A Shortage of Teachers Will Mark the Upcoming School Year / 14ymedio

Elementary students (Luz Escobar)
Elementary students (Luz Escobar)

14ymedio, Havana, 25 August 2014 – This Monday enrollment began for the various levels of education across the country. The 2014-2015 school year presents a challenge to the Ministry of Education authorities, given the alarming shortage of teachers in the provinces of Havana and Matanzas. On September 1st more than 1.8 million students will enter the classrooms, a figure that declines every year because of the low birthrate affecting the Cuban population. The coming school year will put to the test an educational system caught between an educational system, the unattractive salaries for professionals, and the verticality of decision making.

So far, the presence of 172,000 teachers in the schools has been confirmed, which meets only 93.1% of the needs. However, at least 10,897 positions have been difficult to fill and the educational authorities have tried to fill them by hiring retired teachers, using school staff members from management and administration, and increasing the workload of the teachers already confirmed. Officials and education experts will also help in the schools, although without the ability to cover all the educational needs.

Still, there is a shortage of at least 660 teachers in the capital and Matanzas province, which so far have no replacements. The Education Minister, Ena Elsa Velazquez, remarked that regardless of the shortage, already confirmed educators have to be protected and “not given extra tasks.” An intention difficult to achieve given the current circumstances.

In recent decades Cuban education has suffered a process of material and professional deterioration. During the previous year there was an increase in people complaining about the loss of spaces in classes and assignments in numerous schools around the country. The exodus of teachers to other types of work has forced the training of “emergent teachers” and the introduction of classes taught by television and videos. These measures demonstrate that education is broken and generate deep concern among the students’ parents, particularly those with children in elementary and junior high school.

Official Press: Triumphalism, Blacklisting and Censorship / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

News kiosk (Luz Escobar)
News kiosk (Luz Escobar)

14YMEDIO, Havana, Yoani Sanchez, 22 August 2014 – The phone rings and it’s a friend who works for a government publication. She’s content because she’s published an article that attacks bureaucracy and corruption. The young woman finished college two years ago and has been working in a digital medium that deals with cultural and social issues. She has the illusions of a recent graduate, and she believes she can do objective journalism, close to reality, and help to improve her country.

My friend has had some luck, because she exercises this profession at a time when the national media is trying to more closely reflect the problems of our society. The official journalist exists in a timid Glasnost, 25 years after a similar process in the Soviet Union. If that attempt at “information transparency” was promoted through Perestroika, on the Island it’s been pushed by the Sixth Communist Party Congress Guidelines. In this way, a more objective and less triumphalist press is pushed—from above. The same power that helped create laudatory newspapers, now urges a shift from applause to criticism. But it’s not easy.

The original sin of the official press is not the press, but propaganda. It emerged to sustain the ideological political-economic model and it can’t shed that genesis. The first steps in the creation of the current national media always includes an act of faith in the Revolution, It is also funded entirely by the Government, which further affects its editorial line. It’s worth noting that the official media is not profitable, that is, it doesn’t generate income or even support its print runs or transmissions. Hence, it operates with subsidies taken from the national coffers. All Cubans sustain the newspapers Granma and Juventude Rebelde (Rebel Youth), the Cubavision channel or Radio Reloj (Clock Radio)… whether we like it or not. continue reading

Moreover, the official press is structured so that nothing can escape to the front page of the newspapers or to the TV and radio microphones that hasn’t been previously inspected. They are characterized by their strict elements of supervision.

Architecture of Control

My friend is facing at least four strong mechanisms of censorship she must deal with every day and which she rarely manages to successfully evade. Cuba has come to have one of the most sophisticated methods of monitoring information anywhere in the world. At the highest point of this architecture of control is the Department of Revolutionary Orientation (DOR), an entity belonging to the Central Committee of the Cuban Communist Party. A group of people—designated for their ideological loyalty—analyze all the journalistic content published in the country, and, from these observations, follows certain topics and authors.

The DOR is also responsible for drawing up the so-called “thematic plan” in which it programs the issues the Cuban press will address in a specified time period, and with what intensity it will do so. Right now, for example, just looking at national television we can see that there is a marked intention to speak optimistically about the Port of Mariel, foreign tourism and agricultural production.

The same power that helped create laudatory newspapers, now urges a shift from applause to criticism.

Not only political issues or international relations pass through that filter. Control is also exerted over the music broadcast on radio stations and the music videos, soap operas, and science programs aired on television. The so-called black lists of singers or banned authors in the national media come entirely from the DOR. This so painful and prolonged phenomenon has been losing ground in recent years, more from social pressures than because of a sincere process of self-criticism among the censors.

The heads of the press organs must meet regularly with “the comrades from the DOR” to ensure that the plan of topics decided from above is carried out. But the influence of this entity does not end there. The directors of the newspapers and the heads of specific pages or specialized pages will only be appointed with the consent of this department, which in many cases is the person who placed them in their positions. This extends to the national and provincial organs, the municipal radio stations and the specialized magazines. The Journalism School at the University of Havana also receives direct attention from the Department of Revolutionary Orientation, which controls its curriculum and involves itself in the process of choosing new students. Nothing moves in the Cuban press without this watchtower of censorship knowing about it.

Promote the positive results

Another control mechanism that grips the official press is that imposed by the institutions and ministries. From the departments overseeing these entities, journalists are encouraged to promote the sectors they cover. Only with the authorization of these State organs, can the reporters access offices, files, review meetings, press conferences, the interior of a factory, or a cultural center or school.

Nothing moves in the Cuban press without this watchtower of censorship knowing about it.

