Battered women in Cuba: Where can they go? / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

UNHCR workshop on prevention and response to gender-based violence with women from Cuba, Haiti and Peru. (UNHCR Americas)
UNHCR workshop on prevention and response to gender-based violence with women from Cuba, Haiti and Peru. (UNHCR Americas)

14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 25 November 2014 — “Do you know what it feels like to break the wall?” she asked me years after we met. “It’s like someone cracked a table on your face… it hurts, but you can’t believe its your body.

“Now I’m afraid of men, I don’t want to have anything to do with them,” she confessed while we talked in a café with more flies than menu options. She began to narrate the details of a Calvary she had always kept hidden, from shame and because she felt responsible for those blows. Today, she can’t hear out of one ear, her nose slants to the left and she mistrusts all those whose pants have a fly.

Like many provincial women. Ileana landed in Havana on the arm of a man who promised her “villas and castles,” he said. “I was very young and, since I was a little girl I’d been taught in my house in Banes that I should serve a man and please him.” While she told me her story I had the impression I was speaking with a woman from the early twentieth century, but no: Ileana is younger than I am. She wore the school neckerchief, shouting “Pioneers for communism, we will be like Che,” and studied up to the eleventh grade in a high school in the countryside.

“I came to Havana and for the first weeks he treated me like a queen,” she said, unable to contain her smile. When Ileana laughs her whole face lights up and her nose looks more crooked than ever. “Then he started to mistreat me, but only verbally,” she says, downplaying the importance while looking over her shoulder. A young man had sat down at the table next to us and was observing us laciviously. “Ladies, did someone stand you up? Because here is a stallion who never fails,” he blurts out, under the imperturbable gaze of the waiter.

“The neighbors called the police several times. Then we spent hours and hours at the station at Zanja and Dragones streets, for nothing. The investigator told me they didn’t get involved in things between husband and wife,” and that, “I had to go home with him, because I didn’t have anywhere else to go,” she explains, already on the verge of tears. In Cuba, current law has enormous gaps with regards to gender violence. If the abuse “is not defined in the Penal Code, the abuser is not sanctioned,” a lawyer at the law firm on Carlos III Street later explained to me, asking not to be named.

“He could only be charged if a doctor determined I had injuries,” Ileana recalls. However, a black eye or an ache in the side isn’t considered one. “I had to show a wound that was a puncture or bleeding,” she explains. I look at her and question why a doctor would ignore the marks of cigarette burns on her forearm and her boxer’s nose, without protecting her. What was lacking for a restraining order? That he kill her? I wondered, without sharing it with her.

Things have calmed down. The abuser is far away and this petite woman with her battered face confesses, “Well, I have to say, he wasn’t so bad,” and immediately adds, “in the tenement where we lived one woman had a husband who came home drunk from work one day with a machete.” She touches wood and looks around while concluding, “Thanks to the virgin, I was luckier.”

Her case was archived again and again. She had no phone to call from, no address for a battered women’s shelter is published in the official media, so Ileana endured and remained silent. Her martyrdom lasted for a decade, including rape within the marriage—also not defined in our laws—the odd fracture, and constant humiliation.

“Then my daughter was born and she made me bold,” says this woman dressed in baggy clothes, looking down, avoiding the eyes of the man sitting beside us at the café. “One night I gathered everything and went to my aunt’s house.” However, the escape didn’t last very long. “Someone ran their mouth and told him where I was staying and he came to find me. It was the darkest night of my life.”

Between pushes and insults, Ileana returned to her husband’s house. “That night he forced me for hours while telling me ‘you’re mine and no other man’s’.” She told how the next day she couldn’t even urinate. “I hurt all over and had his teeth marks all over my back.” Then began the phase of total defeat. “I got used to it, that my life would be like this, and stopped resisting,” she related with a pragmatism that is still painful.

Shortly afterwards the abuser found “an even younger country girl he mistreated,” recalls Ileana. “I was crushed, I didn’t want to look at myself in the mirror, I didn’t put on make up, or go out in the street.” In all that time, no women’s organization approached her, she didn’t know of any haven where she could find shelter, and more than a dozen times she heard the police that responded say, “Well, she must have done something to piss him off.”

Today, Ileana shared with me her wish. “I want to have sex with a man without fear… romantically.” As she says it her right hand touches her nose, trying to push it to the center… The place where it should have been if the abuser had not crossed her path.

The Ferguson case and its possible implications for Cuba / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

Ferguson protests. (Andrew Benedict, Twitter)
Ferguson protests. (Andrew Benedict, Twitter)

14ymedio, Yoani Sánchez, Havana, 27 November 2014 – The events in Ferguson, arising from the death of the young man Michael Brown and the decision not to charge the police officer who killed him, have caused millions of people in the United States to question the situation in their country. The protests that followed the grand jury’s verdict raised new questions about the image of coexistence within the diversity that has been presented as a pillar of American identity.

The situation has renewed the alarm about the American model and sets off warnings in other countries where large sectors of the population continue to be disadvantaged, whether because of ethnicity, race, or geographic origin. This week’s images showing the overwhelming anger on the streets of Missouri speak to us of the accumulation of problems, which have found their trigger in the recent decision not to charge the police officer.

