When The Cement Was For Tunnels / 14ymedio, Pedro Acosta

Tunnel between the Palace of the Revolution and Raul Castro’s office in the Ministry of the Armed Forces (MINFAR). (Llamado32 'Blog)
Tunnel between the Palace of the Revolution and Raul Castro’s office in the Ministry of the Armed Forces (MINFAR). (Llamado32 ‘Blog)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Pedro Acosta, Havana, 13 October 2015 — As a part of the so-called “War of All the People” in 1991, the construction of tunneling was resumed with great intensity, with the trite prediction of a possible United States military invasion of Cuba.

In the Havana district of Cerro, drilling was carried out under the well-known Finca de Los Monos, the Mexico Cinema, the People’s Power, and the Havana Institute of the Economy. They also tunneled under the rocky promontories between the Zoonosis Institute and the Havana Pediatric Hospital. The ultimate goal was to interconnect all these places.

In January 1992 I entered the Pediatric Hospital tunnel. The things I saw showed me another face of what was happening in the country. There, as in every workplace, there were Communist Party and union nuclei. The day after I joined I ran into an individual who didn’t belong to the contingent. He collected bets for “la bolita” — the lottery. continue reading

Unconcerned, he announced the previous day’s numbers, paying the winners and collecting new bets. The flood of the workers who did the tunneling and built the tunnel entrances shocked me. Members of the Cuban Communist Party (PCC) and the Young Communist League (UJC), union leaders, administrative directors, almost everyone played the lottery or was interested in the resulted. A worker with debts was even shot through the throat with a .22 caliber revolver and it was covered up.

The high-density cement was put into an immense hopper with a capacity of six cubic yards. I never saw an invoice or voucher covering the output. I don’t know if its use was justified or not. Any kind of control was impossible with regards to the veracity of it. The blasts made deep holes in the hard rock and the volume was not always the same. They then placed the prefabricated structure, and the free space between this and the rock was filled with pieces of stone and cement. This space varied in width between a foot and a yard and a half. They worked in different “drawers” (tunnel cubicles) at the same time, so the workers wouldn’t realize how much as consumed.

They swapped blocks, bricks and iron rods for the cement. In the Special Period more than 15 of the tunnelers built, enlarged and repaired their homes. On two or three Sundays when no work was done, I was curious enough to examine the hopper before I left, and then again when I got to work on Monday morning; the contents had diminished considerably.

You could take off work there for sickness, personal problems or whatever, because your wages were never affected. On one occasion I abused this prerogative and in the two months that I didn’t go to work, they didn’t dock my wages.

The tunnel was completed in December 1992. In the two years of its construction, there were some 40 permanent men with a monthly salary of 250 Cuban pesos. So in wages alone it was around 240,000 pesos. Add to that some 600,000 pesos in food rations from the Cerro Pelado High Performance Sports Center. To give you an idea, the worst thing I ate as a main course was scrambled eggs with chorizo, with more chorizo than eggs.*

But the real main course was what was spent on construction materials. For that tunnel, the smallest in Havana, the tunnel was about 4,000 feet long (counting the cubicles), 8 feet wide and 13 feet high. The floor was about 8 inches thick, the walls about 14 inches, and the ceiling more than 24 inches. Plus the lighting system.

This tunnel I worked on was located under the People’s Power of the district. There were more than 3,200 feet of tunnel constructed in various directions even under the 10 de Octubre Surgical Hospital, some 500 feet from the mouth of the tunnel. To give you an idea of the size once it was finished: it passed under the hospital and the street of the same name to join the one that passed under Cristina Street. Another went under the Mexico Cinema to Via Blanca. Another went under Calzado del Cerro, with a mouth under the little park in front of the Latin American Stadium, and continuing below the stadium to the Havana School of Economics on Ayestaran Street.

The fifteen of us on this tunnel spent all of 1993 using a powerful pump to pump out the water that seeped in from the water table and flooded the underground system. I don’t know how long this chatting, eating and earning a salary went on, as I left my usual workplace in December of that year, but in May of 1994 the situation remained the same.

This was my third season in the “middle ground.” In 1963, when I started junior high school, they had built a shelter for future aggressions at the elementary school across the street. In the eighties – the Reagan era – all the workplaces in the country were required to have an air-raid shelter.

Millions of Cubans live in dwellings declared uninhabitable, in shelters, in huts with dirt floors, in badly built houses incapable of withstanding hurricanes, with no means to enlarge or repair them. In a country in ruins the government spent millions of pesos on tunnels. Were these constructions a necessity, a presidential whim, or a political strategy?

No Cuban ever had to enter a shelter or tunnel to protect themselves from an enemy attack!

*Translator’s note: This would have been luxury food, at this time of great national hardship after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of its subsidies to Cuba.



