Nostalgia for “The Special Period”? / 14ymedio

Pigs (14ymedio)

, Havana, 31 July 2104 — I knew about nostalgia for the colonial era, the Republican era and even for the “marvelous” eighties, what I never could imagine was that anyone could be nostalgic for the Special Period. But everything is possible on this island and if you don’t believe me, then read the June 23rd article in Juventud Rebelde, “The happiest children in the world,” by Glenda Boza Ibarra.

This young Cuban from the east recounts with great candor her childhood full of “good and nice” times, in which she dedicated herself – as a form of entertainment – to counting the few cars circulating in her neighborhood. Eventually, the journalist says: “I can’t complain, because I was born in this country, a place where children have everything they need to be the happiest in the world.”

To a great extent the conditions we are raised in determine our tastes, needs and aspirations. A native indigenous to our island would have perceived the disgusting Paris of 1492 as a dazzling paradise, and a pigsty like the suite of a three star hotel.
The aspirations, tastes and evaluation criteria of this young woman from Las Tunas were curtailed by the circumstances in which her childhood unfolded in the midst of the Special Period, particularly bleak in eastern Cuba. It is precisely because of these circumstances that she no longer sees the barefoot children who once again occupy our streets, terraces and paths, nor the tremendous cultural decline that has occurred between my generation and hers.

However, there seems to be a glimmer of hope for Glenda. Nostalgia is nothing more than the desire to escape a troubled present to a past in which we had not yet suffered the difficulties we are now subject to. She confesses the strange naivety of her childhood when she writes “we weren’t worried about the fall of the Berlin Wall, nor the disintegration of the USSR,” a reflection that she has already begin to expand her range of expectations, that her new circumstances have raised her cultural level and her aspirations.

Will there be such a change that Glenda will reject, outraged, the pigsty, or on the contrary will she become one more member of the sect of pig farmers? Only time will tell.

Days to Turn Off the TV / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

Woman watching TV (14ymedio)
Woman watching TV (14ymedio)Days

YOANI SÁNCHEZ , Havana, 29 July 2014 There are days when it’s better not to turn on the TV. Right now, just pushing a button can dump us in an avalanche of official propaganda for the birthdays of Hugo Chavez and Fidel Castro. From July 28 to August 13, the boring national programming will be filled with the cult of personality, ideological kitsch and political sentimentality. Children’s choirs will sing to the “Eternal Commander,” people who barely saw them pass by on the street will share anecdotes, and endless biographical scenes will bombard us from all sides.

“Right now the news has no news,” complained a neighbor who wants to know what is happening in the world and can’t see anything but processions of red and olive green. I felt the same today with the first news of the day. An hour after it started I couldn’t extract the least national or international information, only praise for the “immortal warrior of the race of Bolivar,” and the “wise guerrilla who loved him like a son.” I tend to have little patience with this overdose of flattery, so I turned off the TV and began calling several friends so they could tell me what was going on here and there. At least we have “Lip Radio”!

The ruling party continues to confront the distribution of information, serials and movies in the so-called “combos” or “packets.” However, it makes no real changes in its television programming to attract young people. Instead, the small screen becomes a loudspeaker for slogans and boring material that viewers find annoying and reject. Thus, they can never regain the ground they have lost to illegal satellite dishes, content copied onto USB sticks, and hard disks full of documentaries. If they continue with the ideological excesses of recent days, official TV will, very soon, become a monologue that few listen to.

Angel Santiesteban is Being Held at the Acosta and Diez de Octubre Police Station / 14ymedio


14YMEDIO, Havana, 28 July 2014 – Since July 23 Angel Santiesteban’s family has denounced his disappearance from the Lawton Prison Settlement. That day the prize-winning author was taken from the place where he was serving a five-year sentence for an alleged crime of violation of domicile and injury. Until this morning his whereabouts were unknown.

This newspaper investigated, calling 18806, the police service number, and learned that Santiesteban is currently detained at the Acosta Station on Avenues Acosta and Diez de October. The duty officer there told 14ymedio that the writer is accused of the crime of “escape.”

The family has denied this accusation and his sister, Maria de los Angeles Santiesteban, in a statement to Diario de Cuba said, “My brother has never had an idea like that. He never agreed to leave Cuba and he had the opportunity, he was in the United States three times and he traveled the world.”

This coming Wednesday morning Angel Santiesteban may receive visits from relatives, according to what14ymedio learned. Today, however, they did not allow a fellow journalist to deliver a package personal hygiene products.

Ángel Santiesteban has received major literary awards, including the Casa de las Americas Prize in 2006. Just two days ago his novel The Summer God Slept was presented in New York, and he won the Franz Kafka Prize for Fiction 2013.


