Lessons From Myanmar / 14ymedio, Eliecer Avila

On the streets of Yangon there are no motorcycles. (E. Avila)
On the streets of Yangon there are no motorcycles. (E. Avila)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Eliecer Avila, Yangon, Myanmar, 2 September 2016 — During his visit to Cuba, US President Barack Obama mentioned the changes in Burma (now Myanmar) as an example of the most recent democratic transition from a fierce military dictatorship that lasted over half a century.

Since then, the idea of an exchange between the opposition and Cuban civil society and their counterparts in Myanmar was developed. Today this political and cultural contact is a reality full of very valuable lessons that can only be appreciated by seeing how changes take place and are managed in real time, the interactions between contending forces and their interests, the pros and cons, the alliances and the ruptures, the shared joys and disappointments of a frustrating process, which many say, is just beginning. continue reading

From the air, the tremendous difference in infrastructure and development in Myanmar and, for example, its neighbor Thailand, is remarkable. It is like when you leave Miami and then fly over Cuba. It is clear that this country was left out of the democratic, educational and technological changes that catapulted the so-called Asian Tigers.

At a time when those countries focused on global integration with millions of young people ready to conquer the art of creating products and services on a grand scale, Myanmar’s military dictatorship chose total ostracism, shutting off the country like a strongbox to avoid any “foreign influence.” It always tried to keep the county semi-enslaved in the service of an army that, like an octopus, controlled the social, economic and spiritual life of this nation, located exactly on the other side of the world.

Going through immigration is somewhat tense because the military is not yet entirely accustomed to looking at tourists as ordinary people. 

At the airport, going through immigration is somewhat tense because the military is not yet entirely accustomed to looking at tourists as ordinary people. To alleviate this problem they have thoroughly replaced all possible customs and immigration clerks, placing in these positions young people who are a lot more open and unprejudiced, and who even smile.

Myanmar currently receives just over a million tourists a year, an insignificant figure not only compared to its neighbors, but in proportion to its nearly 60 million inhabitants. This figure, however, is growing due to democratic changes, which in turn attract many investors.

Currency exchange offices accept the US dollar, the euro and the Singapore dollar, but in order to pay for anything in any one of these currencies, you have to be sure the bill is not the least bit wrinkled, because they won’t accept it. And don’t panic if you see people spitting out a red substance on the street. It is not blood, but rather a pigment that comes from a mix of herbs and is constantly chewed, as in Bolivia.

On the streets of Yangon there are no motorbikes. Here superstitions are very important even when making policy decisions. In a nearby country it happened that there was a wave of crime in which the criminals used motorbikes to move around and perpetuate attacks, so the military junta completely banned them in the capital “just in case.”

Myanmar currently receives just over a million tourists a year, an insignificant figure not only compared to its neighbors, but in proportion to its nearly 60 million inhabitants

 In Myanmar men wear a kind of wide skirt that is adjusted through a knot just below the navel, without underwear. Women are often seen adjusting the typical costume that covers them from the ankles to the neck, an elegant garment emphasizing the sensuous curves of a perfect waist, as described by George Orwell in his novel Burmese Days.

They are as thin “as sticks” with shapely legs and smooth hair that falls in perfect shapes… no thanks to the gym or expensive treatments, but from a traditional diet based on vegetables, plus genetics and a life marked from childhood by hard work.

Incredibly decent and helpful, one and all, the citizens of Myanmar grab your heart with their extraordinary mixture of simplicity and nobility, probably a reflection of the basic teachings of Buddhism, among which one stands out in particular: “We must live to give love, not only to our friends, but also to our enemies.”

Although the country is an infinite melting pot of ethnicities and religions, Buddhism predominates as a belief, significantly influencing the moral base and value system that rules society. The presence of the monks and their temples (pagodas) is everywhere. You cannot touch the monks and much less can they touch a woman. They, however, can touch you at will.

The monks are greatly venerated and were the protagonists in several of the largest protests against the abuses of the military power and in support of changing the terrible economic situation of the country. The majority of these demonstrations were held in the late eighties and were called the Saffron Revolution, after the color of the monks’ clothing. Many of them were sent to prison and served long sentences as political prisoners.

In general, those who were young students in 1988 are called “Generation 88,” in memory of the heroic attitude that many of these boys, some of them mere children, assumed in defense of their country and their rights, paying a high cost in innocent lives at the hands of the armed forces.

That sacrifice laid the foundation for the process that is happening today in the country, overthrowing for the first time the one-party military rule in that year. There then emerged 235 political parties, which were more or less consolidated into 91 ahead of the 1990 elections, the first competitive elections since 1948.

Although the country is an infinite melting pot of ethnicities and religions, Buddhism as a belief prevails. (E. Avila)
Although the country is an infinite melting pot of ethnicities and religions, Buddhism as a belief prevails. (E. Avila)

The National League for Democracy (LND), which already had more than three million members (of which, one million are women), swept the elections getting a historic triumph that gave them the capacity to govern, but the defeated military didn’t go along, they broke the rules, ignored the election results and imprisoned the leaders of the winning party, among them its leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

With this coup, the military frustrated the aspirations of the whole nation for freedom and progress, but that would be temporary.

In 2011, after the release of Aung San and thousands of political prisoners, new elections were called, but several of the most influential parties chose not to participate, citing the obvious lack of confidence in the military and demanding a change in the Constitution to offer real guarantees to civil parties.

The constitution is the legal instrument that guarantees the supremacy of the military class, still today. The constitution establishes that 25% of the seats in parliament are reserved for the military, regardless of the results of the election. The trap closes completely with the provision, in addition, that the constitution can only be changed with more than 75% of the votes, so it is mathematically impossible to modify anything, no matter how small, without the consent of the military.