El Sexto “Should Not Spend Another Day Behind Bars,” Says Amnesty International / 14ymedio

Danilo Maldonado, ‘El Sexto.’ (Artist’s File)
Danilo Maldonado, ‘El Sexto.’ (Artist’s File)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, 16 October 2015 — The organization for the defense of human rights Amnesty International has denounced in a statement Friday that the authorities of Cuba failed “miserably” in keeping their promise to release Danilo Maldonado, ‘El Sexto.’ The London-based organization believes that the artist, in prison for almost a year, is a prisoner of conscience and argues that the attitude of Havana is “a painful illustration of the indifference of the Cuban government to freedom of expression.”

Last week, the graffiti artist warned of the possibility of resuming his hunger strike if he was not released in the first 15 days of October, as he had been promised by the authorities.

“Danilo is deprived of his liberty as punishment for peacefully expressing his views. He should be released immediately and unconditionally and should not spend another day behind bars,” said Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas Director at Amnesty International. continue reading

The statement said that on Thursday the authorities of the Valle Grande prison told the artist’s mother that he had served his sentence, but did not know when he would be released.

El Sexto was never brought before a judge and was never sentenced. He was arrested last December by agents of the State Security in Havana while traveling in a taxi with two pigs painted with the names “Raul” and “Fidel.” The artist had planned to stage a performance that consisted of releasing the animals in a public place. He was accused of “disrespect to the leaders of the Revolution.”

“Danilo’s story has all the elements of a science fiction novel. First they put him behind bars under the most ridiculous excuse and then leave him there without charges. The fact that the Cuban authorities continue playing with Danilo and his family is downright frightening,” said Guevara-Rosas.

The Spaces Of The Disaster / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

Pedicab parking lot in Havana. (14ymedio)
Pedicab parking lot in Havana. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 16 October 2015 — Sometimes it is hard to find in the Cuban urban landscape a square yard free of disaster. Perhaps it is more accurate to say free of the traces of disaster. Above is an image from a Havana street.

Where do I start?

There was once a building here, until it collapsed. Two hundred yards from Chinatown in the Central Havana, a square yard of this space would cost a fortune under free market conditions; people would be fighting over it for a department store, offices of housing. But it remained like this, free like a drowning man, until the scarcity of public transport led to the appearance of pedicabs and, with them, the need for a site to park them. continue reading

Each of these rolling artifacts contains the history of other disasters. The seats, awnings, struts, every screw, every washer conceals at least three crimes. Even the air that inflates the tires may be illegal.

The parking lot belongs to the State, as indicated by the faded blue letters. It is as you imagine it, as a comedian friend says, which means that it works badly or at least without any controls and nobody knows how much money is collected for its use nor how many things it is used for.

The apparently unnecessary sanitation warning deserves a mention. Why would anyone expect there would be a bathroom open to passersby in a pedicab parking lot? Where else has anyone seen such a sign? Of course there should be a bathroom, and it should be clean, with water and toilet paper.

Nor is there WiFi access to the internet, nor a sign that says the parking lot does not discriminate against any person, but there it is, an image that typifies early 21st century Cuba and, in the background, a tiny and innocent little flag that at the end of the day is the only space that seems to save itself from the disaster.

Officials Arrested For Stealing Chemical Used To Fight Dengue Fever / 14ymedio, Fernando Donate Ochoa

A fumigation truck in the city of Holguin. (14ymedio / Fernando Donate)
A fumigation truck in the city of Holguin. (14ymedio / Fernando Donate)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Fernando Donate Ochoa, Holguin, 14 October 2015 — Several directors and heads of health districts in Holguin have been arrested for their links with the illegal sale of permethrin, a chemical used to fumigate against the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which is responsible for the dengue fever epidemic that affects this eastern province. A government source told 14ymedio that the officials must answer for the crime of “spreading the epidemic,” because the “diversion of resources” complicates the fight against the vector.

Permethrin has reached the price of 1,500 pesos per liter in the informal market, where it is sold to fumigate certain crops. Lacking permethrin, the authorities resort to petroleum in a gaseous state, which is less effective, to fumigate the mosquito foci. continue reading

After a year of an epidemic scourge of both dengue fever and cholera, Holguin continues to experience a complex healthcare situation, despite having spent 26 million pesos on local sanitation. Despite the fumigation campaigns and other hygiene measures, the number of patients suffering from dengue fever and cholera remains high, as does the prevalence of the Aedes aegypti mosquito, as corroborated by Elizabeth Segura Sierra, the provincial director of health, on a local radio broadcast.

This official also reported on the same broadcast that the presence of cholera has recently been confirmed in the towns of Rafael Freyre, Cueto, Cacocum, Gibara and Holguin, with the greatest number of reported cases in the latter. Segura Sierra insisted that there is still a risk of returning to the situation faced in August, when a health emergency led to a suspension of the Carnival celebration, the closure of dining establishments and a ban on the sale of alcoholic beverages in bulk. These measures caused great economic damage to both the State and the private sector. “Let no one think that these outbreaks have been eliminated, the cholera virus and dengue fever still exist in the area,” the official said.

