Cuban State Media Monopoly Denounces Internet Freedom Conference / Hablemos Press, Eduardo Herrera

The Cuban state seeks to maintain its information monopoly at any cost.
The Cuban state seeks to maintain its information monopoly at any cost.

Hablemos Press, Eduardo Herrera, Havana, 30 August 2015 — During a recent broadcast of Televisión Cubana’s national news program, the government denounced the first ever Cuba Internet Freedom Conference, scheduled for 12-13 September in the city of Miami, which members of Cuban civil society will attend to participate in the debate.

The argument utilized for the occasion is that, with the interest in establishing the World Wide Web on the Island, the US is endeavoring to topple the revolutionary government.

Of the millions of people interested in Cubans being able to fully enjoy the Internet in our country, the most interested are we ourselves, who for more than 50 years have been in the dark with regard to world developments. continue reading

During his visit to the Island, among the points that Barack Obama emphasized pertained to US assistance in communications, and facilitating the use of the Internet—which is currently still immensely restricted by the authorities.

The Cuban government’s installation of fee-based WiFi service in many areas of the country does not yet meet the needs of the citizenry.

The hourly charges for the service are 2 CUCs, equivalent to more than two dollars. In a country where the average citizen’s salary is less than one dollar per day, this is a high price for a service that is inexpensive for many people around the world, and in some cases is even free.

One must also consider that access depends on a server, one which allows the transmission of convenient information as well inconvenient information, as well as the connection’s low speed.

It was said that, some day, home service would be implemented, but this promise has yet to be met—all developments take place at an exceedingly slow pace. The State seeks to maintain its monopoly on information at all costs, violating even the people’s right to be informed.

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

Inability to Differentiate?…or to Recognize Injustice? / Hablemos Press, Eduardo Herrera

Pedro Kouri Tropical Medicine Institute, the research scientist’s workplace. Photo/HP
Pedro Kouri Tropical Medicine Institute, the research scientist’s workplace. Photo/HP

Hablemos Press, Dr. Eduardo Herrera, Havana, 16 April 2016 – Juventud Rebelde newspaper, in its “Letters” section—in which they usually publish cases of social injustice or irregularities—ran an article this past 16 March titled, “Inability to Differentiate,” which recounts how a research scientist with the Pedro Kouri Tropical Medicine Institute was slapped with a fine for trying to sell an Argentine national soccer team jersey.

The scientist’s name is Marité Bello Corredor, resident of No. 1714, Seventh Street, between Second and Acosta Avenue, Casino Deportivo district, Havana. At the time of the incident, she was on unpaid leave, caring for her sick mother. continue reading

Bello decided to sell the garment because she needed the money, but despite explaining to the inspectors that she is a worker, they imposed a fine on her of 1,500 Cuban pesos (about US$60), according to the article by journalist José Alejandro Rodríguez.

The columnist sees this event as an injustice, and I do not doubt that it is, because the matter pertains to a scientist, someone who makes significant contributions to society. Regardless, in my opinion there is an error in focus, because as it turns out, everyone, equally, should abide by the laws of the land, being that all citizens enjoy equal rights and are subject to equal duties, according to the Constitution.

What is shameful (for the Cuban state) is to see someone who makes a great social contribution having to sell an article of clothing at a bargain price just to survive.

In Cuba, many people who provide important benefits to society do not make a salary that can guarantee them a dignified life. Therefore they are liable to commit crimes without knowing.

A scientific researcher can make approximately US$60 a month—insufficient to feed himself properly, let alone feed a family, even a small one.

Personally, I would have titled José Alejandro Rodríguez’ article, “Incapacity to Recognize,” being that in our country, people’s work is not recognized, because workers are not compensated as they should be. Thus, citizens are discouraged from making greater contributions to society.

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

Cuba: A Country Trapped in Time / Hablemos Press, Eduardo Herrera Duran

detenido en el tiempo _MG_7666

Hablemos Press, Eduardo Herrera Duran, Havana, 3 September 2015 – Following the announcement of the reestablishment of relations between Cuba and the US on 17 December of last year, there was increased interest throughout the world in visiting Cuba. A great number of those who come are much attracted by a country that seems to be trapped in time.

