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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“We journalists are the witnesses to history” / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

Oscar Haza during the interview in the studios of 'Mega TV'. (14ymedio)
Oscar Haza during the interview in the studios of ‘Mega TV’. (14ymedio)

14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, 7 November 2014 – Of all the faces that circulate on the illegal information networks, there is a very serene and well-known one that has been with us for decades. This well-spoken man who never seems to get upset has received the worst insults in the official media and the stealthy applause of those who never miss his programs. Oscar Haza spoke to 14ymedio this week at the MegaTV studios in Florida, with a baseball cap, a telephone that never stopped ringing, and many interesting stories about his life, journalism and his other adoptive island.

Yoani Sanchez: People in Cuba know you as a television presenter, but help us to complete the person behind this sober man in suit and tie who asks incisive questions. Who are you, besides a face on the screen?

Oscar Haza: I’m an ordinary person, a child from a village in the district of San Carlos, in the center of the capital city of Santo Domingo

Sanchez: Here is where many of my compatriots interrupt you and exclaim in astonishment, AH!… because you’re not Cuban!

Haza: I am the grandson of Cubans. My grandfather was Luis Felipe Haza, a Cuban who moved to Santo Domingo to work in the sugar mills. From there comes my Dominican side, but my other side is from the province of Matanzas. continue reading

Sanchez: If you were not born in Cuba where does so much passion for our country come from? Just a genetic inheritance?

Haza: In the genes, but also because I grew up in a household of fufu, ropa vieja and mangú. That special fusion that the Caribbean has produced. So the Greater Antilles has always been present in my life because of this exchange between families. The person for whom I decided to come to Miami was a Cuban-Dominican of very illustrious lineage, Henríquez Ureña. My friend Hernán Henríquez Lora got me excited and so I came here. So I’ve always had in my heart and in my baggage this interwoven history of Cuba and the Dominican Republic.

Sanchez: And journalism? Does that also come from your family tree?

Haza: My father was the first face that appeared on television, when television arrived in the Dominican Republic in 1952. Of course, to introduce, in turn, the boss.

Sanchez: Trujillo?

“I have trauma with dictatorships. (…) Trujillo removed seven members of the family of my father”

Haza: Yes, and that’s why I have a trauma with dictatorships. Although many people think I’m against the Cuban government out of convenience, because I live in Miami. It’s not that. It’s out of conviction. The Trujillo dictatorship eliminated seven members of my father’s family. So I grew up with the trauma of Latin American militarism. To the point that I don’t even have friends who know how to march. Everything it martial, everything is strict orders, I reject it. In this sense I’m a species in permanent opposition to all dictatorships

Sanchez: I have also heard you have a great music collection. Is that true?

Haza: Music is my psychiatrist. Instead of paying a psychotherapist, I buy discs … or I bought discs in another era, now no, because everything is on the internet. The music determines the mood. I listen to everything. I am a great admirer of Beethoven and Claude Debussy. The other day I had the opportunity to enjoy one of the best pianists I’ve ever heard and it was a Cuban, Jorge Luis Prats and he was playing Brahms.

But I also like dance music … I’m Caribbean! Imagine our islands: Cuba, the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico have inspired the public to dance, the whole world.

Sanchez: And you also like reggaeton?

Haza: Reggaeton is great! No matter the genre, music is divided into good music or bad music.

Sanchez: This long involvement in the topic of Cuba, has it included a visit to the island?

Haza: I’ve been twice. The first was in 1988 and I went with the delegation of Cardinal O’Connor from New York. I went to see my father who was in Santo Domingo and I told him I was going to Cuba. So he asked me, “And that won’t cause problems for you in Miami?” “Well, I hope not because I’m going with the church,” I answered. He said, “Ah… that soothes me, because two thousand years knows more than thirty,” which was how long the system had been in power at that time.

Sanchez: You came at an interesting time, because shortly afterwards the scandal of the Ochoa case broke.

Haza: I enjoyed that trip, because I had finally come to Cuba after having heard all the versions of my grandparents, my aunts and the versions of Cuba that are here in Florida. I had a personal list to go to the neighborhoods that interested me. I did a lot of things, I interviewed Ricardo Bofill for television in the Mañana neighborhood in Guanabacoa. Then I interviewed Elizardo Sanchez in the Vibora neighborhood. It was a difficult time when there was a rupture in the Cuban opposition movement, so I interviewed the two of them.

My second trip was when the Pope went to Cuba in 1998. The experience was different, it was more irregular. Then I went to my family’s house in Matanzas, which was behind the Cathedral. It was unforgettable.

Sanchez: What has been your most difficult interview?

“What would you say if a Cuban went to Argentina to shoot and kill Argentinians?”

Haza: Mercedes Sosa. I did not know that she was suffering from depression. I had a one-hour program with her. She came, sat looking at the floor and when I asked her a question she answered only in monosyllables. I looked at the clock and it was five past eight. The program ended at nine. What do I do, I asked myself. So I said, I have to say something to get a reaction from her; then it occurred to me: “What would you say if a Cuban went to Argentina to shoot and kill Argentinians?” That woke her up and we began the interview.