Operators engaged in fumigation are working more than eight hours a day, for low wages and in bad conditions. This has generated a shortage of personnel, forcing the mobilization of 650 officials to do this work in August and September. Of these, 450 came from the healthcare sector and 200 from municipal bodies.

The province is in a true state of alarm as is evidenced by the many emergency measures being taken. Significant resources have been mobilized from other institutions which find themselves obliged to halt their normal work and take on the economic loses stemming from the lack of productive support.

At the most critical moment of the outbreak 130 vehicles and five buses were used solely to transport patients to the two hospitals equipped to deal with the crisis at Celia Sanchez Manduley University in Holguin.

Future Dilemmas / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

Second day of the Open Spaces Meeting of Ideas. (14ymedio)
Second day of the Open Spaces Meeting of Ideas. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, 13 October 2015 – Some 40 Cubans met last weekend in Miami to talk about the future of the country. The economy, work, property, and social security were the topics on the agenda in this edition of the “Meeting of Ideas,” which arose under the Coexistence Project in Pinar del Rio and which found another space of influence, this time with the participation of Cubans from the diaspora in Miami.

But beyond the data of a press release, it’s worth taking the time to stop, or rather to make a pilgrimage, to submerge ourselves in the wells of thought where the most complex problems our national reality are addressed. Two streams converge there, one from the liberal side, arguing, almost insisting, on the reasons for the market and freedom, and the other more concerned about social aspects, putting the protection of the disadvantaged first. I said they converged, not fought, because far above political passion or philosophical viewpoints, was Cuba, like a mother crying in pain for help for her children. continue reading

And although emotion and reason don’t usually mix in academic environments, everyone there was both reasonable and emotional. Some thought about the Cuba they lost, others about the one they never managed to achieve. From the nostalgia and frustration emerged the best threads of this fabric.

What country can we build? That is a question that can only be fully answered when – in one way or another – the illusion in which we live comes to an end. But the prophetic exercise is essential if we do not want to arrive at “the day after” with our saddlebags empty of projects.

On more than one occasion, while a precise issue was discussed, such as the critical problem of confiscated properties or the presumed overwhelming entry of foreign companies, or the need to raise the birthrate, both viewpoints promoted their different takes on the issues.

While some warned that the nation cannot be mortgaged to satisfy the claims for compensation, others prioritized full respect for property under the rules of a State of Law. Where some proposed protectionist measures to avoid strangling the initiative of small native entrepreneurs, others expounded that the solution is to stimulate the entrepreneurs and not to regulate their competition. Where some demanded subsidies for women who have more children, others aspired to a prosperity that favored growing families.

The proposals of both sides were duly noted and even balanced, avoiding rivalry, but without looking for a consensus, because this meeting of ideas was intended to develop an inventory of proposals, without pretensions of pleasing an eventual electorate, without partisanship or populism.

There are still many issues pending: education, healthcare, legal matters, culture, science and technology, among others. If the spirit of the previous meetings is maintained, both on and off the island, this nation-beyond-borders where Cubans live and dream will have taken an enormously important step. Ideas, solutions, issues for future discussions will have been compiled. The dilemmas that we do not have today, but that we will inevitably have tomorrow, when there is the freedom to have dilemmas.

There Are In The Country of Solidarity, There Are No Foreigners / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

Graffiti painted on a wall and later erased in Havana. (14ymedio)
Graffiti painted on a wall (left) and later erased (right) in Havana. (14ymedio)

14ymedio, Generation Y, Yoani Sanchez, 12 October 2015 — Pepes, Yumas and tourists are some of the names we give to those who visit our country. For many Cubans, these travelers are their main source of income, through accommodation, transportation, dance and language classes. Some also share classrooms at the university, or work in a joint venture. However, in most cases their stay is brief, they are passing through, for only a few days or months. What happens when they come to stay?

A painting on a Havana wall addresses the contradiction between the official discourse that prides itself on the solidarity of a nation, but one where the immigrant has no place. This drawing of Che Guevara with a contentious quote – “In the homeland of solidarity there are no foreigners” – lasted just a few hours in its makeshift place, before the censor arrived in the form of a blue brushstroke to cover it over. For the government, when the foreigners arrive on their cruises, stay a few nights and leave their cold hard cash in the state coffers, everything seems fine. It is a whole different thing when they decide to come and stay. Then, the nationalistic hostility that characterizes the Cuban system shows itself. continue reading

Cuban immigration law is perhaps one of the strictest on the planet for a foreigner who settles in the national territory. For decades, living here was a privilege allowed only to the “comrades” of Eastern Europe, apprentice guerrillas, and political refugees from Latin American dictatorships. Diplomatic personnel and some chosen academics completed the map of natives of other countries who would stay in Cuba more or less permanently.

