Pro Press Freedom Association Denounces Arrests, Confiscations and Threats Against Journalists

The independent journalist Osmel Ramírez Álvarez. (HavanaTimes)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 16 July 2018 — Arrests, confiscations and threats are some of the attacks against journalists reported by the Pro Press Freedom Association (APLP) in its most recent report, covering the month of June and made public this Monday. The text details a dozen attacks but warns that “the possibility of the existence of others is real.”

The release of the report of the APLP, an independent organization that monitors the state of press freedom on the island, coincides with the closing of the 10th Congress of the Cuban Journalists Union (UPEC), an event where the new information policy that will govern in the country will be delineated.

In this context, reporters not affiliated with the official media are taking the brunt of the repression and the confiscation of the equipment and supplies they use to perform their work, a theme that was not addressed during the sessions of the official meeting, where 267 delegates from across the country met.

The APLP denounces cases such as that of reporter Carlos Torres Fleites, contributor to news website Cubanet and to this newspaper, who was “arrested on the street by agents of the National Revolutionary Police and the political police (State Security) after interviewing residents of Calle Real, Santa Clara.”

During an arbitrary detention, Torres Fleites was interrogated, “forced to be without clothes” in the cells and the police confiscated his mobile phone, the journalist’s main tool to do his work.

A similar situation was experienced by Osmel Ramírez Álvarez, a Havana Times contributor, who was detained at a police station for three days in retaliation for his work as an independent journalist.

In Guantánamo, the home of Niorbe García Fournier, a journalist with the agency Hablemos Press, was raided by the police and the reporter was threatened with “going to prison for espionage and for spreading false information that threatens international peace.”

The report also includes attacks against contributors to Palenque Visión, the Cuban Institute of Freedom of Expression and Press (ICLEP) and La Hora de Cuba. Its pages include a complaint about the police citation received last June 27 by the president of the APLP, José Antonio Fornaris.

The APLP’s report is consistent with the data published by international organizations and the warnings they have issued about the constant attacks on press freedom by the Cuban authorities.

Last April the organization Reporters Without Borders (RSF) placed Cuba in 172nd place, of 180 nations, in terms of press freedom. The country was the lowest rated in the continent.

The Inter American Press Association (IAPA) also denounced, in its latest report presented in Colombia last April, that the Cuban government seeks “a dumb, deaf, and blind country” with regards to communication, journalism, and the internet.

It is “an increasingly difficult goal,” the IAPA said, for “journalists and independent media to persevere and not cease their work despite the restrictions.”

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

Diaz-Canel Praises State’s Monopoly on the Press and the Truth

Miguel Díaz-Canel displayed with astonishing simplicity the scope of his political thought when closing the 10th Congress of the Union of Journalists of Cuba. (ANC)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 16 July 2018 — In his first ideological speech, President Miguel Díaz-Canel displayed with astonishing simplicity the scope of his political thought in his closing remarks at the 10th Congress of the Cuban Journalists Union (UPEC), a meeting in which professionals of the official press raised the slogan “The truth needs us.”

In the Manichean vision of the world detailed by the leader this Saturday, on one side is “the logic of capital, selfish and exclusionary,” while on the other stands the “socialist and (José) Marti logic, the fidelista (faithful to Fidel Castro), showing solidarity and generosity.” For him there are no half measures. continue reading

The Communist Party has a monopoly on the truth and whoever disputes it is an enemy of the homeland and in the pay of the empire. In order to erect these intimidating arguments, the newly appointed president hides behind the definition of a besieged square and alludes to the testament received from the ‘historic generation’ – those who fought in the Revolution.

People who spent months digging into the sources and integral parts of Diaz-Canel’s thought must have suffered great frustration this Saturday when listening to so many simple things. Especially those who believed they had found a nugget of gold in the poetic quote from the singer-songwriter Silvio Rodríguez in his inauguration speech on 19 April.

The words from Rodriguez quoted by Diaz-Canel – “You don’t need wings to take flight” – inspired some hopeful to believe he might be planning to undertake a daring comeback. Instead, before the 267 journalists gathered in the congress, he chose to recommend the complete reading of the text The New Revolutionaries, signed by the official troll Manuel Henríquez Lagarde.

Of course you don’t need wings for such a low altitude flight.

Exclusionary and partisan, the president considered it appropriate not to invite independent journalists to the discussions of the new communication policy “because they are not part of UPEC nor of Cuban society, which earned through its efforts and sacrifices the exclusive right to discuss how to design the future.” Although he did not say it, it was clear that nor would independent journalists have the right to have a separate congress.

The Social Communication Policy that has taken shape in this conclave recognizes only two types of ownership for the mass media in the country: state and social. The document, which has not been published in its entirety, defines access to information, communications and knowledge as a public good; it establishes obligations to the rest of the institutions and amplifies the powers of media executives.

What has not been amplified with sufficient emphasis is what Marino Murillo noted in one of the sessions of the congress when he said that “this policy, which represents a starting point to begin working,” implies the creation of three legal projects, and a subsequent monitoring of compliance with this policy through objectives, goals and indicators.

Díaz-Canel acknowledged that among the pending tasks is for “the country our media shows [to look more like the] country we are.” This requires the fulfillment of another of the announced foundations of the new policy which refers to “respect for the diversity that we are.”

The governing spheres hold a narrow meaning of “diversity” in which they include race, sex, age, province of origin, religion and occupational profile, which has been timidly increased to include sexual orientation. The law can penalize someone who discriminates against a young woman from Guantanamo who is a lesbian, black, Catholic and self-employed, but if this same person shows her social-democratic or liberal inclinations then she would be punished.

Nor could she belong to the Ladies in White, promote the Cuba Decides project, be a member of UNPACU, the Christian Liberation Movement, MUAD or FANTU. She could not be an activist defending human rights, open an unauthorized library or exercise independent journalism. Of all this, nothing!

In order for the country that appears in the press to resemble the real country in all its diversity, the diversity must also reach social communication media. The nation will continue to be a puzzle that lacks pieces if the existence of political opposition and independent civil society is not recognized, if it is not accepted once and for all that Cubans are everyone, wherever they live and whatever they think.

The truth needs many actors and different versions. It requires debate and confrontation among ideas and, above all, freedom. While it is true, that as the crucified one said, “the truth will set you free,” it is also indisputable that freedom will make us truthful.

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

Diaz-Canel Blames Athlete Exodus on the "Subversive Provocation of Imperialism"

Diaz-Canel during the opening of the Sports Hall (EFE)

14ymedio bigger

14ymedio, Havana, 14 June 2018 — In his speech this Friday during the inauguration of the Cuban Sports Hall, President Miguel Díaz-Canel spoke of the exodus of several of the best athletes in the country and attributed it to the “subversive provocation that imperialism tries to impose” with the intention of seeking a “loss of prestige” for Cuba, as well as the “lack of commitment” of the island’s athletes.

The new space located in Havana Sports City is dedicated to collecting the history of sport on the island and exhibits numerous photos along with trophies and medals won by national athletes. continue reading

The president said that the practice and development of sports has been “one of the achievements of the Cuban Revolution” and also “an expression of joy and a confirmation of revolutionary values and of patriotic and human values.”

