Repaying Debts With Loyalty / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, 4 July 2014 – The Cuban government has sided with Russia on every vote in the United Nations that has concerned Ukraine. It is a surprising outcome in a country that has traditionally defended concepts such as the self-determination of peoples, sovereignty and territorial integrity as key survival issues; a country which now looks kindly on the transfer of immense and rich Ukrainian territories to the control of Moscow.

Also noteworthy is the attention the government has devoted to discrediting its peaceful opponents, labeling them “mercenaries in service to the empire,” given that it has coined the term “independent militias” as a part of its official language, targeted to those who, with the undeniable support of Russia, are leading an authentic operation of imperial expansionism.

But loyalty is profitable and on Friday the lower house of the Russian parliament ratified the cancellation of 90% of Cuba’s debt with the extinct Soviet Union. The gesture will save the Island from a payout of 31.7 billion dollars.

The Russian-Cuban accord, now ratified by the Duma, also provides that the remaining 3.5 billion that makes up the old debt will be paid over ten years and that the amount will be placed in special accounts dedicated exclusively to investments in the Cuban economy.

He who pays with loyalty runs no risks. The one left in a delicate position is he who collects under this concept, because once the debts are settled, the insolvent debtor can suspend his commitments without anyone being able to claim anything.

When Vladimir Putin steps foot on Cuban soil this coming 11 July he will sign the agreements and joint statements, none of which will compel a future commitment to vote for or against Russia in international forums. Clearly I’m speaking of that future we so greatly desire, that future after the change.

4 July 2014

Producers of Shoddy Work: Beware! / 14ymedio, Katia Tabares

Wooden toys (14ymedio)
Wooden toys (14ymedio)
  • The 2014 ONDI Awards to outstanding Cuban designers cause us to reflect on the limitations suffered by these professionals.
  • Several winners from years past no longer live in Cuba – they have moved on in search of new professional horizons.

14ymedio, Katia Tabares, Havana, 27 May 2014 — Within the first minutes of conversation with a designer, one realizes that caution is in order. Just as if, while facing a dentist friend, we might smile on just one side of our face so that our cavities wouldn’t show, when we find ourselves around these design professionals, it is best to watch ourselves. Their trained eyes will spot the poorly-lettered sign we’ve hung on the door, the kitschy centerpiece on the table, and the cut of our shirt that binds our arms. Then will we have fallen under the “dictatorship” of visual, functional and decorative quality. May Design have mercy on us!

This is how I felt this past weekend while viewing winners of the 2014 ONDI Awards, given every two years by the National Office of Industrial Design. Exhibited in the gallery of La Rampa cinema, in the capital neighborhood of El Vedado, these images represent a wide variety of conceptual and esthetic solutions. The first prize went to Luis Manuel Ramirez who developed a lighting system and other objects for the home, featuring quality, good taste and potential adaptability to multiple circumstances.

If we attend the exhibition accompanied by the smallest members of the household, they might remain attached to the toys designed by Adriana Horta Ramos and Eduardo Velazco Alvarez, who won the prize in the student category. Using wood as their primary material, these novelties for children ages 3 to 6 are a major cut above the plastic and tacky products that populate the display windows of our stores. continue reading

There is much to admire, as the laurels were distributed among various categories, such as Visual Communication Design, Industrial, Furniture and Apparel, in addition to a Design Project Award. From simple pieces for daily living such as Ernesto Iglesias Diaz’s functional spice containers that won Honorable Mention, to the interior design of the New Varadero International Hotel by Carla Oraa Calzadilla, recognized for its optimum use of space, lighting and furniture selection.

One of the honors went to the project to update the interface of the Infomed digital portal, used by Public Health professionals. It is accessible from the so-called “intranet”, for those users who possess an email connection and nationwide navigation capability. For years this portal has been crying out for an upgrade to its disheveled appearance and is now on its way to achieving it. Yondainer Gutierrez Fernandez and Yelene Bequer Crespo have taken on this task, although the actual carrying-out of their proposal remains to be done.

Cuban design is trapped between two contrary forces: the quality of its professionals and the few opportunities for these professionals to make their ideas reality.

Cuban design is trapped between two contrary forces: the quality of its professionals and the few opportunities for these professionals to make their ideas reality. The exodus of a good portion of the graduates of the Institute of Industrial Design (ISDI) points to the dearth of possibilities for the professionals of this field in our country. If right now there were a celebration in the works to bring together previous years’ winners of the ONDI Awards, we would have to await their arrival from all latitudes of the planet where most of them reside.

The material restrictions, the devaluing of good design in projects ranging from a cafeteria interior to a school uniform, make it so the graduates of this specialization see little hope of gaining true recognition for their work, beyond prizes and awards that hardly make good living room decorations. At certain levels, our society underappreciates the detailed work of these adepts in typography, color schemes and drafting. Bureaucrats and high-level officials don’t seem willing to bend toward the “exquisiteness” of good taste. They inhabit the realm of shoddiness, improvisation and arbitrary form.

Our streets are filled with political billboards that look like they came out of a word processor equipped solely with Times New Roman font, bold, red only, and exclamation points galore. Coarse writing, overused symbols, out-of-date visual cues that don’t even work on children, continue to permeate televised ideological propaganda and the design of many public places. Timid official discourse is accompanied by an equally moth-eaten esthetic.

However, a breath of hope traverses these days on 23rd Street in the area around La Rampa cinema. If at least half of the design projects exhibited within these walls were carried out, we would no longer be ashamed to stand before a designer and smile, show off our shirt, the home decoration, the recently painted sign. We would have gained at least a few centimeters on that bad taste that extends in so many directions.

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

The Loneliness of the Tobacco Growers / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

Farmer with tobacco leaves
Farmer with tobacco leaves

Reinaldo Escobar, Pinar del Rio, 5 July 2014

The tobacco growers of San Juan y Martinez listened — between astonishment and helplessness – to the National Assembly debates. They expected that their difficulties and the problems of payment would be addressed during the discussions of some committee. They were disappointed.

In the Rafael Morán, cooperative, located in the town of San Juan y Martinez, frustration spread among the farmers. Just weeks earlier, the producers had been visited by a representative of the National Association of Small Farmers (ANAP), representatives of the Communist Party in the town, and several members of the National Tabacuba Business. The tobacco farmers expressed their difficulties and complaints to these officials.

The meeting was part of the government campaign called “We’re going for more …” whose visible face was Vice President Jose Ramon Machado Ventura. The State offensive to improve production led to these meetings between the producers and the authorities of the sector. In the meetings the feeling of many producers emerged, some of which asserted publicly that “If there’s no change in the price of tobacco, it is going to be very difficult.” continue reading

Among the main complaints expressed by the tobacco farmers was the discrepancy between the real costs of producing tobacco and the price that the state companies pay for dried tobacco. According to the official figures, it should cost a farmer 1.255 Cuban pesos (CUP) to produce 100 pounds of tobacco, but in reality the costs far exceed the official estimate.

Even the slightest setback so that leads the tobacco harvest to being considered “affected,” which lowers its price and leaves the producer in arrears. The disagreement with the payments made by State, the only permitted buyer, for the so-called “affected tobacco,” also showed up at the meeting. This supposedly damaged raw material is used industrially in the production of cigarettes. In the case of the plantations of San Juan y Martinez, the “affected leaves” are excellent quality and quality cigars and cigarettes can be made with them.

“It brings in great wealth in hard currency, and yet the peasant loses,” the producer laments.

The State standards establish that tobacco is “affected” if it doesn’t have good colors nor an adequate constitution to be considered high quality. But this doesn’t justify the paltry price of 345 Cuban pesos (CUP) per 100 pounds, established by the official valuation. If a farmer has the least amount affected, then he loses all the economic support that could pay for the crop. For its part, the State gets huge dividends, especially in the international market.

Hence, the concern of these tobacco growers on seeing that the National Assembly hasn’t been informed that there is no review process for the popularly called “purchase law.” The absence of any discussion of this subject made the growers feel cheated and forgotten. In the case of Pinar del Rio the prices are higher than in other provinces, so the dissatisfaction is higher in other tobacco-growing regions of the country.

“We haven’t seen our demands reflected,” claims Néstor Pérez González. “We also discussed the situation of poverty in the area, which is reflected in the farmers’ standard of living and doesn’t reflect the fact that this municipality exceed its tobacco production goals,” the farmer says.

During the conversation Néstor Pérez expressed his concern without restraint.” This year has been critical, so we are predicting a worse economic scenario for the area.” The crop damage has been caused by excessive rainfall during the period. A consequence of this situation is that the farmers have perceived the injustice of low payments for the so-called “affected tobacco” more seriously. “It will be affected, but it brings in great wealth in hard currency, and yet the peasant loses,” the producer laments.

“The so-called ‘cost sheets’ that they are offering us are well below the real costs of production; thus our demand that the prices should be raised,” says Juan Pablo, who combines his tobacco with the growing of lowers and fruit. The problem greatly affects the cooperatives such as the Basic Units of Cooperative Production (UBPC).

The tobacco growers have taken the pulse of the situation and feel that are being left aside. “We had the illusion that the Assembly would reflect and we would glimpse some change.” However, the last parliamentary session has brought more frustration than hope to the tobacco growing area of San Juan y Martinez and the mythical Hoyo de Monterrey.

It’s a Long Way to Cyprus! / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

Yoani Sánchez, Havana, 3 July 2014 — Yesterday on the bus, with the summer heat and after the long wait at the stop, two men commented loudly on their annoyance. “This sure doesn’t happen in Cyprus!” one said to the other, and laughter rang out all over the bus. He was referring to a monologue by the comedian Nelson Gudín, which has become a viral phenomenon on the alternative distribution network for videos. The actor plays a drunk who, among many other absurdities, complains about the space given in the national media to relating the problems of other countries, while remaining silent on ours. The old technique of “the mote in another’s eye…” which is one of the pillars of the official Cuban press.

Unemployment, corruption, economic cuts and social unrest… in Cyprus… were a topic of discussion and analysis by the panelists on the Roundtable show on several occasions. To underpin the axiom that “it’s hell out there and paradise in here,” the unpopular TV program placed a special emphasis on the difficulties being experienced by this member state of the European Union. So much time and so many reflections were dedicated to it, that the character played by Gudín ended up commenting, “Huh?… I didn’t know we were living in Cyprus?” The sarcastic phrase has almost become a slogan on our streets.

Just let an official delay some paperwork, for an ironic voice to note, “this guy surely comes from Cyprus.” That lady who is out of work due to economic adjustments, “is probably Cypriot,” her acquaintances will comment maliciously. Not to mention the empty shelves because of shortages; “It shouldn’t happen in Havana, only in Nicosia,” a frustrated customer claimed a few days ago. “At this rate, we’ll know more about the antagonisms between the Greeks and the Turks than about our own national problems,” a university professor pointed out to his students.

By the work and grace of the ideologues of the official press our principal preoccupations no longer take the form of an island in the Caribbean, but of this other one in the far off Mediterranean, where all the problems are concentrated.

“El Sexto” or the King of Spray Paint / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

El Sexto at his home in Havana (14ymedio)
El Sexto at his home in Havana (14ymedio)

We spoke with El Sexto, the young man who has made graffiti one more method of denunciation.

Yoani Sánchez, Havana | June 26, 2014 – Winking at art, a non-authorized decoration on the walls, graffiti maintains its irreverent and clandestine air that distances itself from galleries and approaches our eyes.

If one day there is a tour of Cuban graffiti, it will have to include this gangly young man called El Sexto*. A character of the night, of agile fingers, he has marked facades, bridges and traffic signs all over Havana with his art.

Many consider him an artist, others accuse him of vandalizing the city and marking landmark places, but, how does El Sexto see and construe himself?

Question: Graffiti, performances, paintings, charcoal draawings… you work in many techniques.

Answer: I have tried to insert new technologies in my work as well. For example, I developed a line of placing QR codes (quick response code) messages about Cuban society and politics. After leaving them stuck to walls, on products in the market, on the wall of a cell in the police station… People were very curious tio know what the little quadrangle filled with pixels was saying, so they would look for someone with a smart phone with the QR reader application to understand them.

Then they would read the message: “El Sexto,” “Down with the Castros!” or the dissemination of some event on the alternative scene. It was a form of mocking censorship through new technologies.

Question: Many Cuban artists opt for the metaphor, perhaps to stay out of trouble and to not be censored. You go for an ever more direct language. Has no institution approached you to organize an exposition?

Answer: So far no one has approached me to present my work in any institutional gallery. I am an artist outside the permitted limits. Although the official world doesn’t accept me, other Cuban artists have offered me solidarity and encouragement. At first I thought that the art scene wasn’t looking at me, didn’t know my work. However, I’ve been in contact with some major figures such as Ezequiel Suárez, Garaicoa, Los Carpinteros, and to my surprise they value my art and are up to speed on what I’m doing. This has given me greater commitment to my work and makes me improve every project I undertake.

“I had to look out for the guards at the Museum of the Revolution in order to paint on the façade of the Museum of Fine Arts.”

Question: Can you talk about the graffiti movement in Cuba?

Answer: Yes, there are young people who are joining this phenomenon. Right now, I am working with a group that sees in the idea of painting walls as also being a way of promoting social phenomena. Helping to give a face and form to figures of the alternative scene and also artistic, technological and even journalistic projects. We create graffiti, flyers, umbrellas, shirts… with the symbols that distinguish these projects and to go to public places where people ask, “And this, what’s this?” A way of arousing curiosity and disseminating these phenomena.

Question: In the last year you left the country for the first time and you were in Miami. How did that first trip abroad go?

Answer: It’s been very important in my life. Especially the stay in Miami where I could meet so many Cubans and see what they’ve managed to achieve. That gave me a lot of happiness but it also made me very sad to think of all the lives that have been shattered on this side because they don’t have freedom to fulfill themselves. I learned a lot about publicity; it nurtured me, the ways in which people want to spread an idea among as many people as possible. But I also understood on those trips that I am here, in the street, I need the Cuban streets to realize my art and to inspire me. So I returned home.

El Sexto’s signature on a traffic sign (14ymedio)
El Sexto’s signature on a traffic sign (14ymedio)

Question: You were also in The Hague, Netherlands, what did you do there?

Answer: My art tries to call attention to what is happening here. So in The Hague I gave a public performance – which coincided with the so-called Night of the Museums in that city – where I used a 24-yard chain to convey the sensation of confinement and lack of freedom that we experience in Cuba. It was very cold and my body was totally shaking in the street, while people waited in long lines to enter the museum halls, also joining the piece and creating a great impact on those who were watching.

“In The Hague I performed with a 24-yard chain to convey the feeling of confinement we experience in Cuba.”

Question: You’re always living with one foot in the street and the other in jail. Are you afraid?

Answer: I’ve been given many fines for painting facades, fines I will never pay, because it’s my art. This has been a path to my individual freedom, I’m going to build myself toward greater sincerity. Even if I’m taken prisoner tomorrow, I will continue doing it.

Question: Of all your graffiti, which do you like best?

Answer: The one that has come farthest with me is my signature, El Sexto, and although I like them all, that one in particular took me a lot of work because of the place where I did it. I had to look out for the guards at the Museum of the Revolution in order to paint on the façade of the Museum of Fine Arts, so there I am, in that place, despite censorship.

Question: Future projects?

Answer: I’m going to do a performance that has a lot to do with the direction of my career. I still don’t have a date but I’m working on it. It will be a piece in which I will refine with my art and my own body the wall where I will paint it.

Translator’s note: Follow the link for an explanation of the nom-de-plume “El Sexto,” whose given name is Danilo Maldonado Machado.

26 June 2014

Carlitos’ Body Language / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

Yoani Sánchez, Havana, 1 July 2014 – I remember him well, leaning over the table with head bowed and a vacant look. Carlitos was barely twenty and his every gesture carried the reluctance of someone who had lived too much. The young man ended up emigrating – like so many others – and I suppose there is little time in his new life to let the hours pass lying around bored. However, I continue to see this physical image of apathy and a lack of personal projects everywhere I look. It’s as if the body is speaking and, with its posture, it is saying what so many mouths remain silent about.

Someday when a Cuban body language glossary is prepared, it will include this pose of “falling into the abyss of nothingness.” This appearance of already being defeated, like Carlitos, that so many young people and not so young people present in this country. It’s the nuisance of moving your hands, the droopy eyelids, the permanent drowsiness and a certain relaxation of the lips which barely articulate lazy words, when they are not reduced to simple monosyllables. That the clock is ticking doesn’t matter, life passes and it doesn’t matter, the country slips through our fingers and people couldn’t care less.

While the heroes stand proudly on their marble pedestals, reality finds us bent over, tired, throwing ourselves on the first piece of furniture we come across. Is it perhaps the rebellion of indolence? The muffled scream of disinterest? I don’t know, but everywhere there are these poses that betray a lack of personal and national dreams.

Google Chairman Visits Cuba / 14ymedio

The purpose of the visit is “to promote the virtues of a free and open Internet”

14ymedio, Havana, 28 June 2014 – For two days several representatives of the giant Google, including its executive chairman, paid an official visit to Cuba. With the objective “to promote the virtues of a free and open Internet,” four well-known faces of the American company held meetings with the official sector and also with the alternative scene dedicated to technology and the digital world.

Jared Cohen, Brett Perlmutter, Dan Keyserling and Eric Schmidt – the latter Google’s executive chairman – met with young people at the polytechnic schools, and this Saturday they toured the University of Information Sciences (UCI). On Friday night they also contacted the editors and reporters of our digital daily 14ymedio.

The visit took months of preparation and was the first time a representative of Google had come to Havana to talk about technology and access to the Internet. In 2013, Eric Schmidt mentioned his desire to visit the Island in an interview with The Wall Street Journal. At that time he said he would like to visit the Island to promote the free flow of thought via the Internet and noted that Cuba was “at the top of the list” of his priorities.

During the official program, the visitors were able to see the desire of young people for more open access to the web. They also felt encouraged by the technological and computer science potential on the Island, although it is very limited right now because of problems with Internet connectivity.

In 2011, a fiber optic cable was installed between Cuba and Venezuela to facilitate access to the Internet. Three years after the cable installation was completed there is still no home access to the world wide web and one hour’s connection from a public place costs a third of a month’s salary.

The hope of many Cubans lies in the possibilities of connecting through Google’s balloon-based Project Loon, which will bring the Internet to several areas of the planet. However, the installation of these balloons must be approved and authorized by local authorities, a difficult hurdle in the case of Cuba.

Google Comes to Havana! / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

Google_CYMIMA20140628_0010_18Yoani Sánchez, Havana, 28 June 2014 – Have you ever tried to explain Google to someone who doesn’t know what it is? This happened to me a few days ago with a neighbor girl, barely 10, who asked me, “What’s a search engine?” I didn’t want to get deep into technology so I didn’t tell her anything about the algorithm these services use to organize information, nor did I talk about the “spiders” that travel the entire web to search sites, and much less of the race for positions on their lists, which obsesses so many. Instead, I explained it to her with a reference she could understand: “Google is like the magic mirror in fairy tales. You can ask it what you want and it will give you thousands of possible answers.”

Last night, Google knocked on our door. This isn’t a metaphor, the searcher came to find us. There were several representatives of the most popular of the search engines, peering into our lives and work. Faced with them, we couldn’t resort to so-called text tags, “keywords” and strict page ranks. These were human being, giving big hugs, laughing and curiously exploring the home of our technological inventions and our hairless dog. Jared Cohen, Brett Perlmutter and Dan Keyserling cheerfully climbed to the fourteenth floor of our building and shared with us our journalistic endeavor lacking in Internet, but with a strong commitment to today’s Cuban reality.

I asked if they had connected to the web from any public place. “Slow, very slow”… they explained. Then we started talking about the future, their commitment to Cuban internauts, and the relief of knowing they were aware of the information difficulties we are facing on the island. Before that we had talked with Eric Schmidt and understood that something of the sharpness of his eyes and the certainty of his words could already be guessed in the simple wisdom of Google’s homepage.

It was a technological night without technology. No one took out their cellphones to check the web – it’s not possible in Cuba – and it didn’t occur to anyone to show us the latest doodle, nor to tell us in figures the scale of the company in which they work. We had the immense good fortune of standing in front of the magic mirror, but we didn’t ask questions nor did we want answers, we just described who we are and where we are going.

Human Rights Watch Urges the Union of South American Nations (Unasur) To Respond To Venezuelan Abuses / 14ymedio

New York | June 26, 2014 — The organization Human Rights Watch, in a letter to the foreign ministers of several Latin American nations, today called on the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) “to urge the Venezuelan government to immediately address the grave human rights situation in the country.”

The letter is the corollary to a report by the organization titled “Punished for Protesting: Human Rights Violations in the Streets, Detention Centers, and Justice System of Venezuela,” about the situation in the South American country since the start of the demonstrations on February 12.

“While various international organizations, including human rights rapporteurs of the United Nations and the European Parliament, have expressed concern about human rights violations in Venezuela, UNASUR has not condemned the serious abuses committed by Venezuelan state agents,” said the letter from José Miguel Vivanco, Director for the Americas at Human Rights Watch. continue reading

The letter was sent to foreign ministers Héctor Timerman of Argentina, Luiz Alberto Figueiredo Machado of Brazil, Heraldo Muñoz of Chile; Maria Angela Holguin of Colombia, Ricardo Patino of Ecuador; Gonzalo Gutierrez Reinel of Peru, and Luis Almagro of Uruguay.

Citing “the absence of an independent judiciary in Venezuela that can curb government abuses . . .” the letter “urges the Administration of (President Nicolas) Maduro to protect the rights of the protesters,” referring to the UNASUR Constitutional Treaty of 2008.

The treaty provides that “the founding of the South American union is based on the guiding principles of democracy, citizen participation and pluralism, (and) universal, indivisible, and interdependent human rights,” the letter recalled from the organization in defense of human rights.

In its report, Human Rights Watch highlights abuses that occurred during demonstrations in Venezuela and documents how the National Guard, the Bolivarian National Police, and state police forces have “routinely applied illegitimate force against unarmed protesters and even bystanders.”

According to the organization, some of the attacks carried out by Venezuelan security forces included “severe beatings and the indiscriminate discharge of firearms, shotguns, and tear gas into crowds.”

The report also notes that “in many cases, detainees were held incommunicado at military bases for 48 hours or longer before being brought before a judge,” and that during that time suffered mistreatment that “clearly constituted torture.”

“Venezuela has responded to protests by resorting to excessive use of force, and judicial officials have been complicit in abuses committed by members of the security forces. Dialogue is now stagnant, and the intervention of UNASUR has not led to concrete results to improve the human rights situation in the country,” asserts Human Rights Watch.

They add that the abuses have gone beyond citizens to affect “journalists and others who photographed and filmed the repression,” the report concludes.

The document notes that President Maduro and the Venezuelan Attorney General, Luisa Ortega Díaz, have recognized that members of the security forces committed human rights violations, and have publicly undertaken to investigate these cases, but Human Rights Watch believes that “there is reason to doubt the credibility of these investigations.”

Translated by Tomás A.

I Am Nothing Else But Cuban / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Carlos Alberto Montaner

Carlos Alberto Montaner. 14ymedio
Carlos Alberto Montaner. 14ymedio

Interview with Carlos Alberto Montaner, writer, journalist and political

REINALDO ESCOBAR, Havana, 24 June 2014 — Carlos Alberto Montaner has long been a kind of black beast in the official Cuban government propaganda. Accused of being a terrorist, a CIA agent, an eminence gris in the world counterrevolution, in real life he is an academic and journalist who has been involved in politics without losing his vocation as a writer. In his home in Miami, in front of a window where the bipolar horizon is divided between Cuba and Florida, he responds to 14ymedio’s questions.

Question: You’ve had four passions: teaching, journalism, politics and literature. You’ve alternated between them, although at times some have predominated over others. Will it continue this way?

Answer: For four years I was a professor at a university in Puerto Rico, I enjoyed what I did. I’ve always enjoyed teaching, lecturing, giving classes. But I continue to do journalism, I haven’t renounced politics, and more and more I want to write novels.

Question: Journalism has many dilemmas: fulfill a political assignment, please the readers as if information were one more commodity, and make a commitment to the truth. How do you decide?

Answer: This is greatly debated today. In the United States they want to turn journalists into an objective machine, without a heart or compassion, that can’t make moral judgments, because that’s supposedly discredited. I think that’s a mistake. In these different lives that one has for the different occupations, there are many responsibilities: you have to take care of your family, there is a professional responsibility, and there is a civic responsibility to the wider society in which you live, and this requires making decisions of a moral character which are sometimes at odds with journalism’s too narrow criteria. continue reading

Question: But in any event you have to please the readers?

Answer: The journalist is obliged to interpret what society wants. If you don’t become a person able to summarize and argue what society suspects, then you aren’t going to connect with society, with the readers. One thing I’ve learned over the years is that most people who read you are looking for corroboration of their opinions, the coherent organization of their opinions.

When you’ve managed to bring people’s emotions and beliefs to a comprehensible language, then you’ve become a successful journalist. Authoritarian elements lie when they say that journalists represent the interests of the owners. That’s not true. For the media to function it has to represent the opinions and interests of its readers, to be a spokesperson for a sector of society.

The massacres of Fidel Castro’s early days were repugnant to me and gave me the impression of a detestable person

Question: Were you born a liberal, have you always been a liberal, will you die a liberal?

Answer: I’ve had my evolution. For a very short time I was a revolutionary boy who believed in the Revolution, but almost immediately the massacres of Fidel Castro’s early days were repugnant to me and gave me the impression of a detestable person. No one who talks so many hours straight can be a reliable person at all. Later I felt like a social democrat. That lasted longer. The first lecture I gave I was very young, 18 or 19, it was about the supposed falsity of this affirmation that “the State was a bad administrator.” I had a period until the seventies when I thought the social democratic solution would be better.

When I moved to Spain the in 70s and lived the change intensely and approached the Spanish liberal groups, I discovered something that no one in Cuba knew, that was liberal thinking. It was the time when the triumph of Keynesian ideas, social democracy and all that, were sold.

Question: Do you think that it’s a false dilemma between social justice and freedom?

Answer: There is always a time when we must make decisions confronting this dilemma, but to begin, it’s very difficult for me today to accept that idea that there is an abstract thing that is social justice. I don’t know what that is, and I don’t know because in reality no one knows what that is. There are suppositions that a certain number of benefits correspond to a certain number of people and that there are some officials who arbitrarily are those who know what those benefits are and to whom they’re assigned, and on top of that these officials make decisions in this direction and what they do are atrocities and destroy the possibility of creating wealth.

So, that said, what’s important is that everyone has equal opportunities to compete, and that everyone has the opportunity to study and the best possible health. You can’t ask a malnourished child who comes from a very poor home to compete when his possibilities are limited compared to others. We have to create the conditions where people can achieve their dreams and pursue their objectives, which also change with the evolution of one’s live. Everyone has his projects. There are those who want to be a philosopher, and there are those who want to be an entrepreneur. Nobody has the right to decide what is best for others.

That’s one of the great atrocities of socialism: the existence of a political elite who are the ones who know what happiness is, what should be the price of things, what we should consume, what we should study, what work we should do. Freedom consists precisely of this, the power to make decisions. The more decisions you can make, the freer you are.

I’m interested in participating in whatever change process there is in Cuba, but I believe that (this) process must be in the hands of the young people inside Cuba

Question: All signs indicate that from now on you are going to dedicate more time to literature than to politics. Is this true?

Answer: Literature, writing books of fiction, is an activity more appropriate for seniors than is politics, which is an activity for much younger people.

Question: Does that mean you’ve given up politics?

Answer: No, I never gave up politics in the same way that I never chose it. The political vocation comes naturally. I have a political vocation and I’m interested in participating in whatever change process there is in Cuba, but I believe that any process of this kind must be in the hands of the young people inside Cuba.

Question: You have a clear formulation of the kind of journalist and politician you want to be. Have you defined your style as a novelist?

Answer: I think the language should be used to the benefit of the reader. I don’t believe in baroque literature nor in the value of the phrase that isn’t understood. Gongorism has never interested me. Lezama Lima seems to me to be a very respectable figure, but his writing doesn’t interest me, and I mention this as a paradigm of the kind of literature that takes its quality and academic and literary range as a consequence of its difficulty. What’s important to me is the ability to say things in an elegant, creative but transparent way, with regards to form.

Then there are the technical aspects of the use of grammatical persons, the use precise adjectives, in short, the management of the language. I have published five novels, I have started a sixth. In the first. Perro mundo (Dog World), I related something I experienced and that is basically the story of people who are faced with a terrible choice: either submit or die. There is a character who decides to die rather than submit because his unique ability to act as a human being is to say no, to refuse what they want to impose on him, because to accept it would make him an animal.

From there what has interested me is to tell stories with fictional characters placed in realistic scenarios. La trama (The Plot) plays with the story of the bombing of the Maine, the battleship that exploded in Havana Bay and prompted the intervention of the United States in the War of Independence.

Julio Lobo, the Cuban sugar magnate who collected curious objects and documents – among them the act of the independence of Chile and things like that – had a sworn statement from a group of anarchists in the early twentieth century where they claimed that they were the ones who carried out the explosion. From this data I construct that story, how it was that some anarchists blew up the Maine in April 1898. I use the framework of how they anarchists worked in the U.S. and from there developed the plot.

Years passed dedicated to political and business activities, I picked up the novel again with La mujer del coronel (The Colonel’s Wife), a true story where there was an element of personal challenge. I wanted to explore what is most difficult, which is erotic language, difficult because when people take off their clothes they say things that aren’t very literary and that can be taken as obscene. You move between kitsch and vulgarity. In this case there were two elements, I wanted to tell the story of what seems to me the worst horror of the Cuban Revolution is the affective control of individuals. To decide who you can love and who you can’t, and to punish you when you part from what they believe.

When the government decided in the early 60s that whose who stayed in Cuba shouldn’t have relations with family members who left the country, this was a terrible crime. To give the order that you can’t love your mother, a brother, your friends, this is terrible. I had had that experience in Puerto Rico when a delegation of Cuban athletes came under the direction of José Llanusa, the director of the National Institute of Sports, Physical Education and Recreation, who has been my friend and my basketball coach.

The mother of this man, who became the Minister of Education in Cuba, had been exiled to Puerto Rico and as she was gravely ill she wanted to see her son before she died. But he decided he wouldn’t go see her because he preferred to behave as a revolutionary. This desire to pretend to become the master of human emotions, against which I have always rebelled, is what I wanted to relate in the story of this man, a senior army officer whom they ordered to separate from his wife because there was evidence that she had been unfaithful.

I’d love to have coffee with you at 14ymedio’s offices (but) I think I’ll die without returning to Cuba

The fourth novel is Otra vez adíos (Goodbye Again), which is my favorite. I read once that every ten years Freud arranged to have a portrait done, and this is the story of Freud’s portrait painter, who was Jewish, who had to flee Germany and ended up in Cuba. He ends up having to say goodbye again when the Cuban Revolution comes and he goes to New York.

Tiempo de canallas, which owes a debt to Otra vez adiós, is out of print. It has a chapter about the Cold War, which relates how an anti-communist front was formed on the island with Salvador de Maradiaga and Julian Gorqueno who, in Cuba, counted on Raul Roa. It was the era when Havana celebrated the Congress for Cultural Freedom. I realized that this story of the Battle of Ideas between the Soviet Union and the United States was so extraordinary that it deserved to be addressed as a separate subject in another book.

Tiempo de canallas, is a political thriller set in the time when the Central Intelligence Agency was created. It narrates the nature of those world peace congresses that rested on the propaganda concept with a binary structure where there were good communists and evil capitalists… but it doesn’t tell more because it’s a thriller.

Question. Would you like to go back to Cuba?

Answer. Yes, I would. I am nothing other than Cuban, although I have two other nationalities, the Spanish and American. I left the island at 18 and now I’m 71. I would like to participate in the reconstruction of Cuba, I’d love to have coffee with you at 14ymedio’s offices, stroll through the places of my childhood or the ruins of the places of my childhood. I grew up on Tejadillo street in Old Havana, it was a nice place where you could hear the bells of the Cathedral…

Question. Do you think that will be possible?

Answer. No. I think I will die without returning to Cuba.

14ymedio As Viewed by the International Press / 14ymedio

How the worldwide media reported on the birth of this newspaper and its subsequent censorship on the island

14ymedio, June 21, 2014

Hours before 14ymedio was born, the Spanish newspaper El Mundo published a column by Gina Montaner, “14ymedio’ against ’55ymedio” contrasting the name of our yet unborn daily with the long years that the island lived submerged not only in a lack of information, but also under institutionalized disinformation. Montaner emphasized one of the challenges to the Cuban press, so different from those faced by the international media: “In Cuba everything is up for grabs and the real revolution—the technological one accompanied by freedom of expression—is one of the great challenges of the post-Castro period.” The Cuban journalist added: “If Cubans get access to ‘14ymedio’, it will be a breath of fresh air compared to the nauseating ‘Battle of ldeas’ of the government media.”

A few minutes after 8 a.m. Cuban time this past May 21st, 14ymedio was visible in all the countries of the world. But on the island it could only be seen for a little over an hour. Then, our website was diverted to another address where they tried to discredit the director of 14ymedio. continue reading

The international press reported this blockage. The prestigious American newspaper The Wall Street Journal ran a headline on the 22nd, “ Cuban Dissident Starts Website, Which Is Promptly Hacked.” “Cuba’s government explicitly bars any printed material that it interprets as a threat, so there are no independent newspapers,” noted the newspaper. But despite the lack of internet access in the island, said the writer, the new website “poses a direct challenge to the Cuban regime’s almost total control of information.”

A day after the 14ymedio blockade the Inter-American Press Association (SIP) issued a statement denouncing the situation, which was reproduced by several outlets, including El Nuevo Herald. “While the measure is not surprising, the world expected more tolerance from the government of Raul Castro, considering his efforts to show a more positive, more open image in order to garner more respect from the international community,” it said in a statement setting out the SIP’s views on freedom of expression.

The blockade was lifted briefly on May 24, the day of the publication of a long commentary in the newspaper Granma, which denounced the “project of the counterrevolutionary blogger Yoani Sánchez to create a digital media outlet.” Several international media outlets reproduced 14ymedio’s tweet encouraging Cubans to “read us before the next blockage,” which indeed occurred a few days later. Since then Cubans have had to go back to this newspaper by anonymous proxies that hide the IP of the computer, to prevent the identification of the source of the connection.

On June 2nd the Nuevo Herald of Miami spotlighted the “battle against censorship” in a series dedicated to 14ymedio. Further from our borders, various European media announced the birth of 14ymedio: the British BBC; El Pais in Spain (which published a report last May 22 titled “Birth of the free press in Cuba” and on June 15 interviewed its director); and La Repubblica in Italy, among others. The leading French newspaper, Le Monde, also ran a note to explain the blockade suffered on the island. The title it chose, “Cuba: le premier média numérique bloqué independant dès are lancement” (“Cuba’s first independent online newspaper blocked at its release”), angered some of the independent publications that came before, but from the outset 14ymedio has acknowledged the work of its predecessors.

In Mexico, the daily La Razon devoted considerable space to 14ymedio, reprinting an article most representative of the its writing as part of a piece titled “They Have Resources for a Year and 11 Journalists.” “The editorial staff is composed of 11 persons including Yoani and her husband, Reinaldo Escobar, a journalist with extensive experience, who worked with the official press, but left 30 years ago. Other team members are young Cubans, mostly under 30 years old,” said the newspaper, which also republished the first story run in 14ymedio, “Red Dawn: Havana is Killing Out There.”

Translated by Tomás A.

The Modest Growth of the Cuban Economy Falls Short of Expectations / 14ymedio

14ymedio, Havana | June 23, 2014 — The Cuban economy is growing at a rate slower than the official forecasts, according to data announced by the Minister of Economy and Planning, Adel Yzquierdo Rodriguez. He said that during the first half of this year the GDP (Gross Domestic Product) will increase by just 0.6%, but will improve during the following months to an increase of 1.4% by the end of the year. However, independent analysts question these expectations and believe they are not a realistic reflection of the state of the economy.

The Cabinet last Saturday presented details about “the difficulties that continue to damage the Cuban economy.” Rodriguez blamed the failure of the Plan’s objectives on the “adverse weather conditions” and “the complex international situation.”

The Minister of Finance and Prices, Lina Pedraza Rodriguez, noted a substantial drop in productivity in 124 companies, which had planned a positive balance but ultimately had losses.

At the meeting, the ministers also addressed the issue of monetary unification. The head of the Permanent Commission for Implementation and Development, Marino Murillo Jorge, explained that this measure “will not by itself solve all the problems of the economy,” but requires the implementation of other policies aimed at increasing the efficiency and level of productivity of labor.

In addition, the officials said that, at the end of May, around 467,000 people were self-employed, but they have not provided any statistics on the high number of the self-employed who have ceased their activities.

Translated by Tomás A.

“Casting” for Employment/ 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

Yoani Sánchez, Havana, 25 June 2014 – Eugenia lost her job of thirty years in an office of the Ministry of Transport. She was left “available,” according to the declaration of her bosses, before they offered her a job as a bricklayer. Reluctant to lay bricks and mix mortar, she launched herself on the private market to see what she could find. Her possibilities were few. She doesn’t speak any other languages, she’s never touched a computer, and she doesn’t have the “good looks” of youth.

A friend signed her up on a digital site to look for work. “We don’t accept people with dentures,” said the first interviewer when she went for a job cleaning a house rented to foreigners. The owner of the place wanted “a clean woman who doesn’t talk very much, doesn’t smoke and looks strong.” She hired someone else and Eugenia decided to invest in her physique.

She dyed her hair, bought new shoes, and made the rounds of several cafes and restaurants in Central Havana. Over fifty, almost all the places responded the same, “we already have people in the kitchen and you won’t do for a waitress.” Eugenia noticed that behind the bars or waiting tables in the new privately run places there are almost always young thin women with prominent busts. continue reading

“You are from Havana, right?” she was asked at a place where they contracted with people to wash and iron. Eugenia was born in Holguin and spent nearly her entire life in the Cuban capital, but the owner of the laundry said she wouldn’t do. “We want Havana people, so there will be no problems with relatives who come and want to stay in the house.”

A neighbor told her about another possibility, caring for an old man. He was retired military and could barely get around in a wheel chair. “You can’t say anything bad about the Revolution in front of him,” warned the children of the old man, who had to feed him, change his clothes and read him the Granma newspaper. In the end, Eugenia also failed to get that job.

For a few days she managed to care for a child, but it was only a week because, “if you can’t sing and don’t know any children’s games my son gets bored,” the mother of the little boy told her. Eugenia only knows how to fill out forms, attach stamps, and nod her head affirmatively during the long meetings that were held at her company. She can’t compete in today’s job market.

Yesterday she heard about a job scrubbing in a private restaurant. “You can’t leave the kitchen during work hours,” the cook told her. “It’s better if the customers don’t see you,” he repeated, before confirming that she was “on a trial basis.”

Antunez Under Cautionary Injunction / 14ymedio

14ymedio, Placetas | June 22, 2014 — The activist Jorge Luis Garcia Perez, known as Antúnez, was released last Friday with an injunction that prevents him from leaving the municipality of Placetas without permission. His arrest last Sunday at 10:30 p.m. generated many expressions of concern and solidarity from the Cuban dissident community.

The activist must answer in court for an alleged crime of “public disorder,” for which a file was opened in preparatory phase, case number 651 2014. Initially Antúnez was threatened with being charged with “contempt for the figure of Fidel Castro,” but that charge was later discarded.

If he fails to obey the injunction Antunez could be imprisoned. His current legal situation also prevents him from traveling outside Cuba.

Translated by Tomás A.

Outrage and Confusion Over Silvio Rodriguez’s Statements / 14ymedio

Silvio Rodriguez in concert in 2011
Silvio Rodriguez in concert in 2011

The unusual statements of the singer-songwriter Silvio Rodriguez on the official website Cubadebate have provoked a stir on the web, where the habitual defender of the regime is the object of severe criticism. The person who was the greatest exponent of the Cuban Nueva Trova gave an extensive interview to Cubadebate in which he claimed that during his travels around the neighborhoods of the Island he learned that people in Cuba are “fucked, really fucked, much more fucked than I thought.” And he admitted to having “a much more comfortable life than the vast majority of Cubans.”

A 14ymedio reader commented that, “From his permanent residence in El Vedado [in Havana] and his vacation mansion on Jibacoa beach in Santa Cruz del Norte where he has a view of the sea from a high mountain, it’s clear that he can’t make out the hardships of the people.” This opinion coincided with the those of many who accuse the singer of cynicism and wonder how it is possible that he hasn’t realized that “more than fifty years have passed and the Government is still the same people.” continue reading

Another group of readers point to the possibility that Silvio Rodriguez wants to distance himself from the regime, “now that he knows the end of the dictatorship is imminent, there will be a settling of accounts and he’s trying to clean [up his act].” One of the comments posted on 14ymedio suggests that he maintains his “position as a communist,” because “the chameleons (…) no one respects them, neither one side or the other.”

Anger with Rodriguez is apparent even among the public on the official website, which published their statements. “The worst of all is that those who have lived and do live in that glass bubble without ever rubbing shoulders with those below, are those who run everything, control everything, and make the most important decisions in the names of the those below without consulting anyone and without the ability to see the reality…” laments a Cubadebate reader.

The statements of Silvio Rodriguez, who was a deputy of the National Assembly of People’s Power of Cuba for 15 years and who contributed with his music and his international fame as a singer for the Revolution, has been one of the most read pieces of news on 14ymedio in the first month of its life, and has nearly 4,000 hits on Facebook, one of the highest of the page.