This second control filter placed on institutions gives birth to a kind of journalism that has done a great deal of harm to Cuban society. One full of triumphalism, inflated figures, and “everything is perfect.” This pseudo-information has been so abused that popular humor is full of jokes about it. Like the one about when the news comes on and people put a bag under the TV to collect the food that appears in the reports, but that never show up in reality. This practice fosters opportunism, as well as making reporters think, “I’d better not get in trouble, if it’s good for me here.” There are sectors that are very attractive to cover, like tourism, because they include gifts, invitations, eating in hotel restaurants, and even all-expense-paid weekends at resorts.

Surveillance in the hallways

The third control mechanism makes people afraid to even say its name. The role of the Ministry of the Interior in every press organ. Every newspaper, radio station, TV channel or provincial newspaper has one or several people who are responsible for “seeing to” the security of the center. This department is responsible for investigating the extra-professional activities of every reporter, photographer or graphic designer. To spy on what they say in the hallways, supervise the questions they ask in interviews—particularly if it involves a foreigner—and whether they have contacts in the opposition or among independent journalists.

The more sophisticated control mechanism

If my friend makes it past those three control mechanism without deleting a line or one of her works being prohibited, she will still face the most efficient and sophisticated of all. It’s euphemistically called self-censorship and is nothing more than the result of pressure exercised over the communicator by the instruments of control and punishment.

So she remains silent about certain topics, to “not give arms to the enemy,” or because they’ve made her believe that “only they can offer constructive criticism.”

Self-censorship acts as a psychological barrier and is expressed in the omissions that each journalist makes to stay on safe ground and not get too close to the allowed limit. However, the victim of self-censorship doesn’t always see it like this, rather she justifies her attitude. For a communicator from the official press who believes in the system, it’s an act of political militancy, a question of faith. So she remains silent about certain topics, to “not give arms to the enemy,” or because they’ve made her believe that “only they can offer constructive criticism.” Journalists come to think that if they question the immigration policy, the single-party system, and the political intolerance in the country, they will be doing more harm than good.

The professional who accepts and successfully passes through these four censorship and control filters and can call themselves an editor, a composer of sentences, a typist, a propagandist… but never a journalist.

Maybe one day my young friend will call me, not to tell me that she has managed to sneak a text into an official media, but to tell me that she’s decided to become an independent journalist. She will take on new challenges and problems, but be much freer.

A Thief Who Steals from a Thief… / 14ymedio, Miriam Celaya

Computer store (14ymedio)
Computer store (14ymedio)

14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 23 August 2014 — “Beds, furniture, mattresses, heaters”, is the soft cry from a reseller who prowls around the Carlos III Market entranceway. A few steps away, another dealer advertises his wares: “airs,’microgüeys’, washing machines, rice cookers, ‘Reina’ brand pots and pans…” The cries are not too loud, but measured, uttered in a tone just loud enough to reach the ears of the nearby walkers, or of those people who enter or leave the market.

Speculators move around with stealth and pretending, like one who knows well that he is operating at the margin of what is legal. So, as soon as he sees a cop or some individual he suspects of being an “inspector”, the cries are abruptly suspended. Many turn away instantly, but the more adventurous stay and buy themselves a beer and adopt the carefree air of one who just wants to cool off from the heat wave of this merciless August air. They know they don’t fool anyone, but neither can they be charged with a crime if they are not caught dealing in the illegal market.

For years, black market traders have flourished all around shops operating in foreign currencies. They speculate in several different products, from sophisticated electronics equipment to cosmetics or toothpaste. They come in quite a few categories, depending on the product they sell, but all belong to this illegal trade network that is many times more efficient than the legal markets: the chain formed by hoarders and/or burglars-resellers-receivers. There is currently an official media campaign being developed against the first two links (hoarders-resellers).Government media particularly blame those who traffic in products that are scarce, while shortages–another epidemic that has turned endemic–affect the country’s commercial trading networks. continue reading

Speculation, an evil concomitant with a society marked by material shortages of all kind.

This crusade against corruption and illegal activities, however, does not stand out for “uncorking” before public opinion the obvious problem of speculation, a concomitant evil to the system, and fitting to a society scored by material shortages of all kinds. In fact, this type of crime is nothing new, but just the opposite: we could almost state that there isn’t a “pure” Cuban who is able to survive outside of illicit trading in any of its many forms.

Thus in Cuba there is currently an unwritten law: those who do not steal at least receive stolen products. A situation that is based on the failure of the social project built on an economy that is fictitious and eternally dependent on external subsidies.

However, the official media not only points an accusing finger at the usual dealers, among which are common criminals, lazy opportunists, thugs of all kinds, thieves by vocation, and other specimens classified as social stigmas anywhere in the world but that proliferate with impunity and force in economically and morally deformed societies.

The immaculate criers of the regime also accuse of being “hoarders and resellers” those traders in the abused sector of “the self-employed” who take advantage of the shortage to profit from the sale of items previously purchased from retail networks, often by agreement with corrupt managers or employees. The self-employed are now the blackbirds [the weather] that everything gets blamed on, as were the “Free Market” farmers of the distant 80’s, and later, in the bloody Special Period of the 90’s, artisans and Cathedral Square vendors, the first outposts of self-employment.

Official reporters, in their poignant candor, attribute store shortages to speculators and not to the State Government, owner of all commercial chains and responsible for keeping them supplied. In their way of thinking it doesn’t appear that the old and effective correlation between supply and demand exists, in virtue of which speculation would not be possible, as long as the commercial network supply is maintained. That is why certain products, such as rum and cigars produced domestically are not part of the black market: all the shops are overflowing with them.

