Raul Castro’s Migratory Reform Falters / 14ymedio, Eliecer Avila

Cuban passport (CC)
Cuban passport (CC)

14ymedio, ELIECER AVILA, Las Tunas/November 15, 2014 — Officials, opposition and public opinion in general have recognized as positive the implementation of the Migratory Reform (covering emigration and travel) promoted by the Cuban government at the beginning of 2013.

In spite of the fact that the trips for many dissidents continue to be marked by abuse, delays and confiscations by Cuban customs authorities, the truth is that until now, only people subject to some kind of legal process, whether invented or not, have been prevented from travelling.

But this may be starting to change. Signs of a sudden regression, in regards to the new rules, come to us from the eastern part of the country.

Two officials, the Major “Oliver” and the Lieutenant Colonel “Vilma,” from State Security Management and Immigration and Alien Status Management (DIE), respectively, have communicated categorically to young Hanner Echavarria Licea that “it has been decided that you are not going to travel.”

To that end, today they retain his certified criminal record document, which the Peruvian embassy demands, so that he cannot participate in the conference “Civic Conscience and Citizen Participation” which will take place in Lima.

The youth, a teaching graduate, self-employed and son of a retired official of the FAR, is a serious and educated young man who enjoys high standing in his community. Precisely the kind of person that State Security cannot bear to see fighting for profound change in Cuba.

Echavarria Licea joined the political movement SOMOS+ and was elected by its members to be its leader in Las Tunas. This seems to be the reason for the current reprisal of not letting him leave the country.

His case could be palpable evidence that even today, someone without prior criminal history or any legal entanglement whatsoever, may be prevented from exercising his right to leave the country. Which would mean the end of the more or less serious application of the Migratory Reform.

Translated by MLK

TEDx Lands in Havana / 14ymedio, Rosa Lopez

Herman Portocarrero, ambassador of the European Union Delegation, in Havana during his talk, “Borders Without Borders,” during TEDx Havana (Photo: 14ymedio)
Herman Portocarrero, ambassador of the European Union Delegation, in Havana during his talk, “Borders Without Borders,” during TEDx Havana (Photo: 14ymedio)

For some time, TEDx Havana had been cooking. Those of us who for years have followed the trail of this event, which mixes science, art, design, politics, education, culture and much ingenuity, were counting the days until we could hear on our national stages its stories of entrepreneurship, progress and creativity. Finally, that day arrived, to the gratification of many and the dissatisfaction of many others.

TED is a non-profit organization founded 25 years ago in California, which is an acronym for Technology, Entertainment and Design. Its annual conference has become a feast of ideas and proposals, while the famous “TED Talks” provide a microphone to speakers who inspire their listeners to take on new projects. These talks have, over time, been sneaked into the alternative information networks in Cuba, and they have sparked a desire among the public to see these screen personalities in-person, in the here and now.

For these reasons, there was great anticipation at the news of the imminent landing in our city of that independent – and equally inspiring – part of TED, which is TEDx. The event, named InCUBAndo [“InCUBAting”], took place in the Covarrubias Hall of the National Theatre this past Saturday afternoon. Among the organizers credited in the printed program were the singer Cucú Diamante, the actor Jorge Perugorría, and Andrés Levin, music producer.

We almost did not learn of the arrival of TEDx until 24 hours prior to the curtains being drawn back at the National Theatre.

So, yes, the arrival of this program was literally a landing. The set design in the hall included some little allegorical pink airplanes – the meaning of which many in the audience wondered about – but which turned out to be part of a plastic art installation. Besides which, we almost did not learn of the arrival of TEDx until 24 hours prior to the curtains being drawn back at the National Theatre.

Some flyers distributed at the University of Havana and around the La Rampa cinema last Friday were the first signs to the Havana public that TEDx would arrive in our capital city. Actually, prior to this, the British ambassador to Cuba, Tim Cole, had already announced it on Twitter – but the news only got through to those with Internet access – of which there are very few in this “disconnected city.”

Regardless, as long as we could have TEDx, we were ready to forgive all: the haste of the arrangements, the lack of advertising, and even the “secrecy.” If the event had to occur under these conditions, well, so be it. At any rate, hundreds of Cubans arrived at the scene to hear these exceptional people who were here to tell us their life stories. One of the best presentations was the one titled “Borders Without Borders,” by the diplomat Herman Portocarrero, European Union representative in Cuba.

TEDx Havana participants greet the public at the conclusion of the presentation (Photo: 14ymedio)
TEDx Havana participants greet the public at the conclusion of the presentation (Photo: 14ymedio)

The energy in the X Alfonso Hall could be felt also from Portocarrero’s story of the birth and first steps of the Cuban Art Factory. Meanwhile the founder of the famous La Guarida restaurant tackled the difficult but gratifying path of the entrepreneur. As host, a dynamic and subtly humorous Amaury Pérez was a good link betweeb some parts of the program. Missing, however, were the voices – further away from the worlds of show business and diplomacy – of others whose ingenuity helps them to survive every day, negotiate the commonplace difficulties, and unbuckle themselves from the straightjacket of our reality.

I do not know the process that was employed to select speakers for TEDx Havana, but what I saw on the stage left me a taste of incompleteness and partiality. The dance music seemed intended to fill those voids and distract an audience that mainly had come to hear anecdotes, testimonies and life stories.

Some of the guest speakers politicized the proceedings, favoring, of course, the official line.

The worst moment was without a doubt the segment of extemporaneous versifiers Tomasita and Luis Paz – who in the middle of their improvisations sang praises to the five Cuban spies, of which three are still in prison in the United States. Up until that moment, many of us accepted the rules of TEDx Havana. Faced with the evident absences at those microphones, I believe that we had convinced ourselves that “it was all right that spaces not be politicized that way.” However, as it turned out, some of the guest speakers politicized the proceedings – favoring, of course, the official line.

Even with all the shambles, TEDx Havana leaves a good taste in the mouth – at the least a feeling that there are people not only with much to tell, but with expressiveness and composure in telling it before hundreds of attentive eyes. The experiences of this first edition will serve to better the second opportunity this event will have to take place among us.

If the organizers are open to suggestions for future TEDx events, it would be good to emphasize better and greater promotion prior to this feast of creativity and entrepreneurship. In addition, let us have transparency in the process of selecting the speakers, so that they may compete and audition in advance, from those who have created a small cottage industry of homemade preserves, to even those who, with ingenuity, laugh at censorship or dream of a Cuba where success in accomplishment is not something extraordinary, but commonplace.

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

Havana, how you hurt me! / Yoani Sanchez

Collapsed building in Havana (Photo: Sylvia Corbelle)
Collapsed building in Havana (Photo: Sylvia Corbelle)

Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 16 November 2004 – To be a Havanan is not having been born in a territory, it’s carrying that territory on your back and not being able to put it down. The first time I realized I belonged to this city I was seven years old. I was in a little town in Villa Clara, trying to reach some guavas on a branch, when a bunch of kids from the place surrounded my sister and me. “They’re from Havana! They’re from Havana!” they shrieked. At that moment we didn’t understand so much uproar, but with time we realized that we had come by a sad privilege. Having been born in this city in decline, in this city whose major attraction is what it could be, not what it is.

I am totally urban, a city girl. I grew up in the Cayo Hueso neighborhood where the nearest trees are more than 500 yards away. I am the child of asphalt, of the smell of kerosene, of clotheslines dripping from the balconies and sewer pipes that overflow from time to time. This has never been an easy city. Not even on the tourist postcards, with their retouched colors, can you see a comfortable and comprehensible Havana.

Sometimes now I don’t want to walk it, because it hurts me. I am heading up Belascoaín, my back the sea that I know so well. I arrive at the corner of Reina Street. There is a Gothic-style church, which as a little girl I perceived to be lost in the clouds. I saw my first Christmas tree there when I was seventeen. I walk though the doors, skipping a little to this side and that. Water trickles down some stairs and a woman tries to sell me some milk caramels that are the same color as the street.

I see the traffic light at Galiano, but the pace slows because there are so many people. A cop turns the corner and some hide themselves behind the doors or slip into stores as if they were going to buy something. When the officer leaves, they return and offer their merchandise in undertones. Because Havana is a city of cries and whispers. Those immersed in their own blather may never hear the whispers. The most important things are always said with a nod, a gesture or a simple pursing of the lips that warns you, “be careful,” “coming over there,” “follow me.” A language developed during decades of the clandestine and illegal.

Neptune Street is nearby. I hear an old couple in front of a façade saying, “Hey? Wasn’t it here where there was…?” but I didn’t manage to hear the end of the sentence. Better that way, because Havana is a sequence of nostalgia, memories. When you walk, it’s like you’re traversing the path of the lost. Where a building collapses into rubble that remains for days, for weeks. Later, the hole is made into a park, or a metal kiosk is built to sell soap, trinkets and rum. A lot of rum, because this is a city that drowns its sorrows in alcohol.

I reach the Malecon. In less than half an hour I’ve walked the slice of the city that in my childhood seemed to contain the whole metropolis. Because I was a “guajira de Centro Habana,” an urchin of downtown, one of those who thinks that “the green zones” start right after Infanta Street. With time, I understood that this capital is too big to know the whole of. I also learned that those born in the neighborhoods of Diez de Octubre, el Cerro, el Vedado or Marianao, shared the same sensation of pain. In any event, Havana shows its wounds in any neighborhood.

I touch the wall that separates us from the sea. It is rough and warm. Where are those kids who, in my childhood, in a remote little village, looked at me in astonishment because I was a Havanan? Will they want to bear this burden? Have they also ended up in this city, living among its dumpsters and lights? Does it pain them like it pains me? I’m sure it does, because Havana is not just a location inscribed in our identity documents. This city is a cross that is carried everywhere, a territory that once you have lived it, you cannot abandon.

Some Seven Thousand Cows ‘Disappear” in Villa Clara Province / 14ymedio, Orlando Palma

Cows in Cuba (CC)
Cows in Cuba (CC)

14ymedio, Orlando Palma, Villa Clara, 15 November 2014 – Around 7,000 head of beef cattle were presumed disappeared in the space of a year during a count carried out in ten cattle ranches in the province of Villa Clara, according to a report by the newspaper Juventud Rebelde.

The inspection, carried out by the province’s Department of Livestock Registration and revealed by the official newspaper, was carried out in a group of agricultural production cooperatives where 51 animals were found missing, whereas the State sector counted around 6,900 “not found,” which means the loss of practically the total inventory of these ranches.

Among the explanations the ranchers offered their inspectors are: deaths that could not be reported for lack of a veterinarian to issue the relevant certificate; statistical errors; and – not ruling out! – the possibility that the disappeared cows were victims of theft and illegal slaughter.

To add a touch of science fiction to the matter, as if it had to do with some kind of abduction carried out by extra-terrestrials, the possibility was mentioned that some of the vanished cattle might reappear, maybe because it will be less dangerous to get them from their hiding places without much explanation than to face up and confess where the innocent animals were kept.

Most of the missing heads of cattle were from the townships of Manicaragua, Encrucijada and Sagua La Grande.

Translator’s note: Cows in Cuba belong to the State and it is against the law to kill and eat them. This post from Miguel Iturria Medina — Is Killing a Cow Worse Than Murder — discusses the relative penalties for murder of a human being versus slaughter of a cow. This post from Yoani Sanchez — Male Heifers and Cow Suicide — discusses a creative ways to get around the law.

Translated by MLK

Exodus, “Modernization,” Solutions and Demands from Democratic Socialism / 14ymedio, Pedro Campos

We democratic socialists have made many proposals for overcoming “State socialism.” We are ignored in spite of our disposition towards dialogue. The past is not the solution for the present, nor for the future.

14ymedio, PEDRO CAMPOS, 4 November 2014 — It is no secret to anyone that in the last year, Cuba has experienced a considerable increase in departures abroad, particularly to the United States, by all possible avenues and, unfortunately, by the most dangerous, in improvised vessels through the Florida Straits and cross-country through Central America, crossing Mexico to arrive at the northern border. Some time ago the topic was broached by the independent and international press. In Cuba…silence.

The problem is, and it must be said loud and clear: The Raulist “modernization,” which offered hope and an interlude of awaiting better times, is not producing the economic, political or social results that it at first awoke among a good number of Cubans. And that is the fundamental cause that is provoking this exodus that threatens to become massive.

Raul Castro’s government itself, without clearly saying it, has recognized it with the announcement of that meager 0.6% growth in the first six months and with the measures taken in the last meeting of the Council of Ministers.

Cuban economists here in Cuba, including some who qualify as official, have publicly manifested their dissatisfaction with the limits and obstacles of the “modernization” measures. This is not about blaming or attacking anyone in particular. But any government, in any part of the world, is responsible for taking necessary measures to guarantee the well-being and contentment of its people.

This silent exodus requires all of us who are interested in the good of the Cuban people to think of solutions, throwing aside all prejudice, mottos, or slogans like that of “without rest but without hurry,” in order to try to find and apply quick, practical and effective solutions.

The Cuban government again blames the imperialist blockade for all ills. But it does nothing even to support the anti-embargo campaign that the New York Times is leading.

The practical measures that it takes do not wind up freeing productive forces, as Raul Castro himself has called for, and they maintain all kinds of obstacles against self-employed work, against the expansion of small business, and especially against autonomous cooperatives, without which post-capitalist society, socialism, is an illusion. continue reading

The State, by various bureaucratic mechanisms, keeps monopolizing internal trade and increasingly restricts the least chance for citizens to import small-scale consumer media that the state-military monopoly TRD* stores are incapable of offering.

Even though opposition politics and thought are peaceful and inoffensive, their repression continues.

The internet continues to be inaccessible for the great majority of the population, unaware of its importance and meaning for the broad development of individual and collective abilities, for the market between different sectors and areas of production, for culture and scientific-technical growth.

The supposed decentralization of state enterprises has been nothing more than a simulation with the creation of the Superior Organization of Entrepreneurial Leadership (OSDE), an intermediate link subordinate to the ministers who neutralize the announced entrepreneurial autonomy and, instead of reducing bureaucracy, increase it.

On the other hand, there is not a single movement in the modernization that points to the direct participation of workers in ownership, leadership, management or profits in the businesses that the State considers most important and productive.

Nevertheless, it organizes “cooperatives” in unprofitable state service workshops that are in crisis, with a series of conditions and dependencies that seem more devoted to demonstrating the failure of cooperative business forms than searching for socialist solutions.

What is the consequence? The entrepreneurs, young technical and professional workers who in some way hope to see positive results from the “modernization,” do not see in practice any real rectification of the statist, bureaucratic, and centralized course and, simply tired, they have decided to undertake the adventure of exile.

Raul said that the mindset had to change. And that is absolutely true. But it is also true that a true process of rectification may be hard to carry out by the same ones who for half a century have been working and living with the mentality that has to change.

That philosophy that continues in force is seen every day in the Party press, where the statements of high leaders continue blaming workers and low-level bureaucrats for the country’s serious problems and low productivity, when we all know that the only thing responsible is that salaried, centralized and bureaucratized state model that pretends to change without changing essentially anything.

If Raul does not want to pass into history as a failed follower of willfully traditional policies, he himself will have to produce a change in his mentality, open himself to new times, forget the worn out “Marxist/Leninist” theories of a single-party leader of a dictatorship of the proletariat and of non-democratic centralism, and end up achieving true changes guided by democratization and socialization of politics and the economy.

This demand does not come from Miami, from the traditional opposition to socialist ideas or from any organization financed by “the enemy.” It comes from the last deprived step of the pyramid—“the low man on the totem pole”—with barely a crust of bread on the table, by the right of having sacrificed and delivered the best years of our lives to a revolutionary process into which we poured the great majority of our hopes.

We do it from that generation that today, courting 60 or 70 years of age, has to invent for itself a means of living because the miserable pensions do not cover food for a week; the generation that did not hesitate to step to the front when called upon for Girón (the Bay of Pigs), El Escambray, the Literacy Campaign or the Militias or when they asked us for the unconditional delivery of thousands of hours of voluntary work in the cane, coffee and tobacco fields.

We do it from the right given us for having completed international missions in which life left us, not occasionally but almost daily, for years and on the enemy field.

How to come out from this?

We democratic socialists from Cuba and all over the world have written quite a lot about how to overcome the model of “State socialism” which masks a monopolistic State capitalism. They have never wanted to hear us, or our proposals have been applied in a skewed and incoherent manner although we have always been open to dialogue. But some cheesy bureaucrats have labeled us even as enemies and agents of imperialism.

For ourselves, old now, many sick, veterans of uncounted battles, we ask for nothing; but we do demand with all the strength of our voices, semi-muffled by the years and by intolerance, that they finally taking practical steps, effective for getting the Cuban people out of this situation, so that our children and grandchildren do not have to keep risking their lives in the waters of the Caribbean or crossing Central American borders and so that we do not have to repent on our death beds for having served causes that have turned out to be ignoble.

We also know that there is more time than life and that the past is not the solution for the present but for the future.

For a society of free workers.

*Translator’s note: The State-run stores selling only in hard currency are called “TRDs” – an acronym for the phrase: Currency Collection Stores. In other words, they are designed to ‘collect’ the income some Cubans receive from remittances sent by their family and friends abroad, by selling products otherwise unavailable at hugely inflated prices.

Translated by MLK

Cuban-Spaniards Demand Their Rights to Social Security / 14ymedio, Ferran Nunez

Spanish passport (CC)
Spanish passport (CC)

14ymedio, Ferrán Nuñez, Paris, 7 November 2014 — It was the month of November 2007. A group of seven Latin American countries led by Spain decided to sign a historic agreement that never came to be, so far, a mere bureaucratic anecdote. In effect, the Multilateral Spanish American Convention on Social Security offered a legal solution to the Hispano-American workers who moved to a Spain then in the middle of a real estate boom. Similarly, it dealt with former refugees from Chile, Uruguay and other states who, after a life of work in Europe and once democracy was re-established in their countries of origin, wanted to return home with their acquired retirement rights.

Naturally, this movement of workers is part of the wider trend of globalization which, as we know, accelerated the displacement of workers from the poorest regions to richer ones, thus creating an ever greater interdependence among countries. Specifically, among Hispanic nations where there is “a common cultural, economic and social framework,” this agreement is intended to become an instrument to coordinate the disparate national laws so that migrating workers and their families, in the always possible case of return, “could enjoy the benefits generated by their work in their host countries.” In this way, the agreement has facilitated the return to their country of origin of many workers hit by the current financial crisis.

The Cuban Case

The Spanish Law of Historical Memory permitted the children and grandchildren of Spaniards to claim the nationality of their ancestors. The current global crisis that the island is experiencing has caused many descendants of those Spaniards, among whom are included the children of Fidel Castro himself, to welcome the benefits of this law in order to be able to emigrate. According to the latest official consulate data, half a million applications were made, of which 190 thousand have been accepted and 100 thousand are pending. In the end Cuba will have the greatest colony of Spaniards of all the Americas.

Thus, many fellow countrymen, looking for a better future, have managed to install themselves on the Spanish peninsula and in other countries. Spain, through its seventeen administrative authorities, is devoting considerable resources to organizing the return of these families. However, the arrival of new Spaniards to the peninsular territory may be traumatic since there exist no agreements between Madrid and Havana for recognizing the retirements, among other deficiencies, as pointed out by lawyer Pedro Luis Sanudo from his blog DobleR, where he advises waiting for “better times” to try the return adventure.

Based on these realities, an affected group above age 50, residents in Spain, headed by the returnee Cuban-Spaniard Alvaro Miralles, has gathered signatures (ten thousand) on the platform Change.org. The object of his demand is simple: Cuba’s inclusion in the Multilateral Spanish American Convention on Social Security. He intends to send this petition to the King and to the Foreign Relations Ministers of Spain and Cuba during the next Spanish American Summit which takes place in December in the Mexican state of Veracruz.

For Miralles it is not only a problem of basic justice and equity among all Hispano-American countries. The protection of Cubans abroad should be a priority, and he concludes his petition saying: “Cuba has just received great support in the heart of the United Nations for the lifting of the economic embargo of Cuba; we believe this is a good opportunity to also lift another embargo that exists between Spain and Cuba as regards social security.” The next visit of the Spanish Chancellor to Havana, announced for next November 24, could be the best occasion to complete this agreement.


Ferrán Nuñez has published the book “Historia de Cuba y de España para tontos” (The History of Cuba and Spain for Idiots).

Translated by MLK

The official press keeps the government satisfied / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

Miguel Dí­az-Canel Bermúdez
Miguel Dí­az-Canel Bermúdez

14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 12 November 2014 – In a meeting with the president of the Cuban Journalists Union (UPEC), the first vice president, Miguel Díaz-Canel Bermúdez, said journalists had a responsibility to investigate more before offering an opinion, but also praised the work undertaken in recent weeks by the national press, giving as an example that published on Ebola, the comments about the editorial in The New York Times and other local topics.

This is the fifteenth meeting of its kind and it was held at the Council of State in the offices of the vice president, who has paid special attention to the work of journalists since the Ninth Congress of UPEC in July of last year. Diaz-Canel said he was pleased with the good level of those working in critical posts at the provincial newspapers.

After the meeting no detailed indication emerged relating to any notable excesses or gaps in the mass media, although it did seem to the vice president that “our media is fresher” and the Cuban press has begun to reflect topics that appear in the media of other countries. continue reading

At the meeting Antonio Molton, the president of UPEC, reported on the upcoming participation of the organization leading the meeting of the Federation of Latin America Journalists (FELAP), which will be held this week in Ecuador.

As is known, the media authorized in this country are closely controlled by the Communist Party, an organization that behaves like a true proprietor in naming the directors and outlining the editorial line of every newspaper, magazine, radio station and television station, be it national or provincial.

Lately there have been more critical articles and readers’ letters with notes of the inadequacies and mistakes of state entities, as well as critical demonstrations related to the quality of services or the prices of some products. What still had not been permitted – and Díaz-Canel did not speak of this – is questioning the legitimacy of the leaders or casting doubt on the viability of the socialist system in the country.

No independent journalist nor alternative blogger belongs to UPEC.

Orphans of the Wall / 14ymedio, Bernard de la Grange

Germans tackle the Berlin Wall, 1989 (CC)

14ymedio, Bertrand de la Grange, Madrid/November 8, 2014 — Prensa Latina devoted only ten lines to news that stunned the world. Below a detached title – “The GDR Announces the Opening of its Borders” – the Cuban agency related on November 9, 1989, that the German Democratic Republic had just made an administrative “ruling” by which “citizens will be able to take private trips without the need to explain their reasons.” The word “wall” did not appear in the teletype. Such moderation reflected the prevailing confusion in Havana.

The transcendental event that western media celebrated was a catastrophe for the allies of the Soviet Union in the Americas. Cuba and Sandinista Nicaragua were in mourning. The guerillas still active in the region, above all the Salvadoran FMLN, the Guatemalan URNG, and to a lesser extent the Colombian FARC, saw their logistical and diplomatic space reduced with the weakening of the communist bloc.

Mikhail Gorbachev’s trip to Cuba, some months before, had made evident the gulf that separated the Soviet president from the then Maximum Leader who held tight to ideological orthodoxy as a detractor of the Perestroika economic reforms, which were seen by Havana as an imitation of capitalism. “We have seen sad things in other socialist countries, very sad things,” Fidel Castro would later say in reference to the changes that took place two years after the collapse of the USSR, with its devastating consequences for the Cuban economy, totally dependent on subsidies from Moscow. continue reading

The events of November 9 also alarmed the Sandinista leaders in Nicaragua. They did not expect it, in spite of – or perhaps because of – their close relationship with the Stasi, the intelligence apparatus of the GDR, which along with Cubans managed the security of the nine leaders of the revolution. A year before, the Stasi had played a key role in Operation Berta in order to change by force of arms the Nicaraguan currency in a desperate effort to stop an inflation of 36,000%, which the government managed to reduce to 2,000% in 1989.

When the news arrived from Berlin, Nicaragua was immersed in a very tense electoral campaign. At the request of the White House, Gorbachev had convinced the Sandinista government to advance the elections scheduled for the end of the year to February 25, 1990. This was about looking for a political exit to the war between the Sandinista forces, supported by Havana, and an essentially peasant rebellion, the Contras, sustained by Washington. Managua was then an important piece on the regional geo-political board, and the US feared that El Salvador would be the next chip to fall.

The Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) hoped to achieve with those elections democratic legitimacy to convince the international community of the need to disarm the Contras under the supervision of the United Nations. Opposing, the National Opposition Union (UNO) a coalition of 14 parties from the whole political spectrum, seemed to have not the least chance of winning. Its candidate, Violeta Barrios, widow of Joaquin Chamorro, assassinated during the Somoza dictatorship, was a housewife without political experience. Instead, the FSLN counted on the overwhelming machinery of the State to impose its candidate, Daniel Ortega, who had spent a decade in power.

La Prensa, property of the Chamorro family, dedicated extensive coverage to the Berlin event, including an editorial entitled, “Fall of the Wall, a Miracle of History.” Antonio Lacayo, son-in-law and close adviser to the UNO candidate, saw the opportunity that was presented to them. “We knew immediately that that historic event would have very favorable repercussions for us in the campaign against the Sandinistas,” he says in a book, The Difficult Nicaraguan Transition, published in 2005. “We said that if the Germans were capable of throwing off forty years of dictatorship, we could throw off ours of ten years…”

He was not wrong. Contrary to the surveys, the international press and the diplomats, who predicted a comfortable victory for Daniel Ortega, Violeta de Chamorro won with almost 55% of the vote.

“The electoral defeat of the Sandinistas was our Berlin Wall, we were convinced we were going to win,” Joaquin Villalobos would later say. Villalobos was one of the leaders of the Salvadoran guerrilla group, the Farabundo Marti Front for National Liberation, which had its rearguard in Managua. Instead, the events of November 1989 in Germany did not affect them “morally,” and they decided to continue with their plans to launch an unprecedented military offensive against the capital, San Salvador, and the country’s principal cities.

The political times of Central America did not match up with those of Eastern Europe. The Salvadoran guerrillas saw their survival endangered in the face of pressures from the United States on Gorbachev to stop the deliveries of Soviet arms through Cuba and Nicaragua. The FMLN dreamed of winning power by means of weapons, although their more realistic commanders settled for achieving a greater control of terrain in preparation for a negotiation.

While the Cold War was dying out and the citizens of East Germany were celebrating their new freedom, the leaders of the FMLN hurried the final details of “Operation To the Top” in safe houses placed at their disposal by the Sandinista government. November 11, a little before eight at night, Radio Venceremos, the emissary of the Salvadoran guerrillas, received the message from Joaquin Villalobos: “We are on the march. From here to there, there is no retreat,” he said from Managua. The offensive was beginning.

The Soviets were furious at feeling tricked by their Sandinista allies who had committed to cutting off logistical help to the FMLN. The minister of Foreign Affairs, Eduard Shevardnadze, one of Gorbachev’s closest associates, had traveled to Nicaragua the month before to announce Moscow’s decision to collaborate with the peace plan for Central America, launched two years before with international support.

Close to 4,000 Salvadorans died in the two weeks of combat, between guerrilla fighters, soldiers and the civil population. Was anything achieved? According to writer David Escobar Galindo, ex-negotiator for the government, “The offensive of November 11, 1989, opened the possibility for peace by demonstrating that war could not be decided militarily.” Terror had reached an equilibrium. Both sides would sign the peace in 1992 and, a distant consequence of the fall of the Wall, the FMLN would come to power by the ballot box in 2009.

Editor’s note: This text has been previously published in the daily El Pais. We reproduce it with permission of the author.

Bertrand de la Grange was a correspondent for Le Monde in Central America when the Wall fell.

Translated by MLK

The Dominant Interests / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

Granma article against The New York Times, April 24, 2003: “The New York Times is neither serious nor liberal”
Granma article against The New York Times, April 24, 2003: “The New York Times is neither serious nor liberal”

14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 11 November 2014 — I was tempted to title this text “The Good New York Times and Bad New York Times”, but since Yoani Sanchez had done the same with USAID it seemed repetitive.

The truth is that lately, and in an unusual manner, the official organ of the Cuban Communist Party, the newspaper Granma, and its televised arm, The Roundtable show, haven’t stopped repeating the good reasons this newspaper has for criticizing the embargo, for demanding that Alan Gross be exchanged for Cuba’s Ministry of the Interior (MININT) prisoners held in the United States, or for criticizing U.S. policy with regards to the Cuban government. This is the good New York Times, a credible and influential American newspaper. continue reading

But some have the healthy habit of saving paper and among these pearls appears, published in the Granma itself, an article which speaks very differently in relation to the famous newspaper .

On April 24, 2003, the news was fresh of the imprisonment of 75 Cuban dissidents (originally there were 80 defendants) who were given sentences of 15, 20 and up to 28 years imprisonment. The New York Times addressed that process, later dubbed the Black Spring, and to the Cuban government this was unforgivable.

Granma’s response, under the byline of Arsenio Rodríguez, was overwhelming and conclusive. “…their editorial decisions are neither serious nor liberal, but obediently follow orders in defense of the interests of the dominant powers in this nation.” And concluding with this succinct affirmation: “… the true role of the New York Times was, is and will be to represent the essence of the empire.”

The question some of us in Cuba ask is if the newspaper has ceased to represent the imperial interests of the United States (if this was ever the case) or if now those interests are changing and something is moving under the table, behind the backs of the only protagonists in this drama: Cubans.

I do not know if Arsenio Rodriguez has retired, how old he is, or if he prefers to “pass” on the subject, but I would love to read his opinion now. I would give anything to have the evidence that the editorial decisions of Granma dutifully obey orders in defense of the dominant interests.

Defections by Cuban Doctors in Venezuela Double / 14ymedio

Cuban doctors before leaving on a “mission” (EFE)
Cuban doctors before leaving on a “mission” (EFE)

14ymedio, Havana, 10 November 2014 — Some 700 Cuban health professionals defected from Venezuela between September 2013 and September 2014, according to data published Sunday in Caracas by the daily El Universal. The majority went to the United States and reported the deterioration of their work conditions.

This figure doubles the number from the same period a year earlier, when some 300 professionals left their missions, according to information from Solidarity Without Borders (SSF), an organization with headquarters in Miami that helps Cuban health professionals looking for a better future.

“The worsening of conditions in Venezuela is causing an increase in defections. The lack of safety, low pay, worker exploitation and control over private life continue to be the big reasons,” said Doctor Julio Cesar Alfonso, president of the organization, to El Universal. continue reading

Alfonso explains that the most significant increase was registered after the death of President Hugo Chavez. Among other reasons that impel doctors to escape, according to the organization’s president, are the devaluation of the bolivar, an average salary of 100 dollars at the official exchange rate and few prospects for professional development.

The phenomenon is not limited to Venezuela and, according to Solidarity Without Borders, some 1,100 Cuban professionals abandoned their missions abroad between September 2013 and 2014.

Translated by MLK

Cuban Doctors Are Enslaved Says ‘The Wall Street Journal’ / 14ymedio

The Column ‘Cuba’s Slave Trade in Doctors’ in ‘The Wall Street Journal’
The Column ‘Cuba’s Slave Trade in Doctors’ in ‘The Wall Street Journal’

14ymedio, Havana, 10 November 2014 — In an article published Sunday, the Wall Street Journal lashes out against the “doctor diplomacy” carried out by the Island by sending health personnel abroad. The newspaper compares the system with the “slave trade” in spite of international praise.

Columnist Mary Anastasia O’Grady, however, asserts that the doctors who travel to poor countries “are not a gift from Cuba,” since the Island earns some 8 billion dollars annually at the expense of the workers through the payments it receives from the host country – as in the case of Venezuela – or other countries who send funds to the World Health Organization. O’Grady reminds readers that the medical personnel do not receive their remuneration directly and that this money goes to the coffers of the state which only dedicates a small part to the salaries. continue reading

“It is the perfect crime: By sending its subjects abroad to help poor people, the regime gains from the global community the image of a disinterested contributor even though it exploits the workers and enriches itself at their expense,” writes the columnist. “This is a great business which, if were not carried out by Marxists gangsters, surely would offend journalists. Instead, they swallow it.”

O’Grady insists that “human trafficking is nothing new for Havana, nor is it limited to the medical profession.” Refusing to participate in a mission can mean the loss of employment—as Cuban Doctor Antonio Guedes reported from Madrid to the German international television chain DW—or have consequences for children’s university admission.

In 2008, some workers reported to the United States Justice Department the hard work conditions and the salary of three cents per hour they received during a mission to Curacao where they went to work in exchange for Cuba’s debt to Curacao Drydock Company. The relatives of the claimants, according to the report by the United States newspaper The Christian Science Monitor, “lost jobs and access to education and suffered harassment by gangs.”

The columnist emphasizes that sending medical personnel abroad is causing a shortage of doctors in Cuba, in spite of the delicate epidemiological situation the Island is experiencing, affected by outbreaks of dengue fever and cholera.

Translated by MLK

Education on the Market / 14ymedio, Orlando Palma

Start of the school year at the University of Havana, one of the education centers that would offer export of education services
Start of the school year at the University of Havana, one of the education centers that would offer export of education services

14ymedio, Orlando Palma, Havana/November 8, 2014 — Although missing from the opportunities portfolio, “the exportation of academic services” may be a considerable field for obtaining foreign currency given the presence of more than two thousand Cuban helpers in some 14 countries, according to what Doctor Aida Terrero Lafita, director of International Relations for the Ministry of Education, set forth in a press conference.

Although the amount that this would represent for the country was not made public, the official emphasized that among those programs most in demand abroad are a literacy teaching program known as Yes, I Can, and another called Teach Your Child, intended for early childhood, and those that focus on special education.

Dr. Terrero specified that on the African continent there is a growing trend of seeking Cuban collaboration in technical and professional education, especially as related to jobs in the fields of electricity, construction and agronomy. continue reading

The branch of the Ministry of Education charged with exporting academic services includes a team of 26 specialists occupied with carrying out the process for selecting the teachers who will offer services abroad.

There are many educators who aspire to carry out one of these missions, now lacking the epic and caring character of other times and marked today by the economic needs of the country and the hardships that these professionals experience. In spite of receiving a fraction of what the State raises in payment for their services, many of them consider the missions in other countries an opportunity to improve economically and acquire consumer goods.

Public Health personnel have been doing something similar and, according to unofficial figures, close to 50,000 people from that sector currently lend service abroad. They are mainly in Venezuela, Brazil, Nicaragua, and Bolivia, also in Argentina, Ecuador, Haiti, Guatemala, Panama and many other countries.

Translated by MLK

Between the Renovated and the Pathetic / 14ymedio, Eliecer Avila

News from Cuban television, with Rafael Serrano at the front
News from Cuban television, with Rafael Serrano at the front

14ymedio, Eliecer Avila, Havana/November 5, 2014 — In recent months, an attempt to renovate the look of Television National News has been noted. They have changed the set, adding colors and trying to infuse dynamism and spontaneity into the reading.

It is clear that the directors of that news program have been inspired by the style of TeleSur, their only “competitor,” which combines the visual quality of the big television companies with its spokesman mission for the governments of Cuba and Venezuela. In order to carry out their political influence and consolidation of power, TeleSur has created a broad platform of opinion.

Faced with the effectiveness of TeleSur, the “cable” news programs and the packets, the directors of National News have no option but to put on a little makeup or they won’t even watch themselves. Nevertheless, we see how the newscasters fail to adapt to the new format: They feign dialogue, and it comes out wooden; they try to be spontaneous, but fear of making a mistake makes them rigid and stuttering; they want to give the impression of analysis but they wind up reading the raw, pre-conceived note.

They do not have a single journalist who really knows what he speaks of or can form intelligent questions or comments about events. Let’s see about today: They talked about the plenary session of Popular Power in Havana, where Esteban Lazo called for taking measures; about a national meeting of Protestant churches, where its president asserted that “in other places, no, but here we live in a society of dialogue;” and finally, about the president of the European Parliament who leaves his post when “the terrible social situation that exists in Europe” worsens following austerity policies.

With that news, lacking all objectivity, disconnected from reality and useless for any member of the public, they will never be credible even if they dress the newscasters in Halloween style or give Rafael Serrano an Afro.

Translated by MLK

Consumers rather than citizens / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

Mara Góngora, Eduardo Mora and Yisel Filiu on the set of the Buenos Dias program. (Source: Facebook)
Mara Góngora, Eduardo Mora and Yisel Filiu on the set of the Buenos Dias program. (Source: Facebook)

14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, 3 November 2014 – We are consumers more than citizens. That is the conclusion to be drawn after having seen the “Con sentido” segment on the Buenos Días TV program. In the introduction they announced to us that the topic would be the rights we know, our rights they violate, knowledge of and compliance with the Constitution of the Republic.

But imagine our frustration to find that, during the entire time the screen was filled with specialists, legislators and people in general, interviewed on the street and in the studio, not a single word was said about how the police treat citizens, the wrongful retention of items in Customs, the time a person can be jailed without trial, the innumerable violations that derive from the lack of freedom of expression and association and long string that doesn’t fit in this space. continue reading

Instead the commentator, in the first minutes, the commentator offered what would be a litany of what set off the subsequent “protests,” among them falsifying the weights of products, not giving the correct change, or receipts not being entered into accounts. The most serious criticism referred to the absence or scarcity of copies of our Constitution and limited disclosure that is given to the law.

Appealing to the trick of mentioning the important to later anchor it to the less important details, we could hear statements such as these: “Our fundamental problem is that we don’t know our rights or we barely know them. We aren’t brought up with a judicial culture. Now they violate our rights and we don’t know what to do; worse, they violate rights we don’t even know we have.”

Two young women, the deputy Dayama Fundora and the specialist Maidelis Riguero, both on the National Assembly of People’s Power Commission on Constitutional and Judicial Matters, concentrated on the rights enjoyed by Cubans, such as education, health care, and jobs, and alluded to the fact that at that time they were working on the creation of a Consumer Protection Law.

The man-on-the-street interviews had their most daring moment when they asked a woman if it seemed right that they search a purse in the street, and she answered that if she hadn’t committed any crime there was no need to search her. But the majority of the selected interviewees spoke about the weight of the merchandise or the quality of the products. Also prevalent was the uselessness of complaining because in most cases no reply is received.

But the jewel in the crown was the voiceover saying, “To the extent that people know the mechanisms to make complaints, encounter receptive ears, find solutions to their complaints and feel that denouncing a negative act is not creating conflict but a contribution to bettering things, then they will break some of the chains of complicity that have their origin in the failure of citizens to do their du

Our wall has not fallen … but it is not eternal / Yoani Sanchez

The fall of the Berlin Wall or the birth of a new era (Archive Photo)
The fall of the Berlin Wall or the birth of a new era (Archive Photo)

14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 9 November 2014 – My life up to then had always been lived between walls. The wall of the Malecon that separated me from a world of which I’d only heard the horror. The wall of the school where I studied when Germany was reunified. The long wall behind which the illegal sellers of sweets and treats hid themselves. Almost six feet of some overlapping bricks that some classmates jumped over to get out of classes, as indoctrinating as they were boring. To this was added the wall of silence and fear. At home, my parents put their fingers to their lips, speaking in whispers… something happened, but they didn’t tell me what.

In November of 1989 the Berlin Will fell. In reality, it was knocked down with a sledgehammer and a chisel. Those who threw themselves against it were the same people who, weeks earlier, appeared to obey the Communist Party and believe in the paradise of the proletariat. The news came to us slowly and fragmented. Cuba’s ruling party tried to distract attention and minimize the matter; but the details leaked out little by little. That year my adolescence ended. I was only fourteen and everything that came afterwards left me no space for naivety.

Berliners awoke to the noise of the hammers and we Cubans discovered that the promised future was a complete lie

The masks fell on by one. Berliners awoke to the noise of hammers and we Cubans discovered that the promised future was a complete lie. While Eastern Europe shrugged off the long embrace of the Kremlin, Fidel Castro screamed from the dais, promising in the name of everybody that we would never give up. Few had the insight to realize that that political delusion would condemn us to the most difficult years to confront several generations of Cubans. The wall fell far away, while another parapet was raised around us, that of ideological blindness, irresponsibility and voluntarism.

A quarter century has passed. Today Germans and the whole world are celebrating the end of an absurdity. They are taking stock of the achievements since that November and enjoying the freedom to complain about what hasn’t gone well. We, in Cuba, have missed out on twenty-five years of climbing aboard history’s bandwagon. For our country, the wall is still standing, although right now few are propping up a bulwark erected more at the whim of one man than by the decision of a people.

Our wall hasn’t fallen… but it is not eternal.