I also interviewed Fidel Castro in Bogota at the Tequendama hotel, during the inauguration of Ernesto Samper. It was something sui generis because it was the day after the Maleconazo. The Air Force refused to give him military honors when he arrived for the tribute because he had been supporting the FARC and the Colombian Left. I heard about the situation, so during the interview I asked several questions about the Maleconazo and the embargo but left to end the question, “And is this your first time in Bogota after the Bogotazo?” He quickly responded to me, “Yes, and if they tell me I’m in New York I would believe it… it’s changed so much,” so he went with the tourist line.

I was also a war correspondent in Central America and lived terrible moments, like the day they killed a colleague right next to me.

'Mega TV' Studios in Miami. (14ymedio)
‘Mega TV’ Studios in Miami. (14ymedio)

Sanchez: When you do interviews with Cuban dissidents and question them about internal issues in front of the cameras, do you have a dilemma between giving arms to the government, versus not touching on these sensitive issues?

Haza: I always have that dilemma. But as a journalist it’s my job to report. We journalists are the witnesses to history. We are here to tell it. We can’t control the consequences. To opt for self-censorship would be to choose our worst enemy. Things have to be said, but with the social responsibility that we have. Our job is to reveal the truth.

Sanchez: Suppose now you’re in a TV studio in Havana, who would you like to interview there?

Haza: The job surprises me when I’ve been with people in the villages, those who have no voice, they’ve given me spectacular stories. One of the interviews I would like is with a boy or girl to know how they see the world of the adults and the Cuban reality. Children are very authentic and very honest. I would also like to interview a great poet.

Sanchez: Do you think you’ll soon be doing these interviews in Cuba?

Haza: I think so, because now those who don’t want change call themselves revolutionaries. There is nothing more anti-revolutionary and anti-dialectical than to say everything is already changed and there’s nothing to do. That is the main enemy of those who today defend the status quo. I think so, because despite the will of the ruling class changes in Cuba are close.

A Management Success: The Butcher Shops without Flies / 14ymedio, Victor Ariel Gonzalez

A client leaves The Golden Pig (14ymedio)
A client leaves The Golden Pig (14ymedio)

14ymedio, Victor Ariel Gonzalez, Havana / 6 November 2014 — It’s ten in the morning, and the Golden Pig is packed with customers. On entering, one detects the intense odor of smoked meat mixed with the aroma of ripe guavas. Two salesmen work behind the counter, and a third places fruits in their boxes.

They almost have no time to assist the journalist who is interested in knowing how they have managed to start this business. This is not just any market; there are electronic scales, vertical refrigerators, air conditioning and — most surprising – the cleanliness and organization are infinitely superior to those of the typical farmers’ markets of Havana, those built hurriedly under zinc plates where flies swarm and mud has stained everything.

Here it is different. This is a small shop inside a building at the corner of Linea and 10 in Vedado. They threw cement on the floor and oiled it, installed dark windows and put an attractive label over the glass. “We took two months to prepare this,” says one of the workers when he can finally answer some questions. “You already saw that it is full,” the man continues. “In December I imagine that we are going to even need a doorman!” Success has come to them quickly since they have only been open a few weeks.

The Golden Pig functions as a cooperative. On one of the walls, over the counter, hangs the license that the State grants for this form of private activity that is gaining momentum and opening new businesses at several locations in the city.

So, for example, there is also El Barrio market, close to the embassy of the Czech Republic. It is easy to pass by if you are not familiar with it because, seen from outside, the closed garage does not have much paint for being a business. Inside, the presentation of products is even more attractive than the previous place. They possess a big refrigerated counter with all the offers in view, already packaged and with labels printed in Cuban pesos. They have a shiny machine for making slices at the customer’s request and an area in back where they prepare the packages. There are not those so disagreeable odors that one usually smells in the state butcher shops that sell in CUC (hard currency).

There are not those so disagreeable odors that one usually smells in the state butcher shops that sell in CUC

In El Barrio a saleslady explains how a business of this type can be pulled off. The required license is “retail seller of agricultural products” and is sought in the municipal offices of the Ministry of Work and Social Security. “It took us five months to take the necessary steps for the permit, but the advantage of this activity is that we do not need a health certificate like our suppliers,” she says before assisting another recently-arrived customer.

“Although we have to pay a lot in taxes, we manage to profit,” says a staff member at the Golden Pig. The prices on the boards are well above what the pocketbook of the common man can pay, although similar to those found elsewhere. “Our advantage is that we have made a different presentation, and people like that,” say the workers of the other store.

Mind you, it will never be possible to find beef in any of these businesses. Not even cow’s milk or its derivatives. The yogurt they offer in one of these butcher shops, where they sell several types of foods, is made with goat’s milk. Neither are they permitted to trade in imported products.

In spite of the administrative tethers and the enormous limitations that the government places on the offer of products, private initiative little by little paves the way in this economy that insists on calling itself “socialist” and “planned.” Nevertheless, the paltry purchasing power of the population means few Cubans can give themselves the luxury of entertaining their families with a pork leg – a month’s average salary – and some mouthwatering fresh lettuce leaves wrapped in clear plastic.

Translated by MLK

“Sometimes we have to work barefoot …” says a farmer / 14ymedio, Orlando Palma

Farmers Market Fruit Stand (14ymedio)
Farmers Market Fruit Stand (14ymedio)

14ymedio, Orlando Palma, Havana, 6 November 2014 – A meeting that was meant to sum up achievements turned into a flood of complaints and demands. The Review Assembly of the National Association of Small Farmers (ANAP) in Cienfuegos was the scene where some of the impediments faced by the peasantry of the region were heard.

The Assembly was held at the Martyrs of the Barbados Agricultural Production Cooperative in Rancho Luna, and the officials had to placate the attitudes of the angry farmers in the area. “They came to convince us to make a greater sacrifice, but the truth is I’m already tired of this,” explained a vegetable farmer in the region who participated in the meeting and requested anonymity.

The exodus of workers to other sectors was identified as one of the causes that have led to farm production not meeting the annual plans. The cooperative currently has 108 members, but the workforce is “unstable,” according to the local newspaper 5th of September in it digital edition this Thursday.

“The guys don’t stay with us because we don’t have housing. And they get married, have kids… create families. Then it’s logical that they seek work that can gratify their interests,” Mileydis Terencio Ramírez said at the ANAP meeting.

The official media, however, only reports a part of the anger expressed by the farmers who attended the meeting, according to what several in attendance told 14ymedio. “The working conditions here are bad, so people leave because they can’t progress,” said Lazarus, who works cultivating beans and yucca in the Rancho Luna area.

According to the official press, “nearly 75% of Cuba’s food program depends on how much the farmers can produce.” However the southern cooperative itself hasn’t been able to “satisfy the people’s real needs.” The Martyrs of Barbados has been proposed to conclude this year with 7 million pounds of product, well below the more than 22 million pounds of 1988.

Difficulties with inputs also negatively influence the fieldwork. Farmers complain of ‘high price, low quality’, and also the lack of administrative management to ensure a stable supply of products like footwear to work in agriculture.

“Now they send us 20 pairs of boots. What does that mean for 108 workers? Sometimes we have to work barefoot,” Wilfredo Arias Arias said at the meeting.

The official report in the 5th of September newspaper didn’t escape pessimism concluding that “while the debate resolved nothing, at least it hinted at the problems facing an industry, the peasantry, the job of feeing the people.”

The Government Paints an Idyllic Country for Foreign Investors / 14ymedio

14ymedio, Havana, 5 November 2014 — The documentation that the Cuban government has distributed among potential foreign investors for the purpose of capturing some 8.7 billion dollars for development projects on the Island highlights the country’s “favorable business environment.”

The Opportunities Portfolio and Guide, to which 14ymedio has had access, highlights the “restructuring of the country’s policies since the updating of the economic model,” even though the reforms promoted by President Raul Castro since 2007 have not solved the many problems that strangle the system.

The so-called Raulist reforms have not prevented the economy from growing at a slower pace than officially forecasted. According to government calculations, the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) will close the year with an increase of 1.4%. Nevertheless, independent analysts think that this figure does not reflect the real state of the economy.

Throughout 168 pages, the Opportunities Portfolio insists on the presence of a “regulatory framework and an updated foreign investment policy and incentives for investors.”

The document mentions the existence of a “secure and transparent body of law” and “promotional institutions at the service of investors” as well as a “climate of security for foreign personnel,” when a little more than a month ago the severe sentence imposed on Canadian entrepreneur Vahe Cy Tokmakjian was made known.

This case, often considered a test for those who plan to invest on the Island, concluded with the 15-year prison sentence for the President of Tomakjian Group for various corruption crimes. Along with him, another 14 Cubans were condemned to sentences of between six and 20 years in jail.

The Portfolio also praises the “high indicators in matters of education, social security and health of the population,” even though the island is going through a delicate situation from the epidemiological point of view. In recent months, the spread of dengue fever, cholera and chikungunya may have caused dozens of deaths throughout the country, although health authorities have not supplied reliable figures.

The document also celebrates the presence of basic infrastructure throughout the whole country, including railways and roadways, in spite of the fact that the bad state of the highways has caused more than 5,600 accidents in the first half of this year, with a balance of 347 deaths and more than 4,300 injuries.

 

Translated by MLK

Long faces and empty pockets / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 1 November 2014 – One of the distinctive features of the new era in Cuba is that it is no longer shortages but pricing that explains the difficulty of acquiring food grown on the island, but at bottom the issue is the same as always: lack of productivity.

For decades Cubans “got used” to the non-existence of certain agricultural products. Especially in the ‘60s and ‘70s when there was a stronger dependence on the ration market and consumers felt more like users than customers. The production plans were conceived to satisfy, barely, the rationing plan and there wasn’t even a way of marketing the excess.

Every time policies emerged that tended towards openings –such as the farmers markets of the ‘80s – fruits, vegetables and meats absent from the ration book reappeared on the stands, but along with the happy return of mamey, lettuce and malanga, also appearing were the long faces of those who didn’t even bother to reach into their pockets when they saw the exorbitant prices.

Then the righteous zeal of the Maximum Leader, his unbridled voluntarism, decided to prohibit these manifestations of mercantilism and beans, onions, and of course meat, were once again lost to us. Like the erratic gait of Ruperto, a TV comic character of our time, every two steps forward necessarily entailed one step back.

But the long faces of the “disadvantaged” still demand some Robin Hood to bring order to the Sherwood Forest. In letters from readers of the newspaper Granma or on the National Television program “Cuba Says” the indignant tear their hair out in the face of “the abusive prices that unscrupulous intermediaries impose to profit on the needs of the population.” It is recognized that the producers and the sellers are now sheltering under the law of supply and demand and therefore are authorized to set the prices they want, but others think that there should be “a limit” because consumer protection should come first.

On this topic, the commentator Talia Gonzalez said this week on the TV magazine Buenos Días, “We have to recognize that the experiment undertaken in the provinces of Havana, Artemisa and Mayabeque for the last year has enabled the expansion of supply and variety in the markets, but now there is another phenomenon: the products are there, but in many cases they are inaccessible…”

There has been an 18 percent increase in production over the previous year, but this isn’t reflected in prices

Officials in the Ministry of Agriculture affirm that there has been an 18 percent increase in production over the previous year, but this isn’t reflected in the prices because the supposed increases are destined principally to replace imports or to fulfill commitments to schools, hospitals and other social sectors, which are not always met.

The blame for the problem lies entirely in eminently subjective issues, such as the lack of control and demands, the arrears in payments or the failure to meet contracts, but there is something deeper, closely related to the nature of a system that, however much they try to update or perfect it, still has the same essence.

When a farmer realizes that 100 pounds of onions sold at 40 pesos a pound brings in the same as 800 pounds sold at 5 pesos a pound he has discovered, without needing to be an economist, sociologist or politician, that in Cuban society today for every economically favored consumer, there are eight who are not.

That is, if in Cuba there are approximately one and a quarter million people with sufficient purchasing power to absorb what little is produced, at the stated price, there will be no interest in increasing production, unless by some miracle the communist prophecy is fulfilled where work will become the first human need, beyond narrow material interests.

What a discovery! The system can’t function as long as it tries to maintain a policy of equity and justice, while aspiring to an efficient and sustainable economy. It is not that the producers have been given too much freedom, but rather not enough. At least as much as necessary so that, from the ruins of a proletariat forced into corruption to survive and a peasantry fearful of putting their prosperity on the display, an empowered and entrepreneurial middle class can emerge. But such an idea, so liberal, doesn’t fit in the straitjacket of the Guidelines of the 6th Communist Party Congress.

It is historically proven that productivity grows not only when there are the necessary technological and scientific requirements to make the performance of the productive forces more efficient, but also when there is a need to increase production and that need is backed by the purchasing power of consumers. Otherwise the hungriest countries would be the most productive but, sadly, the opposite happens.

At every hierarchical, academic and political level they know that this serpent doesn’t stop biting its tale, but in the inaccessible premises where the great decisions are taken they are afraid to recognize that unviability is a regular part of the socialist system they learned as a catechism from the Soviet manuals. They will never recognize it, unless the dissatisfied with their long faces move beyond their irritations at the prices in the market stalls, and channel their anger and frustration where it belongs.

The Good USAID and the Bad USAID / Yoani Sanchez

Cuban medics in a USAID hospital in Monrovia, Liberia
Cuban medics in a USAID hospital in Monrovia, Liberia

YOANI SÁNCHEZ, 3 November 2014 — Just a few months ago we experienced an avalanche of official propaganda targeted to attacks on the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). Those initials came to represent the enemy with whom they frighten us from our television screens, platforms, and even classrooms. However, to our surprise, this week we’ve learned that some Cuban doctors arriving in Liberia will work in a field hospital financed by this “terrible agency.”

Although the official press has avoided publishing pictures showing our compatriots next to the logo of USAID, the odd photo has escaped censorship. So suddenly, there is a crack in the story of confrontation, the rhetoric of the adversary does not hold water, and clearly evident is all the moral relativism of those who fabricate the ideological crusades with which they bombard us from the mass media.

Could someone ask the Associated Press (AP) to investigate as soon as possible this “secret” conspiracy between the Plaza of the Revolution and an agency that receives guidance from the U.S. State Department? We are eager to see the rivers of ink that this strange collaboration provokes, the “revelations,” the secret memorandums and the veiled-face confessions that explain such a collaboration.

However, the answer that will be given by those who reject USAID support for Cuban Civil Society but seem fine working shoulder to shoulder with the island’s authorities, will be that in humanitarian issues have no political colors. As if to inform and technologically empower oneself weren’t a question of survival in the twenty-first century. The official press, for its part, will rush to explain that, when it’s about saving lives, Cuban doctors are willing to put aside their differences. But none of these is the real explanation.

The bottom line is that Raul Castro’s government is eager to express and receive belligerence from its great northern neighbor. What it will not tolerate and will never accept is grants to or recognition of the belligerence of its own civil society. It is anxious to take a family photo with Uncle Sam, as long as no one invites the bastard nephew that is the Cuban population.

Power is attracted to itself, these images of the last few days want to tell us. If a young Cuban receives a text message summoning him to an alternative concert, he should be careful – according to what the official commentators warn us on our little screens – because the imperialist could be behind each character. They don’t use the same ethical yardstick, however, to evaluate a health care professional who works under the tent, over the stretchers, and with the syringes funded by USAID.

How are they going to explain to the children, who have spent months being frightened by the United States Agency for International Development, that now their fathers or uncles who went to Liberia are working in a hospital built with funds from that agency?

When Ronald Hernandez Torres, one of the Cuban doctors who traveled to Liberia, wrote on his Facebook page that “this unit has the best conditions for patient care, and the best professionals from different countries working side by side,” did he, perhaps, know that all this is being funded by the same agency that is latest nemesis that the Castro regime has found to frighten us with?

As always happens, the cries of political hysteria end up drowning out the voices that raise arguments. Although, as a general rule, the official version is usually imposed because it is the highest insult, this should not discourage us to look for the reasons and to reveal the contradictions of their discourse.

I now know, that at the end of the year, when we look at the balance of reporting in the headlines of our national newspapers, the impression will be that the Havana government and USAID are irreconcilable enemies. But it is a lie. The principal confrontation that continues to be set in stone and without ceding an inch, is what emerges from the powers-that-be in Cuba toward their own people.

Abel Prieto Attacks The “Packet” and “Technological Nomadism” / 14ymedio, Rosa Lopez

Cuba Pavilion, where the Cultural Consumer Forum meets in Cuba: Art, Culture, Education and Technology
Cuba Pavilion, where the Cultural Consumer Forum meets in Cuba: Art, Culture, Education and Technology

14ymedio, Rosa Lopez, Havana / 1 November 2014 — Why do young people prefer video games to the high-flown revolutionary exploits that national television displays? Is the audio-visual “packet” displacing official programming? Those questions hang in the air – although without being directly enunciated – at the Forum on Cultural Consumption in Cuba: Art, Culture, Education and Technology, which is being held this weekend in the Mayo Room of the Cuba Pavilion.

Participating in the official event are Abel Prieo*, Raul Castro’s adviser on cultural topics, Miguel Barnet and other members of the Cuban Union of Writers and Artists (UNEAC) and the Saiz Brothers Brigade. The meeting of intellectuals takes a critical stance in the face of an avalanche of material – uncontrolled by government – that is circulating within the country, especially through the so-called “packet” or “combo” that is distributed by alternative means.

The manifest purpose of this event is to diagnose the ways culture is consumed in Cuba and accordingly “to create an alternative platform for art, education and new technologies and in this way reach a much wider audience.”

Abel Prieto stated in one of the sessions that it seemed to him “that the intellectual position of irrational rejection of new ways of consuming culture is as harmful as that of a post-modern relativism which accepts everything as good. That relativism brings us a blurring of precisely the objectives of a cultural policy, the objectives of the humanism that today is absolutely in bad shape.”

In the forum several references were made to the topic of video games, and Prieto himself judged it as “a complex and dialectical process,” to immediately add that “some are inoffensive, but others are essentially violent and become an addiction.”

Cuba thus seems to be peeping out to the great modern debates about violence and addiction to which video games may give rise, but for the moment it is only permitted to publicly discuss a portion of those involved in the possible problem. The government’s cultural policy tries to determine from above what each Cuban sees on his television screen and what is good or bad for his subsequent social attitude.

Abel Prieto also attacked the “packet” and “technological nomadism” through storage devices like USB memory. The ex-minister of culture opined that “one of the tricks of these new ways of consuming culture is that they give the idea that the person is choosing what he wants to consume, but he does it from the paradigms that are imposed on him. Democracy and diversity are hidden beneath a trap of the hegemonic agenda of the entertainment.”

As evidence that the ruling party surrenders before the existence of those phenomena, Prieto ventured that “we have to promote more diverse and inclusive packets.” The problem is that the greater part of the Cuban people are no longer willing to have officialdom make their audiovisual menu for them.

Tedium, low-quality production, excessive ideology and secrecy have for too long characterized the audiovisual products cooked up in the laboratories of the Communist Party Central Committee Department of Revolutionary Orientation (DOR), the entity that governs television programming and the content of all national press media.

However, the recent speeches in the Forum also hint at alarm. Abel Prieto asserted that “at no time will the State cede to private individuals the decision of cultural policy.” His immediate call “to not demonize new cultural consumption in an authoritarian manner” did not manage to erase the implicit threats in his prior words.

“Hopefully knowledge and cultural information will come into fashion,” concluded Prieto, but he failed to include in that sentence the adjectives “revolutionary” or “politically correct” which always hang over every audiovisual production promoted and encouraged by the ruling party.

Regrettably, culture continues to be governed more by political statements than by demands for education or personal growth.

This morning the Forum’s sessions will continue, missing the voices that defend video games, the “packet,” and the democratization of information.

*Translator’s note: After being ousted as Minister of Culture Prieto was given the title of “Cultural Advisor.”

Translated by MLK

Displaying Those Who Watched Us / 14ymedio, Eliecer Avila

National Memory Institute in Poland (14ymedio)
National Remembrance Institute in Poland (14ymedio)

14ymedio, Eliecer Avila, Warsaw, 23 October 2014 — Recently, a wide cross section of Cuban civil society and opposition has been invited to Poland. The program has included a broad array of activities; including a visit to a jail and the governmental palace, meetings with important political figures, debates and lectures.

What has struck me most was entering the archives of Polish Communist State Security. I had only seen such a degree of paranoia and meticulousness in movies, like the classic “The Lives of Others.”

But this time was different. We found ourselves face to face with 90 kilometers of documents, hundreds of thousands of records, operative cards, photos, video tapes, personal profiles, and information about collaborators and people under surveillance.

These records prove that in all the Russian communist colonies there existed similar repressive agencies that turned into the biggest and most sophisticated institutions of their time. The surveillance and repression of thought was the activity to which those countries devoted the most resources.

The National Remembrance Institute leads investigations to purge the responsibilities in thousands of crimes committed by State Security against Polish citizens, always under the guidelines of the infamous Soviet KGB.

The information that these documents hold even today can be vital for many people who aspire to occupy public office, now that new democratic institutions usually ask those in charge of the archive to investigate if in the past such-and-such a person collaborated with State Security.

Documents destroyed by State Security (14ymedio)
Documents destroyed by State Security (14ymedio)

The documents also reveal that practically no one escaped security surveillance. Priests, artists, intellectuals, diplomats, business owners, all foreigners and even the Communist leaders themselves were spied upon. To that end they used the most advanced techniques of the time, like steam machines to unseal and then reseal letters, microphones inside of homes, hidden cameras and personal tracking, among others.

Even Fidel Castro himself had his file in the archives of the Polish State Security

Even Fidel Castro himself had his file in the archives of the Polish State Security, even when cooperation was very tight between all the repressive bodies of the Soviet bloc, including Cuba.

In spite of all that Mafioso and apparently infallible machinery, the people knew how to find their way and free themselves from so much sick perversion and, in the majority of cases, undertake a road towards true development, with a foundation in a government of law and in open and democratic politics.

The gray days dominated by fear and sadness were left behind to give way to a multitude of colors in the plazas of cities like Warsaw and Cracow, converted into reference points for constant growth and improvement.

I am absolutely convinced that one day in the not-too-distant future we will show delegations from all over the world the archives and installations of State Security in Cuba. Officials and collaborators of the repressive apparatus will be like naked kings before the astonished gaze of new generations formed in pluralism and respect for others in order to rebuild the nation.

Translated by MLK

Cardenas Court tries providers of a Wi-Fi network / 14ymedio

14ymedio, Cardenas, 31 October 2014 – A strong State Security operation on Thursday prevented activists and independent journalists from attending a trial held at the Cardenas Municipal Court at 2:00 PM against five young people who installed an extensive Wi-Fi network in this town, according to a report to 14ymedio from independent journalist Leticia Ramos, who was expelled from the court and briefly detained.

The defendants, who were no older than 30, had been the object of a complaint by the Cuban Radio Company. They are accused of illegal economic activity, a crime under Article 228.1 of the Penal Code, facing a sentence of three months to one year imprisonment. If the aggravating circumstance of use of materials or means of illicit origin is proved, the sanction is one to three years imprisonment, in addition to confiscation of the property involved.

The prosecutor couldn’t prove that “any of the servers were stolen or had entered the country illegally,” a person who didn’t want their name published told 14ymedio. continue reading

The case had already been announced in the local paper Girón last 26 June, when there was great anticipation to know the results.

The defendants were arrested during an impressive police operation last June, when the network that received audiovisuals over the Internet and distributed them through a wireless network was dismantled.

At that time, Girón reported that an individual “behind the façade of a ham radio operator, installed several antennas in his home.” The official media report warned that this type of action fostered “the circulation and consumption of alienating audiovisual materials.”

Several people were caught taking notes and were expelled from the court. Sources close to the families of the accused reported that the prosecutor asked for high fines and the permanent confiscation of all the materials seized.

The trial concluded pending sentencing, with the expectation that the accused will receive communications about their sentences in the next few days.

Between confrontation and dialogue / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, 31 October 2014 – There has been a lot of talk lately of the presumed improvement in relations between the governments of the United States and Cuba. In both countries there are tons of supporters for two antagonistic positions, which in summary and without a desire to simplify, can be reduced to two terms: confrontation and dialog.

Rivers of ink and saliva have been spilled to argue both ways and the more reasons are put forward the further away the solution seems. The worst is when the passions lead to personal attacks and the dismissal of those who think differently. And so I renounce mentioning names here and refrain from appealing to disparaging epithets.

If I were forced to choose I would vote for dialog. I resist confrontation.

But it is not enough. We immediately have to respond to another question that introduces a new dilemma: an unconditional dialog or without conditions.

The General President has insisted that he is willing to sit at the table as long as he is treated equally or, and it’s the same thing, under the condition that his legitimacy is not questioned. And of course without being asked to renounce the “bedrock principles of the Revolution.”

What legitimacy are we talking about? If we refer to the number of countries with which the Cuban government maintains diplomatic relations, its presence in international organizations or its ability to dictate laws and enforce them across the length and breadth of the country, then we have no choice but to admit that the Cuban leaders enjoy a high level of legitimacy even though they are considered dictators, usurpers or repressors of their people, and that is very evident in lack of popular will expressed in free elections. continue reading

Is there a universal standard of legitimacy for governments or do various interpretations of democracy and human rights exist? Perhaps we will have to admit that a government can imprison its political opponents, violently repress peaceful activists, fail to sign or ratify international treaties on human rights, deny or prohibit the legitimate existence of an independent civil society, oblivious to the power transmission created by the protection of the only permitted party; denying their citizens participation in the management of the economy so solicitously offered to foreign investors and that everyone has to recognize them because they have reduced child mortality to first world levels and for maintaining a universal system of free education.

It is likely that once the biology performs its inexorable duty, it exponentially raises the possibilities of sitting down to talk

If the norm for measuring legitimacy could change at the will of those seeking to be recognized as legitimate, then everyone would be in this game, from the North Korean regime to Al Qaeda, and if we look in retrospect we would also have to accept the Pretoria of apartheid or the Cambodia of the Khmer Rouge, not moving beyond contemporary history.

But we are in Cuba and we’re talking about a government rigidly controlled by a highest leadership of octogenarians. Regardless of the promises of continuity made by those on the horizon as the relief team, what is most likely is that once biology performs its inexorable duty, it exponentially raises the possibilities of sitting down to talk.

Because none of those who are going to occupy the government or political offices at that time, it is understood, will be responsible for mass executions, or thoughtless seizures, or even feel guilty about the Revolutionary Offensive of 1968, because in that year, if they had been born, they were children or teenagers. Opportunists who applauded in order to rise? Yes, but this is an accusation that does not carry a life sentence.

I have not the slightest doubt that the most optimistic results arise from a dialog between the Cuban authorities and the now disunited and still weak civil society that could bear fruits comparable to Poland’s, to use a well-known example; still less if it is a dialog between the Cuban and American governments, in the absence of the independent civil society on the island and in exile.

I can bet that “the ruling party” is going to negotiate with ferocity for the best pieces of the pie, whose most appetizing ingredients are the guarantee to not be judged and the possibility of maintaining control over the successful sectors of the economy.

But I’m also sure that the path of confrontation—through maintaining the embargo, the inclusion of Cuba on the list of terrorist countries or the dismissal that assimilates the internal opposition into the “subversion financed from abroad”—only serves to consolidate the positions of the dictatorship both on the international and domestic scene.

I would prefer not to have to choose, but I don’t want to keep waiting, and I am not talking about the future of my children, but of my grandchildren.

Havana, the most expensive city for transportation in Latin America / 14ymedio

How much of your salary do you pay for transportation? Results of research of the Engineering Department at Diego Portales University, Chile
How much of your salary do you pay for transportation? Results of research of the Engineering Department at Diego Portales University, Chile

14ymedio, Havana, 31 October, 2014 – The Engineering Department at Diego Portales University in Chile has released a study that shows Havana as the city with the highest transportation costs relative to salary. The research looked at 20 capitals in the region and was published by the newspaper La Tercera and on Radio Cooperativa.

According to the report, the most costly city with regard to public transport fairs is Havana, whose “inhabitants spend 24% of their minimum salaries” on it.

The cheapest city is Panama City, where people spend only 1.7% of the minimum wage on transport

At the other end of the scale, the cheapest city is Panama City, where the inhabitants only spend 1.7% of the minimum wage on this budget item. In Chile, meanwhile, people pay 12.1% of the minimum wage to use this public service. continue reading

Now, if we look at the absolute numbers, the Latin American city with the highest priced transport is Brasilia. Although in relation to the minimum wage it is second highest, behind the Cuban capital.

Public Transport in Cuba has seen a price increase in recent years. Although the official price of most buses is forty centavos in Cuban pesos (CUP), many routes have a fare of 1 CUP. To this is added the deteriorating service and the long waits at the bus stops, which have made many opt for collective taxis—also known as almendrones*–whose fare is 10 CUP one-way.

With a minimum monthly salary of 225 CUP, Havanans were spending almost one-fourth of their income on transportation, according to this study at Diego Portales University.

*Translator’s note: The word “almendrone” comes from the Spanish word for “almond” and is a reference to the shape of the 1950s American cars that are commonly used as privately operated shared-taxis.

Born on the Roof / Yoani Sanchez, 14ymedio

Screen grab from Madagascar (1994), a film directed by  Fernando Pérez
Screen grab from Madagascar (1994), a film directed by Fernando Pérez

14ymedio, YOANI SANCHEZ, Havana, 28 October 2014 – Some cities have a subterranean life. Metros, tunnels, basements… the human victory of winning inches from the stone. Havana no, Havana is a surface city, with very little underground. However, on the roofs of the houses, on the most unthinkable rooftops, little houses have been erected, baths, pig pens and pigeon coops. As if above the ceilings everything were possible, unreachable.

Ignacio has an illegal satellite dish on a neighbor’s roof, it is hidden under grape vines that gives undersized sour grapes. A few yards away someone has built a cage for fighting dogs, which seek out the shade during the day, thirsty and bored. On the other side of the street several members of one family broke down the wall that connects to the roof of an old state workshop. They’ve built a terrace and a toilet on the abandoned place. At nightfall they play dominos, while the breezes of the Malecon wash over them.

Carmita keeps all her treasure on top of her house. Some enormous wooden beams with which she wants to shore up her quarters before they fall in. Every week she climbs up to see if the rain and the heat have swollen the wood and cracked the pillars. Her grandson uses the roof for trysts, when night falls and the eyes barely distinguish shadows, although the ears detect the moans.

Everyone lives a part of their existence up there, in the Havana that wants to stretch to the sky but can barely manage to rise a few inches.

The Utopias and Dissidences of Pedro Pablo Oliva / Yoani Sanchez, 14ymedio

Excerpt from 'The strange ramblings of Utopito' from the Pedro Pablo Oliva exhibition, Utopias and Dissidences (14ymedio)
Excerpt from ‘The Strange Ramblings of Utopito’ from the Pedro Pablo Oliva exhibition, Utopias and Dissidences (14ymedio)

YOANI SÁNCHEZ, 27 October 2014 – Some years ago I visited the studio of the painter Pedro Pablo Oliva. We had hardly seen each other on any previous occasion, but he led me into his studio and showed me a work to which he was giving the finishing touches. An enormous vertical canvas rose in front of me and the artist remained silent, without explaining anything. In the middle of the fabric two figures levitated. One was Fidel Castro, translucent as if we were looking through an X-ray, looking aged and with a somewhat ghostly air. Between his arms he was squeezing to the point of suffocation a languid girl who seemed to want to escape from that grip. It was Cuba, exhausted by such all-consuming company. At his feet, a group of tiny little citizens with empty eyes were watching – or imagining – the scene.

I could never forget that picture, because in a limited number of inches Oliva had traced the national map of the last half century. His daring in that work affected me, as he had already done in his classic The Great Blackout (1994), released when the power cuts were more than an artistic metaphor. Now, years later, I learned of the cancellation of his exposition Utopias and Dissidences in the Pinar del Rio Art Museum. The official justifications suggested that the city didn’t have the “subjective favorable conditions” to open the show. A contrived way of rejecting the uncomfortable images where the character of Utopito was questioning the ideologues and their dreams, starting from the outcomes.

However, Oliva’s tenacity has run ahead of the culture officials and he just announced that the censored exhibition will eventually be held at his workshop. Thus, as of November first his admirers in Pinar del Rio and across the whole island will be able to enjoy some of the works of Utopias and Dissidences, because given the small exhibit space not everything will be able to be included.

In this same room where a lifeless politician squeezed his country to the point of suffocation, in a few days we will be able to see if she managed to escape this fatal embrace, continue her life, continue her creation.

“My Most Fruitful and Difficult Experience Has Been Jail” / 14ymedio, Lilianne Ruiz, Antunez

Jorge Luis García Pérez, Antunez. (14ymedio)
Jorge Luis García Pérez, Antunez. (14ymedio)

14ymedio, LILIANNE RUIZ, Havana, October 25, 2014 — On leaving prison, it took Jorge Luis Garcia Perez, known as Antunez, some time to digest that he could go where he wanted without being watched. They had held him captive for 17 years and 37 days of his life.

Just as he learned to do in jail, today he devotes his efforts to civic resistance, inspired by the doctrine of Gene Sharp and Martin Luther King. His movement gathers dozens of activists who carry out street protests and civic meetings in several provinces of the country and in his native Placetas.

Lilianne: Let’s talk about before going to prison, adolescent Antunez. What did you want to be?

Antunez: In adolescence, a firefighter. I liked the idea of rescuing people, putting out fires. But before going to prison I wanted to become a lawyer. I believe that was my calling.

Lilianne: Jail is a survival experience. Do you think it hardened you?

Antunez: The most fruitful and difficult experience, as paradoxical as it may seem, has been jail. I never could imagine that jail was going to be a hard as it was, nor that I was going to be a witness to and a victim of the vile abuses that I experienced. I do not know how to answer you if it hardened me or not. When I entered prison I had a much more radical ideology, it was less democratic. But jail, thanks to God and to a group of people whom I met, helped me to become more tolerant, more inclusive, and to respect various opinions.

As a prisoner, I went to the most severe regime in Cuba. The gloomy prison of Kilo 8 in Camaguey, commonly known as “I lost the key,” where the most sinister repressors are found. Torture forms part of the repressive mentality of the jailers in a constant and daily way. It was there where a group of us political prisoners came together and founded the Pedro Luis Boitel Political Prisoner’s Association, in order to confront repression in a civic way. Thus, I tell you that prison did not harden me, because if it had, I would have emerged with resentment, hatred, feelings of vengeance, and it was not so.

Lilianne: What is your favorite music?

Antunez: I like romantic music, Maricela, Marco Antonio Solis, Juan Gabriel. But I also enjoy jazz, although I am no expert. The music to which I always sleep is instrumental.

Lilianne: Will you share with us your personal projects?

Antunez: There is a saying according to which a man, before he dies, should plant a tree, write a book and have a child. Fortunately, there is already a book, titled Boitel Lives; CADAL published it in 2005. I have planted many trees, because I am a country peasant. I only need to have a son with the woman I love, Iris Tamara Perez Aguilera, so here I am now telling you one of my goals I am aiming for.

Lilianne: You know that a growing number of dissidents and activists have identified four consensus points. What do you think?

Antunez: I believe that they are standing demands that concern all members of the opposition and all Cubans wherever they are. I wish that more fellow countrymen would adhere to these four points. I believe that they represent the sentiment of all good Cubans: to free political prisoners, for the Cuban government to ratify the human rights agreements, recognize the legitimacy of the opposition and stop repression. Everything that is done for change, to free us from the communist dictatorship that oppresses us, is positive.

Lilianne: Why does Antunez not leave Placetas?

Antunez: Not everyone wants to go to Havana. I know many people who keep their rootedness. I would say that, more than roots, it is a spiritual necessity. I leave Placetas three or four days and I begin to feel bad. And that sensation that I have when I come up the heights, coming from Santa Clara… that is something inexplicable. The motto that I repeat, “I won’t shut up, and I’m not leaving Cuba,” means also: “I won’t shut up and I’m not leaving Placetas.”

Translated by MLK