In fairness, we must recognize that rampant speculation exists in Cuba, and that this phenomenon greatly affects everyone’s pockets, but to harshly focus blame onto its effects without aiming at its source is redundant and a discredit to the accuser. It turns out that the biggest culprit is absent from the bench of such severe judgment.

If there is any hoarder in whose hands the whole of the market concentrates, it’s the State monopoly.

Because, if there is a hoarder in whose hands the whole market, trade, prices and distribution of each product is concentrated, it’s the state monopoly, controlled by the ruling elite and its closest acolytes. If there is a reseller with a capital “R” it’s the very elite in power that buys at bargain prices all kinds of cheap merchandise that it later resells “legally” at astronomical prices.

We should not ignore in this story memories of other hoarding on the part of the government, the adjudication of approximately 70% of all of the country’s arable land, of the National Bank; of all industries; hotels and housing infrastructures; of the best mansions and spaces for their benefit and for the benefit of their caste and followers, among others which we will omit so we won’t impose on the readers’ patience.

The philosophy of poverty as “virtue” 

While the black market has expanded and specialized in the last 25 years, the truth is that it has coexisted with this system almost from the start, turning each Cuban into a true or potential violator of the law.

The poverty that the triumph of the revolution would supposedly end, in practice not only became widespread, but also systematized and institutionalized to the point that today Cuba holds the sad record of being the only country in the world that has maintained a ration card–a mechanism of  war economy–for over 50 years, which has planted in the consciousness of several generations an effect of disability and dependence culminating in a detachment from the law which establishes permanent hardship as morality.

Dealers, instead of being perceived as criminals, are transmuted into benefactors, since they rob the rich (the Government-State), to benefit ordinary Cubans

This phenomenon has penetrated into the national psyche so deeply that we don’t even perceive the harm in all its magnitude, so the solution for necessities becomes legitimate regardless of the method used for this. For example, for an average Cuban, the purchase of one kilogram of powdered milk on the black market at 80 pesos seems legitimate, since it ensures her 7 year-old kid’s breakfast–who is thus stripped of her right to acquire the same product on the ration card–since the cost on the legal market for the same amount is 160 pesos, twice the amount as in the black market.

Thus, a new “Robin Hood syndrome” has been established in Cuban society, such that the reseller or trafficking dealer, instead of being perceived as a criminal, is transmuted into a benefactor, since he is stealing from the rich (the government-state) in order to benefit, in some measure, the poor (the common Cuban), given that his prices, though high and out of the reach of the poorest, are less onerous than those of the state monopoly. At any rate, as the old saying goes, “a thief who steals from a thief gets a hundred years’ pardon”.

An unbreakable chain? 

However, the chain of hoarding-speculation-receiving, as well as its effects on the economy, and even on social morality, is not unbreakable. Freeing the market and allowing normal operation of its laws would be sufficient, or releasing a portion of that market, so that traders would no longer be the evil that the government hypocritically seeks to protect us from, to have it become an important sector for healing the domestic economy. In short, the story of the last few decades offers an unquestionable lesson: there has never, ever been a central economy that has survived this logic.

Another useful measure would be to maintain a permanent and satisfactory level of supply and prices commensurate with incomes, but the impossibility of this option has already been demonstrated. Meanwhile, the same government that decries illicit small merchants legitimizes its own speculation at the expense of a country that belongs to all. At the end of the day, the root of the evil resides in the perverse nature of the politics of a group that has accumulated too much power for too much time. In Cuba, the truth is redundant.

Translated by Norma Whiting

Angel Santiesteban Transferred to La Lima Prison / 14ymedio

Angel-Santiesteban_CYMIMA20140516_0001_1314YMEDIO, Havana, August 22, 2014 – The writer Angel Santiesteban might have been transferred to La Lima prison, located in the Havana municipality of Guanabacoa. The information was provided to 14ymedio by Lilianne Ruíz, a freelance journalist who visited the police station at Acosta and Diez de October streets where the narrator and blogger was detained.

For several weeks, Santiesteban’s family and friends have been demanding an explanation for the aggravation of the charges against him. The police informed the family that the writer was being prosecuted for an escape attempt. However, his family believes that this “new imputation is groundless and is being lodged only to increase his time in captivity.”

Reporters Without Borders issued a statement calling on the Cuban authorities to “clearly explain” Santiesteban’s situation.

Prior to his transfer to the Acosta Station, Santiesteban was held in a construction unit where he could receive visitors and make telephone calls. The blogger was sentenced in 2013 to five years in prison for an alleged “violation of domicile and aggression.” Independent lawyers have repeatedly denounced the irregularities committed in his case and have raised the complaint with national and international entities.

Pedestrians Are the Most Frequent Victims of Traffic Accidents / 14ymedio

Pedestrians walking in the street in Havana (BdG 14ymedio)
Pedestrians walking in the street in Havana (BdG 14ymedio)

14YMEDIO, Havana, August 22, 2014 — In recent weeks, the official media have reported numerous traffic accidents in several provinces. In addition to drivers and passengers, pedestrians represent a significant proportion of victims: 34.6% of deaths in the country and, in the case of Havana, the percentage skyrockets to 70.9%, according data reported on the television evening news by the National Directorate of Traffic.

The official report hid some of the factors contributing to this situation, especially the poor condition of the sidewalks, the lack of pedestrian crossings on busy streets and avenues, and the deterioration of the traffic lights or the power outages affecting their operation.

