Somos+ Activist Applies to be Repatriated to Cuba / 14ymedio, Luz Escobar

Iliana Hernandez was the victim of a brief arrest in Cuba on March 8. (Facebook)
Iliana Hernandez was the victim of a brief arrest in Cuba on March 8. (Facebook)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, 14 March 2016 – The activist Iliana Hernandez has taken one of the most difficult decisions of her life, to resettle in Cuba after almost two decades living abroad. Nationalized with Spanish citizenship, the dissident has begun the paperwork to return to the island and continue her work in support of a democratic change within, according to what she told 14ymedio.

Hernandez published her decision on the social networking site Facebook, shortly after having been released after an arbitrary arrest on 8 March. The detention occurred when State Security stopped the car in which she was traveling, accompanied by Jose Daniel Ferrer, along 5th Avenue in Havana. continue reading

“I had had this idea for years and in January I wanted to do it but I didn’t have time,” explained Hernandez. The activist left Cuba on 13 August 1996, after several attempts to leave the island.

Current immigration legislation states that, after 24 months of an uninterrupted stay abroad, an emigration cannot return to live permanently in the country, nor own property here.

For the repatriation to become effective, the applicant must “have housing in Cuba or be sheltered in the home of a family member.” In addition, they must demonstrate with documentary proof that they have existing financial and housing resources in order to receive, shelter and support the returnee until they get housing and income of their own.

“Now I came for this purpose and I’m not leaving until I get my identity card,” she says. The activist works “online,” and believes she can continue to do so from the island despite difficulties in accessing the web. “They can’t threaten to deport me,” reflects Hernandez, who has served as a financial coordinator for Somos+ (We Are More) as well as being one of its founders.

The activist has visited a notary and presented the necessary documentation to begin the process of repatriation.

“One can not regret the decisions you make in life,” reflects Hernandez, but she says she has “thought this through very well.” The dissident affirms that she has wanted to return to the Island since the creation of the Somos+ movement. “We had a well-organized team on the outside, but now is the time,” she declared.

The Somos+ movement was created in March 2013 by Eliecer Avila, a computer engineer trained at the University of Information Sciences (UCI), and from its origins has been defined as a group focused on developing opinions and ideas with a vision of the future.

Iliana Hernandez was born in Guantanamo and has always been linked to the sports world. Last year the activist participated in the Marathon des Sables, a 144 mile race across the Sahara desert over seven days.

Gang Warfare In Havana / 14ymedio, Eliecer Avila

Gangs are usually made up of children, often under age 14 (Frame / ARTE)
Gangs are usually made up of children, often under age 14 (Frame / ARTE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Eliecer Avila, Havana, 8 February 2016 – A few nights ago my wife and I arrived in an almendrón [old American car in use as a shared-taxi] at the Ceiba little park just before the traffic light at Via Blanca and Lacret, in Havana. We we usually get off there when we are going home from El Vedado, in a line of collective taxes headed to La Vibora.

The unwelcome surprise that night was to find ourselves almost in the middle of a pitched war at 1:00 in the morning. At Bella Vista and Via Blanca two gangs of children – for the most part; many of them weren’t even teenagers – were facing off with stones, sticks, bottles, and some carried machetes nearly as big as they were. continue reading

Some amorous couples in the park ran away to avoid being hit by the rain of objects of all kinds from all directions that these little pioneers were throwing at each other with an eerie chill. In the midst of the hullabaloo, a voice from Santos Suarez shouted, “I’m done, assholes!”

A boy among those who were “shooting” from the Cerro side apparently tried to take the other side by assault and fell in the middle of the street from a stone to the head right in front of a huge truck that slammed on its brakes so as not to crush him and almost flipped over with a container on its trailer. Several light trucks had to brake quickly and honked their horns, but the contenders didn’t seem to hear anything.

The dispute continues and there is already a line of cars waiting, fearing to pass in the midst of the artillery and lose, at the very least, a windshield. Two “rescuers” from the Cerro side ventured out to retrieve the fallen one who was trying to stand up but couldn’t. His companions covered them, raining fire down from a hill of trash next to the daycare center that was serving as a shield and a park at the same time.

The operation is successful but the counteroffensive is unexpected. From the Santos Suarez side they take advantage of Cerro’s casualty to try to cross Via Blanca to launch an attack that extends to the intersection of Bella Vista with San Salvador Avenue. The Cerro side manages to escape towards the depths of Canal and the invaders don’t dare to continue advancing because they are already deep in hostile territory.

The tallest one, a skinny bare-chested guy with Mohawk-like hair styled after the singer El Yonki, shouts, “Next time we’re gonna kill you, monkeysssss! Let’s go!” The troop retreats with the discipline of a professional army but not before dispersing through several routes so as to avoid attracting the attention of the neighbors, who have gotten out of bed to see what’s going and who have almost certainly called the emergency number, 106.