The island ceased to be a country of immigrants, where the crucible of identity joined together cultures far and near. Chinese, French, Arabs, Haitians, Spaniards and Poles, among many others, brought their customs, culinary recipes, and entrepreneurial initiatives to achieve the wonder of diversity. Today it is rare to see gathered around family tables people who were not born here.

At the end of 2014, the National Bureau of Statistics announced that the number of foreign residents in Cuba in 2011 represented just 0.05% of the population. A figure that contrasts with the 128,392 foreigners – 1.3% of the population – that we shared the island with in 1981. Two factors explain the sharp drop in foreign residents: the implosion, in the 1990s, of the socialist camp, whence the “technicals” of yesteryear; and, above all, because our country long ago ceased to be a nation of opportunities.

While foreign residents were leaving, temporary visitors were becoming an economic “lifeline” in the face of an increasing material misery. These latter were, for a long time, the only ones with hard currency, and with it the ability to buy shampoo in the “diplotiendas” (diplomat stores), and to experience the enormous luxury of enjoying a cold beer in a hotel bar. The tourist became the Prince Charming of many young Cuban women’s dreams, the son-in-law that every father-in-law wanted, and the preferred tenant of rooms for rent.

Even today foreigners are seen by many Cubans as wallets with legs who walk the streets, which must be emptied of every coin. It is difficult for a foreigner in Cuba to determine to what extent the friendliness they come across in the streets is the natural kindness of our people, versus a histrionic performance the objective of which is to get one’s hand in their pocket.

Cubans have lost the habit of living – equal to equal – with “the other.” Sharing jobs with immigrants, accepting that people speak different languages on a public bus. Our kitchens have been impoverished by lack of contact with other gastronomic experiences, we have become less universal and markedly more “islanders” in the worst sense of the word. We have lost the capacity to tolerate and welcome other ways of doing, speaking and living.

How will we react when our country becomes a destination for immigrants? Will they be condemned to the worst jobs? Will xenophobic groups emerge that reject those who come from overseas? Will there be NGOs to protect them? Programs to help them integrate? Politicians who don’t fear them? All these questions need to be answered in a shorter time frame than we think. Cuba could again be, very soon, a nation of people who come from many places.

Another Sunday of Repression of Activists Throughout the Country / 14ymedio

The Ladies in White on their walk this Sunday in Havana (photo Juan Angel Moya)
The Ladies in White on their walk this Sunday in Havana (photo Juan Angel Moya)

14ymedio, Havana, 12 October 2015 – A new round of repression against activists was experienced in Cuba this Sunday. The arrests began in the early morning hours in order to prevent dissidents from participating in the march on Fifth Avenue in Havana, which on this occasion included a tribute to the late leader of the Ladies in White, Laura Pollan.

The march through this downtown street was joined by 57 Ladies in White and 21 human rights activists, in addition to the mother and grandmother of artist Danilo Maldonado, El Sexto. The walk began in Gandhi Park, next to the Santa Rita Parish in the Miramar neighborhood. Later several dissidents were arrested, among them the blogger Lia Villares and dissident Antonio G. Rodiles.

Activist Arcelio Molina Leyva reported to 14ymedio that “the headquarters of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU) was raided, and they stole everything they could,” besides detaining “those who were there.” The dissident detailed that among those arrested were Jose Daniel Ferrer Garcia, Ovidio Martin Castellanos and Yriade Hernandez Aguilera. continue reading

UNPACU had called for a demonstration this Sunday for the liberation of three of its members who were arrested after approaching Pope Francis before his mass in Revolution Plaza. Activists Zaqueo Baez Guerrero and Ismael Bonet Reni continue in custody and presumably on hunger strike, according to members of their organization.

At least twenty activists from UNPACU were driven by police to the Third Police Unit in the city of Santiago de Cuba. The number of arrests throughout the country has been calculated by opposition sources at more than 200 people.

Hours after his arrest, opposition leader Jose Daniel Ferrer was freed.

Translated by Mary Lou Keel

Questions to a Symposium / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

Does the Government of Cuba recognizes as obsolete the choice of armed struggle to achieve social change? (14ymedio)
Does the Government of Cuba recognizes as obsolete the choice of armed struggle to achieve social change? (14ymedio)

14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 8 October 2015 — Many unanswered questions, inaccuracies and poorly sustained theories have characterized the political process that began in Cuba in January 1959. Perhaps with the objective to remedy such lacks, the First International Symposium on the Cuba Revolution: Genesis and Historic Development, in which its organizers propose “to analyze and work together from academia, science, art, culture and politics” to better understand the process “in all its complexity.”

The event, which will be held in the Palace of Conventions in Havana from 13 to 15 October, will have some 200 participants from some 20 countries. In its sessions they will debate “the dynamic evolution of the revolutionary process, and the readjustments and updating of the economic model,” according to the announcement of the symposium.

