The Cuban opposition calls for “strengthening unity in diversity” / 14ymedio

Civil Society Open Space, meeting in Cuba (14ymedio)
Civil Society Open Space, meeting in Cuba (14ymedio)

14ymedio, Havana, 23 December 2014 – Cuban Civil Society Open Forum, a new organization in Cuba which has come to be a forum of debate for the opposition, met this Monday in Havana to review its own development as well as its common position, faced with the new scenario that has opened with the reestablishment of relations with the United States.

The group, in the form of a final statement, made a call “to strengthen the unity in diversity achieved so far, whatever our opinions may be on this issue, and to maintain equanimity and respect.”

The meeting, with the participation of thirty activists of different points of view, focuses on developing an ethical approach to running the activities of Cuban Civil Society Open Forum. This framework, developed starting from the proposals collected in a previous draft, will be set out in a documents whose final version will be voted on at the next meeting, scheduled for the end of February 2015, according to a statement released by the group. continue reading

Another of the important points of the meeting was the future creation of a mediation group, which will work to solve conflicts internal to civil society.

With regards to the announcement of the reestablishment of relations between Cuba and the United States coming out of secret negotiations, Cuban Civil Society Open Forum expressed its pleasure in “the dozens of compatriots who will be released from prison and also the release of Alan Gross.” In addition, they noted that the agreement between Raul Castro and Obama puts an end “to the pretext and official narrative of a besieged people,” which will allow, according to the participants, focus “on democratic change in Cuba.”

Guillermo Fariñas criticized, in his speech, the “secrecy of the negotiations, which were held behind the backs not only of civil society but also the ruling party, parliament and the bulk of the institutions.” For his part, José Daniel Ferrer said that, “most important is the faith and hope that from now on we must convey to the people.” The activist also stressed the “importance of building new scenarios for democracy.”

Manuel Cuesta Morua agreed that the restoration of relations with the US represents “the end of the ‘epic’ stage and the beginning of the political stage for civil society.” Elizardo Sanchez confirmed that even the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation “does not know the list of prisoners to be released, which represents about half of those imprisoned for political reasons in Cuba.”

Cuban Civil Society Open Forum meets to discuss issues of Cuban society. Last February, the group signed, for the first time, four points of consensus that summarize the demands of Cuban civil society; these were reviewed at the meeting on Monday and ratified unanimously in what was one of the first steps of opposition unity on the island.

Sunday Respite for the Ladies in White / 14ymedio

Ladies in White opposite the church of Santa Rita in Havana. (Agustin Lopez Canino)
Ladies in White opposite the church of Santa Rita in Havana. (Agustin Lopez Canino)

14ymedio, 22 December 2014 – The Ladies in White marched for the freedom of political prisoners as they left mass this Sunday, an activity held every week and one which had special significance on this occasion because it was the first time since the announcement of reestablishment of relations with the United States. In Havana and Pinar del Río, where there are usually arrests and acts of repudiation against these peaceful activists, there were no repressive activities.

In Santiago de Cuba, however, the Citizens for Democracy suffered the usual repression, according to the Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation. Of the 36 women who were preparing to go to mass, only half managed to arrive there, while the remaining 18 were detained and abandoned in sites far from their homes.* The organization came into being after a rift with the Ladies in White over differences.

No other province had reported, as of last night, more cases of arrests or ill-treatment. The meeting this Sunday put to the test, for many, the political will of the Cuban government to behave in way coherent with the negotiations held with the United States government. The relative calm of the day has been interpreted by many opponents, however, as a maneuver by the regime to deceive public opinion and the international press. continue reading

At the end of the mass at Santa Rita Church in Havana, some 60 women marched through the pedestrian crossing on Fifth Avenue and then gathered in a park where some activists expressed their disagreement with the resumption of diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba, which some classified as a betrayal of the Cuban people.

Among the speakers who expressed that view were Ángel Moya, former prisoner of the Cause of the 75 of the 2003 Black Spring, and Antonio González Rodríguez, who both rejected the results of the talks because they only lead to sustaining and recycling in power the current leaders and their family members.

*Translator’s note: It is a common practice of State Security Agents to detain dissidents and, rather than processing them at a police station, to simply drive them far out into the countryside and put them out of the vehicle, with no way to get home.

Cuba and the United States: Regret the past or build the future? / 14ymedio, Jorge Calaforra

”With Fidel and Raul Until the End” (14ymedio)
”With Fidel and Raul Until the End” (14ymedio)

14ymedio, Jorge Calaforra, Warsaw, 20 December 2014 – On 17 December 2014 at 12:01 Washington DC time, the President of the United States, Barack Obama, announced the United States’ new policy toward Cuba. It should be recalled that the president of the United States of America makes his decisions taking into account all the interests of that country, not just in the short term but also in the medium- and long-term.

Fidel Castro, with the objective of remaining in power as long as his health allowed, began the absolute destruction in 1959 of all existing institutions in Cuba, all individual freedoms, and at the same time generated a conflict with the United States and brought about the rupture of diplomatic relations and the introduction of the embargo. Previous attempts by the United States to reinitiate diplomatic relations were boycotted and Cuban policies eventually led to the bankruptcy of Cuba and Venezuela.
continue reading

The embargo, initially designed to bring about the collapse of the dictatorship, ended up being just as a medium of exchange during American elections. The lack of information, tools and the impossibility of achieving one’s dreams, led almost all the human capital Cuba possesses to leave the country or to be ready to leave it at the first opportunity that presents itself.

Therefore it is unlikely that a shift toward democracy in Cuba would have occurred with the previous strategy, without a radical change in the strategy of the United States towards Cuba.

The release of Alan Gross, kidnapped after a failed attempt to exchange the five spies for the 75 prisoners of the Black Spring, the release of a Cuban spy very important to the intelligent services of the United States, the release of 53 political prisoners in Cuba, as well as the release of the three spies remaining imprisoned in the United States, were fundamental and nonnegotiable issues for both governments.