It is not only a question of Michael Brown’s death during a questionable arrest, but one of a society that has been fractured for centuries, living with racism that prolongs the distrust, stokes hatred and fuels the violence that is now breaking out into fires and vandalism. A scream, at times, sometimes silenced, that now raises its volume after the sad events of last August 9th.

Cuban society should take note of the events in Missouri. Among us racism, far from diminishing, has increased in recent decades. Motivated in part by the stubborn official policy of denying its existence and downplaying the rancor that sometimes hides under the disingenuous appearance of a joke, but whose bitter side is the high percentage of the prison population that is black, or the economic precariousness that characterizes this community.

At the last minute, and in a race to show international organizations that it is working on the problem, the Cuban government has created an agenda to fight against racism, which sadly lacks independence as well as enforceability. Lectures, conferences, statements by prominent figures in the Afro-descendant community, abound in the media. However, in reality, little has been done to give a voice to those who suffer first-hand from these prejudices.

Capitalizing on fear of greater discrimination has been, for too long, an instrument of ideological subordination on the Island. The constant allusions to a past of abuse and segregation – prior to January 1959 – have been used by official propaganda to maintain the support of the black community. As if the only choices were the current situation or returning to the slave quarters and slave drivers.

The authorities have ended up hijacking and distorting the voice of this community that should have its own presence in independent organizations and entities that allow it to denounce and make demands with regards the situation in which it exists.

Lately, the Ferguson case has also been sadly used by the official media to stoke fears of democracy. “Look at what happened in the United States,” the television commentators – obsessed with the mote in another’s eye – seem to say to black Cubans. Again, the fear of returning to the whip and the specter of police lynchings are used to call Cubans of African descent to conformity or false complacency.

However, anger is something that is incubated slowly. We are fed facts such as false quotas of power delivered to people by the color of their skin, people who have no real possibilities of decision-making.

Anger gains strength when you enter a university classroom and see hardly any colors beyond a “light mixed-race,” while in the prisons it is just the opposite.

Resentment rises when you see who lives in the illegal slums that crowd the outskirts of the capital and compare that to the racial origin of those who hold positions in foreign joint-venture companies, tourist facilities, or in the administration of economically strategic entities.

Pain increases outside the offices that receive remittances from exiles abroad and you can see for yourself that the most of the people who rely on this relief in convertible pesos are white.

Anger grows slowly and one day explodes. The detonator can be a police officer in Ferguson who kills a young black man, or a man in Havana who is handcuffed and put in a squad car for the simple act of walking through a tourist facility with that skin tone that brings so many problems in so many places.

Academic Cruise Ship from U.S. Arrives in Cuba / 14ymedio

Students from Semester at Sea at the University of Havana. Photo Credit: Semester at Sea.

14ymedio | Havana | 29 November 2014 — (Supplemented with information from EFE news agency) The M.V. Explorer academic cruise ship from Semester at Sea arrived today [Saturday, 11/29] in Havana bearing 624 students. The students, hailing from 248 U.S. universities, will participate in a program of cultural exchanges, conferences and excursions.

Frank González, rector of the University of Havana, greeted the group upon their arrival. The students were then transported to the grand staircase of the university where they were given another welcome.

On their first day in Cuba, the students were scheduled to attend conferences on US/Cuba relations, and to view an evening performance in the Havana Amphitheater.

On Sunday, the students were to have their choice among excursions to provinces such as Matanzas, Pinar del Río and Villa Clara. This last one will include stops in Remedios, the Monument to Ché, and the eco-tourism/art project, NaturArte. The Trinidad itinerary includes a stop at Topes de Collantes in the Escambray mountains, while in Matanzas they will be able to visit Playa Girón in the Bay of Pigs.

In Havana City, the students are scheduled to visit Ciudad Escolar Libertad (Freedom School City), the old Columbia military encampment that, after the Revolution, was converted into a school. There will also be a tour through La Habana Vieja (Old Havana) that will explain the restoration process for various buildings and streets in the city’s historic district.

The M.V. Explorer will remain docked in the port of Havana until Dec. 3.

Apparently, the program will provide these university students with a very specific vision of Cuba, one that celebrates the “achievements” of the Revolution in the areas of culture and education, among others.

May these students also be able to maximize their brief stay on the Island so that they may compare this ideal vision with the reality that we Cubans live every day.

Translated by Alicia Barraqué Ellison

Activists Denounce Act of Repudiation Held During Child’s Birthday Party / 14ymedio

This morning several activists reported an act of repudiation against members of the Network of Community Journalists and Communicators in the eastern city of Manzanillo.

According to reports by those to whom this newspaper had access, Leonardo Cancio had organized the celebration in his home for the birthday of a six-year old nephew and invited his colleagues from the Network.

From the day before he could see around his home several women who the activists say were convened by State Security to communicate to them that they would not permit “a party for children organized by the counter-revolution,” and also they visited neighbors’ houses to warn them not to send their children to said activity.