As for the responsibility of drivers, several factors explain the high incidence of accidents: disrespect for the right of way, speeding or drunk driving.

According to recently published official data, in the first half of this year Cuba reported more than 5,600 traffic accidents, with a balance of 347 dead and over 4,300 injured.

Authorities Seize a Shipment of Seafood Hidden in an Ambulance / 14ymedio

Tending their nets (14ymedio)
Tending their nets (14ymedio)

14YMEDIO, Havana, 20 August 2014 – Cuban authorities recently seized a shipment of 270 pounds of shrimp and 110 pounds of lobster being transported hidden in an ambulance, the official newspaper Granma reported in its edition of Tuesday 19 August.

The official organ of the Communist Party refers to unlicensed fishermen as “internal enemies against whom we must intensify the struggle.” The author of the text, Ortelio González Martínez, analyzes the situation of illegal fishing in the province of Ciego de Avila where, he says, “There are still black holes into which seafood escapes.”

The journalist said that so far 18 contracts have been cancelled “for repeated breaches of catch plans, boats out of commission for a long period of time, and sales out of the province,” and he emphasizes the growing danger posed by the illegal seafood sales networks.

Despite being unavailable in the official markets, seafood is widely available in the informal trade networks on the Island. Harvesting shellfish is illegal for most fisherman—with or without a license—and is the exclusive domain of State or private cooperatives. The State has sole responsibility for managing seafood, which can be destined for export, or consumed at tourist resorts on the Island.

Reseller, That Dirty Word / 14ymedio, Victor Ariel Gonzalez

14YMEDIO, Havana, Victor Ariel Gonzalez, 21 August 2014 – “I have mattresses, games room, air conditioning …” an individual stationed at the entrance to a popular store says softly. A few yards further on, another vendor has filters for drinking water, and so it continues, on both sides of the commercial center, an illicit network that caters to more than a few dissatisfied customers with poor State offerings.

If you look in the stores without success, you shouldn’t worry, because outside it’s possible to find everything you need from the “resellers” for a few pesos more. Those traders who swarm streets like Carlos III, Monte, or 10 de octubre, operating with nothing more than the law of supply and demand. The solution that occurs to the government, far from focusing on filling up the half-empty shelves, has been to eradicate what they describe as “social indiscipline.”

What they haven’t considered, however, is granting licenses to the traders. In fact, the word “trader” is banished from the official jargon. Those who exercise one of the oldest crafts known to humanity are called “resellers” and that, in the eyes of the authorities, is not a good thing. The government accuses them of hoarding and speculation.

So far this year there have been almost 17,000 fines and hundreds of seizures. However, the punitive measures taken so far are not enough. “We don’t have an inspector on every corner. We need help from the public,” declare some State inspectors on the TV news. The phenomenon has gotten out of control. This not only contributes to the lack of productivity and bad distribution on the part of the State monopoly, but the problem also includes more than a few corrupt officials.

Chimeras and Frustrations / 14ymedio, Luzbely Escobar

Longing for the beach (14ymedio)
Longing for the beach (14ymedio)

14YMEDIO, Havana, Luzbely Escobar, 21 August 2014 – It is a little more than a week before the start of school and the youngest at home are already taking stock of what they’ve done on their vacation. They go to sleep thinking about what they’ll tell their friends in September and in their little heads they remember each outing with their families. Although parents have few options to entertain their children in the summer, they always make an effort.

The options range from five pesos to buy an ice cream cone at the corner snack bar, to the complicated and greatly desired trip to the beach. I’ve made many promises to my little ones to take them for a dip, but I still haven’t been able to keep my promise. A trip to Santa Maria or Guanabo is like the children’s Road to El Dorado during the summer season.

A trip to the beach is a chimera. The main difficultly rests in the long lines for the bus, with its riots of boys who push in front of everyone because they don’t like to wait that long. Coming home, as if it weren’t hard enough to catch the route 400, we add the drunkenness and fights that break out in front of the innocent eyes of the children. Not to mention the abundant stream of bad words and atrocities shouted with a natural mastery from one end of the bus to the other. continue reading

As an alternative to the beach, the other day we inflated a plastic pool in the basement and poured in a few buckets of water. They had a good time, after the frustration of the breakdown of the transport that would take us to Marazul—coming and going guaranteed—but in the end it left us with swimsuits packed and snacks prepared.

To go to the beach there are other variants such as the almendrones—classic American cars—that cost one convertible peso* (CUC) each but don’t guarantee the return. At one time we could take advantage of the buses that run on the tourist routes, at least for a visit, because they cost 3 CUC each coming and going and the children didn’t have to pay. However, now they’ve gone up to 5 CUC, which is too expensive for ordinary mortals.

Other options, which we have done, are going to the movies, the theater, the usual family visits and games in the park below. But that quickly bores them and they want more. They are tireless in their requests for the Aquarium, the beach, the pool, the zoo, and the Maestranza Fun Park in Old Havana. We decided we weren’t going to the last one any more. It’s too much suffering under the sun and closes at the best time, when it starts to get dark.

If we went to the Zoo twice it’s because it’s close, although it already has a super-well-known terrible reputation. We can go to the Aquarium at night, but sadly, that’s when transport in that area of Havana is more complicated than in the daytime, and so we haven’t had an opportunity to go. In short, if we add up the possible choices, there are few real possibilities of entertaining children.

There are still about ten days of vacation but I don’t think we’ll do much more. Now we’re focused on uniforms, backpacks, shoes, snacks, notebooks, pencils and everything that makes up the school package. Luckily they’ve already forgotten the chimerical holiday and have replaced it with school. We still have the task of making sure there’s no lack of teacher for the classroom, as happened in the last semester of the previous school year. That would be too much frustration.

*Translator’s note: The average monthly wage in Cuba is around 20 CUC. One CUC is about 24 Cuban pesos (about one dollar US).

Portugal Has Spent $ 12 Million Euros Since 2009 to Recruit Cuban Doctors / 14ymedio

14YMEDIO, Havana, 19 August 2014 – The Portuguese National Health Service spent about 12 million euros (about $16 million dollars) in the last six years to recruit Cuban doctors, the local newspaper Jornal I reported Tuesday.

In June 2009, the Government of the Socialist José Sócrates signed its first agreement with Cuba to address the shortage of family doctors. The first protocols provided for payment of a monthly payment of 5,900 euros for every Cuban professional, a base salary above the pay of the Portuguese healthcare provides, although the figure was reduced to 4,230 euros at the end of 2011.

Between August 2009 and 2011, Portugal disbursed 259,600 euros a month for a team of 44 Cuban doctors. Spending in 2012 and 2013 was 164,970 per month for 39 professionals. Following the changes in the latest revision of the agreement last April, the monthly cost is currently 219,960 euros, according to information published by Jornal I.

Payments are made every three months to the Cuban Medical Services Company, which is responsible for paying for healthcare workers, although each of them receives less than a quarter of the total disbursed by Portugal for their services. Cuban authorities justify these deductions to finance training and for the National Public Health Service.

In addition, Portugal has assumed the cost of travel between the two countries, including during the holidays, so that doctors can travel once a year to their country of origin.

The workers on this mission are subject to Cuba’s code of ethics and disciplinary rules. They cannot participate in political activities or make statements to the press, and must inform the authorities if they want to marry. The agreement also provides that in case of abandonment of the mission or violation of the contract, the doctors cannot return to Cuba for a period of eight years.


Do You Recognize the Face of This Rafter? / 14ymedio

Some photos from the collection of Willy Castellanos (Exodus Project website)
Some photos from the collection of Willy Castellanos (Exodus Project website)

The photographer Willy Castellanos fought so that the faces of the more than 30,000 rafters who fled Cuba in the summer of 1994 would not be forgotten. The Exodus Project, by the Aluna Art Foundation, in which the Polish documentary film maker Marian Marskinsky is also involved, attempts to once again give names to the protagonists of the exodus of that era.

Castellanos documented the departure from the island of dozens of people in precarious vessels from the beaches of 30th and 24th in Miramar, and from the Cojimar esplanade, east of Havana, during the so-called Rafter Crisis.

The photographer launches a call for all those who recognize the faces immortalized in the photos to provide information to help reconstruct their individual stories.

“Today, 20 years later, I want to once again find these people. I want to document the progress of their lives from the precise moment that my old Nikon captured them on the Cuban coast exchanging spells with fate and the sea, to aspire to a different life. If you recognize yourself, or recognize someone you know in these images and, like me, value the importance of remembering and are moved to tell about it, call or email me,” Castellanos said on the website of the project.

The curator Adriana Herrera of Aluna Art Foundation and Castellanos himself are preparing an exhibition at the Spanish Cultural Center of Miami, which will open in September. The exhibition will also feature videos and installations by Cuban artists such as Coco Fusco and Juan-Si Gonzalez.

Juanita Castro: Memory is Never Harmless / 14ymedio, Francis Sanchez

Juanita Castro Ruz in front of the cover of her book (14ymedio)
Juanita Castro Ruz in front of the cover of her book

14YMEDIO, Francis Sanchez, Ciego de Avila, 18 August 2014 – The anecdotes, the identities and the composition of the family of the Cuban Revolution’s Maximum Leaders, after become a taboo subject due to steps taken by themselves, has become the subject of public interest and a source of constant speculation. A delicate area, the private and mythical environment of the Castro Ruz brothers acquires historical content from rumors, with unnamed girlfriends, faceless wives, children and many family members rarely seen together even in photos.

And in this “complete photo of the first family,” that was never taken and probably never will be, is the disturbing “presence” of an odd woman who carries the same last names with pride, defending the family lineage, but at the same time rejecting the stamps these names have placed on Cuban history. A strong, secluded, argumentative woman who appears, because of this, doubly cursed.

Her request for political asylum in Mexico City on 29 June 1964 was a bombshell. She started the day with a press conference that had a huge impact: “The person addressing you is Juanita Castro Ruz, sister of the Cuban Prime Minister Fidel Castro.” continue reading

Nearly half a century later, Juanita again comes to the fore with the publication of the book “Fidel and Raul, My Brothers” (Aguilar 2009), with the subtitle “The Secret History, Memoirs of Juanita Castro as told to Maria Antonieta Collins.” The testimony was ready back in 1999, after months of confidential interviews, but ten years passed before the protagonist would agree to the printing.

Recalling her departure from Cuba, she casts aside the possible label of traitor, stating that from the beginning she had felt flagrantly deceived, because from the days of the Moncada attack and the Sierra Maestra front, when Cubans died confronting the Batista dictatorship in order to recover the 1940 Constitution, her brother Fidel always said that he was not a Communist.

Among the new confessions, this time perhaps the most incredible, is that she came to belong the CIA—although she clarifies that she never accepted money—in those difficult days in which, in Havana, she took advantage of the paralyzing influence of her last names, to come to the aid of many whom she sometimes didn’t even know, saving them from a summary trial or getting them out of the country. Her house came to be, according to these memoirs, a refuge and an always full transit center.

Anguish and contradictions abound in a woman who conscientiously confronted a beloved part of her own biological being

But the basic need that has led her to gather together her memoirs, she says, it to tell the truth about her family’s past, her brothers’ childhood, the history of the grandparents, and especially her mother, Lina Ruz, and her father, Angel Castro, on seeing how they have been slandered by historians who in attacking Fidel seek explanations in a supposed dark and cruel family origin, in Biran, a farm ruled over by a supposedly unscrupulous father, one who prospered based on criminal acts.

“I’m sorry to disappoint the pocket historians and the instant psychologists,” she says. Of her father, she opines, “Angel Castro Argiz was a man who cared for others. No one who came to him asking for a favor, asking for help, was refused.” And she is nostalgic for the atmosphere of the little place in the former Oriente province, now converted into a museum: “Biran—where we were like a big family because we all knew each other.”

Anguish and contradictions abound in a woman who conscientiously confronted a beloved part of her own biological being, her family and her country. Someone who has not lost, for example, her affection for her youngest brother, Raul. “Musito” to his mother. She favors him, and presents him to us in very human situations, as at the death of their mother, Lina Ruz, crying and inconsolably talking to the beloved body. An image that contrasts with the description of another brother in power.

Her memories leave a sense of transparency. However, this doesn’t mean that the reader should accept everything she describes. Memory is never inoffensive. Even at times when it is just interpretations. And Juanita’s has been a very particular and unique angle on Cuban history, with advantages and disadvantages, precisely for being so close. The most natural—to give one example—is that the memories of the taskmaster Angel’s daughter are more emotional and sweet than a subordinate of his could have, without lying.

She broke with the CIA when they asked her to give a powerful new statement to the press

She broke with the CIA—this is another hot testimony—when they asked her to give a powerful new statement to the press, similar to her request for asylum, but this time with a very different objective: to dispel the fears about the advance of communism. The United States, then, to avoid the danger of a nuclear confrontation, had reached an agreement with the Soviets which demanded the US end its support for anti-communist groups in Miami.

Perhaps Juanita appears more like typical Cuban of whatever shore, and of the island of Cuba itself, when she is shown as vulnerable, unjustly attacked, manipulated and, ultimately, in the midst of the waves and the storms, alone: “In this fight we are all pawns in a game of chess,” she affirms.

She has a very Cuban gesture of feeling herself the most miserable in the world. And on this point, it is appropriate to concede to her the sad merit of being a symbol of the pain and intolerance that divides Cuban families. “No doubt I have suffered more than the rest of the exile because on no side of the Florida Straits am I offered a truce, and few understand the paradox of my life.”

Expressed by her, it is no less pathetic and we see the opinion that “hatred has always prevailed over our reason.”

Luckily, toward the end of the book she invokes the future, allowing the opportunity for love, not prophetically, but with an intimate appeal to the smallest of the seven siblings, her “Musito,” once he has replaced Fidel in power: “Raul, in your hands could be the democratic transition for Cuba… To evolve with dignity could be your great opportunity in history…”

The book of memoirs is written in a pleasant colloquial style, like a good novel of 51 chapters, narrated in the first person. We “hear” the voice of a woman who has lived and stands before everything and everyone with clear and direct style.

‘Coleros’: The Business of Standing in Line / 14ymedio

The line can form the night before (14ymedio)
The line can form the night before (14ymedio)

14YMEDIO, 18 August 2014 – From Thursday night at 10:00 PM Anabel stood in the line at International Legal Counsel on 22nd Street in Playa. She’d already tried at dawn that morning, when she thought if she got there at 5:00 AM she would have a good chance. But she was wrong, they only took 40 cases and she was about 80th in line.

Anabel came to get a legal criminal record document because she’s trying to get a visa for Argentina and this is a part of the required paperwork every Cuban citizen who is not traveling on official business must have.

This time, on arriving at the corner in the dark, she found only “coleros,” professional line-standers. A group of 4 or 5 individuals who work selling, for 10 convertible pesos (about two weeks wages in Cuba), the first 15 places in the line. Each one “stands in” for three people and has enormous psychological experience in determining to whom to offer their services.

The normal clients didn’t begin arrive until two in the morning. Some, like Anabel, had been frustrated on previous occasions. continue reading

People come to the International Legal Counsel for multiple purposes. To get legal papers for use abroad, documenting their university degrees or certifications, their marriages and divorces, and especially, Cubans living abroad who need to update their passports. Here is where you used to get permission to leave the country in exchange for a letter of invitation, but this requirement disappeared with the immigration and travel reform law enacted in January 2013.

At 7:30 in the morning, about an hour before the offices officially open, the public starts to swell the line. It’s a crucial moment when, already daylight, people physically place themselves one after another. Those who arrived at 2:00 AM who thought they would be behind just five or six people, discover that in reality they are 18th in line. They now realize, that the gentleman who arrived in a Peugeot at 6:00 am and never asked “who’s last in line?”* occupies one of the first spots. The first protests are heard, but they’re weak because they are confronting a practice accepted for decades.

That gentleman who arrived in a Peugeot at 6 in the morning and never asked “who’s last in line?” occupies one of the first spots.

At 8:30, giving it all the importance she believes it deserves, a clerk comes out to explain that today there are only two specialists in the center and they will only be calling 40 people. At that moment the line seems to have received an electric shock and stiffens like a living organism.

The official, who has entrenched herself firmly in the door to collect the identity cards of those who manage to pass, stares into Anabel’s eyes before spitting out in an unpleasant tone: “Up to here are the places for criminal records.” And only then does Anabel realize that the employee has more ID cards in her hands than there are people in the line. She has the urge to protest, because she’s the only one who has noticed, but chooses to keep quiet because in the end she will be seen.

The group goes to an office on the second floor, in a hot space where it’s not possible to control the passage to the cubicles where the specialists work. She has 65 convertible pesos in her purse, and stamps worth 25 Cuban pesos, which is what the paperwork costs.

Those who have come to legalize degrees have to pay 200 convertible pesos, while certifications cost 250. Other more minor paperwork costs between 15 and 20 convertible pesos. An entire industry to extract money.

At 3:00 PM they’ve called only five of those waiting in line, but the parade to the specialists’ cubicles has been continuous. Then there’s a spontaneous demand to see the director, because the excessive delay for a requirement that is so expensive, and the undeniable influence peddling by which it works, seems unspeakably disrespectful.

The director arrives, friendly and positive, and pretends to scold the employee in charge, and promises the clients that everyone will leave satisfied. Indeed, as if by magic, in the last 45 minutes they resolve every case. Everyone goes home; tomorrow will be another day.

*Translator’s note: Cubans, on joining a line, ask “who’s last?” and then position themselves behind that person at the end of the line.  At that time the person in front of them can ‘relax’, walk around, chat with others, and even, if they know the wait will be very long, go off and run other errands and return to their place later. In this way the line is organized based on every person recognizing the person directly ahead of them in the line.

Brochure Warns Travelers About New Customs Rules / 14ymedio

14YMedio, Havana, 16 August 2014 – As of this morning a brochure titled “Customs Regulations Every Traveler Should Know” is on sale at all the newsstands. This is the fourth edition which, at a price of 2 Cuban pesos, includes the new customs regulations that will take effect September first.

The General Customs of the Republic (AGR) issued Resolution 206/2014 which limits the quantities of the same item that can be imported, and details the cost to bring it into the country. Among the most affected products are food, jewelry, toiletries, clothing—including underwear—plus appliances and computers.

In an interview with the official press, the deputy chief of the AGR, Idalmis Rosales Milanes, justified the move based on “a study that confirmed the high volumes imported by certain people are destined for marketing and profit. Computers and communications tools will be particularly affected.

The brochure available at the newsstands contains some of the clarifications that Customs has been posting on its website. The text answers general questions about what will change and what will not change as of the first of September.

The measure has caused concern among Cubans who consider these imports a way to alleviate shortages, high prices and the poor quality of the products offered in the retail trade network. The self-employed are demanding the implementation of commercial import rules that allow them to bring into the country the raw materials and products to do their jobs.

The Associated Press Calls Us ‘Mercenaries’ / 14ymedio, Manuel Cuesta Morua

US sends Latin Americans as subversive agents, according to AP
US sends Latin Americans as subversive agents, according to AP

14ymedio, Havana, Manuel Cuesta Morua, 14 August 2014 — Two separate reports from the American Associated Press (AP) agency, published urbi et orbi, reproduce a syndrome of certain US media in relation to Cuba, at least in the last 55 years.
The syndrome began in 1958 with the New York Times journalist Herbert Matthews, and his sympathetic tale of the bearded ones in the Sierra Maestra; it could be called the Syndrome of the Ultimate Thule, that mythical and distant place in classic antiquity beyond the borders of the known world, where the sun never sets, and the reign of the gods is behind the customary events occurring on the world stage.

In this undisturbed world, inaugurated by the myth, there is no external influence—and if there is, it’s called ‘interference’—its inhabitants can be treated like idiots, that is they don’t think about freedom for themselves, and certain common words acquire another meaning.

Above all, it’s about a world that should not be altered, and any attempt to do so could only be a conspiracy; generated, naturally, by external forces. The role of the media is exactly this: to transform facts, to endorse the vocabulary of those who rule in the name of good, and show evil as banal. continue reading

The Associated Press reports on Zunzuneo and the programs developed by USAID, an agency of the US government to promote a possible version of development and democracy, are modeled on the template of this syndrome and follow its procedures.

If we accept what is put forward by the medium, the promotion of social networks and civic courses in a territory captured by a dictatorship are demonstrably illegal acts, not according to the ordinary law ruling the interior of the kingdom, but according to the discourse of the dictators.

Nothing in Cuban legislation punishes the use a citizen makes of a digital or educational tool provided from the exterior, whether by a government or another institution, for legitimate purposes. But with the enmity between the Cuban autocracy and the democratic providers we have the necessary ingredient for the AP reporters to mount a case for conspiracy, harassment and overthrowing, where the only thing that exists is a project to promote democracy. Nothing else. And this toward a country–I don’t know why AP doesn’t report on it—where democratic ideas and freedom have more roots and antecedents than the “protoideas,” we could argue, of the Castro regime.

The AP reporters mount a conspiracy case where there is only a project to promote democracy

The fundamental questions, far beyond the ‘expertise’ of USAID, are whether it is legitimate to promote democracy—it turns out it’s less cynical to argue that you can bring in money from the outside, but not ideas—and if Cuban citizens consider the Internet or a couple of prohibited books as interference and manipulation of their brains. And this latter, judging by the constant police raids prohibiting everything that can be prohibited, doesn’t appear to be the case.

Which the Associated Press can’t talk about, unless it is willing to discuss the existence of USAID itself, which it has the right to do but that would lead it to question the very legitimacy of democratic changes anywhere in the world, supported in every case from outside, including by governments, and reported on by AP.