For the creators of this strategy there was no better time than today to begin implementing it. The resumption of relations tries to avoid a possible collapse of the country, an uncontrolled situation of domestic violence within Cuba, and a sudden and massive emigration to the United States. President Raul Castro knows that improving the economy is not working and will not work and that the entry of American capital will increase the legitimacy of his heirs, as well as offering the Cuban people what the majority of them really want at this time; more food at a better price and the ability to be closer to their families, between the island and exile.

The resistance of the Cuban people to the update of the socialist economic system, which has not brought them benefits, is demonstrated by an emigration that is accelerating from year-to-year. Raul Castro prefers to sharpen the demographic problems and provide incentives for people to use their talents to improve their lives through independent work. Obama’s plan will try to reverse this flow, that is already exhausting the Florida’s capacity for the absorption of new labor and social support.

The Cuban effort to destroy the Venezuelan economy, by recommending to them that they take the same measures that Cuba took in the 1960s, is finally bearing fruit, and the fall of oil prices, from $107.89 a barrel on average in June 2014 to $55.91 this Wednesday, has led both parties who made the decision this week not to postpone it any longer.

The American decision to reestablish diplomatic relations with Havana and to begin the process that will lead to the end of the embargo in force since 1960 has little to do with Cubans.

It is a geopolitical strategy to try to position themselves as the culturally dominant matrix that absorbs a culturally different circle, the Latin American. To do this, the United States uses its best asset: force and its admirable economic wealth. Force and wealth that it has produced and maintained since it was formed as a nation, because they were able to come together as confederated states and live together with their differences. And to always point to great common objective: prosperity to guarantee opportunities for all Americans.

We Latin Americans, however, despite belonging to the same cultural circle, have not been able to stay united. Since the wars of independence and the division of the continent into twenty republics, we have spent almost two centuries in permanent conflict and cyclical poverty. If we were to identify ourselves as belonging to the same cultural circle, we could develop a strong Latin American industry, the only possible source of a true democracy.

A scenario with members of the current Cuban opposition in power is not an option desired by either of the two governments, and the strategy desired by the Republicans in the United States, to strengthen the embargo and unconditionally support the opposition in overthrowing the Cuban government, can be discarded after its disastrous application in Iraq.

The Cuban government can greatly help to implement the new American strategy in Latin America, and Cuba can benefit hugely if the decisions taken by its Council of State benefit not just its members’ own families, friends and children of friends, but if they begin to make decisions to the benefit of the 13.6 million Cubans. More than two million Cubans live in the United States, which according to the 2010 census had more than 250,000 firms doing more than 51 billion dollars in business, and the talent, creativity and skills of the Cuban labor force will be another cornerstone in this strategy, with an enormous benefit for Cuba and Cubans.

From the point of view of the United States, the forces left to Raul Castro in his remaining two years in power* is an advantage to ensure stability in the country and to take advantage of his influence in the region to build the foundations of a new structure in its relations with Latin America.

The lack of details, and the traditional style of Raul Castro’s speech, broadcast simultaneously with Obama’s on 17 December at noon, should not cause much concern. Fidel Castro has ended his active political life and President Raul Castro’s is coming to an end. On the morning of 9 November 1989, the leaders of the Communist Party of the German Democratic Republic confirmed the support of the German people for the construction of socialism; while that same night the same people joyously celebrated the fall of the Berlin Wall.

From the point of view of the art of negotiation, this decision is fine as it allows Raul Castro to construct an exit strategy, and so avoid the failure that would lead to an extremely dangerous situation for the whole region: a rise in populism financed by Russia or China. This would aggravate Latin America’s problems such as drugs and corruption, bringing as a consequence greater instability in the region and an increase in migration to the United States. In other words, more costs and fewer businesses.

We Cubans must once again build a prosperous and democratic country. But for it to be democratic, we must first and fundamentally modernize its economy, There are no human rights without prosperity. And we must not relegate this responsibility to the government of another country.

Both Raúl Castro and Barack Obama have opened new opportunities, and we will have as much democracy in Cuba as we as a civil society are able to build.

We have had one of the most inhuman governments of all time. The groups close to the current halls of power are not going to disappear, nor will they want to renounce their benefits and Mafia methods, nor their secret tribunals.

But not everyone now participating in the system belongs to these groups. Cuba will be prosperous if we are capable of building institutions for the benefit of all, if we include those with constructive attitudes, creating a state of law, forcing the government to respect human rights, and if we destroy the mafias and the corruption and prevent decisions from being taken without transparency. From within Cuba, and from civil society, organized and with clear objectives.

If we as Cubans know how to take advantage of American money and know-how, we can not only rebuild our country but support a better future for all of Latin America.

If the phrases uttered in speeches (in that of Raul regarding respect for the United Nations, and in that of Obama with regards to human rights) are a reflection of some agreement in the negotiations, then the preconditions exist to improve the conditions of individual freedoms on the island. But we will have rights only to the extent that we are effective in fighting for them, and if we are capable of defending them.

We can devote the entire 24 hours in a day to regretting the past, or to building our future. It we lose ten pesos, somehow it comes back to us. Ten minutes that is lost, is lost irretrievably.

Jorge Calaforra

*Translator’s note: Raul Castro has stated that he will step down from the presidency in 2018.

“No, we have no illusions that it will be easy” / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

Tom Malinowski (Photo Flickr)
Tom Malinowski (Photo Flickr)

14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana 20 December 2014 — Since December 17, Cuba has not been the same. Discussions, questions and expectations have multiplied among us since the announcement from Barack Obama and Raul Castro about the reestablishment of relations between the United States and Cuba. We citizens have a lot of questions about the process and its influence on the future of our country.

Tom Malinowski, United States Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor has responded to some of these questions for 14ymedio. Today we present his answers to our readers.

Sanchez: The US has announced several measures to ease its policy towards Cuba. During the negotiations has the Cuban government shown a list of measures it is willing to implement?

Malinowski: It is important to note that the measures announced by President Obama were not things he has asked of Cuban government. They have been steps we would like to take to empower the Cuban people. continue reading

The objective is to strengthen the possibility that the people themselves can change the public policies of the Cuban government through greater access to resources and information, as well as to improve the quality of life for Cuban citizens who have lived with unnecessary social, economic and political restrictions imposed by the government.