From early hours a crowd, calculated at some three hundred individuals by the members of the Network, surrounded Cancio’s house in order to impede access by the invitees. Nevertheless, some activists like Tania de la Torre, accompanied by her daughter and granddaughter, managed to arrive in advance. De la Torre explains that “the State Security agents called Alexis and Julio” on seeing them come out of the house “pushed us against the crowd” where they would have received blows and threats of future reprisals.

In statements offered to 14ymedio by Martha Beatriz Roque, leader of this group of independent journalists, the dissident remarked, “That is the Cuba that the Spanish Chancellor Margallo comes to visit, where human rights are trampled unceremoniously.”

Translated by MLK

“You Are A Confrontational Media Outlet,” Security Official Tells ‘14ymedio’ Correspondent / 14ymedio

Juan Carlos Fernández Hernández
Juan Carlos Fernández Hernández

14YMEDIO, Havana, 28 November 28 — At nine in the morning Friday, 14ymedio correspondent Juan Carlos Fernandez attended his summons at the Piñar del Rio police station. It was the third interrogation to which he has been subjected this year, although on this occasion he did not receive an official warning. A major from State Security, who only identified himself as David, accused him of collaborating with this newspaper, which he characterized as a “confrontational” media outlet that “serves the interests of a foreign power.”

The accusation was accompanied by threatening phrases about a possible “police action” against Fernandez if he continues “doing what you are doing now,” the officer confirmed. Nevertheless, to the question of the accused about a possible arrest and legal prosecution, the interrogator downplayed the seriousness of the reprisals.

Juan Carlos Fernandez defended his right to put his opinions into writing and publish them in any press medium. “I warn you, the weight of the law will fall on you,” responded the man using the pseudonym David, but without giving details. The officer invoked the Constitution of the Republic of Cuba and said that “the Government counts on the support of the people,” at which point the reporter reminded him that the Communist Party has fewer than a million members while the population of the country exceeds 11 million.

Juan Carlos Fernandez is a member of the magazine Coexistence which is published in Piñar del Rio, and since last August he has begun working as a correspondent for 14ymedio in that province. His journalistic works cover the cultural life of the city, reports about social topics and a wide photographic coverage of the territory.

A couple of months ago, Juan Carlos Fernandez brought to light the censorship that Piñareno painter Pedro Pablo Oliva had suffered with the cancellation of his exhibit Dissidences and Utopias.

Translated by MLK

UNPACU Denounces A Plan For “Liquidating the Most Active Opposition” / 14ymedio

14YMEDIO, November 28, 2014 — UNPACU issued a statement Thursday night in which it accuses President Raul Castro of having ordered the “liquidation” of the opposition. The organization cites sources from the Ministry of the Interior (MININT) according to which the elimination of the most diligent activists should be carried out in the next three months.

UNPACU believes that the latest attacks on the Ladies in White and Jose Daniel Ferrer fit within that supposed order, given that they involve violent attacks against key dissident figures in the last weeks and come from people tied, in their judgment, to State Security.

In the statement they review last Tuesday’s event in Santa Clara in which activist Guillermo Fariñas asserts he suffered an assassination attempt and in which several Ladies in White were injured, leaving one of them in serious condition. “A similar case occurred at two UNPACU sites in Santiago de Cuba and is now the source of a farce that the government is trying to fabricate against Jose Daniel Ferrer,” continues the statement.

Jose Daniel Ferrer has been called by State Security to give a statement, presumably as a defendant, for the crime of assault against the complainant Ernesto Jimenez Rodriguez. As the statement explains, last November 13th, at the UNPACU headquarters located in Reparto Mariana de la Torre, in Santiago de Cuba, this man, supposedly sent by the political police, provoked a violent altercation.

“Fortunately, with several activists and responsible individuals present at the headquarters, they managed to disable the aggressor, immobilizing him and removing from him the metal weapons that he carried,” the document highlights.

The same individual had sought membership in UNPACU weeks before, for which reason the organization made the usual investigations that “are performed before accepting any applicant.” The conclusion was that he was tied to the Ministry of the Interior.

“In view of such fact, and without telling the individual anything about it, he was allowed to enter the headquarters with the proper control and knowledge by those present of his status as a political police infiltrator and only for events of no significance for activism,” they explain.

Jose Daniel Ferrer, who has denounced the situation, said that “in no case can an individual who has been seen by more than 15 witnesses attacking numerous people cause a peace activist for Human Rights to be taken into police custody with the objective of creating a false accusation and maybe holding him there without a possible defense. We at UNPACU are not going to submit ourselves to this farce in any way.”

Translated by MLK

The Nation or Marabou / 14ymedio, Elvira Fernandez

Marabou weed invades the fertile plains of Cuba. (14ymedio)
Marabou weed invades the fertile plains of Cuba. (14ymedio)

14ymedio,ELVIRA FERNANDEZ, Ciego de Ávila, 21 November 2014 – Seven years after Raul Castro, in a speech, criticized the spread of the marabou weed, this thorny plant continues to gain prominence in our fields. On that occasion, marking the 26th of July, the General said, “Arriving here by land I was able to see if everything is green and beautiful, but the most beautiful, which I could confirm with my own eyes, was how beautiful the marabou weed is all along the entire highway.” Today he could repeat these identical words.