Antique cars; a glamorous city stuck in the 1950s and now practically in ruins; the absence of means to connect to the Internet; the widespread use of propaganda billboards highlighting the consumerism of other countries that is absent in Cuba…. All of this is a curiosity to those who do not know, or perhaps are not interested in, how Cubans really live. continue reading

In recent months, famous models such as Naomi Campbell and Paris Hilton – and, more recently, the Barbadian singer Rihanna – visited the Island. Other famous artists came, as well, including Enrique Iglesias and Marc Anthony. In their photos and videos, they showed the contrast between the supposed happiness of the people against a backdrop of poverty.

Similar to how locations are chosen that denote poverty in African countries such as Sierra Leone, and Haiti in the Americas, it would seem that Cuba is a new “poverty chic” destination – the only difference, perhaps, is that Cubans tend to be more educated and extremely friendly towards foreigners.

The contrast between glamour and poverty is clearly seen in the video, Bailando [see below], by Enrique Iglesias with Gente D’ Zona, probably one of the ten most-viewed videos in the world. Seeing the background behind the starring performers, it is easy to confirm that the intent was to contrast them to the filthy Havana buildings and the miserable appearance of the people who are acting as extras.

As if this were not enough, during his recent visit to Cuba, US Secretary of State John Kerry used as decoration some of the antique cars that abound on the Island. These vehicles exist today not because of some official or private interest in preserving or collecting them, but rather because after 1959, there were no more sales of new automobiles to private parties; therefore the people had to make do with those that were already in circulation.

At that time in our country, the average number of vehicles of this type was one per every 39 inhabitants. It should be noted that there were not that many new vehicles then in the world. From a quick comparison of data we can say that in Russia during that period, the average was one per every 400 inhabitants.

Some media outlets highlighted the recent visits by celebrities as a way to encourage more tourists to visit the Island. And many of them will heed that call. However, they will not consider that this isolation, this unchanging landscape, this trip back in time – or whatever they are seeking is called – comes at the price of a people suffering a totalitarian regime in power for more than half century. It is not by choice that the Cuban people can decide to access the Internet or not, to be pedestrians or automobile owners, to live in buildings that are ruins, to survive on whatever foodstuffs they can manage to obtain – in short, to live not as they desire to live.

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

New Round-Up of Beggars and Loiterers in Havana / Hablemos Press, Eduardo Herrera Duran

A man begs for money at the entrance of a hard currency store.*
A man begs for money at the entrance of a hard currency store.*

Hablemos Press, Eduardo Herrera Duran, Havana, 17 August 2015 – In recent days, a bus carrying some functionary or another and several police officers travels around some of the most central locations in Havana with the objective of rounding up all loiterers and beggars.

The districts of Vedado Capitalina, Centro Habana and Habana Vieja have been combed-through in those areas most frequented by these people. Once again, this part of the city seems a place where no social problem exists.

As customary, when an important international event is imminent, or some world celebrity is coming to visit, all the people who give the impression of being panhandlers are collected. These citizens are taken to the Havana Psychiatric Hospital, temporarily, until the event is over. continue reading

Anyone who presents an image contrary to that which is broadcast on the official media, with respect to Cuban society, is practically cleared away. This way, visitors and journalists who are following the event will not have contact with the reality that we Cubans are living—thus having an impression of wellbeing and supposed development insofar as social matters are concerned.

Many countries, above all the poorest ones, have this type of citizen; but what is notable in Cuba is that these poor souls could be an ex-elite athlete, a retired doctor or teacher, or some other person who worked all his life and the pension he receives often does not exceed 10 dollars per month.

Not only is it in the capital that such herding occurs, but also in Santiago de Cuba and Villa Clara.

The arrival of John Kerry—and the imminent visit of the Pope—have provoked the appearance of many journalists from diverse media outlets, who could potentially shed light on these matters.

El hambre revolucionaria

Translator’s Note:
* The official name of these stores is “Hard Currency Collection Stores” – meaning that their purpose is to collect, via the sale of highly overpriced goods, the cash from the remittances sent to Cubans from their family and friends abroad. 

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

Reopening of US Embassy: Cuba, Invitees Are Not Preconditioned / Hablemos Press, Eduardo Herrera Duran

Dozens of Cubans line up every day in front of the US embassy in Cuba to request an interview. Photo: Roberto J. Guerra
Dozens of Cubans line up every day in front of the US embassy in Cuba to request an interview. Photo: Roberto J. Guerra

Hablemos Press, Eduardo Herrera Duran, Havana, 04 August 2015 — More than 700 people attended the inauguration of the Cuban embassy in the US, whether or not they agreed with the reestablishment of relations. This event created great expectations that today are an irrevocable reality. Many of those invited to the celebration were people recognized as friends of Cuba.