Obviously, they have not invited thinkers or theorists from the critical sector, who sustain notions such as the contradiction between the concept of “revolution” and remaining in power for over five decades. Invitees include scholars such as Dr. Eduardo Torres Cuevas, president of the Academy of the History of Cuba, Brazilian theologian Frei Betto and Dr. Pablo Gonzalez Casanova, from the National Autonomous University of Mexico. continue reading

It would be of some use to the social researchers gathered at the Palace of Conventions to answer some questions about “evolutionary dynamics” that have not had a clear answer in the Party or government documents.

Not included here is any specific aspect related to a particular historical fact, but the broader issues covered by the major stages are identified: the insurrectionary process, the proclamation of socialism, the arrival of the Special Period and the recent rapprochement with the United States. Following are questions on each issue, waiting for their likely responses.

  1. What were the main reasons for the revolution?

a. To claim political rights usurped by the dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista.

b. To emancipate the working class from capitalist exploitation.

c. To rescue the national wealth from imperialist domination.

2. The introduction of Marxism-Leninism as the official ideology in political, economic, cultural, scientific and educational environments …

a. was the fruit of the natural evolution of the Cuban social thought?

b. was imposed by force as the only way to fulfill the revolutionary program?

c. was a condition agreed to receive the benefits of the socialist camp?

3. What is the correct definition of the so-called “Special Period in Time of Peace”?

a. A moment with acute difficulties in supplies, fuel shortages, power outages and problems with transportation.

b. The temporary waiver of enforcement of certain laws of the socialist system, and turning to the rules of the market to resolve the crisis.

4. If the correct answer to question 3 is subsection b, the end of the Special Period could be decreed only when:

a. The provisional application of the laws of the market is accepted as final.

b. External conditions prior to the implementation of the Special Period once again exist.

c. The US government has recognized that the old policy of confrontation has become obsolete and taken action accordingly and proposes changes.

5. Does the Government of Cuba recognize as obsolete the choice of armed struggle to achieve social change?

a. What steps could the Cuban government recommend that are equivalent and reciprocal with those taken by President Barack Obama?

If this symposium, structured into commissions and panels, could answer any of these legitimate questions, it would be a major contribution to understanding the last half century of our history. It would help to shed light on the shadows and contours of so many inaccuracies accumulated for decades.


“They Want To Frighten Me and Other Independent Journalists” / 14ymedio

Journalist Roberto de Jesus Quinones
Journalist Roberto de Jesus Quinones

14ymedio, Havana, 7 October 2015 – The Cuban political police intend to prosecute lawyer and journalist Roberto de Jesus Quinones for a crime called “spreading false news about international peace,” according to what the independent journalist told this daily a few hours following his release after having been arrested October 5.

Monday a group of almost 20 people entered Quinones’ home in Guantanamo, presenting a search warrant that authorized the seizure of “means for subversive activities.”

The independent journalist was arrested, and they informed him that a file is being prepared where there appears a complaint against him based on the crime listed in the fifth section of Chapter III of the Penal Code, “Crimes against International Peace and Law.” continue reading

The rule stipulates that “whoever spreads false news for the purpose of damaging international peace or endangering the prestige or credit of the Cuban state or its good relations with another State, incurs a sentence of imprisonment of one to four years.”

“They told me that they are going to analyze any evidence they find in the confiscated objects: a laptop, a tablet, my cell phone, several books, my schedule, my phone book, the calendar where I write what I have to do, several documents and some 60 discs with films or installation programs, so that after they analyze their contents they will decide what course the process will take,” said Quinones.

As a lawyer, the reporter is also a member of the organization Corriente Agramontista. “They were always telling me to stop writing for Cubanet if I did not want to get into trouble,” he explains. “That makes me think that the basic point is to scare me and by extension other independent journalists,” he adds, although he says he has the impression that “the current political context is not favorable for them to imprison anyone for political reasons.”

According to Quinones, there is now in his neighborhood “a very unfavorable opinion towards the political police,” because he maintains that he has “a lot of prestige in the neighborhood, and the arrest operation was outrageously disproportionate.”

“What I have written and published is that I think that in any kind of negotiation, both sides must make concessions and that the United States has not demanded compliance on the part of Cuba with respect to rights and democracy,” he says regarding his opinions about the re-establishment of relations between the two countries.

Nevertheless, he explains: “Of course I cannot oppose the improvement of the condition of the Cuban people, but I believe that the United States, as a democratic power, cannot economically favor a Government that subjects its people the way the Cuban government does.” Because of opinions like that, “they tell me that I am systematically discrediting the Cuban government, and currently that works against foreign relations.”

In December 2006, Quinones finished a sentence of three years for falsifying documents in the process of buying and selling a home, although, in his opinion, the true cause was that he was practically the only lawyer in the province who dared to defend dissidents. After that time, he was no longer admitted to any collective firm, and they also discriminate against him in the Cuban Writers and Artists Union (UNEAC), an organization to which he belongs in his capacity as a writer and art critic.

