I no longer want to find you, Camilo / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

Flowers for Camilo Cienfuegos at a primary school in Havana's Plaza district (14ymedio)
Flowers for Camilo Cienfuegos at a primary school in Havana’s Plaza district (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Generation Y, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 28 October 2015 — The wall of the Malecon tastes of salt and is rough to the touch. Standing on it, my school uniform splashed by the waves, every October of my childhood I threw a bouquet of flowers into the sea. The tribute was addressed to a man who had died fifteen years before I was born. His face was on the walls and in schoolbooks, with an enormous smile beneath a broad-brimmed hat. Those were the days when I still dreamed of meeting Camilo Cienfuegos.

The story, repeated to the point of exhaustion in school assemblies and official propaganda, told of a plane that disappeared while the Commander was flying between the cities of Camagüey and Havana. For the children of my generation it was an almost magical enigma. We believed that one day we would find him, a bearded jokester, somewhere in the Cuban geography. It was just a matter of time, we thought. continue reading

But the years passed and on this long and narrow island there has never been detected even a single piece of that twin-engine Cessna. New technologies burst into everyone’s lives, satellites search every inch of the planet, and mythical cities, submerged or buried, are found all over the globe. But of Camilo, not a single clue.

The illusion that he would return to unite “the highest leadership of the country” was giving way to another desire. In the mid-eighties I heard talk of Camilo Cienfuegos as the hope for change. “If he were here, none of this would have happened,” the elderly intoned. “He wasn’t a communist,” my grandfather said.

Once again we want to find alive the hero of Yaguajay, but this time to lead our dissatisfaction and to help us overcome our fear.

In the Special Period the urge to discover at least a vestige of that tailor-turned-guerrilla forcefully resurfaced. We speculated that if the circumstances of his death were unraveled, Fidel Castro’s government would fall like a house of cards. The best-kept secret of the Revolutionary era would also be its end. But even in those years the mystery was not solved.

A few days ago a little girl reminded her mother she needed to take a bouquet of flowers to school to throw into the sea on the day this Havanan not yet turned 30 disappeared. A second later the girl asked, “But is he dead, or is he not dead?” Her mother explained the official version in a bored voice, ending with a categorical, “Yes, he’s dead… he is not breathing.”

The mystery has collapsed. Not because we found answers, but because we got tired of waiting for them. Right now, nothing would change because we know that Camilo Cienfuegos is alive somewhere – with his graying beard – unless it is scientifically proven that the official version is true. Nor would there be a great commotion on finding out his death was an assassination order by his own compañeros from the Sierra Maestra.

Time, implacable, has ended up burying Camilo.

Camilo Cienfuegos. (CC)
Camilo Cienfuegos. (CC)

Vandals Paint Che Statue with the Word “Murderer” / 14ymedio

Paint on the statue of Che in the Galician town of Oleiros. (La Opinión A Coruña)
Paint on the statue of Che in the Galician town of Oleiros. (La Opinión A Coruña)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Spain, 26 October 2015 — At dawn on Sunday, a group of vandals painted the statue of Ernesto Che Guevara in the Galician town of Oleiros with the colors of the Spanish flag and the word “murderer.” This is the fourth attack on the monument since it opened in 2008.

The vandals, according to a local resident who alerted the police, acted around six o’clock in the morning and were wearing masks and coveralls. The attack, carried out with glass bottles filled with paint, came hours before a tribute to Che organized by several Portuguese, Galician and Cuban collectives to mark the 48th anniversary of the revolutionary’s death.

When the police arrived at the statue in Santa Cristina Park, the vandals had already left.

The mayor of Oleiros, Angel Garcia Seoane, branded them “idiots” and added that the modus operandi of the attack reflects the “behavior of cowards, during the night.” The councilman said the statue would be cleaned the next day.

On Sunday different groups of Cubans in exile and from the Association of Victims of Castroism, in addition to individuals, expressed their “repudiation” of the tribute in the face of a monument they called “illegal.” For them the monument is an “aggression against all the victims of Fidel Castro’s dictatorship.”

The first attack on the monument occurred just weeks after its unveiling. Both at that time and in August 2013, the 26-foot high statue was spotted with red and yellow paint.

In 2008, groups in opposition to the local Alternative Party government demonstrated against the monument’s construction and the 180,000 euro cost of building the roundabout where the work, donated by its makers, was placed.

Neighborhood Journalism in Cuba / 14ymedio, Rene Gomez Manzano

Homepage of “Neighborhood Journalism.” Headline: Why do Neighborhood Journalism in Cuba today?
Homepage of “Neighborhood Journalism.” Headline: Why do Neighborhood Journalism in Cuba today?

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Rene Gomez Manzano, Havana, 24 October 2015 — Thanks to the US Embassy in Havana, which provides press briefings with national and international news to us Cubans who navigate in their internet rooms, last Monday, October 19, I learned about a new information organ. Periodismo de Barrio (Neighborhood Journalism) is the name by which the colleagues engaged in it identify themselves.

The presentation of the new digital media starts with an appealing paragraph: “Journalism is an implicit promise of change. Presenting yourself as a journalist is almost like preaching in favor of hope. When you ask someone to tell you their story, it is not just asking them to confide in you, but also to believe that sharing their story can help to change something.”

According to its statement of principles, “Neighborhood Journalism is born with the objective of bringing to the public the stories of neighborhoods affected by natural disasters, or particularly vulnerable to phenomena such as hurricanes, floods, droughts, fires, landslides or others caused by man.” continue reading

A summary of the United States press fills more than 34 pages of the first issue. In addition, there are reports – of good quality including some that are excellent, although perhaps one might consider them late – dedicated to floods suffered by different Havana neighborhoods six months ago, during the torrential rains of last April 29.