Indeed, ten minutes later, two police cars appeared, sirens blaring, tires squealing, looking unsuccessfully for “the brawlers.” They question the neighbors who are cautiously doing damage control, but no one answers. Better not to risk that an indiscreet cop could reveal the name of an informant, or that from the shadows someone might see them giving information and take reprisals.

The next day in the morning, all the talk in the line to buy bead is about “what happened last night.” In the street and along the facades that was the battleground, are the marks of the impacts of the stones, glass bottles, and even the broken windows of a Russian-made Lada that was parked in front of the bakery last night (wrong place, wrong time).

This is a faithful description of what happened that night and what is happening ever more frequently not only in the Cerro neighborhood, but in many Havana neighborhoods, where often there is mourning for some victim who dies.

It is noteworthy that these gangs are made ​​up of children who are often under 14. These aggressive boys have a very strong sense of identity with and commitment to their group, which revolves around two or three older leaders with experience in the art of street fighting. In our areas we now have gangs that everyone knows, such as the one that calls itself “The Outlaws” and an even more popular gang made up of girls who identify themselves as “The Apululu.”

What would happen if for some reason these groups came to be armed? How much power could they get? Would we have the self-employed paying them protection money as happens in other Central American countries?

All this and more can easily come to pass if the already terrible economic situation and the quality of education continue to deteriorate and there are no incentives or direction for teenagers and young people; but especially if it continues to be the priority of the State to invest its scarce human resources and materials in repressing those of us who want to confront the real problems and take steps to resolve them.

Somos+ (We Are More) Holds Convention Despite Police Operation / 14ymedio

A police patrol at the corner by Eliecer Avila’s to prevent the arrival of guests. (14ymedio)
A police patrol at the corner by Eliecer Avila’s to prevent the arrival of guests. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 14 January 2016 – The Somos+ (We Are More) opposition movement held its national convention Thursday, despite the arrest of several participants and a strong police operation around its site in Havana. The home of Eliecer Avila, leader of the organization, was surrounded by several police patrols at dawn, and only those who entered the home several hours or days earlier were able to attend.

Despite the obstacles, Somos+ issued a statement announcing,”We are holding the convention!” The activists were referring to a meeting held on 14 January to decide on the program ahead of time. The speeches, lectures and presentations were digitized to be able to project them in case their protagonists were not able to arrive at the site.

Groups of government sympathizers, dressed in plain clothes, threateningly warned off any curious person who wanted to take pictures around the site, or access the house on Esperanza Street in the Cerro district, where the event took place. continue reading

According to Pedro Acosta, who was prevented from reaching Avila’s house, the police deployment included several patrol cars and motorcycles. “I was surprised by this display of police force, because I hadn’t noticed any abnormal situation in the neighborhood.” A motorcycle with a sidecar stopped next to Acosta to ask for his identify card. When he said he wasn’t carrying it, the police ordered him, “Get in, citizen!” In the vehicle, they drove along several streets in Havana and let him out on 26th Avenue. “And this?” Acosta asked them, continuing his story, “They started up and the one driving addressed me for the first time telling me that next time I wouldn’t forget my ID card.”

At seven in the evening the siege on Avila’s house continues, according to what he himself told Acosta by phone.

The police also intercepted Angel Santiesteban and prevented him from reaching the house, said Avila.

In the text released this Thursday, the leadership of Somos+ explains that they tried to rent a space for their most important annual meeting. However, those in charge of the locales – both state and private – were intimidated by State Security and so would not rent to them.

Several members of the movement who live outside the capital were threatened and, in several cases, arrested to prevent them from traveling to Havana. Among these was Johana Columbie, who lives in Camaguey and who, with police stationed outside her house, sent a letter to the convention ensuring them that the recent events, rather than frightening her, had given her “strength to continue.”

Other activists such as Alexey Games and Franky Rojas received police summonses received this morning, while the movement coordinator in the province of Las Tunas, Pedro Escalona, ​​was arrested and released just a few hours ago.

Eliecer Avila and Manuel Diaz Mons, general coordinator of Somos+ were arbitrarily detained and warned not to hold the convention.

On its digital page, the movement thanked Amnesty International – in particular Louise Tillotson, investigator for Cuba and the Caribbean – for having contacted their members and for showing concern in the face of the latest developments.

The convention had as its central theme “how to live with the internet in Cuba so as not to have to emigrate, not to have to jump into the sea, or cross so many borders, without having the power within Cuba to run businesses, labor cooperatives, produce resources,” according to Avila.

Police Warn Eliecer Avila That Somos+ Convention Will Not be Allowed / 14ymedio

The police enter the home of Eliecer Avila to arrest him.
The police enter the home of Eliecer Avila to arrest him.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 11 January 2016 – The repressive actions against the Cuban opposition were repeated this Sunday across the country. It is estimated that more than 200 activists were arrested, according to independent reports. The police also arrested Eliecer Avila, the leader of the Somos+ (We Are More) Movement, and warned him that they would not allow the annual convention of his organization, planned for 14 January, to be held.