The Cuban government has indicated that it will release 53 political prisoners, an important first step for us, and it will also allow its people greater access to the internet. We have no illusions that it will be easy, but we feel that now we have an opportunity and we will be pushing hard.

Q: Do you think President Obama or Secretary of State John Kerry will visit Cuba in the coming months? Would it not be against the embargo?

R: President Obama has said that from now on senior US government officials will visit Cuba. Roberta Jacobson, Assistant Secretary of State for the Americas, will be responsible for the delegation that will travel to Havana in January 2015 for the round of negotiations about migration between the United States and Cuba. Secretary of State John Kerry has also said that he hopes to be the first Secretary of State in 60 years to visit Cuba.

With regards to the embargo, US law prohibits certain transactions with agencies of the Cuban government. President Obama announced several modifications to the rules to facilitate the flow of resources and information to the Cuban people. In any case, visits of high officials will be part of the new diplomatic relationship between our countries.

Q: Has legalization and an opening for a free and independent press in Cuba been among the topics discussed by the two governments?

A: Yes. A key focus of our policy will be to support civil society so that every Cuban can have the right to freedom of expression, association, assembly and the press. We will insist on these reforms in our meetings with the Cuban government working together with other countries in Latin American and Europe.

We will continue to implement programs financed by the United States Congress to support fundamental freedoms, including freedom of the press and the free flow of information. The changes announced by President Obama eliminate one of the pretexts used by the Cuban government to persecute citizens who work to guarantee that the people have more freedoms. Now the focus of attention will not be on US policy toward Cuba, but on the policies of the Cuban government itself.

Q: Is there a schedule with already defined timelines to put into effect the measures announced on 17 December? And if so, when will it be made public?

A: President Obama wants to streamline the process so that the vision he presented in his speech is implemented as soon as possible The Secretary of State and all the members of president’s cabinet understand the urgency that exists to take advantage of the opportunities presented by the new measures. The changes in our regulations to increase travel and trade will happen very quickly; the normalization of relations will depend on the Cuban government and also that of the United States. This issue will be discussed by the Undersecretary of State Roberta Jacobson in January.

American Agency Will Operate Direct Flights Between New York and Havana

JF Kennedy Airport in New York. (Facebook page: Cuba Travel Services)
JF Kennedy Airport in New York. (Facebook page: Cuba Travel Services)

Translating Cuba note: This translation got “lost” (due to the site manager’s Thanksgiving travel apparently), and is being belatedly posted now. Our apologies.

14YMEDIO, Havana, 21 November 2014 – The American agency Cuba Travel Services announced last Thursday that it will operate a direct flight between New York’s J.F. Kennedy Airport and Havana. It is envisioned that the trips will occur daily in the afternoon, although company workers have not been able to confirm either the departure days or the frequency of the flights.

Cuba Travel Services has not provided information about the date the service will begin, but it has announced that the price for a round trip ticket on the inaugural flight will start at 849 dollars.

The company organizes travel to popular destinations like Cienfuegos, Camaguey, Santa Clara, Holguin and Santiago de Cuba, with flights operated by Sun Country Airlines. continue reading

The Turbo News site explained this afternoon that “in the spirit of the recent New York Times editorial published October 11, 2014, entitled ‘Time to End the Cuban Embargo,’ the agency Cuba Travel Services chose to provide an important cultural and social link between the two cities.”

The agency maintains that the expansion of its offering will permit travelers who leave from New York to save as compared with the current options on the market, avoiding the delays of connections and the cost of additional fares for stops in Miami, Fort Lauderdale or Tampa.

The company, which organizes daily flights between the US and Cuba, asked for permission to operate flights also from Newark Liberty International Airport, but that request was rejected.

The US government suspended direct air links with the Island at the beginning of the 1970’s and resumed them in 1999 with a flight between New York and Havana. After a slight opening by President Bill Clinton, Barack Obama also opted to soften restrictions on travel by Cuban Americans visiting the Island; now they can travel every year instead of every three and stay as long as they like.

In 2012 the Cuban government suspended landing rights on the Island for two airlines from Miami, Airline Brokers and C&T Charters, explaining the reason for the decision “as over capacity of seats and other operational themes,” although the travel agency operators revealed suspected payment defaults with Cuban authorities. Airline Brokers operated weekly flights to Havana and Cienfuegos from Miami and Fort Lauderdale, while C&T Charters traveled to Havana and Camaguey from Miami, New York and Chicago.

Translated by MLK

The beginning of the end of the Castro regime / 14ymedio, Jose Gabriel Barrenechea

Anti-imperialist black flags in front of the United States Interest Sections in Havana
Anti-imperialist black flags in front of the United States Interest Sections in Havana

14ymedio, JOSÉ GABRIEL BARRENECHEA, Havana, 20 December 2014 – We Cubans continue to be as impressionable as ever. Thus, on the island, the masses seem to see the release of the three spies who were still in US prisons, and nothing else. Many opponents and exiles, for their part, only seem to see this bias among the great majority within Cuba. As a consequence, they immediately assume that Obama’s decision will only serve to strengthen the Castro regime.

What will remain three months from this melodrama that Cuban media officials have emphasized as focused on the three spies? Nothing, because among other things it has unfortunately revealed that los muchachones – the “big boys” – who some thought could become a part of the elite to replace the historic leaders, have no expressiveness, no people skills. They lack charisma to the point that the colorless Miguel Diaz-Canel – First Vice President of the Council of State – gives the impression of being a total politician along with the rest of them. continue reading

On the other hand, we must not overestimate the reaction of the masses. There was no more than an apathetic joy after the General President’s speech. Not even a spontaneous conga line, nor demonstrations like those of prior years when American monopolies were nationalized.

Only a few isolated acts whose protagonists have never made into to the core of public officials, members of the Party or the Communist Youth, or the usual snitches who we know flood the spaces where people tend to congregate.

Personally, at that moment I was in Santa Clara’s Vidal Park. I noted the disinterest, and the only concern on the faces of some young people appeared when they heard me predict that the Cuban Adjustment Act wasn’t long for this world.

