fellow countrymen to emigrate,” and defends the thesis that Cubans who want to reside in another country will do so regardless of whether conditions are better or worse. The article, signed by Roberto G. Peralo and titled “Eliminate the Cuban Adjustment Act and What,” uses an example close to him as an illustration. continue reading

“A woman friend who is a doctor was preparing to emigrate to Ecuador. She had a job lined up at a clinic. When she learned that the government of Ecuador wouldn’t recognize her license to practice her profession, she told me, ‘I’m going even if I have to clean the hospital floor for the rest of my life.’”

The author defends the Cuban government’s asking for the elimination of the law which also provides an advantage for Cubans over other immigrants and believes that the United States will end up repealing it. However, he believes that this will not improve things because Cubans will continue leaving and will do it in even worse circumstances.

“Cubans who reach the United States without the Adjustment Act will have to submit to the exploitation that other illegal immigrants are subjected to. They will not receive government benefits and will have to take the worst jobs at the most miserable wages. In the best of cases they will have to renounce returning to Cuba, even to visit, to be able to support the thesis that they are “politically persecuted,” so that they can receive government benefits.

The Joven Cuba website, which has also suffered censorship within the University of Matanzas, is a part of the sector relatively critical of the government, although from a “revolutionary” position that leads to censoring dissent and opposing a market economy.

In the official discourse the Cuban Adjustment Act is the target of the worse criticisms and is held responsible for the exodus of Cubans to the United States. On national television the presenters call it “The Assassin Law” and hold it entirely responsible for the current migratory crisis provoked by the arrival of more than 2,000 Cubans at the border between Costa Rica and Nicaragua.

This Wednesday, the newspaper Granma published a note on the meeting of the foreign ministers of the member countries of the Central American Integration System – Cuba, Ecuador, Colombia and Mexico – to seek a solution to the drama of the Cuban migrants. As the official organ of the Cuban Communist Party, Granma noted the unanimous rejection of “the Cuban Adjustment Act and other regulations related to the wet foot-dry foot policy and the Parole Program for Cuban Healthcare Professionals, which stimulates illegal immigration to the United States.”

Annoyances of the New Identity Card / 14ymedio, Sol Garcia Basulto

Identity card office in Camagüey. (14ymedio)
Identity card office in Camagüey. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Sol Garcia Basulto Camagüey, 25 November 2015 – One year since the start of the issuing new identity cars in Cuba, many recognize the advantages of the modern ID card, but criticize the complex process to get one. In Camagüey province the manufacture and distribution of the new identify card started last May, but delays in delivering them and long lines continue to characterize their arrival in this region.

To learn about the details of the process, 14ymedio approached the ID card office this Tuesday, where people interested in applying for the new polycarbonate card had gathered since the early morning hours. The applicant must bring one or several stamp/seals with a total value of 25 Cuban pesos. Fingerprints are taken on the premises and the applicant is photographed. continue reading

Among those waiting to update their identity card was Gabriel Villafaña Bosa, whose previous document had deteriorated through use and the passing of years. This Camagüeyan believes that the new format is “stronger and more durable,” so that the number of times it needs to be replaced because of damage will be reduced. However, to get it he had to overcome a long wait.

Yosbani Martinez commented, “I still don’t have the new card because everyone in the world is here.” Living near the office, the young man says that he has passed by the place at four in the morning, “and the line goes to the corner.”

Trying to reduce the avalanche of requests, the authorities have warned that the document can only be replaced in case of loss, damage, change of address or reaching the age of majority. In statements in the official press, several officials have insisted that it is not obligatory to possess the new card, because the two prior formats continue to be valid.

The dissatisfaction with the long wait even made the pages of the local newspaper Adelante this last September whenthe journalist Yasselys Perez Chaos commented to a friend, “after waiting five days in nighttime lines I was allowed to enter the office, where a single unhappy looking official was able to issue only three to twelve cards a day.”

The delays mean serious problems for those who have lost their identification. “Imagine a police officer stops me and asks for the card. When I tell him I don’t have it they take me to the station for fun,” said Villa Faña Bosa. The lack of the document has even affected his collection of remittances. “What do I do if my dad sends me money? How can I collect it at Western Union without the card,” the young man asks, standing in the middle of a long line.

Others resist losing patience despite the obstacles. This is the case with Adalberto Perez Arteago, who says, “It’s the first card I have, because I spent 25 years in prison and didn’t participate in the prior change of format.” The man also feels that the design of the new document, “looks better.”

Among the changes in the document is that the identity number is embossed, there are security features, the content is printed in invisible ink, the bars are machine readable, and there is a ghost image on the back.

The most repeated complaints also address the continued interruptions in the service of delivering the new cards, for various reasons. This Tuesday the building was being fumigated, which paralyzed the process in the only office authorized to issue them in the Camagüey capital. A couple waiting for the process so they could get married decided to return another day, earlier. “It’s already five in the afternoon and look at the number of people who are here. We lost an entire day on this,” the woman pointed out.

As of last June, 380,645 new-format identify cards had been issued in the entire country; that covers 4% of the population over age 16. In Camagüey the numbers are more modest; with a population of 717,686 adults, only 5,746 had obtained the document by that date, some 0.8% of the local population.