The invasion of what is scientifically known as Dichrostachys cinerea has set off all the alarms. In the middle of the country, its dominion extends across the planes that once served to cultivate cane, the planting of vegetables, or the pasturing of cattle. Nothing is safe from its dense thorny bushes that defy the most intrepid peasants.

Two months ago a troop of men was gathered in Ciego de Avila, armed with rustic tools to fight the marabou weed. The new “Battle of the Revolution” takes place in very fertile lands, but ones which have suffered long neglect from their only owner: the State. Thus they now are drowned under the thorns that have led to enormous weedy thickets.

Something more than 400 men, with axes and machetes in hand, have the arduous mission as their charge. The objective is, that at the end of 2014, all the lands in the upcoming sowing plan will be ready for planting cane. An undoubtedly difficult task, because of the 50,000 acres needed, 32,000 are greatly affected.

Leaders of the territory have promised that the campaign will be recorded in history as “The Epic Against Marabou.” They are unaware, perhaps, of all previous attempts to eradicate a plant that was introduced into our country in the mid-nineteenth century, a plant with the great capacity to reproduce in our country’s climate and natural conditions.

The only advantage of the undesirable marabou is its wood – very hard – which is extremely suitable for firewood, as it burns well and creates little smoke and ashes. However, its collection for these purposes requires strict protection for the farmworker who may be subject to frequent wounds and punctures.

The cost of any collection or eradication of marabou tends to be very high. However, in the new battle against the plague, begun in the center of the country, the savings to the State are guaranteed with the sacrifice of the men who must sweat and bleed, with no right to expect mechanical reinforcements. The directors of the Sugar Company Group have clarified that “because of objective economic conditions we can’t use bulldozers in this confrontation.”

Those who remember, recall that there was no lack of heavy equipment to address other initiatives. Among them two campaigns that have indeed been recorded in history for their disastrous consequences, while opening the way to any plague that invaded the Cuban countryside. The first of these was in the 1970s when the forests were bulldozed and dynamited to sow sugarcane in abundance, with the intention of satisfying the demand from Communist Europe. More recently, many of the sugar mills were dismantled and exported piece by piece to the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela and the cane fields were left to the mercy of the plagues.

The great results of such “socialist epics” — in addition to villages and towns left lifeless, dead — is the health enjoyed by the marabou weed. In their branches is concentrated our economic collapse, in the abundance of their thorns is the result of the excessive nationalization of our lands.

Activists denounce acts of repudiation during a child’s birthday party / 14ymedio

14ymedio, Manzanillo, 22 November 2014 – This morning several activists reported an act of repudiation against the members of the Community Network of Journalists and Communicators in the eastern city of Manzanillo.

According to the testimony of those whom this newspaper had access, Leonardo Cancio had organized a celebration in his home for a six-year-old niece and invited his colleagues from the Network. From the previous day, there were several women surrounding the house, whom the activists said were summoned by State Security, to communicate that they would not allow “a party for children organized by the counterrevolution,” and they also visited the homes of neighbors to warn them not to send their children to such an activity.

Since the early hours a crowd, estimated by the Network to be some three hundred people, surrounded Cancio’s house to block access to the guests. However, some activists like Tania de la Torre, accompanied her daughter and granddaughter, had managed to arrive well in advance. De la Torre explained that “the State Security agents names Alexis and Julio” on seeing them leave the house, “pushed us into the crowd” where they were beaten and threatened with future retaliation.

In statements given to 14ymedio by Martha Beatriz Roque, leader of this group of independent journalists, the dissident commented that, “this is the Cuba that the Spanish Foreign Minister Margallo is coming to visit, where human rights are trampled without consideration.”

Mexico is running out of tears / Yoani Sanchez

Mobilization in Mexico City for 43 missing. (Twitter Juan Manuel Karg)
Mobilization in Mexico City for 43 missing. (Twitter Juan Manuel Karg)

YOANI SÁNCHEZ, Havana, 24 November 2014 — When I visited Mexico for the first time I was impressed by its tremendous potential and enormous problems. I was amazed by a culture whose calendar is lost in time, especially when compared to a Cuba that is still a teenager. However, most shocking for me were all the warnings and advice from friends and acquaintances about the insecurity and the dangers that might await one in every street.

The most heartbreaking testimony of that visit, which I heard from the mouth of Judith Torrea, a Spanish journalist based in Ciudad Juárez who collected the stories of mothers whose teenage children never returned to their jobs or their schools.

It pained me to see how violent death has become commonplace in different areas of this beautiful country. La Catrina – Mexico’s grande dame of death – was no longer smiling, rather her empty sockets seemed a sad premonition of what is needed to live in Mexico. The disappearance of the 43 students from Ayotsinapa has exceeded the horror already suffered by a society where corruption, an ineffective legal system, and the armed force of narco-traffickers have thrived for a long time. As if a people already torn apart by what they have lost could suffer new wounds.