Within three months, if in fact diplomatic relations are reestablished with the United States, there will be a functioning embassy, and most of all, every presidential measure from Obama to facilitate the flow of people, finances, goods and information. The Castro regime is one of confrontation, of segregated sterility. They only have three options: change the world, isolate themselves from it, or inexorably disappear. Their end will be:

1 – The hundreds of thousands of American tourists who can’t handle the hotels operated by the warlords and who, unlike the Canadians or Europeans, don’t mince words and don’t accept any restrictions on their basic freedoms to go where they want and meet with anyone they want.

2 – The money will rain down, and not to the dissidents but to the most effective sector of democratization: the thousands of small and minuscule businesses that will spring up left and right and that, ultimately, can’t help but clash with the “Raul stuff.”

3 – The unstoppable jet of information that will stream toward the opposition to an element much less suspicious of other spurious interests, and at the same time more educated and flexible, ideal for the times to come when, what we need will not heroes of the resistance but politicians.

4 – The almost certain abandonment of the Cuban Adjustment Act, which will deprive the regime of a convenient escape valve to lower the internal pressure at the difficult moment of the transfer of power from Raul to the colorless man he chose to replace him.

5 – The moral strengthening of the Church for having played a key role in this process, in the person of Pope Francis, who hopefully will not delay in visiting Cuba. An institution that has been upright against the dictatorship, even though some who never have been don’t find it convenient to admit it.

Although almost nobody wants to, or can, see it, in the midst of the current turmoil, the long night of the Castro regime is coming to an end. That is why Fidel Castro, to whom the details do not lie and indeed, he sees the essential, has remained, or they have made him remain, silent.

As in April of 1898, or in March of 1958*, the Americans have returned to do their part. Something that, unfortunately, they have almost never done, engaged in village style and prepotent foreign policies.

Perhaps thanks to this gesture, our two peoples, separated by barely 90 miles, are finally beginning to behave no longer like adolescent brothers, full of jealousy and small family resentments. And I speak now of a time beyond the Castro regime in retreat, when Cuba can join as one in the battles that loom over our –western – civilization.

*Translator’s note: In March 1958 the United States stopped shipping arms to Batista’s government, after Batista refused to end his suspension of constitutional guarantees and censorship of the press.

“Things are not going to change overnight” / 14ymedio, Victor Ariel Gonzalez

University of Havana (14ymedio)
University of Havana (14ymedio)

14ymedio, Victor Ariel Gonzalez, Havana, 20 December 2014 — “Now when they lift the blockade …” a student says jokingly to his friends sitting in Mella Park at the University of Havana. His sentence ends mentioning some a problem that has been solved, supposedly, by the foreseeable end to the US embargo on Cuba. The group laughs and continues talking about the next party of the Law School or the salary a computer engineer earns at a company like Google.

Sitting on a bench to the side and eavesdropping on the conversation doesn’t feel quite right, but it is, perhaps, the only way to capture accurately what the University feels about the latest news. Actually, few agreed to answer questions for this report, and one group of young people apologized with, “They’ve already been asking us a lot of questions today, the foreign press has been around all day.” On presenting myself as a reporter, one of them got up to leave. So it’s impossible to get a face or a statement, even though two or three loners are disposed – always in confidence and hurriedly – to offer their particular vision. continue reading

Alberto, sitting on the side of the grand staircase waiting for his classes to begin, is one. “We have to see if everything is not just words, but I’d give it a greater than 50 percent chance that things are going to go well.” He is still wary, however, both of the changes to come and of my identify, so he doesn’t even want to say what department he’s in.

A recently graduated professor is less concise. “Everyone’s talking now about the approaches [between the governments].” And this seems to be true, because near us three or four students are talking about it. She confesses, “I believe that the reestablishment of relations is more important than the return of the prisoners. At the end of the day, it’s what was expected. And of course it has much more influence on what will happen from now on.” She is also more positive than pessimistic about the future.

Beyond University Hill, toward one end of the city, is the José Antonio Echeverría Polytechnic Institute (CUJAE), the university for engineers. Its students were less timid about offering their opinions for this report, and in general were much more excited about the important statements of Wednesday.

The first response of three of them, Telecommunications Engineering students, about what to expect from the Cuba-US rapprochement, touched on the improvement in connectivity. “Imagine, in our career,” they commented. “We hope that very soon we have more opportunities to access the Internet and that there will be more advances in this. Even the professors have talked about everything it [the announcement] could mean. It’s going to be good.”

In the faculty of Civil Engineering, a young professor at the Hydraulic Research Center (CIH) says he also has faith. “When I got the news via SMS, before the announcement midday on Wednesday, I did not want to believe it. And Obama’s speech… it didn’t match the summaries on Telesur and I heard it again that night. I thought the translation was bad, but it’s true. It’s wonderful.”

Referring to the perspectives of his specialty in this new environment, he notes that, “The rapprochement could facilitate our use of the CIH equipment, which is in a pretty bad state. Right now, for example, we can’t test with the wave simulator.” However, the interviewee said that “things are not going to change overnight.”

A little more than two days ago the nation suffered a political shakeup, and Friday was the last day of classes for the year for many university students, who start their Christmas vacations next week. The year 2015 is a great unknown for some; but unlike other times the answer, whatever it is, seems to be really close. In a few words: the university students don’t know what to expect, but they are filled with expectations.

“This is going to get good” / 14ymedio, Rosa Lopez

University of Havana (Romtomtom / Flickr)
University of Havana (Romtomtom / Flickr)

14ymedio, Rosa Lopez, Havana, 19 December 2014 – The semester is ending at the University of Havana, a time when everything shuts down until the middle of January. But this year is different. Expectation runs through the corridors and the central plaza on University Hill, and the high attendance, on days close to Christmas, is surprising. Many have come to school these days just to talk with their colleagues about the great news: the announcement of the reestablishment of relations between Cuba and the United States.

In the humanities departments the debate is greater. “A couple of weeks ago we held a conference about the dangers of American interference… and now this,” says a young sophomore studying sociology, who adds, “I never thought this moment would come so soon.” He has just turned twenty and, when he says “soon,” he is speaking in relation to his own life. For others, the dispute between the two countries has lasted for an eternity. continue reading

In one of the rooms where some are using their “machine time” to check their email, a young woman complains to a friend. “My inbox is full from people asking me how things are over here.” She is quiet for a moment, realizing I’m listening, but then she continues. “How will things be? The same as always,” she concludes resolutely.

Below the Mathematics Department, in the so-called “park of the pig-headed,” the controversy sinks its roots deeper, given the privacy of the place. But it’s enough to ask a group of young people sitting on a bench if they’ve seen any American students around, for them to bring out the jokes and their thoughts. “No, I haven’t seen any today, but the way things are going we might see a lot of them pretty soon,” spits a girl wearing an iPod and Converse sneakers.

The others continue with jokes. They mock Martí’s verses about his life in the United States, “I lived in the monster and I know its entrails.” In a chorus they convert the phrase to, “I lived in the monster, how I miss it!” [a play on words in Spanish]. “If you see some yumas [a term for Americans that is softer than “gringos”] around here, let me know right away, I’ll be in the Great Hall,” they promise, cackling.

The university remains one of the schools with the greatest ideological control. From the departments located on Colina Hill, the students often leave to participate in acts of repudiation against the Ladies in White headquarters, a short distance from there. Tania, who came to find out if there would soon be some open doors so that she can familiarize herself with the site, believes that it will be her turn to climb the steps “in a new era.”

When asked how she knows this, she exclaims, surprised, “But didn’t you hear Raúl? The thing with the Americans is over. It’s over!” It’s surprising that everyone here seems to be so well aware of it. Especially if you take into account that people this age are the greatest consumers of the audiovisual materials of the so-called “packet.” They watch little television and even make fun of those who still stay home to watch “the Saturday movies” on the national programming. However, everyone says they saw Raúl Castro’s speech.

The classrooms are nearly empty. Exams are over and just a few remain preparing for special meetings. On the wall there are still some old announcements for activities of the University Student Federation (FEU), along with a photo of the five spies who have already “returned to the homeland.” The expectations raised by some of the relaxations announced by Obama are high. “I’m very interested in studying on a scholarship in the United States, if all that is easier now then at least I can try for it,” says a girl who enrolled in the Law School just three months ago.

Everyone seems well adapted to the idea of the new policy change. If you look closely, there’s not much to distinguish them from young people at a university in Los Angeles or Florida. They dress fashionably, some have a tablet or laptop where they read or write, and their frame of reference seems much broader than that of their parents’ generation. “What I want to see starting to come here are videogame championships…” says one with a gleam in his eyes. Everyone agrees that among the most important announcements made on 17 December is the one having to do with telecommunications and connectivity on the island.

“Internet, now comes the internet,” says a young woman looking at the scant menu offerings in the university cafeteria. And so she remains in her reverie, filling her head with the kilobytes that “Obama is going to send over” and a bold prediction: “This is going to get good, you’ll see, you’ll see…”

Querido Raul, Dear Obama, Querido Pope Francis / 14ymedio, Tania Bruguera

Images from <a href=

14ymedio, Tania Bruguera, Vatican City, 18 December 2014 – First of all I congratulate you because a historic moment is what is always expected of political men and this moment has been 17 December 2014. You have entered into history by arguing that the embargo/blockade is an apparently empty word, by changing – with the reestablishment of diplomatic relations – the meaning to 53 years of politics defined by one side (U.S.) and used by the other (Cuba), to politicize Cubans’ daily lives, wherever they may be. I wonder if this gesture is also a proposal to kill ideology. Cuba is now defined starting not from death, but finally starting from life, but I wonder, what life and who has the right to these new lives?

Now, querido Raúl:

Today as a Cuban I demand that you let us know what your plans are for our lives, that you establish as a part of this new stage a process of political transparency were we all have a space to participate and the right to have a different opinion without being punished. That when we have to deny many of the things that defined us, this process doesn’t come with the same intolerance and indifference which, up to now, has accompanied the changes in Cuba, where acceptance is the only option. continue reading

Today as a Cuban I demand that there be no privileges or social inequality The Cuban Revolution has distributed privilege as a reward for a sense of trustworthiness, which is synonymous with fidelity to those who are in the Government, or on its side. This has not changed. Privileges have defined the social inequality that we have experience since forever, an inequality that was clothed in Revolutionary meritocracy and that today is transformed into loyal entrepreneurship. I demand that the material and emotional rights of survival of those who may not want to be part of this new stage be defended.

Today as a Cuban I demand that we not be defined by the markets, or the use that the leaders can make of us. I ask for equality for that Cuban who, due to the blockade/embargo gave his life, for example, working in a factory to proudly arrive home with the title of Labor Hero, and who today has no place in the world of foreign investments and can only aspire to a retirement defined in socialist times and not in these times of the market economy. What is the plan to not reproduce the mistakes of the other countries of the former socialist camp? To not turn us into the Cuba of 1958? To repair the emotional abuse that the Cuban people have been subjected to under the politics of recent years. To ensure that there will be social and material justice? To ensure that we will not be a colony nor that we will have to unquestionably accept these benefactors as it happened before with the Soviet Union and with Venezuela?

Today as a Cuban I demand to be able to demonstrate peacefully in the street for or against a government decision and to be able to reclaim political and social rights, without fear of reprisals. That associations and political parties with points of view different from the official be recognized. That civic activism, civil society and those who have a different point of view be decriminalized. That political parties born from popular desire be legalized. That direct elections be established where all parties can participate and that ideological differences be resolved with arguments and not with acts of repudiation.

Today as a Cuban I reclaim the right to be political beings, not just economic entities or tokens of symbolic exchanges to make history.

Today as a Cuban I want to know what is the idea behind the nation we are building.

Today as an artist I propose that Raul put the work Tatlin’s Whisper #6 in the Plaza of the Revolution. Let’s open all the microphones and let all voices be heard; that it not be just the clatter of the coins we are offered to fill our lives. That the microphones not be kept off. That we learn to do something with our dreams.

Today I would like to propose to Cubans wherever you are that you take to the streets this coming December 30 to celebrate, not the end of the blockade/embargo, but the principal of your civil rights.

Let us make sure that it is the people who benefit from this new historical moment. The motherland is what we grieve.

Conquering Democracy is our Task/ 14ymedio, Miriam Celaya

Obama during his speech
Obama during his speech

14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 18 December 2014 — As befits the ripples derived from the polarization and the long-held political conflicts, the surprising news about the release of Alan Gross by the Government of Cuba, and of the three confessed Cuban spies by the US government, coupled with the simultaneous announcement of the re-establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries, has unleashed a wave of passion on both sides of the Florida Straits.

Some have catalogued it as a “victory for the dictatorship,” others as “the betrayal of the democratic aspirations of Cuba and of the US global leadership,” and there have been some who consider a “moral crime” what they term the exchange of people unjustly imprisoned in Cuba and three criminals who caused deaths and the mourning of Cuban families.

In all conflicts, each party is partially right, but when we talk about such significant historical events as the radical turnaround in the US-Cuba relations after the 50-year dispute, it is necessary to set aside the passions and calmly analyze the new scenario in order to extract the greatest possible benefits. continue reading

On the other hand, we should not perceive as a loss the release of an arbitrarily imprisoned American citizen, who was also used as a hostage by the Cuban dictatorship, as were an important group of political prisoners. All of them have now succeeded in reuniting with their families and moved on with their lives. If this is Raúl Castro’s supposed “victory,” I would call it a Pyrrhic victory.

The Gordian knot that maintained the stagnation and confrontation has been broken, and and now we might want to exploit this window of opportunity

But, in any case, with the liberation of both Alan Gross and the three vassals of the Castros’ fiefdom, those issues have been exhausted. What is really important is that the Gordian knot that maintained the stagnation and confrontation has been broken, and now we might want to exploit this window of opportunity, rather than continue with lamentations and catharsis that do not lead anywhere at all. It is about the old adage of the half empty or half full glass, so to speak. I choose to see it half full and to do whatever possible to fill it to the very brim.

Let’s say, for instance that, going forward, no one will be able to accuse us of being “mercenaries at the service of an enemy country,” especially when we visit the US Embassy or participate in the debates, cultural or academic activities, video-conferences, or courses about technological uses of information and communication and English language that are taught there. Neither will they be able to continue to justify the David and Goliath theory, nor the reluctance to ratify UN Covenants signed February 2008, among many other resources employed by the regime. It is true that they don’t need excuses to suppress and to hijack citizen’s rights; but today, Barack Obama has put the ball in our court, which has placed the Cuban leadership under political pressure.

Another point to monitor will be how the agreements will be applied, and how the US will ensure that the real beneficiaries of such momentous changes are Cubans and, especially, the emerging civil society. In any case, the US government has confirmed its commitment to the long-neglected democratic aspirations on the Island, and it also assumes a great deal of historical responsibility for the consequences arising from such a decisive step.

It is hard to imagine all the juggling that the Cuban government will have to do in order to reconcile the “anti-imperialist” principles of ALBA and its regional allies with this renewal of relations with the Northern villain. If there is something the left does not forgive it is adultery or ideological bigamy. At any rate, Cuba’s side now has a four-month grace period until the Americas Summit, to be held in Panama, to show the US that Cuba is willing to make advances in terms of human rights. Obama’s message was, as such, almost an ultimatum.

Barack Obama represents a new era, while Raúl Castro is the past

To recap, superficially analyzing the respective speeches of the presidents of the two countries, the contrasts are obvious: one, young, smartly dressed in civilian clothes, talking about what he expects for the future of these policy changes from the seat of his government; the other, an octogenarian, stuffed into a ridiculous military uniform and crushed under the weight of medals and epaulets, reading a sheet of paper in a nasal voice and with funereal airs, from a horrible office where there isn’t even a simple computer. Barack Obama represents a new era, while Raúl Castro is the past, even though we try hard to ignore that reality.

In addition, it is pathetic to assume the success or failure of our struggle against the dictatorship will depend on the policies of a foreign government. The US has shown a unique ability and willingness to support Cubans, but winning democracy is, without a doubt, our own task.

The independent civil society, including the whole spectrum of opponents, activists, journalists, etc., can now choose between two attitudes: clinging to the anachronism of belligerency and the entrenchment which we have criticized the regime so much for, or assuming the challenges offered by the new era. The moment can be interpreted as a defeat or as growing pains. Personally, I prefer to grow.

Translated by Norma Whiting

“We hope the government will announce the names of the prisoners benefiting in the coming hours” / 14ymedio, Elizardo Sanchez, Reinaldo Escobar

Elizardo Sanchez
Elizardo Sanchez

14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 18 December 2014 – The spokesperson for the Commission on Human Rights and National Reconciliation, Elizardo Sánchez, shares with the readers of 14ymedio his reflections on the rapprochement between Havana and Washington announced this Wednesday, after more than five decades of rupture.

Escobar: Does the National Commission for Human Rights and Reconciliation have the names of the 53 prisoners that the Government of the United States expressed an interest in releasing this Wednesday?

Sánchez: We have collected over a hundred documented names of political prisoners, but we have absolutely no idea of who will benefit under this agreement with the list of 53 “plus one.” I can add that in what was, until now, the United States Interest Section, they tell us that they don’t know the details either.

Q. Does “plus one” refer to the person who has been mentioned as a spy for US government?

A. Indeed. It has been said that it is a person “of Cuban origin” and that qualification introduces doubt as to his identity, because it suggests that it is a Cuban-American. We must wait for the Government of Cuba to announce it; we hope they will do so in the coming hours. continue reading

Q. What news do you think is more relevant, the release of the three intelligence officers or the reestablishment of diplomatic relations?

A. What we are seeing as of this Wednesday is a campaign focused on “the great victory obtained by the Cuban government” with the release of these three intelligence officers, but, in my opinion, what is transcendent is the reestablishment of diplomatic relations between Cuba and the United States. That is a truly historic event and from it can come consequences of enormous importance.

Q. What is your impression of the reasons for the silence of Fidel Castro?

A. I do not know what to say. It may be due to health reasons. You cannot forget that he will be 89 in nine months, or perhaps he preferred to keep quiet, or to wait to see the reaction of the people. I don’t know. He knows.

A New Dawn / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

Sunrise in Havana (14ymedio)
Sunrise in Havana (14ymedio)

14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 18 December 2014 – At 7:00 in the morning this December 18th the sun appears on the horizon at 120 degrees to the east. The smoke of the refinery and the capricious clouds help create that kitsch of nature that is the sunrise. Everything seems to be the same on the island, but Cubans can now see an invisible ray of hope opening up.

Today is the first day of a healing process, or it could be, not to be guilty of excessive optimism. Starting now, in an almost unexpected way, the historic difference between Cuba and the United States will modify its character. There will be a tweaking of language and the first word to disappear will be “enemy,” for which “neighbor” may be substituted, not the most endearing of terms but also not one that exudes so much hatred. continue reading

Whether the glass is half empty or half full is a sterile speculation, never engaged in by thirsty people living in a desert. We read and reviewed the speeches, surprised by the surprises and disappointed by what omissions. Today is a new day, not in our calendar, but in History. We are obliged to recognize that, at the very least, we had been making fools of ourselves by holding on to an anachronistic agenda.

From here until April, when the Summit of the Americas takes place in Panama, the entire world will have its eyes set on the government of Cuba. There will be many attentive eyes and many proponents of the expected confrontation, be it a brief detention, an impediment to getting to a meeting, the slightest sign that serves to demonstrate that Raúl Castro doesn’t deserve such a vote of confidence. They know it and will have to choose between loosening the repression or letting the world down.

I am betting that they will let the world down, but I am hoping to lose the bet. All the signs and accumulated experience clearly say that this only a new maneuver to win some time and to allow them to get away with their schemes, but this is also an unprecedented move and things can always turn out differently. The most important thing is that the domino game has been shaken up and it is time to move the pieces.

The opposition hopes that a dialogue will open between the Government and civil society / 14ymedio

Poster on a Cuban street demanding the release of "The Cuban Five"
Poster on a Cuban street about the release of “The Cuban Five”

14ymedio, Santiago de Cuba, 18 December 2014 — The news of the reestablishment of relations between Cuba and the United States has been embraced by opposition organizations in Cuba with optimism and hope that this agreement may facilitate the establishment of a dialogue between the Government and civil society on the island.

The Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU), in a statement issued on Thursday, stated that the Cuban government has lost its “great alibi” to justify repression and the lack of human rights in Cuba. “Any change, and especially the loss of an excuse for repression, can create a space for the people to reclaim their voice, lost for over half a century.” continue reading

The organization welcomes the commercial opening that can result from negotiations with the European Union and the United States, and states as long as it is accompanied by a change with regards to the rights of Cubans, it could be positive “for post-Castro democratization.”

“Although the increase in funds for a totalitarian State will make repression more effective, UNPACU accepts the challenge of confronting it, if, over the long term, the Cuban people benefit from an increase in economic and material well-being,” the organization said.

The statement concludes by noting that repression has continued in recent days on the island and that the Government has continued to detain opponents, and it calls on all democrats to ensure that “current reality is not subjugated to the latest news.”

The Pinar del Rio magazine Convivencia (Coexistence) founded by Dagoberto Valdés, has also issued a statement through which it welcomes the resumption of diplomatic relations between both countries, and hopes that the climate of dialogue is extended to independent civil society “based on respect for unity” and “the exercise of sovereignty”.

The release of the political prisoners gives joy to the magazine’s Editorial Board, which reminds us that the Cuban Government should ratify the United Nations covenants on Human Rights.

Convivencia places special emphasis on the intervention of Pope Francisco as a mediator in the dialogue between the two countries and hopes that the Church continues to intervene between the opposition and the authorities.

In addition, the Editorial Board said that the agreement between Obama and Castro will show that the fundamental conflict “is between the Cuban government and its citizens, not between Cuba and the United States.”

Convivencia hopes that this historic event and the lifting of all blockades, especially the one the Cuban government sustains over the initiative and entrepreneurship of its own citizens, allows the creation of the conditions necessary for the Cuban people to be the protagonists of their own history,” the statement concludes.

Of Rafters and Slave Hunters / 14ymedio, Luzbely Escobar

Special border guard group.  (Luzbely Escobar)
Special border guard group. (Luzbely Escobar)

Gerardo and Agustin were stuck for two days with water up to their knees, among the trunks and roots on the coast. They had chosen a point west of Havana that they nicknamed the terminal for its frequent illegal exits, but the trip was thwarted. “They detected us, I don’t know how, because it was in the middle of the night and you couldn’t even see your hands,” they relate, still somewhere between surprised and upset. The capture of the two seems to be due to a new device, half truck, half scanner, that goes in search of rafters.

Last Friday a rare entourage was exhibited a few meters from the central Havana corner of L and 23. Two military jeeps, an overhauled vehicle and a motorboat were shown to the stupefied students who formed a circle of interest just outside the Cuba Pavilion. The teens fluttered around the objects, and an officer explained the modern work tools for “protecting the Cuban coasts from illegal entry and exit.”

The purpose was to familiarize the students with every detail of the work in the Ministry of the Interior’s Border Guards in order to attract potential soldiers. The device that they described with greatest pride was a truck that once belonged to the Trasval chain messenger service and that they themselves have fitted with GPS and motion and heat sensing cameras. Its mission? Finding amid the underbrush, darkness and waves those who have decided to escape from the Cuban paradise. continue reading

The curriculum of each of the members includes not only detailed knowledge about the functioning of the new technology but also proficiency in techniques of self-defense and neutralization of the “enemy.” The students seem to listen to the explanation with the playfulness of being halfway between the hiders and the seekers, between the coastal police and the fleeing rafters.

Barely a couple of years separate Gerardo and Agustin from those youngsters in the interested circle. Maybe they once crossed an intersection or shared a jitney or waited for the green light together at a stoplight. Nevertheless, if those students were to decide to become part of the Border Guard Troops, on a night as dark as hell some would be shivering amid the mangroves and others would push the buttons of a device designed to hunt emigrants. “We have to hold them and guard them until the people from Villa Marista come to look for them,” says one of the officers to motivate even more those who listen to him under the December sun of a Havana afternoon.