Individuals who are against the policies carried out by the United States towards Cuba for the last 57 years were received at the diplomatic headquarters, without any reproach by the US government. In addition, for more than 50 years, demonstrations by some US citizens in favor of the Island have been permitted. continue reading

On the other hand, the US embassy in Havana is about to be re-inaugurated this coming 14 of August, according to John Kerry himself who announced it in a press conference. Let us hope that the same conditions will be in place, with regard to whom US representatives can invite, or not, to the opening of their diplomatic headquarters in Havana.

It is known that individuals or groups of Cubans who do not sympathize with the Cuban government visit the current US Interests Section – a fact that is constantly criticized by the Cuban government, which roundly rejects that they should be received on the premises.

It is important to remember that in the great neighbor to the north, as it is sometimes called, there exists democracy and the freedom to express opinions – both of which are yet to be “established” here. If anyone who does not sympathize with the “Revolutionary government” is invited to the dedication of the embassy in Havana, we shall see what criticisms are made, and what are the limits of tolerance for the United States.

It remains to be seen whether in reality the changes are occurring in Cuba that are necessary for us to be a country where citizens’ rights are respected – rights such as free expression and choice of the political system that will govern the nation – without the presence of discrimination and abuse.

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

Increase in Medical Tension – or in Medical Attention / Hablemos Press, Eduardo Herrera Duran

Eduardo Enrique HerreraHablemos Press, Eduardo Herrera Duran, Havana, 1 August 2015 – News media inside and outside of Cuba highlight the functioning of the Island’s health care system. They consider it exemplary, and even compare with developed countries.

Many of my medical colleagues and I have been discussing the condition of medical care in recent years. The majority of us agree that it has been deteriorating for more than 20 years. Contrary to what the Cuban state communicates.

The lack of professional, technical and service personnel in the public health centers – something that militates against good care – is evident. At the wards that receive a great number of patients, often one can find only one nurse – even in intensive care units, where the ratio should be one nurse per patient. In general, each nurse is tending to two or three very gravely ill patients at a time. continue reading

Nor can we find nurse assistants, nor cleaning staff; in the best of cases, these are not sufficient to the task. All of which causes the hygiene in the various departments to not be what it should be in a center for treating the sick.

The number of physicians has been gradually diminishing because of their recruitment for the so-called “missions,” which generate juicy revenues for the government. All of which increases the number of patients for each doctor to see, which adversely impacts the quality of care.

To all this, let us add the shortages of necessary medications, supplies and equipment that we do not have on hand when we are treating patients. This affects not only the patients and their families, but also the public health personnel who find themselves unable to provide good service.

Insufficient compensation, the high cost of living, and increased demand in the country have also influenced the health care sector, which is among the most essential for maintaining the well-being of our citizens.

Unquestionably, these factors have influenced the sector’s deterioration. Officials from the Public Health Ministry, during their scheduled visits to the health care centers, see only what they want to see, and do not reflect the reality of what is occurring in their reports to the citizenry. They say that although there are fewer health care centers, medical care has increased in quality.

Referring to what the Public Health Minister said in the most recent meeting of the National Assembly of the People’s Power, one of the physicians, with whom I conversed, Dr. Dayte, said (with humor despite the adversity we face), “Possibly, when they refer to medical attention, there is some misunderstanding, and it is really medical tension that has increased.”

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison


Enemies Of Their People / Hablemos Press, Eduardo Herrera Duran

Dr. Eduardo Enrique Herrera
Dr. Eduardo Enrique Herrera

Hablemos Press, Eduardo Herrera Duran, Havana, 19 June 2015 — While conversing with a friend, he tells me that his friend told him, “You are speaking with an enemy of the Revolution.” My friend confessed to me that he really does not know who the true enemy is, if it is I, or those who label me that way.

Labels such as these — counterrevolutionary, worm, salaried employee of the empire — and others, are used contemptuously about anyone who expresses a view contrary to the Cuban government. A regime that has been in power for more than 56 years without rule of law and with only one party, controls everything!

Since 1959, the so-called Revolutionary government took power and began fomenting hatred against anyone who was not in favor of it. This divisiveness took over everyone, even affecting families in which some members were not sympathizers of the regime.

Thus did hatred grow, and the rejection of other Cubans who criticize the government and its followers. These Cubans have the right to differing thoughts and opinions, without having their patriotism called into question. Citizens throughout the world, even if they think differently, have the same right.