In Havana, the Ladies in White marched as they do every Sunday on Fifth Avenue, in the west of the capital city, accompanied on this occasion by two dozen activists. At the end of the pilgrimage they were violently arrested, according to testimony from witnesses at the scene. continue reading

In the east of the country, the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU) reported dozens of arrests of its members when they tried to reach the sanctuary of the Virgin of Charity of Cobre, in Santiago de Cuba. The general coordinator of the organization, Jose Daniel Ferrer, had warned that they would be “protesting the assaults by the repressive forces to stop activities for children.”

Several dissident groups suffered searches of their homes and confiscations associated with 6 January, the Day of the Three Kings – a day before the Revolution when Cuban children received gifts for Christmas. Toys, treats and audio equipment were seized by the police in different areas of the country to avoid the celebrations organized by activists for children in their neighborhoods.

Somos+ Prepares for its Convention Under Police Harassment / 14ymedio

Eliecer Avila and the organizing committee for the Convention of the Somos+ (We Are More) Movement
Eliecer Avila and the organizing committee for the Convention of the Somos+ (We Are More) Movement

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 9 January 2016 — The independent movement Somos+ (We Are More) is experiencing intense days as its annual convention approaches, due to a strong police operation against its members. The arrest of activist Joanna Columbie last Thursday in Santiago de Cuba, raised the tension around the event scheduled for 14 January several degrees.

Police pressure has included threats to the majority of Somos+’s members living in Cuba, and police warnings that the meeting would not be permitted. The national coordinator of the group, Manuel Diaz Mons, was also arrested and later released, after an exaggerate options in which several vinyl posters with the Somos+ logo were confiscated. continue reading

There whereabouts of Joanne Columbie remain unknown. If is the second occasion in less than six months in which the former municipal education methodologist has been jailed to prevent her traveling to Havana for a Somos+ meeting. Last September she was taken to the police station in the city of Cespedes in Camaguey, where she lives.

Members of the group strongly denounced the police operation that tool place “in several provinces against people with responsibilities for preparing for the annual convention.” The activists also reported that several members of the organization had their email service cut off by the State entity Nauta.

In a document released Friday, the leader of the organization, Eliecer Avila, condemned “energetically these actions against a peaceful convention,” and warned that they would go ahead with plans to hold the meeting.

Somos+ is a movement created in March of 2013 by Avila, who defined it from its beginning as a group “concerned with opinions and with ideas for future, that many of us share.”

A Year That Counts in Our Favor / Somos+, Eliecer Avila

Eliecer Avila, 31 December 2015 — To offer a comprehensive summary of the work realized by the Somos+ movement in 2015, we would need the pages of a book. Thus, I will only try, in a strong exercise of memory, to highlight some details and successes of our recent history that characterize the performance and demonstrate the character of our members and leaders at this stage.

Earlier this year, we agreed that for us this would be “the founding year.” Then we adjusted our objectives to consolidate a small effective team of competent and committed people to work in a disinterested way to promote the ideas that gave birth to our organization.

To achieve this, we knew it was necessary to count on information media that was read and respected by a great number of Cubans within and outside Cuba, so that they themselves would become the bearers and diffusers of our message. Only then could we make ourselves known and reach all corners of the country and the world. continue reading

It was extremely difficult to find the human capital to form teams of editors, writers, filmmakers, translators, in short, people with the knowledge and will to work for Cuba, for many hours, including nights and Sundays. Unlike so many efforts with economic compensation, it was compensated only with the immense and difficult-to-explain pleasure that one experiences when one does well with their own hands.

If there is something that we are proud of today, it is having found these exceptional people that we seek. Men and women for whom there are sacred, pure and honorable things, that cannot be paid for with any money: the friendship that unites us, the love that we feel for Cuba and its people, the immense commitment we have to the construction of its future. This special mix of empathy, boundless dedication and respect spontaneously provokes a state of well-being within a work environment that relieves the tensions of the most stressful moments that we have had to go through.

On the other hand, our team won the sympathy of hundreds of people who, although they are not members of the movement, offered us their collaboration and affections, for which we are infinitely grateful. Without such deep and sincere cohesion among key people, or what I internally call “team zero,” it would have been difficult to achieve what has been achieved and to survive and exist today.

So I want to thank, without mentioning names, inside and outside Cuba, our essential supporters, those who always, against all odds, never fail us, not for a second, upholding the flag of the movement, a force of willpower, confidence and loyalty to us.

Today our website is a reality, stable and constantly improving, a space for our members and collaborators to share ideas, express themselves and learn. The 210 posts published during the year have been read in 161 countries, and shared on social networks thousands of times.

The Sunday talks were also very interesting, where several specialists and people with interesting projects and ideas presented them in frank and free debate with everyone who wanted to participate.

Debate also characterized the meetings of the membership with the leadership of the movement, where we periodically collected opinions, doubts and concerns that greatly helped to improve our internal procedures and to sharpen our positions on various issues.

The use of advance technological tools was a constant, as an alternative to overcome distances, time schedules and other obstacles that make communication difficult. The advance of the clubs was also notable, with Florida and Ecuador as the most active sites.

The campaigns in support of the several activists unjustly imprisoned in Cuba, the coverage of the visits by the Pope and John Kerry, and other important moments, demanded a lot from us and also provided us with valuable experiences. The videos were undoubtedly the strongest and most effective communication methods, and a lot of them involved a good number of people; within the island the DVD option remains the best source of information for families.

With respect purely to the interior of the country, we held three National Councils and about 20 meetings of different types and purposes, with the participation of representatives from several provinces. We have put into practice our own style of meetings, where we combine political programs with cultural or sporting activities according to our modest abilities.

Mid-year we inaugurated a Civic Club we call Channel-Cafe, where various speakers present extending alliances with other organizations, particularly the Independent Law Association whose president and founder, attorney Wilfredo Vallin, we thank for his masterful teachings.

Within the provinces, the work especially in Matanzas and Las Tunas stands out, where we have also consolidated good teams.

To the growing interest among many professionals and people trained to know and be part of the movement, the repressive arm of the government reacted this year with the violation of our right to mobility within the country, impeding, on three occasions, our ability to hold meetings in different provinces.

We also suffered temporary detentions, forced relocations, threats and intimidation to many of our members and their families. This caused us to lose some members who could not resist with State Security around their necks, but it consolidated the position and commitment of the majority.

The same effect was caused, especially outside Cuba, by the malicious actions of two or three “infiltrated members,” that is people who are planted in the movement for the sole purpose of causing problems, conflicts and confusion among key members, when more unity and strength is needed. These people tried to exercise a subtle and poisonous influence on others healthily unprepared, or demonstrated their manifest inability to engage with the team with respect and tolerance for others.

Neither strategy, within Cuba or outside, worked. On the contrary, every tear of pain caused by disappointment in someone made us stronger, prepared us to confront in the future the large scale vileness we know is not going to end until the system of dark powers we are fighting disappears.

Materially and financially we were stable in 2015, but we are still far from achieving the resources we need to deploy major important initiatives that require greater financial support to come to fruition.

We significantly improved our meeting place, acquiring 20 chairs and a large table. We recharged the two main cellphones in five deals from ETECSA and got some 160 hours of internet access.  All this with our own funds, coming from the monthly support of our membership.

We were also able to demonstrate that with our own talent the movement can collect additional funds. The International Convention was an experimental success in this regard. The event not only demonstrated that we can gain the conscious support of many Cuban notables and workers, but also contributed to strengthening our alliance with artists, intellectuals and leaders of other organizations, etc.

Experience acquired in the preparations for large events was also very valuable and will help us greatly in the future. Especially in the next National Convention.

For 2016 we intend to meet even greater challenges. This coming year for Somos+ we are calling “the year of consolidation.” We are applying the knowledge gained in the founding stage to exercise stronger and more influential political actions, elevating the competitiveness of our members and leaders, as well as our visibility and national and international standing.

This strategic objective will experience a big boost with the founding of our Academy for the study of Political Science. With this approach, we are confident this coming year of having the most competent and strong team (both in ideas and the skills to defend them) within the Cuban political opposition that aspires to compete for the leadership of our society.

Now we have to continue, with much more consistency and professionalism, conquering step by step what we think is the most valuable treasure: the trust and respect of our people. People of whom we are part and for whom we will never stop fighting.

Happy 2015 muchachos.

My best hug to everyone.

Eliecer Avila, engineer and president of the Somos+ Movement

One Year of Relations. Now What? / Somos+

Eliecer Avila (l.) and his father

Somos+, Eliecer Avila, 17 December 2015 — Today marks one year of the historic reestablishment of diplomatic relations between the governments of Cuba and the United States. At this point, although it’s true that there has been no notable change in the quality of life of Cubans nor the state of their rights, what has been shown is that the only obstacle to achieving development and prosperity in the nation is our own government.

Today, it would be unjustifiable to do what was quite comfortable just yesterday: blaming everything on the Empire of the North. However, the fundamental challenge is for millions of Cubans, who today are convinced about what the problem is, to assume the historic responsibility of working towards the solution and not to continue running away from a reality that will chase us wherever we go, in one way or another. continue reading

All changes in history start first in the minds of citizens. Here, this transformation is already advancing at a fast pace, and it consists of an ideological detoxification that follows, inevitably, the same cycle as treatment for any addiction would.

Today, December 17, I’m also celebrating my father’s 47th birthday. It’s because of this coincidence that I have “Lázaro*” in my name. One more reason to share this day with all of you, united in our hope and belief that daily work and the righteous motivation that we defend will give us victory in this fight for dignity, freedom, and happiness amongst ourselves.

Eliecer Ávila, Engineer

President, Somos+ Movement

*Translator’s note: 17 December is the feast day of Saint Lazarus, “Lazaro” in Spanish.

Translated by: Rebecca Willett

The Inebriated Pupil / 14ymedio, Eliecer Avila

Screen shot of the Cuban television program 'The Amazed Pupil’ directed by Iroel Sanchez.
Screen shot of the Cuban television program ‘The Amazed Pupil’ directed by Iroel Sanchez.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Eliecer Avila, Havana, 14 December 2015 – The Astonished Pupil is a recent program on Cuban TV directed by Iroel Sanchez. The show continues the logic that has characterized Sanchez in recent years. Every time the gentleman opens his mouth it is to speak badly of everything modern, free and useful, from the internet and Facebook to denouncing “the great lie represented by Western democracy.” It seems that he and his friends know best about another world of which they don’t have the vaguest positive memory.

Continuing in this theme, his media program has a chaotic script, tries to mix entertainment with the most leftist of propaganda, and broadcasts materials such as speeches by radical separatists in Catalonia. continue reading

The strangest thing about it is that it is presented as something new and accepted without question, when enough time has passed that all these arguments have been profoundly dismantled by excellent political and intellectual analysis, demonstrating the lack of both logic and principles in such positions and their manipulated reasoning.

Today they presented a documentary called something like “Modern Slaves,” a phrase that refers to almost everyone on the planet, according to Sanchez, who believes that representative democracy and respect for human rights and the natural laws of markets are the most effective way to achieve development.

The voiceover narrating the materials appears to come from someone who has drunk disproportionate amounts of alcohol mixed in every possible variation and without eating any food. There is no other way in which a human being could affirm so much nonsense all at the same time.

It is precisely the freedom of expression achieved with these “slave societies” which allows any failure to make a “documentary” with his very particular vision of the world and to broadcast it, so that later on someone else can come along and use it against a country deprived of the opportunity to access YouTube and choose what they like and discard the rest.

The program offers the example of Ada Colau, a woman who became known for her activism against evictions in Spain and was elected mayor of Barcelona. It is a perfect example of Colau’s good luck to live in an “evil Western democracy,” because if she lived in the Cuban paradise, instead of important responsibilities and recognition, she would have received only kicks in the butt right up to today and called a CIA agent and counterrevolutionary for defending the rights of thousands of eastern Cubans fleeing poverty to settle in makeshift neighborhoods in Havana, who are treated inhumanely in many cases, despite having small children and being vulnerable.

It is a shame and untenable that works consistent with our reality are censored – works produced by Cuban theater directions, filmmakers, documentarians and writers – while television time is given over to programs paid for by public funds produced by these people who over and over again sell these same ideologies of eternal failure.

_______________________________________________________________

Editor’s note: The author is president of the movement Somos+ (We are more)

Cuban Film Institute: “There can be no place in our forums for the enemies of the Revolution” / Diario de Cuba

Cuban Film Institute (ICAIC) headquarters. (CUBARTE)
Cuban Film Institute (ICAIC) headquarters. (CUBARTE)

Diario de Cuba, Havana, 4 December 2015 — A statement from the president of the Cuban Institute of Cinematographic Art and Industry (ICAIC), published on Thursday on the State website Cubarte put a stop to the recent discussions by filmmakers against censorship, in meetings where, “there can be place for the enemies of the Revolution.”

“The point of view of the debate we have defended has been, is and will be unequivocally Revolutionary,” says the ICAIC directive. “We are working, together with other organizations and institutions, to find a solution to the problems of audiovisual creation, from an anti-colonial, anti-imperialist and socialist perspective.”

The communication has been issued within days of the expulsion of activists and independent Cuban journalists in a meeting where a letter of support for theater director Juan Carlos Cremata was drafted. continue reading

The assembly, which was convened under the name “First Forum of Filmmakers on cultural policy and Cuban audiovisual content,” also had on its agenda the reading and discussion of articles on censorship and self-censorship such as those by filmmakers Enrique Colina and Juan Antonio García Borrero.

“On Saturday November 28 we rejected the presence of several mercenaries at the ICAIC Fresa y Chocolate Cultural Center, where a gathering of filmmakers was held with their institution. None of the organizers had invited them and their presence was a provocation and a premeditated act to use this kind of space as a platform for proselytizing and legitimacy,” the statement said.

The situation became particularly heated when officials from the institution ejected the activist Eliecer Avila, present in the room as a listener to the debate.

“In the face of any attempt to distort the results of the joint work between the filmmakers and the ICAIC, we feel a moral duty to reaffirm our commitment to the Country, the Cuban culture and the Revolution, without which the existence of the ICAIC itself and an educational and cultural work of emancipation would not have been possible, work that is the pride of our people,” the statement continued.

The ICAIC insisted that “it will remain consistent with the cultural policy of the Revolution.”

At last we met!! / Somos+

Somos+, Eliecer Avila, 11 October 2015 — Early this morning we received a very special person. Yohana Columbie, municipal education methodologist, graduate in pedagogy and theology, mid-level technician in accounting and IT, and many other things… She is a young woman who has not lost at all his time despite living in a small town in the eastern part of Cuba. A few days ago we got the news of her arrest by the State Security to prevent her traveling to Havana in order to participate in the National Council of our movement.

Today what was inevitable came true. We were able to meet and talk for hours, listen to each other, get to know each other better, exchange ideas and make sure that we share the same path and dream. Women like her confirm for me that in Cuba if you propose it to yourself, you can be free, think and speak without hypocrisy. It only depends on your convictions and emotional defenses to face the responsibility of being authentic, of not having two faces.

Welcome to the family of Somos+ Yohana!!

Translated by: Y. Rodriguez

Incident at the Airport Yesterday / Somos+, Eliecer Avila

Somos+, Eliecer Avila, 5 October 2015 — Everything appeared normal until I got to the immigration desk. There the official meeting me had a sign on his screen with the word “CONTROLLED” flashing in red. With more or less discrete gestures, the young official started dialing code numbers to his superiors to come to the booth to “deal” with me. In three minutes his boss appeared who indicated I should follow him and who took my passport.

After about half an hour a different official appeared who accompanied me passing through immigration and told me to collect my things… As usual, many people waited about an hour for their bags from the Madrid-Havana flight because they arrived in dribs and drabs… When my suitcase finally appeared, I’d just picked it up when two other officials, this time from Customs, indicated I should accompany them for a “routine control.”

Knowing these things and how they work, I tried to advise my wife who was desperately waiting outside but they told me I could not use my phone. Nevertheless I managed to tell her, “things are looking bad.” continue reading

First I passed the suitcase, the little hand luggage and the laptop through another special X-ray machine, and then they brought me to the tables prepared for this purpose and began to minutely search my luggage with the meticulousness of a surgeon performing brain surgery.

They noted everything, at the same time asking me questions about my trip. With special interest they set aside four books, four journals and blog notes. Also 8 flash memories I’d been given by the Spanish think tank Foundation for Analysis and Social Studies (FAES), which they gave to all the Cubans.

The titles of the books were: Digital Citizenry, European Union – Latin America, Autobiography of Gandhi, and Letters to a Young Spaniard by J.M. Aznar.

They read several fragments of all of these, and especially Aznar’s book, which had a large photo of him on the cover. The customs officer asked me, “Is he a writer?” I told him no, he’s the president of Spain.

They also spent a long time examining a magazine that talked about Australia and its great human development. The problem with the magazine is that it attributes the success to three factors: Democracy, Market, and Transparency. For those responsible for censorship in Cuba today there are certain words that will trigger an alert that something must be confiscated from a passenger, and the two most dangerous of these are “Democracy” and “Human Rights.”

This time, fortunately, after three different people pawed through my tests, they came to the conclusion that they were not “materials to spread counterrevolutionary propaganda.”

They then decided to seize the flash memories, because according to the “regulations” I only have the right to bring in two. I explained that I had two for my own personal use, and that these 8 are ones I had brought as gifts for family and friends because I promised my grandmother I would bring her some Christian music, others are for my sisters for their schools, etc… but they weren’t having it, “It’s not possible” to let me keep any of them.

At this point it’s been more than three hours and the worries of my wife, family and friends who are waiting for me are growing by the minute. However, now begins the weightiest part, the paperwork to seize the flash memories…

They bring a green bag in which they fit the suitcase, throw in the little memories, and begin to fill out forms and describe the characteristics of each object in question: color, aspect, brand, capacity, status… circumstances… what I said, what they said… my data… their data… all that while I am standing and watching passengers from two planes that arrived after mine leave the airport.

At this point, the only thing that interests me is getting it over with. When they finally tell me I can leave, I say goodbye and rush to the door.. and on leaving see that I have dozens of missed calls and messages. An army of friends inside and outside of Cuba are ready to be my voice everything if they had decided to keep me longer.

I don’t hold a grudge against the young soldiers who perform this demeaning task. the truly perverse are at a much higher level. Looking for the cameras and pulling the strings of an apparatus that if you don’t bow down, makes you stronger.

To dignify the work of a whole generation of soldiers, not only with better wages but with better training to protect our borders from the real dangers and respect everyone’s human rights, will be a priority in the future we are going to build together, them and us.

Thanks to everyone for your concern and solidarity. My best hug.

Eliecer Avila, Engineer

Cuban Opposition Gathered In Puerto Rico Support Plebiscite For Free Elections / 14ymedio

14ymedio, Havana, 16 August 2015 – The Cuban National Conference –  involving one hundred activists from 23 organizations from the Island and 32 from exile meeting for three days in Puerto Rico – concluded this Saturday with a document setting forth a common strategy. The Declaration of San Juan emphasizes the need to work “to achieve full freedom for the Cuban people and genuine Rule of Law.”

Among the points of agreement among the participants were the demand for the unconditional release of all political prisoners and the repeal of laws that violate fundamental freedoms. The declaration also established as a priority achieving “freedom of speech, press, association, assembly, peaceful demonstration, profession and religion.”

The signers of the Declaration of San Juan made a call to fight for “the participation of all the people in every decision of the nation, the legalization of all political parties, and free and multi-party elections.” During the meeting 30 papers, prepared over the last year, were presented addressing several of the topics that were later reflected in the final document.

The Cuban National Conference urged “work for a campaign for a binding plebiscite in favor of free, fair and plural elections, under democratic conditions, that guarantee the sovereignty of the citizens.” Support for the Agreement for Democracy in Cuba, a document put forward in 1998 by organizations in the diaspora and on the island, was another of the issues agreed to in the final document.

The promotion of the peaceful struggle and “training of pro-democracy activists in the methods of civil disobedience,” is included among the issues to strengthen.

The participants committed to working for the collapse of the “cyber-wall in Cuba and striving so that the internal opposition has the technological resources needed to continue mobilizing the citizenry.” Progress in both aspects will monitored over the coming six months.

The Cuban National Conference, enjoyed the participation of activists such as Guillermo Fariñas, Elizardo Sanchez, Mario Felix Lleonart, Eliecer Avila, Laritza Diversent and Rene Gomez Manzanos. Its realization coincided with the visit of US Secretary of State John Kerry to Cuba.

Cuban Dissidents Meet In Puerto Rico To Seek A Common Position Against The Regime / 14ymedio, EFE

Poster for National Cuban Conference in San Juan, Puerto Rico (MartiNoticias)
Poster for National Cuban Conference in San Juan, Puerto Rico (MartiNoticias)

14ymedio biggerEFE/14ymedio, San Juan, 14 August 2015 — Leaders of the Cuban dissidence arrived on the island and everyone met this Friday in Puerto Rico to work towards a common position with regards to the new scenario that is opening with the rapprochement between the United States and Cuba.

The Cuban National Conference brought together in San Juan one hundred dissidents who are trying to achieve a single strategy among all the groups who are fighting against the regime in Havana, with regards to the steps they should follow to bring democracy to the island, according to what regime opponent Guillermo Fariñas told EFE.

“There is a new context with the change in relations – between the United States and Cuba – and therefore it is necessary to achieve unity,” said Fariñas, who emphasized that it can’t be ignored that the rapprochement between Washington and Havana has repercussions on the strategy of the dissidence. continue reading

“We are working to be heard as a single voice for the democratization of Cuba,” said Fariñas about the objective of the meeting, scheduled before learning of the change in relations between the US and Havana, which culminated this Friday with the raising of the American flag over its embassy in the Caribbean capital in the presence of US Secretary of State John Kerry.

The dissident outlined that although the change in relations is a relevant event, the ultimate goal of the National Cuban Conference being held in Puerto Rico is to mend fences between all the opposition groups inside and outside the island to agree on a common strategy that will bring democracy to Cuba.

Fariñas added that the work undertaken during the meeting will result in a Declaration of San Juan, this coming Monday, in which a joint strategy will be announced to ensure that democracy comes to Cuba.

Eliecer Avila, the young regime opponent and collaborator on the digital newspaper 14ymedio directed by the critical blogger Yoani Sanchez, told EFE that the change in direction in relations between the United States and Cuba opens a new stage, which civil society on the island must adapt itself to.

“Unity of action is paramount, and so far it has been a struggle against a regime marked by dispersion and by the actions of groups with isolated agendas,” said Eliecer Avila

“The objective is to capture all opinions to prepare a joint document,” said Avila, for whom this is the time to unite on a strategy that facilitates the return of democracy to Cuba, despite the fact that among the dissidents there are those who see the rapprochement as a positive thing, and others who are critical of it.

Thirty papers, prepared over the last year, have been presented during the meeting.

“Unity of action is paramount, and so far it has been a struggle against a regime marked by dispersion and by the actions of groups with isolated agendas,” said Avila.

Sylvia Iriondo, president of the human rights organization MAR for Cuba (Mothers and Women Against Repression), told EFE that the San Juan meeting arose in order to “unite democratic Cuban forces committed to change on the island.”

Iriondo, who lives in Miami, expressed her rejection of the rapprochement between Washington and Havana, given that Raul Castro’s regime does not represent the Cuban people.

The Cuban National Conference, in preparation for over a year, was promoted by United Cubans of Puerto Rico, an organization founded in 1967 with the aim of supporting opposition to the Havana regime from the Puerto Rican commonwealth.

The presence of nearly 20,000 Cubans in Puerto Rico and the cultural affinity were some of the reasons to bring the meeting to San Juan, according to the organization.

The work has been divided into two thematic areas, the first being the coordination of efforts between the interior of the island and the exile, and the second on strategies for democratic change.

The Visit of Pope Francis Presents the Opposition with a New Test / Somos+

Somos+, Eliecer Avila, 15 July 2015 — The upcoming visit of Pope Francis sets the stage for a new opportunity for civil society and the political opposition to live up to the expectations of thousands of Cubans inside and outside the country, who have waited for a long time for a coherent and dignified performance by a true force for change.

On previous occasions, when we have had the opportunity to exercise political influence and make a positive impact on public opinion—mainly in front of Cubans on the island—someone has always managed to polarize the effort and portray us as divided and quarreling, unable to work together to achieve a minimum degree of strategic consensus. continue reading

Some organizations are already taking steps so their representatives will be received by the pontiff. Many of us have never understood what external criteria have been established to select those who deserve the vote of legitimacy bestowed by the handshake of universally prominent figures.

I suppose the impossibility of doing internal surveys, or of finding someplace to gauge the opinion of the people about those involved in political and civil society, forces many advisers to favor the most colorful, no matter whether positive or negative, because in any case they stand out.

This, coupled with some external efforts of those who have mastered the cunning tricks and have the contacts, results in the same sacred and impassable media ghetto.

From my point of view, the Civil Society Open Forum is an ideal place for coordinating the plural and inclusive message that Pope Francis should receive, given the high level of agreement by the principals and organizations among our ranks.

The ideal would be to choose a delegation capable of fulfilling with seriousness, elegance, refinement, and professionalism the mission of conveying the unified message of all Cubans who make up this seed of democracy, this free and independent island pulsating within the country.

Hopefully we can begin to carry out good democratic training for this and other similar situations. It is time to practice at home what we propose for the country.

Translated by Tomás A.

Originally published in 14ymedio.

The Right To Public Debate / 14ymedio, Eliecer Avila

The video above is in English.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Eliecer Avila, Havana, 12 August 2015 – Recently the Cuban intellectual Rafael Hernández, editor of the journal Temas (Topics) and moderator of the debates that take place on the last Thursday of each month at the Fresa y Chocolate (Strawberry and Chocolate) center, gave an interview to the journalist Cristina Escobar for the program Interviews From Havana by the Telesur network.

The interview was conducted in English, and broadcast with subtitles in the early morning hours for Cuban viewers. In it Rafael Hernandez defends some theses that have been put forward for some time in the intellectual spaces tolerated by the government, and he proposed a “new look at the theoretical conceptualization of the socialism we need.”

When asked what to do with the fact that “the enemy press takes any criticism that comes out in the Cuban media to amplify it against Cuba”, the intellectual and responded with emphasis and determination: “We must tell the truth, period,” because he believes that “it is better to have a discussion on any topic in our camp, than to allow the enemy to take us to his.”
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Rafael Hernández makes innumerable references to the “enemy” without it being clear to me exactly what or who he means

In the interview Rafael Hernández makes innumerable references to the “enemy” without it being clear to me exactly what or who he means. I do not know if I myself, or my friends, many of my neighbors or my fellow students, who think differently from the Government of Cuba, are part of Rafael’s “enemy.” I hope not.

On the other hand, when he encourages us to “tell the truth, period,” it is also not clear to me to whom he is directing his message. Honestly, I do not believe that those who resist telling these truths are journalists. I know many of them personally, and by reference many more, and I am sure that they one hundred percent share this vision of the dignified and independent role that should be played by the press anywhere in the world. So who or what then prevents them from telling the unvarnished truths? The custom of not speaking them? Or is it that, in front of the cameras, everyone defends this “necessary sincerity” but in the spaces where it is truly decided what will be aired and what will not, no one is willing to assume the costs of telling the truth?

Are journalists the ones who decide what is published in Cuba? Is it perhaps the directors of the media? I think that as a example of what he himself demands, Rafael Hernandez could begin to say “the truth, period” recognizing that it is a tiny group of bureaucrats at the exclusive service of the Communist Party who decide every letter, voice or image that Cubans throughout the island see, hear or read.

I liked his defense in favor or a political and public debate in the national media. Like what more or less happens in the public space he leads. I clarify this saying “more or less,” because indeed it is true that normally no one is denied entry to these events, but it is also true that the panel does not usually represent the colors of the political spectrum of any nation in the world. Only in the audience can this diversity be seen from time to time. It is also the case that some dissidents speak. But they have only three minutes to do so and then the panel can dismantle everything they want, without the ongoing right to respond.

In the spaces where it is truly decided what will be aired and what will not, no one is willing to assume the costs of telling the truth

A debate, technically, is something else. In a debate, people who defend different points of view can count on a fair and reasonable time not just to defend their position but to question the proposals of their counterparts in a sequence that makes it possible to plumb the depths of each topic. For this, you have to have good intentions, and select exponents of similar intellectual levels, or at least those who enjoy public recognition in the sphere they defend.

Following this logic one could have a debate between Rafael Hernandez, on the one side, and Reinaldo Escobar n the other, about “journalism and truth in Cuba,” for example. Would the director of Temas accept this debate? Would he feature it in his magazine? I am sure that if he did it would break audience records and the results would be very useful.

I believe that when certain authorized intellectuals or thinkers talk about the necessary existence of public debate or of public spaces, they don’t always take into account that none of these things exist in Cuba.

Neither the Party nor the Government nor the intransigent Communists have anything against debate itself, what they can’t bear are the consequences. Because four good televised debates on crucial issues, no holds barred, in a framework of respect and civility, would collapse the entire house of cards.

I invite the director of Temas with regards to what he seriously proposes to be the promoter of the first public political debates in Cuba, similar to those held in other latitudes, involving communists, liberals, greens and other visions, all essential.