Each one of these disappeared young people is around the age of my son Teo, some of their photos remind me of his swarthy face and slanted eyes. He could have been one of those who one day left school and decided to protest against the status quo. All indications are that the local political power, mixed in with the drug cartels, violently ended the lives of those who still had the better part of their existence ahead of them. Over the last few weeks their families have gone from tears to hope and back to pain. The sad end is not confirmed and no one wants to accept it as fact, but the evidence suggests the worst case scenario.

Mexico is running out of tears. It is the responsibility of Latin America to accompany this beloved nation in the search for answers to the disappearance of the students, but also to the solutions of the grave social and institutional problems that caused it. To the citizens, for our part, we offer our solidarity, and we share their pain and their anger. Let no one look their child in the eyes without remembering those who are missing.

Maduro launches new newspaper under the name Cuatro-F / 14ymedio

Image from Twitter @nicolasmaduro
Image from Twitter @nicolasmaduro

14ymedio, Caracas, 23 November 2014 – This Sunday the first edition of the publication Cuatro-F (Four-F) — a newspaper belonging to the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) — was announced by the president of this political organization, Nicolás Maduro.

The publication will be weekly, in its print edition. It is expected however that next year its frequency will increase and it will appear daily.

The media’s name evokes the 4th of February 1992, when Hugo Chavez and a military group attempted a coup d’etat in Venezuela against the then constitutional president Carlos Andrés Pérez. The coup attempt failed to achieve its objectives, but in the official calendar it is viewed as the beginning of the “Bolivarian Revolution.”

On the premiere of the new media outlet, Maduro visited the Alfredo Maneiro Editorial Complex in Caracas. There he witnessed the printing of the first issue of the newspaper and said the information arm will be a tool “to deepen the revolutionary and socialist consciousness of the Venezuelan people.”

The president warned that “this is the birth of a newspaper that is going to make a revolution in the political, social, cultural, national and international journalism in our country. A new revolutionary journalism.”

The announcement of the launch of publication, was made by Maduro himself, through the social network Twitter. In his account, the President explained that the appearance of Cuatro-F was one of the agreements coming out of the Historical Congress of the PSUV.

“Tomorrow the newspaper of @partido PSUV, christened Cuatro-F… All the UBCH members are waiting… to the Charge,” he wrote on his account @NicolasMaduro.

“This newspaper will reach every corner to make revolution in all areas, bringing the truth and the transparent opinion of the revolutionaries of Venezuela. We will not hide behind the pretext of impartiality, objectivity, no, here’s a revolutionary, Bolivarian anti-imperialist and deeply Chavista vision that will defeat the machinery of lies,” he said.

On the front page of the first issue of Cuatro-F a headline called the PSUV militants to participate in internal party elections to take place this Sunday.

Activist José Daniel Ferrer invites a journalist from The New York Times to talk / 14ymedio, Orlando Palma

Ernesto-LondoAo-foto-archivo_CYMIMA20141123_0004_16 (1)
Ernesto Londoño (Archive photo)

14ymedio, ORLANDO PALMA, Havana, 23 November 2014 — Ernesto Londoño, the journalist to whom the six New York Times editorials on Cuba-United States relations are attributed, is in Havana. His trip was announced through the social network Twitter and has already provoked some reactions among Cuban activists.

The opposition leader José Daniel Ferrer has made public a message, which shows his concern over the fact that the reporter “only wrote about a part of the Cuban reality.”

In the note, Ferrer warns Londoño about the dangers of “moving from objective, honest balanced journalism to interest-based and biased journalism.” In the statement he invited the young man of 33 to meet. “Although I am in Santiago de Cuba, where they constantly persecute me, I am going to Havana, I would like to be able to tell you how the persecute me in the capital,” the dissident emphasized.

The text continues with several suggestions to the journalist, whom Ferrar recommends to “see it all, if they let you, talk to everyone, if they allow it, with the government, the churches, the dissidence, ordinary Cubans, visit the many slums, go to the interior, visit the eastern provinces, talk with the families of the prisoners of conscience.”

Londoño has been a member of the Editorial Board of the New York Times since last September and previously worked at the Washington Post

What else can you expect from a TEDx in Havana? / 14ymedio, Victor Ariel Gonzalez

TEDx event in Havana. (Víctor Ariel González)
TEDx event in Havana. (Víctor Ariel González)

14ymedio, Victor Ariel González, Havana, 18 November 2014 — I have spent several days trying to digest the mass of information coming out of the first TEDxHavana, where I was present as just another spectator. However, no matter how much I ruminate on it, I just can’t seem to swallow it. So before it gets too old, I must write this article, especially before its content becomes more toxic — because the more I consider the issue, the uglier I find it, and the worse I make it out to be.

To give the reader the opportunity to escape from this article early on, I will break the ice now with a phrase that sums up my general impression: the first TEDxHavana was, in essence, a fiasco. I don’t call it a disappointment, only because it is not surprising that in Cuba it is possible to distort the proper concept behind such an event. In the final analysis, more important and lasting things have been spoiled than the five hours of TEDx in the Covarrubias Hall of the National Theatre.

Paradoxically, if each presentation is considered separately, it can be said that there were more positive aspects to the event than negative ones. The diversity of topics discussed lent comprehensiveness to the program, although I still did not encounter Cubans there willing to say anything truly daring. On a personal note, I found interesting the presentations by Yudivián Almeida, X Alfonso and Natalia Bolívar, not to mention others that also shone, for the most part.

Nonetheless, there were various elements that detracted greatly from the proceedings. As the hours went by and it became evident that there would not be much more to the event, it was obvious that the plurality of discourse was limited to those differences that have been deemed acceptable by officialdom — nothing more. Thus, the first TEDxHavana failed to cross the frontiers of political censure.

Now, going on to the details, some of the talks were quite poor or made use of quite unfortunate phraseology. One example was when the architects Claudia Castillo and Orlando Inclán, in a presentation that they obviously had not rehearsed sufficiently, called the inhabitants of Havana an “elitist vanguard” because they get around in boteros — taxis — (“those incredible machines”), or that it is a “luxury” to look in the eyes of “he who brings the packet” instead of downloading movies from the Internet. In other words: “It’s so cool to be backward!”

I don’t call it a disappointment, only because it is not surprising that in Cuba it is possible to distort the proper concept behind such an event.

According to them, “all Cubans, when they hop aboard a botero, are aware that they are becoming a statistic.” The hushed derisive laughter emanating from the public seated behind me – who had their peak moment at the statement, “we invented ‘vintage’”– did not cease until those two inhabitants of a Havana that I don’t know, but that intrigues me, left the stage.

Eugene Jarecki added another bit of fantasy. The documentarian stated, in English, that Cubans are, above all, proud of their educational and healthcare systems, and very happy to live here. Of course, the more than half a million souls who in the past 20 years have emigrated to the US alone do not count. The same speaker said that he would not like to see how “savage capitalism” might arrive here and turn us into “just another Puerto Rico.” As he displayed postcards of Cuba such as those sold to tourists, Jarecki pretended to give me a tour of my own country.

Another North American suggested that there should be many, many independent film festivals; that “every individual should get a camera and produce a film” and show it “in his own cinema” or, simply, project it “onto the largest screen he can find.” This was Richard Peña, who obviously does not know that just very recently a government decree prohibited private video screens.

If anything tarnished the event, it was also its emcee, supposedly charged with threading together the various presentations and providing some dynamism to the endeavor. More than that, Amaury Pérez bestowed hugs and kisses upon almost everyone who arrived to give a talk. Few were able to escape his incontinent expressions of affection. As if that were not enough, we also had to endure his jokes in poor taste.

With all that occurred that Saturday afternoon, I was left with many unanswered questions because the organizers left no room in the program for voicing doubts. This was, above all, because neither CuCú Diamantes nor Andrés Levin wanted to pay any attention to me – first, to keep the matter under a “low profile” and second, because they wanted to have pictures taken. Frankly, I, too, would have ignored some nobody who might suddenly shout the question, “What would it take to be a presenter here next year?” – the beginner’s mistake of an amateur journalist.

The gathering served to market a sweetened image of Cuba, and its misery as a souvenir.

The gathering served to market a sweetened image of Cuba, and its misery as a souvenir; as a forum for some political campaign or other; and, according to Amaury Pérez, to demonstrate that “yes, there can be dialogue between Cubans and North Americans.” It turns out that some still need such demonstrations.

TEDx Havana was, among other things, an elite event orchestrated by show business denizens, as well as an opportunity to sell national beers as the “modest” price of 2 CUCs (which is 10% of the median monthly salary). Ingenious idea of the sponsors of this event! If at the next one these people give a talk titled “How to Cheat the Thirsty” I will applaud them until I burst.

The fact of a TEDx in Havana does not lack a certain transcendence, in spite of it all. An architecture student told me that she had not liked several presentations, but that it was “magical” to see the enormous sign with its red and white letters, the organization’s logo on an actual stage and not on a screen. Upon the conclusion of that inaugural gala of TED in Cuba, where a couple of extemporaneous versifiers improvised a rhyme for “our five heroes, prisoners of the Empire,” I ran into a friend who calls himself a “compulsive consumer of TED Talks” who confessed, visibly annoyed, that he “expected more from TED in Havana.”

May I be honest? I expected nothing more.

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

Shadow Market / 14ymedio, Lilianne Ruiz

Vendors at a bus stop in Havana (14ymedio)]
Vendors at a bus stop in Havana (14ymedio)]

Street vendors are the last card in a clandestine business deck whose purpose is pure survival.

14ymedio, LILIANNE RUIZ, Havana, 20 November 2014 — In the shadow of the doorways on Galleno Street in Havana, a young man shows several pairs of sunglasses that he has encased in a piece of polystyrene foam, popularly known as polyfoam. The improvised showcase is kept in a travel bag that can easily be moved. At his side, a girl announces in a low voice: “Colgate toothpaste, deodorant, cologne.”

Suddenly the young man grabs the polystyrene containing the spectacles, as if he were really dealing with a suitcase, and both walk away, their step and pulse accelerating. They disappear within a hallway. They wait. Fifteen minutes later they come out and place themselves again in a stretch of the same street. For the moment, they have managed to cheat the inspectors and the police.

They sell their wares clandestinely in order to survive. They risk being detained by the police, who confiscate their products and impose fines for “hoarding.” The fines can reach 3,000 pesos. Frequently they incur debts because they get the merchandise from a “wholesale” supplier to earn, at maximum, 1 to 3 CUC.

On many occasions it is the Cuban stewardesses or other workers or state officials with the privilege of going abroad and buying in any supermarket, together with the “mules,” each day more hounded, who manage to get through customs controls some batch of basic necessities. The street vendors are the last card in that business deck. “We live daily on what we manage to make. It is not enough to save. If you live for food you can’t buy clothes and if you live for clothes you can’t eat,” they contend.

She has a bachelor’s degree in nursing, and her identity card places her at some address in Ciego de Avila province. That is why she cannot get hired as a nurse in the capital: “I think that from Pinar del Rio to Guantanamo is Cuba. But as I was not born here (in Havana), I have no address here, I cannot work. I am illegal in my country.” But she does not complain: “The salaries are so low that I would have to leave my job as a nights-and-weekend nurse and sell in the street if I want to buy myself, for example, a pair of shoes.”

For his part, he has a tailor’s license and is authorized to sell homemade clothes. “The licenses mean nothing in this country. To sell ready-made clothes, they ask for a ton of papers to know where you bought the thread, the cloth and even the buttons. The government always wins and we do nothing but lose. They charge you taxes to sell what the licenses authorize but also they are charging you taxes for the prices that they fix for raw materials. That’s why we have to buy and sell on the black market,” he explains. The earnings for selling homemade ready-made clothes are minimal.

In January of this year the government prohibited the sale of imported clothes or any imported article. So that after paying for the tailor’s license and the familiar taxes, he comes out to sell eyeglasses, ready to run from the authorities. “I get these glasses at five CUC for two, sometimes three CUC. I did not steal them from anyone. And if the police come, they take them from me. They have already confiscated from me about three times.” In spite of the persecution, he has a powerful reason to continue going out to sell: “If I lie down to sleep, we die of hunger at home.”

Both youngsters report that there are days when they sell nothing. “The whole day on foot from 8:30 in the morning to 6 in the afternoon, running from here to there: if not the inspector, then the police, or the surveillance cameras.”

According to them, there are cameras installed on the corners. Thus they suffer the enormous disadvantage of not being able to see who is watching them. The girl indicates a column: “That wall covers the camera that is at the corner and that is why we stop here. We already have them figured, because if not they order to search for you because of the camera. For example, they order to search for the one who has the black blouse, which can be me.” In this atmosphere of tension and fear of being discovered, this subsistence economy unfolds.

The government harasses the mobile vendors while it woos the big companies of global capitalism. Cuba does not look attractive for those who undertake the economic path of mere survival. Not even legally. That’s why so many young people want to leave the island.

Translated by MLK

The Cuban “Sovereignty” Fable / 14ymedio, Miriam Celaya

The "Sovereignty" of Robinson Crusoe (CC)
The “Sovereignty” of Robinson Crusoe (CC)

14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, Havna, 11 November 2014– In recent weeks we have seen a lot of media hype on the subject of US embargo against the Cuban government and the implications for lifting it. The New York Times led the way, with several inflammatory anti-embargo editorials which resulted in immediate answers from numerous other digital venues, pointing to the dangers of the unconditional and unilateral withdrawal of the sanctions that would allow the Island’s regime new possibilities for extending and consolidating power after half a century of dictatorship.

Without a doubt, the issue of the embargo constitutes the Gordian knot that marks US-Cuba relations

Without a doubt, the issue of the embargo constitutes the Gordian knot that marks the Cuba-US relations, though with a clearly differentiating thread: If lifting the embargo is today an element of crucial strategic importance for the survival of the Cuban regime, it is not a priority for the US government, and it does not constitute a strategic point in that country’s foreign policy agenda.

This antecedent, by itself, explains that the negotiations about the relations between both governments should not develop on the principle of “same conditions” as Cuban officials and its troupe of organic intellectuals (candidly?) claim, since, while the survival of the Castro regime depends to great measure on the lifting of the US sanctions, in Washington, it is neither an element of strategic importance nor an economic or political priority.

In addition, it is ridiculous to suppose that the Cuban government — after hijacking the rights of the governed and excluding them of all legal benefit — making a show of an unspeakable cynicism, pretends to establish itself as defender of the “American people”, which has been deprived by their own government of the ability to travel to or to invest in Cuba as they wish, even if it is a well-known secret that the US is currently one of the major trading partners with Cuba, especially in foodstuffs, and that the presence of Americans is an everyday event in the main tourist destinations on the Island.

But above all, all this foreign policy debate debunks the main pillar on which the foundation of the whole structure of the Cuban revolution has been created: the unwavering defense of sovereignty.