I see how mistreated are people on the Island who oppose the regime. We have as an example the beatings inflicted on the Ladies in White, and other opposition members, who have their own opinions and express them with courage.

Individuals like them, who demand the reestablishment of true democracy in Cuba — despite the abuse and indifference they endure from many other Cubans — wage an open struggle.

There needs to be a true evaluation of who are the so-called enemies.

Those who join with the government and defend its continuation in power do not consider the miserable salaries and poor living conditions of the great majority of the population.

Despite the propaganda machine claiming that education and health care are “free,” we pay a high cost for them.

Those who call us enemies should stop and think: Who, really, are the enemies?

Translated by Alicia Barraqué Ellison

Roads to Democracy for Cuba / 14ymedio

Conference participants gathered in Mexico. (14ymedio)
Conference participants gathered in Mexico. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, 20 June 2015 — The second edition of the event Roads for a Democratic Cuba is taking place in Mexico from 18 to 23 June 2015 under the auspices of the Konrad Adenauer Foundation and the Christian Democrat Organization of America (ODCA). Participating in this meeting are dozens of political activists and civil society leaders of the Island and the Diaspora. The event will continue through the weekend and until next Tuesday.

Among the topics discussed on the first day is the impact on the Island of everything related to the talks between the governments of Cuba and the United States for the purpose of restoring diplomatic relations. Other areas to be discussed are the options of the opposition, various proposals before a new Cuban Electoral Law and ways to strengthen Cuban civil society. continue reading

Among the participants from the island are Dagoberto Valdes, Manuel Cuesta Morua, Vladimiro Roca, Laritza Diversent, Juan Antonio Madrazo, Juan Carlos Gonzalez Leiva, Wilfredo Vallin, Rolando Rodriguez Lobaina, Rosa Maria Rodriguez, Rafael León Rodríguez, Guillermo Fariñas and Boris Gonzalez Arenas.

The first meeting of the event was held last December 2014 in the Mexican capital. At that meeting they talked about the diversity of peaceful means to fight for democracy, the role of exile and the importance of identifying the minimum points of consensus to move forward, if not in the desired unity, at least in arranging purposes.

Conference participants gathered in Mexico. (14ymedio)
Conference poster for this year’s meeting.

“Cuba Speaks Up” For the Nation / Rosa Maria Rodriguez

Rosa Maria Rodriguez, 3 March 2015 — The Civic Project “Cuba Speaks Up” is a reality. On February 19th we completed the pilot phase of the survey entitled Doxa and we are already starting the final field work. This study, for us as much consultative and participatory as observational—as usual with polls—will give us the measure of the state of opinion in a diverse segment of the population in relation to various topics of interest, and with the results we will develop a sociopolitical program more democratic, authentically representing citizens and largely supported by the popular will. continue reading

In the pilot study we surveyed 85 fellow countrymen in the provinces of Matanzas, Camagüey and Havana. We hope that soon, as we anticipated when we conceived and designed this initiative, we can extend this survey throughout the Cuban archipelago.

This purposeful design, which we presented as a draft during our trip to Mexico from December 1 through 5, 2014—when we were invited to a joint event of the Christian Democratic Organization of America and the Konrad Adenauer Foundation—was born from our clear democratic vocation and the recognition and respect of all Cubans, wherever they are.

We who are dedicated to politics usually draft proposals based on what we think the people need, and then ask the people to support us. With this project we want, in modesty, to reverse the procedure and truly empower citizens. To consult them and take into account their views, in order to prepare a political platform of consensus.

The recently concluded first phase provided us a successful interaction and social feedback, which have put into perspective the need to “open” some points of “Doxa A” for carrying out further surveys and covering as far as possible all the basic themes to consider in an inclusive and participatory political project.

What do we Cubans really want? Why not ask us? Since the power there are precedents—very  few in fifty-six years—of polling society manipulated by the authorities. Such procedures prevented those consultations from being taken seriously by international observers and by the people themselves, while further lowering social self-esteem and creating in the population a disinterest in and even a rejection of these topics that by now have become chronic.

So far, we have looked unsuccessfully for a place to host an online version of the doxa, but once we get to publish it, we will present here the address of the place where, if you are Cuban, at least sixteen years old, and want to stop being a passive spectator by becoming a protagonist of your national history, participating freely and democratically, filling out the survey and letting us know your opinions. If you have any questions about “Cuba Speaks Up” you can write to and by return mail we will try to clarify any doubts. Please join!