Routine and the Past Star in this 26th of July / 14ymedio, Ignacio Varona

Ramiro Valdes
Ramiro Valdes

14yMEDIO, Ignacio Varona, Camaguy, 26 July 2014 – Very early this Saturday many of us observed a new event for the 26th of July. The strict codes of ritual demanded that the commemoration of the 61st anniversary of the assault on the Moncana Barracks in Santiago de Cuba and of the Carlos Manuel de Cespedes Barracks in Bayamo, be celebrated this year with moderate pomp. If the “important” anniversaries are commemorated in style, in Santiago de Cuba or Havana, the intermediate ones happen in provinces with fewer resources.

The choice of the newly created province of Artemisa to host the main event, obeys the fulfillment of this liturgy. Also an experiment has been developing in it to streamline the administrative functions which it has taken on because the Port of Mariel megaproject is in its territory.

In the era in which Fidel Castro had the capacity to stand for four to six hours in front of a microphone, those events were anticipated as time to summarize accomplishments and to announce the news. In 1989, in one of his long speeches he warned of the possible disappearance of the Soviet Union. The last great surprise on the 26th of July was the day in 1993 that the Commander in Chief announced the dollarization of the Cuban economy. Since then, especially after 2007, his brother Raul has had very little to promise and has delegated the speech on several occasions to Mr. José Ramón Machado Ventura, second secretary of the Communist Party. continue reading

This time the opportunity was given to Ramiro Valdes who, besides being a native of Artemisa, is a member of the Politburo, vice president of the Councils of State and Ministers, Hero of the Republic of Cuba, and the only survivor of the Moncada attack who holds high positions in the party and the government with Raul Castro. It’s enough to know the name of the main orator, the hypothesis of a “half-baked” 26th of July was confirmed. Plus the fact that there were no festivals in Havana on the eve of the event, no commemorations in every neighborhood, not even the typical soup that was served on other occasions. Routine has ended up destroying all the excitement around the event.

A speech without surprises or charm, larded with slogans without any news, revelations of critiques

Ramiro Valdez read a speech—badly, of course—based exclusively in the past. He repeated the thesis of the calamitous yesterday that won’t return and declared that in his “vocabulary, the word ‘defeat’ is erased.” A speech without surprises or charm, larded with slogans without any news, revelations of critiques. The man who once called for “taming the wild pony of technologies,” dedicated today to a new diatribe against them, asserting that “the new technologies are used as an element of subversion.”

After the ceremony, when the official announcer for national television said that the cameras and microphones were returning to the central studios in the capital, most of the audience immediately returned to their provincces, while the rest of the citizens, TV viewers or not, regretted that this Day of National Rebellion had fallen on a Saturday, so that one of the few opportunities for a holiday was lost.

26 July 2014

Was Moncada Necessary? / 14ymedio, Fernando Damaso

Moncada Barracks
Moncada Barracks

A great deal has been written about the assault on Moncado Barracks in Santiago de Cuba and the Carlos Manuel de Céspedes Barracks in Bayamo on 26 July 1953. At times, with great exaggeration. Some, forgetting the differences in times and objectives, as compared with the Cry of Yara in 1868 or that of Baire in 1895, which started our war of Independence.

About the assault on the Moncada barracks in Santiago de Cuba and Carlos Manuel de Céspedes in Bayamo on 26 July 1953 much has been written.Sometimes exaggerated. Some, forgetting the differences in epochs and objectives, as compared with the 1868 Cry of Yara, or the Cry of Baire in l895, which kicked off our war of independence.

In response to the events of 1953, traditional Cuban political sectors reacted with surprise. They were used to solving national problems through dialogue and peaceful means, and suddenly armed struggle makes its appearance as a method of fighting against tyranny. Even some of those who would later become traveling companions of the revolutionaries, described the act as a putsch, although later they retracted. Others, less dogmatic and more dialectical, saw in the action a path for its principle organizers to rapidly achieve political prominence and popular support. continue reading

There is no doubt that the event became, as noted during the celebration of its eighth anniversary, “the little engine that helped to start the great motor.” The deaths in combat and the murders, the trial of the surviving attackers, their imprisonment, the development of a program document and its clandestine spread among different sectors of society, the campaign for amnesty, and the resulting release of everyone, created that the conditions that later served as a base for the disembarkment from the yacht Granma on 2 December 1956, the guerrilla struggle on different fronts from 31 December 1958, and the triumph of the Revolution on 1 January 1959.

Over the years, and with the knowledge gained from those involved in the action, the event has been the object of several interpretations and evaluations

The assaults on both barracks, there is no doubt, constituted a heroic act of the Cuban youth involved, in honor of the centenary of the birth of José Marti, whom we call the Apostle. Over the years, and with the knowledge gained from those involved in the action–from their telling of it or writing about it–the event has been the object of several interpretations and evaluations, taking into account everything that happened afterwards.