It should be clarified that the colleagues of the new media have shown a special interest in not projecting themselves as against the established government in our country. In the presentation, for example, it is bluntly stated, “We do not accept donations from any institution that seeks – or has sought – the subversion of the Cuban political system.”

Are these journalists outside the system, but who do not want to stand out as being so? “Chemically pure” informers who do not want to identify themselves with any party agenda? Agents of a new pro-government initiative to make it seem that in Cuba the press acts freely? The broad access that Neighborhood Journalism enjoys to the Castro regime’s organs and officials could suggest the latter.

But the answers to these questions do not seem to have great importance. The purpose of truthfully reflecting the realities that confront our compatriots in the face of natural disasters deserve everyone’s applause. And it is fair to say that the compañeros of Neighborhood Journalism, to achieve this purpose, have displayed objectivity and professional skill. They do not follow the easy path of limiting themselves to proclaiming “the Revolution does not abandon its children.”

The series of reports begins with a piece by Geisy Guia Delis devoted to the work of the members of the National Search and Rescue Detachment, belonging to the Fire Department. It does not lavish laudatory adjectives or trite words on them: it focuses on the facts, such as – and this is just one example – the outstanding performance of a disabled rescuer, something that is perhaps exclusively Cuban.

From the expository point of view, it might have been preferable to start the delivery of Neighborhood Journalism with another of the reports. But we should not belittle different aspects of importance. Among them, the understandable aspiration to play it safe, leading off with a laudatory work which, regardless of the humanitarian effort undertaken, is about an arm of the Ministry of the Interior, an emblematic force of the system. One more way not to alienate the powers-that-be.

The second article is a report from San Felipe by Monica Baro: probably the best of the issue. It is amazed that the dispossessed of this capital neighborhood continue to suffer the calamities described in the report, trembling with anxiety whenever the sky clouds over and threatens rain with the consequent promise of certain flooding. And this more than half a century after the proclamation of the “Revolution of the humble, by the humble and for the humble”…

The colleagues of Neighborhood Journalism elude political allusions like the one I just offered, but it is not necessary to make them. They describe the reality and this, in its turbidity, is more eloquent than any adjective or declarations. We await their upcoming issues.

Cuba, A Country Without Thermometers / 14ymedio, Luz Escobar

Promotional posters for Cuban Medical Services in the departure terminal at Havana’s Jose Marti Airport. (14ymedio)
Promotional posters for Cuban Medical Services in the departure terminal at Havana’s Jose Marti Airport. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, 25 October 2015 – There are few grandmothers left who simply put their hand on a grandchild’s forehead to find out if he or she has a fever. With the widespread availability of body temperature thermometers in the home, this peculiar gift has been lost. Now it is imperative to have this little gadget that uses mercury or batteries, which, nevertheless, has been in short supply or entirely missing from Cuban pharmacies for years.

Maria Esther is a modern grandmother: “I grew up with thermometers and home phones as normal things,” she says with the pride of a woman born in the 20th century. Last week she was left in charge of both of her granddaughters and the little one started to show symptoms of the flu. Hours of calling stores, pharmacies and clinics shocked her with the hard reality: there are no thermometers for sale in Havana. continue reading

Asking at a pharmacy in the Cuban capital for this gadget of glass and quicksilver is like inquiring about an object from outer space. Faces of surprise and laughter are the employees’ response if a customer is looking for thermometers. At the clinic at the corner of Concordia and Campanario streets in Central Havana, a clerk told the frustrated buyer categorically, “We haven’t had any of those here for years,” like someone reporting the last sighting of an endangered species.

The customer, before leaving, resigned, took the opportunity to ask, “This medical power of a country, that sends doctors to fight Ebola… but doesn’t have any thermometers to check a simple fever…” Other customers silently nodded. Just a week ago official television confirmed in an extensive report the drug shortages threatening the country.

According to Barbara Olivera, head of the Operations Department of BioCubafarma, some 60 drugs classified as the “basic health core,” mainly those used to treat cancer, have disappeared from the national pharmacies. This is due to “accumulated production arrears since 2014,” the official said.

The loss of some foreign suppliers of raw materials and the “diversion of resources” [as employee theft is called in Cuba] were other causes identified for the shortages. Thermometers are not made in Cuba. They are imported from China, and are the mercury type, although many countries prohibit their use. They cannot be sold in Europe as of 2007, although they were sold in Spain until April 2009.

The national press harshly criticized the situation with medicines, but did not say a word about other products such as tape, elastic bandages, or bandaids. The Cuban people are so used to such shortages that you barely hear any complaints about the difficulties of getting something as simple as gauze, syringes, swabs or cotton balls.

Many resolve the problem by asking their relatives abroad to send them a thermometer. “At home, a couple of years ago, we had one sent to us by a cousin in the United States, but it was in Fahrenheit,” says Lourdes, 51. “I never understood how to convert to Celsius but we knew that over 100 degrees was a fever; but we can’t use it any more for lack of batteries.”

Even in the clean, well-stocked and air conditioned international pharmacies that sell in hard currency it’s not easy to find one. When they appear, the price ranges between six and ten CUC (approx. $6 to $10 US), according to the manufacturer, for sophisticated digital thermometers. In the pharmacies that sell in Cuban pesos those available are the mercury type and sell for three Cuban pesos (about 12¢ US).

But having hard currency guarantees nothing. In the Casa Bella store in Miramar, the helpful clerk says they don’t haven’t had thermometers for months and in response to a question says, “Don’t take the trouble to call others, they aren’t available in any pharmacy.” Behind her, a sign announces “excellent service.”

