“Return to Ithaca” or the Magic of Censorship / 14ymedio, Miriam Celaya

Scene from the film "Return to Ithaca"
Scene from the movie “Return to Ithaca”

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 4 May 2015 — The reunion of five friends on a roof terrace in Central Havana is the thread on which Return to Ithaca’s plot rests. Leonardo Padura wrote the screenplay and Laurent Cantet directed this French film about Cuban topics.

The film is currently circulating underground among Havana moviegoers, preceded by the best possible presentation: the official censorship that prevented its showing during the latest edition of the Latin American Film Festival, held in Havana in December, 2014. However, Return to Ithaca has been shown at the Charles Chaplin auditorium in Havana, in the framework of the French Film Festival, being held throughout the month of May.

The film has become the cultural phenomenon of the moment, largely “by the grace of” the official censorship in a country where direct or veiled criticism of the system remains an event, even when — as in this instance — it makes use of worn-out clichés and platitudes. continue reading

The second element in its favor is participation in the script by Leonardo Padura, who has, in recent years, become a fashionable writer inside and outside Cuba, especially since the success of his greatest achievement to date, the novel The Man Who Loved Dogs, a best seller that has sparked what has been termed in literary cliques as “Paduramania”.

Almost the entire cast of the film is composed of experienced and well-known actors such as Isabel Santos, Nestor Jiménez, Fernando Hechavarría and Jorge Perugorría, though it should be noted that the actors do not always come out unscathed from the setbacks imposed on them by the script’s faults and the confinements of the straightjackets their characters embody.

Apart from that, Return to Ithaca is but a mediocre movie that, perhaps with the pretense of presenting the drama of a generation born and raised in the deceit of half a century of a failed Cuban socialist revolution, barely manages a pathetic caricature summarized in the five life stories of resentful and frustrated individuals who do not even come close to representing the spirit of their generation.

The plot, settings, characters and actions turn on stereotypical machinations to the point of lacking credibility and dramatic force. The script is somewhat forced and artificial, in addition to widely appealing to the ease of profanity and vulgarity that, for some, has become “the recourse of Cubanism” in film and literature. It seems that, regardless of what level of education or schooling we Cubans may have, we can only express ourselves through the use of obscene language.

Neither do the characters’ stories reach sufficient depth. They are stiff, synthetic, lacking nuance and not very credible, all of which fail to convey their personal conflicts or to move the viewer’s emotional fiber, thus establishing an atmosphere of distancing between actors and spectators bordering on rejection.

Plot, settings, characters and actions turn out stereotypical machinations to the point of lacking credibility and dramatic force

Amadeo (played by Nestor Jiménez) is the reason for the 50-something reunion of this group of friends. He is a writer who left Cuba to go live in Spain for reasons his friends only find out at the beginning of the movie.

So Amadeo decides to stay in Spain during a working trip to avoid betraying his friend Rafa (played by Fernando Hechavarría), a talented painter who has been harassed and marginalized because of his lack of political commitment to the system. When the reunion takes place, Rafa, who has never asserted himself over the hedge of official censorship, feels bitter about having to survive producing paintings lacking in artistic value for sale to tourists, while Amadeo embodies the misfit émigré who has never been able to write again since his departure, and is now determined to stay in Cuba.

Tania (Isabel Santos) is a doctor specializing in Ophthalmology who, during the so-called Special Period crisis of the 90’s, authorized her minor children’s departure from Cuba. Her decision plunged her into a depression, which she tries to overcome by appealing to her religious beliefs of African origins, as evidenced by the hand of Orula on the bracelet she wears on her wrist. Tania’s debate centers on whether or not she acted correctly when she distanced herself from her children.

Eddy (Jorge Perugorría), manages some enterprise or “firm.” He is a cynic, a hedonist, an opportunist, a parasite, and he is unethical. He travels frequently, he “gets around by car,” constantly gets calls on his cell phone and arrives on the scene with two shopping bags and a bottle of whiskey, a real sign of his status. He is the living image of the great pretender.

Aldo (Pedro Julio Díaz), a character and a perfectly forgettable performance, serves as host for the meeting. He is a frustrated engineer dedicated to the crafting of batteries and just barely making a living, the reason his wife left him to leave the country with an Italian. He is the resigned, conciliatory type, and – together with his mother, with whom he still resides – is one of the plot’s most obvious clichés: a decent and nice Afro-Cuban living in poverty in Central Havana, in a promiscuous environment, surrounded by marginal individuals who sacrifice pigs on the roof terrace next door, of couples who argue loudly from their balcony and of good-natured neighbors who shout out the scores of the baseball game they are watching on TV.

His mother is the kindly black woman who gives good advice, with a scarf wrapped around her head, who makes the best black beans that everyone wants to eat, and who humbly sets the table before leaving the room. She is a shockingly dispensable character.

The cliché of drawings showing El Malecón, the harbor, the Plaza of the Revolution and the Capitol’s cupola are abundant, as silent evidence that the story takes place in Havana, which the same the scenery painted on cardboard could have validated. This almost forces one to remember – in contrast — the masterful way in which Fernando Pérez managed those icons of the Havana environs in his film Suite Havana, where, rather than mere scenes, they are co-stars conveying the spirit of the cityscapes.

What reasons did the commissioners have to censor this poor film during the last film festival in Havana?

Return to Ithaca exudes the oblique, patronizing and folk interpretation of a team of foreign filmmakers and, as such, it’s oblivious to the reality it that wants to present. Therefore, since they are ignorant of the intricacies of such a complex, varied, and nuanced community, the final result offers a superficial and plain view of that reality, unfolding, as a touch of local color, what actually constitutes yet another unfortunate stereotype.

In general, the plot clings to the past — which is really the only element all the characters have in common — by appealing to victimization, to catharsis and to forced conflicts between them, while the Cuban socio-political system, reflected primarily among the memories of the characters, is the invisible villain, the victimizer, flowing from each actor’s lines, though only in the third person, singular: “they sent us to agriculture,” they made us go to the harvest,” “they took us to pick tobacco in the countryside,” “they did not let us listen to The Beatles,” “they fucked up our lives,” and others along the same lines. A non-committal “they did such-and-such to us,” a kind of impersonal culprit entity which is, all at once, the system and nobody, and that allows sneaking the bundle out through the open escape hatch.

And, to put the icing on the cake, there is a version of Return to Ithaca, this calamitous cinematographic accident, that breaks both scenic as well as temporary and situational planes, so that, in some passages, the viewer witnesses a sudden and dramatically useless blackout on the roof, and immediately afterwards, as if by magic, the characters converse with a perfectly lit up Havana in the background, or a roof scene ends and — without a transition — the next scene takes place indoors, with the characters seated around a table in the dining room, savoring Aldo’s mother’s incomparable black beans.