If you are interested, you can download the documents from the Civic Project “Cuba Speaks Up” below:

Cuba speaks background

Cuba Speaks Survey

Busy Taking a Survey: The Reason for My Absence / Rosa Maria Rodriguez

Rosa Maria Rodriguez Torrado, 13 May 2015 — The last few months my energies have been spent doing face-to-face surveys in the streets along with other members of the Cuban Democratic Project. As I mentioned, I have been busily involved with Cuba Opina (Cuba Believes), which is ready to release the results of its first poll. I treked through areas of the national park as well as through a goodly number of gardens and neighborhoods in the capital, soliciting and obtaining citizens’ opinions. continue reading

This endeavor has not been easy, neither in Havana nor in other provinces — it is easier to travel abroad if you have an American visa in your passport than it is to go to Santiago de Cuba — given the hostility we encountered from some of the people we approached.

To solicit responses, a questionnaire was specially developed for the first investigation, called “Doxa A.” Ambitious in our vision, we decided to consult citizens of all social classes along the width and breadth of the Cuban archipelago. But the lack of resources forced us to delay our activities as we approached “the finish line” and to significantly reduce the number of citizens being polled.

This first study consumed precious time — delaying us by a month — because we followed the recommendations of sociological studies downloaded from the internet, which advised conducting a “pilot study” first.

This involved surveying the field of the respondents — the sampling size — to check the wording, understanding and the viability of the basic questionnaire (the doxa), correct the shortcomings and errors it is likely to have and avoid the mistakes inherent in the information collected.

This meant the sociopolitical conditions in Cuba imposed an additional burden on the project and involved twice as much effort. Therefore, we agreed that future civic research projects by Cuba Opina would not involve such trials or tests.

We know that behind every dictatorship is a frightened and divided society. I am referring to the divisions within society itself, which requires citizens to feign political loyalty. It is a society which causes people to look with suspicion on acquaintences and strangers alike, on those who sell beef under the table, on those who rummage through trash, on neighbors and even on one’s own mother.

After fifty-six years of totalitarianism, Cuban society is one in which loved ones — people to whom we were close — are struck from our list of friends because of political differences. Families are divided over the same issues to the point that, in search of freedom, the distances become not only ethical but geographic.

The doors of more than a few friends and acquaintances stayed closed or were slammed shut — doors which under normal circumstances would have been opened wide — with the plea of “Don’t complicate my life, Rosita.”

There were excuses such as, “It’s not me; it’s my son who wants to go to university,” or “He’s hoping to travel out of the country,” or “Damn, Rosy, I’m waiting for them to send me on a mission overseas.”

Though the state “ships them” overseas (exploiting them in the process), this is perhaps the  only way that many Cuban professionals from a variety of fields can resolve their personal and families’ financial problems. These and other fear-based responses are symptoms of a socio-political, economic and cultural panic.

The regime has sowed terror since its inception, which the international community was recently able to witness at the stormy Summit of the Americas in Panama last month when the government’s attempt to sabotage a parallel event organized by civil society groups failed.

It did, however, demonstrate the high price it charges some acolytes for the privileges they receive. It extorts them in order to later crudely use and abuse them, like trained pawns, in a political chess game in which it discredits, threatens and verbally assaults those who dissent from a government forced on them more than half a century ago. This is not just verbal vandalism; it is a violation of the rights of its own followers.

On the occasion of the conclusion and tabulation of Doxa A, we call upon Cubans visiting this blog to respond by May 18 to the eighteen-item questionnaire to be found in the link below. We also request that you forward the URL of this survey to your compatriots so that they might also contribute their opinions.

We are now in the final push to complete this poll but, in prioritizing tasks at Cuba Opina, we neglected to provide the interaction and promotion that an internet project such as this should have. As a result, the number of people who have completed the online questionnaire is low.

We, therefore, politely ask for your support, which means simultaneously recognizing and respecting your sovereign right to express yourself in this and subsequent polls. Do think about participating; think and express yourself by participating! Thank you in advance.

On-line survey (in Spanish) is available here.

Living in Filth / Rosa Maria Rodriguez

We humans produce garbage and we ourselves make it our task to collect it. In many countries, garbage collection is an industrialized process. In Cuba, however, the Communal Services Company* places containers on street corners (not all of them), where citizens discard all types of residue–paper products, bottles, food leftovers, biodegradable material, plastics, textiles, cardboard, cans, dead animals, debris, etc. — which are then transferred by tractor-trailers (these designated trucks make rounds from time to time) to the dump site.