Not satisfied with this, the constitution gives the military permanent control of the country’s most important ministries: Borders, Armed Forces and the most strategic, Interior. This latter entity, in addition to the usual functions of controlling order, in Myanmar also controls all public administration, a great part of the economy, and also education. The decisions of the military in these institutions are virtually autonomous and unquestionable.

For these reasons, although the country is very happy with the second victory of the NLD in 2015 and the rise to power of Aung San, many believe that as long as the military holds on to all that power they will not have a true democracy.

It is mathematically impossible to modify anything, no matter how small, without the consent of the military.

Aung San and her party assumed from the beginning a conciliatory attitude, trying to reach agreements with the military leadership that will directly benefit citizens, and working so that the country can begin to emerge from its deep poverty, making it easier and offering guarantees for both foreign investment and internal trade.

These negotiations have been possible in part because the current top leader of the military and Aung San have a certain personal empathy and have maintained a constructive dialogue. This aspect was strongly criticized by other political parties and many civil society organizations, who demand clarifications and that the military take responsibility for its crimes, as well as the release of political prisoners who remain in jail.

Many of these prisoners were sanctioned for “resistance” against attempts of certain members of military or their associates to take away all or part of their land.

Beyond these issues, thorny and inconclusive, there are hundreds of examples of positive transformations that quickly began to empower people, especially young people. In 2012, a SIM card for a cellphone cost about $1,000. Today you can buy one for just $1.50 and it provides completely free access to the internet, creating overnight more than 10 million internet users ravenously exploring the web, creating new ways to organize and discuss issues that previously didn’t exist. In Myanmar, as in Cuba, meeting with others without permission from the military junta was prohibited.

Another important change was to eliminate the tax demanded by the military of 100% on the purchase value from anyone who acquired a vehicle. This was reduced to between 3% and 5%, which has facilitated the importation of millions of light trucks and buses for public transport. This measure represents an accelerator for the growing economy that is trying to flourish, but which in turn poses great challenges of infrastructure, because at certain times the city collapses in traffic jams of a size never expected or imagined.

Impressive and positive is also the great work being done in the country through hundreds of supportive organizations and NGOs

Impressive and positive is also the great work being done in the country through hundreds of supportive organizations and NGOs which, along with the new authorities, are contributing their experience on issues of all kinds: entrepreneurship, agriculture, digital commerce, the broad-based development of women, political participation, mediation in ethnic conflicts, issues of sexual orientation and gender identity, water purification and conservation, etc., through training in systems provided not only in the capital but in the most remote villages of the 14 states that make up the vast territory of the country.

All this cooperation has also contributed to statistical studies, surveys and research to bring to light for the first time in history the true picture of the country in very sensitive areas such as human trafficking, the sex trade of children, drugs, discrimination, recruitment of children by ethnic guerrillas, etc., so that from this information the state can implement programs and make decisions to improve the situation.

The media, now much more free, foster discussions of all these issues and put pressure on the authorities from their platforms, both physical and digital. The young people working on a Yangon newspaper talk about the official media after the change, saying “nobody recognizes them,” because “they changed their stale and censored discourse for another kind of more dynamic journalism, objective and real; they are now becoming real competitors for us.”

This shows that journalism’s heart was always beating, but it was subjugated by a regime that annulled it and appeared more before the people.

The young Burmese man who acted as my translator said, “For me, the most important thing is that people are no longer afraid, they laugh now, before they were serious, now they dream of work and prosperity; before, most young people regretted being born here… For myself, I’m not going anywhere now!”

Paternalism Kills Creativity / 14ymedio, Eliecer Avila

A worker sweeps in front of a propagandistic ad in Havana (EFE). The ad reads: Liberty Cannot Be Blockaded/Here There Is No Fear
A worker sweeps in front of a propagandistic ad in Havana (EFE). The ad reads: Liberty Cannot Be Blockaded/Here There Is No Fear

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Eliecer Avila, Havana, 27 August 2016 – When I was small, I suffered from asthma for several years. I remember that my grandmother would not let me leave the house if it was slightly cloudy; I also had to wear shoes and thick socks although all the other children of the neighborhood ran barefoot through the gutters filled with puddles where one could experience the pleasure of feeling the mud between one’s toes.

Overcoats, blankets and mosquito nets did not manage to improve my health. However, a sports instructor did manage the miracle of not only an improvement but the definitive cure of this illness that tormented almost my entire childhood. continue reading

Contrary to the opinion of my relatives, the then-student of Physical Culture who for us would always be Loriet, taught a group of us adolescents in the seventh grade that “the body and spirit can be shaped by a force that is greater than all illnesses or limitations, a transformative and colossal force call willpower.” At first these words sounded strange and distant to us. Only years later did we understand their significance.

I began training in taekwondo, drowning every time I ran 20 meters or did 10 pushups. Unable to breathe, I looked towards everyone around me to approach the nearest person, I suppose in search of some support in order to feel more secure. On one occasion, someone protested to the teacher, saying: “Don’t you see that this boy is purple?” However, Loriet displayed not the least pity or concern, at least not visibly. He just told me instead: “None of them can help you, only you can manage it yourself, the problem is yours and you have the option of overcoming it, but you have to work hard, learn to breathe and recover without yielding and continue advancing. I promise you that this will not last forever.” And so it was!

After two years, my health took a radical turn. I could endure whole afternoons of practice and fighting, I added weight training with the teacher Mario (the strong) and even participated in some city competitions in both disciplines. For the coming “green” medical checkup, as they call it in the Compulsory Military Service, no one remembered any longer my nights of intensive therapy, eating a breakfast, lunch and dinner of aerosol hydrocortisone. I passed each test, and they gave my condition “Fit 1,” thus totally ready for the rigors of military training, which by luck was commuted for me mostly because of the “mission” of teaching physics and mathematics in senior high school, given the province’s lack of teachers and my notable educational results.

Later I continued occasionally practicing taekwondo, even in university. I did not win many fights in competition, but I always felt proud of having overcome my own natural vulnerability.

I give you a little of my own history in order to talk about something much more important that concerns not only me but all Cubans born on the Island after ’59. I am referring to the false paternalism that the government still continues assuming with the pretext of protecting us when in reality it deprives us of the possibility of exploiting our strengths as individuals and, as a whole, as a nation.

For four generations, we have carried an umbrella against foreign propaganda, an overcoat to avoid ideological deviations, anti-communism socks, safety goggles for different information, and a powerful aerosol that kills any germ of personal creativity or inspiration for entrepreneurism.

Even today, when the times have changed, the world has changed, people have changed, still there appears on television a young journalist warning us of the “grave dangers” that “so-called inter-connected societies” bring, like the “loss of privacy” or “the alienation caused by the game Pokemon Go,” when the vast majority of Cubans cannot even access a landline.

Nothing is more advisable for managing any tool than to use it in a natural and everyday manner. The lack of practice by our citizens with respect to basic elements that characterize modern societies is visible in the behavior that we adopt on finding ourselves exposed to an environment where the minimum personal effort is required to find solutions or answers for ourselves. Simply, we are not accustomed to solving our problems without depending on someone or something.

During my last airplane boarding at the Jose Marti Airport in Havana, I carefully observed the conduct of several people, especially those who had to be between 50 and 60 years of age. Cubans that I bet had some university degree were incapable of interpreting posters, signs or signals of any type in the airport, or on or inside the airplane. Facing the simple issue of finding a departure gate or a seat identified by a number, the first reaction was not to try to understand the symbols or signs, but they opted to ask constantly about the slightest detail, brandishing the easiest argument for their insecurity: “It is that I am not accustomed to these things.”

Something very different drew my attention when I left Cuba the first time and lived for four months among Europeans. There people spent several minutes before a map at a train station or configured a mobile app that offered the needed information, but rarely did they yield to the temptation of asking or complaining without first making an effort. That attitude of absent-minded ease is very widespread and, unlike Cubans, there exists a respect or almost a cult of self-management, the capability, initiative and talent of getting along with ease in any circumstance. Because there and in other parts of the world (coincidentally the most developed) it is autonomy and not dependence that has been instituted as a value in society.

It is not unusual to see three French teens comfortably disembark in Latin America with a map and backpacks, in stark contrast with a Cuban engineer who lands in Paris who, if someone doesn’t pick him up he might die of cold without daring to tackle the subway system by himself.

I could cite thousands of daily examples of how our dependent personality manifests itself, but the essential reflection that I want to share is that it is not a change of system that is going to bring a change of attitude in Cuba’s citizens and, therefore, a better and more prosperous society, but the reverse: without a change in the people, in their expectations, values, behaviors, they will never be able to overcome the system and its effects. Because the system does not consist only of a government and a system of laws, but it consists of the whole of the beliefs, myths, schemes and behaviors that we daily assume, accepting and resigning ourselves to suffer as from a chronic illness, one that can be overcome with a minimum of risk and individual effort from each of us.

A totalitarian and repressive political system can suffocate a society like asthma can suffocate our lungs. If we shed the overcoats, thick socks and mosquito nets on which we depend and go out to run, to discover and confront our obstacles, surely we will discover how incredible and marvelous it is to be able to breathe deeply all that oxygen that was always there, waiting for us.

Translated by Mary Lou Keel


First Conference On Internet Freedom In Cuba To Be Held In Miami / 14ymedio, Mario Penton

A group of young people connect to the internet in a wifi zone in Havana. (EFE)
A group of young people connect to the internet in a wifi zone in Havana. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miami, 24 August 2016 – This coming 12-13 September, independent Cuban journalists will meet with digital innovators and individuals who are fighting to open the island to the World Wide Web. This first conference on the use of the internet in Cuba is being organized by the Office of Cuban Broadcasting (OCB), which operates Radio and TV Martí. The event will be free and open to the public.

One of the pillars of “The Martís” (as OCB’s media are known on the island), is free access to the internet in countries where the right is censored, as is the case in Cuba,” explained Maria (Malule) Gonzales, OCB’s director. continue reading

According to Gonzalez, the event will be something new because it will not be Miami Cubans teaching islanders about the internet, but more than 20 experts in different areas who will come exclusively to share their knowledge and experience with the use of the network in Cuba.

“We are looking, first of all, to provide the ABCs of internet use in Cuba, and also to present the ‘offline’ internet that people on the island have developed: applications, informal information networks, among other things,” she explains.

The Office of Cuban Broadcasting is an institution funded by the US government in order to break the government monopoly on information in Cuba. For more than 30 years it has managed Radio Martí, later adding a television signal, both of which are bones of contention between the Cuban government, which wants their elimination, and the US government which funds them.

“Our first means of distribution is Radio Martí, but shortwave use is declining in Cuba. The digital world is gaining tremendous momentum,” said Gonzalez, hence the interest of the enterprise to enhance its digital portal.

The conference will include different sessions, among them universal access to the internet as a human right, the work of social networks and dissidence and activism in the digital era, as well as covering different Cuban media from outside the island.

Among the speakers from Cuba will be Eliecer Avila, president of the Somos+ Movement (We Are More), and Miriam Celaya, freelance journalist. In addition, professors Ted Henken and Larry Press will attend, along with Ernesto Hernández Busto, manager of the blog Penúltimos Días, and Karl Kathuria.

For Celaya, the meeting in Miami will be an occasion to show that journalism on the island has its own voice. “We are in a process of maturation. Independent journalism in Cuba was not born yesterday, but is the result of an evolutionary process. Right now, the conditions are ripe to accelerate it,” she said.

Cuba ranks among the countries with the poorest internet access in the world. According to official sources, about 30% of the Cuban population has been on the wireless networks that the government has installed in parks and downtown streets of some cities. Only two provinces have wifi in all municipalities, and prices remain very high for the average Cuban, at two CUC per hour, in a country with an average wage equivalent to about 20 CUC a month.

Do Hunger Strikes Work as a Strategy to Pressure the Cuban Government? / 14ymedio

Guillermo Fariñas, UNPACU Activist: “With this [hunger strike] I am giving the Castro regime leaders to decide if they want to assassinate me publicly.”

Eliécer Ávila, President of Somos+ (We Are More): “I don’t see how the death of leaders who should motivate people and push changes can be helpful.”

14ymedio, 10 August 2016 – This Tuesday, activist Carlos Amel Oliva has ended four weeks on hunger strike after spending the last five days in hospital due to the deteriorating state of his health. Eight members of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU) had seconded his protest and decided not to eat in solidarity with the opponent’s demands, including State Security returning his personal belongings, the confiscation of which he considered a violation of his rights.

On 20 July, regime opponent Guillermo Fariñas also began a hunger and thirst strike, for which he has received hospital care on several occasions in recent days. Winner of the European Parliament’s Andrei Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, he is demanding that the Cuban government cease its repression against dissidents and that the authorities agree to a dialog with the opposition. continue reading

In the last twenty years Fariñas has undertaken a total of 25 hunger strikes, the last of these six years ago when he demanded the release of a group of opponents from the 2003 Black Spring. On that occasion the opponent went 135 days without eating, the great part of the time hospitalized and receiving parenteral nutrition and hydration.

Fariñas began that strike on February 24, 2010, one day after the death of Orlando Zapata Tamayo, who died after staging a hunger strike for 86 days while incarcerated.

Amnesty International considered Zapata Tamayo a prisoner of conscience and many analysts agree that his death was decisive in the negotiations subsequently held between the Cuban government, the hierarchy of the Catholic Church and the Spanish government that ended with the release of many political prisoners.

Previously, a hunger strike had been maintained to its final consequences by Pedro Puis Boitel, who died in prison in May 1972 after 53 days without food or medical care. The young man was buried in an unmarked grave in Colon Cemetery in Havana.

Since January 1959 it has been common for activists and opponents to use hunger strikes as a form of protest against the government and to demand improvements in prison conditions or political reforms. Currently some opponents believe that this strategy of peaceful struggle is not effective.

However, other dissidents cite the importance of the hunger strike as a way to attract the attention of international organizations to pressure the government and bring about political change.

On Tuesday, the Cuban Observatory for Human Rights called on all opponents to abandon their fasts, considering that it is not an effective method of struggle and activists are people who are needed “with all their energy, strength, intelligence and courage in the demand for freedom, democracy and better living conditions for Cubans.”

Guillermo Fariñas, who currently is continuing his hunger strike, has recently stated in an interview that he has a responsibility given that he is a person known internationally for the use of this method of protest. “With this I’m giving time for Castro’s rulers, extending my possible death, so that they can assess, among and political and ideological international allies and opponents, which really has to do with my demand, if they are going to publicly murder me,” he said.

Eliecer Avila, who on Tuesday wrote a letter asking Carlos Amel Oliva to abandon his strike, emphasized the importance of activists who are still alive today being, one day, public representatives of the citizens if they wish. The leader of Somos+ (We Are More) ended his letter with the words: ” Do not give away your life to these bastards, compadre!”

Ivan Hernandez And Felix Navarro Prevented From Leaving Cuba “A Second Time” / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

Ivan Hernandez Carrillo. (Twitter / @ivanlibre)
Ivan Hernandez Carrillo. (Twitter / @ivanlibre)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 11 August 2016 – Cuba’s immigration authorities prevented activists Ivan Hernandez and Felix Navarro from traveling outside Cuba this Thursday. The former prisoners of the 2003 Black Spring were invited to participate in the 2nd Cuban National Conference that be held in San Juan, Puerto Rico, from 12 to 14 August, but were unable to board their flight at Havana’s José Martí International Airport, where they ran into Reinaldo Escobar, 14ymedio’s editor

The answer that each of the dissidents received on presenting their documents to the Immigration and Nationality official was: “You cannot leave a second time.” continue reading

Both Hernandez and Navarro had received, in March of this year, special permission to go abroad “one-time” after being placed on parole, a condition the authorities continue to maintain since release from prison in 2011. All those released from the Black Spring “Group of 75” who continue to reside in Cuba benefited from a similar authorization.

The opponent Librado Linares, also a former prisoner of the Black Spring and general secretary of the Cuban Reflection Movement (MCR), did manage to board his flight on Thursday to participate in the meeting of Puerto Rico, since it was the first time he made use permit leave the Island.

The American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) recently sent a letter to Raul Castro expressing “deep concern” about the “violent treatment” received by the trade unionist Ivan Hernandez on his return to Cuba after his first trip abroad.  He traveled on the same flight as the opponent Vladimir Roca and attorney Wilfredo Vallin, of the Law Association of Cuba.

Hernandez was arrested on July 31 and reported that he received a “savage beating” when he refused to be subjected to a search at the time of arrival. During his trip abroad he met with organizations and activists from Europe and the United States.

Both Hernandez and Navarro cataloged the “injustices” and said they will continue trying to assert their right to travel freely.

The Cuban National Conference is a continuation of one held last year, which involved 23 organizations in Cuba and 32 from exile. It has been convened by the Coordinating Liaison Committee composed of Ana Carbonell, Rosa María Payá, Sylvia Iriondo, Guillermo Farinas, Juan Carlos Gonzalez Leyva, Rene Gomez Manzano, Mario Félix Lleonart and
 Saylí Navarro

Among the participants in the conference traveling from Cuba are also Eliecer Avila, leader of Somos+ (We Are More) and Boris Gonzalez, a member of the Democratic Action Roundtable (MUAD). The great absence the meeting will be Guillermo Fariñas, who remains on hunger strike in Santa Clara.

In the early hours of Thursday, Lady in White Leticia Ramos Herrería was arrested while traveling from Matanzas to Havana to take the flight that would also have taken her to the conference in Puerto Rico, according to the leader of the Ladies in White movement, Berta Soler, speaking to this newspaper. The activist was returned to her home where she is under police surveillance.

Event organizers want to use this 2nd Conference to create a “structure of unity of action in diversity,” whose purpose is to “operate inside and outside Cuba, coordinating the efforts of both shores.” In addition, they discussed “the general principles of the new Cuba” desired, an issue that was left pending at the previous meeting.

Don’t Give Away Your Life to Those Bastards, Compadre! / 14ymedio, Eliecer Avila

Carlos Amel’s hunger strike has continued for almost a month. (Twitter / UNPACU)
Carlos Amel’s hunger strike has continued for almost a month. (Twitter / UNPACU)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Eliecer Avila, Havana, 9 August 2016 — I think I should say at this time what I think of the situation of human beings who are on hunger strike, especially my friend Carlos Amel.

In Somos+ (We Are More), being respectful of the decisions they took, we send them in their moment our messages of solidarity. Not because we believe that hunger strikes work as a method to achieve anything in Cuba today, but because it always seems unjust to us that ordinary people did not know what was going on and the reasons behind these extreme decisions.

Today, I want to express my personal opinion, as a friend. This is not an official statement of the President of Somos+, it is the opinion of Eliecer Avila. continue reading

I am dying of pain when I see the images of Carlos, an intelligent young man, father of two beautiful children and with a future ahead of him, at risk of suffering irreversible traumas and even death, for demanding things from a cruel and ruthless system that will gain more with his death than with his life.

If Carlos was a member of my organization I would not have allowed him to do something like this or, at least, I would have done everything possible to dissuade him. I think there are many more effective ways to generate pressure, especially when in theory we have thousands of activists across the country, to have to simply rely on the health, and even death, of these young people to be able to move forward.

I do not consider the sacrifice of one’s life as a “natural cost” of any political battle, on the contrary, to encourage an attitude like this seems to me a crime, and more so from the abundance of the table of many who today light up Facebook with messages such as: “The death of these patriots paves the path of freedom.” This is cynical.

I do not see how the death of leaders who must motivate people and drive change can help in any way. For days I have felt the need to say it, although some may not find it not politically correct. Today I could not hold back anymore.

Our struggle is for life, for family, for the future, for our children. All this becomes meaningless if we die.

There is no material value in Carlos Amel’s or any of the others ceasing to breathe. I would gladly give everything I own for a man like him to live and to live a long life, because the nation will need him more and more. In the past, many patriots, with their pressures, pushed our best men to die. I will not be part of the club of those who accept or promote such a horrendous act that rather than providing any political gain, not only forever stains our history, but our consciences.

Carlos, friend, I want to attend your valuable participation in political life, not your funeral.

Do not give away your life to these bastards, compadre!

I love you and respect you always.

Eliecer Avila

Neither Brave Nor Intelligent, Much Less Fair / 14ymedio, Eliecer Avila

Arrest of a member of the Ladies in White in Havana. (EFE)
Arrest of a member of the Ladies in White in Havana. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Eliecer Avila, Havana, 28 July 2016 — On numerous occasions I have had to listen to the stories of friends and colleagues who have been detained or have been interrogated by the State Security. “These people are unreal, they know everything. The day I went to see so-and-so, what I said to what’s-his-face, what time, and even that we had coffee and ate roast pork. They don’t miss a thing!”

I imagine that these people feel very impressed, because it is as if they were sitting with a fortuneteller who “divines” their past, present and can even predict their future. The difference is that the fortunetellers, or so they tell us, “have a gift,” while State Security has human and technical methods and a society completely organized to facilitate their work, such that their gifts are simply their ears and a crystal ball made of optical fiber. continue reading

How are they not going to know the exact locations of the moles on our bodies, if they can openly and brazenly invade all our privacy?

They don’t have to be super-gifted nor pass in some school to “discover” who we spend time with, what our plans are, what our means are, because in the vast majority of cases we don’t even hide these things. The reason? It is very simple, we are citizens who study in normal schools, lead normal lives, we are not trained and don’t even want to be in intelligence or counterintelligence, we speak naturally and openly about what we think and desire because we are not ashamed.

On the other side, we have something very different, military personnel, indoctrinated, with studies of all kinds, with specialized equipment, transportation, a made-to-measure judicial system, subordinated press and fearful people who offer them what they ask for to avoid becoming targets of their investigations.

Who could do a bad job with all this? The contrary would amaze me. That there would be something they don’t know.

However, to the extent that you interact with them, you realize that they have many gaps. For example, there is an important difference between what the bosses know and what they tell the field agents. There is the need for State Security to constantly convert the ordinary into the extraordinary. This is justified because each one of these agents has to constantly think they are “saving the country” and that “the people appreciate their heroism and bravery.” In the majority of cases, however, what they are doing is committing a common crime in the name of authority against natural persons unhappy with a bad government.

In this sense they are very exquisite in their internal language. There is nothing a seguroso – security agent – likes more than to be called a “combatant,” and it delights them even more when the designation “anonymous” is added, because this gives them the sensation of being a spy and makes them think they are smarter. Incidentally, before society they think they “run great risks…” OK, this is true in part, because on retirement the majority suffer back pain because they dedicated themselves to dragging people into patrol cars. Upon reflection, they should wear supportive belts to protect themselves in these dangerous maneuvers.

Surely, in times past and under other circumstances, there might have been some who did more serious things against real threats, I don’t deny it. But today. 99% of what these “combatants” “confront” are the natural rights of a people who want to peacefully change what does not work to move the country forward and above all to not continue to shipwreck it in every respect. “Confronting” this is neither brave, nor intelligent and much less just or admirable.

The work of those who have to protect the state in societies based on rights and fundamental freedoms is very different; in societies where the threats are of an extreme magnitude and it is not enough to demand an ID card so that people or companies “cooperate.”

Men and women who risk their lives and dedicate themselves to protecting their nations against the grave threats our civilization confronts will always be heroes and heroines worthy of every kind of recognition and the gratitude of their peoples. But if the terror they impose themselves in the service of a dictatorship tramples the lives of protestors to keep themselves in power at all costs, these combatants have made a mistake in the ethical and moral sense of their careers and their lives.

So they should not confuse their facile abuse with expertise or ability. Because this latter is an attribute of those who survive and express themselves, despite them.

Wave Of Arrests Against Activists Seeking To Prevent A Youth Congress / 14ymedio

Amel Carlos Oliva, youth leader for UNPACU. (Somos +)
Amel Carlos Oliva, youth leader for UNPACU. (Somos +)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 3 July 2016 – This Sunday several independent organizations are holding the first Cuban Youth Congress in the city of Santiago de Cuba, under heavy police pressure and after dozens of arrests. Among those arrested is the activist from the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU) Amel Carlos Oliva, who was arrested last Thursday, according to sources from UNPACU.

Oliva’s family and friends told 14ymedio that they lost telephone contact with the dissident hours after he met in Havana with Eliecer Avila, president of the Movement Somos+ (We Are More), an organization also participating in the youth event. continue reading

Oliva returned from Washington the same day he was detained and, according to the leader of the UNPACU, Jose Daniel Ferrer, was “kidnapped by the repressive forces” as he traveled from the Cuban capital to the east.

Since Saturday some members of both organizations were also victims of arbitrary detention, while others were subject to strong police operations around their homes. However, a few managed to reach the Santiago headquarters of UNPACU, where the Congress is now taking place.

Joanna Columbié, a member of Somos+, was arrested on the outskirts of the meeting. She managed to report her arrest by telephone, seconds before being put in the police car. According to reports from the organizations involved in the Congress, more than a hundred activists have been arrested.

The wave of arrests on Sunday is the continuation of the dozens of arrests from the day before, when several members of UNPACU were violently arrested while protesting to demand the immediate release of Carlos Amel Oliva.

The Cuban People Are Packing Their Bags / 14ymedio, Eliecer Avila

"Obama Help Us." Cuban migrants stranded in Central America. (File sputniknews)
“Obama Help Us.” Cuban migrants stranded in Central America. (File sputniknews)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Eliecer Avila, Havana, 3 July 2016 – A great deal has been written in recent months about the permanent crisis of Cubans stranded in different Latin American countries. Those living outside the island and the few “connected” (i.e. on-line) within it, are certain to have read some of the news and have access to the emotional videos circulating which include ones of families with little children desperately asking for a way out that will allow them to reach the United States.

The truth is that the governments of the countries involved seem to be determined not to cooperate in any way to address the current wave of immigrants. Cuban’s own foreign minister took on the task of persuading them in a tour of the affected countries and managed to get a unanimous commitment for the sake of the “security and stability” of the region. continue reading

What is really worrying, incredible as it may seem, is that the vast majority of the Cubans who live on the island have not been aware of the seriousness of the situation their families and friends confront in those countries. This is the direct consequence of the censorship of information in the official media, where references to the subject are scarce and vague.

As a result, I’m amazed and frightened to hear about the number of people who at this very moment are packing their bags. Today, two friends I am very close to came by to say goodbye, and to ask for some details about airports and about “what we need to say” when immigration asks them hard questions.

One of them who is nearly 50 and works in the hotel industry told me, “I’m going to Guyana, a buddy left and is already there, and it connects to Mexico and there are cab drivers…” Right then I interrupted and said, “Compadre, have you looked at a map? Do you know where Guyana is? I go to the map and show him. It was something to see the look of amazement on his face on seeing that Guyana is on the far side of Venezuela and Columbia.

I asked the two of them if there were aware of the crisis and the dangers and they told me, “Well… yeah, it’s always hard but I know someone who already went and told me you can do it.” I looked at them and saw the faces of two people whose desire to leave is greater than any warning, and who had already sold even their pregnant dog to get the money.

The eldest, who was a doubtful after realizing his geographical error, told me, “All things considered compay, I think I’m going to go via Russia. Show me where Russian is.” I showed him and looking from right to left and seeing that at Russia is at one edge of the map and the United States is at the other he mutters, “Wow, but this is a lot longer, this is a boat at least…” I explain patiently, reminding him that the earth is round and that the extreme right of Russia is almost next to Alaska, separated by the Bering Strait. I also tell him, however, that there are direct flights from Cuba to Moscow, which is next to Europe, and that it would take a lot to get to the other end, less populated and at best difficult to access.

My friend looks at his friend and reaffirms, “Look, at least this is just one country and I even remember some Russian phrases. Let’s go that way,” he concludes.

The whole time my mind is filled with the idea of talking about political parties, human rights, market economies, civic resistance and Somos+, but the truth is that when someone is under the influence of a frenzy like this, it is as if rational thought is annulled by the obsession that is driving him.

The most complicated task is to stand in front of a human stampede and try to change the direction of its steps for good of everyone, the nation, the future, when the majority of these sacred things sound like blah-blah-blah.

So I decided to abandon the role of weighty protective father and give them a strong embrace. I said goodbye to them recognizing at least that in this season of the year, the Russian landscape should be gorgeous.


Meeting in New Jersey with Eliecer Avila this Saturday / Somos+

13220111_10207578844722699_1539987182_nSomos+, 17 May 2016 — On Saturday, May 21, at 2:00 p.m., at the Club Cubano de New Jersey (New Jersey Cuban Club), the president and founder of Somos+ Political Movement, will give a lecture about current issues in Cuban society. After several months of efforts, this meeting is possible thanks to the cooperation of the members residing in the U.S. You are all invited to this meeting and debate. Hoy Somos+.

For Mima, the Best Kiss… / Somos+

Somos+, Eliecer Avila, 8 May 2016 — First of all I want to send a huge kiss to all the mothers of the world, and especially the Cuban mothers, many of whom cannot sleep peacefully knowing that a mysterious black wolf called State Security stealthily monitors their young children day and night.

Among these mothers is mine. Or all of mine… because I have several. The one who gave birth to me from whom I was separated by divorce when I was three (although we still see each other), the one who raised me, my grandmother (Mima), my aunt Arelis, perennial guardian of the entire family; at least two memorable stepmothers whom I love very much, and dozens of mothers who have appeared to me recently because according to them they pray for me every night and have adopted me as their son.

But today I want to talk about Mima, because she is now almost 70 and every day she fills my thoughts. It has been five months since I last saw her, because of the 450 miles that separate us since the end of 2013 when I came to live in Havana. At times it’s hard even to talk on the phone because I know that sooner or later she is going to ask the question that causes a lump in my throat, “M’ijo… when are you coming?” continue reading

Recently, seeing me come through the door is her moment of greatest happiness. I could almost say she lives for this day. She keeps for me in the fridge a little piece of each chicken she kills on the yard, spared from her own little pounds (a tiny checkbook), and I don’t know how she manages to have for me “pineapple juice that you like, powdered milk and even a little piece of red meat…” All luxuries that she can’t give herself during the time we are apart.

When I see her, along with my grandfather (Tata) I can’t help feeling some remorse and a sense of guilt. I don’t know if I have to the right to build my own life, going far away to look to improve to, for access to culture and work opportunities. I have tried a thousand times to convince her to come with me, even if just for a time, because I want to give her the first day of the rest in her entire live and take care of her as she always did me, but there is no one who can get her off the farm and she is an expert in manufacturing pretexts…

I also wonder how it is that, living on an island, we can feel such a strong sense of distance. I am convinced that it would be a whole different thing if instead of this absurd government we had a normal one. We would have access to hundreds of technological tools that would allow me to see her face and talk with her a little bit at night, persuade her to eat more and work less, ask her how the services went in the little church she attends, where sometimes she even preaches and constantly fasts for her children and grandchildren. Now my aunt tells me she has become infatuated with the idea of my grandfather “having women out there…” Which he denies saying, “If only…” ha ha ha. How I would love to laugh and enjoy every day with them.

This situation makes me think of the thousands of children who are in other countries, while their mothers are here, sometimes sick and always getting older. The family crisis this country has been experiencing for decades is really terrible.

This morning I went to Monaco Park, one of the wifi points in the Capital, and it was even fuller than usual, which makes sense. But what most struck me was a woman of some 90 years in a wheelchair and with an IV drip at her side. She got out of a Moskovich car with the help of several family members who put a tablet in front of her to share with her what was probably her last wish: to see her son who lives in Orlando whom she hasn’t been able to hug for 27 years.

On the other side of the screen was a gray-haired gentleman surrounded by two sons and a newborn granddaughter, crowded together on a couch, trying to say something but unable to do so. Several minutes passed without a word, the tears never stopping and then a sister’s cracking voice, “Mama, say something, the [internet] card is going to run out…” The old woman tried to compose herself and then the words I hear so often and that pain me emerged, “M’ijo… when are you coming to see me?” and she added, “I’m waiting millet.”

I couldn’t take it any more, I closed the computer and left to walk the mile and a half from the park to my house. Determined to find a way to go and see my grandmother and my mother this month. It is really very hard that so many Cubans are forced to bear this damned circumstance, simply because some men retain for themselves the desire to keep this country in the dark ages of technology on one side and in material and spiritual poverty on the other, distancing thousands of children from their mothers every day.

I will never understand by Fidel preferred to separate rather than unite, to discriminate rather than protect, to hate when he could have used his charisma to support the Cuban people to cultivate love, togetherness, the family and pride in being Cuban.

There is a great deal we can do for our mothers as a new generation that clings to its natural right to participate in the politics of the country. We hope that very soon we will have that opportunity and we will live up to such an honorable responsibility.

Here I share photos of my mother and grandmother. And I invite everyone to share on this day images of your mothers, those here and those who care for us from above, those far away and those at our side. Let us fill all the spaces today with their sweet faces.

Why Is the Official Press Crying Over the Fall in Oil Prices? / 14ymedio, Eliecer Avila

Nicolas Maduro enters the SAAC (South America and Arab countries) Summit on Wednesday in Riyadh. (Presidential press)
Nicolas Maduro enters the SAAC (South America and Arab countries) Summit on Wednesday in Riyadh. (Presidential press)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Eliecer Avila, Havana, 26 April 2016 — All of my life I’ve heard from mouth of the main leaders of the country that the high prices for many of the products sold in Cuba are caused, among other variables, by the “high cost of fuel on the world market.” This, according to them, raises the price of production processes inside and outside the country, creating an upward spiral that affects the price of goods and services.