A girl asks about firearms, and a man wearing a beret pulled tight to his ears tells her that they must not go out armed on these missions due to “incidents that have occurred where fatal shootings have happened.” But continuing, he explains that they plan to place on the truck “an arsenal for confronting possible entry of speedboats with armed people or explosives.”

From the outside, the singular truck looks like a featureless gray box, but passing through its side door one finds a bathroom and a space that can be transformed into a bedroom or meeting room. The table used for discussing upcoming plans and operations folds up and is stored. The benches are opened and converted into two bunks, one on each side, where up to four people can sleep. The climate control permits them to endure the hot nights without opening the door which would cause them to suffer the persistent coastal mosquitoes.

Border guard boat.  (Luzbely Escobar)
Border guard boat. (Luzbely Escobar)

They carry a coffee maker, a rice cooker and a so-called “Queen” cooker (a Chinese-made pressure cooker) for cooking outside the truck. In order to make it all work, they carry an electric generator “so that the current is not a problem,” they assure with a certain vanity. The boast about resources does not stop there. They relate that they have “a campaign table in tow to set up the outdoor kitchen and a tent with a 40-person capacity.” This last is for the detainees, in case the people of Villa Marista take too long and they have to sleep at the capture site.

“This is a combat truck because it was born in combat,” one of the pompous drivers is heard to exclaim. “It is a unique prototype in the country and is called a mobile command post,” he stresses. “The boss,” he says while he points his index finger up, “says that he is going to make one more advance, but well, this takes financing, this takes resources.”

The news is worst for those who evade because this team acts as if they were really slave hunters with an obsession. “This is a fixed rotation. We go out for 20 days to the coast, and we have no relief. Those are 20 days without seeing the family,” they say, explaining the conditions in which they work.

In order to attract the girls to the circle of interest, an officer with ten years of experience clarifies that “in communications there are many women who do not have to go to the coast.” They laugh and blush, then he returns to the charge saying that “all the communications offices are climate controlled, there are many women who do this work.”

Nevertheless, after looking a while at the device the teens begin to speak of going on vacation with it to the beach, with its bunks and electricity. In the end one of them laughingly says thanks for the “classified information,” and heads down the street to the sea. In the air remains doubt about the next encounter between those adolescents and the officers: Will it be to petition for entrance into the elite group or to beg them not to tighten the handcuffs?

Translated by MLK

Has D-Day Arrived? / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

Telephone conversation between Barack Obama and Raul Castro. (White House)
Telephone conversation between Barack Obama and Raul Castro. (White House)

14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 17 December 2014 — Today has been one of those days we imagine a thousand ways, but never as it finally happened. You prepare for a date on which you can celebrate the end, hug your friends who return home, wave a flag in the middle of the street, but D-Day is late. Instead, events arrive in fragments, an advance here, a loss there. With no cries of “Long live free Cuba,” nor uncorked bottles. Life obscures from us this turning point that we would mark forever on our calendars.

The announcement by the governments of Cuba and the United States of the reestablishments of diplomatic relations surprises us in the midst of signs that pointed in the opposite direction, and also of exhausted hopes. Raúl Castro just postponed the third round of talks with the European Union, scheduled for next month, and this December 10 repression fell heavily on activists, as it does every International Human Rights Day.

The first surprise was that, in the midst of the official bluster, of a certain turn of the ideological screw expressed in calls to redouble our guard against the enemy, the Plaza of the Revolution and the White House had been in talks for 18 months. Clear evidence that all this discourse of intransigence was just for show. While they made the island’s citizens believe that even to cross the threshold of the United States Interest Section in Havana turned them into traitors to the homeland, the leaders in their olive-green were working out agreements with Uncle Sam. The deceits of politics! continue reading

On the other hand, both Obama’s statements, as well as Castro’s, had a hint of capitulation. The US president announced a long list of moderating measures to bring the two nations closer, before the coveted and greatly demanded steps of democratization and political opening in our country would be achieved. The dilemma of what should have come first, a gesture from Havana or flexibility from Washington, has just been answered. However, the fig leaf of the American embargo remains, so that no one can say the resignation as been complete.

Raul Castro, for his part, limited himself to announcing the new gestures from Obama and referring to the exchange of Alan Gross and other prisoners of interest of the American government. However, in his address before the national television cameras, he gave no evidence of any agreement or compromise from the Cuban side, aside from the reestablishment of diplomatic relations. The agenda on the far side of the Florida Straits we know in detail, but the internal one remains, as it so often does, hidden and secret.

Still, despite the absence of public commitments on the part of Cuba, today was a political defeat. Under the leadership of Fidel Castro we would have never even reached an outline of an agreement of this nature. Because the Cuban system is supported by – as one of its main pillars – the existence of a permanent rival. David can’t live without Goliath and the ideological apparatus has depended too long on this dispute.

Do I listen to speeches or buy fish?

In the central market of Carlos III, customers were surprised midday that the big TVs were not broadcasting football or videoclips, but a speech by Raúl Castro and later one by Obama through the Telesur network. The first allocution caused a certain astonishment, but the second was accompanied by kisses launched toward the face of the US president, particularly when he mentioned relaxations in the sending of remittances to Cuba and the delicate topic of telecommunications. Now and again the cry of “I LOVE…” (in English!) could be heard from around the corner.

It is important to also say that the news had fierce competition, like the arrival of fish to the rationed market, after years of disappearance. However, by mid-afternoon almost everyone was aware and the shared feelings were of joy, relief, hope.

This, however, is just the beginning. Lacking is a public timeline by which commits the Cuban government to a series of gestures in support of democratization and respect for differences. We must take advantage of the synergy of both announcements to extract a public promise, which must include, at a minimum, four consensus points that civil society has been developing in recent months.

The release of all political prisoners and prisoners of conscience; the end of political repression; the ratification of the United Nations covenants on Civil, Political, Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and the consequent adjustment of domestic laws; and the recognition of Cuban civil society within and outside the island. Extracting these commitments would begin the dismantling of totalitarianism.

As long as steps of this magnitude are not taken, many of us will continue to think that the day we have longed for is not close. So, we will keep the flags tucked away, keep the corks in the bottles, and continue to press for the final coming of D-Day.