These agricultural machines moving through the city are noisy, require the labor of at least three men–a driver, someone to get down and gather the trash bags from the containers who throws them up to a third man on the truck who arranges the bags in the trailer–and they don’t run daily. continue reading

Therefore, the garbage accumulates on the street corners like a monument to stench. Perhaps this is a strategy devised to cover up the sidewalks left broken by the claws of the front end loaders they use to clean up these neighborhood dumpsites when they grow to the size of mountains — and which equally destroy curbs, scoop up earth, and cause flowerbeds to sink into craters.

The double-speak of which the national press so often accuses antagonistic nations is the worst virus that infects the managers and communicators who are under the dome of power in Cuba. Among these there is a counter-politics of exonerating the maximum leaders — even in advance, through adulation, and just-in-case — from all responsibility in situations of any type that emerge in the country.

They practice alarmist, sensationalist and dramatic journalism when the issue is about adversaries — and another very reserved or secretive regarding our own affairs and those of countries whose presidents are our “friends.”

In such a system, where almost everything is controlled by the state, the flatterers in the media redirect blame to the people, who are the victims of the leaders’ shoddy work (or lack of work), holding them responsible for the accumulation of problems and lack of solutions — which is not, and should not be, their responsibility.

From our elders we inherited the expression, “por donde ve la suegra” (“here comes the mother-in-law”) to justify a quick and superficial clean-up of the home when we are expecting a visit from the mother of our spouse.

It appears that this is precisely the modus operandi of the authorities when they are expecting foreign guests at an event: a “makeover” for the buildings and curbs along the main avenues, with watered-down paint that will maybe last through a couple of rainstorms; a little “clean-up” to the parks over here, a little “fill-in” to the potholes over there; and later, a welcome for the visitors with much choreographed flag-waving at the airport!

Every day, in countless street corners of the capital, we see the depressing collage of unhealthiness that attests to the dirtiness and governmental apathy that surround us. It is an image that has been present for so many years in our daily picture, that many take it for granted and accept this filthiness as something normal. So much waste, grime and neglect have muddied the name of the capital so that now the assertion, “Havana is dirty,” is becoming a redundancy.

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

Translator’s Notes:

* The “Empresa de Servicios Comunales”–which Cubans, including several bloggers in Translating Cuba, simply call, “Comunales,” is a state-owned garbage collection company.

27 February 2015

To Die of Hunger / Rosa Maria Rodriguez

This February 23 marks five years since the death of Orlando Zapata Tamayo. This humble black native of Santiago de Cuba, dissident mason and plumber, died after carrying out an 86-day hunger strike in the prison where he was being held, as an act of protest against the conditions of his imprisonment.

His death garnered wide media coverage because of the contradictory and controversial list of reasons that the Cuban government publicized against Zapata to fend off the accusations of abuse and medical neglect put forth by his family and the opposition. The official media deny that the matter involved a political dissident, but rather, that Zapata was a common criminal. continue reading

However, the 2003 book, “The Dissidents,” by Rosa Miriam Elizalde and the recently deceased Luis Baez, had already included Zapata’s name and photo as a member of the opposition movement–and also, before his death, Amnesty International had declared him a prisoner of conscience.

There are two constants of dictatorial regimes: that they invariably have powerful enemies as well as political prisoners. The latter are associated with the former, even if they are only peaceful compatriots and are engaging in independent discourse. Any pretext is valid so long as they can stay in power. This is why, five years after the martyrdom of Orlando Zapata, there are still political prisoners in our jails, even though the authorities insist that they are common convicts.

It is because of living without freedom that individuals often choose a form of struggle that threatens their own lives. The option to abstain from eating food is a decision that tends to be linked to the desire to denounce unjust situations. A government composed of just persons should attend to these claims, rather than victimize those who sacrifice themselves and ask to be vindicated using fasting as a tool.

After 56 years of the Castro regime’s government, Cubans continue to escape towards any geograpic coordinate. The lack of democracy and the oppression during this government’s tenure has caused many to launch themselves in the sea in migratory suicide missions–in which we know not how many have lost their lives–just to satiate the hunger for freedoms and rights that this society endures.