“What small and underdeveloped economy can grow with prices of 126 dollars barrel of oil? Only rich countries can pay that, those who want the world to continue to be the same so that the South can’t develop. The imperialists are like this, they want to dominate the world according to their own desires.” Phrases like these were heard everyday on TV programs like The Roundtable.

Today, oil prices have fallen by nearly 75 percent, and the newspaper Granma acknowledges that this affected the recently announced “price adjustments” of certain products the government sells in Cuban convertible pesos (CUC).

Then, I wonder: What are Oliver Zamora Oria and all official Cuban journalists who speak on the subject doing accusing U.S. and Saudi Arabia of “not cooperating” with the intention of some OPEC members to increase prices ? Isn’t Cuba, a net importer of fuels, greatly benefited, like most of the planet, by the current prices?

In my opinion, we should be jumping for joy, because I assume that if we can afford cheaper crude oil, then the agricultural sectors , transport, energy, industry etc. will be stimulated… What is the point of the strange anger of the Cuban Government press about the failure of the last meeting held in Doha, Qatar?

Many can be the interests that move the editorial decisions of the media monopoly in Cuba. But, definitely, the general interests of the nation and a greater benefit for the public are not part of them.

Translated by Alberto

This Time I Reached Pinar de Rio / Somos+, Eliecer Avila


Somos+, Eliecer Avila, 26 April 2016 — The last time I tried to meet with several families in this province I was forcibly  “deported” by State Security agents, who told me I was “persona non grata” in the territory. It is very likely that no citizens had heard of the action taken against me, because today I noted the astonishment and indignation of many upon learning those facts. “You are welcome here and everywhere,” I was told by the wonderful people who welcomed me this time.

Obviously, State Security and the Communist Party do not represent the views of the vast majority of the Cuban people. I think they no longer represent even those of their own members. So they try at all costs to prevent the average Cuban from encountering the new proposals. This repressive and fearful weapon can delay the process, but never stop it. continue reading

Those who think differently and want to work sincerely and responsibly for the nation will always find a way to reach the people, because that love, support, and popular respect energizes us to continue fighting for a better future.

We have always been convinced that there are more of us, and that is now becoming increasingly apparent. We are seeing a slow but steady loss of fear. We are surprised by the number of people openly expressing their views. Logic and reason are opening a path through the thorns of hatred and unthinking force.

I congratulate the Center for Coexistence Studies for the work performed during these 8 years of labor in the formation of civic consciousness and human values.

We continue fertilizing the land with love and fresh, clean water, so the most beautiful garden in the Caribbean will bloom again, for everyone.

Translated by Tomás A.

‘The Window’ Opens In Cuba / 14ymedio, Eliecer Avila

14ymedio, Eliecer Avila, 22 April 2016 – A new TV program, La Ventana (The Window), debuted in Cuba on Thursday, the work of the young artist Ignacio Gonzalez, director of the project En Caliente Prensa Libre (Free Press in the Heat of the Moment).

The program highlights the professionalism of the set as well as the technical team. In a small and modest space they managed to create the conditions for the production of news, analysis programs and interviews. With value added by editing and set design, they are ready to compete not only with national programs but also with those produced outside the country. continue reading

The inaugural program revolved around the pronouncements made at the 7th Congress of the Communist Party, especially with regards to economics. Interviews include both man-on-the-street and invited guests.

Gonzalez stands out in recent times for his high quality reporting and his dedication and consistency in his work. His work during the floods in Havana, camera in hand swimming with the residents of places where the national press and the foreign press accredited in Cuba never go, was striking.

On his Youtube channel there is a wide range of products that attest to the commitment and seriousness of his work, as a result of which most of the videos are picked up by various international broadcasters.

An entrepreneur without limits and a dynamic person who enjoys his work and lives for it, today Ignacio is looking to make the leap to establish himself in the Cuban market as a leader in alternative television production. He brings a great deal of experience and contacts, as well as a large viewer base.

Ignacio dreams of founding a “respected” television channel in the future. La Ventana is only the first pebble of this dream, which, for the good of Cuba, we hope he is able to realize.

Official Cuba’s Fear of Obama / 14ymedio, Eliecer Avila

National television devoted several minutes to discussing the Cuba’s colonial past to avoid addressing Obama's visit. (@yoanisanchez)
National television devoted several minutes to discussing the Cuba’s colonial past to avoid addressing Obama’s visit. (@yoanisanchez)

Cuban TV gives Obama’s visit less importance than a potato planting event

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 21 March 2016 — The coverage provided by Cuban media and Telesur on US President Barack Obama’s arrival in Cuba on Sunday was absolutely disrespectful, not only to him and with regards to this historic event, but to the millions of families who were glued to their TVs waiting for the “special minute by minute broadcast” which was previously announced and which, as a kind of mockery, could be read only on the sliding tickers at the bottom of the screen.

After showing a few minutes of the landing of Air Force One and the greeting from Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez, Telesur abruptly cut away for a special “analysis” delivered by the journalist from the Roundtable program, Arleen Rodriguez, along with two rancid anti-Americans, one Cuban and the other continue reading

Canadian. The short segment then gave way to the program A Dwarf for A Prince, broadcasting children’s movies.

Meanwhile, Cuban National TV broadcast brief excerpts during the arrival, which were shown again in a brief report on primetime news, then talked about the usual things, as if Obama’s visit was one more potato planting event or something even less important.

Hundreds of the world media are reporting the event to millions of people in dozens of languages. Only we Cubans are left with an immense thirst for information.

Thanks to limited and expensive internet access, some of us were able to download pages from newspapers and blogs to learn more. Thousands of messages also came from abroad via the State telecommunications company’s Nauta email server, full of news.

The Cuban government doesn’t know what to do to limit the impact of the visit. I think never before has Raul been more eager for three days to pass quickly.