The fallacy of Cuban “sovereignty”

In the 70s, Fidel Castro publicly mocked the embargo (“blockade” in the revolutionary jargon). By then, the much overhyped Cuban sovereignty omitted its humiliating subordination to the Soviet Union, legally endorsed in the [Cuban] Constitution and, under which, Cuba stood as a strategic base of the Russian communist empire in the Western Hemisphere, including in those relations of servitude the failed attempt to create a nuclear warhead base in the early days of the Castro era, the  existence of a Soviet spy base in Cuba, Soviet military troops on Cuban soil, building of a thermonuclear plant — which, fortunately, was never finished — sending Cuban troops to encourage and/or support armed conflicts in Latin America and Africa, among other commitments, whose scope and costs have not yet been disclosed.

As compensation, the Soviet Union supported the Cuban system through massive subsidies that allowed for the maintenance of the fabulous health and education programs on the Island, as well as other social benefits. By then, the so-called US “blockade” was reduced to teaching manuals and classroom indoctrination, or mentioned in some other official discourse, as long as it was appropriate to justify production inefficiencies or some shortage that the European communist bloc was unable to cover.

After the demise of the Soviet Union and of socialism in Eastern Europe, the regime managed, with relative success, an economic crisis without precedent in Cuba.

After the demise of the Soviet Union and of socialism in Eastern Europe, the regime managed, with relative success, an unprecedented economic crisis in Cuba, euphemistically known as the “Special Period”, thanks to two key factors: foreign investment from a group of adventurous entrepreneurs who believed that a virgin market and a system in ruins were sufficient conditions for bargaining advantageously  and the forced establishment of  opening enterprise in the form of small family business, two elements that had been demonized for decades, since the nationalization, in the early sixties, of foreign capital businesses, and seizing of small businesses later, during the so-called Revolutionary Offensive of 1968.

In the late 90’s, however, a new possibility for subsidies appeared on the scene, in the form of Venezuelan leader Hugo Chávez. His deeply populist and egotistical government assumed the maintenance of the Castro system based on the exploitation and ruthless squandering that country’s oil. At the same time, he sustained the Cuban sovereignty myth. This myth is the foundation of the revolutionary anti-imperialist tale (David vs. Goliath), played endlessly in this ignorant and superstitious region by a host of leftist opportunistic intellectuals that thrive in Latin America.

That explains how, after half of century of revolution, Cuba is still one of the most dependent countries in the Western world, and at the same time the “most sovereign” though, currently, it may be common knowledge, according to the very official acknowledgement. The final destiny of the Island depends on foreign capital investment.  It turns out that, in this nation, so very independent and sovereign, the olive–green oligarchs no longer mock the embargo, but they weep for its termination. It may be that their personal wealth, fruit of the plunder of the national treasury, is comfortably safe in foreign funds and vaults, but, without foreign investments, the days of their dynasty are counted.

Since the fall of the Berlin Wall, there have been about six US administrations (…) while Cuba continues with the same system.  

Since the fall of the Berlin Wall there have been about six US administrations, three presidents have ruled in post-communist Russia, and several more have followed in the governments of the countries of Eastern Europe, while the same system of government still remains in Cuba,  imposed by the succession of the Castro brothers, with adjustments and “renovations” that only serve to cover up the mimetic capacity of an elite military clique in the transition to state capitalism, the administrator of an economic and political monopoly that attempts to successfully survive the inevitable transformation of late-Castrism into something that no one knows for sure what it will be.

Today, while others resolve Cuba’s destinies, Cubans, always subjected to extraterritorial powers and at the mercy of an octogenarian autocracy – however sufficiently proud or stupid enough so as to not recognize it, and sufficiently meek as to not revolt — have ended up winning just one card: that of begging, only that the olive-green elite poses as a beggar, their hands held out palms up, asking the alms of foreign capital. Reality has ended up obeying the discourse: never before have we been more dependent.

Translated by Norma Whiting

Four Cubans Among the 50 Most Influential Latin-American Intellectuals of 2014 / 14ymedio

14YMEDIO, Havana/November 19, 2014

The Spanish political magazine Esglobal has included four Cubans in its list of 50 most influential Latin American intellectuals of 2014 published this Wednesday: historian and essayist Rafael Rojas, economist Carmelo Mesa-Lago, professor emeritus at the University of Pittsburgh, blogger and manager of 14ymedio Yoani Sanchez, and the writer Leonardo Padura.

The ranking, developed in collaboration with the Latin-American Faculty of Social Sciences (FLASCO), has as its objective “highlighting the enormous talent and variety of viewpoints that are generated in Spanish and Portuguese, as languages capable of offering alternatives to the hegemonic English in the contemporary world’s dissemination.

To select the intellectuals, the magazine used some basic criteria, like choosing living and active people who perform at least part of their work in Spanish or Portuguese with influence in the Latin-American or international setting.

Among the other intellectuals chosen by Esglobal are Chilean writer Isabel Allende, Pope Francis, Mexican economist Jorge Castaneda, Spanish sociologist Manuel Castells, Mexican activist and journalist Javier Sicilia and Nobel Prize for Literature winner Mario Vargas Llosa.

Translated by MLK