A Ninth Cuban Dancer Defects to the United States / 14ymedio

June 11, 2014 (With information from El Nuevo Herald and EFE) – The number of dancers from the National Ballet of Cuba who have defected to the United States has increased to nine. Jaime Reytor joins the eight members of the company that fled last weekend in Puerto Rico and are already in Miami. The artists revealed Wednesday that they decided to defect from the island because “there is no future for young people.” They will perform next Sunday with the Cuban Classical Ballet of Miami at a gala dedicated to the Russian ballet.

Eight dancers (Jorge Oscar Sanchez, Raizel Cruz, Carlos Ignacio Galindez, Ariel Soto, Monica Gomez, Yaima Mendez, Lisette Santander and Yinet Fernandez) participated in a press conference organized by the Cuban Classical Ballet of Miami, in which they described their flight from the City of San Juan in Puerto Rico, where they were to participate in the show “The Magic of Dance,” where the Cuban director of art education, Alicia Alonso, was to be present.

“This is the country of the future. There are many options for work and places to choose from. We came here in order to dance and we will dance,” Jorge Oscar Sanchez, age 23, told EFE. He decided not to return to Cuba but to stay in the United States “in search of opportunities,” despite his sadness “at leaving behind family and friends,” because on the island “there is no future for young people.”
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Since 2007, at least 35 dancers have sought asylum in the U.S. and other countries, according to figures from the Cuban Classical Ballet of Miami. The artistic director of the company, Pedro Pablo Peña, said the steady drip of defections shows “the absolute discontent” of artists with the Cuban regime.

“At first I was a little nervous because it was a very strong impact. It was leaving your family behind to go and find your profession, to be a dancer . . . It’s very hard. I keep thinking about my family,” said Ariel Soto. “They didn’t give us the opportunity of showing us how to reach our potential. I didn’t want to be frustrated because I have a life ahead of me. I’m 23 years old and I want to grow and not stagnate,” he said.

Another dancer, Yaima Mendez admitted that “I’ve been working since I was a child, and could not see the final result of that sacrifice” and that “it always hurts. It’s something very tough, very heavy, but I needed it to fulfill my dreams in a big country.”

According to Raizel Cruz, all dancers in Cuba support the decision of any artist who defects. “I dance, but I come with the mindset of doing anything. Whatever it takes,” he said.

According to the América Tevé channel, Cuban tennis players Randy Blanco (age 21) and Ernesto Alfonso (age 24), who participated in the Davis Cup elimination rounds, also held in Puerto Rico, fled and arrived yesterday at Miami International Airport.

Translated by Tomás A.

Who is Writing History? / 14ymedio, Miriam Celaya


Miriam Celaya, La Habana | Junio 02, 2014


No one could have anticipated a short time ago that the formulas to define the Cuban reality would be so radically transformed. In the last five years, we have been witnessing the gradual extinction of phrases and words that constituted an indispensable part of the official lingo, and the emergence of others which had been demonized, since they were considered remnants of a shameful bourgeois past which from which the revolution of 1959 had saved us.

Our language is foreseeing a scenario which is very different than that of the last 50 years. Lately, we rarely hear such terms as “comrade”, while in the official media, such phrases as “revolutionary intransigence”, “socialist emulation”, “voluntary labor” “collective vanguard” and “moral incentives” are infrequent, as are others, typical of the inescapable dialect of the old Soviet-Marxist period.

Thus, Cubans have once again become “señor” and “señora” and we have also stopped being “users” or “consumers” and have been transformed into “customers”. It is not the same or equal. It is a question of category based on a consumption level of access. For example, those who enter a store to buy the products of “local industries” in national currency remain “consumers”, but shoppers in stores dealing in hard currency are “clients”. continue reading

Now being a “comrade” means belonging to the lowest social ladder.

Cubans are also considered “clients” when they open a cellular phone account at the telephone company, as are those who can allow themselves a few vacation days in all-inclusive beach resort. It is worth mentioning that a Cuban client is not the same as a foreign client, because, after all, prosperity here always comes from “outside” No wonder foreigners or Cubans living abroad are the only ones who have a legitimate right to invest on the Island.

All this explains the extinction of the “comrade” among Cubans with greater purchasing power, and, by extension, among those who dream of attaining that level. Now to be a “comrade” means belonging to the bottom of the social scale or -to define it in the popular undying parlance- to be “broke”. Comrades are out of style.

At the same time, terms such as “investor”, “foreign capital”, “performance”, “competition”, “economic strategies”, “business autonomy”, “trade”, “tax culture” “legal guarantees for investments”, etc. have become commonplace, which point to the gestation of a paradigm diametrically opposite.to the old revolutionary discourse

We shouldn’t think that all euphemisms have been abandoned completely. To Cuban authorities, the private sector does not exist in Cuba, but “non-state forms of employment” do, and there are no Cuban-born entrepreneurs, but “self-employed workers”.

But the discourse is not being transformed from just the Cuban political authorities. Now that the interests of the ex-communist Castro regime graciously coincide with foreign capital interests, changes are also being observed in the discourse and the attitudes of certain Cuban-American entrepreneurs, as well as in intellectual and political US sectors.

The interests of the ex-communist Castro regime graciously coincide with foreign capital.

They are not limited to reinventing vocabulary terms, but they go beyond that, to interpret the so-called Raúl reforms as the driving force behind “significant changes” that are leading to the “development of business potential” of Cuban “citizens” by virtue of which “half a million entrepreneurs“ currently exist. These are the “leading democratic catalysts” that will “empower civil society”.  In fact, these “entrepreneurs”, forged in the heat of the reforms, are “starting to rewrite” the history of the country.

Inexplicably, a group of those who, at the beginning of this “revolutionary” process, felt compelled to pack and leave their homeland, but not before being stripped of their property and their capital, today seem to assume this “economic autonomy” as a possibility in the absence of political and civil liberties, and even believe that it’s possible to go forward with the democratization of Cuba by taking advantage of the economic “openings” in recent years and an imaginary Cuban entrepreneurship.

This formula is inconsistent with historical facts, since these same bilked-out millionaires, with their great capitals, did not stop the consolidation of the regime that bamboozled them at that time. In the new democratizing strategy, what possibilities could our measly native entrepreneurs have –taxi drivers, cart owners, trinket vendors, bike-taxi drivers, owners of small eateries and cafeterias– when they can’t even count on the basic right of free association

We are not against the vital need for change and the power of capital, but let’s not disguise certain private interests with rhetorical discourses and good intentions. Capital and good wishes have poured into China and Viet-Nam, those two exemplary jewels of innovation and prosperity that nobody would wish for themselves.

I agree that the history of Cuba is, in effect, being rewritten, but, so far, the Castro regime has been dictating its script.

Our Own Dangerous “Twin Towers” / 14ymedio, Victor Ariel Gonzalez

Tejas Corner. 14ymedio
Texas Corner. 14ymedio

Havana, June 9, 2014, Victor Ariel Gonzalez — Corrugated fiber-cement sheets and wooden planks form a security fence in the shadow of the two tallest buildings of an iconic Havana site: the “Twin Towers” at Texas Corner, where 240 families live, marooned, as the buildings crumble.

Every day many people walk past, where the sidewalks of Calzada Del Cerro and Diez de Octubre intersect. Life goes on as usual at the foot of the gray structures, 20 floors and 200 feet high, which dangerously dominate the landscape.

A glance behind the makeshift wall leaves no doubt about the problem: chunks of rust-stained concrete detached from the walls are scattered in the grass, evidence of the deterioration of the buildings. If you look up, the poor state of the structural walls, which support thousands of tons, is revealed, with their broken edges and numerous areas where rebar is exposed. continue reading

The corrosion causes the metal framework inside the concrete to expand, creating pressure on the covering, cracking and loosening pieces. People say the concrete is “bursting.” This is inevitable in construction using low-quality materials or inadequate technology in the concrete-fabricating process. The phenomenon now affects both 20-story structures on Texas Corner.

An unpredictable and deadly shower of concrete hailstones weighing several pounds

With rust replacing metal, the reinforcing steel loses its structural strength, which is its sole purpose. The building weakens, significantly shortening its useful life. Those who inhabit the buildings are at risk, but not only them. Before the agency responsible for repairing properties extended the protective perimeter in October 2013, passersby were exposed to an unpredictable and deadly shower of concrete hailstones weighing several pounds.

Children play after school in the portion of the park remaining outside the fence. A neighbor, whose little granddaughter is running around there, recalls that construction of the towers was completed in 1992: “I myself participated in the work because during that time I was in the micro.” She is referring to the “microbrigades,” crews of unskilled laborers who built multifamily housing in exchange for a place to live. “They gave me an apartment here, but I’ve always had problems. The windows don’t keep the rain out.”

She remembers that the south tower was built entirely by prisoners, while the north was under the control of those who would be the future owners. In both cases, the work left much to be desired technically. “One time they came around collecting money to retouch the exterior bearing walls, but the people wouldn’t agree because the windows were going to stay the same and the problem was not really going to be solved.” That was several years ago.

Now emergency intervention is needed. But those who installed the fence in only a few days—supposedly the same ones who would repair the towers—have not continued the work, which has been postponed indefinitely. The residents have not been informed of a date for the work to be done. The months go by and the risk increases every day as the corrosion silently advances.

Translated by Tomás A.

Cold Kisses Under the Tropical Sun / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

The fear of not being able to leave, of remaining locked on the island, is shared by many of my compatriots. Those who have never traveled fear they will grow old without ever knowing what’s on the other side of the sea. Cubans living abroad are not exempt from this fear. Many of them, when they visit the Island, have a recurring nightmare that they will not be allowed to board the plane when they leave. It is precisely this feeling overwhelms the main character of the novel “Eskimo Kiss,” by the novelist and journalist Manuel Pereira.

The book, as yet unpublished, describes the experiences of a man who travels to the land he left twelve years ago. His mother’s advanced age compels him return to the “country of mirages,” as he calls it. His arrival is accompanied by the panic of being trapped and that apprehension is mixed with the constant feeling of being watched. To him, his country is “like a moustrap” during the four days of the “humanitarian entry permit” the authorities have given him.

It is not only that perception of confinement that overwhelms the character of Pereira, but the difference between what he remembered from his homeland and what it really was. The distance, years and emotions tend to put a patina of sweetness and harmony on loved ones and everyday life that is often shattered when they are reunited. Nor does a nation fading away, in a moral freefall, do much to help allay the impression of suffocation that runs through the pages of this book. “Will he be able to escape?” we ask ourselves from the moment we start reading. To get to the answer we have to immerse ourselves in the reality—as well known as it is absurd—in which we ourselves are trapped.

Raul’s Reforms as Strategy for Survival / 14ymedio, Miriam Celaya

 Cart vendor in Havana (14ymedio)
Cart vendor in Havana (14ymedio)

Six years since General-President Raúl Castro assumed power in Cuba; it could be argued that almost as many legal changes have been implemented as were introduced during the early days of the revolution and, without a doubt, a lot more than in the four decades preceding “Raulismo”

Viewed in perspective, Raúl’s reforms are significant and are -at least in appearance- a break from Fidel’s directive, marked by immobility, by such measures as:

  • Distribution of land in usufruct to private farmers and cooperatives
  • Approval of “non-state forms of production” or “self-employment” (private business), which eliminates State monopoly on employment
  • Approval of sales and purchases of real estate, cars, and other goods , as well as lodging for Cuban nationals in hard currency hotels and tourist facilities
  • Authorization for free contract of cellular telephony and internet connections; sales of computers, printers and other hardware in stores accepting only dollars
  • Comprehensive migration reform act, one of the most radical transformations, conditionally eliminating “authorizations” for exit and entry and extending stays abroad up to 24 months
  • And more recently, the new Foreign Investment Law, which relaxes some limitations of previous legislation established in the 90’s, though it retains others

Such measures should be a substantial turn-around in a society subjected to a centralism which previously invalidated all vestiges of autonomy. In fact, some foreign media exaggerate the process, multiplying, to the point of fable, the effects of government measures as if this were an effective socioeconomic change. Unfortunately, such changes have been more nominal than real for Cubans. There have been no benefits at the macroeconomic level that indicate a positive trend towards ending the crisis. continue reading

In addition, the past few years denote a regression, not only in the economic indicators, but also in social benefits, such as health and education, the former severely affected by the exportation of professionals under contract, involving substantial hard currency income for the regime –particularly through physicians and technical staff tied to that field- and the latter, by the shortage and/or disqualification of teachers due to low wages, among other reasons.

The reforms are significant and constitute a break with Fidel’s directives.

It is not a secret, even to the most optimistic mouthpieces of the mercantile post-Castro era that “Raulist changes” are just the best survival strategy of the Castrocracy, because no change in Cuba will be real unless it is accompanied by political change.

European and other economic powerhouses put their expectations in a kind of quasi-race to access untapped markets before the United States and economically powerful sectors of the Cuban exile community assume prominence on the Island, while native citizens [living in Cuba] are just hostages of those interests and of the government which, nevertheless, continues to dominate life and property. Of course, nobody cares; as if the uncertain fate of 11 million Cubans was a deserved punishment or simply that the exclusion was a matter of “collateral damage” in the battle for the market.

For the powerful, it is not about empathy any more, with the “beautiful people” with smiling faces peeking out of tourist postcards, wielding either rifles or maracas indistinctively, according to the occasion, or –as demonstrated recently- marching, submissive and happy, before the official podium every May Day. It’s about an opportunity to be first and to arrive on time, capital in hand. Cubans, sadly, don’t have a goddamn way of defending themselves against that other power that far exceeds the one that has dominated them for over half a century. It turns out that the Cuban revolution was a waste of time. At the end, capital always wins.  And long live Raulismo!

At the Train Station We’re All Fighters / 14ymedio, Lilianne Ruiz

 Central Station, Havana. (14ymedio)
Central Station, Havana. (14ymedio)

In Havana, travelers bound for the provinces don’t just say goodbye from the platform, they wage a daily battle for survival

Lilanne Ruiz, Havana / June 4, 2014 – It’s seven p.m. in Havana. The train to Guantanamo has just arrived at Central Station. “Let’s go, have your tickets ready!” the conductor shouts, while inching open the gate to the platform.

The travelers push forward, some carrying all their luggage, others squeezing through and waiting for a family member to pass their boxes and suitcases to them through the bars. “Take care, I’ll call when you get there,” says a voice. Only the passengers can get to the cars. No one complains. They’ve never lived the classic scene of saying goodbye from the platform to someone departing on a train.

The Central Railway Station in Havana is an imposing building, built in 1912. The deteriorated ceilings are propped up by wood in the platform-access areas. Despite the neglect, the building endures and impresses.

In the lounge several rows of seats are arranged without a view of anything. It seems like an immense classroom, but without a teacher or blackboard. You can’t see the platform, only the wall. It is a lifeless scene, that gives no sense of movement nor help to make the wait enjoyable. continue reading

There are only 11 weekly trains to meet the demand. For the eastern region, those to Guantanamo, Santiago de Cuba, and Bayamo-Manzanillo, depart every three days. Those are the biggest, with 10 or 12 cars of 72 seats each. For the route to the center of the island, there’s one to Sancti Spiritus and one to Cienfuegos. Another goes to Pinar del Rio and five smaller ones travel to Guines and Los Palos, in Mayabeque .

Travelers who gather at Central Station, uniformed in poverty, are forced to improvise. They dress with what they can and assemble their luggage from what’s available. Briefcases, sealed plastic buckets, cardboard boxes covered with tape. If they can carry it, they bring it.

The figures of Ministry of the Interior (MININT) officials in battle dress stand out. They are armed. It is not known if they will be traveling or if they are patrolling. One of them, sitting two benches to my right, drinks from a bottle of homemade wine. He works in Havana but lives in the east. He goes on vacation every five months and returns to see his family. In the boxes, he says, he’s carrying packages of macaroni, spaghetti, and crackers that he’ll sell at the military unit before leaving.

Shipping ground coffee from the eastern part of the country is a crime comparable to transporting beef

He’s lucky to be able to transport all of this. For other people, moving goods is a problem. Shipping ground coffee from the eastern part of the country is a crime comparable to transporting beef. You may not carry more than two kilograms of cheese because the authorities assume that that is the limit of household consumption. Although farmers are allowed to sell the milk produced by their cows, it is prohibited to sell cheese.

If they can’t sell, how would they survive? “In the East there is no money,” says a woman waiting to go to Jiguaní the next day. When she came to Havana the train broke down at 3:00 a.m. in Ciego de Avila and did not get underway until twenty-four hours later. The passengers, united by adversity, got off the train to talk and share water and food.

Despite a potential fine of 1,500 Cuban pesos, vendors selling bottles of ice water pass through the waiting room. There is no water on the train. Women carrying satchels offer sorbets, candies, and mints. The state-owned outlets offer sliced pork and rice with black beans in small cardboard boxes for 25 Cuban pesos, or hot dogs for only 10 pesos. The cheapest offering is bread and ham for 3 pesos. The ham is a slice slightly thinner than a razor blade and the bread is the color of white cement. Hunger helps one overlook the poor appearance of the food.

A cardboard box is the usual luggage of travelers. (14ymedio )
A cardboard box is the usual luggage of travelers. (14ymedio )

A wrinkled old woman is chewing hungrily. She lives in Dos Rios, where José Martí died , and she is the granddaughter of an Afro-Cuban soldier from the war of 1895. She came to Havana to spend a few days with a granddaughter and brought back a box of malangas because “you can’t get it there.” The bag that her belongings are in was once a sack for detergent. Her clothes look worn, but as clean as if they had been washed and dried in the sun.

Two women wearing the uniform of those employed by the “Safety and Security Agency” contemplate a sandwich wrapped in plastic without deciding whether to eat it. It is the snack given to them by the state, their employer. Most sell it to get 20 pesos. I ask them why the platform is barred and the gate controlled as if for barnyard animals. “They try to board the train without a ticket, that’s how to make sure people pay.”

Why don’t they want to pay? “There are those who travel with nothing but a bottle of water and 5 pesos. Ay mami, this is very hard,” one answers. She doesn’t finish the sentence and laughs out loud as she walks away.

“In Havana, the fight is better than in the East,” everyone repeated

Those who sell and those who buy have a word in common: fight. “In Havana you fight.” “Here the fight is better than in the East,” everyone repeats. They come to the capital because they believe that the wages are higher. They do masonry, or work in agriculture with private producers, who pay fifty pesos a day (more than twice the average wage).

A young mother nurses her four-month-old baby. She carries a cargo of detergent, soap, toothpaste, and candies for kids. “The east is hard. Worse than Havana,” she says. She came from Guantanamo with a box of mangoes and guavas for her family in the capital: “There the fruit is sweeter and cheaper,” she says.

A woman wanders through selling plastic sandals. She explains that it is good business to buy in “La Cuevita” (a large unofficial market in the San Miguel del Padron municipality of Havana) and resell for a little more to travelers in the station. “We are all fighters, and this is the fight for survival,” she says, indicating the station with a sweeping gesture. “We’ll sell whatever is available, even caskets. Life is hard.”

The sandal-seller says that some regulars are homeless and spend the day at the station. They search in the dump for anything they can sell. “They go to La Coubre, the reservations and waiting-list terminal near the Central Station, to sleep on cardboard boxes they put on the ground. There they take advantage of and steal the suitcases from those unfortunate ones going back to the country,” she reveals.

The last train has left for Sancti Spiritus at 9:20 p.m. In front of the television in the waiting lounge men and women huddle who do not seem like travelers. They’re not waiting for anything. When the train has gone, the employees and a policeman prepare to close the terminal. They shoo them out: “Get up, we’re closing.”

Everyone obediently withdraws until the next day, at 6:30 a.m., when everything begins again.

Translated by Tomás A.

“One of the Hallmarks of the Twenty-first Century Will Be Overcoming the Burden of Political Labels” / 14ymedio, Eliecer Avila, Reinaldo Escobar

Eliecer Avila. 14ymedio
Eliecer Avila. 14ymedio

We speak with the founder of the political movement Somos+ (We Are More)

Reinaldo Escobar, Havana | May 30, 2014 – Eliécer Ávila launched the website this week of the political movement Somos+ (We Are More), which he created in June 2013. This 29-year-old computer engineer published a letter to young Cubans asking them to participate in “the reconstruction of the country.”

Question: What are the objectives of this movement?

Answer: We call ourselves Somos+ because we believe that every day there are more of us in Cuba dreaming of a different future. Among our objectives is to start talking among ourselves to know how many of us there are who have different ideas about how the country should be managed, from an economic, political, social point of view with regards to rights and freedoms.

Today we are isolated, and thus we have the idea that we are 11 million people thinking the same thing but not talking to each other about it, because there is neither the necessary confidence nor the platform to serve as a loudspeaker for people to express themselves without fear.
We are aware that in this early stage there will not be many people who want to be part of the movement, but we hope that we can count on a vanguard. We don’t expect to be a mass movement, but we can bring together an important number of responsible and thinking young people around a project for Cuba. We believe that it’s not enough to describe and criticize problems, we have to go from complaints to active participation and this participation implies that we need to organize ourselves. continue reading

Q: This has been a significant step in the evolution of your activism. At what point did you decide to found Somos+?

A. In February 2007 a video released on alternative sites showed a discussion I had with Ricardo Alarcón, then president of the National Assembly of People’s Power. From that moment hundreds or thousands of people from across the country approached me.

I noticed that people had huge cravings, cumulative desires, to share ideas, and that there was an enormous overlap in these ideas. I heard very similar things in Guantanamo, Camaguey and Pinar del Río. Then, in the same way that a businessman identifies what is called “market niches,” a politician or an aspiring politician should know how to find the missing link in a certain chain that will make things start to happen.
What we lack are platforms where the greatest possible number of Cubans can come together to talk; for example there are 20,000 of us who support the urgent need to give Cubans open access to the Internet.

“It’s not enough to describe or criticize the problems, we have to shift from complaining to active participation.”

Q. Throughout this half century there have been many initiatives to create political platforms. What differentiates Somos+ from what has happened so far? Is it about continuity or rejection?

A. We can’t ignore these organizations, many of them very respectable like the Varela Project that collected more than 11,000 signatures and presented them to the Parliament. There are precedents in the history of the Cuban opposition that have been developed by talented, serious, hard-working people. All these initiatives deserve respect. But everyone can come up with his own, named, initiative, something with his own history specific to the time the project is undertaken.

Q. One of the issues most discussed currently among the opposition is that of unity. Do you think creating a new movement contributes to or hurts this aspiration?

A. In order to join forces there have to be forces and I think that everyone, on their part, can capitalize on all the energies in their group, and in their generation and this is also a way that in the end we’ll have more forces to unite.

Q. It’s almost inevitable that a political movement is labeled based on classifying it among the known political leanings. Left, center, right, social democrat, liberal, Christian democrat, etc. What do you think would be the label most acceptable to Somos+?

A. The issue of labels, although to our regret it still exists, in the long term will be seen as a remnant of the 20th century. I have the impression that one of hallmarks of the 21st century with regards to political conceptions, will be overcoming the burden of political labels. On some issues we may have opinions leaning to the right, and on others to the left. So those who feel obliged to define us using these old classification tools will have to settle with placing us in the center.

We’re not unaware of the importance of the free market, but we observe with close attention that there has to be social justice. The different tendencies can be expressed like the legs of a table which, when everyone has the same freedom of action, we have to find social equilibrium.

With the Somos+ movement there will never be a single idea. We are open to people who are members of the Communist Party or who have openly declared themselves to the right or left. We want to bring together those who believe in clear goals. There could be many Communists here who are in agreement with us that we need a greater degree of participation, that we lack a democratic parliament, that Cuba needs to be inserted once and for all into the technological globalization to be present in the world. We will not refuse anyone the right to participate because they have a different ideological viewpoint.

“A good strategy for making progress in this field as turbulent as this is to pay less attention to what the adversaries say”

Q. What does a person have to do to join the Somos+ movement? Do you include Cubans living outside the island?

A. We are going to take our ideas everywhere. Already in eight provinces we have been invited to give conferences on the subject. It’s about young people who are eager to do something and don’t know how. Friends, family, neighbors who get together.

Among the founding documents that are posted on our website there is a summary of our ideas and principles, and also a Letter to Young People where I explain our motivation. We have included a form that people can fill out with their particulars, both those living on the Island and those who live anywhere else in the world, provided they share the objectives of our movement.

Q. Presumably that now attacks will come. From official institutions that will accuse you of being another mercenary of the empire and from sectors of the opposition that will say that your movement is a maneuver by Raúl Castro to make people believe he is democratizing. What answers do you have for one or the other?

A. A good strategy for advancement in this very turbulent field is to dedicate less attention to what your adversaries say and more attention to communicating with people. That is what we are going to spend 99.99% of our time on, regardless of what extremists from either sector say.

Q. I’d like it if you would get ahead here of the one question you are going to be asked from all directions and with the worst intentions. How is the movement financed?

A. The members of the movement will make voluntary contributions to help defray costs. That is reflected in our bylaws. It’s impossible to do what we want to do without resources and it would be very irresponsible to try to do it without stable economic support. Our finances will be public and we will prepare a report so our accounts can be audited.

If you sell a pig and you want to bring a part of the profit to our movement you can do so, like Christians do in their churches to maintain the church. This movement is our faith.

Implicit in the bylaws is that any natural or legal person can make donations as long as they comply with certain principles: that the money does not come from illicit sources, that they are not trying to influence the politics of the movement with a donation, that they haven’t participated in violent acts. We don’t believe that the enemy of our adversary is necessarily our friend. We would love to have a public debate with the Communist Party on the topic of how to finance a political organization.

Q. One last question that someone asked Fidel Castro in 1954, when he was your age: Do you plan, at some point, to perpetuate yourself in power if you achieve your purpose?

A. We won’t leave for tomorrow the issue of handover of positions. Internally we have elections and this will be a habit we will continue. I personally disagree with any initiative that can lead to a person remaining in power. The 1940 Cuban constitutions addresses this with great clarity.

A Turn of the Screw Against the Informal Market / 14ymedio

14ymedio, Havana, 30 May 2014 – A regulation of the General Customs of the Republic, published last Wednesday, has sellers of imported products and other private traders on edge. The official document includes new restrictions on travelers carrying goods to Cuba.

The measure adds to an escalation against the private market that hit a low point last December 31 when the government closed the so-called boutiques and outlets of varied merchandise, run by the self-employed. Many of these vendors transitioned to illegality, now offering their wares via catalogs that circulate hand to hand.

The Official Gazette has put special emphasis on warning of administrative or criminal liability for anyone who brings “foreign packages” to the Island. A direct reference to the so-called “mules” who bring clothing, shoes and other products sent by Cuban exiles to their families on the Island. continue reading

A video posted on the website of the Official Gazette shows a dramatization of the arrival of a traveler with 150 USB flash drives. On being questioned, the visitor said he did not know the contents of what he had brought because it came from another person who was sending it to his family.

For Antonio Tapia, who just bought an iPod through the classifieds website Revolico.com, it is “significant that Customs has chosen to issue their warning through these new technologies.” According to him, “For weeks we’ve been under a barrage of official propaganda against these technologies and now this shows up.”

The informal sellers are also very worried. On Reina Street in downtown Havana several outlets for imported clothing have been closed since the beginning of the year. However, most have continued to provide their customers with a wide range of dresses, brand name shoes and jewelry, although now they must do so illegally. “It gets worse and worse,” says Yanaisa, who has a boutique specializing in women’s underwear.

At José Martí International Airport Terminal 2, 14ymedio spoke with recent arrivals coming off a flight from Florida. So far no one has said they perceived a change in customs searches compared to previous trips. Carmen, age 61 and living in New Jersey, said that she was “very scared” when she heard about the measure because she always comes “loaded with gifts and commissions from others.” However, she reported “no problems of any kind” entering the country.

The effects of this new turn of the screw on the importing on merchandise could start to be felt in the coming weeks. But at the same time, in the words of Ruben Eduardo, a seller of computer parts, “We can always invent something.”

Over One Thousand Arrests of Activists in May / 14ymedio

14ymedio, Havana, 2 June 2014 – In its latest report*, for the month of May, the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation reported 1,120 arrests of peaceful dissidents and activists. This figure is one of the “highest in recent decades with regards to the number of arrests for political reasons,” the document reports.

As an example, the report cites the case of journalist Guillermo Fariñas, winner of the European Parliament’s Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, who has been arrested every Monday over the last 19 weeks. In the introduction to the list of detainees, the text reports an increase in “repressive violence against citizens who dare to disagree publicly.”

This report is prepared monthly by the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation, an independent organization led by Elizardo Sanchez; the government of the island does not recognize the organization in any legal way.

*Translator’s note: Although the report is in Spanish it is laid out in such a way that an English-speaker reader can grasp the dates, places, and names of those arrested.

The Free Territory of Skype / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

An article has been added to the saga against information technologies maintained by the official press. Last Thursday a report against phone fraud left many Juventude Rebelde (Rebel Youth) readers feeling that cellphones are a source of endless problems. To the barrage of accusations about the destabilizing plans that arrive via text messages, and the collapse of networks caused by titles that travel from one cellphone to another, we can now add the “personal profit” of those who use tricks to pay less for a call or for a text message abroad.

Every crime of fraud or embezzlement is legally and morally contemptible. However, the context in which these infractions are committed should be taken into account. We live under an absolute state monopoly of telecommunications. The only phone company in the country, ETECSA, has no competitors in its field and thus sets its prices much higher than the tariffs common in the rest of the world. A one minute call overseas costs the average worker about two days wages. With such a large population having emigrated, it’s easy to imagine the Island’s need to communicate with the rest of the world.

To this must be added the limited and scarce Internet access. Without any new facilities for services such as Skype, many prefer to resort to fraudulent practices rather than to give up calling other parts of the world. Penalizing the offenders who resort to tricks like voice bypass will not resolve the problem. I don’t imagine a lady in her sixties, with a son who emigrated, risks being fined for phone fraud when she can pay barely pennies to call via the Internet. Pushing a population into crime, and then condemning them for engaging in it, seems to me, at the very least, pure cynicism.

Yoani Sánchez, Havana, 31 May 2014 | 14ymedio

La Timba’s Ghost Bus / 14ymedio, Luzbely Escobar

Ruta-Foto-Luz-Escobar_CYMIMA20140525_0002_16Route 67 is what we in Cuba call a ghost bus. But for the inhabitants of the popular La Timba neighborhood in Havana, it’s the only public transport that leads to the city center and the historic old town. La Timbans know when it runs and even commit to memory the names of the drivers. Osvaldo is one of them and displays his National Vanguard status for his dedication to the art of driving.

In the eighties there were several routes serving this poor Havana neighborhood. During the Special Period the Ministry of Transport reorganized the service and cancelled many of them. The No. 67 remained as the only survivor. In runs from the Palatino area and usually operates with one bus on a two-hour schedule. The first bus leaves at 6:20 in the morning, taking early morning workers to their destinations. On days that are a true miracle, there are two buses which run every hour.

Some older people, to avoid having to walk with their heavy bags, wait for the single bus to travel just one or two stops. They are few and belong to a brotherhood that knows the schedule by heart. A kind of “No. 67 Club” made up mostly of the elderly who recall the glory days of their favorite bus.

Sometimes a member of the club will warn another not to wait because the bus is broken down and not running. They have contacts and use them, to find out if it already left the stop, if the driver is sick and couldn’t come to work, or if there is some technical problem that has left it back at the repair shop. In addition to their loyalty to the No. 67, they are characterized by optimism, trusting that, in the end, the bus will appear coming around the corner, with a slight sound of the horn as the doors open in front of the patient passengers.

Their fan enthusiasm even manifests itself in some outsized jealousy toward the Route 27. Originating from the same stop, this latter has been assigned additional reinforcements, evident in a larger number of buses. An indignant passenger asked about this disparity and the annoyed driver responded, “It’s that we are Palatino’s poor daughter,” and “we don’t collect as much as the No. 27, so we don’t get priority.”

The passionate users don’t understand how it is possible that the social function represented by their preferred route is not valued. Nor how in these instances the case is considered only from the economic point of view. They don’t understand because, for them, this route is part of the life of their community. It’s a piece of their environment. The No. 67, as they call it, is an essential part of the urban culture of La Timba.

Luzbely Escobar, Havana, 29May 2014 | 14ymedio

Alfredo Guevara In His Own Words / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

A recent interview published in the magazine Letras Libres, reveals Alfredo Guevara’s mood months before his death. The meeting, that came to be thanks to filmmaker Arturo Sotto, brings us closer to a man conscious of being on the last stretch of his life. His words try to find, or give sense to his existence, to justify some horrors and exalt some achievements.

Caustic but careful, Guevara ventures in topics of the past such as the divisions within the 26 of July Movement and its clashes with the forces of the Popular Socialist Party . Between one anecdote and the next, he reveals—perhaps without intention—details of a power taking shape among betrayals and rivalries. The scene of Celia Sánchez who lived with Fidel Castro in a house in El Vedado and would ask Guevara to expel the old communists from the Cuban Institute of Cinematographic Art and Industry (ICAIC) “by kicking them in the ass,” slips through his words, he lets it go just like any other story. continue reading

Reading the interview took me back immediately to a Sunday morning in the year 2013 in which I received a phone call. They were telling me about a police search in the home of the recently deceased Alfredo Guevara. Before dawn, several police cars and a minibus from the Technical Department of Investigation (DTI) had arrived responding to an alleged complaint about the traffic of art works. In the house there were only the housekeeping lady and an elderly man remotely related to Guevara.

A few minutes after receiving the news, we went over to verify what was happening. A few burly men, some in uniform, and a lady who could barely form any words because of fear, made up the scene we were able to glimpse when they open the mansion’s door a few centimeters. Using the old trick that we were looking for a “handyman,” we rang the bell, and were able to see that something very serious was going on inside. The news spread rapidly and the official voices were quick to explain the case as one of theft of the national cultural heritage. Nevertheless, some of us were not totally convinced by the story.

Through the testimony of those who witnessed the police raid, we learned that the officers placed particular emphasis in the search for documents. They took great pains to disassemble ceilings, to dig under mattresses, to explore drawers and file cabinets full of papers. Were they looking for some document or writing treasured by Alfredo Guevara? I have asked myself this question thousands of times since that day. The interview in the Mexican magazine Letras Libres confirms some of my suspicions.

We are before a man yearning for lasting relevance, and with valuable information in his hands; an elderly man who is able of realizing the re-writing that has been done to history to make it seem more heroic, more sublime. When he refers to Fidel Castro’s memoirs, Guerrillero del Tiempo, he states: “I think that he has his version and I have mine, but I don’t want to create any contradiction. I want to be very careful, I am afraid…” A man like that probably shields evidences of how things really happened. Some of them he lets slip in the excellent interview in Letras Libres.

However, the largest evidence that Alfredo Guevara leaves us is neither a photograph, nor a piece of paper signed by hand by someone, much less an official document extracted from some obscure archive. His main testimony is the deception perceived in his words, the bitter touch in his stocktaking, the final clarity of not knowing with certainty if history will absolve him or condemn him.

Miguel’s Drone / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

Nobody knows how he got it into the country, with so many customs restrictions and government paranoia, but Miguel has a drone. Tiny, like a kid’s toy, and with a camera. In his spare time, this forty-something Havanan dedicates himself to using his new amusement to explore the nearby patios and rooftops of his neighbors. It’s so tiny that it’s barely noticeable when flying over the neighborhood, while it transmits images and videos to a screen in the home of its proud owner.

Right now it’s a prank, but if one day Miguel is discovered with his diversion, at best he could show up on official TV as a “CIA agent.” Who knows. An uncle of his was arrested on the street in the seventies for carrying a tape recorder that belonged to the government newspaper where he worked. He spent long hours at a police station, until the director of the publication himself had to intercede for him. Time has flown and now the “fearful” objects are other things, but the reprisals are usually the same.

In any event, beyond the presumed punishment, Miguel has now learned some valuable things. He has seen the pool hidden behind his neighbor the Colonel’s high fence, the satellite antenna a former minister has on the roof of his house, and even the bowl overflowing with meat for the rottweiler belonging to the painter who lives on the corner. He has also observed, with the device’s night vision, the man who, in the early hours of the morning, dives into the dumpster and emerges with his “treasures” under his arm, and the watchman who spends time opening the warehouse containers to steal from them, without leaving any traces on the security seals. Early one morning he even captured the president of his local Committee for the Defense of the Revolution (CDR) trafficking in the alcohol from a nearby hospital.

Through the eyes of his drone, Miguel has been looking at Cuba from the air, and what he is seeing is a country divided into pieces that don’t fit.

Yoani Sánchez, Havana | 30 May 2014

“Mommy, I want a new uniform” / 14ymedio

School uniforms. Photo: Luz Escobar
School uniforms. Photo: Luz Escobar

The sale of school uniforms started in Pinar del Rio this morning, a moment eagerly awaited by parents and students at different levels of education where the satisfaction of having a new outfit mixes with the frustrations of long lines and the problems with sizes.

A few days ago the Ministry of Education and the Ministry Domestic Trade reported that the pennant will be raised for the sale of uniforms on Wednesday. Unlike other years, this time the sales haven’t started in the capital. The provinces of Ciego de Ávila, Villa Clara, Guantánamo and Pinar del Río are leading off and the other regions of the country will be added throughout the month of June. continue reading

The news wouldn’t be significant if it weren’t that in recent decades the purchase of school uniforms has been an agonizing process for Cuban families. The national newspapers are obliged to publish a schedule of the sales and the rules governing them: a voucher with the student’s name, their town, province, school, gender and grade, authorizes the purchase of a school uniform.

Even the central store, La Capitana on Maximo Gomez Street, has come to 14ymedio to learn people’s opinions. Some two hundred mothers and grandmothers, as confirmed by this newspaper, are outside and inside the store. The line started forming yesterday afternoon.

The uniform for elementary school costs 9 Cuban pesos (CUP), and can be bought by students in the first, second, third, fourth and sixth grades, or those starting this level; while the junior high uniform costs 22.50 CUP for boys and 15.50 for girls. This year they’ve extended the possibility to grades that previously didn’t receive the so-called “uniform voucher.”

A similar policy was followed for junior high, high school and other educational levels.

Migdalia Herrera, with an eight-year-old son in elementary school, says she’s been there since last night. “I don’t want what happened in other years, when the medium sizes didn’t come, and I had to alter the shirt and the shorts,” she said. The main complaint of those who have already purchased uniforms is centered on the availability of “too few sizes for small or thin children.”

Another seller, The Sensation on Martí Street, also in Pinar del Rio, came to 14ymedio to ask about the “problem with sizes.” Assuncion Valdez has twin granddaughters who are starting in kindergarten. “Fortunately, I’m a good seamstress, because these skirts need to be taken in a lot at the sides,” she says while showing the uniforms she’d already bought.

The parallel path

Outside the stores where they’re selling the uniforms are resellers. A blouse for junior high students costs around 50 CUP in this informal market, almost ten times the price in the subsidized market. Many parents are forced to buy illegally because the school uniforms wear out or their teenage children grow too fast.

Not only reselling helps alleviate the shortage of uniforms; a new phenomenon is expanding: importing these garments made abroad. Given the high demand on the island, some stores located in Miami, Florida offer almost identical – and better quality – copies of Cuban school uniforms. “My daughter said to me, ‘Mommy, I want a new uniform,’ and I have to ask my sister who lives in the North,” says Lilian Herrera, with a daughter in the third grade.

Similar scenes and comments are being repeated today in Ciego de Ávila, Villa Clara and Guantánamo.

“We can act creatively with respect to Cuba.” Interview with U.S. Vice President Joe Biden / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden and Yoani Sanchez
U.S. Vice President Joe Biden during the interview with Yoani Sanchez

Yoani Sánchez, Washington | May 27, 2014

The debate about relations between Cuba and the United States has heated up following the publication of a letter signed by 40 American personalities asking President Barack Obama for flexibility toward the Island. The proposal has unleashed passions and speculation, also fueled by the imminent arrival in Havana of representatives from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Cuban society, however, seems to remain out of the headlines, the hot articles, the replies — or support — like the so-called “letter of the 40” already circulating on the networks and in emails. Thinking about this uninformed population submerged in the big problems of everyday life, I did this interview with U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, who received me in Washington a few weeks before the launch of 14ymedio.

Question. The Cuban government has recently passed a new foreign direct investment law that has been met with both critics as well as a certain level of expectation. Will the promotion of this law change anything in U.S. Policy with respect to Cuba, specifically in regard to the ability of U.S. Citizens to invest in the Island?

Answer. U.S. Policy with respect to Cuba is guided by the commitment to support the desire of the Cuban people to freely determine their own future, supporting U.S. interests and promoting universal values. continue reading

Since President [Barack] Obama took office, we have shown that we are willing to promote pragmatic changes in our Cuba policies based on our interests and those of the Cuban people. Our policies with regards to travel, remittances and personal contacts are reducing the gap between divided Cuban families and promoting the free flow of information and humanitarian assistance to the Cuban people. These measures help to put resources in the hands of the Cuban people and help promote, in the words of the President, “spaces of freedom” in Cuba.

We note the Cuban government has made changes in its investment laws, and we expect that these efforts to attract foreign investment in Cuba to be accompanied by an expansion of the rights and freedoms so the Cuban people can develop their full potential.

    “We will continue looking for practical ways to support greater connectivity in Cuba”

Q. Although Cubans are able of circumventing censorship and the high price of Internet access, we still don’t have access to a number of websites and services because of current U.S. law. This includes access to online stores for Android or iOS apps and selected Google services. Is there any possibility of reducing these restrictions in the near future?

A. We will continue looking for practical ways to support greater connectivity and to help remove the obstacles that stand in the way of open communication and freedom of expression. In 2010, the United States eased restrictions and allowed for greater access in Cuba to free services that help connect to the Internet, such as instant messaging, chat and email. Earlier, in 2009, we changed our policies so that U.S. citizens could donate cell phones and other electronics to the people of Cuba. We also encourage U.S. companies to provide services and fiber optic and satellite communication services to Cuba, as we began talks with the Cuban government to establish direct mail service between the United States and Cuba. We want Cuban citizens to be more easily able to communicate with each other and with the outside world.

In 2009, in an interview with President Obama, I asked about a possible U.S. invasion of Cuba . His answer was a categorical “no.” However, Cuban leaders don’t stop talking about an imminent U.S. plan to overthrow the government in Havana. Beyond the official U.S. position, I would like to hear a simple answer to give to my son. What do I say when he asks me? Should we be concerned ?

A. I can give you the simplest of answers, and the answer is no. As President Obama said.

We support the development of a prosperous, secure and democratic Cuba and continue to support the brave Cubans who seek to exercise their freedoms. Our position is firm: only Cubans can or should determine the future of Cuba. These accusations are a relic of a distant past. They are being used to strike fear into the hearts of decent Cuban to divert their attention from the problems closer to home. The Cuban people deserve more honesty from their government.

    “To promote a change so that Cubans can enjoy a normal life”

Q. In recent months, your government has repeatedly used the term “creative” to describe the direction of U.S. Policy with respect to Cuba. I’m intrigued by this word: could you be more explicit?

A. President Obama has stated that he was not yet born when the United States declared a trade embargo against Cuba. Our goal is to promote positive change on the Island for Cubans to enjoy normal, productive lives in their own country, to have the freedom to express their views and the benefits of an inclusive and democratic political system. We have seen positive movement in some areas, such as increasing the ability of Cubans to travel abroad, but we remain deeply concerned about the continued detention and mistreatment of Cubans for exercising freedoms that are protected in other parts of the Americas.

The question is how we can act creatively to promote positive trends and show our support to the Cuban people while pressing to improve the conditions of human rights. Our opinion is that the President’s measures to facilitate family travel, personal contacts, communications, remittances and humanitarian donations have had a positive impact and contributed to the welfare of Cubans. Similarly, our work with the Cuban government on matters of mutual interest has benefited the citizens of both countries. We established these policy changes while defending our values and promoting democratic reforms in Cuba.

Finally, I want to emphasize that the detention of Alan Gross in Cuba is an important obstacle to improved relations between the U.S. and Cuba. We can be as creative as we want with our policy, but Alan’s case continues to be at the top of the list of issues to be resolved. He should be released on humanitarian grounds.