He also said that in the world today sports has been converted into a form of “merchandise” in a scenario marked by “high administrative corruption” where “athletes are bought and sold.”  In addition, he lamented the “nefarious scourge” of doping.

Díaz-Canel has declared that the Government will continue giving “priority” attention to the sport, “even in very complex conditions,” and that Cuba will win first place among the countries in the upcoming Central American and Caribbean Games in Barranquilla (Colombia), from July 19 to August 3.

The Cuban State strictly regulates the exercise of sports on the Island. Trained in technical education institutions where each discipline reaches a high level, and with a very low salaries paid by the National Institute of Sports, Physical Education and Recreation, Cuban athletes are presented as amateurs but in practice they live as professionals.

Driven by Fidel Castro, the Island’s plan for sports sought not only to promote exercise, but also to export the idea that the Antilles was a power in this area and could face the richest countries.

After the end of the subsidies from the Soviet Union at the beginning of the 1990s, a large part of the academic institutions and facilities for sport fell into disuse due to lack of maintenance. Poor living conditions, coupled with poor remuneration, led hundreds of athletes to escape from national teams at events and tours.

In 2013, the authorities gave the green light to hiring high-performance athletes from abroad, as long as it is managed through a company that assures the State a substantial part of the contract. The measure, applauded by a broad sector of Cuban sports, has not stopped the exodus. The most recent known case of an athlete leaving the national team was the Olympic boxing champion Robeisy Ramirez, who escaped during a training session in Mexico earlier this month.

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

For a Press Without Silences or Omissions

Delegates from the province of Santiago de Cuba to the UPEC congress. (Sierra Maestra)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 14 July 2018 – One has been unemployed for two years, the other went to Miami and works for one of those media the Cuban government calls “imperialist press,” while the third writes ephemera for a local Cuban radio station and dreams of doing investigative reports. The three of them are journalists who are graduates of the island’s universities, and who have in common talent, a desire to do things, and professional frustration.

On Friday, the Congress of the Union of Journalists of Cuba (Upec) opened in Havana, bringing together 267 reporters, editors, photojournalists and news directors from all over the country. The meeting is being held amid expectations that range from one extreme to the other: from its final agreements can come a renewing impulse for the press or a straitjacket closer to the current exercise of the profession.

As in every Upec conclave, the demands to make journalism more incisive and closer to reality, to give newsrooms greater access to official data, as well as a broader editorial autonomy for the local press, are repeated on this occasion, along with the demand to modernize a sector plagued by excessive ideological controls and material instability.

The congress could not avoid offering an obligatory reverence when dedicating the meeting to Fidel Castro Ruz, a tenacious predator of press freedom and the main architect of the biggest problems that have plagued the guild in the last half century. But, in addition to these formalities moved more by opportunism than by faith, the meeting takes place in a complicated scenario. continue reading

The journalists gathered at the Palace of Conventions are exchanging opinions at a time when censorship against the ‘weekly packet’ is increasing, new obstacles are imposed on the presentation of artists in private venues and the harassment of independent reporters grows. All these events suggest that the ruling party wants to recover, through intimidation, the ground that has been lost in the distribution of content and news in recent years.

Upec is also meeting with president Miguel Díaz-Canel who, a few weeks after he took office, expressed ambivalent positions towards the media. On the one hand, he has called on journalists to address more deeply issues of Cuba’s reality and, on the other hand, he has emerged as an implacable keeper of the revolutionary press, demonizing and threatening to put an end to media outside the control of the Communist Party.

A new information policy could be enshrined at the meeting, at a point where the system, lacking results to show amid a deepening economic crisis, chooses to continue substituting headlines for realities, strengthening the media’s ideological component  and demanding a new commitment from professionals of the press to behave like “soldiers of the pen” rather than as keen informants.

For their part, journalists who work in official media are demanding better guarantees to do their work, but many of them start from the condition that other information sources, which they consider to be inadequately trained or ideologically objectionable, be eliminated.

On the other hand, a part of the union, not represented in the congress and made up of journalists who work for independent media or manage their own information spaces, has been asking for a Press Law for years that guarantees the exercise of the profession beyond the strict official frameworks. They seek legal recognition for their work so they do not end up with their bones in jail.

The latter are the great absentees of the meeting and the most affected by its possible results. What is anticipated from the meeting is an information policy that seeks to close ranks, lash out against those who maintain links with the independent press or who have dared to found blogs, newspapers and websites that touch on taboo topics such as violence in the streets, the excesses of State Security, administrative corruption or environmental pollution, among others.

In contrast, none of the attendees of the Upec congress has published anything about the most urgent problems that have shaken the reality of the island in recent weeks. Did even one of them ask Cubana de Aviación the details of the agreement that led the state airline to rent a plane from a Mexican company plagued by irregularities? Did they inquire about the thorny issue of compensation to the families of the victims?

Which of these delegates bid to sneak into the debates of the new Constitution of the Republic that take place behind closed doors? Or has published at least one line about the theft of thousands of dollars experienced by dozens of Cuban doctors in Venezuela? How many of them have asked for “authorization” from their editorial chief to report about the new migratory route that is taking thousands of Cubans to Chile, Uruguay and Brazil?

This Friday, when the calendar marked the 24th anniversary of the sinking of the 13 de Marzo tugboat, in which 37 people died, people who were trying to escape the country and among whom were children, which delegates to the congress thought of writing a note, promoting an investigation or picking up the phone and calling a ministry for answers? Did any of them ask for an interview with the new head of state to ask him what his program for the government consists of?

All these questions are answered with a single word: none. All the journalists gathered in the Palace of Conventions have concurred in the silence, looked the other way and tried not to inconvenience the powers that be. The motto of the congress states “The truth needs us,” they boast with a certain touch of superiority, when in reality they are the ones who need the truth and who should be running after the facts.

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

"I Prefer the Cuba of the Special Period to the Venezuela of Nicolas Maduro," Says a Cuban Doctor

Cuban government claims it earns 11.5 billion annually from the sale of services abroad. (CC)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario J. Pentón, Havana, 13 July 2018  — After the robbery of 152,000 dollars (a figure later reduced to 16,000 by the police) Cuban doctors in Venezuela have come to be seen as privileged due to their access to the green bills in contrast to the unfortunate situation of the local population. Several physicians consulted by this newspaper fear that the media exposure will make them targets of criminal gangs, although, according to them, the standard of living of a Cuban health professional in Venezuela leaves much to be desired.

“They give us a million bolivars a month, that’s the stipend, but it’s not enough,” explains a doctor who, like the rest, is strictly forbidden to talk to the press. Some doctors assume that the stipend will be as much as three million after the minimum wage increases, but so far no action has been taken in this regard.

In the black market, which regulates street trade, the price of the dollar is over 3.4 million bolivars. All Cuban personnel, technicians, nurses and doctors receive the same stipend. continue reading

The Venezuelan Government guarantees them a home where they live with other “internationalists,” as well as a bag of food, and Cuba pays for their plane tickets to return on vacation to the island.

“We are not to blame for what is happening in Venezuela, the Government of this country has not been able to control the situation,” says this doctor, who has sometimes felt “despised” by his patients. “I prefer the Cuba of the Special Period to the Venezuela of Nicolás Maduro,” he says.

To buy toiletries and food, the professional brought money with him from Cuba. “When it’s all gone and I have nothing left, I send for more,” he says. On the island, the government keeps his salary and also deposits an amount in convertible pesos in a frozen account that he loses if he leaves the mission or he is sanctioned.

Among the prohibitions whose violation could mean returning to Cuba are being absent from work, talking to the foreign press about the medical mission or trying to escape to Colombia or any neighboring country. The doctor says that it has not crossed his mind because he fears he would not see his family on the island again. “They would punish me by forbidding me to enter Cuba for eight years, I can not stay away from my family that long,” he says.

The Cuban Government participates in medical missions in exchange for obtaining oil from Venezuela. Caracas sends some 55,000 barrels of oil a day to the island, which represents 1.5 billion dollars a year, a surprisingly high figure for a country sunk in a severe humanitarian crisis. The government maintains that it receives more than 11.5 billion dollars annually for the professional services it provides to countries all over the world, a figure questioned by independent economists.

Personal security is among the greatest concerns for Cuban doctors who provide services in Venezuela. Although the Special Action Forces of the police arrested the thieves, some Cubans consulted by this newspaper say that most of the time this is not the case.

“Many have been assaulted and some have died here, but nothing is said because the policy of the medical mission is total discretion, they tell us that it will become a political problem if we report these cases and they can punish us by terminating our mission,” says a doctor who works in eastern Venezuela.

The doctor also states that she has been the victim of harassment by the mission heads. “Sometimes I have had to face the machismo of the bosses, they believe that because we come alone to work we have to serve them as maids and as women in their beds,” she complains.

Most cases of abuse, according to this doctor, go unpunished, silenced by the secrecy surrounding the mission.

The doctor is concerned about the deteriorating situation in the country. “They have asked us to bear up until the end, but that end never comes and things get worse every day,” she explains.

Venezuela is experiencing a hyperinflationary process that has left its currency worthless. The economy of the country contracted the first quarter of this year by 12% according to the calculations of the opposition National Assembly. Oil production, the main export item in the country, has plummeted and reached 1.5 million barrels per day in June, the lowest figure in 70 years. Added to this is the widespread violence that has claimed the lives of more than 280,000 people since Chavismo came to power in 1999.

“Cuban professionals here are in a situation of war in a country that is crumbling to pieces and without any protection,” she laments.

Several doctors have sent messages to the heads of mission asking for better wages and protection, always under the slogan “everything for the Revolution” so as not to be branded as counterrevolutionaries, explains a third professional who works in Zulia.

“If our relatives in Cuba or our colleagues knew the things that we have to go through in this shitty country nobody would come,” says the doctor. But the official media of the Island censors the negative news about the missions abroad.

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

Tribute to the 37 Victims of the ’13 de Marzo’ Tugboat

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 13 July 2018 — On July 13, 1994, Cuban government forces sank the 13 de Marzo tugboat, which was carrying 72 citizens who were fleeing the island for Florida; 37 people died, including 10 children.

Betania Publishers is making available to our readers the poems recently published by the poet and writer Liliam Moro (Havana, 1946)  in trubute to the victims.

Journey to Horror

By Liliam Moro

Papi, don’t look, close your eyes!

(María Victoria García, mother of the drowned child Juan Mario)

The earth is bounded by borders

The sea is free.

But in freedom there is also Death. continue reading

 

Death is not made of numbers,

it is not a quantitative reckoning.

In a single death

there is humanity.

But when Death arrives uniformed

in three boats

and furiously shoots water from cannons

to sink an opponent

–death by water–

and rams and destroys the opponent,

and this other is not one but seventy-two,

and there are ten children among the seventy-two

–death by water–

and it is at dawn

when the sky and the sea merge

in the same brush of blackness

–death by water–

then, to save themselves,

they clung to a floating corpse

and a mother tells her son to close his eyes

so he will not be frightened on seeing Death

–death by water–

when they ask for clemency

and they respond laughing “let them die”

–death by water–

and they begin to count the bodies face down

adrift,

among them ten children like floating dreams.

How are they, Lord, those who survived?

How are they, Lord, those who shouted

“let them die,”

and now aged so many years later

without the powerful ships, without the water cannons,

with the medals of merit rusting

at the same rate that their souls are rotting?

What god did they blindly obey

whose voice they no longer remember?

How is she, Lord, that woman

who throws candies into the water

every 13th of July?

How are we, Lord, we who remember it

on every anniversary and we foam from the mouth

writing poems

and we cannot tear out that infamous page

from the history books

nor grant them resurrection?

 

The brutal cannonade of water in the middle of the night

broke to pieces the spheres of the compasses

that showed the cardinal points

of the time to come,

that is called the future;

the glasses shattered

the needles crushed

they could not point to the North.

 

The bodies no longer float,

they wenty sinking

with the slowness of inevitable.

They didn’t need the ferryman Charon.

they were unhurriedly sinking

like he who finally rests

and abandons himself to the dream where Nothing receives him.

Tangled in the silt

among the blind fish,

they descended to keep company

with old rusty boats

of rotten wood

that have been accumulating for centuries

where the abyss begins;

and down there, in the depth of the deep

so like infinity

lie the beings who tried

to move to another nearby geography.

And they are there still.

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

Cuban Government Modifies Private Sector Licenses and Taxes

Pushcart vendors pushing their products along Colón street, next to the Milanés theater in the city of Pinar del Río. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 10 July 2018 — The announced “reordering and updating” for self-employment work appeared this Tuesday with the publication in the Extraordinary Gazette of a package of measures that modify the licensing system and the payment of taxes from the private sector.

“No activity disappears, 96 of the existing ones are grouped into 28, and from of a total of 201, there are 123,” explained Marta Elena Feitóra Cabrera, Deputy Minister of Labor and Social Security.

The 27 activities for which the issuing of licenses had been frozen, will be opened again when the regulations take effect, in December 2018. continue reading

Some activities, starting now, may continue to operate, but no new licenses will be granted. This is the case for wholesalers and retailers of agricultural products, pushcart tradesmen or vendors of agricultural products, sellers of CDs and operators of recreation equipment.

However, new license categories have been created. The permit for the preparation of food and drinks in food services and restaurants is modified with the creation of two new licenses: gastronomic services and restaurants, and bar and recreation services. The activities of baker-candy maker and renter of means of transport are also new.

In some cases a single authorization that groups several activities (as in beauty services, which groups seven) will allow a broader set of services with the same tax burden as before.

The new regulations also establish that only one authorization to exercise an activity per person will be granted and only one of the three activities of gastronomic services in restaurants, gastronomic services in cafeterias, or bar and recreation services can be exercised in the same domicile.

Other areas that will see changes are those of renters of houses, rooms and spaces, who may lease to legal persons (companies, organizations, organizations), as well as to natural persons. In addition, in the absence of the business owner, a representative may be appointed from among the employees.

Tax reform in the self-employed sector will also be significant. The government will abolish the tax exemption for the hiring of up to five workers, a measure that includes artists and non-agricultural cooperatives. In addition, the minimum taxable base for the payment of the tax for the use of the labor force is adjusted, with the minimum continuing to be 5%.

Of the 123 self-employed activities that were approved after the regrouping, 52 will be taxed by the General Scheme and 71 by the Simplified Scheme (monthly payment of a consolidated fee).

The tax regime for Havana is differentiated from the rest of the provinces in the new measures. Vladimir Regueiro Ale, general director of Fiscal Policy of the Ministry of Finance and Prices (MFP), explained that the minimum tax quota will be increased on 41 activities in the capital and 20 outside it. The increases range from 5 to 360 CUP.

The minimum tax quota of 39 activities is also reduced outside of Havana, and for 22 in Havana, and the monthly tax quotas are maintained for taxpayers registered in the grouped activities, provided they are higher than the minimum for that license.

In the event that a taxpayer turns in their license for an activity in which they have experienced a loss within a period of less than 24 months, they will recover the tax quota paid before the cancellation.

These changes will apply only to new self-employed workers. In the case of those who are already licensed, they will maintain the preconditions even if the license holders’ tax quotas have been increased.

Another novelty is the obligation to have a fiscal bank account, a measure through which the Government intends to increase control over the sector and that initially will be applied only to food services, construction services, the rental of housing, rooms and spaces, and the transportation of passengers in motor vehicles (from four to 14 seats) in Havana.

All the financial operations of the business must be passed through this account and it will be obligatory to maintain a minimum balance equivalent to three of the taxpayer’s monthly installments. The deposit account must be opened within 30 days of the notification of the National Office of Tax Administration (ONAT), and the minimum balance be deposited within 90 days. Otherwise, it will constitute a punishable offense.

The transport of passengers in Havana includes specific regulations for the control of the use of fuel, which, according to the Government, has been a source of multiple “deficiencies and irregularities.”

It is required that 100% of the expenses for fuel consumed be made by magnetic card, in addition to other expenses of the activity in the Personal Income Tax Affidavit.

The holders of the license will be required to certify the fuel consumed by magnetic card issued by Fincimex, as justification for payment of taxes.

Also modified is the tax exemption incentive for three months at the beginning of the activity, a measure that the authorities claim is used for tax evasion purposes.

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism

“The ‘Weekly Packet’ Looks More Like ‘Cubavision’ Every Day”

The managers of the ‘package’ claim that ‘The Lord of the Skies’ presents material “defamatory that goes against the principles of our Cuban Revolution.” (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Zunilda Mata, Havana, 12 July 2018 — The ‘Weekly Packet’ is not what it used to be, that space of semi-freedom where you could see audio-visual entertainment materials not offered on Cuban national television. The Government is intervening more and more in the content, imposing documentaries produced in Spanish by an Iranian channel and prohibiting productions that don’t suit it.

This week’s honor belongs to The Lord of the Skies, a thriller with drug trafficking as a backdrop whose producer, Epigmenio Ibarra, is a friend of the Cuban regime. Omega and Odyssey, the two most important parent companies on the island that assemble weekly packets, have decided to “filter” the episodes of the series, which in this new release have several allusions to the involvement of the Cuban Government in drug trafficking in ​​the Caribbean. continue reading

A brief note, placed next to this week’s video folders, entitled “Let’s avoid misunderstandings and disrespect,” explains to customers the reason for the censorship. “Our main objective is audiovisual entertainment, which is far from transmitting something subversive or pornographic.”

The packets’ managers go on to say that The Lord of the Skies presents material that is “defamatory and goes against the principles of our Cuban Revolution” and announce that they will transmit each episode with a day’s delay to allow it to be “edited” to remove the most controversial parts.

Among the most rigid rules that have been established in alternative content distribution networks, the strictest rule is to exclude criticism of the Cuban system, its leaders and government policies. On the independent Wi-Fi networks that link thousands of users throughout the island, those who transgress this norm are punished by having their service cut off.

In this case, the series alludes to connections between former President Raúl Castro and Commander Ramiro Valdés related to drug trafficking, a taboo subject on the island since the scandal of the Ochoa case broke out in 1989, which resulted in several people implicated in that crime being shot, among them General Ochoa himself, by whose name the case is popularly known.

Those who prepare versions of the weekly packet have preferred to cut to the bone and take out all the scenes that implicate the Plaza of the Revolution in the movement of cocaine in the area of the island. Customers have complained to high heaven and some distributors consulted by 14ymedio point to what happened as a bad precedent that can make them lose their market.

“The deterioration of the weekly packet has accelerated in recent months,”14ymedio hears from Roberto, a 26-year-old graduate in economics who earns a living as a messenger delivering hard disks to customers who subscribe to the audiovisual collection. “The inspectors are sticking their noses in everywhere and to survive we had to apply the scissors,” he says.

The two major production houses that copy, organize and distribute about one terabyte of materials each week for 2 Cuban convertible pesos (roughly $2 US) began offering foreign films, series and magazines, but have been expanding the business towards advertising. The reporting focuses on private businesses operated by the self-employed which has been one of the highlights, in a country where ideological propaganda is allowed only on national channels, promoted and disseminated by the Government.

Among the most affected content, as the young man explains to 14ymedio, are the promotional videos of private businesses, which used to be common but have been retired. As have “the folder of Android applications that people have developed on their own and many national reggaeton videos that are broadcast on television,” he describes.

The list of excluded content is long. “They have warned us that we can not transmit anything that shows the reality of Venezuela right now,  nor any Miami television programs, particularly if they include interviews with Cuban opponents.” But the strategy of “officializing the weekly packet” does not end with the prohibition of including certain materials.

“Where I work, a man comes every week now, calling himself Mandy and riding one of those Suzuki motorcycles that all the segurosos (State Security agents) have,” says Roberto. The man “brings a hard drive and we have put our selection on it.”

Thius, the weekly packet has been filled with documentaries produced by HispanTV, an Iranian channel founded in 2011 that distributes information in Spanish. During the last weeks the content from that channel has increased, especially material critical of the United States Government and the supreme leader of that country.

“Customers don’t like it, I don’t like it, but what am I going to do? My family is able to eat because of this business and I can’t go against the apparatus,” confirms José Carlos, better known as Nico among his customers in Havana’s La Timba neighborhood, where he claims to fill between 250 and 350 hard drives a week with audiovisuals.

“Anyone who wants to engage in opposition or dissent will look for another way, because this business wasn’t born to make a revolution or anything like that, but to amuse people,” says Nico. “Now everyone is screaming to high heaven because we have to cut some scenes from a series, but the weekly packet is still much freer and better stock than what’s on national television.”

Some clients consulted by this newspaper haven’t taken well to the coup and are looking for new options, such as the one of the paketico (little packet), a compendium without censorship that was born in hiding.

“I do not buy it anymore, because every day it looks more like Cubavision,” complains Brandon, 18, a frequent consumer of the paketico as an alternative. “Now what is gaining many followers among the youngest is to copy only what matters and create our own packets, but of course, they have neither the reach nor the popularity of the other.”

“The weekly packet is not what it used to be and the people are not the same as they were a few years ago,” Brandon reflects. “Before, you were content with whatever you got, but now people want to personalize it and let everyone’s tastes define what they see, this is the death of the weekly packet, or at least as we knew it,” he says.

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

Criminal Gang Steals $150,000 from Cuban Medical Mission in Venezuela

A complex of buildings in Ciudad Caribia, on the outskirts of Caracas. (Twitter)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario J. Pentón, Miami | 2 July 2018 — Eight armed and hooded men attacked a group of Cuban doctors stationed in Venezuela in the early hours of Sunday morning and stole more than $152,000 (dollars) and 30,000 pesos, according to statements to 14ymedio from several doctors from the island who work in the medical mission in that country.

The police reports obtained by this newspaper document that the Cuban delegation comprising 126 professionals, of whom 38 had just arrived in Venezuela, was stripped of their belongings in Ciudad Caribia, in the state of Vargas.

Nelson Vielma, a 42-year-old Venezuelan taxi driver, explained to the Bolivarian National Guard (GNB) that the thieves broke the doors to the dormitories where the doctors spent the night and forced them to hand over their cell phones and cash they were carrying. continue reading

Some doctors reported that their colleagues told them they were beaten during the robbery.

Many of the doctors take advantage of missions abroad to buy products that help their families on the island to cope with the hardships they suffer because of the chronic shortages in the Cuban markets, which are controlled by the State.

“How long is our country is going to leave us unprotected in such a complex and ungrateful place,” protested one of the doctors who works in Venezuela and requested anonymity for fear of reprisals from the Cuban government.

Another doctor on the mission said that “unfortunately, robberies are already part of the routine in Cuban medical missions in Venezuela,” and asked her colleagues to demand respect and help from the authorities of both countries. The GNB placed two guards in the doctors’ dormitory to prevent future robberies.

“It’s so dangerous living in this sh…y country,” wrote a third doctor, very upset at the lack of protection from the authorities.

Venezuela is one of the most dangerous countries in the world. A recently released documentary about the consequences of the implementation of Chavism showed that someone is is murdered in that country every 20 minutes. Venezuelan figures under Chavez are terrifying: 280,000 homicides, 15,000 arbitrary detentions, 6,000 extrajudicial executions, more than 280 documented cases of torture in just 20 years, in a country of a little more than 30 million people.

Since the beginning of the century, when Cuba signed an agreement with Venezuela to send doctors, teachers and technicians in exchange for oil, tens of thousands of Cubans have passed through that country. The latest figures given by the office of president Nicolás Maduro stood at 28,000 doctors and health technicians currently present in Venezuela.

The agreements with regards to what Caracas pays for the Cuban professionals are not public, however, the Cuban authorities have said that they receive more than 11.5 billion dollars per year for the sale of these services in dozens of countries.

Several international organizations have denounced these practices in Havana as “slavery” due to the lack of rights which the professionals themselves enjoy. The Cuban government keeps two thirds of their salaries, which has led to a large number of desertions and demands in countries like Brazil as well as Venezuela itself.

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

Documentary Narrates the Destruction of Venezuela in Two Decades of ‘Chavismo’

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario J. Penton, Miami | 18 June 2018 — He changed the constitution, the coat of arms and the national flag, the name of his country and even its time zone. Hugo Chávez intended Chavismo to build a new social order on the remains of Venezuela’s liberal democracy and he succeeded. But at what a price!

Two decades after the arrival of Hugo Chávez in power and five years after his death, the documentary maker Gustavo Tovar presents a chronicle of the collapse suffered by the Latin American nation with his film Chavismo: The Plague of the 21st Century.

“Killing a person in Venezuela is called homicide, but killing a whole people is called Chavismo,” says the former president of Costa Rica, Óscar Arias, just one of the dozens of activists, academics, intellectuals and human rights defenders interviewed by Tovar. continue reading

How could Chávez, after a military coup, seduce the people of one of the richest nations on the continent to be governed by his will? Populism has a dangerously attractive answer: the poverty of many in Venezuela is the result of the wealth of others, therefore the poor must expropriate the wealth of the prosperous and redistribute it. In hatred, division, and a Manichaeism that divides everyone into good and bad, such that the success of Chavismo is based on lies, censorship and repression, according to the documentary.

“Hugo Chávez understood that people were very disillusioned and fed up with the usual politicians. He put at the center of the national debate a very important group of Venezuelans who had been excluded,” explains journalist Moisés Naím.

Chavismo comes to power through a combination of the weariness of the Venezuelan political class that brings an outsider to the presidency and the maneuvers of Fidel Castro who, from Havana, sees in Chávez the realization of his dream of conquering the richest nation of Latin America to export the communist revolution to Latin America.

Every twenty minutes Tovar interrupts his documentary to remind us that, while we have been watching, another Venezuelan has been murdered in the most dangerous country in the world. Venezuelan figures under Chavez are terrifying: 280,000 homicides, 15,000 arbitrary arrests, 6,000 extrajudicial executions, more than 280 documented cases of torture.

The power of Chavismo, first under Hugo Chávez and then with his successor, Nicolás Maduro, could not be explained without the rule of the army and corruption. Tovar presents the beginnings of the conversion of the armed forces to an ideological force, when Chávez proclaims that the Army will be “revolutionary, anti-imperialist, socialist and Chavista.”

In 90 minutes the film seeks to give an overview of the national reality by exploring the causes of the Venezuelan debacle. However there are unforgivable omissions, such as the Caracazo, the series of riots that shook the country in 1989, leaving hundreds dead, and the coup against Hugo Chavez in 2002, which precipitated the authoritarian ruler.

The writer and political scientist Laureano Marquez does an excellent job of describing the hijacking of the Venezuelan Army to serve Chavez’s party instead of serving the whole nation: “We have political parties in Venezuela and one political party that is armed: the Army.”

According to a study by the University of Zulia, cited by Tovar in his documentary, the military expenditures of Chavismo have amounted to 497 billion dollars, with billions spent on purchases from Russia and China, while on medicines they have barely spent 16 billion dollars.

Chavez promoted the creation of a militia of more than 500,000 men and publicly supports the colectivos, criminal associations that terrorize the public and control large areas of the country.

The manipulation of electoral power, in the hands of Jorge Rodríguez and the undaunted Tibisay Lucena, allowed Chavismo, which came to the government via the ballot box in 1998, to continue winning elections up until today.

“Chávez and Chavismo and all the Cuban power, from the very  beginning, begin to build a fraud. You can not expect anything from a regime that controls everything and put your hopes in the electorate, “says Juan Claudio Lechín, a Bolivian writer.

In order to maintain the machinery of an increasingly larger, more powerful State that is a dispenser of favors, Chávez used expropriations of private enterprise. Lands, banks, food producing companies and even the jewel in the crown of the country, the public company Petróleos de Venezuela, which operated as a State within the State, fall under his control.

“He leaves the people of Venezuela without food, telling them the story that a businessman is a heretic who has no virtues,” explains Lechín.

The use of hunger as a political weapon is reflected in the documentary with images of women who have nothing to feed their children, people who eat garbage, and widespread ill-health and malnutrition.

Although the minimum wage is nomimally close to 400 dollars, Chavez’s economic performance has plummeted the purchasing power of Venezuelans’to the equivalent of less than a dollar a month and inflation is now the highest in the world (so far in 2018 it is 13,865%).

Along with these evils, there is corruption and drug trafficking . A justice minister who defends socialism in front of reporters who question his Louis Vuitton tie, the luxuries of the ‘red bourgeois’ and their children, the systematic plundering of the country, and the multi-million dollar accounts of the defenders of egalitarianism, all these are shown in the documentary.

Chavismo is a process by which the lumpen — the criminal sectors of a society — seizes power. That is why they are so daring, that is why they can be so cruel and have such a hunger for power that they do not respect their friends or those who have supported them,” says Lechín.

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

Lady in White Sentenced to One Year in Prison After Summary Trial

Lady in White, Yolanda Santana Ayala.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 8 July 2018 — Havana’s Municipal Court of Arroyo Naranjo sentenced Lady in White Yolanda Santana Ayala to one year in prison for the crime of disobedience due to the non-payment of fines, according to Berta Soler, leader of the human rights opposition movement, who spoke with 14ymedio.

“Yolanda Santana and other Ladies in White have been threatened for weeks by State Security with being taken to prison if they do not leave the movement,” Soler told this newspaper.

The Penal Code establishes that a person who “disobeys the decisions of the authorities or public officials” can be sentenced to a term of from three months to one year in prison. continue reading

“We have the cases of Gladys Capote and Micaela Roll who are being threatened with going to jail. Those fines are imposed on us when we go out on the street every Sunday and violate the police operation they maintain around our Lawton headquarters and around the houses of the Ladies,” she adds.

According to Soler, the declared objective of the Government is that the Ladies in White Movement disappear.

During the trial, which lasted half an hour, Santana’s two children were present. “There was no lawyer there to defend my mother but there were many plainclothes officers,” Yaima González Santana, daughter of the activist, told this newspaper.

Yolanda Santana has 18 fines she has refused to pay, 12 fines of 150 pesos (roughly $6 US) and six for a value of 1,500 and 300 pesos, González explains. “My mom says that her house is not a dungeon and that’s why she does not plan to pay those fines for just wanting to leave her house. The highest fines were all canceled because they determined they were false and she was only charged with not playing the 12 fines of 150 pesos,” she added.

González said that outside the court “there was a big operation” of State Security and that all the other trials that were scheduled were suspended. She also said that at the end of the session they took her mother to the Capri police station, in Arroyo Naranjo, but later they would not give her more information.

“I asked for the paper with the sentence, so I could see it, but they told me that since it was a summary trial the family does not receive any paper and that this document went directly to the prison. I’m waiting for her to call me so I can find out what prison they took her to,” she added.

The Ladies in White have issued several reports denouncing State Security’s adoption of the imposition of fines as a method to intimidate its members.

Santana Ayala joined the women’s movement in 2013. Soler says that as a measure of pressure against the activist they imprisoned her son.

In its latest report, the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation (CCDHRN) affirmed that there are at least 120 political prisoners in Cuba. The independent entity states that this figure “is very difficult to arrive at because the Government of Cuba does not cooperate” with international organizations.

On the island there are between 65,000 and 70,000 people imprisoned and it is “very difficult to define an exact number of political prisoners because they are mixed in [with other prisoners],” the report states.

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

"They Killed My Whole Family"

Burial of the Pavón family, killed in a fire in the outskirts of Managua. (EFE / Rodrigo Sura)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Maynor Salazar, Managua | 19 June 2018 — The woman touched the child’s little feet. She played with them, caressed them, kissed them. She slowly passed her index finger over the little nose. “My son, my son,” she exclaimed sadly as many times as she could. The baby, barely five months old, was motionless, with his eyes closed, with burns on his body and his head. Matías Pavón Raudez was dead, in a coffin as small as he was.

Cinthia Lopez broke into tears. Again she touched the little feet of “her boy” and caressed them. Then she raised her head and looked around at the other five coffins in the room. They held the bodies of Oscar Pavón, her father; Maritza Muñoz, her mother; Alfredo Pavón, her brother; Ángela Raudez, her sister-in-law, and Daryelis Pavón Raudez, barely two years old. All, killed in a fire in cold blood.

Her eyes filled with anger, guilt, despair and sadness. Cinthia was one of the three survivors who escaped the fire that occurred around six in the morning this Saturday, in the Carlos Marx neighborhood in Managua. “They killed my whole family. It was the police and the Sandinista mobs,” she declared with great pain and anger. continue reading

Cinthia Lopez during the wake for her family in Managua’s Carlos Marx neighborhood. JB2/Confidencial

The neighbors who helped Cinthia’s family told Confidencial that very early in the morning a contingent of heavily armed police and paramilitaries, who were mobilizing in several vans, was deployed throughout the neighborhood. Its objective was to remove the barricades that citizens had erected on the road that goes to El Mayoreo market.

The troops, according to the witnesses who observed from their homes, proposed to locate one of their snipers on top of Cinthia’s house, a three-story construction that from the top floor has a perfect view of the road and the adjoining neighborhoods.

“They were looking for a vantage point from which to shoot us all and to prevent us from resisting when they removed the barricades,” said a witness.

Placing a man on the roof would allow him to cover the backs of the officers and paramilitaries while they dismantled the barricades. They surrounded the three-story structure and then banged on the doors. The owners of the house refused to open and this unleashed the fury of the attackers, who ruthlessly threw Molotov cocktails and shot mortars and bullets.

Cinthia’s house was laid out as follows: on the first floor were the mattresses and other materials used in their mattress factory. On the second floor were the bedrooms, and at the top there was a large space where the family engaged in evangelical worship.

Molotov cocktails and mortar bombs caused the entire first floor to catch fire quickly. The fire advanced to the second floor of the house, where nine people were locked in a room, including Cinthia. Downstairs the paramilitaries were shooting at the citizens who came to try to help. The horror movie continued with a chilling script.

The house where the family was burned to death. EFE/Jorge Torres

The story of a survivor

Javier Pavón is sitting on the sidewalk outside the three-story house. He watches his neighbors go by with buckets full of water. They try to smother the last flames of the fire that devastated the house in which he and eight of his relatives lived. His face is sad, his eyes read and he has the look of someone lost. He is approached by some “brothers” of the church. They ask him how he survived the fire.

Javier lived and worked in Oscar’s mattress manufacturing and sales business. “My uncle was very good to me, he always supported me,” he says, covering his face with his shirt. He cries, because he could not save all the people in the house.

“I got up because I heard the shots, we were all on the second floor, my uncle had said he was not going to open up for those who were shooting, and we locked ourselves in, waiting for them to stop attacking us, but then black smoke came into the room and we began to suffocate,” says Javier.

The room filled with more smoke. They were being suffocated, but Oscar said no one would come out. That could be dangerous. Javier ignored him and left by way of the balcony, which was on the same floor.

“I do not know how, but with my hands I broke open the door.” I went through the thick glass, I don’t know how, but when I felt I could breathe, I continued. I do not know where I got the strength, but I opened the door, and pushed it back and when I got out, I felt how the air reached my lungs,” he said.

The first thing Javier thought to do was to throw himself from the balcony onto the street. He was going to do it, when he heard the voices of two of his cousins: Cinthia and Maribel Pavón. Then he went back for them and brought them with him to the safety zone he had reached.

In the midst of despair the three threw themselves from the balcony of the house. There were no paramilitaries nearby, nor were there any officers. It was then that the neighbors came to help those who were still inside.

“At that moment I wanted to have superpowers, to go in and rescue my uncle, the children, but I could not, I could not, only my two cousins managed to get out,” said Javier, in tears.

Everyone took refuge in a nearby house. Cinthia took the opportunity to record a video, and accused the paramilitaries and the National Police directly of the attack. She also pointed to President Ortega and his family.

“They burned my house, the mattress factory and my whole family is dead, the children, my brothers, my mom, they burned my house, they burned it, I got out because I threw myself off the balcony… My parents, they killed them… but I curse Daniel Ortega and all his family and all his descendants, I curse them,” said Cinthia in a publication that soon went viral.

The neighbors opened the doors of the house. With buckets they tried to put out the fire. It was an almost impossible task to extinguish the flames that way. Fortunately the Benemérito Fire Department came and with the support of the residents, they managed to stop the advance of the fire. However, it was already too late for the six people left on the third floor.

During the rescue efforts, the firefighters found the bodies of Alfredo, Oscar, Maritza and Ángela, completely burned. Matias and Daryelis were in the same room, but with apparent vital signs. They were both lowered to the ground, however, only the child had a pulse. He was transferred in a taxi to the German hospital, but on the way he died.

The neighbors say that if the armed groups had not stayed in front of the house firing at those who tried to help the victims, probably none of the people would have died.

“We tried to go out and help people but the police told us, so vulgarly, ’fuck your asses.’ Even when we were removing the last body, a police van drove by and they shot at all of use. We had to run into the house to save our lives,” explained one of the witnesses.

Another citizen said that the police patrols had the plan to take the house and they wanted to execute it early, however, they did not count on the owners of the house refusing to let them in.

“From five o’clock in the morning they passed by in rank after rank, they were in civilian clothes, hooded, and they went into a house that was empty on the corner, and the people who were passing by were told to go back. Then they started to burn the house, they did not move, they let the family stay trapped and burn to death,” another citizen reported.

 Two dead on June 9th

A few minutes after the arson in the Carlos Marx neighborhood, the paramilitaries and officers went to the outskirts of Villa Miguel Gutiérrez and Colonia Nueve de Junio to demolish other barricades that were on that street.

The troops entered this sector firing against the barricades. The citizens did not leave their homes. They defended themselves from within with homemade weapons and mortars. They also recorded with their cell phones the officers and paramilitaries who fired on the houses.

In the confrontation two people, identified by the residents as paramilitaries, fell among the barricades. “What the police did was take their guns and then they left, they left them like dogs in the street, they did not care if they were alive or dead. That’s how they see them, like some kind of shit,” said one of the citizens of Colonia 9 de Junio.

In his pants the villagers found a vaccination card. The man was identified as Francisco Aráuz Pineda, from Matagalpa, 54 years old, who according to official media, was a “historic fighter of the FSLN (Sandinista National Liberation Front)” and the son of Amanda Pineda, who was a victim of torture by Somoza’s police in the seventies. According to the same informant, Aráuz was helping to clean up when he was killed. This version has not yet been confirmed.

The other citizen was identified as Antonio Fernández. He fell in the area of the traffic lights of Villa Miguel Gutiérrez. The residents said that his body was removed by the paramilitaries aboard a Hilux.

After searching his bags and finding the vaccination card, protesters from the barricades took the lifeless body of Aráuz to the middle of the street. They sprayed him with gasoline, and in an act of revenge, they set him on fire. The act of barbarism was immediately condemned by thousands of citizens

“Why did they burn the body?”

“Because they (the paramilitaries) burned a whole family. Six people. But you know, at least we burned him when he was dead, while they burned that family alive.”

The lies of Edwin Castro

While the bodies of the six people who had died in the fire were taken to where the wake would be held, at the National Dialogue Roundtable the government representatives were alleging that these people were sympathetic to the FSLN and had supposeldy been victims of “vandals of the right.”

“And I wanted to tell you that the deceased family was a recognized Sandinista family in that neighborhood,” said Deputy Edwin Castro. However, the relatives of the Pavón family refuted what the government party legislator said.

Oscar Pavón, the son of the victims, declared that his family has never belonged to any political party, except the Sandinista Front. He said that those who killed his father and mother were the mobs and the National Police. He insisted that he witnessed how these groups set fire to the house and threatened the neighbors who were trying to help the victims.

“It was the JS and the Police that killed my family, they killed my whole family, those damn dogs,” he said.

During the Dialogue Roundtable, the government’s representative read a communiqué issued by the General Directorate of Firefighters of Nicaragua, in which they claimed that residents of the place said that hooded criminals “who have been stalking the area for several weeks, threw Molotov cocktails causing the fire.”

The document said that “when they arrived to control the fire, they could not intervene quickly because the doors of the premises were locked… while the firemen were carrying out their work, they were being besieged and attacked by hooded groups.”

However, this version was refuted by the neighbors, who clarified that those who came to the site were members of the Benemérito Fire Department. “What they say is a lie, no one was attacked here,” explained a neighbor.

Second lieutenant Oscar Robleto, of the Benemérito Fire Department, told the media that they worked together with the neighbors so that the fire did not spread. He affirmed that they were never attacked and always coordinated with the population to put out the flames.

The legal director of the Cenidh (Nicaraguan Human Rights Center), Gonzalo Carrión, blamed the Government for this new massacre. He also said he had no recent comparison of the levels of crime found in the country.

“We are subjected to a state of terror, it is an expression of the terrorist State itself because they are criminal structures that are fully organized from the central power, there is no turning back. This is an execution and it is the responsibility of the Government of Nicaragua,” he said.

Intimidate at the wake

The coffins of the two children are in the center of the church hall. In front of them are the coffins of their grandparents and behind them those of their parents. All are surrounded by friends, family, acquaintances.

Some people can not bear it and are crying. Others just look at Cinthia, who is still playing with little feet of Matthias. The atmosphere is tense. The other relatives do not want videos or photos to be taken. They are afraid that the police and the paramilitaries will look for them to kill them.

“Do not record me, please, do not record me,” says the son of Oscar and Maritza. The journalists are paying attention More people are approaching the church, hoping to give encouragement and strength to the relatives of the victims. Javier is not present, they said he was very affected.

At night a group of paramilitaries fired several shots in the vicinity of the church. This caused panic among those present so they decided to return to their homes. The repressive forces did not pause in their intimidation.

“The police do not want us to continue denouncing what happened, although it is difficult because the videos abound on social networks, they killed these people, they set fire to them, they let them die,” said a neighbor, who had to leave the wake, like the rest of those present.

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Editor’s note: This text was initially published in the Confidential newspaper. We reproduce it with the authorization of this Nicaraguan digital newspaper.

The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

New App ‘Donde Hay’ Inventories the Shortages

Cubans spend many hours each day searching for products in the undersupplied state markets. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 7 July 2018 — In the shade of a busy Havana colonnade the young man pulls out his cellphone and types in the word “milk” in search of this basic food in the nearest markets. The new app for Android, “Dónde Hay” (Where is…?) promises to find any product in the network of retail stores. But this 28-year-old Cuban suspects it will not be as easy as a simple click.

With shortages worsening and the coming of summer – when the consumption of food and cleaning supplies increases – the use of this new tool created by the state-owned Grupo Empresarial Cimex has spread. The utility, launched in May, aroused hope among those who must devote several hours each day to searching for something in national markets.

Among the advantages of Dónde Hay worth mentioning is that you can access the service not only through a mobile phone connected to the Internet, but also from the mobile data network of the Telecommunications Company (Etecsa), the same infrastructure used to check Nauta email accounts on cell phones. So, its offline functionality helped many decided to try it. continue reading

“This is what we needed,” “the end of the walk from store to store,” “how great they’ve done something to make things easier for people,” “why did it take so long to create something like this and when they had already created so many political apps,” were some of the comments that could be heard on the streets of the Cuban capital any time the Dónde Hay app came up.

Even those who do not know much about technology, or those who have a clear animosity toward everything composed of circuits and microprocessors, were willing to learn the rudiments of how to use a touch screen to find everything from floor cloths, to fruit compote for children or disposable diapers intended for the elderly. But the illusions were short-lived.

In less than two months of use, the Cimex app has earned a lousy reputation for misinforming customers, insisting that some product is available in certain stores where it actually ran out days ago or, as expected, was shipwrecked in the intricacies of the corruption and diversion (i.e. theft) of resources that characterize the state retail network.

Magdalena, a 56-year-old pharmacist in Havana, showed up at the doors of the Ultra market, on Reina Street, after several days of looking for chicken breasts. Magdalena’s mother is convalescing and doctors have recommended eating mashed potatoes and lean meats. “It is difficult to maintain a supply because the chicken quarters they are selling have a lot of fat,” she laments.

With databases that can take up to 72 hours to update and a large network of corruption in retail stores, the application Dónde Hay can not guarantee customers accurate information about where products can be found. (14ymedio)

So Magdalena, helped by teenagers who live on the ground floor of her building, entered the word “breast” in the app. Afterwards, she had to choose between several variations, with or without skin, with or without bone, until she could focus more on the search and opt for packages of one kilogram, discarding the boxes with more portions. She was as happy as a clam.

“This is the one I want,” she pointed, looking through a small magnifying glass at the name of the product. Then, the magic was done and a list came up of all the places in the municipalities of Plaza, Playa, Centro Habana, Cerro and La Habana Vieja where they were selling the food that her mother needs. Even so, Magdalena ran into three problems.

The Dónde Hay only includes a map so that the user knows the market’s address, but it does not include a phone number so the user can call and confirm if the product is still for sale. So the busy pharmacist had to look for a telephone directory, write the number with a pen on the palm of her hand and start calling to inquire about the breasts.

Then she ran into the second obstacle. No one answered the phone in the Ultra store, a very common practice in shops and state offices. So, afraid that if she continued to delay the store would run out, she decided – under the burning July sun – to head over to the store. In her hand, like a talisman, her mobile phone kept assuring her that there were at least 70 packages of that chicken part on offer.

But Magdalena failed to notice something important. The date of the update of the information she had read was one day earlier, a characteristic of the Dónde Hay app. The database can have a delay of up to 72 hours caused by the time between the supply of information by store managers and the processing of the data, until it finally reaches the customer.

As Magdalena searched the empty refrigerators, all she got from the clerk, when she asked her why there was no chicken breasts after the app on her cellphone said there were tons, was a roar of laughter and the phrase, “but you didn’t believe that, did you?”

That morning, the beleaguered pharmacist completely lost her confidence in technology and a bit later she deleted Donde Hay, because she prefers to “walk all over Havana” searching with her own eyes versus being guided “by a lie.”

Other unfortunate users have experienced similar situations. Products that appear as if they are for sale but when the customer gets to the store they are informed that “it ran out” and was “taken off the list” or that they sold out in less than 24 hours, like a small kiosk on a little-traveled street that sold 90 bottles of mayonnaise.

Compañero, we haven’t had acrylic paint here for years,” snapped a salesclerk to the disappointed customer who had seen on Donde Hay that exactly what he needed to finish touching up his window grille was for sale just a few blocks from his house. “None of that is true,” insisted the employee who was stacking the empty boxes behind the counter.

“You believe this chaos can be inventoried, huh?” was the last thing the customer heard before turning his back, pausing for a few seconds in the shade, and typing the word “paint” again and mentally noting the next address where it might be for sale. It was like one of those cellphone games, in the new location he could expect the reward of finding the desired enamel or the frustration of “no hay” (there isn’t any).

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.;

Police Threaten A Journalist with More Repression for Working "for An Imperialist Outlet"

The independent journalist Roberto de Jesus Quinones.  (Cubanet)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 6 July 2018 — The independent journalist Roberto de Jesus Quinones was freed Thursday afternoon following 58 hours in custody in Guantanamo.  The police gave him a warning for “spreading false news that puts international peace at risk” and threatened him with increased pressure, as revealed by the reporter to 14ymedio.

“Last Tuesday, at about eight in the morning some dozen people appeared at my house including police officials and agents of State Security,” says Quinones.  “I demanded that the search order be signed by a prosecutor, and they got the signature in about 15 minutes,” he says.

The reporter, a regular contributor to Cubanet, acknowledges that though he considers himself “an impartial man” he could not avoid calling the officers “henchmen and cowards.” continue reading

After handcuffing the reporter, the officers transported him to the Provinical Jail Processing Unit.  His wife, Ana Rosa Castro, remained in the home during the more than three-hour search.

The authorities took a USB drive, the journalist’s passport and personal documents such as a copy of his mobile service contract with the Cuba Telecommunications Company.

They seized from the wife, among other things, “a desktop computer, a laptop, a radio, a music player, 800 CUC, documents and a camera belonging to Caritas,” a Catholic non-profit for which the woman works.

“I live with the psychological pressure that one day I get up and may have all these people at the door,” says Quinones.

The agents explained that they would review the computers in order to return them or seize them, depending on the results.  The couple are worried because the officers did not leave a certificat detailing what was seized , a requirement when police carry out raids.

“In the interrogations they made clear that they no longer consider me a man of culture or ideas and that from now on I will feel the force of repression,” details Quinones.  “For them I am a counterrevolutionary and I am attacking the government with my writings.”

The officers verbally accused the reporter of being “a mercenary” who works for a press outlet “of the imperialism,” referring to Cubanet, with headquarters in Miami.

“I refused to sign the warning document with which they released me because they did not want to give me a copy,” explains Quinones.

In recent years, activists, dissidents, journalists and members of independent civil society have been victims of searches of their homes that ended with seizure of their means of work.

In 2016 authorities raided the Center for Legal Information, Cubalex, and a year later searched the headquaarters of the Center for Co-Existence Studies in Pinar del Rio.  The home of Eliecer Avila, president of the Somos+ (We Are More) Movement and the Circulo Gallery and Workshop which are run jointly by artist Luis Trapaga and activist Lia Villares were also searched.

More recently independent Holguin journalist, Osmel Ramirez, was a victim of a three-day detention and a search of his home.

Translated by Mary Lou Keel

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.