Pharmacy in Havana (EFE)
Pharmacy in Havana (EFE)

Customers at the Taquechel y Sarra tourist pharmacy, located in the historic center of Havana, receive the same response. “Beautifully restored, but few medicines,” says an old woman bitterly, on coming to buy pills for heartburn and leaving “stunned” by the prices.

The capital experiences only part of the problem. In June of 2014 in Granma province, the thermometer crisis reached a point where they didn’t even have them in the emergency rooms in the hospital network. However, people in the province could by them in the black market for 10 Cuban pesos. A similar situation occurred in Santa Clara, where some pharmacy clerks said the product hadn’t crossed their desks in more than 20 years.

Now the shortage has spread to all provinces of the country, as confirmed by this newspaper. In Pinar del Río an employee said that sometimes you could find digital thermometers in an entity of the Ministry of Public Health which she identified as “medical purposes” for a price of around 100 pesos. But “for a while now they haven’t had them,” she said.

The problem remains six months after the deputy health minister, Alfredo Gonzalez, assured the official press that Cubans would be able to buy such products “more easily” this year. Even Roberto Morales himself, Minister of Public Health, said they were taking the first steps, although they would not be able to meet the demand for the current year.

‘El Sexto’ Marches with the Ladies in White This Sunday / 14ymedio

The artist Danilo Maldonado, ‘El Sexto,’ marched with the Ladies in White this Sunday (Photo Angel Moya)
The artist Danilo Maldonado, ‘El Sexto,’ (the tallest person in the photo) marched with the Ladies in White this Sunday (Photo Angel Moya)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 25 October 2016 — The artist Danilo Maldonado, ‘El Sexto’ (The Sixth), joined 48 Ladies in White during their traditional walk down Fifth Avenue in Havana this Sunday. Released last week after ten months in prison, the graffiti artist accompanied the women and about twenty activists who gathered outside after mass at Santa Rita Church.

Also participating in the march were Jose Daniel Ferrer, leader of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU), along with the families of the three activists arrested while trying to approach Pope Francis during his visit to Cuba. The regime opponents Zaqueo Baez, Ismael Boris Reñi and the Lady in White Maria Josefa Acon are still being detained, after having been arrested on 20 September at the Mass in the Havana’s Plaza of the Revolution.

In the east of the country, UNPACU reported more than 80 arrests today to prevent individuals from reaching the Sanctuary del Cobre. In Havana, after the march, more than 50 Ladies in White and activists were arrested.

Revolutionary ‘Plattism’* / 14ymedio, Manuel Cuesta Morua

The inevitable contamination of the United States can only be assimilated in a Cuba faced with the exhaustion and advanced age of the Revolution, and the cultural failure of “We will be like Che.”
The inevitable contamination of the United States can only be assimilated in a Cuba faced with the exhaustion and advanced age of the Revolution, and the cultural failure of “We will be like Che.” (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Manuel Cuesta Morua, Havana, 23 October 2015 — During the State-sponsored 12th Forum of Cuban Civil Society Against the Blockade, which ended last Friday at the Ministry of Public Health’s auditorium in Havana, a unique paper was presented. Under the title “The Blockade: Methodology for Calculating Costs,” Pico Nieves, and expert from the National Institute of Economic Research, presented findings that deserve political attention, but not economic.

After listening to the presentation, one question lingered in the air. What logic does the Cuban government follow when it demands compensation for the costs of a voluntary war and, moreover, one that it did not win?

There are at least six arguments that challenge the proposal from Pico’s research:

Political: Two enemy States do not negotiate. Nothing in international practice or in the literature on States in conflict shows or demonstrates that the friend-enemy relationship, according to the German political theorist Carl Schmitt, involves trade in goods and services between them. The goal motivating such a pair is the disappearance of the other, not business relations. continue reading

Economic: The structure of the Cuban economy is not compatible with the American economy. Goods and services that Cuba could offer are not in the “market basket” of the American citizen, and, with regards to what Cuba could receive from the United States, which is everything, there is no Cuban monetary or wage structure, unless it was reproduced, since the 1970s or ’80s, of the type of a central or peripheral economic relationship that supposedly justified the Cuban Revolution.

Ownership structure: A privatized economy such as that of the United States does not fit with an economy as nationalized as that of Cuba. What would be the State partnership of Cuba with a country like the United States where there isn’t the most remote possibility for a role like the State’s in the Cuban economy, except with regards to trade relations?

Creating wealth: If the Cuban economic model of production was always one of State capitalism, there is a key difference with the American model. There the economic model is one of openness and plurality par excellence, and in Cuba, on the contrary, we are faced with the most closed and centralized economy. This leads to an increasingly important difference, the technological differences which are enormous. In this sense, the only option would have been for the United States to give international organizations political license to flood Cuba with credits. But again, we encounter the obstacle that we are enemies.

Economic policy: The sectors that could be attractive to the United States, for example tourism and cultural sectors, were only opened up in Cuba in the nineties and then only reluctantly.** In the 1970s and ‘80s allowing Yanke tourism in Cuba, the only potential area of economic ties, would have run up against that era’s most important concept of political control: ideological diversionism. US tourism would have brought the American Way of Life, inconceivable in that time.

Ideological: The inevitable contamination from the United States can only be assimilated in a Cuba faced with the exhaustion and advanced age of the Revolution, and the cultural failure of “We will be like Che.” What’s left of that model supposedly superior to and incompatible with capitalism?

In reality, the only chance of economic relations with the United States, in conditions of political peace, would have been through the facilitation of credit and then we would have had a problem not only with the Paris Club, but also with the Washington Consensus and the vulture funds. The inefficiency of the Cuban economy cannot be solved with money.

There is no analysis that could reconcile the Cuban Revolution being in a normal economic relationship with the United States. The Cuban Revolution is a “permanent revolution.” Permanent revolution is war, although it was a cold war, with the United States.

But the government’s insistence on compensation for a voluntary war with the United States, far beyond the political necessity of balancing the accounts for the uncompensated nationalizations, reveals the subconscious of those in power in Cuba: If the model of the command economy was possible with a war mentality, it is only sustainable in relation to the American economy. The Revolutionary “Plattism*” of the better.

Translator’s notes:
*The term “Plattism” refers to the Platt Amendment passed by the US Congress and subsequently adopted into Cuba’s first Constitution in 1901 as a condition for the United States removing its troops from the island. The Amendment gave the United States authority to intervene in Cuba’s foreign affairs, an “occupation without occupiers.”
**After the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of its massive subsidies to Cuba, the State was forced to seek other sources of foreign exchange.

Any Day Is A Bad Day To Die Alone / 14ymedio, Orlando Palma

Cuba could become the most aged country in the Americas
Cuba could become the most aged country in the Americas (14ymedio, Luz Escobar)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Orlando Palma, Havana, 23 October 2015 — The National Funeral Home, nine at night. In one of the rooms only one person is found. A woman is rocking in the chair furthest from the coffin. She’s filing her nails. “Who was the deceased?” asks someone from the doorway. “I don’t know; I’m here waiting for my daughter who went to the bathroom,” she answers. When she gets up and leaves, the casket is left alone. No one has come for the final goodbye.

The image of a society where families take responsibility for grandparents until the end of their days has shattered in recent decades in Cuba. The aging population, economic problems and high rates of migration among the young are some of the reasons that many elderly people find themselves without family support or company. continue reading

“You can plant a tree, raise a child or write a book, but that does not mean you won’t be alone when the reaper comes,” says Manolo, 81 years old, who lives in a rooming house in the Los Sitios neighborhood of Havana. A retired engineer, he has lived alone for more than 20 years since his son left for the United States during the rafting crisis. Among his greatest fears are dying with no one nearby and “that they find me because of the stench,” he says ironically.

According to official figures, 18.3% of the Island’s 11.1 million residents are over age 60, and by 2025 it is estimated that the elderly will exceed 25%. Cuba could become the most aged country in the Americas. The situation presents not only a challenge for the health care infrastructure and social security system, but also for family organization and humanitarian agencies.

Although it is still common to find grandchildren, parents and grandparents under the same roof given the serious housing problems, the cases of old people who live alone also have increased in recent years. According to the 2012 census, in 9% of Cuban homes at least three generations live together, but in 12.6%, old people live alone.

Every day, those people have to overcome the obstacles of solitary old age. Low pensions or lack of family affection are among the reasons that they do not spend their last years in the material comfort and affection that they always dreamed of. Instead, they have to take care of themselves, appealing to neighbors in search of support or asking for help from humanitarian organizations.

Laura, 64 years of age, is one of more than 3,000 volunteers from Caritas who assist some 28,000 people, especially the elderly, throughout the country. There is a lot of work given the increase in the number of people who are growing old alone. She believes that in a few years she, too, will need help because she never had children and she was widowed five years ago.

“I give food to some because they have problems getting around, while others I keep company on one afternoon or another, and I talk to them,” explains this retired teacher who lives on the outskirts of the city of Ciego de Avila. Based on her experience, “there are more old people living alone because many of their children have left the country.”

Across the hall of the rooming house in Los Sitios, where Manolo lives, an old woman has just been taken to the hospital. “Her daughters do not know, because we have to wait for them to call from Spain in order to give them the news,” he says. Nevertheless, the man believes that once admitted she is going to be more careful because they cannot keep taking care of her.

Bedridden, the woman needed her neighbors to help her bathe and eat. “Everyone living here is old, and we can no longer carry her to the bathroom,” the old neighbor worries. “The daughters send money for disposable diapers and skin cream, but they are not here to help day in and day out,” says the old man.

However, the Public Health system does not seem to be prepared to deal with the marked aging of the Island’s population, either. Of the more than 83,000 doctors in the country in 2013, only 279, some 0.33%, were specialized in Geriatrics and Gerontology.

In rural areas the phenomenon of old people living alone seems to occur less often, but it is still worrisome. “The youth don’t want to learn about the countryside, and they leave, so that this has turned into a town of old people,” says Maria Antonia, 69 years old and resident of Vertientes, Camaguey. One of her sons is working in Veradero in a construction crew, and the other “joined the military, and they gave him a house in Havana,” she explains.

The woman has a surprising routine for someone her age. “I get up before five to brew the coffee that I later go out to sell in some places.” She can be on her feet three or four hours in the morning to offer her merchandise. “When I return home, I am in a lot of pain,” she says. “But what am I going to do?” she asks resignedly.

“I only have neighbors when I am in pain and need to go to the doctor,” explains Maria Antonia, who suffers from heart disease. Nevertheless, she says she prefers her current situation of solitude to ending up in a nursing home. “No, that would kill me; I need to be active,” she says. For months she has not been able to clean because of arthritis in her hands, and she pays a woman to clean her house. “I’m fading little by little,” she explains uneasily.

More than 142,000 senior citizens reside in Camaguey province, but there is a capacity of only 911 beds in 13 nursing homes plus 24 daycare centers for the elderly. In statements to the local press, Doctor Jesus Regueira, head of the Elderly, Social Assistance and Mental Health section of the Provincial Public Health Department, has lamented that the availability of beds does not correspond “to the potential demand.”

However, most of the elderly consulted for this article say that the lack of family affection is the greatest problem of living alone. “Sometimes I spend days without talking to another person,” says Maria Antonia. “What I fear most is leaving this life without anyone knowing; it scares me that there is no one to close my eyes.”

Translated by Mary Lou Keel

Electoral Verses / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

A woman checks the list of candidates for the municipal elections. (14ymedio)
A woman checks the list of candidates for the municipal elections. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, 23 October 2015 — Poet, teacher and literary critic Guillermo Rodriguez Rivera has published an interesting article about the Cuban electoral system in the blog Segunda Cita, managed by the singer Silvio Rodriguez.

Rodriguez Rivera insists that the need for reform of the Cuban electoral system is not unrelated to the rapprochement between the governments of Cuba and the United States, and he is right. The Electoral Act has been bad since its enactment in 1982 and should have been changed long ago. Not, as Rodriguez Rivera says, because transforming it is a necessity “that emanates from the process of updating our Socialist model.” continue reading

“Today, in truth, we Cubans are not electing 612 deputies as members of our National Assembly of People’s Power,” says the university professor, although it would have been better to acknowledge that we never have elected them. If there has never been an occasion in which one of those proposed has been rejected for not accumulating 50% of the votes, it is not because they are good or bad, but because the majority of the voters don’t really know who they are.

The poet recognizes that “it is the Candidate Commission that is really electing our deputies; we voters do not do anything but ratify them” — certainly a good point — but he does not have a clear proposal for how a mechanism will work to convert a citizen into a candidate. He limits himself to suggesting that “the other 50% will be personalities outside the provincial assemblies, but proposed and approved by them as candidates,” so that the task of selecting half of the list will be transferred from the Candidate Commission to the Provincial Assemblies. The current political approach, that shapes an absolute majority in the Provincial Assemblies, would be charged with perpetuating their hegemony by choosing those who, in their judgment, are politically correct.

Rodriguez Rivera points out that “the rejection of the old politics has motivated voters who are very disinformed with respect to the deputies they elect.” No Guillermo, it is not about a prejudice embedded in the 8 million voters in this country.

In the first place, “the old politics” is only understood in Cuba by those who are 88 or older, who experienced first hand the last Cuban elections, which occurred in 1948 (assuming the poet does not legitimate the Batista farces) and, on the other hand, the current Electoral Law in Article 171 establishes that “every voter is to consider, when determining which candidate to vote for, only their personal characteristics, their prestige and their capacity to serve the people.” Information that they must deduce from a photo and biographical data that is posted and that, by the way, is not even drafted by the candidate, but by the electoral commission of his or her district.

At the end of Article 171, in case it wasn’t clear, it was specified that, “Candidates can participate together in events, conferences and workplace visits and exchange opinions with the workers which allows, at the same time, for them to get to know the candidates personally, without this being considered a campaign of election propaganda.”

As there is always someone who does not fully understand the purposes of a Revolutionary Law, in Article 172, in its first paragraph, it is stated that it is a crime to violate the principles established in Article 171.

The new electoral law must return to the political profession virtues that have been snatched away. In a State of Law citizens must be able to express themselves freely without fear of reprisals, and must have the right to associate around their points of view.

The idea that the candidates come before the cameras to defend their proposals is not sufficient if this right of presenting political proposals is not extended to all points of view and under equal conditions: Liberals, Social Democrats, Christian Democrats, Environmentalists, Communists and others who appear in the rich Island fantasia. And not just one month before the elections, but during the entire year, and not exclusively in the provincial television studios but also in whatever media exists.

The Candidate Commission has to go, along with the prohibition on political campaigning. The voters must have the right to know how the deputy they elect is going to vote on their behalf.

The president of the Republic must be elected by a direct vote of the citizens and not in a parliamentary caucus.

Along with the Electoral Law, there must be a Law of Political Parties proclaimed, and above all there is a need to convene a plural and democratic Constituent Assembly to provide us with a modern Constitution, in accord with the demands of the 21st century. All this must be done because it is lacking, not because Fidel Castro has said that the ‘current model’ “doesn’t even work for us anymore,” a phrase which, moreover, has been ignored arguing that they had interpreted it to the letter.


Proposals for the Cuban Press / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

Man in front of a newsstand reading a printed version of '14ymedio', distributed in “alternate” ways.
Man in front of a newsstand reading a printed version of ’14ymedio’, distributed in “alternate” ways.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, 21 October 2015 — In the last half century the Cuban media could be categorized as private monopoly in the hands of the only permitted Party. However, in the inevitable process of transition to democracy, it is essential to modify this situation. The first step should undoubtedly be to diversify the forms of ownership of these informative spaces to ensure quality and plurality.

The presumed arrival of several international media seeking to install themselves in the country could help to raise the quality of journalism and develop new approaches. However, it will have to be done appropriately so as not to strangle the incipient national independent press, which confronts serious material disabilities in the face of the current monopoly situation and the great consortiums arriving in the country. continue reading

The best solution for a scenario of this nature would be, along with freedom of the press, the creation of (non-state) public media that would combine a cooperative structure with state subsidies and an eligible and renewable management team. “Everyone’s” information channels should not be subject to the contents of one’s purse, nor the editorial conspiracies of journalists with any type of power, be it political or economic.

The renewal of political life in the country will also require the presence of all ideological viewpoints in the media. However, none should be tied to the financial resources of the political groups. So to achieve an equality of opportunities there will have to be laws in this regard.

The evolution of democracy in Cuba will determine what is most desirable, but it should seize the relative advantage presented by starting from scratch. This involves learning from the experiences of others, and opening a public debate to facilitate finding the best approaches and formulas for future Cuban press.

The parliament, representative and plural, should have its own channel, although it would threaten to be very boring, but it would have the obligation to transmit the debates, publish the laws and clarify the doubts of the population. Hours of interminable discussion to change a comma or a phrase in a law would fill the broadcasts.

There will also need to be a space – television, digital or printed – for the dissemination of cultural values, without elitism or favor. Faces linked to the party in power should not get the most on-air time, nor should those who can pay for the spaces, but rather those who have more value and shine in our country. Something like this will put a definitive end to the shameful blacklists that have censored in the media emigrant artists, “deserting” athletes, scientists critical of the government and citizens who don’t embrace the ideology in power.

If these commitments are met in the public media, the private can compete on quality and diversity, under the premise of the greatest possible freedom of expression. However, these alone are just the foundation of the complex edifice of a free press, which in their own way will have to emerge from its own cracks and adjust to the earthshaking movements of reality. Citizens will cease to be passive receptors of what they see, hear or read, consuming at will information “a la carte.”

It will then be the job of journalists to offer a professional and attractive product, one that manages to compete in the market for information without kneeling before power nor appealing to exaggeration as a strategy.

Mariela Castro Absent from Human Rights Hearing on LGBTI Discrimination in Cuba / 14ymedio

This video is not subtitled in English, our apologies.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, 20 October 2015 — An independent group of transgender activists in Cuba denounced for the first time, on Monday, LGBTI discrimination on the island before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR). Mariela Castro, director of the National Center for Sex Education (Cenesex), however, did not participate in the meeting, in which the lawyer James L. Cavallaro and other members of the — Tracy Robinson and Felipe Gonzalez — listened for an hour to the testimony of several speakers, such as Juana Mora Cedeno, from Free Rainbow; the transgender Sisy Montiel from the Transfantasy Network, and Carlos Quezada, from the Institute on Race Equality and Human Rights.

Quezada acknowledged the “visibility” of the subject in Cuba, lamenting that it is associated with one name, that of the daughter of Cuban president Raul Castro. “However, such visibility at the international level contrasts with the real human rights situation for members of the LGBTI community in Cuba,” he explained. “Members of the independent community in defense of LGBTI rights in Cuba wonder what would happen with the visibility of the issue on the island, if the Mariela Castro were not in Cenesex,” he added. continue reading

The activists Cedeno and Montiel have petitioned the Cuban authorities to avoid discrimination based on sexual orientation, with no response. Both also affirmed that they are victims of police surveillance and the tapping of their phones and added that agents of State Security questioned them about their possible participation in the last Summit of the Americas.

Cedano highlighted that the lack of official data on the rights of LGBTI people, which has been collected in independent surveys. These surveys have put into relief the discrimination and abuses against the community, including by the Cuban authorities themselves.

The activist pointed out the discrimination in the workplace and denounced the impunity enjoyed by these discriminatory attitudes towards homosexual, lesbian and transgender people.

Sisy Montiel, sentenced to 17 years for “female mannerisms,” talked about the marginalization from an early age of young boys who want to dress like girls, warning that this condition forces them to leave school and thus end up in prostitution.

Learning To Run a Business / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

Professor Darien García. (14ymedio)
Professor Darien García. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 21 October 2015 — In the middle of Los Sitios neighborhood, in the heart of Central Havana, the Jesuits have a project focusing on the neediest sectors of the population. The elegant façade of the place contrasts with the humble homes surrounding it, where so many families face the drama of an alcoholic father, a daughter working as a prostitute or a teenager in prison. The Loyola Center programs are for them, and for those who face these problems daily.

This project of the Society of Jesus, which has other sites in Cienfuegos, Camagüey and Santiago de Cuba, was inaugurated in January 2012 and since then has not stopped growing. In the mural at the entrance of the imposing building, there are announcements for dance classes for girls, support for single mothers, and computer and language courses.

Of particular note is the “Basic Course for small business management” that began its 13th session this September. Of the 120 people who applied for admission, just over 80 came on the first day and now there are fewer than 50. Both students and teachers believe that this course is a success. continue reading

Darien Garcia who directs the courses is a graduate in accounting, age 38, with the rare virtue of believing in what he does in a country where many people of his generation dream of emigrating, or simply stand around on a corner to pass the time. This young man spent eight years teaching at the University of Havana and has now been at the Center for two and a half years.

The teacher explains why more than half of those enrolled do not attend the course. “This drop off is because, when they see that we don’t teach any get rich quick tricks here, they leave the course.”

“Of all the current students, only 15% have businesses, another 10% are on the verge of starting something, and the rest are State workers who want to move to the private sector, single mothers who are housewives, and others who are about to be.”

The basic course lasts two-and-a-half months and is divided into phases: the introduction, which includes vision, mission, analysis of the environment, business objectives and target market; a second phase with all the tools of the process: accounting, finance, costs and management of resources; and a third phase with legal aspects, taxes and more emphasis on business ethics. The latter class is given by priests. In addition, every Wednesday at 7:30 pm there are lectures on various topics with free access.

“We take advantage of the opportunity to teach values in the solidarity economy, like how to make your business grow without crushing others, which is very complex. We have students with professional training, some with university degrees, but also some with warped ethics, which we try to address. It is very curious how some, when they confront a problem, the first thing that comes to mind is to apply a fraudulent solution, whether to resolve things ‘under the table’ or to deceive the consumer. Here we pass on business ethics, an economic system of sustainable development, that respects people and the environment.”

Adapting to current circumstances, this course also teaches how to manage non-agricultural cooperatives and offers thematic courses such administration and working in teams. For the coming year a course is planned on the principles of food service, another on financial processes for private businesses in Cuba and the second round of “managing cooperatives,” which includes a topic very popular in State enterprises: internal control.

“In Cuba we have the idea that internal control is a method to keep employees from stealing,” explains Darien Garcia. “But, in reality, its objective is to improve a business, to make it more efficient and effective.” In the case of cooperatives, it is not mandatory from a legal point of view, but it is essential for the health of the business.

In the previous 12 terms, with more than three courses per year, more than 240 people have graduated. In 2016, there is a proposal to measure the impact of the project on a society slowly evolving, changing paradigms and lifestyles.

One of the most interesting dynamics happening is that at a Center that teaches how to run a business, students are given tools based on knowledge management and then they have to confront the known limitations that still confront entrepreneurs.

The Loyola Center in the neighborhood of El Sitios, in the heart of Central Havana. (14ymedio)
The Loyola Center in the neighborhood of El Sitios, in the heart of Central Havana. (14ymedio)

“We are based on the principles of economic solidarity and sustainability, that don’t limit the accumulation of wealth, but that make the students understand that to achieve their personal well-being they have to also achieve that of those around them. We work only within what is legal, understanding that drugs, prostitution, weapons, are all illegal. We confront the problems of many who believe that they know everything, and limit themselves to copying what has been successful. Some go to the extreme of wanting to copy the successful, and if someone puts the sofa in that position, they also want to put it the same way,” explains professor Garcia.

Across the country there are now 440 registered non-agricultural cooperatives, of which 400 are operating. On the other hand, the law only allows for 211 self-employment occupations, some of which are described so generically they can encompass any work, while others are defined so rigidly that they leave little space. All of this is talked about and discussed in the Loyola Center classrooms and hallways, where the embryo of the new Cuban middle class may be being formed.

“Today, there are businesses, including cooperatives that even though they don’t accumulate property, they accumulate wealth, for example in construction,” explains Darien Garcia. “What we propose as a social project of the Jesuits in Cuba is not to strengthen those who have the most fruitful businesses and the higher economic and cultural levels, but to reach those businesses in more difficult conditions, those that are emerging. Our social mission is to be where the most deficient sectors of society are.”

‘El Sexto’ Released After 10 Months In Detention / 14ymedio

Danilo Maldonado, ‘El Sexto.’ (Artist’s File)
Danilo Maldonado, ‘El Sexto.’ (Artist’s File)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 10 October 2015 — Danilo Maldonado, El Sexto, was released this Tuesday after 10 months detention in Valle Grande Prison in Havana. Around 10 in the morning an official entered the cellblock where the artist was detained and told him to collect all his personal belongings. “They handcuffed me and outside I waited for “the negotiator,” the graffiti artist related, and that’s when they said they would release me.” Subsequently he was taken in a car to the door of his home in the Arroya Arenas.

According to a statement from the prison authorities, the artist will not be prosecuted. “They told me my immediate release is ‘without conditions’,” Maldonado told 14ymedio. In a phone conversation with this newspaper the graffiti artist, detained since last December for organizing a performance with two pigs painted with the names of Raul and Fidel, joked about a possible legal claim on his part for the police to return the animals seized at the time of his arrest. continue reading

The artist sent a message of thanks to all those “who helped” in his release, especially to the activists who continued to demand his release, the media that publicized his case and to international human rights organizations such as Amnesty International.

When asked about his immediate plans, he replied: “I have a great deal of work to do, many ideas to put into practice.”

Last week the artist had resumed his hunger strike, according to his mother, Maria Victoria Machado, insisting that he would maintain his fast until his release.

Last week El Sexto declared he would resume the hunger strike if he was not released within the first 15 days of October. He broke a 24-day fast earlier this month on being assured by a lieutenant colonel, who identified himself as a “mediator,” assured him that he would be released in “fewer than 15 days.”

This last Friday Amnesty International issued a statement denouncing the fact that the authorities in Cuba failed “miserably” in not fulfilling the promise of freedom for Danilo Maldonado. The London-based organization believes that the artist is a prisoner of conscience and maintains that the attitude of Havana is “a painful illustration of the indifference of the Cuban government for the freedom of expression.”

The Faces Of The Cuban Dream / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

The musical On Your feet! based on the lives of Gloria and Emilio Estefan. (Matthew Murphy)
The musical On Your feet! based on the lives of Gloria and Emilio Estefan. (Matthew Murphy)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Generation Y, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 20 October 2015 — “What is the Cuban dream?” he asked, as one inquires about the hour, the quality of the coffee, or the afternoon’s weather forecast. Around the table we all remained silent in the face of this question launched by the visitor. More than answering him about the country desired, the provocation made me think about the need for our dreams to reflect that faces of those who hold them, the people who inhabit them.

I remembered this conversation last Saturday, while enjoying the musical On your feet! in a crowded theater on Broadway in New York. Based on the lives of Gloria and Emilio Estefan, the work transcends the story of a Cuban couple making their way in the competitive world of entertainment in the United States, to become a story of nostalgia, tenacity and success. continue reading

Before the spectator’s eyes, a story develops beginning with the pain of exile and memories of a life left behind on the island. A reference that is maintained throughout this play, currently being staged at the Marquis Theater in the Big Apple. Directed by Jerry Mitchel, the musical successfully details the transformation of sadness into energy and of the melancholy of emigration into entrepreneurship.

On your feet! is primarily a celebration of Cuban identity that manages to get the audience out of their seats and dancing, with tears still running down their faces. Through the excellent musical performances of Ana Villafañe in the role of Gloria Estafan, and the rest of the cast, the play captivates without becoming cloying, and connects the audience with the culture of our country beyond the stereotypes.

Ana Villafañe and Josh Segarra in the roles of Gloria and Emilio Estefan (On Your Feet!)
Ana Villafañe and Josh Segarra in the roles of Gloria and Emilio Estefan (On Your Feet!)

The musical deserves a prolonged applause not only for its artistic virtues and superb staging, but above all, because it exalts values our society urgently needs to reclaim. It is about the lives of people who inspire in way very different from the models imposed by the Cuban government’s official propaganda. Gloria and Emilio do not provoke uncritical appreciation, fear, docile gratitude, but rather the desire to imitate them… to overcome.

Someday, when Cuban children open the schoolbooks that teach them to read, they will no longer see individuals dressed in military uniform with rifles on their shoulders. Instead of that excessive worship of men at arms, we will find real images of success, of social, scientific and cultural achievements. In those pages the real models will appear, the faces of the Cuban dream.

El Sexto Resumed Hunger Strike Two Days Ago, According To His Mother / 14ymedio

Danilo Maldonado, 'E; Sexto.' (Claudio Fuentes)
Danilo Maldonado, ‘E; Sexto.’ (Claudio Fuentes)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, 17 October 2015 — The artist Danilo Maldonado, “El Sexto,” resumed his hunger strike two days ago, his mother, Maria Victoria Machado, said on Saturday. By telephone from Valle Grande prison, the graffiti artist said he would maintain the strike until he is released.

Last week El Sexto declared he would resume the hunger strike if he wasn’t freed within the first 15 days of October. He fasted for 24 days, stopping earlier this month when a lieutenant colonel, who identified himself as a “mediator,” assured him that he would be released in “less than 15 days”.

In a statement on Friday, Amnesty International denounced that the Cuban authorities of failed “miserably” by not fulfilling the promise of freedom for Danilo Maldonado. The London-based organization believes that the artist is a prisoner of conscience and maintains that the attitude of Havana is “a painful illustration of the indifference of the Cuban government for freedom of expression.”

El Sexto was arrested last December for organizing a performance with two pigs, painted with the names of Raul and Fidel.

Reclaiming The Parental Authority They Snatched From Us / 14ymedio, Jorge Guillen

More than 14,000 children were sent out of Cuba between 1960 and 1962 in Operation Peter Pan. (Wikimedia Commons)
More than 14,000 children were sent out of Cuba between 1960 and 1962 in Operation Peter Pan. (Wikimedia Commons)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Jorge Guillén, Candelaria, Artemisa, 15 October 2015 — In the early years of the Cuban Revolution we experienced one of the saddest chapters of our history, called “Operation Peter Pan.” Thousands of parents sent their children abroad to avoid the government taking their parental authority from them and sending their children to the Soviet Union, according to the propaganda of the time. Official figures put the number of children who left Cuba via this program at 14,048, and many of them were never reunited with their families.

Although those demons against parental authority did not materialize the way in which it was thought they might, the consequence of government policies was that we Cuban parents had less and less impact on the education of our children. We could not choose what kind of education small children received, nor where they studied. All the private and religious schools were closed, leaving it to the government to impart knowledge and values and to determine the way in which this was done. continue reading

Childcare centers arose where children were taken at a very early age, many of them as young as 45 days old. In addition, schools in the countryside appeared – high schools, technical schools and junior high schools — where children boarded, spending most of their time separated from their homes. These schools only allowed students to return home on the weekends, or every 15 days, so that children and teens slept only a few nights a month under the same roof as their parents.

Then began the far-reaching process of depersonalization and uprooting. These boarding schools had a semi-military regimen, but bullying and vulgarity raged throughout. Any glimmer of culture and delicacy displayed by a student was interpreted as weakness or as evidence of being a petit bourgeoisie, which was the equivalent of being a counterrevolutionary.

Those who professed any religion were treated similarly. Thousands of people were forced to renounce their faith or their way of thinking to be allowed to study and to avoid being branded as traitors.

Brainwashing, applied from an early age to the students at these schools, also deprived parents of the chance to have more control over their children. Fidel Castro’s slogan in which he asserted “we no longer belong to ourselves, we belong entirely to the motherland” became increasingly real. Under this maxim, the government gave itself the right to break apart families in the name of the Revolution.

Meanwhile, parents were overwhelmed by “voluntary work,” military mobilizations and other ideological and work responsibilities, which also reduced the time available to spend at home with their families. Life was lived away from home, among “comrades” and colleagues, so that over time ties within the home were weakened.

These circumstances did great damage to families and, as a result, to society. In many cases parents confronted their own children and demanded that they give up their personal plans to take on the challenges of the Revolution. In this process of “massification,” the individual was degraded to the point of being turned into a puppet.

Today we are reaping the fruits of these policies. The official discourse tries to hold families responsible for the ethical and moral disaster overwhelming Cuban society when the main culprit has been the government itself, in its zeal for control and maintaining power, regardless of the effects on the dismemberment and corruption of families. The loss of values is also blamed on the hardships of the Special Period, but the reality is that this disaster began to take shape from the beginning of the Revolution.

We parents need to recover the right and the freedom to decide how and what kind of education we want for our children. Giving prominence to the family in the raising of the youngest children could begin to repair the evil that has been done. Only then, would we be reclaiming our parental authority.