If this disruptive intention was to surprise the viewer, it only serves to baffle him.

In short, when the parade of credits indicates that Return to Ithaca is over (at last!), the viewer can feel a strange mixture of relief and disappointment. Relief, because it will probably convince him that the most wasted 90 minutes of his life are just over. Disappointment, because, just like the very characters in the movie, he will feel deeply cheated. And so perhaps, as it happened to me, he will get up from his chair wondering what reasons the commissioners had to censor this poor film during the last film festival in Havana.

*Orula, a major Orisha in the Afro Cuban religion of Santería, (Yoruba in English), is the future prophet and the counselor of humans.

Translated by Norma Whiting

The Two Halves of Raul Castro / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

The meeting between Raul Castro and Pope Francisco. (EFE)
The meeting between Raul Castro and Pope Francisco. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 11 May 2015 – Raul Castro arriving in Italo Calvino’s other homeland, like the Viscount of Calvino’s book, landed divided in two, split down the middle. He came from a flood of soldiers and armaments at the Red Square parade in Moscow, where he showed his Communist nostalgia recalling the “glory days” of the Soviet Union. In Rome, however, he arrived with his other side taking the lead. At the Vatican he became the man educated in a Jesuit college and even confessed to Pope Francis that he might be disposed to return to the Church and once again take up prayer.

This Sunday, the two contradictory and irreconcilable pieces of Raul Castro have returned to Cuba, a country also fragmented between the celerity with which it feeds hopes and the slow pace of reality. The official media only reported the tour of one of the General’s parts, that of commitments and continuity and the embrace of the Kremlin comrades. However, with regards to the meeting with the pope, they only reported the words of thanks for the mediation between Cuba and the United States, accompanied by a reference to the pope’s upcoming visit to the Island. continue reading

Why did neither prime time TV news nor the newspaper Granma report Raul Castro’s declarations about a possible return to the faith? Because this part is not suitable to be aired indoors, it should only be exposed to a foreign public. Inside the house, within the national frontiers, the image must continue to be that of a tough, strong man of clenched fist, who neither wavers nor exhibits any weakness. In Cuba he is not willing to show the moderation or the diplomatic side on display during his trip. Here, he wants to make it clear who leads and reaffirm that there is no room for differences nor opposition.

At home, the image must continue to be that of a tough, strong man of clenched fist, who neither wavers nor exhibits any weakness

To add to the contradictions, while the General-President was engaged in a foreign tour, Fidel Castro published some reflections that reinforce the choice of Marxism-Leninism. Speaking out for an atheistic and materialistic ideology a few hours after his younger brother was received by Saint Peter’s successor. It was not a coincidental text, nor a careless one. It focused on reining in the reformist side that Raul Castro exhibited before democratic governments. The commander-in-chief also needed to make clear the limit of the transformations Cuba is experiencing, which so far have been timidly focused on the economic sphere without going so far as political changes.

Like the story written by Italo Calvino, it is very difficult for these two halves to coexist without confrontation. The pope, the French president and Barack Obama, among others, have shaken the hand of the politician who says he is willing to talk. They do not observe how the military and intolerant side, that is also a part of him, behaves on Cuban soil. Under this Raul Castro are authorized the acts of repudiation against the dissidents, State Security’s harassment and surveillance of activists and the greater part of the population which doesn’t even dare to criticize the system out loud.

A Raul Castro who maintains a benign moderation towards the outside world and a harsh authoritarianism within Cuba would be a terrible scenario for the future

Which of the two halves will prevail? A Raul Castro who returns to religious faith, propels a comprehensive reform of the country and sits down to talk with the internal opposition? Or that other, raised up in military intransigence, who incites political hatred and puts the interests of his family clan above the urgent needs of the nation? Will there come a time when he cannot sustain such duplicity?

In the last part of the book by the famous Italian-Cuban writer, the two halves of the protagonist are sewn together and live in harmony after trying to annihilate himself. In the Cuban case, that could be the most devastating of the choices. A Raul Castro who maintains a benign moderation towards the outside world and a harsh authoritarianism within Cuba would be a terrible scenario for the future.

Terrorism and the Revolution of 1959 / 14ymedio, Jose Gabriel Barrenchea

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Jose Gabriel Barrenchea, Santa Clara, 21 April 2015 – Recently we have been hearing the official spokesmen of Castro’s submissive society accusing everybody of being terrorists. However, did you know that the Castro Revolution came to power on a wave of urban terrorism, which left in its wake a quite significant sum of “collateral damage?”

The Revolution that triumphed in Cuba on January 1, 1959 is often very misunderstood, and what is understood, is often biased. For example, did you know that on July 26, 1953 Fidel and Raúl Castro (who was not a teenager back then, he was 22) used a hospital full of patients as a firing position to attack the Moncada Barracks, in flagrant violation of every international convention then in effect regarding warfare? A hospital serving servicemen and their families, veterans of the Cuban War of Independence, as well as ordinary citizens, suddenly became the spot from where one of the Castros’ lieutenants held the Moncada garrison under gunfire. continue reading

It is hard to believe that a lawyer as brilliant as Fidel Castro would have been unfamiliar with these international conventions. Unless, of course, we wish to believe those dubious sources claiming Fidel Castro’s schooling left much to be desired, and that he earned his grades only thanks to the help of his trusted friend, a Colt .45 pistol.

The following are eleven cases I have chosen from the extensive list of victims published in the back pages of the Cuban weekly magazine Bohemia in its first three issues of January 1959: the misnamed (only time would teach us how misnamed) “Special Liberty Editions.” Among the murders, battles, and executions listed, I have selected only a few of the Revolutionary attacks that left innocent victims.

I should make it clear that my source is incomplete: it references the list of the Bohemia journalists, who compiled it hastily during the first few days of January 1959, based almost exclusively on press releases of the time. It should also be noted that the Cuban press was subject to censorship by the dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista for virtually the entire time between 1956 until December 31, 1958. Consequently, many events went unrecorded.

February 22, 1955

Antonio Goulet, sixty years old, father of Corporal Dionisio Goulet, an army barber, was killed, mangled by a bomb at his home on 112 Cuartel de Pardos Street, Santiago de Cuba. The elder Goulet’s fifteen-year-old granddaughter Emilia Iris Tabares was also injured in the attack.

January 1, 1957

Magaly Martínez Arredondo, 17, residing at 12021 69th Avenue in Marianao, was injured when a bomb exploded at Havana’s Tropicana Nightclub, resulting in one of her arms having to be amputated. Marta Pino Donosos, 18 years old, living at 12209 69th Avenue, Marianao, was also injured in the attack.

January 15, 1957

An emergency judiciary investigation was launched into a bombing on 21st Street, between 14th and 16th Street in Vedado, which injured Amada Apezteguía Armenteros and Nilda Llorente Carrascal.

Juan Pío Manresa, residing at 323 Virtudes Street in the city of Santa Clara, was injured when an explosive device went off at the corner of Virtudes and Lucena Streets in that same city.

Victoria Rodríguez, 33, residing at 256 Arrellano Street, and a seventy-year-old senior citizen, Tito Mayea Villalobos, residing at 318 Enma Street, were critically injured when a bomb exploded next to them at the corner of Fábrica and Concha Streets in Havana.

January 23, 1957

Oliverio González Mesa, 35, was killed, mangled by a bomb placed in front of the mansion owned by his employer Luciano Sampedro, located between 6th and 7th Avenue in Miramar. González Mesa had worked at the mansion as a cook for two years.

March 9, 1957

Luís González García, a twelve-year-old boy residing at 108 Jenaro Sánchez Street, suffered critical wounds when sticks of dynamite he found at the beach exploded in his hands.

April 27, 1957

Havana was rocked by eight separate bombings in eight separate businesses in a single day. The following were injured as a result: Carolina Torrente Fernández, 27, residing at 64 Tenerife Street; Ramón Fernández, 28, a resident of Rosalía District; and Faustino Cancedo, 61, residing at 66 Bejucal Avenue.

August 3, 1957

Mrs. Lidya Dorado was killed by a powerful bomb explosion on Trocha Street in Santiago de Cuba. Police Officer Arvelio Martín Céspedes was also critically injured.

August 5, 1957

Mercedes Díaz Sánchez del Águila, a resident of Milagros Street, was killed when a bomb exploded at the Ten Cents Department Store on the corner of Galiano and San Rafael Streets in Downtown Havana. Seriously injured were Lidia González Rebull, from Fontanar District; Etelvina Arencibia Gil, residing at 358 Franklin Street; Lidia Bular Barquet, 19 years old, resident of Vedado; Gladys Valdivieso, residing at 532 Parque Street; and Nelson Huerta Truichet, 72 years, and resident of the city of Marianao.

August 12, 1957

Alfonso Vivero, 43, from the beach town of Santa Fe, was rushed to an emergency room in critical condition after a bomb exploded at the dry cleaners on Luz Street, between Habana and Compostela Streets in Old Havana.

August 14, 1957

A bomb exploded at Havana’s Manzana de Gómez retail and office complex, killing José Martínez, 65, who resided at 4 Cuarteles Street.

September 3, 1957

Eusebia Díaz Páez, a young lady of 19, who resided at 3 Ángeles Street in the city of Guanabacoa was killed, mutilated when a bomb exploded in the ladies’ room of the América movie theater in Havana.

And now for some final thoughts.

In his book, Descamisados (“The Shirtless Ones”), Brigadier General Enrique Acevedo tells us that shortly after he began to publicly stand out as the most active revolutionaries in his town, a military official loyal to the Batista régime waited for him in a secluded place and threatened to kill him if something were to happen to the official’s family. As I cited earlier, the terrorist killings of people such as Antonio Goulet did not come without a price. We should not be surprised if we found Corporal Goulet’s name among those who were executed in the early months of 1959 for having “gotten even” with one or several revolutionaries.

Still today the death of Agustín “Chiqui” Gómez Lubián is officially commemorated in Santa Clara. There are even schools named after him. In other words, these schools carry the name of a terrorist who together with a partner was killed when a bomb they planned to throw through a window of the Provincial Government headquarters fell a few yards short of its objective, in Buen Viaje Street. The victims of this heroic act would have surely been the secretaries and archivists working in the building, or some of the readers in the public library located on the ground floor. Neither the Provincial Governor nor any other figure associated with the Batista régime would have been injured or killed since their offices were on the second floor, or in windowless offices in the back of the first floor.

The commemoration of this event enjoys ample coverage in Vanguardia, the puny Official Communist Party newspaper of Villa Clara Province, as does the death of Sergio González, alias “Curita,” material and intellectual author of many of the attacks mentioned above. This demonstrates that the Castro régime still exalts its terrorist roots, regardless of what it wants to make us believe when it wraps itself in the lily white tunics of its historic discourse.

Terrorists like Luis Posada Carriles* do not graduate from some sinister, clandestine CIA academy. Perhaps the CIA did indeed ultimately shape him into the coldblooded murderer he became, but people such as he grew up admiring individuals like “Curita” and “Chiqui” Gómez. Posada Carriles, no matter hos much the regime’s intellectual spokesmen, such Abel Prieto, Miguel Barnet, Fernando Martínez Heredia, or Esteban Morales want to deny it, is a more legitmate heir of the Revolution of 1959 than they themselves are.

* Translator’s note: Accused by the régime of being the mastermind behind the 1976 terrorist bombing of Cubana Airlines Flight 455 near Barbados, killing 73 passengers, and several other terrorist attacks. Posada Carriles currently lives in Miami.

Translated by José Badué

The water does not come to Santiago de Cuba / 14ymedio, Yosmany Mayeta Labrada

Tanker truck on a street in Santiago de Cuba. (Yosmani Mayeta)
Tanker truck on a street in Santiago de Cuba. (Yosmani Mayeta)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yosmany Mayeta Labrada, Santiago de Cuba, 9 May 2015 – The drought has become an undesirable comrade for the residents of Santiago de Cuba. For years, the city has suffered low rainfall, deficiencies in the water supply system, and an erratic distribution policy.

In the midst of the celebrations for the fifth centenary of the city’s founding, the contents of a water truck cost the equivalent of ten convertible pesos on the black market, almost half the average monthly salary. The families who can’t pay it have to be satisfied with storing in tanks and buckets the trickle that comes out of the taps once or twice a month.

In recent months, the water supply situation has become more drastic, and although the rains flooded a part of the center and west of the country, they have not made it to the east. The residents of Santiago’s slums and neighborhood look to the sky in hopes of a downpour that will fill the reservoirs and improve the situation of agriculture. continue reading

Dayana Despaigne, mother of two, uses the water given to her by some neighbors with more resources, to clean, wash and do the cooking. She says she doesn’t have the money “to buy the water,” so she hopes for the generosity of others or of the “the workers on the aqueduct” supplying the neighborhood where she lives.

Not far from Dayana’s house is the Chicharrones neighborhood, where Luisa Hernandez said that “almost a month has gone by with no water coming to the block, and this is not only the fault of the drought.” The lady complains of the lack of organization and a regular supply schedule and says that “they have forgotten to open the aqueduct when it touches us,” referring to the taps that allow the water to flow to different areas of the city.

The situation extends to the area known as Venceremos, where the water comes every 15 days. On this occasion, according to comments from Juana Milagros Bonne, “They passed us up, because it’s been more than twenty-five days without a drop and it seems that for now it won’t come our way, because we have been informed that there is a break and that the cistern that supplies us is empty.”

The water trucks, commonly known as “pipes,” should help to ease the situation when the water doesn’t come through the actual water pipes. However, much of their cargo ends up diverted to the black market, where there is a growing demand due to need.

A resident of Altamira commented to 14ymedio that on several occasions they have bought water from the trucks because “the cycle is very long and my tank supplies several family houses.” But he considers “ten convertible pesos to be a lot of money,” and “in the neighborhood we’ve never seen the supply trucks sent by the government to supply water to the people.”

The problem is not just that the water doesn’t fall from the sky, but how much is lost through leaks and breaks. A worker on the aqueduct revealed to this newspaper that “the meters that measure the water are in poor condition in many houses, which negatively affects the wasting of water.” The employee also recognizes that “the company does not have the necessary means to repair the networks in the short term.”

Just two years ago, Raul Castro made a speech at the 26th of July celebration in the Santiago capital where he set as a goal repairing the water system throughout the city. Today, many families in the area give up a good part of their wages to pay for the water trucks or the water carriers who sell buckets and bottles. Water days don’t seem to arrive for Santiago de Cuba.

Cuba Civil Society Open Forum meets for the 7th time / 14ymedio

Tania Bruguera during the discussion group at her home in Havana Vieja (14ymedio)
Tania Bruguera during the discussion group at her home in Havana Vieja (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 8 May 2015 – Some twenty activists, political leaders, intellectuals and artists participated in a new meeting of Cuban Civil Society Open Forum last Friday morning. At the meeting they discussed the need to take into account in future discussions the organization of the parallel forums at the recent Summit of the Americas.

The discussion touched on points such as the lack of transparency on the part of the State in the administration of public funds, the participation of independent candidates in elections and the current state of Cuban society.

An intense discussion developed around several initiatives, such as “Citizen Hour” inscribed within the Constitutional Consensus project, which seeks to promote a new elections law, as well as a new law of associations and political parties. Also discussed was a proposal to create five working groups on the issues of human rights, democracy and governability, civil society, communications, and the private sector.

Finally, it was agreed to send a letter to the European Union, the US government and the Cuban government expressing the deep concerns of the participants with the systematic repression against human rights activists and against the citizenry in general, which contrasts with the context in which they are promoting understanding and dialog.

Among the participants were the artist Tania Bruguera and the writer Victor Manuel Dominguez. The attorney Laritza Diversent and opposition member Manuel Cuesta Morua also spoke at the event, along the analyst Pedro Campos and the Baptist minister Mario Felix Lleonart, among others.

Human rights in Nicaragua have deteriorated considerably since 2008″ / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

Flores-Centro-Nicaraguense-Derechos-Humanos_CYMIMA20150508_0010_13 (1)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Brussels, 9 May 2015 — Wendy Flores Acevedo, a young lawyer with the Nicaraguan Human Rights Center (CENIDH), spoke with 14ymedio in Brussels about the loss of legal guarantees in recent years in her country, under the government of Daniel Ortega.

Escobar. What is the situation today with human rights in Nicaragua?

Flores. Human rights in Nicaragua have deteriorated considerably since 2008, one year after Daniel Ortega was reelected, because they have lost the value they had. They are not given due respect by the officials and above all non-governmental organizations who devote themselves to this work have been excluded, accused of being mercenaries in the service of imperialism. On top of that, we lack access to information.

The CENIDH made at least two annual visits to the eight prisons in the country, and in addition when we receive complaints about serious violations, we were able to visit the complainant, and physically see the individual in an interview. Since 2008, this is no longer possible. We aren’t even allowed to enter the prisons.

Escobar. Has the government withdrawn your legitimacy? continue reading

Flores. We still have legitimacy, in the sense that citizens continue to trust us, they continue to send us complaints, and that is what legitimizes us as an organization in defense of human rights. Despite the difficulties, we investigate cases. Often, the lack of information, refusal of access, is a confirmation of the alleged facts.

“A military doctor was denounced and sentenced just for commenting that it seemed we were back in the 80’s”

Escobar. How are political prisoners currently registered?

Flores. We don’t have it now but we did have it. For example, a military doctor who was sentenced last December just for commenting that it seems like we were in the 80s again, in a “Red Christmas,” because it was stained with the blood of the peasants. He made statement was made on the sidewalk outside his home when he was on vacation. This lieutenant was accused of the crime of “against military decorum.” His comment was heard by one person, who denounced him. Thanks to the pressure they gave him a sentence of only three months, but it still was a political case, because it violated his right to freedom of expression.

Escobar. And what was this military man referring to when he spoke of the blood of the peasants?

Flores. He was referring to the repression suffered by several peasants at the hands of the national police for protesting against the canal they are planning to build in Nicaragua. Those demonstrations lasted one week and on 24 December ended with violence by the authorities.

Escobar. And what is the conflict with the canal?

Flores. The main problem is perhaps the lack of information people have about the consequences of having a canal. Informing them has not been possible because, among other reasons, there are no studies of the economic feasibility or the environmental impact. At a recent hearing before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, the State affirmed they were terminating these studies, but the problem is the law has already been approved and a concession agreement is already signed through which a Chinese concession acquires the rights to 107 square miles of the nation’s land. In this agreement it specifies that neither the Constitution nor the laws of the country will apply to this area in the case of future conflicts.

Escobar. What about the majority of Nicaraguans, are they happy or unhappy with this project?

Flores. There is a lot of discontent. Indigenous peoples have not been consulted and it is an obligation of the State to do so. Farmers have not been consulted, nor have they been given any information about the process of land expropriation, or if there will be compensation. This is ancestral land with and this has generated all kinds of protests.

Escobar. Is a referendum or something similar not provided for as a part of the public consultation?

Flores. Many have raised this issue, but the government does not mention this possibility. There have been deputies who have questioned the project and have supported the peasantry. Private business is silent, because it is assumed that there will be many economic interests at stake. The same goes for politicians who are businesspeople.

Escobar. Do you suspect that there is some corruption behind this plan?

Flores. It is assumed that behind the canal there could be money laundering or corruption, and this assumption rests on the lack of transparency about the financial resources to be employed. In fact, the Chinese company that has the concession does not have the money to carry out this project, which is immense.

What there is now doesn’t fit into any definition of philosophy or of what we once knew as “Sandanistism,” as an orientation of the political Left.

Escobar. So ultimately does all this seem a little “too good to be true”?

Flores. That’s part of the hypothesis: that the canal scheme is a strategy to carry out the expropriations and ultimately what they will end up creating will be tourist centers. But it could be a canal, or something else, the fact is that by law they have established the occupation of a strip of territory that will divide Nicaragua into a North and South and that has been approved due to the lack of independence on the part of the judicial system. We are not seeing the canal, nor the resources, nor the viability, nor the increase in demand for labor. The only thing we are facing is the imminent threat of expropriations.

Escobar. But a work of this magnitude would necessarily create a high demand for labor.

Flores. They say about 50,000 Chinese will come to the country, considering that they have done similar projects in other countries.

Escobar. How is it in Nicaragua today with regards to women’s rights?

Flores. We have suffered a legal setback since political parties decided to pass a law that completely criminalizes abortion, including therapeutic abortion or abortions for pregnancies that occur as the result of rape. We had an article in the law establishing the exception to guarantee the health of the woman. That article was repealed in November 2006. In 2008, with the new government of Daniel Ortega, a new penal code which repealed all criminal regulations were formulated, but in this new code did not set any exceptions to the ban on abortion, and even established language on “injuries due to giving birth” which eliminate every consideration regarding the risk of childbirth. The United Nations has made ​​recommendations for allowing termination of pregnancy in case of congenital malformations or in the case of rape, but to date the Supreme Court has not made ​​a judgment on the appeals filed.

Escobar. Are what we are seeing in Nicaragua is still “Sandinistism” or is it something else now?

Flores. What there is now doesn’t fit into any definition of philosophy or of what we once knew as “Sandanistism,” as an orientation of the political Left. Today all this is contradicted by the practices of the government, with the living conditions enjoyed by the senior political leaders, who bow are businessmen with great economic resources whose priorities have nothing at all to do with situation of human rights and protecting the disadvantaged.

Escobar. And will they continue in power?

Flores. Yes, probably for a long time. They have full control of the economy, the army, the media and parliament.

Google Toolbar now available in Cuba / 14ymedio

Google headquarters in Mountain View, California. (CC)
Google headquarters in Mountain View, California. (CC)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, 6 May 2015 — Cuban Internet users can now download the Google toolbar, according to a Tuesday announcement on the firm’s corporate blog. The new service joins last year’s arrival of Google’s Chrome browser, as well as the applications and free games of Google Play and the free version of Google Analytics.

The directors of the US Internet giant have traveled to Cuba twice in the last year. This March a company delegation led by deputy director Scott Carpenter met with students and professors of the University of Information Sciences (UCI) in Havana and visited Jose Antonio Echeverria City University (CUJAE ) as well as facilities of the state Youth Club of Computing and Electronic.

That trip was preceded by a trip last June by Eric Schmidt, chief executive of the company, who visited the Island with Google employees Jared Cohen, Brett Perlmutter and Dan Keyserling, with the aim of “promoting the virtues of a free and open Internet.” continue reading

After the trip, Schmidt wrote in his profile on Google Plus: “If Cuba is trapped in the 1950’s, the Internet of Cuba is trapped in the 1990s.  About 20-25% of Cubans have phone lines but mostly subsidized land lines, and the cell phone infrastructure is very thin. Approximately 3-4% of Cubans have access to the Internet in internet cafes and in certain universities.”

Several US companies such as Netflix and Apple are trying to break into the Cuban market after the easing of access to information infrastructure introduced after the announcement of the restoration of diplomatic relations between Havana and Washington on 17 December.

However, Internet access remains restricted in Cuba. With few exceptions home-based connections are not permitted and the rates in public internet rooms or in hotels are extremely high for most people. There are one million computers in the country, of which only half have Internet access, according to statistics from the ONE.

Alan Gross leads movement to strengthen relations between Cuba and the US / 14ymedio

Alan Gross on the plane returning him to the US after his five years in a Cuban prison (CC)
Alan Gross on the plane returning him to the US after his five years in a Cuban prison (CC)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, 5 May 2015 (With information from agencies) – Alan Gross, the former US contractor who imprisoned in Cuba for five years for espionage until last December, is heading up a movement created to push for a closer relationship with the Island.

The “New Cuba” mission is pressuring the United States Congress to put an end to the travel restrictions on Americans who want to visit the Island, as well as to expand commercial relationships, according to its organizers.

This Monday Gross participated in a presentation in Miami Beach attended by members of the large Cuban community in south Florida, both Democrats and Republicans. The committee has the support of companies hoping to do business in Cuba. “We want to send a strong message to all candidates for Congress. There is a bipartisan push for further changes in policy,” added Luis Miranda, a political strategist and former White House spokesperson who is consulting with the committee. continue reading

The “New Cuba” movement defies the power of the pressure long-exercised by more politically radical Cuban-Americans, led by the US-Cuba Democracy PAC, which has raised more than $4 million since 2004.

Alan Gross was released as part of the agreement between the US and Cuba announced on December 17 to restore diplomatic relations and he now wants to contribute to the restoration of normalization between the two countries, according to his lawyer, Scott Gilbert. “Alan supports president Barack Obama’s initiative 100 percent and he believes that open travel and trade between our countries is the best thing for the people of Cuba and the people of our country,” he added.

On Tuesday, US Senator Marco Rubio, who aspires to be the presidential candidate of his party for the 2016 elections and who and opposes Obama’s policy towards Cuba, will chair a hearing on US Department of State’s budget, which is expected to focus on Cuba.

Pavel Giroud finally finishes filming “The Companion” / 14ymedio, Luz Escobar

The poster for the film “The Companion” by Pavel Giroud. (FACEBOOK)
The poster for the film “The Companion” by Pavel Giroud. (FACEBOOK)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 5 May 2015 — Cuban filmmaker Pavel Giroud announced Tuesday through his Facebook profile the completion of the long process of his film El acompañante (The Companion), after finishing the assembly stage and sound mixing in the Clap Studies of Medellin, Columbia.

This film project has received awards on multiple occasions in its preproduction phase. One of the most important recognitions was the best project award at San Sebastian’s Europe-Latin America Co-production Forum, as well as the SGAE Julio Alejandro Screenplay Award, awarded at the Malaga Film Festival. continue reading

These tributes provided indispensable economic support for the shooting of the film, undertaken as an independent project, outside the Cuban Institute of Cinematographic Art and Industry (ICAIC). Another key factor was the success of his previous film La edad de la peseta, (English title: The Silly Age), for which the young director won the award for best feature film at festivals in Cartagena and Cinesul, as well as the Chris Holter Humor in Film Award in San Francisco. The many awards garnered by this film led some publications to elect Giroud as one of the ten most promising young directors in Latin America.

Among the stars of the film are the Cuban singer Yotuel Romero and Armando Miguel Gomez, who recently starred in Meleza (Molasses). Pavel Giroud had announced in several interviews the presence of the Brazilian actor Lázaro Ramos, who, despite a highly successful debut in Madame Satã, is better known in Cuba as André Gurgel in the Brazilian telenovela Insensato corazón (Foolish Heart). The actor, however, eventually did not participate in the shooting.

The film recreates the story of a great boxer from the eighties who ends up spending his days at the bedside of an HIV patient at a sanatorium in Los Cocos, as a form of punishment for testing positive for banned drugs. The athlete must follow the steps of the patient, a hero of the war in Angola who is spending his days at the facility against his well and who needs a companion for his weekly excursions outside the sanatorium.

After long months of research and interviews, the director found the documentary Al Margen del Margen (Beyond Outcasts – 1992), filled with images of a sanatorium and testimonies of the patients. Although “The Companion” is fictional, the real story of a sanatorium gave it a sharper focus. This film is the first time that the subject of AIDS patients has been addressed in Cuban fictional film.

In April there were at least 338 arbitrary detentions in Cuba / 14ymedio

Arrests of Ladies in White (Source: MartiNoticias)
Arrests of Ladies in White (Source: MartiNoticias)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, 5 May 2015 – During the month of April, at least 33 arbitrary detentions were recorded in Cuba, according to the report released Monday by the National Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation (CCDHRN). Although the figure represents a decrease compared with 610 cases recorded the previous month, the organization warns of increased police violence against opponents.

The CCDHRN especially condemns the assaults against members of the opposition group Ladies in White, which have intensified in recent weeks, with dozens of arrests every Sunday.

Throughout the month of April, the organization headed by Elizardo Sanchez also recorded 101 cases of victims of other forms of political repression on the Island, generally directed by the political secret police (physical attacks, harassment, vandalism and acts of repudiation). continue reading

The CCDHRN mentioned the incidents that occurred in the forums parallel to the Summit of the Americas in Panama, when representatives of pro-government organizations confronted dissidents. The “ruling totalitarian regime in Cuba showed its true face, beyond speeches and empty promises, and its decision to continue imposing the ruinous model of the [Communist] party and unique thinking,” explains the group in a statement.

“We continue have the worst situation in the entire hemisphere and our forecast is that there will be no improvements in the near future, unless some kind of legal and political miracle happens in our country,” the statement said.

The CCDHRN also demands an investigation into the murder of Yunieski Martinez, age 30, in the province of Matanzas, who was shot despite being unarmed, and holds an official of the Ministry of Interior responsible for the death.

Rain comes to Holguin after months of drought / 14ymedio, Fernando Donate Ochoa

Young Holguineros celebrate the arrival of rain in Calixto Garcia park in the city center (Donate)
Young Holguineros celebrate the arrival of rain in Calixto Garcia park in the city center (Donate)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Fernando Donate Ochoa, Holguin, 2 May 2015 – The capital of Holguin received one-and-a-half inches of rain this Friday after months without rain. The city’s residents received the precipitation with hope that the drought in the territory would be alleviated, but expect a brief respite for agriculture and the consumption of water by the population.

The figure for Holguin was recorded at the weather station located in the area of the Pedagogical University José de la Luz y Caballero in the city, while in the town of Velasco two-and-a-half inches were recorded, according to what Jose Marrero from the Provincial Center of the Institute of Meteorology informed 14ymedio.

The rain, which started about 5:30 pm and lasted almost two hours, was not sufficient for recovery of the aquifer nor to fill the reservoirs affected by poor rainfall in recent months. This situation has plunged the province into a severe drought that affects more than 38,000 people and which, along with the high temperatures of recent days, has resulted in several fires.

“Four months of rain is needed to fill the reservoirs,” Marrero told this newspaper. However, in April less than two-tenths of an inch of rainfall was reported in the territory.

The Mass of the Bread Line / 14ymedio, Victor Ariel Gonzalez

Victor Ariel Gonzalez, Havana, 4 May 2015 – His shirt, once white and elegant, has turned yellow with age. He wears frayed pants and well-worn dress shoes, perhaps a size or two larger than ideal. Contrasting with his clothes, on his head he wears a black beret with an embroidered red star, and slung over his shoulder the tiniest bag emblazoned with the Cuban flag.

The old man reads today’s Granma newspaper in a loud voice alongside the line to buy bread. Excited, he maintains a grandiloquent tone more mocking than declarative, and pauses when he wants to impart gravity to a phrase. Adding some of his own details, such as news of past decades and great failures that have left their mark in his deceptive memory.

His voice fades at the end of an official announcement. Few are those who take their role so seriously. Among those who could not help but listen to him, some smile and gaze at him with expressions of complicity, others remain serious, absorbed in their own problems. Most don’t even pay attention to the nutcase. “Poor thing,” whispers a woman.

Then the old man, feeling that he’s done a favor to the public and after the oven beeps, offers plastic bags at one Cuban peso each to carry the hot bread. The line moved, and even the most worried faces come alive a little. The fantasy ended and the rhythm of the city hurries everyone, even the least sane.

Voters vote in the second round of local elections / 14ymedio

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, 27 April 2015 — More than 1.2 million citizens were summoned on Sunday, 26 April, to the second round of the elections to choose delegates for the municipal Assemblies of People’s Power in 1,166 constituencies of 149 municipalities.

Voters exercised their right to vote at more than 3,300 poll locations, between seven o’clock in the morning and six in the evening. At the end of the process, the precinct workers counted the ballots.

In the first round, on 19 April, 11,425 delegates were elected from a total of 27,379 candidates. This Sunday, voters were called back to the polls in constituencies where candidates failed to get more than 50% of the valid votes.

During the first round of the elections, the percentage of abstention reached 11.7%, almost six points more than in the similar elections of 2012. The President of the National Electoral Commission, Alina Balseiro Gutiérrez, attributed these results to the fact that “tens of thousands of Cubans” are on temporary visits abroad.

However, several analysts attributed the increase of abstention, as well as the number of blank ballots submitted, to a “growing discontent” among the population. Also, according to left-wing opponent, Pedro Campos, in truly democratic elections, “the ruling party would lose in the first round.”

This year, among the candidates there were at least two regime opponents, branded as “counter-revolutionaries” by the Electoral Commission. Hildebrando Chaviano (Plaza de la Revolución municipality) finally attained a total of 189 votes, while Yuniel López O´Farrill (Arroyo Naranjo municipality) got 233.

Translated by Alberto 

‘Cachita’ and ‘Paquito’ / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

Francis I greeting the faithful. (CC)
Francis I greeting the faithful. (CC)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 4 May 2015 – He is Argentine and she Cuban. Separating them are the thousands of miles between the Vatican and the Sanctuary of Cobre. This coming September they will be very close, when Pope Francis I visits this island where the Virgin of Charity is adored as the patron saint of all Cubans. Cachita – as we call our Virgin – has spent decades listening to the prayers springing up on all sides; some pleas that will soon be known, first hand, are those of the one we already affectionately call Paquito.

The visit to Cuba of the head of the Vatican City State, Jorge Mario Bergoglio, could usher in a new era for the country. If last December’s announcement about the restoration of relations between Cuba and the United States opened the door to hopes of substantial change, perhaps the arrival of the Pope will grant to the current negotiations a character that transcends the agreement between the two governments. continue reading

As a mediator of the secret talks held between the White House and the Plaza of the Revolution, Francis knows that the process will be plagued with obstacles. Perhaps he believes that the greatest danger lies in one of the parties deciding to abandon the negotiations, but the risk is elsewhere. The most alarming would be that this spirit of understanding will not be completed with the dialog, so needed, between the Island’s authorities and its civil society.

The little David of this story is personified by the Cuban people, while the great Goliath is represented by an authoritarian government that controls and silences

Like a biblical scene, the Pope will find that the little David of this story is personified by the Cuban people, while the great Goliath is represented by an authoritarian government that controls and silences. The urgent medicine is directed to making the intolerant and aggressive giant see that it should not continue to censor its own population, but usher in a new time of freedom and respectful coexistence. Is there a possibility that Paquito can help us elevate these desires?

We also hope that during his stay among us Francis will go beyond asking for the release of activists, as happened with previous papal visits. These quotas of prisoners handed over to the “shepherd,” and in many cases forced to leave the country, would not provide sufficient relief right now. We Cubans need to put an end to political imprisonment. Hasten to close a stage of our national history during which so many people have been behind bars from thinking differently from the ruling party.

Francis can help us to close the chapter of the criminalization of dissent and suggest to the authorities of the Island that they make a public commitment to accepting “the other,” regardless of their political orientation. Returning to our compatriots in the diaspora their right to enter, reside in, and freely leave the country, would be another historic act of justice that would eliminate the painful and artificial separation between “Cubans inside” and “Cubans outside.”

Cachita’s nation needs a new project for the future that includes economic relief and returns to citizens the rights of free association and free expression

Simply by setting foot on Cuban soil, the pope will perceive that Cachita’s nation needs a new project for the future that includes economic relief and returns to citizens the rights of free association and free expression. In the circumstances facing Cuba, also urgent is a process of understanding that lets Cubans know that there is life after authoritarianism. That it is possible to have a prosperous country without faking a political affiliation, bowing to one party, or offering up one’s own children to the altar of ideological indoctrination. It is time to end this absurdity and fully enter into the 21st Century, with all the advantages and risks that this signifies.

Nor should they wait any longer to end the shameful acts of repudiation where Cubans confront Cubans. These picketers who use screams, insults and hatred to intimidate defenseless people should be condemned to the past in our lives. May the crozier and miter contribute to promoting a national healing process, where the victims and the victimizers recognize their roles as simple pieces on a board of polarization that has ensured fear doesn’t give way to a civic conscience.

It will be difficult for Francis to exceed that January 1998 when John Paul II breathed faith into the Catholics of this Island and hopes for those who do not embrace any religious creed. Now, the current pope comes when it seems that Karol Wojtyla’s prediction will come true: that Cuba will open itself to the world, and the world will open itself to Cuba. Paquito, for his part, could pass into our national history by encouraging a new goal: “Let Cuba open itself to Cuba.” Only then will Cachita stop hearing to so many stories of separation and pain, to be the patron saint of a country that looks to the future.

Self-employed…That Damn Breed / 14ymedio, Miriam Celaya

Traditional business of a self-employed. Slushy making with an ice-grating machine in Pinar del Río. (Juan Carlos Fernández/14ymedio)
Traditional business of a self-employed. Slushy making with an ice-grating machine in Pinar del Río. (Juan Carlos Fernández/14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 2 May 2015 — Few sectors have been so viciously beaten in Cuba as the one grouped under the generic name of “entrepreneurs”, or, according to the informal term, “cuentapropistas” (“self-employed”).

The backgrounds of the self-employed have their roots in small business, family business owners and street vendors that swarmed throughout the Island until their extermination by the revolutionary guillotine called The Revolutionary Offensive of 1968. However, this is a breed that will sprout from the ashes, at any opportunity, a quality that is, at one and the same time, the secret of its survival and its curse because if there is anything that totalitarian power distrusts it is individuals with aspirations of independent entrepreneurship, especially if they have demonstrated their ability to thrive outside the “protection” of the flock.

Thus, at the smallest fissure in the system’s monolithic structure there would follow a fast flourishing trade with glimpses of prosperity for the most daring children of that wicked caste, whose autonomy allowed them to distance themselves somewhat from the political-ideological commitments hanging over the rest of society, and the respective official raids would then follow. continue reading

Perhaps the most famous purifications were the so-called Operación Pitirres en el Alambre (Operation Kingbirds on a Wire) and Operación Adoquín (Operation Cobblestone), which hurled all the fury of Castro I against the peasants of the “free market” and the artisans of the Cathedral Plaza respectively.

The egregious one had decided that those emancipated individuals were becoming too rich, maybe almost as rich as the leaders of the Communist Party. It was necessary to root out evil and demonize the nouveau riche, who were immediately re-christened “flower pots,” imprisoned, dispossessed, prosecuted, and convicted, as a general warning. At the same time, commercial activities of the self-employed were suppressed until the 1990’s, when the crisis stemming from the soviet collapse and the ensuing famine among the Cuban population left the government no choice but to allow their activities once again.

By the mid to late 1990’s foreign investment and capital inflows began, giving a respite to the Castro regime and, at the end of the decade, the almost providential appearance of Hugo Chávez on the stage breathed new life into the regime. It then immediately “froze” the issuing of new licenses for the self-employed sector, while raising taxes on those who already had licenses plus the pressures of inspectors contributed to the contraction of the sector.

Currently, the government has created new support and control mechanisms to keep a short leash on the “private ones”

Currently, with the sector’s most recent revival by the hand of so-called Raulista reforms, the government has created new mechanisms of support and control to keep a short leash on the “private ones.” A large body of inspectors – a whole army of corrupt officials – and a “union of the self-employed” allow for monitoring, keeping individual incomes at low levels while retaining the ability to mobilize on the side of the political discourse. Innate entrepreneurs and the government remain antagonists that tolerate but mutually rebuff one another.

One witness among thousands

Sandra lives in a small town in Matanzas and became self-employed 21 years ago. She is a survivor of that outpost of proto-entrepreneurial Cubans who, in the worst years of the 1990’s, decided to take a risk in tackling the economic crisis under the government’s “opening” for the self-employed. It was then that Sandra was licensed as a seller of handicrafts and other trifles. She was very young then, but she had a nose for business and she was also good with people, so she found a niche in the marketing world, sought and found her own suppliers and soon mastered all the intricacies of the trade, including contacts that alerted her about police and inspection operations within a time frame sufficient to hide far from her selling space anything she was not licensed to offer for sale.

Despite all the alarms, a short while after, she was able to start a small pizza business, baking them in an an old electric oven at a time when any kind of food offered for sale was sure to be a hit. To tell the truth, Sandra sold whatever she found, from clothing, make-up or video equipment to frozen yogurt or plaster ornaments. She found out that she was much better off working by and for herself than continuing at her job as secretary at a government office at an obsolete typewriter, typing information that nobody would read, only to get 148 Cuban pesos a month, while a mere bar of bath soap manufactured in Cuba cost 50 Cuban pesos.

It was much better to work by and for herself than to continue at her job as a government secretary for 148 Cuban pesos a month.

Today Sandra is a veteran self-employed, owns her own home and has forged ahead with her two daughters. However, though she now only sells custom jewelry, just as she is licensed to do, she still feels like she walks the tightrope, and assures us that she cannot make ends meet.

“There is a war against us (the self-employed). Our taxes go up for whatever reason and it is hard to see the benefits. In country towns, like mine, things are even worse. I have to travel to Havana to buy merchandise and bring it home, risking being detained by police, taken to the station and having to justify everything with paperwork. If you don’t have the papers or contacts to come to your aid, they will seize everything. Imagine that! If I bought my merchandise at the government stores, how much would I have to sell it for at home to not only clear a small profit, but just to break even? And to top it all off, the Government invents more legal mechanisms every day to get more money out of you.”

Indeed, in recent years they have increased our taxes briskly. If when she started out Sandra paid the almost symbolic amount of 40 pesos in tax for the sale of small handicrafts, the current monthly tax is 349 pesos per license, plus 10% of sales (which the authorities estimate at over 1,000 pesos a week, implying a tax of 400 pesos each month), plus 60 pesos for social security. Add to that 300 pesos for rent for the site where she conducts her business and she ends up paying 1,109 pesos a month. In addition, there is the annual tax return on sales which must be paid promptly to the National Tax Administration Office (ONAT) each January, which amounts to paying twice for the same sales: monthly and annually.

In recent years the sector taxes have multiplied rapidly

And this is not the only reason why Sandra and many others feel cheated. At the beginning of the so-called “Raulista” reforms, the speech by the General-President stated that the self-employed were honest workers who paid taxes to the government while generating jobs, therefore they deserved all the respect and the rights of any worker. Among those rights, he said, we should recognize their working years to guarantee them a decent retirement.

Sandra was one of the ones who got excited about this news: she already had 20 years under her belt as a self-employed individual paying her taxes under established law. However, she was told at the ONAT that the measure was not retroactive, so if she wished to count those previous years, she should contribute 60 pesos per month for social security for each of the 18 years she had worked before the official law, however, at the ONAT they explained that this measure was not retroactive, so, if she wanted to have those previous years counted she should contribute 60 pesos per month in social security for each one of the 18 years she had worked before the official change, which, translated into hard numbers, would mean paying 12,960 pesos within three calendar months because “we haven’t established any other way to pay.”

Sandra resigned herself to watching the retirement promise go up in smoke: “If I had almost 13 thousand pesos, I would immediately hand it over to my son-in-law to help him build the raft for all of us to get the hell out of here. No matter how I struggle to better my life, I end up screwed.”

“If I had almost 13 thousand pesos, I would immediately hand it over to my son-in-law to help him build the raft for all of us to get the hell out of here”

This year we have seen yet another way to squeeze the self-employed, under the guise of “sub respondents.” This is a note slipped under the crack of the door of the self-employed when the “computer system” decides that the amount declared is less annual income than has actually been received. This document bears the printed amount that “the system” considers correct, and states the exact debt due to the fiscal authorities. If not paid by the established date, the license will be suspended.

However, there is no control mechanism to establish how much each self-employed person has sold in each case, but the estimated amount in question is not subject to appeal. None of the defendants –all the self-employed in Sandra’s hometown – knows by whom or on what parameters those “sub-declarations” are based. She, for instance, has been taxed an extra 1,600 pesos over and above what she has already paid.

“Some of us went to ask that they clarify this for us, because it had never taken place before, but at the ONAT they tell us that they know nothing, that this is established by ‘the system’. I told them that it’s clear that ‘the system’ is the one that’s not working, we can be sure of that! But, how can we change it?

And while Sandra is not one to give up, she confesses that she already feels tired of such an uneven war. She, who has a technological degree in economics, says that the self-employed worker can’t even count on the legal backing of a signed contract. “When you request a license, they hand you a card and that’s it. You don’t sign anything, they don’t tell you any more than what you should pay in taxes and nobody has an obligation towards you, though you do have the obligation to pay on time all the taxes they impose for an amount they determine, though the government does not invest one cent or risk anything. It’s unfair and abusive. And now they also want to force you to pay union dues, and to march and shout slogans!”

Sandra is convinced that this responds to a government strategy to prevent the self-employed sector from growing and consolidating. That is why there are so many obstacles and so much harassment. “We, the self-employed, are just as repressed as the opposition,” she jokes. And she is not far from the truth in this.

“I told them that it’s clear that ‘the system’ is the one that’s not working, we can be sure of that! But, how can we change it?”

On the other hand, neither she nor her fellow associates have legal options, so many are giving up their licenses and choosing between getting jobs as an employee of a more prosperous self-employed person – perhaps one of those who run restaurants or rent rooms to foreign tourists – entering the illegal market (from which many came), or more radically, emigrating however they can and taking their chances far away from the guarantee of poverty they have in Cuba.

“For now, I will not give up my license after 21 years of struggle. I will simply keep up the façade selling the custom jewelry and will have to conduct other business under the table to catch up. If ‘these people’ will not let me breathe while I’m working, I will have to prosper by being inventive. Because if I’m killing myself working, it is logical I should see some profit. It’s not worth it to be legal: they force you to violate laws. But for now, I am seriously thinking that I should leave with my daughters and my son-in-law. There’s not much left for us here.”

Now, when the winds will once again favor foreign investments, Cuban entrepreneurs continue being excluded from all benefits and try to survive the new cycle of simulated suppression they are suffering. Sandra sums up the situation with an illustrative phrase: “When they hand you a license it’s as if you are picking up a machine gun. From that moment on, you will be living in a permanent war: the war of the government against us.”

But Sandra is wrong about this last part, because the government’s war is against all Cubans.

Translated by Norma Whiting