However, the AP doesn’t risk criticizing the legitimacy of the social purpose of USAID, it only suggests that it designs bad secret projects. And it lies, using the techniques of the complex lie. How? Through a report classified as secret that doesn’t previously appear published by the AP.

Certain press engage in the vice of recognizing as public only what is published, a media tautology that circumscribes the real world to the newsrooms; for the rest, they’re either not aware of it, or it only exists in the hidden labyrinths of the games of power. It so happens, however, that USAID programs and funding are exposed to view by anyone who wants to know about them or criticize them. And indeed they are, for certain sectors, by their very nature public.

When it feeds the conspiracy theory, the AP has no other choice than to assume the terminology of the Cuban penal code. For a Cuban, the term ‘subversion’ that the AP so happily uses in its reports, has made a long journey from violence to public and peaceful demonstrations of popular discontent with the brutality of an abusive regime. Thus, it tries to criminalize the extreme right that helps the people to shake off their oppression; this time solely through tweeting and civic leadership; a demonstration, by the way, that people can behave themselves in a more civilized way than those who oppress them.

Here the AP establishes an equivalence between a dictatorship and a democracy, as if the criminal codes between the two regimes were interchangeable

Here the AP establishes an equivalence between a dictatorship and a democracy, as if the criminal codes between the two regimes were interchangeable and the punishments they mete out are within the same category. From the depravity of pandering to the rhetoric of the dictatorship, the press in democratic countries wants to appear aseptic and condemns people like Alan Gross to ostracism by omission and journalistic trivialities, and this a man whom everyone knows was not in a condition to subvert any regime.

Hence the banalization of evil the AP always incurs referring to the pro-democracy activists. It’s odd that in all their reports the term “mercenary” appears, a term the Government assigns to its opponents in its periodic table. But doesn’t the AP know that “a mercenary” is a figure in the Cuban penal code but that that section of the code cites are none of the actions for which the Government calls us mercenaries.

Dictatorships are not rigorous with words, an imponderable for its specious domination over its citizens; but the free press should use the language of the dictionary and not the neo-language of the autocrats.

We are still waiting for a report from AP that concludes by saying, “The dissenters consider the Government to be despotic,” to achieve that balance. Something closer to the facts. In any event, I would like to record that, according to the penal code, we can be where many of us are: working for democracy in Cuba, although according to the rhetoric of power we are mercenaries fighting to subvert the regime. Does the AP have any objective opinion?

And the money? Well there it is. Money from the American people, both private and public—not from the Government—that public and private agencies in the United States destined to dissimilar projects all over the world, for the benefit of the organizers and governments, with few exceptions, which don’t include the Cuban government, much less its associated institutions.

In this whole issue of AP and Cuba I have a hypothesis: we are facing a conflict in the centers of power between the media groups, and those of the establishment. Which is settled from time to time on the periphery. Once resolved, Cuba will once again be a dictatorship for the AP, neither of the left nor the right, but infamous. As are all dictatorships, in the words of a wise politician.

Four Cardinal Points / Reinaldo Escobar


They are difficult to count, not to mention uncountable, the projects carried out in order to find alternative solutions to Cuba’s problems. When I say “alternatives” I’m obviously referring to a broad set of programs, documents, statements not coming from governmental institutions, but from that disjointed amalgamation of opposition parties and civil society entities, both within and outside the Island.

Many of these platforms have tried to encourage an essential unity, few have managed to do so. One of the reasons for the failure of this unity of purpose is the inclusion of one or another point that has led to disagreements. Another reason is the effect of what could be called “strongman rule in reverse,” which consists in opposition leaders refusing to support a specific program because of the presence among its signatories of others with whom they have differences. continue reading

In an effort to find the minimum consensus, without any specific organization trying to open the umbrella of leadership, four cardinal points have arisen in which, so far, the majority seem to agree. Best of all is that they don’t aspire to be the four cardinal points, simply four points, lacking the definite article. Their principal merit is not that everyone agrees with them, but that no one appears to be against them.

If we made the incalculable error of saying that these were the only important points and there were no others, we could be sure that there would be more detractors than defenders, particularly given our infinite capacity to add new elements to the list of what needs to be done, of what must be demanded of the government, or of what motivates citizen dissatisfaction.

This is the reason why other just demands, which enjoy undisputed sympathy but no broad consensus, do not appear on the list. One could mention, for example, the prohibition of abortion, the acceptance of marriage between same-sex couples, the elimination of military service, the return of confiscated properties, the opening of judicial processes against violators of human rights and the ensuing investigation of crimes committed, the immediate celebration of free elections, the dissolution of Parliament, the annulment of the Communist Party, or the rebate of taxes.

There are thousands of demands which, like mushrooms after the rain, will arise at the instant that political dissent in Cuba is decriminalized and when, happily, Cuba will be a difficult country to govern

The absence of particulars does not take away from the effectiveness of these four points which, far from attempting a neutrality to facilitate their assimilation, constitute a clear commitment to democracy and human rights, the proof of which is in the enthusiasm that has awakened in our civil society, and the obvious aversion this is caused among those who rule.

Although they have already been divulged I reproduce them here:

  1. The unconditional release of all political prisoners including those on parole.
  2. The end of political repression, often violent, against the peaceful human rights and pro-democracy movement
  3. Respect for the international commitments already signed by the Cuban government, and ratification—without reservations—of the International Covenants on Human Rights and compliance with the covenants of the International Labor Organization on labor and trade union rights.
  4. Recognition of the legitimacy of independent Cuban civil society.

14 August 2014