He adds that on five occasions he has sought membership in a law firm, and they have not even answered him. Moreover, he says he recently told the president of the Writers Association that if he does not convene a meeting to explain the discrimination to which he is subjected, he will submit his resignation from UNEAC.

The journalist expresses strong determination: “I told my interrogators that I would continue writing for Cubanet. I cannot let them frighten me.”

Translated by Mary Lou Keel

The Pioneers Are Retiring / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

Nearly half a century later, children who begin studies in Cuban schools are forced to repeat the anachronistic slogan: "Pioneers for Communism, we will be like Che!"
Nearly half a century later, children who begin studies in Cuban schools are forced to repeat the anachronistic slogan: “Pioneers for Communism, we will be like Che!”

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 8 October 2015 — The ceremony is solemn. The national anthem echoes from the loudspeakers and an adult with a serious face ties the blue scarf around the student’s neck. Little has changed since my childhood, when that initiation turned us into members of the youngest mass organization in Cuba. A piece of cloth and a slogan sealed the commitment: “Pioneers for Communism, we will be like Che!”

These days the initiators of the Cuban Pioneers Union, renamed as the José Martí Pioneers Organization (OPJM) in 1977, are applying for retirement at their workplaces. They no longer have that glimmer of hope one saw in their eyes long ago, nor do they even speak about “communism,” a concept that the Party in power itself has forgotten to mention in the Guidelines issued by its last Congress. continue reading

Meanwhile, Ernesto Guevara, who inspired the motto of the Pioneer organization now celebrating its 47th anniversary, has become the face on T-shirts, paintings and ashtrays sold to tourists. In the midst of a political scenario where the Cuban Government serves as a mediator for peace between the Colombian guerrillas, Guevara’s call to create “two, three, many Vietnams” sounds like the advice of a madman eager for the Apocalypse and dreams of the end days.

Those enthusiasts who inaugurated the OPJM, today sneer at the Pioneer salute that obliges the fingers of the right hand to join together “demanding the indissoluble union of the peoples of the five continents.” The military gesture must be performed with the elbow at a 90 degree angle to ratify that “collective interests are put above the personal.” This, in these times of “every man for himself,” driven by the economic shock therapy decreed by the Government itself.

In this time of makeovers, where Cuban television broadcasts homilies and speeches by American officials, it is surprising that they have not eliminated this purely ideological organization that absorbs Cuban children. In the midst of so many daily priorities, we parents have also strongly demanded that our children not be soldiers of a political experiment from such a young age.

The OPJM also brings with it decades remote from reality. Like in 1991, when in the midst of the collapse of the Special Period, the first Pioneer Congress was held under the slogan, “We are happy here.” People still had the energy to mock the phrase and there are those who insist it was painted along the outer wall of Colon Cemetery in Havana. An awkward joke, but so was, and is, the pioneer movement.

And the mockery hasn’t ended. In the room of a friend from elementary school there is a fading photo of his Pioneer initiation day. It is black and white, although time has given it a golden tone that makes it more unreal and distant. “That was a time when I could not see,” jokes the forty-something.

He alludes sarcastically to the popular joke of a boy who comes to school and tells his teacher that his pet cat just gave birth to ten kittens. A few days later the concerned teacher asks about the health of the litter and receives the unusual response, “Five of the kittens opened their eyes, and the rest remain communists,” said the boy sharply. “I was like that, I didn’t see what was in front of my nose,” my playful colleague explains. Now, he has a look that scrutinizes everything, tacitly accepting nothing.

Nearly half a century after the creation of the OPJM, children who begin their studies in Cuban schools are forced to repeat its anachronistic slogan. The mothers who sheltered them in their wombs also shouted it, and even their grandparents did, with their neck veins swollen, full of conviction that Communism would arrive any minute now.

The piece of cloth that on this morning of 8 October is tied around the necks of thousands of Cuban children still has the shape of an isosceles triangle in which the vertices mean “study, work and fight for the conquests of the Revolution.” The ritual, which has become routine, keeps intact its burden of ideology and imposition. It is the gesture of the winners that marks the children of the vanquished, the hot iron stamping conqueror on the offspring of the conquered.

Dominic Miller: “I Want Us To Be The First To Do Something Great Here” / 14ymedio, Luz Escobar

Guitarist Dominic Miller and Cuban musician Manolito Simonet. (14ymedio)
Guitarist Dominic Miller and Cuban musician Manolito Simonet. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 7 October 2015 — The British composer and guitarist Dominic Miller said Wednesday that he hopes to perform in Cuba with Sting. “I want to do it before Mick Jagger does it,” he said at a press conference held at the Cuban Art Factory (FAC) in Havana, “because it’s a race and I want us to be the first to do something great here.”

Miller will give a concert this Thursday at the Cuban Art Factory with Manolito Simonet y su Trabuco, They will perform songs from the CD Made in Cuba, what both musicians recorded in Cuba and Tenerife. The CD, almost entirely instrumental, will be launched for the first time this week on the island. Miller said that next March he will also promote the album in Europe. continue reading

In his press conference, Simonet invited the members of the family of X Alfonso, lead manager of FAC, to “work together on a theme for the closing,” of the concert in Havana. The Cuban guitarist Ernesto Blanco and his brother David have also been invited, although the latter regretted that he cannot participate because of prior commitments.

The musician says that there was a musical connection with Simonet “from the first second”

The concert is part of British Culture Week, which started last Sunday in the Cuban capital. Initially, pianist Mike Lindup, member of the band Level 42, was expected to participate but he failed to arrive in time for the show.

Highlights of Miller’s musical career include, among many other moments, accompanying Sting in numerous performances and recordings. Asked about a possible visit by the former member of The Police, the guitarist said, “He came here once a few years ago,” and he was “very jealous because I had come before him.” He defined him as an “older brother” and said that he is trying to persuade him to come here with his production.

During the press conference this musician that Sting called his “right hand and left hand,” commented that accompanying Simonet and his orchestra hadn’t been complicated because “music is a language” and “there weren’t any problems when it was time to get down to work.” He said that three years ago he had the chance to work with Simonet in Germany and “from the first second there was a musical connection.”

The cover of the Miller and Simonet CD. (14ymedio)
The cover of the Miller and Simonet CD. (14ymedio)

Meanwhile, the director of Trabuco said that in the recording of Made in Cuba all the musicians from the Cuban orchestra participated. Both musicians thanks the FAC for giving them the chance to perform in one of its rooms and Miller added that it is “the ideal place” because it is “a house of fusion and new ways.”

Miller is originally from Argentina and began his career in the mis-eighties. He appeared with World Party and King Swamp and later participated in the album … But Seriously by Phil Collins. In the early nineties, he accompanied Sting in his albums and concerts, and shared with him the responsibility of memorable songs such as Shape of My Heart. His solo work began in 1995 with the album First Touch, and to date he has already released 10 albums, all instrumental.

El Sexto Will Resume His Hunger Strike Next Week If He Is Not Released / 14ymedio

Danilo Maldonado, “El Sexto.” (Artist’s File)
Danilo Maldonado, “El Sexto.” (Artist’s File)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 7 October 2015 – The mother of Danilo Maldonado, El Sexto, has talked by phone with the artist, who reaffirmed his decision to resume his hunger strike if he is not released before 15 October. Captive in Valle Grande prison, the graffiti artist says he is willing to return to fasting, even in the midst of his recovery from 24 days without food that ended earlier this month.

Maria Victoria Machado told 14ymedio that she was able to speak for three minutes on Wednesday with graffiti artist and this he told her his decision to stop eating again starting next Thursday if they do not proceed with his release.

Machado said she received a call from Amnesty International asking for authorization to demand the release of her son at the United Nations

Maldonado also said he had been “well treated” by doctors in the prison and that he was “much better.” His mother, meanwhile, told him that the file of his case “is still with the prosecution,” without any new response from the legal authorities.

Machado also said that on Tuesday night she received a call from Amnesty International asking for authorization to demand the release of her son at the United Nations. The human rights organization considers El Sexto a “prisoner of conscience.”

Children Without Milk / 14ymedio, Boris Gonzalez

Dairy in Cuba
Dairy in Cuba

Moooooo (White Udder)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Boris Gonazales, 7 October 2015 – My son will be seven years old this Thursday, October 8. For decades, seven has been the age chosen by Fidel Alejandro Castro and maintained by his brother Raul Modesto for Cubans to stop drinking milk.

Every ten days a Cuban child under age 7 receives 2.2 pounds of powdered milk for the price of 2.50 in Cuban pesos, about 10 cents in US dollars. The minimum Cuban wage is around $10 a month, and the average is about $18 a month, and however prices are adjusted for markets around the world, you can see it would be impossible for a Cuban worker. In Spain and Brazil it is possible to buy a quart of milk for the equivalent of $0.70 on the US dollar, but such a figure approaches a day’s wages for a Cuban teacher. continue reading

Outside this milk quota received by my son, which he shares with his older sister, Cubans who want to drink milk or give it to their children or parents, have to buy it in the market in dollars. But there the price of milk far exceeds what is charged for children under seven, and also exceeds what it costs in most markets in the world. More than four times what it costs abroad, and a quarter of the Cuban minimum monthly wage. The milk sold at such a price is often already expired on the shelves. As of age seven, not even Cuban children can drink milk, nor will they be able to do so for the rest of their lives.

The times of White Udder are past, she was a cow with a tumor and the attention of one no less damaging than Fidel A. Castro. In the ‘80s she broke the world record for the most milk produced in a day. They say the comandante paid filial attention to the beast, making her into a star of articles, documentaries, frequent visits from specialists from around the world and, according to a computer engineer who emigrated, it was an honor in those years to be invited by Fidel A. Castro to toast with a glass of milk from those diseased udders.

It is known that the comandante’s passions were, for decades, objects of national worship. The Yankees were hated until last 17 December, Celia Sanchez was the truest flower, PPG – a pill to regulate cholesterol – came to rub shoulders with the rest of the national symbols, and five spies charged with involvement in murder were made into heroes.

Aside from delirium, to exalt the Cuban dairy industry was a propaganda move. The Revolution had triumphed, among other things, to bring a glass of milk to every child and one cow was enough to meet this ambitious goal, according to the logic offered by the Party leader. If we consider that the Communist organization emphasized greed more than bringing together members who believed in the supposed aims of the Revolution, we can understand why this particular heroine is stuffed in a livestock research institute like Lenin in his mausoleum.

There is a clear difference between wanting a good and desiring to be the one who appears good. This goal explains a great deal of Castroism. While supporting a costly and unproductive livestock industry with Soviet subsidies and providing every child and more than a few adults with a glass of milk, Fidel A. Castro appeared on an ongoing basis as a kind of godfather to the industry. Hence his strutting about with White Udder and his delirious references to her in his interminable official speeches.

Our entire cattle industry collapsed at the beginning of the nineties, the age of children eligible for subsidized milk was cynically reduced to six years, fresh milk was no longer distributed, and Fidel A. Castro never again appeared at any site related to the subject.

If a glass of milk for every child had really been of interest to the Castro regime, they would have long ago relaxed the state monopoly over cows, and reduced the prison sentences of those who go looking in the black market to compensate for its lack. None of this has happened and our children, my son among them, wake up without milk on the day they turn seven.

“Wave of Political and Social Repression” in September, according to CCDHRN / 14ymedio

Ladies in White during their march this Sunday (Angela Moya)
Ladies in White during their march this Sunday (Angel Moya)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 5 October 2015 – This September there were at least 882 arbitrary arrests for political reasons, according to a report by the Cuban Commission on Human Rights and National Reconciliation (CCDHRN). The figure is the highest in the last 15 months, says the independent entity which also warns about an increase in “physical assaults against peaceful opponents by police agents and their collaborators.”

The cases of physical violence reported and verified y the CCDHRN reached 93, “while there were 21 in August.” The Commission, chaired by human rights activist Elizardo Sanchez, points out that “September did not lack many acts of harassment and vandalism, either.” These include “house arrests and extrajudicial bans on movement,” says the text of the report.

As “a true wave of political and social repression” there were “353 arrests of peaceful dissidents to prevent them from participating in massive gatherings” with Pope Francis.

The opposition sector was not the only one that suffered police raids, and the CCDHRN reiterates that “an undetermined number of beggars, panhandlers and other homeless people who seek alms on the streets or search for food or anything else in trash dumpsters were interned without judicial order.”

The case of the three from the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU) who “managed to breach the police cordon and approach Pope Francis” in Havana’s Revolution Plaza, is singled out with interest in the report. Zaqueo Baez, Maria Anon and Ismael Bonet “have been jailed for 15 days, under subhuman conditions, in the hands of the secret political police, without access to defense attorneys and without formal charges.” The CCDHRN “is prepared to propose that they be internationally adopted as possible Prisoners of Conscience.”

Translated by Mary Lou Keel

Independent journalist Roberto de Jesus Quiñones Arrested in Guantanamo / 14ymedio

Independent journalist Roberto de Jesus Quiñones.
Independent journalist Roberto de Jesus Quiñones.

14ymedio, Havana, 5 October 2015 — At six in the morning on Monday, a group of 15 Interior Ministry troops stormed the house of lawyer and an independent journalist Jesus Quiñones Haces, in the city of Guantanamo. The troops conducted a thorough search and took the reporter, without specifying the reasons for his arrest or his final whereabouts.

According to his mother, Maria Haces, 77, among those who participated in the operation were men in olive-green uniforms and others in blue and black, plus individuals in plainclothes. The entire search process was filmed with a small camera and they ultimately seized a computer, several disks and documents. The arrest occurred in the absence of the Quiñones’s wife, who is traveling in the United States.

The reporter is also a member of the Corriente Agramontista association of independent lawyers. His reports on events in his province are published by the agency CubaNet and one of his last works denounced the poor state of the road known as La Farola, in the Nipe-Sagua mountain range of Tánamo-Baracoa.

Before turning to independent journalism, he was a member of the National Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba (UNEAC) and collaborated with the official press on reviews of the cultural life of his city.

No references of any facts that led to the police action, as it is not the exercise of their professional activities. An official present in the operation said the mother of the detainee no later tonight or tomorrow, Tuesday would be released.

The arrest occurs within hours of the Inter American Press Association (IAPA). during its meeting in Charleston (South Carolina, USA), expressing its concern about the situation of the press in Cuba and repression against independent reporters.