I pay homage to Orlando Zapata on the fifth anniversary of his departure–and also to the people of Cuba, who for decades have been longing for full and complete respect for their rights, and whose abusive and stagnant government causes them to die a little of hunger every day.

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

25 February 2015

Slavery, Exploitation and Conformity / Hablamos Press, Eduardo Herrera

Dr. Eduardo Enrique Herrera
Dr. Eduardo Enrique Herrera

Hablamos Press, Dr. Eduardo Herrera, Havana, 9 June 2015 — It is said that in times of slavery slaves were mistreated and were not free. But the gentlemen slave owners were responsible for feeding and clothing them, providing them healthcare—even for teaching them to read and write, and caring for their small children and pregnant women. The gentlemen slave owners who did this were better regarded by society.

It is also said that the abolition of slavery was a business decision because the time came when the masters could no longer finance all the costs associated with holding slaves. They decided to free them, then employ and pay them, turning the slaves into salaried workers. This way, although the pay was meager, these exploiters were technically complying with abolition, even though they continued being exploiters. continue reading

On a daily basis, I converse with many Cubans who, when we speak of the country’s situation, agree with me that it is very dire. The majority complain that salaries are inadequate, even for providing decent nutrition. Working conditions and the state of their dwellings are deplorable. The lack of products and other items essential to life in this modern era is ever more notable, in addition to the lack of freedom.

But most of them say, “Why should I do anything if nothing gets resolved? I can’t change things by myself. The best option is to try to leave the country.” Others, more committed to the government, argue that “there are many problems, but we will get better, always, with the historic momentum of the Revolution leading the way” — without acknowledging that the revolutionary government has been in power for more than 55 years, and we have almost frozen in time.

All of these pessimistic and submissive behaviors make me think of the history of slavery, when the majority of those in bondage shrank from confronting the slave owners out of fear of punishment and death. They would try to escape, they flattered their masters so as to obtain benefits, and even when they were freed, many preferred to remain in servitude.

Although some came out and fought against slavery, the majority adapted to the slaveholding method of exploitation. Today in Cuba, many have adapted to the regime by trying to subsist however they can, but without claiming the rights that appertain to them. It makes me think that when one lives so long in the condition of slavery, it is difficult to recognize, and demand, the freedom that belongs to us from birth.

Translated by Alicia Barraqué Ellison

Massive emigration reveals the standard of living in Cuba / Hablemos Press, Eduardo Herrera

Cubans leave the country in rustic vessels.
Cubans leave the country in rustic vessels.

Hablemos Press, Eduardo Herrera, 4 May 2015 — In Cuba, the constant emigration of its citizens can reveal what is the standard of living on the Island. Many of those who do not know the reality of life in Cuba should consider this fact and arrive at their own conclusions.

Cubans are willing to go live in countries supposedly poorer and with worse living conditions.

Starting in 2013, a new horizon appeared for those who wanted to emigrate: the requirement for the so-called “white card”—an exit permit for Cubans seeking to travel—was eliminated. continue reading

Even so, there are still obstacles to leaving the Island. These consist of the high prices that Cuban citizens must pay to acquire any type of documentation. Included in this is the passport, which costs about 100 dollars, while the average Cuban’s salary is 20 dollars per month.

Limiters also include the restrictions that other countries impose on Cubans arriving in their territories. Despite all this, Cubans find a way to emigrate, no matter what.

A well-known is example is that of the so-called “balseros” [rafters], who risk their lives. Sailing in rickety vessels, they try to cross the Florida Straits and reach the coasts of the United States.

Not counting those who have left the Island to settle in countries such as Ecuador, Mexico, Colombia, Peru, Angola and other. The exit strategy they most often use is an employment contract, or marriage—often arranged.

It is a great mistake when many countries recognize Cuba as providing its citizens a good standard of living. If this is so, why would so many people want to emigrate?

Many of those who leave are hopeless young people in search of a better future for themselves and their families. Those who stay behind are older—one reason that the population is aging and life expectancy appears to be high.

Thus, public opinion confuses the increase in longevity with a higher life expectancy (seen as an indicator of economic development and a measurement of health), but it is not based on reality.

Additionally, public opinion can become confused when discussing free health care and education for the entire population, without taking into considering the poor conditions of both sectors.

These and other reasons are what explain why Cubans emigrate desperately. Although many leaders and personalities may want to recognize that Cuba is doing well or is changing, we could tell them, as we say here, “There is none so blind as he who will not see.”

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison