Tell Us, General, What’s Plan B?

Venezuela’s president, Nicolás Maduro and Cuba’s president, Raúl Castro. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 20 April 2017 — The Venezuela of “XXI Century Socialism” is wavering and threatening to collapse. It’s only a matter of time, soon, perhaps, as to when it will tumble. And since the economic and political crisis of the country has slipped from the government’s grasp, President Nicolás Maduro, in another irrefutable demonstration of his proverbial sagacity, under the advice of his mentors of Havana, has opted for the most coherent path with the nature of the regime: increase repression and “arm the people.”

Such a strategy cannot end well, especially when thousands of street protesters are not only motivated by the defense of democracy, but also by the reluctance to accept the imposition of forced present and future poverty for a nation that should be one of the richest on the planet. Decent Venezuelans will not accept the imposition of the Castro-style dictatorship that is trying to slip in their country. continue reading

Thus, “Maduro-phobia” has become viral, people have taken to the streets and will make sure that they will stand in protest until their demands are met, which involve the return of the country to the constitutional thread, to legality, to the rule of law, that is to say, without Maduro.

Maduro, allegedly elected by the popular vote, continues to accelerate his presidential metamorphosis into a person of the purest traditional Latin American style, capable of launching the army and hundreds of thousands of armed criminals against their (un)governed compatriots

As the Venezuelan crisis increases in its polarization, Nicolás Maduro, allegedly elected by the popular vote, continues to accelerate his presidential metamorphosis into a person of the purest traditional Latin American style, capable of launching the army and hundreds of thousands of armed criminals against their (un)governed compatriots who have decided to exercise their right to peaceful demonstration.

So if it is true that the terrible decisions of the Venezuelan government are guided by and directed from the Havana’s Palace of the Revolution, the intentions of the Cuban leadership are, at least, very suspicious. Such recommendations from the Cuba’s high command would drag the Chávez-Maduro regime directly down an abyss, and Venezuela toward the greatest chaos.

That is to say, if the Castro clan really ordered Maduro to radicalize a dictatorship and to cling to power against the will of the majority of Venezuelans, by applying repression and force to achieve it, even though this would mean the end of the “socialist” regime in Venezuela -with the consequent total loss of petroleum subsidies for the olive green cupula, as well as the income capital sources from health professionals services- would be a challenge to logic.

Such a strange move, in addition to Raúl Castro’s significant absence at the recent ALBA political meeting held in Havana as a show of support for the Venezuelan government, the official reluctance to directly accuse the US government of the popular expressions of rejection against the regime of Nicolás Maduro inside and outside Venezuela, the suspicious silence or minimization of the facts on the part of the Cuban official press about what happens in Venezuela, and the unusually circumscribed condemnation pronouncements “to the regional rightist coup” – which, in any case, have stemmed from the Cuban government’s political and mass organizations and other non-governmental organizations, and not directly from it –we can only speculate about the possible existence of secret second intentions on Cuba’s part.

It would be childish to assume that the Cuban government does not know the magnitude of the crisis of its South American ally, since it is known that it is widely infiltrated by Castros’ agents.

It would be childish to assume that the Cuban government does not know the magnitude of the crisis of its South American ally, given that – as it has been transcended by testimonies from authorized sources in various media over the years – both the army and the repressive and intelligence Venezuelan bodies are widely infiltrated by Castro’s agents, so it may be assumed that the regime’s political strategists have some idea of a solution, at least in what concerns Cuba.

One example is the case of Cuba’s aid workers, which are in Venezuela in the tens of thousands. We cannot ignore the serious danger faced by Cuban professionals in the health sector and in other services, who work in Venezuela as “collaborators” in ALBA programs, in the very probable case of a violent chaos in that country. How, then, would one explain the folly of advising, or at least supporting, the violent actions of the Venezuelan regime? Why don’t the official media offer more accurate information, specifically about the safety of our countrymen in Venezuela? What is the contingency plan to safeguard the lives of these Cuban civilians in case the Venezuelan humanitarian crisis is aggravated by the violence incited from power?

Cuba’s past history is disastrous. It is not wise to forget that the same person who occupies the power throne in Cuba today is the same subject that commanded the Armed Forces when thousands of Cubans were sent to fight (and to die) in Angola, Ethiopia, Nicaragua, Bolivia and other remote points of the world’s geography. Fidel Castro, who was never in a real war, was the one who had – at least de jure, not de facto –  the actions of the Cuban army when, in 1983, civilian workers were ordered to participate in the construction of an airport on the Island of Grenada who fought back the US Marines during the invasion of that small Caribbean country.

When one speaks of the profits of the Castro regime, one usually thinks in terms of money. However, the harvests of innocent martyrs have always brought the Cuban regime valuable political returns and allowed for a temporary respite. Now, when the glory years of the “revolution” have passed, when just a few naive ones believe in the discourse of the olive green big shots, and the predominant feelings of Cubans are disappointment, apathy and uncertainty, and when the very “socialist model “is only a sad compendium of failures and promises of infinite poverty, it would not be surprising that the Castrocracy is considering the possibility of nourishing its moral capital at the expense of the sacrifice of the helpless professionals who lend their services in Venezuela.

It no longer seems possible to mobilize the Cubans as in the days of the gigantic marches for “the boy Elian,” to cite the most conspicuous example, but neither should we underestimate the regime’s histrionic capacity and social control.

It would be particularly easy for the government to take advantage of several dozen Cuban doctors and technicians – the numbers are not important for the government leadership, as long as the people provide the corpses – that turn out victims of the violence of “the stateless ones who sold out to the empire” in Venezuela, to try to ignite some spark of the quasi withered Cuban nationalist and patriotic feeling and to gain some time, which has been the main goal of the power summit in Cuba in recent years.

It would not be unreasonable to consider this possibility, especially in a population that mostly suffers from a lack of information, which makes it susceptible to all sensory manipulation. It’s true that times have changed, and that, to some extent the penetration of a few information spaces -spread by the precarious access to technology – makes the consecration of the deception on a massive scale difficult. It no longer seems possible to mobilize the Cubans as in the days of the gigantic marches for “the boy Elian,” to cite the most conspicuous example, but neither should we underestimate the regime’s histrionic capacity and social control. Suffice it to recall the tearful and blaring spectacle displayed during Fidel Castro’s funeral novena.

In any case, and since the strategy of harvesting victims has often been applied successfully, perhaps the caciques are considering the possibility of taking advantage of the wreck of the Castro-Chavez ship. That’s how warped they are. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the narco-elite from Miraflores and their cohorts have made a pact with the Cuban honchos to escape to Havana in case they find it impossible to keep the scepter.

For now, it is a fact that the Cuban-Venezuelan soap opera is experiencing a truly dramatic escalation these days and nobody knows what the outcome will be. But in the midst of so much uncertainty, one thing seems irrefutable: what is currently being played out in Venezuela is not only the future of that nation, beyond the adversities of Nicolás Maduro and his cronies, buy the course of the next steps of the Cuban regime, which continues to be the absolute owner of the Island’s destinies. So, tell us, General Castro, what is Plan B?

Translated by Norma Whiting

Police Forces Raid Headquarters of ‘Captain Tondique’ Project in Matanzas

Members of the Captain Tondique Project prepare food for homeless people. (Courtesy)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 21 April 2017 — The headquarters of the Captain Tondique project in the municipality Matancero de Colón, was raided Friday by combined Police and State Security forces, according to a report received by this newspaper from Yelena Marrero Burunate, daughter of Caridad Burunate, the activist who owns the property.

The house, located at #163 Mesa Street, was raided from the early hours of dawn until one o’clock in the afternoon, Marrero explained. continue reading

“From seven in the morning they undertook a search, they came for the Tondique equipment and supplies, they took everything. The cauldrons, our food, everything. They did not explain anything to us, they took the benches we used. There were more than twenty people in here,” said the activist via telephone.

“We told them that without a search warrant they couldn’t come in and they were looking for it,” the woman explained.

Caridad Burunate and Francisco Rangel, the mother and uncle of Marrero are in custody. “Everything happened in the presence of my grandmother Raquel Gomez, an 88-year-old woman,” she added.

“The search lasted until one o’clock in the afternoon and they took away our cell phones.”

The community initiative Captain Tondique has working since April 2013 to help those who live on the streets and homeless people, offering them a plate of food every Thursday

The Captain Tondique community initiative has been working since April 2013 to help those who live on the streets and people who are homeless, offering them a plate of food every Thursday.

Felix Navarro denounced to 14ymedio that the search warrant alleged the crime of “illicit enrichment and abetting” and that Francisco Rangel’s home, a few yards from the project headquarters, at #125 Calle Pedro Betancourt, was also raided “at the same time.”

Navarro explains that the operation was carried out at a provincial level and included his home in Perico, which in the afternoon hours was still “surrounded by members of the State Security.”

According to the government opponent, when he tried to leave his house he was told by Officer Darío Torres Barrios that if he “went out” he would be arrested.

“Other activists of the province remain in their homes in the same situation of being under surveillance,” denounced Navarro.

The organization reported that on other occasions the political police have placed loudspeakers in the vicinity of the headquarters or closed the surrounding streets to prevent their work and intimidate the activists.

Pedicab Drivers Can Only Work Where They Live

The traditionally complicated transport situation in the capital has become chaotic recently due to fuel restrictions and other bureaucratic measures that have affected private taxi drivers. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Marcelo Hernandez, Havana, 20 April 2017 — The transport ministry (MITRANS) has issued a new provision that obligates Havana’s pedicab drivers to have visible identification that specifies the municipality where they can operate.

The sticker carries the driver’s license number and the name of the municipality. An official calling herself Tamara explained to 14ymedio that MITRANS inspectors in the Central Havana district will ensure that “if you do not live in this municipality you can’t put the sticker on your vehicle that authorizes you to operate here.” continue reading

The office is located in a half-wrecked building on Zanja Street with a poorly painted façade and tree growing out of it, from a seed that fell into a crack in the building.

Sheathed in her blue MITRANS inspector’s uniform, Tamara barely looks up from the papers she has in front of her on her desk, to clarify that if you don’t have a license, don’t come. “In addition, they have to bring the acrylic.”

The sticker carries the driver’s license number and the name of the municipality where they are authorized to operate. (14ymedio)

The situation of transport in the capital, traditionally complicated, has become chaotic in recent times due to fuel restrictions and other bureaucratic measures that have affected private taxi drivers. Driving a pedicab is not very profitable, since drivers usually charge 1 Cuban convertible peso (roughly $1 US) for relatively short stretches, but unlike the so-called almendrones– the shared fixed route taxis whose name comes from the “almond-shape” of the classic American cars used in that service – they do not run on a fixed route and take the customers “to the door of their house.” Most of them are young people without a defined profession who work for an invisible boss who owns the equipment, and whom they have to pay more than half of what they collect daily.

A tour of the pedicab stands where the drivers usually find their customers, found that only a few drivers were displaying the identification. Very close to Chinatown a young man barely 20, who identifies himself as Yuslo, gives the impression of not feeling threatened by the new measure.

“I am a Palestinian* from Mayarí Arriba, I rent in a room in the Cerro district and I circulate around Old Havana. I don’t have an address in the capital on my identity card or license, I am a pirate who fights to survive. If things get ugly I make the sticker my own way and put it on the front of the bike,” he explains resolutely.

Most pedicab drivers are young people without a defined profession who work for an invisible boss. (14ymedio)

A little more measured and optimistic is Alberto Ramirez, who despite being in quarantine still has the energy to live from his physical effort. “We are accustomed to occasionally ‘inventing’ something of this type. A few days later the fever passes and no one remembers anything. I have my sticker to work in Old Havana because I have been living there for more than 20 years in a state shelter, but if a client asks me to take him to Coppelia (outside his district), I’ll charge him what the trip is worth and take him.”

While Alberto talks, a colleague at the pedicab stand keeps making gestures of disagreement. Finally he intervenes to say, “They are the ones who call the shots and do what they want. You don’t have to be an engineer to realize that this measure is a barbarity. It’s fine to have control but if no one cares where a minister or a chief of something lives in order to work here or there, why do they have to worry about where the unfortunates who survive from our work live? There’s no one who understands it,” protests the pedicab driver.

Without taking the time to answer another question he gets on his bike and in the worst possible mood concludes the conversation. “I’m going home. I don’t feel like working.”

*Translator’s note: Havanans call Cubans from the provinces who settle in their city “Palestinians” – a reference to the fact that without a resident permit, they are “illegals” in the city.

Residents Thank The Rain That Put Out The Year’s Biggest Fire

The provinces at greatest risk for fire are Guantanamo, Pinar del Rio, Matanzas, Camaguey, Las Tunas, Holguin, and Isla de la Juventud. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 19 April 2017 – When the wind blows, the odor of burning overwhelms the town of El Guay, in the municipality of Mella (Santiago de Cuba). It is an odor that sticks to clothes, hair and food. Last Sunday a downpour put out the forest fire that burned 5,000 hectares in the eastern part of Cuba, but the worst could be yet to come.

The columns of smoke warned the community’s residents that something was happening. In the neighboring province of Holguin, the flames began April 9 and devoured everything in their path. “Nothing was said on radio or television,” Ruberlandy Avila, 35 years of age and resident of El Guay, tells 14ymedio. continue reading

Surrounded by cane fields and vegetation, the neighbors saw the tongues of fire on the horizon as they approached. When night fell, they looked daunting and ever closer to the houses. “The entire town was affected by the smoke, many parents fled with their children without knowing what to do,” recalls the young man.

News of the fire was broadcast on national media only after a timely rain put out the last flame. The official statement blamed the disaster on the August 6th Cattle Company from the town of Biran. But the later disorganization among the forces charged with controlling it did the rest.

The fire spread through the Sierra Cristal range until arriving at the Pinares de Mayari area. According to Avila, Civil Defense authorities later reported that several local administrators had not authorized delivery of the fuel necessary for getting the tanker trucks underway to the affected zone to put out the flames.

In El Guay the residents saw the fire approaching which also fed on the branches and trees that fell after Hurricane Sandy in 2012. The combination of the dry wood and the disorganization produced conditions favorable to the fire’s spread. “We thought nothing could put out such a strong fire,” recalls the resident of Santiago.

Engineer Raul Gonzalez, head of the Fire Management Department for the Forest Rangers, warned last February that this year the Island could suffer between 400 and 450 forest fires, damaging some 4,000 hectares. The figure was easily exceeded by the 5,000 hectares of pastures, forests and oak that just finished burning in Holguin.

The fire destroyed more than 5,000 hectares of fields and forests in Holguin. (Archive/Telesur)

Not only dried branches and fallen trees were lost. Environmental specialists from the area classify as “sensitive” the damage caused to flora and fauna of the municipalities of Cueto and Mella. “There are no bird nests or butterflies left, and even lizards are damaged,” commented one resident of the Cueto municipality to 14ymedio.

Leonel Sanchez, Agriculture subdelegate in the Santiago de Cuba province, reiterated in the local press that most of these fires occur “in crop rows, livestock areas, areas where the elimination of the invasive marabou weed is underway, uncontrolled burning and non-use of spark arrestors in cars.”

Between January and May the conditions are most favorable for fires to start and for the flames to spread. Between the beginning of the year and the beginning of February, some 40 fires were reported, more than one per day.

The provinces at greatest risk are Guantanamo, Pinar del Rio, Matanzas, Camaguey, Las Tunas, Holguin, Granma and Isla de la Juventud. The human factor is the trigger in 90% of the cases.

Far from El Guay, at the other end of the Island, tobacco planter Nestor Perez also watches his cultivated fields with worry. “In this time of year forest fires are more likely,” and in Vueltabajo the farmers try to “have clean surroundings for tobacco curing houses in order to prevent those accidents.”

The Pinareno farmer recognizes that many do not complete these tasks and “that is why sometimes fires occur” because “the grass itself at this time is very dangerous.”

For Avila and his family, the drama they experienced is still very real. The days passed, the air became almost unbreathable, and in the middle of last week helicopters and small planes began to arrive to control the flames, but the situation seemed to be out of control.

A “huge downpour” came to the aid of the residents. The day that the first drops fell many watched the sky gratefully. This Monday it kept raining in Mella, a municipality that, like the rest of the Island, is suffering the worst drought since the middle of the last half century. For the moment, the residents of El Guay breathe with relief, but they know that many hard months lie ahead.

Translated by Mary Lou Keel

Gargoyles Recover Their Fierceness

The Palacio de Guasch, in the city of Pinar del Rio, has been under intense repair for months. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Pinar del Rio, 19 April 2017 — At the beginning of the last century many parents did not let their children approach the mysterious construction that was erected at the corner of Martí and Cabada streets in the city of Pinar del Río. Its builder, Francisco Guasch, was considered a madman for building the most whimsical palace of Cuban architecture.

Along its almost 300 feet, the façade exhibits a diverse collection of flowers, plants, animals and mythological beings. On its nine columns the images hardly repeat, accompanied by towers of Gothic reminiscences with unclassifiable capitals and cornices. continue reading

Witnesses say that this architectural “phenomenon” only required two skilled masons and the creativity of its inspirer who, after studying medicine in Europe, returned to live on the Island. With his own hands he kneaded the stone and cement to give his monsters the beautiful ugliness of chimeras.

Now, those children’s grandchildren visit the wifi zone to connect to the internet a few yards from the property. Over time, the inclemency of weather and apathy chipped away at the structure of Guasch’s work, while in its interior, years ago, the Museum of Natural History took up residence.

The repair of the building, which will probably end in late July, has revived the residents’ hopes of seeing the terrible gestures of its gargoyles reborn. They are a testimony to the madness of a man who was considered a lunatic and who has ended up being seen as an outstanding son of the city of Pinar del Río.

Gargoyles everywhere. (www.dcubanos.com)

Several Residents Refuse To Leave A Building In Ruins In Central Havana

Mariagne Durán resides in the seventh floor of the Central Havana building affected by the collapse and refuses to evacuate. (14ymedio)

14ymedio biggerYosmany Mayeta Labrada, Havana, 18 April 2017 — Mariagne Durán, a mother of two children who lives in the Serrá Building in Central Havana where the stairs collapsed on Tuesday, refuses to leave the property because she has nowhere else to go. An employee of the Telecommunications Company of Cuba (ETECSA), Duran and her mother are part of the group of residents on the corner of Amistad and San Miguel Streets who are resisting being evacuated.

A temporary elevator placed outside the building has allowed residents to come and go from the building and run their daily errands. In the most urgent cases of people trapped it was necessary to use cranes for their rescue, but some families refuse to leave without their belongings. They do not want to leave behind their refrigerators, stoves, washing machines and household goods for fear of looting. continue reading

Durán resides on the seventh floor of the building and commented to 14ymedio that on Tuesday evening the residents had a meeting with leaders of the Provincial Housing Directorate, but the meeting did not specify what will happen next with the affected families after the evacuation. “I will not accept a cubicle in a shelter,” concludes the woman.

Neighbors trapped in the building after the stairs fell in watch through their windows as the police deploy. (14ymedio)

This Tuesday, about 120 people were trapped in the building after the stairs that gave access to the apartments collapsed, as reported here.

Over 100 People Trapped in Collapsed Building in Havana

Neighbors approaching the area of the collapse guarded by the police (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yosmany Mayeta Labrada, Havana, 18 April 2017 — About 120 people are trapped in a Central Havana building after the interior stairs to the apartments collapsed this morning.

The property, located on Amistad and San Miguel Streets has been in danger of collapse for years due to lack of maintenance. A loud noise alerted neighbors to the collapse of the old stairs. Police forces and firefighters were mobilized to help the residents and to evacuate their few belongings. continue reading

In the evening hours, the authorities installed an external elevator through which paramedics and health personnel have accessed the building. So far no injuries have been reported, but according to one police officer at midday, “there are elderly among the trapped,” some with blood pressure problems.

“My cousins ​​live there. They have been complaining about the bad condition of the stairs for five months and although the authorities visited the place nothing was fixed,” says a neighbor, indignant at the lack of government action.

Right here in San Rafael there are several buildings that are falling apart, the government repairs the stores on the ground floors but the apartments on are the upper floors and they fall in and no one cares

For Manuel, a man who lives on the corner of Neptune and Amistad Street, this morning’s collapse is only “the tip of the iceberg.”

“Right here in San Rafael there are several buildings that are falling apart, the government repairs the stores on the ground floors but the apartments on are the upper floors and they fall in and no one cares,” he added.

According to Rescue and Salvation personnel in the area, the stairs on the third floor collapsed.

Neighbors trapped in the building after the stairs fell in watch through their windows as the police deploy. (14ymedio)

“We are waiting for the scaffolding to arrive so we can begin to remove the people who are at risk, bit by bit to empty out the structure,” said one of the rescue workers.

A specialist from the Municipal Housing Department of Central Havana said that they had received complaints from the residents “for years.”

The building itself is a danger. They wanted to put the people in shelters but we don’t have the capacity in the district to shelter so many people

“The elevator doesn’t work. The stairs are on the verge of collapse. The building itself is a danger. They wanted to put the people in shelters but we don’t have the capacity in the district to shelter so many people,” she explained.

After the collapse of the stairs the electricity company cut off the electricity and also suspended the gas service. After a “thorough checkup,” the specialists of both institutions decided to re-connect the services.

The Cuban authorities recognize that the housing problem is the first social necessity in Cuba.

According to official figures 33,889 families (132,699 people) need a roof. Most of them have spent decades in “temporary” shelters for victims of building collapses or cyclones.

In 2012, the Census of Population and Housing showed that 60% of the 3.9 million homes on the island are in poor condition.

“There are dozens of people and even pets trapped in that building and everything is as if nothing happened. Will we wait for Havana to collapse to realize the serious problem we have with housing?” Yanelis, a resident of Old Havana, said indignantly, having come to look at the building.

Ex-Minister: Cuba Earns $11.5 Billion From Export of Professional Services

Cuban doctors are present in more than 60 countries and constitute the main source of income for the government of the Island. (@ Evoespueblo)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Miami, 17 April 2017 — Cuban professional services abroad are the main source of foreign exchange for the government and represent an estimated 11.543 billion dollars annually, according to an article published in the official press by the island’s former Minister of the Economy, José Luis Rodríguez.

Most of the income comes from the more than 50,000 healthcare professionals who work in some sixty countries around the world, nearly half of whom are doctors and specialists in different branches of medicine. continue reading

The recently published Health Statistics Yearbook 2016 reveals that Cuban professionals are in 24 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean, in almost three dozen African countries, and in the Middle East, East Asia and the Pacific. In Europe they are present in Russia and Portugal.

In 2014, the Cuban government said that the country obtained 8.2 billion dollars for the provision of health services abroad, a figure that would have declined after the fall in oil prices and the crisis in Venezuela. It also maintains other cooperation programs from which it receives dividends, such as the export of professionals in education, technicians, engineers and athletes.

More than 28,000 Cuban professionals remain in Venezuela as part of the agreements that the government of Hugo Chávez government and his successor, Nicolás Maduro, pay for with oil

Venezuela is the main market for Cuban professionals. In the health sector alone it is estimated that more than 28,000 Cuban professionals remain in that country as a part of the agreements that the government of Hugo Chaves and his successor, Nicolás Maduro, pay for with oil.

According to Maduro, Venezuela has invested more than 250 billion dollars in health agreements between both nations since 1999. More than 124,000 Cuban professionals in that sector have worked in Venezuela, said the president.

The second country in terms of numbers of Cuban professionals is Brazil, which since the beginning of the More Doctors program, in 2013, has contracted through the Pan American Health Organization for 11,400 Cuban professionals.

Following the ousting of President Dilma Rousseff, Cuba renegotiated the contract and gained a 9% increase in the salaries of professionals. The country also renewed the contract for the island’s professionals for three more years. However, the thousands of Cubans who have contracted marriages with Brazilians to obtain permanent residence, and the more than 1,600 who are in the process of validating their credentials in Brazil and separating themselves from the guardianship of Havana, have caused Cuba to suspend the sending of new doctors to Brazil to avoid desertions.

The Cuban government, through the Cuban Medical Services Dealer, offers workers on the island, whose salary is around $40 a month, some benefits and better remuneration if they will agree to go on the missions. In no case do the professionals negotiate their contracts directly with the employer, which is why the Cuban authorities keep between 50 and 75% of the income.

The thousands of Cubans who have contracted marriage with Brazilians to obtain permanent residence and the more than 1,600 who are in the process of validating their credentials in Brazil have caused Cuba to suspend the sending of new doctors to that country to avoid desertions

Family members are not allowed to stay for more than three months with the professionals on “medical missions,” who must return to the island when they finish their contracts. If they do not, they are prohibited from returning to Cuba for eight years, according to the current immigration regulations.

Some organizations like Solidarity Without Borders, which helps Cuban doctors who decide to defect from government missions, denounce these contracts as “the greatest human trafficking case in modern history.”

Until January 12th of this year, the United States maintained a special welcome program known as Cuban Medical Professional Parole (CMPP) to welcome health professionals who escaped medical missions.

The CMPP, established in 2006 under the administration of George Bush, was a point of friction with Havana, which called for its elimination. More than 8,000 professionals took advantage of this program. Cuban-American members of Congress from Florida have vowed to work for its reinstatement.

The health system on the island is free, state-run and universal. A total of 493,368 people work in the system, of which 16,852 are dentists, 89,072 are nurses and 63,471 are technicians.

After the end of the Soviet subsidy the quality of the healthcare system collapsed. Cubans often complain about the absence of the specialists who have been sent to third countries. Recently the government began to deliver symbolic bills to remind citizens that “public health is free, but it costs.”

The Treatment Of ‘White Coats’

Cuban doctors participating in the program of the Brazilian government ‘More Doctors’

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Pedro Campos, Miami, 11 April 2017 – The treatment of blacks and the market in slaves brought from Africa developed by the European colonists has clearly been established as a crime against humanity before all contemporary civilized beings without the slightest doubt. It was a practice that “sold” human beings as if they were merchandise to serve as mere instruments of production, especially in the sugar, coffee and cotton plantations of the New World.

In the twentieth and twenty-first centuries human trafficking acquired other connotations that made the United Nations address the issue as an international crime because it has continued — albeit in ways different from that slavery, but essentially with the same connotation — to subject people to the exploitation of prostitution or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labor, slavery and practices similar to slavery, servitude and the removal of organs. The victims have been mainly women and children. continue reading

The Cuban Government captures, transports, and transfers Cuban doctors and paramedics using the abuse of power it has over its citizens and especially the situation of economic vulnerability of those workers

Right now, Maria Grazia Giammarinaro, United Nations Special Rapporteur on human trafficking is visiting Cuba. In order for the distinguished visitor to know an issue that she should investigate in Cuba, I present the case of the “white coats,” which in one way or another many in Cuba have denounced for years.

In this regard, it is necessary to refer to the UN definition of human trafficking.

The UN Protocol Against Human Trafficking refers to it as “the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation.”

After reading this definition, does anyone have any doubts that the operations of the Cuban Government in sending Cuban doctors and paramedics to different countries of the world to “fulfill internationalist missions” constitutes real trafficking in persons for the purpose of exploitation?

The Cuban Government captures, transports, and transfers Cuban doctors and paramedics using the abuse of power it has over its citizens and especially the situation of economic vulnerability of those workers.

They are given certain small benefits, in a situation where the low level of wages established by the Government itself for its employees, allows it to obtain the consent of these employees to be exploited. At the same time, it appropriates between 70% and 90% of the wages paid by the governments of other countries, or by health institutions of the World Health Organization (WHO) itself, for the services of these professionals.

Medicine is one of the fields of those in which the Cuban state forbids self-employment, which is another factor in the pressure to force professionals to “accept” internationalist missions. If self-employment were allowed their incomes would increase and they would not have to be forced to “serve on a mission.”

These professionals are prevented from taking their families with them, but rather are forced to leave their children and spouses as hostages that force them to return to the country, for which they are also victims of extra-economic coercion

In addition, these professionals are prevented from taking their families with them, but rather are forced to leave their children and spouses as hostages that force them to return to the country, for which they are also victims of extra-economic coercion. The deception has also been used to obtain the recruitment of Cuban doctors for these purposes, since they have been offered perks that were never satisfied, such as the chance to buy a car.

To give an idea of ​​the magnitude of this program of the Cuban government, according to its own Minister of Public Health, Roberto Morales, Cuba has about 50,000 professionals working in more than 66 countries. According to Granma, the official newspaper of the Communist Party, the government receives about eight billion dollars a year for this slave labor. It is the largest sum of foreign currency entering the country, only comparable to that which comes from Cuban-Americans abroad, who send remittances to their families on the island, along with food, medicines, clothes and appliances, along with travel expenses for themselves and their families.

These elements are sufficient to accuse the Cuban Government of operating a huge international system of trafficking in white coats on several continents that includes flagrant and massive violations of the human rights of these citizens: the reality of the Cuban economy forces them to serve as slaves to the Cuban state, and be subjected to the situation of leaving their relatives behind as hostages.

The most recent example that proves this is a major government business is the recent decision to prevent physicians from leaving the country freely like the rest of the citizens

The most recent example that proves this is a major government business is the recent decision to prevent physicians from leaving the country freely like the rest of the citizens, unless they do so through such “internationalist missions.”

If United Nations rapporteur wishes to have complete information on this matter, in addition to hearing what the Cuban Government has to say about this, she should meet with some of the hundreds of doctors who have decided to abandon their missions and reside in the US or other countries.

Cuban human rights organizations, opposition groups and dissidents will surely try to ensure that this issue is duly investigated by the honorable Special Rapporteur of the UN for trafficking in persons, on the occasion of her trip to Cuba.

“Being A Teacher Is Not Profitable In Cuba But It Teaches You To Love”

The damages to educational quality caused by the lack of preparation of the “emerging teachers” remain to be measured. (Telesur)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Caridad Cruz/Mario Penton, Cienfuegos/Miami, 17 April 2017 – teaching children cursive writing and educating them is much more than a job for Adrian, an elementary school teacher in Ciego de Avila. His threadbare pants stained with chalk dust make clear that he is not one of those most favored by the economic changes on the island, even with the recent 200 Cuban peso (about $8 US) raise in his monthly salary, which he received for teaching 27 third graders, more than the state class size norms.

In January, Ministry of Education Resolution 31 decreed a selective salary increase of between 200 and 250 Cuban pesos for those teachers who have more students in their classrooms than the norms set for primary education. In the case of junior high and high schools, the teachers who teach more than one subject also receive a cash incentive. continue reading

“Money is not the main thing in life, rather it is fulfillment, and that is what my profession gives me,” says this 29-year-old “emergent” teacher, who graduated in the years in which the chronic absence of teachers made Fidel Castro launch his Battle of Ideas and graduate thousands of young people as teachers with just eight months of training.

At that time the hook used by the Government was exemption from compulsory military service and the possibility of getting a university degree in humanities without passing the qualifying exams.

Most of the young people who started the project left after the first years of work in one of the lowest paid professions in the country.

The damages to the quality of education caused by the lack of preparation of these emerging teachers remain to be measured, although with the arrival of Raúl Castro to the power in 2006, that program, like the other programs of the Battle of Ideas fell by the wayside.

“In January they raised the salary, but they do not want to call it a salary increase because it only affects those who have more than 25 children in the classroom, but at least it’s something,” he says.

At the beginning of the century, Cuba decided to limit class size to 20 students, but the chronic shortage of teachers and the exodus of professionals to other better paid work prevented this plan from being maintained.

“For years I did the same job and they did not pay me extra,” Adrian laments. “The workers union’s only purpose is to march on the first of May of the plaza. They never demand anything.”

Adrian has a salary of 570 pesos, about 23 dollars. He lives with his mother, a retired teacher of 68, and he is the family’s main support. His salary “is not enough,” he confesses, so he secretly sells treats among the students at recess.

“If it was not for that, I could not make ends meet,” he says. “After all, nobody can live on their salary in Cuba.”

The average salary of education professionals has hardly increased in recent years. In 2013 it was 512 pesos, two years later, 537 pesos

Teachers are not allowed to engage in business activities in schools, but many principals turn a blind eye to avoid losing the few experienced teachers they have left.

“They say that in some provinces, like Matanzas, the state sells food products to teachers at subsidized prices (above and beyond what is in the rationing system). If they did that, at least I would not have to sell candy,” he adds.

The average salary of education professionals has hardly increased in recent years. In 2013 it was 512 Cuban pesos, two years later, in 2015, official data confirm that the average wage is 537 pesos, the equivalent of about 21 Cuban convertible pesos (CUC) per month.

The current real wage, after deducting accumulated inflation, is equivalent to only 28% of the 1989 purchasing power, according to calculations by economist Carmelo Mesa-Lago.

Adrian’s mother, Elisa, recalls the years when she began as a “Makarenko” teacher (a collectivist method created by the Russian pedagogue of the same name) in the ’60s and says that the difficulties now are nothing compared to what her generation experienced.

“We earned 87 pesos a month and to be a teacher you had to climb Pico Turquino (the highest mountain in Cuba) and teach in very different places. There is nothing like teaching, it is teaching a person to fly. It’s the best profession in the world. If I were born again I would be a teacher again,” she says.

In the past academic year 2015-2016, there were 4,218 fewer teachers compared to the previous year. The trend has been accentuated since the 2008-2009 academic year in which official statistics begin to reflect the massive hemorrhaging of educators.

Numbers of teachers in front of the classroom — 2005 to 2016. Source: Statistical yearbook of Cuba.

“Despite the salary of teachers and the conditions in which they perform their work, many remain in their posts. A driver in the city earns in one week what an education professional earns in a month,” says Elisa.

She receives a pension of 230 Cuban pesos a month, about 9 CUC. In the afternoons she has a small group of six children that she tutors for the price of 2 CUC per month each.

“I do it to help my son. We have to pay for the refrigerator, and life has become very expensive: a liter of oil costs almost a quarter of my retirement, and don’t even talk about the price of milk. Luckily I have an ulcer and they give me a ration of milk,” says the teacher.

Every afternoon Adrian collects the 27 notebooks of his students to review them carefully and correct the spelling mistakes. Jhonatán, “a javaito (Afro-Cuban) who escaped the devil,” helps him to carry them home.

“That nine-year-old boy’s mother was arrested because he was a jinetera (a prostitute). He lives with his father who is an alcoholic and who often beats him. The only signs of affection he receives are in school,” says Elisa.

“Being a teacher is not profitable but it teaches you to love,” the retired teacher says with emotion. “Sometimes Adriancito even buys the boy shoes because he has nothing to wear to school.”

Advertising On Wheels Arrives In Havana

Advertising Biky through the streets of Havana. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Zunilda Mata, Havana, 14 April 2017 — The vehicle belonging to El Biky cooperative is adorned with the images of its products and the smiling faces of some of its employees. The food center, located at the corner of Infanta and San Lázaro, is looking to conquer new new customers for its cafe, restaurant and bakery.

As it passes, the singular minibus awakens curiosity and questions. Some question whether private individuals will be allowed to do the same, or whether it is only a prerogative for the 397 non-agricultural cooperatives that are active in the country. continue reading

As for advertising and marketing, ingenuity and creativity alone are not enough; also important is the enterprise’s form of ownership and management.

For decades advertising was frowned upon by the Cuban government

For decades, advertising was frowned upon by Cuban officialdom. The existence of the rationed market, the creation of a distribution system where people “earned” the right to buy home appliances based on their loyalty to the government, and the almost total nationalization of the economy made advertisement to promote a product or service unnecessary. To talk about marketing was taken as an ideological drift with petty bourgeois tints.

With the economic reforms of the 1990s the situation began timid changes. The government itself launched publicity for trips to the island with colorful advertisements of beaches, sun and sand. The private sector was not far behind and created everything from brochures with their offers, to digital sites to attract customers. However, television maintains the sobriety of not airing commercials and the marketing is focused within the food outlets themselves, the yellow pages of the telephone directory and the internet.

State Security Prevents Screening Of Miguel Coyula’s Documentary ‘Nadie’


Note: The video above is not subtitled but the excerpts from Nadie here are subtitled.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 16 April 2017 – Cuba’s State Security and the National Revolutionary Police surrounded the independent gallery El Círculo to prevent this Saturday’s screening of the documentary Nadie (Nobody), directed by Miguel Coyula and featuring the censored poet and writer Rafael Alcides.

The filmmaker and his wife, actress Lynn Cruz, were intercepted by police at the corner of 13th and 10th Streets in Havana’s Vedado district. Starting several hours earlier the agents had closed the street to vehicles and pedestrians, according to a statement made from the location to 14ymedio.

Cruz and Coyula point out that without any reason and with “only a vague argument” the operation was carried out in the area, and the police asked for their IDs and didn’t let them pass. Only “four Spanish diplomats” managed to reach the gallery, according to Lia Villares, curator of El Circulo. continue reading

On 29 January Nadie received the Award for the Best Documentary during its international premier in the Dominican Global Film Festival.

“A group of uniformed men and others in civilian clothes advanced toward us. One of them took out a piece of paper with a list and compared our names with those written there”

“A group of uniformed men and others in civilian clothes advanced toward us. One of them took out a piece of paper with a list and compared our names with those written there,” said Coyula and Cruz describing the moment when the police blocked their access to the site where the documentary was going to be shown.

Cruz also denounced that State Security warned several of the invited guests that the operation was being carried out to “save” them from the “counterrevolutionaries” who had “deceptively” issued invitations to the screening.

“As authors of the work, we denounce the censorship that the government exercises because this time it went beyond the institution,” said Coyula.

“Art is also about the citizen’s right to share and discuss a film. Intellectuals and artists need to take a firm stand and defend their right to perform and display critical works, without compromise, because the attitude that that they take in life ends us being reflected in their work,” he added, speaking to 14ymedio.

Screen shot of the documentary Nadie with Rafael Alcides.

Following the police deployment that prevented access to the gallery, the filmmaker invited several friends to his home where he projected the documentary. Among the guests was Michel Matos, director of Matraka Productions, who is strongly criticized by officialdom.

The Círculo had also announced a Saturday screening of Carlos Lechuga’s film, Santa and Andrés, but the film’s producer, Claudia Calviño, refused to allow the projection and called the gesture an “illegality” saying “this and other activities are outside the traditional marketing framework.”

Lía Villares circulated an email on Sunday in which she defined the “political” character of the gallery that seeks to “promote a culture that continues to be censored despite international awareness and witnesses.” The activist also points out that it is in Cuba that artists have “a moral responsibility to the present and future.”

Chavism Chose Repression

Opposition leader Maria Corina Machado (3rd from the left) leads a protest march in Venezuela. (Vertice News)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Naky Soto (Vertice News), Caracas, 15 April 2017 — In spite of having previously asserted that they would call him a dictator and that would not matter to him, Nicolas Maduro did not put up with two days of national and international denunciations of Venezuela’s constitutional rupture demanding a reversal of the Constitutional Chamber’s sentences which stripped the National Assembly of its powers: With a diligent but incomplete National Defense Counsel, at midnight on Friday he announced that the problem was solved. The newspeak did not help this time because minimizing as an “impasse” the State’s blow to legislative power did not change the perception about the substance: In Venezuela there is no democracy.

Chavism repeated its protocol against the opposing marches, blocking access to Caracas, closing Metro stations, and surrounding the Libertador municipality. This last effort has a symbolic as well as strategic value, since the opposition has no opportunity to approach government headquarters and the opposition is still understood as a matter of eastern Caracas. The display by officials during the demonstrations has been disproportionate, in response not to its duty to maintain public order but to the need to violate, with total impunity, the right to protest, discouraging attendance and causing those who have not protested to question its relevance. continue reading

Authorities from the National Bolivarian Police and the National Guard have declared themselves Chavistas, and in consequence, their action responds to partisan interests before security needs. They are neither impartial nor honest, but they also decided to abort any lesson about the progressive use of force and to uproot each street action as if they confronted enemies instead of citizens, fulfilling the order of the vice-president from PSUV (United Socialist Party of Venezuela), Diosdado Cabello, who also has compulsively cited Simon Bolivar’s decree of war to the death, the punishments that traitors deserve and the conviction that not even with blood can power change in Venezuela. It is the discourse of a sociopath, not a leader.

Chavista paramilitary groups, like good mercenaries, no longer have the same incentives to help the PSUV, therefore their presence has been modest compared with other waves of protest. Known by the euphemism of “collectives,” they have come back but without a strategy; they harass a while, fire some shots, steal from whomever they can – with the notable non-response from the security forces – and return to their caves. The declines in the GNP and GDP must now be the most important cause for re-activating the production of tear gas bombs by CAVIM, those that do not even display their date of production much less their expiration date.

We citizens have recovered, after battles, hundreds of shells of various types, Brazilian and local, with dye and expired, in cartridges of plastic and metal. The water cannons (popularly called “whales” and seen in action here) are practically an irony on the street, because in most areas where they have been used, water service is restricted to schedules that have been kept for more than a year. They have added pepper spray to their resources, with generous spraying of protesters. Evidence abounds of the lack of their control, but for Chavism it suffices to say that all that they have done is to preserve the peace, just as breaking the country is justified with their new non-rentier model.

What the officials have executed does not correspond with dissuasion but with ending the demonstrations. The tear gas, pepper spray and the high-pressure water cannons, only weaken the denial of the right to protest and to appear at government headquarters to demand your rights, besides wanting a specific scenario for the resolution of the conflict.

One key official like the Public Defender, Tarek William Saab, has had the chance to approach any of the demonstrations and face the popular demand: that the Republican Moral Council call out the serious offense committed by the magistrates of the Supreme Court. But he has refused: Thus more than 100 human rights organization have demanded his resignation. His action is a confirmation for the rest of the world that in Venezuela there is a dictatorship and there are no institutions, that is why those responsible for a crime of such scale do not appear in court, because by crossing out a couple of paragraphs of their last rulings, responding to an Executive order, constitutional order was restored.

The Minister of the Interior, Justice and Peace, Nestor Reverol, has asserted that those responsible for the violence will be brought to justice, but that does not include his officials who, in demonstrations on Saturday, were capable of launching tear gas bombs inside of shopping centers, residential buildings and even fire stations.

The Chavista propaganda system has used the basic strategy of denouncing what they do. That is why they have carried out their own demonstrations denouncing coups, bombings and invasions, while they celebrate the coup against the National Assembly, poison the citizenry with tear gas and assume powers that do not belong to them.

Nicolas Maduro has broken the economy to the point of driving the country into a severe humanitarian crisis, with excessive inflation, shortages of everything and a prolonged recession and, nevertheless, the president questions the aggressiveness of the recent demonstrations, ignoring the boundary marked by hunger and ignoring desperation as a driving force. The most repeated lie of Chavism is that the protests must have permission, a local version of their argument before the Organization of American States (OAS): In order to speak of the atrocities that a country’s government commits, that government must agree. What he tries to do here is, in order to protest, you need the authorization of those who give rise to your protest.

The Chavista war parties justify state violence, impose criminal charges on some of the demonstrators, have started hate campaigns against others on social networks – including the account of the scientific police CICPC which posts photographs of people who protest – but they also confess that we opponents are “cannon fodder that throws itself” against the cannons that they fire and the ambushes that they despicably carry out. Chavism only promises more repression, Kalashnikov omens for defending the country – Freddy Bernal, official and former mayor, said it – and the admission that “the fart is lit,” in accord with the reading of the advice that the minister and ex-vice president Aristobulo Isturiz gave several times. Violence, the only terrain they have left.

The mass effect is always overwhelming, and it increases with tear gas. That the majority of opposition leaders are choking with the citizens, that they have avoided some arbitrary arrests and managed to meet in the street in spite of their severe ideological difference is an achievement in itself, a reconciliation with the civic cause

Dozens have been wounded by trauma, contusions, pellet impacts, asphyxia and second- and third-degree burns, but indignation has increased, too, hence the need to disperse the protesters faster; the epic resistance is terrible for a dictatorship with such weaknesses, such little – and fragile – international support, and monitoring – expressed in communiqués – by the nations most committed to the democratic cause.

Governor of the state of Miranda, Henrique Capriles, who was recently dismissed by Venezuelan authorities. (Vertice News)

State malice grows, but the reasons and the commitment of the protesters grow also, especially with the media’s level of self-censorship, which has hidden the repression, making itself complicit in some of the crimes that it does not enjoin. The number of arrests of protesters exceeds 100 because it is not enough for Chavism to deny fundamental liberties, but it also needs the management of its version, where repression is peace, the demonstrators are terrorists, the opposition leaders are homosexuals – a simile for cowardice under their criteria – and its violence is more legitimate than the vote.

“I ask you to hold gubernatorial and mayoral elections in order to defeat them at once,” said Nicolas Maduro with a Virgin on his right and a Christ on his left. Three days of protest were enough so that, before leaving for Havana to meet with the representatives of the only international organization that could approve his designs, he reiterated his condition for dialogue and his desire to vote.

Minutes later he affirmed that the legislative elections of 2015 were rigged, that voting for an option other than Chavism equates with treason and that treason is unpardonable for a son of Hugo Chavez, who must defend the homeland before well-being, hunger does not matter but dignity and sovereignty do. Maduro wants elections and releases his first ad for 2018, specifying that there must be regional elections, an efficient scenario to begin to divide the opposition leadership and the people themselves who quickly responded to his proposal, separating themselves into those who demand all or nothing and those who prefer to take it one step at a time.

Even with these conditions, the opposition would crush it on a national level; Chavism knows it, and that’s why Maduro launches the offer and leaves, hoping for the right effect.

The protests continue. The fervor in the streets is distinct, the spirit of the resistance – even suffocated – shows itself in the time of exposure to repression. Most hope that the opposition council transcends the street and puts together a pact capable of uniting the country as much as possible, the new project, that differences feed the diversity necessary for a new republic, concentrated on the rescue of its institutions and the re-establishment of peace.

The Secrets of Secretismo

Headline: Raul will speak tomorrow. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, 16 April 2017 — The term secretismo (secretiveness), to refer to the absence or delay of certain information of public interest in the Cuban official media, began to be used first among critics of the system, until it came to appear in the speeches of the highest officials of the government.

The list of what the official media has never reported, or only reported with an inexplicable delays, deserves a thorough study, which in addition to filling thousands of pages, would serve to better understand the country’s most recent history.

Among the headings to organize the list of the omitted would be: deaths, destitutions, desertions, economic failures, military defeats, diplomatic fiascos, serious damage to nature, consequences of mistakes made, and even data on the rates of suicides, divorces or emigration, along with references to the country’s debt or to the decrease in Gross Domestic Product. All this and more has fallen into that black hole of disinformation. continue reading

The temptation to offer some examples would lead us to mention, among other pearls, the forced relocation of peasants from the Escambray in the 1960s, the disastrous effects of the whim of trying to produce 10 million tons of sugar in 1970, the collapse of the military operation in Granada in 1983, the consequences that the epidemic of polyneuritis brought in the most difficult years of the Special Period, and more recently the clinical causes of Fidel Castro’s death.

It has been this way since the days when Party ideologue Carlos Aldana pontificated on the need to have “critical, militant and creative journalism”

The response that has often been given to criticism of secretismo has ranged from the most tenacious justification, based on being a country threatened by the most powerful power in the world, to the pretense of blaming the mid-level cadres.

It has been this way since the days when party ideologue Carlos Aldana pontificated on the need to have “critical, militant and creative journalism,” right up to our time when Raúl Castro himself advised before the parliament: “It is necessary to put on the table all the information and the arguments that underlie each decision and step, to suppress the excess of secretismo to which we have habituated ourselves during more than 50 years of enemy encirclement.”

These self-critical pretenses have had the peculiarity of appearing in cycles, which has given the permanent impression of being on the eve of an always timid and incomplete opening. The journalistic guild has been perhaps the most victimized with these frequent promises, made in Congresses of the Union of Cuban Journalists (UPEC) or in informal meetings with the press.

When it seems that “now we are going to end the secretismo” the promise of promulgating a new electoral law disappears, the head of the commission in charge of implementing the Party’s guidelines disappears, and the sale of premium gasoline is suspended without any media of the official press daring to review or comment on what happened.

Even the euphemism of using the word “secretismo” to refer to what strictly must be called censorship, only serves to cover up what is supposed to be revealed. It is a crime of linguistic injury whose result lies in keeping in obscurity what outwardly is illuminated.

A Small Cuban Town Lives With The Anguish Of The Disappearance Of 13 Rafters

In the image, twelve of the thirteen missing rafters who sailed from Cuba in December 2015. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miami, 14 April 2017 — Juana Chiroles will never forget December 26, 2015. It was the last day she saw her son and her two nephews. As night fell the young men told her they were going to kill some pigs and had a rope and several implements. They never returned home.

Some days later she heard the news from people in the town: her relatives were among the 13 young people who left on a raft that night for the United States. Since then, the mothers of the small town of Modesto Serrano with 1,300 inhabitants in Artemisa province, “don’t sleep, don’t eat,” thinking about the fate of their family members.

The official silence and the absence of news suggests the worst, but Juana maintains the hope that her son is alive and will return home. continue reading

I’m a guajira with dirt on my feet and a little rough. I’ve never seen the internet and I don’t know anything about computers,” she says modestly on a static-filled call from a cellphone.

The woman, 54, explains that “you have to walk around to find cell coverage.”

Since January the US Coast Guard has only intercepted about 100 Cubans who were trying to cross the Florida Straits

Since the disappearance of her son, Alien Quintana Chiroles, 32, and her two nephews, Julián and Ronaldo Chiroles, 26 and 36 years respectively, they have done their best to find out about any rafters intercepted by the US Coast Guard United States, she says.

However, they have not been successful. Their relatives sailed when the well-known wet foot/dry foot policy was in place that allowed Cubans who touched American territory to be accepted as refugees.

President Barack Obama ended this policy last January, during his last days in office, and since then the US Coast Guard has only intercepted about 100 Cubans who were trying to cross the Florida Straits. A figure very far from the almost 10,000 who tried to escape the island by sea in 2016.

“A week after the people left, we started to hear they had arrived in Florida. Since then we learned it was a lie,” she says sadly.

Besides the Juana Chiroles’s son, those on the precarious boat included Ronaldo Chiroles Évora, 26; Orlando Santos Lazo, 45; Alberto Rodriguez Beltrán, 27; Yariel Alzola Cid, 27; Leandro Évora Salazar, 41; Ailetis Llanes Padrón, 33; Eduardo Cano González, 40; Wilson González Piloto, 26; Yordan Ramos Hernández, 27; Dariel Mesa Arteaga and Luis Arrastria.

“A month before they left, a similar boat with people from the same town arrived in Miami. That was what twisted their heads and they went away hoping that they would also experience the same fate,” says Juana.

The US Coast Guard, for its part, said in a letter addressed to this newspaper that they also have no records on these rafters

A spokesman for the US Customs and Border Protection Office told 14ymedio that they do not have any information in their records that matches the names of the disappeared.

The US Coast Guard, for its part, said in a letter addressed to this newspaper that they also have no records of these rafters.

“What the families of the rafters experience is very dramatic. We have hundreds of reports of unresolved disappearances,” explains Ramón Saúl Sánchez, president of the Democracy Movement, an organization of the Cuban exile that assists its compatriots.

“We have asked the United States government to establish a protocol to identify the bodies. So far, it does not exist and the bodies remain unidentified in the morgues until they are buried in mass graves,” says Sanchez.

Sanchez recognizes that after the end of the wet foot/dry foot policy the number of cases in which his organization helps has decreased substantially. However, he is concerned that what causes Cubans to try to escape from their country remains.

“President Obama (by ending the asylum policy for undocumented arrivals) created the figure of the undocumented Cuban rafter, who won’t show his face because he is afraid of being deported. We know that there is a dictatorship in Cuba, that is why Cubans escape and it has not been solved,” he says.

Between 2015 and 2016 there was a significant increase in the number of rafters

Last summer half of the crew of a raft handmade on the island disappeared in the waters of the Gulf of Mexico and only the mummified remains of one of the rafters was found. The body carried the identity cards of two brothers who were among the crew of the boat.

Between 2015 and 2016 there was a significant increase in the number of rafters. “In the village of La Máquina, [a nearby area], several boats left until the police took action on the matter,” says Juana.

Her son tried four times to reach the United States. In one of his attempts he was picked up by a ship that delivered him back to the Cuban authorities. After paying a fine of 3,000 Cuban pesos, he continued to plan his next trip.

Juana studied engineering with a specialization in sugar chemistry, but was unable to exercise her profession following the collapse of the island’s sugar industry. She lives with her husband and cares for her younger brother, Felipe, affected by Down syndrome.

“I have a daughter and a seven-year-old granddaughter, my son Alien’s daughter. Her name is Alice Flor Quintana. Every day I tell her about her dad and I show her his photo so she will not forget him,” she says.

Convinced that “the love of mother can do anything,” Juana called on the Cuban authorities confirm that they had not been arrested for illegal exit from the country

Convinced that “the love of mother can do anything,” Juana called on the Cuban authorities to confirm that the rafters had not been arrested for illegal exit from the country. They told her no and they also did not know of any shipwreck in the days after the disappearance of her relatives.

“My hope is that at least they are at the Guantanamo Naval Base,” says the mother, knowing that rafters picked up by the US Coast Guard are often taken there. But 14ymedio has been able to corroborate that they are not there.

“My son is very beautiful and a great person, he is always happy, please, if anyone has seen him or knows where he is, help me find him,” she says, her voice breaking.

“The agony is immense. It has been a year since he left, but the pain is like the first day he left,” she concluded.