Some believe that it was not necessary and that with political pressure and public opinion, the ouster of Batista could have been accomplished and democracy restored in the country, this without the high-cost paid in the lives at that time, and also the cost in lives and material losses of all kinds which we have continued to pay ever since.

Others believe that it was essential and that the attacks on the barracks were just. Although, subsequently, many of the plans that formed a part of the original platform have been proved unworkable, at that time they were accepted and supported by the majority of Cubans, regardless of the social class to which they belonged.

There are also those who, despite everything, continue to be in total agreement with what happened before and what has happened since.

The Moncada attack, although still present for its living protagonists and the generations that have accompanied them for years, recede in time more and more for new generations. Young people see it as an event of the past, more a part of history than of their daily lives. Lives that are full of contradictions, dissatisfactions, problems and needs of all kinds, both material and spiritual, unresolved and without real prospects of resolution. If that event is to continue to be relevant, it needs to address these events in the day-to-day lives of every Cuban.

From Cyberspace to Moringa / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

The signing of 29 documents between the government of Cuba and various official and business interests from the People’s Republic of China on the occasion of Xi Jinping’s visit to the island has awakened great expectations among Cubans. One of the most striking things was the television news broadcast of the signing ceremony for the documents, which could be seen along with all of the boring protocol details. A parade of ministers and businessmen passed in front of the table placed in the hall the Council of State, and in the background an enormous stained-glass titled The Sun of our America stood under the watchful eyes of the presidents of both countries.

While the television-announcer-turned-master-of-ceremonies was revealing the nature of the initialed documents and saying the names and titles of the signatories, it was difficult to take in what was really happening. What is the difference, many wondered, between a memorandum of understanding, an exchange of letters, a framework accord, a cooperation agreement, a commercial contract, and a funding agreement? How could one discern the hierarchy that distinguishes an exchange agreement from an executive program? What is the basic difference between a framework agreement and a memorandum of cooperation?

What everyone did understand was that the Asian giant granted credits and made donations and investments in very sensitive areas. Examples of these are cyberspace, communications, digital television, improvements in the port of Santiago de Cuba, the supply of raw materials for the production of nickel, oil drilling, and the construction of a building complex associated with a golf course.

The rest, not wanting to overstate their importance, is filled with Chinese water meters, young Chinese learning Spanish in Cuba, packaging lines, office supplies, and transportation.

With regard to what was missing, at least among the 29 documents, nothing was heard about an increase in tourism, nor was there a single word about the Port of Mariel megaproject, and there was nothing about free-trade agreements such as those between China and other Latin American countries.

By chance—or benevolence—the number 13, a number so significant to the former Cuban president, appeared at the top of the Framework Agreement on the Establishment of the Agricultural Demonstration Farm, signed by the ministers of agriculture of both countries, which had among its objectives “cooperation on the science and technology of moringa, mulberry and silk worms.” What it said, a mere detail, passed unnoticed.

The Scam and the New Man / 14ymedio, Eliecer Avila

Products filled by scammers (14ymedio)
Products filled by scammers (14ymedio)

14YMEDIO, Havana, Eliecer Avila, 23 July 2014 – I grew up listening to my teachers saying that our society was building the man of the future, a different one, one that would have no defects, no malice, none of the vices “inherited from capitalism.”

Those of us who over the years strived to bring ourselves closer to something that is a good New Man, today find we are aliens maladapted to this society. It seems we had a monkey painted on our faces and anyone could mock us. Things had reached the point that my father, relentless defender of the best values, today tells me that if I continue trusting in everyone I might end up dead.

Just a few months ago I was at the bus station when a gentleman approached to tell me he’d spent three days sleeping there, on the floor and eating other people’s leftovers, because he didn’t have the money to return to the east. He had spent all he possessed “taking care of my mother who is very old and in the hospital here in Havana.” His eyes were sad, his clothes dirty, and his voice trembled. That boy wasn’t even 30 yet. continue reading

With my hands trembling as well—because I’d brought just enough for the ticket, the necessary bribes and something to eat during the long and uncomfortable journey—I took out 50 pesos and gave it to him. If I hadn’t done it, my conscience would have punished me.

Knowing that this money wouldn’t be enough to cover his passage and the bribes to Holguin—where he told me he lived—I decided to intervene with the authorities in the hopes of persuading someone to be benevolent toward his situation.

At the risk of missing my bus, I went upstairs looking for a boss, knocking on several doors until they indicated that those problems were dealt with directly by the person in charge. On going downstairs, the man I was defending had fled.

Why would such a young, healthy, strong guy prefer to dedicate himself to scamming and not use the same intelligence to survive in a less dirty way? 

Throughout the journey, more than 12 hours, I kept wondering, why would such a young, healthy, strong guy prefer to dedicate himself to scamming and not use the same intelligence to survive in a less dirty way? I have no doubt that this gentleman would shine in any theater audition.

Days later, two boys dressed in EJT (Youth Work Army) uniforms crossed my path, one of them obviously from Santiago, from his accent, and the other from Havana. They told me they were desperate to sell “some perks they’d handed out in the Unit,” as they needed money “for food,” and “you know how hungry you get there,” “shit man, help us out, you’re an easterner too,” pressuring me very strongly…

Already greatly annoyed by the desperate insistence of these two “gualdias” I did my calculations and figured that buying that package of personal toiletries would save me money over the terrible prices in the hard currency stores.

“This stuff you got is trash, I hope you haven’t been cheated…”

Big mistake. When I got home, my wife, more clear-eyed on these issues, looked at me and said, “This stuff you got is crap, I hope you haven’t been cheated again…” Indeed.

When I looked at it closely it was clear the bottles were recycled from the trash. Their contents, an odd mixture with the texture and color to look convincing at a glance, lightly scented with bath conditioner.

To make matters worse, I had to take antihistamines immediately, my forearms started to get red and break out in the places where the “combatants” had, without my permission, rubbed a sample of their products. I can’t imagine what could have happened if I had exposed my eyes and mouth to these suspicious chemicals.

Then I understood why so many pass down my street hawking these wares; they’re selling empty name brand perfume bottles!

Two weeks ago a gentleman, supposedly a friend of the mason repairing my house, appeared with a “sealed” can of Vinyl paint. He told me he got it at “the Mariel workshop” and his boss gave it to him or “scraping a few extra boards.” Already wary from the earlier experiences I was distrustful, and looking at the doubt in my face the gentleman broke the seals of the container and showed me the contents. It all looked good. So I bought it. Three days later the stink in the house was unbearable. We thought it was a broken sewer pipe. It was the paint. It was more than half dirty water and it fermented quickly.

These stories are only a tiny sample of what you face on a daily basis when you go out looking for something in this ever more aggressive capital.

To get wire, a tube, a door latch, or a lamp is a risk-filled operation, in which you are forced to wander through dark nooks and crannies and negotiate with characters who remind you of Colombian drug trafficker from TV shows.

Fortunately, to forget the sorrows of daily life, we can take a gallon of beer on the upcoming 26th of July in Artemisa. Celebrating, as Raul says, that “we are winning against imperialism.” Or is that other scam…

The Second Shipwreck of the Granma / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

It has a woman’s name and the fatality of a widow. The Carolina center, in Matanzas province, not only ground sugar cane for decades, but gave sustenance and prosperity to an entire village. On dismantling the mill, the former workers and the neighbors had to learn to live in a ghost town.

Carolina was one more among the 161 sugar mills that ground through the middle of the last century. In total, national production approached five million tons of sugar per harvest. The owners of the center, the Mirando Blanco brothers, never suspected that in October 1960 the industry that rose on their own efforts—theirs and others’—would pass into the hands of the State.

Imbued with revolutionary enthusiasm, many believed that the nationalization of the sugar industry would bring higher production and better working conditions. In an assembly where a new name would be selected for the Carolina, worker Piro Martinez suggested that the plant should be called Granma*. The reason was that one of the expeditionaries, Luis Crespo, had been born and spent his childhood in the batey (the sugarcane workers’ village). And so the name of that femme fatal was replaced by the English nickname for grandmother.

In the distance the dismantled sugar mill (14ymedio)
In the distance, the dismantled sugar mill (14ymedio)

continue reading

The disappearance, at the beginning of the nineties, of the “preferred market” established in the socialist countries sent all of Cuba into crisis, but especially the sugar industry. In 2002 the so-called Alvara Reynoso Task began, destined to dismantle 64 of the 156 sugar mills then in existence. Four years after that decision, only 42 mills survived. Granma was one of those chosen to disappear.

During the dismantling, the then Minister, General Ulysses Rosales del Toro, presided over several meetings. In one of them the engineer asked for the floor and challenged the official, “Ulises, do you know many 50 horsepower engines the center has? How many lathes, zinc shingles, angles, oxygen and acetylene tanks?” The question received no answer. Then the man said, with tears in his eyes, “If you don’t know, how will you control it so that the pieces aren’t stolen during the dismantling?”

The Granma tower still stands. (14ymedio)
The Granma tower still stands. (14ymedio)

That uncomfortable question seems to float still over what remains of the old mill. The chimney tower and the fireplaces where the main nave rested are all that couldn’t be torn from the landscape. No one in the village knows where the basic pieces ended up. Only an old American lathe managed to be saved, because a neighbor recovered it to undertake multiple jobs.

Ruben, a coachman who gives tours from the nearby village of Colisea, remembers the good times with nostalgia and looks critically at the present. “This center could have ground all the cane in the area. Now we have to send it to a mill 12 miles away and the resulting sugar isn’t enough to pay for the fuel or transport.”

A passenger in his coach introduces a dramatic note on the matter, “The story no one tells is the damage that was done to our local culture. This village was proud of its center because it was a place where all the problems were solved, from welding a piece to ordering a truck to move furniture.” His words ended with a phrase that still carries some of the sound of the mill, “Never mind those old men who wander the streets looking desolately at the tower, which smoke no longer comes out of.”

Out on the road that leads to the village, remaining as symbols, are a sprocket and an iron arch. On it can be read the name of the sugar mill that no longer exists, crowned with a miniscule replica of the historic shipwrecked yacht.

*Translator’s note: The yacht Fidel and the revolutionaries sailed in from Mexico to Cuba to launch a guerrilla war.

To the Rhythm of the Chinese Horn / 14YMedio, Reinaldo Escobar

Chinese Horn
Chinese Horn

14YMEDIO, Havana, Reinaldo Escobar, 22 July 2014 – On an unspecified date at the beginning of the twentieth century Havanans heard for the first time the sharp and contagious sound of an as yet unknown instrument, brought by Asian immigrants. It happened in the middle of a carnival parade and was played by members of a troupe called “The Good Chinese.” Soon after, the horn was brought to Santiago de Cuba where it became a main part of Santiago’s conga and was dubbed the Chinese horn.

In remarks to the press on the eve of his visit to Cuba, President Xi Jinping said, “China has sounded the trumpet for the comprehensive deepening of the reform, while Cuba is promoting the updating of its economic model.”

More than a century has passed since that memorable cultural event and another Asian wind instrument arrived in Havana today calling for a change in the rhythm. Perhaps less leisurely than that pushed by Raul Castro, characterized by the gradual introduction of slow and short movements in our society. It would be better if this were another troupe of good Chinese and not the messengers of a new authoritarianism.

The Political Legacy of Oswaldo Paya / 14ymedio

Oswaldo Payá's Funeral (Luz Escobar)
Oswaldo Payá’s Funeral (Luz Escobar)

14YMEDIO, 22 July 2014 – On 22 July 2014, the opposition leader Oswaldo Payá and the activist Harld Cepero died. Payá led the Christian Liberation Movement and promoted the Varela Project, which managed to collect some 25,000 signatures to demand a national referendum. Freedom of expression, of association, freedom of the press and of business, as well as free elections, were some of the demands of that document signed by thousands of Cubans.

Nominated five times for the Nobel Peace Prize, Payá was one of the most visible and respected figures of the Cuban opposition. In 2002  the European Parliament awarded him the Sakharov Prize for Human Rights by and he was able to tour several countries to offer information about the situation on the island. He was also an official candidate for the Prince of Asturias Award and received honorary degrees from Columbia University and the University of Miami.

Paya’s death occurred in the vicinity of the city of Bayamo, while he was traveling accompanied by the Spaniard Angel Carromero, the Swede Aron Modig, and his colleague Harold Cepero. The Cuban government explained the death as the result of a car accident, but his family and many Cuban activists have maintained their doubts about that version. An independent investigation into the events of that tragic July 22 has been requested in various international forums, but Cuban authorities have not responded to those requests.

On the second anniversary of the death of Oswaldo Payá, we asked activists who shared his democratic ideals, “What is the greatest legacy of the leader of the Christian Liberation Movement?”

Guillermo Fariñas, a psychologist and the winner of the European Parliament’s Sakharov Prize

The main legacy left by Oswaldo Payá Sardinas for the Cuban nation, beyond its geographical boundaries, was that he showed his people and the world that the Cuban government breaks its own laws. When the Varela Project submitted almost 25,000 signatures to the People’s Assembly on a citizens’ petition for a plebiscite, the Cuban government refused to hold one and in a crude way changed the Constitution. That in my opinion was his main contribution: demonstrating that the Cuban government is beyond anything that could be construed as the Rule of Law and that it does not even respect its own draconian laws that support Castro’s totalitarian state. continue reading

Manuel Cuesta Morúa, promoter of Constitutional Consensus

I see the legacy of Oswaldo Paya in his pioneering activity to demonstrate that it was possible to generate civic trust towards democratic change. Even he had many doubts that the public would respond positively, would commit itself to a proposed change, especially at a time like the 90s and early 2000s when it was even more difficult for the civic movement. That’s what he sowed, what he left as a legacy, which demonstrated this as a future possibility for all pro-democracy activists on the island.

Dagoberto Valdés, director of the digital magazine Convivencia

First we recall our brother Oswaldo Paya with much love and affection and I would especially emphasize the future, in his legacy, the legacy he has rendered to all Cubans and so I think of the three gifts he left us. First, his posture, his civic attitude. He was a citizen who forged this society and who knew how to awaken a consciousness to fight for democracy in a peaceful way, and from there came his second contribution. Oswaldo was a man who fought tirelessly throughout his life with peaceful methods without being provoked or coming to violence. Finally—I have to say it—as someone who is also a Christian: he was a man who understood that religion could not be alienated or be divorced from the reality in which he lived, and that was why he was deeply committed as a Christian to work for democracy in Cuba.

Jose Conrado Rodriguez Alegre, Catholic priest

Oswaldo has left us a legacy full of sincerity and honesty; a love sacrificed for his country and a genuine commitment to the gospel of Jesus Christ, a gospel embodied in social life, in political life, in the good of others, everything that has to do with society as such. His was a radical commitment to the gospel, but at the same time, as it should be, to every human being. In remembering him, we must pay tribute to the man he was in every dimension, while we feel the pain of the brother we lost and we ask God that there be many others like him, men who can give their lives for others, in silence, in humility, in the midst of the misunderstandings of men, but certainly with a total commitment and a quality of life that today illuminates the existence of those of us still here.

José Daniel Ferrer, leader of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU)

There is no doubt that the late Oswaldo Payá left an everlasting impression. We remember him as a determined and courageous Cuban who, from an early date, assumed the method of nonviolent struggle with the intention of bringing Cuba the rights and freedoms that we have lacked for half a century. The work of the Christian Liberation Movement set a tone in peaceful actions in favor of the fair, free, democratic and prosperous Cuba that we all want, this was the side he was on.

The Varela Project, the citizen initiative launched by Oswaldo in which so many of us became involved full-time, also set a tone in the actions of the fighters for democracy. Initially, there were more than 11,000 people, in complex and difficult circumstances, circumstances that were against those who collected signatures and against those who signed that citizen petition. The fact that for the first time so many Cubans defended a proposal, putting their names and identity data, supporting the five points that made up the project, it was a real milestone.

Personally Oswaldo was a great friend with whom I shared both difficult and happy moments. We are very mindful of that. The Cuba Democratic Union (UNPACU) will render the homage he deserves on this second anniversary of his tragic death.


Today, from 6:45 PM (Havana time) there will be the premiere of a documentary about Oswaldo Paya of the Varela Hall of Ermita de la Caridad in Miami, Florida. The video can also be viewed simultaneously on

The Battered Press / 14ymedio, Fernando Damaso

Two papers, same owner, same front page. (YS)

14YMEDIO, Fernando Damáso, Havana, 21 July 2014 — It is no secret that the editorial policy of a newspaper responds to the interests of its owners. In countries where freedom of the press exists and is respected, newspapers abound, reflecting many different interests. In countries where freedom of the press is clearly absent, one, two or three newspapers are sufficient, more than enough to cover the form, because they all say the same thing and defend the same principles.

The case of Cuba is a good “bad example”; Granma, Juventud Rebelde (Rebel Youth), and Trabajadores (Workers), each in its area of influence, serve a single objective: to defend at all cost the established political economic system.

In Republican-era Cuba, with a population half as large as today, there were 14 national newspapers: Diario de la Marina, El Mundo, Información, El País, Excelsior, Prensa Libre, Mañana, Alerta, El Crisol, Ataja, Tiempo en Cuba, La Calle, Diario Nacional and Noticias de Hoy. There were also two newspapers in English and three in Chinese, as well as newspapers in each one of the six provinces.

continue reading

Some came out in the morning and others in the afternoon. Some included comic strips and were printed in color with photographs, and some had weekend supplements. In their Sunday additions the newspapers multiplied the number of pages and had a great number of advertisements. They sold for five cents during the week and 10 cents on Sunday.

This variety of daily papers covered the entire Cuban social spectrum, from the most conservative positions represented by Diario de la Marina, to the most radical represented by Noticias de Hoy, the newspaper of the communist. Between one or another there appeared the whole gamut of political, economic and social concepts. Some prioritized political news, and others events. All of them dedicated space to culture and sports, where qualified journalists had regular columns.

In their Sunday editions Diario de la Marina, El Mundo and Información devoted ample space to literature, visual arts, theater, music, film, science, among other topics, with articles written by prestigious intellectuals who were not forced to toe the editorial line.

Leafing through old copies, articles appear from important personalities and journalists such as Enrique José Varona, Juan Gualberto Gómez, Rubén Martínez Villena, Raúl Roa, Carlos Márquez Sterling, Sergio Carbó, Jorge Mañach, Anita Arroyo, Emilio Roig de Leuchsenring, Gastón Baquero, Felipe Pazos, Mirta Aguirre, Eladio Secades, Edith García Buchaca, Alejo Carpentier, Agustín Tamargo, Enrique de la Osa and many others who make up the endless list and demonstrate the multiplicity of views.

Every citizen could freely choose the one most corresponding to their own, without dogmatic impositions of any kind.

There were dailies that exploited sensationalism and yellow journalism to sell their copies quickly, and those that offered more serious news in a measured way, which were most of them. Newspapers were hawked on the streets by vendors, using as promotional hook the main news on the front page, always leaving up in the air a question that forced you to buy it, if you wanted to know everything.

Some famous hooks, often repeated, were: See how they caught him! He struck her and fled! He stole and jumped from the second floor! Get the scandal! Here is all the evidence! The cyclone is coming tomorrow! and others.

The main points of sale were the bus stops, where they were offered to the passengers through the windows in quick sales transactions. In addition, there was home delivery by subscription or, more leisurely, by distributors that roamed the neighborhoods. They were characterized by punctuality, thus ensuring that the papers arrived daily before breakfast or before dinner, depending on whether it was a morning or evening edition.

After 1959, the Republican-era press had a sad ending, first with the invention by the government of “tag lines”—short texts, supposedly written by “revolutionary” workers, were added at the ends of articles and reports to reject the opinions expressed—and finally, with the intervention and closure of the newspapers.

The Republican-era Cuban press was dismissed during the last half century by the spokespeople of the ruling party, forgetting that it provided an important service in the defense of citizens’ interests and in critiquing the different governments in every era, a source of pride and an example to imitate in these times, where free opinions are only possible in the few independent newspapers that exist against all odds, persecuted and suppressed by the authorities, and whose circulation is hindered.

“I do not know if it makes much sense to try to legalize the Hispano-Cuban Foundation on the Island” / 14ymedio, Marta Beatriz Roque

Martha Beatriz Roque, the new president of the Cuban Hispano Foundation. (14ymedio)
Martha Beatriz Roque, the new president of the Hispano-Cuban Foundation. (14ymedio)

14YMEDIO, Havana, 18 July 2013 — The Cuban economist Martha Beatriz Roque has just been named president of the Hispano-Cuban Foundation (FHC). The institution has tried to “promote the presence and relevance of the FHC in the island.” 14ymedio was able to speak with the prominent dissident to get her impressions about the new appointment and her immediate plans.

QUESTION: How do you feel to have been chosen for this position?

ANSWER: It is a tremendous responsibility, because when the board members of the FHC decided to choose me for this position they based it on some expectations that I must now meet. A challenge of this nature, one always takes it as a challenge, with a bit of fear too, because I know it will not be easy.

Q. What are the first steps that you will take starting now?

A. First I must organize the Cuban side. The patronage in Madrid is very well defined, but here there are some steps that need to be taken in that regard. The first is to legalize the situation at the Embassy of Spain in Cuba and then there will be many other steps and concrete actions. But contrary to how Raul Castro thinks things must be done in Cuba, when he advised doing everything slowly and gradually, we will try to make our plans a reality as quickly and swiftly as possible.

Q. Do you intend to try to legally register this entity in the Register of Associations of Cuba?

A. In Spain this foundation is legalized, it is based in Madrid and is well known in the European Union. Legalize it in Cuba? …? I don’t know if it makes much sense even to try.

Q. Will you continue as usual with his work as head of the Community Communicators Network and the Institute of Independent Economists?

A. Yes, of course, one has nothing to do with the others. All tasks that come starting now with this new responsibility will be in addition to what we do every day. I hope I have the time and energy.

Offering Fish At Your Door? Be Careful! / 14ymedio

Tending their nets (14ymedio)
Tending their nets (14ymedio)

Rosa Lopez, Havana, 17 July 2014, 14ymedio — Many Cubans opt for the informal market instead the high prices of the products in hard currency stores. Who among us has not bought cheese, ketchup or milk in illegal trading networks? However, when we acquire something in secret and do not know the seller, the chances of being scammed or buying spoiled merchandise multiply. The greatest danger, however, is to buy a product that damages our health, hence it is important to be careful with certain foods.

Every Cuban adult has some experience to tell about a fish sold as red snapper and it was actually tench, Claria or barracuda. With the fish slickly packaged and displayed furtively, the trader assures us that it is ” good, white with few bones.” Later, in the pan or dish, frustrated, we discovered the deception.

Some customers claim to have a good contact to buy seafood that so far has not failed them. Lucky them! By contrast, the vast majority is supplied by an illegal and unstable market whose providers change frequently. The fish markets under state management offer little variety and high prices, not to mention the long lines that sometimes form in front of their doors.

It is easy to think that living on an island we can have our tables filled with seafood, oysters, sardines and other sea delicacies. Nothing is further from reality. In Cuba it it easier to find turkey hash “made in USA”, than a good marlin steak or grouper head soup.

The restrictions imposed on both private fishing and the sale of fish push us to the black market when looking for a good product. The species may have been caught in oxidation ponds belonging to factories or industries, and could introduce chemicals into our bodies that bring negative short and medium term effects.

On the island there are many reservoirs and coastal areas that contaminated by discharges from industries and settlements. Fish that live in those stretched should not be used for human consumption. An example is Havana Bay, whose waters are polluted by oil, sewage and other waste discharges.

Another threat is ciguatera, a food poisoning that is endemic in the tropics caused by eating infected fish. The fish afflicted with this disease cannot be identified by smell, taste or color.

If a stranger knocks at your door offering a tempting fish filet or steak, be careful. It may not be what they say, or in the worst case, it could damage your health.

“Unusual Provocation,” Fidel Castro blames Kiev for the crash of the Malaysian Plane / 14ymedio

Buk missile battery, similar to what might have shot down the plane of Malaysia Airlines
Buk missile battery, similar to what might have shot down the plane of Malaysia Airlines

14ymedio, 18 July 2014 — Former Cuban president Fidel Castro published one of his “Reflections” today in Juventude Rebelde (Rebel Youth) in which he bluntly accuses the government of Ukraine of the crash of the Malaysian Airlines plane that caused the deaths of 298 passengers in the air space over Donetsk.

Without providing any evidence or reasons for the suspicion, Castro ended the first paragraph suggesting that the plane “had been hit at 30,000 feet flying over Ukrainian territory on a path under the control of the war mongering government of the king of chocolate, Petro Poroshenko.”

Continuing, the leader of the Revolution recalled the friendship between Cuba and Ukraine and the island’s support after the Chernobyl disaster (in the north of the country, then belonging to the Soviet Union), but argues that he cannot fail to condemn “the action of such an anti-Russian, anti-Ukraine and pro-imperialist government.”

As of today it has been a week since the last public appearance of Fidel Castro, when he met with Russian President Vladimir Putin. The relationship between Russia and Cuba, which has historically been excellent, has become even closer in recent weeks.

Earlier this month, the Russian Federation ratified the cancellation of 90% of the enormous debt of the government of Havana the former USSR, some $30 billion dollars. During his visit to the island, Putin demonstrated that both parties are working on a program of economic, commercial, scientific and technical development until 2020 and their “business advisors” remain active.

Russia also counts on its ally in the diplomatic arena. In the United Nations the Cuban government votes with the Federation.

An Inexplicable Explanation / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

The inside of a traveler's suitcase arriving from Miami (14ymedio)
The inside of a traveler’s suitcase arriving from Miami (14ymedio)

Customs restricts imports even more

Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 14ymedio | 14 July 2014 — On the occasion of the latest customs regulations that further limit the products that travelers can bring to the island, a group of officials from the General Customs of the Republic of Cuba (AGR) held a press conference to respond to some concerns of the population. Among the pearls exposed there, it’s worth nothing an argument put forward by Idalmis Rosales Milanes, deputy chief of the AGR, where she tried to equate these actions with what happens outside of Cuba. “All countries,” she said, “regulate non-commercial imports to their territory.”

And it’s true. What this official didn’t say is that in all countries there are other regulations for commercial imports to non-state entities. If this weren’t the case, I would have to believe two things: that in the rest of the world all the stores are state-owned, or that the goods for sale in them are produced entirely in the country in which they are located. It gives the impression that this precision is for idiots, because it’s so irrational it’s embarrassing to have to clarify it.

The absurdity is normal only if the entire environment is also absurd. Whoever developed and approved these resolutions was personally persuaded that commerce is a crime unless it is performed by the only state monopoly that they themselves control.

Instead of developing a list detailing how many razors, pairs of shoes or fake nails can be carried in your suitcase, it would be much more useful to allow the importation and sale of whatever merchandise (non-lethal) is produced in the world, and to promote its free trade by private individuals who would be those who would assume the risk of being left with them in their shops if they weren’t able to sell them.

The law should allow the owner of a restaurant to import, in his condition as a private businessperson, the wine, pasta and cheese consumed by his customers. The seamstress should also have the right to bring fabric and dyes from other countries with which she designs her clothes, and the small trader must be able to count on the possibility of bringing the instant glue, the sponges for cleaning, and the hair dye, from other latitudes to the island. All this, backed and supported by commercial permits and import licenses… in the hand of the non-state sector.

That theses commercial imports are on a list of prohibited products, that there is a limit of the number of admissible pieces, that a diversified tax is imposed according to the article… all this would be almost comprehensible and, especially, debatable. What I can’t make heads nor tails of is this “dog in the manger” conduct, which neither eats nor allows others to eat, and in this case neither imports nor allow to be imported; neither trades, nor allows others to trade.